Well, I have made it to the end of NaBloPoMo (I don't want to jinx him, but I think Dan will make it, too). I have been using it as an
excuse exercise in writing more intentionally, and to instill a habit of writing here every day, and it worked. As of this post (and it might not be the only one today) I have written and you have suffered through 50 posts this month - 68 if I count the other blog I started this month. I've even started getting up earlier to make sure I have time to write a post for the day. It seems easier to get one written before the day starts rather than to trust that I will find the time later to do it. On the other hand, I can tell you there are a couple of posts I re-read later where I simply shook my head and thought, "Man, I must've still been asleep when I wrote that!" :-)
One thing this freed me of was the thought that every post I made had to be long and "mean something". I am not going to fill this blog with trivia, but that does allow me to write without the lack of some grand theme holding me back. In fact, what I've noticed about the blogs I follow is that the ones that intersperse good essays with smaller posts about family, daily life and other such "real" stuff are the ones I read the most faithfully. When a blog is nothing but long-winded "deep thoughts" I tend to skip over much of the posts. I end up building up trust in the people I read - when they have something really important to say I will read it, because they don't "write my ear off" every single day, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, it's been fun, and I am glad I did it. I am going to try and keep it up now. That doesn't mean I won't skip a day once in a while, but simply that my goal is to write daily. Thanks for reading.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Well, I have made it to the end of NaBloPoMo (I don't want to jinx him, but I think Dan will make it, too). I have been using it as an
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Glenn has tagged me with Gary's meme, and then Erin goes and says everything I would want to say better than I ever could (as usual). But here goes.
My journey has been a tortuous one and included some rather intense fist shaking at the sky and an extended period of doubt, rebellion and experimentation. I've spent the last seven years returning home; being led, prodded and kicked back into faith by a Spirit who would not let me be. It has been a long process, but in the end I can now look back and say, like Erin, that God simply wouldn't leave me alone. Everywhere I turn He has placed faith in my life - I could not and would not have put it there myself. In fact, I'd say He chased me through the streets, mugged me in an alley and dragged me back home. Simple faith? Maybe. God wants me to believe, so believe I must. Literally.
But I don't think I have simple faith like many would define it. I certainly don't have "faith like a child". Or maybe I do. As a parent I can tell you that children can be some of the most doubting, questioning people on the planet. To every pat answer asking "Why?", probing deeper and deeper, trying to pick apart everything. Except I do not do much questioning any more. Now I am trying to simply ask God to do with me what He will and wills, and let Him lead me where He may. It isn't that it's easier that way, but any other way is harder still. Maybe I am just "simple in the faith".
Nor do I have the simple faith of my mother-in-law. Kathleen Norris's book "Amazing Grace" helped me back into faith (in fact, I would say reading it was one of God's big pushes on my back to "Get back in there"). The book deals with a lot of the "problem" words in Christianity in very poetic, introspective ways. I love that book beyond measure because of how it has helped me to see that faith does not mean a mindless zombie existence. But when I gave it to Susan (who I love and respect), she returned it afterwards with the comment, "She thinks too much." I never quite knew how to take that, because Les's mom is a thoughtful believer - she spends a lot of time in Bible study and devotional reading. I guess growing up in the faith and being a firm believer she just doesn't have the struggles I do. I dunno.
Neither do I think I have the simple, overflowing abundant faith of my maternal grandparents, although that is what I aspire to. Their faith was simply part of their life, their love of Christ permeated their love of everyone. They grew up in it, matured with it, lived it and died wrapped in it. In their 72 years together they had hard times, terrible times - living as dirt poor farmers in Iowa during the Depression, losing an infant child, raising seven more children with nothing but sweat and perseverance and love. And yet their faith just shined through. They built a community of people around them by never knowing a stranger. It was wonderful to see, wonderful to be a part of, and I miss them. I think I could use another few decades of their example, but will have to do with my memories of it as a shining light of what to pray for.
In the end, I simply cannot say whether I have "simple faith" or not. I have faith - of that I am sure. I am also positive that it is a grace-full gift, and certainly nothing of my doing. But as with all of God's gifts it is simple when you first unwrap it, but much less so when you get it home. It doesn't go with anything I had before, it won't fit on any shelf, I can't stick it in my pocket, I can't store it in the garage and forget it. I have to carry it with me everywhere I go, and sometimes that makes it seem bigger and more complex than perhaps it really is. But I do know one thing - I am glad I have it. I love the gift, and I love its Giver. As with all gifts, it's the thought that counts. The fact He thought enough of me to pick out just my size, carve my name on it, hunt me down and give it to me means everything. And that's the simple truth.
I have been rather tag happy of late, so I won't tag anyone on this, but the usual suspects (you know who you are) can consider yourself tagged if this meme speaks to you.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I was sitting here reading this blog post by Sam Davidson in a nice, linear manner. I watched the first video and was impressed by Dove's campaign to help women regain their self image from the onslaught of our modern culture's impossible standards of beauty. And then, as a father of four daughters (and one outnumbered son) and the grandfather of two granddaughters (and two less outnumbered grandsons) the second video actually brought a tear to my eye, because it hit me how important it is to fight the "onslaught" (the name of the video) of hypersexualized images placed in front of them every day. I am no prude, but even so, I thought, "Amen that somebody is doing this."
And then I read on. And then I watched the third video. And then read the rest.
Go read it and watch the embedded videos. Don't skip ahead. Read each bit and watch each video in order. Then know what is wrong with our world.
So, everyone knows about Southwest's flight attendants and their reputation for humor. Here are three examples from my round trip to Louisville Monday and Tuesday:
"There are two exit doors at the front of the cabin, two over the wings, one at the rear of the plane, and yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah..."
"Please place any purses, briefcases, backpacks, small children's articles or small children under the seat in front of you."
Someone must have bought an alcoholic drink without correct change, so the flight attendant came on the intercom and asked "Does anybody have change for a $20?" A bit later she came back on and said, "We got the change - and thanks for banking with Southwest."
It's a little thing, but a bit of humor when you're traveling, especially on business, does help. I wonder if this humor is organic or if there are corporate joke books up in the forward galley? I hope it's the former - that the company simply encourages (or tolerates) the behavior and the culture of funniness has just grown from the employees.
OTOH, the new Southwest boarding plan seemed to rankle most long-term loyal customers in the lines, so I wonder what was going wrong with the old way that made them tweak it? To me it didn't seem much different - in fact, a bit more orderly and without having to mill around for an hour to get the best seat. Oh, well - can't please everybody.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Well, here I sit in Louisville waiting to join everyone else to drive to our meeting. I was right - it took six hours to get here by flying, same or more as if we had just driven the whole way. Except we got to deal with airports on both ends and will again today.
Praying for safe travels back and if I get in at a decent time tonight will try to post something more substantial, sans phone.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Kat has joined with CoolPeopleCare.org and created a t-shirt simply reading "Christmas is not your birthday". The proceeds go to charity. I've already ordered mine - I hope it gets here in time to wear it to our first Sunday of Advent service next Sunday. Isn't it time you updated your wardrobe, too?
I hate travel. I am not talking about driving somewhere on a vacation. I am a typical American dad and love driving those long two-lane blacktops, either alone or with everyone else in the car sleeping the miles away while I think and look around. I once did a two week vacation where one of the requirements was "No Interstates were used in the production of this vacation." It was great.
