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March 30, 2010

My Least Enjoyed Chore as a Child

Dishes. That was our job. We hated it. We avoided it like the plague. I remember a few traumatic incidents when we didn't get the dishes done before bed and my parents came home late. We were pulled out of bed and forced to do them. It probably wasn't as late at night as it felt and it must have taken us hours to do those dishes while half asleep.
That did not make me like doing dishes any more. But eventually we got the hint that we would suffer more if we didn't do it. The lesson I learned was not to learn to like doing dishes, it was to lessen the pain by doing them before going to bed.
Now I don't mind doing dishes. Once I had to do it for myself, I learned the lesson of liking having clean dishes. And even as an adult there were times when I was lazy and didn't do dishes. But the older I get, the more I like having a clean kitchen. Especially the more I cook myself. When I cook, I can't stand leaving the dishes to the end of the meal. I like to clean up everything as I'm going. I found waiting until bedtime to do the dishes can be a very negative thing. Doing them as I go, and finishing immediately after I'm done cooking feels really positive.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:44 PM

What I love most about being a father

I have always said that I wouldn't have traded my life out for anything. The choice to have children might have been naive and an uneducated guess at what it would mean to my life. When we had our son, we did not think that far in advance. We had a strong sense of knowing that we could deal with whatever comes up, when it comes up.
So that attitude became a do-it-yourself guide when it came to raising kids. Sure, we read things, but it definitely was not a planned approach. Like in the movie Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear said, "It's falling with style!" I may not be able to actually fly with these toy wings, but look how far I can go!
So we did most of the parenting things expected by society. We enrolled our kids in music lessons, we had them in sports, we participated in the PTO, we had them in scouts, and became scout leaders. We also took them on vacations, helped them with homework and gave them money for the teeth they lost. I've played Santa, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. All of that was not just an experience for our children. It was a life-time of experiences for me and my wife. We participated, we learned and we saw life from the perspectives of our parents. That shift from child-view to parent-view is definitely one of the things I like about being a parent.

Posted by carl1236 at 7:18 AM

March 27, 2010

My best friend in High School

My best friend in High School was Dan. We did lose touch after high school, primarily because of the different life-tracks we followed and the nitty-gritty of what those choices meant. I went into the military, and Dan went to college. And there was the physical distance separating us. We each made new friends that were closer to our new work and school.
I also had an awesome girlfriend through tenth and eleventh grades. I was too young to understand what I was getting into or out of. But during high school we spent a lot of time together.
I recently re-connected with my friend Dan on facebook, after nearly 29 years. It's been great fun. And you know, us old people are taking over facebook.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:15 PM

March 26, 2010

The advantages and disadvantages of being second oldest

We were just sitting around dinner chatting with our daughter and telling stories about our lives when we were younger. I joked that I had an older brother to make all the mistakes so I didn't have to.
My older brother skipped school and was going through the woods, and got poison oak all over his face and it swelled up like a balloon. He got punished in two ways for that one. Once from my parents and once from the poison oak. I did not have to skip school after that.
My older brother rolled his car because he was playing with the radio. I learned a big lesson about paying attention while driving. And I wasn't even driving yet!
The disadvantages? Well, going all the way back to elementary school, my older brother and I were good friends with another pair of brothers. We were almost inseparable. Until the older two went to Junior High School. Everything changed. I lost my buddy to other more 'grown up' activities and other friends from other cities. It was a time of transition from playing in the neighborhood with all of our friends together, to going off into the greater world and making new friends. The disadvantage of being second oldest was really that I experienced his growth from a viewpoint of being left behind. I was jealous of the adventures he had and the new friends and the interesting school subjects and activities he did. Then a couple of years later I went too and forgot all about the wait for my turn. I met new friends and my world expanded beyond the neighborhood. I dissected frogs in science class, started learning a foreign language and joined the play and did wrestling. And met girls. This was a huge time of learning for me.
My daughter then told us stories about her and her older brother. She is the second oldest like me. I found it interesting that she talked about wanting so badly to be part of her older brothers group of friends. And she did play with them for the most part. I think this is one gift her older brother understood. They did a lot together. And as I recall, did not really fight more than a few times throughout their entire lives. My older brother and I fought a lot. But I wanted to hang out with him and his friends too.
Then finally my older brother went away to the Air Force and I had two more years of school. I watched his newest adventure with great interest and a little envy. At the same time I was looking for what I would do next. He showed me the advantages of going into the military.
I don't really think there were many disadvantages to being second. I think overall I benefited from my brother's foreshadowing. Good and bad, my older brother was enemy, friend, mentor, and example. He led the way by age and action. Sometimes I followed and sometimes I learned and forged my own way. But always, I had an older brother to look at and observe and see what was to come in life.
My older brother got married right before me. I went to his wedding. He got married in May, I got married in June. I was 20, he was 22. And believe me, when he went through a divorce five years later, I watched and learned from what he went through and it influenced my attitudes toward marriage and life.
Now, later in my life, I don't follow my brother. I don't look at him to see what is coming next. I'm sure that age has changed the dynamics of our relationship. I'm sure that the passage of time has leveled the age difference again, like when we were in elementary school, where age did not matter so much. Both of us are married and have grown up children who are married. We have both become empty nesters. Even though I don't see the age difference between us like I used to, I find I still respect and admire my older brother. And that's one advantage of being second oldest.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:22 PM

March 25, 2010

What I Enjoyed about this Last Winter

Spring of course! I enjoyed when winter was over. haha. Well, I'm just sayin' I was ready for the winter to be done. I was ready for some warmth.
But I did enjoy winter too. If I have to pick one thing, besides the beauty of winter, it has to be the good holidays with family, and the time off from work to explore new things and introduce some new technology into my life that is quite helpful. I have an e-book reader now, and I love it. I am reading more, I'm able to search text, and I'm able to take notes and carry it with me. Over the winter I also made myself mobile with an internet phone and email. I can stay connected a lot easier.
I have also read a lot this winter, and that was a nice luxury in a busy life. Maybe I liked it so much because I decided to slow down and take the time to enjoy reading again.
Maybe next year I'll take up cross country skiing again.

