Miles to Home

As many of you know, my word for this year is MILES, and I have fulfilled that word. Roughly, I have traveled 5,000 miles so far this year. I have traveled for sports, college visits, and a small family vacation. What is interesting about all my travels is how I’ve learned more about the idea of HOME.

Home is a house. A building that I start and finish my day at. A building that protects me and the family from storms. A place where we gather to eat dinner and to play Mario Kart. A place where we rest our heads and our feet. This house becomes a home because of the stories we share at the table, the protection we get from the emotional storms in our lives, and the laughter we share as dad comes in last again.

But home is not just this house. Home is our history. I went home this summer to visit my parents. It was just me, a few days to be their son and to walk down memory lane. One night we walked to the letter hill and found that my name, football number, and hand prints were still set in the concrete D on the hill by the high school. 

My name and number.

For a few days I was simply their son. We talked about life, family, and recalled funny and emotional stories. The house was basically the same and so was the sense of home, especially the routine of gathering in the kitchen to talk. It was always the place we would gather before we went off on adventures (maybe someday I’ll share how we had to heat up the oil pan in the car with a waffle iron one winter).

Home is a routine. My wife and I make blueberry muffins every Sunday. Growing up we had bacon and eggs almost every Sunday. Home is the traditions we create. When I traveled with my daughter to Atlanta, it was funny how we still followed some of our normal routines, like eating at a certain time.

But what I’ve really come to realize is that home is actually the people we love and have a strong relationship with. One of the best things about the trip home was how easy it felt to talk and be with people that I hadn’t seen in years. It was like being home with them. I sat with my high school guidance counselor on her back step and just talked. Yes, we caught up on life, but there was no awkwardness to bridge because of the years. That is home.

If for some reason we had to move from this house, we would still have our home. You would find us eating dinner (at 6 p.m.) sharing stories at the dinner table. We would be home no matter where we were in this world.

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Random Thoughts From Atlanta

I spent seven days with my first daughter in Atlanta as she competed in photography at the National Leadership and Skills Conference for SkillsUSA. Besides the almost 40 hours we traveled on a charter bus, I had time to think, read and write as my daughter’s photography competition ended up being two full days.

This post will be a collection of thoughts I wrote down. Be warned, I’m not sure how organized this post will be… but it will be centered on us…

There were about 6,500 students, high school and college, competing in over a 100 different trade, technical and leadership fields in Atlanta. It was amazing to see the scope of talent during the week. I had time on my hands so I walked to other areas to see the competitions. Everyone was a state champion, so the final results were incredible. To name a few of the fields, there was cabinet making, culinary, nursing, and also cool areas like urban search and rescue. 

Sometimes we forget how vast our world is. There are so many careers for us to pursue. So many ways to express our talents. I was humbled by the skills the students displayed during the competition.

State Pins

But I was also amazed at the character of the students and sponsors I met during the week. One of the fun activities during nationals is to collect state pins. I didn’t get extra Nebraska pins, so my pin game was a little rough, but I got some cool pins and met some great people by exchanging or trading pins. It gave us all a common experience to build a connection through.

That common experience is a powerful element to building a community. And a strong community looks out for each other. I witnessed so many small moments of this, of people just helping others. For many of the contests students would have to bring their own tools, or visual aids or make-up supplies. Someone was always willing to lend a hand, or give directions, or rush to hold a door. I would see contestants console or celebrate with another competitor. And in doing so I saw how we could be as a society. Even the staff at the different locations, but especially at the Georgia World Congress Center were a part of the community. Honestly, it took 12 minutes for my daughter and I to walk to her competition area each day. We got to know a few of the staff at the different checkpoints because we stopped and said hello every morning then goodbye at the end of the day. They would ask how the day went, but the best moment was on the last day when they asked to see my daughter’s work. They made her smile with their comments about her pictures. But we also learned a little about them. We learned about the significance of a necklace one of the staff members wore each day. Where another staff member got her cool boots. For just a little while we were a community.

Our nation is divided right now. It is hard to believe that we can be one nation anytime soon, but for a week I saw how we could be. Yes, I understand it was a unique situation, but isn’t our life a unique situation? Can’t we be respectful, helpful, and friendly to each other?  Yes, yes, we can…

This is not really a poem, but this is something I had jotted down late Thursday afternoon while I waited for my daughter to complete her debriefing.

US

We all like a good meal, we just have different favorite dishes.

We all jam out to good music, we just have a different favorite song.

