Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#138 - Looking Forward, Looking Back

New Year's Eve. The time of year when we traditionally look ahead and look back. As I get older, there is more to look back at and less to look ahead to simply because more of my life is now behind me. However, that doesn't me I don't still look ahead.

In the new year, I look forward to more opportunities to get out with our RV and perhaps find new places in which to enjoy nature. When I am out in nature, I feel myself closer to God. I hope to experience more of that in 2014.

In the coming year, I also hope to do more writing. Writing is a challenge for me sometimes. I'm good at it, and I have plenty of ideas on which to write. What I lack is discipline and focus. In 2014, I hope to find some of each.

I hope to start that process with this blog, hopefully becoming more consistently productive in terms of blog entries in 2014. One of the ways I hope to do that is by using this space to weigh in on various issues and topics. I have in the past shied away from writing on political matters here. That will likely end in 2014.

For some time, I have lamented the level of political discussion on Facebook. I have openly stated my assertion that Facebook is not the place for serious political discussion and is likely not an appropriate place for truly serious discussion of any issue. Twitter, because of its 140-character limit on each tweet, is even worse. Both are, to my mind, the 21st century technological equivalent of the 30-second soundbite. They might sound good, but they are not likely to give you the full story or even an in-depth look at any issue.

In the new year, I hope hope to do a better job of getting in touch with and of staying in touch with the people who have been a part of my journey to now. Facebook and this blog will, I hope, play a big part in fulfilling that desire. My cousin's annual get together of family and friends will also help, I suspect.

Those people, family and friends, some all but forgotten, were on my mind as I was writing these words. They were also on my mind when I wrote the words below, words with which I close this entry and 2013, words with which I embark on 2014. Happy New Year everyone!

My New Year's Wish
It's time to turn the clock again
Reflecting on the things we've done and hope to do
Another year has come and gone
Went by so fast, it seems as if the time just flew

More and more these days, I seem to find
Myself looking to another time
Filled with friends and memories in my mind

Here's to you -
Here's hoping that your dreams will all come true
I hope that you find joy in all you do
This is my New Year's wish for you

Looking back at all I have or had
I've come up short but learned to let go of regret
Remembering those who've shared this ride
Wish you were here but know that I will not forget

Along the way, each of you played a part
And your memory lives on in my heart
Long as it does, we'll never be apart

Here's to you -
Here's hoping that your dreams will all come true
I hope that you find joy in all you do
This is my New Year's wish for you

Time and distance separate us
We've had our bumps and bruises on the way
And while there may be things that I'd do different
I wouldn't trade a single day

Here's to you -
Here's hoping that your dreams will all come true
I hope that you find joy in all you do
This is my New Year's wish for you

I hope your dreams will all come true
This is my New Year's wish for you

2013. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 30, 2013

#137 - Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion, Part Three

(This is the third and final part of a three-part series)

In August of 2008, I began training to take over the responsibilities of another person working in Utah. Over the course of that experience, and in the months that followed, she and I became friends. For my birthday that year, she sent me a book she said had really helped her spiritually. It would do the same for me.

The book was part one of the trilogy Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. On the surface, a book in which the author claims to have actual conversations with God might sound like a delusional journey into hallucination or even schizophrenia. But something about the book resonated with me, and things that had made little sense before became clearer.

I got so much out of Part One, that I went on to read the remaining volumes in the trilogy. Part One is an intimate, one-on-one “conversation” with God focused mainly on the spirituality of the individual. Each succeeding volume broadens its scope and builds on the messages of the first. I later added another of the author’s books, one which helped me through the transition when I was laid off from that same job five years later.

As I read through the Conversations With God series, I began to get a better sense of what I felt and believed about God, about religion, and about spirituality. At about the same time, I rediscovered my love of camping or, at this stage of my life, RVing, and reconnected with the outdoors. The convergence of these things have helped me to develop a sense of what I believe.

I came to realize that, for me, a single church or even religion was too confining because each, while including some things and people, is in its own way built on its exclusiveness. You became Catholic or Jewish or Baptist, adopting the practices and beliefs of that religion and excluding or dismissing all others. To me, God is much bigger and much more inclusive that any single religion, even bigger and more inclusive than Christianity itself.

At the same time, my wife was undertaking her own re-evaluation, helped along through a revisiting of the teachings of the late Jesuit priest Anthony DeMello. As a result, I think we both ended up in much the same place in terms of what we believe.

So what do I believe? I’m still working that out, but my beliefs tend toward what is expressed in this Hindu saying: "There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn’t matter which path you take.  The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone else that their path is wrong."

