Saturday, June 30, 2007

Still Here -- Just Not Much to Say

The silence here over the past week is pretty indicative of the fact that there just hasn't been much to write about. I will say that there are some potentially exciting new opportunities on the horizon with regard to employment, so I'm looking forward to seeing where these new roads lead. I've also been dealing with a combination of not being able to sleep at night and being exhausted all day; I'm hopeful this, too, will pass [soon].

I'm well into the first volume Wiesel's autobiography and have found it to be an amazing and powerful read. I've been amazed with the amount of regret and anguish he still feels over several events from his life (particularly from his childhood), and he does such an incredible job of writing vividly that it's been very easy for me to feel the pain he still feels: not really knowing his father until after they were taken to Auschwitz; wishing that he had taken advantage of those extra times to play with his little sister when she asked instead of sitting under a tree reading his books, and how that all came back so painfully at the instant she, along with his mother and grandmother, were taken straight off the transport and to their deaths; and many others along those lines. He also talks at some length about the struggles he experienced -- still experiences -- with his faith in God, his anger with God, his disappointment in what he perceived as God's inaction at times of crisis, and his overwhelming anger and sorrow that the people who knew what was happening to the Jews in Europe (the pope, world leaders, even other Jews) didn't do more to bring attention to that horror. I still have 2/3 of the book left to read, but I would already give this book a 5 out of 5 for its emotion, its sincerity, and the powerful, overwhelming story it tells.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reading Selections Change Course - Again

It's a good thing that I don't have to be as decisive about my reading as I do a lot of other things in my life, and as such I didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt when I headed to the library today to pick up a few things. I'm sure these quick changes are representative of how quickly my mind jumps around, but I will say that I've gotten better in recent months about starting a book and actually finishing it (as evidenced by my recent reading of The Road).

Half of today's read was the result of a guest op-ed in today's Washington Post about the recent honors accorded Salman Rushdie ("Knighthood for a Literary Lion"). Despite all the coverage of Rushdie in the past twenty years, I had never taken the time to try and read any of his books. After reading the piece in today's Post today, however, I decided to give Satanic Verses and Midnight's Children a shot; after a cursory flip-through of each book, it appears they're going to be challenging, but I'm looking forward to that.

The second half of today's new read was more the result of being compelled to head to the biography section. I intended to see if there was anything available on Orson Welles, whose career has interested me since my recent viewing of the movie RKO 281, the story of the creation of Citizen Kane and the interplay between Welles, William Randolph Hearst, and Hollywood executives (highly recommended, by the way). Instead, Elie Wiesel's All Rivers Run to the Sea -- the first volume of his memoirs -- jumped out at me.

Wiesel is someone who has fascinated me for quite some time, but I have never taken the time to read any of his work. I'm not sure why; perhaps it's because I tend to get so emotionally involved in what I read that I wasn't sure I would be prepared enough for the level of grief, pain and sadness I would be exposed to in his writing. Perhaps it was because that period of history didn't hold any interest for me until now. Or perhaps, I wasn't ready for it then, but I've been led to it now - and the timing means there's a reason I'm supposed to be reading this (and everything else before me right now).

As I move through the book, I'll probably post random thoughts; I'm sure it would engender some great discussion.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rite of Passage

One of the first e-mails that I saw when checking my messages this morning was from my father, and it was about the rite of passage for a young Cherokee boy. I wanted to share it here -- it has a great message indeed.

Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youth's rite of passage?

His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone.

He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN.

He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own.

The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man.

Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

We, too, are never alone. Even when we don't know it, our Heavenly Father is watching over us, sitting on the stump beside us. When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to Him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Old Boss Has New Job

Just got word that my former boss got a nice promotion today, and is being brought out of "retirement" after only about six months.

White House Budget Director Resigns; Jim Nussle Is Successor

AP - White House budget director Rob Portman is resigning and will be replaced by former Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

Nussle ran for governor of Iowa last year and was defeated. He has been serving in Iowa as an adviser in former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

The changes were to be announced Tuesday by President Bush.

Portman, who was a six-term congressman from Cincinnati, left his career on Capitol Hill to join the Bush administration two years ago as trade representative and was named budget director a little more than a year ago to replace Josh Bolten when he became White House chief of staff.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back from the Valley

The family returned home today after spending a restful 2-1/2 days with a large part of our church congregation, enjoying the peace and quiet of the Shenandoah Valley. MB really had a great time playing with lots of other kids that she may only see for an hour or so each Sunday; E. charmed everyone with her four-month-old winning personality; and A. and I had the opportunity to spend time with old friends and start relationships with several new friends. It was a great weekend for everyone, and we're so glad that we went.

