Archive | August 2012

My Summer Vacation

When I was a kid, the first essay of the school year always had the same title: My Summer Vacation. I hated that assignment because our family never did all that much worthy of report. Money was always tight, so rather than spending a week at the shore or traveling to an exotic place, my vacation away from home meant hopping into the car to spend a few days at my aunt’s house or a day trip to the park to swim.

My dad often spent his vacation painting houses (ours or someone else’s), but on really hot days, he’d quit work early and drive an hour away so that we could swim and play in the sand on the beach by the lake. No cone-shaped piles of moistened sand for us. Dad made the best sand castles in the whole world. Using a bucket, discarded paper cup and beach shovel, he could fashion turrets and steps with a moat surrounding the exterior. Sometimes he even added a draw bridge. You could almost see Cinderella waving from the window. Passers-by would always stop to admire his handiwork. Now as I look back, I know he was spending quality time with me, and though I enjoyed it back then, today I recognize his efforts and really appreciate his building these lasting memories.

My parents, aunts and uncles have since passed away, and I would give anything to spend time today listening to their stories and learning more about them and their values. Money is still tight (some things never change), but because of my dad’s influence and his impact on me, the last few summers, I have made a concerted effort to spend quality time with my grandchildren. I did not build sand castles, – the trait must have been recessive – but we walked in the woods, worked on projects, visited some interesting places and played a lot of games. While we did these things, I listened and intentionally shared with them my values and perspectives.

I hope when my grandkids get older, they’ll understand that a gift of time is the best part of any vacation.

What’s a six-letter word for …

What’s a six-letter word for vacation?

Before you think of Europe, Disney, or some other fantastic place to relax and unwind (Whoa … there are 6 letters in unwind.), think again. These may be applicable, but they’re not the right one. I’ll give you a hint. It begins with “C” and few people easily embrace it. Give up? The word is change.

Think about it. Whether you travel to an exotic resort, go to visit family or relax in the comfort of your own home, each vacation you are expected to change. You change location, direction and pace – all because you’re not going to work. And although it may take a day or two to sink in, you feel better all over. Even your face begins to sport a smile because you’ve reinvented who you are. You’re a vacationer.

And if you’re a writer, artist, musician, entrepreneur, or person with an imaginative bent, you’re going to begin to see and feel life differently. While there’s no pressure around you, ideas will begin to spring up that you’ll be able to transform into your creative genre. Problems will begin to resolve and answers will begin to form. Life will be good.

So why resist change? The end results will usually be good if you wait long enough. It often takes time, just like your vacation. Think about some of the adventures you’ve had in the past. Some events did not turn out the way you planned, but you still had a good time and maybe, just maybe, you benefited in unexpected ways. The Lord always works things together for good.

If you’re vacation has passed, I hope you had a great time and experienced some of these change benefits. If you’re still in the planning stages or ready to head out, ENJOY. Look for the opportunities that will unfold before you as you change your lifestyle for the week. When you return, you’ll be ready to embrace a new kind of change.

Why do you need to vacation?

Planning to go on vacation sounds like it should be the adventure of a lifetime. You think about your destination, dream about the wonderful time you’ll have and then plan to do it. The only problem with all of this is packing.

You’ve got to be ready for any and all weather, well most weather. Hopefully you won’t need snow gear in August. That said, it might be really hot, very comfortable or on the cool side. August temperatures can change ever so  quickly. Did I mention rain?

Oh, and what about the types of activities you’ll be involved in? You’ll need appropriate clothing changes to match your plans along with something extra in case you spill, rip or otherwise detect a stain you had not seen previously. How can you ever pack lightly, especially if you’re playing your activities by ear or are at the mercy of an inventive host? Did I mention shoes? They need to coordinate with your activities and your outfits too.

What about down time? Should you bring a book, game, sports equipment? What if you get a headache, stomach ache, or, perish the thought, a fever blister? You need to pack effective remedies so you don’t spoil your fun. And, don’t forget the cell phone charger, iPad, laptop to keep in touch.  If you don’t, you’ll be drowning in email when you return. Speaking of mail, did you contact the post office?

Why do you need a vacation? The answer is simple. You have to rest up after all of the packing otherwise you’ll have no energy to do all of the extra laundry when you return. (There will be other benefits too, but you’ll have to keep your eyes open or you might miss them.)

Whoa! Who knew?

If you’ve got at least one email account, you’ve likely received jokes, humorous or even poignant stories from a friend or colleague accompanied by a call to action to forward it to 10 friends in 10 minutes.

These emails come from well-meaning people and they usually lighten your mood, but their timing is almost always off. You know what I mean. They come when you are really stressed to meet a deadline or when your to-do list has just grown to yet another page. Then as if that were not enough, the issue is complicated with the requirement to find 10 others within the allotted timeframe. Ever wondered what happened to those who only found 9 friends or missed the deadline? See below.