I believe there are many ways to find God, to experience God, to worship God, none better or worse than another. In the same way, I believe each religion and its corresponding holy text contains God’s truth, expressed in the way that makes sense to the culture in which that religion is practiced and the time frame in which that religion initially developed. Just as many different faiths, many far removed from Christianity, have their own versions of the Great Flood story, so too do many faiths have their own way of experiencing the divine, none of them better or more correct than any other.

I think perhaps the Founding Fathers and the authors of the U.S. Constitution had some sense of this idea. The First Amendment certainly expresses this notion when it states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." Thomas Jefferson also seemed to follow the same lines when he wrote in 1802 that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship …”

As Jefferson infers, religion, faith, and spirituality are ultimately individual affairs. Belonging to a church or an organized religion may help some feel a sense of belonging, but it should not serve to exclude others because their church, their religion, their faith is different. For me, church and religion are too confining. I find God much bigger than that and find I am closest to God when I am closest to Nature, closest to creation itself.

As I wrote earlier, I believe God’s truth  can be found in the texts of multiple faiths. (I do not capitalize truth here as many religious writers do because I believe no one text has a monopoly on that truth.) Because of that, I hope to spend time in the coming year reading some of those texts or at least parts of those texts. I suspect I will find, as many before me have done, that there will be more similarities than differences. If I am right, then there may indeed be hope for the future, and hope is itself an expression of faith.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

#136 - Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion, Part Two

(This is part two of a three-part series)

In the spring and summer of 1984, I was a relatively young, relatively underpaid television reporter in Rapid City, South Dakota. I had just come out of my first serious relationship, and I was searching for something. A new co-worker, who was Catholic was leaving to attend a Sunday Mass, and for some reason, I asked if I could go with him.

At the time, there were several things that attracted me to Catholicism. First, it had been the faith of my family before I was born. Second, the structure and the ritual were appealing and comforting. I knew, in passing, the rector of the local cathedral, having interviewed him on several occasions. In addition, our sports director was also Catholic and as nice a man as I have ever met to this day. It was, in a religious sense, a perfect storm.

The  more I learned, the more I was attracted to Catholicism. So, in the fall of 1984, I began attending weekly classes with an eye toward conversion the following Easter. Formally known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), a six-month period that culminates in joining the Church during the Easter Vigil Mass. In my case, the ceremony included a second step as I was formally baptized at the age of 28.

My mother was, to put it mildly, stunned. Her first words to me upon my arrival home for a visit were, “While you’re here, don’t preach.” She later said she thought I might end up a Unitarian but never imagined I’d become Catholic.

Back in Rapid City, I dove headlong into the Catholic experience, becoming a lector, helping with taking the weekly collection, going to the weekly coffee and donuts gatherings after Mass. If I had stayed in Rapid City, I might still be doing many of those same things today.

However, less than a year after becoming Catholic, I found myself moving south, to Alexandria, Louisiana.  My church experience here was different. While most of the people were friendly, I never really felt like I fit in, either here or in Lafayette, where I moved seven months later. The sense of family I had felt in those first heady months after becoming Catholic was gone.

After spending two years in Louisiana, the time had come to move again. I hadn’t fit in and hadn’t made many friends, being a bit more reserved than many in Louisiana or in television are. So I moved back north, to Kalispell, Montana to take a job as an announcer with a Christian radio station. The general manager introduced me to his pastor and got me involved with the singles group in his church. I attended Sunday services, but something felt wrong about it. I was used to the Catholic Communion, and the way it was conducted in this church felt like a pale imitation to me. So I began attending Mass again, though I felt out of place here as well. It seemed I still lacked a spiritual home.

One year after I moved to Kalispell, I moved again, back to Lafayette, Louisiana. After a few months, I took a job in Huntsville, Alabama and looked again for a church to call home. After a few attempts, I settled on a Catholic church in a nearby suburb. I again dove in, becoming a lector and joining the choir for 5:30 Mass. I also joined the singles group, where I met my future wife.

After a few years, by which time we had a son of our own, my wife and I moved to Illinois, where we both struggled to some extent to find our place spiritually. Five years after moving to Illinois, we moved again, following the advice of Horace Greeley and moving west, to Idaho. Although we met nice people in both Illinois and Idaho, we struggled to find a place to call our spiritual home.

