Saturday, July 31, 2010

Writer's Block?

I have not written much lately except for my weekly lists of "Awesome Things". These lists are really nothing more than a collection of daily musings I share with my co-workers. I struggle to come up with them sometimes but the discipline of writing them is good for me. In these days when I struggle to write anything at all I wonder how I wrote so much, so often, in the past. I think a big part of it was the daily discipline and commitment to do so. The people who read my reflections expected them everyday and would sometimes challenge me if they didn't receive them. These days I have no commitment to write so it appears that the discipline of writing has gone out the window. I also often use fatigue as an excuse. At this moment, however, it is Saturday morning and I am well rested. I have no excuse so I decided to sit here and try to write something. Outside my room workers are painting my kitchen and laundry room. My brother in law is also here working but I have no idea what he is doing. It is a beautiful day, hot, but not as brutal as most of the summer has been. The heat, however, will return next week with temperatures in the high 90's. I look forward to autumn and winter but fear that winter will be as brutal as this summer. Last winter was brutal by local standards. Why is writing so difficult these days? Why am I so unreflective? I think a lot of my writing in the past was fueled by unhappiness and restlessness. In some case my writing was a backhanded way of bitching about my circumstances. These days I seem to be experiencing a quiet, peaceful, and relatively simple life. I have no commitments beyond working for my daily bread. I try to read but I am not consuming books. I have reduced the amount of intellectual clutter entering my mind. I am "being" more than I am "doing". Any time spent away from work I consider practice for my eventual retirement. I am thinking fewer deep thoughts and enjoying more simple moments. Perhaps I am realizing more and more that I don't have to really meet other people's expectations and I don't have to live up to the image of myself that past writing may have created. In some ways, the older I get the more I am disappearing. I don't mean that in a negative way. I mean that I am letting go of many things. By letting go I may appear to be "disappearing" or less relevant as a person. Of course, I am not really disappearing and I am not irrelevant. I still make a difference and I know it. If anything I am more present than ever to my life and the world around me. A recent Zen article talked of living life without goals. I have always done this even when I didn't intend to do so. These days I am perfecting it. I seem to accomplish little but I am living life better. I am more present to the moment and I think I am more alive. There is great joy in living the simple life and being who you are. I think it is difficult or impossible to be who you are when you are young. As a man who will turn 60 on his next birthday, I am a lot more comfortable in my own skin even if it is, as my granddaughter says, "old skin".

Friday, July 30, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXVI

A small break in the heat. A cool front started coming in earlier this week. This summer has been so hot that 89 degrees seems like a cool day. So far it has been over 90 degrees more than 40 days. Quite frankly, I am over it. I try my best not to complain but a string of days in the mid 80's would be welcome. So, I am enjoying this "cool" day. The rest of the week will be in the 90's. I am also grateful for the rain that has watered my flowers, bushes, and lawn.

Early mornings at work. My favorite time of the workday is early morning when I first arrive. It's generally quiet and the busyness of the day isn't in full force. I am at my best early in the morning. By late afternoon I am dragging. I enjoy "crunching the numbers" to see where we are with our work and what we accomplished the previous day. Sometimes I am racking my brain for "Today's Awesome Thing". I am racking my brain at this very moment. Early mornings are peaceful. I am a creature of habit so those around me can set their watches based on my routines. Early mornings at work make me very grateful for the co-workers I have and the pleasant environment in which I work.

Reliving a great experience. About a month I attended an all day music festival in Chicago. The whole thing was filmed and recorded for a DVD release in the fall. Last night, however, at the Tinsel Town theaters there was a one time showing of a two hour movie with highlights from the festival. It brought back lots of memories of that day and the music was great. Since the reality of the festival was that I sat on metal bleachers and the heat index was 105 degrees, it was really awesome to watch the movie in an air conditioned theater.

Eating healthy. I've been trying to get more fruit into my diet so last night I shared a banana split with my granddaughter. Hopefully the bananas, strawberries, and pineapple will contribute to my ongoing efforts to live a healthier lifestyle.

