Jul 28, 2009

New Directions to Blogville

I want to begin by saying how much I appreciate all of the kind comments related to my last post - my tribute to Heather's grandfather. I received a lot of feedback from people - both in comments on Facebook, on the actual blog, and in person. I loved that man and he made an eternal difference in my life. So, it truly was the least I could do. This past weekend we had a memorial service for him, and it was again great to remember what an amazing man he was. In November, we are planning a large family reunion of sorts - which will also serve as a "memory exchange" of him. Be praying for his children and wife, as they are expectedly dealing with how to fill that large hole that has opened in their lives.

As my blog is reaching new heights of popularity - both at the blogspot site and on Facebook - I am constantly reminded of the varied people that I am blessed with as friends. I have people who share my beliefs on many fronts, and people who do not. The last thing I EVER want this blog to be is something that hurts someone. It is not something that is attempting to cram my opinions or beliefs down your throats. I realize that I am more conservative than some of my friends, and more liberal than others. And that is the beautiful thing about life - we can be friends despite our differences - and sometimes because of them. If I ever write about a topic, like religion, it is merely reflecting what I am going through.

Being at home more now, I have more chances to write. I have tried to limit my posts to once a week. But I have a backlog of posts, since things come to me more than weekly now. I also have had numerous people ask me to write more. I have resisted that for a while, but finally came up with an answer. I am going to divide the blog into six categories.

Think of it as Trivial Pursuit. I have matched the colors and tried to match the topics. We all love Trivial Pursuit, right? Anyone? I love the game. I remember that growing up, we had every version that came out. We would sit around the card table and all play - even my dad. (This was before his strokes and heart attacks robbed him of his mental prowess.) He knew everything. It was crazy. "What color facemask did the Topeka Raiders field hockey team use on their 'Puckin Crazy' promotional tour in 1958?" My dad would sit there, staring at the table for a few seconds. "Puce." And it was right. It was my goal to beat my father. I was the second strongest player, usually, having devoted a great portion of my brain to learning absolutely useless minutiae for much of my life. As the years slipped by, I slowly began to reel him in.

Finally, it happened. We were playing one night and I went out to a huge lead. I started to get cocky, as most teenagers would do. Talking trash. Stupid stupid stupid. My dad was a former Marine - a hulking 6'5" man of about 350 lbs. And bald - this made all the difference. You can shave the head of most men and make them look tons meaner. Worked for him, I can testify. He didn't take kindly to smart alecks of any age. So he began to slowly eat at my lead. Finally, it was like 5 pies to 5 pies. And then he got his sixth and made his way to the inner circle. We all ganged up on him and kept picking the questions he wouldn't get. Finally I got my sixth pie and got to the center ring. I think it was my sister - she lobbed me a softball question and I won. Sure, it was tainted. But I won. He looked at us, said it didn't count, and never played it again. So, that was a fun memory. Hmmmmm.... Let's get back to the explanation of the new setup.

SPORTS: I am well aware that many people are not interested in sports. The orange disc always meant Sports and Leisure. So if you see orange, think sports. This will cover football, UCF, basketball (rarely), and the other sports I generally don't care about or watch. I may even slip some fantasy football stuff in there. Because, we all know, the only thing worse than listening to people tell us their dreams is listening to them talk about their imaginary football league.

POLITICS: This has always been the topic I care the least to write about. Why? Well, because it never ends well. I wrote a post about why I voted for Huckabee last year - and I was afraid that I was going to get torched by my own party mates. But it is the blue disc, since that was usually Geography. I may post in this group, just so I can use that awesome picture of Obama. It isn't a comment on him - just an awful picture.

MEDIA: This would have been called Entertainment, but the word was too big. No lie. I figure this way I can also squawk about the news and such too. Sound all official and blustery. But this is mostly going to be used for movies and tv shows and music. And it is the traditional Trivial Pursuit pink color. Was anyone else equally terrified by the pink pie? I remember growing up the questions were always like, "Which onscreen duo released seven films under the Warner Cousins banner before becoming seal trainers in Panama?" I would just stare at the reader, drool running out of my mouth. Then my dad would mumble, "Percy and Ingrid, you dolt."

FAMILY: Falling into the traditional History color, Family will wear yellow. I thought that was appropriate. Family. History. Get it? [sigh] I think this will swallow up my posts about my brilliant wife, my adorable kids, and all those adventures. If you only care about my general statements on the world in general, then avoid yellow. And if you are eating snow, avoid yellow. Or so I'm told, since I live in Florida and we don't have snow. Or seasons. Or culture.

