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I Cast No Stones…

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s finally Fall in Texas. I was greeted by temperatures in the forties, a crystal-clear morning, and the song of birds that haven’t been around our area since last year. I haven’t put pen to paper or keyboard to screen in a bit. I had a tinge of disappointment when I realized this is the first October entry and there were only a couple for September.

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Margaret went to the hospital on Labor Day, came home two weeks later, and is back in the hospital again. The only good news is that this time it’s for a broken leg. We were heading to the porch when Maggie decided to bolt out the door, knocking her over, and breaking the tibial plateau. Apparently, this a rare break and she’ll have to keep pressure off the leg for the next twelve weeks. Leave it to us to try and be unique…

Anyway, my trips are once again between home, hospital, and Opal’s Farm. It’s an all-to-familiar cycle I hope to break (no pun intended Baby!) soon. We’d certainly appreciate your prayers…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I found this gem in my morning meditation. Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She spent her life ministering to “the least of these” – addicts, the homeless, the marginalized, and broken people. She often wrote in her diary of the temptation to give up. She also wrote of the reason that kept her going.

“Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me clarity. If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in his love.”

Her honest look at herself – “the unwed pregnancy, her quick temper and often biting tongue – that allowed her to show grace to others.” (Phillip Yancey, What Good is God?). When I practice brutal honesty with myself I too, find grace much easier to extend to others.

I’ve often heard others quote Jesus, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” but all-too-often I fail to put those words into practice. When I do, however, I find a peace I never dreamed possible.

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“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Down On the Farm: Happy Labor Day to you all! Many folks get today off. There will be family get-togethers, barbeques, pool parties, and end-of-the summer celebrations. Please take a moment to remember why this day became a national holiday 125 years ago today. It was to celebrate the common worker and recognize the difficult, and often dangerous work of the American Labor Movement. If you’re saying thanks for the BBQ and a long weekend, take a moment to say thanks for our predecessors that made this day possible.

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Just Vote…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yes, folks. This is another voter turnout post. I’m sure you’ve been bombarded by political ads, voter turnout robocalls, and every conceivable mailer you can imagine, from applauding your voting record to shaming you for apathy. Please bear with me, though. This is an issue close to my heart. It matters!

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I questioned my role in voter participation as a Jesus-follower. I know where my true citizenship is. I may be entitled to U.S. citizenship by virtue of birth, but I follow my Rabbi first and foremost. I realized just how privileged I am to live here, especially in Texas. This is my earthly home, where my friends and family are, and where I’ll more than likely stay until I leave this world. I’m not confused, though. One’s spiritual beliefs are not an excuse for not voting. However, they change my motivation for voting.

The Gospels reflect Jesus’ concern for the neglected and marginalized. He went as far to say that how we treat them is how we treat Him. Pretty powerful words. In an election year that will affect the poor, the elderly, the immigrant, and the disenfranchised, your vote does matter. How you vote is also a reflection of how you see them.

While elections are always about how we see our political leadership, this year is also a reflection of how we see ourselves. What are our values? Are our decisions based on fear, class distinctions, and exclusion or they ones of faith, the common good, and inclusive of all? Everyone will answer those questions for themselves. Elections are important. How we vote matters to us all…

I took advantage of early voting and a rainy Wednesday last week to place my ballot. I was thrilled by the diverse crowd that was there on a Wednesday afternoon. I spent time in prayer and reflection about the matter before me and performed one of the privileges of my physical citizenship. It should be done with reflection.

I’m overjoyed when I hear the reports that voter turnout is exceeding expectations. I’d love for everyone to vote for my choices, but that’s unrealistic. The bottom line is that they were there casting their ballot.

Results will be in Tuesday evening. There will be winners and losers. Some of you will be elated by the results and others frustrated and disappointed. That’s how it works.

My friend Edgar always says, “Chop wood and let the chips fall where they may”. Go out there and vote. The chips will take care of themselves, but you won’t have chips if you don’t chop the wood…

person dropping paper on box
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Hearings and listening…

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s officially dark when I take my coffee to the porch these days. The mornings are cooler, often in the low sixties, and quieter than usual. September is sliding into October, the lawn has a few more leaves on it each day, and rain comes more often and usually overstays its visit. We might have a Fall that lasts longer than a weekend this year…

I listened to Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony of his sexual assault accuser, Ms. Ford, even though I told myself I shouldn’t. After all, the outcome is predictable: wealth, privilege, and power will carry the day regardless of what’s right. That’s what the last couple of years have proven anyway. I used to get angry, now I’m simply sad. Still, I’m drawn to same-old, same-old like a moth to a flame, hoping this time it will end differently. That my friends, is the definition of insanity…

Life has taught me to look for the good, even when the situation says otherwise. Even though I think the Judiciary Committee’s majority and Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to be detestable, some good things have already come out of it, believe it or not. Ms. Ford’s testimony was measured and truthful as she stood in front of millions and detailed her experience with Mr. Kavanaugh. I can only imagine the courage it took to sit there for all to see and hear. Whether her testimony sways the vote of those with wealth, power, and privilege remains to be seen, but maybe it will make us all look at our actions and attitudes toward women. I have…

In fact, the last two years, although politically horrendous, have one bright spot: they brought out all the racial strife, misogyny, and often, hate, hidden just beneath the surface of American life. We’ve all known it was there but did little to address it. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that I can’t fix a problem unless I admit I have one. Until I do, the solution remains elusive. I keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Where have I heard that before?

