Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Random Job Reflections.

  • It's great to be back to work. There's been a boost to my self-esteem. I have a routine again. I have coworkers again. I get to interact with complete strangers for very short periods of time. 
  • I'm working for a warehouse store. Not the one owned by Walmart. This place doesn't just offer bulk, oversized products. We also sell regular and high-end items at a discounted rate - TVs, iPods, iPhones, jewelry, coffins, tires, books, DVDs…
  • I'm not just bragging here, but many people have told me that they often find the Sam's or Walmart generic brands lacking. Those that have shopped our store find our signature brand equal or superior to manufacturer brands and often more economical. 
  • My job title is Cashier's Assistant. Think bag boy with boxes instead of bags. I basically take things from one cart and try to put them back into another cart in an organized way. That's usually hindered by the order that things were taken out and how fast the cashier is. 
  • Every lane is an express lane.
  • I also help out with stock, and most recently, cleaning the bakery. I may start selling seafood by the end of the week.
  • In the bakery, I walked on cinnamon covered floors a quarter of an inch thick. It was like working in Christmas town's bakery. Fresh fruit cakes were cooling nearby. They also have two walk in ovens and a walk in dishwasher. I could wash every dish in my house at once in that thing.
  • My job is somewhat physically demanding (I'm way out of shape). I sweat a lot. Someone asked me if something had been spilled on me the first night I worked. Customers seem to think it implies I'm working harder than everyone else. My arms are getting stronger. I don't really feel the soreness until the night before my day off. It's like I psychosomatically suppress the aches and pains. 
  • As physical as the job may be, it's still pretty darn easy. 
  • Working with the stock department seems to stress me out a bit, but in reality, that's pretty easy too. Things are just a bit heavier. Extra large bags of dog food and cat litter weigh a ton. Okay. They weigh fifty pounds.
  • Perhaps my high blood pressure situation will lessen a bit with all this sweating and lifting.
  • Sometimes we run out of boxes, and we just have to put it all back into the cart. I'm guessing this makes the transfer of goods from the car to the house less fun when customers have purchased more than $500 worth of groceries. 
  • I like that our company will refuse to sell brands when their respective companies demand that we charge more money for their products. This happened with Coca-Cola a few years back. Coke was removed from the stores for about six months before they gave in. There's a certain peanut butter that isn't on the shelves right now for the same reason. It's awesome to tell customers that we don't carry certain items anymore because the supplier wanted us to charge more for no reason other than profit.
  • I work for the largest retailer of wine in the world, and it's obvious. Most carts exit the store with at least one bottle. 
  • We sell a ton of organic, natural, and unprocessed food, but we also sell alcohol in gallon bottles.
  • There has been a little culture shock for me. My monthly grocery budget is around $300. The majority of customers at this store spend anywhere from $300-$500 each visit. There are plenty of people that just pop in for the basics, but the larger orders are much more common.
  • On a daily basis, some couple comments that they only stopped in to grab coffee creamer and ended up spending $500. They stopped in for a $4 half gallon of organic dairy creamer for coffee, and on a whim, they purchase a cart full of grocery items and a television or a pair of diamond earrings. Every single day I've worked, this scenario is presented to me. I've only been working there for about 10 days so my ability to exaggerate hasn't really developed yet. 
  • I get the premise. It happens to me at Meijer. I stop in for milk, but end up spending an extra $20 that wasn't planned on cookies, soda, and some fresh fruit that sounds great at that moment. I have yet to accidentally get hooked on the idea of buying a flat screen TV when I only needed bread.
  • Despite how this might make our prices sound, there are some really affordable, regular items down there. It makes sense to buy a huge bottle of ibuprofin for $6 when the same $6 gets you a much smaller bottle at more common stores. It makes sense, that is, if you go through a regular bottle in a short amount of time.
  • The other culture difference: I seem to be one of very few employees that's married. Even fewer seem to have kids. Many of my coworkers are younger than me, but most are around age 30. 
  • Having been unemployed for more than two years, I've kind of fallen out of practice when dealing with customers. 95% of them are polite and thankful. It's the other 5% that I had hoped had grown more kind in my absence. They have not. 
  • I get that we're there to offer services to our customers. I support that idea. I just wish, even if they view us as beneath them, that they could find it in their hearts to not actually treat us as such. 
  • I get that most difficult customers are projecting problems in their own lives onto us. Working in fast food taught me that lesson quickly. 
  • I've found, in years past, the most satisfying thing to do is to remain calm and polite to the end. I don't think all difficult customers are looking for a reaction, but I know some of them are, even unconsciously. Even after someone says something completely rude to me, I thank them and wish them a good day. That's not always easy.
  • Some people really do seem to expect miracles. 
  • Some people get agitated when you offer to box things up for them. Other act like they're building the coolest fort with our boxes. They take way more boxes than would normally make sense.
  • I miss my kids.
  • Our family, as a whole, is still adjusting to all the schedule and responsibility shifts.
  • The Fleet Foxes album, Sun Giant is making for great Autumn listening.
  • My highest recommendation for Halloween movie viewing: Trick R Treat. You can usually pick it up for $5 at Walmart on DVD. That's a steal for such an awesome, recent horror gem. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Our Yearly Anniversary Trip

