Monday, October 30, 2006


I want to write about the good side of life. I want to remember good experiences and good friends and dream of a bright future. Dammit! How can I retreat into a fanciful, safe world knowing the truth?

For many years I’ve read histories of WWII and autobiographies of soldiers and civilians trapped by that storm of history. A safe estimate is 200 books. No matter how much I read, there’s more to learn. I’m not talking about learning dates, strategies and statistics about battles. I read about people – their experiences, their noble deeds, their fears, their sufferings and their struggles with haunting memories and recurring nightmares. Currently, I’m reading The Solder’s Tale – Bearing Witness to Modern War. The author, Samuel Hynes, a combat veteran of WWII, recounts the experiences of soldiers in WWI, WWI and Vietnam. He does this by bringing together the common themes described by the men who fought and wrote about their experiences. He lets the soldiers speak and gives us a glimpse into the horror of their world. Here’s an excerpt.

At first, Junger said, the dead were too unfamiliar to be recognized. But that passed. Because the war on the Western Front was stationary most of the time, the dead were densely and continuously present on the front lines; troops lived in a world of corpses, walked over them in the trenches, watched them decompose on the barbed wire, exhumed last year’s dead when they dug this year’s trench, until eventually, as Junger put it, "we were so accustomed to the horrible that if we came on a dead body anywhere on a fire step or in a ditch we gave it no more notice than a passing thought and recognized it as we would a stone or a tree."

Like stones and trees, the dead became one of the materials of the earth, to be walked over or around, and even used, when necessary, in the construction projects of war. Frank Richards describes a trench: "Some of the parapet had been built up with dead men, and here and there arms and legs were protruding. In one bay only the heads of two men could be seen; their teeth were showing so that they seemed to be grinning horribly down on us. Some of our chaps that had survived the attack on the 20th July [on the Somme, in 1916] told me that when they were digging themselves in, the ground being hardened by the sun and difficult to dig away quickly, if a man was killed near them he was used as head cover and earth was thrown over him. No doubt in many cases this saved the lives of the men that were digging themselves in."

The men of WWII experienced a different hell from the soldiers of WWI. The men and women in Korea and Vietnam had their unique hells. What kind of hell are the men and women in Iraq enduring? How many years will they struggle trying to find peace and escape the memories?

A philosophy magazine made me painfully aware of the victims of the war as it discussed the suicide rate among veterans of Iraq. I read it and hoped it wasn’t true. I went to the web to search for validation or repudiation of the statistics. Unfortunately, the statistics were accurate. Instead of a rise in dissent has come an increase in suicides and psychiatric problems. The rate of suicide among soldiers in Iraq is nearly a third higher than the US army's historical average. (

Charles Sheehan Miles, a veteran of the first Gulf war, remembered engaging two Iraqi trucks that caught fire. As one of the occupants ran ablaze from the truck, Miles fired his machine-gun and instantly killed him. His immediate response was, he said, "a sense of exhilaration, of joy", but a split second later he felt "a tremendous feeling of guilt and remorse". The image of the man on fire, running and dying, stayed with him "for years and years and years," he said. His unit returned home amidst great celebration and he was awarded a medal, yet he felt, in his words, "probably the worst person alive". (

Private Peter Mahoney, who was part of the initial invasion force in 2003, was haunted by the vision of a little Iraqi girl who had been lynched by a crowd because she had accepted sweets from a soldier. Fifteen months later he committed suicide.

A recent newspaper article stated that it took an average of 12 to 15 years for Vietnam vets to become homeless. Sadly, in a little over a decade, civilians will be like the soldiers in the trenches of WWI who became desensitized to the dead. We will walk past the homeless veterans from Iraq, avoid eye contact and think of them as alcoholics and addicts and beggars. We’ll not ask what memories they are trying to dull with drugs and alcohol. We’ll not think of the shattered dreams and families that were victims of the war in Iraq. No, we’ll simply quicken our step and leave them to struggle alone.

I despise the magnetic signs on the back of vehicles that say “I support our troops”. Bullshit! Buying a sign supports some corporation that is profiting from the war but it doesn’t help the men and women in Iraq. Their lives are no better because of that damned little piece of auto jewelry. Does it take away their homesickness? Does it alleviate their fear? Does it give their families assurance of their safety?

There are genuine ways to support the troops. Call for an end to the war. Call for the impeachment of those who started the war. Demand the government provide counseling and help for those suffering emotional wounds.

In war, there are no heros -- only victims.

US Deaths in Iraq since March 20th, 2003


Last week my daughter sent me a photo of five miners. Supposedly, it was taken in 1884 and includes my grandfather. He died in 1920 or 21 so I never knew him. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing a photo of him as a child and had forgotten his first name. Surely, I heard it as a child. I did know my grandfather and grandmother where first cousins.

Here’s part of a second email from my daughter.

"Ok you know how Isaac Lambert married Cosby Anna Bailey and then Joseph Cook married his first cousin Rachel.

Well it happens again from what I can tell; years before this.
If all this info is true....Phillip Lambert goes back to the 1700s . . .(scandalous/boring details removed). Would this not be his first cousin also but more incest-like than the Bailey/Lambert. This is a Lambert/Lambert marriage.

Took me a while to let all this sink in. Just thought you would like to know."

Why would I want to know that? Honestly, I don’t care. I live today and I don’t care what my ancestors did.

But – there’s always a but – I’m glad my daughter is interested in genealogy and sends me emails about her adventures in hunting for long deceased relatives. Enthusiasm and interest are contagious. It makes me feel good to watch her and listen to the excitement in her voice and emails.

