Quote of the Day, June 25, 2014: “One of the keys to success, and the antithesis of embarrassment, is to pay attention to faces, names, and trends.”

My father taught me that I should always pay attention to what is going on around me. It could help you get ahead in life, avoid an awkward situation, or even save your life. Something as simple as noticing that a woman’s driver license say Oregon on it when she’s putting it back in her purse lets you know she’s not from this area, or seeing that a man’s laptop has a San Francisco Giants sticker on it when he’s putting it back in his bag at the airport can tell you that he’s likely traveling to California.

One particular moment comes to mine at a wedding I recently attended. In fact I was a groomsman in the bridal party. It was a great wedding and the family spared no expense on the venue, food, table settings and entertainment. And like any member of any bridal party, I spent much time up in front of the crowd, albeit silent, but nevertheless up on stage showing my support of the groom and his new bride. There were many other reasons why I, in particular, would have stood out among the rest of the guests.

So half way through the night, I was walking back up toward the dance floor, drink in hand as I was just leaving the bar in the back, when a man in his late 50s grabbed my bicep quite firmly and forcefully pulled me down where he was sitting at a table with a woman about his age.

“Get my wife a piece of chocolate cake…please,” he said quite sternly, attempting to mask his annoyance that I was jovially walking by them sipping a gin and tonic, having not noticed that his wife had been apparently overlooked when the cake had been distributed. Remembering that I had already eaten my cake quite some time ago, I responded,

“Sir, I’d be happy to get your wife a piece of cake. I do know that the chocolate cake had been cut quite some time ago and there’s a chance that there may not be any left. If not would she like some white cake perhaps?” I glanced over at his wife for a moment.

“It’s ok I don’t need any cake. Honey let’s just go dance,” she said, both our heads turning to the man.

“No! Get my wife a some cake now. She’s waited long enough. Get her chocolate cake, not white cake.”

“Alright sir, I’ll be right back,” I said, and then put my drink down and hurried to the back to check on the cake. When I got to the back of the room I found the wait staff continuing to cut up the cake and prepare to disburse it to the rest of the guests. Apparently they simply had not gotten to that man and his wife yet but were very close to doing so. I asked the girl cutting the cake if I could please take a piece from her stand. At first she protested but then she recognized me as a groomsman and reluctantly agreed to allow me to sneak a piece of cake.

I then took the plate with the cake and strolled back up to the front, weaving in-between people and walking to the bass of the music. I was in quite a good mood. I placed the plate on the table and said, “Here you are ma’am, one piece of chocolate cake.” The man sat back and folded his arms saying,

“Well thank you very much it’s about time.” The wife looked very excited and said,

“Excellent, thank you very much.” Then she took her eyes off the cake and glanced up at me, intrigued. Now she grabs my arm other arm, less forcefully than her husband did and asked me, “What is your name?” All the while using her eyes to search over my chest, as if perhaps looking for a name-tag.

“Dominic,” I told her.

“Dominic? Hhmm, are you new here?” Having just flown in from Colorado to California for the weekend, I was a bit perplexed at the question to begin with.

“New here?”

“Yes, new to the club?” Then the gin subsided and the implications came into focus.

“Oohhh, no I don’t work here. I’m one of the groomsmen,” I said chuckling to myself at the case of mistake identity. It quite amused me to be honest. Her face however turned pale and her jaw grew so long I thought it would hit the floor. The man’s sleepy looking eyes grew a bit larger but more out of confusion about my reply than anything else. It wasn’t until his wife’s fist met with his shoulder and she shared some rather choice words with him that his expression changes as he realized his mistake. She apologized profusely but I told her, “Please, it’s not problem at all. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you tonight. I’ll be sitting right over there if you need me,” and I pointed over to the head table where I had set down my drink. Then I walked away and met some friends on the dance floor and forgot about the incident. I didn’t really mean to mortify them, but I did find the whole incident quite amusing, and a good reminder to pay attention.

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Quote of the Day, June 13, 2014: “Wealth gained quickly will dwindle away, but the one who gathers little by little will become rich.”

