Moronic Musings

and other junk as it occurs to me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

TheTricky Art of Doing The To-Do List

If you were to enter our house, step over the unpacked boxes of junk we don't really need but keep anyway, maneuver to our kitchen and look at the front of our refrigerator, you would see three things.  A magnet in the shape and image of a Little Brown Dog, a printout of a generic shopping list template found somewhere online, and a very neatly handwritten list entitled "Things to work on @ house."  It is this third item about which I will aimlessly pontificate in this particular entry.  Here is the list as it is written:

Things to work on @ house:
-Light outside our bedroom
-Pull out drawers in kitchen
-Door for girls' bathroom
-Organize attic
-Cover windows in our bedroom
-Walkway in front of house
-Paint front porch
-Doorknobs -- Re-key
-Ceiling fan in bedroom
-Mower wheel
-Fix girls' bedroom door
-Fridge leaking
-Fill in holes in yard

Many people keep lists like this.  I would bet that you, Dear Reader, most likely have a list such as this on your own refrigerator or counter, or maybe just in your head.  For most people, lists are helpful reminders that enable them do what needs to be done.  For me, the Potentate of Procrastination, such lists are very nearly the bane of my existence.  They hang there and mock me with all the things I have yet to accomplish.  To me, the very average list above might as well read:

-Build full-scale replica of Great Wall of China out of toothpicks
-Cure common cold
-Win Olympic gold medal in decathlon
-Find constructive use for dark matter
-Time travel and stop invention of Disco
-Eat just one Lay's potato chip

You get the idea.  What happens when I read it is that all of the individual items turn into a kind of lumbering monster; the ogre that gleefully dares me to come trip-trapping over its bridge.  Each time I cast a wary glance at the aforementioned agenda, I have a keen sense of what Sir Edmund Hillary must have felt when he first gazed upon the vast icy wall that was Mount Everest.  I also have what I believe to be an accurate idea of what must have been going through his mind at that very moment: "What was I thinking when I said I'd do this?!"  I'm with you, Eddie.  How about we forget about that silly old hill and go grab a Jamocha shake?

Yeah, that's pretty much what I'm thinking when I look at it.  BUT... if you truly read my list, you noticed that I very adeptly made use of the "strikethrough" feature on a few items when formatting this post, meaning yes, I really and truly have completed some of the tasks.  You math majors out there may have already established that I have accomplished just under 25% of what is written there.  Hopefully, by the end of the day I will have completed at least two more.  There's no guarantee, but it's my goal.  Herein lies something that it has taken nearly all of my adult life to learn: you accomplish things by actually doing them.  Okay, that's oversimplified, but it's a nutshell truth.  Remember the old proverb "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?"  That's what I'm talking about.  For many people, this notion is a given, like "breathe in, breathe out."  To me, not so much.  It has taken years to realize that one simply cannot complete an entire job all at once.  Breaking it down into manageable tasks is the key.  So here I am, taking one step at a time.  Now that I'm getting that, I hope to keep it.

In case you're not an inferential reader, I'm not just talking about my to-do list.  I've been learning to apply this lesson to life.  Maybe you can give it a go, too.  Stop trying to do too much at once, because then you can't see all the details and may miss lots of great stuff.  Try just taking it in bit by bit and relishing as much of it as you can.  Kind of like enjoying an expertly prepared meal spent with someone whose company you enjoy completely.  Who doesn't like that?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Job, A Home, and A Little Brown Dog

I just typed in my blog's URL, logged in, and took a look.  To my horror, I realized that my last blog entry was dated June 4, 2010.  Yes, Dear Reader, two months and a week have passed since I last graced this site with my mildly mind-stirring mutterings.  I should be (and, therefore, am) ashamed.  So what follows is a quick look at the what and why of my absence.

Last Tuesday, August 3rd, I started my new job at the Georgia School for the Deaf.  I am now one of two brand-spanking new staff interpreters.  I should clarify by stating that while I am neither spanking nor new to the interpreting field, I am a completely unknown quantity to most of the faculty and staff of that august institution.  Suffice it to say that the learning curve will be steep for all involved.  Even so, I am having a great experience and look forward to building fantastic relationships and a successful career there.

As part of the whole new job thing, Jen and I have moved from our dear old dusty crackerbox in Oxford, Alabama to a nice new place in Jacksonville.  I'm still left with a commute, but it's all country roads and is a pleasure to drive compared to the hour-plus interstate grind I've been making for the past several years.  The new place is a palace compared to our old digs.  It's not perfect, but it already feels much more like home than either of our previous residences.  As I told Jen, I intend for that to be our second-to-last move; the last one being when we finally buy a place in which we'll live out the remainder of our happy days.  Jen says that she'd be totally fine with buying this new house, but we'll just have to wait and see if that becomes a possibility.

Finally, we've had a bit of a speed bump in the pet department.  It seems that while we were moving out of the old house, Ginger, our miniature Dachshund, found her way over to the vacant lot beside the house.  The lot is densely overgrown and is a home to lots of fallen trees, critters and debris from years of neglect.  Poor Ginger apparently somehow hurt herself while down in that nearly impassable jungle.  When she came out, she acted as though she had done something to hurt her ribs.  A few days later, the kids noticed that she was dragging her right leg behind her.  By that evening, she had lost the use of both hind legs.  Jen took her to the animal hospital and they kept her for two nights.  She's coming home today (Tuesday), and we'll be looking at the reality of dealing with a pet who is physically disabled.  On a lighter note, Jen told me in a matter-of-fact way that, if it came down to it, Ginger would have one of those doggie wheelchairs.  I kind of chuckled, and she gave me The Look.  "I'm serious," she interjected.  I instantly affected a properly rebuked mein and replied "Sure.  I just don't know how much those things cost," to which she immediately shot back "A hundred and fifty dollars.  I've already been checking around."  The moral here: don't take a woman's love for her Little Brown Dog lightly.  She. Will. Cut. You.

