Sometimes, Despite Our Best Efforts, Life Gives Us a Mud fish

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The anticipation of seeing a Florida large mouth bass break the water and jump is thrilling. When a bass breaks the water and tries to throw the hook, you know you have an awesome fight on your hands. The string can break, the hook can come loose or the fish can just figure out a way to not get reeled in. Catching a ten pound plus large mouth bass like the one in the picture below is a bucket list item for many (I catch and release so this is actually a replica of the ten pounder I caught).

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Recently, some friends from out-of-state were in our area and I offered them the opportunity to fish for large mouth bass in our lake. They were excited and accepted. We fished off our dock and had moderate success. Suddenly one of them got a big fish on one of their rods and it began to take string out against the drag. I tightened the drag a little and coached him as we slowly began to bring the fish closer to the dock. It was a great fight and the possibility that we had a ten pound lunker bass on the line began to enter my mind.

I kept expecting it to break the water and shake its huge head to try to shake the hook loose but it never did. When the fish finally got close enough to see, I knew why. I was so disappointed when I realized it was just a mud fish. Don’t get me wrong…my friend had fun catching it, but for a while, I thought we might have had a trophy fish on the line. We threw it back and kept on fishing.

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Often we are expecting the world and just get a little moon. We are expecting to be selected for a promotion or make the team and instead we are handed a “maybe next time” answer. How do we deal with life when it throws mud fish at us?

The best answer is almost insulting in its simplicity. You move on and never look back. It may be best for you to try again next year or move on to a new job…but moving forward is the key. If we let our disappointments win the day, we succumb to the temptation to put our fate in the hands of others. Though you may feel singled out and that the world conspires against you, know that everyone on this planet faces disappointments.

I suppose there are the cases where you should in fact, eat crow (or mud fish in this case) because you have been overly zealous, ambitious, haughty, cocky, or just plain selfish and you get what you deserve. Sometimes even in marriage, the bass you marry turns out to be a mud fish and you can’t really throw him back. You just have to make lemonade out of lemons.

But in most cases, when mud fish end up on your plate, you need to bite the bitter pill and just keep moving forward even if the only reason for doing so is to stay in charge of your life.

HighFive Your Life Principle: Don’t allow disappointments to control your life. Move on…keep fishing!

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Who Laughs at Your Bad Habits?

“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”
Benjamin Franklin

Tomorrow I go into the hospital to have my left shoulder totally replaced. From what I understand, there is a lot of drilling and bone cutting and later, a significant amount of time spent in rehab. The only reason I am excited about doing it is that presently the pain is unbearable and movement extremely limited. I am fortunate that I can find a few places where I can move my arm to escape the pain.

Amidst all of this pain and shoulder trauma drama, I realized how hard it is to break a habit. For years without thinking about it, I have grabbed the shampoo bottle with my right hand and squirted it into my left hand which in turn went immediately to my hair while my right hand put away the shampoo bottle.

Recently, It has been amazing to me  that each time I get into the shower and wash my hair, I realize too late that I just put shampoo into my hand that I cannot lift even close to being able to deliver the shampoo to my head..it hurts way too much. Why can’t I remember to put the shampoo in my right hand? It seems so simple, especially when it hurts so much to do it the wrong way. Even since I have written the first draft of this blog, I have placed the shampoo in the wrong hand. Each time I do this, I want to hit myself in the head for being such a knucklehead but I would probably use the wrong hand to do that too!

Alas, we all have these nagging little habits that are so hard to change even when pain is involved. The list is endless. Clearly our bad habits are there to entertain the angels in heaven or the devils far below. It all depends on who is receiving the pain. If you hurt only yourself and it is a meaningless activity (like washing my hair), I am sure an angel must giggle. However, when our bad habits are painful to others and or are significantly harmful to ourselves, I am sure the roar of laughter comes from below.

These are the bad habits we need to work on. It may take all of our brain power and will to change it but we can and we must. You just have to outsmart yourself. Move things around, change your pattern, ask for help, get a shoulder replaced…write a blog. Chances are you will see some improvement over time and that means less pain for you and/or someone else.

