Tag Archives: love

Foundations of a Good 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. 

Number 5

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.

Number 4

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. 

Number 3

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.

Number 2

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…

Number 1

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.

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Moments

Moments.

Small ones.

Life changing ones.

In one way life is simply the collection of moments. Everyday has the possibility of pain or happiness, even in a routine day there is beauty and love.  As I thought about the 18,252 days I’ve lived, there have been some life changing moments that are easily recognizable. But also, there have been small everyday moments that have proven to be foundations for me. This post has been a challenge, but here are my top five moments from the last 50 years.

Number Five

Calling my wife back, who was then just a classmate, after I hung up on her the first time. I barely got up the nerve to call her the first time to ask her out. We were in the same college class, “Discipline in the Classroom.” We debated against each other, she was smart and presented herself well everyday. I was the kid in the back with a coffee and my hat backwards, always willing to give my opinion. 

People still wonder how we make it work after 23 years, but it would have never happened if I didn’t squelch my fear and call her back after hanging up the first time. 

Number Four

Chasing my dream of being a head football coach and accepting a position that I had some reservations about. Those reservations turned out to be true. I was fired after one year. 

So many changes happened because of that choice. Some of them were tough on me and the family. There were positive outcomes, too.  That’s the complexity of moments.

I learned some hard lessons. I’ve let go of my dream of being a head football coach. I trust my gut instincts more. I learned that a strong family sticks together when things get rough.

Number Three

Holding each of my children the day they were born, except my second son who experienced a medical issue. We didn’t get to hold him for a few days.

That moment when I held a son or daughter in my arms, the world disappeared. Their little hands clenched, eyes closed, chest moving up and down, the moment they start this journey of life. The weight of knowing that I was responsible for their foundation wasn’t heavy, though. That responsibility was the meaning of fatherhood, and I still enjoy fulfilling that role in their life.

Number Two

One of the most pivotal moments in my life happened when I was 16 years old. I decided to take control of my life and essentially walk away from my family history. The moment was a decision that has been messy, filled with pain, anger, and a mix of other consequences. But I don’t regret it.

Number One

The moment happened during football practice my eighth grade year. At the time it was intense for practice, but looking in from the outside, nothing life changing. Until each day passed and moments presented themselves that reinforced the lesson coach gave me that day.

I wish I could give you my backstory up to that day in practice, but this is a blog not a book. Let’s just say I had gone through a lot of craziness already in life by the time I was in eighth grade. I was the tailback for the team, already a filling out as an athlete. On this day, I wasn’t running with much power. I was going down pretty easily at the first level (at the line of scrimmage).

Coach had had enough. He held my face mask as he ripped into me about my effort. I don’t remember everything he said, but the message was that I was too strong, too good to run like I was. I was in tears. He called a basic dive play. I was mad. We ran the play. I couldn’t see anything because I was crying so hard. Coach blew the whistle and screamed for everyone to freeze. 

Then he said,“Jamey, turn around!”

I froze on his first command. I was staring at the tennis courts and the street that ran in front of our school, trying to catch my breath. I turned around when he told me to. There was a line of players on the ground where I had run through the line.

“That’s how strong you are,” he said. And we returned to practice.

At that moment I understood his message, but didn’t know how important it was for me until I found myself needing that reminder when life was tackling me too easily. I remember that day. I remember that lesson. Even now, at the age of 50 life tries to take me down. But I know I am strong because of an everyday moment. Thanks, Coach.

Tomorrow’s post will not be so heavy. Tomorrow I’m going to share my top five songs, which is difficult in it’s own way!

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The Big Five-0 and Blueberry Muffins

Yesterday was my 50th birthday.

This morning we made blueberry muffins. My second daughter asked how it felt to be half a century old. Children can view the world in a different way. Half a century. Fifty years.

As always, I thought about how many crazy turns I’ve taken on my path. I thought it would be fun to share some fun “Top Five” blog posts over the next five days in celebration of living fifty years. 

To start, this post will be my top five things that I am proud of.