So that, Dear Reader, is that for this update.  I hope to begin making new entries on a regular basis once again soon.  I simply need to make sure that my schedule is relatively stable and that I keep my Honey Do list short.  Thanks for reading and as always, I appreciate your comments.

Friday, June 4, 2010

26 Helpful Tips for Getting Through Life in One Piece

I know that lists are easy to write and are frequently just lip service, but these are things that I actually try to practice in life.  Of course, there are many other practical tips for surviving life such as "don't eat something out of the refrigerator if you don't remember putting it there," but I thought that a list like this might actually serve a purpose.  It seems like fewer and fewer people today are living by any kind of credo at all.  Remember when we, as a nation, had a moral compass?  Do we still have it, or are we too busy living life like we post Tweets: in short, random bursts?  Anyway, philosophizing aside, here are some concepts that I have found helpful.  I have failed more than I have succeeded in following them, I think, but I still try because they're worth it.  I hope they mean something to you, too.

  1. When people around you are whispering, don’t assume they’re whispering about you.  Not everything is about you.  In fact, very little is about you.  Once you realize this, you can get on with being concerned about things that actually matter.
  2. Never enter a business arrangement with a close friend or family member.  Money can be the cause of the bitterest disputes, and a few bucks aren’t worth losing a relationship over.  Don’t believe it?  Watch one episode of The People’s Court or Judge Judy.
  3.  As an adult, before you ever decide to get married and have kids, you should have at least one pet and a house full of plants.  If you can keep the plants and the pet alive for at least three years, then maybe you’re ready to consider becoming responsible for the life of another human.
  4. Good friends are like precious stones.  The really good, valuable ones are hard to find.  Once found, you should try to never lose them.  True friends understand that you’re not perfect.  If you have friends who criticize and make you feel small, they’re not really your friends.
  5. By the way, your friends aren’t perfect, either.  They’re going to screw up once in a while and disappoint you.  Be the friend you’d want if you were in their shoes and love them through it.
  6. If a friend asks you for money more than once a decade, you might want to reevaluate whether that person is really a friend.
  7. Learn how to fix things.  You don’t have to be a master mechanic or licensed contractor to save hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars a year on routine maintenance on your car and home.  Learn how to change your oil, perform an engine tune-up, fix a toilet, refurbish or replace a faucet, hang a ceiling fan, unclog drains, and put sliding doors back on track.  Teach your kids the same things.
  8. Stand up for yourself.  Don’t be a jerk about it, but say “no” when you need to.  Being nice is one thing, but being a doormat is something completely different.  If your needs suffer because others are imposing on you to fulfill their life obligations, it’s time to make a change.
  9. On a related note, be responsible for your own life.  Pay your own bills.  If you’re over 18, you should be able to handle many of your own responsibilities.  If you’re out of college and are still living with your parents, you’re being irresponsible.  Get a second job, if you already have a first.  You do NOT have a right to do whatever you want; you have a right to the pursuit of happiness.  Sometimes that means that you give up some of the things you want now, to have happiness later.  It’s called being a grownup.  Deal with it and move on.
  10. If you have spent more money on entertainment than on investing in your future, don’t whine when you’re not able to retire until you’re 75.  A membership-driven online game, no matter how fun or compelling, is not worth thousands of dollars.  Investing thousands of dollars now will pay you TENS of thousands of dollars in the future.  Think about that.
  11. No matter how badly people treat you, always take the high road and treat them well.  Our actions are always repaid in kind.  Always.  The Golden Rule isn’t just a cutesy saying; it’s a valuable guideline for everyday life.
  12. If you’re going to buy something, take the time to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.  Saving a few hundred dollars on a major purchase now isn’t worth it if you have to shell out another few thousand to replace that item two months after the warranty runs out.
  13. Listen to your elders.  They’ve been where you are.  You may think that they haven’t, and what you’re experiencing is different than they did, but that’s hogwash.  Most likely, they made it through what you’re facing with even fewer resources than you have available.  Less talking, more listening.  It’s a good rule of thumb for much of life.
  14. Try not to gossip, even to your best friend.  Life takes interesting turns, and alliances, sadly, sometimes change.  Try not to say anything that you wouldn’t mind the whole world hearing.  Likewise, don’t listen to gossip.  Even if it’s true, which is highly doubtful, it’s not your business.  You have enough problems of your own to deal with; you don’t need to invite those of others in, too.
  15. Assume the best of everyone you meet until they prove you wrong.  Some will tell you that this is na├»ve and foolish, and you’ll most likely get burned once in a while, but you will find that most people react much more favorably when they feel they are respected and trusted.  We all tend to want to live up to others’ expectations.
  16. Learn how to survive without modern conveniences.  Technology is wonderfully helpful, but it’s worthless when there’s no power.  Don’t believe it?  Ask someone from New Orleans about what they thought was important after Katrina hit.  You most likely won’t hear people whining about how they didn’t have access to wi-fi.  Get a high-quality water purifier.  Buy a propane camp stove.  You don’t have to be a survivalist; just aware and ready.  Nature has a way of knocking us down a peg or two when we get too smug, and it helps to be prepared.
  17. If you’re a newlywed, don’t think that you should start out your new life with everything that your parents have now.  They didn’t start out with that much; they worked for years to get where they are.  Beginning a new relationship is hard enough as it is.  Throwing a mortgage and two car payments on top of that, along with loans to fill up your house with nice things just compounds stress and anxiety.  You have all the time in the world, and stuff is just… stuff.  Enjoy each other.  The stuff will come in time.
  18. Exercise.  Nothing else works.  Just get up and do something.
  19. Learn how to take compliments.  Repeat after me: “Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say.”  See?  That wasn’t hard, was it?  Saying things like “No, it’s not that big a deal” and “Please, it was awful” makes you seem ungracious and unappreciative of other’s opinions of you.  Saying thanks and leaving it at that lets others know that you’re grateful for their praise, but not arrogant.
  20. When someone you know is hurting, words aren’t always necessary.  Sometimes, just being there to sit alongside them as if to say “I hurt along with you” does far more than all the words in the dictionary could ever do.
  21. Try to learn something new every day.  This keeps the mind sharp and can even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  It also helps you to be a more interesting conversationalist.
  22. If you think you’re an interesting conversationalist, you’re probably not.  You should most likely work on your ability to listen.  The old adage “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason” is pretty right-on.
  23. Give.  It doesn’t really matter what the cause, but find a way to give back.  Chances are that you’ve been the recipient of someone’s kindness, and now you have the responsibility to be kind to others.  Even if you’re broke, you can still give of your time and your talents.  Somewhere, a charity needs an accountant or a baker or someone who knows how to organize a thrift store.  Somewhere, a family could use a dependable car or a roof repair.  If you have a family, make them part of it.  Show your kids what it really means to be a part of the community.
  24. Laugh.  Nothing makes you feel alive like laughing until your sides hurt. Go to a comedy club, listen to one of the comedy stations on satellite radio, or watch the comedy network on TV.  Discover a great humor writer.  If you don’t have at least one friend who makes you laugh on a regular basis, find one.  It will make you healthier and keep you young longer.  We all need whimsy from time to time.
  25. Don’t be afraid of new opportunities.  Sometimes change can be good for you.  Taking calculated risks can result in big payoffs.  It can also result in failure, but so what?  We all fall on our faces once in a while.  If there’s something you’d like to try, go for it.  When you’re old, your regrets will be for those great things that you didn’t do, not the lousy things you did.
  26. Don’t lie.  No matter what the situation, when the chips are down, your reputation and self-respect are precious.  Lying demeans you and those around you, and causes stress that will eat you alive.  Why try to keep track of complicated lies (and they all become complicated, eventually) when the truth is so much simpler and healthier?
Well, there they are.  It's by no means a comprehensive list, but felt pretty solid to me.  What other rules of thumb do you follow that you feel are missing?  Feel free to comment, and share this if it affected you.  Thanks!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guy Stuff

