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~

The Night I Saw Santa Claus

I never really saw mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe like that song says, but I did in fact see Santa Claus once. When I told my friends, neighborhood kids somewhat close to my age, they laughed and howled and teased me mercilessly. My cousin didn’t believe me either when I told her, but she was much kinder in her retorts, and her teasing was much gentler. I don’t know why they didn’t believe me, for I was indeed telling them the absolute truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I still remember the first Christmas that I was really aware of Santa. I remember waking up on Christmas morning and not knowing exactly what to do. Should I wait for Mom or Dad? Should I go out to the living room where the Christmas tree is and see for myself if there is anything for me? What if he didn’t come? I decided to play it safe and woke up my dad and we walked out to the living room together. When we rounded the corner and got our first look at the evidence that Santa had indeed stopped by sometime during the night, Dad did this silly and exaggerated double take that made me giggle, and then I ran and started enjoying the toys that were left behind. I think Dad went back to bed.

That memory of a Christmas past was when we lived in Austin in a house on Syracuse Cove. Our last Christmas in that house was in 1965, and that might have been the one where Dad did his goofy little dance. I can’t be sure. But I do know that a few weeks before Christmas Day 1965, on my 5th birthday, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on television. As a child, the real message of this program was mostly lost on me because I was more interested in Snoopy dancing and Charlie Brown’s tree. It wasn’t until some years later that I began to appreciate his frustrations with the commercialization of Christmas.

Just this last week, I watched again as Linus answered Charlie Brown’s question of “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?” by quoting from the second chapter of The Gospel of Luke, verses 8 through 14: "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 Saviour, 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.” I’m not ashamed to admit that this scene for some reason makes me cry, and last week was no exception.

We moved to our house on Sierra Madre sometime in 1966. That first Christmas in this new house was also the first one where we were treated to the other television event of the season in the form of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” These became perennial favorites in our home each Christmas, as did (to a slightly lesser degree) “Frosty the Snowman” (1969), and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964). There were other specials that we all enjoyed over the years, but those 4 animated classics remain the favorites from my own childhood.

These days, I also add “A Christmas Story” (1983) to my collection of “must see” Christmas specials. I have to admit that Kelley “got it” before I did, but now I get a never-ending kick out of Ralphie’s quest for 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.” And as with Linus’ reciting from scripture, when Scott Calvin’s ex-wife realizes that he is really Santa in the original “The Santa Clause” (1994), those waterworks seem to want to turn on.

But back to my sighting. When I was about 8 or so, an age when some children start become somewhat cynical and start looking for the angle in everything, my bedroom in our house on Sierra Madre was between my parent’s room and the room my younger sisters occupied. My bed was along the wall that the hallway shared, which came in handy on most nights. Mom always left a light on in the hallway and also left my door cracked a little. On most nights I would move down to the foot of my bed, the end nearest to the door, and would read by the sparse light coming in from the hallway. These days I’m convinced that Mom knew that I was doing this, but I read books with characters like Tom, Huck, & Becky, Michael, Wendy, Peter, & Captain Hook, and Dorothy, Scarecrow, & the Wizard, and she was really good at encouraging me to read anyway. I really enjoyed reading as a child, and still do today, but somehow it was a little more fun back then when I thought I was really getting away with something.

On the night in question, Christmas Eve, I went to bed with no thoughts of reading by the light from the hallway. I was well familiar with what would happen if I tried to stay awake, and I had no intention of testing the Sandman’s abilities. I lay in bed trying to fall asleep with excited anticipation working against me, and at some point I drifted off into what was usually a peaceful slumber. This particular night, this Christmas Eve, I’m sure was no exception. While I was asleep, anyway.

At some point during the night, something woke me up. I don’t really know what it was, but I was most assuredly awake. I lay motionless for a few moments and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. The light in the hallway was now extinguished, as it was after I fell asleep on every other night, but there was still a little light coming from somewhere else in the house. Or maybe there was a night light in the hall or bathroom that was right across the hall from my bedroom. As I started to make out some of the familiar shapes of the desk, my books, and other items in my room, I could also see some moonlight coming in through the window which was on the wall opposite the door, but up near the head of my bed. I usually liked looking out the window on nights like this, and still do to this day.

I wanted to get up to see if Santa had come, but I didn’t know what time it was. I slowly turned my head to the left toward the door to see if anything was visible through the door and there he was. Right there at my bedroom door, looking in. I froze. I froze like I never had before, and I froze like I never have since. I was petrified, scared beyond comprehension. I remained motionless as motionless can be in that position. I eased my eyes to the almost closed position so that I was looking at him through the tiniest of slivers, but I could still see him. He was only a silhouette because the hallway light was off remember, but he was definitely there. I could see one eye looking through the small opening of the door. I stared at that one eye and it looked back at me for what seemed an eternity. I closed my eyes completely and tried to fall back to sleep, like that was really going to happen. I was afraid to open my eyes again, because I knew he would see them open and take off without leaving me anything.

I was afraid to move.

I was afraid to breathe.

I was afraid to even roll back to my previous comfortable spot in bed and so I stayed in my awkward frozen position, eyes clamped tightly shut, listening intently for any evidence that he either was still there, or had moved into the living room where the Christmas Tree was in front of the big bay window facing the street. I heard nothing though, probably because, as I discovered the next morning, he had softly closed my bedroom door. Eventually I must have fallen back to sleep again because when I awoke again, warm sunlight had replaced the soft blue moonlight coming in through my window. I was still scared though. I wasn’t really sure what I should do. I mean, what if he saw me awake and left?

When I finally had the courage to get out of bed, I went out to the living room and saw that he had not only been there, he had left some really cool things for me under the tree. I was still somewhat shaken by the sighting during the night, but I started to feel that everything was going to be ok. I was even pretty sure that I hadn’t blown it for next year.

I couldn’t wait to tell everyone. Mom and Dad were totally understanding, saying that I was really lucky he hadn’t seen me awake. My younger sisters were amazed. Man, I had done it, I actually saw Santa Claus. What a lucky little boy I was.

And then there were my friends. When I tried to tell them what I had seen, I was ridiculed. We were all at the house of the brothers Randy & Barry who lived on the corner two houses down from mine, climbing trees and such. Payson, and brothers Tommy & Terry were also there and apparently not a single one of these friends believed in the big guy for some reason. They spun wild tales about our parents being the source of all those presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? The howled with laughter and mocked me and called me names like “big baby” until Mrs. Barton came to my rescue.

The Barton’s lived between my house and Randy & Barry’s house and Mrs. Barton was a large German woman with a very thick accent. Being the immature children that we all were, we were prone to make fun of anyone different than us, and she didn’t escape our teasing, although every bit of it was done out of earshot and without her knowledge. Well, looking back now, she probably did know about it come to think of it… we could be a loud lot most of the time. Her name was Friedel, but we all called her “Frito Barton.” Nice, huh?

Anyway, she came out her back door and started to scold my friends rather harshly. She had a daughter named Lori who was a few years younger than we were and she obviously didn’t want Lori hearing the nonsense that my friends were spewing out. My relationship with her wasn’t quite so harsh after that. I knew then that I was right and my friends were flawed in their thinking, and Mrs. Barton knew the truth as surely as I did. My cousin Kelly, while not as loud and boisterous as my friends, also chose not to believe my story, telling me instead that I was probably dreaming. I knew better though… and still do. No Santa Claus? Not a chance.

I saw him. I saw him with my own eyes.

I only saw him that one time, but that was enough. I tend to sleep through the nights now and Christmas is no different. I don’t know if I could even pull it off like I did back then. I’m not 100% sure that if I opened my eyes and saw him peering in on me again that I wouldn’t give myself away this time. The fact that I snore now would probably prevent me from giving a convincing performance of fake sleeping, but then again, maybe Santa doesn’t know that I snore. Wait a minute, of course he knows! “He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”, remember? Besides that, he’s looked in on me for almost 50 years now, and I’m fairly confident that I was probably snoring on most of those nights. He has to know.

Well, I can be happy with seeing him once, I mean that’s more than most people ever get, isn’t it? That silhouette image of the large bearded one in the red suit is permanently etched into my memory. No one, and I mean NO ONE, will ever convince me that it was anything but the real deal, that who I saw that night peering in on me through my slightly open bedroom door was anyone else… but Santa Claus himself.

Walking across the Fire
Climbing the Big Rock

One might question what fire walking and rock climbing have in common, other than the obvious answer of adrenaline producing activities. I have to admit that before my 37th birthday, I had no interest in either. So what could have possibly enticed me to venture somewhat hesitantly into these two adventures that most would call “extreme”?

In December of 1997, I had an opportunity to travel with a co-worker to Dallas to attend a 4 day Anthony Robbins seminar. I jumped at the chance and made the drive from the Rio Grande Valley to Dallas. I was already somewhat familiar with Tony Robbins and I knew that this event included a fire walk. As I stated earlier, I had no real interest in walking across a bed of red hot coals with bare feet, but I figured I would see how I felt after the three days building up to the walk.

What I didn’t know was that the fire walk would be just after dark on the very first day. Are you kidding me? The seminar itself didn’t begin until 5:00 on a Friday afternoon and we’d be walking across fire a few hours later? That didn’t sound like enough preparation and training time to me, but now it makes sense. The firewalk was at the beginning to make a point… if I could walk on fire, an activity that I previously thought was impossible, then theoretically, operating from the mindset that something was impossible during the balance of the seminar would seem unlikely. In other words, if I can walk on fire, what else might be possible?

