Keeping The Shotgun Awake

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It was a pleasant drive yesterday morning (This was originally written a couple days after Christmas.) as we headed out to Florida.  (Pleasant assumes you believe good things can happen before 4:00.)  After fighting the kids into the car, turning down the thermostats, and going back to the house for the inevitable “I forgot to go to the bathroom.” or “I forgot my contact solution.” etc, we were off.  Once we cleared the worst of the vehicular stairsteps (i.e. north/south and east/west roads) to get the luggage-carrier enhanced van heading east on US 20, I slipped in and out of brief micro-naps until we hit the Louisiana border.  (somewhere near 3 hours.  It was somewhere between 7-8 at this point.) And, this is really where our adventure begins…

Just over the border (or border plus 20 miles), the dashboard trifecta occurred.  I was awakened by an “Oh, no.” and us getting off the exit of a perfectly good road to find out our dashboard was lit up with 3 extra dashboard lights (engine light, VSC, & Trac-off).  As my normally calm wife calmed down, I searched by phone for “sienna engine light on” and “sienna VSC light on”.  The answers were not completely satisfying, (it could have been an o2 sensor OR it could have been as simple as the gas cap not being on tightly enough.) but having just taken the van in for a 100,000 mile physical at the dealership, I felt somewhat reassured that the van was not about to turn into a huge pile of scrap metal.  Regardless, after a breakfast stop, I did earn the driver’s seat for what I anticipated to be just a couple of hours.

The dashboard “lights of doom” continued to stare back at me as the miles ticked by.  As my “shotgun” (aka “wife”) fed me occasional directions, I just kept plowing on.  I would sometimes hit the rumble strips on the side of the road as I was constantly checking all 3 mirrors for visibility. (Driving in the mini-van with our 4 bios and 2 exchange students made us a family of 8.  There were no options to leave the rear-view mirror with clear visibility.  Thus, all 3 mirrors were critical as my eyes were constantly checking one of hem..)  And, when the windshield got too dirty or misted over, I would turn on the wipers.  (The wipers never seemed to have enough moisture–they kept squeaking.)  When I was thirsty and my navigator was not available, I would yell to the back to get me a water.  And, when I saw hunter’s dragging a deer from the woods to their car, I had to tell someone what I saw. (I was informed later how hard all of my actions made it to sleep.)

As the first tank headed toward fumes, we found a much needed gas station, but we filled up and emptied the end of our digestive tracks on the eastern side of Mississippi.  We got all of our packed lunch items (my daughter made me an excellent sandwich of ham, cheese, lettuce and cilantro the night before.) out and I settled in for another period of unknown length in the driver seat.  The unexciting “Welcome to Alabama” sign greeted us as we dreaded any extended driving on a 2-lane road.  (It is hard to believe driving from Texas to Disney involves driving 20+ miles on 2 lane roads and quite a bit of small town and city driving.  Maybe Disney ought to pay for road improvements on all of the many roads leading to their Magic Kingdom.)[On the way back, we went a different set of roads where it was almost entirely 4 lane or more.  Despite these improvements, the deep south is not racing to become “super” accessible.]

After crossing the long bridge south of Mobile, I (yes, I am still driving.  And, yes, the dashboard lights are still bright.  At one point, I mentioned to my wife maybe she should find a Toyota dealership near our condo in Orlando.  I could try and take the car first thing in the morning to get the lights tested and see if it was a ghost or a REAL problem.  Somehow she never got to far with this project.  She took a picture of me driving and posted it on Facebook[see above] and she opened about every app on my phone while she was playing.) the Florida panhandle awaited.  If one is not aware, it is nearly 275 miles from the beginning of the panhandle to I-75.  I set goals of driving 50 miles, then 100, then 200 miles of this distance.  The distance kept increasing because the cities were not coming up anywhere near the desired mileage goals.

