Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Manly Men

Screw open-mindedness and tolerance. I could care less about being "politically correct". There are certain rules that a man must follow to be a real man, not some limp-wristed, girly-wuss, one who smells of jasmine. I am not sure that any of these "man rules" are carved in stone or prominently posted on the "internet". These are rules that a guy should just know and understand, for they are somehow hard-wired into his DNA. However, I have noticed that too many guys either don't know the rules, or are flaunting them as if they are some nouveau-cool, uber-hip doofus that thinks the laws of nature are mere suggestions or causal, non-binding pretenses. Below I list some of the more egregious occurrences that I have come across.

Over the past couple of years I have seen (with my own two eyes) more and more "guys" who walk around in normal daylight hours wearing capri pants. The well-spring of all human knowledge, wikipedia, tells the story, "Though capri pants are most popular with women, they have become popular among men in many countries, especially in Europe". Leave it to the Europeans to attempt to further blur the boundary between shaggy, sweaty, ape-like man and lavendar jump-suit-wearing metro-sexuals. But wait, there's more. I am starting to see more and more guys wearing head bands. Not the NBA-style sweat bands, but what wikipedia terms "Alice bands". They are called Alice bands after the head bands that Alice is often depicted wearing in Alice in Wonderland. Are you kidding me? Once again, I find that the main offenders are European "men". No joke here. The last problem is with guys who wear earrings. I have always found that guys who wear earrings are kind of sketchy anyway. One foot in manhood, the other unmistakeably in obvious cross dressing. However, when I was a youth, at least the guy rules were pretty clear. Left ear meant that you were trying to be manly and cutting edge. Right ear gave you the mark of Liberace. Both ears meant you were a pirate. Nowadays, I see "regular guys" wearing a single earring in the right ear. They seem oblivious to the message that they are sending, which is clearly, "marry me Judith and I'll be the woman you've always dreamed of". Am I alone in seeing these trends? Certainly my definitions are fully up-to-date with the modern situation, right? I'm still manly and cool, aren't I?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lust - A Reminder

My reading continues in "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. My first post on this book considered "Cheap Grace". Today I have just finished reading about the dangers of lust, a topic I have considered before in this blog (e.g Temptation from 11/19/2008). Normally, I do not like to repeat myself, but Bonhoeffer's words really burrowed their way through my thick skull and brought home to me in a clear and definite way the costs involved.

Adherence to Jesus allows no free rein to desire unless it be accompanied by love. To follow Jesus means self-renunciation and absolute adherence to him, and therefore a will dominated by lust can never be allowed to do what it likes. Even momentary desire is a barrier to the following of Jesus, and brings the whole body into hell, making us sell our heavenly birthright for a mess of pottage, and showing that we lack faith in him who will reward mortification with joy a hundredfold. Instead of trusting to the unseen, we prefer the tangible fruits of desire, and so we fall from the path of discipleship and lose touch with Jesus. Lust is impure because it is unbelief, and therefore to be shunned. No sacrifice is too great if it enables us to conquer a lust which cuts us off from Jesus. The gains for lust are trivial compared with the loss it brings - you forfeit your body eternally for the momentary pleasure of eye or hand.

I suspect, like many of you, that I would do well to keep these words and this remembrance at hand. I simply get into too much trouble when left to myself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Give a Maddie a Marshmallow

There's a cute children's book by Laura Joffe Numeroff entitled "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie". It begins:

If you give a mouse a cookie,
He's going to ask for a glass of milk.
When you give him a glass of milk,
he'll probably ask you for a straw . . .

Basically, the premise behind the story is to follow what can happen starting from a simple act or granting a simple request. Little did we know how it would evolve into one more thing and one more thing beyond that, a never-ending sea of requests all from one tiny seed. The book and the illustrations are charming and great for the little ones. My daughter and I read this story a few years ago and loved it, and from time to time I see my daughter as the adorable little mouse protagonist. Let me relate to you a new twist on this old story entitled "If You Make Maddie a Fire in the Fireplace"

