Risking It

When I was younger, I tended to not follow the trend of my peers. People in their teens and twenties tend to view themselves as indestructible and will often do some pretty dangerous stuff. I was the opposite most of the time. I would be very calculated before making a decision to do something. I can only think of a handful of occasions when I would let someone talk me into doing something which I viewed as risky. Planning out my actions was my normal mode of operation and within my plan was an understanding of the level of risk which I would assume.

Over time this would change in small increments. As I observed others, I came to realize that only by taking managed risks could I grow and improve my status in life. Becoming a leader in many organizations and in my career helped me to see that risk is necessary if growth and positive change are going to occur. If you are not growing then you are actually taking steps backwards do to your inactivity.

It has become clear to me that risk is necessary in life. Granted, the risk should be measured for sure. There is a huge difference between risks which are thought through and just going full speed into a risky situation. Humans are designed for self survival. Our bodies and minds alert us to risk in an effort to protect and preserve ourselves. However, taking risks and accepting the possibility of failure are vital if you are going to move forward in life.

Unfortunately, many people choose to stay in the comfortable. They like the feeling of knowing what is coming their way. They view risk as a dangerous step. Often though they are one of the first to complain that they do not enjoy life and feel they have been slighted in some way.

When my husband and I decided to move to Texas so that he could accept a new position, I was very concerned about the risk we were taking. Both of us had spent a majority of our lives in Iowa, in fact, he had always lived in Iowa. We knew only a handful of people in Texas and had no family connections here. What would I do for employment? Where could we afford to live? How could we financially manage through such a huge transition? What about our children? All these questions made the level of risk seem very high for me. I resisted for quite some time. Then events in our lives seemed to indicate to me that it was time to take a risk. This would give us a chance to start fresh and since we were newly married we could now begin to form the life both of us desired without some ghosts of our past.

I will tell you that this risk has been very positive. We have come to love our new city and are beginning to search out our forever home. Our relationship has benefited and I feel re-energized. I have launched in a new direction with my writing. Taking the risk was necessary.

What might you need to risk? What is holding you back? If you take the risk, what could be the positive outcome?

A Memorial Day Celebration

Like thousands of citizens across the nation, I celebrated Memorial Day weekend. After taking care of the lawn and the house Saturday morning, we headed out in the afternoon to a wonderful brew pub located on Magnolia Avenue, just south of downtown Fort Worth. This area has been revitalized and has many nice shops and restaurants located along the avenue. We were looking for a pet-friendly venue and found it at Brewed. Their website makes two statements:

FORT WORTH’S GATHERING PLACE

FOR COMFORT FOOD, CRAFT COFFEE & COCKTAILS.

and

The Locals’ Living Room

I would say that both statements were correct.

We allowed our dog, Leroy, to join us on the outing. The establishment allows dogs as long as you sit on the patio in back. We found a terrific table located under a beautiful tree. With a nice breeze, it was not too hot for men or dog on this shaded and beautiful patio.

Each of us chose a local, craft beer to drink. When we first arrived the menu was still their brunch menu but within minutes they were changing over to their regular menu so the waitress gave us new menus. We wanted some appetizers to enjoy with our beers. After reviewing the options, we choose the “bucket of bacon.” (Now I am falling love with this place.) Really, a BUCKET OF BACON. What could be better? There were three differently season slices of bacon plus pork rinds. All three of us, yes Leroy got some samples, enjoyed this appetizer. We followed this one up with pretzel sticks (not the thin ones but ones the size of bread sticks) which came with both mustard and melted cheese to choose as a dipping sauce.

Leroy
Bucket of Bacon

Our Sunday adventure led us to a small community located an hour southwest of Fort Worth, Granbury. Both of us had read about this community and a special field which contained more than 1000 U.S. flags in honor of military personnel. They also featured a festival in the community in recognition of Memorial Day.

