Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Back Burner

We've all used or heard the phrase "On the back burner" but have we been using it wrong all this time?

When I have heard other people say "on the back burner" it's usually to say that whatever that thing is, it's dismissible, not as important as other things, or that thing that keeps nagging them that they can't bring themselves to take care of. No doubt, I have used the phrase the same way myself.

As a hobbyist cook, and wannabe foodie, I love being in the kitchen, and don't do many one pot wonder kinda meals. When I do have a Saturday, I may do a one pot meal, but you can bet I'm cooking other things that day. I've come to love my back burners.

I love my back burners so much, because that is where I will likely be putting things that take all day. Often whatever I put on my back burner was probably why I started cooking in the first place that day. Allow me to explain. There are a number of meals I like to cook for my family, because what I make from the leftovers are my favorite meals, two examples of that are; roast chicken, and ham. I love these meals because the soups I'm gonna make with the leftovers are the purest versions of comfort food that are addictively satisfying, and they save money. In either case, when I have my ingredients started for soup, the foundation for me, is my broth. I don't care how right you think the rest of your ingredients are, if your broth isn't right then you're serving meat and noodles (or whatever you're dishing out) in hot water, you have no depth of flavor and the soup falls flat. A good broth generally takes a while, but also requires minimal attention, but just because it requires minimal attention, doesn't mean it's not as important. For me, it's the most important, it's the thing I'm thinking about while I'm doing everything else. The back burner isn't where I put things just so I can walk away from them and do something more important. The back burner is a space designated, in my kitchen, for something I'm gonna spend all day adding bits of love to. I'm gonna nurture it, and nurse it along till the things on the front burners (or off the cutting board) are ready to be added to it, either to compliment, or complete the dish.

The back burner is not for procrastination or laziness, in the kitchen both of those things spell nasty food. The back burner is for your most planful dish, a place purposed for keeping something until just the right moment, the product of which will demonstrate the mastery of your craft.

So now I ask myself if I am putting something off because I don't want to do it, or because it's not the right time. If I don't want to do it, I have learned to do that thing first, saving my back burner for things I love, things I think about, things that motivate me, and need to be done right.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

When we disagree

We do NOT agree. Shocker, I know, but I thought I would just clearly state early on, that you the reader and I, do not see eye to eye on something, and guess what? I love that about us.

Some of you may be thinking, "Where did this come from, of course we don't always agree." There are others reading this who know EXACTLY what we disagree on and think this is directed at you. Well, it's not, but kinda, if you're reading something I write, whatever it is, that thing is written for you to read, think about, and react to, that's why I published it.

I believe that our society, communities, teams we work together with, and families need to be able to disagree, and do it well. All these things need people with opposing opinions, calmly stating our view or opinion, and also calmly listening and validating the view or opinion of the other person. It is in this calm discourse, where we can compromise, concede points, and generally better the other person and ourselves as we discover what we have incommon and are passionate about, as we respectfully disagree. Validating is not the same as agreeing, validating is listening to the other person, and empathizing with their position. Disagreeing is not synonymous with arguing.

Okay maybe this is semantics, but for the sake of this discussion arguing is throwing your opinions, view points, and facts at the other person without taking time to listen, and dismissing the other person as less intelligent, or less informed, maybe even as ignorant. I think that claiming someone is ignorant, or insinuating (maybe blatantly saying) that someone isn't as informed as you, brings a great deal of insult to the discussion, and hurts your point because you have now done a great deal of assuming about the other person, admittedly I am guilty of this. Debating or discussing a disagreement is when you take time to listen.

Too often we listen to respond, and don't listen to understand. I value your opposing view, because I value you, and because if it's a topic I care enough about to comment on, I want to hear and know both sides. Post your opinion on a public forum, and the public will comment on their opinion of that same topic, if you only want to hear opinions that agree with yours, post to a private group that agrees on that topic, or don't post it. But here is what will never happen on a social media post: people of two opposing views randomly agreeing because one party is better at arguing than the other. Relationships will be hurt, the argument will end, but people will not magically agree. You can respond with brilliant charts, statistics, maybe even site an authority that agrees with you, do that with tones of sarcasm, and hints at your own arrogance as you comment, and reply and you have probably done more to alienate and offend than convince. I need to work on this. I don't write on this to teach you to do it like me, but in hopes that I will take my own medicine and grow closer to those I disagree with. If we do disagree on topics, and we've both published thoughts or comments on it, know that I still like and respect you, a disagreement doesn't mean we can't be friends.

