Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oh, What a Year - 12-30-09 Editor's Column

This past year has been, without a doubt, one of the most demanding and rewarding years of my life.

And as I think of the things that defined my year, I can't help but smile, frown, laugh and recall the moments of sadness.

I would like to think I wasn't the only person who had a year of firsts, many of which were also large steps forward as I continue to grow into myself.

This year, I experienced my first full year of employment after college, which came after several months of unemployment and then time spent cleaning toilets.

To say that it has been what I expected would be a lie. I have learned more than I ever thought I would and have had more ups and downs that you'll find in the mountainous regions throughout the country.

But, I am still here and I have the experience of that first year now aiding me as I continue into my second year.

Additionally, the people I have met, the things I have been able to share with members of this community and the ways in which my perspectives have been challenged are things I wouldn't trade for a moment.

Next on the list of this year's highlights comes what happened in April, when I celebrated my first year of marriage, which is currently at the top of my list of accomplishments in life, next to graduating from college.

My first year of marriage is another example of what I could never have tried to expect. My wife and I have certainly experienced our fair share of hardship, but we've also learned a great deal about each other and what we want our marriage to be as we continue down this road and its unknown surprises.

In the last year, I was able to truly appreciate what it means to have a vacation as my wife and I took a belated honeymoon to Hawaii.

While I know it's great to have the summer off from school and to enjoy a break from the classroom while doing some part-time work, this trip felt hard-earned and almost deserved - something I don't know I could say about my summer vacations during high school and even college.

There's just something about a nine-day rest after months of working what seem like endless hours that feels oh-so satisfying. I can't wait for my next vacation. Even if it's sitting in my apartment playing video games, I'll know just how much I earned that time.

Lastly, this year I began - with my wife - the process of searching for a home that will likely play host not only to Tania and I, but also to our first child, whenever he or she comes along.

It is probably one of the scariest things I've ever done, to say the least. There is so much riding on the decision to buy a home, from where it's located and what amenities it has, how much it costs and how we'll structure our loan, to how we'll improve the value for future resale and how we'll structure our budget to ensure we can maintain our monthly bills.

However, as scary as it might be, I've never been more excited. The idea of being a homeowner puts even more things into perspective about where I am in life and what responsibilities truly are.

While this list obviously doesn't encompass all of the highlights and lowlights of my 2009, it certainly sheds light one some of the more prominent things on my mind about the past 12 months. And while I'd like to shed light on my past decade, I'm sure the vast majority of you have much more interesting stories to reflect on.

And with that in mind, as you look back on the last year, or even the last 10 years, no matter what memories you are recalling, be sure to enjoy the view.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Exploring our Thankfulness - 11-25-09 Editor's Column

It is again the time of year where we descend upon our families to enjoy turkey (or tofurkey, for those of you that are vegetarian), conversation and of course, Thanksgiving day football.

However, what is it about these things that really represent our thankfulness for what we have been able to experience or receive over the past year?

Within the typical Thanksgiving experience there are a multitude of different reasons we should be thankful for what we have this year.

The easiest of these reasons is the Thanksgiving dinner. With nearly 12 percent of residents in the state of Illinois in poverty and members of our own community unable to partake in a typical Thanksgiving meal, we should all consider ourselves thankful when we sit down to the table for what we believe will be the average Thanksgiving get together.

It’s easy to take the very food we eat for granted when it comes to us in abundance. However, when considering the alternative and that there are those who face it, perhaps we will cherish each bite a little more than in past years.

Another area in which we should consider our blessings is the time we spend with our families. Life is a fragile thing and this is especially true when considering our own families.

The adage of not truly appreciating someone until they are no longer there couldn’t be closer to the truth. The unpredictability of our daily circumstances should suggest giving thought to every moment we spend with our loved ones and taking in every conversation as though it were the last we would have with them.

Finally, and probably the most taken for granted, is to be thankful simply for the things we have. That’s it.

However, by things, I don’t mean “everything.” Instead, I mean the items that we have that make us laugh and smile; the items we don’t need but are fortunate enough to possess.

With so many people in the world going without in so many areas, many of us experience the exact opposite, and we should consider ourselves lucky by showing thankfulness for what we do have, even if we don’t consider it to be much.

This Thanksgiving, no matter what your circumstance, try to enjoy the view.

Businesses Should Serve as our Examples for Giving - 11-25-09 Mahomet Citizen Editorial

With Thanksgiving tomorrow and Christmas just a month away, many efforts are being made throughout the country - as they are each year around this time - to benefit those who are considered less fortunate than others.

Similar to years past, businesses in the Mahomet area are doing what they can to offer help to those who need it most.

Some businesses are holding food drives, others are collecting gifts for children, some businesses are collecting clothing items. Even the village of Mahomet is collecting items to donate to Mahomet Helping Hands.

At every turn there seems to be some way a business or local institution is offering a way for local residents to become involved in this spirit of the season by giving of their time, their money or even some of their goods and lightly used clothing items.

With that in mind, it would seem as though excuses to become involved in the giving process are running thin this holiday season, even with Thanksgiving still a day away. But isn’t that the way it should be?

While it could be viewed as a way of shameless self-promotion to use giving as a way of gaining customers during this time of year, a more likely explanation is that businesses and their owners are exercising their rights - and often times, their desires - to lead their community by serving as the example.

After all, what better way is there to get a cause to the people who can do the most good than to use the reputation of a business? By making that effort to offer a helping hand to those in need, businesses aren’t just fulfilling an obligation, but rather they are filling a need within their communities and are showing how they care about the community in which they operate.

With local businesses and institutions as guides, the community is provided with a prime opportunity to step out of the shadows and offer its own helping hand, whether it be to a neighbor locally or someone they have never met.

This just goes to show that businesses are not simply out to “make a buck,” or to show how giving they can be during the holiday season, but to be examples to the rest of the community in regards to how easy it can be to become involved in something that will resonate with many people.

Just as businesses and other institutions mean to leave footprints on their communities, they also mean to give their customers the resources to leave their own footprints on their communities, in hopes of leaving them better places.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Changing Faces - 11-11-09 Editor's Column

This may sound a little odd, but every now and then I become curious about the people I went to school with and what they have gone on to do.

Thanks to the social phenomenon that is Facebook, I have the opportunity to see what many of them are up to, which is a lot of fun for me because it allows me to continue growing with people I’ve known for years, share my experiences and discuss theirs with them.

The most interesting thing about this for me, however, are the ways in which we have changed, which leads me to consider just how much time and experience (among a slew of other factors) impact who we become.

For instance, the individuals we may have never gotten along with back then might be people we look forward to talking to or hearing about today.

In the same regard, some of our closest friends may be people we now hardly speak to, for whatever reasons.

It is for this very reason I believe the statement “people don’t change,” to be false in its assumption.

The reality, if you ask me, is that people change significantly in life.

I know I have changed significantly over the last few years and continue to do so.

The best example I can provide is the way I handle stress.

Before going to college, I was a pretty anxious individual. If I got stressed, I would - for lack of a better term - freak out. However, I realized that I needed to eliminate the pressure I was putting on myself from my life. So, I decided it was time for a change.

I think for many of us, there is a deep desire to implement changes in our lives that we feel will benefit us and those around us.

But, (and here’s the rub) some of us lack the commitment to make these changes, which creates a situation similar to watching television without a remote: Some of us don’t mind getting up to change the channel to what we want to watch while others will settle for something they don’t like out of laziness.

That said, instead of suggesting people don’t change, I think it’s more appropriate to suggest some people don’t want to change.

The potential is there for anyone do something different than what they are doing right now; the only difference between the ones that do and the ones that don’t is commitment.

Still, another thing I’ve noticed is we often don’t give people from our past the benefit of the doubt when considering whether or not they have changed since we last encountered them.

It’s the typical sitcom moment where the main character meets with a face from the past and tries to get said person to behave the way he or she used to or to get said person to go to a former favorite hangout, only to find a glimpse of the individual they knew before.

It’s easy to say you don’t do this, but everyone does it - sometimes without even thinking about it.

Part of me thinks we do this because we want to take pride in the changes we have accomplished in our own lives by assuming the people we’ve known have experienced none of the same changes since we last saw them. It seems a bit selfish, but I think it is more out of affirmation for ourselves than anything.

Then, another part of me thinks we do this because we never believed some of the people from our pasts could change and by acknowledging the people in front of us as different, we admit our own fault in how we perceived those people.

To be honest, there was a time when I wanted to be right about the people I used to know, if only so I could say “I told you so,” about their situations or their accomplishments. However, the primary reason we seek change in our lives is to better ourselves, for whatever reason.

I realized there was far too much potential out there to simply expect certain things from people or to think I knew the paths peoples’ lives would take them.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my short years, it is that people are capable of extraordinary - often unexpected - things. Conversely, they also have the potential to need help when we might have expected them to be set on the right path in life.

