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Thursday, July 31, 2003


Enjoying A Cup of Joe

I started drinking coffee when I was 15. At the time I lived in the Kansas City area and I had a job working on a newspaper truck delivering the “Kansas City Star”. My particular job was to deliver about 120 newspapers to an apartment complex. Lots of walking and carrying a heavy bag of morning news. By the way, you probably do not realize the effort it takes to get that newspaper to your door. I had to get up at 2:30 AM to do the job. I slept through a lot of school. Winter time was the toughest. My first cup of coffee was in the winter of my 15th year.

My dad was a letter carrier. He was usually up reading the paper about the time I came crawling in from my route. One frigid winter day he offered me a cup of coffee. He told me it would warm me up, but I knew it would also make me a man so I took him up on his offer.

Yuck! I thought to myself as I took that first sip, but the words that came out meant for my dad were more like Andy Griffith drinking a cup of Maxwell House, “ummmmmm uh, that’s good coffee.”

Since that time I have drank about 10 million cups of coffee. I like it black because that is less complicated. I occasionally get a cafe’ aulait if someone is making an afternoon coffee run. I like the dark roast. I like the dark beers too, but I will save beer talk for another blog.

I love the smell of coffee in the morning. The sound of the pot making its noises as it pumps the water over the beans is part of a home’s heart beat. I like a fresh cup when I get to work. I like a nice hot cup after dinner - sometimes with a little Bailey’s Irish Cream.

On a cool rainy day there is nothing better than piping hot coffee. The sight of a thermos alone is a soothing image. A wait at a doctor’s office or hospital waiting room is much easier when coffee is nearby. You may be drinking it now - take another sip. Joe, brew, battery acid, Java, nectar of the gods - whatever you call it - it is a staple of life.

Non coffee drinkers keep trying to say it causes high blood pressure, nervousness, and any number of ailments. I say, “so what.” It is worth it for a nice cup of coffee in the morning.

I drank coffee before you needed to take out a loan to buy a cup. It is easy these days to pay $3, $4, even $5 for a cup at Starbucks or similar coffee shop. After dinner the other night, my wife and I went through the drive-thru at a coffee shop. Two coffees were $8 and we gave the girl a tip on top of it. I guess anytime you can get two cups of coffee for $8 you should show your gratitude.

My Krupps coffee maker was getting long in the tooth so one day browsing at a Bed Bath and Beyond I spotted a Cuisinart coffee maker system. This machine did it all. It grinds the beans, spits the grounds into the basket and drips the water all in one process. Fresh ground and dripped coffee. It cost me $100 but it was worth it. When you push the button to start the coffee making process the Cuisinart makes a loud noise that sounds like a shop vac. I consider that an alarm clock feature.

So those are some random thoughts about coffee. I could write more, but I need to go pour myself another cup. Enjoy your morning coffee.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Wednesday, July 30, 2003


My Existential Angst

The older I get the more opportunities I have to contemplate my mortality. I am going to die someday. Many of you may already be saying, “oh, I don’t even want to think about it.” The “it” being the fact that you too are going to die one day. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, but I understand a lot of them. One rule is that we die. The “existential angst” is the process you go through to get to “OK”.

One cannot really live until they accept their death. If on television tonight there were a news flash stating that ice water would vanish from the earth in two days, wouldn’t you run to the ice maker and prepare a tall glass of ice water? It is the same principle with accepting your own vanishing. If you accept it you will squeeze the life out of what time you have.

A while back I wrote a poem about this process in me. I called it Remembrance. It goes like this:


I am a man One of billions now living
One of billions of billions before me
Insignificant by number
By achievement
By wealth
By status

Who will remember me when I am gone?
What I looked like?
What I said?
What I did?

Will they say I made a difference?
That their lives were better because of me?
Will they miss me?

Still I know that the passing time will sweep away all remembrance of me
I will lie in a field beneath a stone one of hundreds
And the things I did and said
The experiences I had will be lost
And I will be forgotten

How precious then is this moment we share
Let us not spend it in anger or fear or worry
For even this will be forgotten

Instead open your heart and mind to love
Savor this gift we call life
Drink it in through every pore with every sense you have

When I am gone and as long as I am remembered
May they remember this about me
That I was here
I was happy
I tried to love and laugh
And I was thankful for my life

Until the next time,
John Strain


Tuesday, July 29, 2003


Psych Humor

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life's realities.--Dr. Seuss

Working in a psychiatric hospital can be very funny. Don’t get me wrong, psychiatric hospitalization is a serious, sometimes traumatic, but hopefully worthwhile experience. To laugh at what happens from time to time does not make one an insensitive clod. As a matter of fact, one of my most useful tools as I work with patients is my humor.

