Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Four Quarters

One Dollar in four silver parts. Each one of them carrying a different date. 1973. 1974. 1980. 1995.
 
While it would be easy to say every year in my life has been dynamic for various events that happened, some of those positive and some of those negative, these four quarters ended up in my pocket this morning and made me ponder the specific years they represented.  
 
1973.
My parents were married in 1972 and I was born, their first child, in 1975. As the story goes, two years before I was born, my parents were sharing a time of devotions and prayer. At the exact moment during their prayer time, God spoke to them separately but with the same message: “You will have a son and you will name him Samuel.” While I was yet to be born in 1973, that was a defining moment in my life, not to mention what it must have meant to my parents.
 
1974.
I was born in the early days of August, which meant I was sharing Christmas with my parents in 1974 even if they didn’t know it. Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays of the year, and I have to wonder if that’s because it was the first one I shared with my family. A bit corny maybe, but I instead choose to think of it as extraordinarily special.
 
1980.
I started school this year and carried a definite love-hate relationship with it throughout the next thirteen years. That December, I delivered to my parents the first of what would be many letters from teachers. It was a reprimand for behavior. A kindergarten friend and I had decided an early winter snowball fight made more sense than going inside to start the school day. While I don’t remember a punishment from my parents (even though I’m sure there was one), the one thing I do remember was the tinge of a smile in the corner of my Dad’s mouth as my Mom sternly reminded me of the importance of following the rules. It would not be the last time I saw that hint-of-a-smile in my Dad’s face when I did something others thought was wrong.
 
1995.
A blond women left my life, followed by a brunette, only to make way for a redhead to come into it. As I look back on that year, there were so many massive life-decisions being made and the magnitude of them mostly lost on a kid about to turn twenty years old. It does no good to sit around re-hashing decisions we all made at that crucial age, but it does make you nod in agreement at the famous George Bernard Shaw phrase, “Youth is wasted on the young.” As I look back, that might have been one of the most significant years of my entire life.
 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Friendships

Did you ever have one of those slap-ya-upside-the-head moments? Did you ever have one as it related to your friendships with other people? That someone you considered a great friend, you now realize doesn’t feel the same way about you? Maybe doesn’t even rank you on their list of good friends at all? That’s a sad realization, right there.
 
(**Disclaimers: This isn’t going to be a poor-pity-me post, but rather some observations from my life over the past three or so years. Also, since I’m not sure who reads ELEVEN anymore, I’ll be careful not to use names and I’ll try to be as non-descript as possible.**)
 
First, let me explain the slapping realization moment… I had someone I could have previously defined as being on my list of top-five closest friends, tell me what he/she was doing to celebrate a specific day of the holiday season. The event was with other people, in a public place, with no restrictions on the quantity of participants, and yet in the process of explaining it to me, this person was deliberately not inviting Alli and me to join them. Obviously I could have shown up without being invited, but at that point it would have been one of those horribly awkward situations no one wants to be a part of. We were not part of the group that was going, and his/her definition of the situation made that very clear.
 
As I analyzed what had just happened, an intense sadness washed over me. And instantly I started questioning everything I could possibly question in an attempt to find out where the friendship had gone astray.
 
Had I done something terrible or said something terrible to offend them? No.
Had I missed a birthday, anniversary, special day, or even some memorial that a good friend wouldn’t forget? No.
Had I not called or reached out enough as a good friend should? No.
Had our last meeting been sour or offensive? No.
 
Then some difficult questions rolled into my brain…
 
Was I not interesting enough to still be considered one of the cool kids?
Was I no longer on the short list when thoughts of who should be called came up?
Did I no longer have enough to offer to keep my friends satisfied?
 
Knowing the probable answers to those questions, I allowed my brain to shift to hard realities.
I used to be fun.
I used to be the guy that other people wanted to introduce their friends to.
I used to have a cool house that included a great alcohol selection, lots of music, a relaxing porch, plenty of space to crash, a big backyard, and a firepit to boot.  
I had a wealth of friends from all walks of life and all age groups.
And as a friend once observed, I was the Godfather of our circle of friends. I was the glue that held all the parts together because I refused to let anyone go.  
 
Then within a mere two months, I got sick and the ex left. That one snapshot of life irrevocably changed my life, or more accurately, I let it change my life.
 
