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Blue Spider's Coffee House

Truth, Love, Beauty and all things Virtuous

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Take A Long Holiday: When the Rains Wouldn’t Quit

Unable to sleep any longer, I was surprised to find my wife awake too. Normally, she has no trouble sleeping in on Saturday mornings. But not this time, she had been thinking about the upcoming storm and the need for sand bags most of the early morning. At first, I was a little annoyed because I wasn’t ready to think about emergency preparedness so early on a Saturday morning. I needed time, precious time, to wake up and process the information, challenging both my character and my competence.

But out of respect to Tammy, I decided to at least read the dire storm warnings from the local emergency management agencies. And sure enough, they were predicting all kinds of environmental mayhem and speaking of strange things like an atmospheric river and other climate aberrations. I now had motivation when previously I had none. At this point I resolved to take my wife’s visions of sand bags seriously.

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Happy with myself, I put on a confident smile and stood up straight and made my way outside to start shoveling the snow in the driveway and the walkway in the backyard. We have my wife’s daughter and her grandchildren temporarily living with us as she finds as place to live. And her two boys eagerly volunteered as well. The boys, my wife, and I were able to quickly clear those two areas, even though the boys with their short attention spans to a distance sliding contest when they found an area of smooth ice resistant to our best shoveling efforts.

Once we finished shoveling the snow, we were ready to sand bags. We jumped in the car and made to the nearest fire station. Quickly an assembly line was organized with our labor divided into bag holders, shovelers, and loaders. We worked like the dickens until we noticed our car was getting lower and lower, so we had to cut short our spectacular sandbagging efforts, even though nobody in our group had an ounce quit in them.

In our newly converted low rider, we rushed home self-satisfied with our antlike work ethic. Still riding our emergency preparedness high, we likewise unloaded our sand bags with incredible efficiency and strategically laid them in front of our garage area.

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As a Mormon, you live for frightful weather like this. It’s like a test of all your previous food storage and emergency preparedness training. Candles. Check. Hand-cranked radio. Check. Water supplies. Check. Freeze dried mac n’ cheese. Check. Prodigious amounts of instant chocolate pudding. Check! Check!

And now it was time, to wait for that river in the sky to drop its rain. And wait we did. But it never came as the weatherpersons predicted. Their predictions kept getting pushed out later and later in the day. The rains did not arrive until later that night.

When the rains came, they were a steady, heavy rains that brought more water than our feeble desert soils can normally absorb. So as a consequence, our rivers rose and our streets flooded. And we were stuck inside most of the day, driving each other bat crazy.

Luckily, my wife and I both had an out…for a while. We had both volunteered to help the Red Cross at the chapel since it has been designated as Carson City’s main emergency shelter for the storm.

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My shift was later in the afternoon. When I got there, the head Red Cross volunteer assigned me as the food liaison (I think my appearance gave her the impression I really like all things food). My duties were to help serve meals prepared by the Salvation Army and count meals served and report to the Red Cross the number of meals served since the Salvation Army was not willing to share that information with the Red Cross. I do not know why they weren’t sharing.

Only two people showed up and no meals were needed at the time (lucky for them I am sure I would have botched somehow). Much of my time volunteering, was spent talking to the other volunteers and saying the word “culvert” a lot while we checked our phones for alerts telling us which roads were flooded and closed off.

After many days, the rains and snow ceased. And me and my house survived, as did most houses. Of course, it’s still not over the weather people are predicting another atmospheric river next week, but I think the worst has a passed.

Wandering East of Eden

bryce-canyon-770840-printOne of the great processes you go through in life is to discover yourself, to find those gifts and capacities God has given you. He has given you great talents, the smallest part of which you have just begun to utilize. Trust the Lord to assist you in unlocking the door to those gifts. Some of us have created imaginary limits in our minds. There is literally a genius locked up inside each of us. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise”-Gene R. Cook

All I’ve Got to Do is Live and Die: Andrew Gets His Driver’s License

Andrew finally did it. He got his driver’s license just in time to enlist in the U.S. Army (but that’s another story). He apparently forgot to smile when they took his picture. Not only that he posed like he was trying out for a wise guy role in the Sopranos. Heaven help Andrew if he ever gets pulled over. Even if he’s not guilty of anything, his driver’s license picture says its more than likely he did whatever they pulled him over for. And if I was cop I would check the trunk for a body while I was at it.

When Andrew told me he got his driver’s license, a voice in my head told me that we’d have to let him drive on our Christmas trip to see my parents. So the night before, we quietly discussed as a team of equal partners the idea of him driving during some part of our eight-hour journey to St. George. After much discussion and hushing, it was finally agreed that he would drive the Tonopah to Beatty leg. And on the way down he did okay considering he had to drive through some fog near Goldfield. And I did pretty good as well, I kind of felt like a Father Duck teaching his little duckling how to swim.

