Starting Over

A new year. A fresh start. An opportunity to set new goals. A chance to lose weight, exercise more, connect with more people, and discover a new hobby. An arbitrary date selected to begin big life changes.

For the people north of the equator, the date happens in the winter season. For those on the southern side, it is summer. The northern latitudes have the option of slimming down while still covered by clothing that hides the flaws. As the warmer weather approaches, they can peel off layers without great shame.

I always wondered about those in the southern hemisphere. Does it bother them to start a weight loss program when it is already beach season? Is it too late?

Tomorrow you get to become anyone in the world that you wish. Who are you? You can choose to be anyone alive today, or someone gone long ago. If you decide to stay “you” share your rationale.


Timely Advice From the Post Office

December 23, 2015.

Two days before Christmas I received an informational card from the US Postal Service. Topic?

“Tips for Getting You the Best Possible Service (While Getting Ahead of the Seasonal Rush)!”

Really? Getting Ahead of the rush? And you give this to me two days before Christmas?

First tip: “Mail early…”

Perhaps they should have taken their own advice.

Strangers In My House

Honey, I’m home” is not a phrase I use often. The routine of my arrival generally coincides with someone napping, another sleeping, one video gaming, another may or may not be at work. Today, there were strangers in my living room eating cake. That was unusual. Not the fact there were strangers in my house. The fact there was cake.

The children are adults and their friends come and go frequently. Garage side business customers drop by at random times day and night. It keeps me from roaming the house in my underwear during leisure time. Sweatpants at least are required.

But we hardly ever have cake in the house. The family is not big fans of sweet desserts and we rarely bake (or purchase) cake for ourselves. These people were eating slices of some unknown flavored confection with layers of frosting showing at least three tiers. Fancy cake. I noticed they had the correct forks and napkins folded on their laps. Something different was happening.

“Hello.” I said.

They turned towards me and smiled. One extended their plate and offered, “Cake?”

I declined and noticed the pistol in a shoulder holster of the one as they withdrew their plate. A badge glinted on the belt of the other. I had heard about these people. This was bad.

They were the next evolution of the telemarketer. No longer content with calling random people at all hours of the day and night, they had mobilized into two-person teams that would arrive at your door with cake. These two were from either some law enforcement charity or fireman’s society. Probably both. They were teaming up recently. I should have known something was out of place with the red truck parked in the street.

You walk into your home to find a couple you don’t know sitting in your living room, eating a slice of cake. Tell us what happens next.

No More Commute

The late afternoon sun lengthened the pear tree’s shadow as the warm breeze gently ruffled the leaves. It had been another good day for Mom and Dad. They walked inside the paddock fence together with the horses and a few of the goats following them. Their daughter and youngest son emerged from the barn and set an intercept course in their direction. Mom and Dad turned towards them, and the animals changed direction also. The four people joined near the southeastern corner and moved in unison back towards the barn.

The son and daughter had finished cleaning and storing the tack used on their earlier trail ride. The horses had already been wiped down and groomed before the stalls were cleaned and stocked with fresh water, grain, and hay. Diesel, the Cat Queen of the Barn, watched from her perch on a beam as the humans, horses, and goats entered.

Once the animals were secure for the night, the family walked to the main house. They passed the workshop where they stored the plans, tools, and machines Dad used to construct items needed to rebuild the Cook House. Soon, the family would be able to relocate the chinchilla cages from the basement storage room into their new location. Chickens might be the next addition, but that was still undecided.

They reached the house and took the stairs to the sunroom and went through the French doors into the kitchen. The siblings headed upstairs to wash and change clothes for dinner at Lowery’s in Tappahannock tonight. Their older brother was coming for a visit and bringing his fiancée. The wedding was one month away and plans for the reception at the farm were coming together.

The guinea pig squeaked for attention when she heard the refrigerator door open as Dad pulled the lemonade pitcher out for a small drink. He reopened the fridge and pulled some lettuce from the crisper drawer for her. Mom went to the master bedroom to change and Dad took a few minutes with the guinea pig, stroking her fluffy fur as she greedily nibbled the lettuce from his other hand. The rabbit in the next cage stomped his foot for attention and Dad shared the lettuce with him as well. He made a mental note to pick more from the garden tomorrow and smiled in satisfaction at the thought they were growing a good portion of their own food.

