Some thoughts on the good stuff…

While working on the Hague House Project today, these thoughts arose as I opened the above can to paint some trim for the powder room.

  • The good stuff usually costs more. Way more. Like “How does anyone get away with charging that?” kind of more. The kind of more that stings just a little bit when you pay it; which, you will have no problem doing because you want the good stuff.
  • If it doesn’t cost more, and doesn’t sting just a little bit, it’s probably not the good stuff.
  • The good stuff usually is a bit harder to work with, because it’s made for professionals.
  • The good stuff will work better and last last far longer than anything else.
  • If it doesn’t work better and last longer, it’s probably not the good stuff.
  • You use the good stuff where it matters most.
  • If using the good stuff does not matter where you are using it, you probably should not be using it.
  • It takes practice, time, and skill to know where using the good stuff matters and where it doesn’t.
  • That said, if you don’t know if it matters or not, use the good stuff. Your pockets will be lighter but you’ll never be wrong.
  • Most people will never notice if you use the good stuff when you could have used the cheap stuff. People in the know will always notice when you use the cheap stuff when you should have used the good stuff.
  • Those who know what the good stuff is will recognize it — the attention to detail and care such a choice reveals. They will appreciate that you did.
  • Those that don’t know what the good stuff is will benefit from the quality and durability just as much as those that do.

The Middle of Somewhere

Who can find a fantastic brewery with great food in the middle nowhere Montana? Bethany can!

I recently posted the photo and caption above to Instragram. My wife posted a similar one with a caption also saying we were in the middle of nowhere.

But that was not the truth.

The truth was we were in Cut Bank, Montana which is historically part of The Blackfeet Nation. Which has been a somewhere long before The United States was an anywhere. Hardly “nowhere”.

And, I think this is important to remember. Because words mean things. The easiest way to erase a people and a place is to do so with language. To say “no one” lives there or that it is in the “middle of nowhere”. Yet, we use such language all the time.

I pledge to be better about this.

Because, to the people that live there, it is not only somewhere — it is the center of the universe. The middle of everywhere. And this is true for every human being in the billions of places we live. Every place is somebody’s somewhere. We need to honor and acknowledge this.

Tonight, I’m resting on the stolen ancestral lands of The Blackfeet Nation. I’m in the middle of somewhere. And, for me, tonight, it is the center of the universe

Thinking About Friendships

This past Saturday, one of my closest friends and personal mentors had a heart attack. It has really shaken me. He’s only a few years younger than me and one of the healthiest people I know. He’s a runner and was on mile 9 of a 14 mile marathon training run when it happened. Luckily, he wasn’t running alone as he often does. He was with someone and that someone knew CPR and was able to keep him alive until the paramedics arrived. The tiredness and fatigue he’d been feeling these past few weeks that he’d written off as long covid turned out to be a 60% arterial blockage. They put in a stent and cleared the blockage. He’ll be fine and the prognosis is good but it really has me thinking about some things…

Here is someone I consider one of my closest and most important friends yet, I haven’t seen him in months. Not since this past summer. Why? He lives less than a 15 minute drive away!

So that has me thinking a lot about friendships – especially amongst guys. We tend not to prioritize them. We tend to think that to get together there has to be a reason involved. We have to have an event or some purpose to it. A run or a round of golf. Making a batch of beer or building a deck. Or we need to get the families together, let our partners talk and kids play. Dinner or a barbecue. Often, we guys never seem to think of getting together “just because”. For no reason at all other than to connect. Have a chit chat about anything under the sun. Or, sit in silence together and just be.

We are too quick to let life get in the way. Make excuses. Put our friendships off for another day. We’re still young — at least that’s what we of a certain age group believe in our hearts and heads. We still feel as good as we did at 25 or 35 (despite the fact we are 45+) We have all the time in the world, right?

Even worse, messaging a friend to get together for no reason at all often doesn’t even occur to us as an option. We have some open time in our self-important schedules and in the myriad of things we could choose to do, we don’t even think about spending it with a friend. Friendships, and the time they require for nourishment, never seem to enter the equation. They don’t even make it on our to-do lists.

