Monthly Archives: November, 2019

A Great Choir!

I have been a member of First Presbyterian Church for the past 21 years.  One of the first things that I noticed was the tremendous choir, that sang each Sunday morning.  Not only was the singing melodious but the singers were made up of both young and old participants.

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I remember enjoying seeing Dr. Alan Bennett and Dr. Don Darling…lifting their voice in beautiful hymns!  Dr. Bennett had been MJ’s doctor and had delivered both of our sons.

Gwen King inspired me as a young woman who simply looked beatific as she sang, and she also, often, played the flute!

Within the group was John and Dorothy Baker.  I had known John’s name from my early career at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.  John was the budget person for the campus and was highly respected.  I recall his, welcoming, demeanor and his speaking with me for some time after our first service at the church.

Dorothy was my mentor, a few months later, when I joined the trustees/board of the church, and she was the chair of the body.  Her kindness to me and interest in my success has stayed with me for these many years!

During the past several years we have had the blessing of welcoming students from both SIUC and John A. Logan College to our choir and have received a morale lift and  the spirit of youth and vitality that is so special and necessary in any church!

Carlyn Zimmerman has been our choir director for the past 12 years.  Carlyn is, simply, the consummate professional.  Not only does she produce a heavenly sound from her choir’s members…but she has unparalleled people skills.  People sing in our choir, often, because Carlyn is the director.  Her kind and engaging personality generates an excitement about church music and singing and participation in one of the oldest of music forms…singing unto the Lord!

Kathy Manfredi’s many years of music education and her virtuoso piano playing…provides edification and encouragement and hope to our congregation…and her dedication is the finest that I have witnessed!

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I have had the opportunity to hear Kathy speak regarding the history of hymns and church music and the value and blessing that it brings to us…and I have learned more than I did during my music classes in both grade school and high school…and university.

So, our choir is a, necessary component of our worship service…and it is a missionary outreach to our University and Junior College neighbors!

Performance Reviews Can Be A Positive Experience!

Recently I was involved in some performance evaluations.  The positive experiences for all who were engaged in the process caused me to reflect on the many, good, experiences that I participated in during my 32 year career at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale.

It has been my belief and management philosophy, since my earliest days of supervisory duties, in 1979, that evaluations or performance reviews do not have to be a negative experience…but rather they should be not only a positive experience…but a learning experience for all involved.

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Evaluations, in their purest form, are an instrument of discovery for both the supervisor and the person being reviewed.

Communication is a two way street.  The annual meeting is a golden time to understand each other better!

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Praise in public and proclaim the strengths of members of your staff…on the mountain top!  Constructively criticize in private and never disclose the suggestions for constructive change with anyone who is not directly involved and has the need to know.

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It is natural for each of us to rise to our best efforts if we receive positive input and recognition for jobs that are well done and a laser like focus on our strengths!

Needs for improvement can be and are caused by a plethora of conditions.  Perhaps a person is not meeting expectations because those expectations have never been fully explained to the employee.

Often I have seen members of our staff who fail to produce quality work because they have not been trained properly or fully.  A person may not have the proper tools or equipment or facilities to perform their job expectations to their fullest extent.

As a manager or administrator, you may have supervisors or managers who are under your oversight…who are not treating their staffs properly.  Abusive of lackadaisical leadership produces a pandora’s box of problems with down line staff.

Many times when I witnessed a crew of full time staff who were of low morale and poor attitude and under-performance…I need look no further than their crew leader or their manager!

Also, a high performer and a person who is beloved by their colleagues and their direct reports and their leaders…still must be held responsible to a higher authority.  I often used the example, at SIUC, that I was responsible to the Director of Plant and Service Operations, and the Director of PSO was responsible to the Vice Chancellor of Administration, and the Vice Chancellor was responsible to the Chancellor, and the Chancellor was responsible to the President of Southern Illinois University, and the President was responsible to the, unpaid, Board of Trustees of the University.

The best meetings that I have had the opportunity to be a part of were with my colleagues where there was a performance problem or issues that we worked on together and we, both, owned the success of the solution!

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A member of my immediate staff told MJ…many years ago…that she had been in meetings with me where she thought, after she had left the meeting…’I just got my ass chewed out…and did not realize it!’

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It Was a Biscuit Adventure!

So we were in St. Louis this past Sunday and Monday.  We began our Sunday morning with a Hardees breakfast biscuits, and felt strong and of good courage!  Hardees is a popular fast food franchise in the United States…and they make delicious biscuits!

