Day 300 – A New View of Rudolph

20131214_080344Today was interesting.  It was the first time that I’ve ever butchered a deer.  But my father took a doe yesterday and asked if I would like some of the meat.  When I enthusiastically  responded, he then said I would just need to help process the deer.

And so, on this raining Saturday morning, I found myself sitting with my father and uncle in a Union City garage, carefully slicing deer steaks and roasts and preparing them for the freezer and many wonderful meals over the next year.  In the end, I came away with nearly 35 lbs of meat.  It was beautifully red and perfectly textured.  Bags and bags of stew meat await my oven casserole in the coming days of 2014.

It was an amazing gift from my father.  Not only the meat, but the opportunity to sit with these two men for the morning.  They told stories, laughed easily and cut meat non-stop for four hours.

Merry Christmas, Rudolph!

Day 278 – A Thanksgiving Blog

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYears ago I drew a series of pictures for a possible children’s book.  I think they turned out pretty good.  If you ask my mother, she thinks they turned out great!  I had to take them off her refrigerator just to get them ready for publication.

The story is of a little boy who has a great day in the falling snow.  He sleds down hills, he tastes the falling flakes, and skates on the ice.  At the end of the day, he makes his way back into the house where he enjoys a big, comfy chair, a warm fire, a hot cup of cocoa and the companionship of his dog.

And so, today, I was thinking of this little story and how we don’t really want much more than that, if you boil it down.  We want comfort and are thankful when it comes.  We desire warmth and protection and spend much of our life pursuing this.  We want sustenance and if it comes in the form of chocolate, even better.  But most of all, we enjoy companionship.  We crave friendship, family, home.  We desire this above all else.

I think that is one reason I enjoy Thanksgiving so much.  It is a time of year when we gather with friends and family, not to exchange gifts or with any agenda.  We eat, we play some games, and we laugh.  We remember those who helped make our lives special and pray for their souls, and then we eat some more, watch some sport, and laugh.  It is a wonderful, beautiful cycle.

And so, on this Thanksgiving day, I pray that you all will know comfort, sustenance, and the warmth that comes from the bonds of love.  May you all find gratitude and grace in the arms of your friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Day 228 – Eating Alone

2013.10.09 - Wednesday

There are some days when I land at home and think to myself, “That was a good day.”  These days typically contain work that was productive, meetings that were congenial and a warm embrace from my family when I walk in the door.

But some of my days end with an inner conversation that begins with, “What were you thinking?”  or “What the heck was that?!”  These days are a result of failed meetings, hurtful words, and dinner alone on my back porch.

Today was one of those latter days.  I got very little done today and had two meetings, one of them resulted in the need to be direct with a coworker in order to move forward a project that is languishing.  To make the day that much worse, I came home to an empty house.   No hugs and no kisses. While I love the left-over chicken and the baked potato, I miss my wife and eating alone on the patio isn’t as enjoyable as it might seem.

This day wasn’t terrible…just not stellar.  It was a good day…but not great.  I got a lot done but the work I accomplished wasn’t a lot of fun.  I completed several professional tasks and helped around the house by folding laundry and emptying the dishwasher.  But my day was anything but a barrel of laughs.  For me, this was a day that started strong and ended lonely, both professionally and personally.  

But I am confident tomorrow will be better.  Tomorrow will be the day that I shine.  I can feel it.

Until tomorrow, does anyone want to come over for some late-night ice cream and a glass of wine?

Day 223 – Life Together

2013.10.04 - FridayMy wife and I have been a part of a small group of people for nearly ten years now.  Over that span of time, we’ve prayed together, laughed together, and cried together.  We’ve studied the Bible, poverty, holiness and relationships.  We’ve engaged in service projects and mission trips.  We’ve watched our children grow up and our marriages mature.  It truly has been a blessing.

Tonight we started working through the book, “Life Together” by Bonhoeffer.  Wow.  What a rich and wonderful book about our walk and the people who join us on the journey.

This week has been all about relationship.  It’s meant so much to share my work days with people I respect and enjoy.  It’s been such a gift to live with a woman who challenges and strengthens me.  There is no better way to end my week than by spending Friday night with a group of people who help move me to a higher place, love me despite my short-comings and lift me to the presence of God.

I am truly blessed.

Day 222 – Deep Thoughts

2013.09.14Today a co-worker came into my office and sat to talk for a while.  It’s been a few weeks since I really had a chance to see her and it was wonderful catching up.

She talked about her kids, her husband, her work.  She mentioned her schedule and hectic life.  Our few short minutes together reminded me of something fundamental:  We really don’t know other people.

