The Art of Movement

You could say that these guys do dangerous things in dangerous places, and they do. You could say they are trespassers, and they probably are. You could say they are vandals. Eh. Although I do suspect that things get broken, aside from their bones, I wouldn’t necessarily call them vandals. Skaters and borders who deface buildings by intentionally scraping their wheels and boards against them are vandals. On the whole, I think it’s fair to say that free runners may be careless, or thoughtless, but most of them aren’t vandals.

Think of them what you will, but you have to admire their ability. It takes great discipline of body and mind to accomplish such feats. One must have physical strength and mental precision to put their feet right where they want to after tumbling and twisting in the air. They jump high, they jump far, and they fall farther than I would want to climb down a ladder.

I was never really this athletic. I was first chair trumpet, first chair baritone, and first chair French horn. I could run the bases in PE and lift weights and climb the hill at the academy. But never anything on the order of parkour.

There should be a free running sport at the Olympics.

dictionaryparkourHow many different math and science disciplines are they exercising without even knowing it? I’m sure they don’t sit stare at a group of buildings trying to figure out the squared hypotenuse of the radiant triangular degree of axial momentum. Or whatever. They see some buildings and surrounding features and just decide they want to jump it.

But what do you do to prepare yourself? How do you train for something like this? How many bruises and broken bones does one have to suffer?

I’m sure that they don’t start out on the high buildings, but even jumping from one cinderblock to another has the opportunity for a broken ankle or twisted knee. At what point do you develop the confidence and courage to jump, roll, twist, fall, and turn a hundred feet up or more.

There are videos of parkour fails. I don’t have the heart to watch those. As stupid as some people seem, although it appears that they deserve whatever is coming to them,  and as funny as they may be, I’m not into watching peoples’ pratfalls.  I’m sure they depict just how difficult practicing this sport is, just how dangerous it can be.

I called it a sport. It may be unorthodox, unorganized, and unsanctioned, but by any standard of definition, parkour qualifies.

stonedIt would be tough to be a stoner or a meth-head and still be able to perform like this. The mind has to be clear and sharp to do the gozillion calculations per nanosecond that it takes to successfully pull something like this off. Not that it would be impossible, but you can see where it would really inhibit performance.

I’m glad this wasn’t a thing when I was chasing bad guys all over town. I’ve been on a few rooftops (maybe I’ll tell you about them sometime), but I’ve never run into anything on this scale. I could hop a fence with the best of them, but wearing a bulletproof vest, boots, and I don’t know how many pounds of equipment around my waist, anything more would have been miraculous. I can tell you right now, they’d have gotten away.

You may think they’re hooligans. Some of them may be, but I admire their talent.

 

 

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Islands in the Field

I was cruising around WordPress and came across this picture at Netdancer’s blog. It reminded me of a place a long time ago in a neighborhood far, far away. I’m not even sure how old I was.  I was old enough to run around the neighborhood with my friends until the sun went down, but young enough to lack the wisdom of age and experience to not drink from the nearest hose in anyone’s yard when I was thirsty.

The reason this picture reminds me of that place is because at the end of my street there was a T intersection that bordered a corn field. In the middle of that field was an island just like this one. That island was our base of operations during the winter months. After Christmas, we would gather Christmas trees from nearby houses after they were taken outside to be picked up by the garbage collectors and drag them to this island where we erected a fort. From there we launched into all kinds of adventures. Sometimes we had to infiltrate an enemy’s stronghold. Sometimes we had to hunt down a bank robber. Sometimes it was just a matter of survival. We had crackers, Pop-Tarts, and canteens of water. The first one to bail was a sissy.

As you enter the field from my street, to the right, at the edge of the corn field, was a forest. I couldn’t begin to count the hours we spent exploring the vast woodlands. There was a small stream, possums and woodpeckers, snakes and bugs, flowers and trees, Mushrooms and moss, and rich, loamy soil. It was the kind of place that you wanted to get lost in. It was peaceful, calm, and quiet. We fought wars there, hunted for buried treasure, and solved some of life’s biggest problems under the canopy of leaves that rose so high overhead that we couldn’t see the tops.

Between my street and the cornfield was a thicket of wild raspberries and blackberries. I remember taking large butter tubs and filling them full of berries when they were in season.

