Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Revenge...

...of the weeds.

I am convinced a larger cosmic consciousness connects us than we want to believe. Having a superior-to-the-nerds giggle while quoting Darth Vader, “The Force is strong with this one…” lets us continue our denial that the world is out to get us. My too long neglected yard sought to prove it repeatedly as some exceptional weeds, accustomed to reprieves, rioted against the realization the execution of their death penalty loomed as one after another of their fellow annual sprouts had their roots ripped from the nurturing soil.

A few challenged my most muscular tugs. One in particular mounted supernatural resistance. No matter what grip I took or what angle I pulled, I detected no give. My frustration released adrenaline, building my strength.

And this is how I know there is a greater cosmic force.

The force WAS strong with this one.

It recognized my multiplying might and held on until the cosmic consciousness promised justice if it would let go. In the instant the clouds cleared and (I AM CERTAIN) the Google Earth satellite with its ultra-high definition camera passed overhead snapping away, and after giving no suggestion of surrender, the entire root system uniformly slipped the surly bonds of earth, rolling me over, butt-up for the thrill of some future Googler.

Images of people caught in candid - and most definitely embarrassing poses - in the photos taken by Google for their map/streetview programs periodically go viral when someone has a reason to look closely at the picture and then sees, and shares, the unfortunate spectacle with the rest of the Internet. The regularity of those viral images eliminates any surprise that I should expect that every awkward moment gets recorded.

That someday a picture of me, rolled onto my back with my butt up in the air will not surprise me. I will not even be embarrassed. Because…if you pay close enough attention, you will see that though the force of my tug flipped me over, clutched victoriously in my fist is the weed that thought it a humiliating photo trumped its trip to the mulch bin.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Character on the Court

It seems like most of the time sports figures make the news because of their behavior, it usually involves some illegal activity. The San Antonio Spurs, under the leadership of Coach Pop have avoided most of this kind of news, instead being a highly involved organization within the community. 

Coach Popovich is known for being cranky and sharp in interviews - especially those during the game. His conclusion to the interview demonstrates his awareness of and interest in the community - even reporters who are sometimes an athlete's nemesis. When he turns directly to the camera and addresses the hospitalized reporter, his genuine concern shows.

Gregg Popovich Shows His Softer Side, Wishes Craig Sager Well in Interview | Bleacher Report:


'via Blog this'

If Coach Pop can take the time in a playoff game to wish a community member well, why is it so difficult for other athletes to set examples of character? Until they learn how to behave, I will continue to be glad that the Spurs are the nearest professional sports team to me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fighting the Face

Movember (Moustache/No Shave November) came and went with nary an uncut facial follicle. My facial hair was not planted in any pattern that encourages growing any type of beard. In the last few weeks, though, several areas have revolted by becoming badger-hair stiff and refusing to be cut down to the skin. Even after using a new blade, patches of sandpaper rough bristle jut out from my face.

None of the patches are so long they are immediately obvious to anyone who does not pay as much attention to my face as I do. Nevertheless, I see them and they annoy me.

Perhaps the most annoying part of the rebellious hairs is their color. My facial hair is red and white! The hair on my head is a light brown. Seeing how my dad looks with his beautiful white hair, I have longed for years for my hair to go gray with very little luck. Why then does the hair that is so sporadically placed that I cannot grow it out with any kind of aesthetic benefit do exactly what I want the rest of the hair on my head to do?

As far as the red goes, I confess, I was born a ginger and shades of auburn are visible in the hair on my head in the right light. Otherwise, the only proof of red-headedness is in the beard and other hair that very few a few not many only some people get to see.

Since I started college in the mid-80’s I have preferred using a razor with a blade over an electric razor. My face always felt rough after shaving with the electric razor. Now that I am getting the same effect in patches with the blade, I have considered trying the electric razor again. At least I would be uniformly rough.

