Thursday, September 30, 2010


It was a lovely season of warmth, a period where the outdoors invited us to come out and partake of its vibrant colors, soothing breezes, and embracing sunshine. We too extended an invitation to the outdoors to come inside with us through open windows and drawn back curtains. However, there inevitably comes a time when we must realize that it is over, where we must go our separate ways. Try as we might to force it to linger and hold on just a bit longer, it is clearly not under our control. The days get shorter and those warm winds quietly are replaced by a gentle nip at our necks. Summer is over. We have no choice but to acknowledge the truth and make our preparations for the oncoming autumn and winter. Deck chairs are put into storage, the pool is covered, and our jackets are pulled out from the back of the closet.

This change does not really signal the end you know. It's just a temporary good-bye. It will all be back next year for us to enjoy again. In the mean time we should continue to seek out and embrace life. While bears and other critters purposefully go off into hibernation, shutting down and letting the cold season pass them by, we must not allow this to be our mindset. I know that I have a tendency to just try to endure the winter, to mark time and just get through. My own personal form of hibernation. However, if this is our mindset, we simply miss out on too much living. If we shutdown until the flowers and birds return, we are effectively cutting short our own lives. So this year, I plan to purposefully seek ways to enjoy the season ahead, to look out and look up, instead of just looking in and down.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


After a peaceful, noteworthy, or productive day, have you ever thanked the Lord as you would a friend who presented you with a wonderful or thoughtful gift? I know I usually do. Recently, at the end of a particularly satisfying day, I spent some time in prayer thanking God for being so close to me and for blessing me. At that moment I was struck with how absurd and short-sighted my words really were. The Lord doesn't just bless me and walk with me only on days that I enjoy. He is always and consistently working with me and through me for His ultimate good. His blessings and grace are a continuous shower pouring down on me, whether I understand them, appreciate them, or even recognize them.

I think most folks who have been around the block a time or two, can appreciate this statement. Sometimes after we have survived a particularly troubling personal season, and enough distance has put itself between then and now, we can look back with clarity. We come to understand that the painful experience was necessary or that we ultimately ended up better off. I have listened to many folks speak of absolutely excruciating stories where their lives were ripped apart or turned upside down either through their own actions or those of others, but, in time, they came to understand that they were being richly blessed. They would not undo that time for anything. Perhaps they came through stronger and more confident, made peace with a troublesome person, found a job that was much better for reasons that they could never have seen at the time, suffered through a painful divorce and found out who they were or who they were not, or fought with health issues and gained needed perspective. There are endless examples I am sure. The point is that even in the depths of our hurt, we were never alone or forgotten, and the blessings were still pouring down.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure, just as gold and silver are refined and purified by fire. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. (Zechariah 13:9)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


For some reason, as the kernel of the idea for today's post came into my mind, I couldn't help but think about the 80s/90s television show Designing Women. I heard that the show declined rapidly in popularity when it morphed from a comedy into a weekly sermon of the various political and social viewpoints of the show's creators. Perhaps, this entry may be a bit preachy. However, I have an important truth based on my own experience and findings that may serve to strengthen your marriage.

I have found that when your spouse has a relationship issue, she will typically ask you about it. Perhaps you watch too much television, or hang out too often with your buddies, or spend too much time at work, or go on too many business trips. If you do not take action or try to ignore her initial plea, eventually she will Ask you again and then she will ASK you again. The fact that she continues to come back with the same issue time after time, given the condition of our heart and our attitude, usually becomes perceived by us as nagging. What follows then is typically quite predictable. We finally address the area that we have been ASKED about, all the while grumbling and complaining. We do this just to shut her up, while making it clear to her that we would rather not do what she ASKED us to, but are doing it just for her. So much pomp and circumstance. Theatrics.

What a sign of maturity and realization that she is the most important person in our lives, if we talk to her about the issue and come to a mutual, respectful solution. If you indeed agree to give up some activity or change how you approach some aspect of your life, do it with a proper, cheerful spirit. Do not grumble and complain and play the role of martyr. Do it quietly, with respect, realizing how important it is to her. Do it because you love her and want to really become ONE with her, not just one or One with her.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Happy in Him

I stumbled upon this old gem from John Newton that pulled me in and made me want to wrap myself in its truth. I think I found these words just when I needed them.

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see;
Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers,
Have all lost their sweetness to me;
The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay.
But when I am happy in Him,
December's as pleasant as May.

His name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music his voice;
His presence disperses my gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice.
I should, were he always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal so happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.

Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resigned,
No changes of season or place
Would make any change in my mind.
While blessed with a sense of His love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.