I remember the name of my friend, Jeff Demorest. My brother, 18 months older than I am, hung out with us often. Besides the cornfield and woods, Jeff lived on a slope, which was perfect for sledding in the winter time. We also used his garage for our hundreds of army men. We each took one of the four large concrete squares, set up our armies, and fought it out. When it rained, we collected rain water. We played baseball, had snowball fights, and just ran around and had fun.

It was a magical time in my itinerant life.

My father was upper management at the Dana plant in Ecorse, Michigan. They made steel frames for GM cars. When I was only a few years old, right around 1970, they had massive layoffs, which included my father. I was too young to remember the intervening time between when he was laid off and when he started his next job. All I remember is that he went into real estate. So did my mother.

We moved. A lot. We lived, in no particular order, in Taylor, South Lyon, South Gate, Trenton, Allen Park, Novi (twice), Lincoln Park, Sterling Heights, and I’m probably forgetting one or two.

My dad had a private pilot’s license and flew out of Grosse Isle. There was a golf  course there where my brother was a caddy.

Those were years of feast or famine. I remember living in a three level house with a finished basement, a large, two car garage, and my brother and I each a balcony outside our rooms. I also remember getting IOUs for Christmas one year and my mother crying as we opened the envelopes.

I also made a lot of money when I was a kid. I cut grass in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and shoveled snow in the winter. My best friend in Trenton was Paul Mithoff. We had regular customers we went to every season and we were paid well. Some of them had hot chocolate for us.

I wish I had known about Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Berkshire Hathaway . . . .

He lived on Kenwood Drive. We had a gang. We called ourselves “The Kenwood Killers.”

We played Monopoly using two boards, and we made deals in the tens of thousands. We had to make our own large bills. We played Risk and added continents, airplanes, and ships. Games of Monopoly and Risk would last for days.

We had beer can collections. Some of my cans were worth $30 or $40. We had fish tanks and spent a lot of time at the Day One Tropical Fish Store. It was a pleasant bike ride over a brick paved bridge. They’re still in business after almost 50 years. I bred angel fish. When they were about the size of a half-dollar, I would trade them to Day One for plants or a couple of fish. Just before we moved, my kribensis started laying eggs. I was looking forward to raising those beautiful fish. The memories of setting up an aquarium and caring for tropical fish have stayed with me. Shortly after I was married I set up a 55 gallon tank that was probably the most beautiful I’d ever done.

Of all the places we lived in Michigan, Trenton and Novi hold the best memories. I had a pleasant childhood. It wasn’t full of drama. Compared to kids these days, it was pretty mundane.

I never had a lot of friends. I always only had one or two, but they were very strong. And I was okay with that. I can’t think of anything I would change, could I travel back in time and do so. Those experiences made me who I am today. It wasn’t all wine and roses. There were some hard times, but I don’t focus on those. They’re there, but they’re tucked away in a little room that I keep locked and only open to jam something else into it and quickly shut the door again. But I wouldn’t change anything.

I think Captain James T. Kirk said it best. “Bones, you’re a doctor. You of all people should know that guilt and pain can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I want my pain! I need my pain!”

The joys and pains we experience form our opinions and shape our philosophy. They color our vision and give us a perspective that is unique to each of us as individuals. They influence our personality and prejudices. They motivate us to reach for the next level and make us want to be a better person. They make us interesting and give us depth. They make us stronger and more empathetic. They make us care. They make us love.

They give us life.

 

 

Are Your Prepared?

When I was very young we lived outside of Detroit, MI. Tornadoes absolutely terrified me. Thunder and lighting were not really a big deal to me, but a green sky and angry clouds could keep me glued to the television. Especially those boiling mammatus clouds. Eerie.

I can remember the Emergency Broadcast System sounding their attention alarm on the television, interrupting whatever I was watching. The weatherman would appear in front of a map of the state and point to the counties that were in danger from severe storms and tornadoes and he named them off. He warned all of his viewers of the dangers associated with tornadoes and hail and urged everyone in the weather system’s path to seek safety immediately. Afterwards, a screen crawl would continue the warning on the network stations.

