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

20131217 – Empty Nest, Full Hearts

A little more than thirty-three years ago our nest consisted of two humans and a canine. And then another precious little human appeared in our nest. We adapted and loved and nurtured and taught and raised that little person up in the ways he should go. About four years after that another little human graced our nest with her presence. And we adapted and loved and nurtured and taught and raised that little person up in the ways she should go. Others joined us in our safe and warm little nest for a little while or longer. And we sheltered and helped and supported and shared a little of our hearts with each of them before they ventured out again.
For all of these years our nest was never empty, until now. The little human who first appeared in our nest has become the last to leave, big and strong and mature, ready to make his own way in the world, his lovely bride by his side. As we helped them move over the weekend I began to ponder life in an empty nest, and found I wasn’t as excited about the prospect as I first thought I would be.
Part of living in the sandwich is caring for and taking care of your extended family, and feeling needed and important and loved in the process. How does that continue to work in their absence, when the sandwich is no more?
Our youngest left first and now lives on the other side of a continent; but we still talk with her almost daily as she shares the challenges of raising her own family and asks questions about so many different things that are new to her but facts of life for us.
Our oldest left last and now lives just a short drive away. Will we still talk with him daily? Will he call with questions about new challenges they face? Will he ask us over just to share a meal or fix something around the house? Will I still get to be a Dad every once in a while?
Many years ago, as he reached college age, I wrote a little poem, blank verse, about his leaving the nest. Now that time has finally come:
There he goes!  Made it out of the bedroom, now he’s down the hall.
Watch him turn the corner, Oops!  The carpet got him but that’s okay.
His first solo steps, and he wasted no time!
Traveled half the house on the very first try.
“How far can I go Daddy?”  “We’ll see.”
Lord, thank you for giving us a son.
“Wow Daddy, a shiny new tricycle, blue with silver fenders!”
“Here we go Son, put your feet right here, now push one, then the other.”
There he goes!  Made it down the drive.
“How far can I go, Daddy?”  “We’ll see.”
Lord, please protect our son.
“Hey Daddy, a bicycle with training wheels!  Thanks!”
“Here we go Son, just like your trike, but you need to balance.
Don’t worry, I’m holding on to the seat.  You can do it.”
“Okay Daddy, let go now.  I can do it!
How far can I go, Daddy?”  “We’ll see.”
Lord, please keep him safe.
“Daddy, these training wheels are really noisy!”
“Well let’s take them off, Son.  Now you steer and balance together.
Feel how it stays up, and turns if you lean?”
“Its tricky Daddy, but I can do it!”  “Lets try again.”
“How far can I go, Daddy?”  “Son, we’ll see.”
Lord, please comfort him when he falls.
“Gee Dad, this mountain bike is great!  Thanks!”
“Do you need some help Son?  Those gears are kind of tough to handle.
Feel each click of the shift, pick the right gear to get you up the hill.”
“I feel it Dad, sometimes it’s hard to pedal, sometimes easy.”  “That’s right, Son.”
“How far can I go, Dad?”  “We’ll see Son, we’ll see.”
Lord, please give him strength for the mountains he’ll climb.
“Hey Dad, Drivers’ Ed is a lot of fun!
But I didn’t know there was so much to learn about driving.”
“Lots of rules Son, but they come with the territory.
Remember, take care of the car, mind the rules, and be sensible.”
“How far can I go, Dad?”  “We’ll see Son, we’ll see.”
Lord, please show him the way, and give him faith.
“Car’s all loaded Dad; I’m ready to go.”
“Got everything you need, Son?”  “I think so.”
“What about…”  “Hang on to it for me, would you please?”
“Sure Son, remember to call, and write!”  “Thanks Dad, I promise I will!”
“How far will you be going, Son?”  “We’ll see Dad, we’ll see.”
Lord, walk with him every mile.
Hugs all around, then Mom and Dad retreat to the front room, 
and part the curtains a bit.
He backs down the drive, pauses, and signs “I love you” through the glass.
Holding each other, they mouth the words back, then wave as he pulls away.
Brake lights at the street corner…moist eyes in the front room.
She searches his face, “Will he be okay?”  His strained whisper, “We’ll see…”

Lord, we entrust him to you, and thank you for the privilege.

