I’m ticking off the last remaining days of winter…and to be honest, I couldn’t be happier.
The cold, grey season is coming to a close and the warm, colorful spring is about to bloom…and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
For those of you who don’t enjoy the exciting changes that Indiana weather provides, a winter storm blew in this past Monday and covered everything with a beautiful white blanket of frost and flakes. Today we enjoyed a fifty-degree beauty in which the sun rose bright, the Crocus opened and the birds sang bright and clear…and I couldn’t cheer with any more gusto.
If the Groundhog is right, and I’m trusting the Great Meteorological Rodent knows what he’s talking about, it’s all over but the shouting…and I’ve already started some shouting for joy!
A few years ago I applied for a job as a salesman for a seatbelt manufacturer. To be honest, the idea of cold-calling clients from a cubical didn’t thrill me but at the time I was willing to give anything a shot. But to be more honest, the idea of calling people to see if they wanted to buy a restraining device made the prospect of this position even less exciting.
Apparently, I’m alone in my opinion because the competition was fierce. I had three interviews for this position in the company’s effort to weed out the weak candidates. And I think I did fairly well. Despite my reluctance to live like a veal with a telephone for 40 hours a week, I’d done my best to stay in the running…That is until the final question.
In my defense, the interviewer slipped this one in when I wasn’t ready and I didn’t get a chance to think about my answer before it jumped out of my mouth. While writing some notes on her clipboard, the interviewer asked, “So what would you consider your favorite job?”
Without hesitation I responded, “Sitting in a coffee shop, enjoying a quiet morning, watching people and writing…Doesn’t that sound great?!”
Needless to say, I wasn’t offered the cubical job. While my current writing has yet to occur in a coffee shop and it certainly isn’t paying the bills, I’d rather be doing my blogs and coordinating research than hocking seat belts from a cube.
So in the end, I think it worked out rather well for everyone. I get to write occasionally and someone else gets to sell seat belts. Everyone is happy.
Four years ago this week, I started my research job. And over the course of those four years I’ve been in hundreds of patient homes and done everything from asking simple questionnaires to performing ultrasounds of patient’s ankles. I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles from Muncie to Terre Haute and from Lafayette to North Vernon. And along those many miles I’ve witnessed every kind of wildlife: deer, coyotes, turkey and squirrels. I’ve also experienced every kind of weather: Everything from blizzards to blazing hot days. I’ve driven in thunderstorms and wind storms. I’ve watched the sun rise over the Hoosier horizon and enjoyed more than my fair share of fantastic sunsets.
In addition I’ve met every imaginable family pet and in the process I’ve been sniffed and humped by dogs as well as rubbed and bitten by cats.
Along with hours of driving, I suspect that I’ve eaten nearly 300 lbs of french fries, drank 50 gallons of diet coke and eaten the equivalent of two heifers. All of this happened in my car as I travel from one house to the next.
But my job is not just about driving and eating and viewing wildlife. It is about much more. In fact, occasionally we actually conduct research.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve conducted more than 200 sleep studies in patient homes, nursing homes and hospitals. A primary aim of our research is to learn how many stroke patients have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. To that end, we perform in-home sleep studies on the research subjects.
A typical study begins when I arrive late in the evening, lay out my equipment and hook the subject up to wires, belts, sensors and probes. After two hours of pain-staking gluing and taping, each participant in our study looks like the backside of my 1979 home-made stereo system; wires sticking out in every direction!
Even though it is my favorite part of the job, it is also the part that I’m most anxious to end. I’m just a little tired of sleep studies (no pun intended). I’m not tired of hooking up the equipment, visiting the patients in their homes, or even the meals on the road. For me, the hardest part of the job is the odd hours I have to keep in order to complete the studies.
For instance, I have two sleep studies scheduled this week. The first is tonight and the second is on Thursday. Tonight’s study will begin at 7:30 pm. I’ll be done and out the patient’s door around 9:30. Tack on another 1/2 hour for driving and I’m done with my work day at 10:00 pm. But I’ll be back at the patient’s home tomorrow morning at 7:30 to pick up the equipment, upload the study to the scoring center and then cleaning the equipment to prepare for Thursday night.
