An Adventure

It was my granddaughter’s birthday recently. She was turning four and according to her, once you are four you can do almost anything. It took me but a minute to know the gift I needed to give her. I would give her an invitation to an adventure.

An adventure is an activity we do with a friend. On adventures we make discoveries, we go places we have not been before, we bond with our friend, and we make memories. Adventures can be as simple as a walk on a new trail, or better yet, taking a turn we had not planned on, not knowing where it will lead. An adventure might be climbing a mountain or just seeing the city from the observation deck of a skyscraper. The important thing is that though you plan the trip, you do not plan the adventure, they just kind of unfold. And therein lies the joy.

I have had many adventures with my daughters over the years. They were often of the simple version, a trip to the zoo or a climb on the bluffs of Devil’s Lake, but appreciated none the less. As they grew older, my daughters would always be looking forward to our next adventure. They began to take on a style of their own. The adventure to them was a planned destination but no agenda once we arrived. The accommodations often left much to be desired, but they would be quick to add that where we would sleep was not important, it was what awaited us the next morning that would define the adventure. As they grew, so too did the adventures. We skied snow covered slopes out West, we climbed Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, hiked the Geyser Trail at dawn in Yellowstone, and actually paraglided off the peaks above Medellin Columbia, in South America. As I write this, I know they are surely busy plotting the next adventure.

For Adela, her adventures are just beginning, but I know this, she will certainly follow in her mother’s footsteps. She already has an adventurous spirit and with a little nurturing from her Opa, she will turn that spirit loose. I can only hope to keep up and continue to be her adventure partner.

So what about your adventures? Do you have them? Do you leave open spaces in your trip plans for that surprise that lies just beyond the path? The surprises in life are what make the journey worthwhile. Never discount the driving vacation and when you pass the sign that says view point ahead, take the time to take it in. The rest of the trip will wait, but that view may never offer itself again.

Go have an adventure. As for Adela and I, we are getting ready for our first and already thinking about the one after that.

What Just Flew By?

2020 is behind us. The remanents, unfortunately may not be completely gone. But, we have reason to be optimistic. We have a vaccine, for some already here and well deserved, for others, moving closer every day. The election is over. There is divisiveness that is still hanging on but we can, as reasonable people, accept our role in the healing, and be the friends and fellow citizens we all need to be. Though our politicians may struggle with their roles, we don’t need to. We can move on and do the work of showing them that we are ALL Americans and deserving of nonpartisan representation. We are the Country. We are the Democracy. We are the individual drive that leads to collective progress. And finally, we have for the most part, adjusted to our new normal and have been creative in the process. We have figured out how to make our celebrations smaller and at the same time more intimate. We have created ways to move our get togethers outside or, alternatively, inside our computer screens via Zoom. I have actually visited with friends I might not have seen any other way. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Don’t bring the old year with you when the NEW year offers new opportunities. Don’t spend your time dwelling on the past when we have the chance to rebirth optimism by looking forward. I choose to welcome 2021. I will be optimistic for all the reasons I just mentioned, but even more so for the fact that when you look for the opportunities you will find them. That when you believe the future holds promise, you can find it. That we have always been a nation that can heal and grow stronger. Quoting a friend, “When you look for the good everything gets better.”

And one last thing. As I started writing this yesterday, I was anxiously awaiting my Green Bay Packers debut in the play-offs. Never knowing how things can unfold, I still found myself being optimistic….. nervous, but optimistic. This morning, as I am finishing this blog, I am reveling in the fact that we, yes we, won yesterday and now we can wait anxiously, but with optimism for next weekend. That is if you are a Packer fan. It IS a new year, and anything is possible. Believe in the possibilities. Be part of the healing. Celebrate our planet’s just completed trip around the sun and look forward to the next. Look, we just passed Mars!

Can we walk back the clock?

There is a person in our neighborhood who walks past our house at least once a day. I should qualify that sentence. She walks backward by our house everyday. I have in fact, never seen her walk forward. It is always backward. Granted, she is headed forward, but backward. I have pondered her reason for this behavior and the best I could come up with is that she is either more concerned with where she has been than where she is headed or maybe, just maybe, she is taking the years back off her life. Walking back the clock. My fantasy is that she will walk by each day looking another day younger than the day before and that convinced of her success, I will join her in her routine and take back at least some of the years that have crept up on me. For sure I would take back a major portion of this last year.

