Something to cheer for

On Sunday, October 14, 2012 with millions of people around the world watching, Austrian Felix Baumgartner became the first man to break the sound barrier outside the confines of an airplane.

In the days leading up to this historic jump, I asked myself why anyone would want to do this. The risks seemed to far outweigh the potential achievement of what seemed to amount to a publicity stunt.

From The Telegraph, UK:

The former military parachutist rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath a giant helium balloon to a height of more than 128,000ft – almost four times the height of a cruising passenger airliner.

After a salute to the millions watching around the world, Baumgartner jumped from the capsule and plummeted toward earth, reaching a speed of 833mph – or Mach 1.24 – faster than the speed of sound, according to his spokesman.

His remarkable feat came exactly 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in an aeroplane, and it was one of three world records Baumgartner set with his jump. He also smashed the records for the highest manned balloon flight and the highest skydive.

Minutes before his historic leap, which was broadcast on television around the world, the 43 year-old sat anxiously on the edge of his capsule, looking down at Earth.

As he was instructed to cut his oxygen supply and release his safety harness, mission control in Roswell, New Mexico, told Baumgartner that a “guardian angel was with him”.

He addressed the world with a short speech ahead of his leap. He later clarified that he said: “I know the whole world is watching right now and I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.”
He then added: “I’m going over” before jumping.

Infrared cameras captured him as he initially tumbled in the air before settling into a steady head-first descent.

Baumgartner’s family and friends, including his parents, Ava and Felix, and girlfriend, Nicole Oetl, who had travelled to New Mexico watch, cheered and celebrated as it became clear he was safe.

As he fell to Earth, Baumgartner complained that his visor was steaming up before he pulled his parachute cord. After two or three minutes he appeared against the cloudless blue sky before steering himself to safety, landing on a patch of New Mexico scrubland, just nine minutes after jumping.

Despite his incredible accomplishment, Baumgartner looked almost nonchalant as he hit the ground running before settling into a slow stroll. Only once his parachute had fallen behind him did he drop to his knees and punch the air in celebration.

After reaching such heights, Baumgartner’s next ambition is to take to the sky once again. Although this time his ceiling will be much lower. He hopes to move to the country with his girlfriend, dividing his time between the US and Austria, where he plans to fly helicopters, performing mountain rescues and firefighting.

I did not watch the entire jump live, but I did tune in for the final moments of his descent. While I would never attempt such a thing myself, I’m glad there are men and women willing to push the boundaries of what we are capable of. If for no other reason than to strive to do more, to be more, and to inspire future generations to follow in their footsteps.

Yes, the world is a mess and Baumgartner’s achievement did nothing to make it any less messier. But sometimes it’s just good to have something or someone to cheer for.

In a press conference after the jump, an emotional Baumgartner said, “When I was standing there on top of the world so humble, you are not thinking about breaking records. I was thinking about coming back alive. You do not want to die in front of your parents and all these people….I thought ‘please God, don’t let me down.”

Felix Baumgartner sat on the edge of space looking down upon the world not considering how big his accomplishment would be, but how very small he was, and he reminded me that being small is not such a bad thing, when a God so big holds us in the palm of His hand.

Indeed. God did not let him down.

At least you’re STILL not Dwayne…

Confession time. I’ve been a bit consumed by the political process lately. But rather than write about it and risk offending some or possibly most of you, I think I’ll just keep my discourse to myself. For now.

In the meantime, while we can probably always find SOMETHING to complain about, this old post reminded me that if nothing else, at least I’m not Dwayne…

Anne Geddes image courtesy of

I was recently the recipient of one of those emails that your sweet Aunt Martha tends to forward to you.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

Those emails that have been forwarded so often and to so many recipients that you have to scroll down half the page before getting to the body of the email, only to find that much of the body is filled with cute pictures of babies dressed as flowers and/or those annoying flashing emoticons?

I’ll be honest. I usually delete these emails unread. But for whatever reason, I was feeling generous and decided to read it. You’ve probably read it before, or one very much like it. It was one of those well intentioned object lessons which are supposed to make us count our blessings and be grateful for what we have:

To realize
The value of a sister/brother
Ask someone
Who doesn’t have one.

To realize
The value of ten years:
Ask a newly
Divorced couple.

To realize
The value of four years:
Ask a graduate.

To realize
The value of one year:
Ask a student who
Has failed a final exam…

That’s just a portion of it, but you get the idea: Maybe things aren’t as bad as you think, because someone has always got bigger problems than you do.