RELIGION: That's right, Arts and Literature takes the guise of religion with their brown disc. Again, I thought that this wasn't a hard stretch. I will do my best to confine my theological musings to this color. Obviously, there may be crossovers, and I may put two discs up for a post. I can see Yellow and Brown pairing off a lot. They seem like buddies. Like Green Lantern and Flash. Or Bert and Ernie.

FOOD: Science and Nature becomes food. Green. Okay, so this is a big stretch. But food is from nature or science - and sometimes both. Or something. Whatever. I wanted to keep this category because a lot of people liked my Angus burger review and asked for more food related stories. I think this is something I have spent my life preparing for. If there was a job on Food Network that involved no cooking whatsoever and just was some guy being a smart mouth about food? I would take that job.

So there you have it. This will take effect immediately. I hope that it helps. I look forward to sharing more, and I think that this will challenge me to come up with stuff. I know I have several things ready to get posted soon. One of them has the potential to be the most inflammatory, controversial, dangerous thing I have ever written. I can only tell you that it falls under the pink disc. And it will be coming soon.

Jul 17, 2009

H. John Blann: 1920-2009

We have had more than our share of mega-watt celebrity pass away in the recent past. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, Karl Malden, Steve McNair, Walter Cronkite. Each one of them would receive a huge amount of press. Some, like Jackson, would receive a send off as if he was some sort of world-reigning royalty. It is a shame, when people who became famous for singing and dancing and jiggling around and selling stuff and saying yes get such recognition, but when truly amazing people pass on nothing happens. Well, for one person I am not going to let that happen.

H. John Blann passed away today. He was 89 years old. He was survived by his wife, Eva; his four children, Rosie, Paul, Lois, and Richard and their respective spouses; his close-as-a-child friend, Nila; seventeen grandchildren and their spouses; and twenty-five great-grandchildren (with a 26th coming soon). I am the spouse of one of the grandchildren and dad of three of the great-grandchildren. I married into this family in August of 2000. And I have been blessed every day to be a part. Grandpa was a part of that. Actually, he was a huge part of that - the foundation of it. The way that Grandpa and Grandma lived their lives was the model that everyone followed. It was why the family is so special. As I think back on my experience with this amazing man, there are some things that jump out at me. And since I am a Baptist pastor, I always organize my thoughts starting with the same letter.

It was truly a blessing to be able to spend so much time with Grandpa. Not many of his grandchildren had the opportunity to do that - since the family was scattered all over. But thanks to the way things unfolded in 2001, we ended up living across the street from them. So for the last eight years, every time we went to visit Heather's parents we got to see Grandpa and Grandma too. That led to many discussions over Sunday lunch and while eating ice cream. (We shared a love for ice cream - I don't think either of us ever turned it down.) He and I would sit and talk about all kinds of things. Now to understand why that is a big deal, you have to understand my personal history.

My dad's parents died when I was 10 and 15. My mom's dad died when I was 16. My dad passed away when I was 25, and my mom's mom died five years ago. I never really had big talks with my grandparents. When I did talk to my mom's dad, it was not a deep conversation. We couldn't have been more different. And I think I talked to my dad's dad maybe five times in my life. (He lived in Vermont.) We were not very close to our extended family, except my mom's mom. I have been able to establish some stronger relationships with some of those people later in life - but growing up there was not much there. So to marry into a family where the ENTIRE family was involved in everything was shocking. Heather's cousins came to her wedding . . . from Connecticut. Heather knows how many kids each of her cousins have. I don't even know how many cousins I have. (Seriously. I don't know.)

So sitting down with this older man and talking was a wonderful experience for me. The fact that he had served as president of a Bible school, missionary, pastor, and teacher made it even better. He saw in me a rough draft of a minister, and he wanted to help hone that. So he did that in our talks. After the scarring events of my first church job, and the failed efforts to find a second church job, he would gently encourage me (and sometimes chastise me) to keep my attitude right. He was so kind, but his words carried power. I would listen to him pray, and just be blown away by his sweet and powerful offerings. (My kids say one of their favorite things about Grandpa is the way he prays.) I wanted to be like him.