We went out to the hotel parking lot where there was a huge pile of wood, about 4 ft high, 4 ft wide, and about 50 ft long. Some attendees were given matches, some were given bottles of starter fluid, the kind that one might use to start a Bar-B-Que fire, and some were merely observers of the lighting ritual. I was among the latter group but that was all right since I really didn’t believe at that point my involvement would go beyond that of observer or bystander.

After the fire was lit, we all marched ourselves back into the hotel where we spent the next couple of hours preparing ourselves for the firewalk. I was still unsure about my own personal firewalking abilities, but I did pay close attention to the instruction and practiced when we went through the dry runs in the big convention room. We were encouraged to pair up and I chose a girl I didn’t know to be my partner. We practiced and rehearsed and received instruction and then the time came.

We all took the five minute walk back out to the parking lot where the huge pile of wood was reduced to mostly burning embers and coals, with flames here and there. The sun had long since eased itself over the western horizon, the parking lot lights had been extinguished for the time being, and the sight of the red hot embers was all the more dramatic in the otherwise dark parking lot. The only thing more comforting than the sight of that red glow was the warmth that radiated from the red glow. Remember, this was December in Dallas Texas after dark and it was rather cold… in the 40’s or so. There were now also beds of coals arranged several feet from each other and each bed was about twelve feet in length. I’m guessing there were 30 or so of these little beds, and these were the coals that we (if we so chose) would be walking across. This was a big relief to me because I initially thought we would be strolling through the big fire.

This is where I need to say something extremely important: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WALK ACROSS FIRE, COALS, EMBERS, OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT MIGHT SET YOU ON FIRE WITHOUT PROPER INSTRUCTION, TRAINING, AND SUPERVISION. Just before we headed out for the firewalk, Tony told us how he had received 3rd degree burns on his feet one time. He had done hundreds of firewalks over the years without so much as a blister when during one event someone took a photograph of him on the bed of coals and the flash from the camera broke his concentration only for a second, but a second was all it took. He was badly burned, had the pictures to prove it, and we all learned that this was not to be taken lightly. And no pictures. End of disclaimer.

My partner and I got in one of the lines that were forming at each of the 12 foot beds of coals, and then we were given final instructions from Tony over a bullhorn. When our turn came, we were to either start walking, (do not run because running can lead to missteps which can lead to falling into the coals… not good), or we were to step out of the line and watch. At the far end of each walk was a patch of green grass that we would step on while our feet were doused with water from a water hose. This was to prevent burning if a small coal found its way between our toes. My decision had already been made, I would step aside. I was only in line to begin with in order to support my partner when she walked. There were people who had also decided not to participate standing on the opposite side of the coal beds having chosen to not even get in line at all.

Then the firewalking began.

My position in our line was about 30 or 35 from the beginning so I had the opportunity to observe quite a few people before it was my turn when I would step aside. I watched our line, and I watched the lines to my right and to my left. I was behind my partner so she would go first before I stepped out the line. We inched closer and closer to the front of the line and then it was my partner’s turn. She turned to me, she smiled, we each enthusiastically said her focus word to each other, and off she went. She took about 6 or 8 deliberate steps across the coals and when she reached the other side, her feet were hosed off, she took a couple of steps beyond the grass, and she jumped about 20 feet straight up in the air, or so it seemed at the time. I barely knew this girl, having met her for the first time only a few hours before, and yet I was so very proud of her. Her face absolutely beamed, and I knew she was even more proud of herself than I was for her accomplishment.

Then it was my turn. A million things flew through my mind. It was now or never… but it wasn’t. Just as I was about to make my final decision, the coordinator for our line told me to wait a second, and a wheelbarrow full of fresh coals from the big fire was added to our smaller bed. It was now hotter and redder, and I would surely be stepping out now. But before I could, my partner had come back around, grabbed me by the shoulders, shouted MY focus word to me several times until I started shouting it back, and then I started walking.

I will attempt to describe the feelings and sensations I had for the next few moments, but it may be difficult to understand. I was looking straight ahead but slightly upward. There was a person on each side of me holding my arms loosely more to guide me than to support me, and I was able to set my own pace. In my mind I was loosely imagining myself walking on a bed of cool moss, but at the same time my primary focus was forcing all of my bodily energy downward through the bottoms of my feet so as to not allow the heat from the red hot embers to damage the soles of my footsies. I took about 6 very deliberate steps, not really fast but also not stopping to ponder whether or not I had remembered to pay the electric bill. I could feel the coals on my feet, as if I was walking across rocks, but not as hard as rocks, more like walking across a bed of wadded up towels, and I felt no heat. That may seem hard to believe but it’s the truth. No heat at all.

When I reached the pad of grass, the two hands holding on to my arms stopped me, I felt the cold water from the hose hit my feet, the two arms let go of me, and I took a few steps and jumped about 20 feet straight up in the air… or so it seemed. My partner was there. We quickly walked away from the bed of coals, embraced each other tightly and cried tears of elation. It was done.

Lynn - 1, Red hot coals - 0

And it happened exactly the way I had envisioned it happening, when I had allowed myself to visualize walking rather than stepping aside.

The visualization was a big part of our preparation. We were told repeatedly by Tony “See the ending. Knowing where you will end up is as important as knowing where to start”, or words to that effect. I’ve heard many, many times how a professional athlete will visualize the entire routine in his or her mind’s eye before the first muscle is moved. I once heard Jack Nicklaus describe how this is done prior to each and every golf shot he takes. I’ll have to paraphrase here because I don’t have the exact quote.

“The first thing I do before every shot is to see in my mind where I want the ball to end up. I have to see that very clearly. Then I visualize what kind of flight the ball must take to end up there. I see very precisely the ball’s entire trajectory from the time the club strikes it to the point where it comes to rest in the spot I have chosen. Then I choose the club and the type of swing that will send the ball on that exact flight path. I see myself distinctly making that swing several times before I step up to the ball, then all is left is to make that swing.”

I’ve heard other athletes in other sports similarly describe how they basically take the same approach in visualizing the desired outcome before they begin the activity. The successful baseball player has swung the bat thousands and thousands of times in his mind before he takes his first major league pitch. The same must be said for the basketball player, or hockey player, or tennis player, or football quarterback, or Olympic gymnast, swimmer, skier, boxer, figure skater, marathon runner, and on and on and on.

And the importance of this visualization extends well beyond the world of sports. I’m sure surgeons perform delicate procedures in their minds many times over before they don their surgical mask. What about attorneys when preparing their closing statements, or the businessman before that big presentation in front of all the stockholders, or the actress before the director yells “Action!”? Firemen, I’m sure, are trained to go through as many different scenarios as they can imagine in their mind’s eye before they go out on their first call. It makes sense to me to practice all of these things in advance rather than wait until a whirlwind of activity distracts you when the actual moment arrives. In the case of the fireman, this preparation can literally mean the difference between life or death.

So I was able to visualize my walk, as well as my stepping aside when the time came. Either way, I was prepared. And once it was done, a pattern was in place for not only visualizing, but the other steps it took as well, and this pattern could be duplicated and applied in any number of situations or challenges.

A month or so after the firewalk, I was in Las Vegas with some friends I had met online, to attend the wedding of two of those friends. I was there for 3 or 4 days, playing blackjack, learning how to conduct myself at the craps tables, and taking in and enjoying the camaraderie and friendship of long time friends that I was meeting for the first time. That sounds strange I know, but that’s exactly what was happening. I was also taking in the sights and sounds of Vegas, seeing some shows, eating at some fine restaurants, and moving between ever changing groups of friends. The only thing the entire group did together was attend the wedding itself.

At some point, I found myself alone with my friend Jana and we were just walking the strip together, stopping in here to do a little shopping or walking through this casino or that casino, wherever and whatever we felt like. We were more interested in getting to know each other a little better I think and all the other stuff was just peripheral sidebars. She was married and I was seeing someone else so it wasn’t wanting to get to know each other better in a romantic sense, we had become somewhat good friends online and we just wanted to have some real experiences together rather than only chat room cyberspace experiences. So we walked and talked and let ourselves get distracted by Las Vegas.

Then we went into an establishment that sold items that were Coca Cola in nature, furniture, wall hangings, clothing, that kind of stuff. We also found out that the three floors below the Coca Cola store were filled with the same kind of items, but instead of Coke, these floors were M&Ms, and on the very bottom floor were bin after bin after bin of M&Ms in every color imaginable. These of course were available to purchase, and people would get these tall skinny plastic bags and start filling them with M&Ms to create a design kind of like the way one might create sand art in a glass vase or jar. It was really cool except I personally thought the several shades of grey M&Ms were gross because it looked like someone had already put them in their mouth and sucked all of the color off and then put them back in the bins.

In the same building as the Coca Cola and M&M stores was a 100 ft rock climbing wall. Jana immediately started in on me to climb this thing. There were harnesses and ropes and pulleys and other devices to keep one from plummeting back to Earth so safety wasn’t really a concern. The real issue is that I have a thing about heights. Don’t really like to be up there, unless I'm flying in planes. I have a really hard time walking up to a window on the 20th floor of an office building, so climbing this rock wasn’t anywhere near the top of my list of things to do in the foreseeable future.

But then, neither was firewalking a month earlier.

And then it hit me… why not? Why shouldn’t I be able to apply the same techniques of preparation and visualization that I used to walk across red hot coals to climbing this artificial rock? I gave Jana a short 30 second crash course in what I was about to do and explained that it would take me some time (I figured on 30 minutes) to get myself mentally prepared, and she said she would run back to her hotel room to retrieve her camera so we could preserve the event in pictures. Well that was perfect for me because I felt I needed to be alone while I prepared and if she were gone there would be no distractions.