It is okay to entertain the angels but don’t give the pleasure of this kind of entertainment to the other side.

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Otis the Pig

“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
Winston Churchill

Otis was a gift from someone. He needed a home and I guess we wanted a pig. He started out in a pen but kept breaking out. Finally I stopped trying to contain him and just let him wander around our farm with the cows and chickens. Soon he took up residence underneath our old frame farmhouse and the Otis legend began.

photo (10)Can you believe this guy lived underneath my home?

Otis was just friendly enough to come when called, especially if it meant that it was time to eat. After most meals, any leftovers were taken outside and given to our hungry friend. You could hear him making his way from under the house seemingly with great effort. He would eat almost anything. He grew into a huge animal. A good scratch with a stick on his belly would soon cause him to roll over in a state of pig ecstasy. His hair was stiff and tough. There wasn’t anything cuddly or warm about him other than he was constant. He was always there. He wasn’t “kept” there…he was there because he wanted to be there.

What can we learn from Otis the pig?

Define yourself and don’t let others define you. It is that simple. I imagined him being a pig in a pen and Otis saw himself as a noble pig…a worthy pig…a…well, maybe I am taking it too far…maybe he was just a hungry pig but he still did not let me define him. He let me know how it was going to be until I finally said okay, be what you want to be.

We should do the same. Everything around us is trying to define us or describe us…to gauge our potential or likelihood of success. Everyone around us tries to define what our success should look like. Be bold. Define yourself and while being courteous and kind to those around you, choose your life and live it. Make Otis proud.

HighFive Your Life Principle: Be brave and define yourself or others will try to do it for you.

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Five Simple Tips on How to be a “Fun” Aunt or Uncle

“Parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles are made more powerful guides and rescuers by the bonds of love that are the very nature of a family.”
Henry B. Eyring

Having a fun aunt or uncle in the family is like having outriggers on a canoe. It gives the family balance. Much like a grandparent, they can interact with your children without having the ultimate responsibility for them. An aunt or uncle can be fun and still, either by example or advice, help give your children stability to get through life. They can also add a little spice to your family life without any long term corrupting of your children!

So what does it take to be the fun aunt or uncle in the family? Here are five tips that should help:

Tip One
It really… really… really helps to go out and harvest a ten foot gator

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An adventuress aunt or uncle is a fun one. The “wows” and “holy cows” from my children when they saw the gator that their Uncle Randy harvested screamed from their texts they sent me after seeing this picture. A wall full of mounted big bucks or big fish works too. A stable of horses or teaching my kids to dance the funky chicken rank up there pretty high. Going lobstering or scalloping or shopping or sailing or going to see the fireworks, all bring adventure to the lives of your nieces and nephews.

Tip Two
Break a few house rules

In a world of don’t do this or that, it is a great relief to the kids when one of their aunts or uncles breaks the rules of the house. It may not look or smell great but they not only can get away with it, they remind our kids that it is okay not to be perfect…and they can do it in a way that does not ultimately disrespect the parents. A Green Bay Packers tattoo, lizards on the ear lobes for earrings, irreverent T-shirts and an occasional burp all count towards the crazy fun aunt and uncle label and are somehow tolerated (and even encouraged) without upsetting the “noble” family goals.

Tip Three
Be a good story-teller

Some of the most memorable moments for my kids have been sitting around a campfire or post holiday dinner table listening to stories. Whether it was the bull that kept jumping the fence and what happened to him next or the boat trailer that lost two axles on the way back from the scalloping trip, the kids are glued to every word. A fun aunt or uncle can always tell a good story and can tell a good joke. Laughter keeps the kids coming back. Peeing in your pants from laughter is not stylish but certainly keeps the aunts in an exciting mystery category to our children. They never know what to expect.

