Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's All a Matter of Taste

I love food.  I love the way it looks like a work of art on a plate when carefully crafted.  I greatly enjoy getting my hands into the raw ingredients and following a recipe to the letter to discover what I can make.  If this description was made about most people, they might be considered a "Foodie."  That term is never applied to me though.  I get a different appellation:  picky eater.

I don't really remember where it all began, but I have struggled with food for the majority of my life.  According to family stories, I ate chicken and cheese sandwiches exclusively as a young child, much to my mother's horror.  Doing the best she could as a mother, she began to force me to eat various food items in order to insure I was getting the nutrition I needed.  I clearly recall sitting at the table with a serving of black-eyed peas on my plate that I was told I had to consume.  I tried mixing the peas in creamed potatoes, mashing them into a paste, and quickly following them with a chaser of Coca-Cola.  The result was always the same -- I gagged.  To this day, the sight (and smell) of black-eyed peas makes me seriously ill.

My mother eventually felt sorry for me I suppose and the meal time trauma came to an end.  I took vitamin supplements and we simply hoped that I would grow into a healthy adult.  As an adult, I am aware of how important good nutrition is and have tried to bring various foods into my life.  I have spent hours (literally hours!) sitting in a Wendy's restaurant trying to force myself to eat a hamburger with lettuce and tomato on it.  I got a quarter of it down when I had to admit with tearful eyes that if I made myself eat another bite, I would find myself in a very embarrassing situation that would be quite unappetizing for the restaurant's other patrons.  Meekly, I removed the offending vegetables and tried to finish the sandwich.  The burger was thrown away;  I was so completely disappointed in myself.

What's the problem?  That's a question that I truly wish I could answer.  I despise the looks that I receive when I constantly make alterations to menu orders like a child.  I rarely accept dinner invitations to friends' homes because I fear offending them by not eating what they are serving.  My greater horror is that I will attempt to eat the food served and become ill as a result of my food problem.  That is an insult from which even the most understanding friends may not recover.

If I have to explain my relationship with food, I have to start with texture.  I don't like anything that is mushy in my mouth.  If there is fluid in the food, I immediately go back to the peas from my childhood and gag.  This creates a problem for crisp vegetables as well.  Despite their crunchy beginnings, as they are chewed, the liquids released from them create a sensation that is simply more than I can bear.  It sounds silly to most people....and I have to admit I understand their perspective....but I also know what it is like to live this insanity.

Is it an eating disorder?  Not in a traditional sense certainly, but I do think there are some deep seeded issues at work.  I have contemplated seeking therapy but that even seems foolish.  Why can an adult man not get a grip on his eating habits?  I think I'm even more fearful that therapy would not be able to correct my problems.

As you can imagine, I go ballistic when I witness a parent forcing a child to eat something that they appear to physically detest.  Please understand that I'm not talking about parents who require a "no, thank you" taste.  These are the parents who force children to eat a specific food through their helpless tears in an effort to prove who is in charge.  (We all know the difference between a child throwing a tantrum and a traumatized child.)  Hopefully not every child who suffers through those situations will end up with the unhealthy food relationship that I have, but I shudder at the thought that they might because I know the difficulty it is and the toll it takes on the individual's self esteem.

i'm still not at peace with my eating habits, but I am hoping that things will improve as I gradually try to introduce new flavors to my palate by including vegetables in sauces and meat dishes in my own cooking.  My prayer is that as I become more comfortable handling the ingredients that my mental status will allow me to consume the items.  I'm not ready to run out and grab a salad with you, but I'm hoping that I can sit at a table while you enjoy one and not have to keep moving away to avoid the smell.  One step at a time......

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Would It Take to Get Me to Move?

Moving Boxes

Some one posed this question to me earlier this week and I have to admit I was rather taken aback.  I thought it was painfully obvious that I am actively trying to move, but having no luck on the job front.  Jobs that I have landed have not paid enough to facilitate the move or have only been a one year position.  The positions that look promising end up being the ones that I just barely missed landing.......that's happened twice already this summer!