No, I am speaking of business travel. I have to go on an "overnighter", flying from St. Louis to Louisville, Kentucky tonight, returning tomorrow night. All for a four hour meeting that could be handled by conference call. I used to like business travel until I spent three and a half years as a "road warrior", where I learned to hate it with a passion. Gone is any sense of "the romance of air travel". Airplanes are just buses with wings, and in actuality bus stations are far more convenient than airports. Luckily my current job requires very little of it, and for that I am thankful.
It is only a six hour drive to Louisville (if you obey the speed limits, which my boss doesn't), and given that I've never been to Kentucky before, I would have enjoyed that, just to see the countryside. And it was my boss's original plan to drive, but the two others going on the trip whined and griped about having to drive, so now we get to fly out at an inconvenient time tonight (to save money on the airfare) and get in late at the other end, and will spend five hours in transit anyway (two to the airport, one at the airport, one in the air, one on the other end disentangling from the airport, getting a rental car, etc.) Stupid. Whatever.
So speaking of whining (or whinging, as my British readers would say), I will stop mine now. Wearing my green shirt, thinking positive thoughts.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Just testing posting via email from my phone. I will be travelling on an overnight business trip tomorrow thru Tue. and am not sure of network access while I am gone, so I want to make sure this works. Disregard, now that you have read the whole thing. :-)
Adam is the latest in my "best of" series. He's a pastor of a church plant in Georgia, and sent one of the earliest encouragements I had from someone (who didn't already know me) actually reading this blog. Adam writes a lot about community in the church. He doesn't post often (busy with the church plant, I am sure), but when he does it is worth reading.
Community is Hard, Messy, and Rarely Convenient
10 Ways to Avoid Building Community Within the Church
Building Community Through Savoring Relationships
Can your church exist without Jesus?
Who is Qualified for Ministry?
Are you taking care of yourself Spiritually?
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I can't quite say I am looking forward to going back to work on Monday so I can rest, but almost. It's been a week of work here at home, and there's still plenty more to do today and tomorrow, but things are starting to shape up. I am not getting done everything I wanted to this week, but on the other hand I am accomplishing some things I didn't expect to, so it all nets out.
Right now my home office is in major turmoil as I rearrange it and build dividers in preparation for Les moving into it with me. When we moved into this house (a split level) we looked at the finished side of the downstairs (a family room with a fireplace and a fourth bedroom - both basically 10' x 20' or so) and decided to make the family room into the master bedroom and the bedroom (which has no windows) into my office. Then the "real" master bedroom upstairs became Les's office, leading to my common joke that we have a "three bedroom, two office" house. But with Morgann back home and sleeping in Les's office, the time has come to consolidate the two offices.
We had talked about this before, because Erin was going to get that room when she turned 13, and probably still will, it is just coming a bit earlier than expected, so Les is a bit bummed at losing her space. As am I. It isn't just our introverted natures, or Les's impending return to school. It is the different ways in which we, ahem, "organize" our spaces (I leave it to the reader to make any inferences they wish :o). It will take some effort and compromise on both sides for that not to become a stress point. So I am building nice wooden dividers (not to say, "cubicles") to separate the room a bit and give us each our own space, and with the rearranging that I am in the midst of, we should each end up with quite a bit of usable space. And really, whining about dividing up 200 square feet just so two people can have their workspaces seems a bit trivial compared to how so many of the world live, and live in less space than that.
Anyway, I am typing this in a room with stacks and stacks and stacks of books on the floor awaiting re-sorting and re-shelving. I actually like how I've rearranged the room - I think it will have more effectively usable space than before, and it will be plenty roomy for both of us and all our shelves and the two big desks (we use doors on top of filing cabinets as desks in this house - they're cheap, easily stained to whatever decor and huge - highly recommended). When we are done (probably still a week or more away) I will post some pictures.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Well, yesterday's Thanksgiving supper went off without a hitch, other than me being a bit stressed (but I looked calm on the outside - ha!). Everything hit the table at the same time and the foods that were supposed to be served hot were hot and those that were supposed to be served cold were cold (is it just me, or does anyone else have a pet peeve around Thanksgiving dinners where everything shows up at basically room temperature because nobody knows how to time the delivery of 10+ dishes at the same time?) Everyone seemed to enjoy it, because there was lots of eating until everyone was complaining of being too full. "I'll never eat again!"
It was my parents and us (Les's parents had a prior commitment) but even so that was eight people, although that's only two more than I normally cook for. To fulfill the rule that there must be way too much food (and to let our overseas readers understand what hits the table at Thanksgiving - although the following would count as a "small" example), to those eight people were served:
Turkey (of course)
Oyster stuffing (with home-grown sage - yum)
Corn (with milk, butter and a bit of cream cheese)
Green bean casserole (Les made that)
Rolls and butter
Olives (black and green)
Celery with garlic cheese spread
Lemon meringue pie (homemade, from scratch - Mom made that)
Apple pie (also Mom-made)
Mulled apple cider
I declined to make the traditional candied sweet potatoes because while I will eat them, nobody else here is much of a fan, and we'd already had another Thanksgiving dinner last weekend for Les's side of the family and I had my yearly helping there - so be it.
Two cool Thanksgiving-related stories:
1) Morgann is working at Scholastic (home of Harry Potter - at least in the States) taking orders for the holiday season. On her very first week on the job they gave all employees, including her, a certificate for a free turkey from a local grocery store, so she was the mighty hunter who brought home the game for this year's feast.
2) Les was one of a small group of employees at her job who were given really outstanding food baskets as a sign of appreciation. I mean, there was a nice flower centerpiece, a big turkey breast, tons of canned goods, a pumpkin pie (see above), and on and on, all in a really nice wicker basket. The whole thing easily cost $100. And while it was appreciated as a gesture, it was embarrassing in its plenitude, especially since there were other employees like the CNAs (certified nursing assistants) who could have used the food more than us. Some of the food we'll be giving to the food pantry because it really was just an amazing amount of food, and we need to share it.
Two uncool Thanksgiving-related stories:
1) Two days before Thanksgiving, a night employee at Les's facility (they don't know who, but there are suspicions) stole all of the turkeys plus some other food that was being stored to make Thanksgiving dinner for the residents. Who would do such a thing?
2) At the mobile food pantry last week the food bank employee told us that at one of the other mobile food pantries earlier in the week (in another town), some volunteers had taken (stolen) eight cases of bacon. He said in all likelihood they took them so they could sell them.
So, it was a good Thanksgiving and we had lots to be thankful for, but as always the biggest thing we have to be thankful for is Jesus, who gives us our only hope in a fallen world.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
And just to reset the tone after the last post, here's who (not what - things are things, God calls us to be in communion with each other) I am thankful for:
First and Foremost
Meghann, Jeremy, Ryan, Lindsay, Logan, Hannah
Erin, Jon, Gloria
Nabila and Bryan (our Compassion kids)
Mom and Dad
Bill and Susan
Matt, Brenda, Will, Beth
Seth, Jenny, Brady, Hallie, Alexander
Sarah and Dave
Mark and Reta
Myriads of aunts, uncles and cousins
Kim and Judy
Mike and Ginger
Calvin and Debbie
Mark and Debbie
Ken and Bernie
Everyone at church
Everyone at the Samaritan Center
Everyone at the food bank
Everyone in my blogroll
Everyone that comments here
How blessed am I to have all of those loving people and more in my life?
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!
