Category Archives: Life

Tigger

I took chemistry my junior year in high school. Mr. Wortham was my teacher. He had never had me as a student, I never had him as a teacher until that class. A few weeks into the class he gave me my nickname, Tigger.

I entered his class, probably louder then I needed to be, maybe singing a song or talking with my best friend Scott. I know I said hello to Mr. Wortham, I did that with all my teachers. He was at his station at the front of the class when he said, “Jamey, you remind me of that Winnie the Pooh character that is always bouncing around.”

“Tigger?” I asked.

“Yeah, him. You are always bouncing around this class.”

I smiled at my new nickname, Tigger.

It stuck, too. Teachers would use it. Girlfriends would address letters to me using Tigger.  In fact, all six of my children got some version of a Tigger doll when they were little. Through speech, my oldest son has connected with past colleagues of mine, and they ask him if I still sing in the hallways. 

Even though my personal journey has some rough and dark moments (if you are a fan of my poetry you know this), I have always had a bouncy personality with others. Except lately…

I recently was a guest on Joshua Grant’s YouTube show, Diabolical Shrimp, and I had to bring an item for show and tell. I couldn’t find the first item I wanted to bring (you’ll have to watch the show to hear about that one). I thought about bringing one of my children’s plush Tigger toys. As I decided on which one, I thought about how I don’t fit the nickname anymore. I wondered why?

Was it simply age?

No, because at home I am still bouncy, still high energy. Even if I do like to take a nap on the weekends.

Had I changed?

Yes, that was part of it. I still make sure I treat others well. Even with my students, I do not raise my voice often. I try to make other people’s day better. 

But I am more guarded. I have the metaphorical wall around my heart for protection.

What happened?

The last decade.

 I am not going to go into all of the events that hurt me in the last 10 years. There are snippets of that throughout my blog, but this post is about being Tigger. I have been hurt on all levels of my life; career, goals, and personal. And hurt in such different ways that it has drained me. I have stopped bouncing.

At the end of this post is a mini episode of Winnie the Pooh where Tigger is not allowed to bounce. Here is a screen shot from the episode.

Outside my home, I have to admit this is what I feel like inside. The last years had some serious wounds, but other hurts are just the constant nicks and cuts that continue to add bricks to my mindset to guard my heart.

The root question is do I want to be Tigger again in public? 

Maybe a worse question is, can I be that way again?

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This is a Low Point

4:51 a.m. today.

I got my Wordle in 4 guesses.

I check my email to find a message from a flash fiction submission. It is my fourth rejection email in two days, for poetry and short stories.

My mood is not good this morning. Recently I have been seriously considering giving up. I talk about it a little in The Creative Moment podcast, “The Idea of Success”.  That was a couple weeks ago, now this morning, I feel like giving up the dream.

I can’t give up writing, that is who I am. Poetry is the way I think. I will continue to jot down ideas on scraps of paper. Compose verses in notebooks. But the dream of being known as a poet, as a writer is fading. 

Now, I know this is where people would give all kinds of motivational quotes and stories of authors who published their first book in their sixties. I know all of that. I know Stephen King’s story about his wife digging the story “Carrie” out of the trash. (Yes, I know he was an English teacher, too).

But this is a low point. Everyone has them. And low points are powerful moments. Maybe choices shouldn’t be made at this point, but we shouldn’t discard the emotions and self-evaluation that comes at these moments. 

Questions / thoughts I have to work through:

I might not be a good writer or poet.

Maybe I’m not spending enough time on my craft.

Maybe I’m not spending enough time promoting my works.

What are my goals regarding my writing career?

Feelings come and go. Right now, I feel defeated. I am at a low spot. But it doesn’t mean this moment can’t be a positive for me or for anyone that is at a similar point in life. A low point doesn’t feel good, but if you see it as an opportunity to self-reflect, prioritize goals, and spend a little time working with the moment, you might find you can climb higher tomorrow.

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Miles to Muffins

For the first time in a while, everyone was around the table for breakfast on Sunday morning. There was only one blueberry muffin left, the eggs and bacon were all gone. And the morning was filled with conversation.

These moments are becoming rare, and I know that next year that having everyone home will be even less frequent. This is what bittersweet feels like. It is a mix of joy, reconnecting, laughter, pride, and knowledge of time running out, that scares me, to be honest.

Even though my word was Miles for this year (and I have traveled some miles this year), I sat thinking about how many miles my children have traveled this year. Especially my three older ones. 

One of the things I am most proud of in this life is building a home. It has not been easy at times. But home is the center of our life as a family. Like a wheel, the house is the hub. My children are spokes. Their lives will take them away from the house, but the love we share keeps us connected; the rim that allows us to travel through this life. 

As we started to put dishes away, I joked that the kitchen was going to be quiet once everyone was out of the house. My oldest son said, “You still got a long way to go,” as he looked at his youngest sister (age 9). I smiled at him because I knew deep down that I would be a dad for all of them, no matter how many miles they travel to come back home for blueberry muffins.

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Blueberry Muffins and My Feet

As is tradition, I was mixing the batter for the muffins this morning at the kitchen island when I had a strange thought. I happened to look down at my feet. They were both perfectly centered in the tile on our kitchen floor. 

Strange I know, but stay with me. I asked my youngest daughter to grab the measuring tape. We measured the length and width of where I was standing. Roughly 290 square inches of space. My place in the world, when I’m standing, totals 290 square inches. 

Then I looked up on Google that there is roughly 57,000,000 square miles of land on earth. My feet take up .000000000007 of the space on this earth. (If I got my math right). Even if I got the math wrong, my body, my heart, my life does not take up much of the space in this world.

