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This won’t fix all our problems, but it would be a mighty good start May 16, 2014

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I’m a fairly mellow guy, I think. I’m not one to fly into rage when I read something online.

I have been known to scream “Oh, come ON” at my screen, though, and this CNN opinion piece on climate change made me do just that.

It’s not because I think it’s wrong. What Jane Velez-Mitchell, the writer, wants is for media to openly advocate that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. If our media can do that factually and objectively, fine. No quarrel. Knock yourselves out, folks!

What made me facepalm, multiple times, was her use of May tornadoes in the Midwest as evidence that climate change is a real, immediate threat to us all.

OMG. O, M, G.

Excuse me, Your Humble Blogger said, currently living in Kansas and having lived in Indiana, two parts of the country known as Tornado Alley, for virtually all of his life;  having childhood memories of April 3, 1974, having read stories of Palm Sunday 1965  and the Tri-State Tornado which occurred well before that; just because a couple of towns in Missouri and Nebraska got blown to bits as has happened every year in the Midwest since at least when they started keeping records of this stuff–I’m supposed to consider tornadoes evidence that all of humanity is in danger unless we do something about climate change?

OMG, AYFKM? The “F” standing for “fully,” of course? 😉

I made myself read the rest of Ms. Velez-Mitchell’s article in spite of my immediate visceral reaction to that… that… well, that; but I’ll tell you right now, I didn’t want to.

See, there’s this thing about human nature: If in an argument an example used to make a point demonstrates ignorance of reality as a human being sees it, that same human being will consider the point itself equally ignorant.

And from there, from that, most human beings will read all kinds of things  into the motives of those trying to claim it fact, most if not all of them, unkind.

Why is there debate about whether or not climate change is really happening? Right there is your answer.

What people have grown up with, have heard about and perhaps dealt with all their lives, is being presented as evidence not only that climate change is happening but that it’s an immediate, high-level emergency that must be dealt with right now. A crisis.

Normalcy doesn’t equal crisis in most people’s minds.

I don’t consider a bunch of  tornadoes proof of anything other than life in the Midwest has its risks. My wife considers wildfires in California proof of nothing more than that Santa Ana winds fan flames quickly. She grew up there. She remembers it having fires every year.

If you tell either of us it’s proof the climate is changing and unless we do something fast we’re doomed, most likely we’ll ignore you. Your fear doesn’t equate with our facts. We think you’re trying to manipulate us. We resent it. Thoroughly.

Just so you know, this is from someone who believes climate change is real.

How much of a threat it is, is hypothetical at this point. But it is happening, and it’s wise to apply thought and resources toward determining why it’s happening, if it’s natural or man-made–I don’t buy that already being settled; little people, big Earth–if it can be stopped, if it can’t, how best to deal with it; if it can, whether or not it should be. All this should be done.

But it should not be done with fear.

It should not be done with ignorance.

Manipulating people through fear and ignorance is a guaranteed, time-tested, historically-proven way NOT to get something done in the long term. Anything good, anyway.

Yet it seems today for any cause, any belief, any action, they’re the very first things our so-called leaders go for.

No wonder we’ve become so polarized as a country. No one knows what to think anymore because no one appears to know how.

I would love to see a new age of reason in this country.

Just once–let’s use climate change as an example–I would love to see someone in a high place say, “Look, whether or not we believe this is real or not is irrelevant. It’s beside the point.  If there’s evidence that it is happening, wouldn’t it benefit us all to take the time and the research necessary to know how best to deal with it?  Surely we’re smart enough we can do that without it costing anyone his way of life, if we think about it, if we apply ourselves to it.  Why, we might find ways to improve everyone’s lives along the way whether it’s really happening or not.  This doesn’t need to be a crisis. It’s simply a challenge, and any challenge we’ve faced together before, as one, we’ve met successfully, the record proves it. Nothing makes this one any different. So let’s just deal with it, as one, together. What say you?”

I’d be a lot more receptive to that approach. Wouldn’t you?

 

 

Moral Conundrum Monday October 7, 2013

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Sounds like a pop hit, doesn’t it?  Moral Conundrum Monday… wish it was Sunday… ’cause that’s a lot easier to explain than all the crap I’ve been dealing with lately in both the physical and spiritual realm that I really don’t want to think about… yay!

I never said I was a songwriter. 😉

Anyway, I got a couple for you, one so minor it’s ridiculous, the other, well, is just ridiculous. Think I’ll start with the easy one: In the name of energy and tax savings, you buy new windows from a big-box store whose name sounds vaguely like Household Depository.

Two years later, you think, “Bleah–what unspeakably filthy dirty windows I have. Behold, here are some paper towels, a ladder, and Windex; I shall clean them.”