If you make Maddie a fire in the fireplace,
she's probably going to ask for some marshmallows to roast.
If you check the cupboards, you will find that you don't have any laying about,
so, you'll probably have to make a late-night run to Kroger.
To make a late-night run to Kroger, you're going to have to get dressed to go out again.
When returning from the store, Maddie is going to need a stick to hold her marshmallows.
Checking, you will probably find that you have nothing immediately suitable,
so you will have to cobble a ridiculous-looking thing together out of a wooden spoon and a dough hook.
While roasting marshmallows, Maddie is going to want to sing and dance.
While Maddie is singing and dancing, she will probably get marshmallow goo all over her face.
This will probably cause Maddie to giggle and make funny faces.
While Maddie is making funny faces, she will be reminded that daddy did not finish reading her book the other night,
so daddy will have to go and find the book and commence to reading.
This will probably lead to hugs and laughter,
which will probably make Maddie want to roast another marshmallow.

It's amazing to me how the simple idea of lighting a fire in the fireplace lead to a whole different evening than the one that we had planned. Parents need to have the flexibility to follow the leads of their children and let them take us on the adventures that they select.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Simple Smile

Do you realize the power that a smile can have on those around you? A simple tightening of the muscles on either side of your mouth, an almost involuntary act. It can lift the spirits of those you come in contact with in a most magical and, perhaps, surprising way.

When I smiled at them, they scarcely believed it;
the light of my face was precious to them.
(Job 29:24)

While we can smile to hide our true feelings, to hide our disdain or our nervousness, to put up walls that keep people out, but a true, heart-felt smile is a gift. It lets others know that they are important, that they matter, that they have touched our hearts and minds. A smile that lights up your entire face can't be given to others when you are distracted and not paying attention. It can be an important reaction to another. Something that can stay with them for a very long time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cheap Grace

I am presently reading the book The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The first section of this book focusses on what he terms "cheap grace". I include some passages below that make the notion quite clear.

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Do you see your reflection in these words? Are you living a life based on cheap grace? What is the alternative?

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Relativity, Relatively Speaking

Is it a sign of simple-mindedness or outright chicanery when folks try to purposefully deceive themselves? Inside they know the truth full well, yet externally they move on with life as if everything is normal. I am speaking specifically to the trick that countless folks play on themselves where they set their watches ahead of the actual time in order to help them get to their appointments with some degree of punctuality. They figure that they cannot get to where they need to be on time, that they are always late, maybe because they are undisciplined, or slow and lethargic, or unsatisfied with the folks in Greenwich. Who can tell? They somehow have come to believe that if they modify the time in their local coordinate system, i.e. offset their timepieces from the reality the rest of us know and understand, they can somehow improve their probability of being on time to their tea socials, or county fairs, or wherever the heck it is they are going. They figure that if they strive to hit their time marks in their own, redefined world, they will actually hit the mark in the time reality that the rest of us follow. To me, this sounds like some wacky modification of Einstein's theory of special relativity. I am concerned with people who think that they can just simply claim is it some arbitrary time, just by adjusting their watches or clocks or grandfathers. I strongly feel that the canonical time of our world is non-negotiable. Folks should not be able to re-adjust reality willy nilly. If they are habitually late by 10 or 15 minutes, why don't they just stop what they are doing 10 to 15 minutes early, or get up 10 to 15 minutes earlier, or leave 10 to 15 minutes earlier? Are you one of these shameful "people" who tries to outdo Einstein and cheat time? Don't you realize that he was a German master with a wild hair style? Come on people. I'd explain it to you but I am running late.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Impaired Driving