Let's agree to do these things as we continue to interact:

1) Stop generalizing and making blanket statements. We will talk about specifics, we will stop sayings "always, never, every".

2) Not site anecdotal evidence when contradicting someone's properly sited data.

3) Avoid giving statistics without siting a source.

4) Not be dismissive of opposing views.

5) Avoid sarcasm to make points.

6) Percieve contrary views as a personal attack.

7) Listen to understand the other's perspective.

8) Think about a rational response, regardless of how emotional and personal the topic may be.

9) Acknowledge how emotional and personal the topic may be to the other person.

10) Be forgiving of the other person as they forget or violate these rules, and move on knowing that the disagreement is an opportunity for mutual growth, remembering to show respect above all.

Again, I'm not saying these things because I've got it down, to the contrary, I'm challenging myself to grow all the time, will you take the challenge with me?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Favorite Toy Friday

     My bedroom this morning was very dark, the pillows and blankets were all in the perfect places to completely discourage movement and attempting to wake me more than I was. My alarm clock on my phone had sounded twice, indicating that I was going to have another rushed morning, but that was not enough motivation to move me from my cocoon of resting bliss. Narrow beams of gold came cutting through the black, shining narrow trails of illumination across my bedroom leading to small cracks in the blinds about the window.

     I feel a small hand reach up and start patting the bed, and then my foot, feeling around for my legs so he doesn't hurt me as he climbs into bed. Corbin is awake, and has learned that if he is quiet, he can come get a morning snuggle before school. While disrupting my morning drift, in and out of consciousness slightly, he quickly joined me in a similar state. As the time stealthily moved quicker than we could realize, my third alarm rang announcing that those who haven't moved from the pillow were about to be not only rushed, but very late. Corbin was now as difficult to motivate out of bed as I was. I need only remind him that today was "Favorite Toy Friday" and he bolted out of my bed to get ready for school so he can bring in his favorite toy.

    Throughout the morning, the gentle reminder that "It's Favorite Toy Friday" was all that need be spoken to help him speak politely, quit playing with toys and eat breakfast. We listened to The Adventure's of Alice in Wonderland on Audible as we drove to school, I walked the kids in the building then onto their classrooms when half way down the hall Corbin remembered that his favorite toy was never put in his back-pack. We stopped so he could speedily, and fruitlessly check the contents of his Kylo Ren back pack, under his jacket, behind his R2-D2 lunch bag, desperately looking for a favorite toy that was never put there. And in a moment, he devised an alternative plan that involved borrowing a toy from the preschool teacher who, though in the building, didn't have students today. And then confidently walked ahead of me to his class. I was sad he forgot his toy, and was planning to go home and find it, but was also proud that he demonstrated that independence and resolve to still have a successful Favorite Toy Friday, even without his favorite toy. I'm still sad that he was so excited to bring a toy to school that he ultimately forgot, but am still surprised by his decision, his sister would have been inconsolable for at least three hours.

    I would like to take some credit for teaching him to be positive in sad situations, I wish I could proudly say that he was able to so confidently move ahead in all optimism, having made a good choice because of years of pre-teaching, modeling from me and his mother, and being forced to live with the consequences, good or bad, of his actions. I would like to be the dad who can say, "Look what I taught him", but I can't. Don't get me wrong, we have had those conversations, we have made him live with the consequences of his actions. but on this morning I was totally prepared to run home and find the toy he was so elated to show his peers, and enable his forgetfulness and impulsiveness further. Today, my son showed me that he is capable, that he can create a new plan, and lead. Today, my son showed me his character. He may still end up standing on a table while the teacher is giving a lesson today, he will likely spill some food or chocolate drink over him and possibly whoever is unfortunate enough to be near him when it happens, but he showed me today, a measure of responsibility and leadership that I wasn't expecting to see from my 5 year old and I'm the happiest dad in town.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Getting the most out of blah blah blah something inspirational

What we do in life is dictated by a set of rules that are imposed by our own motivations. I am convinced that the fewer motivations you have, the fewer rules you will set, and the least likely you are to be happy, but that's just my opinion.

The older I get, the more variety I find in the lifestyle and backgrounds of the people I associate with. It's not that I am particularly well traveled, I've lived in the same, two traffic light, town of five-thousand-something people for ten years now. Nor is it because of a social life out mingling in bars, where one would expect to find all manner of people from all walks of life. On the contrary, the eclectic mix of miscreants to moderately influential people I've come to know (and know well), are from largely one source, my work, whether as a coworker or "community stakeholder" as administration likes to refer to people outside of the agency.

