30 December 2008

3 R's of New Years: Regrets, Rewards, Resolutions


I don’t usually set New Year’s resolutions, but I’m going to give it a try this year. Coming off a good year, I don’t want to see 2009 flip with more regrets than rewards. So I need to actively pursue some things…..and I’m sure, like with 08, God’s hand will be in it all.

I do hereby resolve to:

Resolution #1: Read more. I read a ton of books in 2007 and slacked off by about March last year. Reading does so much to allow you to grow, giving great fertilizer for new ideas, better ways to live, and maybe better a perspective to view the world around you.

Resolution #2: Pray more. Back at the end of 2007 I was terror on my knees. I believe regret #3 at the beginning of 08 rattled my faith and it’s taken a while to get back. I think, even at the cost of some of my time reading the Word, it is time to step up praying for the people in my life. I have a book with about 60 names of people written in it I used to go through religiously and I’ve slacked off. I believe prayer to be the most effective first step to any kind of decision or ministry……..but what follows must be:

Resolution #3: Action. I want to step up my obedience to what God calls me to. We know that He constantly puts opportunities in our paths to serve others, to be His hands and feet. I want to act on these like never before. And this includes being deliberate about developing and enjoying friendships-possibly one of the most valuable things granted to us.

Resolution #4: Spend better time with the kids. Not just, yeah, I’m here kinda time, but really molding them into incredible kids. We are blessed to have a couple of tremendously talented, gifted kids and I don’t want to stifle that or ever feel their dad wasn’t there for them. This will take some real deliberate effort. And probably a lot of patience on my part.

Resolution #5: Abs. Yes, I want killer abs. If I don’t put this in, then I won’t be reminded of it. With workouts becoming more regular and seeing great results, having the OCD personality I do, I'm driving hard core to better develop the 6-pack. It would be nice to have this by the shirts-off summer season….so, buddies out there who read this, be on my butt constantly.

I’m putting all this out there so that I can be held accountable and will be happy to report on the results. And don’t worry, blogging is just a given; many, many more posts to follow regarding the mundane life in Hoosierdom.

Happy New Year!

May God’s blessings be on you all this year and may all your resolutions be fulfilled.

29 December 2008

3 R's of New Years: Regrets, Rewards, Resolutions


2008 marked the end of a relatively long public service career (long for a 40 year old). For the first time since I moved to river city I was no longer on any public board or city council. Reward #1: getting my life back. I no longer had to sit through meeting after meeting where many fellow board members weighed things on politics and not on what was right for people. It was a bigger burden lifted than what I had realized while involved. With this new found freedom I also gave up any presentation of local news, which has only helped lessen my stress level. It also allowed me to speak my mind, which maybe is most relieving.

Reward 2: entering the year a new man. While the workouts may have slacked off somewhat during the course of 2008, at the beginning of the year I was at my height and the results were enough to keep me motivated during the course of the year, even to the point where I ran for a stint. I’m back into a decent regiment of exercise and am near my height a year ago, giving me a great spring board for 2009.

Reward #3: the spiritual retreat. In February I stole away for a few days, locked up in a cabin in the woods in east central Indiana. Between the preparation for the weekend, and the actual time there, I learned a great deal about myself and it became a "clearing" to deal with the upheaval to follow in 08. And it also was the catalyst for a new friendship that emerged, which in itself was rewarding.

Reward #4: the big family vacation out west. This was invaluable for our family, even with the uncertainty of employment looming, as a family we had talked about and planned the trip for months in advance. We had a wonderful time seeing so much of the country and becoming closer as a family that has given us fringe benefits even today.

Reward #5: leaving my job. Without a doubt, the biggest rewards coming out of 2008 followed the decision to leave my job. It may have been 2-3 years overdue. I didn’t realize the constant state of stress (not that the workload was stressful) or angst I felt until it was gone. A remarkable burden taken off my shoulders is what it felt like, and I haven’t quit smiling since.

Reward #6: starting my own business. Obviously tied to leaving my job, starting my own business specializing in residential design and working with communities and organizations to develop their historic preservation goals has been an incredible breath of fresh air. While I understand the uncertainty that goes along with this leap of faith, God has blessed beyond expectation. I actually “work” less, enjoy it more, have wonderful relationships with clients who have an appreciation for the skill or set of principles (counter culture to river city), it allows me time to pursue other opportunities, utilizes my business degree and background, gives me more time with my wife and kids, and lets me go to work in my pajama bottoms. Life is Good.

