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To Plan or Not to Plan?

To Plan or Not to Plan?

At the moment I am on the road–with a guy who prides himself on not planning. I am a planner. A very good planner.  When I take charge of something, it gets done–right, on time, under budget…all that.

So far, I have not gone into catatonic shock in this effort to not plan, but I am starting to ask myself some important questions. As in “How much of this trip should I really be doing his way?  Am I denying who I am in an effort to “get along?”  And the really scary one–“What do I gain by not getting it my way when I don’t?”

Maybe they are questions we all need to ask ourselves every once in a while.

I decided to try “his way” on this trip just to see if I could learn to be more relaxed about how I travel.  But this version is a whole lot less relaxing for me.  It’s the same issue we have with laundry.  He thinks it’s easier to do it when he runs out of clean clothes.  I do mine so that I always have clean clothes–which makes life simpler for me.  I don’t discover I need a certain pair of jeans washed twenty minutes before I want to put them on.

On a trip, when he doesn’t plan and I don’t plan, we end up checking into a dumpy motel at the end of the day exhausted by what we ended up having to do to get that far.   We pay way too much for the lousy lodging.  We miss things along the way that we might have liked to see because we didn’t know they were there.  We didn’t tag up with friends and family living nearby because we didn’t bring their contact information along.  But we do have total flexibility and plenty of room for spontaneity.  So it really is a matter of trade offs.

So I guess that’s what I’ve learned this time:  This “not planning” is harder, more expensive, and seems to me to net us less interesting days.  I’m not in favor of planning every second in advance–or even every day.  But thinking more about what might be part of where we are going and checking information about what that would add/subtract just makes for a more refined product–vacation.  But that’s me.  He’s just in favor of hitting the open road and seeing what happens.

So why are we doing it all his way?

Well…I said I would this time, and that’s a biggie for me.  I agreed to do this trip with minimal planning.  But there’s more.  I have spent two weeks making my own life more stressed for the sake of him having everything the way he likes it–every day.  What’s with that?  Why am I not admitting what I need and asking for it?

It is with horror that I have to admit that I am still running the old tapes…You know, the ones about the high priority of pleasing your man.  Argh!!!!!  That is not what I want to do.

We Need to Cheer

We Need to Cheer

Is it social glue or manic behavior when we root for our favorite sports team?

Okay, I confess.  I spent most of this afternoon watching “my” NFL team win after 3+ frustrating hours of not-as-good-as-we-fans-have-come-expect football.  That’s over 10% of my day and almost 20% of my waking time watching someone else play a game.  I am embarrassed to admit that—or at least I was.

I was particularly distressed once I realized that I’d done that with the time I needed to write this post.  But everything—even getting waylaid by a football game—happens for a reason.  This time around, it was to teach me that cheering for favorite team is an okay way to spend time.  So…since I have finally learned that, you get the short course.

The vast majority of us end up rooting for some team to win at something while we just watch at some point in our lives.  Many of us do it all year long, switching from sport to sportas the various  seasons begin and then end.  We spend a lot of energy at it, too.  Jumping up off the couch on a good play.  Stomping out of the room when “our” team does something awful.  Yelling at refs.  Then we rehash the weekend contests at work—or wherever–on Monday… Tuesday… Wednesday…

Why do we do this?  That’s the question I asked myself after I realized I had spent my Sunday afternoon at it.  Why did I do that instead of cleaning the garage?  Or writing the great American novel?  Or even calling a good friend for a long phone conversation?  My assumption was that I’d chosen the potato chips rather than the veggies in how I had used my time—and that everyone who chooses likewise is just as derelict.

But when I started to research why we cheer, I came across two things that have given me a major change of heart.  The first is TJ Dawe, one of the guys behind Beams and Struts, an online magazine that carries the tagline “A Project for Hungry Brains and Thirsty Souls”.  TJ is not a sports fan.  Usually those who aren’t are rather aloof about all this cheering and whoopla.  Instead he embraced discovering the “why” of it.  It was not “How do I show how wrong all these people are for doing something I don’t do?”  It was “What makes us, as a culture, do this?” TJ and his cohorts dedicate the magazine to this kind of thinking.  It’s 180 degrees from all the “we/they” stuff we’re mired in these days and was incredibly refreshing—so much so that I ended up watching his entire TEDx Manitoba talk before I got back to the task at hand.  He wrote an article on why we cheer for Beams and Struts that’s worth checking out, too.