Seriously, when I’m home, I often enjoy the break from the routine and different perspectives that these anecdotes or pictures bring, but I don’t like the pressure that I must forward them or someone will think I don’t like them or miss a blessing from the Lord. That’s certainly not a fair assumption nor is it in any way accurate.

So from this point forward, be it hereto forward known: if you send me an email like those described above, know that if I don’t send it to you or 9 of my newest best friends, it has nothing to do with our relationship, past, present or future. I’ve enjoyed the message (or not) and have moved on. I may choose to share it, but I may be in a pinch and unable to do so.

There, I think this disclaimer should keep me safe from the ramifications pictured above. If not, you’ll know what to put on my tombstone.

Don’t abandon the ship

 

I know it’s only August, but both the Democratic and Republican parties will be holding their conventions soon and the Presidential election frenzy has already begun. Before you decide that all politicians are crooked or that your vote doesn’t really matter, I want to encourage you, “Don’t abandon the ship, by not voting.”

Every vote matters and yours is important as well as those of your friends and neighbors. We need to be using this time to encourage people to

  • Register to vote, if they have not done so
  • Get informed
  • Get out to vote
  • Vote intelligently

The Internet is replete with stories about the difference that one vote has made, yet many of them have proven to be myths. That said, your vote does count and so does your influence. If you have done your homework (see yesterday’s blog) and feel strongly about an issue, why not use social media to get some dialogue going? You don’t want to be arrogant, but you certainly want to be knowledgeable and share what you’ve learned.

We want to keep our freedoms, so use your influence to help keep them.

Did you do your homework?

For college kids, August marks the return to school and hopefully renewed vigor to embrace learning. But the pursuit of knowledge requires more than listening to lectures, cracking books and writing papers. Real learning involves research, analysis and measurement against truth before you can answer any questions. Bottom line is it requires some effort, a.k.a. homework. We expect our kids to do it, but are we willing to do the same?

In case you’ve been away or tried to escape what’s going on in the US, it’s an election year. Both the Democratic and Republican candidates are lining up determined to get our vote. Rather than go into the negative ads or address PR ploys and half truths, I’d like to ask a question. Would you be willing to do your homework? If so, you can use the acronym RAM.

Research

Would you be willing to do your own research? This might involve foregoing the nightly news with its biased reporting to find genuine, reliable sources for information on both sides. You can start with each party’s website to see the issues they are considering most important, but I’d suggest you make your own list of priorities first to see if either side is in touch with the pulse of the real people. Then look at their records and jot down the facts. What have they done in the past? How did they accomplish what they wanted to do? Were their methods constitutional? What was their rate of success or impact? Do they share a consistent message with all audiences? Once you get into the research, you’ll find you have a lot more topics for discussion on your own. See if you can find answers. Look for opportunities and forums to ask your questions. When you find them, jot down the responses. You might want to organize the information as you get it. (Time always seems to be at a premium.) A chart might be a helpful tool when you get to the next step.

Analyze

You’ve got some of the facts. Now you need to review them to determine how their platform aligns on the issues. Are they consistent across the board? Do they discriminate against any particular group? (Baby boomers might want to pay particular attention here.) Do they have a reputable track record? Have their programs / policies worked? Are you personally and the country as a whole better or worse off since their election? (Obviously this is for incumbents, but it’s important we ask and not be clouded by media and ads. Do your homework here as well.)

Measure

One last step before you make your decision. How do both sides measure against truth? For Christians, the standard would include the Word of God, but all citizens should look to the Constitution. Some choose to redefine it and history while others understand the original intent of its authors. The Constitution has served us well for over 200 years. It is what made us great as a nation.

Before you head to the polls, I would ask, “Did you finish your homework?”

Couch Potatoes Unite!

Been watching the Olympics? Do the athletes’ practice, perseverance and performance put you to shame?

Well, I’m no athlete, but I think I can do a little more than I am right now. All right, I can do a lot more in the realm of exercise and in life itself. Anyone out there with me on this? I know I’m not alone. The US Army is looking for a few good men, but I’m looking for a few couch potatoes who’d like to get off the sofa and make a difference for the good. Would that be you?

I’m not talking about a revolution, per se, but a group of like-minded people who want to accomplish something, maybe even something great. Things like this start small, most often with just one. So if someone is ready to pick my husband up off the floor from the shock, I’ll volunteer to be the first. How’s that for decisive?

We’ll still talk, but we may have to slow the chatter down a bit until our walk catches and matches our pace. All those great ideas we get along the way? We’ll write them down so they’re not lost and review them, perhaps weekly. I’m just saying. Ideas are good, but they might get in our way. We’ll start with one good idea, focus on it and run. But here’s the deal. We’ve got to figure out a way to measure our results. If we can’t measure them, how will we know if we’re successful? And what will keep us from returning to the couch? Ah, there’s nothing like a deadline to keep us on track and add a sense of accountability.

