The Most Important Things...

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to where your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear.

~Stephen King~

Lynn's "True Meaning of Christmas"

Starting just after Thanksgiving (and getting earlier and earlier every year), strange things start happening all around us.

Colored lights decorate many town centers and shops, the shiny decorations, and artificial snow painted on shop windows. Street lights are transformed into giant candy canes.

Evergreen trees with colorful blinking lights and other decorations sprout up all over the place, even in our own living rooms.

Cards and letters from friends and relatives with whom we haven’t had much contact in the last 12 months start finding their way into our mailboxes and then up on the walls or refrigerators inside our houses.

Bells start ringing outside places where parking lots are getting fuller and fuller every day.

All of a sudden people’s fashion senses begin to focus on the color red.

Shopping centers become busier and often stay open later than usual. Shopping center speaker systems will play different music than at other times of the year.

Front doors are adorned with wreathes of holly.

We start seeing stars in windows, red bows on the fronts of cars, we get the urge to go out and purchase things for our loved ones.

Our children inexplicably begin taking out the garbage and washing the dishes without being asked. Then they start telling us how good they’ve been this year, and telling us what they would really enjoy having in their arsenal of gadgets and playthings.

Radio and television programming is different.

Small groups of people wander up and down the streets aimlessly it seems singing songs to people they don’t even know.

A parade might roll through town with some big guy in a funny looking red suit perched atop a wagon drawn by a tractor… and later he’ll let children climb upon his lap and tell him the same things they’ve recently been telling their parents.

Homes start being decorated with colorful lights and ribbons and greenery, and the front yards start filling up with Homer Simpson, Snoopy, giant snow globes, and other inflatables.

Can you imagine what we look like to someone who doesn’t know what is going on here???

A bunch of beings just on the brink of self imposed extinction, I would think. We of course know these as the signs of the coming of Christmas.

So just why do we do these things? Is this really what Christmas is all about??? And what is the true meaning of Christmas anyway?

In searching for the true meaning of Christmas, I went on a strange yet really fun journey, one I’d like to share with you.

Let’s start with some of those signs and symbols that we see all about us and try to find the true meaning of Christmas.

The Candy Cane

The Candy Cane represents shepherd's crook to keep sheep from straying. Reminds us we are our brother's keeper.

The Bell

Rings out glad tidings of birth of Jesus. Also, sheep had a bell tied round neck so shepherd could hear where it was, and if in danger. Jesus always knows where we are and will help us when life gets difficult.

The Tree

Remains green all year round and is a symbol of everlasting life.

The Bow

Tied on gifts, shows we are all tied to each other with love as the family of mankind.


Reminds us of the gifts given to Jesus by the wise men, and the gift of everlasting life given to the whole world through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the gift of eternal life with our Heavenly Father available to us, if we so desire it, and keep His commandments.

The Star

The star reminds us of the bright star that shone at the time of Jesus' birth.

The Wreath

Its circle shape shows that, just like love, it has no end, and never stops.

And the Candle

Gives light to a dark world. Jesus is the Light of the world.

OK... Did we find the true meaning of Christmas in those signs? Maybe, but let’s keep looking.

Maybe the true meaning of Christmas is in the Christmas carols that make us feel the Christmas spirit and remind us of the birth of our Lord and Savior when we sing or hear them. Silent Night! Holy Night! All is calm, all is bright… It Came upon a Midnight Clear, That glorious song of old… Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King… or my own personal favorite Christmas song that I’ll come back to later.

And what about the other Christmas songs that don’t really have anything to do with our Savior, but are still fun to sing? Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way… Frosty the Snowman… Rudolph the red nosed reindeer… We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year… or the song that was the top selling single of all time for decades until about 10 years ago, Bing Crosby’s I'm dreaming of a white Christmas… Just like the ones I used to know… Where the treetops glisten, and children listen… To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

Maybe it’s those other songs… and you all know the ones I’m talking about… Grandma got run over by a reindeer… Jingle Bells as sung (barked) by those dogs… Santa Claus Is Comin (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train)… that Cheech and Chong thing about Santa Claus and the magic dust… or any number of versions of The 12 days of Christmas, including the redneck 12 days of Christmas by that “you might be a redneck” guy. Maybe the true meaning of Christmas is hidden in there somewhere.

Maybe the true meaning of Christmas is how we feel when we get together with friends and family and go out into some cold night and sing these songs, usually off key, and yes, sometimes even the grandma or redneck song, to other friends or even strangers, for no other reason than to make someone smile and feel some Christmas spirit. Maybe, but let’s press on.

Can the true meaning of Christmas be found in any or maybe even all of the Christmas specials on television?

What about that movie about Ralphie. Maybe he thought that he could shoot down and capture the true meaning of Christmas with an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, only to be told time and time again “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”

A recent commercial on television states the following: (Television announcer voice) “TNT viewers will have a whole day to check out Bob Clark and Jean Sheperd's holiday touchstone when it airs 24 Hours of A Christmas Story, beginning at 8 p.m. ET on December 24 and running continuously through the next day, concluding with a final showing at 6 p.m. ET on Christmas Day.

Not really about the true meaning of Christmas, although I will admit that I still love it when father and son are changing the tire and the lug nuts go flying. And just so you know, I plan to love that part again this year.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas really does have a nice little message. “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Do you think perhaps, that in that very moment, the Grinch discovered the true meaning of Christmas?

And then there’s Good ol’ Charlie Brown. Remember how dismayed he was by the behavior of his friends preparing (or NOT preparing) for the Christmas play? Remember his anguish when his little sister Sally asked him to write her letter to Santa? And remember his disgust when his beloved Snoopy was decorating his doghouse in anticipation of winning the big bucks for the first prize in the Christmas decoration contest? When he finally has enough, he shouted “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Those Christmas songs and specials on TV are but a small sample of the Christmas traditions that surround us all this time of year. One tradition we have in my own little family is that we take turns from year to year decoration the Christmas tree, and my girls are rarely satisfied with my own efforts.

Spending time with family is another tradition many people look forward to at Christmastime, watching football with Uncle Joe, seeing the excited look on the faces of the children as they open their presents, Grandmas and Aunts in the kitchen preparing that huge Christmas meal of turkey, or ham, or both… potatos, mashed just right or perhaps scalloped or sweet potatos… maybe a green bean casserole or two… some kind of geletin fruit salad… hot rolls fresh from the oven with lots of butter and possibly honey to spread on them… Hot apple cider or punch or egg-nog or hot cocoa to drink… and dessert, it’s waiting just in the other room, teasing everyone with those wonderful fragerances… pumpkin pie with whipped topping… that pink fluffy stuff…and Christmas cookies that look like snowmen and bells and Christmas trees. Known around these part as “The laying on of Christmas Dinner” And I couldn’t wait when I was a kid to be big enough to get to sit at the adult table. Now that I’m all growed up, I’m back at the kids’ table again, mostly by my own choice because there I can get away with teaching all the young ones how to hang spoons from their noses. Ya can’t do THAT at the big table.

Maybe the tradition that holds the true meaning of Christmas is the tradional Christmas stories that are read to children. Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”… Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match-Seller”… or the story that my own mother read when she was much younger than I am now sitting in a small rocking chair in the middle of my grandparents’ sitting room where the Christmas tree was… Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night before Christmas” to a group of children who were too busy opening presents and could not therefore be bothered or even pretend to pay attention. Sorry Mom.

Maybe we can locate the true meaning of Christmas in a non-traditional story like this one called…

A Brother Like That

Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it.

"Is this your car, Mister?" he asked.

Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas." The boy was astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish..." He hesitated. Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels.

"I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."

Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, "Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?"

"Oh yes, I'd love that."

After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front of my house?" Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again.

"Will you stop where those two steps are?" the boy asked. He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little crippled brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car. "There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn't cost him a cent. And some day I'm gonna give you one just like it...then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I've been trying to tell you about."

Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride.

That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when he had said: "It is more blessed to give..."

And just what about all that giving? Can we really measure the true meaning of Christmas by the number of dollars we spend during this time of year? Does it help us find that meaning if we fret and worry because we are unable for one reason or another to buy everything we want to for everyone we want to? It most certainly is more blessed to give than to receive, but ask yourself if you can really buy the true meaning of Christmas and wrap it up and give it to someone else. I’ve never been able to, but maybe that’s just me.

Another tradition many of us enjoy is driving around as a family and looking at all the Christmas lights on people’s houses. I remember doing that with my mom and dad when my two sisters and I were kids. I don’t remember very many of the lights, but I remember that we once saw a guy dressed up like Santa Claus… and he was wearing tennis shoes. We all thought that was just a hoot and a half. The things we remember from our childhood.

