Monday, December 27, 2010

A Thank You for My Wife

Christmas is much more to me than presents, but I wanted to use this post to thank my wife. Being unemployed limits most non-essential purchases on my part. So Christmas is also the one time of year (other than my birthday) where I might receive some of the things I wasn't able to purchase throughout the year.

My wife did an awesome job this year. I know it's hard for her. She hates getting a list from me. She'd rather come up with original, surprise treasures.

I've always been a collector. Some would correct that statement and say I'm a hoarder.

When I was eight years old, He-man toys hit the scene, followed shortly thereafter by the cartoon series. Both were firmly cemented into my childhood. Nothing makes me as effectively nostalgic as Masters of the Universe.

A few years back, Mattel announced an adult collector's line that is only available online for one day a month offering only one or two items per month. Little did they know, the one day time frame would shrink to around one hour due to demand. Most of these action figures sell out in about 45 minutes, and getting on Mattel's website during that time is a nightmare. Add in my before mentioned unemployment, and any hopes I had of collecting this new line quickly vanished.

Heidi stepped up and bought me two of the lynch pin characters for Christmas this year with He-man and Skeletor.

I also received the Wolfman remake on Blu-ray. As a fan of the original Universal films, I was skeptical when I heard they were remaking this one. I was surprised to find it was appropriately updated with effects, small story adjustments that made total sense, and the acting was spot on. The film stars Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.

I finally have a Joe Hill novel in my possession. Hill is a pen name. He didn't want his famous father's name to drive his career. I'm not so sure you can escape a name like Stephen King however, especially in the horror novel business.

I also have Stuff Christians Like, a funny look at stereotypical Christian behaviors.

Our parents and siblings went a bit overboard this year too. The best part about the special day was getting to spend time with everyone. No one had to work. We didn't rush from house to house. There was warmth and familiarity.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Horror Fans and the Holidays

There are tons of Holiday themed horror flicks out there, but few are actually worth watching. None work on both levels, though some of the holiday movies being produced today could easily qualify as horrifying (Santa Paws anyone?).

If the monster in a horror movie is a snowman, Jack Frost, or Santa Claus, prepare yourself for the silliest wastes of time you've ever encountered. Some folks are into that type of thing, movies that are fun to watch for their unintended laugh factor. The movie where Michael Keaton plays a deceased father that turns into a snowman enabling him to learn the value of his surviving son is scary in description alone.

If I had to recommend a few movies, I'd have to push the following:

1972's Tales from the Crypt features a young Joan Collins in its first segment. She plays a wife and mother who gets away with the perfect crime… in a way. This might make you think twice about teaching your kids about Santa Claus or teaching them how to open doors and windows.

The original Black Christmas from 1974 is a perfect horror movie. Pre-dating the slasher onslaught of the eighties, the film avoids most of Hollywood's trappings and delivers a film that's not afraid to leave a bit of mystery in its mayhem. It's also a great 'who done it.' More holiday chill than cheer and full of seventies Christmas decorations and fashions. Avoid the 2006 remake at all costs. They attempt to take all of the mystery away in a very, very lame way.

Let the Right One In isn't exactly a holiday themed film. I caught it in the summer of 2009 at my local Art Institute. The beautiful Winter cinematography plunges you into the film's stark setting perfectly. If you haven't caught this one yet, wait for the rumored upcoming DVD re-release with the original subtitles. They add a little nuance that might be lacking from the current DVD. Note the photo of the fire angel - ouch.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Long Overdue Random Post

  • I know. It's been a while. I've been studying.
  • When Halloween drops, the holidays just seem to arrive faster and faster every year.
  • What's going on with my eyebrows? I'm not even fully adjusted to all the hair growing where it shouldn't. Now, the hair that is supposed to be there is getting unruly.
  • Victoria's Secret sells sweaters? Do they have a lot of holes in them? Strategic holes?
  • Owen said to me one day that he wanted to be in the other morning Kindergarden/Early Fives class because there's a girl in that class that he likes. He doesn't know her name, but she has brown hair.
  • On another day, he told me that he would be growing up soon, and then there would be two papas in our household. And when Gage gets older, there'll be three. I explained that he would likely get married and have children before we would consider him a "papa."
  • "Well, who would I marry?," was his response. I explained he would likely 'like' a girl at some point. He said that he already likes a girl, but he also likes some boys but not in the same way. He then supposed he'd marry Kendal, a girl in his class.
  • I think Toys 'R' Us should be the first store that allows you to checkout via a microchip in the back of your head. For a store filled with such fun things, their checkout lines always seem to dial up my aggravation level.
  • We were in Genesee Valley Mall yesterday (the biggest, most popular mall in our immediate area). It wasn't very busy. There are a lot of empty stores there, and of the few that remain, fewer are very popular. Santa Claus was the biggest draw.
  • I started thinking about twenty years ago. I was sixteen. Back then, it was a rare thing to visit the mall. We lived in Lapeer, and we might make it out to Genesee Valley once a year during the back-to-school season. Flint and Genesee County were pretty foreign to me, but my parents entrusted me with the car. I filled it with friends and a few cousins from out of town. I remember the mall being crazy. People were shoulder to shoulder in the hallways. The stores were full of things you couldn't find anywhere else.
  • The mall used to be an event. Now, it's just sad.
  • Trick or Treating on the 30th because it's a Saturday… lame.
  • Chuck E. Cheese has really went down hill. I know they had an increase in violence a few years back when they decided to serve alcohol (by the way, WT?). They replaced/updated their animatronics with versions that look like they came from the sixties, which doesn't really make any sense. They're less cartoony than the old ones.
  • Why don't fast food restaurants have recycling bins?
  • I decided I wanted to be an artist in the first grade, Owen decided in Early Fives (with no input from me).
  • "We're here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us." Charles Bukowski
  • Gage calls Santa Claus, "Ho-Ho-Ho."
  • Sometimes it's just Gage's timing that amazes us when it comes to his ever increasing vocabulary. While taking a vision test last week, he seems to get bored and simply answers, "I don't know." We've never heard him say the phrase prior. "No way" has also come up.
  • I heard an interesting perspective on the parcel bombs that someone in Yemen tried to send our way. If the bombs had detonated, they'd likely kill 8-10 people. The entire country would have been in an uproar (which I'm not saying is in any way wrong), but on the other hand, we seem to lack a certain amount of outrage at the estimated 1500 homicides that occur in our country every year.
  • There may be photos of me with cheerleaders somewhere out there. It really wasn't my intention.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holidays: Missing/Changing the Point

