Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year




I have two little girls that are quite excited for the new year. I'm not sure what makes this year any different than last year. It may just be the fact that they are getting a little bit older and a little bit more aware each year. I'm sure some of it has to do with the fact that we tend to do a lot of countdown calendars in our house. We countdown to vacations, when family members are going to be visiting, birthdays, and most recently, we had a countdown to Christmas. We didn't do a countdown to New Year's because I didn't think it was a big issue for them and there's not a lot of time between Christmas and New Year's. A little conversation at supper tonight set me straight and showed me that they have more in mind.

It started with a simple question from my girls asking what we could do special for the start of the new year. I was glad to see that they wanted to somehow mark the start of what we hope will be another great year. I quickly realized it was merely a chance for cake. They even attempted to make a case that it's been a long time since we last had cake. (We've had cake and brownies in the house numerous times in the last few weeks because of various potlucks for work, school, and church.) They went on to explain that it was going to be a long time before they would have cake again if we didn't do something for New Year's. (One daughter's birthday is in a week and the other's is in February.) Although their argument wasn't supported with valid facts, it was a well thought out argument considering their audience. They know full well that once they put the thought of cake in their dad's head, we will have cake.

I have been guilty of using the same argument myself. At a previous employer, they use to bring in a cake for every employee's birthday. I noticed that we seemed to have a stretch from early October to late December when nobody had a birthday. As a joke, (ok - only partially joking and more seriously) I suggested that we start having cake on November 10th for the Marine Corps birthday. From then on, we had cake every year for the Marine Corps birthday. I'd like to think that it was my Marine Corps command voice that did the trick, but in reality, I think it was just because people like cake. It's a valuable (well, kind of) lesson that my two little girls have learned at an early age. The power of cake.

So, if something in your life just isn't going right in this new year, get a cake. There will still be the obvious reasons to have cake like birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries this year, but don't forget to celebrate some of the minor wins with cake. For instance:  You're hungry and it's easier to make a cake than enchiladas. You didn't lose your keys even once today. You're having a good hair day. (An easy one for me since I don't really have any hair.) Your socks actually match. It's a Tuesday. I could go on and on, and could probably even fabricate a plausible defense of any of those, but I will let you decide when to have cake this year. Have a wonderful new year and enjoy the cake! Until next time....


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Truly Terrifying






It's next to impossible to make it through the day without being bombarded with some news coverage regarding some form of terror. From shootings and rioting to ISIS and North Korean hackers. It doesn't help any that you have to wade through all the media bias to actually figure out what is really happening. I thought I'd put my thoughts out there as I read something last night that partially explains the terror as well as something we should find the most terrifying....but I'll get to that one last.
I'll start with the "traditional" form of terrorism. ISIS seems to be getting a lot of coverage and I'm sure they're loving it because it only adds fuel to the fire. (Not the reason I have flames in the post photo.) Unfortunately, I haven't been hearing enough regarding what we've always known to be true: Terrorism only works if you give into their tactics and/or run and hide at every action.


It all really started irritating me a few weeks ago when ISIS threatened the families of our men and women serving in the armed forces. Our own military even started issuing statements encouraging members of our military to scrub their social media accounts to protect them from possible identification and attack. I agree with maintaining operational security by not posting sensitive data, but is it too far to say to completely scrub your accounts of any mention of your service to our country? I would never hold it against anyone for doing that under the better safe than sorry principle, but I am glad to see most of my friends haven't. I know the first thing I did was change my Facebook profile picture and cover page to reflect my former service as a USMC Grunt. I am proud of my my prior service and I want to show support for those still serving.


More recently, we have all heard about the hack into Sony and the subsequent threat by the hackers of terroristic acts if they allow the movie "The Interview" to be shown at theaters. I am a little disappointed that the theaters chose not to screen the film and then Sony followed suit across the board. Like I said before though, I can't really hold it against them because it's not my business that would most certainly be held accountable if something happened during a screening. The sue happy society we live would certainly have a field day with that. I did get a little chuckle when Obama criticized Sony for pulling the movie because it's bad precedent to give into a dictator's terrorism. Something about our dictator in chief releasing more Gitmo terrorists while saying that with a straight face just blows my mind. I do have to say I agree with him this one time though. (I feel like I should wash my mouth out with soap now.) If we do cower to terrorists, where will it end? Release the movie on Netflix and the hackers will hack in to get the client data on all Netflix users and target them individually. Don't release the movie at all and they'll just find something else to threaten.


As I said at the start of this post, the truly terrifying thing I read last night is partially to blame for all this terror, but also more terrifying in itself. I don't recall the exact title of the post I read, but it was something along the lines of "religion is dying". It went to explain that atheism is growing in leaps and bounds. I won't attempt to quote the statistics because I don't recall them and I don't care enough to verify the sources. I know just from what I see in society that it's probably true. I can't say that atheists are the cause for all the problems because that's not true. I know some very nice people with really good morals and a great sense of civic duty that simply don't believe there is a God. I also know that just because you do believe in God doesn't mean that you are perfect. It all boils down to sin and we all have plenty of it. The biggest difference between the believers and the atheists is that the believers only have to deal with the terror during our relatively short time here on earth. The fact that death, regardless of being terror related or not, will bring us great peace, provides us with the strength to handle the earthly terror. The atheists, even if directly attacked by terror here on earth, are experiencing the "best" they will ever experience for all of eternity because it goes downhill very fast for them. (The reason for the flames in the photo above.)


I don't want to end this post on a low note, so I will finish with this: I felt this week was fitting for my rambling on this topic as it is the week of Christmas. Once again, something that is so much better for us believers. The birth of our Savior being celebrated this week is a beautiful reminder that even though our world has been degrading more and more each year, we have paradise to look forward to when our time on Earth ends because of Him. I am overjoyed that even my preschool and kindergarten aged girls can understand and explain that with clarity and certainty. Have a very Merry Christmas and remember the "terror" of this world is short and nothing to fear. Until next time....

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Blogger Qualifications






When I started this blog about six months ago, I started out with a list of my own concerns about writing a blog ranging from what I would write about to who would actually read my posts. I had a similar conversation with one of my sisters a couple of weeks ago. She has long had plans to take up writing and I suggested that she start writing a blog. Just to make it clear that I am obviously capable of giving such advice, I want to point out that I have now passed 1000 views on my blog. (I would like to thank the four people who looked at my blog 250 times each.) I also went to a couple of very credible sources of my talents and abilities to further justify my unique qualifications for blogging. I asked my two trusted advisers what I was good at and below is what I learned. (For the record, my two advisers are my three and five year old daughters.)
1. Hopping on one foot

Of all the talents I have, apparently this one is very important because my five year old gave me this answer before I was even done asking the initial question. I'm guessing that what she was trying to say is that my incredible ability to jump around from one tangent to another appears so natural that I could do it on only one foot. I believe she is also implying that where a mere average man would require the use of both legs to hop, her father only requires one.


2. Drawing numbers

This quality, as seen by my three year old, left me feeling a little confused. She didn't explain herself any more than those two words. I'm not sure if she is impressed with the wide range of numbers that I am familiar with or if it is merely my penmanship when it comes to writing them. We were making a countdown calendar at the time, so I am thinking that has a little something to do with it.


3. Stacking stuff

It is common knowledge that in our house that I am the go-to person whenever a lego castle or lincoln log cabin needs to be constructed. I have also been known to stack towers with books, boxes, pillows, and pancakes. I'm sure the key point being expressed by my daughters (they both agreed on my stacking abilities) is a nod to my ability to start a blog with absolutely no base content and then stack a series of pointless facts and ideas until I have a finished product. Once again, I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not.


