Getting in the Christmas Groove



The Christmas season has officially begun. For millions of shoppers, Black Friday and Monday signaled the race toward the holiday. I kicked off with mine by suffering in bed for a week with a respiratory ailment. Two days before falling ill, I went to the doctor for an annual physical and flu shot and later called the nurse to blame her for giving me the shot that made me ill. A week later, all that’s left is the constant hacking cough that sources tell me should be gone sometime before the spring thaw.
            This year I dragged the Christmas tree and outdoor lights out early. Amy came to the rescue to adorn the tree with something more than ornaments not necessarily hung in the correct places. By the time she finished, the entire house took on a holiday glow. Outside, the lights ran along the front and wrapped around the screened porch. I never hang too many, just enough to cast that glow of Christmas colors that look nice both outside and in.
            One of the first things I did this season was download Christmas music to my iPhone. All was on an iPod, but the battery is dead, and I don’t have the small fortune necessary to replace it. The collection includes old favorites by Bing Crosby and Andy Williams, as well as plenty of traditional songs by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Gaither Vocal Band. Of course, what music library would be complete without Alvin and the Chipmunks, barking dogs performing “Jingle Bells” and Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas?” Nothing is more enjoyable than sitting back, looking at a lighted Christmas tree, and listening to carols.
            The shopping was easy this year. Amy and I agreed to back off on our spending. We’ll save our money to take a trip sometime before long. Still, she needs gifts, and the challenge becomes finding nice things on a much smaller budget. I’ve chosen several items and am keeping my fingers crossed that she will like them.
            My dear wife is a practical shopper for the kids. She wants to get them gifts that they’ll like. I, on the other hand, want to shower them with all sorts of stuff. Over the last few years, my job has been to shop for stocking stuffers. That’s had me searching the shelves at Dollar General or Big Lots for “unique” things to cram in those stockings. In addition, I buy bags of candy to pour in as well.
            I’ve always said that the real fun of Christmas morning doesn’t come from the gifts. Instead, it’s the simple act of opening presents that brings on joy and excitement. Most people look forward to attacking presents and ripping festive paper to shreds. Oh, we are hoping for all sorts of things, but most of the time, we like what has been given to us. Even the smallest toddlers break into smiles as they destroy the wrappings hiding gifts, and many times they enjoy the boxes in which the things have come most of all.
            Another thing I always enjoy is visiting the malls and shopping areas during the last couple of weeks of Christmas. People are frantic in their searches for those last couple of gifts or are still looking for the perfect present for a loved one. They sometimes are panic stricken as they move from one store to another, and some folks have short fuses when it comes to dealing with crowds. For the most part, though, it’s this one time of the year when most everyone is a little kinder to others, when each person’s  awareness of blessings are keenest, and when spending time with family and friends is most enjoyable.
            I’m “psyched” about Christmas. Before long, the family will assemble and we’ll laugh and talk and eat and exchange presents. Then the time will come for us to return to our busy lives. We will do so, however, feeling a bit warmer in our hearts. That glow of love is what the season is all about anyway. 

Heroes Are Regular Guys



            We in Big Orange country love our football. Okay, for the last few years our love affair has taken on a love-hate characteristic, but all we need is a little hope, and the cheers and support return. Something else that thrills us is running into a former football hero.
            During my teaching career, I worked with Spencer Riley. He played for UT from 1996-2000. During that time, he was selected for the All-SEC freshman team and played in the 1999 Senior Bowl. Riley was the center on the 1998 championship team.
            Spencer and I taught at Karns High School. What I discovered was an individual who was at the core a “good ol’ country boy.” He loved to joke and laugh and have fun. In the classroom, he was all business and brought the same kind of passion that he showed on the football field. Spencer never allowed his UT star status to change him one bit. He was too wise and knew that time had passed. Instead, Spencer worked on cultivating friends and perfecting his teaching and coaching skills.
            Bobby Gratz played fullback for UT from 1962-65. He was a tough football player from Morristown, who had a dedicated work effort and played much bigger than his 200 pound size. We worked together at Doyle High School. Legendary principal Billy K. Nicely had passed, and Gratz was dubbed the new principal. He jumped into the position with all the energy he had displayed on the football field. Sometimes, however, students, teachers, and parents didn’t appreciate the job he did, but he continued to give his best efforts.
            A few years back, Vince Kanipe retired from the UT police department. Most folks recognize him as the officer who accompanied Coach Phil Fulmer and his family on game days. During the reception, the door to the hall opened and in came the UT coach.
            Any UT fan worth his salt knows that Fulmer played line for UT from the end of the 60’s and into the 70’s. He began his coaching career as head coach in 1992 and led the Volunteers until 2008. Over that span, Fulmer’s teams compile a record of 152-52, finishing 100 games over .500. Recently, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
            I introduced myself to the coach, and he greeted me as if I were an old friend. I talked with him for quite a while. He was a gracious man with a kindness not often found in celebrities. Even with all his success, this man from Winchester, TN has managed to keep his down-home personality.
            A couple of weeks ago I bought a car to replace one I’d sold my daughter. My wife found a used Altima at Cadillac of Knoxville, and I dropped by the dealership to take a look. The salesman was Danny Spradlin. He came from Maryville and played linebacker for UT from 1977-80 and then went on to an NFL career for five years.
            Danny surprised me with his soft-spoken voice. He was more than kind and helpful. We chatted a little about football, and then I test drove the car. When I left the business, he said, “God bless you.” Later, we returned to purchase the car, and again, Danny said that with no embarrassment in his voice. Doing business with a man with such a friendly nature was a pleasure.
            We make heroes of our athletes. What sometimes gets lost in the hype and glitz is the fact that they are all normal folks who are blessed with a talent and who have developed it to its highest degree. In the end, however, these heroes are regular guys who have good days and bad day; they work to make their lives better each day and sometimes make mistakes. Still, we appreciate them and the joy they’ve brought to us as we’ve watched them on the playing field. When a fan sees one of these heroes, he should take time to discover what good folks they are.

