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Blue Spider's Coffee House

Truth, Love, Beauty and all things Virtuous

All My Ships Are Out At Sea

I’ve learned over time that one of the worst things you can do as a manager is compare supervising your co-workers to raising kids. They go ape over the comparison, even though, truth be told, there are a lot of similarities.

 

When I made this observation during a recent meeting, Brenda in Accounting was one of those who took offence to the comparison. Not quite understanding where she was coming from, I tried to calm her down by telling her not to worry she’s in good hands because my kids turned out just fine. That seemed to only make the situation worse. After some mediation and a thousand pardons, we did in fact get past the incident and I now know that deep-down inside Brenda’s a good kid.

A Baker’s Dozen

In the year 1655 on December’s last day, a Dutch baker was working late selling New Year’s cookies. As he was about to shut up shop an uncommonly ugly old woman thrust her way in, demanding a dozen of the special cookies bearing an effigy of Saint Nick.

As the baker handed her the bag of cookies, she said crossly: “One more cookie: I said a dozen.” “You have a dozen,” said the baker. “One more cookie said the ugly old woman, “One more than 12 makes a dozen.”

The baker grabbed her by the shoulder and pushed her to the door. “You may go to the Devil for another cookie!” he shouted. “You won’t get it here.”

In the days and months that followed, mysterious bad luck came to the little bakery in Beverwyck. Bread rose to the ceiling or fell flat like a pancake. Cookies and money seem to be snatched up by invisible hands. Even the handsome brick oven collapsed. The stubborn Dutchman began to wonder whether supernatural powers were not at work.

“Holy Saint Nicholas, what shall I do?” As he spoke these words, Saint Nicholas appeared and told the baker that his troubles could be resolved if had the spirit that the holidays demand.  No sooner had the figure of the saint vanished than the uncommonly ugly old woman appeared demanding a dozen cookies. Posthaste, the baker counted 13 cookies, presenting the bag to her with a bow and a “Happy New Year!”

“The spell is broken”, the witch told the baker, “Now swear to me on the likeness of Saint Nicholas that hereafter in Beverwyck and all the patroonship of Van Rensselaer that 13 will make a baker’s dozen. The baker took the oath and from that day on even down to this day when you say a baker’s dozen you mean 13.

Music Picks

  1. Cousin Dupree–Steely Dan
  2. Pines of Rome (Pini Di Romo)—Respighi
  3. If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)—George Jones
  4. In the Blood—John Mayer
  5. Forearm Shiver—Sam Spence

Everybody Worships

My wife and I took a quick trip to Santa Cruz this past weekend and got a chance to visit the Beach Boardwalk.  As we were walking back from the pier, we noticed a young man, somewhere between 25-30, with dirty dreadlocks making a sand sculpture that spelled out C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I.

We wanted to take a picture but noticed that he had written into the sand sculpture the request that people “ask B4 pic”. The skeptical part of me thought this was a gimmick to get donations.

But we felt like the risk was minimal and so I gave my wife a couple of dollars and she asked if she could take a picture of the sand sculpture and also asked him if he would like to be in picture too.

He told my wife no, but then the little kibitzer went on to tell her that he didn’t want his soul to travel around the world while he was in California. The young man also pointed out that while he is a human, the sculpture was part of the beach and therefore part of the world. It was okay for the sculpture to be shared with the world, but not his soul.  

I have to admit I am a sap for philosophy and spent most of the day trying to figure out whether what he said was profound or half-baked. I finally came to the conclusion, of my own free will, that what he said for the most part was half-baked, EXCEPT for the idea that there is a need to protect your soul. He was onto something with that tidbit of street insight, and I’ll take wisdom from wherever I can get it. 

Doing the Hard Time

Living among and with differences is what makes our world so beautiful. It’s how God intended it to be—spirit and body, pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, life and death. Living with differences is this life. It’s core to God’s plan in helping us to become who He intends us to become. It’s how we live and learn. And we all know that isn’t always easy to do.”

Family Recipes

My favorite meal during timeout as a kid was Barley Gruel. This is the old family recipe:

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 teaspoons barley flour
  • cold water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix barley flour with cold water to form a thin paste. Add to boiling water, and boil fifteen minutes; then add milk, season, reheat, and strain. Put kid in timeout and serve.

Beyond the Locust Hedge

Last Friday as I was leaving work, I ran into a former colleague, a large and powerful man, who was on the verge of retiring. At first, we chatted about the small stuff like who got voted off The Bachelor. But after we exhausted that subject, we ended up talking about a deeper topic: our families.