I am not the kind of person to stand up and rattle off a bunch of jokes. I am someone who sits back and pounces on straight lines. The thing is, to me every line is a straight line. Some straight lines are too easy and I let them go, some straight lines are potentially dangerous, but I usually take the risk.

Our particular hospital currently treats the chronic mentally ill. These are the people with schizophrenia primarily. They are disabled and cannot work. Their thinking is disturbed and can be quite bizarre. Many of them live in group homes or are homeless. They are the disturbed of the disturbed.

Like emergency room humor, psych humor is a way to acknowledge a reality and to relieve your own stress. Staff can let off steam and tension when they laugh then be more attentive and helpful to the patients. So psych humor is very necessary. Staff who are “tight asses” don’t usually last long. One must be careful not to laugh at a patient or joke while patients are in earshot. However, in the daily intake meeting or in the staffing room all bets are off.

Having presented a brief disclaimer / explanation I will proceed with a few funny events and situations. It should be noted that some of this may not translate, but I will try anyway.

• Once we had a patient whose first name was “Jack.” You can imagine the lines. What was funny was how so many staff played along. I said to the head nurse, “We have been discussing whether Jack should be on visual contact, should we let Jack off?” “Is Jack on visual contact?” someone would ask, “no, Jack’s off.”

• One patient followed me around giving me numbers scribbled on scrap paper he swore were the winning lotto numbers. He always made me promise to give him 50%.

• Once a patient was admitted for doing a self-circumcision (ouch, I have to lay in the fetal position just thinking about it.) I am not kidding. He had schizophrenia and read up on the circumcision procedure. One day he anesthetized himself with booze and began to cut. He passed out and woke up in a pool of blood. Eventually he was taken to the hospital and finally came to us for psychiatric treatment. Anyway, I asked him, “why did you perform a circumcision on yourself?” He told me, “I always prided myself in having a high threshold of pain.” I told him, “brother, I will never question your pain tolerance.”

• One patient had the delusion that her psychiatrist loved her and was going to marry her. She went so far as to place a wedding announcement in the local newspaper. This came as some surprise to his wife.

• At one time on our unit we had two Gods. We worked at keeping them apart. We did not want to see what would happen when two supreme beings met.

• I was once propositioned in a very vulgar way by a patient who lost her temper. The proposition was complete with dropped pants and hand signals.

The real laughs are the combinations of patients, staff, and families over the course of a day. One of my favorite times is when the music therapist breaks out the karaoke machine. You talk about “no shame” and “tone deaf.”

The bottom line is “laugh”. Laughter is medicine. It is a common language that can bridge the gap between people whether patient, staff, or anyone else.

Until the next time,

John Strain


Monday, July 28, 2003


It’s Monday Again

On Monday mornings I am dedicated to the proposition that all men are created jerks.
H. Allen Smith, "Let the Crabgrass Grow"

It’s Monday again. You did not need me to tell you that, one look at the faces of your coworkers would give it away in a second. Monday morning is usually the worst. It is the transition from the freedom of the weekend to the long work days ahead. You are probably more likely to get into an argument on Monday morning. Monday morning is usually quieter. People pass in the hall and if they speak at all it is usually to say - “I hate to be here.”

Compare Monday morning with Friday morning. People bring in donuts on Friday morning. They have all kinds of patience and tolerance. “Oh that’s OK,” they will say, “tomorrow is Saturday.”

In my observations about Monday, I have realized that you are less likely to get complimented on new clothes on that day than any other. I wear wild ties that gather consistent compliments. Partly because there is no competition. Most of the hospital staff is female. But I cannot tell you the last time I got a Monday clothes compliment. I won’t even wear new clothes on Monday anymore. So if you have an outfit you have to wear, but do not want anyone to see it - then wear it on Monday.

My advice for dealing with Monday is shake things up. Take the donuts on Monday for a change. Make Monday special. Resist bitching about having to work all week. Instead remember how much worse Monday is if you are unemployed. Compliment someone on their wild tie for once. Break the day into chunks. Look forward to your morning break, then lunch, then the afternoon break, then, guess what? you get to go home.