TOO MANY THROW AWAYS



            We’re a blessed nation. Even truer, we’re a spoiled nation. No other country has it quite as good as we Americans do. Part of that has to do with our personal possessions and how we deal with them. Nothing seems to last anymore.
            At one time in another universe, folks got along with one pair of shoes. As kids, Jim and I wore orthopedic shoes. Mother and Daddy scraped up the money for them with the understanding that we boys took care of the shoes. Our clodhoppers were polished on Saturdays for church the following day. Woe unto the boy who tramped through water or mud that stained or damaged the leather.
            Oh, we had canvas tennis shoes, and when they became too worn or short, the toes were cut from them so that they could serve for summer. Older pairs of shoes saw after-school duty.
            These days, we throw shoes out like empty tin cans. If they aren’t in style or don’t feel good, out they go. I’m ashamed to admit how many pairs are in my closet. Perhaps I could have them re-soled when holes appear, but shoe repair stores are rarer than hen’s teeth.
            The same holds true for clothes. As a kid, I had a couple of pairs of jeans, maybe a pair of dress slacks, and a few shirts. I’d wear those clothes until the next school year. If a hole in the knees developed, a patch was sewn over it.
            These days, most of us have more clothes than we need. I’m no different. A dozen pairs of slacks, four pairs of jeans, and shirts for all seasons stuff my closet. Do I need all these things, especially since I no longer have to show up at a place of work? NO! Still, I buy at least a couple of new shirts each year, just for a change. The old are thrown out or given to a charity.
            I bought a Pathfinder in 1987. To this day, it still sits in my driveway and hauls me to the golf course and to the home improvement store. The interior is rough, and just the other day, the headliner came loose. I drive that old vehicle because it runs well, and since it’s filled with so many memories, I simply can’t let it go.
            I’ve also owned a second car…several times. I believe I’m on my fourth one. Just like lots of folks, I change cars too often. One was a truck that guzzled too much gas. Two others I passed along to my children, and just recently, I replaced one give away with a sedan. Somehow, we Americans think it’s okay to just throw away cars when they no longer appeal to us and trade them with for newer, flashier ones. 
            Amy and I built this place we call home back in 1978. Over the years, we’ve added rooms as our family has grown and porches as our desire to sit outside has increased. It’s home to us, and although the place isn’t stylish or filled with the most updated items, we love the way it fits us like a favorite pair of shoes.
            My parents built their home in the early 1940’s and even made the blocks for the house after a day of work. They planned to stay there forever and did until their time on this planet was up. Today, people buy starter homes with every intention of buying at least a couple bigger ones in the future. It’s hard to sink roots deep when folks move so often.
            We throw away too many things. It makes our lives more complicated and eats up resources. That worries many people. What concerns me even more is the having the same attitude about our relationships. We jump into them much too quickly, only to find ourselves discarding them when they don’t work or fail to live up to expectations.
            Our existence in this life can be more pleasant and more meaningful if we just quit throwing things away. Keeping them, taking care of them, and being thankful for

Blessed by Others



I waver between optimism and pessimism. The down times come when I listen to vicious political ads and candidates who dodge questions and never give clear specifics about what they will do as elected officials. Even when some of the worst events bring on the doldrums, I have good things to rescue me. What makes me smile and shake my head in amazement are the choices that some folks have made that have enriched and blessed my life. For these folks, I’m thankful.
            I’m a big fan of quartet music, and the best of the bunch is the Gaither Vocal Band. David Phelps is the first tenor who sings with passion and strength. Phelps isn’t an ordinary gospel singer. He had the opportunity to study music and become an opera tenor. However, he chose instead to pursue this career in gospel/Christian music, and by doing so, he reaches many more individuals who might otherwise never have heard his voice. His choice blesses all of us with a beautiful song and voice.
            My mother earned a teaching certificate from teachers’ college in Asheville in the 1930’s. However, by the time she married and brought up three boys, it was no longer valid. For ten years she went to summer school to earn enough credits to turn her certificate into a bachelor’s degree in education. I’m lucky that she did. Her teaching wages were meager, but they helped our family survive after Daddy died when Jim and I were thirteen, and she provided large chunks of money to help pay for my own college education so that I wasn’t saddled with crushing debt after graduation. She also cleared a path that led her sons to the teaching profession.
            Ministers have blessed me over the years. Bob Landry captured my attention when I first joined the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. One of the two persons I consider as my best friends, Doug Meister, shrugged off a job in construction and became a minister. He and I have spent hours discussing religion, softball, and family. I’m glad he was around.
 Bill Menees influenced me more than any other minister. He worked for years at Dupont and came late to the ministry. “Brother Bill” opened my eyes to Christianity and the truths and demands it brings. His most memorable line was, “Jesus is not the answer. He’s the question.” Chew on that for a while. Bill also pushed me until I asked Amy Moore out on a date. A year later, he married us. The man is family.
            I met Catherine Nance when she arrived at Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church and wrote a feature on her for the paper. Instantly, I liked her. A couple of years later Amy and I tearfully left FCC on Fifth Avenue and began attending BRUMC. What we discovered is a minister who is a powerful speaker and who leaves her congregation agape and awed after each sermon. In addition, she presents a sincere interest and concern for others. Now, Catherine has reared two sons, and I feel fortunate that she chose to be a minister and to serve at a church where I can hear her messages.
            I am most thankful for the choices that Amy Alice Moore made. She was a Cookevillian and a knockout. The girl could have any male she wanted. For some unknown reason, she chose me. I knew that she was “the one” after our first date and that I wanted to marry her after the second. Amy could have pursued her goal of becoming a pharmacist. Instead, she changed majors, married me, and moved to Knoxville. Because of those decisions, I was changed, blessed, and saved. Two children and a grandson are also thankful that she opted for this path, and they all acknowledge the feeling of being blessed.
            Too often I become blue and fret over things. In fact, I can work myself into a gloom and doom lather. It’s when I take a breath and remember others whose choices have enriched my life that my mood changes. Thanks to you all.
I found these in the Knoxville News Sentinel, the sports section to be precise. Complete sentences jammed together with only commas result in RUN-ON SENTENCES. Is it too much to expect that the writers for a public paper are able to follow the simple rules of grammar in their articles?







