Thursday, December 18, 2014

On Holiday Decorations

Make you house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table!
People look East, and sing today.
Love, the Lord, is on the way!
-- Traditional English Carol

For me, few things reflect the joy of the Christmas Season like the decorations and the traditions behind them. Each year, I am reminded that, if such a thing is possible, we have far too many ornaments for our house and modest tree. I am also reminded that we no longer have children at home to help put them up or take them down, or to play with delight under the tree on Christmas morning. 

Several years ago, we went from a floor-standing to a table tree. There have even been times like last year that we didn't drag them out and put them up. Last year was one such year.

This year is different. This year the decorations are out and in their appointed places. Opening the crates and boxes, taking out and placing the various objects was like greeting an old friend.

The creche, lovingly molded and painted by my mother in law, has been lovingly unpacked and set in a position of honor in the living room. She gave it to us so our children would have a nativity set.

Santa Claus in his dirigible has assumed his place of honor on the tree, as he has every year since my Dad was a boy. In his jaunty red hat and robe, carrying a fresh Christmas tree, this particular Santa has amused more than three generations. Over time, his robe has lost some of its luster and the dirigible has faded from white to tattle-tale grey, but he shows up every year to grace us with his unique Christmas presence. Hopefully, he will continue to do so for at least a hundred years more.

And so it is with other decorations -- the glass peach, complete with fuzz, from my mother's tree, balls from my wife's girlhood trees, objects from our children' childhood. Each carries its own treasured memories of good times with family. 

How do you decorate for Christmas?

Which decorations trigger pleasant memories for you?

What are your Christmas traditions?

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Wonder of Anticipation

Face it.

Late November and early December can be pretty dismal. This was true in Maryland where I grew up and remains true in Virginia where I live today. Daylight is scarce as days grow shorter. Sunlight, though brilliant in pale beauty is too often pre-empted by purple clouds scudding across the sky before a gusty and biting wind. Rain and drizzle hit one's face with the force of frozen BBs. A lingering chill sinks into one's bones.

The chief urge is to hibernate.

When I was a child, the end of November was marked with excitement and December with anticipation. The chief emotion was impatience. Santa Claus was coming to town!

The anticipation always began the day after thanksgiving when the mailman delivered the Wishbook. The Wishbook was a profusely illustrated one-inch thick listing Sears and Roebuck's Christmas and seasonal merchandise. Half of the pages were given to clothes and other grown-up stuff. The second half was devoted entirely to toys and games for kids of all ages.

Anticipation shifted to high gear as my sisters and I eagerly examined the kids' section page by page and dreamed of the fun it would be to play with this, that, or the other item. Pages were first scanned for items of interest, and then examined in detail to identify the one special item we absolutely had to have and which remained our top choice until we turned the page and were confronted by the next gallery of wonder.

We spent hours spread out on the floor with the catalog open before us, anticipating the fun. Our imaginations danced from item to item as we dreamed how we would play with this toy or that.

We compiled list upon list of what we wanted and in which order of importance. We annotated our lists with the page numbers so Santa could see for himself what we wanted. The lists made yesterday were seldom the same as the ones made today, but that was alright. Each list was a snapshot in time of where our imagination had carried us.

And behind it all, the song kept running through our heads "He's making a list, and checking it twice. He's going to find out who's naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town!" And we all tried, some of us harder than others, to be extra special nice.

And judging by the things we found under the tree on Christmas Morning, we were.

For us, the days of November and December were anything but dismal. For us, these cold, raw, and gray days were filled with anticipation of great and wonderful things. For us, half of the fun of Christmas was the expectation of getting there.

How about you?

What do remember that filled you with pre-Christmas excitement as a child?

What did you most look forward to?

What do you eagerly expect this Christmas?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

We Give Thanks

The season of growing is over. September harvest is past. Crops, fruits and vegetables are gathered in. Animals are settling into their dens for the cold season; winter is fast upon us.

It is the season where Americans traditionally look back, reflect, and give thanks for the blessings of the year. In this country, giving thanks is a tradition with roots stretching back to the earliest English speaking colonies on the North American Continent. The most popular story attributes the first thanksgiving celebration to a feast celebrated by Puritan settlers at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts with the local Native Americans in 1621. An older less-well known story attributes the first thanksgiving to a celebration by arrived colonists in Virginia on December 4, 1619.

Regardless of origin, the tradition of pausing to give thanks to almighty God was firmly fixed in the American character by the mid-ninteenth century when President Abraham Lincoln requested "fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

So it is that we today set apart the final Thursday in November to gather, feast, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year, for food, for family, for friends, and for freedom. We give thanks for health and happiness, for trials overcome and for strength to endure trials in the future. Sometimes, survival itself is sufficient reason to give thanks.