I have always been overly obsessed with my age. In fact I have written about it multiple times and from multiple perspectives. But this year is different. Though I haven’t suffered directly from the pandemic, it has certainly cramped my style. I had big plans for the traveling I would do once I retired. Those plans had a lot to do with when I would retire. At some point in your life, it stops being about all the years that lie ahead and instead becomes about the number of years left. Life is like this project with a very long timeline for completion. At first, there is a tendency to procrastinate. Plenty of time to get all the steps completed, so no worries. I’ll get married one day and start that family. I’ll buy my first house and maybe even start a retirement account. At some point you realize you are half way through the timeline and worry begins to creep in, but you aren’t desperate because there still is time. Plenty of people further along their timeline. Let them do the worrying. And then suddenly it happens, the deadline is approaching and the clock is speeding up. Worry becomes fear that you might not complete the project. Time to retire, to get traveling, just keep moving.

This year has accentuated that fear. My travel plans were put on hold and a year of my opportunities, denied. So maybe, if I could walk backward for awhile, I could get that time back. Before you bombard me with advice and shower me with all those adages about age like, it’s not how many years old you are but how many years young you act, I know. Believe me, I know. It’s just that it’s such a pleasant fantasy to think you could have at least a few years back.

I’m not going to get into the argument of what would you change if you could. I have looked at my life, and though there have been missteps and even some bad choices, it has all led to where I am. Would I change anything? Would I be willing to risk not having the love of my incredible daughters, my unbelievable grandchildren, my beautiful wife? Would I give up the lessons I have learned along the way? The answer of course is no. But still, would I buy some more time if there was a way to do it? Then not what would I change, but what would I devote more passion to? How would I be careful to not waste the extra time?

I know she walks backward for some reason other than the one I have made up, but I want to stop her one day and have the conversation. Has the thought ever crossed her mind? Now if you happen to see me walking backward, promise me you won’t question my motives. Know that I am not afraid of the future, just motivated by the nearness of it.

Playing Chicken Covid-19 Style

Having returned seven days ago from the island paradise of St Lucia, I have been spending the last week exiled to my not so exotic island of Covid-19 here on Valley Road. It hasn’t been all bad. I have discovered new rooms of sanctuary in my own home, you know, for those moments when togetherness becomes, well a bit overwhelming. Don’t miss read that, I love my wife and I am more than willing to have long conversations gazing into each others eyes across our kitchen counter but there is also only so much HGTV I can take. I secretly fear that I may come into the kitchen one morning and find Chip and Joanna, sledge hammer in hand, removing a wall and putting up ship lap all over the place. Guess you had to have seen at least one of those house flip shows to get that last one.

I have also discovered the art of binge watching that my children have tried to coerce me into. In the past week I have relived the history of New York City and its immigrant history, I have tracked down and prosecuted the Unabomber and watched all three Men in Black movies. I have rediscovered my conspiracy fed belief in aliens and there impact on ancient history and uncovered mysteries in the museum I had never even heard of. The only thing I have resisted is the urge to continue to destroy Oak Island in search of the money pit, which I am convinced is simply the seemingly bottomless pit of money the producers of A&E have to throw at the search. Just imagine if they ever do find it. The show will have to end and not get to break the record for the longest running documentary ever, that record being held by the search for ancient aliens.

In the total lack of sports to watch, I and my wife have taken up walking around the block in our twice daily sport of Coved-19 Chicken. You know, that moment when someone turns the corner or comes out of their house and is now walking toward you on the same sidewalk. Who folds first and dashes across the street to the other side? We have turned it into a betting game as to not only who folds first but at what point and whether they flee diagonally or straight across. I am feeling like an extra in one of those zombie movies. Fair warning, if you are the opponent, Deb and I don’t fold.

