Sunday, May 31, 2009

Babelfish Busted

Disconcerting to be found amongst a tribe and not understand the language. Even the most basic necessities become impossible to acquire as you are reduced to desperate pointing. It becomes even worse when the tribe in question is your family.

Earlier this week, traveling home from work, I rescued another box turtle from crossing the yellow lines of certain doom. He straddled the double yellow in the middle of the road, dancing a minuet to avoid onrushing cars. Snatching him up, he rode shotgun home to see the boys before releasing him into the wilds of our back yard.

Rushing to the car to get the first peek, even before I opened the door, they were already in search of a name. Mr. Shoe, in honor of the stuffed turtle? Spot, for the colorful orange Rorshact blots on his shell? Hissy, his first words as Logan lifted him out of the car? Cole proclaimed him...Datso! Datso?

I have long marveled at the language of my children. Our linguistic conundrum began with "solostate", of which I am still unsure of the exact definition. Logan and Cole, from their perch in the back seat, engaged in deeply intelligent conversations about "solostate", would grin and shake their heads at our idiocy when asked what was "solostate." Their delight mirrored our frustration as our very ability to communicate was lost in translation.

Whimper wipers, thermonitor, easy to decipher in their context. Possibly my children were replaced at birth by life forms from another planet, only the batteries on their universal translator are wearing down...just a theory.

Language, the ability to communicate, speaks either inclusion or division. Do we speak to be understood or to confuse? to bring together or to separate? to build ourselves up or to tear walls down? Intentionally or otherwise, the words we use carry crushing weight. How we use them determines our very character.

(...little yellow fish anyone?)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rock Ewe

Glitz. Glamour. My life as a rock star was very short lived and really never involved sheep, they'll come into the story later. What better way to relieve teen angst than to write heavy metal songs, get together a bunch of guys with little to no music talent and wail away? Legends in our own minds.

Actually, not all of us were in the no-talent pool. My cousin, DF, who frequents the Waystation still plays in a band called the BirdFangers. We had such high hopes for our band, especially with the endorsement of Mrs. Rose, the local mystic, who read our palms, proclaiming us Rock Stars. She also told me I would come into a lot of money...I think she may have been referring to the refund she owes me. 

Just as I was about to send Bruno down to convince her to cough up the dough, Poetikat bestowed the "Ewe Rock" award on me and Rose's haunting words echoed from the past. 

"What does it say? What is my future?"

Her gravelly voice replied, "You rock." (or I guess it really was "Ewe Rock.")

So that's where the sheep come into the story, in case your still wondering. Anyhow, this is high honor coming from one such as Poetikat. If you have not read her post this last Thursday, you are missing out.

Not one to let the moss grow on the rock (poor pun intended) and being of generous mind and spirit, I will now bequeath the award upon some deserving fellow storytellers...

What better way to create community than with good stories and great food? Weaving the two together, Lola has created a place I look forward to going each day.

Val's post from earlier this week, Holiday Romances Don't Work, is an amazing piece. I am new to reading her blog, but that one hooked me.

Great storyteller with intriguing twists. Might want to check out his multi-part story For Baby (For Bobbie) if you like a good yarn.

If you did not get mentioned this time around, don't worry I still love you. Go visit these friends and tell em Brian sent you. Catch you next time. (Cue pyrotechnics for exit)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chillaxin'


Flipping through old photographs, chasing memories down back alleys. Chuckles warmed the heart when we stumbled upon this one from about four years ago. My hope is that your weekend is as relaxing as my boys seem to be in this picture. Have a great weekend all!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Confession

I have a confession. Even as I type, my palms are starting to sweat and I hope by the end of this post you still respect me. My manhood is at stake. I have struggled with this deficiency for years, at times feeling insecure, like a lost cause. No little blue pill to cure it. I suffer from MD. 

My name is Brian Miller and I am Mechanically Deficient.

When it comes to fixing cars, I'm impotent. I have the tools. My family gives them to me at holidays in hopes that some form of radical osmosis will happen. As if just having them in the house will somehow imbue me with the power to do something with them. They look good when I carry them out of the house, my chest puffed out for my neighbors, set them down next to the car and try to screw my face into that deeply contemplative look. Staring at who knows what under the hood.

The few forays into actually dismantling an automobile have resulted in the creation of very large lawn ornaments and the ability to speak in tongues. I even have the EZ Fix-it guide for our cars. It makes a great pillow when getting the grounds eye view on the problem. (This is an advanced technique. If you have MD, I would not recommend it.)

"Why don't you just call your dad?" This bit of wisdom...drops the red haze over my vision. What I did not get in mechanical ability, my dad got in spades. I am either a genetic anomaly or he is just selfish. Making the call, that's what gets me. Admitting defeat. Admitting there are things I am not good at. So, many a time, I have eventually handed him the box of parts and pointed at the general location they came from.

Why do we do that? Why do we wait until we have really messed things up before we realize we need help? 

Surgeon General's Warning: Not just any help is good. It's easy to go ask the friend whose car has been on blocks for the last six months. It's easy to ask the guy who is in the same situation as you. But what are you really going to get? Sometimes we need to ask someone who has been where we are trying to get, not someone that is still trying to get there. 

 "Just put the tool down and back away from the vehicle" has echoed through the phone lines enough times that I have stopped pretending. I have MD and I'm okay with that, because I know people that don't. And they are just a phone call away.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Theme Thursday: Suitcase

Squinting into the mirror, too early to look myself in the eye, as I brush my teeth. A quick kiss and out the door, suitcase in hand. Raleigh airport, next stop Florida.

Busy morning, all knees and elbows. Packed tight like a can of ravioli, all over each other and an unnatural smell. Retinas burn as we slice through the cloud cover catch the suns first rays. Rather beautiful actually, at this height the world seems peaceful.

