Project 52: A time I felt alone

Just one time? Ha. I guess I’ll pick basic training. There was no phone calls or mail for  a the first couple of weeks. My wife had a Red Cross number to call if there was an emergency at home and they really needed to get ahold of me, other than that I was utterly cut off from the world. My daughter was 6 months old back then. I missed them terribly, until my heart actually ached. Where did that come from?

Luckily, during the weekdays you were kept so busy all day that you had maybe, maybe a few minutes after lights out to think about them. I learned an important skill there: Laying awake, worried about them or missing them wouldn’t change anything, I forced myself to go to sleep. I learned at the end of the day to put them in the Lord’s hands and get some sleep. Weekends were bad, because there was a little free time, but I wrote letters and eventually the letters from home came in too. I still felt alone in a lot of other ways, I was the only married guy in my training unit, and there was nobody to commiserate with, but missing my family was the worst.

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Project 52: I look forward to…..

I’m a little tardy with this one, mostly because I’ve been thinking about how to approach it. I guess the prompt is to elicit a list of things I like. What I realized as I was thinking of all the things I look forward to, was the fact that, by and large, I  no longer think about life in terms of what I don’t like, but in terms of the things I enjoy and look forward to. I guess that’s a healthy way to live, don’t you? As you read my reply to the prompt below, ask yourself if you see your own life in terms of what you enjoy, or by what you hate.

I look forward to a lot things. So do you.
I look forward to going to work. Really, I do. The commute, not so much.
I look forward to coming home at night, being greeted by whatever pets we have on hand, and getting dinner ready for my wife and me. She works a lot later than I do, and I like to cook, so we’re good.
I look forward to seeing my kids for any reason, I love the adults they’ve become and I enjoy talking about their views on life.
I look forward to being with my church family and study or worship with them.
I don’t like to travel, but when I do, I look forward to getting underway, getting the job done, and coming home.
I look forward to fall because it’s the best season.

I could go on and on.
And so could you.


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Project 52: A Disappointing Time

There was a time when I probably coulda written at length on this. When I was a little kid there was a singer, Peggy Lee, and she had a hit song called, “Is That All There Is?”. The song was from a musical called Cabaret. My parents owned several Broadway musical albums and on Sunday afternoon, after dad was at a stopping point on whatever project he had going, they’d put an album on. I grew to know the songs of a number of musicals when I was little. West Side Story, Fiddler On A Roof, South Pacific – to name a few.  I’ve always been one to listen to lyrics even as a kid. And I have to admit, with respect to, Is That All There Is,  it sort of helped set my world view. That and Eleanor Rigby.  If you never heard it, here’s the gist of it: The song lists a number of disappointments the singer encountered growing up. One of her earliest memories involved disappointment.

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames
And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

Later she falls in love.

Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes
We were so very much in love
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t
and when I didn’t I said to myself, is that all there is to love?
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.

And she lives on expecting to be disappointed even by death. Here’s the thing, even growing up with that sorta world view, I learned that disappointment simply was not the way to go about life.

A major disappointing time in my life was just after Tech School. I was hoping my first duty station would be some place overseas, some place interesting and exotic, and instead, I ended up in the states on a base that the military didn’t even want keep open. I came to terms with it though and did my best.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned something: Things are going to happen to you, things you were expecting aren’t going to unfold in the way you wanted, things that do happen just as you wanted will leave you dissatisfied. How you respond to these things is up to you. Disappointment, even if it flairs up, doesn’t have to be your default emotion. Ask yourself about your expectations. I tend to expect too much. Knowing that about myself helps. Also I think just getting older helps.

There’s a sweet scene in a Lake Wobegone story that is about a girl, Ellie, who moves back home and decides to give dance lessons to earn money. There’s another character  named Ella, and she’s old and thinks the exercise might be good for her.
The story ends like this:

“What’s it like to be old?” Ellie asked her.
“Old age is like birds in winter. It’s hard to keep going. But you still have your good days, and one good day makes you want to keep on. I used to get so upset if any little thing went wrong. Now everything goes wrong and it doesn’t bother me, and some little thing is so wonderful – if my son writes me a letter, that’s wonderful. And if he puts in a picture of my grandchildren, then that’s just about everything.”

Ellie rolled up the old rag rug and pushed back the coffee table and chairs. “What’ll it be, a waltz?” she said. A waltz it was, the “Blue Skirt Waltz”, and if you walked by on Thursday night and saw in the window two women dancing, one with white hair, one with red, smiling, turning, would you have thought it strange? Would you have stopped? Or would you have walked on, taking the sweetness of it to heart on a fall night turning cold, the bright colors, magnificence and glory all around us everywhere in the air.