Lately I've been trying to do some self-observation to figure out when I get testy (read as, "angered") about things the kids do so that I can figure out how to better deal with those incidents without being dictatorial (read as, "an ass"). I have a few buttons that are pretty normal for all kids to push - not doing what they're told to do when they're told to do it (empty the dishwasher, say); not doing something which they have to do every day of their lives and yet they act each day like they've never heard of it before (brushing teeth comes to mind). I can deal with these pretty well, usually. Those are just average child behaviors, part of growing up, and handling them is just part of parenting.
I have noticed there is one thing that really triggers my temper, though, and I think it is because I have no antibodies to it, and that is sibling rivalry. I am not talking about one trying to get more attention from adults than the other, or any sort of direct competition. Instead, it is the constant bickering and arguing over pure [expletive deleted]. It is mostly between Erin (11) and Jon (9). Gloria, Jon's twin, doesn't seem to like to play that game (as much) and usually just walks away when Erin and Jon get into it. Which is all the time. They'll be playing along happily or talking and all's just fine and then one will start telling a story and the other will interrupt before the first sentence is completed to correct some trivial fact or to debate the setting entirely. And then they're off. Back and forth, "Yes, it was!" "No, it was not!" "It was!" "Not!" Repeated with increasing volume, over and over. Insert somewhere into this me finally snapping, "Would you two just be quiet?!?!? Don't talk to each other, ever again!" Which usually works at keeping the peace for a whole of five minutes.
I have to admit I believe Erin picks about 60% of the fights. I think she doesn't like the fact that she is not the alpha dog among the three, because Jon won't let her be. He is getting old enough now and has the personality that he isn't going to let a sister tell him what's right or wrong, by gosh. And Erin's response to any test of her "authority" is to go from happy to shrill in 1.3 seconds. We've been trying to work on calming her over-dramatic responses down for years now - it doesn't seem to be working, no matter what path we take. What if it's just her personality? (If so, I pity the poor fool that marries her! :o)
The reason I think all this bugs me, even though it is as much a part of normal childhood behavior as the other infractions I tolerate much more easily is that I grew up an only child, so I really have no experience with the day-to-day, hour-to-hour small but intense bickering that growing up among siblings seems to create. Oh, sure, I saw it when I was over at friends' houses, but I always got to go home at some point - I was never simply trapped in that kind of environment for 18 years while I grew up.
I anger Les when I comment on the warped interactions of adult siblings in the many dysfunctional families I know by saying I am glad I was blessed to be an only child. I know there's lots of adult siblings with great relationships - Les's family comes directly to mind. And with our kids it isn't dysfunction - their daily mini-wars are normal, I am sure of it. I see it in every family with kids. The problem is I was never exposed to it - I don't have the "antibodies" to just blow it off. And even if I did, I just got home from a long day at work, the grass has to be mowed, dinner has to be cooked, the roof is leaking and..."I just want some peace - will you two be quiet!"
I like Erin's (the blogging Erin, not our Erin) idea of charging a quarter for every yell, but (a) that would bankrupt these two and I don't think they'd stop after they were out of money, and (b) a lot of times they aren't even yelling - they're just fervently disagreeing in sharp voices over the most trivial...stuff. Again. And again. And again. It's almost like it's just play to them - many times when I interject to stop them they seem genuinely surprised, going from twisted up angry faces in mid-bicker to wide-eyed wonder over why anyone would have an objection to their arguing over what color of shirt happened to be worn on specifically which day during an outing to which friend's house three years ago.
Pant, pant, pant - now I have to calm down. :o)
Anyway, I'd appreciate it if anyone has any constructive suggestions on how I should deal with this, because I honestly don't think it is going to be possible to get them to stop - although if you have any enlightened suggestions on that, fire away. What helps you to stay centered when your kids are doing that one thing, again, that really, really bugs you?
My sister...My sister...My sister.
I hate my sister, she's such a bitch.
She acts as if she doesn't even know that I exist.
But I would do anything to let her know I care.
But I am only talking to myself 'cause she isn't there.
I love my sister, she's the best.
She's cooler than any other girl that I have ever met.
She had the greatest band, she had the greatest guy.
She's good at everything and doesn't even try.
She's got a wall around her nobody can climb.
She lets her ladder down for those who really shine.
I tried to scale it, but to me she's blind.
So I lit a firecracker, went off in my eye.
I miss my sister, why'd she go?
She's the one who would have taken me
To my first all-ages show.
It was the Violent Femmes and the Del Fuegos,
Before they had a record out, before they went gold,
And started to grow.
I miss my sister.
I miss my sister.
I miss my sister.
I really miss her.
- Juliana Hatfield, "My Sister"
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
For years I have been rather fetishistic about organizing my email into appropriate folders. However, over time I've come to see limitations in that approach, especially since the mail server I use at home doesn't allow subfolders (folders within folders), and it is a pain to copy email to multiple folders in case I want to find something later by a different category.
I've been using gmail as a secondary email account for some time now, and am playing with making it my primary email client. Gmail doesn't allow custom folders, but it does allow tags, and each tag in your tag collection has a link that ends up looking and acting pretty much like folders. And you can apply multiple tags to an email, so you can place email in as many categories as you desire.
However, I am beginning to think neither folders nor tagging is the way to go. I've found over the years that how I would categorize something now may change later, and more to the point, that what I consider to be important about the item now may certainly not be the reason I am interested in finding it again later. For example, I have lost three friends since 1995 (car accident, cancer, suicide), and whatever folders I may have filed their various emails under when they were alive are simply noise now if I want to go back and read all the emails from one of them.
In a recent email thread on the private "salon" I run, we had a debate between using tags (Aaron is all for them) vs. just counting on the fact that in today's world of ubiquitous search, you can (re-)find anything you need at a moment's notice without any upfront work in categorizing. Let's just say at the end of the discussion we agreed to disagree. Following is an email from that thread summarizing my arguments on why search wins over tags (and folders):
I have been using tags in multiple places for a while now - Google bookmarks, where they do make some small modicum of sense, blog posts, where everyone tells you that's a best practice to do because it seems to help search engines, contacts, blog reader subscriptions, etc. And what I've found is that tags are just as limiting and artificial as a hierarchical data store. In fact, tags simply replace a fixed and inflexible hierarchy with a fixed and inflexible Venn diagram of interacting tag clouds. By "fixed and inflexible" I don't mean you can't invent a new tag at any moment - you can. But you can create a new folder in a hierarchy at any moment, too. What you lose in both of those is being able to retroactively tag/store already existing items without a lot of manual effort to go back and re-categorize. And nobody without OCD does that.And yet I find myself still filing email away in different folders on my client at home, and tagging every email in gmail, whether I really think I need to or not. I am thinking of quiting that behavior entirely. In gmail I will just throw everything into the archive and if I need something I will search for it. At home, due to technical constraints on my mail server (folders get slower and slower as they hold more emails) I may subdivide everything up according to quarter (3Q2007, etc.), since I can usually remember roughly when a given email was sent, and can use that as a starting point in a search.
I think Google is right - search trumps all. Because the me that is here and now can guess but doesn't really know what the me that will be (hopefully still alive and) searching for something in the future is interested in. Perhaps it's some category that could be intelligently tagged in advance, perhaps it will be something entirely unforeseen by the current me ("And then at age 48 I got into professional competitive ballroom dancing and my whole life changed - who expected that?")
And in fact, as I blog I discover that I keep adding and adding tags, until really the number of tags is going to start approaching the number of primary nouns/concepts in my posts (in fact, I just checked - 98 tags covering 76 posts - many/most tags only get used once, and hence aren't really that useful). At which point, why not just search for the noun/concept instead of the tag?