When I am behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, I try to be considerate of my fellow travelers. I check my mirrors often, I always use my turn indicators, and I even try to stay awake and concentrate on what I am doing. I know this sounds incredible, but I feel that these are all important and necessary actions to best ensure my personal safety, as well as the safety of those around me. From time to time you will hear a story of a roadway accident caused by a driver acting in a careless and irresponsible manner. Their hijinks are enough to make you just shake your head at the stupidity and gall involved. (These people remind me of the young man who had just completed his IQ test and was bragging that he just received a B. Why an 85 is a great test score he was saying, beaming at how this test had just proved that he was as brilliant as he thought he was). Anyhow, with nutbags like these out there on America's highways and byways, it seems a wonder to me that there are not more accidents. Personally I have witnessed the following incidents with my own eyes:
  • A man driving while eating a bowl of cereal. He was holding the bowl in his palm and using his fingers to steer the car. Of course his other hand was free to operate the spoon and turn the knobs on the radio.
  • I have seen countless folks reading a book or a newspaper while driving.
  • I have seen salesmen working on their computers while driving.
  • Too many incidents of folks holding their cell phones with one hand and jabbering away. Their other hand was used, of course, for wild gesturing. I can only presume that they steer with their knees and use their tongues to operate the wiper and headlight controls.
Perhaps the best story was related to me by my good friend Keith from Indiana. One night he and his wife were enjoying a typical evening at home, sitting in the living room watching T.V. and quietly chatting after having a nice brisket for dinner. Suddenly there was a horrendous crash just outside of their window. Keith rushed outside to investigate and saw a car that had overturned. It was resting on its roof, the tires still spinning. As he was the first on the scene, he ran out to help the motorists, to lend whatever assistance he could in their time of need. As he approached the passenger side door, a female voice called out to him. She said "We're O.K., but please give my husband and me a moment to get dressed, I'm sure you understand.". Don't make me draw you a picture here dear reader. It is obvious what they were doing while (or besides) driving that lead to the accident. Perhaps now we need to get some highly overpaid celebrity to do some PSA (that's Public Service Announcement) spots to highlight the dangers of driving while impaired. I hear that Slim Whitman is available, and better yet, he is still alive (despite the persistent rumors).

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Naked Truth

I lay myself naked in front of you, with nothing to hide, without shame of who I am, without fear of your censure. I have brought myself here so that I can get closer to the truth, so that I can move further toward my ultimate destination. Sometimes the advice or feedback from others can push you along in the right direction or pull you away from the darkness.

Over the years, because of my education level and my general lack of patience with most people, I have been accused of being an elitist. I am not so sure that I can fully deny the charge brought against me. I have at times, from my self-erected lofty pedestal, looked down on the unwashed masses and passed judgement. However, this reflection of me would certainly reveal a much younger man, someone that I no longer fully resemble. With age, comes a certain critical judgement, and maybe, a more solid basis for patience and understanding and relation. Whenever I have been accused of being an elitest, I chuckle a bit inside, not because I find humor in this pointed finger. What I think to myself is how odd a situation that I find myself in. I am accused of being an elitist, but I don't even like myself. I chuckle because of the consistency of my warped and misguided judgement. At least it is a level playing field in my mind, where all who don't rise about my threshold are judged in the same manner.

My own view of myself has, of course, been colored by a lifetime of hurt and pain and trouble. I wish to be beyond all of these petty slings and arrows, but I find that I fall as easily as everyone else. On the one hand, I think that I should not be so easily trapped and persecuted. On the other, I find that I am all too human. Experiences of this sort have, over the years, lessened my opinion of myself. In the past I often chided myself for being a weak fool, utterly without purpose, utterly without value, and utterly unlovable. I could be perfect 99% of the time, but that remaining 1% overshadowed all of my success. That 1% haunted me, kept me awake at night, and pushed me at the exclusion of all else. After a time, living in this mode, my foundation began to show some minor cracks. These issues were easily dismissed, easily ignored. Ultimately these cracks increased in magnitude and lead to my downfall. I could have used this as an excuse to destroy myself, to increase my negative view of myself. But, by the grace of God, this was my old self. Thankfully that old self is slowly giving way to a new self as I travel along the Christian path. I have come to understand that God not only loves me, but he also really likes me. I have learned that I am a unique creation of infinite worth, that I am worthy just as I am, that just being me is enough. I understand that as a member of the God's body, I play a unique and important role in his kingdom, a role that nobody else in the history of the world can play as I can.

I pray everyday for God to help me better understand the needs of others. A supplication that I strongly desire not to just become dust in the wind, but a true part of me, how I think and live. I earnestly hope that through understanding the troubles and concerns of those around me, that I, ultimately, will learn more about myself. It seems that I am not so different from others after all.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nervous Habits

I often have the opportunity to observe people in situations in which they are very nervous. The venue is in colloquia, seminars, and other talks where they are forced to stand up in front of a group of people and give a coherent presentation of their work. I have come across a number of surveys over the years in which the number one fear of folks is speaking in public. In fact, speaking in public tends to come in ahead of the fear of death, the fear of Mel Gibson, and the fear of ice cream headaches. Need I say more? I have a number of nervous habits that I display from time to time, depending on the situation. One is that I take my glasses off for no apparent reason. Sometimes when I do this, I swirl them around in rapid circles. Why, I am not sure. Perhaps, like other releases, I am just trying to burn off that excess nervous edginess. Other folks I have seen melt down completely. I have witnessed speakers who lose their voice, ooze sweat in buckets, and faint. Others shake so hard that they give the audience vertigo with the motions of their laser pointer - the beam of light is left dancing haphazardly all over the viewing screen, aimed at nothing in particular.

