Creating a Rare Vintage – Decanting Wine, Life, and Relationships

This will be my last Rambling Blog post until mid-September. Summer is a good time to recharge and let simmer much of what has been written over the past 14 Ramblings. Let the messages and reflections ferment. Mid-September will be the start of a new chapter in my Ramblings, transitioning from what I have learned and self-assessments I’ve made, to observations and experiences concerning the wonders of life.Black LineSome of my favorite memories and trips are the visits I’ve made to Napa Valley in Blog Post Photo 1California. Although I have learned a great deal about wine I have found there is still a great deal to learn and understand as to the delicate and subtle ways water and grapes are nurtured to create something wonderful. This is much like life, relationships, and faith—a constant journey to grow, learn, and mature.

It is this reflection that prompts this Rambling about wine and relationships. It takes patience, interesting ingredients (notice I did not say great, I truly mean interesting), mistakes, trial and error, effort, desire, collaboration, and nurturing to make something great, whether it is wine or relationships.

What I learned from Napa is that wine has the potential to be a rare vintage if you have patience and allow it to decant, you know, to breath. Isn’t that much like life? There needs Blog Post Photo 2to be good, interesting ingredients, respect, and substance and with that as a fundamental foundation, in the process, there are surprises in the outcome of the wine. This is how it is in life and relationships—outcomes we often did not expect until we seriously nurtured the aroma, body, and subtleties of the taste of the evolving creation (and relationship).

I have learned there is a subtle difference between good wine and great wine and the
difference to get the result takes incredible effort and nurturing. It takes desire, it takes patience, it takes science and it takes some very subtle yet incredible level of collaboration (communication). If it’s all done properly, the outcome can be so amazing and savored (especially if paired with a little chocolate J ).

As you peel the “skin” back on wine making you discover something amazing and special, something that you did not expect—again, so similar to deeply personal relationships.

In some cases, keeping the skin on the grape is what is needed, yet there are times, if you are looking for something REALLY special, you take the skin off and you peel back into the soul of the grape to make the great wine, just as you do in great relationships.

As with winemaking and sampling, in life and relationships there will be surprises, both good and those that make you pause and take a big step back—setbacks you may say. You take a pause and let the wine and relationship breath, let what had developed—that still needed some work—to breath. Letting it breath brings out the substance of what was yet to be fully released, enjoyed, and experienced.

Digging deep into the intimacy of the relationship with amazing, intimate, and honest communication is the very act that creates something unique, treasured, and seldom really experienced.

There is a choice: Stay true to the foundation and work through the learning curve with a well decanted breather—a wonderful technique unique to every wine and relationship. OR, let the communication breakdown, forget the foundation, bolt and run, or in some cases allow the wine to turn to vinegar not allowing for the gift of what had been fermented. It’s like sending the wine back for another bottle before it has been decanted—giving up on what could have been one of the great vintages of your wine experience only to discover that the next bottle was not near what the first could have been after allowing it to fully mature.

A Facebook friend just posted this about a relationship that apparently had a superb foundation (was fully decanted) and was allowed to flourish into an amazing never-ending joyful life together:

June 7, 1974, the day I thought was the happiest day of my life. It was so short-sighted! Barely 20 years old, I couldn’t imagine what saying “I do” would unfold . . . I only knew I loved Gordy and didn’t want to be without him in my life. It has been said that “hindsight is 20-20.” Today marks 42 years of married life and I can clearly see the happiness grew as each moment of “I do” continued. I am so grateful that my retiree continued his “I do” and we have experienced countless “happiest day of my life together.”

So what is all of this wine, life, and relationships rambling about? (Replace the word, “wine” below with “relationship” as you read this as this Rambling was not about wine!)

  • A great wine takes unbelievable effort to create unbelievable JOY (not just happiness)
  • A great wine takes a vision
  • A great wine takes patience
  • A great wine takes nurturing
  • A great wine has its flaws that need to be re-engineered collaboratively
  • A great wine takes time and fine tuning along the way
  • A great wine takes maturity
  • A great wine requires time to breathe to bring out the best
  • A great wine needs to be uncorked
  • A great wine needs to be decanted
  • A great wine needs to be savored and enjoyed, not taken for granted
  • A great wine sometimes requires a new harvest of grapes from the same vine
  • A great wine needs to be watered and the grapes not picked too soon
  • A great wine needs to be paired—with a compliment—that on the surface may not be seen

Reflect on this and use it as a template or conversation tool in your relationships and see how they can become a great wine—a vintage that will be enjoyed and treasured for eternity.

Enjoy and savor the wine of life! And I will see you this fall!


Don’t Put Sharp Knives in Soapy Water

Let me tell you a story, a true story: When I was in elementary or early junior high school, we went on a family camping trip to Lake Chelan in Washington State. I should first give you a peek into how my parents viewed camping as they had their own unique and very broad definition of the activity—no tents, no sleeping bags, no Coleman stove, and no outhouse. Ours was a mobile home/camper type experience that maintained some of the comforts of home. One of my memories from this trip is my father grilling outside in the rain as we sat patiently waiting inside. Dad was holding a metal garbage can cover over the grill to keep the food from getting drenched. He was wearing his white baseball coaching jacket, an “older” pair of dress slacks, and his old wing tip shoes. Are you getting the picture?

One day we were standing on the dock waiting for a boat when my dad realized he had left Photo 1something in the camper that he wanted. I, being an active, athletic young kid, volunteered to run back for the item and asked for the keys to the camper. I was eager to dash off, but my dad told me to stop so he could explain the trickiness of the lock. I impatiently listened (well, pretended I was listening) to his instructions. “I got it,” I said (as I have been reminded of dozens of times), “what do you think I am, a dumb kid or something? I got it!” I quickly ran off and, as you can guess, this did not turn out well. I could not get the lock open and sheepishly ran back for help. I felt foolish, was embarrassed, and guilty as charged. My dad said little and just gave me a look (his look) that said all that needed to be said, “You should have listened!”