I tried to teach my children two things. I tried to teach by word and example to be honest, independent, hard working, unafraid and compassionate. The second thing I tried to teach them is to live their lives with autonomy. I consciously avoided pressuring them into a career of my choice or a college of my choice or feeling like they had a responsibility to me. Their lives belong to them and they get to explore their interests, make their decisions, enjoy their victories and suffer their pain.

“Just thought you would like to know.” Yes, Angel, I do want to know – not about my ancestors but about you. I want to know that you’re engaged with life, that you have your interests and not mine, that you’re independent and choosing your path in life. Dig into the details about our ancestors and tell me about them. I’ll not remember the details but I’ll remember the enthusiastic tone in your voice and the excited look on your face. I’ll listen but not intently. My mind may wander to memories of you as a little girl but that’s OK. They are good memories and I enjoy them.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Tale of a Tail

A sliver of lumber from my scrap pile protruded from under the building and caught my attention.

“It shouldn’t be there.”

The building is about four feet by six feet and houses shovels, a rake, a pick and some other tools. It is elevated off the ground for air circulation. I looked under the building and found a pack rat midden that had been constructed during the last few days.

As I raked the pile of rodent construction materials from under the building I saw it – a hairy rat tail. There was no pack rat attached to it – just a tail. A few weeks ago I was working with another small building resting on cinder blocks that sets back-to-back to this building. As I pivoted one corner of the building and moved to pivot another corner, I saw the same tail with a red and raw stump. Apparently I had pinched the rat’s tail between a block and the building and cut it off. I searched for the rat to see if he was injured more seriously and suffering but couldn't find him. I kicked the tail aside assuming nature would recycle it quickly. I wonder if the midden was built by the same rat? Did he save the tail for sentimental reasons?

I had forgotten this little tale about the tail. (Of course, I’m sure the rat hasn’t forgotten.) I have some other animal memories from this summer that I think I’ll write down and post so I don't forget them.

Wishing all a good weekend!

I tried to post the above on Saturday morning but blogger was having problems.

Julie and I had an enjoyable weekend swimming, joining a group of friends for a barbecue on Saturday evening and watching a Chinese film titled "To Live". Today we took a route home through Sedona where we stopped for lunch, ice cream, and cups of coffee and tea for the meandering drive through Oak Creek Canyon. The sky was a deep blue without clouds and the trees were brilliant yellow. It was a good weekend.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Post III

I’m not creative and I admire people who are.

Julie’s sister paints. Each time we visit I’m amazed at her ability and her improvement and growth. Last year in Amsterdam, I stood in a large room and turned 360 degrees and saw the change in Van Gogh’s paintings as he gained experience, technique and style. It was impressive. I’d like to see Julie’s sister’s work in a similar setting. I’m envious but painting is beyond my capability. However, I may be able to create pottery and that is definitely on my to-do list.

I took a voice class in college. I couldn’t sing when the class started and I couldn’t sing with the class ended but the professor gave me an “A” for trying and not quitting.

Cindy of Quotidian Light has published some poetry. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m envious. I’m going to try poetry. It may not be good but I’ll enjoy trying.

In a previous life back in Kentucky, I used to have woodworking tools and tried my hand at furniture and cabinets. I bought a table saw, sander and some small tools this past summer and plan on setting up a shop. There’s something about wood, its grain, texture and color, that I find appealing and soothing.

I’m not creative but I like to try and I know I'll get praised for my creations. I can always depend on Julie!

What Do You Think? - Part III

Are you qualified?

“No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

The constitution specifies age, citizenship and residency requirements. Being president, senator or representative of the U.S.A. are rare jobs that do not require education or experience.

The major problem in the U.S.A. is a lack of leaders who believe in democracy, are persons of integrity and are qualified to lead.

What qualifications are needed? Here are my opinions.

A leader needs a concept of human nature which reconciles our tendency to be good and evil, motivated and lazy, bold and fearful, responsible and irresponsible, altruistic and selfish. A leader who views people at one extreme or the other will be a tyrant who abolishes freedom or ineffective and unable to accomplish goals. A leader must understand the people she leads.

A leader needs an appreciation for diversity. We are not a homogenous nation. We are separated by gender, age, religion, ethnicity, values, experiences, education, and income. A leader must serve all – not just conservatives, not just males, not just the affluent. A good leader knows diversity is an asset to a nation and serves as a leader for all.

A leader needs the ability to select competent, wise and knowledgeable advisors. The job is overwhelming, the world too large and complex and the problems too diverse. Advisors are necessary and the ability to select the right advisors is critical. A leader should select advisors who represent males and females, various ethnic groups, homosexuals and heterosexuals, religious and secular, young and old, those born to affluence and those born to poverty, and various political parties. Without a diverse group of advisors, the leader will be blind and serving a few rather than all.

A leader needs a mature understanding of the role of government. Government does not exist to foster wealth, to maintain unlimited growth and to police the citizens and the world. Recall the words of leaders who earned their freedoms. They understood the role of government. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” They knew what we need to learn anew.

A leader doesn’t need a specialized degree from a prestigious university. The qualities needed are learned by living life with boldness and a hunger for truth and justice.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Happy Post II

To balance What Do You Think? Part II, here's today's happy post.

We closed the door.

“We are men. Hear us whisper.”

The men’s group met last night. Yes, we made sure the door was closed. We talked honestly. Had some radical women’s groups heard the questions that we were asking, we would have been drawn, quartered, boiled in oil and, after these games, a few really bad things would have been done to us.

The leader has expressed the desire to have our group meet with a similar women’s group. I’d enjoy that!

One member brought in a photo containing an urban legend. The photo showed a police car with a decal on the passenger side: “We’ll kick your ass and take your doughnuts too”. ((

As we discussed the photo, we all agreed that it was some man who made the decal or, if it’s just a legend, it was some man who started the rumor.

