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Finding Your Why Down on the Farm: Part One

“Simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones.” – Occam’s Razor

Do you ever get so busy with a project that you overlook the bedrock of its success? Things have been moving quickly at Opal’s Farm: over 30,00 square feet of beds have been prepared and compost is coming. We are busy! We’ve been blessed with good Spring weather and we hope to take advantage of every moment to prepare the acreage for a bountiful harvest.

Jameson the Farm Dog takes a much needed break!

However, one of the TCU students working with us this semester sent me an email that brought me to a grinding halt (by the way, thank you Paris!) She asked a simple question, “Why?”. Why would someone want to volunteer at the Farm? Why would someone want to be a sponsor, a partner, or a “farmer” at Opal’s Farm?

Even as passionate as I am about Opal’s Farm, I had to stop and think hard about the question. In my work as a writer, it’s my job to write a clear concise message and show how a product or service will benefit others. If I’m honest, I’ve done a poor job of communicating that to you. I ask for your forgiveness. Sometimes the simplest question is the simplest solution…

There’s a plethora of reasons one should join us in the task at hand. When Paris asked me the “why” question was specifically regarding “why volunteer?”, so we’ll start there.

Reason #1:

Why volunteer at Opal’s Farm? The simple answer: it’s “Dirt Therapy”. What do I mean by that? If you love to tend your own garden, you know exactly what I mean. Something happens to us when we work with the soil. Study after study has shown improved mental health and relaxation are some of the immediate benefits. The increased physical activity and its benefits are obvious, but “dirt therapy” is something, something deeper.

According to The Immune Advantage (Ellen Mazo and the Editors of Prevention Health Books with Keith Berndtson, M.D.), “a simple gardening project at the University of Texas in Galveston produced uplifting findings among 24 volunteers ranging in age from 63 to 90” that included not only an overall feeling of well-being” but a far deeper spiritual component; one of community.

The book goes on to share the story of Dr. William Thomas, M.D. and founder of the Eden Alternative. He “has proof that people live healthier and longer with daily access to plants, animals, and children”. In the 300-plus nursing homes across the country that follow his program allowing residents their own pets, till their own gardens, and participate in programs with children… residents have fewer infections, fewer falls, and fewer skin wounds”. Moreover, the amount of medication each resident required dropped.

Something happens when people work the earth together, sharing stories and childhood memories. A feeling of well-being and contentment feeling of well-being, of a spiritual connection, takes place. Moreover, the UT-Galveston study showed that “there was no physical decline among the volunteers after 4 months”. Working the soil may not be the proverbial “Fountain of Youth”, but it sure helps.

“Dirt Therapy” is an amazing reason to come down to the farm and join us. We’ll be posting “work days” and someone is usually at Opal’s Farm daily except for Wednesday. We love our volunteers and want to be as flexible as possible to meet varied schedules. It’s always best to call ahead so we’ll be looking for you. The south end of the farm offered the best soil available so we’re often away from the front office/storage container at the north end. If you’d like to schedule a group or simply show up on your own, please know you’re welcome and appreciated!

As I mentioned before, there’s a myriad of reasons “why” you should be a part of Opal’s Farm – far too many to write about here so I’ll be following up with reason number two on Monday. I bet your “why” is on the list…

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Super Sunday… not

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s the last day of January. It felt like it on the porch. Still, I can enjoy my porch time unlike our neighbors to the north. The record low temperatures remind me how lucky I am to be a Texan where we complain about the cold when the high is in the forties, not forty below. Prayers of warmth are being sent up for the folks in the Midwest. Hang in there, guys…

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Being from Texas, I’m genetically predisposed to be a football fan. Football is most certainly a religion here. Our football fervor has inspired countless books, several movies and even a television series, “Friday Night Lights”. Visit any small town on Friday nights in the Fall and you’ll see what I mean. In the big cities there are multi-million dollars high school stadiums filled with frenzied fans. Winning coaches and star players are often held in the same worshipful regard as Davy Crockett and the heroes of the Alamo. Fans know the stats of every player on the home team. For a few months of the year, football is king.

When I moved to Colorado in my early teen years, I was baffled that high school football seemed to take a back seat to basketball. My dad informed me that football wasn’t revered by the heathens north of the Red River. Though that might have been true about high school, it didn’t seem to apply to pro ball. Denver Bronco fans were intense! Colorado had some redeeming qualities after all!

For many years, my Sunday afternoons were spent at either the stadium or in front of the television. I was happy to play Monday morning quarterback with coworkers and friends. God forbid that I ever miss a Super Bowl, regardless of whether my teams were playing. I was a football fan!

This coming Sunday is Super Bowl LIII. It’s unlikely I’ll be tuning in except to see the new crop of Super Bowl commercials for the year. They’re far more entertaining even if they are about rampant consumerism. Things have changed over the years. I may see part of one or two games per season, if I think about it. Watching for a few minutes seems to be a waste of time. It’s just not the same.

I still make high school games. I love the school spirit, the energy, and the love of the game. High school players still play ball because they enjoy it; for the most part anyway. People still fill the stadium because that’s what we do: support our kids, yell at the opponents, and then go out for dinner with them after the game. There’s a certain purity to that.

