20140225 – Organizing the Important Stuff!

One thing about life in the sandwich and multigenerational living that always challenges me – keeping the important stuff organized. Intuitively I am an organizer, a strategic planner. Practically, I’m a semi organized slob. It doesn’t work for me, but it’s what I am. I need to fix it. I’m working on it. I think I’m getting better at it. But this is another case of please do as I say, not as I do! Continue reading

20140218-2 – Snow Plows, Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em

After 59 Michigan Winters (I lived five years out of state) I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with the county snow plow. Dog lovers (me included) know what it’s like; you love them as companions and friends and hate them when you’re cleaning up the yard after they do their duty.

I love it when the plow comes by and keeps my road clean, especially when I enjoy another one of those 100 inch winters (yes, yesterday’s blizzard put us Grand Rapidians into triple digits for this season). Continue reading

20140128 – Snow Days – Yes, Plural, And Good Memories

Apparently the term global warming just doesn’t apply right now, in the upper Midwest where some of us hearty souls choose to live. The price we pay for glorious summers, ocean-sized lakes, miles of sandy beaches and dunes, forests and rivers is the occasional never-ending winter that starts around Thanksgiving, deposits 75 inches of snow in sixty days, and gives us the pleasure of less than a week worth of above freezing temperatures during that same sixty days. Yes single digit above and below zero air temps, and wind chills of -5 to -40 degrees appear to be the order of the day lately. Later this week it’s supposed to hit a relatively balmy 23 degrees (break out those t-shirts and baggy shorts kids!), but we’re also due for three back to back snow storms over the next eight days.

Somehow the endless string of snow days, single digit temperatures, and sub-zero wind chills in our little corner of the world give one license to leave the doors closed and the car in the garage, slip into fleece-lined sweats, light a fire in the fireplace, and cocoon under a warm blanket with a good book and a steaming mug of hot dark chocolate. A DVD movie marathon is another fun way to withdraw from the world; after all, how often is there enough time in a day to watch the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, extended edition/director’s cuts?

Make it a nice little mini-vacation, the snow is just a good excuse to play hooky like we used to do as kids. Board games or cards with your family or significant other, or experiment with some new recipes and get the oven going for extra warmth; there are a few other ideas for you. Or you could just burrow into the mountain of indoor white stuff (yes, unfiled and extraneous paper) that’s been collecting on your office floor and desk for the last six months. After all, it’s tax time and you may just need a few of those receipts and other documents some time before April 15th.

Needless to say that last option is the one I took last week, considering that I hadn’t seen either the floor or my desktop since sometime last summer when we expeditiously stacked boxes upon boxes worth of papers and photographs from Mom’s condo to get them “out of the way”; yeah, right. Feeling like my office had become a lost cause I let my own stuff accumulate on the floor and my desk, and gradually succumbed to the sludge of slob-dom. Finally last week I was beginning to feel like a hoarder rather than just a packrat, and I was feeling desperate about finding some missing business documents I needed to complete year-end accounting work.

The result of my efforts is a clear path to the closet and the front window, enough space to open a file drawer, and sufficient clear space on my desk to hold two phones, a mug of cold water, and two stacks of current work files. A secondary benefit is a sense of relief, peace, and reduced stress. I guess what they say is true, reducing clutter reduces stress.

Feeling good about shoveling away a blizzard of paper, I set out to do the same thing to the files on my computer. The challenge with computer files is: out of sight, out of mind; and I’m not very quick with the delete key. I’m always worried about needing something later. Well it’s pretty amazing how badly a digital blizzard can fill up a little SD card or flash drive; much less your personal documents file on the hard drive. Just in case you’re curious my personal documents file is seventy gigabytes (70G) of data and comprises 54,640 files in 8,302 folders; frightening, I know. Just my little 2G SD card contained over 1300 files I needed to go through and organize or delete as appropriate. But once again, mission accomplished.

