King Of The Mountain (part 2)

What did I get myself into? How much further could it possibly be? Why on earth did I start off this journey by jogging? Those were a few of the questions swirling through my mind as I’d periodically raise my weary head and gaze into the heavens. I had been clambering up Mount Elden, for well over 2 hours, and I was more than a little disappointed I had not yet reached the crest. I still had plenty of water (although dehydration was not the problem) because I had been rationing the first bottle, and I was saving the second one for after reaching the peak.

The higher I ascended the more strenuous the terrain had become, and I was having some difficulty catching my breath. The 9,000 ft. plus elevation was surely contributing to my exhaustive state. A few times throughout the hike I found myself gently falling to my knees, in apparent defeat, only to regain my footing and my perseverance. I strongly considered turning back, but that’s not who I am, so I kept climbing. Three hours had passed, since I’d left the comforts of the campground, when at last I reached the mountain’s summit.

I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment after conquering the 3-mile high Mount Elden. I celebrated by munching on trail mix and tapping into my second bottle of water. I phoned my wife so we could wave to one another, but neither of us could see the other’s flailing arms from that distance. I disappointedly placed the phone back into my pocket, rested a few more minutes, and then began retreating down the massive heap. I was hungry, and I was extremely eager to return to the campsite. I previously had been told hiking to the top of the mountain and back would most-likely only take a couple of hours. It did not.

I was also informed my skater shoes would be sufficient enough for the quest. They were not. Several times I lost my footing, as I hurriedly descended down the mountain, but I was able to keep my balance with my catlike prowess…for awhile anyway. Suddenly, while slowly jogging around a bend, I found myself in a horizontal position. I had slipped on the graveled path and out towards the rim of the mountain. I somehow managed to grasp onto a rock along the trail, as I went sliding past, and fortunately the protruding formation was stable enough to halt any further momentum. Both of my legs, from the knees down, were dangling over the side of the mountain.

I breathed a sigh of relief, carefully morphed back into a vertical position, and brushed the embedded pebbles off my arms. Out of curiosity I took a peek over the edge just to see what might’ve been. I was a tad taken aback when I did not spy any boulders or jagged rocks down below. The only thing visible, over the rim, was a colossal cluster of enormous pine trees. Regardless, I doubt if landing on the tree tops, several feet below, would’ve been a whole lot better than landing on rocks. I thanked the Lord. I then continued my descent, but this time I did not jog, scurry, or scamper. I simply walked this time although apparently it didn’t really matter.

Once more my feet failed me, but at least this time I fell backwards onto the path. However, my left knee was bent underneath my body, and the “popping” sound I heard while going down wasn’t all that comforting. I detected a burning sensation in my knee, but I was able to rise up and continue on down the mountain…with a limp. I was flabbergasted when I saw my lovely wife at the base of the vast heap. She had gotten worried and sent out a search party (of one) to look for me. My wife was ecstatic, as was I, when our paths finally crossed. Neither of us had imagined that hiking Mount Elden would’ve been anywhere near a 5 hour ordeal.

I told the missus all about my completed mission, purposely omitting the part about my dangling legs of course, as we walked back to the campsite hand in hand. My entire body was sore (I had knee surgery a few months later), but the elation I felt, mainly for being back on level ground, overshadowed all of the aches and pains. I took a much needed shower before scarfing down my breakfast even though the clock on the wall said it was lunchtime. I’m pretty sure I ate some lunch, with the rest of the “happy campers”, as well. A short while later the 24 hours I had promised my wife were over, so we loaded up the car, said our goodbyes, and headed home to sweet civilization. I thought I had permanently satisfied my wife’s desires, but I’m afraid her yearning to camp has resurfaced. It has already gotten to the point where she is willing to inconvenience herself solely for the purpose of letting her wishes be known.

Recently, while my wife and I were shopping, I ventured off to take a gander at whatever manly things the department store had to offer. During that time my wife came across a t-shirt she felt she needed to show me. She carried around the garment (she had no intentions of buying) throughout the store, for several minutes, until she saw me coming towards her. My wife playfully held up the t-shirt which read, “Take Me Camping!” (or so we thought). Upon further investigation it actually read, “Take Me Champing!” Neither of us could decipher what champing meant, but I got her point nonetheless. However, if the next time we go camping I find myself saying, “I must climb that mountain,” I will know to be better prepared (hiking boots in tow), and I certainly will be better at pacing myself. I don’t want to have to labor so much, or risk my life, to once again become King of the Mountain.