For the life of me, I could never remember which county we lived in and always had to ask my mother where we were. If the weatherman mentioned Wayne County in the list of counties to be decimated by this evil monster, I was totally freaked out. I would go from window to window looking at the sky. I just knew we were gonna be goners. I watched the clock like someone waiting to get out of prison. When the warning expired I was relieved and tired. Stress like that takes a lot of energy.

I’m much older now, and, I hope, a bit wiser. Storms don’t scare me as much, and I’ve developed more of an interest and fascination in super cells, mammatus clouds, and severe weather.

In spite of all my childhood fears, I never actually saw a tornado. I saw a funnel cloud in Milwaukee years later. But I’ve seen what tornadoes can do. They have awesome and destructive power.

Earthquakes have a similar ability to affect my life, now that I live in Southern California. I’ve felt a few that rumbled through, but I missed the Easter Earthquake in April of 2010. It was a 7.2 trembler. 

 

We were in Tucson when this happened. I had two new puppies, Chihuahuas my wife had given me for my birthday just a few months before, Cassiopeia and Cepheus. We had them in a large pen in the center of the living room. When we heard about it, we had someone check our house. I was most concerned about the large picture window that was also in the living room. The house was secure. My puppies were safe. We were much more blessed than a lot of people we know. They suffered some significant losses. Mobile homes were shifted off of their risers, and had gas and water leaks.

When we got back, we didn’t encounter the destruction we thought we probably would. The freezer in the garage was moved away from the wall about 18 inches and the eight foot, solid oak pool table was no longer square in the middle of the room. In the bedroom we prepared for my mother-in-law, two things had fallen off of a shelf and nothing broke. In fact, the only thing that broke was a jar of Worcestershire  sauce that fell out of the pantry. A bunch of plastics fell out of the kitchen cupboards and a lamp or two fell, but none of the televisions were lost. It took us maybe three hours to put the house right and you couldn’t tell anything had happened.

Right now, if it doesn’t register above a 3.0, I won’t even feel it.

Earthquakes can happen at any time. There’s no season when then are more or less likely.

While tornadoes can also happen at any time, there is a season in which they are more prevalent. The 2017 season has just begun and it’s already off to a near record start. While year to date totals are not record-breaking, they are well above average. 

You can predict with pretty good accuracy when a tornado is likely to form and track it to send out warnings.

Not so with earthquakes. We don’t have the technology to predict those yet.

All things being equal, however, I much prefer earthquakes to tornadoes. At least where I live here in the desert. If you’re in a mobile home and a tornado come through, unless you have an underground shelter, you’re screwed. Earthquakes can destroy a mobile home too, but all you have to do is go outside and stay away from anything that might fall on you.

I’ve tried to prepare for a big earthquake. We have a lot of food and water stockpiled, including a 30 day supply of freeze-dried food from Legacy, a fire pit, gas grill, wood, cast iron everything, a big emergency medical kit, two-way radios that are good for up to 36 miles, and a whole box of other things I haven’t listed. I’m sure I’m missing a few things as well.  It would be smart for me to get a large tent, camping furnishings in case our house becomes uninhabitable, and a generator. I have a big  enough fenced in yard to pitch a 10 person tent without crowding, and then some.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a comprehensive checklist HERE, and there are countless others published by government agencies and prepper groups.

Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, volcanoes, and other natural or man-made disasters can all happen in the United States. An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) doesn’t have to be born on the back of a nuclear explosion high in our atmosphere, although it could. Our own sun puts out mass coronal ejections that can, if  powerful enough and on target, overpower and render useless our satellites and knock out power in large regions. 

You don’t have to be a prepper, you just have to be prepared.

 

 

 

 

 

Living With Fear

I saw a writing prompt today that urged people to write about what they fear most. That got me to thinking. There are moments when I have felt fear. Like having no gas and being on a causeway that’s miles long with no gas station on the other side. I was a little anxious until I got turned around and back on the right side. I don’t know if you’d really call that fear, but I certainly felt a lot of anxiety. Or when I stopped a car and while I was writing a ticket, large rocks were coming over a fence and hitting my patrol car. Or when I asked a guy for his registration and as he’s leaning across the seat, I see the butt end of a shotgun within easy reach.

There are times when I’ve been afraid. But I made it through all of them.

