Tag Archive | goals

I can’t put it off any longer

File DrawerIt’s time. I added it to my to-do list on January 1, 2014. It’s well past time to pull out the 13 bulging folders from the file drawer, the folders labeled “January 2013” through “December 2013” and “Misc. Tax Info.”

I haven’t clicked on the QuickBooks icon on my desktop since last February, when I finished “doing the accounting” for 2012. For me, “doing the accounting” really means entering receipts and expenses for our businesses into the computer and printing out a few reports to give to a real accountant who will prepare our financial statements and our taxes.

Organizing and entering a year’s worth of transactions usually takes me about a week of 10 to 12-hour workdays. Every year I think about changing my pattern and “doing the accounting” on a monthly basis, but I’ve stuck to the same annual pattern for 15 years, so I doubt that I’ll ever change. My week for “doing accounting” early in the new year always becomes my least favorite week of the year, but I survive it. I guess this practice is part of my disguise – so no one will ever guess that I have an MBA from one of the most prestigious business schools in the country, the University of Chicago. My guess is they would not like to claim me as one of their own.

Anyway, I can’t put it off any longer…

Elsie at PresHouse

Mom working at Presbyterian Student Center at UW Madison

I think I learned something about procrastination from my mom. She was always very organized, and she got everything done that needed to be done by the time it needed to be done. But I remember once she told me that she always ironed my dad’s shirts last. Back in those days, housewives ironed almost everything, from sheets and pillow cases to shirts and pants, even handkerchiefs. My mom had a full-time job as a financial secretary for the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison in addition to being a farmer’s wife and raising three kids, but she still ironed everything – until she could teach me to take over that job. One day she told me about how she ironed clothes. She hated to iron my dad’s Sunday shirt the most of all, so she ironed it last – just in case the end of the world would come before she got to it.

Pablo Picasso thought a lot like my mom. He is quoted in www.goodreads.com as saying, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”

That sounds like a good case for procrastination to me! If I die before I get the accounting done, that’s fine with me. However, I’m sure Mim wouldn’t like it.

Mark Twain shared his words of wisdom on procrastination, too. He said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” I guess that’s my justification for doing accounting once a year instead of once a month.

Well, I guess it’s now “the day after tomorrow for me.” I really need to click on the QuickBooks icon.

Something that helps me focus on getting something done that I really hate to do, like accounting, is promising myself a reward when I complete the task. I’ve already ordered my reward from Amazon.com. Since my special word for 2014 is JOY, I’ve ordered the book CHASING JOY: MUSINGS ON LIFE IN A BITTERSWEET WORLD by Edward Hays. The book should arrive today or tomorrow, but I won’t let myself start reading it until the accounting is done.

I’d better get busy.

Chasing Joy

Happiness Engineer – One of My Favorite Job Titles

happiness-engineersLast week I received an email from someone with the job title of “Happiness Engineer.” It made me smile. The email was from WordPress, the Internet service I use for hosting this blog. Earlier in the week I had contacted WordPress through their website to let them know that I had been charged twice on my credit card on the same day for a one-year renewal of their hosting and software service. Someone at WordPress with the title of “Happiness Engineer” checked out my concern, apologized for the error, and assured me my account would be credited. The “Happiness Engineer” made me happy.

In another company, the person who resolves minor customer concerns like mine would probably be called a “Customer Service Representative.” I guess that’s an appropriate job title, although if I were the person doing the job, I think I’d prefer the title of “Happiness Engineer.” I think this title would help me keep focused on trying to create happiness as part of the solution to every problem I had to solve.

Dagmar Vasby

Dagmar Vasby – former Missionary to China and Africa, and my neighbor for many years.

“Happiness Engineer.” That got me thinking about some of the job titles I’ve had over my career: English Teacher, Editorial Researcher, Business Systems Analyst, Manager of Financial Systems, Business Consultant, Real Estate Broker, Innkeeper, Organist, and a few others. The one title I really didn’t like was “Functional Analyst.” I guess it was better than “Dysfunctional Analyst,” but that’s what I always thought of when I saw the title “Functional Analyst” after my name.

