Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Greatest Gift

My Christmas was most memorable this year. I hope yours was, too.

In a previous post, I stated how I hate the societal expectation of buying and giving gifts, simply because of the day of the year. Whenever anyone asked me this year, "What do you want for Christmas?", I replied. "Nothing". I wasn't being harsh or crass - I simply don't need anything.

For Christmas this year, we drew names of people in our extended family who we would buy for. It was all a secret (no one knew who anyone else had), so I told as many people in the family as possible that I didn't want anything. That there were millions of other people in the world with far less than me.

On Christmas morning, I learned that my youngest son, Eliot, had my name. I really wasn't expecting him to "get" the idea of me not wanting anything. Boy...I wasn't ready for the shocker he had in store for me.

After most gifts were opened and enjoyed, Eliot says, "Look, Dad. There is an envelope in the Christmas tree." I reached up to retrieve it and he told me this was his gift to me. As I opened the envelope and read the contents, a flood of emotion overcame me and the tears started to flow. My son had given me a sponsored child from Swaziland through World Vision. Her name is Wakhile. She is 6 years old and adorable!

My son got it! It wasn't about getting me something I didn't need. The greatest gift I received this year was the realization that my son learned the value of helping others who are less fortunate.

As I read the note he included for me, and my tears flowed, I looked over to him and the tears were flowing down his face, too. It was a great moment...for both of us.

I am exceptionally thrilled about sponsoring Wakhile. You see, I have been to Swaziland twice on humanitarian efforts and am very accustom to the country, the people, and their great need. The country has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. I really hope to return to Swaziland some day and hopefully meet Wakhile. I know I will definitely return to Africa.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We Are All Millionaires

I was an emotional wreck last night.

I watched the show, "The Secret Millionaire".

If you have never seen this show before, I strongly encourage you to. Just make sure you have a box of Puffs next to you (hey...I work for P&G. I can't refer to them as kleenex). I had not ever seen it before and I was completely unprepared for the flood of raw emotion.

Here's the premise: A multi-millionaire goes under-cover in an extremely impoverished area of the country and lives with the poor and destitute for a week. They identify those in greatest need, and at the end of the week, they get out their own checkbooks and give away at least $100,000 to those they feel are most in need of financial assistance.

I was blown away by the concept and had to watch to see how "real" it was going to be.

Let me give you a bit of background about me. About seven years ago, I went to Africa for the first time in my life (Swaziland). It's the second smallest country in Africa and has the highest AIDS rate in the world. At the time, nearly 1 in 2 people in the country was infected. I saw entire families made-up of only children because the parents had died off. There was virtually no one my age in the country - just the very young and the very old. Extreme poverty, poor living conditions, and malnutrition. Then I came home (after a week) to what I can only describe as "gross over-abundance". The excess we have in this country is disgusting, gross, and shameful. I'm as guilty as you. That experience, and another one two years later, changed my life and how I see "stuff" - material possessions. So since then, every year at Christmas time, I am so frustrated by the societal expectation to get "stuff" I don't need and to give "stuff" that others don't need. Ask my family - they keep asking me what I want for Christmas and I keep telling them, "Nothing. I have all I need and more".

So this millionaire lives a week in one of the poorest areas of Pennsylvania, in a roach-infested apartment with little heat that costs $47/week for rent. And all she has is $107 to live off of - welfare wages. After a week, she identifies, 1) a woman who cares for approximately 15 under-privileged kids by herself, including a number of foster kids, and wishes she could help more, 2) a widowed mom of three young boys who lives in a broken-down house and is barely making it, but being a pillar for her boys; her husband died unexpectedly about 6 months previously from a heart attack, and 3) a woman who buys groceries and delivers boxes of food to the doorsteps of poor families every week because she sees the need. At the end of the week, the child-care woman gets a check for $30,000 and a truck-load of toys for the kids, the young widow gets a check for $70,000, and the woman feeding the poor gets $100,000 - all from a stranger from a fortunate life.

I was watching the show with my oldest son, Gavin, and during one of the commercials he turned to me and said he felt guilty. Here he is watching these very poor people and then the next second he is watching commercials for buying sweaters and watches and cars and phones. He made me proud in that moment. He got it. I agreed with him and told him I felt guilty for watching the show on my flat-screen TV.

You see...if you are reading this, you are rich. We all are. We are all millionaires. We all have more than we need and we still buy more. And what are we doing to help the people down the road, or in the next town who are barely making it. Do we see them? Do we think about them?

Rob Bell says, "It's easy for us to fall into a mindset of viewing "our" world as "the" world, because it's all we generally see. We're constantly bombarded with images of the latest styles and models of everything, and it can easily leave us feeling like what we have isn't enough because we see people that have even more than us. But how does what we have compare to what most people in the world have? Maybe what we have is enough; maybe it's more than enough. Maybe God has blessed us with everything we have so we can bless and give to others."