Sleep. Most people, including me, are sleep deprived. Thursdays are the day I start running out of gas. By Friday I am running on fumes. I'm really tired right now. Tuesday night my wife and I were out on the streets till almost 10:00 PM! Most nights, even on weekends, we aren't out after dark. Last night I was with my granddaughter and a couple of hours with her is like a workout at the gym. I really wanted to stay in bed this morning but the thought of all the fun I have with all of you each day motivated me to get out of bed and come to work. Admittedly, I am already dreaming of sleeping in on Saturday. going to be the best day of the week in terms of weather with temperatures in the 80's and low humidity. Enjoy it!

Friday rituals. As soon as I wake up on Fridays I am in a weekend frame of mind. It really kicks in when I put on a pair of jeans for "Casual Day". Then my wife and I stop at McDonald's for a quick breakfast. Friday is also the one day of the week I go out for lunch with my friend, Wendy. These little rituals remind me that I made it through another work week and the weekend awaits me. Today I am really ready for the weekend. As soon as my system booted up this morning at work I immediately clicked on my "Go Home" icon, shutting my computer down. Whoa, there, big fellow, not yet! I had to remind myself that I still had an entire day of work ahead of me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXV

Birdsong. The first thing I hear each morning...after my alarm birdsong. It's a nice, peaceful way to start the day. In my experience, the way you start your day usually carries over to the entire day. If you start it calm and you are not rushed, most of your day will be the same. If you wake up late, in a frenzy, rushed and stressed, it's a pretty sure bet that you will feel like that for the rest of the day. Birdsong is a reminder that there is much in life that is beautiful but one must pay attention or you will miss it. Many days our bodies walk around in a daze. To be truly awake, not only our bodies need to be awake, but our awareness as well. It is only when we are "awakened one's" that we will notice such subtle beauty as birdsong in the morning.

Watching a storm roll in. Last night I was in my music room when it suddenly got dark. I looked out the window and I could see a storm approaching. My wife and I went out on our back porch. We sat there in silence as the wind blew through the trees and my new wind chimes finally got a workout. There was a some lightening and rolling thunder. Finally a gentle rain began to fall. It was very peaceful and I was happy to see my lawn get a nice watering. When I woke up the next morning the rain was really coming down. I found myself thinking how much I would like to stay home and read one of the books stacked on my table. Alas, the rain stopped and I had to go to work but that was OK, too, because as my son frequently says, "It's all good".

Fried Green Tomatoes. Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend at the Buckhead's Restaurant across the river from downtown Louisville. He asked me if I would like to share an appetizer of fried green tomatoes. I had never eaten them before, and being a wild and crazy guy, I said, "Sure, I'm in"! They were very tasty and nicely fried with a delicate crust and a horseradish flavored dipping sauce. I could have made a whole meal out of them but I didn't. I also ordered a Hot Brown. Workday lunches with friends, especially those with a nice view of the river, don't exactly make one want to return to work. However, motivated by my desire for continued food, running water, air conditioning, and other things that make life bearable, I returned to the office. Did I mention that my friend paid for lunch? That was awesome, too!

Picking my granddaughter up at the daycare. Yesterday I was asked to pick up my granddaughter at the daycare. She didn't know I was doing it. I walked in unannounced and simply stood there until she noticed me. When she did she yelled "Pa Paw" while running to me. She jumped into my arms, giving me a very tight hug. People usually don't get that excited when I walk into a room. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by how much this little girl loves me. Of course, the feeling is mutual because I consider her a wonderful addition to my life. Getting to be a grandparent is the reward for being a parent. If you are a grandparent you know what I mean. If you're not, you will someday if you are lucky.