A week and a half ago I went to the funeral of a 106-year-old former neighbor who had been a missionary to China and Africa. She had many job titles, too – Missionary Nurse, Teacher, Mother to a widower’s five children, Writer, Speaker, Lay Minister, and many more.

At the lunch following the funeral I talked with several old friends, and I met a few new people. When I was introduced to one person, I was shocked to hear her say to me, “the author?” when she heard my name. I guess that’s my favorite new job title. I like being seen as an author.

In this month’s “Monastic Way,” Joan Chittister focuses her readers’ attention on a self-portrait by Mary Cassatt. She begins her pamphlet with these words:

Mary Cassatt - Self PortraitTo paint a self-portrait, the artist is required to look into a mirror or study a photograph of themselves as they work. They do what few of us ever sit down and do consciously: they look themselves square in the face and try to draw a picture of what they see there. The difference between what they see there and what another artist might set out to express of them is that the person doing a self-portrait knows what every line and furrow, every cast of eye and hunch of shoulder says about the soul within…

What does a job title have to do with a self-portrait? They both provide glimpses into who we are – as we see ourselves, and as other people see us.

Jesus talked about this, too. In all four Gospels, Jesus is recorded as asking his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answered by saying that some people said he was John the Baptist. Others said he must be Elijah, or one of the other prophets. And then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him by saying, “You are the Messiah.”

I guess we could say Jesus’ job title was “Messiah.” And we could say Peter’s job title was “Apostle” and “Father of the Church,” based on his early recognition of Jesus being the Messiah and his getting the early church in Jerusalem organized.

Smiley FaceAs I think about who I am – as if I were trying to do a self-portrait by giving myself the perfect “job title” to describe who I am, not just the work I do, but who God created me to be – what would the job title be? “Happiness Engineer” might be a good start, but I’m not sure that’s exactly how I think about myself.

I guess that’s something else I want to think about this year – what job title would I like to create for myself? What kind of self-portrait should the job title reflect?

Why did we do it?

Mim and Marian Wedding September 15, 2013 Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Mim and Marian Wedding, September 15, 2013
Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Sunday in church our pastor announced to the congregation that Mim and I were married in Minneapolis last weekend, after living together 40 years. Seated on the organ bench, which is near the front of the sanctuary, I looked out over all the people who had great big smiles on their faces as they applauded us. (There may have been a few looks of disapproval, but I didn’t notice them.) It was wonderful to feel the warmth of our church family.

After the service, while I was playing the postlude, several people patted me on the back or gave me a hug and said congratulations. One choir member asked me, “Why did you get married now, after 40 years?” Since I was in the middle of playing a loud, exuberant arrangement of “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” I said I’d tell her later.

Mim and I have always enjoyed making music together.

We have always enjoyed making music together.

I guess that’s a good question – why did Mim and I finally get married? Probably many other people, including my brother and some of our nieces and nephews, are wondering the same thing. Let me explain by telling a little of our personal story.

Mim and I met each other in a small group Bible study in Chicago on February 1, 1973. After the Bible study, when everyone was talking over coffee, Mim learned that I was moving to Chicago to accept a new job as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia, and that I was looking for an apartment. Mim invited me to stay with her until I could find my own place. We became friends, and I never moved out.

Sixteen years later, on January 24, 1989, our Lutheran pastor in Chicago officiated at a Blessing Ceremony for us in lieu of a wedding. Having a wedding wasn’t a legal option at that time. In our Blessing Ceremony, we made a commitment before God, our pastor, and other witnesses to love and be faithful to each other for the rest of our lives. The ceremony was accompanied by the signing of wills and power of attorney documents to approximate the most important legal protections a marriage automatically provides.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

Our Chicago pastor kiddingly reminded me on Facebook last week that that was our REAL wedding, back in 1989! We agree. That’s when we committed ourselves to each other, and the church blessed our commitment.