Dear Lord, if indeed I am Thine,
If Thou art my sun and my song,
Say, why do I languish and pine?
And why are my winters so long?
O drive these dark clouds from the sky,
Thy soul-cheering presence restore;
Or take me to Thee up on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Leafer Madness

There is an expression in our vernacular about someone who just flat goes nuts when the repetitive nature of their jobs or activities overwhelm them. It is called "going postal". The poor Post Office employees sit at their stations sorting mail that never stops coming. There is nothing that they can point to saying that they have made any progress or that their work is done. It just keeps piling in incessantly, never ending, never abating, if only for a short time. Eventually for some of these people, something inside of them snaps, and they go insane. They go on a killing spree to ease their tortured minds. It finally gives them a sense of accomplishment. See, that lifeless corpse, I did that. I set my mind to it and completed the job. Check one off for me .... finally.

I have come to understand the notion of "going postal". I get the mindset of people stuck with never-ending tasks. I can relate. You see, I have a yard. I have many trees in and around my yard. It is now fall. Fall is called "fall" because that is when the leaves drop from their holding positions in the tree limbs and drift down onto our properties. One job of a homeowner is to rake that unsightly foliage up and put it into bags on the curb. However, no sooner have we raked the yard, bundled up 5 or 10 huge garbage bags with leaves, then our yard is covered once again. It never ends. It is maddening I tell you. I brings me to the freakin' edge man!!

My problem is that I believe in the sanctity of human life. Even if I snapped, I don't think that I have it within me to kill another human to relieve my cranial dementia. But, I have noticed that tree squirrel eyeing me and chitter-chattering at me. I bet he is somehow responsible for all of this. Rocky over there will be my first victim when I lose it.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Sometimes people suffer greatly for no reason at the hands of another, yet still come into full bloom. Such is the story of the Hebrew Joseph that is told in the Bible. In Volume 3 of Charles Swindoll's Great Lives Series, Joseph, A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness, we walk through the life of Joseph, a true and faithful hero of the Old Testament told in the book of Genesis. When Joseph was only 17 years old, his brothers in a fit of jealousy plotted to murder him in cold blood because he was the favorite of their father Jacob. At the last minute their guilty consciences were mollified by instead selling him into Egyptian slavery. Joseph ended up as a servant in the house of Potiphar, the chief of pharaoh's personal security force. Joseph proved himself to be competent and trustworthy; ultimately he was put in charge of all that Potiphar owned. However, there was lust for Joseph in the eyes of Potiphar's wife. She pursued and he rebuffed her advances. Eventually, she grew so angry that she accused Joseph of attempted rape. Potiphar, backed into a corner, had to support his wife over his slave, and Joseph was sent to prison.

Joseph again showed himself to be competent and trustworthy; the head jailor eventually put him in charge of the daily operations of the jail, although he remained a prisoner. During that period, he correctly interpreted some strange dreams from two of pharoah's servants. At some later time after pharaoh himself had a strange dream, it was remembered that Joseph had a talent in this area. Indeed, Joseph interpreted the dreams that foretold of a time of plenty that Egypt was about to enjoy, followed by a long period of famine. Joseph impressed pharaoh enough that he was made prime minister of all Egypt, charged with seeing Egypt through the famine and saving her people.

Eventually, the famine, which had ravaged Egypt and all of the surrounding areas, including Joseph's home of Canaan, brought his brothers before him as they sought to purchase food from Egypt. Joseph recognized his brothers though some 20 years had passed since he was sold into slavery. They, however, did not recognize him. When Joseph finally revealed himself, his brothers were expecting a full measure of revenge and pay back. Instead, Joseph demonstrated his wisdom, his maturity, and his relationship with God. "And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid." (Genesis 50:19-21)

What a wonderful example of maintaining a life-long faith in God, showing that following Him brings hope in the worst of circumstances. When we are patient with God's timing and have full trust in his plan, forgiveness is never tinged with hatred or lingering thoughts of revenge. A great life indeed. Next up in the series is Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


As a culture, we seem to love round numbers. They tend to get folks all excited. They are the cause for celebration and parades and dancing. In the world of my blog, several round-number milestones have been achieved amid great fanfare.
  • Blog #100 - February 14, 2009
  • Blog #200 - June 13, 2009
  • Blog #300 - October 8, 2009
  • Blog #400 - February 2, 2010
  • Blog #500 - May 29, 2010
I have come to understand, just like the assassination of JFK and the alledged "moon landings", most folks can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing for each of the above postings. I get it, it really is a big deal. Now, today, here in this moment, we celebrate blog #600. Still so much to say and explore and talk about. Will you be around for the next 100? I hope so.