There was a story on the news several months ago that was extolling the bravery of a certain man in the face of an uncertain future, especially his immediate existence. My wife commented that he didn’t look brave, he looked afraid. And he did. Anyone with a lick of sense would have been. But I told her that the only time you can truly be brave is when your ARE afraid.

Fear is a basic instinct that is felt by almost all living creatures. It is a primary mode of survival. It tells you that something is wrong, that there is danger, that all is not right with the world. It triggers the “fight or flight” response.

There are some things, though, that you can neither fight nor flee away from. Some things that happen that are so immediate that you have absolutely no time to respond in anything but horror. I’m sure the people in the Twin Towers in New York felt that type of fear when they saw those jets flying straight for them. Nothing they could do would save them, short of Devine intervention. Where could they have run to? What was there to fight?

Some people are afraid of death, others are not. It’s perfectly rational. There is a genuine fear of the unknown, death being the ultimate unknown. Some are just afraid of the dying process. Still others are fearless about death, believing that what’s on the other side far surpasses anything that we have here in this existence, or that they will simply cease to exist.

People in the US Military are truly brave, to me. They face the possibility of coming to a sunned and extremely violent end for as long as  they’re deployed. In a hostile country, or even friendly one with hostiles in it, they’re in danger. Hell, right here in the good ole U S of A they face that possibility. Fort Hood Shooting.

 

My fear is a bit less tangible. I fear the day that may come when I would be unable to provide for myself and my family. That came about in a very real way a couple of months ago.

About six years ago, after a couple of years seeing three neurologists, one of them being a movement disorder specialist, two sleep deprived EEGs, two MRIs, and trial and error guesses on drugs to stop my erratic movements and sudden falling, my wife told me she was sending me to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. Okay, the clinic is in Scottsdale, but the hospital is in Phoenix. I became well acquainted with both and how to get back and forth, which there was a lot of doing. I sat with Dr. John Caviness for 15 minutes and he said that my problem wasn’t myoclonus, but chorea.

My first thought was Huntington’s Disease. My wife’s cousin had that and eventually succumbed to it. It wasn’t comforting to hear. But I wasn’t afraid. Not yet.

I started the whole round of tests all over again, this time it included 18 vials of blood. After 12 vials, the vein in my left arm collapsed. Bless the vampire’s heart, she kept trying until I convinced her to switch arms.

Three days later the doctor told me that I didn’t have Huntington’s, that my chorea was idiopathic. They had no idea what was causing it. But they prescribed tetrabenazine, something prescribed for Huntington’s patients, anyway to see if it would help. He added amantadine, and to help boost my appetite, mirtazapine.

It worked very well, and I’m still on the medication.

Back to the present day. The past few years I’ve had increasing difficulty speaking. I occasionally sounded like a blubbering idiot. It got so bad within the last four years, just before I promoted, that it was affecting my job. A few months ago, my local neurologist slowly upped my tetrabenazine. After two days of barely increasing the dose, I felt like I was going blind. I couldn’t stand light of any intensity. Even looking at my cell phone with the screen as dark as the setting would allow it to go was a new adventure in pain. I could almost watch the television if I wore my darkest sunglasses.

I sat in a dark room for almost three days. I couldn’t go to work.

That’s when I discovered what my biggest fear was. I could lose my job. Sure, I could take a medical or disability retirement, but it would be substantially less than a regular retirement, and a whole lot less than I was making. We had to shut down the school a few years ago and were living on half of what we had been making. If I didn’t have the use of my eyes, what could I possibly do to support us? My wife was caring for her mother, who is well into her 80s. There’s always someone at the house; we can’t leave her alone at all.

It took two days to figure out what was causing it. I saw the ophthalmologist. That was the only thing that had changed in the last week. I don’t suffer from allergies. He told me that it could take up to six months to clear up, if it was going to. He was a smart guy, but this particular problem was new to him.

My neurologist told me to stay off the medication to see what happens. I was already doing that.

It took a few days, but things eventually got better. I’m back on my regular dose with no side effects. They’re still trying to figure that one out.

That particular crisis is over. The speech problems remain, however, and its intensity comes and goes, but the possibility that something could happen before I can hit full retirement age is ever present. God has always taken care of us, and I believe that He will continue to do so, but the fear of the uncertainty of the future and the unknown still trails along in my shadow.

