Monday, December 26, 2011

Positive Buttresses and Helpful Elves

On a cold winter night once a year, the most wonderful visitor slips into the home at night.  As families sleep, exhausted, the Christmas elf flies in undetected.  It is the night after Christmas.  He creeps around the house and performs the task that all the good moms and dads have been wishing for all holiday season.  The Christmas elf picks up every scrap of wrapping paper.  He puts away all the decorations and boxes up the ornaments.  He takes the tree down and either magically vanished the pine needles, or even more remarkable, disassembles the artificial tree and returns it to its container in a most understandable order.  The lights are taken down and rolled up nicely.  The kitchen is tidied up and every crumb of Christmas cookie is taken away.  The cookies aren’t payment, and parents realize that it was also another kindness.  The family wakes up to a clean house the next day.  Thank you Christmas cleaning elf!

     Looking back at my blog posts they appear to be lame attempts to keep my head above the icy waters of December. I started out fretting about getting ambushed by the inevitable anxieties that happen every year.  As the month wore on I made a conscious effort to stay above the seasonal angst.  I tried to convince myself that it was working.  After the late Christmas Eve church service I was determined to get the church clean even if it took hours.  And it would be like me to refuse any help.  But as midnight passed and I was in the first minutes of Christmas morning there were people picking up candles, folding tablecloths and then asking me what they could do.  Soon people were moving tables and vacuuming.  It was less than an hour later that I walked home on that crystal clear night.  

     And when I was urged to get up what seemed like very early in the morning, (it was much later than I usually get up every day) I managed to hold it together.  The kids, even the older ones, bounced off the walls with Christmas morning excitement.  There was yelling and laughing and I kept my tired head quiet and didn’t get annoyed.  The buttresses of positive thoughts I had built all month held.  

And so the joy that comes with Christmas morning touched me too.  I don’t know who couldn’t have felt it watching Jamie eat his first toasted Pop-Tart®.  Sitting in church that morning, there was no Sunday School so all the kids sat with Prajna and me.  Our church choir closed the service with The Hallelujah Chorus.  We spent the evening with my side of the family and rejoiced at news from Prajna’s.  All around, it was a wonderful Christmas.

Now it’s the day after.  I got up this morning with a bellyache from all the rich food yesterday.  The house is still untidy.  The help I got cleaning the church from real people is better than any imaginary elf anyway.    

Friday, December 23, 2011

Comfort and Joy

I don’t remember why I had been sent to my room. I can say that I was probably five years old or so and that I was lying on my bed crying and furious. It’s hard to express strong feelings at that age. I was confused didn’t know what else to do except the say the worst possible thing I could imagine. I told The Lord I hated him. That would teach him a lesson about upsetting me. I wouldn’t like him anymore.

I had learned all about God at a young age. God was everywhere, Jesus loved me, and I prayed little bedtime and mealtime prayers every day. I had accepted Jesus as into my heart some time before that and even this outburst at God had been prayerful. But as the years went by I repeatedly asked for God for forgiveness for saying I hated him. I accepted Jesus into my heart more than once again. Sometimes I worried that that little hateful expression might have compromised my salvation forever. I knew the truth of our loving and forgiving God, but still, the youthful mind frets over things like that.

When I was 11 or 12 years old and living on Maui there was a missions group that lived close to our church. Youth With A Mission, or YWAM, is made up of people who have dedicated a year or more of their lives to the mission field for God. Singles, couples and even families with children would stay for a few months at this little house down the street. YWAM would be active in local churches including ours. They would help with VBS and sometimes I would see them out and about witnessing. And even though the idea of Maui being the mission field sounds appealing, I know that stepping out of your comfort zone and putting God fully in charge of your life is no easy thing.

One evening in December my family was over at the YWAM house for a little Christmas party. I don’t remember if there was food or who I talked to. But the memory of that night will never leave me. Everyone eventually gathered in the living room and starting singing. There may have been Christmas songs and there also could have been praise and worship songs. But as everyone lifted their voices up a tangible peace and joy radiated in the room. No one told me what I was feeling right then. But I knew it anyway. It was unmistakable. My mind, never certain of anything at that age, was able to be positive about this with no doubt. I was feeling the presence of God. God was there in that room and I knew it. I was almost surprised to realize this. I looked around and saw hands lifted up and eyes closed. One missionary met my eye and smiled as if she felt it too.

As I have grown older and learned more about God it is a comfort and joy to know that He is with me always, even when I don’t feel aware of it. But like blinking or breathing that you only need to think about it to be conscious of it, being aware of God helps me feel him with me. In that little house on a warm night in December when I felt the presence of God for the first time, it wasn’t God drawing closer as much as my heart opening up more.

My blogs this month have often been grasping in the cold December at something encouraging. But I’ve mostly been proselytizing which is something I fixed not to do when I started blogging.

No preaching here. This was real. On that night I knew that my angry words meant nothing compared to the surrounding love that is far from confusing. In that presence, I felt forgiven. My feelings and beliefs have been all over the place for a lot of my life including this month. But even if I don’t feel it He is there. His love stays the same.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Cool Rock of Truth

I don’t know if this year it’s more than ever. It probably grows every year and my being out of touch with mainstream media makes it seem to grow in long strides. Maybe it’s the little things on Facebook that I have stumbled across that have added to this. What I can say for certain is that this year I feel more nettled than I can remember with the secular humanist views on Christmas and my Christian faith. Things are up stating how the early church hijacked the date from the pagan winter holiday. Christian faith becomes an excuse to laugh or even a punchline when talking about some people. Advertisements tell us forget about The Bible’s moral code and to be good for goodness’s sake. And this year, progressive thinking groups in Santa Monica have exercised their free speech to take up what was traditionally nativity scene space to denounce Christianity. I could go on. But it gets me in even higher dudgeon.

I know some people who would say that the enemy is gaining ground. Statements like that can stir up trouble and panic. Well now, isn’t chaos, panic and disorder the norm in December?  I wish it wasn’t. If I’m going to mention the enemy I think I should say I think one of its tools is confusion, disarray, and distraction from what God wants.

But I wonder what Jesus would do if he was in Santa Monica. He might blend right in with the Bohemian culture there. But I think that he would blend in wherever he went. What would be his reaction to signs saying he isn’t real? Would he have some righteous indignation like at the temple in Jerusalem? I don’t know. It’s a beach walk being tainted, not His Father’s house. But I can say this: The coolest people I know don’t feel like they have anything to prove. They are unaffected by little attacks because they are secure in their knowledge of who they are. I wonder if Jesus would be too cool to get all bent out of shape. He might look a little disappointed. Then maybe he would go to one of the abundant soup kitchens in the area, regardless of who was running it and help out.

When Jesus was humbly born, probably on a summer night, the plan was to show us God in Him. I am not showing what Jesus is like to anyone if I’m blustering on about waves of infuriating dogma. I’m showing my human condition there, not my Lord. The attacks on our faith happened yes, but The Truth still stands like The Rock that He is. No amount of contradiction can take away that He is not only the reason for the season, but for all the truth in the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Walls have stopped, can you step out?

The first time I saw the movie Star Wars, (it didn’t have the subtitle of A New Hope in 1977) my favorite scene was one that had made me laugh. After their harrowing ordeal in the trash compactor with well placed camera angles and the musical score compelling the viewer to hold their breath, the little droid R2D2 manages to stop the converging walls from killing them all. The heroes realize this and start shouting and whooping for joy. C-3PO, hearing this exultation thinks they’re screaming in pain and dying. I thought this mistake on 3PO’s part was hilarious. And maybe when I laughed out loud in the theatre part of that was relief also.

The way the intrepid heroes were able to laugh while still in the bowels of the universe’s most evil battle station also amazed me. In fact it reminded me of Gilligan’s Island. The castaways not only had to put up with being stranded on an uncharted island, but often times they were in mortal danger. Once they thought the island was sinking. Another time they were the target of a ballistic missile. Always in the end they learned that they would not be killed off and live for yet another week of wacky adventures. As the show closed the cast would cheer and shout for joy that they were not going to die after all. And as a young child watching them I considered something: They should be like that all the time.

I thought about how an escape from death shouldn’t be the only reason to be happy that you’re going to live. You should always be happy that you’re going to live. That’s what I thought anyway. I had not experienced life’s harsh realities like having an admired mentor sliced in half or a series cancelation. My youthful simplicity couldn’t comprehend that there ever would be a reason not to be happy to be alive another day. Maybe there is a lot to say for that child-like innocence. Maybe that’s why we’re supposed to be like little children to the kingdom of God.

Some times you can't bring yourself to take joy even in much at all.  This deep and dark December is taking its toll as usual. We as a family are trying not to overschedule. I try to stay busy at whatever I’m doing at home or work. But like I wrote last week, the feelings can slowly ambush you. Even if the walls stopped closing in, you still are sitting there in the muck and darkness with only the prospect of more hurt once you’re out of this. You begin to think that you’re better off just staring the walls up again. Because there will never be a way out.

