Monday, April 30, 2012

Ice Cream and Fish?

My mother had always programmed me, that idle hands are the playground for the devil. It has been almost five years since my mother left and is enjoying her condo in heaven which I am sure she has totally organized and spotless. My dad wasn’t one to organize but loved to stack books, papers, bills whatever was out there. Over the last few years I have been learning how to actually slow down at times and as they say smell the roses or in this context enjoy the Haggen Dazs Ice Cream.

We moved my dad almost two months ago into a group home. I know that in my search for the perfect setting for my dad I have come up short. I was truly hoping for 24/7 caretaking that would always be there for my dad to stimulate him both mentally and physically. The reality is that dementia is a horrible disease that attacks your ability to think and perceive fact from fiction.  My wife, the eternal conversationalist, would truly like me to sit with my dad and talk non-stop. Yet, I don’t think he is capable of saying much beyond thanks and give you a smirk that says either more ice cream please or if we are at Lynn’s Grand Buffett, more shrimp please.

I have started taking my dad to a close by mall. At first I was fearful that this might be tough on him with too many people or god forbid he become a materialist with all of the stores. Yet, what is happening is that we get away from his room, which is nice with the fancy HD LED TV with Dish TV and do something totally different. I know that my dad’s weakness has always been ice cream. Little did I expect to find a ‘clean’ mall that had great open areas, which are cool for coaster action on his walker and the prizewinner, great ice cream.

What has caught my attention since it opened was Sea Life Aquarium. I must confess that my dad was the one who got me my very first 5-gallon fish tank. Little did he know that this would grow into an adult addiction that has seen a variety of tanks, 55, 75, 125 and then the koi ponds? I have down sized recently to a nano (this means small but cool) salt tank that is 24 gallons. I also have a 200 gallon outdoor Koi Pond. So as I am planning outings for my dad it dawns on me I can get year passes and start taking him to this little aquarium at the mall.

So today was our first real adventure in the aquarium. I had attempted to do this last Friday only to discover there was a screaming mob of youth from many schools visiting the aquarium. So Monday has to be a good day, no one is going to be looking at Sea Stars or Manta Rays. Ah, I was surprised that there weren’t any school buses out front in the parking area. Yet, as we finished getting our passes with our pictures there was a small mob of kids at the entry. Yet, we made our way through the maze of little fish tanks of odd shapes and sizes and eventually saw the shark tank that you walked underneath.

I’m not sure what exactly was going through my dad’s brain as we stopped briefly at a few of the aquariums. He seemed to smile a lot and make a few comments. I know I loved seeing the various collections of Salt Fish. The colors and sizes are so striking and tantalizing to the eye. Again, remember I am attempting to maneuver my dad on his walker, which does quick 360’s, through a few narrow passages with a swarm of kids on all sides.  As we approach what I hope to be the real exit and not some door that will eventually be marked STAFF ONLY, we do find the pathway to the store area where you can buy that plastic Nemo Cup or Sting Ray stuffed animal.

As we exit I know it is time to do some ice cream and let him or I should admit me, catch my breath. It has been a great morning and I have tried not to look at my iphone to see the time and think about what other things I can do on my day off. Dad, the real important thing today isn’t the ice cream you devoured but for me to be with you and hope you sense that I love you and want you to enjoy life as you are able!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rise and Shine!

I have established a habit of getting up early, I mean really early in the morning. Part of it is a by-product of having a herd of dogs, which waked up regardless around 4:30-5:00 AM everyday. My Anne and I have great intentions of getting out and exercising, i.e. walking on the canal, everyday as a great way to start the day and be together. Someone might say walking on the canal in the dark isn’t ‘sexy’ but rather a scary thing.

We do have interesting experiences all of the time. There have been a group of coyotes that walk from South Mountain everyday looking for food. Yes, we have actually seen them walking up Central Avenue close to our house. Anne, walking by herself in morning, was actually cornered by a group of coyotes that saw our little dogs, especially Carly who struggles with eating too much, as a great morning snack. Typically we don’t see many if any humans out pre-dawn on the canal, which actually is good seeing our dogs seem to go in the attack mode for some reason.

