The things I know and you don’t

Travel is an incredible thing.  You can learn things you never knew but you have to be in the right place at the right time.  I have always resisted my wife’s desire to be part of a tour.  My idea of travel has been to explore while hers was leave the driving to someone else.  I held to the premise that exploring will uncover those hidden nuggets, accidently while presenting them as pleasant, most of the time, surprises.  The problem is, the odds are you might just as likely discover that you were lost and only thought you knew where you were.  The only surprise turns out to be all the things you missed and without my wife’s method, never even knew you had.  I believe the term is “blissful ignorance.”

Lest you think I am defending my approach, you are wrong.  I have, after several, no, many successful times using with my wife’s methodology, succumbed to the idea that at the very least I need to compromise.  The beauty of my wife’s reliance on tours and tour guides is that I have learned things about an area or region or country that I never would have if I had just been stumbling around in the “explore” method.  And I might add, in such a shorter period that I still had the time to indulge my desire to explore.

This trip across the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland has provided so many “aha” moments each and every day.  The tours have truly exposed us to the culture and history of the cities and countries we have traversed.  The tour guides have entertained, skipped the lines and cued us in to the history, humor and ethnicity of the tours provided for us.  Each and every time they have left us with personal space to spend exploring with just enough direction to leave us satisfied that we had seen the things that mattered.  Call it the “cliff notes” of Europe’s greatest cities.

As an example, just today we learned the connection of Professor Bunson, Mr Heinz, Jacob Astor and the Preslin family line to the city we toured.  I found out the origin of Mannheim Steam Roller, the real reason for the success of the Benz Company and the significance of the monkey statue just this side of the Heidelberg Bridge.  And let’s not forget that there were John Deere’s there but they call them Bull Dogs.  And now you are waiting for me to explain these statements………Seriously?  That was the point of this segment.  Unless you travel, unless you take my wife’s advice, you will be stuck with Google.  But I know because I got the chance to be there, to hear the stories and even better, to experience them.

My wish for everyone is that if you haven’t yet, you will one day get the chance to travel to at least a few of the places on your bucket list.  And that if and when you do, you’ll realize that there’s no shame and you are no less the explorer when you take the occasional tour or when you rely on the knowledge and wisdom of the guide.

Retirement…a Bottle of Wine and Sunset on my Deck

Hopefully the title got your attention.  I apologize to my readers, now numbering in the tens, for my lull in writing.  I should also tell you that after a bottle of wine, kindly provided by our neighbors, that this, at least in my own mind, will be a great read.  I am happily, almost comfortably into my ninth month of retirement.  Ironically, a couple can produce a child in that time frame but I guess finding one’s self in retirement is sort of the equivalent.


Not sure why this picture seems approprite, but something about the child, the mask and the arms raised in victory strikes a cord with me.

On Vaction

In my vacation phase somewhere up north.

I have found my purpose and that seemed to be everyone’s fear for me when I announced my retirement.  “What are you going to do with yourself?”  That seemed to be everyone’s concern.  If you remember, I started making lists.  I am happy, no elated to tell you that I checked and I haven’t accomplished any of those things yet.  The list was stupid.  It was too long and it included things I assumed would put everyone’s worries at ease.  Turns out it only made me tired thinking of all I would have to accomplish.


So let me tell you how it is actually working out.  The book I am writing, it will be a great success if two things can happen.  One, I can take one hundred years to write it and two, I will live that long and some how have any of the faculties left to write coherently.  I had one bottle of wine and you are currently witnessing the results.   The alternative to that plan is that there is a publisher out there looking to publish the world’s shortest, we are talking ten pages, “how to succeed at life” novel.  Can you call ten pages a novel?  Then there’s the travel.  We have managed a four day get away to a Florida convention resort where we begged to be upgraded to a real room, you know, one with a view of actual water and I don’t mean the retention pond beyond the parking lot.  We squeezed in a week skiing in Colorado, everyone says go South, somewhere warm, by the ocean, we go to snow covered mountains.  And then there was the golf.  I was going to golf every week if not every day….. right, not so much.  But it turns out that was a good thing as retirement doesn’t actually improve your golf game.  Turns out it requires practice, patience and perseverance, of which I have, oh yeah, none of those qualities or at least not the time for them.


But not all is lost.  I have found the secret to retirement.  It turns out it is doing nothing and feeling busy.  It is enjoying a sunrise with coffee on your deck. It is reading the paper for enjoyment instead of worry, you just skip all the news stories and focus on the comics.  It is changing your mind and doing the last thing on your list instead of the first.  It is skipping everything and sitting on the deck, watching the sunset and finishing off a bottle of wine with no regrets for tomorrow morning.  It is letting the day find you instead of trying to find yourself.

