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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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Beat up Bibles…

Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…

Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.

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Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.

She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.

No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.

In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…

My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!

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Remnants…

Thoughts from the Porch: We had another Arctic visitor yesterday. It’s the time of the year for frequent, though thankfully short-lived, visitations from our far northern neighbors. I awoke to a chill in the house. When the wind chill drops the thermometer, our heater takes a while to catch up in the morning. Jumping out of a cozy, warm bed to shut off the alarm is a bit of a shock on days like these. Such is January in North Texas…

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This week was one of the few Wednesday’s I missed my Fort Worth Development Group meeting. Ms. Opal and I had a meeting causing a time conflict. The good news is that I got to spend the drive time with one of my heroes for two days in a row. That doesn’t happen often enough for me. Sometimes I just need “Ms. Opal time”.

We were able to spend some time together yesterday discussing business and having good conversation. I brag about Ms. Opal only because she lives the kind of life that I hope to lead: one full of love and service for others. It’s one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. It’s a reflection of the loving service of Ms. Opal and the realization of a dream and doing something tangible for the community.

We were speaking about the events of Martin Luther King Day. It’s not simply a commemoration of Dr. King, but a National Day of Service as well. She told me that, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, over 800 people showed up at her small church to meet prior to going out and serving various non-profits throughout Tarrant County. Over 800 people giving up their day off to serve others!

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a politics junkie. I usually spend some time on the newsfeed after my morning quiet time. Sometimes I’m not sure why I do. It’s a long string of cultural insanity, full of stories of human suffering, violence, and hatefulness, particularly as it pertains to our current administration in Washington, D.C. While it usually spurs me on to action, it’s often overwhelming and leaves me feeling a bit hopeless. The future is bleak at times. But…

Then I read or hear things like 800 people that gave their time to serve others. Despite all the negativity that bombards us about society, there is an amazing amount of goodness out there. I forget that sometimes…

It reminds me of the biblical story of the prophet Elijah in I Kings 19. It seems that speaking the truth to a corrupt King wasn’t a good idea, even if it was the right thing to do. In fact, the King was so angry he put a price on Elijah’s head. Poor Elijah ran for his life until he was hiding out in a cave, crying out to God that he was the only good guy left in the world.

I get it. Doing the right thing can be tiring at times and it can feel terribly lonely. Frustration keeps me from seeing any good in the world. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story for old Elijah. You see, God answered him in a still quiet voice, assuring him there was still a remnant of good, godly people in Israel: seven thousand to be exact. He wasn’t alone. It just felt that way.

That isn’t the end of the story for me, either. I guess that’s why I love my “Ms. Opal Time” so much. She reminds me of the goodness in people. God hasn’t spoken to me in a cave (at least not yet), but He always sends me someone like Ms. Opal. I’m not alone. I know of at least 800 other folks working to make our little world a better place…

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What’s For Breakfast?

Thoughts from the Porch: I don’t get to see the sun breaking above the horizon due to the way the houses sit around our little cul-de-sac. Light slowly comes over the roof of our next door neighbor’s house and the porchgrows brighter. It’s much faster now that the trees have shed their leaves forthe winter. Something about watching dawn break makes me feel more alive, more awed by the God of creation. What a way to start the day…

  I used to dread seeing the sunrise, especially on Mondaymornings. The weekend was over. It was back to work. ‘Work’ was a four-letter word. It’s not that way anymore, though.

  Things have changed over the last ten or fifteen years. I lookforward to Mondays. I know you may find that hard to believe, but I really do. In fact, I like most mornings.

 Dawn dispels the night and reawakens the world for anotherday. I’m reminded that I “woke up on the right side of the roots”, as my friend Charlie says. I’m here for another day, another opportunity…

That wise old sage, Winnie the Pooh, was having a discussion with his friend, Piglet, about the first thought they had in the morning. Piglet told himself, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

Pooh, being the practical bear that he is, said he asked himself, “what’sfor breakfast?” I like that…

“What’s for breakfast?” has become a mantra of sorts. Itreminds me to take care of what’s immediately before me, to “do the next rightthing”, whatever that may be. Most of the time, it’s routine – crawl out of bed, the morning toilette, and make a pot of coffee. By the time I get to the porch, I have an idea what needs to be done today. I also know God often hasother plans.

I’ve heard the phrase “do the next right thing” for years. If I’m honest, I don’t always know what the “next right thing” is. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘to-do’ list, head off in another direction, and miss the ‘next right thing’ there in front of me.

 I think that’s why my ‘porch time’ has become so important. My friend Edgar likes to remind me that when I take care of the spiritual man, the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of being tends to take care of themselves. Funny how that echoes Jesus’ admonition, “Love God and love others. Do that and everything else will take care of itself”.