In writing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I joined each church not so much to find God but to find a sense of family, of belonging. At the same time, I wasn’t really sure what I believed. I was sure I believed in God. But whose? My answers to those questions didn’t being to form for another few years and might never have formed if not for a particular birthday gift from a friend.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

#135 - Thoughts on Faith, Spirituality, and Religion, Part One

(This is part one of a three-part series)

My faith journey up to now might more accurately be described as a series of day trips, some extended, but all of them bringing me back to much the same place.

I was born into a not very religious family. Nominally Catholic at that time, my family might better be categorized as disinterested on uninvolved where religion was concerned. Part of that apathy, at least in my immediate family, likely stemmed from the fact that my mother spent time in a Catholic youth home growing up. Some of those facilities at that time had an apparently well-earned reputation for hardness, if not downright cruelty.

For the first eight years of my life, God, faith, religion, and church were unknown terms and concepts to me (although I believe God and Jesus were referenced in certain phrases I won’t repeat here). It wasn’t until my mother and her second husband separated that I had my first church experiences. (I suppose you might say I also had my first mystical experience at this time, a hallucinatory afternoon in the hot Mojave Desert sun where I imagined our dogs were with me protecting me from snakes and any wildlife that might be around. They were at home, and everyone except me thought I was lost.)

As a single working mother with two pre-teen children, my mother was not always able to be with us or care for us. To fill in the gaps, she paid an older couple to look after us during the week: feed us, get us on the school bus each day, provide a place to sleep five or sometimes six nights a week. Jack was an elderly English immigrant with what seemed a live and let live approach to life. Nora was stern, almost Puritanical, and while she was 20 years younger than her husband, she seemed older in many ways. To this day, I’m not sure I remember ever seeing her smile.

Nora first introduced me to church and religion when I was eight, taking me to Sunday School and then to Sunday services at the local non-denominational church in the small desert California town in which we lived. She gave me my first Bible, a King James version given to me for my ninth birthday. The nameplate inside the front cover had been decorated by her husband, and it was inscribed with my name, though it used the last name of my stepfather, who while separated from her was still married to my mother. I received a second Bible the following June from the Sunday School teacher. 48 years later, I still have them both, kept as physical reminders of my childhood, the good and the bad.

A few years later, we moved to the Seattle area, where most of my family lives to this day. By this time, the connection to Catholicism was broken. Some in the family had joined the Mormon Church, in part, the story went, because of their concern for my grandfather, who had been hospitalized after a heart attack.

My grandmother would make quilts each year for them to sell at church bazaars, but I don’t recall the family attending services regularly. However, I did belong to a Mormon youth group for six months or so while we were living with an aunt. I only remember two things from that experience: learning to read a compass and how to step off a pace, both useful skills but hardly religious or spiritual. After this my religious/spiritual/faith journey stalled. I was 12.

For the next 15 years, my only experiences with going to church came from attending weddings and funerals. My own beliefs were not well formed, though I did believe there was a God. I wasn’t sure, however, what else I believed beyond that.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

#134 - Thoughts on the Season

Today marks the day set aside by Christians to commemorate the birth of Christ. This, despite the fact that there is no real certainty that Jesus was born anywhere close to December 25. In fact, as some people know, Christmas was born out of the pagan festival Saturnalia as an attempt by early Christians to bring pagans into the flock.

What may not be as well known is that Saturnalia itself was apparently a raucous and somewhat less than Christian affair. From this web page on the  Origin of Christmas:

Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.  During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration.  The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.”  Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.
In some way, I suspect some of that spirit of lawlessness lives on in the rush to shop on Black Friday. The "Lord of Misrule" certainly seems to be at work during the holiday shopping season.

That same web site also outlines the pagan origins of some familiar Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, which may have come from the Asheira cult. a tree worshipping pagan sect. Mistletoe is said to be taken from Norse mythology.

To me, none of this detracts from the spirit of or meaning of Christmas. Christmas originally drew from various cultures and various peoples, just as modern life in a variety of nations draws from the various cultures of its immigrants and the various peoples that make up its population. In a sense, then, Christmas is a drawing or bringing together, if you will, of various customs and influences.

In a more local sense, Christmas does the same thing. Many of us will spend the holiday with friends or with family or with a combination of both. I see it as a drawing or bringing together of people who may not always have time for one another or may not always agree with or get along with one another.

Growing up, my family was not overtly religious. Perhaps that is why, to me, Christmas has always been first and foremost about family. It wasn't always pretty; it was sometimes a bit messy, but that's how most families are.