This Christmas, I want to give away more than I receive. And I don't mean sweaters or video games or MP3 players. I want to give away food to the hungry, blankets to the cold, water to the thirsty, and companionship to the lonely. Because I'm rich.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Merry Xmas

I have been troubled lately by a phrase I keep seeing. I see it on Facebook, I see it in emails, and last night I saw it for the umpteenth time (although I must admit, I am not even sure how many an umpteen is, but I know it's a lot) on a bumper sticker.

It's not like I have never seen this phrase before. It's just that it is really getting to me this Christmas season. So let me apologize in advance if this phrase is currently on your vehicle or as a footnote to all your emails, or if you are part of a personal campaign to...

"Keep Christ in Christmas"

My annoyance at this phrase is that a group of Christians (either a minority or a majority) feel that the abbreviation "Xmas" is an attempt to "x-out" the name of Christ from Christmas, to demote Christ to a mere cosmic algebraic variable. To which my response is, "Oh, come on...really?"

Maybe their just naive. If that's the case, let me explain where Xmas came from. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ. Since the mid-16th century 'Χ', or the similar Roman letter 'X', has been used as an abbreviation for Christ. Hence, Xmas is often used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

It's funny. I don't see these same Christians with bumper stickers or campaigns stating, "Keep Christ in Before Christ". BC is a common abbreviation for denoting a time before Christ, but no one gets upset for replacing Christ with a 'C'. And several Christians, whether they are part of the Xmas Strike Force or not, wear WWJD bracelets and T-Shirts without thinking twice that they just substituted Jesus with the letter 'J'.

And honestly, does it really matter? What kind of message are we sending to people who read this kind of stuff on our emails and cars? Is it drawing people closer to X? Or reinforcing the idea that Xians major on the minors and minor on the majors? I think the latter. Is our faith so weak that we are threatened by 'Xmas', feeling we need to right a societal wrong, because Christ could actually loose the spotlight of Christmas?

So here's my Xmas wish to all reading - No matter what anyone else thinks or promotes, know that Xmas is only about Christ's birth and the gift He gave to us.

Merry Xmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gift Giving

Tis the season...

...for all us men to blow the whole "gift giving" concept...again.

OK, if none of you are willing to admit it, I'll make it personal, and you can all agree silently in your heads.

I think for the most part, we (men) loose the skill of gift-giving after about age 30. I think there may be several reasons, but for the most part I think it's partly society's fault. We live in an age where we don't wait for birthdays or Christmas or anniversaries to buy ourselves or others gifts - we simply get stuff when we see it or find it on sale. A gift is a gift, no matter when someone receives it. Am I wrong?

Here's the test: When was the last time you told yourself or someone else that you really wanted something, but to "wait" till my birthday, or Christmas, or some other special event day? I can't recall for myself.

My wife and I have gotten into a habit lately around gift giving. For the simple reasons already stated, we rarely get anything for each other on special event days (like our anniversary or Christmas), because it seems silly to buy a gift simply because of the societal expectation. Point made by the gasps I just heard.

However, there is one VERY IMPORTANT distinction to this simple rule...a distinction that I painfully learned this past September. Men, please don't miss this critical point:

A woman wants a gift on her birthday

By gift, I don't mean just simple recognition of her birthday, with a "Happy Birthday" greeting or a store bought card. I mean a thoughtful, insightful, gift. Something that communicates that you have been thinking about this for awhile. And put some thought into the entire day.
I really blew it this past September. I won't make that mistake again. I simply extrapolated the "no gift" policy to her birthday - an extrapolation that fails every logical scenario. It was the worst blunder you can make.

The second worst is getting a gift with no thought - a dishwasher, vacuum, or gym membership. Or one that actually benefits you instead of her - a flat-screen TV with surround sound, a video game console, or tickets to a sporting event.

So the point of this post is this: Be Clear about expectations around gift-giving. Ask questions. Research. Plan. Be thoughtful. And do your best to stay out of the dog-house! Good luck!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Things I Don't Miss...

  • My hair in junior high
  • My first car (a Chevy Vega)
  • Physics
  • The length of winter in New York
  • Feeling lonely
  • My boss from Instrumentation Laboratories
  • Childhood care-sickness
  • Dating
  • Superficiality
  • TV without remotes

Things I Miss...

  • The music of the 80's always being on the radio
  • High School buddies
  • The spontaneity that Jess and I had before kids
  • My first dog - Tallulah
  • Building forts
  • Fishing with Murphy
  • The beach
  • Irresponsibility
  • My college waist-size
  • My Dad

Monday, December 1, 2008

Answers...and Questions

In the deep end of life, we long for answers. When things are tough, we ask, plead, beg for answers. But why do the answers we desperately desire sometimes lead to more questions?

