Between Apathy and Apoplexy


When I first came across the acronym I didn’t know it’s meaning, so I did a quick internet search to find out. As you probably know, Too Much Information, is the meaning of TMI. That the answer to my question was delivered to me by the mother of all TMI was painfully ironic.

I confess, I’m addicted to information. The cell phone in my pocket has more computing power than was used when we first sent a man to the moon … and I have access to all that power! Instant real-time weather reports, news from around the globe, stock reports, and ceaseless opinions posted to various social media sites. But that is just the beginning, there is the endless deluge of political chicanery, reports of terrorism, conspiracies and corruption, cruelties beyond imagining … and it never ends. I’ll be honest, if the headline hints at atrocities to children, I stop there and read no further. I don’t want those images bouncing around in my brain. Yes, sometimes it feels like my head is going to explode.

At the other end of the spectrum is just not caring about anything. I mentioned apathy on my Having Skin in the Game post, but it goes beyond that topic. Would life be simpler if I didn’t care about anything but myself? Perhaps. But I can’t do that. I’m not touting that as a virtue. I want to believe that I’m part of a vast majority of people who do care. Continue reading “Between Apathy and Apoplexy”

Life Lessons from a Biker Bar

“We should go there sometime,” Mrs. Poppy said, pointed to a simple one story building surrounded by cars and motorcycles. My response was the same as if she had pointed at the moon and said, “We should go there sometime.”

“Sure,” I replied, considering the probability of arriving at either destination statistically the same. Sure, seemed like a safe answer. It confirmed that I had heard her suggestion, but was noncommittal, neither affirming or denying. And it was a whole lot better than the first thought that popped into my head. One should never answer the suggestion of your spouse with the words, “You’re crazy.”

Weeks went by, we drove past the building again. And again the suggestion was made. This repeated itself several more times during the summer. One night, returning home from a party at a friend’s home and approaching the building, the suggestion was made again. This time it was not, “We should go there sometime,” but “I want to go there.” There was a minimal amount of food served at the party we had just left, but ample amounts of wine. This may have played into the weakening of my resolve, but I offered up one last defense. “I’m wearing linen pants, one does not walk into a biker bar wearing linen pants.” Continue reading “Life Lessons from a Biker Bar”

The Summer Dog and Memory Threads

Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin. (Barbara Kingsolver)

Hearing a certain song can grab you and yank you back through years and decades to a particular place and time. Spinning Wheel, by Blood, Sweat & Tears instantly takes me back to 1970 and a souped-up Corvair owned by my high-school buddy and next door neighbor. The car was filled with our friends, that song was blaring from the eight-track player concealed in the glove compartment.  The sun  had set, but without air conditioning, the hot, humid, mid-summer air in St. Louis necessitated that the windows be rolled down.  This allowed us to hang our right or left arm (depending on our seating geometry) out of the car and pound on the roof, keeping time to the crooning of David-Clayton Thomas. We were young, life was good, and that memory is firmly etched in my brain.

But hearing is not the only sense that can trigger a memory rush. Any of the senses; smell, taste, hearing, touch or sight can be a catalyst to take us back in time. In this case it was this photo, discovered while going through my dad’s old 35mm slides. Finding it was an unexpected treat, a serendipity of the highest order as I didn’t know this moment in time had been captured.

I was ten-years old in this photo, the summer of 1965. Continue reading “The Summer Dog and Memory Threads”

The 67′ Pontiac and the Comfortable Silence

Mom never drove a car.

To be totally accurate, I should say, I never saw her drive a car. She claims that in 1931, at the age of 16, she went to the drugstore in whatever small town in Texas her family was living in at the time and exchanged a dime for a drivers license. Apparently at that time, proving a proficiency in driving was no more necessary to obtaining a driver’s license than proving a proficiency in fishing was necessary to obtaining a fishing license. Whether or not she actually drove is unknown. No one in the family has any recollection of that happening. Two years later she married and received not only a husband, but a chauffeur. That union lasted 78 years and Dad did all the driving for 75 of those years until he passed the keys over to my brother at age 95. That Dad did all the driving was for the best. Dad was the pragmatist, rooted in logic and a good sense of direction. Mom was the dreamer, the artist, and had no interest in navigation or driving. It was a good arrangement for Mom and Dad and everyone else on the road. Continue reading “The 67′ Pontiac and the Comfortable Silence”

One Brick at a Time

At some point you realize you’ll never win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, find a cure for cancer or even the common cold. You wake up every morning and prepare to go to work where you will not win any major awards, where your co-workers will not hoist you on their shoulders, marching around the office chanting your name, where it seems that you are not making a difference, where your job appears almost meaningless. Day after day.

