Friday, July 31, 2009

A Few Comments

-- From this morning’s newspaper:

“The Federal government on Thursday evening suspended its wildly popular “Cash for Clunkers” new-car rebate program less than a week after it began out of fear that the $1 billion appropriated by Congress for the deals had already been used up.”

Seems this poorly conceived idea did what it was supposed to do – got folks into car dealerships buying cars that are more fuel efficient, thus helping out the ailing dealers and helping the environment to boot.

But, apparently, it worked too well. This is our government at its finest.

-- I am still on the fence about the whole healthcare thing. I am extremely skeptical of the government’s involvement in anything (what if were to go the way of Cash for Clunkers and you just thought you were going to get that bypass surgery you needed?), although I strongly believe something has to be done to reign in this monster. I still believe that, although healthcare might be a right as well as a privilege (still not sure on that one), personal responsibility has to be considered. Can you MAKE someone purchase health insurance?

President Obama is disappointed that we have not all just fallen into line with his proposals and taken him at his word that this is the best plan for all, especially the “public option that will keep insurance companies honest.” Congressional leaders, even some of his stronger supporters, are struggling with this one, as well they should. After mortgaging our future with the so called economic stimulus, our Senators and Representatives will do well to give thoughtful consideration, and listen carefully to their constituents, before they commit even more money toward something that still has a lot of ambiguity.

So the president might just have to wait and he might have to be willing to compromise before he gets this, his “top domestic priority,” pushed through. It’s called checks and balances.

-- Isn’t it funny how the things you least expect or think about will just come up out of nowhere and grab you in the backside? Who would have ever thought that the incident in Cambridge, MA involving the college professor and the police officer would have become a major issue at the White House?

Mistakes were made – of that there is no doubt. The professor probably overreacted when the cops showed up (although I have no trouble at all understanding why it upset him). The cop was probably a little overzealous. The initial press reports were largely inaccurate, e.g. the lady who placed the call made no comments about the race of the men trying to enter the house until, for descriptive purposes, she was asked.

And, of course, President Obama made a very poor choice of words when he said the police acted “stupidly.” The Cambridge police force was 100% correct to take offense and come to the defense of their fellow officer.

But I think it’s time to put this one behind us. By all reports, Professor Gates and the officer, James Crowley, are exemplary in their respective fields. They are not prone to go off half-cocked. And President Obama does not make a habit of calling people stupid.

Their meeting at the White House to make nice over a beer, as the president arranged, should serve as the close of this story. I just hope Vice President Biden, who was included in the little gathering, sipped his slowly. It's bad enough when he's sober.

Monday, July 20, 2009

He's Back!

Well Younger Son is back in the fold after another successful time at camp.

Younger Son attends Kanakuk Kamps (yes they spell it with a K) near Branson, Missouri. It’s a Christian Sports Camp – actually a number of different camps, divided by age levels -- and this was his third summer to attend “K-2,” the kamp for high schoolers, for a 25-day term. He “majors” in football so spends a lot of time with that, but also fishes, swims, jumps off cliffs into lakes (much to my chagrin), explores caves and generally has more fun than most of us can imagine. He also is encouraged and challenged spiritually. He absolutely loves it.

Wife and I followed our usual custom of going for the closing ceremonies then bringing him home. It’s a long trip (about a nine-hour drive from home). Fortunately he’s able to ride a camp bus when he goes. We love having the extended time with him on the way home to hear all his stories.

Since it’s such a long haul, Wife and I usually include some time in Little Rock to break it up when we go get him. She went over a couple of days ahead of me and I joined her Friday night. We had a celebration dinner with another couple who got married about a month before we did 25 years ago. We enjoyed a fun evening of reminiscing over 25-plus years of friendship.

We got up to Southern Missouri mid-afternoon Saturday, checked into our hotel and made it over to Kamp about 5 p.m. Younger Son did a marginally good job of feigning happiness upon seeing us, but, in reality, he knows that WE know that he is always sad when Kamp is over.