Speakers crackle, a disembodied voice informs us we will be putting down in Atlanta, unscheduled. Please disembark and await further instructions. Out the tunnel into the terminal, people buzzing like bees, cell phones attached to every ear. A television catches my eye and I watch something explode into a building. The television goes black and we are left to wonder.

All circuits are busy now. All circuits are busy. My secretary finally, let my wife know I am safe and get me a car. All circuits are busy...

Someone blew up New York...They took out buildings...Can you get through...We are at war...

Thousands of people walk aimless, without purpose. Castaways on an island, cut off from the world. People everywhere, slumping against walls, dialing numbers, standing in line in hopes of a way off the island. Every scrap of news shared with huddled masses, some true. Hours pass.

Conveyors start, belching an endless line of luggage. Straddling the river, we grab bags and build mountains of suitcases. Mine is not here, each one a step closer, each one bringing relief to someone. New friends are made amidst the chaos, watching out for each other. Sweat pooling on our lips means we are still here, still alive. There have been more attacks.

All those people...in the buildings. Tears. Yes honey, I am here. I love you. I will talk to you when I can get through again and be home when I can. Tears. How could this happen? Tears.

Hours. My number is called, a car. Anyone going to Columbus? No suitcase, I had given up. Maslow...the need to get out of the walls, to breathe, trumps the need for clothing. Walmart closed for curfew, guess this suit will do. Keys in hand walking toward the door, far from home, into a world that seems so different.

Rising out of the bowels, the grey bag slides down onto the conveyor. Hands grabbing to shift it to the pile. Thanks, I'll take that. It's mine. The first smile of the day, I stride for the door, suitcase in hand, happy to have it. A small piece of home in troubled times goes a long way.
_________

For all those that lost loved ones on 9.11.01, my story seems trite. My heart goes out to you as your piece of home never came. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Daddy


Summer rain patters it's refreshing tune on grass and earth. Bare feet propped on the arm of the chair, his feet on my knees, his head on my shoulders. Visions of Henry and Mudge frolic in his imagination as I narrate their tale. 

Abruptly, Cole rises to sit on my chest, story time forgotten. "Dad, look here", pointing to the pale blond hairs on his legs. "Pretty soon I'll be a daddy and have hairs just like you."

A smile curls on the crease of my lips, as my mind drifts to anxious days of early fatherhood, figuring out what it means to be a dad. Unconsciously my arms wrap his body, pulling him close, as we stare out into the day. His soft hair rests against my lips, the scent of little boy greets me and I know, my answer is found in being right here, right now, in moments like these.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not Today

HahAHAhA! Howling like a hyena, the Joker takes the first steps to put his plan in place to unleash his laughing gas upon Gotham. Henchmen, carting canisters to trucks, freeze mid-stride as the Dark Knight emerges from the shadows. His sneer cracks as if to speak when...a four year old in blue space ship pajamas jumps through the door and yells "Not Today!"

Gloved hands dart to gasping mouths beneath the cowl...Joker snickers..."Awwww! You said not today!"

"Not today" has become taboo in our house, and for reasons you would not expect. Every time Cole plays superheroes, his hero's catch phrase is "Not Today!" First thing out of their mouth when they bust onto the scene, "Not Today!" There were whole battles where Green Lantern just kept repeating "Not Today", like his mental record kept skipping. 

Then T got in on it, starting conversations between Wonder Woman and whoever Cole had at the time about "Not Today!" Logan banned it from the house, use it and he won't play superheroes with you. Accidentally use it in conversation and you will get the gasping hand over mouth treatment, even if you are a guest or if we happen to walk past you in public. We don't even have to know you.

If you happen to be the guy from Ollie's the other day, really you don't have anything on your face or clothing that is repulsive. You can come out of the bathroom and stop inspecting yourself in the mirror. It was all about what you said..."not today."

Just for fun, we try to slip it into conversations, mainly to see the mischievous light in Cole's eyes as he gasps. I can't blame Logan...how many times can you hear "not today" before it starts to give you an inability complex? Imagine the poor bad guys, never actually accomplishing anything. Today is all I am promised, if "not today" when?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Freeze

My hands reached for the sky, as gravity pulled cold sweat down my face. The gaping mouth of the shotgun threatened to show it's buckshot teeth. "Mister, if you shoot me, make it clean. I am supposed to get married tomorrow and if you don't, my fiance' will kill me."
____________

1996. The rehearsal dinner was finished, along with the obligatory toast highlighting all the embarrassing things that could be remembered about the groom. Anticipation chased it's partner adrenaline through my veins. In less than 24 hours, I would be waiting at the end of the aisle, her beauty reflecting off tears, dampening my eyes. For now, following tradition, we were separated until that moment.

Friends gathered round with fond wishes in the hotel room, ushering me over the threshold of a new chapter of life. Taking a break from the crowded festivities, my sister's boyfriend and I slipped out to walk through the drizzle toward the florescent white oasis of the gas station. Laughter mixed with contemplation, the intoxicating drink of the evening.

Tinkling bells announced our entrance, awakening the lone clerk from his drowsing. Setting aside the novel, that seconds before was about to slip from his hands, he stepped to the counter, watching our descent through the aisles toward the coolers.

Clatter arose, oppressively loud in such small a space, as we turned to watch a gun slide up the aisle toward the clerk. Hearts stopped as hands darted below the register, grasping offensive protection. Questions like "Where did that come from?" were replaced with visions of explaining my elopement to county custody. 

Empty palms and cooler heads prevailed as my cohort showed his permit for the gun that had slipped from his waste band. Nervous snickers, as money slid across the counter to pay for the drinks, waiting to get outside and knock some sense into him. One moment/one choice can change the whole trajectory of your life, even when it is not yours.
____________

Tomorrow we celebrate 13 wonderful years. Happy Anniversary!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Path

Serenity. Each inhale filled with sweet undertones of flowers in bloom. A visual kaleidiscope of colors surround us in this veritable eden. Singing birds and skittering animals, inviting us into their melody, provide the sound track of our journey. These days are good, this path is smooth.