It bothers me that we don't seem to truly celebrate holidays anymore as a country. A National Holiday used to mean that the overwhelming majority of citizens didn't have to go into work on that day. Maybe the majority still doesn't, but every year more and more businesses find (financial) reasons to stay open on holidays. This means more and more people, fellow citizens, have to leave their celebrations, families, days of rest to go into work.

I'll admit my sins up front. My family used to have a tradition of going to the movie theater on Thanksgiving evening. I always felt bad for the workers there, but it never stopped me from going. I think we're past the point where one or two people protesting would make much difference, but I still refuse to join in these days.

Best Buy announced this year that they would be available for customer technical support on Christmas Day. Christmas Day, until this year apparently, had been the untouchable day. Surely no one would disgrace this grand day by making employees work.

I remember how unheard of it was just a few short years ago for major businesses to be open on Thanksgiving. I remember holidays where we'd double check out gas tanks the day before because we knew finding an open gas station might be a problem the next day.

You wanna talk about slipper slopes? It's now widely accepted that you can go to special sales on Thanksgiving, and usually the sales start right around dinner time. Not only are employees working, but they're working during the prime time of the holiday - missing the entire point if you will. I guess they can have Thanksgiving breakfast with their kids.

I just don't see this ending well, especially for those of us without high ranking jobs. I wouldn't be surprised to find the majority of us working through portions of holidays in the near future.

No rest. No special days for family. No true celebration or appreciation for the things we once valued. The point of holidays seems to have changed. Consume. Produce. Work. Support the whole.

Perhaps we should change our name to Egypt and start electing Pharaohs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Customer Service, or Lack Thereof…

Let me start by saying, I don't believe the customer is always right, but the customer is always left with either a positive or negative encounter. I studied Marketing while in college, and I have years of customers service in multiple industries.

I used to work for a newspaper company that held, what I thought were, high customer service standards. I don't know what their policy is now, but if a customer called with almost any problem with that day's edition, one of our employees would soon be in a car driving a replacement newspaper to the customer. That might seem drastic to some. One customer being happy was that important, even in cases where we knew the problem wasn't our fault. All complaints were addressed within 24 hours on regular business days.

Having worked in that industry, I also know that most big name inserts (coupons, Kmart, grocery store chains, etc…) are printed by the millions in most cases. Most newspapers are supplied with thousands of extras just in case there are mistakes made in any way. In the weeks following insert dates, if those extras aren't used, they're often, not always, shipped back to the suppliers for their use. Also, when non-subscription copies of the paper don't sell on their edition date, those copies are returned to the newspaper headquarters. Again, we're talking hundreds, if not thousands, of copies with inserts intact readily available for at least a week after the edition date.

I contacted three companies last week because I didn't receive all of my coupon inserts in Sunday's Detroit Free Press. I had read that most other customers in this area did get these inserts in the papers they purchased. I buy three copies every week specifically for the coupons, so the main value I was seeking from this publication was lost. I shared all of that information in all of my correspondence. I contacted The Free Press, Proctor and Gamble, and Red Plum on Monday. Because it was a regular business day, I honestly expected to hear back from all of them within a few hours.

That evening I received an email from the DFP. They were somewhat confused about my complaint about missing inserts, but they still wanted more of my personal information so they could try to set things right. I've heard that they've actually sent out missing inserts in the mail when this happens. Having contacted them with the same problem in the past, I have yet to have this happen for me. But, I was hopeful.

The next morning they sent me a response indicating that they were sorry that I was not satisfied, but they felt it wasn't their responsibility to make sure all delivery zones received all inserts. They couldn't tell me specifically, but they felt that their customers (Red Plum and P&G) had decided not to deliver those inserts to the entire Flint area. If they had made a definitive statement telling me that it was totally out of their hands, I think I would have felt better about their response.

I was disappointed. Having worked in the newspaper business, I know that in all likelihood they had access to copies of these inserts. If they didn't have left over stock, they would have received their overstocks back from retailers on Monday (the papers that didn't sell in stores). They could have at least offered to sell me those, if not outright sent them to me just to keep my customer satisfaction high. At least they had gotten back to me.

I was surprised on Friday to receive a response from P&G. They too were sorry I didn't get everything I was expecting. They didn't comment on whether or not they were responsible for not distributing the inserts to the entire Flint area. They had decided to send me one of the three missing copies of their insert, but they made it clear this was a one time thing. In the future, I'd be out of luck. Again, they had at least gotten back to me.

At this time, I still haven't been contacted by Red Plum's "customer service" department.

