Character, Gladiators and the back of Garages

Driven by family obligations we are preparing our 1890 house for sale. It’s not easy on any level; physically … coming home after a normal workday to fix things that we’ve lived with for years, but may not be acceptable for the next owners, emotionally … leaving a house rich in character and memories; Christmases, birthdays and countless family dinners … but it needs to be done.

My simple goal for this week is to finish scrapping and painting the back of the detached garage. Like many houses of this era, the garage is set well back from the house. It crossed my mind many times … is it worth it? Will anyone notice? I could sell the house “as is” with the back of the garage left unpainted, but this is our family’s major nest egg, it’s important for our future to squeeze every dollar out of this transaction. And then there is this … it’s the back of the garage, it doesn’t show from the street … but I know it needs repainting … even if no one else notices.

John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach famously stated, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” This is something I strive for, but don’t always attain.

Charactermoral integrity, are they still valued? We often look for character in all the wrong places, Hollywood actors, celebrities, and politicians. There is a good chance that the true heroes, the men and women of character, are living next door, sitting in the pew ahead of you in church, or waiting with you in the checkout line of the grocery store. It’s the dad who works a grueling job but carves out time to coach his daughter’s soccer team. It’s the single mom who forgoes her personal needs to provide for her children. It’s the family who dedicates themselves to take care of a disabled child or an aging parent. They will never make the news, never receive any accolades, but do what they do without question, because it’s the right thing … character.

One of my favorite movies is “Gladiator,” the 2000 epic historical drama directed by Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe portrays the Hispano-Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when Commodus the ambitious son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius,  murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murders of his family and his emperor.

It’s a movie I wish I could share with my 12-year-old grandson. Sadly the adult themes and violence won’t allow that for many years. Why do I want to share this movie with him? At its core, it’s about character, it’s about honor, it’s about integrity. Until the time we can watch it together, I will do my best to point out the soccer coaches, the single moms and the caregivers alongside us every day.

Peace, Poppy


Power-Wash Therapy, the next big thing!

I love my job … but there are days, and this was one of those days.

What I felt like doing when I got home was playing some mindless video game or something equally nonproductive, but we are getting our house ready to sell. I have discovered over the years that inanimate objects do not heal themselves. Leaky pipes do not seal themselves, chipped paint does not restore its self, dirt and grime don’t reform and become clean. This realization was a big disappointment to me.

Apparently in 1890, when our house was built, you could not have too many porches. Ours has “only” four, the least used of them is the one off the dining room at the back of the house. Why is there a porch and door from the dining room? In spite of what my grandkids might think, I was not around in 1890 … you will have to ask the builder. What I do know is that over the years it has acquired a protective layer of dirt and grime.

I gave it a light scrubbing with a detergent and bleach mixture, then hauled out the “big guns,” my Ryobi, Honda engine powered, power washer. I donned my safety goggles, then fired that mother up. The engine was roaring, I was getting splattered, the dirt and grime were being blown away by a force they never expected and I felt my tension melting away.

Then it dawned on me; forget psychotherapy, forget laying down on some couch and talking about how you were not respected, put some goggles on, prepare to get wet and blast away dirt, grime, and peeling paint!

At least for most guys, power washing checks a lot of boxes:
noisy? check … gasoline powered? check … creates fumes? check … messy? … check … instant gratification? check. (disclaimer; I can only speak for guys, in spite of being married 40 something years and having two daughters, women are still a mystery to me, though I do love a good mystery).

Feeling stressed? The stock market got you worried? Your boss riding you? Politics driving you nuts? Stop on by, I’ve got projects and therapy that will cure your ills. For the nominal rate of only $100 an hour, I will set you up with a clearly defined task, a noisy, messy, fume-producing, power washer and you will feel like a new man (or woman).


The Lady in Front of Me

Having several hours with nothing to do and no responsibilities sounds heavenly … until it happens to you.

