Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seeking the Christmas Spirit

We have already reached the teens of December, but my mind keeps thinking we should be somewhere about early October. My iTunes keeps popping up Christmas tunes when I put on the d.j. function. Cards keep arriving in the mail. All around me is decorated.
My October brain’s first thought is, “it’s too early! Stop it!”
I organized the Advent devotionals for church and even ran the sound board for the Christmas cantata.
I designed my cards for this year - and even sent them to the printer (and picked them up). I just have not managed to mail them yet.
I have already done much of my Christmas shopping, and for those things I have not purchased, I have a pretty good list. I have not wrapped any and at least 21 need to be wrapped by Saturday morning.
Still, the Christmas spirit keeps eluding me no matter what I do to find it. Perhaps by the time I have made the drive to Kansas and enjoyed some days off work with my family up there, I will find the sprit. I would really hate to miss the holidays because the year went too fast.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Contrast

On the hike through Lost Maples State Recreation Area last month, there was only one image for which I stopped and turned around to capture. Earlier this month I posted many photos of the various stumps I came across on the hike and they have long been a favorite photo subject of mine - especially when I have the option to turn them into a black-and-white picture. Hiking along, I glanced up to see a image in such stark contrast to it's background, the image stayed with me even after I moved on a ways down the trail. 



The one dead branch rising above all other living limbs and other trees stood out against the perfect blue sky of the day. Different people will see a variety of images in the limb. I can see the outline of a scarecrow, a pitchfork, and most clearly a cross.

Of the 100+ photos taken during the day, this is the one I keep coming back to, just as I came back to the location to take it.


And this brings us to the end of National Blog Posting Month 2010. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have though it takes and extra time commitment in my busy work schedule. Nevertheless, it does help me remember to focus on this personal outlet that too often gets neglected.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Amber Waves

While Katherine Lee Bates may have been reflecting on the wheat fields of Kansas (I have heard various versions of the tale of her inspiration), she could just as easily have been imagining the fall seed-heads of any variety of grasses. Although the maple trees in Lost Maples State Recreation Area were still bright green when I hiked through the area, many of the grasses were aglow in the crisp and bright fall sunlight.





The sun shining across the fields with the wind blowing creates a surprising glistening effect - at least surprising from what I expect from grasses. The still photos do not capture the effect in near the way high-definition video would, but frankly, I do not want to go to that much trouble.


I encourage you to use your imagination.


Particularly stunning, though, were the bronze colored seed heads to some grasses that were bushing out along the trail. A field of these grasses than the few clumped stalks would create a spectacular effect across acres.


I went to Lost Maples expecting a certain kind of color, the brilliant reds and golds splashed across so many travel brochures for the northeastern United States this time of year. Instead, I came across a lively palate of more earth-tones that equally represented autumn in its transitional glory.




Friday, November 19, 2010

Light Speed

I am always amazed at how the snail’s pace of government can suddenly shift to warp speed when they so-decide. Because I sometimes write grants for the programs I manage, I know I am held to the application deadline just as I am held to the application deadlines for every report TEA or other agencies require of me. Just because I am required to hold to a deadline does  not mean the agency is; however, and I often find myself twiddling my thumbs waiting on a response from the agency.
This week I another grant deadline came and I was happy to have it off my plate before the week-long Thanksgiving break I have at work. (Yes, I get an entire week off from work.). Completion of that grant and the other reports with a few hours left before the break gave me a chance to organize some of the chaos which had exploded over my office in the previous week.
Just as I completed my final submission and began working on the office, I heard my email alert go off. Rather than let it sit, I decided to read and reply.
To my surprise it was a response on the grant - with requested changes and an new deadline.
During my week off.
One time when I would have been quite ok with the state taking some time to do what it should, they move to light speed and expect me to work over my vacation.
So now I am repacking to take the things home I need to complete the grand additions prior to the new deadline because I really do not want to come all the way to the office to do it. Fortunately the changes will not take more than a few hours of work and for the money - well worth it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reality Bites

