I have never been much of a spectator sports fan, likely because I’m not very good at sports. I’m blind in one eye, and my coordination is generally sub-par. As a kid I never imagined become a sports superhero, and I never looked at an athlete as a role model.
I accept the fact that many athletes do demonstrate exceptional skill and dedication, but since I couldn’t relate to their efforts, these attributes fell flat on me.
The roar of the crowd tends to grate on me, and I often find my mind wandering when I obligingly watch a game with others.
There is an exception to my laissez faire attitude, that exception being when a local team moves into a championship competition. It is odd to me that I can go from completely uninterested to very interested in short order. And so it is with the Chicago Cubs.
I am suddenly watching games, texting comments during the game to friends, and looking up information on the internet. Normally, my attitude towards a sporting event is lower than neutral. After all, the outcome will have little impact on the real world. With the Cubs in the World Series I feel differently. A 108 year drought, hexes, billy goats and bad karma… and I sit, and watch, and wait.
Last night I was certain that the Cubs would lose and I unconsciously found myself doing other things. That is until I got a text message with the simple statement, “Go Cubs.” I ran upstairs and flipped on the TV and watched slow action and slow motion collide into a magical dance of interest. Eventually, I went to bed waiting to be greeted by bad news in the morning. In contrast I was welcomed by their win. Now, they have to win two more games… just two more. I’m uncertain if I can stand it.
Perhaps the reason that I don’t watch spectator sports isn’t because I can’t identify with the athletes or their teams, perhaps it is because I become over invested. Another demonstration of my compulsivity. To have a life I need to detach and focus on other things. Two more games or will it be one more game… and then the Presidential election comes… ARGH!
In a good relationship I need to be solution focused
I live in a society that loves to play the blame game, and it is easy to fall into that mindset. When problems arise I can blame my relationship as an easy out. How often do I see couples engage in combat rather than working together to solve a problem.
It can feel temporarily good to discharge a frustration by blaming my relationship. There can be an immediate pleasure in such an action, and it often will temporarily delay dealing with the real life issue.
Unfortunately, temporary is just that, and if I pursue a blaming course of action I am certain to to face the same problem again and again. I want the relationships in my life to be productive and strong. I want them to withstand the difficulties that all connections are bound to face.
If I work with my relationship to solve problems, my relationship itself becomes stronger and the connection with my relationship grows deeper. I know that working together with someone opens both of our minds to new solutions and better outcomes. I understand that the act of coming up with a mutually acceptable solution to a problem serves as additional relationship cement. The immediate effort may seem hard, but the long term impact can be great, and can serve as a template for relationship solutions when other problems arise.
Today my goal is to be a solution focused person in my significant relationships.
In a good relationship I don’t expect the other person to make me happy.
I live in a what have you done for me lately world. I can meet any need at any time. Go grocery shopping at midnight? No problem! How about a eating a 4 course dinner at 2 AM? Easy! Can I purchase a hard to find item on Sunday at 9 PM? Absolutely! My life has become a life of instant gratification. I can get what I want, when I want it.
With impersonal texting it is easy for me to become self-serving, instead of serving. I don’t need to ask you how you are or how your day has been, all I need to do is text you with my request. Get together? Text! Do something for me? Text! Cancel an important event? Text!
My instant world has some unfortunate consequences. It can become easy for me to think of the important relationships in my life as objects, whose purpose is to serve me. Once I cross into that territory I can become insensitive to my relationship’s needs, and become only focused on my needs.
It can become easy to expect my relationship to make me feel happy, smart, funny or complete. Sometimes the excitement of a new relationship may make me feel artificially better about myself. However, that false belief quickly evaporates as a relationship grows, matures and becomes real.
It is up to me to develop my own sense of self. In fact, to give this power to another person is a disservice to both parties.
Indeed, a good relationship can make me a better person. However, the work has to be mine. I don’t want to be in a relationship that has a negative impact on me, but it is a mistake to constantly run from one relationship to another seeking an elusive and false sense of happiness. By working to improve myself, and by working to be a good relationship partner I grow, as does the relationship.