And speaking of that big jolly guy with… and I quote “His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry” It may sound like it, but no, I’m not talking about my father… (sorry dad). I’m talking about that OTHER jolly guy. Maybe Santa Claus will bring us the true meaning of Christmas. You know, a lot has been said about Santa Claus, and he is known throughout the world by different names… Father Christmas… Kris Kringle… St. Nicholas… In Brazil he’s known as Papai Noel… in Italy they call him Babbo Natale… In the Dutch language he’s Sinter Klaas… In the Netherlands the children wait for Kerstman… In France he’s called Pere’ Noelle… and even in Hawaii he’s known by the different name of Kanakaloka. No matter what we call him, we all know that he lives at the North Pole, travels in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer, and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas to so many children of the world without him.

There are those however, who in seeking the true meaning of Christmas, will say awful nasty things about the reality or validity of Santa. I would refer them to the editorial page of the New York Sun, from a long time ago. Children and adults alike pay attention and listen to this excerpt from that page.

Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897 (111 years ago)

Dear Editor---

I am 8 years old. Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, and no romance to make tolerable this existence.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to have men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

No Santa Claus! Well thank goodness he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Well… that certainly answers that question once and for all doesn't it? But does that explain what the true meaning of Christmas is? Let’s continue, shall we?

What if it’s found in the memories we make and then recall each Christmas? I remember many happy Christmases from my childhood. The best were when there was lots of extended family with us… not that this in itself didn’t bring its own set of challenges.

I remember that almost without fail, on Christmas morning there was always that one toy that was the envy of all the other brothers and sisters and cousins. There was one toy that made us ignore for the time being all the other toys, and if that toy wasn’t mine, I was most unhappy. Didn’t stop me from playing with that toy though, and if it was mine, well I sure knew how to be stingy. Our parents saw an opportunity for a lesson in life and would try to teach us all about sharing and being happy with what we got. Sure ! ! ! Right lesson, way wrong time to try to enforce it though.

One year my cousin Kevin got a table-top hockey game, similar to the foosball games but it was hockey. Hours upon hours we spent working those hockey players up and down the ice trying to score on each other. The girls of course didn’t get it, but that was ok with Kevin and me. This was serious Stanley Cup playoffs time.

Another time he got a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em robot game and I got a tape recorder. We were in one of the back bedrooms at my grandparent’s house, trying to knock the block off of each other’s robot while I was recording the events from ringside under the stage name of “Friendly Ed” with commercials between each round of boxing complete with jingles like “MMMMM good, MMMMM good, that’s what Campbell’s soups are, MMMMM good” and “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, the big bright Texaco star.” To this day I don’t know which was more fun… trying to knock each other’s block off and recording the events for unseen listeners, or listening to the recording afterward. Either way, it was hilarious to us. Yes, I actually did sing those jingles and I will deny to my deathbed that it was me if any of you ever get your hands on a copy of that tape.

One year I got a tent. It was a little blue tent that my father set up out in our front yard in Austin, Texas. Before I could even get into the thing to test my skills as a true outdoorsman, my sister Linda and my cousin Kevin turned the side of it into some sort of vertical trampoline. I was mature though and in a forgiving mood because the two of them were having so much fun and decided then and there to remember the real meaning of Christmas by throwing what they call these days… a real conniption fit. OK, so that one’s not the happiest of Christmas memories, but when I recall all those Christmas memories, I really do even think about that one and have to smile.

Other, more recent, memories came to me while I was searching for the true meaning of Christmas. I remember a few years ago when my wife and I had a paper route, we handed out Christmas cards to every one of our customers. We got many back in the mail… maybe upwards of a hundred and added them to our Christmas card wall. There must have been 150 cards up there and I remember looking at that wall and thinking to myself something like “Look how many people care enough for us to send these cards. We must really be great people”. But while I was mentally patting myself on the back for being so wonderful, did I miss the true meaning of Christmas up there on that wall?

And speaking of cards, what about all those cards and letters we send through the mail? Do we really expect someday to open one of those cards or letters and find right there in written form the true meaning of Christmas? I don’t know if we will or not, but we send them anyway… and send them… and send them… listen to this excerpt from a news release by the US Postal Service two days before Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.

Dated Nov. 20, 2007
WASHINGTON, DC — In two short days, the U.S. Postal Service begins to deliver 20 billion pieces of mail across the country and around the world, a task that requires more than 200,000 trucks, a 30 percent increase in air cargo transport, 37,000 Post Offices and 700,000 employees.

All to make sure that holiday cheer arrives on time.

The Postal Service expects to deliver 20 billion pieces of mail between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Total mail volume (cards, letters, catalogs, packages, magazines) for the busiest day should approach 1 billion.

WOW ! ! !

With that kind of volume, maybe that’s where we should look in our search for the true meaning of Christmas.

Or maybe we should look to the event itself… the birth of the baby Jesus. We spend the rest of the year thinking about the life of Christ, but it seems to me that the birth itself is a part of that life. Why do we reserve thinking about that event for those few days between Thanksgiving and December 25th?

Was Bruce R McConkie talking about the true meaning of Christmas when he explained to us that Jesus Christ is the only person ever to be born in the world who had power to bring to pass the resurrection of himself or anyone else and to atone for the sins of any living being? The atonement came by the power of God and not of man, and to really understand it, one must understand that our Lord was literally the Son of God (an immortal personage) and of Mary (a mortal woman). From his mother he inherited mortality, the power to lay down his life, to die, to permit the body and spirit to separate. From his Father he inherited the power of immortality, the power to keep the body and spirit together, or if he chooses, allow them to separate, the power to unite them again in the resurrected state. This is something that He has given to each and every one of us.

What a wonderful gift, and there was no one else who could give it to us. The power over physical death, the power over spiritual death. Isn’t that gift (and how the giver of that gift was born) worthy of our thoughts all year long and not just at Christmas? The true meaning of Christmas might be in the miracle of the birth of our savior.

The true meaning of Christmas. What is it? Where do we find it? Where do we look? Who do we ask? Can we touch it? Can we taste it or smell it? Can we feel it with our fingertips, or must we open up our souls to let the feeling in there? Can we buy the true meaning of Christmas? Can we sell it? Give it away? Can we sing it out loud or can we only hear it in our hearts when block out everything else that is going on around us? Do our families bring it to us? Does Santa? If we try hard enough, can we find the true meaning of Christmas in all the Christmas lights, shining and blinking and twinkling for all to see… or on the Christmas trees, beautifully decorated with lights and tinsel and ornaments, some of which have been handed from generation to generation to generation… or in the presents all wrapped with care with pretty ribbons and fancy bows… or beneath the wreaths hung on doors… Families being together… fighting for parking spaces at the malls and the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping. Is the true meaning of Christmas explained to us in the Christmas plays and pageants and television specials… during parades or at parties… Can we spread it with Christmas carols and Christmas caroling… Do we ever write it out in the millions and millions of cards and letters sent to family, friends, and loved ones… Is it possible to discover it by spending a quiet Christmas eve with our loved ones reading from the second chapter of Luke.

I have been asked in the past to give talks on the true meaning of Christmas, and in preparation, I went on this quest to find it. I thank you all for letting me take you to some of the places I searched, and we’ve had some fun and a few laughs along the way… but what I found in my search for the true meaning of Christmas may surprise you. What I found could possibly shock you. My discovery may even disappoint you after having read this far.

What did I find in my search for the true meaning of Christmas?

I do not know.

The truth of the matter is simply that I do not have a clue what the one true meaning of Christmas is.

Because what I found out is that for each person, the true meaning of Christmas can be very different. And for each one of us, the true meaning of Christmas can change vastly depending on what we’re doing at the moment, who we’re with, what song we’re singing, what special we’re watching on television, or what gift we are wrapping. The true meaning of Christmas might be one thing while we’re hanging lights on the house or decorating the tree… and something different while we’re shopping… and something different while we’re sitting around on Christmas morning opening presents… and still something completely different when we’re listening to the words of my own personal favorite Christmas song…

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices!
Oh night divine! Oh night when Christ was born!

For me, part of the true meaning of Christmas is somewhere in those lyrics and the music that goes with them. The lights, the Christmas trees, the Christmas hymns, being with family, being with friends, the smiles on our faces… all add to the true meaning of Christmas for me.