Photo 2

When my sister and I were young, Sundays were the days we had to do the dishes (no dishwasher in those days!). We would fill the kitchen sink with dish detergent and hot water. Suds flowed to the top of the sink as dishes, knives, and silverware were thrown in. I remember feeling tentative as I put my hands in the soapy water wondering where the Photo 3sharp knives were. Mom would say, “Be careful, there are some sharp knives in there!” I would respond with a flippant, “I know!” when what I meant to say was “What do you think I am, a dumb kid or something?” Most times I was successful in navigating blindly through the soapy water yet, at times—with too much confidence and little regard to Mom’s loving reminder—there would be a jab and cut of the hand. I would yell for help which arrived a bit slow with a glancing look that said, “I told you to be careful.”

As I’ve reflected on my life I realize these stories (and others) reveal a personality quirk that, at times, had served me well, but more often than not, and has been a barrier to success, substance, and intimacy in the past.

When Pride Gets in the Way

Much like when I was a kid, I have found there have been times in my professional life when I didn’t want advice from others despite the fact they were well-meaning and informed and were looking out for my best interests. How ignorantly prideful I was!

I tend to approach my work with a laser-like focus in order to maximize performance. I pull together everything I feel is needed to excel at a task and take great pride in being able to say “I DID IT!” I love the sense of confidence that comes when a task is well done. In the past, I have not solicited or wanted input or feedback from others as I believe I have things well thought out. I think I can do it on my own and it will become a benchmark of personal accomplishment. Today, I look at tasks so differently!

Why did I react this way? Perhaps I feared that my self-confidence, or pride, or the sense of accomplishment would be diminished if I accepted outside help. Perhaps I viewed advice as a lack of trust in my ability and I wanted to prove them wrong. Or was my self-esteem based on my performance? Did I have a learned belief that asking for help or accepting help was a weakness that diminished the sense of satisfaction in successfully achieving a task? I now recognize, that graciously leaning into outside input is a strength, that advice or help is given out of a caring desire to support my success.

Embrace the value of what others have to offer. Listen to the heart of what is being said.

Reflecting on these experiences (and others) I have come to realize a critical life, business, and relationship lesson: Being a lone wolf has risks and can be isolating. Listening to what is offered by others—beyond the words—to the substance behind the words—is critical and pays huge growth and relationship dividends.

Listening Beyond the Words

This is true in business when dealing with my clients. I’ve learned to listen beyond the words that are being said, to the real message and intent. I work hard to listen carefully, and try not to be too quick to take control of the conversation, but rather delve into purposeful communication, ask clarifying questions, and create a meaningful dialogue. Attempting to always be in control can be and most often will be destructive to a great trusting and intimate relationship. I now do my best (not perfect) to recognize that allowing others to be “in control” of the conversation can enhance the business and personal relationship. I have learned that this overriding attitude and behavior will slowly develop deeper trust by allowing for an engagement that will have lasting value.

What has been the outcome of this personal paradigm shift? My understanding of the other person’s desired outcome has been crystalized enabling a more meaningful solution and action plan. There is a healthy give-and-take of questions and discussion. I find the relationship becomes stronger as it is built on respect, value, trust, and communication. This discovery, had I discovered it sooner, would have helped me navigate the soapy waters and open camper doors a bit more easily in my professional life and caused less pain in my personal life.

Allowing intentionality, intimacy, vulnerability, and graciousness in all aspects of business, life partner relationships, and faith is the foundation of happiness, fulfillment, and wonder.

A while back I read a book a friend had written entitled, Beginnings. What struck me as I read it was that I was going through my own new beginning of understanding how to be better in a variety of aspects: my professional role, my relationships, being more patient. . . essentially, being “a better Bob” in how I use the gifts I’ve been given. I’m learning to embrace and value true relationships through openness, trust, and acceptance of meaningful and loving input from others. This attitude has created greater value than being the lone wolf that I once thought was such a hallmark. The result: I am better at what I do for my clients and in how I foster and deepen my personal relationships.

Final thought: Here’s something to reflect on, a quote I recently came across: “If you are the smartest person (or think you are) in the room, you are in the wrong room.”

The Unbelievable Value of Challenge and Doubt

I was recently reminded of the Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, you know the story of the old miser, Scrooge, being challenged by the ghosts of Christmas Present, Christmas Past, and Christmas Future. The ghosts revealed to him not only the ways his negative, insensitive behavior affected those around him but the dark future that awaited him.

I had my own Christmas Carol/Scrooge experience not that long ago when I was in a group setting and observed how the presenter responded when someone challenged him with a new perspective. While the feedback was being shared in a professional manner, you know, in an “I want to help” sort of tone, I found the presenter’s response (in behavior and tone) to be defensive and dismissive. I thought, “That was me in the past, yikes!” It was a meaningful reinforcement of what I have learned—and continue to learn—a personal discovery that warrants sharing.

Awareness and personal importance are catalysts to learning and personal growth.

Remember the closing of A Christmas Carol with Scrooge’s expression after his transformation? He experienced uncontrolled happiness and, more importantly, JOY! Remember how those around him were also feeling the joy and excitement of the new Scrooge? Maybe it was the emergence of the Scrooge that was always in there somewhere but just needed to be cracked out of its shell.

Care about everything, I mean everything. It adds up to how we choose to maneuver through the world and with others.

There have been times throughout the recent past when I felt like both the Scrooge of the past and, more recently, the Scrooge of the future. Why the change? It’s because, fundamentally, I care about the future. Shouldn’t we all?

I think the story of Scrooge inspires four overreaching messages I am of the belief we should learn to live by:

  1. WE are often the last to know about a misaligned behavior and we need to care in order to effect change.
  2. WE need to have people we trust to tell us what is being observed about us.
  3. WE can change if it is important and as long as it for our own personal reasons.
  4. Now the hard part for many: Those previously affected (by the Scrooge syndrome) need to exhibit amazing grace in forgiveness and understanding of the past and embrace (with a warm trusting hug) an excitement for the future. (Want to read about grace? Read Brennan Manning’s book, Ragamuffin Gospel)

Strommen Blog Pic 6.16.16 Pic 1

Not being a Lone Wolf has manifested in me a powerful message, behavior, and change in perspective.

Recently, I have been blessed with some great new people in my life: friends, relationships, professional advisors. I have been changed in how I view many aspects of my business and personal life. I remember the days when I was younger (could have been 1 year younger 🙂 ) when I would be told (or the suggestion made) that something was not possible, or could maybe be done in a better way. I would think “I’ll show them that I can do it!” I did not like others doubting me or my ability to do the task. I felt insecure in being challenged about something I believed in (right or wrong). How self-centered I was to feel and believe this! How self-righteous I was in thinking I was that good. How disrespectful I was to those who wanted to provide input to enhance the outcome. Too prideful comes to mind.

The bigger the challenge the bigger the opportunity.  –unknown

This was further reinforced at my Monday morning men’s group when I began challenging and asking questions about a topic that was being skimmed over. One of the other members said, “The challenging of a perspective has been good, Bob.” It dawned on me that he was right, challenge done properly and received openly is worthy of sharing.

What do challenges and doubt do?

  • Challenge and doubt trigger reconsideration of one’s posture through reflection;
  • Have the potential to create deeper conviction of the belief as it is no longer superficial in its nature;
  • If communicated and received properly, they further define who you are;
  • Creates meaningful dialog between the parties that is fun, has depth, and most likely enhances the closeness of the relationship. All byproducts that are enriching;
  • Could very possibly temper the posture, or may enhance the outcome with a new perspective;
  • Expand one’s knowledge and self-awareness;
  • Allow for a deeper, more personal understanding of others through positive growth.

None of this would be possible without the lasting POWER OF CHALLENGE AND DOUBT.

Press “5” to Accept- My Faith, the maturity of something that was always in me!

This rambling is very personal, and longer than most. However, I hope you can settle in and read it in its entirety. I have reflected a long time as to how best write this rambling, consulted close friends and hope I have hit the right tone in these words.

If this Rambling blog of mine is to be true to its stated objective—to be true to myself and to allow those around me “to get to know the personal side of Bob”—then I need to treat this subject as a VERB—taking the risk to talk about my personal faith.

I’m not here to tell anyone what they should believe—I’m simply sharing my personal reflections, to allow others to better understand who I am and what is important to me. Like other posts, this is not meant to tell anyone what they should do, it is at its best intended to challenge and encourage personal reflection.

Sit back, relax, and reflect on the heart of what I have written.


I not only want to know God, but want to live with God as my roommate—that close personal friend, that best friend, who drives me crazy because he challenges me and keeps asking me questions. He lets me dangle till we debate an answer, or at least the answer that sounds best after a few beers.

I have learned that having a deep guiding faith does not make you overtly weird, does not require you to stand on the street corner screaming your beliefs waiving a Bible, and does not prohibit you from having fun, but it does require you to be engaged in something that is Press 5 to Accept_Photo 1personal and intimate.

Press 5 to Accept

Let me give you the Cliff Notes version of a story that resonated with me as I reflected on this post:

A friend received a call from Sandstone prison with a message that an inmate wanted to speak to him. If he was willing to take the call he was to “Press 5 to Accept.” After a brief hesitation wondering what the call was about he stared at the phone in the palm of his hand, and in an action of finality, curiosity, and determination hit “5.” On the other end, the inmate said although they had never met, that he had just finished reading one of my friend’s books and wanted to visit. That was the start of what would become a personal relationship between the two. And it began with the writing of the book and my friend’s willingness to Press 5 to Accept a call. A call that came out of the blue, to answer a curiosity, and developed—out of faith—into the belief that he could make a difference that would impact both his own life and that of the inmate, all by Pressing 5 and Accepting!

Press 5 to Accept resonated with me as it is the cornerstone of actions I have needed to take to deeply explore and intimately develop my faith as two personal and intentional
actions were taken:

  1. To be askedPress 5 to Accept_Photo 2
  2. And to Press 5 to Accept!

Re-igniting Faith
This notion is further captured in another story found in a friend’s books (Thank you Terry Esau and your books “Surprise Me, God” and “Be the Surprise” for giving me insight, inspiration, and the permission to share your insight and analogy.) Terry’s analogy of fire, flames, and warmth captures what I have experienced in my life. I think of the many times I’ve sat around the outdoor campfire at the cabin. Although I could appreciate the dance and movement of the flames, I had this sense there was something missing, something that was preventing me from feeling the warmth of the flames. Terry’s books helped me in my journey to re-ignite my faith, to PRESS 5 and to Accept.

We can look fantastic, attend church, tithe, volunteer, be on church boards, help at food shelters, participate in men’s groups, you know, all the things that good faith-based individuals do to express their faith and feel that they have built an impressive flame. Don’t get me wrong, I believe these are all great things to continue doing as it is part of our belief and statement of faith. For me, however, I have discovered they did not provide all the warmth and comfort that I wanted or needed, I needed more! I was not feeling the connection with my God that was personal and intimate. In fact, I have discovered that in the past I did not even know what an intimate and personal relationship with God entailed.