Interesting! We assumed a man was guilty. We don’t need women. We can bash ourselves.

What Do You Think? - Part II

The tour of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico was being led by a sharp, intelligent and pleasant young Native American who was enrolled in a political science program and was home for the summer. He planned on finishing a degree and returning to work with his tribe. The discussion was centered on cultural differences between Native Americans and other groups.

“Considering all that has been done to Native Americans, do you trust white people?” I asked.

“Do you trust congress?” he replied. It was a brilliant response that communicated with clarity and grace!

The major problem in the U.S.A. is a lack of leaders who believe in democracy and are persons of integrity.

It’s a sad fact. Our government leaders have destroyed our respect and trust.

Being president, senator, representative, or member of the cabinet is a sacred responsibility. The persons in these positions should live so as to be beyond question. They should be trustworthy.

The reality is that we do not expect politicians to honor their campaign promises. We know they accept “gifts” from lobbyists and corporations. We are no longer shocked and outraged by incidents such as the Foley scandal. Groups such as “The League of Pissed Off Voters” should not exist but they do exist because politicians have repeatedly violated our trust.

I’ll not vote for candidates who talk vaguely about terrorism, security, morality, jobs and education. I want honesty rather than political marketing slogans.

I’ll vote for a candidate who favors raising taxes. He’s being honest. I respect that even if I may not agree.

I’ll vote for a candidate who favors eliminating social security. She is being honest and is showing integrity and I value that and am willing to risk losing my benefits.

I’ll vote not for the candidate with whom I agree but for the candidate whom I respect.

Enough lies! Give us truth and integrity.

(Tomorrow: part 3 of my reponse – later today: happy post two)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Happy Post I

Most of the time, I walk around feeling content and optimistic. It’s learned behavior. I try to keep life out of balance by tipping the scales in my favor.

All of us have to deal with stress and unpleasant issues. I do so with the assumption that I’m going to do something pleasant and enjoyable after it’s over. Last night I wrote about politics which is distasteful to me. (See the post below this one). Today, I will receive responses that may reinforce the distastefulness of the subject and can lead to increased stress, less happiness and negative impacts on my health. How am I going to tip the scales in my favor? I’m going to focus on positives.

  • The men’s group meets tonight and the subject is feelings. I’m looking forward to the discussion.
  • Julie and I watch one 30-minute TV program each week and it’s on tonight.
  • I’m reading a book that’s fascinating. I like to combine it with soft music and a warm bed.
  • This weekend Julie and I are going swimming. I enjoy spending time with her.
  • Next Wednesday a group has planned a showing of a movie about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which I plan on attending.
  • I have enrolled in a class on greenhouse design for the following weekend.

I feel better already!

What Do You Think? - Part I

“What do you think? What do you see as the major problem facing the U.S.A.? If you could fix one thing, what would it be? Do you believe it possible to heal the damage to our civil liberties, our freedom, and our world image? What do you think? I really want to know.”

These questions were posed by Buffalo. This is the first part of my response concerning “the major problem” and the one thing I would like to fix.

The major problem in the USA is a lack of democratic leadership!

We need leaders who believe in democracy. Democracy is government by the people. It is rule of the majority. It is a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people. In theory -- but not in reality – the USA. is a democracy.

How can we claim to be a democracy when politicians resort to filibusters and manipulate voting sessions and suppress the opportunity for dissenting opinions to be voiced? How can we claim to be a democracy when our leaders know that valid opinion polls differ with their political agendas and they ignore the will of the people?

A democratic leader encourages discussion and dissent. He or she will stand to the front and defend the right of all opinions to be spoken. The person who believes in the democratic process will do more listening than speaking. The goal of a democratic leader is to determine the will of the voters.

In reality we have not a democracy but an oligarchy. An oligarchy is government by the few. It is a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes. I assert that we have two competing oligarchies trying to wrest power from the other.

Our country was created by a brief violent revolutionary conflict. Slowly and silently our country has been lost to a few who speak the language but do not believe in democracy.

(Tomorrow, I’ll post part two of my response)

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm Sorry

Tonight, as we drove home from work, Julie read aloud the cover article of Rolling Stone"Time to Go! Incompetent, Lazy & Corrupt. Inside the Worst Congress Ever. Meet the 10 Worst Congressmen". By no means do I consider this magazine to be a first rate or reliable source of political information but it caused me to remember my short experience in fundraising and to pose a question about politicians.

First, my fundraising experience. I fell into the job by accident. I had told a VP that was I was not happy in my job and would not accept another contract. He replied that he had an open position in fundraising. Being young, naïve and having children enrolled in school, I accepted the position.

I began working in an office without a direct supervisor and no experienced staff. Feeling totally unqualified at taking a position without training or experience, I began reading everything I could find. I learned people give to success. Talking about needs and begging for money isn’t productive. Instead, talk about opportunities and dreams. Paint a picture of a winning endeavor. Talk about the good the person will accomplish with their financial gift and how they will be part of a winning effort.

I didn’t have a problem with this approach. The glass is half full rather than half empty.

The job went sour quickly.

With the exception of myself and one secretary, the staff was replaced and vacant positions were filled. We attempted to raise money to renovate a building and complete some other projects but we didn’t get enough cash. My attitude was “No problem. Be honest with people.” However, I soon discovered that appearing successful is more important than actually being successful. Rather than being honest, the powers that existed at that time approached some young alumni and asked them to purchase life insurance policies with the university as the beneficiary. As a result of this action, it was possible to announce success. We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars – not in cash but in pledges and life insurance purchased by graduates in their thirties. Without cash, the building was not renovated and no project was completed.