This morning as we are driving back we see this Nissan Xterra wrapped around an Intersection Light Pole. As we are driving past we realize there isn’t another vehicle, animal or human that could have caused this accident. As I am driving back to my Starbucks the lights in the intersection are out and I realize that this guy must have been either texting or reaching down for something and accidently swerved and collided with the pole. I am afraid that the front end of his Xterra is going to need a total face-lift.

A year or so ago we were coming to the canal and noticed that there were a couple of school buses that were stopped and not moving. Anne, who is the cheery helper, especially in the morning, jumps out of the truck to ask what’s wrong. The bus driver quickly tells her there is a little puppy running underneath the bus and she is afraid that the bus might hit it. Anne finds this little white puppy that has black spots and quickly rescues it from the sure fate of being flattened by two school buses. I volunteer to sit in the back of the truck with this adorable little pup. Little do we know that this little pit-bull mix would become our beloved, crazy family dog – Freckles or aka KONG. She is no longer a little 5 pound pouch but a 50 pound bundle or energy and is totally all muscle.

I know that staying up past 10 every night makes it tough to rise early but we have made this a pattern over the last 5 years since moving to South Phoenix. After our walk in the dark we go to Starbucks for Anne’s cup of coffee for work. I usually help set up the outside furniture for the younger, obviously not too strong, female baristas. This has become such a habitat that if we are late or I am doing something else I feel bad for the gals. Yeah, I do get a free cup of coffee on occasion for helping. It has enabled me make some great friendships and get large quantities of free coffee for some of our major events.

I have also come to realize that one of the best times to write and think, yeah I do ponder and wonder about the great mysteries of the universe on occasion, is in the morning before much is happening and my Starbucks is usually still empty. I know that in theory there are great examples in Scripture of Jesus and many others who got up before dawn to connect with the Heavenly Father and go over their calendars or at least think about what was ahead.

I have to admit that adding a couple of hours in the early morning helps make my day happen so much better. I do enjoy blogging and thinking out loud. Yeah, sometimes I write non-sense and once in a while I will get feedback even from my PhD brother who writes all of the time. So I am surprised when I am meeting with someone who automatically starts up the conversation with my last blog and ask if I am talking about so and so. Yes, that was about so and so. Wow – someone actually is reading my blogs off of my Facebook posts.

The one who has inspired me to write more and more has been my daughter, Heather and my Anne. It has been my Heather that has become the writer in the family. She has written a lot of amazing poetry and short stories that are incredible. My day really isn’t complete unless I’m writing about one of our kids, teens, grandmas or something that just happened like our neighbor that had a heart attack when he looks up while texting and wraps his vehicle around a pole. I am glad that my day hasn’t started off that way!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ir - aka Snoop Dog

I have a group of little guys that are like a herd of animals at times. They are chasing each other around, fighting over the drink I have in the van or hoping that the flaming hot Cheetos bag isn’t totally empty. Last night as I was picking up kids for our tutoring I go through the painting neighborhood and get my Pee Pee and his brother, Peanut, cousin Almond and then Irwin. As everyone comes literally flying to the van and make their way into the front I notice that Irwin stopped. I approach my little friend who looks like a 3-foot version of Snoop Dog and ask why he doesn’t want to come. His response was more of a blank stare.

I am told that I do have the power of persuasion so I do my best to bribe and get Ir’s attention. I think I’ve lost him when I see him jumping over bodies to get into the van and sit in the front seat. As we are driving to our tutoring center I see tears and a long face on my little man. Another older teen quickly rebukes the other little guys that have been picking on him. I usually view Ir as being the gangsta type that wouldn’t be bothered by anything. Yet, I can tell something is happening.

We pull up and make the mad dash into the community center. I have all of the kids and teens go into one room to start off our session. We are finishing off the school year and I have to give an overview of the summer and get the teens to write out a couple of things. I have the little guys draw me a picture of their favorite activity in the summer. I have spoiled to have a couple of older men that are incredible with my group of little African American Kids.