And I do that twice this week.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I enjoy the freedom of getting out of the office from time to time. On warm spring days I crank up the jams on my car stereo and cruise with the windows down as I drive the highways and byways of this beautiful state. I even enjoy a good cheeseburger from time to time. But if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to the day when the end of my shift on Tuesday isn’t so close to the start of my shift on Wednesday.
I suppose it will all end soon enough. By my calculations I have only 11 more months and another 60 studies until I’m done. That’s nothing. Right?
In an effort to live lives in a more simple fashion, we get a magazine called “Real Simple”. If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of this 3/4 inch thick periodical, you know that it about everything BUT simple living.
For example, the February edition (pictured here) provides a helpful segment entitled, TRENDS Worth Trying. In this three-page layout, the editors provide 23 items that everyone must have to simplify their lives. Specifically, my feet can be grateful in floral-patterned heels for only $435. A set of Gold and leather bangles to wear on my wrist will only set me back $330. Leather and suede boots that “looks refined, not racy” will only require $580 from my simple pockets.
All toll, this segment features everything from hydrating hair oils, to leather fashion accessories, to blouses, pillows, make up, and plates. In an effort to simplify my life and be stylish at the same time, I calculate that I will need to invest a mere $3091. And that’s just this month’s article. I’m sure there are more trends I will need to follow in March!
Thankfully, through a small mix up, we receive two of these magazines each month. They arrive on the same day. I’m sure our mail-woman is very impressed.
We’ve lived in this house for more than a dozen years. But I still forget which switch turns on the light over the sink and which switch turns on the garbage disposal.
My brain has committed to memory the purpose of the three switches in our bathroom, the two in the hall, the two in the stairwell and the two in the garage. But for some unknown reason, I turn on the disposal when I want the light more often than not.
Perhaps I’m too busy to care. Perhaps, deep down, I like the rush I get when that terrifying grinding noise roars out of the sink each time I flip the wrong switch in the darkness of the kitchen.
It isn’t a big deal, really. I am just curious. How many more years will I need to live in this house before I start getting the right knob for the right job?
But I also have to wonder how many other parts of my life are a guessing game, when they should be a simple decision. How many other times have I made the wrong choice, over and over again, when all I had to do was make the right choice and commit it to memory. A simple idea, really.
After all, just writing this post has helped me to remember that the switch on the right turns on the light. Why can’t I do the same thing when it comes to the way I treat people, or save my money or deciding what food to put my mouth? Perhaps I just need a snappy phrase for each situation and all those hard choices will be easier…
“The Switch on the Right, Turns on the Light.” Illumination is achieved.
“It’s nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.” Friends are made.
“A penny saved is a penny earned.” The bank account grows.
“You are what you eat.” Health is restored.
But life is about more than catchphrases and soundbites. Life is harder than flipping a switch to make everything better…Or is it? Sure, emotions, memories, and long-formed habits get in the way. However, after a decade of scaring my socks off in the early mornings when I reach for the wrong switch, I think I’ve finally changed that pattern. And all it took was a little attention and a little intention. And that’s the secret, isn’t it? Yes. It is.
My friend, Mac loves bees. He worries about them in extreme cold. He frets about them in extreme heat. He puts out pans of water for them to drink in the summer. He is frequently called upon to gather wild swarms and is happy to give them a good home whenever possible. Mac has many, many hives and ensures that each one is located is a place that will provide optimum pollen and plenty of resources to keep them happy all season long.
Because of Mac’s attention to detail, he produces some of the finest honey I’ve ever tasted. Actually, the bees produce it, not my friend…he just puts it in jars.
Mac has opened my eyes to the wide world of bee keeping. That is probably why I was so excited when I found a bee hive in a most unusual place this past week.
We all know about Mrs. Obama’s garden and while visiting the White House, I saw many people stand at the fence and pose for pictures with the garden in the background. What they may have missed was the Bee Hive that is positioned in the shade of several trees just a few yards away. I had no idea that the Obama administration supported bees and was fascinated by the numerous articles and videos that explain this new addition to the White House property.
