Posted in Life

Today at the zoo: A predictable adventure

My wife and I took our four-year-old grandson to the Jacksonville, Florida zoo today. It was a gorgeous day, with blue skies, in the 70s, nice breeze.

We have a family membership and have been there many times. Last night I predicted how the visit would go.

  • First, we stop to look at the flamingos and comment on how stinky they are.
  • As we walk through the African loop, we will look at the warthogs and also comment on how stinky they are.
  • We will look in vain for the cheetahs, see the ostrich, and then the rhinos.
  • After a quick pass through the snake house, we will pause to visit the elephants.
  • From there we’ll pass by the lions.
  • Next, we’ll go to the giraffe overlook and feed them a few branches.
  • Doubling back just a little, we’ll look to see how many manatees are in the recovery tank.
  • Back on the main drag, my grandson will point out the Kona Ice truck, just in case we had forgotten about it.
  • We’ll swing through the path that takes us by the bonobos and gorillas.
  • Next is the carousel. We’ll go on several rides with our enhanced experience wristbands.
  • After lunch, we’ll walk to the far end of the zoo to see the Komodo dragon and the tigers.
  • The train will take us back to the front of the park, and we’ll cover a cup of Kona Ice with every flavor of syrup.

I was spot on for everything except the dragon and tigers. We decided not to go all the way back there today.

“Well,” you might ask, “was there anything new at the zoo?”

Absolutely. No two trips are alike.

  • The elephants were standing much closer than they usually do, giving us a great view.
  • Most of the giraffes were a little standoffish, but one came over and my grandson and I got to feed her. No line at the giraffes, so we had several opportunities each. She was so close we could have reached right out and touched her. But that’s one of the things you cannot do.
  • One of the lionesses was relaxing in the sun on a huge rock just a few yards from the viewing area. She was beautiful.
  • One of the rhinos was very close to the raised walkway, too. They are usually all the way across the field from us.
  • On the way to see the manatees, the bald eagle was on the ground just on the other side of the fence. Probably the closest I’ve ever been to one.
  • We got to see Kevin, the two-year-old baby gorilla up close against the glass.
  • All the snakes in the snake house were out and visible. Usually many of them are hiding in the rocks.

So while the day was predictable, it was also an adventure. For me, zoos always are.

Posted in Life

I’m glad you all showed up

Yesterday’s post, as I hope many of my readers figured out, was just a bit of micro-fiction to wrap up April. My thoughts today are the real deal, fresh from a Zoom meeting with my Bible Study Fellowship group.

With just one more session to go before we break for the summer, we’re starting to evaluate the past thirty weeks we’ve spent together. We twenty or so men have prayed, studied, laughed, and gotten to know each other. These things only happened because these men showed up weekly to spend some time together.

It’s all voluntary. No one has to show up at all. There are no penalties for absence. And yet every week, most of the men join the room, prepared to talk about the past week’s study.

The group leader called it the “Covid-cloud silver lining.” Though Zoom has been around for more than a decade, it became a part of everyday life in 2020 when everyone was in quarantine. Worship, school, conventions, concerts, recitals, graduations, and reunions all happened virtually via Zoom.

On top of all that, people showed up for groups that never would have existed before. My group consists of men from Florida, California, Virginia, Iowa, Illinois, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Though thousands of miles apart, we were able to crowd ourselves into a thirteen-inch laptop screen.

I’m grateful for all who showed up each week. Each brought ideas and questions that never occurred, to me, stretching my understanding of the scripture we studied. The discussion filled the room with the joys and struggles of following Christ. Over time, a collection of strangers who showed up became friends. They made me want to show up, too.

I encourage you to show up, too. Some call it “being present.” Be there with someone who loves, encourages, challenges, and shows up to be with you.

Posted in Life

I don’t want to miss the storm

Constant news updates warned of approaching storms. News feeds were filled with photos of hands gripping baseball-sized hail. The traffic update boards on the interstate alerted drivers to a tornado watch. The weather radar was lit with green, yellow, orange, and red-colored systems headed our way. Storm trackers were dotted with little lightning bolts. The radio station reported where the storms were most likely to hit next and when.

I wondered if our evening meeting would be canceled. People are like that, you know. Events are canceled when someone catches the scent of severe weather. I’m happy about this. I don’t want to be out on the road when the rain is so heavy I can hardly see the taillights of the car in front of me. I want to be inside if and when a funnel cloud decides to appear. I am thankful for a safe and secure home in which to wait out the storm.

This time the storms never reached our area. Very little rain, just a little wind, and no destructive winds. To be honest, I was disappointed. I’m glad no storms hurt my neighborhood (or any neighborhood).

But I missed the storm.

I missed the sheets of rain blowing across our street. I missed the dark clouds rushing by. I missed the thunder rumbling in the distance. I missed watching the trees swaying in the wind. I missed the sound of a million drops on the roof.

I missed the storm.

