Apparently Height Matters

Recently I was at my retirement party when one of my clients came over.  She was holding her granddaughter who was playing quite shy in the company of all these strangers at the party.  To break the ice, I leaned down and asked her how old she was.  Getting no response, I said “you look to be about four.”  Her immediate response was “no, I’m three.”  Knowing that my daughter would soon be arriving and was bringing my three year old grandson with her, I mentioned that he would be here soon and he too was three.  Her response was immediate, “how tall is he?”  Apparently, if I was going to set her up with my grandson, height mattered to her.  She was clearly not going to be seen with someone who couldn’t measure up.

I am sure this little girl was not being judgmental, but rather was just looking for a point of reference that was more appropriate to her take on life at three.  The retelling of this story to my daughter triggered a thought that I needed to explore.  This little girl was astute enough to remind me that age had nothing to do with my grandson’s playability, yes I just made up that term, but rather his size was the compatibility statistic for her.

This got me to thinking in broader terms.  Am I tall enough?  Tall enough for my clients, my wife, my family or even the stranger I will meet on the street?  In other words, do I hold to my beliefs and ethics everyday and in every way.  Do I walk tall and can those around me sense that.  I can only hope so and then make it a priority to put forth the effort to make it happen as often as I can.

Since height mattered to her, and by the way, they got along famously later, are you always striving to be tall enough?  If not, try putting a little lift in your attitude.  People might just notice that you seem a little “taller”.

The Slow Walk..or the only way to appreciate Madison

I just finished the world’s slowest walk also known as The Madison Farmer’s Market.  The pace was slow in part due to the throngs of people enjoying the chance to shop for the freshest produce to be found but also to the fact that it is the pace of a beautiful Saturday morning in Madison.  For anyone who has not been able to experience it, the Farmer’s Market stands as the center piece of Madison summer Saturday mornings.  The eight blocks surrounding the majestic Capital building are completely filled with all sorts of produce stands.  Mushrooms to Meats, cheeses and cheese curds to cauliflower and cucumbers, fresh bread to fresh cut flowers.  If you can imagine it, you can find it somewhere in those eight aroma filled blocks.  Goats milk anyone?  Maybe some Ostrich jerky.  And did I mention the Capital views and the vista’s down side boulevards to the two largest Madison lakes?  Or the view down State Street with the University and Bascom Hill at its terminus.

I came to Madison in 1977 after spending the first twenty-six years of my life figuring out how to get here.  That fall, I began the next leg of a teaching career that would span twenty-one years and eventually morph into a career in financial planning.  In the ensuing years, I have owned two homes on the eclectic East Side, met my wife and raised two beautiful children.  I am currently enjoying being a part of the raising of two grandchildren and loving the fact that they can grow up here in Madison.  I have sat on the world famous Union Terrace chairs, ridden on all of her bike trails, taken in countless music venues in her parks, restaurants and saloons (sounds so much more inviting than bars), soaked in the culture of Art Fair on the Square, oohed and awed at Rhythm and Booms and cheered on the Muskies, Mad Hatters and eventually the Mallards baseball teams.  I have boated on her lakes, Monona and Mendota, watched water ski shows on her bay, yes that bay, the one with the “dock of it” and rode my bike along their shores.  And on gorgeous fall afternoons I ate savory brats, washed downed with local craft beers and cheered on The Badgers at venerable and historic Camp Randall.

If I sound like a tourism ad it is because one cannot help but fall in love with this city.  The activities it offers are countless.  The culture it supports is woven into its fabric.  The vistas and changing seasons are its own personal art gallery.  From its lakes and parks to its gardens and architecture, there is no shortage of scenery to satisfy any of the senses.

Forty years have passed since I moved in to my little apartment on the South Side of Madison and I have never reconsidered that move.  I guess taking that slow Saturday morning walk around the Square today made me realize and appreciate this city and all it offers.  The crowds just reminded me I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.  Hopefully there will be countless more slow Saturday mornings and my chance to remind my children and grandchildren who have lived in no other place, to never take it for granted.  Take the walk, slow down and enjoy the views.  Madison welcomes you every time.

Looking Great at 241

Happy birthday USA.  You are 241 years old today and you don’t look a day over 200.  A little gray around the edges but that’s just because we haven’t been doing our best lately to keep you beautiful.  Some would say we need to make you great again but I for one don’t think you ever weren’t great.  You are the most recognized country in the world and a leader in every aspect.  You are a trend setter when it comes to the definition of Democracy and an example for any emerging country that would care enough about it’s populace to protect their freedoms.