He and Grandma had a little book of prayer requests. They had every single family member listed and would pray for all of them every single day. If you asked them to pray for something, they did. They made friends everywhere. They knew the manager at the Wendy's. The lady lit up when they came in. That was just their way. I remember that one year Heather's family celebrated Christmas in our home in Orlando. My brother came and joined us too. Grandpa took a bunch of time to sit with Chris and talk with him. He just felt drawn to him. For months he would ask me about Chris and how he was doing. He asked for Chris' address and email address. That summer when we all were at the beach, Chris came up to spend a day. Grandpa again made sure he had time to spend with him. This was my brother - and Grandpa was invested in him. It was truly telling they way the "in-laws" in the family felt about him - we loved him like he was our own grandfather, maybe even more.

When I started Defender Ministries, I sat down with Grandpa and Grandma to talk to them about what I was doing. I kind of wanted their blessing - and their prayers. I explained how big the internet porn issue had become worldwide. I told them about what we wanted to do - how we planned on helping people deal with things, with technology. They sat there and cried. They told me that the problem had never affected them, but they knew how big of an issue it was. They had read about it in a Christian magazine (and they saved me every article they ever found after that). And they knew how I had struggled with things - and had prayed for me for years after I had shared that with them. As I worked getting Defender going, I found much opposition from pastors and churches - people who didn't want to deal with the problem or admit there was one. Church members would kind of raise their eyebrows at me about it. But these two people in their 80s, who I can believe never ever had seen a piece of pornography in their lives, knew that it was something that needed to be addressed.

One of the earliest and deepest connections I had with Grandpa was over books. I remember that Grandpa and Grandma were visiting before they had moved to Florida. They were reading books and I offered to let Grandpa borrow a book that I loved - Philip Yancey's The Bible Jesus Read. Grandpa thanked me, but said he wanted some lighter fare for their trip. I said I understood. A couple hours later, he came and apologized and said he would love to read it. He had realized I was trying to reach out to him and he didn't want to lose that chance. He plowed through the book and then came and told me how much he loved it. He said that he had learned some things he had never thought about. What!?! This was an octogenarian who had spent the better part of sixty years in a ministerial role - and he got things out of a book that I had recommended? In fact, Grandpa went out and bought several other Yancey books and read them too, discussing them with me.

This was not uncommon. The love of books runs deep and strong through Heather's family and through mine. (Yes, our kids devour books like other kids go after video games.) There is a story Heather has told me about when her older brother, Andy, was in school. He had to read The Fountainhead for class. Grandpa wanted to know what that was about, so he went out and bought it and read it - just so he could help Andy with it. A 70 year old man read a 700 page book on secular humanism to help his grandson understand it. That still blows me away.

Another year, I was reading a book by a popular Christian author. I liked some of what he said, thought it was interesting. I bought a copy for Grandpa for Christmas. He read it and then gave it back to me. I told him it was his. He said he didn't want it. He disagreed with much of what the man said and he didn't see that he would ever read it again. He explained what he felt. I was a little offended and frustrated. I went back and looked at the book and then read the Bible concerning the book topic. And, you know what? Grandpa was right. The book was wrong. It had misrepresented things. In my place in life, I didn't examine it like I should have. The emotions resonated with me, and it nearly got me in trouble. I almost headed down a path from that book that would have been very dangerous and wrong. If Grandpa hadn't been willing to hurt my feelings, I never would have even known.

A mentor of mine once taught that after the age of 18, the things that can really change you are the books you read and the people you hang around. I have seen the truth of that statement. When you find someone you can read books with, you do twice the good, I guess. As the years went by, Grandpa and Grandma started to give us their books for Christmas. I now have a treasure of old commentaries and devotionals that I got from them. And when I say old, I mean over 100 years old. What a tremendous gift.

No story about John Blann would be complete without mention of the epic Balderdash game that played out in Heather's parents' kitchen one holiday season. Heather and I, her parents, her brother Andy and his wife Michelle, and her brother Mike sat down to play Balderdash - and invited Grandpa and Grandma. They agreed and a truly classic event was set in motion. For those of you who don't know, Balderdash is a game where there are cards with obscure and bizarre words. You are supposed to write definitions for the words - they aren't right, just supposed to sound right. All the definitions, including the real one, are read and you hope people vote for your definition. This can get to be very funny. Usually, there are several times in a game where you have to stop and just laugh at a stupid definition. (Crenulate - what a mother tells her son named Crenshaw when he gets home after the street lights come on.) In this game, Grandma laughed more than I had ever seen her laugh. But to win, you have to be able to fool people - lie in a convincing way. I am VERY good at the game. Grandpa was NOT.