I don’t follow professional football much. Not only are the Dallas Cowboys (my favorite team) absent from the playoffs most years, watching a bunch of prima donnas do put on end zone theatrics, kind of turns my stomach. It’s far more about money and celebrity than it is love of the game. Real players and role models are few and far between.

I have mixed emotions about the sport today. The medical community has begun to understand the long-term consequences of the game. It’s not just bad knees and back problems anymore. There’s traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia to think about. I sometimes wonder if allowing my son to play was in his best interests. His college scholarship hopes were cut short by an injury during his senior year.

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Despite his injuries, I still believe in high school football and the purity of the game. He learned a lot about teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance playing ball. Watching most (not all, mind you) pro players today those things seem to be absent. I have no desire to give my time or my dollars to such foolishness.

So, this Sunday will find me working around the house, catching a movie on Netflix, or sleeping in my recliner. You won’t find me watching the “Big Game” but, if it’s a Friday night in November, you might just see me under the Friday night lights.

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No Resolutions…

Thoughts From the Porch: I typed 2019 for the first time this year and actually got it right the first time! Hang on to the little life triumphs wherever you can, right? Starting off the year with a victory sets the tone for the whole year!

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

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I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but there are some changes forthcoming this year. For one, it might be more accurate to call this blog, “Thoughts From the Desk”, at least for the first couple of months. I moved my quiet time to my office for a couple of reasons, least of which is the early cold temperatures that hit North Texas early this year. I’m not usually affected by the cold. I spent seventeen winters in Colorado, several of them quite severe, but I don’t ever remember feeling this cold. It’s a bone-chilling, wet, blustery cold that cuts through everything and numbs the brain. I don’t need any help in that regard…

The main reason I’ve retreated to the desk is I’ve decided to quit smoking (again). It’s coincidence rather than resolution that it’s also the start of a new year. I’ve never had much luck at resolving to stop annoying habits. Usually I need to have all sense of resolve and ability knocked out of me. Desperation is a wonderful impetus for willingness. I’ve reached a new level of willingness to quit; hopefully before the consequences are dire. It also helps that I closed out the books on 2018 and saw how much I had spent on tobacco. Seeing the dollar amount in black and white makes it all too real. I’ll keep you posted. Not that it’s newsworthy as much as there’s some sense of accountability in making a public statement.

Besides, smoking is no longer in vogue. More and more places ban smoking. It’s not good for those around me and, to be honest, I feel like an idiot doing it. I feel even worse when I’m driven to sneak away from my grandkids or a dinner party just to have a cigarette. It sets a lousy example. To continue smoking requires a lot of excuses and justification. Things like, “I gave up all my other bad habits, so allow me one bad habit”, just don’t hold water anymore.

So here I sit. You all may have to bear with some strange posts over the next few days. I tend to ramble and get extremely irritable when I’m “detoxing”. I know I tend to ramble anyway, but it’s especially bad during nicotine withdrawal.

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I’ve stopped smoking before. I should be able to do this, right? My friend Edgar reminded me that “my problem wasn’t stopping, it was staying stopped”. I’ve encountered this situation before and found that the answer isn’t mere willpower or a lack thereof. Like those annoying habits and shortcomings of character, the power to remove them tends to lay beyond my grasp. I keep hearing Jim, my friend and mentor’s voice reminding me one more time; “Cowboy, lack of power is your dilemma.” Ask any smoker who wants to quit and hasn’t (and can’t).

If I stop there, I’m left feeling hopeless, but experience has taught me that my greatest strength lies in my greatest weakness: I can ask for help. Help comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s through friends and acquaintances. Other times it comes from complete strangers. Most of the time it comes through prayer. For me, faith has proven itself time and time again as the vehicle by which some of life’s greatest dilemmas are resolved.

So here I sit at the trusty old desk that was my father’s. I’ll stay here for the bit just to break the pattern. In doing so I might just stay stopped. Besides, the weather folks say it’s going to be yucky outside for a while. I’ll take all the help I can get.

I hope 2019 is absolutely amazing for each of you! As for me, I’ll suck down another Gummi Bear and stay inside… ���:

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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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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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Make it all sound good or just tell it like it is?

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Several years ago, the comic George Carlin did a stand-up routine about our changing vocabulary. You know, how we sanitize terms to make them soundless harsh. “Shell-shock” became “battle fatigue” and later, post-traumatic stress disorder. Sounds so much better, right?

I always laugh when I hear our local weather folks talk about ‘winter precipitation events’. Seriously? I remember when they used to call it snow…

 Now we’ve come up with a similar vocabulary for something near and dear to my heart – ‘food insecurity”. What does that really mean?

