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Be Where Your Feet Are…

Thoughts from the Porch

Things in our world have changed drastically in the last few days. Don’t worry, I shan’t become one of the voices bemoaning the current toilet paper shortage. I’ve heard enough about that. The shelves are still empty and may be in the coming days. We’ve had to be a bit more resourceful about such matters – although I need to remind our family members not to throw baby wipes down the toilet.

I also need to remind everyone that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not a gastro-intestinal one. It’s unrealistic to believe that you’ll use up that truckload of toilet paper you bought in this lifetime, much less during a two-week quarantine. Please use your head, exercise a bit of common sense, and leave some for the rest of us. That’s all I will say about that…

I am trying, like everyone else, to adjust to the rapidly changing situation with the coronavirus pandemic. As I drove to my regular 9:00 Sunday morning meeting I noticed how few cars there were on the road. It’s never heavy at that time and day but it was eerily quiet this Sunday. State and county health departments are following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and limiting indoor gatherings to ever smaller numbers of people to prevent the spread of the virus. First, it was crowds of 500, then 250, and now 50. Moments ago, the White House said to avoid crowds of more than ten people and old folks should stay at home, period. Many churches were empty, opting for online or remote services instead. No wonder it was so ghostly quiet.

Social distancing has become a new normal.

One’s personal space just got larger. All I have to do to get through a crowded grocery store aisle is sneeze or cough – both of which are consequences of springtime pollen – and everyone gets out of the way. Sometimes allergies are a good thing. The absence of hugs and handshakes are painful though.

If it seems I’m being a bit flippant about this whole pandemic thing, I can assure you that nothing is farther from the truth. I’m taking very seriously. I check all the boxes for being at risk of becoming gravely ill if exposed – I’m over sixty, a borderline diabetic, and have a compromised immune system. I’m cautious around others but I refuse to allow fear and misinformation make my decisions for me. God knows, there’s enough of that already.

I hope to exercise a little common sense and get through this physically unscathed. It’s possible that most of us will do likewise. Unfortunately (and realistically), some will become ill and some will die. That’s what just the way this virus operates.

Then there’s the other consequences to be borne by people who can’t afford fifteen days or more of childcare, business shutdowns, and lengthy quarantines. Statistically, the vast majority of folks live paycheck to paycheck with little, if any cushion, for times like these. There will be some of you for whom this is extremely inconvenient. For most though, it will be life-altering and in many cases, devastating.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The physical, mental, emotional and economic outlook is bleak, and not only because there’s no toilet paper to be found – given the severity of the situation, you’d think cleanliness in one’s nether regions would be of less importance – but all is not lost.

I’ve been spending time monitoring social media and the comings and goings around my community. I discovered that for every tale of bare supermarket shelves, panicked hoarding, and greedy resellers there are ten or more stories of the coronavirus bringing out the best in people. Here’s what I mean:

  • My “Next Door” neighborhood app is blanketed with messages of people wanting to help those who are older or immune compromised with getting groceries, medicines, etc. One of my neighbors living on Social Security put a “Need help” post up ad I’ve watched the constant stream of cars come to her home to deliver assistance.
  • People offering to help with child-care for those who are required to work even though their kid’s Spring break has been extended in most districts.
  • Companies like Apple that are still paying their employees while their stores are closed for the next two weeks.
  • Each of the countless churches and other organizations that open their food pantries for anyone struggling with the current crisis.
  • I was speaking with my ex-daughter-in-law yesterday and she told me of simply checking on the kid’s friends who were having to stay home alone due to the extended break and parents who couldn’t afford to miss work.

Thankfully, the list continues. I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere. I would like to think so.

This pandemic and how to deal with it is uncharted territory for most of us. We’ve had scares in the past – bird flu, swine flu, and SARS/MERS (also in the coronavirus family) – but we haven’t seen a true pandemic in our lifetime. Despite the current Administration’s inept handling of the crisis and the plethora of wild conspiracy theories, lies, and minimalizations accompanying it, people show a resiliency that offers a glimmer of hope for human beings in general. My prayer is that we’ll fan that flame and take care of one another.

