description of blog

This photo was taken by our daughter, Sarah Timmons, or my wife, depending on who you ask. We were in Rehoboth Beach, DE on Easter Sunday, 2011.

Several years ago, on the way home from a family vacation, I picked up a notebook and quickly recorded an incident that had occurred involving our son. Eventually, I used that story to illustrate something about my spiritual walk as a believer in Christ. Thus began a deliberate attempt to document the significance of everyday events. Almost any ordinary circumstance in daily life can become fodder for another story. This, almost by definition, lends itself to a blog.

Of course, many of the entries here are just ordinary diary style stuff... the stuff of ordinary blogs. Good grief, I don't want to be ordinary.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Problem with Cardboard Cutouts

As part of remodeling his home, my customer had carved out a small area where he intended to put a full bathroom.  There would be just enough room for a corner shower, a vanity, and a toilet.

By habit, I cut out a cardboard shower and toilet to help us lay out the necessary dimensions of the room (o.k., it was actually luan plywood, but it may as well have been cardboard).  The room would be as small as we could make it and still incorporate all the necessary fixtures.

Once we settled on the dimensions, the last task was to determine the size, placement, and swing of the door.  My customer desired the door to swing into the bathroom so as not to interfere with any furniture in the bedroom. So I worked under that parameter, and eventually settled on 28” door which swung into the room.  It cleared all my cardboard cutouts.  All was well.

Until the day the door came, and I set it in place.  The initial problem I found was that the door was going to bump into the toilet by a narrow margin.  I think the toilet was on site when I made my cardboard cutout, so the dimension should have been correct.  The likely problem was that I failed to account for how much the hinges would cause the door to protrude into the room.  I was off by about a half inch.

But that was the least of my problems.

What immediately dawned on me, which I had totally not taken into account, was that there was no way to push open the door, walk into the bathroom, and then close the door.  There was no place to step aside. 

There’s probably a technical term for the breakdown in my planning.  But I’m going to call it “The Limited Value of Cardboard Cutouts Syndrome”.

You see, my cardboard cutouts were only in 2 dimensions.  And in my focus to plan out the desired end, I failed to anticipate that the actual fixtures were in 3 dimensions.  I walked all over those cardboard cutouts while planning out the bathroom.  Which was fine.  Except the real world exists in at least 3 dimensions.

So from this episode, I have gleaned a few lessons: 

  • As hard as we try to anticipate and plan for the future, there’s a chance we are thinking in 2 dimensions. There are 3 physical dimensions, but really, there are others, like the dimension of time, the dimension of the spiritual, the dimension of other people doing things we don’t plan on, the dimension of the world turning upside down in ways we could never anticipate. So while our cardboard cutouts may be helpful, they can only go so far. 
  • Once we realize that even with our best intentions we got it wrong, there is always a way forward. In this particular case, it involved moving the hinges to the other side of the door and patching the holes where the original hinges were. It took a little time, but when it was done, it looked fine.
  • In the big scheme of things, even when we screw up, we learn something. I learned something about getting too narrowly focused on solving a problem, and getting over confident in my own problem solving abilities. Had I not gone down that path, how else would I have learned that lesson?

Which really leads to my point, in a round about way.   

This is the value of Faith.   

Faith assures me that despite my efforts to plan out everything to the nth degree, I don’t always get it right, but it's O.K..  When that happens, in the midst of my stumbling, I learn.  It’s the way God works.  He has no need for cardboard cutouts.  He is able to see the whole picture clearly.  And for that, I am thankful.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Enjoy the Run

I've been a runner since my senior year of college, when I started preparing for the Army PT test.  I'm not the compulsive kind of runner... I've skipped whole months, even whole years of running.  But this post isn't about running, so relax.  You won't feel guilty about your own state of physical activity if you read it.

Full disclosure - I run because I'm not a gifted athlete.  And by not gifted, I mean that no amount of training makes me much better at any given sport.  Maybe it's all in my head, and my inability is really a self-fulfilled prophesy.  We will never know.

But I can run.

Running is easy.  Apart from physical limitations, anyone can run. And even the un-gifted athlete can increase his endurance and speed.  It just takes an investment of time and perseverance.  Good shoes are a plus too.

There's another reason running suits me.  Running can be done alone.  At any given moment, you can just walk out the door and start running.  No planning, no coordinating with others, no putting anything on the calendar.  AND, in the midst of running, it's just you and your thoughts.