Thanks again to my loyal readers for taking time from your busy lives to stop by and spend a few moments with me. Your patience and caring and feedback stirs up positive things within me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost Muse

I love the imagery that is stirred up by the idea of a muse as an inspiration for creation. Painter, thinker, sculptor, dancer, musician, writer. All looked beyond themselves for the seeds of creation and creativity. In ancient mythology, the muses that presided over the arts were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne of the Greek pantheon. They were responsible for providing inspiration to mortals to create their master works. Even today I talk about finding my muse whenever I am blessed with a burst of creative thought or energy. Likewise I can, from time to time, recognize when I am empty inside, devoid of passion, insight, or ideas, as having lost my muse.

Perhaps a more common expression that you might hear is "writer's block". The image of an author sitting down at the keyboard, spirit willing, but the words, images, and ideas just don't form in their mind. I certainly have experienced this condition at several points in my life. It seems to emerge after an extensive and extended period of work when my mind is burned out. In some, it can also be associated with depression and deep sadness, although these feelings seem to inspire me to write and express and yell out for release and healing and cleansing. However, writer's block also has its associated parallels in every other form of artistry and creation. The painter stares helplessly at a blank canvas, the thinker is lost but not in thought, the sculptor can only see his lump of clay as a lump of clay, the dancer is frozen in place, the musician can't find his rhythm.

The more regular, momentary losses of my muse or my spark for thinking can typically be "cured" by getting out of the office for an afternoon or a weekend. However, there are times when my dullness of spirit hangs around me like a thick fog. Sometimes it can last for weeks or months. It is during these times when I feel most vulnerable, most worthless. Am I just going through the motions? What if I am done? What if I have really lost my passion for what I have sought after for my whole life? Doubt, anxiety, and darkness linger and settle in my mind and I am further sapped of vitality and will.

It's funny how quickly the clouds can break after periods of drought. Sometimes all it takes is that unexpected phone call, a seemingly innocent question, or an off-hand comment and the engine goes from off to full red-line in the snap of a finger. For me, a key way to gauge the presence of my muse is in how quickly the work day goes by. If I am slogging my way through without inspiration, I seem to notice every passing moment. If I am engaged and in-tune, no sooner do I sit in my chair in the morning than I realize that the day is over.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Other Side of the Fence

I came home the other afternoon and heard the sounds of laughter and conversation. The provocative tendrils of smoke from a nearby grill drifted past my nose. I could then see festive balloons and decorations just over the top of my back fence. It sounded like a major bash was in full swing, my ears capturing bits and fragments of children's squeals and games, and relaxed conversations of old friends. Although I could stand in my back yard and feel like I was right in the midst of this gathering, I was not a part of it. Somehow I felt left out and a bit empty as I headed back inside to make something of my evening. Ahh, the other side of the fence.

As the sun settled below the horizon, the goings-on next door continued. After a few shrieks of boisterous laughter, I looked outside and saw the flames licking off the top of their tiki torches. I was surprised to find that my personal emptiness had turned dark. I grumbled to myself at their loudness and spectacle. I was jealous, and my jealousy was petty and judgmental. The other side of the fence.

As I admonished myself and tried to turn my attention to something more positive, it occurred to me that my jealousy of others indeed usually does turn into judgment. An example is thinking negatively about a couple walking down the street hand-in-hand. My jealousy of the relationship of strangers stirs very negative, hateful thoughts within me. Wishing I was somehow on the other side of that street.

The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be. -Robert Fulghum

Monday, September 20, 2010


Privation is defined as a state in which things essential for human well-being are scare or severely lacking, such as the usual comforts or necessities of life. Hmmm, comforts and necessities. But by whose definition?

I have found that I can have plenty by any usual standards, whether it be a nice home, a new car, expensive clothes, cupboards filled with food, money in my bank account, and still feel overwhelmed by pangs of emptiness and longing. What I lack often overshadows what I have. In the New Testament of the Bible, Hebrews 13:5 says to be content with what you have. In fact, one of the Lord's ten commandments states that we shall not covet what belongs to our neighbors. As I look back over my years, I have lived through long seasons of both plenty and want. However, I have always been able to find satisfaction and contentment with my level of "stuff" either way. Materials possessions are not the issue that defines my sense of privation. My quality of life has never been about money.