This year many of the legal prohibitions against same-sex marriage have been dissolved, both at the federal level and in several states, including Minnesota, but not in Wisconsin. Mim and I have been planning for an eventual move to Minnesota in order to provide better protection to each other as we begin to face the inevitable challenges of aging. And then last month, a big change happened. The Federal Department of Treasury announced that the Federal Government will recognize all legally performed same-sex marriages, regardless of whether or not the couple resides in the state where the marriage was performed. The impact of that change is huge for couples like us.  We could get married in Minnesota and still live in Wisconsin, and the Federal Government would recognize our marriage.

The Department of Treasury made that announcement on Thursday, August 29, 2013. By Saturday, August 31, Mim and I were planning our wedding. The following Wednesday, September 4, we made a day trip to Minneapolis to get our marriage license and reserve the small chapel at Augsburg College, Mim’s alma mater, located near downtown Minneapolis, for our wedding.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

On Sunday, September 15, 2013 Mim and I were married in a small ceremony. The officiant was a spiritual director and former Augsburg classmate of Mim. The witnesses were two close friends of ours who live in the Twin Cities area. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed a celebratory dinner at True Thai restaurant near Augsburg. Mim and I spent Monday visiting friends in southern Minnesota and then we drove back home to Cambridge.

Are our lives any different now that we are legally married? Not really. Our day-to-day living is the same as it has been for many years. We have been a family since God brought us together. But now we feel a little more secure, knowing that, at least on the federal level, our basic rights as a family are protected.

We have not abandoned our plans to move to Minnesota in the future, because Wisconsin still does not provide us many important rights that other married couples have – such as the right to be treated as a spouse when the other member of the couple is hospitalized. Mim and I expect that all states, even Wisconsin, will fully honor same-sex marriages eventually. That may happen in a few years, or perhaps it may take a decade or two. Since Mim and I are already in our sixties, we don’t know how long we can wait for Wisconsin to catch up to Minnesota and other states in treating us the same as any other married couple.

But for now, we are happily married and residing in Wisconsin – already having celebrated our 40th anniversary of living together; being almost ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our commitment to each other being blessed by the church; and just beginning our first year of “legal marriage.”

We recreated the altar on our piano at home. Something old: The candelabra were used in her parents' wedding.  Something new: The flowers. Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church. Something blue: The votive candle.

We recreated the altar on our piano at home.
Something old: The candelabra were used in Mim’s parents’ wedding.
Something new: My sister-in-law had more fresh flowers waiting for us.
Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church.
Something blue: We had lots of blue!

Make My Day!

Gladys on right, with her sister Alice

Gladys on right, with her sister Alice

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Gladys, one of my ninety-plus-year-old friends in Chicago. I had sent her a letter to tell her about the two books I’ve written, and she was calling to talk about them, as well as to bring Mim and me up to date with some changes in her life.

About 25 years ago, when Mim and I became members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago, Gladys was one of the first friends we made in the church. Gladys and her sister Alice, along with their husbands, were all very active members of the “Friendship Club” at Resurrection. Although the Friendship Club was essentially a seniors club at the church, the members of the Friendship Club were very friendly and welcoming to anyone who came to church.

Over the years, our friendship with Gladys has remained close through phone calls, letters, and occasional face-to-face visits in Chicago. The Friendship Club even took several trips to Wisconsin to visit with Mim and me.

A few years ago Gladys’ sister passed away. Their husbands had passed away several years before that. Now, Gladys is the only one left of the foursome. She still lives in her own home, but is unsure how much longer she can do that, primarily because she is nearly blind with macular degeneration. Despite the changes in her life over the past several years, Gladys maintains a very pleasant disposition. I’m inspired whenever I talk with her.

