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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
I spent most of my day with a dead radio. Not because it was stolen like in the song, but I’ll get to why I couldn’t use the radio in a minute. Driving in silence allowed me time to think about the crazy day I was involved in, and also some of the more abstract aspects of this life (just like the song). Warning, this blog post will be all over the place and take some time… just like life.
First, let’s begin with how the day ended. Besides me writing about it, the girls stayed up a little later than normal so they could play Super Soccer with their oldest brother because he was heading back to college tomorrow.
The living room was filled with laughter, and outbursts of “Kick it!, Kick it, NOW!” Both games went to a shootout, and big brother lost both games. His sisters were excited.
I sat with my youngest daughter in the kitchen as they played. We had snack and played Would You Rather. I was asked if I would rather die by drowning or be killed by a giraffe. It was a rough game, but we added to the laughter.
I soaked up the moment and felt grateful for our home. The day did not start so smoothly.
My wife had an early, 6:15 a.m., appointment for a few medical procedures. I took the day off because she would be put under anesthesia for the procedures. We were ready to head to the surgery center at 5:45. My son was going to handle dropping off everyone at school, then he would go to work. I would be able to pick up my four daughters from school at the end of the day.
I go to start the van to warm it up… van is dead. No lights on the dashboard when I turn the key… nothing.
I grab the keys to my son’s car and take my wife to the surgery center. I drop her off to head back to the house. I have enough time to try to jump the van before the girls need to get to school.
Did I mention it was only like 4 degrees outside this morning?
I get the jumper cables attached, start my son’s car and let it charge for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes… nothing. The van is still dead. I unhook the cables, it’s time to get the girls to school. I take them. There isn’t room for my son, so he stays home. I’ll be back to get him to work on time.
By this time, I am consciously making sure I keep my frustration under control. It’s not that I can’t feel frustrated, but I can’t let the frustration take over to cause the morning routine to be filled with negativity from me. The girls are already worried about mom, their schedule has changed, and they understand that dad is improvising because the van is dead.
I finally got back to the hospital. My wife was in the surgery room. The receptionist explains to me how the TV board will keep me updated. I watch as my wife’s patient number changes color (each color is a different step in the procedure). After a while, I was escorted back to the recovery room. Everything went well and we headed home.
I decided to try jumping the van one more time. It’s not as cold, I am not hurried, and there is more light. I make sure I get a good connection on both batteries (which isn’t easy to do with new cars, there are so many things connected to the terminals). Success, the van starts after 5 minutes.
Here is where I spend time with no radio. We have an XM radio. When the battery dies or is changed, you have to enter a code to use any part of the radio, even to play a CD. (Which we do have, the van is about 8 years old). We have the code written down, which I would find later. One of my daughters would get the honor of activating the radio! But that is later in the day after I pick them up from school.
As I run errands, I am alone with my thoughts. And my thoughts got deep when I learn about the death of someone.
We have been in the market for a new car, but it is hard to find a car that matches our needs and our price range. We had been working with a sales person Dewayne for a few months. He helped us when we replaced a car that hit a deer. I had last spoken to him in person in August about our car situation and what inventory the dealership was expecting. As you do with people, we talked about personal things. He let me know he would be taking some time off because he was having heart surgery to clear a blockage in an artery, but I should contact him in December.
Well, I didn’t call in December. I called today. The receptionist was taken aback when I asked for Dewayne. She informed me that Dewayne had passed away the first day he was home from the surgery.
The first day home.
Dewayne was not a close friend, yet our lives intersected. And was supposed to continue to intersect. He was helping me find a vehicle. We had shared stories and talked about how the pandemic was causing havoc in all different aspects of life. Dewayne had a wife and kids. He had a big laugh.
It’s a cliche, not to take life for granted. But honestly, maybe it should become our code to live our life by. What would we change if we treated today like the only day we have? No matter if it starts out with a dead battery, or your coffee order getting mixed up (yeah, that happened too). How would we treat people? How would we treat the people we love if today was the last day we would see them?
When you read this, it will be today. And today is the only day that matters, so decide how you will live it.
This is the eighth year my family has chosen their one word to focus on for the year. This year we decorated a paper mache letter; the first letter of our first name.
As you can see my word is MILES.
There are a number of factors that are connected to my word, from wanting to walk more (putting miles on my shoes) to taking another family vacation (putting miles on the car). I also have goals for my writing (putting miles on my computer and pen) and sending my work for consideration to more places (couldn’t think of a clever ‘putting miles on’ saying for this, so consider thinking of your own play on words here).
I’ll try to keep you updated on the miles I travel, in some form, this year. Here is to a great year ahead and the scenery I’ll encounter as I travel from this day.
The most important lesson I have learned in half a century is that there is joy in every day. I can have a horrible day at work but come home and have a dance party with my kids. This lesson took years to understand, and takes strength to accomplish. I have to leave the bad day at work to fully enjoy dancing with my kids.
I know that this list will not surprise anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, I’ve touched on these in different ways through the years. But hopefully this post will remind you of the things that bring you joy.
I love learning. School was my escape from all the craziness I was going through. Even when I was the new kid so many times growing up. Each school provided opportunities to grow. For the last couple of years I have participated in the challenge to read 60 books in a year. I don’t get to 60 every year, but I spend the year learning and I love that.