Some parents might find the closing ceremonies tedious – there are lots of talks and lots of award presentations -- but I love every minute of them. The staff there, including long-time Kamp Director Joe White, one of the most inspirational speakers I have ever heard, are experts at making all of the kampers feel special. I love seeing the smiles on their faces.

This year was especially meaningful for Younger Son and for us. I won’t go into all of the details, which get a little complicated, but all of the Kanakuk Kamps, following the Native American theme, are divided into two tribes and the kampers remain in those for all the years they go to Kamp. There are various competitions and games throughout the terms between the tribes and one tribe is declared the winner at the close.

When the kampers get to Younger Son’s age level, the tribes elect “chiefs” and “princesses” to be the Kamp leaders for the various kamps for the next summer. It is a huge honor and of course a tremendous affirmation to be selected by your peers. Younger Son, much to our surprise and honor, was elected to be chief of one of the kamps next summer.

I could never accurately describe the magnitude of the grin on his face when his name was called, and I believe he walked a couple of feet off the ground as he went forward to accept his appointment. His mom and I also had hearts full to capacity.

Younger Son knows me all too well. When he came over to let us congratulate him, he said, “I’m sure you heard the part about being on full scholarship next summer?!”

I allowed as to how I thought that might be part of the deal.

In all seriousness, though, I am proud of him beyond measure. I have often thought that maybe, he being the youngest of my brood, I have babied him too much, done too much for him and/or held on too tight to his childhood because I know when he leaves this nest, said nest will be an empty one. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but those who know me well know I don’t accept change and transition very well and I have to at times have a little nudging in that area.

I have seen my older two out the door while holding onto their ankles, offering all kinds of bribes if they wouldn't go. OK that’s a bit of an exaggeration . . . but not much. And I know it will probably be worse with him. So maybe, I have sometimes thought, I have not done right by him in my holding on too tight.

But Younger Son, even though he is our “baby,” – all 200-plus pounds of him – is showing us what he’s made of. He’s ready to lead and he’s ready to spread his wings. In spite of some of his earthly father’s bumblings, his Heavenly one is molding his character.

As for me, I could not be happier for him. He will make an incredible chief.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Doesn't Get Much Better

In the past week I have had some great one-on-one time with my two older offspring.

Younger Son, at 16, is fairly easy for me to still make a captive audience since I still retain some supposed authority in his life. The focused times with Older Son and Daughter, however, at 23 and 20, respectively, come a little less frequent now that they are “adults.”

As I have previously written, I work in Memphis part of each week. Last Wednesday Daughter came over to go see the musical “Wicked” with me (she gave me the tickets for Father’s Day) which is in the middle of a run at the Orpheum, a beautiful old theater in the downtown area. I have a tiny little apartment nearby but, given its size and the fact that I only have one bed, I got a hotel room for us.

We went to a great “edgy” restaurant and sat at the sushi bar. This is something my boys would never do and it’s a little outside my comfort zone as well, but it’s right up Daughter’s alley and it is so cool to let her gently prod me into doing things that otherwise would not be on my agenda. She introduced me to sushi a couple of years ago and now I’m a big fan.

I told her to order for us and we had a great meal mixed with great conversation and laughter. She still thinks she knows what’s best for most of our family members (especially her brothers) and takes opportunities such as this to convey those thoughts to me.

She had the waitress take a picture of us. I might add that Daughter documents every event with photos. She literally wears out cameras. We make good-natured fun of her for this at times but, in reality, we are glad she is thoughtful enough to take pictures that she ends up sharing with all of us. I used to be pretty good about it myself but now I just depend on her.

After dinner it was on to the play and Daughter continued to snap photos as we walked up on the Orpheum. We saw “Wicked” in New York City last summer and she loved it. She has the soundtrack and knows just about every song by heart.

The second time around definitely did not disappoint. I wrote in a post last year about reading the book, which is dark and weird. The play, however, is really fun and I think I liked it even better this time.