So I think the answer ultimately is a fast, powerful and flexible search engine that can combine both local and Web results (if such blending is desired). I think the Google desktop thing has that, although I am not currently running it. My email client (Evolution) has decent search capabilities, but only within one folder at a time.
Sometimes I still have to drop to a shell account and grep through all my email folders just to remember which folder the message I am looking for is actually in.
In the end, I will probably just install Google tools and let search take care of any need for retrieval/grouping that is beyond simple categorization used for day-to-day tasks (which is why I categorize/tag the feeds I read in my blog reader and also my Google bookmarks - because I use those categories and tags every single day). I will simply search for whatever it is that the future me happens to be interested in that day, and not require the current me to anticipate all those possibilities. And I'm a techie! Now think about how most people operate - if they don't get the concept of hierarchical files and folders (and they don't), they may get tagging a bit more, but again, I don't think most people approach their information with that exacting and disciplined of an approach (do they always tag using exactly the same spelling, for ex.?) I can look at my email folders and see the same sort of evolution that happens with tags. For ex., I have a folder called "Friends", and that's where email goes until you reach a certain level of friendship, at which point they warrant a folder of their own (almost like the Seinfeld episode on ranking people by where they are on your speed dial list). And since I do have a certain level of OCD around my data, I typically do go back (mostly...usually...well, sometimes) and grab all relevant emails from that person out of "Friends" and put it into the new folder. Many people wouldn't. They would just want to search for "Kim" or "Aaron" on the fly and as long as the results came back as fast as they would searching on tags, that's Good Enough.
To sum up:
1) Tags are inflexible, in that any future tags are not retroactively applied without effort.
2) Tags require discipline.
3) Tags require foresight into what will be interesting in the future.
4) Tags are not ubiquitous, nor are they treated the same across all software (for ex., NTFS on Windows allows you to do some pretty cool stuff with smart metadata if you're filling in your Word properties correctly, but if you store those files on FAT or a SMB share, you don't get any of that, and you certainly don't get to search on both that and tags in Outlook emails at the same time).
1) Search is flexible.
2) Search requires no organizational skills nor discipline.
3) Search values your current time highly by not requiring you to do anything until there is a need to do it.
4) Search is not ubiquitous yet, but it will be (even Google's "products" don't implement search across all your account's "stuff"...yet...but I am sure it is coming).
Comments? How do you organize your email? Do you find tags or folders helpful or do you just throw everything in a big pile and let search find things for you if you ever go back to look? Or do you read and delete and not save anything? (I could not do that! :o)
As part of my planning process I have decided to attempt the empty inbox technique. This is where you purposefully keep your email inbox empty by applying various automated filters for much of the email and then by "batching" reading and taking action on it as much as possible. No more will I send myself emails to remind me to do something later - that is what Remember the Milk is for. And I will no longer keep emails in my inbox I plan on responding to "some day".
This will be a stretch for me, because I am an email fanatic. I live, work and play in email. Being older, I prefer email over IM - for one, the asynchronous nature of email allows me to process a message when I want to, not because my friend just sent another inane single sentence that is blinking in my system tray demanding response right now. Yet you can get close to the immediacy of IM when in a thread with friends all joking or arguing at once if your email email client is set to check for new mail every minute (another empty inbox no-no I am going to have to get over - how much email that you get demands your immediate attention?).
As an experiment without adopting all the various techniques propounded by various people on the subject I have been able to keep my inbox empty (or at least get it back to empty) for the last three days running. We will see how it goes when I am off of vacation. :o)
Do you find email (or IM, RSS feeds, or whatever) too time consuming? What do you do to manage your online life?
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
For my "best of" series today I point to John (Frye - there are multiple John's in my blogroll). I became aware of John during the "People formerly known as" thread/meme/synchroblog/event when he posted "The People Formerly Known As 'The Pastor'". I have been a faithful devotee ever since, and the number of posts he's written that I've marked as starred and shared in Google Reader has to be up in the top two or three. Along with only a few other blogs John constitutes my online devotional reading - but don't let that make you think he writes sleepy little proverbs or cutesy stories. He writes things that are scary true and that hit you right between the eyes. If you read John's work and aren't moved to go, "Huh! I hadn't thought of that!", you aren't paying attention.
He is also a published author. I haven't read his latest book yet, but even though I don't tend to read fiction I will probably give it a go because the reviews coming in from the blogs are all highly favorable, and it's an interesting premise.
Note: Some of the following posts are at John's old blog location, some at his new address. Make sure you subscribe to the new, but make sure you read all of the following.
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader series
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader Part 2
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader Part 3
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader Part 4
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader Part 5
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader Part 6
Jesus: The First Emergent Leader - Conclusion
Ecclesiastes and Establishment Evangelicalism
Ecclesiastes' Reality Check
A Time to Laugh: Ecclesiastes and Joy
The People Formerly Known As "The Pastor"
Jesus Blew Their Minds (one of my favorites, in an array of favorites)
Good Medicine for a Pastor's Soul
Proper Confidence by L. Newbigin
Jesus and His Rank Amateurs
Or I will be fixing a hole - a great big one I opened in the wall in my office yesterday that backs up to the downstairs shower's leaky pipes. The good news is my reciprocating saw worked great in opening up a floor to ceiling access without ripping through any wires or pipes, and that we found the leak. The bad news is that my office is now a mess with all the books that were in shelves along that wall piled on the floor, and that I will be dealing with plumbing today. If the history of working on things in this house holds, it will turn out that the leaking part will have been made in a factory at a reform school in Communist Yugoslavia and is no longer available outside of small black market bazaars in Belgrade, and there I'll be, standing at Lowes with the part in hand, forlornly wondering what to do next. At least my Dad is coming over to share the fun. We will be taking the kids over to Les's folks while we work, since the house will be sans running water until we get it fixed and kids these days don't know how good they have it with flush toilets and all that.
Monday, November 19, 2007
OK, so here's the list straight from Google Docs. I don't know if I will be able to pull all of this off, but I'm'a gonna try. First comes the list of principles I have talked about before. Then come the categories (each starting with a verb, to imply action) in roughly descending order of priority, with individual items under that. Some are trivial and will be finished when I just decide to do it. Some are lifelong endeavors, and will require commitment and discipline.
The biggest issue I am trying to figure out now is how to stay on track and measure progress. Google Calendar, Remember the Milk and a couple of spreadsheets in Google Docs are going to end up being my primary tools, I think. This blog will be another, both by putting out my goals in public for you all to see, and by posting progress here so that I can remain committed because I am making these commitments to more than just me. Hold me to them! :o)
What Do I Want To Do When I Grow Up?Now, just where did I put in the time to relax? :o)
"Nothing happens unless it happens on purpose."- Aaron
"Time is going to pass anyway."- Cheryl
"If you can't measure it, it doesn't exist."
"Aim high, because you will hit that or lower."
Love My Family
- Pray - daily, on purpose, at specific times (daily offices?).
- Read the Bible - daily, on purpose, at a specific time.
- Help the poor - continue to volunteer at Samaritan Center, figure out how to do more (but not just "send a check"). Salvation Army? Action, not committees!
- Be in fellowship - continue to go to church, try to help church become more outward focused.
- Have Compassion - be a good sponsor to Bryan. Write him a letter every month.
Be a Friend
- Love Les - be loving, be positive, support her goals as she returns to school, listen, listen, listen.
- Love Erin, Jon, Gloria - be a patient, loving father, less dictatorial.
- Love Morgann - be patient, loving, less dictatorial, help her to become self-supporting.