CHASING THE WIND



            Life is filled with frustrations. Some of the biggest are the striving to complete a task and understanding a concept or statement presented by another.
            Most of us have watched a dog chase its tail. The pup discovers that long thing flitting about and decides he needs to catch it. With all the same energy used to chase a squirrel, that mutt runs in the tightest of circles. His hope is that he can just get his teeth on that elusive tail. In the end, he either flops to the floor in an exhausted, dizzy state or, woe to him, he catches that tail and sinks his fangs into that nemesis and feels the sizzling pain that follows.
            In the past months, Americans struggled to decide about the leadership of the country. Hours of debates and commercials and millions of dollars later, no one was sure exactly what either candidate offered. Of course, most elections have turned this way. Politicians are afraid to lay out in simple terms what they believe and propose. Instead, they use double-speak that leaves voters saying “Huh” and knowing not a whit more than before the pols uttered their first words.
            One of the heights of frustration comes when a person tries to understand what coverage is offered in an insurance policy. The documents go on for pages, but the vague, legalese paragraphs offer no clues as to what is and isn’t paid for. We’re supposed to “trust” our agents, and I do. However, being able to read a clear, concise policy is what most of us want. It isn’t about to happen folks.
            Recently, I bought Amy a porch heater for her birthday. I opened the box, pulled out the contraption, along with too many pieces of foam packing, and eventually found the directions. The pages consisted of warning statements that serve as COA documents for the manufacturer. The instructions were pictures; that’s it. I stared at them in hopes that they would telepathically deliver the way I was to assemble the darn thing. After receiving nothing, I worked until the base and top were together.
            Now is the season for colored leaves and cooler temperatures. Those of us who have yards with trees have begun the task of getting up the leaves. In my case, that means mulching them. Already I’ve performed that job three times. Each time, I work for a couple of hours and choke on dust from dirt and ground leaves. With the job complete, I clean the mower and look up. To my dismay, the places that I’ve wiped clean of tree debris are once again half covered in leaves. I put the mower up and walk into the house covered in dirt and disgusted. Tomorrow, I can do the job again and then again the next day and the next until I finally grow weary of grinding leaves in December.
            I used to fret over leaves and policies and politicians, but not so much any more. Age has a way of teaching all of us some valuable lessons. The truth is that the world will go on even if leaves pile up knee deep in the yards of our world. Most of the time, we’ll be covered with insurance in spite of our inabilities to understand those thick policies. These days, one man’s election doesn’t completely determine the destiny of our country. Opposition is always somewhere to check, and most recently block, the entire efforts of the commander-in-chief.
            We choke on the gnats of our lives. We worry too often about things over which we have no control. I now figure falling leaves are one of God’s greatest teaching tools for us humans. He uses them to show us just how little control we have over external things and instructs us, instead, to work on areas that lead to personal growth. To the degree all humans turn toward that self-improvement, life will be better and frustrations will diminish. Remember, “Man plans, and God laughs.”