But I digress.  What I learned—which he learned, in part from Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich–is that our current mores around sports teams have deep, important roots.

As Dawe put it, “For hundreds of thousands of years, there’s been a strong adaptive advantage in feeling the pull to be part of a group. I am them. They are me. Their efforts are mine, and vice versa. I look out for them, they’ve got my back too.”  In other words, the grumpy guy who doesn’t bother to get involved with the rest has been, over the millenia, more likely to meet a quicker demise as a result of his separateness.

We don’t hunt woolly mammoths together anymore.  We don’t go out to gather acorns or wild rice and millet with huge wild animals on the prowl.  But that sense of banding together is still wired in.  So we gather to urge “our” team on to victory instead.  A symbolic successful hunt.

When I started this article, I had a second question in mind:  Why don’t we cheer for ourselves instead?  Why don’t we use that energy to make something happen in our own lives instead of going crazy over a bunch of overpaid jocks?  I honestly believed that’s where this article would go—to a “we can do better than this” conclusion.

I can’t say that.

When we go nuts as sports fans (assuming “nuts” is legal and that you’re not so obnoxious you get kicked out of the venue), it’s a chance to be part of a “we.”  And we need “we” opportunities.

So connect and go crazy for a few hours every once in a while.  Even the zany fan behavior is consistent with the carnival nature of the sporting events of the Middle Ages, when we were closer to those “you have my back, I have yours” days.   It really is very old, important behavior for the sake of the species.

Plus, life is not always about getting things done.  Even if they lose, you’ve been a part of something bigger than yourself for a while.  And that is good for all of us.  Besides, no one ever died saying, “I should have had less fun.”


Words for 2013

Words for 2013

What words do you want to define your life in 2013? The right ones might make a difference in how things unfold for the next 12 months.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve come upon two different sets of “words to live by.” Both were offered as a way to improve the quality of our time here on earth.

The first set belongs to spiritual author Eckhart Tolle.  His three words are ACCEPTANCE, ENJOYMENT, ENTHUSIASM.  I like those words, even though there’s no catchy acronym for using them.  (“AEE”  sounds like a mouse is loose in the house.)

“Acceptance” is the first step in making life sizzle.  You won’t have a dime’s worth of success–or fun–if what you think you are doing doesn’t mesh with reality.

“Enjoyment” belongs on everyone’s plate, but too often, we assume someone else is supposed to dish it up for us.  What am I going to do to be sure I ENJOY my life?

And “enthusiasm”?  Well, it’s one of my favorite words, trumped only by it’s first cousin, exeburance.  Let’s hear it for being–and staying–exited!

Accept, enjoy and stay excited.  Sounds like a pretty compact recipe for a good life.  I gotta try that one.  (Again.  This set came from notes I took several years ago. How can I forget such important things so easily!)

The second set of words is from book marketing guru Brian Jud in his December newsletter.  His set has four words.  He offered them in the context of writing and selling books, but they are actually as generic as Tolle’s.  Jud’s set:  DISCOVER, ADAPT, RESPECT, EMPOWER.  (The first letters from his turn cleverly into the word:  DARE.)

He offered the words, but I’m adding my take as I present them here.  (So if you hate what I’m writing here, don’t blame Brian.)  For me, DISCOVER means you need to explore what excites you and use that to keep yourself motivated.  Doing what you love is the fastest way to success no matter what you are trying to do.

ADAPT adds the fact that you need to work within reality  Life is a lot easier if you’re working at coming up with effective ways of dealing with what’s actually going on around you instead of trying to solve what you thought was going on last year–or the year before that…or never.

