Ignore That Too!

My mother-in-law has many gifts and talents, among which is a passion for quilting.  Browsing through the used bookstore recently, I picked up a title that I thought would help me better understand what makes a quilt worthy of regard.

“Plain and Simple” is a true story of an urban California woman, Sue Bender, who developed an obsession for the Amish and eventually lived among their people to discover their unique culture for herself.  The curiosity was initiated in the 1960s over a spectacular Amish quilt hanging in a department store.  Years later, in the fall of 1981, Sue found three strange looking dolls in a folk art gallery store.  She learned these dolls originated from the Amish and over a six month period received twelve of these dolls from seven different women.

Sue observed that the dolls had no face.  They were silent and serene.  There was no pecking order.  None was better or worse than the others.  They didn’t have to perform or prove anything.  No voice said, “Be happy, cute, or pretty.”  No voice said, “Be a star.”

She continues… “In my world, everyone has a face, and many of us try to stand out.  In their simplicity, these faceless dolls said more with less.  They left more to the imagination.  Maybe accepting who they are, they don’t waste their strength trying to change or compete.”

I’m reading this book to my daughters.  My twelve year old has developed a talent for crocheting.  She has made dozens of her own stuffed animals and other clever creations.  Yesterday, she presented me with a surprise gift, a faceless doll.

Adding to the depth of her message, and a lesson for all, was a message born of pure childlike innocence best explained in her handwritten letter.

“P.S. I know the bag says, ‘Happy Birthday’ on it, just ignore it!”

“P.P.S. I also know it says, ‘To Skyla, Love Grammy and Grampy on it, ignore that too!”

“P.P.P.S. I LOVE YOU!”

What a great way to magnify the message of a faceless doll.  We just need to learn what to ignore.  Truth be told, I didn’t even notice the elements of the bag she was asking me to overlook.  Fancy bows and glittery gifts stopped catching my eye many years ago, but there is a lot more work to do in the art of “overlooking.”  Even though I know we are all crafted from crooked timber, I still spend too much time marveling over the incompetence of humanity at large.

THE CHALLENGE: Noah’s ark couldn’t have smelled very appealing, but it was much safer inside than out in the storm.  Maybe your workplace stinks.  Maybe your family stinks.  Maybe your school stinks. When a patch or stitch in your quilt stinks, approach it like an ark.  Approach it like a faceless doll.  Approach it like the wise innocence of a twelve-year-old child who knows what to look beyond in order to get to the real gift and message!  A “faceless” approach will allow you to “FACE LESS” of the unnecessary noise, drama, and distractions of a turbulent world.

Three Halloween Observations

(1) The rich know how to give.
(2) Opportunities to teach children are abundant.
(3) It’s a great chance to get to know your neighbors.

I will not write about these lessons independently but will share a quick (mostly incoherent) snapshot that hopefully captures the essence of each lesson.

“Let’s go to the rich neighborhood” we used to say as trick-or-treaters.  Not a Halloween went by without some discussion of potentially getting a full sized Snickers bar.  We never made it to “those” neighborhoods.  In fact, no matter where we went there were punk kids stealing bags of hard-earned candy.  (Ironically, I doubt those thieves will ever be in a position to hand out the aforementioned Snickers bars.)

My children love sweets just like anyone else, but they are also no strangers to moderation and healthy food choices.  For this reason, they have been content over the years to just fill up their Halloween buckets and call it a night.  This year they even seemed a bit uninterested, skipping houses that were decorated and had porch lights on.  I was shocked.  How could this be?!?!  “Kid’s we’re going to the rich neighborhood.  Tonight you are going to learn how to hustle!”

pumpkin

We jumped in the car, drove off the military base and down the road a couple of miles.  I explained that “when dad was a youngster” we used to run door to door filling up pillowcases full of candy.  I concluded my unsolicited history lesson and parked the car. We started to pound the pavement, albeit slow at first.  It took the kids an hour to really find their groove.

How rich was the neighborhood you ask?  Depends on your definition of “rich”.  Very small homes were selling for 1.3 million.  Every yard was perfectly manicured.  Most driveways were adorned with luxury vehicles and many families were driving door to door in golf carts.  One family was even driving through the streets giving out candy.  We ended up with 20 “full sized” treats between 3 kids.  (Score!)

