Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter Wonderland

We are burrowed in under a blanket of snow here in Middle Tennessee, the biggest snowfall we have had around these parts in several years.

As it is with many southern states not accustomed to this type of weather, we go crazy when this happens. When the forecasts start mentioning snow, we hit the grocery stores as if we're preparing for a national famine, folks stocking up on eggs and milk even if they don't eat eggs or drink milk. Schools close. We stay home from work. We pretty much shut down.

One of the local TV stations actually preempted Oprah yesterday afternoon and ran an hour-long special on the snow. So this is serious business.

This time the weather forecasters got it right. It's Saturday morning and we've had the white stuff falling for about 24 hours. Here where I live, we have about four inches, with the last quarter inch or so consisting of ice. Some of our neighboring areas got as much as ten inches.

It's a lot different than it used to be, of course. With only one child left at home, and he being a 17-year-old, Wife and I don't have to worry about making make-shift sleds out of trash can lids, making snow ice cream and hot chocolate or keeping little people entertained and fed once they come inside from playing.

Late Thursday afternoon our county school officials made the decision to cancel school Friday. Wife had already joined all the other crazies at the grocery store (not to imply that she is crazy) earlier in the day and once Younger Son got the news he was pretty much out the door. He called in from a friend's house Thursday night and said he would check with us sometime Friday

Now remember, he's our last child, so he has the benefit of our being old and tired. As long as we have a reasonable assurance of his safety and whereabouts, he doesn't get much of an argument from us. Our older two often remind us how much easier we are on him. Can't help it, I tell them. I had nothing to do with their birth order.

Although it snowed fast and furiously for most of the day yesterday, I got out and went to my exercise class. Wife and I ventured out late yesterday afternoon and got some movies (another thing we all do when it snows). Not a lot of folks were out driving but, really, as long as you go slowly and carefully and have decent tires, it's not that difficult to maneuver if you want to drive. And even though we don't get this on a regular basis, our municipalities do have plows and brine, so they can get the main roads cleared.

Younger Son called about 6 p.m. and said he thought he would like to come home. He had been picked up by a friend when he left so I went and retrieved him. Again, no real problems as long as I went slowly. Wife made a pizza and salad for us last night, then we watched one of those movies.

This morning I am sitting at my kitchen table looking out on a beautiful wintertime scene. Ralph the Dog and I went for a short walk but he did not much care for it. After doing the things he needed to do he was right back at the door and is now stretched out comfortably on the sofa.

This doesn't happen much around here so, when it does, we try our best to enjoy it. Hope you enjoy these shots.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Stick around; things always change

My, how quickly things can change.

Exactly one year ago today as I write this, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, riding a wave of popularity unequaled in recent times. His aura was undeniable – the first African American president; the young, handsome leader with the beautiful family. Even many of us who were non-supporters could not help but, at least partially, buy into the “audacity of hope” he seemed to represent.

For me personally, having grown up around bigotry and easily remembering segregated schools, I was proud of my country for taking such a dramatic step away from that ugly part of our history, even though I had enthusiastically voted for John McCain.

Obama’s Democratic brethren were nothing short of giddy, and with good reason. Not only was one of their own taking back the White House, but they were taking over comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate. The pendulum had swung back their way and the Gospels according to Pelosi and Reid would soon unfold.

As for the Republicans, well, there was much wound-licking and wringing of hands. Fingers were pointed and in-fighting persisted.

The tongue-clicking of the media pundits echoed across the land as they reported on a GOP in shambles, a political party that had “lost touch.” How would this formerly stalwart institution rebuild and recover from such a resounding blow?

But, as I said earlier, things can change quickly. The American electorate has repeatedly shown that memories, like honeymoons, are short.

To give an example, September 11, 2001 was way too long ago when the election of November 2008 came along. Although George W. Bush had been perceived as doing an admirable job of bringing the country together during his first year in office following the 9/11 attacks, and enjoyed immense approval ratings at the time, all of that was ancient history by late 2008.

Even though Bush was not the candidate running against Barack Obama in the November 2008 election, he was definitely Obama’s opponent. The “Bush era,” that of the spiraling economy and misguided military action, was denounced through hissing lips and clinched teeth by the Obama faithful. Republican Candidate John McCain could not distance himself enough from that concept.