He had grown up on his grandfather’s 145-acre dairy farm in Connecticut and had been accustomed to sprawling fields and wooded areas to explore. His nearest neighbor growing up had been one-quarter mile away. The 35 acres of Rock Spring Farm offered the opportunity to reconnect with his past and transfer a portion of his own experiences to his children. They fully participated in the animal care. He walked the woods with his younger son and taught him to identify the right trees to remove to help maintain a healthy balance. His son’s skilled hands assisted greatly with the farm’s buildings restoration and maintenance.

The horses were definitely for his daughter. Ever since receiving riding lessons for her Make-a-Wish event, she had wanted a horse of her own. The obstacles caused by repeated respiratory infections, hospitalizations, and multiple intravenous antibiotic therapies had interfered throughout her earlier years. Her dream of horse ownership had been delayed and only partially substituted by the care of guinea pigs, rabbits, and chinchillas. What had begun as a few pets had led to competitive shows and breeding for specific traits and stronger bloodlines. With the move to the farm, the smaller animals might finally decrease in number as she shifted her attentions to the two horses.

Moving to the farm had been the best thing for their family. Dad reflected for a moment on how crowded they had felt in Tidewater. Their first home had been a tiny brick ranch house with neighbors so close one could almost borrow a cup of sugar by reaching out the back window. The next house in Chesapeake was a two-story on less than one-half an acre in a subdivision of Hickory between the denseness of Great Bridge and the dwindling rural areas approaching the North Carolina border.

The home sold quickly in the neighborhood known for its good schools. The proceeds paid off the remaining seven years of their old mortgage with plenty to cover the taxes of the farm and create a nest egg for future improvements. His wife had been able to transfer to the Tappahannock Elementary School leveraging her years of experience in the Chesapeake Public Schools’ Pre-Kindergarten Special Needs program. She dearly loved working with the little ones and came home with stories of their innocent antics and development milestones. His own employer had been flexible in accommodating the move from Chesapeake by allowing him to operate from the Dahlgren office 31 miles away.

He buttoned his shirt and called upstairs to the kids that it was time to go. The family pulled out of the driveway for the trip to Lowerey’s. The setting sun filtered through the leaves and drew long shadows across the paddock fence and deep into the enclosed field. Dad looked all around and smiled once again before moving onto the country road. This was home now. This is where his family belonged. Buying the anywhere doors had allowed them to move here and eliminate commuting. They could live comfortably in the country far away from the noise and congestion of the city. 

Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?

Climate Response

It’s not the weather changes that get to me. It’s how the people around me try to compensate for the changes.

When the kids were younger, they would leave the front door open as they left. It provided a giant hole for the warmed/cooled air to exit the house rapidly. I used to joke that they were the primary cause of climate change in our little neighborhood. It stopped being funny when the electrical bills came.

Put five people in a room and let a conversation about the weather begin. There will be instant consequences as they connect the weather outside to how they personally feel.

“I’m chilly.” one says.

“I’m just right.” another responds.

“Is it hot in here?” the hormonal one asks.

“Turn on the ceiling fan, I need a breeze.” another says.

“Pass me a blanket if you’re going to turn on that fan.” the last one states.

On and on it goes. In the car, one cranks the heat setting to maximum upon starting the car. It will take several minutes for the engine to warm and heat begin to flow, but that doesn’t matter. The illusion persists that by having the fan on its highest setting, with the temperature control set to maximum, heat will emerge faster.

At work, the facilities manager puts a lock box around the thermostats to prevent employees from tampering with the controls. It only slows them down.

One person holds a lighter under the box to let the flame heat rise into it and trigger greater cooling command.

Another holds a cold drink with a personal fan blowing “cooled” air at the box to get the heat mode started.

Yet another motivated person uses paper clips in an attempt to pick the lock.

In the end, the joke is on them. I know the facility manager installed a fake thermostat.

The idea that the weather and people’s moods are connected is quite old. Do you agree? If yes, how does the weather affect your mood?

No Guilt Here

I didn’t do it. 

Nobody saw me. 

You can’t prove a thing. 

I’ll keep denying it even after I’m sent to prison. 

These phrases keep coming to my mind as I watch the politicians (pick any country) in the news. It frustrates me that in spite of overwhelming circumstantial “evidence” and lifelong patterns of scandals that seem to orbit their lives, they somehow continue to remain in place and prominently position themselves for even greater roles.

Please, go away.

Share a time when you were overcome with guilt. What were the circumstances? How did you overcome you guilt?

It Might Take The End of the World

The weekend weather was pleasant. Mild temperatures, light breezes, bright sun warmed the patio. He read a book outside on the porch swing. His wife approached and asked about the book.