Peace. If only this could be the path chose more often. If only we could see our destination from our first tentative steps in it's direction. Those we choose too often seem filled with uncertainty of what is around the bend. Sometimes we are surprised and delighted. Others still, we find the azure sky over run with ominous, darkening clouds.

Anxious. What does the future hold? In thinking about tomorrow, we look at our hands only finding today has slipped through our fingers, swiftly. As if our worry could add more days, yet only takes them away.

Release. Little hand folding into mine, reminding me that you are there. Anxiousness seeps out of pores, forming puddles on the ground. Fading with our footsteps as we boldly return to the path to face whatever is to come. Together.

Serenity.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Collide





"It seemed like a good idea at the time",
which usually precedes,
"I should have seen that coming",
leaves me on my backside,
staring at the rich blue sky,
pondering...
nothing philosophical today,
just a whole lot of *giggles*

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Goldilocks

Hours of practice, working out the fidgety nervousness. Our young deer (yes, those are how kindergartners envision antlers) leaped across the stage and...

"Big sized Daddy Bear, Medium sized Mommy Bear and Tiny little Baby Bear..."

...opened the story of a number. Thr3e. Thr3e Bears. Thr3e Bowls. Thr3e Chairs. Thr3e Beds. Thr3e Perspectives. Even an interlude, where the play was crashed by Thr3e Little Pigs and a Big Bad Wolf. All pointing toward Thr3e.

Have we reduced the world to two dimensions? One side right, means another side is wrong. Each holding, white knuckled, to the tower they have created to support their views. This tale, a lesson wrapped in a metaphor, wrapped in a story that simple children can understand. The two extremes and a third way. One too hot, one too cold, one just right. One too big, one too small, one just right. One too hard, one too soft, one just right.

Before the curtain closes, Baby Bear comes to the rescue offering a third way where a bear and a little girl can play together. In stubbornly holding onto our two dimensions, like the pigs who built their houses of straw and stick, have we built our house on shifting sand? Have we mistakenly dismissed the opportunity for bears and girls find a place in which to play?

T and I masterminded the 3-D log cabin in the background, complete with chimney and windows. Cole wants you to know, he helped too, painting some of the wood grain. The show stealer's though were the adorable, colorful children in their casual silliness. Playing.

Thr3e.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Theme Thursday: Vacation

Congealed blood hung in heavy pools on the surface of the kitchen table. Crimson hand prints adorned the doorpost, leading into the maelstrom of broken glass that was the living room. The knife lay where it was discarded, on the rack in the oven. Vacation was soon to be over, how did it ever get to this point...

_________

Tile squares, turning yellow between the flecks of brown, capture my attention while hour glass sands pour. Distraction. In line at the grocery, when the guys in front awoke me with a question..."Are you going to the party this weekend?"

As they describe the location of the hedonist festivities, I realise I have been to this place before that they are talking about. It's where I live, my parent's home. Interesting....

A coming of age moment in our family was getting a job when you turned sixteen, which also allowed you to stay home from the family vacation to work. After pulling tires off the hot press at the plant, all  week, I wanted nothing more than to scrub the rubber from my pores and rest. Now it seemed, expressing her new found freedom for the first time, my sister was having a party...

Hearing two strangers talking about the enormous crowd that would be there, friends invited, inviting friends, inviting relatives from other states, I did what any older sibling would do. I called a buddy to go camping, an impromptu vacation of our own, to get as far away from the train wreck as possible.

Sunday afternoon, after a weekend in the wilds around the lake, we curiously rounded the bend to my parents house, unsure what to expect. Beer cans glittered, flashing S-O-S in Morse code, to passing planes. As we came to a stop in front of the house, my aunt ran across the street crying, "You don't want to go in there! John (her husband) tried to stop it, but they threw the kitchen table at him."

Unable to enter the front door, I crawled through a window, greeted by the sticky sweet smell. My sister's bed a stack of kindling, splintered and broken. Windows with holes, oddly head shaped, drizzled in red. Walking slowly, as not to wake the spectres of the night before, surveying the carnage, glass crunched under sole. Knife and pistol in the stove, crimson swipes and darkening puddles painted the kitchen. Rifle amongst the ocean of aluminum in the yard. No sister. No bodies of any sort, we checked.

Fear. First for my sister, then for my hide. Mike and I scrambled...stuffing cans in bags, pulling glass from panes, sanitizing, scrubbing...finishing just as my parents pulled up the driveway. I don't remember when my sister came home. Periodically through the years I have met people that were there, heard stories of how things came to be.

Why did I run to the mountains? Why didn't I try to stop it before it ever began, especially after over hearing the two strangers at the grocery? Some inner desire for self preservation, while my heart for my fellow man (or young woman in this case) went on vacation. When you try to avoid the issues you see in someone's life, or even your own, sometimes you end up picking up the pieces. Wisdom learned much later in life, sorry sis.

Choke


If you have watched my twitter feed this week, you probably noticed it's been an interesting week with the boys:

bmiller007cole turns to logan and says "you know broccoli is fatal..." lol.

Anything to get out of veggies. If it was lima beans, he would get my vote.

bmiller007driving home from a walk along black water creek after dinner, logan says "cole, can you hand me something to hit you with?" "ok, here."

What began as a request to pass the toy became Gettysburg. Brother against brother, shots fired in anger, as action figures earned their name as ammunition. When Logan ran out, he politely asked his nemesis to share, which Cole did....go figure.

bmiller007another reason to love big brothers..."cole, if you put toothpaste on them, it makes your eyebrows really show up!" "ok, will you help me?"

When in the interrogation room, bright light in his eyes, Logan sheepishly grinned, realizing for the first time we heard about this one. "What! I was just kidding!"