But here we are one year later. The economy appears to be stabilizing but unemployment has risen in the last year. Some believe our military efforts are stalled. Domestically, a health care plan is still on the table, but greatly watered down from its original incarnation. And public support for it has waned.

If a person had gone into seclusion the day after President Obama’s inauguration last Jan. 20 and just emerged today, and if that person were to open a newspaper, watch a television newscast or log onto any of the Internet news sites today, that person might think that those reporting the news are getting the word “Republican” and “Democrat” mixed up.

For today, January 20, 2010, the wound licking and in-fighting is taking place within the Democratic Party. To the utter shock and dismay of the majority party, the Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy will now be filled by a Republican, thanks to Massachusetts voters who took matters into their own hands Tuesday night. And the Democrats are left wondering what went wrong.

Theories abound on what turns the tide in an election. There will be much pontificating in the days ahead.

The Republicans will claim the people have sent a clear message that the “change” for which the Democrats were certain they had a mandate was not the change the voters had in mind. The Dems will tell us this is just a pause in the action, that they are still very much alive and well and still committed to fulfilling the mandate they were given.

Did the Democrat candidate in Massachusetts run a “bad race” as many are contending? Or was President Obama too late to the party when he made his last ditch effort to rally Democratic voters the week before the election? Or was he part of the problem? Who knows?

One of the “gifts” given to Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts was when someone called the seat in play “Ted Kennedy’s seat.” Brown wryly replied that, with all due respect, it was “the people’s seat.” And that became the cornerstone of his candidacy.

You have to give him that one. And those “people,” in spite of all the trends and polls, can be stubbornly independent.

And things will no doubt change again. It is, indeed, the constant in American politics.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How reaching out to touch base will impact you

I easily identified with Quid's post from a couple of weeks ago about buzz words and phrases . I have long had a fascination with words and in my adult life that has included the ubiquitous tired cliches in the working world.

What I have observed is that these words and phrases vary in popularity but once they are "born" they hardly ever die. Sometimes they are real words that just become overused (e.g. "impact" as a verb), while sometimes they are made-up words like "pro-active."

Here are my top ten favorites (and I use the word "favorite" to note how much they make my skin crawl), in no particular order:

1. "Issues." When I went to law school, I learned early on that a law student had to identify the "issues" in cases. Politicians deal with the "issues" that are of interest to voters. But once I entered the business world I learned that an issue is a much cooler way of saying "problem."

"If we use that software, that will result in real issues when we give our presentations."

"Does this present any issues for you?"

Please, please, please -- I am having issues with the overuse of "issues."

2. "High Level." People I work with are just nuts over this one. "Give me just a high level overview of the new regulation," someone will say, to which I am tempted to reply, "As opposed to a lower level overview?"

3. "Functionality." I have a colleague who, in the five years I have worked with him, has never gone through a work day without using this made-up word. What's wrong with the word "ability" or simply saying, "It can do this" or "It can't do this."

4. "Pro-active." A non-word. I turn pale when I hear this one. It's meaningless.

5. "Touch base." Unless I'm playing tag or baseball, I don't do this. And neither do you. Call me or write me but don't touch base with me. Ever.

6. "On the same page." I am not collaborating on any written volume with anyone so nobody needs to be concerned about being on any page with me.

7. "On the ground." This is probably my favorite of the last couple of years. It started in the media but quickly migrated to the business world (how many businesses do you know of that are operated above the ground or underground?!) and even to the faith community. The minister who spoke in my church Sunday said it at least half a dozen times.

8. "Impact" as a verb. "How will this impact you?" "We have been really impacted by the changes in the systems." I have a theory that this has come about because people don't know the difference between "affect" (verb) and "effect" (noun). Whatever the reason, it's a poor choice.

9. "Synergy" or the plural, "synergies." This one caught fire when mergers and acquisitions were so prevalent a couple of decades ago and is supposed to represent the benefits of two parties coming together and what they create. Why can't we just say, "Here are the benefits of what these parties will create when they come together?"