More laughter and picture taking followed. We got someone to take one of the two of us alongside the “Wicked” marquee outside the theater, then she took several more of other downtown sites as we walked back to the car. We made a late-night stop at Sonic, one of our favorite haunts (we love the ice!), and made it back to the hotel about 11:30. Of course she had to catch up on her texting while I went to bed.

I left her sleeping the next morning as I went on to work.

It could not have been a better “date” for this aging dad and as I write this I am smiling as I think back on this special time. Odds are I will give this precious child away to some unworthy male in the years to come (if I am forced to) and times such as this will be less frequent. I’ll take them while I still can.


Saturday morning Older Son and I boarded a plane for a short flight to Tampa to catch a couple of baseball games. Upon landing, we rented a car and made our way over to St. Petersburg where we had an early lunch at a seafood restaurant that had been recommended to us, then spent the afternoon at St. Pete Beach. I had found a pretty reasonably priced beachside hotel which I thought would be enjoyable for us since we would have the better part of a day there.

Under a cabana that shielded me from the sun, but from where I could see and hear the waves, I finished one book and started another, putting it down when Older Son was in the mood for conversation. Like his sister, he has many opinions on matters that come up within our family and is happy to share with me the wisdom he has acquired in his 23 years of life. It was a restful and peaceful afternoon.

Late in the afternoon we made the short drive to Tropicana Field for the first of two games we would attend between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics. Older Son is on a quest to visit every Major League ballpark, a journey he began when he was eight years old. This was his 18th team and his 21st field (the teams keep building new stadiums so there is some duplication). I have made most of them with him, but not all.

We both liked Tropicana Field, a very attractive domed stadium that is quite comfortable. There is a tank full of stingrays in the outfield, some of which you can even touch, in keeping with the ocean theme and the mascot name. Baseball purists largely eschew the inside ballparks but, for being in the heart of Florida in the summer with its sweltering heat and humidity, you can’t beat sitting inside in the air conditioning.

Even though we had been able to easily get great seats in advance for much less than face value, there were large and enthusiastic crowds at both games we attended. It appears that Central Floridians (or do you call yourselves South Floridians, Quid?) are finally catching on to baseball after some years of dismal attendance figures in the Tampa Bay area. Of course winning the American League pennant last year probably helped.

We saw good games on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, even though the A’s, one of baseball’s worst teams this season and who are sitting comfortably in the AL West cellar, kicked it in during the seventh inning of each game and took it to the home team. So we saw two home losses.

The highlight of the trip was that, after fifteen years of going to MLB games with no true game souveniers, Older Son caught not one, but TWO foul balls, one at each game! I use the term “caught” loosely in that he got Saturday night’s “on the bounce,” although it was a true catch which he attributed largely to skills he developed as an infielder. Ahem. (When we were back in our hotel room later, he was lying on his back in bed throwing the ball up in the air. He denies having slept with it).

Sunday afternoon’s trophy was just a result of right living, I guess. This one popped into the stands, bounced a couple of times amid the scramble that inevitably takes place when a ball soars into the seats, then landed beneath his seat where he was able to bend over and retrieve it. I think he thought, maybe for a split second, of giving that one away to a little boy sitting nearby but shared with me later that “nobody will believe I got two balls if I don’t come home with them!”

We were back home in time for dinner with the family Sunday night, another MLB ballpark under our belts and memories of another great time.


Not much to say here in summary; I think these little experiences speak for themselves. And I am thankful.

"No One Mourns the Wicked..."

Eating Sushi with Maggie

Tropicana Field
and Daniel with one of his two "trophies"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summer Thoughts

Mid-summer thoughts going through my mind . . .

-- I like the summer but I don’t like the heat. After a lovely spring, June hit us hard here in Middle Tennessee with temps hitting the upper 90s pretty quickly. All one can do during such spells is, in my humble opinion, head for a pool or stay inside and run the AC. I hung up the swimming trunks a long time ago, so I opt for the latter and try to confine my outside activities to early mornings or late evenings.

