Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

1957. First Christmas with my baby brother (John). Peace to all today and each new day!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happen again

This morning we sit in our
Family room by our tree heavy
With thirty-nine years of memories  
We decorated on Friday,
Yes, that Friday
The only day and only time
We could get together,
Go to the nearest lot
Because we couldn’t pull off
A trip to the tree farm
To cut a “real” one,
We watch the news
Resift the details
The impossible
So simply repeated
And it appears that
We will keep talking, posturing
And arguing
But actually doing little,
If nothing,
To see that it doesn’t
Happen again

Friday, December 7, 2012

Yes, I still take the daily paper

Yes, I still take the daily paper. Other than the physical shifts in my body, this may be the truest sign of my drifting toward extinction (more specifically, being old).
It seems ridiculous that I still subscribe. I spend most days hovering near some type of Internet-connected screen and frequently look at numerous news sites. By the time the actual paper arrives I’ve already caught the news, many times over.
I wonder what will finally force me to end my daily practice: economics (why pay for it when it’s free online?), environmental concerns (do we need to be using paper this way?) or technology (they go under and stop printing!).
In recent years our local paper has been sold from one mega-corporation to another, been through numerous shifts in executive and editorial leadership and shrunk in size. All of this, along with staff reductions and moving printing services out of town, can be viewed as last-ditch attempts at life support for the industry.
So why do I still take the local paper? It may be little more than sentiment and habit, but it is real. Here’s something of an overview of my “relationship” with newspapers.


(I’m old, but this part is before I was born.) My dad sets the table: it’s in our blood and bones. I remember him telling stories of selling papers on the streets of Portland during the Big One, WWII. He’d rush downtown after school, or skip school altogether, to pick up his papers. Then he would hustle to get a good corner and shout the day’s war reports of troop movements and lives lost trying to sell his stack, fill his pockets with a few coins and be off for fun with friends before the rain overwhelmed the day.


I got a weekly suburban neighborhood route as soon as I was deemed old enough. There is a family story of how I was tricked into getting a route when I got a new bike for Christmas. I initially made something like six or seven dollars a month and some tips, if lucky. After a few years I got a daily route, a Journal route making about 15 bucks a month.
The (Oregon) Journal was the afternoon paper in Portland. It had something of a reputation for being the choice of the blue-collar strata. The Oregonian was the morning rag of the elitist white-collar segment. Our family always took The Journal, until it was absorbed into The Oregonian.
The paper routes were my first source of earned money. I bought model cars and record albums. I opened a bank account and bought ice cream sodas at the drug store counter. I went to movies and spent summer days at the county fair, all funded, at least in part, by paper route money.
I guess I delivered papers from about age 12 until 16. Being a paperboy (“boy” was the term in that era) in Portland took commitment. The paper had to be delivered in a small time window and the legendary rain was no respecter of my childhood comforts. I’d stuff papers in my canvas bag and take off walking or on my bike. The trick was to get the papers delivered before the rain soaked through the bag, doubling its weight and leading to frustrated customers. Collecting was another grind. Trying to catch people at home and willing to pay was tough enough. Their flimsy excuses always trumped the impending deadline to pay my monthly bill. I was glad when I found other part-time work and gave up the route.


Moving away from home for college and marriage I became acquainted with a number of new papers. All were simpler reflecting the smaller towns that were home for a year, two, maybe three in that era. The smallest paper was a weekly in a town of about 1,500. We’d laugh at the rural simplicity. Weekend visitors from the big city of Portland, all of 75 miles away, would warrant a paragraph or two. For all the mocking we did, we continued with a mail subscription for a year or more after moving away.


We settled into Bellingham in 1979, and it is still our home. It is something of a “just right” place to live. Throughout the years we have taken the daily. With our local involvements we (myself, my wife and our two sons) have each individually and on some occasions collectively found our way into a story here and there over the years.