As I completed my second tank of gas behind the wheel, we confirmed the next exit would bring a gas station and a couple of candidates for dinner.  (I have called Mickey D’s “Yech-donalds” for years.) As we settled in after the fill-up and after the obligatory evening meal demanding by all growing children was purchased, I hopped in the passenger seat to rest my weary body.  My wife hopped behind the wheel and got us back heading to US-75.

We hadn’t driven too many miles before I realized all of the lights that had been on the WHOLE time I was driving were now out.  Either the gas cap miraculously tightened itself, the car used a seldom used “self heal” feature OR the van was ready again for a woman’s touch.  Whatever the cause of our now “perfect” looking dash, I was grateful for the van seemingly affirming my driving time was “up”.

 

Cantaloupe Goes Airborne

 

I have been doing this trick with balls of all sizes for sometime….a few decades. To try and put more pressure on myself, I allow myself to propel the occasional fruit into the air.  It may not seem like pressure to anyone else, but my wife’s “encouragement” in the background should I have to clean up anything resembling exploded fruit does give me a mini-rush.  Apples are only a small rush because any errors only results in bruising.  It is the cantaloupes, tomatoes, and maybe someday the watermelons that will give me the assurance my heart is still in tip-top shape.

 

Photobombing For Friends

As we walked into Disney Saturday, my son and I decided we needed an additional project.  Besides the fun we would have dodging all of the many extra people that were here over Christmas, we decided we should take advantage of the many photobombing opportunities that presented themselves on Main Street USA.  SOOOOO many people are posing for pictures and soooo many people are trusting to get a good picture to treasure for years.  What better place to photobomb?  It was great place to test out all of those “Photobombing for Dummies” techniques described in the very helpful book.  (Does this book exist?  If so, then it is certainly over priced.)

I will admit my son and I did have some reservations as we attempted to “place” ourselves in the various pictures.  As it said in the book, the key to this art is being discrete without being excessively obvious.  Our efforts largely failed on the side of being overly discrete.  Possibly to the point where the distance between us and the “real” group being photographed was too far to be consequential or rankable in the annals of “photobombing”.

As we counted our failed attempts, we somehow found ourselves in the line for “Pirates of the Caribbean”.  My attempt to photobomb while in the “pirates” line failed on the “to obvious” side.  Because of the line, it was hard to walk-on and pretend like it didn’t happen.  So, my lips got ahead of my head, and I spilled my guts and told the photographer (an early 20’s girl traveling with her sister, mom, and boyfriends) of my son and my “challenge”.  She was overly sympathetic.  She even snapped another picture almost immediately where I could “photobomb” without any remorse.  It was a very liberating feeling.  No upset photographer, and I got to score a photobomb.

The rest of the 1/2 hour or so journey through the Pirates line was spent talking with 2 or 3 or the members of this family.  One used to live in Dallas. (mom)  One was a football player for the U of South Alabama football team (They got beat by Bowling Green in their bowl game.), and one was his girlfriend.  (The rest of the crew was not as chatty with outsiders.)  It was a good way to get my “fix” and get myself into the fun that is available while wandering through lines that are a necessary part of the pre-ride experience.

Later in the day, we saw this same family in the “Haunted Mansion” line.  I made a comment about “not photobombing anymore” as we passed in the wandering line.  As the line got closer to entry, we ended up where we could have talked in the line.  But, it seems friendships formed while photobombing are not long-lasting friendships.  And, as much as I felt semi-bonds were formed earlier in the day, it just seems appropriate the bonds formed while engaging in such destructive behavior were horribly short-lived.

Mommy Directions

After going to the Christmas musical at Gateway church last year, we (definitely my wife and girls for sure) were excited to go again this year.  And, although the YouTube video is from a couple of years ago, it gives a good idea what went on in the show.  When momma wants to go, we try and make it happen!

