Driving a car. Such a simple, modern convenience. Driving is probably something most all of you do daily. You most likely drove somewhere even today, to work, school or even to get groceries or to hit a drive-through for dinner. I, on the other hand, have not driven a car in seventeen years. Do I miss it? Yep. I miss the freedom that it brought and the independence that it gave me. Unfortunately, with my low-vision, it just got to the point where it wasn’t safe for me to keep driving. I chose to give it up, soon after getting married. Now, I am completely reliant on others for vehicular transportation and to be honest, it stinks.
Then, I begin hearing news about major advancements in self-driving cars a few years back. What’s that you say? Cars that drive themselves and their passengers, places, a la the cars in the iRobot movie starring will Smith? Color me interested. And so I have waited, not so patiently. Numerous companies are doing live tests in urban environments. Tesla Motors is even offering auto-pilot features in certain driving situations.
But no one has rolled out a full, self-driving car yet. I want my Jetsons’ car and I want it sooner, not later. I always hear folks that drive say that they love the act of driving and would never give that up to a computer. Not me! I can’t wait for my robot-driving overlord to ferry me places. I can’t imagine what that feeling of freedom would feel like again. Plus, if my robot driver almost hits a pedestrian, I probably wouldn’t even notice. Since I don’t see that well anyway, thus the point of the robot driver in the first place.
So, let’s go Apple, Google, Tesla, or whoever gets there first. I will be first in line. If I can get someone to drive me to the line, that is.
I recently finished the fantastic book by Erik Larson entitled The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. This book is a non-fiction work centered around Sir Winston Churchill during the early days of World War 2. One of the things that I was struck by as I listened to the audiobook, was how much information the author was able to glean from diaries and personal correspondence. Whether it was from the diary of Churchill’s personal aide, which gave all manner of insights into how Sir Winston acted and treated others to Mary Churchill’s diary entries telling of how the 18-year-old daughter spent her evenings dancing at clubs and spending time chasing airmen from the Royal Air Force, these diaries helped to paint a much more full picture of the life and times of Churchill.
Other examples of how diaries and letters help to tell the story of history, are the bestselling biographies,John Adams, by David McCullough and Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. My mom and dad have listened to both of these recently and over and over again, they tell me about these wonderful nuggets of history that show up in these books directly from the archived letters and diaries of various historical figures. One such example is the friendship and rivalry of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. John Adams wrote extensively about how their friendship fell apart over politics and then much later in life, they were able to reconcile with one another. On a side note, these two great founding fathers died on the same day, within hours of one another, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Not related to my point about diaries, but still a really great nugget of information.
In reflecting on all this, I couldn’t help but think about how we as Americans and perhaps even as humans, seem to have forgotten how to journal in diaries. Be it because of our fixation with technology and entertainment or our inability to be bored or whatever it is, we just do not do much of it anymore. I can’t help but think that historians will have so much digital information to dig through, tons and tons of official documentation about this time we are living in, but so little of it will be personal thoughts on day to day life.
Are we better off without the diary? Are our lives improved by not taking the time each day to write down what happened and how we feel about it? Have we forgotten how to journal in the last 75 years since Churchill’s time? Is this what regular blogging is for our time? I honestly don’t know but I do like the romantic idea of becoming a much more prolific diarist. I do know that when I take the time to journal daily, that my mind is more at ease and my thoughts less jumbled. Besides, journaling regularly will give me a great use for all these fantastic notebooks and writing instruments that I love so dearly. What a concept! If it was important to our second President and so many others, maybe it does have value after all.
Did anyone else play with toys that could have easily doubled as potential murder weapons when they were kids? As a kid born in the early 1970s, we certainly saw our fair share. You know what I mean, those toys that would never pass safety regulations today. One such toy that I vividly remember were these lawn darts called Jarts. I am not sure why they replaced the “d” in darts with a “j” but who cares, the letter “j” must be more fun.
I actually think the full product name was “Slider Jarts” and these things were wicked fun. They were made of metal and plastic and were around 9-12 inches in length. They had these plastic fins that would slide up and down the jart, as you launched them into the air. I suppose the sliding fins were there to make them more aerodynamic, at least as a kid, that’s how I viewed them. But the most important part, and the most dangerous, were the heavy metal tips. These were what caused the jart to fall tip first towards the ground and it was definitely going to stick in the ground, or a kid, due to the forces of gravity and physics. See, they were educational too!
The point of the game was to set up these included yellow rings on opposite sides of the lawn and then you would try to get your color of jart to land within or as close as possible to the ring. This was great fun and we spent hours playing this way. Inevitably though, we would try and launch them as high as we could and then run as they began to fall to earth. Man, we were dumb and lucky, but mostly dumb.
