Category Archives: Life

Blueberry Muffins and a Question Mark

This post is a cliche´.

You have heard songs about it, read other articles or blog posts about it, heck, you might have an inspirational poster about it. About not taking today for granted.

But sometimes life gives each of us dots to reinforce ideas. And life has been giving me a ton of dots to connect lately, even as I sit down to write this post, the first song to play on my “Writing” playlist was “Numbered Days” by Eels, not kidding. (The song will be at the end of this post for you to enjoy.)

Earlier this week my mom had a sudden medical emergency. She is doing well, back home. We are still waiting to understand the reason for the situation, but things are good now. but a moment like that sets your mind racing with so many “what if” questions. Some are based in the moment, while other questions center on the future. Every minute becomes a question mark.

Honestly, tomorrow is a question mark. Really, the next minute of my life is a question mark. Life can change in a second. Life can turn 90 degrees with a decision and be off in a new direction.

We all know this, we all have experienced these moments that for a while challenge us to be more grateful for our family and friends. To make that decision to go after a dream we put away for tomorrow. I do it, too. Then life falls into a routine.

This morning we had blueberry muffins for breakfast. There was scrambled eggs and sausage. We talked about the college basketball upsets. If you are a regular reader you know this is what we do on most Sundays. This is a routine, and I share this because there are great moments in the routine of our lives. These types of moments give us joy and love, even if my girls hate my energy in the morning; they know I love them when I call them “Sunshine Bears” when I see them in morning.

But there is a depth to our lives we let go of when we live as a routine. When we waste time just going through the motions, or sit and just watch other people live life on social media. Yes, today is a gift. I was getting into the car after track practice on Friday. The sky was a mess, a small rain storm was approaching from the north, but the south sky was blue and filled with little white fluffy clouds that were shifting their shapes with the wind. I was hit with a deep thought…

I have never seen the same cloud shape ever in my life, and I never will. Think about that for a moment.

Yes, I will see the same kind of skies, but each cloud is a unique aspect of the moment. The wind changes the edges of the clouds, like it does for us if we pay attention to how life is giving us this moment to breathe, to love, to feel the edges of ourselves, stark and sharp, against time.

Life may be hard right now for you. You may be experiencing the greatest moment ever right now. I don’t know because we all have our own time in this life. It is a gift, to be opened and to be lived. Tomorrow is a question mark, but right now should be an exclamation mark!

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Great Moments

This weekend is girls state basketball. The girls team from my current school and the team from a past school are both playing in their class championship games today. Regular readers know that my second son played in the state championship game two years ago.

Today will be filled with joy and heartbreak. Only one team in each class ends their season with a win. One team will fall just short of a state title. But today will be remembered by all who were there. And that is what makes these moments important, for two reasons.

But before I dive into those reasons I want to share a snippet from the movie, The Replacements.

Athletics are the most common example of achieving greatness, but greatness is expressed in many different ways in life. From being a strong mother, to writing your first poem and sharing it at an open mic night. This is the first point to consider about the moments in our lives that allow us the chance to do something great, whether we win or lose (and yes, we don’t always end up on top). As Coach Jimmy McGinty says in the video clip:

No matter the outcome, these moments stay with us. They give us more than memories, they give us depth of emotion and meaning to our lives. The experiences teach us about how well we have worked for our goals. Even through heartbreak, great moments take us to a richer level of life that fills our hearts, shows us who we are and what we are capable of. These moments are a joyful contrast to the routine of life. Each time we get a chance at doing something great we add a string to the fabric of who we are.

The second aspect to great moments is the connection to others. Today, the stands are filled with family, friends, and fellow students. Coaches will walk the sideline, student managers will fill water bottles. No matter what team wins the state title, there will be hugs for both teams. All seniors will be awash with the knowledge that they just played their last high school game. There will be tears, win or lose.

Each person involved will have their own personal memory and emotions today. The same holds true for any great moment. Great moments are shared. They build a bond with everyone involved. Stories will be shared years from now, pictures brought out to reminisce with. Great moments build relationships, even community. Our lives are not lived alone, we share this life in the routine but we experience it, together, through the great moments.

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An Open Letter to My Daughter

A few days ago we were talking about karma, about why it seemed that people who do bad things always seem to win. To be popular. Last night you opened up about the friendship situation. I connected the dots.

