Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chain of Grace

“A chain is a series of connected links which are typically made of metal. A chain may consist of two or more links.”

A simple definition . . . a series of connected links.  I think that we sometimes forget how “linked” of “connected” we human beings truly are to one another.  I have been thinking about this lately with the birth of our first grandchild—a granddaughter—to our oldest child.  In a world in which “political correctness” is pounded into us, our first granddaughter was not born into a politically correct scenario.   Though the scenario was not politically corrected it is not one that is unfamiliar to any generation—the granddaughter was born out of wedlock.  This is no big issue for the wife or I as there seem to be bigger issues to tackle and deal with than that.  Our granddaughter is flesh and blood . . . a child of God . . . who has come partly out of our own blood . . . that is good enough for us.  But this is not a blog about that, this is a blog about “chains” . . . which I have been thinking about lately.

 A chain is a series of “connected links”.  With the birth of our first grandchild the chain has been lengthen—not by one, but by many.  This past weekend the wife and I had the opportunity to meet our granddaughter and her mother about six weeks after her birth.  We also had the opportunity to see our son—the “prodigal”—after nearly a year.  It was an adventure for us as we got to step into a world that is not quite like the one in which we exist—it wasn’t bad, it was just different.  We had the opportunity to meet our son’s roommates and friends.  We had the opportunity to experience our son in his space.  With each person we were introduced to and got to be with that chain expanded.  The world we thought we lived in was actually quite larger than we ever thought.

 Central to that world was our granddaughter . . . what a beauty!  Of course, I might be bias, but she is a cutie!  Around this itty-bitty child is a circle of grace.  That circle begins with her immediate family—her mother and father who love her very much.  It expands out to include her three sisters who will be her adversaries and advocates through the journey of life.  It includes her grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and who knows who else.  This little girl has a lot of people who love her and pull for her each and every day.  The chain only grows longer . . . and the wife and I are excited with each link that is added to the chain.  As I said, it is an adventure!

And, the adventure was fun.  It was a joy to be able to hold our granddaughter in my arms and to listen to her breathe.  It was a joy to watch her squirm and wiggle in my arms . . . making all of those baby faces.  It was a joy to hear the love in her mother’s voice as she described life with the granddaughter, but more importantly it was a joy to hear how much she loved her girls and what a responsibility it is to be the caretaker of four precious lives.  It was a joy to watch our oldest son blubber in the presence of his daughter . . . to see the joy that bubbled forth from him as he held her in his arms.  It was a joy to see the wife melt in the presence of this itty-bitty bundle of baby . . . the smile was priceless.  And, it was a joy to see the youngest son hold his niece and never once flinch . . . it was love at first sight.  It was good to be in the presence of the newest link to the chain.

 This “chain” that I speak of is not a chain of metal . . . it is a chain made of something that the hands cannot touch . . . it is a “chain of grace”.  It is a “chain of love”.  It did not begin simply, it began and remains complicated, but through it all is grace and love.  Those who never knew of each other are now connected and the journey of trust and love has begun.  It is grace that will holds it all together.  In the days, months, and years to come there is a lot of work to be done.  Getting to know one another . . . getting to understand one another . . . trusting one another . . . believing in one another.  It is not as simple as one believes . . . it takes grace.  A big group of people—strangers—have been pooled together to raise a child.  Holding it all together is grace . . . and love.  It keeps the chain from falling apart.

Is it no wonder that I have been thinking about “chains”?

In the days, months, and years to come I pray for the grace and love that holds the chain together.  I pray for each and every link—Mom and Dad, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents.  I pray for friends and family that step in and link up.  I pray for God’s traveling mercies in this journey.  But most of all I pray for God’s grace and love to sustain the chain and that we—the links—embrace it.  To say the least, I think I am a little smitten . . . not only with the “chain of grace” but with the links that make it whole.  It is holy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Road Trip Potpourri

The start of Memorial Day weekend began with . . . snow.  Two inches of snow to be exact—on the lawn and on my car.  This was not the way our road trip to Fort Collins, Colorado was supposed to begin.  After cleaning the snow off the car, loading it up, getting the wife and the youngest son into the car we headed off at 6:00AM sharp!  The great road trip had begun.