The up side is that once I admit my problem I’m already halfway to the solution. I can do something about it.  It works for me personally and professionally, maybe it works for others. The #Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements have made me look at my ideas about women, race, and culture in general. Honestly, I haven’t always liked what I’ve seen, but I have an opportunity to transform old ideas and attitudes. That changes my actions. The consequence is that I love others better, begin to think more about the common good, and grow closer to the man I want and God, wants me to be.

Even something as detestable as the current administration and the SCOTUS nominee can have positive results when it motivates one to look inside. Hopefully, it creates a desire for our better selves…

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North Texas Giving Day is tomorrow!

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon here in Fort Worth. The days are getting shorter and it’s been dark when I venture onto the porch. A cool, calm resides in our little cul-de-sac. There aren’t many things better than seeing the light slowly creep across the yard until fills the morning and another new day awakes.

Please excuse the lateness of the hour. It was a very busy morning. Between doctor appointments and meetings there was little time at the desk today. However, I would be remiss if I failed to remind you that tomorrow, September 20th, is North Texas Giving Day. I know, I know; you’re shocked that I mention this again, right?

North Texas Giving Day is the perfect opportunity to make your donation stretch farther. You can find them at https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc. And just in case you forgot about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm I’m reposting (again) our North Texas Giving Day article. Thanks, and y’all have a great afternoon…

A Very Special North Texas Giving Day…

How Do You Eat an Elephant in the Desert?

 

The word ‘desert’ conjures up images of intensely hot, arid weather, sand dunes, and harsh conditions. We tend to imagine them to be far-off places like the Middle East or Africa. What if I told you that the desert was only a few blocks or a couple of miles away from your front door? While it may not be hot and covered with sand, it’s just as harsh as the Sahara or Death Valley. It’s a local food desert and it affects us all.

The USDA defines food deserts as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”

This occurs when there’s no local grocer or farmer’s market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. The only food available is at local convenience stores and “Quickie Marts” that carry only processed convenience foods that have little or no nutritional value and contribute to the obesity epidemic, diabetes, and heart disease.

The USDA Economic Research Service has mapped “census tracts” and defines them as a “census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low‐income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.”

According to government data, Tarrant County alone has over forty census tracts designated as food deserts!

How does this affect you? First and foremost, this is a humanitarian issue – EVERYONE has the basic human right of access to food and health. Tarrant County is fortunate to experience strong economic growth and has for many years. As the population grows and more residents move to the suburbs, the grocery stores and farmer’s markets follow them, and often close the less-profitable stores left in low-income urban neighborhoods where food and hunger exist as well.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity “as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. … Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household.

In Tarrant County, one in four children (and one in three if they are African-American or Hispanic) go to bed hungry or face food insecurity. One does not have to live below the Federal Poverty Threshold of household income of $24,858 per year to experience food insecurity. Over 25% of households facing food insecurity live at or just above the poverty guidelines and fully 36% receive no federal or state benefits. (further information is available through the Tarrant Area Food Bankhttps://tafb.org/ and Feeding America www.feedingamerica.org).

Not only is this a humanitarian issue, but one of economic concern as well. The resulting health issues from lack of nutritious food create more emergency room visits and hospital care for often preventable illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. Low-income residents, often uninsured, are forced to utilize county hospitals such as John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Care for low-income and indigent clients places an additional burden on the county health system and is often borne by the entire community in a variety of social and economic ways. Longer wait times for healthcare and additional property taxes are just the tip of the iceberg…

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming, but there is a solution!

Addressing food issues is much like eating an elephant. It can only be done one bite at a time! Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) has taken the first bite!

Unity Unlimited, Inc. was granted use of thirteen vacant acres in Fort Worth by the Trinity Regional Water District (TRWD) for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Ms. Opal Lee, a longtime community and humanitarian activist in Fort Worth, is a founding member of Unity Unlimited, Inc. focused on helping people overcome racial and cultural division so that they can live productive lives in harmony with their fellow man. Talks with TRWD led to the dream of an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community. That dream has become reality.

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The necessary permits are being issued and Unity Unlimited, Inc. will soon be breaking ground on Opal’s Farm. Located just east of downtown, the farm sits on rich, fertile bottom land near the Trinity River. Initially, five acres will be prepared for planting right away. The remaining eight acres will undergo soil preparation for additional crops. Only 100% organic methods will be utilized with special care given to the soil and the environment.

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Following each growing season, produce will be distributed throughout area food deserts, helping restore health and vitality to local neighborhoods. A portion of the fruits and vegetables will be sold to local chefs, restaurateurs, and markets to support local farm-to-table needs and to help make the farm self-sustaining.

It’s not only about the food – that’s just the first step. Changing lives, educating, providing growth opportunities – that’s what agricultural intervention can do!

