Just My Cup of Tea

I returned last week from my fortieth Indy 500 weekend. My daughters and I went down on Friday evening and joined a group of twenty plus people who get together once a year to attend the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing. We make a weekend out of the adventure: golf on Saturday, nice dinner out in an accommodating restaurant that has to be able to handle our rather raucous group, and of course there’s the race. We load our bus early Sunday morning, head south to the track and after sufficient tailgating, we enter the track. We are greeted by four-hundred thousand of our race friends and settle in to watch thirty-three cars, aka rockets, average 225 mph as they circle the two and a half mile oval for two-hundred laps.

When I explain how I spent my Memorial Day weekend, I get one of two responses. The first, “that sounds incredible.” The second response, much more forcible, “I just don’t get it, that sounds really boring.” Now I am not about to tell people they are not entitled to their opinions, but a little consideration might be in order. We are all unique and our tastes in entertainment are no different.

If you told me you spent the weekend pitching a tent and then sleeping on the ground as critters scampered about, inches away, separated from you and your person by a thin piece of nylon, I might ask you why. Hotels have such nice amenities and a free buffet breakfast. Or say you spent your one free evening at the theater watching ballet or Shakespeare. Sorry, not my cup of tea. Sci Fi flick on the big screen, now that I’d spend my evening on.

I am a speed junkie with a hunger for adventure. When it comes to being with people, the bigger the crowd the better, and again I can hear the judgement as you are reading this. I have a huge case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and love being part of a party. Put that all together and how could I resist cars going so fast you can barely see them as they pass all the while watching it with a record setting crowd. Throw in the party atmosphere, reunion with friends, and just the shear size and scope of the adventure and, well, the Indy 500 is my cup of tea.

Let’s agree to disagree. You go camping and I won’t question your love of sleeping on the ground and cooking your breakfast over a smokey campfire as long as you let me love a seemingly boring weekend at the races. After all, one man’s cup of whatever just may be another man’s cup of tea.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can you really have too much of a good thing. Let’s take ice cream. I will unashamedly admit that on more than one occasion I have literally licked the bottom of the bowl and it may not have even been mine.

For the past three weeks, we have been at a condo we rented on the gulf in Florida. Every day has been sunny with temps in the 80’s. When we weren’t basking in the pool just outside of our lanai, we were at the beach, with our toes in the water. And every evening, ah, the sunsets.

Sunsets on the ocean are spectacular. Weather permitting, and it was, the sun arcs toward the water’s edge in a blazing orb that gradually deepens in color from bright white to blazing yellow and eventually to deepening shades of orange. As the outer rim touches the ocean’s edge, the march below the waves accelerates, or so it seems, and in a matter of minutes, its gone. As the last sliver of the sun disappears, the skies light up in an explosion of deep oranges and soft reds, but not before this halo of light seems to erupt into the dusk sky. The strange thing is that no two sunsets are ever exactly the same and no matter how many photos you have snapped, you find yourself taking one more.

As I said, we were here for three weeks. Our first week was shared with my daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren. To say the energy of two young grandchildren kept us busy would be an understatement. Daily trips down to the surf, hours of swimming in the complex’s pool and long walks down the beach shelling, the sport of finding the best seashells, filled our days from dawn to the evening sunset. Sadly, they had to go home at the end of that first week leaving my wife I to keep each other entertained. Near the end of week two and missing our grandchildren, my wife asked the question, was three weeks too long? Were we in fact ready to go home? As the question hung there and the sun began its descent to the ocean, the answer was obvious. Were we in a hurry to return home where spring was waging a losing battle to push away winter? Where it had snowed the day before and temps still hovered near freezing?

Let’s not be hasty. We deserve a few more days of falling asleep to the sounds of the surf rolling onto the beach. To walk with sand tickling our toes. To just gaze out at the ocean as sail boats go by first following the wind and then alternately tacking against it. To catch a few more amazing sunsets. And there you have it, you really can’t get too much of a good thing.

I’ll have to wrap this up. The sun is dipping toward the ocean and I can hear the mellow sounds of the conch shells beckoning me out to watch.

