Category Archives: personal growth

Who Is Stopping Me?-Me!

What is stopping me?  Me!

Despite all of my efforts, I can still be a victim of my own imposed limitations. My personal flaws bother me.

I have been reasonably busy during my retirement year, and have grown in a variety of ways. I have been fortunate to use my photography skills to do work for others, and I wholly enjoy the challenges that those opportunities have presented.  Every time I create something for someone else, my photography grows a little more. However, I am bounded by the expectations of the client. The constraints of the job limit my creative vision. There is another area of photography that I am drawn to.  It is an area that has little commercial value. 

I walk early in the morning, and sometimes I’ll spy lights on in houses that I pass.  I always wonder, “Who is up in that house? What are they doing? What are they having for breakfast? Are they getting ready for work or school?  What kind of work do they do?” The questions continue in my mind. I ask myself similar questions when I drive through small towns and villages. In each, lives are moving forward, some successful, others less so. 

In the Midwest, many small and medium-sized communities are failing. Factories are abandoned; residents have moved to larger cities. Stores in the downtown areas are frequently closed or occupied by resale shops and bars. Houses are often in need of repair. These realities are especially evident in places ignored by interstate highways.  Once vibrant communities slowly die, a process fueled by decreased populations and reduced city revenues. Each house, storefront, and building tells a story, and every one of them is fascinating to me.

There are other discoveries to be made on rural roads.  Great barns, some shiny, others in ruin. Majestic parks, historical markers, and hidden vistas dot the landscape. All you need to do is to pause and look.  Sadly, few do.

There is a little boy inside of me who is full of wonderment. I have been fortunate to have a few people in my life who share similar excitement when discovering those things that most others would pass on.  These individuals have an inner child in them, and I am so very grateful that we have found each other.

However, I know of no one who has both the “wonderment quotient” as well as a love of photography. No one would find it interesting to go on a photo-taking adventure with me. Years ago, I joined a photography MeetUp group.  However, the group expanded so rapidly that it ignited my shyness, and I stopped going. I much prefer more intimate experiences. 

Who is stopping me?  Me!

I want to visit small towns.  I want to explore the countryside.  I want to photograph images as I see them.  Why have I been ignoring this need?

I am aware of how fear impacts my ability to do new things.  I tend to overthink, and this can lead to “what if” scenarios, which can be immobilizing. However, I refuse to let fear stand in my way of doing anything rational.  I will push past it. 

Guilt also plays a factor.  I have to admit that I feel guilty that I have so much free time.  I feel guilty that I can do an activity on days when my wife works. Going on a day trip requires a level of self-indulgence. 

Who is stopping me?  Me!

I scanned a road map and determined that there were several towns on Route 64 that looked interesting. I could drive to them and back in a single day.  I mentioned my plan to Julie, and she was OK with it.

I traveled last week, and I wholly enjoyed my explorations.  Here are some of the photos that I took:

A few of the many doorways that I photographed.  They all could tell a story.

A huge grain elevator in the middle of nowhere.

Old houses in need of some TLC.

An abandoned college campus.

A magnificent county courthouse.

Mississippi Palisades State Park.

I faced my fear and guilt and accomplished my goal. However, the experience wasn’t perfect.  I was once again aware of the loneliness that I felt. A feeling that I wanted to share my experience with someone.  “Look at that cool building!” “What do you think of that view?” “Would you shoot that barn from this angle or that angle?”  A travel companion would have been icing on my exploration cake.

I am planning more photo day trips, and I’m also considering pushing my comfort zone further.  I’m thinking about reaching out to strangers to see if there is someone who would like to go with me on a photoshoot day trip. I can’t be the only retired guy with both an interest and a camera. An additional bonus would be the sharing of travel expenses. However, the exact same barriers are preventing me from moving on to this new idea.

What if I’m not compatible with a new travel buddy?  What if they don’t like me? What if they are an ax murderer? -OK, that latter point may be a stretch. I understand that if I experience a terrible match, it is only one day of my life. Indeed, a reasonable risk. 

The second barrier is more significant for me.  I am an intense person who forms emotional relationships. If you can deal with me, you will be rewarded with a true friend who will stand by you no matter what. I value a few strong relationships over dozens of weaker ones. I like relationships where I can be myself and not fear that I’m “too intense” for the other person to handle. These kinds of connections require a lot of work, effort, and time from both sides.  If I developed a strong relationship with a new photo buddy, I would feel guilty that I was taking time away from my established connections. This may seem illogical to you, but it is an honest concern for me. Two good friends are not the equivalent of one best friend. 

It is interesting that common themes stand as barriers from me to being completely true to my needs.  Fear does play into my decisions, but I’m used to pushing past that feeling. However, guilt plays a more important function.  Guilt that I’m having fun when someone else is not. Guilt that I’m being disloyal to those who I care for. Guilt that I don’t deserve to have as much success as I’m having. I can surmise why I have these feelings, but that doesn’t eliminate them.  However, I believe that I can work through them on a case-by-case basis. It will be an interesting growth journey.

I can’t say if I’m going to try the photo buddy route, but I can say that I will absolutely go on another photoshoot day trip.  There is so much to see, and with each discovery, I feel that I grow. I have never wanted to be determined by someone other than me.  With that said, I don’t want to be determined by my self-imposed limitations. I want to base my life on what I can do, not what I can’t do.

How do you limit yourself? 

Peace

Mike

Sh*t happens, a letter to my kids.

Dear Anne, Kathryn, Grace, and William,

There have been times in my life when I felt that I couldn’t catch a break. Things were not going my way, and sometimes it believed that I had no way out. These dark times could last anywhere from a few hours to longer than a few months. Some of these traumas were due to my actions, and others felt like they were random acts. During these later experiences, I often felt like I was being punished for some unknown offense. Being a problem solver, I would do my best to come up with solutions, and sometimes I succeeded. However, there were other situations where the right answer could not be found. Although I couldn’t always find answers, I could still learn from my experiences. 

I thought I would share with you some of the lessons that I learned from hard times.

If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger (most of the time)

My graduate school days were a time of growth. The main project of my thesis was to purify and characterize an enzyme found in bacteria. To do this, I initially relied on conventional procedures and the advice of my graduate advisor. Despite trying many different variables, I could not successfully isolate my enzyme from all of the rest of the bacteria’s cellular proteins. When I returned to my advisor for help, she would tell me to try again, but the results were always the same. I knew that I was doing my procedures correctly, and so finding a solution seemed hopeless.

I was in the university’s science library late one night reading journal articles. I hoped that I would locate a new technique that would solve my problem. All of the articles seemed useless, and I found my thoughts wandering. I decided to clear my mind from everything I had read. Once I freed myself from those limitations, I started to have other opinions. Those thoughts cascaded into an avalanche of ideas. Eventually, I came up with a novel way to approach the problem that was the opposite of what I had been told to do. That opposite way worked and was a crucial step in the purification of the enzyme that I was isolating. The trauma and frustration of my failures forced me to think outside of the box, and in the process, I became a better scientist.