So hang in there folks. It is possible to be happy even on a Monday, the second day of the week, the day of the moon. It is very much what we make it. As a matter of fact, that’s how life is too.

Until the next time

John Strain


Sunday, July 27, 2003


After One Week of Blogging . . .

I started to blog hoping it would be a way for me to get back to writing. So far it has worked. However, true to the laws of serendipity, I have made some fortunate discoveries.

Writing is introspective, but blogging is public. I have made the acquaintance of at least one person so far who has been quite helpful with my blog building and encouraging about my writing. I have emailed my friends and family and have gotten feedback from them. The result is that when I write now I have these people in mind. I am talking to them to express my thoughts and feelings. Writing before for me had no such identified audience. I think this is a good thing.

My awareness has been heightened. I have a thought now that reminds me to drink in events. I observe more specifically with my senses and think about what it means on the spot. This incubates in my mind and heart and hatches in daily blogs. (Man, I could go for an omelet right now).

The last thing I have gotten is an education in web design and HTML. I like to know how things work. I started out with computers in the early 80’s. I remember the satisfaction of producing a document on a dot matrix printer with bold and italics type. You can do so much more now it boggles my mind.

One week behind me - hopefully many more before me. Thanks to those of you who have given me help and support. My goal is to express myself in a way that makes people want to read it.

Until the next time,

John Strain


Saturday, July 26, 2003


A Full Saturday

A good balance of work and play is what I define as a full Saturday. I got up about 7:00AM today. That is late for me. I ran 4 miles, made coffee, walked the dog, surfed the net awhile, then watched Lance Armstrong kick ass - yeah! All of this was my way of wasting time instead of getting on the yard work early.

Yard work consists of mowing, weed eating, and blowing off the driveway. Our yard is 120 X 140 but it is about 40 feet bigger when you count the alley in the back and ditch area in the front. Most of the time I like to do the yard since I am inside all week. I like to get physically tired and work up a good sweat. My son usually helps out, but today he gave me the slip and went fishing with a friend. He caught about 7 bass and one 2’ alligator. They let the alligator go though.

Anyway, I like to use rewards to give myself incentive to get my work done. When it comes to yard work my reward is beer. Come to think of it my reward is often either beer or Jack Daniels. Today the beer was especially good. It was really hot and by the time I was finished, I was good and tired.

That brought me up to about 1:00 PM. The rest of the day I played around with online HTML tutorials and figured out how to post an animation of an American flag and my own picture on my blog. I can sit for hours in front of the computer.

For supper we ordered a pizza from Papa John’s and watched “About Schmidt” on the pay per view. It is almost Sunday now so I better get this posted.

Today was a typical Saturday. This is what I look forward to all week.

Until the next time,

John Strain


Friday, July 25, 2003



When I got home from work last night around 6:00 PM I decided to water my plants. Without changing clothes I began walking to our detached shed where I keep the watering can and the miracle gro. On the way I noticed some dog poop on the driveway. Hobo is opting to poop on the driveway every now and then. I don’t know if he is too lazy to walk an extra 10 feet to the grass or if he just cannot hold it. Somehow I think it is his way of showing attitude. He is 12 now and you know how 84 year old people are. They have an attitude something like this. “I am 84 years old and I will do whatever the #@$! I want.” I can understand that attitude because that is close to the way I think and I am only 46.

I grabbed the shovel and broom and scraped the land mine off the driveway. I found a few more piles in the lawn so I grabbed them too. Once I have a shovel full of poop, I carry it to the end of the driveway and throw it in the culvert that runs beneath it. We have the swail ditches. Underground drainage here is a recipe for flooding with the rains we get.

I dumped the poop in the big pipe and headed back to the shed to begin the watering job which was why I went to the shed in the first place. As I neared the shed, I saw something hanging out the doorway. It looked like the hose of my sprayer and I thought to myself, how did that get there? Then it moved slowly into the shed around the corner of the doorway. I kept walking toward the shed as the realization hit me - it is a SNAKE.