For me, it’s easy to find the true meaning of Christmas in the following poem that I remember Grandpa Jones reciting back when I was a kid…

The Christmas Guest

It happened one day near December's end,
Two neighbors called on an old time friend.
And they found his shop so meager and mean
Made gay with a thousand bows of green.
And Conrad was sitting with face ashine,
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine,
and he said, "old friends, at dawn today
when the rooster was crowing the night away
The lord appeared in a dream to me,
And said, "I am coming your guest to be."
"So I've been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kittle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined.
And now I'll wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
his step as he nears my humble place
And I open the door and look on his face.
So his friends went home and left Conrad alone
For this is the happiest day he had known,
For long since, his family had passed away
and Conrad had spend many a sad Christmas day.
But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start
and look for the Lord to be at his door,
Like the vision he had a few hours before.
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
and all his clothes were ragged and worn.
But Conrad was touched as he went to the door
And he said, "Your feet must be frozen and sore.
I have some shoes in my shop for you,
and a coat that will keep you warmer too."
So with grateful heart the man went away,
But Conrad noticed the time of day
And he wondered what made the Lord so late,
and how much longer he'd have to wait?
When he heard a knock; he ran to the door
But it was only a stranger once more.
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
With a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest,
but that was reserved for Conrad's great guest,
But her voice seemed to plead, "Don't send me away.
Let me rest for a while on Christmas day.
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup,
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were slipping away,
And the Lord hadn't come as he said he would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
"Please help me and tell me where am I?"
So again he opened his friendly door,
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas day.
Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad,
but he knew he should make the little girl glad
So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears
Then he led her back to her home once more,
But as he entered his own darkened door,
he new that the lord was not coming today,
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,
And he said, "Dear Lord, why did you delay?
What kept you from coming to call on me?
For I wanted so much your face to see.
When soft in the silence a voice he heard,
"Lift up your head for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor.
Three times I came to your lowly door.
For I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet.
I was the woman you gave something to eat.
And I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, Three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts, love is the best.
I was honored to be your Christmas guest."

“Of all the gifts, love is the best”

There it is… There is the true meaning of Christmas… for me anyway. That doesn’t mean that it has to be the same for you… or for ANYONE else.

Like our own personal testimonies of the divine nature of Jesus Christ, it’s different for everyone. And like our own personal testimonies, it changes as we grow and experience more things in this life. Like our own personal testimonies, the true meaning of Christmas lies within our own hearts… it has a special and personal meaning to us. And like our testimonies, sometimes we can struggle with finding it, and then struggle even more when attempting to explain it to someone else. So, that having been said, I don’t know how to explain what the true meaning of Christmas is. I know what it is to me, but… and I quote:

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to where your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear.

End quote

The true meaning of Christmas, along with our own personal testimonies is one of the most important things that we can search for and find. What you do with yours when you do find them, is up to you. For me, I feel that I fall extremely short when I try to explain, so I’ll have to rely on help from some little friends…

Remember when Charlie Brown shouted “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Personally, I think the best explanation I’ve ever heard was the one Linus gave to Charlie Brown when he said:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Straight from Luke, chapter 2: verses 8-14.

For me, the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t get any better than that.

My hope during this wonderful season, my Christmas prayer, is that each one of you who have taken the time to read this message, and all of your families and friends, and all of their families and friends…find your own true meaning of Christmas… and when you find it, don’t let go of it. Hang it on your wall at home… Carry it with you… put it in your wallet or purse or pocket or hide it in your scriptures and then take it out to peek at it once in a while and not just at Christmas either. Sing your favorite Christmas carol out loud in the middle of your own home town during the month of June and see what happens. Share your true meaning of Christmas with everyone and ask them to do the same. Love one another, love yourself, know that I love you, be happy all year long, but especially during this wonderful season of love and happiness, and a very safe and wonderful and Merry Christmas to you all… is my hope and my prayer.

Until next time…

This Old Road

I was walking down the road the other day, walking stick firmly in hand, when I stopped and took in the scenery along the way. Off to my left were cows grazing in a really pretty little pasture, and to the right was an old house down another road, this one made of dirt and gravel. As I stopped to ponder the sights and sounds and smells, I began to reflect upon my journey down this old road. Where did it begin, and where will it end. This is an old road I’m on, and the real wonder of it all is that this old road I’m on is the same road upon which I’ve always been.

Sometimes this old road I’m on is nothing more than a footpath through some wooded landscape where the only sounds are birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, and water flowing across rocks and stumps as it travels down its own road that we know as a creek bed, and the smell of leaves freshly crumbled under my foot fills the air. The yellows and golds and reds and browns of the leaves and the blue and purple and orange and pink of the sky as dusk approaches and many different colors of the various flowers and other plant life are near impossible to take in all at once.

Other times, this old road I’m on is a massive six-lane freeway, where I find myself helplessly trapped in one of the middle lanes. Six lanes of traffic seem to be going in the same direction as I, but all of those shiny cars with their drivers seemingly oblivious to one another while talking on their cell phones and changing radio stations are heading not to the same place I’m going, but to destinations unknown, and I, in the midst of all this random activity, walk along and take in the din of traffic, tires screeching, horns blaring, radios booming that deep bass thump, thump, thump, and all of the other beautiful noises of city life.

At any given moment, this old road I’m on has been any type of road in between that footpath and the freeway. Avenues, streets, highways and byways, boulevards, cul-de-sacs, drives, sidewalks, runways, creek beds, beaches, lakesides, parking lots, lanes, alleys, expressways, turnpikes, railroads, and all manner of trails where I could walk along, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

This old road I’m on took me and my boyhood friends to adventures in Austin that were wondrous to behold. We walked down the paved road that passed in front of our house until it went left around a corner and eventually turned into a dirt road and then nothing more than a couple of ruts through the grass. We took the turn to the left that led us downhill to a creek where we became explorers, adventurers, pirates on occasion, Native American Indians looking for and finding arrowheads, and eventually young little men learning how to learn hard lessons along this old road.

This old road I’m on took me almost all the way through school, but I took an early exit ramp and it was some time later that I was able to find my way back from that other side road and finish my journey along that particular stretch of road.

This old road I’m on led me to San Antonio in 1980 where I found myself enlisted in the United States Air Force. Then it took me to Illinois where I met Kelley who became my first wife a year or so later. It took me to Ohio for a year and then on to California. We took this old road back to Texas for a year, and then backtracked our way back to California, where Kelley decided to take a different road than the one I’m on.

This old road took me to the Rio Grande Valley where I tried to find myself, but only found myself alone in a strange and unwelcoming environment. It took me to Virginia where I eventually did find my real self and somehow attracted the attention of Sheri who graciously joined me on this old road and has helped me navigate some of the more difficult sections as we walk together.

This old road runs in front of our little farm house in Good Hope, Missouri where we live a happy life with my family just down the road and where our pets rule the abode. A half mile down the road is a small store that I like to walk to with Jaz the Beagle.

This old road I’m on has been fraught with dangers. I have walked past so many of the posted warning signs along the way, Signals to the traveler that unknown and unwanted perils await just ahead and around that bend. The signs were there but I didn’t always see them, sometimes not even venturing a passing glance, but rather walking past with blinders on, so arrogantly confident in my own self-importance that a road map would be nothing more than wasted effort. Directions surely would only slow me down in my haste to get where I thought I was going, where I thought I should be going, and where I thought I would ultimately arrive. Well, I’m still on this old road, but nowhere near where I thought I would be.

There are also handwritten notes nailed to trees along the sides of this old road I’m on with one word and a scribbled arrow at the bottom that pointed down a path lined with great trees and I could hear the silence spilling out onto the road and feel the wonderful warmth in my bosom as I neared that path. The smell of warm bread or chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven or some such other pleasing fragrance was floating on the clean and fresh and pristine breeze. The aroma of jasmine and roses and honeysuckle came wafting out to greet me like an old friend I haven’t seen in years. I could see light down this path even though no sunlight could possibly get through the rows of mighty oaks or elms or black walnut trees. Sometimes I saw this sign with the arrow and its one handwritten word of “peace”, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I saw it and turned to go down that path, and sometimes I just ignored the message and went on my way. I can’t think of a single time, however, when I stumbled upon that pathway to peace without either looking for the sign, or spotting it accidentally out of the corner of my eye. Something more inviting must have caught my attention perhaps.

There were flashing beacons that foretold of different happiness’s if I would but take the next ramp and follow this road wherever it would lead. They were signals to me that my health, wealth, spirituality, relationships, time, and other freedoms would improve and grow as I made my way down this road. Sometimes I heeded, and sometimes I thought I knew a better way to go.

There are signs along this old road that caution against high speeds, making me aware that it’s ok to slow down and take in the scenery, smell the roses, take notice of where I’ve been, where I am at the moment, and where I’m going.

There are signs of caution, signs of warning and dangers ahead, signs to slow down or speed up. There are big and colorful and bright signs, and there are signs that I had to nearly run into before I noticed them. There was a sign written by Jerry Garcia that simply stated the obvious for most of us, “What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been!”

There were also great big billboards along this old road. One in particular gave me cause to reflect. It was a large white billboard out in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere, unassuming except for its size, and it was erected by Rolling Thunder, an American Indian medicine man. His message to whomever passed by was simple yet powerful: “People have to be responsible for their thoughts, so they have to learn to control them. It may not be easy, but it can be done. First of all, if we don’t want to think certain things we don’t say them. We don’t have to eat everything we see, and we don’t have to say everything we think. So we begin by watching our words and speaking with good purpose only.” I think I went the rest of the day without uttering a single syllable.