When you go out this month, you may be feeling joyful or you may be down at the other end. For the people on the high side, consider that person in line at the store with you. They could be sharing a bench with you somewhere, in the car next to you, behind the counter smiling though the pain, or in your own home. I have no specific suggestions for when you meet these folks. You can stop the walls and even open the doors. But the tractor beam. That invisible force field that gets stronger every moment it’s engaged must be shut down. But if you’re one of those who has escaped there is something you can do. I just can’t say what. Everyone has something they can do. Maybe it’s something extra in the tip jar, a thoughtful favor, a kind, patient word or just a smile. At the very least, they might see that someone is standing outside and there is a way out for them too.

I’m standing outside. I don’t feel quite like shouting for joy yet. I’m still covered in garbage and face obstacles ahead. But I’m pretty sure the tractor beam is off. It can be done.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shadows in Cold and Light

When I read my E-mail from I had less than 24 hours to prepare. Not that there is much to prepare for a lunar eclipse. I could have just ignored the message. But I told my just-turned-ten son Jamie about it. Jamie is fond of astronomy, like his dad was at that age and still is. I think I first learned about eclipses from a Bobbsey Twins book where the villain was planning on fooling some savages into believing he could extinguish the sun. I think Jamie just showed an interest.

So Friday afternoon I told the family that there would be a total lunar eclipse the next morning starting at 4:45 a.m. Jamie was down for it. I did a little research that evening to remind myself why the moon turns red during totality. I had seen eclipses before. One of the most unforgettable things is that when the moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow, the sunlight still shines through our atmosphere. Depending on the global air quality, the light turns red or orange, much for the same reasons our sunsets are that color. Jamie was thrilled to look forward to me waking him up early for it. He instructed me not to look at him and marvel at how cute he was sleeping and then leave him be. I told him it would be early, and it would be cold. He was still set to it.

That Friday night I stayed late at work to help facilitate an event. I suppose I could have left earlier and trusted others to lock and code the buildings. But that’s not what I do. Maybe it’s pride more than courtesy, but my help was appreciated. I’m usually done with work at 10 p.m. I was the last to leave and coded the last building at about midnight.

I set up the coffee pot and went to bed. The cat walked on me and kneaded me in the back. I fell right asleep, and woke up at 4:45. I quick check out the back door revealed a mostly clear sky. The top portion of the full moon was just a little shadowed. The air was cold.

Here was the part of the day where I could have hoped for Jamie to grumble and fall back asleep. Then I could too. But I gently shook him and whispered to him and he sat right up, smiled and nodded. I turned on the coffee pot and put on some warm clothes. We got some sleeping bags to wrap up in and I took our telescope outside.

Then Jamie and I spent about an hour and a half sitting in lawn chairs whispering to each other. I sipped coffee and Jamie didn’t complain about the cold. The shadow of the earth descended over the moon. (Proof of the earth’s roundness all you flat earth folks.) We checked the telescope periodically, but it is hard to adjust in the dark if you’re not used to it and the moon isn’t as stationary as stars. But even with the unaided eye we could see the disappearing portion of the moon turning a reddish hue already. By the time totality was near the sky was lightening up. The moon little more than a rust colored half-disc low in the east. But the sky around it was a brighter blue by the minute. I was hoping to see the brilliant sliver of white appear at the top. But Jamie was ready to go inside.

I stayed outside for a few more minutes. But the moon was almost faded into the sky. And I want to be at work at eight. But first a quick blog entry. I thought I would jot some notes and then revise and post this on Monday. But I’ve got it all here now. I had analogies about parenthood, faith, and creation in mind. But this will just be an account of watching a the eclipse on a cold December morning with my ten year old son. If you can think of a good faith analogy about God’s Earth and the perfect cosmos set in motion please feel free to imagine one now and even share it in the comments section.

I will say however, that hearing Jamie’s exhalations of amazement were worth every cold moment of sleep lost. God’s creation is always more spectacular when you can share it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

'Tis the season. Is it worth it?

I’ve heard December called a month of Mondays. December does make me edgy. It seems like the month comes in like a freight train made of ice, complete with the blast of a whistle.

There is fretful anticipation of anxieties to come. One might make resolutions to not give in to the fear, to stay sane, to not spend too much or not eat a whole pan of fudge. But December has a power of its own that it’s hard not to bend to.

Each December brings the anniversary of the passing away of my daughter, Naomi. For a few Decembers after I would write a dirge about the night we lost her. It may have been therapeutic and even a good piece of writing. But it wasn’t necessary to share it with the world. What was worse was that I accompanied it with this attitude I felt entitled too. Depression and anger are an easy and even comfortable state of mind to slip into. At least in December, it takes more effort to hold my head up. Sometimes it’s very tempting to just relax and submit to the default down. I finally had a good friend tell me how I wasn’t doing anyone any good with that attitude, including Naomi. So last year I raised up my head and told myself that I was going to sail smoothly through this time. I was moving on. I would not indulge in the whole pan of the fudge of grief, where the first bite may make me feel better but after that I’m just abusing myself.

But my attitude was not one of triumph but denial. I had a better December than before, but it was still difficult. The feelings of grief come even if you don’t’ call on them. And so this year I am just going to be on my guard and accept the feelings as they come. It will be nine years this Wednesday the 7th since Naomi died in my arms on that cold night. As much as I like to think that I’m over it, it still hurts at this time of year. I don’t mean for it to, but it just does.

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t get at least a little stressed at this time of year. So it’s a good thing that we have Christmas to make the month of December the most wonderful time of the year right? Right? Oh wait. Is it really Christmas that is causing most of this stress? I can honestly say that if December 7th came and went then I would be okay a few days after. But the 25th draws it all out.

So the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus is the source of all this anxiety and stress? Looks like. But what would December be without Christmas or the holiday season at all? We might just have an awfully cold and dark month with no joy at all. But no holiday advertisements either. No untangling strings of lights, shopping lines, spending worries, and all the other pains of the Season to be Jolly. Would it be worth it to skip Christmas?

Each person must decide for themselves. But let me just remind you that imbedded in the memory of losing Naomi will always be the memory of people who make great efforts to take care of our family. Aside from prayers and words of love and support, we had someone knocking on our door leaving gifts for 12 days leading up to Christmas. Someone had added to their Christmas schedule more shopping, planning, driving to our house in the dark sneaking up and leaving the presents, knocking and escaping. They added holiday stress to their lives in order to bring a sliver of brilliant joy into a dark and hurting home. And the dark and the hurt eased away. To this day I don’t know who it was, but they were successful. They shared the joy of the season. And in doing that, they made the month of December worth it to them and to us.

Joy despite the pain and stress. Anticipation and thankfulness. Feeling God’s love expressed through others. And that’s what Christmas is all about.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Always Sarah

Sarah Marie Faux. Born in an emergency delivery at our home in Kihei, Maui. She brought joy to our family right away. Sweet and amiable, Sarah was a ray of sunshine in our little family. And even when her sister, Naomi, got sick with cancer Sarah peaceably endured the turbulence. Staying at the hospital, being weaned early, moving, and an absence of her mom and dad for days at a time all before she was one year old.

But through it all she patiently stayed that sweet little girl Sarah was.

Sarah lived in the shadow of her boisterous sister. Childcare workers remarked how quiet she was, as if they expected another Naomi. But she wasn’t another Naomi. She was always Sarah.

When we lost Naomi Sarah opened up a little more. She was a big sister now. Her quiet confidence showed in what she did. Whether it was dance, teaching her little brothers to read, or just being herself, she was always Sarah.

Now Sarah is a teenager. Her sly sense of humor and creativity shine in her daily habits and of course in her artwork. We are proud to see her growing into the young woman that God intends her to be. And it warms our hearts to see her today energetic in church and youth activities. Different from the passive baby girl not so long ago. But still, always Sarah.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shrinking with Distance

Time had made things shrink. I stood on the cold gravel and decided that that was the only explanation.

Three weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending an old friend’s wedding in Phoenix, Arizona. The last time I was in Phoenix was 26 years ago for my grandpa’s wedding. The day after my friend’s wedding Prajna and I drove up to The Verde Valley in Central Arizona. I had lived there from 1970 to 1975 and had not been back there since 1985. It was a pleasant drive north that I had vague images of taking the trip many times as a young kid. I found my way to Clarkdale partly from memory and mostly from Google Maps.

Once in town I knew how to get around. Clarkdale hadn’t changed much. The Methodist Church my dad had served, however, was now a library. We stopped in and I was happy to see it still somewhat resembled a church inside if you knew its past. The foyer had a display by the town’s historical society. There were pages of notes handwritten by a lady I remembered substitute teaching, attending our church and co-authoring a kid’s book that we still have a signed copy of. There was a church pulpit and a list of pastors that included my dad’s name.