There are undoubtedly snobs in this world who happen to be rich and therefore give the wealthy a bad name.  But, my experience last night was remarkable.  There was not a single home in which we were not greeted with exceptional warmth and kindness.  Almost every homeowner interacted with the kids commenting and inquiring about their costumes.  I asked some of the homeowners about a piece of art that I saw hanging up on the wall and they invited me in without hesitation.  There were home builders, artisans, orthodontists, and retirees.  Roughly 50% of the homes held out a bowl of candy and told the kids to “take what you want” and/or “take some more.”  It is evident that the financially independent have become so for a reason.  Most have worked very hard to get where they are, they have learned gratitude and are quick to give back and share, whether it be advice, friendship, material goods or services.

I found plenty of opportunities to teach the kids.  From safety, to hard work, to manners.  My boy is still a bit too young to use a filter and is often brutally honest (as a child should be).  At one home he told an older gentleman that he didn’t like trail mix.  The man’s feelings were hurt, based on the words he murmured under his breath.  I noted the address and will have my son mail him a handwritten apology letter.  My parents and grandparents never tolerated a lack of manners and that has trickled down to their posterity.

THE CHALLENGE:  First, if you think the wealthy segment of the population is a bunch of detestable shmucks, STOP!  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Isolated incidents do not represent the masses.

Second, teach the rising generation.  They need to learn social skills.  They need to learn principles of safety.  They need to have fun, create good memories and spend time with mom and dad.  They need to learn how to work hard.  Halloween is a perfect opportunity for all of these.  Last night was not at all about the candy, it was about the children.  It was about the education.

Photo by Philip Hay

 

 

Beating a dead horse, or mule, or whatever…

Mom…dad…aunt…dead, all this year.

What was it like on their deathbed? They all knew it was their time to go. Were they thinking about selfies? TV? How to discipline others? A mediocre lesson? Enemies? The business card they meant to give away?

ANSWER: Nope

They were thinking about the sum total of their lives. They were thinking about bricks! They were thinking about their pain (and thirst). Something happens on our death bed. We let go of all the stuff we thought was important.

A good friend once told me, “You only have to make it until you die.” This helps me stay cool, calm and collected. I try not to carry the “stuff” with me along the way. I can only control what I can control and eventually the clock hit’s zero.

“After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.”
Proverb

Knowing what I will eventually become makes it easy to keep yellow flags in my pocket. It is also worth questioning if my perspective is even correct. I love children’s art! There is something so pure and authentic in EVERY single doodle they create. Often I would ask my young children, “What is that?” after they come running up to me to show me a masterpiece.

In the child’s mind, the picture doesn’t need any explanation. “It’s right there dad, duh…can’t you see it?” But sometimes I can only see what looks like scribbles. The child is not concerned with line, form, shape, value, color, and texture. They can only limit themselves to the expression of their idea, their way.

I wonder how often we view the world equivalent to a child’s artwork. How often do we impose our will upon others when trying to lead “the right way.” We might be making a ruckus in an attempt to lead others “our way” when in reality what we are waving around is childlike “artwork.” We might be saying, “Duh…it’s right there, can’t you see it?” But, did we present our vision with enough artistic elements? Did we use complimentary colors, formal balance, and proportion?

THE CHALLENGE: As a leader, know the rules. Know what is stated in black and white. This will give you the power to direct. It will provide a common framework for all to understand. Avoid being abstract when assigning tasks or giving orders. Be direct, be clear, be firm. The more you do this, the better you lead. The better you lead, the more bricks you make. The more bricks you make, the more satisfied you will feel when it’s your time to pass.

Photo by Kerry

Stay Humble

“Hey mom, we’re going for a walk?” I said. “Sure,” came the reply. We weren’t thinking about safety. After all, I had a friend with me, so why should anyone consider the fact that the lifeguards would be off duty in just 20 minutes? Or that we would step into the ocean right when high tide was in full fury?

Playing Russian roulette with mother nature nearly cost my life. The fierce undertow gripped my ankles like a creature under the bed. I didn’t stand a chance! After a prolonged struggle, I was desperate! I was 10 seconds from giving up when out of nowhere a monster wave turned me into a living surfboard. It was a thrilling ride, one of desperation. I knew it was my only hope. I let gravity pull me down hoping my toes could now get a taste of sand. I was in luck. The skirmish to get back to land was real. I had to fight for every inch. My body dropped to the beach as if it were a lifeless whale. I failed to look both ways. That was 23 years ago.