It seems that this past year, while providing pollination to Mrs. Obama’s garden and the many flowers surrounding the area, the bees were also able to provide over 175 lbs of honey to the White House Kitchen. That is a lot of honey!
And while I am no apiculturist or even an economist, I’m thinking that the White House may have found a way to reduce the deficit. At nearly $10 a jar and a few more hives, we could lick (pun intended) this budget problem that is all the buzz (yes, pun intended again) around our nation’s capital.
When then-candidate-Obama asked me to lend my name to his campaign in 2008, I was a little nervous but also very honored. I stood on stage beside the likes of Oprah and George Clooney. George and I became pretty close after a couple late nights in the bar. At one point he pretended to be me and I pretended to be him. It was uncanny how much we looked alike.
Anyway, back to my story…
Soon the nerves were calmed as I made speech after speech, extolling the great attributes of this great land and encouraging the masses to vote for Change, reach for Hope. I traveled across the highways and byways of this country we love. There were long hours, sure. There were greasy meals served at greasy diners. There were pot-luck dinners and home-made pies. There were babies to kiss and hands to shake at every little hamlet and village from north to south, and east to west.
It was hard work. But it was worth it. Together, Barack and I won the hearts and minds of the people of America and on election night, we hugged one another and…this is funny really, he pointed to me and exclaimed, “YOUR THE MAN!” I pointed back at him and yelled over the crowd’s cheers, “I KNOW IT!”
Unfortunately, my busy writing schedule and the importance of my Chicken Cooking Experiment made it impossible for me to travel with my friend this past year. Oh, I threw a few dollars his way and made a couple of calls but he’s surrounded himself with a new, fresh group of supporters including George Takei and Will Smith. Of course, Clooney is still a “hanger-on” and someday we hope he steps out of our shadows makes something of himself.
But today, four years later, THIS day is about the President. It isn’t about the man, Barack Obama. This day is about the Presidency. This day is about the democratic process and the knowledge that our privilege to vote, our ability to make our voices heard, our right to make our mark and choose our elected officials, is still alive and well in this great Nation.
You may have voted for the other guy. And that’s okay. If he were standing there with his hand on the Bible, we would all stop and say a prayer for wisdom and success as he led our nation. And that’s what I ask of you today. As this President takes office, say a prayer that he might have wisdom. Say a prayer that he will have success.
I know on that cold hour in our Nation’s Capital, I will lift both a prayer and a cold one to my President, my friend. May God give him strength to lead, wisdom to make right choices, and a heart for the people of this land. AMEN.
Julia Child begins the sixth chapter of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with these words: “Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created for chicken, and almost all the fundamentals of French cookery and sauce making are to be found somewhere in the chicken realm.”
Last year I started learning how to cook. I used it as a means of feeding my family good food but I also used it as an outlet for my creativity. Not one to limit my options, I moved beyond my award winning Macaroni and Cheese from a box.
I wanted to learn how to cook real food; food that people would ask for, come to the dinner table to enjoy. The first step in my culinary adventure was to purchase Child’s cookbook; $24 on Amazon. I read it from cover to cover, marking the dishes I thought I could handle, making notes of the equipment I had and needed. The next step was to start practicing different recipes. I jumped in with both feet and tried mushroom soup, asparagus covered in Hollandaizes, potato and leek soup, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Beef Bourguignon.
My family loved the dinners but I knew I needed to center in on one dish and make it right, rather than simply try a variety of recipes that were hit and miss. And so after careful consideration, I started with the basic and most beloved, Roasted Chicken.
A few dozen chickens later, and I think I’ve finally perfected this meal. I’ve tried roasting the chicken whole, quartered and butterflied. I’ve served it sliced into thin strips, in soups and with noodles and over roasted potatoes. But, to quote Mrs. Child, “A chicken should taste like chicken and be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, buttery roast...” I’m proud to say that the last three birds have lived up to this standard. I now know that I can prepare the chicken in minutes, cook it and serve it within an hour, without any question of the final outcome. I mastered this one.
Just a few of the youth who joined the church over the years.
On the road with the Jr. High for another adventure!
