Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the trail in 2011

Did I tell you the story of a few of us seeing God on the trail this past summer up in the Sangres?  Noah and I were talking about it again the other day and, well, we’re pretty sure we did.  
It all came up because of the little photo book of our summer expedition that was gifted last week.  All those great pictures told the story of all the stuff we did.  There was Grandma up on horseback.  There were Adel’s deer antlers he found.  There we were on the train.  And yes, we did talk about our UFO sighting.  You kind of had to be there, but it was pretty cool. 
Anyway, the section of the book that got most attention from Noah was that of the hike up the North Crestone Creek trail by just the guys where, as chance would have it, we met God.  We think. 
To get to the trail, we drove up a forest road a couple miles off pavement to a small, creekside national forest camp ground.  We gathered our gear, cached our water, and up the trail we went.  
Within the first thirty minutes, the trail narrowed, but it was evident that it was really just the forest road we had driven up on, which was now gated.  Not too much later, though, the trail cut back onto a mountain side, got a whole lot steeper, and we were truly hiking in Colorado.  The stones, wildflowers, the sound of the North Crestone Creek down below us, the guys up ahead.  It doesn’t get much better than that, I have to tell you.  
We stopped now and then to eat something and comment on the surroundings.  Usually it was Adel and Bruce up front, most often out of sight.  Noah and I pulled up the rear. 
I guess if there is any message to this blog today, it has something to do with my willingness -- fear? -- of heading up forest trails up into the mountains.  
At least that’s what the concrete piece of this is.  The real internal piece, I suspect, is more about my fear of doing other stuff in the world besides hiking where nobody can help you.  
What does that mean?  I don’t know exactly.  Does it mean I have to give more of myself to social justice issues?  Does it mean I have to take more chances as a writer to learn more about what I need to write about?  Does it have something to do with my spiritual salvation?  
Could be.  But back to the hike. 
I am aware of walking Noah too far on the trail to where he has a miserable time.  I am aware, too, of that gnawing in me that I might walk too far, cramp up, and embarrass myself in front of these macho guys.  It was complicated.  Probably more complicated than it needed to be, but there you have it.  We were up on the trail -- 9,000 feet, maybe -- about two hours out.  I was thinking Noah had enough.  We talked and we decided that, yup, that was about it.  We’d catch up with the guys and let ‘em know we were done for the day. 
Not more than a minute later, Bruce came back down the trail to check on us.  He encouraged us to forge ahead with the news of a beautiful vista just ahead.  He knew what buttons to push!  On we went. 
Oh.  And such a vista.  Its picture is my favorite of the trip.   It is the essence of what I had hoped for by bringing boys to the mountains.  As brother John Muir wrote, ‘The clearest way into the Universe, is through a forest wilderness.’  I had recorded that portal with my camera, with two students standing by. 
After a bit of a break and our soaking in the sights, we caught glimpse of a solo hiker coming down the trail from farther up on the mountain.  He was an older white-bearded guy in shorts packing enough that it was evident he had spent at least one night up there.  I wanted so much to hear more. 
I don’t remember much that was said, actually.  I’m sure I pressed him for details of what lakes he had seen.  I’m sure Noah told him who we were.  His parting remark though, as he proceeded down the mountain, would absolutely make our entire day.  
‘There’s a little creek just up the trail, you know, not more than a couple hundred yards,’ he yelled back.  
The creek was, in fact, delightful.  The water was cold on tired, bare feet.  Bruce went downstream a piece and did a full emersion, I think.  We all listened to the water as it bounced over and ground the Sangres into sand.  
Some time after we ate the last trail bar, the identify of the white-bearded one on the trail was questioned.  Who was that guy who turned us on to the best part of our day?  
Who else could it be?  We concluded it had to be God.  There he was, the bearded Godhead floating on a cloud -- caught taking a holiday in Colorado!  We enjoyed that story so much it survived to be told again at Christmas.  Family stuff, indeed.  
So, gentle reader, what is the lesson offered here at the end of 2011?  
Don’t be too afraid of things, I suppose.  For the life of me it sounds just the opposite of what Dorothy told Auntie Em she learned in Oz.  What was it, something like, ‘If you can’t find your heart’s desire here at home, you won’t find it anywhere else because you never really lost it anyway’...?  (I loved the movie but thought that line was preposterously weak.)
Anyway, in 2012 I am going to try to be a little less afraid to do stuff.  Writing, yes.  Bucket list destinations, yes.  Telling people I love them, yes.  Being as honest with myself as I can, yes.  Working for social justice in the world, yes.
Be brave in the new year.  Thanks for reading.  