You need to RESPECT yourself first–and that’s Jud’s point.  But take in farther than that–do what you can to respect everyone and everything.   Respect requires equal parts  of tolerance,  humility and wisdom.  Much as it looks weak, it has great power.  Respecting others builds bridges, spans chasms, and links worlds.  (And disrespect throw everything off kilter in a heartbeat.)

With his last word, EMPOWER, Jud also points inward, as in “empower yourself.” That is good advice, for sure, but you can gain even more from it by taking this farther, too.  When you empower others, your effort comes back to create even more energy for yourself.

It really doesn’t make a lot of difference if you use the nouns (ACCEPTANCE, ENJOYMENT, ENTHUSIASM) or the verbs (DISCOVER, ADAPT, RESPECT, EMPOWER).  The real key is in using something.

Much of the time, we rush around just trying to get everything done.  But when you put the daily manic effort in the context of prioritizing that comes from word maps like the two I’ve just described, life can take a calming turn.  They don’t have to be these sets of words.  Maybe you’d be happier with ones you came up with on your own.

What are you trying to do with 2013?  Bubble?  Meander?  Forge?  What words energize you when they come to mind?   Giving?  Rest?  Forgiveness?

Instead of New Years Resolutions, maybe it’s time to try a word map.



Being Perfect Is a Bad Idea

Being Perfect Is a Bad Idea

Perfect is for amateurs. Happy people don’t worry about perfection–in themselves, in those they love, in what they experience, in what they acquire. I have spent way too much of my life being this kind of beginner though.  And you probably are doing more of it than you realize.

The expectation that things have to be perfect before we can just enjoy them has deep roots in the way a lot of us were raised.  It may have started as an overly critical parent, but more likely, it came from people who clearly telegraphed that they were on your side–and just trying to help you become the best person you could be.  It’s important to strive for improvement.  That’s an essential piece of living a good life.  But using feedback to do even better than what you did the last time is different than deciding you’re inadequate because what you did the first time wasn’t 100% perfect.

A lot of what we learn growing up becomes outdated or was just plain wrong to begin with.  Our ideas about being perfect are in that category.  My entire family (of nine) considered Mom the font of all knowledge when it came to facts.  We would bring the interesting rocks we found in the wild places to her for identification.  In particular, I relied on her for the names of flowers or weeds. All I needed was to remember what she’d said, and I’d be right.

Not really.  I’ve had the chance to dig into gardening on my own for decades now and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned was “Mom was not always right.”

I wish I’d learned that before she died though.  Our mutual dance of expecting ourselves–and each other–to be perfect ruined a lot of good times we could have had together.  Instead of savoring the strong women we were, we kept poking at our own and each other’s imperfections.  This particular dance didn’t even involve a lot of words about the situation.  The expectation of perfection was a given.

Being perfect is a bad trip.  It’s like flying to Hawaii and then sitting in the closet of the condo the whole time you’re there, dwelling on how dark it is.  Expecting other people to be perfect is not good for them, to be sure, but it’s even harder on your own good time.  Yes, sometimes a person uses the argument “I can never do anything right in your eyes” to mask controlling behavior of his/her own that sabotages a relationship.  But if you are expecting perfection from that person (and most likely yourself in the bargain), there’s some painful truth in the lament.

Seeking perfection ruins your enjoyment of what’s already there.  Expecting it in others sends a message that they are not good enough unless they improve.  Every time you find them less than what you think they should be, the chance to enjoy each other’s company erodes.  That’s a highway to loneliness over the long haul.

When you do it with your kids, you set them up for the same dissatisfied life.  If you insist that every detail of what they’ve done be perfect, you teach them that as adults, they must take that same “high road.”  And thus, this most negative of all behaviors gets passed on, often with few words and even less scrutiny.

Perfection is not possible.  Many of us can accept this truth rationally.  Some of us embrace it spiritually.  But a lot of us add, “but I’m going to doing everything I can to be perfect anyway.”  That caveat sets everything you experience up as “not good enough.”  Because you’ve decided you’ve been specially annointed to be perfect, you must always get it all right and everyone you interact must be perfect as well.