The Friendship Club visiting with us on our front porch during one of their annual day trips to Wisconsin for "Lunch with Mim and Marian."

The Friendship Club visiting with us on our front porch during one of their annual day trips to Wisconsin for “Lunch with Mim and Marian.” Alice and Gladys are 3rd and 4th from left.

As Gladys and I were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, she asked if I had given any consideration to having my books produced as “books on tape” for the blind. I was sorry to admit that I hadn’t even thought of that. But now I’ve been thinking about alternative ways of making books accessible to people with impaired vision. I started by checking out the “Text-to-Speech” option on my Kindle. I was surprised how well it worked. However, at least on my Kindle, it’s necessary to see the device well enough to control the starting and stopping of the reading. I’m not sure that giving a Kindle to Gladys is the best solution.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a boss I had in the 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago. Allan volunteered as a reader at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Sometimes he recorded what he read. Other times he read face-to-face to someone who was eager to listen. I wish I could go and read my books to Gladys. But I know that’s not practical. A 270-mile round trip is a lot of time on the road, and a lot of gas, for an hour or two of reading.

But maybe I can be a little more sensitive to the needs of people closer to home. If I know of someone whose vision is no longer good enough to read, maybe I can find the time to go visit with them and read a little – either a story or two in one of my books, or better yet, another book that I haven’t read already so that we both will enjoy hearing a new story. Last year I went to see my Aunt Edith and I read to her a few times. We both really enjoyed those times together. Way back in 1986 when my mom lived with us in Chicago for several weeks before she passed away, I often read to her. Her favorite book (besides the Bible) at that time was The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. We laughed together a lot as I read the story. I wonder who else might enjoy some reading time…

On the subject of reading a new story, I just received some “book stubs” for Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest from my publisher. A “book stub” is a plastic card, the size of a credit card, that contains a code that allows you to download one copy of the book in whatever e-book format you prefer (Kindle, Nook, iPad.). If you’d like a free copy of my book in e-book format, send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send a book stub to you. (My supply is limited, so email me as soon as you can.)

You’ll make my day if you tell me that you’ll try to read at least some of the stories in my book to someone who cannot see well enough to read for themself. (But that’s not a requirement for getting a book stub – just ask me for it!)

Gladys Johnson

Gladys, one of the best kinds of friends –
a friend who inspires

Reclaiming Sunday

Do not let Sunday be taken from you.
If your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan.
Albert Schweitzer

When I was a little kid, Sundays had a very different rhythm from every other day of the week. The day started with a different breakfast. We had cold cereal with milk and bananas. Every other day of the week we had eggs and toast. Putting boxes of cereal on the dining room table was less work for my mom than frying eggs, and Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest.

We also built go-karts.

We also built go-karts.

After breakfast we went to Sunday school and church. We got home from church about noon. Then my mom set aside the “minimize work rule” for an hour or so and fixed us a big Sunday dinner. After dinner my dad read the newspaper until he dozed off, my mom read a novel, and my brother and I went outside to play baseball or football or cowboys. If it was rainy we stayed inside and played Monopoly or checkers. Sometimes we’d watch an old movie on TV. Occasionally the family all went to Lake Mills to visit my cousins for a couple hours, but we had to be sure to be back in time for my dad to milk the cows and for the rest of us to go to evening church. Basically, Sunday afternoon was a slow-paced time, a time to relax, a time to play, a time that was totally care free. (We didn’t even do school work!)

Wildflowers along Highland Drive - our country road

Wildflowers along Highland Drive – our country road

When I was a little older, my mom and I would sometimes go for a walk down our country road for an hour or so before supper. We’d look at the wildflowers and listen to the birds singing. One of the things we talked about was how she spent her Sunday afternoons when she was young. Her parents were quite strict about not working on Sundays. She wasn’t allowed to use a scissors because that was considered work. Often her friends from church would come over to the farm to play baseball and her mother would make root beer for everyone.