Field of Flags

As we were driving into the community, we came first to the field of flags. This was truly a breathtaking sight to see. We pulled into the parking area, so we could get out of the car and explore this display. On the edge of the display was a tent with volunteers so if you were looking for the flag of a specific individual, they could check a list and tell you exactly where the flag was located. In one location, they had placed large pictures of some significant soldiers and sailors on easels. Each picture also had some information about that individual. Another display gave information about the 74 sailors who lost their lives during the Vietnam war when the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Frank E Evans, turned into the path of an Australian aircraft carrier and was cut in half. Walking between the rows and rows of U.S. flags reminds a person of the sacrifices and service of those who served to protect and defend the United States of America. A great reminder of what Memorial Day weekend is about.

Our journey then took us into the heart of the community and to the courthouse square. Vendors had tents set up on the streets around the square. We arrived toward the end of the afternoon, so they were starting to close up shop, but we were able to walk around and get a feel for all the vendors at the festival. Our research had also told us about a lighted boat parade which was scheduled to take place on Lake Granbury. Since we had never been to the community or this celebration before, we stopped at one of the local shops around the square to ask where the best place to view the parade might be. A shop keeper gave us all the details which led us to decide to park near the city beach we had passed to view the parade.

The parade would not start for another three hours, so we chose to walk back toward the square looking for a place to sit down, get something to eat and something to drink. The Filin‘ Station was located on one of the corners of the square. We decided that would be a place to check out. We were not disappointed. An old gas station converted to a small restaurant with a great patio gave us that hometown feeling which fit our day. Our waitress, Peggy, was a returned American Airline employee who definitely knew how to make you feel comfortable and provided great service. The food was excellent and beer from a local brewery made for a nice respite from the day’s heat.

After spending some time at our new discovery, Peggy gave us to-go cups filled with water, and we were on our way back to the city beach to stake out our location for watching the lighted boat parade. A perfect spot just off of the beach in a grassy area provided an excellent view and some shade to sit under while we awaited the parade. A cool breeze off the lake made us very comfortable. When dusk arrived, the parade began from a location at one end of the lake area. We could see it traveling along the opposite coast line. In little time, it had reached a nearby bridge where it turned and moved down the coast upon which we sat. Our expectation had been for ten or twelve lighted boats. We were surprised to discover the parade had over thirty entries which were spectacular to see. A perfect way to end our day before returning home.

If you are in the area during Memorial Day weekend, I encourage you to check out Granbury. You will not be disappointed. We plan on returning for one of their many other festivals during the year.

Goodbye Sweet One

Today is a very difficult day for me. I have to say good bye to a dear friend and member of my family. For fifteen years he has been beside me. Going on many walks. Joining me on new adventures. He has always listened when no one else seemed to have the time. He has been a great companion and always faithful friend. But he has been more than just a friend. He has been an integral part of my life and family. Today I say good bye to Hercules (Herky) Howland, my beloved dog.

Herky came into my life as the most adorable puppy in spite of my great reluctance. On a warm summer’s day while attending a concert of the community band on the courthouse lawn, some local residents were walking through the crowd carrying a couple of puppies. Their dog had an unplanned pregnancy thanks to a neighborhood dog. They had two of the litter left which had not found homes and they were looking for friend forever homes for them. My wife and youngest son saw them and immediately started paying attention to them. We already had a dog at home, a miniature schnauzer, and I had no intention of adding a second dog.

The female puppy was the first to be introduced to me and while I agreed she was extremely cute, I stood firm with my decision that we were not going to add another dog to the household. Then the male puppy was brought over to me and the current owner was insightful enough to place him in my arms. He settled in and fell asleep on my arm. I could not hold out any longer, the adorable fur ball had won my heart. After the owner talked with us for a while to make sure we were a good family to take the puppy, he agreed we were now owners of a new puppy. I told my wife and son to go to a local store and pick up a collar, leash, and new dog bowl for the newest addition to our family. While they were gone, I continued to let our new puppy sleep in my arms. The bond had begun.