As I propped my back against the wall and turned sideways so I could see the Exit sign, we joked about how much easier it was to manage employees than it was raise kids, a feat akin to herding feral cats. That was the sad truth and neither of us could at that point feign otherwise. A truth, that I could tell, pained us equally. Raising kids is and will always remain one of life’s biggest mysteries.

And as long as Hoosier Hill remains the tallest point in Indiana, this is one area that science will never conquer. Even if scientists one day learn how to genetically-edit children in their basements. I, myself, am not so sure I am in favor of a race of 7-foot tall Einsteins who can dunk, but have no souls. How do you genetically engineer a soul that is so unique that there is never another one like among the billions and billions of people who have lived on this earth?

It does seem though that more and more, as we expand our knowledge about genes, that science has come to accept a broader view on the influence of environment in genetics. Scientist are discovering genetics is not a closed system. A fact that any parent from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu could have told them. Once you have kids you can toss out any mechanical views you have about life. Going through the parenting process over time makes you, whether you like or not, more philosophical.

Through parenting you discover that this imperfect world full of imperfect people is a messy one. There is an obvious fallenness to this world. Life no longer is the fantasy world of dragon’s teeth and giant’s bones that you once knew. Life, come to find out, is full of scarcity, conflict and suffering. And none of this can be successfully dealt with without faith, hope, forgiveness, mercy, work and last but not least unconditional love.

When you become a parent, you sign yourself up for a lifetime of caring, pain, and joy, with no guarantees. Congratulations! There is no more hiding in the shadow and there are no limits on how much pain you might have to go through, but again there are no limits on how much joy you might have.

As a parent, you find through sober calculation that virtue is neither old or new, but timeless. Just as your parents told you in the car while they were listening to John Denver and you had your Walkman on listening to the B-52’s. Your parents who in your younger days you thought were clueless now seem like geniuses. Overnight, they have become a regular pair of Stephen Hawkings for having successfully navigated what you are now wallowing in.

There is no sugar-coating it having kids exposes you and makes you vulnerable. Being exposed and vulnerable is not cool. You have now become as cool as Dick Haymes eatin’ a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair.

But the tradeoff for losing your coolness is that by having kids you begin to see life more deeply. Life is so much more complex and richer than what we can ever empirically observe. It’s hard to behold with our natural eyes those beautiful bonds that tie us to others— past, present and future.

By having children, you get wind of the fact that Homo sapiens aren’t an abstract problem to be solved, but a calling for each of us to care for each other. There are no government programs or systems that can make us problem-free. Because of our fallen state the phrase “problem solved” is only a temporary thing. Learning itself is a gradual process. At best, the process is one step backwards for every two steps forward. The fact that we are bad at learning and gaining wisdom; however, should not deter us from trying.

The reality is that on Earth we need humans and we need a lot of them. Without them the richness of life goes away, things lose their meaning and their proper order. In a world without kids, we lose hope. Life becomes just “meh”. The doggone truth is, despite all the times our kids play out in street, stay up late, eat with their hands, talk back, curse, and never answer their phones (even though they just responded to your text), we need our kids as much as they need us to get through this journey we call life.

Steeplejack

In my short lifetime, I have never once received an invite to any political struggle. Nor have I been radicalized nor have I become a slave to any “liberation” group or philosophy. I think I am too domestic for all of that. I have lived long enough to know that I should put more faith in God than any political movement or revolution. But, I still bumble when it comes to faith.

For the better part of my life, I have bumbled. Bumbling a little here; bumbling a little there. My bumbling has been for the most part harmless, requiring some do-overs and mild forgiveness from loved ones. Painstakingly, I tried to just keep to bumbling and adhere to more temperate habits and minor peccadillos. However, I have teared up a pea patch or two along the way.

There have been more than a few times during my life when I’ve done much more than just bumbling. During those times, my problem-solving skills have been akin to Godzilla descending on Tokyo (the first Godzilla movie). And it’s when looking over the aftermath of my destruction that I have frequently found help from the Matthew 11:28-30, a scripture Christ delivered when he was out preaching to the cities in the area of Galilee:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

And even though like most bumblers I am slow to penetrate life’s deeper mysteries, I’ve learned that the Lord takes a long-term view to problem-solving. These principles of divine problem-solving require one to hone in on the virtues of patience, kindness, long-suffering, gratitude, and thinking about consequences (what I like to think of as third-level thinking). Pretty much the opposite of every first instinct I have had in life.