Number Five

Self publishing my poetry and fiction books. I have a few more projects in the works. It is exciting to create work that others enjoy.

Number Four

Creating traditions for my family, like blueberry muffins on Sunday mornings. I’ve read books before bed for over 20 years. Other traditions have faltered, some are new, like deciding on a word for the year. But I think traditions are building blocks for a strong family.

Number Three

Keeping an open heart even as the world and people let me down. Call me foolish, but I believe Love can save us.

Number Two

Staying creative. Writing blog posts, taking photos, writing poetry. I try to listen to the muse when it hits. I’m working on a new short story right now. I have three new poems that are in rough draft form. Being creative keeps my spirit fueled.

Number One

Finding the courage to change the narrative of my family history. 

Tomorrow I’ll share another Top Five post about moments.

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June 5, 2021 Soundtrack

Now that summer has started, I’ve been walking everyday. I’ve also been writing everyday. I’ve gone back to writing with pen and paper. I can feel the weight of the past school year starting to ease from my shoulders. It feels good. I like listening to music while I write and walk, so I thought it would be fun to share with you the top five songs I’ve been listening to lately. Kind of a small soundtrack of my life at the moment. A fun blog, but no guarantees that I won’t get deep in this post. Enjoy!

Track One: “Something Here” by Day Wave

Even though this song was released four years ago, I recently started listening to Day Wave and this is the song that got me hooked. What makes it a song I have on repeat is how much it connects with this time in my life. As the pandemic is starting to turn for the better, a tough school year is over… I feel like life is starting over, that “there’s something here” and I can’t wait to see what it is.

Track Two: “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince

Another older song, OK, a classic even. Besides me being a Prince fan, this song lifts my spirit. Not only because it is a great song to dance to or to sing karaoke with my daughter, but also the spiritual subject matter. The song is from Jesus’ point of view. The line “I’m your conscience / I am love / All I really need is to know that you believe” gets me every time.

Track Three: “Mercy” by Ayron Jones

This might be the soundtrack for our country right now. I happen to get into Ayron Jones’ music because I started following him on Instagram during the pandemic. Ayron would do these small live concerts at random times. I love his honest energy on this song.

Track Four: “I Guess I Just Feel Like” by John Mayer

You know when you feel down, so you play music to match that feeling and somehow you feel better because of it? That’s what this song does for me. The second verse hits home for me:

I guess I just feel like good things are gone

And the weight of my worries is too much to take on

I think I remember the dream that I had

That love’s gonna save us from a world that’s gone mad

I guess I just feel like

What happened to that?

I still believe that honest Love will save us. I just don’t know how to share enough of it in this world to make a difference. Almost everyday Hate or Apathy seems to be the course of action we choose. I do feel like giving up… but I don’t.

Track Five: “Anywhere Without You” by Whole Damn Mess

Another band I discovered on social media. This song feels like summer to me and it mirrors my own feelings for my wife. For the last 20 years we have been a team. Traveling to our kids’ activities, grocery shopping, even helping out by taking tickets with me at school, we have been together. Oh, we have had those “lightning” moments, but overall spending my days with her builds my strength and brings me joy.

So, I hope you enjoyed the mini soundtrack for my life at the moment. Share your soundtrack with me in the comments. 

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Estimated Miles Per Gallon May not Represent Actual Life Lived

On Saturday I pulled into the garage after returning from Lincoln. The odometer read 171,201 miles. And that was just for this minivan, which we purchased in 2014 when we found out that we were having our sixth child. At the time it was the only minivan that had 8 seats. Our first minivan had over 80,000 miles on it.

My heart was full of memories driving home from watching my son’s basketball team play in the state title game. The team earned the runner-up trophy, but the hardest part of the day was knowing that my son’s career was over and that we wouldn’t be traveling for his basketball games. My wife and I talked about how many times we traveled I-80 to Lincoln, or Omaha, or Minneapolis, or Chicago, because of basketball. 

But those 171,201 miles represent more than basketball trips. They represent college visits two years ago, traveling on mini family vacations to the Omaha zoo. My wife and I have traveled to marching band competitions, honor band performances, and art award ceremonies.