So I went through all the steps that I had learned in Dallas and laid the mental groundwork in anticipation for this newest challenge. The thing I focused on the most, and thus visualized the most, was how it would look at different stages of the climb when I looked down and would see just how far off the ground I was. I knew what it would look like at 20 feet, 30 feet, 50 feet, 75 feet, and even 100 feet when I had reached the top. I went through these visualizations over and over and it was less uneasy to my mind and stomach each time I went through this exercise. By the time Jana returned with her camera, I was so used to looking down in my mind that I was starting to visualize holding on to the rock with one hand and letting go with the other to wave to the crowd below. Powerful stuff, this visualization.

The moment was getting close but I was at ease. I had already put on my special rock-climbing shoes and been harnessed up and received instructions from the young man that was to guide and direct me as well as have a firm grasp on the rope to which my harness was attached. He would be able to communicate with me by way of a small microphone attached to his shirt and a small speaker mounted next to my ear inside the safety helmet I was to wear. I would communicate back by using several hand signals that we went over one more time.

And I started to climb. At first the ascent was very easy. The hand and footholds were easy to find and I fell into a comfortable rhythm and cadence, climbing at a slow to moderate speed, and every time I looked down I was pretty familiar with what my eyes beheld, having seen it numerous times already in my mind during my rehearsals on the ground.

It started getting difficult about 40 or 50 feet up, but only because my body wasn’t in rock-climbing form and the strength in my legs and arms were beginning to wane. I really wanted to keep climbing so I knew I would have to pace myself if I were to reach the summit of this beastly structure. I began to find comfortable positions and would stop to rest every 8 to 10 feet or so. My trainer would ask me via microphone and speaker if I was ok and I would give him a thumbs up to signal that I wasn’t finished. A thumbs down would indicate that I was done and ready to head back down. I even managed a few waves to Jana and the other people below, just as I had previously envisioned.

Higher and higher I climbed and while my legs were starting to ache, I wasn’t about to quit. Looking down from 60 feet was a piece of cake. At 70 feet, Jana was very hard to distinguish from the others in the crowd, but my nerves were as steady as the rock to which I was clinging. When I got to somewhere around the 80 feet mark (I learned this later from rope guy) I could feel the goal was within reach. A few more pulls with my arms and a few more pushes with my legs and I would accomplish yet another activity that I previously had considered impossible for me. I looked up to see how close I was and that’s when it happened.

In all my mental preparations to become comfortable with looking down and seeing how far I was off the ground, it never once occurred to me that I should also visualize looking up at the top. When I looked up, something totally unexpected happened. Once I saw how close I was to the top, I froze. To this day I can’t explain why looking up set off those same uneasy, stomach churning feelings that I would normally associate with looking down from high places, but that's exactly what happened. My arms and legs instantly felt very weak, I started to perspire that cold and clammy sweat you get just before you crawl to the bathroom to throw up, and I was totally and thoroughly frozen to the side of this rock.

My rope guy must have seen the change in my body language because he very softly and gently asked if I was still with him. Gone was the good-natured,”Hey buddy, how ya doin’ up there?” There was a new concern in his voice, and this didn’t exactly help matters. I was frozen and it quickly became apparent to me that I was in trouble when I couldn’t respond. I tried to get back into my comfort zone by looking down and finding Jana, but she was somewhere down there in an indistinguishable sea of faces that had relocated itself from its former position of a comfortable mere 80 feet away to an impossibly ludicrous location that appeared to be somewhere between a mile and a mile and a half straight down from where I was clinging and literally hanging on for gear life.

I tried to signal my trainer on the other end of the rope, the guy that used to be my friend, that I was more than ready to come down, but letting go to give the thumbs down signal was nowhere near the realm of possible actions that I could take at this particular moment. The only thing I could think of was “Don’t let go… don’t let go… don’t let go…”

Rope guy continued to talk to me in an increasingly calming voice, suggesting that I just hang out where I was for the time being, to just think of this as another rest stop, and most importantly to relax just a little bit so the muscles in my arms and legs don’t start to cramp and I end up losing my grip. He assured me that he had me and even if I did slip off the rock, I wasn’t going anywhere until he eased me down to a soft and gentle landing on my two feet whenever I was ready. I still thought they might have to send the fire and rescue squad to come up and get me.

I closed my eyes for a couple of minutes, summoned the strength to give him the thumbs down signal, and with his help, I was able to visualize myself letting go of the rock and being slowly lowered to the ground. When I looked down again, the ground wasn’t so far away as before, I spotted Jana and gave a quick little nod of my head, and let go of the rock and leaned back into the waiting arms of thin air. When I didn’t plummet to my death, I was able to help rope guy to help me down by keeping my feet on or near the rock, much like the way those guys on the SWAT teams or in Special Forces rappel down the side of a steep cliff or tall building.

The descent wasn’t nearly as fun as the climb, but it wasn’t all that horrible either. When I reached the ground the crowd of spectators gave me a nice round of applause, as they did for everyone who either did or didn’t make it to the top. I felt that the ovation for me was a little louder and longer than it was for others because of my struggles up there, but I’m sure that was just my imagination.

I was helped out of my harness and congratulated by rope dude, we shook hands and he told me that he hoped I would come back and give it another shot someday. He said he would watch for me. I don’t know if he said that to everyone who tried but didn’t reach the top, but it was a really nice thing for him to say and it sure meant a lot to me at the time. I changed back into my tennis shoes and Jana and I started walking back to our hotel. I was suddenly exhausted and exhilarated at the same time and all I really wanted to do was to go to my room and take a nap. Jana was extremely sensitive and didn’t say one word about what happened. She told me she got some good pictures and looked forward to sharing them with me. Other than that there wasn’t a whole lot of conversation on the way back. I was trying to process the whole experience and really didn’t feel much like talking. I was probably also trying not to cry.

I knew immediately what had happened… I should have imagined myself looking up to the top. That one little thing would have made all the difference. All in all, it was an excellent learning experience and one that I’m glad I have to draw strength from even today when needed. I learned that looking up can be as harrowing as looking down. I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to return and settle things with that rock. I have been able to apply those same principles of preparation with greater success in several other challenges I have faced, which might explain why I didn’t faint when Sheri walked through the gate and down the aisle on our wedding day. And I now know exactly what adrenaline tastes like. My mouth was full of the taste as Jana and I quietly walked back to the hotel.

Lynn - 0, Big rock - 1

Who would have guessed?

Until next time...

Random Acts

It was cold and it was raining very hard. I was walking through the streets of San Francisco, cold, wet, hungry, and on the verge of being very lost in a city that I knew not at all. I was pretty sure I could find my way back to the Denny’s where she was waiting for me, but that wasn’t guaranteed either.

The year was 1982, I think. I also believe it was late in the fall and she was pregnant with our first child. We were still newlyweds and would sometimes take off on weekend road trips just to spend time with each other and explore new things and places before our baby was born. We chose to go to San Francisco this weekend where we saw wonderful things I’m sure. We might have gone to Sea World, or maybe Fisherman’s Wharf. To be honest, I can’t remember much of the trip before our car, a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle, broke down. I remember vaguely having it towed to a garage where we were told that it would be a few days before they could have it repaired.

As enlisted members of the United States Air Force, we couldn’t just call in and say we’d be off for a few days. We had to make some kind of arrangements to get ourselves from the City by the Bay back to Castle Air Force Base, some three hours away. We called some friends and they agreed to drive the three hours to pick us up and make sure we got back home.

At some point after we deposited our little car at the fix-it place for bugs, we found ourselves at Denny’s with no cash or credit cards. All we had was a checkbook and Denny’s don’t take checks. At least this one didn’t in the fall of ’82. So out I went in search of cash.

I don’t remember if it was raining when I left the restaurant, but I know it rained quite a bit as I walked into business after business asking if they would cash a check for a few bucks so we could get something to eat. Time after time I was turned down. I mean, think about it… a young kid of 21, soaking wet, shivering, almost lost in a big city full of big city cynics, feeding a sob story about a broken down car and a pregnant wife and trying to cash a check without purchasing anything. Would you? Well, neither would they.

I walked on, determined not to give up. She was back there at the restaurant depending on me and I wasn’t going to quit.

Then it happened.

I walked into a simple card shop, nothing fancy, just a little mom & pop store with mom sitting behind the counter. There was another lady at the counter too, but the place was otherwise empty. They stopped their conversation when I walked in the front door and gave me a good looking over. I almost walked out without asking but decided to stay when she asked if I needed help.

I explained my situation and asked if she would cash a check for me so I could feed my hungry wife and myself while we waited for our ride back home. She shot a glance at the other lady and I was sure I about to be turned down for the umpteenth time, and she asked if ten dollars would do. I eagerly accepted and got out the checkbook. After writing the check and collecting the money, I thanked her with all of the thanks I had, and then thanked her some more. Even with all that thanks flying at her, she had a look of doubt on her face when I walked back out the door.

It was cold and it was raining very hard. I was walking again through the streets of San Francisco, cold, wet, hungry, but at least I had a ten-spot in my pocket for food… if I ever found my way back to Denny’s. I took a few wrong turns; things didn’t look familiar, but wait… I think I remember that street name a block over. When I finally walked in the front door of Denny’s, I found Kelley crying in a corner booth. Waiters, waitresses, management, had all been trying to reassure her that I would be back soon, that I would be all right wandering the streets of a very large city with which I was in no way familiar.

