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Ms. Opal’s Dream and the Best Birthday Ever

I sat on the porch this morning, thinking about yesterday and making a mental list of today’s lengthy ‘to-do’ list. I turned sixty years old yesterday and it was the best birthday ever! I spent it with some incredible people. The new project I’ve mentioned in previous posts has become a reality. I’ve been looking forward to the day I could tell you all about it and that day has arrived.

To understand the importance of yesterday’s events, you need to know what ‘food insecurity’ is. 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 under the Federal Poverty Threshold 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 Bank and Feeding America websites)

The bottom line is that there’s a problem with hunger and the myriad of health problems that are a consequence of food insecurity. It’s not just an economic issue, but an availability issue as well. Food Deserts, which the USDA defines 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.”, which  mean that there’s no local grocer or farmers market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. Tarrant County alone has over forty food deserts according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Often the only food available is at local convenience stores and is often of little nutritional value. Processed, convenience foods are one of the largest contributors to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming. What can I do? My friend Edgar once asked how would I eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. Yesterday, a meeting with some fantastic people took a bite of the proverbial elephant. Sometime back, Ms. Opal Lee, a long-time activist from Fort Worth and founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) was granted use of vacant acreage in Fort Worth by the Trinity River Water District for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Yesterday, that first bite, her dream of building an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community, moved into action.

I am blessed and unbelievably excited to be a part of Ms. Opal’s dream. I was familiar with Ms. Opal some time back, particularly because of her “Walk to Washington” and lobbying to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. Although I was formally introduced to her only a few months ago, she has quickly become one of my heroes. At 92 years young, Ms. Opal’s energy and selfless-spirit is contagious.

The farm will initially encompass five of the sixteen acres available and preparation for planting will begin shortly. The farm uses the model provided by Bonton Farms in Dallas: an agricultural intervention as a means of eliminating the local food desert and contributing to the health and overall, both physical and spiritual, well-being of the community. The farm will be 100% organic. Planting will be based on the needs of customers and the community. Long-term plans include goats, chickens, and beekeeping as well. Above all else we want the farm to provide local jobs, job training and new entrepreneurs and neighborhood Fort Worth.

The meeting yesterday started the wheels turning and I’m so blessed to be a part of it all. This has been not only Ms. Opal’s dream, but mine as well. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘farmer’. I’ve prayed often that God would open the doors of service to others. Yesterday was simply another of God’s answered prayers. We could use yours as well.

I’m looking forward to sharing the progress of our urban farm with you as we move forward. We plan for development to proceed quickly enough to have the initial planting later this year with a winter crop. If we have any doubt about our success, we need to remember that Ms. Opal’s already prayed about it and that’s pretty good assurance….

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Hotter than hell…

I’ve written a lot (probably too much!) about the hundred-plus degree temperatures we’ve experienced here in North Texas. It’s always hot in Texas in the summer, but this year the thermometer began to climb earlier than usual. Heat-related illnesses make for crowded emergency rooms and everyone seems a little worn down by it all.  One local municipality even passed an ordinance against leaving pets outside. The heat is hard on everything and it isn’t limited to North Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Climate Report for June 2018, states that 2018 is on track to become the fourth hottest year on record. The previous three years account for the top three. Somini Sengupta, International Climate Correspondent for the New York Times, reports in an August 9, 2018 article, that “17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001”. I get it…

In California, where excessive heat and dry conditions led to one of the worst wild fire seasons and the largest wild fire in state history, ‘the new normal’ has become a staple of official vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the term is incorrect. This is not the ‘new normal’. I wish it was. That’s not what the data suggests. Reaching a plateau now would be a relief, but the fact is that we’re still trending upwards in average temperature. We haven’t reached ‘normal’ yet.

I wonder what ‘normal’ will look like for my grandchildren. Like every other parent and grandparent, I want the very best for my kids but I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. When the changing climate alarm bells began to go off, we either hit the snooze button or turned the alarm off altogether. We went right on sleeping, oblivious to everything around us and, at the risk of sounding crass, sh** got serious. I hope our kids are forgiving…

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. According to a 1912 article in the Rodney and Otamatea Times. Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, scientists foresaw the continued burning of coal leading to climate change. It wasn’t an immediate concern, so why be inconvenienced? Besides, our brilliant minds and emerging technologies would take of it! So, we ‘kicked the can down the road’ and carried on, charging ahead full of denial and greed. That’s the reality of it. We stuck our heads in the sand and left it to the business and political powers that be and left it to posterity. To our chagrin, our kids pay the price for our willful ignorance, laziness, and neglect…

In the Hebrew Bible, God says that the sins of the father will “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Children, in their innocence, bear no guilt on their own, but they suffer the consequences of their parents’ choices. We chose to delay action and failed to heed the warnings. Now our children face an uncertain, and possibly even hellish future. Again, all I can do is hope our kids are forgiving…

I’m not sure about the whole ‘heaven and hell’ thing I grew up with, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that a loving God didn’t create hell; nor does he wish it on any of his kids. However, I firmly believe he loves us enough to allow us to make our own choices (you know, the ‘whole free will’ thing), and whether they’re good or bad, they all have consequences; sometimes reaching into future generations.