I have a very good friend of mine who displays his nervous energy in quite a different fashion. He's very smart and gives very clear and well thought out presentations. If you closed your eyes and just listened to his words, you would think that he was in total command at all times. However, he still has a bit of nervous energy, like most folks speaking in front of people. My friend doesn't sweat, doesn't shake, doesn't faint. He directs his nervousness in two alternate directions. First he sticks his arm down the back of his shirt collar and scratches his back, and then for the coup de grace, he vigorously grabs his privates. He does this in full view of his audience, and I am quite sure that he does not even realize that he is doing this. I have even told colleagues about this before his talks, alerted them to look out for the old scratch-grab combo. They initially think that I am crazy, that I am making this whole thing up. Then when it inevitably happens two or three or ten times during his presentations, they realize that I speak the truth.

When I was a young university professor, it was suggested to me to improve my style that I videotape one or two of my lectures. In viewing myself, I could see how I was perceived by my audience. Was I clear in my speaking? Was I clear in my board work? Did I continually grab my crotch or thrust my arm violently into my shirt? I never followed through on doing this, so I guess it is possible that I do this and more whenever I get up in a public speaking situation. If so, please, be gentle with me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jocularity, Jocularity

My friend Beni sent me the following lists entitled "Only in America" and "Ever Wonder?". I expect that you may have seen most or all of these before, but they might still make you smile.

Only in America ...
  • do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.
  • do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.
  • do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters.
  • do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.
  • do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.
  • do they have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.

Ever wonder?
  • Why the sun lightens our hair but darkens our skin?
  • Why women can't put on mascara with their mouth closed?
  • Why don't you ever see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?
  • Why is 'abbreviated' such a long word?
  • Why is it that doctors call what they do 'practice'?
  • Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?
  • Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
  • Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
  • Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
  • Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?
  • Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?
  • You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don't they make the whole plane out of that stuff?!
  • Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?
  • Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?
  • If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?
  • If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sweat the Small Stuff

You have probably been admonished by some wise-looking man dressed in a white robe, replete with a long beard (the man that is, not the robe) to "don't sweat the small stuff". Quite a useful nugget that one. I know a couple of people who could be on the bow of the Titanic post-impact and say with a straight face, "don't worry, it will all work out". These people make me physically sick, I want to give them all atomic wedgies (where you pull up so hard that the waist band detaches). I come from the school of development that taught me to panic and get upset when anything, no matter how minor or trivial, crops up that deviates even a single iota from my master plan. Quite frankly, I strike a humorous tone here because otherwise I would scream so hard my head would catch on fire. I really do not like this quality about myself, and try as I might, I just cannot bring it under control, it will not allow me to rein it in. This is not something that bubbles to the surface every once in a while, it is ever-present, looming over me like a dark rain cloud. I cannot escape from it.

Case in point, the other day I was supposed to meet the cable T.V. guy for a scheduled appointment. I told the cable operator to have the technician call me 30 minutes ahead of time and I would meet them at my home. When I got the call, I left work and made it back to my home within 10 minutes. Upon arriving home, the cable guy was gone. When I called the operator, I was told that the cable guy had decided that he had waited for me long enough, cancelled the work order, and then drove off. I started fuming, and pacing, and bad-mouthing, and hating. The level of my emotional response far outweighed any infraction committed by the technician. I took me about 30 minutes to regain the controls of my own ship. Even as all this was developing, I tried to talk myself down from the ledge of outrage and aggravation, but I lost my internal battle and my system went into DEFCON 5. It was not until I had scarfed down a turkey and cheese sandwich had the full mantle of this situation melted away. I wonder how this type of emotional response developed in me, where it came from? Is it because I feel like I am always losing and it is not my fault? Is it because I feel like someone in my position should not have to be put through this treatment? Is it because I think that because I am a perfectionist that everyone else in the world should be as well? Is it because I am an elitist? I have not yet come up with an answer that fully makes sense to me, and I will continue to ponder on this. However, in the mean time, I will be sure to have plenty of turkey and cheese at my immediate disposal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

There is a Reason

Sometimes a song comes along that resonates deep within me. The song There is a Reason by Alison Krauss and Union Station touches me on so many different levels. I wanted to share it with you.