Maybe it's because we are from Mars, but boys are just different when it comes to affection. Anyone else messes with your brother and it's on "like Donkey Kong." Between brothers though, the hugs seem a whole lot like headlocks. Tension fading to a forgotten memory as they head off on another adventure.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm No Tennis Pro

It's all Luke and Cheryl's fault. Good friends from our community group on Fridays, reintroduced us to tennis a couple weeks ago. This may or may not be a good thing. I can be a little competitive...actually my diagnostic scoring puts me in the "Uber" category. Mix that with the fact that neither my wife or I have been on a court in a few years, it can get interesting.

Imagine your first time on roller skates and you would get a pretty good picture of how the first set went, stumbling around the court like an inebriated giraffe. They kept saying "love" (in the score) so everything was okay. Did I really get hit with the ball from behind? Was that on purpose? 3-1, Luke and Cheryl.

As we worked our way through three more sets we started to find our rhythm together and fought to a standstill 2-2 in each set. We had a chance to win the last one, but it slipped away. I think they were being generous when they saw the look in my eyes after the first set, the same look you get when the tabs on your kids toys won't quite fit on Christmas Eve.

A few thoughts on playing well with others:

1. The relationship is always more important than the game. The game has a definite end and if you don't get this one right, so will the relationship.

2. We all have different strengths. Knowing this helps you compensate. Everyone is not as good as you are. Ooops! What I mean to say is you (I) have our weaknesses too and if we own that and surround ourselves with people that are good in those areas, we will accomplish a lot more. Leting each person play to their strengths keeps them from getting frustrated when you try to "teach them how to do it right."

3. If you point out the good things your partner does, more frequently than the bad, they work a whole lot harder. Seems obvious, but hard to remember in the heat of the moment.

4. Sometimes it takes a few games for "team" and "mates" to get it together. There is a certain rhythm that has to be found when working with others, as you figure each other out. It can be pretty enduring, but if you are intentional about this process, it creates beautiful music.

5. One game does not make or break a career, but if you see a trend you may want to change the game you are playing. There is a reason Monopoly is not allowed in our house, but that is another story for another day.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Can't Touch This


"Can we go to the toy store? We don't want to go to Walmart, they don't let us ride their bikes."

A few weeks ago, we were doing a little shopping at Walmart. One of the enticements for the boys to endure the trek was to visit the aisle with the bikes. Numerous occassions we have stopped by to allow them to test drive their birthday wishes. Up and down the aisle, imagining the wind in their hair on the open road, lyrics from "Born to be Wild" spinning through their heads.

This day, the needle scratched across the record, when one of the "associates" informed us that bike riding was not appropriate until after we purchased and left the store. We were "supervised" as we replaced the bike on it's hook, where it hung lonely amongst the crowd of its peers. Look but don't touch, see but don't experience. The whirring of the cameras, hidden in their dark bubbles, followed us out the door, our hands burried in pockets so as not to accidentally graze the wares.

Opinions are formed early in young minds, creating habits in spending and otherwise. Now they do not want to go to Walmart, ever. It makes me wonder about other environments that they find themselves in; school, church, home. When we are defined more by what we will not allow them to do, it's no wonder they don't want to be there.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Who Wins?

Houston's, we may have a problem. Seems Big Brother is watching a little close these days. An upcoming court case in New Jersey will determine your right to privacy, at least when it comes to staying employed. Two ex-employees of Houston's restaurant were fired, when management "encouraged" another employee to give up the password to a private message board where they were making negative comments about supervisors, the restaurant and it's patrons.

Driving in my car yesterday, hearing this story, I initially joining the talk show host in outrage at the invasion of privacy. I mean this was done during non-work hours and not on company computers. The employee that was "encouraged" to give up her password stated she felt she would be fired if she did not allow them access.

Then I got to thinking, when did the employees earn the right to talk bad about someone other than to their face. I am not naive, I know it happens but what does it really help? It affects no real change and then giving out passwords to other employees bringing them into the cabal of dissension, seriously? My thoughts progressed yet again to what might have caused the employees to talk this way about where they work. Their leaders created the stories the employees were telling through attitudes and actions.

In all of this, who wins. Each side is firmly entrenched defending their position, each having their own faults, and no one seems to be doing what probably could have avoided all of this...listening. I wonder when the conversation broke down, or if it ever really began.

Decisions we make in our own relationships lead down similar paths. Someone chooses not to speak to a spouse or friend about an issue and instead chooses to loosen their tongue online, or gather their other friends, like a lynch mob, to share their burden (translate take their side and help tie the noose). Next thing you know it's all over the news and the next step is court. Or we can choose to take it straight to the source and talk about it.

Houston's, we may have started with a problem, but now we have a debacle.

Friday, May 15, 2009

WWJ(immy)B(uffett)D?

Periodically, I get into my parrothead mood and break out my Jimmy Buffet collection. It just has a way of relaxing most situations, adjusting your attitude to the rhythm of the ocean. There is just something about his lyrical storytelling that appeals to me as well. One of my favorites...

"He went to Paris looking for answers, to questions that bothered him so..."

I can relate. Not that I have ever been to Paris, but the questions. They come to haunt when I look at my boys, my wife or when I am on a heavy coffee bender.

Why are people starving in one country, while we super size in another?
Why is it that some kids can't get the medical attention they need, neither affording it or having access?
Why do people hurt people hurt people...?
Why are there lonely people slowly wasting away in crowded neighborhoods?

These questions pull heart strings, stoking cooling embers into roaring flames. They are the things we are passionate about. They make us mad and you read about them on our blogs as we rail against injustice. Why...battered women, neglected kids, famine, disease, economic depression...why, why, why...the list goes on and on and on...

If we leave it at "why" we are left with angst and little release. We wait for someone to do something, when we only ask "why." We have to ask "how" and "what". What can I do? How can I get involved? Facing our questions, chasing our passions can be intimidating. They can seem so big, our effort so small. I guess the alternative is to do what jimmy buffet would do..."pour me something tall and strong, make it a hurricane, before I go insane" and hope it numbs the feelings our passions stir. Life seems too short, to waste it away...in Margaritaville or elsewhere.