I like guy stuff.  Which is good, since I'm a guy.  But being a "word" guy and somewhat artsy-fartsy, my friends are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I changed my brakes or fixed the mower.  This bothers me a little, because while I don't pretend to be a testosterone-laden Cro-Magnon, I also take pride in the fact that I have never been referred to as a "metrosexual."  Not by anyone whose opinion on these matters I respect, anyway.  Ahem.  So when someone is surprised that I do have some mechanical acumen, I have to do a re-check to make sure that I'm not too sissified.  But my actions just this very day have reaffirmed to me, if no one else, that I'm a Man, make no mistake about it.  Here is a snippet of my day:

1. Googled images of Coop art.  If you do this, be warned.  These are images that you'd see on the wall of a garage specializing in hot rods or as flash in a tattoo studio.  Coop draws pictures of curvy ladies, usually as devils, sometimes as aliens, but always naughty, and always provocative.  I'm not providing a link because many would consider it offensive.  It's not pornography, but it's not something that you'd want sitting out on your desk at work.  Coop apparently appreciates a more voluptuous female figure (smart man), and he also apparently has no qualms about what others think of his artwork.  This is one of the reasons I was Googling his art.  I found it through another art link I visit sometimes, and it intrigued me.  I am often amazed how an artist can make a few carefully rendered lines look like something alive and sensual and beautiful.  Also, I Googled it because I'm a dude and can't help it.

2. Bought a new tool bag.  When I say tool bag, let me clarify.  Here is how I described it in a message to Jen, my beloved bride (who, for the record, thinks the Coop art is pretty cool): "It looks like it was built to be used by Ultimate Fighters from the Scottish highlands who are working on an oil rig with TNT."  If Batman were a carpenter, he'd have this bag in his Bat-truck.  It is my understanding that Chuck Norris once said that he hoped that he never got stuffed into one of these bags, because he feared that it would be the one thing that he wouldn't be able to roundhouse kick his way out of.  This is a serious bag.  If you explore the site, you will see that CLC Toolworks makes much more serious bags than the one I purchased.  This shows that a) I have limited funds and b) while I am a man, I'm not over the top about it.  Pretension just isn't my bag.  No apologies for the pun.

3. Moved a couch.  Mother-in-law got a new living room suite, gave the old one to someone.  Called me to move it.  'Nuff said.

4. Unclogged our bathroom sink drains.  I know, you're probably saying that any ninny can unclog a drain.  But who does it with a product with the brand name "Liquid Fire?"  You got it.  A guy, that's who.  The warning label on this stuff is longer than the directions.  Oh, and the directions are pretty much a warning label, too.  Know why?  Because the manufacturers know that their product is being used by dudes who ignore warning labels.  They also mostly ignore directions, but there are a few out there like me who want to make repairs on their homes without having to replace their homes.  Sure, they may have to replace their drain pipes, but at least they end up with clear drains.

5. Replaced my drain pipes.  Just as a general principle, dear reader, it is not wise to use a drain opener called "Liquid Fire" on pipes that are older than you are.  I'm just saying.  At least no beasts or humans were harmed in the unclogging and subsequent replacing of the pipes.