Finally

After two years of patiently waiting, we are finally back in the air headed to a tropical island. The last time on a plane to anywhere, we were returning from another island trip on March 13th, 2020. A day before the world shut down! Several cancelled trips later, we finally feel safe enough, relative term, to get back on with our traveling.  Greece and Panama were put on hold, but there’s still time.

I will celebrate another birthday while on the island and though it makes me sad to leave another year behind me,  I am optimistic that there are enough left to get through my bucket list.

Life is a journey and I am trying to make sure I don’t treat it like a race. I have promised myself so many times that I will slow down.  Maybe, if nothing else came from the pandemic, it was that life is too short for one to race to the finish line. The two years of spacing ourselves out may have served to remind us to do the same with our lives.

I titled this the way I did because finally I get it. I am more prepared than ever to savor my life and to finally be on my way once more. 

Let Them Soar

Watching the Olympics this past week, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the athletes’ personal stories. One in particular stuck with me. The athlete was an alpine skier and as the story went, his parents had him on his first set of skis before he could walk. They of course had been professional skiers and wanted their son to have every chance to become one as well.

It is said we live vicariously through our children. In some cases this means having them grow up just like us, same goals, same passions. In some cases, we want them to succeed where we failed. In either case, the parent is projecting their expectations unto the child. Don’t misread this, I will be the first to tell you that without expectations, their is no roadmap to success. Expectations create our goals. The question is whose expectations should they be?

When we realize we are about to have a child, we hope for three very basic things. We hope that our child will be born with ten toes and ten fingers, meaning healthy. Good health will give them that head start. The second hope is that they will grow up to be independent, free thinking individuals, able to make the important life decisions they will inevitably face. Our third hope is that they will be successful, and here the seed of expectations is planted. Every parent describes success in their terms. One parent will hope that their child will some day become President of the United States, another the next Warren Buffet, yet another a professional athlete, maybe even an Olympian. Whether it is the arts, athletics, business, or politics, we can’t help but start to set expectations. The problem here is that these expectations are ours when they need to be theirs.

I am as guilty as the next person. The minute my daughter picked up a golf club,

I expected to one day see her in the US Open. The second my youngest daughter grabbed a microphone, I just knew she would be the next Shania Twain. I couldn’t even wait to buy her that first guitar. It is next to impossible to not set these expectations for our children. After all, it is born out of our love for them. But if we truly love them, is it living up to our expectations that matters.

Let’s go back to my Olympians. I don’t believe that when that toddler was set upon his first set of skis that he expected to be one day screaming down a mountain in China seeking a gold medal. I suspect that somewhere along the way, it might have become a dream of his. Somewhere that dream developed into a dedication to improving his skills as a skier. Through hard work and determination, his dream became an expectation. But that expectation was the product of a dream and it was his expectation. He earned the right to that expectation.

As parents we need to understand the difference between expectation and a dream. Our expectations for our children, if improperly placed may just be the worst thing we can do for them. We need to let them discover their passions independently and then we need to let them dream. Let their dreams become their expectations. Only then will we get to watch them have the success we had hoped for.

We have a role in our child’s future, and that role is to be their supporter, their nurturer, their biggest fan. If we let them dream their dreams, if we let them soar, who knows, they just may become an Olympian.

Serenity Now

George’s dad on Seinfeld would utter “serenity now” when things around him brought on stress. Borrowing those words as my title feels appropriate this morning after having watched the sunrise on the beach at Kiawah Island. Not that I was being stressed, but rather that I was finding serenity now.

Sunrise is at 6:59 am on the Island and having arisen at 6:30, I had just enough time to throw on some clothes and get out to the beach in time to watch the sun begin to brighten the eastern skyline. Not sure of what I would see, I headed to the beach with a sense of excitement mixed with the fatigue I was feeling from an overactive yesterday, a restless night of sleep, and the early hour.