My journey has been one of complex twists and turns. This old road I’m on has taken me through and to some of the most beautiful scenery that this country has to offer. Parts of this old road has run alongside fields of bluebonnets in Texas where no green could be seen, only the blue that stretched to the horizon where it was difficult to distinguish the field from the blue sky. It has taken me by the impressive skylines of our major (and not-so-major) cities in this great land of ours. This old road has wound its way down steep hillsides, across rustic iron bridges, through tunnels carved through mountains. It has turned slowly though the buttes and plateaus of New Mexico, and twisted wildly from side to side and up and down through the City by the Bay. I’ve seen this old road where it just went as straight as my own eyesight and then disappeared into the sunset as I walked through West Texas. I’ve walked down this old road through the Mojave Desert in stunned amazement at how the Joshua Trees can all look so much alike but at the same time be so different, each having its own shape and size and individuality.

There were times as I wandered down this old road that I’m on when I thought I would never see daylight again, where I found myself in darkness even at noontime on a cloudless day. Those were the times when I thought I was truly alone, and forgotten, and yes, those were the times when I was frightened because I thought I was lost and perhaps even on the wrong road. I know better now, because there were also those times when I could see clearly down the road in the dead of night when there was no moonlight to illuminate the way before me and I knew that this is the road upon which I belong, in any weathers, and in every condition.

There were times when I was walking down this old road I’m on when it was cold and raining and I could find no tree to huddle up against for shelter. There were times when I was hungry but the restaurant was on the other side and the median was lined with a tall fence that rendered it impassable. There were times when I thought I was intentionally run off the road and into the wilderness, and there were times when friendly passers-by offered companionship, directions, helpful warnings or advice. Maybe they just waved and smiled as they went by. I always liked those people.

This old road I’m on has seen me running down it for a purpose known only to myself, and also for no reason at all. Not that I ever ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours like Forrest Gump did, but I have been known to step lively when the urge struck me. This old road has also seen me stumble and fall off into the ditch where I was torn up rather handily by the briars and the brambles growing wild there. It has witnessed as I strutted with pride, strolled leisurely, limped in agony, crawled in humility, marched militarily, ambled aimlessly, and trudged along against my will when I wanted to just stop and sleep.

I have skipped, jumped, jogged, advanced, ambulated, padded, hit the road, strutted, knocked about, lead, followed, gotten out of the way, shuffled, marched, hiked, meandered, paced, strode, plodded, limped, pranced (but not too often), traversed, promenaded, raced, traipsed, run, walked, crawled, ambled, paraded, sauntered, scuffed, shambled, slogged, hoofed it, stalked, stepped, lumbered, strolled, legged, stumped, toddled, moseyed, toured, roamed, tramped, patrolled, traveled, treaded, escorted, trekked, trooped, cantered, trudged, wandered, lumbered, and wended my way down this old road I’m on.

This old road I’m on has taken me through some areas of bitter contradictories. Places where on one side of the road are parents rejoicing the birth of a child and right across the avenue are children mourning the loss of a parent whose mortal life was cut too short by disease, an automobile accident, or the evil actions of another person.

On one side of this old road I have witnessed our youth without a care in the world playing marbles or jumping rope or involved in a highly contested game of sandlot baseball, while on the other side stood hospitals filled with children bravely fighting for life against muscular dystrophy, leukemia or some other form of cancer, abuse and neglect, and loneliness.

I have been a witness to some of the most horrific hate-driven tragedies that persons of a so-called civil society have perpetrated on one another, shaking my very faith in humanity to the core, and then strolled on another few feet ahead as an old homeless man resting by the way receives a hot meal, a few bucks, and some encouraging kind words of hope that lift his spirits enough to take up his travels along this old road again. Walking along for a spell with this old man renews my faith and reminds me that those others are truly the exception, and not the rule.

This old road I’m on has been at times brand new, with a solid and flat and smooth surface on which to meander. Other sections have been in dire need of some serious attention, causing me (when I happen to notice) to take care in my stride, placing each foot down carefully, avoiding the pitfalls that may cause me to stumble and fall. I have tripped more than a few times along this old road, but I’ve always managed to get back up and continue this amazing expedition.

I have met some amazing people while walking down this old road I’m on. Friends who have touched me in ways that they cannot realize. Friends whom I’ve not spoken with in years but still have a special place in my heart and of whom I have many fond memories as I stop and turn around and look back down this old road I’ve traveled. There are friends who have picked up their own walking sticks and joined me for a season, friends who have waved as I hustled on by, and friends who have been with me for many years, traveling within me in my heart and mind instead of beside me on the road itself. Of all of these friends, there is neither a favorite nor a “bottom of the list.” Each is unique in his or her own way, and all are the same in that they have helped me find my way down this old road that I’m on, while adding value to my journey.

So here I am, walking down this old road and I wonder what wonders I will behold around the next bend or what hazards lie just over the next hill. My journey has been long and short at the same time; it has been an uphill climb and difficult to navigate at times; it has been a downhill coast easy and delightful at times; and I have been able to see both sides of the road, the good and the evil, the easy and the difficult, the exciting and the mundane, the joys that come from walking on one side of the road and the pain that comes from walking on the other side.

At the beginning of this old road were my parents, caring for me and nurturing me until I could take my first steps. But even before I took that first step putting one foot in front of the other, even before I could crawl on my hands and knees, and even before I could muster enough strength to hold my own head upright, or roll from my belly to my back, I began my journey down this old road… a journey that I’m still walking today.

Sometimes I want to get off this road, but that urge never lasts very long. This old road I’m on lays out long before me, and when I finally reach the end, I hope to find many of my friends and family there to be with me as I step off and begin my new adventure.

All in all, this old road that I’ve been on and continue to journey along was and is a good road, and the trip was worth every step I’ve taken and I’m fairly confident it will remain so in where ever my future endeavors take me.

I’m walking down this old road, and I love this old road I’m on. Come walk with me and let’s find out together where it leads… I’ll even let you use my walking stick if you need it.

Until next time…

Bringing Home the Bread

I probably wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t actually performed the task myself.

I have, on occasion, surprised even myself by surpassing my own self-imposed limits, trying to obtain a goal that I truly thought to be beyond my reach, but giving it the ol’ college try anyway just to (if for no other reason) see what might happen.

This is what transpired and this is how it happened.

A few weeks ago my sister (the one who irrationally despises goats) and my mom safely deposited my niece Mary Ann at BYU to begin her 4 (or so) year career as a student of higher education. While they were in or about Provo, or maybe they were in Salt Lake City, they were able to purchase several 45 pound buckets of whole white wheat, and some active dry yeast.

When my mom gave me a bucket, the first thing I thought of was a Finnish bread that was made by several members of my former wife’s family. My daughter Jessica even made it on at least one occasion.

Since I was unable to obtain the recipe from the former family, I happily skipped along the information super-highway until I found what I was looking for… Finnish Cardamom Bread, also known as Nisua… or Nisu for short.

The following is my account of how the experiment took place. I thought about changing names to protect innocents and all that, but since I was the only one involved and I’m the one writing the story, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to do so.

We begin with the whole wheat. The bucket looked like this…

And the grain looked like this…

I had borrowed my mom’s spare copy of a wheat grinder…

and began to grind away at the wheat right there on the kitchen counter. I have since learned that wheat grinding should take place on the back porch. Everything in the kitchen was covered in a fine layer of wheat flour, and the floor turned into a sticky mess that I can only refer to as “nasty”.

After the grinding (and the subsequent mandatory clean-up before the wife got home) I set about making the dough. Now those of you who know me well know of my distain for anything sticky (or raw meat) to come in contact with my bare hands. I tried to mix the dough with a wire wisk at first until that became impossible… kind of like trying to cut firewood with a dull butter knife. Then I tried it by hand with latex gloves, (this is how I get around the sticky and raw meat thing), but that didn’t last long either. I finally broke down and finished kneading the dough with my (ack) bare hands.

This is the result…

After the rising and the required punching down of the dough, I divided it in half, divided each half into thirds, rolled each third into something that resembled a doughy snake, and then I began to braid. I vaguely recalled from my youth how to braid hair, but this was not hair, it was doughy snakes, so it took a few braidings and unbraidings before I got it to look like I thought braided doughy snakes should look.

Then I put each loaf on a cookie sheet and let them rise again. This is what they looked like at this point.

Then into the oven went the fattened braided doughy snakes. After 25 minutes in the oven and a light butter brushing, this is what I ended up with.

All in all… not a bad effort. I’m told that they tasted even better than they look, even though I think they look pretty darned good. The fact that all the bread disappeared quickly leads me to believe that my family and friends weren’t just being polite.

For those with an adventurous spirit, here is the recipe as I have used it several times now since my first excursion into bread-making.