Like I said, I’m thinking a lot about this and plan to make a concerted effort to not only prioritize my friendships but to make thinking about them as an option a habit. To be intentional about giving time to the people I love.

Raising Travelers

I love this recent post by Derek Sivers about how travel is best with young children and couldn’t agree more with all of the points he made but I feel one very important one was left out:

When you travel with young children they learn how to be good travelers. This makes all future travel with them so much better. Very little whining and crying. Next to no “Are we there yet?” They grow up with it as something normal that you do and that there are certain and appropriate ways of being and expectations in those spaces.

When my wife Bethany and I were first discussing having children, I was a full time Dad to two teens. I was not able to afford to travel with them as they were growing up. I love to travel myself and grew up doing plenty. I was looking forward to their soon becoming adults, being out of the house, and my wife and I having the “freedom” to travel. I didn’t want more kids.

But, my wife had no children of her own and wanted to give it a shot. So, the agreement we made was that if we had a baby it would not stop us from doing all we had planned to do. Travel, expensive restaurants, amazing experiences — the kid would come along for the ride.

We first traveled with Beatrix when she was three months old. My wife had a conference in Denver that she needed to attend for work. She was the food source and so Beatrix and I had to go too. While Bethany was at the conference all day, and Beatrix would only take Mom’s milk from a bottle, I had a wonderful time exploring the town with Beatrix. We spent a whole day at the wonderful Denver Art Museum. I’m convinced that cemented in her the love of art museums she has today, 14 years later.

We took her to Norway at 6 months old. Mexico at 9 months. In her 14 years she’s been all over the United States and the World. Dozens of cities and towns. She’s had tea at Kensington Gardens and blown bubbles from the top of the Eiffel Tower. She’s rafted down the rivers of Costa Rica to El Salvador and floated in hidden hot springs in Iceland.

But, most importantly, she’s learned that getting to do these amazing things sometimes takes time. She knows that new production on London’s West End involves a 8 hour plane trip. She knows that New Orleans is a two day car ride and an overnight stay at some random hotel outside of Saint Louis away. She knows that we may leave some extra time in between to see the ducks in the fountain of The Peabody in Memphis on the way there or stop at our favorite book store on the way back.

She knows that amazing experiences are worth the journey. That travel involves, well, travel. Beatrix is an AMAZING traveller because she has spent her life traveling.

So, for this reason alone, if you have the means to do so at all, you should.

My Life in 3×5

I run my entire life off of a single 3×5 card using my Dash/Plus system. I wrote a post about it several years ago but it could use some updating.

Basically, on the front of the card I write down the tasks I’d like to get done today (and really believe I can get done). On the back of the card, I capture any incoming tasks that pop up or things I need to write down — like a scratch pad (i.e, things that won’t get done today but I’d like to keep for some other time). As I get stuff done, I mark it done. Things that don’t get done either get moved to the next day’s list or deferred for later. I notate all of that using Dash Plus for each task at the end of the day.

So, what do I do with all of those “later” items and other tasks that do not make the daily list? And, where to those daily items come from in the first place?

I keep everything on a “Master List” I keep in my journal. I compile this list every 2-3 weeks or so. I open up the next blank two page spread in my journal and use a GTD Guided Mindsweep that a David Allen Co. coach did on Twitter many, many, years ago (attached). While I don’t follow GTD specifically anymore the Mindsweep is very useful for triggering taks/porojects I might not otherwise think of.

The done tasks get copied into my Daily Log as I complete them. Anything undone gets moved either to the next day’s card or Master List. I rip the card in half and throw it into the recycling bin after everything is copied to where it needs to go.

When The Mask Mandates End

As the Omicron surge recedes and we continue to see a sharp decline in positive COVID cases across the country, many places are dropping mask and vax requirements. When the mask mandates end, you’ll likely see me still wearing one in most public situations. There are many reasons. Here’s some off the top of my head…

  • Compassion. When I wear a mask I’m acting in compassion for others. Keeping those I interact with safe. Keeping those they interact with safe. Keeping my family safe.