When Mim and I lived in Chicago, we usually went to church Sunday morning and tried to do fun, relaxing things in the afternoon. For several years we had season tickets to a piano concert series at Orchestra Hall. Another favorite place to spend the afternoon was visiting with the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo. On nice summer days we biked along the lakefront. When we were in grad school, studying and working often tried to barge in and take over quiet Sundays. After a while, we’d miss the relaxing time and resolve to take back our Sundays, with mixed results.

Since moving to Wisconsin 21 years ago, we have struggled to keep Sundays as a day to relax. When we had a bed and breakfast, we worked harder on Sundays than any other day of the week. Recently I realized that Sundays have again become the busiest day of the week for me. I usually play the organ in church in the morning, and in the afternoon I often work on writing something for my Monday blog post (as I’m doing right now). I’ve talked about designating another day of the week as my “Sabbath” but have never been able to be successful in implementing the practice.

As Maya Angelou said in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.

So …  I’ve decided to change my blogging day from Monday to Tuesday. Effective next week, my new blog entry will be posted by late morning on TUESDAY. Hopefully, this change will help me reclaim Sunday afternoons as a time to relax, to be care free.

Over the past sixty years our culture has drastically changed its attitude toward Sundays. The routine of going to church and having a quiet afternoon is just one way of spending the day. For many people, Sunday is a day for shopping. (When I was a kid, stores were closed on Sundays; shopping wasn’t an option.) For some people watching sports on TV is the favorite way to spend the afternoon. For others Sunday is a day to catch up on housework or yard work. Sunday still has a rhythm that is different from the other days of the week – even if the day is no longer a day of rest, it may be a day “in which no problems are confronted.”

Setting aside one day a week as a special day has Biblical origins.

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work – not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them, he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day, he set it apart as a holy day.
[Exodus 20:8-11 The Message]

Personally, I’ve decided to try to reclaim the Sunday of my childhood. I don’t think I can convince my brother Danny to play Monopoly with me, but I’m pretty sure my partner Mim will take a walk with me down our country road. Writing this blog, as well as most other things that try to creep into Sunday, can wait till tomorrow.

Our country road leads to CamRock Park, a place with perfect trails for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Our country road leads to CamRock Park, a place with perfect trails for a Sunday afternoon stroll. This photo is from last October. Mim and Abbey got ahead of me.

Working Together – Joy or Drudgery?

Chance Allies - David Allen, Tisha Brown, Lucas Koehler

Chance Allies – David Allen, Tisha Brown, Lucas Koehler

Last night Mim and I went to a fundraising concert for the jail ministry of Dane County. Chance Allies, a Madison group of three musicians – a female vocalist, a pianist, and a bass player, performed lots of jazz classics, mostly from the era of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. It was a wonderful evening.

Chance Allies - Tisha Brown singingTisha Brown, the vocalist, is a UCC pastor. Last night, she explained to the audience that she had an epiphany while on sabbatical a couple years ago. She has always liked music. For a few years she had even been a music major in college, playing a clarinet. While on sabbatical, she distinctly felt the Spirit telling her to use her desire to sing to accomplish good things. She responded by taking voice lessons, finding a pianist (David Allen – a pediatrician by day) to accompany her, and later adding a bass player (Lucas Koehler – the only full-time musician in the group) to add another dimension to their music. Their goal as a jazz group is to do as many fundraising concerts for non-profit and church-based organizations as they can. They brain-stormed to come up with their name – Chance Allies – which describes how the performers got together, by chance, and what their mission is, to be fundraising allies with organizations they want to support.

As a jazz combo, they play off each other very well. Naturally, the vocalist is the lead for most of the music, but she often turns the lead role over to the pianist or the bass for each of them to freely improvise. And when Tisha is singing, David and Lucas are creative in a totally supportive way to provide cool harmonies or smooth counter-melodies. Watching and listening to them work together so beautifully for a couple hours last night was a wonderful way to end the weekend. Plus, it was an added bonus to give support to the jail ministry. The chaplains work together well in their roles of counselor, advocate, and spiritual guide for the inmates of Dane County Jail. The chaplains need and deserve our support.

