Posted in Stories, Travel

Slurp

On our return flight from Dallas (see Back in the Air), my wife and I had middle seats across the aisle from each other on American Airlines. When I asked at the gate if we could sit together, the agent said, “Sure,” and then quoted me some upgrade costs. No thank you. The direct flight to Jacksonville, FL was just a few hours. How bad could it be?

My seat was between a woman and a young man that I believe were mother and son. I wish they had sat together because the mom had a lot to say to her son, who just wanted to sleep. I brought up a book on my phone’s Kindle app and read until the drinks and pretzels reached our row.

The son asked for a Dr. Pepper. I had some ice water. The mom had a can of tomato juice which she poured over a cup of ice. For the next fifteen minutes, like clockwork, she loudly sipped and slurped her tomato juice.

<slurp>

“Look at this video on my phone. It’s so real.”

<loud slurp>

“It’s so clear.”

<louder slurp>

“Do you want one? We can up grade for free. From 11 to 13.” OK, we’re obviously in the iPhone universe. She had a new 13, he had an 11. (I have a 10, by the way.)

“No thanks.”

<even louder slurp>

“It’s free. You can trade yours in.”

“I’m fine. I don’t need one.”

<still louder slurp>

“What about your other phone? You can trade it in.”

“I’m fine.”

<really loud slurp>

“You could get four or five hundred dollars for it.”

“I don’t need the money. I’m fine.”

<loudest slurp>

“It’s four hundred dollars.”

“I don’t need the money. I’m fine.”

<longer, louder slurp>

“OK. Just let me know.”

<loudest, longest slurp>

She looked out the window. He turned toward the aisle and tried to go to sleep. She wasn’t comfortable for the rest of the flight, about thirty minutes. She pulled her legs up to her chest. She stretched out as best she Over and over and over, about every two minutes.

So they weren’t the most annoying row-mates I’ve ever had. They weren’t the friendliest, either.

As we deplaned, she walked ahead, he lagged behind. She was on a mission to get to baggage claim. He was clearly in no hurry to join her.

I hope you two enjoyed your ride together to your next destination!

Posted in Stories, Travel

Blase Family Farm Pumpkin Patch

Today’s outing took us to Rockwall, TX, for a visit to the pumpkin patch at the Blase Family Farm. We had been there before, probably five years ago. It’s an interesting drive to get there. You drive through some really nice neighborhoods filled with beautiful, large brick homes. Suddenly, you see the sign, pull into a gravel lot and you are at the entrance of the farm, just across the street from a gorgeous housing addition.

My daughter-in-law had made advance reservations. They are still limiting admission to ensure a little social distancing. The $9 admission did include a hayride, food for the petting zoo, and a take-home pumpkin. Not a bad deal.

Pumpkins were scattered all over the several acres open to visitors. Lots of sitting areas were set up for family photos. I am not sure if they actually grow the pumpkins on the farm, or bring them in from elsewhere. But this is a popular annual event in the area.

We headed straight for the petting zoo. The first pen contained two llamas. One dominant one bullied the other and hogged all the food. So we distracted him and fed the less aggressive one. Next in line was a pen full of sheep, including one black one. A few little pigs were happy to see us and a donkey brayed until someone paid attention to him. We came back later and made a second round of all the animals.

The hay maze was down the hill from the welcome barn. It wasn’t much of a maze, but it kept a lot of kids busy for a long time running and jumping across the bales of hay.

The hay ride was a nice jog through some of the farm and past the blueberry part of the farm. The blueberry bushes were all in individual planters, much different than the farms I’ve seen in Florida. Along the way, lots of hay bales were decorated in halloween themes.

A little trail off to the side was lined with signs telling the story of Spookley the Square Pumpkin. I think his story is one to support anti-bullying. The older kids liked flexing their newly developed reading skills for us.

By the time we left, this popular pumpkin patch was filled with families. The whole idea of a “pumpkin patch” is an interesting business. My college fraternity used to frequent them each fall in Lancaster, PA. However, when we went, it was always dark and we didn’t exactly pay admission. But that’s another story.

Posted in Stories

Mr. Spider

I almost walked right into this spider web as I was going from one building to another at work this morning. Whoa – ducked just in time, and then I saw this. A beautiful, magnificent and probably very effective web, spun by that little guy right in the center. Mr. Spider in the center is smaller than a dime, and yet, he created a picture-perfect web about 15×15 inches.

When the breeze blew, the web flexed with it, never tearing or breaking. Four or five longer strands suspended the web from the walkway roof between our building. I don’t even know how he got this started. Mr. Spider wasn’t concerned about elegance, just effectiveness when he spun his (or her) web. In the spider world, it’s all about catching food. But to my human eye, he’s an artist, an engineer, and zoologist all wrapped up into one. If I almost ran into this web, I imagine he’ll nab more than a few gnats, flies and mosquitoes in his cleverly designed trap.

So as I continue to be fascinated by his creation, I’m also amazed that no one taught him how to do this. I doubt that a spider daddy or mommy showed him what a web looked like or how to spin one. He didn’t attend web college or apprentice under a master spider. This is what he was created to do. God created spiders with the ability to spin a beautiful web like this!