Grandkids selfie

There is one other accomplishment for which I am both proud and grateful.  I found an organization, SCORE, that has completely fulfilled me.  I discovered that the passion in my career came from helping and mentoring others, sometimes helping them do and become things even I couldn’t do for myself.  In this volunteer position, I get to mentor new businesses.  I marvel at their dreams and aspirations and then I get to answer their questions and tell them what I learned from both my mistakes and my successes.  I return from these sessions recharged and envigorated.  It is the exercise of your passion that rewards you for the years you spent working at figuring out what it was.

SCORE signature

So take heart all you worriers.  I am alive and doing well in retirement.  My list has been put in the back of my desk drawer where it belongs and I am allowing each new day to write its own “to do” list for me.  Now if you don’t mind, I will sign off.  I’ve got a million things to not do yet today.  Manana.

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.”

Cycle of Fear …. Nervousness

When last I wrote about the cycle of fear, I had discussed fear and it’s follow up, anxiousness.  While fear meant to protect us from dangerous behavior, once gotten past, you would settle into anxiousness.  Anxiousness differed from fear in that once we had moved beyond fear by rationalizing out the true dangers and having decided we could proceed without dying, we settled into the fact that we were prepared to go through with our decision.  Anxiousness kept us aware of the process.  At this level, we could now try to identify our safety nets and attempt to move toward our ultimate action.

For me, this cycle is experienced every time I decide to speak publically.  The fear originally came from believing I couldn’t step in front of a large crowd and successfully get through the material without freezing.  Early on I had come to grips with my fear and agreed to face the crowd.  When I accept a speaking engagement these days, I am able to skip through the fear step rather quickly just based on past experience.  After all, I haven’t ever died up there.  At least not yet.  But every time, I still deal with the anxiousness as I consider the material and my worthiness and ability to interpret it and deliver it to the audience.

The next step in this cycle is then nervousness.  Nervousness is the result of being so close to the event that there is no turning back.  You have worked through anxiousness by realizing that you do know how to do or present what you are about to do.  You have prepared yourself mentally and physically.  You have reasonably ruled out the biggest dangers and you are now entering a state of nervousness where your anxiety has been muted or at least turned down to a tolerable level.  You are ready to proceed and are actually wanting this to get going so that it can eventually be over.

For my best example of this phase, I will describe my experience as I jumped out of a perfectly good plane.  Yes, I had the parachute.  When I first considered taking a parachute jump, I definitely started at fear.  I was about to climb to three thousand feet where once out on the wing of this small plane, I would, in the words of my instructor, simply step back and enjoy the fall.  As I went through my one half hour of training, I began to get past fear.  Others had done this and survived.  I would be tethered to the plane so my chute would open automatically and he would be with me as I jumped, just in case I had to open my emergency chute.  Other than everything, what could go wrong?  I did work through the fear phase of the cycle and eventually quiet it down enough that I was willing to suit up and climb aboard the plane.  Now came the next phase, anxiousness.  My level of anxiousness climbed right along with the plane and peaked at that moment when I was told to step out onto the wing.  “Move feet” was all I could think of and somehow they did.  And there I was, on the wing with the wind trying its hardest to rip me loose and throw me spiraling to the ground far below.  Suddenly, I was no longer anxious.  There was NO GOING BACK.  As the trainer waited to give me the drop sign, I realized I was simply nervous.  I actually screamed into the wind to let me jump.

I will admit that it is an extremely thin line that separates anxiousness and nervousness but it’s there.  At anxiousness, there is a sense that you can still back out and possible even save face in the process.  But once you cross that line, it’s just nerves now.  You stepped on stage, you buckled into the terrifying roller coaster, you stepped off the edge or in my case you wanted to step off the wing.  Between the wind and the engine roar, it just seemed like anything would be better than standing there hanging on for dear life.

I apologize for leaving you out on the wing, but this story will have to wait until I can finish the next part of the cycle; excitement.  Stay tuned but in the meantime try to enjoy this sense of nervousness as you wait.

Cycle of Fear…Being Anxious

I have been thinking about this next piece for a while now.  You might say I am actually having some true anxiety about writing it.  I wrote a first piece on some options for dealing with fear (see Cycle of Fear).  In this segment I will talk about the next stage, anxiousness.

There is a difference between being anxious and suffering from anxiety.  Anxiety is very close to fear.  In fact it is so close that it is hard to distinguish between them.  Where fear is generally irrational, anxiety is more analytic.  Fear is a primal emotion and it is hardwired into our psyche.  It is meant to protect us from harm.  Anxiety is a modern emotion and comes from our experiences.  Anxiety is understanding that we are about to do something that needs serious consideration.  I want to look at being anxious.  Being anxious is different from suffering anxiety.  Being anxious can actually be something good, as in “my child was really anxious to open her Christmas presents”.  It is at the stage of anxiousness that we can begin to rationalize that though fearful about our challenge, we can convince ourselves to continue forward if we can identify some safety nets.

