Category Archives: family

Three years

Today marks three years since Lucy passed away. Please take a moment to remember her and the joy she brought to our lives. She was an exceptional person and she is deeply missed but lovingly remembered. Her courage and determination during her cancer battle was inspiring, and yet she remained compassionate and generous to those she loved. I have always gravitated towards strong, intelligent women. Lucy was the strongest person I have ever known, and her intelligence made her an ideal partner. I am so grateful to have spent nearly 28 years with her, including 24 years as her husband. Cancer may have stolen her life, but it never stole her spirit, her strength, or her love. That is why I can never say she lost her cancer battle, but rather that her battle ended.

Lucy and I had discussed our respective mortalities over a decade before her cancer battle began. Lucy wanted the best for me, but most of all she wanted me to be happy. That is what I wanted for her, too. We put each other’s feelings first, we optimized our time together despite hectic and demanding careers, we took care to not smother each other, but most importantly, we loved and respected each other. I always felt our marriage was a fairy tale come true compared to so many other relationships, and I referred to our time together as our happily ever after.

“Time heals all wounds” is an old saying, but it is not at all true. The wound of losing a loved one never totally heals. It does get easier to keep moving forward, but there are still some extremely hard days, like today. I am fortunate to have a great support network because I could not have made it this far alone.

I am so lucky to have the love and support of Lucy’s sisters, especially during the first eight months after her passing. They suffered losing their mother, their oldest sister (Lucy), and their father in under a year, but yet they were there for me, and for that I am grateful. Their goodness is because of how well Bob and Betty raised them. I miss Bob and Betty because they accepted me into the family without hesitation and because they were such warm and genuine people.

My family has provided a huge amount of support, love, and guidance. They listened to my heartache and sorrow while I tried to make sense of the inconceivable, to accept the fact Lucy was no longer physically here. I am so lucky to have both of my parents still alive and in good health. Even though I am over 230 miles away from my nearest family member, I know they are close to my heart.

My close friends rallied around me and are a huge help, too. I may not have many close friends, but I am so lucky to have some truly outstanding ones. All of them have been in my life for over twenty years, except for one, and all of them have bettered my life. Lucy met each of them, except for one, and she enjoyed their company.

I am most grateful to my buddy. After we reconnected slightly over two years ago, we went from being friendly, to being acquaintances, to being friends, to being close friends, and now we are best friends. A friendship like that is very curative for a wounded soul, and we will remain friends for the rest of our lives. Career demands conspired to keep Lucy from meeting my buddy, but I know Lucy would have gained another dear friend.

My friends have asked if I would consider dating or remarrying. My honest answer is I do not think either will happen, but that I am keeping my mind open. Dating in my teens and twenties was a humiliating and arduous time, and Lucy entered my life as I accepting life long solitude. I’m still a misanthrope, still quite introverted, and really need very little interaction with other people. Trying to make new friends since Lucy’s passing has shown me that unattached women in my age group are either vengeful and bitter divorcees, or have badly broken souls. The really good ones are in relationships, or remain focused on their careers, or are busy with their children or grandchildren, or are not at all interested in me. Perhaps that will change in time, but for the immediate to middle future it is more likely that Earth gets overrun by purple unicorns than me finding someone to date. I may remain solitary for the remainder of my life, but that would not be a terrible fate because solitary does not mean lonely. I have my family, my sisters-in-law, my friends, and my buddy. Lucy set an extremely high bar, and I will not settle for anything less.

Be thankful that you have a best friend in your life. That person is there for you in good times and in bad times, to help you mourn or celebrate, but most importantly, to be someone you trust and with whom you enjoy spending time. Those of you who have a special someone in your life are very blessed! Do not miss an opportunity to let that person know what she or he means to you. When giving that meaningful hug to your special someone (who may also your best friend) today, let it linger a few extra seconds for those of us who had our happily ever afters end many years too soon.

Three year bouquet

Three year bouquet

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Thanksgiving 2014

Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States. The weather created an unexpected travel challenge into many people’s plans. I-90 from Albert Lea to Fairmont had either ice or snow pack on the roadway.  Thursday also saw below zero readings along most of my route. Snow and ice do not melt at -13°F, and road salt quits working at around +25°F. At temperatures colder than -4°F, ice and snow begins sublimating, going from solid to vapor without becoming a liquid, but the process is quite slow. A 3½ hour trip thus became a five-hour trip. Freezing drizzle Friday afternoon meant adding a day to my stay. Today’s warm temperatures, sunshine, and slight breeze melted off the offending ice and snow and ensured an easy drive back home this afternoon.

