Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lessons From My Mother

I have been thinking about my mom a lot lately. Missing her.  I would often call on my way home from work.  She would often come down from western North Carolina if there was something cool happening.  Yesterday my kids sang at a neat little fair up near my school.  It was fun.  She came to Sparkleberry Fair several years ago.  We were selling CDs of our original songs for a good cause.  We were raising money to buy goats for a village in Rwanda.  She loved it.  I can see her now in her sun hat, walking through the crowd drumming up business for us.  

She would have liked how my class sang yesterday.  She would have liked knowing that Devin is nearing the end of his  coursework for his doctorate in physical therapy and that Colin is going to give music a shot after graduating this summer.  She would have loved his band.  She would have liked getting to know our rascal of a puppy.  She would like my new songs and Heidi's new book.   She was Heidi's and my best friend.

It's not an anniversary of her death, although her birthday is on May 9th.  I am just missing her and as I read this old post, I thought I'd give it another go.  She is still teaching me lessons.  

Lessons From My Mother

My mom died yesterday, December 20, 2011.  Ruthie and I were there holding her hands, telling her that we loved her.  Telling her that she was the best possible mom.

She died the way I wish I could go when my time comes.  Fearlessly.  Painlessly.  In love with the people around her.  She had straightened out as many of life’s complex affairs as she possibly could, giving away a great many of her possessions, making sure she had a living will, making sure her beloved house in the mountains was closed up and safe.

She said no to any additional tests, chemotherapy or transfusions, knowing that they would do nothing but prolong a very uncomfortable life.  She took nothing for pain besides Tylenol until the day before she died. 

The very last words I heard her say were, “I love you,” before she could talk no more.  She was more concerned for those around her than for her own personal comfort.  She was modest until the very end, declining my help in getting her into the bathroom when she could barely walk.

“Don’t cry,” she told me recently.  “You can’t be sad.”  But she herself did cry sometimes.  She worried about all that she would miss; graduations, family relationships, the happiness and accomplishments of others, seeing her grandkids grow up.  Several times in the last month, when it was clear that she didn’t have much time left, on the rare occasion when she allowed herself to be sad, she said, “I just want to know how it all turns out.” 

But it never really turns out, does it?  Life is just so complicated; families and friends just keep spinning out and out.  Life is a process, a journey.  It builds in complexity until the end.

You could never say good-bye to everyone you want to, make sure that all life’s accounts are closed, every possession is passed on.  But she came close.  She worked at it.

And until right before she left us, she laughed and reminisced, loved and received love.  I am a better man for having known this remarkable woman.  All of us who knew her are better off.  As I write this, hovering over my writer’s notebook, somewhere between Albuquerque, New Mexico and my South Carolina home, many of my mom’s lessons are coming to me. 

Here is a list of some simple truths and bits of wisdom that she passed on through her words and actions.  There is no order here.  I am too sad for order.  But my sadness is softened by the knowledge that she left this world a better place. 

My mom, ever the teacher, did more than teach me how to live a good life.  Through her grace and humility, her courage and her openness, she even taught me how to die. 

I could write for the rest of my life and never capture her essence, and if I have any good qualities, I learned them from her.  While this is the saddest time I have known, I am grateful to have had this strong, simply good woman in my life for 54 years. 

Lessons From My Mother

·      Be thrifty.  Our blessings can be more efficiently shared if we are careful with our resources

·      Be generous

·      Find your causes and follow through with them

·      Give a lot – not just money but time and energy

·      Find new friends wherever you are

·      Remember to stay in touch with old friends

·      Love nature. Spend time in the woods and near water

·      Leave a small carbon footprint

·      Recycle everything you can

·      Walk a lot

·      Write real letters with pen and paper

·      Don’t collect too much stuff

·      Find reasons to laugh

·      Love a lot of people

·      Keep up with current events

·      Have an informed opinion about social issues and politics

·      Be active politically

·      Be honest and sincere

·      Forgive easily

·      Work to make the changes you want to see in this world

·      Stand up for those whose voice has been silenced

·      Keep your hands busy doing things for others

·      Don’t waste time on sadness, but cry when you need to

·      Read constantly

·      Don’t give a book you haven’t read

·      Don’t hold on to a book if you have read it

·      Discuss books that move you

·      Appreciate music and all of the arts

·      Be creative

·      Never stop learning or teaching

·      Understand that a person’s worth is directly related to their willingness to serve others

