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Archive for September, 2012

What We Really Fumbled with Monday Night Football

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

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

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

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

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

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.



Find SOMETHING to Celebrate

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

We tend to save our non-holiday celebration efforts for rare occasions–college graduations, golden wedding anniversaries, and the like.  That’s too bad because celebrating is good for all of us—both the person being feted and those doing the hurrah.  It’s not always necessary to make it a big elaborate deal either.

In the last two weeks, I have been to a wedding, a funeral, and two birthday parties. Let’s start with the wedding.

This is one of those official “rare occasions” but these kids were onto something a lot of us miss when planning that event.  This wedding was definitely designed to be a party.  The young couple was happy to be committing to each other and wanted everyone to be happy with them.  Our job as guests for the evening:  Have a good time.

Even the ceremony itself, performed by a funny yet legally authorized friend, was light hearted.  Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions, but frequently, they become high-stress, major productions.  Instead of a fun party, you end up observing an unfolding effort to make everything go perfectly.   Leave the big productions for Bollywood. Whatever you want to celebrate, focus on the fun rather than the fanfare.

The funeral was for a relative who died at the age of 85 after several years of horrible health.  In my younger years, funerals were solemn events full of fervent prayer for the person who’d died.  Now we celebrate life rather than mourning death—a vast improvement for all concerned.  We spent the time together remembering her in her prime and reliving the fun of years past.

The first birthday party was for a dear friend who turned 75 this year.  Turning 75 really means something to me.  It’s the time when the rest of us get to  acknowledge that the birthday girl or boy has earned their Merit Badge as a wise person.  Sounds like a great reason for a party to me!

The one we planned for this friend was designed as a surprise.  And we actually pulled that off!  This was a group of hikers.  We usually dress ready to hit the trail.  It was fun just to see everyone gussied up.

The first gift the birthday girl received was a crown of real flowers.  (A flower crown makes you feel pretty dang special.  I learned this as the recipient at a surprise party when I turned 59.) She ended up fielding questions from strangers at the restaurant about what was going on for the entire evening, but that was also part of the fun.  Our friend was radiant, and we all were happy together.

The other birthday party?  My own.  It was staged by my three-year old granddaughter.  I’d agreed to watch her and her six-month-old sister while her parents went to a class a few days after my birthday.  My son had taken the time to make chocolate cupcakes and luscious chocolate frosting before they left, but how we put them together and what we did with them was up to my older granddaughter and me.  She took the lead.

First, we had to be sure there was going to be dessert.  She announced at the beginning of dinner that she was going to be a member of the Clean Plate Club that night and she followed through on that.  After dinner, we carefully slathered two cupcakes with the frosting.  Then she insisted we needed candles.  Oh great.  How was I going to come up with them?  She confidently went to the “junk” drawer and found one.  Then she coached me until I found another.  (We had to have two so she could blow one out along with me.)  We put the candles in the cupcakes, I lit them, and she proceeded to sing the entire Happy Birthday song to me.  We blew out our candles.  Then we lit them again and sang the whole song to her.  What a perfect party!

No matter what the situation, there is something to celebrate—something to be happy about.  Sometimes it’s a formal event.  Sometimes it’s a cupcake with a three-year-old.  Sometimes, it’s just clicking your orange juice glasses at the breakfast table  to acknowledge that the sun is out and we have another day together.


Celebrating marks that moment as happy.  It reminds us that life is good—whether it’s happy stories about an 85 year-old loved one who’s just passed or a pre-school graduation.  Celebrating is about giving—recognition, laughter, and the shared happiness of seeing someone accomplish a milestone.  It’s the pinnacle of being “connected.”

Let’s not wait for the super special occasions.  Celebrate something.  Soon.