We all want to get rich quick. That’s because we all either are in a bad financial situation, or simply lack the amount of resources to do what we truly want to do, and either way we want that problem alleviated now. Enter every get rich quick scheme imaginable to play on your emotional desire to have more resources, much more resources with the promise of delivering overnight. That kind of promise gets our emotions to flare and gets us to give in to whatever the scheme is in a frenzy, not because we actually think it’s a smart idea that will actually work, but more because we want it to work so bad we almost think we can will it into existence. We become the guy who spends his rent money on an exotic stock tip that’s supposed to beat the market, or the lady who loses all her friends pushing bath soaps for some MLM, or even the guy who buys a fixer upper and thinks by adding a coat of paint and some drapes he’ll turn around and sell it for $100k more than he bought it for. Or worse yet, the person who simply thinks that by hoping and praying and going along to get along that they will someday simply be given a promotion from their job, or get another job that pays an outlandish salary and then all their prayers will be answered. And of course the worst of all, the habitual lottery ticket purchaser.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these things have a place. Investing in the market is good if you actually have the money to spare and are realistic about the potential returns. This may be heresy to some but there are even a few multi-level marketing businesses that are worth their salt, provide value to their customers and put extra mailbox money in the middle man’s pocket. A couple adept at the ins and outs of real estate who aren’t afraid of a little hammering and sawdust can make millions flipping houses. People do get raises every day, and if they are smart about their extra money, an extra few dollars an hour could mean a complete change in lifestyle. And of course while most of us don’t know anyone personally, somebody out there does win the lottery every once in a while and aside from the taxes and the lottery curse, they could fill a pool with gold bars if they wanted to (although that would be a cool concept for a magazine photo shoot but dumb idea overall).

The point with all this is this. Wealth isn’t the word I want to choose because while it’s accurate, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture in the mind. Resources fits better. There are those of us who have a serious deficiency in resources. There are those of us who are fine but also lack the resources to do certain things that we dream about or want to do. But to suddenly get those resources overnight, while it would seem to be a God-send, and granted there are those of us out there who would do well, for the most part we wouldn’t really know what to do with them. When something grows over time we watch it. We learn its habits. We learn what slows its growth down and what seems to accelerate it. We learn just how much water and sunlight it needs so to speak. It’s almost a relationship, whether it be with a plant or with money and we watched the whole process. This way we know exactly where it came from and how to keep it going. When something springs up overnight we have a rough concept of where it may have come from, but we don’t have that deep understanding that comes with watching something with patience and discipline. I might by a stock today, and for some reason the market makes a jump and I sell it in a week and make thousands. In theory that can happen and that would be very fortunate, but it would be luck more than anything else. It kind of just happened and while I might say that I had a feeling or that company’s logo is my favorite color or whatever, the fact is I don’t really understand how and where that thousand bucks came from. I won’t be able to do it again. And even if I could the odds of keeping that up are astronomical.

Now if I took the time to study changes in the different markets. Look for indicators of booms and busts over several different industries over say, 80 years, then I might have a fighting chance at making some consistent money that doesn’t just grow and then drain out with every cycle. But that wasn’t quick. I had to take the time, a long time, to develop a relationship with the numbers and the financial climate and all of that to become proficient. I know where the money comes from and how it works. Now I can make it grow dependably.

It’s almost like coming into the age of science and leaving the age of magic in the past. When our ancestors relied heavily on the inconsistency of gods and goddesses that lurked within every rock or tree, all with conflicting agendas and different sets of powers to control the environment we lived in, the world was a much darker and seemingly confusing place. The concept of magic worked simply because it worked sometimes and it didn’t work other times. Life was, as they say brutish and short. Enter the age of science and reason, and yes while it has its own problems, for the sake of the illustration I’ll point out that people began to see that there was order to the universe. All things work together according to natural laws, not the arbitrary whims of a goddess over here battling against the desires of a god over there. There was a time when horseback was the fasted mode of travel, and while we saw birds covering great distances in short timespans, we could only fantasize about riding on the back of a Pegasus through the sky to our destination. We hadn’t put in the time yet to understand that those birds weren’t using magic, they were simply using laws built into the environment. The idea that perhaps with the right magic dust or the right incantation one could fly for a moment perhaps. Thousands of years later, after much trial and error, many crashes and many deaths even, we can fly anywhere we want in the world with such consistency that you are more likely to get bucked off a horse today than fall from the sky in a plane. This is because over time we’ve put in the effort and the discipline to have a consistent resource that only keeps getting better and better as the years go by because we have an intimate understanding of how and why it works.