I’m not a big fan of this kind of reasoning. Mostly because for me, there’s just something inherently wrong with making yourself feel better because someone is eating a bigger crap sandwich than you are.

Comparing ourselves with others–whether their lives are easier or harder–is never a good idea. If you’re struggling, rest assured there are others who are also struggling. Life is a series of peaks and valleys, and while no two life experiences are identical, we all have our share of high and low points.

Sometimes life is savored and enjoyed.

Other times it feels like an act of endurance.

And even though I just finished telling you that comparing yourself to others is never a good idea, I’m about to ask you to do just that.

Because on my very worst day, I could have honestly said,

“At least I’m not Dwayne.”

Editor’s Note: I may or may not have written that entire introduction just so I could post the above commercial.

“Man, that thing does not like Dwayne.”


How you play the game

62 - That's my boy!

If you’re a regular here, you probably already know I live in a little town just west of Houston. Houstonians might call us a suburb, but we’re fond of our independence. You may also know that my son plays on the freshman football team at his school. Or I should say, he plays for one of the freshman teams–there’s two. The “A” team consists mostly of boys who have been playing football since pee-wee league and/or are naturally gifted athletes. The “B” team consists of everyone else. My son is on the “B” team, which suits him just fine. He told me before school started that he would rather be a starter on the “B” team than a bench warmer on the “A” team, and that’s exactly how things have worked out. And did I mention that his team is 4-0? No? Well then, his team is 4-0.

Texans take their high school football very seriously–some more than others. The high school team to beat in our district bears the same name as our town, and it is extremely rare that anyone ever does–beat them, that is. From their freshman squads to their varsity team, they regularly beat their opponents by 50 points or more. It’s not enough to win, their philosophy demands that they crush their opponents. If your son’s not a starter, he may as well be the water boy. He’ll get about the same amount of playing time.

I’m not a fan of that philosophy. Oh, I’m not one of those mamby-pamby parents who think that everyone’s a winner and a kid should get a trophy just for showing up, but what kind of life lessons do we want our kids to take with them as they move on to adulthood? That winning is everything, no matter how you play the game? Maybe it would better to teach them that winning is important, but how you win (or lose) will speak volumes about what kind of leader, what kind of person you may become.

The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to the head coach of our team from a parent whose son played on the opposing team last week. The team he’s referring to isn’t the team my son plays on, but the coaches are the same for both “A” and “B”. The fact that this was “A” team’s first victory of the season adds weight to the content of the letter (I’ve taken out specific names, but the rest is word for word):

Dear Coach,

I know you are busy getting ready for your big game vs. our varsity tomorrow night, but I wanted to send you a quick note to compliment your staff on how they handled the Freshmen A team game last night.

Your Freshmen squad scored at will and logged 24 points to our zero, and it probably could have been a lot worse…our team ran back the opening 2nd half kick-off, and at that point your coaches could have come back with that, “well I show them mind set”…but instead they continued to play their 2nd team and move their regular starters around.

The final score was 36 – 24, with your team kneeling the ball on the one yard line as the clock ran out. So because of the class displayed by your coaches, our boys could walk off the field with some dignity.

And as I football zealot, I know your team could have put 60+ points on the board if they wanted to.

Good luck the rest of the season and I hope your team wins every game…well, except for the one tomorrow night.


A Parent

I’ve never been much of a football fan until my son started playing last year, but I am now convinced that team sports in general and football specifically can teach kids invaluable life lessons they will carry with them always. Perhaps the least of which is about winning.

Choose your Chia

Not to sound all alarmist and whatnot, but the vote you cast for president this November is an important one. Maybe the most important one you’ll ever make. Because you’re not just voting for president, you’ll be voting for what kind of country you’ll be living in. The country is equally divided as to which course is better–more government versus less government, and how those choices affect every American.

As disheartening and depressing as it’s been to watch, I’ve been following this race closely. I made up my mind a long time ago. As for the undecideds? I’m sort of at a loss as to what they’re undecided about. Maybe they’re simply trying to decide between the lesser of two evils.

But regardless of who wins in November, the fine folks at Chia prove that catering to the needs of Americans obsessed with buying stupid crap is always a win/win. Yay capitalism!

Tina, me and the junior high bullies

Junior High Me

In the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year, I made a new best friend. Tina’s family was new to the neighborhood. I met her one day while walking to the local swimming pool. She was friendly, outgoing and funny. We hit it off immediately, and for the next few years we were inseparable.