Now I am not sure that there is a coherent theme that runs throughout the road trip as there seemed to be a slew of random pictures and themes that occurred as we headed south out of Joliet towards Fort Collins to meet the new granddaughter.  It was definitely an adventure . . . one, in which the temperature at the start was a whopping and bone-chilling 36 degrees and would end with a hellish 87 degrees in Fort Collins.  So, I wore shorts and my new sandals.  My neighbors probably thought I was hitting the microbrews a little early that day, but I wanted to be prepared for the worse.  Besides, the temperature in the Jetta was a toasty 72 degrees!  On the day that weather records were broken for Montana we headed south.

First image that pops out of my memory were the drivers on the road heading to points unknown just like we were—all with a destination in mind.  Our destination was Fort Collins and I drove five miles over the speed limit most of the way there . . . and for the most part I thought I was doing pretty good.  Unfortunately I did not realize that there were so many Indy and NASCAR wannabes on the highways.  Vehicles of all types blew by us as if we were standing still . . . which I can handle, but what I couldn’t handle was that as soon as they blew past me they pulled directly in front of me and slowed down.  Each and every time I had to brake, slow down, and let them basically cut me off.  This is a pet peeve of mine, thus the birds were flying early and often.  It became a sort of highway hop-scotch that I apparently was not too good at.  But no one doubted my sign language.  Luckily we made the trip safely and the only injury was my finger was a little sore.

Then there were those new hand driers—in the rest areas, gas stations, restaurants, and other fine establishments where one might want to dry his or her hands.  What ever happened to those good old paper towel dispenser, you know the ones I am talking about—where you turned a crank and the paper towel came out.  Now there are these fancy, ultra modern ones that strip the first layer of skin off your hands.  Actually the force of the blower in those things blows all the water off your hands, out the side, and onto the floor.  I was lucky I didn’t slip and break my neck.  But not all the places had these wicked machines, some still had paper towel dispensers . . . but not with the cranks.  No, they have those little electric eyes that dispense the paper towel when a hand is waved in front of it.  At one stop it seemed that every time I moved a paper towel was being dispensed for my use.  They just kept coming out and I just kept ripping them off.  Piles and piles of them!  I got stuck in there for nearly fifteen minutes trying to get that thing to stop before my youngest son showed up and pushed me out of the way of the electric eye.  I might still be there if he hadn’t showed up and rescued me!

The further south we went the more the traffic picked up and the more people there were.  From Cheyenne to Fort Collins seemed to be nothing but motor vehicles and people . . . and the people looked funny and talked funny.  Then I remembered that we were driving through Wyoming!  Just kidding . . . we still had Colorado to go!  There were people everywhere . . . that is tough on an introvert.  That is why I never liked cities of any shape or size—too many people.  It was kind of overwhelming, but I must say, for the most part, they had manners.  I must be looking old because I seemed to be called “Sir” quite a bit.  That took a while to get used to and the wife said I had to quit turning my head so much trying to figure out who they were talking to—they were talking to me!  Ouch!

Then there were the food servers—waiters and waitresses—at the restaurants.  For the most part they were conscientious, courteous, and hospitable.  Except for one.  For the most part he did his job well—the food was served hot, he kept the glasses full, and he was always Johnny-on-the-spot . . . but in the end he was dishonest.  When the bill came—over eighty dollars, he short changed me the change.  Instead of giving me all of my change he gave me the paper money and pocketed the change—sixty-two cents.  Now I know sixty-two cents is not much, and I might be making a mountain out of a mole hill, but it is the point of the whole thing.  He should have given me all of my money.  The end result?  Well, I pocketed a portion of his tip.  That sixty-two cents cost him a couple of dollars in tips.  He could have kept the sixty-two cents if he just asked . . . shoot, by that time in our trip the change in my pockets was making me look like I was wearing low-rider jeans!

The most fearful moment during the trip was while we were waiting for the light to change at a busy intersection.  Calmly sitting in the car I suddenly heard a loud crack and bang—just like a gun shot.  My first thought was, “Hey, were in a big city.  Big cities have gangs.  It must be a drive-by shooting!”  I yelled at everybody to duck and cover their heads!  Turned out to be a blowout of a tire as a lady as turning in the intersection.  The guy in the car next to us looked us over, shook his head in disbelief, and laughed.  Silly hicks from Montana!  