Each year, I sit and make a list of things for which I am thankful and why. During the year, when I need to, I pull out and review my list. Doing so always gives me a lift.

Will you join me?

Will you write your own list of things for which you are thankful?

What will be on your list?


Monday, November 17, 2014

Why I Write

I looked and beheld a blank piece of paper before me and a pen inclined toward my hand.

I heard a voice say "Write!"

"But what shall I write?" said I.

"Just write!" said the voice.

"If nothing else, practice your penmanship. Learn to form the characters quickly and legibly. Writing is an art. Make yours beautiful. Make it a joy to look at.

Then, cover the paper with words. Craft those words into sentences. Make each sentence concise and to the point. Craft those sentences into paragraphs that clearly convey your thoughts and ideas, observations and emotions.

Fill copy books and tablets and legal pads with your skillfully crafted words, sentences and paragraphs. Fill reams and quires of paper. Fill memo books, notebooks, and journals. Write things you want to remember and things you'd rather forget.

Write a story -- write your story! Your story is yours alone. Only you can tell it correctly. It needs to be written.

Write about what makes you happy and what irks you, what lifts your spirit and what makes you grieve.

Write poetry; write prose!

Write fact; write fiction, write fantasy. Write opinion; write conjecture; write truth.

Write essays. Write reports. Write a blog.

But write. Always write.

The paper before you is your gateway to lands and peoples and universes you have only dreamed.

Visit them and tell me about them.

Now, take up the pen and write!"

Hearing the voice, I took the pen and began to write. I have been writing ever since. As long as pen and paper exist, I will write.

The blank sheet of paper lies before you. A pen inclines toward your hand.

Will you join me? Will you pick up the pen?

Will you write?

Will you share what you've written?


Monday, November 10, 2014

Heroes Proved

"O Beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self
Their country loved,
And mercy more than life"
                                                      -- Katherine Lee Bates, America, the Beautiful

America, the Beautiful is arguably the most popular patriotic song in the nation today. We love to sing it for its images, images of spacious skies, of amber waves of grain, of purple mountain majesties and the fruited plain, images of majesty, of prosperity and of peace. Yet too often we neglect the second verse, the verse celebrating those who secured the images of the peace and prosperity of a magnificent nation.

Peace, prosperity, and liberty exist not as happenstance but as the results of willful actions by men and women to secure them. 

It took action by embattled farmers at Concord, by a ragged army at Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, and myriad other now forgotten places to secure our independence. When the conflict ended, the soldiers returned home and built a nation.

It took action by soldiers, sailors, and frontiersmen to secure our western territories and right to trade freely on the high seas in 1812. When the conflict ended, they returned home to build and expand a country.

Actions by men wearing gray and blue nearly tore the nation apart in the 1860s.  When it was over, the nation had confirmed that all men are indeed created with equal rights to life, liberty, and property. The nation that emerged was stronger than the one that entered the conflict. Regardless of the uniform they wore, those who fought returned home to build, expand, and strengthen the country.

Then came the war to end all wars, and the war that followed that, and police actions that looked, felt, and smelled like war but lacked the benefit of a formal declaration. Again, those who fought returned home and got on with whatever life was left to them. And again the nation was strengthened.

Today, we find ourself engaged in a series of long-term actions against an enemy who recognizes not liberty or freedom, but only the law of might. Heroes, proved in battle, are again returning home to build not the nation they left, but the nation it will become. 

We call these men "veterans". At one point each of them proved to love their country more than themselves by signing everything up to and including their very lives over to their country. Some thought they signed up for only a short period of time. Most now realize that their enlistment and its consequences never really end. For the rest of their days, they will remain heroes proved. They will remain veterans.

I am proud to be numbered among them.

A verse popular with the US Special Forces states "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."

What is the flavor of your freedom?

If you live in liberty, thank a veteran.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Merry What?

In the mid twentieth century when I grew up we had the normal compliment of fall holidays. In September, we celebrated Labor Day by attending the Labor Day Parade. In October, we celebrated Columbus Day by studying the voyage of Christopher Columbus. At the turn of November, we celebrated Halloween with costume parties and trick or treat. In early November, we learned and recited the words of "In Flanders Fields" and wore red paper poppies in honor of those who fought in the war to end all wars.  In late November schools actually taught the story of colonists who came to the new world to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences, nearly starved, and who celebrated their first bountiful harvest with a feast of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was about being grateful to God and family and food. Only with the arrival of the Sears Christmas Book on the day after Thanksgiving did our thoughts turn to the promise of Christmas.