When we started junior high in the fall, Tina was immediately popular. Not only was she friendly, outgoing and funny, she was also exceedingly beautiful–athletic but feminine build, dark hair, flawless olive skin and impossibly long eyelashes. She looked a lot like a young Elizabeth Taylor. That she seemed so completely unaware of her beauty and its effect on others endeared her to me and made her that much more popular. What took her completely by surprise was a group of older, much larger girls whose mission was to make our junior high existence miserable. She couldn’t understand why they hated her so much–she didn’t even know them, we didn’t have any friends in common.

Unlike me, Tina went out of her way to be nice to them. She smiled at them when we passed them in the halls. They responded by calling her names. She even went so far as baking them cookies and bringing them to school. Their response? They accused her of implying they were fat and threw the cookies back at us.

While all the drama played out, Tina kept a stiff upper lip at school, but I remember her breaking down in tears in the privacy of her bedroom. “Why do they hate me so much, Kathy? I’ve never done anything to them. I don’t even know them!” My response to her then was the same response I give now to those who wonder why there are those who hate America:

Nothing you do for them will soften their hearts towards you because they don’t hate what you do, they hate what you are. Furthermore, they see your attempts at kindness and accommodation as weakness, and that perceived weakness only strengthens their resolve to destroy you. (Okay, I probably didn’t say exactly that. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, but that was the gist of it.)

From that day forward, when they confronted us in the halls, instead of ignoring their name calling or running away, we confronted them. When they threw cans or rocks at us, we picked them up and threw them right back.

Tina moved again in the summer after 8th grade. The bullies did not. And while they gave me plenty of dirty looks over the next four years of high school, they never bothered me again.

They never stopped hating us, but once we stood up to their hatred, it lost its power. Once they realized what they thought of us wouldn’t change who we were, the bullies found another outlet for their anger.

Because hate for the sake of hate always seeks a vacuum to fill, and this world is full of opportunities to nourish it.

Remember the difference

Today and always

Remember the difference between those who sought glory by taking lives

And those who found honor in the giving of their own.

Remember that the battle between good and evil begins in each heart

For within each heart both dwell.

Remember those who chose good, and honor their memory

By choosing each day whom you will serve.

The Rainbow Fish revisited, Parts 1 and 2

The start of school for a 6th and 9th grader, both with extracurricular activities, has been kicking my butt. I barely had time to return emails, let alone sit down and write anything. I have had the opportunity to watch portions of both the republican and democratic conventions and the associated commentaries/opinions of the talking heads on both the left and right. I mostly steer clear of politics on this blog, but the discussions of what the government should and shouldn’t mean to us as Americans reminded me of two posts I wrote last year. If you’ve been wondering which side of the political aisle I gravitate towards, these should probably clear up any mystery:

The Rainbow Fish revisited, Part 1

image courtesy of

In 1992, Swiss author Marcus Pfister wrote and illustrated the award winning children’s book The Rainbow Fish, which was translated into over 80 languages and sold over 15 million copies. The moral of the story was “Love is giving a gift, not receiving gratification. Where the rainbow fish realised that giving of itself is better than being praised for its beauty.” (from Wikipedia) Pfister went on to write a series of books that addressed other topics: fear, acceptance, modesty and arguments.

While I do agree with the intended message, something about that book never sat right with me. So I decided to read it again. The following is an abbreviated version of the book which I feel hits on all the major themes:

In the deep blue sea, there lived a beautiful fish–the most beautiful fish in the entire ocean, with scales every shade of blue, green and purple with sparkling silver scales among them.

image courtesy of

The other fish were amazed at his beauty. They called him Rainbow Fish. “Come on, Rainbow Fish! Come and play with us.” But the Rainbow Fish would just glide past, proud and silent.

One day, a little blue fish asked him to give him one of his shiny scales. “They are so wonderful, and you have so many.” said the little fish.

image courtesy of

The Rainbow Fish refused. “Who do you think you are? Get away from me!” Shocked, the blue fish swam away. Upset, he told all his friends what had happened. From then on, no one would have anything to do with Rainbow Fish.What good were the dazzling shimmering scales with no one to admire them? He was now the loneliest fish in the ocean. One day he asked the starfish why no one liked him. The starfish told him to seek the counsel of the wise octopus, so the Rainbow Fish goes to visit the octopus in the dark cave where she lived.

image courtesy of

“I have been waiting for you”, said the octopus. “The waves have told me your story.” The octopus told Rainbow Fish to give away a glittering scale to each of the other fish. “You will no longer be the most beautiful fish in the sea, but you will discover how to be happy.”

