Monday, December 31, 2012

Ring Out the Old!

"I don't know half of you half as well as I would like,
and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve!"
-- Bilbo Baggins, addressing guests at his eleventy-first birthday party.

As I write this, the year 2012 is less than four hours from over. The traditional steak and cheese sandwich has been eaten. The black-eyed peas are soaking for tomorrow's dinner, and we are in for a relaxed evening. It is time to reflect, look back, and remember. On the whole, 2012 was a good year. 

As mentioned previously, I almost met my objective of publishing one post per week to this blog.  It remains a reachable objective for the coming year.

After 30 years at the same address, we saw our way clear and remodeled the kitchen and two bathrooms.  The change is dramatic enough to make me wonder if I'm in the right house every time I come home.  There are still projects to do, but the big ones are done. We're enjoying our "new" house.

In 2012, we spent a weekend in Ocean City, MD with my high school classmates. While there, I woke up and said "I think I'll go para sailing!" and para sailing we went! It was indescribably wonderful -- the view, the far horizon, the silence. I was sorry when they reeled me in at the end of the ride.  Can't wait to do it again!

I also now find myself married to a bionic woman, as my wife had a hip replaced. During her recovery, I became Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (CCBW) and discovered I like it. More importantly, I also discovered that we are surrounded by a large community of friends and caring people. We are, among all people, most richly blessed.

In 2012, we said goodbye to friends, classmates, and more than one person who helped form my character and make me who I am. The world is diminished by their passing, yet they all remain alive in the memories of our hearts. Getting old means having to say goodbye.

We made two mission trips to the mountains of western North Carolina to repair houses, plant and harvest crops, and most importantly, to renew and add friendships.  Few things compare to the beauty of a crisp mountain morning.  And few compare to good feeling of tired after accomplishing a needed task.  

We visited New Orleans for the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Annual Reunion where I learned from my flying buds that apparently I am writing a book. Stay tuned for more of that. Although forty or more years have passed since we were there, the Pink Panthers remain a unique unit.  Of the three kinds of people that flew helicopters in Vietnam, I am proud to have been one of those who were honored to be Pink Panthers.

If any year has a theme, 2012 is characterized by friendships. Friendship new, and friendship deepened.  Friendship renewed after half a century, and friendships budding over days, weeks, and months. The song that says "I get by with a little help from my friends" is wrong. I get by because of my friends.  And those friends include you.  Whether you come here regularly or just happen to stumble on to this blog, and it touches you, you are my friend.

In 2013, I resolve to become the kind of friend each of my friends would be proud to have.

Will you join me?




   


Friday, December 28, 2012

Time for a Change

Tis the season of good intentions.  As the old year passes and a new one takes its place many will pause to take stock of where they are, to plan where they want to be, and to commit to actions that will move them from one condition to the other.  Some call it making New Year's Resolutions.  Others call it "setting goals". Others call it "doing an annual review" or "visioning" or "planning". But, by whatever name, they will do it.

This year, thousands of people will, with the best of all intentions resolve to "loose weight" or to "get in shape" or to acquire this or that skill.  And, as the coming year draws to a close, many of those same people will again resolve to "loose weight" or to "get in shape" or to acquire this or that skill, having done nothing to move from where they were (and still are) to where they want to be, or to do what they want to do.

Perhaps, their goals are too ill-defined. It's easy to say "I will lose weight".  It's difficult to say "I will loose ten pounds by June 15th and commit to taking the steps necessary to make it happen.  It's easy to say "I will get in shape".  It's difficult to say "I will run a marathon (or a half marathon, or a 5K) in September" and then commit to doing the training needed to make the dream a reality.

We are told that, to be effective, our goals must be "smart", that is Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  In other words, for each big, hairy, and audacious thing one wants to accomplish, one must be able to state specifically what is to be accomplished, how success will be determined or measured, which very specific actions must be taken when to ensure success, and finally when the effort will be complete.

For example, last year, I challenged myself and invited you to join with me and end world hunger. The SMART Goal came out something like "In 2012, I will work to end world hunger, one meal at at time. Every time I go to COSTCO, I will buy one extra food item and donate it to the local food bank. Additionally,  when given the opportunity, I will deliver food from the local food bank to the hungry in my community.

So, how'd I do? Not perfect, but better than I expected. Three or four times, I forgot to buy the food, but that's it.  I think I'll keep the same goal this year with the hope of getting it right.

There were other goals, each with one or two concrete actions to accomplish them, and all with measurable outcomes and standards for judging success. This year, there will be more.

The old year is ending. Behold, the new year has come.

Where do you want to be this time next year?

How do you plan to get there?

It's time to roll up the sleeves and get started.



Friday, December 14, 2012

The Face of Evil

This is not the post I wanted to write this week. That post was overcome by events, about which I am compelled to comment.

As I write this, the talking heads on the television are reporting and speculating about an act of horror in Newtown, CT. Apparently, a gunman, someone known to the school, walked into a kindergarten classroom and started shooting. As of this time, twenty children, mostly five and six years old are dead as are seven adults, including the shooter. It was an act of pure evil.

I am angered and saddened by this event. As a parent, I mourn with the parents, grandparents, and families of the dead. As a human being, I am angered.

I am angered by media circus precipitated by the event. The ghouls are already interviewing children, asking them to describe what they saw and what happened. Such things should not be. I know if it bleeds, it leads, but show some decency. Please, allow those who escaped to grieve for their dead.

I am angered and saddened that President and other national and local officials have too quickly resolved to take definitive action to prevent such events for ever happening again. I am frightened by potential actions they could take. We hardly know the perpetrator. How can we know the appropriate action? But, government typically over reacts and, to the political mind, it's a crime to let a good tragedy or crisis go to waste.

In coming weeks, we will hear of proposed and real changes to policies, laws, and regulations. And we will know, even before they are put into effect that these policies, laws, and regulations will be ineffective because the problem is not a failure of policy, law, or regulation.  The problem is a failure of morals.

Apparently, in modern society, rage justifies murder, even the murder of innocents.

Apparently, being slighted is an excuse for violence.

Apparently, being angry, hurt, or offended are perfectly valid reasons to end someone else's life.

Apparently, an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth is insufficient.  Apparently only a life or multiple lives are sufficient to pay for an eye, for a tooth, or for making someone angry.