Each holiday was separate and distinct. Sadly, this is no longer so. Today, the fall holidays are but weak punctuation for an annual orgy of consumer spending that begins on Labor Day and ends only after the January White Sales are done.

Labor Day means back to school; back to school means buy, buy, buy. After all, it's for the kids!

On Columbus Day he accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are forgotten in favor of the consumer economy his discoveries made possible. Buy! There are bargains to be had. Buy! Buy! Buy!

Holiday decorations go up on our streets in mid October, the better to light the way for shoppers.

On Thanksgiving, giving thanks, food, football and family are forgotten in the frenzy to get out, find those bargains and buy. Merchants are thankful they can stay open so they can sell, sell, sell, so that customers can spend, spend, and spend some more. And Thanksgiving begins the consumer feeding frenzy that leads up to Christmas and extends after Christmas sales well into January.

Consumers are left not with memories of good times but with a feeling of "What just happened?" and bills that will remind them of their purchases well into the coming year.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I miss the time when holidays were celebrated for the events they commemorated rather than the bargains they provided. I miss the time I could enjoy a Halloween,  Thanksgiving, or Merry Christmas without being assaulted by a strident message to buy, buy, buy.

I protest! I want my holidays back; I intend to take them back. I intend to celebrate each distinct holiday on its own merits.

I intend to buy what I need because I need it and I refuse to join the orgy of buying. I absolutely refuse to participate in the hangover of debt.

How about you?

How will you celebrate the coming holidays?

How long will you suffer the hangover of debt that comes from overconsumption?

Will you celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas or will you join the masses celebrating Hallowthanksmas"?

The choice is yours.

Merry Hallowthanksmas!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

...And Forever

"For a day in His sight is like a thousand years,
And a thousand years but a day."

Forty eight years ago this weekend, the girl of my dreams placed her hand in mine and her life in my keeping. We recited some vows, signed some papers, and a man of God declared us to be husband and wife. 

We had only the vaguest ideas -- mostly wrong or misguided -- what the future held or what we were letting ourselves in for, only that we wanted to experience it together. So, with the confidence born of young love and youthful optimism, we became husband and wife. I have never been more proud. 

The ceremony remains as vivid as yesterday in my mind, the words of the vows we exchanged stronger than ever in memory. Surely, it was only yesterday. Surely, the calendar is wrong. Surely, forty-eight years have not come and gone since that evening. 

And yet they have. 

Forty-eight years filled with their own events, people, places, trials, and triumphs now exist only in memory. During that time we've learned to experience life together. We continue to learn. 

We neither know nor can imagine what the future will bring, but whatever comes to pass, we will face it together, as we have been doing for these last forty-eight years.

For the next forty-eight years... 

And forever.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Gospel of Labor

This is the gospel of labor.
Ring forth ye bells of the kirk!
For the Lord of Love
Came down from above
To live with men who work.
And this is the blessing he planted,
Here in this thorn-curs'd soil:
Heaven is blessed with eternal rest,
But the blessing of Earth is toil.
    -- Anonymous

Today, we celebrate Labor Day in the United States. Originally intended as a salute to organized labor, it has become today a day of leisure in celebration of the unofficial end of summer. On the morrow, people will pick up their lunch bags, brief cases, book bags, tool boxes, and handbags and head off to work. On this first work day of the week, most will look wistfully back at the long weekend just competed and almost as many will already be looking forward to the weekend to come.

Leisure has become the goal and work a curse to be dealt with. And yet, in the book of Genesis we read that after creating man, God planted a garden eastward in Eden and that he took the man He had created and and put him into the garden to dress it and to keep it. In other words, the first man was given the dignity of a job with responsibilities "to dress the garden and to keep it."

Work gives dignity to the person, and the person gives dignity to the work. And no work is inherently better than other.  As my grandfather said to me "Remember, boy, whether you're directing a corporation or digging ditches, it's all food on the table."

In an October 1967 address to students at Barrett Junior High School in Philadelphia, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. said the following:
"What I'm saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures! 

Sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music. 

Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. 

Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well!"  

If you can't be a pine on the top of a hill, be a scrub in the valley, but be the best little scrub on the side of the rill.  
Be a bush if you can't be a tree.  
If you can't be a highway, just be a trail.  
If you can't be a sun, be a star.  

It isn't by size that you win or you fail; be the best at whatever that you are!"

Work brings dignity to the worker. The worker gives dignity to the work. This is the gospel of labor.

What is your work?

What are you doing to "be the best at whatever you are?"

Friday, August 29, 2014

Books I Have Read

A Facebook Friend recently asked me to "Share a list of ten books that affected you in some way."

My problem was cutting the number to ten.