4. Princess dancing

It is not uncommon to find me dancing in our living room with two little princesses. I am not sure whether I should be more embarrassed by my poor dancing skills or the fact that I know exactly which princesses they are based on the color of the dress they're wearing. I do know that one of the skills attained from daddy-daughter princess dancing is being able to work outside of your comfort zone. That is a valuable tool to have in your toolbox when posting a blog online that a good 4-5 people will be reading.


5. Braiding hair

I think this one goes hand in hand with number four. It all started one morning a few years ago when the girls decided they wanted their hair braided rather than a "boring" pony tail. I figured that I had nothing to lose because nobody would expect me to do a very good job....so there was no real fear of messing up. Well, after a few hundred braids, I've actually gotten quite good at it. My wife has even sent the girls to me when they want a particularly difficult hair style. I also think they were implying that my ability to braid hair is very similar to my ability to flawlessly weave multiple ideas together in my writing. Or, maybe they just like braids....you never can tell.


6. Spelling things

Ok. Now we're getting somewhere. They both agreed that I had a special talent when it comes to spelling. That is truly a good quality to have when writing a blog. Then again, spell check does most of the work for me. That and my spelling abilities are being graded by a three year old who only knows how to spell her name and mom and dad. My five year old is reading now, so I will take her opinion as completely valid. At least one of these qualities has to be realistic, right?


7. Riding Bikes

I really had a tough time relating this one to my qualifications for writing a blog. After a good 20-30 seconds of deep thought, it came to me. They were clearly stating that my ability to teach them to ride a bike is a direct correlation to my ability to pass on my "wealth" of knowledge to others. The only problem is that once they learn to ride a bike, they won't ever forget. I can't say the same about the retention of my blog posts in the minds of my readers.


8. Drawing

I'm pretty sure they think I draw pictures in my blogs because neither of them have read anything that doesn't have a lot of pictures with it. They may also be assuming that I have the same drawing abilities as my dad...which I certainly don't. Of course, being able to color with crayons without going outside the lines is pretty impressive to them. I think I will take this one as my ability to keep my blog posts vivid and colorful while drawing a picture in the minds of my readers.


9. Tooting

Ok. I wasn't going to put this one in here, but I did ask them for help with tonight's blog post and I don't want to leave out any of their input. I never really thought about tooting as being a real talent or unique quality, but it does help clear the room when you want a little peace and quiet to write a blog post.


I hope that you have found this list of qualities helpful and possibly of some encouragement. If you are avoiding writing a blog because you don't think you have the qualities needed to do so just remember my list above. Although not everyone has the truly amazing skill set that I have, you should be able to see that you can turn just about anything into a "unique qualification". Just give it a shot. You don't have anything to lose. Until next time....

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Give Thanks








I have been back and forth this week trying to decide if I wanted to write a post about the things I am thankful for, but since I am currently writing one, I guess I made my decision. It’s not that I have any shortage of blessings in my life. It’s more because I didn’t want to be one of those people who write a post about being thankful merely because Thanksgiving is coming up this week. In the end, I guess I didn’t want my last post before Thanksgiving to be my last post where I talked about how everything I have seems to be breaking. (If you squint real hard and read between the lines on my last post, you will see that there were good things to be thankful for in all the things that needed to be fixed.)


I think the one that really jumped out in my last post was my friends. One of the many things I am very thankful for are my truly amazing friends. I have been blessed to have friends who possess a wide variety of talents. I have mechanic friends for vehicular issues. Computer geniuses to help with my stubborn insistence to continue using obsolete, out dated computer hardware. Fellow parents to compare notes on the joys and trials of being the parents of young children. The list could go on and on, but then I would feel bad if I listed all but a few...so I’ll stop there. The point is clear. I have great friends and I am truly thankful for all that they have done, and continue to do, for me and my family.


I am thankful for the new career I started a couple of months ago. Being able to eat supper with my wife and girls every night and spend every weekend at home with them was a huge win from the start. The fact that I love my job, work with amazing people, commute less than five minutes each way, and work in a booming industry, is all just icing on the cake. I haven’t actually seen any cake at work yet, but there has been plenty of candy....and bananas. You have to appreciate an employer that wants you to be healthy, but still provides some treats for when a little sugar rush is what you’re looking for.


My two little girls have taught me a lot over the past year. Yeah, they’ve taught me how much (or little) patience I have, but they’ve also taught me how to giggle like a kid again. I’m not sure how I went from teaching them to walk to listening to my five year old read a book to me in what seems like six months. Whether it’s something silly they say or their unique take on something they see, they never cease to amaze me and fill me with joy.


My wife probably deserves a post all to herself, but if I was going to do that, I might as well start an entirely new blog site because nobody wants to ready a single 50 page blog post. Once again, I will hit a few highlights and say that this is by no means an all inclusive list of the things I am thankful for when it comes to my wife. She’s an amazing wife to me and mother to our children. She seems to always be doing three things at once including three jobs: Mom, full-time school job, and part-time direct sales job. I’ve never run out of clean clothes or food. (Both pretty high on my list of importance.) She is also a great friend and listener. My life has been better since I met her and for that I am truly thankful.


My extended family is a great source of help, joy, friendship, and love that I am thankful for. I am blessed to have my family and my wife’s extended family (which I have always considered to be my family too). We may be spread out across the country, but we somehow always manage to stay in touch and even see each other fairly regularly....at least regularly considering the physical distance between many of us.


These are all wonderful things to be thankful for, but that has not been the primary focus in my family since the time I was a child through now with a family of my own. We have always been, and will continue to be, thankful to God for all the blessings we have. Those blessings include all of the people and things I’ve already listed above as they are gifts from God. The bigger thing that I am thankful for is Grace. By the grace of God I am saved and will have an even greater joy when all these earthly joys are gone. There is no amount of thanking that can make up for that, but it doesn’t mean I won’t continue to say thank you every day. Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings once again. Until next time....

Friday, November 21, 2014

Broken









If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before. I know I have personally used it numerous times, but more often than not, I have used it in a joking manner. I don’t believe it’s a good phrase to use for a number of reasons. I got to thinking about this lately because I realized that everything around me seems to be broken or breaking and thereby minimizing my opportunities to properly use the phrase.


I love to remodel, update, and improve my house, vehicles, and property. Even if nothing is broken, I still want to “fix” them. A fresh coat of paint on the walls. A few new plants in front of the house. A new stereo in the truck. They’re all things that aren’t broken, but I have a nagging desire to improve them. It would be nice if I had the opportunity to tackle those projects, but here in the real world, everything is breaking before I get to force my own ideas of improvement upon them.


A few weeks ago, I put my hand through the wall in the shower because a water leak destroyed the backing behind the tile and the wall gave out. The good from this is that now I know how to tile a shower wall. The negative is that I didn’t have the desire, time, or money to do it at the time. At least I learned something new and my wife was reminded that it’s nice to keep me around.


Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of riding to the rescue to jump start my wife’s Jeep at her work when it didn’t start. It felt nice to be able to “rescue” her with this simple task...if that had been the end of the story. The next morning I realized that the issue went a bit deeper. My assumption was that one of our girls had left a dome light on and drained the battery. Not so. I am a pretty handy guy, but when it comes to being a mechanic, I’m not afraid to tell people that I’m the guy they put a picture of a gas can on the gas cap for. That’s why I am fortunate to have a couple of good buddies that are awesome mechanics. After a number of phone calls and texts with them, I had removed the alternator and had it tested. Replaced the alternator because it was fine and then replaced the battery because of course, it’s usually the simplest thing. Yippy! I fixed the Jeep without either of my buddies having to get their hands dirty for once. If only that was the end of it...as you’ll read later on in this post.