Civil Rights

None of this came without a cost.  You have had your share of conflicts to resolve and growing pains when you learned to stretch the definitions of personal freedom.  Through it all, you have kept your poise.  Your fifty children have followed your example and each in it’s own way adds to the beauty of your legacy.  Freedom and diversity are the cornerstone of that legacy.

So what’s all this about making you great again.  Don’t take it personally when someone would imply that you had lost a step.  You still are and always will be the land of freedom and opportunity.  As such, you have always striven to offer those opportunities to all who would rise to the challenge.  And rising to the challenge has been exactly what you have done.

As your song states, from sea to shining sea you are a land of majesty and beauty.  From the mountains on your east to the peaks on your west coast, you rise majestically and scenically to the skies above.  Your plains roll rhythmically across your midsection seaming the country together with their softly flowing rivers.  You offer a vista of awe and wonder at every corner.  Your interstates keep us connected and your back roads rise up to meet us when we leave the beaten path.  Your cities afford us culture and style, while your towns and villages offer us history and Americana.

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Happy 241st birthday, and with calm and sane reasoning, many many more.  You are great and no amount of rhetoric can hide that obvious truth.  Life is good and you continue to afford us the opportunity to live, love and grow, in and because of that goodness.

Let’s think about this the next time we Pledge Allegiance or sing the National Anthem.  Let’s pledge ourselves not to making you great again, but keeping you as great as you already are.  Let’s celebrate your birthday with fireworks and envision them as the birthday candles lit for you today all across your night sky.

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Happy 4th of July, 2017.

Defending Your Life

The other day I was watching an older movie starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep titled “Defending Your Life”.  The gist of the plot is that when we die, our lives are put on trial before a pair of judges.  We are given a prosecutor and a defender tasked with convincing the judges that we should be allowed to move on into eternal bliss, or if we lose our case, sent back to earth to try it again in another life.

I found the premise enticing as food for thought.  As I am fast approaching my retirement date, thankfully not death, I am looking back to see if my life is defensible.  I know that I tried to accomplish a life set to the theme of being useful.  Now that doesn’t seem very heroic and I must say I have entertained many a heroic fantasy, but it was a goal.  I even felt redeemed when the famous Red Green would proclaim that “if you couldn’t be handsome at least be handy.”  I think being useful sort of fell into that category.

So was I useful?  I think as a bartender, I learned to listen to the story.  As a carpenter, I learned to be creative.  As a teacher, I felt I put those two practices to good use and found ways to engage my students through stories and creativity.  Later, as I moved into my most recent career as a planner, I took what I learned in teaching, the art of breaking a concept down to its core element, and used that notion, alongside listening to their story, to motivate my clients to both define and reach for their goal.  I apologize for that last lengthy almost legalese sentence, but all of those concepts belonged together and just couldn’t break out of their common sentence.  But to the point, measured against that back drop, I think I was useful.

Will I one day have to face the afterlife jury?  Will my life turnout to be defensible?  All I know is that heroic or not I think I will pass the test.  After all, it is not just my career on which I should be judged a success or a work needing more refinement, but on the lives I have touched or influenced in some way.  I have faith that I did a better than fair job of raising two remarkable human beings in my daughters.  I wish to believe that I can find an echo of my beliefs in their lives.  I am currently working on two grandchildren.  I have already had three years with my grandson, and I think he sees some possibilities in my ideas.  His sister will be my next project.  I hope she will witness my belief that a women should be respected for her beauty while honored for her strength.  Pretty sure there’s a truck under the Christmas tree right along with that pretty dress.

If life is the sum of it’s many pieces, I think the accomplishments should outweigh the back steps and even the bad decisions.  I am not done yet, but just moving into the next phase.  My hope for you the reader, is that you will reflect on your life and answer the question, “is my life defensible?”  If you aren’t sure of your answer, then adjust the future.

 

 

A Shout out to the Millennials

Stay with me on this one.  And if you are a millennial, you are my focus reader.  The rest of us are depending on you.

There are two driving forces in the world.  One is optimism and the other is idealism.  Optimism is an act of hopefulness while idealism is believing in something we know to be right.  While optimism relies on the actions of others or maybe just dumb luck, idealism calls us into action.

The problem with idealism is that over time it wanes.  As we grow older and we add experience upon experience, we can become cynical.  When things we fought for don’t work out or maybe never come to fruition, we start to lose the optimism that our idealism needs as fuel.  We become less willing to fight the good fight and worse yet, we grow conservative in our thinking.  After all, you can only be disappointed so many times before you decide the price of idealism is just too high.

