Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Look to this day!

I recently came across this Sanskrit Proverb and found it powerful:

Look to this day
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
                                    -Sanskrit Proverb
Why are we so often tempted to reflect on our past as we consider the needs of now?  I believe it is because we suppose our past performance is a good indicator of what our current ability might have the capacity to produce.  And certainly that's a logical conclusion.  However, when we get "stuck" in the past, it actually limits our current performance.  
Let me give you an example.  In 10th grade, I took weight training as an elective P.E. class (How sad is it that this was the only official goal-setting weight training class I have ever taken.)  At the first of the class we maxed out our bench, overhead press, and a few other lifts.  I remember being pleased enough with my performance--it being comparable to some of the "sportier" folks in the class.  Throughout the class, I learned better techniques, had plenty of practice, and set goals for achieving better results.  Near the end of the class, however, I found I was just short of reaching a fairly significant bench press goal I had set.  I worked and worked, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't hit my target max weight.

After a lot of effort a friend of mine named Jack, from the varsity football team, spent some time getting into my head.  He asked what I thought a good max for someone of my stature should be.  I then told him how I had set my target weight because the P.E. coach had told me it was about the highest weight someone my size should shoot for--and that achieving it would be above an average result.  Jack then told me that was the problem.  "You can't worry about what someone says is possible for you.  You have to focus on what it takes to do what you need to do right now.  As you do, you'll improve.  Be pleased with your ability, and keep working and you'll do everything you ever hope to do."

I took Jack's advice and went back to work, abandoning the false limits I had been dwelling on and instead focusing on the exercises I knew would help build my strength.  By the end of the week, I easily hit the max that had been impossible for me for several weeks prior.  By the end of the following week, I had well exceeded my highest expectations for progress.

Certainly a goal and direction were important, but the focus had to be on the daily work necessary to build what I needed to achieve my goals.  The initial "place marker" was necessary to see my progress, but my mistake was dwelling on it.
Unfortunately, I have been guilty of repeating my high school weight training mistake from time to time.  I sometimes worry about what I have accomplished (or not accomplished) in the past and let it weigh me down in my current pursuits.  Jack's classic advice (and the above proverb) have often helped me focus my attention on the important things:  focus on the accomplishing the current needs, and the past and future will take care of themselves.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Simple Gestures MEAN A LOT!!!

(After my not so nice things to say about HP Support, I thought I'd quickly give a much more positive thought, so my complaining doesn't show up at the top of my blog for long.)

Easter was fun!  We took the kids to the city rec. complex where they had 4 baseball diamonds full of "hidden" Easter eggs for the kids to go and "find".  (I used quotes since the eggs seemed to be tossed loosely out in the grass of the outfield--even so, it was a fun event for the kids.)  The goal was for each kid to find an egg with a number on it.  If you get a numbered egg, you were entitled to redeem it for an Easter basket full of goodies.  Preparation (despite the "hiding" job) had to have taken hours of several people's time.  All the eggs that didn't have numbers were neatly stuffed with candy.  The gathering of the eggs took SECONDS!

The amazing part of the event was that from community business donations and the serviceable effort of the local chapter of the Lions Club, there were over 600 Easter baskets available for the children.  The Lions Club passed them out individually to each kid that brought up a numbered egg.  They also limited baskets to one per kid--so those who collected multiple numbered eggs passed them along to those who were not so fortunate.

My son and daughter--although they each collected multiple eggs--didn't receive a numbered egg.

But after waiting in the "losers line" for what seemed like an eternity (probably 7 minutes or so;) they finally received one of the numbered eggs that had been passed along, and got a basket.

All's well that ends well.

The neat part to me (in addition to the heart warming appreciation I had for this little community [total population maybe 3,000] who so generously donated SIX HUNDRED Easter Baskets full of REALLY good candy--like 4.5oz solid Dove chocolate bunnies and boutique quality chocolate covered mint candies, etc--as well as the time necessary to execute the event, a professional D.J. who acted as M.C.--also time/equipment donated, etc. etc. etc.) . . . In addition to all that, the really cool thing to me was that, on our way to our car, FIVE different people checked with our family to make sure EACH of our children had received a basket--and offered to give them the one THEY had received if we hadn't.  These people weren't part of the volunteers working at the event; they weren't friends or even people we knew.  They were just concerned neighbors at a community event who wanted to make sure my children had a positive experience.

It's funny how meaningful that whole experience was for me.  I don't think I appreciate often enough the things people do on my behalf.

It's also fun to give.  We've been dealing with flooding in our neighborhood.

