Five Stepping Stones


UPDATED Six weeks from today I am supposed to begin what will prove to be the most challenging job I’ve ever had: Dad.  Of course babies don’t always listen to the doctor’s due dates, so I may have a week or two more or a week or two less.  I’m not sure what it is about writers like myself that wish to reach out to their unborn with words of wisdom, but it seems to be a time-honored tradition.  So here is my contribution to that tradition.

Dear Daughter:

In a couple of short months you’ll begin what I hope will be a magnificent journey full, at first, of wonder and joy.  For awhile it’ll all be firsts.  I can’t wait to watch you experience the crisp colors of autumn leaves, the soft fluffy flakes of a December snow, and the salty spray of a frothing ocean. There will be time later for man-made amusements like museums and roller-coasters.   It’s nature that nurtures, that connects us from where we came to where we are going.  Know nature early and the journey will be richer. We’ll read stories and play together and I’ll make every effort to be a great role model.  I take solace in the fact that some of the best coaches weren’t always the greatest players. Does anyone even remember that Tommy Lasorda finished his major league pitching career with a measly 0-4 record and a nose-bleed high 6.48 ERA and generally bounced around the minor leagues?  No, people remember him earning four National League pennants and eight division titles in his two decades as the Dodgers manager.   Does anyone remember that Sparky Anderson only made it a single season  as an infielder with the Phillies and could only muster a microscopic .218 average?  No, he’s remembered as the architect of the Big Red Machine and taking the Detroit Tigers to the top.  With me as your baseball-loving father, you’ll learn who these people are later!   And that’s not to say I haven’t done a lot that I’m proud of. I have.  But I’ve had a lot of bumps and bruises along the way that I might have avoided had I watched a bit closer where I walked.

I know I won’t be able to keep you from making mistakes, nor should I really try. Mistakes are the stones you’ll trip on, but later climb on.  Learn from them and they’ll be your guide, the firmness under your feet.  Don’t learn from them and they become boulders blocking your way.

But I can at least show you how to build a better road.  Because when you’re born there are no roads, you make your own, which is the inherent beauty of life but also its greatest peril.  It’s too late for me to erase my own missteps and blunders or remake my road, I’m not certain I would if I could.  I own my experiences, for better or worse, and in the end your journey is one of the only things that is truly yours. So embrace the flaws as well as the victories.

There’s so much I could say: take care of yourself, watch your pennies, exercise a lot, embrace spirituality.  Have fun.   But if I could only place in the earth five stones for you to step upon it would be these:

BE TRANSPARENT:  Mold grows in the shadows, in dark, damp places, not in the transparent light of day.  When dealing with other people and yourself, tell the truth, even if it’s painful. Often being truthful with yourself is more difficult than being so with others.

USE PRIMARY COLORS:  I’m convinced that life isn’t black and white, but I’ve also learned the ungraceful way that there aren’t unlimited shades of gray either. If you make everything a shade of gray then there are no colors and life becomes like a carnival house of mirrors where you lose your way and your sense of shape.

KNOW YOURSELF AND LAUGH – A LOT: If you ever go into one of those carnival fun-houses full of mirrors, make some funny faces. Laugh.  When you look in those mirrors and see your stretched face or double image you can laugh because you know that’s not really you.  Knowing who you are gives you the confidence to laugh at who you aren’t.  For some this is a life-long journey and they leave never really knowing who they are, others seem to know by the time they take their first steps.  But whatever you do, learn who you are.  We come into life with a dictionary completed for us and the words of generations before already defined. But only you get to define yourself, not others.

PERSEVERE: Follow the bright light of right. If you believe in something then hit that wall until it cracks, climb it until you scale it, dig under it, or build your road right over it. But there’s a way. If you truly believe that what is on the other side of that wall is righteous and worthwhile find a way and don’t listen to those that say it can’t be done. Because it can.

EXPECT THE BEST:   When you’re scared, remember that the worst that can happen rarely happens.  Yes, sometimes the worst does happen and you need to be prepared. But if you’re always worried about the worst, you’ll lose sight of the best.

Enjoy the journey.


Your Dad


Paula Deen


I’m curious as to what others think of the whole Paula Deen brouhaha?  First of all, a couple of caveats:

1) Full disclosure: She and I do share the same literary agent, but that doesn’t color my opinion one way or another.

2) My opinion is based on what has been widely reported in media, if there’s more that is yet to come out, I may change my thoughts.

First of all, I would in no way condone the use of the “n” word or any speech that makes someone feel marginalized, hated, or bullied.  But we live in a diverse world with a gazillion different opinions and people.  People are not perfect.  Lord knows I’ve made more mistakes, exercised more poor judgment, and stuck my foot in my mouth more times than probably most of you combined.  But the Food Network is a place where cooks, chefs, and bakers gather to create culinary magic and prepare recipes.  Is the Food Network judging its TV personalities based on their bisque and bread or on their morals and mores?  If it’s the latter, fine, fire Paula. But, I’d venture to guess, the Food Network would probably have to fire most of their hosts if that is now the standard.

I also, personally, don’t believe Paula Deen is a bad person. I’ve never met her, I’m only judging her by what I’ve seen of her over the years on TV.  I respect a woman who by the sheer force of her personality and hard work later in life made it to the top.  At 66-years-old she is an imperfect person tinged with the unacceptable racial residue of Jim Crow’s twilight.  If Rachael Ray, a young New York native, uttered the “N” word, that would to me be a very different situation than a 66-year-old from Savannah.  I’m not giving Paula a pass, but I’m giving perspective.  The Imagereality is that as much as American institutions strive to create order out of disorder, life is a pretty gray place where decisions are shaped by a complex brew of impulsivity, history, and personality.  Most of us, I believe, strive to make the right choices and most of us hopefully make the right ones most of the time. But, I for one, am willing to forgive Paula Deen.  Thoughts?