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and understand first hand what idealism feels like.  Our issues were an unwanted war in Vietnam, a corrupt President and a lack of respect for our environment.  I exercised my voice with my vote and my feet.  I protested in walks, sat at sit ins and wore my peace sign and POW bracelet.  Mine never came home and was never found, but I wore that bracelet until my idealism started to wane.  I was, as my children can attest to, a hippy as idealistic as they come.  I even found a way to trick my father into making peace signs on his punch press at the plant he worked in, but that is another story.

Even though my generation, the Woodstock Generation, has lost much of its idealism over the years, we never the less accomplished much.  The war eventually was abandoned, the President actually resigned and we now have, for the time being, the EPA.  Air quality was improved, water ways were cleaned up and we reduced our carbon footprint; though it still needs to continue its progress.

If there seems to be an echo here, I am hoping that you can hear its call.  As millennials you are well equipped to lead the next fight.  Your generation is networked, adaptive and opportunistic.  You have taken the internet to the social network it is today.  You are connected to people worlds away and yet you communicate as if they are in the same room.  You are graduating from college with degrees you may never find careers in but this does not deter you.  You adapt to the market place and redefine yourself and the job.  You are opportunistic.  You do not wait for opportunity to knock, you go looking for it and you seize it.

I am concerned with the state of politics and the impact on our nation and its image and yes, its future.  I will dig deep to find the willingness to fight but I need someone whose idealism is still fresh so that I may fight along side you.  Our hope is in the belief that your idealism will see us through this next round of appearing to step backward when we have been so poised to step forward.  I tip my hat to Janis Joplin in Me and Bobby McGee, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”.  We cannot lose our freedom to complacency. We cannot give it up to efficiency.  We cannot let it slip away to cost savings and we can certainly not let ignorance steal it from us.

Idealism has defined this nation.  Idealism is the force that makes us act.  I am encouraging you, the millennials, to hold dear to your idealism.  Define your issues, identify your fight and lead us forward to the next decade.  We are behind you because in that position we are ready to follow.  Lead us forward and we promise to stay focused and yes, even optimistic.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end.

Politically Correct

I am taking a chance but I feel I must.  I will remind people that to believe in and fight for the Constitution, then one must respect all of the amendments.  This would include, first and foremost, the First Amendment.  Those who know me, know that I am a careful person who tends to avoid confrontation in favor of considering all of the perspectives of a situation.  With that as my backdrop, I am exercising my First Amendment right and I am about to talk about the Time Magazine release of this week.

It did not go unnoticed that Time magazine, in their effort to be politically correct, has changed Man of the Year to Person of the Year.  This fact needs to be considered.  I am pleased that they realized that the culture of today needs to respect that the nominee cannot be only a man.  That said, it amazed me that in the process of being politically correct they could nominate someone so politically incorrect.

Before I go farther, I best give you my view of politically correct.  Many people bristle at the term in that it says they have to be so cautious about what they say.  I will be the first to admit that I am not always so careful about what I say, but I am still politically correct in my beliefs.  All people matter.  Equality is not a privilege reserved for the wealthy.  And respect belongs to all humans.

As the father of two daughters and I hope a champion for fair and equal treatment of all human beings, I could not bring myself to vote for a person who so poorly represented both ideals.  The language, the gestures, the support of misinformation, the policies and the lack of civility, left me no choice but to vote for anyone else.  I have always viewed the presidency as our representation as a culture.  I have a difficult time seeing us represented in this light.

None the less, I understand the choice.  Time’s criteria is a person who has influenced and become a national figure.  They neither endorse that person’s beliefs or judge them.  They search for a person who has become that person of interest.  Donald Trump certainly fits that criteria.

No matter how I feel about Mr. Trump as our president elect or for that matter how any of my readers feel, the die has been cast.  He is in fact been elected to the position.  I can only say what I would have said if my candidate now stood in that position, like it or not, it is what it is.  I ask only this, no matter who you voted for, the winner or the loser, own your vote.  If you voted for him, you must now accept his policies.  If you voted against him, you must still respect the office, for that is what our country, our democracy and our belief system is about.  That said, I am not advising that you give up your ideals and certainly not that you lose your ethics.  Continue to fight for your beliefs and those ideals.  We are after all a democracy and nothing we do is decided by a lone individual but rather by the collective will of the populace.  We elect a Senate and a House of Representatives, we entrust them with the decision to put respected jurists on our Supreme Court and we ask them to remember that they represent all citizens not just those who pay to get them elected.  Exercise your First Amendment right to voice your opinion, to demonstrate peacefully your views and to vote your conscience.

I voted my conscience.  I will respect the will of the electorate and the office he was elected to, but I will continue to follow my ethics.  He earned the influential person of the year consideration, but not my vote for politically correct.