  • I have a job! It's only a seasonal position, but it's for a great company. At this point, a job that lasted two weeks would be a huge boost to my self esteem.
  • I miss having coworkers and a daily, employed routine.
  • Three years ago, my wife and I started a tradition for our anniversary. We head north, try to hit a few places that are photographic, we try to hike, and we find a place to stay for the night. Three years ago, October was still considered part of Autumn with cooler weather.
  • Most tourist locations considered October to be the beginning of "the off season." Rooms were cheap and plentifully available. Hiking trails were almost abandoned, free from interuption.
  • For the past two years in a row the tempuratures for the first weekend in October have been in the seventies and eighties. Finding a hotel room has proven to be near impossible without reservations. Hiking trails are clogged with people and not the kind that seem to appreciate the setting they are clogging.
  • I need my yearly dose of nature and Autumn beauty. The trees appeared to be on fire everywhere we went. This yearly visit resets my eyes, helps me appreciate things I often overlook.
  • This past weekend, we were on a beautiful trail in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area of northern Michigan. More than a few things got on my nerves. I should point out, this wasn't a dog-walk specific trail. Dogs were allowed, but it wasn't like it was a designated dog run.
  • There were nearly as many dogs on the trail as people.
  • Animal people often act as if everyone should be happy to meet and greet their pets.
  • Even the people that didn't have dogs were talking about pets… loudly. Most of the natural inhabitants of the hiking areas I was trying to enjoy tend to run away when they hear loud conversations about animal waste management.
  • When we arrived at Empire Bluff, we were greeted by an awe inspiring view of the dune filled coast of Lake Michigan. There was a great, beautiful contrast between the fall leaves and the deep blue of the lake. You can see for miles: little towns dotting here and there, endless Fall colors…
  • I found it kind of crazy that some of the visitors seemed totally oblivious to all of it. The trail ends in a loop that allows you to quickly exit the scenic area if you choose. Many people would literally stomp around the loop and exit without pausing at all.
  • Wow. They missed it.
  • At the Dunes Visitor Center, cougars are listed as extinct in Michigan and have been "for decades." When you get to the hiking trails, there are notices telling you that encountering cougars is a possibility, but to avoid trying to interact with them at all costs.
  • I thought I understood what the word extinct meant.
  • We ended up finding a room about 150 miles farther south than we intended. The Days Inn had a mural on the wall that showed elfish looking leprechans stealing money from some sort of palace.
  • ??????
  • Nothing makes my hotel staying experience better like theiving elf murals.
  • On our way home, we headed for the west side of the state. We ended up in Ludington. What a strange little town. There were a few large hotels right on Lake Michigan. I'm guessing that tourism is a huge factor for the town.
  • Their art community was very obviously a huge influence too. We passed many little galleries filled with young people on a Sunday morning.
  • Then there were the churches. We parked in their downtown area. All the buildings were very old, but most of them were full and have obviously been updated.
  • We were hungry, looking for a place to have lunch. Heidi noticed a group of older, well dressed folks standing outside of what appeared to be a business. It ended up being a Church of Christ. As we walked by, I noticed that pews packed the small space.
  • Directly across the street, in a remodeled movie theater, was another church. The people standing outside and sitting inside were much younger. They were all wearing black and grey sweaters - still dressy, but more beatnicky. Instead of pews, they were sitting on chairs in a communal like circle around what appeared to be the pastor. It looked more like a coffee shop. The marquee listed their three service times instead of movies.
  • My wife and I love to sample micro-brewed beer, so we tried to visit two breweries while we were up north. They were both a bust.
  • The first one was in Traverse City, and they had an hour and a half wait.
  • The second was in Ludington, and lunch for the two of us would have ran more than thirty dollars. Craft beer and twenty dollar plates of lobster pasta make for a strange business profile in my opinion, but to each their own. It kind of feels like a mix of football and neck ties.
  • The Fleet Foxes make for a great soundtrack to an Autumn roadtrip in Michigan.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Highlights and Thoughts Provoked from Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith, In Random Form of Course

I wanted to try something new. I read a lot, and I always take notes. I'd love to share some of the points that really stuck out to me, some of the things that I'm still chewing on because of this book.

I'm going to try to paraphrase some of these things. I don't think posting these few quotes from the book will diminish the overall reading experience. The book is really about a journey. I don't think you can even say that it's about a journey to faith. The conclusion is really left to the reader in that respect. It's more like a journey through certain revelations for the author.

Most of these lessons I'm about to list are actually from Mitch's rabbi, The Reb.

  • Things that grow slowly are more formidable. Things that grow quickly, crumble easily.
  • If you're going to lead or teach people spiritually, there is no room for cynicism.
  • Life holds a lot more hope when we believe God has chosen to answer our prayers negatively instead of believing He isn't out there listening in the first place, especially when sudden death or illness is concerned. I have atheist friends, and I wonder how they feel about things like this. If life is pointless. We're here by accident for no real reason. We die, and it's done, then how much more pointless is all this suffering?
  • "The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within." Mohandas Gandhi
  • Olam Habah - the world to come. This sticks out to me because I recently read an argument that the Christian faith is a faith mainly concerned with the future. It's not about what we are, but what we're becoming. That's not to say that we sit back and let the future unfold, or that we're in any way responsible for creating the final outcome. By participating now, we're becoming now.
  • The creation story that Judeo Christian traditions follow does not mention the word 'bad.' God did not create bad things. I study the creation story regularly, and this never occurred to me. I think he's talking about inherent goodness or badness here. We all have this choice. We weren't made bad.
  • When you worry about God's judgement, you shouldn't worry about you versus the other guy. You should worry about God measuring you against you - how far you've come compared to where you were.
  • Start any reconciliation with humility, "I've thought things over, and in some ways, you might be right." Even if you don't believe it. From my experience, this is great advice. I've often been labeled a diplomatic guy. I've helped facilitated a few reconciliations in my day, and I can tell you, humble keeps people listening. Anger does not.
  • The take away from the book: Even if you're not actively seeking a faith, God, etc… if you know people that are obviously enamored with God, try to take some time to have a conversation with these people. You might walk away experiencing something beautiful. Ask them some tough questions.
  • I'm starting a file of my own, titled simply, "God."