I don’t know how long these webs last. I’ll check back in the next few days, and let you know how his (or her) trap is working.

Posted in Stories

Friends

Photo by Briana Tozour on Unsplash

I had two youth in my Sunday bible class today. Two is not bad. Last week was one. Two weeks ago: zero.

Anyway, we were talking about David and Jonathan, who were some unlikely friends in the bible. Jonathan was the king’s son, so in any other situation, he would be the successor to the throne. But God had decided to give the throne to David. Despite the potential conflict, the two were great friends.

So our discussion was about friends. It was not an easy conversation. I asked, “What makes someone a good friend?” <silence> “Ok, what makes someone a bad friend?” Answers included rudeness and ignoring you. Some physical violence. <really?> More silence. Getting teens to talk is difficult.

“OK,” I continued, “Who makes you feel jealous?” (Like King Saul.) Or, “Who annoys you?” The consensus? Everyone. Well, at least we’re talking. “Everyone?” “Yes.”

I’ve heard this answer before. Everyone is annoying, undependable, dishonest, unreliable and a bother. Really? That is your world?

OK, what about Jesus? Do you ever think of him as a friend? The consensus is, “No.” So you never heard Jesus’ words, “I don’t call you slaves, but friends”? Nope. Is Jesus dependable? Most reply, “Yes.”

So they were raised in the church. Taught in the church. Confirmed in the church. And never considered Jesus to a friend? Interesting. And sad,. Why wren’t they taught that before?

What about virtual friends? You know, friends whom you’ve never physically met, but are friends with online? Yes, they all had a few friends like that. “What’s that like?” I asked. They answered, “It’s creepy.” That’s weird. Imagine having friends you’ve never met in person.

I told them that I still kept in contact with friends from high school and college. Friends from 45 years ago! Friends I barely remembered. The two in my class were only 14 and 12. They had no clue.

So I began thinking, “Who are my friends?” Who would I call at 2 am when I had to face a crisis? With whom can I share freely without any fear of judgment? Who will always be there to back me up?

Whoever it is, they are precious. Priceless. Golden. Worth more than anything.

Posted in shopping, Stories

50% off

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

My wife found some nice home decor items at a local craft/hobby/home decor store. She had been waiting for certain items to appear on the shelves and when she did, she snapped them up.

On her way out of the store, another customer told her that those items would be on sale on Monday. If you bring them back, they will refund 50% of your purchase. I know, I thought it sounded too good to be true, too. My wife called and sure enough, that’s what they would do. And you couldn’t just bring your receipt. You had to physically cart the items into the store with the receipt, and they would credit your card.

We had already hung the items on the wall, but they came down easy enough. My wife loaded them back into the car, carried them back into the store, and drove them back home with the promised 50% credit.

Sweet. But I have questions. Why not just sell the items for 50% off. After all, a lot of stuff in the store is “50% off.” Why make them bring the items back in? The receipt isn’t good enough? Why can’t you do this whole thing online? You can do everything else online, from refinancing your home to buying a car.

Of course, I know the strategy is to get you back in the store. That’s why you get bonus bucks, discount coupons on your receipt and flyers in the mail. The more often you’re in the store, the more you’ll buy. Plus, how many people will actually take down the decor items and bring them back to get the discount and credit? I’m guessing not many.

That’s marketing these days. Drive traffic to your website. Get people into the store. Put wonderful items at the end of every aisle. Make people think they are getting a great deal. If they are willing to give you 50% back, think of how much that item was marked up to begin with!

Posted in death, Stories

No one will snatch you from his hand

I headed out to the funeral home about noon today to do a funeral for a young man, age 24, who suddenly died a week ago. I knew him well from confirmation classes and wrote a letter of recommendation when he was applying for colleges. But in the last five years he had finished the academy and had worked as a police officer, a job he truly loved and was well suited for. His father had worked for the sheriff’s department for many years, and was very proud that his son had followed in his footsteps.

When I arrived at the funeral home, the parking lot was packed. The shoulder of the road out front was lined with cars, too. I found my spot a few hundred yards away and walked to the main entrance. The entryway was packed with sheriff’s deputies, police officers and detectives who had come for the visitation and the service. Everyone he played baseball with was there. His sister said, “Everyone we grew up with is here.” It was an inspiring show of support for the young man and his family.

The funeral director greeted me as I walked in. The first thing he mentioned was that their sound system had been damaged by a lightning strike. “OK,” I said, “I’ll project the best I can.” As my wife often reminds me, my voice carries, and today that would be a good thing.

The young man’s grandparents were seated in the back of the room. Because of health issues and Covid quarantines, I hadn’t seen much of them for the past two years. It was a wonderful reunion. A few other members of our church were there. They assured me, “Just let me know if you need anything.” It is always good to have someone watching your back.

I was surprised to see a friend there whose daughter had been good friends with my youngest daughter in high school. As a teacher, she knew many of the young people who had come that day. It was great to catch up with her.

When it was time for the service to begin, the director led me to the front of the room. After the casked was closed, a police honor guard draped the casket with the United Stated flag.