Today’s Elder Idea:  Don’t be too afraid of things.
your humble blogger
image:  Boys @ 9000 ft. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dreams realized

Last year after all the Christmas presents were opened at our house, amid all the neat stuff I got, I felt a little let down.  
It felt familiar, I guess, like when I was a kid.  Maybe you know that feeling:  You’ve tried to drop enough obvious hints for that great gift that you really want, but it doesn’t show up under the tree.  Back in the day when Mom & Dad were making Christmas for seven kids, a guy just accepted the ennui in stride.  After all, the stuff I did get was pretty cool, if not downright practical, and Mom & Dad did the best their budget could afford.
Last Christmas later in the day, though, I took a chance and talked to Cindy Lou about my disappointment.  As you might imagine, she was disappointed with my disappointment.  She loves me deeply, and she certainly expected the clothes given with love were just what Santa ordered.  
Somewhere in that difficult conversation, Cindy came to understand that I prefer stuff to mess around with on Christmas, not stuff to wear.  (I learned years ago she doesn’t want stuff to plug in on Christmas, so I go with things like jammies, jewelry, and books.  I reminded her, too, that our newly acquired Hilton Head timeshare is a Christmas gift of sorts designed to delight her every spring for years to come.) 
I have to say, I was very proud of ourselves for how we handled that difficult discussion last year.  She listened with her heart while I spoke from mine.  It hasn’t always been thus with us!   :-o  
Somewhere in all of that consideration about gifts and disappointments, I got to thinking about dreams realized.  In the midst of remembering cold and prickly feelings from childhood, my better angel had me look at the flip side of my things.   
I think it is fair to say that by the time a body reaches the age of 60, he or she must have some big disappointments to deal with.  It’s just how life is. 
On the other hand, by the time that same body reaches maturity, what wonders of the universe has she or he been blessed to witness?  
So here and now, at the end of one year and the advent of my 62nd, let me list a few of the things I am truly grateful for:
  • A meaningful career as a public school teacher who tried to make a difference with kids. 
  • Being a retired public school teacher with a pension. 
  • Two lovely daughters, six amazing grandchildren, and a wife who loves me.  
  • A warm, safe house in a quiet suburban Midwest neighborhood with thoughtful but not nosy neighbors.  
  • Enough money to go to the grocery whenever we want.
  • Good health and the ability to see a doctor when needed.
  • A good education that has encouraged me to pursue so many curious, rewarding topics.
  • Appreciation for how hard a bird’s life is. 
  • The blessing of having found a loving church community. 
  • Living at a time when computers bring magic into our lives.  
  • Here at home, great places to sit and read, listen to music, and ponder the meaning of everything while not being tied up in knots of hunger.  
I could go on, but you get the idea.  My life has been and still is amazingly good.  I am a lucky man in a world where so many have so little. 
And the truly cool thing about most of my realized dreams is that I never even had enough sense to dream them in the first place.  But here, with a mindset of mindfulness, I recognize them and I am truly grateful.
Today’s Elder Idea:  
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes
American ‘jazz poet’