20131203 – Empty Nests and the Christmas Letter

Some of you are certainly prompt with your Christmas cards and letters! The first two arrived in the mail yesterday, emphasizing the big task on my list for the next few weeks; that of completing our own family Christmas greetings before the big event. I’m excited about the task ahead and looking forward to reconnecting with long-missed friends and distant family members. At the same time I have mixed emotions about this season. This just may be a hard to write Christmas Letter.
I always look forward to Christmas as not just a celebration of Christ’s birth, but a celebration of love and family and faith. It’s the giving of time and self much more than the giving of gifts that makes this holiday special for me. But this will be a celebration of mixed blessings, this Christmas of 2013. This year our home will feel more empty than it has in thirty-three years as this season marks the end of multiple generations sharing this place, and this space. It will be our first empty nest Christmas since we began our family a third of a century ago.
Oh yes, we’ll have plenty of family time, not to worry; but to wake up on Christmas morning to a quiet house, and not hear the squeal of little voices or the patter of little feet (or these days the gentle treading of my son’s size eleven slippers) will not necessarily be a welcome change. It will be a difficult adjustment, one that I do not anticipate with joy, one that will not provoke a, “Yes, finally have the house to ourselves again” kind of feeling (although I’m sure that sentiment will flash through my brain on occasion, perhaps in the middle of a steamy hot shower, or watching a movie in the family room in my pajamas).
Passages, reimagining life as I mentioned last week; that is what is being thrust upon us this Christmas season. And with no children at home, and grandchildren at the other end of the continent, this will be a rather abrupt shift to a new stage of life for us.
S and L, and D and I were working away at Mom’s condo Saturday, packing and painting and arranging, and sneaking in a quick pizza and soda for sustenance. It felt good and it brought back memories of our own first move to our own place. It’s a good thing to take on that responsibility, and the even bigger responsibility of being a caretaker for Grandma’s place for a time, a responsibility S and L are not taking lightly. Still, they’re excited to be moving out and taking this large next step in their life together as a couple.
Put in the context of celebrating new life, I think this Christmas will be exactly that, a time to celebrate the birth of newly re-imagined lives and the baby steps it takes to start down new paths, paths that may take us far apart, but at the end of life as we know it, will inevitably bring us back together in that sweet eternal, multigenerational home that my faith tells me is waiting somewhere down the road.
And speaking of Christmas Letters, are you for or against them? I have to say for, but with specific conditions: they should be limited to two pages or less including photos; and they should be directed at close friends and family with whom you have not been able to share the gift of time over the past year. I suppose a third condition might be that they cover major events or life changes, but not offer a blow by blow chronology of the entire year. But hey, that’s just my opinion, and how I approach my letters.
Christmas Letters are important to me because we have close friends and relatives who we rarely have a chance to see or talk with. I treasure those relationships but sometimes I have no way to share just how much they mean to me other than through a letter. The Christmas Letter is my way of reaching out and asking how they are and what important things have happened in their lives over the past year. And it’s my way of answering those same questions I assume they might have of me. Maybe I’m foolish to make that assumption, you know, that someone might actually care about me and my family the way I care for them. So be it; I’ll take that chance because Christmas for me is an affirmation of life and love and family and relationships. Oh, and if you’re friends or relatives who haven’t heard from us at Christmas recently and have been missing that connection then feel free to take me to task for that oversight; I’ve probably screwed up the Christmas Letter list somehow.
Empty nests and Christmas Letters; hmm…what strange bedfellows in the pondering business. Although that peculiar linkage may just get me past the emptiness I’m already starting to feel and warm up the old ticker enough to get me started on this year’s Christmas Letter…Pops

20131202 – Just Wow!

On Sunday afternoon my little suburb made me seriously proud, extremely ecstatic, and appropriately humbled to explore the absolutely beautiful performance spaces and supporting facilities of the new Jenison Center for the Arts. It is without a doubt one of the finest community performing arts centers I have ever been blessed to visit.

There are two groups of people who deserve special recognition for this accomplishment: the students of the Jenison Public Schools who have, through their persistent determination over the years to perform at the caliber deserving of Grammy Award status, demonstrated the need and the demand for a facility capable of supporting their gifts, talents, passions, and energy; and the residents who had the courage and will to invest their hard-earned financial resources in their community.

And let’s not forgot those visionaries whose determination brought this facility to life, who saw this project through, and the more than two dozen West Michigan contractors who contributed their efforts to its successful conclusion.

As I walked from space to space listening to our student guides describe the facilities and share interesting facts about all I could do was say, “Wow!”, lift my jaw off the floor, and again say, “Wow!” There are not adequate superlatives to describe just how remarkable a facility this is. It is destined to become the cornerstone of community pride and a magnet for new economic growth and expansion. I for one can’t wait; and I’m happy to be a resident in and beneficiary of all of the wonderful celebrations of the arts sure to be experienced in this place.