Apparently, there is no need for anyone restrain their reaction to a real or imagined injury..

Where is the voice that says "You shall not murder"?

Where is the voice that says "Why not rather be wronged?", the voice that says "Forgive your enemies", the voice that says "Forgive and you will be forgiven."?

Where is the voice saying "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"?

Where and in which school are these truths taught and who teaches them?

We have today looked into the face of evil. In the future, maybe as soon as tomorrow, each of us will decide how we will counter it.

What will you do when you look into the face of evil?

How will you overcome evil with good?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sixteen Tons

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store.
 -- from the Song "Sixteen Tons"
as sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Merchants call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" for a reason since it marks the day that stores  traditionally go from operating "in the red" or at a deficit to "in the black" or at a profit. Not coincidentally, Black Friday also marks the official beginning of the season of consumer excess called "Holiday Shopping." 

For consumers, rather than marking the return to profitability, Black Friday marks the return to indebtedness. The old joke is that on Black Friday, we stop being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past -- the bills for the last holiday season -- so that we can begin being haunted by the ghost of Christmas Presents -- new bills run up to pay for current season.

Sadly, some continue to be haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past long past the Christmas Presents and well beyond Christmas Future as new bills are added to the unpaid balances which were added to the unpaid balances of holidays past. Like the proponent in the song, the modern consumer continually digs himself deeper and deeper in debt until he "owes his soul", if not to the company store, at least to the credit company.

It is written somewhere that, when you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Refuse to yield power to the ghost of Christmas Past. Remember, although it may spend like cash, credit is debt, and debt haunts the future. "Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul..."

Scale back. Get creative. Make some gifts. Buy local. Pay cash. Don't dare use credit. And remember, the point is let the recipient know "I love you", or "I'm thinking of you" or "I appreciate what you do." It's not about you saying "I am the greatest" and it's not about buying love..

I challenge you to find, for every person on your list, the one gift that can perfectly express your thoughts without using credit.  

So, what is that perfect something? 

How will you not spend next year haunted by the ghost of Christmas Past?




  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving: It's a Tradition!



Today dawned bright and frosty. Early sun on frost and morning mist united to turn the world to gold. Temperatures were crisp without being cold. It is Thanksgiving in Virginia and, as much or more than any other place in the nation, thanksgiving runs deep in Virginia.

Nearly four-hundred years ago 38 English settlers arrived at Berkely Hundred, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown on the north bank of the James River. When they arrived, they celebrated a "day of thanksgiving" to God as required by their Charter. Captain John Woodlief held the service and proclaimed at the time "We ordaine [sic] that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon [sic] in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God".

At this first Thanksgiving, history records neither turkey nor feasting nor Indians, but a service of "thanksgiving to Almighty God." The genesis of traditions of turkey and feasting with the Indians begin with the Puritan Separatists three years later in Massachusetts. Other traditions have been added over the years.

When I was a boy our family had certain Thanksgiving traditions, If you were a man or a boy, Thanksgiving was a day for hunting small fierce rabbits. Dad's friends would come early with their dogs and we'd hunt the fields from before the frost lifted until early afternoon. Sometimes, we'd even get something. Always, it was a good time, and something for which to be thankful..

Then there was the family meal at the home place. The wood stove was well-stoked and the smells of cooking filled the large eat-in kitchen. Grandma presided, but most of the work (and all of the silliness) was provided by Aunt Pat and Aunt Elsie. Uncle Ed usually brought the turkey, stuffing, and other delicacies from "The Banker's Club" in New York where he worked.

I don't remember where the pies came from, but vividly remember my aunts giggling and going on and on about the mince pie because "It's got liquor in it!"

An finally, there was mealtime around the Grandma's table. With all five leaves inserted, there was scarcely room for all of us, but we squeezed in and enjoyed the food, the silliness, and the time together. And for this I am thankful.

Today, I own Grandma's table and all five leaves. Last Thanksgiving, my family, kids and grand kids gathered around it and discovered we now need an extension to seat us all, even if we squish in.As in long years past, we gathered to enjoy the food, the silliness, and the time together. And to give thanks.

It's a tradition.

What do you most remember of past Thanksgivings?

What traditions do you treasure and hope to continue?

For what are you particularly thankful this year?



Friday, November 9, 2012

For Us, the Living

It is for us the living
rather to be dedicated...

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke "a few appropriate words" at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On that day, the ability of the United States to survive as one nation remained in doubt.

In his words, Lincoln spoke of dedication. He spoke of a new birth of freedom. And he expressed hope that this government "of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

The nation has engaged numerous wars since the days of Lincoln, each more terrible than the last. When war ended, we buried our dead and hastened the return of those who survived the battle to civilian life, not realizing that they are forever changed from what they were. Indistinguishable when they left, they came home different. 

They left as sons and daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers.  They returned as veterans. Some came back with bodies mangled by man's instruments of destruction, others with minds mangled by horrors they had seen, experienced, and survived. Most look and act much as they did when they left. But they remain different. They are veterans, formed in the crucible of service, forged in the fires of combat, and tempered by experience.. 

It is written that "You have never lived until you have almost died. To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."

Veterans know the flavor of freedom, and its cost. Once, they offered their lives for it. Most would do it again.

This Veterans' Day, it falls to us to rededicate ourselves, that this nation might have a new birth in freedom so dearly purchased by those who bore the brunt of battle..  

We owe it to them.

How will we demonstrate that dedication?

How will we bring about the new birth?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Of Faith, Trust, and Honor

"I am an American Soldier...
I will never leave a fallen comrade..."
from "The Soldier's Creed"

A creed is a statement of faith, an authoritative statement of the chief things one believes. A creed sets forth what one believes in statements that are easy to recite and remember. The statements of a creed are compromised only with risk. Holding to a creed is a matter of faith, a matter of trust, and a matter of honor.

As a soldier, I hold to the soldiers' creed, which sets forth the following articles of faith:  
  • I will always place the mission first
  • I will never accept defeat
  • I will never quit
  • I will never leave a fallen comrade.
These statements are embedded in the blood and bones of those who have and continue to serve. They are the bedrock of our character.  

Those who have never served will neither consider nor understand the dedication required to live these four simple statements. Those who have, consider them minimum standards of acceptable behavior. 

