The Trees Won’t Trim Themselves

I was visiting a friend this week. She lives in a house on a golf course at the top of a hill. Her back porch faces east, so she has an amazing view of the sunrise in the morning–its stunning.

A few years ago she planted honey locust trees to shade the yard. They’ve flourished, and are now close to twenty feet tall.

But now the lowest branches block the view of the horizon. When you sit on the porch, you can only see the morning colors through the foliage of the trees.

The solution to this is pretty simple. Cut off the bottom branches and she’ll be able to see the sunrise again. But the branches have grown pretty big. It seems like a lot to lop them off.

But the trees won’t trim themselves.

It’s easy for me to notice this: I’ve trimmed trees in my yard recently and was really happy with the result. And when I look around at other 30′ honey locust trees, I can see where they’ve had their bottom 10-feet of branches removed. But if you haven’t done this before, it feels like a lot of change.

Reality is, I leave the low hanging branches on the trees in my life all the time, ducking as I walk by, and dealing with the obstructed view.

May we all make the simple, appropriate changes in our life in response to the growth we’ve had. Have a great day!

Values & Follow through

I’ve been reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography. It’s an incredible book–highly recommended.

I wanted to share the description of his personal values, and how he tracked his performance in each of them. It starts on page 87.

I think it’s relevant for a lot of people because reflecting on and listing out our personal values is a pretty common exercise in leadership and team building courses. The last time I did this was a few months ago, and here’s the list of values, people, and ideas I said were most important to me.

Franklin went through a similar exercise. Here’s his list–notice how concrete, tangible, and actionable they are.

  • 1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • 2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • 3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • 4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • 5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  • 6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • 7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and , if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • 8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • 9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • 10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  • 11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • 12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  • 13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

It’s interesting me to reflect on the difference from my list. When I list “courage” and “integrity” above, I mean something like “Resolution” and “Justice” in Franklin’s list. And I think many making a list like this would not have an equivalent of “Order”, “Silence”, or “Temperance.”

The most fascinating part of this was the follow-through. To track his progress, Franklin made a notebook with one page for every virtue. On each page, he made a column for each weekday, and a row for each virtue.

Each week, he would focus on a single virtue, trying to improve. And he would track his performance on all 13 virtues, noting any failures–improving over the whole set of virtues by focusing on on per week. He could complete this 13-week cycle of reflection four times per year.

Here’s his template:

Franklin did this exercise for the first time in 1728, when he was about 22 years old. He recorded it for his autobiography in 1784, some 56 years later. Imagine the consistency built over 50 years of this practice!

I hope this encourages you in your efforts to live out your values today. Take care!

Levels of Complexity

I saw this video (10 min) a few weeks ago, where a musician plays happy birthday through 16 levels of complexity.

I thought she did a remarkable job of explaining the structure of how to introduce a complex skill:

  • Named, explained, and demonstrated each new level
  • Applied the skill to a simple, well-known piece (“Happy Birthday”)
  • Reminded that synthesizing is personal, and an expression of her own artistic point of view
  • Connected the foundational components to the end goal

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Often, I see people at work asked to teach a complex skill which takes years to master in a few hours time: facilitating a discussion, understanding data, persuading an audience, or leading a change.  I thought this simple video gave good advice on how to introduce and deconstruct something complicated, while still giving space for the audience to enjoy the journey.

Here’s the link.

Enjoy!

 

 

Remembering Mr. Rogers

I have really enjoyed reading about Fred Rogers this week.

A few recent articles have been inspired by an upcoming movie, A Beautiful Day, which will release in November 2019.   The movie centers on the relationship Mr. Rogers developed with a reporter who profiled him in Esquire.

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but I haven’t thought about what that show meant for a long time.  It’s been fascinating to revisit and learn more about Fred Rogers.

I particularly enjoyed this profile in The Atlanticwhich showed how he would transform a statement into a message for his show.  An elegant example of how to simplify a message, frame it to be positive, remove anything prescriptive or exclusionary, and draw a bridge to why it matters.

Here is the process from the article, which I found fascinating:

  • “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. ​​​​​​
  • “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  • “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  • “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  • “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  • “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  • “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

If you’re more interested in Mr. Rogers lessons for grownups, here is his 2002 commencement speech at Dartmouth, where he gave the gift of a minute of silent gratitude to the entire class.  I also enjoyed this twitter thread, describing how unusual his philosophy and theology really was.

