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That’s less than an optimal choice

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That was a comment my adult son made as we were playing Mancala.  We had played when he was in grade school.  Now he had made his own board and we were playing again.  When he was little, I would teach him strategy and show him all the options.  It wasn’t necessarily to win at all costs for sometimes we would help others in the game so we all won.

He had gone through the rules again of Mancala and helped me out so that I won several games.  Then he let me play on my own and I seemed to forget what I had just been taught.  As a result, I lost the game.  The next time when I would be making move that would not be helpful to me, he would say “That’s less than an optimal choice.”  He was giving me a clue and a chance to change what I was doing for a better play.

Sometimes we feel like we are out on a limb.  We can feel good about being there or feel like our future is very fragile.  Kevin had come up to help cut up the 40 foot Mulberry tree that had fallen in the wind.  That is what he is sitting on in the photo.  It was a good decision to get help and get to see him.  It was after all the work was done that we were playing games.  It was a good job done for both getting the tree cut and having fun.

After playing the mancala game, I kept thinking about that line “Less than an optimal choice”.  He was trying to get me to make a better choice that I was making.  He was trying to help me remember strategy just as I had been teaching him so long ago.  I thought about that phrase and how things might be easier for us in life if there was someone was on the sidelines to say to us “That’s less than an optimal choice.”  We make decisions in life and sometimes don’t really think if it is the best choice or what the long term consequences are.   If we would stop before we said something or before we did something and ask “Is this really an optimal choice for me at this time and in the future?”  Would this make a difference for us?  I think it might.

When I made the optimal choices in the mancala game I didn’t necessarily win but I gave myself the best chance to win rather than if I made “less than optimal choices”.  I have thought about that phrase as I was playing other games – Disney Emoji Blitz for one.  Sometimes in my haste I did make less than optimal choices.  The “stopping” and “thinking” and “looking at near and far consequences” may in itself be what makes better choices.  The questions we ask ourselves may be different and may actually be irrelevant to the outcome.

What about your life?  Are there cases where “less than optimal choices” were ok or damaging?  Would that question have helped you or would help you get to your goal better and faster and cleaner than if you didn’t ask that question? “Less than optimal choice” isn’t about winning but choosing a strategy that will work for you right now and in this place and point to a good place in the future.  It is a good question to ask.  It is a good question to think about.  It helps reframing our choices and our decisions in a positive light that makes sense.

Planning doesn’t always work

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In 1989 we got land on Lake Wisconsin.  We built a home on it in 1990.  When we bought the land, the top half was a field where cows grazed while the bottom half was covered with trees. There came a drought in the 90’s and all the cedar trees died on the hill side.  We still had some big tall trees – Poplar, Mulberry and Elm.  We had lots of stumps on the hill side from the dead Cedar trees.  Poison ivy filled the spaces between the stumps so when my husband mowed in the morning and I would walk down to the lake in the afternoon, I’d wind up with poison ivy all over me as the “stuff” hung in the air.  We got someone to dig all the stumps out, planted grass and that was the end of the poison ivy.

The first big old tree to go was the Elm with Dutch Elm disease.  It was the one that held the tire swing.  The next one that went was a Poplar tree as it was mostly dead inside and if and when it fell, it would “get” the house.  The next one was a Mulberry.  We looked at it one day deciding when to take it down and the next day it fell just missing our neighbors house.

We had started planting a tree here and there on the property knowing that the tall trees were older.  Some of these new starts lived and some didn’t.  Then one day we came late at night after dark.  We opened the sliding door onto the deck and were met with one of our mulberry trees.  Mulberry trees grow with multiple trunks.  We didn’t live up here full time and didn’t notice that 2 of the 5 trunks were dead.  These 2 dead ones were downhill and somehow the 3 uphill ones helped the tree fall slowly onto the deck.  During the night the tree just it slipped off never having done damage to the deck.  We have several piles of split wood from the various trees that have come down.