There were also Starbucks everywhere, but I guess that Fort Collins is a “hip” sort of place that way.  Lots of Starbucks junkies running around with their insulated cups of java.  The wife was in heaven as there were at least three Starbucks within a mile radius of the motel.  She had to have her “fix” each morning and each morning we were there with Fort Collins’ best.  She tried to sweeten up the experience for me by offering to buy me a hot tea since I don’t drink coffee . . . but I refused.  I refused because I can’t see paying nearly three dollars for a cup of tea.  I can buy a box of Liptons for three bucks and make nearly fifty cups of tea for that price.

At the same time I must confess, the day we headed back to Montana I broke down and allowed her to buy me a hot tea.  The darn motel did not have any regular tea in the breakfast bar.  I even asked.  The lady told me that people always pick the regular tea over the herbal tea.  I asked if there were more and she said no that was all that they had.  I asked why they didn’t carry more if the regular tea was so popular . . . she said I could go down to Starbucks and get a nice cup of tea for three bucks!  I think it was a conspiracy between the motel and Starbucks.  The wife just smirked at me.  That was a tough cup of tea to get down—took me nearly a hundred miles before I could even admit that I enjoyed it!

These are just a few of the thoughts, impressions, and themes that I remember from the trip—a mixture of “road trip potpourri”.  As unimportant as these were, we did have a wonderful trip to meet our granddaughter—little Emily.  It was fun to be able to spend time with our son.  Good to meet his friends.  I will write more about that in my next blog.  In the meantime, I have to admit it was nice to get home.  Since being home no one has shot at me while driving by . . . I have gotten all my change when I’ve eaten out . . . I have a huge stash of Liptons . . . and there are not too many people . . . plus I can understand them when they speak . . . no one has called me “Sir” more than once a day.  Plus my dogs gave me a royal welcome home.  Road trips are nice, but nothing beats home!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Sprinkler . . . Oh Joy!

For my birthday I got a traveling sprinkler.  Yes, you read that right—a traveling sprinkler.  It was quite a surprise because I sure was not expecting something that I had to use to water the lawn as my major birthday gift.  It is like me giving the wife pots and pans for her birthday.  Birthday gifts should be something fun and not something that is equated with work . . . taking care of the lawn is work.  Now I appreciate the thought behind the sprinkler as it is meant to keep me from working as much on watering the lawn—I don’t have to get up and down moving the sprinkler as it moves itself.  None of the family wanted me to work too hard and the sprinkler was the answer to a question I never asked.  So, yeppers, I moved up in the world and got a traveling sprinkler for my birthday—yee haw!

After the shock wore off in a couple of days and the temperatures reaching an unseasonably high of 90 degrees it was time to give the traveling sprinkler a whirl around the yard.  After spreading the new 100 foot hose I had to buy so that the sprinkler could work I hooked that baby up.  I fiddled around for a few minutes with the arms to get the right amount of distance for the yard.  I then backed off and turned the water on.  With precision and beauty the sprinkler began its work . . . around and around and around the arms flew throwing water . . . and I waited.  I waited to see the sprinkler travel after all it was a traveling sprinkler.  I wanted to see that booger move across the yard.

So there I sat . . . and sat . . . and sat.  Around and around the arms flew.  After fifteen minutes it didn’t look like it had moved but I had convinced myself that it was notoriously slow.  The wife and youngest son came out and waited too—they wanted to see the sprinkler move.  They saw nothing.  No movement.  They decided that it had to be more than notoriously slow . . . they were sure that it was not moving.  I poo poo’d the idea.  I told them to pick a landmark and come back in five minutes and it would have moved, after all it was notoriously slow!

So they left . . . thirty minutes later it still hadn’t moved, but where the water was hitting was doing a good job of watering the lawn.  Before they got back I ran out quickly and moved it a couple of feet.  When they got back they were impressed even though they were sure they could not see it move.  Doubters!  It was my birthday gift and I believed!  But the truth of the matter is that it was not moving.  Without my help—which was going against the principle of even having the sprinkler in the first place—the darn thing was not moving.  Of course the logical and manly conclusion when things don’t work is that someone sold us a broken sprinkler.  That had to be the only answer for its poor movement—it was broken.  Now I not only got a sprinkler for my birthday, I got a broken sprinkler.