Today, I took my kids swimming in the ocean. They had fun jumping waves, that is, so long as they were less than waist deep. They were timid. I tried to coax them into deeper water. No such luck. But I’m convinced my aforementioned brush with death influenced how I raise them and contributed to their immense respect for nature’s power. Patience pays off and I know that in due time they will be ducking and dodging white crested ocean swells.

THE APPLICATION: We enter life naked and helpless. The ocean is a long time coming. We must learn how to crawl, then walk and maybe endure a little pain such as hot sand, cold water, rocks, and an occasional jelly fish sting. We need strength, energy, and endurance. Eventually, we may graduate to a boogie board, surfboard or wakeboard. From there it might be a jet ski, speed boat or cruise liner. But the one thing we never graduate to is trading limbs and lungs for fins and gills. Try as we may, fish we are not.

THE CHALLENGE: Stay humble. Born broke, die rich? Fine. You may own some boats, but the ocean will always own you! True riches are found in listening to nature’s sermons.

Photo by Dave

Paper Text

Do you remember when business cards were in vogue?  Okay, maybe you still use them (but not for long). How about Trapper Keepers or My Pet Monster?

Who doesn’t periodically reminisce on trends from the past? So many things have come and gone. I wonder why they have to go. Why were my favorite cartoons not good enough to catch on? Why don’t my kids know what a G.I. Joe is? Why did music change so radically? Is this because of contract obligations, licensing agreements or the rising generation’s need to be original? I guess I will never know.

Long before the digital age we used to “email” by putting pen to paper. We had pen-pals! Life was so slow that we would actually write strangers (sometimes across the globe)  as part of our school work. It would take many days or even weeks before getting a response.

Our “text message” used to be a physical note passed during class when the teacher wasn’t looking. Sometimes the note was exchanged in the hallway or slipped into someone’s locker. I’m not sure if the youth still do this, but I imagine the great majority of communication is via smart phone.

Today (during a meeting) I received a text message.  It was a photo of a study guide and an emoji – thumbs up.  My response was also an emoji – baby bottle. Except to the senders, both messages were vague, cloudy and superficial…ESPECIALLY mine!

I later wondered what this communication would have looked like in an “old school” format. If we put pencil to paper and passed it along, I believe the message would have been much different. The “smart” phones that we rely so heavily upon do a really good job at keeping us “not-so-smart”. We get so used to taking shortcuts that we often slice off the horn of our entire message! On the flip side, sometimes we replace “chat” with “text“. Though, these should never be confused. Our time evaporates typing a lengthy message that would otherwise only take a few seconds to speak.

Class notes were somewhat ideal, given their era. In general terms, they required two way communication. The receiver was usually happy to receive the memo. The message was sufficiently succinct. Dialogue was often very open – just consider all the blushing faces when the teacher would snatch a note off of someone’s desk!

THE CHALLENGE: If applicable, think back to your school days. If notes were as easy as text messaging is now, who would you ping? What would you write? Do you wish there was someone you had sent a note/message to but didn’t?

Next time you are in a meeting, think about who you might want to message. If the gathering happens to be with a group of strangers you can skip the whole business card thing and just ask for their number. Tell them you might reach out for their opinion during the lecture or conference.

Forget the “status updates.” Forget the spam! Nobody cares about “the weather.” What clear message can you send? How can you add value? If this were a handwritten note, would it be different? How so? What meaningful dialogue can you start? Consider that our present text messaging age will eventually be a thing of the past, something future bloggers will reminisce over. Will you wish you had established a friendship with someone while you still had frenzied fingers?

Maybe the opposite is true. For you social butterflies, maybe you need to cut back. Almost every note passed now is “caught by the teacher.” The teacher is social media.  The teacher is your profile. The chalkboard is now digital and our names are on it. Are your kids wondering why you pass notes all day instead of paying attention in class? Where is your middle ground? I challenge you to find it and exploit it!

Photo by hundrednorth

Painful Pervasive Poaching

Over 1,000 rhino’s are poached each year for a single body part, the horn. Apparently this pointy steak skewer is worth a small fortune on the black market. Not that I have any idea how much $$$,$$$ I could get for one, and here’s why:

  1. I can’t think of a single use for a keratin spike.
  2. As far as my corner of the globe is concerned rhinos are already extinct…even looked outside my window to verify.
  3. I respect the wishes of rhino advocates who ask that this information not be published.