So here's a thought.  Enjoy the Run

Stick with me here.

I don't care what they say -NO ONE really enjoys running in the typical sense of the word,  like you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, or watching the sunset, or Friday at 5:00.  The enjoyment of running is a complex thing.

For me, it basically means this - I enjoy the idea that I'm doing something that's the right thing to do for me, even though it's uncomfortable.  It's right for me, because distance running is about balance. And I'm a firm believer in balance.  Yup, this is an idea stolen right out of Karate Kid.

Here's where we get to the part about enjoying the run.  This doesn't come naturally.  The tendency in running (at least mine) is to put a run on a schedule, complete it, and then log it on my OCD spreadsheet.  It becomes just another to-do list - something I can say I did, just for the sake of accomplishment.

And when it becomes that, all the life drains out of it.

At its best though, running is about balance.  Running always involves managing discomfort.  Your body tells you continuously that you need to slow down or stop. It doesn't want you to run.  But sometimes you DO need to slow down, or even stop.  Balance.  There is often some amount of pain to manage that comes with training, which you press through.   And then there's the pain of injury, which is different from the above, and requires a whole different approach to manage it.  You may need to lay off a while, slow up, or run less.  Balance.  On top of that,  there's the pace to consider.  Distance running is about balancing the use of energy.  The idea is to allow your body to use energy at about the same rate as it can convert it.  Balance.

With all that in mind, the distance runner strikes out on a run.   When he does it right, when everything falls into place, he actually enjoys it.  He enjoys the moment. And for that to happen, there must be that critical factor.

There must be balance.

In that run, there is discomfort.  His body wants to stop, there may be some pain, he is breathing hard yet doesn't feel as though he is lacking for oxygen.  He is not just thinking about finishing the run.  He is focused on balancing all the discomfort, and that is a good thing.

Striking that balance does not happen during every run.  But when it does, it is intensely satisfying - yes - practically enjoyable.

And so it is with life.

A friend of mine recently posted some thoughts about getting caught up in just getting through the day, only to be faced with the same process the next.  It's no way to live.  In fact, it isn't really living at all, it's more like surviving. 

Living should be much more than survival.  Living well will often involve discomfort.... the trick is to manage it.  But when it is done right, it feels like a good run... uncomfortable at times, fatiguing, but intensely satisfying.  It takes an incredible amount of energy to focus on the moment and to realize that these minutes of intensity are in fact changing us for the good. 

Yes, we can enjoy the run.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Art of Letting a College Choose YOU

It would be a hectic and stressful year.  Sarah always had a heavy workload in school, and on top of that, like all college bound seniors, she had the arduous task of getting into the right college for her, and a college we could afford. We would take the shotgun approach - she would apply to a bunch, hoping at least one would offer her scholarships, putting it in our price range.

Step number one - decide on a degree.  When we first questioned Sarah about what she wanted to study, she wasn't sure.  Art, Graphic Arts, and Art Education were all on the list.  When we suggested she might want to really consider the Art Education option, unless she planned to be the typical starving artist, Sarah seemed to seriously entertain that thought.  She was an excellent student, and, in our minds, would therefore also be an excellent teacher.

We pressed her to put some limits on her search, so as not to have too large a set of choices.  Without much hesitation, she said she wanted to stay within about two hours of home.  By the time we really got into the whole process, she had already decided that not only did she want to teach, but she wanted to teach in Sussex County, maybe even our own school district.  Disappointment that she would not going to school far away and living in another part of the world where we would see her on occasion was something that never crossed our minds.

She ended up with a list of nine colleges.  Two didn't even offer an Art Education degree.  But she applied anyway (one was local, and the other was the University of Delaware), thinking a Masters Program might be an option, if she could find one.  Some of the colleges offered a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree with the Art Ed, while others offered a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree with the Art Ed.  And one offered the BFA with a Masters in Teaching.  At that point, we didn't have a grasp on which degree she really needed.

The plan was to push to finish the applications by the end of the year, leaving the spring to apply for other scholarships.  When we started, we had no idea how much college actually costs.  Initially, we hoped she would get some scholarship money from the colleges themselves, some grant money, and then some scholarships from other sources.  The whole thing seemed almost insurmountable given the parameters we had set.  We wanted as little debt as possible.  We have heard stories of students paying for years on their college loans.  We didn't want that for us, or for Sarah.