·      Tidy up after yourself – don’t leave a mess for others to clean up

·      Say “I love you” often and mean it

·      When something bad happens move on to the next chapter

·      Listen carefully when someone is speaking to you

·      Appreciate life’s simple pleasures

·      Enjoy spending time with children

·      Be modest and self-deprecating

·      Have a strong work ethic

·      Wake up early – some of the best conversations happen before sunrise

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Remember mail?  That is a question for older folks.  We all have mailboxes.  And the mail carrier dutifully places items in them daily.  But I am referring to MAIL mail.  Remember receiving letters and postcards?  When I was in college I received little care packages from home and from my big sisters.  I still have a postcard somewhere from my little brother from the hospital when he and his hooligan friends were playing a ridiculous game of "CRASH" by smashing their bikes together riding around on the tennis courts near my parents house.  Dan fell off (go figure) and got a concussion and mailed me a silly postcard right from the hospital.  Those were the days.

I have this big pack of letters from my mom over the years.  It is one of my most prized possessions.

Mail - real mail - was a time capsule of thoughts and emotions.  Committed to paper, letters were carefully written reflections meant to be recalled, maybe even kept as remembrances, a record, a reflection of times gone by.  

Not so much any more.  I'm not whining, not harkening to the good old days.  Just pointing out a way we have changed as a culture.  

Today's "mail" is most advertisements and bills.   As I was opening the stack of "mail" the other day, I noticed how the billers and advertisers try to get your attention.  OPEN ME!  READ ME!  OR ELSE! was all over them.  

Here are a few examples from just the last two weeks...

You know if these two boxes are checked on the outside of the envelope, that folks are going to open and investigate.  NO ANNUAL FEE!  Well, that almost means free money!  Right?

Just the word FREE is going to entice some mail openings.  Here are a couple examples...

You know someone, somewhere knows our age and disposition - as in over insured - when we get a guide to long-term care.  Sorry already have it.

Who doesn't love a SPECIAL GIFT?  You know you want to open it if there is a SPECIAL GIFT inside.  Especially one from kids.  Especially kids with cancer.  The cartoon sort of pulls at the heart strings too.  We have been getting these mailing labels for years.  

Can't ever use them though, in case someone wanted a correct name on the return address.  It's HEIDI.  I wish I could get off their mailing list.  It must cost money to send out this pack of incorrect mailing labels year after year.  I love me some St. Jude's, but it isn't one of our causes.

Then there are the ones that demand an immediate response.  It may feel as though someone, somewhere is actually waiting around for you to reply.  

What would happen if I didn't OPEN IMMEDIATELY?!  Would I get in trouble?  That's a lot of pressure to open.  NOW!  It's similar to the one below...

Of course it's TIME SENSITIVE.  We want a response (read: your cash) NOW!  DO NOT DELAY!

Anything with the word URGENT in bold letters should get your attention.  

But I have learned that if I let my subscription expire, they'll make me a far better offer than simply a renewal at the same price.  

But check out how wrong they got the name.  Do I really want a news magazine delivered to my house with such a dramatic name change?  It's Tim O'Keefe and Heidi Mills.  I am a liberated guy and I appreciate it that Heidi kept her maiden name and all, but morphing us into a single androgynous being?  I am not yet that enlightened.

I love me some Amnesty International.  They are one of our causes.  But I don't vote for people I know nothing about.

They use the stress of DATED MATERIAL and an OFFICIAL BALLOT.  If I don't hurry I'll miss the voting date.  I checked the ballot.  I knew nothing about anyone.  I appreciate that they think my input is essential.

But I had nothing to contribute.  It left me feeling a little hollow inside.  SOMEONE will be elected without my input.  

This one is easy.

Who wouldn't choose the 80,000 points over the 50,000 points?  Duh!

On the next one, I feel like I'll get away with something if I order a magazine through these guys.  I mean PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY?  Imagine the deal I can get if I go ahead and pretend that I am a doctor or a lawyer and have a waiting room with patients!  Did they mail it to me by mistake?  Could I just go along with it and read my TIME magazine at the discounted WAITING ROOM/PROFESSIONAL USE rate?  It's like they're daring me to commit fraud or something.