Posted by carl1236 at 8:29 PM

March 24, 2010

Changes I have seen in my lifetime

The actual topic for today is, "Tell about the changes you have seen in your lifetime: Society in general, technology, fashion fads, morality, politics, etc."
Wow, that's a lot of things to write about. In a few minutes though, I'm going to bed, so this topic will have a short answer. Nothing. Even though we have built bigger and better machines, can move faster than sound and can compute just about anything, we have not fundamentally changed as people during my lifetime. I think we should all practice a little CBT on ourselves and see what changes in the world. We as egos still love to be the victim. And we love to control others. What we need in this world are some new responses. The old ones are worn out and tired. What has to change is not the wealth of nations, or the wealth of individuals. What has to change is the minds and hearts of people. The first thing we realize is that there is enough of everything on this planet so not a single person should have to suffer or go without the basics of food, shelter, and love. Fundamentally as a human race we have not figured out how to love our neighbors more than ourselves.
The next thing we realize is that many people don't want that to change. People have been acting like food aggressive dogs for centuries.
But that doesn't mean that as a human race we can't change. Because individuals can change their minds about what kind of a human being they are. Compassion is being aware there is a problem and having a desire to do something about it. I can see a more compassionate world in the future. One person at a time. That's fundamental change that will ripple into everything else, including the wealth and health of every single person on this planet. We can retrain our thoughts. After all our thoughts are learned, so they can be relearned. If I see a piece of paper on the ground, I can leave it on the ground or pick it up. If we all picked it up individually, it would change the world.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:04 PM

March 23, 2010

Being close to my grandpa

When I was younger, after my grandmother died, I spent more time with my grandpa. He had arthritis pretty bad and his knuckles had all swollen and he had a hard time opening bottles, cans, and even picking up things. I remember helping my grandpa cook malt-o-meal for meals. He loved that stuff. I did too.
I just hung out with my grandpa. It was natural and fun. We played a lot of rummy and gin. He was pretty good too. I don't think I ever beat him at gin. Sometimes I'd get lucky with rummy. And sometimes I helped him type things on his typewriter. I'm not sure why he typed these little index cards but it was important work for a little guy like me.
And there was one special moment in my life, that I have never really talked about until now. It illustrates how much my grandpa loved me and how wise he really was. There was once I attempted to run away from home with a friend. I packed up a few things, but not too much since I had no idea what I was doing. I was supposed to meet my friend outside his house just after dark. I showed up and my friend could not believe it. Hanging out in the back of his house in the edge of the woods, my friend and I talked about and realized that we were too young to run away, and we'd better call it off.
So here it was getting pretty late and I was pretty far away from home. The best solution I could think of was to go to my grandpa's house, which was on the way home. I knocked on the door and my grandpa let me in. He asked me what I was doing there, and I stammered something stupid. "I just wanted to come and visit you grandpa." He did not press the issue. In fact he did not ask me another question about what I was doing out there at that time of night. He just took me in and gave me some hot cocoa, which I ended up making on the stove with milk and chocolate powder.
Eventually he let it out that my parents were looking for me and were worried. He suggested I call to let them know that I was there and ok. So, for this kind way of handling things, I am thankful to my grandpa. My parents came to get me and somehow everything worked out fine, and I'm sure that for whatever reason I ran away, it wasn't nearly as traumatic as I had built it up to be. Now I cannot even remember why I ran away, but I learned a deeper understanding of my grandpa's love for me.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:14 PM

Unscientific but interesting poll on healthcare at my office

At my workplace over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion in the break room about the national health care coverage issue. It doesn't take long to realize where people stand on the issue. Without an exception, the twelve other people in my office were adamantly opposed to any kind of national health care. Their reasons were many. Here are some of the more 'less-than-compassionate' statements I actually heard:
People should get a job.
I don't want to pay for lazy people who don't go out and work for what they get.
There is nothing wrong with the health care system we have in our country.

Is this a case of the haves vs. the have nots? Or just coincidence. I don't share their views.

Posted by carl1236 at 6:26 AM

March 22, 2010


As I mentioned previously, I have three brothers and a sister. So when we were growing up, I remember a crowded house. And when we ate meals, the food disappeared fast. The four boys came first and we were really active, so I can imagine that our food bill was one of the biggest expenses my parents had. Although, my mom always had a garden, which I loved. That's how I learned to love my veggies.
Here is something I've seen in many families. Siblings always seem to have such varied tastes. One would think that they were not living in the same households, eating the same foods. But not so in my house. I will eat just about anything and love it. When I was really young I loved to try things. I ate lutefisk, pickled herring, fried liver and onions, corned beef and hash, spinach, whatever. If it mooed, clucked, oinked, swam, grew or otherwise was edible, I would eat it and love it. But one of my younger brothers could not stand onions. It's just one of those things.
Another thing about Siblings. It seems there is one connection and bond that we start when we are very young, and it sticks with us. Probably because we start out together, and develop through life at pretty much the same time. We are familiar faces to each other. And with many families, someone to lean on in need and help out when they need a hand.
I would do almost anything to help one of my siblings if at all possible. It's nice to have that kind of family, and hopefully I can grow old with them. In one way, I wish we could all live in that eternal family setting we feel when we are young together. But our lives all split up a little as we get older and have our own responsibilities, jobs and families.
Now it's awesome when we can all get together for a wedding, Thanksgiving or even for funerals. As sad as funerals are, It's a really good feeling being around and seeing so many family members together. It's wonderful catching up and hearing all of their stories.
My dad and his siblings just experienced the loss of one of their siblings. That has to hit hard. I loved how all of them came together and told stories and comforted each other. To me that is a shining example of what siblings do for each other. And they are good role models for me as I get older.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:33 PM