Unfortunately, today was not an ideal day to make it happen.  As we fought the sprinkles and the full parking lot, our battle proved impossible when we wanted to find 7 seats all together inside the auditorium.  My wife ended up sitting with two of the girls (one exchange daughter and one bio).  My son and I sat together in the overflow area, and the other two girls sat together inside the auditorium because they would not tolerate watching the Truthical on “screen-only”.

Just after we sat, my wife gave me a quick text about our post-musical meeting place- “Meet you outside the entrance where we came in”.  The church is monstrous, but I was certainly capable of retracing my steps.  I texted back letting her know to look for the two other girls before settling in for the show. After a few Broadway songs with “revised” words, some witty dialogue, a few cute kid moments, and the post-musical altar invitation, my son and I easily found the entrance my wife described in her text.

The first 5 minutes we waited, we assumed it was difficult to pull all of the girls together.  The next ten minutes were spent watching the crowds thin as the “leavers” swarmed to the exit and the “comers” for the next performance rushed to fill the vacated seats in the balcony above.  My phones vibration pulled me away from my people watching.  After confirming I was at the correct entrance, my wife requested I raise my hand.  Of course, if she would have been at the correct entrance, we would easily have been reunited at this point.  My son’s phone call to mom confirmed what we suspected-the large Christmas tree at the OTHER entrance had caused my wife to lose all sense of direction.  Just like at a Disney amusement park, she was drawn to the big object regardless of where she really wanted to go.

Although the large quantity of incoming and outgoing cars and those jockeying for better parking spots to avoid excessive rain accumulation on their umbrella-less bodies greatly delayed our evacuation of the Gateway premises, my wife was confident behind the wheel.  You see, in our 20+ years of marriage, we have learned a couple of things about each other.  I was not shocked or angry when she was unable to find the entrance she described.  And, I was relieved beyond my ability to express when she volunteered to drive us out of this parking lot of perdition.  Individually, we have a few faults, but the team is AWESOME.

 

Knuckle Grapes

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A visit to Sam’s brought a new 3 pound container of green grapes into the house.  While not all past vine dwellers were as welcome, I am happy to say my daughter picked very well today.  The texture gave slight resistance and the skin was just the right firm.  The only thing slightly wrong with them was their size!  Most of the grapes were as large as the top half of my thumb!  As we ate some of them with lunch, the smaller mouthed individuals made each grape last for 2 or 3 bites before the grape was fully consumed.

After lunch, my son decided to participate in a game we occasionally do to assist in father-son bonding.  Usually the game consists of tossing M&Ms into the air on an arc toward his head.  If I do my job correctly, a couple small neck adjustments will allow the M&M to easily be caught in his mouth.  Because we apparently needed to do some “power bonding”, we attempted the M&M trick with these over-sized, under-seeded fruit ovals.  My sons skills were quickly evident.  He adjusted how far he opened his mouth (he had to open it ALL of the way), but otherwise, it was the same eye-mouth coordination as before.  The first two grapes followed this pattern.  He zeroed in on the grape, caught it in his mouth, and he was careful not to choke on the green projectile.

Although I did not consciously want to “mix it up”, my sub-conscious was likely a little bored.  The third grape did embark on an arc just like the other grapes, but as it knuckle balled (my fingers planned this without my realizing it) toward my sons mouth, it ended up being to great of a challenge-the “center” of the grape was to hard to calculate .  It smacked him in his upper lip as his mouth was anticipating the impact.  We did allow a “knuckle-less grape” do over which was much more successful.

While fruit does not always bring people together, I am glad my son and I can “rework” old games with grapes as a centerpiece.  I have not always been a perfect father, but on the days when I “know” I have done a pretty good job, it usually involves a bit of laughter and a dash of ridiculous.

 

Would You Like A Paper With That?

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  Do you have your ads yet?