You’re telling yourself you don’t do that, right?  You may want to take a deeper look.  Most of the judgements we pass are attempts to make our own world perfect.  When you take issue with what someone said, did you do it because the comment was really that unbearable?  Or did you decide that the person “should” be treating you in a more perfect way?

None of us are going to get it all right.  And we certainly aren’t going to get it all right all the time.  Letting go of that expectation can be a massive stress reducer.  It is also one of the best ways you’ll find to get closer to those you love emotionally.

There will be differences that still need to be addressed.  That’s part of living with imperfection.  But your decision about whether to ask for a change in someone else or not needs to be based on whether the current situation is good enough, not on whether it’s “perfect.”



Take a Hike

Take a Hike

Yeah. Yeah. I hear you. You’re not that kind of person. A hike is so…well…physical.  Please.  Consider taking a hike.  It will change your life.

I come from a family of walkers.  We do it for the exercise, but just as often it’s to work off steam from something stressful, sort out a problem that seems—before our legs start moving—impossible, or keep a medical issue in check.  (One of my siblings has diabetes; he avoids insulin injections by walking.)

Even better than a walk is a hike.  A hike is a walk in a wild place.  One of my favorite Christmas memories is of an unconventional Christmas Day with my middle brother, hiking to a waterfall he wanted to see (in a downpour) and along a beach I love.  (And then having a fun dinner at a little French restaurant on the way home.  Perfect.)

Usually a hike is off the pavement, but even that’s negotiable.  A few weeks ago at Mount Rainier, we encountered dozens of people using walkers and even electric wheelchairs to hike.  The park has asphalt trails just above Paradise Lodge– very definitely a wild place.  So if you can’t make it without some mechanical help, don’t rule yourself out.

Hiking makes you strong—mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Go for it if you can. Not every hike will be to the Eighth Wonder of the World, but they all hold beauty and the chance to remember that we are part of something large and wonderful.  A hike is a way to connect—to nature, to the people with you, to others on the trail, to yourself, to the Divine.

You don’t have to live in southern Utah to be near a wild place.  Some city parks offer great hiking options.  (I have logged many miles in both Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and Hummel Park in Omaha.)  A wildlife refuge or a state park near you may have hiking options. You don’t have to start with the Appalachian Trail either.  Just find a path on public land and give it a try.

But be smart—go with at least one other person. Ask everyone you know about hiking if you don’t have someone to get on the trail with. I found a terrific hiking group via a public art advocacy group I belonged to.

Work on finding people to hike with if you have to.  Going with buddies is more fun.  And it’s safer.  That doesn’t mean you have to jabber the whole time you are on the trail.  Even when you are hiking with a group of twenty, you can spend part of the time in your own quiet space on the trail.  If a loved one is willing to give it a go, start there.  If not, look for organized hiking efforts that will give you a chance to meet others interested in getting out.

You can spring for boots once you know more about how and when you want to go, but wear sturdy shoes the very first time.  If you’re concerned about balance, take trekking poles or a walking stick.  (Ski poles work fine if you already have them.)  Learn about “the ten essentials.” If you hike in earnest, you want them with you.

Check with the information desk if you are in a park that has one.  See if there are online comments with current information about hikes in the area.  Talk to people on the trail.  (This often nets you a great idea for your next hike and sometimes people to go out with.)  If there are hiking guide books for your area, they’re great for not only finding the trailhead but also for giving tips on when the wildflowers will be in bloom or the fall color usually peaks.

You’ll amaze yourself at how far you can go eventually.  I hiked over 100 miles that first summer–in six to twelve mile chunks.  Most of those hikes involved at least 1000 feet of elevation gain.  Please don’t think I started this is good shape.  I wasn’t—but I was by the end of the hiking season!  I was just short of 60 that year, but some of the strongest hikers in our group are in their mid-70’s.  If you test yourself and try to do a bit more, where you end up is astounding.

Not every step of every hike is exhilarating.  It’s work.  But when you get to the destination you’re in awe both of the scenery and the fact that you got there.  It’s amazing.