The next order of business was to agree upon a name for our new pup. I decided to let our two boys name him. After some discussion and the disqualification of some name choices, my youngest suggested we name him Herky since I was such a strong Hawkeye fan. This suggestion shocked me since at the time he was a Cyclone fan but I did not give him time to change his mind and we now had Herky living with us. Herky would soon acquire the nickname of “Bear” since his fur and features made him look like a bear cub. I expanded his name to Hercules when I took him for his first veterinarian visit because I knew all of the vets were Iowa State graduates and I did not want them to have a bias against him because of his name.

For the next fifteen years, Herky would be may faithful companion. He would take me for walks regularly. I do mean he would take ME for walks because he was always in front and most of the time pulling me along. Herky had a lot of anxiety when it came to car rides so we walked a lot more than we drove anywhere. He loved bacon and knew how to get food from whoever sat at the table. He even enjoyed chocolate, eating a whole pan of fudge more than once when it was not pushed far enough back from the edge of the counter. Herky had a strong opinion and made sure you knew what he disagreed with in clear terms. He would later in life decide that baths were unnecessary and refused to allow me to give him one. Over the last few years, his back hips have not worked well so picking him up became out of the question due to the pain involved.

There are not words which can capture how much Herky has meant to me. When I was struggling with something, he would be right there beside me. He would look at me with those beautiful eyes and seemed to be saying, “It is alright Dad. I am here beside you and will never leave you.” We had a lot of conversations and he helped me sort out a lot of situations. He laid beside me when I was crying. He curled up on the bed with me while I was watching television, at least until he got too warm. He followed me from room to room. He sat at the door waiting for my return from the office and greeted me with great enthusiasm when I came home from a trip. When I grabbed his leash, he would race me to the door and then do circles in eager anticipation which made putting the leash on a bit difficult.

I really do not know how to say good bye to my beloved Herky. The pain I see and hear from him tells me that it is time to let go. I guess what I will have to do is to tell Mom and Dad Howland and Mom and Dad Below to look after my wonderful dog. Please take care of him, take him on walks, play catch with his toys, and hug him for me until I can come and run with him again. Enjoy your new freedom my dear friend! I love you!

Getting It Wrong

I work out every weekday morning at a fitness center. Part of this workout includes spending some time on a treadmill for cardio. In front of these machines is a bank of television sets. One of these is usually tuned into MTV. This station is clearly not the MTV which I was first introduced to in college. I have yet to see a music video during the entire time I have been a member of this fitness center.

The MTV of my younger years was all about music videos but the formatting seems to have changed a lot since then. The show, Ridiculousness, is on a couple of mornings a week. I do not listen to the audio but what I have been able to find out from watching the show, the show is the sharing of a series of videos from the internet. A description of the show found on Google says, “When it comes to Internet videos run amok, however, the more zany, unbelievable and downright dangerous the clips are, the greater the chance they’ll be shown on this series.” The host panel, which includes some celebrity, critiques each video. My opinion of the show is that it should not be on any television station. I began to think about what would make this type of show appealing to anyone as I watch people do very dangerous and painful acts upon themselves and others.

The appeal of this show (liked by 92% of Google users), gives us a glimpse of what has become acceptable in our society. Much like in the days when people would fill the Coliseum in Rome to watch lions and other animals attack humans, people today appear to enjoy watching others perform violent acts. Some may argue that this is the case when it comes to American football as well but I would say that at least there are rules, some forms of bodily protection, and a display of athletic skill. What I have seen on this show is amateur videos where cruel and painful pranks are the norm. The recording of accidents of all types are also often part of the videos shared.

As I watch five or so minutes of this show (because that is all I can stomach), I find myself filled with anger and a great sadness. I become angry because the participants in these videos seem to delight in causing pain to others. I am angry because someone stands there with their smartphones or some other recording device and witnesses these dangerous and violent acts without interceding. Sadness overcomes me to think that I live in a world where many individuals not only accept these actions but even view them as entertaining. This sadness also is due in part to the realization that we have become so numb to these behaviors that we do nothing to stop them.