Those who presume to command would do well to know and act in accord with these four simple statements. Credibility as a leader demands it. Regardless of other accomplishments, failure to act in accord with these statements marks one as an object of everlasting contempt.

As more becomes known of the details surrounding the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, of the murder of a US Ambassador and the deaths of three other Americans, it becomes increasingly apparent that the core statements of the Soldiers' Creed ring hollow in the higher echelons of the Department of Defense and the National Government.

To state that the murder of Americans "is not optimal" denigrates their sacrifice. To refer to the incident as "a bump in the road" shows callous disregard for those left behind. And to deny available support to those fighting for their very lives shows extreme cowardice in the face of the enemy.

Americans don't abandon Americans in combat or mortal danger. Americans go after and bring out their own.  

It's the right thing to do. 

To an American, such actions are an article of faith. 

They are a sacred trust. 

They are a matter of honor. 

It's how we live.

What core beliefs form your being?

How do you live because of them?





Saturday, October 27, 2012

Useful New Word


I love words. My children will tell you that I am inveterate user of large words and player of word games. I come by it naturally. Both of my parents were readers who read to me and encouraged me to read.  They also made sure that I was provided with a more than ample supply of reading material.

When I was bored, I was told "Go get a book from the encyclopedia. Find something you like, read about it and come tell me what you read. Sometimes, rather than the encyclopedia, I would page through the dictionary. 

Thus began my love of language, of vocabulary, of words.

Over the years, I learned that English has the largest vocabulary -- the largest number of words -- of any language in the world. Therefore, I firmly believe that, in English, there must be exactly one word to precisely state any idea with all of the subtle nuances of meaning of which we Americans are so fond. My goal, sometimes reached, is to find and use those words.

Thus, I am pleased to announce the advent of a new word, perfect for describing the political process. According to Google, it was originally discovered on a T shirt on eBay. 

The word is "ineptocracy", defined as follows:
Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc'-ra-cy): (noun) a system of government where those least capable to lead are elected by those least capable of producing; and, where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.
Finally, a word to precisely describe our current political situation!

I love this word and believe that it will become a recognized part of the US English language. As a student of language, I encourage you to use and make it a regular part of the ongoing political discourse.

Ineptocracy! A word whose time has come.

How will you slip this new word into polite conversation next week?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autumn Comfort

When I find myself in time of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me.
Bearing foods of comfort, 
Mac and cheese.
(Mac and cheese)
                                             (with apologies to John Lennon)

Autumn brings cool temperatures, short days, longer nights, and the urge to hibernate. With the change of seasons comes an appetite for foods that give the eater a feeling of warmth and well being.  We call these comfort foods. Most of these foods are high in carbs and calories, flavors and fat. There are no finer foods in the world.  

We all have our own comfort foods, most remembered fondly from childhood, foods like.  

Meatloaf and mashed pototoes (with lot of gravy!).
Pot roast with vegetables.
Hot dogs with mac and cheese, and its cousins beefaroni and chili mac.
Beef stew.
Tomato soup with grilled cheese or vegetable soup with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches..
Porcupine pie with tomato sauce.

For my wife, pasta and red sauce are essential ingredients. 

For me, all of the above leave me feel well fed, comfortable and ready to hibernate..

Ben Franklin once observed that "Wine is God's way of saying He loves us and wants us to be happy."

I now say that comfort food is God's way of saying He loves us and wants us to feel warm despite the chill of autumn.

So, what is your favorite comfort food?

When will you eat it next?







  




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Memorial


The day after labor day in 1950, my mother took me to a place called school and left me in all alone in a room full of strange kids. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had just joined Damascus High School Class of 1963..  

We were a small class, numbering sixty-five or so on that day in 1950 and slightly less than seventy at graduation. Many, like me, were part of the class for the duration.  Others joined later. Some left early, but are still members.  And some even left for a while and came back. 

Somehow, over the course of those years, we became family. Like all families, we worked together, played together, laughed together, cried together, and even fought and scrapped with each other. And through those shared experiences, as much as through the academics we were taught, we were transformed from children to reasonably responsible and productive adult members of society.

During those years, bonds were formed that continue to this day. For most of us, those are bonds of mutual respect and friendship.  

Much water has passed over the dam in the forty-nine years since we proudly received our diplomas. Twelve of our classmates have passed and are no more. With their  passage, we are all diminished.  

Yet we remember.

We remember so many announcements calling for Paul to report to one or another of the administrative offices that it became fashionable to ask why the administrators did not report to Paul's office instead.

We remember Donnie storming out of 8th Grade English Class and sending himself to the principal's office.  

We remember Carl's little green sports car and perfect flat top haircut, Charles' wide smiles and "Cool List"', Anna's take-charge attitude and cackling laugh, and so much more.

These people were among our oldest friends and we miss them. We may go to them, but they can never return to us.

In the otherwise forgettable movie "The Long Voyage Home", John Wayne tells a young lady why he remembers the names of two men interred in lonely graves on a deserted island "The islanders have a belief that a person lives as long as his name is remembered. They were good men. They deserve that."

And so we choose remember our classmates.

Paul, 
Karen,
Carl,
Joy,
Charlie,
Carson,
Doris,
Russ,
Anna,
Donnie,
Bob, and
Dick.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

--Robert Laurence Binyan


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Day the World Changed



The day began as did most of my days with sound of the alarm clock at 4:45.  Forty minutes later, showered, shaved, and with coffee in hand, I was out the door and on my way to the park and ride.

It was a beautiful morning. I took the 6:10 bus to my cubical in a windowless office on the ground floor of the Pentagon and began my day shortly after seven.

At eight o'clock, we assembled in the Colonel's office for staff call. Half-way through the status reports the building was jolted as if by an explosion.  We didn't realize it at the time, but our world had been suddenly and irrevocably changed.

There was conversation.  

"What was that?" 
"It felt like blast over pressure."
"It did. I haven't felt anything like that since the night they blew up the Pleiku ammo dump."
"I heard that someone ran an airplane into the World Trade Center."
"It was two planes. The second one hit right before we came in."
"You don't suppose someone did something here?"
"Maybe we should see what happened."

I moved to my desk and began shutting down my computer.  Someone opened the door.  The hall was full of smoke. We realized "Yeah. Maybe we should be getting out of here." 