She rushed up to me and threw her arms around me and the Denny’s staff brought me some towels that I used to try to dry myself off. We ordered some food. I seem to remember that they had fed her while I was out despite her not being able to pay for it. I don’t remember what I ate, but I’m sure I wolfed it down and told my tale of wandering the streets of San Francisco in the rain and the nice lady in the card shop between bites.

Our friends showed up and took us back home. I remember being so wet and cold even in the comfort of the warm car. The chill had settled itself down in my bones. The ride back home was long, there was a lot of conversation that I didn’t participate in, and when we were dropped off at our home, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

We were back in San Francisco the next weekend to pick up our car. I don’t remember how we got there, but it was probably our friends again. When we paid for the repairs and were on our way again, we drove our little orange bug along some of the same streets that I had walked in the rain the weekend before until we found that little card shop. When we walked in, mom was sitting behind the counter again and she looked at me as if she should know me but couldn’t quite recall where she’d seen me before. I must have looked quite a bit different not all soaking wet.

I walked up to her and thanked her once again for cashing the check a week before. She clasped her hands to her face and started talking to the two of us as if we were old friends. She told us how she went home that night a week before and told her own husband about me, how I had walked into the little store all wet and shivering, how I needed help, and how she somehow knew in her heart that I was truly in trouble and needed help and not just another transient looking for a handout. And even if she was wrong about me, it was only ten dollars. That must’ve been that look of doubt I saw as I left the week before. She told us that her husband trusted her judgment on the matter, and that she usually wouldn’t do such a thing.

She seemed surprised that Kelley and I were there, but then she didn’t seem surprised at all. It was almost as if she had been expecting us. It was a strange, but wonderfully warm feeling.

I wonder if she remembers that random act of kindness that meant so much to the two of us when we really, really needed it. It was such a little thing for her to do, but it was huge to us. I’m sure that somewhere in her own life, someone did something for her that seemed so small and insignificant to the giver but made an enormous difference to her. I’m sure that something was done for her that made her take a step back from life in big San Francisco and remember what kindness to and for humanity means.

So why bring this up now, some 27 years later?

Because I often find myself thinking cynical thoughts about people, and about humanity in general. I wonder how people can treat each other the way they do sometimes. I question my own belief in the goodness of people. I find myself doubting that people really do care about each other, unless there is something to be gained by doing so. I forget about mom in that little card shop who took a check from a total stranger and handed over ten dollars without hesitation. Did she expect anything in return? Nope. She just had a feeling and acted on it.

Well, something happened this week. Something happened that made me remember that kind lady in the little card shop in San Francisco. Something happened that makes me remember what kindness to and for humanity means.

I saw this on Facebook and it was posted by Kelley’s sister, Kristy. It was about her husband Jim. This is how I understand the story:

Jim and Kristy were on their way home after being sent home from work, navigating treacherous roads covered by snow, and they came across a woman and her son at an auto parts store. The woman and the son had walked there in extreme cold, and the child was horribly sick. Jim, not knowing anything about these two people, put them in his truck, drove them along those nasty snow covered roads to urgent care, and even gave the mom his phone number, just in case they needed another ride home after they received treatment.

I have met Jim only once, but I have known Kristy for a long time. I know her ability to love is strong and enormous and pure, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that she would be with this man who is capable of such an act of random kindness. I know some of that ability comes from her, and some of her kindness skills come from him. It was a simple enough thing, but I’m sure it meant the world to that mom and her young child at the time. It was done in the same spirit that a ten dollar bill was handed over to a soaking wet young man years ago. Pure kindness given and nothing expected in return.

Opportunities for such acts are all around us, all we have to do is look. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always convenient, but little things can mean so much to someone who is in need. I had such an opportunity this very afternoon, but I failed to act. It would have taken only a few minutes I’m sure, but I went on my way, trying to get to an office before they closed.

I had just left Wal-Mart and as I was driving out of the parking lot I noticed an elderly lady searching for her car. I thought about stopping to offer some assistance, but it was almost 4:30. I left the lot and before I turned the corner down the street, I looked in my rear view mirror to see if she had located her car. She hadn’t. I went to the office building where I needed to go but couldn’t get her out of my thoughts. What would it have hurt if I had taken the few minutes and gave her aid? Would it have made that much difference if I showed up and the office was closed? Was my meeting all that important anyway? I missed an opportunity and I feel as though I don’t deserve another one, since I managed to squander this one away.

I believe that we are given these opportunities sparingly, and if we don’t make the best of them, they dry up or maybe we’ll stop recognizing them when they present themselves before us. I feel ashamed that I thought my time was too valuable this afternoon. What if she wandered out there for 20 minutes or so? It was cold today. What if she slipped and fell on the ice? I can “What if” all day long, I guess. I learned a long time ago that if I sit around thinking “I shoulda done this” or “I shoulda done that” that nothing gets done and all I end up doing is shoulding all over myself. Not a very elegant way of thinking, but it packs a punch… at least to me.

What is really hard to swallow is that I am not the guy I was today. A few minutes spent might have meant the world to her at the time. I don’t go through life looking for little old confused ladies in parking lots, or mothers with a sick son in auto parts stores, or a cold and wet young man trying to cash a check… who does? But I do like to think that when I see an opportunity to help, I won’t turn my back and look the other way. What if mom in the card shop, or Jim had turned the other way?

I believe that as we look for these opportunities, we will find them. They are all around us. But they are like everything that we take for granted in the world; we tend to not notice them unless we find a reason to look for them. It’s like when you buy a new car. You may have noticed one or two of that kind of car before you bought it, but now they’re all over the place, right? It’s the same thing with these chances to do something truly meaningful. Unless our hearts are in the right place, unless we understand that our need to make that appointment or get home for dinner isn’t really all that important, and unless we open our eyes and look, we’re likely to pass on by and not make the most of what has been handed to us, an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life and not ask for anything in return.

So tonight I think about that lady in the parking lot. I’m sure she found her car. Maybe someone else helped her. Maybe she spotted it just after I made that right turn at the corner and went on my way. I sure hope so.

I remember mom from the card shop 27 years after she offered me some much needed kindness and asked for nothing in return. I don’t really wonder if that mother who was with her sick child will remember that nice man who gave them a lift when they really needed one 27 years from now. Somehow, I think they will. Today I had a chance to maybe make a huge difference in an old lady’s life, and I lost it.

Man, I really hope I don’t make that mistake again. With mom’s and Jim’s examples to help guide me, I don’t think I will.

Texas Football and Reality Television

When I was about 10 years old, my dad and I were traveling from our hometown of Austin to Benavidez in South Texas where we went every year to hunt quail, and Dad found a college football game just getting underway on the radio. I remember that the Texas Tech Red Raiders were playing and I believe their opponent for that game was the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Dad thought the Razorbacks would take the game but I decided to make things interesting by suggesting a friendly wager. I knew nothing of point spreads, handicapping players, or even very much about college football... all I knew for certain was that the Red Raiders were a Texas team, and therefore would win the game.

The bet was straight up, and the stakes were a whopping 50 cents. Serious coin for a preteen boy back in the late 60's.

I won the bet when the Red Raiders won the game. I collected my earnings and splurged on a can of Coke when we stopped to refuel the car.

This innocent bet was just that, an innocent bet between father and son. It did not lead to a lifetime of sports wagering or handicapping or anything like that, but it did leave a permanent impression upon my young mind. I knew then that sports could be a form of entertainment that was different from Gilligan's Island reruns or Sesame Street which was in its infancy on public television.

I went on to play one season of football on The Mustangs in about 1972 where we were undefeated, although I was on the second string team. A few years later, Dad took me to the Astrodome to see the Houston Oilers play. It was ok, but to this day I prefer to watch professional football on television.

College football is different though. I have been to several college games and the excitement and atmosphere of a college contest is electrifying. The last college game I went to was a few years ago in Charlottesville, VA when the University of Virginia beat Maryland. I took my daughter and one of her friends and we had a blast. It was a good game too.

I also played one year of baseball about the same time where I was a decent fielder but a total disaster at the plate. My batting average for the year was .000. That's right, I never hit the ball in a game. At team practices, I could smack the hide off the ball with the best of our hitters, but in actual games, nothing. I had a good eye for strikes and balls so did get on base often enough, and I was guilty of leaning in a few times to get hit. I just couldn't hit.

Dad took me to the Astrodome for several baseball games. Unlike professional football, I prefer to watch baseball games in person. I still like to watch them on TV, but there's that atmosphere thing going again when you're at the game. I remember seeing the likes of JR Richards, Lee May, Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno, Roger Metzger, Tommy Helms, Doug Rader, Rusty Staub, Jimmy Wynn, and Larry Dierker take the field for the hometown boys.

I remember seeing Ron Cey, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Tug McGraw, Willie Davis, Bud Harrelson, Lou Brock, and Bobby Bonds come to town to take on the 'stros.

I played some church basketball for a few years, but this was in my teenage years and girls were a higher priority.

I learned to play golf, with some help from my dad and a set of clubs from Pat Derrick when he won a new set at the El Campo golf tourney.

I also started playing tennis when I was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in California. I played some racquetball there also.

I never played hockey, but I really enjoy attending games. My dad took me to a Houston Aeroes games back when Gordie, Mark, and Marty Howe were all on the team. I had no idea what was going on, but it was me and Dad, and that alone made it good. When my friend Craig used to take me to Los Angeles Kings games when we would travel from Castle down to L.A. for family visits, I began to learn the rules and hockey became very enjoyable. I also attended many games at the Houston Summit in the mid '90s where the new Houston Aeroes used to play.