The neat thing about an exercise like this is you get to reflect and recollect. While going through the digital detritus of my life and work I came across this letter to my son. Kind of reminds me of a few things maybe I haven’t been doing so well lately.

Father to Son: A Few of Life’s Lessons
Offered to my son on the occasion of his upcoming wedding
Written in March 2008
On Activities and Relationships:
  • Have fun, be spontaneous, look for reasons to say yes every time you can, whether you want to or not.  Be open to letting things happen and enjoying them.  A chance to visit relatives – do it; a dinner out – do it; a game of cards – do it!
  • Fully engage!  Do not let yourself get distracted. The times that I remember most happily, clearly and completely are those times that I was living in the moment; I was in the zone (your birth, your sister’s birth, my wedding day, our extended vacation). Too often, I have not given my full attention to the conversation with you, your sister, or your mother. When you don’t look at me, you’re not fully engaged. I still make that mistake to this day, and your mother does too.
  • Never, ever violate her trust or even appear to; it can lead to emotional insecurity extremely harmful to your marriage. Do what you promise, and don’t give wrong impressions.

On Communication:

  • Make it extensive, don’t hold back, no silent treatment, no sarcasm, no personally hurtful comments, do not assume anything – say it, discuss how you communicate, understand that sometimes when she wants your opinion she may be more interested in validating hers, learn to recognize those situations and give her what she needs
  • Look at her, don’t look away, respect her enough to respond, even when you don’t want to engage; ignorance may be bliss but ignoring is disrespectful and hurtful
  • Always tell the truth, even little white lies lead to webs of deceit
  • Tell her about your needs and wants, your joys and fears, don’t make her guess
  • Arguments, have them but fight fair and don’t go to bed angry – agree to disagree if you have to but validate that your relationship is solid, it’s the issue that you’re focused on

On Finance:

  • Women usually need more financial security than men, it’s the mothering instinct
  • Don’t let her feel insecure
  • Do what you must that’s legal and moral and honest to financially support your family
  • Do not assume she will want to be the breadwinner just because she has the better job, talk about it and set clear expectations of each other

On Personal Performance:

  • Procrastination aggravates problems, it doesn’t solve them
  • Do not assume; seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • People are people, and not necessarily stupid (at least not all of the time)
  • Nothing is as scary as you make it out to be
  • The world will not end if you fail
  • The world will not end if what you do isn’t perfect
  • Glorious mistakes are often more satisfying than perfection

This snowy winter day it was nice to be reminded that I occasionally write things that make sense. Not bad advice in this little epistle; perhaps I should heed it a little more often…Pops

20140121 – Just Living

It’s interesting to hang out on Tuesday mornings and just look around at the patrons here at my favorite Tuesday hanging place. I wonder sometimes what is happening in everyone’s lives. Grandma and Grandpa with their two toddler grandchildren, a lone business man hard at work and wired for sound with his tablet snuggled in close to his laptop, several tables of retirees grabbing Tuesday morning coffee and chatting, a suit and a blue collar cheerfully engaged in casual conversation, a seventy-something with her paper and crossword puzzle; I guess it’s just living, each in his or her own way.

We see such small slices of other people’s lives, and yet there’s a wonderful and unseen richness to it all, a richness that we often take for granted. Or we ponder it so much that we grind to a halt, second guessing our lives and what we’re making of them. I’m just a natural ponderer so I find myself doing this all the time, but that’s me, just living in my own way. When people see me here on Tuesday mornings they may completely ignore me, give me a passing glance and nod, or wonder what in the world I’m writing about for hours at a time. They have no idea what a small slice of my life my writing is. Some may even think I’m a full-time professional writer – who knows?

Little do they know that I’m a cheerful Grandpa to two toddlers, or a senior board member at the chamber of commerce, that I own and manage three businesses, that I’m an amateur plumber about to repair a toilet at Mom’s condo, that I’m meeting a delivery guy in four hours to help set up a new lift chair for Mom, that I did four loads of laundry yesterday, that I cook a pretty decent pot roast, or that I enjoy singing in the church choir and biking and kayaking and watching sappy movies, oh, and pondering!