Remembering what countless elementary school teachers had said about fire drills -- don't stop; don't go back for anything -- I left the computer behind and walked out the door, away from the smoke and out of the building.

Only later did we learn that the Pentagon had been hit by an airplane. Only then did we recognize that the world had been changed.

When I went to work that day, my nation and the world were at peace. Before I got home we were at war.

I went to work believing in goodness. I returned having experienced evil.

I went to work not doubting I would return home when work was done. Nearly 4000 of my fellow citizens probably thought likewise, only to have their lives ended in an act of coldly premeditated malice.  

I went to work not considering the means by which one people can inflict terror on another. I returned outraged at the atrocity I had witnessed. And, since anger is the appropriate response to outrage, I returned from work angry and eager to see justice done..

Eleven years have passed since the day the world changed. Time has done little to assuage my outrage.  An atrocity, even after eleven years, remains an atrocity. Time has allowed me give up my expectation and hope of retribution and get on with life. In some quarters, that probably counts as forgiveness. 

How about you?

Where were you the day the world changed?

How has it affected you personally?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Good Thing




Forty-six years ago, I stood in front of a church as the most beautiful girl in the world walked down the aisle to join her hand and life to mine.

Nothing has been the same since.

We were both young. It is no esaggeration when I call her my teenaged bride.

No one expected us to make it. We were told that statistics were against us. We didn't care. Rather, with optimism fueled by youthful infatuation, we determined to be the exception.   

Neither of us knew exactly what we were getting into, but were determined to get into it and go through it together.  

Neither of us in our wildest imagination could have forseen college, flight school, ten years of active military service, one war followed by nine months of recovery, cancer, Pink Panthers, four children, eight grand children, numerous grand dogs, and nineteen addresses including thirty years at a single address in the same community. 

When we married, neither of us thought that we could love each other more, or that life could get any better.  We were both wrong.

Today, I can only look back in wonder at the last forty-six years. They went by so fast, and are not nearly enough.

To those who knew us and were there forty-six years ago, thank you. You are very dear to us.

To those of you whom we've met since then, thank you for being part of it all. You have enriched our lives immeasureably.

And to my teenaged bride of forty-six years I say, "I'm still not sure exactly what I'm getting into, but I want to get into it with you.  And I know it will be wonderful."

It is written that "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD."

I am, among men, most richly blessed.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Green Leaves of Summer


Green leaves of Summer;
Memories of times long past
and fields of my youth.
 
The green leaves of summer in the fields of my youth were the leaves of six acres of mature tobacco plants awaiting harvest beginning in mid August.. 

Known as housing tobacco, harvest meant long days in the fields and barns getting the crop in the house. I remember the pop and snort of the tractor taking us to the field, the rhythm of bending the plant over and cutting it off low to the ground with a single whack of the cutter and then moving on to the next plant.  I remember how to stack the cut plants so they were easy to pick up and how to load them on the wagon without breaking the leaves. 

I remember the feel of the sun on my neck and often shirtless back. Sweat got in my eyes. Tobacco gum, the incomparably bitter sap of the plant, got all over everything, sometimes so much that I could stand my jeans in the corner for the night. And the taste got in my mouth. Only a ripe tomato filched from a vine on the edge of the field could get rid of it. 

Only in retrospect do I realize how good it all was, how important those times were and will ever remain.
 
As the song says

"It was good to be young then,
To be close to the earth,
And the green leaves of Summer
Are calling me home."  
 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

An Attitude to Finish With

It has long been written you should never buy a car built on either a Monday or a Friday. The logic is on Monday, too many  workers are recovering from the weekend to do their best work and on Friday, too many are slacking off in anticipation of the weekend.  Quality surveys at the time tended to bear this out.  Popular knowledge said that cars produced on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday had the least problems and lasted longest..

In our culture that Wednesday is widely referred to as "hump day".  On hump day the work-week is precariously balanced -- half done, and half to be completed.

On Wednesday afternoon, we are free to release some of the pressure to perform that drives our early efforts and begin what many refer to as "that long pleasant slide into the weekend". By quitting time Friday, when we finally shut down, our minds have already been out the front door for half a day.

Such an attitude assumes that we work five days a week so that we can truly live the other two.  As a result, we coast through the week and through life doing less than our best, wondering why we fail to excel. We also end up enduring rather than living a large fraction of our existence.

Rather than looking at Wednesday as the beginning of a long slide into the weekend, why not look on it as the beginning of a final sprint to the finish line? Runners in competition know the value of the final sprint or "kick" at the end of the race.  Depending on the competition, the strength and duration of one's kick may mean the difference between a medal and finishing in the middle of the pack.

Starting well is important, but one can make up for a less than optimal start.

Continuing strong is important. It keeps one in contention for the finish.

But a good kick, a strong final sprint at the finish is required to become a champion.

And, a strong kick is a matter of attitude.

So, how are you spending your life?

Are you well into that long slide to whatever comes next or are you sprinting to attain the prize?

The choice is yours.

Friday, July 20, 2012

High Riding Heroes

My heroes have always been cowboys,
And they still are, it seems.
Sadly in search of and one step in back of 
Themselves, and their slow movin' dreams.
--  as sung  by Waylon Jennings and  Willie Nelson

I grew up in the 1950s during the decline of radio and the rise of television as the family home entertainment medium of choice.  Consequently, I developed an appreciation for the offerings of both media.  

As she worked during the afternoons, my mom would listen to soap operas such as our "Our Gal Sunday" (Can a girl from a simple mining town in the west find happiness with one of England's most titled Lords?), The Romance of Helen Trent (proving that romance can begin at thirty-five.), and others. 

Shortly after four PM, the programming changed and soap operas gave way to programs designed to entertain the kids when they got home from school before the family sat down to supper.  Sponsorship changed from soap, detergent, and home products to breakfast cereals.  The theme of the shows shifted from modern romance to tales of high adventure and great good deeds. Lead characters were no longer women seeking happiness and romance but strong men striving to carve out and civilize a place in the American West. 

When I got home from school, after the chores were done, I would sit and soak up the adventures of Wild Bill Hickock and his sidekick Jingles P. Jones, of Sky King, the Arizona rancher who flew an airplane while maintaining law and order on his large Arizona ranch.  I would eagerly follow the adventures of Straight Arrow, the crime-fighting alter ego of rancher Steve Adams, and, moving north, of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, sworn to bring in the lawless and maintain the right.