My Back Story

Every one has a back story.  It is the story of who they are and what influenced that.  Their manifesto if you would.  I will apologize to begin with for the term “Christian” as I know that it is taken to be separatist.  To the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of the world, I do not mean to somehow distinguish between these beliefs.  I in fact believe that, at the surface, there is no fundamental difference.  It is only in the study of the religious tenants that differences appear.  To that end I will choose to substitute the word Faithful for Christian as it in a great way better describes who or what I am.

I believe my back story is that my brother’s death and my family upbringing caused me to question religion but not spirituality.  Though I might question my religion, I am spiritual.  I believe in what I feel even though I cannot prove it exists.  Someone loving you or vice versa is tangible.  The physical body is there to connect the feeling with reality.  But faith is believing in something that is not physically there but rather just a sense of something greater, something mysterious, something that just has to be the explanation of those things we cannot explain.  No logic, no science, no proof other than the sense it must be.

But all of this causes the uneasiness of “but what if?”  What if there is no afterlife, no second chance, no heaven and no hell?  Just an end.  Because of this, I will never be sure, but I will hope.  I will live my life for others before myself.  Even if there were to be no beyond, it is the way I choose to live.

In the absence of proof, I will choose to believe in something greater than me and live my life to that cause.  I will be Faithful.

The Day After

 

It is the day after, and much like the movie, the sun came up but on a frozen world. As bad as it was, in that movie, people came together and made the effort to move on. This election has defined many things. New motives, new schemes, in fact a whole new lack of morality. We must view this as a call to redo the entire political scene and get it right or at least better. A man will deal with this differently than a woman but only because they…we don’t have the same rights and opportunities threatened as women now do.
It is time to change things. In four years from now we cannot have this same travesty repeat itself. We must rebuild and redefine decency. We must all become part of the recovery. No matter how small the effort or how great the challenge, we must move the process in a better direction. We must heal and learn to respect each other and convince the world that principals and character matter. Life needs to and will go on even if it is the day after.

Where’s the Party?

Let me guess, you are reading this because who can resist a party.  After all, it stands for a gathering explicitly designed to celebrate with people who either have something in common or at least will have something in common after celebrating together.  If only that was the party I was referring to.

I was thinking more along the lines that we are politically a two party system of politics.  Not sure where the party is when it has become so much about how bad the other party is and far less about what a great party they are.  Recently even the party goers trash each other.  Kind of like prom without a date, so go after the other party goers for revenge.

Now agree we benefit from having a two party system, but what happened to the third party?  Where is the balance we need between the extremes.  I would speculate that it went the way of the money.  Campaigns now have to raise obscene amounts of cash to just get their image out there.  A third party candidate has no way to compete anymore and have become the dinosaur of the political system. The horse race is no longer fair and to try to enter it seems fool hardy at best.

Something must change.  I believe we need to start with actual campaign finance regulations.  I am not saying that we suppress free enterprise and certainly not free speech, but perhaps we can actually make the speech free.  Or at least less expensive and maybe more equal.  I miss the civility, the honesty in advertisements and for sure the third party.

Evil doesn’t have to prevail

In 2001 the unthinkable came to America as we had to deal with terrorism on our own ground.  Up until that time, terrorism was something that happened to other countries, but not us.  And when it did, we tended to be apathetic.  After all, it wasn’t our problem. Today, the people of France and especially the citizens of Paris, weigh heavy on our hearts.  We are no longer apathetic.  We are compassionate.  If anything that even remotely resembles good is to come from these acts of violence, let it be that we have learned to be compassionate.

Terrorists do what they do for recognition. It is an act and nothing more.  We need to focus on the reaction to the act and not the act itself.  We cannot ignore the collateral damage but we must not focus on it.  The terrorist find strength when we do.  We need instead to become focused on the show of strength.  As we all reach out to each other in a show of compassion and support, focus on that act.  We cannot stop terrorists from their acts of violence, but we can be more aware of each other and the impact we can have in taking away the roots of that terrorism.  Good can conquer evil if we work as hard to spread good as they would work to spread evil.

I choose to be a citizen of the world.  I will not be apathetic or isolationist.  Terrorism is an act but apathy is a disease.  Apathy towards each other isolates us and allows our differences to grow into distrust and hate.  Only in this environment of hate can terrorist survive and thrive.  We need to view our world as one community and to realize that there is no truth in the statement “it’s their problem”.

At the end of the day we cannot stop free will, but we can use our own free will to spread good.  We can spread the attitude that we are one world, one community, one family.  Good can conquer evil if we work as hard to be compassionate as they would work to permeate hate.  Our hearts are with you Paris and our arms are open to give you solace.