This facial hair challenge is just the kind of thing that gets to me. I’ve been shaving over 30 years. I know how to do it. When everything is done correctly and the results are not as expected proves to be a circumstance I find most frustrating. Those unknown variables that change outcomes unexpectedly may provide spice and adventure to life, but I have plenty of that. The universe can leave my facial hair alone.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Priorities

For the last few years I have faithfully participated in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in November by pledging to post [and posting] every day of the month. Since the event started being managed by a for-profit organization some things have improved (daily writing prompt for when you get stuck) and some things haven’t - there’s a NaBloPoMo every month. I only participate in November because that is the month in which the event originated.

Unlike past years when I had the writing prompt planned for each day of the month and jumped into participation enthusiastically, I registered online and began posting each day without any fanfare. I passed the halfway point in the month and all the way to the 26th. The end was in sight and despite not having a daily plan for the posts, I reached the point that I knew I would complete another month.

And then Thanksgiving, holiday company, and the coughing crud that has been making the rounds hit at the same time. I fell asleep typing the post for November 27 ( working title: Earned Exhaustion) and missed the midnight deadline for having a post on that date.

I began beating myself up immediately on waking up and realizing I had missed the deadline. I went into the exercise not fully committed to it, but failing to complete it was tragedy. The emotional self-flagellation continued for over a week when in a moment of clarity, I thought, “why am I upset about this? I write this blog for fun. Putting this kind of pressure took every bit of fun out of it.

I have continued posting since 2005 because of the fun. I expect to participate in NaBloPoMo in future years. Now that I have learned my lesson I will go into it for the challenge, but I will no longer beat myself up over a voluntary challenge. Most of all, I look forward to continued fun as I work on the blog.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Beware (Celebrate) the Underdog

From the beginning, this year’s football season disappointed me. I simply could not find a team or player I wanted to root for. The good Baptist in me kept telling me to get on the Baylor bandwagon and they impressed me in the games I watched - but given Baylor’s history, caution dominated. The thrilling end to the Alabama/Auburn game Thanksgiving weekend gave me some hope that the conference championship games would redeem the season.

The season’s final weekend left me smiling.

Two things that can be said for underdogs is that they are still dogs and they have fight.

In the conferences that have a championship game, both teams competing are there for a reason. Some conferences have disparity between the divisions, but teams rise to the top because they have demonstrated the greatest skill over the season.  That does not go away when they face a team perceived to be stronger. Almost universally, the underdog proved they deserved to be in the game.

And dang my dominating caution. After the earlier Oklahoma / Oklahoma State game eliminated the possibility of a tie for conference champion, I watched what turned into the Big 12 championship game with some Longhorn faithful. Despite our alma mater falling in the game, we all agreed that Baylor deserved the win - and Baylor as a program deserved it after the decades of mediocrity at best.

The competitiveness of the games reenergized what was becoming a lagging interest in sports. The underdogs, several times victorious, returned the excitement to sport. If the projections for the bowl games hold true, then bowl season promises to be as competitive as this weekend. The beginning did not meet my expectations, but if it ends the way the last weeks have been, then I will be happy - thanks to the underdogs.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Inspired

At work everyone is tired of me telling them to create a Twitter account and connect it to professional social media pages. They have been slow to adopt the technology as a means of professional connection and education while I am regularly commenting on the different things I read in articles shared by my personal learning network. Their usual response is, “that’s great for you and thanks for passing it on to us.”

I have my elevator speech down for the benefits of using different social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ in particular) for curating high quality connections to resources. Beyond having a stream of useful material at my fingertips, I develop relationships with other highly-motivated professionals. Exchanges can be a highlight of my day.

Personally, I have social networks mostly for fun. I keep up with headline news because it is more efficient that going to the news websites and some people just because the are funny.

Monday I noticed that, without intending to, I had started following a number of Twitter accounts that regularly post uplifting / motivational / inspirational quotes. Monday night I found myself going to the various profiles and reading the streams of messages because I needed a little pick-me-up after dealing with some issues from various friends in the previous days.