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Fast forward to this spring.  My husband David, had cleared up under the existing mulberry tree and our red buds.  The lilies and tulips were wonderful this year.  We were heading to Missouri and I thought I would get some great photos when we got back.  We knew this tree was getting older but again we were thinking that we would still have a few years with it.  The yard looked great!  Then came a series of storms on May 17, 2017.  All of a sudden the windows outside our deck were being pelted.  My husband took down the big metal bird feeder from the Shephard’s crook it was on was bent into the deck and we were afraid it would blow into the sliding glass door.  We took shelter in the basement.

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There was a crack and a thud.  We went out the basement sliding door and our 40 foot mulberry was on the ground.  For some a mulberry tree is a “dirty” tree as the mulberries can leave a mess.  It is a mess that the birds love.  The birds love to feed on it and love to live in it and be sheltered by it.  As it has laid on the ground the birds still have enjoyed the branches.

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Today we have assessed some of the damage.  Luckily, the tree didn’t fall on our deck or propane tank.  The top of the tree next to it is also gone and we may have to cut that tree down as well.  One of the Red Bud’s is safe but we can’t see the other one so we don’t know what else we lost underneath.  Forget the lilies and tulips until next year.  It is raining as I write so we will need to wait to see how and when to cut it down and cut the other one apart.

We have always made plans.  We will now have to make new ones.  It takes a long time to grow 40 foot trees.  When we first came and built, we could hardly see the lake from the house.  The large old elm being taken down had the loss of the tire swing but opened up some of the view.  The cedars didn’t obstruct the view as much as hold the soil well on the hill.  The grass we planted now does that job.  The Mulberries are gone.  One by one the lake is easier to see and there are fewer places for the birds to rest.  We have a much larger, clearer view of the lake but it is with sad heart that we know what is missing from the picture.

I tried to find some photos of the tree but didn’t.  You can see all the branches in the background in the photos of the bird feeders.  The first photo is that of a bird sheltering in the winter storms in its branches.  Somehow I missed a photo opportunity of whole tree.   I guess I just took the tree for granted that the tree would always be there.

There are many storms in our lives in many ways.  Some are bigger than others.  Some cause more damage than others.  This storm was a physical one but it has also tugged at our hearts and emotions.  We take things for granted until they are gone.  Somehow we need to take stock of what is there as we are mindful of each day.  We will still make plans.  We will speed up our planting of trees.  Storms will always wreak havoc.  I for one, will again be mindful of all the things: this day, this scene, this place and be mindful of all the people in my life as well.

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Post Script.  Our son came up and helped my husband.  With small and large chain saws and with a swing of an ax or two, the tree was dispatched into several piles.  The ground is too wet to get the trailer down to get the limbs carted off to the too wet forest area.

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The ground is too wet for the wood chipper to be brought down to finish the larger logs to smaller pieces for the fireplace.  You can see the grass again.  You can see both red bud’s again.

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Tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow is the time to plant another tree or two.  I can think of the song from Annie “The Sun will come out tomorrow”.  It may but the rain has continued mostly for the last few days.  We await the sun’s warmth and growth and while we are waiting we will plan and plant.

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Why didn’t I see it before?

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I am mindful of looking at the world around me.  We live in a most fantastic place. Wherever we drive, in whatever season we drive, we see amazing things.  We see all sorts of critters – flying, walking, crawling, running, jumping.  We were on our way to church when a big white Chinese goose came out into the highway.  We stopped and my husband when ‘honk honk honk’ with the car horn.  The goose just stood there and responded “honk honk honk”.  We backed up and went around the goose that had claimed the right side of the road.

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We always stop and see the wonderful colors of fall. It is amazing to see the shades of orange and red and sometimes purples.  This spring, I looked at the trees and thought “Is it fall already?”   I saw reds in the Baraboo range hills.  When the sun is shining they are bright but the clouds have hung over us for a while so I decided to share the images I have.