TRICK OR TREAT OR VOTE



Today, October 31, all little kids are sitting in agony as the school day crawls by. On their minds are the plans made days ago about Halloween. The routes to cover for trick-or-treating” are plotted, and costumes are laid out and ready for donning. It’s a big night for them.
            I’ve heard adults and children alike claim that Halloween is their favorite day, and I just don’t get it. Sure, there’s plenty of candy to be taken in bags and plastic pumpkins and even pillow cases. Yes, kids have some fantastic costumes that parents purchased from stores or that moms spent hours designing. Of course, yards are decorated with assortments of creepy, scary things to bring the perfect setting to the night for witches and ghosts and goblins. Still, I don’t get it.
            When did Halloween become such an important event? It doesn’t seem that long ago that the night was characterized by a carved pumpkin sitting on the front steps, a porch light glowing, and “take two pieces of candy” instructions from homeowners. Those treats were for small children; no adult would give a teenager a single piece of candy but would instead tell the big kids to go home and behave.
Some older kids sneaked around neighborhoods to snatch Jack O’Lanterns and smash them on roads. High school kids took the opportunity to re-decorate friends and enemies’ yards with rolls of toilet paper, and sometimes they soaped windows or “egged” the siding and roofs. Most of the mischief was in the name of innocent fun.
Too many folks are intent upon scaring the stuffing out of kids and grown-ups. Staged yard scenes are filled with fake severed body parts and blood, and the more realistic the scene appears, the better people like it. Kids don’t dare eat any treat that isn’t hermetically sealed, a fact that prevents little ones from ever enjoying a homemade cookie or popcorn ball or fried pie made by a sweet little neighborly grandmother.
Nope, I just don’t get it. Something else frightens me much worse, however, and it’s coming on the heels of our national scary day. It’s the upcoming election. Our nation is counting down the days until we once again choose a leader. Over the last year we’ve witnessed debates, conventions, and nonstop campaigning. Super PAC’s have entered the fray and spent millions while spewing their own one-sided venom in ads. Voters are immune to the name-calling and half-truths after so much exposure. Most of us just want it over.
The fear comes in after the election is over. Our country faces lots of problems, and whoever becomes the next president faces tough decisions. Are taxes to be lowered? Will entitlements be cut? Is the country’s debt going to continue to increase? All of that comes with the biggest concern of all. It centers on a congress that is unwilling to work together to fix the problems. Partisan politics is practiced in spite of the plight of the country. So while both sides “fiddle” their ideology, the country burns. Yes what’s more horrible than any Halloween costume or movie or front yard set-up is an election that looks to bring with it no change to the same old politics of doing nothing.
I hope I’m wrong. It would be better to have Halloween as a fun time for children than to have an election that brings with it the fear of a broken government. A child’s “trick or treat” is an innocent sound to which we adults give sweet rewards. The same line from our government might signal the downfall of a mighty nation.
Whichever way your political views might lean, make sure they count. Don’t yell “trick or treat.” VOTE!

FINDING A PLACE TO THINK



Most of us face times when we need to sort through our thoughts. Maybe a budget problem requires our attention. At other times, troubling incidents in a relationship or with children and their actions scream for us to make decisions and corrections. The key to keeping up with our important thinking is finding the right place to do it.
            Most people declare that they spend shower time singing. I’ve done it as well; however, I have also discovered that place is wonderful for thinking. It must have something to do with the hot water cascading onto a tired or half-asleep body.
Before long, my mind is clear and running high speed. I’ve had prayer time and come up with solutions for the world’s problems, or at least the ones in my life, during that fifteen minutes of standing under the shower head.
            Another place where I can think clearly is in the car. Of course, I have to deny the urge to let road rage take over, but once I do, the problems that I think are pressing come to mind. Not long after that, the solutions to them float to the top of my consciousness. No one needs to worry because I am watching the road and traffic as I ponder things. More than likely, my actions are safer than most of the people who yak on the cell phone or text while pointing their vehicles down the highway.
            Our porch is a wonderful location for a think tank. Just the other day, I sat in the swing and watched traffic zip down Ball Camp Pike as I tried to come up with some writing topics. The gentle back-and-forth movement and squeak of the chains holding up the seat put me in a trance. Before long, a list of things came clear.
            During warm weather, I take a seat on the porch in the mornings and evenings. Sometimes I finish up a short devotional to start the day off right. On other occasions, I listen to the passing cars, singing cicadas and barking dogs of the neighborhood. All the while, I’m turning over an endless supply of questions and concerns. By the time I rise to tackle other pursuits, my mind is at ease and the world is once again good.
            Oddly enough, the place where I do my best thinking is on the seat of a riding lawn mower. When the kids were young and I wore parental armor, I replayed events while making rounds in the yard. The lines usually stayed straight, even though my attention was directed toward finding a solution to another problem. The roar of the engine and the sweet smell of fresh cut grass combined to remove me from everything in the world but that seat. Many times, it became apparent that the man steering the mower was the person at fault in parent-child disputes. At other times, just riding through the yard helped cool me down before passing down punishments.
            I’ve tried other areas for thinking but discovered they just don’t work. Sitting in front of the television is a terrible place for using my mind. Of course, most television programs are so bad that I zone out from them and could, perhaps, train myself to think. Another bad place for such activities is in a seat in front of a computer. Too many other things call me away—Facebook, email, YouTube.
            I like to find good places for thinking. Many times, thoughts have been sprinkled with tears and laughs, and none of that would have occurred without finding those special places for some quiet and reflection. All of us could use a little more time to reflect on important matters and escape the mind-numbing distractions that bombard us each moment of life.

FRYIN' CHICKEN


My wife Amy had a birthday recently. The kids came home, and grandson Madden also made an appearance, something that made the celebration all the more enjoyable for her. I decided that a special meal was in order for the day and dove into the culinary art with blind ambition.

            A couple of days before the family arrived for the weekend, I told Amy that the Saturday birthday menu included a main course of chicken. However, none of the conventional recipes for grilled or baked poultry would do. Nope, I was dead set on serving up fried chicken. 

            Since UT played football at 4:00, I began cooking the chicken at about 2:00. Anyone who grew up eating fried chicken knows the stuff is better after it’s sat around for a while. The crew eats well when we sit down to meals, so at least ten eight chicken breast needed to be prepared.

            Even if the food was going to be “fried,” I knew that it had to be prepared in as healthy a manner as possible. So, in the skillet I poured Virgin Olive Oil instead of melting Crisco. I dredged the pieces in flour with a little salt and pepper.