I don’t know what the future holds for this wonderful planet we live on. Though the prognosis is bleak, I’m hopeful about our ability, and particularly our kids’ abilities, to adapt and change course. I believe in redemption. I believe in grace. I believe in ‘repentance’ – that change of thinking, perspective, and direction that leads to positive change. That’s my personal experience and I’ve witnessed it in the lives of countless others. Amazing things happen when I take responsibility for my actions and begin to make better choices. I hope my kids harvest the positive seeds I sow today. Maybe then their future won’t be so hellish after all.

In recovery, there’s much talk of ‘breaking the cycle’, whether it’s of alcoholism and addiction, abuse, or a myriad of other downward spirals in one’s lineage. Yet, only I can choose to break the cycle by the choices and actions I take today. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. I may not be able to stop climate change on my own and save the planet, but I can save my tiny space in the world and urge others to do the same. I can grow a garden, love my neighbors, and do something because it’s the right thing to do, not just for my family, but for the common good of the community around me.

Despite the fires, droughts, melting ice caps, and rising seas, I have faith and a hope today that my kids won’t have as much to forgive me for. Just as poor choices and short-sightedness leave its mark on the next generation, so too, do good choices and right actions. Today, I’m looking beyond myself, toward the future my kids will inherit, and pray my actions only pass on good things to ‘the fourth and fifth’ generation’.

What will you do?

What’s the one thing you will do to make your world a little better today?

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Of Cats and Cat Boxes…

I do not like cats. There, I said it. While I may prefer the company of dogs and horses to that of most people, I do not like cats! My dislike for the creatures ranks right up there with rats, venomous snakes, and mosquitoes. I realize that many people love them, even my wife, but I am a dog person through and through. I’m sure that the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’ was mistranslated in the Biblical story of the Garden. I’m sure that Satan took the form of a cat rather that a serpent. Cats are generally obnoxious, dirty little animals, leaving fur all one’s clothes They are lousy companions and usually have this demanding attitude showing their disdain for whole human race. Their only talent is that they know how crap in a box.

Now before all you cat people form a lynch mob, please allow me to explain. I’m allergic to cats. Moreover, I may not remember much from my childhood, but I remember that a cat ate my hamster one day when my dad left the garage door open. It’s one resentment I’ve never been freed of. I’m obviously traumatized for life. My Uncle Carl, on who’s ranch I spent many a summer day, told me the only redeeming value a cat had was the ability to keep the barn free of vermin. I’ve been of the same opinion to this day.

However, my wife loves cats. She loves dogs as well, but she had cats up until we got married. I was adamant about remaining ‘cat-less’. After all, we had our dog, Missy, but she was definitely my dog. Margaret missed having a cat companion, and about three years ago I caved in and we adopted a cat. I placed on huge qualification on the adoption: I wouldn’t clean the litter box. I have a major problem with cat boxes. That’s where I draw the line. Margaret had back surgery a couple of weeks after the cat adoption. Guess who has cleaned the cat box…

Because it was a male we insisted on it being neutered prior to coming to our house so it wouldn’t spray our furniture. He went to a local veterinary clinic for his procedure and came to live with us that very night. Neither of us could come up a name for our new family member. I suggested ‘furry little f***’ but that was deemed inappropriate. I joked we should just call him ‘Ball-less’ given that those parts of him had been severed earlier in the day. I was told that, though it was funny, it wouldn’t do for when the grandchildren were about. Fortunately, our daughter, who has some hearing loss thought we were saying ‘Wallace’ and the name stuck. It’s our little inside joke, especially when the kids are here…

Please understand that our pets are rescue animals, so I’m going to get on my soapbox for a moment: The folks at the Humane Society of North Texas, the Dallas SPCA, and the myriad of rescue shelters (and one in your area) have an abundance of animals needing forever homes. So, if you’re thinking of becoming a pet parent, please, please, please help your local shelter. Over the last three years, we have had a puppy and a kitten, but we prefer to adopt older animals. They need a forever home more than most of the pets in the shelter. Now I can step down…