Other Random Thoughts, Non-book Related:
  • Sorry salespeople out there, I hate the phrase, "It's a No Brainer." What it implies to me is, don't even bother thinking about all the angles. Just go for it. Living in this economy, no brainers often lead to more jobs for repo men.
  • What's acceptable to wear after Labor Day? How about clothes? Don't we have enough to concern ourselves with already without worrying about whether or not white is acceptable? And Acceptable to whom?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Random Stuff on God, Faith, and My Kids

  • If you were to start a file titled 'God,' what would you put in it?
  • I should write a sermon on that one. Would you guys read my sermons?
  • Have you ever had a week that seems to have a theme, like God is shouting something at you? For about a week now, my theme, the word that keeps being repeated over and over again in differing forms is: ritual.
  • I'm reading more than one book right now. One is about the ways that we should approach Bible study. The other is about finding faith. They're actually, on the surface at least, oceans away from one another. One is more instructional. The other is more of a memior. They're both bringing me back to this idea of ritual, or habit.
  • My own local pastor mentioned something very similar in his sermon last Sunday. He was talking more about habits that keep you growing spiritually, but to me, that's the same thing. Here's a link to that sermon - click here.
  • Ritual. Ritual. Ritual.
  • In the more memoir oriented book, the author asks a great question: If you wanted to connect yourself to anyone in the past through ritual, who would it be? Would it be a group? The idea being, you would mimic their behavior or rituals in hopes of seeing some truth that they obviously knew. In a way, ritual can be like time travel, you can connect with people that are no longer among the living.
  • Ponder that for a month.
  • In the same book, the author stopped running from God around the year 2000, the basic same timeline that I stopped running from God.
  • Thinking this over, it's staggering to think about where I was then, at the beginning of faith, and where I am now. How many books have I read on the subject since then? How many articles? Not to mention all the things that have come and gone in my life: A house, two kids, a dream job gained and lost, a community of people I'm now connected with, friends come and gone.
  • Staggering.
  • The other book, the one that's just trying to lead to a more open minded reading of Scripture, it's a dense book. Full of tons of ideas and tangents, but they're all great fun and somewhat revelatory. It's hard to put down, but full of things that I could ponder for hours and hours on their own.
  • One of the big ideas I think the author is trying to get at is the idea that we should take care not to make more of the Bible than we do God. Don't let the Bible itself become an idol to the point that we ignore what we know about God.
  • If we know and experience God in a positive, loving way, why are we so easily convinced that God isn't loving when we encounter Scripture that appears to portray him as less so?
  • He highly recommends further study, especially in regards to context, history, culture, and even possible problems with translation errors when we're talking about the English language.
  • None of this is exactly new to me, but he does have some amazing illustrations that he uses to make his points.
  • If curiosity has gotten the better of you, the authors I'm currently reading are Peter Gomes and Mitch Albom - again, in many ways, oceans apart. The books, The Good Book, Reading with Mind and Heart and Have a Little Fatih, A True Story. The latter is available right now at a local, going out of business, Borders store near you at a very reasonable price.
  • I've gotten back in to some of my rituals this week.
  • I may do another random post soon based on the Albom book. I'm only about a quarter of the way through the Gomes tomes, they're going to be a while.
  • I like to face my fears. I don't want my life to be ruled by fear. Here's the thing though… I'm terrified of whales. I don't think I can face that fear. They're down there in the deep, big enough to swallow a person whole.
  • My kids ask for broccoli when we're grocery shopping. I'm proud, but it's also weird. I'm sure it's our fault too.
  • Has anyone else experienced this? We've bought about a hundred ink pens in the past two years. Do you think I can ever find one? My kids love to draw, so they're always snatching the pens, but what are they doing with them? Are they somehow falling into the foundation of my house? Is the upholstery of our couch packed with pens?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ed's Story: Hope when Facing Death

Snipe. Snipe. Snipe.