Today my goal is to cherish the important relationships in my life. Today my goal is to understand that my happiness and fulfillment need to come from within me.
I have a confession to make to you, I didn’t like my childhood very much. Although I will sometimes talk to my siblings about those years, I more often just pack away the memories and I live in the present. This has worked pretty well for me, but at a cost.
As I continue to grow emotionally it has become evident that my solution is not without flaw. To coin a well worn cliche, You shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
To go further in today’s tale I must broach a topic that some of you may find uncomfortable. That is the topic of a Higher Power, specifically a Higher Power who has a direct interest and concern for us. It isn’t fashionable to talk about such things in the nihilistic world that we live in. However, dear reader, this blog is a writing experiment for me. For this experiment to have any personal value I need it to be real. I’m less concerned about appealing to the masses than I am about my personal growth.
Over the years I have felt the power of something greater than me push me in various directions. Sometimes those directions have seemed nonsensical. Other times I have had outright resistance to them, as they seemed contrary to my personal vision. However, when I give in, the reasons why eventually becomes very evident.
One push has been to rediscover who I am ethnically, which means that I also need to rediscover and revisit my childhood. I am mostly Eastern European, with my grandparents on both side immigrating to the US in the early 1900’s. My parents could speak their native tongue (especially if they didn’t want us to understand what they were saying), and my mother cooked ethnic food. When I made a commitment to extricate myself from the discomfort that I called childhood I bundled together anything that reminded me of those times. Along the way I packed away who I was ethnically. I felt embarrassed that I had different customs and ate different foods than what I saw on the TV shows like Ozzie and Harriet.
Slowly, I have been given lessons in the importance of accepting my total self. That total self includes who I am ethnically. That total self includes my childhood.
One lesson started many years ago when I reconnected with my extended family. Another lesson has been more recent, the teachers being my children. Their friends come from many ethnic and racial backgrounds. Although all American, each group continues to celebrate their heritage with dedication and pride. When I see the value that they place in their heritage, it makes me want to value mine.
Recently I had another lesson, in the form of my friend Tom. Although Tom has lived in the US for many years he was born and raised in Poland, because of this he has a vast knowledge of Eastern European life .
Last Sunday I was visiting with Tom. Our schedule, the usual. Coffee, talk of food, brainstorming big ideas, and an errand or two. We finished a project and Tom looked at me with great seriousness and told me that he had a surprise for me. Surprises always peak my interest, and I was finally clued in that he was going to (paraphrase) re-introduce me to my culture. I’m not Polish, but pretty close.
After a very long car ride we arrived at Celina’s grocery in Lemont. A storefront establishment in a strip mall. After securing a grocery cart we proceeded. The immediate feeling that I had was an old one that was both familiar and comforting. Celina’s was full of products that would be alien to most, but felt instantly familiar to me. Canned products, sausages, bakery, bottles of items. Foods that I had forgotten for decades became immediately present in my head. Kiolbassa , kolach, jelly filled donuts, kapusta, brown mustard… on and on.
Tom moved up and down the aisles with the confidence that experienced shoppers have, as he tossed items into the cart. Some items for him, others for me. I returned home with two sacks of food.
That evening I prepared my re-found delicacies for dinner. Two kinds of sausage, brown mustard, dense sunflower bread, a smoked fish and a can of potted meat. Sliced and placed on serving platters, the taste test was a Kuna family affair.
I pulled off some of the smoked fish and placed in on my plate along with a thick piece of bread. I first took a bite of the fish, and without swallowing it, I took a bite of the bread. The process was automatic, as it was based on memories from childhood. The smoky, oily flavor of the fish perfectly balanced by the flat denseness of the bread. Instantly I was transported back to my past.
It is Saturday morning, I am sitting at our old chrome and Formica kitchen table with a melamine plate before me. The plate contains a smoked chub and a piece of solid rye bread with caraway seeds. My memory takes a bite of fish, and without swallowing it, takes a bite of bread. The memory feels good and there is a yearning for more memories.
