Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

The year is 1994, and the Docherty's move to upstate NY to a small town called Norwich, NY. Population: Approx. 7,000. Scott has accepted a job with Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals where they have an R&D facility located here. They have no kids, but Jess is 8 months pregnant with a son, soon to be called Gavin. They buy their first home (a dream come true) and a couple years later are joined by Eliot, the fourth and final family member. Norwich gives new meaning to the term "small town". The closest mall is an hour drive away. There are a couple grocery stores, a handful of fast food places, and a hospital. Other than that, there's not much more. To Scott & Jess, this is a stepping stone in life's journey. In reality, they don't see themselves here for longer than five years. To Gavin & Eliot, Norwich is their world and they can't imagine anything else.

Fourteen years later (2008), the family relocates to Mason, OH. Population: Approx. 30,000. There are more kids in the Mason school district than the entire population of Norwich. Scott relocates with Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals. The closest shopping plaza is a stones throw away. Gavin starts high school as a freshman. Next year, his high school will be the largest in the state of Ohio. The Cincinnati area is the mothership to P&G. All P&G'ers will return to her someday. And here we are.

I returned to Norwich this past week on business and was reminded of all the things I loved and hated about Norwich.

If there is one thing I loved the most about Norwich, was it's size. And the thing I hated the most - it's size. Truth be told - size matters.

I loved Norwich because it was truly small-town USA. After living there to 14 years, I felt like I knew almost everyone. No matter where you went, you always ran into someone you knew. If you were at an intersection waiting to make a left-hand turn, you would wave to more than half the people passing you in on-coming traffic. You would exchange pleasantries with people across the room in a restaurant and welcome most coming in. You would easily see half a dozen friends and/or neighbors on a trip to Wal-Mart. There was truly a sense of being connected to a community. You knew many and you were known. It was a great feeling. I miss that.

I hated Norwich because it was truly small-town USA. We had no mall. If you needed to buy a pair of dress shoes, you needed to drive at least an hour away. There were times when we only had one restaurant to go to (thank God for Nina's), and for some strange reason, nearly every eating place in Norwich is closed on Monday nights. There were nearly as many Dollar Stores in Norwich as gas stations. And true for most small towns, selection is a luxury, as much for clothing and eating options as churches. I recall us trying almost every church in Norwich upon arriving there 14 years ago, and for most we visited, we were the only people with our own teeth (and children rather than grandchildren).

So...although size matters...that's not the point. The point is perspective. No matter where you live or what job you have, we can all find the good and the bad. I am sure if you give me a few more months, I could write about the loves and hates of Mason just as easily. But I guess I am innately a "glass half full" person. I try to focus on the positive of wherever I am. And have always classified the present as the best time of my life. So here's to Norwich - the definition of all things "small town".

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cheeseburger in Paradise

I know I am a fairly new-comer to the Cincinnati area (only seven months), but I think I may have found the best cheeseburgers in town!

I stumbled upon this joint when I was here last summer on my house-hunting trip. It's a "hole in the wall" joint - nothing stands out and screams "Best burgers in town!". I guess that's what I like about it , too.

The place - The Cheezburger Cafe (right next door to, and often listed also as Skip's Bageldeli). It located at 12092 Montgomery Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45249.

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These are not your run-of-the-mill cheeseburgers. They are not cookie-cutter cheeseburgers. If you are used to McD's or Wendy's burgers, these will blow those out of the water. And if you are a bit partial to the so-called endless fries (that never really materialize) and neatly packaged burgers of Red Robin, I challenge your taste buds to try the common-man's burger. These puppies are 1/3 lb. hand formed slabs of heavenly goodness. You can get a single, double, or triple...and would find it personally delightful to gorge myself on a triple (1 pound) greasy cheeseburger sometime before I pass from this world (and if I died while consuming this bovine beauty, that would just be icing on the cake!).

To top this thing, you can choose from several free and included condiments at no extra charge, including grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, onion straws, dill pickle, relish, and raw onion. You can also choose from several different cheeses for your creation including (but limited to) provolone, pepper jack, American, and cheddar.

They have fries...of course. You need them. Like the Lone Ranger needs Tonto. You can get regular fries or waffle-cut. You get a basket of them...and cover them in salt and vinegar. That's right. Vinegar. Salt and vinegar french fries. Can't get those at Burger King.