After this experience I have added yet another reason I appreciate social media: inspiration.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Inspired NOT Stressed

One of the most eye-opening discoveries in my graduate school counseling preparation was that everything is stressful and has been assigned a point value by Holmes and Rahe  on their stress scale. Even events people regarded as positives in life carry degrees of stress based on the amount of adaptation a person has to do in their life routine to adjust to the event. They connected the measure of stress to a likelihood of physical ailment based on the number of “points” accumulated in a year’s time.

Since the mid-sixties when Holmes and Rahe’s research was published, stress has become the catch-all boogey-man for any type of inconvenience we have (such as performance expectations at work). It becomes the reason for mistakes and the low-quality work. These interpretations of Holmes and Rahe’s work completely misrepresent what they believed about stress: it is necessary for life. Our reactions to the stressor are where the harm lies. Some current research reminds us of that understanding.



McGonigal cites a study that reported on the effects of the view of stress and health consequences, not the stressor itself. They re-discovered that our response to stress determines the likelihood of illness and even death. Holmes and Rahe assigned the points on their scale based on the general reaction people have to the event - not the event itself. That is why the birth of a child merited fewer points than the death of a loved one. Likewise, a promotion at work scores lower than losing a job. We generally experience less disruption to life with the first examples than the second.

Since discovering the work of Holmes and Rahe in graduate school, I have considered situations differently. I work in a stressful field - education. The challenges differ from school to school and some of them are entrenched and cultural. As long as they are challenges, I have the power to seek and implement solutions that may make them less challenging. When I call them stressors, I have given up seeking solutions.

I am glad that some are beginning to reframe the conversation around stress. For so many years so much misinformation spread so widely that if the number of times a lie was repeated changed it to the truth, then stress would be the villain. Replacing the false understanding of stress with a correct one faces an uphill battle at the start, but I believe it will be readily received: the old news about stress was a tale of weakness, but the new understanding is one of power! Shifting the conversation to our response to stress rather than the stress itself puts control over it within our grasp: we control how we react. We control the effects of stress.

We control our lives. There is no longer a reason to use stress as an excuse.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

From Welcoming to Winning to Welcoming

Recently I participated in a discussion with a group of theologians who participated in an event hosted by an organization that works for full inclusion of all people in all churches. One person made a comment, meant to be encouraging at the time, that with changes in society and stories in the press, we had won. The idea, and language, of “winning church” stuck with me for the rest of the day as it bulldozed its way through my thinking and most of my individual conversations the rest of the day.

Wouldn’t we all be very happy if everyone else’s theology came into perfect alignment with our own? I have never met anyone who did not like the idea of winning, and “winning church” probably ranks as the biggest.

Deep inside, I think we all desire an end to conflict between the faiths so that the most contentious argument in Church is whether to serve regular, whole-wheat, or gluten-free communion wafers. Sadly, within major religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam most of the divisions, denominations, or sects agree on the big concepts of the religion. The minutia and practice around those concepts, though create schisms large enough to dwarf the Grand Canyon. To cement the “rightness” of each point, they become so enshrined in ritual across generations that if the Torah/Bible/Koran did not say it, it should have.

Truthfully, though, I do not want another denomination or, for that matter, another individual to come into sync with my personal theology: it would diminish my personal, individual, relationship with God. I came to where I am in faith through my life experiences and my encounters with God. They are uniquely mine and have shaped nuances of faith no one else can have. The big ideas align to my faith tradition but have been buffed and polished by my experiences with God. The biggest idea in Christianity is having a personal relationship with God.

Similarly, congregational experience grows the same way through corporate worship and shared experiences. Each congregation develops its its history and tradition around those experiences. Some use the history as a guide for future work. Some get stuck in the history.

While it the idea of winning sounds nice, it does not support the value of welcoming all in the church. For someone to win, someone else loses - becoming disenfranchised and feeling unwelcome in the church. The welcoming and affirming movements within the different denominations have to recognize that we have not been successful until every child of God is welcome in every congregation. As more congregations and religious organizations adjust rules and statements of faith the more we will encounter individuals and groups who opposed those changes. They are as worthy or our love and gracious welcome as the previously excluded populations.