            For what seemed like the next hour, chicken fried and I flipped each piece several times to make sure they were thoroughly cooked. Amy commented somewhere along the line that I had the eye turned up too high, but I ignored her advice. Besides, she couldn’t possibly know the right temperature since we’ve not eaten a thing fried in our house in the last twenty years.

            My loving wife offered no more advice and left the kitchen to take a bath. For that I am grateful. Daughter Lacey and I were left to work on dinner. She fixed macaroni and cheese as one side dish. We also planned to have mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and brown and serve rolls. Yes, the meal was a definite carb overload, but hey, it was a special occasion.

            In a few minutes the kitchen became smoky. Lacey opened outside doors and turned on ceiling fans to allow the haze to clear. The problem was grease, I thought that what escaped the pan was moisture, but it turned out to be condensation…and oil. The stuff seeped toward the eye and then burned and turned to smoke. It turns out my dear wife was correct about the stove eye being turned too high. The last two piece of chicken cooked in a rather dark crust, not burned but just a bit darker than the rest.

            The aftermath of my chicken frying was a mess. The stove top was covered with oil, and the eye was black where the stuff had burned. The floor also was as slick as one at a fast-food burger joint from the oil. I retrieved a can of Bar Keeper cleaner and scrubbed the stove. Then I found the mop and cleaned the floor. By the time Amy returned to the kitchen, nothing was out of place. She knew nothing of the mess that I’d made.

            The chicken was a big success. Amy had to make the potatoes because there was no way I was stepping a foot into the kitchen again. We ate like pigs and then complained about being too full. Before the night passed, the remaining pieces of chicken disappeared.

            I’m not a good cook; however, during my later years, my willingness to try new recipes expands. A couple of days later, I fixed a meatloaf that Amy and I both ate without becoming ill. The best part of the chicken frying was the smell that filled the house. The same kind used to make our mouths water as children on Sunday after church. Mother might have looked down from above, shaken her head, and smiled at my attempt to feed my family one of the most wonderful foods the good lord ever offered his children.

HOW'D THAT HAPPEN?


            Life and politics are both funny. Just when a person thinks he’s figured out things, he looks up and sees how completely off base he is. Of course, because humans are involved in both of them, confusion is to be expected.

            The other day someone talked about folks being 65 this year. For a minute, I thought to myself that those old folks are in the news again. Then the realization that these Medicare-eligible people are individuals whom I know well and are close to my age set in. Instead of seeing them as senior citizens, I recalled how they looked and what they did 45-50 years ago.

            This generation had major influences on the direction America followed. In 1965 they were 18. The world was upside down. To begin with, the Vietnam Conflict had turned into a full-blown war, and thousands of young men were drafted to fight the politicians’ battles. The Department of Defense claims the average age of the 58,148 killed in that war was just shy of 23. Other sources put the age closer to 20. That puts today’s 65-year-old citizens smack dab in the middle of that war and the frightening possibility of dying young.

            Many of those who weren’t drafted into the conflict fought in the US. They protested against the war. Sit-ins, marches, and rallies made the nightly news as much as the latest rounds of action in Vietnam and the death counts did. The first reported draft-card burning occurred that same year of 1965.  Just a few years later in 1968, Chicago Democratic Convention demonstrators and police clashed. Boy, what a bunch of rebels this age group turned out to be.

            During their last years as teens, these young people witnessed or participated in marches on Washington and Selma, Alabama, the Watts Riots, introduction of the Miranda Right, Women’s Lib, and the creation of the label “hippie” for thousands of the generation. Perhaps most important of all now, they witnessed the creation of Medicare.

            At some point, the girls traded in their miniskirts for business suits; the men cut their hair and took on the yoke of adulthood. Then this generation set out to become success stories in the American dream. Their high ideas about social issues and times for change somehow were displaced by the arrival of children, mortgages, and the everyday demands of life. 

            They also changed their political philosophies. Once the mighty forces for change and against the establishment, these adults now believe more in maintaining the status quo. According to many polls, nearly half of the individuals 65 and older now consider themselves as conservatives, while only 16 percent identify themselves as liberal.

            Perhaps it’s okay to assume that age leads to changes in ideology. For many, being conservative is a way of protecting the things that they’ve collected over the years. It also indicates a stand against the craziness that goes on in the outside world.

            What is fascinating is that the same folks that once were so against the system are now in favor of it. They used to cruise the drive-in restaurants; they contorted their bodies with dances such as the twist, jerk, and hully gully; they parked in dark spots and “necked” on dates. Now they prefer a slower change, a more deliberate approach, and a more restrained view.

            I know my kids look at me with amazement when I explain some of the crazy things my friends and I did. We were young and invincible. Maybe as the years piled on, many of this Baby Boomers generation saw a different truth. Whatever the reason, it’s fascinating how a generation filled with carefree rebels slowly became ones that preferred stability and security. Can anyone blame them?

What Does That Word Mean


During elementary school the number of words in our language amazed and confounded me. Each week, our class would receive a new set of words to define, use in a sentence, and spell for Friday tests. More words came as I traveled through college and graduate school, and then another set appeared as I taught advanced placement English in high school. So, with all the words already in our language, by some accounts between one-half to one million words, is there a need to create new ones?

            The creation of new words continues and has been measured to be as many as 25,000 a year. That takes into consideration technical terms, but what befuddles me is the inclusion of made-up words and phrases by advertising and jargon-living twerps. Consider some of the following:

 

Trickerationused by morons who explain that someone or something acted in a deceptive way. The real word is trickery.

 

Elevateused to mean jump, as in a basketball player jumping for a rebound. Could it be that before long these athletes will be shooting elevation shots?

 

Elusivity—used to mean hard to pin down or corral. In older times, the word elusiveness worked just fine, but then again, it doesn’t roll from a fool’s tongue quite the way the new word does.

 

Disintermediation—This is one of those finance words. In short, it means “cut out the middle man. Why not just say that? Oh, maybe it’s another way to use double-speak so customers don’t have an idea of what’s going on.

 

Intestinal Transit Time—I always called this digestion. Of course, being a simple country boy, I might be wrong or just unsophisticated. Use of this phrase brings to mind other words associated with digestion.

 

Unpartnered IndividualsWhen did being single become a bad word? Perhaps this new creation is more politically correct. If so, I’ll continue offending lone individuals.

 

Oppositional Defiance Disorder—A diagnosis described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as “an ongoing pattern of anger guided disobedience, hostilely defiant behavior toward authority figures which goes beyond the bounds of normal childhood behavior.” I used to call it being a teenager or just a child. My parents weren’t psychologists, but they knew the remedies for such an ODD. One was a “come to Jesus meeting” with them and a belt or paddle in hand. The other was to offer to help me pack my bags when I threatened to leave home and never come home again. Those were harsh treatments, maybe, but they worked most effectively.

 

Grow a business, economy, etc.—In my world, growing is an act confined to such things as fruits and vegetables. An owner might “develop” a business so that it flourishes, but growing these kinds of things object just doesn’t work for me. Of course, I’m not savvy in the business world, so perhaps I’m behind the learning curve.

 

Early onThis is supposed to mean at some earlier time, and some pretentious individual, most likely from television, decided to put it into use. I despise this convoluted misused phrase most of all. In the first place, “on” is a preposition, and as we all learned, a preposition must have a noun/pronoun coming after it (an object). So, what I ask is “early on whom” or “early on what?” For hundreds of years, people got along just fine with the use of “earlier.” Why isn’t that good enough anymore?

 

            I’ve had my say; I’ve finished my rant. The possibility that such nonsense will be eradicated from our language is nil. Before long, none of us will be able to communicate with each other, but until then,  I’ll continue to fuss about goofy words and hold out hope that English doesn’t become a foreign language.

Why High Prices


            The country is in the midst of an economic funk unparalleled since the Great Depression. A hurricane that just wouldn’t go away compounded the problem. Throughout it all, however, the major oil companies continued jacking up prices and sticking it to an already weary American people. They’ve done the deed through several means.

            First, the oil companies preach that shortages occur as changes in seasonal blends are made. Hmmm. We understand that some differences in gas might come with changes in temperatures. It makes sense to the driving public. What smells like a garbage can filled with day-old fish is the fact that the more expensive blends come in the summer time. It’s the same season when folks do most of their driving as they travel for vacations and holidays.

            Some of us equated the changes in blends to the options that car dealers presented to customers. Remember being offered undercoating? As customers discovered, cars don’t need it and are sprayed with some protection on the assembly line. The difference in the option and what is done in the factory has been the butt of jokes. Some say production undercoating is sprayed while the worker stands on his right foot; the optional “protection” is sprayed while the worker stands on his left foot. Is something like that going on with gas so that the oil companies can raise prices?

              Refineries have closed for one reason or the other. Yes, one fire caused a closing, although I question how big the blaze was and how much damage to a giant refinery occurred. Why else would these plants close other than to claim a shortage that ups prices at the pumps.

            Hurricane Isaac slammed the coast with winds and rain. All of us can hope that damages were minimal to the cities and towns in its path. Closing down the oil platforms is understandable as well, if they aren’t shut down for an unnecessarily long period. Yep, production might be halted for a couple of days, but no one can convince drivers that those temporary shutdowns cause shortages of supplies that demand a jump in prices of nearly fifteen cents per gallon. By the way, weren’t the gas supplies in the pipeline and the gallons in tanks refined at a cheaper price than the one stuck to the consumer a couple of days ago?

            Oh, we’ve been told how wonderful BP is and how the company has spent millions to clean up the Gulf. I always thought that someone who makes a mess is SUPPOSED to clean it up. We see what their efforts have done on the surface, but what irreversible damage is present in the waters below? By the way, BP isn’t paying for a single bit of clean up. The consumer is paying big time for the company’s reckless, negligent procedures and actions through soaring prices for each gallon of gas.

            I, for one, am tired of the chokehold oil companies and oil-producing countries have on the US. It’s time for our country to take action. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Obama presidency is the failure to make any meaningful progress developing alternative fuels. We need to break the chains that tie us to oil and to countries that hate us and companies who soak us, even in the worst of economic times.

            My hope is that the elected president in 2012 will demand that alternative fuels be developed and produced within five to seven years. The US has the intelligence and technology to do it. Don’t buy the “loss of job” argument that Exxon or BP or any other oil company cries. New fuel sources and the implementation of their use will spark an economic growth that will produce millions of jobs, maybe even more than an oil pipeline that cuts across the country could do.

            It’s time. Are we up to the challenge? Our future depends upon it.

To Comma or Not to Comma?


 
 
 
Let’s talk commas. Yep, those little squiggles cause headaches for all writers. “When should I use one? When don’t I need one?” Writers almost lose their sanity when trying to figure out the answers. Here are a few rules that can be helpful.