Find a way. Take a hike.  It’s an exhilarating way to get outside.


Autumn — A Lesson in Losing Control

Autumn — A Lesson in Losing Control

Life works better when you’re willing to lose control every once in a while. Not as in getting angry.  As in letting what’s going on around you decide what you are going to do with your time.  Too often, we let what we had planned to do prevail.  The result can be efficient but pretty mundane as a lifestyle.

The fall of the year provides some wonderful reminders of this.  This week, the fall color at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park (which, for lucky me, is an easy drive and one of my favorite playgrounds) has reached a level of indescribable intensity.  The area also experienced its first snow of the coming winter season.  Two hiking friends and I were blessed to be on the trail when the two phenomena were playing out together.  You cannot plan that kind of high.

The hike took about twice as long as it may have on a summer day, but not because of the trail conditions.  We just kept stopping to take pictures.  And more pictures.  Of course none of them did the beauty justice (which is just as well for this post.  I promise I will figure out how to get photos into these one of these days).

But the point here is not about how lucky I was to get to see such beauty.  The point is that if I wanted to see it, it had to be on Mother Nature’s terms.  We weren’t sure what we were going to see until we got there.  We weren’t even sure we wouldn’t get rained out.  But we let go of our commitment to being “right” and being “dry” and just gave it a go.  The “go” involved driving a one lane mountain road on ice, too.  but something told us it was going to be worth all the “concessions.”  Oh, boy, was it!

You can put some punch in your days if you go with what the day offers sometimes, especially  in autumn.  It may be a trip to a pumpkin farm.  It may be a drive to your local fall color mecca.  It may be taking the time to stay home on Halloween to answer the door and give out treats to the little goblins in your neighborhood.  It may be taking your grandkids to jump in the leaves at a local park.  None of these things will wait until you finish the quilt you are working on or the shelves you are putting up in the garage. The leaves are not going to hang on the trees forever and Halloween is one night a year.

Once you retire, it’s tempting to insist that everything be done when you want to do it.  You can make your own schedule, that’s for sure.  But you lose a lot of the richness in life if you don’t allow room for spontaneity.

This is particularly true if you live in a climate that’s got some “iffy” months.  I live in the Pacific Northwest.  We definitely have “iffy” months.  From the middle of October to about the middle of July, our sunshine most often comes as  “sunbreaks” that don’t last all day–and sometimes don’t last more than fifteen minutes.  Those of us who are smart about it, see the sun and get outside to do whatever we were hoping to do in the fresh air right then.  Those of us who want control expect that “sunbreak” to still be there when we finish reading the paper or washing the windows.  Ha!

It’s the same deal if you’re in Omaha in January.  If the weather gets nice, get out there!

As a kid, my family made a point of going on picnics all year long.  I grew up in Wisconsin.  Yes, some of them were in the snow and some of them were in the mud.  But they were all adventures that incorporated what was happening at the moment.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but my childhood was rich indeed.  I’m thinking I would be better off if I put more of that “now-sensitive” activity into what I am doing at this stage of the game.

Once we no longer work, we’re the best  resource as an example for everyone.  Notice what’s going on and take advantage of what you can savor right now.  Let Ma Nature have her way.  (Or let a grandchild have hers and let her play at the park for as long as she wants.)  You only get to live this moment.  The times you let go of what you thought you were going to do to take advantage of what’s unfolding that’s better are going to be what you remember and cherish.

Life is much richer if you don’t follow the script. Autumn reminds us of that.


The Secret of “Livin’ Large”

The Secret of “Livin’ Large”

Living the Good Life is not a matter of winning the lottery. People who have come into a lot of money often end up more miserable–and destitute–than before the “lucky” event.  Still, our fantasies are about having life suddenly become wonderful because we have all the money we could ever hope to require.

Remember the adage “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need”?  Well, that applies to money as a resource for “livin’ large”–in capital letters!

It’s not about “being able to have the money to do whatever I want.”  Money isn’t what’s stopping most of us.  We don’t put our priorities where our hearts are and then blame not having enough money for the disappointment.