The snake was huge. It made the snake on anaconda (the movie) look like an earthworm. I mean this thing was big. Actually, judging from what I saw of the tail, I am guessing it was 2 - 3 feet in length. It was black, but I have poor vision and I did not see it for a long time only a few seconds so - who knows??? It is times like these I really hate not being able to see very well. Times like these and times when there is cleavage nearby. I could go on about the things I wish I could see better - I am sure you could guess what would top the list.

I reacted like an “ante crocodile hunter” (Steve, the guy on Animal Planet). I backed up and my heart was pounding. I was not afraid. I was anxious and on edge. I got my son for a good set of eyes. He was no help though. He would not get near the shed. Opting to hang back and possibly go for help if I were savagely attacked by the serpent was his contribution to the emergency.

I demonstrated bravery and tried to rally my son’s courage. “Come on, the snake is more afraid of us than we are of him,” I said. I worked my way up to, “Don’t be a chicken . . I can’t believe you are afraid of a little snake.” Of course, this was all said in “guyeese”. Guys encourage each other by calling each other wussies and the like. Even though I am a counselor, I cannot quite explain it. It seems wrong from the education I received, but experientially there is nothing better to increase my bravery than to have another man call me a chicken.

With John being no help, I was back to going it alone but with a spectator. I added a flashlight to my arsenal and ventured back in the shed. I began pulling things outside. The lawnmower, the ant killer, a mop bucket. . . each thing I grabbed I was ready for the vicious beast to lash out at me like some bad horror movie. If your shed or garage is anything like mine you can understand how many places there are for a snake to hide. All of the boxes and things from the floor to the ceiling are would be refuges for the scaly visitor.

I could not find it. I did not want to kill it - just chase it away. I don’t know if he is still there or what, so Saturday I will remove everything from the shed just to make sure. It needs cleaned out anyway.

I have to rethink some things about my lifestyle. No more barefoot walks in the dark to the shed to get a screwdriver. No more reaching around things on shelves looking for something. To do so is to invite the wrath of the fang wielding creature that now inhabits my shed.

I had a great idea while sitting in the safety of the den later that evening. I was watching TV, Barbara was asleep on the couch, and John (the snake chicken) was with friends watching a movie. I had an epiphany. “Why not put a fake snake in John’s room to greet him when he comes in late?” He will walk in his room, turn on the light, see the snake, and freak. Scaring people is another “guy thing.” I don’t know why, but I love to do it. Scaring women is too easy - it can also be dangerous. The few times I scared Barbara brought about undesired results. We have different views on the humor of scaring folks.

The problem arose, I could not find the fake snake. We have always had a few fake snakes laying around, what with having a boy and all. Where is a good fake snake when you need one? I searched all over the house. I did not know when John was coming home so time was a factor. This joke had a narrow window of possibility. John was already paranoid and the startle factor would diminish as time went on. It had to be tonight.

Then I realized there might be a fake snake in the shed. I still had some things from Mardi Gras in boxes I needed to put in the attic. So my desire to scare my son overcame my fear of the shed serpent. I put on some shoes and went to the shed. A bit on edge I moved boxes around and got to the Mardi Gras stuff. At Mardi Gras parades they throw beads and all kinds of toys. I thought we might have a snake. I opened the box and put my hand in to fumble through the contents and THERE IT WAS - the fake snake, but it fooled me and I jumped. I scared myself trying to scare someone else.

I calmed quickly, put the stuff back, and headed for the safety of the house. I planted the snake in his room. I had about 10 inches of the tail exposed and the rest under a dresser. This would match the mental image he probably already had from my earlier description. It was near midnight so I went to bed half expecting to hear a blood curdling scream in the middle of the night when John stumbled on to his worst nightmare.

When he woke up this morning he greeted me with, “You’re sick.” I am taking that as a compliment. It is a backhanded acknowledgment of a good scare. He would never admit it and I will probably never know the true impact. Guys do that too - minimize the emotional affect. I think I got him though. I am also pretty sure that fake snake will turn up in my space soon. Payback can be a bitch as they say.

Well, that is my snake adventure - at least for now.

Until the next time.

John Strain


Thursday, July 24, 2003


The story behind the figurines

Much of my inspiration for writing has come from my mother. I no doubt inherited some of her talent, but her encouragement and positive critiques have fueled me to keep writing. This piece is something she wrote. The events were 58 years ago. I am not sure when it was written. It gives insight into how she thinks and reasons and feels. It is a piece of family history. It is a story behind some tiny figurines no one would ever guess had such meaning for someone. The world is full of poignant stories that never are written. This is one that was.