The porch gets me ready for the day. Conversing with God keeps me centered and gives me clarity of vision. It’s much easier to see the “next right thing” when it appears. Sometimes that means altering my plans in order to follows God’s…

I hope I become more like Pooh Bear as I grow older. I hope I always ask the right question, “What’s for breakfast?” When I focus on that I don’t have to wonder what exciting things are going to happen. They just happen: a natural consequence of taking care of breakfast first.

So, what’s for breakfast today?

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Tell Me About the War Daddy…

Thoughts from the Porch: It was a bit chilly on the porch this morning, just enough to make the coffee taste better. The sun is obviously up but the overcast lends some doubt to that fact. The rain is coming once again, according to the weather folks. Although it’s not forecast to last more than a couple of days, heavy rains impede work on the farm. It looks like I’ll be mopping up after the dogs here at home for the next couple of days…

 Margaret reminded me that today is December 7th, theanniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It led to the US entrance into World War Two seventy-seven years ago. Growing up, it was huge part of history classes. Movies celebrating America’s victory over the Axis were common, the age-old tale of good triumphs over evil. Things were more clear cut then. We had a sense of purpose.

I lost an uncle in the European theater and another who served in the Pacific. We all had fathers and uncles who had fought in “the war”. There was no need to refer to it as the Second World War. We knew what war one was talking about.

I’m a Baby Boomer, one of the generation of children born when GIs came back from the war. Over time, our parents came to be known as the“Greatest Generation” – people who had survived the Great Depression and emergedfrom the world’s largest and most deadly conflict as heroes. We all need heroes…

Today, Pearl Harbor day is more significant than past ones. It’s the climax to an eventful week, ever reminding me of time’s passing.

I lost my mother a little over a year ago. My dad and my uncle passed over fifteen years ago. I have one aunt left, my mother’s younger sister, and she’s seventy-nine. I realized that the “Greatest Generation” will soon be gone, and with it, a store of wisdom that has been often forgotten.

 As my generation has grown older, we’ve come to appreciate ourparent’s generation a little more. Perhaps that’s because we’re aging ourselves. Time seems to erase the negative memories and replace them with only happy ones. We become a tad more willing to listen to our elders now that we wish our own children would listen to us. Life has a way of doing that.

 I certainly didn’t want to listen to my parents when I wasyoung. Given the tumultuous earlier years of my generation, I’m confident I’m not the only one. Foolishness and youth tend to go hand in hand. If you had told me that my parents were part of the “Greatest Generation” some thirty years ago, I’d have angrily pointed out all the mess of the sixties and seventies.. They were the problem and wehad the solution.

The last week also marked the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush at the age of ninety-four. I could go on and on about our political differences and my extreme opposition to his policies. I didn’t respect the man in that sense, but I did respect the values he exuded.To be honest, it’s not the man I mourn, as much as it is the reminder that the “Greatest Generation” is soon to be no more. What I felt this week has been a sadness for those I respected, loved, and lostto the passing of time.

 However, I was able to spend some time this week with anicon of the “Greatest Generation”, Ms. Opal Lee. She’s not only the namesake ofour urban farm. Ms. Opal, at ninety-two, has long been a community activist, teacher, and humanitarian. Her love of others radiates. She’s a wealth of wisdom of the generation I’ve come to respect and love. We attended the Fort Worth Development Group together on Wednesday. It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

Wisdom has been the theme of the group for this last quarterof the year. One of our members, Joseph Lockhart, Jr., a business owner and Pastor, spoke on the topic. He reminded us of the value of wise counsel. Ms. Opal’spresence was just that. I was reminded one more time of the experience and thewisdom of those who have walked this journey of life longer than I have.

Things change. That’s the only thing certain in life. I’m not who I was thirty or forty years ago. Nor are my friends. The only constant in life is the wisdom we leave to the next generation. Unfortunately, I often been an example of what not to do. Wisdom doesn’t choose sides. It prefers experience.

 Sometimes I’m not too optimistic about the future. I’m notsure “Baby Boomers” have done such a great job and “Millennials” don’t appear to be great listeners. My pessimism can probably be attributed to getting cranky and overly nostalgic as I get older. I’m sure our parents said the same of us.Kids can be pretty hardheaded. It’s the cycle of life…

 December 7th doesn’t mean as much to our kids andgrandkids as it did to us and our parents. Pearl Harbor Day is quickly becoming just another date in the history books as more of the “Greatest Generation” pass. It serves as a reminder to me how important it is to hand down the lessons learned and the wisdom of our predecessors.

 So, I urge you on this December 7th, in thisholiday season, spend some time with your elders. Listen and glean the wisdom from those that ventured down the path before us. Maybe, just maybe, we get to do the same with our kids and grandkids. Maybe, just maybe, we can be heroes too…