The Hotel Room …. or how we became friends for life

I had two cups of coffee this morning.  One cup leaves me talkative but two cups and I’m sarcastic.  I thought I ought to take advantage of that and write this next piece.  You’ve been warned of my sarcasm if you intend to continue reading.

Years ago, fall of 1986 to be exact, my two year old daughter was going to a sitter just a few doors down from us.  When I was dropping her off one morning, there was a new father dropping off his two daughters.  We exchanged hellos and that was that.  A couple days later, My wife and I attended a neighborhood casino night.  We were new to the neighborhood and not knowing anyone there we attempted to mingle while playing casino games.  At the end of the gaming session and prior to the auction for prizes, I noticed the new father I had met at the sitter and realizing he hadn’t known anyone either, introduced him to my wife.  He in turn introduced his wife and we boldly joined them at their table.  The auction was rolling along when a room for a weekend at the Embassy Suites in Milwaukee came up for bid.  We had been looking for a quick get away, so my wife and I started bidding on the room with our play money winnings.  The bidding soon passed our total.  About to bow out of the action, our new found neighbors offered to throw in their meager winnings and we offered up the entire works on our next bid.  Now I fully expected to be immediately outbid, or should I say, hoped we would be outbid.  After all, we really didn’t know our partners in this bid let alone intend to share a suite with them as our first date.  And you guessed it.  No one bid.  I was the anxious owner of a Milwaukee hotel room with let’s be honest here, total strangers.  For all I knew they had been forced to move after a recent stalking charge leveled by their previous neighbors.  Worse yet, they would turn out to be swingers and my wife and I …. well we weren’t … aren’t.  Disclaimer here, my wife worries that the reader will get the wrong idea …. well don’t.

I decided the best course of action would be to graciously hand the room over to them and formulate our early exit.  And again you guessed it or you figured out there wasn’t much of a story if they accepted my offer.  They were already setting a date with my wife for our hotel stay.  Now I WAS convinced this couple was either crazy or desperate, possibly both.  Before I could make up excuses, like I snore loudly or I prefer to sleep in the nude, I don’t but I thought it might scare them off, unless of course they really were swingers, we were scheduled to all head down to the Embassy Suites that very next weekend.

The weekend came and my wife was actually looking forward to our “group date”, which made me begin to worry about her as well, after all, I had only known her for nine years and maybe she was really good at keeping secrets.  We had decided to bring our daughter with us, as had they, but I was still wondering how this would work?  At this point, my detail planner wife explained that it was a suite, implying, though adjoining, two rooms.  We would take one and they could have the other.  All I had to worry about was hitting it off conversationally.  My anxiousness was reducing.

Arrival in Milwaukee.  The suite turned out to be a shared bedroom and sitting area with at least a separation of sorts between the two areas.  Remember how I said we brought the kids.  The three of them were already thick as thieves from the common sitter we shared.  And again you guessed it.  They all wanted to be together in the sitting area on that wonderful fold out couch that only three kids under the age of six could not only love but share.  And that left us right where it turns out BOTH couples had thought wasn’t going to happen …. sharing two queen beds in the same room.  Thank god for wine and a mini bar.

It has been over thirty years since that night.  Not only did we survive our time together …. turns out they were as nervous as we were …. our families traveled together many more times in the years that followed.  Through multiple moves by our friends, first to Chicago, then back to the Madison area and eventually settling in the St. Louis area, through our children’s graduations and two of their weddings, and even through grieving the passing of Doug’s wife Carol two years ago, we are still and always will be best friends.  It is clearly not the same without Carol as part of the “Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice” running joke of our first meeting, but nothing can break up a friendship forged by sharing a room as your first date.

Thank you Embassy Suite.  From that night forward, Doug and Carol and their family became an integral part of our family’s life.  Without your donated room to that casino night thirty “odd” years ago, my wife and I would never have discovered one of the most likable, family oriented and adventuresome couples with whom we have spent a lifetime.

To quote someone “Ain’t life funny sometimes.”

The Four Words

My office is finished and I finally have my space back (see “Stuff…or How I Won the War”).  In honor of, or maybe in obligation to, I decided I better write on my blog since I used that excuse to get my wife’s permission to remodel my office…okay man cave.

I have of recently, been involved in several events that caused me to reflect on a list of words that help define my attitudes.  These four words can harm or heal depending on how they are used and in that lies the danger of their misuse.  Whenever working with a new staff member, I would make sure they understood how I viewed those words, and to this day, the ones I remain closest to can recite them back.  It is just that they were and are that important to me.