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Passion for music

You might think the image accompanying this blog doesn’t exactly fit the headline. 
Contraire, amigo!  
It was back in the 70s when a few friends got together to make music for each others’ weddings, when I learned just how much fun making music in front of folks could be.   
Let’s make this very clear.  I did not play an instrument.  I just sang.  
I don’t mean to sound condescending with that crack.  It’s just that I was very aware that the guys playing guitar worked for hours getting the chord progressions and solo riffs right.  Me?  I got to listen to music and either sing along with the lead or work at picking out a harmony.  I figure I had the much easier gig, even though I had a hell of time memorizing lyrics.  
So in the course of offering a musical service to friends, Collage was born, a local band of buddies who ended up playing a lot of wedding receptions over that decade.  
I can still remember the first paying reception gig.  Our equipment was a wonder.  We borrowed an amp from a relative, I was told. Later on, after a couple beers, the story got a little richer.  For mic stands?   Cement poured into a margarine bowl with an aluminum rod stuck in it.  I can’t remember the actual microphones, but let us just say our set-up was makeshift.  In any case, let it be known that all survived that first three-set night at the long-closed Imperial House North here in Dayton.  I mean, we actually got paid in the process.
Collage started out with a couple of guitars, a keyboard, and a tambourine.  It was Steve Doody on lead, John Lauer on rhythm (sometimes acoustic), and eventually Jeff White on bass.  Marty Doody was our lovely keyboard player and female lead.  I sang lead a lot, but was happiest with harmonies, I think, though I couldn’t always find one.  Marty was a master at harmonies!    
Eventually we added a drummer.  We had a couple different guys, but within a short time that drummer was one Bruce Gunnell, a high school student at the time, but a former junior high school student council president I had quite a bit of fun working with as a new teacher, me serving as student council advisor.  Bruce was a kid, of course, and though mature beyond his years, he tells stories now of how one cold look from John could let him know the drum was too damn loud.  And such a conversation we had over the use of brushes!   Bruce still chuckles about that one today. 
With regular gigs came a showier wardrobe.  And, loyal reader, such is why the blue tux adorns this edition of The Back Porch blog.  I only wish I had a photo of the first tux we guys wore, bought used from Price Stores downtown:  Black & white brocade.  I kid you not.  
We looked pretty good, actually, as did Marty.  She always found something sexy to wear.  She was a pretty girl with a pretty voice.  In so many duets, the two of us worked off of each other to create some nice music.  We had a good time, too. 
I mention passion for music today for a couple of reasons.  First, I’m in the process of reading the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson, where the author makes it clear Jobs loved music, which, the story goes, is what drove the creation of iTunes and the iPod.   For Jobs it was Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  They rocked his world, and because of that passion, the world is a more musical place.  
Second, Collage’s mild-mannered drummer Bruce Gunnell is still at it, making music, but in a much different market:  Los Angeles.  Cali, if you will.  Today it is guitar and vocal as instruments of choice, with a little harmonica tossed in.  
Bruce has been in love with music forever.  Collage was his first band, besides the Wayne HS marching band, but it would not be his last.  He played in Jerry's Kids at Ohio University, and when he got to LA twenty-five+ years ago, he landed a drumming gig with The Leaving Trains, where he got to travel a bit and make some very loud, and I hear, pretty good, music.  Sorry, wasn’t my style. 
About a year or so ago, Bruce bumped into a guy in his Montrose neighborhood who was looking for a voice to fill out his band.  Bruce was game.  Such was good for a while, but after a time the feel wasn’t right.  That unnamed band folded, but Bruce and the bass player, Nancy Neal, stuck with it.  
In the process of getting more serious about music again, Bruce took to writing some music for one of Nancy’s lyrics.  Then he wrote a couple of his own songs, and the magic was back.  Since Thanksgiving, Nancy and Bruce have been in the studio with friends, recording three new, original songs.  I’ve heard stories of how things went, but I am eager to hear to mixed recordings.  
And, I just got word yesterday from Brother Bruce that said music is in the mail, winging its way to Ohio for Christmas.  I can’t tell you how eager I am to hear what the old Collage drummer has come up with.  
His passion for music turned out to be a mighty good thing. 
Today’s Elder Idea:  Rock and roll is here to stay, it will never die / It was meant to be that way, though I don’t know why....
from song by Danny & the Juniors

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Missing Harry Chapin

It was back in July 1981 when I was on Hog Island for the first time, making new friends and having the adventure of a lifetime, when the tragic news of Harry Chapin’s passing reached across the narrows into paradise.  
Story was he was heading for a charity gig driving down the Long Island Expressway when his car somehow went out of control and ended up under a semi in a grinding crash that claimed his life.  
My new buddy Kevin from New Jersey heard the news first.  We went searching on the island for a newspaper for confirmation.  Sure enough, there was the story right there in the most recent New York Times somebody had left behind.  Kevin went on in some detail about how horrendous traffic can be on that stretch of highway.  We both had to sit for a few minutes, poring over the story, hoping somehow it wasn’t true.  But it was.  
I guess I feel the same way about Harry as I do about John Denver.  Both men wrote songs that I not only liked and could sing, but could somehow relate to.  Denver wrote about finding Colorado in his ‘twenty-seventh year.’  I did that, too.  Then he wrote about wild Alaska, peace in the world, the beauty of kids, and loving a woman, all stuff I knew or dreamed about.  He eventually even wrote about divorce, songs I cued up when I was going through my own.  
Harry, on the other had, was more of a epic story teller.  His protagonists were common men, one having given up his dream of being a pilot in order to make a living driving a taxi.  Wouldn’t you believe one night he picked up a fare who turned out to be his first girlfriend.  After smiles and brief stories were exchanged, Harry dropped her off in her ritzy neighborhood and did the only thing he could:  he stuffed the big tip she left him in his shirt -- and drove off into the night into his own, less complicated life.  
Or what about Mr. Tanner?  Here was a dry cleaner from my hometown -- Dayton, Ohio -- who had a lovely voice and was encouraged by his friends to go to New York City for a stage that truly fit his gift.   Reluctantly he went to perform, only to be skewered by a reviewer.  Devastated, he returned home, went back to work, and gave up on singing -- even to himself.  His great love had become his greater pain.   
Or what about the speaker in ‘Dreams go by’ who has his best girl and a whole life in front of him to achieve his dream as an artist.  What happens instead?  Kids.  Life.  Work.  Time spent doing stuff not all that important in the grand scheme of things.  Conclusion?  Dreams are to be lived when one is young.  Where do broken dreams go?  Indeed. 
Harry Chapin was Everyman to me.  He sang in my range, told storied I could relate to, and made some damn fine music.  I saw him once in concert here at Memorial Hall.  A couple of great sets.  I didn’t know all his work like my old buddy John did, a musician in his own right.  John loved Harry’s music.  Both of these beautiful men would be dead at the age of 39.  
Music is a powerful element in my life.  I sang in a few  bands in my day, happy to find musicians in search of a singer.  It started with a small band of us making music for each other’s weddings and turned into a couple of groups over a couple of decades doing rock and roll at local parties.  
My old buddy, John, too, was mighty significant in the music of my life.  Poor guy had a lousy voice, but loved to play.  He told stories of staying up late into the night after gigs just noodling a melody of, say, an Eagles song, trying to find the chords to share with the band.  As a cousin to my first wife, John often played guitar at family gatherings, whether parties or funerals.  More often than not I provided the solo.  Ah, those were the days.
So here I am reflecting on my 60+ years of living, wondering what kinds of great songs Harry would be writing now.  Sure, he wrote of being a grandpa when he was in his thirties, but now, by God, he’d be there.  John Denver, too.   
I wonder what those guys would be up to now?  I know my old buddy John would still be playing -- and I’d still be singing.  That much I know.
Today’s Elder Idea:  
Oh, if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And proved before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen to this world.  
Inscribed on Harry’s headstone
lyric from his song, ‘I wonder what would happen to this world’  