As is true of many working parents, there are coworkers and associates that I spend likely equal, if not more time with, than my own children. As such, I've had more than a few conversations with people who can't fathom, at 32, having three kids. Others who can say "When I was your age, my youngest was in sixth grade." I have dear friends who have practically given-up the idea of finding their significant other altogether, some who are firmly embracing life with their soulmate, sans kids, and my favorite category, "Head over heals for whoever I'm with and can't figure out why they don't stick around."

I think I have single friends who think I'm crazy for taking my three kids on a road trip, old married friends who have forgot about how hard it was to get their little kids ready to travel (and think less of me for not doing more), and others who look over and say, "Man, I get it, don't worry. Next year will be much easier." Then there is my wife, I think she worries that I miss the freedom of bachelordom, the bands, the parties, and will at any moment bolt for a shackle free life.

Let's be really clear. The shackle free life ain't a thing, at least it wasn't for me. As a single guy I was a slave to my toys. No, scratch that, I was a slave to my every LAST whim. Maybe not my whim right now, but the whim when last I had a buck, or just enough credit to get me in trouble. I was totally enslaved to paying for THAT, the last thing I wanted. Big new truck, dinner out, a new cigar sampler on top of the monthly cigar boxes I was already getting, breakfast out, new clothes (why do laundry when you can buy more?), coffees, lunch out, gas for the crazy drives that had no destination, musical instruments, and things I bought to impress people, people that I really wasn't all that fond of in the first place. I was addicted to work, which was convenient, because my second addiction was doing whatever I wanted to validate me and make me feel good now. I was trying to fill a bottomless pit with money, and when my paycheck didn't cover it, the bank was right there to enable my me-hungry search for "I'm more important than everyone else."

If I have learned anything it's that rules not only make me better, they make me a freer man. I was horrible at setting limits myself, something my friends either loved about me, or eventually stopped talking to me over. I could never set a goal I could reach, because I could never define a path to get there. It was either wide-open, full throttle try "everything but restraint" or utter failure and depression, there was no in-between. Dating, marriage, and later parenthood taught me the discipline I need to be a somewhat functioning adult because they gave me priorities outside of myself.

I get to watch some pretty great people, from every background do amazing things in this town and the lives of others all the time. What they have in common isn't marital status or number of children, it's not living for themselves. I'm not saying they aren't ever a priority in their own day, that's maddening. and I'm not saying that the only way they are happy or content is because they do, or don't have a family. I am saying that they have a purpose, outside of feeding their own "Me-Monster" that motivates them to be a better person than they were yesterday. Our motivations become our rules, my life had no direction until I discovered the freedom in rules. Setting limits on my right now, helped me see a tomorrow that can be reached because I can see how to get there. And after I had these lessons beat into me, I took the Proverbs challenge. For each calendar day in the month read the corresponding chapter in the book Proverbs from the Old Testament in the Bible. It's three minutes a day that can make your today, better than yesterday, I promise.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Monday, that really didn't pick-up till Tuesday morning.

It didn't start all that bad. Really!

Other than sleeping in longer than I intended, the day was off to a pretty good start, from 7 to 7:45, the kids were up and dressed early, I autostart my truck, run out and start Tina's SUV. Tina and I were both ready to roll out the door early, and we were finally going to be on time - stress free.

Then the crying started.

Not awful crying, just pretty typical two year old "I want to go in Mom's car" crying. Not an option, Mommy and Maddie are headed to school, we are headed to Grandma's. He was over it pretty fast, but we were starting to move a little more frantically, so as to maintain our on time status. Additionally I was extremely motivated to be early as I had a pressing deadline I was fast closing in on, that needed some additional attention before I could submit my work.

Back to the crying toddler.

He needed to find his happy bottom buckled in a car seat, my hands were full; toddler blanket, keys, kids backpacks, and oh yeah, a kid. Drop objects in front seat, put toddler in back seat booster, buckle him up, close the doors, kiss Tina goodbye, run in the house to get my backpack, a caramel apple for Grandma, and keys? Quick look around the house for keys, then backpack over shoulder, and start a brisk paced walk to the running truck.

He's out of the seat.

As I approach the truck I see a little head, bobbing around the back seat, unbuckled and free roaming, my pace picks up, and I begin feeling my pockets for a poky set of bulky keys. Swapping back and forth between pockets as if a huge set of keys could hide in little pockets with paper thin linings. He loves pressing buttons, and his favorite buttons are the door locks, just reachable from the back seat of my truck. Then a little panic, and adrenaline kick in, which more than made up for skipping the coffee. I'm awake. And of course, he beat me to the locks.