Yes, part of parenthood is spending time on the road to support your children’s activities, and we have spent a lot of time on the road. But many of the miles also represent our Saturday trips to the library where we would play games before we checked out books. We rack up miles every weekend grocery shopping. There are miles on the odometer that are from simple date nights of DQ treats and parking at the lake to talk.

Over the last seven years, the minivan has taken us 171,201 miles. What that number doesn’t show is the memories of the places we have been. You can’t feel the panic of driving in all the different weather conditions, or the near miss of an accident in Chicago. The miles can’t show the funny view of every child asleep with their heads at odd angles in the back, or see us all jamming out to the song playing before a basketball game. Every season there was a new song. 

The miles don’t express the love between me and my wife. We have traveled most of the 171,201 miles together. We have laughed, cried, and been exhausted as we’ve traveled these roads, but we have driven them together.

171,201 miles is one way to measure a life lived. 

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The Power of a Father

I have over six different drafts of this post. I have different introductions, pop culture references, links, and music in the rough drafts. The issue I want to talk about is the power of fatherhood. More specifically the devastating power of not having a father in a child’s life.

I have been working with the idea of doing a series of posts about what it is really like to be a dad, but an episode of Happy Days got me thinking about the effects of not having a father in my life and the effect it has for other kids. I had never seen the episode of Happy Days before. My youngest daughter likes the show Happy Days. We watch the show on MeTV. One Sunday afternoon the episode, “Arthur, Arthur,”  was playing. The episode is part of the last season of the show. By the end, I was in tears.

The story line of Fonzie and his dad is highlighted in season 6 with the episode, “Christmas Time”.

My story is different.  I have shared parts of that in a past post (Life Lessons About Fatherhood). The feelings of abandonment, anger, and questions of why are similar, though.  But in “Arthur, Arthur” there is a moment that rocked my soul. I have tried to find a clip of the episode, but there is not one to be found. In the episode Fonzie finds out his father has died. That changes everything. Fronzie expresses how he always hoped that someday he would be able to see his father. That while his dad was alive there was always a chance to understand why his dad left. A chance to heal the emotional wounds. With his dad passing, that opportunity was gone. Fonzie would never get to know why. The wounds would never fully heal.

The episode ends with Fonzie showing the broken gold watch his father wanted him to have. He wasn’t going to get the watch fixed because it represented his dad the way it was. A broken watch for a broken relationship.

I understand how Fonzie felt… in my own way. But that specific pain of a son (or a daughter) not having a father in their life is almost universal.

This song was released my senior year of high school. By that time, I hadn’t talked to my father for about eight years. But had lived with three step-dads and a few boyfriends that my mother had. The lines “I didn’t write these pages / And my script’s been rearranged.” expresses one of the perspectives children have when a parent leaves them.

Being abandoned by people who are supposed to guide you in this life is devastating. I know I am focusing on fathers, but the same holds true for mothers. 

There are too many kids trying to navigate this life on their own. And they write their stories with a foundation of loss, of uncertainty, and a deep sense of not being enough, not being loved because their parents are not there. 

I am not a perfect father or husband. But I try every day. And maybe that is the hardest part of looking back. I am raising six kids. Even though I make mistakes, I try to make sure they know they are loved. It is not easy, but I am proud of my kids. I am proud of the home I have built.

But everyday I wonder why wasn’t I worth the effort?

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Reflections Jan 27, 2021

The girls are settling down. The house is becoming quiet. My headphones are playing some of my favorite songs as I build a writing playlist on Spotify. Earlier I wrote a poem for my personal challenge to write a poem in 100 different forms. It was poem 81, a haibun titled, “A Father’s Gift.

But the writing muse is still burning. I am not sure where this post will end up, but it should be good (it will be musical).

I am tired. I am tired on so many levels, from the perpetual cycle of hate expressed in our culture, to the perceived apathy of living from people around me. I could link to any number of news articles to reveal how much pure negativity there is in this world, but I am tired of viewing those stories. If I took a random picture anytime during the day, it would show people staring at their phones. As if the height of living is text messages and photos saturated with filters.