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When we arrived at Plaza Frontenac, my favorite mall in St. Louis, MJ proceeded to shop while Jonathon and I made our way to the theatre to see, Jojo Rabbit, a new movie portraying WWII through the mind of, young Jojo, a 10 year old German boy who begins the movie fascinated with Adolf Hitler.  When the movie began, I was reluctant to laugh, at first, when watching Jojo’s antics with his fantasy friend, Adolf. However, I soon realized that the movie, which is a satirical black comedy…is intended to be funny…primarily in the beginning!

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Jojo discovers that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, was hiding a Jewish girl in their home.  The dramatic arc of the movie was outstanding and it is the best flick that I have seen this year!

I could not help but notice that the weather report for St. Louis seemed to worsen by the hour.  MJ had a doctor’s appointment on Monday at 1:00…and we hoped for the best weather…but feared the worst!

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Plaza Frontenac has the most luxurious Christmas Trees and holiday decorations and Santa Claus…who was already sitting on his ‘listening seat!’  One of the first times that we visited the Plaza it was, again, the holiday season… and several children were sitting on the couches and chairs that are throughout the mall…and they were reading!

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Monday morning began with breakfast at the hotel.  I have always enjoyed biscuits and gravy.  The hotel biscuits were outstanding!  I went back for a second portion…as I knew that my diet did not begin…until today!

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Following the bodacious biscuits, it was time to brave the gale force winds and blowing and blinding snow!  I was wearing my lambswool sweater…but while getting additional petrol…I retrieved the second sweater that I had in my suitcase and quickly put it on, as well.

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And, so, with time to kill, prior to the doctor’s appointment, and, more mall business to accomplish, we drove, carefully, to the West County Mall.  They have a great Barnes and Nobel bookstore and Jonathon discovered the book that Jojo Rabbit was taken from.  This welcome respite was enjoyable as we sipped our Noble coffees and wondered what lay ahead for us in the autumn/winter storm.

 

Finally, at about 2:30 we began our journey back to Carbondale, which is over 100 miles away.  To our dismay, St. Louis and interstate 64 East was well plowed and drivable, although at a much reduced speed.

But…when we turned on to route #127…it was a different world!  The pavement, appeared to be unplowed…and it was treacherous!  I have driven on ice and snow packed roads on several occasions in my 62 years…but it has been sometime.  We saw several automobiles who had slid off the road and into fields and down embankments.  For significant periods of time we drove under 30 miles per hour.  The thing about driving on ice and snow is that you never know…no matter how carefully you are driving, who may not be driving safely.  Also, you can encounter slick spots or black-ice that no amount of careful driving can compensate for.

Thankfully, we made it home and celebrated with Pizza Hut pizza…but it was not as good as the biscuits!

 

 

Note: Jojo Rabbit photos are courtesy of Google search.

Snowstorms and Christmas Records

A snowy adventure from, Jonathon Brooks!

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It snowed today in St. Louis and Carbondale and many other places around the midwest according to the weather report on local news. This snow would not have been a big deal if I had been in the comfort of my own home and did not have anywhere I had to be today other than my house. The snow, however, did feel like a big deal because I was in St. Louis this morning and I needed to return to Carbondale today.

Do you recall how exciting snow was when you were a child? I certainly do! Snow lead to snowball fights or perhaps sledding or a day off of school or hot chocolate or something else equally wonderful and glorious. Today I did not feel like snow equalled anything glorious or wonderful. No, on this day, the snow was an obstacle from St. Louis to Carbondale.

I am exceedingly…

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Procrastination Is A Thief!

‘Start by doing 1 push up.

Start by drinking 1 cup of water.

Start by paying toward 1 debt.  Start by reading 1 page.  Start by making 1 sale.  Start by deleting 1 contact.  Start by walking 1 lap.  Start by attending 1 event. Start by writing 1 paragraph.

Start today.

Repeat tomorrow.’    Mindful Christianity Today

As the actress, Vivian Leigh, said as her, iconic character, Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 movie, Gone With The Wind, ‘Tomorrow is another day!’

‘Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday!’    Dale Carnegie

Tomorrow is always full of possibilities!  The future has the keys to the city of our success… that we can not seem to locate…today.  Within our heads are the, self-made chains of; ‘I can not do it…I have always been heavy or fat or fleshy….I will write soon…I will read a book this year….or you can place any new habit in the blank of, ‘I will begin——————-….tomorrow!