 

 
1. A comma goes after all but the last item in a series of three or more. Some folks say leaving out the comma between the last two items and before the conjunction (and, or) is permissible. I’ve always instructed students to include it for consistency’s sake.

EX: Most teens enjoy movies, computers, cell phones, and video games.

 

2. NEVER put a comma before the word “because” when it comes in the middle of a sentence and begins a dependent clause.

EX: He was late because a terrible wreck blocked the road.

 

3. If a sentence begins with the word “because,” put a comma at the end of the words that go with it.

      EX: Because a terrible wreck blocked the road, he was late.

 

4. If a sentence calls someone’s name to tell him or her something, set that name off. The same rule applies for beginning a sentence with “yes,” “no,” “well,” and other such words.

       EX: Jim, bring your sleeping bag for the camping trip.

       EX: The problem with your solution, Mary, is that it ignores several economic factors.

       EX: Yes, the manager is in and will see you now.

 


I’ll add more comma rules later. These need to soak in first.


The last rule that I can give you is, “WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!” Omitting a

comma is never as bad as putting in one in the wrong place.

Outside


Cousin Charlie has always been a smart “feller.” He mixes an eye for the truth with a keen sense of humor. Here’s an example:

            My problem is I would rather sit out on my deck an listen to birds, specially the mockin birds, crickets, and watch the young rabbits play in the field out front. I even have a hoot owl that hoots some nights. Is there a support group, therapist or anything that can help me git back to sittin in my cliner watchin 4 to 5 hours of all this FINE programin on t.v. that i'm missin out on ever night?

            See what I mean? Charlie’s comments on Facebook sparked memories and imagination and hit the nail on the head as far how best to spend evening time.

            When we were kids, our mothers shooed us out of the house any day that wasn’t wet, snowy, or dangerously frigid. Kids in the neighborhood got together for games of softball, baseball, football, and basketball. No, we didn’t have fields or courts for those games. Instead, we marked the bases with a shrub or bare spot in the grass. Boys shot hoops on homemade backboards nailed to a tree or post. That meant we sometimes had to adjust shots to account for leaning goals or gusts of winds.

            Summer always drove people outside after supper. Heat from the stove made the house insufferable, and only a handful of homes had air conditioning. The rest of us had opened windows and box fans. Adults would sit outside either on the porch or in the yard. Children played tag or chased fireflies until adults rose from their adirondack chairs and herdes the kids inside for bed or baths.

            We all held on to the outside into late fall and began again in early spring. Yes, some of us wore coats or wrapped up in blankets in order to get outside. The confines of the house smothered us.

            Television programming was somewhat better a generation ago, I think. Of course, back then TV was still a relatively new thing and didn’t compete with DVD’s and the Internet. Our choices came from three networks and, on occasion, public television. As much as people longed for the entertainment that television offered, the fact that stations shut off at nights squashed it.

            Today, most people hole-up in their homes as soon as they arrive.  Adults are exhausted from a day’s work that includes lost time in traffic jams and ever-tightening corporate budgets that threaten individual employment. They enter the house and shut out the world.

            Kids have too many distractions. Who needs baseball, football, or basketball games with other children when they can play “imaginary” games against the best college and pro teams on their X-Boxes and Play Stations? When interest in those wane, young people can then turn to their social media over the computer or smart phones. Instantly, they hang out with friends without out ever leaving the house.

            Television has “gone to hell in a hand basket.” A few quality shows are aired over the hundreds of stations, but for the most part, programs concentrate on self-centered participants in unrealistic situations. “Jersey Shores,”  “Big Brother,” and “Bachelorette” are just a few of the asinine shows that stations offer. News stations are biased toward one side or another so much that the “truth” is hard to find. Even the once reliable station A and E includes “Storage Wars” and “Dog, The Bounty Hunter” in its schedule.

            It’s time that folks walked out of the house and turned off the television, computer, or any other device. That time spent talking, playing, or just listening is therapeutic. Young and old can take a deep breath and enjoy the natural things of this world. It might just make the things offered inside the house pale in contrast.

Tom Broberg Is Right


After posting a column on Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his Vice-President candidate, I received some expected emails and feedback. One, in particular, was valuable to me.

            Thanks go to my friend Tom Broberg. He has been a faithful reader of my blog since its inception. Now, Tom is a conservative, and more importantly, he’s a small business owner and has had ventures in publications and off-road vehicle merchandise. I respect him as someone who has plenty of guts and business savvy.

            After the Romney post, Tom plainly told me my blog was getting BORING. He correctly stated that I had inserted too much politics. You know what? He is 100% correct.

            For some inexplicable reason, I’m fascinated with politics. While I lean toward a more liberal viewpoint, I do see some merit in some points that conservative folks make. Listening to the debates, I am sucked into the fray and end up giving my opinion. It’s not a smart thing to do.

            Some of my involvement comes from my age. Folks in my generation follow in the footsteps of their parents and their parents before them. In too many cases, people become stodgy old farts. Tom’s evaluation brought to mind the fact that I’m a carping, less-than-pleasant person to be around when I dive into the political arena.

            I know better than to get in such debates. During my teaching career, I was warned to avoid discussions on politics, religion, and war. I didn’t listen then, and sometimes I found myself in some uncomfortable situations.

            I appreciate Tom Broberg’s honesty about my recent postings. I see my mistake and plan to return to writing about topics other than politics. The rest of you who might read The Common Is Spectacular are more than welcome to make comments on posts. Sometimes they are the things that set me back on the right road.