Fear is not always physical, or even tangible. People have, what we call, irrational fears. We call them that because their fears don’t make any sense to us, but to those suffering from them, they are very real. They affect them physically and emotionally and sometimes cripples them to a point where they can’t even function.

Psychologists have ways of helping people overcome their fears. The only way they can do that is to confront them and learn that they can overcome them without being harmed. I would call these people brave.

As it often turns out, when we face our fears and fight through what they would do to us, we find out that things are not as bad as we through that they would be. We feel victorious and empowered, ready to look straight into the eyes of the next adversary with confident resolve in the outcome.

But sometimes, as life happens, things don’t go so well. Maybe the results dwarf our worst fears. You don’t know what to do, where to go, or who to turn to. Your fear is increased by an order of magnitude. Your next obstacle is greater than the last. You cannot run away from it and you are forced stand and fight. You have no choice but to be brave. That is when you will realize the true strength that lies within you.

 

Wisdom

I’m going to take a minute to brag about my wife. I’ll call her George, because that’s what I’ve called her for years. Her kids call her Preuss. At first, I was offended. It seemed a little too forward, too familiar for the student – teach relationship. But I learned that they loved her and it was out of affection.

It didn’t start out well. A friend of mine, her cousin, tried to match us up on St. Patrick’s day. I don’t like corned beer, I don’t like cabbage, and I didn’t really like her. After we ate, I suggested we go bowling. She wanted to sit around and talk about politics. So I went bowling.

A few months later we tried it again. Robocop at the drive in. Things worked out better after that. On December 31, 1988 we were married at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. Quite the New Year’s Eve Party. The next morning we went down to the Crown Room for breakfast. The line was well out the door and into the lobby. Someone came and took us out of the line and sat us at a prime table near the windows overlooking the garden. Now, here we are.

Not only does my wife take exceptionally good care of me, she doesn’t subscribe to the Happy Wife, Happy Life way of thinking. You can see her post about that on her own blog here.

My wife is probably the wisest person that I have ever met. She’s really smart about things like history, English, and  grammar & composition. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m referring to is her ability to look at life and see what’s really going on.

She’s been called a prophet. Not the kind that foretells the future. A prophet is also someone who speaks forth truth.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that we ran a private Christian school for a number of years. (Thank you Barak Obama and merry band of Democrats for running that into the ground.) It was small. We typically started the school year with about 25 kids in the 9th – 12th grades, with the occasional 8th grader. We ended each year with over 50.

My wife took the school over from someone who was operating it at a local church and ran with it. She quickly grew from having just one other teacher to hiring three other teachers, which she paid very well, plus a teacher’s aid.

The only advertising we ever did was to send a flyer to the area churches, announcing that we had a Christian high school and gave them the web site where they could read our mission statement and so forth. As far as we could tell, we didn’t get a single student out of that effort.

What averaged us two new kids each month was my wife’s reputation. Word of mouth spreads quickly and it’s the best form of advertisement you can’t buy. The kids would constantly tell my wife that they had a friend who wanted to come, never having set foot in the building, but just hearing about how great it was. Or a parent would call and tell her that they needed to put their kid with her because a friend or relative told them Preuss really cared and could help.

George wasn’t popular with kids and parents because she catered to the students whims, gave them whatever they wanted, or because she was a pushover.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

She didn’t beg parents to send their kids to our little school. George went to their house and met each one personally. It was a reverse interview. Not, “Here’s why you should give me your kid.” It was, “Why should I take on the responsibility of teaching your child?” And the kid had to be there for the discussion. It didn’t go at all like the child expected it to go. She talked to them, asked them questions, showed an interest, and gave them a voice, which some of them were terribly lacking. Kids weren’t sent to her, they came to her. She was like the Pied Piper.

The structure and discipline that George provided was sometimes all that the child received. They weren’t getting those things at home. They respected her because she set a standard of behavior and held them to it. She set boundaries, and like teenagers will do, they pushed those boundaries to see how far they could go. They act like they want to break you, but in all reality, what they want is for you stand your ground, to hold firm, and stay true to your word. They want to respect you. She wasn’t unreasonable, and she allowed them to have certain freedoms. As long as they were respectful,  produced, and learned.