Did I say, “Wow?” Well then, “Wow!” it is…Pops

20131129 – Reimagining Life

I was reading AARP magazine (of course I’m old enough, it’s R rated for Retired!) and found one story after another worth pondering today; yes THREE DAYS overdue, I know. But hopefully you will benefit from more thoughtful pondering this week.
Marlo Thomas wrote a column called “On My Mind” where she shared some engaging thoughts on multi-generational bonding.  It’s a good read if you can get your hands on a copy of the October/November 2013 issue. Having grown up surrounded by her father’s comedian friends and movie and TV show producers her whole life she found herself always bonding with people a generation or more senior to her. She mentioned Pew Research Center survey results showing that 51 million Americans live in a household shared with two or more adult generations, up ten percent over the last three years.
She also talked about the wisdom shared and the education she received through those bonds. Yeah, I can relate; in my younger days I remember bonding much more easily with those a generation older than myself.  Not really sure why that was, it just was. I also found in her words reinforcement for my sense that multi-generational living can be a good and healthy thing, and very beneficial for all generations in the household. Providing of course that they learn how to live together as adults and give each other the space and the loving and nurturing relationships they need.
It seems to me like MG living was the order of the day for centuries and only in the last half century or so have we transformed from ‘we’ people to ‘me’ people. Nice to see, according to the Pew research that we may be tipping back toward more of a ‘we’ culture.
Another story talked about Valerie Harper’s determination and spirit in the face of a terminal illness at the age of 74; an age which doesn’t seem particularly old to me anymore now that I’m 63. There’s a lot to be said for a positive attitude, determination, and always putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how difficult the path we choose or have forced upon us.
The magazine caught me by surprise when I discovered identified in its pages the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, my adopted (at age 30) home town, as one of the top cities in the country for retirees with an income of under $30,000 per year. Huh? Well yeah! Housing isn’t too expensive, taxes are a sore spot but not horrible, and there are pro sports, concerts, cultural events, and recreational opportunities too numerous to mention all year ‘round, and lots of it free, yes maybe there really is an occasional free lunch! Two miles from my home I can hop on a bike trail network and ride dozens or even hundreds of miles on marked, maintained and vehicle free trails.
On Monday nights during the summer I can go to free jazz concerts with friends, and even ride my bike into town from the suburbs to attend the concerts if I want. I can watch sunsets on the beach of our own ‘West Coast’ (shark free!) and camp at over eighty state and two national parks within an in-state drive. And with a decent airport we can get anywhere in the country or North America for that matter without too much trouble. And for us aging folks health care in this city is not to be sneezed at; not with some of the top rated hospitals and specialists in the country. Not too shabby a retirement in my book.
And that brings me to the last interesting story, reimagining life. Now I know most of us go through a midlife ‘crisis’ regarding life and career choices, but how many of us really look at it as more of an opportunity, no matter what the triggering event, to reimagine what our lives can become? For many of us the crisis arises in our early forties when we have second thoughts about the path we chose. But almost universally we face this opportunity when we’re in our fifties or early sixties and considering retirement. Whether this opportunity is thrust upon us through loss of a job, illness, age, or relocation or it’s a choice we’ve made to change; what a great opportunity it is, to reimagine what our life might be like.
Until I was thirty, I pretty much got to live as me even with the divine Miss D joining me in my twenties. I chose my educational and early career path, and we did things for me, or us, like skiing, four-wheeling, camping, hiking, or just parking it and watching college football on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We didn’t worry much about health or family; after all, we were healthy and our families could take care of themselves. Yeah, we missed them some, but that was the extent of it.
From thirty to sixty it was all about family, raising kids, keeping an eye on aging parents, keeping up with the siblings, making sure we could pay the bills. Sure the midlife crisis hit, causing a fair amount of personal angst, some job changes, and rising concerns about the state of our future finances. It felt like a constant state of worry; even when vacationing at Mammoth Cave, or Disneyworld, or the Colorado Rockies.
So what can life be like from sixty-(three) to ninety? Maybe I can make a difference to small businesses in our community; a whole new semi-retired vocational track. I’ve been privileged to be elected Chairman-elect of our local chamber of commerce board of directors for 2015 – lots of opportunity to give back to businesses and the communities we serve. I like that.
On a personal level, maybe we can spend more time going to concerts, taking college classes, engaging in hobbies, camping, hiking, biking, taking up new sports like kayaking, building new friendships, living a little easier; in short doing more of the things we like but haven’t had time for over the last thirty years. Maybe we can travel enough to spend time with our children and grandchildren, no matter where they land. I suppose we’ll always worry about money, we just seem to be that way even though we already have enough to retire fairly comfortably. Reimagining life may require a little acceptance of “the way we are” and that’s OK as long as it ensures some caution and wisdom, and doesn’t keep us from living that newly reimagined life.
When you really start to reimagine your life you realize that you don’t have to be facing a radical change in circumstances, you can decide to reimagine your life no matter where you are in it if the time feels right. You also realize that regardless of the new path you choose you don’t have to do it all at once; in fact it’s probably better to take the changes slow and easy. That way you can always turn, stop, or back up without getting yourself too far out on a slippery slope.
In short, no matter how you reimagine your life, no matter where you are in life, regardless of your age or health, baby steps are a good idea.