After supper and the news with Lowell Thomas, the entire family would listen to the adventures of The Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho, followed by The Lone Ranger. 

Much of my character and many of my values were imparted to me by these mostly fictional heroes. They lived in a world that never existed and did great deeds that never took place in history.  Yet, from them I learned values that remain eternally real.  

I learned to be truthful. The bad guy was usually a liar.

I learned to be honest.  The bad guy usually cheated at cards and sometimes got shot because of it.

I learned to be honorable.  The good guy always carried through on his commitments, even when he was alone, and no matter what it cost him.

I learned to be loyal.  The good guy always stood with and never deserted his friends.

I learned to be courteous, to answer when spoken to, to listen without butting in and to treat others as I would want to be treated.

And I learned to be kind.  The good guy never mistreated his animals or those who couldn't defend themselves.

And I learned that life itself is an adventure that will find you if you let it.

Fictionalized heroes in fictional situations living real values: who would have thought it?

To whom or what do you attribute your values, your character?

How's that working for you?







Saturday, July 7, 2012

Simpler Times?

Shortly after ten PM on Friday evening, 29 June 2012, 80 mile per hour winds of the June 2012 Derecho knocked out electrical power in our community and those around us. We awoke on Saturday morning to a world decidedly different than the one we had awakened to a scant 24 hours before.

There would be no fresh brewed coffee; the coffee maker requires electricity.  Neither would there be any fresh perked coffee since the stove is also electric.  Unless I chose to drag out the camp stove, there would there be no bacon, eggs, or even oatmeal due to lack of a heat source. Thank goodness city water and sewer allowed the water to continue to run and the toilets to continue to flush.

Land line phones were out and cellular service spotty due to storm damage.  Wireless phones require electricity even even when attached to the land line.  Internet service via the iPad was so slow and unreliable that I shut it down to save battery.

In short, our thoroughly modern community five miles from Washington Dulles Airport and thirty miles outside our nation's capital was forced to cope with the limitations of what our nineteenth and early twentieth-century ancestors would have called every day life.  Without power, our options were limited.

The community in which I grew up had been electrified less than fifteen years when I was born.  During my boyhood, we had neighbors who lived without electricity, mostly for fear of fire and electrocution.  Somehow, they never quite made the connection between coal oil lamps and fire hazards.  Oil lamps were a familiar hazard. Electricity was a great unknown and prone to fail during summer and winter storms.

My grandmother cooked on a wood stove four seasons of the year.  So did my mother until 1953 when Dad bought her a stove that used liquid propane as its fuel.  He chose gas because electric power was unreliable and cooking and eating were important even when the power was out.

At my Grand Dad's house, water was pumped by hand and carried to the kitchen in a bucket.  A good friend's family dipped their water from a nearby spring.  Our electric pump provided cold water to the kitchen as long as the power was on; during power outages, we hauled water pumped from my grand parents' well in ten gallon milk cans.


Water for washing was heated on the kitchen stove summer and winter.  There was no shower; the bathtub was made by Wheeling Steel, hung on a nail on the back porch and was dragged in at bath time.  We learned early how to take a sponge bath. 


There was no bathroom. The "necessary facility" was an outhouse which required a walk, or else a chamber pot that had to be emptied daily.  People back then dealt with a lot of mess and smells with which people today are entirely unfamiliar. 


There was no central heat and no air conditioning, but houses were designed with windows to take advantage of whatever cooling breezes there were.  When it was hot, we slowed down, drank lots of water, and stayed in the shade as much as possible. When it was cold, we put on extra layers, piled extra quilts on the bed, and built the fire a bit hotter in the stove.

Some would say that times were simpler back then.  And, when viewed through one lens, they were.  But that simplicity required more knowledge, more skills, and more labor than we are used to expending today.  In those times, these now antiquated skills were a normal part of life, necessary for comfort and survival, learned and practiced almost from the time one could walk.  


Today, we learn, practice, and rely on different skills for our comfort and survival.  Today, our twenty-first century houses and facilities are ill designed or equipped to support a nineteenth century lifestyle for more than a short time.  Yet, when the power goes out, we are returned to the capabilities of the nineteenth century and must make do with that which is. 


When the power goes out, I wonder how well my life skills match up to those of my grand parents and great grand parents.

How well do yours?

How would you make do and survive an extended period without power?

What would you have to do differently in order to thrive in such an environment?

















Monday, July 2, 2012

Independence Day

"Let freedom ring.
Let the white bird sing.
Let the whole world know that today 
Is a day of remembering...
Roll the stone away
Let the guilty pay;
It's Independence Day!"
 (from "Independence Day, as sung by Martina McBride)

June of 1776 was hot in Philadelphia where representatives of thirteen English-speaking colonies on the North American Continent were "in Congress Assembled".  The curtains were drawn lest the content of their deliberations would be reported to the King's authorities and they be charged with treason.  The windows were also closed, adding to the general stuffiness and discomfort of the delegates.  In the absence of modern sanitation, the city swarmed with so many flies that a motion to open a window was staunchly opposed because it would admit too many.

The delegates were among the leading citizens of their colonies, among them John Adams and John Hancock of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Caesar Rodney of Delaware, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll of Maryland, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and Lyman Hall of Georgia. 

They were planters, they were trades persons, they were businessmen and merchants. And they were met to petition his Majesty, the King of England, for redress of certain grievances, the chief of which were taxes arbitrarily imposed on them by a far-away crown before whom they had no official representation.

Some wished to to restore harmony with the mother country.  Others favored dissolving all bonds with England.  

After much debate an more than a few false starts, a committee was formed to draft a declaration of "independency."  The result, mostly written by Thomas Jefferson begins with the words "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another" and continues to speak of self-evident truths:  "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

These were radical ideas.

The rights of citizens are inalienable rather than granted as favors by a capricious ruler?  Radical!

Citizens have a right to live freely and pursue their own interests rather than those of their liegelord? Radical!

Governments are formed to secure the rights of the citizenry rather than the privileges of the chosen few? Radical!

Governments are to derive their power from the consent of those governed rather than the divine right of kings?  Radical!

