Saturday, October 31, 2009

Relax, Halloween can be wholesome and fun!

Today is one of those days that can bring people together and also rip them apart. I personally find Halloween to be a great tradition in our country that provides kids an opportunity to have fun and live a little beyond their norm. I have very fond memories of Halloween and the various characters I was through the years. I do think that my favorite of all time was when my brothers and I were the California Raisins complete with insturments. Our mom went to great lengths to provide us with creative and cheap costumes that were outside of the traditional vein. The most memorable Halloween of all time though took place in the early nineties and will live in infamy among all those who were living in the Upper Midwest at the time. We received the snow storm of the century that night and the entire tri-state area (SD, ND, and MN) was blanket with feet of snow. Schools were canceled for the next day and kids could not have been happier. What is better than spending a night collecting free candy and causing mischief than having the next day off of school! I will never forget hiking through knee deep snow at the high school to get to another group of houses. I was about halfway through one of the practice fields when I decided to hunker down for a break and eat some of the booty I had already obtained from gracious residents of Yankton, SD. Everyone's costumes that year were transformed into Arctic Explorers or Eskimos.

One of the best things about Halloween for me was having two older brothers. We would always get home from trick-or-treating and dump all of our candy out on the floor. I liked to separate all of my candy into groups (candy bars, sugar candy, suckers, garbage). After dividing my wares into piles the trading would begin. The bartering and swapping would last for what seemed like an hour before we finally were told that we needed to go to bed. In addition to dividing and swapping, there was the inevitable toll that we had to pay to our parents. They would always request a few pieces here and there and it was never those nasty black and orange wrapped candy that everyone hated. It had to be the Crunch bars or the Milky Ways. Well I am in that position now where I need to, "make sure the candy is safe" before my kids can eat too much of it. I would hate for them to get sick!

Whatever you believe about the origins and background of Halloween needs to be placed into a little wholesome perspective. It does not matter what the tradition, event, or holiday is there will be people who will openly criticize and critique the quality of it for all people. We have gone from having Halloween and Christmas parties to "Fall Fests" and "Winter Celebrations." Halloween, in large part, is not about the demonic and ghostly traditions that radicals would like to make it out to be. It is about friends and family spending some quality time together. It is about letting loose with your kids and getting dressed up for one day of the year where you can be goofy. The vast majority of our population is afraid to get on a stage and act out a role in a play, but will dress up for one night to "play" someone they are not the other 364 days of the year. Where is the harm in that? Where is the harm in my buddy getting dressed up as an old lady and going to a party where no one knows who he is for the entire night? People need to simply calm down, relax, and enjoy the wholesome fun that can be had on this last day of October. If it makes you feel better to call it something other than Halloween you go right ahead, but that does not change the fun that you can have on a crazy night like tonight.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Midnight Madness

Last night was one of those nights where you wonder how you were able to function when your children were infants. Our kids have been fairly decent sleepers for most of their lives, but in the past month our son and daughter seem to take turns waking up in the middle of the night for one reason or another. Last night it was the fact that our daughter needed her sheets pulled up. After pulling up her sheets and flopping back into bed, she called out requesting that I turn on the bathroom light for her. (The bathroom light shines into their room.) When this request was denied, the waterworks erupted. You would have thought that we had thrown her favorite stuffed animal (Snuffy) out the window. Even though they have a great nightlight in their room, it was not good enough for her. There is a part of the request that is pointed towards wanting some more light, but the majority of it was focused on controlling the situation. She calmed down and fell back asleep, but it through me for a loop. When your sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night, you can never seem to get a quality night of sleep. It is one thing to stumble into the bathroom at 1:47 am to use the facilities, and it is a completely different thing to have to get up and do something that requires brain power. Sure I have had to wake up and change sheets, wipe up vomit, rub a back, and re-tuck in covers, but it never ends good the next morning.