So there you go, A Day In The Life.  I may not be the burliest, most manly man in the world, but I'm no nancy-boy.  Apologies to my friends named Nancy.  I didn't make up the term, I just love using it on guys who don't know how to fix anything on their own cars and have never unclogged a drain (or replaced one).  Suffice it to say that occasionally, I revel in guyness.  For some silly reason, I used to think that was a bad thing, probably because Hollywood seems to ridicule anyone who tries to be him or herself, while claiming that everyone should do that very thing.  Nowadays, I say go ahead, let your testosterone level show once in a while.  You're not hurting anyone, and those shirt buttons can be replaced.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Time For A Cuppa

I've been blogging for several months now, and it’s just occurred to me that I haven’t really written about a subject very near and dear to my heart.  Something so important that it makes reasoning, let alone writing, possible for me.  In fact, this substance is critical to many of the people I know getting much of their activities done on a daily basis.  I’m not talking about food, water or oxygen, but something only slightly less imperative to life on this planet.  Yes, I’m talking about the nectar of the gods, that marvelous life-giving substance, coffee.

No matter who you are, whether you like coffee or not, you have to admit that this is one seriously potent beverage.  From my childhood until now, I have awakened to the smell of coffee brewing more days than not.  One great thing about automatic coffee makers: if your alarm clock breaks, you still have the timer on your Mr. Coffee to fall back on.  What wakes you up more effectively than that most delicious of aromas?  That is an incredible smell, is it not?  I bet I’m not the only one here who opens a new can of coffee by breaking the seal and then immediately sniffing the first whiff of those fresh beans.  If you’re around when I do it, I’ll share.  It’s better than passing a joint, in my opinion.  Not that I’ve passed a lot of those.  Sometimes I will walk into the kitchen just to open the can and take a hit off the coffee can.  Does that mean I have a problem?  If it does, I don’t care.

The history and origins of coffee are pretty interesting.  This miracle bean was thought to have been discovered when a young goatherd in Yemen or Ethiopia noticed his goats eating the berries of a plant, then “dancing,” or gamboling playfully.  When he tried a few berries for himself, he felt an amazing surge of energy.   Of course, word quickly spread.  I mean, think about a world without coffee (if you can), and then imagine its discovery in that world.  Wanna bet how fast this stuff became popular?  Anyway, the earliest reports of coffee being drunk are from Sufi monasteries in Yemen anywhere from the sixth to the mid-fifteenth century.  Personally, I’m willing to bet that there’s a lost manuscript out there somewhere that mentions Noah having a cuppa while waiting on the animals to board the ark, but that’s just conjecture.  There are dozens of varieties of coffee bean, and the plants are cultivated in over 70 countries.  If you’d like to see Mike Rowe give a nice overview of how Kona coffee is grown, harvested and roasted, look here.

Some of my best memories are of being at my grandparents’ house and drinking coffee made for me by my grandma.  She’d load it down with milk and sugar when I was very young, but by the time I was 10 or 11, I had started requesting it black.  When I drink coffee, I want to taste coffee, by golly.  But that’s not my point.  All my life, coffee has been a building block for relationships.  I’m willing to wager that when you’re first getting to know new friends, potential loves, or business prospects, you do it over coffee.  Can you think of a substance that makes for such intimacy without robbing your memories of the good times had?  Yeah, alcohol can’t do that.

Would you believe that a little over 50% of the US population drinks coffee daily, and the average consumption is about 3 cups?  A statistic I found on one page said that daily, about 2 billion cups of coffee are drunk daily around the world.  The average price of a 12 oz. brewed cup of coffee in a shop is around $1.40, but the cost of a cup that you brew yourself is about a nickel.  Oh, here’s something else to think about: The term used in the southwestern Ethiopia region for the coffee berry and plant is bunn.  If the word “bunn” looks familiar, take a peek at this.  By the way, here’s an interesting tidbit that I came across while researching: the world’s most famous insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, started off as a coffee house.

Here are some more interesting factoids:
  • James Mason invented the coffee percolator on December 26, 1865.
  • On May 11, 1926, "Maxwell House Good to the last drop" was trademark registered.
  • In 1822, the first espresso machine was made in France.
  • In 1933, Dr. Ernest Illy invented the first automatic espresso machine.
  • The modern-day espresso machine was created by Italian Achilles Gaggia in 1946.
  • The first pump driven espresso machine was produced in 1960 by the Faema company.
Find this and other neat coffee trivia here.

So go on.  Grab a nice, hot cup of joe.  You never know, it might make your day!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ADD 575

My friend Steve just published a post on his blog featuring poetry he'd written.  It was pretty good stuff too; you can see it here.  He got me to thinking that I hadn't posted any of my own poetry, but then I followed that thought process to its logical conclusion: my poetry was pretty sad.  So I decided to try something different: I decided to combine my appreciation for haiku and my ADD pathology and write six haikus, off-the-cuff.  So here they are, still a steamy 98.6 degrees, fresh out of my brain.  Hopefully, you won't think they came from somewhere else.  I call them "ADD 575."  I hope you enjoy them.  Pardon the font; I thought it contributed nicely to give the reader the jumbled feeling we ADD-ers often have.