The point is, we don’t decide who changes and how, nor is it up to us to determine whether or not those changes suit us. Instead, I think it is our duty to see the potential in our friends, neighbors and those faces from the past and be open to accepting the changes that might have taken place or nurture the changes that could take place.

After all, it’s easier to seek and find change when you have someone who believes you can achieve it and even easier to maintain and build upon it when you encounter people who believe you were capable in the first place.

The next time you see the potential in the lives around you, enjoy the view.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When it Matters - 11-4-09 Editor's Column

Given the events of the last three days, I would feel irresponsible if I didn’t talk about them in some way.

We currently find ourselves experiencing something that most people, in the back of their minds, hope never happens in their lifetimes in their community.

And why wouldn’t they? More often than not, when one moves to a community, the idea is to move somewhere that feels safe and somewhere with a feeling of home.

Unfortunately, that feeling is likely missing for many in Mahomet today.

However, no one should question whether or not Mahomet is a safe place. As horrific as it is to consider what took place this week, this is still a community in which everyone should feel safe to walk down the street and where residents can go to bed with comfort.

Should we be shaken? Of course we should. But to that end, we should be questioning something other than the safety of our town and exploring something other than how we can prevent something like this again.

Instead, we should be taking this time in the wake of the death of a young woman to come together as a community and demonstrate that we are exactly what the news said we are Monday night while reporting on the matter: “tight-knit.”

For example, our children will more than likely have questions about what happened that we will have to answer with the best of our abilities.

We will likely have friends and neighbors who will need calming and reassurance through the conversations that we have over the course of the next several weeks.

Even our own senses of safety will come into question as many of us will likely end up asking that popular two-letter question, “What if?”

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to be exactly what we need. We can be exactly what our children and our neighbors and even what we ourselves need as we gather more details on this situation.

After all, what’s the point of calling ourselves a community if, instead of banding together for the sake of those around us, we splinter and avoid the chance to talk about things?

In this instance, just as it should in all instances, our social status has no bearing on the fact that we are a community of people who need each other right now.

Now is the time to embody what so many of us take pride in with this community - our ability to band together when it matters the most. Because right now, we are all extensions of same individual, asking the same questions, feeling the same fears and trying to maintain the same calm.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lending a hand - 10-14-09 Editor's Column

As the weather changes and the foliage follows suit, many of us are likely thinking the same thing: it is time for the plethora of holidays that make the fall and winter months so enjoyable.

Some of you may have already taken care of some necessary preparations for upcoming family gatherings such as Thanksgiving and even Christmas.

Similarly, those of you looking to avoid the rush have probably gotten some holiday shopping done early.

However, there is another aspect of the impending season that may go overlooked if we aren’t too careful: the time we can spend helping those who need it.

Though there is a need for help every month of the year, there is certainly not a lack of needs during the fall and winter months, especially for families who may need help staying warm or putting meals on the table.

Additionally, there will certainly be families who will need help providing gifts this holiday season for their children.

Though finding these opportunities may seem time consuming, it is actually easier than one might think, especially in a town that is as giving as Mahomet.

All it might entail is a phone call to the Mahomet Helping Hands to help with a distribution day or to help sort food, or maybe even just to provide something that they need more of in their store rooms.

Alternately, local businesses often have food drives and toy drives during this time of year to benefit those who are in need, so it might simply mean an extra trip to one of those businesses to drop off a toy or some cans of food.

Even schools become involved, so if your child comes home with an opportunity, maybe you can give a little extra and not only benefit someone else, but also show the spirit of giving to your child as he or she continues to grow and develop the sense to do things for others.

Take the time to consider how you might be able to lend a hand during these next few months, and while you learn more about yourself, be sure to enjoy the view.

Dealing with 'What if?' - 10-7-09 Editor's Column

We’ve all said it. Some of us probably said it today. Still more of us will say it at some point in the coming week. “What if?” Those two little words that can cause so much distress or cause us to lose focus.

What is it about “what if?” that has us so unknowingly infatuated? Perhaps it’s the fact that on some of the occasions when we ponder it, the outcome may have been more favorable.

You know what I’m talking about. Those moments when you’ve just completed a task that didn’t end the way you had hoped and, though you know there is no going back or doing it over, you ponder, “what if I had done this?”

Then you dwell on what could have been instead of focusing on what is. Instead of learning from the less than desirable outcome, you try to understand where you went wrong, diverting your focus from the next time and therefore hindering yourself.

Another area that we let “what if?” get the best of us is when we are trying to complete everyday tasks.

For example, you have a task set in front of you that should be simple enough, yet instead of working to complete said task, you try to work all the angles before you even get to them, asking “what if” this happens or “what if” this goes wrong?

It’s easy to get caught up in this - we all do it. However, there must come a time when we save the “what if’s” for the sake of progress and growth as individuals.

Perhaps the next time a situation doesn’t work out in your favor, instead of getting stuck on “what if?” you can focus on how you will perform differently the next time.

Similarly, instead of second guessing and trying to get ahead of yourself on whatever project you might be working on, you simply take a step back and experience things the way they were meant to be experienced: With a desire to complete your task and learn from it, not dissect your task and be consumed by it.

We will always ask ourselves “what if,” however if we can come to recognize those situations that don’t require it and might actually be better without it, we might be able to enjoy life a little bit more.

Just be sure to enjoy the view.

Discovering what fall is all about 9-30-09 Editor's Column

Depending on who you ask, many things could represent “what fall is all about.”

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to experience some of those possibilities by simply driving around Mahomet and spending time with local residents and visiting citizens.

For instance, this past weekend saw the conclusion of the community wide garage sales that I had the opportunity to take part in with my wife and my mother.

While out and about, I was able to see some familiar faces, meet some new people and pick up a few items that had stories of their own.

Two such items were some simple folding chairs that had been painted orange and blue and been given the traditional Illini “I” on the seat-back.

Upon talking to the woman selling them, I learned that the chairs had been her mother’s and that her mother had used the chairs at every home contest the Illini had during tailgates.

I wouldn’t even try to put a guess on the age of the chairs, but they have had their fair share of use over the years, sporting the blemishes that come with time.

Yet, those very blemishes are what I have come to believe make these chairs so valuable, which is why I look forward to continuing the stories that these simple chairs will collect.

Another sign that fall is here came in the form of a fall-favorite past time on Saturday afternoons: football and barbecue.

For those of you who were unable to make it to the first annual barbecue cook-off at the Hideaway of the Woods, it was a great example of why communities such as Mahomet are so valuable.

It brought friends and strangers together to compete in the name of the great love of barbecuing and fun. Between the bags tournament, the variety of tastes and the football game (however dismal), the commonality present was the good time that everyone was having without having to put too much effort into it.

Despite the threatening rain and the brief spits of precipitation, people were enjoying the weather, the food and the new-found friendships.

Obviously the list of things that remind us of the season could go on, but being able to experience them first-hand is what really makes them special.

Who knows, maybe this coming weekend you’ll encounter something new for your list. No matter what, though, enjoy the view.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The View From a Little, Green Park Bench - 9-23-09 Editor's Column

The places we go and the things we experience there have a funny way of resonating throughout the courses of our lives.

We always remember some of the tiniest details about places we have been based on how good or how bad the memories we have there are.

For example, I lived in Champaign until I was five years old before moving to Mahomet, and the things I remember about the house I used to live in often astound me.

I recall the stairs just inside the front door and time that I tried to mimic the movie Home Alone and sledded down them in a suitcase.

At the opposite corner of the room - the family room - was where we always put the Christmas tree and I would magically find the presents my parents had stayed up all night wrapping to keep me believing in Santa for one more year.

From there, we would walk through a doorway that led to the kitchen on the left, with a view of the backyard.

And, my personal favorite spot, was the sand pit that I would play in for hours on the west side of the house. Many G.I. Joes fought bravely there.

And that’s just the beginning of this iceberg that so many of us call life.

Recently, I added another location to the many that fill my mind as important places in my life, and this one has the simplest of demeanors: It is a two-seat, green, shaky park bench.

It’s located here in town and I had the opportunity to sit on it earlier this week, as I have so many times throughout the last year, and enjoy good conversation with good people.

The reason this simple bench resonates so much with me now is because even the best memories we have - the ones that stick out to you the most for whatever reason - don’t have to come from time spent on vacation or away from home.

Sometimes the best memories are made in places where you have good friends and good conversations.

I know for a fact that I’ve had some great conversations sitting on that simple bench, and that conversely, some of the conversations I’ve shared there have been about sensitive topics.

However, I can say with confidence that I’ve learned a great deal about myself and about people and my thoughts on them just based on the conversations I’ve shared there.

For those of you who know about the bench I’m referring to, the next time you sit down for a conversation there, think about how that conversation might open up new doors in your life, new windows in your views and new paths to your train of thought. Just make sure you don’t forget where it took place.