To illustrate how dumb we were, there was this one time that one of us, likely my brother or myself, launched one a little too straight. Next thing we knew, it came down and hit the passenger side door on our family car, a bright yellow 1980 Pontiac Phoenix. It left a decent sized dent in the door. I’m not sure my folks ever had it fixed as I still remember that dent, years later. I am also pretty sure that we never got to play jarts again either.
This video that I found on YouTube gives a pretty good idea of what they looked like and what came in the box.
What a wild toy that was and what a time to be a kid. Without the internet or much in the way of electronics to distract us, we made all kinds of great memories. Even dangerous, potentially deadly, memories. I may attempt to find a set on eBay and see if I’ve still got the touch.
Some of the things that I like to write in my pocket notebooks are the funny things that our children will do or say. I call these “kid blurbs” and the best ones I like to post here for posterity’s sake and also because they might make others laugh as much as we did when they happened.
One recent Saturday, we were all gathered at the table, eating homemade French toast, bacon, and eggs. Conversations and chuckles abounded, just like usual when out of nowhere, Willow’s hand shoots up into the air. She says, “I have a confession to make!” We all stare at her and as parents, we wonder what kind of mischief is she going to admit to this time. She then says “I post cat videos that are sometimes disruptive.” She’s 7 years old and has no social media accounts. We also do not have a cat.
At another meal, mom is telling our oldest, Peanut, about the ceramic figurines called “Precious Moments” and how she knew of people that collected them and even displayed them prominently in their homes. I asked her if she had ever heard of Precious Monents, and before she could answer, G-man pipes up and says “Nope, because she’s never had any!” That’s a quick roast right there!
Finally, we were all in the car, driving somewhere and G-man says “My brother shot me in the head with the Airsoft gun a couple of days ago.” This is a classic little brother move, bringing up something that happened in the past. So we asked Boy Wonder what he was talking about and he responds, “Well, I thought I was shooting a pillow, or possible a blanket!” Might need to require that he wear his glasses while shooting going forward.
For 2020, I decided to push myself a bit more on my reading goals. In the previous few years, I set a goal of 60 books to read each year and I’ve been able to meet or exceed that pretty easily. So this year, I set a goal of 72 books to read by the end of the year. My current progress has me at 58 books completed so far and I’m tracking at 7 books ahead of my goal for the year.
I am pretty pleased with that, especially considering how many podcasts that I still listen to. I feel that I have hit a pretty good balance between podcasts and audiobooks throughout my days at work. I enjoy mixing between the two because I think it helps to keep me mentally challenged and engaged while getting stuff done at the office. The podcasts typically are where I am learning new things while the books tend to tilt more towards entertaining my brain. Although sometimes, they do just the opposite and the podcasts entertain while the books teach.
I went back through what I have read so far in 2020 and there have been a few highlights that I wanted to, well, highlight. First is Dead Wakeby Erik Larson. It is a non-fiction book that tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania and how it drew America into World War 1. This book was very interesting with many parts reading more like fast-paced fiction rather than historical non-fiction. History is a big interest of mine and this book really hit that target for me. Also in non-fiction, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson really stands out among the books that I have read this year. I normally shy away from books that are not in my wheelhouse, but this felt timely and necessary to me. The author, Carol Anderson, did a tremendous job of covering so much of the history behind why America is divided racially. It is an unflinching, difficult read and I am better for having read it.
The majority of what I read is fiction, specially fantasy, science fiction and comics. I often say that read what I like, not to impress other people. As a result, the books that I read might not be award winners or culturally enriching. At 47 years old, I don’t care about impressing anyone with what I read and frankly, I never have. With that being said, I am proud of the books on the ‘read’ list so far this year, even if they are not everyone else’s idea of a good book. In looking back, here are a few of my favorites.
Firstly, Of Sea and Shadow by Will Wight, has been my favorite fantasy this year. It was different than a typical sword and sorcery fantasy but it was so very interesting. It has a lot of interesting concepts, featuring high-seas adventure and a whole new type of magic system that I just loved. I hightly recommend it and I am going to start the first book in its parallel trilogy soon. That’s right, there are two trilogies written concurrently, telling the story from different points of view. I’m definitely here for all of it.
My favorite science fiction has been The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi. It is the first in a trilogy by Mr. Scalzi, and this was pretty much a lock to be a favorite of mine because I love pretty much everything from the author. I also really enjoyed Legionnaire by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. This is the first from the Galaxy’s Edge series and it looks to be a strong, action-packed series for me to get further into.