This next one is just so OFFICIAL looking.  I mean if there is a penalty for private use, they must be legit.  And important.  And relevant.  And serious.  

Even the so-called stamp seems imperative.

Stars.  An angry looking eagle.  It just screams freedom.  Justice. The American way!

Nope.  Just junk.  

We get so much junk mail that I thought it would be interesting to look up the stats.

Stop Junk Mail — a Personal Nuisance & Environmental Hazard

  • Keep trees in the forest. More than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail. 42% of timber harvested nationwide becomes pulpwood for paper.
  • Reduce global warming. The world’s temperate forests absorb 2 billion tons of carbon annually. Creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.
  • Save water. About 28 billion gallons of water are wasted to produce and recycle junk each year.
  • Save time. You waste about 70 hours a year dealing with junk mail.

Your Mailbox Today

  • The pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of water used in industrial activities in developed countries, and it’s the third-largest industrial greenhouse gas emitter (after the chemical and steel industries).
  • The average adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year. 44% goes to the landfill unopened.
  • On average, we receive 16 pieces of junk mail a week, compared to only 1.5 personal letters.
  • The majority of household waste consists of junk mail.
  • 40% of the solid mass that makes up our landfills is paper and paperboard waste.
  • Junk mail inks have high concentrations of heavy metals, making the paper difficult to recycle.
  • $320 million of local taxes are used to dispose of junk mail each year.
  • California’s state and local governments spend $500,000 a year collecting and disposing of AOL’s direct mail disks alone.
  • Transporting junk mail costs $550 million a year.
  • Lists of names and addresses used in bulk mailings reside in mass data-collection networks. Your name is typically worth 3 to 20 cents each time it is sold.

Definitely something to think about.  

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Don't Blink

In order to get a little "normal" again, to recover just a bit from the nausea that Donald Trump andTed Cruze have brought on, I went into the way-back machine to repost one from a long time ago.  This was the day when we moved our son Devin into his dorm.  His first official day on his own.  He is at MUSC now, studying for his Doctorate in Physical Therapy.  Past the half way point.  At 23, he is on his way to a happy, healthy life.  Full of promise and adventure and good things.  Seems like I blinked again, for it's been 5 1/2 years since these thoughts were first written.

Don't Blink

In our culture, leaving home is as natural as coming home from the hospital as a newborn. It is what happens to most of us as we become adults. For those lucky enough to go to college, it happens around age 18. Kids are born to us, they spend most of their formative years learning how to be, how to get along, who they are and who they will become. Then they leave us to find out who they really are, who they really want to be. They find the path that will take them onward into their future. It really is the way it should be. Then why am I feeling so blue?

Today we move Devin, our 18 year old, into his dorm at the University of South Carolina. We‘re opting for the later shift, hoping that most of the kids will be moved in already. He is moving in with is best friend, a guy he went to high school with, who he spent his free time with for years. His bedroom is packed with what he will take with him. His modest clothes, his stereo, his computer, his new little microwave, new sheets, towels and blankets, his bathroom “caddy” for shampoo, soap, etc. It is the stuff of moving away, of being on your own, of independence. It’s a good thing, right? Then why, when I was vacuuming the hallway this morning and I passed that pile of his new and old possessions, was I so sad? It’s not like he’s moving very far. It is only a thirty-five-minute drive. Heidi takes it every day she goes into campus to work. It’s not like he won’t be coming home some weekends or that he won’t be coming back for winter break and summer vacation next year.

I’ll still see him. I’ll still call him and meet him for dinner (although Heidi suggested that I don’t call so much as text message, “It’s how most kids communicate these days.”).

But it won’t be the same. It will never be the same again. Devin will not be living here. He’ll be back, but it will more like visiting. So…

There are all these thoughts running through my mind. All of these concerns. All these questions. Have I done a good job as a parent? Have I done what I could to teach him right from wrong? Does he know not to lie? Is he grateful? Does he know how to pray? Did I do all that I could to make sure that Devin is kind, responsible, safe? Have I been a good role model? Have I told him enough that I love him. Have I shown him? Does he know that I am there for him no matter what?

