Posted in Education, Writing

Farewell 2011, Hello 2012!

Ron Paul, member of the United States House of...
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Tonight my wife and I took our children to a Ron Paul Town Hall at the MidAmerica Center in Council Bluffs, IA.  We’ve been keeping tabs on the Republican candidates through social media, television debates, newspaper, and discussions around the dinner table.  Being a homeschooling family, our children have been very interested in and vocal about their concerns and criticisms on the issues facing our nation.  Ron Paul mentioned some of the departments he would do away with if elected President….starting with the Department of Education!  The quality of education has endured a decay in quality since the Federal government made it their business to get involved in and in some cases overrule the State’s rights/business.  “No Child Left Behind“, and now “Race to the Top” are classic examples of federal programs that attempt to address the symptoms of social problems not being dealt with.

My daughter, Madeleine, and I were questioned by a reporter from a Pennsylvania gazette about our views on Ron Paul.  I was glad to hear his clarifications on his foreign policy decisions–he’s not ignorant and would endorse/support going after maniacs who threaten our lands and people (9/11), but he feels that any action to “go to war” should be in accordance with the Constitution and the matter voted on and supported by a majority of Congress!  I also appreciate his constant referral to “what is the role of government?”  Few candidates on the Republican field will rewind the discussion of politics all the way back to the Founder’s intent in the role of government–to protect our rights!  My college course at Bellevue University has really got me pouring over these founding documents in detail.  The more I learn the more angry I’m becoming about the erosion of our liberties and freedoms.  My hope is that more Americans will show up at the voting booths.  Considering the past history (view voting statistics here) its a shame that so few of all who benefit from living in this country don’t show up to exercise their rights/choice by doing their research and checking the ballot box for the candidates that best represent their values/ideals.  Anyway, before I get too riled up let me just say, I’m very interested in the outcome of the caucuses and the outcome of the race for a Republican nominee.

This year has definitely been a year of personal metamorphosis.  As mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve moved into a new house, my girls started driving, I started college, lost a grandmother, a dog and two cats…life never slows down or waits for anyone.  For this reason I’ve decided to not allow any more circumstances in my life be the result of indecision or lack of choosing.  There’s no time like the present, and nobody is going to look out for your best interest….so you better do it.  I decided to get a head start on goals and New Years Resolutions!  Beginning Monday of this week, I started eating less, exercising more, nurturing my passion for writing and reading, and generally taking better care of myself.  Its amazing how much you can pack into such a short amount of time when you set your mind to it.

Here are just a few of the exciting personal events/goals on the horizon for 2012:

Turning 45 years old 🙂
Celebrating 20 years of marriage
Graduating from Bellevue University with a Bachelor’s in Business Analysis and Management
Becoming a published author (in addition to my blog )
Voting in the 2012 Presidential Election
Developing and keeping personal fitness habits to improve my health
Growing as many vegetables and fruit for the family on our postage stamp-sized yard
Improving the quality (being more present/conscious) of my relationships with family and friends

To all who stumble across this post, I wish you the safest of New Years celebrations and an exciting and personally fulfilling and prosperous 2012.

Posted in Education, Politics, Writing

Eroding Freedoms

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jeffe...
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I’m enrolled at Bellevue University and participating in a course they call the Kirkpatrick Series.  This is an in-class and online participation course of study.  I’m really enjoying it so far.  We are studying the founding of America and the details of our founding documents:  The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights.  Additional readings are required from scholarly studies, the Federalist Papers and a great deal of essays involving opposing view points.

I find that I’m becoming more passionate each week about my rights, freedoms, and responsibilities as a citizen.  Over the next couple of months I’ll share with you some of my thoughts that are the result of conversation that I post on our classroom’s discussion board.   This particular post I feel passionate about sharing.  I feel that the reason our country is in the state its in, is because we have too many in our society today who have great expectations but aren’t willing to put forth much effort.  I hope you enjoy reading it.  Feel free to add your perspectives even if you don’t agree:

I was just thinking on the way home tonight regarding the responsibilities of citizenship. There are so many instances in our society where we have established a system or set something in place to “take care of the details for us” (technology, insurance policies, public school systems, local and state elected officials, retirement accounts, cruise control, etc…).