There were three problems with the way Grandpa played Balderdash. First of all, he knew too many of the words. These funky words that sound fake - he knew a bunch of them. He would just write down the correct definition. So he would get points each time he did that. But when he didn't know the word, he didn't quite get how to write a fake definition. So it was obvious that his was not right - and that it was written by him. They all had a similar quality. So he never got points there. The last problem was when it came to his turn to read the definitions. He collected all the pieces. As he read them, he commented on them. Now, the reader is supposed to be stoic - just reading the words without facial expression or comment. They are supposed to read over them so they don't trip over words. Grandpa took a different approach. He would read one and say things like, "Whatever" or "I have no idea what that means" or "I can't read what this person even wrote." We all just sat there and stared at each other, trying not to bust out laughing. Heather's brother, Andy, is so sweet. He tries to be very kind and careful with his words. He just kept going, "Wow. Uh. Wow." Finally, he just looked at all of us, shrugged, and said, "Well, um, I guess we should just not count that round. Sound good?" None of this should have come as a surprise to any of us. He was brilliant, straight forward, and honest. He was funny too - with a whip fast wit. But we all should have know he never would be good at a game that is based on leading people astray - his whole life was lived doing the opposite.

I have a blog. Grandpa read my blog. He wanted to start his own. And this began a two year process that never did come to fruition. He was fascinated with technology. Both he and Grandma had computers and spend lots of time on them - surfing the web, emailing, reading the Bible. He used to take great pride in his Jornata - a fancy PDA that he received as a gift. We would chat about computers. I would show him some of the things I designed and printed - something he loved to see. This was especially cool to him because he used to use the OLD SCHOOL printing presses - and he was just amazed at what I could do now. Even as he slipped over the last year, one of the things he remembered was that I worked at Apple. He asked me every time I saw him if I still worked at "the computer place" and how it was going.

He never quite could get the blog, though. He wanted to put his journal online. But it never worked right - he never got it to do what he wanted. I would sit with him for hours and we would get things to work, but when I left he couldn't duplicate it. This was when I knew he was starting to slip. As a person ages, the things they learned last seems to be the first to go. And his love for technology was where I first saw the erosion. He would have lots of problems with his computer - mostly due to his making mistakes on it. He asked me every time I came (sometimes multiple times) about what computer Bible I used, if I had tried e-Sword, if I could help with the blog. He finally abandoned the blog hope.

One of my last big memories of Grandpa - and one of his of me - came on a weekend when Heather's parents had gone out of town. Heather and I were going to come up for the weekend to help check on Grandpa and Grandma. They had moved in by this point, but they had not all moved to their new bigger house. Grandpa was starting to have a lot of memory problems. And the computer issues were becoming greater. In between when Heather's parents left and when Heather and I got up there, his computer stopped working right. He was beside himself. "When is David coming?" he kept asking Heather's mom, Lois. When I got there, I went in and started to work. It was a minor thing - actually a lot of minor things mostly caused by user error. I got everything up and running and streamlined some things to make it easier for them. He sat there watching everything I did. For months and months after that, he would thank me for my help. It was one of the biggest memories he held on to as things slipped away. It seemed fitting that it came over the computer - the place we had forged so much of our relationship.

I have written about Grandpa and Grandpa before. I did that when I did because I wanted them to be able to read it when they were still lucid enough to appreciate it. This post was for me. We spend so much time lavishing worship on people who don't deserve it. We are obsessed with athletes and celebrities. Every meaningless iota from their lives become headlines. If they get their hair cut or forget their undergarments or go on a date, the world just drools at the details. I wish that we spent half as much time looking at people who really make a difference. How many actors really change anything? A few have gotten involved in projects that change lives - people like Paul Newman and George Clooney. But most are self-absorbed egomaniacal babies.

We spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours gushing about Michael Jackson. This was a person who refused to grow up, who was incredibly selfish. He was weird. He was linked numerous times to seedy activities. But people acted like a saint died when he passed away. They talked about the change he brought. But the only song they could even mention that was meaningful in an inspirational way was Man in the Mirror. In the long run, how many lives did he truly change?