- Love Meghann - re-establish our relationship, be loving, less judgmental.
- Be more fun - game nights, vacations.
- Love Mom and Dad - be loving, help more as they grow older, regular get-togethers.
- Love Bill and Susan - be loving, help more as they grow older, regular get-togethers.
- Aaron - call once a month.
- Kim - call once a month.
- Mike - call once a month.
- JimP - call once a month.
- Salon - write daily.
- Calvin - call once a month.
- Get out of consumer debt - get credit paid down!!!
- Prepare for old age - build retirement funds at faster rate.
- Maintain the house
- Remodel master bath.
- Fix leak in downstairs shower (already in progress, as of today).
- Work on playroom roof (already in progress).
- Save pine trees from dying - spray!
- Carpet Jon's room - look at it as a learning experience. :o)
- Carpet master bedroom, a.k.a. Morgann's room.
- Landscape - north side of house, patio.
- Shampoo carpets.
- Reface kitchen cabinets.
- Keep working on bringing yard back in shape.
- Write - daily, with intent, use appropriate vehicles - blogs, salon (already in progress).
- Exercise! - 20-30 min./day (this is going to be a hard one - since moving from Colorado and not backpacking and climbing any more, I really have lost my motivation).
- Lose weight - get to and maintain 200 lbs. (another hard one - see above).
- Learn Spanish - to help in volunteering, become decently fluent in conversational N.A. Spanish by working through both volumes of Spanish for Gringos. Practice!
Well, here's my post.
It’s Backwards Day here at The Secret Life of Kat. The day where I write the comment and you write the post.
So here’s my comment:
I LOVE that scene from The Princess Bride, but I have to say I never thought of it from a theological perspective.
So, what’s your post?
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
- Inigo Montoya
Think of a "Christian" word. Something core to the New Testament. Pick one. Any one. Grace. Forgiveness. Savior. Fellowship. Why is it that we can all proclaim these words, talk about these words, preach on these words, and then turn around and act as if they don't touch us? As if they don't mean anything? How can we proclaim grace and then judge others? How can we claim our own forgiveness and then hold grudges? How can we call Jesus our savior and then not follow what He asks us to do? How can we be called to fellowship and then think that sitting in a pew for 1/168th of a week satisfies our Lord's desire that we live as family?
I don't know how. But we do. At some level it's simply:
Today's entry in the "best of" series is Grace. I first was inspired by Grace when she participated in Bill Kinnon's "The People Formerly Known As The Congregation" meme with "TPFKATC - The Underlying Issues". This moved me to write my entry for that thread, "A Tribe Formerly Called Quest (We Are The Prodigals)". Grace has a knack for writing things that inspire, motivate and challenge others, all while remaining firmly footed in proclaiming Christ's love and, well, grace. Highly recommended.
[Note: All of the links below are to her old blog, Emerging Grace. Her new blog is Kingdom Grace, so subscribe to that.]
TPFKATC - The Underlying Issues
The Good Fight - 3
Too Much Grace?
A More Generous View
Stolen Identity...or Maybe Just Misplaced
Well, I am on vacation this week ("holiday" for those of you in the UK :o), although we won't be going anywhere. This is going to be a working vacation, with projects at home plus a Thanksgiving dinner to host (the first I've done in a long time). Among the projects is to get the leaky shower in the downstairs bathroom fixed so we have more than one bath to bathe in (for six people, that's been a subject of strict scheduling and some contention, as you can well imagine). The third bathroom needs a complete gutting and redo, which won't happen this week, but I may start that over my two week Christmas break. Pure bliss will be reaching a human-to-shower ratio of 2.0. Of course, with a 40 gallon water heater that doesn't mean we can sustain six showers in a row, nor with average water pressure three at the same time (the U.S. not being like England, where they have shower pumps). I yearn for demand water heaters, but can't afford them. Plus, we'd never be able to pry our youngest out of the shower if the hot water never ran out.
I am also thinking of putting in raised planting beds on the north side of the house to match those I built and planted with much success earlier this year. Plus the biannual garage cleaning. And the first (of at least two) leaf rakings. Oh, and the usual chores and whatnot. It's the first day of my holiday and I am already stressed out about getting everything done! How do we do these things to ourselves? But it is good to be off work - I don't take enough time off, and it does get to me. So a bit of working on the nest will be a good break from the routine, with hopefully something to show for it at the end.
One of my long-term plan goals is to not just take time off next year, but actually go somewhere with the kids. We've never taken them on a vacation anywhere (usually a combination of scheduling issues and money holds us back) and that needs rectifying. But for now, I will just enjoy a week of puttering around the house. Oh, and since I am going to be working on plumbing this week, prayers appreciated. :o)
Sunday, November 18, 2007
As Thanksgiving Day looms with the kick off of my Soviet Five Year Plan, I decided I needed a better way to track what I need to get done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I wanted something I could get to from home, work and via cell phone (browser) if need be. I looked to see if Google had anything like a to-do list or task manager, since I am using Google for most of my online tools now (calendar, mail, docs, notes, blog reading, etc. and so on), but surprisingly they don't, even though there have been rumors of integrating tasks into Google Calendar for over a year now.
Since I had just finished reading 37signals's "Getting Real", I looked pretty closely at their offerings, including Ta-Da List and Backpack, but what I didn't like about those were there was no easy way to integrate them into iGoogle, and that's a must for me. Plus most of Backpack's functionality I already was using in Google, simply without the task list features. I believe they keep it that way on purpose, since a lot of Google apps are direct competitors for the fine products they offer. But since I am trying to bring most of my online functionality under one roof, and that roof is Google, I decided that was a show stopper and moved on.
After some searching around, I found Remember The Milk, and signed up for it. The things I like about it include the ability to integrate it into my iGoogle home page as well as Google Calendar plus being able to send it an email at a special address to put an item on my task list (eliminating my old use of my email inbox as my to-do list, where I would just email items to myself to remember them - but then got in the habit of ignoring all the emails at the head of my inbox). And of course it has all the other features you would think of - prioritizing, deadlines, recurring tasks, email and SMS reminders, tags, tabs, notes and more. I will probably not use 50% of all the features it has. But so far it works great and I like it. Joe Bob sez check it out.
The third installment of my "best of" series is Erika. She is a wife of one, mother of three, and minister to many at Church of the Redeemer in south central L.A. Her blog rotates from the day-to-day of a mom raising three young children on through the issues of living as an agent of Christ in an area many would not voluntarily choose and up to the spiritually sublime - often all in one post! Good stuff.
Does Sunday morning really matter?
Spaghetti and tithing
How things are
O Christmas Tree
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Yesterday Glenn posted some links to various blogs, including one on why the U.S. needs more church plants. The interesting thing (to me) in that post was a link to a map of "Religious Adherents as a Percentage of all Residents, 2000", which I am in-lining here (click on image to go to the full-sized image at the original site).
This map is worth some study. One thing of note is that we in the "fly over states" really are different (or seem different) to our coastal compatriots, but even in the Midwest there are lots of interesting gaps. Of course we don't hold many of the nation's population centers. And, surprise!, the West coast, especially the Northwest coast, seems to be the least "churched" (or "most unchurched" - I hate both words). In the unscientific sampling of the people I've known from the Northwest, I can think of one (maybe) that is religious. Maybe it is that fact that leads to Glenn's observation that Portland is a hotbed of emergent activity. God sends good workers to the places that need them.