What questions stir you heart?

Disclaimer: Jimmy, if you happen to be reading this, I mean all the positive statements at the beginning and hope you don't mind the liberties of playing off your songs later in the post.

Seeds

Mowing the grass again, racing the rain that would transform it into a jungle if untended. Cole shadowing me with his lawn mower, keeping just enough distance to keep the grass from covering him. Settling into my grass cutting meditation, back and forth, the circles getting smaller, when Cole runs up waving his arms to get my attention, like Lassie trying to save Timmy from the well. Stopping the lawn mower I bend down...

What's up buddy?

Will you dig a hole with me to plant these seeds?

(Smiles) Sure, never too busy to plant new life.

Turning dirt, little hands tucked seeds into an earthen bed. A hug and few word and I return to my grass cutting, lost in progress and thought. Yelling. I look to see Cole again, yelling to get my attention.

What?

Do you think the flower has grown?

No, well maybe just a little.  Over the next couple days we may start to see something. It takes a long time for new things to grow. It will start to grow roots that will help it drink in the things to help it grow. All that has to happen before you will ever see it. Be patient, give it time.

It only takes one careless thought, one misspoke word, one action/reaction to tear things down. It takes a long time for new things to grow and take root. Change does not happen over night.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Theme Thursday: Wh(oops!)

Have you noticed how wh(oops!) tend to run in packs like wild dogs. One wh(oops!) and the next thing you know you are at the bottom of the dog pile. A slippery slope that ends up something like this...

Periodically my wife has been brave (confused) enough to leave me at home alone with the boys. It was one of those occasions and I was feeling much like the circus ring master trying to keep their attention by directing them from one activity to the next. The natives were restless, and fearing the cooking pot, I came up with the idea to finger paint.

Pulling out the paint box, I realised we had none of the glossy paper that makes them work so well.  Improvise...we don't need no stinking paper! wh(oops!) Picking the most vibrant colors I squirted copious amounts on the kitchen table for the boys to create their masterpiece. Enough of my faculties were in place to have them strip down to their shorts to limit the collateral damage.

Swirls and smears transformed into abstract art just as the phone rang. My wife checking in and for a brief moment I turned my attention...wh(oops!) Assuring her everyone was still living, I caught the first break dance move out of the corner of my eye. Little bodies (now multicolored) spinning freely in the slippery paint. Amazing what can happen in less than 30 seconds.

"Everyone stay right where you are. I am going to start a bath. We need to clean this up, mom is on her way home!"

Moving quickly to draw a bath, the pitter-patter of little feet met me from behind. Didn't I tell them to stay...wh(oops!). Peaking out the door, little blue footprints all across the new (yes new) Berber carpet. wh(oops!) Panic sets in. Limit the damage. Boys in the bath. Why isn't this paint coming off? Little eyes, peering out of blue and purple stained bodies, started to share my panic. Running back to the kitchen, past the drying footprints and oozing table. Grabbing the paint tube...ACRYLIC! Who put that in the finger paint bin! wh(oops!)

Panic escalated to hysteria. Burning through cell phone numbers of all the moms I know. How do you get paint out of carpet!?! Laughter echoed at my confessions, when we heard the crunch of gravel.

 Turning to the modestly dry, still a little sudsy, mal-colored children and in desperation I cried "Your mom is home and she is going to kill us!"

Quivering lips shrieked "Really?"

"Yes, everyone hide!" wh(oops!)

We did not die that day on the slippery slopes of foolishness. I have redeemed myself since. But we did learn that when all of your choices are followed by wh(oops!) you might want to rethink your direction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

God is...

God is...

your answer to that statement could go in many different directions, depending on your belief system, how your day went, what stress you are under, the direction of your life etc.

on this day his Facebook status read "God is an @$#0(%!  Leviticus 26"

my friend wondered what my response would be. i have a couple...

1. "wow! he's being pretty real with his emotions." there is no question on where he is at right now. 

2. the sad part is that i am sure this sent many of his friends running for the hills with their lightning antennas up so they would not get hit. or they brought out the post to tie him to for the barbecue. or maybe that was just my experience earlier in life. i should not be too hard because its sometimes hard to know what to do when someone is that real with their emotions.

3. for his statement to be true, it implies a belief is God. the fact that he gives a scripture reference shows he read the Bible. i take both of these as a positive and he has opened a conversation with his statement, what more could you ask for.

4. i have been there. i have been mad at the world and at God, when i got busted. the scripture reference he used has to do with punishment for disobedience. which begs the question, "if you really loved me, why would you punish me so?" it's easy to get angry at those that try to hold us accountable for our actions. every action has a consequence, some positive, some not so much.

we can get confused about the freedom we find in love. if i really love you, i will hold you to a standard. if i just let you do whatever you want and don't address it, that's neglect not love. none of us wants to get in trouble and when we do we will do anything to get the spotlight off us. even turn the anger we have at getting caught upon the one that loves us enough to say something. 

5. what if there was a place where people could be real and could talk and deal with these issues without feeling like they had a scarlet letter on their forehead? i would love to work there. maybe we would even call it church.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spiders

I usually don't mind spiders, when they don't mind me. This year is shaping up to be the exception as I seem to be caught up in a rerun of the 1990 film, Arachnophobia.

My headlights reflected off the asphalt, creating long shadows. Some song off U2's new album nipped at my subconscious, my mind already on home, mere minutes away. The hairs stood at attention on my arm when he landed skittering toward my shoulder. Involuntarily shivering as his eight legs danced, invisible inside the dark car. No shame, I screamed, releasing the wheel to unleash my ninja wrath upon my tormentor. No identifiable remains to be found, I can only assume I got him. This was Wednesday.