That same week, I was notified by my neighbor that they were kind enough to close my front storm door for me because it was blowing open in the wind. When I got home from work, I was overjoyed to find out that the storm door had swung open so fast and hit the steel railing on the stairs, that it actually bent the storm door. Not only is our storm door a relatively new and nice door (Read: Not needing to be updated until now), it is also a great barrier against the harsh Minnesota winter wind. One of these days I will have to see if I can fix that because it was one of the few well-sealed parts of our aging house.


Last week our laptop decided to crash. Normally, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but the timing was awful. My wife uses the laptop in the evenings to do things for her side business and apparently it’s not as much fun to do all that typing on her phone. I guess I can’t argue with that since you won’t often find me typing out a blog post on my phone...but I have done it. Fortunately for me once again, I know all the right people. It doesn’t hurt that I work for a managed IT services provider. (Don’t worry, I’m not one of the service engineers. I’m in account management.) So, a few dollars, tips, tricks, and hours later, the laptop was back up and running again. For the record, the laptop is one of the things on my list to update. I just want to do it on my terms.


This past week, I have been driving my wife’s Jeep because there is no heat coming from the vents. For those of you who haven’t been to Minnesota in November, that’s a bad thing. Good thing I’ve got those buddies on speed dial! (After the past couple of weeks, I actually moved them from speed dial to personalized direct dial icons on my Android home screen.) It appears that it is only the thermostat stuck wide open, but I won’t know until tomorrow when we tear into it. We’ll see how that goes. For now, I’m trying not to think about how bad I realized the tires are on the Jeep while driving it this week.


I think I’ve listed enough of my woes to make my point. Any more and it will just start to sound like whining (which I can’t stand). There is a lot to learn about the whole broke/not broke, fix/don’t fix cycle. I have learned that I still enjoy fixing things...even if it’s not necessarily on my terms. I have always loved learning new things, so the more things that break, the better chance I have of getting to learn something new. I have learned that I have amazing friends who always seem to be ready and willing to lend a helping hand and/or a few words of wisdom. It also hasn’t hurt earning all the extra brownie points with my wife for putting out all these fires this month. I probably shouldn’t use that phrase, because I only have a handful of firefighter buddies.


I guess the overall point to my ramblings today, is that I think there are better ways to look at things than “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. For example, better maintenance of my house and vehicles (fixing when not broken yet) probably would have saved me a few headaches this past month. As a manager of 20 plus years, the same can be said for processes in the workplace. Sticking with the same process you’ve always used because it ain’t broke also means it isn’t going to improve either. I could spin this off into a tangent about not wanting to “reinvent the wheel”, but I’ll save you the extra reading.


I will sign off now as I will probably need the rest tonight. I get to grout the tiles in the shower tomorrow (still not really done with that project) and then off to (hopefully) fix the heat in the Jeep. I’m also hoping I can make it through this week without any new break/fix scenarios or else I will be broke. I’m also going to put my own twist on the phrase: If it ain’t broke, it probably ain’t mine. Until next time...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Winter will arrive tonight






I am so utterly excited that winter is finally here in Minnesota! (***Disclaimer: Some content herein is completely false and/or a bold faced lie.) We are expecting the first snowfall of the year to commence in the next few hours. At least it is supposed to be a rather mild snowstorm to ease us into winter. News reports and weather websites are reporting that only 6-10” of snow is expected between tonight and Tuesday morning. I could complain about the snow (and I’m sure I will on numerous occasions this winter), but it never seems to do any good. I guess I am back to my good old standby attitude of trying to focus on the good that will come from winter in Minnesota.
I don’t have to mow the lawn for about five months! That may be a small victory, but it is a victory none the less. While I have to mow every single week throughout spring and summer, I only have to move snow if it actually snows. Then again, it could snow every day for a week straight compared to never having to mow the lawn more than once a week. (I’ll try not to think about that right now.)


With my new job being located right here in town, I no longer have to make the normally treacherous journey between my town and the town I used to work in. I’m sure my dislike for the old winter drive to work is in part due to my being a southern boy. In reality, I actually enjoy driving in the snow as it can be quite fun. The part I didn’t like is the risk of being late for work as it doesn’t take much to put you in a ditch and throw your morning routine out the window. (Don’t get me started on the “seasoned Minnesota drivers” who feel they have the skills to continue to drive 60 mph on packed snow and ice.) I also had the added risk of the road between the two towns getting closed down due to an unfortunate combination of a railroad track running parallel to the highway about six feet higher than the road that creates a perfect snow fence affect. It will dump a six foot deep snow drift on the road rather quickly. So, once again, I can enjoy NOT having to deal with that anymore.


Winter is really beautiful here in Minnesota! Although I do live in a very clean and beautiful town, covering everything with a nice clean blanket of snow makes it that much more beautiful. I love seeing the big snowflakes drift down from the sky and create that blanket inch by inch. It is definitely nicer than a good old Texas ice storm. On a side note though, I do have to say that the day after an ice storm in Texas is also quite beautiful. The ice glistening in the sun makes everything glow. The problem there is that the weight of ice tends to destroy a lot of the trees and take down power lines.


Sledding, building snowmen, and snowball fights are other activities that I have been enjoying more over the past couple of years. Having two little girls that are always itching to go outside and play in the snow really brings out the kid in me. The hill we have in our back yard may not be fun during the mowing season, but it sure makes a nice sledding hill. It does get a little tiring dragging the girls up the hill just to sled down again, but maybe they will be big enough this year to walk up the hill under their own power. As seen in the photo above, I tried to show my oldest daughter how hard it is to pull someone in a sled, but she didn’t get the point. She just thought it was fun “pulling” dad on a sled.


Like I said before, it doesn’t do any good to complain about winter rolling in. After all, I do live in Minnesota and I don’t foresee a winter here without snow. I am loving the fact that there will be no stress involved in making it to work on time this year. I also love the fact that my girls are both another year older and able to better enjoy activities outside in the snow. I guess I will have to wait a few more years before I hand over my snow moving duties to my girls though. Oh well, I’ll focus on the winter fun this year. (Please note that I never mentioned the temperatures being below zero for weeks at a time.) Until next time....

UPDATE: The winter storm completely missed us by a few miles to the north. The fact that the snowstorm missed us only created a much stronger and more fierce storm in our house this morning when my five year old realized that there was no snow. I guess it's a first for me: A snowless snowstorm.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

God's Beauty






I have been given a wonderful opportunity to fly to Atlanta for a couple days for some work related training. Although I am a little bit sad to be away from my girls for a couple of days, I am more sad that they can't see what I'm seeing during my flight to Atlanta. Neither of my little girls have had the experience of air travel....at least at an age when they were old enough to remember it anyway.

On a side note, I don't know if I have "officially" stated that I am a Christian in my previous posts, but this post will make a lot more sense if you knew that. (I would be a little ashamed if it didn't at least show through in what I have written though.)

Here's another little piece of knowledge about me: I enjoy listening to Barry Manilow on occasion. (You are either booing me right now or admitting that secretly you too enjoy Barry's songs.) The reason behind this is that my mom loved Barry Manilow.