After taking a few pictures of the outside of the building I drove down to where my elementary school was. I blogged about it in . There was the building right where I had left it in 1975 at the end of second grade. There was a big sign on it announcing it was for lease. I pulled over and stopped. I got out and was dumbstruck. The lot that surrounded the school where the playground had been was smaller. It had to have shrunk. They must have moved the old roads surrounding in tighter. I looked and remembered how it used to take me what felt like several minutes to run across this playground at full bore. I walked from the car to the building in the time it took me to take just a long breath of air. Looking in the windows I could reach I saw that the corridors were dilapidated, but still enormous. There was no evidence of any playground equipment. Even the concrete base of the slide I watched them put in from my second grade window was not there.
Clarkdale Elementary School

I felt a little numb as we drove up Main Street through town. The town’s park was still there. There was still a large gazebo. I turned left and then right and then there was the house I had lived in for five years. The yard was so much smaller now. The front gate I used to cling to was still there. One thing that was larger were two trees that my dad had planted as saplings. They were thirty feet tall now. I had planned on taking pictures here but I didn’t. I didn’t know why. We drove around to the back alley and I looked for where my story of up on the housetop in the sandbox place. The backyards were all fenced in. I turned out of the alley and headed out of town passing the new elementary school on the way.

We drove through the historical town of Jerome, over Mingus Mountain that was covered with snow and down through Prescott. Then we went down out of the mountains and though valleys and hills and finally joined up with Interstate 10. We took that all the way home.

I was eight years old when my life changed. Everyone had been jealous of me when they heard I was moving to Hawaii. For years after moving I wallowed in anger and loneliness. And my thoughts kept fixing on Arizona. If I could only go back everything would be alright. What I didn’t think about was that everything was growing. Life went on without me back there. My best friend and I wrote to each other for years and then stopped. He grew his way and although I didn’t know it I was growing mine. It wasn’t just the trees and the town and my lost friends growing and changing, I was too. And when I stood and looked at my old elementary school a realization hit me. The world will keep on turning and despite any efforts or attitude, time will take you with it. You can refuse to grow up as you get taller and your childhood haunts shrink down. Before you know it the past is a speck in the distance and you can’t grasp it any longer. You open your hand and there might be just a handful of cold gravel from a deserted playground.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A raucous Inventory

I love Thanksgiving. I am thankful for it. I don’t think I could like the month of November without it. By now, autumn has stopped being refreshing and is starting to behave a bit wintery. Holiday decorations are up in stores and I look like a fool walking through aisles with one hand on the shopping cart and the other putting a finger in one ear while my head is tilted askew enough to press my other ear into my shoulder while humming whatever was the last song to be stuck in my head in order to drown out the premature Christmas music blaring over the store’s sound system. I’m sorry but I get frustrated when I hear Christmas music too early and tend to communicate in run-on sentences. I will even stretch the truth to paint an amusing mental picture. No I have never really made a scene at a store doing that. But sometimes it helps to write out what I feel like doing so I don’t actually act on it. I’m think it’s okay for the music to start after Thanksgiving.

I have enjoyed reading friend’s Facebook status reports about what they are thankful for this month. In a way it’s like a writing assignment that most students get this time of year. Teachers have no problem having students compose something listing what they are thankful for. I don’t think that there is a secular humanist fringe objecting to that yet. But who knows. I am thankful we homeschool.

But more than just busywork or an easy assignment, I hope that students this year are able to examine their lives and count a few blessings. That’s what I think the best part of this Facebook project was. Sure, I like reading how people’s prayers are answered or they are thankful for their friends and family. But listing the things you are thankful for is not for anyone else as much as it is for the person composing the list. I think it’s a healthy thing to take an inventory of your blessings.

I rested the urge to blog this week about what I am thankful for. I like to say that I write for myself, but I really am thankful that people read this and don’t’ want to bore them with an outburst extolling how thankful I am for everything found on my table on Thanksgiving Day. I would go on to coffee and the cup I drink from most mornings, my shabby pickup truck with the stick shift and my ability to operate it. I could never fail to mention every person I come into contact with each day. Most of them have a kind word or smile for me. I have just about the best job and home and church I could hope for and of course my family. In my younger years I never prayed for a wife or family. I never really specified to God what I wanted in a spouse or children so God made the perfect selection for me.

And sometimes I feel a little guilty when I hear other’s prayer requests and I hear how not everyone has a job or a nice home or family. I look at my life and wonder what I did to deserve such a bounty of blessings. And I don’t have a good answer for this. I can only say that I am also thankful that I have God in my life and the knowledge that I am saved. And I am thankful that this is something that everyone can have.

It seemed that I went ahead and listed a few things here that I am very thankful for. I want to include whomever you are reading this. Every week I know some friends read this but so do some strangers. I wish I could thank everyone in person. Maybe someday I’ll see you on the other side. Until then I hope that whatever country you live in you are able to count your blessings once in a while and share at least a few of the things that I am thankful for. It would be my prayer that you share the most important thing. Nothing matters without that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pompatus of Love, Lyrics and Prime.

As tempting as it is I won’t be self indulgent and repeat the story I told last year in my blog entry titled The Life Changing Day. Suffice to say that on November 15th 1991 I kissed Prajna for the first time and my life was never the same after that. That was 20 years ago. So this week we celebrate our 20th anniversary. And hurray that the earth has gone around the sun for a number of times divisible by the fingers on two hands. It’s sometimes funny to think that the 23rd might not be as special. Even though it’s more than 20, it’s prime.

I do think that 20 years is something special. Prajna and I started out as a sweet, happy couple. I worked nights at KNUI radio. Prajna listened to the station for most of the day while I was sleeping. One day she called KNUI and requested a song for me. I slept through it but she told me that Billy Joel’s Just the way you Are played for me. I was touched and flattered. I couldn’t remember anyone ever asking a song on the radio for me. And this song meant a lot to me.

I said I love you, and that’s forever
And this I promice from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

I realized I needed to reciprocate. That night at work I brooded over what song to play for her. I liked The Joker by Steve Miller. Referring to myself as a space cowboy and saying I was a smoker made sense. But he said the word love or lovie-dovie too much. And I didn’t want to use the word love. Billy Joel wasn’t afraid to mention that word. But I was. I didn’t feel I wanted to say that word yet. Not until I was more than positive that I meant it. So I finally settled on a song. It painted a picture of a carefree soul and didn’t talk about love. I left a note to the afternoon DJ requesting The Allman Brothers Band’s Ramblin’ Man.

Sometimes I hear that song on the radio today and marvel that we ever got together. But of course another thing happens when it comes on nowadays. Prajna and I smile together. Because we did get off to a bit of a rocky start. Like two young people learning a new dance together, we stepped on each other’s feet once in a while and took bad steps that led us away from each other. But the important thing is that the music kept playing and we kept at it. We learned the steps as we went and became better.

On Thanksgiving of that same year I finally told Prajna that I loved her. Not long after when I knew she was listening on my shift I pulled Three Dog Night’s Old Fashioned Love Song. I think that it made up for the ambiguous lyrics before.

I don’t work for a radio station now and I’m no longer on a first name basis with any air personalities. But I never call up radio stations anymore anyway. Nowadays whenever a song comes on and the spirit moves one of us we will turn to the other and say “I called them up and asked them to play this for you.” It’s just another step in the dance we’ve been doing for two decades now. It’s warm and familiar. Just like it ought to be.

Prajna, I love you just the way you are.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Get up and keep going.

If a questionnaire asks me what my hobbies are I list writing. I enjoy other things like spending time with my family, playing with my kids, visiting with our backyard chickens and those sorts of things. But as long as I can remember I liked to create stories. Before I could write a sentence I would create worlds with my toy cars. Later in my life when I didn’t have any real friends to speak of I would retreat to my room and enter into the worlds I created with Matchbox and Hot Wheels. Toy spaceships were hard to come by back then. I used toy airplanes, bottle caps, a hairbrush, and whatever else suited me. The thing I liked the most was the escape from reality that making up stories gave me. At night after bedtime I could stretch my imagination more quietly telling stories like a radio narrative to myself. Without toys for props my stories could be more about adventures. But spacecraft often played in. By junior high school I was writing stories in longhand on lined paper. Character development was secondary to a good exploit. But I was writing stories. I was a writer.

I have several short stories I have written over the years. I am writing the a complete revision of my novel Icarus now. And for a long time I have wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Called NaNoWriMo by most people, this takes place every November. Writers are encouraged to spend the month writing a novel which by some definitions is 50,000 words. My first draft of Icarus was 57 thousand something. And it took over a year to write. But I thought what fun this could be. I decided to go for it. To help commit myself I changed my Facebook picture to the NaNoWriMo logo and announced that I was going to try for it. Friends congratulated me. And I had a story in mind that I started years ago. The Christmas song “Do you hear what I Hear?” has always intrigued me. I have imagined that there is some inspiring backstory with this song and I have wanted to write this story for the every Christmas for the past decade or so. I figured it was time.

Tuesday morning, the first of November I got up at my usual writing time. I fire up my little laptop. The IBM Thinkpad® has no internet. I am used to the configuration and feel of the keys. When we moved to this new house I set up a writing space with this laptop plugged in and set up there. That morning I wrote 679 words. That is about what my Roadwalker blog has each Monday. The target word count per day is just under 1700 words to be able to reach 50,000 in 30 days. So the next morning I got up at four.

I felt like such a writer. I am up hours before dawn. I am going to write my novel. I am a writer.