2 pkgs active dry yeast (this equates to 4½ teaspoons of the stuff)

¼ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees - be careful here, you can kill the yeast if the water is too hot)

2 cups of warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)

¾ cup sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted sweet butter – softened (about 1o seconds in the microwave does it for me)

1½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground cardamom

2 eggs

7 – 8 cups bread flour
In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 3 cups of the flour, beat until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Note: While I am kneading the dough, I turn the oven on the lowest temperature bake setting, then when it’s time to let it rise, I turn off the oven, open the door for a minute or so, and put the bowl of dough in the oven on an overturned cake pan with a towel on top, and close the oven door. The oven should stay warm, but not hot enough to actually cook the bread at this time)

After the dough has risen, punch it down and turn onto a lightly floured surface, and divide in have. Then divide each half into thirds and shape each third into a 13 inch rope (or snake). Place three ropes onto a greased baking sheet and braid, pinching the ends and tucking them under to seal. Do the same with the other three ropes.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (see above note) until doubled, this time about 45 minutes.

When they have risen again, remove from the oven, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake 25 – 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from baking sheets and onto wire racks for cooling. (Before cooling, I like to brush them with butter, and this last time I mixed just a few drops of honey with the butter before brushing)


Until next time...

Here a Little, There a Little

I know, I know… It's been a while.

First it was a couple of days gone by, then a week and then a month. I never set out to go so long between posts, but that’s how things happen.

A few months ago back in the spring of this year, there was a lot of rain around here. It seems as though we were in the national news quite a bit, although we only really knew how bad the floods were when we had to cross the streams to get around. Yes, some of our journeys take us down dirt roads, through fields, and across running waters. Some were literally impassable, and even the mighty Jeep couldn't handle some of the raging waters, as difficult as that may be to believe.

As a result of the flooding, our water supply was contaminated and began to run brown out of the faucets. Yuck. It only lasted a couple of days and then things were back to normal.

Some time later, maybe a month or so, I noticed that the water pressure wasn't what I thought it should be. It wasn't a drastic or sudden change like it was there yesterday and today it’s not, but I just happened to notice it for some reason. I asked Sheri about it and then she noticed it too.

After doing some maintenance on the well pressure tank and changing all of the filters (which really should have been done right after the brown water had cleared up), we had our water pressure back. That first shower was delightful too, I might add.

I thought about that and made a mental note to myself to jot down some thoughts on why this seemingly insignificant and minor inconvenience was such a big deal to me. Like most of my mental notes though, this one got lost for a while in the mental mess that clutters up my mental desk.

The thing that really struck me is that this decrease in water pressure didn't happen all at once. It happened very slowly and over a period of time so that it went unnoticed until one day we said "Hey, wait just a dingdangcottonpickin’ minute..." and there we were with a problem that had really started some time back and had been constantly building in the meantime.

OK, so that's how things happen with me. Here a little and there a little until something is noticed, right? I would guess that I’m not alone in this either.

I am neither young enough nor do I shave often enough to be considered by any stretch of the imagination a clean cut young man. I don’t intentionally set out to grow a beard most of the time. I just don’t shave one morning, and again the next morning and so on until someone (usually Sheri) asks me if I’m growing a beard again and why didn’t I just keep the last one I had. I have no answer for that. It just happened because I wasn’t paying enough attention to my own face. (Have you seen my face and is this really a great surprise to anyone?)

My weight is the same. I don’t notice the pounds accumulating one by one, but here I am a good 50 pounds or so heavier than where I should be (according to those know-it-all-smarty-pants doctors.)

The length of my hair, the ever-dwindling pile of firewood in the winter that never replenishes itself, the ever-increasing pile of ash in the bottom of the wood stove, the pile of dishes, the state of the litter box, the amount in the bank account, the length of time since the last birthday card was sent or the last anniversary remembered (Happy 1st anniversary to my daughter Jessica and her husband Brandon), other important dates that have come and gone, the time that’s elapsed since we noticed that our kids are growing up, realizing that our families are growing apart, the frequency of visits to the in-laws, the last time “I love you” was said with real feeling, the visiting of friends that used to be almost every day but now doesn’t happen at all, the time that goes by between phoning loved ones, checking on each other, the regularity of reading our scriptures or getting down on our knees to give thanks, how long it’s been since we took the time to remember what’s important, the accumulation of dirt on the mighty Jeep, the growth of the lawn … all change at a pace that we don’t notice until we find ourselves at a place where it can no longer be ignored or unnoticed.

I’m not trying to be a downer here. The truth of the matter is that this is how things happen. Here a little and there a little.

We don’t expect our children to be born ready to enter the business world and fend for themselves. We expect them to learn things, yes. But we don’t expect them to absorb everything that we would like to shove down their little throats just because we want them to know that fire is hot and gravity can be their enemy when they’ve climbed to the highest branch in that tree. We know that they learn what they need to know when they need to know it, and then they build upon that previous knowledge until one day they realize that they have mastered something that was previously thought to be impossible.

I am thankful that I was raised in an atmosphere where my imagination was allowed to run wild. Sometimes it got me in trouble, sometimes it spawned great ideas, and sometimes it was just fun to dream about stuff.

I am about to embark upon an adventure that began somewhere in my past with an idea that I can’t even really remember. I didn’t set out to be a home builder. I never thought that this is where fate (if you want to call it that) would take me. I’ve done so many other totally unrelated things and I’ve been so many other totally unrelated things. Building homes just snuck up on me. I guess if I had been paying close enough attention, I would have seen this coming somewhere in my past. But that’s how things go… here a little, there a little until I look up and notice what I’ve become, and have the audacity to be surprised.

Things happen like that spiritually also. I never made a conscious effort to fall away from my beliefs, it just happened while I wasn’t paying attention. And when I finally noticed where I was, I thought that I was too far gone to ever be able to find my way back. And then while I wasn’t paying attention, my core beliefs found their way back to the forefront of my everyday thoughts, the standards that I had set for myself years earlier began to manifest themselves in my daily behavior, and I found that hitting my knees to give thanks was a lot harder then I remembered only because it had been so long.

Have you ever found yourself face to face with someone that you used to be really close to but had just stopped making contact with for no apparent reason? Awkward, huh? All of those things that you used to share together are no longer part of your daily lives and so you struggle to find any commonality until you give up and go your separate ways. Sometimes we get lucky and find that common ground before the awkwardness becomes too great to bear, but sometimes we let the moment slip by and give up because that’s easier than actually working to rekindle a relationship.

That’s what happened with me. It was just easier to go about my daily life and avoid discussions with God because it had been too long and I didn’t really know what to say anymore. That relation ship was gone and I didn’t know how to get it back, you know. It was easier to avoid reading scriptures than to do the work involved in applying the lessons therein to my own life.

But you know what? I began to read, and then reading became easier. I began to pray and praying wasn’t so difficult after a few times. I went to church one time, and then going to church was something I looked forward to instead of dreading because I hadn’t been for so long.

Just as easily as we can develop bad habits, we can develop good habits. Just as we can forget to do the important things, we can remember to make them a daily part of our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if we could automatically hold on to the things that make our lives great while not having to work to keep them? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could decide what and who we want to be and then become that person and just stay that way without any effort? Doesn’t work that way though.

After our adventure with the water pressure and the investigation into the problem and the numerous trips into town for filters and filter wrenches and the effort it took to make things right again so that we have sufficient water pressure with clean water, I’m a little more in tune with what is coming out of the faucet. And after the effort it took to relearn what I had forgotten, I’m paying a little more attention to the state of my own spirituality.

I don’t want to take any more weak showers, and I don’t want to have to fight my way back from the dark and dreary places that I’ve found myself.

I really do enjoy writing these thoughts of mine on this blog. I don’t know who reads them and that’s really not why I write. These posts help me to clear off that mentally cluttered mental desk of mine. When I started this blog, I wrote every day. Little by little though, I slowed down until one day I looked up and found that I hadn’t added anything in quite a while. I almost screamed out loud when I made a visit to that mental desk and saw what had piled up there.

I was tempted to set fire to the whole thing and just start over, but I decided to write this instead. I said from the very beginning that I write for myself and that remains as true today as it was when I first said it. So I’ll work a little harder on clearing off that cluttered up mental desk of mine, here a little and there a little. I hope it never gets completely clean though… what would I do then?

I’m pretty sure that I’m going in the right direction now, but I’m not that much different that most things that go in this world… I go a little at a time, working on things here a little and there a little until I look up one day and notice that I like where I am, and I’m really kinda surprised that I’m here.

Until next time…

Cowboys R (not) Us

When people first find out that I’m from Texas, a question that I often get is something about being a cowboy. “Are you a real cowboy?”, “Do you have cows?”, "Where's your hat?" or some other goofy question.

Having grown up deep in the heart of Texas, it is somewhat surprising to me that my yearning to be a Texas cowboy never really found its way to the forefront of my adolescent thoughts.