  • We arrived Sunday afternoon to Harrisville State Park which opens up onto beautiful Lake Huron. It had been rainy that day, so the white caps were coming in strong. It made for fun swimming.
  • We weren't at the campground more than twenty minutes, and Owen's glasses were swept out to sea never to be seen again. We were so tired from traveling and so excited about the waves, we neglected to take the precaution of removing them before he went in the water.
  • He was devastated.
  • I, was not. I was already in full vacation mode. Nothing could remove my level of relaxation. They were gone. Let's not ruin the rest of the trip.
  • He screamed at the water, "I need those to read!"
  • My wife kept asking me if I was "really angry." As if I was hiding it well or something.
  • Nope.
  • Skunks. Skunks everywhere!
  • Our first morning in camp was greeted with a tiny neighbor girl trying to get us to look at a jar. Her father asked, "Would you like your kids to come over and see our bat? We found him on our tent this morning. He's been acting kind of sickly, so we put him in a jar."
  • Let me interject this tidbit: I'm paranoid and deathly afraid of the idea of rabies. Bats and Skunks are two of the most common animals to carry said disease.
  • I shook my head in a negative manner, but I think the expression on my face conveyed much more. Shortly thereafter, the little girl returned. In a rather crestfallen voice she told us that the bat had been let go. I think the father realized handling bats, especially those "acting kind of sickly," was not a great idea for anyone.
  • I actually felt a bit guilty for conveying so much with my face.
  • My camping trip seemed to have a theme emerging - me facing my fears without ruining the vacation with fits of anxiety. I'm happy to say I conquered from beginning to end.
  • I don't sleep well in strange places. It takes me a few days to settle in. So, I often don't sleep well when on vacation. The first night in camp wasn't too bad as far as noise was concerned.
  • The second night, trains started going through. There are tracks in the front of the park, so we're talking less than a block or so from our site. I can't relay in words how loud their cautionary horns were. There were multiple trains that second night. Good times.
  • You can successfully cook chicken noodle soup over a campfire. It was great!
  • Those huge marshmallows that they sell now, you better have a good cooking fork. Once those things go molten, it's near impossible to keep them on a stick. They are perfect for smores though.
  • Another tip: if they go molten and start to fall, DON'T TRY TO CATCH THEM WITH YOUR BARE HAND!
  • When you get into small towns, like Harrisville, it's fun to visit their grocery stores. They're very different than the stores I'm used to. Their selection is small on most things. Harrisville has one grocery store, and I don't believe there's another grocer for at least thirty miles. Even in the neighboring towns, the stores are pretty basic.
  • This IGA in Harrisville, they had a huge Michigan-based, micro-brewed beer selection. How very surprising. My wife and I love to sample micro-brewed beer. We drink about two bottles a week, and we share those two bottles. So, it's not about the buzz. It's about the flavor. We generally hate most big chain beers.
  • They also had this rootbeer called Frostop everywhere I went up there. It's hard to find down this way, but I highly recommend it. They also make a Carmel Cream Soda that is like nothing I've ever drank before. 99¢ gets you a 40 oz.
  • The first 40 I ever drank was a Cream Soda.
  • The best part of my whole three-night camping experience: Taking Owen on a Snipe Hunt, just the two of us. Harrisville State Park has a great, semi-paved nature trail perfect for Snipe hunting in the dark. I told him that snipes were small, elf-like creatures with bright red noses. We walked about a block into the woods saying, "Snipe. Snipe. Snipe." After a while, I asked Owen if he'd remembered the cheese? Snipes won't come out if there's no cheese. We turned around, toward camp when the flashlight started to flicker. Did I mention the bats and skunks?
  • Praying on a deserted beach with a full moon overhead, waves crashing just a few feet away - great experience!
Non-Camping Randomness:
  • How can I put this nicely? Who loved the G.I.Joe movie? I was never a big fan, so this isn't a fanboy whine fest, but I watched the cartoon when I was a kid. I found the recent live-action movie comical on many levels, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't supposed to be. They're now making a sequel, and they've attracted some huge action-star names: Bruce Willis and The Rock. I guess it's a good sign. Maybe part 2 will be infinitely better.
  • We were playing Apples to Apples with some friends the other day. Someone made the euphemism between coconuts and breasts. It wasn't me.
  • The very next day we're driving on Miller Road, and for whatever reason, Gage points out Hooters. I think it was the owl that caught his attention. The boys wanted to know what kind of restaurant it was. I jokingly said they have coconuts. Owen replied, "They have milk in them!" Heidi and I laughed. The kids were puzzled.
  • I never thought I'd do a post mentioning Hooters.
  • I'm sure I'm guilty of not hearing the words coming from my mouth. Sitting at the play area in Genesee Valley Mall recently with the kids, a mom sits down near me. As her barefoot son runs up she says, "I sure wish you had socks to wear so you didn't have to walk around on this dirty flooring filled with the fungus of all these other barefooted kids here."
  • Wow. So, my kids and the other children present were apparently quite dirty in her estimation, and she didn't feel ashamed at all to share that with the rest of us.
  • She did leave pretty quickly after that, so maybe her words finally sunk in to her own ears.
  • Before anyone points it out, I know, they're supposed to be wearing socks. I've also noticed that very few kids ever do in the Summer. Too many kids are wearing sandals.
  • Socks and Summer do not go hand-in-hand.
  • I like fish. I love pizza. I hate anchovies. Nasty.
  • On a related, tongue-in-cheek note: I'm in mourning. My favorite pizza place in Davison, Rocco's Pizza, was sold last week. It's gone. Gone.
  • I took the kids to a Vacation Bible School a few weeks back. I wore a t-shirt that says, "I don't go to church…" on the front, and "I am the church." on the back. It didn't wear it because I wanted to make a statement. It was really the only t-shirt I had clean that day. Every day there was this one lady that insisted I stay long enough to hear the opening worship songs. She said it was because she feared Gage would be more comfortable with me there, but I think she just missed the back of my shirt.
  • Snipe. Snipe. Snipe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Giant, Over Complicated Looking, Explody Robot Destructo Machines

  • Dear Summer, I'm sorry. You and I are just not going to make it. I'll still bring the kids around once in a while. They deserve their time with you. I just can't stand the constant sweating, the way the sun effects my skin. We need some time apart. Let's just try to get through the next few months existing together as best as possible.
  • I'm reading a book right now that acknowledges the hardships of parenting, and gives the advice of just being consistent and staying the course even if things appear to be in vain.
  • It also acknowledges a lot of the specific hardships I've encountered: wife and husband disagreeing on things, kids appearing to ignore certain lessons… I could keep going.
  • Gage is a never ending stream of words lately. His grammatical skills are surely lacking, but he gets the points across most of the time.
  • When he can't see, he makes it painfully obvious. One night we were at our local school playground. The sun was setting and had blinded him a bit. He shouted, "I can't see my eyes! I can't see my eyes!" Likely there should have been a comma or pause in there, but…
  • He has eagle eyes for fast food restaurants. Which might make you think we eat out a lot, but that's really not the case. He just has a great memory. As we pass just about any restaurant, he identifies what type of food they sell and adds, "I gotta get some."
  • Bob Evans is known as "Pancakes." If you try to explain that it's called Bob Evans, he gets a bit angry.
  • Owen is obsessed with the clock, telling time. A good thing to be constantly concerned about in some ways. A bit annoying in other ways.
  • The main reason for his obsession is a show called Wild Kratts on PBS. The show starts at 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It is educational. He does absorb every second of it. His life seems to revolve around it lately.
  • He's doing that fact finding thing kids his age do. "What would happen if you took a bath in fire? What if you tried to eat 100 cheese tacos? How come you only kiss me on the top of my head instead of on the mouth?"
  • What I'm about to say will shock you: I liked the Land of the Lost movie. I had avoided it like the plague because so many people hated it, but I borrowed it from the library last week. I liked it. It was funny and fantastical. I was never a huge fan of the TV show. I caught it in syndication, but the TV show never endeared itself to me.
  • I'm sure I just lost a bunch of credibility in the movie review department.
  • The new Transformers movie is out. I really wish they would have just made up a new franchise. I know. I know. I'm an annoying fan boy that just wants things to be the way they were when I was eight years old. The thing is, I might enjoy these movies if they just changed the names of the characters. That would remove my expectations.
  • Maybe they could release a dubbed over version that replaces all the characters' names. They could call the movies, Giant, Over Complicated Looking, Explody Robot Destructo Machines. I'd pay to see that.
  • They finally made a Simon Pegg movie I didn't like, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. It wasn't totally terrible, but it was too long or poorly edited. I'm not sure. I just didn't get the same enjoyment out of the flick.
  • Can someone clone Desmond Tutu please?
  • I'm officially a year older this week. I don't really care for birthdays anymore. My hair has been grey for years now. No one cards me anymore. It's been a while since someone called me, "Young Man."
  • We have a tent that claims it will sleep nine people. We put four air mattresses inside which left room for two people to sleep at our feet. If nine people slept together in that tent, it would be an intimate, lack of personal space, uncomfortable evening.
  • My favorite headlines lately: "Police Say Drunk Man Tried to Operate on Dog" and "Monkey Steals Camera, Takes Self Portraits." Some would say they both contain the best parts of the story in the headlines, but I want to know what type of operation we were talking here. Was it brain surgery? Did the dog have a bowel obstruction?
  • I don't like to judge other people's parenting skills, but when you go out to watch fireworks in public, you see things that you can't help but judge. If a kid throws a lit sparkler in the air toward a stranger holding a baby, you just don't hand him firecrackers ten minutes later for him to light by himself. It's like saying, "Here. You almost burned a stranger's baby, now go blow off your hands."
  • A few years back the local TV news started running stories about what types of fireworks were legal in Michigan and which weren't. Basically, if it leaves the ground or explodes, it's illegal. Here's the catch. I was working at a newspaper at the time, and we were running ads for a local fireworks dealer that advertised bottle rockets and firecrackers (flying, exploding). We called the local police to see if the advertisement was promoting something illegal.
  • Their response was this: Dealers can sell any type of fireworks. Consumers can buy any type of fireworks. Consumers can not legally set off any type of fireworks in Michigan just because they can legally purchase them here.
  • Of course, no one really cares because you see huge displays flying and exploding in most Michigan suburbs all the time.
  • I think I've stated this before: I'm not very nostalgic for actual eighties music. I do, however, enjoy modern music that is clearly heavily influenced by the eighties.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Random Randomness with a Strong Dash of the Politics