There’s really a lot of richness in all that, and it makes me happy. Am I a little disappointed in how some things have worked out? Sure. Would I do some things differently? Sure. Do I have regrets? Some. Am I on the lookout for the reason I’m here and am I trying to make it better? Always.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for Mom to be stuck in assisted living just getting from day to day. I think I’d need to be active and if I couldn’t be physically active I’d be mentally active. I suppose I’d look for the reason to live and act on it whatever it might be. Despite all her pain and discomfort Mom still says God must not be done with her yet because she’s still here. I hope she takes that as a sign that she is still important, that she can still make a difference, and that she just needs to figure out for herself what that difference can be and how she’ll act on it.

Is there richness to her life? You bet. Maybe her current state obscures that richness or at least her awareness of it. Just by being here she makes a big difference in the lives of her daughter and son-in-law, her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I pray that the good Lord opens her weary eyes, helps her see what a difference she makes and inspires her to keep on.

Looking for the richness in life and living…Pops

20140114 – Are You Prepared?

For caregiving, living in the sandwich and multigenerational living that is. Is this type of situation looming in your future? Having lived in a multigenerational household for a number of years, and having taken care of aging parents at the same time, I can say that it’s not easy. But there are things you can do to make it easier – lessons learned the hard way. And I’ll warn you right now – you’ve heard this before and you know you should do it, so get busy and get it done. My two guiding principles are:
  1. Life is about people, not things.
  2. Simplify and organize.

These two guiding principles actually make sense for life in general and not just in situations where you might be a caregiver, a multigenerational household member, or a part of life in the sandwich. After all, each one of these can come in various forms. You could be the elder needing care. You could be the adult child in a multigenerational living arrangement, you could have single parents in your household (you may be one). You could be two couples in one home. You get my point.

Since I’m a planner at heart, let me start with the second principle; simplify and organize. Clutter is a stressor and interferes with getting things done. In your living situation you do not need to add to the stress of caring for someone else, maintaining your space, and managing your own daily activities. Get rid of as much stuff as possible, organize the rest, and always put things back where they came from. That last one is a real sticky wicket but, if you don’t do it, things rapidly become disorganized and remain so despite your best attempts to organize. You’ll just end up repeating the process and you don’t need to be doing things over and over again. If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it over, hmm?
Simplifying doesn’t mean get rid of everything. It just means keep the quantity of your stuff down to what you can comfortably manage so that it doesn’t interfere with the other principle. One of my favorite bloggers, Glenn, lives in a beautifully converted VW Vanagon containing all his worldly possessions except for two tubs stored with friends, and he has empty cabinet space! He works out of his home on wheels from anywhere he chooses. And he still has quality family time through the year and has a large and growing circle of friends.
Other friends are empty nesters and live in a large home on acreage with an outbuilding and a pool. Their life and home are uncluttered and organized and they are actively involved in their church and outside organizations.
Organize also means getting your personal affairs in order. No matter what your age, if you’re an adult you should be managing your finances and your legal affairs; i.e., powers of attorney for health care and general use, will and trust, estate planning, and retirement planning. It doesn’t matter if you’re 21, 52, or 83; this is essential. It keeps things simple for you and for your heirs, particularly as you age and transition from independent living to assisted living to the potential of full time care. We’re living longer these days and we’re surviving longer with serious illnesses and physical limitations. Follow that Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
Now for the first principle: Life is about people, not things. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t have a hobby or other personal interests. In fact I believe hobbies and personal interests are essential to maintaining your sanity while in caregiving and multigenerational situations; i.e. living in the sandwich. For me, people make life worth living. I love spending time with my wife, my parents and in-laws, my children, my grandchildren, my siblings, and my friends. I enjoy the time I spend working together with my business associates to create successful organizations that fill human needs.
That may sound strange to many family members and friends who know me as quiet and reserved. The real me loves that time together, one-on-one or in small groups building stronger and deeper relationships. But I admit, I’m not a party animal and I greatly value my personal quiet time for recharging. And I prefer a few deep relationships to a large number of acquaintances. I’ll probably never have 500 Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections. Still, it’s about people, not things.
And with multigenerational living, life in the sandwich, and caregiving it is most certainly about people. None of those situations are easy, and if you don’t build strong relationships with the others sharing your situation, life will be downright hard. With strong relationships life can be very rewarding; you can make a difference for other people. I guess when I finally check out I’d rather leave behind a flood of good memories and people who I’ve helped, and not just a pile of junk someone else has to clean up.
Have you simplified and organized? Are you ready to be focused on people, not things? Then you might be prepared for the challenges of caregiving, multigenerational living, and living life in the sandwich. If not, maybe it’s time to get busy.