So you commence your cleansing, and attempting to remove one of your storm windows, notice it fits the scientific term used by builders and carpenters across the land, “bugger.”

As you wrestle with said bugger, the bugger bends so hideously, one side of it breaks in two.

“Lo, what is this?” you ask yourself, “why has this bugger bent so hideously as to render separate one of its sides, while the other non-bugger came out perfectly and goes back in perfectly?”

So in the interests of science and philosophic enlightenment, you lay the non-bugger on top of the bugger and find the bugger is a good half-inch longer than the non-bugger.

Experiencing revelation, you gasp: “Why of course the bugger bent under the excessiveness of my manly pressure, the bugger was made too darned big!”

So here lies the moral conundrum: Do you, in possession of a grave and catastrophic mistake obviously made at the factory, in the name of the thousands of dollars all these windows cost you, dig through your tax files, find your paperwork from the original order, call the manufacturer because you already know it’s what Household Depository would have you do anyway if you bothered to broach this delicate subject with them, and demand restitution be made for this obviously flawed and careless workmanship revealing at least one of their personnel to be thoughtless trash with no appreciation of quality, craftsmanship, or pride; threatening to call your attorneys unless this is dealt with swiftly and to your preeningly observant satisfaction, without cost to you in any form?

OR, do you take the thing to your local hardware store that still fixes screens and get it made the right size for fourteen bucks?

Bless Westlake Hardware. Bless them. Reasonable, practical alternatives to silliness are so hard to find these days. I may look up the manufacturer of the window and write them about this just for kicks, but… right now (in two weeks, anyway)… I’d rather have a screen window that fits. You know, that Winter thing coming on and all.

Priorities.

Okay, I promised you two moral conundrums, and here we have to get a little serious.

I was home visiting my parents for a couple of days last week. They live on the outskirts of the fine community of Mooresville, Indiana, Home of the Indiana State Flag–which the community is quite proud of–and John Dillinger during his late teens and early twenties, which it is not.

Anyway, while home, I took a walk. I’m guessing it was about five miles or so, up Landersdale Road and then west on Bridge Street into town, crossing Indiana 67 on foot (automatically qualifying me to appear on I Shouldn’t Be Alive), continuing across town using as many old shortcuts from high school days as I could remember until getting to The Village shopping center, then coming back pretty much the same way.

Lots of stuff has changed since I last did that.  Lots of stuff hasn’t.

Including when I got back to Landersdale Road and some high school kid threw something out of his car window at me (and missing) while screaming “FAG.”

“Asshole,” I said outloud, not looking back at him, moving on, thinking “Well, that hasn’t changed…”

As mentioned, I spent a lot of my old high school days walking Mooresville and its outskirts and yeah, sometimes, I’d get stuff thrown at me out of a car while being called a fag or worse.   Not every day, mind you, but enough to make me feel pretty sensitive about it. For the shallow reason that I’m straight–though I was involved pretty heavily in Drama Club, which at MHS got you labeled homosexual by default back in the late 70’s-early 80’s even if you were straight–and the human reason that nobody deserves to be treated like that.

Yet people got treated like that all the time, growin’ up in ol’ Mo-ville back in those days. I was far from the only one it ever happened to.  Not the fault of the town, nor the parents, strictly the lack of character in the individual who would do such a thing.

Apparently some in my home town (and elsewhere), in these allegedly progressive times of the 21st Century, still lack enough character to treat other people like that.

Including people who aren’t teenagers, and haven’t been for some time, and have raised teenagers of their own, now responsible adults in no small part because their caring, loving parents would not tolerate such assholish behavior from them for a second.

So there’s your second Monday Moral Conundrum, folks–especially if you’re my age, pushing 50; do you just blow this kind of stuff off, figuring the world has always been thus, accept it? Or do you say, no? Not acceptable?

What do you tolerate? What do you think?

Things that stick July 15, 2013

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Weekends, as much as the weather will let me do so, I walk to church.  It’s a six-mile round trip so there’s plenty of time to think, pray, meditate, or whatever my mind will let me do.  It’s one of those rare things that’s good for both body and soul.  It’s not entirely spiritual.  I get ideas for writing sometimes. Sometimes I plan the week ahead.  And, being human, sometimes I complain. Sometimes I get into a real nice bitch session with God. That’s increasingly rare, thank God.  The older I get, the fewer complaints I have to the Supreme Being of the Universe. The more I realize He runs the Show and I don’t, the better off I am. But occasionally I slip.

Occasionally I get revelations, too. Nothing deep, just strange things like states of mind.  This one takes some explaining.  Be warned, I’m not entirely sure it’ll make sense.

Twenty-two years and a couple months ago, I caught up with my first crush after not having seen her for something like 14 years.  I’m 49, do the math.  You don’t need to know that story, some of it embarrasses me to this day.  But one thing I made sure to tell her just before our meeting ended was, in my mind, in my thoughts, in decisions made how to live my life, she was someone who “stuck.”