Reality bites. But it is so addictive. For years I swore off reality television as brain numbing but then I started watching Top Chef, and because I love to cook, it was engaging and I personally was fascinated by the challenges. And then there were those few unfortunate episodes of Real Housewives New Jersey. So many people I know were talking about it, I checked it out just to see and found myself so disgusted by the entire premise of the show that I could only tolerate a couple episodes.
But as I was looking around the dial, I realized so many of the shows I watched were reality of some kind or another. The various travel channel shows - Man Vs Food, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. They were all truly more reality than anything else.
I had become a fan of reality television without really realizing it. I was actually looking forward to Friday nights and Ghost Adventures. While the show is incredibly fake, the host (lead investigator) can get frightened and jump into my arms anytime.
And then along came the A-List. A couple of friends watched it and described it as a train wreck that your just couldn’t help but stare at. I made the mistake of catching a glimpse. All I can say about that is, “Bless their hearts. None of them got the sense God gave a mule.”
But coming in January is the highlight of the reality show season...
...RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Belated Happy Birthday RuPaul.)



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beta Teched

I think I was born into the wrong generation. When it comes to tech gadgets, no matter how much I tell myself I am going to resist, deep down inside I know I am going to cave the moment I get my hands on the newest device around. I should be part of the digital native generation rather than a digital immigrant as my age would suggest.
My latest  venture into  high tech is so new, it is still in the beta version. I first heard of it on an NPR program and immediately looked up when I walked into my home. Despite hearing about it on NPR, I was quite shocked to hear that it was not yet available and I had to actually request to use the beta version and that I would find out more in an email in a few days.
I am not the most patient person, but resolved to sit tight.
Yesterday I finally received the magically encoded email that gave the the link to download RockMelt, a new browser. Within thirty minutes of downloading it and getting it set up with the connections to favorite websites and sharing Facebook information, I had pushed the button to make it my default browser.
It lets me multitask in just so many more ways than I was able to before. One side of the window keeps up with who all of my Facebook friends are online - without me actually being on Facebook. The other side-bar keeps track of my favorite websites and lets me know when there has been an update - to the point that it actually counts the number up updates to the website since I have click on the website. I can click on the icon and it tells me what the new stories are with the appropriate link - so I can read it if it interests me or just ignore and continue on with whatever I was doing. 
Heaven!
The appearance is nothing spectacular -basic and functional, but I really do not want anything more. Content matters to me more than flash and the efficiency RockMelt brings to browsing allows my ADHD to function at just one more level.
Oh - and I have three invitations to share so you don’t have to wait a week if you ask nicely.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fall Flowers

On several recent hikes, I have ventured into state parks and recreational areas looking for fall foliage. While Texas has limited leaf-color-change, one can usually find small bursts of the newly brilliantly chlorophyl-depleated leaves. Surprisingly, though, I have seen an unexpected number of fall flowers in full bloom.






Each of these photos was taken in the McKinney Falls State Park. One thing I notice about the fall flowers that differs from most of the spring flowers in the area is that these are quite dainty and small.








Even though I expected to see fall colors in Lost Maples State Recreation Area, I was more surprised to see the variety of flowers (and butterflies) in the park.








I really did enjoy getting to see the variety of fall flowers out. I have to confess that I am disappointed that I did not find any photos of the purple flowers that lined the trails in several places. For whatever reason, I neglected to take any pictures of them.


Nevertheless, autumn provides all kinds of beauty in unexpected ways. I am glad I have been carrying my camera around in attempts to catch it.














Monday, November 15, 2010

First Thursday

One of my very favorite things about living in Austin is First Thursdays on South Congress. Though I do not go every month, when I go with friends, I always have a wonderful time meandering through the businesses that stay open late and the various vendors who set up in tents and booths in every open lot along the street. The laid-back Austin culture pervades the nature of the event as people wander along the sidewalks and cross busy Congress Avenue whenever the whim strikes - further slowing the already parade-like pace of vehicles on that one night a month.
It is one night a month when people from all parts of Austin gather without the crowed nature often found in the contained festivals that occur throughout the year around town. The number of vendors and spectators varies from month to month based on the weather. It is rarely too cold, but there have been occasions when it rained and in the summer it truly can be too hot in the evening for pleasurable walking along the sidewalks and streets.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spot on Sermon