Getting busy…Pondering Pops

20140107 – Reflections and Resolutions

I’m back, it’s snowing, it’s cold and getting colder, and I love it. I mean I must love it, right? It’s Michigan, and I choose to live here. Of course I also love my serious snow thrower and my down parka with deep hood, both of which make the occasional bout of really raw winter weather tolerable. Anyway, I’m back to writing after a nice holiday break; and thinking about the new year and how it will be different from last year.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any? Have you broken any yet? I think maybe I don’t like them and often break them if and when I make them, because I don’t make them about the right thing. So what would be the right thing about which to make a resolution? Hmm…
Maybe if I reflect a little on the last year something will come to mind. Big family changes, big moves, tough business cycle, improved retirement outlook, fun visits to both east and west coasts, 400thBirthday Anniversary Reunion, no camping at our favorite retreat, continuing marginal health, conquering major depression, suffering minor frustrations, happy times with grandchildren and family, reconnecting with old friends, losing an old friend too soon, making new friends and even starting and maintaining a new blog that a few people actually read.
What’s the common thread? I think it’s my attitude about what made me happy, what made me sad, and what made life worthwhile for me. Those times when I was happiest were the times I was with family and friends doing things that were new or just catching up on things that weren’t. When I disappointed others, I also disappointed myself. When I was moping around others ended up being down, too. When I was happy the people around me also seemed happy. When I wanted someone to change I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t in control. And what is the only thing I really am in control of? Me.
I can’t control others, nor can I control what they think of me or expect of me. But I can control what I expect of me, and I can make those expectations realistic and achievable. I can push myself and set the bar high, or I can make it easy and set the bar low. Whatever I do, I need to be happy with and love myself, and feel like I’m making a difference in the lives of my family, friends, and others.
I don’t know if I can lose 75 pounds, but I do know I can weigh less at the end of the year than I do now. I don’t know if I can exercise 150 minutes a week, but I do know I can exercise more than I do now. I don’t know if I can maintain a paleo diet for the year, but I do know I can eat more wisely this year.  I don’t know if I can close $50,000 in new business this year, but I do know I can close more business than last year. I don’t know if I can sing in the choir for the whole year, but I do know I can sing in the choir now.
I can’t undo the past, but I can move in a good direction starting today. I can take each day as it comes, as the present, as the gift it is, and make the best of it. If I don’t make the best of it I can forgive myself and start over tomorrow.
This I can do; this will be my resolution on this, the first day of the rest of my life…Pops

