Day 1,514 – Thankful for Skillful Piano Playing vs the Banging of a Toddler on a Keyboard

Whew, what a day!

When I sit down to write there are usually a few themes in particular that really stick out and I choose one or two of them to go with. Other days I see so many things that I go list style. Once in a great while I’m in a bit of a funk and it takes a while to find the bright spots to focus on. Most days are very easy to pick out and some involve a little struggle, but usually in a good way.

Some nights have more of a philosophical tone to them or I’m continuing to work thoughts out in my head while I learn through living. Sometimes it’s a specific memory that has brought back joy through one of several different ways.

Nights like tonight are a bit different. There’s not a specific incident or thing that really jumps out – there were many throughout the day that brought great joy. There’s not a thematic feel to it that would necessitate a list. I’m in a fantastic mood so it’s not that I’m unhappy and struggling to find gratitude. There hasn’t been a crazy deep insight or a philosophical idea that’s taken hold or been re-embedded. Nothing like any of those.

When I boil it down I have a deep sense of well being and living into my purpose today. There were many times in which everything felt right – I was lined up in the right place doing the right things with the right people and at the right times. Everything seemed to be in tune – even the things that didn’t go well or as planned all seemed to work out exactly the way they were supposed to. Everything seemed to fit. Cosmic harmony or something like that?

About the best way I can describe it is using a short part of the Dan Brown book, Origin. He uses the example of the noise of a toddler banging on a keyboard to show what chaos sounds like. Think about it, the piano is making noise, an annoying, ear splitting, heart rate increasing, chaotic noise. ( I suddenly feel like the Grinch and all “the noise, noise, noise!!!” ) By contrast he then shares a skilled pianist playing a beautiful piece. There’s an order, beauty, structure, and timing to it that causes it to bring joy and stir our souls. Both sounds are made the same way, but one is incredibly pleasing, the other hurts to listen to.

It was only fitting to use a picture of an album that fits the feeling of everything being exactly when and where it should be.

What I’m thankful for today is the continued feeling of the keys being played by the hands of a skilled pianist rather than the violent pounding of a toddler. Everything lined up and was in place the way it should be – good, bad and otherwise. Everything was as it was supposed to be.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,513 – Thankful for a Reminder of Excellent Advice, Seek First to Understand…

Tonight was the last session of an anti-racism series through our church. The series in of itself is something that I’m very grateful for, but that’ll most likely be a blog topic for a later date. I’ve got a lot of thoughts fermenting in my brain before I’m ready to write that one.

In part of the discussion someone mentioned a line of thought that reminded me of some excellent advice from a while back. While I don’t feel it appropriate to get into the details the concept itself is what is truly important.

If someone has an idea different than mine I have a tendency to do my best to talk them into my idea. I mean, c’mon, it’s MY idea and viewpoint, so it must be right… right? When I do my best to make my point over and over and over again how often does it actually cause lasting change? Not often. Not only that, but it seems like the other person is much more likely to dig their heels in and push back.

Why doesn’t it work? Because I’m typically making a ton of assumptions and taking it 100% from my perspective.

The excellent advice that really stuck in my head was the concept of seek first to understand, then to be understood. Instead of immediately springing into action and sharing my opinion I need to remember to act with true, heartfelt, and honest curiosity. “Tell me more about that.” “Why do you feel that way?” “How did you come to this perspective?” “What do you feel is truly at the heart of the situation?” Those are the place to really start the conversation.

Odds are that their answer is different than the assumption I’ve already created in my brain. I don’t fully understand their situation and most likely never will completely. By learning more I can sometimes find that the core issue is something much different than I thought. I need to remember to ask and listen intently if I am to truly learn.

Additionally, I’ve just gone through an anti-racism workshop series, read a couple of books, and listened to some podcasts. My brain is primed to see a specific issue first because it has been top of mind. Instead of immediately assuming racism I need to learn more to see if that is truly the issue. Maybe it is, but maybe it is something different. Maybe it’s an issue of safety, socio-economic challenges, or something else.

If I just dive in and attempt to assert my viewpoint it will not only not move the other person, it will most likely further open the divide between us. By taking time to understand first I can at least make sure we’re both looking across the same canyon before finding a way to build a bridge to the other side.