I have tapped into a happy time when my parents would come home from the grocery store with bags of goodies. Smoked fish needs to be eaten quickly, as it quickly spoils. I can smell and hear the popping sound of coffee being brewed on the stove in a beat up percolator. At my side is my dog Bowser, begging for a treat. Our cheap Aiwa table radio sits on the old Kenmore refrigerator and it is playing music. The old 1920s style sink is filled with dishes, and conversation is bustling. Lively conversations, similar to those that I have with my own children.
The feeling is the feeling of belonging, not a feeling of being apart. The feeling shocks me. The feeling reminds me. It reminds me that my childhood did have some balance. It reminds me that it did have moments of happiness and contentment.
Suddenly I am longing for my aunt’s poppyseed cake, my mother’s famous goulash, and to hear the old phonograph playing the Kingston Trio and Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes. I want to experience the pleasure of Saturday morning cartoons and the Sunday funny papers.
I want the excitement that comes with the thought of the endless possibilities of what I could become. I want to phone my friend John on the old black rotary phone in the dining room, and have one of our many conversations whose only purpose was to let the other person know that we wanted to connect with them. I want to ride my Huffy bike to the park, sit on cement blocks, and smell freshly cut grass.
This flood of feelings travels over me like a wave of warm water. A wave that carries me off and away, if only for a moment.
The wave does not have the malice of the memories that I had buried. Instead, it feels innocent and hopeful. It reminds me of a time when I could take junk from the basement and create something useful and unique. A time when I could learn something for the very first time and be in awe of the information. The wave brings me closer to who I truly am, and further away from what people want me to be or expect me to be.
I find it amazing how God brings people into our lives, and how those people can take us in a direction where we didn’t even know we wanted to go to. The psychotherapy of smoked fish and dense bread.
This morning I felt queasy. My queasiness likely due to the Alieve that I have been taking for a sore right arm. A sore arm acquired when I fell while hiking a couple of weeks ago.
This morning I felt dull and tired. My tiredness likely due to the reality that I worked a thirteen and a half hour day yesterday. The same day that started out at 3:50 AM in the morning. The same day that I had a session with my personal trainer before I started my workday.
Queasy, dull and tired I sat in the health club parking lot and waited for my friend and running buddy. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be in bed.
My phone beeped and a text message from my friend popped up, “Forgot to set my alarm, coming.” It was clear that he too was having a less than optimal day .
With gym and garment bags in hand I went inside and prepped myself to face the treadmill. I didn’t want to run on a treadmill.
Mounting the rubberized mat I programmed the machine. I always start out with a walk, and then quickly push the speed to a run. Today I started out with a walk, but increased the speed slowly. I couldn’t go any faster. Stiff, queasy…. queasy, stiff.
The exercise music on my iPhone annoyed me so I plugged my earbuds into the headphone jack on the treadmill and listened to less than inspiring cable TV news. Now jogging, the political news was troubling and added to a general sense of unease.
I was sure that I had been running for at least 20 minutes, but a scan of the control panel informed me that I had only been moving for 11 minutes. Everything seemed an effort.
By now my friend was on his treadmill, and he was apologizing for forgetting to set his alarm. No apology necessary; my focus was on whether I could finish the run or not. It didn’t feel like it was a good possibility, but I pushed on.
I eventually successfully completed my exercise. I found a chair to sit and wait for my friend to finish.
Afterwards I concluded that today was a successful morning. Why? I started and finished what I set out to do. I did the best that I could. I felt slightly less stiff at the end of my exercise, which was an added bonus.
What about my friend? I believe he had a successful morning too. He didn’t use his alarm for an excuse. He took responsibility, and did the best he could. He showed up and ran. He met his commitment.
In part, I showed up because he was expecting me. In part, he showed up because I was expecting him. In our concern for each other we wound up also benefiting ourselves. It seems that our society has forgotten this truth.
We live in a society where it has become every man/woman for themselves. . A place where it is every racial or religious group for themselves. A place where it is every political party for themselves. When individuals or groups only think about their self-interest, bad things happen. When individuals or groups think about the greater good, everyone benefits. Why don’t we get it?