At least the trucks warm.

I could feel my fingers getting a little numb, the two minutes I spent pulling couch cushions out praying to find keys I'm hoping are in the house, wasn't enough to keep me warm. And I, a grown man, am now leaning against truck windows, trying to get a maniacally laughing two year old to climb to the front seat of my truck, and start pressing buttons; any buttons, windows or locks, I would be happy. The closest he gets is halfway over the seat, only to then yell, "Daddy, HELP!! I stuck!"

Here comes the cavalry.

Between desperate attempts to coach a toddler to climb over seats and press buttons he's been trained to never touch, I called Mom and Grandma, hoping someone would have solutions I couldn't come up with, and praying Tina knew the location of the spare. She didn't but here comes Papa, with a slim-jim. The sad news, my truck doesn't like slim-jims. So while we fight my door locks, here are now two grown men, attempting to reason with a two year old.

And up rolls Mommy.

After a quick search of her vehicle for a, still at-large, spare key, Mom calmly walks to the passenger door, and says, "Hey Corbin, climb up here and stand by Superman," (Superman is on the front of his backpack, sitting in the front seat). Immediately, he is up and over the front seat. "Unlock the doors buddy." Click-Click, doors unlocked. With toddler now loaded in Papa's vehicle, Mommy and Daddy can now proceed, LATE to work.

So much for the deadline.

Yeah, project is unfinished, and I am five minutes late to a meeting. The meeting goes fine, but then I need to finish my paperwork. Paperwork in, onto other work and meeting number two. You can only feel so productive when you start the day like that. But I'm feeling like I'm slowly catching up, finding my stride and regaining my foothold on the day.

All caught up, and learning to see the humor in life.

12:15 I finally have a break, I've met with everyone, I've had my meetings, I've listened to everyone with something to say, I can finally answer the call I've been ignoring all day, Nature's. And there, behind the closed door of the men's room, I discover why everyone found my "joke when I'm uncomfortable" comments so funny, and there was no embarrassment, no shame, of course my fly's been down all day.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Her first hair cut.

Jessie and her father had never really "fit in." And it didn't seem like they would be too long in a town before Dad had their old, green, Astro van, packed with their few, meager belongings, their white, 6x12 trailer, full of tools, hooked up, and they were rolling down the road.

But something felt different about Kingsberry. Perhaps it was from her first waking moments as they drove in that fall morning. The sun, glistening from every hard surface on the ground as it melted the night frost. The leaves that were still clinging to the trees in all their fall splendor, as if to wrap the county in a warm, red and orange blanket, comforting it's residents before the winter. The roadside was adorned with wonderfully aged split railed fences, that seemed to merely decorate borders of properties, but offered little in the way of actual protection. And occasionally behind the trees the livestock fences would poke through, and offer glimpses to the horse properties and small family farms neatly tucked into the landscape. It may have been new to her, technically, but the town was as familiar as home, and seemed to have been plucked right from a Hallmark movie.

It had been six months since that day, and she still expected to wake up in the van every morning, but was always pleasantly surprised by her alarm clock that greeted her at 5:05, regardless of day or weather. Twenty-five minutes was all she ever felt she needed in the morning. It was just enough time to throw on her Carharts, make some coffee (for her father, she couldn't stand the taste of it), and have her banana and wheat toast with raspberry jam. Then, time to leave Miss Asburey's basement, they were renting in exchange for farrier services, and out to the barns to start tending to whatever work they managed to contract for the next seasons. Her father, Nelson (who felt like that was a grandfather name and went by "Nels") was starting to show the signs of age and a whiskey binging lifestyle he had been trying to neatly conceal. But hiding his "road wear" was something that, dusty work cloths and his tattered Dale Earnhardt 3 cap, were no longer able to do. He moved slower, his hands were getting clumsy, and he rarely made it out the door on time. This was the second town where Jessie had started picking up the slack, and so far she felt as though she was doing it better than last time.

The daughter of a "career farmhand" left Jessie with few ties to her femininity, her long hair, she always felt, was her identity as a woman. Livestock didn't much care if your lips were glossy, perfectly blended blush never did much for "critters" as Nels so frequently called 'em. Her hands were rougher than most boys, and she had a nervous habit of nail biting. Her hair, she always left long, to remind herself of who she was, and bothersome as it was at times, she had never imagined making it any shorter.