My laptop wouldn’t boot. It had died. I went back to bed. As far as I was concerned the novel was off. Everything I ever wanted to write again was off. I was no longer a writer and nothing was worth anything anymore and I would never feel joy again for as long as I lived. I really felt like that. I changed my Facebook picture to a scowling Wile E Coyote. I crumpled and threw away my 30 day calendar with and plan.

Prajna reminded me that I could use one of the family laptops. I knew that, but it wasn’t the same. The mojo I got from my very own laptop was gone. I went to work as usual and finally began to calm down. I thought about an iconic scene in the move Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddle is running a race. He gets knocked to the ground and everyone is sure he has lost. Then in slow motion with a majestic Vangelis music score behind him, Liddle gets to his feet and begins running again. And he wins the race.

So I suffered a setback. The question isn’t who doesn’t. The question is: what now? So the next morning I got up at four again and wrote 1531 words. The next day I wrote 1792. At the end of four days I had 4001 words. Not the daily average I needed to attain 50k by the end of the month, but still something. I changed my profile picture back.

Then the next day I wrote nothing. And the day after that the same. It’s all good. I don’t think I can handle getting up at four every morning;. I work until 10 at night. I just need more sleep. But I’ve taken it on. And most important to me, I got back up after a setback. When the story is done I’ll let you know. When, not if, it is done.

Now I’m outside a Starbucks on a rainy Monday morning polishing up this entry before posting it. It’s a cold rainy day and I’m drinking coffee outside a café. Novel or not, I feel like a writer today.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo day zero

NaNoWriMo Day 2
Day 2. The second day. Got up at four in the morning with determination that I usually don’t have for anything. Ideas and excitement and the desire to persevere. I fire up my little laptop and the cat jumps up and I wait for it to boot.
And the laptop doesn’t boot.
The laptop is broken and won’t boot.
So I went back to bed and dreamed about my laptop.
The novel is off. I don’t care that there are other computers in the house. Anyone who writes will understand the mojo. Anyone who doesn’t. Just don’t talk to me.
I’m a little dissapointed. I’ve had this laptop for about 5 years. I know that’s a long time. There never would have been a good time for it to quit on me. But if there was a worst time it would have been this month.
I keep going over and turning it on and looking at the little IBM screen doing nothing.
Doing nothing.
Which is me now every morning

Monday, October 31, 2011

Leaving the default Down

“That’s not a very healthy lunch,” the clerk said to me. And I did something I rarely do. I looked up into the face of a stranger. Between me and her was a big gulp and a handful of condiment packages I was planning on taking home. The checkout girl at the 7-11 had a big smile and it surprised me. I smiled feebly and mumbled some excuse and left the store and never saw her again.

That evening as I cooked noodles and ketchup from one of the packets I thought of cool replies. Most of them painted a picture of me living a life straight out of a depressing Bruce Springsteen song. I wanted to answer her cheerful smile with a desolate reply and thought it might endear her to me. This was 21 years ago. I was driving a broken down Chevy, barely making it by with only weekend hours at my job. I was living on cigarettes and noodles. Worst of all I was lonely. And I shared my feelings to anyone who would listen. I liked to listen to other people’s problems and boasted I could solve anyone’s but my own. My whole outlook was still default down. And I thought it was cool to live that way.

A few months ago I changed the overall style of my blog. I told less random stories from growing up and tried to start writing more about what was going on in my life. When I first heard the suggestion to take my blog that way my thought was that not enough happens to me to write something significant once a week. But I’ve gone ahead with it and written not only about my life but current world events that I think about. Some blogs may have a dull topic but I take each one as a challenge to at least write good sentences.

And reading back over the past few months I’ve noticed a very positive theme to my writing. Even when I had to cancel my yearly sabbatical to the desert I put a thankful tone to that writing. I looked at these works of mine and wondered about what had happened to that dark brooding writer with the perpetual scowl. Was I going to have to turn in my long black coat for a brightly colored sweater?

When baby is teething they are miserable. They are feverish and not hungry and more drooly that usual. Then the tooth breaks through and suddenly the pain is gone. Time after time I saw this. The baby is suddenly delighted and more cheery than even before teething. Sometimes after a spell of misery you can’t help but breathe easier and hold your head higher just from the joy and relief that it’s over.

Now I’ve not been down and depressed for 21 years. Soon after the girl talked to me at the 7-11 I got more hours at work and was able to eat a little better. Within a year I was dating Prajna and another year we were married and expecting a child. Of course I had a better attitude then. But this past decade saw me falling down a lot. I scraped down to lows that made my post college anxiety seem comical. It was a long struggle. But now because of prayer and support from others and the grace of God I am better. That abysmal time is over. The tooth has broken through and I feel better. It’s not an effort to see the positive side of things anymore. I can just see them. And I want to share them. Thanks for letting me share.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Boldog Szabadnap Magyarság

Yesterday, the 23rd of October Hungary celebrated its independence day. It’s also the anniversary of the uprising in Budapest in 1956.

The Soviet Union was just another occupier in a long line. Hungary had been occupied by the Ottomans, The Austrian Hapsburg Dynasty and the Nazis before the iron curtain went up after World War II. Soviet Communism brought military occupation. Hungary’s bountiful crops were exported. Poverty and paranoia were facts of everyday life. People froze in the winter for lack of warm clothing. One of the worst factors were the few Hungarians recruited as secret police to spy and instill fear in their own people. The secret police were called the AVH and hated more than the Communist occupiers. Neighbors couldn’t trust one another. Offhand remarks could be reported. People could be jailed without trial and even disappear forever.

Things came to a boiling point in October 1956 when a peaceful uprising at a radio station was fired upon. Days later more shots killed innocent citizens. Then street warfare erupted. The Soviet tanks were no match for the narrow, hilly streets of Buda. Residents of the city greased the streets and sent the tanks sliding. Dinner plates were laid in the street to resemble land mines and housewives stuck broom handles resembling rifles out their windows to distract and lure tanks into blind allies. Molotov cocktails took tanks out. AVH were rounded up and some were shot.

Then the fighting died down. Budapest appeared free and peaceful. Journalists arrived from behind the iron curtain. Some thought they had gotten rid of the Soviet Occupation. Then under cover of a snowstorm one night, thousands of Russian Tanks arrived. They were not the little tanks but the latest war machines. Showing no mercy, they took back the city.

Hungary remained occupied until 1990 when it finally declared its independence from The Soviet Union. When my family was there in 1996 we stood at the Parliament building on October 23 and watched the solemn ceremony commemorating the date. There were still places you could see bullet holes in walls from 40 years back.

During the days of peace some Hungarians were anxiously waiting for help from the west. They kept expecting help from The United States or NATO. No one came. But even what I’m reading today suggests other countries see The United States as a beacon of democracy. I read interviews with prisoners or the gulag in Siberia. Even up through the 80’s the Soviet secret police could have someone arrested and taken away to a prison where they would be put to work assembling machine parts. It was the lowest form of slavery. Beatings and torture and starvation were expected. The accounts I read made me consider that we here in the U.S. have it pretty good.

Now today we have protesters that started On Wall Street and spread to other cities. I understand that the people occupying cities right now have several legitimate concerns. They are frustrated at what they see as not only injustice, but robbery. And some are doing the only thing they think they have left. I assume that most of them appreciate living a country where they can peacefully protest. And that when there are isolated incidents police brutality they are not tolerated. In a few other countries the protests would have never grown this big. And if they were then there would be tanks rolling in. Family members would be wondering if they would ever see their loved ones again. But they wouldn’t dare mention the names in public any more.

There is no easy solution to the protester’s concerns today. I don’t feel it’s right to tell them to just count their blessings and go home. But it will take more than a few arrests and incarcerations to begin to match the sacrifice and passion that has happened in real totalitarian regimes. And those others weren’t just protesting for a better way of life. They were fighting for the basic human rights. They needed warm coats in the winter. They didn’t want to be taken away and thrown in jail for a few words someone thought subversive.

So keep protesting for what you think it right people. And pull those coats tighter as winter comes along.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where I ought to be

Last year in the late summer I took a little vacation by myself to The Mojave Desert Preserve. The year before that I drove out to Death Valley. I used my four-wheel-drive to get to Mahogany flats, an eight thousand foot mountain in the middle of Death Valley National Park. I took a long drive out there, made my meals, marveled at the night sky and explored the park the next day. Both trips I was alone for the whole time. I called these getaways sabbaticals. One of the good things about these was looking forward to them as they approached. The planning and anticipation sometimes made the weeks leading up more thrilling.

Over the past month or so I was putting together another sabbatical back to Death Valley. I was going to take a slightly different route to Mahogany Flats and spend more time there. I was planning on reading at least one novella while up there. I would leave later in the day and skip Badwater Basin this time, still taking the long stretch of highway down to Baker California on the I-15 and then home. The air conditioning on my little 4WD Toyota has been broken for almost a year now. I figured if the pioneers and the Joad family could do it then so could I. But the truck also needed a few other little repairs. And I would be filling the gas tank perhaps four times for this trip. The costs all began to add up. The trip was supposed to be this weekend. I canceled it. The plan was that right now I would be alone in my little tent maybe thinking about waking up and cooking breakfast for myself. Instead I’m sitting here composing my blog while my kitten burrows and kneeds inside my bathrobe.