So, my friends, be kind to one another and yourselves. Don’t panic. “Be where your feet are”, as my wife often reminds me. Don’t rush or hoard. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and think of others. Step back, take a deep breath and we’ll all walk through this one together. It may not eliminate COVID-19 but it sure can’t hurt…

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What defines us?

Thoughts From the Porch: I’ve spent a great deal of time in reflection over the last couple of days. I’ve experienced a lot of gratitude this weekend. Quite honestly, I wondered whether I should share it with a wider audience.

Saturday, December 1st was the thirtieth anniversary of Worlds AIDS Day. The theme this year was “Know your status”. According to the World Health Organization, over a million people a year die from AIDS because they either didn’t know their status or started treatment too late. HIV/AIDS doesn’t need to be a death sentence. Advances in treatment have made HIV/AIDS a treatable chronic condition. AIDS patients know that adherence to treatment regimens help them lead long, productive, happy lives. But that doesn’t happen is one doesn’t know their status.

You can only address the problem when you recognize the problem.

AIDS rarely makes the news anymore. Lack of coverage doesn’t mean it’s gone away. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, a girl between the ages of15 and 24, becomes infected with HIV every minute of every day. Every minute. Every day.

Mark World AIDS Day 2018 by “knowing your status”.

Having said that, December 1st also marks thirteen years since my personal rebirth. On that day I began a journey I thought impossible for someone like me. I’m one of the few who get to live “two lives in one lifetime” as Margaret often reminds me. It was ironic that it was also World AIDS Day, but I wouldn’t see the irony until five months later…

Professionally, I refrain from discussing the events of all those years ago for a couple of reasons. One, to do so is somewhat suicidal in the business world. Self-disclosure, particularly of one’s failures, even when followed by success, is frowned upon in the professional community. Secondly, many misconceptions and fear lead to conscious and unconscious prejudices that are somewhat detrimental to business owners such as me.

However, I have difficulty separating my professional life from my personal life. The events of my sixty years, and particularly the last thirteen of them, have shaped who I am today.

 Saturday marked thirteen years of my recovery journey, and more importantly, my relationship with God. That may not be a big deal to many folks, but it is to me. I never thought it possible. Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful for the “gift of desperation”.

 I remember when I celebrated my first year in recovery, I proudly told my mom I hadn’t used any mind-altering substances for a year. She looked at me and said, “So, I haven’t used them in seventy-seven years”. She always had a way of putting things in perspective. Seeking recognition for something that most people do normally seems kind of foolish when I think about it.

However, to diminish the miracle of recovery would be just as unwise. I still remember the hopelessness, degradation, and desperation I felt the day before I began the recovery journey. I also know what it is to experience the depth of God’s infinite grace. To refrain from sharing it would be quite selfish, and selfishness is not something I wish to entertain any longer. Besides, the more I share, the more there is to receive. Go figure. The more I give the more I have. Let that one sink in…

Life didn’t stop showing up just because I began the recovery journey. I’d been clean and sober for about five months when the consequences of my past caught up with me. I was diagnosed with AIDS. Not HIV positive, mind you, but full-blown AIDS.

The level of CD-4, or T-cells, those wonderful components of the immune system the HIV virus attacks and destroys, determines whether one receives an HIV or AIDS diagnosis and thus, the treatment protocol. Simply put, AIDS patients have a CD-4 count of less than two hundred, while HIV positive individuals have a count above the two hundred mark.

Everything I knew at the time about HIV/AIDS was that people who had it died. Thirteen years later, I see it a little differently. I learned my status and I could do something about it.

 I live a pretty marvelous life these days. My wife Margaret and I are what’s called a “magnet couple”. She’s negative and I’m positive, HIV speaking. I’m a good husband, father, and grandfather, at least I hope so. I have a wealth of wonderful relationships that I didn’t think possible all those years ago. I’m not defined by my failures, but rather, refined by them. No one should be. Think about that next time you look in the mirror or think about the person in front of you…

 

 The irony of having the same clean date as World AIDS Day isn’t lost on me. It’s a constant reminder that choices have consequences. It enables me to make better choices (at least I hope so…). It’s also a daily reminder of “who’s” I am and that His grace is what defines me today…

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Who’s Your Village?

black metal armchair
Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.

This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.

As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.

(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.

Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”

I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.

My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?