We were driving home (from CT to OH) on Saturday. We knew we had at least a 12 hour drive ahead of us, and were planning on only going about half way, and completing the journey home on Sunday. We got a late start, it was dark outside, the weather started raining & sleeting, we were about two hours away from our scheduled stop, when the sound started...


and it was getting louder and more serious sounding. I know you can relate. Not a good sound for your car to be making 6-7 hours from home, in a strange place, at night, with it very cold out, and your car is loaded with your family. No one wants to be stuck on the side of the PA Turnpike at night with 70 MPH traffic whizzing by you, inches away.

So we pulled off at the next exit. We found a Hampton Inn with availability and spent the night. We figured we would be here until at least Monday, when we could get someone to look at the car. But we were praying, asking, pleading for answers.

When we were checking in, we began talking with the young woman behind the counter about our situation and what was around the area. She mentioned that her sister's boyfriend was a mechanic and had his own garage. She gave us his name and number and told us to call him in the morning. Sunday morning. Really? Sunday morning? He would be willing to look at our car on Sunday morning? Possibly.

In the morning, I placed a call to Don, the mechanic. I explained the situation about my car, how I came to get his number, and he graciously gave me directions to his garage. It was about 20 miles away from the hotel.

I got in the car and headed to Don's. The car sounded horrible. I seriously wondered if I would make it to his garage before breaking down, it was that bad. I was traveling slow, thinking that I didn't want to create any more damage, not knowing if that had an ounce of logic or reason. Needless to say, I prayed, and prayed hard, the entire way. Asking, pleading, begging. I was in an unknown area in the PA mountains with no cell service with KLUNK that was slowly transforming to a GRIND.

I approached a section of road that called for a speed limit of 55MPH. What was I going to do? The cars behind me would soon be getting irritated. That's all I needed on top of everything else: Hunting Season Eve Road Rage. So I sped up to 55. At this speed, the sound of the grinding was a bit lost in the road sounds. But I knew it was still there. It was there all yesterday, masked in the road sounds on the Turnpike, only to reveal itself when we slowed down.

I traveled at this speed for about 10 minutes, still praying for this problem to go away, and then came to an area where I needed to return to about 35MPH. When I slowed down, I couldn't believe my ears. There was not a sound from the car.

The answer I was begging for was given.

I continued on to Don's garage and he looked over the car. He jacked it up so we could look under the entire car with a fine-tooth comb and found nothing. He poked, probed, prodded, tugged, and twisted. He could find nothing. I felt just like my wife when she insists the car is making a weird sound, but it never replicates for me when I am listening for it. While Don was looking at the car, I explained that I had been praying that the car's problem would go away, but I would have also liked the assurance of knowing what caused the problem.

Here's the dilemma that I started with: Why do the answers we desperately desire sometimes lead to more questions? Is this really an answer to prayer, or a twisted trick my vehicle is playing on me, only to start grinding again about a mile down the road from Don's garage? Why can't we just believe, give thanks, and move on? Why is an answer to prayer sometimes so unbelievable? Which makes you wonder if that's where we're coming from, why pray at all? Do we pray, believing in an answer, or only skeptically hoping? Tough questions for all of us...or at least me.

As I thought about the situation and the evidence before me (that there was nothing that could be found wrong with the car), I believed whole-heartedly. How could I not?

During a test drive of the car (before I left Don and his garage), he and I drove a few miles down the road. Don started to share with me that his girlfriend doesn't believe in miracles. But he says, if you believe in God, how can you not believe in miracles. If we believe He is the creator of the universe, He can do anything He darn well pleases. A stranger in Hopewell, PA (no joke...that's the name of the town), reminds me of faith, miracles, and answers.

As I write, hindsight reminds me that the car's fix was not the only answer; there was the available hotel at the right spot, the woman who had a friend who was a mechanic, the mechanic willing to look at a strangers car on a Sunday morning...that was a holiday weekend, no less, the kindness of strangers, safety, etc, etc, etc.....

For the remaining six hour drive home that afternoon and evening, the car never made a sound. And why should it?

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Thank you, Bob!"

I had a bit of a shocker Thanksgiving this year. Actually, the shock came the day before Thanksgiving, but the event returned me to my spiritual roots and really caused me to stop and ponder my life. But let me start at the beginning...

For those of you who don't know me that well, my journey of discovering God began in high school. My best friend, Rob, had the guts and where-with-all to invite me to the Youth Group he had started attending a few weeks earlier. I quickly made some excellent friends (people who are friends of mine to this day; friends I would do anything for), as well as finding a friend and mentor in Bob Lester, my Youth Pastor. Bob and I hit it off and quickly became aware that parts of us were cut from the same fabric; we were both pranksters and we both loved a good water-balloon fight. On a Summer night in 1978, after dinner at his house, I recall sitting around his dining room table with Rob and another mutual friend, John Fielder, and praying. The race-gun fired and I began chasing God.

I could say that in an evening my life changed. But in reality and hindsight, that was actually only the start of my life changing. And Bob had almost everything to do with it. I looked up to him and respected him. He was genuine and sincere in everything. He knew the equal value of having a serious discussion and having a good laugh. He was the kind of man I wanted to be. Apart from my Dad, Bob probably had the greatest influence on my life and an equal responsibility for who I am today.