Junior high is a minefield. It is hard to judge what the next step will bring. Add the state of our society, social media, and the challenge of just being a teenager, and it feels like the world is in chaos.

There is nothing I can do or say that will change the outside world. I hope that maybe this open letter can help you navigate the next couple of years and help you discover the beautiful soul that you are.

First, friendship is one of the foundations of who we are. But it is also fickle and can actually be destructive. Our friendships make or break us. Even after all these years, and our own rough spots, my best friend is an important part of my life. But many of the other friends I’ve had over the years are not a part of my everyday life. Right now, it feels like you should have a huge group of friends. I understand the need to feel “liked” by everyone. To be honest, even adults have that desire, but real friendship is a serious relationship. And it is hard sifting through the fake and real relationships in junior high, let alone the rest of your life.

Real friendship is earned. If you find yourself asking for friendship, that person is not a friend. Let them go. Know that honest friendship builds you up, supports you. You should never have to ask to be loved. This is a hard truth, but it’s true.

Second, guard your heart, but never close it. This is hard to write as a father because I want this world to be a beautiful place for you. But there is so much pain and hurt in this world caused by people who want to do bad things. Oh how I wish this wasn’t so because there is such beauty and joy to experience in this life. We have experienced it! But our hearts are the most important aspect of who we are. Our hearts are strong, yet can be damaged with a single word or action… and that damage is hard to heal. I know, even now I deal with the pain everyday from the wounds people inflicted on me.

Guard your heart, just don’t close it.

Third, mom and I are always here. Home is our sanctuary. If you simply need a hug, find me. I love you.

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Dilly Bars and Snowball Fights

Today the snow was perfect for making snowballs. After my walk I took on two of my daughters in a snowball fight. We used the piles of snow on each side of the driveway as our defense. I lost. In my defense, I didn’t have gloves, so I had to take breaks to warm my hands.

Afterwards we ate Dilly Bars. We stood among the shattered pieces of snowballs on the driveway, soaking in the sun and just talking. 

In the midst of this crazy time we are living in, we enjoyed a Sunday afternoon.  For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know my word for this year is “Moment”.  This afternoon was a great moment. It was a moment of living, of fun, of family.

I don’t know if it is because of my word, or just me getting older, but I notice that what too many people call living is just enduring life, or simply being entertained by a screen. Even in the simplest moments, there is a depth of joy to be experienced that you can’t get from a screen.

The snow is perfect for a snowball fight today.  And Dilly Bars can be held with frozen fingers.

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Built for Tomorrow

Before the holiday break my wife and I were traveling on I-80 heading to Lincoln. As we got close to the city the traffic got worse. There were more semi trucks, more cars, and it was hard to drive with the cruise control on. Between Lincoln and Omaha the interstate becomes three lanes for each direction, but I-80 is just two lanes until then.

As we drove I had a weird idea and expressed it to my wife. “If we knew what traffic would be like today, like how many semis there would be on the road, would we have built the interstate that same? Would we have made a separate road or system for cars?”

If we could have predicted what traveling by car or truck would be now, would we have built our highways differently? It feels like cities just build on top of what is already there, and the highways and exits become a jumbled mess.

Higway at night
Image by mufaddalap from Pixabay

It seems it would be easier to have a hard restart on the planning of highways and roads. A redesign.

I know that is not possible, but I’ve been thinking about the issue with I-80 in a more personal and motivational way…

If you knew life was going to be the way it is right now, what would you have done differently in your younger years?  What would you have done to strengthen your skills, or prepare for the emotional cost today asks for? How would you have planned your life to be better prepared for right now?

No one can predict the future, I know that. Yet, I feel that too many people don’t consider the future in any of their decisions and then find themselves unequipped to handle their future life.

And the consequences are devastating. 

I see it in my students. I see it in adults. Even I have situations that are rough because of my decisions in the past. Again, we can’t predict the future. There will be unforeseeable situations that trip us up. Yet, as I watch my older children succeed, as I move into new chapters of my own life better equipped to handle what life asks from me, I believe that decisions today that are made with the future in mind will lead to better tomorrows.

There are so many factors to this mindset. I understand that, but even the smallest moment today can have a powerful impact later in life, be it days, years, or even decades. That impact can cause strife or help you reach your goals.

Now, I’m not saying every decision has to be broken down and analyzed for days before making it, but sometimes the simple question of how the decision will help you become the person you want to be or help you reach your goals is enough to help you make the best decision for the future.