Marian Korth Family Portrait BW warmer 2As Mim and I were driving home from the concert Mim suggested, “Why don’t you write about improvisation and working together on your blog tomorrow. We just observed a great example of that happening.” Tisha, David, and Lucas are all great musicians. What makes them successful as a group is that they have so much trust and appreciation for each other’s artistry. They allow each other to freely improvise, and they work together to support the person in the lead as that position is rotated among them.

Can that model for working together apply in other work settings? When I look at how Mim and I work together in our different home-based businesses, I think it can. Mim is the lead in our assisted living business, Country Comforts Assisted Living. She is primarily responsible for addressing the physical and emotional needs of everyone who comes to live with us. I trust her completely in that role, and do whatever she asks me to do to support her. That may be going to the pharmacy to pick up medications, helping her make a bed, or building her a website, www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com.

Conversely, when it comes to writing my books and my blog, Mim is in the supportive role.  She critiques every blog post before I publish it. She also proofs every version of my books before I move on to the next version. Sometimes she even gives me ideas to write about – like today!

Fortunately, Mim and I work together very well. My other work experiences have been mixed. Some good. Some not.

I think the three most important factors that determine whether or not a working relationship will be successful are respect, appreciation, and trust. When I feel that my co-workers respect my judgment in my area of expertise, appreciate what I do, and trust me to do the work – AND when those three factors are mutual among all co-workers, amazing things can be accomplished. That’s what we saw in the concert last night.

However, when any one of those three factors is missing – respect, appreciation, trust – not nearly as much, or as stunning quality work can be accomplished. And, even if some work is accomplished, no one feels very good about it. We all know we could have done better.

If you want to be inspired by watching three musicians work together very well, I encourage you to go to the next fundraising concert of Chance Allies. I may see you there. You can find their schedule on their website, http://www.tishabrown.com/events/.

Chance Allies - working together beautifully

Chance Allies – improvising and working together beautifully

The Magic of Books

 

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Three years and three and a half months ago I started writing a book on hospitality. Last Wednesday, 1200 days after starting the project, I signed off on the book with the publisher. In a week or two I should hold the first copy of the published book in my hands.

Why did I want to write a book on hospitality? I guess it’s because I think I know something about the subject. Forty years ago Mim started to teach me everything she knew about hospitality. Then we learned new things together about being hospitable. The more we learned, the more we were ready to begin new adventures – like having both short-term and long-term roommates, turning our home into a B&B, and then caring for people who are dying in our home.

Besides learning about hospitality from trial and error, we also were curious about whether or not God had any instructions for us in the Bible about being hospitable. Needless to say, we’ve done our homework on the subject of hospitality. That’s why I felt ready and able to write a book on it. I also felt driven to do so because I think hospitality is so important.

 

Come Lord Jesus FRONTBut now it’s done. After 1200 days, writing the book is no longer on my to-do list. How do I feel about that? Strange. I guess it’s the “empty nest syndrome.” My baby has left home. I went to Christmas Mountain again for a few days last week. That’s where I wrote a lot of the book over the last few years. It seemed strange not to feel that I had to focus all my attention on writing or revising the text yet one more time. The last version, number 13(!), is the last. The book – Come , Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality – is finished.

So what’s next? I hope it’s not writing another book – at least not for a while. I have about 1200 books I want to read first. As British novelist Angela Carter said, “A book is simply the container of an idea – like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.” I guess that means I have about 1200 more ideas to explore. That’s the magic of books. They provide a means of exploring new ideas. Fortunately, now it’s time for me to do some more exploring. Maybe I’ll write another book later, when I can’t help it. I’ll let you know.

 

?????????????

Time to explore some new ideas.