Saturday, November 29, 2008

Starting Over

Melinda, Jenna, and I went to the farm for the Thanksgiving holidays. Alan, Kat, Madison and the grand-dogs joined us. It was an odd sort of Thanksgiving, really. Instead of the usual turkey and dressing we did Mexican. Not Tex-Mex, but Mex-Mex. Melinda and Kat put together a delicious dinner of Chiles en Nogada and Calabasita, with salsa, guacamole, chips, and tortillas. Kat made a Key Lime pie and a few hours after dinner we put that together with some Costa Rican coffee and enjoyed dessert. We spent a leisurely day. I played with Madison, walked in the field, and watched the latest and dumbest Indiana Jones movie ever.

On Friday we picnicked at the Pecan Park in Floresville and then drove to San Antonio for a quick tour of the Spanish missions. Melinda needed photos for a class project, plus she and I are headed back there in a couple of weeks with a senior adult group from our church. After visiting five missions, we needed a place for dinner. Something unusual. I recalled an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives in which Guy ate at a place in San Antonio where they served really good pies. Pies were high on our (Kat & me) list. A bit of Googling on Alan’s iPhone and we found the name of the spot – De Wese’s Tip-Top Café. Turns out it was only about seven miles away and so we headed over.

It was stepping back in time. We dined on comfort food: chicken & dumplings, gigantic onion rings, roast pork & gravy, grilled tilapia, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, carrots, and baby lima beans. Then we narrowed our pie choices down to two: icebox banana and lemon meringue. The six of us split a piece of each. We saved the chocolate icebox pie for our next visit. It was the second time I’d tried out one of Guy’s spots in the San Antonio area.

Next it was on to the Riverwalk. Kat had connections so we had a riverside table reserved at the Hard Rock Café to watch the lighting of the river and the Christmas boat parade. I have to admit the boat parade left a bit to be desired. A lot, actually. But it was a festive event. Thousands of people lined both sides of the San Antonio River, filling the restaurants and bars.

This morning we returned to Houston and the rush of Exmas. Today is the final day of the Christian calendar. Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, marking the beginning of another cycle of holy days, festivals, and remembering the stories of God and his world. The first Sunday of Advent begins with the theme of hope. I like that. That's a really good place to start.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boiled Frogs

You know the parable of the frog in the kettle. Supposedly, a frog dropped into a kettle of very hot water will make strenuous efforts to escape. However, it is claimed, a frog in a kettle of lukewarm water will permit the water to be raised to a boil without protest. I have not actually attempted this experiment with any frogs, toads, or other of God’s amphibious creatures, so I cannot verify this phenomenon. It is supposed to illustrate the way in which we adapt to incremental change in our environment almost without awareness. Eventually we find ourselves in a radically different place and we do not remember the journey. We simply take it all for granted.

That hit me yesterday. Around 7:15 PM I closed my MacBook Pro. For 45 minutes I’d been sitting with Willie in the parking lot of the Floresville McDonald’s watching a live television feed of the liftoff of the Space Shuttle Endeavour with the crew of STS-126. One of the guys on board is a friend of mine – one of a dozen or so men and women I have come to know who have flown in space. Before driving the couple of miles into town I wanted to be relatively certain the launch was going to happen. So I sent a text message from my Treo to another astronaut whom I knew was in Florida working the launch. In minutes he sent me a text message affirming that everything was looking good. And it was good. A beautiful night launch. I wish I could have been there.

This is where the frog in the kettle thing comes into play. All that I just described is business as usual stuff for me in 2008. Astronauts who have flown in space? Instant text messages across the country? Live television feed of a space shuttle launch being viewed over a wireless connection in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in a town of 5000 people? That morning I had received an email from my son in Afghanistan, half way around the world. And that is a short list. I have previously received both email and cell phone calls from the International Space Station orbiting 150 miles or so above the earth at 17,500 mph.

So now I’m sitting at the farm, writing this blog, which I’ll post at the McDonald’s before heading home this afternoon. I’ve included a photo, which is a screen shot of my computer watching a video replay of the launch. If I check my Sitemeter icon on my blog I’ll see that people from all over the U.S. as well as from Ireland, Uganda, Kuwait, Singapore, Russia, Pakistan, Japan, London, Spain, Canada, Mexico, Germany, and France have viewed my blog. Some did so intentionally. Some found it using Google while looking for something else that caused this page to pop up. I can tell all that from looking at the Sitemeter.

When did all this become normal? When did I stop being amazed? If I’d been dropped into this environment from 1970, I would be walking around slack-jawed every day. But it has all come so gradually.