It would have been sour grapes to wish for a gully washer of a thunderstorm to hit the desert out there this weekend. But the rest of this entry is not sour in any way. I’m not bitter about this. I had a long day at work on Saturday. I was planning on leaving very early Sunday morning. Turns out that Sunday morning I was pretty tired and sore. It was nice waking up in my own bed and taking it easy yesterday afternoon.

And last night I built a fire in our little outdoor fireplace. After supper we went outside and sat around and watched the flames get warmer as we waited for good coals to toast marshmallows. We watched the International Space Station fly over as forecast. We cooked marshmallows on sticks and sang campfire songs, Sunday school songs and whatever else we could think of. (Prajna drew the line at the worms crawl in the worms crawl out song.) We fed the fire endured the smoke and told jokes. Nathaniel told a bizarre story about a boy who wanted to go to South America but his father said he couldn’t because they didn’t have French fries in South America. The boy argued that they did and continued to discredit his father’s sources to that information. I’m not sure how much of the story Nathaniel made up on the spot, but I don’t think he can ever tell it the same again.

I got to bed earlier that I usually do on work nights. I’ve had several blog topics in my head. I don’t usually run them by Prajna but she advised me against one about Halloween. So this morning I got up a few minuets before six thinking about the campfire last night and maybe writing about what a mook I was 20 years ago and somehow linking it to last night. Then as I sat down and the kitten jumped up I got out my MP3 player. I remembered my playlist titled “Sweltering”. I made it years ago mixing up instrumental surf music with spaghetti western type music. It’s my desert music. Then I remembered where I was going to be this morning. The kitten settled in and I had my topic. Yeah, I am bummed that this year’s sabbatical is off. Mahogany Flats closes for the winter months and there is no good weekend for a while now. But I have been busy at work and content at home and for the first time in a long time a disappointment like this hasn’t sent me spiraling into depression. And it isn’t a great feat by me as much as it’s friends and family looking out for me that helps me accept this. The population I sought to escape from ultimately is what I need. Thanks everyone. It’s good to be home.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How does it feel?

Some people have no sympathy. If they did they wouldn’t have to ask. I don’t know, maybe most of them are just trying to start a conversation with me and think they have a good question. I don’t think most askers really want to know and some know already. If I could put an answer into words I would. I don’t think I’m that good of a writer and that’s not the goal of this blog entry. Or maybe it is. But the truth is I don’t know the answer to the question: “How does it feel to be that father of an 18 year old?”

18 years ago today my first child was born. It took weeks to even fully grasp how it felt to be a father. I could have listed a lot of feeling words and other adjectives. Tired would have been one of the key words, definitely. And as our little family walked through Maui Mall I felt different from the crowing pride that I felt walking though with a pregnant wife. It went from “See what I can do?” to “Oh dear Lord what have I done?”

By the time Naomi was born Harrison and I would take walks together. In Budapest we would spend many afternoons together either just outside our block of flats at a playground or sometimes we would ride public transport to the local railway station and watch the trains arrive and depart. From this camaraderie came a new feeling. I had a joyous sense of being complete. Now the little boy that walked hand in hand with me is an adult. And people ask me how it feels.

I can’t say I know exactly. We’re not giving Harrison the boot after lunch today. It’s not like we’re losing him. Not yet at least. The Earth just traveled around its sun 18 times. That’s all right? Well Harrison did get a letter from the United States Selective Service last week. He is legally an adult. I can tell you that it feels a little wrong. Because even though he’s legally an adult, he’s my little boy.

And he’s not just my little boy. I tried to thank people at the birthday party on Saturday. I didn’t get too many chances. And not everyone reads this whom I wish I could thank. It hasn’t been a perfectly smooth 18 years. There was a long time marred by moving, growing pains and government schools. He had younger sister sick with cancer and both parents taking care of her sometimes. And though it all Harrison was the first born. That’s the trailblazer that parents learn on. And today I can look back and breathe a sigh of relief. We made it. But we never could have done it without help. There are teachers, pastors, friends and relatives that didn’t give up on Harrison. To all of you, thank you for helping Harrison grow to be the man of God that he is today.

So how does it feel to be the father of an 18 year old? It’s all mixed up. Afraid, melancholy and shocked, yes. But thankful to everyone and to God. Just a little bit proud of myself, please forgive me. And here will be my answer when and if anyone asks me. I’m very proud of my son.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sorry, but today I don't care.

“You ruined my whole evening,” the man on the phone spat at me and hung up. I had apologized to him and explained to him that I had warned everyone that this would probably happen. But he had not heard my warning, only what I had warned against.

It was about 18 years ago. Normally I worked the graveyard shift at KNUI radio. The station was automated overnight. I changed the music reels, taped ABC feeds, produced commercials and set up for the morning show. For about a week in the fall of 1993 I worked the afternoon shift. I was thrilled to be able to be on the air on the AM portion of the station. The FM portion was automated 24 hours except news at the top of the hour. I was very familiar with the controls. So while I backtimed the two stations for the music to end right at the top of the hour I taped the ABC news off the satellite feed. It was probably just before four or five o’clock in Kahului, Maui. The news was from the west coast where it was three hours later.

Before satellite technology people who lived in Hawaii got all their TV shows a week later than the rest of the U.S. Even our TV news was a day late and the Today show was from yesterday. But by 1993 techoniogy was catching up. We got stuff the same day but usually delayed just a few hours. This afternoon I pulled a sound lever down into audition where only I could hear it. At 56.50 was a tone, then at 56.59 a chirp. I hit record and heard the voice of the ABC news begin. I may have been feeding the FM an instrumental to fade down at the top of the hour. I had chosen a song on the AM to end right when it was time for the news. I was thrilled to be doing so many things at once. I loved timing everything out in my head. This could have been my favorite part of the job right here. The ABC news ended and I rewound the tape.

At the top of the hour I took control over the FM station. We were in simulcast. I played the tape of the afternoon newsman giving the station identification and introducing the news. Then I did something I didn’t usually do. I brought up my own microphone and spoke on the AM and FM stations.

“ABC news is being broadcast from the west coast of the US mainland,” I announced. “There is a good chance that they will announce the final score of tonight’s World Series game. If you do not want to know the outcome of tonight’s game, you may want to leave the room or turn down your radio.”

The game had already been played in Philadelphia and would be on TV in Hawaii that night. I didn’t want people turning off their radio or changing the station. All I could do was warn them. And sure enough, the final score of the ballgame was broadcast.
Toronto Blue Jays – 10, Philadelphia Phillies – 3
Moments later the studio phone line lit up. I ignored it until the end of the weather and the news was over. I gave control back over to the FM and started a song on the AM. Then I answered the phone. The caller was indignant that we had announced the score. And I told him that I had warned him but he didn’t call to hear that. I wanted me to know how his evening was ruined.

I got back to work. Today, this week really, I didn’t care. Normally as I said before I would be on the graveyard shift. But the afternoon jock had graciously offered to work for me my night shift as well as part of his evening shift so that I could be home at night. This was 18 years ago and Harrison had just been born. That week I started experiencing changing diapers, hours of crying, jaundice and bilirubin and just a taste of the emotions a parent feels. No amount of whining about ball games concerned me any more. The thrill of backtiming music and newscasts was nothing compared to pinning a cloth diaper on a flailing newborn. I took a while, but I grew to love the job of being a dad most of all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Roger, Mister

When I was very young I thought the rest of the world worked the same way as in my house. So I thought that if a policeman pulled you over they would stomp up to your car and tell you “Now, you can’t have it!” It made sense that if you couldn’t play nicely with something then it would be taken away.

I wanted to be a policeman when I grew up. I had no interest in taking people’s cars away. I just wanted to drive around in a Plymouth Fury with the siren wailing and lights flashing. I loved cars back then. And I was a fan of the TV show Adam 12. The show straightened me out enough that I learned police don’t normally confiscate your car for a moving violation. One bit of misinformation I clung to for a while was I thought the younger police officer was named Roger because that’s what he said when he answered the radio.

Another thing that I used to think as a kid was that Mister Rogers had a piano player in his living room. From the beginning of his show he would walk in beaming and usually bringing something with him. He would sing about how it was a beautiful day and that he was glad to see me. Throughout his show when he would sing reassuring songs I would hear the piano off camera playing. Mister Rogers must have had a guy sitting there all the time. I hoped he was nice like Mister Rogers too.

I liked Mister Rogers so much I remember having a dream I when I was that young. My mom told me it was time for Mister Rogers. I turned on the TV and there he was smiling. And this time he had finally brought something I liked more than anything. He was holding some toy cars.

One day when I wasn’t dreaming Mister Rogers was beginning. The music swelled as the room was panned past the traffic light and magic picture that showed movies. Up to the door it went and in came Mister Rogers. He was still smiling but not as wideas usual and he was holding a slip of paper. When his song ended and his shoes were on he told me that he had received a parking ticket.

Mister Rogers spent the episode going to traffic court. He told the judge he didn’t have change for the meter and went into a store to get some and when he came out he had a ticket. The judge calmly advised him to carry more change with him. Even Mister Rogers broke the law. Of course he hadn’t meant to. But the episode showed how a violation is still punishable even if you didn’t mean for it to happen. He reminded me that there are rules that everyone needs to follow.