This one's a bit political folks. If such things anger you, you might want to steer clear.

  • Owen has this habit of rambling about his imaginings. I remember similar traits in myself at this age. It usually goes something like this:
  • "I was flying a plane through the lightning storm. Boom. It was like explosions. And I landed on an island that was covered in lava that I had to jump over, and there was these creatures… I went 'pow, pow, pow, pow' with my fists to stop them. I was running…"
  • Somewhere toward the end he'll insert some question pertaining to reality like, "Can I have some ginger ale with dinner?"
  • On my way home from Grand Blanc one day, I decided to travel Dort Highway north. It was the middle of the day. What could we encounter?
  • How about a dude walking drunkenly through heavy traffic? The police pulled up and tried to detain him. He fought the officer.
  • The officer, as cool as a cucumber, with little effort of his own, casually grabs the guy's arm, turns his own arm an obviously well practiced way, and takes the guy to the ground as if this maneuver were as easy to him as breathing.
  • I observed all of this sitting at a traffic light.
  • We watched Gnomeo and Juliet. The kids liked it.
  • The voice talent was entirely British. As I watched the deer character, I thought I heard the voice of Ozzy Osbourne. I thought to myself, "No. It can't be. This is a Disney movie, and there are lots of British accents. There are probably thousands of British people that sound exactly like Ozzy. This is likely some dude I've never heard of." It ended up being Ozzy. I have a well tuned Ozzy ear apparently.
  • We were in Borders book store last Friday. It was actually hopping with an open mic night. Even the employees were commenting on how busy they were.
  • Minding my own business, two men walked up and stood about two feet from me arguing about politics. Without warning, the younger man shouts a reply that includes the N-word.
  • Most people wouldn't call me quick to anger, but few things anger me more quickly than racism. The men were walking away at this point, and I very intently walked the opposite direction with many angry words boiling in my brain.
  • I circled back around as a young lady was confronting the younger man about what he had just done. Another group of young ladies was standing closer to me openly making fun of the guy.
  • Two minutes later I noticed that there were two transvestites in the store too. It actually made me happier to see them so comfortable. I'm often drawn to those that many would consider misfits.
  • I watched a Presidential Candidate Debate recently. It doesn't matter which side it was for. Some of the questions seemed so pointless.
  • "Do you consider yourself pro-life?" In this day and age, I feel this is a pointless question for many reasons especially when you consider which party the debate was for.
  • They also asked, "Should the child of illegal immigrants receive emergency medical treatment without holding insurance?" This was a much better, much more telling question.
  • To me, this question gets to the heart of the matter much more quickly. Or maybe a better way of putting it is, it tells us if there is a heart to begin with much more quickly.
  • With the first question they're trying to point out that they have a connection to God or their perceived "Christian values." The problem is, with the second question, they often miss what should be the same connection.
  • So often in politics things get turned into political jargon. The arguments start by discussing budgets, policies, and money instead of people and humanity.
  • If a child is left to suffer in any way, the next question needs to be, "What happened to your heart?" Or maybe, "Do you think God, Christ, would let any child suffer if treatment was available?" Or perhaps, "What difference does age make when we're talking about humane treatment?"
  • Another thing bothering me in the world of politics: all the talk about (from both sides) valuing small business. Don't get me wrong, I believe we need tons of small businesses to keep the economy going. I just get the impression that politicians are trying to sell small business as the answer for getting Americans back to work.
  • Every small business job I've ever held only paid minimum wage and had zero chance at any benefits. This might help put money in our pockets, but it's a far cry from rebuilding the middle class. My personal opinion is that this strategy would only serve to increase the number of people working in the lowest paying professions instead of empowering more people to achieve more.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where is our Joy?

I don't like to stereotype, and I don't want anything in the following post to sound racist toward any group including the group I would easily be lumped into…

For Memorial Day, we traveled to Port Huron. We found a city park with a large playground for the kids, picnic areas, plenty of shade, and a large beach. I enjoy our Great Lakes. Lake Huron is only an hour’s drive away. Something about the water, the sand, and the soft grass feeds my soul.

The park showcased the melting pot that our country embodies. It was fun to family watch. This is the soil where my form of patriotism grows, in our open arms, in our diversity, and in our families.

A large latino family claimed a large, sunny chunk of the park to play soccer. They were having so much fun. They kept shouting, "Goal!"