We are getting it wrong! We need to start taking a stand in regard to what we find acceptable in our world. Our statements against violence toward one another need to be loud and frequent. I would think that we have more options for entertainment which builds us up then what is found in this program. If we do not speak against this, the younger individuals in our society will find this more and more acceptable. We will continue to adopt behaviors more in line with second century Rome than ones in line with an enlightened human race. All of us know that violence begets violence.

Lanterns In the Garden

The highlight of this past weekend was the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens’ “Lanterns In the Garden” event. We had been discussing attending the event since it opened at the end of March. For one reason or another, we had not found a time to go. This Sunday we made time to go which was good since it was the last night for this year’s event. I purchased tickets for the 8:00 pm time slot and even received a discount because I follow the Botanic Gardens on Facebook.

When we arrived about five minutes before our scheduled time, the main parking lot was full. There were plenty of volunteers directing traffic, and we were instructed that we should park in the weekend parking lot. Right before we turned to go to the lot, one of the female volunteers gave us some quick directions by saying, “Right, right, weekend parking.” This became a chant for me since that is the way she said it to us. Throughout the night I would do this chant, and we would laugh.

Once we arrived in the parking lot, we joined a large group of people in line to ride the shuttle back to the main entrance. Eventually, one of the volunteers told us that if we were willing to walk approximately a mile, she would lead us to the entrance. Even though we had taken a bike ride a few hours earlier, we were up for the walk. Some others in the group also took this option rather than wait the ten minutes for the shuttle. The night was beautiful and the walk was nothing strenuous.

Upon arrival at the main entrance, we joined the line. I had purchased our tickets online, so we did not need to wait to buy tickets, but we did have to wait to receive our wristbands after having our tickets scanned. This was the only problematic aspect to the event. The manner in which they had the traffic flowing was not well planned out. The lines crossed each other which created chaos and frustration at times. My recommendation to the organization is to work this out before next year.

Then we headed off into the gardens. We had been to the gardens twice before during the day. The plants and flowers are beautiful. This time though we were focused on the lighted displays as we walked along the garden paths. The displays included bell flowers, colored horses, birds, frogs, alligators, deer, butterflies, tulips, roses, fish, pandas, a dragon, and so much more. The views were breathtaking and the smell of the flowers in the garden added to the sensory experience.

If you are planning on being in Fort Worth next year between March and May, I highly recommend purchasing tickets to this special event. Tickets this year were $18 for adults and less for children. Discounts for a variety of special designations are also available. The gates to the event open at 5:00 pm and the last time to enter is 8:00 pm.

Here are a few of the pictures we took so you have a flavor of what you may see.

A Wonderful Mix

Having spent a majority of my life in Iowa (with two short periods in Nebraska), I was in a state which is pretty homogeneous when it comes to racial diversity. Even though I lived in the capital of Nebraska for a little over three years and the second largest city in Iowa for three years, most of the people who I encountered were white, anglo-saxons like myself. Moving to a metropolitan area of over seven million people has been a delightful change when it comes to diversity.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy the opportunity to sit and watch people. One location which I frequent once or twice a week is Starbucks. I go there for the coffee but I also use the time to either do some research or some planning. An added benefit is the diverse clientele which enters the establishment.

Having the opportunity of seeing and listening to a variety of individuals has given me an appreciation for the tapestry which the Creator made when giving life to humanity. Each person and culture has so much to offer.

The diversity which I have experienced in my new community allows me to expand my perceptions of the human race. I have always tried to be open to new people and new cultures but really never lived in community with individuals significantly different from myself. Each new experience right now is fresh. Over time, I am sure that I will become more accustomed to these new encounters and not give it as much thought as I currently do.

No matter how long it will be until this diversity becomes the norm in my thoughts, I will treasure each experience as it comes my way.