Here's my list, in no particular order.

  1. The Bible
  2. Mere Christianity 
  3. 1984
  4. Starship Troopers
  5. Tom Sawyer
  6. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
  7. Getting Things Done
  8. The Collected Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  9. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  10. The Outlander

And, an honorable mention: The Red Badge of Courage

I now challenge you. Share a list of ten books that have affected you, either below in a comment, on Facebook, or via email.

Which ten books have most affected you?

Friday, May 23, 2014

To Absent Brothers

His name is Tim. He is my brother. Tim is a First Lieutenant of Infantry and an Army Aviator. At age 26, his hair already flecked with gray, Tim is a bit older than most of his fellows. Tim arrived in our unit in April of 1972 fresh out of Flight School and Cobra transition. He flew his first mission the day before Tan Canh fell. The next day, he would fly over Tan Canh in Bill Reeder's front seat. When his turret weapons wouldn't fire, Bill handed him a camera and told him "Take pictures," and he took pictures. Tim died at Ben Het on 9 May 1972 after thirty days in country. Tim is my brother. He is absent.

His name is Fred and he too is my brother. Fred is a Captain of Armor/CAV. Fred is so CAV he wears spurs and a saber with his dress blues. Fred completed two tours in Vietnam and had seven Purple Hearts before attending flight school and returning to Vietnam as Executive Officer of an Air CAV Troop. Fred was flying Command and Control when he was hit and subsequently perished. Fred is my brother. He is absent.

Dusty and Dex are also my brothers. Dusty's aircraft exploded in flight, the site of its crash undiscovered for nearly forty years. Dex, who now has an airport named after him, perished from burns suffered in a post-crash fire. These too, are my brothers. They too are absent.

I never met Mark. Mark was gone long before I got to the unit, but he is my brother. In later years, his kid sister would seek out men who knew, lived, and flew with Mark to learn how he lived. What she found is documented it in a heartfelt memoir entitled "Dear Mark". Although I never met him, Mark is my brother. He is absent.

Each year, at the closing banquet, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Association sets a table as pictured above for our absent brothers.

The TABLE, set for one, is small, symbolizing the loneliness we feel without them.

The TABLECLOTH is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions and their willingness to respond to their country’s call to arms.

The single ROSE in the vase reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms, who kept the faith awaiting their return, and are forever left behind.

The RED RIBBON tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn by many who bear witness to their unyielding determination to account for every one of our missing.

A SLICE OF LEMON on the bread plate reminds us of their bitter fate.

There is SALT upon the bread plate too, symbolic of the river of tears shed by families and loved ones.

The GLASS is inverted. They cannot toast with us.

The CHAIR is empty. They are not here. Our lives are incomplete because they are not here to sit with us. They were there for us. We are still here for them.

In honoring them, each of them, all of them, we face their table, the table where they should be sitting. We stand silently in their absence.

To the Missing Man. We flew with you and called you comrade; we will never forget you. Though absent, you are our brother.

To absent brothers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I'm a standin' on a corner
Somewhere in Arizona
And such a fright'nin' sight I see.
There's an old man there
With snow white hair
In a window looking back at me.
-- with apologies to the Eagles

There I was, waiting to cross the street in the middle of an Arizona afternoon and I find myself staring back at me from the window on the other side. Coming face to face with yourself is jarring, especially if you're not expecting it, and more especially if the reflection fails to match the image of yourself you hold in your mind.

Talk about cognitive dissonance! 

In the reflection, I see a white haired old timer with a tired expression and sizable paunch rather that the trim, alert and energetic middle aged gentleman I know myself to be. Neither does the reflection match the image of any of the many former selves I carry with me. 

Only my inner eye can discern the skinny seventeen year old farm boy, yet that boy is there.

Only my inner eye sees the proud 21 year old with his new bride, yet that young man is there too. 

All of them are there: the idealistic military officer, the dashing helicopter pilot, the father watching children grow from infants to toddlers, through grade school, preteen, high school, and college years to become responsible productive adult members of society.

The engineering professional is there, as is the proud grand father, and many others.

None of these past selves is evident in the current reflection. All are behind it, each having played an essential part in building the person represented by the image.

The image in the window? Momentarily jarring, ultimately unimportant.

What I do with the image? Thought provoking and totally important.

I can either conform my actions to the image and become as I appear, an old man quietly going to seed. Or I can challenge the image and boldly engage new knowledge and experiences, have adventures, and live above and beyond the expectations of society.

I know my choice.

How about you?

Have you ever come face to face with yourself?

What did you see?

Will you conform your life to your reflection, or boldly live beyond what is reflected? 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reflection on Good Friday

Has darkness triumph'd?
Why call we this Friday "good",
Yet mourn our dark deeds?