And as to the title of this post, if you look at Missouri on the map, the county I live in is the one deep red dot in the middle of the state. The county just to the northeast, though, is of the lightest hue and I can't figure out demographically why that would be. Odd how you can see that sort of variation in the map all over the place. Look for where you live - is it homogeneous in your area, or are there strong gradients. If so, can you explain them?
Follow up: I don't like denominationalism, but if you want to see how your "team" is doing, go here.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I am an introvert. I define that the same way as this article, i.e., as someone who gives energy when with others, as opposed to extroverts, who get energy from others. Extroverts get "charged up" in a group of people, introverts get "drained".
But I was thinking the other day that I wasn't always this way. As a little kid (so I am told) I was quite outgoing and talkative. I liked to play with other children, and I loved to talk to adults (I was a precocious little snot). I didn't need much "me" time. Thinking about it more it seems most children (I am sure there are exceptions) are naturally extroverts. I am not saying children can't be shy - but once they warm up to people they are usually just as energetic and loud and outgoing as usual - playing, talking, running around, getting energy from being with people. The definition of extrovert. You don't hear a small child say "I just need time to myself" unless they're mimicking something they heard from a parent.
And then something happens around the tween/teen years, and those that are going to turn into introverts start spending time alone in their room reading, or these days playing video games (not in this house, though, since the kids' computers are all in the play room [sun room] and will remain so throughout their tenure here). The budding introverts then do say "I just need time to myself". It is an observable change of behavior.
I could say I am an introvert because I grew up an only child and in my adolescent years was a "latch key" kid, spending time after school alone while my parents worked. But Les is an introvert, too, and she's from a family of four. I think in most things it isn't nature or nurture, it's both intermingled, but something about introverts makes me wonder if it isn't mostly nature. Or else it's a second degree side effect of nurture caused by something else. For example, I wasn't a good athlete, either from the nature or nurture side, and that tends to limit boys social options and standing. Was the rejection from that something that drove me into my bedroom to read? I don't know.
So part of my stress recently has just been with all the things going on in my life I feel less time for myself for that recharge. And yet I am called to community. It is hard. It would be easier if I were an extrovert, like when I was small.
Where did my inner extrovert go?
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Last night I was really a person I don't like to be - demanding, harsh, domineering. The girls both took over three hours on their homework (a lot of that time may be excused because they were distracted by brother's new friend) and I was on them pretty hard about that. I snapped and whined at the same time to Les (how manly of me) about stress, as if she doesn't have any herself. I pretty much made an ass out of myself, and was far from the parent and husband I want to be.
I recognize the symptoms. I can get this way whenever I feel a lot of stress, and for a variety of factors I do feel stress right now. The addition of another member to the house, bringing the total to six, has changed routines and been a stretch for this introvert (and Les, too - another introvert). I am approaching a week's vacation at work, but in the mean time am having to get a bunch of stuff done so it's ready by the Monday after I come back, and that's not going well, mostly as I wait on others. As the three youngest move firmly into the "tween" years (and as one of them moves ever closer to her teen years) they get more challenging in their demeanors while the amount of parenting ("Get this done", "Get that done", "Do I have to tell you to do this every day?") doesn't seem to decrease. Blah blah blah, whine whine whine. Poor, poor pitiful me.
What a fraud I feel sometimes. I am trying to cultivate a relationship with God, but then turn around and fail at the primary relationships He gives me here in my life. I talk a good game about loving others and then get irritated and angry at my own loved ones. I deride others for setting bad examples and then show my kids how not to be when they grow up. I put points in my life plan on building better, more loving and caring relationships with each person in this house, and then last night was a dick to every person on that list. I suck.
Jesus, please forgive me. Father, please help me be a better father. Holy Spirit, please bring peace to my heart so I may be peace to my family.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Well, Jon got his two robots tonight at about 5:00, and it's 5:45 and he's upstairs happily working through the remote and all 62 commands (you can program sequences, too!) Here are some pics.
And yes, it burps - and farts, too. And dances, and can do high fives, and all kinds of neato nine-year-old-pleasing things. I am proud of him - he earned it all himself.
A friend pointed me to a post at the TPM Cafe yesterday. It concerns a small experiment that found that discussion of issues among like-minded people hardens their stance on those issues and makes them more extreme in their positions and more in line with their peers than before the discussion. My friend's email (more on that in a minute) had a thought-provoking subject line of:
How polarization happens and why it's the blogsphere's fault.
...followed in the email by:
or it's maybe talk radio.
living in the echo chamber stifles free thought
we are all just sheep.
Here are two excerpts from the post to whet your appetite - it's short so you should just go read the whole thing anyway:
The results were simple. In almost every group, members ended up with more extreme positions after they spoke with one another.
Aside from increasing extremism, the experiment had an independent effect: it made both liberal groups and conservative groups significantly more homogeneous—and thus squelched diversity.
Go read the post and then post comments here (or there, for that matter). Are we, through our self-selection of whose blogs we read and comment on and link to simply reinforcing each other in a never-ending series of "Me, too!" head nodding, instead of actually challenging each other and through that trying to reach some sort of broad consensus (let alone learn something new)? I've seen many a blog author shut down comments after the thread starts running against their position, while threads that are an unending stream of "I agree!" statements are left to go on forever. [Which puts you, gentle reader, in a quandary of what to comment on this post, eh? :-)] But it's even more subtle when it's not disagreement we see, but simply mutual admiration.
Some related points:
1) The email came from a private "salon" email group I've run since 1995. The whole point of that group's existence is that we don't all think alike. We have Christians and atheists, big government liberals and libertarians, pot smokers and teetotalers, technologists and Luddites and everything in between. The mix of opinions is the spice that makes the group interesting, but it has always been kept to a small number (currently a bit less than 20 people), all of who know each other within two degrees of separation, and that has been done on purpose. I find that by keeping it small and personal it keeps any disagreements from becoming attacks. Sometimes the discussion grows heated, but the only "rule" in the group is that personal flames are not allowed. And I consider it to be a success, and know that my mind has been changed multiple times in the past 12 years, and others in the group seem to agree the salon is a worthwhile thing.
How often do we go into situations wanting to change our minds? I think that's a good attitude to have. However, for all the pride I have in taking that stance with my email group, a quick look over the blog subscriptions in my reader shows that I spend most of my time online reading people I agree with. Hmmm...Maybe that's making me too one-sided?
2) The liberals in the experiment came from Boulder, Colorado, and the conservatives from Colorado Springs. In the interest of disclosure, I grew up in Boulder, but am no longer a "Boulder liberal". However, for those of you unfamiliar with Front Range politics, I would say that was as good a way to start the sorting process as any.
Now, at the danger of us all becoming more extreme in our like-mindedness, discuss. :-)
The second of my "best of" series. Since I started with Dan yesterday, I might as well point to Tom today, since one led me to the other (I can't remember who was first). Both are pastors in small towns near Fort Wayne, Indiana, which makes me wonder if northeast Indiana is a hotbed of solid Christian preaching and practice or if their two congregations just got lucky. Anyway, Tom writes good stuff, and here's some of it:
Men and Christianity
In The Name Of Ministry
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I am posting my "best of" series in no particular order, so will start with Dan, since he had something just today that I starred and shared in Google Reader.
I don't remember how I stumbled across Dan's blog - I can't remember if I got there from Tom's blog or vice versa (and either way, I can't remember how I got to the other one's blog, either! :-). No matter. He is a pastor of a small church in Indiana. He doesn't seem to think he's particularly good at it, but I can tell you from reading him that if I didn't have a fine pastor already, I wish Dan could be my pastor, because I think his heart is in exactly the right place to be a servant of the Lord. I hope he knows that. His congregation is lucky to have him. I hope they know that.