We were moving to Missouri in May 1945. WWII would be over in June and I was just graduated from the 8th grade. I would be 13 years old the 28th of that month. Sophus lived with us and Louis was a Junior in high school. Mom and Dad were both 42 years old and excited about moving away from all the turmoil of the war years in Omaha and their plumbing business. Louis and I were pretty passive about the whole thing wondering what life would be like without any electricity, running water or heat in the house. For the folks it was going back to a wonderful free way of life; for us it was being stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

On the day of the big move we were headed south near Liberty, Missouri. We were in a ton-and-a-half truck loaded with our few possessions. There wasn't much left. Dad had been in a hurry and what we couldn't sell quickly had been given away or abandoned. Sophus and Louis were riding in the back of the truck covered with blankets to keep warm in a little space amidst the furniture. As we went down an incline the rear wheel came off the truck following the truck down the road as if attached with an invisible rope. Louis and Sophus watched as it gained speed, passing the truck, where we saw it go down the road in front of the cab, where we were riding. Dad got stopped, got the run-away wheel and surveyed the damage. Poor uncle Sophus shook with laughter, thinking it all so funny in his simple mind, little realizing the frustration and anger my Dad felt. We were able to get help to come get us and the wheel and had to wait for it to be fixed.

At this point, Mom and I walked a short distance to the square to look at the pretty store displays. We went into a jewelry store that had a gift section and spent some time just looking. I spied some beautiful figurines dressed in costumes of their day; George and Martha Washington, John and Priscilla Alden and the Governor and his wife of Virginia. For some reason I was "taken" with them and wanted to buy them. I had $10 graduation money with me and although Mom tried to talk me out of such a frivolous notion I bought them and spent $1 apiece for them. In that day and time it was a terrible price to pay for something even as nice as they were. Hard times later on taught me the frivolity of such luxurious ideas even if my mother failed.

In all the moves and disasters that followed in the next 42 years they were somehow protected and preserved. Fate being what it is, I bought three sets, one for each of the three children I would later have. As I pass them on I hope they bring a testimony with them. Dare to want more than you can afford, whether it be time or chance or treasure. Realize the price you paid for it and keep it as a prized possession until you pass it on to your children. The days will fly away and simple things you keep are in a sense like a clock that has ticked away the hours of your life. So much of all our resources goes for the necessities of life - spend a little for beauty as you go along. And pass on as much as you can.

Love, Mom

Until the next time,
John Strain



If I were to list important concepts in my philosophy of life, gratitude would be near the top. A common question of people talking about my job of working in a psychiatric hospital is, “how are you able to be around all of those problems and not get depressed yourself?” Usually my first answer is, “they are not my problems.” The second answer is, “it makes me grateful they are not my problems, because as they say - ‘but for the grace of God go I.’”

Here is my main point. Be grateful. There is a lot of bad stuff in life and eventually it will slosh onto you. Every day there is bad stuff all over the world, starvation, war, death, poverty, sickness, divorce, anger, hostility, meanness, crime - I think you get the point. Every day there is good stuff all over the world, birth, marriage, graduation, promotions, falling in love, laughter, I think you get this point as well. If one is aware of the “good” and the “bad,” gratitude is a natural feeling. Just watch the news and you will probably have this thought at some point, “man I am glad that didn’t happen to me.”

Gratitude can be a point of view and an awareness. We recently lost power because of tropical storm Bill. When the power eventually came back on I was really grateful for the air conditioning. Just thinking about it now wells up the gratitude in me. The list is endless. I am grateful that at this time, my family is healthy, I am grateful for having a job, friends, etc. Most people can make an extensive list of things for which to be grateful. It is the attitude of gratitude (not really trying to rhyme) that softens the blow when the bad stuff comes.

On the other hand if a person is bitter and full of resentment, otherwise lacking in feelings of gratitude when their life is relatively free of problems THEN when problems come the impact is intensified. Let’s face it - in our society / country we have it pretty good compared to many in the world. The concept of the “ugly american” is an ungrateful individual.

Think of instances in which you or people you know get bent out of shape over minor things. “My god, she’s using the wrong fork - how gosh.” “There is a scratch on my Mercedes, I have the worst luck.” “I have to live in a dorm at Harvard.” I am not advocating a person should never get upset, but if we were to focus on the underlying reason to be grateful our upset may not be so severe.