March 21, 2010

Eearliest Memories of Home

There is no place like home, there is no place like home, there is no place like home. In the 1939 film, Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants a place where there isn't any trouble. What she discovers in her state of unconsciousness, is that there are several key ingredients to happiness and fulfillment in life. At the core of the plot is having a brain, a heart and courage.
The brain is an amazing piece of equipment we have. Without a brain we have no calculations, reasoning, creative thinking or memories. Having a heart means love, caring, compassion. Without a heart, we might as well be mechanical machines carrying out our assigned tasks. And Courage is the ability to overcome our fears. It's a great asset that allows us to step beyond the doors of our safety zones.
Most of us think of home as a safe place. Dorothy was surrounded by family members that loved her and protected her. I know it's not that way for everyone, but maybe there is some place, like a neighborhood, or grandparents home where we do feel connected and safe.
My earliest memories of home are from my pre-elementary school years in a small farming community southern Minnesota, Dexter. It was much like Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. We had a little house there, with backyard and sidewalk in front. I remember playing with friends, our dog, and toys. It was a safe place. I remember laying in front of the garage on a spring day, my face pressed against the concrete to feel the warmth of the sun that had been absorbed into the material.
I remember rocking back and forth on the tongue of the utility trailer my dad used for hauling brush and other things around. I also remember that one of our friends slipped and got caught under the metal tongue of the trailer and broke his arm when it crashed down on him. That was the end with playing on the trailer-turned-seesaw. But even so, it was safe for us, because mom and dad calmly took care of the problem, and us.
During that period of my life I was unaware of the larger world outside of my home and neighborhood. Except for an occasional excursion with mom or dad into town, my life was at home with mom or my friends. It wasn't until I was almost ready to go to Kindergarten that we moved and my world expanded beyond my safe home.
And now looking back on my earliest memories of home I realize that home is a concept as much as it is a place. Home is a place that we try to get back to, where there isn't any trouble. It's a safe place where there are people we love and share memories with. Our courage may allow us to step outside our door, walk down the block, go off to college, visit foreign lands, but there is no place like home.

Posted by carl1236 at 6:23 AM

March 18, 2010

The Religious Practice I grew up with

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me is to be able to choose whatever religions I wanted to. I went to Sunday school as a child. I've been Methodist, Luthern, Baptist, New Age, Buddhist, and Atheist.
One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me is freedom of choice. My life is full of exploration and learning. I am thankful that they did not force a religion on me. I am thankful that I did not force my children to follow one religion. As parents my wife and I did go to church and my kids attended Sunday school and confirmation. But they were always free to choose what to believe.
I've read the entire Q'uran, I've meditated and practiced Yoga. I have had visions and dreams and epiphanies. But none of that matters really. How fervently or precisely I practiced them, doesn't matter. How they transformed me to love others has significance. I am still choosing to believe what I believe, just like the billions of other people on this planet. The Dali Lama once said that there are as many religions on this planet as there are people.
But the bottom line is free will. Free will is the ability to choose for myself. To choose for myself, I have to learn what I believe, and fortunately I was allowed to explore and experience what I wanted to.
And the ultimate bottom line for me is that I choose. And my choices lead me to believe that religion is not salvation, it is an organization that supports a system of beliefs. There are many religions on this planet. I'm not saying religion is bad. A system of belief can be very helpful to many people. Religion can help many people by teaching lessons they need to learn.
Does this mean I have no religion? No. It means I have all religions. It means that I have My religion which moves me and motivates me. I do not reject other religions. My system is one of service and love for other people. So for that I am thankful to my parents.
Now I'll say something irreverent and truthful at the same time...
"Peace, Love and Kimchi." I have a T-shirt that says that. I love you. Peace out! Don't be mean to others, have compassion. Love your brother MORE than you love yourself. It's all good.

Posted by carl1236 at 10:02 PM

March 17, 2010

My Relationship with my Father

By telling about my relationship with my father, I am telling about how we get along, if we see eye to eye, how often we see each other and other related topics. there is so much any one of us could say about our dads. We've had enough experience to know by now how our relationship with our dad is. I'm going to keep this real short and just say a few good words and pray that I can spend more time with my dad.
I love my dad. Tonight I was talking to him about genealogy and where our Carlson ancestors came from. I never knew that my great grandfather, John, also had a brother named Eric. I would have liked to have known Eric. (my dad's dad's name was Erick) He sounded like a fun great uncle. My dad told me his earliest memories of his great uncle Eric. He used to call my dad, "The Kid." when he came to visit, he would say, "Let's go see the kid."
This story about his great uncle Eric reminded me of what happens when families get spread out and physically separated from each other. And that reminds me of the song, "Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin. 'When you coming home son, I don't know when.' I've this job, the car and the kids. you know. A busy life. It's such a hassle to get away sometimes. My greatest wish in life sometimes is that I really could spend more time with my dad and mom. But it sure is great to chat with him on the phone and see him a few times a year.
I guess the only lesson in this story is one that I haven't learned yet. I have not learned how to slow down enough to see my father more. So right now, our relationship is like any distance relationship. We love it when we connect, but it's too long between. Thanks for calling tonight dad! I loved chatting with you. :-)

Posted by carl1236 at 9:24 PM

March 16, 2010

My First Job

My first real job was de-tasseling corn. It was hot, dirty work with long days, often in the hot sun or early morning cold and wet fields. Or both. Sometimes it poured down rain on us all day. But I actually enjoyed the hard work and sense of beating the clock to see how fast and efficient we could be.
The objective was to walk down isle after isle of corn stalks, reach up to each one, yank the tassel straight up, toss it on the ground and move on. As I remember it, the reason behind this job was to keep hybrid seed-corn from cross pollinating.
I did this for two years I think. The worst memory I have of this experience happened toward the middle of first season. I don't remember how it happened, but somehow our entire crew staged a mutiny and quit. I was not proud of that. I basically let myself be talked into something I did not feel was right. The crew leader talked to us. They brought in his supervisor to talk to us. All the while, we sat on the bus and stuck to our decision. Were we quitting all together or demanding more money? I don't even remember now. But I do remember that we all ended up quitting so they took us home. We rode home in silence and got off the bus and went home. That was the end of that part of it. The rest of the story is that there were no other jobs, and I still had no spending money. I learned a valuable lesson about work and life from that experience. Besides that one negative incident, it was hard, fun and a good first job.
I then moved on to selling shoes! ha ha.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:52 PM

March 15, 2010

John and Todd's big adventure to the City

When I was in elementary school my friend Todd and I decided we were going to ride bus from Newport into West Saint Paul to the Signal Hills Mall. That was when Signal Hills was a hoppin' place with movie theaters, and fun stores. That was close enough to the big City that it might as well have been. It's also in the neighborhood of the old Farel's Ice Cream place where birthday parties were incredible! That giant banana split and fire truck routine were amazing for kids.
Anyway, we decided, the two of us big boys, that we were old enough and smart enough to do this by ourselves. I think Todd was a little more advanced in the art of adventures than I was at this point, because he had it all planned out. I remember being surprised that we actually got away with it.
We paid our fare and rode the bus to Signal Hills. We watched a movie, hung out at the mall, and bought candy and stuff. Then we rode the bus home and our parents never knew. The bus driver put up only a small argument when we first tried to board the bus, but Todd had a good explanation. I forget what that was, but the driver said kind of gruffly, "Alright then, come on get on!" I think we were holding up his schedule.
I imagine myself now, as that bus driver, seeing two little kids getting on my bus.
"Does your mother know where you are?"
"Ye, yes. We are going to meet her at the mall."
"Like I'm supposed to believe any mom would let their kid go riding around on busses at your age!"
"Oh, but here's a note sir."
"Oh, no, I'm sorry, you cannot get on this bus. Go home and bring your mother with you."