Our society is riddled with the false assumptions that because we’ve checked the right box, paid our premiums, elected so-and-so, etc…that somebody is taking care of all the details for us.  That’s an incredible amount of trust to place in complete strangers hands!  All of us are so busy with the details of our own lives that we don’t have time to check up on the job being done for us until somebody realizes its being done wrong or not at all.  Then we react with shocked surprise!

There’s an expression I’ve heard (related to church attendance) “Don’t check your brain at the door” (meaning…with all situations, we must be vigilant and mentally sharp with skills of observation, logic, and reasoning.)  Challenge what you disagree with, ask questions when you don’t understand, and take action when you feel that something’s just not right.  We have lost many freedoms and rights because of our assumptions and passiveness.  I believe the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street participants are borne out of the anger of people who are waking up and realizing (unfortunately after the fact) that not all have acted in good faith, with ethics and morals, when entrusted to act on behalf of other people (Madoff, Enron, Blagojevich, Wall Street, the list goes on.)

As we enter this election cycle, ask yourself:  “Am I willing to give up freedoms, rights, and burden my children and the next several generations unnecessarily?”  If your answer is no, then you must ask:  “Am I giving my best, am I holding myself and those around me accountable to standards and values that best represent everyone involved (not just those who agree with me)?”  These are the types of thoughts our Founding Fathers committed themselves to wrestle with before writing such liberating words that set our nation free from tyranny.  Its easy to criticize others by passively assigning labels (liberal, conservative, left-wing/right-wing, fundamentalist), its much harder to critically examine the impacts of actions or inactions that will cause permanent and “freedom-altering” changes to our country that may some day forbid us to so readily throw labels around.

It is not enough for us cast our vote, we must be involved, be observant and willing to take necessary and sometimes unpopular or inconvenient actions to preserve this great democracy.  We do not have to be victims, and our government is only empowered at the will of “We the People!”  I fear we have allowed our society to become split into two classes of Americans, the main street citizen, and the politician.  We have made the process of governing ourselves far too complicated and constipated!  So much so, that the main street American trying to seek “the dream” cannot possibly comprehend the fine print and understand the impacts (cost/effects).  If I can be expected to write a persuasive paper limited to between 1000 and 1200 words to succinctly articulate my position for or against an issue, why should any bill presented to our legislatures require reams of paper?

Its time for us to pick up the power of the mighty pen (or laptop, iPad) and take action, like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and write for ourselves a more practical future, filled with promise, freedom and hope for future generations!

Be of great courage my fellow Americans!

Posted in Relationships, Uncategorized

Is Your Pet an Emotional Surrogate?

This pure breed Sphinx cat is Shabbat. Shabbat...
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I write this post encouraged by my sister-in-law.  This morning we were discussing the role of animals in our lives and how “aware and connected” they can be to humans.  I was reflecting on the recent loss of our dog Katie, and what she meant to me.  I remarked at how animals have helped me cope during times in my life when for whatever reason, human comfort or companionship wasn’t available or desired.  At times, I swear that animals are better listeners, better friends, and more tolerant than our human counterparts.

I think that because animals listen without judgement, are there for us no matter what, and tolerate our eccentric behaviors, we tend to attribute human-like emotional support to their expressions, behaviors, and routines.  They bridge a gap where humanity fails us.  I remember times when I was a teenager, I would go into my chicken house and sit down and start what I called a prayer meeting.  I could make the sound of a chicken and you wouldn’t have known it was coming from a human.  They would scratch the hay on the ground around me, sit on my legs and shoulders,  clucking and talking with/to me as though I was one of them (of course it did help that I hatched many of them.)

If you spend an huge amount of time with your animals, ask yourself…”do I allow myself more freedom of expression, love, compassion, grace, tolerance for my pets than I do my human companions?”  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with lavishing love and attention on our pets.  I have made some personal observations reflecting on my own past and realized that sometimes my pets were used as a crutch or surrogate because the human option was either too difficult or not available.  Do you find it easier to give love and attention to an animal/pet than to risk vulnerability or intimacy with another human being?  If you can honestly answer that question for yourself and find that you do have a preference for dealing with animals over humans, you might want to take some time to journal and explore “why?”

It takes a lot of work to reflect and look inward to understand why we behave the way we do.  There is however, a great reward in examining the differences in our relationships between animals and humans.  You might discover healing, you may gain new friends (both human and animal), and you certainly will benefit with better mental health.  Seeking to understand our own behavior and the reasons/motivations behind our actions can reveal a lot about ourselves.  Purposed avoidance in our relationships only creates great chasms/distance and awkwardness.

