Monday, December 30, 2013

Symbols of Canada - Part 1 - The Maple Leaf

I am Canadian.  Born.  Raised.  Proud of it.  I am proud of what being Canadian stands for, stereotypes and all.

For example, I love our accent (although mine is less strong than that of some other regions).  I love the “eh” and the “oot and aboot in my boat”.  I love that we are generally polite and that we apologize for everything, even if we aren’t wrong.  I love that our official mascot is a beaver and the maple is our tree.  I love hockey (even if I don’t play it anymore).  I love the cold, white winter.  I love snow.  I love 3 downs, wider, longer fields and the Saskatchewan Roughriders (hey, it is what it is).  I love the flat of the prairies, the mountains in the distance, and all of the unique landscapes that are found in and around every corner of our beautiful country.  I love toques, bunnyhugs (Sorry, another Saskatchewan reference used there), and all of the other things that are uniquely Canadian (except poutine, but that is due to lactose intolerance, no other reason).  There has never been a time when I wasn’t happy to proclaim that I was, in fact, from the glorious land of the North.

I recently had the chance to visit Ottawa, our nation’s capital.  I was actually born in Ottawa, but we moved back to Saskatchewan after a few months.  I’ve always wanted to visit, but had never had the chance.  Why would I want to visit?  Because Ottawa is full of symbols of Canada.  Over the next few posts, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on some of things that, to me, represent Canada and the essence of being Canadian (although I didn't see all of them in Ottawa).

Symbol # 1 - THE MAPLE LEAF

When I lived in Europe, I was often mistaken for an American (since I was often in the company of one or more, and my French accent was distinctly Anglophone).  People were sometimes a titch more abrupt as a result.  But when people learned I was Canadian, their attitude changed.  They recognized our international profile, character and contribution throughout history.  They opened up.  Why wouldn't they?  We rock!

There is a reason that travellers put a Canadian flag on their backpack. It is because, of all of the symbols of Canada, the maple leaf is the most commonly associated with Canada.  It resides proudly in the centre of our flag.
Flag flying proudly from the Peace Tower at the top of the Parliament Building
It sits on our (now defunct) penny.

Pretty penny
There are few places where maples (of one species or another) grow.  The distinctive sugar maple forms the hard working backbone of the syrup (and syrup-related) industry of much of Eastern Canada.  While it was late October when I visited Ottawa, there were still many leaves on the trees (at least, compared to back home in Western Canada).  It was great to see the different types of maples, offering a bright contrast to the blue/grey skies, the stonework of the buildings and the brick sidewalks.

Colourful maples next to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel
  In this quaint little boulangerie, they featured a large display of Canadian maple leaf cookies, which a certain American President took a fancy to.  Hey, why not?  It's Canadian.  Who wouldn't want some of that.

The maple leaf sits right at the top of the list of recognizable symbols of Canada.  See it, think Canada and be proud!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dear Teenage Daughter

I write this partly as a shout out to all the amazing parents out there that have and will be in the same boat that I am, and as a way to acknowledge (and/or justify) my behaviour (past, present and future).  You see, I, like many before me, have been blessed with a teenage daughter.  I write this to her and for her, to help her to understand me and maybe gain a greater appreciation of me and of herself.

As always, allow me to provide some back story.

Years ago, on a very cold, snowy day, I was awoken from the brief and interrupted sleep that has plagued me for some time (I can put a date to it, if need be) by my wife informing that she was, in fact, in labour.  She assured me that it wasn't too bad and that she was going to shower and do some laundry.  So our day began.  Over the course of the day, we moved some furniture with the help of a friend.  Later in the afternoon, as we moved our large and ancient couch over the banister in preparation for its departure from our home, my wife exclaimed, seemingly in passing, that her water had broken.  And the heightened state of anxiety that has been a perpetual part of my life commenced.  You've seen the stereotypical portrayal that Hollywood gives of the bumbling, idiotic father taking his wife into the hospital (my favourite is Steve Martin in Father of the Bride 2, for reference).  That was me.  I managed to convey to the nurses at the hospital that my wife was, in fact, in labour.  They were not as shocked as I think my state deserved, but they took her and sent me to wander down hallways following arrows to do something, somewhere.  Within a few hours (x2), I found myself with a pale pink little girl.  She was beautiful.  She was ticked off.  She was flushed.  She had me wound up in knots.  She had me worried for her health.  All within about a minute and a half.  She was my daughter.