What will it take for me to move?  A solid position that allows me to live without tremendous financial difficulty.  A job that is not TOTALLY in the middle of no where (less than 5 hours to a major airport, please).  A sense that the position being offered will be beneficial to my personal career goals.  I don't think I'm asking for too much;  I've just decided that I'm not willing to leap just because other people are worried about the fact that I don't have a full time position.  Even though it is stressful, I am surviving on 4 part time jobs at the moment.  When the economy bounces back (and God's timing is perfect), I am confident that I will finally land the job that allows me to move into a new chapter of my life.  Until that time comes around, I'll just continue to dream, hope, and pray for my escape from my personal Egypt.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer is Ending....


End of summer

July is quickly leaving.  I dread ripping the page off my calendar because that means the joy of summer vacation is quickly coming to an end.  Kids will be returning to school late next week and I get going on a new semester of piano lessons the following week.  That means I only have a few weeks left before I'm back in class for another semester.

The summer has been busy but a lot of fun.  I taught a summer school class, directed music camp for two weeks, and taught a 13-week inter-generational Bible study on the books of Joshua and Judges.  All in all, I think the summer has been a huge success.

Summer didn't see as many vacations as I would have hoped.  I got away for a couple of days in the middle of the month and spent a week in the Houston area with my family rehearsing for a performance at the end of that trip.  It seemed as though I was out of pocket quite a bit this summer, but very little of the traveling would be considered relaxation.

I must admit that I am looking forward to getting back to work now that I have office space at home and a room that reflects my style and preferences.  It's definitely not complete yet (still have to move out some of the things that were piling up in here), but it's fun to begin moving in that direction.

Now that I'm down to a few weeks left to my summer vacation, what do I plan to do?  I have a lot of prep work to take care of so the fall semester is not absolutely crazy.  I also intend to spend a lot of time reading for the next 2 weeks; by the end of August, most of my down time to devote to reading will be over.  Besides that, I intend to spend my days in front of the computer, at the movies, and sleeping in as long as I can.....after all, it comes to an end in just a few short weeks.  Believe it or not, it's been a good summer, but I'm ready to get back to the normal routine that comes with the fall semester.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

200 More....


Yesterday I was posed with the question of what thing I could use 200 more of.  (I’m thinking that July 26 is the 200th day of the year, but I’m not completely sure about that, so don’t quote me!)  It was pointed out that many things we think we want more of may not actually benefit our quality of life.  For instance, would you really want to live 200 additional years?  You would still have to deal with all the issues associated with getting older and I’m having enough problems as I push 40.  An extra 200 cars or even 200 close friends bring troubles of different kinds.

I must admit that I was stumped at first, but finally came up with an answer that I can live with.  I wish I could have 200 extra square feet in my room.  Since I’m living with my parents, real estate is a hot commodity for me right now.  I am in the process of getting things cleared out of my bedroom that has been there for years.  Last weekend finally saw my Dad’s HUGE desk taken out and many of the walls cleared for me.  That allowed me to move in a desk (much smaller) and a great new desktop computer I have been coveting for quite a while now.  I’m amazed at how much more work I can get done in a given afternoon now that I can really see what I’m supposed to be writing on the screen.  (Be nice y’all…..there is no need to comment on declining eyesight’s association with old age.  I already know all about it!)

The extra square footage would definitely require more cleaning and I would fill it up in no time flat, but I still wouldn’t mind having it.  That way I could write a blog about what I wish I could have 400 more of! 

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Most Important Books in My Life


Recently I was asked to come up with the 5 most important books I’ve ever read.  For someone who enjoys reading as much as I do, this proved to be a challenging task.   Books have always intrigued me and opened my mind and imagination to new worlds and important thoughts.  It would be easy for me to say that the most important book I’ve ever read is the one that I just finished.  Many would expect me to say the Bible, but I have eliminated that as an option since it is so much more than just a text to me.

So, now that I have stalled as long as I can, here are the 5 most important books I have read….or at least this is the list today!

1.     Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.  What child has not enjoyed this classic tale of Wilbur, Charlotte, Templeton, and the other barnyard animals?  I think this work is so special to me because it was the first book I truly remember reading independently.  Additionally, it introduced me to the idea of sacrifice for the sake of a friend.  Just thinking about the story and the beauty expressed in the closing scene gives me a lump in my throat even now!