This time of calm television shows that gently impress a good moral code may be gone. I don’t know because I don’t really watch TV anymore. I know that a show like Adam 12 where two L.A.P.D. officers never firing their weapons or having a serious car chase with totaled vehicles probably wouldn’t make it on TV today. And the juvenile delinquents on that show appeared too clean and well spoken. Maybe back then all they needed was some time with Mister Rogers. He could calmly tell them how he liked them just the way they were and that they would never go down the drain.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Stew of Life

There is something about warm comfort food that gives me a feeling of security that I can’t find anywhere else. I can’t remember the first time I made mulligan stew. I remember learning the name from a nutrition education show that I watched back in elementary school. The first time I made some might have been in Budapest. I’ve made it in the years since. I don’t think of the dozens of pots I’ve made that they have ever been exactly the same.

In Budapest I got all the ingredients at the shops that were right outside the downstairs of our flat. The ground meat was pork, not beef and called Darált hús. Harrison called it daralpoosh and Prajna and I thought that was adorable. We used fresh carrots, potatoes and whatever else I could find to throw in. I never found celery in Budapest, but there was a canned sauce made from paprika and tomatoes that was my special something that always made my mulligan stew shine. The sauce, called lecso is available at a European market close to me but it’s pretty expensive. I was still thrilled to find lecso there. But I’ve never found the sweet fresh paprikas that defined Hungary. They were everywhere. You could buy them at any produce market as well as metro stops and even on the street.

But I couldn’t find them here. Then our friends brought some to church. I was so happy and went on about how the Google doodle commemorating the discovery of vitamin C shouldn’t have been of oranges but of these sweet little yellow peppers since that’s what vitamin C was discovered in. I tend to talk in run-on sentences when I’m emotional like that.

I asked our family friends if I could borrow some of their peppers. Yes I said borrow. And all through church I thought about making a big pot of mulligan stew for supper. My first thought was to spend Sunday afternoon just making stock and actually make the stew the next night. Prajna did what she does often and gently bought me back down to Earth. I had enough time to make the stew for that evening. We asked our friends to supper so it really was like we were borrowing the peppers. One of the great things about mulligan stew is I have to make a lot. In Budapest we liked inviting other teachers over for some.

In the middle of the afternoon I put the largest stock pot on the back burner with a cup of brown rice and four cups of water and set it boiling. On the front burner I put in chopped up celery that was pretty old, chopped up broccoli stems, and the shavings of the carrots I would put in the stew later. I added water and the vegetables cooked away to mush, creating a stock. I cut up the carrots, potatoes and celery and set them aside. I wanted to add them at the right time so they would be cooked just right. I cut up the peppers loaned from our friends and added them to the big pot then added some beef flavoring and canned tomatoes. I cut up an onion and cooked it in a skillet with a pound of ground turkey. Ingredients were everywhere, some being cooked, and others waiting. There were a lot of dirty dishes and pans. I tried to clean as I went along.

Then I strained the vegetables from the stock, poured the green broth in the big pot and added the potatoes, carrots and celery. Then I was ready to start the white rice cooking. And I nearly lost my mind. Two little parts of the rice pot were missing. I searched every place they ought to be in the kitchen. I asked each of my children repeatedly. I must have looked like someone in a cartoon who is on fire the way I was trying to remain calm while all the while thinking about every bit of preparation that would be for nothing and we had friends coming over and I would not be able to make sticky white rice and what was the use of eating mulligan stew without a bed of sticky white rice and I might as well give up and run away to the desert and live under a rock.

Then Prajna found the parts to the rice pot. It was as if I was in a depressurizing airplane and she offered me an extra oxygen mask. I felt like suddenly my life was back together. I started the rice and added everything to the big stock pot except some frozen peas and green beans. I went outside to feed the mushy vegetables to our chickens and calm down a bit. When I came back in after a while I realized that when I had moved the big stock pot to the front burner I had turned off the flame. The stew was not cooking and my potatoes and carrots that took the longest to cook were just sitting in the stew not getting hot or soft. This was only a minor setback. I turned the flame on full blast and covered the pot. Later I added the frozen vegetables. Our company arrived. The last thing I did was mix a cup of water with some flour and sweet paprika powder. I stirred it up good and poured the paste into the stew to thicken it up. I turned off the heat and let it sit for about 15 minutes while the kids played together for a bit.

When it was time to eat I ladled my stew over the rice. The carrots and potatoes were cooked, but still firm. They were perfect. Sitting in the water not cooking while I was losing my mind might have contributed to that. I think I could say that if was the best mulligan stew I had ever made.

And here is the inevitable likening to how my life is like a good pot of mulligan stew. Friends contributed a key ingredient that I couldn’t get anywhere else. It was mostly fun to prepare. But I nearly lost my mind at one point and was saved by Prajna. And now I’m sharing it. Maybe I shouldn’t have named this blog Roadwalker and called it Mulligan Stew.

Monday, September 12, 2011


When I fill out the little “about me” questioners I usually put pretty much the same thing. I say how old I am, how many kids and that I like to write. Sometimes I’ll say I’m working on my first novel. I think that people often define themselves with their likes and dislikes. I also find myself identifying myself as Harrison’s father to many people at church. Then I nod and acknowledge yes he is good at the piano.

I don’t mind being the father to my kids and enjoy being the husband to Prajna. I don’t hang out in circles where people know her more than me anymore. There were about four years where she was part of a separate world. Prajna worked for a popular beverage retailer for a while to help the family make ends meet. If I stopped in there I was Prajna’s husband. Or I may have been the Americano guy with the antediluvian laptop.

Prajna’s store went through some turbulence over the years she was there. Managers came and went and employees had life dramas. Eventually I told Prajna that she was the glue that held that place together and my assessment was confirmed by a supervisor one day with my metaphor repeated exactly. Then when we moved to our new house next to my job Prajna quit. I was concerned for a while how we would get by. But Prajna began to feel so much better. The children felt better. I didn’t have to feel guilty telling her goodbye as she left at 4 in the morning. And all around the whole family sighed and relaxed as if now things were as they should be. Because Prajna was never meant to be defined as glue for a store or a barista. She was always meant to be a wife and mother. And today while her profile might say that she’s a homeschool mom of 5 children who loves to read and is training for her first full marathon in February, there is a lot more to her than can ever be listed.

There are not even words available that can say how much Prajna is loved by her family and her husband in particular. While I stumble for the right words to craft into a novel I still have difficulty putting into words just how much I love her. Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my writing and while I might scribble out a mediocre blog once a week, it’s much more important to communicate to her. And if I can’t put right into words how I feel I might just clam up.

The moon this morning at about 6:15 was off to the west and brilliant against the lightening blue sky. I remember once just over 20 years ago watching the moon go down over the pacific one summer morning. Up in the sky the last star faded and disappeared as dawn arrived. And I was so miserable because I was so lonely. That was all I ever felt before her. I’m so thankful to God for bringing her to me. And I love Prajna so much.

One more thing on Prajna’s profile might list the date of September 12th. Today is her birthday. Happy birthday Prajna. I love you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Winning the Real War

A recent event is burned into the memory of Americans and even the world. They were horrified at the senseless killing of innocent people. The attack was completely unprovoked. Five little girls died. I’m talking about the Nickel Mines School shooting in October of 2006. A man entered a one room schoolhouse for Amish children. He let the boys go and barricaded himself in with the girls. He bound them with zip ties. His plan didn’t go as he wanted when police arrived on the scene within a few minutes. Outside, the police heard shots. They stormed the schoolhouse to find ten girls shot and the gunman killed by his own pistol. Five girls died at the scene or in hospitals within a day. Information from his suicide notes revealed that he was angry at God. His plan was to punish God by hurting those Christian girls.

The shooting is only the beginning of the story. Immediately following the tragedy the media closed in on the small community. The Amish are known for horses and buggies and no electricity. They choose not to use technology and instead focus their lives on following the teachings of The Bible as closely as possible. To the outside world this community appeared like innocents who where in no way prepared for an assault from the evil outside. And then the Amish families shocked everyone else. They expressed forgiveness to the shooter and reached out to his widow and children. Members of the Amish community speaking under anonymity made it clear that no-one got together with a plan to forgive the murderer and his family. It was just done. It is their nature.

Inevitably, the shooting drew comparisons to the tragedy of September 11th 2001 with an unprovoked attack and innocent victims. Editorials spouted how if the Americans had been this forgiving then we wouldn’t be at war and there wouldn’t be more lives being lost.

I’m not going to try to go there. I cannot condemn or defend the United State’s response to the attacks. I’m not that knowledgeable to say if the following wars have been worth it or if we are safer today. I just don’t know. What we all know is that ten years ago everyone’s world changed forever. Nothing was ever the same and we had to find what is called a new normal.

When people learned of the Amish school shooting a common reaction was that this poor community was isolated and innocent. Focusing on Bible teachings and a simple lifestyle how could they comprehend a gunman with zip-ties murdering their children execution style? There were even some people who shook their heads at the grace the Amish community extended to the shooter and the family, as much as to say: “That’s not how you’re supposed to react when you’re wronged like that.”