Devout Christians will tell you that Jesus is the "reason for the season." Others will say that God is love. In my mind, I would go one step further and say that love is what Christmas is really all about - love of friends, love of family, and for those who believe, love of God.

This Christmas, I wish you all the gift of love. Give that gift to those around you, and you will be living out the true meaning of Christmas as I see it. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

#133 - Happy Anniversary, Baby. Got You on My Mind

Apologies to Little River Band, and while the rest of the lyrics don't really fit, the title seems appropriate given that today in my 20th wedding anniversary.

September 18, 1993 was a day that for many years I never thought would come. Growing up, I always hoped one day to marry, but I also knew I wasn't exactly what in those days some would call a "chick magnet." I didn't date in high school or college and had only been in two fairly short relationships when I met Teresa.

For years, I endured variations on the same question from my family every time someone else got married: "When are you getting married?" "When are you going to tie the knot?" Fortunately, I lived far enough away from the rest of my family at the time that I did not have to hear those questions too often. After I turned 30, the questions stopped. I'm not sure whether it was turning 30 or moving to Louisiana that did the trick.

Teresa and I went out once the summer of 1992 after which she decided, James Bond not withstanding, once was enough. By that fall, however, I guess I looked pitiful enough for long enough that her heart softened and she decided to mend this bird's broken wings.

We only dated a few months before I popped the question - on Teresa's birthday, January 9, 1993. I guess I was being clever, making sure I would always remember the date I proposed. Plus, I wanted to ask before Teresa had too much time to think about things.

We did most of the planning ourselves, even writing our own music for the wedding and creating a music tape for the reception. The first song at our wedding reception? Billy Idol's "White Wedding." It's remained a favorite of ours.

Our wedding on September 18, 1993 came toward the end of a year-long stretch where nearly everyone we knew was getting married. The weather that day was perfect, perhaps to help offset the occasional storm clouds we've weathered over the years.

The last 20 years have not always been easy for either of us. Most marriages, I suspect, have occasional ups and downs. I'm also sure I'm right in saying the past two decades are not quite what Teresa expected or perhaps hoped for. I'm glad, though, that she has stayed by me and with me through all the good and bad. I can't imaging what my life would have been like without her.

I wasn't sure what to give Teresa for a 20th wedding anniversary gift. We don't usually go in for big material displays. However, I did want to give her something. The song and the lyrics to "White Wedding" are already taken, so I hope this meager effort of mine below will suffice. Happy anniversary, Teresa. Thank you for these last 20 years. Here's to the next 20. I love you!

That's No Foolin'
(contemporary country style - upbeat tempo)
In the morning
Girl, I like your smile
In the evening
Girl, I like your style
Day or night time
You make life worthwhile
And that's no foolin'

In the morning
I just want to sing
About your lovin'
And the joy you bring
Got to tell you
You mean everything
And that's no foolin'

(Bridge - slower tempo:)
I know there have been times
When it hasn't been easy
We've had our ups and downs
And at times it's been rough
We've done a lot of living and learning together
But through good and bad
We've had each other
And that's enough

In the morning
Each and every day
In the evening
I just have to say
Glad I've got you
In my life to stay
And that's no foolin'

(Repeat Bridge:)

In the morning
I just want to sing
About your lovin'
And the joy you bring
Got to tell you
You mean everything
And that's no foolin'

Friday, August 2, 2013

#132 - An Ending and Perhaps a Beginning

Today marks my last day on the job in a position I've held for five years at a company where I've worked for the last eight years. I suppose I have some mixed feelings about leaving, but then again, it wasn't my decision.

The recent sale of my division to another group brought about some changes, one of which was that my position and its duties moved to Portland. Since I am not in a position to move to Portland, I am surplus to the company's needs.

Even though it was not my decision to leave, I am fine with the decision. I was beginning to feel it was time for a change, and the decision not to retain me means there will be change whether I am ready for it or not. For the most part, I think I am ready.

I leave with some good memories, and I will hopefully stay in touch with the people I've had the pleasure of working closely with these past five years. But now it is on to the next chapter.

I admit to some occasional anxiety about what the future holds. Being in my mid-50s, I realize the current job market does not always welcome job seekers in my age range with open arms. On the other hand, I have always managed to land on my feet and have confidence I will again do so.

Until I land another position, I'll likely do with others in my position do, tackle a few projects around the house, scan various job web sites, maybe do a little camping. This might even be the impetus for me to do something I've always said I wanted to do but never really got serious about and that is write a novel. I have any number of ideas that I would like to do something with. I also have a few short story ideas floating around in my head. And since it is starting to get a bit crowded in there, perhaps it is time to write some of those stories down.