What is A.D.D.?
Like listening to ten songs
All at the same time.
They say I have a
deficit of attention;
They should say surfeit.
I read paragraphs.
And then I read them again.
Life with A.D.D.
Unrequited love
Never had anything on
an underfed mind.
my substances of choice were
flesh and emotion.
I used to wonder
if I could have been something.
I now know… I am.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Through The Looking Glass

I was musing the other day as I drove (I do both a lot) and had an odd, yet fond memory.  When I was a kid, one of the things that I thought was really cool about my grandparents' house was the medicine cabinet.  It was a perfectly ordinary medicine cabinet, but when you opened it just the right amount, the mirror on it would reflect the large mirror against the wall and the result would be an optical illusion that appeared to be a tunnel stretching away into infinity.  Pretty much everyone who has a bathroom mirror and medicine cabinet has seen this phenomenon; it's nothing new.  But when you're a little kid and a huge part of your life is spent in your imagination, a sight like that can be magical.

As an adult, I often find myself allowing my mind to wander (big surprise there) about things like the mirror trick and, having the mind that I have, I wonder about the various reactions that different types of people might have when confronted with such an illusion as the one I've described in the mirrors:

Let's call the first type "The Engineer."  When these people see the tunnel extending into the distance, they instantly start wondering how it's caused.  They reason that the appearance of depth is an illusion and they might play around with the mirror, watching it expand and contract, imagining how the effect might be used in different settings.  Some years later, you may see some new type of laser technology based on light signals being bounced off of a couple of hyperbolic lenses that allows us to watch pay-per-view from Alpha Centauri cable TV.  All because an engineer somewhere remembered a crazy reflection.

I'll refer to the next type of person who might witness this curious visual treat as "The Face."  This individual is so taken by his own appearance that he barely notices the tunnel effect other than to be thrilled that his face has been multiplied infinitely.  This type can be seen on Facebook pics making the "pouty" lips, and also in music videos such as this (I apologize in advance for the lousy music, but I'm trying to make a point).  This sort of person often uses "me" and "I" statements, and is known to blatantly use internet abbreviations when they are not called for, even in speech.

The third type we'll discuss is my personal favorite, mainly because I'm included in this group.  Hey, it's my blog, so why not?  This type is known as "The Dreamer."  Upon seeing the miraculous mirror tunnel, The Dreamer has been known to lapse into a trance-like state and starts imagining things like what worlds lie at the end of the tunnel and how one might get there. I can't tell you how many trips I stole to the bathroom as a little kid to watch that amazing portal come to life in the mirror.  The Dreamer might wonder if maybe each person looking back along the path of mirrors is in a different dimension, and whether they're in a safer or more dangerous setting.  That person might crawl into his bed at night after just having taken another peek into the inter-dimensional doorway and drift off to dreamland on wings of marvelous machines that have somehow slipped through the looking glass.  People in this category tend to end up artsy types, and have been known to write ego-bloating blogs, but they're mostly harmless.

The fourth and final type to be discussed is "The Guest."  When they open the mirror-door, they don't see anything.  This is because they're rifling through your prescriptions and being nosy.  I've read that something like 40% of people who visit your bathroom snoop in your medicine cabinet.  Imagine that!  It's never occurred to me to peek at my friends and neighbors' pills and snake oils, but apparently more than a third of the people reading this do.

I guess the point of this somewhat rambling blog is that we all have something of wonder left in us, no matter how old or how much we have seen in life that might try to steal that wonder.  I must say this: our wonder, no matter how deeply buried, can be regained.  It might take something as complicated as a trip to the Grand Canyon or as simple as a trip to the medicine cabinet.  Search for it, never stop trying to find it.

By the way, if I've ever been in your necessary room, you can bet that the only thing I was looking through in there was an interdimensional portal.  Your prescriptions are your own business.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Walking In The Blitzkrieg

"Democracy is finished in England. It may be here." –Former Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. in the Boston Sunday Globe, November 10, 1940.

"I'm very glad to be here. There is no place I'd rather be at this time than in England." – Ambassador John Gilbert Winant, upon landing at the BristolEngland, airport March, 1941.

In September of 1940, London, England was most definitely not a vacation destination.  The reason people from across the globe weren’t rushing to get there was a simple one.  Bombs, and lots of them.  The Third Reich had begun the Blitzkrieg, or “Blitz” as it’s more commonly known, and they kept on bombing until May of 1941.  As anyone who has paid attention in history class knows, the Blitz was devastating. Fully one third of the homes in London were demolished by the bombings, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 civilians were killed over the nine months of that terrible campaign (you can find the article some of that information came out of here).

So of all the things I tend to write about, why would I write about something as serious as the London Blitz?  Let’s revisit the first two quotes.  Notice anything about them?  If you don’t, please find a remedial reading class and get back to me.  Otherwise, let’s continue. A little reading will shed a bit of light on who Joseph P. Kennedy was. Yes, he was from those Kennedys.  In fact, he was the father of John F. Kennedy, the founder of the political legacy that to this day is still considered one of the most influential in American History.  But that legacy doesn’t seem to have had a very auspicious start, does it?  Joe Kennedy was first and foremost a businessman, and he tended to see the bottom line in pretty much everything he looked at.  When he saw the situation in Europe compounded by the bombing of London, he figured England had had it.  He didn’t keep this attitude to himself, either.  He wanted the U.S. to stay out of the war and made it clear to all around him.  He made it a point to leave the city when the shelling started, as well.  Not surprisingly, he was not a welcome guest in London for long.

John Gilbert Winant was a former Governor of New Hampshire who had also served under FDR on the Social Security Board and later as head of the International Labor Office (source).  So while he was no stranger to politics, he was pretty much an unknown in England.  Upon arriving in London, Winant immediately set about trying to repair and strengthen the U.S. connection to Great Britain (even going so far, according to reports, as carrying on an affair with Winston Churchill’s daughter.  How’s that for Anglo-American relations?).  Reports* state that Winant began to venture out into the city during the nightly bombings, offering assistance to anyone who needed it.  This man- who, before arriving in England, was a stranger and who began with the disadvantage of distrust left by his predecessor- this man left the comfort and safety of his enclave to lend a hand to whomever needed it.  As you can imagine, his esteem in the eyes of the British people grew.  This contributed to a gradual rebuilding of diplomatic trust which, in turn, led to the US being more favorably disposed toward coming to the aid of the British people.