We all want to be seen, we just choose different ways to gain your attention.

We all want to be loved, we just have different ways that we show it.

We all want to look good, we just have different styles.

We all feel pain, we just have different stories that tell of our heartache.

We all have a passion, we just let it shine in different ways.

We all give our lives to something, we just have different things we believe in.

Maybe someday we all can believe in us…

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The Work Needed

Tomorrow is state track. I have a triple jumper that has jumped over 2,000 feet in competitions this season. That’s over a quarter of a mile. He will have at least three more jumps tomorrow, the more distance he travels the better his chance of making finals. Where he will have the chance to jump three more times, the more distance he travels the better his chance of earning a medal. 

Triple jumping is one of the most demanding events in track and field. A study done in 2019 (“Mechanical Function of the Human Knee Joint Region during Triple Jump by Combined Multi-body Dynamics and Finite Element Analysis”) indicates that the force on the knees can be over 5 times the body weight of the jumper. 

Sometimes it is not how far we travel to reach our goals that matter. It is the work we put into reaching our goals that makes the difference. I could walk a quarter mile without much stress on my knees. Even to reach his new PR (personal record) my triple jumper is going to have to work hard to jump over 43 feet. 

I haven’t even mentioned all the practices he has worked at for this chance at state.

Sometimes the work needed to reach our goals is hard, and we don’t seem to travel far even though we feel the stress of the work. Keep your faith though, remember that you really don’t know how far your work has taken you until the board official yells “Mark!” Then, the other officials stretch the tape to measure your jump and you’ve set a new PR. 

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Why Blueberry Muffins

Traditions.

Why have traditions? 

I received a thoughtful answer from the PBS show, Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. The episode was “I Am Rukmini Devi” which shared the story of how Rukmini Devi brought back the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam. Part of the overall story was the importance of traditions, and at one point Rukmini Devi states that traditions are part of a family’s story.

I had never thought of it exactly that way, but it is true. A tradition is not just something you do on a regular basis, it helps tell the story of you. The story of those you share the tradition with. Making blueberry muffins every Sunday has given us milestones to remember our past and to celebrate the present moment. Almost every child has helped make breakfast on Sunday morning, lately my third daughter has cooked the scrambled eggs. I didn’t supervise her this past Sunday. These are small moments but they highlight the change our family goes through as we live life. 

We have stories to tell because of our Sunday morning tradition of blueberry muffins, those stories bond us together. And as my children get older, especially the boys as they are starting their adult lives, they will start their own traditions but will always know the story of our family because of blueberry muffins. I am thankful for that.

Traditions.

Why have them?

It’s one way to tell your story…

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The Choices We Have

I have been busy this month with the write a poem a day (PAD) challenge. I use the prompt provided by Writer’s Digest and I added my own personal challenge to write in a different form for each day. (You can read some of the poems on my creative blog: Creative Corner for Writing. I’m a few days behind posting to the site.)

On day 24 the prompt was to write a poem about a superhero or a villain, or both. I wrote a cadralore poem about moments in life where we could be the hero or the villain. The last stanza starts with the line:

Of course this got me thinking about how our decisions lead us to different choices in the future. At the same time a decision will eliminate other opportunities for us in the future. I once gave my seniors a kind of “last lecture” about life. I presented the idea that life is a tree. 

Image by Anastasia Makarevich from Pixabay

That each major decision sends us to a new branch. That branch will have its own junctions or moments of choice that only happen because of the decision made before. You can become paralyzed at the vastness of moments life can have for you because of one choice. My seniors are two weeks away from graduation. They have chosen a path to follow, the opportunities they will have in the future are unique to the path they have chosen now.

I recognize that some goals we have as individuals can be pursued at any time. I may yet be known as a poet or writer, but each day the choices I have now are because of choices I made in the past… I can’t change that.

No one can change that. Too many times we only consider the immediate consequences of a choice, not where the choice will lead us. No, we can’t predict what future moments will come our way, but there is a certain set of outcomes we can infer if we think about where the choice will lead us. 

As a poet, it is an inspiring image to the complexity of this life. Tomorrow is based on what choices we make today…

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Epic Challenge(s)

Alright, I have tried and tried and tried to remember a book I read about doing epic things. It is not on my Goodreads list, but I have only used Goodreads to catalog my reading for a few years so…

The book was about people taking on big challenges. Some of the examples were more personal, like blogging every day for a year. While other examples were life changing, like climbing a mountain when the person was 60 years old. The main theme was about taking on a goal that stretches one’s skills while making us face emotional aspects, like fear or patience. (If you recognize this book, please share the title with me on Twitter or in the comment section.)