To be honest, I'm not sure which of these outcomes is more negative. I just keep thinking, they could have made this right with me very easily. They could have even suggested that I pay postage, and I would have been thrilled. Instead, I have one company that tells me I'm out of luck, another that tells me they're inconveniencing themselves to send me a third of what I paid for, and another that doesn't contact me at all. I find all of these responses perplexing. None of these outcomes is positive, and here I am, sharing my negative experiences with the world.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Joan Jett, Hank III, Glasses, Randomness

  • The political ads are killing me. I have to change the channel. They just seem much more extreme this year, like they're not holding back the crazier ideas.
  • Our church is covering a book entitled, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. We're not typically a church-wide, book-covering type of place, but right now our sermons and small groups are all centered around these ideas.
  • One of the major themes involves learning to identify that part of you that usually has you concerned with what other people think. It's part of what the author calls a "false self." It's that part of you that gets anxious before interacting with certain people, wanting to have all the right answers and behaviors in order to impress. It's that part of you that doesn't really allow you to just relax and be yourself. I'm simplifying of course, but ever since getting into this idea, I've had that Joan Jett lyric playing in my head. "I don't give a damn 'bout my repu-ta-tion!" I can't seem to shake it. I really don't want to have to dig out Joan Jett CDs.
  • She still puts on a great show however. Her new stuff isn't half bad.
  • No. I'm not perpetually stuck in the 80's. I just went through a short phase a few years ago.
  • Okay. I love my Cars greatest hits CD too and Jim Croce and The Cure…
  • It is fun to attend Jett's shows and listen to the drunk, homophobic, old guys complain because they believe she's gay, suggesting she take a ride on their love train to "turn her around," and in the next breath, praise her for rockin' out. What would a concert be without drunk old guys?
  • I recently went to see Hank III (Hank the third - Hank Williams Senior's grandson, Hank Williams Junior's son). My cousin, Jasen treated me to a ticket. Hank III has a diverse collection of albums. He started with an old country sound mixed with more modern, gritty themes, which I'm fond of. He has some albums that would more closely resemble modern hillbilly country - think rude and somewhat stereotypical. He also does country infused heavy metal.
  • It was strange to see a mosh pit moving to the sound of fiddles. It was strange, but still appropriate.
  • The crowd was just as diverse. Some people hated the older sounding stuff. They jeered at the instrumentals. I'm not really a fan of his metal sets, and some of the hillbilly stuff is just a bit too rude for me lately. It was great to see him live. He looks and sounds a lot like his grandfather.
  • As an old concert veteran, I can tell you, when you see the guy wearing a confederate flag as a cape: That's the guy to avoid. Having witnessed it over and over again, the guy wearing a flag as a cape is most likely to continue his need for bold statements by punching innocent standersby in the face for little or no reason.
  • The Machine Shop is a gem in this area.
  • It's been a bad year for Halloween horror movies. I usually get myself into the spooky spirit by watching my old favorites. I decided instead to catch up on a few I'd missed. That's been a mistake. Apparently I missed them for good reason.
  • I highly recommend the following modern gems: Splinter, Trick 'R Treat, The Mist, and The Crazies remake. Old favorites include: the original Halloween, Return of the Living Dead, Martin, Night of the Living Dead, and The Monster Squad.
  • Did I mention that the political ads have been scary? One guy very openly stated that he wanted to get rid of the income tax. Sounds fine on the surface. Hey, less taxes, but isn't the income tax one of the few remaining mechanisms in place to somewhat level the field between rich and poor? If you earn more, you therefore contribute more toward running the country. Those who earn less keep more to survive on.
  • He wants to replace income tax with a much higher tax on goods and services. They say this will initially cause most products to be priced so high that lower income families will struggle intensely, but "eventually the market will adjust itself" so $8 for a gallon of milk will just be common place.
  • Owen's vocabulary is increasing by leaps and bounds. I think it's the glasses. He's also spelling words regularly.
  • His glasses have had me down for a while. There, on his face, is a metaphorical reminder of all the bullying and torment I went through starting at his age. I'm just praying he escapes it, but more and more, he reminds me of myself.
  • I chaperoned his first field trip a few weeks back. I was responsible for one other child. She just happened to be the girl he had mentioned having a little crush on. He was so shy. I had to coax him into talking to me that day. He seemed to be a bit of a loaner around the other kids too. I've got to think of a way to get him out of these habits.
  • Gage has glasses too, but he doesn't need to wear his as often.
  • Everyone is having babies again. I hope my wife doesn't get any ideas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hiking, 10th Anniversary, Autumn

