Monday, August 31, 2015

She Said - He Said

Learning how to communicate effectively is a precious ability that proves useful in both the personal and professional arenas. Personally, I feel I have done a fine job in both areas, but there is always room for improvement. Judging by a brilliant blog post I read this past weekend (written by my wife), I have a little bit to learn about the difference between how men and women communicate. Actually, to be more accurate, I should say I have a bit to learn when I am on an intelligence gathering mission for a woman...because their need-to-know doesn't necessarily match what a man wants to know.

In honor of my wife's well documented reputation for clarifying things, I am going to clarify one thing right now. I am in no way offended by her rendition of the conversation you are about to read. In fact, I think she probably toned it down for me. I am very much a guy, who asks guy questions when talking to other guys. Not necessarily the best choice for a recon mission when you're expecting answers to girl questions.

Friends of ours' recently announced that they are expecting with a due date this Spring. It's a little more exciting because this will be their first child. If you care to read my wife's insights (which I would encourage since this post is called "she said-he said"), you can find it at: Sarah Simplified: Analyze This....and Then Grab a Brownie For those of you who just want the gist of it, here's the quick breakdown of my report to my wife (in her words) following my quick congratulatory conversation with the soon-to-be first time dad:
        Me: When is she due?
    Jesse: Sometime in March.
       Me: How has she been feeling so far? Has she had any morning sickness?
   Jesse: no response....looks at me with a blank look and shrugs...
       Me: Has she figured out who her OB doctor will be?
   Jesse: more silence....another shrug

Ok, so I am guilty of not asking all the girl questions. I could substitute her questions above for the questions she asked me when I told her they were getting married last year:

Sarah: Have they set the wedding date?
Me: I don't know.
Sarah: What does her ring look like?
Me: [shrug]... I didn't notice.
Sarah: Has she picked out a dress yet?
Me: For what? Oh. The wedding? I don't know.

You send a guy to get answers to girl questions and that's what you'll usually get. At first I thought she nailed it on the head with her insight, but then I realized that I'm not necessarily as guilty as it looks. Although I didn't really ask specific questions, I did gather the information that I found important to me as a guy. To be honest, if I had asked the questions my wife asked me, I probably wouldn't have know what the answer meant. For instance, if I heard she threw up three times per week, is that a lot? Is that mild? Is that completely normal? Or even if I were to get the OB's name identified, would it mean anything to me? Nope.

I got everything I needed to know by asking the soon-to-be dad, "How are you doing?" Between his six word response and a shrug, I knew most of what I needed to know. I know as a first time dad (because I did that once) that there is a wide range of emotions flowing over you. (Don't tell anyone I used the word "emotions" in my blog.) Knowing you're going to be a dad makes you do a lot of soul searching. (At least it should if you have a chance of being a good father.) You end up asking yourself questions like:

Do I have any idea how to be a father?
Will I be a good father?
Will I be able to support my family?
How am I going to balance my time between my wife and child?
Are diapers really that hard to change?
What all do we need to get for the baby?
What room will be the nursery?
Is it cool/warm enough in that room?
Will I have to do any remodeling?
What's my name?
Where am I?

I feel I gathered the answers to all those questions with my four word question and his six word answer. Well, maybe not all of them, but I could make an educated guess an the nursery. The point is, a guy has different concerns, joys and fears than a woman has. Most of them will be very similar, but seen from a different perspective. A mom-to be might be a apprehensive about the pains of childbirth...but I can almost guarantee you that the dad-to-be is worried about his wife and child being ok throughout the delivery.

To wrap this up, I should point out that there was no hugging involved. My wife's post mentioned that with a girl conversation there would have been congratulations, a hug and then conversation. Since I am here to help you navigate through the jungle of life, I will leave you with this pearl of wisdom regarding guys hugging:

I don't remember if it was the stand-up comedy of Tim Allen or Jeff Foxworthy where I first heard this explained, so I'll just hope that they don't read this and sue me for failing to give proper credit. On the rare occurrence that two men are going to hug, you will see them manning it up a bit. A guy hug will usually involve some hard slaps on the back. To quote the appropriate comedian above, "You're hugging....but you're also hitting." Remember this if you ever find yourself in a situation where a "man hug" is necessary. Until next time...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

There must be something in the water

I remember the excitement that rushed through me each time we found out we were going to have a baby. Recently, it seems like everybody under the sun is getting pregnant and it got me thinking about how we would react to the same news today. My wife and I seem to be hearing about a new pregnancy on a weekly basis lately. We each have co-workers, family members and friends from church that are expecting. Plus a few that just had a baby. The authors of a couple blogs I follow are also expecting. That really has me wondering if there's something in the water...and should we be avoiding water right now?