Whatever the case, and wherever the conversation takes place this week - green park bench or not - make sure you enjoy the view.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Those Before Us 9-16-09 Editor's Column

Perhaps this will sound a bit morbid, but each time I look at an obituary - especially those of senior citizens - I can’t help but think about what the world lost with that person’s passing.

I sit and wonder about the things that each person accomplished while on Earth and what kind of impact it had or who was inspired by it and what that meant for those who followed in their footsteps.

Then I get to thinking, am I taking advantage of the people in my life who have done great things or have great stories to share about their life experiences?

The best example of this that I can cite are my parents. There is a lifetime of experience that they have and things that even I have never heard about, but I’m sure many lessons that I could apply to my own life.

In that regard, I do try to glean what I can from them when they have advice or when they share a story that I haven’t heard before.

After all, why shouldn’t I? While the popular response is to suggest that people my age think we know everything there is to know already, I take no shame in admitting that there are a lot of things that I have yet to do that my parents, grandparents and many of my family members have done first.

While generational gaps will provide plenty of moments that my parents will need my knowledge, I know for a fact that I have asked more questions of them than they have of me.

The fact of the matter is, there is a wealth of knowledge resting directly in the hands of the generations that have come before us, whatever the age.

While there is a great deal of history to learn about from books and what we hear about in school, there is also a great deal of it that we can learn from the people closest to us who actually lived it and were part of history.

That being said, I would encourage everyone to take the time and ask someone who is your senior about his or her life and what happened in it. Perhaps you’ll hear about a great accomplishment that you never knew about. Maybe you’ll hear about a new perspective regarding a historic event.

Don’t let the knowledge and experiences of those before us go without being shared. After all, we are the ones who will carry on the stories and the memories.

And remember, with each new story, be sure to enjoy the view.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Correction to 9-9-09 Editorial

In the Sept. 9 edition of the Mahomet Citizen, the editorial regarding annexation incorrectly indicated that residents not living within the village limits did not contribute to the schools that their children attend. This information was incorrect in that village residents and non-village residents alike pay school district taxes on their properties, especially if a student is attending a school within the district. The statement indicating the contrary was made in error and the Citizen regrets this error.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Annexation Shouldn't Mean Alienation - 9-9-09 Mahomet Citizen Editorial

Among the issues that have surfaced over the recent weeks in the town of Mahomet has been the desire of many area residents to not be annexed into the village limits.

Their feelings are so adamant that they have rallied together to confront the village administration about possible plans to bring them into the village using forced annexation (annexing a property that is surrounded on at least three sides by village property or property within the village limits).

They have petitioned and they have spoken, as well as emailed their concerns, taking full advantage of their rights to free speech.

However, that still does not address the issue at hand, which is, should their request to remain unannexed be honored? Or should they come to terms with thought of being part of the village of Mahomet?

On the one hand, you have residents who moved to Mahomet and purchased the properties that they did because it wasn’t in the village and they could take advantage of the property as such (no leaf burning, no village taxes, independent water and sewer, etc).

Many individuals at the village meetings contended that had they known they would have been annexed, they would not have purchased their properties for the very aforementioned reasons.
In short, if they wanted to be part of the village, they would have purchased property within the village.

On the other hand, however, you have the village, which is contending that bringing these previously unannexed properties into the village limits will bring with it a unity that a community such as ours needs to thrive.

Additionally, what about the people living in the village limits who live - at times - directly across from those who do not? They pay village taxes while people who are sometimes a matter of feet away pay nothing yet receive the advantages of village services like snow removal.

Then you have the schools, which are arguably one of the most important aspects of this community. They send their students to the schools (as they should) but don’t aid in maintaining them with their property taxes.

It isn’t just about the money, either. Perhaps there is an issue that is to be added to the next election ballot that could have major implications to all residents - village and non. Non-village residents are encouraged to lobby for their own particular point of view and get support from voting members of the village, but if they are given the opportunity themselves to become voting members, they would rather not.

It’s easy to be content in a place that you call your own, especially when you don’t have to deal with the interference of outside sources.

But how much of an interference is it really to have the village that you are benefiting from telling you that they want to make you part of that community and they want you to be part of a village that is whole, not scattered in pieces.

If it’s the tax issue, let’s be honest, no one wants to pay taxes, especially if they’re being added onto what we already pay. However, there comes a point when responsibility falls upon us to do what is necessary, even in cases when we would otherwise disagree completely.

Perhaps it’s the rules that would have to be followed once becoming part of the village that leave a bad taste in so many mouths. The burning issue itself is something that has caused a stir in this regard, leading many people - both village residents and non - to express their continued outrage with the process. However, like many changes, this too will require some adjustment that we are all very capable of making.

Whatever the case may be, there may be many people against the idea of being annexed into the village of Mahomet, but from what it ultimately boils down to is taking the time to be a complete citizen of this town and that means taking the good with the bad and acknowledging responsibilities that have been laid before us.

With as much contempt as the issue has been met with thus far, the result will be a village that epitomizes its title and the essence of what we often call it: A community.

Stop Complaining 9-2-09 Editor's Column

I’m fairly confident that everyone, everywhere, could complain about something at this very moment.

Some probably are too, which is funny to me considering so many people say that they “can’t complain,” when they are asked how they are doing.

However, the truth of the matter is, we can complain and many of us do so on a regular basis.

Some of us complain about our jobs because we feel undervalued, underpaid, overworked or just plain tired of the place.

Others complain about our financial situations and talk about all the things we wish we had, implying a sense of entitlement.

And, still more complain about the various people around us as though we epitomize what it means to be a model citizen.

However, as someone who says “I can’t complain,” on a regular basis, I’d like to think that we really don’t have any reason to.

There will always be those moments at our jobs that make us want to scream, but that comes with the territory. It’s not like we grew up to expect everything to be peachy all the time, so to expect things to work in our favor at all times is simply unreasonable on our part.

Then there’s the money issue. It always seems to be a case of “I never have enough of it,” or “I wish I could get more of it,” when in reality, the only things we should be concerned about paying for are our bills.

There are so many people that barely make enough or have enough income to support their families with food or to make their house payments or to fix their cars so they can get to work, yet I hear on a regular basis, people who are mad about not being able to buy a television or an Xbox game.

Really? Is it that important? Or can you survive just fine without it?

Finally, we come to complaining about people. It took me a while to learn this, but the only people whose opinions should matter to us are the ones we care about.

People we have just met don’t know who we are or what we stand for. They don’t know how hard we work or anything about our values. That’s why we brush them off and worry about the people who do matter in life, like our wives, husbands, parents and siblings.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I challenge you to write down what you complain about this week and put that list away. In a month, review them and ask yourself whether or not it was worth complaining about.

And remember, as you go down a new road today, enjoy the view.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When Our Lives Imitate the Forces of Nature - 8-26-09 Editor's Column

As I headed home last week, I found myself in the middle of a metaphor.

Driving south on Staley Road, I looked out each of my windows to see what
appeared to be a perfect split in the weather to the east and west.

The skyline of the east was what every summer evening should resemble - a
beautifully orange sunset representing the close of another day. To the
west, however, the sky was dark with daylight torn asunder by the storm
that had occurred that day, complete with beautiful lightning and raucous

And there I sat in my car, driving the dividing line between these two
extremes.  I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I thought of how it
represented so many lives.

Depending on who you talk to, life will often be described as walking the
edge while trying to maintain balance without falling.

On the one hand we have the days, weeks or even months that are filled
with what seem like nothing but clouds.  At times it feels like the road
that we are traveling is never ending in its revelation of setbacks and
roadblocks, and the beautiful sky in the distance seems like it is always
just out of reach.

On the other hand, we often experience times in life where the high never
seems to end. We get caught up in a whirlwind that seems to take us from
one great experience to the next on a ride that never seems to end.

At that point, despite the impending clouds on the horizon, we often
become consumed by our own joy and can take our situations for granted.

Now, I don’t mean that we should never enjoy the sunshine when it heads
our way, nor do I mean to imply that we should live thinking that each day is
murkier than the last.  Instead, we should pay attention to the details
that we encounter as we drive down this road of life, experiencing both
the good and the bad while driving between them.

A great example of this application would be the new school year and the
students beginning their journeys.  At some point, they will all
experience the good and the bad, but either way they will eventually find
themselves headed in the right direction.

The point is, life is meant to be experienced, and every now and then
we’re going to veer towards one side of the road or the other.  But if we
maintain our focus and keep our eyes forward, the dark times will
eventually end and the sunny days will always be fulfilling.

For better or for worse, enjoy the view this week.

Defining Our Own Actions - 8-19-09 Editor's Column

For many of us, the things we do in regards to our jobs or our hobbies
come, as the saying often goes, “naturally.”

We do things that we enjoy, things that we think we might enjoy, things
that makes us feel good and things that give us a rush.

However, what about the things that make others feel good?

This is where I think it tends to get interesting, mainly because it is a
point when a lot of the aforementioned reasons start to intertwine with
one another.

What brought me to this conclusion was a discussion with a friend of mine
about the things she has experienced by way of others that have touched
her life and the lives of those around her.