“Oh it’s another end of the world saga. Power grid goes down. Technology stops working. Society collapses. People fight to survive. I just ordered it wirelessly from Amazon for instant download to my Kindle.” he said without any realization of the irony.

Sometimes, we all need a break from these little glowing boxes. How do you know when it’s time to unplug? What do you do to make it happen?

Eating Like Their Dad

“I want the steak!” the little boy announced.

“Son, wouldn’t you prefer the fried chicken sticks with macaroni and cheese?” Mom suggested.

“No. I’m hungry for steak!” he insisted.

“Son, you can have steak another time. Like when you’re grandfather isn’t paying for the nine people at the table.” Dad whispered hoarsely.

“Grampa said we could have whatever we want, and I want steak!” the little boy loudly stated.

Grampa chuckled and said, “Let him have steak. It’s all right.”

25 years later, the little boy had a family of his own. Their grandparents came to visit and treated them all to a favorite restaurant.

#1 son loudly announced, “I’ll have the teriyaki hibachi steak, with a side order of steak.”

Tell us about a time you found out after the fact that you’d been mistaken and you had to eat a serving of humble pie.

Stuck Outside

“Take me instead.” he prayed. It would be easier for him to experience the events directly than to sit at his daughter’s bedside and watch her suffering. Unfortunately, he could not take her place. It tortured his soul to be helpless like this. He could not assist her breathing. He could not ease her pain. She looked over at him and smiled. “It will be okay, Dad. God told me I’m going to get better.”

Dad’s heart wrenched at her statement. He did not share the optimism. He knew too much. He understood more of the science than she did. The outlook was grim from his perspective. She clearly did not understand or else she would not be so cheerful. He smiled back and patted her shoulder.

“Dad. I’m serious. Stop worrying. I’m going to be fine.” she insisted.

He couldn’t see it. The outcome was unclear. The unknown future scared him. The fear fed discouragement to his spirit. The strain weighed on him mightily. He struggled to keep the worry from his face. A Bible verse came to his mind unbidden, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1.

That described the situation perfectly to his mind. He could not see past the current situation. It obstructed all views of the future. It loomed over everything and blocked out his hope. Her faith was stronger right now and instead of wallowing in self-pity, she tried to encourage him.

“Dad, trust me. Trust God. It’s going to be okay. He said so. Get more mustard seeds.” she stated. Her reference to Jesus’ words from Matthew 17:20 convicted his heart. “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

He remembered hearing that “mountains” symbolized problems in one’s life. She was seeing past the current situation to the promise of a healthy future. There was no mountain in her way. She believed it was already past. He needed to catch up.

Tell us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.

A Cat, Bowl of Soup, and a Beach Towel

“He’s beautiful!” my wife exclaimed as the cat strutted across the living room carpet towards us. We were sitting on the couch waiting to greet our friend’s cat. She was moving and her new apartment did not allow pets. She had brought her cat to us in the hope we would adopt him.

“He’s pure white and goes great with the furniture!” my wife gushed. I rolled my eyes and silently groaned. As a former farm boy, my view of cats was much different. Cats are a disposable commodity not a decorating choice. But I was willing to be the “good husband” and let my wife have what she wanted. If a short-haired, all white, feline was it, he could be the neutered member of the family.

The cat stopped in the middle of the room and looked around briefly before walking forward and calmly springing to the center of the couch between us. He turned towards my wife and pushed his head into her waiting hand. His raised tail pointed at me and he farted. Not a big one, but definitely audible and fired in my direction. It was a warning shot we ignored at our own risk. My wife laughed at the gas event and announced, “He’s PERFECT! We’ll definitely take him.”

One year later, the cat competed with our infant for attention and control of the house. The baby clearly had priority status and the cat fought in creative ways to sabotage things. A moment of parental distraction and the bowl of soup got knocked off the high chair to the floor. Did the cat do that or was it the baby? We could not always tell.

Later, a horrible retching sound emanated from the bedroom. Another hairball? Gross. We would run in there and discover a large quantity of cat vomit on the pile of clean laundry. This time it hit a shirt, some socks, and a corner of a beach towel that never recovered from the stain. More items for the rag bin.

Wait! Where is the cat now? Oh no! He’s pooping on the dining room rug while looking straight at us. “What are you going to do about it?” he seemed to be saying. “This is what I think about your stupid baby. I was here first.” he went on staring in defiance as he dumped his bowels. How long had he been saving that load?

Today, you can write about whatever you what — but your post must include, in whatever role you see fit, a cat, a bowl of soup, and a beach towel.