Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Family: To Build a Fire*

As with all things having to do with the outdoors, and nearly everything else of any import, my Dad taught me how to build a fire. We spent many a Saturday burning brush in the backyard. Using more than one match or resorting to gas to get things going was frowned upon, and wet wood was only an inconvenience. There is always dry tinder to be found if you know where to look.

Those backyard lessons came in handy as I started spending frequent weekends on Boy Scout campouts. Campfires heated water for cocoa and oatmeal in the mornings, and sometimes produced "scrambled pancakes" if we forgot a spatula and had to turn them with a fork. In the evenings, we might have vegetables cooked in aluminum foil, generally crunchy and underdone, but if we were lucky they would be followed by a cobbler baked in the Dutch oven nestled in the glowing coals. Later, we would huddle around the fire and talk, but mostly we would just sit and stare, mesmerized by the flames.

My Boy Scout days are long behind me, and camping opportunities of any sort are few and far between these days, but I still use those fire-making skills on a regular basis. Usually, it's to burn leaves or brush in my own backyard,

but with three girl scouts and a 3-year old around, marshmallows often enter into the picture.

Thanks Dad, for teaching me how to do it.

*With apologies to Jack London .

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Family: Nibbles

Our 13-year-old daughter discovered this evening that her pet hamster Nibbles had done what all hamsters tend to do after 2-3 years. Tomorrow afternoon after we get home from church, we will have a short service and Nibbles will join Wilson in the quiet corner of our backyard that has been designated the final resting place for our family pets.

I realized, as she was sobbing on my shoulder after making the discovery, that there was nothing that I could do to help the situation other than say "I'm sorry." She didn't need me to remind her that she had known that Nibbles had been getting toward the end of his life expectancy. It wouldn't help to note that Nibbles was, after all, "just" a hamster, a not-too-distant cousin of the mice that occasionally meet their end in the traps that we (I, anyway) set in the laundry room. And, it certainly wouldn't have helped to observe that she had never really gotten 100% comfortable with handling him. At that moment, none of that mattered. Nibbles had been alive, Nibbles had been hers, and now Nibbles was gone.

Kids (and all of us) need moments like these in order to grow and develop. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Running: OBX Half Marathon

Jennifer and I are driving down to the Outer Banks tomorrow to run in the OBX Half Marathon on Sunday. Life has gotten in the way of our training, so we're both looking at the race as an opportunity to jump-start our running. Wish us luck!

If nothing else, it will be a nice getaway....

Politics: Meet the New Bush

Dan Froomkin's column in Thursday's Washington Post is worth a read.

The only thing more disheartening about Bush's acknowledgment that he made deliberately misleading and outright false statement during the recent campaign is the fact that the American public is going to receive the news about Bush's revelation in the same casual and "so what?" manner with which he provided it.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blogging: Off the Wagon

Aargh! Only 8 days in, and I fell off the daily blogging wagon. Got home, put my 3-year old to bed, read my 8-year old a story, and then made the classic (in my case, anyway) mistake of sitting down in a comfortable chair with a book. Made it a couple of chapters in, and zzzzzz…. When I woke up it was past midnight and the day’s blogging window had closed.

Oh well. Will try to stay on the straight and narrow from here on in.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Politics: Sinking Feeling

G F Allen Republican 951,910 49.61%
J H Webb Jr Democratic 943,886 49.19%
G G Parker Independent Green 21,218 1.11%

At 9:45 p.m., with nearly 85% of the precincts in, I'm getting a sinking feeling.

What could those 21,218 people have been thinking?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Politics: Spectator Sport

Someone asked me the other week when I'm going to run for office.

Not likely. I'm much too thin-skinned, have too many other commitments on my time and energy, and my wife would rather go to the dentist than talk politics - I can't imagine asking her to live it. No, for me, I think politics is destined to remain a spectator sport.

The game is on tomorrow, and I can't wait to "play" - albeit from the stands. I certainly have a firm idea about how I want things to come out. But, it's at times like this that I'm reminded of Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

"Citizenship in a Republic,"
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

I'll be bitterly disappointed if Allen and Goode win tomorrow. However, if that happens, I'll take nothing away from the efforts of Webb and Weed. They are both good men, both "born fighting" to borrow Webb's slogan, and have both run committed and exhausting races against well-entrenched incumbents. I hope they win, but if they don't, it won't be because they didn't try.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Politics: Colin the Marine

One night in the spring of 1985, during a college semester spent abroad in England, some classmates and I befriended a rowdy group of Brits in a pub. Pints turned into quarts and quarts into gallons, and all too soon we were dismayed to hear the pubkeeper cry out “last call”. We eagerly accepted our newfound friends’ invitation to accompany them to their nearby flat and continue the party.