We see them only on a surface level.  We don’t really know them.  And that is a shame.  It’s only through truly knowing people that we can engage, encourage and love them.  And that is the kind of world I want to inhabit.  That is the type of world in which I wish to live.

Day 125 – The Maternity Journey

2013.06.26My friends Brian and Annie are about to have a baby.  I stopped by their home tonight to check on them.  Yes, Annie is ready to have this child out of her body.  Yes, Brian is overwhelmed and often at a loss for words when his hormone-driven, baby-burdened, over-due wife melts down about significant things like breakfast.  Yes, they are completely unprepared for the changes that mini-Hagrid will bring to their lives.

But they are ready to wheel the boy around the neighborhood in the new stroller.  They are ready to put him down in his new crib situated in the gorgeous nursery.  They are ready to place him in the awaiting arms of his older brother and sister.  They are ready for what matters:  They are ready to love this child with all their hearts.

I can’t wait to see this beautiful little boy.  I can’t wait to hug Annie and Brian and celebrate with them when this 9.25-month journey is over.  It will be quite the party.

Day 115 – Roses are Red

2013.06.16Today was a great day.  We started with a family breakfast; waffles, bacon, eggs and fruit.  My wife and kids whipped up a wonderful table full of food and we sat together, laughing and talking.

After the breakfast dishes were cleared and the mess was cleaned, Anita and I went for a good, long walk.  It was my fourth exercise of the week (or in her mind, the first exercise of the new week).

The afternoon was spent with my parents and a few of my siblings as we celebrated Father’s Day with dad.  It was a fun day and we made it home in time to fire up the grill and try it out with a whole chicken.  I was thrilled to know that I could monitor the temperature of the grill and the bird, adjusting for cooking time and temp.  While it cooked, I continued reading my book and sipping on some red wine.  By the time the sun was setting in the west, we were ready to taste some cheese and a perfectly cooked chicken.  I think Anita enjoyed the bird as much as I did.

It was one of the most restful days I’ve had in a long time and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Father’s Day.

Day 109 – The Perfect Evening

A perfect dinner for a perfect evening.
A perfect dinner for a perfect evening.

If you’ve been reading long, you know that we’ve invested more than a few hours, a lot of blood, and just a few tears in the upkeep of our home.  And to be honest, we’re tired.

And so, last night after throwing a party for our son, we threw our own little party to celebrate our summer, our marriage, and our friendship.

On the way home from work I stopped at the store and picked up a Baguette, some cheeses and a good bottle of wine.  I set out the spread, along with some additional fruit left over from Ben’s party.

When Anita arrived home, we put on comfortable clothes, filled our plates and had a wonderful dinner together.  From there, we retired our neighbor’s home and had a pleasant visit.

It was a wonderful evening and the marker of our new life with children out of school and living real lives.  It marked the point in our lives together when we can enjoy one another.  Sure, the boys showed up and scarfed down the remaining shrimp and most of the Gouda, but we announced that we were retiring to the neighbor’s and would see them at a later time.  Oh, and, clean up before you are done.

It was heaven.

Anita enjoys our neighbor's cat as we visit.
Anita enjoys our neighbor’s cat as we visit.

Now that the push to the Open House is complete, we can take a more leisurely pace about our home projects and spend time with one another, and honestly, on ourselves.

My Journey to 50 has been sidetracked by household projects and 50-hour work weeks.  But now we are back on track.  Starting tomorrow (Day 110), I’ll take time in my day to ride the stationary bike and focus on my food and my progress toward my ultimate goal:  Get down to 180 and get fit.  Only 30 pounds in 255 days.  I can do that.

I can do that.  Especially if my best friend is along for the ride.

Day 108 – The Big Party

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve been planning this for weeks.  And tonight, after all the guests have gone and the dishes are in the washer and the trash is taken out, the tables are stacked in the garage and the chairs are folded, it is over.

The food was good and the talk was sparkling.  But there was more that went on here tonight than just some Corn Hole and some cupcake eating.

We enjoyed friends and family who have been with us in good times and in bad.  We celebrated a milestone in our son’s life, sure.  But we also experienced love from people who have invested in our lives over the years and miles.

They are the ones who have laughed with us in the good times and cried with us when life is hard.  They are the ones who support us in our journey and strengthen us when we struggle.

Today’s party was a reminder that we are not on this journey by ourselves.  We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness who can hold our hand in the dark times and skip along side us in the joy.

I’m so very grateful for these men and women whom I love and who dearly love us.

Day 101 – Reflections

2013.06.02Because all our family pictures are saved on my computer (because I’m the one who takes the pictures to begin with), I’ve been given charge to create the slide show that will run in the back ground during Ben’s graduation party next Sunday.