The Rainbow Fish didn’t think he could give away his scales. He felt he couldn’t be happy without them. Just then, the little blue fish returned and asked again for just one scale. Rainbow Fish wavered and gave one small, shimmering scale to the blue fish.

The little blue fish thanked Rainbow Fish and tucked the shimmering scale among his blue ones. A peculiar feeling came over Rainbow Fish as he watched the blue fish swim back and forth with his shimmering scale in the water.

Before long, Rainbow Fish was surrounded by other fish, each wanting a shimmering scale. Rainbow Fish began giving away his scales. The more he gave away, the more delighted he became. When the water around him filled with glimmering scales, he at last felt at home among the other fish.

image courtesy of

Finally the Rainbow Fish had only one shining scale left. He had given away his most prized possessions, yet he was very happy. “Come and play with us, Rainbow Fish!” And the Rainbow Fish swam off happily to join his friends.

The Rainbow Fish revisited, Part 2

Today, I will share my version of what the rest of this story might be…or not.


As the Rainbow Fish was swimming around with his new friends, he noticed a blue fish without a shining scale. “Who is that fish?”, he asked one of his new friends. “Oh, that’s Seymour. He didn’t get a shiny scale from you.”

image courtesy of

Rainbow Fish frowned. “Perhaps I should give him my last shining scale”, he said.

“If you give away your last scale, there would be nothing special about you. Besides, Seymour said he didn’t want a shiny scale. He’s happy being a plain, old blue fish. Come play!”, said the blue fish with the shiny scale.

But Rainbow Fish was confused and curious why Seymour would refuse his gift of a shimmering scale and the chance to be beautiful like all the other fish. He left his new friends and swam towards Seymour.

“Hello, Seymour. My name is Rainbow Fish. Little Blue tells me you didn’t want a shimmering scale like the others. Do you not find them beautiful?”

image courtesy of

“Oh, yes”, said Seymour. “They are quite beautiful. I often admired your beauty before you gave them away to the other fish. Now I am wondering why you chose to give them away.”

The Rainbow Fish replied, “Those beautiful scales made me miserable and lonely. None of the other fish would play with me. So I took the advice of the wise octopus who told me to give them away. Now I am happy.”

“Was it the scales that made you miserable, or was it your vanity?”, asked Seymour. “You seemed to be happy until the other fish shunned you for not sharing your scales. Your beauty’s reward was the attention of the other fish. Once that was gone, you could no longer find worth in beauty alone.”

“But when I gave my scales away, I gave the opportunity for all the fish to be beautiful, and they loved me for it.”

“Do you think the other fish would be your friend if you hadn’t given away your scales to them? Is their friendship based on what you provided for them?”

“That I can’t answer”, said the Rainbow Fish. “But I’m happy I gave them my scales. Now we all are equally beautiful. But I still don’t understand why you refused a scale for yourself. Don’t you want to join us? To be beautiful, too?”

“To be honest, I did want a scale. Who would refuse such a beautiful gift? But as I was waiting my turn to receive a shiny scale, I observed each of the fish after they received theirs.

Little Blue, who had always displayed leadership and a quick mind, seemed to abandon his role as leader, so enamoured was he with his new found beauty. Mariel, who once filled the ocean with her beautiful voice, stopped singing and instead joined the shiny, shimmering dance of the other fish. Each fish, who had something special to offer forgot about their own gift in pursuit of what someone else possessed that they did not.

I may not be beautiful, but I am very agile and fast. This is my gift, and I am grateful for it. Your gift was your beauty, and while you are still beautiful, no more so than anyone else. What sets you apart now?”, asked Seymour.

“I suppose my generosity sets me apart.” said Rainbow Fish.

“You gave away your scales in return for friendship. You traded your vanity for acceptance. True friends would not require payment for their friendship”, said Seymour.

The Rainbow Fish was sad, but very grateful for Seymour’s honesty.

“I am going to talk to the other fish. I will not ask them to return my scales, but I am going to ask them to remember all the ways they are special and encourage them to use the gifts they have been blessed with. Thank you, Seymour!”