Citizens have the right and even have the duty to abolish an oppressive government and then to form a new government based on principals that seem good to the citizens themselves rather than what seems good to some distant monarch?  Unspeakably radical, treasonous, and revolutionary.

By assenting to these ideas, by declaring all things connecting the thirteen colonies to the mother country dissolved, and by claiming for themselves the rights of independent states, those who signed the declaration were committing treason against the English Crown.  Yet they approved, and signed.  Each one signing pledged for the support of the Declaration, with a firm reliance on divine providence, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. 

Independence day isn't only about fireworks and picnics and dogs and burgers and beer.  It's about radical ideas.  It's about self evident truths and inalienable rights and duties. It's about pledging your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor.

How radical are you?

How do you claim your inalienable rights?

Are you willing to join the signers and pledge, for the support of this Declaration, your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor?











Friday, June 22, 2012

To Live Better


A television add for one of the local shopping centers recently featured the slogan

Buy MORE!
Live BETTER! 

It's a great slogan built solidly on the foundation that enough is good, more is better, and too much is just about right. After all, we live in the land of Sam's Club, the Walmart Super Center and Mall of the Americas where getting more is a sport and shopping has attained the entertainment value of a trip to Vegas. Who can resist the idea that more of this, that, or the other will make us happier?

So, we buy more and more until our closets, our basements, our garages, and our dwelling places are packed and we have long since lost track of exactly what we have. At this point, we go out and rent storage so we can pack away even more stuff, and then go out and acquire even more. Is this not madness?

Lacking cash, we eagerly slap down plastic to get what we want RIGHT NOW.  Or we sign a paper, and pledge future earnings to obtain something NOW.  We willingly trade future freedom for debt and debt for immediate stuff until debt has absorbed our freedom and we can no longer acquire more debt or more stuff.  Is this too not madness?

The problem with dancing all night always comes when it's time to pay the piper.  The problem with buying more to live better is that sooner or later the bills must be paid. 

I have reached that season of life where more stuff and new stuff have become increasingly less important.  I'm discovering that stuff that was useful once now sits in the back basement, out of sight and out of mind. I'm discovering too many almost "new" items packed away in same the boxes in which they came from the factory, used once or twice and then set aside, their purchase price a tax on my own stupidity.  If I don't look at it or use it, why have it?

After the greater part of a lifetime, I'm discovering that stuff is not what makes me happy and that buying more to live better is a lie.  I'm discovering that buying and having less gives me more -- more money, more space, more time, more freedom, and more enjoyment of what I have.

Living better can't be bought, but must be earned.  Really living better is not about stuff, but about people and relationships.

I can't buy friendship, but more and closer and better friends make my life better.

I can't buy cheerfulness and good will, but I can practice having more of both, and that practice makes my life better.

I can't buy a positive attitude, but I can practice being positive, and live better because of it.

Life is not about the stuff I can buy. Life is about things and qualities that can never be bought, but must be planted, cultivated, and grown.

What do you have that you don't use?

What do you really need in order to live better?

Is it something you can buy, or must it be cultivated?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wisdom from my Dad

Dads don't show very well in the entertainment media of late. Father figures like Robert Young of Father Knows Best, Ben Cartwright of Bonanza and even Dr. Cliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show have been replaced by a generation of TV dads whose purpose seems to be adding comic relief as a convenient foil for a strong female lead. Books like S--t My Dad Says and its spin-off TV Show, Stuff My Dad Says, also portray Dad as an illogical and inconsistent buffoon.

Let me state that my dad was my first and greatest hero.  Though neither rich nor educated past high school when it came to the business of living and making a life, Dad remains one of the wisest men I have ever known.

Dad was a farmer. His wisdom was the wisdom of the farm, things obvious to those who work the land but elusive to those who didn't.

I learned from Dad that there is a time to do everything and time doesn't wait for you.  You must act within it. There is a season for planting and a season to harvest.  Plant too early or late and your yield will be less.  Harvest too early or late and your yield will be limited and the quality of your product poor. "To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven."  Miss that time and miss out.

In a related area, work must be done when it is available to do. One harvest season, I asked Dad why we had to get up so early.  His reply was "We have to get up extra early so we can work extra late."  When I said "That doesn't make any sense," Dad said "It doesn't have to make sense. It's the way things are."  Crops and the seasons don't wait for people.  People have to put in the hours to work the crop as the season demands. It doesn't have to make sense. It just the way things are.

What you plant determines what you harvest. Plant wheat, harvest wheat. Plant corn, harvest corn.  Whatever you plant, you will also get weeds. Getting rid of weeds is a lot of work. But, to succeed at farming, you have to get rid of or at least control the weeds.

Work is honorable. One of my Dad's favorite sayings was "Whether you're digging ditches or directing a corporation, it's all food on the table."  In Dad's world, putting food on the family table and keeping a roof over the family's head gave work dignity and gave the worker honor. What was done was not nearly as important as the results: food on the table, a roof overhead.  To keep both was the true measure of success. To keep doing it day after day, season after season, and year after year was worthy of the highest respect.

The highest complement my Day could pay anyone was "He'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it," which went well with my Mom's "Put another cup of water in the soup. Company's coming.!"  You may not have much, but you always have enough to share. And you always share what you have, not because it's good, but because it's the right thing to do.

From my Dad, I learned that wisdom is not complicated.  Doing the wise thing is usually very simple.

There is a time for everything. Do it then.

What you plant determines what you will harvest, both on the farm an in life.

It takes a lot of work to stay weed free, but you have to do it if you expect a yield.

Work is honorable. Work that puts food on the table is the most honorable of all.  Nothing can diminish that honor. You have to do the work when the work needs to be done no matter how long it takes.

And, one never has so little he cannot share.

Wisdom from my Dad; it has become part of me, and through me, of my children.

What wisdom from your Dad has become part of you?

What are you doing to pass it down to your children?
 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Freedom's Just Another Word

"Freedom's just another word
For nothin' left to lose.
Nothin' ain't worth nothin
But it's free!"
                      -- Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobbie McGee


What is freedom?


Does Kristofferson have it right or wrong? Is freedom really just another word for nothing left to lose? Or is it something else?  

Freedom is about alternatives. Freedom is about choice.  Archibald MacLeish writes that "Freedom is the right to choose, the right to create for yourself the alternatives of choice.  Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice, a man is not a man, but a member, an instrument, a thing.