Being manly about the whole situation I did what any good man would do—I turned off the water and proceeded to kick the sprinkler.  That was a big mistake as the thing is made out of cast iron.  My big toe was not too pleased with my manly move.  As my toe throbbed I stared at the birthday gift.  Then I had a brilliant idea—read the instructions.  You know those papers that came in the box with the sprinkler!  Amazing what one can learn from reading the instructions.  It wasn’t broken after all . . . 

. . . it wasn’t turned on.  It seems that once I did the settings I was supposed to push the little black thing on top to activate the traveling mechanism of the sprinkler.  And so I did.  In a matter of minutes it was moving across the yard—water flying everywhere!  I was in awe.  In the hour of light remaining the rest of the yard was watered.  It is amazing what can be accomplished when one knows what he or she is doing.  Stupid instructions . . . manly men don’t need instructions . . . or at least I thought they didn’t.

Now that I know that the sprinkler actually does travel across the yard—it isn’t such a bad birthday gift after all.  Kind of boring, but the neighbor has one too.  I’m thinking some Saturday morning he and I need to race our sprinklers to establish the “fastest sprinkler” in the neighborhood.  It beats watching the grass grow.  I just might really like this gift after all.  Hot rod sprinklers . . . what will they think of next!

When Yearbooks Hurt

I graduated from Wheaton Senior High School (Maryland)—Class of 1976.  We were the bicentennial class as it was also the year of our nation’s 200th birthday.  I know that I graduated as a Wheaton Knight because I have the yearbook to prove it.  It is incriminating evidence at its best or worse after you see the pictures of that time and place in my life.  My yearbooks have produced many a laugh at my expense from my children when they have taken the time to glance at those “long ago and forgotten times”.

Yearbooks seem to have that power of nostalgia and humor for those of us who kept them safely hidden away for years.  I have been amazed at the mesmerizing pull of these dusty old tombs when I have browsed through them.  They provoke some powerful memories of good—and bad—times in my life.  They have made me remember old friends who are now long gone in other parts of the country and living their own separate lives.  They have brought tears to my eyes, and they have made me laugh.  They have helped me close some doors that needed to be closed, while at the same time helped me open some others that needed to be opened and explored.  All in all, I cherish my yearbooks and somewhere down the road so will my children as they strive to know their father a little better.

There is no doubt that yearbooks can have an impact on people’s lives and leave a lasting (sometime life-long) impression.  Because of that a yearbook and the people it portrays should be held up with the same kind of respect http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/22/11810461-texas-yearbook-labels-some-special-needs-students-mentally-retarded?lite) that anyone would want in his or her own life.  Recently MSN.com (shared a story about a high school that accidentally forgot this when putting out its yearbook this year.  It seems that it was a simple mistake of attempting to do something nice that created more of an uproar than it was meant to do.
The problem?  Inclusiveness . . . or what the yearbook staff thought was going to be inclusion when it made a special and separate two-page section for those students with disabilities attending the school.  This “special needs” section was meant as a way of including those students into the rest of the student body.  The only problem was that the terms that they used to describe these students were what those in the disability advocacy field consider to be “politically incorrect”.  To describe these students such words as “mentally retarded” or “deaf and blind”.  In fact, some individual students were specifically described using these words.  Also, the staff printed individual pictures of the students without receiving permission from the students or their families.  Their best intentions creating a feeling of inclusiveness ended up creating feelings of separation and devaluing.

Granted, I think that it was—as the article explained—an unintentional mistake with no sense of ill-will.  It was a simple mistake.  Luckily a teacher caught the mistake and sought out a solution to remedy the problem.  The school collected all the yearbooks, returned them to the printers, had the two pages removed, and returned them to the students. So, what is the problem?  No big deal right?  Everything worked out for the best in the end . . .

. . . or did it?

The problem is that images and words are powerful and have the ability to taint our minds consciously and unconsciously not only for years to come but for generations to come.  Images and words can become stigmatizing and wound people—often to a point that they can never overcome them.  Don’t believe me?  Take out one of your old yearbooks and start going through the pictures of your fellow classmates.  How would you describe them?  What words would you use?  Those images and words left an imprint in your mind and that is how you remember those people, but is that who they really are—then or now?  Probably not, but it is hard to imagine them any other way.  Images and words are powerful.

If the goal of the yearbook staff was to make all the students feel included they should be commended because who among us does not want to be included.  The problem is they chose to separate and highlight instead of including these students in the regular activities of the high school.  Instead of creating a “special” section in the yearbook for these students, these students should have been shown with the rest of the students.  After all, they were a part of the student body too.