King Of The Mountain (part 1)

One day my lovely wife suggested we go camping with her aunt and uncle. I was a bit baffled by her increasing fascination with the great outdoors. I’ve only gone camping two or three times, throughout my entire life, if sleeping in a tent in one’s own backyard counts as doing the deed. My criteria for camping is having immediate access to indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and television. My wife’s aunt and uncle’s newly purchased camper offered all three amenities, so I was willing to sacrifice part of my weekend to make the missus happy. That’s what good husbands do for their spouses. It’s not that my wife has ever been an avid outdoorswoman, at least not in the thirty-two plus years we’ve been together, but suddenly she was adamant about giving it a try.

My wife and I arrived at the campsite, located in Flagstaff, Arizona, and quickly unloaded our car before settling into our “new home” for the next 24 hours. Our “roughing it” experience began with a harmless cookout. The outdoor gas grill churned out some delicious burgers, and the refrigerator inside the camper kept the side dishes from spoiling. Afterwards, the four of us congregated to our comfy lawn chairs, situated on a small cement slab next to the camper, so we could chat and simply enjoy the summer’s eve. We were accompanied by a cooler of ice-cold beer. It rained off and on, but it really didn’t matter since we were nestled underneath the camper’s extended awning.

I could not help but notice the gigantic mountain towering above us in the near distance. I kept glancing at the magnificent mound, in between our enlightening conversations and swigs of craft beer, until I finally decided to inquire about what I’d been spying. I found out I was looking at Mount Elden, and it was within walking distance from the campsite. I continued probing into the matter throughout the evening, and eventually I was reminded of a quote from the classic holiday movie, A Christmas Carol. After coming to his senses, and being overcome with a childlike excitement, Ebenezer Scrooge declares, “I must stand on my head.” I found myself to be outright giddy, like the former curmudgeon, while surveying the mountain, and ultimately I concluded, “I must climb that mountain.”

The humongous heap I had been observing all evening was a far cry from the mountains I had scaled back home at Thunderbird Park. It certainly was nothing like the snowbanks I used to conquer as a rambunctious adolescent growing up in Iowa. I fondly remember when a pile of snow and a couple of friends typically meant only one thing: playing a testosterone-fueled game of King of the Mountain. It was good to be king, but sometimes the consequence of playing the physical game was “his royal majesty” would be left with one or two less friends by game’s end although usually for only a day or two at the most. No, the beast now currently before my eyes was definitely going to be more challenging than anything I’d ever climbed before.

The next morning I got up early, had a cup of coffee, and grabbed two bottles of water, some trail mix, and my cellphone before heading out on my newfound mission. I jogged on a dusty path leading from the campsite to the numerous trails beginning at the bottom of Mount Elden. I found the sign pointing to where I desired to go, looked up to the heavens above, and then began my anticipated 2 hour roundtrip journey. After following the trail a short distance I came across what I could only assume was a family of visiting tourists. They obviously were of a different nationality because I could not understand a word they were saying. They were taking turns snapping pictures of one another while posing atop an assortment of boulders along the trail. I flashed them a smile as I meandered through all of the commotion.

I soon noticed the path I was navigating seemed to be heading downwards. It’s not uncommon to encounter a few patches of declining land when mountain climbing; however, experiencing them so early on, and at such a rapid descent, was undoubtedly confusing and too much for me to simply ignore. Thankfully, at my time of uncertainty I was greeted by someone heading in the opposite direction. I informed him of the situation at hand, and I asked if he knew what might be happening. He did. The local man explained how we were on the Fatman’s Loop trail, which only went around the mountain, and how I must have wandered off the Elden Lookout Trail; therefore, missing the entrance to Mount Elden.

The friendly hiker assured me there were signs, a ways back from where I had just come from, indicating where I should go. I traipsed back a bit, and sure enough there were the signs: labeled with bold letters and in plain sight. I contemplated how I possibly could’ve missed them until I realized I was standing in the exact spot where I had earlier run into the presumed family of tourists. The posing family members surely would’ve blocked anyone’s view, of the informative signage, when standing on top of the boulders. I had lost a little time (and energy) in search of the correct path to take, but I was now officially ready to scale Mount Elden.