Friday, November 25, 2011


First, a post-Waffle Shop update:  For our four-day downtown holiday event, Christ Church had just over 1,600 guests in the front door while serving about 1,500 lunches.  Every time I passed through the dining room, I was very pleased with the crowd sitting, enjoying their lunches and each others’ company.  A very good event, indeed, for this 82nd running of the waffles.  
Numbers aren’t the real test of a successful Waffle Shop, though.  I always feel that it’s the hospitality offered to the community that is the best part.  We seemed to have folks everywhere in the church enjoying what they were doing.  We had raffle winners for both a flat screen television and an electrified dollhouse, along with lots of shoppers of crafts and discarded ‘treasures.’  
This year, too, we invited organizations that received Waffle Shop outreach grants last round, so they could visit with our guests to tell them just where their Waffle Shop money was actually going and who it was helping.  Thanks to Blue Star Mothers, The Dayton International Peace Museum, Good Shepherd Ministries, and the Delta Phi Zeta Sorority for meeting guests at our outreach table.
Undoubtedly one of the best stories of this year’s Waffle Shop came from our pastor, John Paddock.  He mentioned that one guest he talked to -- a person with lots of time spent downtown -- said that our Waffle Shop was one of the few things in central Dayton where people could gather and still feel like they were part of a downtown community.  Midwestern downtowns, as we know, used to do so much more for their metro areas.  So much shopping and such have now moved out to the suburbs.  It is good to know that a little bit of the vibrant downtown Dayton of yesterday remains, still, in Waffle Shop. 
Second, a big thanks this Friday after for Thanksgiving.  Cindy and I stopped into our local jeweler earlier this week to have a new battery installed in her wristwatch.  As we talked with the gentleman there as he worked, he observed that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday.  Why?  Well, besides grocery shopping, Thanksgiving simply is not a commercial holiday.  You don’t have to buy anything to make it a success.  Shoot, you don’t even have to send a card.  All you need to do is gather with family and friends, break bread, and feel good about your own blessings.  I rather like that simple take on a holiday that is people- and meal-centered.  For a church-going guy, Thanksgiving has a real eucharist feel.  I like that, too. 
But all was not joyous in the family this Thanksgiving.  My son-in-law’s father, fighting cancer, had to spend Thanksgiving day at the James Cancer Center at Ohio State.  The original plan was for his whole family crew to join him and his lovely wife for a feast at their Vandalia home.  All the plans had been made and menu items divided out among all participants.  But then this required hospital emergency came up and everything changed at the last minute.  Cindy and I were happy we could set up another table at our place and have the part of their family left in town join in our feast.  
Also, my nephew’s middle child has had a horrible last couple of weeks.  The young man had been in school ten or so days ago when he got sick.  Before we knew it, he was in Dayton Children’s Hospital with major complications.  Story was his parents almost lost him one night when a lung collapsed.  Much prayer has been made in this little guy’s name, I can tell you.  His mom and dad were left speechless with the torrent of sentiment sent their way via the internet, especially Facebook.  Cindy was mightily impressed, too.  Good for social media! 
So, thanks.  Thanks to you for reading The Back Porch.  Thanks to the family who could join us for Thanksgiving yesterday.  Thanks to our friends, the Issas, for being part of that family again this year.  Thanks to Mom for joining us.  Thanks for a warm, safe house and a place for us to gather and be thankful.  
Thanksgiving is, indeed, a fine holiday where just being grateful is what it’s all about.  For that I am thankful, too. 
Today’s Elder Idea:  We’ve made a tradition of offering a special prayer every year at our Thanksgiving table.  This year Cindy Lou cobbled together a few ideas for this special edition: 
Lord God of our Fathers and Mothers; 
God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, 
and Jacob, Leah, and Rachel; 
God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ: 
Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.  We commend to your gracious care those who are suffering in body, mind, and spirit, especially Bill and Jake and their families.  And we ask you to defend, strengthen, and encourage all the men and women of our armed forces and their families, especially Elvin, as they face the perils which beset them. 
Let the grace of this Thanksgiving meal make us one body, one spirit, that we may worthily serve the world in Your name.  Amen.  
Thank you, Cindy Lou, for such a beautiful prayer.  I love you.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Waffle Shop!