You may wake up to the sounds of a crying infant or toddler, knowing that your day will be spent within the boundaries of your house, changing smelly diapers and preparing food for an unreceptive audience. Day after day after day after day.

Behind us and before us are a string of days beyond our reckoning. Behind us are the records of everyone who has ever lived, from the most famous to the most obscure. People who have made history and the majority who have not. The majority who have struggled to survive, with no recognition, no accolades, no mention in the history books, yet day by day they persevered, they made a life for themselves and their families.

Before us are days that can’t be seen or accurately imagined and the number promised to us is unknown.

We do not own the past or the future, we only own today. Each day we, along with everyone else on the planet, are handed a brick. Each day it is the same size and weight. It weighs 4.5 pounds. It is 3 5/8″  deep, 2 1/4″ tall and 8″ long. It is also 24 hours or 1,440 minutes long. It is ours to do with what we wish. We can choose to just toss it aside onto a heap of its brethren, it is just another brick, it is just another day. Who cares? Who notices? What does it matter? Continue reading “One Brick at a Time”

Waiting for Spring

Dinner was simmering. It was chili. Well, chili-ish, it was missing a few ingredients I thought I had on hand (tomatoes). Thankfully the grilled cheese sandwiches saved the day (one slice of cheddar, one slice of provolone, you’ll be a hero).

I stepped out on the front porch.

Tonight was the eve of the official first day of spring. Breathing deeply, I could smell the earth and the scent of emerging growth. Our porch, like the one pictured on the home across the street, runs the length of the house. I’ve a theory, totally unsupported by research, that world peace could be achieved if everyone had a front porch. A place for reflection, a spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and watch the world that is your community go by. A place for sitting. A place for greeting neighbors. A place for watching the sun rise or set.

I’ve walked out of our front door onto the porch thousands of times. I’ve seen that tree an equal number of times. I have walked under it’s shade more times than I can remember. Tonight I was struck by its anticipation.

Our house was built in 1890. I’m guessing the house across the street can’t be too far off that timeline. The houses here in my neighborhood of famous Ferguson were constructed pre-bulldozer. The lots weren’t leveled, the basements were dug by hand, and unless a tree was in the exact location a house was planned, it was allowed to stand.

I’m not smart enough to tell you the species of the tree in the photo or its age. But I can tell you it’s dang ancient. It towers over a two-story house that most of us would consider old. It has stood by a street that was once dirt and provided passage to horse and buggy. It now stands sentinel over paved roads and automobiles. It has provided shelter for hundreds of generations of birds. It has withstood storms and tornadoes. In this current season, its gaunt limbs are raised in supplication. It waits for spring.

I too wait for spring. It is a time of waiting, a time of Lent. Then comes a time of new growth, a time of resurrection. A time of hope.

I really don’t like winter. Okay, let’s be honest, I hate winter. It’s cold, duh, it’s lifeless, colorless, and generally depressing. But without winter would I truly appreciate spring? Without barren seasons, would I truly appreciate fruitful ones?

I walked back into the house. I was greeted by the smells of mediocre chili, the chatter of a loving family …and hope. Spring is coming.

Peace, Poppy


Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.

Sure, there was the Apple stock that I bought at $30 and sold at $36, congratulating myself for being so very smart and clever to make a 20% gain, but in general, I don’t have many regrets. I’m not much for digging up past mistakes, there are so many it would be a full-time job. It’s better to keep them buried. Besides, I’ll make some fresh ones tomorrow, I don’t need zombie mistakes following me around too.

The quote at the beginning of this blog illustrates that there is more than one way to get a task done. One way is through logic, through process, through delegation. In other words,  by using your head. The other way is driven by yearning, by passion. In other words, by using your heart.

A few regrets that I do have are those of the heart and represented in this blog; cooking and writing. I started cooking about nine years ago. I still love it. Do I wish I had started sooner? Yes, of course. But the regret here is pretty minor. I love coming home and turning on some music, pouring myself a glass of wine and start slicing, dicing, sautéing, simmering, roasting, broiling, whatever it takes to create a meal for my family. I enjoy it so much I want to stretch it out. This does not always go over so well with my family when their stomachs begin to rumble.