Responsibility…And The Blame Game

I am a huge fan of responsibility. In general, I’m also keen on laws, rules, and regulations because then everybody knows exactly what’s acceptable and what’s not, or at least they should, and there ought to be no excuses for not abiding by them. That’s partly why I favor the Affordable Care Act. “Obama care” forces people to do the responsible thing, obtaining some form of health insurance, or else having to pay a fine come tax time. I was versed about responsibility, at a very early age, and that there are consequences to one’s actions. I was even taught when you borrow something you need to return it in the same condition, if not better, than when you took possession of the item. That’s certainly the responsible approach to take in that type of situation.

I also learned when you make a mistake you should admit it, and try rectifying the circumstance, instead of attempting to lay blame elsewhere. Back in the good old days unwed couples automatically tied the knot after learning they had conceived a child. I miss those days. That was responsibility at its best. However, responsibility has apparently fallen by the wayside, in this day and age, along with respect and common sense. A person need only watch Judge Judy once to comprehend the scope of what I’m trying to convey. Practically all of the cases on the show involve defendants blatantly shirking responsibility for their actions, and bringing them to court is the last chance plaintiffs have for receiving due justice.

It’s almost unbelievable how clueless some people are, concerning responsibility, and what they’re actually willing to say and do in order to avoid accepting any deserved blame. Many cases are about someone borrowing a car, from either a friend or a relative, having an accident, and then not understanding why on earth they should have to pay their friend or family member for the damages. Their defense, more often than not, is that their friend or relative is at fault because they should not have allowed them to borrow the vehicle in the first place. What?! No matter how long and hard the Daytime Emmy-winning judge tries, to make all of the ungrateful borrowers understand, her common sense explanations virtually always fall on deaf ears. Judge Judy shouldn’t feel too bad though because some people simply refuse to understand.

One of those people are Joseph Jessie Corrales. The 24 year-old recently pled guilty to second-degree murder in the beating death of a 17 year-old while robbing his home. During Mr. Corrales sentencing he said, “I am not a criminal, I’m a man who made a mistake in life.” Those hollow words do not ring true because Corrales was already on probation, for a different robbery, at the time of the murder. Unfortunately, the convicted killer was not the only one in the courtroom making excuses for his appalling behavior. The murderers attorney, Kellie Sanford, suggested he deserved leniency since men his age do not possess the cognitive thinking needed to avoid bad situations. I’ve heard that theory before: the brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches their mid-twenties; however, I’m convinced all 24 year-olds have at least a general idea of the difference between right and wrong, and I absolutely think they know that murder is reprehensible.

Saying anything to the contrary only signifies how this country tends to coddle and enable those who make the wrong choices in life and shirk all responsibility. Another example of what I perceive as a nationally “acceptable” irresponsibility is that of those small disclaimers on the back of those humongous dump trucks. What’s the deal (as Jerry Seinfeld would say) with all of those signs reading, “not responsible for falling debris,” and, “not responsible for broken windows,” etc. Does posting a disclaimer really exonerate a person from accepting responsibility for their actions? I reckon I even thought so, at one time, since I would hang up a couple of “not responsible for accidents” signs whenever my lovely wife fancied having a garage sale at our house. Regardless, I don’t care if the truck has a sign or not because if the load is too big, not secured, or if the bumper’s debris had not been properly brushed off then I positively will hold the driver of the truck accountable for any damage done to my vehicle.

Recently, I realized I was searching for someone, other than myself, to blame for my own carelessness, so I’m painfully aware how tempting it sometimes can be trying to shirk responsibility and falling prey to the blame game. I came home one day, after a refreshing morning at Starbucks, to find a traffic cone placed at the end of my driveway. The City of Peoria had previously sent out flyers warning the neighborhood they’d be repaving our streets, one lane at a time, so I knew the orange pylon meant our side of the street was to be repaired first. I moved the cone, parked my wife’s car in the garage, and then purposely repositioned the rubber pylon in approximately the same spot. After a while I decided to run some errands since the city had not yet started their project.