Acceptance

The desire to be accepted is something which I think we all share. The level of the desire may be different but each person seems to want someone and/or someplace which seems accepting of who we are. Each of us can relate to the theme song from the 80s sitcom, Cheers. We want a place where “everyone knows our name.”

One of the struggles that I have had is accepting myself. I am a person who can always find areas where I can improve. Pointing out the weaknesses and imperfections which I have is easy for me. This is a double-edged sword. Being self-aware and having the ability to see areas of improvement has helped me to grow. In some situations, I have aggressively worked on making necessary changes which have led to positive steps forward. Yet, there are some areas where I am not able to change; areas which are truly beyond my control or ability.

I think that improving self-acceptance begins with understanding the reason(s) I am not able to accept part(s) of me. As mentioned above, this understanding can lead to naming areas where I am able to make improvements. Other times this understanding can show me that my struggle with accepting myself is driven by reasons which I self-impose. I may see another person and wish I was more like them. I even convince myself that since I am not like them, I am not worthy or acceptable. Envy can play a role in my battle as well. I want what someone else has. I convince myself that if I were only better, I could have it as well.

I continually have to remind myself that some parts of my life I can change while other parts are not within my abilities to change. I cannot change the look of my face or basic structure of my body but I can change my weight or the way I take care of my physical presence. I cannot change financial and employment decisions of the past but I can adopt different financial management approaches and the type of employment which I seek. One part of my life which I tried hard to change but was unchangeable because it is how I was created is my sexual orientation.

Throughout a large part of my life, I hated who I was because of who I was attracted to in life. I tried to “fix” myself. I ignored my feelings and emotions which led me to look at males romantically. For me, it was not acceptable to be gay. I tried to convince myself that there was no reason I could not be romantic with a female, fall in love with a female, and live a “normal” life. The surrounding culture told me that this was the right thing to do and that falling in love and creating a family with a male was physically impossible as well as socially unacceptable. My hatred for myself because of all that I was burning inside grew larger and larger. I dated different women and truly enjoyed my time with them. At some level, I fell in love with a few of them and actually married one of those who I had fallen in love with. Because of that, I now have two amazing sons who I love very much and who have enriched my life in ways I can never fully describe.

Barriers finally began to break down as I grew older. Through some helpful therapy and conversations, I was starting to realize that being a gay man was not something horrid. I realized that it did not go against my belief in God. My sexual orientation is a part of me but not the whole of me. It is a part of me that is not evil or sick or wrong, but how my loving God created me to be. As barriers in society lessened and as I began to have a much different perspective on my sexuality, I was able to start accepting that part of myself. In that acceptance I moved to honesty. This required me to tell some important people in my life the truth and to adjust some important aspects of how I was living my life.

My first step was being honest with my wife and children. This was a difficult and painful step. Grief seemed overwhelming. Admitting I was being unfair to them and myself caused feelings of betrayal. While none of this was easy in any way, it did allow for a moving ahead in life. Working through all the emotions took time. I consider my former wife as a friend. She is someone who I will always care about and have concern for because she was such an important part of my life and as I said, I had fallen in love with her.

My next step was to change where I lived and where I worked. These were not easy changes either. Yet I was fortunate to have found a man who would help me through each of these steps and support me unquestionably. He was there through all my emotions, doubts, and fears. Together we found a faith community that accepted us and did not judge who we are or where we had come from. This faith community helped me to heal and more importantly, helped me to truly accept this part of who I am. Amazingly, this would also be the place where I found employment. I was able to use my gifts to support this community and to continue on my journey of growth.

All this has led me to fully accept and embrace this part my being. I am not at the point of fully accepting myself but this is a large part of me which affected self-perception. Having the ability to accept that I am a gay man has lessened some of my other acceptance issues.

How do you do with accepting yourself? What are the reasons leading you to not accept portions of yourself? Which reasons contain elements that you can change and which ones are not within your ability to change?

If we have the desire to be accepted by others and in various settings, we have to work on accepting ourselves.