As I’ve grown older though, I watch movies like “Lonesome Dove,” John Wayne’s “The Cowboys” and others and feel the romantic tuggings of the cowboy life. Living out on the range, sleeping under the stars, riding a fine horse across vast lands under impossibly big and wide skies, eating grub from the chuck wagon, growing my mustache longer than the trail and wider than the skies… who wouldn’t want that life?

Look at that guy. Does he look happy to you?

Here’s how things were for cowboys back in the day.

Roundups were held in the spring and in the fall. During a roundup, cowboys from different ranches worked together to gather cattle in a central location. The purpose of the roundup was to give each owner the opportunity to inventory his herd and have cattle separated to send to market.

New calves were branded during the roundups. Calves were branded with the same brand as their mother. Several cowboys worked together to brand each cow. Usually one roped the calf, two held it on its side on the ground, and another placed the brand on the hide of the cow using a branding iron heated in a fire. Even today, it takes several cowboys to brand a calf.

During the roundups cowboys from several neighboring ranches worked together. They often spent their time in the evenings together telling stories and having contests. Cowboys competed to see who could rope a calf the quickest or who could ride a wild horse the longest.

Cattle separated for sale in the spring were moved in herds from Texas through Oklahoma to Kansas. Cattle were moved during the spring and summer because there was plenty of grass and the weather was warm.

During the late 1800s, the closest railways were in Kansas. Once the herds reached Kansas, they would be sold and transported by rail to Eastern cities. Because the cattle moved 10 – 15 miles per day over the open plain, it might take 2 – 3 months to reach their destination. The routes they chose were determined by the type of terrain and the location of water. Some of the difficulties cowboys faced included deep rivers, lack of adequate water and stampedes. The route of one of the most popular trails in Oklahoma, the Chisholm Trail, was marked with 400 concrete markers in 1997.

Cowboys on cattle drives spent much of their day alone. They rode from sunrise to sunset, except for a break for lunch when the cattle were given time to graze and rest. The evening meal at the chuck wagon was the social event of the day. Cowboys gathered around the fire to visit and tell stories.

At night each cowboy took a 2 hour shift to watch the cattle. During that time, the cowboy watched to see that no cattle strayed. Cowboys often sang to the cattle to help calm them. If something frightened the cattle, such as a loud noise, there was a danger they would stampede.

Cowboys faced many dangers on cattle drives, including being trampled in a stampede, struck by lightening or bitten by a rattlesnake. Being dragged by his horse, after falling off the horse with his foot still in the stirrups, was a common cause of death for many cowboys.

It’s not like I haven’t had my opportunities to be a cowboy either. We were big time cattle ranchers back in Texas. It wasn’t always easy taking care of a herd, but the adventure and experience was unforgettable. My family’s foray into big time cattle ranching back on the Seven Oaks Ranch consisted of two cows, and two calves sired by our neighbor’s bull. Yep… big time cattle ranching at its finest.

Remember that movie with Billy Crystal called “City Slickers”? “Yesterday They Were Businessmen. Today they’re Cowboys. Tomorrow They'll Be Walking Funny.”

Synopsis: Three male friends, facing their 40th birthdays and experiencing midlife crises, decide they need time away from their "soft" city lives. Fans of old Western films, particularly John Wayne's RED RIVER, they decide to vacation at a dude ranch, where they will be responsible for a two-week-long cattle drive through the Colorado hills. Along the way the urban cowboys encounter bad weather; macho, gun-wielding ranchers; and pregnant cattle, but they finish the drive with their lives back on track.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Well guys, here’s the awful truth about me.

I would’ve been like the ice cream guys. I would’ve quit right next to them. On the surface it sounds like an adventure that would be fun and exciting. Out under the open sky, eating food cooked on the chuck wagon, sleeping peacefully under the stars. Working hard to accomplish a goal. Yeah, that sounds like fun except for one thing.

Cows. I don’t like them. I don’t like rustling them. I have no interest in roping one. I’m not all that fond of the way they smell. They have a way of messing up a perfectly good field. They’re prone to stampeding. I do not now, nor have I ever, had the yearning to sing to a cow. They make that hideous bellowing noise. They are as stubborn as mules. I just don’t like being around them. For any reason!

Some Texan I am, right? Oh sure… I might dress the part sometimes. I have my cowboy hats and boots. I might even wear a large belt buckle someday if I find the right one. I have some button down shirts, but that’s as close as I’m willing to get to being a real cowboy.

I’m also not crazy about riding horses either. I’ve been on a horse two times in my life that I can recall. The first was when I was a small boy growing up in Austin, Texas. The second was in 1996 just before I was to meet some friends I had met on AOL. I was the only one of the group from Texas and I was a little shy about admitting that I don’t really ride horses. Someone I worked with had horses and she volunteered to take me out and teach me how to ride. She put me on the biggest horse out there and I was more than a little intimidated by the beast. But I climbed aboard and even got some pictures of the rare occurrence. Man, I wish I still had those pictures. Wouldn’t they be a hoot? I rode for about an hour, and that was enough. My hind parts let me know that one hour was MORE than enough.

So today my interests in cows are limited to good Bar-B-Que. OK, maybe the occasional leather item will spark a little interest. Other than that, I am perfectly happy letting someone else be the rugged John Wayne / Marlboro Man hero of the wild west.

Just not my cup of tea.

Until next time…

Something is Missing

Every home has its own distinct style of decor... and ours is no different. There are things that are designed for comfort, things that are necessary, and things that are just fun. Our little home in the country has some of each of these categories, but something is missing. Something that falls under the "necessity" umbrella.

Our home is out in the country. It sits on highway "O" so we can hear the occasional car or truck or tractor or horse go by. We really don't hear the horses, but Jazz the beagle lets us know when one is out there. This is how the front of our house looks from the road.

When one enters our little home in the country through the front door, they find themselves in the living room, entertainment center and piano to the left, red sofa and my grandfather's rocking chair to the right. Behind the red sofa is our "Jesus wall." Pictures of the Savior, President Hinckley's six B's, The Home Rules (Always be honest, Count your blessings, etc...), The Family Proclamation, The Living Christ Statement, and a few other things to remind us how we want our home to be.

Through the living room is the dining room. Not as big as the one in Richmond, but our table fits nicely. Also in the dining room is the big wood burning stove that we use to heat our home in the winter. Not all that effective for heating the entire house, but the living room and dining room sure get toasty when the fire is raging. Sometimes we can boil water on top of it, even though it's not really a cook stove. Good for simmering gumbo however.

I like the heat from a fire like that. To me it's much more comfortable than heat pumps of other forced air heat. It's a dry heat so we have to keep a sauce pan with water on top to keep us from drying out too much. We add a little potpourri to the water and it works just fine.

Also in the dining room is a piece of artwork that I bought for Sheri a couple of Christmas' ago, made by our good friend Melinda. A wonderful addition to our home and a perfect match to the red dining room that Sheri wants.

This painting is also in the dining room. This was painted by my grandfather some 24 years ago.

Off to the right of the dining room is the kitchen. Refrigerator,
stove, sink, cabinets, an old potato bin, and a telephone.

This telephone was hanging in my grandparent's kitchen for as long as I can remember. I used to have to climb up on a chair or stool to turn the crank and make the chimes ring. I never tired of that ringing action. It now hangs in our kitchen, and will go with me wherever I live. I still turn the crank from time to time. I think that it should be the dinner bell, alerting everyone in the house when dinner is ready.

There's a sign in our kitchen that reads "Real men wear aprons." Who can argue with that? That little decorative item came from our friends Rudy and Bonnie back in Richmond.

Behind the kitchen is the laundry / cat's room / pantry. Behind that is another room that's used for storage. I really need to get back there and clean it out someday.

Off the kitchen heading back towards the front of the house is a bathroom, and through that bathroom is a bedroom... the guest bedroom. Sheri painted it baby blue a few months ago, bought some blue bed coverings and it really looks nice now.

Through that room and we're back in the living room.

Upstairs is one big room that could be divided into two rooms, and another bathroom.

Behind the dining room is where I sit right now, in the office. Not much more than a cluttered, multi use room with a desk and the computer.

So that's it, the written and slightly pictorial tour of our quaint county home.

What in the world could be missing? Well it's quite simple really. Remember that picture of the refrigerator? Well, that was only the freezer part of the appliance. Here's a picture of the whole thing.
Notice anything? No pictures on the big door. Would you like to know why? Because I have been on the hunt all over Ava, Missouri looking for suitable magnets and have thus far come up empty handed.

Simple magnets, that's all I ask for. I don't want the ones with butterflies or grasshoppers or Volkswagen Beetles. I'm not interested in magnets shaped like states or airplanes or Hawaiian shirts (although I would put those shirt magnets elsewhere.) I just want simple, small, round, strong magnets to hold up the pictures of my family and friends for my own viewing pleasure. Is that really too much to ask?

