Lunch Money (Father’s Day 2014)

My dad has always been a simple, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth type of guy.  Architecture being a profession of equal parts technical and creative, I know for a fact that many of the things that I do on a daily basis are lost on him.  But the truth is, he has influenced my career more than he probably realizes. Most of my character — and the manner in which I practice — has come from my dad.

nickelsI remember when I was about to start junior high school.  In addition to the other huge cultural shifts in my consciousness that came with my post-elementary school world, this was this first time I’d actually have to carry lunch money with me.  School lunches at that time cost a whopping 95 cents (I realize that this dates me, but we’ve already established that I’m old).  Every morning when I left the house, there was a dollar bill waiting for me on the kitchen table.  My dad had long since left for work, but that dollar bill was always there, every morning without question, making his presence known.  Through that simple gesture, my dad taught me dependability and accountability — I only saw him for a few hours a day, but I knew that I could count on him.  It was years later before I realized how much effort probably went into that simple act — not only making sure that the money was available, but also having the actual cash on hand each day (as someone who has grown quite reliant on his debit card, that fact that I’m usually scraping for bus fare makes this painfully evident).  There was planning involved to make sure that he actually had a dollar in his wallet to give to me each day, a dollar that easily could have been spent on something else, just one of the hundreds of sacrifices he made for his children.  I learned that being dependable means doing what’s expected of you, without fail, without being asked, and often without a thank you.

Each day when I got home from school, with a shiny new nickel in the “fifth pocket” of my Levi’s, he’d let me keep the change. It may not sound like much… but gradually, over the course of the school year, I watched those nickels slowly grow into dollars.  He taught me the value of money, but also perseverance… that doing anything of worth, more often than not, takes time and patience.  That you sometimes have to start small, but even the smallest things can grow into significance if given the chance.

If all goes according to plan, we will be welcoming a daughter on Sunday, appropriately enough on Father’s Day.  She will join my son as the second part of the biggest — and most important — project that I’ve ever taken on, and I’m proud to have had the role model that I did.  My only hope is that my own children learn as much from me, in the simplest ways, as I have from my own father.

My dad also taught me how to be resourceful. The very next year, school lunches increased to $1.05. On the night before my first day of the eighth grade, he handed me a dollar bill and said, “so, remember all those nickels…?”


An architect, a contractor, and an owner were walking through the forest when they came upon a set of tracks.

The contractor said, “those are deer tracks.” The owner shook his head and said, “no, those are elk tracks.” The architect held up his hands and said, “you’re both wrong, those are moose tracks.”

They were still arguing when the train hit them.

The moral of the story — sometimes it doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong. Sometimes all that matters is knowing when to get out of the way.


Photo via Flickr.

Quack Quack


One bright spring day, two ducks are paddling around their favorite pond.

One duck turns to the other and says “quack, quack.”

The other duck nods in approval and says “I was just about to say that.”


A giant rubber duck floats into Pittsburgh today, his first US stop after visiting places like Amsterdam, Sydney, Osaka, and Hong Kong. And he really got me thinking… If we spend all of our time in the company of our peers, never leaving our comfort zone, we’re only learning one way of looking at things. When we all speak the same language, there’s never any risk of misunderstanding… but no opportunity for any growth, either.

Get out of the office. Join a committee. Go to lunch with a professional from a different discipline — an engineer, or an accountant, or a marketing executive. Play in a city sport league. Take a class at a community college. Maybe even take a cue from a giant rubber ducky and travel the world. You’ll be a more well-rounded person — and professional — as a result.


The Roasting Pan

If necessity is the mother of invention, then routine is the crazy uncle no one talks about at parties.  Much of our behavior is influenced by habit, instead of critical thought, more often than you might expect. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see something that should be blatantly obvious — for a real-world example, check out this piece on

One day a little girl was watching her mother prepare a roast beef for that evening’s dinner.  She cut off  the ends, wrapped it in string, seasoned it and set it in the great roasting  pan.

I know it’s a turkey, not a roast… just go with it.

The little girl asked her mom why she cut off the ends of the roast.  Mom replied, after some thought, that she learned how to prepare a roast by watching her own mother, and this was the way that she had always done  it.

That night grandma came to dinner, so the little girl went to her and asked why she had cut the end off of the roast before cooking.  After some thought grandma replied, with a shrug of the shoulders, that it was the way her mother had done it.

The girl’s great-grandmother was quite old and in a nursing home.  A few weeks after the dinner, the little girl went with  her mother and grandmother to see her, and again she asked the question.  Great-grandma looked at them a bit annoyed and said, “So it would fit in the pan, of course.”

Reprinted, with some liberties, from JokeBuddha:

The Balloonist

One of my favorite jokes… because it’s so honest.  I think it speaks volumes about the way we communicate with our fellow professionals… but more on that later.  For now, enjoy a little more industry-specific humor.

A man flying in a hot air balloon realizes he’s lost. He lowers the balloon, spots a man down below and shouts, “Can you help me? I promised a friend I’d meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below says, “Yes, you’re in a hot air balloon hovering 30 feet above this field, which is at 42 degrees N. latitude and 60 degrees W. longitude.”

“You must be an architect,” says the balloonist.

“I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but is of no use to me.  Your information, while fascinating, is useless and I am still lost.”

The man below says, “You must be a contractor.”

“I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” says the man below, “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep and you expect me to solve your problem. And the fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now it’s somehow my fault.”

Reprinted, with some liberties, from JokeBuddha:

The Guillotine

The best jokes, to me, always have an element of truth to them.  I’ve always enjoyed this one… mostly because if I’ve decided to open my mouth, there’s a good chance you’ll find my foot in it.  It seems that there’s a time and place for everything, including problem-solving.  Maybe I read too much into things, but if nothing else, this at least gives you something you can share at your holiday parties.

During the French revolution,  three men were sentenced to die by guillotine. One was a lawyer, one was a doctor, and the third was an architect.

The lawyer was to die first. He was led to the guillotine, the attending priest blessed him, and he knelt with his head on the guillotine. The blade was released, but stopped halfway down its path. The priest, seeing an opportunity, quickly said, “Gentlemen, God has spoken and said this man is to be spared; we cannot kill him.” The executioner agreed, and the lawyer was set free.

The doctor was next. He was blessed by the priest, then knelt and placed his head down. The blade was released, and again stopped halfway down. Again the priest intervened: “Gentlemen, God has again spoken; we cannot kill this man.” The executioner agreed and the doctor was set free.

At last it was the architect’s turn. He was blessed by the priest, and knelt, but before he placed his head on the guillotine he looked up. Suddenly, he pointed upward and said, “Hey, I think I see your problem!”

Reprinted, with some liberties, from JokeBuddha: