Category Archives: General


In an effort to experiment with commuting, I decided to take a new route to work.

Typically I drive on the commuting corridor known as K10, but today I went on the interstate to see how it measured up. It ended up being equal time, so nothing really gained there (in fact, it cost me a toll, too).

Shortly after I got onto the interstate, I noticed a car to my left out of the corner of my eye. We were neck-and-neck for a few seconds, and so I sped up. We were crossing over a bridge, and the jockeying for position made me a little nervous – probably because of my driving recently.

So, I accelerated. Then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. The car was there, but movement caught my attention. It was friends of mine waving to say hello. I looked over and smiled. “Well, hello!” I said, and gave a wave back.

In taking a different route, I end up seeing people I know, out of the blue. If they were regular commuters or something, that wouldn’t be a big coincidence. But I happen to know they’re “off,” this week because of a death in the family, so running into them in this manner took me my surprise.

Isn’t it odd how things like that happen? I find those types of coincidental meetings occur with enough frequency that it feels like it must be more than chance. It makes me wonder if there has ever been a study done or a well thought out explanation, vis-a-vis the six degrees phenomon.

It certainly seems that it’s more than just coincidence. Or is it?


Thursday night was a rainy one, preceded by a rainy day.

As I got onto an exit ramp to get on the main highway that takes me home, I lost control of my vehicle. I started spinning, and my the only thought that went through my head was “You’ll be OK. You’ll have to ride it out.”

And so I did.

In retrospect its hard to say how many revolutions I endured. At first I thought it was only one, but thinking about it later made me believe it might have been twice. I can’t say for sure; it happened so fast but seemed to last forever.

My little Corolla came to a halt and I noticed all the dashboard lights were on and the engine had died. I wanted to just sit there, a little shocked and a little thrilled. But them I noticed another car coming down the on-ramp. I feared a collision or that it might also lose control, but it slowed to a stop.

My trance wore off, I started the car and continued my ride home, albeit more slowly.

And then I called my wife. I told her about the spin and explained I’d be home a little late.

“I’m going to stop in De Soto and fill up to add more weight to the car,” I said. “And I might need to change my underwear.”

No gifts, please.

Do you remember what it was like as a kid when your birthday rolled around?

My mom would ask me what kind of cake I wanted, and she’d make it herself. She would buy cake tins for Soundwave (Transformers), R2-D2, and a few others I can’t remember. Friends would come over, games would be played, cake and homemade ice cream would be eaten.

What an experience. Summer birthdays are awesome.

Of course, I’d also get gifts. I remember when I got … well … no, I don’t. I had toys, I played with toys, and I had lots of fun playing with toys.

But I’ve reached a point in my life that I don’t want for gifts (much). I don’t want more things in the house, but less. The exact opposite is true for experiences, however. As a busy parent in the Great Recession, there aren’t as many opportunities as I’d like right now for life experiences. Be it time, or money, those types of things are harder to come by these days.

Given the choice, I’d take an experience (or a surprise; I love enigmatic events) of any kind over any tangible gift every time. Let the kids have the gifts.

Today is my birthday. I am thirty-six years old. No need to say the obligatory words.

And no gifts, please.

Paradise City

The Sandbar

The Sandbar

Last night I had the privilege of joining a few friends to celebrate the birthday of Phil Martinez at one of Lawrence’s more colorful downtown establishments, The Sandbar.

We were there over the course of a few hours, and during that time, the Guns N’ Roses song Paradise City came on three times. A classic song, to be sure, which I always enjoy hearing, but it got me to thinking about the task of work.

The picture above is pretty crappy, but you can get the gist of the evening: lots of people out on the town, having a good time in a fun atmosphere. The Sandbar has, not surprisingly, a beach/oceanic theme, complete with a nice aquarium (far left) that I found intoxicating. There was a fairly large fish in that tank that I am sure was eavesdropping on our conversation.

Back to the beach …

There’s this part of me that thought “Man, it must be pretty cool to come work here every night.” Think of it – you’d always be surrounded by people who are there to have a great time, out with friends, enjoying the moment. Who doesn’t love dark settings, twinkling lights and a party atmosphere?

But it also got me to thinking that the people who work there, especially the owners, have probably heard Paradise City and other popular songs a thousand or more times. I’m sure there are songs they are absolutely sick of hearing. And there are probably regulars who are always welcome, but have made it their second home. I’ll bet it’s safe to say it’s like this in a lot of places.

I’m sure there are days they absolutely dread going to work.

It reminded me of the old joke, “Show me the most beautiful woman in the world and I’ll show you a guy that’s tired of being with her.” We all have our things that must seem pretty exciting to others because of greener grass syndrome, but for the people that are in those spaces day in, day out, it’s a real chore to get through.