Actually, here right before July 4 we've had a little break in the heat and humidity with daytime highs in the low 80s. It won't last, for sure, but for now I'll take it!

-- Younger Son left for camp in Missouri last week and will be gone nearly a month. Wife and I will go collect him later in July. This is his third summer and he couldn’t wait. He always comes home physically and spiritually refreshed. We don’t have any direct contact with him other than letters and the camp will forward e-mails we send. And we can look at photos on the camp website. Our communications from him are always sparse, and I am sure only take place when someone is standing over him telling him to do it. We miss him but know he’s having a great time.

-- With Younger Son’s departure, Wife and I took the opportunity to get out of town for a couple of days. We looked at the calendar and saw that Summer and Fall were filling up fast so if we wanted a little getaway, and maybe an early anniversary celebration since we’ll be busy when the actual day arrives, this was the time to do it. We literally made the plans Friday morning and got in the car and left Friday afternoon. We made the five-hour drive to Asheville, North Carolina, home of the Biltmore, billed as the “largest private home in the U.S.” Only the massive structure hasn’t been a private home in many years. Built by one of the Vanderbilts, his descendants opened it to the public during the Depression and it has been that way ever since.

The whole thing is just incredible and the grounds are beautiful, tucked away in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Wife and I toured the home and the winery (added back in the 1980s) on Saturday. It was warm but not unbearable and we had a great time going through the rooms in the house in the morning, then tasting the wonderful wines in the afternoon. (They told us we could have eight different samples -- very small -- but I'm not sure anyone counted). We went back Sunday morning and walked through the gardens which are equally beautiful. Looking at the beautiful plants and flowers, I felt guilty for not being able to make things grow any better than I can or, more accurately, not being willing to devote the time to making things grow.

We stayed in a “B&B” in town, which is always an adventure. While I enjoy the amenities of a hotel, little inns such as this can be delightful, as this one was, and we enjoyed chatting with the other guests at breakfast both mornings we were there.

-- We were back in time for the latest offering in our little town’s summer concert series Sunday night. These concerts take place for several consecutive Sunday nights in the summer at an amphitheater in one of our city parks. We will sometimes take a picnic, sometimes just drinks, or sometimes just ourselves and our lawn chairs. This year’s lineup has included the old Western Band “Riders in the Sky,” Beatles and Eagles tribute bands and some local ensembles. It is way fun to sit out on a nice summer night with friends and neighbors and listen to tunes. A great way to end the week too.

-- We are enjoying Daughter’s college friend who is our houseguest this summer. She and Daughter keep plenty busy outside their respective work obligations and they have a little crowd of friends that congregates here often. Their time here will be too short. Our guest will leave near the end of July and Daughter, with her Rush obligations, will go back in early August. Time flies.

-- I am half-way through my Read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year project and I must say it has been extremely gratifying. As I wrote when this began, I have been privileged to listen and study under some wonderful teachers of the Scriptures but, somehow – and to my detriment -- I often missed the story, kind of like one of those not-seeing-the-forest-for-the trees kind of things.

Anyway, at the half-way point, I have found in the Old Testament that: (1) the Old Testament heroes are as flawed as I am (and that’s plenty flawed) but God saw something in them that He was able to use in spite of that; (2) God is extremely patient, as displayed in the continuing back-and-forth with the children of Israel; and (3) God also has a point where he says, “No more.”

In the New Testament, I am through all of the Gospels and almost through the Book of Acts. I have loved reading the stories of Jesus, His life and teachings – the fulfillment of the Law -- as I have simultaneously been reading through the Old Testament where glimpses of Him are evident. The Book of Acts has reiterated for me the importance of community and how God created us to be social creatures. I am also as convinced as ever that the church is to inclusive, not exclusive, that all should be welcome, and that all – men and women alike – should be equal in participation and leadership.

I am looking forward to finishing well and giving a wrap-up when I’m done at the end of the year.