Wallace was probably about two or three, and when he came to live with us, and he was the strangest looking cat I’d ever seen. His fur was bristled and coarse, his legs seemed way too long for his body, and he was extremely thin. We soon discovered that he was malnourished and that accounted for his strange appearance. Since that day, he has thrived and filled out into a beautiful (yes, I said it…) cat. Today we call him our ‘fat cat’…

Wallace was an indoor cat until we installed our doggie door. He figured it out quickly and after a while, we couldn’t keep him inside the house. We’ve tried to keep him indoors during the extremes of Texas weather, but he won’t have it. He insists on staying on our front porch, where he has a ‘cat house’ and his food and water. He doesn’t stray far from the porch, except to sleep on the roof of my truck. He’s basically well-fed and lazy. He doesn’t care about stalking birds and squirrels like the other neighborhood cats or else he suffers from a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Either could be the case. Most of the time, we find him sleeping on his back in the shade…

I guess that’s why I was so surprised as I sat on the porch, enjoying my coffee, and thinking about the day ahead. Suddenly, a huge commotion next to my truck arose. A squirrel came flying out from underneath, chattering loudly as it scooted up the nearest Ash tree. Less than two inches behind him, right on his tail, was our Wallace. The squirrel climbed high enough to turn around cussing at Wallace. I’m not sure who was more shocked, me or the squirrel. Who knew that Wallace could move like that? I guess he wanted both of us to know he still holds his place in the food chain. I could only look on with admiration, and if truth be known, a little pride in our cat.

I still don’t like cats, at least everyone else’s, although I’ve learned to tolerate them. Our other one, Shadow, was raised by our Catahoula, Jamison, so she doesn’t think she’s a cat. She doesn’t ‘meow’, she ‘barks. I’m okay with that.

I swore I’d never own a cat. I swore, with every fiber of my being, that I’d never, ever clean a litter box. Then I got married to the woman my soul connected with, the love of my life and now I have two cats and emptied the litter box until they discovered the dog door (thank you God!). Love has the power to change even the hardest of hearts.

If truth be known, I kind of like the furry little beasts. We have a crazy neighbor who has been known to shoot neighborhood cats with his pellet gun. I would have some serious words with him if one of my cats were to fall victim to his crankiness. Go figure – maybe I even love the little guys…

It may be a bit of a stretch here, but if love can overcome my intense dislike, even hatred, of cats, it’s probably able to overcome a lot of other negatives in life – or at least let me see them differently. God, of whom the Apostle John said, is defined as love, has transformed far more than my distaste for cats. My heart, and my eyes, have opened to a whole new world. Transformation occurred as my relationship with him developed, just like in my marriage. I’m growing and learning how to love today (and yes, cats included).

I had much more to say, but Wallace won’t stop reminding me that his food bowl is empty and it’s well past nap time. I gotta go…

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I sat on the porch for a long time this morning. Margaret slept in. The dogs were content to sleep in as well and I soaked in the solitude of the day. The air felt clean for the first time in weeks. An ever so slight breeze ran across my face as if God was saying, “relax and enjoy the moment”. My coffee tasted better, the chair was more comfortable, and all was right in the world.

According to the dictionary, awe is defined as a “feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”. This is one of those days when everything is in focus and with clarity comes a reverential respect mixed with wonder – awe. The sun is a bit brighter, the chattering of the squirrels a tad sharper, and the grass has a tinge of green that wasn’t there yesterday. I’m in awe…

According to a April 27, 2017 article in Psychology Today, people who experience awe more frequently live longer and tend to have less health problems. In fact, the experience of awe leads to enhanced critical thinking and creativity as well as a feeling of connectedness to the community and physical world around us. It helps one ‘stay in the moment’.

The article cites Dacher Keltner, a leading theorist and scholar on the emotion of awe, as saying, “Seek out experiences that give you goosebumps”. Yes, it does, and it can be found in the smallest of things.

The kids tell me that Margaret and I lead boring lives. “You should get out more” they always tell us. In some ways I’m sure they are right. It’s not that we don’t want to get out at times, but there are days when Margaret isn’t physically able. Our twenty and thirty-something (and healthy, thank God) kids don’t realize how difficult it can. While Margaret is far more social than I am, we’ve both become homebodies, and not always due to physical limitations. We stay in a continual state of awe that we could be blessed to live the life we do. While our world may seem small to some, it’s filled with joy, wonder, and awesome incredible moments.

I start my mornings here on a front porch at the end of a cul-de-sac in Fort Wort, Texas. Not much changes, and yet everything changes. Most mornings, (even on the really hot ones) I’m greeted by the song of the little mockingbird that calls our yard home. Squirrels chase each other through the trees and stop only to chatter at our cat, Wallace. We even have a resident spider that graces our front porch with a magnificent, intricate web each day. They are all details of a world full of fascination and wonder.