On my Facebook profile this morning, I posted a link to an R.E.M. song, the title of which sums up how I feel on this, my last day, as I end one chapter in my life and prepare to begin the next. To paraphrase that title, it's the end of the world as I know it, and I feel fine.

Friday, May 24, 2013

#131 - A Little Cheese with that Wine?

I'm sitting on my back patio, drinking a glass of wine and looking forward to the three-day Memorial Day weekend. Although there is a serious purpose underlying the creation of Memorial Day, for many (if not most) of us, the holiday serves as the unofficial start of summer, an opportunity to get outside, entertain friends, perhaps travel. For me, it also means an opportunity to sit outside and enjoy a glass or two of my favorite beverage, wine.

As I am sipping a decent red wine, I am reminded of a recent comment by a co-worker, someone who works in the wine industry and probably should know better, that Idaho does not and cannot produce quality red wines. I beg to differ.

Idaho is certainly best known for Ste. Chapelle Winery which, quite frankly, does not make very good red wines, although the Rieslings and sweet wines are very tasty. But while Ste. Chapelle gets the eyeballs looking at Idaho's wine industry, they are by no means the only winery in town as it were.

At last count, there were some 50 wineries in Idaho, and two of the best three red wines I've ever tasted came from two of those Idaho wineries. The third was an Oregon Pinot Noir. Granted, I am not an oenophile (though I knew the word is related to wine, so there), but I do enjoy wine, and I think I have a sense of what tastes good. Given that I cannot afford to put in a wine cellar or buy the wines to stock it, tasting good is what I shoot for, and if the wine surpasses that, so much the better.

For a very nice every day Idaho red, I gravitate toward Sawtooth Red, a nice full-fruit blend from Idaho's second-largest winery. At $9-$10 a bottle, it is affordable and very tasty. However, I was talking about Idaho wines that fall into the category of a cut above, if not great wines.

Probably the best Idaho wine I have ever tasted and perhaps best I have ever tasted was the first bottling of Syrah from Three Horse Ranch. The winery used charred French cognac oak barrels, and the wine captured some of that smoky essence in the bottle. At roughly $19 a bottle at the time a few years ago, it certainly would not be an everyday wine, but I certainly wish I had purchased several bottles at the time.

The other Idaho wine that ranks as one of the three best wines I've ever had is also the best wine I've ever purchased. (I enjoyed the Three Horse Ranch Syrah at an in-store tasting.) It is a 2007 Syrah ($18) from Williamson Vineyards. The Williamson family has made its living for more than a century as fruit growers but several years ago began making wines, and some nice wines they have.

The Sangiovese is another nice red from the Williamsons. They also make an interesting rose', the 2011 Blossom ($12), which is made from the Sangiovese grape. It has nice floral notes with what struck me as an aroma of fresh-cut grass.

Another thing about the Williamsons, they grow some of their own grapes, which some wineries in Idaho do not. They also sell grapes to other Idaho wineries, such as Koenig Winery & Distillery, which gets an honorable mention for its Viognier, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I liked the latter enough to pick up a bottle of their 2009 Cabernet ($20) to drink on my 20th wedding anniversary, although the Williamson Syrah may end up being the wine of choice on that day.

Wine does not have to be expensive to be good, at least to be good to you, which is really what counts. My wife is fond of quoting the sentiment "drink what you like, if you like it it's good." I agree with that but will add one thing: don't be afraid to try something new. You might find a new favorite. I tried something new and ended up with a new respect and appreciation for Idaho wines. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

#130 - Time to Reboot

For several weeks since my parent company announced it was selling the division I work in to another entity, I and others I work with have wondered what the future holds. Immediately after the sale was finalized, we were told that some of our jobs would move to another location, and speculation began about who would stay and who would go.

Last Thursday, we got some answers. Mine was no; I would not be retained. Oddly enough, someone I work with was also told she was being let go only to receive a phone call several hours later offering her a position. Talk about a roller coaster ride over the course of less than 24-hours.

I was not surprised to learn I was being let go. While I know the quality of the work I do, I'm not sure many others do. I'm not very good at blowing my own horn. Couple that with the fact that my desk is in a slightly out of the way location, and it might at least partly be an out of sight, out of mind situation.

On top of that, I am a bit of an introvert. As a result, I'm not sure many of the people in management really know me or know about me and what I am capable of doing, and some of those who did are no longer around.