The colleges were scattered around Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  We largely ignored the cost, figuring it could be reduced by scholarships and other aid.  What we discovered was that the cheapest place she could go was a local college, and if she commuted, the sticker price (before any scholarships, grants, or aid at all) was about $8,800 a year.  Two were about tied for the most expensive - an incredible $58,000 a year.

Sarah completed her first application on October 24, and finished up the last one on January 7.  That last one was sort of a whim - one of those $58,000 options.  I told her "Why don't you just apply for fun, and see what happens?"

There was an unintended consequence of spending those two months of filling out 9 college applications.  Sarah was forced to write about what she wanted to do with her life.  She wrote essays about how her life had gotten to where it is, about how she developed the desire to do what she wanted to do, about what kind of a teacher she wanted to be.  In the fall of the year, all that was vague in her mind.  By the end of the year, she had pondered on it so much that she had a clear vision for a plan for her future.  It may change some later, if she is anything like the rest of us, but she had intense clarity, and she was able to communicate that.

In the midst of filling out applications, we attended a National Portfolio Day in Baltimore at the Maryland Institute College of Art on November 22..  These are held all over the country, and are designed to allow colleges to view students' art portfolios.  The feedback students receive is meant to help them develop their portfolio, which is a requirement for most art programs.  Some of the colleges at these events may actually accept the portfolio that day, some may require the student to travel to the college at a later date.  There were three colleges there to which Sarah was applying, including the host college MICA.

We knew Sarah had talent.  We just weren't sure how she compared to other college bound art students.  Sarah had her portfolio reviewed by Temple University, Rowan University, and MICA.  The comments she received were beyond our expectations.  It was on this day that we understood that Sarah had the potential of being an excellent college art student.

The representative from Temple, Dani, encouraged Sarah to consider the BFA option for her degree, rather than the BA option.  He explained that the BFA would give her many more art courses, and would give her the opportunity to focus on one area and really develop her skill in that area.  We communicated regularly with Dani after that day, pestering him with questions about Temple and their art program.  He was also quick to respond, and seemed genuinely interested in Sarah’s future, wherever that may be.  The more we spoke to him, the more it seemed clear that Sarah should pursue the BFA degree.  But at Temple, and all the other schools that offered a BFA with Education, it meant a fifth year of study.

On December 6, we traveled to Rowan for Sarah’s official portfolio review.  Beth from admissions had reviewed her portfolio at MICA, but it was not counted as the official review.  While waiting for Sarah, we spoke with a current student of Rowan.  She discussed how she was in the BA w/ art ed program, but wished she had gone the BFA route, and that if she had realized how close she would have been in getting her BFA, she would have.  Sarah emerged with her reviewer, Dan, who spoke about Sarah’s potential, and the excitement he had for her work and her future. 

December 11, Sarah’s first acceptance came in the mail from Towson University.  It wasn’t that we doubted Sarah would get accepted… but having done so confirmed that we were successful in navigating through the process of applying.  We had gotten it right, at least once.  And we did the happy dance.

On December 18, the next acceptance came, this time from Rowan University.  Make that two on that day – the other from Salisbury University.  Rowan’s came with a pretty generous scholarship offer, but it wasn’t at the top of the range that Rowan indicated it could be based on her SAT scores.  Salisbury’s offer also came with some scholarship money, not quite as generous as Rowan’s. 

It must have been around this time that we took advantage of a quiet Sunday at home and had a long discussion about what we had been so deeply involved in for the past few months with Sarah.  We discussed Proverbs 3:5-6, and what that meant for us.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  It has always been one of my favorite verses, as I seem to constantly be seeking direction for something.  We talked about how we needed a straight path for Sarah – one she could follow, one that was affordable, one that would help her fulfill the desire of her heart.  We agreed that God wasn’t saying for us to sit around and wait for a path to suddenly open up, but rather we were going to start out in a way that seemed fit, as we had been doing, and then trust Him to eventually make the way clear.  Along with that, we also hoped that “way” was kind to our pocket book.

I shared this with a friend of ours while working at his home.  He said that to his heart, the “straight path” was ONE path.  His prayer was for God to narrow the choice down to one option.  Yeah, that’s what I wanted too.

On January 11, the whole game changed.  Temple University’s letter arrived.  As was our habit, we viewed college mail together.  I handed the letter to Sarah and watched her face as she opened it. She says, “I got accepted, and there’s something about $4,000.”  Upon closer inspection, the $4,000 was a stipend for summer work, times two.  But that was just the icing on the cake.  She had also earned a scholarship for full tuition for four years.  We would still have to cover room and board, but it was an extraordinary offer.  One small caveat – it would not extend into her 5th year, which she would need in order to earn that BFA with Art Ed degree she was leaning towards (we did ask, and almost pleaded for that, unsuccessfully). That fifth year carried a sticker price of about $46,000.

