A Positive message

With all of the negative rhetoric running rampant in this great country of ours, especially amongst the presidential hopefuls for 2016, I thought it would be refreshing to write something with a positive message. Therefore, I’m not about to mention the ludicrous protesting happening (again) in Ferguson, Missouri. It makes no sense to me why anyone would be against law enforcement protecting law-abiding citizens from people like Michael Brown. Instead, those protesting insist on honoring the deceased delinquent. What’s even worse is combining all White police officer shootings of Black men into one neat little package. Each incident is entirely separate from the others and deserves the respect of being thought of as such. Regardless, all lives matter, yet there are sometimes dire consequences awaiting those who choose to participate in robbery and resisting arrest.

In remaining positive, I also won’t divulge the fact that Donald Trump is constantly applauded as a “self-made” successful businessman, but in reality he came out of his mother’s womb a millionaire, and he has since owned four businesses that have gone bankrupt. Although there’s something to dislike about every candidate, vying for the presidency of the United States of America, I’ll attempt to solely focus on what I actually like about them. Of course, there’s at least one possible foreseeable problem with that; what I might choose to offer as a compliment may indeed be the exact thing someone else despises about the presidential hopeful. However, this blog is about me remaining positive. If a candidate isn’t even mentioned in this piece…I’m sure that speaks volumes as to what I must think of them.

Donald Trump says he’s in favor of repealing America’s birthright citizenship policy. I agree. I’ve been against rewarding newborns (of illegal immigrants) the automatic right to U.S citizenship, simply because they were born here, for a very long time. I am also on the same page as Mr. Trump when it comes to his disdain for America’s incessant pursuit of political correctness. The Donald made headlines recently (what’s new?) after responding to a tasteless line of questioning, apparently in a politically incorrect manner, during the first Republican debate for 2016. The business mogul absolutely was singled out and attacked by Fox News commentator, Megyn Kelly, so I say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m not about to disagree with Trump’s unflattering comments about Rosie O’Donnell either. I’ve heard the former co-host of The View publically berate and belittle him, as well as many others, so I’m fairly unsympathetic when people tend to treat her in the same fashion.

Similarly, Kelly Osbourne was recently lambasted, while guest-hosting on The View, after she said what many perceived as being a politically incorrect statement. The irony is Ms. Osbourne was trying to put Donald Trump in his place, concerning his take on our nation’s illegal immigration problem, when she blurted, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?” I’m not a fan of Kelly Osbourne whatsoever, but I think her comment was totally correct. Every “day laborer” I’ve ever seen, at least in Arizona, has appeared to be of Hispanic descent. The majority of housekeepers in hotels, all across the United States, seem to be of the Latina persuasion as well.

It’s apparent to me many illegal immigrants are content working America’s less than glamorous occupations, at extremely low wages, just as long as they have the opportunity to continue living in this country. My point is I strongly doubt if Mr. Trump could find a White, legal citizen to clean his toilet unless he’s willing to pay a decent wage. People simply need to lighten up and cut Ms. Osbourne some slack. The other thing I appreciate about Donald Trump is due to his immense wealth he doesn’t have to pander to special interest groups to run a legitimate campaign. The Donald is his own special interest. Oops…I forgot…maybe that last comment wasn’t too positive.

Dr. Ben Carson has said he is not a fan of political correctness either. I admire his candidness, and I relish the fact he’s not a seasoned politician. Dr. Carson also boldly refutes the theory of evolution which is my sentiment exactly. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both have been defending Planned Parenthood recently in the wake of the “scandal” involving the family planning center. Videos have surfaced of Planned Parenthood personnel discussing, in a nonchalant manner, the harvesting of babies’ body parts. At a time when most of the other candidates are threatening to defund the agency’s clinics, across the entire nation, Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton are commending the organization’s existence. The released videos are definitely unfortunate, and maybe the government could reduce the institution’s annual funding a bit, but I think Planned Parenthood is a vital agency especially for the younger generation.

I know I was thankful for the family planning center, in the mid-eighties, when I was dating my girlfriend (aka lovely wife) and even after we got married. Fortunately, we were allowed to obtain birth control without parental consent. Who wants to hear their parents’ lectures (or worse yet – them saying no) when a young couple thinks they’re doing the right thing? After our wedding we were able to continue purchasing birth control from Planned Parenthood at an affordable rate. The clinic enabled my wife and I to responsibly start a family when we were certain we could afford raising a child without any financial assistance.

Hillary Clinton has a reputation of reaching across the aisle to get things done. The same can be said of Jeb Bush although probably not to the extent of some other compromising Republicans namely John Kasich and Chris Christie. I’m an avid supporter of bipartisanship, so I have high regard for anybody who’s willing to negotiate, with the other party, to do what’s best for the United States. Mr. Bush, believe it or not, has sometimes been criticized, by members of his own party, for being too liberal. I admire how the former Governor of Florida dismantled affirmative action in his state. I also fancy how he’s a proponent of “three-strike” laws. I believe if a lawbreaker hasn’t learned to abide by society’s rules after already being convicted of two felonies then the miscreant will most-likely never learn. Therefore, repeat offenders should be subjected to harsher sentencing, on their third strike, and kept isolated from law-abiding citizens.

Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee both seem to have a major problem with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Mr. Paul desires to, at the very least, minimize the government agency, and Mr. Huckabee insists the stressful annual event, of filing tax returns, could easily be simplified. Both candidates are in favor of dismantling the IRS and implementing a fairer tax system. Mike Huckabee envisions a new tax system where all tax returns could effortlessly be completed and returned on a standard postcard. That sounds phenomenal to a guy who spends an enormous amount of time each year sifting through numerous tax forms. Rand Paul wants to eliminate foreign aid, and his non-interventionist attitude relating to war definitely tugs at my heartstrings.

Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker are adamantly opposed to transgenders serving in the United States Armed Forces. I would assume our nation’s military is busy enough without having to be inconvenienced with figuring out how to make a confusing situation (both literally and figuratively) like that comfortable for all concerned. I wish the former “Don’t ask, don’t tell” U.S policy, instituted by the Clinton Administration in 1994, was still in effect today. I have no problem with homosexuals serving, but I don’t think their sexual preference needs to be identified nor celebrated.

I found out, while researching the presidential hopefuls’ positions, that Mr. Walker returned $60,000. of his annual salary, each year for many years, when he was a Milwaukee county executive. It was a promise he made to his constituents when he first ran for the elected position. He did so because he had previously been an outspoken critic of the pay level for county jobs. I commend the Wisconsin Governor for keeping his selfless campaign promise. Governor Walker and the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, have their fondness for the old Patriot Act in common.

The Patriot Act was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2001; however, a key provision of the law that allowed for unlimited access to collected phone data (in essence spying), by the National Security Agency (NSA), was sadly buried in June of this year. The three of us would like to see Section 215 of the Patriot Act resurrected for the sake of America’s national security. To the contrary, Mr. Christie and I dislike famed hacker and traitor, Edward Snowden, for his cunning ways. Hacking into our government’s files and releasing private information is unacceptable under any circumstance. Another thing I like about Governor Christie is that he distinctively advocates for Social Security and Medicare “means testing.” That simply means if people do not need the money they’re receiving, from the entitlement programs, then they should stop accepting the benefits.

Martin O’Malley has a novel idea as well. The Democrat would like to see the Electoral College abolished. I too am in favor of our country’s president being determined by the popular vote instead. I’ve never understood why one person’s vote should be more important than another person’s vote, yet that’s the type of inequality the Electoral College election process promotes. Mr. O’Malley not only has a fine Irish name, but the former Governor of Maryland has stated he “proudly” holds an F rating from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). I can’t help but fancy his sense of humor.

There you have it: a thorough synopsis of the things I like about many of the candidates who are hoping to occupy the Oval Office in early 2017. It wasn’t all that simple either. However, it’s refreshing to know there are others out there who actually think the same way as I do about certain things. I’m quite aware I offer a glimpse of where I stand, on an array of issues, when revealing all of the aforementioned candidates’ viewpoints I truly respect. I’m proud to be an Independent voter. I’m about the person – not their political affiliation. I’m James McCleary, and I approve this positive message.


Whose Chair?

It’s my chair today. That’s definitely not always the case, and it’s all because of Richard. I’m only aware of Richard’s name because that’s what everyone (the staff and customers alike) calls him at the Starbucks I frequent in Sun City, Arizona. The scene there is reminiscent of the Norm from Cheers situation – cue the music- “where everybody knows your name.” I’m one of the few exceptions though; the folks at this particular Starbucks don’t know my name, and I truly hope it remains that way since I prefer to stay “off the grid” as much as possible. Even though Richard doesn’t know my name, or anything about me, I’m sure he thinks of me as “the guy who steals his chair.”

Therein lies the problem with my newfound nemesis. Once or twice a week, for approximately the past year, I’ve been patronizing the Sun City coffee shop mostly on days when I really need to focus on my writing. My words just have a tendency to flow from my pen a little better when seated at that location. However, I assume Richard has also been a faithful customer, of the same establishment, but for a much longer time than I have been. In addition, he visits the store at least 6 days a week (I’m never there on Sundays to know if it’s actually 7). Therefore, apparently Richard (and seemingly most everyone else) thinks he’s entitled to the chair of his choice, which happens to be the exact one I’ve grown fond of, whenever he walks through the front door.