All relationships take work!  Healthy relationships require conscious, focused, intentional thought and energy devoted to keep them fun, comforting, and enjoyable.  That is the only way to keep both people interested, excited, and committed.  If you neglect your relationships and let them run on auto-pilot, that’s when the routine/humdrum ruts get carved into your existence.  Boring, predictable, responsible are attributes of a relationship that has been allowed to stagnate.  So, dust off the j0urnal, the bicycle, the tennis rackets….get off your couch and cushy chair, don’t wait until the New Year to turn a new leaf!  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I dare everyone who reads this post to take a personal inventory and answer the question… “Are you living your life on purpose…or on cruise control?”

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving….even our four-legged, winged, and finned relations!


Posted in Relationships, Writing

How I Quit a 2-Pack-a-day Habit

a lit cigarette in an ashtray
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This is a synopsis of how I quit smoking two packs of cigarettes per day after 9 years without any medical substitutes or mental health assists almost 20 years ago.

I started smoking Lucky Strike unfiltered cigarettes shortly after joining the Air Force.  My uncle had smoked the same brand–they were my favorite.  I always loved  the smell of Camel cigarettes too.   Not sure exactly what got me to start smoking but once I started I was hooked.  That is until I met my wife.  I chose not to smoke in our house, and tried to quit a couple of times after we got married in our first year.  I just couldn’t shake the habit completely but managed to reduce the amount by probably a pack.  Our first home together was in Alaska.  About a year after we married, I was stationed in Washington D.C.  I knew I wanted to quit for many reasons–one of them being the “low sperm count” attributed to smoking–I wanted to be a daddy!

My wife and I also had really deep, intellectual conversations that really made me crave time with her as much as I craved cigarettes.  So, I tried to figure out how to satisfy both cravings.  This challenge turned out to be my pathway to successful smoking cessation.

In base housing at Bolling AFB, they had mailboxes mounted to the house just outside the front door which weren’t used because they had larger mailboxes at the end of the driveway.  I decided that I would make myself smoke only half a cigarette, put it out, then deposit the unfinished cigarette in that mailbox just outside the door.  If I craved another smoke, I forced myself to go outside and finish the unsmoked half a cigarette!  Well, I’m here to tell you that the remaining half of a once smoked cigarette doesn’t smell or taste the same as a new cigarette!  With this new self-imposed requirement to satisfy my cravings it wasn’t long before I was down to half a pack a day, then 5, then 3.   Pretty soon, I was down to smoking only one cigarette per day.  I enjoyed much more time conversing with my wife and playing card games than I was wasting out on the front stoop.

I finally decided that the amount of time wasted smoking really wasn’t worth the time invested, and besides–it always made my clothes and breath stink!  From the time I began my half-cigarette smoking requirement to quitting totally was probably two months.  It’s been almost twenty years since I quit smoking cigarettes.

Do you have a unique story about how you quit smoking?  I’m always fascinated by what motivations and methods people use to quit bad habits…like chewing fingernails–I recently quit that habit too!


Posted in Writing

Most Favorite Time of Year?

Fall leaves and acorns
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What’s yours? I drift between Spring and Fall.  At the end of one I long for the other. Each bring their reminders of the circle of life.  I embrace them heartily but distinctly aware of motivations for my gusto.

Spring has the effect of invigorating enthusiasm and energy upon every aspect of my being.  I feel inspired to spend more time outdoors.  I long to dig my fingers deep in the dirt and anxiously look for signs each day of surprises from beneath the surface of fresh and perky daffodil, crocus, and tulip leaves.  These first signs allow my soul to sigh in relief that an end to bitter and dreary days is near.  The Robins arrive with their songs, scratching and pecking around new shoots of Peony, Iris and Bleeding Heart.  Daily the sun nudges the sleepy leaves of aged Oaks, anxious Maples, and confetti Cottonwoods.

Fall’s shortened days and water color skies heralds the sounds of coaches whistles, cheering crowds, and crunchy leaf-covered sidewalk journeys.  The canopies overhead gasp at the chill and  turn vivid colors, daring to hang on to their shady purposes until at last, Winter‘s winds banish them a final farewell as parents rake and children jump and frolick.  Smells of cider and the early morning scent of bacon and logs aflame join in what will become a liturgy of the senses for the next few months.