Another source paraphrases MacLeish as follows: "Freedom is the right of an individual to form alternatives, evaluate them, and to select from among them." 

Freedom is predicated on alternatives. Be wary of attempts to limit or exclude alternatives. Less alternatives mean less freedom. A single alternative allows no freedom at all. If I have no alternatives, I have no freedom.  

Freedom is predicated on being able to develop options and alternatives. Be wary of attempts to provide a limited menu of ready-made options. If I am not allowed to form alternatives, I have no freedom.  If I am not allowed to develop multiple alternatives, I am not free. 

Freedom is predicated on choice. Be very wary of those who would choose your preferred option for you.  If I am not allowed to select for myself from among alternatives, I have no freedom. Choices lead to actions, and actions provide outcomes. And those outcomes lead to the choices I have available today.

Rather than another word for nothing left to loose, freedom is another word for many things to choose, for the duty to form and select among alternatives and options available to you, and the responsibility, for better or worse, to own the outcome.

And, even when alternatives don't exist or are denied us, we have the choice of deciding how we will act and react. Even on the darkest of days, we are left a choice. Even in the darkest prison, we have this one freedom.

Consider yourself.

What options are available to you?

What are the likely outcomes of each?

Choose wisely and well, for in that choice is freedom.









  




Saturday, May 26, 2012

In Honored Glory


"Here rests, in honored Glory,
an American Soldier,
Known only to God"

Architecturally, it is a simple sarcophagus, crafted in white Vermont marble to stand atop a Virginia hill overlooking the Potomac River and Washington, DC.  It is also a place of special reverence to those who served in time of war and to their families. The words, graven deep into the marble say it all "Here rests, in honored glory, an American Soldier, known only to God."  

We know nothing about this soldier, not his name, his age or his background.  We know not whether he came from the country, a small town, or a teeming city.  We can't identify the unit he served with, whether he was married, single, or had a sweetheart.  And we know nothing of how his family mourned him when they heard he was lost and not coming home.  

We know only that he was an American who enlisted and served and whose life ended in battle somewhere in France during what was then called the Great War.

We know not if he was of great courage or a coward, but he has been awarded the Medal of Honor and  the highest military decorations of our allies for his actions.

"Here rests in honored glory, an American Soldier."  In a sense, he stands for all the American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, known and unknown, who gave their lives serving this nation.   

The resting places of many are well-marked by stones in countless church yards and national cemeteries.  The resting places of others are overgrown and forgotten by all except their Maker.  Some rest in the deeps of the ocean, and others amid a pile of scattered wreckage deep in the jungles of New Guinea or southeast Asia or any number of remote and often desolate places around the globe. 

The names of many have disappeared from the memories of men, but all rest in honored glory, and all are known to God.

Veterans' Day is a time to commemorate the living;  Memorial Day is a time remember and give thanks for the sacrifice of those who gave their country the last full measure of devotion.

How will you spend your Memorial Day?

How will you honor those who now rest in honored glory? 



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not Ready for the Rocking Chair

"My heart's not ready for the rocking chair."
    -- song by Martina McBride


Where I work, on major service anniversaries the employee gets to select an appropriate award. Thus, five years ago, after twenty-five years of service, I selected the traditional gold watch. This year, after thirty years of service, I selected the traditional "Boston Rocker". It was delivered this week and has already assumed a place in our living room. It's pretty to look at and sits very nice, but I'm not ready to assume a place there quite yet.

For some reason, rocking chairs have become symbolic of long service and pending retirement.  The porch at Grandma and Granddad's house had two rocking chairs side-by-side overlooking the road.  My grandparents would sit there on warm summer evenings and hold hands and talk and watch the world go by. I have fond memories of sitting there with them, but to assume their place in the rocking chair is not my nature. Maybe occasionally, once in a while, but not as a steady diet. My heart is not yet ready for the rocking chair. 

No, I'm still working on the lay-away plan, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and doing my best to be all that I am intended to be.

I may have slowed down a bit. Age does that, and, like an old horse, I may have been ridden hard and put away wet a few too many times. But slow doesn't mean stopped.  

My priorities may have subtly shifted. Age and events do that too. The mortgage is gone.  The kids are out of the house, each assuming his or here rightful place as a responsible and productive adult member of society. And grand kids are a whole different set of emphases and priorities. 

My curiosity and interests are wider and more varied than ever. I not only find myself doing new things, but enjoying familiar things more. Instead of asking "Why?" or "How", I increasingly find myself asking "Why not?"  

A mission trip to repair and paint widows' houses and plant potatoes? Why not? 

A raised-bed garden in the back yard? Why not? 

Serve on the board of a non-profit?  Why not?

Do more ham radio? Why not indeed?

Life is good. Life is full.  I may not have decided what I want to be when I grow up, but each day beckons me with near-infinite possibilities and I intend to take advantage of each and every one of them.

My heart is definitely not ready for the rocking chair. There's way too much interesting stuff out there; too much to discover and do.

Will you join me?

To what possibilities is your mind saying "Why not?"

Why not take advantage?

Why not indeed?








Saturday, May 12, 2012

Clouds from Both Sides


I have observed that
It's the clouds that give sunrise
Its brilliant colors.

And adversity
That gives life its character,
and people greatness.

For the past thirty years, my daily commute has followed much the same route.  In the morning, I drive east into the rising sun and in the evening I drive west. As a result, I have been allowed to witness half a life-time of sunrises, each one wonderful and each one different from the last.

Clear days begin with a graying in the east, followed by a pink, salmon, or orange pre-dawn and the emergence of the sun as a great red ball. Beautiful, but lacking interest; one crystal clear dawn appears much the same as any other.  Overcast and partly cloudy dawns, however, are brilliant. 

On even the most gloomy and overcast of mornings, dawn begins with a faint pink glow as the clouds reflect light from a sun not yet above the horizon. Sometimes, there is only a thread of color before silver light  increases into a gray morning.  However, on days when the overcast is less than complete, the clouds reflect the light of the rising sun in pinks and reds an oranges of hues and an intensity that defy description. The day that follows may be cloudy or light, but it's opening is brilliant! At such times, I find myself thankful for the clouds, for it is the clouds that make the experience memorable.

