Wednesday, October 30, 2019

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Don't Be Too Sure of Yourself - The Limits of Planning


"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are so confident while the intelligent are full of doubt."  Bertrand Russell 

I am by nature and by vocation a long-term planner. As I've gotten older, I've come to see that good planning can lead me in the right direction, but once I arrive in the right neighborhood, I'm likely to enter a zone of uncertainty. In that zone, planning becomes less useful, and inspiration and smart thinking are needed to finish the journey. Here are a couple of examples:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Being an early space-flight junkie, I watched a number of documentaries on the subject this summer. The climax of those videos showed tense moments during the flight of Apollo 11.  

Years of intensive planning and meticulous preparation had placed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the lunar module a few hundred feet above the moon's surface. Unfortunately, they were hurtling toward a large crater and boulder field at their intended landing spot. Had Armstrong not jumped in at that moment to manually fly the craft to a safer landing site, they would have crashed on the rocks or been forced to abort their mission. All that planning and preparation would have been wasted. Thanks to Armstrong's quick thinking and exceptional piloting skills, they landed safely and the rest is history.


Raising children has many parallels to space flight. When I was much younger, before I became a parent myself, I read a statement that I thought was funny at the time:

"Before I became a father, I had six theories on how to raise children. Now I have six children and no theories."

What's ironic is that we now actually have six children. However, I can't say there were any magic formulas, secret recipes, or grand theories we applied along the way. We tried to be strategic and purposeful as parents and we attempted to follow healthy and wholesome patterns, but frequently we had to play it by ear and make the best decision in the moment.

This is not to say we weren't guided by certain eternal truths and pole star principles, because we were. But those served primarily to put us in the right ballpark. From there, we encountered a zone of uncertainty and doubt. Within that zone, we had to rely on inspiration, good judgment, intelligent decision-making, and a large measure of faith and hope.  

Now, looking back, it appears that we did a pretty good job. All six of them grew up to be remarkable adults, and we love and are proud of each one. But I'm not altogether sure how that happened. I now have six exceptional and talented children and no sure theories.


As Marcie and I move closer to our twilight years, we continue to make plans. We anticipate retirement from work and perhaps living closer to our children and grandchildren. But experience has taught us that planning can take us only so far. The further we go, the less certain we become. Eventually, we'll be required to "fly manually," to walk by inspiration, faith, and hope.  

When we reach that zone of uncertainty, we'll be guided and encouraged by a sweet statement from an unknown author: "Be okay with not knowing for sure what comes next, but know that whatever it is, you will be okay."  

Yes, we will be okay, come what may. We may not know where the path of life will lead us, but we'll enjoy the journey together, assisted by our six wonderful children.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: Yes, We DO Have Seasons In Central Florida


"The space center's proximity to my backyard came to signify an intersection between heaven and hell. Florida was somewhere between the two. Alligators emerged from brackish water. Mosquitoes patrolled the atmosphere at eye level. We shared an ocean with sharks and dolphins. There were no seasons, only variations of humidity." Paul Kwiatkowski 

I beg to differ with Paul Kwiatkowski, the author quoted above. We DO have seasons in Central Florida; they're just different from the seasons experienced by folks Up North.

Up North, seasons are determined by the temperature: Hot = Summer. Cold = Winter. Warming = Spring. Cooling = Fall. If maintaining four completely different wardrobes to make it through the year is what floats your boat, you're welcome to northern seasons.

Our seasons in Central Florida are far more interesting and far more numerous.
Let's start with the BIG KAHUNA - Hurricane Season!!!!! Even though the National Weather Service says hurricane seasons lasts from June 1 to November 30, the truth is it's actually much shorter for us: from about the middle of August to about the end of September. Occasionally we'll get an outlier but those six or seven weeks are when nearly all of our hurricanes happen.  

Hurricane Season really counts only when there's something tropical out in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. If those spaghetti strand forecasts show we're within the "cone of uncertainty," we're on high alert. We live with one eye on the television, coming to know our weather forecasters on a first-name basis. We actually only get hit about once a decade in these parts, but just the threat of a storm can dominate life in Central Florida, as we learned recently with Hurricane Dorian.

Just about the time we can breathe a sigh of relief because Hurricane Season is winding down, we start having Halloween Scary Theme Parks Season at all the attractions in the area. Halloween Scary Theme Parks Season runs from mid-August through early November. During that time the billboards and local television channels are overwhelmed with ads.  