I will now tie the two together for you.... Last night I had the joy of a sunset flight from Minnesota to Georgia. I happened to be thinking of my mom (who passed away last January) and I was therefore listening to Barry. Don't judge..... It's just my way. So, here I was, thinking about mom, listening to Barry, and I notice the sun setting out my window. (I had already been taking tons of photos so my little girls could see what Daddy saw.) It really got me thinking..... If this beauty and peace is seen at 40k feet. ...how much more beautiful it must be in heaven.

There is no sound from the hustle and bustle of our earthly world. There is no filth, noise, or annoyance. (Or, maybe I don't understand what all makes up a cloud? ) It is purely God's beauty when flying above the clouds. Clear, crisp, and beautiful.

My girls may squeel and giggle over the pics I took,  but they will not understand the true beauty I was seeing until they see it for themselves with their own eyes. Much like our first views of heaven will be.

It is truly a blessing to see the reminders of God's beautiful creation in such colorful form while we are still here on earth. I may be a little sad that my girls will only enjoy my experience through photos after the fact, but I am glad that they already know about the beauties of heaven in our future and are learning to appreciate it here on earth.

Take some time to think about the beauty you see around you over the next few days. It doesn't matter if you're in the sidewalk or 40,000 feet in the air. God's beautiful creation is visible to us all. Until next time....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be Polite....






"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."




I'm sure many of you have heard that quote before. It has most recently been attributed to retired General James Mattis, USMC. I don't know that the quote originated with him (and I'm too lazy tonight to do all the background research), but he has certainly made it well known in recent years. There are a number of aspects to the quote that I am sure rub some people the wrong way and/or give them the wrong impression, but I wanted to take a look at how it can also be applied in our everyday civilian life.




The context in which General Mattis was using the quote (at least in the speech I'm familiar with) was indeed in the context of war. As a former Marine, I didn't think twice about what he said because I understood the intent, but I know a few people who used that quote to fuel their (incorrect) idea that military personnel are out looking for the next kill. That is NOT what was being said. In our most recent wars, our military has had to operate in the middle of cities surrounded by civilians. Being polite and professional is pretty straight forward. You are patrolling in someone else's backyard, near their families, while they are trying to go about their daily routines. While you're doing that, there are enemy combatants (many indistinguishable from the civilians) trying to kill you. It IS war. In a nutshell, be polite and professional to the other human beings around you, but don't lose sight of what you are doing, because one of  them may be trying to kill you. It is unfortunate, but true. That would be the extreme example of situational awareness.




On a slightly lesser level, I recall being told many times during my past years of martial arts training, to never let down my guard. It doesn't only apply to time spent in the ring, on the mat, or even during an actual fight. Situational awareness applies wherever you are and in whatever you're doing. Our natural instinct does much of it for us without having to think about it. It's kind of like the saying, "I wouldn't want to meet that guy in a dark alley". Well, most of us naturally choose not to walk down a dark alley. Common sense has us choose the safer, smarter route whenever we can. Even walking down the sidewalk in broad daylight can be dangerous. We are naturally aware of that car engine revving up a little too much behind us, or (not to stereotype or profile) that "shady looking" character walking towards you. That's where the be polite quote comes into effect.




I remember walking down the streets of Oceanside, CA, while on liberty during my Marine Corps days at Camp Pendleton. Some streets you couldn't walk 15 feet without having a panhandler begging you for money or having to step over a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk. There is no reason you can't smile and say hello (being polite), but you should also be prepared for that passing smile to be met with a knife or gun. There were enough police reports and liberty briefs to attest to the number of muggings of, or attacks on, unsuspecting people.




I've had numerous people tell me that I'm just paranoid to walk around the streets thinking about what I would do if the person I was passing lunged at me or pulled a weapon. Most of them are the same people who think that (legally) carrying a concealed firearm is paranoid, but that's a story for another time. Many of them don't realize that they too are doing it subconsciously. The problem is that subconscious reaction time isn't as fast as a proactively planned reaction. So, call me paranoid if you want, but that way of thinking has been stuck in my head for decades already. I've even survived all attacks with relatively minor injuries.




I'll finish this off with the mildest level of situational awareness....the office. I know, I know.... a whole bunch of reading before I got to the part that I started out saying I was going to talk about. Well, here it is. Situational awareness is an absolute must if you are going to survive in an everyday office situation. I'm not referring to a co-worker pulling out a gun and shooting the place up, but that is unfortunately happening a lot more often these days. I am referring to normal, everyday activities around the office.




I know everyone already has the be polite, be professional thing down at the office. (I know, I'm laughing too.) Being polite and professional really should be able to go unsaid, but look around many offices today and you'll realize that's not true. There are impolite unprofessional people occupying seats in cubicles all across our great land. We don't have to be one of them though.




Situational awareness comes into play everywhere from meetings to project planning in the office. Another similarity to war is that no plan survives first contact. You can gather data, crunch numbers, and devise the greatest plan ever seen in your industry for it to get thrown out on day one of implementation because of some minor detail that changed. Since your are prepared for the worst (at least if you're "paranoid" like me), you take it in stride, tweak your plan, and keep pushing forward towards the goal. If the detail that threw you off course happens to be human related (they usually are) you can start the mantra over again at the beginning and handle the situation in a polite, professional manner.


That's enough for tonight. Sorry, but I guess the class on how to build make-shift weapons with common office supplies will have to wait for another post. Until next time....




Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Love Fall






Growing up in Texas, I didn’t have the opportunity to truly enjoy the reality of four seasons throughout the course of the year. Texas is more of a three-season state: Summer, Hotter Summer, and Ice Storms. I will admit that there were a few days of transition between the heat of summer and the start of ice storm season. I really enjoyed those few days where I could actually smell the cooler air moving in. Although it was refreshing and invigorating, it didn’t compare to the “real” Fall I get to enjoy now living here in Minnesota.
Now, having lived in Minnesota for a little over eight years, I have started to get used to the change of seasons and started taking it for granted. That is, until my two little girls began to notice the change in seasons and reminded me of the great beauty. Although I can’t agree with their excitement that the cooler air means snow will soon be upon us (they don’t have to shovel it), I do agree that there is beauty everywhere I look.

I love the excitement my girls get from pointing out every single tree and every single color they see. A ride across town is non-stop chatter about red tree out the left window or the yellow tree ahead. We’ve been trying to get a few more bike rides in before winter hits and it’s funny to watch the lengths they go to ensure they ride through as many dried up leaves as possible….giggling the whole way.

Fall does of course bring its share of work with all the leaves that need to be raked. Raking does take a bit longer when you have two girls who want to run through, and jump into, every pile you rake the leave into. It’s all worth it though.

I was recently having a conversation with my neighbor about raking leaves. I was teasing him about coming over to rake his leaves out of my yard. The tree in the photo above is in his backyard and those leaves tend to work their way into my backyard. (To be fair, I have to admit that the two large Maples I have in my front yard put four times the amount of leaves in his front yard.) I do appreciate his plan of keeping his lawn mowed short in an effort to let all the neighbors’ leaves blow through freely. It would be an interesting concept to test on a large scale. I might even feel bad for the owner of the one yard they all ended up in….for a few minutes.

Even with the raking of leaves, I still love Fall. The colors, the brisk air, and especially my little girls’ giggles, far outweigh the work of having to rake. Besides, raking leaves is like stretching before a run when you have a Minnesota winter and shoveling snow ahead of you. So, enjoy the Fall and my excitement of what Fall brings because I can’t make any guarantees about what I will write once winter sets in and it’s 20 below for weeks at a time. Until next time….