The times in my life when I am most satisfied, most sated, are those when I have known joy. Joy is one of those terms that is often misunderstood. Many tend to think of joy as the same thing as happiness. However, joy is on a different plane than mere happiness. Happiness is momentary and situational. Joy is deeper and broader. We don't necessarily have to be giddy with happiness to possess joy. Joy is possession of secure love and contentment that we can cling to regardless of whatever else may be going on around us. My privation stems from my loss of joy, which I believe is the most essential element to my well-being. It seems the harder I try to find joy, the more it eludes me. Paraphrasing Edith Warton, if we'd only stop trying to find joy, we could have a pretty good time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nanny's Return

Sometimes when you go to the theater to see a movie, you have a very good idea of what the basic plot will be and how the cinematography will feel. You can also know with a high degree of assurance how everything will turn out in the end. Certainly for a movie geared towards the younger generation, you can know that all of the loose ends will be neatly tied off and the heroes will live happily ever after. Sometimes, though, that is just fine and makes the pudding all the more tasty. Such is the case for the Nanny McPhee sequel, Nanny McPhee Returns.

If you saw the first Nanny McPhee movie, you know the basic premise. A strange, disquieting nanny, who is quite repulsive in appearance, shows up to teach some important life lessons to a brood of rowdy, ill-mannered, surly, and rambunctious children. As the children learn the lessons that Nanny McPhee must teach them, she evolves into a beautiful woman, both externally and in the eyes of her charges, in effect mirroring their changes. When she is finished, she moves on to her next job. "When you need me but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me but do not need me, then I have to go."

In her latest adventure, Nanny McPhee arrives to help a struggling, harrowed mother during World War II whose husband is a soldier in the English army and is off doing his duty. This mother is not only dealing with her own three children, but two more cousins arrive to stay with them to avoid the German's bombing campaign in London. Nanny McPhee arrives to teach the children what they must learn and then must go, and all the heroes make out in the end. Along the way we are taught some important lessons in pulling together and true faith. We also find out a bit more about the mysterious nanny and the many children she has helped shape along their journey.

Emma Thompson wrote and produced this wonderful story that left me crying many happy tears. I loved the first movie and the sequel equally as much. I guess that I am just a sucker for a happy ending.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Habits

Patterns, tendencies, practices, conventions, penchants, call them what you will, habits have always been a part of our human mindset and approach. We find mental and physical comfort in routine and sameness. It could be where we park our car at work, how we wash our shower stall, or the order in which we eat the food our on plates. We all have our identifiable patterns that we almost mindlessly and subconsciously fall into.

I have had my clock radio alarm set to the same station for years. During this time there have been more than half a dozen format changes. As I was waking up to my usual station the other morning, I came to the clear realization that I have not particularly cared for this station since the original format that attracted me in the first place. The reason why I have not seen fit to adjust the dial and find something more to my liking is as simple as H-A-B-I-T.

Now I am not insinuating that habits are necessarily bad. In fact some, like drinking milk with our dinners, do a body good. Others, like smoking, may be quite bad for us. However, the vast remainder of the habits associated with us as individuals are probably completely neutral. They are neither good nor bad. As for me, I plan to change that radio station as soon as I get home, if I can overcome my mental inertia.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Way to Go

I read a story the other day that caught my attention. It seems the cellist of the former musical group known as the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) died in a freak single vehicle accident. A circular hay bale that had been resting peacefully in an English field, suddenly and without warning, rolled down the hillside that it was sitting on and ran over the poor, unsuspecting man. What a way to go, done in by a rogue bale of hay. Certainly not what I would want on my tombstone. I should think I would prefer something more John Wayne-ian or Bruce Lee-ish. After having kicked the tails of countless bad guys, to fade off with my best girl weeping over my body. That would seem better.

But if a wayward clump of grass sounds undignified, how about the man in Bucktoothshire, England who died when the frozen poo ejectile from a passing jet airliner crashed through the roof of his shanty and smote him as he was sitting down to a steaming pile of bangers and mash. What about the bloke in Upper Uncton, Ireland who was snuffed out when his old lady's frou frou shelf of scented lavender and pewter knick-knacks broke loose and conked him on the noggin as he was sitting on the loo. He was no more.

Looking over this list, I really can't explain why all of these comical ... err ... freakish and unfortunate deaths occurred to citizens of the good ole UK. Must be something in the water.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I had been poring through a steady stream of non-fiction books. Usually I try to tackle reads that will challenge me and make me think and analyze my position or stance. As such, they can take a long time for me to complete. However, sometimes I like to just sit back and enjoy some lighter fare, and let a compelling and riveting fiction story be my companion. It was then that I decided, without too much pre-thought, to purchase the Frank Peretti book Monster. To date, my experience with Peretti was reading his "Darkness" trilogy in 2008 and 2009.