But I’m here to stand up and say something today. The Amish families still grieved for their lost. They just included the shooter in their grief. They demolished the schoolhouse where the shooting took place. They did not want a concrete reminder of the tragedy. Their reaction was not one of naïve people. And it was one of people not dutiful to any worldly notions about how to live and respond to evil. They acted out in obedience to God.

The grace and forgiveness of the Amish in the wake of the school shooting is certainly something we can try to emulate. But can we extend absolute grace and forgive those who hurt us? What are we afraid of?

There is already so much fear out there. We can only do so much to fortify our boarders and airplanes and buildings and infrastructure. But our hearts can be adhered to God and His teaching. We don’t have to live in fear because no matter what we lose we know that we are children of the most high God. I don’t know if I personally can always live this way. But it is my prayer. If we all could live without fear then the war on terror would be won.

There are a lot of “if’s” in today’s entry. But the noise of a building falling and thousands of people dieing and the sound of a shotgun blast in a little schoolhouse all mean that there is evil in the world that we will never be able to completely predict or avoid. But five years ago a small group of people showed us what God’s love and grace is like. They showed us how God extends to us forgiveness. And when I see the heart of Jesus in their lives, that brightness does something to me. And the fear begins to fade away.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Overcome?

Drinking an icy cold Coca-Cola on the way to work gave me something to look forward to when it was time to transition from staying at home all morning to going to work in the early afternoon. It was the same time every day. It was definitely a habit. Some could even call it an addiction.

Now that I’ve kicked the habit people are encouraging me and telling me how poisonous the high fructose corn syrup is. All I can say is it was more of a financial decision. But I have lost weight. The dangers never really concerned me.

In the summer of 1988 a first-aid instructor watched me light a Marlboro and asked how long I had been smoking. When I told him about two years he said that if I quit that day my lung would be healthy in just under a year. That was the most compelling reason to quit. The warning labels and admonitions from friends and even the rising cost of cigarettes didn’t slow me down. Only being told that there would be recovery made me consider quitting.

It wasn’t until I had a girlfriend that things were getting serious with that I finally quit smoking in 1992. Even then, there was something in it for me if I quit.

I think that when someone is engaged in a self-destructive habit their self-esteem can be low enough so that they don’t care what they’re doing to themself. But also there is a powerful denial going on that can make someone ignore the negative effects of the behavior. I think that denial is the biggest hindrance to the first step of admitting that there is a problem.

I wish that all it took was being told the positive effects of giving up the destructive habit. But there are levels of addiction and bondage to dangerous and deadly habits that I have never experienced. Sometimes it seems as if there is no hope at all. But I’ve also experienced a Christ centered recovery group that helped me out of the darkest time of my life. I still attend that group to maintain my reliance on God before anything else. Sometimes it feels like I have a long way to go. But if I turn around and look back I see how far I’ve come. Losing 20 pounds by giving up soda is a pittance compared to the spiritual and mental recovery I’ve experienced at Celebrate Recovery. If my blog hasn’t said much today, well I’m already working on next week and hope it will be one of my good ones. But if there is anyone dealing with hurts habits and hang-ups and wants to consider that there is hope for freedom. Go here if you want to know more.

Here is what’s in it for you: Hope.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Too much of a "good " Thing

I drank Dr. Pepper in intermediate school. You could buy a 12 ounce tin can of it from the machine in the school office. It cost 35 cents. The machine also offered Coke, Tab, root beer and grape soda and would be put on restriction whenever a can was found littered on campus.

It must have been high school when my friend who loved Coca-Cola introduced me to the sheer joy of consuming it. He would pull two cans from his refrigerator and serve them over ice. There was something fulfilling about a brown bubbly beverage entering into you that made everything right with the world. I began to choose Coke every time I had a soda. In college I kept my dorm’s mini-fridge stocked with Coke. I had a good and a candy bar for breakfast most mornings.

For the past 25 years or so I’ve usually had about one Coke a day. For a while it was first thing in the morning until I finally learned how to brew coffee. Then I began to drink a Coke on the way to work. I got a lot of comfort transitioning from home to work sucking down a Coke. I felt I needed it.

When I first started enjoying Coke in the early 80’s it was made using cane sugar. Maybe back when they changed the formula and then brought back Classic Coke, the re-introduced classic wasn’t exactly the same. I thought it tasted different but was too stoked to care. Today most sodas don’t have cane sugar. Companies use high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is cheaper and blends better. And isn’t it generous that most fast food restaurants let you help yourself to it these days?

I heard this rumor and like global warming and other theories this scientific notion is disputed all around. But to someone who consumes HFCS in abundance I needed to at least consider it. There is a hormone in a normally functioning human body called leptin. Leptin is a circulating signal that reduces appetite. It tells you you’re full so you stop eating. High fructose corn syrup is believed to induce leptin resistance which means you don’t receive its signal. In other words, according to some studies, HFCS consumption makes you stay hungry. Several of these studies link this directly to obesity.

A year ago I was usually about 210 pounds when I would step on a scale. I didn’t care too much. I figured it could be worse. Lately our family has really tried to watch spending. Coca-cola is almost always on sale somewhere, but we stopped cases just about 2 months ago. I quit drinking Coke. Over the weeks Prajna told me my face was looking thinner. Finally I figured out how to work her sophisticated 21st century scale. It told me I was 189 pounds. I couldn’t remember the last time I was under 200 pounds.

One question I got asked what did I replace the Coke with. It’s a good question because I still looked forward to going to work every day because that meant I could enjoy drinking an ice cold Coca-Cola on the way. I didn’t replace it with anything. I have some mints I thought I could use and I also drink lots of water. I get caffeine in the morning from a couple cups of coffee. The other question is do I miss Coke. Oh yes I do. But it wasn’t until I stepped on the scale the other day that I decided that I really had stopped for good.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Here we go 'round the plumeria tree

The first I heard of homeschooling was a friend of mine whose parents were in YWAM. He was I think 1 year younger than I so maybe 10 or 11. YWAM is a mission organization that sometimes whole families would be in and spend 6 months on the field. So this homeschooling was out of necessity.

I really wanted to homeschool when I heard it extolled on a Christian radio station. So the first reason I had may have been concern for the secular humanism in government schools that I don’t care for. Once we decided to homeschool and grew as parents doing it we learned more good reasons. But I’ve never considered my school years as a reason to homeschool our children until yesterday evening. That’s when I remembered something.

I was an ethnic minority in school. I was awkward and unathletic and usually alone. I was bullied, yes but not to the point where someone should have demanded legislation and curriculum to combat it. I lived through it. But I had very little reason to like school.

Yesterday afternoon I was lying on the grass in my backyard. Jamie and Nathaniel right away made up a game of running and jumping over me and the chickens were out in the yard grazing. After a while Nathaniel tried to catch one. Nowadays you can pick up the layers if you’re quick. Nathaniel wasn’t. And I remembered something in 5th grade.

It was a school day. Whatever the subject was that morning kids were working on it and I noticed movement out the window. There was a chicken outside running around. The school’s vice principal and two students were trying to catch it. For the next several minutes this very tall man and two kids ran circles around a small plumeria tree in a wonderful show of catch the chicken. When my teacher discovered the distraction she became indignant and sent me back to my desk. She assigned me the exercise of writing down what I saw. And because I was in school of course she told me it must conclude with what I learned from it.
I scrawled in dreadful cursive writing year about Mister Williams and two older kids chasing a chicken and not catching it. As for what I learned. I said the lesson was never chase a chicken. What I also may have learned if I didn’t already know it was this. If you’re in school, regardless of what you’re doing you must appear to be learning something.

And last night as I looked at the sky and listened to Nathaniel play I thought of something else, if not a reason to homeschool, at least a mark against government schools. My memories of 5th grade include being pushed around by another kid. I remember a student storming out of the classroom swearing at the teacher. I remember struggling with math but I don’t remember if it was fractions or three digit multiplication. I don’t remember any science or art or English. My best memory of the 5th grade was watching a chicken chase out the classroom window. The writing assignment I got after was supposed to be disciplinary, not teaching. But I did learn from the assignment.

I did learn something even if it took over 30 years to realize. I think the teacher was fearful of any learning that didn’t take place in the agenda of the Department of Education. You will learn just what we tell you to learn. Maybe not all government schools are like that. But if my children are learning at home then I have the option to say the same thing. But that is right because they are my children and will not be taught or raised by the state. I cannot guarantee that they will be any better or smarter at the end of the year than kids who were. But there will be good memories to look back at. That I am sure of.

Monday, August 15, 2011

25 years to life

I could say it’s Facebook’s fault. But the past two decades have brought such a tide of technology it’s hard to place the blame anywhere but the Earth spinning round the sun to mark the passage of time. Back then there were payphones on every corner. I used them too. Sometimes even to call a movie theatre to check showtimes after looking up the number in the phonebook. I used to go to movies about once a week back then. The world was different, so was I. Now that my college has a special little alumni group on Facebook I can look at old posts and pictures. So it’s my fault for joining the group and then going on and looking at the pictures. And fine I won’t say it’s
Facebook’s fault. It’s mine for looking back in time and remembering what a mook I was.