The sermon in church today hit the spot. The pastor addressed a theological concept with which I have grappled for nearly two years - acedia. My  interest was sparked in acedia upon hearing an interview with Kathleen Norris who wrote the book Acedia and Me. I have been reading the book for two years and have not made it past page 86.  The concepts are too deep and too challenging for me to spend more than a little while on it at a time.
Therefore I was surprised when I saw it as the topic of a sermon, but anxious to see how it would be addressed. At one point,  in the sermon, an associate pastor read a list of synonyms for acedia that the pastor described as symptoms. The list took up over a page of text. Despite the extensive list synonyms, none accurately sums up the condition alone. Acedia as a concept is one greater than the sum of its parts.
That is why I have struggled with it as an idea within the Christian church. Indeed, it is the foundation on which the deadly sin, sloth, was based. But sloth as we consider it today does not begin to describe or approach the ideas acedia encompasses. It represents a spiritual weariness that leads to a repudiation or abandonment of faith. The danger to the person suffering from acedia to the spiritual growth of a person is real.
Like doubt, another concept I have been exploring in Christianity, approaching acedia offers the opportunity for spiritual growth; however, the danger of acedia is that it can creep in as a growing sense of exhaustion or overcome one suddenly as in a frustration that leads to surrender. Both can be overcome, but both risk a profound loss of spiritual connection.
I look forward to continued study of the concept of acedia in conjunction with the concept of doubt as both barriers and facilitators to spiritual growth and formation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Safety Fail

The NFL and indeed every level of football has worked over the years to increase the safety of the players in the hard-hitting game. Helmets, padding, shoes, and even uniforms are designed with safety of the players in mind.
So why, with all this safety focus are we discovering the level of permanent brain injury among players - even players early in their professional career? Simply, progress in science and new technology allow us to gain more understanding of the nature of brain injury. This along with the awareness of brain injuries being suffered by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped us see that brain damage can occur without the symptoms of a concussion.
The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe reverting to the uniforms of the 1950’s mad indeed be preferable. The perception of invincibility given by modern uniforms has proven to be a false comfort for many players. As we know more about head injuries, we realize that they are silent stalkers that show their full effects ten and even twenty years after they occur. Despite the new rules and enforcement on helmet contact, many blows to the head still occur. Even though it may not be helmet-to-helmet contact, injurious contacts still occur on almost every play. Going back to a facemaskless helmet would quickly bring to an end these kinds of hits.
While professional players argue that they are aware of the risks and are paid well to take them, that argument falls flat when one considers that the vast majority of players play the game at the amateur level. New research shows that even some players at these lower levels are  experiencing potentially lifetime affecting brain injuries. With high school and college players far outnumbering the pros, we must keep them in mind when making rules and equipment decisions. 
The safety promised by the current equipment has proven to be a failure of technology. We must make changes soon to protect all participants in the sport whether they recognize the necessity of it or not.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Deadline Mahem

I do not know what kind of secret conspiracy multiple agencies have going, but lately the deadlines from every agency happens at the same time for me. There is a grant deadline, follow-up to last year progress report due, and current year evaluation report all due next week.
All this during one of the rare weeks when I actually teach most of the days.
Fortunately I have my calendars filled out well in advance with most of the deadlines; however, the grant only appeared recently, so I have barely had time to prepare for it. Everything else, though is mostly pulled together, I just need to find the writing time to synthesize all the work.
Still, the idea that every deadline should arrive at the same time creates stress. If something does not go as planned, then the entire plan falls apart, and so the stress grows. And on cue, I caught a cold that is making my eyes water and making it difficult to see the computer screen.
Fortunately, right down the street is a pharmacy and I have stocked up on all the cold remedies, am drinking hot tea and doing all the right things.
So next week will be a piece of cake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Cure