The whole ordeal has added much undesired drama to my life. Whenever Richard shows up, and I have already established position, he’s visibly irritated with the situation. He rarely says anything (at least loud enough for me to hear) about the “injustice” I’ve supposedly done to him. He doesn’t have to because many customers, and even some of the staff, freely mention it nearly every time this scenario occurs. They never say anything to me directly, when relentlessly referring to the chair I’m occupying as being Richard’s, but they don’t lower their voices either when discussing the matter amongst themselves. I pretend not to notice their senseless dialogue.

The most absurd thing I’ve overheard thus far, regarding the seating arrangements, was when my archrival was away on vacation. One Starbucks’ employee was telling another that Richard had called and said he was going to be gone an extra day and to not let anyone take his chair while he was away. To my knowledge, neither Richard’s name nor mine is stitched into the chair’s dark brown leather to suggest any type of ownership. Neither of us purchased the piece of furniture as well, so I would assume becoming the chair’s occupant is on a first-come, first-served basis – as it should be. That is certainly not the case (at least at one time) with a booth located at a rib joint in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In the mid-eighties Rock and Funk legend, Prince, bought the rights to a specific booth, inside Rudolphs Bar-B-Que, during his reign over the music industry. Only the artist’s most devoted fans are aware of this little-known fact about him. Of course, that’s the reason why I know. No one was to ever inhabit his booth, regardless of how crowded the place might be, in case Prince had a sudden hankering for some ribs. His unconventional purchase guaranteed him a reservation at a moment’s notice. Aww…to be disgustingly rich. I still like the entertainer nonetheless.

The funny thing about the Richard saga is that there are three other identical chairs at the Sun City Starbucks, but apparently neither my nemesis nor myself fancies them as much as we fancy the one in the corner. That’s right. There are a total of four indistinguishable chairs, arranged in pairs, at my favorite Starbucks, yet obviously Richard and I are only content, for whatever reason, occupying the same one. I suspect it’s because our chair is snugly positioned, surrounded by windows, and is furthest away from the incoming traffic and all of the noisy regulars. In addition, there are two other Starbucks nearby; however, they have some challenges for a guy such as myself who depends on a little peace and quiet when attempting to write his next masterpiece.

The coffee shop to the east (in Glendale) opens a little later and is usually overrun by as many as seven construction workers. They invade the compact area, with the only comfortable chairs in the store, at the precise time I prefer to tackle my writing for the day. They’re predictably boisterous, and sometimes even obnoxious, while utilizing the stereotypical language of blue-collar workers. It’s no mystery why it’s difficult for me to concentrate in the midst of all of that. The main obstacle I encounter at the Starbucks up north (in Peoria), a mere mile from my home, is that I’m constantly interrupted by people who’ve come to know me there. I sometimes feel like Norm at that location because people tend to want to sit by me and carry on conversations. Not good if your main objective is to be productive. Besides, the chairs up north aren’t nearly as comfy as the one in Sun City.

The real problem, as I see it, is Richard has gone to great lengths recently in preventing me from claiming his chair. He used to mosey into Starbucks around 6:00am, and he’d stay for about an hour and a half. I normally was already there by that time, consistently arriving around 5:00am, since I’m an early riser and that particular store opens at 4:00am. Suddenly, Richard began coming to the coffee shop earlier and earlier until one day he was finally sitting in my chair when I showed up at my usual time. I can’t believe my adversary has decided to rearrange his entire life just for the sake of a piece of furniture.

On second thought, I can somewhat relate because I countered with a minor adjustment myself. I began setting my alarm clock instead of just waking up on my own, as was previously the case, so I’d have a better shot at seizing the all-too elusive chair. I’m fully aware the Bible says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” but my alpha dog mentality has been too strong for me to resist. Now when I pull into the Sun City Starbucks’ parking lot at 4:15am, many times Richard is there. I’ll be darned if I’m going to resort to standing at the front door of any establishment, waiting for the business to open, just to capture a desired chair.

Whenever I see Richard already relaxing in my chair I don’t even bother stopping anymore; I simply continue on to one of the other two aforementioned Starbucks. I’m positive Richard does the same thing, if I get there first, because we haven’t been inside the same coffee shop at the same time for quite a long while. I only wish to patronize the Starbucks in Sun City once or twice a week, as I mentioned before, so I’m astonished by Richard’s selfish shenanigans especially since he has easy access to our chair the rest of the week. I guess one Starbucks just isn’t big enough for the both of us.


If I Was To Run For President

If I was to run for president it would be history in the making. I would take a completely unconventional path to the White House. First, I would compose a list of all of the inappropriate things I have ever done, throughout my entire life, and I’d present it to the media the day I entered the race. The neatly typed document would include my juvenile record although I was promised my early indiscretion would be expunged on my 18th birthday. However, in today’s world of mischievous computer hackers, and so much personal information now floating around in “the cloud” (whatever that is), I’m not so sure that promise wouldn’t be broken. Regardless, I would hope my egging transgression, committed at the age of 16, would not be a deal breaker for the American public.