  • My wife and I have been married for 10 years as of last Thursday.
  • We spent the afternoon cleaning our church together. It seemed very appropriate actually. We had dinner at a decent restaurant afterward to celebrate.
  • Last year on our anniversary, we discovered that we enjoy hiking by taking a short vacation in Oscoda. Well, I love hiking. I think Heidi enjoys it to a lesser extent. We hiked a very cool trail there. We planned a short getaway again this year. How often do you get to celebrate an entire decade of marriage?
  • No matter how much I look forward to time spent away from the kids, I miss them instantly whenever the realization hits me that there is no chance of seeing them in the next 12 to 24 hours. I love my kids, but sometimes I need down time. But I always, always, always miss them early on. It's like instant home sickness.
  • Last year we had no trouble finding overnight accommodations, and Oscoda had a music festival going on. This year things were different. The cottages we hoped to stay in were only half open, and they were booked solid (despite what their website reported). Many of the other local resorts were closed for the season or because they were currently for sale.
  • We drove on.
  • Everywhere we went, it was like the trees were on fire with color. Last year we saw browns and sickly yellows. This year we were treated to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges.
  • Harrisville, just to the north, is a picturesque small town, especially in the fall. There are no big chain restaurants or stores. As you travel through the main section of town, every street has a sidewalk, and the view usually includes Lake Huron, a marina of some sort, and tons of yellow fall leaves.
  • Two years in a row now, we've tried to stay at a bed and breakfast there. With the 'open' sign clearly displayed and the doors unlocked, we have yet to find the owner home. Another tenant told us that we could make arrangements to stay if we called the owner on her cellphone. She was camping.
  • We ended up in Alpena.
  • The next morning we drove to a nearby State park to try their hiking trail. The guidebook read, "As you come to the cemetery, take the unmarked road directly afterward." A lot of people wouldn't really recognize the path we were driving on as an actual road. The road cut into a thickly wooded area. It was pretty with the fall colors, but it was also dark and twisty. Everywhere you looked there was barbed wire, hunting lodge signs, private property declarations, and what looked like houses that should have been abandoned but weren't. The "road" was mostly sand. We drive a small Ford hatch back.
  • I feared banjo music.
  • When we reached the entrance to the State park, their road was ten times bigger and better.
  • We didn't get to hike, though the area looked perfect. Michigan changed their laws last year. You can no longer deposit money on an unmanned site. You have to have a state pass displayed on your car before entering the park. Not having one, we moved on to the next State park (back south in Harrisville), which had a ranger on duty.
  • We hiked a bit there, but the trail was partially paved.
  • I enjoy trails that are marked, visible, but the idea of the trail being paved defeats the purpose for me. It's offensive. I want to barely be able to see sunlight through the thick trees. I want to glimpse areas that human feet have not touched on a regular basis. I want to fear the wildlife to a certain extent. I sincerely don't want to run into other human beings on the trail that day.
  • I let Heidi choose the main trail this year. We headed back to Oscoda to check it out. When we arrived at the Lumbermen's Memorial my heart sank. There were tourists everywhere. There were children and little dogs in sweaters.
  • But then I saw the view. This was a scenic spot that just happened to have a hiking trail attached. I don't think I've ever used this phrase before, and if I did, I didn't mean it, but this view took my breath away. We were at the top of an Au Sable river valley. The fall colors were out in force, and you could see for miles!
  • I watched as person after person exclaimed in their own way how beautiful the view was. Heidi had chosen wisely.
  • The park has a walkway that takes you down 272 steps through the woods, down the steep hill. The view along the way and at the bottom was great, but it paled in comparison to the view top side.
  • We tried their hiking trail. It was sparse, kind of boring. The road was on one side. The river was on the other with less than a mile of wooded area in between. We could hear motor vehicles from time to time. Most of the wildlife was onto this fact, and had vacated.
  • We stopped at two other scenic spots. One of them had another 300 step decent to some natural springs and water falls. It was beautiful too.
  • We finished the trip with a quick stop at Tawas Point lighthouse.
  • We didn't get in a lot of actual hiking, but we did get tons of exercise that day. We saw plenty of beautiful settings.
  • I'm not an outdoorsman. I don't hunt or fish. I don't even particularly enjoy being outside. I never expected it even when I became curious about the activity, but hiking does something for my soul. Maybe it's just the Oscoda area. I don't know if it's Lake Huron, the waves, the sand, or the woods that we venture into. I love the idea that the wilderness hasn't been tampered with by humans. We haven't ruined it yet. I also like the smell of cedar, moss, and moldering leaves. I hate throwing my jacket in the wash afterward.
  • We were only away for one night, but we packed the second day of the trip as full as we could. We didn't have any near encounters with wildlife like last year, but a few pheasants scared the crap out of us on one of the trails. I'll take it.
  • I'm proud of us. We're way more adventurous than I thought we'd be ten years ago. Cemetery roads filled with backwoods gun nuts? Trails that lead into the deep, dark woods? The possibility of bears, wolves, coyotes, and fox? We've got a compass and some mace. I think we're moving forward.
  • Most disturbing billboard of the week goes to: "Don't forget you breast friend." I know, we need to encourage mammograms, but…
  • I'm also pretty sure I do have HMB.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Let It Mellow, Randomness

  • We made a pit-stop during a road trip a few weeks ago. We stopped at a "green" Meijer to use the restrooms. Everything was set up to conserve resources. Because it was green, I used the green rules: if it's yellow, let it mellow. I did my part. I was not the first.
  • On a related note, potty training a toddler can be taxing. Even when he's been bluffing all day, you can't chance that this might be the one time he's serious. There's nothing like being in the middle of nowhere and hearing, "Pee please!" from the back seat with emphasis on the please.
  • Modern weddings can get complicated can't they? We just attended a simple ceremony in an old converted church. The church was set up with two rows of pews. Tradition would say one half is for the bride's family, the other for the groom's. It doesn't really work that way when there have been one or more divorces on either, or both, sides. It can make things awkward on many different levels.
  • We avoided taking our sons to the actual wedding ceremony. I never want to be the parent that has to stand up during such a sacred event and scurry out with an oblivious kid. That parent was still at this wedding, so we would have been unnecessary anyway.
  • The boys proved that they're not ready for receptions anyway.
  • The highlight of the entire wedding for Owen and Gage was tormenting the ants they found outside. Owen wanted to stomp them until I asked him whether he'd enjoy someone stomping him or not. We're still trying to explain empathy, life, and death to him. Gage kept picking the poor things up as if they were toys. He was then perplexed when they permanently stopped crawling around.
  • My cousin Jeff is an awesome chef. He made all of the food for my aunt's wedding. The garlic broccoli was phenomenal.
  • Using alcohol as a tool to resolve/reveal family/emotional matters, is like using a chainsaw to cut pancakes. You might achieve your goal, but the pieces left behind are often unrecognizable and inedible.
  • All of our eye surgeries are over. Gage was surprisingly cooperative until we arrived in the pre-op area of the 600 building. It was as if he'd forgotten the first visit altogether until he saw the hospital gown. It wasn't too bad though. He was very bi-polar after his sedative. One moment he was happily playing the 'name that body part' game, the next he was telling me I was bad.
  • I'm often the 'bad cop' parent. I've made my peace with it. I remove bandages, administer bad tasting medicine, and generally offer up the bad news more honestly.
  • I need some kind of badge that identifies me as the type of guy that doesn't hunt, fish, fix cars, or watch sports. It would make for fewer awkward conversations with new acquaintances. It would likely make for fewer conversations altogether, but I'd rather be up front about it.
  • I do love the woods. I love to hike. Fishing's not all bad, but it's often boring to me. I like the conversation that comes with it more than anything. I can fix a few things on a car. I can diagnose a few things that have popped up in my own vehicles over and over again. I can even change my own oil. I do like to attend sporting events. I just can't watch sports on television for more than about fifteen seconds. I would rather watch women play most sports.
  • I enjoy talking about books I've read, music, and movies.
  • I'm trying to resist plugging in a space heater today.
  • Last week Owen learned not to climb the wrong way up slides, a lesson we've drilled into him for years. When I reminded him of this, he replied, "Yeah, but I did it while the teacher wasn't looking." He apparently learned the lesson when the other kids were caught.
  • We've observed him, numerous times, tell his playmates that he can't do this or that because he's been taught that the particular action is bad, but when things like the slide lesson come up, I often wonder if I'm just one of the worst parents ever. It just seems like we're rarely getting through to him, and it's even more rare when he seems to fully understand the reasoning behind the lessons.
  • On a brighter note, I think we're closer to the 99% potty trained zone with Gage.
  • I took Owen to our local Halloween store yesterday. It's a yearly tradition. He didn't seem to be afraid of much last year, but he really didn't like the animatronics this time around. He asked me if they had a back door we could leave through so he didn't have to return to that area.
  • He loves all of the spiders, bats, and creepy crawly bug merchandise out right now. He keeps asking if he can have the larger spider decorations for Christmas this year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