Aegrescit medendo.
Sometimes the cure does seem worse than the disease. At least that is how it is for me each fall when I start taking preventative medication to stave off the allergy season - most notably cedar fever. I have tried every medication, homeopathic cures, and every folk remedy I could find. So far, only one medication works for me.
I fuss, cuss, and delay taking it at all costs because it makes me even more hyper than I normally am. I really do not sleep for three or four nights because it makes me so jittery. Still, when I think how sick I am with a sinus infection, I decide the few days of extreme hyperactivity are worth the price.
If I ever let the cedar get a hold of my sinuses, it does not relinquish its hold until the last pollen grain is out of the air. That hold results in nearly constant congestion, sinus infections, fever, and general ickyness. Basically, it causes three months of misery that sucks the life out of all that i could be doing.
So four days of jittery sleeplessness against three months of full misery is not that great a sacrifice. Still the dread of the few days of discomfort comes around and gives me pause. This cure, while bad, is not worse than the disease, so I will take my medicine and be done with it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stragedy

Breaking a bad habit takes more time and energy than most people realize or are willing to dedicate. It is even more the case when one first learns something incorrectly: the way of doing something came wired into the brain a certain way. It remains the way of doing even when one learns better.
I have one friend who has mispronounced one particular word his entire life and nothing can change it. People who know him know what he means. I actually have come up with my own definition for the word because I think the definition deserves a word and this one sounds right.  My friend says “stragedy” instead of “strategy”. Given what he means and what it actually sounds like, I think we should all start using it when our best laid plans go horribly, horribly wrong.
We have all had those times. Despite our best efforts and most sincere planning, we have those events that go awry unexpectedly and never come back under control. We thought we had all the right strategies, but it turned into a tragedy. I think stragedy is the perfect word for such a situation. If Stephen Colbert can coin truthiness and have it become the word of the year, certainly a truly functional word like stragedy has room in the modern lexicon. 
And it saves valuable characters on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Stumped

As an amateur photographer, I find myself most often drawn to still-life images in nature. And while the idea of death and decay may seem morbid to some, I find stumps and fallen limbs on  the ground to be beautiful sites with contrast, shadow, and sometimes a story to tell. Often while out on a jog or hike, I notice the stark grays and blacks and various shades of rusty brown.



The trunk above has several fungi growing out of it. My favorite part of it is that the top fungi looks like a guinea pig peaking out from a crack in the trunk.




Each of the photos above shows the variety to be found of stumps and dead limbs in nature. Each one is quite different in size, color, and setting.


The bright sunlight and shadows around this stump disguise the brilliant white fungus growing in various places on the wood. I wish I had GPS located this one so I could come back a year from now and see just how rapidly it had decayed.

All of the photos in this set came from a hike in Lost Maples State Recreation Area near Vanderpool. While I went looking for fall color, the warm temperatures had kept most of the leaves from changing; however, the lovely fall day and other sites more than made up for the lack of fall foliage. Of course, I'm used to that in Texas.




Monday, November 08, 2010

Skyline

In the ten years since I moved to Austin, the skyline of the city has changed drastically - seemingly with a new tallest building dominating the view every few months. Despite all the change, I still prefer the first of the new tall buildings to rise along Congress Avenue and dramatically change the view of the city.


The Frost Bank building with its abstract geometrical design stands out among the attractive, but otherwise smooth buildings in landscape.


As special feature, with the Frost Bank symbol (the circular design) and the pointed peaks gives the building an owl-like appearance when viewed from certain directions.  Although many locals have derided the distinctness of the building because of the way it stands out against the Austin skyline, it is just that distinct nature that makes it so attractive to me.