Monster is the story about a couple, Reed and Beck, who head into the untamed forest in the Pacific northwest in an attempt to gain some life experience and some independence and confidence. On their first night making camp, something, apparently, sinister, lurking just beyond their perimeter, makes itself known. After an attempt to make a run for it, Beck is captured by something big and hairy and smelly. We learn fairly quickly that Beck has been taken by a small tribe of Sasquatch. The remainder of the book tells the tale of the search for Beck by Reed and a crew of volunteers. Along the way we witness Beck develop something like a Stockholm Syndrome for her capturers, we learn of a sinister element within the troop searching for Beck, and we find out who the real monster is.

Before I sat down to write my review, I perused the on-line feedback from others who had read Monster. I focussed on the 20% of folks who panned this book. After reading their viewpoints I found that I agreed with essentially every point they raised. However, despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Peretti has a writing style that pulls me in and somehow replaces the words on the page with vivid scenes and images in my mind. Certainly the characters were not fully fleshed out, the "sermon" on evolution vs. creationism was a bit one-sided and pseudo-factual, and the ending was a bit predictable. It didn't matter. I had to make sure that those I had started to care about in the story made it through. I wanted and needed to share in their victory.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Father" Talks

Every now and then I need to have one of "those" talks with my daughter, when I need to step up and be her "father". Most of the time I'm more easily identified as her daddy or her buddy. When I need to wear my father hat and talk to her about more serious or more adult aspects of life, I feel a heavy weight across my shoulders. It seems like something that I will never be good at. Amateur, novice, fledgling. However, I know that I have a greater responsibility to her than to be just her daddy or her buddy.

Most times when I have these fatherly talks with her, things quickly get uncomfortable for both of us. I guess it's because we probably have too few conversations of this sort. She sees me in a role in which I am clearly ill at ease playing, like I am trying to fit into a jacket two sizes too small, or more aptly, two sizes too big. I know that it would be so much easier in the short term if I just kept things light and fun. Nothing too deep or too serious.

It always seems that even with all of my preparations, things go a predictable way. I do all the talking, she stares down at her hands or the floor, just hoping and praying that this uncomfortable scene will be over with soon. I get so involved and emotional that I start crying, which just makes things seem so serious and grown-up. So real. My tears have always made her scared. They signal that I am hurting or not in control or overcome. Her natural reaction in these situations has always been to try to comfort me and get me back to right. Through all of this, I can never be certain that I have gotten my point across.

Recently I had a talk with her that I have at the start of every school year. I want her to remember who she is and what values she has been taught. When every one of the kids that surround her seems in such a hurry to grow up and fit in, this can easily be forgotten. There are so many reports of pre-teens getting involved in drugs and having access to drugs, reports of sexual contact and pornography, use of bad language, inappropriate behavior, and harsh treatment of others. I feel it is important to remind her that she can still be independent and have fun, but not give away who she is just to fit in.

This year something was different. I said what I wanted to say and I think she understood. As she hugged me, we both had tears in our eyes, but she said that she wouldn't forget.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trash Can

We were having a bit of trouble between us. Compounding the situation was a few-day business trip. In retrospect, it probably erased any progress that we had made. In retrospect, I probably should have cancelled the trip and never gotten on that plane. Although there is no way to go back and take a different road, it is nearly certain that it wouldn't have made any difference in the outcome. While I was gone, making an appearance, I was worthless to those around me. My mind was scrambling. The din of my surroundings was pushing me to the point of madness. I had to get out. I had to get away to think about you. I had to get away to think about me. So, I went out for a long drive ...

I didn't get very far as 10 minutes into my escape I saw a sign indicating a park where we used to go for walks. When I pulled down that gravel road, the pebbles hitting up against the floor boards caused some very vivid pictures to flood my mind of quiet, passionate times from our long ago. Silly giggles, private jokes, hand-in-hand moments where the rest of the world and our troubles disappeared into the aether for a spell. It was both uplifting and depressing as I looked into the distance. However, something inside me was energized to communicate your inestimable worth to me in a way that I could not verbally. I spent the next several hours picking out a small token of my heart, ultimately enwrapped with crisp, vibrant paper in hues and shades that would make you look that way at me again, even just for a moment ...

Finding my way back, I thought I was laying the world at your feet. I thought it was something that could mark a watershed in our path. The thought of you lighting up at that possibility had sustained me for days. Yet I was met with darkness and silence. Closed doors and cold eyes. Perhaps, I thought, that time would help me to advance my case. But, alas, that beautiful package was found out by the curb on collection day. So too was my past, present, and future ...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Free Stuff

A bowl of nasty looking candy pieces, second-rate fare at best, is set out with a sign - "free candy - help yourself". Within the span of about an hour, every last bit is gone. It doesn't matter what it is, if it's labeled as free, folks come from far and near trampling over anyone in their path to get it. Why are we so excited to get free stuff, even if it is stuff that is nasty or broken or that we would never use in a million years?