Image by Prettysleepy from Pixabay

I just finished another book (which is on my Goodreads list), 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. I have read 182 of the books on the list. I have an epic challenge and I only have 26 years to complete the challenge, according to the data from Statista about life expectancy. 

I found an epic challenge.

But I also have another epic challenge, based on another book, The Late Starters Orchestra. Which is the story of Ari L. Goldman’s journey of playing the cello with The Late Starters Orchestra. No, I am not going to learn to play the cello, I am going back to the piano. I have some musical background. I learned to play the drums in fifth grade. I taught myself how to play a few songs on the piano in junior high. I came back to the drums at a school I used to work for a couple of years ago. The band director and I both had the same planning period, so once a week he would let me practice on the drums. 

Sometimes when I write a poem, I can almost hear a song with it. I have had the privilege of working with P.R. while creating my poetic projects Stargazer and Just. He does an amazing job connecting music to my poetic lines. (Some new projects are in development.)

I doubt that I will ever be able to really write a song, but I want to try. I want to experience the beauty of creating music, to add another level of joy to my life, even though I will go through some rough spots learning to play the piano. That’s learning though.

So here is to my two new epic adventures in my life. Are you heading out on an adventure or in the middle of one? Share your story with me.

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This is the Worse Blog Post Ever

Can I ask you a question?

Why did you follow the link?  What did you expect to see or read?  Are you already tempted to X out of the tab and move on to something else?

I understand that I used a clickbait title to lure you to this blog post. And that is what I want to talk to you about in this post. The emptiness of clicking in our interactions with others and the shallowness it brings to our lives.

Can I ask a few more questions, just to get you thinking about the topic?

How many heart icons, thumbs up icons, or retweet icons have you tapped today? 

Did you interact with the person in the comment section or leave a reply?

Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

Now, I own up to the same behavior. I am just as guilty of retweeting a bunch of #vss365 (Very Short Stories 365) stories on most days. I tap the heart icon on Instagram pictures, too. I will read a blog post and hit the like icon (and usually the share buttons too).

But I’ve been trying to interact more with the people behind the icons. To build connections, however small, with others. To let them know that their words, their pictures, their small windows they share with the world are not simply viewed and forgotten.

Because I know the empty feeling one gets from social media. The feeling of screaming into the abyss we tag with the ironic label “Social Media”. But I’ve been thinking about the other side of the abyss, the emptiness I get by just scrolling, by hitting an icon that is supposed to mean I love something… yet, I don’t really love that image. I thought it was cool, yes, but it was forgotten in minutes. I agree with a blog post but the writer doesn’t see me nodding my head. 

Let’s add a layer to this idea; how much time is lost filling in icons that don’t really match our feelings at that moment? How much of our daily life is filled with empty motions that don’t fill our emotions?

I’m afraid of the answer. I’m afraid of the cost to our sense of purpose and even the simple joy of being connected to people when our only connection is a blue thumbs up icon. We are more complex as people than an outlined icon that is filled with a tap. Joy and belonging are built through connections, even digital ones. We can handle emotions like heartache and loneliness because we have people in our lives that can take some of the weight of those emotions from our heart, but only if we have true connections with people.

Social media is an incredible tool. I actually enjoy using it (been on Twitter since 2008) to share my talents… and to make connections. I think we should spend more time fostering those connections instead of simply scrolling past the content other people took the time to share with us. I bet the reason they shared it was in the hope it would make a connection with someone (at least that is why I share my writing).

I am sorry for using a clickbait title. If you are actually still reading this, I am grateful. Thank you. Leave a comment, let’s connect.

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I Build Bridges

For a minute, or two, consider how captivating bridges are in our lives, both physically and metaphorically. 

In physical form bridges represent our ingenuity of getting over obstacles. Whether it is a river or two mountain tops, we design bridges to help us on our journey. And then to return home. The wonder of them expands when you consider the style, the personality of the bridges we build. From the simple log laid down by a child to get over a stream, to the The Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China that covers over a hundred miles, each bridge is unique. Not only in the material used or the architectural design, but also the environment it was built in; the obstacle it was built to overcome.