But, we keep at it. We have things to take care of at home, responsibilities, people counting on us. Sometimes we just have to dig in a little harder to get through to tomorrow, because it needs to be done.

At least there’s places like The Sandbar to head to and blow off a little steam. It makes me wonder where Sandbar workers go to do the same.


So here we are at the end of 2011.

I will end this year with a story. Maybe it will help you think about where you’d like to be at this time next year. It has certainly given me pause.

Yesterday, one of my family members went to a funeral of a 41-year-old married father of two.

The deceased’s story goes like this: His plans were to give his two weeks’ notice after the first of the year, finally moving on from a job he no longer loved. He and his wife were taking their two kids to another state where they would both start new jobs, in a new home, with a new chapter in the family’s life.

His wife was to put in her notice on Tuesday, but during the middle of the night on Monday, death came.

It was my intention to write a few more posts before the year ended. I wanted to write about an update of progress of my goals for this year, two more posts on Joplin that I never finished, and an end-of-the-year post with my expectations for the new year (aside from the planet’s imminent destruction of course).

Instead, I’ll have to continue on next year.

I hope you have an excellent New Year. Be safe and enjoy your loved ones. Don’t hesitate to do that thing (or things) you’ve always wanted to do.

You never know when your time will run out.


I forgot my glasses today.

It’s so slow around the office, and with so many people out of the city leading up to the Christmas weekend, I knew that busting across town was going to be easy. So, I took a quick break and headed home for my spectacles.

My wife runs a preschool in our home and this month she’s been teaching the kiddos about the different traditions as part of her curriculum. There’s been talk about menorahs, mangers, white-bearded gift-bringers; you get the gist. Today, they were discussing Kwanzaa.

That’s where I come in. I come in the house, interrupting the story time, apologize and go looking for my glasses. Have you ever interrupted storytime? It’s like stabbing a beehive.

Anyway, I search and find my glasses. As I’m making my way out the door, I turn and tell the kids “It was great to see you all again.  You all have a Merry Christmas.”

And then I add, “Or whatever it is you celebrate.”

My wife clued me in. “Everybody here celebrates Christmas,” she said.

And in less than one second, my oldest, information sponge brained, five-year-old daughter said, “Because we’re not black.”

Oh, dear heavens. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?

Regardless of your race and all that jazz, Merry Christmas!*

* Or whatever it is you celebrate.


As I waited for my daughter’s gymnastics class to end this evening, I overheard a couple of women talking.

One woman said she was taking an online course. She wanted to get out of teaching and into something in the medical field, perhaps even hospice.

The other woman agreed. “My sister works in hospice. She just loves it.”

That struck me as odd, but curiosity piqued, I eavesdropped some more.

The woman said her sister enjoyed seeing how people behave at the end of their lives. A lot of times, estranged relationships are mended. People put away their past regrets and the unforgivable sins and made things right for the moment, because there wouldn’t be many more moments to do so.

Not that reconciliations happen all the time, but often, she said.

If only we lived with those future thoughts all the time. I wonder how we’d live then?


Ed and the storm

Ed (in green) talks about the tornado.

Today is Ed Hanna‘s birthday. He’s 54 years old.

It’s kind of a big deal.

My wife, Amy, and I met Ed on May 29, 2011. We were going from place to place after the Joplin tornado looking for places to help out, and found a few people at Ed’s place cleaning up.

Ed lived just a few block down from my friend, Jeff Page, whose house was decimated in the tornado. We ended up on Pennsylvania Street because I wanted to go back to the scene of Jeff’s house. I was having a hard time letting go of a place I had so many great memories at when I lived in the area, and wanted to see if there was someone who could use our services.

There were two houses with a good amount of activity on the street that day, Ed’s, and another one a couple of doors down on the other side.

“Which one should we go to,” I asked?

My wife looked at Ed’s house, then across the street. Ed’s house was covered in this grey matter and looked like insulation had been ripped apart, hydrated, then blown across the surface of the house. The other house wasn’t exactly standing, but there were people working in hardhats, colorful vests, and seemed to be highly organized.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe we should go to that one,” picking the well-orchrestated team across the way.

I didn’t blame her. We had been working all day. We were beat. We could have used a light duty.

“I guess we know where we need to go then,” I said.

And we made our way to Ed’s house instead. To paraphrase Seth Godin, whatever you’re afraid of doing, do that.

It was the correct choice.


The view from Ed's porch directly east. The house across the street was demolished by the Joplin tornado.

It was dark inside the house. Black plastic trash bags covered some of the windows, clear tarps on others. We made our way up a spiraling staircase and found three people upstairs working in a room covered with insulation. There was a gaping hole in the roof, covered by a vinyl banner, like the one you’d see hanging announcing a sale or the latest special at a deli. Water sat suspended in the tarp hanging through the roof, floating over the workers, threatening to undue the recovery that had been made so far.

And then I met Ed. He was working with a white air-filtering mask on, digging through a box of his things. His work was focused. The people working in that room were doing all they could to salvage, then move, items to the street where it could be taken to a safer location later.

We got to work carrying things downstairs over and over again to the shelter of outside. I remembered carrying down a box of records and seeing Springsteen and Paul McCartney. The covers didn’t fair the storm well, but one wouldn’t know for sure how they played until they were under a needle.

Eventually, we took a break and Ed told me his story. He has two dogs; both were sucked out of his kitchens windows during the tornado. He took shelter, but was sure he had lost his beloved canines.

The dogs survived.

His year-1907 home, with its hardened wood and stone structure, held up, saving his life. Looks like the story of the three little pigs and the house made of stone holds a bit of wisdom, too.

Apparently, Ed’s a mean pastry chef. I later learned we share a connection: he trained under a chef at the Old Miner’s Inn in Alba, Mo, for seven years. I too spent a lot of time near the Old Miner’s Inn while I was in college: my band practiced in the front of an old woodshop right next door three times a week for several years.

In July, Mennonites came and re-roofed his house and the arduous duty of rebuilding his home continues.

At least it’s without the threat of a water-filled tarp.

dirty work

Ed and I stop for a quick picture after a hard day of cleaning. Ed (in green) is determined to rebuild his home damaged in the storm.


There was this girl that would show up at our house all the time when I was a young kid growing up in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Her name was Crystal Whitely.

She was always welcome in our home. A friend of my sister Heather, and three years younger, the two were always tooling around. They were in the same class and Crystal lived right across the alley from us. Both her parents and mine still live in the same space all these years later.

That’s the way it is down there. People raise their families, work their jobs, live their lives, and grow together in small communities.

My remembrance of Crystal is that she was a fairly quiet person. But man, do I remember she and my sister hanging out quite a bit through the years.

As they do, times changed. Crystal got married and separated, and was raising her three children in Joplin, Mo., when the May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado hit.

On that evening, she was at home with her 3 children, Shante (10), Trentan (6) and Keana (4). She had no basement to take shelter in, so they huddled together. The tornado ripped Shante and Trentan from her arms.

Shante died during the tornado and Trentan sustained a traumatic brain injury and died the next day. Crystal was severly injured and has had several surgeries to remove debris from her wounded body.

In addition to losing her two children, she and Keana lost everything including the clothes off of their backs.

Baxter Springs Helping Crystal Whitely – Joplin Tornado facebook fan page

The winds, tore.

The days and weeks that followed were filled with surgeries. Fractured ribs. Collapsed lung. Six days in the hospital. More surgeries, one that took out a piece of wood the size of your pinky. Then more surgeries.

And then, the darkness.

By July, things appeared to be hitting Crystal hard, as noted by her facebook posts:

Whomever came up with the phrase “time heals everything” never lost a child!

I miss the way your face lights up when u see me, the sparkle in your eyes when I smile at you, the warmth of your touch. I miss my babies 🙁

I would luv to have a day that i dont have a dr.’s appt or anything that has to do w the tornado … my depression gtn worse n my stress goin up…bout to my breaking point :{

Benefits from friends starting coming together, and her story was told in the local newspaper, The Joplin Globe: Mother of storm victims getting by ‘day by day’

Time wore on. Aug. 22 would have been the first day of school. Shante would have started fifth grade; Trentan in first. That was also the three-month anniversary of the tornado.

When you lose the ones you love, numbers are seared into your soul.

And, in an event like this, it brings a clarity most of us don’t have the ability to understand:

Be happy with what you have and be thankful not to take people for granted. Do you want people to disappear in your life and the last thing they remember is you being childish?

Crystal gets it. Do you?

Do I?

This is a terrible story. There are many, many more from Joplin like it.

So why did I title this post, “Hope?”

Her friends have given a tremendous outpouring of love and affection to Crystal and her daughter. They set up fund-raisers, organized fun things to do to help her cope (she loves football and came to K.C. to see a game recently) and let her know, consistently and faithfully, she is loved.

And on Oct. 19, Crystal found out she was the recipient of a new house from the ABC show Extreme Makeover Home Edition. After returning home from a trip to Disney World, she saw her new home yesterday.

Hope is powerful. Use it.

“The best way out is always through.”Robert Frost