Let’s try an experiment.  If you could do anything you chose with the day you are currently living, what would it be?  How many of you said “Buy a Ferrari”?  How many said “Buy a huge house with a massive pool and hire ten servants”?

It’s not the stuff that money can buy that makes the biggest difference.  Perhaps you said “Take my family on a cruise.”  Yes, that does take money, and you may not have it.  But what you want is some special time with your loved ones.  A cruise would be nice, but not doing anything because you can’t afford that keeps you from “livin’ large.”

There are all kinds of affordable directions to go with your fantasy of taking the family on a cruise.  You could do a “virtual cruise” where every family member chooses a port of call and then provides the images and information so everyone else feels a bit like they’ve been there.  (That means you would not be limited to a real route either.  On the web, going from Paris to Phuket, Thailand is just as fast as going from Minneapolis to St. Paul.)

Or you could invite everyone to your place for an overnight and do the “shipboard” things yourself–midnight buffet or elaborate dinner (with friends as staff), elegant clothes expected of the “cruisers”, ballroom dancing–or whatever parody of it you want to invent.

What you need is fun with your family.  Don’t wait around for someone to drop a wad of cash in your lap so you can do something someone else is trying to tell you and sell you as fun.

One of the most distressing aspects of our high-tech, buy-it-right-now culture is that we’ve forgotten how to invent fun.  We can chose any movie we want “on demand.”  We can buy clothes at midnight sitting at the computer in our underwear.  That progress may give us a lot of things “instantly” that we had to wait days or weeks and mount multiple shopping trips for before.  But it has left us a bit short in terms of creative success at coming up with an alternative when what we “want” is something we know we can’t afford–or find.  (It’s also whacked the daylights out of our ability to say “no” more often when “affording it” is a stretch.)

Livin’ large is about doing what you really want to do.  If your values and your actions are not in sync, no amount of money is going to make you happy.  If you are doing what you believe is the most important thing to do, most–if not all–of time, you are most likely grinning from ear to ear far more often than those more affluent and more rudderless.

If you want to feel rich, start with what you do with your time.  Annie Dillard said it well:  “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Do what you believe in.  Focus your time and energy on the people and things you enjoy.  Publisher’s Clearinghouse may come along anyway.  If so, you will find that a lot of money is nice, but a lot of meaning is better.

What We Really Fumbled with Monday Night Football

What We Really Fumbled with Monday Night Football

At the moment, our nation is in a fit of outrage over the officiating on Monday Night Football two days ago.  I didn’t watch it on TV.   I was at the game.  It was a decent game with a lot of unusual stuff.

I could talk about how ineffective the Packers were in the first half–with their Superbowl Champion quarterback getting clobbered in the backfield eight times.  (“Sacks” usually only happen a few times a whole game at most.)  I could talk about the Seahawks getting totally bamboozled by the changes the Packers made in their game plan at half time.  I could talk about the absurd number of penalties the refs called on both teams.

And, of course, I could talk about that last play of the game…which everyone is claiming to have omniscience on.  Many have taken it upon themselves to heap profanity on the guy the refs said caught the ball–who, to be honest, was just doing his job.  Many are insisting it’s time that the NFL solve the labor dispute with the “real refs” so this kind of thing stops happening.  Many insist the refs were wrong and the NFL should reverse the call–action well beyond what’s spelled out by the league as options for redress.

There is an amazing amount of attention being giving to this “flagrant abuse.” Ellen DeGeneres even lampooned it on her show this afternoon.

Lest you think I am biased one way or the other on the actual outcome, know this:  I was born and raised 40 miles from Green Bay, Wisconsin.  I will always be a “Packer backer.”  However, I now live in the Seattle area and I root for the Seahawks, too.  I wanted them both to win.  But I worked hard not to cheer for either one since I was there with my sister who is a Packers season ticket holder and my brother who is a Seahawks season ticket holder.   (They were both philosophical and extremely polite about the whole thing in case you are wondering.)