2.     Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.  I was introduced to this text as a high school senior at a going away party.  I had been accepted to Pepperdine University – an outstanding school to say the least – but I had my share of doubts about how successful I would be there.  After all, I was just a kid from Arkansas who had not accomplished very much outside of my small community.  A loving friend sat me down and read the book to me, assuring me that I would experience success as long as I applied myself, despite the negative comments that surrounded me at the time.

3.     No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado.  Mr. Harold Redd, my high school Bible teacher at West Memphis Christian School, gave each graduating senior a copy of this wonderful book.  It was the first book I really read that explored concepts of faith and salvation that wasn’t required reading for a course at school or the church.  As I read, I realized that my faith could become my own and that I could freely question all that I believed in order to find answers to all of my questions.  I understood that it was okay to question matters of faith because God was not afraid of our questions.  No Wonder They Call Him the Savior was the first of many Lucado texts I would read over the years.  Max Lucado’s writing has quite possibly had a greater impact upon my personal spiritual walk than any other modern writer.

4.     To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  As I prepared to leave home for the first time and attend Pepperdine, all new students received a letter stating that this novel was required reading for the summer.  I wasn’t certain if it would be a course requirement or would simply be used in orientation, but I took the assignment very seriously.  As I read this classic novel, I quickly identified with Scout and Jem’s southern experience.  Few works have spoken more eloquently about the injustice of prejudice and the reality that prejudice comes in many forms – not just racism.  This book holds the highest place on my list of favorites!  I have returned to this story many times since that first reading in 1990; each time I discover something new from Atticus and the children.

5.     The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  I don’t know that I can fully explain the impact this novel has had on my life.  It is so much more than a story of a boy and a slave escaping the persecution of the South.  It is a story about the search for self-identity and significance.  Many times in my life, I have felt as though I was Huck Finn, fighting against suppositions made because of my family, church, and societal background.  As I matured, I knew that I was so much more than just the sum of these aspects that I could not alter; I was coming to terms with the fact that I am a talented, intelligent, loyal and devoted man who strives to show justice to all people in all situations.  Huck Finn convinced me that it was possible to make a difference in spite of society’s assumptions about my limited abilities.  I will forever be thankful for the lessons learned aboard the raft floating down the Mississippi with Huck and Tom.

There you have it…my list of the most important books I’ve read.  The exciting thing for me is that the list constantly changes as I encounter new books.  Reading is a personal adventure to me that I never want to bring to an end.  I think it’s time for me to find a cozy chair now and curl up with another good book.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Summer Escape

Last Wednesday saw the ending of two major commitments in my life.  Late Wednesday morning, I turned in grades for my summer class and then headed straight to the church where I taught the final installment of the intergenerational Bible study I have led for the past twelve weeks.  Since the bulk of the responsibility had been lifted from my shoulders for a while, I decided to take a few days and get away for rest, relaxation, and repair.  When I climbed in the car on Thursday morning, I wasn’t certain where I would head; finally I decided to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas.  After driving for a few hours and sitting in some long traffic tie ups, I finally arrived in Hot Springs and immediately thought “What was I thinking?”  The place looked run down and completely uninteresting.  I had heard much about the historic downtown area, so I decided to venture on before bolting for another destination.  As I rolled into the historic district, my mood and attitude shifted and I spent two days checking out the sights, sounds, and tastes of Hot Springs.

The weather was extremely hot and humid as I rolled into town and there was no hope for relief.  That meant that my normal mode of exploring the city and its activities on foot was out of the question.  These excursions are what tend to suck up the majority of my travel budget; since I knew I would spend a large amount of time at my hotel, I decided to splurge for a room at the Arlington Hotel and Spa.  The Arlington was conveniently located at the edge of the historic district and was a beautiful building from a time gone by.  I especially enjoyed the relaxing mineral bath available in my suite; not only were the warm waters from the mountain springs refreshing, the 6-foot tub was a welcome addition. 