For the record, my wife and I are not one of the couples who are expecting. Although we would see another child as a blessing, it would be a rather large surprise to us right now. We love our children dearly (and would love any additional children), but right now it would be a bit of a shock to the system to find out another little one was on the way. For now, I'll just enjoy the excitement our friends and family members are experiencing with their own pregnancies.

Newborn excitement
Having already been through the newborn experience twice now, I can say that it definitely flies by too fast. Seeing one of our friends with a newborn in church today reminded me how nice it was to have a baby that would just sleep in your arms through the service. They are also like little magnets. Following the service it's fun to watch everyone gravitate towards the sleeping newborn. My wife and I even got in a few peaks, ooohs and ahhhs. For us right now though, we'll leave it at that. It's kind of like one of my sisters who absolutely loves being an aunt. She can play with my girls, spoil them, and most importantly, leave them with their mom and dad at the end of the day.

For some reason, like most parents, we were too eager for our girls to roll over, sit up, walk and talk. What were we thinking? Enjoy them while they are babies. There is a satisfaction in just watching your baby sleep that we try to rush through. You also find out too late how nice it is to know that a newborn will be wherever you last left them. Having two girls now that never stop talking and are always on the move makes me appreciate the newborn stage....but not quite enough to want another one of my own right now.

Toddler excitement
You will quickly find yourself saying things like "they grow up so fast" and "they do the cutest things." The toddler stage brings a lot of this out. They are little explorers at this point. They've figured out how walk and talk and they never stop doing either one. They are curious about everything and will thoroughly investigate each and every thing they come across. This can wear you out as a parent. It's the stage where you start wondering if the people who have their kids on leashes are really all that crazy.

On the flip side, it's pure joy watching them learn and develop. Seeing how their trial and error attempts at everything slowly turns into a new talent is a fun process to watch. They then take that new talent and use it to work on the next one.

Starting school excitement
Now that my kids are in first grade and preschool, there's a whole new level of excitement. Being able to have actual conversations with them is a real joy. The speed at which they learn never ceases to amaze me. It seems like a few months ago that I was reading books to my girls that had 2-3 words on each page. Now my first grader is reading chapter books to me. (I am still holding to my assumption that my girls will be smarter than me by the time they reach 6th or 7th grade.) I am truly enjoying watching them learn and grow at such a fast pace. Then again, I'm afraid I will blink and they'll be going off to college.

I can safely say that my wife and I are very content right now. We are content with watching and helping our "big girls" turn into young ladies (or princesses if they had their way). We are content with getting our baby fix by means of seeing and holding our friends' and family members' newborns rather than one of our own. I know the girls would love to have a little brother or sister and they would probably even be good little helpers with their new sibling, but that's not quite enough reason to have another child right now. Of course, God could have different plans for us in this regard. Until next time....

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Do you have a nickname?

I recently wrote a post called "What's in a name?" where I talked about how I named this blog. I also discussed how a name doesn't describe who you are, but rather reminds people of who you are when they hear your name. That got me thinking about whether the same holds true for a nickname. The fact that you are usually "assigned" a nickname by friends or family members, there is a good chance that the nickname actually describes you in some way. I decided to look at a few nicknames in my family to see if that holds true.

Starting with myself, the only nickname I ever recall being given is Zach. It's a name that I had throughout high school and the only real reason I got it is because a few people thought my last name was Zach rather than my correct last name of Zahrt. After a few people made the mistake, it just stuck. I wonder if that says something about me that I don't have a string of nicknames collected over the years. Maybe the title average jester is accurate and I'm just an average guy with nothing in particular that stood out enough to generate a nickname. Who knows? I know I certainly haven't worried about it too much over the years.

My wife is another story. She has a slew of nicknames from grade school through college, but only one "real" nickname that I have given her. It's not any great secret - or overly embarrassing to her, so I will share it here. My nickname for her is Pickles. It may seem like an odd name at first glance, but rest assured, I have good reasoning behind it. It started by me calling her my little a jalapeno. Or as we called them in Dallas, a Texas pickle. Texas pickle just doesn't roll off the tongue that well, so it quickly turned into Pickles. I have a lot of other nickname ideas for her that I will get into in a minute, but most of them probably don't have a chance of entering my daily vocabulary.