This whole episode last night made me think of a couple of fantastic people that I know and knew who were late night eaters. Uncle Steve wakes up every night around midnight, eats a large snack and then goes right back to bed. Some nights it is a banana smothered in peanut butter, other nights it is all of the pecans off of the top of his mother-in-laws pecan pie. He doesn't discriminate against food. Our old neighbor was known to wake up in the middle of the night and wolf down a large bowl of ice cream. How does one wake up in the middle of the night, eat something, and then just fall back asleep? I would be dead if I woke up in the middle of the night every night to eat something. I have a hard time eating something after about 9:00 pm. Plus, are your tastebuds really functioning at their maximum capacity in the middle of the night?

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Bar

Yesterday was my daughter's fifth birthday. I love to decorate cakes and always ask the kids what they want for their birthday. This year Mattie asked for a Deedee Doodle birthday cake. The majority of this requests was generated from her thumbing through the cake books at Target and the local grocery store. Every time that we are purchasing lunch meat from the deli, the kids love to run over and look at all the airbrushed cakes that are compiled in a binder at the bakery. I am not an airbrusher, but knew that I could grant her request for the Doodlebops cake. As I began to plan for this cake I made some initial sketches and evaluated whether or not I was going to be able to pull off this new feat.

Whenever I make another cake, I attempt to make it bigger and better than the one before it. In August I tried my hand at constructing a cake that had a skeleton. The high heeled shoe that I made turned out very well, but not exactly the way that I wanted it to, due to the materials I used for the skeleton of the shoe. I was not going to make that same mistake with this cake. Everything came together quite well, until about 11:30 pm on Saturday night when I was tired and getting frustrated with the mediums that I was using. The cake was not looking like the prototype did in my head. After sleeping on it, I awoke Sunday morning feeling much better about the cake and what I was attempting. Mattie was thrilled with her cake and I was mostly pleased with the end product.

A friend posed an interesting question for me though: If you have set the bar here for her fifth birthday, what will you need to be making when she turns sixteen? I have never stopped to think about that, nor have I ever lived my life wondering about how high I am setting the bar. I want to put forth my best effort in the present and will worry about how high the bar is when I get to that time. I think that when we choose to do less than we can, in order to preserve our best for later, we are doing ourselves and others a disservice. I have never put forth a mediocre effort on Monday, so that my boss is impressed when I am working at full capacity on Friday. In my opinion, when we do our best today, our best tomorrow will be even better. I do not know what my daughter will ask for her sixteenth birthday cake, but I know that I will be up for the challenge when I get there. The hard and fast reality is that day will be here before I know it, and that is scary!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Welcome to the future

There is a newer Country song by Brad Paisley entitled, "Welcome to the Future." It is a great song that talks about how far we have come with technology in the last sixty plus years. Today at work I am having some serious "welcome to the future" moments. My grandfather and then my father owned a car dealership back in the 1970's and early 80's so I have been familiar with that new car smell. The new Hybrid Prius that I am driving, while at work, makes those "new" cars look archaic. First off this vehicle is a hybrid. If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would be driving a car that was propelled by mostly battery power I would have said you were crazy. Beyond the battery, you do not need a key to lock or unlock the doors, or start it for that matter. Every thing is done through a simple touch. Oh, did I mention that I am typing this post from the passenger seat of this vehicle. Laptops used to be a thing of the future and now people are carrying them around in their pockets. When I graduated from college ten years ago very few people had email accounts that they used at libraries, let alone blogs they would update through a wireless card. Speaking of wireless, this vehicle is equipped with voice activated bluetooth. I know you have seen the commercials with all the voice activation stuff, but using it is another thing. F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S! Sure this care if great. It is brand new and has all the bells and whistles, but in another year it will be just another car. Although it will end up being just another car, the technological advances are still mind blowing. Where are we going to be in another 5, 10, 25 years? What will my kids be driving when they are thirty-five. I am not about to jump on the hover board craze with Marty McFly, but I am know that wherever technology is then is going to be amazing. What blows your mind about technology in your life?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Language Learning