That’s it for me for now. I am really looking forward to finishing the year strong with my reading. I expect that we as a family will finish the last of the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which we are reading together before bedtime, and then we will need to try something new together. I am very excited about that along with my own reading journey.
As mentioned in the previous post, here is what we used as we continued our study in the book of Ephesians for church at home. Keep in mind that we are tailoring our “service” towards the 4 kids, ranging in age from 7 to 16 years old. Our entire focus now is to build up their faith foundation while we have this unique opportunity during a once in a century pandemic.
This week, we were in our fourth week with Paul’s letter to Ephesus. We have already laid the groundwork of the history of the city and how it was a very influential place during the time of the writing of Ephesians. God’s plan is featured prominently and we continue to come back to this each week. Ephesians 2:1-11 was our text this week and we decided to focus in on “grace” as it is mentioned a few times in this section. Grace is one of those “church” words that is tossed around a lot but we knew that the kids did not have much of a handle on what the word really meant.
To start with, we showed this video which is really targeted at younger-aged kids, with an excellent, practical example of grace in action for us all to absorb.
We followed this with this wonderful video from The Skit Guys. It is both humorous and impactful at the same time. It has the Apostle Peter and his encounter with Jesus after Peter denied Jesus during His trial.
Finally, we went back to the Bible Project to use one of their videos, which we love to use for the teenagers and adults in the room, as their content is a bit deeper in nature. This particular video is focused on Sacrifice & Atonement.
We wrapped up our time of study with the fourth video in Phil Vischer’s Ephesians series. This series is available on RightNow Media and is serving as our base for our study together. It is targeted toward younger viewers but we’ve all enjoyed the humor mixed with the Bible study. It is good to have something consistent each week and this series is serving as that for us.
Header image of ruins in Ephesus, specifically of the temple of Artemis.
By my calculation, this morning was the 21st Sunday in which we did not attend a church service outside of our home. I had not realized that it had been that long, which is normal for those living the quarantine life. One week just kind of flows into the next and the next thing you know, it’s August. Wait. It’s AUGUST?!?! See what I mean, it’s hard to keep up with all the days flying by when not a whole lot is changing due to all the limitations imposed on us by this virus.
Because of this time creep that has been happening, I wanted to take a second to take stock of how we have been doing church. But first, I want to detail what we had been doing pre-pandemic for church. We were regular attenders at a church, located just down the street from our house, making it to about 80% of services on average, I would guess. We weren’t heavily involved but were trying to get to that point, believing that we needed to be in order to get the most out of it. Our kids enjoyed the Sunday School and Youth classes for their ages for the most part and we were doing our best to fit in on the adult side. The actual Sunday services were not tremendously engaging but the preaching was Biblically sound and the members were friendly. Like many parents in churches all over the world, it was often a struggle to keep the kids awake once we sat down for “big” church. We had been going there just over a two yes when the doors temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
Then the second week of March, 2020 came and the spreading virus caused churches everywhere, including ours to close and to move online. And so they did and so did we. We attended the online service from the comfort of our living room with my parents joining us most of the time. It was, in a word, okay. We did this for about two months, doing our best to sing along to the lyrics on screen and listen to the sermon being preached. We even attended our Sunday School class for adults via Zoom and the kids did Youth the same way. But, it just wasn’t feeding us the way I felt it needed to.
So I called an “audible” (football term) and made some adjustments after discussing it with my wife and dad. We all needed more and felt that this was the perfect time to do church in a way that would do something for everyone. For the last 3 months, we have been doing church our way, taking advantage of the opportunity provided by this pandemic to cover topics, verses and words that were new to the kids and some even for us. We’ve been pulling in video resources from the Bible Project, RightNow Media and even YouTube to teach all of us about God and his plan through His Son.
We really felt like it was important to dig deeper into things like apologetics and history while discussing each week’s lesson with them. Our goal is to give all of them a much firmer base for their faith to stand on and not focusing so much on feelings and emotions as the basis for our faith. In previous weeks we have discussed the Sabbath, justice, sin, generosity and the creation, among other things, Many of the early weeks’ resources came directly from the Bible Project’s Church at Home series of resources. These include a short audio talk, a video to watch together and some scripture readings with questions to ask. These were immensely helpful to me and helped me to get more comfortable with leading my family in this way. I must admit, teaching my family with my dad in attendance was a bit intimidating at first, as he is a lifelong preacher of God’s Word and one of the most knowledgeable, scholarly, men that I know.