Next, I would refuse to give any additional detailed information, concerning the lengthy list, or even make mention again of my prior sins for that matter. So many candidates have said they’re through discussing specific issues, from their past, but then they continue talking about them whenever hounded by the press. I absolutely would not retreat from my vow of silence in regards to my distant past. If I was to run for president I would not make any promises, but I would be totally transparent with my devised agenda. My modest qualifications, for the position of president, includes earning a high school diploma, operating a fairly successful business (for 5 years), and possessing common sense. My formal education certainly pales in comparison to practically everyone, but the latter attribute (common sense) is seemingly absent amongst the majority of those who are currently occupying the political arena.

If I was to run for president it would be as an Independent. I do not fully agree, or disagree, with either of the two major parties’ platforms. In addition, I’m adamantly opposed to partisanship; therefore, if I was elected president I’d be able to form partnerships with Democrats and Republicans alike to do what’s best for the country. However, collaborating with the Tea Party might be a different story. I blame their existence, these past several years, for the much needed compromise missing in Congress.

I’m all for fiscal responsibility but not at all costs to the American public. Those Grover Norquist pledges, signed by almost all of the Tea Party clan, are utter nonsense. I assuredly would not add to the nation’s outrageous debt, but I wouldn’t be able to balance its budget either. (Not even if I had a full 8 years and a compromising Congress.) No one could responsibly make this country solvent again, after 14 plus years of careless overspending, in that short amount of time.

If I was president I’d be fine with leaving some issues left up to the states to decide, but generally I prefer consistency throughout the land especially when it comes to public safety. I would aim to make texting while driving illegal (nationwide) with a mandatory jail sentence even for first-time offenders. I’m a proponent of having a required sentence already in place, for all life-threatening infractions, so violators will be well aware of their punishment beforehand; hence, acting as a deterrent to those contemplating breaking any laws. Potential lawbreakers may be more apt to reconsider their actions when knowing there’s an unavoidable harsh penalty awaiting them. I have no tolerance for anyone who foolishly puts another person’s life at risk.

I definitely place computer hackers into that category, near the top, of people who need to be dealt with in a severe manner. I’m not sure if those hackers, who are “genius” enough to disable a moving vehicle or redirect the flight plan of a commercial airplane, are truly trying to cause harm or if they’re wreaking havoc on innocent people simply because they can. Regardless, anybody who’s inclined to tamper with the safety of others needs to realize that would not be acceptable on my watch. I not only have contempt for hackers like “patriotic whistleblower,” Edward Snowden, but I’m not too fond of those who blatantly shine their laser pointers into the cockpits of airplanes, temporarily blinding the unsuspecting pilots, as well. Again, I’m in favor of having mandatory jail sentences for the likes of these people.

If I was elected as President of the United States I would not attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I believe our nation’s healthcare system was much worse before “Obamacare,” so I wouldn’t be willing to revert to the way that it was. However, I would listen to anyone with a legitimate suggestion for improving the ACA. I’m not too familiar with the specifics of Medicaid or Medicare, but I’ve often wondered if combining those programs with “Obamacare,” into a single entity, would be a cost saving measure somehow. I do think President Obama made a mistake, through one of his many executive orders, by quashing the government’s policy of threatening prosecution for anyone negotiating with terrorists. Now, American families can make deals, with known terrorist groups, for the release of a confined family member. This sets a horrible precedent, and only the wealthiest Americans would have a legitimate shot at paying the necessary ransom to free their loved ones. That’s not right!

I am anti-war. It’s quite sobering when pondering the accumulated costs, both financially and in American lives, due to our nation’s involvement in unjust wars over the years. I proudly hold an isolationist’s viewpoint because in general I don’t think it’s appropriate to get involved in other countries’ affairs. I also don’t believe in forcing our type of government, no matter how wonderful it may be, on any other nation. I highly doubt if we’d appreciate it if the tables were turned. I imagine the United States of America would fight tooth and nail to keep from being subjected to another country’s form of government. Remember the Revolutionary War? Obviously, I would not hesitate to declare war if we were ever attacked on our own soil.

If I was sworn into office my agenda would surely include nixing any further development of driverless cars and putting the kibosh on the use of drones in residential areas. It’s apparent, at least to me, there are numerous drawbacks with both of these technological advancements including losing some of our beloved freedoms. We should maintain the right to drive our vehicles, and expect privacy in our own backyards, but that’s not where we’re headed. As president I would also advocate for the disbandment of affirmative action, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I desire a country where equality actually means equality.

If I was president I’d petition for all grand jury rulings, of the racially charged kind (whether real or imagined), to be read in the morning instead of in the evening as currently tends to be the case. I think this simple change would most-likely prevent the spontaneous actions of many miscreants looking for a “justifiable” reason to loot and vandalize their neighborhoods. I figure delinquents are more prone to disregard the law in the shadows of the night than during daytime hours. Announcing verdicts before lunch would allow for heated citizens to cool down, and to reconsider their contemplated endeavors, before the sun sets. If they still choose to instantly riot at least the culprits’ identities would be less difficult to capture in the light of day.