In the good old days with the CAC Youth Group.
Junior High Girls have more energy than I can understand!
College Avenue Sr. High Youth traveled to Colorado for a summer experience that will be long-remembered.
The ladies fell in love with the Goat in Colorado.
Taking the Cog Tram to the Peak.
Ball State Students and Dan Pankey engage the homeless in Over-the-Rhine.
My son, Jonathan, was among the many who would gather for the short kid’s message on Sunday mornings.
Posing seems to be the Sr. High Youth’s pastime.
Faithful adults make the ministry possible.
Curt and Amy and Amy. Union Chapel Jr. Highers come back for a visit.
The kids raise money for a good cause.
Julie and I did our best to be relevant to these young men at Camp Adventure.
Having the opportunity to work with youth has always been a highlight of my professional career and my personal journey. There is just something special about getting to know a 12-year-old and watching them grow through the awkward stages of youth into a young adult. And to make it better, every once in a while these former kids enter my life again as grown men and women with spouses, children, jobs and active, productive lives that are fully formed and fairly functional. I like to think I had a small part in that.
I started working with junior highers when I was a sophomore in high school. I retired my sleeping bag and guitar when I was 34-years-old. In the nearly 20 years that I worked with kids, I did it all. I organized summer camps, keynoted Sr. High Institute, took kids on retreats, outings and overnights. With the faithful adult volunteers, we completed Confirmation classes, sang camp songs and studied the Bible. We went bowling, white-water rafting, skiing and sledding. We climbed mountains and crawled in caves. We played cards, tag and Frisbee. We rode roller coasters, horses and go-carts. We drove from Colorado to Florida. We served the homeless, fed the hungry and ministered to the marginalized. In short, it was life changing ministry for all involved.
The kids we served over those years are too numerous to mention by name. Some were brilliant and bright and they changed my heart in ways they will never know. Some were chippy and challenging and pushed me to be a better person. A few were troubled and trouble and I never did find a way to help them. But most were just kids trying to figure out life and all it had to throw at them.
But as great as it was, I wouldn’t go back into youth ministry for any amount of money. Many years have passed and I’m no longer capable of keeping up with the kids. The good youth workers have energy and patience. I’m just tired and intolerant.
The best youth leaders are fully committed and completely competent. I’m neither.
The effective youth ministers are passionate and full of pizazz and I’m just pooped. In fact, I feel the need to take a nap even after this short walk down memory lane!
I’ve had multiple opportunities to be a part of three short films the past 12 months. And I’ve enjoyed every minute. The first film, shot in April of last year is still in post-production. The second film, Overboard, was my first leading role and an absolute blast. I met wonderful people, spent two fantastic days filming, and was allowed to wear some fun boots and a scratchy beard.
Today, I was a part of a movie currently named “Copy”. As I type this, the crew is still shooting. At 8:30 this morning I showed up on the site, met the crew, read through my lines a few times and readied myself. We ran the scenes from every angle; sometimes more than once.
And when it was done, I realized how much fun it is to work in this medium. I had a great time. I know we might not win any academy awards but making art is such a joy. Doing it with people who enjoy the craft is even better.
The digital camera is the tool of this trade.
Matthew practices his keyboard skills during the breaks.
Austin prepares the crew for another take.
Austin’ mood stays positive.
Austin takes his job as director very seriously.
Glenn keeps us well lit and in focus!
Matthew shows his deeper side.
Matthew gets direction on how to visualize the document on a green screen computer monitor.
A great film maker in his own right, Luke joins to help the crew.
Shooting the opening scene.
A rolling cart and beanbag chair is used to create the magic.
Matthew kicks back while the crew sets up for the next shot.
There is something you need to know about me: I LOVED this outfit. I wanted to be cool. I wanted a leather vest with fringe, two-toned corduroy pants and a neckerchief tie. You didn’t get any cooler than this. It was pinnacle of my cool career. In fact, it’s been all down hill since then.
I can’t answer any questions concerning the doll on the floor, the snowman made from string and glue, the small table under the mirror, or why the picture is taken on an angle. But I can tell you anything you want to know about that cool vest and the pants.