20131220 – My Reason, My Season, My Choice This Christmas

Despite the three “My”s in the title, this post is not about just me; it’s about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and my love for Him, and my joy for this greatest of all gifts that God gave to all the people of the world. It’s about my excitement that Jesus survived to the appointed time through the grace and love of God, his family, his friends, and his followers. It’s about what he taught me through the Gospel stories. And it’s about what God taught me through the prophets and believers and the stories they told that were captured in those books of the Bible written so many centuries ago. Note too that while this is written in first person singular, my wife contributed to this piece and she and I are of one accord; we together speak these things with one voice, and one heart.
I firmly believe that what I understand about the Bible, and how I live consistent with that understanding, and my complete and unconditional acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal savior are sufficient for my salvation and entry into God’s kingdom here on earth and in Heaven. Beyond what I understand about the Bible, I do not know conclusively what else Jesus may have taught, nor do I choose to assume anything beyond his lessons and stories documented in the Gospels. Consequently, I do not believe that God will condemn me to eternal life in purgatory or hell for choosing to celebrate the giving of His matchless gift, Love, through His son Jesus Christ.
So how do I explain to my grandchildren how and why I choose to celebrate this great gift from God? This is what I will tell them.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth because for me it is an overwhelmingly joyful event and for me the greatest gift humans were ever given. I know that it was not the custom or the culture to celebrate birthdays two thousand years ago; but that was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth in late December because it is a time of change, it is a time of clearing the slate, and it is a time of preparing to start another season of life. In our climate it is a time of peacefulness and quiet and stillness. It is a time of stark beauty. It is a time of brightness in the night sky. It is a time of great expectations for the future. I could just as easily choose to celebrate in the spring, another new season, but that is a time of rebirth when I celebrate his death and resurrection. I could choose to celebrate at the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth which may or may not be a more accurate choice from the standpoint of the ancient calendar. I do not choose because the Council of Nicaea chose the Feast of Saturnalia nearly 1700 years ago. I do not choose because of the modern culture I have lived in for over 60 years. That was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth with the giving of gifts to those I love and cherish. God gave the greatest gift of all, His love through His son. How can I not pass that gift along through the gift of my time and love to my family and friends and even my enemies as Jesus taught me to do? Will God condemn me if I give tokens of my love and affection along with that love and affection? I don’t think so. Historically the Magi gave gifts to honor Kings; gifts were not given on birthdays. That was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth by placing mementos of God’s love, and my family’s love and of special events on a fir tree, a tree that maintains its color through the seasons and reminds me of another of God’s great gifts, this Earth and all life upon it. I could just as easily not keep any mementos, or I could place them on a mantel, or a table, or a shelf. Western Europeans used a tree for other special events and pagan purposes centuries ago. But that was then, this is now, and I choose.
I choose to celebrate Christ’s birth with the majority of my Christian community so we can raise our voices together.  I want to join my voice with others and sing the beautiful and moving songs of the season; the songs of faith and joy and love.  I choose to celebrate in fellowship…I choose.
My choice poses challenges, a kind of Christmas conundrum when it comes to those I love who choose differently. I can settle into the gloom of our different choices, or I can choose the fact that those I love still celebrate Jesus’ birth and life joyfully, however and whenever they choose to do so. And I choose joy.
It troubles me that there is so much discord these days about the holidays and the reason that Christmas was created and celebrated as a holiday. It troubles me that consumerism and materialism have encroached on the religious nature of the holiday. And it does trouble me that the decision by the Romans to position Christmas on December 25 was in effect co-opting a pagan celebration. But I believe it was done at least to some degree with the intent of making disciples for Christ, and that’s not a bad thing.
No, I don’t believe God would condemn me to hell for celebrating His son’s birth as I choose to, any more than He would condemn me for choosing to worship as a Methodist instead of as a Calvinist or a Lutheran or a Baptist or a Catholic.
It’s a long explanation that my grandchildren are not yet ready for; and it will come out gradually as they begin to ask questions. Until then I will happily celebrate Christmas at least twice each year, once with my daughter and her family at Sukkoth, and once in December for me. In fact, I think I’ll just celebrate Christmas every day of the year by giving the gift of time, love, and the occasional gold, frankincense, and myrrh when I can’t be the hands, feet and heart of Christ in person.
And to all of you readers out there, know that when I wish you a Merry Christmas, it’s only because I know what I celebrate, but I don’t know if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Ramadan, or even Festivus. All I wish for you is joy and peace no matter how or what you celebrate this season, your choice…Pops