After high school, I left the San Diego area (where I was living) to go to college. For the most part, I lost touch with Bob. My life was taking off, I was leaving the nest, and I was drawn by the future.

A few years ago, out of the blue, I was spending quite a bit of time remembering Bob and the impact he had on my life. I saw where I was in my life, what I had done with the blank canvas given to me, and was so grateful to Bob for the time he had invested in me as a teenager. I couldn't begin to imagine where I would have been if my life hadn't crossed paths with Bob. I reached out to a friend who was still in touch with Bob and his family to see if I could get his address. I wanted to drop him a note of "thanks" and tell him how much he influenced my life and was responsible for where and who I was. I got his email address and sent him a long letter. He replied shortly, and told me how thankful he was for the note, how proud he was of me, and how my gratitude had touched him. That was the last time I heard from him.

On Wednesday this week, I learned that Bob Lester passed away in his sleep. If that wasn't shock enough, I was also told by a family friend that Bob's will had me listed as someone to officiate his funeral if his pastor couldn't do it. I was both humbled and moved. I realized that, over the years, the respect I had for Bob became mutual. I only realized that this week.

"Bob, you will be missed, but not forgotten. Rest assured, your gift lives on in me and many others who were the recipients of your genuine love, playful spirit, and love of God. We are poorer from your passing, but heaven is richer. Thank you, Bob!"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What the Heck?

No Joke! I heard a word three times yesterday, all in different settings and at different times, that I have never heard before in my life.

I was beginning to question the value of my "so-called" higher education, or was it merely a by-product of living so close to Kentucky.


If you are saying to yourself, right now, "Oh yeah, I know what that is", you are far more worldly than I, and no longer need to continue reading this post (except to mock and ridicule my ignorance).

If, on the other hand, you are as befuddled as I was yesterday, keep reading.

Turducken (noun); A dish consisting of a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck that has been stuffed with a small deboned chicken, and also containing stuffing; (pl. turduckens); a Louisiana specialty.

You read right. Some Cajun-inspired, Iron Chef wanna-be, with way too much time on their hands, created a meat potpourri that apparently has quite a bit of popularity with folks around this time of year. I did some research on turducken and found it quite interesting. I would actually like to try one sometime, but maybe on someone else's tab. A 15-25 lb. turducken will run you about $90 - $125. Apparently, most of that cost is labor, as we all know turkey, duck , and chicken are not that expensive. Someones making a killing!

So, how did I (and maybe you) go so long and not hear about turducken before?

That's a question for my chefrieneighbor!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jumpin' the Gun

We all know Thanksgiving is next week, and the blogosphere will be filled with posts about being thankful, personal lists of what people are thankful for, Thanksgiving memories, and even a few Thanksgiving dinner favorite recipes. But a series of events that I have been reading, hearing, and experiencing is causing me to get my 'thankful' thoughts down early. So I'm jumpin' the gun.

Actually, the word "thankful" this time of year is way overused. It has become a cliche for most. It's use doesn't even cause most of us to stop and ponder the real meaning. It's like saying you feel 'fine' when someone asks how you're doing. You reply with the pat answer without even a second thought.

So I'm taking 'thankful' to the next level - Gratitude.

(the symbol for gratitude)

Gratitude can be defined several ways, but I especially like this one:

"Kindness awakened by a favor received"

I like this definition because gratitude calls for action. Thankfulness tends to be static, whereas gratitude tends to be dynamic. It assumes that there is more to come...that this is not the end.

Gratitude is the attitude of thankfulness. It's not just being thankful, but all the motivation behind it as well. Gratitude is the emotional connection to being thankful. And don't forget perspective. A couple weeks ago, I had a friend go into surgery to have a brain tumor removed...for the second time. About a week before he entered the hospital, he was explaining to me that since most brain tumors are malignant, the neurologists offices are located in the cancer ward of the hospital. His tumor is benign, and despite the risks of surgery and the fear and uncertainty of the outcome, he had such an attitude of thankfulness that he was far better off than most in the waiting room. That's gratitude!

I recently heard someone define gratitude as being thankful for those wonderful things in our lives that we didn't ask the smell and sound of the ocean, the kindness of a stranger, that last breath you took.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mistaken Identity

A friend of mine works at the United Nations in NYC at the Christian Embassy. I've known him since my college days. Mike's a great guy.

He recently sent me a letter to update me on his life and family. He and his wife are going to be moving to London next summer. But I digress...

The point of this post is to share with you a story he shared with me in his letter, that deserves repeating.

Mike was recently on the subway (in NYC) heading to Grand Central Station. In the car, he noticed a dark-skinned man in a suit with a foreign flag pin on his lapel. Mike had to introduce himself and find out where he was from. His name was James and was a diplomat from Ethiopia, visiting the UN for two weeks. Mike and James talked for awhile and then arrived at Grand Central Station. It had started raining fairly hard, so Mike, being the great, generous guy he is, gave James his UN umbrella. They parted ways.