Based on her experience and the deeds that have been done, they were not
done with the goal of praise in mind. They were not done with the
expectation of repayment. They were not done to impress. They were
simply done to be done because it would help someone else.

She then posed the question to me about why I do what I do (why I enjoy my
job as a newspaper editor, why I involve myself in certain things, etc).
And from there we both came to the conclusion that it is out of caring
that I do what I do.

I care about the content that goes into this newspaper; I care about the
things that I involve myself in; I care about the people that surround me
in my daily life enough to take the time to do a good job if I can provide

What that means is that even though we might chalk up our actions to
enjoyment or curiosity, a lot of what we do on a regular basis is due to
the fact that we care.

For example, a business in a small community is contacted by a local
organization about a problem that said business could fix. Though the
business could charge the same rate it charges other customers for the
work - and rightfully do so - it considers the goal of the organization
and the financial strain that the work might provide.

At that point, the business tells the organization, we will take care of
you - don’t worry about it, and takes care of the work.

The business knows that it didn’t have to help. The business also knows
that it missed an opportunity to make a profit from a willing customer.

However, that’s not what is most important to the business in this
instance. Instead, the business is more interested in doing something
good for an organization that it believes in. While there may be some
praise after the fact, that is not the primary goal.

In the end, it all boils down to the business caring about the
organization’s mission enough to see past the value of a dollar or the
value of praise and to simply see the value of friendship and caring.

Now, while I cannot disclose the actual names, I can tell you that the
story of the business and the organization is true and that the feelings
are real. I only wish we could see more of it in our every day lives.

There is so much have and have-not in the world - even in Mahomet - that I
am confident that every person in the village of Mahomet could do a single
gesture of good will each week and could cover all 52 weeks in the year
and still have things left over to be done.

There are opportunities all around us to show that we care and to show
that we value people other than ourselves.

For some, it may be as simple as getting involved with a local food bank
or working with the homeless on the weekends through an outreach program.

For others, maybe it is giving of your money to help someone who is
struggling because of unemployment, health issues or other circumstances.

Whatever the case, we may be a world of individuals, but we are also
individuals who can work together to create better lives for future
generations through the simplicity and profundity of caring about someone
other than ourselves.

Take a moment to consider what you have done for another person out of a
pure desire to be helpful and show that you care about that person. If
you’re having trouble, you’re not the only one.

Those moments that come out of what most people call “the goodness of our
hearts,” are exceedingly rare in a society that is focused on the next
move to get ahead. However, I suppose that by being so rare, they become,
in turn, exceedingly special when they do happen.

The question now becomes, how are you going to impact someone in a special
way this week?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cornbelt Adds Policy

Due to an error in this week's Citizen, part of the Cornbelt story on Page A1 was cut off and not continued as labeled. The Citizen apologizes for this error and will be re-running the story in its entirety in the Aug. 19 edition.

As a supplement, below is the entire story that will run next week.

Citizen Editor

The Cornbelt Fire Protection District board of trustees implemented a new procedure on Aug. 5 as they tried out a new public participation process that hopes to allow more input on issues that they feel are vital to the district.

Cornbelt Fire Protection District (CFPD) board president Derrick Odle said the idea came from his own concerns about addressing issues with the board and seeing how public participate was handled in the past.

"I felt like, if I had to bring a topic up, it would have to wait until next month's meeting and if something came up during the meeting, I couldn't get an answer until the next month,” he said.

"We developed the public participation policy that allows the public on every item or aspect that we're talking about, they can ask a question right then and there and get their answer."
Even during the first meeting with the new policy there was some public curiosity on a number of issues.

"[It] was a great example of how that can go back and forth and as an elected official 'hey I didn't think of that, that was a good point,' and allows me to just get another view point and vantage point,” said Odle

Back on Board
Recent public outcry concerning the dismissal of two firefighters based on their ages was laid to rest following an explanation of a new age policy meant to prevent safety breaches and ensure that firefighters are not dismissed prematurely.

One of the firefighters, John Harpst, was the subject of a Lettter to the Editor printed in a July edition of the Mahomet Citizen. According to Odle, that issue has been resolved.
"John Harpst is back with the fire department."

Though he could not release the name of the other firefighter for personnel reasons, he did say that that person was also back with the department.

Causing the issue to be addressed was the precaution to maintain a lawful demeanor at the CFPD.

"There was an Illinois State Statute that was set out with a mandatory age requirement [for retirement] at the age of 65. That has been changed many times since the statute was written,” said Odle.

"We had a letter from our attorney that stated 'yes, that is true, there is a state statute at the age of 65,'" he said.

"The angle that we failed to research it at was, does it affect all firefighters, and it depended one what classification; were you paid, career, paid on call, volunteer, not realizing that it does not affect the volunteer fire side at this point in its current language as it did early on in the statute when it first was written."

Odle admitted that it was a difficult decision considering Harpst's time spent with Cornbelt over the years, but given the situation, obeying what the law dictated was the top priority of the department and the board.

"It was a terrible feeling that we had to enact this state statute, but we elected to follow the law and we felt like we were following the law at the time that was in front of us and we researched it and had our attorney research it a little more and she came back an said 'yeah, it does not apply to volunteer firefighters.'"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Best Things in This Life Are... - 8-5-09 Editor's Column

I’ve come to the conclusion that life is full of moments that are meant to remind us that if we take the time to see the simple joys of life, we can find ways to appreciate it more.

I had the opportunity to witness and experience such a moment on my vacation last month.

It was late, and Tania (my wife) and I were walking down Waikiki Beach, which was alive with the lights that adorned it from shopping outlets and restaurants that lined the street on the opposite side from where we were walking. However, as we continued down the beach walk, we came upon a man who was easily in his 70s with a small crowd around him.

As we got close enough to see him, we heard the sound of a violin and saw that it was the very same man that was playing.

Tania, who also plays the violin, stopped and watched as I followed suit and took in the melodies that were making their way from this man’s instrument.

As I watched him play, I could see something that I don’t often see on the faces of people busking around town: A sense of peace.

The smile on his face did not do his personality or demeanor justice as he interacted with those around him and played songs based on the topics that were brought up.

At one point, Tania requested a melody by Bach that she confessed was one of her favorites. With that ever-warming smile on his face, the man put his chin on its rest and played the melody note for note as though he had the music right in front of him.

As she smiled and talked with him about her experience with the violin, he said to the both of us “you must be honeymooners,” which was true, to an extent, as we forewent a honeymoon following or wedding to save for a trip we really wanted (this trip).

Obliging his curiosity, he introduced us to a song that we would hear several more times on our trip, known as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”

Again, he worked the strings with as much passion as one would find in a concert hall and as much love as one would find in the hands of the most seasoned artist. And as we stood there and took in that moment that he had created for us, all the lights behind us and the ocean in front of us seemed just a distant distraction.

Of all the things we did on our vacation, I will remember the man and his violin as one of the fondest memories. It was through this instance that I was again reminded that sometimes, some of the best things in life are ones that remind us just how much beauty can be found in simplicity and love.

I would encourage all of you to take the time and let a moment in time simply take you away. If you do, then I hope you enjoy, and remember that whatever you find yourself doing in life, enjoy the view.

Burning Ban Forum Shows Residents in Different Light - 8-5-09 Editorial

As of the first of this month, the burning was officially banned by a village ordinance that passed May 26 by a five to one vote.

In preparation for the ban that is now in place, the Village of Mahomet held a question and answer forum on July 30 to help address questions and concerns that residents affected by this ban might have on the new processes involved with getting rid of yard waste and leaves.

The plan for the evening was to address each new option for disposal, covering the machinery to be used, who would be running it, what kind of things would need to be done to be prepared for the pick ups, what days pick ups would fall on, etc. Following the informational section, audience members would be invited to ask questions about the new alternative disposal methods being implemented.

Unfortunately, by the end of the evening, it was apparent that many of the audience members missed the point of the forum.

Instead of coming to the forum with a cautious optimism for the new procedures, it appeared very much like some of the community members were looking for a way to show the village that they had made the wrong decision in banning burning, all while - ironically - saying that the democratic process seemed to have been misguided in this particular case.

Many of the claims against the village also included that the constituents of Mahomet who were in favor of burning were not represented well during the discussion process that led to the ban. It seemed to be a theme of the evening to say that, while there was discussion held about the issue, representation was not given to both sides equally.

However, there is a simple explanation for this: Inaction.

At one point, Village President Deb Braunig brought up a petition that had circulated through Mahomet and that 138 people had signed their names as proponents of the burning ban.

It was later touched upon by audience members that such a number was a poor representation of opinions on such a heavy issue. And that would normally be a fair assertion, save for the fact that it was not a split petition, taking opinions from both sides of the matter; it was a one-sided petition signed by people who wanted to see burning stop.

While 138 signatures is a small number compared to the number of people in Mahomet, it beg the question that would have likely not been answered directly that evening, of where the support was from the pro-burning residents?

