Posted in Stories

My mind has left the building

At the beginning of a vacation, it usually takes me two to three days to transition from thinking about work stuff to not thinking about work stuff. I’ve discovered a shortcut to decompression. This trip to Dallas, we are pulling our camper trailer. My mind has immediately left work behind because I am not consumed with our travel.

RV park reservations, hookups, food, fuel stops, set ups, and wondering “will everything work?” Then there is Wifi, hotspot, laptops and extra monitors for my wife, propane, water tanks, tire pressures, beer for the fridge. If you’ve camped or glamped, you know the list goes on and on. Which is a good thing. I’m focused on that and not on the day to day activities of work.

I know how to pull the plug on the internet. I’m learning how to pull the plug on my mind.

Posted in Stories

The wrong color

A watermelon that has a red rind, green inside with white seeds to spit out.

A white Oreo cookie with dark chocolate cream filling.

Coffee that is light, and the half-and-half is a deep ebony hue.

White chocolate ice cream with dark vanilla sauce drizzled on top.

Black popcorn.

A green hotdog.

A light hamburger with a very dark bun.

Dark brown whipped cream.

Blue gold.

A stoplight where green means stop, red means go.

A black sun.

A green carrot.

Black instead of the “whites of your eyes.”

Recipes that call for egg blacks.

A blue tomato.

Orange lettuce.

A white clerical shirt with a black insert.

Yellow blueberries.

A whole mouth of black teeth.

A green orange.

Posted in Stories, time

The gift of time

I think I have long underestimated the value of time. I am sure I am not the only one. I want to share how a few precious people brought this to my attention lately.

I went to visit a friend in the hospital last week. He joined our congregation a few years ago, is just a few years younger than me, and has always been a great encourager and support for me. He’s one of those guys who’s face lets me know he understand what I’m talking about.

Anyway, when I got to his room, his condition wasn’t great but was improving. His wife had another appointment and amazingly, no one came in the room while I was there. We had an uninterrupted forty-five minutes before his next diagnostic test. We talked about many topics, from the church to his family to upcoming trips and how he ended up in the hospital. After the sacrament and a prayer, he said, “Thanks. I don’t often get you to myself.”

Later than week, I sat down to visit with a woman whose husband had died two years ago. The time sure had flown since his funeral, especially during the Covid quarantine year. It turns out we had a lot of shared experiences to discuss. I also learned a lot of new things about her family and passion for horses. An afternoon flies by when you’ve got a bowl of peach dumplings and vanilla ice cream, and a miniature bull terrier licking your hand. It turns out we both really enjoyed that afternoon.

And then today I had an exclusive invitation to a 90th birthday celebration. I was the only gentleman to score a seat with some amazing, faithful sisters who gathered to mark this moment. When it was over and I was driving away, I thought, “The most important thing was that we were there.” We were there with her. We were there to celebrate with her. We were there to eat and drink, to smile and laugh, to make an ordinary day extraordinary.

After the tea, finger sandwiches and birthday cake, I got into my truck and got a message from my wife. Someone in the hospital. I stopped in on my way home. She was doing well, but was alone. Her husband had a ailing dog to care for. Those dogs, they grab our hearts and won’t let go! We laughed and cried and prayed. I’ve been there. And I’m glad I could be there.

I really don’t have much to give other than my time. Today God reminded me how valuable that gift is.

Posted in Stories

Familiar strangers

I ran across the term “familiar strangers” in Rob Walker’s newsletter The Art of Noticing, suggested to him by reader Laura Grace Weldon. A “familiar stranger” is someone you see regularly, but you don’t know personally.

I found that idea fascinating. What familiar strangers do I run across on a regular basis?

Like a lot of the people who work at the Publix supermarket close to me. I’m there several times a week. I know the names of managers, baggers, cashiers and shelf stockers because their names are on their badges. But that’s all I know about them. I follow their progress as they move up from bagger and cart cowboy to cashier, customer service, and assistant manager. If I stop at another Publix, of course none of them are there, and I feel strangely out of place.

The folks at the post office are familiar, too. I even know their spiel asking me if I need any insurance, delivery confirmation, or stamps. Most are exceptionally patient in the face of various customer demands. They’re pretty amazing strangers.

I recognize many of the front office workers and hygienists at the dentist’s office. Twice a year for many years I’ve interacted with many of them. I know my hygienist and dentist pretty well since we get to chat. But the rest are just familiar faces.

Other churches use our building for their worship services and meetings, usually when our congregation isn’t using it. Sometimes we overlap by a few minutes and I know the faces. But they’re usually speaking a different language.

Some of the contractors who do work around the church or our home are familiar faces who stop by a few times a year. There are familiar faces at some of the restaurants we frequent. I know the names of the dogs who walk by our house but not necessarily the names of their walkers.

Then there are the faces of those I no longer see. The tenant church who closed up shop last year. The neighbor’s wife who recently died. The doctors and assistants at my previous eye doctor. The cleaning crew we had to fire.

My circle of familiar strangers is a lot bigger than I realized. They are worth noticing.

Posted in dogs, Stories

Grrr

I was out one after noon walking two big brown dogs. One of them, Samson is ours. The other, Kennedy, is my daughters. They’re almost twins.

A hundred yards into our walk around the block, a miniature version of my dogs caught wind of our approach and came over to check us out. He must have been visiting, because I hadn’t seen him before. I braced myself, unsure of how hard my two would pull on their leashes. The little guy trotted over with his hackles up, but the initial sniffing was cordial.