I have many more pictures printed and ready to add to the door, but when I put them where I want them they just fall to the floor.

I have some great pics too. Some pics I took from blogs, (McEvoys, Andersons, Anantats, Woolleys, Roberts, Skinroods, etc...) Some were sent to us via e-mail. Some were given to us by friends visiting, and this one of my niece, Megan and my nephew, Jake was taken by yours truly a couple of weeks ago at the end of a pier on Lake Michigan at sunset.

So that's it. My world has temporarily been reduced to a need for magnets. All of my friends have a place on my fridge. And as long as there's room, there will be a need for more magnets.

When I run out of room on the fridge, I have a large box freezer that's looking rather naked.

Until next time...

Looking Up

I'm sitting at the computer tonight listening to a little Willie & Lobo and I thought it would be a good idea to jot down a few thoughts.

My daughter Jessica and her husband Brandon came to visit us for the 4th of July Bar-B-Que. We had a wonderful time together and I hope they come back soon.

We finally finished the remodel job. That's the good news. The bad news is that the construction partnership is finished as well because of it. There are some deep feelings of anger and resentment on my part that I have been struggling to get past, and not very successfully I might add.

We are going on vacation to Michigan for 10 days or so at the end of next week. Time for a major battery recharge.

When we get back, I will be starting a new project with my new company that will require me to be away from home three or four nights a week, but we gotta do what we gotta do, right? I'm excited to be building again.

I went back to Houston for a family reunion in June and quickly remembered why I left there. Too many people, too many cars, and too much heat and humidity.

My friend Paul will be visiting in a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

It's been too long since I've written anything except for the one about the mighty Baxter. I've tried but everything I tried to write ended up sounding like very negative sour grapes, so I've ended up deleting quite a bit.

Things are looking up though... and it never hurts to have a little Willie and Lobo as a soundtrack for my thoughts.

Until next time...

The Mighty Baxter

It's strange how things happen sometimes. I am tempted to say that things are even unfair... arbitrarily so it seems. But I really know better, and I know somewhere deep down that there are reasons for the things that happen.

Sometimes though, even that knowledge is a hard pill to swallow.

Sheri and I looked at some beagle pups a few weeks ago when Jessica and Brandon (my daughter and son-in-law) were here visiting. The owner said she didn't think she would want to part with any of them, but she would think about it. Last week, she asked if I was still interested, and I told her that I would check with Sheri and let her know.

I was doing some maintenance work on her bathroom earlier today and she asked again, so I decided right then and there that Baxter needed a running pal. I loaded the little beagle in the car and brought her home. After a few growls to establish dominance, Baxter took to her and my dad and I could tell right away that they'd be good for each other.

As Dad and I went to run some errands in town and we started talking about dogs in general. He said that I should have some kind of dog like a Brittany Spaniel that I could train to hunt quail. We talked about that for a few minutes and then I stated that some people like to have dogs purely for companionship... and nothing more. Sure, a good hunting dog is of value to me, but I brought Baxter home after Danog disappeared just to have a dog to pal around with. Our new beagle is the same.

My heart aches tonight.

Baxter was killed by a truck coming to see me after I got home this evening. The new beagle was with him, but she was a few steps behind and escaped unharmed. Baxter was killed almost instantly. There was no yelp as he got hit, no movement or struggling as he lay in the road... just a couple of deep breaths as I had my hand on his ribs, and then he was gone.

The driver turned around and came back and was just sick about hitting him. I tried to ease his heart as mine was hurting. There was just no way to avoid hitting him... he darted into the road too fast. The driver never even got to hit the brakes.

Baxter once helped me find and kill a skunk that had taken up residence under our house. He always was ready for rib bones when we were done with them. Sheri started working with him on being a frisbee dog, and he was ok at it. He would follow the hay guys all around the whole 50 acres all day long. Last night, we were picking up some 600 bales of hay to store in the barn and he was right there with us all the way.

When he first came home, he would come upstairs with me and sleep right at the foot of the bed where I had laid out a blanket for him. He would be here in the office with me as I wrote most of my posts, laying on the floor next to me. He spent more time outdoors running lately when he started bringing in fleas with him and what a fiasco that turned out to be. He was better as an outside dog anyway.

Some friends came over a couple weeks ago for dinner, and I took their four children out to the back of our property to gather some blackberries, and we all got to watch Baxter tree not one, but two raccoons.

He was fun to be around, fun to watch, he loved people, and I'll miss his companionship.

Baxter is laying in the back field close to the blackberry patch under a nice tree now. I carried him back there and told him how sorry I was that this happened.

As the new beagle walked beside me, I cried on the way back to the house.

Good bye my friend, I'll miss you.

And I'm so sorry.

My George Washington Pie

I was pulling out of the driveway one morning recently when I noticed this:

Look at this close-up

Is this tree loaded down or what?

I thought that I would sample a few of these cherries and they were most desirous to the taste. They were somewhat on the sour side, but they had a really great flavor to them. My next door neighbor drove by while I was sampling my 45th cherry or so, and wrinkled her nose when she tasted one, but she also said that they were very good. I then had a brilliant idea.

I need to have a cherry pie !

I went into the house, grabbed a one gallon freezer bag, and filled it about halfway with freshly picked cherries, and headed over to the house that we are remodeling. Upon arriving, I found LaCinda, (the mom of the household) and asked her if I had enough cherries for a pie. The not-so-subtle hint was recognized as such, and I was heartbroken when I learned that I had only picked about half the amount needed, but she could make a couple of cherry turnovers. Tempting, but when you’ve got the salivary glands worked up for pie, turnovers just ain’t gonna cut it… know what I mean? I was, however, excited in the knowledge that my little half gallon of freshly picked cherries hadn’t even made a minor dent in the number of the little red fruits available from that tree.

I picked another half gallon or so, added them to the original bag, struggled to close the zip lock top, and stored them in her refrigerator until yesterday when she and her two daughters began to pit the cherries. Man oh man… I have been literally chomping at the bit for this pie.

So today, at exactly 3:00pm, I reached into LaCinda’s oven with my well padded and protected hands, and retrieved this:

Isn’t that a thing of beauty?

And if you think that it looks delicious, you should taste it. Oh my goodness ! ! ! That had to be the best cherry pie I have ever had the good fortune to place into my mouth. I think having the cherry tree in my yard, picking the cherries with my own hands, and knowing the person who baked the pie all contributed to the wonderful result, but the real star has to be LaCinda herself for agreeing to bake it, and then putting her skills to work to create something as simple as a pie, but as wonderful as a fine art.

I have said this before, and I wish to express it again… because it fits this situation. Anyone can throw ingredients together to create a dish, but the real flavor, the real beauty, the real artistry comes from the love that is added. Love for the process, love for the adventure of cooking, and love for the people who will partake of your efforts. I am convinced that she truly loves the home that we have created for her and her family in which they will live. That love and gratitude is apparent in each and every bite of a cherry pie that she was kind enough to bake for yours truly.

Sheri and I each had a piece after dinner tonight, and this was a difficult decision to make, but I will take the remainder of this wonderful pie to the jobsite tomorrow and share my spoils with the guys, and with the chef extraordinaire and her girls.

I was going to make some ice cream to go with it, but this particular pie stands proud and tall and true on its own merits… it’s just that good.

Thanks LaCinda

Painting, But Not By Numbers

When I was born, and by that I mean the very moment I was born, the canvas that was to become the depiction of my life was blank - totally and completely devoid of any markings. There were no sketchings or drawings on this canvas, there was no paint or watercolors, not even a smudge, there was no outline of what would eventually be painted there - it was a canvas of pure white, new and pristine and ready to receive the brush strokes from the artist’s hand that would eventually become the portrait of my life.

I do not know what the artist had in mind as the end result when the blank canvas accepted the first of many different types of markings. What kinds of markings will be on this canvas anyway? I think it may be a pencil or charcoal sketching. It will also be comprised of acrylic paints, and maybe watercolors. The end result will be comprised of many different types of medium, each carefully selected by the artist to accurately express each moment of my life.

And what about the painting itself? Will it be a painting that I would love to hang in a gallery for the world to see? Will it be something that I could hang in my own home and be proud to show it to my friends and family? Will it become something I’m ashamed to look upon with my own eyes, and be much less willing to share with anyone else? Or will this canvas hold something in between? What will it look like? Will the overall painting make sense or will it be the kind of avant-garde artwork where people of self-proclaimed higher intelligence stand around it and testify as to its brilliance and overwhelming meaning while having no earthly idea what it really represents? That’s actually probably not a bad guess, when you consider my life.

With every action I have taken, with every decision that I make and act upon, with each word that I speak, and each thought that I entertain, another brush stroke from the artist’s hand is added to this canvas. Upon further study of this image, we can see how I carried myself through this life, how my actions or words influenced others, and we can see changes that I've made in myself along the path of this life. My beliefs, my dreams, my desires, my faith… all are right there on that canvas, accurately depicted in whatever medium is chosen by the artist’s perfect knowledge of my life.