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The New Guy







For those of you keeping up with my blog, you are aware that I just finished my first full week at a new job. A little side note: I find it a little ironic that the week I begin working in the Information Technology industry is the week I manage to delete 75% of my blog post pictures. (In case you were wondering where they went.) At least it was a deletion error on my own time and website and not a mistake at work during my first week. It's only Saturday evening right now and I'm already excited to start the second week in this new position.
I really enjoy what many refer to as the "honeymoon period" at a new job. There's just the right mix of nerves and excitement to keep the first days and weeks flying by. The challenges and rewards are abundant with all the new faces, company culture, tasks, and processes you get to learn in the first week or two. You also get to deal with being the new guy in the crowd.
Having an entirely new group of people brings a number of challenges and opportunities. I'm one of those "great with faces, lousy with names" people so I find this part a bit challenging. It's not just learning names though. You also need to learn the different personalities, groups, and different responsibilities of each co-worker. Just learning who to go to for what reasons can be a challenge. The fun part is that you get to develop new relationships and learn from a new set of people with different skill sets. I have found everyone at my new job to be extremely friendly and helpful which is an excellent indicator of what company culture will be like.
Learning the new company culture can sometimes be a challenge. It's not always a what you see is what you get kind of thing. I've worked for companies in the past that talk a lot about what their culture is like and then immediately begin showing you that it's a complete farce. Fortunately, it's very hard to keep the real company culture hidden for long (if that's the case in the first place).
The new tasks and processes are what I really enjoy. I tend to get bored if I'm not continually challenged in my work. Getting to learn new things with a new company pushes that boredom to the back burner and amps up my excitement to learn new things. Right now, I have the excitement of working in an industry that I have never worked in before (IT) while having the comfort of a role I have had for many years (customer service). To me, that's a win-win situation that I'm happy to have.
Being the new guy in the crowd also has both challenges and opportunities. I'm used to being the guy that knows it all (hopefully without acting like a know it all), so being the new guy can be a challenge for me. I tend to be hard on myself and push myself hard to try and know everything NOW. The opportunity and reward from this is that I love to learn and live for personal development. There is no shortage of opportunities to learn something new when you're the new guy.
All in all, I am very excited about the possibilities I have in this new adventure. The company culture is proving to be everything it was claimed to be. (I did more than my due diligence before applying for this position) As I said earlier, everyone has been very friendly and helpful. Don't even get me started on the joy of being away from a retail schedule and getting to eat supper with my family every night and not have to work on the weekends. We will see how this new opportunity for me (and my family) continues to play out. I'm sure you'll be hearing more from me on this in the future. Until next time......

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Goodbye brings my new Hello








I’ve never been one for long, teary goodbyes and I’m pretty sure it’s not due to me being a cold, heartless person. I think it really comes down to two main reasons: First, goodbye is not usually for that long. Second, it’s often followed by a bunch of new hellos.

More often than not, when we say goodbye, it’s only for a short time. I specifically remember dreading the moment certain friends and family members would leave after a visit. It was in part because I didn’t want to see them go, but it was mostly because I didn’t enjoy the 15 minutes of crying in the doorway (not by me) as our guests were leaving. You would think that we were all going off to battle with a slim chance of ever returning. In reality, we would usually be seeing each other again within the year and with numerous phone calls and letters during the interim to tide us over. It seems like even less time now with social media as we’re often sharing photos and commenting online about the visit before the visitors even get out of the driveway.

Having just left one company to begin a career with another, I have had my share of goodbyes over the past week. The goodbyes ranged everywhere from the teary eyed farewells to one outright refusal to actually say goodbye because we’d still be seeing each other nearly weekly (the exact point I’m making). To me, the teary eyed goodbye takes away from the good times you had and doesn’t look forward to the good that is still to come. That leads into the side of goodbyes that I do enjoy….the next hello.

During my two days off between the old and new employers, I got to reflect on the good times with the old company and look forward to the exciting new adventure with the new company. There will be a lot of hellos this week at the new job. Hello to new co-workers, clients, projects, and more. Knowing that is a big part of why the goodbyes at my old employer last week weren’t all that difficult.

As my post title says, goodbye brings my new hello. Rather than focusing on the people and things left behind with a goodbye, I will focus on the new people and things I will get to say hello to by leaving. Besides, I will still see most of my former co-workers again in the near future and have already seen a dozen or more posts by them already this weekend. There’s not usually a huge finality in goodbyes and by focusing on the new hellos, my goodbyes will be even easier. It’s probably also why I always end my posts with: Until next time….

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Family Time






I was listening to the radio during my drive to work this morning as they were talking about different families’ routines for supper. Working in retail for most of the years since I was married and started a family, I have missed most of our family’s meals. It’s not something I have appreciated as I feel like I’m missing out on so much while my girls are growing in leaps and bounds. Sometimes it seems like we’re just passing each other at various points during the day. It seems that I only get a few minutes in the morning during the mad rush to get out the door for work, school, and daycare. After returning home from work there is another brief window between walking in the door to putting the girls to bed. This is a cycle that I am excited to say we will be breaking in the very near future.
I will be starting a new position with a different company in a little over a week. There are many things about this that have me quite excited. It has the thrill of being in an industry I have never worked in before while still working in a role (customer service) that I enjoy and have a lot of experience with. The company values are phenomenal as is the attitude of all the employees I have yet had the pleasure to meet. (Normally I would have been concerned that this seemed too good to be true, but I have had the benefit of knowing the company and some of its employees for a number of years now.) The best part about this job for me is the schedule. I will actually get to eat supper with my family every weeknight AND spend the weekend with them! I think it’s a great first step and enjoying family time.

The second step is that I'm going to make the most of the time we have together. I’d like to think we’ve been doing that all along, but it could be a little hard to see most mornings and evenings. When you’re in a time crunch in the morning (with tired, groggy kids….and often parents) or enduring the nighttime battle of going to bed (often also with over-tired kids….and sometimes parents), it’s sometimes hard to hear the love between the screaming and crying. (It’s not always just me crying either.) I’ve learned a lot about valuing time with family this past year. It’s something I have even joked about in the past, but never really “worried” about too much in reality.

The joking part comes from my last few years living in Texas before I was married. I was living in Dallas when my parents moved from the Dallas area out to East Texas lake country (about 90 miles away). I would drive out there nearly every weekend to stay at their house and fish the local lakes. The funny part is that I ended up moving out to East Texas myself (5 miles from them) and then only seemed to see them for an hour or two every Sunday morning at church…and the occasional lunch afterwards. (Mom was always able to draw me in with her cooking.) Proximity can often end up being inversely related to how much actual time you spend with family. The thought is that they are just down the road and you’ll see them tomorrow. Then it’s suddenly next week and next month…

After moving up to Minnesota and being 1000+ miles away from my folks, I found myself calling home a lot more just to chat. I would often call during my lunch break and talk with mom until my lunch hour was over. I never made an intentional effort to make these lunchtime phone calls. It just turned into a routine we had and I am very glad it did. My mom was diagnosed with cancer shortly after Thanksgiving this past year and then passed away about 7 weeks later. I am thankful for all those phone calls over the previous years because it made it that much easier to deal with, and be thankful for, her very brief battle with cancer. We didn’t have to worry about finding closure as we talked 2-3 times per week.

Speaking of closure, have you told your family how much you love and value them lately? That is one thing that I have taken for granted. If you have never been in the situation before, here is the mindset: Think of a family member. You have 10 minutes to talk to them right now and then you have to leave. You know that you will never speak to them again because they will die shortly after you leave. What would you say to them? I’ve always thought I would somehow know what to say or how to say it, but it proved to be much harder than anticipated. My suggestion is that you write a letter today as if you will never see them again. Even better is being able to have that conversation with them on your own time schedule rather than being too late.