The other night, desperate for our Friday night out and shared cocktail with friends, we instituted a virtual couples party courtesy of ZOOM. We had virtual wine and cocktails, music and food. We shared pictures, you can actually do that live, and toasted each other’s health and most importantly shared laughter and for a moment forgot our isolation. Thank you ZOOM for making this all possible. Just imagine the flu pandemic of the early 1900’s, doing that same thing via telegraph. Something like nice to imagine seeing you, stop. Hope the kids are enjoying time off from school, stop. Just toasted you with a nip of grog, stop. That party would have lasted a lot longer than the forty minutes we got from my free version of ZOOM. I am sure we will be repeating the process with our friends, the ones we don’t meet on our street in the game of chicken, and in fact have a family ZOOM get together in a few minutes.

Seven days to go before I have completed my mandatory fourteen day exile / quarantine. I won’t miss the isolation but I will miss the slowing of the pace of life. I will miss the excuse to just sit back and relax. I will miss the me time. We will go back to life the way we knew it pre-corona but I suspect that some things will never be the same. I hope that for one, it will be this sense of togetherness we currently feel in the midst of the self imposed isolation we are all in. We should do everything we can to foster this sense of closeness, of all being equal that we have experienced in the face of dealing with this crisis. We are strong enough to do that. We just need to commit to that as much as we have committed to hand washing and hoarding toilet paper. Together we can emerge better than we were.

Hoping you are staying safe, six feet apart and healthy.

The Sky is Falling and I Can’t Find my Umbrella

A week ago the world was so different. I should say OUR world. The greater world, in many countries were way ahead of us. For them the pandemic was already there. We have just begun to deal with the realities. Now it seems like our sky is falling.

We are now social distancing and in many cases, working from home or even quarantined to our homes. Our social spots, restaurants and bars, gyms, movie theaters and churches are all closed. What we were doing face to face is now being done by face time apps. Our children, who would be in school or maybe day care, are home. Family time is great and maybe an increased awareness of family time may be a positive outcome of all of this, but for now it is an added issue to juggle. If they are on-line learning, who’s keeping them focused and on task? To say that this isn’t stressful would be naive. My daughter is a high school teacher with a three year old and a six year old now at home. She is formulating on-line lessons, delivering them via Zoom to her students she can only hope are still engaged all the while making sure her own six year old is on-line doing his work, watching her three year old and allowing space for her husband to also be working from home. This may not be the dream version of family time. Note to my readers, along with prayers for all of our medical workers who are out there on the line facing an increased risk, consider those teachers who have families of their own trying to continue their teaching duties to your children or maybe your grandchildren.

I am an optimist, or at least have always tried to be optimistic. These are difficult times for us all. Along with all the things I have already alluded to, I am sure it has been hard to not watch the market. I am a retired financial planner and at this point may need to remind you that now is not a time to sell out of panic. No one could have predicted this and now that we are in the middle of it, we are forced to steel our nerves and ride this out. Markets have always and will always return to normal after the crisis has passed and the market has had a chance to stabilize. America has always and will always be a land of optimism. The storm will pass but we must be patient. It will get darker before it gets better, but IT WILL GET BETTER.

Given our current condition and the restrictions it has required, I may not be able to sit down face to face with you. For awhile I won’t be able go out and have coffee with you, but I can still stay in touch. I can still communicate with you. We have all this technology now that makes me feel as though you are right here in the room with me. If you haven’t already been using them, download Zoom or Duo or Skype and then reach out to me. The conversation may be about our stress or even our fear but it will eventually give way to a shared optimism that a good dose of social interactions can bring. With any luck at all, we may even find a way to laugh or share something to laugh about. We can’t hold each other’s hand but we can hold each other’s emotions. Let’s listen and share our stories and look for even the tiniest piece of normalcy for us to cling to. Together …. well, as together as social distancing allows, we can all survive.

There are things in life that must be done, things that should be done and things that could be done. Make sure that the things that must be done include your health, both physically and emotionally, and the health and emotional well being of your family. No matter how important the world tells us the other things are, we can’t accomplish any of them without family and personal health in place first.

When I started this piece, I was fighting an overwhelming sense of dread. I was trying to prioritize everyone else’s needs ahead of my own and I was finding myself trying to control the things I have no control over. I made a decision to do what I just asked all of us to do. I reached out to a friend or two. We shared our frustrations and then we shared a laugh or two. We even made some plans for when this is all over. And then I reached out to all of you by writing this piece. Don’t feel alone just because we have become isolated by this virus and its fallout.

