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Grackles and Dreamers

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a gray, dreary, and cold weekend here in North Texas. There were rumors of sleet around us, but here in Fort Worth it was a constant drizzle. I spent several winters in the Colorado High Country and I’ve never felt the cold like I do here. It’s the kind of bone-piercing cold that feels like thousands of tiny needles poking you all at once. Of course, I’m much older now and maybe it was simply youthful exuberance that made the cold more bearable. Today is to be warmer and it’ll be seventy in the next couple of days. I’ll quit complaining now…

I had to run to the grocery store yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as busy as usual. Everyone must have opted for Netflix binging rather than dealing with the weather. When I got home, I paused on the porch to enjoy what gray light remained of the day. I’d love to tell how I got tom enjoy the quiet at the end of a long, dismal day, but that wasn’t the case. The caterwauling of hundreds of Grackles in the surrounding trees put an end to any idea of quiet enjoyment of the porch. It was so deafening I couldn’t even hear my inner voice, much less the next-door neighbor saying hello as he walked to his vehicle.

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Some of you might be unfamiliar with Grackles, so allow me to explain. The “Great-tailed” or “Mexican” Grackle is a medium-size bird originally native to Central America. According to Wikipedia, they’ve increased their range by over 5500% and can be found through much of the United States. I’m convinced however, that the greatest concentration of them are in my trees…

I don’t wish to offend bird lovers, but I don’t like Grackles. If we lived outside the city limits, I would have no problem declaring open season with the shotgun. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. They bring color and song to our quiet little cul-de-sac. Grackles, not so much. They are, like city pigeons, flying rats. Noisy, flying rats…

Please don’t judge me if you’ve never experienced a flock of Grackles. They are incredible foragers and they have little fear of humans. They mock efforts to shew them away. They fly together in huge flocks, often darkening the sky and even been known to interfere with traffic.

Several years ago, the Grackle problem got so bad in downtown Fort Worth that a noise cannon could be heard going off in hopes of driving them out of the city center. Sundance Square, the jewel in the crown of Downtown Cowtown, was so noisy and covered in bird droppings it was difficult to find a safe place to sit and enjoy a summer evening outdoors. The city sought to drive them away lest they deter commerce and conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, they ended up in quiet little neighborhoods like ours. You wouldn’t believe I wash my vehicles and sidewalk regularly.

That being said, I noticed something somewhat unique to our Grackle population. They were all yelling (it can’t really be called ‘singing’) over one another creating incredible dissonance when all the sudden it was eerily quiet. I’m not talking about the noise fading out. It was as if someone yelled, “lights out” and the entire flock stopped at once. It went from a din to silence in the flick of a switch. Looking up I couldn’t see a one.

I guess I’m a bit simple. Little things really intrigue me. The Grackles may be flying rats but they’re awesome flying rats. Now I know there’s several scientific and biological reasons for their unique abilities, but to go from unbearable dissonance to complete silence in a second is pretty darn awesome. It’s not as though there were a few birds here. We’re talking about a flock of hundreds of birds acting as one. Sometimes I wish people were like that…

I sit at my newsfeed every morning, only to be greeted with all the dissonance around me. Everyone yelling at everyone else. Everyone shouting how right they are. Everyone screeching to be heard. Everyone screaming out for their self-interests. Sounds a lot like the Grackles to me.

Imagine if whole neighborhoods, whole communities, acted as one. You know, for the best interest of the ‘flock’. Imagine if my selfishness was replaced by concern for my neighbor, my community, heck, for my planet. Imagine if, instead of yelling to be heard, everyone got quiet together, changed the manner of discourse and talked to one another. I don’t really expect it to happen, but what if…

You’re right, I’m a dreamy-eyed idealist. Maybe the world needs more idealists. It tends to get beaten out of children in favor of being a practical, rational adult. It’s a little ironic that Jesus said we should “become like little children” if we really wanted to live out the Kingdom of God. Like John Lennon sang, “People say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

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Thanks for Being Part of my Journey

“It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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Predeccessors

Thoughts From the Porch: All is quiet and peaceful on the porch this morning. Everyone else is sound asleep and I get to indulge in extra cups of coffee all to myself. It may sound selfish, but moments like this are few and far between in family life. I intend to relish in the moment, enjoying the quiet and a sunrise hidden by the overcast skies.

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Ms. Opal and I were invited to speak to a university class about Opal’s Farm. It went well. You all know I love to talk about the farm. As such, I’m rarely intimidated by public speaking. I must admit I was a bit nervous as the class filled. Things have changed drastically since I was a university student. There wasn’t an overhead projector to be found. It may sound silly, but I felt really old. I still remember how cutting edge it was to type my term papers on a gold old IBM Selectric typewriter. Heck, I didn’t even bring a Power Point presentation. Yes, things have changed.