Sh*t Happens

The purification of the above bacterial protein was a long and tedious process. After working for almost a year, I was ready to scale up production so I could obtain enough protein to run my characterization experiments. The build-up to the final step of the purification took weeks. I had to grow massive amounts of bacteria, lyse the bacterial cells, and go through many steps to remove impurities from the lysate. At times I was sleeping at my office desk as I had to run some of the procedures overnight. The final step of my purification involved a technique called chromatography. The chromatography needed to be run in the lab’s walk-in cooler. I set up the purification on Friday afternoon with the expectation that the process would run through the weekend. 

Finally, I would have enough of the enzyme to start the second phase of my research! I rushed back to campus on Monday morning and immediately went to the cold room. When I opened the door, I was met with a blast of hot air! The cold room had malfunctioned, and it was a balmy 90 degrees inside. The enzyme was destroyed.  

Naturally, I felt sorry for myself, and it took me a few hours to re-face the problem. Since I had to redo the entire experiment, I decided to streamline some of the steps that I developed, which turned out to be a good thing. A few weeks later, I once again faced the cold room, but this time I achieved my goal.  

Sometimes you do everything right, but things still go wrong. Your only choice is to pull yourself off the floor, re-evaluate the situation, and, if warranted,  start over again.

Turn a disadvantage into an advantage

As humans, we love to put things into categories, and one of our favorites is whether something is good or bad. I would like to challenge this categorization. 

As you know, I have brain processing issues that I describe to others as dyslexia. This definition only loosely defines what happens in my head, but it is understandable to others, which is why I use that term.

The reality is that (at least by my observation), my brain works differently than most “normal” people. I get confused by letters (an h looks like a b, and so on), I have difficulty seeing the space between words, and the lines between sentences in a paragraph. I have trouble memorizing random strings of numbers or remembering definers, like a person’s name. 

My processing issues don’t stop there. It has become clear to me that the way that I think is different from the way that most people think. My natural way of thinking is not linear (although I have taught myself how to think in a sequential pattern). I see aggregates of ideas that connect with other aggregates of ideas. I tend to see connecting points between things that on the surface seem to have no connecting points. In my way of thinking, everything is joined to everything else. The way that I process information is hardly efficient in a 2019 “cause and effect” world. Most people would think that my brain (your mom has called it autistic-like) would be a significant disadvantage to me. It certainly has made some parts of normal life more challenging. However, my unusual thinking has advantages. Since I see connections and patterns everywhere, it is often easy for me to understand concepts that others may find challenging. Chemistry is no different to me than cooking. Immersing myself in learning web design is no different than immersing myself in a novel, and so on. By embracing my brain, I have been able to take a potential disadvantage and turn it into a definite advantage. There is bad in good things and good in bad things. How you view something can make a difference. 

We all make stupid mistakes

A few years ago, I was in our basement, and I noticed that one of the air returns ducts was disconnected. I reached up to reattach the duct, but it was just out of my reach. I needed to be a foot higher, and I looked around the basement to find something to stand on. An old kitchen chair caught my eye. The chair had found its way to the basement as one of the legs was partially detached. I thought that I could carefully balance myself on the broken chair and fix the errant air duct. For some reason, this seemed like a brilliant idea, even though a step ladder was only 20 feet away. I carefully positioned the broken leg and climbed on the top of the chair’s seat. I extended my arm, and just as I reached my most vulnerable position, the chair collapsed, causing me to hit the hard concrete floor with great force. The wind was knocked out of me, and I felt dazed. My foolish actions resulted in having a sore back for weeks and an ability to predict changes in the weather for months. I would like to say that that was the last stupid thing that I have done, but that would be a lie. However, I am now much more careful when it comes to choosing something to climb on. I did learn from my wrong actions.

You will do stupid things in your life. Learn from them and don’t repeat them. 

Relationships don’t always work out, and that’s OK.

It is hard for me to give you a specific example here as I don’t want to tell a tale that involves another person. However, I can tell you that I have made mistakes with relationships in the past. When I was younger, I tended to find people who needed me to take care of them. In my mind, I felt that I was a good person and a true friend. However, I now believe that there was a more sinister side to my actions as I think that low self-esteem was at play. I was finding people who needed me as this made me feel worthy. Unfortunately, these relationships were one-sided and not equal partnerships. Besides, once a dependent person realized that their needs were not being utterly met by me, they became angry and resentful. Over time I came to understand that these types of connections were not good for me, and I now form bonds with healthy peers instead of needy dependents. Although I have been hurt, I now know that I don’t have to stay in bad relationships. Recognizing what a bad relationship is has shown me what to look for in a good relationship.

Keep your eyes and ears open

My medical school class had over 140 students, each one selected for being at the top of their respective classes. We had some students who viewed their success in terms of their performance compared to their classmates. These kids always sought to get the highest scores on every exam. In one particular case, the student’s efforts were so stressful to her that she had to drop out of med school. 

I saw med school as a tool to achieve a goal. That goal was to become a physician. If I got a 95% on an exam and someone else got a 98% it made little difference to me. We were both going to be MDs at the end of 4 years. My more balanced approached paid off, and in the end, I got the degree that the poor super-achiever did not. You can learn from an observed trauma just as much as one that you personally experience. Keep your eyes and ears open and let others teach you not only by their successes but also by their failures.

Many things happen in our lives, and some of those things may upset or hurt us. However, every event can be a learning experience that you can use to become a better and stronger person.

I love you!

Dad

A Letter To My Children: How To Predict Good Relationships

Dear Kids

Wouldn’t it be great if we had supernatural powers that allowed us to predict the future? We could evaluate a job before we ever started working there. We could explore the future loyalty of a friend. We could predict the reliability of a potential spouse.

Humans have craved such powers for millennia, and have gone to extraordinary lengths to attempt such prowess. Gypsi card readers, psychics, and Ouija boards are examples of some common efforts. Companies have made fortunes developing software that attempts to predict stock trends. Cryptic writings from mystics like Nostradamus have been dissected and their vague metaphors interpreted. Even YouTube is swollen with channels that predict everything from the next new feature of an upcoming iPhone model to the cataclysmic breakdown of society as we know it.

Predictors and predictions are popular, as they give us a sense of mastery in a world where certainty is typically met with an equal and opposite force called uncertainty. Predictions purport to give us a glimpse into the future and knowing that future can provide us with options. We can prepare, we can retreat, we can confront. The unfortunate reality with these predictions is that they are often wrong. So why do we believe them? Likely because they offer us the illusion of knowledge, and knowledge is power. 