I backed out of the garage and was quite startled when I felt (and heard) a “clunk,” but of course I instantly knew what had transpired. I had completely forgotten about the traffic cone, and I had not seen the small structure in any of the mirrors when backing out. I quickly got out of the Hyundai to assess the situation. The Elantra appeared to be fine, but the orange pylon was significantly bent underneath the car’s frame. I was unable to remove the cone with my hands because it was wedged in there so tightly that it would not budge, so I pulled the vehicle forward a bit and…ta-da. No harm, no foul, or so I thought.

The next week my wife was leaving work and noticed the rear panel of her Elantra was slightly split at the seam. It did not take a genius to figure out how the damage may have happened. We took the fairly new vehicle to the Hyundai dealership since the car was still under warranty. I showed the service department representative the split seam, but I did not offer an explanation as to how it may have occurred. The representative gave the entire backend of the car a thorough once over (mainly with a confused look on his face). He concluded, after finding a few scratches down low, the Elantra must’ve been hit; therefore, it would not be covered under our warranty. The service department representative also informed us they would have to replace (not repair) the whole back panel, and he gave us a $1,000. estimate to fix the car. I was utterly in shock.

The blame game had officially begun. I rationalized the destruction done to the vehicle was the City of Peoria’s fault. Someone on the city’s payroll after all was the one who originally positioned the traffic cone in my driveway. In addition, if they would have begun resurfacing our street immediately, after placing the pylon, I never would’ve even considered leaving the house that day to run inessential errands. I then reasoned if the city wasn’t responsible then surely somehow the Hyundai dealership was at fault for not honoring the warranty. Ultimately, I came to my senses and stopped searching, for someone else to blame, and I finally admitted I was solely responsible for the damage done to my wife’s Elantra. I’m certainly disappointed I chose to dabble in the blame game, but at least in the end I got it right.

The New Bruce Jenner

Many people have been using such adjectives as inspiring, fearless, and heroic when referring to Bruce Jenner as of late. When I think of the former Olympian, which would be practically never if it weren’t for all of the recent excessive media coverage, I’m more inclined to use words like baffling, disturbing, and perverted when describing his newfound situation. Mr. Jenner is currently transitioning into a female. The 1976 Olympic decathlon champion, and former fifth wheel of the Kardashian family, decided to publicly profess, “for all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” He does appear to look somewhat like a woman, although not a very attractive one, but he still possesses his male body part, so I’d say Mr. Jenner is presently still a man for all intents and purposes.

Until now I really only knew two things about Bruce Jenner; he won a gold medal, and he married into the incredibly popular Kardashian family. I proudly admit I did not waste my time watching the overly-hyped “coming out” interview, but it is my understanding Bruce believes that in a perfect world he would have been born a female instead of a male. It is also my understanding he was, is, and will remain sexually attracted to only women when the transitioning stage is over. I commonly refer to the aforementioned sort of behavior as a “double slap” to God’s face. After Mr. Jenner’s transformation is completed “she’ll” have corrected “God’s mistake,” and “she’ll” have become a lesbian in the process.

We’ve actually seen this strange scenario before, but in the reverse fashion, when Chasity Bono, Sonny and Cher’s daughter, evolved into the manly Chaz Bono. She became a he, yet he continues to date men exclusively. This makes no sense to me, and I’m surely not the only one who does not understand this abnormal way of thinking. A gay, ex-friend of mine expressed, during Chasity Bono’s transformation, how unfathomable and ridiculous that circumstance seemed even to him. The reason we are ex-friends is because the more time we spent together the more relaxed he got, and the more flamboyant he became; therefore, he began using vulgar terms, during our conversations, and making unwarranted passes at me which was quite unsettling.

I hold no ill will towards him, Bruce Jenner, nor Chaz Bono, and I know God still loves them (as He does all of His children), but I am disappointed in how today’s media tends to glorify these types of people and their peculiar stories. It appears as though anyone’s opinion to the contrary (mine included), regardless of its validity, typically is wrongly construed as being heinous. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at what’s considered to be perfectly acceptable, or what constitutes being newsworthy, in this day and age. For instance, I’m completely dumbfounded by the Kardashians’ fame, success, and the empire they’ve seemingly built out of nothing. I believe they’re the ideal example of the famous…only being famous…for being famous.