As my wife and I got up this morning, she made the coffee while I wondered out to Walmart to get the paper.  (I do feel badly they are working today.  However, due to a dispute with the “Fort Worth Star Telegram” over their vacation policy when subscribers “hold” their paper, we are not getting a paper over the past few weeks.  It is my hope my wife and I will come to a resolution before Thanksgiving arrives next year.)  As I drove the mile or so to acquire our paper, I found I was not the only one on a similar trek.  As I walked through the doors, I quickly looked to the right where the papers are usually stacked.  With the “paper” area completely clear, I quickly glanced to the left.  Fortunately, a space on the left was full of papers! I grabbed one, used the self checkout to pay when I found the bar code, and after a couple of “Happy Thanksgivings”, I was out the door and heading home.

As I pulled into the garage, I noticed a small problem with the paper–it was “The Dallas Morning News”.  The shrunk wrap bag of ads was still prominent, so I was pretty sure the presentation of the paper would be well received.

Me (to my wife):  Do you want the good news or the bad news?
Wife:  They were out of papers with ads?
Me:  No problem with the ads; I just grabbed the wrong paper.  I just hope you like their puzzles, too!

After looking over the  ads, eating our crockpot pumpkin oatmeal w/ coffee, and doing some initial shopping strategizing, the food prep continued.

Our little re-purposed, brightly wrapped tissue box is waiting to gather all of the Thanksgiving notes (What are you thankful for?  Write it down and stick it in the box.)  today’s attendees deem worthy of the effort.  As we set down at our meal, we pass around the contents so they are equally distributed to all who share our table.  You may or may not get your written contributions to read from the box, but you will hear your “thanks” read to those you are sharing the table with.

Regardless of how you express “thanks” in your home, please make a special effort to be thankful for the abundance of blessings – both appreciated and under-appreciated.  May all of our lives be richer for this “holiday pause”.  May we look across our lives and find some area where we struggle to be thankful and commit to trying a little harder.  May we look across the table and commit to be nicer or more patient with someone with whom we are sharing this meal.  And, since we are Americans, may we forget what we don’t like about our country for a few hours.  May all of our eyes be open to see the blessings that are daily all around us!

Fun Parents

As I sat down at McDonald’s today to tap into their internet and slurp on an slightly sweetened iced tea, I was greeted by a family sitting two tables in front of me.

The dad in his early 20’s had droopy jeans, a knitted hat pulled over his head with a bit of hair sticking out, an unshaven face, and a couple of tattoos above his elbow peaking out from under his t-shirt.  The mother had her back to me.  She had shoulder length black hair with a black t-shirt.  The youngest child (under 2) was in a highchair with his hair combed into a rooster type style.  The older brother (no older than 4) was facing me, but blocked by his mother.  He looked to be his younger brother PLUS 2 or 3 years.

As I notice the youngest brother begging pancakes off of his father’s plate, I see the smile on dad’s face as he continues to fill the nearly perpetually gaping mouth.  I see little brother reach for dad as he goes to refill his Dr. Pepper (Don’t leave me dad.) .  I see mom haul little brother to the bathroom to change a diaper.  I see big brother watching everything going on while keeping the hand moving from plate to mouth.  I see how both boys are wearing clothes that could easily be described as pajamas.  I decide I will say something to the parents (see Blessed Eggs), but as they get up from their table, they go into the play area.

When they emerged from the play area, I couldn’t help but make a comment.  I am not sure it was the best comment, but it was the one I had:

"You must be fun parents.  Not every parent would let their kids wear pajamas on a     drizzly day."
"Thank you. The boys insisted.  They just got their new pajamas yesterday.", she       replied.
"You guys enjoy the rest of your day.", I said with a smile.
"You, too.", the dad said with a bigger smile

It isn’t your appearance or my standards that make you a fun parent.  It is how your kids see you.  I have no idea what this family’s home looks like, but I know this family knows how to love their kids.  I am not so arrogant to think my words made any difference in their day, but saying the words did in mine.

Syrup on the pajamas? No problem.  I am sure this loving mom will have them washed for bed tonight.