She didn’t beg for them to stay, either. If they got out of line she would say, “If you’re not happy here, you can go somewhere else. You don’t have to stay. Nobody’s making you come here. Go on, follow your rainbow, if that’s what you want.” I can count on one hand the number of kids who left because they were genuinely unhappy.

Over 300 children passed through our little school. Some came to get their grades straightened out, several left in their senior year and went to a public school because they wanted to graduate with their friends. Of those she had, for whatever length of time they were there, she says that her success rate was about 98%. There were some she couldn’t help. They were just too angry, or didn’t want to be helped. It was quite the revelation, and a very big disappointment, when she realized that she couldn’t help them all.

But of those successes, some are quite stunning.

One particularly angry student came to her who was self-admittedly borderline Columbine. It took some time, but that student eventually went to Bible school and has a close relationship with God. Another received a full ride scholarship to medical school. Her plan was to become a medical missionary to Africa.

George had a no homework policy. If you didn’t get your work done, you didn’t go home. There were many nights we were there well past 6 PM, sometimes as late as 8 PM. I hung around, cleaned up, and helped grade papers. He was griping, as teenagers do. One day, one of the other kids who used to have some trouble with the same thing, but turned herself around, finally told him, “If you just give her what she wants, you won’t have any problems.” It was like a light bulb came on. He finally got it.

She treated them like adults. Have an opinion. Disagree with me. Argue and debate me. Have an original thought. Establish a conviction upon a firm foundation. She taught them critical thinking, something that is terribly lacking in today’s educational system.

She wore boots and stomped up and down the length of the room, pounding on tables, and teaching in such an animated manner it drew the kids into the story she was telling. They wanted to learn and they wanted Preuss to teach them.

And she forced them to treat each other with respect.

If they mistreated one another or were rude, she called them on it, hard. If a skateboard or iPod came up missing, she’d tell them that she was going to pray to God that the thief would suffer ten times the loss. Only one time did the object not appear on her desk within hours. The one time it didn’t, we found the skateboard among the buckets in a storage room when we closed down.

She taught them to fear God, but she also taught them that God was their Father and that he wanted only the best for them. They could go to Him and he would answer their prayers. They went, and He did.

Parents weren’t always right. George taught them how to respond to an unreasonable parent. What to do if a parent doesn’t believe you. How to regain lost trust. How to react when you’re being treated unfairly.

It wasn’t just the kids that she counseled. Parents often came in to talk to her, or called her on the phone. George was straight up with them and told them what, if anything, they were doing wrong, or guided them on how best to handle a particular situation.

One of the students she had went on to become and Eagle Scout. Not a small deal. He asked her to attend his ceremony. He received a single Mentoring Pin which he could present to anyone he wanted. He chose Preuss. I was very proud of her when she brought that home.

We closed the school down about four years ago, but to this day, she gets phone calls, e-mails, Facebook friend requests, instant messages, text messages, and invitations from her kids.

They call Preuss because they know she’s going to tell them the truth. She’ll dig out their hidden motives and agendas and get to the heart of the matter. She’ll give them an honest appraisal of their choices and suggest a course of action. They know they can count on her. Preuss will know what to do, she’s going to help me.

We’ve been married almost 30 years and she still likes me.

Proverbs 31:10-31 10 Who can find a virtuous woman?
for her price [is] far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband
doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household,
and a portion to her maidens. 16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it:
with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise [is] good:
her candle goeth not out by night. 19 She layeth her hands to the
spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. 20 She stretcheth out her
hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household
[are] clothed with scarlet. 22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry;
her clothing [is] silk and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates,
when he sitteth among the elders of the land. 24 She maketh fine linen,
and selleth [it]; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25 Strength and honour [are] her clothing; and she shall rejoice
in time to come. 26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom;
and in her tongue [is] the law of kindness. 27 She looketh well
to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband [also],
and he praiseth her. 29 Many daughters have done virtuously,
but thou excellest them all. 30 Favour [is] deceitful, and beauty [is] vain:
[but] a woman [that] feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands;
and let her own works praise her in the gates.

I did far better than I ever thought I would. I know that I could have done no better.

The Road to Riches

2011-12-07 11.04.54 HDRThis is the most money that I’ve ever held in my hand at one time. $10,000. It was a deceptively small stack on $100 bills. A stack of 100 $1.00 bills seems much thicker and heavier.