Our communications with Dani from Temple ramped up after this.  We discussed her options, how to pay for that fifth year.  He was as excited for Sarah as we were.

Sarah’s acceptance from Arcadia University arrived on January 20.  Arcadia’s scholarship offer was greater in amount than Rowan’s, and almost as much as Temple’s, however Arcadia’s tuition was about $10,000 per year more than Temple’s.   We made our first visit to Arcadia on February 6.  The campus was small, intimate, attractive, and had a feeling that Sarah enjoyed.  Once we were there, it moved towards the top of her list, in spite of the cost.  On the way home that day, we stopped at Temple and met a student friend of ours who gave us a brief visit of Temple and its Tyler School of Art.  We figured we would ease into the idea of Sarah going to a city college.  Temple did not move to the top of her list, in spite of the easing in.

Towson’s scholarship offer came on February 3.  It was significant, but relatively small compared to some of her other offers.  We made a visit to Towson on a sunny day a week later.  The campus was beautiful.  We left Towson after lunch and hit a second college - UMD at College Park.  By that time, the weather was gray, the campus was huge, we got lost going in, and left in a bad mood.  Even though Sarah had already received her acceptance from UMD, none of us were feeling it.

We attended a Temple Open House on February 20.  After an introductory session, we moved to the Tyler School of Art for a session there.  A panel of students talked about their particular concentrations.  After their presentation, we spoke to the Art Education student.  She was working on her BA with Art Ed, and meeting her finalized Sarah’s decision to pursue the BFA option.  This student confirmed the difference between the two programs.  It would no longer be up for debate. 

Temple had offered us a free lunch, so we went to a dining hall and sat together and ate.  Sarah was kind of quiet, unexcited, staring off.  I made a habit of watching her on these visits to see how she was responding to the campus.  As I did during lunch, she appeared lost.  I pictured her attending this college – in that lost sense- not lost physically, but alone, lost in a crowd, lost in the immensity of this city.  It seemed clear to me where she was with Temple.  On the way home, we questioned her about her thoughts.  Sarah had always been a trooper, saying she would go to the college we all agreed was best, and affordable.  I asked her to put that aside, and just tell us what she thought of this college.  She said something to the effect “When I picture a nice place for me to live for five years, a place that will inspire me to produce art, this isn’t the place.”  It was what I needed to hear.  Art was, after all, what Sarah was going to study.  It was the purpose of being there.  In that instant, with no further debate, the issue was settled in my mind.  We told Sarah we would take Temple off the list, and would work to make something else happen.  We had known from the day she received the scholarship offer from Temple that we may be tempted to make a decision based solely on finances – that finances may cloud our decision.  On February 20, the clouds cleared. 

As a result of that visit, and in an effort to make one of the other colleges work, we decided to appeal the scholarship offers from Arcadia and Rowan, as these two options at that moment were most appealing to Sarah, they seemed like the closest in affordability, they offered the exact program she wanted, and it looked like both colleges may have had more funds available.  Sarah and I drafted the letters together, and tried to point out some things the scholarship committees may have missed.  Off they went in the mail on February 22.

On that same day, Sarah received notice that she had been accepted at MICA.  MICA was the one college we weren’t sure she would get into.  It is an all-art school, very small, and somewhat renowned in the art school world.  Just getting accepted would be a good mark on her resume.  As was our habit, we immediately started a dialog with Sarah’s admissions counselor, Matthew.  Matthew was extremely responsive and helpful.  He was also very encouraging to Sarah about her possibilities at MICA.

By this time, Sarah had received acceptances from every college she was seriously considering.  The only two left were our two Delaware colleges.  She expected to hear from them any day, but was not considering either any longer.  This may have been one of the more difficult times I had during the whole process, because there wasn’t much to do but wait to see how the finances would work out.  On February 25, I sent a text to my friend Bill.  He had just read a letter from a listener of the Christian Radio station he manages, talking about being reassured while in the midst of a difficult situation.  My text read:

“I caught the tail end of the Just Breathe letter you read. Interesting. I think I am at that stage with Sarah. We have been working on college for months. Offers have come in. We have appealed for more funding. We have done all I know to do. The past few nights I have looked over the current status and said to myself - there's nothing more I can do but wait. I wonder if The Lord intentionally puts a period of waiting in just to remind us that we are dependent on Him making something happen. Without the wait, we may be tempted to take credit for the outcome of our diligence. So we wait, and just breathe, and trust... not necessarily for the exact outcome we may want, but for the outcome of His choosing.”