If you live in the Dayton area, do take time to stop in at Waffle Shop.  
I can’t tell you how proud I am to take part in this event one more time.  So many stories to tell! 
•  First off, Waffle Shop makes money that it is commissioned to give away to folks and organizations either in need or about good works.  Since 2003 (when I started keeping track of such things), Waffle Shop has awarded over $63,000 in Outreach Grants to groups like the Canterbury Court retirement community in West Carrollton, the Dayton International Peace Museum, Daybreak, Homefull (used to be The Other Place), CROP, a couple of FISH Pantries, and the Society for the Advancement and Welfare of Sierra Leone, Africa.  Trust me, it’s some list. 
•  Such a lunch!  Homemade waffles, local sausage, freshly-made pie, hand crafted sandwiches, kitchen-created soups.  You’ll find something to savor, I know.  
•  But Waffle Shop is so much more than lunch!  
Stop by the Bazaar for special handcrafted gifts and, maybe, an antique or two.  
Just across the aisle is Elsie’s Attic.  Do you like garage sales?  Then you’ll love Elsie’s Attic.  Discarded treasures abound!
And you’ll be asked if you’d like to take part in the raffle.  Again this year we have two separate contests, one for a 32 inch Toshiba flat screen television, the other for a furnished doll house.  Both make amazing gifts!  The dollhouse this year even has lights in it.  A buck a throw, six for five.  Such a deal!  ;-) 
Can’t stay?  Everything on the menu is available for carry-out.  Feel free to fax in your order and we’ll have it ready when you get here.
When you’re at work, don’t you like something sweet to eat about mid-afternoon?  Behold the bake sale, just as you leave the dining room.  Good stuff.  All handmade.   
And finally, live music.  If you’d like, you could even pull up a chair and just sit and listen to our performers:  
Tuesday:  Rula and Rima Issa / accordion and piano
Wednesday:  Percy Jones / keyboards (organ and piano)
Thursday:  The Bisson Sisters / harp, violin, piano
Friday:  Jerry Nelson / accordion
Chat with a Celebrity Baker, too: 
Tuesday:  Georgie Woessner, Classical 88.1 general manager
Wednesday:  Episcopal Bishop Tom Briedenthal
Thursday:  Alan Pippenger, Requarth Lumber president
Friday:  Kim Faris, Lite 94.5 deejay
•  We do our best to support local merchants at Waffle Shop.  While we procure much of what we need at GFS (I like to think of them as a Springfield company), we buy our sausage and sandwich meats from Landes Quality Meats in Clayton/Englewood;  cherry, apple, and pumpkin pie from Ashley’s Pastries in Oakwood;  coffee from Dayton’s own Boston Stoker (fair trade when we can get it); and poinsettias from Stockslager’s Nursery in New Lebanon. 
Heavens, there’s still more to say -- but enough for now. 
Do try to come down.  It’ll be fun.  And you’re helping us do really good stuff.  Thanks!  ;-) 
for menu and fax info:
Today’s Elder Idea:  It is the role of the church to give of itself for the world's reconciliation, not preparing man for heaven.
Rev. Gordon S. Price
quoted in The Magazine
Dayton Daily News (28 March 1982)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Who should run for office?