I got a call the other night asking if I would be willing to go help fill and place sandbags in order to try and save some homes.  I started out in the fairgrounds filling bags.  After filling only 20 or 30 bags, the operation director indicated that there were new breaches in the river banks by the homes behind the Field Street church and he needed a few volunteers to go there to help save the homes.  I went with 4 of my close neighbors (and several more that I didn't know) to see what we could do.  Upon arriving, I met up with Dan Dixon--a man who has been a bit of a mentor and role model of mine for some years--working in the sloppy mess of the flooding river.  Despite the urgency of the moment, he smiled warmly to greet me.  Since he had moved out of my immediate neighborhood some time ago, it had been a while since I had seen him and he asked about my family, work, and life in general as we worked to build sand bag walls to plug the breach.

After several hours of working, I went home very wet, very dirty, and very cold.  But I went home happy and grateful for  1.  the opportunity to help,  2.  the success we had (the home didn't flood that night),  3.  a community where people care about their neighbors--even when they don't know them personally.  I was truly moved by the literally hundreds of "Dan Dixons" I got to work with that night who were willing to work hard to preserve the interests of community members.  (OK, so the "hundreds" is literal; the "Dan Dixons" is metaphorical--they weren't literally all Dan Dixon.  As cool as he is, that would be a little Twilight-Zone-esque.)

Certainly saving homes is more important than helping my kids pass the "boring parts" of church a little more easily.  Yet, I was touched almost as deeply as my observation of the flood volunteers when a kind older gentleman sitting on the pew behind us overheard a conversation I had with my 4-year-old son.  "Dad, can I have a pen?" he asked, while holding the little scratch pad he had worked hard to find in his mother's bag.  "I'm sorry, I gave my pen to Britt, (his 7-year-old sister)" I told him--sorry that I couldn't oblige.  As the boy looked down disappointed, I felt a tap on my shoulder as the older man behind us pushed a pen into my hand saying, "I've been there before" with a smile on his face.  My son was saved from the remaining 35 minutes he would have had to bear of brother Mulman's sermon.  ;)  What a simple thing.  What a simple, small little thing this man offered.  Yet, he offered it.  He saw a need and he helped!

One final "simple gesture" I observed this week was a letter my wife received from a woman we know from church.  She's one generation ahead of us, and while we see her at church and appreciate her sweet nature, we don't really have any particular ties to her--except that she has a son who, 20 years ago, needed the same surgery our 11-month-old daughter will be having on May 5th to repair the hole in her heart that is creating her congestive heart failure.  This kind woman took the time to write a 4-page hand-written letter with some thoughts of comfort for our family.  She's not family.  She doesn't have any specific 'church assignment' to look after us.  We don't really even talk much.  Yet, she took the time to reach out to us. . . to put her proverbial arms around our family to say, "I know what you're going through, and I care!"  What a simple, simple little gesture it was--yet, how meaningful to my wife and me!  Even now, I can't think of this kindness without tears of gratitude streaming down my face.

Here's my wife's account:  http://honesters.blogspot.com/2011/04/letter-from-friend.html

It's simple thoughtfulness like this--the donation of time and resources to entertain children, neighbors working urgently to save the property of other members of the community as if it were their own, sharing knowledge, wisdom, and experience that will lighten the burden of someone in need. . .  It is really the simple gestures that build men and women. . .   that make others sincerely want to give more, be more, and DO more good with their lives!  At least that's what it has done for me.

Calling HP Support: Hope you have AT LEAST an hour.

I bought one of the cool HP Mini Netbooks when they were brand new (I think it was early 2009).  I loved it.  Unfortunately, mine was one of the early models w/ an underpowered power supply for the bulky (and slow) hard drive they put in it.  The hard drive crashed about 13 days after the 90-day store warrantee expired; so I was left to deal with HP's support line.  After a long time (not kidding 3 or 4 hours), they determined they had to see my computer to see if they could fix it.  So I shipped it to them and waited.  . . .and waited and waited and waited.

After 3 weeks of waiting I called.  The exact hard drive my computer originally had in it was back ordered, so they were waiting for it.  I waited another couple weeks, and called again.  Still back ordered.  I put 2 and 2 together (duh), and realized the thing was back ordered cuz HP had discontinued using it--probably because it was faulty for everyone who had it. . .

Anyway . . . Very long story (a little) shorter, I spent more than 6 hours on the phone w/ HP support (NOT an exageration), and didn't get anything resolved.  After a few days of calling HP and yelling at various supervisors (about how I had bought the stinking computer and had been able to use it for a couple months, and now I didn't have the thing for what was then going on two months. . . yadda yadda), they finally said--why don't we send you a replacement computer.