The first thing one notices when staying at the ocean, is the rhythmic sound of the waves washing up on the shore. With each step closer to the beach, the sound of the waves washing ashore increased a sense of inner quiet within me. As I hiked over the dune and the beach came into view, my fatigue and any stress I had been feeling, vanished. The sun, not yet visible, was casting its dusky light over the scene and there, not 10 yards away, stood four deer poised at the tide’s edge staring back at me. I stood mesmerized watching them as they resumed their stroll down the empty beach, devoid of the hundreds of vacationers that would crowd the beach later in the day. For now, the beach belonged to those four deer and by default, me.

There are places on earth that invoke a sense of peace, maybe it’s a majestic mountain view or an empty beach with its vast ocean backdrop. Where ever that place exists, watching a sunrise bathe that view with all its serene beauty cannot help but bring a sense of peace. This morning, as I watched the sunrise over my beach, I found that sense of peace. Any stress I brought along with me on this vacation, melted in that slowly unfolding light of dawn. The sun’s rays, casting light up through the horizon, created beautiful bands of orange as they began to awaken the morning sky. And then, right on cue, the golden orange ball of the sun began to rise from edge of the ocean.

I wish that I could have had you there on the beach with me this morning to both witness and feel the peacefulness of that scene. I can only hope that my writing and photos will give you some sense of the experience.

Serenity Now

There was a light at the end of the tunnel

This past week we traveled to the Mauston area to ride the Sparta Elroy Bike Trail. For novices who have never experienced the trail, it runs some 30 miles between Sparta at the northern end and Elroy at the southern end. On the way you bike along the old railbed of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad, passing through its three tunnels along the way. Considered the oldest rail to trail in the U.S., it offers welcoming tree lined canopies and historic bridge crossings as it travels through the five villages along the route. On our first day, our ride took us from Sparta, through two of the three tunnels, eventually reaching Wilton. On the way in and nine miles from our starting point, we reached Tunnel 3, the longest tunnel on the trail. At 3/4 of a mile in length, our first view of the tunnel left us wondering what this walk through it would entail. The one thing that encouraged us was that their actually was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was very dim and very small, but it was there telling us that we would eventually reach the end.

But this isn’t meant to be a travelogue. Rather it is meant to be an allegory. The light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of life in these Covid-19 times. In late February or early March, depending on your point of reference, we entered a tunnel the pandemic had created. We had and still don’t have an idea of just how long this tunnel will be. But we had no choice other than to enter it. Now, going on eight months in our tunnel, we are anxiously looking for the light at the end of it. Pessimists will tell us there is no end in sight, no light that they can see. Optimists will ask us to believe that we are just about there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, where in fact, we might actually be. Here’s the rub. We can actually control how long we will spend in the tunnel. The key is responsible behavior. No one denies that the pandemic exists. We can argue about who it impacts more, about how bad it really is, or what will eventually cause it to end, but what we need to do is clear. We need to be cautious. We need to protect ourselves while protecting others. In short we need to take responsibility in the battle to end this pandemic, to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is there, it’s just that it won’t be clearly visible until we get ourselves closer to the end.

As we walked our bikes through the darkness and falling water of the tunnel, that light at the end of the tunnel just kept growing larger, urging us on. Each step took us closer to the end of the tunnel and with each one of those steps, the light grew closer and brighter. Eventually we reached the last hundred feet of the tunnel and sunlight now flooded the tunnel floor. We were never worried that we wouldn’t make it but we were still relieved to be out of the tunnel, back in the sunlight, and back on our ride.

This Covid-19 tunnel that we find ourselves in will eventually come to an end. How soon it does in fact depends on us. On our collective behavior. On our willingness to sacrifice some of our freedoms to bring this to a quicker end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to keep moving toward it.

And there it was…….the Comet Appeared

They say a comet is an omen. In ancient times, because of the ‘disturbance’ it caused in the night sky, the omen it suggested was considered to be bad. Comets were thought to be sent by the gods as warnings and were associated with the death of kings and famous people or ironically, plagues. I wish to believe that this new comet in the night sky, Neowise, is maybe just the opposite. I choose to think it is a sign of the eventual end to this Covid plague and the hope for a vaccine.