Cat In a Box


SIGH, the photo says it all….I guess I shouldn’t leave a box on my desk because, well, you see what happens in this house:

caty (1)

Thankful for Thanksgiving…


SIGH, last time I posted I said that I would be posting more often.  Hasn’t happened and not without good reason.  This has been an insane period in my life as I have been working on an ambitious Amish-related project.  I’ve learned a ton over the past month or so, but, wow, has it been tough.  The project has consumed most of my time, leaving very little left for extraneous writing.

So here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving.  People are hitting the highway for the long journey to grandma’s and filling the grocery store aisles in search for canned cranberries. I always make every attempt to steer clear of grocery stores today and most years I fail in that quest, although this year I think I’ll succeed.  The Butterball aisle is insanity and scuffles are the norm around the cans of pumpkin pie.  Our family’s Thanksgivings are pretty traditional with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pie.  Such culinary traditions anchor us firmly in the happiness and carefree of yesterday while soothing the soul with a comforting balm as we face an unknown future.  These traditions are important because as crazy as our world has become there’s something comforting in knowing at least the stuffing will be the same, the mashed potatoes will be whipped and fluffy, and the turkey dry.   There’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football, all traditions which provide a soothing stop during a hectic year.

And of course my Amish friends sometimes snicker at all of the harried rush we all launch ourselves into in the days before Thanksgiving often observing that “every day” should be Thanksgiving.  And they’re right, but at least the third Thursday of  each November we’re forced to stop and give thanks and for that I’m thankful.

So, do any of you have any culinary traditions that might seem a bit offbeat on the Thanksgiving table to others but are a tradition on yours?   Does anyone forgo turkey and have something else like ham or even pizza?  Do any of you go out to dinner instead?

Fall Fever!

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Mid-October is the essence of autumn.  This is the time of frosty mornings, crisp colors, Friday night football, and chilled apple cider. All of these are serene moments of enjoyment to be savored before the onslaught of winter’s wrath.  Rachel and I have been seizing upon some of the nicer days to go on some hikes.  Yesterday we stumbled upon this fiery orange-eyed guy. I’ve always had a soft spot for box turtles, and this guy was gorgeous in all of his color.  Here are a few more color-soaked scenes of autumn. SIGH, I’m enjoying them because all of this means cold, gray days can’t be far away. This is a gorgeous panorama of colors from my mother in law’s back-porch….ahhh, if there were just a way to press the pause button and hold these colors for a few more weeks!


Dead Mall….

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My hometown used to feature a bustling mall by the interstate, a shining beacon to capitalism and commerce crammed with trendy stores and restaurants.  But as my city’s economics changed so too did its retail landscape.  Quaint boutiques were replaced by “Cash for Gold” stores and the city basically went into a retail death dive and dragged our housing and city services down with it (my town doesn’t even have a public swimming pool that it can scrape together the funds to open).  Cities are cyclical and I think Middletown, Ohio will one day rise again – one day.  But for now it’s still mired in a funk and nowhere is that more evident than the once teeming Towne Mall.  The mall was once home to such marquee shops as The Gap, Waldenbooks, Dillards, Spencer Gifts, the whole usual mix of shops.  Now, it’s a shuttered ghost town. Somehow a Bath & Body Works hangs on inside and a Radio Shack.  But Radio Shacks are always empty anyway, right?

These are some scenes from inside the belly of the beast on what would normally be a teeming time at a mall.  Crazy, one of the photos below is of the center of the mall, the hub, the crux…where teenagers used to linger and loiter, families met after shopping…now….nothing….depressing.  Watch this little clip of me walking through the mall at what should be a busy time of day: about 5 p.m. on a weekday.

Like the cities that serve them, malls are cyclical beasts.  Sometimes malls reinvent themselves and survive, other times they die a slow torturous death like my hometown mall.  Seems I hardly ever go to traditional “indoor malls” these days anyway and maybe that is an overall trend?  Our slice of southwest Ohio seems to have moved towards those outdoor “lifestyles centers”.  I actually prefer those, stores are easier to get to and one gets to breathe fresh air as opposed to the mall contaminated stale air.

I have been to the Mall of America in the Twin Cities. I found myself kind of underwhelmed with the whole thing, it was basically just a couple of malls stacked on top of one another.  I guess to survive a long Minnesota winter that kind of thing is needed.  So, has your hometown mall survived? If so, why do think it has?








My First Debate…

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My First Debate...

CAPTION: President George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton after their first debate.

Tonight is the first Presidential debate, which will attract north of over 40 million viewers.  Will you be among them? I’ll be tuning in for sure.

I already know who I am going to vote for in this election, but I like to think I have an open enough mind that if either of the candidates creates a really compelling case that I would consider it.  I don’t think either of them will say anything to change my mind, but I am open to it.

Each Presidential debate creates its own indelible moments:  in 2000, Al Gore’s relentless “sighing”, in 1992 President Bush checking his watch, and in 1988 Lloyd Bentsen demolishing Dan Quayle.

The first year I was able to cast a vote in the Presidential election was 1992, that was the year that Ross Perot upended the system with his electrifying third party bid.   I was swept up in the excitement and cast my first-ever Presidential ballot for the billionaire Texan.  I often wonder what “might have been?” had he not self-destructed with his erratic behavior.  His debate performances that year probably really moved the dial in his favor, but not enough.  So, will you be watching tonight?  And anyone willing to share who you cast your first-ever vote for President?


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