Monday, June 22, 2009

The Joy Of Sleep

If you have read my Show Your Colors entry, you may remember that I am predominantly a "Gold" person. This means I'm obsessive compulsive, abhor chaos and must have structure and order. I am also trustworthy, loyal, and do my best to honor commitments. Some of these may seem like admirable qualities, but they can be a real pain in the neck. Let me explain.

At a "gender differences" seminar, the presenter explained, as a general rule, women have memories like filing cabinets. They have a very large storage capacity. When they have an experience, they can file it away and bring it back 20, 30, or even 40 years later and remember just like it was yesterday. My wife, Deanna, is extremely good at this. She remembers not only the time and location of where she was when President Reagan got shot, she remembers exactly what she was wearing. I can vaguely recall walking down the old Mandan Junior High School hallway and meeting a gaggle of girls, I say gaggle, because they sounded just like squawking geese. "President Reagan got shot, President Reagan got shot!" You could have dressed them up in colonial clothes, put them on horses and sent them out to warn the colonists about the British invasion.

I must have been heading to band or choir because that would have been the only reason to be in that particular hallway. I don't have a clue what I might have been wearing. I can't remember what I wore yesterday.

Most men, I'm sorry to say, have memories like chalkboards. Some men's boards are bigger than others but they all have the same characteristics. They only hold so much information. Once full, nothing else will be remembered until something gets erased.

I pride myself on having an extremely large chalkboard. Nevertheless, it does fill up on occasion. I get too busy, too many problems to solve, too many commitments to honor, too many events to worry about. When this happens, my obsessive compulsions kick in and I go into system overload (i.e. I FREAK OUT!). My personality type cannot handle this "out of memory" error. I quite literally cannot sleep until enough things get purged. My record of being awake is 3 days and that's without any chemical additives. When I get to this state, my body naturally manufactures all the adrenaline it needs for fuel. But ultimately my system must crash.

You may be wondering what's the big deal? Why not just start erasing things from my chalkboard (solve problems, honor commitments, attend events etc...) until enough things have been deleted so I can sleep. That sounds easy if it weren't for the annoying tendency of two things getting added for every one that gets erased. The challenge, therefore, is to eliminate items off my chalkboard while at the same time preventing new items from being added. If anyone has ever struggled with time management issues, (see my Dad's blog on Time), you know exactly what I'm talking about.

I can honestly say I have not had a good week at work since before Christmas 2008. I can probably count the number of good days I've had on one hand. We are in the process of moving our old legacy applications to a newer web-based system. One of the applications we are working on is our hunting lottery system. It took over a year to develop and finally went live earlier this year. I don't believe I've ever had to deal with an application that has been fraught with so many problems. I don't want to bore you with the details as that would take another 2 or 3 blogs and wouldn't be very interesting. Suffice it to say, it's very complicated and has all manner of special conditions and scenarios that have to be handled. Add to that legislative changes that went into effect we now have to implement as well as some departmental season and lottery changes specific to Elk to help deal with the overpopulation in Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

Even under normal conditions, Summer at the ND Game & Fish Department is the busiest time of year. It starts around June and really doesn't let up until opening day of deer season in November. Then you would think the place is a ghost town with all the people taking advantage of their hard earned leave.

Stress and disgruntlement doesn't just take it's toll on me. It also affects my family and those I come in contact with. 2009 has not been a very happy year for the Meissner household. I can handle brief stretches of "system overloads", but I don't believe I've ever had a stretch of stress that has gone on this long. June has been especially bad. The first 2 weeks this month I probably only got about 10 hours of sleep and it was punctuated with restlessness. I'd wake up feeling more exhausted than I was when I went to bed.

However, thankfully, I am happy to report that today marks the 7th good day in a row that I have had at work. The problems with our lottery system are now down to a more manageable level and things have finally started falling into place. I've been able to erase many items from my chalkboard with very few being added. I must also mention that Friday morning I'll be leaving for Canada with my Dad, brother and five other family members for week of fishing without any electronic "gizmos" to speak of. It's been years since I've taken off more than 3 days of work at a time. I would say I'm much overdue for a vacation.

And sleep, blessed, peaceful, joyful, restful sleep. It took about 3 nights to get caught up on the hours I had lost, but this morning I woke up feeling more rested and at peace with the world than I have literally felt all year.