In order to qualify myself for admission into a few key doctoral programs I am required to take Greek and Hebrew. I have taken foreign languages in the past. English...check! German...check! Spanish...check! Greek...check! Hebrew...NOPE! So here I am in this bonus year of Seminary trying to take Greek and Hebrew at the same time with the option of taking German in the Spring. It is great to tell fellow seminarians that I am taking both Greek and Hebrew at the same time because most of them about keel over. I, on the other hand, have found it quite interesting. The best part about taking them at the same time is that they are taught completely different. My Greek teacher is old school and beats us over the head with drilling paradigms and mastering flashcards. "Know it COLD!" he says. Dr. Vogt, on the other hand, is loose and fun. He has adopted the conversational method of teaching Hebrew and has a ball with it. I look forward to going to Hebrew because it is like participating in an improv drama game that is full of laughter, confusion, and self discovery. Instead of making flashcards with foreign characters on them we are looking at goofy pictures and listening to audio. It is a mini exercise in hermeneutics. The best part is that I am learning. I am learning not only words, but phrases and full sentences. Learning a language can be fun! When I begin to discouraged I have to step back and think to myself, " are in the same place your kids were and are." This is not something that I have been doing for twenty-nine years of my life. This is BRAND NEW! Last year at this time I was trying to learn new English words in order to rock on the GRE. I spent hours a day drilling words that normal people have never heard and will never use in their life, but I needed to know them for some ridiculous standardized test that has become the measuring stick for graduate studies. Learning new languages and new words is something that makes my brain hurt, but invigorates my soul. I listen to my daughter attempt to form Spanish words on a regular basis. She has extremely limited exposure to the Spanish language, but she tries. That is all we can do, try. We try, try, and try again! The key to anything new in our lives is about the determination that it takes to maintain the journey when it becomes difficult. I do not think that anyone needs to rush out and study Hebrew or Greek, in particular, but I think that we would all do well to learn a new word or phrase each and every day of our lives. Our world is becoming more global by the minute and we should not assume the egotistical position that, "all must learn English." You can have fun and make the lives of others better by simply trying to learn even a few words and phrases of another language. Trust me, you will not regret the decision to step out and try something new. Remember though, you did not enter this world speaking full English sentences. Shoot, some people at forty years of age still struggle to formulate sentences in English that make sense. Go for it!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ultimate Food

Blueberries, salmon, accai berries, and nuts are all categorized as super foods. Bananas, onions, and garlic are all foods that I have deemed as invaders. The ultimate food though, is bacon! I know, I know, some people are thinking that bacon is unhealthy and should be removed from everyone's diet. Hear me out on this hypothesis. Bacon is a food that can stand alone as the best piece of your meal, or meld into a meal to take it to the next level. Bacon is great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack, or even in dessert. Bacon takes any salad that it is added to and ratchets it up a few notches. Take an already exceptional food like filet mignon. Sure it is already on the top shelf of your dinner menu by itself; wrap it in bacon and you have a feature item. Little smokies, fabulous by themselves, exceptional when wrapped in bacon. Green beans straight out of the garden will knock your socks off, but add a little bacon to the equation and your taste buds are in heaven. What is a BLT without the bacon? Who is going to eat a lettuce and tomato sandwich on toast? You add some bacon and anyone will wrap their mitts around that. Any average hamburger can become great when you add a couple slices of thick cut bacon to the top. These thoughts came to me over the weekend when I was making our first batch of chilli for the fall. Chilli is something that is really hard to screw up, but when you fry up some bacon to start things off you absolutely cannot go wrong. The bacon grease provides a smokey atmosphere to saute up your onion, garlic, and tomatoes that cannot be duplicated by any other food. Sure some would argue that it is just all the fat the bacon brings to the dish. Not so fast my friend. Butter is fat, but does not pack near the taste sensation that good bacon does. Think about it, have the Canadians tried to develop their own, "Canadian butter?" I don't think so. Bacon is so good that everyone wants to be known in the same culinary sphere. Next time you are thinking about how you can make your dish better, just add a little bacon. Go ahead, sprinkle some bacon on the top of that sundae for a savory experience. You will not be let down.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Art Imitating Life