When she was a month or so old, I gave her a blessing at church (something that fathers may do in our church - it is something like a directed prayer, if I may describe it that way).  At that time, I felt very strongly what I was to say.  I felt that her spirit would shine very brightly from within her, and that she would have a powerful influence or impact on others.  I could SEE the emotional train wrecks that she would cause, because, even then, I could see how her happiness and joy would light up a room and her sadness (or miserableness, as I later came to understand it) would dampen the mood of those around her.  She is my daughter.

And now to the present reality.

Looking back, I'd say that that first minute still describes my teenage daughter.  She has grown into her curly hair, added several feet in height and has lost absolutely NONE of her spirit and passion for life.  She can still light a room with her eyes, or light it on fire with her temper.  She is as prickly as a grizzly bear with a toothache, meaning no disrespect to sore-toothed grizzlies, of course.

My daughter puts everything she has into everything she does.  In some circles, that is high praise.  In other settings, that can manifest as competitive, confrontational, moody, overbearing, bossy or just plain irritating.  She runs either completely hot or completely cold.  On or off.  Happy or sad.  She is a study in absolute opposites.  In lots of ways, I love it (although I am perhaps less positively vocal about that).  Most of the time, it drives me up the wall and sets me to foaming.  Why?  Because I am, maybe, possibly, similar.  Or maybe I just admire someone that is as driven as she is.  Hmm, I hadn't thought of that before. 

My daughter is a gifted musician.  She gets it from her mother.  She has sung and played music all her life, although it has intensified lately.  She puts her entire heart into what she plays.  The louder, faster and more complex the music, the more she loves it.  I love to listen to her play.  Lots of the time, she sneaks away to play, with headphones on.  What a waste, I think.  I ask her to pull the plug out and just play out loud, so we can all hear.  She doesn't want to show her mistakes.  I can understand that.  No one wants to be perceived as "weak" or "less than perfect".  I am much the same way.  But I regret being deprived of the joy of listening to her, all the same.

At this point, I feel like I should explain or provide an interpretation of some of my behavioural eccentricities to my daughter.  I might as well be clear about what I like and why I do some of the things that I do.  Maybe this will break down some of those walls of assumption and misunderstanding that perhaps exist.  We might even find that we are similar.  Or not.

At times, we butt heads.  She wants to drop out of conversation and to not interact with the rest of us, preferring to text, email and/or hide in a book.  I find myself forced to resort to "interesting" tactics to elicit a response.  Whether it means singing (badly), dancing (badly), capering, shouting (well), poking, teasing, or whatever it might be, I do it.   In the Polish grandmotherly tradition passed on to me by my English Canadian father, I CAN NOT leave anything alone.  Limits?  No idea what you are talking about.  Boundaries?  Pffffttt, never heard of them.  Why, my dear teenage daughter?  Because I would rather see you share your lively, wonderful spirit with us than not.  Just like when you were a tiny baby, your temperament affected everyone around you.  When you open up and share yourself, there is no one that isn't affected.  So, when I push, pull, tease, bother, wheedle, bug, boss and generally irritate you, that means I love you.

When you compete, you go all out.  You are completely focused on being successful.  It makes you touchy, quick to react (negatively) to corrective criticism, and, at times, makes you reckless.  It terrifies me to watch you throw yourself around with abandon.  On one hand, I want you to succeed.  On the other, I just want you to be safe.  Lots of the time, in all sorts of situations, when I react sharply, loudly or harshly, it is rarely due to anger.  Mostly it is from frustration at not being able to control a situation so that I feel everyone in it to be safe.  I also don't love surprises.  Shocker.