Spring calls out promise and reward for any effort you expend.  Fall ushers a time of contemplation, counting your blessings, and preparing us to exercise our patience.  I am thankful for both of these seasons with equal enjoyment…the older I get the faster Summer flies, and the longer Winter takes to finish!  Thomas Moore in his book “Dark Nights of the Soul” talks about many deaths in one’s life.  It truly takes many cycles of all four of these seasons before that acorn that gets buried by the squirrel turns into the magnificent giants creating the dazzling colors throughout our neighborhoods.

Enjoy this season, be conscious of the ritual you partake in by raking leaves, enjoy the time you share with family and friends.

Life is precious Y’all!

Posted in Relationships, Writing

RIP Katie, Marmalade & Patches ~ Our Four-Legged Family Members

A tribute to our barn cats Patches & Marmalade, and our Border Collie, Katie.  Katie - Her loss has left a hole!Our Barn Cats Patches & Marmalade

My blog post is more a therapeutic exercise to help me cope with the loss than for anything else.  I will look back on 2011 as the year of subtraction in some respects.  I lost my grandmother, Patches & Marmalade, the farm, and now Katie.

Some people say “it happens in threes” and for us this was true.  Just two weeks ago, I had to put down our barn cats.  Their health condition was poor and rather than make either of them suffer through the winter we decided it best to not make them suffer.

Yesterday, while Robyn was out with Megan for her piano lesson, Madeleine discovered that something happened to Katie that made her right eye roll into the back of her head.  By the time she discovered it, there was a little drainage from the eye, and the whites were bloodshot.  Robyn made an appointment for 7:30 this morning at the vet clinic.  When I got home from work, Katie’s condition had improved a little but you could tell that something still wasn’t right.  Since we moved back into town, we’ve had to restrict her from doing any stairs because her hind legs would just collapse if she tried going down the stairs.  She was taking a supplement for a few months to help but there was little improvement in her condition/agility.

I stayed up until about 1:00am this morning thinking about her current health, the coming winter, icy steps and sidewalks outside, and realized that keeping her alive would be more for our benefit than hers.  Just two days ago, she got so excited to go out to wet that her hind legs gave out and she slumped to the floor.  Lately, she’s had quite a visible struggle to get up off the floor, and an ungraceful collapse to the floor when trying to lie down–always punctuated with  groaning/moaning sounds.  Our country vet told us the next step would be pain medications.  Rather than make her go through any more and risk a fractured or broken hip or leg with slippery sidewalks we decided it would be best to say goodbye.  She would have been 12 years old next month.

This morning when we got out of the van to go into the clinic, her hind legs gave out again.  While waiting for the vet to enter our exam room, I observed a poster and noted that Katie exhibited three of the 5 signs listed for “severe osteoarthritis.”  An assistant and the vet came into the room, and through a stream of tears, I signed the permission slip.  The vet  placed a blanket on the table, I picked Katie up and laid her down, then he began the procedure.  He told us that we’d made the right decision but he understood it was still difficult.  Robyn later stated that she really appreciates older Vets–they’re not as likely to recommend expensive, life extending procedures and medications that don’t actually add an animal’s quality of life.

Its amazing “how” these four-legged friends become family members…so much of our lives become integrated with our pet’s habits, personalities, presence.  You really don’t realize just how much they color and compliment our own routines and emotional existence, until they are gone.   I’ll list just a few of the most notable activities that occur that cause her memory to stir:

  • Morning and bedtime: Katie’s toe nails clicking on the floor and sometimes shrill barks when she needed to go outside to wet. Now there’s no animal that needs to go out–habit says call her with a short whistle repetition–even our parrot has the whistle down pat!
  • Any meal prep:  Always underfoot, patiently awaiting any scrap that might possibly fall to the floor
  • Arrival after a family outing:   She would always be near the door with her wagging tail and anxious eyes…the kids noted that there will be nobody to greet us when we come home!
  • When packing up for an outing or long trip:  Suit cases and bustling family members always elicited those perked ears and hopeful eyes that she too might be allowed to accompany us.
  • My arrival after work:  I’d take my shoes and socks off after a long day and she’d always come over and lick my feet 🙂  Now every time I take my shoes off, her absence will be a sharp reminder of her passing.
  • Serving Ice cream or Cereal:  She’s always quietly wait at your feet in hopes you’d allow her to lick the bowl

Those are just a few of the situations that incorporated her presence into our consciously engaged attention/awareness.  Now each of us is learning just how intertwined her existence was in all those aspects of living that were on unconscious autopilot–like moving the baby gate we had to install to keep Katie from using the stairs….every time we go up the stairs now there’s no gate to move.