That's not how it happened though. We did pay our fare, got on and spent a whole day at the mall and returned home safely. I don't really remember ever doing that again, but that first time stuck in my mind. That was our big adventure to the city.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:29 PM

March 14, 2010

The Sibling Wish

I have four siblings; Three brothers and one sister. I'm the second oldest and my sister is the youngest. Each of us is approximately two years apart so there is quite an age difference between the first and the last.
When we were in elementary school, my older brother and I mostly played together. And at that period in our lives our best friends were also a pair of brothers the same ages as us. We were like the four musketeers, or more like Tom Sawyer-Huck Fin times two. We had some great adventures together.
When our next younger brother came along, not much changed with our set of friends, our play partners, or our routine of playing in the neighborhood. Our younger brother mostly stayed home with mom while we ran around the neighborhood getting into mischief.
But it was always the four of us friends. In a way they were like another set of brothers. But of course everything changes and we get older, move on to Junior high school, high school and life school. And so while we were in elementary school, with our other pair of brothers, we wished to have adventures together. We wished to learn about life together. We built tree-houses on islands, floated on rafts on the Mississippi, rode our bikes, hopped trains, swam in our friends pool, played kick the can, held parades in our neighborhood honoring the death of our pet turtle, walked on our hands down the street, built jumps for our bikes, and in the winter went sliding and ice-skating together. There were countless other amazing and wonderful adventures we had.
At that time in our lives, our Sibling Wish was simple. We wished to keep having fun with our brothers in adventure. The new additions to the family came along too much later to participate in our little band of hoodlums. Another wish we had was that we could have our own bedrooms. We lived in a tiny house with only three bedrooms. Four of us boys shared the large upstairs bedroom (which now I realize was really tiny) and our sister got the other bedroom downstairs by my mom and dad's room. She was the only girl, and a baby, so it made sense. Our Sibling Wish then was that we could have what she had. There might have been some jealousy involved in that wish. But she was just a baby, so it was ok. And by then things were already changing in our family. Not long after that, our older brothers moved on to Junior high school. That brought a new set of friends for them and a division of elementary school brothers and older brothers. Our Sibling Wish became more like, "I wish we could get back to doing our stuff." But their wish was probably becoming, "I wish those younger brothers would stop following us." And me and my friend wished that we could be doing what our older brothers were doing.
Then our family moved and I joined my brother in junior high school and I felt like I was growing up. I developed a whole new set of friends too, and I was immersed in much more real and diverse learning. I was amazed at the offerings. We had shop, science, math, and language classes. The expansion of our adventures went from the neighborhood to the world. The expansion of our friendships went from the neighborhood to the many neighborhoods.
With four boys there seemed to be a lot of sibling rivalry and jealousy. We were not always nice to each other. But there is something about being a brother or sister that is a bond that can't break. Or can it? On one hand we don't choose our siblings. When we are younger, we are stuck with them and had to live with it. Our parents decided that for us. But as we got older we competed for space, for growth, for friends, and for escape. Sometimes our Sibling Wish, was "I wish you were gone."
I believe a lot of this rivalry should have been checked earlier. It's a difficult thing for parents to sort out sibling relationships. We as parents tell our kids that they have to like their siblings. We've told them wisdom that when you get older, you will wish you were good friends with your sibling.
As we got older, we all felt the separation of our family. One by one, us siblings grew up and moved away. Our Sibling Wish became, "I wish I could do what you are doing."
And years pass, and we have our own kids, jobs, life challenges and our Sibling Wish becomes, "I wish we would see each other more often."
The Sibling Wish changes with age. And even though families can be dysfunctional at times, I recognize that there is an ageless connection in family. We did not choose who our siblings are. We were stuck with each other as blood relatives. When we are older we choose to stay connected and love our siblings as friends that will be there for us no matter what we do in life. In the future the Sibling Wish might end up being, "I wish you were still here."

Posted by carl1236 at 6:59 AM

March 13, 2010

Thoughts on my Journal-in-a-Jar project

I wanted to record some of my thoughts on this writing project before I forget. In my typical organized, bullet-point style of thoughts, here is what I think about it:

Overall, This Journal-in-a-Jar project has jump-started my writing practice again, so it's a perfect gift to me. I've created a category for Journal In a Jar, so I can go back and re-read from the beginning. I think I'll do that at the end of my first year of this project.

Next topic: Did you wish you had more (or fewer) sisters and brothers? Why? Oooh, sister, are you reading this! ;-)

Posted by carl1236 at 6:31 AM

March 12, 2010

Show me the money!