Heidi said that she was listening to a radio station yesterday where there is a lot of call-in kind of talk. A woman asked about advice for parents who just had their first baby. One response that stuck with Heidi was simply, “Don’t blink.”

I blinked, you guys. Because it was just such a short time ago that we brought Devin home after his adoption. And we weren't sure what to do with a new baby - except to love him. Devin was going to the lake with me in his diaper to watch the sunset, and I was chasing him around our beloved tree in a suped up game of peek-a-boo. I could make him laugh from his little belly. I can see those loose blond curls and bright blue eyes. I can hear that laugh. It is the most beautiful music.

It was just a short time ago that he was playing with his baby brother’s toes when we brought Colin home from the hospital; when he could catch a butterfly with his bare hands. I remember when he gave up his beloved bottle and we made a solemn ceremony out of it and when he rode a bike for the first time and when he introduced himself at the area pool with, “I’m Devin, and I’m an amazing child.” I remember when he cried when he caught a lizard but broke off its tail. And when he caught his first few fish off the dock.
I remember when he went to Kindergarten and I caught a glimpse of him at school outside on a really hot day practicing for a fire drill. The sight of him so grown up, patiently waiting in the uncomfortable heat for his teacher and his classmates to get it right so they could go inside. He didn’t know I was watching him. He had gone from little-preschool-kid-cute to little-boy handsome. And I remember thinking, where is Devin? Where did that preschool boy go? And I cried. Not in loss or sorrow. In amazement I guess.

I remember us singing silly songs on the way home from school in the car and reading bedtime stories and our secret handshake before bed. Pokemon cards and video games, shell collections and rock collections. Marco polo, pogo sticks and soccer in the meadow.

Then skateboards and loud music and having a girlfriend. Then high school and his first car and his first job and proms and a broken heart. Heidi and I started going to bed earlier. Devin stayed out later.

I remember the feelings I had on the day my dad dropped me off at IU. I tried to be tough, but it was scary – this new freedom. Dev must be having some of the same thoughts. Freedom is great, but it is scary too. He can come and go as he pleases, but he’ll have to get himself up in the morning. He can come in at night when he wants but he won’t get to kiss his mom good night like has always done. He’ll make wonderful new friends, but he won’t be living in his old hood near his beloved lake.

And I blinked, you guys, because he is moving away today. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. We have been planning for this day for his whole life. But it’s here and it came too fast and I am going to miss living with him and I don’t know what to do with these emotions.

I write for many reasons: to understand, to organize, to feel, to remember, to envision, to hope. I guess it is for all these reasons that I am writing this.

Don’t blink.

Monday, March 21, 2016

David Brooks on Trump

David Brooks from the New York Times is a conservative Republican.  While I disagree with many of his opinions, I really respect him.  He is reasonable.  He is smart.  He is articulate.  He is respected.   He can disagree without being disagreeable.  I hear him most Friday afternoons on my drive home on NPR with E. J. Dionne, thinking about the issues of the week.  I wouldn't even call it a debate, because both men are just so intelligent.  They are both brilliant men on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

When I read David Brooks' pieces, I feel smarter.  Enlightened.  He often gives his readers another way of looking at things.  I tend to be a little more black and white.  David Brooks teaches me to be a little more gray.

So, I am very interested about how an intelligent Republican sees Trump.  Here is an excerpt from his latest op-ed piece.

Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa.

Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetimes. All politicians stretch the truth, but Trump has a steady obliviousness to accuracy.

This week, the Politico reporters Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn and Isaac Arnsdorf fact-checked 4.6 hours of Trump speeches and press conferences. They found more than five dozen untrue statements, or one every five minutes.

“His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources,” they wrote.He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12. He surrounds himself with sycophants.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


…Or will it.  

I hate to think, talk, write about Donald trump.  And yet I do.  I am a moth drawn to a flame.  He is so vile.  His message so hateful.  His words are lawless and intended to incite violence.  

He is anti-Christian in every way imaginable, yet he seems to have the evangelicals on his side.  His rallies are disgusting displays of bravado with absolutely no substance.  He can’t even speak coherently, yet people applaud. 

That’s the scary part.  A lot of people love this guy.


Or will it?