Of course, none of us know if tomorrow is going to dawn for us?  The new year of 2020 will arrive in less than two months.  We know that the new year will produce newness in us!  When in reality the forming of any habit is incremental.

Studies have shown that lack of loosing weight is head problem and not a belly issue!    The inability to work towards goals that we have set…has to start with a first step.

One of my colleagues asked me, many years ago, how I had been able to work so many years at SIUC.  I replied…one day at a time.

If you want to write the great American novel…you have to write the first word….

So many tasks in life can seem overwhelming.  When you examine the enormity of the planed finished product…you feel like throwing your hands up in despair!

When I have visited Europe and admired the majestic churches and castles that are plentiful across the continent…I reflect on how long it must have taken to build them!  The builders of these marvelous edifices dedicated years of their lives to the completion of one structure.

 

Success in life is much more than financial success!  Money is not the measure…or God’s ruler…to determine those who have reached the pinnacle of achievement.   Millions of poor faithful christians that have lived and died possessing little of this worlds goods….it is crystal clear that heaven is not based upon capitalism.

 

Success is following your dreams and listening to what your soul tells you is you calling.  Then acting upon that knowledge, one day at a time, and overcoming the negative thoughts and walls and blockades that you have set up in your mind.  Much of achieving what you know you have the ability to accomplish is the systematic working toward those goals and the ability to defer, immediate, pleasure, for later reward!

Winston Churchill became England’s Prime Minister, for the first time, when he was 65 years old.  Rather than say that he was to old he accepted the Herculean challenge of his life in leading the United Kingdom against Hitler’s War Machine.  Upon his second installment as Prime Minister…he was 77 years old.

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One of my fellow classmates told me, when we were in high school, that she believed that I would be a leader of many people….one day.  I was a bit like the Biblical Sara when God told her that she was going to bear a son…and she was in her nineties…and she laughed.

My first pastor told me that he had a dream where I was a supervisor of a large group of people that included some of my fellow congregants.  At that time, as the saying goes., ‘I did not have a pot to piss in…or a window to throw it out of!’

When I became a Building Service Worker I at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on October 10, 1978…soon thereafter MJ told me that God had told her that I, would one day be the Superintendent of Building Services, and I thought, oh my…I would be happy to achieve the promotion of, Building Custodian, which was a housekeeping crew leader!

Whey not give God the opportunity to help you achieve your dreams…one day at a time?

 

 

 

 

The Fall Rains Shall Come

I am living right in the middle of my favorite time of the year!  September and October have passed, like a thief in the night, and November is well under way.  It is 48 degrees…but it feels like 46, and a steady rain is coming down.  I am one of those peculiar folks who enjoy rain and cool, or chilly weather, and the long nights of autumn and winter.  As Jonathon said, the other day, that I was the only person that he knew that liked it getting dark so early!  I have surrendered that I am a creature of the night.

 

I blame my love of the dark and the night on my having worked at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale on either the second or third shifts for almost 20 years.  I became accustomed to the soothing flow of less people and the quiet of the night.

Rain is a panacea for me.  The rhythmic sound of the drops striking the window pane are musical.  The quieting of nature and the settling down of the earth for its winter’s rest is a needed respite to the hustle and bustle of life.

 

However, rain and long nights and cold temperatures affect many of us in an adverse fashion.  ‘Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in winter.  Common symptoms include sleeping too much, having little to no energy, and overeating.’    Wikipedia

Life brings us metaphorical, fall rains…as well.  Disappointments come to us all…and at times it seems that they come much too often.  It has always seemed to me that employers, and often large ones, seem to lay off employees in conjunction with the holidays.  At the time of year that both the media and our friends and neighbors tell us should be, ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’…often sadness is our companion.  Challenges range from, health issues…to the loss of a loved one…to financial and employment reversals.  It is alright to feel sad…sadness is a normal emotion.  It is perfectly appropriate to ask when you’re, big break, is going to arrive.  It is therapeutic to talk to your missing loved one…and tell them how much you loved them and miss them during the holiday season.

One size does not fit all.  Men need to cry just like women.

 

Eeyore the donkey in the story of Winnie the Pooh was clinically depressed…but Winnie and Tigger and the rest of the gang…never left him out of their festivities in The Hundred Acre Wood…they loved Eeyore…for himself!  He was their friend.

 

Note: Photos of Eeyore are courtesy of Google Search.

 

‘Waiting For Godot’

‘Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett.’    Wikipedia

”The play is a typical example of the Theatre of the Absurd, and people use the phrase ‘waiting for Godot’ to describe a situation where they are waiting for something to happen, but it probably never will…’    Wikipedia

So, I often say that I am, ‘waiting for Godot!’

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Aren’t we all waiting for many things in our lives…that have not exhibited themselves ever…or at least not on a semi-regular basis We wait for Godot when we seek justice and fair treatment for all peoples…not just the majority or those who are favored by the political class.  We wait patiently for our elected leaders to care more about their constituents than their own interests.  What a treat it would be to witness a concerted focus to address global warming!

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We live in a country that, by all available measurable criteria, live in multiple realities.  There was a famous book, many years ago, that was entitled, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.  This book demonstrated the difficulty in men and women communicating with each other and understanding and empathizing with each others point of view.  Today points of view are dictated by the television news network that you receive your news from.

When I was a teenager, men simply understood that they were going to be drafted and be sent to Vietnam.  My cousin, Billy, was drafted.  The only reason that I was not drafted was due to President Carter abolishing the draft before I became of age to go!

We all watched Walter Cronkite on CBS or Huntley and Brinkley on NBC and we basically received the same news.

We wept when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, central standard time.  Somehow, we understood that we would never be the same…and we have not!

We are told by our parents and our elders to work hard and ‘pay-our-dues’ and seek to excel in our careers!  We are assured that if we will apply ourselves…we will climb the ladder of success…and we will be another example of the American Dream!  We are told that anyone can be President of the United States and anyone can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company…the Horatio Alger story of rags to riches…is ours for the taking….

But, what if the person who is doing the hiring…does not play by the rules?  What if it is not…what you know…but who you know….?

Institutions agonize regarding their low morale.  They engage is studies….and consultants….and large committees…too investigate and conduct in depth research into the quandary of ebbing excitement about the work-place!

The answer is simple….we all wait….much as our Jewish friends wait for the Messiah…on justice and equity and fairness…and recognition of consistent hard work and a passion for the job….and someone who has placed their heart and soul into their career….being recognized for their efforts…rather than being passed over for a friend of the boss!

We are still, ‘Waiting for Godot!’

 

 

Kind Souls Wanted

A great Jonathon Brooks Blog!

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What a joy it is to feel included. The bullies of our childhood days were experts on excluding people. They viewed some as cool while others failed to make the cool kid crew. I love it when I am invited to a social event or to a friend’s home or out for pizza or to a movie or to a bookstore or to just about anything really. A joyful feeling is born in my soul when I know and feel that I am welcome.

Be the one who includes others. Be the friendly kid or adult on the playground or in the office. An especially wonderful act is when the outsider is included. See the ones that others choose to not see. All of the human family needs kindness and a helping hand from our fellow man.

Don’t be a bully. This world already has enough part-time and full-time mean-spirited…

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It Is Beginning to Feel A Lot Like The Holidays!

My goodness…it is November 1st!  From this point until the end of the year will feel like a fast moving locomotive, the kind that takes you from London to Paris through the Chunnel, to me!  Where did the year go…or where did the years go!  We purchased a new Christmas Tree last year.  We are discussing putting it up well before Thanksgiving.

But, before Christmas comes Thanksgiving.  I did not realize what a sleeping aid Turkey is, with it’s tryptophan, until I witnessed several members of our civil service council dozing when they attended our monthly meeting, just after enjoying a work-related Thanksgiving Dinner!

 

Thanksgiving at SIUC for the Building Service department meant the annual Thanksgiving Dinner.  This was a dinner first started by one of our foreman, Gerald Davis, for the members of his custodial crews.  Soon the feast became so popular and student members of our 25 + additional crews wanted to understand more about the annual Holiday revelry!  Well, nothing would do but to begin having a department wide, old fashioned, Turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes dinner.

As the over 200 students gathered into Muckelroy Auditorium in the Agriculture building…along with 150 full time staff and guests that included chancellors and vice chancellors and directors and presidents…the excitement was palpable in the air!  Nothing says that you care about another human being…like breaking bread with them…especially if you bring the bread!

We have celebrated Thanksgiving and hosted the event at our home for over 30 years.  Many of those years were in our little four room house in Elkville, Illinois…where we regularly had over 20 people in attendance!

Grandpa Earl would bring a smoked ham each year and MJ would have rum for rum cake, which is simply delicious, and she would offer Grandma Neve June a shot of it.  Grandma would down the shot in one gulp and ask for another!  She said that it was very good!