Well, I didn’t really intend to get so deep in this post, but I just kept going with the flow…like I usually do. I think my main thought is still intact. Value your time with family and make the most of it whenever you can. I am excited that my new work schedule will make the time factor easier. Now I just have to work on better expressing my feelings to my family. Friends, you’ll have to wait until I tell my family first. Until next time….



Friday, September 12, 2014

The value of change








It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post and I’m sure my loyal readers (both of you) have been wondering when you would hear from me again. I’ve often heard about writer’s block, but always thought it had to do with not having anything to write about. After a few months of writing this blog, I am now realizing the bigger “problem” is having too many things to write about and not being able to hone in on one idea. I guess I haven’t really been all that great about staying focused in my posts anyway, so I decided to just start typing.

I was recently thinking about the idea from Greek philosophy that says that change is the only constant. If the only constant thing is change, then I wanted to make sure I was making the most out of the changes in my life. Having written a few posts recently about trying to find the good in everything, I decided to look at how I react to change. (Notice how I’m honing in on a specific topic there?) We deal with many different types of change throughout our lives. Some are quite drastic while others often go unnoticed. Many people try to label each change as either a good change or a bad change, but I try to see both sides whenever possible. I’m not sure if it’s advisable to mix the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang (dark/light, good/bad) with the Greek philosophy of change being the only constant, but that’s what I tend to do. (I have also been known to mix ketchup into my mac and cheese, but I’m not sure that’s relevant.)

One of the things I really enjoy about living in Minnesota is the change of seasons. A couple of days ago I was wearing shorts and tonight we’re supposed to get temperatures down near freezing. Following my Yin/Yang concept, I will admit that the cold weather moving in is not what I would classify as a good change, but the beautiful Fall colors that will soon appear are classified as a good change. Of course, it is easy to impress me in this arena since I grew up in Texas where there are only three seasons (summer, summer part 2, and ice storms). Winter snowfalls in Minnesota create a lot of work when you have to shovel snow, but it also brings a lot of fun when building a snowman with my girls. Spring may bring a lot of rainy days, but those days of rain bring flowers and help the crops grow. Summer brings the heat and the heat means running around in the sprinkler in the back yard. (OK, my girls run around in the sprinkler. I’m just the official water regulation supervisor.) I could go on with balancing good and bad aspects to the change of seasons, but I think you get the idea.

The photo accompanying this post is actually more than just a cheesy play on words. (Full disclosure: I didn’t have a better picture in my files anyway and my previous bad experience with copyright trolls has taught me to only use images that I own. A story I will have to share at another time.) Our financial status is a type of change that we deal with and one that definitely has both good and bad associated with it. Society would have you think that having more money is good and less money is bad. Being rich means you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay the mortgage or put food on your table. Unfortunately, it may also mean you don’t know who your real friends are and might have to deal with everyone wanting a piece of what you have. Being without money, at the very least, creates stress and may have you struggling to put food on the table. Not having money can also teach you to appreciate the truly valuable things in life like your health, family, and friends.

Most of us experience numerous changes in our careers as well. Whether it’s something as simple as a new co-worker in the group or something major like a new job, changes at work have both good and bad aspects. A new co-worker might mean days or weeks of picking up the slack while they transition into a new position and learn a role, but it might also mean a new friend and/or lightened workload for you. Being promoted or changing jobs can be scary and might make you feel incompetent at first, but it can also add excitement and new possibilities to your career.

The most recent change we’ve been going through in our house is our five year olds’ (going on fifteen) constantly changing attitude. There is no middle ground. One minute she’s laughing and having a grand old time. The next minute she’s kicking, screaming, and throwing something across the living room. During the bright, shining daughter moments it’s easy to see the good. We get to enjoy spending family time together and see how well she is developing as a smart, fun girl. The darker moments are not fun for anyone, but there is a plus side….believe it or not. Without the bad end of the changing attitude spectrum, it would be easy to take the good end of the spectrum for granted.

I’m going to close this post out with a change that I saw on September 11, 2001. The horrific terrorist attacks on that day are about as extreme an example as you can get for trying to find the good in everything. While thousands died during the attacks, there was actually a glimmer of hope in the change of attitude for many of us. I lived in Dallas, TX, at the time and although Texans are known for having a friendly attitude, interaction between strangers in public was usually limited to a smile and a “howdy”. As the events unfolded that day in 2001, I immediately noticed how strangers were talking with each other with a rekindled sense of community. Suddenly, we weren’t just a bunch of individuals running around going through the motions of our day to day life. We were now a group with shared feelings and emotions.

Think about all the changes life throws you each day. Think about how it makes you feel initially. Watch how that change ultimately affects you and your day. Then, after the change has made its impact on your life, see if it had the good and/or bad affect that you initially thought it would. You might be surprised about how the various aspects of each change truly affect your life. Until next time….

Friday, August 29, 2014

Smile - Super Deluxe: The Sequel







I read a book to my daughter tonight called “Smile a lot” as part of our usual bedtime routine. It kept repeating how much a smile could help the little boy as he struggled with a series of problems throughout his day. The book got me thinking about the post I wrote a couple weeks ago called “Super Deluxe” where I talked about having a good attitude and making the best out of everything rather than going through life looking at all the negative. In that post, I only spoke of the general personal choice of trying to maintain a positive outlook on your day. Today, I wanted to talk about one of the simplest ways to put that idea into action outwardly. Just smile.
The part I didn’t mention about our usual bedtime routine with the girls is that it has been an absolute nightmare for the past couple of weeks. A combination of “end of summer anxiety”, lack of sleep at night, and a mixed up schedule due to vacation and visitors has had my girls bouncing off the walls by evening and extremely crabby. We typically refer to it as them having “gone over to the dark side”. We started with the usual tactics of losing toys, privileges, and time outs. Unfortunately, it has also included more yelling than any of us appreciate. We have since adjusted our tactics back to a plan we seemed to have lost sight of…positive reinforcement. Focusing on what they are doing right, using calm voices when correcting them, and yes, making sure to smile, has helped the last couple of days. I don’t want to get too far off on a tangent here, but these experiences have definitely reinforced the idea that remaining positive and adding a smile, positively affect the outcome of my day.

I learned to really smile somewhere around the 6th or 7th grade. Obviously, I knew how to physically smile much younger than that. I even have a stack of photos showing that I was actually a pretty cute kid with a great smile. The smile I’m referring to was the one my mom taught me. Having attended a parochial school throughout my childhood, I spent quite a bit of time singing in some type of a choir at church. Singing, especially in front of other people, was never one of my favorite things to do. That dislike of public singing meant I sang while looking like a little grump. Mom finally got sick of reminding me to smile, so she said that next time she was going to pick her nose every time I sang to force me to smile. Now, I don’t ever recall her ever actually picking her nose, but I do distinctly remember her lifting a finger to her face as if she was about to pick her nose. I know I did a lot better job of smiling from there on out. (I also got nose picking, booger birthday cards from mom for the next 20 years.) In the end, I think it made for a more pleasant listening experience for the audience when I actually appeared happy to be singing for them.

As I got older, I realized that for some reason children seemed to like me. At least, they didn’t appear to have any trouble acknowledging my presence. The only reason this jumped out at me was because adults would be less likely to approach me and say hi than a child would. It was pointed out to me that my “normal face” was the neutral, 1000 yard stare that I picked up in the Marine Corps. I didn’t walk around looking like I was mad at the world, but I didn’t appear overly friendly either. I made a mental note to add a smile (at least every now and then) and see what happened. Well, it worked. I don’t even think about it anymore. Apparently, I must smile so much now that when I’m deep in thought (not smiling) people will actually ask me what’s wrong.