All that aside, through this whole mess, what really caused my stress to wane was finally getting the proper attitude about things. Yes, life is full of problems and tends to have very busy and stressful moments. But it is our attitude that determines how well we cope.

I hope you all have a very good day!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Touch the Void or Reach For the Sky

I just finished a couple of excellent books that I had to recommend. I've always been a voracious reader and the last few years I've also gotten addicted to audio books so I can read (listen) while I'm driving. Most of the audio books I've been listening to are from the youth and young adult section because they usually have sound effects and sometimes different voices for the characters. I've usually got a book at work, at home, in the car in case I get stranded somewhere, and now, in my CD player. I cannot stand being somewhere with "Time on my hands." (reference to my Dad's blog, "From my thoughts and heart", off to your right on this screen.) without a good book to read.

I found out about these two books from an audio book called "The dangerous book for boys," by Conn and Hal Iggulden. It's a cute little book that's got some boring stretches but is chock full of useful information all boys should know. Basic survival, first aid, how to build a fire, some basic carpentry and mechanics, & how to talk to girls. The problem is the format is a bit dated and I'm afraid young, pre-adolescent boys who desperately need this information would not be interested enough to read it or even listen as it was in my case. You would have to add a lot of sound effects and funny jokes to keep a young man's interest I'm afraid. It's a challenge to get my son to read anything other than a comic book.

Anyway, in addition to the useful information there are some really great true stories that highlight the tenacity of the human spirit. I was so intrigued by the tales of these two men that I had to get the actual books containing all the details of these "ordinary" men doing extraordinary things.

The first book is "Touching the Void," by Joe Simpson. This is my favorite of the two because it's written first hand by the man that went through it. Two climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were attempting to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Something that previously had not been done, after enduring some horrendous weather they got to the top and started their descent. On the 2nd day of the descent, Joe Simpson fell and shattered his knee. Seemingly pronouncing his own death sentence, given the location they were in.

Undaunted, the men continued their descent with Simon lowering Joe the length of their tether rope, digging in and lowering him again. The whole time Joe is enduring what must have been unbearable agony every time his leg bumped the side of the mountain. Simon is getting badly frostbitten in his hands having to deal with the ropes.

After several "lowerings" Joe ends up sliding off an ice cliff. Simon has to make the horrible decision to either hang on and have both of them dragged over the edge to certain death, or to cut the rope and save his own life. After agonizing this decision with his strength draining away, Simon eventually cuts the rope sending Joe into a crevasse below.

Miraculously, Joe survives. By cutting the rope, Simon actually saved both their lives. Joe crashes into an ice ledge in the crevasse damaging his leg even further. He comes to and lowers himself further down into the crevasse. (his only way out) He comes out of the crevasse and finds himself finally towards the bottom. He then perseveres another agonizing 4 days hiking, crawling, & sliding, with an improvised stick/crutch. to collapse at their base camp where the others were just packing up to leave as they assumed Joe had been killed.

Now I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I believe 2 years and 10 surgeries later, he was climbing again in the Himalayas. An absolutely amazing story.

The other book is a little long and has some boring stretches but it kept my interest so much because this guy refused to give up. Every lemon that was thrown at him just added to his inexhaustible supply of lemonade. He has this attitude of literally laughing hardship right in the face. The title is "Reach for the Sky" by Paul Brickhill. Which was also made into a motion picture. This story is a biography about a WWII ace with the Royal Air Force, Douglas Bader. In a tragic accident showing off in a training plane, Douglas crashes and has to have both legs amputated, one above and one below the knee. He refuses to leave the R.A.F. or to use any kind of crutches or other assistance with his prosthetic legs. This was unheard of with these types of amputations and the legs available at the time. After getting denied over and over again for flight status, war breaks out with Germany. England needs all the pilots it can get.

He not only proves himself an extremely capable pilot but goes on to command not one but three squadrons in active combat. After shooting down numerous German planes he "scrapes" an enemy plane in a dogfight and has to bail out over German occupied France. His fake legs saved his life as his cockpit was crushed and he was able to remove a "fake" leg so he could exit the airplane. Unfortunately the "better" of his two prosthetics went down in flames.

In a humorous turn of events, England air-drops a replacement leg on a bombing run along with several plane-belly's full of bombs. The leg safely gets delivered to Douglas at his prison camp, upon which he promptly tries to escape. He does actually get out of camp at least twice but gets caught and spends the remainder of the war at an impregnable fortress in Germany.