138 people out of 12,000 is perhaps negligible when considering a cross-section for a general assessment, but when considering that 138 people who were on one side of the fence made it a point to be public and vocal about an issue before it went to vote compared with zero people from the other side of the fence in that same time, 138 out of 12,000 doesn't seem like such a small number.

Quite frankly, the attitudes that were displayed at the forum were embarrassing, and should have been to people who were there to gain some information before deeming the effort a failure. Instead of trying to understand and make the new program work, or it seemed as though there people out to find a fight because they could no longer burn.

So, here we are, four days into the burn ban. Many of the comments from the forum eluded to not having information on the discussion before it was voted on, along with no representation, which brings up the rub on this particular issue and any other issue of consequence: If you feel strongly enough about something, you will find the time to make yourself heard. Then, in turn, those who are meant to represent you on a larger level, will be able to take your concerns and address them as necessary.

In short, instead of waiting until after an issue has passed to express how displeased you are about the decision and condemning those who handed it down, meet them half way in the discussion. It’s selfish and unrealistic to assume that the village could read the minds of all the residents who were against the burning ban, so to suggest after the fact that the democratic process did not take place properly is merely a way of placing the blame somewhere other than where it belongs.

For anyone interested in reading about the coverage regarding the discussion of the burn ordinance leading up to the vote, here are the publication dates of stories that ran in the Mahomet Citizen before a decision was finalized and that announced the decision:

-March 25 (all dates are 2009)
-April 1
-April 8
-April 22
-April 29
-June 3
-June 10

Sometimes the difference between what happens and what could have happened depends on active residents becoming more informed about the things happening in their town.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Following along with my most recent column, I will be on vacation from July 15 to July 27. During that time, there will not be a column from me. I'll see everyone in August!


Rechargable Batteries - 7-15-09 Editor's Column

Everyone I have ever talked with or met by chance has at some point brought up the topic of working and doing too much of it without a break.

We often put in long hours at work and then come home to put in a short amount of time with family or friends, often times watching television or spending time on the computer before going to bed and heading back to work the next day.

In a sense, we are doing what a professor once told me to avoid, if at all possible - we are becoming what we do. We go to work each day and we don’t stop to think about the time between when we leave work and when we arrive the following day. We are what we do.

However, at some point, the battery that keeps us moving along our seemingly set path starts to run down and if we don’t take the time to recognize the fact that we need to recharge, we may find ourselves not only not enjoying our work, but dreading that next trip to the office, and the one after that and so on.

So becomes the question in all of this: How do we recharge those batteries? Well, it has a little to do with separating yourself from what you do.

The best way to approach work is to treat it as something important in your life, but also something separate from who you are as a person. If you allow yourself to become your work, you are involving yourself with it every hour of every day which, over time, can put a strain on you and lead you to look unfavorably at the things related to your job.

Instead, try leaving as much at the office as possible when you head home each day, both in terms of physical work and emotional attachment. While there will obviously be some transference, the more you leave behind, the less you have to get in the way of enjoying your life - to enjoy being who you are.

Once you’ve accomplished this, the rest is easy: Do the things that best fit your personality and let you be yourself.

For example, I have a weekly poker game that I play with my friends. I enjoy swimming with my friends and my wife. I like going out to hear live music and be around people I care about. I also enjoy playing video games, driving and engaging in sports.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy my job. In fact, because my activities outside of work and the fact that I take time to recharge my batteries and separate myself from what I do, I enjoy my job that much more. I enjoy it because I don’t have to think about it every hour of the day and when I come in to work, it doesn’t feel like I never left.

Take some time today to think about how you recharge your batteries - if at all - and how you can separate what you do from who you are.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Our Developing Social (Networking) Revolution 7-8-09 Editor's Column

In an interesting conversation I had about a week ago, a friend of mine and I discussed how far we have come in our technological advances just over the last 20 years.

We discussed how easily many people got along without email or text messaging then and how being separated from cell phones and computers for any length of time now can lead to some people having sensory deprivation.

I remember when my family first got a computer and dial-up was the standard to have; you would have been hard pressed to find DSL or anything like that anywhere but in most offices or schools.

Yet, here we are with a world of information at our fingertips and the convenience that comes with things like e-mail and the likes provide.

And, along with that has developed what is commonly referred to as the social-networking scene. Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and others connect people that would otherwise never talk to one another.

But how big is this ever-changing asset that we now find at our disposal? I would venture to say much larger than many of us might think.

Consider Facebook, for example. With a few clicks of a mouse and the proper spelling of a name, you can find anyone that has a profile on the popular web site. Facebook, which eclipsed 175 million users back in February, not only allows you to find people that you have lost contact with, but also gives you a glimpse at things like what they're doing now, what they are in to, what kind of beliefs they have and even what they did five minutes ago.

But it’s also a little more than that. While there are plenty of fun things to do on Facebook, it also has the potential to serve as a tool for political and social organizations looking to reach a wider audience. Many people who frequent the site may be familiar with the fan pages that the presidential candidates used to gain support and spread their platforms, reaching younger audiences that spurred one of the largest turnouts in voter history.

Businesses are using Facebook to reach new clients and advertise in this new social medium. Bands are using it to gain support for their music. The applications are endless.

Then we have the web site known as Twitter. A real-time status feed, similar to Facebook’s status but geared more toward quick blurbs and shortened hyperlinks.

Limited to only 140 characters, many Twitter users will post links to content relevent to their professions or their interests. Users can follow people or submit for approval to follow and have an endless feed of news from any one person.

One of the more interesting things to me about this site is the fact that you can follow as many news organizations as you like and most of them, so long as they are fairly active, will have the latest headlines minutes after they go up on their web sites, giving us breaking news at our fingertips and no longer requiring us to wait until the end of the day or for the next morning’s newspaper.

There are even professions beginning to take shape around social media. A good friend of mine is currently the Manager of New Media for the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, a think tank on government policies - and there are more like Cato utilizing the social media scene every day.

We have come a long way in such a short period of time and now find ourselves redefining what it is to network socially and get our news.

I would venture to say that instead of looking at it as a passing trend, we should consider some of this to be developing future of the online presence that will likely ebb and flow with the rest of technology. The only question that remains is, how will approach it?

If you would like to try out Facebook or Twitter, add me on Facebook or follow the Mahomet Citizen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mahomet_Citizen.

Medical Care in Schools: Is There a Right Side? - 7-8-09 Editorial

Most residents who have been keeping up with the news are at least in some part familiar with the discussion about administering medical care to students in the Mahomet-Seymour school district.

Depending on which side you sit on, it is an easy answer. You either believe that the medical care a child receives while in school is acceptable so long as the person performing the actions is trained properly by a professional or you believe that the only person who should be treating a medical issue concerning your child is a medical professional.

However, which side of the argument is one that proposes the most appropriate course of action?

On the one hand, you have teachers and teacher's aides that are being asked to do things like administering catheters to students who a typical citizen would view as requiring special care. Some of these teachers and aides may not be willing to complete these tasks because they either do not feel comfortable or qualified enough to do them or they don’t feel that their job description is specific enough on the issue.

On the other hand, you have students who need an education and the help throughout the day that a parent would typically provide at home. A parent (or parents) that probably has some sort of training in administering the care of a catheter or a similar procedure.

So becomes the argument: Should an educator be put into a position of possibly doing something that he or she is not comfortable with to provide for a child’s well-being or should we look at it as “if they are shown how to do it, there is no reason they can’t?”

I suppose the answer to the question is, how much headache is the district willing to put up with and for how long?

The popular choice among many residents is to say that a medical professional or a person educated in medical practices should be the only person to handle in-school procedures on children.

Either that, or the incoming teachers and aides to the district should have some sort of training experience in handling situations such as administering a catheter or executing basic care to children.

Another side of this that may come as a need is the wording of the job description for teachers and teacher aides, which states that they are to do “other duties” as specified by the administration or designee.

If there is to be a solution reached in this matter, perhaps some of the language that allows for the issue to be continuously set aside should be examined and dealt with.

Finally, there is one important detail about this issue that seems to either be overlooked or used as the reason for discussing it: We must make sure that when all is said and done, that the decision handed down is in the best interest of the children that it will affect.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Being an Active Citizen - 7-1-09 Editor's Column

As many residents and readers are aware, it was recently passed by the village board that burning in Mahomet would be banned beginning August 1, earning any residents inside the village limits a fine should they not adhere to the new ordinance.

However, in talking with local residents, it seems that some people are only now realizing that the burn ordinance in Mahomet is changing and are asking questions about why it is being changed and what will be done to offset these changes when they finally take effect.

To be honest, I was somewhat confused that such a hot topic would be so unknown to so many residents.

For example, the leaf burning issue has been a focus of numerous stories in the Citizen over the last few months, detailing the potential changes, potential alternatives and when the next phase of the discussion will be.

Often times, there were listings of when the next village meeting would be and what would be discussed.

Those I spoke to told me of people who were upset that the changes happened under their noses and that they didn’t have a say in the matter.

So what does that mean about the way we should be approaching new issues that require public input?

It means that we should take note of the meetings that will be heald to discuss the potential changes that could come to the village. It means asking questions of village officials about what they might have heard or asking them to clarify something we might have heard. It means checking with the newspaper to see what press has been published about the issue to ensure that we know the latest details.

There is a lot more to being a citizen than simply living somewhere, paying local taxes and cheering on the local sports team. It’s also about being informed on the issues that are important to the town and the people that not only live here, but work here and send their children to school here.

We should all be so fortunate to live in a community that wants our input on changes that may affect the way that we do things in our daily lives. We have neighbors with strong opinions on and a great amount of knowledge when it comes to local issues. We have the paper that focuses on local events.

If ever you find yourself in the position of not knowing what is happening in the village and want to know how you can become more involved, do the active thing and ask. After all, you can’t give your input if you don’t take the time to find out what is going on.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Father's Day reflections - 6-24-09 Editor's Column

Over the weekend I’m sure many of us either made phone calls, sent an e-card or made our way over to our fathers’ homes for a Father’s Day honor.

In the same regard, I’m also sure many of us spent a varying amount of time trying to find that perfect gift or card for dear old dad so that we can try and show him with something he might like that we are still thinking about him and still enjoy his company.

My father, for example, is an avid motorcycle enthusiast. He goes on weekly rides with his friends and fellow bikers, takes day trips with my mother and sometimes tries to make those crazy runs that I always imagine large groups of riders going on (he was a participant in the recent Ironbutt ride that was the subject of an early-May article).

Therefore, my brother felt it would be appropriate to get him a motorcycle lift for when his two-wheeled love needs a check-up.

With the capabilities of using it with an air compressor for effortless lifting and the ability for it to lift at least 1,500 pounds, it seems that for a motorcycle lift, it is everything that he needs.

However, as I think of that last line and how my brother and I gave him something he needs, I can’t help but think about how small a motorcycle lift is for my father in comparison with the things that he has given me over the years - just like many fathers do for their children over the course of a lifetime (or at least until we move out).

When I recall my childhood and what my brother and I had and what my family had, I can’t for a moment say that I went without something that I needed. This was a testament to the hours that my parents both worked to make sure my brother and I were both taken care of.

But what about dad, you ask? Well, I recall many nights that, while my brother and I were inside sleeping or watching television, he was working on someone’s car, many times until midnight or 1 a.m. so that we could afford to go on a trip together.

I remember weeks when more often than not, he could be found working to get one of us kids a birthday gift that we had been wanting or to take care of something that needed to be done to the house that sheltered us.

We didn’t necessarily need to have the trips to places like Disney World or to different places out west to camp. We didn’t need to have a brand new bicycle or a brand new pair of name-brand jeans that were the rage at the time when our other clothes worked just fine, but he would work for those things anyway.

Even into college, my father worked to help me in my education, co-signing with me on my educational loans.

And then there are the things that money can’t buy, like life experiences and an understanding of what respect is.

Though at the time I hated them with a passion, those hours we spent splitting wood or working outside showed me what it’s like to work and earn my keep instead of having it simply handed to me.

Similarly, all the tough love that some might balk at has provided me with insight that I plan to use when I have children of my own some day. It’s easy to give in and to say “yes,” but to say “no” and to stand by those words resonates so much more, especially when you can help your children understand why.

I won’t ever be able to put into words just how grateful I am for the things I have learned from my dad, because words don’t do justice to the lessons of life - they only provide a window’s worth of perspective.

I hope that with all the fathers out there, that those of you who have a good relationship with yours can appreciate the things that your fathers did for you, as well as the things that they didn’t do for you, because they knew when to say “no.”

Though it’s belated, happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there.

Where Poverty Lives - 6-24-09 Mahomet Citizen Editorial

When looking around the town of Mahomet, no one can argue that we have a wonderful town and that many of the residents here can live comfortably. Many of us don’t have to worry about where our food comes from, nor do we have to worry about how we are going to pay our bills for the upcoming month. We are - in terms of financial and therefore socioeconomic standings - stable.

However, it is important to remember that even in an area that is seeing positive growth like Mahomet, we too are a place where poverty lives.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty line in the United States is $22,050 for a family of four.

In Mahomet, where the median household income for a family in 2000 was around $61,000, as a village, Mahomet’s per capita income was approximately $22,000. Around that time, approximately 3.5% of families and 5.1% of the population were below the poverty line - which in 2000, according to Health and Human services was $17,050 - in Mahomet.

As numbers typically do, the aforementioned numbers have gone up across the nation, especially with the downturn in the economy over the course of the last couple of years.

So what does this mean? It means that we should be conscious of the village in which we live and the people that live within it. Even in the nicest of neighborhoods, there could be someone who is living off of a credit card to pay monthly bills. Even in our schools, which are considered some of the best in the state, we have children who cannot afford to eat, whether they are at school or at home.

In the book “Just Generosity” by Ronald Sider, one portion talks about the face of poverty and one of the more interesting things that I read said possessions are a poor way of determining that someone lives in poverty.

The fact that nearly every family owns a television doesn’t mean that those families each went out and bought a new television. The fact that there are people with cars doesn’t mean that cars are necessarily expensive and that each of the drivers has all of the necessary paperwork (license, insurance, registration) to actually be driving.

This topic runs much deeper than any newspaper column could ever try and show. The real problem doesn’t just sit with those who cannot afford to sustain themselves, but also with those who can do something to help out - even in a small way - and choose to ignore what is right in front of them. The truth is, if we are to ever end poverty and make a better society, we must act upon inaction.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting Lost in Life - 6-17-09 Editor's Column

Every now and then we find ourselves sitting at work or at home and we have one of those (what I like to call) “mini epiphanies.”

It may be the result of high amounts of stress or a prolonged stagnancy within our daily lives, or it may simply be sparked by seeing something on the street or the television. Whatever the case, we often find ourselves saying “you know, I’d like to get out of here for a while.”

But then something else happens. We start to reason with ourselves to determine what the best place to go would be or how much it is going to cost, or when we should do it and how much time we will have to take off work. We, in essence, try as hard as we can to talk ourselves out of doing it.

However, what if we stopped for a moment and simply put our ideas of perfect reasoning aside and put our feet to the pavement?

Though strange as it might feel at first, exercising our spontaneity muscles has the potential to lead to great things in life.

After all, what fun is life without those instances when we don’t know what the immediate future holds, but we’re hanging on for the ride anyway?

Every day we work our jobs, often times knowing what to expect, even if the situation is likely to be different. Many of us have our routines at home where we come home from work and, depending on the day, make a certain meal, watch a certain television show or read a certain book/magazine. We then go to bed, get up again and repeat.

Now picture yourself waking up one morning and deciding to take a three-day weekend trip to destination unknown, or deciding to try an activity that you never thought you would.

Nothing breaks the monotony of a simple routine like an unexpected surprise. In fact, many people who engage in regular irregularity in their schedules seem to find themselves enjoying life more.

By not allowing ourselves to become swallowed by our usual routines, we may find ourselves smiling more often, running into more opportunities than we would have otherwise and even enjoying our relationships with others more than we have before.

As working professionals, we owe it to ourselves to get out of the typical and start enjoying the atypical in our schedule, hopefully for the betterment of our lives.

Now, the only question becomes, what are you doing tomorrow, and how can you change that?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Disconnecting - 06-10-09 Editor's Column

By taking a simple glance around, there is no way that any of us can deny how connected we are to the rest of the world, whether by our phones, the Internet or television.

We literally have libraries of information readily available to us at all times; we have the power to call other countries with just a few button pushes; we can even complete tasks on our mobile phones that once required the use of a high-end desktop computer.

And we are content. Or are we?

It interests me to see so much connectedness in my everyday life. I have access to my email - both work and personal accounts-, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet nearly 24/7 - just on my BlackBerry alone.

However, as I look towards an impending vacation during the month of July, I have already reasoned that I will be setting aside my digital window to the outside world to experience something that I haven't in a very long while: a disconnect.

The interesting part about this to me is that I am very much looking forward to it and find myself curious about what it will be like at the same time. In a time when many smartphone users - including the President - are addicted to their "CrackBerries," and we can't walk down the street without seeing at least one person with a Bluetooth headset in either ear, I feel like I'm going to be embarking on a strange journey.

Still, I believe wholeheartedly that everyone should pursue a disconnect of some kind at some point, if only to (ironically) reestablish that connection with the real world that is often lost when we find ourselves consumed by the time we spend in the digital one.

A great example of this is a friend of mine by the name of Chris Moody. Chris decided that following his graduation from college in 2007, he would spend some time as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. However, while he did this, he would have no access to a cell phone or computer for the entire duration of his trip, which was approximately three months.

While he was away, he received mail in one to two week increments and hardly had any time to catch up on what was happening in the news unless he was sent a magazine or a newspaper.

When he came back, he said the work he had done was some of the hardest he had ever experienced. He talked of going weeks without showering and going for hours and hours with no sleep. He shared the experiences he shared with the friends he had made.

But, never once did he mention that he missed connectedness that we so often feel is necessary for everyday life.

So here I find myself wondering, will it really be that big of a deal when I leave my phone and computer more than 4,000 miles away? Or will I find myself caught up in the wonder of the world that has been right under my nose for so long?

One person who is very excited to see my BlackBerry and computer usage to take a hiatus is my wife, who often tells me I spend too much time on both on a regular basis. To that end, it is a bit disappointing to think that there are people who there who spend more time on their phones and computers than I do and to just think of the loved ones that they might be pushing away for the sake of being "in the know."

I'm sure I will have those instances where I will reach for my phone out of habit, probably with the intention of seeing who has e-mailed me or to see what's going on with my friends on Facebook, but something tells me, breaking myself of that habit for a few days may be worth more than the cost of the trip itself.

In the same regard, perhaps one of the best things we can do for ourselves, as well as the ones that we love, is take a break for a day, or a week, or a weekend, and just enjoy the here and now.

That being said, I issue this as a challenge to anyone out there that finds himself or herself spending large amounts of time on a phone or a computer to take that leap and turn the power off. If you fear you won't be able to do it (and there are people out there who won't), take the battery out and give to a friend for a while. Put it somewhere that you know you won't go looking for it for a day or two, or take a trip and leave it behind altogether.

Whatever the case, take some time away from the digital world for a while, and take the opportunity to get back to reality.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The 'Never' Children - 6-3-09 Editor's Column

Every now and then a conversation comes along that takes you back to your childhood.

For better or worse, you find yourself reminiscing about made you laugh, what made you cry, what made you nervous and what made you feel determined.

I was reminded the other day of some of those things when I spoke with a friend of mine about what it was like to be one of the “never children,” - the kids that people say will “never” do this or that, will “never” achieve this or “never” amount to that.

She and I came to two conclusions during this conversation: 1. That Mahomet has too many “never” kids and 2. That it is our duty to encourage those children who hear and often believe the “nevers” that swirl around their ears.

First of all, any town that has even one child that is looked upon as one that will “never” do anything has too many “never” kids. Yet, we let things like the socioeconomic climate of our town affect the way that we see potential.

For example, when I was in school, Candlewood Estates was considered a poor area, and by way of association, kids that grew up there - some of them my friends - were designated “never” kids.
However, as a bit of news to those who don’t know it, the poor don’t just live in Candlewood - they live everywhere in Mahomet. On the same token, poor doesn’t mean stupid, nor does privileged mean smart.

All that matters is that our youth - no matter where they live - are encouraged to be great. That’s it. Just be encouraging.

That brings me to the second point: We, as responsible adults, hold an important key to the future of our youth in the simple affirmations, accolades and encouragement that we provide them.

Think of the kids that find themselves getting into trouble at young ages. It’s easy to say that those kids are just bad eggs, but what about taking a step back and considering their home lives?
I know that a huge part of who I am today is because of the encouragement that I had from my family and friends.

Having dealt with depression while I was in school, I know what it’s like to be one of those “never” kids, but my parents and my friends were there for me and helped me see that I could do great things, just like you can help someone else see that he or she can do great things.

Getting back to the conversation I had with my friend, she said that we always remember two people in life, “you remember the people who were bad to you and you remember the people who encouraged you.” Which one do you want to be remembered as?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking Pride in Your Village - 5-27-09 Editorial

Everyone is proud of something in life. In the village of Mahomet, pride can often be found in many things throughout the village itself, such as the schools, the parks, the hometown feel and the friendly nature of the village residents.

Still, when it comes to businesses and visitors to our town, are the schools, parks and friendly smiles going to be what leaves a lasting impression? Or is it going to be the cleanliness and healthy infrastructure of the village that leaves people recalling Mahomet with a smile?

Upon first glance, the village is a pretty clean place that glows with beautiful foliage and unique architecture that often includes Victorian-era homes and a classic downtown look. However, if you take a closer look around, you’ll find that there are several ways in which residents could easily show the pride they have in their village.

One example that was brought to my attention are the streets themselves. While many of the residents likely don’t pay much mind to the roads throughout the village, visitors driving on roads like Main Street might have a different view of things.

After all, what should they think about the downtown area when the road to get there is littered with crumbling edges and potholes, a sign that would point to no significant work in a number of years?

Granted, much of this work has to be contracted out before it can be done, but why shouldn’t it be brought up by the citizens of the town as a need?

Another area that can be affected more directly by residents is the necessity for a town cleanup. A perfect example of this need are the different cross streets throughout the village that have unnecessary clutter in them. One need only drive through the ally way by the Citizen office to see automotive parts and garbage that would best serve the village by being disposed of properly.

The only village cleanup efforts that can be spoken of to this point in the village of Mahomet are conducted by the Mahomet Rotary Club each year and small group efforts that are too sporadic to be called annual or otherwise.

Imagine how proud you would be driving down the streets that you helped get the ball rolling on for repairs. Consider the message you would send to visitors, potential businesses and fellow residents when they see and hear that you and others like you were responsible for a village-wide cleanup effort.

There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the village that you live in. Nor is there anything wrong with extending that pride to areas that others would simply say “someone else will do it.” All it takes is some initiative and a desire to see your village live up to its potential.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Taking That Next Step 5-20-09 Editor's Column

It is again the time of year that graduation gowns are donned, honor cords are distributed and thousands of pictures are taken to remember the occasion that is graduation.

And why not celebrate? Graduation from high school and college signify great steps towards bright futures for many of the students that have put in the time and effort to make it so far.

Still I would encourage the recent (and upcoming) graduates to do a little bit of thinking on their newfound accomplishments, as they can often mean more than just joining the working world or becoming a college student.

For example, many high school students are taking that next step into a world that may seem foreign to them. Many of them will be moving on to higher education that will likely involve living away from home with people they have never met before in a setting that may be unfamiliar to them.

As they take these steps, little do they realize just how profound these experiences will be for them. College has the potential to change everything for an individual and lead to new things that will shape the person that each student will become.

I, for one, cannot recount all of the things that, looking back, I learned about myself and who I want to be from my college experience.

Then there are the college graduates, who have just spent a number of years becoming professionals. I was in their position one year ago and would like them to know this: It is okay to be scared.

Despite the doom and gloom of the job market, if you focus on what you want and are willing to do what is necessary in the mean-time, you will eventually find yourself where you want to be.

I was unemployed for three months following my graduation and worked another two and a half months as a janitor before I was given this job opportunity. Just because you don’t have success right out of the gate doesn’t mean that you cannot have success, it simply means you have to continue working to get there.

Finally, to both the high school and college graduates: There will be failures, but from those failures you will learn a great deal about yourself. Welcome the challenges and never give in to the pressure that will often seem unbearable.

Just remember that each day ends and that momentary inconveniences are not worth allowing yourself to be broken down. Congratulations, class of 2009. Watch your step.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Paradigm Shift 5-13-09 Editor's Column

I’m sure many of us know someone who has at one time or another said, “I’m going to get out of this job and do something I’ve always wanted to do,” or “someday I’ll enjoy my job.” But how many of us have actually seen that person take that leap into the unknown?

While changing gears sounds easy when it’s brought up in discussion, it’s entirely different when it gets down to putting the pen to paper. However, sometimes it’s exactly what the body, soul and mind need.

I had the pleasure this weekend to meet someone who had actually done what so many people often only talk about: she decided to pursue a career that would make her happy.

It was on Sunday morning that a knock on my door revealed two strangers requesting my help in moving a couch from the third floor to the first and then out and into a moving van. Once I was able to get the couch downstairs, I was asked if I could do a little more for $20, to which I agreed.

From there, we meticulously stacked and situated the furniture in the truck and moved it to this woman’s - Linda was her name - graduate housing apartment on the University of Illinois Campus.

Once we had arrived, we not only moved the furniture into the cellblock-like structure, but we conversed about our different backgrounds.

Linda was a 53-year-old veterinary medicine student with eight months left of her schooling. She had purchased the furniture that we were moving into her new, but temporary, home with eggshell-white walls, for a total of $300 and even then, she felt that she had too much furniture.

However, that is not what interested me most about Linda. What interested me was that Linda, originally from Canada, had been working for the better part of the last 20 years in New York City with various pharmaceutical companies as an advertising specialist. She was also involved with the art scene and enjoyed the diversity that some of the city’s neighborhoods had to offer.

However, it reached a point that the work she was doing - in her opinion, helping the drug companies hold hostage the consumers that needed their products to survive - no longer appealed to her, nor did wearing the black suits and board meetings.
So, Linda, a woman who had never previously experienced debt and had a lucrative career in front of her, gave everything she had away and decided to become a veterinarian.