In some ways, life is pretty simple. It is who we are and what we do with our time. A simple concept, yet filled with possibilities. Maybe it is because I am just months away from my 50th birthday, but time is a constant force in my thinking. I swear I can hear the grains of sand when all is quiet. I still have goals and aspirations I want to accomplish… the time to complete those is running out.

Again, maybe it is because I’ve been living for 50 years but I know that love works. I do believe that we have the choice on who we are. We are in control of how we treat people. What I don’t understand is how we keep thinking hate and pain make this world a better place. What saddens me the most is how deep this has gone. How many kids aren’t loved by their parents. How mean we can be to someone sitting next to us. How easy it is to tweet venom.

I have faith, though. Love is more powerful. Love is strength. I know I can’t change the world, but I can build my world, my home, my life with the foundation of Love. That is a start.

And then there is the pursuit of dreams… if I could figure this part out… Would I like to make a living from writing? Yes, I would. Will I? I don’t know. Money is not the main goal of my writing aspiration, respect or recognition is. To know that when someone says my name, they consider me a writer, a poet. I understand that most of that falls on my shoulders. How I present myself to the world. I know I am a good poet. My words do make an impact for readers. Yet, I feel like the world views me as someone who has a nice hobby. And I don’t know how to change that…

A final note as I wrap up this informal and somewhat musical blog. Even in these troubling times, this life is wonderful. There is pain, troubles for us to overcome. That is what makes the next day better than today. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Have a good cup of coffee and turn up that jam and dance.

Because when it is all said and done, today is the only day you have. It’s worth living for.

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Thank You, Tears For Fears

On March 16 I sat in a meeting on how school was going to be continued in an online environment. Students would be let into the school in waves to get their stuff the next day. Life was changing fast. I returned to my classroom to get things in order. Like many people, I turned to music to help with the situation. I sat down at my desk and turned to the music of Tears for Fears. Honestly, I don’t know why… maybe subconsciously I was thinking of the song “Mad World”, but I started out with their album The Hurting and played through their discography.

That was over a month ago, but I haven’t stopped listening to Tears For Fears. Even this morning on my walk, I listened to the album, Elemental. Now, I have listened to other artists during this time. In fact, I may be listening to more music than I have in a long time. Music has a powerful way of helping us deal with our emotions. During this time, the music from Tears For Fears has been a part of the way I have dealt with this moment in time.

So, as a thank you to them, I thought I would write a blog post sharing a song from each of their albums that I connect to during this time. Grab your headphones, sit back to enjoy some music from Tears For Fears and some writing from me. And Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith if you get the chance to read this: Thank You for the music.

Album: The Hurting

Song: “Change”

Yes, “Mad World” would totally fit our times. But “Change” connects with me because of the idea that there will come a time in life when it is too late. Too late to mend a relationship. Too late to follow a dream. The song has that repeating line though, “You can change.” Just a touch of optimism.

Album: Songs from the Big Chair

Song: “The Working Hour”

The build up of the layers of instruments in the first two minutes of the song just put me in a deep thoughtful mindset. Then comes the lyrics, “These things that I’ve been told / Can rearrange / My world, my doubt / In time, but inside out” address my state of mind right now… honestly, I think it does for all of us.

Album: The Seeds of Love

Song: “Famous Last Words”

The music starts slow. The lyrics set the scene of lovers in the future, just being together, but then at about the 2:20 mark in the middle of the line “And we will carry war no more” the sound explodes, making my heart jump… in desire to have a time to sit with the people I love and have the chance to “Listening to the band that made us cry / We’ll have nothing to lose / We’ll have nothing to gain / Just to stay this real life situation / For one last refrain”.

Album: Elemental

Song: “Break It Down Again”

This song makes me happy, in a sad intellectual way, especially the lines “And all the love and all the love in the world / Won’t stop the rain from falling…” It may seem odd, but I enjoy thoughtful lyrics, even if they make me feel sad. I enjoy analyzing songs, movies, and even though this song isn’t totally about that, it reinforces for me to break it down.