Thanks to my grandson E (who I’m missing very much this holiday week) for helping me visualize stepping out, with baby steps, into a life reimagined…Pops

20131119 – Friends

I settled into my usual spot this morning for some heavy duty pondering when, not unexpectedly, my buddy Stu wandered over, tray in hand, gently moved The Hat aside and settled into the chair across from me at my high-top table. I felt my throat tighten as I quickly closed my laptop and gave Stu, whose best friend Thomhad just passed away, my undivided attention.
Two hours passed quickly by as we reminisced about our relationships with Thom and each other over the past 33 years. We talked about all of the railroading we had done together, but we talked more about the camaraderie we shared that transcended the hobby. More than once the corner of Stu’s eye glistened as he recounted the times of need when his friend was there for him and how he returned the favor when his friend needed him. How often did we stop talking just to let the raw emotion pass before we could speak again? And when he said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him…” I truly began to understand the depth of their friendship.
It is a friendship that stands the test of time and distance. It stands the test of disagreement and frustration. It stands the test of personal strife and pain. It spills over into the rest of the family. It swells to engulf whole groups of people. It is a friendship that has a beginning, but no end.
Oh how I have missed that connection, that group of friends, that band of brothers and their families, as I moved on with my own family and my life. Friends often bridge time and distance like it was just yesterday. But what of the opportunities lost between those times, during those gaps when the relationship is left un-nurtured and ignored? Those lost opportunities become the seeds of regret and loneliness. And unfortunately for me, I have tended those seeds rather than those friendships far too long. Lesson experienced…and understood…but not yet applied.
I suspect we’ve all learned that lesson at least once, if not many times over. And I know that we sometimes make conscious decisions about friendships that no longer seem meaningful to us.
Many years ago my wife and I found a story about “little while” friends and shared it with our daughter when she made new friends during our week long camping trips, in hopes that she could appreciate those times when she might bond with someone for a time, only to leave that relationship behind as she continued on with her life.
I think it behooves us all to examine our relationships carefully, and recognize the difference between little while friends and lifelong friends. We can’t afford the mistake of casting off relationships thinking they were just little while friends and suffering the resulting pain of regret and loneliness instead of enjoying the love and happiness that comes from nurturing a group of lifelong friends, friends that become part of our earthly family.
For Stu and Thom it started with a meeting at a local hobby shop. It grew and flourished. And it won’t die just because Thom did. We all leave a legacy; part of Thom’s is an undying friendship.

What about yours … Pops

20131118 – Thom

It’s been a weekend filled with fond memories and regrets as I learned Sunday afternoon of my friend Thom’s passing. It’s Thom, not Tom, as he was quick to note when we first met over thirty years ago. It was early in 1981 and we had just moved from Colorado to Grand Rapids, which, as I knew from my model railroading connections, was a hotbed of model railroading activity and the location of a nationally published author and modeler, Dr. Bruce Chubb and his Sunset Valley Railroad.
As I worked my way into the local division of the National Model Railroad Association I eventually connected with Bruce and Thom and was invited to work on the railroad Bruce was always writing about. Thom was a long time associate of Bruce’s and a respected operator on the SV as well as an accomplished model railroader in his own right. He along with several of the other operators and builders of the SV, showed this young thirty-something lone wolf of a railroader the ropes, and welcomed me into the operators group which would become known as the Kenowa Valley Switching and Sipping Society.
Thom encouraged me to be more active in the hobby and in the local organization; and eventually promised to serve as my Vice Chair when our local division hosted a successful regional convention in 1988. He taught me more about railroad operations including dispatching and modeling and we collaborated on programming software on a new at the time TRS 80 PC to help with simulating the scheduling and car forwarding that would occur on a real railroad.
Over the years our little band of railroading brothers worked on and operated on each other’s railroads and had some great fun together including hazing and teasing, and the Christmas Parties and tongue-in-cheek annual Golden Spike award for not so distinguished events; well, you had to be there.
As my interest in model railroading waned and family events took priority I regretfully let my relationship with those guys slide and eventually stopped operating and building with the boys. It had been the better part of 15 years since I was actively involved with the KVS&SS when I ran into one of the group while blogging in my normal hangout one Tuesday morning a few months ago.
During our chat I told Stu I’d really be interested in seeing the group and operating with them once again. He put me in touch with Thom who promised me he’d add me on the Extra Board when he needed operators, and proceeded to do that just a few weeks later. Unfortunately, I was sick on the appointed day, and with Thom suffering from pulmonary fibrosis I passed on the opportunity to avoid infecting him. Shortly thereafter Thom came down with complications, went to the hospital, was placed in a drug-induced coma, and passed away.
I had waited too long…and life caught up with Thom and me. He was a good and trusted ally, a loyal convention companion and co-worker, and a steady coach and mentor. And I lost the chance to tell him that one last time.

He was my friend, and I will miss him more than he will know…Pops