The first word is a limiting word when misused.  The word is “just”.  Now when something is just, that is a desirable thing.  But, when one describes what they did as “just” something, it limits them in both their stature as well as their own perspective and self expectation.  I all too often hear someone say “I’m just a support staff worker.”  This would be to say that as a team member, their position is somehow unimportant.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Without that “support staff member” how does the rest of the team accomplish their share of responsibility to the team and its mission.  Take as an example a surgeon.  Now that doctor could emerge from surgery patting him or her self on the back for the life that they single handily saved, but what about all the others involved.  What about the anesthesiologist who kept the patient both calm and sedated so the doctor could operate?  And what about each and every nurse involved in the process leading up to, during and following the surgery.  Without their care and assistance, where would the doctor or the patient be?  And for that matter, what about the sanitation worker who picked up and disposed of the doctor’s garbage cans that morning?  I doubt I would have wanted the doctor worrying about that while he or she performed my surgery.  No one should ever be a “just”.  Remember that the next time someone asks you what you do.  I’m not just a retiree, I am an expert in the art of time use and efficiency while juggling the demanding schedule of a person with the remainder of their life to spend well.

My second word can be just (yes I used it but properly) as limiting.  “Fine” has always been a word that when used as the response to “how is” something, leaves me worried that is was anything but fine.  Again, I will admit that the word when used properly has good connotations.  Fine art comes to mind unless you really meant it was just so so.  When the word “fine” is used in any situation, the inflection it is spoken with is critical.  The word is all too often used sarcastically or at least dismissively.  You ask your wife how she liked the flowers you bought her and her response is “they’re fine”, believe me, the fight you thought you were using the flowers to apologize for is anything but over.  There is certainly a counter attack brewing and in all likely hood, you’ll never see it coming.  I warned people I worked with that if they asked me how I was doing or how my day was going and I responded “it’s fine”, walk away and live to see another day that might in fact be at least better.  At the very least, don’t offer to fix it and certainly, not me.

My next word is in the vain of a descriptor.  It can advocate for change or it can inflict guilt or shame.  The word is “disappoint”.  I have always believed that to tell someone they are a disappointment is close to the worst thing you could say.  You have taken them to the lowest emotional level and undoubtedly given them little help in how to correct it.  Had you explained that what they “did” was the disappointment, well then there is hope.  I can always be careful to not do that again or possibly redo what was so disappointing.  Things can be disappointing, people shouldn’t be.  The taste of a particular food or the outcome of an event can be disappointing, but that can either be avoided as in the case of food, or hopefully will come out better next time.  If a person is a disappointment, the message is that the person is now to be avoided.  I will admit that even I have let the word slip and that some of my readers may feel I am being a bit dramatic, but as long as you know how I will take it, this particular blog might be disappointing, but hopefully you didn’t mean I was.

The last of my four words is “never”.  Don’t use the word to describe a promise that might not be attainable as in “I’ll never do that again”, because odds are you just might.  Avoid using it as a sense of finality as in “that’s never going to happen”.  You very likely won’t be around long enough to ever know if it didn’t.  “Never” implies that there is no chance for change as in “you are never going to get me to eat that”.  Change is inevitable and most of those things I told my parents I would never eat, well I have, and in some cases, raw oysters as an example, have become a delicacy.  The finality of the word is “just” too much to promise and might turn out to be a “disappointment”.  Here’s where you get to say, “okay fine.”

I know I advertised only four words, and I do reserve the right to add others, but there is one more piece of speech that generally leaves me agitated.  It’s actually an acronym for a phrase, FYI.   I always wish the speaker would have found a different way to tell me they were sharing information.  The FYI statement seems to feel condescending at best.  It sort of speaks for itself in saying, if this was really important, I would have found a very personal way of sharing it with you.  It all too often comes off as a power statement from the person uttering the FYI.  How about “for the sake of clarity” or maybe “because this might be helpful” instead of the “just FYI because I guess YOU missed it.”  If I want to get information to you, I want it to feel like a gift or maybe even a secret piece of information I wanted to share with only you.

In concluding this little diatribe of mine, I will share a story about a similar experience with my oldest daughter, Bailey.  She was about 3 or 4 years old at the time.  We were headed to the grocery store the day after Easter.  I remember it was Easter because the whole issue started with her big plastic Easter egg full of goodies.  Upon opening the car door in a crowded parking lot, mostly refined gentile ears, her egg dropped to the pavement and cracked open.  Nonplussed, Bailey all too loudly declared, “s**t, I dropped my damn egg.”  Needless to say, I was mortified, well at least embarrassed, and promptly explained that those were “bad” words and shouldn’t be used.  Bailey quickly reminded me “but daddy, you say them too” and now I am really embarrassed.  Once back home, Bailey immediately got to work.  In no time at all, she had formed a list of words we could no longer use.  Topping her list were three words, “but”, “crap” and “junk”.  Now I knew she meant “butt”, but (no pun intended) she didn’t differentiate.   For quite sometime, I found my colorful description of things severely curtailed, and I had to find a new way of defending my point without the use of the word “but”.

Words are powerful tools.  They can hurt or heal.  They can advocate change or leave us hopeless.  They can convey a message or imply a demand.  I am a writer at heart and I can only hope that today I have chosen my words carefully.

Thanks for reading.