Kids, there is a much more accurate way to predict the future, especially when dealing with your interpersonal life. It is a method that costs nothing but often ignored. Why is it ignored? Mostly, because as humans, we want simple solutions that allow us to continue with a situation or connection. We basically want to have our cake and eat it too.

In my work as a psychiatrist, I have witnessed many couples where one partner is the giver, and the other is the taker. I can recall one situation where a woman was married to her husband for many years. She was the one who soothed the kids. She was the one that professed love to her husband. She was the one that always forgave her spouse for his selfish and inconsiderate behavior. Her rationale for staying in the relationship was that she “knew” that deep-down her husband loved her and would do anything for her if the need arose. A significant crisis struck the family, and this woman became utterly overwhelmed. She needed her husband and desperately asked for his help. His response echoed their 25 years of marital history. Not only did he refuse to help, but he also blamed her for the problem. He then became upset with her because he wasn’t getting his needs met. Her relationship was built on the false idea that her husband would be available for her if she really needed him.  However, the long history of their connection foretold otherwise.

A famous saying from Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” When you have invested in a relationship, it is easy to accept a promise that, “This time I’ll really change.” In my years as a therapist, I was privileged to be included in the personal lives of thousands of patients. I witnessed countless times where people chose to ignore the reality of their situation as it was easier to hope that their friend or partner really meant it “this time.” This call and response may make both parties temporarily feel good, but how realistic is change fueled only by a promise?

If you want to predict the future, look to the past. If you have a friend who is consistently unreliable and selfish, expect this behavior to continue. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to continue to invest in this relationship, or are my time and energy better spent elsewhere?” If you are in a relationship that is fueled by constant crisis, blame, and anger consider reflecting on the reasons why you continue. 

Patients would often ask me a different “why” questions. Why is my partner violent? Why does my friend constantly lie? Why is there always drama with my co-worker? It is challenging to analyze someone in the third party; the more important question is, why are you putting up with them?

Sometimes the answer to this question is that you have no choice. You may be working with a difficult person, but other positive factors keep you in your job. In situations like this, it is best to minimize that person’s impact on you. However, there are many times when you may think that you don’t have options, but in fact, you do. However, change may involve a certain amount of work and discomfort. Parting ways with a toxic friend may also close a broader social circle. Leaving a pathological spouse may force a reduction in lifestyle. I would like to remind you that these realities may be unpleasant, but they are absolutely surmountable. Happiness is not measured by your number of Facebook “likes” or the square footage of your home, it is measured by a sense of meaning, belonging, and worth. Is the relationship that you are questioning enhancing these, or hampering these qualities?

If a person has promised to change the way that they interact with you, ask yourself, how? In many cases, a simple promise to change a long-standing negative pattern will become a broken promise. Such pledges of change can be an easy “get off my back” tactic. With that said, I have seen folks make a dramatic and significant change and improve their behavior, but typically this is with consistent, hard work. Bad practices are often generalized. If someone mistreats others but treats you well I would suggest that it won’t be too long before you are also on the B list.  

The good news is that this historical predicting is bidirectional. If you know someone who is a salt-of-the-earth person who treats others with respect and kindness, there is a high likelihood that they will treat you similarly.   

Kids, I know that you are wise and sensible, and I acknowledge that you have made good choices in your friendships and connections. However, I believe that we all face difficult situations in life. A friendship or relationship can start off great, only to have it slowly dissolved into a painful disaster. Don’t judge your connections with others based on a honeymoon period. People reveal their true self over time. 

It is also important to realize that we are all imperfect. A quality friend may hurt you or even fail you. However, when you look back at your history with them, you will find that the overall positives of the relationship far exceed any negatives. Relationships are not about perfection, they are about connection.

My pride in you and my respect for you are tremendous and overflowing.  

Love,

Your Dad

For The Love Of Bowser

In 1961 we lived in a neighborhood called Gage Park. Gage Park is a blue-collar community on Chicago’s Southwest Side that consists of small, tightly spaced bungalows that are placed on narrow lots in tidy rows.

Like most Chicago neighborhoods we had our own busy shopping streets, which were located down the alley from our house. They consisted of two blocks along 55th street which were bisected by California Avenue.

Grocerland Foods, Wooley’s Five and Ten, the Cinderella Beauty Shop, Reck’s Hardware, Amoco Gas, Walgreens Drug Store, the Pixie Shoppe, plus restaurants, a branch library, and, of course, several bars. This type of local shopping is typical for Chicago, which was built on the neighborhood concept. You could buy anything that you needed without the benefit of a car. It was common for my mother to send me to the grocer to buy food for dinner, or for me to walk to the branch library to research a school topic.

My sister Nancy was in the 7th grade at St. Clare De Montefalco school in 1961 and spent a lot of her free time hanging out with her girlfriends. On a fall day, she was walking with two of them westward on busy 55th street towards California Avenue. Suddenly she heard screeching tires and honking horns. She looked up to see a jet black creature running across the street, clearly terrified and confused. She looked again and saw that the little beast was a puppy. She went into rescue mode.

The three girls coaxed the puppy to them and hatched a plot. This little puff ball needed a home. Nancy’s friend, Nancy Klimczak was the first to claim her. She pleaded her case to her mother, but it fell on deaf ears. They moved on to their backup plan.

My mother was in our kitchen wearing the mom uniform of the day, a housedress. For those of you who are unaware a house dress is a casual dress that is often in a small floral pattern. It is structureless, loose fitting, and has ample pockets making it both comfortable and practical. A housedress is usually  pulled on over the head allowing a mom to get dressed in 10 seconds flat.

My mother was cooking dinner, and I was sitting at the kitchen table watching her work. I was eight years old at the time.

Nancy entered the kitchen through the backdoor. She appeared to be in a panic. My mother looked up at her and Nancy started to speak in a rushed, compelling way. “She would have been killed if we didn’t save her. She is so cute, and she is only a puppy. She looks hungry and afraid. Can we keep her?” “Absolutely not!” my mother said. We had several attempts at adopting strays, and they all had been disastrous. I recall one instance of my mother chasing a crazed dog who was running in circles around our dining room table.

Nancy moved into tears mode. “Please, Please! I’ll use my allowance to buy her dog food. I get up early every morning to let her out. I’ll walk her every day. You won’t have to do anything. You won’t even know that she is here.” My mother could not resist my sister’s tears. “We can try, but that dog is on 90-day probation, and she has to stay in the basement, she is not allowed in the rest of the house! If anything happens, she goes…understood?” Nancy replied, “Of course, thank you! You won’t regret this.”

With my mom’s OK the little puppy became part of our family. In 24 hours, her domain went from the basement to the entire house. Sweet and smart, she was easy to love, and she had only one bad habit, barking. When anyone would approach the house she would start a rapid staccato, “Wow wow wow, wow, wow,” until she felt that the perimeter was secure. My father hearing this said we should call her Wowser and the name stuck, at least temporarily. Soon Wowser became Bowser, a boy dog name for a girl dog.