My girls have both had a number of nicknames over their short lives so far, but only two have really stuck. At various points in time, I have called both of them Pumpkin and Peanut....along with all the usuals like sweetie, honey and the all time great, rug rats. I made a valiant effort last year to "brand" them each as peanuts. It made perfect sense for me to refer to my girls as pickles and peanuts, but they wouldn't have any of it. In true big sister fashion, Ziva laid down the rules for me in regards to assigning nicknames to my girls. She made a very convincing argument that basically comes down to size. Her rationale was that because she was the big sister, she should be called Pumpkin and her little sister should be called Peanut.

That now settles the nickname decision for the girls....but what about for my wife? Have I really given her nickname enough thought? Below are a few ideas I have to toss around...including the first one which I heard on the radio this morning and got me thinking about nicknames in the first place.

The Old Ball and Chain. This is an oldie but goody.... for someone with a sense of humor anyway. After only a few minutes of thought, I came up with a rationale for using this as a possible substitute nickname. I haven't really figured out how to explain away the "old" part. Since she's turning forty next year, that might be dangerous waters. The ball and chain part is easy though. My wife is a ball...a blast...a lot of fun to be around. As far as the chain, I would gladly be chained to her for the rest of my life. That was the exact reason I married her in the first place. That brings up another nickname...

My Bride. I had a co-worker in the past who always seemed to refer to my wife as my bride, as in, "Go ask your bride if she's ok with you working on Saturday." Something about that just appealed to me. It's a nice change of pace from referring to her as "my wife" all the time. There's just something that sounds a little more special about bride rather than wife. Maybe it's because it sounds more formal? Maybe it's because it reminds me of being younger and the early days we had together right after we were married?? After being married for close to a decade, the next name could have been a possibility if she was so amazing polite.

Old Nag. Anyone who knows my wife will tell you that she is anything but a nag. She is so concerned about not hurting someone's feelings or having a confrontation, that I don't think she could even pretend to be a nag. Then again, that's what would make it such a good nickname. It would be a fun joke because it couldn't be farther from the truth. Then again, there's that word "old" again. Don't wanna touch that this year. Speaking of old....

Old Lady. This one always seemed like the old ball and chain to me until recently. My wife and I both got hooked on watching the tv show Sons of Anarchy a while back. One thing we picked up on was that the girlfriend or wife of the biker was his "old lady." I don't typically look to outlaw bikers as an example of political correctness, etiquette or politeness, but this one actually had a little bit of twisted respect to it. That title meant you don't mess with her or you'll have to deal with the hubby. The twisted respect (in the show anyway) is that once you were his "old lady" you were his main lady. (I realize the idea of mongamous relationship was lost on the bikers in the show and I'm not condoning that.) I was focusing on the manly, protector side of it. OK, maybe this one is a stretch.

Maybe I will just stick to calling her Sarah, Mom (when our girls are present) and Pickles. (Although I can't remember the last time I actually called her Pickles.) I might start referring to her as my bride - the love of my life. I'll have to think of something once she sees some of the ideas I put in the post. I can almost hear the conversation now: "But Honey, I didn't mean anything bad with the nicknames. Sweetie... You know they're all jokes in fun. Come on Babe. You know I love you." Hopefully, it goes that well. Until next time.... (hopefully)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Greatest chef on earth

Food plays an obviously vital part in our everyday lives. Without it, we wouldn't survive. There are a wide variety of tastes and preferences when it comes to food and everyone has their own unique likes and dislikes. I can honestly say that the list of food I don't like is a short one. In fact, I would be hard pressed to name a favorite food. At the top of the list (in no particular order) are burgers, pasta and a wide variety of Mexican food. Two things got me thinking about this over the weekend. One was the fact that my wife and I tried out a new restaurant in town this weekend. The other was a special request I got from both my girls tonight at dinner.

I will admit that I do very little of the cooking in our house. It's not because I don't know how to cook or even that I don't like to cook. It usually comes down to a matter of timing. Although my work schedule lately actually allows me to eat supper with my family every night, it does not have me home early enough to be the one preparing supper. At least not early enough to keep my girls on time with their nightly schedule. My wife does a phenomenal job of providing a wide range of cuisine for our evening meals. She even manages to find a way to make at least parts of the meal palatable for the girls.

Considering how much my wife and I love food, it strikes me as odd how particular my girls are about what they'll eat...even as far as how it's arranged on the plate. Don't get me wrong, we don't give in to their every demand, but there are a few exceptions we'll make just to make life easier on us. Our exceptions usually involve not adding all the spice, putting the sauce on the side or something similar. However, there have been a few times that (for the sake of our sanity) we completely scrapped the menu for them and made a new one.