I worried a bit about my kids wanting to join in. Then I realized that I might want to join in.

A large arabic family played very interesting music. The young women all joined hands and danced for a short time. My son, Gage thought that was cool. I couldn't help but think about how that embodied freedom and comfort - to dance in public like that in a setting that isn't known for dancing.

As a large Indian family walked in, I noticed that the men were pushing the baby strollers. At first I thought there were no women in the group. They trailed behind a few minutes later. As the day went on, it was obvious that the men were the main caretakers for the kids.

There were other large family groups around us that weren't just speaking English. I couldn't identify them all, but they had one thing in common, they were large families. There were many interracial families too.

In contrast, most of the caucasian-only families were small (4 to 5), a mother, a father, and 2.5 kids. Most of the non-caucasian families numbered 10 to 15+ with people from multiple generations. I'm guessing that they contained great grandchildren all the way through great grandparents.

It had me wondering… and maybe it’s just my family, but why don’t we get together in such large, extended family groups anymore? We did when we were kids.

Maybe I’m generalizing too much. It was only one day at one park, and it was a holiday. But I still wonder, why don’t we value the same things? I mean, here were multiple cultures all with obvious, strong family ties, except for one.

And where is our joy? We don’t dance in the park. We don’t stake out large sections of a park to play games together. We rarely see one another anymore. If it happens once a year, we’re satisfied. Or are we?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Humbling Lessons

It was probably about four or five years ago that I decided I needed to be more actively helping people. That's when I started organizing street clean ups, diaper drives, donating to shelters. I wasn't doing this to impress God. I was doing it to know God better. If you want to see God, you find him in other people (my opinion).

For about a month, I'd get up and pray, "Lord, give me someone to help today." I'd go through my day, and people would literally show up at my desk asking for help. I WOULD TOTALLY MISS IT! They would actually use the word 'help,' and I would let it go over my head. I'd kick myself later on as the irony set in. People would say they needed help with work or with some home repair I was actually good at. Because I was looking for something grand, I'd overlook these little opportunities to be a good friend. It only made me more determined. I was going to help someone.

One morning, I prayed the prayer. I was alert all day. Nothing. It was freezing cold outside and sleeting as I left work.

I worked in downtown Flint at the time. It's a classic "downtown" with a main strip of older buildings, a few really tall ones. There are two busy times for Flint, the 8 a.m. influx and the 5 p.m. mass exodus. Traffic leaving the area is thick and cranky. 95% of people leave that area at 5 p.m. It's a ghost town after that. Most businesses, including restuarants and shops lock up shop at this time.

I was nearly to the freeway and freedom for the day. I passed a car that was stalled in the middle of the afternoon mess. It took me a few seconds, but I realized, here was a person in need. I turned around. Parked. Ran out into the traffic to see if I could help push.

It ended up being a young couple around 18 years old. The male was pushing. The female was steering. They had run out of gas.

At first the kid seemed surprised that I'd help. We had about a block to go before the gas station. Did I mention it was sleeting? Cars were honking at us. We were in the way of wall-to-wall traffic.

He started apologizing. He started degrading his girlfriend. It was all her fault. They had stopped at a friend's house for a quick exchange of some sort. They knew they were low on gas. He had told her to turn the car off and stay put. It took longer than expected, and when he came out, she had been circling the neighborhood. He started referring to her as "the dumb bitch." He continued to elaborate on his opinion of her and women in general. It wasn't pretty.

I tried to remind him that, if they were together, he must have some feelings for her. She must have some value. We all make mistakes. I shared that I have ran out of gas in the past.

He gave me a look like I was the dumbest person on earth.

There was a few minutes of silence after that.

As we pushed the car into the gas station, he turned away from me acting like I had never even been there. I told him to have a good day. He acknowledged me with a quick sneer, but didn't even say thanks. Apparently I was a fool for helping and a fool for thinking his girlfriend was anyone important.

I went home feeling like crap. On top of that, I got very sick the next day. I even had to miss work.

For weeks I thought about how crappy the experience had been. I had helped someone. It would have taken him much longer to push that car by himself. But it hadn't been a positive experience for either of us.

As time passed, I think I got the lesson. I can want to help people. I can even actually help them, but it doesn't mean they'll appreciate it. Does that mean I quit? I don't think that was the lesson. I think the lesson was to just reign in my expectations. Be realistic. Remember the type of world we live in. A good friend pointed out, perhaps the kid was just embarrassed. Perhaps my words even made him realize that it wasn't cool to bash someone he's supposed to love.

Others have pointed out, maybe I really helped the girl steering.

Or, perhaps it was totally pointless. I have to be willing to accept that because sometimes it might be pointless.

If I'm only helping others to make myself feel good, then my motivations are wrong. If I'm helping just to be a help, it shouldn't matter how I feel afterward or how they respond. I shouldn't be looking for a response.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Violence, Justice, Wrestling…

In the weeks that followed September 11th, 2001, many words escaped my lips that, even then, felt like they were being spoken by some anti-Brian. The words didn't feel like me. Other people told me as much back then.

I had been married for less than a year. Life was good for me. Planes crashing into buildings, that shook my world view, and I didn't like it. It opened my eyes to things I wanted to ignore. It opened up a reality I wanted to deny. I wasn't as safe as I had once thought. Fear, though certainly no stranger in life back then, seemed to grow legs in those days. I was sad too, but that wasn't as transformative.

Hitting that wall of reality made my tongue wag. I wanted justice. I wanted revenge. I wanted violence. I wanted blood. The words that escaped my tongue felt both wrong and right back then. They only feel wrong now. I feel too much shame to share them with you today.

The death of Osama Bin Laden should be something we all contemplate. This is a case where my faith butts heads with my patriotism. It's hard not to see the death of a violent person as a victory when he's caused you sadness and fear, but it's also hard to forget the lessons I've picked up on since then. Death removes the possibility of redemption as we know it.

Using violence to solve problems is easy, but I believe it costs us part of our souls. It's harder to avoid violence if it costs us our lives. So the question may be, what's more important our lives or our souls? Would we rather be a King Jr. or a Bin Laden?