Resources that come quickly and easily usually fade just as quickly and easily. That’s simply because we don’t really understand how we got it. Stocks feel like gambling. MLMs feel like money just grows out of feelings. Flipping seems kind of like playing Monopoly HGTV Edition. A raise or a promotion tends to feel arbitrary, and winning the lottery just means for whatever reason God likes you today. None of these things mean anything particularly useful to the recipient if they come easy or quickly. But if the skills and luck required for these and other forms of gaining resources are learned over time so that they actually stick in the mind and the mystery fades behind how they work over time, then even when things do happen quickly, the recipient has a firm understanding of the whys and hows and can use lucky breaks to continue to gain more resources is a much more controlled way.

Quote of the Day, April 21, 2014: “Go to the ant, consider her ways and be wise! She has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet she stores provisions in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”

How to build you’re own ant farm:

Spring is here, and with the change in weather many of us are finding that we had better make sure to clean up extra well or we might find a surprise the next morning on the dining table; ANTS. But spring is also an opportunity to get outside and start new projects, and while you’re at it, turn these little critters from pests to pets…in a sense.

First you will need all this equipment, most of it you can probably find laying around your house.

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  • Thin pieces of wood cut to lenghts of about 6 to 10 inches (or longer depending on how big you want your ant farm to be.
  • Glass taken from an old picture frame
  • Clear Shower Calking
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Small wood screws
  • Cardboard or plywood (or another piece of glass)
  • Dirt
  • Seedlings (optional)
  • Ants

First you’ll need to make the frame for your farm. These pieces of wood are about 2inches by 1inch so I turned them sideways so that I could put the thin parts together. The first step is to mark out how thin you want the space for the ants to work in to be. You’ll want it pretty thin so that you can see them as they dig.

After you’ve decided that, mark where you want the glass to sit on the bottom piece of wood. Then use a knife or screwdriver to notch along that line just large enough to be able to slide the piece of glass long ways into the wood for stability. Then use the caulking to secure the glass in place in the wood. You can use glue but I prefer the nice finish clear caulking gives.10259542_10100183122378650_1395219299_n

Then find your piece of cardboard or ply wood and place the glass and the bottom piece of wood against it. This will be the back of the farm. If you want a farm that you can see from both sides then use another piece of glass. Make sure your plywood is cut to the right size and then place the side pieces of wood on either side of the glass and caulk the edges to the glass. You may need to place a rock or something roughly the size of the space between the glass and the plywood under the edge of the glass to keep its shape while the caulking dries. Then use the screws to secure the wood to keep the farm from falling apart. Depending on where you want to display your farm you can build legs from wood as well or secure it to something else with screws.

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Next is the dirt. Try and find dirt that is similar to the kind of dirt that you will find your ants in as well. Don’t get dirt with too many clumps in it as the finer the dirt is the more obvious the tunnels will be that your ants create.

If you’re like me then you may want to add some plants for a more realistic, or at least more scenic environment. I found some weeds growing in my garden and transplanted a few of them into my farm. The roots end up looking cool as well.

Now it’s time for the finally, ANTS. Now if you look hard enough you can usually find an ant mound or perhaps a colony of ants living under a rock or a piece of wood. You can try and collect them by hand but depending on the species this can range from simply difficult to painful. Not to mention you usually end up killing more ants that collecting, and the ones you do collect end up pretty damaged.

 

 

 

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My prefered method is to make the ants come to me. Again depending on the species of any this will be more or less effective but with most ants, they are attracted to sweets and oils, especially animal fats. I create a lid out of wood and I caulk the sides to create a seal over the glass but I make sure to let it dry while off so that I can take it on or off. Then I cut a small hole in the lid, or I choose a piece of wood with a knot whole in it. Then take a long piece of wire and bend it so that you can stick it down into the dirt in your farm on one end, and then make an upside down ‘u’ shape that ends in the dirt outside the farm, near a place you there ants frequent.

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I cooked some bacon that day and took a small piece of bacon and left it in the oil for a bit. Then I cut it in half, placing one piece at the base of the wife outside of the farm and the other piece at the base of the wire inside the farm. Then I took the eyedropper, sucked up some grease, and dribbled it all along the wire, creating a kind of trail of grease. (I also use the eyedropper to add water to the plants.) Then I make sure everything is secure and I leave.

The next day, check your ant farm, if you’ve placed it close enough to an ant source you should find a trail of ants going to and fro along the wire, and tons in your farm working on harvesting the bacon and digging all through your dirt.