Reward #7: working with our youth group and developing a 20’s class at church. I never had the desire to work with youth until I married my wife and by default assisted for 5 years. The opportunity was presented again this summer and I agreed. I think it keeps me younger. I’ve had both good and frustrating times, but I’m focusing on small steps made in kids’ lives and the mentor relationships developing. The same is true for the 20’s class. It’s been great seeing young people who had disengaged themselves from the church reconnect and find value in meeting together…..and I’ve made some great friends out of it.

Reward #8: becoming reacquainted with old friends. On Facebook either I have found, or have been found, by long lost college friends and roomies-one in Norway. This has been a great tool to reconnect and has even resulted in one of my buddies coming down from Michigan with his family in a few days….we hadn’t talked in 15 years! I also found myself cleaning out some files that led me to old email addresses I figured were no longer viable. Not so, as the three messages I sent off were all responded to. One old friend, living in San Fran, responded immediately and we hadn’t talked in 10 years. Married, expecting a baby……how cool. And will be back in the area for his 20 year at Culver Military, with plans to get together.

There are probably more that I’m forgetting, but you get the point. 08, for all its crazy turns, will go down as a great year, full of optimism for the future.

28 December 2008

3 R's of New Years: Regrets, Rewards, Resolutions


You shouldn’t live your life with regrets, nor should you dwell on things that are the woulda’ shoulda’ coulda’s. But I find rehashing some regrets is the best way to manage future decisions by learning from our mistakes. 2008: it was a year certainly filled with more rewards than regrets; however, there were a few.

For probably the first time in our marriage, my wife and I sat down in January and created a financial flow chart with cash allocations to certain activities and projects we wanted to complete for the year. Regret #1: along with this, since neither of us has a 401(k) or IRA’s or college funds for the kids….we planted a stack of cash into Roths for each of us, planning on their eventual use for college. As values plummeted, realizing we had lost nearly a third of the actual value we put in, I think back now and realize paying off the home equity would have been more prudent than following more widely accepted practice of putting money away. I had developed an issue with stocks about eight years ago. I’m not making an ethics call on anyone else, believe me, but something in my gut never was settled on putting my money into building someone else’s company….regardless of “ethically based companies” I told the girl who set up our IRA’s, you’d be surprised at what I find unethical: ie, Sprawlmart.

Regret #2: a visit to the chiropractor. After slacking off with my workouts, mostly due to bouts of the flu, I had finally gotten myself back to regular lifting when I figured I could switch back from my 20 to 30 lb dumbbells. The first session or two went fine. Then as I was doing a military press, I felt something pull in my neck that within 2 hours had restricted head movement. I’ve had this happen before and it would go away within a day or two. This time it didn’t, so I went to a recommended chiropractor. The sessions were fine and resulted in healing….but added up to more than I bargained for even with insurance. And here’s the kicker: when getting our own insurance policy in August, I was rejected because of chiropractic care. Finally, when accepted, I’m considered high-risk because of it, regardless of being in the best shape of my life. I'm trying to decide what ultimately is the bigger pain in the neck.

Regret #3: volunteering to help a non-profit with a construction project. At the close of 2007 I offered design services for a small remodel job. Working through this at the onset of 2008 I would have never guessed that in the end my wife and I would be villainized, leadership of the organization would have lost all credibility with me and good friendships marred. While there’s forgiveness, today I am probably even more of a cynic.

Regret #4: not seeing the Medicine Wheel. While at the top of the Bighorn Mountains in eastern Wyoming and experiencing what we thought was car trouble, we passed on visiting an ancient native American creation called the Medicine Wheel another 1 ½ miles to the summit. I had always wanted to see this as a kid and had planned it into our Westward Ho trip, but alas, passed the opportunity when I was uncertain of our car’s health.

I’ve learned from all these………as we should. While I mention them from time to time with friends, I don’t dwell on them. Like I said, 2008 was filled more with rewards than regrets.

27 December 2008


I think the older I get, the easier I am to please with gifts. My mom and my wife probably don’t think so…..but I believe I’m probably most easy to buy for these days.