Lou, an engineer, has become somewhat partial to Ir and quickly corrals him. The kids end up being focused and sit with their tutors in groups working on reading, math or playing educational games like Monopoly. As the evening quickly comes to a close I collect all of the pictures and there is Ir’s, which shows him and the guys at our favorite swimming spot, Pecos Pool, jumping into the water. What seemed like a disgruntled little Snoop Dog now turns into my Ir that is now bouncing all over the place with a smile on his face.

What is amazing about Ir is that he loves to read and learn. What stands out is that he is the one who is able to do at grade level work or above. Most of the other little guys struggle to write their name, identify letters and forget it if they got lost and had to tell someone their address or phone number. God has given an affinity for my little guys. I couldn’t go a week without seeing my Pee Pee, Irwin, Peanut, Dahlin, Damori, Bookie or Almon. They are like a pack of little rats that love following each other. Sure they get into fights on occasion. They are capable of saying some foul things once in while but overall they are learning about God through the example of some older guys that have learned to channel their high-octane energy. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Yesterday I had the privilege to meet a teen, which attends one of my group’s Charter Schools. He had e-mailed his principal and asked if he could have a philosophical discussion with her and the vice-principal. The principal, a good friend, passed the buck to me. I responded to the e-mail of the young man and had a great time attempting to figure out what type of teen would be interested in talking about ontology and self-identity?

I did one of those mornings where I squeezed everything in such as dropping off a car to get the brakes down, dropping off Terrance at College, took my dad mall walking, attended my men’s lunch Bible Study and then it was time to meet with this teen who seemed to be way to smart for his age group. I asked him where he would like to go for lunch, seeing the Principal gave permission for us to exit the campus. He vetoed Jack, McDonald’s so it was Applebee’s with a salad and soup.

He initially asked me what I did why I seemed to like it so much. I spent some time talking about being passionate to see youth and adults get what life is truly about. I talked about choosing to work with multi-racial youth and adults in a marginalized neighborhoods. I gave my discussion on being a bridge between different people groups that typically would never meet up. I talked about the difference between those who choose to just float or get by and people who were motivated and wanted to impact their world. I then shared my story about how I came to faith in Christ, my college days, marriage, doing construction work, getting chemistry degree, then philosophy degree and then going to graduate school.

I then asked him his family history, which really surprised me because he seemed to have it together and I assumed that his parents must be awesome and have a great home life. His response was that his parents were very different and had chosen to life separately with his dad living in Phoenix and his mom was out of state. He had decided that he like Arizona much better than Ohio and then the south. I asked him what was it that made him want to excel in school and life. He was reflective for a little bit and than shared about a couple of movies that had opened his eyes up to being driven to succeed.

As he started to describe this movie I realized it was one of my Anne’s favorite DVD, “Gifted Hands”, the story of an African American youth who is raised in the inner city and struggles with school. His mom becomes his motivator and helps him eventually figure out how to learn in a way that worked. It wasn’t too long before he became an excellent student who loved spending time studying, learning and thinking out loud. I could see in this young man’s eyes that he so much wanted to be like this John Hopkins grad that became a doctor that successfully separated the first Siamese twins.

It wasn’t too long before it was time to drop him off at school. It was clear that he enjoyed our conversation and wanted to talk more. I told him that I would love to listen more and learn about his present view of life, death, God and religions. We talked briefly about his father’s life experience of initially being a partier who eventually becomes a Muslim. I asked this teen if his was a real Muslim. He was quick to say that he understood the basics of the tradition but that his dad wasn’t really someone that practiced really anything.

As we are driving I give him my Kantian discussion about how it is better to live as if there is a God instead of totally denying the reality of a deity. I said that the moral discussion and the issue with why people want to be good or feel guilty when they are bad is something we must talk about the next time we do lunch. I was really blown away by this young man’s zeal for knowledge and pursuit of excellence. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Who am I?

I pursued a Biochem Degree in college that got side-railed by my interest in philosophy and critical thinking. I have to admit that most teens have little interest either in real science or Descartes, Anselm, Aristotle or Plato. I have a Heinz 57 type of education both in the ‘blue collar’ world and the ‘white collar’ world. I have done research with the enzyme LDH, done concrete work first as just a job and then as a potential career. (I was able to work on business parks in the Bay Area such as Apple, Intel, etc…)  I now have primarily done church work and non-profit work the last 20 years. What stands out whether it was with my hippie Jesus freak friends, my scientist friends or my friends from my hood is that it is so important to know how to communicate. So for me to improve both in the spoken word and written word I have to be open to evaluating how to do what I do better.