Life is full of things and people like that, who “stick.”  Fulcrum points of who you were and who you’re becoming, malleable yet indestructible, fleeting yet essential. You cannot be who you are without them.

They  form any time in your life, from very early on when you don’t realize they’re happening, to much later on when you’re fully aware they are, either way setting the whole thing’s course. They’re usually not all that dramatic, but when they are, they’re whoppers. They’re simple.  They’re tactile and sensual.

Lately some relatives have been going through difficult times.  Job loss. Youthful mistakes.  And a murder.

For obvious reasons, I will not write about any of that in detail. I think I can tell you decently enough that it weighs heavily on all our minds.

The branch of my family dealing with the murder is strong and always have been.  They will learn how to adjust to what a cousin of mine calls this ‘strange new reality.’  But they will come out of it very different people, too, and I would not blame nor judge them for having a great many bitch sessions with God right now.  This is a major fulcrum point for them all.  This will stick.

Guess my point in all of this is, if you want to know how to take assessment of your life, start with the things that stick.  Be grateful for the joy of the good ones. Be mindful for the lessons of the bad ones.  And however you can, try to be in someone else’s life a good thing that sticks, so the bad things that stick don’t stick quite so hard.

Clumsy writing, I’ll admit, but a decent sentiment.  Next time I’ll try to be better at both.

Confessions of a Snopes Bomber March 24, 2013

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Facebook brings out both the best and worst in people.  I’m no exception.  It’s turned me into a fanatical Snopes bomber.  Usually goes like this:

* A friend posts a quote attributed to someone famous.

* My brain, sorting through about 50 years of accumulated Internet and pulp magazine reading, says “No WAY did that famous person actually say that.”

* I go to snopes.com, search the quote, and confirm that in fact the famous person did not say the quote attributed to him.

* Link copied, I swoop in on the thread like a starved vulture and deliver The Truth in all its Snopes-documented glory.

It is instinctual.  It is instant.  It is assholish.  I know this.  My friends do not mean to deliberately spread lies, falsehoods and fabrications about famous people; they simply want to inspire or be inspired, to comfort or be comforted, to lift up or be lifted up.  They post this stuff to affirm and be affirmed.  They mean no harm.

And yet I can’t stop myself, cannot help myself, must deliver The Truth even if it means being told to get lost and get a life.  I didn’t know why.

Now I think I do.  Not in this order, I owe it to Facebook memes, the Pope, and “gay marriage.”  Allow me to elaborate.

The one thing I cannot tolerate, at least mentally, is intellectual dishonesty, and of late I’ve been seeing a ton of that. The “gay marriage” debate is chock full of it on both sides.  I’ll give you a little of my side and then move on.

I’m not against declared homosexual couples having the same legal rights as declared heterosexual couples.  I believe that should be, and the law should be rewritten accordingly.

I have a big problem with calling it marriage, because to do so alters the fundamental meaning of the word. Altering the fundamental meaning of words because we do not like them–no matter what the reason for not liking them–sends a message that the language we use has no real meaning, that it can be changed at whim, on a whim, just to make us feel better about something.

I believe such thinking is dangerous and unacceptable.  At best, it leads to unintended consequences that often create worse problems; at worst it leads to things like fascism and genocide.  It opens the doors to abusive action by abusive leaders.  The history of the past hundred years alone bears this out.  The  Holocaust does not happen without its perpetrators first  fundamentally redefining the meanings of certain words.  Read about Sophie Scholl sometime–especially read the court documents of her trial.  It’s jaw-dropping stuff.

Again, I have no issue with equal rights–just make them happen honestly, through the law.  If the problem is the law unjustly plays favorites with married couples, rewrite the law so it no longer does so.  Don’t take a word that’s had the same fundamental meaning for thousands of years and claim it no longer means it; that is foolish.

I could write a whole blog entry about that, and when I’m in the mood to make some of you hopping mad I will.  Hopping mad, because you’ve been conditioned to believe that anyone who is against “gay marriage” is somehow against equality, and what kind of bigoted son of a bitch is against equality in the United States of America in 2013?  That’s known as a false dichotomy, friend. It’s a tactic someone uses to make their case when they know you won’t accept it on purely logical grounds. It’s not meant so much to convince you of the reason of the position as it is to screw with your head.    (Which in this case is a shame, because there are reasons that stand quite well on their own  to support equality under the law for gay people!)

Knowing the above, you can imagine what went through my head when a well-meaning good friend posted a Facebook meme saying “When it comes to gay marriage, 52% of Americans are on the right side of history… and I’m one of them!”