If I suddenly received $100.00, $1,000.00 or even $1,000,000.00, what would I do with it? It really does not matter. I would not hold onto it. I would not save it for a future day. I would not do what most people consider 'responsible.' But I am not advocating not to save for specific goals like retirement, a car, a motorcycle, a house, etc, because without saving money, a lifestyle can easily become unsustainable. I am stating only that my investment in life is in people, not getting more money so I can live more comfortably and buy more things.
Many people in America are in over their heads in debt. A person goes out and buys a new car at $30,000.00, and a house at 300,00.00, and pretty soon, wham, that person needs to be earning at least a few thousand dollars just to pay for those things. In an effort to stay on top of the debt load, many people then take jobs or positions that pay more money, even if it doesn't make them happy.
Ideally we should all go out there and choose only the career that we are excited about, that we are engaged in, that helps us have purpose and meaning in life. But how many people do you know that actually achieve all of that? And even if a person does, it changes. Anything can happen.
One of my most engaging jobs ever was doing software technical support and training. It was meaningful work to me. I was helping people solve problems and making their work-life a little easier and less stressful. In many ways, I had a calming effect on people because they knew I would not stop until their problem was resolved or they found a work-around. And when people call technical support they are usually already stressed out when they reach for the phone.
Doing software training was also really rewarding. I had knowledge and I could share that knowledge. I loved coming up with creative ways to get people to that 'ah-ha!' point when they understand and can put the principles to work. Teaching is meaningful to me and has tangible and intangible rewards for more than just me.
The third attribute of my most engaging job, that tied it all together and made it even more fun and positive, was being part of a high-performance team. Being part of a real team our job functions didn't always matter. The focus was on getting the job done right for the customer and helping each other do that. There was a lot of cross-training going on, a lot of discussion in the hallways, a lot of late nights working out solutions and solving problems together. We all had a shared vision and goals. And we cared about each other. It was amazing. High-fives were frequently passed between us. In situations like that, it did not matter how much I was getting paid or how many hours I 'donated' to the company.
After five years of doing a job I loved, and advancing my skills, It came crashing down on us. In a really bad April Fools Joke, the owner of the company called us all into the conference room, and introduced us to the new owners. He had sold the company without most of us knowing. We had never met the new owners before this meeting. And worse yet, they knew nothing about our business. And it got worse. The very first month they took over they could not make payroll. The reality of that situation was that they paid too much for a company they knew too little about.
The death of that company came a couple years later after a lawsuit against the previous owners and bankruptcy. One by one, as people jumped ship, our high-performance team was dismantled . I was one of the last remaining employees before the doors were closed. Luckily I found another job that paid enough money to feed my family and pay for my car, rent, utilities, etc. The real tragedy with this change was that not much could compare with the excitement and happiness I had experienced in my work.
I've used this analogy before, and I think it fits pretty well. Sometimes we do things out of necessity versus what will excite us and engage us. One domino falls because another one before it fell. My favorite job fell and I had to find another one as soon as possible or risk losing my car and not being able to buy baby formula. The new job wasn't bad, but it definitely lacked many of the key ingredients I see that make work meaningful and engaging.
I think on some level, I knew and understand that the pursuit of money was not my objective at all. My objective was to have purpose and meaning in my life. It was to make a difference in other people's lives. For me, the drive for money alone cannot satisfy that inner need for meaning and purpose. It's an April Fools Joke that turns into reality.
Now we look around at our economy and wonder how it all got into such a mess. Immediately we start to point fingers. Someone is to blame for this recession. Some of the statements I've read are, "It's because the banks are too lenient on who they give loans to." "People who borrow more than they can afford are to blame."
I think it's a deeper-rooted problem in our society. The drive for profit and a focus on making money shifts the focus from doing meaningful, engaging work that is rewarding to us and other people. Instead of dominoes falling one way, they get lined up to fall based on income and profit, not people.
Our companies of all sizes suffer because of the loss of meaning and purpose, other than the bottom line. I observe people in my current job. The owners and investors are clueless that one of their most respected workers spends an hour to two hours at a time talking on the phone almost daily about personal things. I see it in the zealous nature of a young person that is highly critical of others and lacks compassion and whose drive is the bottom line. And that is rewarded in our society and companies. I see it in the decisions companies make regarding not spending money on tools or equipment their employees need to do their jobs. I see it in people who no longer have each other's backs, who do not see work as a team effort. I see power and control, territorial behavior, versus collaboration, teamwork and a focus on the shared vision and mission. We end up with companies full of disengaged employees, mainly because there is no soul in focusing on making money. The end result is something we spend. And the cycle of spend-earn-spend-earn doesn't have the same meaning as meaningful work that stimulates us, engages our skills and talents, and pushes the limits of our potential.
If I were to receive an unexpected sum of money, whatever the dollar amount, I'm sure I'd find a way to use it with meaning and purpose. Just like I try to use my time. I would probably buy a laptop to write more, I would donate some money to programs I believe are helping people. I'd invest it in people, giving them opportunities to discover what engages them. These are things I do now, regardless of how much money I have. The focus in my life is not about striving for more things that will decay, rot, break, become lost, stolen or earn more. It's about striving for meaning and purpose in life. It doesn't matter how much money I have for that to happen. And in the end, my investments will pay off larger, in ways that I could ever realize if my focus was on the bottom line.

Posted by carl1236 at 7:22 AM

March 11, 2010

Marriage Fears, Expectations, Anticipations!

Ever thought about getting married? Are you married? I am 20 and I don't worry. I know everything works out. Actually I'm a basket case for other reasons. Saying I love you was the easy part, now I have to go and face my father-in-law and do the right thing. I have to ask permission to take his daughter back to Texas with me. It's not going to be easy standing there and looking him in the eye and talking. But my only saving grace is that I can stand there and honestly say I will take care of his daughter and won't let anything bad happen to her.
I can not promise that I know what I am doing. But I do not have to be afraid of going back on my word to not hurt her. In actuality, the gravity of this one moment might solidify my resolve to not let her or him down. I wish every parent would have these talks with future son-in-laws.
This is how I feel. Scared of standing up for myself and for what me and my girlfriend decided together. Scared that somehow I won't measure up to this successful business man that has a mind as sharp as a tack. Scared of being just a punk that will use her and hurt her whole family. They would tell her, "I told you to listen to me!." Well, ok, maybe that's just my fear talking. I think they are all wonderful people. I love her mom already. She's so nice to me every time I talk to her. I think about my girlfriend's future when I look at her mom. Seriously. If my wife turns out with a heart like hers, my life could not turn out better.
What do I expect out of this? I don't know. I don't really. I really am not thinking like that right now. I'm thinking that this feels right and we talked about it and we both like the idea of being together. I don't want to kill the mood by being practical either. And no she is not pregnant! But let's think about that statement.
I asked myself, If she were pregnant, would I marry her? Yes, I answered. I would. I have too much pride and honor to walk out on that responsibility. Then I asked myself. If I love her enough to marry her if she were pregnant, do I love her enough to marry her even if she were not? I answered yes again. Commitment by logic! That's me. That's why I'm going to speak to her father. That's why I asked her to come back to Texas with me. I made a commitment in my own mind and heart. I follow through.
It's not just that I follow through, It's also that I'm really comfortable with my girlfriend. I know that she adores me, and that she is thrilled by getting my letters in the mail, and that she has so deeply fallen for me. I fear that also. I fear that when I wrote all those letters, somehow my inner feelings I so freely shared in letters could not be lived up to. I feel like I could betray my words by admitting that I'm still a young 20-year-old explorer on an adventure.
But then I come back to my original feeling, that when I know I feel comfortable with her, I feel her good heart, know that she adores me, has fallen in love with me, and that I could do no better, I have courage enough to stand in that room with her dad...
"Sir, I would like to bring your daughter back to Texas with me." Oh, God this is hard! I'm sweating. I am a soldier. I am old enough to die for my country! I am an adult! I should not be afraid, but I am.