I mean, really, these were the highlights of my Christmas gifts this year:

Long Underwear. My mom called one morning and asked for gift ideas; I said, mom, really, don’t get me anything. I don’t need and I don’t want anything. As soon as I hung up the phone it came to me. Long underwear-I would love to have another pair of long underwear-so I called her back. Bingo-Christmas morning at my folks a pair of long undies to keep me warm. And closely associated with them...

Waffle shirts: I love these things. I practically live in them now and have figured out how to get about three wearings out of each one before it goes to the laundry. Thankfully, probably for all involved, I've added four more to my collection this Christmas so there will be greater rotation between shirts & wearings I'm sure.

Bird Count Book. Our family (at least dad and the kids) are birders. The kids made a special gift for dad this year….a family bird count book, complete with pictures downloaded inside of all the birds we’ve seen in 2008 and lines under to record new sightings in 09. I love it and the kids were so proud.

A Christmas Story ornament. Note previous post: I love the movie a Christmas Story with Ralphy. Mom got me an ornament with the four-eyed little guy in stocking cap and his buddies pictured in a vintage tv frame.

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. My brother got me this book by Batterson which I have been dying to read. I have one chapter down and already am thinking about how to apply it to some ministry opportunities.

And one special gift from an anonymous source in our church: 30 $5 gift certificates to our downtown coffee shop with a note of appreciation attached. You see, I frequent this place when I get together with one of the youth or 20 somethings I work with at our church. Add to this my in-laws' gift certificates from both Starbucks and DQ and that adds up to a whole lot of opportunities to get together with these kids. How cool & what a blessing!

Then there are the intangible gifts. A white Christmas. Videos from nearly 20 years ago-seeing my gramps and grandmother laughing at their last Christmas. Smiles on my kids’ faces and looks of astonishment over the cookie mess. Watching Scrooge late Christmas night with my wife. Just being with family. Listening to my son read Luke 2 for our family Christmas. Knowing Christ.

26 December 2008

perpetuating the jolly old elf

Christmas morning. I'm up at 6:00 a.m. for a quiet cup of coffee and listen to a few carols before the scamper and clatter of kids begins. 6:30 a.m., I hear the first rumblings. The boy is up. I have but minutes now to my quiet morning.

Christmas Eve, about 11:15 p.m. with head on my pillow, I hear a ka-thud on the roof. Things are quiet for a few minutes until my wife says.....oops, the kids forgot to leave milk and cookies for Santa.

Uh oh.
So, when the kids came down Christmas morning, what do you suppose they found? That's right, Jolly ol' St. Nick and his helper elves went on a cookie binge after riffling through our kitchen for cookies.......and had made quite a mess on the dining room table. Every bag, box and container of Christmas cookies we had were spread all over the table........cookies out and crumbs everywhere.

This isn't the first time we had a mess left by the bearded fat guy. A few years ago it seemed that Santa landed on our porch roof, just outside our bedroom window. And there, along with reindeer tracks in the snow was a little reindeer pooh left behind by Rudolph. I told the kids if we ever woke up to that again, Santa wasn't welcome at our house anymore.

It seems next year we'll need to leave a note to remind the old guy to clean up after himself.

24 December 2008

23 December 2008

Peace on Earth

We were watching the Christmas classic last night, White Christmas, and the opening scenes have Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas while "December 1944" flashes at the bottom of the screen. Location: front lines of the war. I don't know that I had noticed the date before, but it reminded me of a tragic story from our family's past, Christmas Eve, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest of the battles that U.S. forces experienced in World War II; the 19,000 American dead were unsurpassed by those of any other engagement. It began the 16th of December, 1944 and lasted through nearly the end of January. My great uncle was one of the casualties. In a letter written by a fellow soldier to my great grandmother describing what happened that Christmas Eve, the family learned that Harold crawled into another fox hole to join men singing Christmas carols. And it was that fox hole that was hit by enemy shelling.

One song haunts me at Christmas, from the first time I actually "heard" the words. They were penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during our bloody Civil War in 1864. The words were set to music in 1872 by John Calkin. We know it as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll'd along th' unbroken song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair, I bow'd my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of Peace on earth, good will to men."

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace on earth, good will to men."