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Quote of the Day, April 20, 2014: “Why do you search for the living, among the dead?”

I wrote this this morning, as a letter to a friend of mine who is in prison. Today’s quote of the day overtook me somehow today and it made me think of him and I had to write him but looking back at the letter now, 12 hours later, it seems an informal but fitting expression of what the quote means to me. I will say that some of the language is very informal, although I’ve changed it so as to not be offensive. I am usually the first to say that anyone who uses some of the baser words in our vernacular simply do not have a large enough vocabulary to express themselves in a more accurate and more appropriate manner, and yet in this instance, I stand corrected, in that I feel as though the words I used fit exactly the spirit of what I was trying to say and what I was feeling at the time. The letter continues as follows……

[Friend},

It’s Easter Sunday. I just got home from playing piano for the 8 o’clock service at church and I’m eating and helping Felicia get the kids ready for the 10:30 service where I’ll have to play again. Denzel is now 10 days old. It’s incredible how he’s already changing, and has the face of a little boy instead of the scrunched up wrinkly face of a new born. I’m typing today because, frankly it’s faster and I can get a lot more down before my fingers cramp up, which I don’t want since I’ll have to play later today ha.

I felt compelled to write to you today because as I was driving back home, I kept singing Amazing Grace, some crazy runny gospel version I had heard as a kid. Made me think of my dad, as it usually does, but then it made me think of you, and of me. On April 26 my dad will have been dead for 9 years now. I think I’m over it but every once in a while something reminds me that I’m never quite over it, but merely distract myself with other things so I won’t have to think about it. And then I was thinking about you, and how you’re in prison and can’t be with [your wife and kids], and just how it feels like everything is just messed up. And that no matter what kind of moral code we impose on ourselves, what kind of legislation is passed, whatever, we can’t escape the fact that life is messed up, people screw up and screw us over, relationships bloom and fade, and people die and leave us. Life is screwed up.

But then today is Easter. I’ve known what Easter is about since I was a little kid and never doubted its truth. But have you ever known something was true but never felt it before? And only when you finally feel it do you know the difference. Well I sat in my truck and thought of all these things and sang to myself, and suddenly it hit me, Yes life is jacked up and there’s no way to fix it. And yes going to church and following the rules is a good thing and all that but that’s not why Jesus came to earth in the form of a man. He came to redeem us. To say yes life is jacked up, and no, no matter what you do you can’t fix it all, rules or no rules it’s not going to work. And yes there is suffering in this life, TONS of INTENSE suffering. But no our cries do not fall upon deaf ears and our cries for salvation do move God’s heart. Not salvation from some future hell-type afterlife that will engulf us in flames after the grave, although we don’t want that surely. But salvation from the crap of this life as well, freedom from those who wish to harm us and, more importantly, from the harm we cause ourselves. He says, “yes you’ve got problems, you’ve got baggage, you’ve got [crap], and it’s too heavy for you. There are days when you feel like its so heavy you’ll collapse under the weight and won’t be able to go on, and surely there will be a day when you will not be able to go on because it is so heavy.” But God says, “I’m strong enough to carry it for you, and I will carry it for you. I love you.” And then because we are so intrenched in our crap and our bondage to our own suffering, we out right killed him, for how dare he be such a tease as to bring up the serious matter of saving us from our mess, when surely nobody really can. We’ve tried it all before. So they killed him and that was that. And he was dead and the crap and the baggage and the suffering went on, business as usual. But then three days later something happened. He died, and was buried. I mean death is the biggest problem, the heaviest load of crap that we have in this life to deal with, and it’s above all things, IRREVERSIBLE. And Jesus died. And was dead. For a while. Three days is a while to be dead. But then he comes back to life. He picks up the heaviest of our baggage, the biggest load Satan and the crap of this life have to offer, and he says, “Is that all you got?” And then he says, “Come on, follow me. If I can carry this, the heaviest of loads and come back stronger than ever, how much more can I handle the baggage that you come with. I love you and it will be ok. Trust me and I will see you through. And one day I will wipe away every tear.”

All that was going on in my head. That that guy actually fricken DIED, and he actually fricken CAME BACK TO LIFE and then says that if you trust in me I will take care of you too. I just started balling in my car. I didn’t get out because I didn’t want [my son] to see me like that but idk man. Today is a good day. Yes I’m at home with my kids, and you’re in captivity, away from those you love, but for both of us, not so much because of what he did on the cross, but because of what he did after, because of this day, when he beat back all that suffering had to offer and came back for us, because of that, today is a good day for both you and me, and [your wife, and [my wife], and your dad, and mine, for [your kids and for mine], for your [brother] and for mine, and all of us.