Alas, like every great vacation, this one had to end, and we returned this afternoon to laundry, resumes, pre-school, yardwork, and the other things that make up large portions of our days. Hopefully this week will be the week that we get the news for which we're waiting; the prayers are continuing, and we'll see what God has in store for us!

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Friday Calm

There's a big sense of calm in the house right now, and I think that it's due in large part to two things: A. had a job interview this morning at a company that is literally right around the corner from our house, and we're leaving this afternoon for our Shrine Mont weekend. The car is gassed up, the suitcases have been packed and loaded, and I'm gathering my short stack of books (some Barbara Brown Taylor, Anne Lamott, my journal, the Bible, and maybe one work of fiction; I haven't decided -- and yes, this does qualify as a short stack. Anyone who has seen the books in our house knows that for a fact!).

For the next few days, the only sounds will be children playing on the lawn, the conversations between members of our church family, my pen on the pages of my journal, the flipping of pages in a book, and (hopefully) the wind blowing through the trees in this Shenandoah Valley retreat.

Have a great weekend, everyone -- and to all the dads out there, Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Finally, an End to the Finals

Despite the fact that watching this series was at times as painfully slow as a trip to the dentist, congratulations to Duncan, Parker, and the San Antonio Spurs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

And the Phone Call Said.....

The phone finally rang today; unfortunately, it was a "we've decided to go in another direction" call. About one hour of disappointment and wondering what my next step will be, and then I was back on an even keel. There are some other jobs that I'm waiting to hear from, and I know that regardless of how things are looking now, there's a reason that my life is playing out in this particular way.

It's nice to have daughters that aren't aware of the stress that A and I are under right now; as a friend told me in an e-mail, the only thing they will remember is that they got to spend some extra fun time with Mommy and Daddy. And despite feeling a bit blue because of the call, it was all okay when I picked up MB at pre-school and she greeted me with a big smile, a beautiful Father's Day painting, and excited shouts to her classmates of, "There's my Daddy!" That was my gift for the day!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cycling Back to Old Journal Entries

This is hardly going to be an entertaining or even interesting post; it's been one of those days that, when I first started keeping a journal 26 years ago, would result in an entry that simply read, "Another boring day." It was just another day of sending out resumes and waiting for the phone to ring. The family is really looking forward to its annual trip to Shrine Mont, the Diocese of Virginia's retreat center about 2-1/2 hours outside D.C.; it will be nice to relax, refresh ourselves, and not really have to worry about anything for three days other than enjoying some great fellowship and fun with folks from our church.

I guess when I have an original thought or something worth posting about, I'll be back. Otherwise, feel free to search the archives!!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Disturbing, Dark, Powerful, Loving Read

During my recent foray into the world of reclusive authors, I ran across the name Cormac McCarthy. I hadn't ever heard of him before (which is a big reflection on how much I have avoided reading modern authors, preferring instead to stick to folks from the 1970s on back), and at best think I may have only heard fleeting mentions of a few of his books. However, not long after hearing his name, I learned that his most recent work, The Road, had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. For me, that's always been a good measuring stick for the quality of a book, so I went out and picked out a copy. (Sidebar: Thankfully, I bought it before Oprah named it as her book club selection; I'd never want to admit that I bought a book because Oprah said so! I will admit watching her recent interview with McCarthy on her show and being totally fascinated by him.)

I finally got around to reading it two days ago, and finished just a few minutes ago. Without a doubt, it is one of the most haunting, disturbing, frightening, powerful, emotional, and loving books I have ever read -- and yes, you're going to be hit by each of these as you read it. Despite the fact that it is almost 300 pages, McCarthy's writing style is such that it is a very easy read, and I was able to devour large chunks of the book at each sitting. Not having read any of his other books, I'm not sure how his style has changed or evolved over the years, but I thought that this was a good introduction for me to his work.

I won't summarize it here, hoping instead that you'll go to the bookstore or library and pick up a copy to read. All I will say is that it will hit you hard no matter who you are, but if you are a parent then you'll need to prepare yourself; it's a tremendous story of love between a father and son and shows the great and nearly impossible (and unexpected) lengths to which any parent will go to protect their child. And throughout my reading of the entire book, I only saw one color in my mind -- gray.