One of those times happened a couple of months ago. The girls were over tired, cranky and in no mood to listen to anything we had to say. Add to that the fact that Sarah and I were also tired and not in any mood to argue. Somewhere in the menu debate, one of the girls said they wanted pizza. What I gave them is pictured above. As you can probably see from the photo, I put a cheese slice on a piece of bread and threw it in the toaster oven for a minute. What I intended to be a "fine- here's a piece of cheese on bread" turned out to be a huge hit with them. The good part is that the "pizza" I offered them made them happy. The bad part was that it looked like I caved into their demands.

Just this evening, Sarah made an amazing "pork chop pizza". I won't go into too much detail (because I don't need to make myself hungry at 9pm), but imagine pork chops smothered in cheese, pepperoni, peppers and some sort of tomato paste concoction. It was absolutely fabulous. Did the girls appreciate it? Nope. Within minutes of hemming and hawing about not likely pork chops (They both love pork chops AND pizza.), Ziva finally said, "I want one of those special pizzas that dad invented." Siri quickly agreed with her older sister. Well, for the second time in a couple months, I caved. Out came two slices of bread and two slices of generic processed cheese. They were instantly happy and I got to get back to eating the delicious pork chop pizza quickly cooling on my plate.

I am starting to see a pattern develop with their impression of my "cooking." My wife occasionally has an evening meeting or something that leave me preparing supper for the girls. In an effort to make life simple for me, she usually just plans for me to make mac n cheese. I even get to make it from a box rather than the (much better) way my wife does by melting cheese in to the pasta. According to my girls, I make the best mac n cheese. Even "better than mom's." It reminds me of the time my dad complimented my mom on her spaghetti sauce by saying it was the best she ever made. That happened to be the one time she used store bought spaghetti sauce because she didn't have time to make her own from she had been doing for years.

The extremely weak point I am trying to make with this post is that being the world's greatest chef doesn't have anything to do with how well you cook. It is completely dependent on who you are preparing the food for. Apparently, it doesn't hurt to be a "guest chef" either. My girls probably wouldn't react the same way if my wife were to make my custom "pizza" for the girls. Then again, she didn't have my secret recipe until I wrote it out in this post. We'll see what happens one day when the girls put in an order with her. Until next time....

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sarcasm, fibs and lies - oh my!

I may have inadvertently taught my girls how to lie. A few months back, I was excited that my daughters were able to understand the basic concept of sarcasm. (The older a bit more than the younger.) Explaining the finer points of sarcasm to them was initially intended to help me not have to explain myself all the time. In case you missed it in previous posts - I tend to be a bit sarcastic at times...ok, all the time.

I use sarcasm with them to tone down my disappointment when their attitudes are flaring out of control. I use it the same way I often use humor in my everyday life to tone down some frustration I have in an effort to not blow a fuse. No matter the reasoning behind teaching them about sarcasm, it seems to have back fired on me.

First, neither of them truly understands when I am being sarcastic versus being serious. Either that, or they are even smarter than I already believe them to be and they're just playing games with me. Second, when either of them attempts to say something sarcastic, they get confused and end up just telling a lie. It's a subtle difference, but the difference is obviously there. The third (and most important) way it has backfired on me is that their harmless "fake telling of a lie intended as sarcasm" has turned into telling outright fibs, tall tales and lies.

I remember as a kid going up to dad and asking if I can have one of the freshly baked cookies cooling on the kitchen table. Dad would say, "I don't know. Go ask your mom." As most of you may understand (as it seems to be a common kid tactic), that resulted in me going up to mom and saying, "Dad said I could have a cookie if it's ok with you." Since my parents were always three steps ahead of me, they knew the real story, but it didn't seem to stop me from using this method on a weekly basis.

Fast forward 30+ years and my kids have put their own twists on my old scheme. Ziva, my six year old, is a little conniver that has taken it to an entirely different level. Siri, my four year old, has taken it down a simpler, but darker path.

Ziva has learned how to use reverse psychology on her sister. Fortunately, she has already learned that it doesn't work on mom and dad. On the flip side, she remembers EVERYTHING and has a (pretty impressive) ability to repeat comments and conversations we had six months ago with amazing accuracy. The problem is that she has also learned how to take things out of context to try and use them against you in an "argument." She could probably go into politics with her great negotiating and debating skills....backed by out of context or inaccurate facts.