Blessed Eggs

As the “alarm clock” (My mother calling from a time zone to the east) went off this morning, the day began.  With everyone needing to be out of the house by 10:00 (or so I thought), the coffee got going and the breakfast options were decided.

I had boring toast. Even though it was some special new flavor from the discount bakery, it worked well with peanut butter, so I was content. My wife pulled out the eggs to get her diet its necessary protein fix.  I wrongly assumed the eggs were for her, when she had already decided they were for my son.  As my son (the one heading to a day of food prep at Chick Fil A) watches my wife make his eggs for his breakfast this morning, I scold him for letting her do it.

He casually replies, "I am making the toast."
Unfazed, I reply, "I could make toast in a body cast."

My son and I laugh.  My wife glares.  My daughters look annoyed as they turn up the volume and continue watching the DVRed “Once Upon A Time.” As my sons scrambled eggs are plated with toast on the side, my wife finishes the carton with the eggs that will serve as her breakfast. Before putting the egg carton in the trash, she glances on the inside lid.  She is rewarded with a bit of inspiration.

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Psalms 118:24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Prior to realizing this message was inside the carton, I was just glad to get eggs at $0.79 a dozen from Aldi’s .  (Below cost, but it certainly sucks me in the door.) Now that I know this message is there, I think I will smile a little bigger knowing somebody, somewhere cares enough about my eggs and my day to sneak in a bit of encouragement.  If an egg carton can encourage, what can I do to encourage the people I interact with today?

My Son, The Network Marketer

My son gave me a call yesterday afternoon.  He let me know he would be late coming home.  He was going with his friend to an “opportunity meeting” of a particular network marketing company.  He assured me he would not “get in”, and we left it at that.

A few hours later, right before the meeting was going to start (I can only guess his friend was really talking up this opportunity before the meeting), we had a text conversation that went something like this:

Son: I think I am going to sign up. I can make my money back quick.
Me: Please don’t!
Son: Why not?
Me: It is your money, but I will not support you unless we talk about it first. Your
friend makes money when you get in. I discourage this highly!

He then went “dark” for a couple of hours.  He had signed up for this “great” opportunity.  Unfortunately, he seemed to be following in my footsteps:

  • In my early 20s, I did join Amway. (My brother joined first.  I just followed him along to the meetings and the events.) It was a social outlet.  I didn’t have the conviction to sell the product.  I bought a few items, but always seemed to be buying things I didn’t need to keep up my “points”.  I used the excuse I was too young when it came to contacting “successful” people. I did sponsor a few, but either I was not very good at it, OR they were not really that interested.  If I had the chance to talk to my son first, I would have told him about this.  Maybe it would have changed his actions.
  • In my 30s, a friend joined Shaklee.  He was really sold on a couple products they had available.  (I believe they were for air filtration.)  I made no effort to build a Shaklee business by getting my friends in.  I advertised in the local “suburban” newspapers and tried to sell the product.  I forgot how long I did this, but I don’t believe I got one phone call.  If my son wanted some of my thoughts on network marketing, I would let him know that despite any claims he may have heard or who endorses the company, the product does NOT sell itself.
  • In my 40s, I signed up with Ignite.  They sell energy and gas in a few southern and north eastern states.  They started in Texas (where I live now).  So, although Texas is a big state, there are many companies that resell electricity in Texas.  Although I believe Ignite/Stream has a quality product, there are other choices.  If you are shopping price only, they are probably not your cheapest choice.  But, they will be there tomorrow.  Within the next couple of months, Ignite will also offer cellular services.  They are not the only company or the first company to provide wireless service through a network marketing organization.  If someone buys a service “product” from me, it is either because I was first to ask OR they are related to me.  Selling a utility is more than just the product-you are also depending on their customer service and support.  Many people are hesitant to switch providers for services/utilities they rely on.  Some will, but some will refuse.  Since my sons new network marketing company sells services, I would have been happy to explain this to him before he paid his substantial membership fee.