So don’t be a stranger, reach out even if it’s just a text or an email. Know that I am on the other end and appreciative. It turns out YOU are my umbrella.

My My My, Corona

We are in Atlanta having just cleared Customs. We have brought back memories, photos and souvenirs. With any kind of luck, we did not bring back Coronavirus. We were warned that the lines would be horrific at the airports and my lovely wife had already been steeling herself for at the very least, a missed flight and at the worst, lock up in an airport cage for the foreseeable future. I am happy to say that neither has happened and with any kind of luck we will be home by midnight. Of course, that still leaves us needing to go to the grocery store as we left for our vacation with our basic supplies fairly used up. Next crisis, trying to find a roll of TP in the midst of the supermarket raiders.

It is amazing how much things have changed from just a week ago. When we left, I still had an investment portfolio, meetings and seminars, as well as a reasonably normal social life. At some point, the market decided to dazzle us with its free fall and grocery stores were raided of the simplest items. Meetings were cancelled, businesses closed and schools now entering the live streaming age sans students. When we left, I was looking forward to Opening Day, the Bucks as potential world champions and both the Men’s Badger Basketball team and the Women’s Badger Hockey poised to accomplish the unthinkable, a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA preferred berth. I had even started to pick my March Madness Brackets, okay, that was a stretch, but I was at least looking forward to the exercise.

All of that changed, literally in a heartbeat. We now have a new term, “social distancing”, where we apparently live stream our dates, weddings and get together’s. We now need to observe rules, last enforced when I was at a middle school dance. For you Over the Hill folks, the old three-foot rule is what I am referencing. The problem is the rule is now six feet and there is a 60 second rule as well.

But I am an optimist by nature. This too shall pass, and I will do my best to observe the rules. In the meantime, I am working on distracting people from wanting to talk about nothing but Coronavirus. By midweek of our vacation it was impossible to have any conversation that didn’t include it. What would start out as, “where are you from” and “how long are you here”, reverted to what are we going to do about this pandemic? Now some were clearly panicked while others were skeptic at best. Some were downright resistant. I am by no means picking sides nor am I trying to downplay the seriousness, but I do know that panic and hoarding will not improve our lot. We need to get back to some sense of normalcy and it can start with our conversations and breaking our addiction to 24 – 7 news casts. We cannot put our heads in the sand, but we must avoid digging a trench we may never be able to escape. As I sit here, and with due consideration that this is an international hub, I have seen so many masked individuals that for a second, I thought I was in an Oceans 11 movie.

All of this will pass. It may get darker before it gets better, but it will pass. For now, I am thankful to be on the last leg of my journey home, sad having left paradise this morning and ready to self-quarantine for fourteen days, or so I am told. I will not miss some of the meetings that have been cancelled and I will improve my Zoom skills for the meetings still scheduled. Life will go on. Some things may never return to the way they were, that is a hint to search for stock in companies and processes that will benefit by the change in the way we do business. Successful businesses adapt and we will as well.

So, in closing, My Corona doesn’t need to be about our downfall but just a song when we were asked to do what we do best, laugh in the face of adversity.

Early Morning

Deb and I leave tomorrow morning for a week in St Lucia. When I say tomorrow morning, I mean early tomorrow morning. And since my wife believes that being there on time means two hours before, early tomorrow morning might be an understatement. We will be leaving our home at 3:45 AM as in “Ah Man” it’s still night. Now there’s just one more little problem, daylight savings time is also tomorrow morning. When we planned this trip several months ago, I am sure I raised that issue. I am also sure no one was listening.

This thought crossed my mind. If the clocks change at 2:00 AM, maybe I just stay up and change them then. Of course the time would then jump from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM, my alarm would go off and I could save all that time I would have wasted sleeping. The truly amazing thing in all of this is the fact that an Uber will be coming to pick us up at that hour. Yes, I scheduled it. No way was one going to be just hanging around at that hour.

So there it is. If you are escaping the cold weather of winter and trading it for the weather of the tropics, no sense letting the day get away from you. If you are reading this from Wisconsin, know that by the time you read it, I should already be sitting on a beach, toes in the sand and a tall drink in my hand watching the sun set over the ocean. Eat your heart out, but for God sake, Sleep In.