When I was a small boy, I remember playing in my yard when the old man who lived next door called me over to the fence. He offered me a small appliance that he no longer used. He said it was mine if I wanted it. I snatched it up and happily started to scamper off with my claim. The neighbor man smiled and shook his head at me. He then asked "Do you know what I just gave you?". I didn't have a clue, but it didn't matter. Whatever this box with the yellowing cord wrapped around it was, it was now mine. What it was for really was a secondary issue at that point (it turned out to be an electric pencil sharpener).

It seems none of us are immune from the eerie spell of free stuff. It pulls us in and we are overcome like zombies. Arms out, single-minded purpose to get one before they are all gone. Looking into my desk drawer, I see a small pile of junk from past grabs. Lapel pins, bottles of hand sanitizer, pens emblazoned with various corporate logos, small pads of note paper, magnets. Stuff I took possession of and never gave a second thought to. Well, at least I used that old pencil sharpener for about 30 more years until the motor gave out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Art of Deception

For years retail companies have made a science of boldly deceiving their customers. They have spent untold billions of dollars in misleading, false, and sketchy advertising campaigns and billions more to design their packaging to make it seem like we are getting more than we really are. How many times have you expectantly opened up a big package only to reveal a small object inside? How many times have you compared the glossy, over-the-top advertising photo with the unimpressive product that you actually received? What about those stores that endlessly advertise their big sales, yet their prices never reflect any actually savings? Meats pumped up with water to increase their weight, products inflated with air to increase their volume, hidden fees, processing and handling charges that are more than the product itself, tiny unreadable fine print. Dang. Why does it have to be like this? Why can't companies and their leaders consistently aim to be up front with their customers and actually show them some respect? Why does everything have to seem like a scam?

We're practically giving them away! ... Up to 75% off! ... Act now, supplies are limited!

What set me off on this mini-rant was my package of Breyer's ice cream. In the good old days, I used to be able to buy a half gallon (2.0 quarts) of premium, all-natural ice cream for about $3. They then decided to shrink their package size from 2.0 quarts to 1.75 quarts. Now it is a paltry 1.5 quarts. What is aggravating is that the price has only been increasing, and now is up to about $4 per package. More distasteful than all of this is that my "premium, all-natural" ice cream, which is clearly labeled as such, now contains compounds that are added to the mixture purposely to allow them to add significant amounts of air to the product. Some estimates that I have found state that the added air leads to a doubling of volume. So, I am actually paying about 4 times more for a given amount of an inferior product.

Corporate america - maximize, but you can take your bottom line and shove it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hurts So Good

Why do I put myself through this torture? Two or three times a week I willingly give myself away to this beast and let it destroy me for nearly a full hour. When it has had its way with me, I am covered with sweat. I am sore. I have nothing left to give. Every ounce of energy within my body has been expended. For what reason? What do I hope to achieve by putting myself through this torment?

Well the answer is actually pretty easy in this case. I want to give myself the best chance possible for a healthy future and a long life. Let's face it, with a little bit of consideration, claiming this deal is a real no-brainer. Pay a little bit now, for the hope of a much greater return on investment later. So why is it that so many of us would knowingly walk away without signing up?

Of course this all seems a bit melodramatic, a bit over the top. The photograph above shows a standard piece of exercise equipment. The type that you see in many homes, however, they are usually in the corner and used only as a place to hang clothes. However, for some of us, the outcome of not exercising is very clear. Increased body weight. Increased blood pressure. Less resistant immune system. Higher probability of cancer. Higher probability of heart disease. Increased pressure on arthritic joints. Decreased mobility. Shorter expected life span.

The choice for me of whether to exercise on my assigned days or blow it off has been a very easy one over the past several years. But, of course, the lesson here today is a much more generally applicable one in many areas. Stepping up and doing things that are painful in the short term, but in the long run keep you strong and healthy. Examples include having that difficult talk with someone you love or care about, working to defeat your life-draining addictions, going to church, volunteering, giving of yourself and your resources, putting others first. I'm sure that you can easily think of others. Yeah, hurts so good.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Last Taste

For the past several months I have been going a bit out of my way each Saturday afternoon to buy a few fresh tomatoes at my local farmer's market. Big, red, sweet, sun-drenched, vine-ripened beauties. They have been a most welcome part of my lunch this whole summer. Something that I looked forward to all morning long until that noon hour finally came around, giving me license to start my ritualized preparation.