Every park family has one, and they range in fright intensity based on the culture of the park. Most scary is Universal, followed closely by Busch Gardens over in Tampa. If you want seriously, blood-curdlingly frightening, try Universal's Halloween Horror Nights or Busch Gardens' Howl-O-Scream. They're definitely for grown-ups. On the other hand, Disney World and Legoland offer Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Brick-or-Treat scaled-down versions for the youngsters. Sea World's scare level at Halloween Spooktacular lands somewhere in between. By the time Halloween actually comes, we're soooo over all the ghouls and goblins stuff.  

But theme-park fake blood and guts can't come close to the real-life horror of Love Bug Season. I'm talking bumpers, grills, and headlights that look black and furry from all the wings stuck there, coupled with translucent, bloody windshields from the swarms of splatted bugs. The love bug is also known as the honeymoon fly or double-headed bug. During and after mating, mature pairs remain stuck together, even in flight, for up to several days.     


As with other love-crazed species including humans, these amorous duos can't control themselves. As a result, they can't fly out of the way of oncoming traffic and end up plastered to the front of your car. Standard car washing can't get rid of them; it requires solvent and a lot of scrubbing. Judging from the long, long lines at every car wash in town, I'm sure car wash owners consider Love Bug Season their "high season." And worst of all, we have TWO Love Bug Seasons in Central Florida, roughly corresponding to Up North's spring and fall.

Speaking of fall, "How can you tell it's fall in Florida? When the color of license plates begins to change." That's when we know it's Snow Bird Arrival Season. If you thought the year-round residents in these parts are hard to deal with, wait until they're intermixed with these strange avian migratory creatures from Up North. They often bring their snarly temperaments, aggressive driving patterns, and overall impatience with them. The rest of us soon tire of their bragging about how much better things are "Up North" or "Back Home," making it hard to not blurt out something like, "If it's so great where you came from, why don't you just turn around and go back?"   


Mostly, though, we just grit our teeth and wait for the season to turn, with the arrival of Snow Bird Departure Season, usually roughly around Easter. With the "Great Northward Migration" which marks the beginning of Snow Bird Departure Season, life can start getting back to the normal laid-back, take-it-easy, flip-flop-wearing vibe that brought us to Florida in the first place.  

During the period of Snow Bird Inundation, we experience a similar but shorter seasonal event marked by an influx of younger migratory revelers: Spring Break Season. Whereas Snow Birds tend to be gray and wrinkled and thin-feathered, Spring Breakers tend to be blonde and smooth and well-plummaged. They're frequently spotted in various stages of undress near the beaches and crowded into cheap hotels' pools and anywhere lots of liquor is available. They are known to couple-up as frequently as love bugs during Love Bug Season. In recent years, Spring Break Season has diminished in importance in Central Florida as more and more Spring Breakers flock to Cancun, the Bahamas, and other watering holes.

One of the most important seasons in Central Florida is Super Tourist Season, which runs roughly from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Yes, we have tourists all year long, but Super Tourists become as thick as mosquitoes once school lets out near the end of May. Super Tourist Season is when we normally spot whole families invading the area. They're "Super Tourists" because they somehow endure the gruesome heat and humidity of June, July, and August.

Super Tourists are usually especially keen to get their money's worth at the theme parks. By late afternoon, they can be seen dragging their cranky children from attraction to attraction, hell-bent on maximizing their entrance fee. Their youngsters have long since had their fill of theme-park "fun" and just want to go back to the hotel for a nap or a dip in the pool.  

Here's a quick video that sums up every parent's worst fears about spending a week at "the happiest place on earth:"  
By the end of their week in paradise, Super Tourist families are delighted to get back to the real world. If you're at the Orlando International Airport on Saturday or Sunday during Super Tourist Season, you can spot them coming and going. Those arriving are pale-faced and wide-eyed with anticipation, enthralled just to ride the shuttles in the airport. Those leaving are tired, sunburned, and bedecked with Mickey Mouse ears, princess outfits, light sabers, or Harry Potter t-shirts, while the parents are wondering if all the money they spent on family togetherness was really worth it. On our part, we hope they keep coming because those tourist dollars help keep our taxes low and pay for our many toll roads.