Will his money be wasted?  I doubt it.  I hope he can develop a business and be successful at it.  (I am NOT negative network marketing, but I am aware of the statistics and facts.)  If he does not have the success he thought he signed up for, then losing a little money in pursuit of a dream-no matter how sincere-is not such a bad thing.  We can hope our kids will come to us and seek our feedback on many thing ESPECIALLY things we have already gone through.  We can also hope they attend college for 4 years with straight A’s and get the perfect degree before marrying their perfect spouse and before having their perfect little house full of kids.

If raising kids had a formula that guaranteed each kid would clear life hurdles perfectly when the equation was completed, the government would legislate it.  (Of course, this would guarantee the perfect formula would still fail.) Despite my excessive blabberings/encouragements/rants/stale-jokes and sermonettes,  I continue to have a number of experiences my kids haven’t brushed up against yet.  When I am not volunteering “guidance”, I am listening for a dad’s favorite question, “What do you think, dad?”

 

 

 

Courting An Old Friend

I don’t know if I truly have fewer friends now then I did when I was younger. (I am certain I see them less often.) I have very good relationships with my kids, so that is likely where the focus of my friendliness has been directed.  However, as the kids get older and I get glimpses into what the crib/nest/home will look like when it is just my wife and I consistently sitting down at dinner together (my wife and I do get along well so it is not very disturbing), I start wondering who will be in my “friend circle” when the kids are all out stretching their early adult wings.  And, is at this point I consider the “courting” of an old friend…

This specific friend and I have known each other for over 40 years.  It is no exaggeration to say we were very good friends back in “the day”.  We both attended a small Christian school together for most of elementary school.  And, while we went to different high schools, we usually saw each other once a month or so.  When it came time to go to college, we both joined the National Guard and went through Basic Training together.  (The tuition reimbursement was the reason I served our country – sad I know.) Due to different health issues, neither of us finished our obligation, but both did make the effort to serve.  As we moved into early adulthood, we developed different interest and different friends.  While I dated less often, I became engaged and married first (he was in the wedding).  My friend was better looking then me. He wanted to make sure he didn’t miss the right gal when she came along.  So, he made it through his 20’s without getting married.

When our 30’s rolled around, my wife and I were having kids.  He came to visit a few times, but the relationship was certainly changing.  Where I had been fortunate to marry a woman with a career that far exceeded my potential, he continued to work hard and not get any great breaks.  I am sure I may have lacked sensitivity sometimes. I am sure I said some things that may have been taken much more personally than they were intended. I am sure life’s experiences have made me a better person than I was then.

In our 40’s, my wife and I did foster care.  We had quite a few different kids in our house.  And, if our friends didn’t have kids and didn’t like lots of kids, they were even less frequent visitors than they were in our 30’s.  Our kids grew and stayed active in soccer or gymnastics or whatever other activity was appropriate for young girls and boys.  The last half of my 40’s was spent in Texas, so social ties from my previous life were even scarcer.

With the arrival of a new decade and a new set of life’s events, I wonder if our friendship can still find enough mutual energy to be revived?  After getting your number a few months ago, it took me multiple months to text you.  When the text sat idle for a couple weeks, I figured I had the wrong number or there was no mutual interest.  After your eventual reply, I find you now have a Facebook account.  It doesn’t look like you have changed much at all!

Truly, I am not sure if friendship revival is a likely outcome.  While I selfishly crave the sincere compliment of a very old friend and the memories of the good old days that would unavoidably occur, I am concerned that his emerging out of the time machine into my life anew might be better in the virtual than the reality.  LOTS of time has past and LOTS of experiences have been lived and forgotten.  We are no longer the same people.  Assembling the puzzle pieces of our previously shared lives and connecting them to our present lives might be more challenging than either one of us has the energy to expend.

If we don’t ever really reconnect, I wish you the best.