If I was to run for president I would have no chance of winning whatsoever. I would not have any special interest groups backing me; therefore, I would not have the money to launch a competitive campaign. I know I lack the education, experience, and name recognition needed to become a viable candidate for president. Oh, and did I mention the money? I am certain I’d make a better president than anyone who has already entered the race, but it’s just not possible for a transparent Independent with common sense to be victorious at this time. I guess the making of history will have to wait.


It’s Coming…Again!

As the taste of grilled hamburger and homemade ice cream disappeared from my mouth, and the brilliant glow of fireworks vanished from the sky, my mind automatically shifted into a different mode. On the evening of the 4th of July, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I began to focus on the upcoming Christmas season. Maybe it’s because I tend to realize, around Independence Day, that we are now closer to Christmas future than we are to Christmas past. That’s not to say I hadn’t given the glorious holiday some thought beforehand, or I wouldn’t have already purchased a loved one’s present last month while vacationing in Palm Springs. I sure hope the recipient fancies the gift since Palm Springs would be a long ways to travel (from Iowa) just to return the item.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking about Christmas this early because the city of Glendale, our neighbor to the east, held their annual “Christmas in July” event this past weekend, and my lovely wife agreed to accompany me to the afternoon affair. We had not participated for the past several years, so I figured we (at least I) should do it up right. I scoured our walk-in closet for the day’s proper attire. I proudly put on my seasonal, although currently out of season, t-shirt featuring the famous flagpole scene from the timeless movie, A Christmas Story. The shirt’s caption reads “I Triple Dog-Dare You!” in reference to the young characters’ disagreement over whether or not a person’s tongue would stick to a frozen flagpole. SPOILER ALERT…it does.

I waited until we got into the car before boldly asking the missus if we could listen to Christmas music on the way to Glendale, and much to my surprise she granted me permission. You think you know someone after 28 years of marriage, but that was not the response I was expecting, so I had to go back inside the house to grab some Christmas music. I settled on one of my many homemade compact discs, Jimmy Mac’s Favorite Tunes Of The Season (Vol.4), and off we went. We made one quick stop, at our local Wal-Mart, to choose a Redbox movie rental for later that evening. I received several strange looks, from numerous people walking by, assumingly because I was wearing a seasonably unfashionable t-shirt out in public.

I was glad to be leaving Peoria, and I was very appreciative of my wife, for honoring my previous request, as the joyous sounds of Amy Grant, John Denver, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra resonated from the car’s speakers. I’m fully aware the missus was just “humoring me” at first, but by the time we arrived at our destination she was be-bopping to the holiday music as well. Even more shocking was her suggestion of having Stouffer’s Lasagna (our traditional Christmas Eve meal) later for dinner. My wife is certainly no Scrooge, but she doesn’t adore Christmas nearly as much as I do (no one does), so I was pleasantly surprised at the lengths she was going to on this special day. It appeared as though the entire day was going to be like Christmas in July.

Our first stop, after reaching Glendale’s Historic District, was to the city’s visitor’s center. I couldn’t help but smile after spying the giant, practically naked inflatable Santa just outside the building’s main entrance. Mr. Claus was relaxing in a hammock, attached to a couple of palm trees, and sipping on a foofoo drink complete with a tiny umbrella. We were given a map of the area and a mysterious grab-bag gift: a small notebook and pen decorated with snowflakes and a Christmas tree. My wife and I walked hand in hand, from shop to shop, gazing at the numerous lawn displays along the way. We sampled Christmas cookies and candy canes, and I bought a small scoop of Peppermint Candy ice cream at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

Most of the businesses, throughout the picturesque neighborhood, were playing Christmas music. Many of the owners, and shoppers alike, were adorned in holiday apparel. The people of Peoria might not have appreciated my cheery shirt, but in downtown Glendale I was fitting right in. Santa Claus was hanging out at one of the quaint shops. All of the visiting children were having their pictures taken with him, but the jolly old elf did take the time to wish the missus and I a Merry Christmas. He possibly may have been the real Santa since I’m somewhat of an expert at detecting the fake ones; however, with this particular Kris Kringle I just couldn’t be certain one way or the other.

During our festive outing we noticed two teenage boys having a snowball fight across the street. Obviously, the snow before us was manmade, but it was a nice gesture by the city, in keeping with the holiday spirit, nonetheless. The only thing missing was a winter nip in the air, but that was hardly possible with the day’s triple digit temperatures. We ended our time in Glendale’s Historic District with a free ride on Ollie the Trolley. I felt as though I was in an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as the trolley puttered around town. Of course, I knew we really weren’t heading to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to visit King Friday.