Is that all there is? I guess so. And I’m fine with it.


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Project 52: I am the one who…..

A couple years ago my daughter gave me a very creative Christmas present. It was a jar with a years’ worth of weekly writing prompts. I set it aside and forgot about it. Oh I remembered that I had it – somewhere. Recently I was clearing out a couple of bookcases that I’d been jamming stuff into for the last 15 years and I came across it again. This was in late December. I determined to follow through, pick a prompt randomly from the jar, and write once a week starting in January. Well here it is nearly March and I’m finally getting around to it. The four packing boxes of books I cleared from the bookcases just made it to the Salvation Army Thrift Store yesterday, btw. So yeah, I’m a little slow.


This once-a-week entry is going to be called Project 52. Each writing prompt will be appended the project name. We’ll see how long I sustain this one. One of the goals of this project is to get me writing again, and not necessarily about stuff I’ve been stewing about. There is something to be said for getting some memories straightened and and written about. One writer I know of used writing as treatment for his PTSD. I’m not against that at all, and I can almost bet some of the prompts will be asking me to recall some event or person or whatnot, so there will still be some recollective entries in the mix.

Enough of the explanations and on the prompt. This week I’ve selected a fill in the blank prompt: “I am the one who…..”  So here we go.

I am the one who needs a time management coach. When I was younger I could effortlessly get everything done at the last minute. In fact the nerd in me liked the efficiency of the whole thing. If you waited until the last minute, then whatever you had to do would only take a minute and not much more. How efficient is that? But over the years, I’ve gotten involved in a lot of long game things, like marriage, children, college degrees, and mortgages and the last minute approach does not  lend itself to these activities. And so, as a Laputan needed a clapper, I am the one who needs a time management coach.

I am the one who replenishes the toilet paper rolls. I mean it, I’m the only one. I don’t know what will happen to this place after I’m gone. The whole household will probably devolve into some sort of chaotic state that’ll spread to the neighbors, and soon yards aren’t being mowed nor trees and shrubbery properly trimmed and before you know it, the whole world will be reduced to some sort of Mad Max, post-apocalyptic existence. It starts with the little things. In Fiddler on a Roof, Tevya the dairyman lets Tzeitel and Motel Kamzoil arrange their own match (unthinkable!) and soon starts caving in on all kindsa stuff. You let off the little stuff like refilling the toilet paper and folding your laundry and you’ll end up in Bartertown, ruled by Tina Turner with her crazy haircut and alarming outfit.

I am the one who has been blessed beyond my own ability to realize it by God. Other Christians seem to get it, they talk about joy and blessings and I don’t relate. Then suddenly God makes it clear that he’s taking care of me when he answers a prayer I made 43 years ago, when I was a little kid. 43 years ago. Who am I Lord that you’re mindful of me? I don’t realize it as much as I should, but God’s constant provision is there.

And so ends the first week of Project 52.

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Cat Manoeuvres in the Dark or A Soupcon of Rest Please

We have three cats living here.


From left to right: Cathy, Pete, and lovin’ life in his new home, Ted

Cathy is 13 years old, grumpy but lovable; Pete, an enormous and gentle guy who can be flighty, and Ted, our daughter’s rescue cat. Ted is charming considering what he’s been through (there is still a bb lodged under his hide at the base of his tail). Ted is two years old and a high energy fellow. The following is a FB note I wrote earlier this month about life with them.

When the Cat Circus Drops In

We are creatures of habit. We are used to getting up at a certain time, we have certain route we like to drive to the grocery, we always stir our coffee with either our right or left hand – and, if you’re like me, you use a spoon and not just your hand. But whatever. Pets are creatures of habit too.

Submitted for your approval: This morning

0236 – Cathy the gruff but lovable cat wakes me up. She wants to let me know that in a mere two hours, she expects to be fed. From here on out, every fifteen minutes or so, she will pester me until the alarm goes off.

0430 – The alarm. My wife gets up to feed the cats and she returns with a 20 oz cup of coffee for me. Why yes, it is very very good to be married to her. I drink the coffee and fall back to sleep. It’s Saturday and this is the one day of the week we get to slack off, maybe sleep in ’till 7:30 or so. But here’s the thing, pets don’t understand a lot of things, like Saturdays or daylight savings time or the electoral college and so in their own little ways they start to become unhinged when you deviate from your routine. To them, as my high school German language teacher used to yell at us, “Ordnung muss sein!”