Bruce Jenner’s ex-wife, Kris Jenner, is probably best known as once being married to the late Robert Kardashian (the defense attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial), creating a multi-million dollar conglomerate, and in more recent times for divorcing Mr. Jenner. Kris’s daughter, Kim, became a household name after her pornographic home movies surfaced (presumably intentionally) on the internet in 2007. That almost assuredly led to the reality television series, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, airing later that same year. The show mainly features Kim and two of her sisters, Kourtney and Khloe, amongst numerous other Kardashians and Jenners. It’s no secret Kris Jenner is the mastermind behind the Kardashian dynasty, and apparently the family matriarch has no qualms about exploiting her family for personal financial gain. She purportedly not only allowed her seventeen year-old daughter, Kylie Jenner, to pose provocatively in revealing outfits and skimpy swimsuits on the youngster’s website, but she also encouraged the risqué behavior.

My assumption is the majority of the Kardashian clan are attention whores. Maybe Bruce Jenner is no different. I reckon it was probably best when Bruce left the dysfunctional Kardashian household behind although I think he’s proven he’s quite capable of being dysfunctional all on his own. I imagine the Kardashian empire will eventually crumble, at least by the time they’re all senior citizens, unless of course the grandchildren decide (or are manipulated by “Grandma Kris”) to follow suit. I also surmise as long as people (myself included) continue talking about the Kardashians and the Jenners then they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. In addition, I unfortunately presume this is merely chapter one, in regards to the saga of the new Bruce Jenner, because of our nation’s fascination with celebrities and the unusual. However, I prefer to remember Bruce Jenner as an American boy who worked extremely hard to one day win an Olympic gold medal for his country. Now that’s truly an inspiring story.

Oh Brother

I was born a brother. I did not have a choice in the matter. That decision had already been made for me, two and a half years prior to my entrance into this world, when my parents had a daughter. My first memory as a younger brother (actually, my first memory in general) is of my sister and I wandering about the backyard of an empty house my parents were interested in buying. The spacious yard, at least in the mind of a 3 year-old, had two levels. The levels were separated by a small rocky embankment and a set of cement steps. The lower level contained a modest patio and a couple of large trees while the upper level boasted a few lilac bushes, a patch of daylilies, and a pear tree, but to me the main attraction was the large doghouse positioned smack-dab in the middle of the yard.

Fido’s home resembled a miniature house for humans, complete with white paint and dark shingles, and it made for a challenging yet achievable climb. The doghouse disappeared immediately after my parents purchased the home. I guess that makes perfect sense because my family did not own any four-legged friends at the time; however, I reckon the disappearance of the doghouse had more to do with the safety of my sister and I than anything else. We did manage though to enjoy the backyard for many years to come: climbing the towering maple trees and pogo-sticking on the patio. We learned how to ride our bicycles on the lower level, and my father religiously planted a garden each spring on the upper level.

At the age of four I became an older brother, and once again I had no say in the matter. With the addition of another sister I soon felt like an Oreo cookie; I was the exciting crème filling in between two dull chocolate wafers. In actuality, I really don’t have a recollection of too many things that occurred when there were just the three of us siblings living under my parents’ roof. I do recall when my brother was born, two years later, because our household then became evenly proportionate amongst girls and boys. What a relief…life seemed a bit more fair at that point. I found there to be an instant comradery with my little brother, and why wouldn’t there have been. We had the same “parts” for goodness’ sake.

I believe most women know what I’m talking about. There’s a reason why the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus has sold more than 50 million copies. Ladies tend to recognize the significant differences, between the two sexes, more so than most of us clueless men. I presume Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, from the hit television series, Seinfeld, was speaking on behalf of women everywhere when she proclaimed, “I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things,” during the hilarious episode titled, “The Shrinkage.” It apparently makes sense why women seemingly stick together, through thick and thin, and why guys eventually felt compelled to counter with the saying, “Bros before Hos.” Anyway, being a younger brother was alright, but being an older brother was definitely better. I quickly learned how easy it was to manipulate my younger siblings. Isn’t that what big brothers are for?

My brother was especially susceptible to my less than noble suggestions. We both collected Topps baseball and football cards, but most of the time we lacked the funds to purchase any. I know what you’re probably thinking, but no I did not try coaxing my brother into stealing some. I wasn’t that bad of a brother. I simply recommended he take some money out of a white envelope tucked away in my mother’s drawer. The ordinary envelope had “belt money” written on the outside, and it contained approximately $4.50. The money was received as a refund when my mother returned a belt, for whatever reason, my brother had received as a present. I think she was waiting for the store to get a different size or a different style of belt.