Today my goal is to realize that I am part of something greater than myself, my gender, my race or my political beliefs. Today my goal is to realize that when I go from “me” to “we” I not only improve the lives of others, but I also improve my own life.
20 CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD RELATIONSHIP- 5/20 GIFTS
In a healthy significant relationship I realize that the other party is a gift.
I have different categories of significant relationships in my life, including the subtypes of spouse, parent and friend. I live in a free world, as do the people that I have relationships with. There is no obligation on either me or any of my relationships to maintain a connection which each other. It is always voluntary.
It is not uncommon for me to hear from others that they have to remain connected to someone that they would rather not be connected to. Sometimes the reason is financial. Sometimes the reason is obligation. Sometimes the reason is, “For the kids.” Sometimes the reason is… Although these reasons can be valid, they should not be the motivation that should keep anyone in an unwanted relationship.
I realize that we are given little time on this earth, and that much of that time is already allocated to required activities, like work. I understand that I determine how I spend my unallocated time, and that I determine who I spend that time with.
Dear reader, you may be thinking that this is not the case for you. You may be thinking that you are stuck or trapped in a relationship. I would like to challenge that false belief. It may be easier to stay in a bad relationship, but the easy path is not always the best path.
With the above backdrop I choose my relationships. With the above backdrop I sever connections. With the above backdrop I understand that those people that I maintain a connection with are gifts who are given to me. Likewise, I understand that I am a gift to the other person.
Gifts are given freely. Gifts are carefully chosen. Gifts are given as an expression of love. There is no greater gift than the gift of oneself.
I choose to celebrate the relationships in my life in the sameway as I would celebrate a cherished gift, with awe and appreciation. I want my relationships to view me in the same way. How often do I see the opposite. Petty resentments, scorecards of who is giving more, laundry lists of insignificant past hurts… and so it goes.
I often see complacency of connection. The benefits of a connection becoming expected and unappreciated. The benefits are assumed as rights, no longer valued for what they truly are.
I will assess my connections with others, and move closer towards my healthy connections. I will assess my connections with others, and explore exit strategies for my unhealthy ones.
Today I choose to celebrate and to be grateful for the gifts of the relationships in my life. Today I will allow myself to view myself as a gift to those who choose to have a connection with me.
I started walking in January of this year. My friend said he would meet me for coffee at the Starbucks if I walked there. I considered his offer with a lot of fear and self-doubt. I was uncertain if I could walk 1.5 miles. With one foot in front of the other I did it. One day led to the next day. One week led to the next week.
I continued to walk, and then I started to jog. In reality it wasn’t really a jog, just a faster walk. I would move forward a few feet, only to collapse inward with tachycardia and shortness of breath. I would stumble along for a bit, and then attempt a few feet more. This accomplishment, trivial for most, but momentous for a person who became visibly weak climbing a single flight of stairs.
It is difficult for me to do things for myself. It is easier for me to do things for others. I know this about myself, and I chose to use this information to push myself forward. You see there was a little church that was just over the river from my house. The church on Jefferson Avenue was exactly one-half mile away. I pondered if I would ever be able to jog all the way to that little church. I thought it impossible, but something drove me forward. A few steps, then a few more. The interval between walking and jogging becoming shorter.
I motivated myself by imagining that I would do an inspirational video for others. The man who could barely walk, now able to jog a half of a mile! Like many of my grandiose ideas it started simply with me wearing a GoPro to film the event. Soon my imagination included my son with a camera behind me. Then my daughter would have a camera in front, and so it went. I even thought about the dramatic finale with several people clapping for me as I ran into the church parking lot, panting and near total exhaustion. The thought of doing something creative drove me forward. The thought that someone could watch the video and be inspired to improve their health drove me forward. I was jogging more and walking less. Never easy, but less difficult.