One of the most exhilarating moments in all of televised sports to me was in the 1976 Winter Olympics when Franz Klammer won the gold medal for the Men's Downhill Run. That and Mohammad Ali lighting the torch in 1996 are two of my favorite Olympic moments.

The point is, I really enjoy sports. Televised sports were the very first of what we now know as "Reality Television". Watching the warriors take the field and then engage in a battle of wits, strategy, and strength is so much better than most of what the entertainment industry regurgitates and offers to us.

Sports, for the most part, is reality.

And then there's Vince McMahon and all those wrasslin' guys.

Until next time...

Off Course, but not Lost

I hate getting lost, and as a goofy male with an even goofier male ego, I usually refuse to admit that a mistake has taken place and stop and ask for directions. I usually try to convince myself, and anyone else within earshot, that I meant to go this way and would rather take the scenic route anyway.

My job requires that I drive quite a bit searching for addresses that sometimes are very difficult to locate. I have at my disposal a global positioning satellite (GPS) system on my computer, and have used a dash mounted system as well. Wonderful tools to have, but it’s very easy to get off course a little, make a wrong turn here, miss a turn there, and then to try to get back on course can become somewhat of a challenge.

For example, I was deeply engrossed in the conversation taking place on The Dan Patrick Show one morning this last week when I noticed I had missed a turn. I didn’t know when or where I missed the turn until I was headed back in the opposite direction. The female voice of my GPS happily stated (with a touch of obnoxious sarcasm, I might add) that my next turn (where I should have turned in the first place) was just up the road a bit. Get ready now because it’s only ten and a half miles until I get there. Ten and a half miles! I have no idea what Dan and the boys were talking about now, but I sure do remember how I felt knowing I had blown the turn by ten plus miles.

Most of my missed turns aren’t so dramatic. Most of the time, I fly past a turn, catch it immediately, and make the corrections necessary to get myself back on course, usually irritating other nearby drivers in the process. I personally find it difficult to navigate with the aid of the ever-annoying Ms. GPS mocking my every little directional error, look up my next order on the computer which is conveniently situated within my line of vision, check the printout on my clipboard for other needed details, and drive at the same time. So all of this concurrent activity distracts me once in a great while and I find myself off course, sometimes a little and sometimes, as in the ten-and-a-half-miles incident, a lot. Man, did I feel like a goofball.

But it also got me thinking. It’s been said that people love to party when they succeed, but tend to ponder when they fail. I found myself in need of some serious pondering that day, and spending so much time alone in my car provides me with ample opportunity to do so. I can even turn down the nagging and mocking from the ever present Ms. GPS if I need to. Man, there have been times when I wished I could do that to real people. Not my Sheri of course… but other people for sure.

Continuing on with the navigation theme, I have used a certain analogy in the past, and I think it fits nicely here. It’s also about flight which will always get my attention. Hang in there, this won't take long.

Did you know that once a plane takes off from one place to fly to another place, (let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s taking off from Los Angeles, California and heading to Miami, Florida), that it’s off course most of the time? It’s true, and by “most of the time” I mean 90-95 percent of the time. With that kind of statistic, it seems a wonder that we can actually fly anywhere with any degree of confidence. But we almost always arrive where we set out for, thanks to the efforts and abilities of a well trained flight crew. How does that happen when we’re off course for so much of the journey?

Well, several things need to happen for a successful flight of this nature. A flight plan must be made. The pilot needs to know what the intended target is. I think we can assume that the pilot already knows from where the departure will take place, but that might be an important piece of information to have as well.

So now that we know where we are and where we want to go, we can take the appropriate actions to get ourselves underway. Perform the preflight, start the engine, taxi out to the end of the runway, and take off. All good so far, but this is where several unseen forces conspire to take the plane off its original course. Wind currents, the rotation and curvature of the Earth, even pilot error all add up to alter the flight. Have you ever taken your hands off the wheel for a few second while driving 60 miles per hour or so? What happens? Car doesn’t always go where you want it to go, does it? Same thing with flying, only at 30,000 feet in the air.

If the flight crew doesn’t pay close attention and take corrective measures, the plane will stay off course. Worse yet, unless action is taken, the plane will get further and further from its original intended course. It doesn’t take much either. Just one degree off course at the beginning can cause enormously erroneous results at the other end. The answer to this potentially disastrous flight is what’s called “sensory acuity.” In simpler terms, we call this activity plain old ordinary paying attention to what’s going on around us. The pilot must make constant minor adjustments to keep the craft somewhat close to the desired course.

Once the plane is within a certain distance of the planned destination, the pilot can hone in on the end of the runway and guide the plane in, landing right on target. We’ve all heard stories of planes landing at the wrong airport for no other reason than “Oops!” It doesn’t occur all that often, but it does happen. It would appear that the pilot wasn’t exactly successful with step one in these cases.

So… know where we want to go, take action to get there, pay attention, and make adjustment as needed along the way. Simple, right? Do this a number of times and it becomes a formula, one that can be duplicated over and over to achieve almost any outcome we desire.

As human beings and children of God, we like to have formulas, proven methods to achieving our goals, whether those goals are well defined or just a passing thought. We want to know that our actions will lead to desirable results. We want to know that our efforts, time, money, and other resources won’t be wasted or that we won’t end up somewhere we didn’t want to be looking foolish and asking ourselves “How the hell did I get here?”

The real talent is to keep ourselves focused enough to avoid distractions while at the same time not having so much tunnel vision so as not to see how conditions around us are changing. Some of us are lucky in that sense. Some of us were fortunate enough to know from an early age what we wanted to achieve in life, what we wanted to become, what we wanted to do to earn a living, what kind of families we wanted to have, what kind of children we wanted to raise… etc. I was not among that group. I have struggled all of my life to determine with any degree of certainty what I wanted to be. It’s a struggle that I continue to battle to this day.

So I tend to wander aimlessly, searching for myself, without the aid of a formula, or life GPS to guide me along the way. And then when I do strike upon something that suits my fancy for the time being, I lose focus after a while, or stop paying attention to the ever-changing surrounding conditions, and find myself ten and a half miles down the wrong road and wondering why I didn’t plan better, or pay closer attention, or make the course corrections that are so obvious now in hindsight… or even why I didn’t take action to begin with and let a golden opportunity slip through my fingers.

Life has a way of knocking us off course at the most inopportune times, doesn’t it? We go along happy as clams and then something happens that makes us re-evaluate either our original destination or the course upon which we currently find ourselves. I guess that’s the way things are supposed to be. We have a sign hanging in our home that makes these little bumps in the road easier to understand. It simply states “Everything for a Reason.” I’m not exactly sure how that applies to missing my turn by ten and a half miles, but I did learn to be more attentive to the annoying voice that helps me navigate the roads of southwest Missouri during the course of my normal day.

I have found that when I study the course before embarking on my daily journeys, set myself some intermediate goals to achieve along the way, plan my day and then follow the plan, I make fewer mistakes and my day goes unquestionably smoother. And that’s just day to day. If I can get so off course in just one day, can you imagine how far off course I can get in a lifetime if I’m not paying attention?

Think about your life for a minute. Where you started, what plans were made when you were younger, where you are now, and how far off your original course you have gotten at different times in your life. (I can only assume that you've been off course from time to time... most people I've ever known has had this happen. If it hasn't happened to you, please accept my apology for the assumption.)

Some of us can easily recognize when we are off course just a little and take immediate and appropriate corrective actions. Some of us however, don’t pay close enough attention and find ourselves way down the road where it’s not so easy to get back on course.

And then some of us get so far off course for one reason or another that we think getting back on the original course is impossible. Day, weeks, months, even years and decades can pass before we look up and see where we are, and when we finally do we can be shocked at our current location. And it’s usually not a pleasant place we find ourselves either. Take your hands off the wheel and stop paying attention to the road and I can almost guarantee that where you end up is not going to very much fun, not to mention not where you thought you’d end up when you began the trip. We usually don’t go to such extremes as that while driving, or even flying, but it’s exactly what we do in life, only the change in course is more gradual and therefore the results aren’t quite as immediately dramatic.

While turning around and driving the ten and a half mile stretch of road was a pain, it wasn’t impossible. I made the U-turn, drove the distance, did my inspection, and then had to drive back along the same piece of road again to get to my next stop. Inconvenient? Yes! A royal pain? Yes! Impossible? Absolutely not!

Sometimes though, simply turning around is not an option. We must make a new course that will lead us to our destination, and more often than not the new course will be more difficult than the original one. After all, if this new course were much easier than the original, wouldn’t we have chosen it to begin with? So here we are, off course a little or a lot, and a correction is needed. Sir Isaac Newton taught us that staying the course is easier than changing. Going down the road with momentum pushing us along keeps us from making that next turn needed for course correction sometimes. Did you ever come up on the street you were looking for so suddenly that you couldn’t make the turn? We all have, I think. So we slow down, get ready for the next opportunity to turn, and then get back on course. Maybe a little inconvenience, but we can still get there, right?

Sometimes we follow the same wrong course so many times and so often, and we carve such deep ruts in that path that we find it very difficult to get out. It becomes harder and harder to make a course correction of any kind and so we just stay in the rut, because it’s easier that way. Less effort needed, and less strain involved. But that doesn’t really do us any good, does it? That usually doesn’t get us where we want to be.

