Category Archives: personal


stirred-sm“I’m stirred,” I said to Jeanie recently.  Not that that is unusual.  I frequently say I am stirred.  Why? Because I am frequently stirred.

Am I alone?  Are you stirred?  Do you ever feel a little emotional flip in your belly?  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, just a tiny little flip will do.  If so, you too have been stirred.

Stirred [adjective] Being excited or provoked to the expression of an emotion

Imagine a jar of water.  The water is clear, but there is sediment on the bottom.  The jar is me (or you), the clear water is a lack of emotion.  The sediment is the stuff we remember from our past… some of it good some of it bad.  It is made up of memories and beliefs attached to the memories that were emotionally embedded.  Haven’t you ever been reminiscing about something with a friend and say, “Remember when we…?” and the friend doesn’t know what you are talking about. She has no memory of it whatsoever.  Chances are, it was emotionally embedded for you, but not for her.

Our jars get stirred when anything bumps up against our expectations and beliefs.  Sometimes we feel that little emotional flip.  Sometimes we are paralyzed with anxiety.  Our tendency is to ignore the little flips and avoid the big ones until the emotion dies down and it seemingly takes care of itself.  Getting stirred can be incredibly uncomfortable and even embarrassing.  If we just hold the jar still long enough, the feeling will go away.  I think that’s what they mean when they say, “time heals all wounds.”  It doesn’t, but the feeling gets smaller over time.  It becomes more sediment in the jar to be stirred up later.

The feelings are what embeds the memory and with the memories are embedded beliefs.  Some are true, but many are lies.  The value in the stirring is that we can feel and in the process examine those beliefs.  I won’t tell you that is easy.  In fact it is incredibly difficult to examine carefully and to be honest about those beliefs.  As far as I know, the only alternatives are to a) ignore the stirring and hope it will go away soon or b) point fingers at other people or circumstances.  Neither is worth the pain in the long run.

stirred-sm2The thing is, stirring the jar is the only way I know of to un-embed those feelings and beliefs.  As uncomfortable as it is, it is valuable.  Kind of like removing a splinter.  The first time you get a splinter, getting it out with the tweezers hurts like crazy.  The second time, just the sight of the tweezers is enough to hurt even worse than it did before.  There’s a fear embedded with the memory.  The problem is that to leave the splinter is to invite infection.  So we feel the fear and let the tweezers do their work anyway.  Soon it is all forgotten.

I am afraid of being stirred.  Just the same, I want to be stirred.  When I feel the flip, I want to keep asking myself what it is about.  What do I believe?  Is it true?

What about you?

Listening is expensive

listenIf talk is cheap, listening is expensive.  I love to listen to heartfelt stories especially from people I love.  There’s one whose heart I love hearing above all and that is my sweetie.  Tonight, she needed to vent about some things and she gently let me know was what was coming.  Her setup helped me to listen the way she wanted to be heard.

When we want help, we want the listener to listen for understanding.  We want solutions.  However, when we want to vent, solutions is exactly what we do not want.  We want to be listened to just for understanding.  It’s a subtle difference, but it is the difference between the speaker getting what they want or not.  If the speaker owns the topic and doesn’t get what they want, the whole experience is frustrating and irritating.  When it works though, it is magical.  There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when someone focuses on you and truly listens for understanding.

Listening is expensive because it is hard work (hard emotional work) and because it is rare. One last thought.  If you want me to listen for understanding, do what Jeanie did.  Tell me what you want and, who knows, you might just get it.

Thanks Sweetie.  It is an honor to hear your heart.

Trappic Stop

stop_signYou know what’s worse than getting a ticket for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign… When there’s a cop sitting around the corner watching and waiting… like a TRAP. Where there’s no other traffic and no danger. Where the driver (that would be me) slowed down almost to a stop, but didn’t “officially” stop.  Where the intersection isn’t even an intersection at all, just a 90 degree turn.  You know what’s worse than that?  Plenty!  There’s a lot worse than that.  I’m thankful that this all I have to be irritated about… but it’s all I’ve got and I am irritated.

I feel irritated and bothered because I believe the time, energy and money expended on my interaction with this officer and the time and energy yet to be spent in dealing with the paperwork and whatever comes of it is a complete and utter waste.   Not to mention the actual cost of the ticket and the likelihood of my insurance rates going up.