I've seen hard times and I've been told
There isn't any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all

I've trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I'm living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know

Hurtin' brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all

Hurtin' brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all

In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see
I do believe but help my unbelief
I've seen hard times and I've been told
There is a reason for it all

(Lyrics by Ron Block)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Open Book

Bernie Taupin's words are drifting through my mind this morning:

It's a little bit funny this feeling inside
I'm not one of those who can easily hide

There is a well-known expression that is applicable for someone like me. You will hear folks say that someone "wears their heart on their sleeve". I am someone who, for the most part, is completely transparent when it comes to my emotions or state of mind. It doesn't matter whether I am happy, sad, destroyed, jealous, envious, proud, or confused. I have no control when it comes to how I carry myself. My body language, choice of words, and expressions, my way of interacting within my surroundings or with others just happens, and I have found that I just cannot control any of it. In the past, when I have tried to contain or hold my behavior or demeanor in check, it serves to amplify my true state all the more. I suspect that this part of me is a by-product of years of conditioning coupled with my innate spirit. I also suspect that this aspect that describes and defines me is also the reason why I did not end up as a professional poker player or baseball manager. Folks could just see through me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This excerpt is taken from the famous poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I guess this sentiment has become so commonplace, so overstated, that it has become trite. Actually, if you read the entire poem, it really is altogether lovely and poignant. A true classic. One that contains a powerful life lesson.

I don't need anyone to tell me that I am a deeply flawed and sinful person. I recognize that I have lots of areas in my life that need buttressing and attention. For several years, I have been working on myself, in fact, quite diligently. At certain moments, I can even deceive myself into believing that I am making noteworthy progress. Just when I think that I have most of my demons stuffed back into their cages, that I am doing well, they seem to break loose and the old me emerges. This is the well-worn road in my life. A wholly frustrating and predictable path, one that leads to darkness and ruin. When I am traveling on the other road, I sense its newness. I delight in the new sights and bask in the warm and radiant light. It is where I long to be, where I need to be, yet in a heartbeat, I can be distracted and suddenly, without warning, I am once again trodding along on the old path. I must recognize that in life, I can never simply engage the cruise control or press the auto-pilot. Staying on the less traveled road requires attention and care, but it really can make all the difference.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

All About Mac

I have a friend where I work who I will call "Mac". Actually, Mac is his real name, so this worked out pretty well. Mac is fast approaching an old-timer. He has been working here for about 25 years and pretty much everyone knows who he is and has a humorous story to share about him. Mac, besides being a pretty smart guy and straight shooter, also knows more good jokes than just about anyone else that I can think of. Mac also has the ability to recall jokes instantaneously for exactly the right moment. I can't tell you how many times a situation has come when the right joke was needed, and I came up empty. It wasn't until hours, or perhaps weeks later, when it would occur to me what I should have said. Then I whack myself in the forehead in a kind of "I could have had a V-8"-manner, kicking myself for the missed opportunity.

Apart from an immaculate joke library and retrieval system, Mac also has a number of pithy sayings that he has used from time to time. Two really stand out to me. They are such a part of me now that I actually bring them up fairly regularly in polite conversation. The first is "You don't have to know what you are doing to be in charge". This one is great because nearly everyone I have come across who has heard Mac utter this gem has thought he was a boob for saying this. Then, upon just a little bit of reflection, you realize that he is 100% correct. You certainly don't have to understand nitty gritty details to manage a project. The second pity saying from Mac (that he claims he did not originate) goes as follows, "Never say anything irrelevant and untrue". This is a trap that I fall into from time to time. In my writing, I, at times, when trying to explain some technical point that I really don't fully understand, will state something that is just plain wrong. However, the wrong point that I have stated is also completely irrelevant to the central discussion, even if I had made a factual statement in the first place.

