23 January 2014

Good Dog

When the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I got married, having a dog was not on our (my) plan. Over the course of the next twelve, count 'em, twelve years, she and our children, as they came along, launched a long-term assault on my resistance to getting a dog. Finally yielding to the fusillade, I suspended my anti-dog campaign and in June 2001, a Chinese Lion dog, or Shih Tzu, entered our lives when she was a mere eight weeks old. I convinced myself I would not like her, even though I got to name her - Beijing.

Beijing, as it turned out, was a good dog. A really good dog. She was an ideal dog for our family and a good companion. She moved with us. She adapted well. She, by and large, was not annoying. She was an easy dog to like. She was a good dog.

One thing she wasn't was a good running companion. I made that mistake only once. There is nothing more humiliating than running, or trying to run, with a Shih Tzu on the end of a leash. Nothing.

For almost thirteen years, Beijing had a really good life. I think we'd say she only had a few bad days. Her last day came quickly. She was a couple months shy of celebrating her 13th birthday when age caught up with her. Heart failure launched a very aggressive assault on her and within a matter of hours, with her breathing rapid, it was clear things were going south. We took her to Vet ER last night, sensing we were a part of her final hours. After checking her over, performing multiple tests, and administering oxygen, the Vet laid out our limited options. It was time to let her go.

Ironically, the one who didn't want her in the first place was at her side at the end. The Vet and staff were so kind and treated Beijing with care and dignity. I'm glad I was there and able to stroke her back as she went to sleep a final time. I'm glad I got to tell her she'd been a good dog. And that's what she was - a good dog. And we are going to miss her. A lot.

Beijing was a good dog. A really good dog. I'm glad we had the time that we did with her. I'll say it again. We'll miss her. 

Good bye, friend.

20 January 2014

On Martin Luther King Day

The United States honors the late Dr. Martin Luther King today. I will let his powerful words speak for themselves:

"Everybody can be great...because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

It speaks for itself. Let's make it a call to action.

19 January 2014


One of my double-stacked bookshelves
For as long as I can remember, I've been a reader, a lover of books, a word nerd, if you will. Through our various moves, one of the things I've never been willing to purge is my collection of books. Even with this last move and our intentional down-sizing, I would not yield on letting my books go. Today they sit, hundreds of them, double-stacked on two sad, sagging press-board bookshelves in our basement. I love my collection of books. I love the power of words.

Books took me to places I never knew about and instilled in me a desire to explore the world. Books have introduced me to people who inspire, admire, enrage, and make me think. The words on the pages of the myriad books I've read have helped to shape my worldview, which is mine. It's okay by me if you don't share it. That's one of the beauties of this world.

As mentioned, I have eclectic tastes in books, although I do tend to lean toward historical non-fiction. Here's a peek at what I'm reading now and the last few books I've read:



  • The Men Who United The States - Simon Winchester - The story of how the western part of the U.S. came to be 
  • Creating Room to Read - John Wood - Behind the scenes in the growth of Room to Read, an impressive investment, not a charity, in bringing books to the world
  • Drama High - Michael Sokolove - How the power of the arts has influenced students in a community left behind by the new world economy
  • End of Days - James L. Swanson - the Kennedy Assassination
  • Sycamore Row - John Grisham - a return to one of Grisham's more memorable characters. Grisham is one of my few nods to fiction. I don't like to get all Judgy McJudge about mass-market fiction and wave my English Lit degree flag, but I will admit to having a bias against the stuff.
  • Command and Control - Eric Schlosser - who knew a bit of Arkansas was nearly obliterated in the early 1980's due to a missle silo accident? 
  • To the End of June - Cris Beam - a not so pleasant, but necessary, look in to foster care in America
  • On the Noodle Road - Jen Lin-Liu - following the humble and ubiquitous noodle from Beijing to Rome
See, I told you, it's a bit eclectic, or let's call it charming. And I still like to have a book in my hands. I like the feel of it. I like the turning of the page. Sure, I have a Kindle and I'm a fan of the iBook app and that's made reading a whole lot easier while on the plane or train, but I'll always favor the tangible feel of a book.

The stunningly patient SML and I have tried to imbue that love of reading in our children. When we first started our family, one of SML's aunts, J, an educator, helped us establish some reading rituals and gave us some ideas on how to help our children learn to read when they were very young. Our first-born never had a chance though. When she was born, I was completing my senior year of university and in between a wicked final Shakespeare course and a graduation paper on the role of grace in Southern short fiction (two things on that - that was written for a Catholic professor at, wait for it, BYU, and can I get an amen, Flannery O'Connor?), she was read to constantly, even before she was born! We are forever grateful for those lessons and opportunities to read to our children as we see Our Lady Of Awesome implementing those same lessons with the Baby Awesome. Seeing him soothed by a book and reaching to turn the pages of what was being read to him while we were together recently was, in a word, wondrous.

So, my fellow word nerds, let your reader freak flag fly. I know mine does.

16 January 2014

Because I'm a giver

Live posting tonight from the Quiet Car on Amtrak's Northeast Regional. As I'm blogging from a darkened rail car and my somewhat conspicuous absence from the Den has been a bit pronounced, I will just say it's been a busy couple of weeks...the year has roared back to life.