I could go on and on about the war, about U.S./British relations, but what I want to focus on really doesn’t have to do with all of that.  I want to take a look at what set Winant apart from Kennedy.  Here were both men, in the same boat politically, and, ostensibly, with the same things to lose or gain.  Kennedy took the path that he assumed would gain him political power and favor with potential voters.  Winant, apparently, thought that people were more important than votes.  When the chips were down-and boy, were they ever- Winant took the high road of human compassion.  He still had political hopes and dreams, that much is clear from later actions- his eventual suicide was thought to be in part attributed to a political loss- but in that moment, at the time when he was most needed, he put the needs of others above his own agenda and simply did what was right.

Sir Winston Churchill is one of my personal heroes, both because of his brilliant mind and indomitable spirit.  We’ve all heard clips or seen motivational posters based on his “never, ever, ever give up” speech. Since learning about John Gilbert Winant, however, I can see and appreciate how "unknowns" can pave the way for great men to win the hearts of people.  Think about it: there was Churchill on the BBC, talking about the Lion Heart of the British people while an unassuming American walks around the city and lends even more courage to that very heart with his simple acts.

I would like to be that man who doesn't cry "game over," but who works behind the scenes doing what needs to be done just because it's right.  I like to think that I don’t necessarily want to be famous.  What I’d really like to know about myself is this: when the bombs start dropping, will I be able to think about how other people are doing?  Will I be able to keep my eye on the long-term goals that I’m here to promote?  I really, really hope so.  I also like to think that when all is said and done, God is going to shake hands with the great leaders of the world and say thanks.  Next, He's going to find all of the un-thanked unknowns who paved the way for the leaders and world-changers, and He's going to give them great big hugs.  Then he's going to hand them the keys to their palaces.

*FYI: This post was inspired by a story I heard on NPR about a new book by Lynne Olson called Citizens of London. I’m not usually a fan of nonfiction, but this one is definitely on my short list of must-reads!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Lord of the Interstate

I am now a certified tough guy.  Wrestling alligators?  A cake walk.   Running into a burning building?  Nothing to it.  Facing the heat of battle?  Child’s play.  What I did this past week makes the most hardened outlaw bikers blanch with sheer terror and cry for their mommies.  What is it, you may ask, that puts me up there with Navy Seals and Spartan soldiers?  I took a road trip with my wife.  To Florida.  With the kids.  That’s right.  I hope they don’t censor this blog just for mentioning it; I might be accused of inducing widespread panic among the general population.

It’s like this: I love my family, and I enjoy getting a chance to see them now and again.  The last time I saw my mom and sister was in November when they came up to my 40th birthday party.  Believe it or not, seeing my mom twice in the same 12-month period is huge for me.  My family is the go-off-to-seek-your-fortune type, so we’ve never been huge on family reunions.  Heck, there have been stretches of two and three years when I have no idea if my brother is even alive, but that’s another story.  Anyway, Jen and I made ready, went to the airport and rented a van, and hit the road with the kids.  All four of them.  For the first real family vacation we’ve had.  So you see?  I’m a complete badass.

Okay, so maybe I’m using just the slightest hint of hyperbole.  But have you ever ridden for 10 hours in a minivan with four kids from two families?  The kids range in ages from 18 down to 7.  The 18 year-old was no stress at all; he brought his own items along to keep himself occupied.  Believe it or not, the 7 year-old was the second easiest passenger.  She had her personal DVD player and was just thrilled to be heading to Florida, when she wasn’t sleeping.  Her needs were simple and basic and when those needs were met, she was a happy camper.  No, the real challenges were the 14 and 15 year-olds.  When not backseat driving or whining, they were sniping at each other.  This, of course, is what makes both Jen and I monumental toughies.  We managed to keep them in check (for the most part) and didn’t let their attitudes and snappishness ruin our trip.  They did, of course, get on our nerves, but we kept our cool.  At no time did either of us utter those dreaded words, “DON’T MAKE ME STOP THIS VAN!”  That’s right, we absolutely rocked.  We are now the Lord and Lady of the Interstate.

You learn a lot about one another as a couple when you take trips like this.  If you haven’t discussed ways to deal with family conflict, you’ll be shellshocked when it happens to you.  A family trip can be a real test of your understanding and tolerance of one another, and can help you gain insight into and respect for how the other deals with their children.  There were several moments that allowed Jen and me to share things with each other and gain knowledge regarding how we feel about our kids.  That’s another thing that a trip like this can do for a couple who are remarried: it can make you more of a parenting team.  What was once his and hers becomes ours.  We’re not perfect, but we know what we’re capable of.  Who knows, maybe someday we'll even rate being called "parents" by the others' kids instead of "my mom's/dad's husband/wife."