Despite the heat, I couldn’t just sit in my room on Thursday afternoon, so I opted to take a leisurely (and sweaty) stroll along the historic avenue.  Known for its numerous antique shops, I found them to contain more trash than treasure.  What I did enjoy the most, however, were the numerous art shops featuring the works of local artists.  One piece in particular caught my eye – an exquisite blue tile butterfly with copper wire detail.  I nearly walked out of the shop with the piece because the price was right and I like to pick up some sort of decoration to remember my trip.  That’s a neat type of “scrapbooking” that was suggested by a friend while visiting Hawaii last spring.  I talked myself out of the butterfly since many of my pieces are piled in corners because I don’t have a place to display my treasures in my parents’ house.  (As luck would have it, I discovered that my folks had spent the weekend FINALLY clearing my Dad’s stuff out of my bedroom and freed up the walls.  Now I have a place to put all of my decorations – which sadly does not include the blue butterfly!  Oh well….no time for regrets…..)

On Friday morning, I decided to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art since I had been so impressed by the art shops the previous afternoon.  I should have known I was in trouble when I walked in and the curator explained that “contemporary” referred to living artists rather than any type of artistic movement.  Despite my instincts, I decided that the $5 admission fee combined with the excessive heat were reason enough to at least give it a try.  What I discovered there was sorely disappointing.  With the exception of two pieces – a sculpture and a photograph – everything was either kitschy or a bad recreation of a famous work.  As a performing artist, it was frustrating to realize that Hot Springs is a tourist destination and that the MOCA would be a representation of the Arkansas art scene for people from around the nation.

After viewing the “art” in the MOCA, I decided to take a short hike through the National Park area back to the hotel so I could observe some of God’s natural art.  The hike was challenging without being overly strenuous.  I think I would have really enjoyed walking the paths through the wooded areas if the heat had not been so oppressive.  If I ever venture back to Hot Springs, I will definitely make it a point to make time to explore these in greater detail in the morning.

No vacation would be complete for me without exploring some of the food the city offers.  On my window-shopping trip on Thursday afternoon, I noticed several interesting restaurants along the street and decided to check one out on Thursday evening:  Belle Arti.  I was disappointed.  The staff was more interested in their group conversation than serving the handful of patrons present and the food was mediocre.  While this was a let-down, I did find some really good food in the city from some unexpected places.  Those who know me best know that I have an insatiable sweet tooth, so it comes as no surprise that I would find The Fudge Factory!  Upon walking in, I knew that this store could be trouble for me personally – over 30 different varieties of fudge in addition to other treats.  I showed some restraint and decided to have a piece of marble fudge; it combined vanilla, chocolate and peanut butter fudge into a single, Heavenly experience.  The serving was ample and reasonably priced.  I was tempted to return before leaving to sample another fudge and bring home some of the sugar-free treats for Dad, but decided against it in the end.

The Pancake Shop sits across the street from the Arlington and serves nothing but breakfast every morning until 11:30am.  As I prepared to leave the hotel, I asked several members of the staff for recommendations and everyone told me I needed to visit this place.  There was nothing extravagant about the d├ęcor and the menu was simple; the food, however, was quite good and explained why The Pancake Shop had been named best breakfast in Hot Springs for several years.  I ordered the small ham and eggs.  I was treated to an ENORMOUS slice of bone-in ham that covered my plate.  Eggs were carefully balanced on the side of the plate and served as a respectful accompaniment to the featured ham.  Served with toast, I was surprised to find that the real star of the meal was the apple-grape jelly and apple butter that was brought out.  AMAZING!!!

While my trip to Hot Springs was not one of my favorites, it was a great time of rest for me.  I had the good fortune to sit quietly in my room and read a biography of Gustav Mahler while I watched people from my 7th floor window.  When it all comes down to it, I suppose that is the true merit of a successful vacation:  getting away from it all to do the things that bring you personal pleasure, relaxation, and enjoyment. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Puzzles

Earlier this week I told you about some of the wooden puzzles that the girls and I had completed.  I failed to get pictures of the ones they had completed, but have gotten so many questions about them that I wanted to post some information here. 