…Because I love my Babylon.

I love this song, and the entire Jacaranda album by Josh Garrels.

I did this lyrical breakdown as a graphic. The song is split into two halves.

The song is called, Zion & Babylon.

Click on the graphic to make it larger.

I live on both sides, but once I saw/felt/tasted/experienced Zion(Heaven) the value of anything on the other side diminishes quickly (and hopefully permanently).

You can listen to the song and the entire album, here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The BM Fairy, Tea Partying, and The Cat in the Hat. My Random 2¢ this Week

  • I'm still adjusting to Owen's school schedule.
  • He didn't want to go back the second day. He didn't really have a concrete reason other than he seemed to resent the teacher's authority a bit. I had to dig out the old story my mom told me when I was his age. "If you don't go to school, Mama and Papa will get in trouble. The police will come and take us away for being bad parents." That actually did the trick.
  • I asked him what he learned on his second day of school. His reply, "We learned that it's not okay to spit."
  • The crossing guard is actually a hinderance to me. I find myself wanting to be polite by crossing the street with her assistance. In reality, it would be quicker and likely safer to just cut straight up the parking lot. It doesn't help that we're one of two families that actually walk our kids to school this year. She seems to know the other family personally. Dang crossing guard.
  • Heidi commented that she thinks I get the boys up and moving way too early. I reminded her of all the "delays" that often come up when dealing with our children.
  • I think we're going to have to start getting up even earlier. The Bowel Movement Fairy seems to show up about eight minutes before our latest departure window.
  • All the other parents make me feel old. They're younger than me, but their kids are older than mine.
  • Gage loves the buses. He races home shouting, "Come on! Come on!" He stands on the front porch and watches them drive past. It's like his own personal parade every day.
  • Hurray for PBS. Another hit kids show started this season with The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That. The cat is voiced by Martin Short. It has catchy songs. My kids love it.
  • "Let's go-go-go-go on an adventure! The Thing-a-muh-jigger is up and away!"
  • I locked myself out of the house a week ago today. It was a cold morning. I wore a jacket to drop Owen off and absentmindedly stuck my keys into the jacket. As I left the house later, I didn't need the jacket.
  • On a related note, pay phones are almost non-existant anymore. Gage and I walked a mile before we found one. It was a crazy looking contraption owned and operated by a phone company I've never heard of. It was charging $1 per four minute call. The problem being, it never connected me with anyone, and it still kept my money.
  • I ended up resorting to calling collect. Luckily my dad's answering machine recorded the computerized voice requesting his payment permission and my name. Not knowing exactly what was going on, he came running… without his extra set of keys.
  • In hindsight, I should have asked one of my neighbors for help.
  • On another related note, a cellphone might not be a bad idea. I hate just about everything about them. I already feel enslaved to this computer, email, Facebook…
  • Luckily, we only pay $100 a year for the shared cellphone we already use. If we double that, we're still paying less in a year than many people pay for just a few months.
  • I've heard a few stellar sermons lately. Here are a few links:
  • Dave Flowers, our pastor at Wildwind Community Church did a great sermon called Love. And Hate.
  • Mars Hill, a church closer to Grand Rapids, always inspires me too. Rob Bell hit one out of the park talking about the value of our older neighbors here. He references Trent Reznor and Johnny Cash too. The great story he tells at the end about last year's Pastor's Conference hit home. Having attended the conference, I had often wondered what happened to the pastor in the story. (I'm being vague on purpose).
  • Peter Rollins joined him on this one. Rollins is one of my favorite speakers. Some see him as radical. I really don't see it. Maybe it's the accent.
  • Warning: Political Material Ahead
  • I noticed two guys on a street corner last Sunday. One of them had a bullhorn. The other had a very homemade looking, impossible to read sign. Later I heard that Sunday was the day many Tea Party members were holding curb-side rallies.
  • I agree that neither Democrats or Republicans seem to be pulling off any miracles lately. I agree we might need more diversity in our political system, so I'm somewhat encouraged that a third, very slightly different party is at least winning some elections. I'm just really not encouraged by much that they're saying.
  • I understand the fear that spend, spend, spend will have repercussions, but I want to hear what the alternatives are. I keep hearing that the Tea Party is unhappy with the current administrations ability to create jobs, which implies that they understand there is a lack of available employment opportunities. They then state that they're fed up with people on welfare and unemployment benefits because "those people should just get jobs." I don't understand that disconnect/contradiction.
  • Yesterday they announced that poverty levels are extremely high and growing in our country. If we're going to stop "spend, spend, spend," spending less, what will be offered to these people? I sincerely fear that there are people out there that would be okay with "starve, starve, starve." A huge deficit is a bad thing for this country. I don't disagree with that, but leaving the economically lowest class to fend for itself would be worse in my opinion. It certainly wouldn't solve anything.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The church is a whore…

Disclaimer: Let me start off by saying that I know I'm not perfect when it comes to love/hate, grace/bigotry, acceptance/prejudice. I'm sure there are those of you that could point out some of my shortcomings when it comes to loving other people (and I would appreciate that by the way). The following is not meant to suggest that I've "arrived" or that anyone would mistake me for someone that has it all figured out. It's just a subject that's put my blood to boiling this week. Something I needed to write so maybe I can stop thinking about it quite so much this week.