0510 – The bedroom door is pushed open wide. Cathy is back from chow and she’s not very happy. [Usually, by now the mom human is in the shower and Cathy is crouching angrily (that is, happily) on the bathroom counter top (we think she likes the sound of the water) And me? I’m supposed to be down stairs making human food or sitting at the computer with Petey sacked out on the floor next to me.] Cathy jumps on top of the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, then she jumps moodily to another cedar chest in front of the bedroom window and from there she disappears behind the curtains to survey – possibly angrily – the backyard. I get up and mostly close the door.

An aside about door opening: We leave the bedroom door slightly ajar so the critters can come and go as they please. Each cat has a distinctive way of negotiating the the threshold. Cathy, if the door needs to open toward her, simply walks up and with her left paw grabs the door and pulls it past her, then walks through like she owns the place. If it needs to open away from her, she walks up to the door, pauses and then raises up on her hind legs and pushes the door, usually with a lot of gusto. Pete on the other hand uses his head. If the door needs to swing in, he too grabs door with his left paw and then swings it squarely into the middle of his head. Bonk. He does this three times, bonk, bonk, and after the third bonk, he pulls the door past his face and slithers by. To push a door open he lowers his head bonks it like a billy goat would. Opening doors this way leaves him a little rattled and nervous. Ted, the new guy, doesn’t use his paw at all. He just jams his head into the opening and squeezes through. This long description is crucial to what comes next.

0513 – Pete bonks the door open with his head. He hops up on the bed. He’s concerned. I haven’t come downstairs yet and he needs to take a nap on the floor next to the computer desk. He’s so concerned that he stretches out to take a nap. He’s purring pretty loudly – it sounds sort of like somebody trying to start a chainsaw over and over, but it goes on and on unlike trying to start a chainsaw where after a certain number of pulls you fling that stupid stupid Homelite to the ground.

0520 – Ted walks into the room to see what’s up. I know this even through my eyes are closed because we hear Cathy, from behind the curtain, starting her low “stay away from me or you’ll be sorry” growl. This makes Ted curious. “Who do you want to stay away from you? Me?” , he asks in a single long trill as he jumps up to the cedar chest next to the window and jams his head through the curtains. I know this even though my eyes are closed because the next sound is Cathy snarling with the intensity of a real life wolverine. This sound startles Pete, who leaps off the bed, runs to the door and with a single Bonk! that makes the door sorta vibrate, runs out into the hall. Pete is followed by Ted who is either terrified or thinks this is great fun. Cathy is still howling mad. I see that she is still on the cedar chest but she is sort of dangling from the curtain, having lodged her front foot into it somehow. I get up, free her from the curtain. She yells at me and then exits the room presumably to execute a proper whaling on Ted.

“I don’t like it when the cat circus comes to town,“ I tell my wife as I get settled back in.

“Yep,” she acknowledges, in the clipped manner she uses when she’s trying not to laugh.

And thus starts my only day off.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside……

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Away in Buick – A Christmas Present Story

I wrote this almost a year ago to the day. Last winter, for the first time in my life, whatever cold and flu bugs were going around ended up finding temporary duty in my bod. That is, I was sick a lot. I was discouraged – I was sick, but I thought back to a time when things were a whole lot worse and how I got a nudge from God. “You’ll be ok”

And so here’s the note I wrote:

Ugh, I used to be able to have my brain issue orders to my body, “You are not sick anymore, you are not sleepy, get up and get going” and my bod would at least attempt to comply. But this stupid body don’t take orders as well anymore. I’m sick and sleepy, I’m very sure that this story didn’t happen exactly as described, although parts of it did. My theology back then was dodgy, my motives were (and still are) suspect when thanking God, my focus was self centered and sad. That is to say, not a whole lot has changed. So here’s a story, a story about a perfect gift given to an imperfect, petulant child, told by an older, imperfect, petulant child.

Away in Buick – A Christmas Present Story

My wife, my sister, and my mom came back from candle light service, it must have been around 11:30. Me and the girls had been holding down the fort at mom and dad’s. My brothers and probably – usually- a couple of their friends were home from various places were out there too, and as the girls played and watched TV and did little kid stuff, we spent the evening talking. I listened a bunch – I had nothing on the story telling abilities of these guys. My brothers and their friends seemed to always be around or work with interesting people. For instance, I never worked with a guy from Kentucky who’d been both stabbed and shot in the course of his misspent youth and who’d tell you up front that he prefers being shot to being stabbed. A guy like that brings a certain pizazz to a work crew. You get mixed up with guys like that and the stories pretty much tell themselves!

We loaded up the girls to leave: One inna carseat, one inna booster, one next to the door no booster, no nothing, just a seat belt. It was snowing like crazy and had been for about an hour. The flakes were huge, the size of a quarter, and fell in a back and forth rocking motion from a nearly windless sky. We backed out of the folk’s drive, and started up the road. Except for the ones leading in, there wasn’t a single set of tracks in the fresh snow on the way back to the main highway.