I’m sure I rationalized that technically the cash was my brother’s, and his to do with it whatever he pleased, which I assumed he would want to share with his loving brother. He did! We dipped into the stash just a little bit at a time as to not arouse my mother’s suspicion. One summer we made several trips, just the two of us on our bicycles, to the Tastee Freeze to satisfy our Topps craving. One pack of baseball cards for my brother and one pack of baseball cards for me. What could be fairer than that? Eventually, only .50 remained in the “belt money” envelope, so our brotherly bonding time had to come to an end. I did figure that leaving something in the envelope was probably better than nothing, and hopefully maybe our mother wouldn’t notice. She did!

Over the years my brother and I had each accumulated an impressive baseball card collection which came in handy after I invented an indoor baseball game. I would transform our small bedroom into a Major League Baseball stadium: using four coins as the bases, a brownish pencil as the bat, and a Ping-Pong ball as the baseball. I also placed a long strip of masking tape, high up on the bedroom door, to act as the homerun fence (resembling that of the Green Monster at Boston’s Fenway Park). After preparing the field my brother and I took turns choosing our line-ups from the stacks of baseball cards in front of us. The home team would position their all-stars out on the field’s artificial turf (carpeting), and the visiting team would then send their leadoff hitter up to the plate. We did not sing the national anthem, but we were now ready to drop to our knees and throw out the first pitch.

The pitcher would toss the Ping-Pong ball towards the batter, and if he swung and missed or if it landed on the catcher it was a strike. If the batter hit the ball and it landed on one of the cards in the field of play it was an out. The outcome of all other hits were determined by slowly moving the runner and the fielders at the same speed. If the runner got to a base before the fielder (or his tossed ball) he was safe, but If not then he was out. Most of the baseball cards used in our games took quite a beating. We never used any of my cards, so whether or not I won the game on the homemade field…I still won. My brother’s ball cards sustained considerable damage (ala bent corners) while my collectibles remained in mint condition. Coincidence?

Another time I persuaded my little brother to do something, when he had to have known it was not normal, was during a cold December day in Iowa. I convinced him to join me in stripping down, to just our skivvies, before heading outdoors to become “human sleds.” This winter activity could only be performed under the strictest set of circumstances. The snowbank in our front yard, meticulously formed by my father’s snow shoveling expertise, had to be both firm and slick. It also had to be dark enough outside, so the neighbors couldn’t see us, and my parents had to be anywhere except at home. I, in my fashionable Dallas Cowboys underwear, and my brother, in his Superman Underoos, climbed atop the icy heap. We laid on our backsides and quickly slid down the snowbank into the softer snow awaiting us at the bottom of the mound.

Three trips up and down the slope was apparently our limit because we began losing feeling in our extremities. We were fearful of becoming amputees at that point, so we went back inside to warm up. I think I made us daredevils some hot chocolate. My parents eventually found out about their sons’ outdoor adventure, frolicking in the snow while only wearing their tidy whities, and they halted any future “human sledding” endeavors. Nosy neighbors! I suppose forgetting to turn off the porch light, before partaking in our escapade, wasn’t too bright on my part. I can only imagine what my siblings must think of me. Oh brother.

Did You Miss Me?

I’m back from my sabbatical. Did you miss me? Actually, I wasn’t even aware I had taken a sabbatical until it occurred to me that two weeks had come and gone, since posting my last blog, and I hadn’t written a darn thing in my notebook since. Well, at least nothing that exciting or what I would deem as sufficient enough to write home about. I decided I’d better look up the exact meaning of the word, sabbatical, because suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, I began questioning whether or not I truly knew what it meant. Therefore, I got to thinking it was quite possible that I hadn’t been on a sabbatical after all. I wanted to be sure I had been using the funny-sounding word properly.

Wikipedia defines sabbatical as, “a rest from work, or a break, often lasting from 2 months to a year.” In more recent times it has been described as, “any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something.” Wikipedia then cites writing a book as an example of fulfilling one’s goal. That does sound rather appealing to me, but it does not accurately describe what I had done with my time the past couple of weeks. In actuality, I studied the Bible, played a lot of tennis, entertained my lovely wife, and took some naps. I also spent a few days filling out those dreaded state and federal income tax returns.