Smiling is a definite must when it comes to my career in face-to-face customer service. Even on the phone you can usually tell if someone is smiling. That smile can change the direction a conversation goes and/or how people act. The simple little gesture of a smile will go a long way in maintaining your positive outlook in life. It’s also the first baby step towards laughing at problems when your day just isn’t going right. Enjoy your day and remember to smile. Until next time…

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Super Deluxe









The “inspiration” for this post comes from dad. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to my wife’s dad. I’m just not particularly fond of the term father-in-law.) I can’t recall a time when I asked dad how he’s doing and he didn’t instantly respond with “super deluxe”. I doubt that he is actually, truly, 100%, super deluxe ALL the time. The point I’m making is that he IS always optimistic about how good he is and/or will be. If only everyone was capable of that….

Working in a retail environment, I run into a wide variety of personality types and attitudes. I am fortunate that the far majority of the people I interact with on a daily basis are quite friendly and personable. That is one of the benefits of working in a small town and being on a first name basis with most of my customers. I do run into a handful of people that have me scratching my head wondering how they developed the attitude they have. It also serves as a challenging opportunity to try new methods of communication to develop a good relationship with them. Since I am a “bad news before good news” kind of guy, I will talk about the energy draining, bad attitude personality type first.

Somewhere along the line most of us have run into someone who left us dumbfounded by their negative attitude. I’m not just talking about someone having a bad day. We all have those. I’m talking about that person who appears to ALWAYS be having a bad day. It’s tiring for me to even think about how much energy they use to have a consistently negative attitude. I will give them credit for creativity. It’s not easy to be mad about, or find something wrong with, EVERYTHING. Here’s a sample conversation that I find myself in from time to time:

Me: “Good morning. How are you doing today?”


Customer: (Glares at me like I just spewed out a bunch of obscenities at them.)


Me: “What can I help you find today?”


Customer: (New glare that makes the last one look pleasant) “I know what I want.”


Me: “Excellent. What are you looking for? I can take you right to it.”


Customer: “I’ll get it myself.”


Me: “OK. Let me know if I can help you with anything else or answer any questions for you.”


Customer: (Huffs off reading all the aisle marker signs.)
***30 seconds later***
Customer: (In a loud, clearly annoyed voice.) “What do I need to do to get some help around here?”


Me: “I’d be happy to help you. What are you trying to locate?”


Customer: “I need some paint.”


Me: “I can help you with that. Let’s go up to the paint department.” (The brightly lit, colorful, in your face department right next to the front door where this whole conversation began.)

I could go on and on with this example, but I think you get the idea. Sometimes it gets to the point that I feel someone is playing a joke on me. Or better yet, testing the methods I train by mixing up customer profiles (browser, mission shopper, project shopper, etc) to see how I will react. It makes life more interesting for me, but that is only because I like a challenge and that’s the type of attitude I have.

I’m the kind of person who likes to find the lighter side of any situation. This may sound contradictory at first, but I often joke that I’m a “pesi-optimist”. I jokingly assume the worst is going to happen so that I will be pleasantly surprised when the best happens. Maybe I’ve read too many of Murphy’s laws? I’m not a negative person. I would just rather have the surprise of a good thing rather than the disappointment of something falling below my expectations. Some of the most “exciting” days I’ve had were the ones where nothing seemed to go right. They actually become laughable at some point and that laughter gives me the fuel to keep pushing through and solving each additional problem. Plus, at the end of the day, I feel like I accomplished something and I have a story or two to joke about later.

Going forward, I am going to continue trying to be positive in everything that I do. I may feel more “awesome” than “super deluxe”, but maybe that’s something that comes with age and experience. I know I have dad’s super deluxe example to motivate me. Hopefully it can motivate you too. Until next time…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vacation or just time away from work?








My family and I just returned from nearly a week of traveling that I suppose is technically referred to as a vacation. A quick check of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary tells me that a vacation is “a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel”. Maybe my personal definition of vacation is a little different. I like to do as little as possible on a vacation. No thinking, no schedules, minimal planning, and a lot of relaxing. I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my time away from work, compare it to the technical definition of a vacation, and see if it was truly a vacation.

I know I was away from work. I’m pretty sure I even let my co-workers know that I wouldn’t be there for about a week. (I’ll find out for sure when I get back to work tomorrow morning.) I may not have done the best job of not thinking or talking about work, but at least physically being away from it was a start. My wife had a little tougher time leaving work behind as she is always a full-time mother, with another full-time job (that she did leave behind for a week), and a personal business that she’s always active in. My girls were away from school (or daycare for the younger one), but my older daughter couldn’t stop talking about starting kindergarten in a few weeks…so I think it’s a toss-up on whether or not she left school behind.

As far as travel is concerned, we definitely got that one covered. Anyone who has ever traveled with kids in the 3-5 year old range can tell you that any time spent in the car longer than 30 minutes can be classified as a journey. I do have to say that my girls have proven to be excellent traveling companions (even with the extra potty breaks and occasional bickering). They were put through the ringer when we made the trip from Minnesota to Texas and back (twice - within a month of each other) earlier this year. I think that prepared them for this trip. You would think that traveling from Minnesota to Wisconsin and back this past week would have been a lot easier, but I am not so sure. On a really long haul trip, you have two traveling periods (there and back) with a longer period of “vacationing” in the middle. This week's trip was drive for 6-7 hours. Spend the night. Drive an hour. Attend a wedding. Drive an hour. Attend a reception. Drive an hour. Stay the night. Drive a couple hours. Spend the day… I think you get the picture. I was expecting to hear a lot of complaining from my girls about having to get back into the car to drive again when they were just starting to have fun again outside of the car….but there was very little of that. And because of that, I am extremely grateful. Traveling may be a struggle at times, but you still have the fun of seeing the country and having adventures. (I will have to post about the adventures from our Texas trips some other time….there were too many “adventures” and “excitement” on that trip for my liking.)

Then there is that whole “relaxing” part of the definition. I think this part snuck in there without announcing itself. It may have felt like we were always on the move and not getting to spend much quality time with family and friends, but looking back, that wasn’t the case. We got to spend time with family from all over the country (most of which we haven’t seen in a year or more). The kids got to play with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. We even managed to spend part of a day at the Milwaukee zoo as a family. That was a joy as it brought back memories for my wife who grew up there (in Milwaukee, not the zoo) and for my girls who had never been to a zoo before. They are now chomping at the bit to go back again. Their initial fear of going to the zoo (they thought we’d be walking in among the wild animals) was replaced by excitement and then maybe a little sadness (because we couldn’t pet the bears and lions).  Relaxing is what you make of it. I use to think relaxing had to involve being on the lake with a fishing rod in my hand or sitting on a beach with a book and a beverage. I am now learning to appreciate the simple act of visiting with friends and family as a great form of relaxation.

I may still feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation, but it was worth every minute. I also can’t complain too much as I will have a “stay-cation” coming up pretty soon anyway. I won’t expand on the concept of a stay-cation today, but I have grown to love them as well. For now, I think I will just re-define my own personal definition of what a vacation is to me: Taking time away from my normal daily activities to spend time with, and better appreciate, the people and blessings in my life. Until next time...