Thanksgiving was not intended to serve as a springboard to the most frenzied shopping time of the year, but to give us a time to pause, reflect, and give thanks. We tend to lose sight of what we have in our life that gives us hope and strength because of fast-paced lifestyles, unsettling news reports, too much caffeine, retail stores opening on Thanksgiving rather than waiting a few extra hours, and too much stress. Each of us has at least one reason or one person for which we are grateful.

Several months ago, a “tag, you’re it” style Facebook posting circulated asking the tagged person to list three to five things they were thankful for each day for three to five days, and to tag three to five other people for participation each day (I saw four distinct variations). I disagree with the principle of putting someone on the spot and asking that person to inconvenience between nine and twenty-five of their friends. For some people, the reason or reasons are very personal. The amount of sharing on Facebook can cause someone’s list to get lost in all the chatter and cross talk. A blog is a better forum for a gratitude list, because not everyone has a Facebook presence.

My gratitude list consists of people, either groups or individuals. If you have a list to share, please use the “Leave a comment” feature at the end of the posting; you can remain anonymous. Happy Thanksgiving!

10. Authors

Three former co-workers are authors published on major imprints, and I look to them for inspiration.

Jade Taylor  (her nom de plume) wrote a story that Harlequin Romance published. Harlequin is a very difficult imprint for first-time authors because of the amount of unsolicited manuscripts. Lucy enjoyed reading “Wildcat and the Marine”. Those of us lucky to work with “Jade” enjoyed her sense of humor. She was very fun to work with.

Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino wrote two children’s books before writing “Percolate: Let Your Best Self Filter Through” with Dr. Katie Eastman. I worked with Elizabeth at two different companies. “Percolate” was a fun and though-provoking read.

Greg Schulz now has three books published focusing on storage networks. Greg worked with Lucy and me over twenty-five years ago. His grasp of extremely complex technical matters and his ability to help others make sense of them makes him a highly sought subject matter expert. Greg is also very personable with a great sense of humor.

Each of these authors has distinct writing styles in different genres. Their successes result from connecting with the reader and having the reader feel that the time spent was worth it and enjoyable. It is something I strive for in each blog posting.

9. Entrepreneurs

It takes a lot of courage, planning, and preparation to be one’s own boss. People working a full-time job usually work 40-45 hours per week. Entrepreneurs work at least that many hours, and then work extra hours managing the books, developing the next advertising campaign, negotiating with vendors, doing interviews, handling shipping and receiving, and many other essential tasks. It is not for the faint of heart or for someone wanting to ease into a new career, especially in a still fickle economy.

Carver Flowers is a great example of pursuing a dream and dedicating the time for the dream to become a reality. Annette and Al have done an outstanding job building their business on trust and quality along with showcasing Annette’s talent and creativity.

MBF_MSC Virtual Administrative Services is an example of seeing a need and developing a business fulfilling that need. Mary does quality work, is very enthusiastic, and works tirelessly at growing her business and giving back.

It is so gratifying seeing these businesses succeeding. They admirably represent the American Dream.

8. Those who keep us safe

Public safety does not take time off. Firefighters, police, snowplow drivers, first responders, and dispatchers routinely work weekends and holidays. The Highway Patrol busily cleared accidents Thursday. Some of those accidents required dispatching an ambulance or fire truck. Snowplows did what they could to keep the roadways passable, though there were areas where the ice and snow accumulated too quickly.

Public safety workers sometimes deal with the worst in humanity, or get dispatched to a tragedy. Yet many of them stay with their jobs for many years because they know they are helping others.

7. Healthcare and hospice professionals

Lucy’s cancer battle required dedication and compassion from several dozen healthcare professionals. Lucy and I have nurses in our extended families. I also have friends who are doctors. It takes thousands of hours of training, followed by passing board exams and licensure to begin either career. One difficult part of the job is knowing not everyone receiving care has a positive outcome. Nurses in particular tend to dying patients, diligently focused on making that person as comfortable as possible, while being compassionate to that person’s loved ones. Lucy always thanked her doctors and nurses because she was grateful that they were doing their best while caring for her, including the emergency room doctor who told her that her battle was ending and there was nothing more that could be done for her.