The pizza that I ate last night. Yes, I am talking about the one I shouldn't have eaten. It was pretty awesome. I ate dinner at the Hometown Pizza in Middletown because I had to go to a funeral home after I got off from work. Funeral homes aren't awesome but most of us get to a point in our lives where marrying the young and burying the old is the only time we see our extended family. I have been fortunate to be part of very good families on both sides. We have our share of characters like all families. Anyway, last night I got to see some aunts and cousins I haven't seen in quite a while. I feel blessed to be part of such a big family.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It's All Good

One of my sons often says, "It's all good". I was thinking recently how true that statement is for my life right now. Although I have some medical issues, my health is generally good. Things are good at work. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel concerning all the upgrades to my home, my wife and I have a peaceful and calm life together with no drama, my children are doing well and appear happy, my granddaughter still lights up my life, and I am at peace. My life is mostly simple and uncomplicated. Everything seems to be flowing as it should. Yes, I am tired of the routine of work even though I enjoy my job. Yes, I am physically and mentally tired much of the time but am not exhausted or burned out. I like going to bed at night but I am eager for the new day. Life feels balanced and I am content. My son is correct. It's all good.

Even though the weather has been extremely hot with near record temperatures, I am enjoying the space in my backyard. It used to be like a haunted forest with one nearly dead tree and another one that seemed to be consuming the yard by covering the ground with its branches and limbs every time the wind would blow. My original wooden fence was constructed nearly thirty years ago and was falling apart. The fence posts were rotting away at ground level. Now the trees and the old fence are gone. A new, six foot wooden fence has been constructed and the trees have been cut down. Now the backyard seems like a monastic enclosure. I am trying to create a peaceful environment. I have a very serene Buddha sitting in peaceful repose and some wonderful wind chimes that have deep, rich tones whenever the wind blows. Admittedly in the desert like heat we have been having most of the summer, the wind seems to rarely blow enough to move the chimes. My next purchase will be some bird feeders. A bright, red cardinal seems to have made my back yard his home so I hope to attract more birds to do the same. I also have a bird bath and I am working to renew and restore the lawn. The renewal of my backyard has created an inviting space and I am very happy with that.

I am reading a little bit but it is challenging on work nights because I am usually too tired to read. I think the lack of reading and the elimination of countless daily emails with "Thoughts of the Day" are the primary reasons I am writing much less than I used to do. For a long time I overwhelmed myself with thought provoking ideas, quotes, and subject matter for meditation. Of course, these things are what fed my own ideas, thoughts, and meditations, and those usually turned into writings. I am writing less because I am thinking less. The good news, however, is that less thinking, less writing, and less intellectual activity has turned into more time where I am simply "being". It seems appropriate for this time of my life. Admittedly, less doing and less writing sometimes makes me feel like I am contributing nothing to the world. Of course, there is also the belief that one way a person can contribute to peace in the world is to establish peace within himself. My current life of simply "being" is making me more peaceful. I am definitely less stressed and less anxious. I admit I sometimes miss the attention that my previous writing sometimes brought me, especially in the days when I sent daily thoughts via email to nearly 600 people. In those days I received lots of affirmation. With this blog I rarely get any response. That's fine, too. I know there are people who read these thoughts but I would still write even if no one did. I probably do them more for myself than others anyway. Finally, I am slowly letting go of my need for attention and praise and the stroking of my ego.

Awesome Things Volume XXIV

Children. It doesn't matter is they are newborns, school age, or adults. My 80 year old mother has a 59 year old son! Let's be honest. Children are a lot of work. Most parents, including me, don't always feel up to the task of raising decent human beings. However, you do the best you can and hope you have instilled some good sense and moral character in them before you unleash them to the world. Despite my inadequacies as a parent, both of my sons have turned out pretty good. I am proud of both of them. I will admit that I am glad they are now adults. However, that doesn't mean I still don't worry about them. I am always the parent no matter how old they are.

I am going to say rain even though I had a leak in my roof earlier this week. One morning I woke up to thunder about 5:00 AM and when I finally got out of bed it was raining hard. I found myself wishing I could simply get a cup of coffee and go outside and sit on my porch since I love the sound of falling rain, especially through the trees. Alas, I had to go to work although I was slightly delayed when I discovered my leak. The sound and rhythm of falling rain is very soothing to me. My lawn was in dire need of watering so I was happy that Mother Nature took care of that for me.

Anything cooked outside on a grill. My apologies to all vegetarians but I love grilled meat. Is there anything better in the summer, or even the middle of winter, than steaks, hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs, or bratwurst that have been cooked over an open fire? My backyard used to look like a haunted forest but now it is all cleaned up and my grill is fully functional. I love to get home at the end of a work day, fire up the grill, and cook my dinner. I can smell the smoky aroma right now.