If you've read it, please tell me what you thought. I'll be interested in seeing how the movie (someone recently purchased the rights to develop a script from the book) will trasfer McCarthy's words to the screen. For those interested in reading more, this website has a list of reviews of "The Road" from a wide variety of newspapers, and nearly all of them have rated it highly.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Far Cry from My Previous Post

I have always admired Bono for his determination and doggedness to convince world leaders to ramp up their efforts to combat a host of problems in Africa, with hunger, AIDS, and debt relief being his biggest crusades. I'm not sure how I feel about the debt relief aspect of his work, but I do support his work on behalf of ending hunger and combatting AIDS and have a great appreciation for the fact that he doesn't have any intention of giving up. Here is a man who wants for nothing, whose family wants for nothing, and who could easily say, "Well, I'm rich and successful, and until this involves me I won't get involved." But he doesn't say that -- and he doesn't give up, as this video clip from CNN demonstrates (and I was glad to see, despite CNN's best efforts to slide it by the viewer, that the problem with this isn't the United States, who has actually done more than they promised).

We'll Always Have Paris -- A Cynical Musing

I'm not normally one who follows -- much less even cares about -- the lives of current celebrities. With a three-year-old daughter at home who is coping with the daily challenges in her young life, I get more than enough angst and drama and don't have to rely on Hollywood to provide me with even more. However, there's something about this whole "Paris Hilton get-out-of-jail early because I'm sick, but really because I'm a spoiled rich kid" thing going on that has managed to stick in my craw. When I was growing up, the kind of behavior she displays would have been met in my family with some sort of punishment from my parents -- a spanking, being sent to my room without dinner, etc. My, how times of changed -- but we weren't rich, either, so maybe the rules were different.

Obviously, I'm not directly involved in the whole "rich kid does prison" process, but somehow a storyline of "You Broke the Law -- You've Got 45 Days in Jail -- Okay, Not Really; How about 23 Days -- Okay, We're Letting You Go After 3 Days -- But You Have to Wear an Ankle Bracelet" is a massive cop-out, and shows a total lack of guts on the part of the Los Angeles County sheriff and everyone else who seems more adept at caving to the publicity rather than caving to the need to treat all folks in prison the same and with impartiality. I'm sure there are prisoners who have much more legitimate health problems than the alleged health drama Paris is experiencing, and they remain confined.

Yes, perhaps Paris Hilton really is a troubled young lady like so many we've seen over the years, and perhaps she does need help. But I can't decide if she's just playing the public like a violin, or if she's really that damn stupid. Everyone deserves prayers, but I think in this case we should be praying for the public at large who has to endure all of this garbage -- and particularly when it's garbage like this that knocks legitimate stories off the news. What sort of conversations do they have in the newsrooms at night?

Producer: Okay, what do we want to lead with tonight? Suggestions?
Reporter 1: Well, the administration is ramping up pressure on the Sudanese government and is imposing sanctions.
Reporter 2: The CDC has announced a potential breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes.
Reporter 3: Paris Hilton got drunk last night....
Proudcer: That's our lead!!!!

All of this to say that the Los Angeles Times ran a rather amusing column on what Paris is (or was) thinking while she was in jail. Entitled "The Paris Hilton Prison Diaries," here are some excerpts:

Day 1: Arrived late Sunday night. So tired. Asked if I could check into my room immediately. Quite possibly the rudest concierge I have ever met. I told him he was fired. Not the effect I'd hoped for... What kind of hotel forces you to strip and delouse (maybe Marriott?). Although instead of a robe I got a fabulous orange jumpsuit with a cute number on it. Nothing to do at night. I'm told (as there was, like, no information in my room) that there is no bar or lounge area. I wish I'd brought flats.

Day 5: Gandhi went to prison. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. So did Robert Downey, Jr. and Martha Stewart, Jr. and I think Nelson Mandela, Jr. Mandela was imprisoned for, like, 50 years or something for being black and also for driving an uninsured vehicle, if I'm reading Wikipedia correctly. Nicky often mentions me and Gandhi and how incredibly thin we both are and how she wonders if he used bronzer.

Day 10: There is no TV, no iPod, no cellphone. Just — I hope I'm spelling this right — "boks" or maybe "bowks." Whatever. I took a few from the cart and have been looking at the covers. Then, last night, I looked inside and there are, like, a million words, page after page. Are these new?

Lord, help us all -- and my daughters are on notice that behavior like this won't be tolerated!!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Approaching the Finish Line (Hopefully)

Is a new job finally right around the corner? I've had a series of second interviews with several places in the past two weeks, and this morning had my fourth interview -- a breakfast -- with the president of a D.C. trade association. They anticipate announcing their decision tomorrow or early next week, and as one of the two finalists (out of what I understand was originally a pool of 200 applicants) I'm getting antsy. I won't get excited, though; I've promised myself (and A.) that I won't do that until someone puts an actual offer on the table.