Sunday, November 07, 2010

Wild Times in the Old Middle East

Most protestant churches ignore the “Catholic Bible” or more particularly, the  books of the Apocrypha. The Bible study group I lead has been reading through the Apocrypha for just over the last year and it has been a fascinating look at what some consider scripture. Not many Baptist Bible studies that i can find have taken the time to read and investigate the stories in these documents.
I think it may prove beneficial if some of our leaders study the history of the time covered in the apocryphal writings. In the recent weeks of reading through I Maccabees, one disturbing theme continues to surface.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
While most scholars consider I Maccabees to be “temple propaganda” to support the power of the Hasmonean dynasty in Israel, it does portray the strategies used by the leaders throughout the time.
They were namely:
  • build walls
  • throw out everyone who does not believe as they do
  • capture territory
  • colonize the captured territory with faithful Jews
  • build walls higher
Something sounds oddly familiar about that strategy.
Possibly because it reflects much of Israel’s foreign policy today.
Certainly, it is a simplification, but when reading through the history and looking at the headlines of the day, the similarities are uncanny. The warring factions change, but the strategies remain the same. History demonstrates they have a short term effectiveness and appeal to a certain faction. History also shows that the strategy largely led to Israel ceasing to exist for over two-thousand years.
I would encourage the regional leaders and outside powers seeking to influence outcomes in the region to seriously read the history as it has been passed down. When we learn from history, we do not have to repeat the errors made in antiquity. The Apocrypha has been a surprisingly clear window to the thinking of the Israel in the past with a reflection of Israel today.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

Unlike many gay men, I truly do enjoy sports in person and on television. Lately, though, I have had trouble really getting into sports of any kind because of lack of sportsmanship I have seen on so many levels ranging from coaches, to athletes, to fans. The situation only grows because many of the teams I normally support are struggling this season with only a few bright spots in the schedule.
Baseball, for me, is simply impossible to watch on television despite the great pleasure of the game in person. Somehow, television manages to turn the joy and excitement of the game and turn it into a tedious and uninteresting cycle of plays. However, because the Texas Rangers made the playoffs and survived into the World Series, I have been making a diligent attempt to watch playoff games into the Series. Despite the level of the game, watching saps what little energy remains in me from the day. And that is the good part of sports for me right now.
Those who follow college football closely knew it was going to be a rebuilding year for the University of Texas Longhorns, and we entered the year with diminished expectations following the heights we expected demanded last season. Nonetheless, even with lowered hopes, this season has been stunningly bad for a top-tier college program. Hopefully, the performance this year will bring about needed changes on the team that will allow for higher levels of growth and success in the near future. College football has been my favorite sport for years and I will continue to follow each Longhorn game with hopes that they will pull out another victory (though I did successfully predict the loss to Baylor).
By now, most of you can probably guess the ugliness that faces me each week in the sports world. The Dallas Cowboys, who have not been one of my favorite teams since Jerry Jones purchased the franchise in the late ’90’s, have always kept my attention as they are the historically powerhouse team from Texas - no matter what other team is playing in Texas at the time. As much as I enjoy trashing them as an organization, I have been stunned this season at how well they are doing it themselves. Is it really possible for any professional organization to so completely self-destruct? Despite the perverse glee I experience with each Cowboys’ loss, I mourn a little for their place in football lore.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Work Ethic

I come from a different generation. I work hard more hours each week than I care to count. While I have my “desk” hours at work, the hours I spend in district boundaries do not begin to touch the hours of work I do. As and administrator in an education system, most people do not understand exactly what it is that I do.
I administer.
I answer questions.
I make decisions.
I talk much.
I listen more.
When I first heard the term from one of my idols in administration, lead-learner seemed to me to be a homage to the profession and to diminish the distance between classroom educators and administrators. Now that I work in administration, I cannot find any good way to explain to others just how much time I spend studying and learning more about my job, my programs, the politics of the work that I do.
I often read until late in the night though my defined bedtime is 10:00 p.m. for my alarm sounds at 5:00 a.m.
Education is about learning. Administrators who cease to learn have a very short tenure with the burgeoning research into “best practices” potentially changing from day-to-day the work we do. However, effective administrators need to know the difference between “best practices” and what will truly work in the circumstances of the particular school. Such discrimination takes constant study and learning.
When I was a student through my first Masters degree, because I had never taken a break from the education system, I never realized how much work learning is. After taking a near ten year break between earning a first and second Masters degree, I forgot the effort required to truly master new information and be a successful student.
Lead learner no longer seems to me a dismissive term. It solidly represents the work ethic it takes to be an effective leader.
Because I still have so much to learn in one of the programs I administer, I do not yet consider myself effective. I am now sufficient, but through another year of learning, I may approach the point of being effective.
Working in education takes a different kind of work than many people can understand. The work I do on one day may not show effects for months. And  it may take days of work before there is a visible product to show for the hours of mental toil.
To many may consider it to be “less-than” work, but I know I sleep well each night. I gave up long ago trying to compare my 90-hour work week to the 40-hour work week of someone in a business setting. Thirty-plus of my hours of work my occur in the recliner in my living room, but with the ultimate outcomes being what they are, they are just as strenuous and effective as the hours spent behind a desk. I take pride in the work ethic I bring to the job each and every day and look forward to many more years of active learning, of being the lead learner in my job as an example for everyone who works with me.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Card Me