Can I pat myself on the back?  I didn’t respond directly to the post.  Tempted as I was, because the meme was a classic display of intellectual dishonesty.  Had I responded to my friend directly she might have seen it as a personal attack.  It wouldn’t have been, and it’s not.  Many people get taken in by this one.  I know I’ve been.

See, history does not take sides.

People take sides.

History is the record of  those sides, why people chose them, which side prevailed, and what was the ultimate result.

So there  is no “right” or “wrong” side of history in and of itself.  History itself is just a record.  The value judgment of “right” or “wrong” apply towards the people who make history, and when it comes to things without precedent, we can’t know if they’re right or wrong until after it happens. If you want to make an argument  based on precedent something will prove the right thing to do, be my guest–that’s honest debate.  But don’t tell me I’m on the “wrong side” of something that cannot take sides!

Now you’re wondering what the heck the Pope has to do with all this, right?  I touched on it  in last week’s entry:  Because Pope Francis is a  man of simplicity, those who prefer things complicated so they can justify not changing their ways are already putting words in his mouth.  Words he plainly is not saying if we simply pay attention.

Dr. Robert Moynihan edits Inside the Vatican magazine and sends daily letters concerning Vatican matters to anyone who requests them.  This is from Letter #56, “Holding to Benedict.” It explains the point much better than I can:

One pundit notes the Pope’s simplicity, his actual poverty, his love for the poor, and says (wrongly): “He is the people’s Pope, the Pope of the poor, so… he is a liberal, he may very well be a social revolutionary, a ‘liberation’ Pope… and perhaps also breaking with Church teaching on sexual matters…” Another pundit notes that Francis has strongly defended Church teaching on the family, on sexual morality, and says (wrongly) “he is a conservative, he won’t ‘rock the boat’ at all…”

Francis cannot be captured by these political categories.

He transcends them.

As Jesus transcended all categories, reaching out to sinners — and all are sinners — but also, asking them not to sin. Loving the sinner, but not the sin…

As Pope Benedict transcended all categories. Ceaselessly reminding all of us that our destiny transcends all worldly categories, that we are made for eternity, not just for time…

Perhaps it is time that we should all say that there are not “conservative” and “liberal” or even “traditional” and “orthodox” Catholics at all, just simply “Catholics” in a universal Church, stretching backward to the first days of the Church and forward to the end of the world in time, and global in space, unable to be described rightly by these secular categories.

So today, Pope Francis, powerfully, set his course, transcending the “left” and the “right” and pointing all of us toward higher things.

Perhaps a bit different than what you’re reading about him on CNN.com or hearing on CBS or such places?  Or maybe hearing from your friends?

Here’s why I’m a Snopes bomber, folks:  I value other people’s opinions enough that I want to know what they truly, honestly, are.  Not what someone else said.  Especially not what someone else didn’t say.

Friend, you can say what you think much better than any meme or glurge out there. Respect yourself and speak for yourself.  In this age of intellectual dishonesty,   it’s the only way we’ll have real change without screwing things up even worse.

Time to go to my SB Anonymous meeting now. 🙂

A hodgepodge of Granddad musings February 24, 2013

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Wow.  I’m alone for a few hours.  My wife and stepson are at a concert he must see for a music appreciation class which makes him listen to music he does not appreciate.  So I can write without distraction of any kind, an increasingly rare thing, which is why fewer and fewer parts of “Reed’s Story” are popping up on this blog lately.  I put up one last week if you missed it.  Sorry I don’t have another ready.  I got interrupted by a foot of snow.  I’m about to get interrupted by another foot of snow in 24 hours or so. So this glorious small bit of solitary time should be filled with prolific musings while the time is available to me, right?  

Naturally, I can’t write a lick.  Here’s a John Prine song that spells out why.

I’d love to write like John Prine, you know?  Simple, straightforward lyrics any fool can get, yet deep intellectual meaning few fools can appreciate.  Art for the Common Man.

Anyway, seeing I can’t write a lick right now, I’m going to rely on my favorite crutch to goose my blog muse, my grandson Bryce.

"Yep, I still make moonbeams.  And lots of other goodies Daddy doesn't like. Hee-hee!"

“Yep, I still make moonbeams. And lots of other goodies Daddy doesn’t like. Hee-hee!”

I dig the granddad thing, for reasons beyond not having to do any real parental work:  Would you believe the young man above is my first ongoing direct-contact experience with an infant, ever?  ‘Tis true.  I’m the youngest of four sons and when I met the woman who would be my wife, she already had one nine-year-old daughter and one three-year-old son.  So I escaped the baby years completely with them.  No late-night feedings or rockings or diaper changings for me!  Lucky stiff I was!  Right?