This search for a meaningful relationship did not start and evolve until I was personally challenged. The person who challenged me did not realize how it impacted me as I said little. You see, in the past I had mastered internalizing my feelings. My fear of vulnerability and deep feeling of shame did not allow me to fully explore the answer with the person who challenged me , this was one of my biggest mistakes in my life that is with me daily and that I have no ability to correct, a painful lesson that I am committed to never let happen again.

This internalized fear of expressing vulnerability, tackling shame is something that I have worked hard to correct (I want to thank many, you know who you are, for your help in my conquering this flaw.). Actually I was so good at my internalization that the person who triggered this challenge distrusted—and maybe still does—my commitment and who I really am as to my faith and many other aspects of the real BOB.

That aside, I decided that stoking the coals because of missing warmth was important for my own personal reasons and I slowly and privately accepted the challenge to rekindle the coals for the warmth, not the sensational flames without the challenging person even knowing my efforts, here lies mistake #2, not communicating intent, actions, commitment and progress.

What is your fire? Has it lost some of its warmth and comfort?

What I have discovered is that this growing personal faith feels warm. I love pulling up my chair close to the fire to enjoy its warmth, something I do most mornings with reading and prayer, something that was so foreign to me as I NEVER did this in the past. Now, I look forward to making this part of my day. Yet even when there is no fireplace, I can still feel its comfort, as I reflect on how the glowing embers create the warmth. I have come to believe that the dazzling flames of the past with all of its grandeur provided a great look, but not the substance that was important.

I also realize that I want to have an active relationship with God that is intimate, and personal not passive. It is an ongoing process to develop a personal relationship that is between me and God, something that is a personal and intimate aspect of my life.

I have learned that faith brings me closer to those around me in a more rewarding and intimate way. Faith has helped define who I am and how I live my life. Faith has made me more willing to be vulnerable and honest with myself, to be more honest with those around me, more intimate in my willingness to connect and more receptive to others perspective and constructive criticism. What a wonderful evolution.

Let me digress a bit. I have come to believe that there are many events in life that are not an accident, not just coincidence. Instead there are very possible moments touched by the hands of God guiding me all along. Surprises you might say!

Living in an uncommon way

A few months ago, a friend invited me to attend a Saturday morning men’s gathering at Grace Lutheran Church. Over 3,000 men attended (isn’t that in itself amazing and comforting) “ARISE with the GUYS” featuring Tony Dungy, Jeff Siemon, Paul Molitor, Brian Dozier, and Thomas Davis of the North Carolina Panthers, to name a few. It was a superb morning listening to great athletes talk about who they are as a person, not what they do for a career. They talked with conviction about doing their best to live their lives with the mindset of the common man, you know, the man that is nothing special, the man who was created in the image of God, the man who is to serve, not be served and whose identity is not what they do, but who they are for the benefit of others. Their message spoke to the belief that Jesus did not ask us or challenge us to take the wide easy road, and to be true to whom we are, not what we do.

That day encouraged me to stay the path of being a common person living in an uncommon way in the warmth and comfort of our faith in who Jesus is and why He died on the cross for us. Uncommon, may be the wrong adjective, possibly “to live in a way that is not the norm” is a better way to state this. To live outwardly with the mindset that those “ragamuffins” and individuals around us are those who deserve our praise and servanthood, not always doing what is best to pamper our personal and fragile ego for comfort. (I still want to have fun and experience the grandeur of life and the world but with a bit more balance!)…(check out “God is present in desperate need with Brene Brown, posted on FB by the work of the People May 29 at 9:35am ).

The very next day, I was at church and the message was “Ordinary People.” The message again challenged me to further explore how I can more purposefully create or participate in activities that serve others. I dream about finding a partner who shares this common belief, someone with whom I can develop a common vision to develop good ideas to serve others. You know, belief shared in the form of an “US” in terms of life and relationship, to create a new heritage with a purpose.

These experiences, on two consecutive days, weren’t a coincidence.

The term ordinary is relative as it is a statement as to how you compare yourself to those around you, those you hang out with. This may not be that out of the ordinary if we hang out with like-minded people, yet, in the greater aspect of society, it can be way out of the ordinary and helps move the needle in a positive direction for those a few rings farther out from us and those we touch.

Isn’t that part of being a disciple and making our faith a verb? Is that not part of the action in how we live out our faith and an intimate relationship with our God who guides us and provides comfort?

I will end with a question:

What is your fire? Has it lost some of its warmth and comfort? Have you been asked to PRESS 5 to ACCEPT? If not, I AM NOW!

Don’t Wait for Someday!

Two of my many memories of my dad are of him being my coach in Little League and all the times over the years when he would say, “Someday we will not be able to do this.”

Ah, baseball, what a passion he had. Dad was a great athlete in his youth, growing up and playing ball in Lamberton, MN and then at Augsburg College. He was drafted and played baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals as a young and upcoming pitcher. He was given the name “Doc” because he always had ace bandages on some part of his body. All indications were that he was going to make it to the big leagues. However, God apparently had a different plan.

Dad came down with tuberculosis, a devastating illness that at the time had no cure. He was quarantined for over two years, putting an end to his baseball career. Maybe this was when he learned to really embrace life, charity, and compassion. Maybe this was when his lifelong motto “Someday we will not be able to do this” was developed. I wonder what would have happened if penicillin had not been discovered—would I be here? Or, what would my life have been like had my father been a professional athlete? Would I have been born? Would there be a Bob? This becomes a whole series of unanswerable questions that can mess with my mind if I let it.