So they did.  The new computer had a new/better hard drive in it, and everything seemed to be resolved.  Thanks HP (despite how long it takes to talk to you about support issues--which is the real complaint here).

Well, some time later I overloaded the software capacity (of the my replacement HP Mini), downloaded a virus, and found it necessary to restore the factory settings of the computer.  (Note to self:  NEXT TIME YOU BUY A NETBOOK, USE THE RECOVERY PARTITION IT COMES INSTALLED WITH--despite the fact that you didn't realize it was there--AND CREATE A RECOVERY CD BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE.)  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the 'restore factor settings' step of my trouble shooting the virus problem, the recovery partition was already corrupted, and I had to use an external recovery process.  I wiped the hard drive, and used the recovery CD from my original HP Mini netbook (that I had returned), and restored the operating system.

(man, I'm not making my "long story short" a very short story, am I.  Sorry.  ;)

The problem is the recovery CD for the original HP Mini netbook didn't completely match up with the chip set and components of my replacement netbook.  So now--since the system re-install--I'm missing some drivers and key features from my computer.  (For example, my system restore feature doesn't work, my system standby mode doesn't work, I can't get the right driver [no matter how many I try from HP.com] for my ethernet port, etc.)  I've been limping along without these features for some time, but I finally got sick of it today and decided I would call HP to order the ACTUAL recovery CD for this netbook.

Pretty simple conversation, right:  "Hi.  I'm Blaine.  I have a HP Mini NetBook and I want to order the system recovery CD for the exact serial number/product number computer that I have."  WRONG!

"Tell me again why you can't get the right drivers.  Why can't you download them from our website?  Why didn't you use the recovery partition?  How many times have you tried restoring it? etc. etc. etc."

LOTS of questions and talking to another supervisor (after LOTS of hold time) and repeating the LOTS of questions later . . . (literally about an HOUR after I started the call) I'm finally told "I'd be happy to send you the recover CD.  That will be $15.93 for GROUND shipping."  Really?  $15.93 for SHIPPING. . . A CD?!?!?!?

I started into a line of questioning that would have wound up with something like:  Do you KNOW how much shipping CD's costs for EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD?  (For those who don't know, it's about $0.42.  42¢!!!)  But I refrained--and politely paid the scammer that is HP Support.  (I was at his mercy on getting what I needed.  Good for HP for taking advantage of their stadium pricing ability in such cases as mine.)

But the price for shipping a recovery CD is not the issue.  (Although, I would have much appreciated if they would have told me that I was actually buying a CD for my $15.93--not ground shipping.)  The rant is that I knew exactly what I wanted from them, I succinctly articulated the need, and I still couldn't get off the line with HP Support in any less than AN HOUR!  I'm annoyed AGAIN by HP Support.

Sorry to "drag you down to my personal hell" as my brother sometimes puts it when I complain.  My advice to anyone wondering about HP Mini Netbooks:  Get an I-Pad!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Wolves Within Us

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The sound of silence

I was thinking today about the poetic term "sound of silence" as made famous in Simon and Garfunkel's hit single by that name. The theme articulated in the lyrics of that song gives some insight on part of how I personally feel about silence; namely, that silence is often the enemy to what ought to be said--yet it's a powerful friend in moments where a stark contrast to the glaring metaphorical noise of the world is critically needed. (. . .. as per my own interpretation of the song, of course.) So, yes. . . I enjoy silence.

The quiet moments wherein the soul has room to ponder the deeper things of life can be beautiful and life changing. And it's my opinion that music, TV, and other "noise" detract from that space a little too often (in my own life, at least). Some of the best advice I ever heard came from an 84-year-old man who answered a question about how he had maintained happiness and health throughout his long life. His answer was that he took at least 15 minutes every day to simply sit in a quiet place and think. Not read, write, listen to music, fall asleep, or anything else. . . just sit in silence, and think.

Life becomes so much more real when we can take a moment and disconnect. I think silence is a key to doing that effectively.  I really should plan and make room for such moments in my life a little more often.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quote of the day: Be Present

One of the most profound things I've read in a while came from my sister-in-law who took a moment to summarize a few of the life lessons she has been privileged to gain recently.  She said:

"Life moves on whether we decide to be present or not. Be present! Be content with what you have, and live!"

How much time do we waste lamenting past decisions or dreaming of future achievements.  Life is here and now; and unless we are a part of it here and now, it passes us by leaving us with nothing more than more regret of what we missed while we weren't "there" for life as it came.

Thanks for the wisdom, Heather.  You're truly an inspiration to me!