When we got home my wife was willing to listen to even more Christmas music (bless her heart), but I decided it was time to retire the sounds of the season for now. I had already broken my “no Christmas music before November 1st” rule, so I figured I should quit while I was ahead. My other strict holiday rule is “no Christmas music after December 25th.” My wife doesn’t care for that one. She’s not a “cold turkey” type of person like I am; she prefers to wean herself off the stuff, like an optimistic junkie, although she’s pretty successful. Anyway, we still had our Stouffer’s lasagna to eat and our Redbox movie to watch. Our Christmas in July came to a close that evening as we sipped on homemade eggnog while watching A Merry Friggin’ Christmas.

Many people complain that Christmas seems to come a little earlier each and every year, and I imagine most of them finish their tirades with a “Bah! Humbug!” However, apparently they’re correct because last year I wrote a blog (“It’s Coming!”) about Christmas, during early September, but this year I’m writing about the holiday, and it’s only July. It’s no secret I love everything about Christmas: the decorations, the lights, the presents (giving and receiving), the music, the movies, Santa Claus, and most-importantly celebrating the birth of Jesus. Try as you may to avoid, ignore, or deny the coming of Christmas, but it’s just no use. Brace yourselves people. It’s coming…again!


The Real Thanksgiving

I’m intentionally writing about the real thanksgiving in July, so there’s less chance of it being confused with the autumn holiday with the same name. What I’m speaking of is not confined to just a single day in November, although I surely don’t mind a designated day for feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie, but rather it’s a way of life. It’s not just about seeing the glass as half full, instead of half empty, or even trying to stay positive. I realize my words have been a bit cliché, up to this point, but I’m alluding to so much more. The real thanksgiving is recognizing there are many blessings to be thankful for on a daily basis. It’s possessing an authentic grateful heart. The real thanksgiving is being thankful for what you’ve got…not what you hope to get.

As a follower of Jesus I’m aware God owes me nothing, but He gives me everything! However, recently I almost forgot that fact after facing yet another physical ailment in a fairly short amount of time. I had simply bent over to pick up a tiny, weightless object (a leaf of all things), and when straightening up I instantly knew I had done something to my back. I had considerable discomfort, on my left side, and was now forced to walk with a limp. After about a week the pain was unbearable, and had put me completely out of commission, so I went to the doctor. I had a series of x-rays (which showed nothing) and was given a prescription for the pain (which barely helped). I was told that maybe I’d get better with time. What? Maybe?

I left the doctor’s office discouraged, and I quickly found myself engrossed in anger and having nothing but negative thoughts. I’m not even 50 years-old yet, but I already have a bad shoulder, bad hips, and have also been dealing with Plantar fasciitis for the past several months. My bodily afflictions have undoubtedly hampered my weightlifting and tennis playing, and they’ve somewhat put a damper on my spirits as well. Now I had a bad back to add to the list, so I figured if anyone was entitled to a pity party…surely it was me. Of course, I was wrong. I knew my health issues could be so much worse. That evening I apologized to God.

A few days later I saw a specialist, was diagnosed with (and treated for) a herniated disc, and have been improving ever since. I’m thrilled my lovely wife no longer has to put my shoes and socks on for me. I’m sure the feeling is mutual. In the midst of my ordeal I thought a lot about the real thanksgiving. My mother-in-law has a decorative plaque, hanging in her sunroom, which reads “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” Just imagine that: if whatever you were blessed with today, but did not give thanks for, was gone tomorrow. Those words of wisdom certainly puts into perspective that we all have things, whether proportionately abundant or few, to be grateful for everyday.

God’s blessings to us, if we are totally honest with ourselves, are exceedingly greater than all of the negatives in our lives. One Sunday morning, last November, my pastor made a suggestion from the pulpit. He urged the congregation to individually make a list of everything we were thankful for. He then recommended we thank God, sometime during the week, for each blessing we had jotted down. I took my pastor’s “homework assignment” to heart. I was even compelled to retrieve a previous list, of things God has blessed me with, that I had written down as part of a “Soul Training” exercise found in the book, The Good and Beautiful God. My “Life Group” had been exploring the life-applicable book when I wrote my list of 107 blessings.

In the quiet of my home, with hands clasped and on my knees, I gave God my humble thanks. I began each praise aloud with “I bless you Lord God, King of the universe for…” as instructed by my pastor. I would then fill in the blank, from my extensive list, and add to my conversation with God by expanding my thoughts on most of the blessings before me. My list included everything from family, friends, and Copper Hills Church to mountains, the smell of fresh-cut grass, and homemade ice cream. The experience was so out of the ordinary (for me anyway) and well out of my comfort zone. I must admit I was somewhat apprehensive at first, and I certainly did not like hearing the sound of my own voice; however, I was only uncomfortable for about a minute.