Godzilla teaches orphans in Tokyo to read and write

This scripture has taught me, more than once, that I don’t have to destroy a Tokyo in order to solve my problems, deal with adversity, or find some peace.

The Journey of the Ordinary Hero

“It is true it is grievous to part with our friends. We are creatures of passion, of sympathy, of love, and it is painful for us to part with our friends. But would keep them in the mortal house, though they should suffer pain…. we should rather rejoice at the departure of those whose lives have been devoted to doing good…

…we should rejoice in their passing from a state of sorrow, grief, mourning, woe, misery, pain, anguish and disappointment into a state of existence, where they can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body…

At death, our spirit is set free, and we thirst no more, we want to sleep no more, we hunger no more, we tire no more, we run, we walk, we labor, we go, we come, we do this, we do that, whatever is required, there is nothing like pain or weariness, we are full of life, full of vigor, and we enjoy the presence of our heavenly Father, by the power of his Spirit…”—Brigham Young

The Passing of My Father In-Law

I won’t go into it too much, but this week my father in-law passed away. It was a surprise to us all. Because it went very quickly, I think everyone is still in shock.

HennyPenny

Although I have only known my father-in for little over a decade, I can tell you my father in-law was one of the good guys. He was a soft-spoken person who got along with everyone and was somebody you could always count on to help out and was extremely handy. He had many friends and family who will miss him.

Born in a North Dakota in one of the smallest towns in America about 40 minutes from the Canadian border, he grew up during part of the Great Depression and World War II and as a result was wise with his money and didn’t like to waste anything—everything could be re-purposed. After his father died when he was young, his family eventually ended up in Southern California like so many others from the Midwest during that time. There he lived until the early seventies, when he got tired of the crime, traffic and pollution in LA and moved his family to Carson City, Nevada where he lived the rest of his life.

Family Photo 2Despite losing his own father at an early age, my father in-law ended up being a good husband, a good father, a good provider, pretty much all you could ask a man to be during his life on earth. He made the most of his life and that I think takes away some of the sting from his death. He will be missed, but we know he has gone on to the next stage of life, reunited with family and friends waiting for him there.

 

Squab Pot-Pie

This is great meal when the weather outside is miserable and the kids have run out of things to do. Usually I start off cutting and dicing about 3 ounces salt pork and then divide the squabs into pieces, removing the skin. Next cut up the potatoes into small squares, and lastly roll 12 small balls of dough.

In a deep baking dish spoon in the pork, potatoes and squabs, and then the balls of dough, season with salt, white pepper, mace or nutmeg; add hot water enough to cover the ingredients, cover with a “short” pie-crust and bake at medium in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Music Suggestions

1. Families Can Be Together Forever by Clive Romney
2. Deep in the Heart of Texas by Moe Bandy
3. Waltz of the Angels by George Jones
4. I Will Follow You by Percy Faith
5. River Jordan by Vusi Mahlasela

Humor

Four men are walking in the desert.

The Germans says, “I’m tired and thirsty. I must have a beer.”
The Italian says, “I’m tired and thirsty. I must have wine.”
The Mexican says, “I’m tired and thirsty. I must have tequila.”
The Jew says, “I’m tired and thirsty. I must have diabetes”

Spiritual Whirlwinds: When All Things Are In Commotion

Horsefeathers

Here in Mortality

“…here in mortality, we cannot always tell who is carrying what burdens; limited intelligence, chemical depression, compulsive behaviors, learning disabilities, dysfunctional or abusive family background, poor health, physical or psychological handicaps—no one chooses these things.”— Stephen E. Robinson

Applied to myself: You don’t know jack! You probably to some degree suffer from all the burdens listed above. More than likely you have been one of those burdens that others suffer from. A little less talking, and a little more patience, a little more mercy, a little more forgiveness, and a little more long-suffering might make you less of a burden to others.

4-1-17 Burdens

My Tiny Thoughts: This is not a declaration of permissiveness or a free pass to tolerate evil, but I think it underscores the importance of developing patience, mercy, long-suffering, and forgiveness in our judgement of others. The Lord has never told us to not judge because being our own moral agent is key to becoming like him. Thinking and acting is key to the His Plan of Happiness. To think and to act requires judgement. But our understanding of each other is severely limited. Our judgements of our fellow imperfect human beings will be in of itself imperfect and can never be final or eternal.