Redirecting following a setback
God does work in amazing ways: What looked like the loss of a great baseball career actually resulted in an amazing career in business. My dad took a setback and redirected himself into a great life filled with career success and, more importantly, a successful life. He had an impact on, and appreciation for, those around him. He developed his faith. He embraced compassion, generosity, and grace. Dad’s faith became the foundation for how he lived his life. I believe his experience with a serious illness also instilled an amazing drive to succeed—he loved to win (Sounds a little “Trumpish” doesn’t it? However, Dad’s ego was far less apparent). Dad loved the feeling of success and felt that being at the top of the game was a hallmark and defined success. This was a trait that I learned to love. However, as I have discovered, as many of us should, this was also a family-of-origin issue that I did not handle well in the past and is often an issue we should all take a hard look at.

Strommen Blog Pic 5.27.16Back to his coaching: What a great experience to spend this kind of time with my dad. It was special for me as well as my fellow teammates who got to know and respect my dad. I was very proud to call him DAD. He tried hard to make me a pitcher, too—I had a strong arm. Dad got into great shape as he had to run after the balls as they flew over his head in the backyard. I was being taught to pitch although it was a skill I never mastered. But was there more going on than just learning to pitch? Was I learning to handle adversity? Was I learning that someone else’s talents do not need to be mine? Was I learning to find my “niche” in this athletic world, to continue to strive to do my best with the support and love of someone else? It turns out I was learning all of these lessons. However, it seems I did not bring these lessons quickly to the forefront in terms of my maturity and growing up.

There were many times when Dad would suggest doing something as a family and follow it with, “Let’s do it! Someday we will not be able to do this.” I would think, sure, let’s go without a great deal of thought as to what he was really saying. We had great times and made great memories. I became friends with my dad and mom—not that they were perfect—all relationships have flaws. However, what did develop in our relationship was grounded with grace and love, allowing us to overlook human flaws. That went both ways!

A number of years ago, Dad’s motto became very meaningful. My parents suggested we all take an amazing trip to Europe together. Yup, the suggestion was followed with, “Let’s do it, someday we will not be able to do this!” Off we went to Greece and Istanbul. I recall standing on the back of the small cruise ship talking to Dad after our final evening’s private dinner. As we cruised into the straits leading to Istanbul, he said, “I just am not feeling right. I’ve got to get to the bottom of why I feel this way, Bob.” I acknowledged his statement but didn’t give it a great deal of thought other than agreeing and showing interest and support as Dad was always in tune with his health (in large part due to his TB experience 50 years earlier). He was right, a little more than a month later he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away 13 months later. He was so right, let’s do things now as we do not know what the future holds. Someday we will not be able to do this!

Don’t wait for “Someday”
This reflection and memory is making more sense and has a deeper meaning as I get older. I realize that life is short and precious. I realize there are no guarantees for tomorrow. I guess this is what is driving some of my decisions today. I cannot wait to have a relationship with God. I cannot wait to take time with my children and grandchild. I cannot wait for “someday” to have life experiences, to serve others, to embrace life, and convince others that I am ok or that our relationship can work. I cannot wait to express how I feel today as I might not be around tomorrow. I as well as all of us, need to understand that there are many aspects of life we have no control over and that sometimes others need to take the initiative if it is important as we cannot make anyone else care or love. Not only am I challenging myself, I encourage others to look at what “someday” activities we need to do now that is meaningful to ourselves, to those that we care so much for and who are receptive to our passion of love, care, trust, honor, and respect.

I challenge everyone who is following my writings (Well I guess you are if you are reading this last paragraph—I am brilliant that way.) to do this: To not only create your “Someday bucket” list, but work intentionally in checking it off. I am guessing many of us will have far fewer regrets if we do just that.

Signing off now as I am starting to create my bucket list tonight. Someday I may not be able to.


Lesson Learned

As I sit on the cabin deck this Sunday morning, I submit this preamble to a future Rambling on Courage

Courage to be transparent(vulnerable), especially if you are already  fearful of vulnerability can be either amazingly freeing, or it can tuck you back into your emotional guarded egg shell.

Let me share two real stories;

The Positive: I knew I had bruised two business relationships, I reaching out to both for coffee, I took the personal risk to acknowledge where I was wrong and asked for grace and forgiveness. In both I was received with amazing grace and compassion. The relationship became closer as a result. It felt and continues to feel so rewarding and fantastic.

The Not So Good; a personal relationship that was growing significantly and I expressed a feeling that I wanted to validate, an expression that I thought was exposing my vulnerability, removing a bit of my internalized armor to be vulnerable between us. To bring us closer. The result, I was reminded and It was held over me multiple times how it created the opposite ( I was told “you will regret you ever told me what you were thinking and validating”.. So true!). The armor was put back on, shame of intimacy grew a bit deeper.

What did I learn that is the soul of this Rambling that is worthy to ponder?


1-Willingness to have the courage to be vulnerable can create amazingly positive results that builds intimacy and relationships. (Brene Brown would call this adding marbles to your marble friend jar)

2- When vulnerability creates the opposite result, discuss it, express how the challenge and slap down(s) made you feel. Clarify the vulnerability expressed, if it remains something being held over your head, a marble or two were just removed from your marble friend jar and intimacy and safety become severely bruised.

Both these lessons were invaluable. Lesson #2 haunts me to this day as I did not do this as well as I should, in large part I had not learned lesson #1 as I know it today. The person, has no clue how it affected me and us!

Lessons learned in life are endless. Life growth is painful, yet also rewarding at the same time.

So as I sit on the cabin deck this Sunday morning, A coffee cup toast  to lessons learned 1 & 2 and the rewards we all receive from life growth.

Living a Life of “Today!”