Bill was supportive, in his Bill kind of way.  A while later, I sent him a second text:

            “It’s been almost two hours.  How long does this breathing business take?”

At the end of that very day – Sarah received an email from the Rowan Art department asking her to apply for an Art Scholarship.   She was being invited due to the strength of her portfolio. Of course, Sarah completed the necessary requirements right away.  The scholarship was for four years, and covered half her tuition.

Eight days later on March 4, Sarah received a response concerning her appeal to Rowan for additional scholarship funds. Her original scholarship was in the about of $15,000 per year.  Rowan raised the amount to an unbelievable $24,500 per year.  We had been hoping for $20,000 per year.

We made our second visit to Rowan on March 6.  While there, we met Jan, who had contacted Sarah about the art scholarship, and who was on that committee.  We also spoke at length with the head of the art education program.  We briefly toured campus, but Sarah had seen what she needed to see.  She could see herself attending there. 

Ten days later, on March 16, we were eager to hear news about the art scholarship.  Jan had said they would be making a decision by then.   We shot off an email in the morning, asking in the most polite way we could, if she knew anything yet.  In 20 minutes, Jan responded.  She said she didn’t ordinarily do it this way, but apparently she couldn’t contain herself.  Sarah had won one of the four scholarships offered to incoming Rowan Art students.

Arcadia responded to our appeal a little later, on March 21.  They offered a very gracious but small increase to Sarah’s original award in the form of a need based grant.  It was a bit of a let down, as we had hopes that it would be more.  On that day, Arcadia for the most part came off the list of potential colleges.  It was just out of range.

It seemed prudent to start sending letters to the colleges Sarah would not be attending, letting them know as much, with the hope that some other student would benefit from the scholarships Sarah had been offered.  I helped her work on those letters, wanting to express our gratitude for the offers.  As we worked on this, I felt some sadness about it. We had worked so hard just getting to this point, and now we had to start telling colleges no.  I mentioned this to Sarah, and she responded with this message to me:

“Yeah it is a little sad. But because we put in so much work with so many colleges, we were able to realize what will be best for me, and we had a lot of encouragement along the way from some of the colleges. If we had only done the minimum amount of effort, we wouldn't have gotten so much feedback and experience, and we might be wondering if there was something better out there for me. Plus, the other colleges got to communicate with someone who made them think a little. AND we made a few 'friends' who believed in me. I think it was worth it :) Rejecting colleges is sorta good because it means a lot of places wanted me and were willing to pay part of my way.”

Best message from daughter to dad ever.

We were still waiting for notification about the scholarship offer from MICA.  Matthew had assured us she would be getting one, we just didn’t know how much.  Most likely, even a very generous amount still put MICA out of reach.  And Sarah wasn’t sure she would even attend under ANY circumstances.  It just didn’t feel like Rowan.

On April 3, on another quiet Sunday at home, we discussed Proverbs 4: 5-6 for the second time.  I asked the kids if they remembered what we had discussed.  They all did, of course, and Sarah put it into words.  She reminded us that once the path becomes clear, and we walk down it, it isn’t just a matter of finding the right path; It is a matter of walking down a path that is good, not just for us, but for what God has in mind for what He wants to accomplish.  It is matter of discovering a path that God knows we will enjoy.

After she said the important stuff, I produced a minuscule part of the spreadsheet I had been using to keep track of Sarah’s search.  There was one column that gave the bottom line for the cost for her to attend at every school, taking into account her scholarships and financial aid.  That morning, in the midst of talking about wanting a clear path, and perhaps even ONE path, the numbers looked like this:

Some of these numbers included funding from a federal TEACH grant, which would have carried with it a commitment to teach for 4 years in a certain kind of school.  She hadn’t applied for the grant yet.