Bowser grew to be a medium-sized dog, black with a white chest and some white markings on her nose and paws. Being a mutt, her lineage was unknown, but she appeared to be part Border Collie and part Cocker Spaniel. She instantly bonded to my mother, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear my mom shout “Bowser!” because she had once again tripped over her.

Bowser’s passion was chocolate, and we often gave her little pieces of the tasty stuff. This was before anyone knew that chocolate could kill a dog, and thankfully Bowser was never worse for her indulgences. If I wanted her to come running all I had to shout was, “Chocolate,” and she would soon be at my side. In those days you could find chocolate scented dog toys, including ones that were rubberized versions of favorite candy bars.

In high school, my sister Nancy was dating a boy named Jim Brown. At Easter, Jim gave her her very own Easter Basket. This was a first as at our home we all had to share one basket, and my two brothers usually got all of the good candy. We were heading out to church, and Nancy decided to hide her basket under the bed, and away from my brothers. When we arrived back home, we were all confused as we saw shredded silver foil all over the house. Suddenly, Nancy screamed; Bowser had found her basket and proceeded to eat its entire contents. The foil was from Hershey Kisses’ wrappers that were licked completely clean of any chocolate residue.

Once when we were camping my mother tied Bowser to a small folding table and then went to the camp’s community bathroom. After a short time, she heard shouts coming from the other stalls. The source? Bowser had found her way into the bathroom and was dragging leash and table. Being a logical dog, she was going stall to stall to find my mom, much to the chagrin of other women who were using the facilities. Once found, Bowser was at peace. My mother commented “That dog!” but she was charmed by her efforts.

It is human nature to think that our kids and pets are the smartest, and I felt Bowser was pretty quick. She seemed to understand complex language. Bowser loved my mother, but hated baths. She was resting under an end table in the living room when my mother sweetly called to her from the basement. “Bowser, where are you?” Bowser tore through our shotgun-style house towards the basement stairs which were located at its back. I was next to the stairs when she arrived, and in a flat monotone I said to her, “She is going to give you a bath.” Bowser stopped dead in her tracks, turned around and ran back under the table. I was amazed that she understood what I was saying. My mother was less amazed by my actions.

Although Bowser’s primary loyalty was towards my mother, she had plenty of love to go around. For me, she was my family connection. My siblings were doing their thing. My parents were older and had already raised four other kids. Bowser was my friend and confidant. When I was having a bad day, she would sit with me. When I needed someone to talk to, she would listen. When I was cold, she would warm me up. The bond that I felt for her was great, and that bond continued as long as she was alive.

I was away at college, and my parents said that they were coming up to see me to take me out to dinner. This was highly unusual, and I was pretty excited. They also told me that my two maiden aunts, Mary and Lill, were coming along. I liked my aunts and I was amazed at my good fortune.

My parents arrived with my aunts, and we all went out to eat at “The Junction,” a family-style restaurant decorated in a train theme. Just as the food arrived my mother blurted out, “We put Bowser down.” My father must have noticed the horrified look on my face and started to spurt justifications, “That damn dog couldn’t hold her urine. Her breath smelled terrible. Mike Lawler (my brother-in-law) held her when we took her to get the shot, and he said her breath made him sick.” Dear reader, these are not the right things to say to someone who just lost one of their very best friends.

I was trapped. My parents knew that I wouldn’t make a scene with my two aunts present. That is why they brought them along. However, it was a terrible time for me. I couldn’t express my grief. I couldn’t express my anger. I couldn’t eat. I had to make polite conversation. I was dying inside.

I remained upset about that incident for years, but I couldn’t understand why. Deep down I knew that Bowser was old and that the quality of her life was no longer good. She was a proud dog, and I am sure that she was embarrassed by her inability to control her bodily functions.

Eventually, I figured out why I remained so upset. Once again, other’s feelings were more important than mine. My parents wanted to do the right thing by telling me, but they didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of their disclosure. On some level, I understood this and gave them exactly what they wanted from me, no grief, no anger, just polite conversation. They got to go home feeling like they were good parents, I once again had to deal with my sadness alone.

Events like this have strongly impacted me, but not just in a negative way. Knowing my feelings made it possible for me to understand the feelings of others. Recognizing my hurt allowed me to build on my empathic skills. Having such a strong bond with an animal helped me understand that connections in life don’t have to make logical sense to be relevant and important.

We learn by our victories, but we grow by our disappointments. I will never put my children in a position where they feel that they can’t express their anger to me, and so in some way, the restaurant incident made me a better parent.

Every day we are given lessons, we can choose to learn from them, or we can choose to ignore them. I am learning every day.

By the way, I believe that my sister honored her doggie obligations for less than a week. Bowser was fed, and cared for by my mom. No surprise, I know.

Mike and Bowser

Droby Fest 2018

Saturday night, December 1, 2018, we pile into my red Ford Flex. It is cold, just above freezing. Rain is falling, and we are all chilled. I tap directions into my iPhone, and off we go to Droby Fest. At this point, you may be thinking that Droby is the name of a band, or that Droby Fest is a community event, it is neither.

A Droby is a fresh Slovak sausage. Our family’s version is made from pork, organ meats, rice, and potatoes. It is seasoned with marjoram. There seem to be many renditions of this peasant sausage. However, they all have meat and potatoes in them.

Droby sausages are not bought, they are homemade in a laborious process. As a child, I had the job of grinding ingredients. My father would clamp a meat grinder onto a tall wooden stool. A large blue speckled Granite Ware roasting pan was then placed below the mill to catch the product of my efforts. I would feed chunks of raw meat and peeled potatoes into its nickel-plated hopper, as I cranked and cranked. When making Droby, you start with a coarse grinding plate and reprocess the mixture with successively smaller plates until it is the right consistency, relatively smooth with just a little bit of chunkiness. At home, we made our mixture casserole style, right in the roasting pan. However, my grandmother made her’s the traditional way, in sausage casing.

My extended family would meet at my grandparent’s south side walk-up on Christmas Eve. Their small residence consisted of a living room, a kitchen, three very tiny bedrooms, and an unheated back porch. Clean and neat, it appeared to be a homage to the 1940s, as most of it had never been modernized. Extremely tiny by today’s standards, it was the home where my grandparents raised their 6 children.

Our festivities would start with a meatless Christmas Eve meal. After a blessing, we would dine on Oplaki (wafers with honey), Opekance (steamed bread balls with poppyseed), and my grandmother’s delicious dried mushroom/sauerkraut soup. Sweets were aplenty, and there were endless supplies of kolacky, drop cookies, and homemade yeast coffee cake. I had to sample all of them.