It is, at first, sad to consider how insignificant one individual is. The space we stand on is so small. But then I had to move my feet toward the kitchen counter where the muffin tin was and my perspective changed. 

I get to place my feet anywhere in the  57,000,000 square miles of this world. I can place them on a sidewalk in Chicago. I can walk a beach in Australia. I can play basketball with my son or volleyball with my daughters on the same court. I can stand on a stage in front of a microphone to share my poetry.

Life is about where we stand, where we take up our small 290 square inches of this world. And even more importantly who’s feet join us in our little part of the world…

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Almost Moment

6:42 a.m. Aug 25, 2022. The day my wife, two daughters, and I almost died.

The story is not uncommon, sadly. And it is a simple one. I was at a light waiting to turn left across a four lane street. (This is what made the moment an almost moment.). The light changes green for me and I start my turn. I am moving across the lane closest to us, turning the wheel, when I noticed the lights of a semi truck flying toward us in the next lane. There was a minivan stopped at the light, but the truck wasn’t even slowing down. I slammed on the brakes and watch as the truck then cattle trailer streaked by in front of us. Our headlights reflecting back to us.  I don’t think the driver even saw us.

It was dead silent in the car as I took a breath and continued across the intersection, headed to a “normal” day at school. We were that close to having everything change in our life. I am writing this at 7:18 a.m. and I can’t shake the weight of that almost moment.

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The Power of Small Relationships

We spend time and energy working on and developing different types of relationships. Family, spouse, and friends get the most of our time and love, but there are some relationships that are just as important, even if the relationship is built on the smallest foundation. Recently, life has reminded me how important the smallest relationships are for building a joyful life. Let me tell you about a stranger, a cashier, and a person from the congregation of our church. Three cool dots that connect to show the power of a small relationship.

Today we attended a parade in Fairfield, NE, for the town’s 150th birthday celebration. My wife’s parents were the grand marshals because they are the oldest living couple in Fairfield. The parade was a mix of old tractors, cars, the local school band and other fun floats.

There was also a lot of candy!

The whole parade took over an hour. I sat next to a stranger. Yet, we had a great time watching the kids run out to get the candy, appreciating some classic cars, and had a funny moment when a local BBQ restaurant’s float passed us and I commented it would have been great if they threw out some ribs for us big kids. When her daughter showed up later in the parade (she played in the band earlier) she told her daughter of our idea of the ribs for us big kids. We laughed again.

When the parade ended we went our separate ways with a smile and an “enjoy the rest of the day” goodbye. That’s it. But for an hour we enjoyed the community feel of the event, making a small connection that generated some laughs and enjoyment of the day.

The second small relationship is based on dad jokes. No kidding. We usually shop for groceries on Saturday mornings. We shop at a few different places for different things. At our local grocery store there is a cashier that I tell a dad joke to every time I see him. In this case I do know his name (just not going to share it here), and have learned a few things about him. This routine started during the pandemic. It started just to ease the tension everyone was feeling as we were trying to figure out life with COVID affecting our lives. And now it is a small relationship that brings a shot of happiness to both of our lives, and I learned I am “the dad joke guy”.

Last week we had to pick up some milk on Wednesday. On the previous Saturday he did not work, so I didn’t get to tell him my joke. When my wife and I walked into the store I saw that he was working, so I approached him to share with him my newest dad joke. It was a good one. We laughed. My wife and I told him that we missed him on Saturday. He replied that his hours were changing because of school but knew that I had been in the store because his brother was working that day and had texted him that “the dad joke guy” was in the store. 

This small relationship is more personal, it brings a sense of routine and joy to the week. It will and is changing because he has major life changes happening as he moves into more major life moments. But for now, we will share a good (sometimes bad) dad joke each week that adds a little happiness to our lives.

Now the third small relationship is with someone that attends our church only on Saturdays. As a family we attend church either Saturday night or Sunday morning, kind of depends on our schedule. When churches opened back up during COVID, we attended Saturday nights for a long time. This is when this small relationship started. And it might be the most powerful of my small relationships, and we don’t even know each other’s names.

During a Catholic service there is a moment when the congregation says “Peace be with you” with each other. During the worse part of the pandemic we waved to each other instead of shaking hands. Durning the first service that the church included this moment, a gentleman was in front of us. At that time we gave each other an awkward wave and said, “Peace be with you,” quietly. For a number of weeks this gentleman sat close to us, so we would wave to each other during this part of the ceremony. He always attends church by himself. He finds a seat right as the service starts, so one week he was not sitting near us. I kind of looked around for him and saw him a few rows back in another section. We made eye contact, smiled, and waved hello. Then during the Peace Be With You part of the ceremony, we waved and mouthed, “Peace be with you.”

Almost two years later, we now find each other through the congregation to say hello at the start and make sure we wave and say “peace be with you” later in the service. Lately we have been attending Sunday morning services, but tonight (Saturday) we attended church and he walked in right at the beginning as usual. I saw him first and my heart was filled as I watched him look around the congregation until he saw me and my family. We smiled. We waved hello. Then later in the service we had to lean a little but still made eye contact, waved, and mouthed, “Peace be with you”. Both of us were smiling, it had been a few weeks since we had seen each other.

I don’t know his name. I doubt he knows mine. We never talk after church. But this small relationship is a powerful one because it gives me, and I think it is the same for him, a moment to know that I am here in this life. That I matter to someone else in this world, that my presence makes them happy simply because we are both here, living this life together, however small our relationship might be.

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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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