I am taken back by a few that I encounter who have purposely thought through the bigger questions of life. (This does become impressive when this is a teen.) I know I just blogged about Blue Like Jazz which focused on understanding that life at times doesn’t make sense, no resolve and that there is always a conflict, followed by a climax and then comes resolution hopefully. The challenge for most today is that we are being raised in a non-thinking type of world. Too many have become ‘drones’ that simply exist which means they work, sleep, eat, party and then reverse the cycle.

Today I have been invited to share in a dialogue about understanding self? This is by a teen at a charter school. I have never met this teen but just by reading his topic and desire to better understand what might be called ontology will be intriguing. He states his focus by asking the question of whether we are always putting on different costumes when it comes to our life circumstances. His real question is whether there is actually a true self within that we must be true to?

I know that in the atheist world the notion of self, meaning, purpose and direction in life is a rather difficult question to answer. Sartre stated that our existence comes out of our pre-existence. If we came out a glob of molecules then any notion of self or meaning is purely arbitrary. I do understand the Darwin notion of survival of the fittest. It is also easy for us humans to assume that we are at the top of the evolutionary chain until we obliterate our spices from the face of the earth.

 I will always remember multiple conversations in my various philosophy classes about the notion of whether we can truly know ourselves. Is it possible to distinguish an illusion from something that is real? How can I know that what I see across the way is real and not a mirage? How do I know that I am the same person today that I was yesterday? I can remember the dialogue about the ancients discussing whether or not the river you just stepped in is the same as the river you crossed the day before? Is it possible for both my eyes and my mind to play tricks on my so I am left to wonder what is real? I might come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter or I might be at the end of my mental rope.

I know that many today crave to have an authentic or genuine experience in life. I also know that too often we will do extreme things, i.e. hand gliding, parachuting, river rafting, driving on the freeway or breaking the law on purpose to see if that rush of adrenaline will give our lives meaning. I also have other friends who totally enjoy sitting and reading their favorite book for hours and hours. So back to my new friend’s question is there such a thing as a true self within that I ought to pursue?

I don’t think life is really that much different today than when I was a teen. Yeah, I didn’t have internet, computers, cell phones and high tech stuff but I still played in a rock band, had girlfriends, got a car in High School and experienced both the thrill of being noticed and the heart ache of being dumped by a girlfriend or either my druggie friends or academic nerdy friends. So how do I discover who I really am? Is this really possible? As I woke up this morning how do I know who I am and what I am suppose to be doing?

I know that it is easy for many to be in the attack mode and not really be interested in learning about the different ‘isms’ that exist in our world. I know that it is very easy for me to be on the critical side and be quick to attack any non-Christian view or organization. I think the beauty of life is that one can learn to appreciate everything and be open to learning that ultimately will stimulate you to be a better person whether you are a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian. My challenge is that I take the presumptuous position that my view of life is the only view and must be the correct one.

So how is it possible for anyone that is serious about critically assessing life not to be biased towards his or her own world view? I would be naive to think that I am open minded and capable of taking in all of the different world views and being able to think through all of them without passing judgment? So as I drive to this campus today at lunch how am I going to relate to a teen, who comes out of a totally different culture, world view and life experience? I’m not sure whether I’m capable of just listening without wanting to dive into the conversation to express my views with the assumption that my view of reality is the truth?

So I will say yes to my new friend that I too often become different people depending upon who I am with during the day. If I am meeting with my white collar friends I typically dress up a little. If I’m doing a painting project I won’t be dressing up but looking like I’m homeless. I am capable of expressing myself so I can relate back to different levels of education or cultural backgrounds. So does this mean that I have multiple personalities? I’m now getting to be an old guy versus being a teen, 20 or 30 something so I do have a perspective that is based upon lots of life experience. Does make me smarter or wiser?

I’m excited to have the privilege of listening and dialoguing with my new friend who wants to better understand their ontological circumstances in our world.