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Never-ending Honeymoons…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday was the big day for our son and our new daughter-in-law. We welcome Amanda into the family with tons of love and gratitude. She’s a beautiful, remarkable young woman and incredible addition to our family. We pray continued blessing and happiness for the Brandon and Amanda.

close up of wedding rings on floor
Photo by Megapixelstock on Pexels.com

It was a beautiful ceremony with pastoral surroundings. Despite the rain and grey skies, the wedding and reception went well, and a good time had by all who attended. We received a text from the happy couple this morning as they boarded the plane bound for the honeymoon. The best thing about the whole affair? It’s over!

I’m not a crabby old man mind you. I love weddings. I’ve had the privilege of performing many wedding ceremonies over the years. Couples, especially the brides, look more stunningly beautiful than ever, and I get to see the love in their eyes up close. There’s something incredibly holy about that moment. I’m always awed by the power and beauty I witness. It was no less holy seeing it from the attendee’s point of view.

However, I’m happy it’s over. The lead up to the big day was stressful for everyone in the family. It feels like a pressure valve a has been released and we can all breath again. No more worry about invitations, dresses, and food choices for the reception. After yesterday, Margaret and I slept in this morning. I can’t remember the last time I slept until 9:30! We spent an inordinate amount of time on the porch this morning. As I write this morning my thoughts are more about binge watching Netflix than finishing this post, so you may not be seeing this until Monday…

And so, it is Monday…

Monday has arrived, and it feels beautifully normal. Up early, coffee on, and time on the porch. I shall not bore you with the details. It feels like Fall though. For that I’m unbelievably grateful.

autumn autumn leaves blur close up
Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Looking back at this weekend, I was reminded of my own marriage and how blessed I am. It will be our sixth anniversary in March. I know that doesn’t sound like a long time to folks who have been married for much longer, but it amazes me. I’m sure I’m not always the easiest person to live with.

Margaret and I had been friends for several years before we dated. I always wanted to go out with her, but quite frankly, I figured I was out of her league. I had been single for a long time and, because I had chosen to be public about my HIV status, I thought I’d remain that way. Being positive kind of screws up the whole dating thing. I’m not complaining, mind you, because looking back, I know God was preparing me for what was to come. I had to learn to love myself, and by His grace, my willingness, and an incredible group of men, I did. Loving myself allows me to love others fully. Maybe that’s why Jesus placed such importance on “loving others as you love yourself”.

During that time, He was also preparing Margaret. I guess it was no surprise that our courtship was short – only ninety-one days. Thanks to our many friends who banded together to pull off a gorgeous wedding in only eight days (many of you know the story), two became one. If such haste seems foolhardy, each day since has reaffirmed our (or at least my) decision. Apparently, we became a ‘magnet couple’ – I’m HIV positive and she’s is, and remains negative…

We’ve had some hurtles since our wedding day, most of them physical. A month after our wedding, I ended up in intensive care behind a post-operative meningitis infection for a month. It was touch and go. Margaret worried about planning a funeral a month after planning a wedding. Then a couple of years later, Margaret had complications from back surgery leading to chronic pain and decreased (and sometimes extremely little) mobility. Neither of us planned on these challenges, but it is what it is, right? All they are is speed bumps on this wonderful journey we began together.

Sometimes the challenges we face cause self-doubt. We’re not exempt, nor is anyone I know of. While Margaret isn’t an invalid by any means, there are days when she’s really hurting and needs more of my attention. I’m grateful that I work from home most days and can be there to help. She apologizes and wonders if I’m second-guessing getting married. I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never had second thoughts. Yet, I can tell you that on the days I’m irritable, frustrated, or depressed I wonder if she’s rethinking this whole deal. Sometimes my brain is not my friend…

For both of us, self-doubt is fleeting, erased by the love we share. Feelings are one thing and, at least in my case, rarely have anything to do with reality. The reality is that I’m still awed that God could have blessed me so richly. I still get giddy when Margaret walks in the room. When I look into her eyes, I see the love there and I come back to reality quickly. I still can’t believe that she said yes…

I know that Saturday was Brandon and Amanda’s special day, but I need to tell you, it was truly special for me, too. Margaret stepped out of the bride’s room as we prepared to walk down the aisle. I was floored. She’d been locked away all day with the bride and bridesmaids getting ready for the ceremony. I saw my bride. She looked even more beautiful than the day we wed. I truly am the most blessed man in the world…

I hope that our kids have the same joy and love that Margaret and I share. If the vows they wrote for one another are any indicator, then I’m certain they will. If I could offer any advice to the newlyweds, it would be this: never lose you sense of wonder that your spouse chose to spend the rest of their life with you. When in doubt, remember how they looked at you on your wedding day, and perhaps more importantly, how you looked at them.