  • Health. This is not just about COVID-19. I’m someone who normally catches at least one flu (regardless of getting a flu vaccine) and several cold/cruds over the course of the year. The last two years, I’ve not been sick with any flu, crud, or cold at all. First time in my memory that’s been the case. This means I also haven’t spread a flu, crud, or cold either. Part of this in due to my mask wearing (and yours, thank you).

  • Warmth. I used to be fairly hearty against the cold. But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less so. My head, especially, gets cold quickly. I actually like wearing a mask outside in the winter. It keeps my face warm.

  • Respect. When I enter a store, restaurant, or even a private home, I may not know what the owner’s preference is. Therefore, out of respect, I’ll default to wearing a mask unless I’m told it’s OK to do otherwise and then I’ll make my own choice based on my level of comfort. It’ll likely be the case that I’ll opt to keep mine on and I similarly expect the same respect in return.

  • I don’t mind it. I have lots of nice well-fitting masks in colors to match what I’m wearing. Because they fit well they don’t fog my glasses (and, if yours does, that’s because it does not fit and, therefore, you are less protected).

My approach this entire pandemic has been to try to sit with the idea that, without any mandates at all, most will take the precautions they feel most comfortable to them. That shops and public spaces will present their terms of engagement in good faith and we all can choose our comfort with that; with non-engagement as one of those choices. I may not agree with it but I at least have to accept it (Because what else can we do?).

Wearing a mask in most public situations makes me comfortable.

A Christmas Wish

I wrote this three years ago. Though the temporal details have changed, the sentiment has not…

As is the custom with my wife’s Norwegian heritage, Christmas dinner and present opening is tonight, Christmas Eve. We host family and friends. This year that number is 12, including my wife’s cousins from Oslo.

This season is one of mixed emotions for my dear wife Bethany. Her mother passed away twelve years ago on Christmas Day. Her father, who joined us at our table every year, passed away this past August.

Yet, we have a 10 year old little girl who still believes in Santa for what feels like the last time. The questions have begun and she reports many of her friends don’t. She even declined the opportunity for a selfie with Santa. The rouse may be up. We’ve told her “If you don’t believe you don’t receive”. That seems to have put off the truth for now. It is her excitement that holds up the joy. For her, Christmas is this full and happy time filled with presents and parties and family and traditions. So many traditions.

Two days ago, I spent the morning peeling, boiling, and ricing potatoes, covered them with cloth, and put them in the refrigerator to dry a bit. This morning, we will make lefse — a nordic flatbread as we have done every year for Christmas dinner since her mother passed, and thus passed the duty to us. I make and roll the dough, Bethany helms the griddle, Beatrix helps shuttle the rounds — delicately wrapped on long flat wooden spatulas, between the rolling and grilling stations. This is when it starts to feel like Christmas to me.

Not when we get the tree — the tallest in the lot. “Not that one, taller still!” I’ll yell to the lot attendant. Because our high ceilings make even a nine foot tree seem small. We need at least a ten footer but eleven is ideal. Twelve, and there’s not enough clearance for the topper…

Not with the shopping or the present wrapping. My inability to wrap well is near legendary. No matter how hard I try my wrapping looks like it was done by someone who’s cross-eyed and lacking opposable thumbs. It’s part of the charm now. You can always tell mine under the tree. My wife is much better at it. But, this year we discovered that Beatrix is a naturally expert present wrapper. Better than my wife even. A natural pro! I’m not sure where she inherited this skill from but it should make for a good seasonal employment opportunity when she reaches working age. I had her wrap some of mine this year…

Not the many many holiday parties all of my wife’s and my clients, and friends, and boards, we’re obliged to attend. So. Many. Parties. Some weekend evenings this season we were triple booked.

It’s when, just a few moments from now as I write this, I grab a handful of flour and begin to work the potato dough. That’s when the feeling of the season begins to wash over me. This is a process that’s very tactile. The only way you can know the dough is ready is by how it feels. The only way is to get both hands in and work it, one handful or pinch or sprinkle of flour at a time until it’s just right. What is “right”? Well, it takes a few years of screwing it up a lot before you get it right. But after enough trail and error, you just know. You can feel it. Once I feel the dough is right, I know the rest of Christmas will be just fine too.