 It’s a nice way of saying your neighbors go to bed hungry. That’s right. I said your neighbors. And not ‘insecure’  – hungry

People right here in Tarrant County. They may be across town or they might be right next door. Our  neighbors…

Here’s another one – ‘food scarcity’.  It means that your neighbors don’t have access to healthy, nutritious food. They live in ‘food deserts’ – places where the only ‘food’ store is a local convenience store. The choices are over-priced and often unaffordable, canned, highly processed and ‘junk’ foods – foods that fail to meet even basic nutritional needs. Foods filled with empty calories that fail to satisfy even the smallest of tummies…

The bottom line – no one should go to bed hungry, especially the one in five children that do so every single night in Tarrant County.

So, what do we do about it?

 Opal’s Farm is part of the answer. Opal’s Farm is a two-acreurban farm on the banks of the Trinity River just east of Downtown Fort Worth. Opal’s Farm grows organic, healthy produce – distributing it in Fort Worth’s ‘food deserts’.

 More than that, Opal’s Farm provides jobs, training, and educational tools to address the issues facing often overlooked neighborhoods right here in Tarrant County. We believe that an agricultural intervention can make a difference – restoring health, vitality, and community to our neglected neighbors.

 In this “giving season” of thanksgiving and sharing, it’seasy to feel overwhelmed when planning year-end contributions to the multitude of wonderful non-profit organizations asking for help. I hope you consider Opal’s Farm when making your decision.

 Today, you canmake a difference – right here, rightnow, and for Fort Worth’s future. Opal’s Farm is a long-term, sustainable solution for all of us.

That’s why I’m asking for your help today. Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, the Global Day of Giving. On #GivingTuesday your contribution will be matched dollar-for-dollar, going twice as far to help Opal’s Farm keep growing. Go to our Facebook page today at https://www.facebook.com/donate/2246575222246012/

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Still Thankful

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Myinbox was filled with a multitude of emails announcing ‘Black Friday’ sales anddonation appeals. It pains me to know I can’t take advantage of either one this year.

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It’s been a difficult few months for Margaret and I, at least where finances are concerned. Business has been slow since my hospitalization in May. The up side is that it’s freed up more time to devote to the farm. The down side is that the farm doesn’t pay the bills, at least not for a couple of more months. Unfortunately, the mortgage and the bills won’t wait that long.

We’re not unique in this regard. A May 18, 2018 New York Post article cites data fromthe United Way Alice Project that, “Some 50.8 million households or 43% can’t afford a basic monthly budget for housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and a monthly smartphone bill.”That’s almost half our population that is one Emergency Room visit or carrepair away from being on the street. Knowing we’re not alone is bothencouraging and disheartening…

Last night, we shared a Thanksgiving meal with family. I struggled to remain mentally present. I had to constantly remind myself to “be where my feet are”. The Cowboy game was a welcome distraction and appreciated more than usual. It relieved my financial anxiety for a couple of hours.

We had a marvelous dinner. Everyone had contributed their own unique piece to the meal. Each had been prepared with love. Everyone ate their fill. I couldn’t help but think of how a few loaves and fishes multiplied to feed five thousand folks. My mood began to lighten.

Following dinner and prior to desserts, we have a family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. If I’m honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this part. I wasn’t feeling very grateful. Yet, something happened as we began our way around the table.

As each of our family shared their gratitude, I gained a little more clarity. Here I was sitting around a table with a full tummy and the people I love and appreciate. That’s something that many folks don’t have. The holidays can be a terribly lonely time for some. Going to bed hungry is a reality for a lot of people. Here in Tarrant County, one in five kids go to bed hungry.

It became a little easier to see my blessings when it was my turn to share. I might have learned the power of ‘Gratitude Lists’ years ago, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and fearful that I forget it. When I lose gratitude, I lose vision. When I lose vision, I lose touch with reality.

What I know this morning is that I’m grateful for the life I’ve been granted today. I never thought I’d see forty and I’m still here at sixty to share my thoughts with you. (I know that may not be such a blessing to others at times…) I have a roof over my head and food to eat. Even when the proverbial financial wolf is at the door, I’m safe inside. It will be okay. I can’t think of one single time when it hasn’t. God has been faithful, even when I’m overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Sometimes I don’t see it until I’m well past the problem, but it’s always been that way.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. Our friend Mary, (who doesn’t cook) made amazing dishes to enjoy; all the while being a valued friend and presence for Margaret. Adam, our ‘adopted’ son who reminds us regularly of the importance of sharing life together. Amanda, our new daughter (to say in-law would just be wrong!) who is such a loved part of our family. A great wife to our son, Brandon and mother to our granddaughter, Levi. They were just some of the folks around last night’s dinner table…

I’m even grateful for the current struggles we find ourselves in. For one, I have the gift of Margaret by my side. She has a much better grasp on faith than I do. I’m convinced that’s why God looked at Adam and said, “it’s not good for man to be alone”. I’m so grateful that he felt that highly of me and blessed me with her. She shows me how to love, live, and laugh better…

All in all, life brings its struggles to us all. Our current difficulties are nothing compared to many folks. In fact, they are far more pervasive than most of us would like to admit. Faith doesn’t exempt us from them, but it does provide the sustenance we need to get through them. Gratitude is the first bite of the spiritual food that gives that strength.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, whether it’sfinancial, physical, or far more internal, take a bite of gratitude.