Hour one:

I’m in Jury Assembly Room S52 in the St. Louis County Circuit Court building. I’ve been here only an hour, at least that’s what the clock on the wall tells me. My internal “Boredom Meter,” tells me it’s been much longer. The notice on the wall states that the maximum occupancy for this room is 259. The room is pretty full, that’s a lot of bored people.

Hour two:

There is a magazine rack in the far left corner. It’s not getting much traffic, at least not two hours into the process. Once everyone’s cell phones start to go dead, there may be a run for 8-month-old copies of Sports Illustrated and People magazines.

I’m situated about three-fourths of the way back on the left side of the room. I was hoping for better people watching, but it’s a pretty nondescript group of humans, at least from my perspective, observing a collection of the back of people’s heads.

I’m bored out of my gourd, and since misery loves company, I will do my best to bore you too by attempting to describe the lady directly in front of me.

Occasionally she will look left or right, giving me just a glimpse of her face. She is not wearing any makeup. A collection of faint age spots are sprinkled across her cheeks just below the tiny crinkles that extend from the corners of her eyes. Her hair is a pretty shade of auburn, clean and shiny, straight with no hint of curls. I can’t determine the length, but it’s long enough to drape over the front of her left shoulder. Periodically her left arm raises, reaches behind her head and pulls back into submission any strands that are attempting to stray.

A pair of small, simple, silver hoop earrings and a tiny silver chain necklace are the only jewelry visible to me.

Her cap sleeve t-shirt, a soft salmon-pink, compliments the texture of the fabric, softened through many laundry cycles.

Her head bobs ever so slightly in the manner of someone whose legs are crossed and foot is wagging. Other than that she sits erect, almost motioness compared to my fidgeting.

She pulls a paperback out of an unseen bag and for a moment raises ir high enough for me to see the print, but I can’t make out the title in the running head.

It’s human nature to make snap judgements about people based on their appearance, wardrobe, manner of speaking, etc. After sitting behind someone for a couple of hours, I wouldn’t call this a snap judgement but I’m pretty sure she …

Oops, the bailiff just called my name, gotta go!

(FYI, Got selected and I’m sitting in a jury for the rest of the week)

Mimsy and I Fend for Ourselves

Mrs. Poppy went to a concert tonight with some friends, leaving Mimsy and I to fend for ourselves. We could have gone through some fast food drive-thru, Mimsy would not have objected to some French fries, but I wasn’t in the mood, and I was the one that would have to drive since Mimsy can’t reach the pedals, so we just stayed home.

A quick inventory of the pantry yielded the makings for a respectable meal; orecchiette pasta, some tiny “gourmet” tomatoes, and a wedge of parmesan cheese. It was tailor-made for a variation of “cacio e pepe.”

I could have sautéed the tomatoes, but roasting would yield a more intense flavor and provide me with some time to putz around on the computer.

Mimsy was content with a gourmet meal I prepared, consisting of a 50-50 mix of dry kibble and soft dog food. She rarely critiques my food prep skills.

It’s rare that I’m cooking for one, it certainly complicates things. Pasta is a great solution for controlling portions, just toss in as much as you need.

Mimsy is not much of a conversationalist, leaving me to do most of the talking. This must be how  Mrs. Poppy feels, as I tend to be the quiet one.

Some chopped spinach was a last minute, unplanned addition to the pasta, but a welcome one.

I’m a little over a year away from retirement. There is always the question of how spouses react from being together a few hours of the day to being together 24-7. I think we will be just fine.

Right now I need to go down and clean up the kitchen, and maybe toss a few McDonalds wrappers around.

Why Me? (a most human cry)

It is said that even more intimate, more personal than the phrase, “I love you,” are the words, “I understand.”

