27 July 2014

Edumacation, no, education

Have you ever considered how lucky you are that you can read? And by that, I don't mean how lucky you are that you can read this blog. The fact that you are reading it is in your own fault; however, I thank you. But have you ever thought about the gift that you were given when you were sent to school? Or even before that, when someone read to you? Who knew that stringing a series of letters together to create words would open up your world?!

The late Whitney Houston once belted out that learning to love yourself was the greatest gift of all. I would posit that she was wrong. A) Look how that turned out for her and 2) the great gift of all is learning, or in the immortal words of one Homer J. Simpson, 'an edumacation.'

What if you couldn't read? Write? There are still too many of our brothers and sisters around the world that live without those gifts. They are consigned to a life of poverty. Some might argue that since that is the only life they've ever known, what's the deal? Here's the deal - think about that one time the words on a page you were reading leapt out at you, grabbed you, and never let go. Think about that time when you used something you'd learned in school to figure something out. It feels good. Think about being inspired by something you've read that spurned you on to do something. That happened because you could read. Because you'd been to school. The ability to read, to learn - all the gifts of education - are things we should not take for granted.

I just finished reading a book by Adam Braun that has gotten me in a twist about education. He is the founder of Pencils of Promise, an organization, while non-profit, that invites you to invest in education of children around the world. What they are doing makes a difference.

I've added two links to the blog where, if you choose, you can donate to Pencils of Promise or Room to Read, another organization whose goals are to invest in the education of children globally. I don't do this lightly as this blog is not a commercial enterprise (seriously, have you read much here?). I do this in order to share what these two organizations are doing. It is powerful and it is good.

I can't imagine a world where I hadn't learned to read or write. I can't imagine a world where I didn't get to read to my children when they were babies, introducing them to the beauty of the written word. I can't imagine, even in my doughy middle-agedness, not having the opportunity to still learn. How fortunate I've been and how fortunate we are that we have had these opportunities. I count that as a blessing each and every day.

20 July 2014

Brother's Keeper

While running around central New York state yesterday (note - where we camped IN A TENT in the rain) we had an opportunity to see several sites that are key to the history of our church. It was a great experience to see these places that I'd read about but had not yet had a chance to see. While at one of the sites, I got to talking to a young man who shared that he had served a mission several years before in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. As he shared a couple of his experiences, I recalled a story about Mongolia that I'd been told many years before that left a lasting impression on me.

In the spring of 1992, I boarded a flight from Tokyo bound for Manila. Prior to boarding, I'd seen a senior leader (General Authority) in our Church, and we had a chance to chat. He was also a good friend of my parents so it was nice to connect. Just before the door to the aircraft closed, an agent ascended the stairs to my seat in the upper deck and said that I'd been upgraded to First and that I should sit in the lone open seat. I descended the stairs of the 747 and found that the seat was right next to our family friend.

Soon after take-off, we began chatting about the Church in Asia and that's when he told me the following story. The Church was not yet officially recognized in Mongolia but a senior missionary couple serving in the Hong Kong mission had been asked to go into Ulan Bator and to begin teaching English classes and looking for opportunities to serve. The husband and wife, upon arrival in Ulan Bator, knowing not a soul, made their way to a government office to seek housing. Apparently this was the custom at the time. They were referred to a senior official who was completely befuddled by their request. 'Why would, you, an elderly couple, come to this country, to serve?' was his oft-repeated question. Finally, the older man said to the official, "Why? Because I am your brother." The official was quiet and sent them on their way with no indication whether they would get housing or not. A few days later, the couple received a phone call at their hotel. It was the government official. He told them, "You have housing. You will live in my home. It is yours. I will live with my mother in her home." Dumbfounded, the man asked the official, "But, why? Why do you do this?" the official said, "Because you are my brother."

Five simple words. Because you are my brother. Wouldn't this world be a different place if we kept those words at the forefront of our minds? Wouldn't our actions toward others be different as we some them as brothers rather than enemies? Wouldn't we take a breath first and think before reacting? One would think so, right. I'm as guilty as the next person for forgetting those words and the power of their teaching. But when I think about them and when I put those around me in the context of brotherhood, I do think differently.

Because you are my brother. Remember it and let's try and treat one another a little bit better.

18 July 2014

Taking a bigger bite out of the Big Apple

So for as long as I can remember, I've had a fascination with New York City. In the back of my head, I always thought I'd "be a part of it." From my first visit to the city in 1982 or '83, I was hooked. I came back from that first trip and threw an "I LOVE NEW YORK" bumper sticker on the bumper of my what I thought (in my own deluded sense) was cool Honda Civic. It was quickly defaced by one of the tools at my waste of time high school. But my affinity for the city would not be quenched.

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I made several trips to the city throughout the years. We were in New York a week before the horror of 9/11. It was one of our best trips ever to the city. Little did we know what would happen just six days later.

From the trainwreck that the city was in the early '80's to the horror of 9/11 to weekend runs down to the city now that we live fairly close in Connecticutistan, I've felt like I've been a content outsider looking in. With my recent career move, I'm taking a bigger bite out of the Big Apple now. I like it.

A couple of observations:

  • If you are worried that there is some kind of recession on, come to the city. It is vomiting tourists from the world over and they are spending filthy amounts of money here. Filthy.
  • The 'unique' smell of the city is exacerbated on hot days. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, good about that.
  • If you are questioning some of your choices and whether they will land you in Hell and you want to know what that firey environment will be like, I invite you to the 42nd Street/Times Square subway station at around 530PM on a hot summer afternoon. You will then know what Hell will feel like. You will choose differently immediately.
  • Some of the homeless are getting a lot more creative in their cash seeking. On the corner of 38th and 7th, a homeless man was demanding cash from any and all who passed his way so he could, wait for it, and I'm quoting here, 'buy a couple of lesbians.' I am not making this up. From the looks of his empty coin cup, he probably needs to change his pitch.
I'll say this about New York City. It's not a place for everyone but what I'm getting of it, I like. I mean where else can you line up for a cumin lamb burger and cold noodles at a Chinese joint and then run across the street to grab some Cuban croquettes and cap the night off with Belgian waffle deliciousness? Indeed, that's the Big Apple for you. I'll take a bite out of that.