Siri on the other hand doesn't really have a grasp on sarcasm or the ability to use subtle sentence manipulation to get what she wants. She just tells the bold faced lie. Just this morning, as I was returning from a run to Kwik Trip to grab a coffee for my wife and donuts for the girls, Siri caught me as I was climbing out of my truck. The conversation went like this:

Siri: "Mom said it was ok for me to ride my scooter out on the front sidewalk."
Me: "But you're still in your jammies."
Siri: "Mom said it was ok."
Me: "I kind of doubt that. Let's go see what mom said."
(A minute later....)
Wife: "I did NOT say that was ok. We really need to work on your lying."
Siri: "What?!?"
Wife: "You really need to stop all this lying you've been doing."
Siri: "What?!?"

I think you get the idea.

Fortunately, it's all been relatively harmless and obvious stuff like this, but it is a bad habit to get into. It's also an even harder habit to break. I do feel I am somewhat to blame due to my excessive use of sarcasm. It also probably doesn't help that I'm not always able to stifle my chuckle when Siri blurts out a real whopper of a tall tale. The same goes with my clearly impressed expressions when Ziva is manipulating the truth and facts to try and steer a conversation in the direction she wants it to go.

The lesson I have learned from this is that young children probably aren't yet ready to comprehend (or replicate) sarcasm. I also need to do a better job of not showing my satisfaction in their ability to steer a conversation however they want...considering they don't always have the best intent in mind.

I am hopeful for the future though. Their ability to drive and control a conversation at such a young age will come in handy in the future....once they learn when and how to do it properly. I have had this ability come in handy many times over in the business world. Coaching and counselling sessions have a much better impact when you have the ability to let the person you are talking to talk themselves into a corner.

If all else fails in my ability to maintain control of the conversation with my two little negotiators, I have learned that the greatest tools in my arsenal are misdirection and boredom. I can still shock them out of their train of thought by going off onto a completely unrelated tangent. If I have to pull out the big guns, I tell them a very long and boring story. Putting them together results in a confused child who is too tired and bored to argue anymore. For anyone who'e read a few average jester blogs, you know that I can ramble on for quite some time....with or without a real topic. Until next time....

Friday, August 21, 2015

Always loved

This is Sammy. Sammy was my dog when I lived out in the country down in East Texas. Sammy is short for Samantha (for those of you who didn't notice her undercarriage) and she was my little friend for about a year back in my bachelor days. A friend at work was moving from a house to an apartment and had to get rid of her. That worked out well for me because I was toying with the idea of getting a dog and I had no shortage of play area for her. At the time, I had a little over six acres of land with a two acre pond on it. (That's where the banner photo at the top of my website was taken.)

She was a great dog. After a few weeks of weaning her off the dog run I had constructed for her, she was free roaming the property from then on out. (Apparently at quite distance - as I will explain shortly.) She would chase me down the driveway as I left for work and would be sitting at the side of the driveway where I parked my truck when I got home. I never really knew where she went while I was gone, but she was always there when I returned.

Before you start giving me the lecture on leash laws, I should explain that I was surrounded by cattle ranches. There were only a handful of houses within a half mile. After close to a year of our daily routine, I was about to be forced to make a decision about what to do with her. I was leaving Texas and moving to Minnesota. Part of that move was going to involve not having a place for her on the other end. In the end, she made the decision for me.

It turns out that part of her daily routine was to head about a quarter mile down the road and meet up with her boyfriend. Considering I never got around to having her fixed, you can guess what happened. (I actually found this out after the fact.) She just disappeared one day and stayed gone for about two weeks. Right about the time I had resigned myself to the fact that she was probably hit by a truck, one of my friends filled me in on her probable location.

In true East Texas fashion, my friend was out for a morning ride on horseback and decided to stop by to visit. He was the one that informed me he had seen Sammy up the road with my neighbor's dog numerous times recently...and she was in heat. To this day, I like to think she just decided to stay at the neighbor's and raise her pups there.

By now, you're probably wondering what this rambling nonsense is all about. Per the title, yes, I loved that dog and will always have fond memories of her, but that's not the where I was really going with this post. This was back story for a conversation I had with my older daughter tonight.

My youngest daughter has been potty trained for quite some time now, but has recently been acting like she forgot all the work she put into it. She probably wouldn't appreciate knowing I am telling this to the whole world, so don't tell her. (She can't read, so I should be safe otherwise.) My older daughter and I were out on walk while the younger daughter was bawling her eyes out after yet another accident this evening. While we were on our walk, my daughter asked me if I would keep loving my girls even if they "caused a lot of problems" like her younger sister having accidents all the time. That almost stopped me in my tracks. Instead, I told her a story about my old dog Sammy.