If you live long enough, there is a good chance that you will experience one of these situations:

  • The doctor walks into the waiting room after what seems days, not hours, the expression on his face is grim. He delivers news you do not want to hear … you or someone you love dearly has a terminal disease.
  • You receive a call from a law enforcement officer or a family member informing you of a …  tragic auto accident … drug overdose … suicide … unexpected death.
  • Your spouse informs you that they do not feel fulfilled and are seeing someone else.
  • Your boss takes you aside, thanks you for your years of service, then informs you that those services are no longer needed.

You feel abandoned, betrayed, … the human reaction is to look skyward and scream … “Why me?”

A little over two thousand years ago the God-man hung on the cross and in his dying throes cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As the divine left the human, as hope fled, as a sense of abandonment and betrayal settled in, he could have just as well said in modern English … “Why me?” What did I do to deserve this? And this coming from the last person without sin.

Of course we know this was not the end,  the story continues. These were not his last words on the cross. His final pronouncement in purely human form was, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Words of reunion, words of an absolute trust in the darkest of times.

Those are words of hope and promise and I cling to those words, but I also take comfort in those words uttered when things seemed hopeless and dark.

As someone who is very much human, I can relate to “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I can relate to, “Why me?”

This is a reminder to me that as Christ walked among us, he experienced the ups and the downs, the good times and the bad. He experienced loyalty, but also betrayal … life, but also the death of someone he loved. Most importantly it lets me know that in addition to His unconditional love … He understands!

Happy Easter, Poppy

I Almost Clicked On It!

Mimsy needed to go out one more time for the night, but it was too early for our last stroll of the day. To kill some time, I went down to the kitchen to finish cleaning a skillet that was soaking. I told Alexa she could resume the playlist that had accompanied the evenings meal prep. Somewhere between drying the skillet and cleaning the chef’s knife that shouldn’t go in the dishwasher, I checked my phone. By checking my phone, I don’t mean examining the disconnected rotary dial instrument hanging on the kitchen wall, the one with the long curly cord. I mean the smartphone that was in my pocket, the one that goes pretty much everywhere I go, the one I have a hard time ignoring.

I had an alert informing me that a new post had been created in the 15 minutes since I last checked my phone  … “25 uses for Wood Ash.”

I almost clicked on it.

It’s not like it was an announcement for Vampire Sex Kittens … there is certainly nothing wrong with wood ash, but I don’t have any wood ash. I also don’t have the time, capacity or interest, to know what to do with wood ash … yet I had to fight the urge not to click on the link. (Admit it, you secretly want to know the 25 uses for wood ash).

I am what is referred to as “of a certain age.” For those in their 30’s, I’m frightfully old, for those in their 80’s, I’m wistfully young. There are scarce rewards to being of a certain age, but there are a few. One of those benefits is perspective. I remember driving cross-country as newlyweds with Mrs. Poppy. We drove for days armed only with a wad of traveler’s checks for currency, a bag of paperbacks for entertainment, a roll of quarters for toll roads and AAA TripTiks for navigation. We blissfully didn’t miss GPS systems, satellite radio, or smartphones, because none of those were yet invented. Somehow we survived.

Being of a certain age, I’m also learning my limitations. I own a 32′ extension ladder that fully extended will barely reach the gutters of our 1890 house. No thank you. Not gonna happen. At one time, yes, but not anymore. A man needs to know his limitations.

I can’t prove this scientifically, but I believe one of my limitations is how much information my brain can hold, whether it’s important information like passwords, which seem to dissipate into the nether about 15 minutes after creating them, or truly useless information like the latest CNN headlines.

I have a fear that if I upload the 25 uses for wood ash into my brain, that it will displace an equal amount of information out the back of my brain, never to be retrieved. A man needs to know his limitations.

I’m hardly a Luddite, in fact I love my technology, yet I can’t help but wonder if the net sum doesn’t fall into the negative territory. The internet is an endless series of rabbit holes, constructed for us to jump into, only the emerge from the other end 15 minutes later having learned nothing of true value, or worse being exposed to half-truths, innuendo and malice.