Interesting fact: Rhino horns grow back – provided they are cut properly.  In an effort to deter poachers, de-horning is a popular (and very costly) trend.  De-horning is a process similar to cutting your fingernails – only much shorter. What if you were a rhino? How would you feel about this?

What if humans were poached for a valuable body part? What if outside organizations trimmed us up a little bit to keep us safe? Can you imagine a society with no left hands, right feet, or in this case noses? Perhaps you would feel angry, useless, violated, or depressed – as you should!

We all have an individual “rhino horn”, something that makes us truly unique. Your horn is that which you value most. It might be another person, your family, a goal, a vision, a talent, a home, or a reputation.

Every single day, your horn is at risk. Marketing campaigns, political agendas, two-faced acquaintances or outright enemies will poach you without a second thought. You have something of value and someone else wants it. It might be your money. It might be your voice. It might be your silence.  It might be your indifference. It might be your support.

THE CHALLENGE: Identify your personal rhino horns.  For the sake of this exercise there should be two; a primary and a secondary, just like the animal. What will you do to protect your horns?

For example, if your primary horn is your family, what specific systems can you set in motion to improve how to mentor your children or how to make your spouse’s heart skip a beat? Do your children have free reign on the internet? What information do they access? Is your home protected? Do you have insurance and health benefits? Do you have savings? What about family traditions? Do you keep a journal to leave for your posterity? What about your ancestors? Do you keep in touch with mom and dad, grandparents or great grandparents? Do you reflect on their teachings? Do you protect any heirlooms left behind? The ways that you can safeguard this “horn” are infinite…but only you can decide what is best for your own circumstance and belief system. Maybe this is something worth pondering next time you earn couch time. Give it a try!

Photo by Jin Kei

Books by the Bushel

The number of people I have met who hate to read or refuse to read is baffling to me. Not long ago reading was reserved for upper classes of society. To not read was to remain in ignorance. We now have an opportunity to harvest vast bushels of knowledge. Information that previous generations would kill to have.  Much of the wisdom waiting in the pages of books goes unnoticed as we reach for the quick fix provided by a newspaper or magazine. Even then, it seems we’d rather read emails and text messages or embrace quick Google searches (more on that in a future post).

Walking into the library today, I noticed that my boy struggled mightily to hold all 10 books that he had previously checked out. I wondered why he checked out the maximum quantity. I wondered who set that amount in the first place. In the midst of my judgmental state of mind, my memory reverted back to my own past. Each week I would go to the library and check out the maximum number of books. Right or wrong, these books helped satisfy my immense curiosity for nature and instilled a love for reading but more import, a love for LEARNING!

This year I discovered the power and simplicity of audiobooks. I get through each title in a FRACTION of the time, not just for being in audio format but because I listen at 2X the “normal” speed. Best of all, Overdrive (among others) allows you to check out books for free. I have completed over 50 books this year and still have six months to go! It didn’t take much “effort”, but it did take consistency and a commitment to use my time wisely.  It doesn’t take much to put some headphones in while you clean, exercise or get groceries.

All of these books have taught me something, and a few of them have changed my life altogether. I can name at least five that are game changers. I therefore see no need to own all 50+ books. I don’t need a vast library. However, I do want to recognize the best of the best.

THE SOLUTION: Give yourself boundaries, such as “I intend to read _____ books by the end of the month, quarter, year, decade etc.  Next, identify your “all-stars”. All-stars are the books that you think about without any concious effort. These titles resonate with you and influence you continually. Finally, among your all-stars, identify your “hall of fame” books. These are books so good that you would reread them periodically and recommend them to anyone at anytime.

THE CHALLENGE: This challenge is directed to me, but I invite you to modify it to meet your own needs. Select 3 books per year (maximum) to add to your physical library. Limiting the number of slots allows you to really evaluate the book’s intrinsic worth. You will find that titles will seem to fight for those positions.

Once identified, purchase only used copies and lend them out frequently. Place your hall of fame books on display where you can view them at a glance, drawing immediate inspiration as you ponder the “collective intelligence” each title has provided for you.

Photo by Deven Dadbhawala