Yesterday gave us one of those rare nights, that if you are fortunate enough to be away from the light pollution of the larger cities, you get to witness the millions of stars painting their spectacular light show across the canvas of the night sky. Last night, I was one of those fortunate few. My grandchildren and I are vacationing with my wife and daughter in the northern woods of Wisconsin, far from the city lights. I was excited, since having tried for multiple nights to view the comet back home in Madison, I had yet to spot it in the nighttime sky. This was going to be my best chance.

We have a cottage located in the southeast corner of our lake. With a heavy tree line, we were concerned that we would not be able to see low enough to the horizon where Neowise would be located. The time grew later and the sky grew darker. We ventured down to our pier where we found a crystal clear sky and no moon. Perfect viewing weather. As we looked to the northwest, we easily spotted the Big Dipper. Our Google search told us that on this night we would locate the comet straight below the lowest star of the Big Dipper, half way between that bottom star and the horizon. As we peered into the dark sky, we saw our view seemingly blocked by a large stand of trees. But then, as we moved our gaze downward, we saw through an opening in the branches what looked like a smudge of white against the backdrop of the dark sky. Grabbing the binoculars, my daughter exclaimed breathlessly, that she could see it. I and my grandson anxiously awaited our turn. When she finally relinquished the binoculars and our turns came, the comet did not disappoint. We stared in awe at the majesty of Neowise.

The head of the comet, clearly visible through the binoculars, appeared as a soft, fuzzy object and there, spread out in this huge fan shaped cloud of white, was its tail. The comet was so distinctly different and so much larger than anything else in the sky, that it simply grabbed your attention and made it impossible to look away. No wonder that those ancients were so awed and at the same time, fearful of a comet’s appearance. We explained to my grandson Jackson, what a unique experience viewing this comet afforded him. It would be another forty two years before another comet, Halley’s, would be back in our skies. I didn’t tell him, but I sincerely doubt that I will be around to see that event.

I have been fortunate to have viewed three comets before this latest one and, more than likely, my last. I saw, Comet Kahoutek in 1973, Halley’s comet in 1986, and Hale-Bopp in 1997. Though there are generally comets somewhere in our night skies at any time, most are not visible with the naked eye or do not display much of their tail. The tail is often pointed away from us or is simply to small to view. The three comets I mentioned, were visible and at least expected to put on a show. Truthfully, until my viewing last night, they were unimpressive with my meager viewing equipment. That is why last night’s viewing of Neowise has so inspired me. Knowing that I have no known great comets to look forward to, seeing Neowise in all its glory was so important.

Unlike the ancients, I am choosing this comet to be a good omen. I believe that 2020 is destined to go down as the year of the plague and that it will be one we all want to forget. Let’s for a moment believe that the appearance of the comet is telling us of better days ahead. Let’s, knowing that we have a forty-two year wait, not waste any of our days and years ahead. If Covid taught us anything, it is to realize the importance of the people around us, of our dependence on each other and of our need to take care of not only ourselves, but of humanity in general. Neowise can be a beacon showing us our way forward and an inspiration to keep going. Just as the comet unwaveringly follows its path, so we need to find our path, the path of caring for the things that matter.

Take some time, grab a pair of binoculars, get away from the confusion of the urban lights and go find the comet. Stare at it. Revel in its majesty. View it against the backdrop of a starry ski and realize how vast the universe is and how very fortunate we all are to have this space, this earth, this planet …… each other. Just maybe we can each be our own comet, lighting up our little space and together, we can light up the world. Just as the comet dazzles the night sky, so too can we dazzle the world, our world.

Go be a comet!

I’m Not on Call

This isolation and physical distancing has created an explosion of online techniques to deal with business ‘not as usual’. Where we were generally meeting each other face to face, we now zoom and google meet, duo and face time to accomplish our social gatherings and, to the point of this blog, our business.

Where this live streaming has been successful and even efficient, society, namely clients and customers, need to understand that even though I seem to be, I am not on call. We are now beginning to take advantage of the ability to do everything online. Ever since many businesses sent their employees home and then set them up to work from their home offices, places like the kitchen table, the dining room table or as I’ve heard, the walk-in closet, too many customers are now viewing them as on call 24-7. After all, the customer figures they are in the same boat. They are working from home and thus their vendor or agent or whomever, must be as well. It really doesn’t matter that it’s Saturday afternoon or evening or even Sunday.