Incidentally I have to also mention the author, Paul Brickhill, himself an R.A.F. pilot who also spent time as a POW, wrote another book I'm reading now called, "The Great Escape." This details living conditions at a German prison camp and the unbelievably creative ways these prisoners manufacture to escape. I'm about halfway through and they've made a couple attempts and gotten outside "the wire" only to be caught, thrown in the cooler (solitary confinement), and put back in the camp. But what astounds me is that they never give up trying.

In all these stories these people speak of reaching the end of their rope where they absolutely, positively could not go on. Joe Simpson put it best when he describes arguing with the voices in his head. One voice was telling him to just give up, go to sleep, and be done with it. Another voice was constantly, annoyingly, naggingly, urging him to get up and keep moving. It was this voice that was victorious and convinced him to take yet another step when he knew there was no way that could possibly be done.

It just goes to show, there really is hardly anything we cannot do if we simply set our minds to it. It's not our strength, our looks, our financial status, that make us who we are, it is our spirit!

Now get out there and do some amazing things!

When Nothing Seems To Go Right

It seems almost foolish to ask if you've ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right. I have never met a person who could answer truthfully, "no," to this question. I had one of those afternoons Sunday.

It wasn't even a day, the morning started out great. We had our annual outdoor worship service at the American Legion park in Mandan. The weather could not have been more spectacular. The sound system I was in charge of worked perfectly except for the tripped circuit breaker occurrences, due to all the potluck crock pots being plugged in. The service went off without a hitch and was followed by an amazing lunch with my favorite type of grilled bratwurst and some excellent potluck side dishes.

Then things started going downhill. I get headaches when I'm outside without my sunglasses. Sometimes I get headaches even when I have my sunglasses. It started marinating as a dull thud when I was sitting reflecting on the excellent lunch I just ate. The thudding began to grow in frequency and magnitude as I started loading the speakers and other equipment into the van.

I loaded up the kids and headed back to church to drop off the equipment, looking forward with eager anticipation, to an afternoon nap with a cold pack on my now throbbing skull. I got all the stuff unloaded and put back in its proper place only to find out I locked my keys in the van. You may remember if you've read the "Deer Me" series of my blogs, I am extremely prone to locking my keys in vehicles. One of the reasons why I keep a spare key in my wallet. Only I was driving Deanna's vehicle due to hauling the sound equipment.

The evil gremlin in my brain switched his ball-peen for a full blown sledgehammer and continued trying to batter the inside of my skull. I took a deep breath, prayed for some more patience and told the kids to go back in church and sent them promptly to the youth room. I got on the phone and started making phone calls to see who could give me a ride.

No one was answering. It was around 12:15 so I expected most of my contacts were out enjoying lunch so I took my shoes off and crashed on a couch thinking to try again later. I couldn't sleep, couldn't get comfortable, and had no access to a cold pack, nor the desire to fabricate one of my own from the kitchen. After about 30 minutes of agony I did manage to get a hold of my saintly stepfather who had just gotten home from his church's board meeting. He had no problem getting me back home, and I would come back later to get the van once Deanna got home from work.

Thinking at last my day might be taking a turn for the better, I got the aforementioned cold pack from the fridge, warned my kids to be quiet on penalty of death and dismemberment (I tend to exaggerate once in a while, please don't take that literally). And headed to bed.

I did sleep but the evil gremlin still wasn't through with me and headed downstairs to start supper as Deanna was on her way home. Dee's uncle has been very successful with fishing this spring and very generously had given us a supply of fresh walleye, the fillet-mignon of North Dakota fish. So we were going to have some fried fish and potatoes and onions.

I opened the fridge and realized we had forgotten to resupply the potatoes and there so there was very few left and the bag of onions had molded and rotted so we didn't have any of those either. OK, I said, I would stretch the potatoes by leaving some of the skins on and get creative with onion powder and other seasonings.

Then the frustration turned to horror when I realized we forgot to take the fish out the freezer. So I had an ice chunk instead of several tasty fillets. Now, Deanna, my wonderful wife, who has been blessed with more than her fair share of common sense, would have just given up and thrown a frozen pizza in the oven. I was not given my fair share of sense, or perhaps I was blessed with too much stubbornness to let something go, that overrode whatever common sense I did have.