Initially, I think I felt a little resentment over some of the people who were kept on. Now, though, I'm ready to move on. I feel glad for those who still have positions, and I feel bad for those who no longer have a job.

The time has come for me to move to the next chapter in my life, whatever that may be. Between now and June 8, my last day, I will begin to put out some feelers with other companies and start to think more about what I want to do next. With any luck, I'll be able to channel some of my experiences into something creative. In fact, I think I'll start doing that now.

These song lyrics, while about a different subject altogether, were inspired and influenced by the recent events surrounding my job.

When The Hammer Falls

He found himself blindsided
And never saw it come
Just another victim of
Some heartbreak hit and run

His friends say he'll survive it
But the damage has been done
He'll find himself more cautious
When his heart's under the gun

He's seen more pain and heartache
Than he cares to recall
Yet he's taken by surprise
Each time the hammer falls

In her dreams, she never thought
That it would come to this
What started with hello
Ended with a goodbye kiss

Her life's become a nightmare
When it once seemed total bliss
Instead of hit and run
Her love life's now more hit and miss

She's seen more pain and heartache
Than she cares to recall
Still, she's taken by surprise
Each time the hammer falls

Hear the echo sound
Of the hammer on your heart
As you watch the life you've built
Slowly fall apart
You start to feel as if you're trapped
Inside these four walls
You look but find there's no escaping
When the hammer falls

She said you had a future
Now that future's in the past
You sit here in the wreckage
Of a love not built to last

Feel you should have been prepared
It happened all so fast
Tried to make it work
But the die had long been cast

You've seen more pain and heartache
Than you care to recall
But you're taken by surprise
Each time the hammer falls

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

#129 - Generally Speaking in a World of Specifics

There is an old saying, "jack of all trades, master of none." At one time, that meant a person could do a number of things fairly well but was not an expert at any one of those things.

Over time, though, I think a slight negative connotation crept into the subtext of that old phrase, an implication that such a person perhaps wasn't worth as much to society as someone who possessed expertise is a specific field, such as medicine or science.

I have been recalling that phrase, one I often used to describe myself and my abilities, over the last several days as I prepare for the very real possibility of having to find a new job. The company I worked for sold my division, and the new owners are busy reorganizing the division and redefining how things are done, both of which are good for the company but not necessarily as good for all of its employees.

As a result, some of the jobs in my division are being eliminated, while others are being moved to a different state. That means some good people will find themselves on the outside looking in.

In my current position, being something of a generalist, a "jack of all trades," if you will, is a good thing. Being able to do a number of things reasonably well makes you a bit more valued.

However, in looking at some recent job openings, I am increasingly convinced that we live in a specialized world. Most, if not all of the opening require a specific skill or combination of skills, even for lower-paying or entry-level positions. Other qualities that might ensure an ability to do the job well (critical thinking skills, ability to work independently or as part of a team, etc.) are ignored if the applicant does not possess the specific expertise sought.

While specific expertise is quite useful in, say, a physician or a lawyer, it seems less necessary in areas such as sales or general labor. Yet I see more and more calls for specific skills, no matter how low paying the position.

I have worked for any length of time in only two areas in my life: broadcast journalism and data entry/pricing. I have been out of journalism for 20 years and likely could not go back even if I wanted to. I have worked for my current employer for almost eight years, spending time in Accounts Payable and in a division office working with beer and wine distributors and entering pricing.

I believe I have other skills that seldom get a chance to be used: critical thinking, analytical skills, writing skills, and more. Yet these skills may remain untapped as long as the positions where such things might be put to use require specific expertise I do not possess.

Generally speaking, there should be places in the working world for people who possess broad knowledge and abilities, people who do not conveniently fit into a specific niche, the square pegs who do not fit the round holes. Specifically speaking, there should be a place for me. Now I just need to find it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

#128 - Bang, Bang You Shot Me Down

First, let me say I have never owned a gun, and I have no desire to ever own a gun. Next, let me say I have no interest in having all guns outlawed, nor do I have any interest in having all weaponry legal for private ownership.

I have fired a gun on a couple of occasions, even hitting what I was aiming at on the second of those. I understand the attraction of guns and of owning them. Even though I do not hunt, I think I understand the allure of tracking and bagging your prey.

I think I even understand the desire of some to have a gun in the house for protection. At the same time, I understand my own limitations which come up somewhere way short of being able to have a gun in my home.

What I do not understand is the twisted logic of some of those screaming the loudest in the current and latest chapter of the debate over gun control. Perhaps if they could simply listen to themselves they would see how ridiculous they sound.