I've always been a person who felt we disrespect our teachers, our nurses, our military, our public servants. These are the people who really make a difference in our world. They get no money, they get bad hours, they get ridiculed. Good students are steered away from those careers into "more profitable" and "more important" jobs. But without those people, the ones who invest their lives in others, this world would be a terrible place. H. John Blann was one of those people. He touched countless thousands of lives through his life. The way he poured his life into his family has affected all the people they knew. When I went to the Wesleyan General Conference in 2008, there were tons of people there who remembered him. They lit up when they found I was his grandson (in law). They shared stories about him. He was a giant. His entire life was spent reaching out to others and loving people and glorifying God. And this world has a big hole in it without him here - even if they don't know it.

Because I know it. I know he is in a better place. He is up in Heaven. He doesn't hurt any more. His mind isn't failing. He finally gets to see what he lived for his whole life. Maybe he is going to meet my dad - and my dad can thank him for loving me. I'm glad for all of that. But, man, it hurts down here. Thank you, Grandpa, for loving me - when you didn't have to. Thanks for reaching out to me and changing my life. God, thanks for letting me have him in my life.

Missing the Target

We've been up here in Tallahassee for about two months now. (And I know that many of you hordes of readers are actually north of Florida, so Tallahassee is still "down there" to you. But it's all relative.) Most of the time when we talk to people about what we are doing, we get asked "How's Tallahassee?" Well, unless they are University of Florida fans. Then they ask "MMmff mfmfmmm brrbllglgl?" Then I have to remind them to take their heads out of their rear ends and when they do, they ask something witty like, "What is it like living in hell?" And then they laugh at how awesome they are and run off to convince themselves that Urban Meyer would never play them like he played Bowling Green and Utah. [Boy, I am going to pay for that. But it was worth it.]

Where was I? Oh yeah. How is Tallahassee? It is strange, moving to a new place. I remember that one of the most disturbing things about moving to Jacksonville from Tampa was that there are no 7-11 stores there. I mean, it didn't really affect my life 355 days a year. But on those few days when I wanted a Slurpee, then I had to go find someone who sold the far inferior ICEEs. And they you had to choose from Cherry or Coke - as opposed to the six flavors most 7-11 stores have. There are things like that. I'm sure anyone who has moved can understand.

Things are definitely different. I mentioned in an earlier, far superior post about the new restaurants up here. That is a good change - having new cool places to eat on those rare occasions that we don't dine at Casa Del Staples. It is also neat to have hills - which the flatlands of south and central Florida don't offer. I also like the promise that cooler weather will be coming in just a few months. The thought of having three seasons instead of two is very attractive. (I've heard there is a fourth season, but that seems too magical - like unicorns or fairies or affordable health care.)

Some things I don't like up here? Sure, there are some. I find it strange to have two major football programs in the same city. I don't like the way the roads are laid out. I don't like the near-cult status that Chick-Fil-A has up here - with their drive thru lines so long they hinder traffic. Oh yeah, that reminds me, I don't like the traffic. I know, some of you are wondering how someone who has lived in West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Tampa could dare question the traffic of any place East of California. But the traffic here is different. I am used to Florida traffic. That is where everyone drives about ten miles over the speed limit, the speed limit on most major (non-interstate) roads is 45 mph, no one uses their blinkers or heaters, and you take your life into your hands every time you get in the car. (California traffic is like this, except played double speed.) Stop lights cycle every 30 seconds. You just go faster. Here? Uh, it is sloooooow. The speed limits are usually 35 - even on main roads. The lights take 2-3 minutes to cycle. People still don't know where they are going, but they are slow about it. Yesterday, it took me 30 minutes to get from Heather's class to our apartment after lunch. You know how far that is? 3.5 miles. Nope, you read that correct. That means I averaged 7 miles an hour. Amazing.

Another thing I don't like is the storms. What's that? Yes, I did live in Tampa - the lightning capital of the world. And, yes, I lived in Orlando, hurricane magnet of 2004. Those places it seemed like there was a pattern. Every afternoon it would storm. You just kind of felt it. But the storms here are weird. They just kind of blow in out of nowhere and are violent. Four different times in two months there have been storms that were so ugly that FSU sent out a text message to all their students to take cover. Our second week here a tornado took out the roof of an elementary school about a mile down the road. Two weeks ago a storm hit on the corner right by our apartment. It took the roof off a Toys R Us and threw its air conditioner unit about 500 feet into a KMart parking lot. This, however, was NOT a tornado. It was random 85 mph winds. Random 85 mph winds? What the what? That's crazy. NOT a big fan of that.