An unedited rambling as I sit at the cabin this Sunday morning

Before I left for the cabin this weekend, I was reading and was struck with the convergence of thoughts and experiences from my reading Ragamuffin Gospel. I was again touched by the message of grace and outward living, I was directed to a new book that I will tackle “The Moviegoer by Walker Percy” and then the image and writings of ERMA BROMBECK came to mind. I did some google research on ERMA and discovered her posting; “If I could live my life over I would….” (Maybe we should just stop, pause and reflect on that one for a while….great heading for a journal post don’t you think? Seriously, stop right here and answer the question for yourself). This Erma title is a worthy question that we wish we could at times do as it asks, yet hopefully the list is short. The reality is we learn from the past and live for the future.

I was struck by the collection of common themes that all converged within 30 minutes Friday  morning and began to reflect on the wonders of “Living a Life of Today!”

I was struck by the realization that I have slowly been changing in how I consciously live a little more each day. I have come to realize that this statement and perspective has significance far deeper than the words and is slowly and methodically (patience bob) creating the foundation for a different and impactful life for myself and those around me.

I recall after graduation from Augsburg College and in my first career job teaching, my wife and I made the decision that instead of working during the summer months we would travel, we had not started a family yet and decided that our teaching careers allowed us an unusual opportunity to experience the United States each summer with no special plan other than the direction.

WEST, we stopped at the Corn Palace (Don’t be envious, we hit all the high spots that would make any worldly traveler envious), Wall Drug, Mt Rushmore, Glacier and eventually San Francisco, EAST: Chicago, Great Lakes, New York, Washington DC, SW: Arizona, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, you get the picture. As we meandered in our yellow, hatchback VEGA, we took side trips encourage by paint pealed wooden arrows that expounded “WORLD FAMOUS VIEWS, HISTORIC SITES and CAN’T MISS OPPORTUNITIES!” sometimes we experienced as the sign promoted, but most times the experience was as tattered as the sign that directed us.

Despite the frequent disappointments, we were affected by each experience; we learned from the experience, we grew from the unknown that became the known. We had kept our eyes open and found wonder in what we discovered regardless of the depth of the paint peel and condition of the experience. Think about this, this applies to those around us as well. You know, those people who have paint peeled, worn skin and expressions on their faces. Those whose clothes are tattered and worn, those that you may avoid as it does not appear that there is value in the relationship or connection. They are much like our travels, they are Surprises far more worthy of the experience than you can imagine…in fact you may find those tattered individuals and experiences a far greater surprise than the shiny, top of the chart promotion or attraction that cost $15 to enter and experience.

As time progresses it is easy to lose some of that spontaneous wonder of living a life of excitement and wonder. It is easy to become to focused on career, on performance and how we are guided to defined success.

I remained fully committed to my kids in being fully engage in their lives, hardly missed a significant or even a minor event in their lives; concerts, conferences, plays, athletic events, church activities, coached their teams for 14 summers and at times the winters off season leagues as well, whatever they may be participating in we were there in spirit, body and encouragement. Despite that, I was much like the planet of SATURN, I had many rings in my life, yet I had concentrated so hard on the planet and the first ring (children) that I hardly was aware that her were other rings that should have made up my life. I had become so self-centered on performance driven outcome that I lost perspective on how to truly live my life for the long term and what really mattered beyond my children and career. I actually feel, as I reflect on it today, that I was actually dying each day in a way that I was unaware.

What a mistake, (We are so human filled with sins and mistakes) as it contributed to defining family of origin. I did not realize till recently how this had affected me. Life experiences enable those who pay attention to be more in tune with the “outer rings of Saturn” those wonders of life,  those around us and  how surprises, prompted by outward engagement changes how ee view life, view relationships, view family, view ourselves. It is not me that is so rewarding, it is those around me. What a great reset in perspective.

I love the term reset as it donates vibrance, change, excitement, maturity and rewards that have not been experienced in the past.

I am coming to realize that it is not only those who have succeeded that are so impressive and life changing (these are easy people to hang with), it is those that have failed, those who are struggling, those Ragamuffins that we often look past that have so much to offer who have so much to receive (these are the ones that will test our soul, compassion and heart. We can all sit with great with pride with those who have succeeded, but can we sit with the fallen with even more satisfaction?

Remember my earlier statement…. For me to consciously be “living a little more each day as opposed to dying a little each day”

What does that really mean? Let me share with you a recent, personal experience that may put this in perspective as it clearly did for me. I was on a run by Lake of the Isles on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon and saw an elderly gentleman shuffling on the sidewalk that I was about to turn onto, as I was running past I was moved to stop, take off my ear buds and walk back and wish him well, we engaged, talked briefly on the wonders of the weather, life and chatted briefly. I again wished him well, thanked him for the brief exchange and took off. I have no idea what he was thinking, but I was moved my desire to stop and engage, I was disappointed that I did not stay with him longer (one of those live my life over experiences). To this day, I look for him to re-engage in our conversation, to forgo my running and get to know this gentleman. I feel that we would be good for each other. Despite this short exchange, I was rewarded with his kindness, his gentleness and his smile as we visited. HE WAS A SURPRISE TO ME that made the balance of my run so rewarding. I have committed to look each day as I run and live to BE THE SURPRISE as I am sure I will discover a reward or be the reward for the experience.

This brings me to the close of this rambling with a request that you watch this clip below….as you watch, think not only of your parents, but your children, extended family, friends and centers of influence, think of those special people in our life and remember that tomorrow my not come. Remember that “I will do it later” thoughts can result in amazing disappointments and that today is the day to show how you care.

As sit at the cabin, Thank You for reading this spontaneous and unedited rambling

Dirty Hands

During my college days I was fortunate to get good summer jobs—not easy jobs—but grueling, physical, dirty jobs at the railyard replacing rail and ties, in construction, and at the Ford plant building trucks. What I thought I was doing was simply making good money and getting physically prepared for fall soccer. However, as I discovered later, I was actually being prepared for life and learning lessons that would serve me well in the future.