Not getting the holiday party invite that started this thought process, I took an opportunity to have a 20/20 look back on the nightmare I had trudged through and what kind of person the journey had left me. To put it lightly, there were some disturbing revelations. During the months and years that followed that terrible time in my life, most of my friends were slowly backing away from me. Some of them didn’t know what to say to me, others were uncomfortable with my constant droning sadness, and others maybe just liked the ex more than me. And I guess that’s how things go in a divorce, but I wasn’t able to see it as I was living in the moment. With the exception of a few couples who never gave up on me, most of that giant circle of friends I held so dearly, simply let go of who they held Sam up to be, and moved on.
 
No one likes to be left behind, and worse, no one likes to be forgotten. In that sad time of reflection, those were the feelings I was having. My problems and I must have been too much to deal with, and I was slowly being left behind and forgotten. It was devastatingly sad.  
 
After making no progress within my own brain, I took my thoughts to Alli. As she is so good at, she asked me some point-blank questions followed with practical and matter-of-fact advice. I’m not the same person I was, and either are all of those people. Life moves on and so do people. Then she reminded of the most useful tool in the friendship toolbox: if you want friends, be friendly. And then she asked me what I thought people thought about me.
 
So I took a long hard look at who I am right now. I am obviously a different person than I was three or four years ago. I’m scarred. I’m more reserved. I’m quieter. I’m more cautious in allowing people in. I swear more. I’m bolder in my opinions and care less if those opinions offend. I am also more observant and cynical of things said and done around me. (I was already bad at that last one, now it’s so much worse.)  
 
I also took a long hard look at how people might view me as a result of the previous list.  I am much less spontaneous. My spirit is somewhat darker. There will always be an unspoken opinion of me as tarnished or less of a good human because I’m divorced. I don’t come off as being fun to hang out with anymore. I might seem less hospitable. The thought of having a conversation with me could now seem cumbersome. And the hardest one to swallow? People just may not like Alli as much the ex.
 
With all of those in mind, the base point of Alli’s message to me was, “Get over yourself and move on.” Of course, she was right. I still have some really great friends and I’m still fun to be around. My more reserved nature can simply be defined as finally maturing. And making the decision to move on from self-deprecating sadness, into a new life with Alli, to a new environment in North Carolina, and recommitting myself to God’s control of my destiny, has made me a better human being than I was. I accept that I am a bruised and flawed human being and that some may now see me as less than what I was, but neither of those has to be what controls my emotions and well-being.
 
And so, when it comes to friendships, they come and go throughout our lives, and the ones that stick through it all are the ones that really matter. I bind that and make it my own.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Answers to Kyle's questions

Have you listened to any new music recently? What would you recommend and why?
Besides the new Pearl Jam album (which is probably too obvious for me to recommend), I heard a story on NPR this morning about an artist named Josh Garrels. I am definitely going to be picking up his CD’s, both for the quality of his music, his honesty in asking good lyrical questions, and the fact that to date he’s given away over 150,000 downloads of his music over the years. Why? He’d rather you taste and see without wasting money. He’s sure you’ll buy more once you hear a taste. Brave, but confident.

You mentioned a post about banking before. I would love to read that post.
Too long to add into a post like this, but I’ll work on it and get it out early next year.

If you had just one piece of financial advice to give, what would it be?
Wow, there is so much I want to say here. I’ve mentioned it many times before: couples in their late twenties to early thirties should be doing financial counseling to couples in their late teens to early twenties. It probably wouldn’t sound pretty or even be traditional advice, but it would be some of the most practical, life-applicable stuff there ever was. Everyone gets advice from their parents, but non-familial advice from younger couples is much easier to swallow and easier to “hear.”
 
But back to your question… Do some kind of savings. As Americans, even the poorest Americans, we waste money. When I tried my hand at financial counseling a couple years back, it was a pleasure to watch people’s eyes light up when I showed them simple ways to save a buck here or there. The key, of course, is getting them to save those bucks and not spend them somewhere else, but baby steps, right? Loose change can equal a dollar or two a week, which becomes fifty or a hundred bucks in year. Not much, but that’s where it starts.   

What is one dish you like to cook? Explain in detail how I can make it.
I enjoy pancakes for stay-the-night guests. (Ignoring you request for detail…) don’t make it too complicated, just buy some organic mix where all you add is water (or water and an egg) and stir up a batch. Nothing like a hearty meal in the morning to show love to a houseful of guests. Sure, you can add bacon or sausage or hash browns, but in a pinch or with unexpected guests, having a box of pancake mix in the cupboard is golden. If you want a scratch recipe I can share that too, but I just use the one from the old Betty Crocker cookbook.