We have this fancy automatic defrost setting on the microwave that I thought I would use. I found out it was totally worthless as after 15 minutes I still had an ice chunk with fish that was starting to cook around the edges. By this time Deanna, the voice of reason, had come home and convinced me to give up the fight before the fish was totally ruined.

I surrendered, put the fish in the fridge and started preheating the oven for our frozen pizzas. Deanna told me go lie down. Did I mention how much common sense this wonderful woman has? All's well that ends well, we had an OK supper. Frozen pizza isn't one of my faves. Went back to church to pick up the van, I drove my own car back home and Deanna went to get some groceries. The fish will hopefully keep in the fridge until we can have it this week.

I try to always have a point in my blogs. So hear it is. How do we deal with bad situations? It took a lot of effort, but I was impressed that although I came close, I didn't lose my temper and I didn't lash out at any loved ones. (at least not excessively, and the kids had it coming anyway) I had to keep reminding myself that things could be worse, it wasn't the end of the world, and any tantrums I would have had would not have helped my headache or make the circumstances any better. I tried to be hopeful, prayed for God's assistance getting through the deplorable events, and woke up this morning to a much better day.

Plus I've learned from this experience, after posting this I'm headed over to Guardian Locks to get a van key made so my other wallet-key will have some company, and hopefully this is the last time I get caught locked out. And maybe to always consider alternative meal choices when a planned feast starts to go awry.

Again and again I will say a happy and satisfying life does not depend on the events in which we find ourselves, but our reactions and attitude about them. I hope you have a wonderful week with as few problems as possible.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Your Best Life Now

I recently finished listening to an audio book by Joel Osteen, "Your best life now: 7 steps to living at your full potential." I felt I had to blog about it because I'm such a firm believer in positive thinking. In the book Mr. Osteen outlines 7 things we can do to live a happier and more fulfilling life. What's more is we can start now, we don't have to wait until we've completed a complicated list of instructions. We can start reaping the benefits right from the first page. Here is a summary of the 7 steps.

1.) Enlarge your vision. Stop selling your dreams short. Many times we find ourselves saying, "If I just had a little more money," or "If I could just pay off a few of these debts." We need to dream bigger dreams. Another part of this 1st step is to start expecting good things to happen. If we go through life expecting nothing but the worst, too often it becomes a self-fulling prophecy. If we can try to be more positive and start expecting good things to happen, even if they don't, we'll have a more satisfied life.

2.) Develop a positive self image. In addition to expecting good things to happen, we also need to start thinking good things about ourselves. This I've experienced first hand. When all we do is think negative thoughts about ourselves, "I'll never have a better job," or "I'll never find someone to share my life with." Again it can become a self fulfilling prophecy. We need to build ourselves up rather than knock ourselves down. It's really not rocket science that when we think good things about ourselves we are a lot less depressed.

3.) Express positive thoughts and words. Words can be wonderful tools of healing and also devastating weapons of destruction. When we talk to others, we need to be careful of what we say. Particularly to our spouse and children. We need to build them up with words of encouragement. When we speak with our children with constant negative words, telling them they will never amount to anything and similar phrases. These words too often turn out to be true. But when we tell them things like, "You can do anything you set your mind to," and "You're God's special gift to me." These can have a wonderful impact on our children.

4.) Let go of the past. Too often we fall into the trap of feeling miserable about past failures and consequences of bad decisions. It's one thing to learn from our mistakes, but quite another to dwell on them all day long. We need to let go of past failures and start living in the present. Making each day the best it can be.

5.) Stand strong in adversity. This is a tough one, at least for me. It is extremely hard to remain positive when it seems like your world is crashing around you. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we at least try to keep having positive thoughts, even during negative events. One thing adversity can do is make us stronger for having gone through it.

6.) Live to give. There are few things more satisfying than helping others. Every time we do something nice for someone else, both the giver and the receiver can experience the consequences. Helping others has the remarkable ability to make everyone happy. It's the ultimate win-win situation.

7.) Choose to be happy. I am convinced that life is about 10% of what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. The most successful people in the world with anything they want can also be the most miserable. Likewise, people in the most tragic circumstances can be the most happy. Happiness is a choice, it is not based on the events in which we find ourselves.

Obviously all these things are much easier said than done. I have to constantly remind myself of these steps, and I certainly don't always succeed. But success can be found in the making the journey. The more we try to follow these suggestions, I'm convinced the happier and more fulfilled we will be.