My heart has changed. I feel now that my words were likely very similar to the words of those I sought to harm. I had become no different than my perceived enemy. They were killers, so I wanted them killed, making me a killer.

Justice is a tricky subject. It may sound cliche to say that only God knows the whole story, but I believe it. Even when someone is clearly committing acts of evil, we never know what every motivation might be. We think we do. Maybe there is no justification for evil, but maybe it's not right for us to judge anyway. Over and over again in scripture, God reminds us to be merciful.

I was a fairly new Christian back in 2011. I hadn't chased God much. There's been a lot of pursuit since then. Today, I can't see God being happy with further bloodshed. I can't imagine Jesus approving the outcome or methods. I don't think he wanted us to pray for enemies as we planned to shoot them in the head. It's hard to make a bullet loving.

I also became a father since 2001. My concept of love has grown in ways I can't put into words. If I love my kids so much that nothing they could ever do would take that love away, how much more does God love us? If God loves me, doesn't he love everyone, including terrorists?

If I find fault in a man because he caused so much death, how can I find comfort in even more death? To me, yesterday's death was just one more ugly event in a cycle of ugly events. I doubt the cycle has ended.

This world, this savage garden, it seems it will always leave me shaking my head in disgust, not just for the actions of others, but for the yearnings of my own heart. I thank God my heart is less stony today. I pray it's even less stony tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Answering Machine and Arby's Spirits: Random

  • There's one parent that drives by our house to drop his kids off every morning with his radio booming. As I'm waiting for Owen's bus to pull up, I scowl at him. Not only are people trying to sleep at this hour, but his kids and their ears are in the car.
  • Let the Right One In (Swedish 2008) versus Let Me In (American 2010). Same basic story. Both well done. Both stark and beautiful in their cinematography. Slightly different angles. Which one would I recommend? I have to go with LROI. It leaves more to mystery, and I always like that in a good horror movie. My imagination… well it's always scarier than anything they reveal. Which is scary on other levels.
  • I'm not sure New Mexico was the best setting for a snowy movie in the American version. I get that they have snowfall in the mountains, but when I think of states with snow, I don't think New Mexico.
  • Banana peppers are the gateway peppers. I'm now addicted to jalapeƱos. Where does it end? Habaneros? Eating actual fire?
  • We visited Heidi's uncle's house for Easter lunch. He has two new kittens. As we left, Gage told us to put his kitties in the car.
  • That kid cries when we leave church, which I suppose is a good thing, but also embarrassing.
  • We found a gym that was running a very inexpensive trial. The catch was, you had to participate in their weight loss challenge and weigh in every two weeks. The contest ended last week. I didn't win. They split us into teams based on when we joined. So, we never met our "team mates."
  • I was using the exercise bike one night when two of the winners walked up. They started talking about the gaps in weight reporting. People didn't weigh in when they were supposed to. The winners started joking that it was because those particular people obviously hadn't lost enough weight and were likely ashamed. I thought to myself, those people probably came to the gym a lot more than they used to. They should probably be proud of that alone. I think the winners have a right to be happy/proud, but so do all of us that are just getting into better shape and health than we were two months ago.
  • Aren't there enough animals that are endangered that we shouldn't have to worry so much about moving them on and off the list? I mean, if we're not eating them and they're not eating us, can't we just agree that we don't need to kill them?
  • Some observations on cold calling:
  • People aren't as rude as I expected. Most of them will even give you about a minute of their time, which is really all I'm asking for.
  • It does sting when someone does hang up on you. I can see not answering the phone. That's what I do because I find it incredibly rude to just hang up on someone that's being polite themselves.
  • I usually get a few people laughing each night, in a good way.
  • They still don't want an appointment with me.
  • I find it incredibly strange when I stumble on a cluster of homes with the same, strange answering machine voice. This happened last week. I found four houses in a row with the same, very unique, stock voice on their answering machines. Like they all owned the exact same machine and lived next to one another. This was not your usual stock voice, it was slightly British, like a butler.
  • I noticed a similar thing back when I was a manger at Arby's. We'd have a slow day. There would be nearly an hour between customers. It would be so slow that we'd stare out the windows in the front wondering what was keeping people away. And then… groups of about four cars would pull in together in a line. It was like some spirit had possessed them all at once to put their turning signals on and swing into the lot. That would be followed by another near hour of no one.
  • Perhaps some spirit of answering machines possessed these neighbors to seek out the strange British answering machines. Maybe there was a very convincing door-to-door salesman with a butlerish British accent.
  • I hate it when kids answer the phone. It throws me off. You just never know, it could just be an adult with a very child-like voice.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Movies, Insurance, Sweat, and Bee Rocks…