Whew, that just went way longer than I expected and also didn’t cover the detail I can see in my head as well as I’d hoped it would. Long story short, the concept fo seeking first to understand and then to be understood will be top of mind as I interact with others moving forward.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,512 – Thankful for Approximately 1,000 Days of Gratitude In Six Hours

Over the past couple of days I’ve been off of work to work on a personal project. Part of that focus has included going through my blog posts from the past few years in search of a couple of specifics. Sure, I could’ve used he search feature but that wouldn’t have been nearly as enlightening or successful in my search. What this meant was that I spent well over six hours combing through my most recent 1,000+ posts.

Over the past three and a half years there have been so many adventures – oh my goodness! Seeing all of the work trips, vacations, and road trips was pretty wild. There were a steady stream of events with the boys as they grew from Cub Scouts to Scouts, from elementary and middle to middle and high schoolers. So much time outdoors, on the water, playing games, up in the workshop creating, time with friends, and having fun. There were many pics of sunsets, sunrises, bluffs, storms, snow, lightning, and the moon. Inspirational moments which had come and gone. Memorable moments that I’d kind of forgotten or didn’t realize were as recent as they were.

What really caught my attention was the wonderful reminder of how important and integral gratitude is to my overall joy. There were clearly days when I was struggling or frustrated, but with the distance of time the wounds had healed and I’ve become stronger as a result. Focusing on gratitude forced me to find the upside in those difficult times and to ask myself two of my favorite questions:

  • How can I be grateful for this adversity?
  • What can I learn from this?

In reading post after post it was wild to see how this habit is finally starting to form and shape my mental process. In connecting the dots afterwards I can see why my brain gravitated to Stoicism as it has – there were so many of those types of thoughts brewing before I even knew it was a thing. As I’ve continued to read, research, and focus on it I can see those tendencies becoming stronger.

Throughout those 1,000+ posts I became even more grateful for this journaling practice that I stumbled into by accident. In almost each of the posts I could remember the days more clearly thanks to the post priming my memory. Due to it being focused on gratitude each post, even on a bad day, reminded me that it is up to me to remember a specific day as good or bad. In choosing gratitude for my daily “journal entry” my history is more optimistic. Trust me, I remember much of the crappy stuff that had happened on those days as well, but thanks to the filter of gratitude my first impression of the day was positive. Even if it were tough I was still able to grow from it.

What I also found interesting were the recurring themes that mirror my values and the types of things in life I value most. Time with family. Focus on growth and being better. Faith. Thought followed by action. Friendship. Keeping a growth mindset. Gratitude. The beauty of nature. Physical activity. The importance of stillness. Learning from past mistakes. Dreaming big. Living while I am alive. So many of the same themes, over and over and over.

While it was a different project that led me to dive into my old blogs I couldn’t help but temporarily lose sight of my goal as I drifted into reading an old blog that was off topic. In a very tedious task I was able to find significant amounts of joy and the feeling of growth and progress. To have my mind flooded with so many memories was an awesome experience that I will not soon forget.

This was amongst the memories that came back as a result of reading so many past blogs posts… ahh…

If you already journal, be sure to look back once in a while. What an amazing feeling to see where you’ve come from and how you’ve grown. If you don’t do any journaling I’d highly recommend it. The treasures I’ve found through it are mind blowing. To be able to go back over five years and have highlights to remind me of the day have kept my memory strong. By focusing on what I’m grateful for I’ve taught myself to look for more of what brings me joy (not happiness, but joy specifically).

Thanks!!!

Day 1,511 – Thankful for Acknowledging My Shiny Syndrome & Finding Ways to Focus

I took today and tomorrow off from work to focus on wrapping up something I’ve been working on for over three years now. In doing so I needed to make sure that I could focus 100% on the task at hand and not be distracted. This is not something that is easily done for me.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have “Shiny Syndrome.” When I see something shiny it catches my attention and my thoughts race away from what I was doing to the shiny thing I now see before me. In a flash my focus is completely shot and it takes me a while to get back on track.

Staying at home would have led to way to many potential distractions. Same with being up in my workshop, there are far too many things to draw my attention away. I considered even renting a place for a day or two and then realized that may be a little too extreme (though it remains on my list of options if necessary). Instead I opted to drive to the beach and parked the car there. All I brought with was my laptop and phone (the phone was only to be used for music and as a mobile hotspot and I largely stuck with that). I killed the engine, slid into the passenger seat, and made myself comfortable.