Five years or so ago I took on a video project at church where I interviewed our pastor emeritus who had done so much in the 1960s to make our church a vibrant downtown institution.  We thought it a good idea to get his best remembrances on tape for posterity before his stories would be lost in time.  
We engaged a local public access media person who made a living out of recording such things to tape and edit our production.  In the process, I sat with this gentleman in his office/control room for a couple hours over a few visits, approving the final edits.  The product had its flaws, but overall was a credible production that will serve the church archive well.  Before I’d leave the gentleman’s work space, we’d talk about the state of the world and Dayton and wondered just what it would take to make life in our fair city better for the majority who were struggling long before the economic crisis hit in 2007.  
So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when I got a phone call from him a year ago saying he was running for Dayton city commission and could I help him out with a financial gift.  
I felt a little stuck immediately.  I told him I didn’t live in the city, instead holding a residence in a neighboring township.  He said that didn’t make any difference, that I could help his campaign with a cash donation anyway.  He was right.  I could have. 
But something prevented me from doing it.  Trust me, I’ve written a few checks to political candidates over the years, so that didn’t bother me.  If you can’t put your checkbook where your heart is, then, some would say, you really aren’t participating in democracy. 
Back in early September I noticed signs for this candidate popping up along major thoroughfares in the city.  I wondered how he would do in this, his first election.  Then I wondered even more about why I couldn’t support him with a check in the first place.  Another acquaintance is running for re-election to the Dayton school board.  I didn’t write her a check, but if she asked, I’m pretty sure Cindy Lou and I would have agreed.   
So what was it about this media guy I couldn’t support?  I certainly agreed with where his heart was on those occasions we’d talk at his office.   
Through this recent pondering, I’ve clarified for myself that in my heart of hearts I want somebody pretty smart running the government.  It was the same conclusion I reached about George W. Bush.  Not that I could have voted for him anyway due to his conservative politics favoring those who have already made it, but I never felt that being a guy you’d want to have a beer with was cause enough for electing him president.  Did I feel that way about city commission, too?  
The media guy was smart enough, I’d say, though his personality was a little eccentric.  Maybe it was because I felt him pretty common that I couldn’t get on board for his election.  
Then I began to wonder just who should run for office?  
Does somebody need to already have a successful track record in the public domain for me to support her or him?  My friend who’s running for re-election to the school board worked a career as an elementary teacher.  I figure she had what it took to serve on a school board.  While this is only her second election, she has already been selected by her peers to serve as board president.  Obviously, I’m not the only one who thinks she is capable.  
But how I felt about this other guy stuck in my head.  Why wouldn’t he make a good city commissioner, even if I couldn’t vote for him?  It was obvious he cared about the city in which he lived.  What else does it take?  
Then I had thoughts of another guy at church who was encouraging people to run for public office.  If we wanted a progressive Christian voice to be heard in legislative halls, who best to run than a concerned progressive Christian?  Point taken. 
Still, in that heart of hearts of mine, I want somebody smarter than I am running the country.  Maybe not so much the city or a school board, though they’re important, too.  I mean, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman scare the heck out of me because I don’t feel they are very smart.  Cain is changing his mind every day, it seems, honing his platform as he runs.  He’s currently leading most GOP polls.  And Bachman?  Heavens.  She is the darling of a group of Americans who want to take the country back for white folks who feel they’ve lost their centuries-old hold on American politics.  
Let me say at this point in my deliberations that I do think regular folk should run for office.  In reality, who else is there to do our work as our elected officials? 
Just the same, I still feel it essential that my President should be smarter than I am.  I might not agree with everything Obama has done, but I’ve heard from more than one pundit that he’s ‘the smartest guy in the room’ at meetings.  I’d sure like to think that’s enough to get the People’s work done.
Today’s Elder Idea:  Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek. 
Barack Obama
5 February 2008

Monday, October 24, 2011


I’ve written here off and on about issues of faith.  
Spirituality is big in my life, not that a body needs a church to work on the spiritual stuff.  
Still, I’m a guy who grew up a church-goer.  There were times I wasn’t a regular, but overall, I’d say I’ve been to church on a whole lot more Sundays than I’ve missed. 
Then there came a time in my life when I had to decide which church I wanted to go to.  I was born and bred Roman Catholic.  Went to Immaculate Conception elementary school and Carroll High School.  Served at mass late into my teens, for a time serving with Dad at the earliest masses on Sunday.  When I was 16 he’d let me drive around the neighborhood after church before I got my license.  
What seems a lifetime later, though, came a divorce after eighteen years of marriage and I didn’t feel welcome among Catholics anymore.  I mean, I could be divorced and still be a member of the community and go to communion, but if I remarried, then I crossed the line.  
It may be a lame analogy, but nobody’s told me I’m wrong yet:  If I shot and killed a churchful of people, I could go to confession, be absolved of my transgression, and be welcome at the communion rail at the local parish -- or the prison chapel.  If I divorced and remarried?  Shunned by the Romans forever.    
Sure, there are priests who might welcome me to communion.  They might not even care if I read scripture on Sunday to the congregation.  But the official church mantra is through divorce and remarriage, you will be cast out from our communion.  ForeverYou are beyond redemptionYour sin is unforgivable.  Always seemed pretty rash to me.  
But my lovely Cindy Lou invited me to attend church with her downtown at Christ Episcopal Church.  There, I knew, I would be welcomed.  Not that divorce isn’t a big deal with Episcopalians.  They don’t encourage it, that’s for sure.  But if you are divorced, they don’t cast you out, either.  Forgiveness, there, is actually attainable.  
There are other reasons why I’m glad to call myself an Episcopalian these days, but one of the biggest came up again yesterday in church at the late service that lead me to write this blog entry today. 
After the consecration of bread and wine, just before the congregation was invited to come forward for communion, Rev. John Paddock invoked the following prayer: 
This is the table of Jesus, not just the table of the Episcopal church or Christ Church, Dayton.  It is made ready for those who love him and for those who want to love him more.  
So come, you who have much faith and you who have little; you who have been here often and you who have not been here long; you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. 
Come, because it is Jesus who invites you.  It is God’s will that those who wish should meet him here.  
That’s the kind of welcome that makes me want to hang around a little longer to see what issues of faith I still need to know more deeply in my heart.   It is an embrace in the midst of living a life as well as I can that warms me more than I can explain.  
Today’s Elder Idea:   The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you for ever. 
Blessing at the end of the Episcopal service
image:  Two of my favorite Episcopalians:  Mary Dahlberg and Stephanie Sexton.  Hey!  Don’t forget Waffle Shop is coming up next month!  ;-)