This morning I woke up to an unusual alarm going off on my phone. It was not the clock radio or the normal phone chimes. It was the alarm reminding me an important event on my calendar.
But why at 4:00 a.m. on a Thursday?
What could be so important?
Christmas cards!
As long as I have iCal and am using Apple products - or until I change the settings - I will be reminded three weeks before Thanksgiving to start working on my address list for Christmas cards. Since I mail 60 to 90 cards each year (I am single handedly trying to keep the postal service in operation), three weeks has turned out to be the magical time it takes to email people and update current mailing addresses.
Yes, I use email to get mailing addresses.
It is faster than sending a teaser card to see if I can collect a return address stamp from the USPS.
Holiday cards are one special way of making contact that still has a personal touch. While I do have a spreadsheet and use mail-merge to print the labels for the envelopes, I still sign each card and I send out a variety of cards each year and hand select the one that goes to each address. I do not simply pick one design, one-size-fits-all, and push them in the mail. I take the time to write a personal note as well as include my standard “Christmas Letter” though anyone would be sorely pressed to take my holiday letter seriously. It is early November and I already have the opening paragraph composed.
Prepare to be offended.
Maybe I should take some of the personal sensibilities of my recipients into consideration. 
Then again, my letter is about my life. They can tell me the dull details of their child’s finger painting. I shall turn the year into an adventure that bites.
Prepare to be offended.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Yahoo!

Despite my propensity for high-tech toys, in one area, I remain firmly entrenched in the 1990’s. My computer home page remains Yahoo. It has been the same since my internet addiction took hold in the mid/late ’90’s as it was the dominant email server and search site. As a digital immigrant, I grew comfortable with it and stuck with it over the years.
Despite it being a dropping in point, I do have other key applications in the tool bar across the top of the screen and use them almost exclusively for actual Internet functions.
Except quick news.
I am still addicted to the Yahoo top headlines - whatever they have picked out for me to be the top headline of the day.
Sometimes they are relevant.
Mostly they are not.
Mostly, they are nothing more than entertaining.
Especially when I get things about Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore breaking NCAA rules. Really? I care about this because? Because they met two potential Iowa basketball recruits, suddenly the NCAA is in a tizzy because they could potentially influence the recruits to attend Iowa.
Frankly, it would take more than Aston and Demi to make me attend Iowa.
And yet, I’ve spent twenty-something minutes pondering the uselessness of this information.
I think it is time for me to move into the 21st century and find a new Internet home page.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rushing Water

As an amateur photographer, one of my favorite subjects is running water whether it comes from a fountain, raging stream, or gentle waterfall. The tranquility of gently running water, often juxtaposed against the evidence of its strength shown in gullies and worn paths through solid stone, often create beauty that attracts the eye and the ear.


The photo below shows one of the waterfalls at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. Although the shot from directly above makes the fall look active and forceful, I was actually straddling the entire stream as I shot straight down on the fall as the water went over the edge.


Shown from the side, the waterfall is not nearly as intimidating.



Whenever I go hiking, I search out those places that have water running and seek as many angles as possible. Just before the water falls over the ledge above, it is running gently across a wide expanse of stone with various paths worn down by centuries of running water.




The previous three pictures were taken by laying flat on my stomach on (dry) creek bed just down from the water to get a straight-on shot. 

All the shots were taken in McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. I often forget about the park when I am thinking I want to get outside. I procrastinate and curse the parking challenges because of the congestion downtown. McKinney is only ten minutes from my house and there are never parking problems, and with this kind of environment, I am going to put it in the forefront of my mind for a quick natural get-away.



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