I was in just such a rut and so far off course a while back that I thought the original destination was no longer within the realm of possibility. It was extremely difficult for me to accept the fact that way off course doesn’t necessarily and automatically mean hopelessly lost. I think we all have an idea of where we would like to be when the game ends, and I don’t really think that this destination changes all that much within each of us. I still knew where it was that I wanted to go, but I didn’t know where to turn and which of many possible courses to take to get there.

That’s when I found a really good GPS system. And not only a good GPS system, but people around me who loved me and cared about me enough to help me monitor the road ahead and make minor course corrections as needed. They also help me recognize the voice from the system that is there to guide and direct me along the way. And this voice told me in no uncertain terms that the way back was not nearly as impossible as I had imagined. It wasn’t going to be a leisurely walk in the park, but certainly not as difficult as I had originally thought either. And this particular voice is infinitely more pleasing to my ears than the one from the GPS in my car.

But just like the distractions that present themselves to me while I am driving will drown out Ms. GPS, the distractions that come with living life can drown out that other GPS voice. We will get off course in life, that’s a given. We will no doubt turn left when we should have turned right. No one is immune from these errors either. The questions then become how soon will we see that we have strayed, and how quickly can we make the corrections needed. The logistics may be a little unclear, but the real message to remember is that we can get there from here. The longer we stay off course though, the easier it is to let momentum carry us to places unknown and unforeseen, the easier it is to just stay in the ruts and continue down this wrong path, and the harder it becomes to take action, any action, to correct our course.

I have taken some glorious rides through the countryside while performing the duties necessary for my job, and the grass glimmers a little greener, the sky looks a little bluer, and all of the other sights and sounds and smells are much more pleasing to the senses when I know that I’m on the right course than they are when I’m struggling to find my way. The journey should be just as important as the destination, in my humble opinion. My journeys could be, and most definitely should be, wonderful rides. They will be as long as I don’t get too far off course… and remember to listen to the GPS voice.

Until next time…

Castle Air Force Base

It was a different world back then.

I was stationed at Castle Air Force Base from October of 1982 until I was discharged in March of 1984 after 4 years of active duty. My years in Merced and at Castle AFB were spent in a different world, not just geographically speaking, but in what is known as "pop culture" and what we see on shows like "I Love the 80s" on VH1, which, by the way, was non-existent when I lived there.

I was 20 years old when I arrived at Castle with my new bride, who was also in the Air Force. Cell phones, texting, and pagers for us common folk were unheard of as of yet. Same with cordless phones. Answering machines were brand new and then they were in very few homes. I can't remember leaving messages on machines for any of my friends. If someone called me while no one was at my house, the phone just rang and rang until the caller got tired and decided to call at a later time, I actually missed a call and lived through the experience, and life in general somehow continued. Weird, huh?

When we wanted to call our families back home (Houston, TX. for me), we had to be aware of when long distant rates went down, and then we still didn't dare talk for more than a few minutes for fear of an enormous phone bill. If we chose to write instead of calling, it took 4 or 5 days for our correspondence to get to its destination, instead of the mere seconds it takes for an e-mail to reach its intended target today.

And speaking of e-mail... and the internet... please ! ! ! Home computers were in the homes of geeks and the elite (who were usually also geeks), and weren't much more than Radio Shack's TRS-80. We called them trash-80s. Oh, they might be able to keep a rudimentary form of a checkbook ledger, or help to write a letter with a primitive form of some sort of word processor. Windows were what you looked out of to see if it was raining, apples were what you were supposed to eat each day to keep doctors away, laptops were where we placed our children to rock them to sleep, and notebooks were made of paper and usually had a wire spiral holding those papers together.

Our vocabularies didn't contain words like blog, e-mail, e-zines, e-commerce, e-(insert whatever you can think of here), chatgroups, dot-com, or any other words we now know as "netspeak". We didn't know the phrases LOL, LMAO, OMG, IRL, WTF, BRB, BFF, IMO, BTW, J/K, ^5, :), and the list goes on and on. If you really want to know what the hell your kids are talking about, check out
All we really needed to know back then was UA, AWOL, TDY, and BYOB.

When we wanted to know where to find something, we let our fingers do the walking through the yellow pages. We didn't know how to "Google" information yet. Neither my name nor my address had an “@” in it. And seven digits were all that was required to make a phone call, unless you wanted to shell out some serious coin.

Cable television was the latest in home entertainment technology, at least until the VCR came along. Some people called them VTRs. If one were among the fortunate few who could afford one of the early models, (we had to buy our first on credit and make monthly payments for 2 years I think), the decision still had to be made between VHS or Beta. DVDs, BluRay, Satellite television, TIVO, and DVRs were still at least a decade or so away.

Television programming was quite different too. Reality television was the 6:00 news (or the brand new 24 hour news channel called CNN), or perhaps a live sporting event. M*A*S*H was must-see TV and that last episode "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" remains the most watched television program of all time. Hill Street Blues changed the television landscape. Charles married Diana which was watched by most of the world on live television. Luke and Laura's wedding was watched by almost as many. When my enlistment was over, Miami Vice was just getting started, the Huxtable family was welcomed in more homes than not, and MTV was brand spanking new, as was Late Night with David Letterman. It wasn't uncommon to see Dave wearing jeans and a sweatshirt while doing his show.

MTV was a revelation of epic porportions to us baby boomers. I remember wondering why people would want to "watch" music. As it turns out, I might have been right about that after all... I can't remember the last time I actually saw a video on either MTV or VH1. And speaking of music... what were we thinking? Didn't we learn anything from disco? Let me run down a few of the bigger hits. Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science", Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance", Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon", Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen", and I'm still not sure what Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy" is all about. Madonna was just revving up for her assault on the collective psyche.

These songs filled the airwaves, or at least were fillers between Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers, and Lionel Ritchie tunes. And what if you wanted to purchase your own music to play whenever you wanted? One would have to trudge themselves down to the record store, my favorite was somewhere in the Merced Mall, and then browse through, pick out, and purchase actual vinyl records. Sometimes a cassette tape if that's what you preferred. CDs were still a few years in the future, and buying your music without ever leaving the glow from your computer monitor was something that far more advanced beings from other worlds could do. Not us though. And you usually had to buy the whole album just to have the one song you really wanted. What a waste, huh?

Then there was the kind of entertainment that you planned in advance and had to leave the house for... movies. Those were the days when a movie would stay in the theaters for more than a couple of weeks, unless it was a real bomb. If you missed it while it was showing, you might have to wait years before it would show up on television, and then it was only the blockbusters. Video stores weren't needed yet, but video game arcades could be found on every corner. If you wanted to play video games at home, you were limited to the original Atari or Intelevision.

During my time at Castle AFB, we watched Spock die in the 2nd "Star Trek" movie, we witnessed the rebellion finally defeat the empire in the 3rd "Star Wars" movie, we were introduced to Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and other memorable characters in movies like "Porky's", "Young Doctors in Love", "Valley Girl", and "Creepshow". "A Christmas Story" came out in '83 but took years to become the cult classic that ranks right up there with Rocky Horror. And speaking of Rocky, we watched the Italian Stallion battle and beat Mr. T's Clubber Lang, but only after he introduced us all to Hulk Hogan.

We knew who our enemies were, and they had a face. The USSR and communism were known to us all as the evil empire. The tensions of the Cold War were at its highest. We were routinely trained to look for signs of communism and communist spying. Our troubles with Iran were just ending and Iraq was still our friend. We had no idea what or who an Al-Qaeda was, and the same goes for Osama Bin-Laden. I loved Ronald Reagan because he was my Commander In Chief.

Karen Carpenter died while I was at Castle and we learned what Anorexia Nervosa is. John Belushi overdosed and "Just Say No" became our battle cry. Princess Grace of Monaco is killed in an automobile accident. We were scared to take Tylenol. Beruit, Lebanon is all but destroyed. A truck bomb destroys the Marines barracks at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 American soldiers in what would become one of the first of well publicized suicide bombings. War breaks out over the Faulkland Islands. The US storms into Granada. Russia invades Afghanistan. Michael Jackson releases "Thriller". Marvin Gaye is shot. And the U.S. Supreme Court finally rules 5-4 that it is legal to record television broadcasts with a videocassette recorder. I could sleep without fear once again.

In some respects, those years I spent stationed at Castle were spent in unknowing and naive innocence. The Challenger explosion (and the subsequent hearings), the worldwide implications of AIDS and the Ethiopian famine, Iran/Contra, Saddam Hussein, Monica Lewinski, and 9/11 were events that we couldn't have dreamed of in our worst nightmares. On the other hand, who would have thought that I could buy almost anything I want (music, movies, food, the latest news, clothes, flowers, real estate, etc...), or watch the entire 7th season of 24, or play poker or blackjack, or even communicate instantly with people I've never met (whoever reads this, for example), all while sitting in my bed with my computer laying across my lap? Who would have thought that I can call whoever I want, whenever I want, and wherever they are? Who had the foresight to know that I would have over 200 television channels, as well as over 200 radio stations in my car, one of which plays nothing but music from the 80s?

People come and people go, friends enter and then leave our lives, our lives are improved through technological advancements, we become more efficient and accurate in waging war, our tastes in music, movies, television, clothing, and housing have evolved to the point that we need to tune into "I Love the 80s" just to see how far we've come (and if we miss it tonight, that's ok... it will rerun again next week)... and Castle Air Force Base closes down for good. That the way things are supposed to be, I guess.