It was, in my opinion, a complete failure. I believed -- and still believe -- that we should have been honest with donors and especially with ourselves. We should have said “We failed. Let’s figure out what went wrong and make sure it never happens again.” We didn’t. In an unbelievable dream land I witnessed professionals believe their own lies. The glass was half empty but they convinced themselves it was full. They congratulated themselves on a good job and ignored the truth.

Now, for the question raised by my fundraising experience. Could it be that while trying to deceive voters, politicians have begun believing their deception. Have they deceived themselves? Do they truly and sincerely believe? Maybe they aren’t as guilty of criminal actions as I once thought. Perhaps they are victims.

We limit the president to two terms. Perhaps we should limit all politicians to two terms. By doing so, we could minimize their self-deceptive behavior.

In fact, I’ve convinced myself. It’s our fault. We voters are the guilty ones. Look at what we’ve done. We keep re-electing politicians and they’ve begun to believe it’s OK to be dishonest. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

I'm sorry for what I've done to these men and women. I think I'll correct my mistake on November 7.

My Dictionary

Voice mail: “There’s a job available here that I think may interest you.”

In recent months I have had three similar contacts from former co-workers about job offers and my immediate supervisor is saying and doing things to encourage me not to consider retiring early. I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that I’ve developed my skills, maintained a good work ethic and have opportunities but the contacts don’t excite me. I am not interested in starting a new job doing what I’ve done for the last 21 years at three universities.

I’m thinking about retiring but not quitting work. I’m in the early summer of my life. I’m interested in new experiences and adventure. Julie and I have discussed Peace Corp, Habitat for Humanity, working in parks, hiking long distance trails, developing our property to be sustainable, walking across Europe and other options.

Making a living is easy. Making a good living takes a little more work but is easy. Living a real life is the challenge. How do I define real? Real -- for me, not for you or anyone else -- means experiencing life first hand rather than sitting in front of a damned television or looking out a window at passing traffic or reading a novel about fictitious people’s lives. I do all of these things occasionally but living a real life means experiencing my excitement, my successes, my failures and my pain while doing the things that interest and challenge me.

If my obituary ever appears in the paper, I don’t want it to recount my employment history and the name of the nursing home in which I died. I’d rather it end with words similar to “Due to the rugged terrain and deteriorating weather, the search for his body has been abandoned.” I like the sound of that. It brings a smile to my face, gives me pleasure and makes it difficult to sit still.

For me, that's really living. Your definition may be different. That's the wonderful thing about life. Each of us gets to write our own dictionary.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Rolling Stones and the Blues

I glanced at the photos and wondered why they didn’t affect me. The cover photo was of someone dressed scantily – seductively – in underclothing designed for the imagination but not for reality. As I sat in the reception area and continued to wait for Julie, I flipped the pages of Rolling Stones magazine and saw more photos of the “20th Annual Hot List”.

Who is Fergie, “A Good Girl Gone Bad”? I didn’t have a clue. I recognized Jennifer Aniston who was lying on her stomach. Two of her cheeks wore a designed expression and the other two wore nothing and I felt nothing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I felt a slight irritation, a sense of being mystified and amusement. Forty years ago I would have looked at the photos and felt something distant from irritation but I’m no longer nineteen and I ponder why I’m glad I feel irritation rather than lust. I was amused by the reaction of other men in the office. One of them had cut the cover from the magazine and they were laughing and making comments – juvenile comments, comments that men have learned they are expected to utter when gathered around photos of young women.

I guess what I used to find sexy is obvious but that changed years ago.

During the last of 25 years of a bad marriage I enjoyed watching the closing scene of Hill Street Blues. I don’t remember the actors or any of the episodes but I looked forward to watching the ending. A couple sat in bed clothed in pajamas. No unnecessary or gratuitous flesh was exposed. Both held reading material and they engaged in adult conversation. Both were professionals. As I remember it, he was a police captain and she was an attorney. Often during the episodes they opposed one another professionally and defended their positions with passion and determination. When the day ended they returned to the bed they shared and sat beside one another discussing something significant. I found that scene erotic and sexy.

Imagine it! A woman who is intelligent, educated, spirited, independent, determined, confident, powerful, opinionated, and bold -- a woman who can and will look a man in the eye and say “Hell no!” and never blink – a woman who challenges a man as an equal – a woman who can stand beside a man and be fully half of a union rather than a wilting violet to be protected and carried. Can anything be sexier than that?

I longed for that experience but knew it was hopeless. Such women existed only in movies and if they did exist in real life then I would never experience it. I was trapped in a bad marriage by choice and guilt.

Surprise! They do exist. Life can be a whimsical and playful puppeteer and one day I found myself single, living in Texas and standing opposite a co-worker whom I was meeting for the first time – a woman, just a woman.

She turned out to be more than just a woman.

One of my greatest joys in life is gazing at Julie and noticing the once-red hair that is revealing more and more grey. There are new wrinkles born of good times shared on sunny, windy trails. I look at her hands and see the beginning of frail hands that one day will take my hand and make my pulse simultaneously calm and quicken.

She is sexy and keeps getting sexier with each passing year.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


“Twenty-six years ago today I was begging for drugs.” I smiled at Julie's comment because I understood. Today is her daughter’s birthday.

We’re in Borger, Texas – near Amarillo – to celebrate birthdays. Julie’s father turns 80 on Saturday and her sister turns 55. Her daughter lives near Dallas and will arrive tomorrow. Other family members arrive tonight and tomorrow.

Recently, a nine year old girl near Amarillo begged to stay home with her mother because it was her birthday. Later in the day her mother went into labor and an ambulance was not available and the family lived remote. The young girl followed the instructions of the 911 operator and delivered her brother. The news report said she was calm during the delivery but was not happy about sharing her birthday with her new brother. I guess clustering birthdays on a single day is a Texas thing.