Poetry Month: Looking Back on a First Born

I can finally understand why young guys sometimes leave their families.

The beauty of a woman, as stirring as that may be, is one that keeps you staring, makes you desire to ‘have’.

But the beauty of your own newborn child is different.

The longing you feel is too great.

Looking into his eyes you see your whole past, and your whole future all at once, yet pure and unadulterated, like looking straight into the face of God; too glorious.

Those who say it’s the fear of responsibility or that men don’t want the commitment are sorely mistaken.

Watching those small black pupils dilate while your face slowly comes into focus compels you to be more committed to them than you are to the idea of breathing.

It’s more the deepest desire to do right by someone that makes your skin feel like it’s going to melt and your eyes burn right from their sockets.

Yet like Jonah, running will only make it worse for the face of God hunts you down and brings old men to their knees, frail and unfit to face what they are now forced to face, though they thought they had evaded it in the days of their youth.

Fools run in terror.

For it is truly terrifying.

But those who stay must be willing to die.

Die to oneself, and now live wholly for another.

 

Life has been a bit crazy, and I’ve realized that the older you get, sometimes the less ‘with it’ you can become about the latest fashion or trends. I just found out that it’s poetry month. I don’t really write poetry, but on occasion I pen something down that others tell me sounds quite poetic. This is something I was compelled to write last year around this time, after my first son was born. It was quite an overwhelming experience. As the birth of my second child is days, if not hours away, it seems appropriate to share it now. I think what’s written above sums it up.

Quote of the Day, April 2, 2014:”A serpent will always seek his desires because of pride, but seek them through cowardice, both behaviors betraying the fact that the individual does not live in reality.”

Those who follow the lead of the snake will always make decisions in the same manner, out of the motives of pride and cowardice. We always tend to think of cowardice as the draft dodger or the one that won’t speak up in the meeting. We always tend to think of pride as the kid who won’t shake hands with the opposing team after a hard fought loss. We are right. But we are also wrong in that it’s almost much simpler, yet much more conniving than that. Both are simply a detachment from the truth, plain and simple.

Pride is an inability to see reality as it is. None of us can see reality in its entirety and therefore we all have a level of pride within us. Understanding reality entails a lot of things, but one of those is understanding your station in the world, how high up or low down you truly are. Part of the human condition is the natural desire for superiority and supremacy. An awareness of reality, usually attained though a mix of experience and revelation, helps keep that natural tendency at bay. Without this awareness, our baser side has room to grow. For this reason the farther and farther a person gets from reality, the more those on the outside recognize it as a greater and greater pride. Someone suffering from a profound disconnect from the way things truly are, even on a clinical level, almost always leans toward viewing themselves as having more and more importance, while those on the outside see them slipping farther and farther into delusion.

Cowardice is also and inability to see reality. Now on the face of things, it seems just the opposite. That perhaps bravery would be the inability to accept the reality of your own mortality and perhaps certain types of foolhardy bravery may be, but cowardice is in itself an inability to see that God loves us and loves what is right. If God loves us and what is right then he will defend us when we do what is right. In the face of eternity, even if we die in the process, God will come to the aid of those who love his ways and obey his commands. When we don’t believe that he will defend us, we become cowards and have to devise our own strategies to save our own hides.

This is why the serpent behaves as he does and this is why those who follow in his ‘footsteps’ can be seen a mile away. They will always seek their desires because of pride, but seek them through cowardice, both behaviors betraying the fact that that individual does not live in reality. He cannot remain consistent, even in his own mind. The serpent will always believe his own hype but he will always act out his lowness. He will seek to assert himself over the strong, but always through the route of overtaking the weak. Never head on. His pride will compel him to desire the seat of honor, but his cowardice will only allow him to take it when the master is away and there are only the children there to speak up. His pride will compel him to demand what is “rightfully” his, his cowardice will wait until the dead of night to sneak and take it. His pride will tell him to sit on the throne of God, but his cowardice makes him wait until no one is looking so he can sneak into a garden to displace the thing God loves.

He who follows the serpent never wins. He can’t. He cant even grasp the basics of reality, how could he ever hope to truly effect it?