Until the smaller dog snapped, warning us to stay away from his yard. The two bigger dogs woofed but took a step back, unsure of their next move. Really? O come on. He’s not more than a snack for you two beasts. Whatever. We’ll just ease on down the road.

So my question is, why does a little dog like that feel like they can take on a much bigger pair of opponents? And why are the big dogs afraid of such a small antagonist?

I guess dogs don’t pay that much attention to size. It more about territory. If you’re on my home field, I don’t care how big you are, I’m coming after you. You can pee on my mailbox post, but I’m just going to cover it as soon as you leave. I’m defending my home turf no matter what!

The big dogs are thinking, “<pant> <pant> You’re not much fun. Later.”

Posted in Stories

I’m only falling ten inches!

P90X2 is not a new workout program. But it’s new for me. Tony Horton and Beachbody released it ten years ago. I did P90X. I followed up with P90X3, which involves all thirty minute workouts. Just recently I decided to go back and see what P90X2 was all about. It’s been a good, challenging workout, combining strength and balance on an inflated stability ball and a variety of medicine balls.

Some workouts are push ups or side arm balances on two med balls. Otheres are pushups on four med balls. Tricep dips or mountain climbers on three med balls. Plyo pushups onto a ball or two or three. Some of these skills I have mastered. For others I roll onto the floor. Each day I am able to do a few more. When my wife comments, “You’re going to kill yourself out there (in the garage),” my reply is, “I’m only falling ten inches!”

You’ve got to find something which will challenge you in new ways. These workouts are doing just that for me.

Posted in Stories

“Do you like it?” “It’s a little chewy.”

We had a big plastic tub in the garage where we’d been storing dry dog food for about twenty years. It came free with a big bag of food and we used it ever since. The top seals tightly, so I never really worried much about bugs getting into it or anything like that.

When I recently made a trip to the pet store to replenish our dry food supply, they didn’t have the usual seventeen pound bags. Only thirty-five. No problem, since it came in a resealable zip lock bag. I’ll fill up the tub now and pour the rest in later.

When later arrived and I was refilling the tub, nuggets of food were falling out on the floor. At first I thought I was just being clumsy, but when the bag was empty, I saw two quarter-sized holes chewed in the bottom of the bag. Someone else had been helping themselves to the kibble! A mouse? The squirrels have been pretty brave lately. Who knows. Lesson learned. I won’t make that mistake again.

About two weeks later, I went out to get some food for our dog’s supper, and noticed a pile of tiny green pieces of plastic in a pile on the garage floor. What the heck is that? Then I saw the lid of the tub. Someone had been slowly but surely trying to chew their way into the dog food. They hadn’t quite made it, but they were making progress.

OK, that’s it. I got a new tub and we’re keeping it inside. We’re not feeding whatever rodent is brave enough to try and tunnel into the dog food supply!

Posted in Stories

“Come on, we’re leaving.”

“Hey, are you just going to stay up there forever?”

“Maybe.”

So what if the sign says, “Stay off the dunes”? So what if it’s boiling hot out here in the middle of day? So what if you’re wearing long sleeves and long pants? So what if you’re just plain nuts?

“Come on. We’re leaving.”

“Go without me.”

Sigh. Do we have to go through this again? Yes, you can stay with us. No, you’re not a burden. Yes, I know you don’t have a job. No, you’re not in the way. Yes, we have room. No, we don’t hate you.

“Come on, we’re having fresh fish for supper.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Sometimes you just get dealt a bad hand. Sometimes you have to receive rather than give. Sometimes you’re the taker, not the giver.

That’s a hard message to get across. We all want to help. We all want to give. We all want to contribute.

But sometimes you need to receive. Let others give. Let them help. Be a receiver.

“Come on, we’re leaving.”

“Ok.”

Posted in memories, Stories

The other side of Gabriel

Photo by Don Agnello on Unsplash

A low gutteral growl. A show of teeth and a lunge. A cry of terror. Gabriel had him pinned up against the wall!

I never knew he had it in him.

I’ve written about Gabriel before. When Lisa and I moved to Baltimore for my vicarage, we stopped in Ridley Park to pick up my Labrador retriever Gabriel who had been living with my dad for two years. I couldn’t have a dog in the seminary dorm, so we let him chase squirrels around the yard with my dad’s dog Barney.

Gabriel was solid, mild mannered, a great swimmer and a champion ball retriever. I never imagined him to be much of a guard dog. Although when anyone sees you walking or running with a large dog, they do tend to give you some extra room.

I’m pretty sure it was our first day in Baltimore. We pulled up to our house at the end of the row next door to the church. After a quick stop in the yard, we brought Gabe in. We didn’t think much of the man repairing the lock on the side door. Neither did Gabe, and he let the guy know it. He rushed him with fierce barking, angry teeth and his best “you better get your butt out of here” growl. The poor guy backed up to the wall with a look of terror on his face as I pulled Gabe away. I had never seen this side of him before!

But it was a blessing. Word got around about the big dog in the house and no one ever really bothered us. Except all the neighborhood kids who wanted to run around the yard with him. Once, when my wife had gone grocery shopping, she had him sit in the doorway as she carried in the bags. A stranger offered to help her, but took one look at Gabe and changed his mind.

Good dog!