Part Five: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous: Elkader, Iowa

Part Five: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous: Elkader, Iowa

Well, maybe you would believe me!  Maybe you’ve had one of those disasters.  Hey, I tell couples, “Leave your issues at home and go have fun.”  It’s easier to say than to do.  Nothing can ruin a vacation quicker than unmet expectations.  If you’d hoped to do X and you never get to do X it’s hard to be in a good mood.  But, look:  You don’t want to pout when you don’t get to do X.  No one gets whatever they want whenever they want it and you are no different.  If you don’t get what you want…adjust!  Remember, how you handle unmet expectations is teaching your children how to cope in the future when they have to face adversity.  You don’t want to be like the saying I had hanging on my bedroom wall when I was in 9th grade:  “Don’t worry.  You can always serve as a bad example.”  So…it rains?  The plans you made fell through?  Figure out Plan B and have a ball in the process.

In my last blog I mentioned how all of a sudden my wife and I were faced with an entire day with absolutely no plans.  I was trying to think the last time that happened in our entire marriage!  Usually our schedule is pretty packed.  We’ve got most weekends planned.  Work covers the workweek.  So when do we have a day to do whatever?  The only time is if we plan for it, which is pretty funny if you think about it!  Having an unplanned day would be good to do anyway!  We saw it as a gift.  Here we were with an unplanned day sitting right in front of us.  What do we do?  We decided to hit the River Bluffs Scenic Byway (page 15 of  this PDF.  I have it saved on my laptop in a folder called “Travel”) we were near at our campground and we ended up with a pretty enjoyable and memorable day.

Along the Scenic Byway we happened by an Iowa Welcome Center just south of Elkader in Osborne (You can find the other Welcome Centers in Iowa at this website.  Put in the section of the state you are interested in and choose the city and it’ll give you the location of the Welcome Center in that area.  There are 45 of them, curiously none in Central Iowa where most of the people live.  Most of the centers are around Okaboji and Southeast, Iowa.  There are Centers on the Interestate Highways, also.). The travel center in Osborne was an interesting stop in and of itself and gave us lots of ideas for the day.  We also picked up some other travel info about Iowa.  We’ve lived in Iowa over 30 years and we’re still discovering new things.  We’ve learned you don’t have to travel too far to find new and interesting things to do.

We could tell by the brochures we’d looked at that Elkader was a popular stop and once we were there we could see why.  There’s been a lot of moaning about the demise of rural America, but if you keep your eyes open, you can find little jewels wherever you go.  Not every town has died.  Many of them have reinvented themselves and have a lot of personality.  Elkader is a town like that.  It’s on the Turkey River and they’ve developed a White Water Park for kayak’s and canoes and inner tubes.  The Water Park even has their own website.  One of Elkader’s claim to fame is their Keystone Bridge, the oldest this side of the Mississippi River.  You ca see that below as well as a few other pics of our time in Elkader:

After exploring Elkader a few hours we road the rest of the River Bluff Scenic Byway, minus the two legs that went down to the Mississippi River.  Those two legs would have been beautiful, but we were budgeting our time.  Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of the landscape so have none to share with you.  We were too busy drinking in the wonder.  All in all a great little getaway.  To get an idea of the scenery check out these images from Google on the River Bluffs Scenic Byway.

Wherever you live or wherever you vacation, there are these little jewels mixed in here and there.  They are fun to discover and even more fun to explore, creating memories…..”oh, that was the year we went to Elkader.”

In this series of Planning vs Spontaneous  I hope you’ve seen these two characteristics are not incompatible, but complementary.  We need them both to make vacation time go well.  With my wife and I we’re both planners about different things and spontaneous about different things.  I like to plan our trips out a bit.  She just wants to be together.  It doesn’t matter what we do.  I like to just throw everything in the SUV.  She likes to have it organized.  I chaffed at that for a while until I realized she was pretty smart about that and that a certain amount of organizing keeps things in order.  Finding things is a good thing.  If everything has a place, then you know where to find it.  I didn’t learn that at home as a child.  My dad lost his keys every day and every day there was a key crisis.  My wife taught be early on, no, you have a place for your keys and, frankly, a place for everything else.  Hey, I can learn.

What’s this deal about you having to be right about everything?  Stop it already.  Work together.