A couple days later, Mike ran into James at the UN. James had a big smile on his face. James explained to Mike that the afternoon he met Mike on the subway, he told everyone he ran into, "I met Jesus on the train and he gave me his umbrella".

How many times have we been mistaken for Jesus? Far too few, if ever, if we're honest. Can you think of any better challenge for the week?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Myopic America

Let's be honest with ourselves. We are pretty self-centered as a country.

I was reminded of this on a plane ride home from New Orleans yesterday. I was sitting in a area that was surrounded by a group of French physicians and/or nurses (I know this because they were carrying the same totes from the conference I was attending) that were heading back to France. And at least two of them (sitting across from me) had two different French magazines...with Barack Obama on the cover.

This caught my attention for several reasons. It must be very difficult to find French magazines in the States, so they must have brought them with them from home. But here was the President Elect on the cover. When do you recall ever seeing the French President Elect on the cover of any US magazine? I don't. Can you even name the French President? Don't go look it up and post the answer in a comment - I mean recall the name from memory...right now.

Forget France. How about our friends in the UK. Do you know the name of the UK Prime Minister? How about naming two other countries that border Iraq? Do you know what country the city of Monte Carlo is in? Do I need to go on? Have I made my point?

Do you ever notice how US-centric our news is in the States? Apart from Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, we rarely ever hear about anything else happening in the rest of the world. Turn on the news tonight and count how many news stories come from around the world, with the exception of these three places.

When was the last time you heard about the genocide still occurring in Darfur? How about any news from Africa for that matter?

In 2002, here were some (embarrassing) findings from geography scores of young Americans:

Among 18- to 24-year-old Americans given maps:
  • 87 percent cannot find Iraq
  • 83 percent cannot find Afghanistan
  • 76 percent cannot find Saudi Arabia
  • 70 percent cannot find New Jersey
  • 49 percent cannot find New York
  • 11 percent cannot find the United States

Learn something about the world this week you didn't know before. I dare you!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I just got back tonight from a business trip to New Orleans. I had been to New Orleans once before...before Katrina...and sorry to say, it is the least favorite city I have ever visited (and I have driven through Kentucky and McDonough, NY).

I wasn't looking forward to going back, especially post-Katrina.

To tell you the truth, it looks no different. I must not have seen the Katrina-hit areas.

I took a few pictures to remember this trip since I don't think I will be going back (unless for business reasons, again). Enjoy!

(I love the name of this bar!)

(The Mississippi River)

(The Saint Louis Cathedral)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Deep Thoughts

Life is deep...and so are these thoguhts.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


It's that time of year. I know the holidays are just around the corner, and I am already carrying about 15 extra pounds that crept up on me like a bad pair of underwear.

This is a horrible time of year to try to loose weight, too. Halloween just ended and the house is full of candy and sweets. I am already thinking about the Thanksgiving day menu. And then Christmas is next with it's array of candy, cakes, desserts, etc.

So, enjoy my new holiday theme song:

Weird Al Yankovich - Fat
Uploaded by baajos

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Look Back

I have been voluntarily reserved in speaking about the presidential campaign over the past few months. At times it has been difficult. I have had friends try to convince me of "their right" answer(s). I have had others partake in the sad, self-righteous, cowardly attempt to "make their point" at the cost of propagating lies and rumors that were so blatantly comical that it made them look desperate. And through it all, I have tried to be quiet...and listen...and take it in. All of it.

Because I think there is more to learn, than teach (or convince).

I was sad last night during John McCain's concession speech. Sad, because last night I saw the John McCain that I knew and respected from a year (and more) ago. Sad, because I think if he had carried himself with the respect and dignity that he showed last night, he may have won. Sad at the reaction of his staunchest followers (and sad yet again that they were fellow conservatives), that they felt compelled to vehemently "boo" the mere mention of Obama's name. Shame on them.

But the night wasn't all sad. It was also hopeful. Hopeful of a new start. Hopeful that one quality of Obama's campaign, respect, becomes infectious across this country and brings people together. Hopeful that a majority in this country might truly believe that change, although difficult, can be positive.

Last night was historic for this country. I am still in awe at the enormous chasm we spanned in a day. I cannot recall being more proud to be American.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Feeling Small

I was reminded today of the words of one of my favorite people - Steve Martin.

"I'm feeling...small."

I have been reminded of these profound words several times over the past week. Here are just a few:

  • A co-worker of mine just passed away unexpectedly this last week. Death always makes me feel small.

  • I watched "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" with my boys this week. Whether you believe in life on other planets (which, by the way, I don't), the idea of the vastness of space always makes me feel small.

  • Any glance up into the sky at night will make you feel small. I was reminded of that on Halloween night and the sliver of moon I saw in the sky this evening.

  • I attended church this weekend. If you are feeling 'big', just attend church. And I'm not talking about the number of people attending. If God doesn't make you feel small, nothing will.

