Posted in Writing

A Writer’s Gift

We are surrounded by people, places and things each labeled with a word

The action and reactions between these “words” gives life to events

How these events are connected is the essence of story

The outcome of each evokes feelings, thoughts and motivates behavior

Our individual stories are influenced by this cycle

Some scratch their heads and continue their activities

Some join a movement or volunteer their help

A writer is compelled to shape a different narrative

Reveal what’s hidden

Give voice to the unspoken

Offer courage to the timid

Inject an opposing view

Liberate the constrained

Reconcile the exiled

Simplify the complex

Expel laughter from the uptight

Provide clarity to the muddled

Sometimes we want to be entertained to break up the monotony

We should consider our shared humanity, the shortness of life,

and be reminded of the differences between people, places and things

Not just because we are at a loss for words, but sometimes “words” fail us

Posted in Self-Improvement, Writing

Success for the Future

One of my hobbies – Orchids! 5th time blooming since I brought it home!

Good morning all,

It’s been a while since I posted anything.  I have been focusing on a lot of new things which have taken most of my time.  This entry is the beginning of developing additional focus on my writing.  I’m excited to share with you what’s been keeping me from a regular blogging routine.

In 2015 I decided not to make any “New Years Resolutions” again, EVER!  I thought, it’s too much of a commitment to say on one day that I’ll do or be something for an entire year!  Right away, I knew I’d be setting myself up for failure.  In my day job, I’m always thinking about how we can set ourselves up for success.  So, after a bit of journaling, I decided that I could commit to anything for thirty days!

In 2015 I chose to start one good thing and stop one bad thing every month.  Each month would have a single focus area for positive improvements, and efforts to eliminate something not so good.  Whatever worked for me I would choose to continue just as a part of my new way of life.  During 2015, I stopped chewing my fingernails, I started a fitness program, I went for a whole month without coffee (only water for all fluid intake), another month I eliminated all “fat pills” (cookies, cake, ice cream, basically anything with sugar–or all the good stuff :-))  Needless to say, I was so pleased with the success of my self-improvement approach to 2015, I decided to take it up a notch for 2016.

In November of last year, I spent a good deal of time journaling about “who am I?”  What is it I have always believed about myself that I wanted to be true…not just a wish, not a something I’ll get around to…but no kidding, I wanted there to be observable evidence of truth to the things I believed about myself.  Who is the person I say that I am?  I always wanted to play an instrument, speak another language, be better at personal relationships, stay in shape/be healthy, write a book, etc.  So I came up with a new way to organize my life so that I could set myself up for success.

I created a notebook with eight tabs.  The first tab is the Activity/Progress Tracker which is nothing more than a blank month calendar template.  At the bottom is a legend with alpha characters that match the first letter of the word for each of the following 7 tabs.  Seven tabs, seven days in a week.  So, here are my tabs:

  1. Activity/Progress Tracker20160806_084828
  2. Guitar Practice
  3. Spanish Lessons
  4. Fitness
  5. Writing Studies
  6. Reading
  7. Personal Relationships
  8. Hobbies

Each of the tabs 2-8 are filled with blank notebook pages for me to write short journal entries about progress I’m making in each of those areas.  Every day, I track my progress on my activity tracker like this:

  • H – Gardening 1hr
  • G – 5 min Timed Chord Changes
  • F – 4 miles walk/run intervals

Just like last year, I decided that I’d give it a month and if it seemed like too much work or I could not consistently keep it up to date, I’d try another way.  However, after my first month, I was amazed at how little time it consumed to keep up with my progress and for the first time was able to track real progress.  My objective was to make sure that in any given week, I would have at least three of each letter in my tracker.  If I can’t find time three times a week to focus on Spanish, I’m not going to achieve a conversational fluency by the end of the year (okay, maybe that’s ambitious–but that’s the kind of goal setting that works for me).

The nice thing about this project is that my binder is my affirmation.  I don’t need anyone to pat me on the back.  Also, if I ever start to doubt myself in any of these areas, I just look at the tracker or the log entries behind each of the tabs to see that I have dedicated serious time and energy to the things I believe are important for me to achieve.  So far, it has worked very well.  I have seven completed months of tracking/logging.  I can now play a Spanish love song on the acoustic guitar.  I have a lot of Spanish practice under my belt and have basic (read, write, speak, listen/comprehend) skills.  I am only 14 pounds heavier than I was when I completed technical school in the Air Force at the age of 18–30 yrs ago.  I am improving my personal relationships.  I joined the Nebraska Writer’s Workshop (a three hour weekly commitment) Jan 2015 and am an active weekly member–I wrote my first novel!  I have read 12 and a half books since January–all while holding a full-time job and enjoying the most awesome gardening season ever.