Dirty Hands Bob Strommen Blog

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt – Margaret Atwood

By the end of that summer I was fit, toughened up, and my hardened, callused hands proof that I was ready for fall soccer. Perhaps more important, I was better prepared for life, as a captain of the soccer team, I was in a better position to lead by example for the upcoming season, I was better prepared for the toughness of life. I recall my first day of my first job: I was working for the Soo Line railroad the summer after my freshman year. The yard foreman looked around at a crew of clean-cut college kids fresh from the suburbs and asked to see the palms of our hands. As we displayed our hands, palms up, he not so subtly said “Just what I blankety-blank (his exact words would not be appropriate here) thought—you have never had a real job—let’s see if you know how to work.”

Did I enjoy that summer in the rail yard of the Soo Line Railroad in Columbia Heights? Heck no. Was it an invaluable experience that allowed me to walk into future summer jobs with a new sense of confidence and experience? Yes. Did future summer job foremen understand that I was better suited for the summer ahead? Yes. Would the lessons I learned impact me? Yes. Have I carried them with me throughout my adult life? Absolutely, but at times with too much pride. Since then, and more accurately recently, I have learned the value of others opinions, accepting them more graciously and with interest. Not everyone’s opinions, but those that have earned the right to give them.

I had received a gift—getting my hands dirty—that at the time I didn’t have the tools to appreciate.

Since then, and more accurately recently, I have learned the value of others opinions, accepting them more graciously and with interest. Not everyone’s opinions, but those that have earned the right to give them.

In the second to last Rocky movie, there is a scene where Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) talks to his son. He says something to the effect “It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s how many times you can get up after being hit that counts!”

In my opinion, it’s the person whose face has been bloodied, who has the scars of experience, sacrifice, toil, failure, and battle who has earned the right to express a meaningful opinion worthy of consideration. In fact, I like how Teddy Roosevelt framed it in “The Man in the Arena,” I have included an excerpt from the speech he delivered in April 1910 at the Sorbonne, in Paris.

Dirty Hands Quote Strommen Blog

I have been in the “arenas” of business, relationships, faith, and athletics. I have felt like Rocky Balboa in his first fight against Apollo Creed—beat up and bloody, but still standing. I struggle with regret, I mourn over losses that I have no control to correct. I desire to take the shoulders of those I have failed to ask for forgiveness, wishing they would take a look at me today and not totally judge me by the past. I am thankful that some have, and others regrettably choose to hang on to the past and not what the future can be.

Dirty Hands Face QuoteI have learned however, that control cannot be taken. Control must be earned, given or maybe more importantly, shared. This was reinforced when I was blessed with asking for forgiveness of some I have been associated with in the past. The expression of vulnerability and grace I expressed was overwhelming and created a bond that was not there in the past. Trust began to be re-established. What a wonderful experience grace can be and at the same time difficult lesson to have learned.

Where is the Mycitracin ointment to heal my wounds? (Is there Mycitracin for the soul and heart? Gosh I wish there was, maybe God infused Mycitracin is available? Doubt CVS or Walgreen’s carries it!). My wounds are healing slowly, but the scar will remain as they will be my reminder to get up and learn from my failures and get on with my life.

I feel blessed that I have received, and continue to receive, an amazing gift from those around me—ADVICE. I’ve received advice from those who have gotten their own face and soul bruised and bloodied. I have been, and continue to be, blessed by these same individuals who are willing to be intimate in our conversation and who care about me and others they touch beyond themselves. These authentic people are the ones I value. I challenge others to surround themselves with those who have been in the arena and to graciously listen to what they say as they are real in their perspectives.

I thank them for their emotional intimacy, for helping me mature and change, (gosh maybe that is God’s way of giving me that Heart Mycitracin I have been looking for), to help me look at life through a different lens, to challenge thoughts and beliefs, to help me do my best to be good. Who knows what the future has in store, maybe God has a surprise for me? Maybe forgiveness and 2nd chances can be the surprise? Time will tell as I have no control other than my faith and how I choose to live my life going forward.

I encourage all to reflect on a relationship that has suffered, and to reach out and demonstrate or ask for grace, the outcome can be life changing and the relationship will never be the same.

Why else do I keep getting up?…… I care!

What Matters?

Who Are You, Really?

I was listening to a speaker recently who said, “Tell me what you do with your time. Tell me your passions, interests, what is important to do when you have free time, what you watch on TV, what you read, if you read, and I will know who you are as a person. If you spend most of your time on meaningful tasks, you have become or are becoming a meaningful person, if all you do is shallow and superficial, then that is who you will become.”

Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I?” Have you ever even pondered the question?

It is like asking a person what do you do? They respond, “I am a doctor,” or “I am a CEO,” or a salesman, researcher, etc. My response is, no, that is what you have become, but not who you are.

I have discovered reading!

Now that may seem to be a strange public acknowledgement, but it is true. In the past I had not been a reader of anything that did not have to do with business or my career. I just had not discovered the value of it. I was too restless, too impatient, too naïve in understanding what I would gain from this time. BOY WAS I WRONG!

What Matters - Books PhotoI have been reading personal development works by Brené Brown, spiritual books by Rick Warren, Brennan Manning, and the Bible. I have started reading interesting books for the sheer joy of just reading. I’ve also become interested in Minnesota-based mystery books by local authors and have been receiving recommendations from others of books I should read as they are learning that this is a personal interest.