As I’ve traveled over the years I’ve come to appreciate the bridges I’ve seen and used. I don’t think I am alone in this joy because the idea of a bridge is ingrained in our lives. We understand the importance of reaching the other side of an obstacle, even when it is in our relationships, our opportunities in life. 

We are always told not to “burn any bridges”.

The advice is good. All of our relationships are metaphorically connected by the bridges we build, by the obstacles we overcome in the relationships, and each connection has its own style influenced by the moments we share together. Burning a bridge is a devastating step in any relationship. (I will acknowledge and confess that there are bridges that do need to be burned down, but that is for another time.)

Then, there are the bridges we build that we never get to see in use. I know because I build bridges. I am a writer. 

Like all artists I create a bridge when I write a blog post, a book, or a poem. I construct a way for readers to find their way to my side of the moment. We connect through the words I use to build a bridge between our shared lives, our shared moments, or to allow the reader to explore a new view from my mountain top. 

All artists do this. How do I know, because I am a reader. I listen to music. I visit museums. I have walked on bridges created by all kinds of artists. I go back in time when I read Wordsworth’s poem “The World Is Too Much With Us,” and feel the same angst about society today. I could spend all day at any type of museum. As part of our honeymoon my wife and I went to the Art Institute in Chicago. (Yes, we went to a Cub’s game, too.) 

I always get choked up when I hear this line from the song “Humble and Kind”: 

Consider for a minute, or two, how powerful bridges are to the fullness of our lives. Whether we are driving on a family vacation, listening to a new song by our favorite artist, or even reading a blog post by someone new; each bridge is built with care and a unique style. I know because I build bridges, I am a writer.

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We are Glow in the Dark People

At church a couple of weekends ago the priest started his sermon by showing us his glow in the dark rosary. He asked if anyone knew how it worked, what was the chemical process to have the beads glow in the dark. He hinted at the answer, but quickly said he simply liked to think that the beads simply reflected back the light they absorb. 

The rest of the sermon was built on that idea correlated with a person’s spirituality. But even if you are not a religious person, I think we all are glow in the dark people. We reflect the light we absorb.

I mention this quote in my first post for this blog:

With the technology we have today though, there are more factors that influence what light we shine back. There are all the forms of social media, music, and just the influence of pop culture in general. Sadly, most of the light that comes from these sources are filtered and have a meanness tint to them. 

What I find most disheartening is the attitude that we are not responsible for the light we choose to absorb, then reflect back to the world. I do believe that we choose what we let into our lives, into our hearts. Whether it is hours of TikTok videos, a good book, or the latest slogan we simply repeat because everyone else is repeating it, we decide what kind of light, what kind of people we are in this world. We glow in the dark, and the day time, with the light we allow into our lives. We are glow in the dark people.

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Small Moments

When I go grocery shopping on Saturdays, I tell a dad joke to a certain cashier if he is working. He is not there every Saturday, but if I see him working, I make sure to tell him a joke. Some are better than others, but it is always a fun moment to share a joke with him. 

There is a gentleman at church I make sure I wave hello to when I see him and again when we share the sign of peace with those around us. I don’t know his name, I don’t think he knows mine. He is always alone.  We both smile as we acknowledge each other. Even if he is in another section, we wave to each other. There is a jolt of happiness in the moment.

Every morning (during the week) I make sure everyone’s water bottle is filled with ice and water. I place the bottles in backpacks, or leave them on the island for the person to grab before heading to school.

For whatever reason, the small moments have been on my mind lately. Actually the power of small moments… Everyday is filled with small moments, some lasting no more than a minute. Talking with the barista while ordering a coffee, holding a door for someone, singing a song in the car with my daughters (No, we do not talk about Bruno). What matters is what kind of energy we bring to the moment.

I am sure everyone has had the situation in a store or at a restaurant where the employee was in a bad mood and made the moment awkward or even negative. Or someone is on your tail driving, trying to get you to go over the speed limit. That kind of interaction can be tough to overcome, it sets a sour taste for the day, or at least for a while. Now, I know that customers can bring the same kind of negativity at a store. I have lost my cool in traffic. Anybody can bring negative energy to a moment.

Or we can be positive. 

If you think about how many small moments there are in a single day, you can understand why it is important to handle each moment as an opportunity to bring a little happiness to the people involved. It is like dropping change into a jar. A couple of pennies doesn’t seem like much, but if you are depositing change 20 times a day, it adds up quickly. 

A small moment can change everything for a person, be it negative or positive. This world needs more positive moments, even small ones.

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