What would you do with $10,000 cash?

I got to pay the IRS. Again. As I did every year.

Owning a small business, in our case, a Christian school, is very expensive. The federal tax rate was 40%, on top of Social Security and Medicare, both the employer’s and employee’s portions for the owner. But it never seemed like enough. I always owed them between $6k and $10k. I don’t know why. Every year the person who did my taxes came up with something else that I had to pay for.  It wasn’t for a lack of planning, as far as I can tell. I’ve already told you about my experiences with CPAs and “professional” tax preparers (Lions, and Tigers, and Feds. Oh My!). If I’d have had any brains I would have bought Turbo Tax for each of those years and redone the taxes to see where they may have screwed me and I actually overpayed.

The previous year, I had to take a $8k loan on my 401k. The year before that I did some work for my brother-in-law that gave me what I needed.

I asked my wife where we were going to come up with $10k. She said, “It’s sitting in the driveway.”

avalanche

I loved my Avalanche. It was the first, and only, truck that I’d ever owned. It was my chariot. It had four doors and could carry five people. Or two people and a couple of dogs. The bed had a removable cover so we could shop all over town and fit everything in one vehicle and keep it protected. If I folded down the back seat and the back wall I could fit 18 large buckets full of glass, crystal, silk flowers, and other things we needed to decorate the gymnasium for a graduation reception for over 300 people, along with a bunch of other tables a banquet of that size needs. It took three trips to get everything there. My wife knows how to throw a party. It was big and aggressive looking, and more importantly, my wife loved it too. It had been paid off a year ago and it was really nice not having a car payment.

But all three of us, me, my wife, and my mother-in-law, were having increasing difficulty just getting in and out of the thing. It was seven years old, had 70,000 miles, and never had a problem. I knew I could get top dollar on it as a trade-in. The dealership manager put up a valiant fight, but I walked away with $10,000 and a substantial down payment on a new car.

100_5381.jpgThat Dodge Avenger lasted all of about two years.

It was Christmas Eve 2014. We found ourselves suddenly hosting the family and in order to have everything we needed, a trip to Von’s was necessary. So off my wife went on an errand of culinary mercy.

On the way home, she ran into the rear end of a Dodge Durango with a trailer hitch. Unfortunately, there was a Honda Civic in front of that, both stopped at a stop sign. The Durango looked like it hit a fly in the front and got hit by a rumpled up piece of paper in the back. The back end of the Civic had some obviously preexisting damage. I’m reasonably certain it had no real new damage from that particular crash.

Nobody was seriously hurt. My wife had seatbelt and airbag bruises, but that was the extent of it.

Someone gave me a ride the 5 blocks to where the car sat leaking radiator fluid. The ambulance, fire department, tow truck, and police officer all came and went. We loaded up the groceries and went home.

Where we ended up not using a single thing she went to buy.

Yea, I thought that was pretty funny to.

It took the insurance company three weeks, but they eventually totaled her out. When they finally did, they were talking about a $9,000 settlement. I was dumbfounded. When the adjuster starting outlining the justification for the paltry amount, he stated the car had over 35,000 miles on it. When I corrected him and proved that it had less than 20,000 miles, I got much, much more – $1,000 more than I owed on it, and I was happy.

In truth, the only thing my new car lacks that the Avenger had was the 30 gigabyte hard drive that  had all my music on. Fortunately, I had that backed up. A word to the wise for anyone considering an Avenger. Unless they change the design a bit, visibility through the back quarters sucks. Backing out of a parking spot is as dangerous as running a red light.

2014-07-30 13.25.35I don’t miss that car. It had to be my least favorite of all the vehicles I’ve owned. My favorite is the black 1986 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. When I bought it, the paint was so thin that you could see the primer underneath. I bought it under the condition that they repainted it. The dealership had a full body shop on site and the arrangements were made. When I took the car in, I asked the body shop manager to keep all of the badges off. Which he did. It was a beautiful car. Too bad I don’t have a picture of the actual car. They gave me the option of waiting a short time for the new 1987 model. It had an intercooler for the turbo and they thought it was much sleeker looking. I didn’t. The few horses weren’t worth giving up this kind of style.

This all happened years before I met the one who would be my wife. Years after I married her, the body shop manager married her sister. Small world, eh? Oh, and he’s the guy that gave me a ride out to my wife’s wreck.