At 11:30 PM we would go to midnight Mass at Assumption BVM church, a small Slovak Catholic church that was a few blocks away. The church would be packed with parishioners wearing their finest clothing, which were often items that had been removed from mothballs only hours earlier. The smell of mothballs mixed with onions and garlic is a distinct, if not wanted, memory for me.

After Mass, we would return to my grandparent’s for a second feast. My teetotaling aunts might sip on a glass of sweet Mogen David wine, getting a little silly in the process., My father and his brothers would do shots of whiskey, and become more boisterous. We kids would talk, play made up games, and continue to eat sweets. It was then time to eat again, although everyone was still completely full. I don’t recall everything that the second meal consisted of, but I do remember my grandmother’s light rye bread, baked ham, hard-boiled eggs, and Droby. Her bacon wrapped Droby sausage was baked until the casing was deliciously crisp. Yummy!

My grandparents died, and over the years our families grew apart. I recall going to many extended family parties as a kid, but very few by the time that I was in high school. With the loss of get-togethers came the loss of ethnic foods. I tried to make a dish here and there, but I had neither the time nor the skill to move past the most basic recipes.

And then there was a funeral…

When families drift, it isn’t uncommon to only re-connect at funerals and weddings. Such was the case of my extended family. At my Aunt Suzie’s funeral, my sister Nancy struck up a conversation with my cousin Ken. During that conversation, it was suggested that the family have a reunion picnic. At that picnic, it was determined that we needed other opportunities to reconnect, and a variety of get-togethers were eventually created. We now get together a number of times during the year. My cousins Ken and Kris are our family organizers. Their dedication to the Kuna cause is steadfast, and I am very grateful for their efforts.

Droby Fest is our cousin Christmas party, and it is held in the community room of the small Lutheran church where my cousin Bob attends. The building is tucked away on a side street in a quiet neighborhood in Palatine. It appears to have been built in the 1960s, and I would describe its architecture as functional.

The room where we meet is a large, bright rectangle. The walls, a utilitarian blue, the floor basic linoleum tiles. At the far end of the room is a large painting of Jesus with outstretched arms, floating on a cloud. Long folding tables stand in rows, each dotted with folding chairs. Seating is not assigned.

When you enter Droby Fest, you can feel the energy of the crowd. People mill around to connect with each other in a fashion that appears both random and purposeful at the same time. Smiles are everywhere.

As with my grandparent’s parties, food is at center stage. A long row of tables on one wall serves as the buffet bar for the main meal. Another table on an opposite wall serves as the dessert bar.

Everyone brings food, some homemade, some ethnic, some store-bought; it really doesn’t matter. This year the offerings ranged from Slovak chicken paprikash with haluski dumplings, to meatless Shepherd’s Pie for the vegetarians, to gluten-free perogies for those with gluten intolerance. There was something for everyone. My cousin Ken always makes Droby sausage in enough quantity to feed a small army.

The dessert bar is enormous and offers up a wide variety of store bought and homemade sweets. I no longer eat concentrated forms of sugar, so I drool as others sample a little bit of this or that. Alcohol is available, but only a few imbibe, and those that do seem to limit their consumption. This is a far cry from my father and my uncles drinking whiskey shots from the days of yore.

There is no rigid format at Droby Fest. Attend if you can, if you can’t, you will be missed. Talk to whoever you choose. Do whatever you want. Guilt and shame are off limits. We have long transcended peacocking. Victories are celebrated, losses are comforted. There are handshakes, smiles, and hugs.

I am proud of my extended family. Our grandparents arrived from Europe with nothing. Our parents were blue collar workers who wanted more for their children. My generation is highly educated and professional. America really is the land of opportunity!

Droby Fest now extends to three Kuna generations. My kids have tasted Slovak food, and they enjoy it. This Thursday I’ll cook Chicken Paprikash and Haluski with my son Will. He tried this dish at Droby Fest, and he was interested in learning how to make it. Our heritage lives on.

My cousins are kind, generous, interesting, and smart. What a privilege it is to spend time with them. How proud I am to be part of the Kuna family.

Next year we will celebrate 20 years of Droby Fest. We are no longer drifting apart.

Food, the heart of any gathering involving
Eastern Europeans.

Just some of the desserts.

Older connecting with younger.

A new generation of Droby eaters.

Julie, Will and me.

Family

Cousin Bob makes 60 loves of cinnamon bread by hand!

Getting ready to say grace.

Family gathering together.

Simple, Complex Dr. Mike

At 6:20 PM I exited the house and pulled myself up and into my freezing Ram Promaster campervan. I switched on the ignition and started my drive to Panera Bread on the other side of town. It took me about 15 minutes, and the van was still cold when I arrived. Once inside I used the restaurant’s kiosk to order a diet coke and a bowl of squash soup. The restaurant was busier than usual, and my favorite booth was already in use. I sat at a corner table instead. My sister Nancy arrived, and we sat, talked, and ate. This was our weekly creativity night. A time to catch up on each other’s lives and to focus on our writing.

The meeting concluded, and it was time to come up with a writing topic for the next week. I was dry of ideas. Nancy thought of a few for me, but none of them rang true. We Googled “interesting writing topics,” but the suggestions seemed trite, and not very interesting.

With a shortage of ideas, I decided to fall back on me, and the odd way that I approach life. I’ll call this piece “Simple, Complex Mike.”

I’m one of those obsessive people, who really enjoys his obsessiveness. I tend to become interested in something which then starts a sequence of events of learning, experimenting, and doing. This sequence can vary depending on the circumstance, but it is consistent enough to identify it as a pattern.

You may think that this “scientific” approach to life was developed when I was a microbiologist (Ed note: I was a scientist before I became a medical doctor), but it has been with me since birth. My wife, being a conservative Swede, didn’t understand this aspect of my personality and for many years and it was a source of endless frustration for her. I become obsessively interested in a topic, and part of that interest involves comparing things to understand their similarities and differences. I have multiple cameras because I like to explore their pros and cons. I know many ways to make a pie crust. I am comfortable using a variety of computer operating systems. The list goes on.

In most cases, I discover that similarities exceed differences in any given area of interest. A fact that I also find interesting. I have a small room in my basement full of various objects because of this comparison obsession. Julie has gone from complaining about my “junk” to merely shaking her head. This is one of the great things about knowing someone for decades, you start to accept the person for who they are instead of trying to change them into something that you think that they should be.

I see these same behaviors in my siblings, although they are expressed differently. We are all just a little bit crazy but in a harmless way. It must be a genetic thing.

My recent obsessive “energy” has been spent on my van to campervan conversion; its actual construction almost complete. One of the final stages is to convert the open space under the platform bed into a more usable storage area. I had some ideas about this, and I asked my friend, Tom, for his construction expertise. Tom, being a creative guy and general contractor, developed a grander and more comprehensive vision, and my garage is now filled with plywood slabs that are waiting for the next phase of construction. He is currently working 7 days a week, to completes a major project, and I am especially grateful for any bit of time that he can find to help me. However, since he is often busy I now have time to think about other things. I always have a “Plan B” at the ready. In this case, my brain has switched from storage construction to van kitchen completion.