If I added up all the time spent on jumping into those rabbit holes could I have written “The Great American Novel?”

Probably not.

But maybe, “The Average to Slightly Below Average American Novel.”

A man needs to know his limitations.


A Giant Leap of Faith!

Somewhere between 4 and 64 (my current age) I realized “Superhero” would never be on my résumé. I had to accept that I will never leap over tall buildings with a single bound, I will never have Spidey-sense, shape-shifting or invisibility abilities. Crowds in the street will never gaze skyward as I defend them from invading aliens. Not having any superpowers was great disappointment to me.

My first clue to my non-superhero status came about age 5 or 6. I constructed a cape from an old bed sheet and tied it around my neck. Arms thrust in front of me, I ran as fast as I could across the backyard, but gained no altitude. Undeterred, I reasoned that perhaps jumping from a height would yield better results. Our backyard was tiered with a set of concrete steps leading down to a patio of concrete blocks. I jumped from the top step, it was a leap of faith. Once again I gained no altitude but proved the law of gravity was still in effect and that the density of concrete was greater than my palms and knees.

I have a fair amount of kitchen gadgets. Some of them gifts, some I have purchased. Many of the gadgets are rarely used. If interested, I have a food processor, untouched, still in the original package. I’m sure it’s a fine processor, it got great reviews on Amazon, but I’ve gotten pretty good with a chef’s knife and it’s a lot easier to clean than a food processor.

There is one gadget however that I would have a hard time living without,  my Amazon Echo. It doesn’t slice or dice, but it does compile a running grocery list as I get low on ingredients but most importantly it provides a musical score while I cook. Over the years I’ve created many “stations,” some based on artists ranging from Dave Brubeck to Jimi Hendrix. Some of the stations are seasonal, such as Christmas music, some based on broad categories, like piano jazz. When we brought my mother home to live with us during her final days, I created a station of southern gospel music for her to enjoy.

Often the events of the day will suggest an artist and I will select Nora Jones, Johnny Cash or Alison Krausse accordingly. Many times though I will just tell Alexa to shuffle my stations. This is when things get interesting. To hear anything by Lightnin’ Hopkins meld into Eric Clapton’s acoustic version of “Layla” is a thing of beauty.  The transition from Nora Jones to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” restores my faith in humanity.  But the jump from the Allman Brothers to Paul Simon to the Gaithers can be jarring. And  it’s darn unsettling to hear Bing start crooning “White Christmas” in the middle of July.

I could cull down the list, but prefer to keep it as it is. To me, it’s a metaphor for life, because you never know what’s coming next.

Somewhere between 4 and 64, I’ve learned that life rolls out in front of me in ways  I could never imagine. It doesn’t ask my permission or seek my advice. Sometimes its pleasant, sometimes unexpectedly bad. Life can jump from “soft jazz” to “heavy-metal” in a nanosecond. Not having any true superpowers to get me through these transitions, my only option is “to just not suck,” and that’s on a good day.

Life comes with no guarantees … well there is that “Law of Gravity” thing, I’ve learned to count on that. But beyond always falling down and never up, pretty much everything else is a step into the unknown. There are no money-back options or free trial periods in life.

We learn at an early age that life is not fair, whatever “fair” is. As we get older and acquire some wisdom along the way, we learn that grace and mercy are desired over fair. Fair implies justice … no thank you!

Mimsy has this funny thing she does when we take her to the vet. As the veterinarian checks her heart beat, pokes and prods during the examination, Mimsy will look straight ahead, never making eye contact with the vet. It’s as if she doesn’t acknowledge what is happening to her it will just go away. I’m tempted to take that approach to life. If I slowly sip my morning coffee, if I sidle out the front door, never making eye contact, perhaps life will leave me alone for the day. Sadly this never works.

You might as well brew your coffee strong. chug it down in big gulps, take a running start on the day and jump as high as your can, because life is one giant leap of faith!

Happy landings … Poppy