There are other seasons I could mention, but I'm sure by now you get the point. YES, we do have seasons in Central Florida, just not the same-old-same-old spring, summer, fall, winter seasons they have Up North. And YES, sometimes the humidity here is oppressive, but at least we never have to shovel it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: Lessons from the Hurricanes, Dorian 2019 - The Transition from Help-er to Help-ee

Dorian, 2019:  The Transition from Help-er to Help-ee

"We all wish to reach a ripe old age, but none of us are prepared to admit that we are already there."   Francisco de Quevedo  

Central Florida dodged a big bullet recently with Hurricane Dorian. The picture above shows one of the earlier tracks projecting the storm would come right over the top of Orlando. Forecasts like that got our attention in a hurry!

Hurricane preparation can sometimes be quirky. When you get word that you're a likely target, it's important to start the hunkering-down process right away. If you've never lived in a hurricane zone, here are the key points.

One of the most important steps is to move everything from porches, patios, and outside the house into the garage - or even into the house itself - in order to prevent your outdoor furnishings from becoming deadly missiles in the storm. I had to chuckle at this photo of one Florida resident's kitchen. I can imagine a Smart Car being tossed around by heavy hurricane winds, like a left-over lawn chair. At times like this, I'm glad I drive a GMC Yukon.


The next step is to board up windows and doors to keep wind and rain from penetrating the house. Then you need to deploy sandbags to keep water out in case of local flooding.  

The fourth step is one of the most important: gather a bunch of bottled water and a heaping supply of non-perishable food in case the electricity goes out for several days. It's especially vital to have lots of "hurricane snacks." That's Florida-talk for junk food, chosen to help you feel better while you're trapped in the house when the winds blow and the rain comes sideways.

This time, we lucked out and the storm missed us, meaning that most of our preparations weren't needed after all. The northern Bahamas, unfortunately, weren't so lucky. The storm that was supposed to hit us head-on instead chewed up the Bahamas and then turned right, striking Florida with only a glancing blow. Below is a satellite image showing what eventually happened.


Over the years I've learned that hurricane preparation is never wasted, even if the storm turns away. It's good training for the next one, which may be the big one. In addition, the preparation process itself creates a more vigilant and neighborly neighborhood, as we turn our concerns to those around us who may need help getting ready.  

However, this time something unusual and unexpected happened at the Farnsworth house during hurricane preparation, something I'm not sure I was ready to acknowledge. This time, I passed a coming-of-age milestone.

In the 21 years since we moved to Central Florida, I've always secured my own residence at hurricane prep time and then gone in search of neighbors, friends, and fellow parishioners who needed help getting ready. That's not being a hero; that's just what one does in advance of a hurricane. But this time, before I could even do so much as buy a few cases of bottled water, I had swarms of neighbors, friends, and folks from church knocking on our door or sending us texts or meeting us at the sandbag-filling station and offering to help us get ready.

I might have been offended. What, do I really look that old? Is my hair really almost white? Is it because I push Marcie in a wheelchair whenever we go out? Are we now "the senior couple down the street," the ones who need help?

The truth is, it didn't take me long to swallow my pride and recognize that, yes indeed, we could use some help this time around. Those sandbags and that patio furniture had somehow gotten a lot heavier since the last big storm. Marcie's bottle trees and flower pots on the lanai had become much harder to move inside. She was no longer able to help me move tables, and my back was starting to give out. The sheets of plywood to cover the front door were now nearly impossible to move by myself.

So I said "yes" to their thoughtful offers of assistance, and I'm so glad I did. Marcie and I - and my suddenly-older back - say thanks to all of you who lent a hand with filling sandbags and loading them in my car. We're so grateful to those who came over and helped move all the outside stuff inside, and assisted with the plywood. Chris, Amber, Joseph, Callum, Sarah, Karin, Norah, and Evan, you were a God-sent blessing, and I am moved to tears to think about your kindness and generosity.  

Looking back at the last 21 years in Central Florida, when we regularly helped friends and neighbors get their homes ready for hurricanes, and then after the storms when we assisted strangers to clean up the debris and destruction, sometimes in distant locations, we had no other motive except to be kind and neighborly. But what a sweet discovery to learn personally that, with the passage of time, what goes around does indeed come around. This time, we were the beneficiaries of loving attention and tender mercy.

Now, with added perspective on the cycle of giving and receiving, I am coming to understand that sometimes it is our season to give and at other times, it is our turn to receive. With advancing age and reduced physical strength, I am deeply touched to be surrounded by kind and loving friends who will come to our aid just as we had come to others' assistance all those years.

It is humbling - but sweet - to experience first-hand the transition from giver to receiver, from help-er to help-ee. This was the most important lesson I learned from Hurricane Dorian.