Case in point: the people who argue that guns don't kill people, people kill people and then argue against universal background checks to perhaps keep guns out of the hands of some of these people. These are the checks that might keep a few of people from killing other people because they would no longer be able to walk into a gun show, spend a few minutes looking around, then walk out having bought a gun because the seller was not required to check them out in any way, shape, or form.

Many of these same people argue against firearm education and safety training, as if it's my God-given right to be a fool with a gun, accidentally shoot myself and perhaps shoot someone else in the process. After all, what's a little collateral damage between friends (Dick Cheney, anyone?)

We require renewable licenses to drive a car and open a business. Schools now offer drivers education, and some religious faiths provide instruction prior to marriage. You have to take a test before getting a driver's license, but there is no such requirement for buying or owning a gun.

The most vocal gun advocates all but scream that such requirements will lead to only criminals having guns or that they won't stop criminals from having guns. What a load of horse manure. If your sole argument is that having a law won't stop people from breaking it, why have any laws or limits? Why not simply have anarchy?

Among other things, laws provide societal boundaries and help life move in an orderly fashion. No, speed limits and traffic signals don't keep some people from speeding or from running red lights. But they do help to minimize those things and make roads a little safer for everyone else.

Universal background checks, firearms training, renewable gun registrations won't keep determined criminals from getting guns, but I believe they will help to minimize such occurrences and perhaps allow for better tracking of weapons used to commit crimes. And they may help to keep things a little bit safer for the rest of us.

Let me end as I started. I don't own a gun and have no desire to own a gun. If you want to own a gun, fine, that is your Second Amendment right. But remember that the Second Amendment includes the words "well regulated." All I ask is that gun ownership finally be "well regulated" instead of the haphazard mess we now have.

If you want to own a gun, make sure you are qualified to have a gun, and that requires a little more than simply having the money to pay for one. Get adequate training in firearm use and safety. We might both rest a bit easier.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

#127 - The Times They Are a Changin'

First off, apologies to Bob Dylan. Not that he reads this blog, but his famous song of the 1960s (and album of the same name) seemed a nice point from which to launch into a discussion of change.

I recently finished reading what, for me, was a very profound book by Neale Donald Walsch called "When Everything Changes, Change Everything". Among other things, the book talks about changing the way one thinks about and reacts to change and by doing so actually influencing future changes in one's life.

The book also makes the argument that all change is for the better, even change that seems deeply disastrous at the time of its occurrence. Walsch refers back to his own life experiences of breaking his neck, losing his job, and becoming homeless, events which at the time were traumatic but which, in retrospect, he says were the best things to ever happen to him.

Walsch takes this argument to its logical conclusion, stating that change is life and arguing that life without change is not only boring, it is impossible. According to Walsch, change happens whether we want it or not. We cannot stop change, but we can control how we think about it.

There is much more worth reading in this book, but Walsch's thoughts on change were very timely in my life. Recently, the company I work for decided to sell off some of its assets, including the division I work for. Naturally, that has a number of people wondering, even worried about the future of their jobs. I am not one of them.

The division I work for is being split into two separate divisions, one remaining here in Boise, Idaho, the other located in Portland, Oregon. Because of my area of responsibility, the likelihood on paper is that my position will move to Portland. It might happen; it might not. Whether it does or does not, however, is out of my control.

What is in my control is how I react to, think about, and even prepare for that possibility. I choose not to let it govern my every waking hour and thought. At some point in the near future, I'll likely begin polishing my resume' and start looking for another opportunity somewhere.

I have no doubt that, should the need arise, I will find another job somewhere. I feel confident in my ability to respond to and even thrive through any changes in this area that might occur. Because the world around me isn't the only thing changing.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

#126 - Filling a Sinkhole

From time to time, I'll read, see, or hear news reports about an ongoing or impending food shortage of one sort or another. Invariably, one of the following causes will be cited: war, drought, harsh winter weather, or rising fuel prices. And I'm sure each calamity has its own part to play in all of this.

But I think I have discovered the real cause of the food shortages we seem to suffer through on a regular basis.


Think about it. Have you ever watched a teenager eat? Every meal seems like the last meal of a condemned man. They eat and eat and eat, then as soon as they've finished they ask to eat some more.

It's incredible, really, watching them shovel food into their mouth like a train engineer stoking a coal fire. There's almost a terrible, grotesque, and hypnotic beauty to the entire process. It's a bit like watching an accident unfold in slow motion; you want to look away, yet you are inexplicably drawn to the horrific spectacle taking place before your eyes.