And what else has changed about me, or good or ill, with such slow, evolutionary, incremental speed that I have remained unaware? When did my hair turn grey and when did my joints become so stiff? The list of those changes is probably long. The water’s been boiling for a while and I haven’t even noticed it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Joy of Walking (Part 2)

Taking a walk is relaxing. Walking around my neighborhood as fast as I can for an hour is not. It is boring. After about a half mile I’m thinking, “How much longer?” So my iPod accompanies me. Sometimes I listen to Nanci Griffith, Billy Joel, or Willie Nelson. Sometimes it is Andrew Peterson, Derek Webb, or Robbie Seay. Sometimes it is a playlist of favorites. Early on I listened to the marching cadence of the Army Rangers, while Taylor was off at Ranger School. I have listened to several audio books (I just finished David McCollough’s 1776 and am now listening to his biography of John Adams.) I listen to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone podcast each week and Dave Ramsey’s podcast when I remember to download it. All that helps with the boredom.

I have treated the walking through my neighborhood as a prayer walk on occasion. Sometimes I have left the iPod at home to walk and think or to burn off anger and frustration.

For now walking is part of my life. I still don’t like it. It is boring and time consuming. Yes, I feel better physically and emotionally. The walking helps. I have lost about fifteen pounds and my endurance is improved. Along with more careful eating, the walking helped me drop 50 points off my cholesterol. I like the clean, fresh feeling that I sense in my lungs about three miles into the routine. But I still don’t like the exercise. So I have to talk myself into staying the course.

Here are a few of my self-talk, motivational thoughts to keep my practice in place:
  • I think of my son in Afghanistan, the rigors of his training and the demands of his days and determine that the discipline of walking four miles is nothing compared to that. And I walk.
  • I think of the farm and my desire to be strong enough and healthy enough to do all I want to do there, and I walk.
  • I think of my granddaughters and my longing to be actively involved in their lives, and I walk.
  • I think of preaching three times each Sunday morning and the endurance I need for that. And I walk.
  • I think of friends I have who for physical reasons cannot walk. I remember my blessings, and I walk.
  • I think of growing old with my wife and wanting to be around as long as possible to enjoy that. And I walk.
Walking, despite my disdain for the necessity of having to do it, has produced a kind of gratitude in me. I’m grateful for health and legs and feet and lungs and eyes and ears. I’m grateful for the safety of my neighborhood where I walk. I am grateful for the sacrifice of soldiers, like Taylor, and am reminded of that as I pass house after house flying American flags. I’m grateful for children and grandchildren. I’m grateful for my wife and the almost 35 years we’ve shared. I’m grateful for the ministry I’m allowed to share.

Excuse me, I need to go walk.

The Joy of Walking (Part 1)

I’ve never met an aerobic exercise I liked. I have tried swimming, jogging, biking, stationary biking, and stair climbing. Despite my disdain for such activities in all their forms, I have never argued that I didn’t need such things. I purchased a book back in the ‘70s written by Dr. Ken Cooper, the father of aerobic exercise, called The New Aerobics. It has step-by-step programs with age-graded charts, incremental goals, and lots of information. My copy is worn, marked, and tired, like me.

Every few years some issue has moved me to pull it off the shelf, select a program, grit my teeth, and start over. Only a couple of times have I sustained my effort to the end of the program, where I would be earning 30 points a week, Cooper's standard for being in sound aerobic health. (I suspect that in the thirty years that have passed since publishing that book, he has probably changed his mind about some things, but I’m not buying another book on a subject I don’t like.)

A year ago my most strenuous exercise was carrying my laptop from my car to my office. Then I began working on the farm. I noticed how quickly I was out of breath. I looked at the photos of my two preschool grand-daughters and thought about how my dad’s emphysema kept him from actively enjoying my boys when they were small and prevented him from ever knowing my daughter. I had worked my way back up over 200 pounds from 185 about 6 years ago. I decided I needed to find my book again and do something about all this.

I started in January. It was not a New Year’s resolution, but a decision. I simply followed Cooper’s charts. It was a little depressing to find that I’m now in the old people charts. I began a walking program that would require sixteen weeks to get from where I was to the desired 30 points a week. But I just took it at that rate.

I didn’t try to rush it – I’ve done that before and all I got for the extra effort was sore muscles and discouragement. I took it slowly. At first it could hardly have been called exercise. But it was discipline. I had to get up, lace up my walking shoes, and get out the door.

Since sometime last May I have been earning my thirty points. That consists of walking four miles, three times a week, in under 57 minutes. I have missed that goal only three weeks (two of those were around Ike).

I know myself, and how easily a developed practice can fall by the wayside. Huge effort is required for me to engage and sustain a discipline and a mere feather can often knock me over. For ten months, I have stayed with it. I estimate I have logged about 400 miles. Check with me in six months. I hope I’ll still be walking.