The hours flew by in a flash. Every so often I’d glance up and take advantage of the wonderful view. In those quick pauses I’d close my eyes for a moment, let my brain wander a bit, and then went right back at it for a while. Next thing I knew it was time to head back home. When I took a quick assessment of progress I was pleased to see that I’d made it further than expected.

While the task itself was mind blowing, I am truly grateful for acknowledging one of my many shortcomings and then finding a way to work with it. Just a hunch, but I’m thinking I already have an idea of what I’ll be thankful for tomorrow… but none of it would have been possible without the focus starting today.

Shiny Syndrome, you bring much excitement to my life and I’m grateful for you. That said, thanks for taking a vacation today. Please stay away tomorrow too. I’ve got work to do. 😉

Thanks!!!

Day 1,510 – Thankful for a Reminder of Perspective and the Cyclical Nature of Life

One of the silver linings of this year has been an increase in hiking in Perrot State Park. The extra open weekends have provided ample opportunity to get out to some excellent WI State Parks. Perrot is only a short drive from our house and is a true gem on the Mississippi River. Over the past handful of years we’ve typically counted ourselves fortunate for getting out there one or two times each year. This year we’ve been blessed to head there for some hiking no less than half a dozen times.

Today what I’m thankful for is a little different. It’s not just hiking in Perrot, rather seeing the changing of the seasons. There’ve been four times this year when I’ve taken pictures from roughly the same vantage point atop Perrot Ridge. The trail we typically take winds us up the bluff through the woods and then carries across the spine of the ridge. At the apex it opens into a beautiful goat prairie with incredible vistas of the Mississippi River Valley. Atop that ridge I usually pause to snap a quick pic to enjoy and soak in just how different the view is given the variables of that precise moment.

Today was particularly wild as it looked very similar (though more gloomy) to when we took our first hike there this March. Here’s the progression of pics:

March, 2020
July, 2020
Late September, 2020
Today

What really caught my attention today was the contrast between July and today. Our hikes started in the tail of winter. They continued into summer. As winter comes again we prepare to keep going. In that cycle we’ve seen no leaves, luscious vegetation, beautiful fall colors, and now back to no leaves. The leaves and beautiful fall colors will come back again, year after year after year.

For many this time on Earth feels like the winter. It can be gloomy, can feel barren, and can be cold. This too shall pass. The times when we are down test us. Can we find the positive in anything? Can we stay optimistic? Can we utilize the opportunity to grow and close the gap between who we are and who we are called to be? This is a season like any other. It will pass. When it does the reminder of it will make the sun feel all the more bright and life all the more vibrant.

Hiking through Perrot has reminded me of this. I will continue to hike all the seasons. I will find ways to appreciate each of them for their own unique qualities and opportunities. There is beauty in all seasons.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,509 – Thankful an Excellent Post Office Experience and Postal Workers Working on Saturdays

One of the reasons I started blogging like this was to remember to keep an eye out for and appreciate some of the blessings in life that would go otherwise go unnoticed by me. Today’s gratitude certainly fits that bill!

There were a couple of packages we wanted to mail out so I figured I’d to it quick this morning before the post office opened. When I got there I saw a line of folks carrying various envelopes and packages on the same pilgrimage I was on. Some of them we smiling and others were a little less than pleased to have to wait. Behind the counter there were two incredibly friendly postal workers smiling and helping everyone as quickly as they could.

Onalaska Wisconsin Post Office — Post Office Fans

I just always think of my weekends as being my own time. When I have to work on a Saturday or Sunday I often groan to myself and am not super excited to work. If my family was being honest I’m sure I’m not the most pleasant company to spend time with during those times. The weekends are my time to get personal stuff done and hopefully relax for a little while. There are specific things I want to do on the weekends and work isn’t really one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love my profession and career, but I also appreciate the rest of my life too.

Back to today – the lady who helped me out was super friendly and helpful. She really made it feel like I was the absolute most important thing to her in that moment. Even though there was a line continuing to grow she took her time to walk me through everything I needed and helped me get the right services. It was an excellent customer service moment and I left the post office smiling.

When I sat in my car that’s when it hit me she was working on a Saturday. Here she was, working on the weekend, and smiling the entire time. She was working so I could get the stuff done that I wanted to get done. I’m thankful for her working on a Saturday (and shared that with her). To everyone who’s working on the weekends – my sincerest of thank you’s for working during the weekends to help others and to keep the world rolling on Saturdays and Sundays!