I think it's good to be reminded (often) of how small we are. We have a natural human tendency to think more highly of ourselves than those around us. And I'd rather be part of a big thing, than be big all by myself.

I'm feeling small...and enjoying it!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Not Smarter than a 6th Grader

I went to my son's science fair this morning. He's in 6th grade. The entire class - every student - had a presentation of a famous person that they were depicting and sharing info about. I was amazed at what I didn't know.

Did you know:

  • Isaac Newton was pulled out of school to help on his family's farm? (Sorry...but his parents just weren't paying attention)

  • Jane Goodall became interested in chimps from a chimp doll that her Dad gave her as a child?

  • When Charles Darwin set out for the Galapagos Islands, he thought he was going to be gone for 2 years - ended up being 5 years?
  • The inventor of "Barbie" named the doll and Ken after the names of her two actual children? And she invented the artificial breast, as she was a breast cancer patient?

OK...neither did I. Now I don't feel so bad.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hog Heaven

Earlier this week, a group of us from work were asked to partake in an off-site "team building' exercise. Normally, I don't get too excited about these sort of things (because they don't usually live up to my expectations), but when I heard we would be cooking, I was jazzed!

The place was called The Art of Entertaining in Madison. There were about 20 of us, and at one point in the day, we broke into four teams and had an Iron Chef competition.

We had to use a table of ingredients to come up with a spring roll and dipping sauce that would be judged on taste, originality, and plating. And we had to make enough for everyone else to taste. We only had an hour. This 'foodie' was in hog heaven!

Half of our team worked on the filling for the spring roll, while the other half worked on several different dipping sauces. We had the time to come up with about four different flavors to determine which would go best with the roll (a spicy mex filling with black beans and veggies).

When the decision had to be made, my sauce was chosen. I called it "Cinnamon Kiwi Salsa". wasn't actually a dipping sauce. but my teammates loved it. Fresh diced tomatoes and kiwi, honey, cinnamon, and a slight dash of pomegranate juice. It was delicious if I do say so myself.

Well, we didn't end up winning the competition. We lost to a surprisingly delicious dessert spring roll that was filled with 'air' (don't ask). But, as we've all been taught, it's not whether you win or loose, but how you play the game. And we were playing to win, so it was a bummer all around. Seriously, we had a blast and made some great dishes.

So, all I have to say is, if Bobby Flay ever does a Throwdown with spring roll know where to find me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Litmus Test

ABC has a test at the below address to see who's campaign statements, McCain's or Obama's, you agree with most. They don't tell you who made the statements, of course, but a statement made by each candidate on the same topic (economy, immigration, judiciary, etc.) will be side by side. You just pick which statement you agree with and, after selecting all 13, you'll find out which candidate's philosophy you support.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Have you heard of the urban legend of spontaneous human combustion (SHC)? If not, SHC refers to the belief that the human body sometimes burns without an external source of ignition. There is much speculation and controversy regarding SHC, for it is an unproven natural phenomenon.

I was nearly a victim of it last night.

At 3:00AM, I woke up out of a dead sleep, feeling like I was about to self-combust.

The fact is, I have high triglycerides - a genetic gift from my parents that keeps on giving. My sister actually has it, too. A few years back, I had some blood work done and discovered that my triglycerides (the soluble fat in your blood) was sky-high. My doctor said to try to get it under control with exercise and diet, or I would need to go on prescription medication.

So I began asking around about this condition (I work for a pharmaceutical company and had the luxury of knowing a few cardiologists). Come to find out, a common vitamin (niacin), taken in high doses, can actually have a dramatic effect on reducing triglycerides.

But here's the catch - high doses of niacin cause flushing (and I don't mean the kind associated with Montezuma's revenge). I mean the kind associated with hot flashes. An intense and temporary 'burning sensation' that occurs over your entire body, starting from the top of your head and works it's way down your body, slowly. Trust me - it's quite miserable. Ask any post-menopausal woman. Stop the snickering. Which is why most people opt for the persription medication rather than niacin.

But, it's better than being on prescription meds my whole life, so I started experimenting and taking niacin a few years ago. And it worked! Within a few months, I got my triglycerides down to normal range.

But I wasn't as consistent in taking niacin as I should have been. I recently had a check-up and my new doctor recommended taking a different kind of niacin. He had some samples and gave me a handful to take at night, right before bed.

I have been taking these for about a week and experienced no side effects or flushing. Until last night. It was, by far, the worst reaction I have had in years. The good news: it only lasted about 30 minutes.

So, as spontaneous human combustion is wrapped in speculation and controversy, I offer up the best and most logical explanation.


(Do not take doses of niacin over 100mg without first consulting with your physician)

Friday, October 24, 2008


"What is that?", you say.

That is the Native American word for pumpkin. And I intend on using it in conversation between now and October 31st, so don't give me that look.