Mistakes are mistakes, but we should learn from mistakes.  Hopefully the school took the time to use this situation and help these students understand what the issue really was about.  The issue is about how powerful images and words can be in separating and devaluing others—knowingly or unknowingly.  People want to be known and remembered as the individuals that God created them to be.  People do not want to be remembered as “retarded”, “deaf and blind”, “crippled”, “queer”, or any other term meant to separate and devalue.  People want to be remembered as Bob, who play sports, loved movies, and supported the school’s athletic teams . . . or Betty who sang in the school choir, was in pep club, and loved going to the school dances.  Don’t we all want to be remembered for who we are . . . not some label or descriptive word?  That is what a yearbook should be about.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Whine, I Mean Wine, Festival

Sometimes in life you have to do things that you are uncomfortable with.    Since starting to work at the university the wife has always wanted to attend the annual wine festival hosted by the university’s foundation.  This is a big week long celebration in which all the activities center around wine and food.  The university brings in several big name chefs for seminars on wine and food.  Then on the last two days they set up a huge tent, bring in wineries, caterers, and a host of other wine-related items for a big two-day blow out wine tasting party.  The cost for each night’s tasting is $85 a person—a little out of my league.  Ever since she learned about this event she has wanted to go.  So . . . when the dean of the College of Education (which my department falls under) offered free tickets to attend one of the nights, I took a chance and asked for two tickets.  Lo and behold, I got two tickets.  Last night we attend the wine festival in all of its glory.

Talk about a person out of his element . . . I felt lost and overwhelmed at the festival.  I felt way out of place.  First of all, I am not a wine person.  I am no connoisseur of wine, fine or not.  My experience of wine is drinking whatever it is that is offered to me by the wife before we eat a meal.  But, I do know one thing about wine—at least for me—and that is that it must have a cork and not a screw on cap.  Otherwise, wine is wine.  The festival was a haven for those who love wine, like to drink it, like to talk about it, and like to run around swirling their wine glasses and sniffing the contents.  It was a far cry from my familiar stomping grounds of beer festivals.

Second of all, it was crowded.  Being an introvert among a huge crowd of people I did not know, I was overwhelmed with people.  There were people everywhere . . . people drinking wine . . . people eating food . . . people talking . . . people squeezing around people-made traffic jams . . . all under a great big tent.  And, it looked like they were all enjoying themselves!  Just made me uneasy being among all those people.  I felt like I was in WalMart . . . just a classier crowd than your typical WalMart.  Everyone seemed to stop right in the middle of the aisles talking and blocking the path for everyone.  Everyone crowded in front of others even though it was plain to see that there were lines of people waiting their turn.  Yep, just like Wally World only classier and with wine.

Third of all, it was hard to hear.  With all of those people yakking away I had a hard time hearing anything that was being said to me.  Now, I cannot blame it all on the people or the wine.  Years ago I worked building grain bins—I was the guy on the inside with the impact wrench.  It was a very loud and noisy job and way before OSHA required hearing protection.  Long story short—I pretty much sacrificed part of my hearing to that job years ago and it is difficult for me to hear in large crowds.  Basically I spent the evening nodding my head up and down.  I have no idea what was being said.  I probably ended up agreeing to something that I will regret later.  But, hey!  There was probably nothing important being said as the whole evening centered around wine.

My experience at the wine festival has proven—once and for all—that I am not a wine snob.  I am not some sophisticated, well educated, well dressed and groomed individual who basks in the glory of fine wines . . . or even has delusions of doing that.  Nope, it is just not my element.  I am a beer snob through and through.  I don’t need a fancy glass to drink my beer as I can do that straight out of the bottle—which is something that wine snobs frown upon.  Wine is fine, but beer is my comfort zone.

And so, I fulfilled my husbandly duty and took the wife to the big wine festival.  She had a wonderful time as she got to sample some mighty fine and expensive wines that we would have never been able to afford.  I survived . . . I survived because it was a wine festival.  They served wine.  The wine eventually took the whine out of me.  It was an educational experience and one everyone should experience at least once in his or her lifetime.  I am not sure if I will ever do the wine festival again—even with free tickets, but if the university’s foundation ever decides to host a beer fest . . . count me in!  At least I won’t feel out of place!  Ah, the things we do for love!