12 July 2014

Celebrating serape style

Viva el serape!
We're celebrating a birthday here in the Den today. As I've done in the past for this particular celebrant, I am not going to reveal the birthday number. What I can tell you about her age is that she has spent more than half her life with me, for which she either deserves the Medal of Honor or institutionalization. I'll let you decide (but I'll give you a hint, pick the latter).

Of course, today is the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's birthday. I dare say, it's been a good day. Firstly, I didn't forget that it was her birthday, so every one calm down. Secondly, I honored our long-standing family tradition and delivered breakfast in bed to her on the famous 'red plate.' To her disappointment (read relief), I did not serenade her with a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday." You're welcome, honey. Gifts were opened with no outward signs of disappointment! So we were already off to a good start.

With that in mind, we spent the rest of the day in fairly mundane activities, with the exception of a lunchtime diversion to the charm-free section of Hartford called Frog Hollow where we could enjoy Connecticutistan's only decent Mexican food at El Serape. This fine little dive was the sight of a Christmas miracle a during our first Christmas here where I was able to find really good tamales. The mighty fine SML had been craving said tamales so it made sense that we have her birthday lunch there. The first bite of salsa I had quite literally took off a patch of my chest hair. Suffice to say, it had a bite. Anyway, El Serape is aptly named and SML loved the serapes that covered each table. Although a bit of a cheesy, touristy symbol of the beautiful country of Mexico, it made us think of The Boy and that he'll be spending the next two years in that amazing place. We counted our blessings. And then we went home where I mowed the lawn. I was no longer counting my blessings.

All three of our children called their mother today, which was great. We got to watch our grandson chase his dad, hear him laugh, and see him blow 'kisses' to his grandma. Again, we counted our blessings. Now, we are settling in to watch a movie. Boring? For some, yes. For us, no. It's been good to spend this day together.

09 July 2014

Like riding a bike

"Everything old is new again."
"It's just like riding a bike."

I've been awash in cliches as I made a career move this week. On Monday, as announced on the Facebook and LinkedIn, I started a "new" job. Why the hackneyed use of air quotes? Because it's not a totally new job. I've rejoined my previous employer, hence the cliches and air quotes. As I've made a point to not speak much or very specifically about my job here in the Den, I'll simply say it was an exciting opportunity that brought me back.

It's been a busy week so far and I've not forgotten how to ride that bike. It's been fun to see people I used to run into and see their reactions upon seeing me again. The best so far was this one..."Wait, you mean you left?" Nice. I was gone two and a half years. Not quite sure how to take that one. I'll let you draw your own conclusions on that one.

04 July 2014

Mainely remembering the birth of a nation

It's July 4th and our nation celebrates the 238th anniversary of its 'birth' today. How young a nation we are! That youth allows us a measure of silliness, like blow out sales at an outlet mall in the forests of Maine. Trust me on this, as I speak from first-hand experience.

I'd only been to Maine once before our visit this long holiday weekend and and based on that trip to the fine metropolis of Bangor I thought that 'Maine' meant 'this is where the world ends.' I can now report that 'Maine' means 'land of a gazillion trees and an equal number of outlet malls and epically bad tats.'  Having said that, we've had a lot of fun here.

The stunningly patient and mighty fine SML ran her first road race in Freeport this morning. We did the LL Bean Family Fun Run. We were the oldest participants without children or grandchildren. SML did great but is resolute in her commitment that this was her first and last race.

Post-race, we were happy to indulge in the all-American sport of consumerism. We knocked out a bunch of items from The Boy's mission shopping list, so that was a good thing. We took a break on the Adirondack chairs outside yet another LL Bean store. I was particularly happy here because I had just finished an oatmeal cookie whoopie pie from a local institution called Wicked Whoopie. Let it be known that I will do very bad things if need be to fill my craving for one of these things. Best. Thing. Ever.

Now one of the reasons for our trip was to enjoy the charm of a small town fireworks show. Thanks to that shrew Mother Nature and her latest lap dog, Hurricane Arthur, fireworks shows from Boston upta Maine got cancelled. It's been raining steadily ever since but this did not preclude us from heading down to Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Head Light. Even awash in rain, it was spectacular. The smell of the ocean was captivating, as was SML's excitement at taking it all in. It made for a great day.

It's been a great 4th of July celebration! For all of its faults, this an amazing country and I am grateful to call it home.

02 July 2014

And then it was the end.

One of life's certainties is that things will come to an end. You know, like death and taxes. Things will and do come to an end. Today was one of those days for me where something fairly big came to an end. That something? Well, in a word or two, my job.

This was not one of those unfortunately timed, pre-holiday lay-offs. This was of my own choosing. In short, I accepted an opportunity with another organization. One I know very well. As a matter of fact, it will be a lot like coming home again when I start on Monday. That's all I'll say about it here. I've made it a point to never talk specifically here in the Den about the companies for whom I've been able to work and there's no point in breaking that rule at this juncture. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you'll get the skinny on Monday.

For now, I have no SmartPhone or laptop crying out for attention. This means that the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I are staring down the barrel of a long holiday weekend, our first as 'empty nesters.' We are embracing it. We are going to do a 4th of July Family Fun Run wherein we will be the only parents participating without A) a stroller or B) a walker. Such is the demographic of these holiday fun runs. Good times, people, good times.