Regardless of what I am reading at the time, I have found value: Value that may be is as simple as relaxing enjoyment, Value in reading something that resonates with me in terms of imperfections that I need to decide if I care enough to adjust, Value in spiritual understanding and developing an intimate relationship with my God, Value in just challenging my mind and thoughts on a topic, Value in something that makes me a more interesting and broader person, reading something that I have enjoyed and may be of interest to those around me.

Looking at the compilation of my reading, here is a personal discovery (interesting at least to me) that I am learning to embrace from my reading, as it has created a new level of comfort, calmness, and perspective:

When I accept myself as whom I am, that I am “good enough.” I feel a decrease a hunger for power and control because my comfort with acceptance and intimacy increases my inner sense of security. I no longer try to “fit in” and instead find that I want to “belong.” I have a diminished NEED for being powerful or popular. I no longer fear criticism as I accept my shortcomings and personal human limitations. I have learned and understand that learning, transformation and maturity is an endless process.

Reading is allowing me to define more of who I am.

If there are any books you would highly recommend, jot a note in the comments section. I would love to hear from you.

Cowboy Values

A Retreat Surprise

Cowboy Values Book CoverWithout looking at the title, there are certain books and writings that by reading just the first few words you know immediately what the subject is:

  • “We the People…” the Declaration of Independence
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Tale of Two Cities
  • “Call me Ishmael.” Moby-Dick
  • “In the beginning…” the Bible

What is the opening line of the book of “YOU”?

Let me take a step back and provide some context.

Recently I attended a retreat and had time to do some reflection, reflection that focused my attention inward, blocking out the external thoughts of the day and week to focus on what really mattered to me. This retreat enabled me to “lean into” myself. I used this time to learn, discover, reinforce, and adjust what I knew about life, relationships, and what matters to me.

Isn’t that what a retreat is all about?

I heard an analogy that dealt with this exact behavior: External forces (friends, significant others, workshop, and spiritual leaders) can provide us with an amazing spark, yet it is up to the individual to sprinkle it with an accelerant in order to turn the spark into a raging fire of size and significance. When we receive a spark we must intentionally commit to do something with it—to provide it with fuel to continue burning and create change.I have learned that the value in having this knowledge is doing something with it. Having intellectual knowledge without applying it to change a behavior or action, is a total waste of God-given talents and respect for your own time. 

Have you ever found yourself learning great things and then later finding you never applied what you learned? Think about it. If the answer is “yes” then STOP IT!

Memo to Self: Good information often comes from a source you least expect, keep your eyes open! This seems to occur more often when you have opened your mind and heart to be graciously receptive to outside input, influence, suggestions, criticism, and assistance—this retreat was no different. Here’s what I mean:

While on a break during that retreat, there was a book sitting on the table, Cowboy Values, Recapturing What America Once Stood For by James P. Owen. It caught my attention as I had read his first book, Cowboy Ethics, What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. I knew I had to read Cowboy Values before I left the retreat.

Here are some thoughts from Cowboy Values that resonated with me:

Have you ever sat down and contemplated how society has changed since your childhood? For many of us, we have had perhaps 40 to 50 plus years of observation, opportunity, and now reflection. One thing that clearly stands out: Society has changed. We all are far more self-absorbed: “It’s all about me!” and “What’s in it for me?” or “Yes, I understand, but let me tell you about me!” have become common place in our culture. This self-absorption has permeated our nation. And it is not just one generation—it crosses all boundaries of age, race, religion, and nationality.

Am I wrong? Is it only me (and James P. Owen) that feels this way? What long-term impact does this have for how we relate to those around us? Does it challenge a person’s authenticity?

According to James P. Owen in Cowboy Ethics, there are 10 principles to live by. However, there are three that particularly resonate with me:

  1. Live each day with courage – Do not be afraid to take risks; courage is not bravery. It takes inner strength to live our lives as they were intended, with authenticity, honor, and truth. As researcher Brené Brown has so effectively described, vulnerability is the key to intimacy and to great joy and belonging.
  2. Always finish what you start – Do as you say and say as you do!
  3. Talk less, say more – Close your mouth and listen to the words.
It is who we are that overshadows by a thousand-fold what we may have.

I’d also like to share two of the seven Core Values discussed by Owen’s in his second book that I am intentionally making a part of my daily life:

  1. Authenticity – Are you the “real deal”? Do you carry that touch of confidence that goes along with knowing what you are all about mixed with the proper level of humility that is direct, obvious, and resonates through your actions and behavior?

Authenticity grows from:

  • Understanding one’s self as a whole person, something that takes deliberate time to discover and embrace.
  • Satisfaction in being who we are (and not trying to be anyone else)
  • Actions guided by a coherent set of core beliefs
  • Recognizing our own strengths and weaknesses (and acknowledging them as part of who you are as we are all sinners and to not believe this is deceiving yourself and others) and graciously accepting input from others as we work on our weaknesses
  • Saying what you mean
Honor is the personal integrity and character of a person.
  1. Honor – This is an inward belief and behavior that allows a person to know that they will be honorable in their behavior and decision making. It means doing the right thing especially when no one is looking. It is a moral compass that guides us. In Bill George’s book, Discover Your True North, he talks specifically about how this trait is so critical in corporate leadership, personal growth, and relationships.

I would be remiss if I did not reference an added third core value of my own —having a deep intimate faith and relationship with God. I have come to believe that these are three of the critical core values that define a person and me personally. By incorporating these principles and values into our lives we have the foundation for living out the gifts and talents given to us (as they were intended) and to have a meaningful life and relationships.

Now, back to the opening of this “rambling”: How might your core values and principles influence the first few words of the book of YOU?  

Cowboy Values, Recapturing What America Once Stood For, James P. Owen; Lyons Press
Cowboy Ethics, What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West, James P. Owen; Stoecklein Publishing

Discover Your True North, Bill George; Jossey-Bass