A sharp knife cut nice, thick, juicy slices. A sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper, two slices of bread, Hellman's mayo, and two pieces of American cheese. After a few seconds of assembly, voilà, the masterpiece was ready. So yummy. Such an awesome part summer. Part of me wishes I could savor this taste all throughout the year. Spring, summer, fall, and winter. However, I think it is actually better that I only get to enjoy you for a short time so that I will never take you for granted. Now I look forward with longing, ..., until next summer then.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back She Goes

From the tears welling up in my eyes and the pounding in my chest, you would have thought it was me who was heading back to school. But no, today my daughter is off to start her first day of seventh grade, ..., seventh grade. It just doesn't seem possible to me. I have a photograph of my little one that I took on her first day of first grade. I gaze at it often and use it as a screen saver on my computer. The memory of that instant and that little girl is burned into my mind. It is so vivid, so real, so seemingly yesterday. I remember how I cried then too and how she comforted me and reassured me when I was supposed to be there to do that for her. I just can't fathom how the time line of our lives together could have gone from then to now so quickly.

However, after a thoroughly enjoyable summer for her, and one that raced by far too fast for my tastes, she has readied herself to face the new challenges that will be presented to her. New classmates, new classes, new teachers, new social pressures. I am sure that we will quickly fall back into our usual patterns of homework, reading, and various school projects and activities. It is enjoyable for me to see her apply herself and master things of which she was initially fearful. I love to see her grow and expand her mind, to journey with her as she discovers who she is and what she wants. Yet once again, it is she who comforts me as I try to not hold on too tightly.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day

I did a bit of reading recently on the history of the Labor Day holiday in the United States. The first Labor Day was a limited celebration held on September 5, 1882 in Union Square of New York City. Workers took an unpaid day off work to try to help build support for a national holiday of workers and laborers. The day became an official federal and state holiday in 1894 after President Grover Cleveland (the only two-term president who did not serve consecutive terms) personally pushed it through congress. The holiday, which was assigned to the first Monday in September, was originally established with a mandate to exhibit in a public way the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in the United States. It was only decades later that it morphed into a recognition of the end of summer celebrated with backyard barbeques and the start of the college and professional football seasons.

Actually the national Labor Day holiday was originally established mainly for political reasons after the United States military and United States Marshals were called into a working-class, company-owned Illinois town to deal with a potentially heated situation sparked by a strike at the Pullman railway car company. Somehow the situation got out of control and 13 strikers were killed and many were wounded. President Cleveland, working to save face for his party in an election year, got behind the holiday in an effort to quell tensions that arose due to the Illinois debacle that he helped to create and inflame with his seemingly harsh actions, and to help appease the strong labor unions across the country with some high-level public recognition and pandering.

Anyway, just some fun information for you to share with your cookout guests to get the conversation a-flowin' to fill in those awkward pauses in between mouthfuls of potato salad. Enjoy your day off.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grind My Gears 18

In a recent Grind My Gears segment (for which I won the prestigous Pulitzer Price for grumbling), I railed on companies that have sought to affiliate their products with terms such as "bistro" and "artisan" in some crazy mass-market attempt to make themselves appear hip and trendy. Blech! I say again, blech! I believe that I effectively convinced you that these marketing folks are from the devil. Today's Grind My Gears segment is closely related, in that it has to do with the "food" industry and its insane practices to get us to buy their crap over their competitor's crap. What has my gears a-grinding today are perfectly good, perfectly tasty products, products that we have been purchasing, enjoying, and destroying our bodies with for years, that feel the need to replace the salt that they have used since the beginning of time with sea salt. Again, this is done with an attitude of making themselves seem more sophisticated and trendy. You have to understand that these pinnacles of pin-headedness firmly believe, based on their fictional market studies, that sea salt is the type of thing you would see used liberally in an artisan bistro. This whole body snatchers-esque replacement of good, old-fashioned, regular salt with sea salt reminds me of another fad that swept the country in the 1990s where sun-dried tomatoes were added to every stinking product sold in my supermarket. They sound gourmet and fancy and refined, but they are simply gummy-bear-like wads that just get wedged in your teeth without adding any flavor. Yeah, how freaking attractive. Now, we are facing a similar menace with this sweeping sea-salt fad. Of course it has been shown in several recent scientific papers that sea salt actually contains no salt, but is instead comprised of nothing more than compacted shrimp excrement. From what I can tell, you would get a similar gastronomic experience to sea salt if you liberally sprinkled common, ordinary beach sand atop your favorite foods. Sea salt and anyone who thinks it is uber hip to pollute my eats with it really grind my gears.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Personal Tastes

The other day I was listening to the radio and clearly heard my own blunt, hurtful, clueless, and uninformed voice emerge from the speakers. The person talking wasn't actually me, it's just that they spoke words that I very well could have said. In that moment, my mind was flooded with the countless times over the years where I uttered vehement and strongly worded statements of my personal beliefs or holdings as if they were some universal truth. I then appreciated how I must have sounded to others unlucky enough to have been within range of my voice. I can only say that this experience left me feeling more than a little unsettled, more than a little disgusted with myself. It left me wishing that I could somehow take back all of my ignorant words, but of course, I cannot. I can only work to be more sensitive in the future.