I know that Oscar Wilde said the exact opposite, but I am not fully convinced of the great Wilde's belief. Last night my wife and I finally had the opportunity to sit down and watch "The Soloist" with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Since we have two children we do not always get to see current films in the theater, but that is a different discussion and a different post! This film is about so much more than the development of a relationship between two strangers, or even the journey of self discovery for a popular and edgy L.A. Times columnist. It is about uncovering the dark reality of mental illness and its affects on America's social outcasts through the life of an extremely gifted African American chelist. Since I am aware that some who made read this have not seen the film I will refrain from giving a detailed review of the movie. The motivation for this posting is the reality that is facing our country on and off the streets of all towns and cities in our country and world. The study and treatment of mental illness has come leaps and bounds from where it used to be, but this does not mean we have come far enough. Celebrities have brought the spotlight to things like breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, ALS, spinal chord injuries, and even AIDS. However, mental illness is still something that is largely ignored and chastised in our culture. You do not become famous when you have a mental illness. You do not rarely become the most successful or greatest in your field when you are gripped by bipolar disorder or pschysofrenia.

Too often people believe that the only reason people are homeless or unemployed is because they are lazy and just do not work hard enough. A dear friend of mine exposed this myth to me while working on a research project in college. He traced the root cause of homelessness and unemployment in individuals and discovered that mental illness often has a large impact on people's living and employment situations. This same friend has gone on to obtain his masters in counseling and is helping people who are often in this exact situation. His clients often have a hard time doing the most basic things in the day. Obviously, he cannot tell me the details of his clients situations, but I know that some of them deal with more in a day than I will deal with in a lifetime. The human mind is an incredible thing. A minor chemical imbalance can change everything about how an individual sees the world. People who joke about the voices in their head have absolutely no idea the agony that this brings to countless people in this world. Steve Lopez's book, and subsequent movie, flipped the spotlight on this issue in L.A. and will not allow people to bury their heads in the sand on this topic. The people who lay their heads on the park benches and concrete of our cities are sons and daughters just like you. They often have not chosen their position in life and cannot do anything about the chemical makeup of their brain. Sure certain medications and therapy can help these people live moderately normal lives, but this does not put a roof over their heads, nor does it allow them to build life enriching relationships. These people need advocates. They need listeners. They need US!

Recently I have been frustrated about my job and rejection from the doctoral programs that I applied to last fall. I have been feeling sorry for the fact that I have to wait a whole other year to attempt to get into a program that I might not even get into. I have been wondering why I am working a job that seemingly is making no difference in the world. Shame on me! There are people struggling every day to simply make it through the day. I need to stop thinking that the problems that I am facing are the biggest problems in the world and require me to stress about. I need to start making a real difference in the world. I need to start looking out for those who need someone to simply listen to them and be their friend. Steve Lopez was not guided by any sort of religious conviction; he simply was drawn in by the story of another human being. We as the Church are called by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to serve as the hands and feet of God. We do not need a passport to care for others. Mental illness is not something that is going to go away. People need us to not find them the next best medication, but to simply find them. To be listen to them. To simply be with them. Life may imitate art, but I think when art imitates life we are able to understand the real life changing stories in our world that are happening right under our noses.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Running with your head