The results speak for themselves and I now have a way to hold myself accountable to the things I say are important to me.  I hope that everyone who reads this is able to glean an idea or two that will help them with their goals.  One of my Writing goals is to blog more regularly.  I haven’t decided upon a rhythm yet, but I’ll share what my plans are soon.


Posted in Education, Politics, Writing

Conversation with Congressman Lee Terry

Yesterday I was fortunate enough that my boss reminded me that Congressman Lee Terry was going to be at Petrow’s on 60th & Center for a couple of hours to mix and mingle with constituents.  These small morning gatherings at area restaurants and coffee houses give a more intimate, one-on-one opportunity for the public to express concerns and ask questions.

Congressman Lee Terry
Congressman Lee Terry

Since our daughter Megan has been following national politics and showed interest for the last three Presidential elections I asked if she’d be interested in attending.  Megan and I arrived at 8:15 and Congressman Lee Terry and a companion of his was already seated and deep in discussion with a few locals.  Megan and I were seated several tables away from his group so we took our menus and ordered breakfast.  A short time later, my boss and his wife arrived.  By this time several locals had arrived and pulled up chairs around the table where Congressman Terry was seated.

My boss and his wife engaged us in conversation about public education and some challenges presented in today’s academic environment.  The restaurant was getting crowded with the typical morning breakfast crowd.  In particular, I noticed an entire table of individuals signing!  I have always loved sign language~more about that later.  Channel 7 News arrived and video taped several minutes of conversation with the constituents at the table.  After they stopped filming and left, my boss suggested that if we wanted a chance to talk we just had to go up to the table and introduce ourselves.

Megan and I approached his table, he noticed us approaching and stood up, shook our hands and asked where we were from.  We had a seat at the nearest table and began talking.  She informed him that she is 17 years old and educated at home.  Megan specifically had two questions she wanted to ask.

The first question:  She was wondering what it was going to take to get more Congressional members working in a bipartisan manner.  He acknowledged that it would be best–and the American people were wanting more cooperation between Republicans and Democrats.  He stated that it was why he isn’t always popular because he does make it a point to try his best to “work across the isle.”

Her second question was about education and “why the strong emphasis on math and science; what about the arts?”  He shared with Megan “to be honest, I wasn’t the greatest in math either.”  He stated that in order to get most jobs in today’s economy you had to have good math and science skills.  He said that several of the people sitting at his table were from all over the local area–one individual owned a factory where there were 60 job vacancies!  There just aren’t enough skilled people to fill the jobs. I shared with him that I worked at Offutt AFB and he asked if I was going to be affected by the furlough.  I stated that I would be.  He said “We’re trying to arrange it so there isn’t a furlough!”  I shared that if we all were able to reduce, reuse, recycle, make simple….and that if there were more collaboration among agencies, perhaps we could work smarter with fewer resources!  He wondered what Megan’s plans were after graduation and she said she’s was still trying to figure that out.

Megan is a typical 17 year old who’s still searching for what she wants to do with her life.   She has many passions, interests and skills–she just doesn’t know yet what she wants to do with them.  She’s taken Latin, and is learning Spanish and Gaelic.  She’s a great musician ~ loves to sing, plays piano.  She has also rewritten the book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”  She decided she wanted a better outcome for Dorian and several years ago began her first draft.  She is on her third and final draft now.  Congressman Terry encouraged her to pursue her interest in writing.  He said, “I tell high school kids “You know what they call the best writer and speaker? — Boss!””  He said no matter what you do in life, you’ll be a success if you are able to write and speak well.

The companion with Congressman Terry stopped by and gave Megan Lee Terry’s business card and an information sheet with more information about the Congressional office.  He also encouraged her to go to the Congressman’s website and sign up for the Congressional Medal of Honor–a really big deal for a young person to be able to add to their resume!  He also promised that if we wanted, on his way out Terry would pose for a photo with her.  About a half hour later, Congressman Terry had to depart and I was able to snap this photo:

Megan and Congressman TerryIt was a great opportunity to meet one of our elected officials in a relaxed environment and have the chance to ask candid question and converse person to person.  If you are interested in an encounter of this sort you can learn when and where his next coffee conversations will be, just navigate to Congressman Lee Terry’s website and look at his Facebook posts.

On our way out, we had the chance to stop and visit with the remain people at the table where I noticed individuals signing and met a wonderful man named Joe and his friend/interpreter Monica.  They are attendees at the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception.  It was a gathering of people who used to belong to a bible study.

All in all, a great way to begin the weekend!


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Posted in Business, Education, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing

2012 Accomplishments

I have begun a new tradition…starting the end of year in recap mode and planning for the next!   I really have much to be thankful for…its sometimes hard to remember that on Mondays!

This has been a year of accomplishments:

  • Completed Bachelors Degree in Business (made Dean’s List w/4.0 average)
  • Received a promotion & a new job
  • Found reliable renters for our small farm
  • Sold old farm truck
  • Updated our family photo (1st in 7 years!)
  • Twin daughters started driving and completed 1st college level course
  • Participated in #NaNoWriMo with my children (Megan was only one to complete hers, but at least we all got started on writing a novel!)

I turn 46 in January!  I seriously don’t feel that old, except when Mondays roll around 🙂 Did I make it clear that I don’t like Mondays?

So, what I am shooting for in 2013?  Do It Yourself (DIY) home repairs; foodscaping my yard; building a close-knit community of dads who want to be better dads, husbands, and friends; becoming more involved in the education process of my mostly home-schooled children; and brushing up on my sign language skills.

Do you have an annual ritual for setting goals and holding yourself accountable to them?

Posted in Education, Politics, SocialMedia, Writing

Angst of Perspective

In this post I’ve decided to share several thoughts that have come into my head that I’ve only shared via Twitter….with a little explanation about what prompted the tweets!  Some bloggers aren’t Tweeters & many Tweeters aren’t bloggers…so I want to share with both communities!

Tweeted 17 Sep 12:  In the end…it truly is about perspective! With a change of view the worst can have value & disappointment can mean relief! #GlassHalfFull

This tweet came after hearing how my wife’s day went.  One of our twin daughters (Madeleine) is struggling with accepting the requirements and demands of high school and college curriculum.  Even though at 17 years old she’s figured everything out concerning the rest of her life for a career, there are things she must accept are steps that must be taken to get to her destination.  As my wife says, you cannot know in this moment at what point in your future you may borrow from what you learn today.

Tweeted 16 Sep 12:  Part of life’s journey includes sometimes feeling/being lost…it’s in the absence of knowing that we are truly free to explore.

My other twin daughter (Megan) thought she had all of her future figured out as far as college/career.  Within the last several months however, she’s come to a place where she realizes there are several other things that passionately interest her.  She had a dream that she relayed to me on Sunday that she had last week about “trying to find her home” because she was lost.  The man in her dream didn’t give her the answers but extended a hand to her after she finished sobbing at his feet.  I asked her what she thought it meant.  She stated that maybe he was telling her that it was okay to “be lost.”

Tweeted 16 Sep 12:  Life abhors incongruence…dissonance is tolerated as long as there is movement toward eventual harmony! #OrderFromChaos

I was thinking about the teacher’s strike in Chicago, the anti-American sentiment over the poor-taste film that’s stirred the ire of Muslims, conflicts in the workplace, and disputes in families.  The goal of many in Psychology disciplines will try to help troubled individuals gain a healthy perspective on your unique situation.  Counselors and mediators in the workplace will listen to both sides of a story and try to facilitate resolution.  No matter the issue…when actions and attitudes become destructive, somehow both sides desire closure–even though the goal for each is toward their own advantage.  When two opposites disagree…as long as discussions are the agreed upon approach, the tempers can be kept in check, when both parties believe there will be some positive outcome from their perspective as long as they willingly participate.  These predictive behaviors is what makes psychology an art/science…defined, repeatable behaviors.  In nature, similar repeating patterns occur…often a natural resolve toward harmony or something that looks as though an artist intentionally created the beauty…Fractals (patterns on a window pane during frosty nights) are the example that come to mind.

Tweeted 2 Sep 12:  Hate is easy, lazy, & destructive!–there’s quite enough in this world. Spread a little love–find a worthy cause & give of yourself!  