As my daughter has grown older, I have had to come to terms with the fact that her interests have shifted slightly from whatever they were, to things that make me a bit more uncomfortable.  Boys, to be specific.  Dear daughter, please don't mistake my suppression of discussion of this boy or that boy or related topics from a lack of interest.  In fact, it is born from a great deal of interest.  In you, and in your happiness.  When you say "Can we talk about ..." or make mention of someone, and I roll my eyes, close my eyes, turn away or shudder, shiver, quiver and groan, what I am saying is not that I don't love you or want you to be happy, or that I don't care, but rather that I do love you, but I (me) am not ready to deal with you going off and being grown up.  I don't want to deal with the potential pain, sadness or general emotional ups and downs that come with relationships.  You might be ready.  I am NOT.  So, live with the eye rolls, sighs and groans.  And then talk.  Just because I don't want to talk about it (or related topics), doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk. So talk.

In recent months, I've discovered that where I was once the fountain of knowledge when it came to all things cool and hip (alright, I was the puddle that Gillian's fountain splashed to create), I am now not as cool as I once was.  It is a bit bewildering, to be completely honest.  Terms get thrown around.  Some ricochet off my head, but the meaning doesn't stick.  I'm a step or 300 behind.  Dear daughter, when I ask you (again) to explain "fan girling" or "face palms" or whatever else it might be, consider this.  At this point, you might think that I am silly and a bit embarrassing.  But wait until I'm even older than I am now.  When I'm drooling (not deliberately this time), the gas passes accidentally (not deliberately) and I really CAN'T hear you, how cool will I seem?  At this point, I can still beat you (sometimes) at video games, I actually like doing most of the things that you do, and I'm young enough to keep up in active games (and still too young and stupid to remember that I'm not as young or physically fit as I once was).  I still know (and like) some of the same music (although I refuse to understand 1 Direction).  You should be proud that not only do I know what a "selfie" is, I am cool enough to know what a "belfie" is and I can still bend enough to take one AND I am cool enough to know how to post the picture to your Facebook post.  So, by definition, I AM cool (-ish).    And why do I use stickers in chats?  Because I CAN (and I like stickers).  Deal with it!

Apparently, my singing and dancing skills are suspect.  Hmmm.  Who knew?  Dear daughter, when I choose to sing along with your sister in an outrageous falsetto (with most of the correct words), and do a little impromptu dancing, it doesn't mean I am a terrible person and am ruining your life.  It means that I care enough to interact with you and your siblings.  Not many dads would rock Just Dance 3 at a youth activity (including most of the footwork) and be (mostly) okay with it being recorded and posted to Facebook.  When I show you (and everyone around) my "moves" (and there are many), enjoy them.  Learn them.  Chances are those awesome moves will be cool again in a few years anyways.  You're welcome.

Lately, my daughter has been more engrossed in texting and chatting on Facebook (see above boy-related discussion).  She becomes horrified when we A) monitor her chats (apparently that is "creepy", B) participate in her chats (again, "creepy", and C) have the audacity to initiate our own chats with her chatters (or is it chattees?).  Dear daughter, when we do this, it doesn't mean we are creepy (mostly).  It means we love you and want to spend time with you.  We want to share you or for you to share you with us.  Plus, teasing you is just our way of drawing you out (again, see above discussion).  And we are testing these young men, to prove their mettle.  If they can't hack us and our antics, they aren't for you.  We want you safe.

Confrontation is the order of the day in our home, I am sad to say.  Each of us is often the recipient of a piercing glare from our dear daughter.  Despite the lack of response from us, or the negative response that she receives to this, she persists in thinking that a disdainful look or a raised eyebrow will change how we feel about something.  Dear daughter, you may wonder how or why I resist your icy stare.  There are basically two reasons.  First is that you are not Mummy nor my mom. Those are the only 2 women who can shift me simply by raising an eyebrow or narrowing their eyes.  Sorry, years of training trumps teenage grumps any day.  The second reason is that I love you too much to give into you (all the time).  When I glare back, tell you to back off or suggest that one of your ancestors may have been of the bovine persuasion, I am actually doing you a favour.  If I rolled over and gave you whatever you wanted, whenever you demanded it, you would be a sorry excuse for a human being and I wouldn't be doing you or the universe ANY favours.  Instead, you learn boundaries, limits and reasonable sets of expectations.  You learn to go without.  You learn that the needs of others might be more important than yours and when and how to deal with that.