It takes a special person to become a doctor or nurse. Hospice workers are very special. They tend to a person transitioning from this life, and they help the remaining loved ones begin adjusting to losing that person. Lucy’s hospice workers were professional and compassionate. Her hospice nurses were incredibly supportive of me while I helped tend to Lucy in her last days. The hospice team gave Lucy the chance to be at home, surrounded by her loved ones, in the house she loved. It was an incredible gift.

6. Blog readers

Your comments and criticisms help me be a better writer, and your continued readership gives me confidence to continue. All of you help me be a better person. I hope you get something enjoyable and entertaining out of my musings.

5. My brothers and extended family

I have a small immediate family which unfortunately became one smaller nearly eighteen years ago. My two surviving brothers live over 250 miles away from me, in opposite directions. They remain a big part of my life.

I am fortunate to have a large and loving extended family. My cousins are supportive, wacky, intelligent, compassionate, and a very fun part of my life. Most of them live fifteen hundred miles away or farther from me, but each of them holds a special place in my heart.

4. Good health

Like many of you, I have endured a number of physical challenges. I won’t even try to estimate the number of hours I spent in general anesthesia, much less physical therapy or lying in a hospital bed. I have a dear friend who easily eclipses my numbers, so I know how lucky I am. It took a lot of work to put Humpty Dumpty back together. My career in IT was three decades of high stress work with constant career reinventions because the technology changed rapidly. Yet I am in surprisingly good health and fitness, though I could improve on the fitness part.

3. My parents

Love and sacrifice. My parents gave up so much while I was spending a chunk of my early years in the hospital. Dad worked a full-time job and ran a farm so Mom could raise my brothers and care for me. Most of my surgeries and recoveries happened in Rochester, about eighty miles from home. They made a lot of trips for me. I was a huge challenge for them. It took a number of years before it sank in what they sacrificed for me, but I am lucky it did sink in, and I am still awestruck. They are still both alive and recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary. I love them dearly!

2. Close friends

Everyone needs a support system and my close friends have helped get me through the past thirty-one months since Lucy passed away. Friends are best measured by quality rather than quantity, and I hit the jackpot with mine. These are people I trust, with whom I enjoy spending time, who generously listen, and offer advice when I need it.

Lucy’s passing is a difficult adjustment. I am extremely fortunate to have one close friend who has invested (and still invests) a lot of time with me, who gets me out into the world, who challenges me to think, gets me to laugh, helps inspire me, shows genuine interest in how my day is going, and is a lot of fun being around. That is the sort of person who can brighten a day with a simple text message or a long phone call, and I do my best to reciprocate, though I think I have the better end of the deal.

1. Lucy

Most of the nearly 90,000 words written in this blog are reasons I am thankful for her, yet I would need a few million more to adequately describe my gratitude. I still miss her and I will for the rest of my life. She was my best friend, my rock, my confidante, my inspiration, my sounding board, my passion, my joy, and my universe. She was my once in a lifetime windfall of good luck.

Even though she is no longer physically here among us, she remains a part of me. My life is better because she was part of it and she still keeps me working on becoming a better person.

In closing, I have many blessings for which I am grateful. You probably have many blessings, too. As a reminder, if you wish to share some of the things you are grateful for, please feel free to leave a comment on the blog site.

If you are lucky enough to have a special someone in your life, give that person a long and meaningful hug to let him or her know how much you love them for making your life better. Give your loved ones a hug when you get a chance and I hope you enjoyed your holiday!

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“We are experiencing technical difficulties…”

Those of us “of a certain age” or older (born before Apollo 17, the final NASA manned moon landing) remember when a television network feed was interrupted by weather, solar flares, mechanical issues, or occasional human error. A “Please Stand By” graphic appeared on the TV screen and an announcer would intone in a deep, serious, ceremonial voice “We are experiencing technical difficulties…please stand by”. The announcement repeated every few minutes until the station either regained the feed or switched over to alternate programming. They acknowledged the problem, worked on a resolution, and used the announcement to let us know they had not forgotten about us.

Technology improvements through the decades have nearly rendered technical difficulties obsolete, at least for “Over The Air” (OTA) broadcasting. The same is not true for cable TV transmissions or streaming video. Once signal drop happens, there is no warning, no acknowledgement of a problem or a resolution; it just stops working. Compounding the matter is many cable subscribers have Internet, television, and telephone bundled together. When it works, it works well, but when it fails, it fails completely.