How Big is Your Family?

I have been thinking about family a lot recently or I guess reminded a lot. Last weekend we held the funeral for the last remaining sibling of my father’s family of twelve. A week ago my well respected and deeply loved aunt Hazel, passed away a month shy of her 99th birthday. It was a day filled with reunions, stories and celebration of her life. It was surprisingly easy to reconnect with my cousins, some whom I had not seen for years. But, as they say, the years fell away as we shared our stories and caught up with our past.

What struck me more than anything else is the closeness that exists in strong families. I know as I write this there are readers who may have come from less functional families. From families where relationships may have been strained through time and differences. My heart has always gone out to them. I was fortunate enough to come from a family whose bonds were strong and remain strong to this day. That is not to say that there weren’t some relationships that were not as strong as others, but for me to remain as connected as I am to the cousins produced by a family of my father’s size, there must have been more that connected us than just our common blood line.

Families are a dynamic entity. Thus the question, “How big is your family?” Who does the term family encompass? How big is the circle that defines your family? Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.” Think about that. We spend so much time making our circles smaller, exclusive in their make-up. If we agree on principals, if we share the same beliefs, if we have common friends, then we draw our circle to include these people but not others. If we thought of the people we know, the people we work with, the people we simply interact with as family, then we would have widened our circle. If we then think of them as family, think how much better we would treat each other. Widen the circle. Make it inclusive, not exclusive.

Once we have widen the circle we draw to define our family, then we need to follow by being positive. By loving our circle unconditionally regardless of the differences that might try to separate us. What follows is compassion versus intolerance, unity versus divisiveness. Start to imagine what a better nation, what a better people we could be.

Today I listened to a sermon by our new minister, Heather Hayward and wanted to share an experiment she told us about. The experiment was done with water by Japanese author Masaru Emoto. Emoto experimented with water molecules and the effects of positive and negative words and music on the structure of the crystals they formed. (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qQUFvufXp4 ) The results were stunning and beautiful when positive words and music were applied. They were confused and in some ways ugly when the opposite was applied. Whether you choose to believe his experiment, the images are impressive. When you consider that the human body is comprised of 60% water, isn’t worth at least trying positive words versus the negative words we are bombarded with daily.

We do not choose our family. We are born into it. But we can choose the people we would treat as family. So I ask you, how big will you draw the circle of your family? Will you make it big enough to include me?
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Take the Exit

I just finished unpacking the last of my Amazon deliveries today. My garage is full of the entrails of packing Styrofoam, bubble wrap, plastic tape and bags and of course forty pounds of cardboard. That was today. Two days ago I took my two grandchildren to McDonald’s. Even though we ate in, we dealt with the paper that wrapped our burger, the box it was placed in, the plastic straws and spoons wrapped in their own plastic protection. And of course, I drove everywhere as did the delivery vehicles dropping off my Amazon prizes.

What’s my point? I am an educated individual. As we dumped all of the McDonald’s waste into their one and only trash container, I could only pray that one of the McJobs was someone going through the trash to recycle the recyclables. Though I dutifully recycled everything I could from my Amazon packing and even went on-line to see if the Styrofoam could be recycled somehow, I still had indirectly created the pile of waste and could only wonder how many people would skip this process and just throw the whole works into the garbage bin, sentenced to eventually end up in a landfill.

All of this deniability is leading us to an inevitable end if we don’t personally and collectively change our ways. Science tells us that by 2050, if we continue at current levels, our polar ice caps will be gone and the resulting sea level rise will mean that parts of if not complete coastal cities will be gone. Granted, by 2050 I will likely be gone or at the very least, barely cognizant of what’s going on. My grandchildren, on the other hand will only be in their mid thirties and inheriting the mess we are creating. They will be contending with migration inland from coastal areas, hurricanes and typhoons that reach category 4 and 5 with frequencies never seen before, dangerous and permanent climate changes impacting year round weather. The only possible positive news is that the landfills will have created more ski hills.

In the face of this science, we have a political party that declares the science is just fake news. They bury their heads in the sand and make excuses stating that to beef up ecological standards would damage businesses and thus the economy. But if we continue at our current pace, that will be the least of our problems. Businesses can adapt. They can price in the cost of doing business the right way and we as consumers can make choices to do business with those that would. The science isn’t fake news. It’s science and educated people need to heed it.