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The farm will create jobs, provide job training, and bring a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-reliance to the local community. The 13 available acres of urban land will connect food production, processing and distribution in the same space. This is basically from farm to plate; which is a win-win for the residents, county, state, and country.

Opal’s Farm and North Texas Giving Day

Opal’s Farm invites you to become an “urban farmer”, to take the first bite out of the proverbial elephant. Whether as a volunteer, farm sponsor or financial partner, together we can take a bite out of surrounding food deserts and build healthy, vibrant Fort Worth neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 20th, 2018 is North Texas Giving Day. Communities Foundation of Texas’ North Texas Giving Day offers a special opportunity to become an “urban farmer” and a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. Make your secure donation at  https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/unity-unlimited-inc. Throw on your overalls and become a part of Opal’s Farm today!

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Preparing the Soil

The sky opened up yesterday afternoon and let go of all the accumulated tropical moisture that blew into North Texas from the Gulf. I started getting nervous when the water moved up from the yard toward the back door. It didn’t last more than thirty or forty minutes before it turned into a gentle soaking rain for the remainder of the afternoon. The weather folks said we only got two inches, but even two inches in a short period of time like that can be disastrous. There’s a good possibility of even stronger thunderstorms this afternoon. If it floods, it floods. Only a few weeks ago we were complaining about the drought…

I haven’t posted much this week. I’ve been preoccupied with the two big projects going on in my life lately. One is filling my sales pipeline. Starting a new business isn’t easy for anyone, especially when it involves a whole new clientele. My previous business efforts paid off in referral business because of the quality work I offered and served me well for several years. It takes time and that can be a difficult process for me. So, I continue to do the footwork even when I haven’t reaped a harvest yet. I believe in the “Field of Dreams” theory – “Build it and they will come…”

That’s even more appropriate when it comes to the second big project – Ms. Opal’s Farm. At present, there’s little reward in the form of monetary means. Still, it receives most of my effort these days. It would make more sense, financially at least, if it were secondary to money-making activities, but financial rewards aren’t always the number one priority. So, we’ve ‘tightened our belts’ a bit and moved forward in the knowledge that this is where God is leading us.

The wheels are turning more quickly now. Although verbal agreements and intents are in place, the final paperwork is frustratingly slow. Still, groundbreaking on our urban farm is in sight. Then the real work begins – soil to be prepared, irrigation laid, and seed to be sown – all the things that require commitment, patience, and sweat – kind of like life…

The Rabbi I follow often used parables to get folks thinking about life and how they were living. Spending most of his time in rural towns, he liked to use farming as an example. One of my favorites is the one known as the Parable of the Sower.

To make a long story short, (the whole thing can be found in Luke 8. 1-15) a farmer is sowing seeds (and a bit haphazardly, at that) and they land in some different places with different results. There’s the trampled soil of the path itself, the rocky soil, the ground covered in weeds, and the nutrient-enriched, ‘black dirt’ soil. The seeds either were eaten by the birds (the beaten path), couldn’t take root, (the gravel), or were choked out by the weeds. Only good old black dirt produced a rich bounty. Even his followers were slow to understand what he was talking about, so he breaks it down further, so maybe they’ll understand what in the world he’s talking about…

I grew up hearing this story many times. The standard interpretation was that ‘the seed’ was the word of God and I had better have a righteous heart to receive it. I believed that until a friend asked me, “What kind of soil are you?” Honestly, I was a bit confused by the question. I won’t bore you with the details of the conversation that followed, but I will tell you that I see the story a bit differently today. It has far more to do with the soil than the seed and it means far more to me today.

I quickly realized that I’d become ‘the beaten path’ – life was too hard to grow anything. I had allowed life, and others, to wear me down, to trample over me, until I couldn’t sustain anything for long. It was readily apparent in my addiction and often, people-pleasing manipulation. For that I’m somewhat grateful; it’s far more, subtle for most people.

The first thing we’ll be doing for Ms. Opal’s Farm is preparing the soil. We are fortunate. The land designated for our farm is rich, Trinity River bottomland, but it still needs to be prepared. Using 100% organic means (in other words, nature’s way), we’ll nurture the soil to prepare for planting through composting and covering. We’ll follow that up with planting, watering, and eventually, harvesting. I’m excited about the harvest because I know that the good soil, the ‘black dirt’, will produce a bumper crop for the surrounding community.

Just like on the farm, we’ll be preparing the ‘soil’ in the neighborhoods as well. We firmly believe that an agricultural intervention can not only bring much needed healthy fruits and vegetables denied to low-income communities for far too long but build community, as well. Low-income communities have been ‘beaten down’ by a myriad of issues; food insecurity, the lack of access to healthy foods and the resulting medical issues, and by isolation as well. The farm will produce opportunities, not just high-quality agricultural products. Work, training, and entrepreneurial spirit are the natural by-product for communities that are often overlooked by others.

I’m excited for the future of our farm, the surrounding neighborhoods, the growth ahead. I plan to keep you posted as to our progress. If you’d like to share in our work, in ‘preparing the soil’, please contact myself or anyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and your donations, whether it be in dollars or time, are greatly appreciated.

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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…