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But I got this beauty as a replacement for the Avenger. My wife says I look good in it, and the turbo charged 4 banger has a sufficient combination of power and gas mileage to suit me. The black paint is metallic, so it hides the dirt really well, as long at it stays even.

I got a good deal on it. I was the finance manager for the largest dealership in the county. I know how to play the game. But I violated the first rule: I got tired and let them wear me down a bit. I know I could have gotten the alarm thrown in too without much of a fight.

Who is to say what is good fortune and what is bad? Had we not had to sell the truck, might my wife have rear-ended the Durango in it? Someone might have actually gotten seriously hurt.

Do you think that some misfortune has befallen you? Consider what happened, or didn’t, happen down the road. Maybe minutes, maybe years. Did you make a wrong turn, but miss a pileup down the road because of the extra miles? Did you break up with someone you loved to learn later that he was a felon or a wife-beater?

Tell me here. Share with us. And give us courage to examine our lives.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Music

Have you ever heard a song so powerful that it made you stop and just think for a few minutes?

Just about all of us have, I’m sure. Some couples have an “our song.” When it plays they are taken back to when they were first dating and a feeling of romance wells up between them. Sometimes a song will fit just perfectly with a friend or family member, and every time you hear it, you think of that person. Music can bring back a flood of memories, both happy and sad. Some will expose emotions long thought sealed up in a room somewhere with the intent that it never again see the light of consciousness. Some will tear open new wounds on top of old ones. Some will be uplifting and make us joyful and happy. Some will lull us into a melancholy state while other will make us want to sing along and tap our feet to the beat.
 
Kenny Chesney wrote and sang a song about just that.

Music is very powerful. Chesney mentions his friend who died in his teens in a number of his songs. You can tell that he really loved the guy. Music is cathartic. For both the singer and the listener. It is expressive on levels few other forms of communication can match. It has rhythm, tempo, and rhyme. It has volume, attitude, and emotion. It has style, character, and power. It is a way to exorcise our demons and express what we are feeling in any given moment. With music, was share our lives, or live vicariously through others. It memorializes forever that which we want to be remembered for all time.

There are two songs that readily come to mind that evoke vivid memories for me. Tanya Tucker’s song It’s a Little Too Late reminds me of my high school days when my best friend’s girlfriend was coming on to me. Books & Dunn’s Only in America reminds me of a particular high school graduation.

Not my own.

My wife and I ran a small, private, Christian school of 50 – 60 kids for several years. This particular school year was a horrible one for us in the way it ended. I had just been diagnosed with a neurological disorder. Not Huntington’s, but something quite similar. The medication I had been taking quit working. When I gave the graduation address to a standing room only crowd, I sounded like an absolute idiot. I could barely maintain a coherent thought and getting the words out of my mouth was quite challenging. Very embarrassing. My wife was sick with a fever of 105.2. We’d decorated the hall for the reception of over 300 people, but didn’t attend it that year. In fact, we didn’t even help with cleanup the next day. My wife ended up in the hospital with a serious kidney infection, made all them more frightening in light of the fact that she has only one kidney.

Why does that Brooks and Dunn song call forth those memories? My whole address was based on that song. Every year we did a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of our kids from baby right on up through high school graduation wearing their caps and gowns. That song was the first that was supposed to play during the presentation. It was also the foundation for my address. But it didn’t play. Nobody heard it. So on top of sounding like a blabbering fool, my audience had no frame of reference for what I was saying. Meanwhile, my wife was sitting in the front row looking like death warmed over. That evening couldn’t have ended soon enough for either of us. 

I could probably list songs I have put in other PowerPoints for other graduations, but I would never be able to tell you anything about what happened during those evenings that was in any way associated with the music I had chosen.

Think about the power of music and the way it influences your life, how you feel, or your outlook on your own existence. What do you listen to when your in different moods? Are you looking to pull yourself out of a bad mood, maintain a happy one, or wallow in the pits of self-pity and regret?

Remember when Bubba shot the jukebox because it played a sad song that made him cry? Have you ever changed the station because you didn’t like the effect the song was having on you, how it was making you feel, or what it made you think of?

It’s all fair game. We’ve all done each of those things.