As Ms. Opal and I were walking back across campus to our vehicle, we spoke of sharing our experience with young people. The students at TCU were attentive, interested, and engaging. Not all young people are. That’s a shame.

I am under no illusions. Young people are better navigating the technologies available and I’m glad. If it weren’t for my grand-kids I may never have gotten my phone to work right. Some of you know what I mean. Still, young folks today tend to neglect the wealth of wisdom that comes from our elders and that makes me a little sad.

I’m not saying I have any wisdom to impart mind you. Most of my life has been an example of what not to do. I didn’t start growing up until I was in my late forties. It wasn’t until then that I began to truly appreciate my elders.

Appreciating my elders meant I had to spend more time with them. It began with my Mom and kind of spread out from there. Dad had already passed, and Mom was in an assisted living facility here in Fort Worth. I stopped by to check on her several times a week and see if she needed anything. I met the ladies who sat at her table in the dining room and several of the other residents, particularly those who didn’t have frequent visits from outside the facility.

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I saw the sheer delight in their eyes as they began sharing their life experiences and memories with me. It dawned on me that having someone to listen was all-to-rare for many of them. I’ve found that listening is not only a gift to them, it’s filled my own life with a wealth of joy.

Try to spend some time with your predecessors today. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to impart. Who knows? You might just make their day, and yours will be blessed beyond imagination…

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Just a Reminder

I know you’re going to get tired of hearing this – Opal’s Farm is having a ribbon cutting on February 15th! I just can’t help myself. I’m compelled to shout it from the rooftops!

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Sustainable? Not Really…

My friend Jim used to remind me that “when you point the finger at someone else, there’s always three pointing back at you”. I know exactly what he meant. I tend to be judgmental when it comes to the use of words. Take” irregardless” for instance. It gets used all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s one of my pet peeves…

That being said, I have a confession to make. I’ve been misusing the word “sustainable” for the last few months.  When I began telling everyone about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm last year I kept talking about being “sustainable”. I’m sorry, but that’s not completely accurate. Opal’s Farm is not simply sustainable, it’s regenerative. I beg your forgiveness because the difference is huge.

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“Sustainable” has become a popular adjective, the new buzzword, especially in marketing. Everyone wants to be “sustainable”. I jumped on the bandwagon, too. Perhaps I heard it so much that I used it over and over when writing about Opal’s Farm. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of sustainable is:

“Sustainable – adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource    is not depleted or permanently damaged

//sustainable techniques

//sustainable agriculture

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

//sustainable society”

Merriam-Webster goes on to define “regeneration” as:

“Regeneration – noun

1an act or the process of regenerating the state of being regenerated

2spiritual renewal or revival

3renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process…”

Sustainability implies that we maintain the status quo. That’s not good enough. The soil needs to be regenerated: restored to the vitality nature intended. Commercial and residential development as well as traditional agriculture has failed to address the issue of soil health. Chemical fertilizers and land overuse destroy the soil. It doesn’t need to be sustained. It needs to be regenerated. That’s what Opal’s Farm does.

Regeneration goes far beyond maintenance. It’s the process of revitalizing and rebuilding the soil, making it better and healthier than before.  

Healthy soil, built through organic methods, produces healthier plants. In turn, healthy plants produce a better harvest, both in quantity and quality. That goes on to affect the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve.

If I make any resolutions this year, I resolve not to use the word “sustainable”, at least when talking about the farm. What we say – whether about ourselves, our society, or even an urban farm – matters. Words matter. This year I prefer to be regenerative: to renew and revive – both personally and for Opal’s Farm. You can learn more about the farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org/opals-farm.html.

As always, we invite you to become a “farmer” and join in the work at Opal’s Farm!

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The Global Day of Giving – #givingtuesday

Thoughts from the Porch on #Giving Tuesday:

2018

It dawned on me after my second cup of coffee that November is almost over. I know.“Duh”, right? It’s just that I don’t know where the year has gone. It seems to have blown through here like last week’s cold front, chilled to the bone one day and seventy degrees the next. The race toward Christmas is on and the New Year looms large on the horizon

The holiday season is my favorite time of year. Not becauseof Christmas, mind you, but because of the introspection it brings. December 1stis more special than any other day of the year. It brought about a psychic change, a rebirth, and a new direction to my life. Ironically, it was the direction I’d longed for since my youth. “Lost dreams awaken, and newpossibilities arise”. They really do.

This past year has been unbelievably special. I began a new business, writing content and copy, and in doing so, I unknowingly unleashed mypassion. Through a unique series of events, I met some incredible people, Ms. Opal Lee for one, and began to see something I’d only dreamed about for a long time –an urban farm – become a reality. Opal’s Farm is that place – a place for growing, learning, and community.