I hope these ideas encourage you.  Have a good week!

Writing Again…

I had taken a pause from this blog for the past few months.

It’s been a crazy time!  We welcomed our third child in February.  Things were busy at home and hectic at work when I returned.  At first, I felt like I didn’t have time.  When I did have something to say, I thought it would be better later, when I could gather my thoughts and be more deliberate.  Then, after a few weeks, not writing became habit, and I felt doubt about returning to share here at all.

At the same time, busy seasons in life are the most important times to write, reflect, and remember.  That’s when growth happens, and we come back to these seasons most often to understand and process the changes.

All that to say I’m going to return to writing and sharing here.

In deciding, I appreciated this quote from The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, which MacKenzie Bezos shared when she joined the giving pledge:

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book… The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better… Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

May we all share now our worthwhile words, rather than saving them for a uncertain future.  Stay encouraged, and have a great day!

The Calm of Well Prepared

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This week, my family is waiting on the arrival of our third child.

He’s two days past the due date: we thought he would come a few days or weeks ago.

Naturally, we planned to be ready before the due date–then had last minute details we forgot to take care of.

Now, all our preparations are made.  The carseat, clothes, and crib are all ready.  Our projects at work are handed off; our hospital bag is packed.

Unfortunately, it’s not our habit to be remarkable well-prepared for an event, and left ready, calm, and waiting for the big moment to come.

But we’re enjoying the peace of well-prepared; we should try it more often 🙂

 

Super-Parenting Recipe: Play-dough & Pizza

It’s President’s Day!  Often on minor federal holidays, my wonderful wife works.  So – I trade the nanny a day off for a future evening of babysitting and spend the day with the kids.

Today we saw dinosaurs at the local nature & science museum, then came home for lunch.

One of the moments when I feel most like a super-parent is when I’m cooking while my kids play with play-dough in the kitchen.  It’s so cheap and engaging, and I feel like I’m helping our family run at the same time.

Since I mentioned that I’m working on being better with finances and family logistics, I thought I’d share the recipes.

  • Play Dough: 15 min to make, costs less than $1.
  • Pizza: 30-45 min to make, costs about $4.

Play Dough Recipe

Thank you DomesticSuperhero.com.

  • In a saucepan, mix 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of water, 2x teaspoons of cream of tarter, 1/3 cup of salt, and 1x tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • Heat over low heat while stirring
  • As it starts to thicken, add food coloring
  • Remove from heat when thick and no longer wet
  • Store in an airtight container (like a ziplock bag), and it should last for months

Pizza Recipe

Simple Pizza Sauce: thank you Allrecipes.com

  • Stir together 1.5 cups of water, 1x 6oz can of tomato paste, and 2 – 4 tablespoons of olive oil; mix with a whisk or fork
  • Add 2x cloves of minced garlic
  • Add 0.5 teaspoon each of rosemary, oregano, and basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Fun fact: “Italian seasoning” in the store usually consists of oregano, rosemary, and marjoram.  The garlic is optional, or can be substituted for garlic powder.  Sauce tastes better if you store it in the refrigerator for a few hours before cooking.  Total cost should be less than $1.

Simple Dough Recipe: Unfortunately, all internet sites I could find make this really complicated–so I’m just writing down what I normally do.

  • Mix 1.5 cups of flour, 1.5 cups of warm-but-not-uncomfortably-hot water, and 1.5 – 2 teaspoons of yeast
    • Can work well to do this a few hours before making the pizza.  If not, just pause for 5 minutes after this step
  • Stir in 1.5 – 2 teaspoons of salt and 1.5 cups of flour
  • Add extra flour as you knead or roll into a pizza shape on parchment paper

Note: the proportions should stay pretty constant, but this is flexible for any size pizza you want.  We buy our flour at Sam’s Club in the 25lb bags–so the total cost for the dough is less than fifty-cents.

  • Preheat oven and pizza stone to 450-degrees
    • If you don’t have a pizza stone, preheat a cookie sheet
  • Add sauce, cheese, and toppings
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes

So – with cheese and toppings, total cost will be less than $4 – 5.

Both of these are pretty basic–but also give us a lot of joy.  Would love to hear your tips for engaging, cheap super-parenting activities the kids!