Similar to my parents, I “encouraged” my sons to be paper carriers (sounds like a disease). A route near our home was open and they could work together or trade off days. It would be a good learning experience for them both.
Let’s just say it was one of my overly optimistic moments and one son continued with the route. It was afternoon delivery for the five weekdays and an early morning delivery on the weekends. I’d get up early on weekends and we’d deliver the papers together. Afterwards we’d go to the neighborhood bakery for hot chocolate and old-fashioned donuts. On some days I’d let my son sleep and do the route by myself.
Late in the time our son had a route, the paper made the switch to all morning delivery. Kids as paper carries were soon a thing of the past and drivers now cover the routes. Looks like a slim chance my grandkids will ever deliver papers.


I think we are one of the few people on our street who still subscribe. By the time it gets here, around 6:00 a.m., I’ve long past read the real news. Yet I still enjoy holding the paper with its semi-rough feel and almost-but-not-quite-musty smell. I kind of like it when I notice smudges of ink on my fingers.
Then there is the content: looking for the local stuff, human interest stories, local sports with family names I recognize, business transitions, local history, the stuff with other community angles — and, of course the obits, again looking for people I know (two friends have passed away during the days I’ve been working on this). The ads and coupons are helpful for some of our shopping needs or habits.
I loved the comics growing up. Now I follow a few, but they seem to have a rapidly declining draw. This week’s Sunday paper came with news that they had switched providers and would be dropping five or six more of the regulars.
In what may be the proverbial last straw, we got a letter from the publisher this week informing us of a rate hike to pay for increased web-based services. My wife suggested we go to Sunday only. Maybe web only. Something’s gotta give.
Why have I continued to get a paper for so long? It’s a ritual and I like it. I realize a ritual for one may look ridiculous to another. But it’s my ritual and giving it up won’t be easy.
May God have mercy on us all.

also https://www.catapultmagazine.com/print/article/yes-i-still-take-the-daily-paper

Monday, November 26, 2012

a poem for Cyber Monday

Only a fool
would post a poem
on Cyber Monday

Who is going to
waste precious nano-seconds
reading poetry
when they could be
making the deal
of their life
saving 20, no 30
maybe, if they are
quick and lucky,
over 50%
(with free 2 day shipping)
on something
they desperately need
or have wanted for
a very long time,
well, at least, since they first saw
the pop-up this morning

Yes, only a fool
would post a poem
on Cyber Monday
but come to think of it
only fools
write poems

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

alone awake
or at least the only
the only one out of bed
darkness holds all around
but will soon give way
to morning light

children, hungry, thirsty
and playful
adults will sip coffee,
I'll stick with my tea,
we'll read the paper with
talk of football
and Black Friday
and who is coming, and when
there will be memories, too,
of who is not here
and who can't be here

food prep, that began
days ago, will shift
into overdrive
it will be like all others
but it will be different
and we will be thankful,

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Isn't it strange...

Isn't it strange
how when someone,
maybe anyone,
as best as they can
to follow Jesus,
to actually live like Jesus,
they may very well
end up
being treated
like Judas?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Last words on election day 2012

Been here before,
A number of times,
Gave up thinking
It will change
Years ago

Do my part
Hope for the best
Oh, and no matter
What happens
Treat everybody
Decent on Wednesday

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Coffee shop musak drones on
Doing battle with the humming
Refrigerator, clanking of dishes
And cars outside accelerating,
Slashing through rain, to make the light

A song I never liked, a group I never cared for
Makes me beg for a commercial
Yet, revives a memory
Of laughter and banter
Connected to something that is no more

The song is gone
And I look out the window
At drenched trees with leaves aflame
Soon to drop
And be no more

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Things I Don't Like

Number one. Going to the doctor.

Not that going to the doctor
is the number one thing
that I don't like.
It's just, that it's the next thing
I need to do, that I don't like.
So, it defaults to be the
first thing on the list.
There are many other things that
I don't like. I know there are.
But I can't think
of them now.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dear Rain,

Dear Rain,

This may be a difficult conversation.
You left about three months ago
No notice or warning
One day you're with us
Next day gone
We're not used to this
At times you've been away
For a week or two
But this was different
Day after day
Week after week
Until we started counting by months
We heard you were in other places
Far away places
Let's be honest
We thought you didn't care
And so we moved on
Seemingly endless sunny days
We got used to it
But this morning you came back
There was a bit of warning
Things felt different
The past few days
Guess you can come and go
As you please
But you need to understand
We are people
We have feelings
What we're trying to say
Is that we may need to
Renegotiate this relationship
We sincerely hope you understand