No. 🙂  The baby years are when you bond, dammit.  Bryce’s mom and dad may be losing sleep now, but when he gains sentience beyond basic perception of stuff around him and on him and going into him and coming out of him, there will be no doubt whatsoever whom Mom and Dad are.  There will be a natural bond that someone waltzing into your life afterwards just doesn’t have with you.  It’s nature and cannot be helped.  I guess.  I really wish sometimes I had that bond with “my” kids.  It would make some things a little less awkward.

My daughter–as I pointed out a few entries back, she wants me to stop calling her “stepdaughter,” a great and loving gift from her–seems to get that, and when we come down to see Bryce, she makes sure I get “grandpa time.”  I appreciate that.  I’m not sure what Bryce thinks about it; compared to Daddy I’m a little awkward holding him and such, but hey, he’ll teach me what I need to know.

What startles me looking at pictures of me with Bryce is how much I look like my own granddad in some of them.  I won’t claim I’m nothing like my granddad, but he was one of those unique individuals whom only living in southern Indiana can make, tempered by a couple of years in the Corps right after WWI.  He was the son of a do-what-it-takes-to-get-by farmer, and that’s pretty much what he was, too.  He built his own house, and barn, and tractor shed, and corn crib, and chicken coop, all of which still stand.  He farmed 40 acres much of his life because in southern Indiana in the 20’s through 60’s that’s what you did, and still is what you do for many; yet he also found time to work for the railroad, and as a janitor for the high school, and do carpentry on the side at reasonable prices, and maintain a full-acre personal garden with almost anything imaginable that could come out of the ground.  The last two things he did right up to the day he died.  He mostly kept to himself, yet when he passed the local paper printed that they were shocked and saddened to hear of it, and hundreds were in attendance at his funeral.

And he loved kids.  He didn’t love them like pop culture these days say you’re supposed to love kids, with big smiles and constant “I love you’s” and “quality time” and all that silly meaningless crap that if you bother to dig a little bit you’ll find is just meant to make you buy or buy into something.  No, sir, he was a man who said what he meant and meant what he said and if you didn’t like it that was too damned bad; the truth was the truth and from him you would hear it.  He softened that stance not a whit for one’s age.  He was a stern disciplinarian.

He also, with ingenuity and imagination, provided his kids–and his kids’ kids, and ultimately their kids–with ways to show themselves a lot of fun.  Including a combination swing and merry-go-round.  I’d heard stories of its existence, but until my Aunt Caroline’s passing last March I’d never actually seen the thing.  Fortunately, Aunt Caroline took lots  of pictures over her life, and one was of that  glorious contraption, covered top to bottom with kids swinging and twisting and spinning.

You cannot build such a thing, you cannot do the drawing for such a thing, you cannot cut the wood or the metal pipe for such a thing, without loving kids.

I might look like him–sort of–but can I be him?  Or at least a little like him?

Guess I’ve got a few years to find out, don’t I?  Wish me luck!

Mel Brooks, wisest guy on Earth November 5, 2012

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Lesson learned this morning from all four of our cats:  Cats don’t get when Daylight Savings Time is over.  Two-thirty in the morning they’ve all come to us wondering why in the heck we’re still asleep when at least one of us, usually me, is supposed to be up tending to all their needs.  They’ve been rather talkative about it, so much so not even earplugs can withstand it, so here I am.  Thinking about Mel Brooks.  Which makes sense only in the context of tomorrow’s election, and this song:

Amen, hallelujah and pass the biscuits!

And now the fatalistic part of this post, which may be either prophecy or a man a little too irritated at his cats waking him up so early, take your pick:  I firmly believe that no matter who we elect tomorrow, we are in for a rough four years.  I am not the only one who believes that.  Just yesterday CNN had an article about how no one trusts anyone anymore, not politicians, not media, not neighbors nor family.  Over the weekend on the way home from running errands I was dial-bouncing on the car radio and heard two guys claiming that by January the economy will be back in the tank at even worse levels than the 2008 crash and 2009 lethargy–both of them local economists on a major talk station not known for prophecies of doom, mind you.  There’s a national vibe going on that’s telling us there’s a long ride ahead through some not so pretty scenery so suck it up.

That’s not such a bad idea, you know?  Suck it up–look at your finances, look at what’s sucking at them like the alleged heroes of a Twilight movie and do whatever you can to stop the suck before you end up sucked dry.  To be sucked dry when no one else has money… well, that would suck, wouldn’t it?  Wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially you.  No matter who you vote for tomorrow or what you believe, take this little step and do so quickly.  Trust my gut on this one.  Do it.