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AI Doesn’t Like Blueberry Muffins

First a warning, this blog post will ramble because it was written by me… it is centered around the idea of what Artificial Intelligence’s (AI) effect is on our society.

The spark for this post centers around a number of articles about ChatGPT and its ability to write essays for students. One article used the example of a literary criticism essay covering the works of Emily Dickinson’s work. ChatGPT did a fine job, but of course it did. 

Honestly, there are only so many ways to write a literary criticism over a single poem. I actually use poetry to introduce the literary criticism essay. We discuss a number of poems, breakdown how elements like similes, personification, even rhyming is used in the poems. Then the students write their essays. At the heart of a literary criticism is the idea of teaching the reader something about the poem.

So, many of the students’ essays read about the same. The introductions and conclusions are different, yet the body of the essays center around what anyone can learn if they analyzed the poem themselves.

I’m not especially worried about ChatGPT writing essays, or even its own poetry. AI will never be able to write a narrative essay, at least not a real one. A narrative essay is about the meaning of a moment for the writer.

AI doesn’t deal with the complexity of living. It will never be hungry. Or feel the joy of a great meal. AI will never open an unexpected present that fills their heart. Or deal with the bad mood of a loved one.

I do worry about us giving our lives over to technology in general. 

I see too many students just consuming their screens. At the moment it is TikTok. They watch all these people doing different things, while they just sit there. I actually encourage students to make their own videos (yes, I’ve been in a few). 

Also, the idea of just letting technology tell us what we should listen to or watch next; from products on Amazon to a playlist Spotify thinks we would like. Yes, we do tend to enjoy certain genres of music, but there is so much of our human experience connected to media that an algorithm can never give us a perfect recommendation.

As an example, I will listen to a song or watch a movie that I do not like because someone I care about likes the movie or song. I usually find something interesting from the media, even if it doesn’t get saved to a playlist.

Yet, we can just let technology live for us… that is what I am afraid of.  What’s so funny is how we keep advancing technology to be more human. We marvel at how close we can get AI to write like Edgar Allen Poe, yet here we are trying to be human but addicted to the technology.

What I know for sure is that AI will never enjoy the tradition of making blueberry muffins for breakfast every Sunday morning. And that I will always write my own stuff.

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The Story of Objects

I’ve been thinking about a small anecdote from Joy Harjo’s book Poet Warrior: A Memoir. She shares the importance of getting a cooking pot when her mother died. It was a pot that had been handed down for generations. It was the only thing she wanted.

OK, I’m going to come back to the cooking pot.

I could not find the original, but as I read Joy Harjo’s book I was reminded of an article that discussed how the digital age was eliminating natural artifacts of our lives. Love letters, books, old jackets, and other things future generations might find that would build a connection to us through those artifacts.

Back to the cooking pot. (I’m going to paraphrase because I have returned the book to the library.) The reason Joy wanted the cooking pot was for the stories in the pot. From having full bodied stews, to just water and maybe some carrots. How it held a flower and how each mother, for generations, had the pot in their hands. The pot was an artifact for Joy to stay connected with her family tree.

In her book, she explained how objects hold stories.

Artifacts tell stories.

But what objects do we have in our lives? What objects have we transferred our lives into? Or is everything just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s… stored in a rectangle that we replace every two years because we cracked the screen or we just want the newest color?

How many photos are stored in the cloud? When was the last time you looked at them?

I love my phone. I use technology everyday. But what am I leaving for my children? What will future generations know of me? 

This post is not about getting rid of technology, but a call to action to create real artifacts for your family. Pass on the stories of your life through letters, through pictures, through whatever artifacts that are intertwined with your day. They will tell the story of you, even after you and I are gone.

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A Blueberry Muffin, a Podcast, and a Word Walk into a New Year

January 1, 2023. 

A Sunday. 

That means we had blueberry muffins for breakfast today. We also had scrambled eggs and sausage patties. An addition we added years ago, but the tradition’s foundation hasn’t changed. And that is important as thousands of New Year’s resolutions are being made today, and thousands of them will be broken during the year. 

On Tuesday, the next episode of The Creative Moment will be published. We talked about goals and resolutions. As we talked I had a thought that I shared during our conversation. That we are OK letting ourselves down. We will work harder at not letting others down than we do with our own personal goals. That is crazy to think about, yet thousands of resolutions will not last even the first month of this year.