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For Kyle

From August to December
Or January when we’re lucky
Sunshine and sound breeze
Fold into the fickle autumn
That vacillates between
Days of Indian Summer and
Others of unrelenting rain
Eventually giving way to
Dark, too short days of bitter
Whipping wind
With more rain from near any direction
Or an occasional snowfall,
Which is almost a welcome relief

Long drives with predictable radio chatter
We’ll talk a bit; kids and work
But mostly players and the game
What might happen
What is hoped for
And what is feared
We park and walk and talk some more
Tend to our pregame rituals
Eventually arriving at our seats
To once again greet our neighbors,
Our friends;
Jordan, George, Sam and others,
We know more by face than name

The pregame frenzy
Usually finds me wiping tears
Being together, game after game
Year after year
The hope of what might happen
And the acceptance of what does
Shared moments and memories
The game begins
We ride the waves  
The schizophrenic dance of
Winner’s celebrations and losers mutterings
Then its over and we make the walk to the car
And talk about next time












Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The list

Step number 1:
Make a list of all the things I can’t control

Step number 1: redo
Make a list of all the things I can control

Step number 1: redo, redo
Forget the list

Friday, September 14, 2012


I originally wrote this for our 35th anniversary. today is our 38th.


Sometimes I wasn’t sure
We’d make it
Sometimes I wasn’t sure
I wanted to

When we started
I assumed we’d get here
Expected us to stay together
But had no clue what was ahead
Or what it would take

It’s not a milestone,
Like fifty
But well past twenty-five
People notice twenty-five and fifty
Appears thirty-five
Is no big deal
According to public opinion,
At least

Memories made
And more forgotten
Seasons of devotion
And trials of anxiety
Grace remembered
And offenses forgiven
And much forgiven again

It is the choice we made
The path we’ve followed
And I would choose it again
I think I do
I hope we do

Thursday, August 30, 2012

technically... continued

this must be what it's like
for a pilot holding space
in the sky
at the discretion of
some unnamed controller
so near your destination,
you can see it, almost smell it
but unable to
make your "final descent"

do they play games?
counting how many of your
friends are also circling
or the alphabet one
hoping to see someone from
Qantas to get that "Q"
before unnecessarily banking a turn
laughing while passengers
gasp and grab

anything to quell the boredom
but, technically... they are on the clock

Monday, August 27, 2012


technically i'm on the clock
waiting for an answer
a bit of information
before i can take my next step

it's been about 40 minutes
i ate my lunch
checked email, facebook and twitter
surfed the web
news, sports, books
chatted with a
couple of others
who were, also, waiting for
permission to go forward

i suppose this is somehow good
for my impatient tendencies
but i am not convinced

oh, wait, i just slid in my request
according to my sense of this rhythm
i've got about 10 to 15 more minutes
enough time to kill
but not enough to focus
or start a project
but then again,
technically, i'm on the clock

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fast food notion

I’m generally known as self-disciplined person, someone who sets and meets goals. I’ve beaten the odds, done the unexpected, gone beyond and proven doubters — and myself — wrong. It is a big part of what I do, helping others make progress through life challenges and toward desired changes.
About five years ago my Mom had a stroke, actually her third stroke. I had a habit of drinking three or four…okay five or more cans of diet Coke a day. My doctor had encouraged me to cut down. I blew it off, until that day. While visiting the hospital I decided no more. I have not had a diet Coke, or any other artificially sweetened soda, since. None, zero, period, end of conversation.
And I didn’t replace it with a similar course of sugar-sweetened soda. My “treat” is to drink about one (real) Coke a week and generally get by on unsweetened tea or water.
In spite of my discipline of ceasing to drink diet Coke, I fail when it comes to food. I could be referred to as a “fast food person.” Not that I frequent fast food restaurants — no, I eat fast.  Too fast.
“Hi, I’m Jim.”
“Hi, Jim.”
 “I eat fast. Way too fast.”
It’s something of a life long habit. The end result is that I not only eat too fast, I eat too much. I know the equation, eat fast and the message can’t get from your stomach to your mind soon enough to tell you to stop.
I learned much of my love of food in my extended family.  We would eat and then we would talk about eating. If you mentioned going out someone would ask, “Where’d you go?” which means, “What restaurant?” The follow-up is, “What did you have?” Which leads to comparisons with other restaurants, family recipes or a wandering conversation touching on various food related topics. Many of us worked in food services at one time or another. My first paycheck was from a restaurant, where my grandfather worked as well.  
My Mom’s identity was in feeding “the boys.” That included my Dad, my brother, me and any friends or family who might be around. She often said her greatest joy was seeing us eat. When my sons came along, she became known as the “cinnamon roll Grandma.” Neighborhood kids would swarm our yard upon her arrival in anticipation of the famous treats.
In my young adult years I was anxious, driven, overly responsible. I was worried I’d never do enough, get it all done or do things quite right. I pushed others, but never as much as I pushed my self.  As a program director at a Christian conference center, my responsibilities included coordinating summer staff. At mealtime I’d sit where I could see the room, all of the comings and goings, inhale my food. This would allow me to move from table to table checking in with staff members, keeping the flow of the day going.
As time progressed my work became less active; meetings, desk time and travel. Food related activities increased: mealtime meetings, working lunches, events and celebrations, and work trips with their endless parade of buffets and nameless restaurants. At the same time my metabolism went south. You can guess the result.
When the term multi-tasking became vogue, I felt I’d found my level. I loved the idea of being able to do multiple things as quickly as possible. I’d amaze mere mortals by crushing deadlines, managing an overly full schedule, holding together diverse interests, programs and people. Checking things off a list became a matter of identity. Accomplishment equaled value.
As time progressed, I was able to gain a better understanding of reasonable expectations for self and others. I became more aware of what could and couldn’t be controlled. I think others would agree that I became much more relaxed in relationships and responsibilities.  I found ways to live more by flow than a driven linear model. I learned it’s not always worth getting things done if relationships are sacrificed in the process. I’m much more at peace with life, the world, others and myself.  You might think this deep sense of balance would permeate all of my life. You might be wrong. I still eat too much, too fast.
I’ve developed strategies to change my behavior. I try to be the last served, wait for others in a meal line, chew more, put down my fork, sip water, converse — anything to slow my pace, but with little success. I hate when others notice and comment. It proves my weakness and failure at mastering this ever-hovering ghost.
I could make a case that this is some divine gift to keep me humble, remembering I can’t do everything. I know about strength in weakness, waiting, trusting, letting go, spiritual disciplines and self-control. And I still know I eat too fast.
Wisdom and science agree. Eating slower is better. Maybe someday my eating habits will align with best practices. Or maybe I’ll just have to keep working on it.
May God have mercy on us all.

also https://www.catapultmagazine.com/fast-food-nation/article/fast-food-notion

Thursday, June 21, 2012

X, Y & Z

First day of summer
Always first of something
And last of something else
Who do I know,
Correct that, did I know, that
Won’t see this one,
This summer, I mean

If I stop and
Think and
The reality,
Possibly the stupidity,
Of spending today
Looking forward to
The completion of X,
The end of Y and
The arrival of Z
I can keep finishing,
Acquiring, accomplishing
Until there is no more
And, yes,
That would include
No more of me

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bittersweet, but I'll drink it anyway.

My wife wishes I liked to drink. In particular, she wishes I enjoyed wine. I think she envisions summer evenings, watching the sunset, leisure conversation while we each nurse a glass and let time slow its pace, eventually disappearing over the horizon. But I have never cared for the taste of wine or any other alcoholic beverage. I don’t like coffee either, but that’s another story.
If you knew of our two childhoods, I’d be the logical drinker. Her family had strict views against alcohol consumption and we’ve been told her grandmother was a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Alcohol wasn’t allowed in the house and I’m guessing even its mention would have been discouraged. On the other hand, my family were drinkers — drinking and cards, drinking and dancing, drinking and friends, drinking and being alone and drinking and drinking (though my mom didn’t drink much compared to the rest of the tribe).