10. "Reach out." This is the latest one that is spreading like crazy. You don't call, write, text, e-mail or even TOUCH BASE anymore; rather, you reach out. "Let me reach out to So-and-So and I'll let you know what he/she has to say."

That's fine, but please, no reaching back in my direction.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Goodbyes and Being Chilled

I hate goodbyes. Some are worse than others.

One of my worst, probably the worst, was leaving my dad the day after my mother's funeral.

Saying goodbye to our friends and family in Arkansas in 1997, when we moved to Tennessee, was heart-wrenching.

When I left each of my older two children when Wife and I had taken them to start college, I was morose for days afterward. And each subsequent trip home and ultimate departure tugged at my heart.

With Daughter, I'm still there. She was home for almost a month over this semester break and we had a really good time. She and I went to cycling class a number of times to work off the holiday excess and many evenings, with her younger brother otherwise occupied, she was here with Wife and me and we had some good visits.

We took a little unexpected trip to Florida for the Outback Bowl, then from there to Arkansas, during her time off, a whirlwind trip filled with laughter.

Yesterday she left again. As usual, there was a flurry of activity as she departed, getting laundry done at the last minute, filling her car with gas and replacing her wiper blades. We had a quick bowl of soup and then she was gone.

Between Older Son and Daughter, we have done this for about six years now. And still, as Wife and I hug her and watch her drive out of the driveway and down the street, we fight back tears.

We kept ourselves occupied after she left. We went and looked at the new carpet we hope to ultimately purchase for the upstairs (maybe this year?), we went to a movie and we went and got something to eat.

We got a text message late in the afternoon that said nothing but, "Here!"

For now, Daughter's "here" is "there." That's just all there is to it.


On the home front, Younger Son announced to us just recently that we have been informally voted by his peers as the most "chilled" parents.

I furrowed my brow a bit and looked at Wife who immediately asked Younger Son for a bit of translation.

We learned, to our delight, that this distinction is a good thing. It means that we don't get uptight when his friends hang out at the house and we (usually) have food on hand. And while we are pleasant enough, we don't inject ourselves too terribly much into the goings on. As long as nothing is on fire or the decibel level is within reason and neighbors are not calling the police, we stay pretty calm and keep a safe distance.

So Wife and I are chilled. And we're happy with that.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

One Year in the Bible

I committed last year to reading through the entire Bible in 2009. I am pleased to report that I met my goal on Dec. 31.

I knew I needed some type of plan, so in December 2008 I started looking at various ways I could do this. I looked at a bookstore at some “One Year Bibles” and also researched a bit on the Internet. In the end I did not see the need to purchase a new Bible but, rather, I found a plan that prescribed daily readings from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs.

For the most part I stayed current, but I definitely had to catch up at times.

I did not use a commentary other than occasionally looking at some of the margin notes in the Bible I use, which is a New American Standard version, and at times looking up words in the dictionary. I was purposeful about not using commentary because I wanted to read it on my own and try as best I could to read it objectively.

Here are some of my observations:

-- I LOVE the story of the Bible, which I grasped more than ever. To my detriment, I had previously read the Bible in a more piece-meal fashion and missed the “plot.”

-- I have more questions than answers about the afterlife. There are indications that people “perish,” there are indications of a “lake of fire” and there are indications that it all just ends for some folks after life here on Earth. There are also numerous references to a life more beautiful than we could ever imagine after this one is done.

-- I am convinced that God created us all as equals, even though He has throughout history given favor to the children of Israel. There are references throughout the New Testament of God’s love for ALL.

-- God is extremely patient and kind but there are times in the Old Testament where He had to get firm with people.

-- The seeming contradictions in the Bible don’t bother me. I believe God wrote the Bible through humans who had different perspectives. Obviously I won’t understand it all in this life.

-- Nothing that I read gives me any reason to believe that there is not the possibility of life on other planets or in other galaxies. Ultimately, I won't be surprised either way.

-- I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is the absolute only begotten son of the Heavenly Father.

-- I see how people can use the Bible to support their political views on either side, but I still think it’s a dangerous proposition.

-- If I had to pick a favorite book of the Bible, it would be a four-way tie among Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.