This has little exercise has caused me to flip through 18 years worth of pictures and many, many fond memories.

While I could get sappy and dwell on the years that have passed much too quickly and how he’s changed right before our eyes and how I’m gonna miss him when he’s gone, I won’t.

But there was a thought that kept presenting itself with each opened folder and every new picture I found: We had a great time together.

I don’t claim to be Father of the Year.  I don’t believe I’ve lived two days in a row without saying something stupid or reacting in a way that wasn’t hurtful to someone.  But we did do some things right.

We traveled near and far.  We made the most of a weekend.  We exposed our kids to opportunities.  We gave them a voice.  We took them to scenic vistas and far-off places.  We showed them that people of another color, ethnicity or heritage are not enemies.  We helped them understand that people with disadvantages and disabilities deserve love and respect just like anyone else.  We taught them that family matters.  We showed them how to communicate their feelings and think through the problems.

We gave our children a good foundation.  As I sort through thousands of photographs tonight, I can’t help but wonder what they will build on that foundation.

Day 100 – Celebrating with Others

Anna, Joshua and Rebecca love to hug and eat Gummy Bears.
Anna, Joshua and Rebecca love to hug and eat Gummy Bears at today’s Open House for Rebecca’s graduation.

You show up for friends.

That’s the reason we drive four hours to attend Rebecca’s Open House.  It’s why they drove to our first son’s party and our daughter’s party.  It’s why we drove to their first daughter’s party and why they will come to our house this next Sunday.

It’s why we’ve driven to family funerals and holiday events. It’s why Dave showed up when I went into the hospital. Friends show up.

It’s why Dave and I Skype each Saturday morning.  It’s why we’ve been there for one another for the past 24 years.  Friends show up.

I didn’t run today.  I didn’t eat well today.  I didn’t do anything in my plan to lose weight today.

I did something more important and something I will never regret.  And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

 

 

Day 97 – Set in Stone

2013.05.29
Our names, forever etched into history…Or at least into the concrete slab.

Today was one of those hard-working days that kill men half my age.

It started off easy enough when my dad arrived with his pickup truck loaded with an old Craftsman table saw.  This beast has seen better days.  It’s a hand-me-down of a hand-me-down.  I think I’m the fourth owner.  One leg was bent out of shape, the caster on that leg was broken completely off, and several parts are so rusty as to be unusable.

After a couple hours of work replacing all the casters and framing out the legs, the saw is nearly good as new.  It works great and we used it for several jobs to follow.  I can see where this is going to be very advantageous in the days to come as I lay baseboard and counter tops.

Next, we started the more ambitious task of pouring concrete to make a better back yard entrance.  From the time we moved into this house in 2000, we’ve hated the current entrance to the back yard.  The prior owner placed concrete paving bricks in a space about 15 x 20 feet.  I’m sure it served the purpose of keeping their dogs from muddying up the corner.  The rumor is that they had several very large dogs that liked to run the fence.  But for our purposes, that much patio space is unnecessary.

So, I’ve started removing the pavers and will replace them with sod.  However, there is still the issue to the entrance.  And so, with 1000 lbs of Redimix later, a VERY sore back and legs, and a lot of mixing in my wheelbarrow, we have a slab that I can be proud of.  Tomorrow I’ll finish the job by laying the sod, which is just in time for the rains that are expected.

After dad left for home, I got out the mower, trimmer and blower and knocked out my yard.  It looks fantastic, once again!

Keeping up a house is hard work.  Keeping my physical health is very much the same.

As we were drinking a diet Pepsi, admiring our work, dad pointed out that our bodies and his old truck are very much the same.  They simply take us from point A to point B.  In the mean time, they age, leak vital fluids, break down, blow a gasket and eventually stop running.  Regular maintenance and careful attention keeps the motor running longer and the body looking good.

He’s right, of course.  A man of wisdom.  Wisdom for the ages.  We should set that in stone.

Day 90 – A Funeral and A Run

2013.05.22Once again, this post about Wednesday is actually being written on Saturday.  The crazy schedule of the week kept me from sitting down for even a few minutes to reflect on my day.

Monday and Tuesday were 24 hours of work.  Wednesday brought a change and an opportunity to focus on something other than my work.

My Uncle Chuck passed away and my aunt asked if I would work with my brother to do the funeral.  Understand, it’s been several years since I officiated a funeral.  In my heyday, I was a funeral master.  I knew just what to say, I spoke to the heart, and I honored the living and the dead without beating anyone over the head with a Bible.  I was good.