We can continue to deny, we can pretend that we have more time than the science tells us, we can say it’s the next generation’s problem and not ours. As one politician from Utah offered as a solution, have more children and they will be smarter, even though he would also cut education funding, and they can solve the problem. The problem is that it will be too late. It is looking more and more like we may have only a decade to slow, stop and eventually reverse the impact of our behavior. We need politicians and leaders that get it.

So what’s a person to do? Here’s three ideas and I challenge you to add more ideas to the list.

1. Vote for politicians that will work on the issue. Even if you may not agree with some of their other policies, this problem is too important to not be approached by politicians willing to make the hard decisions needed to make a difference. They would strengthen not weaken standards, they would be willing to raise taxes to fund solutions, they would support alternate energy sources, namely solar, geothermal, wind and water. They would protect our green spaces and our National Parks. Make this a priority for them to earn your vote.

2. We can recycle and reuse. Learn what is and how to recycle. Reuse and re-purpose things. It can be as simple as taking your own bag to the grocery store. We can choose to do business with businesses that care about the environment and take measures to protect it. We can do everything possible to reduce our own carbon footprint. There are more internet sites popping up everyday that will provide us with the information we can use to accomplish this.

3. We can advocate with our voice, our feet and our money. We can fight for and support progressive candidates. We can attend forums and let our voice join others’ fighting for recognition of the problem and the change needed to facilitate a solution. We can write about it. We can stand up for it. We can stop denying.

We need to realize that we are on an interstate. It ends at extinction. We need to take the exit before it’s too late. We are not too small or powerless to make a difference.

Take the exit. Do it today because your tomorrow depends on it.

Making Time to Take Time

Today, as I was out driving, I heard one of my daughters’ favorite songs. “Cat’s in the Cradle”, by Harry Chapin was playing on my car radio. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been no better than the subject of the song or if maybe I had actually been more of a factor in their life than the father had been in that song?

We look into the eyes of our newborn children and want so many things for them, but basically we want them to be healthy and independent. If they come equipped for these two things, everything else falls into place. Health is not within our control, only a healthy life style. On the other hand, independence is a skill we either develop in them or they develop in spite of us.

Our children develop independence through and by the way we nurture them. We can be part of their life or we can be absent in it. When we are absent in their lives, they will become dependent on someone or something else to fill the void.

The problem we all face is the issue of that difficult balance between work and family. In today’s competitive, fast paced, over connected world, the balance may be lost all together. The demands on our time to be successful at our careers so that we can earn the living wage we need to support our families can tip that balance away from the very lives we are earning the living to support.

So what are we to do. First and foremost, we must clearly decide that family is our priority. If we do this, we will be better equipped to make decisions based on our family life as opposed to how much money can I make and how high up the ladder of success can I climb. I have not forgotten balance. We can not ignore the need to work to make a living, but if we make money our first priority, it becomes too easy to lose sight of everything else.

When I was working and raising my children, I set boundaries. As a teacher, I often faced hours correcting papers and working on curriculum. The catch here was that I could take it home with me. The danger….I could take it home with me. It was a delicate balance and sometimes, no oft times, required my doing that work late at night after they were tucked in. In the later years of my career, working as a tax planner, the tax season would demand long hours over the course of several months. I made a commitment to hold two evenings a week open for an earlier departure from work. I also committed to not going into work on Sundays. This required that I work harder and also more efficiently on those other days, but my commitment to family was my motivator and for the most part, kept me on task.

I know what you are thinking, easy to say but not always easy to do. I will admit that your employer must be on board with your commitment to family, and mine was. When you have a boss that demands so much of your time that there is never any time left for family, then you must answer the tough question, is this the right job for me? As I stated above, there will be times and or seasons that demand more time, but if your employer is at least willing to compensate with flex time following those high demand periods, then hopefully you can find your way through.

For me, the instant “Cat’s in the Cradle” is played, I am singing along with Harry. But it does not take long before I begin to wonder, was I just the same or did I drop everything to catch some ball with my daughters at least enough times that they noticed the time spent more than my absence. …..I can only hope I did.