Time marches on and carries us along with it. Could we stay behind if we really wanted to? I’m pretty sure we can’t. Do we really have a choice? I'm pretty sure we don't. But that doesn't keep me from double clicking on the file icons in the memory banks of my own grapefruit sized circa 1960 computer located conveniently directly between my right and left ears and remembering how it felt to drive from the base to Merced through fog so heavy it could only be described as solid white air... or remembering how eggs and bacon and fried potatoes and biscuits smothered with gravy tasted in the chow hall at midnight... or remembering the ever present smell of onions and jet fuel... or remembering how I stood at the fence and looked across the flight line as the sun came up over the mountains... or remembering the roar of the B-52s climbing to altitude over Merced... or remembering especially those fine men and women with whom I served that I called friends.

I have recently found and contacted a handful of those old friends and am excited at the thought of finding more. There is so much that I'm sure I've forgotten about my time there and look forward to swapping stories. There seems to be something very therapeutic in nostalgia, and I'll willingly stroll down that path from time to time. My two and a half years at Castle Air Force Base was an experience that I will cherish as long as I live.

25 years have gone by since I left Castle Air Force Base and the Merced - Atwater area. A quarter of a century. Oh man... when you say it THAT way, YIKES ! ! ! My daughter Jessica was born at the base hospital while I was stationed there, and she recently got married… as if these little trips down memory lane didn’t make me feel old already. I plan to go back someday soon. I am sure that I will be simultaneously amazed, astonished, and saddened at how things have changed and at what has become of what was once a vital and proud member of our armed forces community of bases.

Oh yeah, it was a different world back then. And sometimes I miss that world…


Until next time...


OK already.

Against my better judgement, I am taking the path of least resistance and giving into increasing pressure to set up a "Facebook" account. I am making this announcement in this manner for several reasons.

1. I know how I am with new things. I remember a short year ago when I started this blog. I wrote almost every day and was consumed with it. I have enough on my plate already without adding another black hole for my time to disappear into.

2. There are already a few "musts" in my life... my work being the biggie, "24" being one, but I have to DVR it and watch it the next weekend because I'm still staying in Halltown during the week. There are others, of course, Sheri, church, my own health (or lack thereof according to Sheri), you know... stuff like that. I'm afraid of what might happen if I really get into this facebook thing and it becomes another "must" that starts eating into my time because of my own lack of self discipline. How's that for a little self-evaluation?

However... that being said, I do recognize the benefits of such a tool to keep in contact with my ever growing circle of friends. I'm not one that has so many friends that I can afford squander this opportunity to "reach out and touch someone."

So the facebook is set up.

Until next time...

The Decline of Saturday Mornings

Saturday mornings just aren't what they used to be.

These days, I like to sleep in on Saturday, but I don't always get to. There are chores to be done, errands to run, other activities which need my attention that prevents me from pulling the covers over my head to block out the rising sun, and just going back to sleep.

It wasn't always that way for Saturday mornings though.

Things used to be different.

I remember vividly waking up on Saturday mornings, (the only morning, as it happens, that I didn't need a cattle prod to separate myself from my bed once I started going to school), and sneaking into the kitchen pantry for my Saturday morning meal of Oreo's, and tuning in my favorite cartoons of Bugs Bunny and the gang, The Road Runner, and my all-time favorite of Heckle & Jeckle.

Remember those cartoons from our childhoods? What happened to them? I mean, I can't find Bugs or Daffy or Elmer or Yosemite Sam anywhere anymore. The few generations that have passed since I was a kid seem to have erased them permanently from the airwaves.

From, we learn: 1962 was the first year all three network's began programming Saturday mornings, with a line-up that consisted mostly of reruns of former live-action, prime-time shows like 'The Lone Ranger', 'Circus Boy', 'Roy Rogers', 'Dennis the Menace' and 'Space Patrol' along with original filmed programs like 'Fury' and 'Sky King'. Theatrical cartoons like 'Bugs Bunny', 'Casper', and 'Heckle & Jeckle' were also popular.

I was only 1 year old in 1962 so my interest in Saturday morning cartoons wasn't as developed as it would later become a few years later.

In 1966, when I was 5, (or five and a half if one were to ask me at the time), our family moved into our "Sierra Madre" house. It was there that I truly began to appreciate this wonderful art form. Truth be known, I was always looking for something to make me laugh. The only cartoon I recall before we moved was The Flintstones, and they were on during prime-time, the first animated series to fare well in this time.

I remember Captain Kangaroo, but I wasn't all that into the real people. It was the cartoons that really made me take notice. And they had to be the funny ones too. Johnny Quest wasn't funny, at least it wasn't to me, so I paid it no attention.

In 1966, 95% of American homes had at least one television set . Ours was black and white, but that was ok for two reasons. One, I didn't know any better, and two, most programming was in b&w also. I remember our first remote control too. When you mashed the change channel button, the knob on the front of the set would rotate. That, my friends, was magic!

My father had built shelves on one whole wall of our living room, and our set was right there in the middle. My favorite place on Saturday mornings was in what could best be described as a reclining chair, except it didn't recline. It rocked, and it swiveled, and it was plush (at least it was to my little 5 year old butt), and it was most comfy. On a side note: They say that if one were to stack all of the Oreo's ever sold flat on top of one another, the stack would reach to the moon. I'm sure if one were to ever clean all of the Oreo crumbs I dropped out of the cushions of that chair and stacked them, this stack would reach at least to Cleveland.

So on Saturday mornings I would settle myself into that chair and submerge myself into TV Land and I can't think of a single morning when I was disappointed, by the cookies or the programming.

Heckle and Jeckle was my favorite. Remember those guys?

Although it was on the earliest, that didn't matter... it could have come on at 3:00 in the morning and I would have found a way to be in front of the tube at that time. I wasn't ABOUT to miss their antics. I never really knew at the time, or even cared, which was which, but I've come to learn that Heckle was the magpie with the Brooklyn accent, and Jeckle spoke with an English flair.

Heckle is slightly more cynical than Jeckle. Both of them treat their mutual enemies with threats and rudeness, but Heckle will usually make his intentions clear from the outset, while Jeckle will (at first) treat enemies politely in order to lull them into a false sense of security before unleashing magpie mayhem.

The duo have made recent appearances which seems to have cemented their place in pop culture. They made an unexplained appearance in Homer's vision of his funeral in "The Simpsons" episode of "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" and in the very first episode of "Monk", Monk and Sharona have the code names of "Heckle" and "Jeckle" while on a stakeout.

I just think that's as cool as cool can be.

Bugs Bunny was another favorite. Remember when he took over the symphony as "Leopold"? He made that poor tenor hold that note forever. What about the time he had the argument with Daffy Duck about whether it was duck season or rabbit season, and Elmer couldn't figure out who to shoot? My favorite of his antagonists though was Yosemite Sam. Sam had a way of cursing and swearing that was just downright hilarious. One time, Sam was trying to get Bugs to dive off a sky-high diving board into a glass of water, but kept falling himself due to the genius of Bugs. That one still makes me cry laughing.

These cartoons, along with The Road Runner, Tom and Jerry, and others of the time, were full of fun violence, if there is such a thing. Explosions, falling rocks, bombs, brick throwing were the norm for these programs, and I loved every minute of them. I've heard it said that all this violence is not such a good thing for kids to watch on television. Maybe so, but I was always able to differentiate cartoon violence from real violence, animated action from live action, and just because the talking magpies blew up their enemies with the ever ready bomb, I instinctively knew that this was make believe and real people (or real magpies) don't use bombs to get what they want. OK, maybe some terrorist groups do, but are we really about to blame that on the cartoons that I love so much? I hope not.

Another favorite was Scooby Doo. Looking back now, it's truly amazing how those meddling kids were always finding themselves in such predicaments week after week. It was cool though, that they were always the ones to figure out the mystery when no one else could. They became heroes of sort to me.

In 1968, CBS started running The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show on Saturday mornings.

Oh man, was I happy. I still remember the opening of the show with all of the Looney Tunes characters marching out on the stage. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales, Marvin the Martian, Tasmanian Devil, and Pepé Le Pew, just to name a few.

Sometimes my dad would wake up early, (or was it that I woke him up with my frantic search for Oreos?) and watch cartoons with me. He always enjoyed watching the Road Runner outwit Wile E. Coyote, and he seemed to get as big a kick out of Heckle and Jeckle as I did. As a kid who was often intimidated around my dad, it was always a welcomed pleasure to see him laughing, especially if what he was laughing at was humorous to me as well. Weird, huh?

Following the Bugs Bunny / Road Runner show was The Wacky Races with characters like the Slag brothers in the Boulder-Mobile; the Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe, with a dragon in its belfry; Prof. Pat Pending (ha ha) in the Convert-a-Car; Red Max in the Crimson Haybailer biplane; Sergeant Blast and Private Meekly in the tank-like Army Surplus Special; the Ant Hill Mob in the Bullitt-Proof Bomb; Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chugga-Bug; Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth the beaver in the Buzz Wagon; the Belle of the Brickyard, Penelope Pitstop, in the Compact Pussycat; Peter Perfect in the Turbo Terrific; and our hissable villains, Dick Dastardly and his snickering muttering dog, Muttley ("Sassa frassin'...") in the Mean Machine. More uncontrolled laughter by yours truly.

Many of these cartoons were laced with humor that I didn't understand at the time. Remember the coyote and the sheepdog punching the time clock at the beginning and end of their "shift"? That's really funny, but the humor was lost on me back then, having never really had a job up to that point in my short life. It didn't matter though, I still enjoyed watching the sheepdog get the better of that coyote.