On Friday, one of his posse came to call in the blood debt as I dozed lazily in the living room. A small tickle, I reached to scratch, coming away with a handful of hairy legs. Still more blood on my hands.

Yesterday, coming home from Mother's Day in the park, we were paid another visit from the "family." Everyone had settled in for the hour ride home, boys capturing the moment for a quick nap. Our moment of peace shattered as a shriek erupted from the back seat. Cole, curling back in fright, trying to put as much space as the seat belt would allow between himself and the assassin.

Popping my seat belt, I spun to the rescue (T was driving). Wielding a deadly hard back copy of Jack Rabbit Goalie, I lunged, driving full force into his midsection. Turning expectantly to my son, ready to bask in all the glory of being his hero, he said "What are you doing out of your seat. Don't you know the police man could stop us and you would get us in trouble. Go sit back down in your seat."

Don't you love it when you try to help someone out and they give you a hard time. I don't know why people struggle with accepting help sometimes. Pride. Stubbornness. Or maybe like my son they are confused by our methods. It's not what they expected, as we rush in and try to kill the spiders without involving them, all for our glory. I love him enough, not to stop killing his spiders. But maybe I will examine my methods.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Slides


Three generations of mothers gathered round, as we celebrated Mother's Day at Waldron Park this afternoon; my grandmother (paternal), my mother and the mother of my children. After a picnic dinner, played some baseball with the boys, tennis briefly and then they attacked the play ground. Not content to just take the path well trodden they decided to scale the outside of the slides garnering three responses...

1. "What are you doing?" 
2. "But dad said it was okay"
3. "If you fall and break something, it will hurt for a while because we don't have insurance. As long as you are okay with that, go at it."

It started as the boys watched another young adventurer's head pop out the end of the slide. Like a cautious rabbit coming out of his burrow, he cast his gaze here and there to see if there was danger (translate: to see if mom was looking). Seeing the coast was clear, he emerged from with in and began to scale the outside of the slide.

Temptation took hold and my boys turned to see what my response would be. Seeing the smile, they wasted not time in attempting to ascend their Everest. Logan followed the path of the previous climber, including leaping off the top of the slide onto the platform yelling "Touchdown!"

Cole on the other hand got to the first rib of the tube and lost his stride. Flattening himself against the cool plastic, more mass against mass the less the probability of sliding off the side into the mulch of doom, he gasped "help!" His eyes had the desperate look of a drowning man. Getting him to lift himself off his pseudo-safe perch was the hardest, as he had to give up some security to make the next move. Eventually, he was able to make it the rest of the way landing victoriously above with "Touchdown!", and a big smile for daddy.

A few things I hope my boys grasp:

1. Whenever we try something new, it's always great to follow the lead of someone who has been there.

2. Don't wait too late to ask for help. Its better to ask for help and move ahead, than hold onto your pride and fall to your doom. Don't confuse wisdom with weakness. For a time in my life I viewed it as weakness to ask for help, have to keep myself from falling back into that stupidity.
 
3. When you arrive at the top, remember the people that helped you get there. Also as you get to the top, there is further to fall so watch your step (I know a few bankers who wished they would have remembered that one.)

4. You never really arrive, there are always bigger slides to climb.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Turtle


We saved a life today. She sat on the precipice, contemplating what was zooming past her at 55 mph, life. Sticking her neck out, looking to and fro, yet knowing her legs would not be fast enough. Once the line had been crossed, her life span would be short. And that is how we found her.

She retreated inside her shell, when we picked her up, placing her gently in a soft patch of grass, far from the dangers of the road. Being so close to mothers day, my mind thought of mothers, maybe she was one or at least had one somewhere.

Mothers who carry the weight of the house upon their shoulders. Cooking and making us try everything on our plate. Cleaning. Caring. Making us do our math homework, because it was "good for us." Band-aid-ing skinned knees. Reading bed time stories. Folding our little hands in yours to say our prayers. Mothers have so many roles, many of which never get acknowledged as we rush off head first into the next adventure. Before you know it, they are grown and gone. Life zooms past, like cars to the turtle.

Today we pause. Today we celebrate, for all those things we never said thank you for, and the few times we did. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Breaking Wind

When you open up the discussion, you open up the opportunity for a little zaniness. My favorite parts of training were when the participants tried to test the knowledge of the facilitator by bringing up obscure objections or stories. Like one I heard in an Interview Skills workshop I did once...

"Brian, all this is well and good but I had this one time...(always the precursor of a good story)...when this sharp dressed young man came in to interview. I took him back to the closing room and we went through introductions. Just as I was about to get into the interview questions, he tooted. The young man did not seem to notice or bring attention to it so I let it go.

A few questions later, he ripped one that made paint begin to peal off the walls. Again, he did not bring notice to it so I asked 'Are you okay?' Sheepishly, he replied he was sorry and would be okay. At this point I stepped out to get an application and a couple quick breaths. When I returned to the room it might as well have been a port-a-pottie at the county fair, the air had a green tinge. I asked him if he needed to reschedule or take some medication.

Looking a little perturbed, he responded he was fine and would like to continue. Just as I was about to speak, he let one go that would have had the late Steve Irwin screaming 'What a rippa!' I lost it. I told him to get...(colorful metaphors removed)...out of my office and never come back because I would no hire his smelly... Is their anything I should have done differently?"

Honestly, I am not sure what the corporate response should be but I wonder if the guy was asking the same question as he slunk out of the office. 

Sometimes we can be pretty careless with the environment we create. Our actions, attitudes, policies, disorganization...they all play a part in the experience of those we come in contact with and keep them from seeing the real us. You have probably heard "don't sweat the small stuff" but what if it keeps people from getting to the good stuff? Sometimes we can become so accustomed to our own stench that it takes someone with fresh eyes (or noses) to point it out. Or we can just wonder why the only ones left sitting in the room are us...and our flatus.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Turbulence

They say flying is a safer way to travel. I guess it is just the size of the fall that can get a little intimidating...