My prayer for you all is that you feel the butterflies and the awe every time the love of your life walks in the room…

animal beautiful biology bloom
Photo by Cindy Gustafson on Pexels.com

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Car Wash Economics

(You have the unedited version today! My ‘editor’ is out with another one of her friends today and I’m so happy she’s having a good time…)

I limited my time on the porch Saturday morning. Margaret’s friend, Mary, came over early after she got off work for the Friday overnight. They were going shopping at the upscale resale shops in Dallas to find a dress for Margaret to wear to our son’s wedding. It does my heart good to see her get out and about. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the high dose of estrogen in the conversation on the porch so at sought the solace of my office…

I love Saturday and Sunday mornings. I take time to catch up on the reading I missed during the week. The coffee always seems to taste just a wee bit better than on weekdays. The newsfeed has more ‘feel good’, human interest stories since it’s a slow news day. The mood is much more relaxed, and the hurry of the weekday work schedule is absent. The ‘To-Do’ list will get attention in due time. On the weekend things will either get done or they won’t, if you know what I mean…

Margaret managed to last all day and into the evening on Saturday. She was anxious to tell me of their adventures and believe me, ‘resale-ing’ is an adventure for her. I’m thankful for her friend Mary, and her patience in helping Margaret get around – getting the wheelchair in and out of the truck, previewing shops, wheeling her across rugged parking lots, and so forth. We are richly blessed by the people in our lives.

Margaret and I live simply. The quiet little cul-de-sac where we reside is peaceful. When we first bought our house, the westside of Fort Worth and the suburb was nowhere on our radar, but we’ve decided our house was a gift just waiting for us to move in. We’re not well-to-do, but we are rich in friends and family. We have issues like everyone else. They just don’t seem to be a big deal anymore. I’d like to think that we’re becoming wiser as we age, but I’m not sure that’s the case. It simply doesn’t require much to be happy.

Finances grew tighter after her back surgery three years ago. Going from two incomes to one hasn’t always been easy, but the money situation doesn’t stress us out like it used to. My friend Jim used to tell me that true happiness comes from ‘wanting what you have and not just having what you want’. We have a happy life, even when the shadier side of life rears its ugly head. Things and ‘stuff’ aren’t so important to us. If there’s any extravagance in our lifestyle it’s that we spend more than we should on eating out with our family and friends. I guess that’s why Margaret’s tale of yesterday’s adventures was so revealing about the life we live.

Apparently, they sought out some ‘upscale’ resale and consignment shops in North Dallas as the dress they were searching for was something between an evening gown or cocktail dress. Now I’m no stranger to classy occasions but I lean toward practicality. Our son, who wanted to buy a dress for Margaret, didn’t want her to have something used. She explained to him that there was no sense spending a small fortune for something that would only get worn a couple of times (we don’t get that fancy very often either…). A pretty dress is pretty whether you’re the first-time owner or the second. Still, when they ended up running into our son in Big D, they managed to find their way to a fancy, dress boutique. I won’t give all the details, but it was obvious some people live far more extravagantly than us. North Dallas is a different beast than what we’re used to…

Their shopping trip started me thinking about an experience with a friend of mine sometime back and how I look at the world around me. I was doing some work at his house and as I was finishing up, he asked if I would mind running his BMW to the car wash for him. Quite frankly, I was happy to, especially since I’m a truck kind of guy. I was extra careful driving to the car wash. When I arrived I asked for the wash package he wanted. I was shocked by the thirty-dollar price tag, but hey, I wasn’t paying for it. When they were finished, I said thanks and drove off. On the way back, it occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to tip the car wash guys.