The Cardinal that seems to have taken up residence in my backyard. I am not talking about a college basketball player. I am talking about the Kentucky state bird. I think Cardinals are beautiful and they are my favorite bird. Their deep red feathers are especially vivid if you see one during the winter when the ground, trees, and bushes are covered in snow. Since the heat index was in the 100's a few days this week I thought I would slip a winter scene into my thoughts. Hopefully, it will cool you off a bit. One of my goals in my backyard is to create a peaceful place, a kind of Zen garden. My next purchase will be a wild bird feeder. I am hoping to attract more Cardinals as well as other types of birds. By the way, there is no chance in Hell that it will snow around here anytime soon.

Getting stuff in the mail. No, I am not talking about bills. I'm talking about cool stuff that you've ordered for yourself. It might be a CD from Amazon, a shirt or jacket from L.L. Bean, or a book from Border's. It's always nice to arrive home and find a package in your doorway. You know it's coming but it's still a surprise because you never quite know when it will arrive unless you are really anxious, or anal, and your follow it's tracking number through the "system".

Sleeping in on Saturday mornings. I have always considered it a luxury that I rarely have to work on Saturdays. I love sleeping in, waking up when I feel like waking up, and then going downstairs for my coffee and a leisurely reading of the morning newspaper. Sometimes I will fall back asleep in my chair but that's OK. It's Saturday, and when it's really great I have no where to go and all day to get there.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Thoughts

This day and my weekend are drawing to a close despite the fact it will be hours before the blazing sun sets. It has been another very hot day that has kept me indoors much of the time. Most people are usually a little down on Sunday's because they know another work week looms on the horizon. As I have said before, I don't really dread the work week, I just have a preference for being home. However, if one strives to live in the eternal NOW, it shouldn't matter where you are because it's all good.

This weekend was all good. I slept in on Saturday and then had some leisure time before picking up my granddaughter and taking her to see "Toy Story". As usual, she sat on my lap for the entire movie while wearing one of my flannel shirts to keep warm from the abundant air conditioning flowing in the theater. After the movie we came to my house for a while. The whole point of entertaining Chloe for the afternoon was to give her mother the time and freedom to prepare for her birthday party which was held last night. Before leaving our house Chloe voiced a STRONG desire to play outside, with me, in the afternoon heat. This was not at the top of my list of things I wanted to do. I voiced a STRONG preference for staying indoors. Of course, I lost and soon found myself outdoors in the heat. Feeling bad about my objection to her request, I gave her a hug and told her I was sorry for yelling at her. She looked at me and said, "I know you are". What could I say but, "I love you, Chloe". I have never loved anyone as much as I love my granddaughter and I have never felt as much love from anyone as I do from her. She is truly a special child and the best thing that ever happened to me.

My son and daughter in law did a great job with the birthday part. Both sides of the family were there, the food was great, and Chloe truly seemed to enjoy her special day. Childhood can be so wonderful. Why are all of us in such a hurry to grow up?

Today was another day of sleeping in and spending most of the day being useless. There was a brief spurt of activity when I went outside and hosed off the front porch and the back patio. This insignificant chore gave me more personal satisfaction than a week of the work I get paid for during the work week. For one thing, it was a simple task and I love a simple, uncomplicated life.

Tomorrow begins another work week. The worst part of working is the forced exit from my bed earlier than I would choose if within my control. In spite of the fact that I hate being ejected from my bed by alarm clocks, I am a morning person. In fact, on days I don't have to go to work I love early mornings so much that I can't wait to wake up when I go to bed the night before. I don't dread the work week. At this point in my life time goes so fast that even the work week is a bit of a blur. The challenge of everyday is to slow it down by being in the moment.