  • No offense Summer, but I need me a strong dose of Spring before you make your sweaty debut. I have jackets to wear, and books to read outside. I don't want to have to install air conditioners yet.
  • Owen is terrified enough of bees, and he's already seeing them everywhere. Okay. They're usually rocks. He has an overactive imagination.
  • Love and Other Drugs. Ladies, a few questions: So… it's okay for a movie to have gratuitous nudity and sex as long as it's still technically a chick flick? Also… it's okay for the characters to be incredibly shallow as long as there's some romance and someone matures by the end?
  • Insurance work has been an adventure so far.
  • Cold calling potential clients was a difficult thing to start.
  • I've talked to hundreds of answering machines. I should try to come up with something funny to say. Maybe that would get me a few call backs.
  • Have you ever noticed that people that are very patriotic don't like anthems that aren't the National Anthem? I would think songs of unity, even if they're not specifically American, would still hold some interest.
  • I'm going to miss Michael Scott on The Office. For me, that's an almost perfect weekly dose of comedy. It's so well done now, I'm hoping they can keep the show going without him.
  • I saw an article the other day referring to the present musical age as the "Post-Nirvana Era." Do you get the impression that some music writers graduated high school in the early nineties and got stuck in their own musical era? I seem to remember purchasing quite a few albums between 1993-2011 that had no resemblance to grunge or the nineties in any way.
  • "New Superman movie villain revealed!" … And it's the same villain that appeared in the first two eighties movies … snore … General Zod again? He's basically evil Superman with a beard.
  • DC Comics movies continue to fail with their antagonists. Okay. The Batman franchise has been pretty good lately. They had a lot to make up for though. Let's not forget the Bat-nipples and Jimmy Carrey as the Riddler. Didn't Prince do the soundtrack for one of those movies too?
  • If they ever make an Aquaman movie, expect the villains to be a whale and General Zod from the Superman movies.
  • Watching Taxi Driver for the first time made me feel unstable. Not because I identified with the main character in any way. More of a, I feel more unstable for having witnessed him, kind of way.
  • The ongoing controversy of hell and what it might be like can shine some light on what people believe about other aspects of faith. Those who seem to be having the greatest difficulty with Rob Bell or NT Wright or even C.S. Lewis also seem to have the opinion that Heaven is somewhere else, not accessible now. They seem to neglect the now aspects and focus on whether or not we can "get in" after death.
  • I mean no disrespect by pointing this out. If anything, it offers me insight and hopefully understanding into a viewpoint I previously had none.
  • As much of a mess as Sucker Punch turned out to be, I loved the quote at the end… "Who Honors those we love for the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us... and at the same time sings that we'll never die? Who teaches us what's real... and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we'll die to defend? Who chains us... and who holds the key that can set us free? It's you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!"
  • I think they could have fixed the movie pretty easily. I think I get what the director was going for. He just seems to have left a few pieces out. Maybe those pieces will be replaced in the director's cut.
  • I did really dig the sound track.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reconciliation as a Job

The following is a cathartic exercise (or maybe exorcise is better) of the mind for me. This idea has been intensely in the forefront of my mind this morning, and I need to get it in written form. I have to give it legs or I won't fully function in my normal day to day.

The ideas I'm expressing aren't my own. They've been presented over and over again in books and sermons. I'm just trying to put them in my own words.

My own thoughts might be incomplete by the end of the post, but I need to put them down, here, for now.

There's been a "controversy" lately about what hell might actually be, if it is at all. It seems like a lot of people have faiths that are very static. If you try to move or remove one piece, they act as if the rest falls apart. I think this is understandable, especially if you've grown up from an early age with religion and faith.

As someone that didn't, I try to keep my faith more flexible. There's a core, but the extended pieces aren't all that earth shattering. I like to question and wrestle with things. Even if I've resolved something personally, I like to think that I'm never beyond discussing and possibly questioning it all again.

So the whisperings have involved whether or not there is a literal hell. The suggestion has come up that the traditional view of fire and brimstone might be incorrect.

One of the most common responses in the past few weeks has been to quote John 14:6.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Of course, there is more to the story than this one line. Jesus has just told his apostles that he's leaving, and they want to know how they can get to where he's going. He answers that he's going to be with God the Father. So, basically they're asking, how do we get to Heaven? Some would say that they're asking how they get in on what's coming next.

The assumption, and most common interpretation is that what Jesus says in his answer is that if you don't believe and follow him, you don't go to Heaven. Conversely, you must logically then go to hell(?).

What if that's not what he's saying at all?

What if what he's saying isn't a statement about us, but a statement about himself? Maybe he's saying "You want to get to God, and I'm going to get you there. That's my job!" He doesn't say he's doing this if you believe or do anything first. He's just taking on that role of getting people to God.

Throughout the Bible there are these scriptures about God wanting to reconcile all things to himself. Jesus is always talking about what God the Father has sent him to do. It's widely believed that this reconciliation is one of Jesus' primary responsibilities. If Jesus is a force of reconciliation, you might not need to follow him at all to actually tap into what he's doing.

It's also been suggested that people throughout history live out much of what Jesus taught despite never hearing of him. Perhaps what Jesus is saying in this line of scripture is that, if we're aligned with what he's doing, whether or not we've decided to follow him, we still get in on what's coming next because we're already helping to bring about the same results.

I don't think John 14:6 answers the question of hell. I don't think it even addresses hell at all. It certainly doesn't mention any of the common phrases that would be translated into the word 'hell' in English.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I had a great day with the boys Saturday. Instead of cleaning the house for Sunday’s Poker Game/Diaper Party, I spent a lot of time with them. We played a few games (especialy Superhero Squad Memory) and watched a few cartoons together. They like the 1970’s Super Friends shows.

In the early afternoon, I took them to Halo Burger to play in the play area. We just ordered a few sodas.

It struck me, as the boys played together and with other kids, how lucky I was. Gage, who doesn’t resemble me in very noticeable ways, who could of imagined such a son? I love that about him, he’s not what I would have ever expected. He’s blonde. He runs, stops, does a little dance, and then runs some more. He’s too timid to climb too high up into the playscape. He’ll walk up to complete strangers, adult or child, give them a humble, goofy face to test the waters. He’s just as shy in some ways as Owen, but they’re different about it.

Owen will follow other kids around at a safe distance. If they never acknowledge him, he’s stayed far enough away not to be embarassed. If they eventually let him join in, and they often do, he’s good to go. In so many ways, he’s a younger version of me. I hope he can avoid some of the bumps and bruises along the way.

I was left feeling very lucky to be the father of such boys. It was nice to have that day.

As the boys played, an older woman came in with two grandkids and one of their friends. She almost immediately struck up a conversation with me. We talked about keeping the kids busy.

By that time, our kids were playing together.

She suggested Summer Bible Day Camps. I hadn’t thought of that.

She told me about moving to Michigan to help her son. She seemed generally happy about having so much time with her grandkids, but she also said she was lonely. I wish I had known of something to say. As I left, I thanked her, told her it was nice to meet her. She said she hoped we’d run into one another again, maybe at Bible Camp.

We’ve always found that these play areas are great places for meeting other people. You clearly already have things in common - kids.

The boys and I finished up our day with a quick stop at Walmart. We had a pizza for dinner with a Max and Ruby episode and a quick game of Pac-Man.