A funeral in a funeral home with a gathering of strangers is very different than a service in the church. I knew very few of those in attendance. I am sure they represented a wide range of religious experience. But the family had asked me to be there, and I would give them the best I had: the gospel.

I read some scripture from Psalm 139, Romans 8 and John 11. I assured them that God was with us in the best and the worst times of our lives. I emphasized that nothing, not ever death can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. I reminded them of the relentless love of Jesus, and that no one can snatch us from his hand. I directed them to Jesus, who is indeed resurrection and life.

The father, sister, girlfriend and coworker spoke after me. They shared some wonderful memories of the young man’s life, relationships and friendship. Speaking at these occasions is tough. They did an amazing job.

After a closing prayer and benediction, the police honor guard folded the flag and presented it to the young man’s mother. That is always a powerful moment. The crowd then filed out to leave the family alone for a few moments.

Outside, I spoke with a few more people I knew. I also spoke with a local deputy who mentioned, “Ten years ago, virtually no one would have turned out for something like this.” His comment made me think about some of the things that have happened in the past few years. The police-fire-first responder community has grown much closer, providing much needed support. I was privileged to be there today, bringing what blessing and hope I could.

Posted in Stories

The people in workout videos never change.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Most of my home fitness exercise is done with streaming Beachbody workouts. I’ve done Insanity, Insanity: Asylum 1 and 2, P90X, P90X3, and most recently, p90X2. When you stick with a program for several months, you get to know the people working out in the video. I know everyone’s names and what they do.

Just recently I thought, “These folks never change.” They never improve. They always use the same weights and do the same number of reps. On the other hand, the more workouts I do, the better I get. I increase my reps and my weights and improve. I’ve never actually gotten better than any of the cast. But I am closing in on them.

So in one sense, these are real people doing real exercises on a set somewhere. But they aren’t really there. They aren’t really exercising with me. I’m in a room of people who exist in a different dimension. You know what? It’s like they are living in eternity! They never age, never die, never get injured, never get sad, and never get sick. They are always enthusiastic and laughing. In their world, I don’t exist. They don’t know my name. They don’t know I’m exercising along with them. Our existences never intersect.

Except on the internet. I can search for and usually find them on social media. I learn about their real lives. Guess what? They really do exist! They have full names and families and friends and careers. They’ve aged since they made their exercise video. Just like me.

Posted in Stories

Just a tad early

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

On the way back to my house after picking up my three year old grandson Daniel, we stopped at our local Pet Supermarket for a big bag of dog food and to look at the animals. The bells on the door rang as we walked in, and one of the associates said, “I guess the door’s open.”

I didn’t understand what he was talking about, until he said, “We open at nine.”

I glanced at my watch. Eight fifty-five. “I’m sorry, should we wait outside?”

“No, that’s OK.”

After we grabbed the bag of food, we walked around to see the parrots, ferrets, lop-eared bunnies, and mice. But Daniel got the biggest kick out of all the parakeets. They were all skittering around, some singing, others just making noise. Probably telling us the store wasn’t open yet!

We’ve often taken the grandkids to pet stores. It’s a great way to keep them busy for an hour or more, especially when there are tanks and tanks of fish and lizards to look at.

Posted in Food, Stories

“Does this taste right to you?”

Photo by Yasmine Duchesne on Unsplash

Last week after swimming with the dolphins for my wife’s birthday, we stopped for lunch at one of our favorite beachside restaurants. It was a gorgeous, sunny, gentle breezy, not-too-humid day, so we sat outside in the shade. Wahoo was the catch of the day, so I had that grilled in a sandwich. My wife chose the ceviche.

My food was excellent. But my wife pushed her plate over towards me and asked, “Does this taste right to you?” I took a bite and knew exactly why she asked. The shrimp had a very strange consistency. It wasn’t overcooked and rubbery. It wasn’t undercooked and translucent. It was kind of tasteless, with the consistency of tofu. I Answered, “No, I don’t think you should eat that.” We put it aside and I gave her half of my sandwich.

When the waiter came by to check on us, he noticed we were sharing the fish and asked if everything was tasting OK. We looked at each other and said that we were our meals. I don’t know why, but we were reluctant to say anything. We never, ever send food back at a restaurant. We felt awkward and embarrassed to complain about the food.

Towards the end of our meal, one of the floor managers came over to make sure everything was good, as they typically do at this restaurant. Again, I hesitated, but said, “I hate to complain, but I think there’s something wrong with this shrimp. It just doesn’t taste right.” He didn’t taste it, but thanked me, said he would take it off our bill, and let the chef know, too. He said, “We count on your feedback for quality control. Thank you for saying something.”

Thinking back over that moment, I wonder why we’re so reluctant to speak up about something like that. We both had a little work experience in food service, so maybe we just didn’t want to be one of those who are demanding, hard to please and quick to complain. We know how hard restaurant staff works and didn’t want to be the cause of a bad day for them.

I like to eat and there’s not much I don’t like, so this was a rare day in my life. Maybe that’s why it was uncomfortable. This was unknown territory.