I have been working with Mac for nearly 15 years, first as a postdoctoral researcher, and now as a colleague. He and I have been through the trenches together and typically share at least several laughs each day. I have a notebook at the ready, standing by, in case Mac should come up with any more pithy sayings for my readership. I will also be sure to note any particularly funny jokes that he relates to me. In closing, I leave you with a joke that Mac told me many years ago. What is the difference between Mick Jagger and a Scotsman? Mick says "Hey you get off of my cloud". The Scotsman says "Hey McCloud get off of my ewe". Yes, good times, good times.

Friday, March 13, 2009

World's Crappiest Toy

When I was a kid, the world seemed so much bigger, or if you will, grander than what I witness now as a grown-up type person. I remember those days long, long ago when the cereal boxes would scream out to me from the store shelves for the cool toys they contained. My brothers and I would fight like crazed jackals to see who could lay claim to the prize. In those days, the toy was actually placed at the bottom of the bag of cereal. I can still hear the impassioned cries of "get your disgusting fingers out of the cereal", yelled to my brothers. Of course I was fully hoping that it was my disgusting fingers digging through that sugary goodness for the wonderous mystery surprise. These toys sucked me right in. They called to me. The were, in fact, much more desirable to me than the food product itself. I have the feeling, even though my opinions were slanted through my own, admittedly, young eyes, that these toys and surprises were so much better than they are in today's breakfast cereals. I suspect that in the days of yore, the cereal company put more time, effort, and thought into developing something that every boy and girl would fight over like rabid vermin.

O.K., so you now know how I see things. I have owned up to my potential bias in this important matter. So, how do today's kids feel about the freebies in their Cocoa Booms brand breakfast food? Well, don't look at me. I have no freakin' idea for the most part. However, I do have one relevant data point. The other day, I bought a box of a crisped rice cereal (I do not want to name a specific brand as I am not being remunerated for my endorsement). This particular cereal had some high gloss advertising on the exterior of the packaging about a cool, collectible toy contained within. My daughter pulled it out of the box and remarked, "What a piece of garbage". The toy was so cheap, so pathetic, so inferior, both my daughter and I actually felt sorry for it. Was I angry? No, just disappointed. Not so much because the toy was a piece of crap, but now the only thing to look forward to was the cereal itself. Alas.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Good Times

I think that I have a pretty good sense of humor, although I am not the type of person who can stand in front of a brick wall and rattle off an hour's worth of rib-tickling material. My humor and style are more reactionary. I tend to observe and comment, and at times, I think my commentary can be right up there with the great ones. Also, as strange, and maybe, as conceited or self-absorbed as this may sound, I like to read my own writing. There are times when I read something that I have written and I can still get the giggles. I attribute this to the fact that maybe some of my thoughts were just floating about in the ether, waiting for someone to come along and take hold of them. It could have been anyone, it just so happened that I was passing by at that moment.

Given that I have posted more than a hundred blogs, I have prepared quite a bit of material. I have explored a host of different topics, writing styles, and points of view. Every now and then, I like to poke around my blog corral, kind of kick the tires on some of my old thoughts. It is fun to see if my point of view has changed, and as ideas ruminate in my brain, I want to be sure that I don't repeat repeat myself (at least not too often). As I was perusing some of my old posts, I came across some random phrases and descriptors that made me smile, and I made a brief list of some of the more inane ones. Hope you enjoy these as much as I have.
  1. Thinning Hare - a single bunny death is a tragedy
  2. Edible Fungus - hammering away at various cuts of meat with an old broom handle
  3. Old Man Transition - wrinkled old man-hag
  4. Make it Stop - obligatory retching sounds
  5. Foul Emanations - malodorous, loathsome, putrid pie hole
  6. Kooky Finger Snaps - granola-munching radical
  7. Extreme Environment - sullied, yellow precipitation
  8. Phobias - sickofmyownschtickophobia
  9. Timid Sheep - natural Orwellian aversion response
  10. Unexpected Nudity - kooky drying aerobics thing
  11. Groupies! - flabby, white, pasty man boobs
  12. Fiber and Old Age - chicory in my Funyuns
  13. Four Stages of Lost - strange, he wasn't known for his singing
  14. Belief to Believe - robot from the planet CrEmi-NuGat V
  15. The Birds and Bees - trying to spontaneously combust
  16. Skunk Juice - skunk juice -- I'm hit
  17. Road Rage!! - so many exclamation points
  18. Ode to the Potato - honor the potato
  19. Ahh Bach! - low-level atom-smashing jockey
  20. The Greatest Show Ever - reside in some Aleutian fishing village