Were the refs spot on?  Of course not.  But stop vilifying them.  If you had the chance to do your dream job, would you turn it down because you didn’t know what you really needed to?  Yes, they aren’t as good as the officiating teams who’ve been doing it for years.  No, that does not give you, a spectator, the right to rip them to shreds.  Yes, the NFL needs to solve the related labor dispute.  No, we don’t get to be jerks because they haven’t.

The thing that bothers me most about the furor is the furor itself though.  This was one football game between two teams who don’t have a whole lot on the line at this point in the season.  A football game. 

It was just a game, a game that most of us weren’t even actually playing, and yet the whole country is yelling about it.

The amount of attention and demands for action that have come from it are worthy of a national emergency.  Which we just so happen to have on the horizon.  No one is yelling about that.

Congress has just adjourned until after the elections without getting anything done.  Again.  We all have a big stake in that.  Every time they chicken out and fail to deal with the hard decisions that need to be made, we all lose.  We are all in that game because it’s our economy that they are too timid deal with.  Where is the fury about that?

No one’s life is going to be better or worse  because a substitute ref made a “bad call” on Monday Night Football.  (And whether is was or wasn’t is simply a case of personal opinion–except for that ref, whose job it was to make the call.)  We are all at risk if our elected officials don’t get the job done.

The real fumble came on Tuesday morning when the nation got worked up about the outcome of a football game.  We are the ones who have our priorities screwed up if we can make noise about that and stay silent about what’s not happening in Congress.


Asking for What You Need

Asking for What You Need

Getting what you need is a lot more complicated than we want to believe–at least if you’re doing it right.  There are only two main pieces to the process: knowing what you need and being effective in asking for it.  But both of them are full of wrong turns, dead ends, and landmines if you aren’t paying attention.

Knowing What You Need

Easy as pie, right?  Not really.  Typically, we ask for what we want or what we think we need rather than getting to the real solution.  Wants are infectious.  I want an iPhone 5.  I want the newest Kindle Fire. I want to go home for Christmas.  What do I need?  To be connected to those I love?  To stay up to date with technology?  To feel successful because I can buy the latest toys?

Taking the time to think about what you really need instead of what might solve the problem will improve the situation dramatically.  I need more exercise than I am getting. I also need more order in my surroundings than the person I live with.  But I also need to feel like an equal with him.  I finally had an “Aha!” about all that yesterday.  I will get what I need if I do more of the housework than is “fair” as long as I understand that I need to and that what he contributes is a whole different piece of what’s going on around here.

Knowing what you need is a life skill we should be working on until the day we die.

Asking for what you need

Asking is not a slam dunk either.  If your request is laced with a sense of entitlement, whoever you’re asking is not going to see it the same way you do.  If it’s vague, that person is not going to see it at all.

Yesterday, I was playing in the garden with my sweetie.  It was hot, and we were doing significant physical work.  At one point, I was sweating enough that it ran into my eyes.  It burned like crazy–something I typically do not experience.

I needed to make it stop.  Since I tend to over-garb for gardening, I had on two sets of gloves (and I still manage to more dirt under my fingernails than any gardener I know). So  I asked my sweetheart to please dab my eyes with the tail of my shirt to get rid of the sweat.  Nothing happened for what seemed like a very long time.

I made the same request again.  And waited again.  Finally, he took off his own gloves and helped me out.  I didn’t ask him why he didn’t move faster.  Part of me wanted to think that he just didn’t care.  But the truth is far more likely to be that he didn’t understand.

If I’d been more complete in how I asked, I probably would have gotten a better response.  Instead of “please dab my eyes”, I needed to make sure he understood why I needed him to do it.  (Namely that I couldn’t see and could not get both sets of gloves off easily.) Or  I could have asked him to help me take my gloves off instead.  That would have also gotten me what I needed because then I could fix the actual problem myself.

What did I need?  A way to get the sweat out of my eyes.  What did I need from my partner?  Either doing that directly or helping me so I could do it myself.  I didn’t phrase it that way and that made the outcome feel far less supportive.