Before light, darkness.
Before resurrection, death.
Before joy, mourning.

The story ends not here!
The coming triumph of Light
Makes this Friday good.

And to you my friends,
Why call ye this Friday "good",
How understand you?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Gods of The Copybook Headings

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, school children were given notebooks in which to practice their penmanship. The top of each page was imprinted with a short proverb or maxim. Children wrote these sayings over and over by hand down the page as they practiced forming their letters.

The Copybook Headings encapsulated old fashioned common sense. Henry Ford wrote "Most of the wisdom of the world was in the copy books. The lines we used to write over and over again, the homely old maxims on which we practiced to obtain legibility of our p's and q's, were the essence of human wisdom."  (Ford Ideals, 1922)

In 1919, a 53 year old Rudyard Kipling wrote of the timeless values expressed in copybooks in his poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings. In his poem, Kipling sets unchanging gods of the copybook headings against the temporary and mortal gods of the market place. The gods of the market place representing the gods of the here and now, the gods of temporary fads such as Dutch tulip bulbs, dot com stocks and mortgage backed securities. 

Kipling writes:

"As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die." 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!"

What did you write over and over to practice your letters?

Did you have a copybook? 

What did the gods of the copybook headings say to you?

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Game Afoot!

It was late March. Naturally it was snowing. I stared out the window at the black and white world in front of 221B Baker Street, contemplating the swirling patterns as my friend read his newspaper.

I heard the paper rustle as it dropped to the floor.

The piercing eyes fixed on me.

"The game is afoot, Watson!" he said with excitement.

"Game, Holmes?" said I. "Of what game are you speaking? Surely you are not caught up in the March Madness."

"Not that game," said he. "I speak of the great game, the game of funding local government."

"But certainly, Holmes, our Board of Supervisors consider their annual funding exercise much too serious for it ever to be a game," said I.

"Nonetheless, Watson, it is a game." said he, "Regardless of the dedication of our esteemed Supervisors, establishing the annual spending plan and setting the tax rate is all one great game. There are rules and objectives, moves and counter moves, winners and losers."

I raised an eyebrow and was rewarded with a pained expression. An explanation would be given.

"The game is played are as follows:

County agencies submit funding requests based on what they spent last year plus reasonable growth. The objective of each agency is to maximize funding so their requests are always inflated but never so much as to be rejected out of hand."

"Staff consolidates, clarifies, and rationalizes the requests to produce a draft spending plan."

"The Board meets in a series of long, grueling and sometimes acrimonious working sessions to adjust the budget and establish the tax rate."

"Projected revenues seldom meet requested spending so the Board requests agencies trim their budgets to within some specified target."

"Then the fun begins. Agencies propose draconian cuts to popular programs and make bold appeals for public support to restore funding. Supervisors gravely warn of a crushing tax burden. Both then eagerly await the outcry of impassioned pleas from an outraged citizenry begging 'Please don't cut funding to my pet program,' and 'I will gladly pay higher taxes.'"

The Board smiles. They have achieved the victory they seek -- increased tax revenue under the political cover of an overwhelming volume of citizen requests."

"Agencies smile too. They have achieved their victory -- maximum funding with which to finance bureaucratic bloat."

"Only the taxpaying public loses."

"Egad, Holmes," said I, "That is positively sinister and cynical."

"Yes," said he. "Sinister and cynical though it be, that is how the game is played."

I looked at his paper. The headlines read. "Department of Public Education Proposes Closing Four Schools, Eliminating Freshman Sports, and Curtailing Fine Arts Programs. Appeals to Public for Support."

I was forced to agree. It's how the game is played.

How is the game played in your city, county or state?

What are the rules and objectives of the participants?

What is the sequence of moves?

Who wins and who loses?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thank You Dr. Seuss!

This month marks the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr.Seuss, author of children's books and creator of the Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two, Horton the Elephant, the Grinch and a host of other memorable characters.

I first heard of Dr. Seuss more than sixty years ago when I was in first grade. Our teacher, Miss Jensen, read us a fantastic story about wonderful things that might have happened on a place called Mulberry Street. She said it was written by Dr. Seuss.

In the story, a young boy walked home from school, knowing his dad would ask what he saw on the way. What he saw was a horse and cart plodding up Mulberry Street. Nothing else. Just a plain horse and cart on Mulberry Street.

But what if?

What if the horse and cart were part of a parade? And suddenly there was a parade, a fabulous parade, with bands and floats and acrobats and jugglers and a full motorcycle police escort "with Sergeant Mulvaney himself in the lead!" all described in great and and loving detail, each detail vividly illustrated, and each description ending with the statement "And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street!"