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

House VI

As my daughter and I began to consider purchasing a house, naturally there was a lot of discussion about what we would be leaving behind moving out of our old apartment. A myriad of pros and cons were speculated on, lots of talk about establishing something that is ours, that we can take pride in, that we can mold to our own tastes and preferences. In one of these discussions, my daughter firmly stated that, for her, maybe the biggest reason to move is that we can start recycling again. Yes, you read that correctly. When we lived in Ohio, we were very careful to recycle all that we could. We separated paper, plastic, cardboard, metal, and glass. We carefully placed all of these items in the county-supplied recycle bin and placed it out at the curb every week. We developed a mind-set of not throwing recyclables in the trash because we were too lazy or it was a pain to prepare the items for pickup. Living in an apartment complex, there was no recycling possible. The nearest recycling center was more than 10 miles away, and we did not have the room to keep the recyclables in our space. This drove the two of us nuts. We would throw out bottles or cans and feel so, so irresponsible, like we were wasting the planet's resources, like we were doing something wrong. I wished more people took recycling seriously. At my place of work, we typically have recycling bins placed right next to all of our garbage cans. They are well marked, convenient, and cannot be missed. However, on a daily basis I see the garbage cans overflowing with paper or cans or bottle and non-recyclable trash thrown into the recycling containers. How can people be so selfish and so clueless? Great, now I am ranting. Let me get control of this blog before it gets out of hand. Let me get back to my main points. 1). My daughter makes me smile with her thoughts. 2). My daughter is officially a member of the green party. 3). We are pleased at the thought of putting our recyclables out on the curb each week.

Part 6 of a moving 6 part series.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

House V

The truck backed into the driveway and lurched to a halt. The doors were opened and the crew piled out, ready to start lugging the boxes and appliances and furniture. It took about six hours of hard labor to pack and unpack the truck twice, and to finally stake my claim of ownership. The basis of this claim was the piles of clutter placed in the different rooms. The old flag came down and the new was raised. The moving in was very much like every other that I have been through, very typical. If any of you have been through a move, you can easily picture the scene, how it all went. Lots of heavy lifting, moving awkward pieces through and around a narrow maze of doorways and walls. Back and forth, back and forth. Thank God for the help of my dear friends Bill, Stew, and Kevin, and the constant support and loving spirit of my daughter Maddie. They stepped up and made their time, energy, and enthusiasm available without my even having to ask. They put their own lives on hold for an entire afternoon. They have my gratitude and my respect.

Part 5 of a moving 6 part series.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Love Language

Several years ago I read a book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. I am not sure why the ideas from this book popped back into my head this week, but they have. The main idea of this self-help book is to identify the five different areas that speak love deep into our souls, that truly resonate within us. These areas, according to Dr. Chapman, include:
  • Words of Affirmation;
  • Quality Time;
  • Receiving Gifts;
  • Acts of Service;
  • Physical Touch.
The interesting thing is that if your spouse or significant other does not express love and committment to you in a language that you "know" or "understand", your relationship will either suffer or not be as strong as it could be. The book helps us to identify what our own personal love languages are, and perhaps more importantly, to identify the love languages that are appropriate for and relevant to our partner.

I can say that I have seen first hand how true the notions of Dr. Chapman really are. I have killed myself at times to give of myself, to really sacrifice, to work on something that I thought was valuable and would express my love, only to have my efforts go completely unappreciated and unrecognized. This caused palpable strain to develop and fester because neither of our needs were met. This lead to unnecessary misunderstandings, quarrels, and divide. The important thing is to communicate without pride, without a quarrelsome nature or aspect, and without indignation. I stress that this is not a one-time conversation. It is something that must be continuous between you and your partner. I speak from painful personal experience. Hopefully my warning and advice will at least give you pause, maybe to think of ways to reach out.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thinning Hare

I was alright for a while,
I could smile for a while.
But when I saw you last night,
you held my hand so tight
as you stopped to say hello.
And though you wished me well,
you couldn't tell that I'd been
crying over you, crying over you.