Thoughts from 1983

Posted by carl1236 at 9:16 PM

March 10, 2010

Is it more difficult to be a parent now, when I was raising children or when my parents raised me?

That's 3 Generations I guess. Although I am not currently raising children, since mine are grown up and now raising their selves, I have an answer. I'm going to say 'none of the above.'
1. My parents had a difficult time raising four boys and a girl. We were hooligans! Sometimes angels but often fighting and getting into mischief. We could easily have fallen into drugs or anything else, if we had been in that neighborhood. We certainly knew as kids where those circles were and who those kids were.
2. You can teach a kid values and being able to make good choices. It's a lot of hard work on a parents part, and a certain amount of awareness. A lot of parents are not prepared for this, so it's difficult no matter what generation. And this has to start at an early age, especially before the pre-teen years.
3. It depends on the kids and the parents mental, emotional and physical health in any generation.

What's really difficult in raising children, whether of yesteryear, today's day and age, or tomorrow's hope, is that we have to be engaged in the process of raising our children, and be willing to do what it takes to help our children make good choices on their own. I don't think that is easy at any time. It can be fun and meaningful though.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:06 PM

March 9, 2010

When the Walls came tumblin down, when the walls...

Came tumblin, tumblin...down. It was November of 1989. I was beginning a new career as I watched my old career crumble into history. As I sat at work listening to the radio, I could not concentrate. I sat mezmorised, almost shaking. It was a Thursday. When I got home from work I turned on the news and spent the rest of the evening watching in awe. People were crying and hugging each other and talking and piece by piece, dismantling the Berlin Wall.
My connection to this history is probably in my blood. Historically, I am part German. My ancestors on my mom's-father's side of the family came from Germany. My great grandfather's name was Rudolph Donnerstag. If you know any German at all, you know that Donnerstag means Thursday in German. Or Thunder Day, Thor's Day. But it wasn't the sound of thunder that shook the earth. It was the silence as the East German Guards stood there at the ready, but not shooting as one person after another began tentatively walking forward, climbing, and then picking at the wall.
That Thursday in November as I watched the tv, I thought of my Grandpa, when East and West Germans were allowed to crawl all over the wall. I remember the feeling of exileration when I saw the sillouette of a man standing up on the wall for the first time, looking out over the crowd that was quickly gathering. It was surreal.
Shortly before I was born, the wall went up to prevent more East Germans from escaping through Berlin. By 1961 millions had already done so, many of them young people. It had been fairly easy for them to escape through the city. The East German government wanted to stop the bleeding.
When I was In Junior high school I began studying the german language. I was even more connected my ancestors. When I graduated from high school I decided to make a career of using the german language, in hopes of going to germany. I did go once. I was enthralled with the beauty of the country. I read it's books, I listened to it's music. So, when the Berlin Wall fell, it meant a little more to me than it might have, had I not had these connections to Germany. In more than relation, Germany was in my blood. I was emotionally connected to Germany.
So, now I sit here looking at this little piece of wall in my hand, a gift from a friend who was there when it happened, a remnant of a artificial political division that separated families, and I think about the values those millions of East German people believed in when they decided to leave their homes to escape to the West. I remember the emotions I felt when the Wall came down. I believe in that same value of freedom to choose my destiny, just like my ancestors did when they came to this country.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:05 PM

March 8, 2010

What I know about my parents wedding

I don't know if I never heard the details of my parents wedding or if I did and forgot, but I don't remember anything about it. Over the last few years we've been having more discussions in general about our family trees, especially since my brother and my parents and my aunts are digging into old information and hunting down leads. One common idea I hear is that it would be nice if previous generations left us a little more information!
At some point in a family tree, future generations might become curious about who you were and what your life was like. Maybe your family tree will die out and there will nobody curious enough to dig, but then again, maybe someone will be researching you for historical purposes in a town or region.
When my brother did some digging, he found out that our great grandfather on my mom's side was also being researched by the Wisconsin historical society because of his colorful past in Wisconsin. That was kind of a surprise, but convenient and helpful to my brother's research.
One of the purposes of this new writing project, my "journal in a jar" is so that I write down some of my family history, my experiences, my memories and my thoughts about things. Overall, I think there might be much more information available about people in our generation than there ever was in previous generations, so maybe research of family trees will not be as difficult as in the past.
But for my mom and dad's wedding? I know very little about it. Now I have to begin the process of finding out before they eventually take their memories, their ideas and dreams away with them. And I think in light these kind of thoughts, I had better record more about me and my wife to make it easier on future genealogy hunters. Also, because of our families efforts to find out about previous generations, It might even be my duty to leave more information for my future generations.

Posted by carl1236 at 11:11 PM

March 6, 2010

Come on Spring!

This picture is for my Father who doesn't see my Facebook posts. This is me commuting to work on Friday. I think the picture is funny mainly because of the huge snowbank right behind me. I also put studded tires on my bike Thursday night, so I did not slip at all Friday, even when riding on big ice patches. You know those melted-and-refrozen patches of ice?
By Today when I rode to the bike shop and back, I think I hardly would have needed those studded tires. And with the warmer weather, biking felt amazing! And evidently I am not the only one who thinks so. Yesterday a whole flock of bike racers flew across my path on their training ride. (St. Paul Bike Racing Club) And today I saw at least a dozen individuals out riding their bikes! Is it Spring or is it Spring Fever? Come on Spring! Ready or not, here we come!