In conclusion, yeah, I'm a bit of a weird duck.  But, dear daughter, I prefer to think of myself as a swan in a sea of ducks.  Which makes you mostly or part swan and SPECIAL.  Especially to ME.  To the dads of teenage daughters, show them what you are made of.  To teenage daughters, appreciate what you have.  We love you and aren't afraid to show it.  And guess what?  We also know how the internet works (since some smart dude from our generation invented it).  Ding ding ding.  We win!!!

Sincerely, Dad (of a teenage daughter)

Monday, October 21, 2013

True Friends

In each of our lifetimes, we encounter a staggeringly huge number of people.  Many will have little or no impact on us.  Most we won’t even remember beyond the fraction of a second that we are in contact.  Some will become acquaintances, both good and bad.  At different points in our lives we will make friends.  Some will last a week, while others will last until a family move or a change in class or grade.  However, a rare few will stand the test of time and, no matter how many years or kilometres separate you, will always hold that title of true friend.  The minute you reconnect, whether after hours, days, months or years, whether in person, by phone, letter or something electronic, the friendship is as fresh and full of life as it was the last time.

In my opinion and my experience, true friends are people that are THERE for you, wherever that might be.  They stand by you when times are tough.  They accept your faults, even when those faults might hurt them at times.  They put you first, even if it isn’t convenient.  They look at you and see the good, the potential and the greatness.  They know when to talk, when to listen or an appropriate combination of the above.  Friends remember the good times, and help you walk past and away from the bad times.  Friends do little things that make huge impacts in your life.  Friends laugh, cry and joke.  Friends share in your life.  Friends can offer advice, because their intentions are selfless and focused on your growth, not on being right.  Friends have things in common with you.  Your priorities mesh in many areas.  Your interests may also align, or not, but they certainly don’t get in the way.

I am a fairly friendly guy, for an introvert.  I have many good acquaintances and friendly associates.  I don’t negate the value of the other people I am friends with, but there are less than a dozen people that I feel like I have truly connected with and consider true friends.  I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.  I’ll share the names, despite the risk of alienating people.

Some friends develop over time.  When I was in Grade 7 (an awkward time for any teenage boy), I found myself at a bit of a loss.  For a while, I didn’t have many friends.  I found myself spending more time with a couple of boys, certainly not the most popular kids, but good people.  They became my friends.  One moved away at the end of Grade 8.  The other became my best friend.  George weathered our uncomfortable years.  We weren’t necessarily similar.  He was big and awesomely practical.  I was a stick and a bit of a nerd.  But George gave me my first, real example of true friendship.  He stuck by me.  He quietly encouraged me.  He spent time with me.  He overlooked my faults.  He was entirely and completely reliable.  As we grew older, our friendship matured along with us.  We cared for each other and the welfare of each other was fairly central in our minds.  As he went into the trades (temporarily), I went to university, then to Europe on my church mission.  While not a big writer, George would send me the occasional letter.  He stepped in and became a better big brother to my little brothers than I had been.  When I came home, he was the person that I spent hours catching up with (after a dose of family).  When I met my wife for the first time, George was right there beside me.  He rode shotgun when we drove Gillian home to her sister’s.  He was my best man at my wedding.  He stepped easily into the role of Uncle George to my kids.  He was helping me move furniture when Gillian’s water broke with #2.  He drove 14 hours, in a marathon 16 hour round trip to Edmonton (starting at 2:30 am) to see the Edmonton Alberta Temple with me.  He attended the significant events of most of my children’s early childhood.  I went to his RCMP grad.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve spent less time together, exchanging the occasional phone call or email.  But I still consider him my best friend.  When we got together for our 15 year high school reunion, we were still in synch enough (or he was), to automatically ride shotgun so that I could give some female classmates a ride home.  No need to ask.  True friend.