On a side note, Jen and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary while we were in Florida.  We’re going strong and are more in love than when we got married.  Sappy, but true.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Things You Probably Didn't Want To Know

Here are some arbitrary things about me that you may not have known:
  • I like argyle socks.
  • Even though it’s just a video game, I still can’t kill the innocent Little Sisters in Bioshock.  I’m too much of a softie.
  • I think my ADHD is more of a blessing than a curse.  It helps me make logical leaps and contributes to my creativity and sense of humor.  If you don't believe ADHD is real, spend a day with me and I'll convert you.
  • I am both a cat and a dog person.
  • I still feel like I am paying off debt in the karma department, and most likely will be the rest of my life.
  • Although I have opinions regarding government, I try to remain apolitical because I feel that anything besides a vote is a waste of my energy.
  • Softie though I may be, if I am ever in a situation where I see a man physically abuse his wife I will probably attack the man, no matter how large he is.
  • I don’t know if I have a real phobia of them, but spiders make me distinctly uncomfortable.
  • I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.  Okay, this isn’t true, but it’s one of the best lines ever written in a song.  Ever.
  • I don’t know as much as I’d like to, and I fear running out of curiosity.  As I recently told my niece, when you stop learning, you start dying.  Oh, thanks for inspiring this blog post, Felicia!
  • I actually considered killing one of my stepfathers when I was a kid.  I’m glad I didn’t.
  • I’m very proud of my sister.  She has overcome some big hurdles to become a wonderful mother and a fine person.
  • I miss my dad, my stepmom and my brothers.
  • No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get into opera.  I guess I’ll never be fully cultured.
  • If I could quit working today, I probably would.
  • No matter how much you hear me talking, I’m listening more.
  • I own eight watches.
  • I would like to be a lead singer for a band, but both my work ethic and my voice need work before that could ever happen.
  • Going to counseling was one of the best decisions I ever made.  If you haven’t gone, you should think about it.  Yeah, you should.  Stop arguing with me and just go.
  • I feel guilty about not shining my shoes.  I rarely shine my shoes.
  • I’m a little obsessive.  If I find a song or a video game or a movie I like, I will listen, play, or watch it again and again until I have it memorized.
  • I sometimes worry that people will think that I’m insincere, but I'm not.
  • I’m an optimist by nature and quite frankly can’t understand why anyone would want to see gloom and doom in everything.

I hope these little tidbits have given you a little more insight into who I am than you had before.  I feel a little awkward writing so much about myself but as I mentioned when I started this blog, this is as much about helping me to learn about myself as it is making observations about the world around me.  I’d love to read some little-known facts about you, too.  Feel free to comment.  Just remember that whatever you put on the internet is forever.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Remembering The Promise

In my last entry, "A Promise Made," I talked about a few of the events in my life that led to my making a promise to myself and others that I would not allow selfish, mean people cause harm to people who couldn't defend themselves.  The events were recalled to the best of my ability and, to my knowledge, are not exaggerated.  Much more happened to me as a child, but I felt that these were the most representative of my overall childhood experience.  I used them simply to make a point that even in a harsh, harmful environment, people can still see through the scum on the windows and realize that the sun is shining outside.  That said, I never want to give the impression that my childhood was one long episode of hell.  If you have read my previous posts, you are aware that I have had the blessing of people in my life who loved and guided me well.  It is from having these people around me that I learned a principle that has played a part in my attempt to keep the Promise thus far in my life.

One would think that this kind of promise made as a broken child would lead me to become a defense lawyer or activist or some other type of "white knight," holding high the standard of justice for all to see.  Perhaps I could have gone that route (grades notwithstanding), but that just never seemed to be my style.  Instead, I kept my eyes and ears open.  It isn't something that can be explained, but there was always a feeling, a hint, that as time went by that more knowledge and understanding would come to me and that everything would be okay.  I always felt that God had His hand in my life and was protecting me.  Looking back, I can clearly see that things could have been much worse than they were for me; I will never doubt the idea of Providence.

As I grew older and survived the terrible awkwardness of adolescence and the even worse affliction of that boundless arrogance that comes with young adulthood, a picture began to form in my mind of how I might be able to keep the Promise and become of some actual use to the planet.  It occurred to me that the reason I wasn't a drug-addicted criminal or a robber or rapist or thief was that there were people in my life who served as a barrier against such wrong turns.  What I came to realize was that just a little bit of love can go a long way toward bringing a kid up right.  Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me say (more than once, I'd bet) that "just one or two good people" in a kid's life can make all the difference in the world.  If you doubt this, ask anyone who came out of difficult circumstances and made something of himself.  You will most certainly hear stories about a person or persons in his life who saw him as a valuable individual with potential.

My point in all this rambling is this: If you're capable of being aware of the people around you - even if you're damaged goods like I am - you can spot kids who need an anchor in their lives.  If you can and do, you have a responsibility.  You read me right.  If you can see the need in a kid, you have the job of telling him that he has value, and that you can see it, and that you believe in him.  Then you should actually believe in him.  If he messes up, tell him that it's okay, you've done the very same thing (you have, admit it) and it's not the end of the world.  If more young people can see that doing something stupid or imperfectly doesn't result in everyone around them trying to take them out like a pack of wild dogs, they'll be more willing to get up and try again.  And they'll later become that person to someone else, the person who believes.  This isn't a new idea.  Don't believe me?  Look here.

I never know if my ramblings are cogent enough to get my point across, but I hope they do.  I believe that one of the main objectives in this life is to learn how to live outside of ourselves.  If you study any of the world's major religions you will find that this is one of their main overriding principles.  Looking beyond ourselves and reaching out to others makes us better.  I'm working on it.  Are you?


The last post I wrote apparently took a lot out of me, because it's been a month since I last posted.  A dear friend recently sent me some encouragement in an instant message that said "Blog!  BLOOOOGG!"  Thank you, JDK, for the gentle reminder.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Promise Made

I want to start this post by saying that what you’re about to read is going to be somewhat heavy, but it is neither an attempt at gaining sympathy nor an over dramatized account of events in my childhood.  I’m simply recounting some things that happened to me so that you can maybe get a bit of insight about a few of the things I’ve experienced to provide me with the outlook on life that I have now.  From what I’ve written so far, it’s most likely going to be at least a two-parter.  As always, I welcome your comments and advice on my writing.