Friday, August 8, 2014

My girls babysitters' wedding






I realize the title of this post makes it sound like it's the wedding of my second cousin's next door neighbor's former high school coach's daughter's wedding, but in reality,  she is a very dear and closely related friend. My family has been fortunate enough to have her attending college in our little town for the last few years. She is one of those babysitters that you hear about that you swear can only exist in some mythical land far away. You leave the house hoping that the babysitter won't kill your kids and you come home to find them sleeping peacefully in bed, the house cleaned and organized,  and the dishes are done. That's her.
She is the babysitter who not only knows EVERY little trick to keeping your kids happy while getting them to do as you say,  but also manages to get them to do it willingly.... and then asking for more. She is every parent's dream and has been a huge blessing to our family.

She got married today.

Although this is a great loss to the babysitter list we have for those date nights my wife and I have every couple of years (it seems), not all is lost. We still have a few names on the roster. ... one of which is her younger sister and apparent mentee (she exhibits the same qualities in every respect), but today is not about her. Today is about the wonderful young lady who has now devoted her life to being a loving wife to a really great guy. (For the record: she's going to be an awesome wife and mother)

I am reminded of this particularly because I am currently at home with a sick child while my wife is enjoying time with the family at our cousin's wedding reception. (Disclaimer: It IS her side of the family, who she rarely gets to see,  and we didn't know the youngest was ill until I got the girls home and she threw up on me.)

In the end, I am only doing what a father is supposed to do.... which I do "gladly". (I'll be honest. .. me cleaning up puke usually generates more from me than the original mess) I still do it though for my daughters. I know my cousin will also do it for her family because she always goes above and beyond anyway.

I'm pretty sure she'll prove to be the ultimate wife as well as the ultimate (future) mother to their children.  God's blessings on their marriage. (And "NO", you can't have her sister's name or number. .... I'm too selfish to share her. )

Until next time. ..

Monday, August 4, 2014

Take me back to the terrible two's







Being the father of two girls, ages three and five, I have successfully made it through the first few phases of fatherhood. People have always talked about the "terrible two's". It really makes me wonder if those people are blocking out the third year for their own sanity. I recently heard someone refer to that third year as the "trying three's". I don't believe that title quite does it justice. I had a lot of expectations for each of the phases of my girls' childhood. Most of them played out as expected, but the third year for my younger daughter is proving to crush those expectations. Don't get me wrong. I love both of my daughters dearly and even realize the reasons behind everything that is happening. I am merely stating that I think we need to come up with a better "warning label" description for year three to make sure parents don't inadvertently let down their guard once their child has their third birthday.

Almost six years ago, I read books, viewed websites, and even watched a movie about what to expect for new parents. I particularly remember the movie. It was called something like "the period of purple crying". It was an effort by the county and/or some medical agency to prevent babies from being injured by their parents due to shaking a baby that won't stop crying. It basically explained how a baby can cry so loud, and for so long, that you may unintentionally shake your baby in a fit of passion just trying to get them to stop crying. The video itself showed babies crying louder and harder than I had ever seen and proved to be quite terrifying. The plus side to having watched that video, once I had refilled my blood pressure medication, was that reality didn't prove to be anywhere near that bad. I realize that no two babies are the same, so I can't speak for everyone. I also know that I have the ability to sleep through almost anything, so my wife may have a different opinion about how much our girls cried. In the end though, I made it through that 0-24 month phase unharmed.

The terrible two's really didn't bother me too much either. After having spent the previous two years waiting for my girls to roll over, sit up, walk, talk, etc., I quickly realized that it might have been better to let that training go a little longer. At two years old they don't stop talking and they're always on the move. The relentless questions may have tried my patience, but I saw it for the learning experience that it was. Constantly being on the move and getting into everything under the sun may have kept me on my toes, but I saw it for the exploration and discovery experience that it was. I will admit that the talking back and temper tantrum skills were being practiced during year two, but I can see now that the refining and improving of the true, full-blown, tear out your hair tantrums was done during year three. They began their steps towards independence during this second year, but they wait until year three to really test the limits of their independence.

I am not a doctor, but just by watching my daughters, I believe there is a huge jump in mental abilities during that shift from two to three years old. Add to that the fact that my younger daughter has a big sister as a mentor. (That's proven to be both good and bad.) The three year old, now feeling independent, full of knowledge, and having a completed recon of their boundaries completed, make their first full assault. It starts out as an innocent test battle, knowing that they can still (possibly) flash their eyes and make a cute pouty face (melting dad's heart) and avoid any real punishment. In my current situation, my five year old has provided an effective boot camp for my three year old, given her a battle plan, and is standing ready to flank us if/when her little sister needs the support. She has also been toughened up by her big sister because they are at war with each other almost as much as they are getting along. My three year old knows my plan of defense and typical counter attacks. She often knows which step will be taken next. If she has the warning of losing a toy if she acts up, she will act up and then have the toy ready to hand over when I arrive to take it. She has proven to be a tough little cookie in this game. Fortunately, I am still capable of thinking a few steps ahead of a three year old (most of the time). Someone told us that a "strong-willed" child often grows up to be a great leader. I'm not sure if that's true, but she's definitely following basic guerrilla attack plans. Plan. Attack. Retreat. Repeat. Maybe I should teach her how to create a five paragraph order for her mission plan so she's doing everything by standard operating procedures??

At the end of the day, I just need to remind myself how smart my daughters are and that maybe this just means that they will be great leaders one day. Until then, I will just continue to attempt to harness their abilities and turn them towards something more productive. As I don't see that happening overnight, I will spend a little time thinking of a more appropriate name for the three year old to better warn others not to drop their guard after the terrible two's. Feel free to offer suggestions. Until next time....

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Measure twice and cut once







The title to this post is a phrase I’m sure most of you are familiar with. It’s a common phrase in carpentry and repair reminding you to take accurate measurements (measure twice) so that you get it right the first time (only cut once). An inaccurate measurement can cause a number of problems. If your measurement is off, and you don’t catch it, you may not be able to assemble the finished product or may have a structurally unsound finished product. Assuming that you catch the mistake, you will end up wasting time by having to re-cut the item. If you’re as lucky as me, you will have cut it too short and therefore have to start again with a new piece having rendered the first piece unusable, wasting time AND material.

The same concept also applies to customer service. If you ask enough of the right questions, you will ensure that the customer’s needs are met in one visit. My customers occasionally joke with me about how they were “assaulted” with questions when they walked in the door. Our associates are trained to greet every customer that walks in the door and ask them what we can help them find. I wouldn’t call that being assaulted, but they are definitely being questioned as they walk in the door. It’s merely a matter of recognizing the customer (our paycheck), guiding them directly to what they need (saving them time), and pairing them with an associate trained in whatever their project entails (1 on 1 customer service).

Asking enough of the right questions not only saves the customer from making unnecessary return trips, it also builds the customer’s confidence in your abilities. The questions you ask show the customer that you understand the project, have the necessary project/product knowledge, and can help them complete their project. Their confidence in you increases as does the likelihood that they will seek you out (and your business) for help in future projects. You have strengthened the relationship that you have with that customer and increased their loyalty to you and your business.

Not every project goes as planned. Even if you do ask all the right questions, there is always the possibility that another issue may come up as the project is being completed. I have joked with customers on their third or fourth trip to the store in one day that I was going to get them an associate name tag because they were spending so much time in the store. It’s a constant reminder to make sure I am doing everything I can, and asking all the questions I can, to make the most out of their visit.

Some of my customers may joke about being “assaulted” at the door with questions, but they can’t say they didn’t receive customer service. Asking all the pertinent questions gets them to the right aisle, for the right product (or service), and helps them complete their project. Asking those extra questions (measuring twice) ensured that they only had to make one trip (cut once). Until next time…