While on my church mission in Switzerland and France, I met many great people.  But one family became true and lasting friends.  The Becquereau’s had 7 kids, all serious growing concerns. I still don’t know how they kept it together with all those boys, bookended by the 2 girls.  But Sylvie always had time to talk, listen and encourage a young, insecure missionary far from home.  About 17 or 18 years after our last meeting in France, we got together in Quebec.  Despite my poor, rusty French, we instantly slipped into that comfortable familiarity we’d had when out for family walks on quiet and hot Sundays in rural France.  Better yet, that comfortable familiarity included my wife, even though she’d never met them before.  True friend.

While I was in my undergrad, I got a job working in the horticulture program at the university.  There I met another true friend.  Jackie B was my supervisor, then my mentor and always my friend.  Jackie always encouraged, kept things silly and light and enriched our days with great conversation.  She always sacrificed time and effort to make what we did successful.  When she was ill, and I had her job, she still stepped in a supported me so I didn’t make a fool of myself or screw things up too bad.  We commiserated about our common challenge (who had a name) through work and grad school.  To this day, I still feel like I can call and she’ll step up.  We still commiserate about challenges.  I am still concerned for her wellbeing and happiness.  True friend.

Grad school is a weird and stressful time for anyone, I think.  Much of the time, you spend it trying to make sense of things that you figured would make more sense when you planned them.  Luckily, there are always people around you that will step in to help.  Enter Parthiba, the smartest, most precise, most patient and soft-spoken person I’ve ever met.  Parthiba helped me to make sense of statistics (mostly making sense of the data, not stats) and stepped into my life like one of the brothers I already had (but often liked less than him).  He became a son to my parents (he still refers to them as Mom and Dad).  Over the years, with great distances and times between us, it is still a real pleasure to talk to him and spend time with him.  True friend.

I have another friend named Wayne.  Our friendship comes from common interests and a willingness to step up and in whenever it is needed.  Wayne can be relied upon to come at a moment’s notice to help fix something, build something or generally take a work project to a stupidly intense level.  I feel the same way.  We have common priorities in a number of areas of our lives.  I trust him and value his insights.  As a result, I will spend hours on a roof, on a ladder, or holding dry wall, if he asks it.  True friend.

I’d better pause and mention my true and eternal friend and companion, Gillian.  I’ve spoken of her before in other posts.  When I came home from my mission, I wanted to find a wife.  I met Gillian; we’ll call it by chance.  I invited her to come to a singles activity at my parents’ house.  She was cute and didn’t say much.  But, I’ve come to understand, she was taking it all in.  I drove her back to her sister’s house, with George along for the ride, and memorized her sister’s phone number in one hearing.  I then called her from the river the next day and she came and spent the afternoon with me and some friends.  She was fun.  We spent the evening together, me talking and her listening.  We had things in common.  I was smitten.  We wrote.  We fell in love.  What has cemented our true friendship is our mutual concern for each other.  From the day at the river, she became my Champion.  Whether it was making my dad back down, or having a mean-on for my sometimes less-than-sensitive-or-kind brother, she was there on my side, my team.  And I feel the same way about her (FYI, I learned that fierce protectiveness from my dad).  Gillian has stuck with me, despite my many, many failings.  There is no one that I’d rather spend time with.  Cuddles or hand holding?  Still the best thing ever.  True Friend.

I want to mention another friend, despite the risk of offending those that I might leave out, who might fall in the same category.  My little brother Andrew has become a good friend, despite the 7 year age gap.  When I was a teenager, he was an annoying little rug rat.  He was loud, full of pee and vinegar and never stopped.  But, as he’s grown, I’ve come to see him as an example to me in the areas of dedicated service, solid effort, and commitment to principles.  I find that we have more in common than I had expected historically.  He is easy to be around (still loud) and is a good friend.  FYI, the other brothers (and sister) have become closer over the years as we’ve aged.

As a couple, Gillian and I prefer to spend our time together.  Having couple friends can be a bit of a challenge, since sometimes you jive with one of the pair, but not both.  You don’t always mesh with the spouse of your spouse’s best friend but our dear friends Mike and Leela are exactly like that.  As we’ve gotten to know them over the years (or rather, as I have), we’ve come to enjoy spending the time that we can together.  Getting together is challenging (time wise), but not a struggle when we can do it.  True friends.