And here's the kicker...if you print off this blog posting and bring it in with you, they will take 10% off your order. No joke! This is real. This is how cool this place is. And here's the real clincher - if you're over in the Mason area and let me know, and we can do lunch together, it's on me. My treat.

Hi. My name is Scott and I'm a cheeseburger evangelist.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Forgotten Dream

I was reminded today of a forgotten dream...

I was surfing some friends Facebook pages and came across this...

Project Canaan from Heart for Africa on Vimeo.

I was pulled back into my passion like a rip tide. I don't know how you can watch that video and not be moved. I am reminded of a continent with far less than even us on our worst days. I was reminded of my Swazi friend, Pastor George. I was reminded of the children in the rural villages outside Mbabane that would see us from a distance and come running down the road to meet us. I was reminded of my first visit to the country with Bruce Wilkinson. I was reminded of sitting in my church in central New York on a Saturday afternoon and hearing the clear call of God asking me to go to Africa. I was reminded of my second visit to Swaziland and meeting my friend, Dan, who was not only my roommate, but a kindred soul with very similar dreams. I am reminded of Wakhile, my 6 year old sponsor child in Swaziland. I was reminded my my friend, Linda and her husband Tom, who were with me on my first visit to the country and who still return to Swaziland about three times a year to help with an orphanage.

As was reminded of so many dreams that had slipped away...

Please help me to not forget again. When you see me, ask about my passion for Africa. Ask me what I am actively doing to follow my passion. Hold me accountable.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Misperceptions for Breakfast

I am both a morning person and a breakfast lover.

Thankfully, my oldest son, Gavin, is too. So this morning, despite some failed attempts at making plans for the day, we set out for some morning goodness.

Now, I like change. If given a choice, I would rather go on vacation somewhere I haven't been before, than to return to a place I have already seen. That goes for restaurants, too. I figure, with so many options in the world, if you don't try new things, you have no idea what you are missing. I accept the risk that sometimes trying new things result in really bad experiences, but it's a risk I eagerly and willingly accept.

As we headed out of the neighborhood this morning, I asked my son where he wanted to go eat. He offered up either Bob Evans or IHOP...both places I have already been. They're good, but I've already tasted what they have to offer. I'm looking for a new taste and/or experience. I think for a moment, and then it hits me. I turn to my son, and with a big smile on my face, say, "I know where we're going". He looks back, and with a look of both mixed trepidation and excitement, asks, "Waffle House?", to which I reply, "Yep".

Now, let me provide a bit of background on Waffle House (since some of you reading may not have one near you, or may have never heard of Waffle House). We just moved to the Cinci area about seven months ago, so Waffle House is new to us as well. They dot the landscape around here like the offspring of two horny rabbits. They are everywhere. They are very small buildings and all look the same - just like a mini Midas Muffler Shop.

Perceptions are funny things. They are built from impressions, similar experiences, things we have been told, and observation. In other words, a quick, intuitive impression from what we have seen. No facts. No actual personal knowledge. And yet we give them so much weight.

And here were our perceptions of the Waffle House on our way there this morning: a room filled with cigarette-smoking truckers and food with a faint taste of tar and nicotine. In fact, I was expecting the menu to include the Surgeon General's warning that, "The food consumed in the Waffle House may be hazardous to your health". We thought is was going to be a bit dirty and grundgy, with sticky counter-tops and floors. And that the waitress would remind me of Flo from Mel's Place.

Well, we were dead wrong! Let me say, upon pulling into the parking lot, I was a bit shocked and excited to see so many cars. If the place is as bad as I was thinking, why would so many people be eating here this morning? Then, as we approached the door, I read a sign that said, "No Smoking Allowed". Hallelujah!! We sat at the counter (which was free of any stickiness) and proceeded to review the menu. We each ordered the All-Star Breakfast, the item with the largest collection of breakfast items they had to offer (so we could get a true sampling of the food). Let me say, the food was great, as was the coffee. And our waitress, Stephanie, was very nice and didn't remind me of Flo at all.
I am a fan of Waffle House! And I would recommend it to any other breakfast-loving, morning person out there. Don't judge the Waffle House by it's uncanny similarity to a quick-lube or muffler shop. It's quite good! In fact, although it is against my personal policy, I may even go back some day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Stupid Rules

I am sure, like me, you grew up in a household with more than a few annoying 'rules' laid down by dear old Mom & Dad. I'm not talking about the rules promoting politeness or etiquette, like "Don't chew with your mouth open", or "Say 'Please' and 'Thank you'". I am talking about the rules that made you scratch your head in bewilderment. As a kid, I never thought twice about them, but as I got older, moved into adulthood, and became a parent myself, I think back and have to say, "What were they thinking?"