When I was about twelve years old, I stood in front of the mirror in my bedroom and made a promise to myself.  What I promised was that I wouldn’t become like them.  By “them,” I meant people who cause pain, who intentionally hurt others and who generally get a kick out of being abusive toward those who are helpless to defend themselves.  I had pretty good reason to make this promise to myself.  My mother, as wonderful a woman as she is, had a stretch of bad luck when it came to choosing men.  When I was about 4, she married an ex-Marine named Ron.  He was a vicious man, and meted out harsh punishment to anyone around him who didn’t immediately do his bidding or who neglected to follow his rules to the letter.  When I say “harsh punishment,” allow me to elucidate.

When I was about six, part of my chores was to empty all of the garbage cans and ashtrays in the house.  One evening, as I was making my rounds, I needed to get to the garbage can under Ron’s desk.  Ron was at his HAM radio, as he often was during the evenings, chain smoking and drinking.  In his own special way, Ron told me that he was busy and to come back later by swinging his slab-of-beef backhand into my chest, knocking me backward across the room.  I took the hint, picked myself up and continued my work in the other rooms of the house.  My 8:00 bedtime came and I hit the sack before Ron finished up on the radio.   Late that night, I was awakened in the wee hours by being physically dragged off my bunk – you got it, the top one – and through the house until being flung under Ron’s desk.  I had broken the rules by not emptying the trashcan.  My punishment for this heinous crime was being grounded to my bed for an entire day, then to my room for a week.  I was also forced to write something like “I will empty the garbage cans when I am told” a thousand times.  Yes, a thousand.  At the end of the week, Ron decided it would be great fun to make me pack my clothes in a suitcase and tell me that I was being sent to military school.  He kept up the joke right to the front door, then laughed at me.  Good times, good times.  This is the same guy who, at my seventh birthday party and with a large group of friends and family looking on, presented me with a wrapped gift that turned out to be a jumbo can of ALPO.  For those of you who are younger or never had pets, that’s a brand of dog food.  I could go on and on with this kind of story, like the time he threatened to cut holes in my water wings when I was learning how to swim or when he knocked me off the stool because I wanted to cut up my own pancakes.

The next stepfather I had was Mike.  While not physically abusive, he was nevertheless a mean man whose favorite nickname for me was “Stupid.”  For a time, he even had me wondering if there was something wrong with me, and the people who told me that I was smart were just trying to make me feel better.  He took great care to criticize every single thing I did, making sure that I didn’t miss a syllable of the insults hurled my way.  Retard, moron, idiot, dumbass, and plenty of other less pleasant epithets were hurled at me on a regular basis.  It was after one of these friendly exchanges that I found myself in my room, looking at myself in the mirror, making that promise to myself.

I promised that I wouldn’t be like them, like the people who hurt others just for the fun of it or to feel better about themselves.  At school, I became the guy who befriended the outcasts, the kids who had no friends or who were picked on or who didn’t have the money to buy designer clothes (I didn’t, either).  I found myself standing up against bullies for kids I didn’t even know.  Fortunately, bullies tend to be all talk, and I never got my face pushed in for my efforts.  But I had had enough of seeing others victimized at the hands of the petty and the mean, and I decided that for the rest of my life, I would do everything I could to make sure that no one I knew was treated like that, at least not by me.

I’ve tried to keep that promise over the years.  I suppose that only my obituary will say whether I was truly able to.  In the next post or two, I’m going to explore how this promise made so long ago has shaped my outlook on life, and how the ups and downs of life had impacted this mission for the positive and the negative.  I’ll try to be as objective as one can be.  This is as much a learning experience for me as it is for the reader, I can assure you.  There are times when I don’t really know how I feel or what I think about something until it’s out on the page.  Maybe your insight into me will be as fresh as my own.  Here’s hoping that I can actually gain some, and here’s hoping doubly that I can maybe help someone else get a little, too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Notice The Invisible People

I was stumbling the other day and came across one of those ubiquitous lists of Rules for Life.  You know, the ones that are kind of funny and meaningful at the same time, and that get e-mailed to you about every other week.  I was chuckling through the list when one of them actually made me stop and think, which is something I don't do anywhere near enough.  The rule was this:

"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person."

I did some looking and found that this is a quote, attributable to humorist Dave Barry.  It's definitely a great point and seems simple enough, but it made me consider how I really treat the "invisible people" around me.  By "invisible," I mean the people that pop in and out of your day in various roles that, while critical, go largely unnoticed by the average person.

I used to have a family friend who, whenever she was at a restaurant, was an absolute terror to the wait staff.  It didn't matter what she ordered or how quickly it was brought, she was always dissatisfied.  This upstanding church member and highly trained educator would cajole, shout, belittle, gripe, grouse, complain and make an all around ass of herself, much to the embarrassment to all around her.  I doubt that she had any clue at all what others thought of her in this regard, and I doubt that she would care if she knew.

Here's the thing: whether the person on your periphery is a waitress or waiter at a restaurant, the clerk at your local gas station, or a person working in the same building as you who you see in the hallway a couple times a week, that person, for all intents and purposes, is you.  What do I mean by that?  Simply that to countless masses, you are just some anonymous human that some other very important individual may or may not notice while he or she is on his or her important way to doing important things.  My point is this: we're all important, and we're all nobodies.  But if we treat others like they matter -and they do- it makes life just a little bit better for them and, in turn, for us.

So take an extra couple of seconds out of your busy, very important day to get to know the name of that unnamed person who greets you at your local mega discount store.  Tell that person your name.  It might just make his or her day.  Your life will be enriched, too, I promise you.  Oh, and leave a big, fat tip at the restaurant.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -Plato