Life is short for each of us. It may seem long when you are sitting in an audit at the IRS or in the dentist chair, but think about how quickly it passed when you were “making out” on the couch those times. Gratitude is insurance against resentment. When you begin to lose a step, when the wrinkles catch up with you and your cuteness no longer enchants with its once irresistible power, gratitude will help you put it all in perspective. You will be able to appreciate what you had and accept what you have. This is the goal of the grief process. Our loved one is gone. Eventually we get to the point we are grateful for our time with them more than we are resentful our time is over with them.

My grandfather had a solution for someone who was ungrateful or a general pain in the keester. He would say, “what they need is a good scare.” As I think about it, “a good scare” results in gratitude. Once the fright wears off you are grateful something bad did not happen. The only thing that changed to make it so was a thought an awareness of gratitude.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Wednesday, July 23, 2003


Good Jokes

These are some of my favorites:

A set of jumper cables walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."
I guy walks into a diner. He tells the waitress, "I want a cup of coffee with no cream." She says, "we're out of cream - you'll have to have it without milk."
Two psychiatrists are discussing some of their own Freudian slips. One psychiatrist says: "Once I was at the airline ticket counter and I was flying to Pittsburgh. The attendant at the counter was showing a lot of cleavage. My words were, I want two pickets to tittsburg." "It was very embarrassing."

The next psychiatrist said, "I had one last night with my wife. We were sitting at the dinner table. I meant to say - would you please pass the hot-cross-buns, but the words that came out were - you bitch, you ruined my life."
A guy walks into my office and says, "can I use your dictaphone?" I told him, "hell no, you have to use your finger like everyone else."
I hope these gave you a chuckle.

Until the next time,

John Strain


Tuesday, July 22, 2003


What’s for Supper?

Those used to be fighting words to my wife. Now I use them and quickly smile to let her know I am kidding. It all goes back to me not making enough money for her to stay home and be a traditional mother and housewife. Instead she had to work while John was left in day care. Barbara felt guilty about leaving him. Well he starts college this fall and seems to have overcome this early neglect. Anyway, back to the statement “what’s for supper?” Innocently, I would ask this question. Things were going the way I thought they were supposed to. For Barbara though she was getting a double portion of responsibility.

I imagine her thought process went something like this: “I had to leave my baby with strangers. . . I don’t get to see him do cute things all day . . .I should be able to do so . . . why is he asking me what’s for supper? . . .I worked all day . . .why should it be my problem?” They say “fools go where angels fear to trod.” I was trodding unsuspectingly like a blind guy waving a red flag in a pasture full of bulls. Let me just say, I learned not to ask the question. Natural evolution and finesse developed alternative questions that accomplished the same thing: “What would you like for supper?” “Are you hungry? What would you like to eat this evening?” You get the idea.

Needless to say, we ate out a lot. It was easier. I memorized numbers for Dominos and Pizza Hut. We made the circuit of restaurants. Today we haven’t changed a lot, but we eat at home more than we did in the early days of our marriage.

Tonight for instance we ate at the “Six Fortune” Chinese restaurant. Whoever said Chinese food does not fill you up never ate at this place. I am still stuffed - my fault. It seems that every time my elbow bent, my mouth opened. This restaurant is a little store front Chinese buffet. Pretty good. There are better places as measured by the quality of the food, but this place wins hands down in the quantity department.

I think the place is decorated in the “tacky” dynasty motif. The light fixtures are faux lanterns. Tiny Christmas lights ring the perimeter of the dining area. There are the requisite Buddha statues, an aquarium, and large carved wooden wall hangings. The only oriental people I saw were sitting at the cash register.

As I sat there tonight eating a lot of the pretty good food, I noticed the patrons. I enjoyed watching the young mother demonstrating her skill to fill two plates and keep her eye on her five year old daughter who bounced and darted around her mother. she wore a pink dress and had an innocent smile only seen in children.

In the back corner the rowdy table was occupied with about six teenagers. They laughed a lot, loudly, but it did not bother me. I thought, “those guys are enjoying themselves.” There was a man in his 50’s with long hair. He looked different, but speaking as one with very little hair - “more power to you brother!”

I think my rant about political correctness this AM purged me of anger and bitterness for a while anyway. I felt peaceful and serene this evening.