Earlier this week, our second born, the lovely CAL, made her way to the eye doctor in the world she knows as Her Own Private Idaho. The visit confirmed our worst suspicions - CAL won the latest round of Genetic Lotto. And by "won," I mean totally spanked. Here's why:

As an adoptee from the swinging '60's, I have scant (none) information on my birth parents, which is fine by me. All I know is that their health was good. Comforting, isn't it? With so little information, answering health history questions is amazingly simple. It's a big time-saver, let me tell you. The lack of history has never been a big deal to me. It's been a bit if an adventure, actually.

When the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML embarked on the adventure that is parenthood, we would occasionally joke about what might turn up in our children, based on the mysterious swamp that  is my genetic history. It made for some good times. One thing we've always known is that I have horrible eyesight and we always wondered who would get that mess of a trait.

Well, we have a winner and it's CAL. She is now sporting some advanced contacts and a set of progressive glasses as a back up. Lucky girl! I was on the other side of 46 years old before progressives made themselves across the bridge of my nose. She has me to thank, because I'm a giver. So CAL, you are welcome, Princess. Welcome to the Progressives Club!

Just don't run down stairs until you are used to those lenses. Learn from my mistakes...

05 January 2014

"We have a saying..."

With Connecticutistan feeling some of the effects of Winter Storm Hercules (again, why, WHY, WHY are these storms being named?), we chose to stay close to home this weekend. After watching a few rounds of English Premier League Football, I stumbled upon a movie I'd seen when it was first released a couple of years ago, 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.' I won't rehash the plot here but will say it was an enjoyable film.

There are several lines from the movie that are worthy of repeat. I liked this one in particular when it was uttered by Sonny, the hapless, maniacal manager of said hotel:

We have a saying in India, 'Everything will be all right in the end.
If it's not all right, it is not yet the end.'

Flower Market, Kolkata, India - I loved this place!
I'm drawn to that quote as it helps me better articulate some of what I felt when I first traveled to India. It was an experience that nearly defied description, but that line helps to express the spirit of the people I encountered there. In a cacaphonous, uncertain world, I found a spirit of hope.

Now whether that quote is actually Indian, I cannot say. Regardless, I like it. It also embodies the outlook I'd like to further embrace. In its simplicity, it makes a great deal of sense to me.

I tried to put it into practice today. Due to some bad scheduling on my part, I wound up teaching back-to-back classes at Church today, so that meant for some folks they got two hours of me. At the end of the first hour, I told people I was also teaching the second hour and they had my permission to flee. No one appeared to take me up on the offer (their funeral). So they got me for some Old Testament and then a session on teaching in general. During the first lesson, I found myself invoking Sonny's above-referenced positivity in my head when the trailer from Cecil B. DeMille's train wreck opus, "The Ten Commandments," failed to work. I mean am I the only one that thought it would totally awesome appropriate to have Edward G. Robinson crowing, "Where's your Messiah now?' as a kick-off to a year of studying what can be a very daunting text, the Old Testament. Come on!

During the second round of my teaching fiesta, I found myself with about 50 minutes of material that needed to fit into about 35 minutes of class time. I had to punt and trust that it would turn out all right in the end. I think it did. I mean no one got up and left and there was good discussion in the class. That's a good sign in these kind of all adult classes, if you ask me.

So I'm looking forward to seeing things turn out all right in the end and remembering that if it's not yet all right, it's not the end. There's always more to learn, more to experience. Like I said, I'm looking forward to it.

01 January 2014

A New Year. A New Day. And all that...

It's here! A brand-new year! Who's excited? Anyone? Anyone? Queue the crickets.

As I plod further into the morass that is middle-age, the passing of another year serves to remind me that time is marching on faster than I would like and that it is using me as its doormat. Now THAT is a good feeling!

Speaking of good feelings, I went back through the last six years (Editor's note - Can you believe it? The Den turned six years old this past December! Further proof of the cruel march of time.) of New Year's Day posts from the Den and I realized I've done a tremendously bad job of keeping my resolutions. Although, if I recall correctly, I swore off diet sodas in 2009 and managed to keep that resolution for an entire year. Win for me! That appears to be the highlight of my resolutions since 2008. I don't even get an 'A' for effort.

I take little solace in knowing that I am joined by the vast majority of those that make New Year's Resolutions in that those resolutions fail. It's cold comfort, to be honest. I'll approach this year differently and for once in my life, I'll keep my mouth shut about the resolutions I'm making. I'll see how it works out this year.

That said, I'm quite certain 2014 will be another year of opportunity, challenge, blessings, trials, and humor, good or otherwise, to get us through it. I know I'm looking forward to seeing Fox News outdo themselves in 2014, although 2013 is going to be hard to top. Look no further than here for their 'Greatest Hits of 2013.' Oh dear...

On a more serious note, for those of you who are resolving to support an organization in 2014, may I ask you to consider investing, rather than thinking of it as a charitable donation, in Room to Read? I just finished the latest book, "Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy," by their founder John Wood. I've not stopped thinking about how I can support them since I finished the book yesterday. I'm still sorting out in my head how I might do that but it is certainly something I'll be doing. My life would be completely different without books and the written word and so would yours. Can you imagine a world where a book is non-existent? Me either but that's the reality for far too many. Room to Read is changing that. So, do think of them as you plan your 2014 giving.

Here's to another year. Make it all that it can be for you and yours.