Rainy afternoons are great for naps. Sleep comes quickly with the soothing sound of the wind. The rumble of far-off thunder is nature’s subwoofer, with frequencies felt as much as heard. The steady tapping of drops on the roof is calming.

The best part about the storm? I know the One who made the storms and can control them. The storm reminds me of His power, His presence, and His promises.

Posted in Life

Just push the button.

This week, I was helping someone with the tech needed in a college classroom. The designated room was equipped with a computer, projector, and screen. The first thing I had to figure out was how to lower the screen.

I thought, “There’s got to be a switch close by, probably on the wall.” Sure enough, I tried one, and the screen lowered into place. We were ready to go.

Some would say, “You just can’t go around pushing buttons. You don’t know what’s going to happen.” I figure there’s only one way to find out what will happen.

Push the button.

I’m a push-the-button kind of person. Flip the switch. Turn the knob. In a moment, you’ll know exactly what it does. If you don’t like what happens, try something else. Type a command. Click and drag. Hit escape. See what happens.

I’m especially intrigued by light switched taped in an on or off position. Tags that say, “Do not remove under penalty of the law.” Signs next to thermostats warning, “Do not adjust.” Labels advising, “No user-serviceable parts inside.”

I do heed a “Warning: High Voltage” sign. And the “do not eat” instruction on that little packet of whatever that comes in just about everything. And I never operate heavy machinery after taking a decongestant.

But everything else is fair game. Like the sign announcing, “Do not enter.” “Authorized Personnel Only.” “Closed.” I’ll try the door. Sometimes, it’s unlocked.

I believe that’s why I’m good at fixing things. I’ll try something until I get the desired result. I do this with computers, phones, the microwave oven, rebooting the wifi, changing the time on the car clock, the church sound board, getting something to print, or setting up a university classroom. I push the button.

I’m amazed to learn that not everyone is like this. Some are afraid to touch anything. What if it breaks? What if I get caught? What if I shut down the power grid to the entire east coast of the United States?

I say, “Relax.” You can always reboot. Power down and restart. You can undo what you’ve done. You can try something else. You can give up and get a snack. You can say, “I didn’t know.” Or, “I didn’t do it.” You can try again tomorrow.

Come on. Push the button!

Posted in Life, Moments of grace

What’s the deal with birthdays?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A granddaughter will turn two in a few days. In preparation, my daughter (her aunt) called my son (the dad) to let him know a present was on the way. The birthday gift overheard the conversation, smiled and said, “I wait for present!”

First birthday? You’re oblivious. Mom and dad will have a party, but you won’t understand or remember it. A year later you’ll be up to speed. For the past month or so, everyone’s been reminding you, “It’s almost your birthday!” They’ve been asking, “How old will you be? Grown-ups have helped you master the art of hold up two fingers and proudly saying, “Two.” And somehow you’ve caught on to the reality that there will be presents. You’ve become a little consumer.

Big birthday celebrations every year for every child are common now. Some people spend a whole week observing their birthday. When did birthday celebrations begin?

To my surprise, the birthday celebration is a recent idea in the United States, from the mid-nineteenth century.1 Before that, birthdays were for the rich or the nobility. Everyone knew when George Washington’s birthday was. For everyone else, the day passed unnoticed.

The change came with industrialization. With clocks on the wall and watches in their pockets, people became more aware of time. Trains and streetcars ran on schedules and workers punched in and out of their factory shifts. Sensitive to the passage of time, students were separated by grades. Doctors treated older patients differently. Talk of being on time, ahead of time, and behind the times entered our conversations. Age – and birthdays – became significant.

Cake dates back to the Roman empire. Candles are a German tradition. Birthday gifts grew out of old fashioned western capitalism.

It’s a mixed bag. Little ones can’t wait for their next birthday. Some adults stop celebrating as if ignoring the date will prevent aging. My birthday is clustered with a daughter and two granddaughters in July, so it’s always fun. Giant cake for four? Sweet! Four cakes? Even sweeter.

1https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/11/history-birthday-celebrations/620585/

Posted in Life

“I know that face!”

I got caught by facial recognition. Twice.

I was at the gym and just about to get under the bar for a second set of squats. A young lady who was doing some personal training came up and said,  “I’m sorry, I just have to ask – did you used to help out a summer program at the church just down the road?”

“I used to. I’m retired now.”

She told me her name and said, “That used to be my favorite thing every summer!”

I remembered her. “You went to our preschool, too, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. I loved it there!”

Every once in a while, someone from the past will recognize me. They’ve all grown up so I don’t know them. But when they see my head of gray hair and they remember me!

Fifteen minutes later, as struggled through another exercise, an older gentleman came up to me and asked, “Didn’t you used to meet with a group of men at the restaurant over there?”

“Yes, I did. But I stopped doing that last summer.”

“I thought I recognized you. I used to sit at the table one row over on Thursday mornings, too.”

He kind of looked familiar, but I had never actually met him. I think one of the men in our group had invited him to join us, but he preferred to eat by himself.