I have been camping all of my life and have owned travel trailers. Based on this it should be easy for me to come up with a simple cooking system for the van. However, that is not how my brain works. In my mind, this is an opportunity to learn more about cooking systems and methods. I’m sure that some of you are shaking your heads and muttering, “Dr. Mike you have too much free time on your hands.” This may be the case, but I have always approached life this way, even when I was working 80 hours per week.

The question at hand: Can I use free solar energy to cook my food? This question has pushed me to learn about solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, amp hours, efficient appliances, and so on. You may be thinking, “Just get a camp stove and be done with it!.” That is a good suggestion, and it may be my eventual decision. However, my brain exercise is as much about learning as it is about implementation. It is exciting for me to acquire new knowledge and to pass on that knowledge on. In this case, I’ll probably produce a video to help other new campervan builders.

You would be right in surmising that many simple issues turn into complex problems for me because of this. That is true and OK by me, as solving problems is one of my favorite activities. You may also be confused by the fact that I’m building out a very simple campervan. A place of simplicity that is spare when it comes to material objects. Welcome to Dr. Mike’s bipolar world. I have these two very different sides. One pole creates complexity when it isn’t necessary. The other pole pushes for simplicity and eschews complexity. You may think that these converse positions pull me apart, but in reality, I’m quite comfortable with this duality.

Simplicity is the counterpoint of my self-imposed complexity. An emotional island to travel to for some mental R and R.

My van is simple, its contents are spare. The interior of my Promaster is considerably smaller than the square footage of my master bathroom. I have 2 pots, and I pan. One sleeping bag and an extra blanket. A few basic tools. Yet, it is enough. It is enough because my needs change when I’m vandwelling. My life becomes simple, and make do with what I have. When I camp I never feel deprived, instead I feel blessed. My behavior calms. I slow down. I savor simple meals and simple pleasures. Nature gives me peace.

As humans, we tend to categorize the people around us quickly. It is so easy to judge someone by their appearance, demeanor, or vocabulary. We put individuals in slots that determine not only what we think of them, but also how we treat them. Have you ever given someone you initially rejected a “second look” only to find a remarkable and faithful friend? Conversely, have you been dazzled by someone only to discover that they were empty, self-centered, and self-serving?

We are all complex and simple at the same time. The way that we express these poles vary from individual to individual. However, if you insist on judging a book by its cover, you will likely deprive yourself of many wonderful relational adventures.

I am fortunate to have the title of doctor. Those six letters instantly give me a level of status and acceptance. This is in contrast to young Michael, the kid with one pair of pants who had to sleep on the back porch. However, Doctor Mike and little Michael are the same. My drive to learn is the same. My caring for others is the same. My quirky personality is the same. How is it then that people treat me so differently just because of a title?

I believe that we need to not only accept others for who they are, but we also need to love them for who they are. Does someone have a different political belief than you? Are they a different race? Do they have a different sexual orientation? Are you judging them because of these things? If so, you are depriving yourself. You are demonstrating your limitations, rather than theirs.

I spend my time comparing and contrasting things, and in the end, I almost always discover that those things that I compare are more similar than different. Similarities are necessary for continuity, but in differences, I find new ideas and more creative ways to think. Similarities may make me comfortable, but differences make me grow.

Let’s celebrate our similarities and differences. I ask you to love me based on who I am. In turn, I will do the same to you.

Peace

My campervan’s very simple interior.

Best friend, Tom and a garage full of plywood.

The initial box that will eventually be partitioned into useable storage space.

Experiment: Can I successfully cook chicken using a 12-volt battery?

Experiment conclusion: Yes!

Experiment: Can I make a complex meal using a simple rice cooker?

Answer: Yes!

 

Lessons From A Simple Average Day

Stumbling downstairs I greeted Mercury, our jet black cat. She meowed an acknowledgment and followed me into the kitchen. Her affection a guise for her true motives, the acquisition of a treat. Her goal met, she looked up at me in a thank you glance and sauntered off to perch herself on top of her favorite comfy chair.

Sticking a K-Cup into my Bunn single serve coffee pot I pressed the brew button. Hot brown liquid squirted into my Smoky Mountains earthenware mug. With each sip, I became more alert and focused.

Grabbing my old brown leather messenger bag I shoved my MacBook into it. I knew that I would not be seeing my friend, Tom, for coffee, and for an alternative activity, I stuffed several articles on Medicare into the bag’s back compartment. I have to admit that I had been avoiding reading these articles, as the fear of making a catastrophic health insurance mistake had immobilized me. However, it was time to take my head out of the sand and move forward.

Heading out the door I was instantly smacked in the face by a blast of cold, wet air. I glanced up to the streetlight in front of my house to see a fine mist silhouetted against its bright backdrop. For an instant, I thought about returning for an umbrella, but the mist looked light, and my red Columbia jacket has a weatherproof hood. As I walked the mist turned to rain. I continued to move forward.

Greeted by a friendly, “Hello,” I entered Starbucks and ambulated to the counter to order a Tall, Veranda. It was then time to coordinate my Medicare articles with their corresponding websites. One YouTube video offered a fee Medicare guide, and I signed up for it, an action that I regret, as their salesforce called me at least a dozen times.

It was election day, and I determined that I would walk to my polling place from Starbucks. Unfortunately, the rain had increased in ferocity. My jacket had reached its saturation point, and the dampness now enveloped me.

At the polling place, an unknown elderly lady election judge recognized me. “You are Doctor Kuna! You delivered my Mary! She announced this to several other officials around her. I could not place her, but I surmised that I possibly treated her in the distant past. I smiled and quickly moved away as I didn’t want to get into a conversation that would reveal that I was a psychiatrist, not an obstetrician. Her private life was hers to keep.

Back home, I contemplated taking a hot shower but elected to drip dry instead. On the computer, I watched a few videos from Dale Calder, a retired man from New Brunswick. I stumbled on his videos by accident, and find his slow and deliberate style peaceful and engaging. He often records his videos from a tiny micro cabin and chats with his viewers while he makes comforting meals on a wood stove. He has a quality about him that makes me feel like he has invited me into his cabin for a cup of tea and quiet conversation. I value his Zen-like “appreciate the moment” way of living.

Watching his videos inspired me to explore camping cooking, and I pulled out my little butane stove, the one that I bought at H-Mart over a decade ago. I then assembled my 20-year-old Coleman camp oven. If Dale could make shortbread on a wood stove, certainly I could do more than warm up a can of soup on my little burner.