I come to these observations from the vantage point of having a teenager of my own. Just as CNN is representative of the 24-hour news cycle, my son is indicative of the teenager's 24-hour eating cycle.

Even before we've finished breakfast, my son will invariably ask "What's for lunch?" No sooner have we cleared the table after dinner than he'll ask, "Can I have a treat?"

I have, from time to time, asked him, "Don't you ever get full?" The answer, all too obvious now, is no.

Even though I drive a large truck each day that gets in the neighborhood of 14-miles per gallon (of diesel), my largest expense each month is for food, much of which ends up in the stomach of my teenage son. Such is the price of parenthood, you might say.

I've hit upon a novel, if I do say so myself, approach to resolving the expense issue and, in the process, helping to stretch food supplies and reduce shortages. Ban teenagers.

By doing so, we'll cut costs, save money, make dwindling food supplies go further, and improve the overall mental health of adults the world over. Sounds like a workable solution to me.

There's just one snag in this plan. Getting rid of teenagers would also have the unintended consequence of basically ending the human race as there would be no next generation to take our place. A serious drawback, I grant you, but I haven't given up hope of finding a way around this.

In the meantime, though, I guess I'll just hope for more overtime at work so I can afford to keep stoking the unquenchable fire. I just need to make sure to keep my hands clear. It wouldn't be a pretty sight.

Monday, February 25, 2013

#125 - Pulling the Plug

We recently made the decision to get rid of satellite television. Although the day has not yet come when it will actually be gone, I can't say that I'm worrying about missing it. I'm sure I won't.

When we lived in Illinois, we had DirecTV and enjoyed it for the most part. When we moved to Idaho in 2003, we had cable, then we moved to Dish Network. We weren't satisfied with what we got versus what we paid for cable. If anything, we're less satisfied with Dish.

We talked off and on for months about getting rid of Dish, complaining about the lack of watchable programming for what we were paying, but we did nothing to change or upset the status quo. Instead, we watched less and less and complained more and more.

Several months ago, we signed up for Amazon Prime, which gives free next day shipping as well as access to a number of free movies and television programming. We began to think more of a satellite and cable-free home. We had also checked out Hulu, although we were less than thrilled with the commercials, not to mention the interface through our internet-ready DVD player.

Then we decided to give Netflix a try. Between Amazon Prime and Netflix, we found a wealth of programming to watch, without lame commercials. The selection seemed much better than we were getting on Dish, and the cost was much less. The decision was becoming easier, especially once Dish announced it was raising our rates.

The rate hike solidified our decision to pull the plug, or the cable if you will. Dish begged and pleaded, but we said we're leaving. They do not make it easy to leave. They are charging us $15 to disconnect and making up ship our DVR and the LNB off our dish back to them. Presumably, the $15 charge is to pay for shipping on the box they are supposed to send us for returning things to them, but who knows.

As I write this, we should only have a few more days of Dish service. I can't wait. Aside from missing the occasional college football game, there is little to nothing I will miss about not have satellite television. It will mean more time for reading, for writing, for watching movies, and for discovering or re-discovering programs I had not seen before or had not seen in a long time. I see no down side to this change, except perhaps for another company that won't be getting my money.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

#124 - The More Things Change

Wow! Another two months has gone by without a new post to this blog. I am slipping big time. I have been thinking about writing something for several weeks. The main problem is that I'm not quite sure where I want this blog to go, what direction it should take.

When I was younger, I was very political and very opinionated. As I got older, I tried harder to get people to like me, so I tended to modify my opinions, suppress if you will a big part of who I was. Now, as I get older, I find myself reverting back to some of what I was when I was younger.

So, I suspect this blog will become more opinionated but hopefully do so in a respectful way. One thing I have tired of as I have gotten older is the opinions that basically say "f*%# you" to anyone with a differing point of view. I can swear with the best of them, but I'd rather not. It doesn't get me anywhere, nor does it really serve to advance the discussion.

Insulting posts are something else I am not a big fan of. I can be as insulting as the next person, and while these can be entertaining, they tend to be more preaching to the choir and, again, do not help to advance the conversation. Nor do they help to get anyone else to consider your point of view, at least not seriously.

At the moment, I am up in the air about the direction in which this blog will head. For now, at least, I guess it will remain random in terms of subject matter. I hope it will become more random (at least in terms of frequency) now that we have pulled the plug on satellite TV. (That decision may well be the subject of my next post on these pages.) As we were told never to say in television news, time will tell.