I came into college after being something of a social outcast from most of my childhood and adolescence. Having a fresh start in a completely new world meant I wasn’t that much of a loner anymore. But it didn’t change who I was. And over the four years my character flaws burgeoned. I was very selfish. If anyone needed a favor like a ride they learned to present what was in it for me before they asked. I had a flippancy that I think some people liked. If it was too beautiful an afternoon to attend class I would encourage friends to join me on a road trip to Laie on the North Shore of Oahu where the last A&W restaurant remained. A scenic drive and ice cold root beer was followed by a can of Coca-Cola to brandish while circling the campus of Brigham Young University. That flippancy was just a disregard of the future. I lived in the moment and enjoyed it. Of course I could also become very moody and throw a pity party with myself sitting alone in a dark room listening to Pink Floyd smoking a pack of cigarettes.

I’m sure that a lot of my fellow college alumni have changed too. But I’m not proud of who I was. In the same way, if my old self met my present self the old David would call me now quite a square who sold out the idea of that carefree king of the road. I’m a conservative, domesticated father and husband. I loathed that idea 25 years ago. But I am this way and have never felt better about myself. And it didn’t come easy. The past 25 years have been a struggle to arrive in this condition and I never would have made it without help.

Today my son starts classes at the local community college. Maybe as a father I am blind to character flaws in him. I mostly see the little boy I carried on my shoulders, pushed on the swing and watched trains with only now he’s onstage at church playing with the praise band. This is no judgment on my parents or his, but I like to think that he’s a much better person today at 17 that I was at the same age. I hope he never has to deal with some of the things I had to in young adulthood or parenthood. But even without painful hurdles I am confident of this: There is a good and Godly man in him.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Vanquishing Evil

Although the brooding anti-hero is more fun to write about and definitely more interesting in books and movies, as a kid I always loved the hero. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and before that, Captain Marvel. I wanted to be a pure good hero and vanquish bad guys. I don’t know what my nine year-old son Jamie wants to be. But when he prays at bedtime he thanks God for all the animals. Sometimes when he’s done I ask him if he means even spiders. It seems he doesn’t mind them.

When I got to work on Friday I saw the preschool playground and stared in disbelief. The playground equipment, mostly all sturdy plastic play structures and playhouses had been ransacked. Most of the items had been disassembled. One tower was upside down and filled with parts from other structures. And many items were on the roof of the church. Obviously a group of people, possible older kids had gone and had their way with church property. It must have happened sometime after I left the previous evening and sunup that day.

I went into the office and asked if anyone had noticed. I was the first so I called the church administrator and he told me to call the police and report it. While I was waiting for the police to arrive I told the church receptionist how much this incident bugged me. I live right next to the church. I am the first responder when the alarm goes off and so far it’s only over-sensitive motion detectors. This trouble had gone down right next to me as I slept. Some hero I was. The receptionist assured me that it wasn’t my fault and I thanked her. I knew it wasn’t. But it still bothered me that I let this happen right under my big nose. I felt like I had failed somehow.

We determined that the men’s ministry would be able to re-assemble all the equipment the following day after the monthly breakfast. I met the deputy sheriff and it was decided that this couldn’t even be called vandalism. Nothing was broken, just disassembled and all the parts seemed accounted for. As I was thanking the police my phone rang. It was our receptionist. She apologized that she knew I was busy, but there was a spider in the mailbox. Once the police left I go the mailbox key from her, then I got a blue nitrate glove, bug spray and a paper towel.

I’ve seen black widows in there but this was just a brown spider. I still killed it with all the anger I had toward the mischief makers. When I gave back the mailbox key the receptionist thanked me and started to apologize again but I told her thank you instead.

“That’s one bad guy that I can take care of,” I said.

Jamie is right. Thank God for spiders. Not only do they eat bugs but they can be a scapegoat when a wannabe hero needs a villain to conquer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The second wave, not so strong.

Last Tuesday I finished part one of the second draft of my novel. It’s hard to take myself seriously when I even say “my novel”. Movies and TV have characters who refer to their novel and it’s usually a joke. So I try to right away dismiss any notion that I ever want to be published. I claim that I just write for the joy of writing. It’s like putting together a giant picture puzzle as I paint the picture at the same time. To be honest I have willed myself not to think about publication and just focus on the writing at hand. It mostly works. But the last time I was in Barns & Noble Bookstore I did look in the F section right where something I wrote would be shelved.

I started writing Icarus in 2006 and two years later had a complete first draft of about 50 thousand words. It was divided into five parts. I think I had every intention of taking it right up again and revising it but I didn’t. It sat there for over a year before I finally took it up and began a complete revision. The first draft was mostly first person with other parts in third person. My re-write has it all in a very limited third person. The first draft had an abysmal prologue which I eliminated. A well known rule of writing is “Show, don’t tell”. This prologue was narrative exposition that dreadfully broke that rule. This time I wrote scenes with action and more backstory instead. I made life more difficult for my main character to make him more true to who I thought he was. Other characters were fleshed out too. When I finished part one last week I looked at the word count. It is 18,343 words. My first draft part one had 8326.

I noticed something in my writing of this second draft. When I was writing the first time I was really battling some inner demons. I had lost Naomi, been fired from my teaching job and sometimes struggled to keep up with the surveying job. I had been diagnosed with clinical depression and was on meds. For a while I was on two meds. Then I lost my surveying job and spent six months unemployed. I kept writing through that and continued into my new job. But it was all very turbulent and I think my writing reflected it. My main character battles some serious issues with his past, trusting others and surrendering to what is right. There are parts of the story where this razor’s edge really shows in his emotions. That was me in the past.

Today I have overcome a lot of that pain that I was channeling back then. My life felt just like that raw first draft with exposed nerves. But I got help and after a lot of work and support from others I think that I am finally over a dark time in my life. It seems that I’ve started my own revision of my life now. I don’t know if I will ever be able to channel that anguish and paranoia into my writing anymore. We’ll see.

One thing I am sure about. If I’m never able to put that edge back, the healing I have now is worth losing anything else.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Spiders for Breakfast

I was at the top of a water slide yesterday afternoon at Yucaipa Regional Park. My eight year old had just launched himself down without hesitation. I thought he would chicken out. Two girls I knew looked surprised at me and asked if I was really going down. I’m not sure why they questioned me. Other adults were going down. I told them I wasn’t scared of anything. One nine or ten year old girl said she wasn’t scared of anything either. “What about spiders?” I asked and she announced that she had killed a black widow when she was six. The fact that it had been with a vacuum cleaner didn’t seem to diminish her bravery.

The interesting thing is that just an hour earlier I had a six-year old reprove me for being afraid of the water. I tried to explain that I wasn’t afraid; it was just that the water was cold. I was content to stay on the shore and build a sand castle. She was trying to pull me into the water and the thought of being deep in cold water did not sit well with me. Was I afraid? Not of drowning, no. But that icy feeling when cold water sucks your breath away? Yeah, a little.

Earlier that afternoon I had gone and sat in the backyard and ate raw Top Ramin® noodles out of the package. Our chickens all came over to investigate. One of the bolder ones jumped up on my lap and tried to go after the package in my hand. I enjoyed feeding them bits of my raw noodles and at one point had two chickens on me, even one on my shoulder, while the others circled around me all staring in their curious manner and waiting for another pale noodle crumb to drop. Olive the hen was not discouraged when I pushed her off and would pause a beat and then jump back up. In the midst of the experience of almost being smothered by chickens I thought that if someone had an unnatural fear of chickens this would be the definitive nightmare. I can see how someone might be legitimately afraid of spiders and that afternoon with Olive and Amelia hopping up on me, pecking at my shirt and staring at my face while the rest of the ladies hung around at me feet, I could appreciate if someone had a fear of chickens.

I had a friend who was attacked by a rooster once. Her face got scratched up in an unprovoked attack. When I was sympathizing with her days after she calmly told me it was okay. “I’m gonna eat that chicken,” she declared.

Now that’s an attitude I wanted to prosper in me. Whatever gets the best of us, instead of being afraid of it, eat it for supper. Maybe it’s better to say, use that experience to benefit from it, let it nourish you. Then move on be a better person. I might be pushing this analogy too far because I don’t think anyone would want to eat just anything they might be afraid of for breakfast. (I could justify my analogy by saying that my past week’s blogs have been too serious and I’m just trying to pass off something light.) But I came away from that talk about her eating the chicken with a genuine inspiration. Resolve to rise above what might try to conquer you.

So yesterday afternoon I launched myself down the waterslide. It was completely dark most of the way down. I could feel the fast motion going down and water all around me. Being like shot out of a gun or being born, maybe it felt a little like both. Then daylight ahead and I hit the cold water of the pool. I was so disoriented the lifeguard had to tell me where to exit. I was coughing water for awhile after eating some for desert. But after building a cool sand castle, eating a nice supper and more caramel corn, this waterslide was still the best part of the visit. I’m glad I wasn’t a chicken.