Life does show up from time to time with setbacks and hardships that seem awful at the time. The irony is that both awesome and awful come from the word awe. Awe can be traced back to the Greek word, achos, for pain. That makes sense to me because life can be painful at times. It has its fair share of disappointments, sadness, and frustration, and each bear their own physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Experience has taught me that walking through the pain leads me from awful to awesome – and both can leave me in awe…

I strive to be ‘awe-full’ (who you talk to depends on which spelling they use…). Seeing God in the minute details of the world and the lives of the people is a state I want to become accustomed to. Gratitude always seem to accompany awe, and gratitude changes the way I view my world. It’s a cycle I like being caught up in.

If people who experience awe more frequently really do live longer, then I’m pretty sure I’m going to be around for a while. To those that are disappointed by that, I say, “that’s awful…”

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“If I could talk to the animals…”

Just a couple of more days of triple digits. The weather folks predict a ten percent possibility of rain today. In Texas that means nothing is coming but cloud cover and more humidity. The Monday forecast of fifty percent chance of rain is more realistic. I’m sure the ten percent is just a ‘cover your butt’ caveat for local meteorologists. Weather people and baseball players are the only folks I know of who are financially rewarded for doing their job correctly thirty percent of the time. Just saying…

I was scanning the newsfeed this morning and came across a story that tore at my heart strings. According to researchers observing the orca (what we called ‘killer whales’ growing up) population near British Colombia, a female orca bore a new calf. The calf didn’t survive, and the grieving mother was seen carrying the dead calf on her back for the next two days.

The story stayed with me as my wife and I shared coffee on the porch this morning. We are pet parents, and like most pet parents, we ascribe human behaviors and emotions to our animals. Some would say we’ve lost our minds. In fact, my son told me I needed to get a friend after hearing me talk to our ‘Coyotahula’ (she’s half coyote and half Catahoula), Maggie. I’m lucky enough to have a friend already. In fact, I have several, but Maggie is part of the family. Pet parents will understand what I mean.

Margaret and I often put words in our dog’s mouth. We joke about the stories we come up with for the conversation that must be going on between them. We’ve thought about creating a video, but that’s another story, and you’d probably have to be here to get the humor.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that we aren’t that far off when we ascribe human traits to the animal kingdom. When I was growing up, the line between animals and people was more distinct. That line has dimmed as I’ve gotten older. I may be a bit anthropomorphic, but I find our friends in the animal kingdom to be more human than some humans…

The ancient Hebrew writings talk about our original relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. I tend to forget that, though humans have a higher intellectual ability (and I’m not always sure of that – after all, look who is President…) we are still part of the animal kingdom. In the Book of Enoch, which wasn’t canonized into what we know as the Hebrew Old Testament, we’re told that we shared a common language with the rest of the animal kingdom. The whole “Doctor Doolittle” thing makes sense to me. After all, we share ninety-eight percent of our DNA with the greater apes. Why not the rest of the animals?

It seems to me that the Book of Enoch is a metaphor for our interconnectedness with all things. I’d like to believe that there will be a day when I can communicate clearly with all the denizens of the Earth. I have some questions I’d like to clarify. Do horses really sound like Mr. Ed (this may be lost on my younger readers – “Willlll-bur”)? Do donkeys sound like Eddie Murphy? I often wonder if snails and turtles could talk, would their speech be as slow as their movements? “Goooooooooooooood mooooooorrrnnnniiiiing…”

Since that day isn’t here yet, I’ll have to rely on personal observation and experience. If I ‘listen’ and pay attention to what they’re trying to tell me, my dogs, the horses, and I seem to communicate just fine. Maggie says ‘good morning the same way each day. Once it’s daylight I can count on her to jump on the bed, lick my face until I get up, and wait for her dose of morning loving.

When I remember how interconnected we are, I understand them better. When I remember how interconnected we are, I treat them better – more like I want to be treated. When I treat them differently, I begin to fulfill my intended role as a human – one of stewardship rather than domination – and act appropriately.

I guess that’s why the orca’s story made such an impact on me this morning. The mother orca was grieving, just like you and I do when we suffer a loss. I felt sad for her. I felt sad that the numbers of orcas, like so many species, are declining because we humans have failed as stewards and excelled at domination.

If we ever do develop the same language as the rest of the animal kingdom, I doubt I’ll find the words to tell them how sorry I am for the way human beings have treated them and their habitat. Like Dad always told me, “actions speak louder than words”. If I start acting differently, maybe I can start apologizing now…