And so, on Wednesday, I led the service that said goodbye to my Uncle and tried to offer encouragement and hope to my Aunt and cousin.  It was an emotionally taxing day.

But when we arrived home, I still had the energy to strap on my ear-buds and go for a 1.5 mile run.

As the sun went down on my Wednesday, I could honestly say that this was the best day of my week – so far.  I honored my family, I ate well, and I got in my run.  It was a good day, indeed.

Day 83 – Wine Wednesday

2013.05.15Our neighbors enjoy getting together on a regular basis to laugh, talk, eat and participate in cultural events.

They also enjoy wine.

So it was a natural combination to mix the two: Thus we have Wine Wednesdays.

My wife and I have only attended one of these weekly gatherings in the past couple of years.  For one reason, our son always needed a ride to and from youth group.  We usually took advantage of the two hours in between this program to have our own date night which is always more enjoyable when we are alone-together rather than alone with a dozen of our closest neighbors.

But this week, Anita is gone and my son now has his license.  There was nothing keeping me in.  As I watched the neighbors carrying folding chairs and bottles of wine to my neighbor’s home, I decided to join the fun.  I grabbed a bottle of Diamond Collection Claret and made my way across the street.  It was a most enjoyable evening.

The bottom line?  Meet people.  Talk to people.  Stay connected to those who, if not emotionally close, are physically close.  We talked work.  We reviewed gardens.  We laughed about hobbies and we covered health concerns.  We also drank a little wine.  It was time well spent.

Now, I will have to admit that these people get together a lot.  I don’t want to say that they have a drinking problem but I will admit that my wife and I aren’t going to be able fully participate in every Mojito Monday, Tipsy Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, Thursday Thursday and Fuzzy-Navel Friday.  You should see them party on the weekend!

Day 80 – Mothers’ Day

2013.05.12Today is Mothers’ Day and my kids (when they are good they are Mine) did something very special for their mother today.  First, they all dressed up and came to church with her.  She loves to have her family together and it made the day very special.

Second, they took her to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and enjoyed the exhibits and the grounds.

As I write this, they are preparing Salmon and Vege’s with a salad of spinach and strawberries.

While they were all out gallivanting around the county, I stayed home to mow my yard, set out the lawn chairs and do what I do best:  Yard Work.

In the end, I walked four miles, pushing the mower, weed eater and blower the entire time.  It was a good work out!

I think we all had a great day when all was said and done.

Day 79 – Prepping the Peppers, Cooking the Coffee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday was quite full.

We started our morning by working on kitchen cabinets and drawers.  The kitchen make-over is moving forward, whether we want it to or not.

After a quick shower and change, we drove to my in-laws’ home for some lunch (I ate several pieces of Vege pizza and a good salad) and a chat.  My father-in-law was quick to show of his square foot garden, filled with onion sets, cucumbers and radishes.  It was a nice visit.

Next we drove to my parents’ home for a visit.  While my wife and mother sat in the living room talking, my dad and I went to the garage to work on a table saw that needed some prep work before he delivers it to my garage in a couple weeks.

We made our way home, stopping to pick up some sushi and a bottle of wine for our late dinner.  We watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader to end our evening.

It was really a very nice day…However, one thing did stand out to me.  We traveled to Randolph County to visit mothers and I spent more time with fathers.  This isn’t completely unusual in the case of my family, as my dad always has a project or two that we can attend.  But at both places, both Fathers received more time than the Mothers.

It isn’t good or bad.  It just is what it is.  I’m sure on Father’s Day, the Mothers will get their turn.

The bad part of the story is that I didn’t walk, run or otherwise move my body.  It was definitely a day with more input than output.

I see a yard that needs mowing tomorrow, and my kids have kicked me out when it comes to celebrating with their mother (as if I didn’t have anything to do with their birth).  So I’ll have the day to myself and the yard is calling my name.  I see a full afternoon of walking in my future, and I’m very happy about that!

Day 77 – Two Lessons, One Blessed Day

2013.05.09
Peter, Agassi and Mary Birker pose for a quick picture after a wonderful Ethiopian meal.

While I didn’t get a morning walk in the neighborhood, I did start my day with a walk to the IUPUI campus and back.  It felt good to be out under beautiful trees with perfect weather.

Work was work and nothing more or less.  In my book, that’s a good day.

I try to always learn something new each and every day and today was no exception.  In fact, I think I learned two things.

First, I learned that communication is everything.  Texting is NOT the way to make plans with your children.  Face-to-face conversations are best.  Telephone calls work wonders and often prevent unnecessary confusion, frustration, angry dads and upset children.  Text Scheduling results in a hug and apology nearly every time.