How about some lesser known facts about pumpkins and Halloween:

  • The pumpkin is actually a fruit, and is from the same family as melons and gherkins (I love that word! I'm using it this week, too)

  • The word 'pumpkin' comes from the French explorer, Jacques Cartier, who referred to these large fruit as "gross melons". In his native tongue, that translates to 'ponpions', which is where we get 'pumpkin'.

  • Pumpkins are indigenous to the western hemisphere and were completely unknown in Europe before Christopher Columbus' travels.

  • Halloween is actually based on an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sau-en"), which means "summer's end", and was used to honor those who had passed away (I know this comes as a disappointment to all my wicken and ultra-conservative Christian friends - sorry).

  • Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday (ashamedly embarrassing, but true).

I love Halloween! I always have. I love dressing up and being someone or something I am not. I enjoy the process of picking through the choicest pieces of candy from my sons harvest of the night, often disguised as carefully checking for 'razor blades and needles'. And ask my Mom...I have always got a thrill out of scaring the snot out of people. It's a rush. Similar to riding roller coasters...but much shorter.

Okay, I gotta run. I need to carve my isquotersquash.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Things That Make Us Go, "Hmmmm...."

  1. The TV show "Lost"
  2. Teenage hormones
  3. Peter standing outside the boat
  4. The origin of fruit flies
  5. Unconditional love
  6. Falling gas prices
  7. Vice Presidential choices
  8. The human body
  9. Dreams
  10. The things a dog finds appetizing

(in no particular order)


I had the day off yesterday...and was down. Maybe a case of 24-hour depression. Nothing serious, but I could tell something was off. Couldn't put my finger on it, though. I thought maybe I was just having an off-day. I don't know if you noticed, but I didn't even blog. As the day progressed today, I snapped out of it. I got my mind around things of work and seemed to spring back.

Then, today at work, I did an on-line personal strengths assessment for a team-building exercise a group of us are doing next week. It's from the book called, "Strengths Finder 2.0". As I was taking the assessment (which is suppose to identify what I'm good at), it hit me. I know why I was off yesterday.

The day before yesterday (Sunday), I went and practiced with an improv group that invited me to give it a try. The anticipation was palatable. I was looking forward to this. This kind of stuff makes me feel alive. It's the little things in life, isn't it?

The 3.5 hours of practice went well at first. My creative juices were flowing and it felt good. But as the evening progressed, I could tell I was running out of those juices. My creative "umph" was waning. I was as creative as a paint-by-numbers by the end of the night.

Hindsight is a gift.

It donned on me today that I was focusing on my weaknesses, rather than seeing my strengths. (If Chris were reading this, he would know exactly what I was talking about).

I was mentally going over every missed opportunity and dead spot. I was analyzing each situation and coming up with options that I should have said or done. I was comparing myself to others and my own expectations...and that's always a bad idea. I never measure up. I didn't spend any time analyzing the scenes I thought I did well.

Don't we always do that? It's so much easier to find our faults than recognize our strengths.

So I'm letting it go. It's in the past. So I choked a few times on Sunday but that doesn't define me for the future...or define who I am.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

You're Not Me

I spent the day with my oldest son, Gavin, today. We went to the Renaissance Festival. On the way there, we were talking, and I asked him what one thing stresses him out the most these days. He said he is still trying to adjust to our recent move to Cincinnati. He then turned to me and asked if I had adjusted to our move. I paused, confidently nodded, and said, "Yes...but you're not me".

I had an email exchange a couple days ago with a long-time friend of mine about politics. It was clear to me where she stands, based on the emails she was forwarding. I respectfully (I hope) replied to one, and although it was never discussed between us, I feel she thinks we are in opposite camps. That's OK with me, because that's not the point.

I could share a dozen more stories like this...stories that highlight the differences between me and those around me. Even those that are closest to me (and not excluding stories of differences in faith-issues).

I have realized, regretfully, far too late in life, that there is tremendous value in diversity. I actually seek it out now. It enriches me and hopefully makes me a better person. I painfully admit that this change only really started occurring in me a couple years ago. It's like a slow awakening.

I remember spending so much time and effort either looking for those people who were just like me, or trying to convince those to see things my way. I was actually arrogant enough to think I had the right answers...and depending on the topic, the only answer(s).

There is something very liberating about letting go of the self-imposed responsibility to set others 'straight'. Your journey is very different from mine. I know I don't have all the right answers for you, as well as the presumption that I do. And it is that last point that has made all the difference.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The BIG Holiday

Are you as fed up as I am?

I was in Sam's Club last week and saw Christmas decorations and wrapping paper out already. I almost screamed. It's not even Halloween! For the past 20 years, I say every year that the Christmas advertising starts earlier every year. I believe it's true. Even if it is earlier by a day or two than last year, it's creepin' up.

Do you remember the days of celebrating a holiday, one at a time? Do you remember as a kid looking for a Halloween costume and not getting lost in the artificial trees? Those were the days.