I elected to make breakfast and decided on blueberry pancakes, as I had a small clutch of dehydrated berries left from a previous camping adventure. Flour, egg, baking powder, salt, milk, melted butter, each item was measured then mixed in a big red melamine bowl. Last went in the blueberries, and my yellow slurry instantly turned a bright purple.

I lit the butane stove and placed on it my 10” GSR camping fry pan. If I was going to do camping cooking, I was going to use camping equipment! I heated oil until it popped with a test drop of water and then poured in three pancakes. I only made a small amount of batter, and the job was quickly completed in two runs. A pat of butter, a smear of sugar-free apricot preserves, and a squirt of sugar-free syrup, breakfast was served.

Encouraged by my success, I placed the Coleman oven on top of the stove and lit the fire. I mixed another batch of batter, this time for sugar-free muffins. Fingers crossed, I set the muffin tin into the Coleman.

As my muffins baked, I searched the basement for my GoPro video camera. I located it and contemplated how I might use it in a “Saving Savvy’ video that I was thinking of making. The muffins continued to bake as I searched for my tripod and audio recorder. My nose informed me that they were done. Success, and a perfect complement for the vegetarian lentil soup that I was planning for lunch!

Guilt overtook me as I looked out at my front lawn, which was covered with a thick carpet of leaves. My next door neighbor has a meticulously kept lawn, and the wind was blowing my leaves onto his grass. I really despise raking leaves, and so I decided to turn my task into an experiment. Learning something new always makes a dull job more interesting. The question: “What is the best gadget to remove leaves, rake, blower, or lawn mower?” Each section of the lawn was tackled by a different method. The result: Mowing was the fastest, while raking gave the best overall results. I knew that this was no great discovery, but it kept me at the task, and I finished the job.

A few more random jobs ebbed away the rest of the afternoon. Will returned home from school, followed by Julie coming from work. I sat with them as they supped on a dinner of leftovers: spaghetti, bits of turkey breast, and reheated crescent rolls. I nibbled on some of the turkey but deliberately avoided a full meal as I was having dinner with my sister later in the evening.

At 6:45 I hopped into the Promaster and drove 15 minutes to Panera Bread. Nancy had already arrived, and I sat down across from her as I waited for my order of squash soup. It eventually came, and I sipped it while I caught up with the news of her family. I have been meeting with my sister every Tuesday night for the last few months. We are both writers, and our meeting’s purpose is to mutually support each other as we try to improve our writing skills. Beyond this function, it is wonderful to regularly meet with Nancy, as we genuinely enjoy each others company.

By 8:30 our meeting had concluded, and it was time to head back home and to the pleasure of a long, and scorching hot shower. Julie and I chatted a bit, and the day concluded.

All in all, a wonderfully average day.

Dear reader, you may be asking why I am writing about my day. There are several reasons. The first is that I am ever trying to appreciate being in the here and now. The day that I described above is never to be repeated. To dismiss it would be a negation of 24 hours of my life. Although typical, the day was filled with learning new things, experiencing new things, connecting with others, and doing productive work. How often have I ignored such days, as I focused on vacations and other spectacular outlying experiences?

I am making an earnest effort to celebrate each event and every connection. I am getting better at this effort. This improvement was not caused by a significant life event; instead, it was seeded by the ticking of time. When I semi-retired in January, I felt an urgent need to do the next big thing. Over the last 11 months, I have come to realize that life isn’t about the big stuff, it is about all things. Happiness can be found by appreciating and savoring every experience. Making breakfast becomes an adventure, raking leaves an experiment, meeting with my sister a growth experience, taking a hot shower a pampered luxury. Everything has significance. It is crucial for me to focus on this truth, instead of discounting a typical day as just something to get through.

I am uncertain if my writing and photography will ever reach a broader audience. However, it gives me pleasure to think that you have taken the time to travel on this journey with me. Along the way, I hope that you will also open your eyes and your heart to all of the experiences that you are given on a daily basis. One step in front of the other, moving forward together, not alone.

Peace.

Feeling proud (and damp) after voting.

Camper blueberry pancakes with sugar-free preserves.

My 20-year-old Coleman oven seated on my camp stove.

Yummy sugar-free muffins, camper style.

Sleeping In My Driveway

If I were a car, I would probably be a minivan. Sensibly designed with just enough flash to make me interesting. Ferrari’s are exciting, but if you need to get the job done you hop into a reliable and roomy Honda Odyssey.

Are you a person who likes to fly by the seat of your pants? I don’t fit into that category, I’m a planner and a tester.

A few months back my friend Tom and I installed a mains power port on the side of my campervan, and in the weeks afterward I created a simple power distribution system for the vehicle. However, I never operated it.

Dear readers, a Midwest October is upon me; perfect to do a little van exploration. With nighttime temperatures in the high 20s (-2C) it was time to test several different camper systems.

Early yesterday I pulled out the 30 Amp extension cord from the camper’s storage bin and attempted to connect it to the van’s receptacle. Crap! It wouldn’t go in. The pins on this type of plug are circular, and with some study, I was able to determine that they were slightly out of alignment. A little bending with my multi-tool and the plug slid in and mounted.

I went back into my van’s storage and located the $16 Walmart electric heater that I had purchased a few weeks earlier. I plugged it in, turned it on and… it worked! I was then off to the basement to find my 25-year-old sleeping bag. It is old and flattened, but it is also extra-long and thereby perfect for my 6’3” frame.

With heater and bag in place, I was ready to do a test run. The wilds of a National Park, you may ask?  No, my driveway, of course! When I told Julie about my plans to sleep in the driveway, she nodded in acknowledgment. After 25 years of marriage, she didn’t feel it necessary to comment on the absurdity of my vision. My more adventurous friend Tom thought that I should try to sleep in the cold with the heater turned off. Likely, as some sort of manly exercise. It should be noted that Tom possesses an ultra high quality and very warm REI sleeping bag, as opposed to my 25-year-old “pancake.”

As bedtime approached, I gathered my camping essentials:  water bottle, laptop, and iPhone. I traversed the 30 feet from my front door to the camper and entered with anticipation. It was cold! On went the electric heater powered by my garage’s outlet. I reached down and powered up the van’s 12V power system, and then flipped on its interior lights.

The heater seemed anemic, and I thought I would be spending the night freezing. But, in short order the van warmed up. I settled in my sleeping bag, fully dressed including a stocking cap. Like any other wilderness he-man, I opened up my laptop and checked Facebook, braving a weaker wifi signal from my house.

I worried that I wouldn’t fall asleep, as I fell asleep. Comfortable, warm, sleeping in a van parked in my driveway Silly for Dr. Mike, a 65-year-old physician, exciting for the 9-year-old Michael inside of me.

The outside temperature dropped to 29 degrees, but my little heater plugged on. In fact, I had to turn it to low in the middle of the night because I was getting too hot.

I write this the next morning after following my tradition of walking to Starbucks. Here I sit at my usual table, typing and sipping coffee. Mission accomplished.