Welcoming is not a value extended only toward historically marginalized individuals and groups. Welcoming is a value extended to everyone. Christ left no ambiguity about who could be his follower. He traveled amongst the sinners and unclean while engaging the religious elite. He welcomed everyone.

Society may proclaim winners and losers on various issues, but we who seek justice for all cannot let ourselves adapt this kind of thinking. We have long worked to develop a kingdom view of people that welcomes everyone and affirms their value.

I admit that I am encouraged by the increase in congregations and organizations who are recognizing that Christ welcomed and affirmed all people and are seeking to become more Christlike by following his example. Meanwhile other congregations reinforce their theology that defines who can worship with them. As long as the dichotomy exists there are no winners. The best we can do is to practice grace and demonstrate the love of God.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Queso Freak

I do not know when it first came about, but a few years ago my reward for a week of eating well was a Friday night trip to one of several Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin that served what I considered to be good queso. Queso, chips, and salsa became my Friday night fix.

I could have a worse fix than queso.

At various points across the years I have had an entourage who joined me on a regular basis. We would get into such a routine that the staff knew what to bring me when I walked into the establishment. For the last year, I have mostly had my queso fix alone because my regular friends moved away or our schedules no longer align.

Does eating queso alone make me an addict?

I am somewhat picky about the queso. Heated Velveeta does not do it for me. It actually has to be some kind of cheese sauce. I also prefer the queso compuesto which means it comes with pico and meat and sometimes guacamole. I mix everything except any included guacamole into the cheese. I do not care for the avocado taste in the cheese, but I leave the guacamole floating in the hot cheese because warm guacamole actually tastes really good.

Recently I have been mastering the process of making my own queso from scratch. Getting a smooth sauce is not as difficult as I long imagined. I just had never done it right. Simply melting cheese does not a queso make.

I firmly believe that, much like bacon, cheese sauce makes almost anything better. Mastering the base for a cheese sauce allows for so many variations. One of my favorite variations involves making a smoky cheese sauce. When mixed with the right meats and pasta, it gives a sense of the grill. Properly incorporating fresh peppers into the base makes a very spicy sauce without the lumpy nature that sometimes happens when going for spicy. Using a variety of cheeses creates sauces as varied as the variety of cheeses in the fromagerie.

As much as I look forward to the queso itself on Friday nights, the real enjoyment of it comes from the company with friends and lively atmosphere in the restaurants. By going to the same ones so regularly, I recognize, and even know some of the regulars now. Despite my naturally introverted nature, I am comfortable enough in these places to relax and enjoy the company of others. Queso is just the bait to get me there.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Snap!

Last night as I prepared for bed, I sent out a tweet saying, “I need the AC to go to sleep tonight and the heater to wake up in the morning. #Texasweather.” The weather proved me correct. I struggled early in the morning to bring myself to climb from under the warm blanket with my even warmer dog cuddled against my back into the cool air of the house and switch the unit from cool to heat in time for some of the chill to come out of the air before I had to get up for the more serious business of brushing my teeth, shaving, and showering.

The rapid change in temperature commonly happens this time of year. Yesterday had a high of 82 degrees and a low of 68 degrees. Today’s high temperature was about 70 degrees at midnight and began a steady drop through the entire day as the front blew in with its frigid chilly air.
The arrival of cooler temperatures is one of my favorite times of the the year. I am a life-long Texan, but I have never adapted to the heat. I prefer sweater-weather. The highs and lows of the weekend all remaining in the mid-thirties to mid-forties range have me excited about the prospect of an active weekend cooking and wearing my cozy sweatpants.

While at work today, I sat almost giddy at the prospects for the weekend. While others were bemoaning the fact that they restricted to in-house activities, I could not wait for the time I could spend doing things in the house. This is also the time I start planning my garden for the coming year and begin to prepare the beds. As I have made some major changes in my landscaping this year I may also take the time to plant some winter vegetables.

The end of the work day could not come fast enough. My bags were packed and I was pushing people out the door so I could get my normal Friday night fare (chips and queso) and then home to enjoy the temperatures. Others may be unhappy, but I am thrilled about the cold snap.

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