I didn’t say anything about it until I got home and asked Margaret if I had been ‘one of those customers’, you know, the ones that don’t tip. I’ve been in the service industry. I’ve lived on tips.  I strive never to be ‘one of those guys’ and probably tip too much. I had to admit that in all my sixty years I’d never been to a car wash before. Margaret was amazed. Even though I was slightly embarrassed I kept thinking why would I pay somebody thirty bucks to do what I could do myself?

I get it though. Sometimes you pay for convenience. I’ve been there. I’ve been known to do the same on occasion. Even when I can afford to do so, I find myself feeling somewhat uneasy about paying for it. I’m not a tightwad by any means but if I feel a little irresponsible with our finances when I do so. I’ve thought a lot about why I feel this way and others don’t.

My friend with the sports car says it’s about a poverty mindset and how I look at money. He gave me a book called Money Drunk Money Sober by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan. I was struck by many of the traits indicative of a ‘poverty drunk’. I was raised in an upper middle-class home by two parents who struggled and survived the Great Depression. Although I never went without, there was an attitude of scarcity pervading our home. The pantry was always stocked, and we never bought anything that wasn’t on sale (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but there was a constant ‘what if’ in the air. I guess that’s why I chased the big money for so long in my career. According to Cameron and Bryan, this is also characteristic of poverty addicts.

Looking back, I was driven by the idea of fear and scarcity. I lived waiting for the proverbial ‘other shoe to drop’. If my upbringing started it, the constant media bombardment added some rocket fuel to the mix. The message that I wouldn’t be good enough unless I had this or that new car, house, or thing-a-ma-jig was constant. No wonder I always wanted more – more money, more ‘stuff’ – and if I didn’t have those things, I could always dull the pain of inadequacy with either chemicals or self-righteous judgement of others (a form of manufactured saintliness and feigned higher moral values). Old patterns are hard to break.

I’m grateful that my self-worth is no longer contingent on my acquisition of wealth. I don’t find any virtue in poverty either. I’ve been with and without money. Believe me, I’d rather have it – it buys convenience – than not have it, but I’ve learned to be happy either way (most of the time). I still struggle with undervaluing my work and have difficulty asking customers for money that I worked for. As much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m introverted and socially awkward, the reality is my much deeper fight for self-worth. Some of you know exactly what I mean…

The more I pondered this idea of poverty drunkenness and addiction, the deeper I had to go inside myself. Did I believe I was more spiritual or virtuous if I had less stuff than others? It isn’t more virtuous or spiritual to be poor than it is to be wealthy. Money and what it can buy may be society’s metric for success, but it is based on the idea of scarcity – there just isn’t enough to go around. There’s always going to be the ‘haves and have not’s’? That’s only true if economics is based on the law of scarcity. When the basis for my economics changed, my metrics changed.

The deeper and more intimate my relationship with God has become, the more my perception of scarcity began to change. Looking back over the years, God has always taken care of me, 100% of the time, despite my efforts to do otherwise. Slowly, I’ve moved from a position of worry and ‘what ifs’ to a place of trust. My value comes from outside myself. It’s no longer about who I am, but whose I am. My economic perceptions slowly shifted to God’s economics, the economics of abundance, the idea of ‘enough’. There’s enough to go around. Life has become much simpler, and far less worrisome as a result. What’s wildly ironic is that the more I give away, the more I have…

Having said all this, I’ve come to a place where, at least for the most part, I don’t judge according to one’s pocketbook or social standing nor do I particularly care if others judge me that way or not. The measure of a man is not in what he has but what he gives away. It doesn’t matter where he falls on the wealth scale. I know of incredibly wealthy folks who greedily hang onto to every penny and people without a proverbial “pot to piss in’ who give outlandishly.

After hearing tales of Margaret and Mary’s adventure in North Dallas I still find it a little incredulous that one would be upset by the idea of used clothes, especially when a new dress is marked down from $700 to $100 (seriously, true story…). Then again, I’ve become a jeans and tee shirt kind of guy. Dressing up is a good pair of ironed and starched blue jeans with a button-down dress shirt. Comfort seems to exceed to need for fashion statements. I’m okay with that

After our morning coffee and the recollection of their adventure Saturday, I got up, cleaned house and worked on a shelf I’m building out of recycled lumber. As I was waiting on the stain to dry, I went out and washed my truck, in the driveway, by myself. I need to tell you that it looked pretty good and I didn’t have to tip anyone…