Since I've started reading Dan's blog, here's what's really hit home:
Forgiving the church
I'm okay with small (being a small-church pastor)
Christ, church and ministry connection
Thanks for the thoughts, Dan!
I use Google reader as my feed reader and it has a nice feature where I can "star" (mark as important) and share posts of note from the blogs I read. They also then show up in the side bar of my blog under "Jim's Shared Items". However, I don't think using that widget on my blog gives the authors the "link love" they deserve to build up their Technorati (or whatever) ratings. So I have decided to post a series of "best of's", to help spread the word and show why these people are in my reader and in most cases in my blog roll. I won't inundate you with these, because then nobody will read them all, and the point is to have you read them and perhaps get acquainted with someone you didn't read before. So instead look for a "Best of..." post every day or two with the posts I've starred and shared. Please take the time to peruse, I think you'll agree, they are great, challenging, moving, artful posts by excellent authors.
[Editor's note - I wrote this over a year ago for the amusement of my friends. With Christmas approaching I thought I would post it here for posterity.]
Over the years I have made some observations about the art and practice of giving gifts to children other than one's own. It seems that such situations allow many people to let out their inner sadist and take out whatever repressed rage they have built up on the recipient's parents. They may act like they don't know that's what they're doing, but you'd have to be really stupid to not understand the impact of your gifts on the household being so afflicted. This is especially true when such gifts come from other parents. They know what they're doing, and unless revenge for prior gifts is their motive, there is no excuse or explanation other than outright hostility toward the target's, er, recipient's parents. Perhaps you should re-evaluate your relationship with such people.
So, as a guideline from one parent to those of you who have the opportunity now or in the future to give gifts to the children of others I offer the following list of gift-giving guidelines.
1) Do not give anything you're not willing to get back as a reciprocal gift - This can be considered the "Golden Rule" of gift giving, and if it is followed, then for the most part the rest of the rules will happen naturally. If you decide to give little Timmy bongos for his third birthday, then when your child's next birthday comes up, don't be surprised if Timmy's parents reward your child with some sort of percussion instrument (or complete drum kit if they're a teen). And when that happens, just remember - you asked for it. This can be especially dangerous between two sets of parents, because it can lead to brinksmanship of the most dangerous kind ("They gave Jessica that damned kazoo for her birthday, so I say we give their little Clarence a trumpet").
2) Do not give gifts with thousands of small parts - Legos sure are fun...until you've stepped on your fiftieth one in bare feet. Legos, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Lite Brites, jigsaw puzzles, marbles, beads, most board and card games and myriad other gifts are of a "play once, lose forever" nature. Unless the child has OCD the pieces will never all be put back in the same place, ever again (unless the parents do it, and frankly that just isn't going to happen - we're too busy making sure the kids don't self-immolate). So instead the parts and pieces just float around the house, turning up in the damnedest places (like under your stockinged foot). They exhibit a self-mobile migratory capability that is somewhat scary. We are still vacuuming up pieces from gifts that are four or five years old. These are classic candidates for the "Mommy and Daddy are putting this gift up to save it for you because it's special" category - which then engenders arguments with the kids when they pester to have the gift gotten down so they can play with it - "We'll pick it up, we promise!" Just say no.
3) Do not give gifts with "some assembly required" - Unless you're willing to do the assembly yourself, be prepared to stop over some time in the future and see the gift still in pieces, strewn all over the playroom, and with some of the pieces broken and pitched or vacuumed, so that it can never be assembled. If you want to give Barbie's Modern Kitchen or Batman's Secret Headquarters as a gift, fine - just put it together first before bringing it over, or be the cool uncle or friend of the family and help the kid put it together right when you give it to them. Otherwise, please abstain.
4) Do not give electronic gifts that make noise - I repeat, "Do not give electronic gifts that make noise". If you feel the need to violate this precept, then at least make sure that as many of the following are applicable:
a) The device can be given an emergency batterectomy in the field with no special tools.
b) The device has a headphone jack with which to restrict its squalling to the ears of the victim, er, child.
c) The device CAN BE SHUT OFF. NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER GIVE GIFTS THAT MAKE NOISE SIMPLY BY BEING TOUCHED OR DETECTING MOTION. If you ever want to be scared out of your wits, try walking through a darkened playroom after the kids are in bed and have Big Bird suddenly emit his slightly psycho laugh in the dark because some other toy in the toy box shifted and pressed against his tummy.
5) Do not give gifts beyond the child's age with the instruction "this is for when they're older" - If that's the case then give it to them when they're older (does that not seem obvious?). Otherwise it's just one more damned thing for the receiving family to store, look after, clean and ultimately remember that they have and pull it out of storage at the appropriate time. In addition, please be aware not only of the suggested age range on the packaging, but of the actual emotional and psychological age of the recipient and adjust accordingly. Something suitable for an average four year old may not be suitable for a four year old with ADHD and anger control issues.
6) Do not give gifts that make a mess - This may really seem curmudgeonly because paints, clay and Play-Doh, "goo", Easy Bake ovens and all that may look like great fun, and gosh, they are great fun - for the kids. For the people whose house they are unleashed in, they are simply a cleaning nightmare (no matter how "water soluble" the item says it is, it isn't - there's "water soluble" paint permanently stained into our carpet). If you want the kids to play with such things then have them ready at your house for when they come to visit. Enjoy!
7) Do not give gifts that are alive - Unless you're willing to pay the vet bills and take care of them whenever the family feels the need to leave for a weekend, week or month, pets are best left as a decision of the parents, no matter how much you think "The kids are really ready for a dog (cat, fish, gerbil, bird, snake or whatever)". Also be prepared to be the person who has to explain to the child(ren) about death when said live gift stops being live.
8) Do not give gifts that promote intra-sibling rivalry - If you give a super-really-neato gift to one and not another then you have just unleashed an ongoing struggle over that gift that will not stop until:
a) one of the children dies, possibly in a fight over the gift,
b) the gift is broken, possibly in a fight over the gift, or,
c) the gift is removed from the scene (typically at night after bedtime, and hence becomes "lost" in parental speak) and put in storage or thrown away by the parents in a vain attempt to bring peace to the valley.
9) Do not give gifts that promote intra-sibling violence - Need I say that gifts that look like toy weapons will cause the kids to use them as real weapons? Hence play swords, spears, bows and arrows and guns will all be used as swords, spears, bows and arrows and guns on the nearest target, typically a sibling or a pet or possibly a parent (although that will only happen once before the item is then sent to the "Island of Misfit Toys", my term, a la the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon, for the large tub in the garage that used to hold such problem gifts).
10) Do not give gifts that require the whole family present to use - Oh, sure, in you're head you're thinking, "This will be great for them, and will foster 'family nights' and all sorts of cheerful togetherness." Instead, you've just sentenced the parents to either endless fighting with the kids over why tonight is (again) not the right night to get out that gift and play with it, or to succumbing to a grumbling round of play while having other things (like bills, laundry, dinner, housecleaning) not get done instead. Either way you've increased the parents' stress levels, and unless you're actually a hateful person and that was your intention, it's better if you gave things that allow the child to be "self-amusing" (which is the greatest gift of love - at least for the parents).