But the biggest thing I have had trouble dealing with is the Target/Walmart situation. Every other place I have lived, it was simple. Walmart was terrible. It was dirty. It was cheap and nasty. The people who shopped there scared you frequently. The people who worked there scared you even more, and usually were grossly incompetent. A new store could open and within two days look just like an old one. You would go there if you HAD to, like it was 1am and you wanted to toilet paper someone's house. Target, on the other hand, was cool. It was clean and hip. It had Starbucks. You would run into people you knew almost every time you went. The employees were generally nice - and you might even know some of them. You would go there to kill time. And Super Target was amazing. You could easier kill a couple hours in a Super Target.

Here it is not the same case. First of all, there are like thirty Walmarts around town. I really think there are more of them than gas stations. Don't believe me? Drive around the capital area trying to find a gas station when your fuel light is on. The stores still aren't the cleanest or nicest, but they are a far cry from their counterparts further south. It is one of your regular shopping places. I know there have been times when I'm like, "I need milk, apples, juice boxes, and an iPod charger. Let's go to Walmart." It has become a part of life - and it seems like that is the way it is for everyone up here. To many people, it is their main grocery store. (I still go to Publix for that. I'll never abandon Publix. You will have to take that free cookie out of my cold dead hand.) You don't avoid Walmart, or go there afraid of getting mugged or catching hepatitis. It is just a normal store.

And the Target? Well, it is like Bizarro Target. There are very few of them - no Super Targets. So that stinks right off the bat. The store itself is terrible. There are almost always empty spots on the shelves. The employees are rude and very odd. The worst experiences have come in the food area. Sometimes when I take the kids to Target, we eat there because it is cheap and fast. But, every time we have gone - literally every single time - they have been out of something we ordered. I don't think they have ever had macaroni and cheese. They usually are out of pizza, and the ones they have are either buffalo chicken or have been out since yesterday. At least one ICEE machine is always broken. The employees are rude and so incompetent. One day, they didn't have pizza. So there was a family who were waiting the "7-8 minutes" until they would be ready. Once they got done cooking, the person behind the counter put them out on the sale rack - despite telling three other people they didn't have any coming out. Naturally, they got snapped up in about a minute by new customers. So they had to put more in for the first family. Finally - after I would guess was a wait of 15-20 minutes - they got their pizza. "Sorry for the wait," was the only thing offered by the employees. The mom was simmering with rage. "What's the matter? Did the other get 'accidentally sold' or something?" "No, I don't think so, they just took longer." Wow. At the same time, the girl behind the counter sold a lady in a hurry a hot dog and told her to wait for it to finish - but didn't tell her it would be another TEN MINUTES! How does it take ten minutes to cook a hot dog? I can microwave one in 30 seconds. I think that same day was the day they only had small cups in stock.

It is kind of a shock to see something like this. You just get used to certain things in life. You can always count on things being a certain way. Kohls is always going to initially tag their stuff way too expensive so they can mark it down. Sports Authority is always going stretch the definition of "authority" with their pathetic inventory. Lifeway and Family Christian Stores are always going to overprice their stuff to the point you wonder why you even bother going in there instead of just ordering from Amazon right away. Winn Dixie is always going to make you wonder how it is still in business. And Walmart is always supposed to awful and Target is always supposed to be cool. To see things turned upside down is very disconcerting. It makes you wonder what else will be upside down. Will Burger King remember to put all the items in your bag at the Drive Thru? Will Dominos make pizza on real crust instead of recycled cardboard? Will Pizza Hut stop injecting their pan pizza crust with a cup of oil? Will Bobby Bowden actually participate in team activities? (Nah, some things are just too far fetched.)

**FROM THE EDITOR: This post is strictly for entertainment purposes. The assertions made by the author were for humorous effect. They were wild generalizations. We understand that not all Walmarts are like this. And we know that any of you who work at Walmart are not necessarily carrying Hepatitis. And we also know that just because you work at Target, it does not mean you are nice and/or competent - or Hepatitis free. Thank you all for your understanding.

Jul 2, 2009

RIP Mr. Salt

from A.P. News Services

The Preschool Entertainment industry was shocked and saddened this morning to hear of the unexpected death of Mr. Table Salt - long time cast member of reality series Blue's Clues. While details are still sketchy, sources say that Mr. Salt died when Steve drunkenly knocked him off the counter while visiting from college. Mr. Salt was 24.

Mr. Salt, and his wife Mrs. Pepper, gained fame and fortune as the kitchen helpers for Steve, and later his brother, Joe, on Blue's Clues. They were part of the original casting for the show - a children's knockoff of Britain's popular Big Brother show. The show observed a human, his animated dog, and their adventures with animated friends. Life lessons were learned and much was taught. The show survived many twists and turns. After six years, Steve decided to leave the show and go to college. He was replaced by his brother, Joe. The audience dropped severely with Joe's arrival - largely due to the fact that he was "creepy" and "sporting a bad hairpiece." The show eventually switched formats - focusing on a new talking puppet version of Blue and her new friends. The name changed to Blue's Room and the original cast largely was discarded.

The change was hard for Mr. Salt to accept. His moods had begun to change. Early on, he was helpful and kind-hearted. But as things changed, he began to be more sullen and withdrawn. He and his wife had made their lives open books for the world to see. They celebrated the births of their two daughters, Cinnamon and Paprika, with the world - making the announcements and broadcasting the births on air. Mrs. Pepper's mother, Cayenne, came to live with the family later in the series. Some have speculated on whether this life change added to Mr. Salt's stress. But at the heart of the issue, he felt betrayed by the show's producers and its star - Blue. He also missed the spotlight of celebrity.

Mr. Salt tried to resurrect his career with bit parts in several films, including Ratatouille and this summer's smash, Up. He even went against type and played a shaker full of cocaine in Johnny Depp's film, Blow. But he never could capture the magic again. Rumors swirled that he was undergoing rice injections to keep himself looking youthful. Several paparazzi snapped shots of the telltale grains showing through his shaker. Another source accused Mrs. Pepper of an affair with Mr. Chicken Salt, of the Australian version of Blue's Clues. Though later disproved, the family was humiliated. They decided that the public eye was the wrong place for them to continue living.

After withdrawing from Hollywood, Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper tried to use their wealth to help those around them. In 2006, they took in a college students from Italy, Oregano. And in 2007, they adopted a Mexican orphan, Cumin. After Hurricane Katrina, the family took in several cases of seasoning while their restaurant was being repaired. They even made an appearance in support of Food Network's Great American Bake Sale, to help combat hunger.

Mr. Salt is survived by his wife, Mrs. Pepper; his three children, Paprika, Cinnamon, and Cumin; his mother-in-law, Cayenne; his brothers, Mr. Kosher Salt and Mr. Pretzel Salt; and his mother, Mrs. Lo Salt. A public memorial service will be held at Nickelodeon Studios, at 6:30pm, on Monday, July 6, 2009. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations be made to Share Our Strength, to help fight hunger.

Navigating the Doldrums

I remember from somewhere back in my academic past that I was taught about something called the doldrums. From my handy Apple Dictionary, I discover that the doldrums are defined as "an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds." Ships hate this area. Much of the time, there is little or no wind. In olden days, when they used words like "olden," boats could get stuck in these regions for days. (We see this memorably depicted on screen in Master and Commander - for the eight of you who saw THAT movie.) However, this calm is often punctuated by extremely violent storms. It is believed that the Air France plane that just crashed was brought down by an unexpected wind shear in this area.

Anyway, enough with the meteorology. It seems like much of my new life role is in the doldrums. Calm. Boring. Punctuated by huge fiascos. It is not a complaint, just an observation. I think much of the challenge of our lives - especially those of us staying home with kids all day or working in repetitious jobs we can't stand - is trying to find a way to navigate the doldrums well. It's not so much the crazy storms and wild experiences we need to be become experts in. It is like U2's song "Original of the Species" says, "Some things you shouldn't get too good at - like smiling, crying, and celebrity." There are extremes, but that is why they are called extreme. They are outside the average. The average is where we live.

This past Sunday, when we had the crazy day with the tire blowing out on I-75 in the middle of nowhere, followed by the huge storms and no power at home - that day was exhausting and stressful. But it is like you train your life for days like that. You take precautions and learn skills to make sure that you are not beaten by that anomaly. I learned defensive driving, learned to pay attention to my car, got Roadside Assistance (which offered no assist), bought a phone with internet, learned how to change a tire, bought flashlights. When the storm itself finally hits, you hope that you can handle it -- and more often than not you do. I have found that it is the majority of days that get to be the challenge.