He said, “I retired in 1999.” Then he added, “Keep up the good work.”

Facial recognition technology is amazing. But so is the ability of the human mind to see a face and recognize someone from someplace and some moment in life.

Posted in Life, memories

No one said I couldn’t, so I climbed

I was sitting on the back patio in late afternoon and I found myself wondering how tall the scrub pine trees were in the two vacant lots on each side of our yard. As they swayed in the breeze, I suddenly recalled the giant maple trees I used to climb when I was a kid.

These two trees were five feet in diameter at the base. They were meant for climbing. The trunk divided into two just a few feet off the ground. Either route was filled with foothold that quickly got me up above the roof of our two- story house. But that was only the halfway point. I was able to keep going until the trunk was less that six inches across. On a windy day I really had to hold on, swaying back and forth, fifty-plus feet up, looking out over the neighborhood through the leaves.

This episode doesn’t include any falls or injuries. Sorry. I didn’t tell my mom what I was up to, other than, “Climbing the tree.” She probably knew. Moms just do. Maybe I was the reason she smoked and drank. My dad never said I couldn’t, so I climbed.

I remember the feeling of accomplishment. I felt strong, fearless, and daring. I would wrap some tape around the branch I reached so I could break my record the next time I climbed.

The trees in my yard aren’t climbable. Fifty-feet tall with no branches to step on or hold onto. Besides, I would never let my kids or grandkids climb like that. I’d be the one yelling, “Get off of there!” But they’re smart. They’d wait until I wasn’t watching.

Posted in Life

Who do I see? Who’s watching me?

“We worry too much about what others think, when the reality is they’re thinking about themselves, not us.” 

I believe those words, or something close to it, are from an interview with graphic novelist Leanne Shapton. Those words contrast with most of us who are hyper-sensitive to who’s watching us, who’s sizing us up, and who likes us. Are people paying attention and forming judgments about us? Or are they self-absorbed and oblivious?

I’ve been paying attention to who’s paying attention to me. There’s much wisdom in those words. Few if any are paying attention.

How about at the gym? Is anyone watching to see if my squats go past horizontal? Or if I’m lifting more weight now than I did a month ago? Does anyone notice if I re-rack my weights or not? (Besides the owner who spends a lot of time putting things away.) Does anyone know if I’ve skipped a week? Probably not.

I like to watch people at the gym. I recognize the ones who are there every week. I watch in awe as some lift a whole lot more weight than I do. I notice how many people have earbuds and are texting on their phones in between every set. I wonder what they’re listening to or who they are talking to.

How about at the store? No one notices me in the car behind them as they slowly walk down the middle of a parking lane. Few notice that I am trying to get past them as they park in the center of an aisle to ponder the choices of cereal on the shelves. One lady didn’t notice as she took off with my shopping cart. An attendant is there at the self-checkout lanes, but I don’t know if they are watching that closely to make sure I scan every item in my basket. (For the record, I do.)

I like to watch people at the store. I watch them as they stroll the aisles, glancing side to side, deciding what they might want to buy that day. So different than me. I have a list. I’m on a mission. I get in and out as efficiently as possible.

How about at the coffee shop? Does anyone know or care that I can hear their conversation? Or see what they are studying? Or notice that I am watching them?

I look to watch people at coffee shops. I look to see what the baristas have set out in the pickup area. What’s in that food bag? What is that pink drink? I like to peek at what someone is studying or reading. I like to listen in on interviews and conversations.

In many of the mystery books I’ve been reading lately, the protagonist spends a lot of time watching body language and facial expressions. Detectives, spies, and intelligence types notice a lot about the people around them. I’m inspired. The more I read, the more I watch. I want to notice, too.

What do I see? And who is watching me?

Posted in Life

The paint store: Wonderful colors and an amazing voice

Image by Freepik

As soon as he spoke, I knew it would be an unforgettable conversation. He simply said, “How can I help you today?”

I was waiting at the Home Depot paint counter with paint chips in hand. The man behind the counter in the orange apron finished tapping a paint can lid closed and came over to see what I needed. It’s not what he said. It was his voice. With a deep, rich, smooth, resonate bass voice he said, “How can I help you today?” His voice was lower than Vin Diesel‘s voice. More like J. D. Sumner. Or Barry White.

I made sure I asked lots of questions just so I could hear him speak more.

“Can I get this stain in this color?”

He said, “Well, let’s look it up on the computer. Yes, we can mix that up for you. How many gallons do you need?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” I explained my project to him just so I could hear him voice his opinion. I could not get enough of his voice.

I wasn’t listening to what he said about stains and sealers, tints and hues, or colors and coverage. I could only think, “I wonder if he sings with any groups?” He’d make a wonderful addition to a gospel quartet or a Sunday morning church choir. His would also be a wonderful radio voice.

What is it about a low voice that is so soothing, so relaxing, so pleasing to the ear? I’ve read that those low frequencies can create a pleasurable vibration or resonance in a listener’s body.

All I know is I want to go back and buy some more paint.