Joshua, our son, doesn’t cope with grief the way the rest of us do…we’re all bawling our eyes out, hugging and comforting each other.  Josh will set about drawing pictures or creating a card of some sort, or he may retreat to his room to be alone while we dehydrate ourselves.  This morning we came home and gave the kids the news, discussed what happened and how it was affecting us.  Later, I went up to my bedroom to change clothes to go into work and noticed that Joshua had placed a stuffed animal dog upon my pillow.  His thoughtfulness and attempt at comforting me (because I had the closest bond to Katie) sucker punched me in the gut and I began to cry again.

She loved meeting new people and was always happy when all of her people were in one place.  I truly loved her and am conscious of a huge vacancy in my soul–a part of me that is missing.

Posted in Education, Relationships, Writing

Who Can Afford a Mid-Life Crisis?

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...
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As an entrepreneurial minded person, I have always enjoyed observing different environments and assessing what could be done to make things better, more efficient, more pleasurable and rewarding.  So much of my adult life has been a path of least resistance trek…settling some might say.  I have decided to finally fulfill my motto for this year, “Passion with Purpose!”  But man, what a time in life to be engaging in such tumultuous choices!  Nevertheless, if you want different results, you have to make different choices….so, next month I finally begin to finish what I started YEARS ago!  That’s right, when I should be having a mid-life crisis–I’m sharpening pencils, buying new lined notebooks, making sure my laptop and printer are ready to support me in the role of student!  I’m going to finish my bachelors degree in Business Analysis and Management through an accelerated program at Bellevue University!

We have twin daughters who will be needing braces soon, will start driving and going to college; a house that we’re pulling off the market to rent out until the housing outlook improves; and aging in-laws with health issues.  Our elected officials seem bent on allowing the economy to tank while arguing the correctness of standing proudly on party principle.  I don’t even bother to turn on the news anymore.  Election campaigns are spinning up and nobody has anything nice to say about anyone else.  My party is more correct than your party–this party holds the monopoly on perfection–please, we do not allow our children to behave that way!  Is responsibility and stewardship forgotten after being appointed to Congress or the Senate?  That may seem a rather harsh or unfair question, but from the “common folks” perspective, seriously, how are we supposed to believe that common sense is being applied?

I do not for one minute think that only Republicans are capable of appropriate size and responsible stewardship of the government, nor do I believe that Democrats are the only people who care about social programs or topics that fall into the pro-choice bucket.   The Tea Party (a loosely leaderless group) is also not the only sect of people who would like to distance themselves from the Republicans and Democrats.  Its hard not to feel lost and disenfranchised by these cliques that truly no longer represent me or my views/ideals.

I’m reading a book titled “Not Quite Adults”  by Richard Settersten, Ph.D., and Barbara E. Ray.  My wife has already read it and recommended it to me.  Its an eye-opening look at the harsh reality of why our youth of today and the country are in the situation you see when you look around.  How many children have moved back in with mom and dad because they can’t afford to buy into the American Dream?  How many retired couples are having to return to work because their nest eggs have dwindled to nothing since the recession of 2008?  In order to get ahead, many go into debt to achieve the higher level degrees required to earn the income necessary to support all their obligations and subsidize their children’s successful launch into adulthood.

Where does it end?  Where did we go wrong?  But more importantly, how do we stop the insanity and get on a path to health?  The other book I’m reading right now is “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” by Ryan Blair with Don Yaeger.  A very interesting story about a young kid from a troubled childhood who found himself in juvenile detention centers, but with the help of a few good mentors, managed to turn his life around and rise to the top.  His book challenges you to be persistently looking for ways to turn unfortunate circumstances into opportunities for success.

As for me, I’m starting to consciously plan for a new direction in life–one with more options…starting with going back to school!  I’m also starting to think that there’s got to be a better way for preparing for retirement/future than Wall Street.  Something is majorly wrong when bad news on the other side of the world can cause your stock value in an American company to plummet!  Is it just me?  Am I alone in feeling discombobulated?