"The church is a whore, but she is my mother." This quote is attributed to St. Augustine. I take it to mean that the church is messed up, but I love her perhaps because she made me what I am today. A friend of mine reminded me of this quote in an unrelated matter recently. It seemed appropriate for today's subject.

A few months ago famous writer Anne Rice announced that she was leaving the Christian church. She would still be following Christ, chasing after Him, spreading His love, but she couldn't deal with all the hate and dysfunction that she felt coming from her local congregations. Hatred and bigotry shouldn't run so rampant among people who believe that God is love. All too often it seems like it's okay to have ill feelings toward groups of people that don't believe the same things we do, or behave in ways we deem appropriate.

I should point out, to those that might not be familiar, that the term church can mean several different things. There are local churches, there are church denominations made up of hundreds and thousands of churches all over the globe, and there is the overall Christian church as a collective encompassing every Christian church all over the world. I believe Rice is severing ties with the overall church organization, or organized religion as some prefer.

I understood her point of view back then. I'm feeling it even more this week. Every channel you tune into is highlighting a single church that is planning on burning Muslim holy books on September 11th. They're also highlighting many other Christian pastors accusing Islam of being evil or a false religion. The overall message these people are pushing is that we're not a country with freedom of religion, and if we are, yours doesn't count.

There's also the churches that protest funerals carrying signs that claim God hates this group or that group. There are the Christian groups that seem to imply that abortion doctors should be put to death without exactly using those words.

Now, these are often the craziest of the crazy. It seems they always get the spotlight. You never see the countless positive things many churches, mosques, and synagogues do highlighted on the evening news. You usually only get the crazy crust, the fringe as some like to call it, spouting hatred and fundamentalism.

As a Christian, a Christ follower, there are these overarching messages that you would assume any Christian or church would adhere to: Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love each other. Don't judge. Don't condemn. God is love. God is forgiving. Not only share what you have, but give until you are denying yourself. Lose your life to find life abundant.

How do these messages translate into such negative actions? Burning the Koran? Denying people the right to build a building where they would seek out God? Co-opting funerals with God hates messages?

Even when the bigotry is on a smaller scale, how do you reconcile that with your faith when you encounter it in a church setting? I can testify to the fact that it does happen, even in the best of congregations. On a personal level, it's still very shocking to encounter. It's hard not to turn your back and hightail it out of that particular church, and maybe even that denomination.

The problem is, even in the best of churches, people aren't perfect, no where near. They're not supposed to be. They are supposed to be learning to embrace love and forget hate (I think there's an Ozzy lyric in there somewhere), but that takes time.

It's very hard when you're in a church setting (often outside of the actual church building and not on Sunday) with a group of Christians having just finished up a study of some sort on God's love and grace only to have a discussion start up that involves demeaning other groups of human beings simply because they are of a differing ethnicity or from a different geographical area. You have to wonder if you were the only one paying attention to the material you just covered.

I've often left those situations feeling that it was going to be difficult to return, to that particular setting or to even see those people on Sunday morning. It often bothers me for days. It's hard to take fellow Christians seriously when something like that occurs. Studying God's grace toward sin is difficult when you're expecting the people you're studying with to discuss how worthless certain groups of perceived sinners are shortly afterward.

I know people that would give a stranger the literal shirt off their back, but only if they were certain the stranger wasn't gay or a Muslim. You don't get this picture all at once of course. You see people do amazingly loving things, you marvel at their faith, and later you hear them say shockingly hateful words. It hurts, and it's hard, but you have to learn to extend grace in these situations. You have to just keep praying that their hearts continue to soften toward everyone, even their perceived enemies.

I've been lucky. I've found a good church. A church where I fit well enough. It's diverse, probably more so than most individuals realize on any given week. From one pew to the next you might find drastically different political views, different upbringing, different economic means, and different goals. It's a melting pot that seems to be stronger for its differences. Love and grace are evident. It's not perfect,. Our church suffers through its squabbles, but it has taught me that you have to hang in there. You see, those that hang on to old hatreds, they need those that have given in to love and grace. At the very least, they need you to be uncomfortably silent when off-color, unkind comments are made. It would probably be more appropriate to speak out, and in some cases I have - but it's hard. It's hard not to just jump ship, cut and run.

I understand where Anne Rice is coming from, and I suspect she'll continue to do good in this world, loving people, chasing after God. I can't give up as easily though. I pray there is hope even in the craziest of branches of this thing we call the church. I've seen hope in my branch. Since we're all connected, there has to be hope for the overall body. It's not easy. I was lucky to find a branch I could feel comfortable in. A good branch in my opinion.

A lot of people state that they wish more Muslims would come forward to speak out against the evil actions of a few, to speak out against terrorism. They say the lack of clear voices of opposition are evidence that the religion is itself in favor of such acts. Well, I'm guessing the same could be said of Christian churches that don't speak out against Koran burnings and Mosque protests. Let me be clear, as someone trying very hard to follow Christ, I don't see these things as loving. It's not loving our neighbors, and it's not loving to people we shouldn't see as our enemies in the first place.

I think we need to lock arms with those that are so often portrayed as our enemies and shout as loudly as possible that God is love, and no amount of anger, hate, or fear can change that. But that's just me. I'm just a little twig.

Friday, August 27, 2010

October 2009 Hiking notes

The following was an entry from my 2009 Journal. My wife and I took a small vacation in October. I was anxious to try hiking. It's almost that time of year again. I thought I'd share the experience of my first hike.:

I had researched the Hoist Lake National Forest for our first hike. It had both long and short trails. We didn’t know what to expect going in, so I wanted something with options.

