Christmas Plans

“It’s all a part of the plan… more or less” – my nephew

Path to the top of a dormant volcano above Calavera Lake in California

I had an amazing Christmas. We took our six-person family to Oceanside, CA. My wife and I ran up a dormant volcano, our kids played in the Ocean, our whole family went to Legoland, and we had a traditional Christmas Eve cheese fondue dinner. It was a great holiday.

There were also some unplanned rough patches. Everyone got the flu. We had rented a 15 person van for our 14 person party, and at some point, at least 3 members of our group vomited in the van. Our 3 year-old and 5 year-old both soaked their clothes in the ocean at a moment when we didn’t have spare outfits, and had to borrow clothes from the adults.

But – the holiday was amazing, and some of the most magical moments were unplanned.

It feels like a pretty common thing to think about detailed plans for Christmas and the New Year. It can even be a big source of stress.

This year, more than any other, I found myself reflecting on how far the first Christmas was from Joseph and Mary’s plans.

I’m old enough to have some idea how upset I would have been, telling my wife we had to walk 95 miles to a different city in her third trimester, because of a government requirement that happened to fall during that month. Or that the plan I had for a hotel wasn’t going to work. Or that we were going to sleep in barn. Oh – and, by the way, the plans I’d made to take care of her during the delivery of her first child had all fallen through. I would have been completely full of panic.

That string of plans falling through is the story we celebrate during Christmas. Because it all worked out, and because the details–unplanned as they were–were an amazing gift.

Anyway – in the midst of the stress of the holidays, or of everyday life, may we remember that the unplanned and difficult moments or unforeseen obstacles are sometimes amazing gifts.

Thanksgiving & Gratitude

Last night I had an unexpected vacation. There was a snowstorm in our neighborhood–12″ of accummulation!–and, just as the kids went to be bed, the power went out. So we had a fire in the fireplace, snow falling outside our windows, and a house of darkness and quiet, save for the crackling and light of the fire. So we laid down by the fire to enjoy the power outage and the calm blanket of snow outside our window.

Photo by Click and Learn Photography on Unsplash

I enjoyed the break from everything else I might have been doing. And, because of the season, it got me thinking about thankfulness.

Here’s what I learned about gratitude this year.

First – it’s an answer to uncertainty. In the midst of change, ambiguity, and fear, gratitude can provide a path forward and a reminder of what is going right.

Second – it pairs well with patience. Often I don’t see gifts immediately when they appear, and it takes time to understand the blessing that an unexpected event or situation really provided. And, when I’m patient, I’m most able to enjoy the surprises that appear in my life.

Lastly – it shows up in unexpected places. So I need to keep my eyes open, or I miss it.

I hope this week finds your life full of gratitude and thanksgiving. Have a great week!

Here are a few words on thanksgiving that I am enjoying this year.


Sometimes, when I’m bored, I start doodling in the margins of my notebook.

Recently, I realized I would get a lot of joy from being better at my sketches. Maybe even learning to draw. So I started putting some effort into being organized and a little more focused about these lines in margins.

So – I thought I’d share the most recent output. I hope you enjoy it.

Have a great day!

Memorizing Books

Today I’m marveling that anyone has ever learned to read.

Mastering a difficult skill often consists of the patience and persistence to learn–and master–a relevant set of subcomponents for the whole.

And patience through steady progress is tough.

Reading is a great example. First, you need to learn all the letters and their sounds. Next, how they fit together into words, how each word sounds, and what it means. Then you need to bring the words together into sentences, and follow their meaning through the course of a story.

Taking only the first level–learning the words and their sounds. The average word is 5 letters long, and the average adult reads at 250 words per minute. So, on average, adults can identify a letter, its name, its sound, and its context in a word, at a rate of 20 letters per second. Pretty incredible.

Mastery is built a little at a time. Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash

Two of my kids are 3 and 4 right now. One of the best parts of our day is reading a bedtime story together. They’re old enough to know all their letters and a few of their words, but they’re not reading yet.

Right now, it’s easier for them to memorize entire books than process letters one at a time.

They have memorized dozens of books. They’re really good at it. In fact, they’ll know a new book after only 3 or 4 readings. But – knowing an extra book by memory doesn’t get them any closer to reading on their own.

May we all have patience when we’re mastering new skills–because patience and steady progress are only way to get there.

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.