I feel angry because I believe I was disrespected by the officer in a couple of ways:  His placement on that street looking for a violation of the letter of the law was a trap.  If I have violated a law, I am ok with dealing with the consequences of that.  Being trapped for making a mistake is not the same thing as being caught.  I do not treat people that way and I do not appreciate being treated that way.  It’s disrespectful.

The officer asked if I saw the stop sign.  I said I did not.  I was looking for an address and on the wrong street altogether and this stop sign was in a very odd place.  I didn’t see it… but I did come almost to a stop because I was about to turn around.  He said in a loud, mocking tone, “You didn’t see that big red stop sign!?”  What was I going to say, “Yes, officer.  I saw it, but I chose to ignore it”?  It was a disrespectful question in a disrespectful voice.  You put a trap where you know you will catch people… where they are going to trip up.  Clearly the sign is not communicating well if there are enough people missing it to suggest a trap.  If I was the only one who didn’t see it, it would have been a really dumb place to put a trap.  So why be insulting?

I don’t know whether the officer’s intentions were to be insulting or not.  It sure felt disrespectful.   Maybe he is just doing what he is told and he hates doing it.  I don’t know.  I’ll never know.

When I got home, I looked at the ticket.  I almost laughed out loud when I read the preamble notice (all CAPS as printed on the ticket)…


Somehow I don’t think anyone was in danger of injury or death from a traffic accident at any time in this intersection.  Nor do I believe this was a fair, impartial or reasonable enforcement of traffic laws.  It was a trap.  Nuff said!

Tying My Own Shoes

While boarding my plane on my recent trip to Arizona, I overheard one passenger telling another about a different method for tying shoes.  He was just finishing the explanation and telling her how it was much more secure than the regular method.  My shoes are constantly coming untied, so I was curious, but the line was moving again and it was too late to ask.  I determined to check google for the answer.

Wouldn’t you know there is a site devoted to tying ones shoes; Ian’s Shoelace Site features 17 ways to tie a shoelace. I experimented with each of them evaluating for ease of tying and security until I came to the ians-balanced-knot“Two Loop Shoelace Knot”; the “normal” knot that I learned when I was a kid.  Thinking that it has never been very secure, I almost moved on and then I caught Ian’s warning:  “It’s often tied incorrectly, resulting in an un-balanced ‘Granny Knot’.” As an experiment, I tied my shoes automatically without thinking about how I was doing it and checked the results.  No wonder my shoelaces always come untied.  I have been tying a “granny knot” my whole life!

So, I didn’t need a fancy new way of tying my shoes, I just needed to tie a square knot instead of a granny knot.  I have to think about what I am doing when I tie them now, but now that I am tying them correctly, my shoes have been quite secure for the last couple of weeks.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

One Year Ago

Molly Pops LoveJust a year ago today my life changed forever when Molly Nicole Ogren entered and made me a grandpa.  Now all my relations are referred to by their relationship to Molly; Jeanie is “Gran”, Danae is “Molly’s Mom” etc.

I knew I was going to love being a grandpa, but I didn’t know why.  It’s hard to explain, but kinda like this…

  • First I grew up.  I wasn’t really aware of what was going on because it was the first time I’d ever grown up.
  • Next, I had kids of my own and I got to grow up again.  While I observed the things they were going through, I remembered similar experiences I had.  I wasn’t really trying to live my life through them, but it sorta happened that way when their stuff reminded me of my stuff.
  • Now as the grandpa, I get to do it again.  Only this time I am not primarily responsible for this one.  When I am with her I can just love up on her and study her.  I love watching  her learn.

The interesting thing is that I change each time I go through this process.  I think it is interesting how as parents we tended to worry about how our actions would affect our children.  What we missed in the process is how they were changing us.  I’m not the same person I was when any of my children were a year old.  Molly is already working her magic on me.  Giving me a whole new outlook on life.

Last time I was with her was Thanksgiving weekend.  Over and over, I went through the routine of placing my hand on my chest and saying, “Pops”.  Then I put my hand on her chest and said, “Molly”.  After a few times, she put her hand on my chest and a couple of times she actually said, “Pops!”  Danae said that she had to mop me up off the floor when I melted.