Just another typical week, jet setting around the country, putting on sales training. This day I was on my way to Birmingham. The stewardess had already been by with the drinks and those amazing little bags of mix. (That should tell you this was a couple years ago, you are lucky to get tap water these days.) 

An announcement awoke me from my reading, it seems we would be experiencing a little rough air in our travels, the pilot wanted us to reset our tray tables, strap in and secure all loose items. The stewardesses were making their way down the aisle collecting trash when we hit the first speed bump. Then knuckles went white as we went into a rock tumbler and stewardesses fell like bowling pins, grasping at seat legs.

This is the point when I started getting flash backs from the series premiere of Lost, the part when the engine exploded...yeah. Air masks rained down around our heads and we went over the hill on the roller coaster. Down, down, down...the bottom fell out. Screams, loud. A guy two rows in front of me found Jesus, at least that's what he yelled when he flew into the air hitting the overhead bin.

Tense laughter over took most of us, as he scrambled to comply with the pilots previous request. We made it to Birmingham, and I have flown numerous times since that  experience. But I can't forget that guy. The thing is, when you hit turbulence, it's always good to stay grounded, seat belt or otherwise.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Theme Thursday: Wind

Slowly coming to the surface, flirting with REM sleep, the dream begins...

Black becomes shades of gray in the moonlight. Pausing for a moment at the crest of the hill, the staccato drum beats of my heart chasing away the night sounds. The forest around me has become my prison, the hunter chasing me around it's cell. The wind, like a hot breath upon my neck, whispers that he is still behind me. How long have I been running?

Bursting into action, slaloming between the trees. No effort at keeping silent, there is no one to hear, besides him. Leaves rustle, sticks snap betraying me. Footing giving way beneath me, I taste earth as I roll. Weight, pressing my back, shadow falls over me. Even the moon has turned it's gaze from my plight.

Rough hands twisting me to face my attacker. I am prey caught in a trap, pinned like a moth in a collection. Hands raised, a breeze catches in the hood of his cloak, giving a glimpse of my pursuer. Eyes meet and now I know I have reached the end, as I smile back at myself...

Awake...bolt upright in the bed, a patina of sweat creates a shadow where I once lay...and the wind whispers against my neck...

A dream I had my senior year in high school. Chilling as I lay helpless before myself, afraid. My Dagobah moment, Luke Skywalker in the cave seeing his face beneath Vaders mask. A glimpse of what I could become if I continued down that path.

Those years can be such a journey, so many (well meaning, sometimes) whispers in the wind, blowing you here and there. "Seeing the wind" and slipping below the waves, I can relate with Peter. In our moment of greatest fear, hunted, trying to save ourselves from ourselves,we find the opportunity of our greatest rescue.

The winds whisper...to which will you listen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Unimportant Me

I got double tapped this week. California Girl and Candie both tagged me to list 6 unimportant things about me that make me happy. It's actually a pretty daunting task, but here it goes, my list of guilty pleasures...

1. The aroma of fresh coffee wafting under my nose in the morning. It's really not important..I could quit any time I want...really.

2. When it rains on the day I am supposed to mow. I love cutting the grass...not really.

3. The only TV show I watch these days in the Unit. Guess we'll find out this month if there will be a fifth season. The way this season has gone they have built up to a major shake up with the season finale this week.

4. I love a good adventure novel. Some of my favorites are James Rollins & Matthew Reilly. While not adventure a few others are James Patterson, John Grisham (off and on) and Nicolas Sparks. Yeah, I read love stories occasionally, I said it.

5. I was once a clown. This is so unimportant, I will never mention it again. Never mentioning it again would make me very happy.

6. I could sit and watch prairie dogs for hours. Jumping, yipping while they play peek-a-boo in their warrens. My favorite part of the zoo.

Now that I have bared my soul I have to pass this along to those I would love to hear from.

Rob 

These are just a few of the blogs that I enjoy to read, hope you will check them out. While at Mrspole's Place check out the post on pens of hope, we will be doing this with our boys over the next week and is a great opportunity to make a small investment that will go a long way in the lives of children overseas...something that is important, and would make me very happy.

Soccer

I grew up playing soccer. Unfortunately due to asthma, I was relegated to full back, but all good because I am still alive and breathing today. The other day, I found myself out by the fields, watching kids in the U12 league play a match.

The morning was just about perfect, in a Goldilocks kinda way. A little overcast, so as not to be too hot, but not too cool as well. The players milled around, juggling balls with knees, chest, feet. Each coach giving their last minute motivation, to the rapt attention of eleven year olds. The first half was dominated by the team in Spain colors. The other team, dressed in purple, could do very little right; no energy, no shot, they might as well have passed the ball and sat down. In what could have been much more lopsided, the half time score was 3-0. 

Their coach never gave up on them. I began to watch him halfway through the first half when I heard his cheering for the opponents goalie. The goalie had just made a great save of one of their few shots on goal, and the coach yelled "Great Save!" Being competitive, this threw me for a loop. What coach encourages his opponent.

He did not limit his praise to his opponent, but gave it liberally to everyone on the field. When one of his players would run off after a substitution, he would kneel down and talk to them, giving them pointers and encouragement. When his team was getting blasted on the field, he kept his cool and kept it fun for his kids.

I don't know if the Spain team felt they were far enough ahead, but the second half was like watching Stallone in a boxing ring with Dolph Lundren. You could almost hear the soundtrack in the background as the team slowly crawled back into the game. They scored their first goal on a break away, 3-1...a few minutes later, some fancy passing and teamwork made it 3-2...the air was alive with energy and with 30 seconds to go, the goalie dove one way, while the ball went the other...3-3. Players leaped into the air, wanting to pull their shirt off and dash to mid-field.