Tip Four
Earn their love and respect

Play as hard as you work. Listen as much as you talk. Take them places and do things for them that are clearly an effort on your part. We think that just the adults appreciate this but the kids recognize who is there for them too. Remember birthdays…well, at least remember their names. Ask questions about their lives with sincere interest. With this as a foundation, being a “fun” aunt or uncle will place you in a powerful role to have an impact on the lives of your nieces and nephews.

Tip Five
Kill a ten foot gator

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This is really all you have to do if you want to win the “fun” aunt or uncle award.

I hope every family has fun aunts and uncles. I had them and my children have them now. God bless the fun aunts and uncles of the world!

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If the Shoe Fits…You’re lucky!

“I’m not the judge. You know, God didn’t tell me to go around judging everybody.”
Joel Osteen

I discovered recently that as you get older, your shoe size may change. It felt like my 10 ½ shoes which I have worn my whole adult life, were feeling too snug so I asked the shoe salesman about it. He told me that as you get older, the arch in your foot may decrease making your foot a little longer. I now have to buy a shoe size bigger than before! I confirmed it this week with a foot and ankle specialist.

Who knew??

We are so used to using the cliche, “if the shoe fits wear it”, that it made me ponder, what happens when the shoe does not fit but everyone else thinks it should? Typically, we hear that phrase used when somebody is trying to imply that we are responsible for some situation and that we need to recognize it.

However, our lives change as we grow older. As our situations change, so too may our priorities. Our feelings about debt and risk verses security are different at 60 verses 30. Our concern about our personal well-being is expanded to include our children and grandchildren. We worry about things that used to not even be on our radar screen.

As we progress through life, what used to be a situation that would demand our attention and concern, may just not matter anymore. If we do not recognize that possibility in others, we may jump too soon to the conclusion that they should be wearing a certain shoe because we think it fits when in reality, it doesn’t fit at all. Their lives have changed and we may not have accounted for it if we are too quick to judge.

So if the shoe still fits someone they are lucky! But the possibility exists that their life has moved on and it is not completely obvious to those around them. I think the wise old owl would tell is to slow down our judging just a little.

For all we know, the person we are judging may have decided to figuratively, just go barefoot and not wear a shoe at all!

HighFive Your Life Principle: Be careful and slow to judge people as things in life change and nobody sees it all.

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Eight Tips for Making Your Next Family Photo a “Do it Yourselfie”

“When a writer becomes a reader of his or her own work, a lot can go wrong. It’s like do-it-yourself dentistry.”
William Collins

We had not taken a family photo in over six years because, as a family, we were never together. Finally, the now grown kids were home and my wife and I were determined to get that moment in time preserved. That decision was the easiest part of the whole affair.

We did not want to spend a fortune and also wanted control over all of our photos so we decided to take our family picture ourselves. Perhaps my professional photography friends will say I am a dummy, knucklehead or worse and that I got what I paid for and they may be correct. Our picture was not perfect but it did not cost anything and we are happy with it. What could have been a disaster, in the end, worked out okay.

Here are a few tips on how you, with a little luck and a lot of preparation, can make the family photo happen for nothing next time your whole family is together.

Tip One
The family photo should be a democratic affair with a lot of family input from everyone…until the day of the event.

It can be a lot of fun for everyone to share their input on what should be worn and where in the house, yard or community you should take the picture. Let everybody participate in the days leading up to the actual photo taking moment. At some point before everyone starts gathering, however, you need to take charge. The democratic process is over and you are the King or Queen. Make decisions and keep the crowd informed and moving.

Tip Two
Practice

Take a few pictures the day before of several sites and let your family comment on which location they like the best. Take the pictures at about the same time of day that you are taking the real picture so that you can look at the light. One of the biggest challenges is to get the light correct and without the help of a professional photographer and equipment you are going to just have to pay attention to it.

In the pictures below you can see that getting the light correct was going to be a big problem for us and sure enough it was. We overcame it somewhat by moving the person taking the picture closer to the family, using a flash and enhancing the picture with a software program.