I am including a few pictures from Chloe's birthday party to show that she had a great time and got everything she wanted, i.e., a tool belt, a four wheeler, and a ballerina outfit. Now she can be just like her Dad except, as far as I know, her Dad doesn't have a ballerina outfit. Has she really only been here six years? I cannot remember time before she was born.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXIII

Earlier this week it was my granddaughter's birthday, a birthday she shares with the Dalai Lama. Has she really only been here for six years? I cannot remember life before she was born. Her presence in my life reminds me how much difference one person can make in our lives whether it be a grandchild, a child, a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend. People really are the most important part of our lives even if they do occasionally make us crazy.

Johann Sebastian Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos". Everyone knows that I am a rock and roller. However, I also like other types of music, including classical. This week I listened to all six of Bach's Brandenburg concertos. They're very beautiful. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and others were the rockers of their time. You can measure the quality of music by whether or not it stands the test of time. Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 and died in 1750. People all over the world still listen to his compositions. You haven't really lived until you have been in a large church or cathedral and heard one of his compositions on a massive pipe organ. It's mind-blowing!

Waffles! I had dinner with my son at the Waffle House a few nights ago. It's always been one of his favorite places. Normally I stay away from waffles but this time I was seduced by the aroma that filled the restaurant. It was awesome. We also had a very nice lady for a waitress so I over tipped her.

Old friends. A friend from high school came to my house on Tuesday. He recently returned to Kentucky from Los Angeles. We had a very enjoyable evening, drinking a few Sierra Nevada beers, playing some classic rock and roll, and swapping tales and yarns about our life experiences. It's good to have people who have been in your life a long time. Of course, after he left, my wife said, "He looked like an old man"! I replied, "Denise, we're the same age". I guess that makes me an old man, too. I probably am because my granddaughter says I have "old skin".

Rain and cooler temperatures. This week's rain was a welcome sight for my lawn, flowers, and bushes. The cooler temperatures were a welcome sight for me and probably many other people.

Banana Cream Pie Blizzards. I picked up my granddaughter at the day care yesterday in the middle of the rainstorm. We decided to have dinner at the Dairy Queen next door. A Dairy Queen Blizzard should never touch my lips. I bought one anyway and I think the payback was a headache. It was still worth it.

Taking my granddaughter to see "Toy Story" tomorrow while her mother gets everything ready for her birthday party. She's going to love the gift her parents bought her. My son...her Dad...has a four wheeler that he rides over the fields and through the woods on weekends. He bought Chloe a pink four wheeler and it now sits in the middle of my living room floor where it was assembled last night.

Did I mention that it's Friday night? That is always awesome.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

40 Years Ago...A Look Back

It was forty years ago this weekend, when I was a 19 years old boy, that I went to the Atlanta International Pop Festival with approximately 400,000 other hippies, including my summer love, Katie. That was a long time ago! I was a lot thinner and I had a lot more hair. Four of us drove there in my 1962 VW Beetle. It was hot as blazes and VW's did not have air conditioning. We left Louisville late at night so we would arrive there the next morning. We did that for two reasons. First, to escape the heat and take advantage of the cooler nighttime temperatures. The second, and most important reason, was that we were "longhairs" and traveling in the south was not always safe if you were a hippie. We figured that if we got to the festival without encountering southern "rednecks", there would be safety in numbers. When we arrived it was like dying and going to heaven. Being a hippie in the late 60's, early 70's was never completely safe. It's a myth to think that everyone who grew up in the 60's was a hippie. Hippies were a minority and people were not always tolerant of them. To arrive at a place where everyone had longhair was comforting. In our naivete we thought everyone with long hair was cool. I saw lots of great music and I smoked a lot of pot. Of course, that was normal in those days. Some of the biggest artists of the day were there. I saw Procol Harum, the Allman Brothers Band, BB King, the Chambers Brothers, Mountain, and Jimi Hendrix, who played the "Star Spangled Banner" on the 4th of July while fireworks exploded in the sky. I'm sure I saw others that have been forgotten in the mists of time. I can't remember everything I saw that weekend because it was very smoky, not to mention the LSD I also took while I was there. The really strange thing about that summer was that while I was doing all this hippie stuff, God was chasing me. The month following the Atlanta Pop Festival I entered a Franciscan community outside of Detroit, Michigan. Two years later I was a novice monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Now, 40 years down the road, I am married almost 36 years, I have two sons, one with a beautiful and wonderful six year old daughter, and another who will be a priest in approximately three years. What a long, strange trip it has been!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXII

Me! I am 59 years old and I survived 12 hours of rock and roll, blues, and jazz in Chicago last weekend. The heat index during the day was 105 degrees and the sun was merciless. The smart people did not drink any beer until after the sun went down. It was a very long and very hot day but I heard a lot of great music. I did miss seeing Vince Gill's set because the sun was about to kill me and I retreated to some shade for a little while. That was OK because I am not a big country music fan anyway. Except for the heat it was a great day and one that I will not soon forget. I love music and as long as I can drag my old bones out there, I'll still be rocking.

Low humidity and cool mornings. According to the weatherman, this has been the hottest June on record in Kentucky. It sure has felt like it. I like a beautiful, sunny day like everyone else. I dream of them in mid winter. However, I hate when the temperature is in the mid to upper nineties and the humidity is off the charts. Today, however, I am grateful for cool days that appear as an oasis in the desert. A few days this week felt like early autumn mornings and autumn is my favorite time of year. Yes, the heat will return but I am grateful for a break from it.

Wind chimes. I love wind chimes. When I was on vacation a few weeks ago I cut loose with some money and bought some really nice ones. I wanted windchimes with deep tones. The ones I bought sound like temple bells. They go very well with the Buddha statue I have in my backyard. There's only one problem. The wind has not blown since I hung them up. So, whenever I go in the backyard I walk up to them and give them a little shake. They have a deep, rich tone that lingers in the air and is very pleasant to the ears.

Fridays, long holiday weekends, visits by grandchildren, good coffee, especially with a cheese Danish, listening to your favorite music at work, lunch with friends, going to bed on a Friday night without having to set your alarm clock, waking up at your leisure on a Saturday morning with nothing to do but drink your coffee and read the newspaper, re-connecting with old friends, being at peace with yourself and everyone else, pizza, Sierra Nevada beer, Pringles potato chips, all day music festivals, Border's Books, Dooley's Bagels, having nothing you need to do or anywhere you need to be, employment, being part of a great team, a pleasant work environment, having a park outside our office, seeing the river and boats every time I go to the copy room, a great book, finding something you want on sale, a great meal in a new restaurant, old guys who still rock, having your granddaughter tell her mother that her favorite toy is her Pa Paw, and on and on and on....did I mention freedom? Sometimes it is important to take a moment and think about all the awesome things in your life. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the challenges, inconveniences, and annoyances. Life is mostly good.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

My Son

Last night my wife and I had dinner with our youngest son and the priest who presided at our wedding. After I left the monastery many years ago, I worked at a church and I lived with this priest. At a recent gathering of priests and seminarians he met my son who informed him who he was and who his parents were. Soon after that we reconnected and planned last night's dinner. One of the highlights of the dinner for me was seeing the positive changes in my son. He went through a difficult time about six months ago but last night he seemed genuinely happy with his life. I think a big reason for this is the influence of some very positive role models. His spiritual advisor is a well known and respected priest that I also admire and respect. In addition to that my son is living in the inner city this summer working with an activist priest who is also well known and respected. With all of the bad press that Catholic priests have received in recent years because of the sex abuse crisis, I'm very happy that my son is seeing and directly experiencing the work, holiness, and goodness of some really good priests. If all continues to go well for Nick, he will be ordained a deacon in two years and a priest in three years. In my blog from yesterday I wrote that I feel like a man "who has left home and is wandering in the desert". I referred to the Catholic Church as my spiritual home and I wondered if I would ever return home again. Last night, when I looked at my son, it occurred to me that he may be my savior. It may be through him that I find my way back to a comfortable relationship with the Church. Occasionally I have even daydreamed about working with Nick someday by helping and supporting his ministry. Life is such a mystery. I could not have imagined when I was 22 years old, single, and living with the priest that I had dinner with last night, that 37 years later this priest would be a friend and mentor to my son who will soon be a priest himself. Who of us has any clue about where we will be or what we will be doing five or ten years down the road?