"Don't sing at the table"

This is probably the most confusing for me. My Dad was a die-hard "no singing at the dinner table" type of guy. We couldn't even hum. Not sure why. I know my Dad saw "The Sound of Music" - must have never made the connection. The Docherty's could have been this generations Van Trapp family if given the opportunity to harmonize about ham and scalloped potatoes. If you think about it (no pun intended), singing is a very harmonizing act. People come together and are happy and smiling when singing together. To my Dad's defense, maybe he was just looking for a little peace and quiet at the end of the day.

"You can't leave the house unless your bed is made"

Mom's law. As an adult, I wonder how many days of school I could have legitimately skipped by simply not making my bed. Can you see the note you would bring back to school the next day - 'Scott was absent yesterday because he did not make his bed'. I never understood this rule as a kid, and honestly, still don't. I figure it's my bedroom and not the public family room of the house. And besides, why make the bed if you are just going to rip the covers back later that day to mess it all up again?

I'm sure my kids think I have some stupid rules, too. But we can sing at the table, and sometimes I still don't make my bed in the morning.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I met Michael Jackson on Sunday.

Shortly after, I met Greg, and then Sean. These were three homeless men living in downtown Cincinnati. I met them in Washington Park. Here's my story...and little of theirs.

If you have been reading my blog, you know I was having a hard time with the whole gift-getting and gift-giving thing this year. I didn't want anyone to get me stuff I didn't need because the "season" told them to, and I didn't want to feel obligated to get stuff for other people who already had way too much. I didn't need anything...and there are so many people who need just the basics or a little help. I wanted to give away more this year than I got.

So Jess and I decided to fill bags with blankets, food, water bottles, toiletries, gloves and hats...and then give them to people who were in real need. We made five bags.

Sunday morning I decided to go out and drive around and look for people in real need - homeless people and those asking for a handout. This shouldn't be hard in a city like Cincinnati, right? We see people like this all over the place when we drive in closer to the city. So my oldest son, Gavin, came with me and we set out. No real plan; no real direction. Just looking forward to where God might lead us and how He might show up.

Gavin and I drove around for about 45 minutes and never spotted a person in need. On one hand, we should have been thrilled, but we had five bags we wanted to give away. At one point Gavin said, "I never thought this would be hard." I just quietly kept praying for God to show us where to go. We saw parts of Cinci that I never knew existed (and if I could tell you how to get there, you probably wouldn't either).

We came to this one red light and stopped. I looked across the street and there was a mural painted on the side of a building. It read, "Jesus said, If you love me, Feed my people." I pointed for Gavin to read and said, "We're trying...but we can't find them."

Less than a mile down the road, we passed Washington Park and saw a number of people that were clearly homeless and in need. This is where we had been heading all day. We parked the car, got out, and started walking across the park with each of us carrying a bag.

It wasn't long before a gentleman called out, "Hey! You guys giving stuff away?" I replied that we were looking to help some homeless people with what we had brought. That section of the park came alive with men shouting, "I'm homeless", "He's homeless", "That guy over there is homeless". We were overwhelmed.

We met Michael Jackson (hey...I'm taking his word for it). He is 53 and was recently laid off from his job. He has 13 children - all grown - and now alone. He said it is rough being homeless down in this area because it is not safe. He was humble enough to ask for a bag. I could see a hint of shame in his face, but tried to erase that away with conversation that communicated "we are the same, you and me".

We met Greg, 58, who asked for prayer because he lost his mother a couple weeks earlier and it was really rough on him. A few years previously, he lost his wife. He was without a job also. We had a bag for him.
And we met Sean, who came walking over to the car as we were pulling away from the park, and waved us down to see if we had another bag to give out. We had just one more - for him. He was a young guy. He explained that he had been married for 12 years but was separated from his wife. He and she drank too much and he was trying to stay dry. He asked for prayer to get into a shelter up the road that was difficult to get a place at.

If we had 20 more bags that day, we could have given them all out.

I left Washington Park that morning hoping that a little kindness would pay big dividends for the guys looking for a little hope and help.