Big Bucket of Fail!


Even 10-year-old boys get tired of playing video games (not often, but it does happen). This past weekend, my grandson approached me carrying a box he had discovered while rummaging through our stash of board games.

“Do you want to put this together?” he asked.

The box contained a 1/200 scale model of a 19th century whaling ship. The pieces of the model were made from injection molded plastic, held together by a plastic web of connectors. We dutifully trimmed all the pieces from the web, sorting the components by color. The marketing copy on the front of the box, listed the attributes of the model in glowing terms. The first bullet point assured us that our purchase was, “Easy to assemble.” This should have been our first warning. The second red flag was the lack of any instructions, or at least any instructions in English.

Even without instructions the two halves of the hull and the large deck piece were an obvious place the start. Sad to say, even the largest and simplest components mocked us. We could get the two halves of the hull together, kind of, but when it came to connecting the deck to the hull we were stumped. With no diagrams or the ability to read Korean (the country of origin) we were at a loss with the deck unit. If we kept the hull pieces together, there was no way to attach the deck to the top of the assembled hull. When we tried to place the deck piece just under the top lip of the starboard hull half, the port section of hull no longer made connection with its mate. It didn’t take long for us to start laughing and getting silly with the whole project.

Still laughing my grandson announced, “This is going in the big bucket of fail!

When did 10-year-olds get so wise?

I almost titled this post, “The Lost Art of Failing.” In a culture where everyone gets a trophy, where “I’m a Winner!” stickers are applied indiscriminately, have we lost the ability to see the value of failing? Have we become so risk averse that we would rather attempt nothing than expose ourselves to possible ridicule for failing or God-forbid, being a loser?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Not failing proves nothing. Failing is absolute proof that you tried.

The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, is often cited as an example of someone who persevered  through many failures. My brief research revealed that his number of failed experiments in the process of developing the incandescent bulb are often exaggerated. Numbers of 5,000 or even 10,000 are tossed about when the actual number is closer to 1,000. That many failed theories is an incredible amount to work through but pales in comparison to the number of his attempts to develop the storage battery.

The authorized biography by Frank Dyer and T. C. Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (the first edition of the book is 1910), quotes Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory about these experiments:

“This [the research] had been going on more than five months, seven days a week, when I was called down to the laboratory to see him [Edison].  I found him at a bench about three feet wide and twelve feet long, on which there were hundreds of little test cells that had been made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters.  I then learned that he had thus made over nine thousand experiments in trying to devise this new type of storage battery, but had not produced a single thing that promised to solve the question.  In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment, and I said: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’  Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results!  Why, man, I have gotten lots of results!  I know several thousand things that won’t work!'”

I can’t help but wonder what Edison’s response would have been if someone had attempted to give him a trophy or a sticker before he actually succeeded? I can’t imagine that it would have been pretty.

Several years ago I taught my grandson to play chess. He has yet to best me in a match. One day he will beat me and on that day he will know that he has earned the victory. That triumph will be far sweeter than any hollow win where I did not play my best. I am not being mean. He is not being emotionally damaged by not winning at chess. Of course it does help that there are games he can whoop-up on me, such as the aforementioned video games.


In some small way, I hope I’m preparing him for life as an adult, and who knows, maybe greatness. History is filled with many examples of famous men and women who fought through failure after failure to finally emerge victorious.

So grab yourself a big bucket and get out there and FAIL!




Never in a million years did I think I would be quoting Bruce Lee on matters of love! Breaking kneecaps, of course, it’s an obvious fit, but love?. Once again, as if we didn’t know it … life is complex, always unexpected, and wisdom comes from the most unlikely of sources.

“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.”  (Bruce Lee)

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that there are probably at least two generations under me who don’t know who Bruce Lee is … Google it!

We live in an old house in Ferguson, Missouri. Built in 1890, by some standards very old, by European standards, pretty young. It’s an interesting relationship. Probably pretty much how Mrs. Poppy feels about me. It has it’s charm, but can also be infuriating. Certainly part of it’s charm are the three fireplaces on the first floor. One in the dining room, one in the living room, and one in what we call the family room, though back in 1890, it was probably referred to as the “drawing room.” Adjacent to the dining room, it’s where we spend most of our time. During the winter months, we have a fire in this room almost every night. Originally designed to burn coal, it makes for a very intimate and comforting fire.