My fortune in the cookie read: Those who do not set goals are destined to work for those who do. My lucky numbers are: 28 29 40 41 43 49. Feel free to use them.

So what’s the point? I don’t really know, but it has something to do with the title “what’s for supper?”

Until the next time,

John Strain


Political Correctness

This post may turn into a rant. From time to time “political correctness” has raised my ire. The rise of the “thought police” and “word police” make me wonder about the freedoms we say we have. Specifically, “do we really have them?” This growing trend of having to say things so the slightest fringe element is not offended has given a tool to the few to wield against the many.

“That offends me.” This little phrase strikes fear into the hearts of supervisors and Human Resource Directors because courts have backed it. I grew up in the era of “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me.” I still believe that. “FUCK, SHIT, COCKSUCKER, BITCH, ASSHOLE.” Are you offended? Some of you might be. Are you laughing? Some of you might be. Are you indifferent? Again, some of you might be. What is the point you ask? Simply this. Why does one group - the offended - get to have the power to make me erase those words? Why should their rights encroach upon my freedom?

Rap music offends me. Many politicians offend me. Religions different than mine may offend me. That joke offends me. But you know what? That is my problem. Somehow I must find a way to carry on without being reduced to a pool of sniveling, whining, useless flesh. I believe the word is tolerance. I tolerate things I do not like because I know in my non-grandiose, narcissistic, entitled view of the world that some things I find offensive may make others laugh, feel good, or any number of positive things.

Who am I to tell you what to think or say AND who are you to tell me what to think or say. If I do not like what you said, SO WHAT? If you do not like what I said SO WHAT?

It is beyond me how adults run to the government like a child to a parent. “That bad person is thinking something I don’t believe, make him stop.” “That bad person told a joke about bald people and I am bald, WAAAAAAAAH, make him stop.” “Make everyone think and talk like me or I will sue them and take their job - that seems appropriate.”

If these words are expressing strong feelings multiply them by 100. I am sick of whiners not being OK with what someone else thinks. I guess it is because it is hypocritical. They do what they accuse others of doing. The difference is their particular brand of thinking.

People are racist, gossips, and prejudge people. EVERYONE IS FOLKS! The better adjusted folks are aware of their flaws and watch out for them. The feeling I get from the political correct people is that “I’m OK, You’re BAD.” They go one step further AND "you need to change because I am offended."

What we say, write, and think has consequences. The consequences, however, should be related to the ideas we promote and not to the level of offense rated on someone’s arbitrary OFEND-O-METER.

Well, I feel better now. I hope I did not say anything to offend you.

Until the next time,

John Strain


Monday, July 21, 2003


My job can be life and death

My job can be hilarious at times. It can be frustrating at times. Sometimes it can be frightening. Today though I was reminded of how it often involves a person’s life or death.

“Hi John, how you doing?” I was speaking to the coroner on the phone. “Not bad for a Monday,” I replied matching his small talk. “Say, have you all ever had a patient named Anne Smith in your hospital?” (Anne Smith is a fictitious name) “Her name isn’t familiar” I said, “but let me check the master list.” As I turned to the “S’s” on the master patient list, I found Anne’s name. She had been a patient at our hospital for a three day stay about six months prior. “Yes she was here” I said, “what’s up?” “Well,” he said, “she’s dead.”

When you work at a psychiatric hospital and you learn of a former patient dying, one of your first thoughts is - “Will I be blamed or sued.” Unfortunately, people attempt to “cash in” on any little scratch, slip and fall, and certainly suicide. I am not faulting law suits with merit, but I have seen a lot without merit. Families who have nothing to do with a person when they are alive may be quite active once their “loved one” commits suicide.

Now the fact that I could not recall Anne or her circumstances did not help. I went to medical records and pulled her chart. The coroner said he was going to send a request for records so I needed to get it anyway. As I browsed the chart, Anne’s case began coming back to me. Her husband brought her to the hospital as a walk in one afternoon. He was concerned she might be suicidal. To get to the point, Anne was admitted. As often happens, she wanted out of the hospital as badly as she wanted in. We call it a flight into health. Stress and circumstances drive a person to the brink of suicide. They seek help in a hospital. Once in the hospital, they often get restless and want out. “I feel better now,” they will tell you. “I want to live, I have so much to live for.”