Business class Internet provider service level agreements (SLA) usually stipulate 99.9% availability. I was an IT manager for almost ten years and signed several of these agreements. Simple arithmetic shows that the 0.1% allowed downtime per day is 86.4 seconds (60 seconds per minute × 60 seconds per hour × 24 hours per day = 86,400 seconds; 0.1% = 0.001, so 0.001 × 86,400 = 86.4). During a standard contractual year of 365¼ days, the allowed downtime is 8 hours, 45 minutes, 57.6 seconds (86,400 seconds per day × 365.25 days per year = 31,557,600 seconds; 0.001 downtime is = 31,557.6 seconds; 31,557.6 ÷ 3600 seconds per hour = 8.766 hours).

Consumer class Internet service does NOT have SLAs. I have Comcast for my cable, Internet, and telephone services, and there is no uptime guarantee. If I need an uptime guarantee, I could upgrade to their Business Class services for considerably more money per month. I could not find consumer SLAs for Dish Network, Charter, Century Link, Frontier, or Knology, though it is possible SLAs exist. The providers assume “it just works” and that people can call in and navigate several minutes of automated phone before being queued to a human in a call center 10,000 miles away. After all, everyone has a smart phone and a smart phone provides voice service in the “unlikely” event something is amiss. This is not a rant against Comcast, for until last Friday they provided reliable service, and the replacement cable telephony modem appears to have solved my issues. However, I was surprised at the dearth of consumer SLAs for these services even though a consumer is locked into a contract for a prescribed time frame.

Service level agreements are based on trust. The service provider trusts the service they are providing meets or exceeds the SLA parameters. They trust outages rarely occur, but are quickly resolved, oftentimes with no noticeable interruption to the customer. The customer trusts the service provider to honor the SLA. Because of this trust, the business customer is allowing the service provider to handle a critical piece of the business’s communications infrastructure. It is puzzling why Comcast et al. do not seemingly trust their consumer services enough to back them with an SLA. Perhaps they know something that we do not know.

Trust is very important to us. We trust our family to nurture us and love us unconditionally, and I am fortunate that mine does. We trust health care providers to care for us when we are vulnerable because of illness or injury. We trust public safety to protect us when we are in peril. We trust a particular product brand because of reputation. We trust a service provider to provide the best possible service. Trust is difficult to earn and easy to destroy.

Finally, we trust our friends. Trust in our family may have its origins in preservation of the species, but we choose our friends, and we hope we choose them wisely. We trust our friends with critical pieces of our internal infrastructure: our hopes and dreams, our worries and fears, our strengths and weaknesses, our secrets. We trust our friends to cheer us up when we are feeling down, to celebrate our victories, to help us see things from a different perspective, to listen when we need to talk, and to be good company when we are lonely. There is no formal signed contract needed because our friends provide these services willingly. Any unresolved violation of our perceived terms of service result in the friendship terminating. This is why ending a friendship is almost as devastating as a loved one’s death. Our friends become part of us.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the United States. My post from last Thanksgiving is still timely. We should take time and be thankful for the people we chose as our friends, and for those people who trust us to be their friends. That trust helps us get through our life journeys.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug, try to stay away from retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, stay warm, don’t eat too much, and celebrate your thankfulness for being together! If you have a friend or loved one who cannot be with family tomorrow, try to give that person a call or better yet, try to include that person in your celebration. Those people make your life better by being part of it, and that is definitely something to celebrate. You can trust me on that.

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Oh, deer.

The month before Thanksgiving in the United States is usually the beginning of harvest season. Large tracts of former prairie land now filled with corn, soybeans, oats, or wheat also make ideal feeding grounds for deer. Deer hunting season and large, heavy harvesting equipment rumbling through tall corn leaving no cover, combine to pressure deer to move somewhere safer. Most of the crop harvesting along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota is complete. It is not the most scientific surveying method, but the number of deer carcasses along the roadway shows the deer population is rebounding nicely. The live deer are harder to see because they are much farther from the freeway now, but they are out there, though I think many hunters may disagree.

