More Lessons Learned

Part II of II

Time Capsule – Two of our traditions are watching schlocky Hallmark Christmas movies (this year beginning October 21) and listening to holiday music while trying to avoid getting ‘Whammed!’ (I made it to December 15.) The thing about Christmas songs is whenever a classic plays, I’m magically transported back to my childhood, as golden oldies unlock the joys of Christmas past. Singers like Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and Brenda Lee bring back memories of being at home with my parents, older brothers and little sister.

Never Assume – In October I was scheduled for an individual Birkman debriefing with a team member from one my group sessions. She didn’t join the Zoom call, so after 20 minutes, I sent an email: “Seems we had a misconnection today. I look forward to speaking soon. Please let me know everything is ok.” When she hadn’t responded two weeks later, I emailed the client sponsor to let him know. Within five minutes I received a reply that shocked me. This young mother, who was pregnant with her second child, suffered an aneurism the afternoon of our scheduled session and never regained consciousness. I immediately called him and listened quietly as he expressed how difficult those two weeks were on their team. Sometimes sitting in silence is the best gift. 

Slipping Away – Walking 18 holes of golf is the equivalent of a 10K, so in March I purchased a pushcart to carry my clubs and stopped riding. This month, I hit my tee shot left on the par three, sixth hole, and as I pushed the cart around a lake, saw my ball nestled at the edge of the trees. I grabbed it, took a penalty drop, and turned around to choose a club. When I didn’t see my bag, I thought: “Where did I leave the cart?” I looked down a hill and into the lake. The bag and cart were floating eight feet out. (The next words out of my mouth are unprintable.) I took off my shoes and waded out to retrieve everything, then sat on the hill laughing before walking back toward my car and emptying a lot of water on the grass. Other than ruining my rangefinder, there was no long-term damage… just an important reminder: always set the brake! 

Loyal Servant – Kathy just completed three elected terms and 12 years as a volunteer member of the Tomball ISD board of trustees, during which student enrollment nearly doubled to 20,000. Last year, the Houston Chronicle named TISD the top school district in the area. When another board member approached her to run in 2010, I asked how much time it would require: “Two nights a month,” he said. While that was true – and she attended 258 out of 264 meetings – he didn’t mention all the prep, sub-committees, community events, CEUs and other commitments. A quick back-of-the-napkin calculation totaled more than 4,000 hours. With a daughter who’s a high school English teacher, you can see educating youth is a high priority in our house.

Gift Giving – Kathy’s proudest achievement was championing creation of the Tomball Education Foundation. The mission of this independent nonprofit is to develop and allocate resources to enrich, enhance and maximize the quality of education for all students. Since 2018, they’ve distributed more than $225,000 to 68 district employees. One of this year’s recipients is a counselor who asked for financial support to help younger students that struggle to communicate. With the grant she purchased multicultural puppets that students interact with to develop greater self-awareness. If you are able, please consider supporting education in your local community.

I’ll conclude, as always, with a quote about the wonder of the season: “There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.” ~ Eric Sevareid

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Seasons Greetings. May the year ahead bring many blessings to you and your family… and continued success in all things. 


Roll Credits

by Kelsey Handler

Part IV of IV

There are many things I’ll miss about Boston when I return to Texas, but in first place –  narrowly edging out a decent transit system and a climate that has seasons – is the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

A short T ride from my apartment in Brookline, this historic movie theatre shows feature films, new releases and old classics alike. Originally built as a church in 1906, the Coolidge was upgraded into an art deco movie palace in the early thirties and has existed as a non-profit foundation since 1989. It’s a place of great history and community, and for a film lover like myself, a mecca of cinematic magic.

In my audiovisual preservation class this semester, we learned from a guest lecturer that independent movie theatres are thriving while chains suffer in the post-pandemic economy. This is because indies have a broader understanding of what a movie-going experience can be; they offer a wider selection of films – old and new, conventional and cult – and hold special events like dance parties, lectures, and children’s programs. These bring patrons back again and again. Conversely, chains tend to only show new releases, and audiences will only go see the same new movie at the same theatre so many times.

The independent method of brand loyalty appears to be paying off for the Coolidge, as it is in the end stages of a $12.5 million capital campaign for a 14,000 sq ft expansion. This initiative will add two new screens and a new lobby, as well as support the preservation and restoration of the art deco features that make it such a special place.

Movies I saw at the Coolidge during my short time here:

Don’t Worry Darling (Harry Styles flick; more style than substance)

Psycho (the one and only)

Halloween (sold-out showing on Halloween night!)

Double Indemnity (classic film noir)

Bones and All (gruesome and tender cannibal love story)

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Oscar contender! Harvard astrophysicist gave a lecture beforehand) 

The Night Cry (silent film starring Rin Tin Tin, featured a live pianist) 


Living Room

We moved back into our home today… exactly 12 weeks after moving in with our son while we remodeled. Our contractor – a husband (construction) and wife (project management) team – were incredible. They promised their part would take 10 weeks, and they completed it in nine. Then the HVAC crew came in and did their work. We knew windows would be a supply chain challenge. They’ll be added the first week of January.