We may be able to discover planets in distant galaxies, process complex algorithms in a matter of minutes, and communicate instantaneously with our loved ones thousands of miles of away, but this knowledge does not make us experts in the matters of the heart. It doesn’t mean we understand each other any better, no matter how much we force the issue, or meddle in other people’s private lives.

Fortunately, you don’t need a Phd to become more patient, merciful and forgiving and achieve a better understanding of others. Development of these qualities is no less demanding but requires a different discipline and a lot of divine help.

Music I liked this Week

1. Yellow Rose of Texas by Mitch Miller
2. Solfeggieto by Shir Nash
3. Crazy for You by Michael Franti and Spearhead
4. The Foggy Dew by Young Dubliners
5. The Hungry Wolf by X

4-1-17 Old West Point Nebraska Pic 2

Family Stories from the Quiet Past

My wife’s sister recently shared some family history with us. She found a profile of Manoch (Mano) Frey (1854-1923)—my wife’s 3rd Great Uncle on her mother’s side—in the Compendium of History, Reminiscence and Biography of Nebraska. Mano’s father, Edward Frey (1819-1887) moved his family from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to Omaha, Nebraska where they filed on a homestead in 1868. Once granted he moved his wife, Susanna Reinhard (1818-1880), and his family to West Point, Nebraska.

At this point in time, the area of West Point had been settled for almost a decade and Nebraska had gone from a territory to becoming the 37th State of this blessed Union. The Elkhorn Valley where West Point sits was a Pawnee and Omaha tribe hunting ground, and in 1859 these tribes were surprised and upset when they discovered during their hunting expedition that homesteaders had begun to settle on the land. To drive out the settlers, the tribes burnt several of the homes down. This skirmish lead to what was is referred to as the “so-called Pawnee War”, but this “war” had very few casualties on either side and lasted a little less than year after it started.

4-1-17 Mano Frey

 

Despite the peace between the homesteaders and the Pawnee, Ponca and Omaha tribes, the Frey family nevertheless experienced many hardships at the hands of Mother Nature during their first several years on their homestead. In March of 1869, less than a year after settling in West Point, they experienced one of the worst blizzards Nebraska had ever known, the family having “to bring the chickens in the house and to put the pigs in the cellar to save them.” In the blizzard of 1873, a great number of their cattle perished. The Frey family also experienced the grasshopper raids in 1873, 1874, and 1875 and lost all of their crops during each grasshopper raid.

In West Point, Mano’s father opened up a store. In order to keep the store stocked with goods, the Frey family on a regular basis had to haul items from Omaha to West Point, a distance of 70 miles. Hauling these items by wagon was not always easy, especially when the trail’s prairie pot holes turned into mudholes during the Spring rains. As Mano relates “at many of the mudholes the loads in the wagons were carried piece by piece on the heads of the men then the empty wagons were drawn over by long chains.”

He also describes one winter where he (Mano) and his brother hauled 88 cords of wood from the Missouri River, a distance of 35 miles from their farm. Mano notes oftentimes their feet were frozen to their boots and that they frequently slept in open barns. But Mano notes that “mother always had coffee and warm food waiting for them not matter what hour of the night they might return.”

History again proves, how awesome Moms are.

3-30-17 Absurd

Recipes

Cheese and Pepper Sandwiches

1 cup of cottage cheese
1 onion, minced fine
2 peppers, chopped fine
½ cup of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of paprika

Place in a bowl and beat to mix. Butter the bread and cut in thin slices. Place a layer of cheese mixture and then cover and cut in half.

The Burden of Expectations

It was harvest season again when the apples had turned red and yellow, round and juicy and sweet and mellow. And it had been a busy and exhausting Fall day. When I finally got to my room. I knelt down and said a quick prayer, asked for a little grace, asked for some deliverance from evil, and then I flopped onto my bed, clothes and all, and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

It was in the wee hours of the morning when I heard the sound of a piano being played from the other side of my bedroom wall. I was easily able to pick out the tune penetrating through my walls as a determined and forthright version of Scott Joplin’s ragtime great The Entertainer.

I’ll admit there are worse ways to be woken up to in the morning. The piano playing was coming along just fine until about two-thirds of the way through when the aspiring pianist stumbled. He (I assumed it was he because of the manly way he handled that piano) promptly returned to the beginning and started to methodically play the song all over again. Fair enough, you make a mistake once, maybe even twice, and you want start all over. I get that. But when the piano player did this a third time, a fourth time and so forth, I began to feel like my sleep was being abused. What had started out as a pleasant night’s sleep was now turning into a nightmare. Just play the dad gum song all the way through!

3-24-17 Cute-Kitten-Playing-Piano

Now, I don’t remember how long my Dad took piano lessons but I don’t ever remember hearing him making it to the end of Joplin’s The Entertainer even though he was a dedicated student of the piano. Despite his limitations, you could always count on Dad giving it 100%. Legend has it that my Mom once heard my Dad play it all the way through, but I think that’s was just fake news so that we would move on to something less painful.

The piano wasn’t the only instrument my Dad tried playing, he noodled a bit on the guitar and the mandolin. But like the piano, I never heard him finish a song on either one of those instruments. He’d always tease us with a few chords but never give us a song. This habit even applied to his whistling. I don’t remember a day going by when my Dad didn’t whistle. I remember how he’d come home from work, deep in abstract thought—deep in Plato’s cave, whistling the same unrecognizable rambling tune in no hurry to have it become an actual song.

Now my Dad wasn’t the only one who tried his hand at music in our family. My parents made a conscious and concerted effort to get us to tap in our own musical talents. My sister tried by played the snare drum in Middle School, a la Karen Carpenter, although I think she was more into Cher back then. Later on, I witnessed her efforts to play the Star Wars theme song by ear on the piano, but beyond that I am not sure where her musical talents took her. But her talents lied elsewhere and I think my parents just accepted the fact that her journey in life would always be preternatural.

My older brother had more success. He was a regular Ian Anderson during Middle School. He even soloed a few times at Church, including a stirring rendition of What Child is This?  Man, could he toot that flute back in the day. But then basketball took over his life and his desire to be the next “Downtown” Freddie Brown took precedence over being the next great jazz flutist.

3-27-17 Fred Brown

I too briefly flirted with aspirations of being a musician. At a young age, I dreamed about composing a double horn concerto like Rosetti.  Then there were other times when my dreams were more subdued and I desired to compose something a little more simple like a short sacred vocal composition. When I wasn’t killing it on the piano, I was playing the alto saxophone. Through zero effort, zero discipline and tiny bit of talent, I got what I deserved and often ended up being last chair during my first two years in band. However, in the eighth grade I did finally make first chair in the Jazz Band. I can’t really explain the sudden success after struggling for so long, other than the fact that a lot of my bandmates had just started the sixth grade.

But after a while my interest in music waned. I remember I had just finished playing Hot Cross Buns and I was sitting there all alone in the basement on the piano bench, snacking on a ball of wheat bread I had recently rolled up. And I turned the page and looked up at notes and lyrics to The Song of the Volga Boatmen, and asked myself Is this all there is? It was in that very moment I had lost my appetite to be a musician. I could no longer see a prosperous future in music. It was time to follow my other dreams. And I had, oh, so many other dreams back then.

When I gave up on music the last hope for a musical prodigy in our family fell on the little shoulders of my kid brother. In the beginning, his prospects didn’t look so good. He practiced even less than I did. At least I would sit at the piano for twenty minutes and try to please my parents. He would sit at the piano for like ten minutes and then disappear for an extended bathroom break, which always seemed to end up with him in his room playing with Star Wars figures. Nobody seemed to notice or care. If I had done the same thing, my parents would have been on me like stink on skunk. My little brother had it good back then and he didn’t even know it.

After a while though he stopped taking piano lessons, but then something strange happened. Around twelve or thirteen, he started to play music on the piano by ear. He started by playing movie theme songs just like my sister had, but then expanded to classic rock.  Apparently, the guy had legitimate musical talent. And then I went away on a mission to Mexico and I kept hearing from people back in the “801” about this band called the Roy Hawkins Religious Revival and their lead folk guitarist. People were comparing him to a young Jim Croce. My brother it seemed had become overnight a regular guitar virtuoso while I was out preaching the good news to the good gente of Mazatlan.

3-24-17 Ilia_Efimovich_Repin_(1844-1930)_-_Volga_Boatmen_(1870-1873)

After all the dashed hopes and dreams, the money my parents spent on instruments and music lessons had at last paid off. The return on their investments was my little brother finally tapping into his God-given guitar playing talent. To this day my brother is still playing, in fact if you are ever in a small coffee house in Twin Falls, Idaho you might come across him. And isn’t that all any parent ever wants is to have at least one of their children discover their talents and potential. It goes a long way in overcoming the sad spectacle of the unfulfilled potential in their other children. Meanwhile I keep stringing my parents along with the promise of potential. They are very patient people. They are saints, dad-gummit.

1-21-17-meme-change-better-different-1867718-print

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