And have fun.

Part Five: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous: Elkader, Iowa

Part Three: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous; Example: Volga River and Decorah, Iowa

This takes the planning spouse and the spontaneous, go-with-the-flow spouses’ strengths into consideration. Vacation is a time to reconnect, to chill, to replenish your spirit, create memories, have unique experiences, and have many moments of “ahhh”. Ahhh as in relax and Ahhh as in to worship, to wonder, to marvel. You see the same thing every day and the familiar loses it’s surprise. Hit a new place with new sights and sounds and smells and even the feel of the wind can bring back that sense there is more to life than your next appointment or project or deadline.

If we don’t plan we won’t have anything to do or we’ll argue about what to do. If we are too spontaneous you’ll run out of underwear.

I mentioned in my earlier blog about our Memorial Day weekend camping trip at Volga River State Recreation Area we had few plans:

  1. Visit and bike Decorah, Iowa;
  2. Try my new smoker;
  3. Chill.

We chose Volga River because we wanted to camp in NE Iowa, a very beautiful part of the state.  We hadn’t explored that are much before.  Also, the area was only 2 1/2 hours away from our house, a perfect distance to be gone just a few days.  It turned out the campsite was wonderful and the camping area was completely new.

We visited Decorah as we planned, but the day there was pretty wide open.  Decorah was 35 miles away from Volga River, close enough for a day trip from our campsite.  Friends had recommended a place for lunch,  called Ruby’s.  We happened by it about lunch time so decided to go there for lunch.  Our waitress was the owner and spoke highly of her roast beef dinner, saying they make their own bread, mash their own potatoes and oven roast their own meat each day.  Very nice to have real mashed potatoes!  If you put this place on your agenda, you’ll have to hit it before 2 PM as they are only open for breakfast and lunch.

We putzed around downtown Decorah some as there were some cute shops, my wife’s favorite.  I make sure I bring my Kindle or iPhone to have something to read if I get tired of shopping.  I get to relax and my wife has a ball.  Both our needs are being fulfilled on that deal, a win-win.  We checked out the store for the Norwegian Museum.  We’re both from Minnesota and have a little Norwegian blood in our heritage somewhere, plus with our Minnesota roots we’re familiar with many of the artifacts.  That was fun.

Then we biked the Trout River Trail, which is an 11-mile trail around the outskirts of Decorah.  It follows the Trout River on one side of town and then goes into the bluffs on the other side.  Since this was earlier in the year, we weren’t quite ready to hit the hills, but the trail along the river was beautiful.

On most trips we like to find the best local pizza.  With the Internet we can do a little research.  I like the Pizza joints that have been around the longest.  They’ve proven they have a formula the locals love and there’s a good chance we’ll like it, too.  It’s been a 40 year quest in our marriage and a fun option to have as a “thing to do” on vacation.  We prefer thin crust.  I grew up on thin crust pizza from Mr. Pizza in Rochester, Minnesota (still there and still my favorite), near where I grew up, and Carbone’s in White Bear Lake near where my cousins lived (and still a stop now when we visit extended family in the area.  There’s over 30 locations in Wisconsin and the Twin Cities).  For supper in Decorah we chose a locally owned pizza restaurant that had a long history (since 1953!) called Mabe’s.  It was a walk back in time, just the way we like it.  My wife and I have a running conversation about the new decor in fast food restaurants.  It’s like they don’t want to you relax or enjoy yourself and want you to leave as soon as possible.  It has the opposite affect on me: making me not want to go in the first place.  The old, warm woods are fine for me.  I wouldn’t say Mabe’s was the best pizza we’d ever had, but it was pretty good, good enough to give us a high-five on our food choices that day.

We had only one thing planned this day: to hit the Trout River Trail.  The rest of the time was used to just enjoy the new sights and sounds and see what interested us.  It included a trip to Ace Hardware in Decorah to pick up some things for camping and to Wal-Mart to buy some more water hoses for our camp site so we wouldn’t trip over the hoses to our water supply for our trailer.  We got back in plenty of time to relax and chill before some of our family arrived the next day, a perfect blend of planning and being spontaneous.

Part Five: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous: Elkader, Iowa

Part Two: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning Vs Spontaneous

One of us is spontaneous and the other likes to plan.  Those two just don’t get along.  We’re just so different.”  Well, hello!  Yes, we are different.  This would be a good thing!  Nevertheless this idea that “We’re not compatible” is a sad statement, because people who think like this are missing out on one of life’s serendipitous joys: Spontaneous Vs Likes-to-Plan are not contradictory.  They are complementary!  Maybe you don’t know how to make that work for you as a couple, but figuring it out will bring a lot of sweet moments for the two of you.  How?  The planner plans the getaway, but you plan a spontaneous getaway.

In a nutshell here’s how to get these two complementary tendencies in harmony:  The planner plans the trip while consulting with the spontaneous spouse, but doesn’t fill every minute.  Then on the trip you plan to be spontaneous.  We had to plan ahead to get the time off and set it aside and make reservations.  What we do is scout out a couple of ideas in the area where we are going of things we can do and then we let the weather and our mood and energy level determine what we do each day.  We might want to have a couple of ideas we can do on this or that day, but as a rule of thumb, it’s go-with-the-flow.  Too many families get into trouble on their vacations when the schedule is packed too tight.    Nothing ruins a vacation faster than the planner insisting we do what they want every minute and then pout or gets mad when others want to do something different.  G0-with-the-flow is our vacation motto.  You plan, but don’t over-plan.

We just had one of these planning/spontaneous trips recently that was delightful and I thought I’d share it with you to prime the pump of your creativity.  Around January this last year I start planning our summer camping trips in order to get nice camping spots.  In Iowa you can reserve camping sites 3 months in advance.  In both Minnesota and Michigan you can reserve up to 6 month.  In Iowa you can reserve a cabin at a state park a year in advance.  Each state has their own rules.  Then I mark the calendar day when I can start reserving.  This is especially important for holiday weekends.  For the camping season that’s:  Memorial Weekend, Independence Day and Labor Day weekend.  This year we wanted to camp in Northeast Iowa over Memorial Weekend.  We were going to leave on the previous Wednesday (May 20th this year) and camp through that Monday.  Ninety days prior to May 20, 2015, was February 20th and on my work calendar I made a note to myself to make reservations for the campground we wanted on February 20th.  Since that was the first day we can make reservations we had the pick of what campsite we wanted.   Previously we’d decided on Volga River Recreation Area.    It was in the center of a lot of fun things to do, it had lots of open area, mountain biking trails, a lake and two rivers and two campgrounds with over 5000 acres to explore.  It turned out wonderful.  Our campground was brand new with new concrete roads and shower facilities and the area was beautiful.

We had to plan to make this happen, but we didn’t fill our schedule tight.  Part of being on vacation is to go with the flow, to just chill.  For five days all the plans we had were to

  1. Explore Decorah, Iowa which was near our campground and bring our bikes and hit the Trout Run Trail
  2. Try out my new Weber Smoky Mountain 14″ smoker with some baby back ribs
  3. Chill

Not much of a full schedule for five days.  Lots of spontaneous time.  We ended up with some rain days so we had to be a bit creative to not go stir crazy.  In a future blog I’ll tell you about that wonderful, spontaneous day…all because of rain on a camping day.

A Simple Secret of a Happy Marriage

A Simple Secret of a Happy Marriage

Again, who knows where it came from?  In any case, it’s not only cute, but profound.  We all should have a list like this!

Sheila’s List

Sheila and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Somebody asked her, what was our secret?

She answered, “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of Tim’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would always overlook. I figured I could live with at least ten!”

When she was asked which faults she had listed, Sheila replied, “I never did get around to listing them. Instead, every time he does something that makes me mad, I simply say to myself, ‘O, lucky for him, it’s one of the ten!’”

Part Five: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous: Elkader, Iowa

I’m a Single Guy (or Gal). Why Should I Talk to a Marriage Therapist?

Maybe my title is “Marriage Therapist.” Formally my license is “Marriage and Family Therapist.” I had to be licensed in order for me to be a mentor and a listener and a guide. In real life I’m a husband of 39 years (Love it! Love her!), a father of four, a grandfather of 3, a business owner, completed my PhD, a former pastor, youth director and camp director. I’ve even mowed lawn to make ends meet when I had a couple of little kids at home and was between jobs. I’ve had a few triumphs and some setbacks, figured out a few things and other times I’ve sought out help because I had no idea how to find my way out. Along the way I paid attention and learned a thing or two. I read a bunch and have talked to thousands of people, single and married, divorced and cohabiting. I haven’t heard it all, but I know what works and what will kick you in the butt. I’m a great listener and guide and a relationship guy and can give you an unbiased opinion, a reference point, a reality check, a cautionary red flag or a pat on the back.

You might be single, but everything in your life screams relationships and how you feel is the direct result of how you’ve handled those relationships and how they’ve treated you and your future is the sum total of the choices you’ve made to date and the choices you will be making regarding the relationships you are in or will be in. You have relationships with your boy or girl friends, your parents and friends, your siblings and coworkers, your intellect and society, God and your future, your past and your present, your dreams and failures, your hopes and disappointments, your successes and your pain. How you relate to all these things influences the trajectory of your life. You can’t control certain things. Other things you can control. It’s wisdom to know the difference and having a reference point from an unbiased third party can be a real encouragement, help you make peace with the past and/or figure out where to go from here.

Frankly, I can save you a lot of grief. I can point you in the right direction or help you weigh your options or assist you in looking at the pros and cons of a decision or an impulse or a temptation or a longing or a frustration. I can help you make peace with past mistakes or learn to let go of the hurt of others.

It’s nice to get an unbiased point of view. I’m not in your sphere of influence. I go home to my wife at night. I have my own family, my own interests, my own life. I know the consequences of this decision and that action. I’ve seen it thousands of times. I’m not afraid to share it. I’m a great listener, but I’m candid, too. I’m not mean about it. Forthright. Refreshing, actually.

Your friends are nice, but maybe too nice. Their experience is limited. They like you and don’t want to hurt you. Rare is the friend that will actually tell you like it is and even if they do, they are so close you may doubt their wisdom in the matter. Family is the same way. They love you (well…most of the time) and don’t want you to be hurt, but often are too kind or even, sadly, too critical, making it difficult to take their direction (demands?) seriously. Getting a different point of view from the outside from someone who isn’t in the mix, but has guided myriads of others, can be a boon and a real encouragement.

And look, a lot of us have mucked up our dating relationships or maybe there’s been previous relationship hurt or someone’s cheated on you or you’ve cheated on someone or porn or alcohol or video games or whatever is just too interesting and your conscience is kicking into gear, but you’re just not sure what to do about it, or you notice you aren’t too motivated to do anything or your boss is driving you crazy and otherwise you like your job or your mom is on your case or you can’t seem to get out of debt or you can’t sleep or you sleep too much or you wonder if this or that choice is the best option or you can’t seem to let go of past hurts or you wonder if you keep doing _____ what will be the consequences or you just want to get a bunch of crap out of your head. Or maybe you are just sick of being single and wonder if there’s a reason and is there anything you can do to be proactive about that without being overly needy, if you get my drift.

And you don’t have to be nervous about coming in. Really. A lot of people have told me they were scared to “go to counseling.” Or they are “just not the type to open up.” And then about two minutes into it they are off and telling me stuff they’ve never told anyone before and they can’t believe they waited this long or what a relief it is to actually have someone listen to them and track with them and understand them and when can we set up our next appointment?

But don’t take my word for it. Give us a call and try it on for size.

Part Five: Dating and Vacation Ideas in Summer: Planning VS Spontaneous: Elkader, Iowa

Can Cohabiting Couples Benefit from Marital Therapy?

One of the students asked if she and her cohabiting boyfriend would benefit from seeing a marriage counselor as she had previously thought there was no help available to them from traditional marriage therapists.  I assured her I would be happy to see them.  I’m sure most of colleagues would agree.

I empathize with many cohabiting couples as the most common factor driving them is they often grew up in broken families and don’t want to end up like their parents.  They think by checking out the other person first hand while living together gives them a heads-up on whether this is the right person or not.  I understand that fear, but the method doesn’t work, because cohabiting couples are much more likely to have more hurt than married couples.  By moving in together without marriage they are increasing the possibility they will break up in the future, because cohabiting relationships, by definition, are insecure and insecurity causes people to act in insecure ways (lashing out, freaking out, shutting down, withdrawing, feeling controlled, feeling ignored), none of which encourages people to relax and enjoy the roses.