Romney Clone


Oh Boy! Mitt Romney chose a running mate…Paul Ryan. With a closer look at the guy, it’s not hard to understand why Romney chose him for the campaign.

            Born in 1970’s, he grew up in Wisconsin, earned a BA in Economics from Miami University-Ohio, and worked in the private sector for a brief time. By the mid-90’s he’d turned to politics for a living. Since that time, Ryan has focused on politics in one way or another. Like too many of our so-called “leaders” of both parties, he’s eaten from the government trough instead of from the private sector table all his life. In 1998 he won election to the House of Representatives at the age of 28, and since then, he’s never left.

            The man is known for his alternative to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and his own Roadmap for America’s Future Act. The alternative would have lowered the top tax rate to 25%, begun an 8.5% value-added consumption tax, and replaced Medicare benefits for persons born after 1975. His 2010 revision of the plan reduced income tax rates, eliminated taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest. It also abolished corporate, estate, and alternative minimum taxes. Social Security would have been privatized. According to columnist Paul Krugman, this plan would RAISE taxes for 95% of the population and lead to a $4 trillion loss of revenue over a ten-year period.

            Maybe it’s just me, but Paul Ryan seems to be the perfect companion for Mitt Romney. He also believes in maintaining every advantage for the richest in our country while slashing benefits and help for the rest of us. If only 5% are going to gain from Ryan’s plan, it’s obvious that the rich will get richer and the middle class will pay the bill.

            Reductions in Medicare and privatization of Social Security are other moves that cut off the feet of middle class Americans. We already have enough people in this country who each day must make a decision to eat or take medicine. Social Security is in a mess because too many times Congress has raided that fund to finance other programs and boondoggles. Besides, allowing individuals to invest current SS contributions in other financial programs is inviting disaster. The reason people have money in Social Security is because it’s taken before they can touch it. Too many people won’t save, and then our country will contend with millions who are retired with no means of income at all.

            Ryan has served as one of the Republican obstructionist in Congress who seems intent on grid locking this country to prevent a Democratic president from succeeding. Yes, the Democrats have their own grid lockers as well, but none of them happens to be running on a presidential ticket.

            Yes, Paul Ryan is an appropriate choice for Romney. He shares the same views on the economy. Ryan also wants to give all the money to the rich so that they can let it trickle down on the rest of us. Personally, I’m tired of being trickled on by the rich, or as some call them, the “job creators.” Still, Ryan is the ideal running mate. He even looks like the man who has chosen him, hair and all. Paul Ryan, he’s a real Romney clone.

Knoxville Icons--One Good, One Not So Good

I received an email recently that brought memories from my childhood flooding back. The individual who sent the message asked if I were kin to Red Rector, known for his skills as a mandolin player. In my reply, I told him that although we weren’t related, I attended college with Red’s daughter Anita and had grown up watching the man on “Cas Walker’s Farm and Home Hour Show.”
            Anyone who grew up in Knoxville in the fifties and sixties knew who Cas Walker was. He owned a chain of grocery stores that competed for the top spot in the area with White Stores. Cas ran commercials that, quite frankly, in today’s world would be considered politically incorrect. The most glaring example was the “Thump’n Good” commercial, aired with black child diving into a piece of watermelon. 
            Cas had a unique way of selling products on that show. He’d have a table lined with these specials and a sign indicating the price beside each one. Then Cas would use his middle finger as a pointer and tell the audience about each one. I always thought it funny that the man “shot a bird” at the television watchers and cringed when I saw the first joints of his fingers bent with arthritis.
            The show served as a place for a variety of things. He used the time as a platform. On one particular occasion, Cas talked about parking lot safety. He indicated that his employees had set up a plan to find people who were stealing in the store or grabbing pocketbooks in the parking lot. According to Cas, “security forces were going to jump on thieves, whoop the hell out of ‘em, and swear that you jumped on them.” In that two minute and fifteen second clip, he tells would-be thieves to come and jump him because “[he] isn’t afraid of any of them bastards.”
            The “ol coon hunter” also used his show as a place to air his political persuasions. The man never held back and frequently called those who opposed him scoundrels, no-goods, and a plethora of other derogatory names. Cas held the distinction as being the only mayor in Knoxville to be recalled after his 1946 election, but he was once again elected as a member of city council. Some of his most scathing attacks came when the city and county governments considered consolidation. Cas carped into microphones across the Knox County and Knoxville as he told viewing audiences the evils of such a merger.
            Not all was bad. Cas Walker aided many musicians’ careers. He is widely identified as the person who gave Dolly Parton and the Everly Brothers their starts as they appeared on his program. Others who made appearances included Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Bill Monroe, and Jim Nabors.
            Of course, the regular musicians that appeared on the program were stars in this part of the country. Bud Brewster was there, along with Red and Fred, and Honey Wilds. Red Rector was a studio musician blending in with the band. In years to follow, his fame spread, and he journeyed across the country and to other countries performing on his mandolin.
            No, I wasn’t kin to Red Rector, but I first met the man across a glass screen as he picked his mandolin with the other boys on the Cas Walker program. Cas did much for Knoxville, both positive and negative. He managed to rule politically for years and to sell groceries about which horrible stories concerning quality have been told. Still, he introduced Red to me, even if the musician wasn’t kin to me. I can still hear Red and the other boys in the band singing,
When you get the morning paper when it hits the street,
Cas Walker’s prices just can’t be beat.
Buy that Blue Band Coffee and you’ll want some more,
Do your grocery shopping at a Cas Walker Store.