Here are some recent photos for fans:

2009-11-30 Thanksgiving


Jesus from GodspellPlease don’t tell my Sunday School teacher, but I watched Godspell, a musical from 1972 based on the life of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Matthew.  I was 14ish when it came out in movie form and being Southern Baptists, my peers and I were forbidden to see it.  I (being an obedient young fellow) didn’t see it.  By the time I was old enough to decide for myself, I had forgotten about it and it was not readily available (VCRs hadn’t even been invented yet).  I never saw it until tonight.

I can understand why they didn’t allow us to see it.  This modern, artful depiction of Jesus and his followers was way too “out there” for most of the folks in my parents’ generation.  In this musical, Jesus is a hippie and is dressed clownishly.  The whole “hippie” thing of free love and irresponsibility, chafed against their values  for hard work and conformity.  To make matters worse, his disciples are both black and white, male and female and the songs are rowdy rock and roll (for the time).

While I understand and even respect the stance of those church leaders (oddly, I don’t remember ever discussing this with my parents), I was not part of their generation and I feel like I missed something good.  The movie I watched tonight was quite dated.  The video quality and the style of music were typical of the 70’s… but there was something about it that moved me.  I think I would have been moved as a teenager too.  I saw a creative, artistic expression of the life of Jesus that I think would have inspired me.  Clearly, it was never intended to be taken as a literal interpretation of the Bible, but that fact was likely missed by the folks who ran things in my church.  Their position was that dancing, joking, references to drinking wine, etc were sacrilegious and disrespectful.  To them, acceptable depictions of Christian themes in art would be limited to “normal” church music and art.

I remember some of the songs from the musical like “Day by Day” that came into their own as pop tunes.   I could never understand what they found offensive (apart from the association with the musical itself).  According to the wisdom of Wikipedia, “Most of the score’s lyrics were from the Episcopal Hymnal, set to music by the cast members.”  I think it was a good desire to protect the young people from something, but in retrospect, their control kept me from an experience that would have been enriching to me.

Day by day
Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day

A Quarter Century of Erin

Erin swingingTwenty five years ago today I had an important meeting with the owners of Fox Music House.  They were rescuing me from my failed business and hiring me all at the same time.  We had a meeting scheduled to sign all the papers that morning.  As luck would have it, Jeanie was in labor, but we knew it would be hours before she delivered.  We had been through this “birthing thing” twice before, so we were experts.

We called the doctor to tell them she was in labor and I went to my meeting.  Afterwards, I picked up Jeanie and we headed to the doctor’s office.  They were beside themselves with worry by the time we arrived causing us to wonder if they’d ever done this before <just kidding>…<sort of>.  By the time we had gotten to the hospital we found out that Jeanie’s dad, Vic, had canceled the classes he was teaching, come to the hospital, waited and left!  Everyone was in a panic except Jeanie, Jim and (soon to be) Erin.  Needless to say, Erin was born later.

She was a dissatisfied little girl.  She wanted to do what her sisters were doing and was not happy to be younger and less able.  Maybe that drive helped her to achieve so much.  I remember watching her play with wooden blocks and legos.  She would make bridges and it seemed to me that she had an innate understanding of what it took to make them strong.  Maybe it’s just because I was her dad, but I was impressed.

When she was about the age she was in the photo above, Erin loved to hang out around me in the morning to watch me shave.  I would scoop off a dab of shaving cream and put it on her cheek, which pleased her to no end!  She’d run off through the house squealing with delight.  I do miss those little slices of life.

She shares my love of astronomy.  When she was in high school, she did a project with the head of the Physics dept at the College of Charleston.  If I remember correctly, her project was to map the moons of Jupiter.  It required the use of my telescope, which is rather cumbersome to move around.  Since I was commuting from Charleston to Charlotte to work that year, I wasn’t around during the week to help her set it up.  I wanted so much to be around to help her with it, but I taught her how to setup the telescope and she did it all by herself.  I guess that’s the part of letting go that’s hard for a dad… but it’s good.  She and Justin just returned from a vacation in Hawaii where they got to see the big telescopes.  When she told me how cool it was, I was so jealous.