I found the puzzles at Michael's Craft store.  They are made by Creatology and come packaged like this:


I had some free time on Thursday and decided I wanted to do one.....turned out like this:


Great craft for older elementary kids and adults.  I have several more that I plan to complete in the coming months.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Question of Priorities

Tonight, I am posting much later than I had intended.  The to-do list has not seen much marked off.  I just got around to replying to a couple of essential emails;  the others will wait until tomorrow.  I have had a full day, but not one that an outsider would consider incredibly productive. When it comes right down to it, it is simply a matter of priorities.

This week, my nieces are here to visit their grandparents.  While I had planned to get a lot of work done for my piano studio's advertising campaign, I realized that family time was much more important.  Rather than working on flyers, my fingers are stained with dye as we made tie-dye shirts.  (I'll post pictures of the finished products later this week.)  No time to build that new web page;  we built a really neat horse and English telephone booth.  Didn't finalize the outline for tomorrow evening's service.  I had my arms covered in fudge brownies.

Sometimes we simply have to take a step back from the grind and focus our attention on what is most important.  It's not surprising to many of us when we learn that someone is making time for their family.  We'll drop anything to be with them.  Sadly, it seems rarer that we drop things in order to make time for our spiritual growth.  Sure, we go to church each week and sing in the choir.......but are we really making our spiritual walk a priority?  Are we willing to invest significant time into our relationship with God and allow some other "things" to take a back seat for a while?

If I didn't take some time out of my busy schedule today to spend with the girls, I would have sent them a clear message:  "I don't value you as much as these other things."  I am a realist and know that we can't always make time for our family to the exclusion of other responsibilities.  The girls understand that sometimes there are things I simply have to do.  If I consistently push them aside, though, the results will be damaging to our relationship.  Do we expect anything less in our relationship with Christ?  Am I really making Him a priority if the only time I carve out for Him is a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday?  I think Jesus summed up this principle best when He said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Surprises

Into every life there must come a few surprises.  When we least expect them, we are shocked by their appearance.  Some are welcome interruptions; others are best described as annoyances.  It seems I have had more than my fair share of surprises recently.

I cannot tell you how surprised I was to trip over my own two feet during Music Camp (thankfully no one was around).  In my attempt to catch myself, I landed awkwardly on my left hand.  At first I didn't notice any problems, but they showed up the next day as I began to practice.  A quick trip to the doctor revealed that nothing was broken, but I would need to take a few weeks off from serious practicing.  That diagnosis led to another unwelcome surprise -- I wouldn't be playing for the musical I had been contracted for due to the injury.  I had already made plans for the cash and was disappointed to see it go away.  While I was depressed about the lost gig, I got the pleasant surprise of receiving an unexpected check.  The gift allowed me to complete the plans I had made. 

Surprises can also come from the reactions of other people.  A word of encouragement coming from someone you never imagined would notice your labor is an amazing surprise.  Conversely, learning that someone has been upset by something said in a passing moment of mutual jocularity is not such a pleasant surprise. 

Sometimes surprises lead to unexpected opportunities.  You didn't plan for things, but you get to revel in the outcome.  Other times a change of plans is an unwelcome surprise, especially when the change is beyond your control.  There is nothing you can do to rectify the situation, so you simply have to sit back, watch, wait, and hope that the situation works out for the best.

A person's current view of surprises is often colored by their most recent experience with surprises.  Whether the last one was good or bad, the truth of the matter is that surprises are the things that keep life interesting.....the things that make life worth living!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Starting Well

So many things in life turn out so much better when you get a good start.  Want to really enjoy a new job?  Do everything you can to have a great first day.  Hope to start a new business endeavor?  Work hard to secure your first client.  Want your novel to hold the reader's attention until the very last word? Grab them with a great opening.

When I think back over some of my favorite reads of all time, I recall how I enjoyed the opening lines.  Consider these opening lines from great novels:  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)  Who can forget reading "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow...." in Harper Lee's perfectly structured To Kill a Mockingbird?  When an opening line grabs me, I know that I am in for a real treat.