Later, I would visit McElligot's Pool beneath which "way down beneath in the muck and the murk there might be some fish who are all going "Glurk!"

I would visit the fabulous zoo of young Mister McGrue. There I would see a lion with ten legs, "a nerkel, a nerd, and a seersucker too!"

I would sit through the multiple acts at Circus McGurkus many times.

Long before there was a Cat in the Hat, a Thing One or Thing Two, I grew up with Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss, or rather Thidwick, the Big Hearted Moose, taught me about sharing even when it's not convenient.

Bartholomew Cubbins, in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, taught me about unintended consequences.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Horton the Elephant taught me the importance of faithfulness and follow-through. I still hear his words "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent."

Dr. Seuss taught me to be open to new things. By the time I first experienced them in in Army, I already knew I'd like green eggs and ham. And, in the words of the book "I would eat them on a boat and I would eat them with a goat. I would eat them here and there. I would eat them anywhere."

Most importantly, Dr. Seuss taught me that other people were important, all other people. As Horton the Elephant observes in Horton Hears a Who, "A person's a person no matter how small."

And even a Grinch can be redeemed to the point he gets to carve the roast beast.

Important life lessons all.

How about you?

What lessons did you take from your childhood literature?

Which ones remain today?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Three Dangerous Words

We are born with the concepts inside us, the concepts represented by the three dangerous words.

When we are first able to express ourselves these three words are among the first we learn how to use and use correctly. Use them we must and use them we do. We use them to our advantage and we use them to our detriment. Properly used, they can be a blessing. Improperly used, they are dangerous.

The three dangerous words are "me", and "mine", and "more".

"Me" is the first concept formed in our infant minds. It is the name I call myself. With its other forms, "Myself" and "I", "Me" expresses self awareness. "Me" separates me from you from and from all others. In this it is useful. But, "Me" becomes dangerous when I use it to lord over you or others. "Me becomes dangerous when we think or assume "It's all about ME!" or "The world revolves around ME!" or "It's all for ME!"  Too quickly we forget about others who may be as much or more important than "ME". Too quickly we become self-centered. Too quickly healthy self respect becomes vanity, conceit and selfishness.

Me is a dangerous word. Use it with care.

"Mine" is the word of ownership. Closely related to "Me", "'Mine" is probably the second concept our minds recognize. "Mine" asserts ownership. "Mine" separates what I own from everything else in the world. The concept of "Mine" is essential. But "Mine" is dangerous when used to assert and justify ownership that is of what is not rightfully ours. "Mine" enables the selfishness of "Me" and is the root of envy, covetousness, and conflict. "It's mine because I wants it" says Smeagol shortly before murdering his brother in Lord of the Rings.

"Mine is a dangerous word. Use it with care.

The third dangerous word is "More". More is used to express insufficiency when one has not enough. "More" brings to mind the image of a starving orphan who, having consumed his miserable bowl of gruel extends the bowl to an unfeeling master and mouths the word "More".

"More" becomes dangerous when, having sufficient for our needs, we continually strive to amass "More" than that. "More" is the enabler of excess. We may have sufficient and not need "More". We may acquire "More" and hoard it to our detriment. Yet we continue to strive for "More" still. After all, if enough is good, "More" is better. And if "More" is better, then even too much may not be enough. So, we expend our time and effort to gain ever more. We become wage slaves, incur debt beyond any rational ability to repay, refinance and increase that debt again and again all for the joy of having and the burden of maintaining "More" and "ever More".

How do we maintain the usefulness and avoid the dangers inherent in these dangerous words?

First, we emphasize respect for others and concepts such as courtesy and honor, civility and compassion over the concept of self esteem inherent in "Me". We learn to put the best interests of others above our own.

We emphasize giving and sharing above the concept of ownership inherent in "Mine". We learn that the words "what's mine is also yours" represent not only a noble concept but also a workable strategy. To the extent possible, we become content with and value what we have and are willing to share what we have with others.

We re-learn the concept of sufficiency and satisfaction expressed in the word "enough". Recognizing sufficiency, we learn to relinquish excess. We experience the joy of saving up and paying cash for things we really want. And we learn that in many things having less really is easier and more fulfilling  than having more.

How will you do it?

What one thing will you do this month to mitigate the danger lurking behind "Me" or "Mine" or "More"?


Monday, February 10, 2014

Whose Valentine?

This week, we celebrate Valentine's Day. Red and white displays featuring cards and chocolates in heart shaped boxes appeared in stores the week after Christmas. This week, flowers -- most often roses -- have been ordered for delivery, dinner reservations recorded and bottles of wine carefully selected and chilled in anticipation of a romantic evening. Cards featuring hearts and flowers implore those who receive them to "Be my Valentine."