IMG_4710Light was a challenge

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Tip Three
Get some advice from someone who knows more than you

Find an artistic friend who can give you some advice on which location would be best. Choosing the backdrop and how to center your picture can make or break any photo shoot. I offered eight different locations in our yard with different backdrops and after discussion, we narrowed it down to two locations.
I would have placed the big oak in the practice picture above in the middle but my friend offered her advice on how to balance the picture better so we shifted it to one side.

Tip Four
Consider the older people

It is hard for some to get around. In an outdoor photo, be aware that bugs and humidity are going to take its toll. Have everything in place before you bring out the old folks. Once you have everybody there, keep things moving. Have the younger people prepared ahead of time to assist the older generation with sitting, standing and moving around.

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Tip Five
Use a good camera…or two

If you don’t have one, someone you know does. It is important to have a good camera even if you just know the basics. In addition, a Smart Phone with a good camera in it may be used as a backup. I asked two people (non-professionals) to take the picture…one used the camera and the other used my phone. It was not a true”selfie” in the sense that I held the camera while still somehow maintaining my position in the picture, but it was still a do it yourself effort…The only problem with two cameras is that many of our pictures had people looking at different cameras. If you use two, remember to take charge and tell everyone which camera to look at. Of course, if the people taking the picture are standing right next to each other you should be fine.

Tip Six
Plan who is sitting or standing next to whom, before you get started

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In our family, we had both older people and a baby to consider. We also had divorced parents both of whom are very involved in our family and we wanted them in our picture. Many people will overcome family issues to preserve the memory for the greater good. Be smart at positioning them so that you do not make stressful situations worse. However, don’t hesitate to try to get everyone there. Take charge.

Tip Seven
Work in individual shots

It takes nothing to work in a few individual shots in between the big shots. Just demand it and take charge. In our case we just passed the baby around and got the shots we wanted.

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Tip Eight
Have fun if possible

When Sally’s chair sunk in the dirt and about tipped over backwards we all had a good laugh. Comic relief always helps so try to keep it as light as possible. You need to go in to this photo-op with seriousness on the preparation and organization side of it. Once you start snapping those pictures you need to also keep things moving. However, remember the reason you are doing all this is to keep the memories of your family frozen for a moment in time. Make sure that there is ample room for smiling and laughter mixed into that moment.

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All in all, once we started clicking pictures, we took almost 300 pictures in about twenty minutes. Most of them had something wrong but a few of them actually turned out good enough for us. We finished before everyone was sweating or tempers began flaring. Even the baby seemed to enjoy the outing.

If you want to “do it yourself”, it is possible. It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of preparation. I suppose as the family grows it will get harder and harder to get it done on our own but I have a half of a decade to worry about it. In the meantime, the area above my fireplace will hold the moment in time that we captured ourselves in 2014 and will do so proudly.

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The Larson Family August 2014

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Stay Still Squirrel…I Can Help! (Four Ways Fathers Can Convince Our Kids We Are Here to Help)

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.“
Stephen Covey

It was a little after 3:00 A.M. and I needed to get out of bed. I decided to see if I could get comfortable in my recliner. Three pillows and a nice comforter later, I was nestled in pretty well.

No sooner was I settled, when I started hearing a scratching noise on the window screen not far from my head. I lay there with my eyes closed trying to make sense of how, whatever was doing the scratching, could get to the screen since the window was closed. It didn’t take long before I got my answer!

“It” suddenly lept from the screen and landed on my legs on top of the comforter. It was inside the house! I responded with some sort of “keep moving” kick and it ended up on the floor. I grabbed my phone to get some light and there on the floor was what looked to me to be a big mouse.

I’m not proud of it but my first reaction was to call out to my wife who was sleeping in the bed. I shouted to her that there was a mouse in the house and she turned on the light and got out of bed. I hope part of the reason I called her was that I am still nursing my new replacement hips a little and can’t really move that fast…I hope that is at least part of the reason I called out to her.