You know, one of the things that I have found over the years is that boredom gets people into more trouble than just about anything else. Why do so many married couples have affairs? They get bored with each other. Why do teens go out and do dumb stuff? Lots of times they are bored. I know that with my kids, it is when they are bored that they get the most sassy - and when they try experimenting jumping off the bunk bed, grabbing the ceiling fan light chain, and trying to do a flip. Boredom is dangerous. Using a biblical example (it is what I'm trained to do, people), King David got into the biggest trouble in his life when he was bored sitting around the palace. He went out on the roof to admire nature and got an eyeful of Bathsheba's beautiful . . . uh . . . hills?

I know those of you who read this on Facebook get a kick out of my Revised To Do Lists. Those are the extreme days. I am not complaining on those days, just sharing a (usually) humorous take on the rare stormy days. Want to see my usual To Do List?
7:30am Wake Up
7:31am Turn on Blue's Clues for Gabe
Check Facebook, Twitter, Woot, etc.
8:30am Get the kids breakfast
Eat breakfast
9:15am Tell the kids to get dressed
9:30am Put on Noggin
Make sure the older kids are ready to keep an eye on Gabe
Get my shower and get dressed
10:30am Check Facebook, Twitter, EW, etc
11:45am Get lunch ready
12:30pm Put Gabe down for a nap
1:00pm Have the older kids clean the living room
1:30pm Let the older kids use the computer
Check Facebook, Twitter, ESPN Page 2, etc
2:30pm Get Gabe when he starts crying
2:32pm Put on Yo Gabba Gabba
Begin rationing afternoon snacks
3:00pm Work on laundry, dishes, whatever
3:30pm Put on Spongebob or iCarly
Check Facebook, Twitter, CNN, etc
4:30pm Begin thinking about making dinner
5:00pm Start the lookout for Heather
6:00pm Eat dinner

Pretty exciting stuff, I know. Sometimes I switch things around. There are days when I have the kids get dressed instead first instead of eat first. Then there are wacky days when I don't have them get dressed until the afternoon. Heck, there are days where I don't eat breakfast at all, or get a shower until the afternoon - just for fun, of course. And sometimes we start looking for Heather at 3:00 - even though we know she won't be home until 5:30. That brings some drama to the day.

I guess the reason I have been thinking about this is that this week has been a doldrums week. This past weekend, we were down with my mom and sister in Tampa, followed by the super fun Tire Storm Day. This next weekend, we will be over at Heather's parents' house for July 4 - which is always a good time. So we have had three and a half days of in-between-time. You don't want to go do a big grocery run (which can kill a good chunk of time) because you won't be here to use it all. It just kind of feels like killing time until the next big thing. I know that can't be the best way to do things. And that is the crux of the struggle.

How can you live the boring average days to the utmost? I will put a lot of thought into dinner, trying to come up with cool stuff. We'll do projects or art stuff. And soon we'll be hitting the YMCA each afternoon. I am not looking for things to do - trying to pack my day. I want to learn how to still be useful and excellent even when the winds die down and you are just . . . there. [Another biblical reference warning] I think this may have been what Jesus was talking about when He said to take up your cross daily to follow Him. It is a daily decision to make your day useful - both for Him and for your family. It is consciously making a choice that each day will be valuable and worthwhile. I think all of us struggle with that. It is funny, we get angry at athletes for admitting they take games off and play half speed. I mean, when the Magic traded for Vince Carter, I was angry because he takes some days off and has admitted it. (Especially after we had dealt with Carter's cousin TMac doing the same dumb thing to us.) But, honestly, don't we all take days off? I know I do. There are days when I don't do much - just kind of sit around. I remember that happening at jobs too, where I would leave and think, "Did I do ANYthing today?"

My new challenge is learning to make every day worthwhile. Maybe that means writing the letters to my students from last year that I keep putting off. Maybe it is designing something for Defender instead of playing Wii. Maybe it is posting a blog post. I want to minimize my days where I sit there at the end and realize that most of the hours involved me waiting for tomorrow. I know that I am investing time in my kids - but I want to make sure that I am actually doing things with them that will better them and me. Even on just the regular days, I want there to be worth. I have learned how to make it through the storms (mostly). Now I need to work on the doldrums.