When this is all over, and I hope that is sooner than we seem to be now bracing for, we are going to be in a new normal. Why go to the grocery store once I got used to delivery? Why bother heading downtown to shop when a purchase and delivery were just a click or two away? Why head into my investment broker’s office when zooming with them worked just fine? For that matter, why should I even have to leave the house to do any business? This just might be the backside of this experiment in isolation. We might end up becoming a non-social culture. And as such, we might start forgetting that the person on the other end of that internet connection might actually have a life. Or at least, used to have one.

I for one am not ready for that new normal. Don’t get me wrong, I was reasonably tech savvy. I could conduct a long distance business relationship with the best of them, but I will also admit that the inability to disconnect was at times overwhelming. Between voice mails, emails and texts, there were days when I felt like I was on a string and that all you had to do was tug it and I would answer your every need. Weekends became a struggle to not check my emails and voice mails. Vacations became exercises in trying to relax. My fear is that once we have led our customers to the water, they will expect to drink whenever they feel thirsty.

We owe it to our families, our social circles and above all else, to ourselves, to draw a line in the sand. It is not too late to begin educating our clients and customers to our own needs. That process needs to manifest itself as hours and days of operation. In the good old days, we walked up to the store or office door, and when it didn’t open, we saw the closed sign and the hours of operations. We might have been slightly inconvenienced, maybe even a little irritated, but then we realized life’s priorities and we respected them.

This new normal needs to be a two way street. When we go back to business as usual, I hope that we haven’t lost sight of the value of personal touch. That we will remember why the calendar has weekends. And that no matter how big our problems seem in the immediate, there is a better time and place to work the solution. Wouldn’t it be great if the new normal was all people realizing that if we respected each other enough to stay six feet away during the crisis, we will now respect them enough to give them time to enjoy their free time.

I may not be on call for business after hours, but I am always on call for friendship, courtesy and a little social time together. So call me sometime, just not after hours if this can wait.

Do it for all of Us

I have been waiting to weigh in on this but praying in the meantime. I pray that we can all survive the isolation. Isn’t it ironic that before this all started, there were times we would crave the chance to just shut out all the noise, to find a quiet spot and yes, isolate ourselves. Now we are asked to do exactly that and we realize how disconcerting that can be. Deb and I are honoring the request and have isolated ourselves from family and friends, from our church family and from the everyday strangers that might have become our friends. It has its pluses and minuses. The quiet has given us the chance to reflect and reconnect, to realize how dependent we are on each other, to realize what it was we found in each other as we fell in love so long ago. But the isolation has reminded us how much we depend on others as well. It has put us in a position to worry about so many things that we can’t control. It has left us craving company and the socialization that comes with the company.

We are taking this thing one day at a time. We are being as patient as any human can be and we remind each other that in time this will pass. We use all this isolation time to pray. We pray for all the people I have already mentioned, but also for the businesses struggling to hang on, to save their customers and their employees, to still exist when this is all over. We pray for the care givers, the doctors and nurses and all the related medical personnel, and all the others who put their lives on the line and take the risks we are told to avoid. We pray for our church and all the churches out there whose members crave the message and the community of their faith families disrupted by this pandemic. And, yes, we pray for leaders. We pray that they be leaders who listen to both the science and the needs of the people they have chosen to lead. That they exercise both empathy and wisdom in equal amounts.

This will prove to be a critical time in our existence. When this pandemic passes, we will emerge as a stronger civilization, more empathetic than when we entered, more aware of our surroundings, more involved in our society. All of those statements will be true, as long as we learn from what we experienced, if we are willing to change many of our habits and beliefs based on the lessons of the crisis we survived. Life will return to normal, albeit a new normal, but it will return. Let’s promise to be part of the improvement.

For now, keep socially distancing but not distant, stay safe and keep others safe by your actions and above all else, stay connected. Use the ability to stay connected that our technology affords us and use those connections to stay patient. We will survive, with wisdom we may even thrive.

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.