The person on the radio was delivering their take on the daily news. This wasn't supposed to be Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. It was supposed to be light and quirky and funny. To go along with the story, someone had selected music from a local Christian folk duo to play in the background as the piece was read. When the newscaster had finished, she took the opportunity, off the cuff, to note how boring and pointless the music was, ..., what garbage. All of the other folks in the studio chimed in with more remarks disparaging the music. Unfortunately, none of them had paid any attention to the lyrics talking about God's love and grace, and their statements came out as an indictment of the message. The context of their words and barbs ended up as a dig on the message of Christianity as a whole.

It's one thing to say that you do not particularly care for the style or tempo of a piece of music. It is another thing entirely to denounce an entire musical genre, its message, and all of the people who embrace it as silly or foolish. I can't tell you how many times I have voiced my opinion in a very similar vein to those folks on the radio. Personal opinions are just that, personal, specific preferences of an individual. They are not to be espoused as universally right or wrong. They are yours, and while you fully have the right to have your opinions, they are not necessary valued or shared or appreciated by others. Yes, I can only work to be more sensitive in the future.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Open to the Unexpected

Let me pose a simple question today. Are you open to the unexpected? I know that in most areas of my life I have become hardened, resigned to my apparent fate. I have consciously given up carrying around the load of heavy expectations, mostly because hope is a flame that is choked out as time marches forward and dreams remain unfulfilled. Prayer after prayer was uttered for a season, without being answered. Wishes were cast out into the aether, only to disappear into the infinity of space and time. It all became so futile, I came to believe that further prayer and petition was pointless. It only lead to tears and hurt. Only so many tears can be cried before you have to bury those hopes and dreams away. It becomes a simple matter of self-protection. A splinter of hurt, left in the skin for too long, will ultimately fester.

I think it is very easy to blame God and accuse him of neglecting us and forgetting about us. However, I recently stumbled upon a wonderful verse in scripture, Psalm 56:8, that assures me this just isn't true, You've kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights. Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.

The Bible tells many stories of courageous and strong men and women who waited patiently for God to answer their prayers or to bring them deliverance. Sometimes a prayer is offered in one verse and seems to be answered just a few verses later. Poof. Abracadabra. Presto. However, this is most often misleading. God rarely offers drive-through service. If you carefully study the Bible you will see that many times years elapse before he works his plan through to completion. I would add that if these people who have been immortalized in the pages of scripture had closed themselves to hope, we might never have heard of their stories or their victories. We might not have been witness to a shining example of God's grace and glory.

I would say that if we do not remain open and receptive to the unexpected, whether it is that big job promotion, meeting the love of our lives, healing of that relationship, or whatever you hope for or once hoped for, then we may be shutting God out. This is a dangerous path to follow because we start to rely only on ourselves. Please, I implore you, be patient, trust his timing, and talk to him regularly.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer Wrap-Up

Now that summer has nearly come to an end and the stench of school hangs in the air like the lunch lady's B.O., it is time to sit back and take stock of the summer highlights. To get a more complete picture of the best of summer, I took the opportunity to ask my daughter what she liked best. I also have prepared my list. To keep this blog finite, I asked both my daughter and myself to limit our top 5 lists to only 5 items.

My daughter's top 5 summer list:
  • Her friend from Ohio visited her and she got to have a sleepover and eat cheese pizza, ... , cheese pizza.
  • She completed reading 4 really good books. (Yeah, this one surprised me too, but it is her list.)
  • She loved swimming in her pool with the new liner.
  • She loves her new blue Nintendo DSi that replaced her old pink Nintendo DS that finally got dropped on the floor once too often. (She promises to be more careful in the future.)
  • She had no homework all summer long.
My top 5 summer list:
  • Getting to have lunch with my daughter during the week.
  • Letting my daughter stay up later than her normal school bed time so that we could have more time together to have fun.
  • Reading outside with my daughter in our screened-in porch while she swang in her hammock.
  • Knowing how thankful my little one was to get her new Nintendo DSi game and how patient she was waiting until it arrived in the mail.
  • Getting to spend leisurely mornings with my daughter.
So, there you have our lists. What were some of summer's best moments for you?