I am going to use the paragliding adventure my daughter talked me into attempting.  We started the adventure by having our lunch at a cliff side cantina where we could watch the gliders take off from the cliff above us, pass over our position and then soar out over the valley.  The thought of running off a cliff had definitely brought on a heavy dose of fear.  The next step in the adventure would be a hike up the remaining several hundred feet of the mountain to ready ourselves for the flight.  For me, sitting there watching the gliders ahead of us strap in and then head down the short run to the edge of the cliff, brought me one step closer to realizing that I was going to have to overcome my fear if I was actually going to go through with this.  At this point there was very little difference between my fear and my anxiety.  As we waited, it became obvious that there was clearly a process and in fact everyone who left before us returned smoothly back to the cliff at the end of their flight.  I think that had they landed somewhere else, out of my sight, I may have had a much harder time moving from being fearful to being anxious.  I was now in the analytic phase of this whole thing and I was one step closer to the point of no return.  I could still back out, but instead of fear I was actually feeling anxious to get me turn.

Fear and anxiety hold us back.  Either one can stop us in our tracks, but if we can reduce fear down to being anxious, we can begin to accept the risk.  Anxiousness puts us in a position that having reduced our fear, we are ready to move into a state of anticipation for the next step.  If we can reduce our anxiousness by analyzing the risk and identifying the safety nets, we will hopefully move into the next stage.  But more on that next time.

The Cycle of Fear

I recently was asked to present a sermon before three services at my church and am currently preparing for my public speaking sessions where the topics can be challenging and the crowds relatively large.  I am often asked by people how I can seem so comfortable doing public speaking.  I will tell you that I am never comfortable at first.  In fact, each time I have to go through the same process.  It is the explanation behind my theory on the cycle of fear.  That cycle is a process that goes through several stages as it moves us from fear to energy.  Over the next several posts I will attempt to explain the stages of that cycle and hopefully give some insight on how to deal with them.

My cycle of fear moves through these stages; Fear – Anxiety – Nervousness – Excitement – Energy.  As we move through the stages and provided we do move through the stages, we ultimately end up with the energy derived from the act we started out fearing.

Franklin Roosevelt

So stage one is fear.  Franklin Roosevelt, preparing a nation to face a world war, aptly stated, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  Fear is the belief that something bad, and perhaps irreversible will result if we under take a particular action.  It can stop us from acting.  If, in fact the action may have been truly ill advised, fear actually saves us.  However, when our fear is irrational, it stops us from realizing potentially rewarding experiences.


I will never forget the day I decided I would actually jump out of a perfectly good airplane from 5000 feet or for that matter the day I decided it was perfectly okay to leap off a 3000 foot cliff attached to a paraglider.  The fear I faced as I approached both of those adventures was real.  It would have been enough to stop me from realizing two of the most exciting experiences of my life.  By the same token, stepping in front of a crowd of 400 plus participants can be no less daunting and yet just as rewarding.  For many, that seemingly non life threatening activity, can freeze them in their tracks.


So how do we get past that first stage?  My approach has been a combination of several steps.  The first step is to analyze the activity.  What is the worst that could happen?  Could I actually be injured?  What safety nets are built into the activity?  Often, a brief analysis will reveal that you are going to live.  Important point here, if that isn’t revealed, then heed the fear and look for a better activity.  In my parachute jump, there was a pretty reliable parachute as well as an instructor that was there with me all the way.  With the paragliding, I was actually hooked to a seasoned glider pilot.  The fact that he spoke no english created some angst but none the less, multiple people had flown off the cliff before me and all had returned intact.

Step two for me, when time allows, is to procrastinate.  This sounds just plain wrong but let me explain.  When faced with true fear there are two possibilities, fight or flight.  procrastination is a form of fight.  You have subconsciously not chosen flight.  In that decision, you took one more step toward acceptance.  The key with this step is to make sure you are moving in the direction of stage two, anxiety.  In anxiety, you are moving away from fear toward the belief that you can actually attempt this.  But anxiety is the topic of my next blog.

The third step is to stop over thinking.  This is actually harder to do than it sounds.  It requires a desire to see this thing through and that means I need to stop focusing on the fear and to start looking at the possibilities.  This is what Roosevelt meant when he said we only have fear itself to fear.  When we start considering the positive outcomes, we leave fear behind and we begin to move forward through the cycle.

When ever I have to face fear over a challenge I am about to take, I hear my daughter’s words echoing in my head, “Stop thinking about it and get ready for how exciting it will feel when you are done”.  If I had never jumped off that cliff that day, I wouldn’t have experienced how incredibly exciting it turned out to be.  She was so right!

Facing our fears is not easy but the reward that often awaits us for taking on the challenge is worth it.  Think it over, pause to let acceptance move us forward and stop over thinking the negative and focus on the possibilities.


Coming soon….turning fear down to anxiety.