Because stanzas 4 and 5 mention battle times, they are often omitted from hymnals. But why? Should we not understand that it is mankind's hatred that brings terror & death? The song isn't pretty or cozy, which is probably why we don't hear it often at Christmas. The last stanza is reassuring, but no doubt brings little comfort to those who have lost loved ones. And are we not God's hands and feet of peace on this earth while He tarries? It is within our power to bring some "peace on earth" if even just in our corner of this world.

My grandfather, who knew war, had this saying crafted and placed high on his barn....and there it remained-even as his son went away to war. I felt this too important to lose when the family farm sold, so it has a place in our home now. And when I see it, I am reminded that peace is within our power and pray that my children never know war.

Pray that men's hearts are changed to know the peace of our Lord Jesus this Christmas and into the New Year.

22 December 2008

real men hug trees

Having been known as river city's chief tree hugger has pushed me to the far left side of right. But now I can say I told you so to back up my claims that protecting and planting trees ain't just good for us tree huggers, but good for men's health too.

Having been an avid reader of Men's Health magazine for years I switched a short time ago to reading everything online at http://www.menshealth.com/ . But, I picked up the latest issue the other week on an errand to get onions and bread and have been working my way through it when I found the article entitled "Spruce up your immune system". Evidently Japanese researchers have found that a simple hike in the woods can boost your immunity because all trees release airborne chemicals called phytoncides that not only protect their foliage from microbes, but also help to stimulate our own immune systems.

this is the only known pic of me actually hugging a tree, although with another election, I'm sure more will surface

Hmmm. So, let me get this straight, the fewer trees we have on the planet with an increasing population may just cause widespread pandemics due to a loss of immunity. Yah know, God made things the way He did for a reason.....maybe we should be more concerned about protecting His creation than worrying about the spread of capitalism that generally runs counter-productive to the environment. Not that it has to; it just normally does. Particularly around the Midwest. All the more reason to plant trees fellow river citites, and protect our forests, Hoosiers.

20 December 2008

the creeper

Anyone growing up with Scooby Doo knows who "the Creeper" is, right? Well, the creeper makes an appearance at our house once a year, always in the first week or two of January. He was a no show though last year, and I was sorely disappointed we didn't get our annual visit by the creeper.

But, he came early this year and has stuck around for a week now.

But our creeper isn't a hunched over scary looking dude. It's the Brown Creeper, a reclusive little inconspicuous bird in the nuthatch family. And he scurries around the trunk of the tree upward, in circles. This little guy showed up just in time for the Christmas Bird Count, which Birdman backed out of! although I think we're heading for a reschedule.....just because of a little ice!

We also have had a bluebird that's been hanging around for a few days. Check back in a week for the complete birding list. Beware....the creeper!

ice ice baby

(I used to be able to do that dance)
Yeah, this is what makes living in Northern Indiana so grand, plenty of ice and power outages....stay safe this weekend. Temps are dropping to single digits tomorrow with down to 20 below wind chill. Brrrrrr.

16 December 2008

Hammond's (a) Christmas Story

There are Christmas shows that make you feel good down to the soles of your shoes, heart-warming, feel-good kinda shows that exude the spirit of Christmas. And there are shows that make you feel just as good through laughter. One show that is a tradition with our family is Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story". Recently my work has taken me to the great city of Hammond, where Shepherd based his holiday comedy. While he doesn't call his home Hammond, he creates the fictional name of Hulman (which has Hoosier roots of its own, but sounds suspiciously like Hohman-which is a major street named for some of the city founders). I also came to realize that THE main department store in downtown Hammond was Minas'. Could Shepherd have been thinking of Minas' as the location Ralphy was pushed down the giant slide by St. Nick's big foot? Possibly. I've included pictures of Minas Department Store in its heyday and a picture just before it was demolished recently. The owner of Minas' was Edward Minas, whose stately residence is at home in the Forest Avenue historic district of Ivanhoe.

But the movie is spectacular....it had me laughing just as hard Saturday when I watched it for the 20th time, as the first. And it's a great picture of Indiana in the late 40's. By the way-I want a leg lamp for Christmas this year. And I can sympathize with Ralphy-the bully, Scotty Farkas has a striking resemblance to my own childhood bully-Bobby Kowatch. Time for honesty here.....have you ever stuck your tongue to a flagpole? If not, I double-dog dare you!

14 December 2008

the perfect tree?