Posted by carl1236 at 11:03 PM

March 5, 2010

My Greatest Accomplishment

What I consider my greatest accomplishment may be so totally foreign to most people. An accomplishment like this is hard to match until the right moment comes along. Then it's like the heavens open up and love starts to pour down on us.
Quite a while ago, I was riding the bus home from work and a lady that appeared to be homeless, with really ragged and dirty clothes, who was also drunk or stoned or something, got on the bus. She asked the bus driver several times which bus she needed to take to get to the East Side. She was on the wrong bus. The driver attempted to tell her several times too, that she had to get off this bus and walk over another block. She was so confused, and I was moved by her genuine plea for help.
I stood up and went to help her. She could hardly stand, so I helped her off the bus. She could hardly walk so I motioned the bus on and began to walk with her. She asked me to hold her hand. So I did and we walked safely to the correct bus stop. While we were walking I asked her what her name was. Then I said I was happy to meet her. She got a look of surprise on her face and smiled. She asked my name and I told her. Then I looked up her correct bus on the schedule and told her which bus it was and how long it would take. She turned to me, thanked me and said, "I love you John." And I replied, "I love you too." A warmth ran through me as I said that. I was so far out of my comfort zone on this that I felt amazed by it all. Then I told her to be careful and slowly walked back to my stop to wait for the next bus.
The author of the Red Suit Diaries said that no one really chooses to become Santa. It starts with a desire to make others happy and to give them hope. His transformation of the heart started one day when he changed a light bulb for a man in a wheelchair. It felt very good to him to do something that was so easy for himself to do, yet nearly impossible for this man in the wheelchair to do. It was a simple task that made a huge difference in another person's life. He discovered that the real gift was not a present or something we buy in a store, but the gift of our self. This is one of many experiences that have profoundly changed my life.
So I consider my greatest accomplishment in life has been learning to give my self to others and developing a desire to make others happy and give them hope. How can I ever weigh a personal accomplishment or achievement against giving another human being a friend for a block? In another lifetime I might not have done that. This time I got out of my comfort zone and connected with another human being and I changed.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:05 PM

March 4, 2010

One pet that I never had, but always wanted

Remember the Friends episodes when Ross had a pet monkey? And remember that song 'If I had a million dollars...' I'd get a pet monkey. What I really wanted was a pet chimp. A really smart one.
We have to keep things in perspective. I grew up with Disney showing monkeys as heroes in space and on earth. I grew up with the Planet of the Apes movies and cartoons. I learned to read with Curious George books. I also grew up with our human fascination with teaching monkeys to talk and communicate with us humans. I was fascinated by the monkey who learned how to use sign language, proving that they were capable of communication with us.
Would I have ever really wanted to take care of a real monkey? Probably not. Evidently I wasn't alone in wishing for a monkey when I was a child. But I have heard that they are a lot of work. I might have been up to it, but who knows. I never went as far as getting one.
I did however have all sorts of other pets, some of which were a huge amount of work. I had pet toads, frogs, snakes, dogs, cats, rabbit, bugs, hamsters and fish. And for a short time as a child we even had a pony. I think pets are generally a good addition to my life. I like the good nature of our pets, regardless of our moods. Speaking just about our dogs, they always seem really happy to see me and never hold a grudge. Our cat's however...
The rabbit was very affectionate and cuddly. But he left little pellets everywhere he hopped. And he chewed on things, like electric cables. And my snake tolerated me and had very little emotion.
Maybe someday I'll get a monkey, but probably not. It's a nice thought though. Maybe I'd spend my days trying to teach it to talk to me and to ride a bicycle.

Posted by carl1236 at 12:23 AM

March 3, 2010

Remembering numbers from childhood

I remember my addresses and phone numbers of every place that I lived from 1st grade until High School. It's easy to remember, since I only lived in two places. I lived in Newport when I was in elementary school at 1520 fifth Avenue. The house is no longer there. It was a little house tucked back behind an industrial complex. After we moved, the company behind us moved our little house off the property and used our lot for expansion of their operations. Poof, gone. I remember the phone number too even though I no longer needed it.
Then we moved to Cottage Grove when I was in 8th Grade. I lived at 7848 Harkness Avenue, S. That house is also gone. It was torn down for commercial expansion. I remember our phone number too. But this number I called more to talk to my parents after I left home. And I graduated from High School, I moved around in the Army, not remembering a single phone number from that period in my life, until I moved back to MN to raise my family. Then I started with my own places. It was pretty interesting. We moved five times in five years.
But none of that surprises me that I can remember some numbers so well from childhood, and others not so much. The other number I clearly remember is my grandma and grandpas number. I must have called them a lot to say hello. So I guess the important numbers I remembered and the not-so important, I didn't.
More significant than the numbers I think, is that the two main houses I grew up in were torn down in the name of progress. That doesn't really bother me, because I was gone, but It is interesting to me. If I went back to look around either of those addresses, they would no longer be there. And when I lose my memories of the houses I grew up in, then I suspect the numbers will go too, because the numbers are linked to the memories of the people and places.

Posted by carl1236 at 8:16 PM

March 2, 2010

The One Food I would Never Want to Live Without

Those are very final sounding words: "The One," "Never," "Live" without. Do I have to choose? I don't have a favorite food that I can't live without and I will pretty much eat anything and enjoy it. So to answer this question I'm going to rephrase the question as, "If I was snowed in for a weekend in a remote cabin, what food would I most like to have with me?
Bananas, Apples, other fruit.
Banana Cream Pie, French Silk Pie
Hot cocoa
real butter
lunch meat, lettuce, tomoatoes, onions, salt and pepper,
Bacon, eggs, green and red peppers
olive oil
Ok, that's enough. good eats. I won't starve.

Posted by carl1236 at 9:33 PM

March 1, 2010

My Boy Scout Experiences

I wrote about Scouts in a previous entry when I was talking about living with death. But you don't have to read that entry because I'm going to copy and paste the contents into this current entry dealing with just my scouting experiences. Of course you can still read that one if you are curious how scouting relates to living with death.