The second and more enjoyable thing I learned tonight is that the dearest friends always stay friends.  Mary Birkner has been a friend of ours from the time we first met her at Epworth Forest Sr. High Institute around 1980.  She latched on to our youth group and spent more time in our cabin than she did her own.  And we were all the better for it.  Her tender heart and infectious laugh made her instant friends with each and every one of our group.

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Mary’s gift to us on our wedding day: Her expertly drawn picture of a man and his nose.

Tonight, Mary, Peter and their amazing son, Agassi, flew into town to visit family.  Thankfully, they requested a dinner with us on their way out of Indy.  It was such a pleasure to share an authentic Ethiopian meal.  It was our first time to enjoy the cuisine and Agassi gave us a good lesson on the art of eating with on hand.

We laughed over old times and caught up on life and family.  We celebrated our children’s accomplishments and bemoaned the aches that come with growing older.

The restaurant locked their doors and we decided it was time to leave.  As they drove off into the heavy rain, I gave thanks for the time we had together.

It truly was a blessed day.

Day 72 – Serious Yard Work

The boys take the mountain of mulch and claim it for God and Country.
The boys take the mountain of mulch and claim it for God and Country.

This morning the truck arrived just moments after my son’s friends.  They came to claim him for a day of running around and having fun.  Thankfully, I’d already claimed him for helping with mowing and mulch spreading.  He made a compromise that was to the benefit of us all.

While I might now walk a mile and a half every morning, weekends are made for yard work.  And today was the Mother of All Yard Work Days, as my 14 cubic yards of mulch were dumped into my driveway.

Ben explained to the boys that he had work to do and it might be several hours before he was freed from his duties.  However, if they were willing to stay for a couple hours, help pull weeds, stack wood, and spread mulch, he might be able to convince his father to allow him to leave with the boys much earlier than originally planned.

And so, the boys picked up shovels, rakes and a wheelbarrow and bent their collective backs to the work at hand.  And in the matter of 90 minutes, we’d already spread half the mulch and completed other projects on my list for the day.

We made great progress, all thanks to my son’s Tom Sawyer approach to yard work.  I can’t thank him enough for his brilliant move and his hard-working friends.

Day 67 – A Rose By Any Other Name

2013.04.29I bought my wife a rose today and put it in the ground while she was at work.

She deserves all the roses in the world.

I look at couples a lot and am constantly amazed at the fact that women stay beautiful and men get old, fat and stupid.

Why do women stick around with men?  Their noses get big.  They grow hair from their ears.  They lose hair on their heads.  The creek and moan when they walk.  They burp and rumble from deep within.

And yet, even in age, the women show that they are the better part of our species.  They love and live with the brutes.

Therefore, they deserve roses.  All the roses in the world.

Day 64 – A Thing of Beauty

2013.04.26After a very long week of work and two or three long weeks without spending time away with my lovely wife, we FINALLY took an evening for ourselves.

It was a wonderful evening, enjoying Final Fridays at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, quiet conversation, and a wonderful dinner at Macaroni Grill.

We actually stayed out past 9:00 o’clock.  Yes, we are that wild and crazy couple.

The funny thing is that during our evening out, we remembered something  that we’ve remembered a hundred times before:  We Are All We Have and This Relationship Takes Time and Intention.

So often, way too often, we spend all our energies on the kids, the house, the yard, our work, our parents…but forget to spend time on what matters most – Our Relationship.  We fail to listen.  We forget to talk.  We pass one another quickly in the morning.  We land at home in the evening, breathless and tired, without really spending time together.

Our relationship, when it is at its worst, happens by accident.  Our relationship, at its best, happens when we slow down, put aside those things that will be there tomorrow or are not important at all, and look at one another closely, listen carefully, and love deeply.

My wife and I looked at a piece of modern art on the 4th floor of the IMA.  We analyzed it for a while and then she said with a laugh, “I really don’t like this…I just think that I could do that…if I wanted to.”  And I had to agree with her.  It seemed too simple.  It appeared too random.  But, the more we looked at the canvas, the color, the shapes, the brush strokes…the more we saw the subtle changes of direction, the amazing layers of color that were not accidental but, in fact intentional.  Some areas were thick with medium built up over days, weeks and months.  Others were thin to the point of exposing the raw canvas.  After a few more careful minutes of inspection, we realized that this piece of art took many, many hours and years of practice.  It didn’t happen by accident.  It could only be successful because of the intentionality and plan of the artist.  We stepped back with a fresh perspective and we both agreed that this was a nice piece of art.

I’m thankful for the times when our relationship receives the same careful attention.  The outcome is always a work of art.