Was just thinking about all the mud-slinging going on in the media about the opponents in the Presidential Campaign!  The extremes of opinions and positions on critical issues facing our nation requires us to be a team to solve them.  Blathering on and on or mindlessly forwarding, sharing or reposting political crap on social media platforms does little more than annoy those who don’t agree with the shared opinion/sketch.  This is NOT helpful or productive.  If you really care about the future of our free nation, you’ll actually find legitimate news sources, do your research and vote the best man or woman for the job–PERSON NOT PARTY!  After all, primarily the person who does get elected has a limited influence in what actually happens in our reality.  It is the Congress and the Senate who make the majority of the decisions (on our behalf) that we have to live with and complain about.  So if you’re unhappy…don’t blame the man (or woman) who’s hair upon leaving office will be ten shades of white paler than when entering office…..blame yourself!  YOU HAVE A VOICE and a RIGHT/OBLIGATION to participate in this democratic form of government.  Our republic depends upon you!  Your job isn’t finished when you fill in the circles on the ballot.  Pick up the phone, write a letter, join a campaign effort, or run for office yourself!  At the very least…time spent tearing other people down is time wasted.  Be a part of the solution to problems and challenges.  There are plenty of charities, shelters, and fundraising efforts going on that could use your time and energy toward greater purposes.

Posted in Relationships, Writing

I Am A Vessel

Peony close-up
Peony close-up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A standing ornamental windmill, planter boxes and peonies are all the only traces that remain of my grandparents at the cute little house on a hill in Missouri Valley, Iowa.  Their home, re-sided and shingled to modernize for resale after my Grandmother passed, has had a facelift.  Many years we drove from Arkansas up to visit them on the long Memorial Day weekend.  I can remember the white 5-gallon buckets filled with water placed in the trunk of their old brown Cadillac.  Grandma and my mother would carefully cut roses and peonies from the gardens around the house and place in the water-filled buckets.  We’d travel to several graveyards where grandma and grandpa would get out and place flowers by the headstones.

Whatever happened to that ritual? The significance of placing flowers on a grave was something I didn’t quite grasp as a child.  Time has moved swiftly, and with it, a change in our behaviors as a people, a society.  Our connectedness and communications, once like a relay of batons passed from one generation to the next…is it now just a memory?   Tonight, as I went through the first floor of the house closing windows, it was the missing sound of Katie’s clicking toenails on the foyer floor that struck a pang of sadness in my heart.  She was our family dog that we had to put down in October of last year.  I couldn’t help but contrast the weight of these memories as I walked upstairs.

My children are all tucked away in their beds; my wife is sending an email to siblings, Clara ~ our cat is lying at the foot of the bed near my feet…the plants in ceramic pots exhibiting their will to live on the bathroom counter.  These are the images and thoughts that fold around my soul as I wind down for the evening and ready myself for another week.  These weeks of work and study, meals, and routines usher my soul away from the emotional and thrust me into logistics mode.  My personal struggle is to daily find that balance where I consciously savor all things precious, waste no time on the frivolous, and focus on areas of internal weaknesses that need strengthened.

This weekend we watched “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” with Sandra Bullock.  It got me thinking about all those who lost loved ones on 9/11.  I also thought about those who across time have lost connections because of prejudice and hatred; been separated from family and all they know.  As a society, are we making choices, or are the choices making us?  Technology is influencing so many aspects of our daily lives.  Like the boiled frog syndrome, will we someday “wake up” and say, “I didn’t choose this kind of life!”  Will we regret that we allowed a bright shiny object syndrome to hypnotize us away from purposeful thinking about the small choices that are slowly making big changes to the quality of our lives?

While the windmills, planter boxes, and oak trees planted long ago stand to testify of our existence…what traces will we leave behind that have meaning or value to those who follow?  Are we shaping a generation that cares?  Does it matter?  I would have to have some help to find my grandparents graves, and my dog Katie…her ashes may have joined dust that blows in the wind…but for now at least, I am that carrier, that vessel who holds memories of yesteryear.

I am grateful to all people and creatures who once shared their passions and affection with me.  It is stories like the one of Marina Keegan who died in a car accident on Saturday that compelled me to share these thoughts with you today.  RIP Marina  I am grateful to JonahLupton ( @JonahLupton ) for tweeting a link to the story!