Here for the last 4 weeks, we have been doing a book study during church. We have been studying Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, otherwise known as Ephesians. We thought it would be good for all of us to really dig in on a single book and allow the kids to see how it all will play out. We have been using Phil Vischer’s “Ephesians – What is God’s Plan?” as our base, as it really appeals to the younger kids in the house and allows us to supplement with other resources for the older ones. Phil is one of the guys behind Veggie Tales, and he is just a lot of fun while being deep in the Bible at the same time.
So far, the study of Ephesians has gone well and we’ve been able to teach them all manner of new things. For example, last week, my dad stepped in and taught us about using Bible study resources like commentaries and Bible dictionaries to better understand the words being used in the Bible text. We studied what the word “seal” meant in Ephesians 1:13-14 and what the historical significance of a seal was. Today we studied Ephesians 2:1-11 and went deep in on the topic of “grace.” We watched a total of four videos, all working together to explain more and more about grace. We spent time in discussion between the videos and it was another good study. I will follow up with another post which will include the resources that we used today in our discussion of grace.
What has been most important to me is that we are doing church together in a way that is feeding all of us. We are choosing and singing songs of worship that move us. My wife has done a tremendous job each week of choosing worship songs that fit with our topic of study and enhancing our overall experience. We are spending time in our Bibles with the kids reading out loud for us during church. We are taking the time to ask questions and learn together about God. It has been a true blessing in every sense of the word. Even as our local church has re-opened (with all manner of protective protocols in place), we have chosen to continue doing home church for the time being. We are far from comfortable with where things are with the virus and feel that this is where we need to be right now. We are blessed that our church has continued to provide communion supplies to those members like us who are not yet comfortable with meeting in person.
Now if we could just figure out how to keep our dogs from falling asleep five seconds into the first song, that would be great. Their sleepy vibes get real strong on the 10 year-old.
In a post that I made last week about books that I loved as a pre-teen, I mentioned how my two younger kids are showing signs that they will be readers like me. One of those, our ten year-old son, G-man, is who this post is about.
He recently got in trouble for sneaking a laptop into his room and watching videos instead of sleeping. One of his punishments was losing access to all electronics for a couple of weeks. If any of you has kids in this day and age, that’s a pretty brutal punishment, both for him and for us. Now he is “SO BORED” and “HAS NOTHING TO DO” to which we reply, grab a book and read. This is not too bad for him since he is a great reader who actually enjoys tearing through good stories.
Earlier this afternoon, mom had to take Willow to ballet so she took the boys with her to hang out, do some schoolwork and get a bit of reading time in while they waited. As they were sitting in a little cafe called Rejavanate, G-man asked if he could stop doing school and do some reading as he had a couple of books that he had brought with him. She said no at first but he persisted in asking so she finally relented and said yes, that he could read. Naturally, she presumed that he meant to read one of the books that he had on the table with him. But no, he reaches for his pocket and says “The fat cat it is!” and pulls a Garfield comic strip book out of his shorts pocket.
He LOVES Garfield, the books, movies, and the show, and will often default to these when he wants to get a quick read in. I adored these books too when I was his age and remember buying loads of them at garage sales, used bookstores, and wherever I could find them. They were like comfort food and were always good for a good laugh.
It’s a win for us and for him too, as long as he’s reading something, right?
I am referring to the idea of setting realistic expectations for myself. Like a lot of people, I have a terrible habit of going too big with my goals and expectations and then when I do not see major progress quickly, I get discouraged and quit. For example, I will often start a new fitness plan and work out three or four times. Then I weigh myself and see zero progress or even worse, I gain a few pounds. Then I get mad and give up. Or I may write a few posts and then check to see if anyone has visited the site. I see no improvement in the site visitor statistics and again get discouraged and quit for a couple of months. Do you see a pattern? I do.
What keeps happening is that I go into a new discipline without setting realistic expectations and as a result, failure is almost a certainty. Setting realistic expectations is really important to achieving lasting success. I recently listened to a podcast calledWrite Now. The host, Sarah Werner did an early episode entitled “Five Steps to Making Your Writing Goals a Reality” and she discusses this very subject. She tells how setting realistic expectations allows you to set realistic, and attainable goals. Once you begin to meet these goals regularly, you are well on your way to what we really want and that is making it a habit.
In my case, it began a couple of months ago with the decision to purchase my indoor exercise bike. I had decided to be much more realistic with my expectations about becoming physically fit. For me, as a blind person, I always felt like I had to depend on others for my fitness. As a result, I never really got very far with it because at the end of day, my fitness is my responsibility, not my spouse or my friends. I had to figure out what I had to do in order to reach my goals. What was really realistic? What could I do to make it easier to be successful?