Despite the size of their eyeballs, deer have terrible eyesight and their eyes are better suited for low light environments. Bright lights such as headlights temporarily blind a deer causing it to momentarily freeze while it tries to figure out how to see again. A vehicle moving at 70 mph covers 103 feet per second, and the average passenger car weighs ten times as much as an average deer meaning a collision results in major damage to the vehicle and serious or fatal injuries to the deer. Like deer, people freeze up when facing very bright lights, but we can use our arms or hands to shield our eyes. “Deer in the headlights” is a phrase used to describe someone freezing up in a critical situation.

We all have “deer in the headlights” moments: public speaking gaffes, first dates, forgetting one’s lines when acting in a play, the first day on a new job, a traumatic experience. Our moments usually end with maybe some embarrassment, or some ego bruising and loss of dignity, or laughs, or life lessons, but we are usually able to walk away intact, unlike the deer along the freeway. We have loved ones and friends to help us get through those moments, help with damage control, and help with getting us back on track. If not for those people, “deer in the headlight” moments are permanently damaging. Having those people in our lives gives us one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season.

Give your loved ones a meaningful hug and think of the times they helped during a “deer in the headlights” moment. Stay warm, and don’t stare directly into bright lights.

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The holidays are encroaching

Yes, the holidays are approaching. They are also encroaching, especially Christmas because of the shorter buying season this year. Home Depot already had a Christmas display by October 20th. You really are seeing Christmas promotions coming earlier every year. It is encroaching even more into autumn (in this hemisphere).

Thanksgiving in the United States is the fourth Thursday of November. Many companies also close the day after Thanksgiving, so people can enjoy a four-day weekend. Retailers realized that people enjoying a day off might have reason to go shopping with proper incentives. Wikipedia has a detailed definition and explanation of “Black Friday” for those of you living outside the United States or want more detail.

The latest date for the fourth Thursday, the 28th, occurs when the 1st is on a Friday, like November 1, 2013. The earliest date for the fourth Thursday, the 22nd, occurs when the 1st falls upon a Thursday, like November 1, 2012. Those extra six days of shopping season are very welcomed by retailers. Fast food and casual food restaurants also see a noticeable increase in sales during that period.

Stores opening on Thanksgiving Day is a recent development. There are businesses that traditionally have been open on Thanksgiving: gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. But retail stores like Target, Best Buy, Gap, and Wal-Mart would close. Unfortunately, the shortened shopping season is resulting in more retail chains opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, with some opening as early as 6:00 p.m. They believe if they are open, people will come.  My hope is that their Thanksgiving Day sales volume will not justify opening on Thanksgiving Day next year.

I had the misfortune of working for two small companies that did not close the day after Thanksgiving. I was lucky because Lucy and I would have a quiet Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, then we traveled an hour to my brother’s house on Friday evening to be with my family, but it was still a nuisance not getting that Friday off. Some of my co-workers had family out-of-state or out-of-country. Traveling to Asia is much easier with four days off rather than a weekend. This year it directly affects a close friend who will be unable to travel back to Illinois to be with family. I know it will also affect a niece and a sister-in-law.

As long as people are willing to stand in lines waiting for a chance at acquiring a loss leader item in extremely limited supply, the retailers will keep pushing “Black Friday” open times earlier into Thanksgiving Day. People should choose to be with family on Thanksgiving rather than wade through a sea of crazed shoppers only to go home empty-handed.

While the big-box retailers are participating in their “social experiment”, a different social experiment started in 2010. Small businesses are at a disadvantage to the big-box stores.The idea behind “Small Business Saturday” was to level the playing field a bit. It is ironic that American Express championed the idea. American Express usually has the highest per transaction “swipe” fee and charges the highest merchant fee of the major credit card brands. This years’ Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 30th. Even if you are not an American Express card member, please take the time to shop at a small business. Check out the Shop Small map to find participating businesses. I hope to visit Carver Country Flowers, Gifts & Formal Wear and say hi to Annette.

I have my outdoor Christmas lights installed. It doesn’t take very long, and I try to do it the first weekend in November. Putting lights up in 50 degree weather is better than putting up lights in 20 degree weather and standing in snow. Lucy would insist the lights stay off until the day after Thanksgiving. That is when I will plug in the outdoor light timer. The Christmas tree gets installed the Saturday or Sunday after Thanksgiving. Perhaps I’ll try making piirakkas and red velvet cakes again this year. Julie and Suzy survived my last batch of baking with no ill effects, and they’re still talking to me.

Give your special someone an extra hug tonight. I know some of you have a loved one away from home, so surprise him or her with a phone call, text message, or email. Stay warm and thank you for your time!

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