Friday, October 7, 2011

A byte out of the Apple

When Cindy Lou came downstairs Wednesday evening to ask if Steve Jobs had died -- she had read an RIP comment about him on Facebook -- I immediately went to my Safari browser and found that, indeed, news of his passing was 34 minutes old.  
Cindy was a bit upset, while I was a bit more stoic, knowing he had been sick for years.  While I’m not a great fan of Facebook, I immediately opened my home page and wrote, ‘Thanks, Steve.  Because of you my life is different.  I am in your debt.‘  Then I cut and pasted in the photo you see above.  
I’ve been thinking about Steve much ever since.  First, I found it fitting, yet a bit odd, that his passing was treated by the media like he was a head of state.  I heard one of the big New York newspapers ran a banner headline 6 columns wide.  I wondered how big the headline was on 9/12? 
I’ve been an Apple guy since the beginning.  Well, pretty close to the beginning, anyway.  I didn’t care about an Atari or anything I’d have to assemble from Radio Shack, but when the Apple II came out -- ready right out of the box -- I thought maybe that was the one.  
I didn’t know exactly what all of us in the family would do with a personal computer, but I heard of games kids could play and that it might be the today thing to do in the mid-80s.  I heard it was a good word processor, too, which appealed to me because of all of the classroom documents I continually typed up.
As I recall, Jenni and Kelly didn’t seem too interested.  Maybe it was too techie for them.  It didn’t look that appealing, to be honest, with that monochrome green type on a black background.  I sure grew to like it for school work, though.  Didn’t take me long to get hooked.  
I got my first Mac in 1991.  Oh, such a hummer it was!  A PowerMac with 4MB of RAM, if I’m not mistaken.  Got a special deal because I was a teacher, too.  The internet was still a dream pretty much, but before I bought my next Mac, I was hooked up to dial up and was pretty impressed with AOL’s ‘You’ve got mail.
I could go on about my personal relationship with my Mac, but a thought I had yesterday really got to me:  What if my Dad had a modicum of tech savvy and had the chance to engage with a personal computer?  How different was his life from mine because of Steve Jobs?  
I have memories of my Father sitting in his recliner in the Fauver Avenue living room watching television every night.  I still remember the treat it was sitting up with him watching Jack Parr now and then.  And the way he loved Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone is probably why I’ve come to love science fiction.  After cable came along, I could count on him watching some John Wayne movie on an evening I’d stop by with the kids. 
You see, you have to understand that my Dad was an artist.  I always wondered what would have happened if World War II hadn’t come along and dragged him out of his 21 year-old life in Dayton, Ohio.  How would he have developed that skill that his teachers at St. Anthony School recognized when he was asked to draw something for the classroom?  My mother likes to tell that story.  
After the war he worked in interior design, though I think he primarily hung drapes.  And after that, of course, came Patty, Mike, and Tommy and the race was on to keep a roof over all our heads, food on the table, and shoes on growing feet.  He ended up spending most of his life installing flooring for Rike’s.  
I remember, too, being in awe of his ‘how-to’ sketch books of the human nude.  All girls.  Well, at least as I remember.  
Dad drew pretty well, too.  He liked faces most.  Beyond that he engineered tile patterns at our front door and on the bathroom wall.  The art he is best remembered for is his woodworking.  When we cleaned out the garage after he died, we found semi-truck cabs cut out of pine, a couple wooden ferris wheels, walking alligators hinged with pieces of bicycle tires, and, of course, Mr. Duck.  Ask Kelly about that one.
So I wonder where Dad would be if he knew what I knew?  How would he approach PhotoShop?  What kinds of webpages would he have designed by now?  I know no drawing programs because it isn’t my thing, but I flat out guarantee you he’d have a half dozen of ‘em on his Mac.
I wonder if he’d be into anime?  I know you can create moving characters from scratch these days with a $50 app.  Or I wonder if he’d be designing homes?  He built the Fauver Avenue place with his Dad, after all.  I wonder if he’d trade the tv screen for the computer screen?  Shoot, I wonder if he would taken to designing apps?  
I am so grateful for Steve Jobs having come into my life.  I never met him, of course, but would have liked to.  His imagination has impacted mine.  As I said, I am in his debt.  I truly love being creative and learning on the computer.
But what’s more, like the father and son at the end of Field of Dreams, instead of asking Dad if he wanted to have a catch, I would have loved to have taken him to the Apple Store and then watch his eyes light up.    
Today’s Elder Idea:  Tom, you were, and still are, a nature and music lover.  That, too, I think, came from my genes and also from my mother who also was a music lover.  You, today, still love the beauty God put on this earth and you like to protect it.  Keep it up. 
Ted Schaefer
from a letter Dad wrote to us 
the year before he died