Maybe I finally had succumbed to the infamous writer’s block I’ve heard so much about but had not yet experienced for myself. I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my entrance into unchartered waters, by becoming a blogger, and my wife renewed my blog site for another year. She originally set up my site in February 2014, as a birthday gift, because she knew I had an opinion about everything, and she also knew how much I enjoyed writing. I happen to be one of those people who still sends birthday greetings and letters via “snail mail” instead of by the more socially acceptable (yet less personable) way of e-mail. Someone has to keep the United States Postal Service in business.

Maybe the self-imposed pressure of consistently writing something worthwhile, for another 365 days, was contributing to my possible writer’s block condition. Maybe my creativity had run its course, or maybe I simply had grown tired of all the recycled “hot topics” in the news of late: the threat of war, denying gay people wedding cakes, “racist cops,” the threat of war, politicians’ incessant but futile rhetoric concerning dismantling President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act legislation, and did I mention the threat of war. Regardless, this past year I thoroughly enjoyed writing about the “good old days,” and whatever else was on my mind, so I have no intention of abandoning ship at this time. Besides, I don’t want to disappoint any of my seven readers.

However, I feared precisely that, off and on for a few days, whenever I’d stare at the blank page in my college-ruled notebook. I found myself searching for a topic to write about in some unconventional places. I even perused an AARP (American Association of Retired People) magazine in hopes of finding anything that might spark my interest. I’m a long ways away from turning 50 (316 days), but I’ve been receiving the bi-monthly publication in the mail for at least a year now. I reckon I shouldn’t be all that traumatized, by being perceived as an elderly gentleman before my time, since around a decade ago some punk kid behind the counter at McDonald’s asked me if I qualified for the restaurant’s senior citizen discount.

I’m pretty sure I responded with, “only if being 40 years-old makes me a senior citizen.” He gave me the discount. Ouch! I suppose I shouldn’t have been so upset with the young employee’s nonsense because I too was once ignorant regarding the concept of age when I was a youngster. I recall such ignorance when I was in my early twenties, and I came across the obituary section of the local newspaper. After noticing a person had died at the age of 52, I remember thinking to myself, “well, at least he had a good, long life.” I no longer find that sentiment to be true especially since I’m approaching the Big 5-0 myself.

Anyway, I typically begin my writing process after either recalling something from my past or hearing about something interesting, controversial, or appalling in the news. I’ll usually jot down a sentence or two in my notebook, rarely an entire paragraph, and once in a while I’ll just write down a possible title for my blog. More often than not the title changes before the process is completed. I’m constantly trying to find the perfect sentence, so the pages in my spiral notebook contain more arrows than Cupid’s quiver, and they have more scratch marks than the cars entered in a demolition derby. Highlighting, arranging, researching, rearranging, and then tweaking is all part of my writing process. All of this, of course, is done while sipping coffee at Starbucks.

Then comes the hardest part of all. This one-finger typist transfers all of his written words onto the computer screen for anyone to see. My wife has offered (many times) to type my blogs for me. I did take her up on her generous offer in the beginning, but after my first two posts I felt as though the finished product wasn’t completely mine. I guess I’m willing to sacrifice, the couple of hours I’d save, for the satisfaction of seeing the entire project through from start to finish. My blogs definitely are a labor of love. Hopefully, I’m finally over my writer’s block, if indeed that’s what it was, so you won’t have to miss me again.

Lunch With Jesus

The other day I had lunch with Jesus. That may or may not sound strange depending on who you are and what you believe. I have believed in God (the one and only God) for several years although I used to inaccurately envision Him as a detached supreme being, watching over His creation from afar, instead of as the encompassing, loving entity that He truly is. In actuality, He is much closer to us than we probably can even imagine. I wonder how I overlooked, for so many years, the fact that the name Immanuel (Jesus) actually means “God with us.” Duh! I no longer see God as being way out there in the universe somewhere because at times He’s in my own backyard. Literally!

I invited Jesus to have lunch with me this past week, and not surprisingly He accepted my invitation. I wish I could take credit for such a novel idea, but having lunch with Jesus was suggested by my pastor. He made the proposal to his congregation but only after experiencing the unconventional activity himself. Quietly praying to my Lord and Savior is an amazing thing, but speaking out loud to Him as a friend adds a whole other dimension to the relationship. At least that is what I have found to be true these past few years, so I was more than willing to partake in the soul training exercise as recommended.