My wish for you is that, no matter where you are, that you find that thing that fills you with the hope, love, community, and joy this season is meant to imbue. I can’t tell you what that thing is for you. But, you’ll know it when you feel it. It’s when it feels “right” to you.

Today is Journal Day

Today, December 9th, is Journal Day.

Journal Day is the day I use to reflect on the year(s) behind me and prepare for the year ahead. I flip through old journals. I take note of the accomplishments of last year. I prepare for the turn of the new year.

Above is my Daily Log, a Hobonichi Techo wrapped in a One Star Leather Goods cover. I’ve used this same setup for at least six years now.

I keep a more traditional journal too — though less frequently this year. The log is for events, the journal for thoughts and feelings. I’ve found myself beginning to record thoughts and feelings in the log instead. Partly because it is always at hand and the size forces brevity. Journal Day is a good time to think about if I really need both going forward.

If you find this sort of thing useful, perhaps you will take the time to mark Journal Day on your calendar. Celebrate this wonderful thousand of years old practice. Develop traditions around this day that align with your values and intentions.

Or, if you don’t currently journal, maybe this is the day to start. Write your story one day at a time.

The Rhone Gift Guide

Having entered the Season of Stuff, many of us feel we have too much stuff. Here’s some ideas for gifts that don’t involve stuff or, at a minimum, involve always useful stuff. I may add to this post as I think of more.

  • Ask them what they really need. Get them that. It’s kind of boring and hardly a surprise but will be used and appreciated.

  • Consider the so practical it barely seems like a gift until they realize it option. An example; most people don’t swap out their toothbrushes enough. How about getting them a year’s worth (3-4)? I often forget to swap out the filter in our forced air furnace and then find I don’t have new filters when I do. If someone were to get me a case of filters I’d be overjoyed.

  • As the cook in the family, I appreciate an at home meal I don’t have to plan and make myself. Plus, my family gets to try something I may not usually prepare. A big frozen pan of vegetarian lasagna that I can thaw, pop in the oven, and serve? A few pounds of long-storage root vegetables with a good recipe inside the bag? Perfect gifts.

  • Experiences and knowledge always make great gifts. Local kitchen stores often offer cooking and/or knife skill classes. REI offers lots of great intro classes for outdoor activities. Some people jam on online classes like those offered by MasterClass, other’s don’t. Know your giftee. Heck, give the gift of sharing your own skills. A friend who passed away once taught me how to make a really good but easy to throw together curry and it’s one of the best and most long lasting gifts I’ve ever received and has the added bonus of a nice memory of her every time I make it.

  • As someone who works on home-improvement projects a whole lot, I don’t really need more tools. Instead, a better gift would be those consumable items for the tools. A box of screws or nails. Sanding disks for the orbital sander. A fresh blade for the table saw. These are things I’ll always need and will get used. So think of the things the people in your life do for either a job or hobby. Get them some of the consumables for their tasks.

Owners and Stewards

There is a difference between those that own a house and those that live in a home. House owners see investment, profit. Home livers feel themselves as stewards, part of a continuum of caretakers for a place for a time in its history.

Not to say one or the other is bad. Nor am I saying they are mutually exclusive. Just to say that one idea/sense usually takes priority over the other and drives the choices one makes about a place.

For instance, if I chose to view the Hague House as simply an owner, it’d be done and back on the market right now. Instead, I’m restoring a home, a place with history and built to house generations (as many of the homes of that time were).

This drives the choices we’re making about it and the time we’re spending on it and, hopefully, we will sell it to folks that will have a similar sense (though we can’t control that, but we can hope). So the money and time become secondary to making it feel like a home. One where they will live for a long time, take appropriate care of, and possibly even hand it down to the next generation.

So, I guess the wrap up thought is this: Are you an owner or a steward? Not just with a house/home but with what you have in general? Because how you view/position yourself will ultimately drive your choices/actions.