Posted in Book Reviews, Creativity, Relationships, Writing

A Book that Saved My Week! #LLAFF

Caribbean fruit fly (female)
Caribbean fruit fly (female) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t even remember how exactly we got connected, but Gabe Berman and I became Twitter followers of each other.  I tend to be in awe of people who actually put themselves out there…you know, in print for the whole world to “see!”  So, I saw this hashtag #LLAFF and got a little curious.  I did a search on the hashtag and found others thanking Gabe for sharing his wisdom in his book “Live Like a Fruit Fly.”  I couldn’t hold off any longer, I had to have it.  Last Friday night I ordered the book from and anxiously began my wait.

I received the book Monday evening and read the first few pages.  I read a little more on Tuesday…just enough to get me hooked.  By Wednesday I wanted to immerse myself but reality does hold priority.  Somehow between work and class I managed to squeeze in a few more pages.  Thursday, I had to meet an insurance guy at my rental property so I used the time waiting for him to show up to read more.  Tonight…I finished the book!

So my review is going to be more like a conversation I would have if Gabe were sitting across from me at Starbucks!  As I was reading the book, I took notes, wrote down questions, and reflections about his message.  Like I said in a tweet this evening…at times, I wanted to cry or give him a hug.  Other times, I felt like he is a “brother by choice” who was giving me an encouraging pat on the back to just go ahead and take those steps toward achieving my goal of becoming a writer.

So…here goes:

I love how you speak of “your destiny” as this virtual version of yourself that’s hanging out (like Jiminy Cricket) to consult with you, give you strength, a boost, confidence to make the best choice for yourself.

This particular quote of yours is one I’ll write on a pieces of paper to tape up on my mirror, in my car, and monitor at work:

“Keep your eyes, ears, and soul open.  Follow all leads.  Your destiny is closer than you think.” Gabe Berman

I love the story of your meeting the woman in the cafe!  Your insistent and ever present destiny telling you to get her business card and follow through with her invitation to send her some of your writing–eventually landing you the job at the Miami Herald!

Your breadcrumb concept is very meaty!  For me, having that mental association/description was affirming/reassuring.  I’ve been doing that same thing for years without having an understanding of why I do it.  For me, staying just a little bit longer here, or there…being “okay” with being lost or a little off my journey, or reading/listening to certain conversations, television shows, or demonstrations in a mall, collecting certain bits of information/facts, etc…may have seemed random or pointless (and annoying) to some.  But now I know that I’ve been “collecting breadcrumbs!”

I appreciate how you placed inspirational quotes at the end of each chapter…like this one from William Jennings Bryan “Destiny is no matter of chance.  It is a matter of choice:  It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

Thanks for verbalizing the steps to practicing the art of Active Appreciation!

The irony you described of switching through channels during 9/11 and seeing the Purple Dinosaur (Barney Show) captured well the feelings that hits me at times when I have experienced heart-stopping grief.  When death visits your circle of influence…it is so irritating how the rest of the world keeps right on spinning/moving/talking/carrying on as if “NOTHING” has happened!  Of course it is unavoidable and perfectly rational…but the part of me that’s connected to everyone and everything else just cries out in a silenced scream that begs the world to stop long enough to give two seconds to recognize that a presence among us has ceased to be animated in this time space.  To honor their participation in the dance of life.

I too loved the March of the Penguins movie!  When it finished, a profound sacred silence inhabited my soul…made me want to weep!  My mind raced to find an explanation why no matter how long I have lived, have I not discovered the steadfast devotion and focused purpose towards and between our kind in human society.  That movie shook my soul more intimately than sitting in a church for a year of Sundays ever could.

For those who haven’t read Gabe Berman’s book “Live Like a Fruit Fly” I won’t spoil it for you and reveal any more.  Hopefully this entry will give you enough interest and motivation to click the hyperlinked book title above and purchase your own copy.  Trust me, if you take the leap…like the writings of Kahlil Gibran, this will be a book you reference time and again.  It is written for our time, is sprinkled with Star Wars anecdotes, and is a mental comfort…. truly a pleasure and  joy to read.

Because of the last couple of weeks personal and professional challenges, this book came at the right time and saved me from sliding into a gray funk.  I hope you enjoy reading it and find it just as soul-quenching as I did.  Gabe is an interactive and engaging writer who is as approachable as his book makes him seem.  Go ahead, start following him on Twitter @GabeBerman  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention ladies….as of the publishing of this book…I think he is still an eligible bachelor!

Notes for Gabe:

You have a great friend in Rich!

Do you still tend bar?