When I thought about the role walking has had in my life, I thought back to all the times my best friend and I would walk by the river. How, especially in junior high, we walked all over town. And how I was the only senior that had to walk to school everyday… the consequence of me wrecking a car my junior year. Walking is good exercise, but the joy is in sharing with others. I take the girls on snack walks, we have nature walks, there is a certain joy to sharing the moment and world with others as I walk.
One of the best parts of being a dad is watching my kids in activities: elementary concerts, basketball, soccer, and science fairs to name just a few of the activities I’ve spent enjoying, my wife at my side, and sometimes a coffee in my hand. It matters to me, in part because my father never saw me compete in anything. I swear I tear up every time one of my kids sees me in the crowd and they wave or nod their head at me.
I park the minivan facing the lake. My wife and I people-watch as we enjoy a Blizzard. Cookie dough for my wife. I usually will try the special flavor of the month. These small moments intertwined joy into life. And if we pay attention, not getting lost in the routine of life, every day is filled with these small moments. Talking with my kids before bed. Letting them help make blueberry muffins. Holding hands with my wife as we watch Miami Vice. Yes, I believe joy is the thread that determines the way we live.
This is no surprise for anyone. Writing brings a level of joy that ignites my soul. When the thoughts in my head and feelings stirring in my heart find their way to the page, I feel powerful. I feel complete. I feel vulnerable because the words I write are honest reflections of who I am.
Thanks for sharing your time with me as I start the next half century. Do something that brings you joy today… because if we are not here to feel joy, to love others, to sing badly to our favorite songs… then I don’t know the meaning of life.
Being in education I see too many students carrying the weight of the world in their backpacks. Their faces straining as they drop their packs next to their desk. They sit at their desks, rolling out their shoulders. Sometimes they hold their head in their hands, trying to gain the strength to learn how to write a compare and contrast essay.
I know how they feel, I was that student. In some ways, this post is written for them. These are the top five foundational characteristics to a good life.
Curiosity. This world is filled with wonderful things. Staying curious about the world will open new opportunities. Curiosity is the willingness to be adventurous, even during a routine day. To not close your mind to the beautiful and cool things around adds depth to the ordinary aspects of life.
Goals. I know some people might disagree with this idea, but goals do not have to be grand, they can be simple to-do lists you make for the day. They can be grand, though. Any level of goals creates action. Goals develop purpose for our lives. Even during the roughest moments, we can take steps toward the goals we have set.
Others. I’ve said this before. “Life is a team sport.” This is the most complex characteristic. Creating the right team is critical to achieving a good life, but it is hard to create that team at different times in life. I will acknowledge that (see number one characteristic). You don’t need a big team, you need a strong team that supports each other.
Love. This might come as a shock for some of the faithful readers of this blog because I have written about Love in a number of different ways. Love is a foundation for a great life, no doubt. Keeping an open heart, being vulnerable to receive love, opens up a powerful way to live. I do believe that Love is the only way we create an incredible society and world. But…
Strength. Every characteristic listed needs, in some ways, strength to accomplish. Strength to make hard decisions. Strength to keep your heart and mind open. Strength to choose to love others, even when they hurt you. Strength to endure when your backpack feels like it is carrying the weight of the world. You build strength by working on keeping your curiosity of the world, striving toward goals, finding the right team, and choosing love… you’ll find you are stronger than you know.
Tomorrow I will share the top five things that bring me joy in this life.
Faithful readers know that I enjoy using music (and other videos) in my posts. I will share a mini soundtrack or look at life events through songs (“20 Years of Marriage”). So, the idea of my top five songs was a fun idea, until I tried to decide on the songs!
I thought about different ways to present the top five: by favorites, connections to memories, and even by the depth of the lyrics (an idea that I am saving for a later post). For this post I decided to share a favorite song from each decade that reveals something about me. A creative way to show you different sides of me. So, grab some headphones and get ready to listen to some good songs and get to know me a little bit.
Artist: Gerry Rafferty
Song: “Baker Street”
I will send a photo of the radio display to family and friends when this song comes on the radio. The lyrics for this song, especially the first verse, connect with me. The underlying idea that life will be better tomorrow is a universal theme, and so is the cost of living that way.
Artist: Living Colour
Song: “Cult of Personality”
This decade was tough to choose. Music is a big part of the teen years. Listening to songs before games, jamming out in the car while cruising, and in the 80’s making mixtapes (“Throwback: Mixtapes”). When this song came out, I was an instant fan. You could find me singing this song in the hallways of school (I still sing in the hallways).
Song: “The Love We Make”
Anyone who truly knows me knew Prince would make this list. Choosing the decade and the song has been the hardest aspect of this list. Prince has some seriously deep spiritual songs. “The Love We Make” is the closest song I know that reflects my own spiritual views. I had to share a live version of the song.
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
I would sing this song at bedtime to my oldest daughter. It was on the playlist for my track team when we would have to practice indoors. The song’s lyric, “If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear…” is a perfect line for all the activities I was involved in during the 2000s.
Artist: Thirty Seconds to Mars
Song: “Closer to the Edge”
This song started the decade and would highlight all the change that happened for me during those ten years. There were some really tough times for me, especially professionally. Yet, one of my best memories is dancing to this song in the kitchen with my second son.
Wow, this was a tough list. Going through the music brought back memories, both good and bad. Here’s to the next decade and all the good music to come.
Tomorrow I will write about the top five characteristics I think you need to live your best life.