As consistent as alarm clocks that are properly set can be, they still tend to fail when the power goes out, today was that day. She woke to find her faithful alarm clock blinking twelve, and she could hear Miss Asburey, upstairs, loading her cloths washer, a sound she had only heard once before, and that was at 9 in the morning. She rushed to get dressed, and to the next room to wake Nels, who had long stopped setting alarm clocks and was completely dependent on Jessie's two knock wake-up rap on the door. In a flustered rush they headed out the door, ready to start apologizing for today's wrecked schedule, and as Nels often said "Hurry every chance you get." It was an hour drive down the I-5 to the Blankenship farm, just outside a little coast town Washington tried to forget. And with their late start, they were greeted with a morning traffic jam from a semi-truck, whose poorly secured load shifted when the driver avoided a deer, and successfully blocked 3 lanes of traffic. It was a slow creep past the flares, sheriff's deputies, and big-rig tow truck, but they were back up to the speed limit after 20 or so minutes of stop, start driving. They were finally able to move at a consistent enough speed to cover some miles, and both start mentally preparing for which job they might skip, and re-prioritize their day.

Noon had come and gone and it seemed like the Blankenship boy, Danny, had harassed Jessie about everything from her punctuality that morning, to her wavy hair, that Danny was calling a "misplaced horsetail." Any other day, and Jessie may not have even heard it. She liked Danny, and the best way she could show it was to give him a hard time, and ignore anything hurtful he might say in returning the favor. But after a failed alarm clock, missing breakfast, and the traffic jam, Jessie's thick farmhand skin had wore thin, and she did what any girl might do after being repeatedly insulted, she cried. It was the crying that reminded her most of all she was a girl, because as the warm tears ran down her cheeks, a memory rushed in. And she could see her mom, kneeling by Jessie's bedside wiping her tears away with her hair, and singing Jessie her very own verse to "Jesus Love's Me." She was comforting Jessie, after she overheard the screaming that would follow Nels' return most Saturday nights. "Jessie, I always want you to remember, you are Mommy's girlie-girl, and even if I'm not with you, I love you big as the sky."

She hid behind the shack the Blankenships called the "cow garage" a building just big enough for their 1982 flatbed f-250. Her tired defeated frame resting against the graying side of the building, she grabbed her hair that draped over her left shoulder wiped her own tears, and looked at that big blue sky. Memories like that didn't help her really feel stronger, and she still wrestled with the thought of her mom actually looking down on her from above. Bittersweet was a poor analogy to her feelings wrapped around memories of her mother. What would start as a loving memory would be drowned by the feeling of abandonment, and the questions that fill the minds of suicide survivors. She looked back down at her hair, angry with herself for this moment of weakness, she rushed back to their van, opened the tool box, grabbed their sharpest shears, and started to cut her hair off at the pony tail. The work shears were woefully, inadequate for her thick, dark hair. And with every, hair-pulling stroke from the shears, she felt a little satisfaction. As if each time she felt pain from the shears pulling more than cutting, it was a pat on the back to her forward progress. And then the moment when she was totally through, she pulled her hand from behind her head to see what she had done, the satisfaction had instantly melted to regret. Her most prominent, visual link to her femininity now laying in her hands. "Was this how impulsively Mom had ended things? Could it have been this knee jerk?" The questions seemed to knock the strength from her knees and she steadied herself with her now opened and empty palms on the floor of the van. She had to deal with the reality of her day still, and that she had a lot of work to do yet. She picked herself up, slammed the doors on the van, and rushed back to the cow garage to get the flatbed so it could be loaded with the next day's hay. She couldn't waste anymore time on her "feelings" today, and she gave little thought to what response she would get. But it would be the response of Nels that would surprise her the most.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jet Fuel

I won't lie, I love the smell of jet fuel. It excites a sense of adventure in me. I have always loved traveling, plane, train, car or boat, sign me up! And today the smell of jet fuel, ushers in the excitement of going home. I recently had an opportunity to earn some extra money working nights for a short time in Anchorage, and here I sit waiting to board my flight home.

Travel, these days, also means leaving my family home. So for the last week I have felt- incomplete. Every little girl, every babies cry, reminded me of home. I saw my children, in everyone else's.

I appreciate the chance to catch up with my Dad and Brother while stuck up here. I have eaten food that my little Homer doesn't offer, and I have re-discovered the roads of my youth.

And the entire time I've been gone, I've longed for the scent of jet fuel, the incense of my departure. I will miss my mountains, the star over Arctic Valley, good restaurants, and stores open 24hrs. But I will soon be boarding a small plane, flying to the end of the highway, and meeting a toddling girl, and teething little boy, clutching their mother, and making me whole again. Thank you Jet Fuel, for getting me home.