It has been almost a week since I ran the 2009 Chicago marathon. If you look back through my blog, you will find my posting about running the Twin Cities marathon last fall. Chicago could not have been any more different. After completing three marathons, I decided to take a different approach to my fourth. I invested some money in a trainer, and chose a new running program in an effort to get myself under the four hour mark. Last Sunday in Chicago it ALL paid off. The key to my run was not the shoes I had on, or even the running plan that I had tried to remain faithful to; it was my strategy for the race. I have heard people talk about running the first ten miles of the marathon with your head, but could never really understand why. How am I really going to make or break the race in the first ten miles? The proof was in the splitting. I took my goal time for the race and cut it in half. I told myself that I was going to run the first half of the race as if it were a separate race. Each of the first thirteen miles were focused on getting me to the 13.1 mile mark at 1:55. I knew that if I was at this pace come the halfway mark, I would be in a position to finish in under the 3:50 mark. I did not need to be under that mark, but knew I could not be much over it. The race began with the chaos of 40,000 individuals attempting to navigate the streets of the Windy City at a rapid pace. As the first miles progressed I knew that I was sitting in a good spot. Shortly after getting back into the downtown area, I crossed the key threshold at 1:54 and change. It was if I had just one my race, even though I was only half done. You see, last year at the TC marathon I hit the half marathon mark at 1:49 and knew that I was in WAY over my head. I spent the next 13.1 miles just trying not to keel over. This Sunday was different. My head had overcome my ego and I was right where I wanted to be. My back straightened, my shoulders rolled back, and I had a new lease on this thing they call the marathon. As a result of this wise running I was able to revaluate my pace at each of the next 5K markers all the way to the end. The final shot in the arm that I received that propelled me to the finish under my goal time was having my wife run alongside of me for what seemed like nearly a mile with only two miles to go. She had conquered her own Everest for the day and was still able to knock off some strides with me. Oh, and I cannot forget Jimmy trying to join me at the 25th mile. I have never wanted to outrun someone so bad. My tank was nearly empty, but I knew I could not let this guy run me into the ground. Instead of dragging my lifeless body across the finish; I was able to log an 8:30 mile at the end of the race and still be smiling at the finish. Running is about so much more than shoes, gear, and fartleks! It is about using your head and your heart to get yourself to a particular goal. You all can do it. You just need to clue your mind in on this reality so that it can pass that on to your body!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crossing Seasonal Lines

I am amazed every year when I first see the Christmas items in the store. I realize that America is capitalistic and consumer driven, but we really need to establish some boundaries for seasons. Of course there are specialty stores where you can by a hand carved Santa in June or a clay Easter Bunny in August, but the "Big Box" stores need to chill out. Sure we have had our first snow in Minnesota and it we are not even halfway through October, but this does not mean that winter or Christmas are anywhere close to being here. I have never been a big Halloween decorator and don't really get geeked up to decorate for Turkey Day. However, I think I might need to start in order to fend off the Christmas addicts. Mary was barely into her third trimester at this point and could not have given birth to a healthy baby Jesus in October. Also, why are we putting seasonal food items on the shelves well in advance of their optimum consumption time period? I have not even tasted a piece of candy corn or one of those maple candies that come wrapped in that nasty black and orange wax paper. Can I not enjoy a few pumpkin pie blizzards before jumping into the egg nog? Solomon let us know that there is a season for everything. We need to just calm down, reach for the spiced apple cider and gaze at the fall beauty. Sure Christmas is coming. It always does. This does not mean that we need to start planning for it now. Is the garland that you bought in 1984 not still going to get you in the Christmas spirit after Thanksgiving. That is what I said, AFTER THANKSGIVING. May I suggest adding some boundaries to your seasonal consumption in order to get the most out of what each celebration has to offer. No pumpkin before October 1. No roasted turkey until at least November 1. Keep the jellied cranberries sealed up until after the middle of the month. Absolutely no egg nog until Black Friday. Leave the peppermint stick ice cream in the freezer, AT THE STORE, until you are ready to start baking Christmas cookies. No baking Christmas cookies until the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone. No jelly beans until Ash Wednesday. I could keep going, but I fear I could be hunted down for some of these comments. Please, do yourself, and the rest of us a favor. Savor each season. We are not going to run short on fruit cake or hot toddies. Grab a caramel apple and think of how you can enjoy this month. You will be much happier if you do.