Cycle of Fear…Nervousness part II

As a frame of reference, that is my three year old grandchild climbing in that wire tunnel.  Now his ability to conquer fear is his lack of experience.  To a three year old, “what could possibly go wrong, Opa?”

It’s been awhile since I worked on this series.  I guess I was “fearing” trying to finish it and my “anxiousness” got the better of me.  The truth is, I got distracted.  Life has kind of gotten in the way and more pressing blog posts were required.  But I’m back on track.

Ironically, I am about to do another public presentation.  I am past the fear, after all it is a topic that is near and dear to me.  I am even past the anxious stage for the most part, the date was set and the outline has been made.  All that’s left is for me to step up in front of the crowd.  Am I nervous, yes.  No one truly knows how the first words out of your mouth will be received.  That is the state of “nervousness”.  Your fear at having to step out or into your act has subsided, somewhat, and that feeling of being anxious has also calmed down.  It’s just a little voice in the back of your brain asking “are you absolutely sure you want to do this?”  Your answer, if you’ve made it to this point, is “do I really have a choice?”

All that is left is for you to push back that voice in your head and step into the light.  You really can’t turn back very easily at this point.  For me, I have found myself on the strut of an airplane 4000 feet up ready to jump, or strapped into a harness connected to an over sized kite running headlong toward a 3000 foot cliff, or grabbing the cables of a 60 degree, 800 foot climb to the top of a mountain, or even just stepping out onto the stage in front of four hundred people.  In every case, the answer for me was “no, I don’t have a choice.”  I really couldn’t turn back, so I pushed back the nervousness with that last bit of commitment and I was there.

I will never tell you this is easy.  If it were, there wouldn’t be the next stage, excitement.  I will also tell you that it doesn’t get easier each time you try it.  You just move through the stages faster and that’s thanks to experience.  Just convince yourself that you are going to go through with it and walk fear back with reassurance, reduce anxiousness with preparation and finally tell nervousness to fuel your energy.

If you’ve made it this far, the last two stages are lined up and they are the pay-off for the effort; excitement and energy.  Stay tuned and I will get to these two next time.

Thanks for reading and always, thanks for trying.

Stuff… or how I won the war.

It’s strange how stuff can take over our lives.  If you’re not careful, one day your office turns into the family storage bin.  I had run a business out of my home for twelve years, offering my clients a professional and comfortable place to meet with me and benefit from my services.  At least I’m pretty sure they benefited or why did they keep coming back.  About twenty years ago I merged my practice with a local firm and my office was soon sitting vacant.  Oh I still tried to keep it as an office, but I was losing the battle.

It seemed the stuff of life was running out of space in the rest of our house and just like that it began its relentless take over.  It must have happened late in the evening when we had retired to our bedroom and then, in the darkness of night, the stuff would creep downstairs and take up position in my office.  On the occasions when I would stop into my office, I would sense it getting smaller but I couldn’t quite identify the invaders.  For awhile they hid in the closet and under the desk and this alone might explain why in my complacency, I hadn’t noticed them.  They are sneaky, that stuff of life, and I think they breed.  No other explanation could adequately explain how suddenly they were under the bed too.  Wait, the bed?  When did an entire bed sneak in here?  I couldn’t even find a room in the house from which it might have escaped.  And yet it had clearly taken up residency and now the stuff was hiding under there.

As the years passed, the office was overrun.  There was no corner that the invading army hadn’t claimed.  If only there had been a United Nations of Offices to come to my rescue,  I would still have an office and the insidious Army of Stuff could have been held within its borders and my office would still be a free nation.  But of course, I was too late to the war and my office was gone.

But wait, there is a happy ending.  Retirement left me without an office and my old office would need to be reclaimed.  I rolled up my sleeves, and yes, opened my wallet, and the war of reclamation was begun.  It has taken several hard fought months but the invading horde has been soundly defeated and sent packing.  Off to Goodwill and Restore and any other Nation of Stuff that would take them in.  Oh there were casualties, as there will always be in these type battles, but in the end my office has been restored and is thriving.

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As testament to its existence, I decided to write this piece.  My office, once the work place of a multitude of IRS forms and then the land of unrelenting stuff, is now my writing office and yes, semi man cave.  Tomorrow I will build a moat at its entrance and employ some stout guards to patrol the perimeter.  Stuff, TAKE NOTICE.  If you try a counter attack, YOU WILL BE REPELLED.  This office is mine.  Long live the King.

Happy New Year

Good bye to 2017 and welcome to a new year.  This new year can be what ever you make it.  There maybe obstacles that you will need to overcome but there will be opportunities as well.  Make a resolution to seize the opportunities and to put obstacles behind you.  I have a dear friend who preaches to me on the power of positive thinking and she has made me a convert.  I would encourage you to approach each new day with a positive attitude and let the day open its arms to welcome you.  The opportunities will await you.

May your new year be one of hope and success and may you be a part of spreading that to everyone you touch.

Happy New Year