I can tell you that the fringe dangling from the vest were slowly pulled from the beautiful garment, one or two at a time. They got pinched under my elbows, caught in books, shut in doors. And one day I looked at the vest and it was a pathetic image of its former self; a few pitiful strands hanging limply from the front and sides.
I can tell you that the pants made me look like I was wearing cowboy boots that extended up my mid-calf. This was especially important to me as I was stuck wearing orthopedic shoes into my fifth year of school and the rounded toes of these expensive shoes caused me to stand out. My pigeon-toed feet needed correcting and my wardrobe suffered in an era when boys and men were wearing pointy-toed shoes and boots; a fashion statement of cool and I could not participate.
I can tell you that I quickly lost the neckerchief. This was just asking for problems and I could see this clearly as soon as I put it on.
I can also tell you that I’ve never had an outfit that was so cool, so perfectly put together and so life-changing. Today I shop at Goodwill and finding an outfit with this level of pizazz is quite a challenge. But don’t think I don’t look hard every time I’m in the store!
Growing up in the heartland in the 70’s, Vacation Bible School was a summer expectation. Apparently, when I was ten-years-old, I attended the VBS at Christ United Methodist Church in Selma. I don’t remember the week. I don’t remember singing, the lessons, crafts or snacks. I don’t know if it was hot or cold. I even remember if it was in the morning or afternoon.
Thankfully, my mother saved this certificate for me to ensure that I would know I was there.
I don’t remember the VBS but I do remember Dixie. Well, I don’t really remember Dixie as much as I remember her name: Dixie. Isn’t that a cool name. I’ve never known another person with that name. The boat on Lake Webster is named the Dixie but that doesn’t count.
If my memory does work at all, I am able to recall a vague memory of singing with my brother when I was five years old. Dixie played the guitar and we stood in front of the church and sang, “Put Your Hand In The Hand“. We received rave reviews and it launched our performance career that took us to the Farmland Street Fair and the Farmland Lion’s Club. We were big in Farmland.
And so, If I’ve never said it before, I want to say it now: Thank you to the Selma VBS and Dixie Buffin. Without you, I wouldn’t have the following I do today.
Oh, and thanks to my mom for saving the certificate so I’d have something to write about today.
As I mentioned the other day, my mother saved a few of my most precious items in a memory book. As I looked through the book again this past week, I was amazed at everything she’d saved. I found pictures, certificates, spelling tests and one fascinating piece of memorabilia: My Y-Indian Guide patch.
This one piece of nylon brought back so many painful memories. For those of you unfamiliar with the racial stereotyping and cultural hatred that occurred as I grew up, I will take a moment to fill you in on the scene in the ’70’s.
The country was at war trying to stop the Communists, rock music was giving a voice to the angst of the nation’s youth, drugs were everywhere, and Pollack jokes were all the rage. John Wayne was an American hero and the Lone Ranger was saving the west. Little boys played cowboys and Indians and the cowboys were always good and the Indians always wanted to kill someone.
Yes, this is the hotbed of unrest that bred this bad, bad boy. I’ll admit it. I was a Y-Indian. I’m not proud of it. But I must come clean to move on to Step 3 in my cultural sensitivity program.
The Y-Indian Guide brought together fathers and sons one night a week and forced them to do things together, like work leather and learn how to build fires that didn’t smoke. Like cub scouts, it provided a place for boys to learn from their older guides the xenophobic, homophobic patterns of generations before. Unlike scouts, it provided the opportunity to wear really cool headgear and was centered around movie-based Indian stereotypes. We wore face paint during the exciting ceremonies and chanted “woo-woo” as we beat drums. The program survives to this day but gets a little push back from Native Americans who feel that the paleface is mocking them.
Looking back, they may have a valid point. Now on to Step 3.
We pray for every child in that Connecticut school today. We pray for those who have joined you through a tragic, horrific act. We pray for those who will now deal with the trauma and terror for years to come.
Be with all those precious children, their parents, that community and our country as we deal with the shock, ask the questions, and seek answers.
May your peace be the answer for our grieving hearts tonight.