Thanks!!!

Day 1,508 – Thankful for a Staycation In My Workshop

When we made our vacation plans for 2020 there was a lot of of stuff planned. Little did we know that those plans would be put on hold for a year or two. In the meantime this has led to a time off vacuum as I usually take bigger chunks of time at once. Seeing as it’s been a while since I’ve taken more than a day or so off I decided to take off today as well as Monday and Tuesday.

My morning routine was the same. Yes, I’m a sick puppy and got out of bed at my normal pre-5am time and went for a run, did my breathing exercises, and took my cold shower. I ate breakfast and then, instead of going to work, I went to my workshop for a day all to myself.

Ahh… an entire day focused on creating with my hands! Throughout the day I worked on a couple of different projects. Between gluing up one and making the last cuts on another and then routing the first while putting finish on the other there was a great balance between the two projects. As one needed time to sit aside I moved on to the other and back and forth. There’s still a lot to get done on all, but I made some serious headway today.

More importantly, my soul is at peace. My cellphone was silenced for the overwhelming majority of the day. I only checked my work email once – in a bone headed move I initially set my out of office date to the wrong day. Becky was working all day. The boys were in school all day. There were no distractions as I was able to focus 100% on being present. Interesting side note, I even caught myself working on my breathing while doing wood work – crazy! I played some loud music and jammed out. I played some classical music and chilled. It was exactly what the doctor ordered!

2020 may have thrown our plans off a bit, but I’m thankful for finding a way to still go on a staycation to my workshop. Nothing like working with my hands to help me stay present and feel at peace.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,507 – Thankful for The Shawshank Redemption

Our entire family felt pretty well wiped out this evening. The combination of getting dark early, cloudy skies all day, snow flying in the evening, and the majority of the week behind us put each of us into movie mode. This doesn’t happen often in our house, we usually fire up games or are active doing other things. As luck would have it all four of us were in sync and we took advantage of it.

There’s a list of movies Becky and I want to watch with the boys. We started mentally making it a while back and haven’t mad a ton of progress on it. First and foremost on the list was The Shawshank Redemption, but we wanted to make sure they were both old enough for the adult concepts in it. We decided that tonight was the night and fired it up.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - IMDb

I feel like even trying to explain why I’m thankful for the movie wouldn’t even come close to doing it justice. Any words I type won’t fit the magnitude of the movie. Quick note – if you haven’t watched it yet I’ll do my best to leave out spoilers, but let’s face it. Seriously, if you haven’t watched it by now, stop reading and turn it on.

LOL – I’ve seriously now started typing a new paragraph for the 6th time! None of them quite feel right, so maybe I’ll try this instead…

There are more life lessons contained in The Shawshank Redemption than I can count. There are specific scenes that cause my eyes to well up even before they start (Andy sitting on the roof smiling as everyone else drinks a beer as he declines). There is quote after quote after quote that my friends and family still share with each other. There are so many memories I have of watching this with friends throughout the past 25 years – it seems to be one of those few movies that truly transcends all groups of friends. The movie is about as perfect of a story as one could ever hope to enjoy.

The memories that come to mind when I watch it each time is mind blowing. In watching it with the boys I’ve now got another memory to add to the list when I watch it. I can’t even begin to track how many different memories I had tonight as I watched, but I know my heart is full.

Andy Dufresne, Red, & the rest of the Shawshank gang – thank you for another evening of wonderful memories, stirred emotions, and a full heart. What a wonderful way to wrap up an evening with my family.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,506 – Thankful for Finding Joy Outside My Comfort Zones

When I got ready to run this morning it took a minute for the temperature outside to really sink in. It felt like almost exactly 40 degrees colder than it did on our run on Monday morning. The wind dropped the “real feel” down to 24 degrees. I questioned my clothing plan for the run, but then remembered to lean into the discomfort. Next thing I knew I was out the door with only a light shirt, light jacket, and a pair of shorts.

Something crazy happened on the run. I wasn’t cold. By the end of the run I felt pretty great. I wasn’t sweaty like normal, but I was wasn’t uncomfortable in the least bit. Quite the contrary, it was a fantastic run. The entire time I was more aware of the environment, I could feel the cold air on my legs and yet they felt warm (or maybe I was going hypothermic, but I digress…). Regardless, the run turned out to be a very joyful one. Had I gone with my “normal” I would’ve felt cold at the beginning, probably grumbled to myself, and then been a sweaty mess by the end. The run was incredibly invigorating and left me feeling awesome!