My grandfather was a very kind and gentle and wise man. I always knew him to be so even from the time I was a very small boy. He loved and cared for and provided for his wife and two daughters, one of whom is my own mother. He equally loved his five grandchildren, their spouses, and eventually his great grandchildren. After he retired, he found happiness in watching a gentleman on the PBS station in Houston by the name of William (Bill) Alexander, an artist who had a daily painting program.

From the biography of Bill Alexander we learn the following: Bill Alexander loved to paint! He knew early on that there had to be a way to capture an image on canvas before his passion for the image dimmed. He couldn't wait the necessary drying time with traditional oil painting methods and still keep his enthusiasm for the outcome. Hence, the reason for Bill's Wet-On-Wet Technique.

Applying Oil color to a wet canvas is not a new idea. For centuries, talented artist have used the Wet-On-Wet Technique to express their individual style. Claude Monet was one of the better-known artists who painted using the Wet-On-Wet method. In our lifetime, the founder of Alexander Art, William Alexander, developed the products and popularized this method to make it possible for anyone to successfully paint, what is now called, the Alexander Wet-On-Wet Technique.

Traditional methods of oil painting require high level know-how and often take weeks of layering color on a canvas to produce a single painting. The Alexander Wet-On-Wet Technique simplifies oil painting so one can finish a painting in a single day! How? By applying our slow drying base medium "Magic White" to the canvas, one can mix and layer other colors right on the canvas without waiting for layers of paint to dry. The extra thick Alexander oil colors are applied with Alexander brushes and palette knives that are designed to give a rewarding painting experience.

This is how my grandfather learned to paint, late in his life. His enjoyment in those programs and his eagerness to learn to paint became apparent, so he received a beginner’s set of painting supplies for Christmas, some canvases, an easel, paints, brushes and other tools needed for the Alexander method of painting, and he set up shop in his home to begin his short career with his new hobby, and with Bill Alexander as his instructor. He also enjoyed watching Bob Ross paint happy little clouds and such, but it was Bill that really got him started. Over time, my grandfather became quite masterful at painting and his kind and gentle wisdom that I mentioned before is easily seen in each of the paintings we have in our homes even today.

It was also a great joy to me that my grandfather and my wife Kelley would watch the daily programs together, him from his home and her from the back room of our dry cleaning shop or our home, and then they would be on the telephone to one another immediately after the program concluded to discuss in great length what they had just watched. I personally didn't get it, but I didn't really need to. This was something between them and it brought a high level of closeness and happiness to their relationship. I was content to stand on the sidelines and be very happy for the two of them.

Kelley seemed to lose her interest in painting about the same time that she lost her interest in me, but the connection to my grandfather through those television shows remained strong right up until his passing in 1993. That really meant a great deal to him, as I’m sure it did to her. She has one of his paintings in her own home to this day, and I can’t think of a better place for that painting to be. I know that he is happy for it to be with her.

One afternoon, a short time before he died but after Kelley and I were no longer married, I dropped by my grandparent’s home and found my grandfather sitting in a chair in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room where he liked to paint, and he was staring at an empty canvas perched upon the easel. His paints were ready, his other tools were there, but he wasn't painting, just staring. I quietly retreated into the living room and asked my grandmother what was going on. She shrugged her shoulders with exaggerated exasperation and explained to me that this is what he did, but she couldn't understand why someone would do such a thing as stare at a blank canvas. She actually seemed rather perturbed and impatient with this bizarre behavior. She was kind of funny like that.

I eased back into the kitchen and stood behind him for a few moments, and then asked him what he was doing. I’ll never forget his answer. He explained to me that he was searching the canvas for the painting that wanted to be painted there. He was waiting for the images to show themselves to him, and then the rest was easy… just paint what he saw. I watched him for a while and then there was a dawning of sorts on his face, and he seemed to understand at last what it was that was to be painted. He had seen it, and now it was time to paint it, and paint it he did. I don’t remember which of his many beautiful paintings he painted that day, but he saw it right there on the canvas even before he made the first stroke with his brush.

Not all of his paintings turned out the way he saw them. Sometimes he had to make corrections, sometimes he had to white it all out and start all over, and sometimes he just realized that what he was painting wasn't what he set out to paint and made adjustments and alterations to his original vision and created something different, but just as magical and beautiful and awe inspiring.

When I think of the canvas that will ultimately contain the portrait of my life, I think back on what it was like before the first brush stroke was applied, and I wonder what the artist saw as it was gazed upon, when the image of my life manifested itself for the eyes of the painter to see. Was it an image that was pleasing to the eyes? Was this to be a painting that would inspire, and spread cheer and good feelings to all those who gazed upon it? This canvas, with all of its colors and imagery, would be an accurate reflection of my life, all of the good, all of the bad, all of the beauty and every last bit of the ugliness. Would the artist be smiling with each stroke of the brush or is this portrait to become one that the artist really didn't desire to create but knew at the same time that it must be so.

We each have our own canvas, and it started off just as pure and clean as mine was the moment I was born, as unblemished and spotless and full of hope and possibilities and potential as the one in the doorway between my grandfather’s kitchen and dining room while he was staring at it. And while we cannot be the one holding the brushes and other tools, we are influencing the artist with each of our actions, with our behaviors, with the way we conduct ourselves, and even with our faith in the artist.

I take my canvas out every once in a while a take a good hard look at it. It’s unfinished, to be sure, and some spots are a little rough and could use some touch up. I don’t always like what I see, but I never dare to complain about the image, for it is truly an accurate depiction of who and what I am. When I see something in that great painting that is not to my liking, I cannot expect it to be erased or altered, because that would negate the precision of the depiction on this canvas of my life. It would be nice to be able to suggest to the artist to draw more of the good stuff, but let’s hide the unpleasant things over in an obscure corner where they’re less likely to be noticed. In actuality, we can suggest that all day long, but the artist cannot be interested in portraying anything but the true life of the subject being applied to that canvas. The artist can never be convinced to portray us in any way that is even slightly inconsistent with the way we choose to live our lives. It may not always be to our liking, but it’s fair, and right.

So how can I make my painting be one that the artist will enjoy painting? How can anyone? I think the answer lies in looking at the canvas often, studying it with honest eyes, making the changes in life that would be worthy of a change in the portrait, and most of all, in asking the artist what it is that should be painted. It was promised to each of us a long, long time ago that if we will ask the artist what he would like to paint, the image will be shown to us. Isn't that just like my grandfather’s experience with his own paintings? Then once we are shown that image, all we have to do is paint it, or in this case we must live our lives in a manner that will allow the master artist to apply the brush in his hand to our canvas to create the image that was shown to us.

But we can’t just ask and then not look for the image. And we won’t be shown the image unless we demonstrate to the artist that we are willing to make the changes necessary to change the painting. Faith in the artist’s infinite wisdom and enough desire to please the artist to take the appropriate actions are required for us to influence what goes on our canvases, and also what gets covered up by new paint never to be seen again. Yes, I believe that can happen as well. My grandfather did that from time to time, and so will the artist working on our own portraits. All we have to do is ask, and then wait for the image to appear to us, and then live our lives in a way that will create a life portrait of beauty and inspiration.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but as for my painting, I don’t want it to become some forgotten piece of artwork, regarded by the artist as an effort that didn't turn out as he would have liked, collecting dust over in a corner, and facing the wall so no one can see. I don’t want to have to explain to the artist why I lived my life in such a manner that created this unwanted piece of art. I can’t bring myself to look into the saddened eyes of the artist and describe how I didn't care enough to seek out the image that he really wanted to paint, and that I really didn't have enough faith to ask what it was that he wished to put on that canvas.

I don’t want the portrait of my life to be looked upon with disgust or sadness. I wouldn't want it to become as a carnival side show, ugly and disappointing to the eye of the beholder but still drawing viewers to it as they are unable to look away from its hideousness. I surely would see these reactions and want to change the work on the canvas, to grab some paint and change the image myself, make it pretty and delightful to the eyes, or even cover it up with a fresh coat of white paint, but it’s going to be too late then, isn't it?

So as I now look upon this canvas that is a true depiction and representation of my life and the way I live it, I can see some things that need changing. As I ask the artist what it is that should be painted, and ask with real intent, and having enough faith that the artist will show me what is to be painted, all I have to do now is close my eyes, shut out the world for a spell, and wait for the image to appear, just as it appeared to my grandfather as he stared at the blank canvas upon the easel between his kitchen and dining room so many years ago.

Once I can clear away enough of the messy debris from in front of my mind’s eye so as to see what is desired for me, then I will know what to do. I hope that my painting is one that can be proudly and prominently displayed in the artist’s home, just as one of my grandfather’s is proudly and prominently displayed in my home.

I hope to see yours there too… right next to mine.

Until next time…