Before the end of the year I'll have a birthday which will mark the beginning of my seventh decade. That sounds old but it's just a little mind game. Life, like wine and many other things, improves with age.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


“The North won the war!” he sneered.

I’m rarely at a loss for words but I stood with my mouth hanging open and couldn’t think of a come-back. The kid was good. He pulled that retort out of deep, deep left field and I didn’t see it coming.

It was 1958 and I was at a ballpark in a small town in western New York state. Posturing, fighting, threatening and intimidating are daily occurrences in a twelve year old male’s life. We had gotten in an argument about something and were squared off trying to beat one another in a war of words rather than brawling. At that age it was customary to challenge the virtue of mothers and belittle anything about an opponent but resorting to stating a fact about a war that ended eighty-three years earlier was astounding.

This incident was one of my experiences of prejudice. Due to economic necessity, my family had moved from the coal mining area on the Virginia and West Virginia border to New York. I was an outsider and the myth surrounding anyone from south of the Mason-Dixon line is that they were illiterate, bare-footed bigots who hated people of color. I experienced prejudice from teachers and other adults as well as from kids my age.

In 1968 while in the Army I attempted to rent an apartment in a new complex located in the United States of America – the home of freedom and opportunity. After a tour, the woman who was taking the application questioned my employment. When I answered “US Army” she stopped, removed her glasses and said “I can turn in the application but it will be denied”. I thanked her for her honesty and left.

Some days I feel like I live in no-man’s land. I’m educated and have experienced the suspicion and contempt of uneducated people. I’m male and am immediately guilty of having one and only one thing on my mind. I live off the grid in a single-wide manufactured house – a trailer if you prefer – and have been asked “Aren’t you afraid of being called trailer trash?”. These and many other experiences affect my attitudes today.

Over the years my best friends have been Native American, black, Italian, Mexican, Roman Catholic, female and other “categories”. They’ve enriched my life and affect my attitudes in positive ways.

Yesterday I read that in 2005 a total of 267 people died in the deserts of Arizona after crossing the border illegally. I’m not talking about immigration policy. I’m talking about people who were willing to risk their lives for an opportunity at a better life. I remember crossing the Mason-Dixon line and, for a period of time, hating living in New York and wanting to return to the family, friends and familiarity that I had known. I wonder how many Mexicans feel the same emotions? In many ways, I feel I have more in common with an illegal immigrant than I do with the CEO of a US corporation.

But, let’s be honest. I struggle with prejudice myself. I used to pastor and I have a small understanding of religious people. As I read and watch the news I have feelings toward the religious-right that aren’t purely rational and aren’t respectful. I’m as critical of American Christianity as I am of Islam. There’s no difference between the two religions.

I would like a Muslim friend – one with whom I can talk honestly and get an understanding of his or her world. I want to get an inside view of their values, opinions and see their humanity.

Why a Muslim friend? I’m not prejudiced against Muslims but they are the target of much prejudice. I’d like first-hand knowledge to counter blind prejudice and be able to say “I have a Muslim friend. He’s a fine person and doesn’t merit your prejudice”.

Monday, October 16, 2006

There's No Dog

The door swung open violently and the children came in shouting “A big dog is killing the beagle!”.

I followed the kids into the back yard where the large dog had the little female by the throat. The Doberman was focused on the Beagle and was oblivious to my approach. I twisted my right wrist and slipped two fingers through the dog’s choker chain, placed my left hand around his muzzle, untwisted my wrist and lifted. I expected the Doberman immediately to release the Beagle but he held on and I found myself holding both dogs off the ground. The stand-off didn’t last long. The Doberman dropped the Beagle who hit the ground, jumped up and sank her teeth into the Doberman’s haunch. Once again I was holding the weight of both dogs as the Beagle held on and her feet swung above the ground.

This was an insignificant and forgettable experience and I would never have recalled it had my son not recounted the experience to a friend. As he finished the story I overheard him say with pride “There’s no dog that will stand against my Dad”.

I’ve received some awards over the years and I always said thank you and pitched them in the trash as soon as I arrived home. I’ve heard words of praise from co-workers but I always took them with a small grain of cynicism. Awards and words of praise mean nothing compared to my children’s opinions. I basked in my son’s words. It felt good to know that he felt safe and secure because of me.

My son put me on a pedestal and kept me there for several years. Then he entered his middle teens and he began to rock the pedestal. I joined him in his efforts and by his late teens we had destroyed the pedestal and I became anathema to him. We tossed his youthful words of admiration onto the trash heap and we buried them under harsh and unloving words and the years crept by.

Life is never static and hope weathers many storms. Somehow, together, we pulled those words from the pile. The pedestal? We left it on the trash heap were it belongs. Today, we look at one another on the same level -- eye to eye -- as men should. The harsh and unloving words? We exercised that special human ability of selective memory and left them behind.

Things are not as I wish them to be. He lives many miles from me and we see each other every year or two for a few days. We haven't been fishing or floated the river squirrel hunting in over fiften years and I miss those times. Occasionally, during the long periods between visits, I reach back into my memory and relive that brief experience and once again I hear his boyish voice say “There’s no dog that will stand against my Dad”.

We've made flight reservations and we'll spend a few days with my son and daughter at Christmas. Life is good when I enjoy memories and look to the future with anticipation.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why? I Don't Know

My eyes began to ache but I refused to give up.