Exactly who were the alcoholics in my family is debatable from my youthful perspective. Some my parents named, others I’m only guessing, like the cousin from California who’d call and talk to whoever would listen, for a long time, long distance, and that was expensive — really expensive. Mom had an uncle who lived across the river. He was in and out of treatment until he died relatively young. There was an older relative who lived about a dozen years after his spouse died, drinking alone in the big family home. I remember a great uncle stone cold drunk, laid out on a picnic table at a Memorial Day family reunion. Little ones giggled and poked. Were it not for his occasional snoring and the movement of his chest, we’d have given him up for dead.

There were great parties at my grandparents’ home with a full bar in the basement party room. I would be upstairs with my brother supposedly sleeping. Within days my grandmother would cover the wall with pictures of the event. We rarely knew many of those in attendance.

And yet, I never liked the taste of anything with alcohol. I can enjoy looking around a wine shop and on occasion, I’ll buy a bottle for Connie as a gift. I’m fascinated by the places wine is made, the varieties, the names and the labels. Then, when we’re out for an evening, Connie might encourage me to try a sip of her wine. She thinks she may have found one I’ll like. I sip. “It tastes like wine,” is my usual response.

A few years back, we went to Europe and spent time in the Barolo region of Italy, a famous wine country with hills and vineyards, castles and cathedrals, twisting roads and town plazas, great food and friendly people. I enjoyed the time, but not the wine.  Sometimes I wonder if I stay away from it because of some fear that I could become an alcoholic. But then I try another taste and, no thanks. I just don’t like it.
There are times I wish I could enjoy drinking to be one of the gang, like happy hour overlooking Bellingham bay, at a ball game, holidays with gathered family and friends. If anything could push me to drink, it would be my concern over people thinking I’m not drinking because of some Christian conviction. Please — I spent my young adult years in that culture and it seemed to feed so much contrary to the way of Jesus.

In my early days I was the kind of Baptist for whom drinking was an absolute NO. There was an endless number of other taboos as well. I’ve spent most of my adult years as a Presbyterian. I learned quickly that many, if not most, Presbyterians drank, a few smoked and quite a few would swear — a big change from my Baptist days.  In both church settings, the so-called blood of communion was watered-down grape juice.  One church even noted it in the bulletin to quell the fears of any alcoholics in the crowd. Might have been a good caution based on my knowledge of some of the folks who attended.

This past year Connie and I have gone to the neighborhood Episcopal church more than anywhere else. I like it for a number of reasons. I love the old building, inside and out. I love homilies, in big part because they are short. There are no giant screens or dazzling PowerPoint presentations overwhelming the visual space. The people seem genuinely friendly and reasonably diverse for our community.  It’s close to home and the theology seems to allow some refreshing space.

Then there is communion, or, more accurately, the Eucharist. I knew it was going to be different than my past experiences. First, it happens every week (and actually, more than once a week if you want). There is more ceremony; it is clearly a focal point of the gathering. And I like that.

Then there’s the matter of the shared cup. My initial thoughts tended toward communicable diseases and my impending death. But I like it. I can fantasize that we either live together or die together. A bit extreme, but doesn’t your mind wander in church?

And then there is the wine issue. This is the real stuff, not juice and not watered down. I can’t say that turning wine into a liturgical element has changed my sense of liking it. There has been no divine moment, no miracle in which my taste buds were resurrected.
To be honest, I still don’t like the taste, and I try to drink as little as I can while still feeling that I have participated. But actually, I like that I don’t like it. I like that sense of inching closer to the altar, of getting closer to the moment of tasting. There’s a bit of a jolt, as I am reminded, “I don’t like it, but it’s good.” Maybe it helps me sense the power of the moment.  Maybe it’s being faithful beyond my convenience and comfort.  Maybe it’s remembering that Jesus’ bloodletting wasn’t a sweet ceremony.

I highly doubt that my distaste for wine will change and I don’t care. In fact, I hope I don’t get so comfortable with the taste that it becomes boring.  I want each sip to be bit of a wake up moment, a reminder that I am participating in something important, something truly holy and something different.
Maybe in the Eucharist — in the moment, in the wine, in the taste — I am gaining a new understanding of the term bittersweet. I may never like it, but my hope is that I will always love it.

May God have mercy on us all. 

Originally published in catapult Magazine: