Chump Change

This week’s headlines included a downer from the animal kingdom.  The world’s last male northern white rhino passed away, leaving just two females to live out their days before the species goes extinct.  How sad is that?  Especially since the northern white’s demise is the result of the poaching of its horns – questionable behavior from we humans.

Speaking of questionable behavior, did you know the U.S. penny and nickel are also on the verge of obsolescence?  It’s true, if you believe the arguments of those who say the one-cent and five-cent pieces have outlived their utility.  Consider: 1) both coins cost more to mint than they’re worth; 2) a nickel today buys less than 20% of its worth in 1970 (a penny – less than 10%); 3) merchants routinely adjust pricing to avoid their use; and 4) the metals involved – zinc, copper, and nickel – have perfectly good uses elsewhere.

The prosecutions rests and the defense now takes the stand.  Pennies and nickels should not go the way of the northern white.  Consider: 1) Demand for the little guys is soaring; double what it was a decade ago; 2) The U.S. Mint “makes money” on its production of coins – fully 45 cents for every dollar’s worth (in 2017: a $400 million profit); 3) If zinc becomes too expensive (97.5% of the makeup of today’s pennies), a cheaper metal can be used for filler, and 4) eliminating pennies and nickels could threaten confidence in the U.S. dollar with a forced dependence on higher denominations.

I’ll get behind any of these arguments – pro or con – I just think they’re boring.  Defending our little Mr. Lincoln’s and little Mr. Jefferson’s can be so much more creative.  Take away pennies and nickels; then consider the following:

1) Penny loafers.  No longer the classic men’s slip-on shoes with the cool name, including the cross strap and small opening at the center; the perfect size and shape for a penny.  Add those Lincolns and you gave new meaning to the term “shoe shine”.  You also had a built-in conversation starter, when the girl asked why you put coins in your shoes.  You told her you were retro – back in the day a phone call cost a penny, and loafers were a convenient way to carry around the cost.

2) 99 Cent Only Stores.  Fifty years of U.S. retail, with over 400 locations and thousands of products priced at “ninety-nine cents or less”, goes belly-up without the penny.  How would a cashier make change on the dollar?  They’d have to give you a nickel instead, and… oops, the nickel’s gone too.  New math: buy something for $0.99, pay a dollar, and get a dime in change.  Huh?

3) Girls named Penelope.  They could no longer be “Penny” for short (or “Nickel”) because no one would understand what made the nickname so cute.  You say you don’t know anyone named Penelope?  Wait a few years.  In 2008, Penelope was #2,222 on the list of girl’s names.  This year it’s #573.

4) Your thoughts.  They used to be “a penny for…”.  Now you’ll have to pay at least ten times that much.  Keep them to yourself.

5) Beatles hits.  “Penny Lane” drops out of the Fab Four’s impressive list of #1’s.  The quaint little street no longer exists in Liverpool, England.  The barber never shows another photograph (of every customer he’s had the pleasure to have known).  There’s no fireman with an hourglass (nor in his pocket a portrait of the Queen).  You’re no longer there, beneath the blue, suburban skies.

6) Copper (+ zinc) floors.  Okay, I didn’t even realize this was a “thing” until recently.  Who ever said you had to spend a penny to give it value?

7) Your parent’s sayings.  Out the window goes “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…”, or “we didn’t have two pennies to rub together”, or “that costs a pretty penny”, or “penny-wise, pound-foolish”, and so on.  Nobody would ever “nickel-and-dime” you again.

8) Derailed trains.  Okay, a derailed train was just a childhood power trip, to heighten the suspense of flattening pennies on the tracks.  The train rumbled on.  The pennies sometimes got lost.  Would a train flatten a dime or a quarter?  Never tried it; wouldn’t expect a kid to sacrifice that much pocket change for cheap thrills.

These arguments are solid; not a bad penny in the bunch.  We can’t let a subspecies like the U.S. penny or the U.S. nickel go extinct.  Think twice the next time a cashier takes a penny out of the counter cup just so she can give you change in dimes or quarters.  Think twice the next time you’re humming along with Billie Holiday:

Oh every time it rains
It rains pennies from heaven
Don’t you know each cloud contains
Pennies from heaven
You’ll find your fortune
Fallin’ all over town
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “”Should the U.S. Retire the Penny and Nickel?”

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Save the Bowl

Back in the 1980’s, Hollywood produced an awful movie called “The Stuff”.  The story began with a couple of miners discovering a pasty-white goo pouring forth from the earth.  Giving it a taste, they realized it was not only edible, but the more you ate the more you seemed to want.  So, they package the goo, brand it “The Stuff”, and begin selling cartons to the masses.  Turns out – besides tasting good – “The Stuff” melts your brain, turns you into a zombie, and leaves you with nothing but an insatiable appetite for more.  That’s the entire comedy-horror plot, save for an FBI agent and a teen trying desperately to rescue the planet.  “The Stuff” was like a light/airy “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”: no taste and little substance.

Even a “distasteful” movie can be a prophecy, however.  Maybe you’re craving “The Stuff” after reading that paragraph.  Guess what?  It just may exist, disguised as the pint-sized “ice cream” products from Halo Top, Arctic Zero, Enlightened, and others.  All available this very minute at your local grocery store!  What are you waiting for?

Halo Top (HT) is – in one aspect – the dream dessert.  Halo Top is a full pint of ice cream (per the label – four servings), engineered to be consumed straight from the container in one sitting, but with none of the guilt/gluttony associated with full-fat competitors.  HT can’t hide its pride – the biggest lettering on the container is the calories (just 280 for the whole pint; 25% of Ben & Jerry’s), while elsewhere the packaging promotes immediate and total consumption with slogans like “save the bowl” and “stop when you hit the bottom”.

On the other hand, Halo Top is not dream-tasty.  Some describe HT as “shaved ice” while others say it leaves a chalky aftertaste (hello, stevia).  The chocolate-chip cookie dough has very little “dough”, and the cookies-and-cream has no cookies.  Every review I found recommends time at room temperature to achieve a more ice-cream-like consistency.  On a recent visit to the grocery store, I “hefted” one of these pints.  It was hard as a rock, yet somehow so light/airy it felt like a little helium balloon, ready to ascend from my grasp.

Here’s the real wonder to me: none of the above gotchas stop consumers from filling their baskets with Halo Top pints.  Last year’s sales were over $350 million, a 500% increase from the previous year.  In the same time, “regular” ice cream sales increased less than 10%.  As one consumer declares, it’s a brave new world of ice cream – quantity over quality.

What I find most disturbing about Halo Top and its peers is the manufacturer’s intent.  They’re effectively encouraging you to clean your plate by design.  Four servings make more sense than one because you should eat the whole pint.  Whether you’ve already quenched your appetite is irrelevant; it’s about getting to the bottom of the container.  Arctic Zero claims “…our love of ice cream runs deep, like eat-the-entire-pint-deep.”  Enlightened even offers how-often guidelines.  In their website FAQ’s, we’re told ice cream is not just for dessert: “Not at all! Low in calories, fat, and sugar, and packed with protein and fiber, Enlightened Ice Cream is truly good for you. It can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner… or anytime in between!”

Let’s translate the “more is better” concept to the movie theater.  If we drop the guilt factor from junk-food concessions, we could sell popcorn in containers the size of trash cans.  Soda could be hosed to each theater seat for hours of non-stop slurping (restroom logistics aside).  String licorice could be coiled on floor-mounted reels.  M&M’s could be the size of hamburgers.

We’ve just about come full-circle here.  If all of us binge on Halo Top, honing our full-container consumption habits for breakfast lunch, dinner, “and anytime in between”, haven’t we created a modern-day version of “The Stuff”?  All that’s missing is the magic ingredient in Starbucks and Chinese food that triggers “I want more”.  As for me, I’ve never tried any of the products I’ve talked about today, nor do I intend to.  I’d rather not become a zombie.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop…“.

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All By Myself

I’ve always thought “Prime Minister” is an elegant name for a politician.  Prime suggests first-in-charge, while Prime Minister implies several others in the political hierarchy one or more levels down.  In the United Kingdom, Theresa May is the PM; the head of “Her Majesty’s Government”, with a cabinet of other Ministers at her disposal on par with Secretaries in the United States.  Minister of Agriculture, Minister of the Interior, Minister of the Defence (love the British spelling), and so on.  In all, Ms. May commands twenty-one unique ministers.  As of January, make that twenty-two.  Who’s the latest to join the tea party?  The Minister of Loneliness.

When I think “lonely”, a country of 60 million people doesn’t come to mind.  No country comes to mind.  Instead, I think about individuals in far-away, desolate places.  A scientist conducting an experiment near the Arctic Circle.  A criminal in solitary confinement in the bowels of an isolated prison.  Tom Hanks in “Castaway”.  So it’s no wonder the New York Times article about the newest U.K. minister, Tracey Crouch, caught my eye.  Even more eye-opening was to read about the loneliness “epidemic” responsible for her appointment.

Britain’s research indicates nine million or more of its citizens “often or always feel lonely”.  That’s 15% of their population.  I find it remarkable all those people would own up to feeling that way, but perhaps the survey was their opportunity to say, “please help”.  Consider this: 200,000 senior citizens in the U.K. hadn’t had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.  Makes me wonder if vocal cords stop working if they’re not used long enough.

Loneliness is not a trademark of the U.K. alone, of course.  It’s unavoidable in any country or culture.  “Lonely” brings to mind several songs over the past fifty years: Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely (1962) to Adam Lambert’s Another Lonely Night (2015).  Elvis had a hit with Are You Lonesome Tonight?, as did Roy Orbison with Only The Lonely and Yes with Owner of a Lonely Heart.  Eric Carmen’s two biggest hits in the 1970’s were about loneliness: All By Myself and Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.  And if you want the best example of loneliness in music, look no further than Charles Ives’ short classical piece The Unanswered Question.  The haunting conversation between solo trumpet and woodwind quartet makes you realize even a brass instrument wishes it had a few friends.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists over 75 movies about loneliness.  A few familiar examples: Carrie, Silence of the Lambs, and Brokeback Mountain.  The History Channel hosted several years of a reality television series called “Alone”, which shared the daily struggles of individuals as they survived in the wilderness for as long as possible. The participants were isolated from each other and all other humans, and the one who remained the longest won a grand prize of $500,000.  This is entertainment?

I don’t want to be lonely just to be able to write a best-selling song or win a half-million dollars, but that doesn’t mean I mind being alone.  Lonely and alone are decidedly different creatures.  If one is lonely, the dictionary says he is “destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship” (sounds miserable, doesn’t it?).  If one is alone, he is “separate, apart, or isolated from others”.  And that is not such a bad thing.  In fact, we introverts (persons concerned primarily with their own thoughts and feelings) handle “alone” much better than you extroverts (persons concerned primarily with the physical and social environment).  We introverts prefer our gatherings in smaller numbers.

I’ll never forget an encounter I had with a neighbor years ago, at Halloween.  As my kids knocked on her door for treats, I realized we’d lived right next door for several months but never formally introduced ourselves.  I apologized as I shook her hand, yet her response was, “oh no problem at all; that’s why we moved to this neighborhood.  People stay to themselves here.”

Is this the world we live in now, with electronics and social media and work-from-home promoting more alone time?  At least the Brits are acting, before too much “alone” becomes too much “lonely”.   They’ve started a Facebook group for those affected by loneliness.  They’ve set up a fund to study the detrimental effects.  And they’ve appointed a new minister to lead the way.

Perhaps the U.S. should appoint a Secretary of Loneliness too, ministering to those who can’t seem to find companionship among 323 million others.  The Surgeon General claims loneliness can be associated with “greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety”.  On that note, what first appeared to be an LOL headline is no laughing matter at all.  Get out there and mingle.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Precisely Enchanting

If you watched any of the Winter Olympics the past couple weeks, you witnessed dramatic moments only the Games can deliver.  Some literally took my breath away: the edge-of-your-seat overtime shootout in the women’s hockey final (a 3-2 win by the Americans); the exquisite battle for gold between the highly-touted Russians in women’s figure-skating; and the first-ever victory for the U.S. in the team sprint of women’s cross-country skiing, where Jessie Diggins’ come-from-behind lunge at the finish line took the gold by 0.18 of a second.


Consider “0.18 of a second” (for a second).  The blink of an eye takes twice as long.  Now consider measuring 0.18 of a second.  Remarkably, we’ve had the technology to do so since the 1950’s.  For the Olympics, that precision was provided by Omega, the watch manufacturer from Switzerland.  Of course the timekeepers were Swiss.  What other country is so renowned for the keeping of time?  What other country coordinates forty-six individual railway companies on a single network of tracks, bringing its trains into the stations on-time every time?  Where else in the world would you feel more confident banking your cash?  Six years ago, Omega developed technology capable of measuring one-millionth of a second.  At the Pyeongchang Olympics they used a photo-finish camera capable of ten thousand snaps per-second.  The Swiss redefine “attention to detail”.

I’ve had an affection for Switzerland from a very young age.  As a kid, my introduction took place in subtle ways.  Shirley Temple’s “Heidi” was based in Switzerland. The Switzer brand of red/black licorice (still available in “vintage” candy stores) was a frequent purchase.  The cute little Swiss Miss in our pantry beckoned me to hot chocolate.  As a Boy Scout, I always carried one of the Victornox Swiss army knives.  At Disneyland I roller-coasted through a scaled-down replica of the Matterhorn – one of the Alps.  I had my first taste of fondue.  And for a Suisse exclamation point, I consumed a ton of that “holiest” of cheeses.  My ancestry test should’ve produced a little Swiss DNA, don’t you think?

As an adult, Switzerland’s products are no less present in my life.  Lindt is my favorite chocolate (and I’ve tried my fair share of chocolate). A Rolex watch is still the material equivalent of corporate-America success (though my tastes are more modest – perhaps a Swatch [Swiss-watch]?)  Velcro can be found on several items in my wardrobe.  Haagen Daz is my favorite brand of ice cream (a product of the Swiss company Nestlé).  And a lengthy search for “adult” Swiss licorice led me to Chateau D’Lanz, a family-run business in Washington state producing some of the best.

Speaking of Nestlé, the Toll House chocolate-chip cookie recipe is also one of my favorites. Here’s a bit of trivia: Toll House was an inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.  Ruth Graves Wakefield is credited with inventing the chocolate chip cookie (by mistake) somewhere nearby the Toll House.  The price Nestlé paid for the right to Ruth’s recipe? A lifetime supply of Swiss chocolate.

Now speaking of Velcro, here’s another bit of trivia.  George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer and amateur mountaineer from the 1940’s. Hiking in the Alps one day, George noticed seeds kept sticking to his clothes and to his dog’s fur. When he returned home, George developed a synthetic “sticking” technology like what he’d found in nature; a hook-and-loop zipper alternative eventually patented as Velcro. The clever name is a child of the French parents velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).

Okay, we’ve covered Swiss precision and some world-class products, but I haven’t addressed what makes Switzerland so fetching.  How’s this for starters: the entire country can fit within the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  Bordered by France, Italy, and Austria, the Swiss are typically fluent in French, Italian, and German; as well as their home-country language of Romansh.  Switzerland produces some of the best in skiing, snowboarding, and mountain-climbing (of course), but also tennis? (hello, Roger Federer).


Here’s some more Swiss charm.  The colorful Guards in the Vatican City are the only foreign military service permitted to its citizens.  Switzerland’s “non-interference policy” dictates its only participation in foreign wars is typically through the high-profile benevolence of its Red Cross organization.  And citizenship in this fair country?  You’d better hope you have blood ties through birth or marriage.  Otherwise it’ll take twelve years of a special-residency permit, combined with a long-term work visa.

Despite my obvious affection, I should probably stay away from precisely enchanting Switzerland.  It’s a real country like any other after all, which means not everything comes up roses.  Perhaps I’ll cling to my snow-globe impression of the Suiss Alpenland instead: a gentle people living high on the Happiness Scale; the cleanest and quaintest cities imaginable; cobble-stoned streets and chalet-like houses.  The magnificent Alps serve as the backdrop, their slopes ascended by rickety cog railways and descended by skillful skiers.  Listen for an accordion or a little yodeling.  Look carefully enough into my globe and you might even notice the von Trapp family, marching down the mountain trail from Austria, singing their do-re-mi song.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Wait For It

Let’s wager a guess over something that happened to you in the past few days. It probably happened several times in the past few days. It wasn’t by choice, nor were you alone.  It might even be happening right now. What is this recurring, oft-maddening event in your daily world (and mine)? Somewhere, for some good reason, in person or in the car, deliberately or unintentionally, you found yourself waiting in line.

Call it a common courtesy or call it the primary by-product of consumer demand. Waiting in line is a timeless (or time-wasting) necessary evil with no satisfactory alternative.  While the world behaves efficiently with smartphones, computers and even data-consuming “IoT” appliances, those snaking, switch-backing, several-option, several-category lines of humans seem to grow ever longer.  Including traffic on the highways – another version of waiting – you’ll spend one to two years of your life in line.

Consider some of the common reasons why we wait in line:
– store cashiers
– airport security
– phone calls (on hold)
– amusement parks
– voting
– public restrooms

If I wrote this post fifty years ago, I would’ve listed the very same reasons why we wait in line.  We have options now, but let’s face it; those options are waiting-in-line in disguise.  Store cashiers now work side-by-side with an area of self-check-out machines (which draws its own line).  Airports promote pay-for lines like TSA Pre and CLEAR.  Telephone on-hold mechanisms offer callbacks instead of waiting (“for an additional $0.75”).  Disneyland installed “FastPass” lines; again, for a fee.  Voting can be done by mail (forcing your ballot to wait in line instead of you).  And public restrooms?  Okay, there’s no option to waiting for the potty.  Maybe reconsider that second beer.

The Brits refer to a line of people as a queue.  I like that (and not just because we need more words beginning with the letter “q”).  Leave it to those on the far side of the pond to class up the most mundane activity imaginable.  At least we have our phones as distractions when we “queue”.  But the old-fashioned distractions still work.  It’s why they put candy bars by the cashiers, magazines in the waiting room, mirrors by the elevators, and televisions in the airport.  Anything to help you forget you’re waiting in line.

Julio C. Negron

You’d think waiting in line is mindless – no-brainer science really – but I have experienced flaws in the system.  Recently in Lowe’s, waiting patiently in a single, central line at the self-check-out area, I was confronted by the person behind me, who demanded I “choose one side or the other” (as if logic demanded a separate line for each row of self-check-out machines).  My response to him was not one of my finer moments.  Another example – at the airport – my wife and I waited at the curb with a dozen others for the parking lot shuttle, only to discover the “front of the line” was a variable determined by the point on the curb where the driver chooses to stop his vehicle.  If you want to see what not waiting in line looks like, try to catch a parking lot shuttle at the airport.

In today’s world, we have new reasons why we wait in line:
– to purchase the latest iPhone
– at restaurants, with pagers (clever disguise for waiting in line)
on-line (i.e. for concert tickets or sports tickets at a specified time)
– Black Friday sales

Finally, we will always stand in line for our kids, whether to see Santa Claus at the mall or to buy something they simply must have.  Years ago, I remember taking my kids to the local bookstore for the latest “Harry Potter” (which they started and finished before the next sunrise).  It was the only time I’ve stood in line for the right to stand in line again.  The bookstore insisted on selling a limited number of tickets at noon, to be exchanged for the book later that same day, when the publisher allowed its release.

I believe the longest I’ve ever waited in line is five hours – to see the first Star Wars movie in 1977.  With no electronic devices to keep my friends and I company back then, five hours was even longer than it sounds, especially knowing two consecutive showings of the movie would run before I even entered the theater.  Then again, the truly morbid among us believe we are all simply waiting to die.  If that’s the case, let’s hope we’re in a really, really long line.

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Bad Check

Last week I flew to Indiana for a conference, connecting briefly through Chicago O’Hare.  After finally touching down and exiting the tiny plane, I noticed a cluster of passengers right there in the jet bridge, waiting for luggage to be brought up the stairs.  I headed to the baggage claim area instead, where the rest of us watched the carousel lumber round and round.  The minutes passed interminably as the belt continued its relentless rotation; passengers leaving one-by-one with their bags.  Suddenly everything came to a grinding halt, and the carousel let out its big, mechanical sigh.  I found myself in the quiet and solitary confinement of an empty claim area.  My luggage?  Nowhere to be found.

The airlines advertise a ton of performance statistics, but here’s a new one on me: rate of mishandled bags.  For every passenger who files a lost-luggage report, the carrier gets a ding.  That ding is well-deserved, representing the stress of lost luggage, the hassle of filing a report in one of those stuffy little offices, and the inevitable delay reuniting with your bag.  Not that it happens very often.  According to the following chart – part of a Wall Street Journal article – American Airlines reports a mere 2.8 incidents of lost luggage per 1,000 passengers.  But hold the phone, folks – there’s more to the losing than meets the eye.  Turns out American (and most other airlines) avoid a lost-luggage ding if they alert you to the “mishandled” bag.  Today’s smart tags make it easy to track the bag (even if it’s heading in a different direction than you are).  So that bit of information – proactively communicated in a text or email – avoids a bad stat.  And that’s why the chart below shows a dramatic improvement in August.  American Airlines started its proactive notification process the month prior.

I don’t choose my airline according to “rate of mishandled bags” (or any other statistic for that matter – it’s all about the ticket price), but I have observed the adjusted behavior of others.  Carry-on baggage is all the rage now, in brand-new shapes and sizes.  Look around next time you board a plane and count how many passengers violate the airline’s carry-on policy.  The person with the roll-y suitcase and oversized backpack is probably one bag over the limit.  The person with the valise slightly larger than the space “under the seat in front of you” probably should’ve checked it.  But chances are the flight attendant won’t make a fuss, at the risk of negative publicity.

Speaking of backpacks, the oversized versions seem to be all the rage these days; far surpassing the number of “wheelies” and “over-the-shoulder’s” so common with past generations.  It’s like everyone’s back in high school again.

Here’s another trend.  Passengers carry-on instead of checking, knowing there isn’t enough room in the overhead bins.  Once the bins are full, they surrender their bags at the end of the jet bridge instead, for attendants to tromp down the stairs and into the belly of the plane.  After landing, the process works in reverse (thus the cluster of passengers on my recent flight).  But credit to these travel warriors; they avoid $50 of baggage fees, as well as smashing bags into overhead bins (which always brings to mind square pegs and round holes).

One more trend.  Airlines are shifting the baggage-check process into the hands of travelers.  At self-check-in, the kiosk now dispenses a bag tag along with the boarding pass.  You attach the tag to the bag.  You haul the bag to the belt, where – in some cases – you place the bag on the belt.  Congratulations – you’re an airline employee working free of charge.  You might even be helping the airline avoid a mishandled bag stat.

My own lost-luggage story had a happier-than-expected ending.  At the baggage service office, the attendant took my tag into the back, reappearing moments later with my bag.  Turns out my suitcase flew on another plane, arriving at my same destination before I did (explain that bit of magic, please).  Crisis averted, but instead I lost my excuse to go purchase a suitcase of new clothes.

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Love Thee, Notre Dame

I used to love “back-to-school” nights in my elementary school days. My brothers and I would lead my parents through the gates of our asphalt-paved campus on the west side of Los Angeles, eager to show off the classroom projects and displays we prepared for their annual visit.  Mom & Dad would cram into our child-sized desks for talks from our teachers while we’d join friends for playground fun under the lights. Finally, we’d enjoy a KFC picnic dinner at the outdoor tables where we kids would have lunch during the day. Back-to-school night was equal parts adventure and pride, returning to campus at a time when we didn’t have to be students.

Such was the feeling this past weekend, visiting my alma mater in northern Indiana.  Notre Dame, that most Catholic of universities located near the south bend of the St. Joseph River – founded by Fr. Edward Sorin and his band of Holy Cross brothers in the mid-1800’s – drew me away from more convenient West Coast options like UCLA or Stanford (neither of which accepted me… details). Who was I, a Methodist from California, to attend a smallish Catholic school over 2,000 miles from home? Notre Dame’s admissions counselor did a heckuva sales job. Rather than own up to the humid months of the first semester or the penetratingly-cold months of the second, he focused instead on the promise of an outstanding faith-based education, coupled with small-dorm camaraderie, nationally competitive sports teams, and Midwestern hospitality.  When I graduated in 1985, it’s fair to say Notre Dame delivered on all of those.

Administration Building aka “The Golden Dome”, Central Quad

Thirty years later – this past weekend – I set foot on campus again, adding to only a handful of visits since my long-ago commencement. I won’t lie – returning to my college roots was a little daunting.  The Notre Dame of my years was by all definitions smaller, more modest, and less prestigious than the globally-renowned multi-campus university of today. My Notre Dame was an intimate cluster of buildings surrounding just three quads, one end of campus seemingly a stone’s throw from the other.  The student union was as small as a cracker box.  Two dining halls offered the modest sort of food – cafeteria style – I recognized from elementary school.  Diplomas were issued in just twenty fields of study. Four percent of the student body claimed a faith other than Catholic.  The clear majority of students came from Midwestern states, and only a handful chose to study abroad.

O’Shaughnessy Hall, South Quad

Thirty years later, my Notre Dame of yesteryear has been consumed by a property twice the size.  New quads and facilities cover the open fields that once hosted tailgaters before football games.  Another one hundred buildings have been added to the eighty or so of my day.  The new student union – opening just weeks ago – is the length of a football field (and in fact, co-located with the football stadium).  Today’s undergraduates choose from countless degree programs, with another fifty masters, doctoral, and professional programs to follow.  Add to the options, fifty foreign study-abroad opportunities in forty countries.

“Only” 80% of students are Catholic now (diverse by Notre Dame’s standards), and – speaking of diverse – almost 20% of the student body comes from outside the U.S.  Visiting one of the dining halls for lunch, it wasn’t the broad choice of foods (organic, ethnic, made-to-order) that impressed me, but rather the students themselves.  I witnessed a pretty good slice of the global pie at the tables around me.

Stairway to The Grotto and St. Mary’s Lake

Notre Dame’s mission statement includes the following: “In all dimensions of the University, Notre Dame pursues its objectives through the formation of a human community graced by the Spirit of Christ.”  Clearly that objective is reflected in the Notre Dame of today.  A school once known for little more than football is now an academic behemoth, built on an unwavering foundation of faith and service to God and fellow man.

“In Celebration of Family”

Notre Dame’s alma mater concludes with the following sentence: “…and our hearts forever, love thee Notre Dame.”  There may be a lot of “new” on campus today, but I still find the pathways of “my” years.  The Golden Dome, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the Grotto will always form the heart of campus.  I maintain ties with only a handful of those who were in school with me, but we’ll always be proud members of the Fighting Irish family.  And every time I set foot on campus, I never fail to sense the memories of old, the encouragement of new, and the presence of the Spirit.  Indeed, Notre Dame is in my heart forever.

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