I made myself a Reuben sandwich, but I did not make one for Jesus. I’m not crazy! However, I did pull out a chair for Him to sit on after bringing my Reuben, a handful of Cheetos, and a Snapple iced tea to the table outside underneath the covered patio. I began the luncheon by thanking Jesus for always being there with me even when I wasn’t truly aware of it in the past. I immediately thought about the beloved “Footprints in the Sand” poem as I visualized myself being carried by God. I was then compelled to thank Him for those trying times throughout my life when He absolutely “carried me.” I continued thanking Jesus, in between bites of my delicious sandwich and Cheetos, for my family and for all he has blessed me with.

I poured my heart out to my Savior with unconstrained emotion. I told Him what was on my mind, and I shared all of my recent concerns with Him. The time went by quickly, and I found I had much more to say to Jesus than I had anticipated. My sandwich had cooled off (as much as it could in the Arizona heat) before I was even halfway finished, but I continued conversing with my Lord until my plate was spotless. I admitted to Jesus I knew I had been hogging the conversation. I guess there was so much I needed to say and so much gratitude I wanted to express. I then informed Him I was going to shut up and just listen for a while because I longed to hear His voice in that special moment.

I also told Jesus how hearing a small voice would be fine, but a thunderous voice from Him would be a whole lot better because sometimes I’m not too bright, so subtleties are usually wasted on me. I closed my eyes and sat in silence. I listened intently but I didn’t hear a thing. I eventually opened my eyes and began surveying everything in the backyard before finally staring up at the sky in hopes of receiving some sort of a sign. Again, nothing. This new venture was foreign to me, so I wasn’t sure if I was executing the task in the proper manner or not. I decided to close my eyes and sit in silence some more. I heard myself softly repeating, “Please speak to me, I want to hear your voice.”

The popular biblical phrase, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” was the first thing that entered my mind for some reason. I promptly dismissed that notion because I figured maybe my ego was attempting to get in the way. Next, a pesky fly landed on my arm. It appeared to be the only one in my backyard, but obviously its mission was to bug me (pun intended) since it had been buzzing around the table the entire time I was having lunch with Jesus. Instantly, but only for a second or two, I thought, “Uh-huh, there’s a lesson to be learned here.” Maybe I had become easily annoyed lately, and Jesus was imploring me to “chill out.” Maybe.

Suddenly, I was no longer blanketed in peaceful silence. My neighbor to the east wandered out into his backyard, and soon I realized he was in no hurry to go back indoors. There was an incessant clanging, for the next several minutes, in which I perceived as having something to do with the transportation of ceramic flowerpots. Then a dog somewhere in the distance began barking and would not quit. A neighbor nearby, to the west of me, started-up some type of power saw that continued to run non-stop. Then I noticed an array of birds unified in one spirited song as though they were from the same choir. Another neighbor, on the other side of my southern cement wall, added to all of the other distractions by tossing his recyclables, one at a time of course, into an echoing receptacle.

Maybe I was being reminded of what my pastor has repeatedly proclaimed from the pulpit on Sunday mornings: We do not work where we work, play where we play, or live where we live by chance. I was placed in my neighborhood for a reason. As a follower of Christ I am called to be a good neighbor, and at times I am to be the light in someone’s darkness. Maybe I was suppose to be better aware of people’s needs especially of those who live around me. Probably. It was difficult for me to know for sure with the lack of silence now being so magnified. I told Jesus, “Apparently, our quiet lunch together is over, and maybe you didn’t have any earth-shattering thing to say to me at this time.”

As soon as the last word of that sentence left my mouth something happened. The once calm air transformed into a gusty wind upsetting the previously motionless wind chimes hanging above my head. The swaying chimes emitted a ding…ding…ding sound resembling what is commonly heard on television game shows when a correct answer is given by the contestant. It appeared as though Jesus was in agreement that our lunch date was indeed over. I began pondering what had transpired over the last hour, and I could not help but recall the “good and faithful” thought I initially had when I first sat there in silence. Maybe on this special occasion God simply was pleased I had taken the time to have lunch with Jesus.


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