When I was young, I was in Cub Scouts. I remember it was a lot of fun. I remember it was difficult for our family to afford the book, the dues and the uniform, but somehow I got them. I loved the activities we did and the snacks and the great leaders. We had fun doing the activities and playing games. I also remember doing and making our pinewood derby cars with my dad. Of course my dad got totally into it and helped us strategically place the weights and polish the axles so our cars would fly down the track. We even tried liquid weight so it would shift as the car went over the hill, giving it an extra boost. I think that's illegal now, but I don't think they had a rule against it back then. Our car didn't win anyway, but it was fun trying to come up with some new strategy to make it faster. We also used graphite on the axles so the wheels would spin faster. We actually won some races and made it to the finals I think once or twice. So it was cool, and fun. I think Pinewood Derby is a good experience for kids if they get to work with their dads or moms or another relative and if the boys get to do the work on the car, with a little help.
When It came time to move on to the next level, Webelos, (WE'll BE LOyal Scouts), The meeting location was different, we had a different leader and I only went for a little while before dropping out. I think I just mostly was having more fun playing with my other friends then and wasn't getting anything out of my new group. And that was the end of my childhood scouting experience.
Then when my son was old enough, he came home from school with a slip advertising a scout recruiting meeting coming up at his school. So I went with my son to check it out. I think it was my son's idea and he wanted to do it. I'm not sure though. I had good experiences with cub scouts so I wasn't opposed to it. But I do remember I was really busy with work then. I was working for a software consultant doing training and technical support and programming. That was a challenging job that devoured my free time.
The first night of cubscouts was an organizational meeting, where we were supposed meet our son's new leader. That first meeting should have have been a warning sign of what was to come. The Cubmaster forgot her key to the church. So all of the parents and their boys sat on the little strip of grass between the church and the street and organized into groups by age: Tiger Cubs, Wolves, Bears, Webelos, in that order. So there we were sitting in our group with other boys the same age as my son, but we didn't see a leader with us. We waited. The Cubmaster finally came over and said, "Well, your group doesn't have a leader yet, so one of you will have to be the leader."
We all looked each other and asked her a couple of questions. Then she said, "It's easy, we'll show you what to do. Just pick a leader and it'll be fun." Then she walked away. The problem was that none of the people in our group wanted to be the leader. I did not have time for this for sure, so I did not volunteer that first night. I did what a lot of parents do. I had an expectation of scouts that did not include me working on lesson plans and teaching boys. I wanted to be able to just drop my kid off and let him have a great experience with someone else leading it. That's how I thought it ran. In reality I found out that Scouts is an all volunteer organization and the leaders are there because they care. And they put a lot of energy into the program.
So, two ladies reluctantly volunteered to co-lead the group, but they did not want to put much work into it or get uniforms or get training. After a couple of meetings, I was lying awake at night worrying that my son was going to have a bad experience in Scouts and quit. So I decided that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right and putting some effort into. At the next meeting I volunteered to be the leader. I think those mom's were really happy to be relieved of the duty. And I do believe we all gave those boys some good experiences. And we did some cool things together.
That was the beginning of my seven years as a Scout Leader. During that time I held most of the positions in Scouting, such as Denleader, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Trainer, etc. I went to all of the leader roundtables and training opportunities. I came back with some great ideas.
I put my heart and soul and resources into running the program and working with the boys and their parents. This was a great experience, but also overwhelming. We took boys camping almost every month, made realistic dogsleds for their klondike derby and of course, did pinewood derby. We also taught them how to carve and tie knots and start fires. I even taught the boys how to start a fire with wet wood. I learned an incredible amount as an adult and had a lot of fun helping to raise a lot of boys.
Some of my favorite things about scouting? I learned to love one my favorite life-long hobbies; woodcarving. Bob Plant taught me how to do and teach woodcarving. I loved that man. He was so good with teaching and was a nice guy to be around. He was always encouraging the boys and getting them to try doing things on their own.
I also learned a lot about dedication and determination in the face of unbelievable odds. We did fundraising together, we recycled aluminum cans together, we did state fair cleanups together, we built stilts and sleds and cars, and of course went camping. We also did archery, rappelling, horseback riding, bb-gun shooting, canoeing and swimming. I taught a dozen or more boys how to swim for the first time.
I remember Ku was so scared of the water the first time we took him to the pool that he would not leave the edge. I mean he would not even go into the pool from the edge. Eventually he learned how to swim. That was glorious. That was amazing. I am so glad I was there to be part of that.
Everything changes though and scouts was no different. I kept leading even after my son moved on to other activities, mainly because I knew there were a lot of boys that needed a good leader and role model. And I was having fun.
Eventually though, I got stretched too thin. Work was really demanding and I transitioned into another job and I had to keep the rest of my life afloat at the same time as spending nearly every day keeping a big scout program floating. Even with the few others that were true hard-chargers, we couldn't maintain a quality program without sacrificing something. We kept trying to get the parents involved, but it was difficult. As a result all of us leaders put in heroic efforts to keep it going. By the time I stopped doing it, I was dedicating 3 or 4 nights per week working on something Scouting related, plus monthly campouts and a weeklong summer camp every summer.
When I finally stopped doing it I wasn't relieved. I was sad. I was worried what would happen to these boys, and I was feeling guilty for stopping. When I told the few dedicated leaders that I was going to stop leading this unit, they were also devastated, but realizing the short-staffed situation we were in, no-one wanted to take over my position. The whole unit folded with about 40 boys losing out. But I couldn't continue working the way I was, and I saw the deterioration of the quality of our program so I did what I had to do. It was very sad. I was so involved, then it came to a stop. All of it. I mourned the loss for a while, then moved on to other volunteer work.
It happened in the same way. I happened to be where things were falling apart, where they needed help. It was like looking at a car accident or a train wreck. I cannot just stand by while someone needs help. And that's exactly when my engine gets into motion. I'm not moved into volunteer work by bigger causes like saving the environment or saving the world, but I am moved into action when someone needs help.
I have so many more good scout stories to tell, so maybe for future entries I'll tell some stories. Like when I challenged the boys, "I bet you that I can start this fire with one match and wet wood." I proceeded to fill a large bucket up with water and throw my sticks into it, soaking them and challenging the boys again. They all took the bet. I won. ;-)

Posted by carl1236 at 9:43 PM