A few days after I got Sammy, she had a bout of diarrhea in the middle of the night....that she decided to deposit on my kitchen floor. I explained to my daughter that just because someone (or a pet) has an accident, it doesn't mean you stop loving them. Obviously, your child is on a much higher level than a pet, but the general concept is the same. Accidents happen and that doesn't put a damper on how much you are loved.

I further explained to my daughter that with Sammy (just like with her little sister) there was something else going on that caused the accident. Because of that love you have for them, you don't focus on the accident itself, but rather on a possible reason for it. You do that because you love them and want to help them.

The issue with Sammy was pretty easy to figure out. It was a perfect storm of things including a new surrounding and a different brand of dog food. It probably didn't help that Sammy also liked to scavenge food around the property as well. Unfortunately, the "accidents issue" with my younger daughter is proving a bit more difficult to determine.

I know my daughter wasn't really concerned about whether my wife and I would ever stop loving her or her sister. She just really likes to start deep conversations when we have some father-daughter time. On our walk tonight she also talked about how sad she would have been if I had died right after she was born and she never got the chance to know me, but that's probably a story for another time.

I'm hoping that our little talk tonight strengthened her belief that I will always love her no matter what. Knowing how smart she is though, I'm afraid she was just using the whole conversation as a way to figure out how much she could get away with herself...and still have my love. Until next time....

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Not my fault

As the girls and I were knee deep in a pile of legos this evening building an entire kingdom (because they got sick of just building individual castles), I decided to take the opportunity to ask my content manager for a blog idea. In true six year old fashion, she gave me an answer without hesitation, eye contact, pause in her current activity or apparently even any thought. Her answer was "It's not my fault." At first I thought she was talking about something going wrong with the lego structure she was creating, but then I realized what she really meant.

"It's not my problem" is the point she was trying to get across. I guess that means I need to ease up on interrogating her for ideas...or at least use a more stealthy, recon style observation of her to gather my intelligence. I'd like to think I trained her well enough that maybe she really did mean fault instead of problem. There is a subtle, but valuable lesson to be learned from the difference of those two statements. (It really wasn't her fault that I didn't yet have my own idea for a blog post.)

Not being your fault is a completely legitimate argument to make. She often has to deal with sub-par contracting work when building lego castles with her younger sister. When that castle happens to tumble to the ground, it often (truly) isn't her fault. You no doubt deal with the same thing throughout your day. Things don't go the way they're supposed to and, if it's out of your control, it's truly not your fault.

Determining fault is merely a game of deciding who's to blame. More often than not, the fault game is a complete waste of time. (I can however see the value if it's used to identify the culprit, educate them on the error and prevent it from happening again.) Unfortunately, the blame game is more often than not a worthless exercise pointing at the other guy and playing pass-the-buck. Nonetheless, there is actual value or validity to not being the person at fault. It's what you do next that makes the difference.

If you jump right into "it's not my problem" mode, you're almost as much to blame as the person who really was at fault. I'm not saying you should be responsible for fixing everyone else's mistakes, but life is a lot more enjoyable (and productive) if you focus on the solution to the problem rather than arguing about who was at fault.

As my daughter looks at a lego castle in ruins because her younger sister has faulty craftsmanship, she has two choices to make. First, is she going to waste her time trying to convince me that it's not her fault - it's her sister's fault? Or, is she going to just move on because we both already know it's the younger sibling's fault it collapsed. Second, is she going to say it's not her problem and throw a fit or just plain give up and walk away? Or, is she going to see the problem and devise a plan to rebuild the castle?

That's where I see the difference between "my fault" and "my problem." Whether or not it's your fault, you have a problem. Are you going to choose to spend your time shifting the blame or get to action to correct the problem. In life, many things happen that aren't your fault, but at that point, they are most certainly your problem now.

Take the photo attached to this post for example. You're driving down the road and the wheel falls off, it may be your fault because you failed to tighten the lug nuts properly or it may be the manufacturer's fault for a defective part. Either way, YOU are the one broken down on the side of the road. YOU are the one that now has a problem. Which do you think is going to get you moving faster? Call and scream at the manufacturer or grab your spare or call a tow truck?

I understand the reality of having to determine fault in certain instances. In the example I just gave, you would more than likely contact the manufacturer if it was a defective part because they are at fault and you deserve compensation. That doesn't work quite the same in other areas. Fixing a co-workers mistake doesn't mean you're going to be able to prove they're at fault and they get paid "damages" in the form of them giving you some of their pay or benefits package. (I sure hope not anyway because I know I've made mistakes that I needed help to fix.)