What's the first story you think of upon seeing the word loyalty? How about passion?
The first story??? Not sure, I guess anything with a dog in it. Passion? Either of the Samuel-Troy books have a lot of passion-driven action in them.

What book should I read next?
Dwight’s Secret of course.

Tell us a story from your childhood when you were in danger.
As a child, you rarely understand how much danger you’re actually in. Then looking back, you shake your head you made it out of childhood at all. One story comes to mind… I was back in the woods behind where I grew up, and I was scrambling across a cliff of rocks when the rocks gave out from underneath my feet. I had been holding onto some loose rocks above me with my fingertips, but that grip was slowly being lost. Before long I was sliding down towards a steep drop off which would have sent me over the edge into the strip mine lake below me. I grabbed an exposed tree root at the very last minute, which swung me around and saved me from going over the edge. The worst part is that happened way more times than I can count. LOL!!!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Friends - Part Thirty

Last night was another late one… in bed at 2:30am and back up at 6:00am to get ready for work. But unlike the EPIC status that was hung on our last eventful outing, this night was spent sitting, talking, story-telling, and laughing in a circle of fifteen or so people, most of them related to each other but not to us, and all but two of them, completely unknown to us just two days ago. It was a beautiful picture of familial love and common friendship that was pure and genuine.

As I sit here at work thinking back to last night (to be more accurate, early this morning), I am once again brought back to the multiple requests for me to write a post about friendship. I've attempted to write that post at least five times, but every time, I've found myself lost in what direction to take the conversation. My opinion and experiences have certainly grown and evolved throughout my adult life, so finding a focused angle has been all but impossible.

I have an entire line of thoughts about electronic friendships.
I have an entire line of thoughts about continuing couple friendships after children are born.
I have an entire line of thoughts about how friendships are changed by divorce.
I have an entire line of thoughts about the intricacies of blending two personalities, then four, then six, then eight, and so on. 
I have an entire line of thoughts about “dating” friends.

Despite all those potential ideas, the one thing I would like to say about friendship, on this the last day of NaBloPoMo, is that I appreciate and love both of you wonderful woman and the sweet connection we have. This was hands-down the weakest effort we've all given to the event in recent years, but we still hung on. One of us was moving and dealing with all that goes with that. One of us had crazy busy schedules and kids and food and family that would wreck either one of the other two of us. And one of us seemed to be rushing his posts so he could fly out the door every other night for untold adventures people his age shouldn't be attempting. But most days we were all there. 

You both know I've railed against the slow death of blogging for years. FB was usually my target, but not because it in-and-of-itself is evil, but rather, it created an easier way to communicate than blogging could afford. There was no anger, only sadness. Aside from that fact, I knew without question, that you two would be up for it this month. We are literal hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles away from each other, but all together in the written word.

I loved reading about your move, Kimmy. It was a pleasure to hear and see the joy in your words at finally being where you want to be.
I loved reading about your family, Adrienne. I have always and always will think you are an impressive woman and a fantastic mother.


You two women rock, and I am proud to call you my friends. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

One of those days - Part Twenty None

This afternoon I spent an hour on the phone with five different departments and seven different people trying to get one answer to a loan question. I got it, but holy freeholy I was about to scream.

But now that I'm home, I've hugged my wife, dinner is being prepared, and we're going to hang out at a family dance camp later tonight..... all is now good. :)

I promise to write a good post tomorrow for the end of NaBloPoMo.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I won - Part Twenty Eight

I won one half of the pie contest today.

My half? Presentation. Thank you very much.

I think a few pictures were snapped, so I'll add them when/if they are shared with me.

I hope both you ladies had a good Thanksgiving. :)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pie Time - Part Twenty Seven

Tonight is pie making night.

Alli and I both had to work today and then we have to work on Friday, which eliminates any chance of getting home to Ohio, just like last year. Also like last year, we have some great friends who also can't make it home, who invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. They have a few other couples coming over, so it was decided we were going to have a pie baking contest. Alli and I want to double our chances of winning, so we're each making a pie.

My pie is one of my Mom's old recipes, called Colonial Innkeeper's Pie. It has a flour/pastry/cake  level, which has a chocolate layer poured over it before it goes in the oven. The chocolate cooks down through the body of the cake layer and then settles into a bottom layer. Oh my, so very good.

Alli's pie is a Pumpkin Pecan Pie. Exactly as it sounds, it's a pumpkin pie with a pecan pie top. We haven't tried this before, but we love both of those individually, so we can only imagine it's going to be awesome.

Off to do the toothpick test.