As for whom you vote for tomorrow, if you are voting:  The only wasted vote is one made for a candidate you don’t want but think you “have” to vote for because none of the others stand a chance.  That’s not what voting’s about, folks.  You still have time to research the third party candidates on your ballot and see if they’re a better fit.  I firmly believe if enough of us–at least ten percent, ideally twenty percent of us–voted for third-party candidates, it would scare the major parties enough they would really listen to what we want for a change.  As is they couldn’t care less what we want.  They exist to perpetuate what they want, and what they want is your permission to run things as they see fit.  Only in the loosest terms possible is that “representative” government.   It’s easier than ever to research who stands for what and why, folks.  Take advantage.  Do it.

That’s my rant for this Monday.  Reed’s Story has another part up, click the tab at top, enjoy, feedback please!   Enjoy your week!

Chew on this one (but very slowly)… July 16, 2012

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In about three weeks will be the third anniversary of my starting a program called Naturally Slim(tm) and, over about fifteen weeks or so, losing fifty pounds.  Save for a ten-pound flux because certain times of the year I just plain like to eat, I’ve pretty well succeeded in keeping it off, so much so that my wife is doing the program this year.  I won’t betray her dignity by telling you how much she’s lost her first week, but I will tell you it’s about twice as much as what lost in my first week–meaning in ten weeks, physically at least, she’ll be a very different person. That’s as far as I dare go with that.

Now, I’m hoping you’re not ready to stop reading this because I mentioned a “diet plan” (which the NS folks explicitly deny it is, but that’s not really important here).  I’m not here to extol the virtues of Naturally Slim.  If you want to know more about it and how it works, Google it.  Sorry if that sounds harsh, but one thing I’ve learned about diet plans, they’re right up there with politics and religion when it comes to things one should discuss with people.  Especially religion.  Diet plans have this in common with religion:  For everyone who believes their diet plan is wonderful, another believes the same diet plan is evil and anyone who would choose it willingly is a fool.  And, like every religion on Earth, every diet plan has one characteristic that goes so far against common wisdom or “sense” that on its face people find it repulsive.  In Naturally Slim’s case, it’s eating only twice a day and never ever the moment you get up.  I can already hear some of your jaws dropping as you think “But that’s the most important meal of the day!!  Evil!  Eeeeeeeviiiiiiilllll!” and rejecting it out of hand right now.  Kind of like how that “transubstantiation” thing in Catholicism goes over once one takes the time to explain it.

All I’m gonna say is I lost fifty pounds, and generally sticking to its principles–not fanatically so, mind you, but generally so–I’m still a heck of a lot healthier than I was before I did it.  And I learned something about myself that to this day I still feel some shame about, though I shouldn’t.  I learned the real reason why I was eating too much.  You ready for it?  It’s nothing earth-shattering.  It is dumb.  Seriously, it’s really, really dumb:  I ate too much because I wanted to be bigger than I am.

I got my growth spurt early in life, between age eleven and thirteen.  All the health books say men keep growing until their late teens to early twenties, right?  I stopped cold at age thirteen at five foot six and a half inches.  But my metabolism kept going through most of age seventeen, and like every typical teenage male I could shovel down food like the world was about to end.

So when my metabolism finally slowed down at two months shy of eighteen, and I started to bulk up, I kept eating as much as I ever did, figuring I still had a few years to grow up.  Those years came and went and I didn’t grow up at all.  I didn’t grow out as much as I should have, but I did some.

Then I went out on my own and let my eating habits go straight to hell and by the time I was 30 I was a nice stocky 220 pounds.  There were only a couple of times I weighed less than that:  just before my wedding at 34, when working out in a gym got me down to 190; and doing a six-week “body makeover” plan with my wife at 41, which got me down to 180 before it stopped working.  I assumed at the time that was my “natural” body weight and I had no business going below that.  I had a “heavy,” “stocky” build, similar to my father’s.  My frame was bigger now, I told myself.  Just part of the aging process. Nothing I could do about it.

What a fatalistic attitude “nothing I can do about it” is.  Three years later, I was back to 210, my blood pressure was rising, my cholesterol was horrible and for the first time in my life my fasting blood sugar went into triple digits.  All things that say “you’ve got a problem and unless you want the latter half of your life to suck, assuming you don’t die first, you need to do something.”

Long story short:  My employer offered Naturally Slim for free to a test group of us, I volunteered for it, I hated every second of its first three weeks but did it anyway, and by the end of twelve weeks I was down to 160 pounds.

Wow!  Hooray for me!  I should have been proud, right?  Nope, I wasn’t, because I was looking in the mirror and seeing a very little guy.  If anything I felt like a hypocrite because one thing I always tried to tell my stepson–himself “height-challenged”–when he was young is it’s not the size without but within that makes a big man.  And now here I was looking at how little I was without and feeling very little within.

Like I said, for the most part I got over it.  But the shame that remains is in my ignorance all those years that I ate too much just because I wanted to be bigger than I was.  I didn’t have “metabolic syndrome.”  I didn’t have a naturally “big frame” or a “big appetite.”  All of that was nonsense I told myself to let myself eat.   Knowing that was in fact nonsense helped me greatly to stop.