As fun as it was to watch the game, the coaches chatter had seized my attention. The game ended in a tie, and I watched as he went to the opposing team, sharing a word with each boy as they shook hands, commenting on something specific they did good. As much as he had showed his players he believed in them during the game, well before the comeback was on, he showed the other team what it meant to care more for them than the outcome of the game.

When winning becomes greater than the people, who is left to cheer for you?

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Principle of the Path - Andy Stanley

Have you ever wondered how you ended up where you are in life? Do you still have dreams and wonder how you are ever going to get there? In his new book The Principle of the Path, Andy Stanley helps begin to answer those questions. It's not 10 steps to success, you don't have to give up your favorite foods...in his typical story telling style Andy shares a principle. The thing with a principle, you don't even have to do it for it to be at work in your life. If it is already at work, whether you do anything or not, you might as well harness it and put it to work for you.

This is one of those books I wish I would have read a long time ago. Hey Andy, why did you take so long writing it! It can be read alone, but I think it is a great companion to The Best Question Ever, an earlier book of Andy's. Having gone to DRIVE conference the last couple times (no I am not there right now...aarrgghh!) I would have read the book because I enjoy listening to Andy and think he speaks and writes like you are sitting down to a cup of coffee. It's like he has been reading your mail. For me, the last chapter was worth the price of admission, what happens when dreams die.

As Andy lays out the path, he also shares things that will get you off track along the way and how to avoid them. He shares a quote from his driving instructor that he used on the road and in life, "Don't look at the cars that are passing you, and don't look at the cars you are passing. If you look that way, you will tend to steer that way as well." Being competitive, I found this insightful, and tellingly true in my life.

A great book on the decisions we make and the ramifications of them. If you are looking to accomplish your goals, and are not just looking for the next cute fad to get there, this book will help you figure out how to accomplish them.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for letting me review The Principle of the Path.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Riding Bikes


I don't remember learning to ride a bike. I am sure if you asked my dad he could relay the story in vivid detail. I do remember the freedom to fly.

Recently, we have been working with the boys on riding. Logan has had a bike for a couple years, but Cole has been captured by the scooter and his skateboards, until now. It's like a flip switched inside him, and all he wants to do is ride. 

Having no flat surface, he has had to learn off-road on the hill in front of the house. Places that training wheels are not made to go, so they broke off. At least the grass is soft, somewhat. Cole's obsession is to get to the point he can do tricks. He stands on the crossbar, holds up a wheelie...with the kick stand down. Getting him to understand we have to get the whole pedaling while balancing thing down first, good luck.

Falling off the bike is not a lot of fun. One moment you are zipping along, wind in your hair, the next you are sprawled akimbo, hand through spokes, foot stuck in the chain, blood coming from... Sometimes life seems like learning to ride a bike, again and again. It's almost cliche to say you have to get right back on, because sometimes, it's just not that easy.

I find myself at one of those points in life. Figuring out what the future holds. Trying to find my bike to ride. After college I did counseling and teaching for a couple years. Then management and training with Citigroup. Then I went into ministry. Those that have been reading a while know that a couple months ago, I left the church I was at, to come home to my family, when our house did not sell. So now I find myself figuring out what is next...is our house going to sell? am I going to find a full time job in the near future? will it be one where I can feel that freedom to fly again?

I guess only God knows, at this point. Patience is tough, but I guess you have to figure out the whole pedaling and balance thing before you can do tricks.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Monster

Small peripheral movements in the corner of my eye are the only warning. My serene repose shattered with the first onset of attack. Tentacles prick like needles, furrowing into skin, pushing under, reaching to strangle the heart. His big eye stares, boring into my brain, waves of hopelessness pour upon me. Guttural words declare my every sin, the verdict...condemned, despised, worthless, small, weak. Silent screams echo in the canyons...

Worry Monster...we all have one. How they look, their tactics may be different with each of us, but they are there waiting in the shadows. Looking into their eyes, like looking through a magnifying glass, makes that which is manageable into the impossible. Once they have you, all strength ebbs, as you diminish in your own eyes. Lies are daggers, they use to pry confidence from your bones.

Your monster wants you to believe the person you wronged will yell at you, hate you. Better to let it go and stay safe, he sneers...you will lose everything in this financial crisis...your wife is going to leave you, because you don't deserve her, you might want to start looking for someone else...did you hear the comment your boss made, you are probably going to lose your job, go give him a piece of your mind...you might get the flu going around, you better just spend the rest of your life locked in the house...

The only way to beat him, is to tell him the truth. The truth that you are more than his ghastly utterances. That you are a good person. That it's not as bad as it seems. Not frilly lies to make yourself feel better, that is only temporary relief. But the truth about who you are, about the situation you find yourself in, about the hope you have for today. 

Then do something about what has you worried. My worry monster would rather I wait, so that he can build the tension to the point I will do nothing. Inaction only makes it stronger. Go talk to the person you need to talk to, mend the relationship, work smarter, make the phone call, get out...

Your monster is only as powerful as you let him be.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Benedict Arnold



In memory of the most brilliant soldier in the Continental Army, who was desperately wounded on this spot, 7th October, 1777, winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution. 

The words above, etched on a monument in Saratoga National Historical Park, New York State, refer to Benedict Arnold. Once a hero, he ultimately betrayed his country, plotting to turn West Point and 4000 lives over to the British for the equivalent of $600,000.

What is it in the heart of man, that turns them from hero to villain?

Was it the wounds he received, nearly losing his leg? Sitting at home and hearing tales of others called hero, feeling that title slip from his grasp? His desire for greatness and wealth and willingness to use any means in which to attain it? 

Seeing five others promoted over him, a bruise upon his pride? Was it the cool slap of betrayal he felt by his own country as they brought him up for court marshall? Or the public reprimand from President Washington, followed by his private plea for Arnold to return to his noble ways?

There are many ways to dismantle a man, but who knows what resides in the heart, that turns them from hero to villain?

Pictured above: A puppet of Benedict Arnold, created by a 5th grader at Logan's school.