We think we are celebrating love. We are actually celebrating romance. Romance -- the love people talk about when they speak of being "in love" -- is a special kind of love, but not the only kind. When we concentrate on romance, we lose sight of the love demonstrated by affection, friendship, and acts of compassion as performed by Saint Valentine.

According to legend, Saint Valentine was a Roman priest arrested and imprisoned for performing Christian marriages at a time when aiding Christians was a crime against Imperial Rome. Emperor Claudius Gothicus took a liking to this prisoner until Valentine tried to convert the Emperor whereupon he was swiftly condemned to death. After beatings with clubs and stoning failed to kill him, Valentine was beheaded and buried beside the road outside the Flaminian Gate. According to one legend, before his head was cut off, he healed the sight and hearing of his jailer's daughter. According to another, while imprisoned he wrote notes urging his congregation and friends not to grow weary in well doing and to stand firm in the face of persecution. 

The love demonstrated by the saint had nothing to do with romantic feelings and everything to do with compassionate deeds. It had nothing to do with obtaining the favor of the beloved and everything to do with demonstrating that the beloved was favored. The love of Saint Valentine took no regard of personal consequences. The saint did not ask anyone to be his Valentine, but demonstrated by his actions that he was theirs.

How will you celebrate Valentine's day this year?

Will you send flowers, or buy a box of candy?  Will you go out to dinner or plan a romantic evening or weekend get-away? If so, enjoy! You do well. 

Will you perform some act or acts to be someone's Valentine for no other reason than it needs doing, you can do it and it's the right thing to do? If so, enjoy! You do better.

Or will you commit to performing some act or acts of compassion to be someone's Valentine for the entire year or however long it takes whether such service is recognized or appreciated or not. You may or may not enjoy, but you do best. 

In the prayer attributed to him, Francis of Assisi asks

"O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be comforted as to comfort;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

It is the prayer of one who seeks to be a Valentine.

Whose Valentine will you be this year?

What will you do to demonstrate it?

For how long?

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Dream Continues

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
     -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

On August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke eloquently of a dream -- his dream and ours too -- for America. He spoke of a future in which his children -- our children -- would be judged by the content of their character.

He spoke of a dream -- his dream and ours too -- that one day little in even the most historically racist corners of our continent black and white girls and boys could join hands and recognize one another as brothers and sisters.

He spoke of his dream and ours too for a nation where every valley was raised up, and every hill and mountain made low, the rough places made plain, and the crooked made straight; a nation where the glory of the Lord could be revealed that all flesh would see it together.

Dr. King's dream is the American dream. It is a dream of opportunity. It is a dream of independence, of freedom. And it is the dream of a world where a person's worthiness is determined by the quality of his or her character.

We're not there yet.

We've come long way during the half century since Dr. King addressed the multitude on the national mall. We've moved forward, backward, and sideways. Progress refuses to move in a straight line. But we're not there yet.

We continue to stumble forward. We stumble forward because we can't turn back. In the words of Dr. King, "we must make the pledge that we will always march ahead."

The past lies behind us, our destiny opens before us. 

We have a dream.

Is it your dream?

Is it your chosen future?

Have you the perseverance to continue?

Have you quality of character to make it so?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Letter to My Teen Self

I recently discovered the website "Dear Teen Me" at

It made me wonder if I had the opportunity to send a message through time to my seventeen year old self, what would I write? And why would I write it? After all, given the laws of physics, my seventeen-year-old self will never read it. Then I thought others, perhaps even my grandchildren, might read and possibly benefit from my words.

If I could write a letter to the teen me, and send it back through time to the early 1960's, this is what I would write:

Dear Forrest:

You don't know me yet, but I know you. I know you because I am the future you. I have lived your life from when and where you are reading this to the time and place from which I write it more than fifty years in your future..

I'm writing to tell you you're going to be okay.

I'm writing to tell you that you have a great future ahead of you. You dream of it often. I can state with certainty that your dreams will be fulfilled.

You dream of learning complex and interesting things. You will learn them.

You dream of attending college, of studying and understanding deep technical concepts, and you will.

You dream of doing dashing deeds of daring during desperate times. You will do that too. It will scare the hell out of you, but you'll do it anyway.

But mostly, you dream of girls and of meeting a very special girl. You wonder if every girl you meet could be the one. You think you want a Playboy Playmate. What you really want is a soul mate and a help mate. I won't spoil things by telling you more, but you're going to like where it ends up.