When we told several of our friends about this project, they said to prepare for all kinds of delays and to add 2-3 months on the backend. As it turned out, we didn’t experience any issues. Everything arrived on time and the craftsmanship is outstanding. Dan and Amanda provided incredible customer service from the first meeting to the end.

Another suggestion from a friend was to plan for an extra 20% budget bump for unexpected discoveries. “You have 24 years of wear and tear, so there will likely be some surprises.” None of those appeared, although we decided to add some things along the way. My favorite saying to Kathy became: “Change order. Change order.” Ultimately, we spent less than 10 percent above the contracted price.

While getting an upgraded house is nice, the best part of this adventure was being with our son. We did a lot of things together and had many deep conversations – and there was never a moment when we raised our voices or became frustrated with each other. I will remember these weeks as the gift that allowed us to experience our little boy as a grown man. I hope Kyle looks back grateful for the time he spent with us. 


Thanks Giving

As the nation pauses to celebrate one of our most treasured holidays, here are 10 things I am most thankful for today.

10) Sports – I started following sports as an eight-year-old. While my playing days long ago transitioned to golf, I’m still a huge fan… limiting my cheering now to the Astros (non-cheating version) and, of course, Texas Longhorns football  

9) Technology – I read recently that we have more knowledge available in our mobile device than a Fortune 500 CEO had access to in 1980. What a terrific time to live… whether for the ease of reading or the ability to access video. Want to learn how to change a tire, plant a shrub, make sushi? There’s a YouTube for that 

8) Nature – At the golf course I play, a family of deer comes out around dusk, and there are hawks and other birds that often land in the fairway. (I have videos!) Plus, there are National Parks just waiting to be explored in any season of the year 

7) Freedom – There are great challenges here and abroad right now, and after these go away others will appear down the road. Yet, compared to the annals of human history, we live in a country where anyone can still pursue their dreams

6) Clients – When we pursued ours by starting Success Handler, LLC, 19 years ago, I believed it would make it. I also had no idea how much joy I would receive from working with talented leaders who want to be their best and are willing to change

5) Health – While the past two years required a lot of tests to discover why I was having digestive issues, I’m amazed at the number of gluten and dairy free products available. I can’t eat what I used to – looking at you, TexMex – yet I am my usual self on most days  

4) Friends – I tend to be an introvert, so my circle of friends is small. The ones I’m closest to are great, and they know who they are, because I text them news and sports links and articles about 30 times every day

3) Family – My brothers and sister, in laws, nieces and nephews are wonderful. We’re a tight family, and despite the distances between us, get together often… if not in person, at least through the magic of FaceTime and Zoom

2) Kids – Years ago, a mentor told me: ‘You’re going to raise your kids. It’s your choice whether you raise them when they’re young or when they’re older.’ I’m glad we made the effort to raise them when they were young, because the adult versions are amazing

1) Wife – Living with a dreamer, perfectionist, planner, high energy, workaholic, pundit, low empathy, optimistic, expressive, ADHD, husband isn’t the easiest assignment in the universe, yet Kathy pulls it off with grace and love. I’m blessed 


Night Music

[With our oldest continuing her post-graduate studies on campus in Boston this semester, I asked her to contribute a post each month about her experience.]

by Kelsey Handler

Part I of IV

The day I was born, The Phantom of the Opera had been on Broadway for nearly two years. Fifteen years later, I saw it onstage for the first time in Houston with my father, who was seeing it for the sixth time. The relationship between father and daughter is a central theme in the story, so it’s appropriate my dad passed on his love of both Phantom and musical theatre. When I was growing up, he would often serenade me with “Christine Kelsey, I looOOoove you.”

A few weeks ago, it was announced that Phantom will have its final performance in February, ending its tenure as the longest-running Broadway show (though it will be almost a decade before any other show has the chance to take its crown).

The day after this news dropped, I extended an already-planned trip to New York City the following week and bought tickets to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece, something I had missed in seven previous times there. When the production is on Broadway my entire life – when it is practically synonymous with Broadway itself – I prioritized seeing other shows that might not be there for my next visit. But with its end in sight, I knew this was the time, and I spent more money than I should have as a grad student with loans.

No regrets. It was an incredible performance, and I only wish my dad was there to share the experience with me. I expected to tear up at the beginning when the chandelier rises above the audience to that famous eighties synth theme. What I didn’t expect was my senses abandoning their defenses at the end as a wave of ugly crying washed over me, when the weight of what this musical means to me and so many hit*. In that final moment, I was struck by how music heightens each sensation, wakes imagination, captures our memories, then plays them back years later.

The Great White Way will soon shine less bright and the music of the night will play a little softer, but the spirit of Phantom – like the bond between father and daughter – will never die.

* Some might say, like a crystal chandelier