University of Delaware            $7,300/yr
University of Maryland            $30,700/yr                  (after TEACH grant)
Salisbury University                 $4,400/yr                     (commuting, no Art Ed)
Towson University                    $14,000/yr                  (after TEACH grant)
Temple University                     $4,000/yr                     (after TEACH grant)
Arcadia University                    $9,700/yr                     (after TEACH grant)
MICA                                         $50,000/yr                  (after TEACH grant)
Rowan University                     -$3,000/yr                     (no TEACH grant required)

Yes, that is a negative $3,000/yr. And that fifth year that her degree will require?  Of all the colleges Sarah applied to, it looks as though Rowan may accept the most credits for work she has already completed, including her Advanced Placement Credits, and her college credits earned through Academic Challenge.  So she should easily be able to finish that 5-year degree in 4 ½ years, and maybe even 4.

We felt that since Matthew from MICA had worked so hard, and been so encouraging, that Sarah should at least wait to hear their offer before making her decision.  We waited until the following Thursday, when we learned that MICA did offer her $21,000 a year in scholarships, leaving a balance of about $30,000/yr.  It just wasn’t meant to be.

If you have stuck with me for this whole long story, then you’ve gotten to the main point.  This isn’t just about Sarah, or college, or dads helping their daughters.  This is about our faith, and how will live it.  Our faith resides where we live, in the midst of the things we are involved in.  Our faith isn’t some vague idea, it is a trust in God Himself, a trust that God knows what is going on.  Our faith involves us walking through our lives, with a view towards how that coincides with our God.  It’s the exact relationship Christ had with His Father as He walked here on earth.  Our faith is best under the most trying of circumstances because we are forced into a position of having to rely on Someone larger than ourselves.

This is how we live our faith.  We generally do it quietly, without broadcasting it to everyone.  And that’s partly due to our belief that it’s not so much what you say, but rather what you do, that demonstrates your faith the best.

Our faith does not tell us that God will give us everything we ask for, or will always present an easy path.  In this situation, our prayer for a clear path was clearly answered.  The fact it worked out so beautifully financially was a bonus.  We weren’t counting on that, and we are certainly thankful.  But most of all, we are thankful for the opportunity to spend the past 6 months wading through a process that has brought us all closer together and to God, a process that produced part of our story as a family.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Lessons from a Kitten about Mothers.

I don't even like cats, for reasons too numerous to mention, starting with the fact my allergic reaction to them ruined my entire childhood.

But this one turned up in the form of a newborn kitten.  Apparently it's mother (likely a stray that the neighbor feeds) was in the midst of moving it from one place to another, and got as far as the middle of our driveway.  I found it as I was headed out to work on a Monday morning.

I went back in the house and told Tina, annoyed that this shouldn't be our problem, and squeamish because the chances of it's survival were minimal.  We hoped that the mother would soon return and finish the transport... perhaps I caught the incident in progress.  So I left for work, and Tina was going to move it if the mother didn't show up soon.

Tina called a friend who works with a veterinarian, and asked about whether moving the kitten would hinder the mother from picking it back up.  Apparently not, so she moved it off into some ground cover beside the drive.

And there the kitten rested.  All day long.  The mother cat did not return, and possibly never would.  It so happened that a cat was hit by a car down the street as the day unfolded.  We didn't know for sure, but it may have been the mother cat.

To make matters worse, our young tender hearted 12 year old Asher found the kitten and reported it to his mother, who directed him to me.  "Daddy, there's a kitten in the yard, what should we do?"  I told him we were hoping the mother would pick it up, but we didn't think it was going to live.  We should let it be for now.

At this point, the whole kitten incident was defeating me.  I couldn't imagine nursing it, and begin to consider the best way to euthanize the poor thing.  Nature had a way of dealing with this kind of event.  Surely by Tuesday morning she would have dealt with it so I didn't have to.

Tuesday morning came, and I went out early to see how Nature had done over night, before the boys went out to school.  The kitten was lying there where we had left it.  It should have been dead by that point.  Then it let out a pitiful meow.  Nature had failed. Ugh.

I went back in and reported Nature's failure to Tina.  "How about I call your dad?, she asked.  Excellent idea.  He had the time and stomach to deal with this.

Before Tina called him, she called our vet friend back, who offered to look at the cat.  Dad volunteered to take the kitten.

Later in the day,  I got the news.  A home had been found for the kitten.  My dad couldn't bear to leave it with the vet.  He brought it home, and my mother would bottle feed it.  They had enjoyed the company of cats in the past. A cat for them was a good fit.

I didn't know the details at the moment.  I assumed there was a conversation between him and my mom as he considered what to do, with my mom suggesting he bring it back home.  I pictured him doing this because it is his character to treat my mother in this kind of loving way.  As it turned out, it may have been as much my dad's desire as hers.  I suspect they both reached the decision simultaneously.

Mom brought the kitten to Asher's baseball game that evening, settled in a blanket in a sack.  She treated it like a newborn baby, with the same care and love.  It was drinking every couple of hours, and looked content, like a kitten should.  This was a good thing.

Wednesday morning mom texted that the little kitten wasn't doing well.  It had stopped drinking.  Mom had talked to my sister-in-law about it, and she knew of a family with a cat who had a 2 week old litter of kittens.  Perhaps the mother cat would take to our kitten.  After a 35 minute ride, the kitten was united with the its surrogate mother, who accepted it immediately as it's own.

And then Thursday morning I got another text from mom.  The kitten had died over night. Mom was deeply saddened by the loss of the kitten.  "At least it was loved," I told her.   "Yes, that is some comfort," she said, "But I can't believe how emotional I am about this."

I CAN mom. Because that's who you are.  You are a mother at heart, in all situations. It is what defines you as a great mother, and a great person.  And it is why we are privileged to have you as our mother.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What We Learned from the Science Project

Due to our son placing first in his grade for the local Science Fair, he was invited to the Regional Fair near Valley Forge, PA, which created the necessity of a trip above the canal (that's the C&D Canal in Delaware, which essential divides Delaware into two totally separate and distinct states).

It was a simple trip, all interstate highways.  But as we crossed over the canal, we were reminded of why we are in love with Sussex County.  Everything north of that point seems like one big city, with city traffic.

We discussed reports we had heard of potholes being a big problem on Route 95.  This of course was due to a bitterly cold and wet winter.  I told my wife Tina that I had just watched a video of a guy rolling his car over as a result of hitting an unusually large pot hole.  Oh, what you can learn on Facebook.

We made it out of Delaware, zipping along towards our destination. And then... we began to crawl.

I gave audible commentary as we crept along.  "Elias", I said, "Don't ever move up here.  If you move up here, I'm never coming to see you, ever."  He said it wouldn't be a problem as by that time he would have built a small plane which could land on the pond near our home.  It would not be necessary for us to come visit.

As we inched along, we looked out the windows to amuse ourselves.  We were not amused.  We crawled through a section of town with row houses within feet of the highway.  "Why would anyone build houses so close to Route 95?," I wondered out loud.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps the houses had been built first, and then the Interstate, built for the good of the many, was carved through it.

The houses were certainly old enough for that to have happened.  As I stared off into the neighborhood, I then noticed the real sadness of the situation.  Many of the row houses were vacant.  And not just vacant, but abandoned, boarded up, and probably condemned.  The yards of these houses were littered with junk.  And then, right next door, the adjacent house in the row would be occupied by some family trying to make a home.

I commented  "I'm going to stop looking at those houses.  It's depressing the heck out of me."  We continued to crawl.  "Daddy, you're still looking.  It's like you can't stop," Elias kidded.  Finally, the neighborhood ended with a wall decorated with graffiti.  I noticed an interesting warning spray painted on a door... "Trespassers Beware, we probably know who your parents are."

I thought of the privilege we have of living where we do. I wondered what it felt like to find yourself with no alternative but to live in such a neighborhood.  Of course we have our share of poverty at home, but this was different.  It was concentrated, and it was in my face.  To be fair to the Commonweath of Pennsylvania, one would expect the worst housing  to be along the Route 95 corridor. 

Suddenly, out of the blue, we begin to discuss the idea of funding a school band program for a school that may have students who lived in the Route 95 corridor housing we had just seen.  We talked about how those students probably had no ability to get into their school band program.  We imagined our school band coming up here, performing, and giving instruments to the school.

Finally, our exit was approaching.  I edged my way from the left, into the center lane.  Then, just as I was about to move into the right lane anticipating the exit, Tina said "Don't move over, everyone is moving to the left.  Indeed they were.  All three lanes were merging into the left lane.  This was the cause of our bottleneck.  We quickly moved over too.  And then we saw them.  Three trucks, blocking the center and right lanes, fixing potholes.

We made it to the Science Fair, set up Elias's project, and walked around the enormous room looking at some of the other projects (the room would eventually be filled with the efforts of 900 students.) And then we headed back home.

But we were not the same.  We had a new appreciation of how privileged we are.  And we had the beginnings of a vision towards the future.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Keith Mack - The Moment

There's nothing better than listening to live music. I drag my family to live local venues all through the summer, usually outdoors and around our beach area.  We've seen Keith Mack at many of these, playing guitar with the likes of the Funsters and Ed Shockley.