Now the hard part. Your dreams will not happen on your time schedule. Some will require years. Others will require a lifetime. Most will require a great deal of work on your part. And that's okay. Hang on to the dreams that make sense and let go of those that don't. And never stop dreaming.

Also, nothing will happen exactly as you anticipate and this will frustrate you. Some of it will be amazingly wonderful, and some not so much. But things will mostly happen good.

That's all I'm going to say about your future lest I destroy your joy and excitement living it. For now, I want you to know that you are well equipped for everything the future will throw at you. Your Dad has given you a strong work ethic and sense of right and wrong. You will one day thank him for it. Your mother has given you a curiosity and interest in many subjects. And your school, in addition to a passable ability to read, write, speak, and cipher has given you friendships that will last a lifetime whether you think so now or not.

You are further blessed with a memory that retains all sorts of trivia and interesting minutiae. Take it from me, nothing you learn will ever be useless whether you ever use it or not.

The future is yours! Live it with optimism. Live it with enthusiasm. Live it well.

It's going to be great!

I've been there. I know.

Yours for the future,


I've written my letter to seventeen-year-old me.

Given the opportunity, what would you write back through time to the seventeen-year-old you?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Matter of Priority

If you're like me, you have more to do than time to do it.

If you're like me, actions to accomplish even your most important goals get lost in the hubbub of daily activities.

Getting on with doing your really important things requires a mindset that puts important actions first. It also requires a mechanism to keep these actions in front of the mind so they can be accomplished. That mechanism is called "priorities".

A priority is anything to which a person willingly devotes his limited time and resources. If you willingly devote your time and resources to something, it is by definition one of your priorities.

 Each of us has priorities. Most of these priorities are not reflected on any list. Of some we remain blissfully unaware.  All can be discovered.

How do you spend your time, where and doing what? Where and how you spend your time reflects your priorities.

How and for what do you spend your money.  Look at your checkbook and credit card statements. Where and how you spend your money reflects your priorities.

Do your priorities align with your goals? If so, good. If not, and if your goal is truly important, you must define actions needed and regularly expend time and resources to achieve it. You must make it a priority.

This past year, achieving a healthy weight became one of my top priorities. When it did, I took action.  I talked to my physician. He recommended I walk two miles a day.  Next, I visited a dietician. She set reasonable limits for my daily caloric intake. Neither of these actions would have made any difference had I not made it a priority to do what was recommended. Today and each day since, my prioritized daily task list has included tasks to  "Walk two miles," and "Monitor food and exercise." These items are attempted every day.

I am happy to report that I am halfway to my goal.

I made it a priority.

What are your priorities?

How are they reflected in your daily actions?

Are they moving you toward your goals?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thoughts for 2014

2104 has arrived! Last midnight across the nation, fireworks exploded, sweethearts kissed, and people lifted glasses of champagne and toasted the new year to the strains of "Auld Lang Syne". The old year has expired.  Behold, a new year has come, bringing with it opportunities for fresh starts, opportunities to do things differently and opportunities to do different things.

Many will take the opportunity of the new year  to make resolutions, committing themselves to accomplish something positive, to lose weight. to become more active, to spend more time with family, to be a better friend, to take a class, travel, start a business, publish a blog or even write the great American novel.

Others will go a step farther and set goals, binding their resolutions to attainment of a specific result. Some few will define SMART -- Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-limited -- goals, binding their result not only to one or more specific measures but also to a particular specified deadline for completion.

This year, I will make no resolutions. Resolutions are too non specific, too easily broken, too easily overcome by events. Resolutions don't work, at least not for me.

I may set goals. I may even establish some SMART goals. I have done this in the past, even to the extent of establishing intermediate goals and milestones. Sometimes I met them. Most often I didn't. In general, achieving my goals required too much effort over too long a time to deliver a result that was too far into the future to be real.  When life intervened, these goals were either abandoned or pushed so far into the future as to become irrelevant.

Setting goals was for defining where I wanted to be and when I wanted to be there but did little to get me there. My long term goals got lost in the hubbub of daily activities. I needed something to get me started and keep me moving. I needed actions I could make daily priorities.

Instead of resolving to "lose weight" -- resolution -- or stating  a goal to "lose x number of pounds by y date" -- goal -- I established a daily goal to "Consume no more than z calories per day" and daily actions to "Walk xx miles or yy minutes per day", and to "Monitor and record food intake and exercise daily" and to make accomplishing these actions a priority every day.  So far, my method is working.

This year, in lieu of resolutions, I will strive to break my long term goals into bite-size daily tasks and to make accomplishment of those tasks a priority every day.

How about you?

Have you made any resolutions or established any goals for the new year?

What actions will you take every day to keep your resolutions and achieve your goals?