I started this blog thinking I would be focusing on cooking. But a successful cooking blog relies on exact measurements and precise steps not to mention some good photography. By the time I’m done, no one in the family wants to wait around while I stage a great photo, they want to eat! Then there is that exact measurement and precise step thing. My cooking technique more closely resembles a Jackson Pollack painting than a Rembrandt.  I sling ingredients around like Jackson Pollack did paint. By the time I’m done, I can barely remember what ingredients I used, let alone how much.

And then there is writing.

I grew up without a television, possibly the best thing to ever happen to me as it turned me into a reader. Our family Saturday routine went something like this. Shortly after it opened, I was dropped off at the local branch of the St. Louis County library system. This was the early sixties when it was safe to leave your child unsupervised for hours at a time in the library. I searched for undiscovered titles and repeats from my favorite authors. By the time my parents returned to pick me up, I had 5-7 books checked out and ready to go. When next Saturday rolled around, those books were finished and I was looking for more. I read adventure stories, science fiction stories, Dr. Doolittle, Danny Dunn and anything by Elizabeth Enright. I always read several grade levels above my actual grade, not because I was smart, simply because I just read and read.

Then one day I picked up a copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Continue reading “Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes”

On the Wings of the Morning

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139


The coming dawn chases the stars from the sky as the moon retreats to another hemisphere. The predawn light begins to illuminate the island with a gentle touch. The line of the horizon, so sharp at mid-day is a blurred edge, the ocean bleeds into the sky. For a few moments before the sun takes dominance in the heavens, the world exists in cool pastel colors with softened outlines.

She has no name except in the mind of God.

Throughout the night she roosts in an Australian Pine, just a few hundred yards from where the gentle surf of the Gulf of Mexico meets the sand and the scattered shells of Sanibel Island. She stirs and pulls her long beak from beneath her left-wing. The rhythms of the tides, the moon, stars, and sun are hard-wired into her DNA, she was born to this by divine design, she does not question. She blinks once then twice. Flexing her strong wings she stretches the 7-foot wingspan parallel to the shoreline before pushing her feet against the rough bark of the tree, launching into the air. Wings beating, beating, beating, powerful strokes against the invisible air until she gains the needed altitude.

Then she soars … soars on the wings of the morning.

I stand with my feet planted on the sand. Watching. Earthbound. Heavy. Logically I know I am the higher creature, but I cannot help be envious.

In 1776, Carl Linnaeus gave the brown pelican her binomial name, Pelecanus occidentalis. By conventional standards she is not a thing of beauty. Until the brown pelican matures and its head feathers turn white, she is clothed in a consistent dull brown hue. She is a comical looking bird, with an over-sized bill and stubby body. Her dive into  the water to catch fish has all the grace and finesse of a falling rock. She will never be described as elegant or graceful. But she does not compare herself to other birds. The Royal Tern, the Roseate Spoonbill, the Ibis, the Great White Heron, or the Snowy Egret, she does not measure her beauty against theirs. She is comfortable in the knowledge that she is a magnificent creature of divine engineering. Her fall from the sky that we find so comical is designed to impact the water with such force that it stuns the small fish that are her prey. As she plunges into the water, her throat pouch expands to trap the fish, filling with up to 2.6 gallons of water. And oh, can she soar!

I rarely soar, mostly I plod.

Unfortunately as I trudge along, I also compare. My head has the knowledge that by almost any standard, I am blessed beyond measure. Yet I have to constantly guard that envy and discontent do not creep into my heart . I have to constantly resist the messages that my smile should be brighter, my laundry could be whiter and that I really should do something about my thinning hair. As a young teen, I had always hoped I would grow up to look like Mr. Grant. Looking in the mirror now, I see I may have gotten my wish. Unfortunately the Mr. Grant I most closely resemble is Ulysses and not Cary.

Later in the same Psalm, the writer tells us, For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.”

After reading that, how can we doubt that we are not exactly the right height, the right size, the right color with exactly the right features? I think it’s because we are so painfully aware of all the shortcomings of our inward self. We are both perfectly made and born into sin. It is one of the ironies of Christian life, that only by acknowledging our brokenness can we truly accept our Godly perfection.

It is then that we can accept our perfect role in God’s creation.

It is then that we can soar!


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.