We both pursued the little intruder and it took off. It ran out of our bedroom and luckily found the stairs where it paused to catch its breath. That’s when we saw that it was a baby squirrel. That just seemed so much better than a big mouse and our mood lightened just a little. Still, I did not want that little furry thing crawling across my nose when I went back to sleep.

We pursued it downstairs and opened the doors to try and herd it out. No luck. We finally gave up after it found refuge in our fireplace. We went back upstairs careful to put a towel at the bottom of our kid’s door and ours.

There was no sign of it the next morning. In the afternoon we had a big group of people come over for lunch and we told them to be on the lookout for the squirrel. Sure enough, a little while later it appeared and it created a pretty funny scene. There were little kids and old people all trying to corner the poor creature. It ran frantically to get away from us going around us and underneath us to find a new hiding place. We had a mop and towels and tried to trap it as it scurried around our home.

It would disappear for a few minutes and then show up again and we would create the whole scene again with all of us shouting out locations and ideas for capturing it. If it only knew we were trying to help.

Finally we threw a towel over it and one of the ladies gathered it up and took it outside to the oak tree. We were all relieved. I am sure the squirrel was relieved also to be once again up in a tree. It would have been so much easier if somehow that squirrel understood our intentions.

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There are some lessons we can learn here on how we can help those that need our help but do not want it or understand our intentions. It happens all of the time, especially with our children. Here are a few ideas that may help fathers in this regard:

They need to know we love them.

This is the place where it must all start. If our children do not feel our love they will never have the confidence to trust us and know that we are looking out for their best interest. This seems like such a “no brainer” but sometimes we need to be more attentive to it. Our love becomes the cornerstone for trust and is something that is earned by our day to day interaction with our children. It is taking care of scraped knees and broken hearts. It is repairing and rebuilding confidence after disappointing trials. For most of us this comes natural but also for most of us, we can do a better job. Our busy personal and sometimes selfish lives are the greatest threat to this foundation of love and trust.

They need to know we will listen.

Love means time and concern and listening. When you get the urge to talk…stop yourself and just listen. Sometimes our natural desire to share our wisdom cuts short the listening process. Instead of asking questions and listening to and pondering their answers, we are too quick to add our direction to the mix which mutes and strangles the conversation. Instead of listening in return, our children turn us off. Perhaps it would be wise if you are lucky enough to have the chance to listen to one of your children’s troubles, to tell them that you would like to think about it and get back to them later. In other words, be slow to judge and extend the communication.

They need to know we have high expectations, but that we do not demand perfection.

We teach our children the difference between right and wrong and we are correct in doing so. Ultimately, our goal should be that our children learn the tools to be prepared to adequately make those decisions when we are not around. That skill set is not learned in a vacuum. It is learned by our children in the rough and tumble world we call life. They will make some mistakes just as we did. It’s okay for them to know we are human too.

Our job is to keep them reaching for the highest quality of decision making and standards while still allowing for the bumps and bruises that come along the way. Mothers are especially good at this. They tend to be more sensitive to the trials our children go through and more empathetic to the results. We would do well to mix a cocktail of motivation with forgiveness whenever we get in situations where are children have made bad choices…with a heavy dose of forgiveness.

They need to know that we are on the same team.

Knowing someone has your back and is on the same team or in the same foxhole as you is a great feeling. We need to provide that for our children. They need to understand that we are going to do whatever it takes to be there for them. We can study with them or exercise with them. We can cry with them and strategize with them. We can feel pain together. We can realize accomplishment together.

We need to be there with them as a wingman. Ultimately the challenges of life will be our children’s to beat. However, I for one want them to know that I am on their team and I am committed to their lives, on whichever road that takes us.

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If I could have just convinced that squirrel that I was going to set it free, it would have been so much easier…but it would have taken so much more time. We did not have the time so we chased it from here to there scaring the poor thing to death. Our children are worth the time. We can accomplish the mission of preparing them and then “setting them free” by loving and listening, and by teaching, forgiving and working with them…and if that doesn’t work we can wake up our wives from their resting slumber and ask them to handle it. They will know what to do.

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