Erin as GollumOne night when she was 16 years old, she asked me to tuck her into bed and tell her a story.  I guess she was feeling nostalgic for when she was little.  No matter what the reason, I was happy to relive some of those fun memories of the tucking in ritual.  That night, I made up a bedtime story on the spot, just like the old days.  The next night she repeated the same request, “tell me a story and tuck me in.”  This continued for a week or more until one fateful night.  As much as I loved the attention and getting special time with her, I asked if I could just read something since I just didn’t have the energy to make up a story.  She agreed.

I looked on her bookshelf and saw The Hobbit.  I asked her if she had ever read it.  She hadn’t.  So we started reading it.  We continued every night until we finished it weeks later.  At the end of The Hobbit, we continued with the Lord of the Rings.  We were almost done with the first of the three books when Peter Jackson announced his epic project to bring the Lord of the Rings to the big screen.  Needless to say, we were beside ourselves.

In her senior year of high school, she won an award for playing the part of Gollum in the school theater department’s production of The Hobbit.  (The photo is of her with her award beside herself in costume).  She looked really creepy.  When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, the two of us went in costume! (Hers was way cooler than mine).

Erin has always had a sensitive heart.  I can remember once when Erin was a teenager, I was in a bad mood and snapped at Jeanie.  Erin said in a matter-of-fact way that what I said was mean.  I immediately knew that she had nailed me, but she made it easy for me to acknowledge what I did because she was so respectful in the way she said it.  Now that she’s in grad school at Berkeley, she focuses a lot of her energy into getting girls interested in science.  She’s passionate about bringing a better representation from the “other half” of the population into the scientific community.  I think that is so cool.

Erin, you are so easy to love.  I am so very glad that I get to be your dad.  Have a very happy birthday.  I love you.

P. S. This is a video Erin made recently with her new ukulele from Hawaii.  Be sure and watch until the end… it’s special.


My Brain Hurts!

My Brain HurtsI don’t know why I thought I could write about this tonight, but I’m going to try… My brain hurts.  I used to work manual labor jobs that didn’t challenge me mentally at all.  I would mindlessly go through the motions and dream about using a job that would use my intellect more.

I am living my dream!  No, I am not on the list of potential Nobel Laureates (this year), but I am thankful that God gave me a pretty good brain.  I get to use my intellect every day at work.  In fact, my brain hurts.  I do not mean that I have a headache.  What I mean is that I am as tired mentally as I used to be physically, when I planted trees for a living.  I am thankful for my job, but I just wanted to let you know that my brain hurts.  Now everyone collectively say “Awww poor thing.”

Confessions of a Texter


I have a confession to make.  I have been talking on the phone and texting while driving.  I know I’m probably the only one who does this <tongue planted firmly in cheek>. I keep hearing reports of studies demonstrating that talking on the phone while driving is akin to driving drunk.  I understand, but it just doesn’t feel dangerous.  In fact, my friends and I do it all the time and we’ve never had an accident… have we?

The truth is that I have caught myself driving dangerously due to inattention.  It stops now… before I hurt myself or someone else!  I can imagine how I would feel if I hurt or killed a child just because I couldn’t wait to talk on the phone?  Imagining that feeling is enough for me.  I don’t ever want to experience it in real life.

I pledge to never text or Twitter while driving and I will only talk on the phone while driving if I am out on the open highway and there is no traffic around.  It’s just too risky.

How I got here

On our recent trip to Berkeley, I picked up a book called, The Science of Fear (How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain). In it, I am reading about how irrational fears cause people to behave irrationally. We fret over potentially dangerous things that aren’t very likely to happen. The flip side is that we ignore real dangers because they feel safe.  For instance, we lay out in the sun to get that “healthy looking” tan, knowing that the solar radiation is harmful.  Even though we know the dangers of cancer, we soothe our fears with statements like, “My friends and I have done this lots of times and we’ve never had any problems.”

Driving while texting and talking is one of those things that we hear the dangers of, but it just doesn’t feel dangerous.  So we trust our feelings instead of the facts.  In fact, we don’t consciously choose anything, we just do what feels right… and it isn’t a very good choice.  How would you feel if you caused an accident because you were driving while talking or texting?  Will you join me in stopping before that happens?