With the arrival of the bike, I then began to plan to exercise with it. In my case, this meant setting out my clothes the night before, setting an alarm and then going to bed early enough to allow myself enough sleep for the next day, even if I were to get up an hour early to ride or walk. By removing those barriers to doing the exercise, I have removed my excuses that I always fall back on and which lead to failure. And then the really important part, the expectation of result. I no longer expect massive improvements in short timespans. I had to decide that the end result was not the point. Instead, it is the process that had to matter. I have come to realize that the freedom to exercise on my own and how I feel afterwards is what really mattered to me. My more realistic expectation now, is to ride or walk, three to five times a week in the morning before work and to feel good. That’s it. No strings attached of weight loss or anything else.
In the same way, I am wanting to write more on this blog and in my own journals. I have had this desire for a long time. I am striving to allow time for it. To accomplish this goal I need to remove distractions like social media and the rabbit hole that always seems to suck me in when visiting Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I have uninstalled Facebook from my phone and tablet and surprise, surprise, I have found myself far less distracted.
I am realizing that the expectation of reaching thousands of visitors is not realistic and to reset my thinking. To me, what has always been important is just doing the work, doing the writing. If that is what I enjoy then my expectation should be that I write for my own benefit, to get the words from my head to the page, so to speak. My goal is to write and post two to three posts per week. That’s it. No expectation of outside validation or visitor counts.
Am I seeing improvements? I think so, but I am not going to weigh myself with the risk of sabotaging my success. I know myself and know how that could hinder me. I especially need to avoid weighing myself when my wife is around. She likes to sneak up on my blind side and push her foot on the scale which really flubs up the numbers!
Besides, weight loss is not the point. Feeling better and improving my heart health is and I definitely see strides in those areas. Am I writing more? This is my third post this week, so at the moment, yes. That is what matters and I need to keep my sights set on that. It is important to keep my focus on the process. Focusing on making small, regular deposits in these areas and allowing the benefits to build over time. Finding ways to keep it fun and continue to remove obstacles from my path. Keeping my expectations realistic and thus my goals are attainable.
There are two types of people in the world. People who love to read and those that I believe must have a large, gaping hole in their souls. Bold statement I know but I make it from a place of love. I love to read and books have played, at least in some part, a role in many of my memories.
As a child, I was that weird kid that always had a paperback with him. I would take a small stack with me on vacation and read the entire drive while my brother and sister slept. I would read late into the night if the book was particularly compelling (which most were) and would go to school groggy the next day. I would even sneak books to church and my friend Todd and I would read instead of listening to the sermon.
Now, as a father of four, I am striving to raise lovers of reading, although to varying degrees of success. My oldest has gone through phases where she has read a lot, but not so much now as a 16 year-old. My 13 year-old is not a fan of the physical act of reading but loves audiobooks and audio dramas in podcast form. That brings us to my younger two, 9 and 7, who both are showing signs of loving to read, especially the youngest. She always has stacks of books on her floor and loves to read out loud or to herself.
In thinking about the kids and what might be a good book to recommend to them from the library, I tried to remember some of my favorites from my pre-teen years. This was the period of time that I really took charge of my book and genre selection. I remember spending hours at the library or at the Waldenbooks or B. Dalton Books in the local mall. I would peruse the book covers, looking for something to grab my attention, and then read the summaries on the backs to help me make my selections. I even got book catalogs delivered by mail so I could keep up with what was coming out soon in my genres of choice, science fiction and fantasy. Yes, I was that kid.
Here is a short list of series and books that I loved from that period of time, and these have certainly continued to influence my reading to this day.
Xanth series by Piers Anthony – Some of my first fantasy that I just couldn’t get enough of. Weird but wonderful.
Elfquest series by Wendy and Richard Pini) – Sparked a love of comics that has lasted to this day.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – A lifelong love and I definitely read the Fellowship of the Ring during church.
Knight Rider and the A-Team – Books based on the shows, not top tier literature but who doesn’t love KITT and Mr. T?
Mack Bolan/The Executionerseries by Don Pendleton – Shoot-em-up pulp stories that I devoured from used bookstores.
The Epic of Flight by Time-Life Books – These were a large series of coffee table-sized hardbacks that chronicled the history of aviation. I would check them out from the library, one at a time, and read them cover to cover. I loved them so much that I bought them a few years ago and have them on my bookshelf.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – The first time I read these, I read my dad’s copies that we still had at that time. Classic science fiction which was so ahead of their time.
So many good books there plus so many others. Now I do just about all of my reading in audiobook format since my eyes don’t allow me to read without some serious magnification. But I still love it, maybe even more than I did when I was 12. Maybe.