The sky was pink from the street lights reflecting on the low clouds. Even at low speed and with a back-lit sky, the snowflakes were mesmerizing in that way that makes you feel like you were moving through a star field. My wife – who was going on like 98 hours without rest – dozed, the youngest in the car seat was zonked, the middle daught was repeatedly leaning forward and then banging herself off the seat back about once every couple seconds, and the oldest, her eyes wide open, looked out the window at the passing Christmas lights of our little town.

Cars approaching from the other direction were almost silent, the snow soaked up the sound of the car’s motor until just as it passed. Our big Buick was already a pretty quiet car, and the thick layer of fluffed up snow on the road made it more so, and also amplified the car’s interior sounds. The tires made a scrunchy sound in the snow over the sound of defroster fan, and I could hear the steady breathing of my youngest from her car seat just behind me. We turned up Park Avenue from Washington at the Stop and Go service station.

The Stop and Go had a few cars there gassing up, but other than that the streets were deserted. I switched the radio on. It was tuned to WGLE Lima public radio and as luck would have it, was playing the Nutcracker Suite recorded live from somewhere, probably Toledo.

We made our way up the Park Avenue hill, huge snow flakes falling, car nice and warm, the streets outside lined with Christmas lights. I drove along glancing in the mirror at the kids.
Those that were awake were still taking it all in. For a split second and not much more, I remembered being that little, that secure, that full of wonder. The outside lights and music, the snow, the lateness of the hour combined; for about a minute there, it was love. Love and beauty and light, that drive back to the apartment.

I told myself, “Remember this. Things might not ever be this sweet again”. And I did – or I tried. I tried to mentally record that night, like some small town hick on his last day in a big city, trying to take it all in, make memories and stuff.

I experienced for the first time in a long time, an “everything is OK for now” moment. It was so beautiful. So beautiful it broke my heart. It’d been an awful first few years back home from the military. Some of the girls needed blood transfusions and visits to Children’s Medical Center, cars that I really really needed to be dependable were breaking down right and left, I had serious doubts that pursuing an engineering degree was a good idea (in fact, I had a math instructor address me on the first day of class, in front of everybody, ” I was surprised to see your name on the roster – I thought you’d have given up by now”) . In those years I swear I coulda feasted a month on a single compliment or word of encouragement from anybody. Yep, that was a couple years when I didn’t know if I was coming or going or making progress or what, but tonight was different.

God patiently showed me that I was doing OK: I’d passed all my classes for fall quarter – a huge relief – , the car was running (for how much longer was always a question), I’d been in tighter spots and when I finally turned to God – He always worked things out. Yeah – things were OK. I was incredibly blessed if I’d just open my eyes and look around. Hmmmm – the Lord “is” good to me, what am I doing in return? I sort of made a halfhearted prayer of thanks………… And then we were home, and then we put the girls to bed. And that’s another story of the ongoing gifts from God to me.

You may know the battle is won, you may know that as good (or bad) as it gets here, isn’t close to as good as it is where you’re headed, but honestly, if you’re a dumb young guy like I was, that knowledge sounds trite and crazy – not comforting – when you are in the ER pinning down your baby so they can start a large bore IV. But listen: God knows – he knows what it’s like to be a human in this sin-sick, fallen world – and He sends you encouragement. Sometimes it’s a night so beautiful that it grabs your attention, sometimes it’s a cup of coffee in peace and quiet, after you’ve written checks for the monthly bills, sometimes it’s at the bedside of a passing family member who you know you’ll see again. Life is a beautiful, awful, complicated, simple thing. A gift from the God who called you into existence and made a way for you through the cross to be with Him when it’s all done, that’s what it is.

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Mopin’ and Music

My wife is off to the True Women conference in Indianapolis and I’m sorta moping around. I’m an introvert in that I recharge by being alone, so moping around is just fine with me. The laundry will get caught up, I’ll get some cleaning done, and when she gets home tomorrow, there’ll be no catch-up work for her. I’ve got her back, she’s got my heart, it’s a good deal.

To quote Astrud Gilberto’s  Champagne and Caviar:

We’re just as strong – as cages in the zoo
As strong as Krazy Glue
Or Red Dye #2

Now that’s some word crafting right there. I heard this particular song not long after I’d got married back during the smooth jazz radio programming craze. It was perfect for the mood I was in. It easily surpassed Dixie Chicken, Fire and Rain, Amie, Sweet Melissa, Crazy Train, Walkin’ on Sunshine, and all the other silly glop on my brain’s playlist about love and stuff. This was grown up, playful, and sweet. It still is. And how can you not like a song that mentions the KraGle?


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