As Joseph Stalin once said, "A single bunny death is a tragedy; a million bunny deaths is a statistic." Won't you show you care? Avoid hassenpfeffer today.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

House IV

I have been considering status symbols that we have in our society. Some things come to mind. How about a fancy sports car, perhaps shiny gold jewelry, or even loud diamond chains? If you are an international playboy, you might feel pressure to acquire what is known as a "trophy wife" or "trophy girlfriend". I am a simple man, living what some might consider a spartan lifestyle. Think of a frugal Amish man, and you have a pretty good picture of how I go about my existence. I actually suppose that I should have used the past tense in my description of myself. I have now defined a new status symbol. One that I have a strong inkling will sweep across the country like a California wildfire. What is it you ask? Well be patient, I was just about to tell you. I am trying to build up an appropriate level of titillating excitement. My new status symbol is the number of ceiling fans one has in their house. I have just done a tour through my new domain and have counted 9 ceiling fans. If this doesn't set me apart as one together (if you will, cool) and status-y person, then I can't fathom what would. Now I will start to ponder a catchy new name for my house, err, my estate. I understand "The Breakers", "The Marble House", "Monticello", and "San Simeon" are taken, so if you have suggestions let me know. Given my new hip and trendy station in life, I must be off now to shave my chin curtain.

Part 4 of a moving 6 part series.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nest Soilers

I have a gripe today, one that really gets my knickers in a twist. One that causes my pot to boil. My gripe is with people who have no reservations, not the slightest hesitation, about soiling their own nests. There are people out there who give absolutely no thought to littering in their own yards, to spitting all over their walkways, to letting the publicly viewable parts of their property fall into disrepair and ruin due to neglect and self-vandalism. I happen to have lived in an apartment complex for the past couple of years and am left totally exasperated by these people - they don't give a second thought to their living conditions. But what makes it worse, to the level of maddening frustration on my part, is that in large part, their nest is my nest. I have to walk through their garbage piles, slalom around their pools of disgusting saliva, and be an eye-witness to the hovel they allow their units to become. These people turn the grounds of the complex into a slum and they are completely indifferent to it. It this somehow viewed as acceptable or cool in their minds? Do they even consider that they are living in a community with other people? What about the Boy Scout motto "Try and leave this world a little better than you found it"? The way that I am feeling now, I think it would be entirely appropriate for these words to be tattooed directly onto the chests of all offenders. And yes, they should be tattooed with only light anesthesia! Now that's your vigilante justice right there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Love Letter

When was the last time you wrote a love letter to someone you were pursuing or to your significant other? Did you approach the body with subtle tones or overt suggestion? Did you rely on your own words and style or did you borrow from another (ala Cyrano De Bergerac)? Would someone who knew you recognize your letter as distinctly you or did you step outside your comfort zone and open up? Were your words filled with flattery and sweetness, perhaps poetry, or laced with spice and fire? I have written a love letter or two in my time. My prose tends to be an uneasy truce, or better yet, a delicate balance, between words and sentiments planned and wrestled with over several days and stream of consciousness urgings from deep in my soul. With most letters of this kind, after a draft is prepared, I like to sit back with it and kind of drink it in. I let my expressions wash over me. I even like to read them out loud. Often I don't change a single word as my heart has done a reasonable job leading my hand along the path. One thing that I have been pondering is how letters of this sort are received. If you have gotten a love letter from someone, how did it make you feel or react to the other person? What if it was from someone that maybe you were not particularly interested in pursuing?

Monday, March 2, 2009

House III

Son I've made a life out of readin' people's faces,
And knowin' what their cards were by the way they held their eyes
So if you don't mind my sayin', I can see you're out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey I'll give you some advice.

So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet and his face lost all expression.
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it right."

With apologies to Kenny Rogers, I know how the gambler feels. Living on the edge, hoping for a break, not understanding what will be around the next corner, or knowing if things will work out. I view my new house with its sizable mortgage as a big gamble. Have I done something foolish by taking this one on? Am I going after this property for the right reasons, or is there something dark and selfish behind my motives? Will the new bills cause me to cut back on other areas of my life that are probably more important? Have I done enough thinking and planning or am I relying on luck to get me though? Well I know that many of you out there probably already fully understand how I will get through. I already know how I will get through. Even fully equipped with this knowledge I am still struggling, still worrying. "Know when to walk away, know when to run?", hah, not hardly.

Part 3 of a moving 6 part series.