I selected a soundtrack for my proposed inspirational video. Strangely, it was a quasi spiritual from the play “Hairspray.” A song triumphing the strength of a group discriminated against. A song of hope and commitment. A song of a better life. The song resonated with me and the discrimination that I had felt. I would listen to the song when I would attempt to jog, and it pushed me forward.
All of the ideas, all of the planning, and then it happened. I’m not sure how it happened. I was jogging past the little church. I was jogging the 1.5 miles to Starbucks. Each 100 feet that had seemed so incredibly difficult in the beginning, now joined together. The creation of my inspirational video had become meaningless, as I was now running three times the distance. The purpose of my video was to inspire. The thought of making it was inspirational. I guess that the inspiration was intended only for me.
This morning I was jogging, not to Starbucks, but on a motorized and rubberized mat in an almost empty gym. Next to me was my Starbuck’s friend who was jogging on his own treadmill. Earbuds in my ears, iPhone playing “I Know Where You’ve Been.” Still not effortless, but less of an effort. I wondered… should attempt a 5K in the spring? One foot in front of the other. Right, left, right, left… one foot in front of the other.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Today my goal is to remember this.
If you haven’t already guessed, I tend to find lessons in simple everyday things. I don’t believe that everything has to be disaster to be significant. And so it is with today’s post on bran muffins.
As you may recall, I had been on a quest to come up with a simple breakfast that I could eat in the car. Muffins were the perfect solution, but the store bought ones were loaded with both calories and sugar. Two things that I was trying to avoid in my efforts to move ever closer to health.
I came across a simple low sugar bran muffin recipe and the results were pretty good. As I continued to make batch after batch I became over confident with my baking technique and muffin quality suffered. My last batch was edible, but the muffins were slightly gummy and very uninspiring. I ate them, but I didn’t enjoy them.
Back to the drawing board. What did I do to fix the problem? When the recipe called for soaking the bran cereal for 15 minutes I soaked it for 15 minutes, not the 5 seconds that I did last time. When the recipe called for a cup and a half of this, or a tablespoon of that, I used real measuring utensils, instead of “eyeballing” it. I even checked to see if the muffins were done by inserting a toothpick!
The result? My best effort yet! Even my wife Julie commented that they were delicious.
Today my goal is to realize that there is no substitute for doing things the right way when making muffins , or for that matter in life.
On Friday, after work, I went camping. I left for Baraboo directly from my Rockford job shaving a few hours off the total trip.
My day started early. I got up before 4 AM and headed off to the gym. There I met Tom, my co-camper. Tom and I are both helpers by nature, and that morning he reminded me, “Don’t forget to bring your hiking shoes.” I replied, “Already packed.”
I drove to Rockford, worked, and then I was off to Beloit to connect with Tom and Charlie. Less than two hours later, and we arrived at our campsite.
We had talked about the possibility of rain. We had decided that if it was raining we would pack up and leave. It was raining and it looked like it was going to continue to rain. Beyond rain, it was cold. What did we do? We decided to stay.
Shortly after arriving I heard an untypable utterance from Tom followed by, “I forgot my hiking shoes. I saw them in the laundry room and I made a mental note to bring them. Then, I forgot them!” Ironic, as he had just reminded me to bring mine that morning.
It turned out that hiking shoe issues abounded. Charlie had his, but they were soaking wet. I had mine, but they were dripping too. My feet were wet and cold, and that was just from walking about the campsite. How in the world would we be able to hike for hours up and down muddy and slippery bluffs? Wet plus cold feet equals one miserable hike.
To hike anywhere Tom had to buy some shoes, and luckily he knew of a great shoe store a few towns over. We piled into his car and off we went. Tom got new shoes, and Charlie and I did too. All waterproof.
We headed off on our muddy and slippery hike. We were cold, we were wet.. but we had happy, dry feet. It was a wonderful hike.
It is always a good idea to plan and prepare, but sometimes a mistake can have its benefits too. In this case the mistake of one made three hiker’s feet dry and happy.
My goal today is to understand that sometimes I can’t control everything. My goal today is to understand that on occasion my lack of control can lead to a better outcome.