Monthly Archives: July 2013

Measure twice, cut once, swear often

I know the adage is “Measure twice and cut once”, but I think my version is more accurate. I have been helping my cousin and her husband replace the siding on their house. They have been so supportive of me through the years and I really enjoy their company. They are very much in love and it is so fun watching them interact.

Between the three of us, we have over 80 years of professional problem solving experience. There are dozens of videos on YouTube and home improvement sites that show that various steps involved. Some videos even have tips on how to deal with some of the challenges that arise during project implementation. Despite preparations, careful measurements, and double-checking measurements, something unexpected occurs. Home improvement projects have caused a significant number of disagreements among spouses. The successful ones who get through the project without barking at each other have learned to work around the unexpected issues. I’m happy to report the three of us are still talking to each other, the most difficult side of the house is complete, and if I say so myself, the work is very impressive! However, installing siding is not on my possible career change list. I spent 32 years in IT, so I already know how to swear in several human languages and in close to three dozen computer languages.

What are the challenges? Houses settle through the years, so what appears to be a straight line is not. Garages and other add-ons made after construction of the house add layers of complexity the videos do not consider. Outdoor work is dependent on the weather and is very unpleasant if the mosquitoes and gnats are hungry and invite hordes of their relatives to the all-you-can-eat buffet also known as your exposed skin. Ladders and scaffolding need constant moving. There is a lot of arithmetic with fractions (my metric using friends do not worry about this) because a 1/16″ misalignment on each row becomes very noticeable after installing the fourth row. Nails bend or their heads peen. Studs are not where the stud sensor indicates. A needed tool drops a dozen feet to the ground while reaching for it. Some of the cuts are exotic and vinyl is somewhat difficult to cut; it also gets softer in warm weather and more difficult to score with a knife. Vinyl has sharp edges after cutting. Thumbs are prone to hammer strikes. None of these challenges are insurmountable.

Part of problem solving is quickly formulating an alternate plan if Plans A, B, and C fail. Bouncing ideas around works, especially if everyone is willing to listen and participate. Each encountered challenge provides a lessons learned moment, which prevents a future occurrence of the problem. Everyone has unique skills and strengths and oftentimes an idea or a hybrid of two or more suggestions resolves the issue. In some cases, some of the work gets redone because there is no alternate solution available. Staying focused on getting the job done is the key.

Lucy and I took on quite a number of home improvement projects. Neither of us had carpentry nor plumbing skills. I do OK with electrical work, and we each had done some painting. We installed five laminate floors, painted every room in the house, installed borders and wallpaper, reworked some of the plumbing, installed wainscot and wood trim in the rec room, installed a patio and brick walkway, installed drywall in the basement, and became reasonably adept at gardening. Not bad for two people who rarely used power tools before buying a house. We did have a lot of help from family and friends, and we were willing to help out others when we could. Lucy and I were willing to try things outside our comfort zones and we supported each other fully. There was no blame game or finger-pointing. I think that is why we were so successful with our home improvement projects and with our marriage.

Life is very much like a home improvement project. There is a lot of work, some unexpected events, problem solving, “winging it”, and moving forward. All of this is easier with a partner who sees you as an equal, who trusts you, and who is willing to work with you even in adversity. It makes getting through the tough times easier and makes the good times even better.

Be willing to think outside the box and be supportive. Stray outside the comfort zone occasionally; you may discover a new hobby, a fun activity, or meet someone wonderful. Do not miss an opportunity to give or receive a hug, and be generous with giving them. Be willing to provide comfort for a blackened thumbnail, cut, scrape, sore back, or other sign of working hard. As always, give your special someone a meaningful hug and let that person know how much you care. Thank you for sticking with me!

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“Back In The Saddle”

Aerosmith’s song is “Back In The Saddle” while Gene Autry’s is “Back In The Saddle Again“. They are completely different songs and lyrics, but both are appropriate for this post.

The blog is back in the saddle after a hardware issue. Unfortunately, I was running an out-of-date WordPress extension that was responsible for making backups of the content and the backups are useless. I will be back-filling the missing posts over the next week. It does give me a chance to make some subtle changes and to clean up some of the cruft that accumulates over time.

I have been back in the bicycle saddle again when the weather has permitted. It’s not as exciting as a motorcycle saddle (it’s been over 30 years for me), but the challenge of riding either a shorter hilly trail or a longer flatter trail is nice. Lucy and I would ride about 200 miles per year, and I miss my riding partner. It dawned on me I have not been horseback riding in over 45 years, so I may have to add that to my activity list…if I can find a place to ride and a riding partner who wants to laugh hysterically at my attempt to stay on the horse. I am sure it would be the next viral video on YouTube.

The past fifteen months have seen me attempt to get back in the saddle to move forward with my life. It hasn’t been easy and my seemingly getting bucked off the spooked horse and then trampled by the buffalo herd several times reminds me that life has challenges. We see rodeo riders get bucked off and get right back on the horse. Sometimes the injuries are serious and the rider needs some time to recuperate. Getting back on does not ensure a smooth ride and that pesky buffalo herd sometimes roars back into the picture. I’m learning a new way to ride and hope I can stay on. You all have been wonderful with helping me to my feet and dusting me off so I can try again. And again. And again.