Did these cartoons of my youth have the life lessons that are ever present in the cartoons of my children's time like The Smurfs, or of the cartoons of today like Sponge-Bob Square Pants? Maybe Scooby Doo, but other than that, probably not. They were animated slapstick at it's all time finest.

And anything was possible.

Take The Road Runner cartoons for example.

As in other cartoons, the Road Runner and the coyote follow the laws of cartoon physics. For example, the Road Runner has the ability to enter the painted image of a cave, while the coyote cannot (unless there is an opening through which he can fall). Sometimes, however, this is reversed, and the Road Runner can bust through a painting while the coyote goes through it. Sometimes the coyote is allowed to hang in midair until he realizes that he is about to plummet into a chasm (a process occasionally referred to elsewhere as Road-Runnering). The coyote can overtake rocks (or cannons) which fall before he does, and end up being squashed by them.

In "Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times Of An Animated Cartoonist", it is claimed that Chuck Jones and the artists behind the Road Runner and Wile E. cartoons adhered to some simple but strict rules:

1. Road Runner (Hot-roddicus supersonicus) cannot harm the Coyote (eatibus anythingus) except by going "meep, meep".
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote -- only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime -- IF he was not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." —George Santayana).
4. No dialogue ever, except "meep, meep".
5. Road Runner must stay on the road -- for no other reason than that he's a roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
10.The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.

See? All harmless fun, and no one gets hurt. Well… not REALLY hurt anyway. And a lot of thought went into entertaining me apparently.

Casper, The Banana Splits (not a cartoon per se') and Underdog we also perennial favorites of the times.

Later came The Pink Panther.

This one was a lot of fun, and the fact that no dialogue was ever used (or needed) was pure genius. Watching Pink get around from place to place with that half walk / half skip while that jazzy theme music was funny by itself, but watching him silently get the best of the little man with the white mustache was another example of pure cartoon gold. Other short cartoons that went along with the Pink Panther were the Ant and the Aardvark, and the Texas (or Tijuana) Toads.

These days, Pink is enjoying full time employment as the mascot for Owens Corning's pink fiberglass thermal insulation, as well as for Sweet-N-Low artificial sweetener. Nice work if you can get it, but I miss him on Saturday mornings.

There are many others that came and went over the years, some that I'm sure entertained me at the time, but that I cannot recall just now. I never enjoyed Sesame Street or Mr. Roger's Neighborhood as much as I did my Saturday morning friends. I probably learned more from those shows, but they just weren't as much fun for me, you know?

Cartoons today just aren't the same. Not enough explosions. Not enough animated violence. Not enough falling into deep canyons. Today's cartoons are tame by comparison, probably better for the well being of our children, but I still miss the ones I grew up with. I'm sure I could find them all here on the information super-highway, but I don't think it would be the same.

I know it's just a fantasy, but I would really like to wake up next weekend on Saturday morning about 7:00am, turn on my television, and see several hours of Heckle and Jeckle, The Road Runner and Coyote, Bugs Bunny, The Pink Panther, and all the rest of my favorites, and I'll have a whole box of Oreos next to my chair.

And after all of my cartoons are over, I'll treat myself with a huge bowl of my favorite childhood cereal… either Quisp or Quake, but I'm not sure which just yet.

Until that fantasy happens, I'd sure like to know some of your favorite cartoons from the past. Maybe your favorites will spark a memory for the rest of us and we can all reflect back and give ourselves a smile or two.

Not such a bad thing.

Until next time...

Happy New Year

Well… it's a new year. Out with the old and in with the new, right? It's a good time to reflect on the past year, and then make plans for the new one ahead.

A few things of note about 2008.

First and foremost on my list of new things for the year is this blog. Ben McEvoy got me started when I called him out of the blue one day and we talked for a while. He told me about his blog, and after visiting it (and a few others) I decided that I couldn't sleep one more single night without having one for myself. It started like gangbusters, I wrote nearly every single day. Then life started catching up with me and I discovered that other things around me were being neglected, so I backed off a bit. I don't think I could write every day like I did at first, but the old boy certainly has a few good ones left in him still, so I have resolved to write something here at least once a week. Let that be called resolution #1.

My father and I went on two hunts in 2008, one last February, and one this last month. Both times we went to South Texas, Benevides to be exact, where we hunted quail. Both times weren't exactly what one could call successful if the gauge were solely based on the number of birds we brought home, but we got to spend some really quality time together, and that's the really important thing for me. His health is faltering somewhat and I don't know if we'll have too many more hunts together. I must never pass up a good chance to spend some quality time with Dad (or Mom for that matter) will be resolution #2.

We also went fishing in early March on the Sabine River. My brother-in-law Sam went with us and we only came home with two fish, but it was also some good quality time. You can read about it here if you wish. Go fishing more is always worth a mention in a well thought out list of resolutions, so this is #3.

I started a new business in 2008. It's really the same business, except I'm carrying on without Dad and Sam. Dad wanted to go on and retire, and Sam decided that he wasn't really cut out for the building business. So I'm going on without them. I formed my own company called L & S Custom Homes, LLC and my company has partnered with two other individuals to build a house just outside Springfield. I find myself facing the same old problems with partners that I had to endure with my previous partners, and so I'm not sure if we will continue this partnership after this house. I am not an easy person to be partners with as I expect much from myself and from others. I want to build the way I want to build anyway, so resolution # 4 is to break out and go forward on my own.

I feel that my health has improved this past year, though I still have some weight to lose. My energy level is up again and I can put in the long days that are needed to accomplish the things I want to do. I am still taking meds for my diabetes, but if I can lose about 40 pounds (and I certainly have it to lose), I might be able to stop taking those pills. Weight loss… there's a unique resolution, eh? # 5.

I read an article in the Ensign about caffeine possibly contributing to restless leg syndrome, a condition that aggravates me to the point where I take medicine for that too. I have been away from home and forgotten my RLS meds a few times and those were totally sleepless nights. Sometimes the meds don't even work, especially if I don't time the taking of them with my bedtime just right. Anyway, caffeine is thought to add to the problem so I have resolved to stop drinking my Diet Mt. Dews. This one is going to be tough, tougher even than when I quit smoking. I can easily go through 2 or 3 six packs of the 24 ounce bottles in a single week. I actually started this one a couple of weeks ago right after I read that article. The first few days were really rough because of the caffeine withdrawal headaches. So lots of water and lemonade and juice is resolution # 6.

Resolution # 7 has to do with church. I have been teaching the Elder's Quorum for a little over two years now, 3 Sundays a month, and I've gotten a little lazy about it. I find myself losing interest in the lessons and dreading class. I shouldn't be feeling this way, because I know that when I am eventually released, I will miss it. So I'm going to start missing it now and start applying myself and preparing that way I did when I was first called and start enjoying that time again... for me and for the brethren.

Our annual July 4th BBQ was bigger this year. My daughter Jessica and her husband Brandon flew in for the event, but Rebecca and Justin couldn't make it. Still, it was a wonderful day and we hope that it will grow bigger and bigger every year, to include more family and friends from all over. All of my children in attendance for the 2009 BBQ will be resolution # 8.

Someone (a friend of Sheri's) suggested that I print all of my blog stories and entries and put them in a binder to give to my parents for Christmas. I resisted the idea thinking that no one would really be interested and it seemed a little self-promoting and presumptuous to think anyone would really want such a gift. I just felt a little uneasy about it. Sheri talked me into it though, and it turned out to be a great hit with Mom and Dad. Well, Dad at least. He's still reading it and won't let Mom have it until he's done. I think those kinds of gifts are cool, even though I balked at this particular idea in the beginning. I hope that I will be able to give them (and everyone else, for that matter) something meaningful that I created myself and put myself into. Not really a resolution I guess, but still something I want to do.

Sheri's father had a pretty massive stroke back in the Spring of 2008. Sheri went to see him right away, but I had to wait until late Summer. We both went during the Olympics and stayed at their lakeside condo and got to spend some quality time with her side of the family. It was a most enjoyable week. My nieces Taylor and Megan and my nephew Jake are a joy to be around and we had lots of fun with them, and with their parents (Sheri's brother B.J. and his wife Jackie). We also had dinner at Sheri's mom's house, visited her Dad in the recovery center, did our share of sightseeing, and still had time for lots of rest and relaxation.

While we were there, we ate a couple of times at a sandwich shop called "Mancino's". One wall in the hallway leading back to the restrooms was all chalk board and there was a bucket of chalk on the floor at the entry to that hallway. I took a piece of chalk and wrote about my first date with Sheri after she picked me up from the airport for our first face to face visit. It was at another Mancino's closer to where Sheri was living at the time, but it was our first date. I want to go back and see if my note is still on that chalk board. I doubt it, but wouldn't that be a hoot?

Anyway, I promised Sheri's Dad that I would make sure she got back there several times a year to visit him. Not a "New Year's Resolution", but a resolution just the same. Besides, I can't wait to go back there myself.

We finished the nightmare of a remodel job in 2008. Well, almost. There are a few odds and ends that remain, and I'm sure there always will be with that project. But it's done for the most part and we survived it. That's the good news. The financial outcome wasn't nearly a rosy. We took a big hit on that one, and none of us could really afford a big hit. So... do I really need to tell you what the next resolution is? I didn't think so.

There are other resolutions of course, books to be read, people to treat better, and so on, but those are of a more personal nature and I'll keep them to myself, at least for the time being. I'm normally not a "New Year's Resolutions" kind of guy, but a few tweaks and adjustments are needed every now and again. I'll start with these and see where the last day of 2009 finds me.

In the meantime, I'll be in touch. At least once a week, right?

Until next time...