I love to read.  I don't always have as much time for reading as I would like, but it definitely brings me a lot of pleasure.  So I was especially excited earlier this week when I read this opening line:  "One sunny, crisp Saturday in September when I was seven years old, I watched my father drop dead."  That was the beginning of a wonderful journey into the world of Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Sing You Home.  I won't give away too much of the plot in case some of you decide to read it, but I will say that Sing You Home reminded me again of why Picoult is my favorite contemporary author.  Consistently, Picoult grapples with moral issues of modern society and forces the reader to realize that these are not simply as clear as the black-and-white images we imagine.  Once real people with real emotions enter the story, issues become tinted with shades of gray.

Sing You Home was a difficult novel for this conservative Christian man to read.  The story centers around a couple who have experienced difficulty conceiving and have sought medical aid through in vitro procedures.  Due to the strain of several failed pregnancies, the couple splits in divorce.  In a shocking turn of events, one of the would-be parents begins to explore a homosexual relationship while the other experiences a salvation experience.  The differing moral stances come to total conflict when the couple realizes that frozen embryos remain and that these "pre-born children's" fates were not determined in the original divorce agreement.  Picoult's novel sets forth both sides of the argument with careful attention and respect while creating characters that the reader comes to empathize with regardless of moral differences.

At times difficult to read and at times hard to put down, I wouldn't trade the experience of reading Sing You Home for anything.  I have been challenged by what I read and hope that I am a better person because of it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Youversion.com

On this Independence Day, I am thinking about how thankful I am for the rights afforded me as an American citizen.  One of the rights that is truly important to me is the freedom of religion - to worship my God in the way I see fit.

Having been raised in a Christian home, it has been a continuous goal of mine to read the Bible in its entirety.  I must admit - sadly - that this has never been a strength for me.  I know the Bible stories and have memorized many passages of Scripture, but I have never been able to stick with a program to cover the entire Bible in a given period of time. Normally, I would push through about 3 months and then LIFE would happen and I would give up.

Many of my friends were participating in B90x, a Bible reading plan that takes its name from the fitness phenomenon P90x.  B90x is a 90 day intense plan that results in reading the entire Bible.  3 short months!  Now THAT I can handle.  Of course, as things would happen it, the inspiration to start the program came in the middle of the busiest time of my life:  MUSIC CAMP!  I tried to talk myself into delaying the start, but I knew I needed to get going, so I began to look for the plan online and stumbled across a great website in the process that has helped me be successful for 20 of the 90 days so far.  Since I'm hooked on this website, I wanted to share it with you.

The website is http://www.youversion.com/.  Youversion is similar to many of the other Bible text websites, but also has some interesting differences I enjoy.  Firstly, youversion has you create a login identity so you can keep track of what you have read and store notes online (both public and private).  Secondly, many reading plans are housed on the site - including the B90x - and the program keeps track of your progress.  When you find yourself falling behind - and it happens to all of us if we're honest - there is a neat "catch me up" button that will reconfigure your reading plan so you can still meet your goal.  Lastly, since the reading plans on youversion are web-based, you can access your Bible reading from any computer with Internet access.  Throw in the free app for smart phones and you have total convenience.  There's no excuse to not stay on target with my assigned reading each day.

The website won me over.  The Bible reading is an eye-opener and a challenge.  I must admit that it is demanding; the B90x plan requires that you read 12 pages of Scripture each day.  That generally equals 14-16 chapters.  Fortunately, I was given advice early on to not think of this as in-depth study.  Rather, I am simply reading the Word with an eye on the big picture.  Thankfully, the Spirit of God is speaking truth deep into my heart even at this fast-paced, overview approach. 

Is youversion for everyone?  Definitely not.  But if you have ever found yourself challenged with finding time to read the Bible like I have, this may be just the solution you have been looking for.  Whenever I have a spare moment throughout the day, I simply log in by computer or iPhone and do a little reading.  Before I know it, I've completed the day's reading and find my mind returning to it throughout the day.  Whether you opt to join me on the B90x journey, to use another Bible reading plan on the site, or to simply use the website and apps for your personal reading, I think that youversion.com is a valuable resource to a tech-savy generation.