I was in an eighth grade history class that was taught by a white haired spinster whose greatest joy in life was catching a student committing some offense. She maintained a long list of offenses, a harsh spirit, a mean glare and a quick tongue. On this day students were being asked to read aloud. After a period of time Miss X would call on another student to begin reading at the point where the previous student had finished.

I sat near the back of the room in the row of desks next to the windows. For some reason that I don’t remember, can’t fathom or never knew, I decided to beat her at her game and torment her in some small way.

I positioned my book so that I could see it and turned my head toward the windows as if daydreaming. I rested the side of my head on my right palm so she couldn’t see my eyes. I twisted my eyes far to the right and downward and continued following the text being read by another student.

I waited as the pain in my eyes intensified. I knew she couldn’t resist. The student reading was suddenly interrupted by her harsh command “Paul! Start reading!”. I suppressed a smile and began reading immediately.

Why did I do that? Was it boredom? Was it resentment brought on by her mean spirit? Was it a childish attempt to balance the scales for some perceived wrong? I don’t know.

Often I wonder about my attitudes and actions. Why did I do some of the things I did? Why do I continue to do some of the things I do today? Check the punctuation in this article. Technically, some of it is not correct. I know the rules but I don’t agree with the rules so I do it my way. Why? I don’t know.

Writing incorrect punctuation and harassing an eight grade teacher are small, insignificant acts but there was one incident in the fifth grade that was more serious. If committed today, it would get me expelled from school permanently and placed on Fatherland Security’s list of citizens to be watched. I’ll write about that experience in another post.

Why did that incident happen? I don't know. Over the years I have answered some of the questions but some will never be answered.

One of the wonderful things about life is that we have the opportunity to make mistakes, to learn from the consequences of our actions, to grow, to become new persons and have a good life. I like that about life.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Men's Group

Over the years Julie has asked questions that begin with “How do men feel about . . . “. My response is usually something like “I don’t know how men feel about that. Men don’t talk about such things. I can tell you how I feel but not how men feel.”

Last night I left the sixth meeting of the men’s group and waited for her usual question – “What did you talk about?” Subjects in the past have included gender roles, aggression and others.

Confidentiality and personal integrity are important. Julie works in the Health Psychology Lab and maintains confidentiality. I pledged myself to confidentiality when I joined the group so we discuss subjects but not individuals.

Last night I waited with anticipation. Finally, she asked – “What did you talk about”?

We discussed that mysterious subject that torments young men and gives many of them all manner of guilt. “Sex! We talked about sex.” Men never talk about sex in a serious way but we did.

I enjoy the group. The other men give me an insight that I can’t get from books and journals. They bring humanity, new perspectives and an array of experiences to any discussion.

There are only four meetings remaining. I’ve come to respect and admire each member. I’ll miss the group when it ends.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Real Men

I thought of him as a man’s man. He was good at sports, could argue politics and no engine or construction task was safe when he put his mind and hands to the job. He was an example and model cast in marble on a high pillar. He made me proud.

In his fifties a strange thing happened. He bought a book and began growing roses.

In my youthful stupidity I was puzzled. Men don’t do that! Was it early onset dementia? Roses are grown by short rotund grandmothers wearing aprons with their grey hair pulled back in a bun. He was my father but I was a little embarrassed. (Yes, young rednecks are capable of embarrassment.) I dealt with the embarrassment like a real man would. I pretended it never happened and we never talked about it.

I’m much older now and little wiser. I know that real men can read whatever and do whatever they choose. I'm a little sad also. I wish we had talked about it and I could have learned from him.

My first issue of a new subscription to Birds & Blooms should arrive soon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Beauty and the Beast

The water was warm and soothing. We stepped off the last boulder and discovered a sandy bottom. As we moved to an unoccupied area on the opposite side of the spring I took note of the others in the water. The youngest was about ten and the oldest was in their eighth decade. A baby was asleep in a carrier beside the spring. There were some individuals sitting alone reading while others clustered in groups of two or three and talked softly. Everyone was in a state of serenity and, if they moved, moved slowly and quietly.

The boulders, flowers and trees around the hot spring added to the feeling of calmness. In the distance the mountains had begun showing the first signs of color that barely hinted at snows to come. The breeze was still warm and the clouds floated across the sky.

After a while we decided to move to a smaller pool that was unoccupied. We settled in and continued talking about things that where unimportant, forgettable and pleasant. The sound of the water cascading over the stone spoke of peace and beauty.

We heard him before we saw him. He was loud and his tone had a coarse edge. We glanced over and shared the same thought – “Please don’t come over here”. Our silent prayers went unanswered and he invaded our pool and the serenity fled. We introduced ourselves and he immediately dashed hopes of restoring that fragile atmosphere of peace. “Where’s my wife? What’s taking her so long? She’s ashamed of her body!” He was nude and I was offended.

The hot spring is clothing optional. About half the visitors were clothed and half were not. I was offended not by his nudity but by his derogatory tone and comments about his wife. I knew Julie and I were ready to move to another pool and avoid him but curiosity prevailed and I continued to make conversation in a quiet way. I asked him about remote hot springs he had visited in hopes of learning about another jewel hidden in the mountains. With great skill and finesse he managed to put a negative facet to all of his responses. “Where is she?” he growled. I wanted to leave but curiosity prevailed again.

I was curious about his wife. Who could live with him? How did she cope with his coarse side? Could she calm him and turn his abrasive nature into something more gentle?

Finally, when I began to lose hope, she appeared. Rather than tender or happy words of greeting he assaulted her with the words “Your suit is see-through”. She was wearing a one-piece white suit that was opaque.

With a soft voice and an equally soft demeanor she replied “Is it?” and didn’t show signs of frustration. She reacted as if she had heard a breeze blowing through the tops of the trees.