Some couples may be reluctant to see a marital therapist, fearing the therapist will guilt trip the couple into doing something they don’t want to do or aren’t ready to do.  This was even the argument from one of my colleagues when I taught my Thriving Couples Model at a marriage and family conference.  He or she said my model was based on people who agreed with me, because only people who agreed with me would come to see me.  I based my model on years of marital therapy for thousands of couples, who came to see me long before I ever started blogging about marriage and cohabitation.  All people had before the blog (I started the blog in 2009) was my yellow page ad, which said that I was a marriage therapist and helped couples deal with various issues.  Actually, the blog has helped couples who totally disagree with me come to see me, married or not.  They like the fact I have an opinion and will tell it too them straight, that I’m not just going to sit there and say, “You poor thing.”  They also like I may give them a different point of view than they had considered before, which can be very beneficial.

I had one cohabiting couple who asked me to talk with them about sexuality, because of their problems in that area.  This had come up after several sessions on other topics.  I said, “You know I have a different point of view than both of you on that topic, right?”   “No, no,” he assured me, “that’s why we came to see you in the first place.  We wanted a different perspective.”  Good for them.

Cohabiting couples have the same issues as married couples, only worse!  For example, married people can have commitment issues, even though they are married, because one or the other or both make threats (sometime repeated threats!) to divorce.  It’ll be very hard for either of them to give their hearts to the other if they fear one or the other will be leaving!  In cohabiting couples, the fear of leaving is compounded, not only because there’s a threats of breaking up (a very common problem of cohabiting couples), but also because there’s no vow of staying!  It’s the same problem, but from an added whole different angle.  The cohabiting partners saying to each other they will be committed is not enough.  Saying marriage is just a piece of paper and our commitment and love will endure is not enough.  You can tell each other these kinds of things till you are blue in the face, and even have children with each other, but this doesn’t make you married until you willfully and publicly declare your vows to each other on your wedding day and a new family is born.  Otherwise you are just playing house and when it’s nap time your friend will have to go home for his nap.  It’s not your car till you pay for it and you sign on the dotted line.  It’s just a piece of paper, but now it’s your car.  To take the car without the piece of paper is stealing.  It’s not your car.  Cohabiting is stealing.  It’s not marriage till you sacrifice your very life, the rest of your life, for both of your sake.

This lack of a wedding date creates all kinds of problems and makes normal, everyday problems, critical and nearly anything can escalate into a fight or misunderstanding.  Cohabiting couples are much more insecure and impatient and testy and short with each other.  It’s one thing to test drive a car.  It’s another thing altogether to drive the car off the lot without paying for it and never come back!

Here’s another example:  You know how many times I’ve worried in 38 years of marriage that my wife is going to leave me?  Zero.  That’s right.  Zero.  You know how often cohabiting couple worry about that?  Most of them worry about it all the time.  How come you won’t marry me?  I’m not pretty enough or skinny enough or rich enough or good enough or whatever enough?  What’s the matter with me?  What’s the matter with you?  Why won’t you commit to me?  What’s holding you back?  Why are there all these issues?   Everything is an issue.  And you say you aren’t worried about it?  What’s the deal with that?  Are you just using me?  You too good for me?  You  judging me?  You see?  On either side of this problem there’s worries.  Worry, worry, worry.

One of the main reasons cohabiting couples have issues is because the commitment problem stares them in the face every day.  It’s pretty hard to do wise couple things, when insecurity is constantly unsettled.  So the couples fight or withdraw or one fights and the other withdraws or they both fight and they both withdraw.  Now they don’t want to marry because they fight or withdraw too much!  But the reason they are fighting and withdrawing is because they feel insecure about the future and on and on we go.  Nevertheless I’ve found many of these kinds of couples can benefit from learning how to handle their differences and to communicate in kinder ways.  And when we’ve gone through that material it often gives them the courage and confidence they need to get married.

That’s actually a pretty nice thing for me…when I get a wedding invitation from former clients who were cohabiting.  I take that as the most extreme form of thank you note!  Thank you, Dr. Wall, for helping us reach the confidence where we can give ourselves wholeheartedly to each other til death us do part.

By the way…I don’t go to those weddings!  I’m thrilled for them, but I figure it’d be weird to have them introduce me as their therapist.

Still…it’s a very nice thing.