Friday, September 30, 2011

Death of a spruce

Call me a tree hugger if you‘d like, but I’m a person who hates to cut down a grown tree.  I figure by the time a tree has grown to stand ten times taller than me (or thereabouts), it has a right to exist as much as I do.  
Brings to mind a line from one of my favorite movies, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman:  Jane, a 100+ year-old former slave, still kickin’ in the early 1960s, is talking with a magazine writer about her long and storied life.  The two are sitting underneath an old oak tree.  Jane says she comes down to sit under the tree now and then for the counsel it gives.  She lifts her cane slowly, taps the tree, winks, and says, ‘It’s just the age that one respects...’
That said, we had a tree fatality in our yard recently that has me thinking today about its demise.  It’s a spruce.  Don’t know if it’s a Colorado or a Norway, but it is a spruce.  It stands just off the back porch, down on the decline toward the back property line.  
When we got here fifteen years ago, as far as I know, it was doing fine.  The crown has looked a little weird for years, though.  Couldn’t figure out what happened to it, but it was a little contorted and didn’t seem to grow any taller.  Still, the branches were long and lacy and it was a good companion in that place where I like to sit three seasons of the year, temperatures willin’.  
Two or three years ago I noticed a major needle fall late summer/early fall.  I didn’t remember it dropping needles before, but this was really something.  Then I heard about how vulnerable spruce can be to dry conditions.  Hmmm.  Didn’t like how that sounded.  I tried to water the thing, but didn’t know exactly where to put the hose.  I mean, the ‘drip line’ of the tree (the radius of the branches, from tip to tip) must have been thirty or forty feet.   Where do you put water to help something so extensive?  And what about all the other trees in our little back yard forest?  I  eventually dropped the hose at the spruce’s base and let it run for a couple hours.  I hope it helped.  The other trees were on their own.
But then we had another dry summer spell.  And another.  And the annual needle drop began again.  The bad thing about a spruce needle drop is that once the tree has decided a particular branch is unworthy of pumping fluid out that far, there is no tomorrow.  The tree gives up on that limb and, I guess, tries to plan for the future in new growth somewhere else.  
Unfortunately, those water abandoned appendages took on a macabre view from out dining room window, just above the porch.  Back in this last spring I did what I could to lop off the deadest looking branches so we saw more green from other trees out the window.  Still, dead spruce branches were prominent and I knew my friend had seen its better days.  
Years ago I remember hearing from Paul Knoop, now-retired Aullwood naturalist extraordinaire, that when one is going for firewood, not to cut dead and dying trees.  Instead, cut healthy timber that may be crowding out other trees trying to make it.  Give the trees a little more light room, in other words.  Besides, the dead and standing stuff make great homes for critters that woodpeckers and other bug eaters need.  Made sense.  
So, even though the spruce was effectively dead, I thought it best to let it stand.  Still, every time I drove up to the house I could see it’s dead crown sticking up over the house.  Didn’t like it, but I was willing to sacrifice appearances for Nature’s People in the neighborhood.  
Then last week a young man stopped by in his beat-up SUV, wife and two kids with him, asking if he could take the spruce down for a moderate fee.  He was a laid-off brick layer from up north a county or two, with no real chances of a better job in this economy.  He took to tree trimming some time ago to keep food on the table.  I had considered potential trouble with having a dead tree standing so close to the house.  When he gave me his price, which was a lot lower than I knew my regular tree guy would be, I said Do it.  
And so the presence of spruce off the back porch has been eliminated.  Pretty much, anyway.  Since it stands right on a chain link fence line, Nate couldn’t reduce the tree to a short stump.  I told him to leave it stand just high enough so that I could put a bird feeding platform on what was left.  
In the last week, I’ve had three major fires in the ‘pit’ on the patio trying to reduce dead limbs from said spruce.  (See action photo above.)  Lots of stuff remains.  Trunk chunks, cut in fireplace length, are now stacked in front of the garden house waiting to be split.  Branches have been trimmed and burned, while a large pile of heavy limbs awaits further cutting and stacking.  Oh, and by the way, the ashes from all three fires have been scooped up into a galvanized bucket and sent flying back over the floor of our Wild Grace back yard. 
I notice, too, that sun now shines on that section of the woods more brightly.  With all of the rain we’ve gotten this September, I know those smaller trees trying to make a living back there will have a better shot at good health next growing season.   
So it goes, and good for the kids.  But I’ll miss the spruce.  Made me think about Colorado pretty often.  
Today’s Elder Idea:  The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber.  The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky. 
Antoine de Saint-Exupery