Three friends have gotten back in the saddle and started new relationships; all are at different stages, and I am overjoyed for each of them. Each had a previous relationship end badly and each is proceeding with caution. After all, getting bucked off is quite unpleasant. There is also overcoming the feeling of wondering if something is going to wrong because everything is going well; the cost of the previous relationship abruptly ending is the price for today’s happiness. It is probably strange spending time with someone new; I have experienced that just having a cup of coffee or going for a walk with a female friend. For all of my friends in their new relationships, I hope you stay happy, that things continue to progress wonderfully, and that your happiness turns to joy.

I know some people have problems seeing a couple get affectionate after a loss or divorce, but it really doesn’t bother me. The staged crap on TV is bothersome to me because of how false it is. Seeing a couple holding hands or walking arm-in-arm is different. Lucy and I acted like newlyweds our entire married life. We kept each other young because we were filled with joy. Instead of feeling sad that I no longer have that sort of affection, I am happy that I was blessed to have it for all those years. Seeing their joy is comforting and it brightens my day. I had an incredible ride with Lucy and I will always treasure that.

It is time to get out of the saddle for this evening. Give your special someone an extra hug for me. Life is a long ride, but it is so much better when you have a riding partner you enjoy. Happy trails!

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Filed under music, philosophy, rebuilding

Outside the Box

One well-worn phrase I heard repeatedly during endless hours in management and strategy meetings is “Think outside the box”. Someone somewhere is probably raking in royalty money at every phrase utterance; I am sure my invoice is forthcoming. What the managers hoped for was for us to look at situations from a different perspective and use creativity along with “tried and true” methods. The irony is the ones flogging the phrase are observing from a deep corner of the box; seeing the wall next to them was a new experience.

We subconsciously categorize everything we experience, including interpersonal relationships. This is probably a survival skill vestige. A stranger on the street is benign or a threat.  A co-worker is a professional relationship, an acquaintance, or a friend. In most cases, the categories are well defined and rigid. Either our feelings for that person either stay the same or they gradually diminish.

Our closer relationships become more fluid. Through the years, a friendship may ebb and flow for many reasons: career demands, starting families, personal growth, or distant location. Some relationships may start out as one type and evolve into something more wonderful. Lucy and I started out as professional co-workers, and we ended up having an incredible life together. We were willing to think outside the box with our co-worker relationship and we were willing to let our relationship evolve. The Abba song “Take a Chance on Me” applied to us.

Lucy’s family is an example of people who were flexible. Lucy’s passing technically ended my membership in their family since I was a relative by marriage, not by birth. They were under no obligation even being nice to me. Julie and Suzy still consider me a brother and are happy to stay in touch and spend time with me. Even though they were dealing with the loss of their beloved sister, both spent time with me to help me heal, Julie especially, and I hope I helped with their healing. We have also become very good friends, and I am deeply grateful being a part of their lives. Annette and Al, and Ardelle and Dale also regularly keep in touch and I am very happy for that.

I reconnected with some long-time friends last weekend and it was so wonderful to spend time with them. Staying on touch via email, text messages, and Facebook is nice, but there is something about direct interaction that technology will never replace. Technology has allowed me to reconnect with a couple of former co-workers and become good friends with one of them. One can never have too many friends, and it is fun having another person who likes spending time with me. It helps cure loneliness.

There are many scientific theories why some interpersonal relationships are static while others are dynamic. That three-pound electrochemical stew we call a brain processes hundreds of thousands of neurotransmitter reactions per second. Each of us has a different recipe for our stew. Some neurotransmitter concentration measurements are in nanograms per deciliter and other interactions with the endocrine system influence neurotransmitter levels. With the enormous amount of variables and degrees of freedom, science may never tell us exactly what causes love, or why two people love each other in entirely different ways, or why some people are friends, and others are acquaintances. All it takes is a glance, a touch, a kindness, or a smile to begin evolving a relationship. The mystery keeps philosophers and romantics busy.

Take a few minutes to appreciate how a relationship evolution has enriched your life, and be thankful you both were willing to think outside the box. New relationships are very exciting, and for those of you in the early stages of one, I hope your adventure and evolution is wonderful. Thank you to the people who have chosen to keep me in their lives and love me for who I am.

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Filed under philosophy, rebuilding

Another angel gets her wings

We have come to expect people living into their 80s with the advances made in medicine, hygiene, and nutrition during the past two centuries. TV shows like “CSI” and “NCIS” lead us to believe that we will know every cause of every untimely passing. Losing a healthy 27-year-old daughter to “natural causes” is inconceivable.

Unfortunately, Mike and Sue are living this very harsh reality. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they adjust their lives without Kimberly. I never met Kimberly, but from what I can tell, she was a remarkable, vibrant, and well-loved young woman. She received her angel wings far too soon.

I have known Mike for around 30 years. He worked with me at DCA, Inc. when the company moved to Minnetonka from downtown Minneapolis. Mike got to know Lucy when she started working there and was one of four people in the company who figured out when Lucy and I started dating. We have kept in occasional contact through the years. The IT field is very demanding, and there were a lot of job changes and promotions through the years. Mike was very supportive after Lucy’s passing, and I will be there for him.

For those of you with children at home, please give them a big hug tonight. Your children are a precious gift.

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Filed under friends, rebuilding