Monday, November 12, 2007
Today I found the
20th 25th 30th 37th response to the "WWJS - to me?" meme. That far exceeds my expectations. The posts have been great, really interesting to read how each person is interacting with Christ, struggling to understand Him and understand where He fits in their lives. Thanks to all who have participated. I have been keeping the links to all the meme posts updated at the original post as I find them. If I am missing anyone, let me know.
While everyone's responses have been excellent, I really want to call out Kevin's post, which just blew me away. A thing of beauty it is. Go read it.
Well, the brisket turned out good, although there were leftovers. That's OK, I'll use them up this week.
It was a good evening with Les's mom and my folks over. We gave Susan, Les's mother, her birthday present and cards because Friday was her birthday. The evening was spent talking and telling stories - both sets of in-laws get along with each other and Les and I love our parent-in-laws (we've said all along the best wedding presents we gave each other were our in-laws), so it was just a nice, relaxed evening of food and fellowship. It is important for this introvert to remember that family, friends and fellowship - "face time" - are a big part of God's desire for how to live our lives. We can have communion (in so many senses) every time we gather in love and laughter over a meal.
Life is good.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
I have created a new blog so I can write about things related to computers, programming and technology, which I want to keep off this site both for the sake of the general readership here and because I want to keep this blog centered around God, my life, and my quest for God in my life (or to be more accurate, God's quest to get me to put Him in my life). So if you are interested in the topic, wander on over, or not. I suspect most of you will choose not to - it's cool.
Warnings on new blog:
1) If you aren't interested in computer programming and computers in general, it will bore you to tears. Which is the whole point of putting it on another blog.
2) Bad language alert - I am not proud of it, but I swear, sometimes quite a bit. It is a bad habit picked up from the time and place I was raised, reinforced by talking about programming, where many of my tech peers craft strings of foul imprecations that would make a sailor blush. So sometimes when I am in the heat of writing something about (what is wrong with) technology, the words just come out that way. I am working on toning that bad habit down, not so much because I think swearing is a hell-worthy sin, but more because it just shows a laziness in writing and a disregard for the reader. However, considering that some of what I plan on posting on the other blog are things I've written in my more carefree, less sensitive past, there will be bad words there - sorry about that. If that offends, don't go.
I am smoking a brisket today. It marinated all night, and now it's in the smoker for its ten and a half hours of hickory smoke and steam from the marinade (I use a "wet" smoker where there's a pan filled with liquid above the heat but below the meat - helps the meat come out tender and not dried out). If it turns out like the other briskets I've smoked, it'll be Real Good. We have invited both sets of parents over for dinner after church tonight, since that'll give us nine (Les's dad is out deer hunting) to attack nine pounds of brisket. If past experience is any guide, there won't be any left overs. :-)
I love how so many cultures have ways to marinate and then slow cook tough pieces of meat like brisket and skirt steaks, taking what would otherwise be shoe leather and turning it into a tender treat. Anyway, I've been adapting my basic marinade recipe for a couple of years. If you're interested, following is the "recipe" (said loosely, because it changes every time depending on what I have on hand). My mother-in-law has used this marinade for a brisket she then baked instead of smoking and said it came out real good.
5 to 12 lb. brisket - for a more "roast" style serving I buy a small, fat-trimmed brisket and smoke it 8-9 hours. For a "shredded" serving style (it literally comes apart with a fork) I use a 9-12 lb. brisket with the fat still on it and smoke it 10-11 hours. Once you have shredded it apart you can serve it with/in barbecue sauce (great on buns) or straight.
[All measures approximate - use more of anything that sounds good.]
1 tbs garlic powder
1/3 cup catsup (or steak sauce, or brown sauce if you're in the UK and have access to it - I don't miss my road warrior job, but I miss being able to bring back Marks and Spencer brown sauce! :-)
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs pepper
1-3 tbs dehydrated onion flakes
Two to five of the following, depending on what you have on hand - all said you want to have at least four cups of marinade:
2 small cans (or more) pineapple juice
1/2 (or more) cup cider vinegar
1/2 (or more) cup red wine
1 bottle of beer or hard cider
1/2 cup brandy, whiskey or applejack
Stir together all the marinade ingredients and then marinate the brisket for 12 hours in the fridge (I have a big plastic container I use just for this purpose). Flip the meat at least once during marination.
Hickory is preferred for this. Fruit tree wood could be good, too. I wouldn't use mesquite - the flavor isn't as good for long smoking (instead I use mesquite when smoking on the grill). Soak wood chunks (better than using chips) for at least an hour (I soak mine overnight), then wrap tightly in foil and only let a few holes poke through to let the smoke out. Arrange foil-wrapped wood near smoker's heat source according to smoker's directions.
Strain the marinade into the water pan and then top up with water and some beef broth if you have it (Texans use Coca Cola, too - I haven't tried it yet, but I will). If smoking one piece of brisket put it on the top rack fatty side up (so the fat runs over and into the meat as it heats up). Take the onions and spices that were left from straining the marinade and spread them over the top of the meat. Put the lid on and make sure everything is nice and tight (no air leaks).
Smoke a small brisket for eight to nine hours and a large brisket for ten to twelve hours. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID OF THE SMOKER FOR ANY REASON DURING SMOKING TIME, unless you want the meat to dry out or the smoking time to increase an hour for every time you lift the lid - this is like crock pot cooking - follow the directions and just let it be. While it is smoking check the water in the pan using the side inspection door every two hours or so (more often in hot weather), and add water if needed. I use a wine bottle with water in it to be able to fill through the inspection door without lifting the lid or taking forever (since even the little door lets in cold air).
After the eight (or whatever) hours take the meat off and cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes while you finish getting everything else ready. For the smaller briskets smoked for less time, slice across the grain into slices about 1/4" thick. For the larger briskets scrape off the fat (it will just come right off with the side of a fork) and then shred with a fork.
Serve until gone.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Well, I have decided I am going to kick off my new!, improved! life-according-to-plan (ha!) on Thanksgiving Day. Part of the reasoning there is to get going, and sooner rather than later (if I keep procrastinating, then it'll end up being a typical New Year's list of resolutions, and we all know how those go - but how many people do you know have Thanksgiving resolutions? :-) Also, a big driver behind all of this is that I am thankful to God for my life and all the riches in it, and I am not getting any younger, so I want to start making more use of this incredible gift He's given me. What better way than to declare Thanksgiving Day the day of trying to be a bit more of the person God wants me to be?
And again, this isn't a "works" thing - I can't earn God's grace and I believe He loves me for who I am. However, I have been feeling a drive lately to get on with that being who I am part, and to be using my life in a bit more focused manner. And this is all part of that. Living thankfully, on purpose.
Friday, November 9, 2007
We have a very excited nine year old boy. He just got to see me order this online for him:
It's not his birthday and Christmas is coming, so why is he getting this now? Because he has worked hard since the beginning of September and has been saving his allowance for it since then. In fact, when he set this as his goal he asked me if I would save the money for him, since he didn't trust himself to save it if I paid him his allowance every week (good insight for his age!) So I had a whiteboard in my office with the running totals of his allowance additions (and in a few cases, subtractions for infractions - allowance is an effective knob you can use for adjusting your childrens' behavior :-). Last week he hit the necessary amount, and tonight we ordered it to be delivered sometime next week. He is psyched and proud, because he worked for it all himself.
Plus, it has "62 functions including throwing, kicking, dancing, rapping, belching and more", and what nine year old boy wouldn't be excited about that? I expect to hear plenty of robotic belches echo through the house in upcoming weeks. I look forward to them, because he did work hard for it. :-)