We spent a few moments more in the pool and the interaction between the two continued in the same beauty and beast fashion. He was crude, insensitive and unloving but she responded with grace and a soft voice.

As we said our goodbyes and moved back to the larger pool, I wondered about her? Given anger, she responded with calmness; given harshness, she returned serenity. Surely, in the dark of the night as she lies beside him and listens to the sounds of his breathing as he sleeps, she must long for tenderness, caring and words of love. How does she manage to keep her demeanor? In some way she draws from a well of strength that eludes me.

I'm grateful for her example. It inspired me. In an ironic way, I'm gradeful for meeting him. He inspired me also. He led me to reaffirm my determination always to treat Julie with respect, tenderness and love.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Nation of Cowards?

I repeated “No, thank you” and the young lady replied “I hate to do this but . . .”. She proceeded to remove a binder filled with yellowed newspaper clippings about infants who were injured or killed because parents failed to put them in a safe high chair. Her actions were designed to instill fear so that I would agree to purchase an over priced chair. I didn’t get afraid; I got angry.

I wonder why some people react with fear and others react with anger to the same situation?

I felt some fear as a youngster and learned quickly to confront it. As I grew up I heard the words “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. I can’t remember my father ever exhibiting fear and I learned that to be a man is to be unafraid.

I knew my father and uncles as brave men who took a stand for their beliefs. I saw the limps from war injuries and the braces and specially constructed shoes and the flesh that continued to ooze and not heal. At their point in history they controlled their fear and did what had to be done.

I was amazed the first time I read these words and they continue to pique my interest. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelations 21:8). The Bible equates fear with murder and sexual immorality! Fear is listed first as if it's the worst sin. Other translations use different words – afraid, fearful, craven -- but the meaning is clear. I find this ironic. I’ve attended church services where evangelists tried to scare the hell out of people!

Yesterday, a TV commercial for a congressional candidate tried to convince me that the candidate is an expert on terrorism. It’s absurd. American soldiers in Iraq and other parts of the world are expected to be brave and overcome their fear in the face of real danger. American citizens in the comfort and safety of the US are asked to be afraid and vote out of fear.

Are you a candidate and do you want me to vote for you? Do you want to present your religion to me? Do you want to sell me a product? Don’t try to manipulate me with fear.

I don’t get afraid. I get angry.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I Feel Good

I liked the idea and did it on the spot.

A few days ago, after asking for ideas to stop the loss of American freedoms and reverse the aggressive actions of the US government, I began researching and compiling a list of websites that detail candidate voting records. I read more about the dangers of electronic voting and decided to vote by mail so I have a written copy of my choices. I volunteered to work at a poll and did more reading and brainstorming about possible actions I might take. However, none of these things gave me a sense of accomplishment or hope.

The next day Julie received a piece of mail and gave it to me to read. As I read, I realized it is hopeless. I’m not skilled or qualified to do battle with the government. I need help.

We don’t live in a democracy. We don’t elect the president or make the laws. We live in a representative democracy and this is an important distinction. We elect representatives. The representatives live in a democracy because they are the ones who make the laws. Those elected are guided not by a sense of justice, fairness, honesty and compassion but by peer pressure, self-interest and a level of greed. The government is controlled by professional politicians. These are the facts of life.

I’m out of my league because I’m an amateur. Why not employ the services of professionals who have the knowledge, skills, experience and clout to do what I can’t do?

The mail was from the American Civil Liberties Union. Julie and I engaged in some lively discussion because we don’t see everything eye to eye and I value immensely her opinions. She chose to decline at this time but respected and supported my decision to employ the services of the ACLU. When my membership card arrives I plan on being a card-carrying member!

Hopefully, the ACLU with my financial support and the support of thousands of others can stop some of the insanity.

I feel good, real good!

Couples Challenge Course

Julie Walking High

As we left the challenge course I asked Julie for her opinion. “That was fun. I’m glad we did it. I’m ready to try sky diving!” I put skydiving on my list of to-do things in 1972. I guess it’s time to bring it to the top of the list.

I’m six months behind posting photos to our gallery and hope to catch up soon. Here are 18 photos (2 pages) of the challenge course.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Life Isn't Fair

I had to risk looking like an old fool and ask. We were parked in front of her apartment on a pleasant evening. I waited for what seemed like the right opportunity and posed the question. “Are you looking for something romantic?”

An odd look came across her face. She hesitated for a moment and replied with a question. “Is it that obvious?”

I had moved to Texas a few months earlier and she was a co-worker. She was intelligent, educated, cute, lively and, for some unexplained reason, single. I was surprised one morning when I received a chatty email that had nothing to do with work. The next day another one arrived with the unforgettable subject “Andes Mountains Unicycle Riding”. It was just a friendly “hello”. A few days later she popped into my office with a plate of freshly baked cookies. I thanked her but the thought that went through my mind was “This is strange!”. When she invited me to a movie I accepted out of curiosity and a desire for company.

It was a few nights later that I posed my question. At the time I was forty-nine and she was twenty-eight. Why in hell would a pretty young woman be interested in me? I was a gray balding man who had been divorced for about three years, was still in the healing stage and had no plans or obvious future. What was the attraction?

As we began to talk I learned she had lupus and other health issues. She had dated several young men but all of them ended the relationship when they learned about her health problems. I have a sister, a nurse, who said the young lady would probably not live beyond her mid-fifties.

I was honest with her and disappointed her as others had done.

She met a young man and had another short-term relationship before taking a job in a city about fifty miles away. She wanted children but through the grapevine I heard news that a surgeon removed that possibility. I saw her one last time a few years later. She had put on a few pounds and the glow in her smile had lessened and her liveliness had declined.