As the festivities stretched into the early morning, we learned that our new friend Colin, the most gregarious and obvious leader of the group, had recently been discharged from the Royal Marines. At this point, one of my college friends, who happened to be much more enamored with my recent flirtation with the Marine Corps than I was, told Colin of my experience. Colin's face lit up, and from that moment on we shared a kinship, and he would talk of nothing else. It didn't seem to matter to him that I had only spent half a summer at OCS, while he had seen combat in the Falklands. In his mind, at least on that beery night, he had found fellow Marine, and that was a special thing.

The party eventually wound down, and we in the American contingent gathered our things and prepared to leave. “Wait,” said Colin. “I want to give you something.” He rushed back into his bedroom and emerged with a dog-eared paperback copy of Fields of Fire. “This is our bible,” he said. “Every Marine needs to read this.”

I read it, and have re-read it several times since. It’s a remarkable book, written by a remarkable man.

If you are a Virginian, don’t forget to vote on Tuesday.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Faith: Hypocrisy

I'm making some assumptions here, but imagine that you were caught leading the secret life that Colorado Springs evangelist Ted Haggard has apparently been leading - buying meth from a gay masseuse/escort and allegedly employing him for other services as well. It would no doubt cause incredible shock and heartache for your family and friends. However, even if criminal charges were pressed, it would have to be a slow news day for the sordid details to warrant even a brief mention in the press.

Now imagine the same scenario, except that you are a public figure - an elected official, for instance, or a prominent civic or business leader. The story would make the news, it would be the source of water cooler conversation for a day or two, and it would likely cost you your career. But then some other scandal would erupt, and as long as you stayed out of the public eye, the public's attention would turn elsewhere.

Now imagine that you're Ted Haggard.

Or Jim Bakker.

Or Jimmy Swaggart.

Because of who they are, what they say, and whose work they claim to be doing, their sins make the news. They make the blogs. They become fodder for late-night comedians. Their dirty laundry is laid bare for the world to see, and it becomes ingrained in the public consciousness.

And how do we react? Christians, likely feeling a mixture of anger, embarrassment, and disillusionment, will squirm and try to distance themselves. Atheists will smugly use the salacious details as further ammunition for their assertion that all Christians are hypocrites.

And the atheists are right. All Christians are hypocrites. All people are hypocrites. But the atheists are wrong when they point to individual hypocritical Christians as the basis for invalidating all of Christianity. Fortunately, Christianity is not about Christians. Christianity is about Christ. And Jesus is the only One who has perfectly lived what He has preached. The rest of us, whether we stand behind a pulpit or not, are going to fall short. All of us - Christians and non-Christians alike - would do well to remember that.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Politics: Olbermann Part 2

PART 2: Olbermann's Special Comment (11/1/06)

As with Part 1 of Olbermann's comments, all I can add is "res ipsa loquitur" - this speaks for itself.

Politics: Olbermann Part 1

PART 1: Olbermann's Special Comment (11/1/06)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Career: 4:00 p.m. Friday meeting

At 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in September, my department gathered together in the boardroom for a meeting. We didn’t have a clue as to why we had all been called together, but everyone in the room knew that it was going to be one of those meetings, one at which something momentous was going to be announced. The cryptic email announcing the meeting had offered no hint (which was telling enough in itself), but the 4:00 p.m. Friday meeting time left no doubt. There’s an unwritten rule in corporate America that reserves the 4:00 p.m. Friday meeting slot for the announcement of hirings, firings, reorganizations, and resignations.

It turned out to be the latter. After confirming that we were all present, and that the offsite people on the phone were all dialed in on the speakerphone, our long-time Senior Director got right to the point, and announced that he was leaving the company. Out of all of the scenarios that I had envisioned, this was not among them. My boss had not only led our department over the last decade, he had come to embody our department. After a round of forced smiles and congratulatory handshakes, we all filed out of the boardroom and returned to our offices and cubicles, wondering “what next?”

Six weeks later, we’re still wondering, to a certain extent. I don’t think that anyone really appreciated how much we had come to rely on his leadership, until we were faced with the prospect of carrying on without him. But, it will all work out. We have a talented group of people and we’ll figure out a way to make it work.

I just hope that we don’t have any more 4:00 p.m. Friday meetings for a while. Which reminds me, tomorrow's Friday. I'd better doublecheck my calendar....

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blogging: NaBloPoMo

How's that for an attention-getter?

November is National Blog Posting Month.

As such, all who care to are challenged to post every day during the month of November. What the hey. I'm always up for a challenge, and a quick glance at my archives will make it clear that for me, posting every day for an entire month will be a challenge.

So here goes...

Whitewater: Future Raft Guide?

Here's Morgan's first official rafting photo. That's her in the back, executing what the guide told her would be her most important command of the day - "get down!" I had planned on being next to her in the raft but the guide wanted me in the bow. OK - that's my favorite spot anyway!

I'll do a more detailed post on our adventure once I get the other photos developed (life's gotten in the way), but I couldn't resist putting this one up now. The rapids aren't much in this shot but we'd just finished running through a nice wave train. Morgan's expression is one of excitement and not of terror - I promise!