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Why didn’t I see it before?  We have been here for other springs.  It is amazing.  I still am in awe at seeing Sandhill cranes.  We have deer and wild turkey among other things.  We saw 8 deer, about 10 turkeys and a couple of Sandhill cranes all one meadow feeding together.  We are seeing them separately but they all seem to have regular places to be.  There are rabbits and coyote among other critters around.

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I lived in Chicago – in the city as well as suburbia.  I would notice the trees and loved Lake Michigan.  In the city you notice people and buildings and other things.   I grew up in Wisconsin and on the Mississippi river in the Coulee Region (which are wonderful hills).  How could I have missed seeing these “red” trees in the hills in spring before?  I can’t wait to see if I will see them next spring – now that I know they exist.

It made me wonder what else I might be missing.

What is the strongest force in the universe?

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As I sat looking out on our deck, I noticed water dripping from the bottom of a chair onto the deck.  It was one drop at a time.  It held may attention for a long time.  Drop.  Drip.  Drop.  I tried to catch the moment the water splashed up.  It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  As I was looking at one drop at a time, I began to think about how strong that one drop really was in the whole scheme of things.

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A drop of water can wear away stone.  One drop alone won’t do it.  It takes persistence and time. It takes many drops coming together and over and over again wear away at what the water is dropping on.  Over and over the drops need to fall.  The Grand Canyon was formed through many persistent drops of water over time and space and place.

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The drops I watched from the bottom of the chair luckily didn’t “drill” a hole in the wooden deck.  As the droplets fell it made me think of the persistence of people saying that Climate change isn’t real.  “She Persisted” is a rallying cry for Elizabeth Warren.  Many people may have already forgotten what she did.  There are T-shirts and other things to remind people to be persistent.    People go to the next new thing or “in the moment” topic.  It is said that the first step takes the most energy – to get started.  For me starting isn’t as hard as the energy to keep the momentum going over time and distance.  The farther from the origin, the harder it can be to be energized and keep going.

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The same day as the rain drop, I saw a cardinal through the window.  No matter how I tried, the camera focused on the rain droplets on the window.  These droplets weren’t going anywhere.  These droplets weren’t going to drill through stone.  They will leave water marks on the window but that is all.  Even these won’t be noticed once the window is cleaned off.

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We need to know that what we do matters and can make a difference.  We need to remember what matters and mark it in as many ways as possible.  We need to carry the story and share the stories over and over and over.

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What do we do when we need something made like the Grand Canyon?  We need to find “like droplets of water” and join forces to stay energized and get the job done.  We need to find people to talk about issue – ones that agree with us and ones that don’t agree and ones that don’t care.  Call your representatives at all levels of government.  Keep on keeping on.  Do what you can and support others and ask for support yourself.  Together we can be a strong force in the universe that can make a difference for good.

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What am I going to be when I grow up?

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I am a work in progress.  I asked this question “What am I going to be when I grow up?” when I was little.  I asked this question in college.  I asked this question as I retired.  This is the Lent season of the liturgical calendar– a time to fast.  I am fasting from all the ideas that at this time are not possibilities.  Our church is doing a study led by Keri Olson called “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well- lived, Joyful life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

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The other day it was snowy and foggy.  You often couldn’t see right in front of the car let alone what was ahead.  Even in retirement I still have more ideas of what I want to do than hours in a day or weeks in a month to do them all.  This is a time to look at all the ideas, catalog them and then figure out what to do first.  Maybe it will or won’t work but I have an additional list to go to for the next try.

Success doesn’t come from things being easy.  Success doesn’t come from everything going my way.  Success may even mean that some things I have to fail or things have to be set aside.

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Can you see where you are going?  When I was a pastor, I had a calendar that often wasn’t followed.  People would ask “Why?”.  I said, “Because I have a door and a phone and a family.”  People needs often come before other tasks.  There are things that are timely and need to be done on time.  There are things that need to be done but there isn’t a strict time table.  Wisdom is knowing the difference, living in the tension and giving yourself, people and tasks grace and time.