Now, even with around $300,000 in school debt, Linda - a student that forever wants to learn - finds herself in the driver’s seat of her life.

She plans to use the degree she is earning from the University of Illinois to travel the world and help villages and needy people and animals, enjoying life for what it is worth, one day at a time.

After I left Linda, having received more than $20 could by just by the interaction, I couldn’t help but wonder what stops us from taking that leap? What are we afraid of that keeps us from stepping out of our own shadows and finding the light that will breath life into us?

Simply put? Failure. We are afraid to fail, so we do what we know and try to stay there. However, sometimes life requires us to step outside that comfort zone and put ourselves into situations that might otherwise feel compromising, but those that could prove to be the best decisions of our lives.

Will there be bumps along the way? Of course there will, but the chance of experiencing such a level of self discovery is not without its pitfalls, nor should we expect it to be.

I suppose the point I am trying to make is, when people say “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” or any other saying of the nature that would hint to taking that leap of faith, maybe we should think a little bit harder about it.

Maybe there is a career move that you would like to make, but you’re afraid of failing, even if you know you could do it with a little bit of effort. Perhaps there’s a new opportunity in your company but the responsibilities scare you. Or, maybe you’re like Linda and you need to shift gears completely and rediscover what it is that drives you. Whatever the case, don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from potential greatness.

And, on a side note, if you hear a knock on your door, don’t be afraid to answer it. Sometimes the best things in life are the unexpected conversations that you have that come from a simple knock on the door.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Healthy Education - 5-6-09 Editor's Column

I would feel left out of the loop if I didn’t write something - anything – about the swine flu pandemic that has people everywhere concerned for their health and safety.

However, I feel that the best way of approaching this issue as it currently stands is to tell you something that most news outlets haven’t yet: Take a deep breathe and calm down.

I think it’s far too easy to get caught up in the panic of something like swine flu, or H1N1 - an influenza type A subtype, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - as it is now known.

This is true to the point that we tend to ignore the opportunities we have to understand what it is we are dealing with and what the consequences of our reactions can, in themselves, do to our health.

One of the first things that we should understand about this flu is that its symptoms are not much different than the typical influenza that are so often immunized against. Just like other strains of the flu, it can show such symptoms as fever, headaches, body aches, coughs and sore throats.

Did you know that according to the CDC, every year, nearly 200,000 people catch the flu and around 36,000 people die from flu-related causes?

What separates this flu from what many of us have no doubt experienced is its chances of reaching our lungs if left untreated, which is why it is considered more dangerous. In fact, there may be several more cases out there that are unaccounted for, especially if the infection is weak and working against a healthy immune system.

That being said, perhaps instead of allowing ourselves to become worked up over the possibility that we might get sick, we should focus on what we can easily do to prevent sickness.

Many of the best was of averting sickness are to do what should be common knowledge by now: Wash your hands after using the restroom or doing something that has dirtied them, cover your mouth when you sneeze (also washing your hands if you sneeze into them) and simply staying away from people you know who are sick.

The masks you often see on television? They offer very little protection, according to a recent report by NBC’s Robert Bazell on what the public should know about H1N1. He suggests that the only people who should be concerned with wearing over the counter surgical masks – which can easily be compromised – are people working in laboratories and hospitals.

Another misconception is that this strain of influenza is transferable through pork products. This is, in fact, not true. According to the CDC, “H1N1 viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get this new HIN1 virus from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.”

Yes, that’s right, you can eat a hot dog or a piece of bacon without fear of becoming sick. As well you should, because the more you worry about becoming sick and stressing yourself over whether or not you may catch H1N1, the greater your chances of becoming sick anyway.

According to Elizabeth Scott, a stress management specialist and family counselor, estimates suggest that more than 90 percent of doctor visits are due at least in part to psychosomatic reactions to stress. This means that if you are experiencing a great deal of stress, your body will manifest physical symptoms that may resemble certain illnesses.

The basic jest of what is going on with this pandemic should be very clear to the public: If you’re healthy, then simply keep doing what you’ve been doing while making sure you are washing your hands and using good hygiene practices.

And if you catch H1N1? Handling it is easier than the hype might suggest. Contact your doctor or a local physician about the symptoms and sickness and get treated for them. The only thing that might put you in harms way is inaction. Even if some of the aforementioned information doesn’t settle your stomach, perhaps the fact that a vaccine for H1N1 may be ready as early as June will.

Did you know that every year, nearly 200,000 people catch the flu and around 36,000 people die every year from flu-related causes?

In my honest opinion, the only thing we have to fear about the H1N1 outbreak is the fear that can easily be spread through misinformation and misunderstanding. Therefore, do yourself and others a great service and take the time to read about the H1N1 influenza instead of going by what you hear – it may help you more than you think.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One year later: Anniversary Recollections - 4-29-09 Editor's column

This past weekend (on April 26), I had the opportunity to celebrate my first year of marriage to my wife, Tania.

As the weekend progressed and we were out doing things together such as shopping for flowers and having the celebratory anniversary dinner, I couldn’t help but think about what we were celebrating.

At the same time, I also began to wonder if everyone else who has an anniversary - whether it’s their first or their 50th - thinks about what they are celebrating when they give that symbolic gift or sit down for a nice, quiet dinner together.

I decided that one of the best ways to mark my anniversary each year would be to think of all the things my wife and I accomplished in the previous year, kind of as a nice reflection on the way we have not only succeeded, but also grown together.

For example, I can say that without a doubt, I have become a much more patient person in my first year of marriage than I was even in the three and a half years that my wife and I dated.

In some situations where I knew exactly what I meant and she was having trouble understanding, I had to maintain patience and understanding while I continued to explain until she knew where I was coming from. The same is true of situations from her to me, in which I had a hard time understanding where she was coming from.

Then there is the selflessness of marriage. I’ve heard people say that you never realize how selfish you are until you have a child, which I’m sure is true. However, I think this could also easily apply to a marriage relationship.

Over the last year, I’ve had to learn how to put my wife and well-being of the both of us before myself, which is harder to do than one might think.

More and more I find myself considering what would benefit my wife in a certain situation instead of what would benefit just me. What would she like to do today? I know I would like to eat here or see that movie, but what would she like?

It’s easy to be self-centered, but much harder to be other-centered, which I think is essential to my marriage or any other marriage for that matter.

Then there are the easier things to recall: the funny moments where we both ended up laughing at each other, the times we spent with friends and together. The holidays that we spent with our new families. The days we spent taking care of each other while sick. The list could go on.

However you choose to celebrate your next anniversary, try taking a moment to remember what the previous year did for your marriage. When we reflect on the things that we have learned - especially about ourselves and our relationships - our ability to sustain both becomes that much more refined and special.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Live local and shop local - 4-29-09 Mahomet Citizen Editorial

When the town of Mahomet comes to mind for many of the people outside of our community, the terms “bedroom,” and “garage door” usually come up in conversation to describe the kind of town that we are.

The idea behind these terms is to denote that most of the people who live here work, play and shop in places like Champaign and Urbana, only to come home to Mahomet, where they pull into their garages and don’t really set foot outside their homes until the next morning when again they get up and go to work.

However, many of the businesses in the Mahomet area surely wonder “what about us?” And so they should. After all, it isn’t wrong of them to expect the residents of their town to come to them for their needs and services. In fact, for many - if not all - consumers, it could be very right for them to shop locally.

One of the biggest benefits you can find by shopping locally is keeping the money you spend in your local economy. Instead of getting all of your groceries at large-scale chain stores and benefiting the economies of other towns, you can keep the taxes that you pay on your purchases in fund for the town that you live in, effectively perpetuating growth while also sustaining local jobs and keeping wages up for your neighbors.

The next time you walk out your door and you see the new sidewalk or the freshly poured concrete that adorns the road in front of your house, consider for a moment where some of those funds came from: The local tax fund, of which the local businesses are a part.

Another way to look at shopping locally is to maintain the feel that local retailers add to the community. Instead of driving into Champaign to hit up the Starbucks, maybe just stay in town and go to a local coffee shop or get a new roast from the IGA. Without the sales generated by your patronage, these local retailers can’t maintain the upkeep on their stores and may have to either close or deal with lackluster offerings to the public just to stay afloat.

This leads me into another point: We are a country founded on the backs of small businesses and small business owners. Where would Wal-Mart be without the customers that made it what it is? What about the countless food chains that have become national success stories because of their customer bases? We are those customers and our small businesses need us just as much as the national stores did before they became what they are today.

Finally, one of the best reasons to shop locally is the community that you build by becoming a regular customer. Many of these businesses are run by people who have grown up in Mahomet or who are raising families in Mahomet. This builds strong bonds of friendship, a desire for the business owners to do what is best for their customers and a desire for the customers to support those businesses.

We may not change the economy in one fell swoop by shopping locally and supporting local businesses, but we can still help our local economy thrive as we as a town grow towards the future.