The trail was very clearly marked, which I was relieved to see. There were a few other cars in the lot, but we didn’t see any other people until the hike was over.

Heidi insisted on taking the lead. We moved really fast at first. The forest seemed very quiet at times. It didn’t take long before a deer snorted at us. The official guide at the parking area stated that the forest was full of deer, coyote, fox, and black bear.

It took us about 45 minutes to travel what the map said was 0.75 miles, which seemed long to me. I had actually gotten the compass out to start trying to pinpoint where we were on the map. I was afriad their were no actual numbered markers like the map indicated. I thought we might be lost. We soon came upon the marker for point #2. Another unseen deer let us know where he was. There was a clearing there, and the trail forked. This was our first opportunity to get lost, and we had to decide how short we wanted to make the hike. We opted for the shorter, 3 mile route.

As we continued, we went over a small ridge hill. As we were going down hill, we both heard twigs start snapping from directly behind us on the other side of the ridge. We could no longer see anything on that side. We froze. There was another twig snap followed by a kind of grunt. My mind was racing. I’ve heard deer snorts many times, and this didn’t remind me of those. All I could think of was black bear. I started talking loud, shouting out, “Hey bear!” From the other side of the trail (still over the ridge and out of sight), I heard another grunt, which made me feel like there were two of whatever was over there. We decided to get moving quickly. I kept shouting “Hey bear!” as we left the area. We never saw or heard whatever it was after that.

After a short while, we paused along a swamp that was down in a valley. A chipmunk caught our attention. We talked loudly about it.

When we started moving again we both heard movement down by the swamp, not more than about 20 feet from us. At that point I saw a white flurry of movement from a deer’s white tail. I couldn’t see anything else due to the brush. It moved on quickly and more amazingly to us, quietly. We didn’t hear it as it moved through the dense brush. We had heard it stand up but we didn’t hear it as it left our area. Amazing that such a large animal could move so quietly around us. We were also surprised that it hadn’t decided to leave earlier as we stood noisily talking about the silly chipmunk.

We did see some things we were curious about. There were a lot of trees that had obviously been cleanly cut down - probably for anyone needing fire wood. Camping is allowed as long as it’s not done too close to the actual trail.

What was strange were the trees that appeared to have been broken off, many about 5-7 feet up. The strange part? They were all leaning in on one another in a tee pee like formation. We saw many of these, some in clusters, some as singles. The biggest was near the first clearing at marker #2, just before we had our animal encounter.

There were also trees, some very large and tall, that were arched. What causes that? Is it just snow fall, ice?

I’m not trying to suggest anything by my curiosity. It was just strange to see what could have been man-made constructs in areas that likely didn't see humans too often. More experienced outdoorsman might know exactly how these things happen. Whether they were made by people or just naturally fell that way, I just found them strange, and if man made, pointless.

We didn’t encounter much wild life after that. We thought we saw a deer at one point, but we weren’t sure. A black squirrel tried to jump on my head, effectively scaring the crap out of me. I thought a limb was going to hit me or something. We also heard what was likely a woodpecker pretty far off in the distance.

We were pretty tired by the time we reached the parking site. We were glad we hadn’t decided to go a longer route.

We ran into some hunters in the parking lot who had once lived in Flint. Hunting is also allowed in the forest, which makes hiking a bit more interesting doesn’t it?

Overall, it was great exercise. It was also relaxing. The wildlife encounters added some excitement. It was beautiful and peaceful.

I miss that wild, mossy, oaky smell already. Maybe I should have grabbed a limb or two.

Random Pointless Stuff About Me for No Reason

  • From now on, I'm planting pumpkins. I bought three small plants for 79¢, and I planted them at my father's house because I ran out of room in my garden. I didn't expect them to take over quite this much territory. I don't think we'll have to buy any pumpkins this year. There are around 20 already full-size pumpkins.
  • I hate that little bumpy patch they put on the sidewalk just outside of department and grocery stores. Is it there to slow us down? Remind us that we're about to walk into a parking lot? Annoy us? Shake up the carbonated beverages we just bought?
  • People often suspect that I eat way more than I actually do.
  • I've never tried any form of recreational drugs. I've never even smoked a cigarette. I find cigars intriguing, but I figure I'll likely come down with some form of cancer without smoking, so why increase the chances?
  • I don't automatically look down on any of the people that do use recreational drugs or smoke.
  • I hope that doesn't sound like an endorsement. It's really not.
  • Could I be more non-commital?
  • I feel like I have friends that don't invite me over as often because they feel I'd be judgmental about their lifestyle, and that's totally not me.
  • We don't have cable, but I like to watch The Daily Show online. I hate it when the show goes "on break" for a few weeks because crazy things usually happen in our country during those breaks.
  • When the grocery store over charges me for something, I rarely bring it to their attention because I feel it's too much trouble. When they accidentally under charge me, I immediately let them know because it feels like I'm stealing.
  • I tend to over-think things.
  • The possibility of having to use a public restroom often makes me feel like I have to use the bathroom.
  • I can't pee if there are too many other people in a restroom and there isn't adequate view obstruction, even if I have an urgent need.
  • I don't like talking on the phone, even to people I like.
  • Are the following salutations offensive to anyone:
  • "Take it easy."
  • "Have a good one."
  • Is it strange that I feel awkward saying these phrases to women in particular?
  • I mean, those phrases really could imply many different things, some inappropriate.
  • If I enjoyed them on any level, I have trouble donating my used books. I know it's highly unlikely that I'll re-read most of them. My kids probably won't even enjoy them down the road.
  • I often leave my Bible or other spiritual reading material in full view inside my parked, unlocked car. I figure, if someone should steal it, they likely needed it more than I do.
  • Is it weird that I often travel with a Bible? It's one of those books that, even if you've read it already, there are still new mysteries to uncover, new perspectives to consider.
  • I think I need a robot doctor. I was uncomfortable with a male doctor when I was a teenager. I tried a female doctor in my twenties, and found it hard to discuss everything with her. How long until we get robot doctors? I think I could handle that.
  • I've never had a taste for beer. There are a few brands I like, but I drink less than a six-pack in an entire year. I have to be in the right social setting. There has to be a sense of comradery involved.
  • I might get legally drunk once a year, but even that's doubtful.
  • I'm equally picky about coffee. I have to have the right brand, creamer, and sugar.
  • McDonald's frappes give me headaches, but I love them anyway.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Randomness: August 26th, Owen Funnies