We have already set a date certain for the putting up of the Christmas Tree.  Perhaps you did not realize that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is less than usual, with  Turkey Day falling on the 28th of the month?  Thus, we have to make our adjustments!  The Brooks Christmas Tree….with of all of its holiday regalia…will present itself on Saturday the 23rd of November!

The day after Thanksgiving is another Brooks Family Tradition!  For the past 20 years we have been traveling to historic St. Charles, Missouri…which was Missouri’s first capitol.  St. Charles transforms its cobblestone streets and venerable shops to the land of Charles Dickens and Scrooge and Tiny Tim!  There are also derivations of Santa Claus through history…including Father Christmas and Pierre Noel.  There is a Revolutionary War band and a Victorian roaster of chestnuts on an open fire…or kettle.  Christmas carolers who are resplendent in their period costumes serenade we common folk with the most lovely Christmas songs.

The Charles Dickens characters, as well as the renditions of Santa Claus, give out little cards, to the children, that explain the historical significance of the Christmas character that they are portraying.  The first year the we attended…I collected many cards!

We have a favorite restaurant in St. Charles that makes wonderful Reuben sandwiches.  Upon entering and sitting in the cafe chairs and high tables that are next to the bar…as you do not have to wait if you sit in the bar…I proceed to order Grand Mariner served in a snifter.  I believe that am paying for a shot of the luxurious orange liquor …but I receive, roughly, three or more shots in my glass!  There is a wonderful older lady, who is probably younger than me, who only works behind the bar during the holiday season…and she provides a generous pour…and I tip her accordingly!

Once, after we left our holiday lunch of Reubens sandwiches and triple Grand Mariner…we purchased a new dining room suite…made by the Amish!  On another Friday after Thanksgiving, after Grand Mariner…I purchased the Trump Tie at a local art gallery!  We have a favorite clock store in St. Charles…Jansens…and we have 9 clocks to prove it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Is In The Little Things!

It was Stewardship Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale, Illinois.  My friend, Sarah, asked me to give a, ‘Minute For Stewardship talk,’  and so I…did not know how to say no…to my friend.  Actually, this year marked the second year that I had been requested to speak…and…thus…I endeavored to understand what the Lord would have me say?  And, so, there is a Stewardship Campaign annually in the First Presbyterian Church and it a a wonderful time to remind ourselves of what the church means to each of us on a personal level.

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Our family experienced a sweet outpouring of love and support from our fellow congregants during MJ’s convalescence following her spinal surgery.  Aaron and Jonathon and I were on pins and needles last December the 3rd when her surgery transpired and the demonstrated care and concern from the people of our church was the most that I have ever experienced in 50 years of being a christian!  One of our friends, Ro, asked for updates as the surgery was progressing and, Lisa, along with so many others brought us the most delicious meals…and stayed and visited with us as MJ healed and got on her feet!  I really felt like that I was surrounded by a large family…that cared deeply about us!

 

Our pastor, Kerry, announced that he was writing a play for our congregation to perform…and I thought, ‘Very Interesting.’ as the comedian, Artie Johnson often said on the 1960’s television show, Laugh In.  When the theatrical performance took place…I marveled at the coming together of our little churches congregation…and I had not witnessed such an event during my time as a Presbyterian!

Our church is the most actively involved in outreach that I have been a member of.  From; Meals On Wheels, a Daycare and a Preschool, a Diaper Bank, working in the Warming Center for the homeless in Carbondale, to an outreach to provide the poor with money to wash and dry their laundry at Laundromats,  to members traveling to Africa to assist in digging wells!  And, that only scratches the surface of what First Presbyterian in Carbondale is involved in!

As I listen to my brothers and sisters in the faith…I realize that I am in the presence of people who love God and demonstrate that love by loving their neighbor.  I think of siting in my red Toyota Camry and musing on how much I was working around the church, during my time on the Stewardship Committee.  As I sat, stewing in my own juices, I noticed Clark Ashby slowly exit his automobile and walk around to the trunk of the car and retrieve a tool box…and then painstakingly proceed into our church to perform some necessary work….

Jonathon and I were ushers last Sunday and as we stood at the door to the Sanctuary of our church, I could not help but notice our members, some of whom are in their nineties,  walk, haltingly, into the church that they had called home for much of their lives.

Some say that the church is becoming out of fashion…but I think not!  Rather, the church is changing…but it’s love and outreach and succor to the poor and hungry and it’s help for the hurting and downtrodden…will always be a vital and living institution…in a sad and suffering world!

 

 

‘Then he said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.  Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’    I Kings 19: 11-13.  NKJV