I snapped this photo last night, Valentines Day Eve. I knew there was something there, but I wrestled with the idea that it might be misconstrued as a metaphor for a relationship where the fire has gone out. Then I stumbled on the quote by Bruce Lee.

By most standards, I’m a pretty boring guy. I have only one notch in my belt, only one conquest … marrying my high school sweetheart. Forty something years later, the embers are still hot. It may not be flashy, no dancing flames, but it’s deep-burning and unquenchable.

Happy Valentines Day, Mrs. Poppy, once again, I didn’t get flowers, but I’ll plant some in the spring, and they will live a long time.

Old Dogs: The Solution for World Peace?


It is generally acknowledged that dogs are therapeutic.  Notice I didn’t say, owning a dog is therapeutic, because I’m not sure who owns whom. Dogs of any age are a blessing, long after your kids no longer get excited about you coming home, a dog will always view you as hot property.

A word about cats and dogs.

Poppy has been blessed to have been owned by both dogs and cats, and both are great. But cats and dogs are different (see how smart Poppy is)? Perhaps the best explanation between the two that I have read is this: Dogs think; they love me, they feed me, they take care of me … they must be Gods. Cats think; they love me, they feed me, they take care of me … I must be a God.

Puppies, as cute as they might be, are exhausting. Perhaps it’s because my muzzle is also grizzled, that I feel a connection with old dogs. Old dogs seem  at peace with themselves, a virtue that is often hard to attain as a human. Years spent with a dog creates a bond unlike anything else.

On November the 8th, 2016 we said goodbye to Zsa-Zsa, our beloved pug of thirteen plus years. Yes, November the 8th was also election day (I choose not to read anything into the coincidence). Like most pugs, Zsa-Zsa was blessed with an excess of personality. She was fiercely loyal to her family, her pack. We may have failed at her training because I’m pretty sure Zsa-Zsa thought she ran the family. She also assumed the role of family protector. The family was outside once when she spotted intruders encroaching upon our property. Before I could stop her she was off. The matched pair of Rottweilers looked up, alerted by her barking, to the fast closing 25 lbs. of pure pug fury bearing down on them. Fortunately the dog’s owners were friends of ours. Even more fortunate, the Rottweilers had more sense than, Zsa-Zsa, our intrepid pug. They looked down on her with mild amusement and didn’t even offer a replying bark.

For reasons I don’t understand, God has decreed that our dogs will age faster than us. Zsa-Zsa got to the point where she could no longer navigate stairs, let alone charge Rottweilers. But her faithfulness never faltered. Old dogs have a way of looking at you that communicates something entirely different from a puppy. A puppy will look at you with eager eyes that say, “I love you, let’s play.” An old dog will raise its head from the floor, look you in the eye with a depth of knowledge about you that conveys not only love but that says, “I understand.”

Dogs are capable of mischief, they can be sneaky, especially when it comes to stealing food from forbidden sources, but they are incapable of duplicity. Trust, unwavering loyalty, steadfastness, these are the structural traits of our canine companions.  Old dogs are calming. No matter what is going on in the world, no matter what kind of day you’ve had, they understand.

I’ve started to think, that to say, “I understand,” or “I know you,” is more intimate than saying, “I love you.” Evidently the Psalmist thought so too. David in Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me,” and later in the Psalm, ” If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

I’ve watched Zsa-Zsa sleep the sound sleep of an old dog, her chest rising and falling with labored breathing, but still twitching as she chased rabbits and Rottweilers in her dreams. I’ve watched as she struggled to stand. I would scoop her into my arms then hold her fast in my right hand as I carried her down the stairs and to the yard outside. When I placed her down, she would often look up at me, and her eyes said, “I’m sorry its come to this.”

“I understand,” I replied.

The world is in need of a lot of understanding. The therapy of an old dog resting its head on our collective feet might be just what we need to put things into perspective. God created dogs with an honesty and empathy that often escapes us “higher” creatures.

We’re going to need a lot of old dogs!


In case you’re wondering, of course dogs go to heaven!