 To be honest, I never imagined myself becoming a farmer. Mymother used to send me out to pull weeds as a form of punishment when I was young. It didn’t exactly hold pleasant memories. I never thought I’d come to find joy in it. But I have, and each of those gardens drove me to this amazing project called Opal’s Farm.

When I was younger, I left college full of ideals and ready to change the world. Most of us did. But as I got older and raised my boys, I became less idealistic and, if I’m honest, more cynical. The world I wanted to change became smaller and smaller until I was my world. That seems to be pervasive in our culture. Who of us hasn’t been taught to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and “look out for number one”? The more I bought into that world, the less I was part of this one.

It will have been thirteen years ago this December 1st that my world began to change. Circumstances brought me to a garden I started taking care of because I had nowhere else to be. I began to enjoy pulling weeds.To make a long story short – I liked playing in the dirt!

 Over the last thirteen years, I have been honored toparticipate in building and managing several garden projects. I’ve watched a face light up when a young man tastes a fresh tomato for the first time. I’ve seen community begin when people come together and relish in the first harvest. I’ve witnessed people regain health of body and spirit as they work together in the garden. I’ve come to believe that simple farming can change a life. It’s changed mine.

Our Mission – “Opal’s Farm restores hope andvitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.”  – is becoming a reality. Right in the middle of the city, it provides not just food, but jobs and training as well. It creates opportunity. This is a model for conservation and sustainability, not just for Fort Worth, but for other communities as well.

Today is #GivingTuesday. It offers a uniqueopportunity to double you impact through Facebook’s matching funds. Please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/donate/2246575222246012/.Give today and help us change the world one bite at a time.

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A Simple Thank You

Thoughts From the Porch: I stopped for gas yesterday. I only had cash, so I had to go in and pay for it prior to pumping. I was putting my change and receipt away when the cashier informed me that I had “been the nicest customer in the last six hours”. I was flattered but somewhat taken aback.

“Thank you. Has it been a rough one?”, I asked.

 “Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it”, she replied. “Everyone’sbeen crabby and sometimes downright mean. I just wanted to thank you for beingso nice and polite”.

“You’re welcome”. I headed out to the truck, grateful for the compliment and a bit sad that I was the one pleasant experience in her day.

I’ve thought about our little exchange ever since. I’m saddened that engaging in polite behavior seems to be the notable exception rather than the norm, especially this time of year. I’m grateful that I had “proper raising”.Mom and Dad were big on manners. “Mind your manners!” was heard more than once in our house.

 When I was growing up, I used to look forward to the days myDad would take me to his office for a visit. I always felt so grown-up when I got to go. He worked for the railroad. Railroad folks are a pretty tight knit community. I learned the value of a firm handshake and a proper greeting. I was raised to say “please, thank you, yes sir, and no sir”. My elders were to betreated with politeness and respect. I remember meeting one of his bosses and him commenting on “how polite I was. A regular little man.”

Things have changed since then (and no I’m not just waxing nostalgic…). Social mores are different today. Words like ‘please’ or ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ are heard less and less. ‘You’re welcome’ has been replaced by ‘no problem’ (I still have difficulty with that one, especially from service providers – you took my money – no problem…). What hasn’t changed is the need for kindness and common courtesy.

Exercising common courtesy is so much easier when I see a ‘person’ instead of their position. I guess having been in their shoes it’s easier to reallysee them. I know that’s not everyone’s experience. Yet, when I see a person, Isee one of God’s kids, just like me, most of the time. It’s much easier to treat a person the way I want to be treated, than it is a when I see a server, a store clerk, or some guy who doesn’t look like me.

 I’m not perfect at it. There are some folks who are downrightunpleasant. It takes a lot of work and patience just to be polite. My friend Edgar reminds me that I can’t always be unconditionally loving, but I can always be unconditionally kind.

 Another thing I’ve learned about living by the old ‘GoldenRule’ is that reciprocity doesn’t always apply. It really doesn’t matter what you do. It matters what I do.  

I felt the ‘thank you’ I received from the lady at the gas station was heartfelt. Kindness made her day better. Kindness made my day better. I filled the tank and drove off with a big smile. The funny thing is, I was kinder to friends and family as the evening progressed. I wonder if her later customers benefitted in the same way. I’d like to think so.

The takeaway from all of this is that I seem to get as much from simple politeness as the person on the receiving end. Sometimes more so.

This holiday season remember that the crabby sales clerk or servermay have been on his or her feet all day. The holidays bring their own set of circumstances to us all. Maybe, they had a long line of irritating customers. Maybe it’s just a bad day all the way around. Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows for any of us. Maybe, just maybe, your ‘please’, thank you’, and courtesy changes the trajectory of their day.