With that, I will sign off for now. Just remember, if you're kicking yourself for actually taking the time to read this post all the way to the end, it's not my fault....and it's definitely your own problem. Until next time....

Friday, August 14, 2015

What's in a name?

I have spent a little time this week tossing names around with my wife. No, we're not calling each other names. After a false start earlier this summer, she has decided she would like to start her own blog. As everyone knows, the only hard part to writing a blog is coming up with a name for it. So, we spent a few days bouncing names off each other. It was a lot like trying to come up with name ideas during a pregnancy...without the years of crying and diaper changing to follow. That leads me to the title of this blog, what's in a name?
Much like naming your child, there are a lot of questions going through your head as you analyze each name idea. Does it sound good? Is it easy to say? Is it easy to remember? Does it fit the person, or in this case, the blog? (I always thought that was funny when naming an unborn child because you have no idea what they're going to be like.) What impression do people get when they hear the name?

There's also those reasons you may choose not to use a particular name. While naming you children, it may be a negative reaction you have to the name of a former girlfriend or boyfriend, a lazy co-worker or maybe a naughty kid you had in class. (A major deal breaker for the teachers out there.) I don't think it's worth your time to worry too much about that because it's out of your control once you pick the name.

Helping my wife come up with a name for her soon-to-be-born blog got me thinking about the name I chose for my own blog. In all honesty, I didn't really give it all that much thought. My image above is actually fairly close to the thought process I had.

I know I have the ability to ramble on for hours...with or without a topic. I also knew going in that I was completely new to the whole blogging thing. Having no prior experience blogging, my thought was that I was just your "average Joe" putting his thoughts to words. It wasn't until I remembered a little scenario my wife told me about that I finalized the name for my blog.

One of my wife's former co-workers saw her and asked about me by saying, "How's ol' Jester doing?" She said it made me sound like I was a horse or something. At that moment I knew...if a horse named Mr. Ed could have a television show, then an average guy named Jesse could have a blog. A few minutes later, the Average Jester blog had a name.

Fast forward a little more than a year and you will find Average Jester just as average as it ever was. I say this partially because I tend to use self deprecating humor (in case you missed it), but I also say it to prove a point about a name. I went in thinking I'm an average everyday guy...which I was...and still am. To many though, average means not great, mediocre, lacking, bland, blah, etc. Now I may not be winning any awards here, or supporting my family with my earnings (totaling zip, zilch, nada so far), but I do have my fair share of readers. I think that's due in part to the fact that I'm average. That means I'm just like a lot of people out there and they can relate to what I write...and that's not a bad thing.

I try to have a moral lesson in my blog at least once every six months or so...and here it is: A name doesn't make you what you are. People are reminded of who or what you are when they hear your name. With that pearl of wisdom, I am going to let you go for now. Hopefully you won't think of a horse every time you think of Average Jester. Until next time....

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Are we TOO connected?

Coming from a guy who loves technology and happens to work in the IT industry, you may be surprised to hear me say that I think technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Or, if you gave it a little thought, you might find that you completely agree with me. If it weren't for the fact that I have my work and personal life so intertwined in the digital world, I would almost consider one of those "cut the cord" campaigns where you unplug the televisions, phones and computers for a month to see how life is without it.

I actually did a very mild trial version of that this weekend. (Obviously it only lasted until Sunday afternoon since I'm now watching a Netflix movie while typing a blog post on the computer that I will soon be uploading to my Blogger account and sharing across multiple social media accounts and my website.)

My dad was in town for a quick visit and I decided not to let my work and/or personal digital alerts take me away from that. The trial run actually started out pretty good. I was limiting myself to pretty much using my phone merely as a camera as we bopped around town letting the girls have fun with Grandpa. I slipped once when I posted one of those photos to Facebook, but I caught myself on future urges. (That part wasn't so bad since I don't really post to Facebook all that much.)

I gave myself a little bit of leniency when it came to emails. As I get both work and personal emails on my phone (as well as alerts from multiple accounts), I "allowed" myself to quickly screen the messages (a few times per day) to reply to the urgent messages only, save important, but not urgent messages for later and delete the junk to save myself filtering 1000 messages on Sunday night.

Although I am reassured that I am not completely addicted to my technology, I just don't see myself getting too far away from it for a long period of time. It really is just TOO convenient to have everything and anything at my fingertips. This convenience not only applies to my personal life and contact with friends and things I'm interested in, but it also applies to my professional life. (By that I mean my job - not my blog. You all know I'm far from being a professional blogger.)