I was expecting something from the exercise although I didn’t know what exactly. I do know I got much more out of it than I had anticipated. The 53 minutes went by quickly, and I was no worse for wear (except for maybe my knees). There were lots of tears, and I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness. Our human nature tends to focus on the negatives of life rather than on the numerous positives. Therefore, we must deliberately call to mind all of God’s blessings around us if we want to experience the real thanksgiving.


The Reunion

“Why am I here”? That was not a philosophical question I found myself asking, soon after my wife’s high school reunion began, but rather it was a genuine inquiry as to what I had freely gotten myself into. More distressing was knowing this evening was merely the first of two nights worth of reunion festivities. Friday’s gathering was open to all Newton alumni, who were holding their individual class reunions on Saturday, so the racetrack’s lobby was packed with an assortment of graduates (young and old). We were at the Iowa Speedway: the exact venue I publicly opposed, over a decade earlier, when I was a proud citizen of the small town.

I think the racetrack has been somewhat successful, but I’m sure the city, of approximately 15,000 residents, is still trying to recoup its losses from the generous incentives given by the town’s city council. The facility is certainly impressive, but a person could lose their voice, attempting to carry on a conversation, because it’s so deafening inside the huge lobby. I discovered that firsthand since I almost instantly developed a “tickle” in my throat after arriving at the site. It grew into an annoying cough before the evening was through. I’m a far cry from a social butterfly, so I’m positive my raw vocal chords were the result of my yelling just to be heard.

That first night I stuck to my wife, like a conjoined twin, because she’s a class reunion veteran, and this was only my second appearance in 30 years. I definitely found out (as if I didn’t already know) what it’s like to be the third wheel. Some of the male spouses weren’t in attendance while others I’m sure were content conversing with anyone other than myself. Thus, I was forced to give my best performance: acting as though I was interested in all of the “girl talk” encompassing me. Admittedly, I did have a few meaningful conversations, with people from my past, but I was more than a little relieved when the missus finally granted us permission to leave.

Surprisingly, Saturday’s soiree was considerably different. The evening was not only tolerable, but dare I say, it was sort of enjoyable. My wife’s actual class reunion was held outdoors at one of the shelter houses at Maytag Park. The familiar stomping ground, named after the nationally renowned appliance maker’s founder, holds many special memories for my family and I. When I was an adolescent I nearly drowned in the park’s public swimming pool (okay, maybe that memory isn’t so special). However, my wife and I did teach our only child how to ride a bicycle there, and all three of us received our high school diplomas, up on the cement stage, at the Maytag Bowl. Many times my family and I had picnics at the park, and we took full advantage of the wooded area’s Frisbee golf course and tennis courts.

Speaking of which I now have another “special” memory involving those tennis courts. During a rare lull, in the reunion conversations, I noticed some youngsters playing doubles on the courts nearby, so I moseyed on over to watch for a couple of minutes. The foursome unexpectedly stopped playing, just as I was arriving, and were congregating, only a few feet away from me, on the other side of the fence. I felt like a deer caught in headlights, after realizing I was now way too close not to be noticed, yet I was also aware it would surely seem strange to them if I suddenly retreated. Therefore, I quickly opted to harmlessly ask, “Are you guys just starting or finishing up?”

They all looked up at me but did not say a word. The teens just sat there in silence. They said nothing. Absolutely nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, and recognizing their fear, I uttered, “Oh, no…stranger danger,” in a feeble attempt to lighten the mood. Still nothing. I probably should’ve bolted at that point, but I sensed the need to explain why I was at the park, and I wanted to convince them I was not what they were thinking I was…a pervert. Luckily, I think the youngsters bought my story. I did find out the foursome had halted play in order to hydrate and to pick new teams. I wished them well and scurried back to the party.

Some people at the reunion looked pretty much the same, thirty years later, while others were fairly unrecognizable. This one guy swore he knew who I was, but I was clueless as to his identity. He decided he would give me some hints until I remembered who he was. He correctly named the street I used to live on and informed me where he used to reside. The “stranger” told a few ancient stories, I supposedly was a character in, and then he began naming some of “our” friends from the old neighborhood. He eventually did say the name of an old pal I indeed used to hang with; however, he remained a complete mystery to me until out of his own frustration he revealed his name. I did recognize the name, but that was all.

This same guy then began prepping or preparing (I’m not sure which) the rest of us guys for the impending arrival of another classmate’s wife. He had seen her earlier in the day, was obviously smitten with her, and for some reason wanted to assure the rest of us males of her incomparable beauty. The gentleman boldly proclaimed, “She blows everyone here away.” I tenaciously countered with, “Not my wife.” One of the guy’s classmates, standing next to me, then responded in the same manner. I think my “friend” from the past realized his faux pas, or else feared a spousal uprising, since he promptly began recanting his previous statement.