I’m glad my wife’s doing Naturally Slim this year.  It’s good to remember such lessons.  They’re easy to forget.

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Blessed Are the Peace Frogs Kindle Update:  Two chapters to go, then some formatting tweaking, then I should be done.  If you just can’t wait, click the “Buy JP’s Books” button at the top of the page. 🙂

Living right May 6, 2012

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It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  I had another post started about my niece’s wedding, then a much-loved aunt of mine passed away.  Some people do their best writing when they hear of things like that.  The emotion spills onto the page real and cold and hurt, and the peace from getting it out leads to a fluid style that forces out all distraction.  A fancy, English-major way of saying the sincerity of it makes it a good read.

I’m not one of those people.  I can’t write at all when I’m thinking about someone I once knew.  Part of it is being raised to consider that private, as all family matters are private.  It’s a Great Depression way of thinking my parents passed down to me and I must admit it’s served me well.  What I have written on this blog about family, I’ve taken pains to make sure it’s as harmless and respectful of their privacy as possible.  The simple truth is some people are just sick, on the internet as well as anywhere else, and what they’ll latch onto to ruin a life is limitless.

But this, about my Aunt Caroline’s side of the family, I safely can and should write:  The surest way to know how well someone lived a life, is to observe the family that someone left behind.  Based on that, Aunt Caroline lived a fantastic life.

I went up to Wyoming for a few days to attend her service and catch up with relatives I haven’t seen in some cases for thirty years.  With all love and respect to anyone on my own side of the family reading this, I have never seen such a close-knit, mutually-respectful family in my life.  Among her children, among her grandchildren, among her great-grandchildren, I did not hear one cross word, one sour word, one swear word, one old issue, one never-resolved disagreement, one hurt feeling, one disparagement, one judgment, one rumor; not one.  Not one.  They knew it was not the time for such things, and they behaved accordingly.

How can that be?  It’s not what we see on TV or the movies or in our books and magazines.  It’s not what we’re told we’re like.  I guarantee you if I wrote it into a book someone would tell me it’s “unrealistic.”

Baloney.  It’s not only realistic, it’s doable.  I’ve seen it done.  

So call this a very public tip of my hat to the surviving family of M. Caroline Hough of Laramie, Wyoming; some of the very best people I know.  Save for my cousins Travis, David and Susie and my second cousins Jonathan and Davilyn–you rock, Davilyn!–I won’t mention them all by name because it would take too long.  But I mean it for all of you.

Aunt Caroline, you did good. 🙂

… and a time to dance March 5, 2012

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There are a lot of misconceptions about how Catholics observe Lent.  (There are plenty about how Protestants observe it too, I’m sure.  I’ll stick to what I know.)  This entry I’d like to shoot down the one that says you have to give up something you love.  No.  That’s a tradition, not a requirement.  If one takes Lent seriously, then one is expected to sacrifice in terms of alms and charity; but nowhere will you find in Canon law or the Catechism or anywhere else that you have to give up something you like for Lent, unless you really like meat, and even then only on Ash Wednesday and every Friday.  The more important thing is to reorder one’s priorities away from self and towards God.

Now, you can do that by giving up something you love; sure.  Say you really like Snickers bars and every day you get one from the vending machine at work; and on the weekends you’re usually good for one or two as well.  Suppose God were to come to you one day and say, “You, if you love Me, knock off the Snickers bars.”

We’d all like to think if that were to happen, our instant response would be “Absolutely, God; anything for You; after all, You are God” and we’d never even think of a Snickers bar again.  But with things we love, that simply isn’t the truth.  And, it being impossible to lie in the face of God, we’d say “But God… I love Snickers bars…” and we’d beg Him not to do this to us.  And then we’d eat them anyway.  Realizing this, for Lent we do two things:

1) Thank God for never ever making us give up Snickers bars forever (yet), and

2) Go without them for awhile in gratitude.  Partially because they are hell on your blood sugar eaten every day and we could stand to drop the weight, but mostly because we want to give God a chance to strengthen us so, should one day we be given the ultimate choice between God and a Snickers bar, the Snickers bar does not win.  The seven bucks a week we save on Snickers bars buys a surprising amount of food for the hungry, too.

Get it?  That’s the traditional way of looking at Lenten sacrifice, at least through a layman’s eyes; a decent priest would probably have a field day pointing out the theological errors in it, but I can honestly say that is how most Catholics I’ve known view it.  And you’re probably wondering what the heck any of it has to do with dancing.

Well, that involves another story.  Personal this time.  I have a niece getting married Friday, April 13 (no lie).  Her wedding invitation said “dinner and dancing to follow” in a ballroom apparently rented for the reception.