Recently I saw an excellent article by Charlies Sands on Facebook.  He talks about Keith's interesting and prolific history in the music industry and highlighted an album he just released.  I was hooked, and ordered the cd. 

Once music grabs my attention, I tend to listen to it repeatedly for a while.  While I've never written a song myself, I listen because I understand what it's like to pour yourself into creating, to labor over the process.  It's work. It doesn't come out right the first time.  And when it's done, you want someone to appreciate it and to at least give it more than a passing moment of attention.  

I don't pretend to know what was in their heads when Keith and co-writer John Thompson composed these songs.  But by default, I tend to assume there's a story being told, and then there's another story you have to dig for.  The last song on the album, "You Found the Song", really made me wonder.

Perhaps the song is simply what it sounds like - a tribute by Keith to the seasoned songwriter John Thompson.  Certainly Keith's liner note on the inside of the cd cover would suggest that.

But is there more to the song?  Whether Keith and John intended it or not, I heard something else. 

You Found The Song
Keith Mack, John Thompson

You were the first one
You were the only one who gave it half a chance
You didn’t hesitate you couldn’t wait to see
If there was a song in me

You took a blank page
And waited like a poet waits for the right words to come
And then you set them in the perfect melody
You found the song in me

So many songs left unsung
So many hearts without anyone
Who will listen?

You were the grand exception
You saw the things the others could not see
There beyond my careful self protection
You found the song in me

So many songs left unsung
So many hearts without anyone
Who will listen?
Who will listen…

You found the song in me
You found the song in me

I heard the age-old plight of mankind - finding one's place - finding one's song to sing.  There are many ways to go about it.  Personally, the driving force behind my own search is faith.  But it wasn't John Thompson who found the song, it was God Himself.  

I believe we were created with the purpose of singing a song.  It's isn't obvious what that song will be.  There are many false starts - songs that sound awful, songs that we aren't meant to sing, songs that bring no one pleasure.  The song may change along the way.  In all cases, the song is for the benefit of others.  At the age of 54, my song is not finished, but it's further along than it was, and hopefully it is beginning to actually sound good.  So when I listen to Keith singing, it resonates within me.

This is what great music does - it makes you think.  It puts you in the head of the songwriter, and lets you identify with their experience.  Your life moves from an "I" to a "we".  There is nothing better.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Scientific Analysis of Birthdays

If you took a poll, and charted "Enjoyment of One's Birthday" on a graph, I suspect that for many it would look something like this - quickly rising in youth, but then at some age, perhaps around 30, it would start to descend.  Evenually, it would reach a low point, and then in the latter years of one's life, when you are just happy to be around, the Enjoyment factor would rise again.

 I'm in that low point between the two peaks in the graph.

I can accept the aging of this body, as annoying as that can be.  But birthday ALWAYS prompt a reflecting on the past.  And given my temperament, that isn't necessarily a good thing.

Some of us are cursed with self-analysis.  It often hits in one's youth, around the age of 11.  By the age of 54, it's fully developed and can be set off by the typical triggers, such as birthdays, or funerals.  But it can also rear its head with such prompts as dreary weather on a Monday morning, or an aching shoulder.

The particulars of the self-analysis may differ, but the root question at this age is basically the same - "What have I done with my life up until this moment, and what will I do with it in the future?" 

The Encouragers will be quick to point out the positives.  Yes, I have a wonderful family, the best in fact.  Yes, I have great friends.  Yes, I have many to love and many who love me.  Yes, my family lacks nothing. Yes, I have MUCH to be thankful for, and nothing to gripe about.  You don't have to remind me of how blessed I am.

The issue has more to do with what we have been given.  I'm of the opinion we are all entrusted with things to be shared for the good of those around us.  It may be talents, attitudes, gifts, abilities... call it whatever you want.  These things are not for us, they are for those around us.  Who knows how this idea got so engrained in my psyche.  Maybe it was from watching SpiderMan movies.

The fact is, it's there now, and I can't shake it.  And the older I get, the more I realize I have one less year to act upon what I've been given.  Choices of the past may have limited where I can go in the future with this... not much I can do about that.  The beauty is, there's always some path from this particular point.

It's THAT path I'm interested in.  If I must be cursed with self-analysis, then I will apply it to modifying the future path. 

Perhaps birthdays aren't so bad after all.