A number of years ago, I met this guy (John) at a youth dance that we were both chaperoning.  We’d met earlier than that but hadn’t spent any time together.  As we talked, we discovered we had a lot in common.  We had intermittent contact over the next few years.  One day, we decided that we needed to get together as 2 families and made the arrangements.  The families hit it off.  We found that Gillian and Dorothy hit it off also, and so did I.  Since then, we’ve made more and more effort to get together.  We spend at least a few days/evenings together a month, despite the 1 hour distance between us.  We call and talk.  We visit.  John doesn’t talk much.  I do.  But it works.  Getting together lightens my heart.  Each of them are examples to me of good parenting, good and faithful service and, true friendship.

I have found that it doesn’t take a lifetime to make a lifelong friend.  In my fortunate experience, I have met people that felt like I had known for literally years and felt that immediate connection.  This summer (and the months leading up to it), I met a few people that I feel like I had known forever.  Frank and Robyn, James & Kate, and Garrett were also leaders at the church youth camp that Gillian and I and 3 kids attended.  We hit it off immediately.  They exhibited loving concern for us.  Garrett stepped in and made a difficult situation bearable.  Each supported us unselfishly.  They had a positive and lasting impact on my life.  I admire them and look up to them.  You know that people are true friends when a hug isn’t awkward, but a necessary part of your interaction (that is my way of thinking, anyways).  True friends.

I have mentioned a number of people here by name, not to embarrass them (assuming that one or 2 will read this), but to acknowledge the impact that each of these exceptional individuals has had on my life.  There are other good people that I didn’t mention.  I have parents, other siblings and other friends.  But it is impossible for me to mention them all individually.  Just know that I have been surrounded with good people and I value that.

You can easily see that I have been greatly blessed.  From each of these interactions and relationships, I have learned valuable characteristics that I try to emulate and put into my life.  I try and act as they act, because I want to have a positive impact on others, like they have on me.  I hope that you can see some characteristics that are worth picking up and putting into place.  I expect that you’ll see a series of faces run past your mind’s eye also.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lucky (times a gagillion)

I’ve never considered myself to be a really lucky guy, at least in classic terms.  I have been fortunate to have things come into alignment for me on a number of occasions and I have been blessed, but I rarely “win the lottery” in the luckiness department.  At least, I didn’t think so (or remember so), until tonight.

Perspective check: I have 4 kids.  Two boys and two girls.  The boys are 16 and 12.  The girls are 14 and 10.  One girl is pushing pure hormones through her veins at all times.  The other is a sulky mess, most of the time.  The other dads out there are hopefully feeling my pain?

Tonight was the typical crazy busy Thursday evening that we experience every week.  Between all four kids, we had someone that needed to be somewhere or be picked up from something approximately every 20 minutes from 3:40 pm until 9pm.  We had most of us at the supper table for at best a 10 minute overlap at any one time.  While my wife and I traded taking turns going out to collect or deliver this kid or that to each subsequent, we worked on the dishes with Thing #4 and made a couple of batches of cookies.

I was working on cookie batch #2 (chocolate chip skor bit, in case you were wondering), while my wife helped Thing #4 take her shower (under duress – nothing new there).  Through the walls, I heard a question that I have heard a number of times these days from Thing #4.  What did you want to be when you grew up?  I personally have dodged answering this question, as I never really have a good answer and frankly never gave it a great deal of thought.  But my wife has thought of everything (probably twice).  I heard her respond calmly and quietly, “Well, I wanted to be a teacher, an opera singer, a writer, and actress” among other things.  I can’t recall her saying all of those before.  But rather than denigrate herself and her role as a stay at home mom (which can be typical) and say, “but I didn’t do any of those things”, she blew my mind with the next sentence.  She said “I got to be every one of those things.  I teach kids every day, I sing all the time, I write.  I am sure that she continued at this point, but I didn’t hear any more.  I was overwhelmed by a tremendous feeling of gratitude and that feeling of “winning the lottery”. 