My adventure may seem childish to you, or it may not. However, it was fun and informative for me. I tested out several of my camper’s systems and felt the security of reassurance. I had a “backyard” camping adventure. I had a good time.

Dear reader, so often we get locked into doing only “appropriate” behaviors. We don’t allow ourselves simple pleasures because we have deemed them childish. We criticize our children, “You are too old to do that.”

I am here to tell you that it is OK to explore the child in you because that is the part of you that still possesses wonderment. I challenge you to rediscover that aspect of you. I believe that you will grow just a little bit more in the process.

My $16 Walmart heater, and 25-year-old sleeping bag.

View of my front door from my sleeping quarters.

Plugged into the house’s AC power.

September Song

Oh, it’s a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short,
When you reach September.
When the autumn weather
Turn leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time
For the waiting game.
September Song
M. Anderson-1938

———

We sit around the kitchen table. Julie, my wife. William, my 17-year-old son. Diana, my 3-year-old granddaughter. Sebastion, my 9-year-old grandson. Me.

In front of Sebie is a large stack of conversational cards. He pulls one and reads it. “If you could always live in your favorite season, would you?” We go around the table, and all participants answer, “No.” We agree that each season possesses its own magic. As we tire of one season, we are given the gift of a new one.

——–

I pick up my sister Carol from her apartment and drive to Arrowhead Country Club to celebrate her 80th birthday with a Saturday lunch. We talk, nibble, sip, and talk some more. “I have never been happier. This is the best time of my life,” Carol says in earnest.

——–

I walk to Starbucks in the pre-dawn. I pass by a tree, its leaves turning a golden orange.

——–

The fall of my life is upon me, the days are growing shorter. Time is accelerating.

Would I want to go back to any other time in my life? Childhood? Early adulthood? Middle age? I don’t think so. Each phase of my life had its advantages and its disadvantages. Each stage of my life added to my wisdom and to my appreciation of the gift of life. I don’t want to give up the present to live in the past.

There are disadvantages to being 65. I have more wrinkles on my face than hairs on my head. My stamina is a percentage of what it was when I was 30. My short-term memory is less acute than in the past. I am more inclined to take naps.

There are advantages to being 65. I care less what others think of me. I am less concerned with what I don’t have and more satisfied with what I do have. I realize that most happiness lies in small things: dinner with my family, coffee with a friend, learning new things, giving back.

In January I left my private practice of 30 years and gained perpetual 4 day weekends. As a person who likes to move forward, I had developed a productivity plan in anticipation of this change. That initial plan has been only partially realized. Frankly, I’m OK with my partial compliance.

I am writing, taking pictures, and converting a van into a camper for future adventures. I have made a weak effort to organize a basement storage room. I’m not practicing the guitar, and I have not started the process of learning a foreign language. I think that this latter objective may be on a permanent hold.

I am spending a lot more time socializing with people who I care about. I am stretching my introverted boundaries. I am learning about construction and power tools. I know that this last fact may seem odd for an old retired doctor, but I assure you that it is not. I come from a blue-collar background, but I was never mentored in the art of the Sawzall. One of the reasons that I gravitated to science was that it was an entirely novel discipline in my family, and somehow that fact made it OK for me to teach the subject to myself.

There is a joy in learning those things that I was so curious about as a child. I see the similarities between medicine and construction. Each discipline requires training and practice. Each discipline follows a specific methodology and is protocol driven. However, with building the fruit of your efforts is immediate and tangible.

I have spent much of my life goal-directed; focused on practical knowledge. However, I appreciate learning something that serves no personal purpose in my life. Learning for the sake of learning is my cocaine.

At 65 my world isn’t shrinking, it is expanding. I wake at 4 AM anticipating what that day will bring. What will I see on my walk? What will I write? What new thing will I learn? What projects will I tackle? What adventures will I have with those people that I care about?

The days may grow short in the September my life, but they are still days to be celebrated. Today I know more than I knew yesterday. I have connected with others more. I have done more. Each day is a gift, never to repeat.

Dear reader, celebrate today!

Change Your Life With A Gratitude List

Why is it that I can focus on a single negative in my life while ignoring so many positives? How can I change this waste of energy?

I think my thinking pattern is similar to many others. I can let a single worry dominate me. Typically, I find that this stance is a waste of my time and energy. Yet, I continue to do it.

I have made attempts to change my behavior, and some of my efforts have been more successful than others.

I have gotten better at letting go of trivial slights. The driver that cuts me off no longer spoils the rest of my morning.

I also employ cognitive techniques to correct my perceptual distortions. When I get upset about something, I will pull back and logically explore the problem and reframe the information at hand in a more realistic way and less catastrophic way.

Also, I work hard to let go of situations that I have no control over. I’ll, “Let go and let God.”

The above techniques all fall into what I would call a pathology model. In other words, they focus on lessening my current worries. The problem already exists, and so I actively treat it.

Good doctors not only treat problems they also practice preventive medicine. I would like to think of myself as a good doctor and what I advise my patients can also apply to me. So how do I prevent worry? There are many ways, but the one that I would like to share with you today is called a gratitude list. This technique is simple, but it does require some practice and thought.

The positives in my life far exceed the negatives. However, I can take my blessings as expectations and thereby ignore their significance. A gratitude list is one way to acknowledge these good things, and when I do this, I automatically have a more positive outlook of my life.

Here are the steps I use.

-Once a day I think of 3-5 things that I’m grateful for. They can be significant things or minor things. For instance, I might be thankful for my health (major thing), and I also may be grateful for having coffee with a friend (minor thing).
-I make an effort to vary the things that I’m grateful for. In other words, I don’t repeat the same list every day.
-Sometimes I’ll write down my gratitude list, sometimes I’ll only make a mental note.
-I don’t just write down a list, I also think about each example on that list. I may recall that I’m no longer on any medication and that I’m able to walk long distances once again. I might think about a walk that I took and how much I enjoyed it. For my second example, I may be grateful for having people in my life who want to spend time with me. I might remember the conversation that I had during my coffee klatsch, or how much I enjoyed the taste of the coffee.
-If possible, I recall my gratitude list during the day, repeating the above technique.

When I first started this daily exercise I had trouble coming up with unique things to be grateful for. However, over time, it became easy. The trick is to limit your list to a manageable number. I find that 5 examples works for me. I want to have time to think about my list, I don’t want to write down a lot of meaningless examples.

By doing this exercise regularly, it has become evident that I have much to be grateful for. When I think about my life in positives terms I feel more positive about myself, I attract more positive people, and many of my problems feel more trivial. All of these benefits for the cost of a little time!

I would encourage you to make a gratitude list every day for the next 30 days. Let me know if it makes a positive difference in your life. If the answer is yes, it is easy to incorporate a gratitude list into your daily routine.

Dr. Mike