Later that night I encountered the “ravishing” woman. I played high school baseball with her husband. He was a grade younger than I, so he took over the centerfield duties after I graduated. I always liked the guy, and his wife was certainly nice enough, even insisting that she needed a hug from me immediately after we met (Oh, no…stranger danger), but as I suspected she was no match for my wife. By the end of the second evening I was no longer asking myself, “Why am I here?” I knew exactly why I’d been attending the weekend festivities of my wife’s high school class reunion. There’s no where on earth I’d rather be than by my lovely wife’s side.


A Very Good Week For The President

Last week was a very good week for President Barack Obama. The United States Supreme Court upheld a provision (government subsidies) crucial to Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). In addition, Congress approved a bill allowing America’s leader “fast track” dominion over free-trade agreements, and same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide. Of course, the President wasn’t actually responsible, for giving homosexuals the right to legal matrimony, but the Supreme Court’s ruling did happen on his watch. I’m not exactly sure what platform the Republicans will be able to embrace, this next election cycle, with “Obamacare” and gay marriage now being laws of the land. I suppose there is the nation’s gargantuan debt, in which one of their own (George W. Bush) began, and Obama unashamedly increased by colossal proportions, still left for debate.

By now, it’s no secret my lovely wife and I are proponents of the ACA. We’ve heard the horror stories and numerous rants, in opposition to the historical piece of legislation, but for us “Obamacare” has been nothing but a good thing. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with degenerative hip disease which means I’ll most-likely need hip replacement surgeries at some point. Without the Affordable Care Act we had decent health insurance, but the insurance company attached a rider to our policy denying coverage of my hips. With “Obamacare,” through our state’s health insurance marketplace, my wife and I have even better health insurance (at a slightly lower premium) that covers my pre-existing condition as mandated by the new law. Although the ACA is not perfect I’d absolutely hate to see this country’s healthcare system revert back to what it was.

I’ve also heard the arguments, for and against, concerning the recently proposed free-trade agreements. It’s interesting to me how seemingly equally intelligent individuals can be on opposite sides of any given issue, and each side can cite specific data in support of their chosen stance. Some say the trade partnership with other countries will help the U.S. economy while others say it will further hinder the nation’s unemployment rate. I tend to agree with the latter, based on the consequences suffered at the hands of a previous free-trade agreement (NAFTA), although I’m not too familiar with the details of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreements. I do know there already are not enough jobs, in the United States, for every able-bodied person wanting one. Almighty technology is responsible for continuously squeezing out the human workforce and forever causing a lack of employment in this country.

Computers and machines have been replacing human beings, at an alarming rate, and will continue doing so. Bank tellers have lost out to ATMs and on-line banking, and more and more stores are replacing checkers with self-checkouts. The days of seeing two men on the back of a garbage truck have all but disappeared. Eventually and inevitably we’ll be saying goodbye to FED-EX and UPS delivery drivers – thanks to drones, and we’ll be bidding a fond farewell to truck, taxi, and limousine drivers – thanks to driverless vehicles. Regardless, whether or not the TPP or TTIP would aid in diminishing more jobs, here at home, I do not think the agreements should be “fast tracked” as is now permitted by the recent somewhat bipartisan passage of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). In general, rushing into anything is not usually recommended, so I wish our elected officials would’ve taken more time considering such an important matter.

I do not pretend to understand homosexuality, and my religion certainly does not condone it, but just like the millions of illegal immigrants, occupying this land, homosexuals are here to stay. I think everybody saw legalized same-sex marriage coming at some point; however, I think the Supreme Court’s citing of the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, in its ruling, quite possibly provides a gateway to other legitimate requests for legalized marriages. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state governments from depriving its citizens of “life, liberty, or property.” What about those people whose desired liberty includes polygamy or marrying someone within their own family? It’s something to think about.

I heard a new argument, soon after the Supreme Court’s ruling, as to why gay couples should not be allowed to marry. Some people are saying the newlyweds will have a negative economic impact on our federal government, and they’re also suddenly concerned about Social Security and how legalized same-sex marriage will assuredly reduce the fragile system of its funds. That may be true; however, heterosexuals have been draining the system for years, and I haven’t heard too many complaints. Besides, others have suggested that the decreased spending on Medicaid and Medicare, after gay couples marry, would more than make up for the increase in payable Social Security benefits. The real problem is our leaders, from both sides of the aisle, have been making withdrawals from the beloved program for decades. Maybe now is the time for our elected officials to have a serious, bipartisan discussion about Social Security before the well runs dry.

In 50 years (probably less) no one is going to ponder when homosexuals weren’t allowed to marry. I rarely contemplate a way of life that was different than my lifetime, so why wouldn’t others be prone to do the same? I don’t think much about the telegraph, eight-track tapes, or segregation, since they were before my time, although I know they all existed. Likewise, future generations aren’t going to dwell on landlines, compact discs, or the days when there was heterosexual marriage only, because they’ll all simply be things of the past. That’s just how it is…like it or not. Yes, last week was indeed a good week for homosexuals, trade advocates, and “Obamacare” supporters. It certainly was a very good week for the President.


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