That’s a small example.  Knowing how to ask is not a small thing though.  Couch it so that the other person understands why you are asking for help instead of doing it yourself.  If you can, offer options.  If you need help immediately, make that clear.

There’s another piece to effective asking, too.  If you don’t get what you need, ask again.  If you don’t get it from the first person you asked, consider asking someone else.  Asking doesn’t mean you will automatically get it (but it sure improves your odds over expecting someone else to just guess what you need).  Asking is a step in the process that sometimes needs to be done more than once.

Know what you need and then ask for it.  Ask the right person.  Ask again if you need to.  And keep at it until you get what you need.

And let go of the nonsense that someone else should just figure it out for you and give it to you on a platter.


A Fair Experience

A Fair Experience

Have you ever been to the fair? This is the time of year for that where I live.  The crops are close to harvest, and it’s time to celebrate the wonders of local agriculture–and a lot more.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, a fair is where local farmers and ranchers gather to compete for “best” at what they do. These events have become a lot more than just a collection of ducks and rabbits in cages and cows being paraded around an arena though.  Most fairs have a lot going on.  It’s a great way to enjoy what you already love, but also to try new things, be it a bacon donut or watching artisans spin yarn.

This year, I went to our “half state fair” with a good friend.  (We live in a state bisected by mountains so the folks on the east side do a different thing.)  I have gone other years–with a spouse, a beau, a stepdaughter, a brother.  Each time was a very different experience.  I’m not a fair junkie.  I don’t “have” to go to the fair.  But when I do get there, I am always amazed at what I learn and what we do.

Learn new things. This time that was a draft horse driving demonstration.  (Think Budweiser beer commercials with different colored wagons…)  Did you know that Shetland ponies are considered draft animals?  I didn’t.  Other years I’ve learned about raising longhorn cattle, crafting custom saddles, and the rigors of 4-H sheep competitions.

You never know what you are going to learn if you just start wandering around.  That’s one of the really cool things about doing the fair.

Polish your buying skills.  Fairs have “commercial buildings” where vendors hawk their wares and fairgoers walk up and down the aisles.  This part is like any staged event–Home and Garden Show, Remodelers Weekend, etc.  Except the array of goods is broader.

There are two kinds of vendors at a fair.  Local businesses have a booth because it’s a great way to make local customers aware they exist.  They want your business on the things you are going to need to get done–cabinet refinishing, furnace and air conditioning needs, etc.  You talk to these guys if you need what they do.  Or sometimes because you already know them.

The other kind of vendor is the one who only exhibits at the fair.  You stop at these booths if what they are offering is unique.  Some of them can be pretty aggressive about “you’ll regret it if you don’t buy this right now.”  Flex your retail muscles with those guys.

This year there’s a guy selling infrared space heaters at “$200 less than you can get them anywhere else.”  If you have a smartphone you can check that claim on the spot.  (Amazon is selling them for $200 less than he was asking.)

Another piece of the retail challenge is deciding if you really need whatever they are selling.  I saw some truly beautiful pottery in the artisans’ sale area.  I have a weakness for beautiful pottery.  But much of what I already own is currently in storage.  No pottery this year.

Then there are the things that it just might be fun to own.  We were intrigued with a system of small vinyl sheets that could be contructed different ways to make a lampshade.  I might have bought those just for the fun of playing with them.

This is the part of the fair where you have the most fun by saying “no” in the right places.  We all need to practice that.

Get Your Daily Dose of Fear. Then there are the places where you need to say “yes.”  I subscribe to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “do at least one thing every day that scares you.”  Not a big scare, just something that takes me out of my comfort zone.  At the fair, that may be standing in the dairy barn next to the pen with the massive bull, or it may be riding the Extreme Scream (Just kidding….).  You can get a little dose of fear a lot of ways at the fair.  (Eating a deep fried pickle probably even falls in that category.)

The great thing about the fair is that it’s such a wide array of possible experiences.  You can spend the whole day looking at the animals.  Or riding the amusement rides.  Or studying the quilts on exhibit in an attempt to figure out “how did they do that?”  All of it stretches you.  Stretching is good.