I like the way technology affords me the ability to work from home on occasion. Although the expectation is that I work primarily from within our physical office on a daily basis, I do have the option to work from home as needed.

As a father, I know that kids love to share. I also know that this sharing is limited to the latest illness floating around the daycare and/or school....and they will share these viruses and bugs with everyone humanly possible. I have also learned that it's a toss-up as to whether it will be one of the kids, my wife, or myself that will end up sick at home. That's where my excitement of working from home comes into play.

I love that I can stay productive and not fall behind on work (and still get paid) while staying home when illness strikes our home....whether for me or my girls. I even found the perfect inversely proportionate equation that works for me. Here's how I would explain it in a highly complex series of mathematical equations:

(*** My own illness is completely determined by my level of sickness and whether or not I can even properly spell my own name or determine what day of the week it is. It's a total toss-up. ***)

Being able to work from home to help care for one (or more) of my sick children is an obvious convenience in my book. It would be nice to take that to the next level and work completely from home. I am excited that my current 8-5/M-F work schedule allows me to spend more time with my family than I was able to for most of the previous years, but imagine if I could truly set my own schedule... Afternoon soccer game? No problem. Want to take the afternoon off to spend it with the kids and do your work later that evening? No problem. I'll keep dreaming, but I really don't think I'm too far from that now.

The problem I would see with that though would be an intensified version of the trial run I just had this weekend. It's (almost like) an addiction to feel compelled to respond to work related inquiries as you receive them regardless of whether you're "on or off the clock." If you don't have a set work schedule, how do you know when work stops and family time begins? (I'm sure I would just make an altered work schedule to follow....but I'm typing through my thoughts as they occurred to me.)

I truly believe the benefits of technology far outweigh the drawbacks....if I can even call them that. It really comes down to the user knowing how to set their own guidelines and be responsible with their own time management. For me to say technology can be a curse would be like blaming cows for my extra weight. They didn't make me eat those hamburgers - they only helped provide them.

So to wrap this up.... I really do love technology. It's not a curse, but I think it can become an addiction. (I think the addiction is completely the user's fault - not the technology.) Although we may be a little too "addicted" to our technology, I don't think we're too "connected" as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Before long, we ought to see bumper stickers toting a new "Tech Responsibly" slogan. Until next time....

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Little Helpers

For the first time in I don't know how long, I had the whole house to myself for the weekend. My wife took my girls to Wisconsin for a long weekend to see her folks. That left me with an empty house and a long list of chores to complete without the "assistance" of my two little girls. I had great ambitions on how much I was going to get done and I made a pretty good dent in my list.
I learned two things this weekend: Wasps don't like painters and living the bachelor life isn't what it used to be.

The title of this post has a dual meaning. I often refer to my two little girls as my little helpers. Those of you with kids know that when your kids want to help, it means the task will take three times as long. I love the girls dearly and I am excited to see them wanting to learn how to do things and be helpful around the house, but some jobs just don't have a role for them. The biggest task this weekend was painting the exterior trim on the house. This is where my other "little helpers" came into play.

While painting the trim at the peak of the roof, I was introduced to a very friendly swarm of wasps that apparently didn't like the darker trim color. They did their best to get me to stop. Their initial attack left me with eleven stings, but fortunately still attached to the ladder. (A good thing since I was at the top of the extension ladder when they attacked.) On the bright side, they did help me paint that side of the house in very short order. I wasn't going to hang around any longer than I had to.

I should point out that the wasps had the last laugh though. They had one of their friends sting me an hour later in the shed. I guess it was a reminder to me for future reference...and it rounded out my wasp sting total to an even dozen for the day.

Although I was able to get all the painting done on my bachelor weekend, I did realize that the bachelor life is not the same as it used to be. It was fun for a few hours to have some peace and quiet...and enough elbow room to work, but by Saturday morning though, the silence was deafening, No little girls running around the house wanting to play. No back to back activities to fill out the weekend. Having to figure out for myself what I'm going to eat...and then make it.

I have one more evening by myself and then my girls will return home tomorrow. I'm excited to see them and hear how their weekend getaway went. I'm not real thrilled about work tomorrow though. I've found it's a bit fun trying to type with my hand swelled up from wasp stings. It will be interesting since I work on a computer all day long. I just keep telling myself that it could have been much worse. A twenty foot fall from the ladder to my neighbor's driveway would have hurt a lot more than a dozen stings. On that note, I am going to sign off and relax for a bit now ...and maybe sneak in a little bit of house cleaning I was supposed to do. Until next time....