Seymour watched as Rainbow Fish swam towards his new friends, each of their shimmering scales reflecting the light. As the fish gathered around Rainbow Fish, the wise old octopus came out of her dark cave.

image courtesy of

Living in darkness all those years had made her eyesight very weak, and catching her meals had become increasingly more difficult.

But now that all the fish each had a bright, shiny scale, she was able to pick them off quite easily.

She was, after all, a very wise octopus….

Help needed

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today. The first week of school has been filled with piles of paperwork, schedule changes, football games and band events. I’ve just been trying to keep my non-virtual life in order. But my friend Michael Perkins needs our help. Please click over to his blog, and if you can help in any way, please do so.

You will find him here: The Handwritten

Back to school and the sound of silence

As summer draws to an end, millions of school children across America are heading back to school. Many have already returned to classes. My kids start today–the boy starts his freshman year of high school and the girl begins junior high. I’m still wondering when they grew up so fast, but I digress…

The following story set to music never actually happened, and I’m praying that it doesn’t. But based upon past experience, if the tale were to become reality, no one would be less surprised than I.

It is my remake of The Sound of Silence, originally made famous by Simon and Garfunkle. The song remains the same, only the lyrics have changed. Sing along, won’t you?

Hello, bus stop my old friend
I’ve come to walk to you again
Summer’s over no more late sleeping
No more channel changing kids fighting
And the hope that’s been planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In empty house I walk alone
No more chirping, bleeping phones
Time for emails, tying up loose ends
Check the Twitter play some Words with Friends
When my ears hear the shrill of a ringing phone
In my home
And break the sounds of silence

On caller ID I spy
The number of the senior high
Son is calling, he forgot his phone
Asking me to bring it there from home
Son now hearing me say his phone is not my care
And how he dare
Disturb the sounds of silence

“Son,” said I, “I didn’t need
A phone til I was twenty-three
You’re in school that they might teach you
Your facebook friends don’t need to reach you.”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the sounds of silence

And so the conversation ends
He’s off to class with all his friends
Pour some coffee find my favorite chair
Front porch rocker in warm fresh air
I enjoy my peace til the phone rings shrill and high
Junior High
And breaks the sound of silence…

Oh, well…maybe tomorrow

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a back to school post without my very favorite Staples commercial:

Snort! That never gets old.

Words with Friends, An Idiot’s Guide, Part 7: Potty words

Last week, I told y’all about being mistaken for a celebrity Words with Friends player. It was interesting to play with some new opponents, but there’s something comforting about playing against people you know. Even if you only know them virtually.

It can also be an educational experience. People from different backgrounds and walks of life often play words you never knew existed. For instance, my friend Candy Steele is a nurse, and she consistently introduces me to new and disgusting medical terms:

I believe each of us, no matter our lot in life, can share a plethora of new and exciting words with our opponents who otherwise would never know such words existed. Sadly, the powers that be at Words with Friends refuse to recognize some of my better word contributions to the game conversation:

However, many of my go-to words are perfectly acceptable. As I’ve said here before, we go with what we know. What do I know? Potty words, apparently. Traditional potty words, as in “words your mom would wash your mouth out with soap for saying”:

And potty words as in “words associated with a potty”:

I know…gross, huh? It’s not my fault. The letters on the board just sort of form into those type of words once they enter my brain:

So much so that Ricky Anderson aka Arthur 2 Sheds, aka 1357Bob aka Ricky Bobby instituted a side rule for our games that if either of us has the letters to form the word “FART” we must play it. Because we’re both mature like that.

But honestly? I’ve never tried that hard to use potty words. If I see an easy opportunity to use one I will, but I’ve never actually saved letters during a game in order to form a word, because frankly, I’m not that good of a player. All that changed in a recent game with JGTsd80. I saw the suffix of a word I’ve never played, and before that moment, never knew just how much I wanted to play it:

What can we learn?

That in the game of Words with Friends as with the game of Life, it’s good to have goals.

In case you missed them and would like to take an educational journey through my adventures with Words with Friends, you can find my previous posts here:

Words with friends, An Idiot’s Guide

Words with friends, An Idiot’s Guide, Part 2

Words with friends, An Idiot’s Guide, Part 3: Strategery

Words with friends, An Idiot’s Guide, Part 4: More words that shouldn’t be

Words with Friends, An Idiot’s Guide Part 5: Know your opponent

Words with Friends, An Idiot’s Guide Part 6: Trolling for Celebrities

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