We dream of dawns without clouds and uncloudy days. I have sung, and Willie Nelson even recorded a song entitled "The Uncloudy Day". In life, uncloudy days mean smooth sailing. But we humans crave variety and excitement and however nice it is, smooth sailing rapidly becomes as unexciting as a cloudless dawn.

And, even as clouds brighten a dawn, challenge makes life interesting, and adversity causes growth. 

Heroes emerge from struggle.  The greatest heroes are those who have overcome the greatest obstacles and prevailed.  

What challenges or obstacles are you facing?

What will you do to overcome and prevail?






Sunday, May 6, 2012

Just DO It!

My talent for putting things off amazes even me.  I can know something needs to be done.  I can have more than enough time to do it.  I can have all the resources needed to do it. It could even be fun to do, and yet I find myself putting it off. 

Rarely, I put things off because other things have a higher priority at the moment.  But that's rarely.  Most of the time I put things off because of some sort of mental block, not against doing them, but against getting started. 

This post is a perfect example.  My goal is to publish one post per week on Friday or Saturday.  I have faithfully accomplished that goal for over six months.  Yet here it is, Sunday afternoon and only now am I starting to put words on paper (or electrons on the screen if you want to be accurate).

And the problem was not that I had no subject.  I maintain a list of potential subjects and am prepared to write on any of them.

No. The problem is that, like a child avoiding his homework, I found myself actively avoiding doing the one thing that would accomplish my goal.  For two days, I avoided opening Blogger and typing in a title and opening paragraph. I wasn't going to do it, and nothing could make me.

And the one thing that got me started was to remember the sentence "Just open the computer and type the first sentence.  And smile."  

Just open the computer.  Just do the first physical action and follow it with the second that's enough to get started. The next action follows, the ideas start flowing and I fall into the rhythm of writing.

Smiling simply makes it more pleasant.

After many years, I have learned that true motivation comes from within.  No one can motivate anyone to do something they don't want to do.

And I've learned that staying motivated requires that one take the first step, and then the next one, and so forth in order to completion.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And then the next, and so forth.

What project do you need to complete? 

What is the first small and simple thing you must do? What is the first step?

Why don't you just do it?

Do it now.

Friday, April 27, 2012

You Can Take the Boy Off the Farm...

You can take the boy off the farm
But you can't take the farm out of the boy!

The US Department of Labor has drawn quite a bit of fire recently by proposing that child labor laws apply to farm kids as well as their city cousins.  Farmers and farm kids were equally enraged by this intrusion.  Under the proposal, since withdrawn, farm children under the age of 18 would be forbidden from performing a long list of chores on their families' land.  Under the rules, most children under 18 could no longer work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.”

“Prohibited places of employment,” a Department press release read, “would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.” The new regulations would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.

As someone who has been there and done that I also find myself enraged. 

I grew up on a farm -- not a livestock farm, but a dirt farm.  Our main crop was tobacco, a labor intensive crop and one requiring a great deal of detailed hand work.  Like most of my rural chums, I had chores. When I was very young, these included keeping the woodbox behind the kitchen stove full.  When I got older, I also became responsible for chopping the wood with which I filled the woodbox. With an ax!

I learned to drive on a John Deere model B tractor at age ten, and from age eleven on, I spent summers in the fields and tobacco barns with my Dad and Grand Dad, making the new crop and preparing the old for market.

I can truthfully state that at age 12 I would have welcomed imposition of the child labor laws.  Looking back now, I find myself glad that they didn't apply. Working on the family farm did much to set my world view and make me into the man I am today.

Growing up on the farm impressed on me the truth of the words "If a man does not work, neither should he eat."  It also impressed me with the absolute miracle of being obtain food from the ground.  But before the food could be harvested, it had to be planted (at the proper time), cultivated, and then harvested (again, at the proper time) and then stored.  And the farmer was wholly responsible for getting the work done at the proper time.

Growing up on the farm taught me self reliance.  We ate what we grew and stored.  If we wanted more, we grew more.  If we wanted less, we grew less. Whether we grew more or less, what we had depended on what we did. I still look on life with the idea that the outcomes I get depend on what I, and not on what  somebody else, might happen to do.

Growing up on the farm taught me independence.  Our farm operated independently from the farms around us.

Growing up on the farm also taught me interdependence and the value of being a good neighbor.  In out community neighbors got together to help each other at harvest time or on major tasks.

Butchering in the fall was closely coordinated to ensure that the meat could be processed and stored in the limited time before it spoiled.  So, Uncle Tal would butcher this week, and Cousin Junior next and Mr. Day the week following.  It all worked together and it all got done.

That way of life has largely disappeared from the area where I grew up, and I miss it.  When my children were growing up, I had to find other ways to teach responsibility, self reliance, and independence without the farm experience.  Somehow, I feel that they may have missed out on something valuable.

To the US Department of Labor, I say, "Leave the family farm alone.  The lessons learned there loom large in our national character and should be reinforced rather than diminished."

To the family farmer of today I say "Keep on keeping on. What you're doing is right and good and needs to be passed on to the next generation.

And to you all, I say "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy!"

What parts of your early life were most influential in shaping your character?

What are you doing to pass those values and life lessons on to your children and grand children?






Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sometimes...

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes, I really don't want to sit down and write this blog.

Sometimes, there are better or more important things than sitting at the keyboard and pounding out lines of deathless prose.

Sometimes, those things disappear if not done at the moment.

This weekend was one of those times.  The weather was gorgeous, the grass was knee-high, and the lawn demanded attention.  Further, after a week of travel followed by work, the soul demanded renewal.

Long story short, I blew off writing in favor of being out doors in the sun. I blew off writing for the thrill of guiding my anemic lawn mower across uneven tufts of grass and broad-leaf weeds, making them all even.  And I blew off writing in favor of digging in the dirt.

This weekend, I spent some quality time living in the moment, surveying my small lot, picking up sticks and, yes, watching the grass grow.  In my head, I drew plans for flower and vegetable beds to come.  I made a list of materials I will need to make the vision into reality.  And in those simple acts, I was renewed.

It began to rain shortly after the work was completed. It has been raining ever since.

For me, gardening is an act of renewal.

For you, there may be other activities, other sources for gaining or regaining perspective. Some people golf, or watch baseball, but for me, it has long been gardening.

What do you do to gain perspective?

What do you do to feed your soul?