She wanted nothing more from life than marriage, children, hope and happiness. She wanted what we all want but life isn’t fair and had denied her these things.

Something said in last night’s meeting of the men’s group caused me to think of her for the first time in a few years. I wonder if she ever found someone with whom to share the remaining years of her life. I hope so.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Wanting to Do Better

“You need to let me edit your posts.” Julie is right. I read what I think I wrote and she sees what I actually wrote – “typo, typo, subject and verb agreement, spelling, . . . “. She makes her point like a high school English teach with a red pen.

Julie identifies only the tip of the problem. Sometimes I have the desire to rewrite an old blog entry and do more than correct the obvious spelling and grammatical errors. I want to take the mediocre and turn it into something alive and beautiful.

Paul of Random Thoughts asks the question “So why do we seem to have a mandate to create?” I began to think and posed for myself the question “why do we seem to have a mandate to recreate – to improve, to excel, to make the good better”? (Perhaps creation and recreation are indistinguishable and we have one question.)

I could pledge myself to better creations but Paul rocks that boat. In an earlier post, “The basis of toughness”, Paul addresses diversity: “Diversity makes communities tough and resilient, and more productive. Don’t forget, communities come in all sizes. They exist in molecules, soil, plants and people.”

Thought provoking! Am I a community? To be tough and survive I need diversity in my life – time for physical exercise, time to sit and just be and do nothing, time to learn new skills, time to interact with others and with nature, time for a multitude of things. There’s part of the problem of mediocrity – not enough time.

Our society pressures us to specialize – choose a major and a career. Others may see me as a “software developer” but I see myself as a carpenter, an electrician, a farmer, a mechanic, a researcher in sustainability, a sociologist and psychologist studying marriage and relationships. I see myself as a community of skills and interests.

If I expend my limited time and effort on so many subjects then I have time to create mediocre articles but I don’t have time to recreate them as something better. I'm pulled in two directions. I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none. One possible solution is to join a larger community but, unfortunately, utopias don't exists.

Sorry, this is as good as it gets for now.

Tonight, Julie will point out my typos and I appreciate that. I’m part of a community of two that makes for mediocre writing but a wonderful life.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Path I've Chosen

Where am I headed?

I value discipline as a good trait and deadlines as motivators but the two can be bad taskmasters. They compelled me to patch together quickly yesterday’s post but I felt like I had traveled down a muddy road poorly. I began a list of ideas to confront the political challenge then I stumbled upon an excerpt from Thirteen Moons and came to a quagmire that I want to avoid.

Survive long enough and you get to a far point in life where nothing else of particular interest is going to happen. After that, if you don’t watch out, you can spend all your time tallying your losses and gains in endless narrative. All you love has fled or been taken away. Everything fallen from you except the possibility of jolting and unforewarned memory springing out of the dark, rushing over you with the velocity of heartbreak. May walking down the hall humming an old song -- "The Girl I Left Behind Me" -- or the mere fragrance of clove in spiced tea can set you weeping and howling when all you've been for weeks on end is numb. (Excerpt: 'Thirteen Moons' by Charles Frazier)

The day began with unpleasant issues but ended with Fall colors, refreshing breezes and the arrival of Mary Oliver’s latest book of poetry.

The text on the front inside dust jacket promised treasure within. “Thirst . . . introduces two new directions in the poet’s work. Grappling with grief at the death of her beloved partner of over forty years, she strives to experience sorrow as a path to spiritual progress, grief as part of loving and not its end. And within these pages she chronicles for the first time her discovery of faith, without abandoning the love of the physical world . . .”

I opened the book and began reading the first poem, "Messenger"
My work is loving the world.

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished. (Excerpt: Thirst – Poems by Mary Oliver: “Messenger”)

The contrast pulled me back to reality. I learn from and am inspired by others. Frazier paints the danger to be avoided. Oliver illuminates the way around the danger.

One of the tasks of aging is to arrive at old age feeling content with one's life. As I've remembered and written some of my experiences I've felt more contentment, peace and acceptance of myself. I've taken joy in my successes and found treasure in my failures and indiscretions. I'm thankful for the more noble things I've done and equally thankful for the ignoble deeds I've committed.

Last night, after talking with Juile and reading Mary Oliver's poems, I arrived at at decision. Occasionally, I’ll continue to write about and struggle with negative issues and try to do so in a positive way. Most of the time, I’ll write about the good and the beauty of life. To do otherwise is to take the path to Frazier's abysmal end.

“My work is loving the world . . . and learning to be astonished”.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Not to ruin your weekend or feed your rage....Detain

What in the hell can be done about this freakin' insanity?

The above email from a friend was an eye opener for me. I’ve asked the same question without really asking it. I was leaving for the weekend and wrote a quick reply:

What can be done??? This is the question.

Honestly, it appears so overwhelming that I doubt that I've ever really faced the question with any determination. With the money, power and ethics of the religious right, the neocons, the corporations and the republicans and the spinelessness of the democrats it seems hopeless.

I want to think on this seriously. What can be done?

Some days I long for hollywood's version of the old west where I could have loaded my weapons and faced my enemies and fought back rather than doing nothing.

If the last paragraph raises red flags for you – so be it. I’m tired of political correctness and like the imagery.

I thrive on challenges. Drop me into the middle of the Arctic nude with no supplies or quipment and I have the attitude that I’ll tackle the problem and come out winning. Why don’t I have the same attitude about the corruption, illegal actions, immorality and loss of ethics and decency of the US government?

Last spring I began a list of 250 things that anyone can do to live in a sustainable way. I have the list and it continues to grow. I feel good about it. The problem seems less immense.

I think it’s time to develop a similar list about the current crisis. Do you have ideas? What can we do to bring sanity back to the US?