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But on the way back from St. George it was noticeably different.  At first,  Andrew and I had a mini-battle of wills as he wanted to go rogue on me and drive 80 mph because pretty much everyone else on US 95 was driving over eighty and he was being frequently passed, but I wasn’t comfortable with that and told him he that the max he could drive was 75 mph. Also as part of the deal he had to drive with two hands on the wheel at all times, which he violated several times when he was casually telling us stories about high school.

I couldn’t tell if there was a crosswind or not as we drove from Beatty, but the ride for some reason wasn’t very smooth and was even less smooth when he was taking one hand of the wheel to express himself. Finally though, we made it to Tonopah, but not before discovering that Tammy was laying in a fetal position with an acute case of motion sickness.

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As we passed the clown motel and pulled into the Chevron, Tammy announced that she would drive the next leg. Normally, I run a pretty tight ship as far as making driving assignments, but I wasn’t about to tangle with a nauseous Mama Bear. Sometimes, you have to know when to give way.

The rest of the trip went off without a hitch. We sang songs, played the alphabet game, and discussed the St. Petersburg’s paradox. It was good to get home. We survived and Andrew got to participate a little more in the human ant colony as he exercised his new power to drive. One more step toward his independence.

 

 

 

 

 

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God Jul

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“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”—Simone Weil

Christmas Pastoral

The snow lies crisp beneath the stars,
On roofs and on the ground;
Late footsteps crunch along the paths,
There is no other sound. 

So cold it is the roadside trees
Snap in the rigid frost,
A dreadful night to think on them,
The homeless and the lost. 

The dead sleep sheltered in the tomb,
The rich drink in the hall;
The Virgin and the Holy Child lie
shivering in a stall.

-Robert Hillyer

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Spiced Currants

2 lbs. ripe currants
2 lbs. sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground closes

  1. Wash currants, stem and cook with sugar and vinegar for about an hour;
  2. Add spices and continue cooking for 30 minutes

Putting a Ha’ Penny in A Poor Man’s Hat

“…and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace—Isaiah 9:6

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I had a dream the other night I was a salmon and I swam free towards the sea…then I reluctantly ceased to swim and slowly woke out of my dream. Awake. it didn’t take me long to realize that today was election day! With purpose, I vigorously put on my beige Dockers, my casual business shirt, took my One-A-Day man vitamin and headed off to vote with some pep in my step.

Surprisingly, there were no long lines, as predicted by the talking heads. It only took me about 10 minutes to get in and out of the community center—easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.

Feeling pretty darn good, I drove home for a quick pit stop at the house before going in to work. I parked the Mini in the driveway and ran into the house. After grabbing a mouth full of chocolate chips, I ran back outside only to find my car missing. However, it didn’t take too long to find my car. It was halfway down the cul-de-sac, having come to a rest atop my neighbor’s mailbox. Apparently, when you place a car in neutral its gets the itch to move.

My first instinct was to grab the car and drive off, but my conscience got the best of me and I chose not to flee the scene. Although this good decision-making was encouraged by a neighbor watching me like a hawk. So, I went back into the house, grabbed some more chocolate chips (to steady my nerves), and proceeded to write a note documenting my negligence. I dutifully placed the note on my neighbor’s door and took some pictures of the “crime scene” and then tore out of the neighborhood like a bat out of hell.

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I figured at the most it would be a couple of hundred dollars to fix the mailbox, so I reconciled myself once more that I would just have to suck it up and take my medicine.

Regretfully, I didn’t know anything about this neighbor. Other than they had big red truck and there was a woman at the house who curiously stared at us sometimes when we were driving to and from the house. So, I did not know what to expect when I got home from work that night.

After mansplaining to my wife about the car, insurance, and the cost to repair the mailbox, I went over to the house to just get it over with. But nobody was there except a teenage girl who told me through the door that her parents weren’t home. About an hour later, I willed myself over to the house again and introduced myself as the guilty party, in my best Eeyore voice.

To my surprise my neighbor calmly told me that “sh** happens” and told me he appreciated my honesty. All he was going to ask is that I go and buy the post ($11) and from there he’d do the rest. We shook hands firmly and stoically parted ways. A win-win for both sides. A win for honesty and win for mercy.  To think the Mini being put in neutral would actually be a blessing in disguise.

Let Us Be Kind to Friend and Enemy, Let Us Do Good to All Mankind: Antidote to Bullying

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