“Looks like we’re taking dance lessons,” my good wife said upon seeing that.

“Looks like we’re getting shot at dawn,” the look on my face must have said.

I don’t dance.  I have never seriously danced.  I don’t like the idea of getting out in a crowd and being judged in social skills by my awkward gangly body.  That and especially when it comes to the opposite sex, I am shy by nature.  Unless you’re the lovely soul who married me, the more beautiful in appearance I find you, the more awkward and nervous around you I will be.  This is my nature.  I accept it.  It literally has saved me from some horrible things.

So the very thought of having to learn how to dance just to attend my niece’s wedding made me sick to my stomach.  I told my wife we wouldn’t have to dance, no one makes the guests dance at a wedding; besides this was my family we were talking about, none of us are ballroom dancers, and for all we know these are young kids and they’ll dance to whatever passes these days for rock ‘n’ roll.

She held her ground.  I surrendered.  And here’s where the Lent part comes in–I suddenly felt awash in peace.  Not in dread, but in peace.  Not at all what I expected.

The more I thought about it–the more I prayed, I guess–the more I realized that for me personally, learning how to dance for my wife’s sake was a suitable Lenten practice.

Why should I be so proud that I would refuse her the opportunity to show before a crowd how well we work together as man and wife–at a wedding, no less?

Why should I refuse God the opportunity to show that even a physically and emotionally awkward man like me can be changed to someone reasonably graceful, by an act of grace?

I got to thinking about the strip posted in this entry just to make myself laugh at the prospect of learning how to dance and it hit me, “Good grief–even Charlie Brown learns how to dance [he did, in several Peanuts strips in the 90’s]; why can’t you?”

So my Lent is a time to dance.  I didn’t expect it to be, but it is.  And that’s the great secret of this time:  while it’s often a time of suffering, it can also be a time of celebration.

All it takes is being willing to let go.

The most ridiculous entry you’ll read on this blog to date (I hope) February 26, 2012

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Here we are into another Lent.  If you’re interested, what I wrote last year during Lent starts here.  I think it’s pretty straightforward.  Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is.  A good friend wrote me shortly after I finished that series of entries to tell me how much it made her head hurt.  One weirdo tried to use one entry to prove that either God doesn’t exist or we have no clue whatsoever what He really wants from us.   I think.  Maybe he was after something else.

Whatever.  All par for the course.  If you really want to confuse somebody, tell them how you believe in God.  No two people see Him the same.  One person’s faith is another’s weirdness.  It’s how God keeps us honest, I think.

The priest at one of the local churches I go to had the best homily about faith, given just before Lent. He took about ten minutes to explain what I’m going to put into one sentence:  If we truly believe in God, we must be willing to be ridiculous.

I’m not going to even try to explain what he meant.  Instead, I invite you to do a quick Google on Rick Santorum and read whatever you like about him.

Now understand, politically I am an iconoclast.  I do not get on candidates’ bandwagons.  I belong to neither major party; I belong to no party at all.  I just think for myself, go into the booth and vote.

So please don’t get the idea from this  that I’m supporting Rick Santorum for President.  Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.  You shouldn’t care.  Think for yourself and make up your own mind.

That said, I he’s a fantastic example of what it means to be willing to be ridiculous for the sake of one’s  faith in God.

I personally don’t find him all that ridiculous, but I’m biased.  He’s Catholic, like me; from I’ve read a very traditional one.  So I get where he’s coming from on most things.  So do a lot of people.  The beliefs behind traditional Catholicism are not that uncommon.  Not long ago, many of them were considered “common sense” by Catholic and Protestant alike.

But Googling him and reading what people are saying about those beliefs as he expresses them, you would never ever know that.  You would think this man was one of the biggest fruitcakes walking the Earth.

On one political message board I like to read, a regular poster calls him “The Ayatollah.”

I’ve seen him accused of wanting to eliminate the wall of separation between church and state, force women to stop using birth control, and hand control of the country over to the Vatican.

You get me here?  He’s getting blasted from all sides, including people in his own faith, for openly talking about his belief in God.  Look at how ridiculous he’s being made to look.  Heck, look at how ridiculous others are making themselves look to make him look ridiculous!

Will he get elected?  Will he get nominated?  Who knows?  All I know is the more some try to make him look ridiculous, the more others want to know why he thinks so “strangely–” and will look into him and, perhaps, discover he’s really not that ridiculous at all, that this faith that people are making fun of him for left and right might actually make some sense.

This is what my priest meant by being “ridiculous.”  He wasn’t speaking about Rick Santorum at all, but about all of us with faith.  Are we willing to admit to what we believe to someone who might just say “that’s strange” or “that’s odd” or “that’s just #$@#*# up” and even laugh or get into our face about it?

If we aren’t, what does that say about our faith?