Just think. If it catches on, we could shake the world. Fellow couch potatoes, unite!

Watching the Olympics

What do non-sports enthusiasts gain from watching the Olympics?

Ok, I must confess I only like to watch sports when it gets up close and personal. Maybe it’s because growing up, I did not have an athletic bone or muscle in my body. When teams were being chosen in gym, I was always last or next to last to be chosen. Somewhere, though, my kids picked up some talent – either a latent gene or one from their father. That said, when they played I was their best cheerleader. A few years ago when the Phillies were vying for the pennant and the World Series, I gave them my unwavering support, and now when the USA takes on the rest of the world, I’m right there.

My kids would look at the techniques and strategies, I look at the scoreboard or the position in the race, but that’s not what won these athletes their position in the roster. It wasn’t their innate talent or ability. That was there, but the victories came from hard work – preparation and determination.

Listening to Carmelita Jeter, the silver medal winner in the 100 meter run, talk about the grueling paces her trainer and coach required made her cry and me cringe. I’d have never made it, but Carmelita did. Her coach’s efforts produced resilience in her and earned her the silver.

Resilience is one of those characteristics that will do you well away from athletic events. Wherever life takes you, learning to persevere and focus on the task at hand produces a quality that will carry you through the current challenge and beyond. Maybe I should pay more attention before the next Olympics rolls around. There’s a lot more to learn than the score.

The monarch is coming

In our area, August ushers in the last weeks of summer and with it the emergence of the monarch butterfly. The monarch egg hatches into a green caterpillar with black and gold stripes. By now he has had his fill of leafy greens, spun his chrysalis, experienced metamorphosis, and is preparing to emerge. What is interesting is that each year the process is repeated four times with four generations. You can click here to read more but that is not where I’m headed.

You may have heard this story about the monarch butterfly before, but I think it bears repeating. A young boy happened by the chrysalis of a monarch butterfly just as it was beginning to emerge. He watched the intriguing process and was touched by how hard the emerging butterfly had to work to break through to his new life. He wanted to help, so he slipped his pen knife from his pocket and began to gently cut away the butterfly’s prison walls so that he could be free. He continued to watch as the monarch spread his beautiful wings and died. When the troubled boy recounted this event to his father, the father explained that the process of breaking through the tough shell is what makes the wings strong enough for him to fly. Without the pain and struggle, he was too weak to live.

I like to be reminded of this illustration especially when life’s dramas tend to wear me down and choke out my hope for the future. Just like the butterfly, I need these struggles to change me and make me strong so that I can fulfill my unique purpose in life. Through such times I learn to see just how great God is. He uses these experiences to make me kinder, more forgiving, more compassionate and able to extend grace to those who are in need of it. And through it, I am prepared to continue to follow the plan God has for me. Isn’t it exciting to see how God uses His creation to explain many of the mysteries of life?

Perception or deception?

 

 

I enjoy watching the birds at the feeders outside my window and often observe life’s lessons as I see how they interact with one another. Though the titmice would not eat with the pineskin finches or the cardinal with the purple finches, they did share. They actually appeared to take turns, though sometimes reluctantly. I observed their pattern of orderly coexistence until a raucous call disturbed their meal. All of them scattered to distant points. None challenged the loud newcomer.

 

The blue jay in all of his blue and white splendor landed on the deck rail, and with one more call seemed to shout, “I’m here now. Out of my way.” His beauty far surpassed those of the smaller more common avian species, and he appeared to know it, and played it to his advantage. Taking his time, he picked at the seed and took his fill. He seemed oblivious to the line of birds on the house roof fearfully hoping for another opportunity. It was all about him.

 

Don’t you know people just like that jay? Everything revolves around them. It’s all about what they want and how it suits them. They don’t even consider others exist. I confess, loud people like that who push their way in and take over, annoy me. I decided there might be a lesson here, so I researched a little about blue jays in hopes of finding some applicable example to follow in dealing with such aggravations so this type of people could change.

 

Interestingly, I discovered that the cyanocitta cristata, more commonly known as the blue jay actually displays a high level of intelligence as he can solve problems, gather a cache of food rather than just consume it, and communicate more than many of his feathered friends. His hawk-like scream that scatters the birds at the feeders also sounds an alarm of danger in the forest when intruders approach. He does add value apart from his good looks.

 

Oh, and the lesson I learned for myself? Annoyance with jay-like people is not necessarily an indication of right and wrong in a situation, but it might be a gauge showing my perception filter is clogged.  Rather than seeing the negatives, the obstruction prevented me from looking deeper and focusing on the good to be affirmed and encouraged. Instead of pointing the finger, I had to look in the mirror. Don’t you hate when that happens?