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Can you see into your future?  Can you see where you are going?  They say “hindsight is 20-20” but you can’t drive forward looking in the rearview mirror.  One has to trust that the road you picked will take you to your destination or at least close enough to find it.  We live out in the country.  The GPS isn’t right for our address.  It places our house on the top of the hill instead of going down a hair-pin turn and going to be by the lake.  Yet when you tell people this, they can still easily find us.  You don’t need exact directions to find out where you are going.  You need to be heading in the general direction and know what you are looking for.

One never knows where there are dangers buried in your path.  Sometimes there are signs to warn you.  Sometimes you have to find out for yourself.

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There are times while living in Chicago land, it seemed that you needed to know where you were ending up turn by turn just so you knew what lane to get onto on the Dan Ryan when you started.  When the traffic is heavy there can be trouble in changing lanes.  One time I was down town and on the same trip I was making every week.  I get onto Ohio and had to fight and hold my breath to get across from right to left of 4 lanes in the span across the river.  I needed to take the first left off the bridge.  This day there were absolutely NO cars on the road.  I almost stopped and backed up (not a wise thing to do even if there weren’t any cars behind me).  I wondered if I didn’t get the memo that the road was closed.

Lent is 40 days of traveling – not to the end of a destination but to work on ways of traveling the path.  There are times you travel alone and sometimes fight for things in the midst of crowds that don’t even know you are there.  There are times you have no trouble and there are times you are left in tears and frustration. Life is a journey and every once in a while, one needs to see where you are to know where you are going.  Take time to sit still and look ahead.  Take time to trust the journey.  Take time to be.

 

 

 

She persisted

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We have bird feeders.  They are also inadvertently squirrel feeders.  The little red squirrels can tuck in on the perch and sit there and eat their fill.

The bigger squirrels have to find another way. I can’t tell if there are several or just one, but when they do go for the sunflower seeds, they sit on top of the bird feeder.  They used to hang on the empty suet basket on the side and eat their fill, so my husband took off the wire basket.  Hence they needed to find another way to get the sunflower seeds.

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This squirrel has learned how to sit on the top and reach down and get from the little hole that once held the suet feeder and take one sunflower seed at a time.  Think about it!  The persistence to sit there and sometimes slide off – one story to the ground – or catch the railing.  There were times that she could climb up the pole that holds the sunflower seed feeder but now she has to climb the pole for the suet feeder and jump over.  If the sunflower seeds are out, she will eat from the suet feeder. (I don’t know how to know the gender of a squirrel but for purposes of this post, I am saying “she”)

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Given that we are sort of “out in the wilderness”, one would think we would be overrun by squirrels.  In fact, at this time, we have only a few.  When we think she has monopolized the bird feeder from the birds long enough, we run her off – that is for a while.  She will be back.  She knows what needs to be done to get fed and she sets about doing it.

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I have been thinking about the squirrel and the squirrel’s persistence in getting the job done.  I have been emailing and calling my congress people almost every other day.  I didn’t think I was even being heard until yesterday when I actually got to talk to someone and sure enough, they had my record of all my emails.  I am just the opposite of 2 of the 3 people in congress.  I don’t know that I can change their Republican minds, but I am a constituent and I will be heard.  (Though from hearing Paul Ryan on the news he doesn’t care – we can talk until we are blue in the face and they will keep on marching their way.)

I sat down after that conversation with a live person and contemplated the conversation.  She quoted the dates and topics that I had emailed.  I felt so tired and discouraged and thought “It has only been 1 month that this administration has tried to devolve our nation and the world into chaos – how can I keep do this?”.  This little squirrel gave me hope and motivation to keep on keeping on.  Persistence matters.   You need to do what needs to be done and find the motivation that will keep you and others going.  So persist! Keep on keeping on.  I don’t think they are listening to me but I will keep on sending the message.  I don’t know what kind of conversation would even break into their world and make a difference but I will try – one email and one phone call at a time.