Not from today, but fitting nonetheless!

After the run I laid down and wen through my breathing practice for the next 15-20 minutes or so. In doing that I’ve been focused on doing forty deep inhales and exhales and then holding my breath as long as I can. Four rounds of that later and I’m feeling even more refreshed and plugged in. Today I could feel the burning sensation in my lungs letting me know that they were ready for air, but instead of inhaling I pinched my nose closed. Though it felt very uncomfortable I was able to push myself through to get a longer hold than I would have. Once I was done with all four rounds and checked my times I realized that I’d just set a new personal record for holding my breath, just shy of two and a half minutes! Not too shabby for someone who hadn’t been able to go even a full minute just a couple of weeks back.

After the breath practice I decided to go full cold shower instead of easing my way into it. I did it yesterday as well, but I never actually settled in and ended up taking about the quickest shower of my life. I grabbed my phone, fired up the perfect “lose myself” song (Rose Tattoo by The Dropkick Murphy’s), turned the water on to freezing cold, and jumped in. In an instant my lungs gasped for air and I felt a slight state of shock. In just a few seconds I got my breathing back under control. In less than 15 seconds I was in the zone and feeling great. Once past that initial discomfort I ended up taking the longest cold shower of my life, well over four minutes.

Each time I push myself past the discomfort I’m rewarded and punished. It’s really a weird dichotomy.

I’m rewarded with realizing that I’d just done something that I’d never done before. I’d grown, I’d persevered, and I reached a new high. By pushing myself and learning through my suffering, embracing the suffering, and using the suffering as fuel I did something I’d never done before. Not only had I done it, but I survived and was smiling through it.

I’m punished with the realization that I could have gone just a little longer. I’d pushed myself, but I could’ve gone just a little further. Could I have just worn the light shirt and no jacket and been fine on my run? Yes. Could I have held my breath for just one second (or more) longer? Yes. Could I have stayed in the cold water longer, taken less time to get past the shock, or even added ice to the tub? Yes. Did I truly give my 100% in each case? No. My punishment is knowing that I didn’t push myself truly to, or past, the edge. I let fear and discomfort ultimately get the best of me.

All of this means that to keep growing I have more distance to travel, more suffering to take on, and more work to put in. Sure, there’s this weird feeling of realizing that I didn’t reach my full potential, but it is significantly outweighed by my gratitude for having another opportunity to push myself further tomorrow. It leaves me hungry for growth and the opportunity to improve and be a little better tomorrow than I was today. Growth has been made, growth is possible, and growth will happen.

When I find myself comfortable I need to remember times like today. So much greatness and awesomeness lays just beyond the discomfort.

Thanks!!!

Day 1,505 – Thankful for Sharing a Classic Book with Dominic; Animal Farm

I recently came across an old article I’d printed off from the early days of COVID. One of the recommendations for finding solitude in the midst of stressful times was to turn off the news and focus on reading a classic book instead. As luck would have it, Dominic just finished reading Animal Farm by George Orwell. I asked what he’d thought of it and asked if I could borrow it. Next thing I knew I was off to the farm!

Over the past couple of nights I plowed (LOL – gotta love the puns!) right through. Last night I stayed awake later than usual to finish it. Long story short, I was totally impressed and now understand why it’s become the classic that it is. Given all that’s going on in the US I couldn’t help but chuckle at more than a small handful of similarities between the book and reality. I’ll leave it up to you, the reader of this blog, to find those way too close to home moments. 😉

The overarching concepts have been running through my head since I started reading it. Throw in all of the memories it brought back from Orwell’s other classic, 1984, and my mind has been deep in thought. While it’s got me thinking, I’m grateful for the change of mindset it has been instead of reading the news.

What I’m even more thankful for is the opportunity to have some excellent dialogue with Dominic about this book. We’ve discussed more than a few parts and both saw some of the same interesting behavioral patterns and themes throughout. Having something else for us to talk about to share our own inner values and then re-shape and calibrate after thoughtful conversation has been pretty awesome.

If you haven’t read Animal Farm or haven’t read it recently I’d highly recommend it. Funny how history has a way of repeating itself, and even more interesting that we all never quite seem to learn from it.

Time to dig up 1984 and maybe chase it up with some Vonnegut or another tasty classical treat!

Thanks!!!