So God's answer to my prayers for the past several months could be here soon; I just have to be patient and see what His answer is -- to this and to A's ongoing job search.....

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What Does Prayer Mean to You?

My blog friend Julie, who as I've mentioned in the past writes a religion and spirituality column for UPI, published a very good one this week (as they always are) on prayer. It's entitled "Prayer is a Waste of Time," but as she warns her readers, be sure to actually read the entire column before jumping to conclusions based on the title alone.

After I read it, I posted the following comment on her blog -- and I'd be interested in your comments after you've read the column.

Prayer for me has evolved over the course of my life, from the praying every night for my family and friends as a child to the selfish prayers of high school (God, let me pass tomorrow's big test; God, let so-and-so say she'll go out with me), then through a phase where I didn't pray at all, to the current phase in my life where prayer to me is more of a conversation with God. For me, as you alluded in your column, many of the prayers that we say tend to lose meaning after a while because we do them from memory as a part of Sunday services or evening family time.

Not that the answer to my prayers is going to be any different, but I take my prayers to God (when I do pray) as someone who would take a request or a plea for help to a friend or family member. I see God more as someone wanting to be the friend who wants to hear you and help you rather than the friend you're bowing down to. Not the most traditional view, I'm sure, but then again my traditional views have changed as I've gotten older.

Leading a Noir Life

This afternoon, I was cleaning out some old photos and images that I had saved on my computer, and ran across this image of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks." I have never quite been able to put my finger on what it is, but there's something about this painting that has always appealed to me -- late night in the big city, the somewhat film noir feel to it, the era of the 1940s when this was first put on canvas.

So, for this entry, I'm simply putting this out there for you to look at and see what images and thoughts come to your mind.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?

I found this quiz posted over at Ipanema's site and decided to pop through it quickly. The results are pretty much spot-on -- although after having left the Hill after 10 years, I'm not so sure that I agree with the assertion that I would make a fantastic politician.

So what about you??

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well. An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly. You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view. A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Chef Ramsay: The Salvation of My Summer TV Viewing

Many of my friends bemoan the fact that the arrival of summer means that the quality of television programming is going to drop off considerably. Yes, there's no "Lost" or "The Office" or "30 Rock" for the next several months, and true, there are some less-than-adequate shows that are starting to pop up (must we really endure another round of "America's Got Talent"??).

But there is hope, and hope, thy name is Gordon Ramsay.

I got hooked on "Hell's Kitchen" when it premiered two years ago, and season three begins tonight. Ramsay is an incredible chef who has a tremendous international reputation, has published some amazing cookbooks, and hosted a few great series which aired (originally) on the BBC and have since been shown on BBC America here in the States. If you ever have the opportunity to see episodes of "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares," I recommend you watch; the premise of the series is that Ramsay travels to different restaurants throughout Britain that are having problems with staffing, food, clientele size, etc. After observing them, he offers suggestions on how to solve all of their problems, and then returns six months later to see if they were even listening to what he had to say. Good stuff -- and my wife is stunned that I love shows about cooking and actually hate to cook!!

In short, I'm disappointed that "Lost" is gone for nearly a year, but Ramsay will help get me through the next few weeks.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Life as a Parable

More and more in recent weeks, the amount of sleep I get at night has been determined in large part by the whims of my oldest daughter; nights where she sleeps soundly in her own room mean I'll be out for a while, but on nights where she wants to come in our room or have one of us (usually me) tuck her in several times during the night means I'm not getting many z's. Today, I thought I would try and catch up on some missed sleep by catching an afternoon nap, but MB decided to use that time to ask me repeatedly to get her juice or watch her while she played with her new Little Mermaid doll.

Naturally, I got frustrated and said something to the effect of, "I can't sleep at night because of her, and now I can't even sleep during the day because of her" as I was pounding down the stairs to get the juice box prepared for her. My wife heard me, and later on walked up to me, hugged me, and said, "Don't worry -- you're a good father."

I've been thinking about that all afternoon; I really do try to be a good father, but -- as with many things in life -- it gets frustrating at times. Then, I thought about God: how many times has He been awake at night because of our whims? How many times have we wanted something to drink and have asked Him for it repeatedly until we get it? How many times has He tucked us in at night or been patient with us as we try to decide where we're going to sleep/what we're going to do next? How frustrating can we be/are we to Him every day? Even after all of that, He is still a good father to us.

Life really is a series of parables, and perhaps we should all take a bit of time to find the meaning, message, and purpose of these parables.