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We need to be kind to our planet and our children.  We can’t deny climate change – scientifically it is real and it may already be too late.   I have grandkids that I want to know have a planet to live on.  We can’t gut public school.  Private and charter schools have no mandates to care for the “tough” kids – the ones that act out and the ones that need special help.  They can just get rid of them like yesterday’s garbage.  We need public schools to have creative and critical thinkers who are the leaders and workers of tomorrow.  Without hope, we will devolve into chaos.  The book “Atlas Shrugged” seems all too real.  We can’t build pipelines that pollute water and the earth.  We can’t leave people without medical care – the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood need to exist.  We can’t let guns in our schools.  We can’t change the economy so poor and middle class people can’t exist and only wealthy people accumulate more wealth.  We have to care for the elderly and those who can’t exist on their own – age and mental illness is no excuse to throw away people.  We have obligations to others and to ourselves to stand up and make a difference.  “But she persisted” can be a battle cry for all as well as Elizabeth Warren.  WE need to persist.  We need to support those who persist.  We need to make a difference and be like the squirrel – one seed at a time – one email or phone call at a time – with that tenacity we WILL succeed.

Pathfinders unite!

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I love new fallen snow.  I love the look outside of the snow falling as if you are in a snow globe that is when I don’t have to go anywhere.  What I don’t like to look at, nor do I like seeing as I drive, is how the snow looks on the ground when it has become dirty and melting and icy and just yucky.  Yet that is a sign of a spring coming.  The ice is leaving from lakes and rivers.  You can almost hear the trees awakening.  Soon there will be new buds showing up on trees that will become leaves.  There will be plants popping up from a winter’s sleep.  I love winter and I love spring but the pathway between isn’t always an easy one.  Those seeking to be pathfinders need to unite.

Winter can be wonderful.  Spring, when it gets here, is really wonderful.  Transitions from winter to spring aren’t always so much fun.  My mother died in November of 2016.  I didn’t realize how much it would affect me and how much of a transition it would be and is.  The same is true for being retired.  I have so many things that I can work on and am working on that are great.  I really thought I could have a great business going with stamping and scraping.  I have opportunities but it isn’t like my dream/vision.

What surprised me about the transition in retirement is that I don’t feel like “being put out to pasture” just yet and still when “work” opportunities present themselves, I have said “no”.  I have skills.  I have resources.  I don’t know what to do with them.  Transitions are really, really tough.

At church there will be a workshop using the book “Designing Your Life:  How to build a well-lived, joyful life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.  I have read a little and so far, I am intrigued.  I am reminded of the book “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life” by Gail Sheehy.  People could see where they were but didn’t know how to get to the next place and so came a number of books by Gail (most notably Pathfinders) as well as others helping people to make passages, pathways and transitions.  Designing Your Life at first reminded me of the book “What color is your Parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles.  Actually when I went to Amazon.com to find out how to spell his name, I found out there is a “What color is your Parachute: in retirement”?  Who knew there were so many resources out there?

How does one get from where they are to where they need or want to be when there isn’t a map and you haven’t lived it yet?  Part of the problem is not even knowing at first that you need resources or information or that you aren’t even moving.  It is like sitting in a car and if the motor is on, one thinks one is going someplace.  It is like only looking in the review or side mirrors and only seeing what is behind and not seeing what lies ahead.   How does one see to go forward?  It depends on where you are focusing.   Looking in the review mirror can be 20-20 hindsight but it really blocks the view of going forward.  Looking in the side mirrors too can distort the view ahead.  Looking in the review mirror or side mirror can be a good reference point but isn’t useful for seeing what lies ahead.

Look around.  Enjoy where you are.  If you are in winter – enjoy that.  If you are in spring – enjoy that.  If you are transition – enjoy might not be the best word – but take time to breath, find resources, and look for a way to the next place to be.  Find people and places that can help focus forward.  The resources are out there so take a deep breath and take a step of faith.

 

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