Album: Raoul and the Kings of Spain 

Song: “Sketches of Pain”

This song speaks to my poetic side. How art often reflects our pain, our heartache. Art can bring beauty to our pain. This moment in history is providing me with a different kind of muse. This song reinforces the need to share my writing with you.

Album: Everybody Loves a Happy Ending

Song: “”Closest Thing To Heaven”

Even during these troubling times (which is the setting at the beginning of the song), there are good things in my life. The line, “Make love your destination,” is a powerful motivation to choose love every day. Family and friends, making new recipes, watching Miami Vice, is heaven right now.

Music helps us through tough times. For me, Tears For Fears is the music I need. Thank you, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith for your music.

Let me know what you are listening to during this pandemic.

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I used to

I used to get up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for the day. One cup of coffee, yogurt, and a banana. I would get back into bed (on my wife’s side) for a few minutes as my wife would finish getting ready for the day. I would shower while she ate breakfast.

But now, we get up at random times.

 

I used to teach in front of students. I could tell who was having a bad day. I could tell if my hyper class would have to be reined in because the lesson needed focus from them. My day was a roller coaster of grading, answering emails, and teaching.

But now, I answer emails and grade assignments as they are completed online.

 

I used to believe that I would live forever. That I had time to do everything I wanted with my life. Life was an open highway.

But now, well actually, I’ve realized that my days are numbered for some time now. This moment in time dealing with the COVID-19 situation has reinforced the reality that life is fleeting. As a society we are forced to deal with so many factors we take for granted in our everyday life. A handshake, eating out, graduations, and just the joy of an open highway.

 

I used to distrust people. OK, to be honest I still do, but that is a personal journey.

But now, I wonder what the effects of this pandemic will have on our culture. We were already dealing with anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. Dealing with screen time and its connections to these emotions.

 

I used to go to church with my family, shake hands with others during The Liturgy of the Eucharist (Peace Be With You).

But now, we watch Mass on TV. Hearing the echoes of the few people in attendance during the filming of the service.

 

I used to make one box of blueberry muffins. When the boys were young, 12 muffins were enough for the family.

But now, we have added scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage, and we will have to start making 24 muffins as my oldest son has moved back home to finish his semester of college online.

 

I used to believe in love…

But now, I still do… There is no greater force in this life than Love. Oh, I know hate and other negative forces seem to gain more attention and seem to be more powerful. That the world is falling apart… but Love is what will rebuild the world.

 

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Skip a Rope

I am a sucker for countdowns. Every weekend I listen to the top 40 countdown from the 80s on XM radio as I run errands. Over the last couple of days XM has been broadcasting their top 1000 country songs of all time. So of course I’ve switched over to that channel at times just to listen to the countdown for awhile. I’m not a huge country music fan, but I enjoy certain songs and artists. I flipped to channel 30 and Tim McGraw’s “My Next 30 Years” was playing, so I left the radio on the countdown. Next was Tracy Lawrence’s “Time Marches On”.  I was enjoying the countdown. As the next song started, I could tell it was a classic country song. Since I was into the countdown I decided to listen. I’m glad I did, it got me thinking about life.

The song was the only number one hit for Henson Cargill, “Skip A Rope”.

I had never heard the song before. It was released in 1968. Besides the music, sadly, this song could have been written today.

Can’t we do better?

Seriously, I could share so many links to news articles about kids being abused or neglected by parents. There is a never ending supply of examples of the hate we generate in our society.  Links to heartache. Examples of cheating.

Can’t we do better?

I know that I can not save the world. It’s hard not to get downtrodden with the never ending negative examples on the news.

What I can do…

Is read a book to my daughters tonight before bed.

Is say hello to a stranger with a smile.

Is return the shopping cart to the cart corral (even the ones sitting between cars around me).

Is smile when I see my wife at the end of the day.

What I know for sure is that I can try every day to live this life with love. To be a little more humble and kind (yes, this was on the countdown).

 

 

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