Nowadays, from the first of October to December, it's like one big holiday. And that's my proposal. I'm wasting too much energy getting so upset about the ever-increasing Christmas shopping season. I think we should just set the expectation that from September 1st through January 1st, we celebrate "Thanksgivoween".

Wouldn't that be so much easier? One set of decorations. One big school break. Not to mention an entire new line of Hallmark cards. No more changing the house decor from one holiday theme to the next. I can envision pumpkin snowmen and turkey-drawn sleighs (besides...that's way more believable than flying reindeer).

So, in the spirit of simplicity and less stress, I wish you all a very Merry Thanksgivoween!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Were you hungry at all today?

I mean...really hungry?

I doubt it. But if you were, you were likely only a few steps away from satisfying your hunger. You had a few dollars in your pocket and the choices were endless.

Not so for many around the world. Here are the statistics:
  • An estimated 923 million people in the world go hungry.
  • In developing countries nearly 16 million children die every year from preventable and treatable causes. Sixty percent of these deaths are from hunger and malnutrition.
  • In the United States, 11.7 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.

If you weren't aware, today was World Hunger Day. I only learned about it because I happen to be listening to NPR this morning. They were sharing how so many people in the US are on Food Stamps (28 million). I wasn't aware, but food stamps provide about $5.00/day/per person for food. Can you imagine getting through the day on $5.00? Me neither. Which got me thinking...

Jess had to run out tonight, so it was just me and the boys. So I loaded them in the car and headed for the grocery store. I decided to combine a teaching lesson with a bit of fun. On the way there, I explained to my boys about Food Stamps, World Hunger Day, and how it must feel to live on only $5.00 a day.

When we got to the store, I gave each of the boys (and myself) a $2.00 pre-loaded card and told them to shop for their dinner (the equivalent of the dinner portion of $5.00/day).

The only rules: They had to buy nutritious food (not $2.00 worth of candy or cookies, although I was really tempted as well), and they had to try to maximize their $2.00.

What a great experiment! Understand, my kids, like yours probably, have never shopped for food. It has always been a luxury, a given, an expectation at different times of the day. But tonight, they had to shop for themselves. I was amazed and what they were looking for, how critical they were of the items they were considering, and how much they could buy for $2.00. And it took them quite awhile to find nutritious food.

At the checkout, here is what we had:

Gavin: 1/3 lb. fillet of shark (on sale) and a small can of mixed vegetables = $1.73
Eliot: 1 package of oriental noodles with shrimp dinner and a small can of beets = $1.98
Dad: 1 can of "Spam-like" meat, a package of dirty rice mix, and a small banana = $1.83

I was most amazed at what my boys learned from the experience. Here are a few of the things they shared with me:

  • All the really inexpensive stuff was the most unhealthy; most of it was junk food
  • We couldn't afford any brand name items
  • It was really hard to try to find affordable food, and enough of it, for a meal
  • It was really hard to find anything fresh

Shockingly, my kids loved the experience. They got more out of it than I was hoping. In fact, they both said we should do this once a week so we don't forget what hunger and poverty is like. They made me proud.

What did I learn?

That we are incredibly blessed and have far more than we need. That I need to be outward focused more than I am. That feeding the hungry is part of Plan A.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Power of "No"

I am dying at work. Everyday, I juggle my time between meetings, phone calls, emails, and the occasional "drive-by" visit to my desk. I'm managing, but some days it feels like I am breathing through a straw. And I have to make this quick, because I have a meeting in 20 minutes...

To some extent, this has been thrust upon me. But I need to take ownership for some of it, too. How often do we shy away from saying, "No"?

There is great power and freedom in being able to say "No". It's a liberating word. It almost takes no effort at all to say (go ahead...try it), yet I would bet that most of us rarely say it when we most need to. I'm talking about those of you, like me, who feel an unspoken obligation to stick our fingers in all the holes in the dike...especially if no one else is willing.
Well...I say, "No". I am no longer going to spread myself so thin that I'm doing everything alf-hassed. I'm only going to sign-up for those things that I am passionate about, that bring my joy, and that I'm good at. I want to bring value, rather than a warm body.

What do you say? Are you with me?

Was that a "No"?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Here We Go... it's taken us awhile to get into the whole "blog-o-sphere", but here we are. Better late than later. And I have to admit - there is something a bit narcissistic about blogging. Don't get me wrong. I'm not knockin' it. I'm as narcissistic as the next person. But it will be interesting to see who really cares about what we have to say.

Maybe that's why I have always had a hard time journaling. Everyone always says, "You really should journal", including Jess. But I have never had any success. I have started, but usually stop writing shortly after the first couple entries. It's all so one-sided. No input. No dialogue. So blogging is my compromise. I'll occasionally jot down a few ideas or thoughts that are running through my head, but I would like some input every now and then. Let me know what you think...about what I think. Call me out. Agree. Disagree. LOL. Something...
So this is the start of our social experiment. Life is deep. Hold our hands and let's jump in together!