He is as anti-American as any person or force, yet he wows the crowd by saying anyone who disagrees with him is anti-American and should be punished.  He rants on about how the protestors who have been violently ejected from his rallies are disrespectful and evil because they often raise what he calls “the bad finger” yet he curses like a drunken sailor.  And isn’t he and his Trumpeters giving the finger to the Republican Party and – indeed – all of America?

Christian?  When asked if he ever asks God for forgiveness, he said - no. "When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of 'let's go on and let's make it right.”  

He gives himself communion and everything is right with the world.

He is the bully, the class clown, the arrogant, self-righteous teacher’s pet who punches when the teacher isn’t looking then smiles as acts, “WHO, ME?” when he caught.  

And he is the textbook definition of pathological liar.

Politifact (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize) regularly rates statements by politicians so that we can determine the truthiness of their rhetoric.  The following are the results of the Republican debate in Miami.

·       True1  (1%) (1)
·       Mostly True 7 (6%)( 7)
·       Half True 17 (15%) (17)
·       Mostly False 19 (17%) (19)
·       False 45 (41%) (45)
·       Pants on Fire 21 (19%)

Trump likes to think of himself as number one.  And in the case of lying – he truly is.  

• "I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down," he said at a Nov. 21 rally in Birmingham, Ala. "And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering." Pants on Fire. There is no video of thousands of people in Jersey City cheering. Weeks later, Trump continues to stand by his claim but has not been able to point to evidence to back it up. Public safety officials on the ground in New Jersey say it never happened.

• "The Mexican government ... they send the bad ones over." Pants on Fire. There’s no evidence to show the Mexican government encourages criminals to cross the border. Most illegal immigration comes from people seeking work. Recent estimates show illegal immigration from Mexico dropped off dramatically during the recession and has remained low.

• "Whites killed by whites — 16%. Whites killed by blacks — 81%," said an image he shared on Twitter. Pants on Fire. Most people are killed by someone they know, and someone of the same race. The correct number for whites killed by whites was 82 percent in 2014, while the number of whites killed by blacks was 15 percent.

He usually shrugs off his lies with something akin to…  I am not the only one who lies…

When Bill O’Reilly asked him about the inaccuracy of some statements, he said, "Hey, Bill, Bill, am I gonna check every statistic? I get millions and millions of people...

"People maybe call me out, but they turn out to be wrong, also," was his reply to George Stephanapoluos.  

I teach little kids.  "He did it too," is about the level of a second grader, who is not very good at blame shifting.

As it turns out, he just goes by the old – if I say it long enough and loud enough people will just believe me.  And it’s working, right?  MANY people don’t seem to care about the truth.

They just like his style.

HATE WON'T WIN.  Or will it?

The really freaky thing to me is his calls to violence.  Sure he would waterboard – and a lot more than that.  He doesn’t care about the Geneva Convention. "They said to me, 'What do you think of waterboarding?' I said I think it’s great, but we don't go far enough. It’s true. We don't go far enough. We don't go far enough." 

 War crimes?  No big deal.

Who hasn’t seen his followers jeering, cursing, spitting on and sucker punching peaceful protesters who dare to interrupt his rallies?  Here are his own words about the violence at his rallies.

"See the first group, I was nice. Oh, take your time. The second group, I was pretty nice," he said. "The third group, I'll be a little more violent. And the fourth group, I'll say get the hell out of here!"

"Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump said. "I have a lot of fans, and they were not happy about it. And this was a very obnoxious guy who was a trouble-maker who was looking to make trouble."

"If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them," he said. "Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees."

"Here's a guy, throwing punches, nasty as hell, screaming at everything else, when we're talking...," he said. "I'd like to punch him in the face, I tell ya."

"You know what I hate? There’s a guy, totally disruptive, throwing punches, we're not allowed to punch back anymore. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks," Trump said.

"He was swinging, he was hitting people, and the audience hit back," Trump said about an unspecified protester. "That's what we need more of."

Trump breaks the laws of this country by inciting violence.  Although his speech is protected by the first amendment, he is yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded auditorium.  Yet, in his sneaky way, he can weasel out of the violence he stirs up.  After all, HE isn’t throwing the punch. 

I like to think of us – The US – as decent folks.  While we have a long way to go, I like to think we have come a long way toward acceptance.  

I’d like to think that HATE WON’T WIN.

Or will it?