  • Owen's eye is doing great! He's slowly gaining somewhat regular vision back. He may still need reading glasses, but that's nothing compared to what kids his age would go through thirty years ago.
  • Surgery for both boys is coming up this next week. Any extra prayers would be appreciated. Anyone that knows Gage, you know we're in for a doozy of a week.
  • We passed a funeral home in Mt. Morris last week. My mother-in-law stated that that would likely be the funeral home Owen's great grandparents would be using… when the time comes. Owen replied, "Are they going there today?"
  • Yes, we laughed, and then prayed that the day doesn't arrive for years to come.
  • Who knew loving your neighbor would involve butter?
  • Should I clarify?
  • The continued couponing often leaves us with a surplus of certain products. Prior to using coupons, we'd go through a tub of butter per week. Now, we're lucky to use one a month. I'm not sure why. I haven't figured that out yet. Butter is one of those things that you should never pay full price for. In fact, you should never pay more than about 29¢ for a tub. I've even gotten it for free. I'm trying to get in the habit of sharing our overstock with our neighbors. It keeps us… friendly.
  • Coupons have also helped us donate way more items to local shelters. That alone will keep me going on this stuff. Being unemployed, I thought my giving days were over. Now, I'm giving more than I used to. Mysterious ways indeed.
  • Owen came home from my dad's house last night. Apparently they had discussed beer (?). What is Sponge Bob teaching our kids again? Anyway, he randomly proclaims, as we sit down to dinner, that beer is illegal for kids to drink. We agreed, not really knowing where this was going. He kind of asked/stated that we were allowed to drink beer, and we explained that beer and alcohol were 'sometimes' things for us. Kind of like candy, alcohol is a sometimes thing. We really don't drink that often.
  • He then asked for a drink. I remembered that he'd requested root beer earlier in the day. I didn't really think anything of it as I poured him a cup. I set it down in front of him, and he jumped up from the table. "I can't have that. It's illegal!"
  • Did you ever notice how children prioritize their requests? They wait until they're in close proximity to you instead of when you are in close proximity to what they want you to do. For instance, waiting until you finally sit down to eat your dinner to ask you for a drink.
  • If you're ever in the Peavyhouse Florida Room and it smells like someone used it as a bathroom, that would be my son Gage's doing. The initial success of his toilet training has become more hit or miss lately. If you're ever inclined to use the Peavyhouse Florida Room as a bathroom, they're surprisingly gracious about it. I'm pretty sure we're not getting invited over anymore.
  • I've traveled up into the thumb (of Michigan) a couple of times this past week. I'm happy to see most of the area is still under developed. I can't wait to get back to hiking this Fall. I'm hoping to revisit Oscoda too.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Random Griping on My Part: Don't Think I Don't See the Irony

  • The Flint area has been in the national spotlight the last few weeks because of serial killer activity. They've apparently caught the guy, and the public is acting in their usual ironically violent way. They're supposedly upset by the violence and death, but the first thing many people suggest is that we kill the killer… thus making killers out of ourselves.
  • Protestors outside of a party store where the suspect used to work threatening the store owner with violence, the store owner who had nothing to do with the violent acts of an ex-employee.
  • We love our violence don't we?
  • Society's biggest problem? The fact that society often can't see it's own obvious problems.
  • I had to turn the television off every time they used the term "Serial Stabber." Mid-Michigan news stations have an annoying habit of coming up with "down home" phrases because we apparently need to put our own spin on everything, including serial killing.
  • They released the video footage of a woman assaulting McDonald's workers because McNuggets weren't being served that early in the morning. I didn't laugh until the incident was over, and the next customer pulled up. I just kept thinking, what is going through that person's mind? Did they still get their breakfast? Did they still want it?
  • I've never had McNuggets that were so good that I'd attack someone that prevented me from having them.
  • I found this interesting post on Facebook: "Don't worry about the people in your past; There's a reason they didn't make it to your future." In most cases, you might want to look at the common denominator, namely yourself. I'm not saying we're always personally in the wrong when people leave our lives, but if there are that many people that you 'like' a Facbook page, how about a little self examination?
  • I really don't get the outrage over the proposed "Mosque at Ground Zero." For one thing, it's not actually at Ground Zero, and it's more of an Islamic Community Center. I think putting an actual Mosque directly on Ground Zero would be ironic justice. One of the terrorists' goals was to put a wedge between mainstream America and the Muslim world. If we're protesting Mosques [and denying one of our basic freedoms, the freedom of religion], I'd say score one more for the terrorists folks.
  • We have this opportunity to show the world that we really celebrate freedom and fight against fear. Instead, we choose to showcase our intolerance.
  • I cringed when I saw that the Today Show was highlighting an interview with Lindsey Lohan's mother. I don't often watch any of the morning shows anyway. They're way too out of touch with the normal things in my life, but I was flipping through the channels this morning. I caught maybe 30 seconds of the conversation. I was glad the interviewer wasn't making it a fluff piece. He said, "Surely you don't blame the tabloids for the actual legal trouble your daughter has gotten into?" Her mother responded, "Well no. She did get the one DUI, but the judge was extra harsh on her." I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the actual words, but you get the idea. I had to laugh. I know a few people that have been through the DUI process. I don't think anyone was "extra harsh" because of her celebrity status. She got off easy in most people's estimation.