I remembered a similar feeling that came to me about 18 or so years ago.  As a single man, I had been prayerfully requesting major divine intervention to find the woman that would make me happy, that would fill in my many shortcomings and balance me out.  Shortly after that, I met Gillian.  We clicked on the normal levels, I suppose and things moved ahead.  However, I remember that a couple of months after I met Gillian I looked back and could see that God had given me more that I’d ever imagined I needed (or deserved).  I’d “won the lottery”.

You’ll forgive my weak or deficient gambling-related metaphors.  I’m not a gambler.  But my wife is like an eternal jackpot.  She just keeps coming in a winner.  I’m the first to admit that I am not the best dad.  I am not home as much as I should be, and am often mentally absent when I am physically there.  I am clueless when it comes to most of what my kids are doing (although I try and compensate by overreacting when I do figure stuff out), although sometimes I will admit I try and stay clueless (see above comments about 14 year old daughters).  I can’t help with any of the homework (I blame the kids – they don’t take any subjects that I know anything about currently) and I would rather pluck myself bald all over than try and sort out why this girl did this to that girl or figure out any type of math equation.

But the beautiful thing is, I don’t have to.  Everywhere I am weak, my wife isn’t.  Together, we get the job done (although I am dead weight sometimes).

My wife could have been anything professionally.  As my dear mother would say “she is smarter than the average bear” (that is a Yogi Bear reference, I think) and can really do pretty much everything (except talk to strangers or idiots on the phone).  But she puts everything she has into our home.  Could we use a few more bucks?  Sure.  But could our kids be the great, unique and talented people that they are if they didn’t have their mom standing nearby and available to help out, lead out, guide, cajole, lift up, smack down or love them, no matter what?  Nope.  I don’t think so. 

Am I lucky?  You bet.  Glad I remembered that tonight.

Thanks for listening.  I just had to share.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Want more ideas? Disconnect your brain!

If you are like me (a.k.a. human), you have probably spent (wasted) a fair bit of time trying to remember that elusive task, find that lost something, grasp that fleeting thought or flesh out that next great creative idea.  It is incredibly frustrating when we block time to do something, we sit down, we remove distractions and then ... NOTHING.  We are stymied by a lack of creativity or a soggy brain.  We find ourselves unable to really get to what we were thinking about and, ultimately, we often don’t accomplish the task to the level we had wanted (assuming we’ve remembered it at all).

I have noticed in recent years that the great ideas and moments of clarity come at unexpected times.  It isn’t when I am really focusing the grey matter that I remember the 25th item for the to-do list.  It is when I am distracted.  It is also typically when I am doing something that has a slight physical aspect to it.  Not something challenging or difficult, but rather something that I can do without thinking.  Something involuntary or brainless.

Here are some examples of where I have my moments of mental clarity (and I am sure that I am not alone in this).

  • On the edge of sleep (either edge, but often in that time where I am partially awake)
  • In the shower
  • Walking (alone) to somewhere
  • On a long drive
  • In a meeting or something like it (ideas generated here are typically unrelated to the meeting content – bit of negative side effect, really)

What is really happening?  How can we be most creative (which I have often associated with my brain) when we are using it so little?  The answer is perhaps that when we are really applying the brain to something, it has the same effect as stirring up the water in a mud puddle.  The more we try and get the brain going and all cells active and engaged, the more dormant idea particles and conflicting things swirl up to confound us.

When we are doing something simple and basic, which requires our bodies to just act, our brains are in fact free to get crazy and creative.  It is almost as if we see clearer by looking sideways at things.

Consider your peripheral vision.  On the surface, it is pretty blurry, unclear and unfocused, but if you want to react or catch movement, you use the peripheral vision, not straight on vision.  If we come back to ideas and the brain, by applying a sort of peripheral mental process, we can open up and tap incredible creative and mental potential.  As we walk, drive for a long distance, take a shower or just settle into something, it is almost like our brains shuts off all of the noisy parts (because they aren’t needed right then), and things really flow.

So, if you really want to get creative or remember what you want/need to do, distract yourself and disconnect your brain.  You’ll be surprised how different it is.  Oh, but don’t forget to pack a pencil and paper, or you won’t remember later.