Small Canvas and easel.

Later tonight we will be setting our word for the year. This will be the ninth year of this tradition. This year we are using small canvases to create an artistic expression of the word. We also have a small easel to hold the artwork. My word this year is Moment. The idea is based on being fully in the moment this year. Not to be on my phone, not to be worried about things until I need to be, to feel the ups and downs of every day.

The base of the idea does come from one of my favorite books, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and I have blogged about some of the ideas expressed in the book before (“I took out the trash today”). Maybe it is the fact that I feel time is running faster, but I want to be fully in the moments of my life, not to let myself down in 2023. That’s not a tradition I want to set…

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Christmas Letter 2022

It is early in the afternoon. 2022 is almost over. My children are building a gingerbread house on their own (but I’m not too far away) and I am reflecting while listening to the top 40 countdown on the XM 80’s channel (1988).

Been thinking about what my word should be for 2023. I am deeply grateful for the connections I’ve built this year and am excited to see what the next year will bring. So I decided to write a musical Christmas letter.

I wanted a live performance because it symbolizes the importance of others in our belief of so many aspects of our lives. Honestly, even our belief in ourselves is affected by others, whether they help us or try to tear us down. But we also have that responsibility for others. I know I have said it before, but life is a team sport. And magical things happen when a team believes in each other… (and yes, I am referencing the Vikings!)

It is OK if you stopped reading and just danced while the song played. There are a number of reasons for including this song in my letter. First, it is my favorite song this year. I used it for the first episode of my podcast, For Love of Lyrics. Which is the second reason I need it in my letter.

This year has been filled with different creative endeavors. Dante and I started a podcast, The Creative Moment

I was a guest on Josh Grant’s YouTube show Diabolic Shrimp.

I was also on Dr. Ingram’s show Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Radio.

I have done a few poetry lessons on Twitter for Move Me Poetry.

I also released my first collection of short stories, The Other Notebook: Some Spooky Stories.

It has been a great year for my creative side. 

This last song is a reminder for me to chase my dreams. The song is actually from 1998 but was part of the movie Sing 2. Which is a pretty good movie… about chasing your dreams. Throughout the rough spots, doubt, and frustration, I know that part of the meaning of this life is in pursuing our dreams. It ignites our souls, gives us direction, and allows us to discover who we really are.

I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday!

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The Weight of Living

I am unsure how this blog post will go, it might end up being poetic, and if so, cool.

Today I had a workshop as a dual credit instructor. I hurried after school to the college to make it on time. I was mostly excited to see my former colleagues that I worked with for three years. I sat patiently through the presentations, completed the tasks I needed to be ready for the second semester, then got to talk to my previous coworkers for a few minutes before I headed home.

I put on my coat, slung my computer bag around my shoulder and chest then headed down the hallway. It was quiet in the building. I was thinking of my time working with the college. At the end of the hallway was a row of large windows. The doorway was around the corner to the left. It was dark outside, so I could see a shaded reflection of myself walking. My footsteps soft but distinct because I was the only one at the time in the hallway.

I stopped three fourths of the way. As a wave of melancholy washed over me I stared at my reflection in the window. My face shadowed, my shoulders still broad, my computer bag on my hip, hands stuffed in the pockets of my coat. A stance I recognized because I’ve stood like that for decades… suddenly 51 years of living fell on my spirit.

It was only a few seconds, but it felt like eternity as my heart somehow felt every minute of my life pulsate through my chest into my mind. On one hand I felt grounded to the moment, my feet securely holding me up, but on the other hand I felt the wind of purpose, of meaning, blow right through me, as if I was the reflection I was staring at.

What had I really accomplished in 51 years? 

Too many times I had been on the cusp of doing, what I felt would be great things, only to turn the wrong corner and start all over.

My name felt fragile at that moment.

I understood that on the scale of time, I wouldn’t even be recorded.

I took a step forward, the melancholy turning into deep rooted sadness with each step. The darkness outside eclipsed my reflection as I approached the corner to turn toward the exit. The winter wind reminded me that I was here.

I texted my wife to let her know I was on my way home.

When I got home my youngest daughter wanted to show me her new shoes and to dance in them with me.

I found myself lost again, but this time in the music of my daughter’s laughter (it was hard to spin her in new shoes on carpet).

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