Do you yearn for a Christmas with less commercial pizazz? Do you long for the Christmas of yesteryear, something simpler? As I was shelling out some big bucks for our perfect Christmas tree, something in my gut was reaching up and saying.....this isn't right. Now, I will be the first to admit I love Christmas.......the trees, the tunes, the lights. In fact, when we bought our house 10 years ago and realized I could put an 11' tree in the front room, I've been pestering my wife every Christmas since to move the tree to the front room where I have more height to fill.

While the evils of a commercialized Christmas are well understood (and sadly, accepted), I am really quite amazed at the evolution of the Christmas tree. How did we get to the point of needing the "perfect tree"? How is it we describe trees a little sparse in the bough department "Charlie Brown trees"? Did that show create a shift to the perfect tree? Remember the glorious 15' tree that Chevy Chase literally pulled out of the woods?

As I flipped through some old family photos from the early 1950's, then through some early Christmases I can remember, I realized there has been a tremendous evolution of the Christmas tree. I'm wondering if next year we settle on a small 5' scotch pine. Although I have no idea where we'd put the ornaments.....maybe on the 11'r?

12 December 2008

foggy memory

I had the awesome pleasure of making a pilgrimage back to my Alma mater yesterday, Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, MI. I took my camera with me to record the event, but got so caught up in reminiscing that when I got in my car to come home, dusk had settled in and these are the resulting pictures.
I scheduled lunch with a fellow classmate & architecture alum, Will, and we dined at the downtown diner I ate most of my meals at....the Daybreak. When we walked in, we were the only patrons. Many of the menu items were the same-but I no longer saw my breakfast staple-grits. We hung out there for nearly 2 hours-during which time a table of old guys came in and I said to Will-I think those are the same group of guys who used to come in, only 15 years older. We also struggled a little with where to sit since the new table arrangement relocated our big corner table to the center of the room....I asked the waitress if I could move it back.

Catching up with Will was great. I've since dropped the "y" from the end of his name and I'm sure he appreciates it.

Then I headed over to the architecture building where I had scheduled coffee with two other alums, now teaching in the department....Troy and Andrew. It was so great walking through the halls and studios and hearing the students refer to these guys who are younger than me, as Professor. We were headed back to the Daybreak for coffee, but it had closed, so we went across the street to a loosely termed "pub" which used to be Arno's, but now is TJ's??? Still, great to catch up.

We came back to the archi dept. and I wanted to see if one of my professors was still there-Lew. He was, and we had a great time catching up. I had to make a pilgrimage past the slum I lived in during those college days, along with Berrien Springs' most recognizable landmark, the old courthouse. I've not posted much about college days, but my time at Andrews truly began to change my perspective on things. The corner table at the Daybreak was as much a classroom as any space on campus. Man, although the memories tended to be a little foggy, it felt good to be back.

10 December 2008

from wetlands to farmlands

A hundred years ago, even earlier in some parts of Indiana, dredging operations were taking off ensuring swampland would be rid from the landscape, leaving only productive farmland in its place. Large dredges were assembled and plopped down on what may have been a shallow stream or creek, or maybe in an area where water stood for long portions of the year. Then they would commence dredging-digging a path or widening, straightening and deepening the stream to allow the land around it to fully drain.

In our county probably the most significant dredging operation was in the northwest corner, an area once rich in huckleberries and referred to as the huckleberry marsh. Pine Creek fed the marsh, which extended all the way to the Kankakee River some twenty miles away. Once Pine Creek was dredged this area opened up for farming. The Kankakee River was probably the largest dredging operation in the state.......taking a once pristine, meandering river and turning it into straight lines and relatively sharp angles. This changed the face of northwest Indiana forever.....completely drying up one of the largest wetland areas in the midwest. There was no longer a Kankakee marsh.

There evidently was decent pay in working on the dredge. My ancestors who lived in Fulton County, headed to Minnesota to dredge that state's immense wetlands. They sent back these photos to their wives and children back home. These photos were used to create the dredging display at the Northern Indiana Center for History.

Strange how we recognize the farming practices of 100 years ago aren't best for a healthy environment today and while there has been a great deal of wetlands saved through current conservation measures, at least in Indiana I don't believe we have any idea or appreciation of the value these provide.......and we certainly will never get back what we have lost.