Of course we agree with the “I have so much to live for” statement. “Be patient,” we tell them, “a day or two ago you were going to kill yourself - what has changed?” In Anne’s case, she was able to make the argument. She promised she would come back if she had any problems. She said her husband was very supportive. She promised to attend outpatient therapy once discharged.

Anne had a 9 month old baby and she was still mourning the death of a child one year earlier. Her response to that tragedy was an attempt on her life one year ago. This time though, Anne was discharged and that is the last we heard from her or about her until today.

I feel bad for Anne and her family. Her child will never know her. She will grow up with the stigma of suicide. She may wonder if suicide is her destiny. It won’t be a good thing. Suicide impacts so many people.

As for me, it was a reminder. What I do is important. What I say to someone may be the last advice they get. I am not so grandiose to believe I have to say the exact right thing or people may die. I do believe that I can give people hope with my words. And I believe my indifference may keep suicide on their menu of ways to handle problems.

Although saddened because of Anne’s unlived life, I am energized to make a difference in the lives of those I work with, because it is life and death.


My Monday routine:

The weekend is a memory and I have a full week staring me in the face. As I sit writing I can smell the dark roast coffee dripping in the kitchen. Hobo is laying next to my chair in his familiar pose. When I complete this post I will go outside and water my plants. I have to give them some Miracle Grow this morning. I have a wheel barrow in the front yard full of impatiens - really beautiful with the lucious green foliage and multi-colored blooms. The morning is quite humid - normal for a Louisiana July. Sounds of man are mostly quiet and the birds are singing at their peak. Very peaceful and soothing - a good way to start a busy day.

Man, that coffee is good! When I went to pour my fresh cup of joe I noticed the condensation on the kitchen window. My AC bill is going to be up there this month. Just another July thing in Louisiana and evidence I have poor insulation.

So after I water the plants, I need to haul butt and get ready for work. Barbara and I both work at the local psychiatric hospital and we have been getting to work later than we would like. Today we are shooting for 7:30 AM or so.

When I get to the hospital the first thing I do is go back to the unit. We have a capacity of 15 patients and usually have close to that many. I am in charge of the intake function at the hospital as well as functioning as a social worker. The intake person answers the calls of people requesting admission or people referring patients for admission. Many admitted to our little hospital are coming against their will.

Once on the unit, I say hi to patients and staff. I am usually greeted from across the unit once I come through the locked double doors. 99% of the time it is a friendly greeting. I get the usual small talk and many times requests to pick up a carton of cigarettes or to make a phone call. Especially on Monday, it is like they have been waiting for me to walk through the door. Sometimes I am bombarded with requests from two or three patients at once. I fend them off as best I can and check the census. I have to keep up with who comes and goes and who is staying in which room.

After gathering the necessary info on the unit and exchanging a few laughs with the staff, (I will write more detail about these exchanges in future posts), I head back to my office in the front of the hospital and update the spreadsheets and print the reports for the 9:30 AM intake meeting. I love the intake meeting. It is where several staff meet to go over the list of patients and discuss any needs / problems and to coordinate our day. These meetings should be recorded. A lot of funny things are said at the intake meeting. (More on this later too.)

The social service group is conducted from 9:15 to 9:45 AM every day. This way we have had a chance to get a feel for what is going on with each patient before the meeting. The rest of the day I take intake calls and work up admissions, work on discharging patients, continue workups for those recently admitted, talk with the patients or their families.

I go home anywhere from 4:30 to 7:00 PM depending on what I have to do and whether I can get a ride home. As I mentioned earlier I do not drive because of my poor vision so I have to figure out how to get around. I have a lot of folks who help me out in this area so it is rarely a problem.

After work today, I will attend the Covington Planning and Zoning meeting. I am on the Planning and Zoning Commission and have been for about 8 years.

Hopefully, by 8:00 PM I will be home. I will probably spend the rest of the evening on the computer or listening to Fox News.

Sounds exciting, my Monday huh. I hope yours is too.

Until the next time.

John Strain


Sunday, July 20, 2003



I was awakened by thunder. Not the distant rolling thunder, but the loud crackling kind of thunder that gets me moving to unplug anything not hooked up to a surge suppressor. My dog Hobo hates loud noises. When we are not home and a storm comes up he winds up in the corner of our bedroom closet. I can always tell if it stormed and how severe the storm was by the size of the pile of shoes on our floor. It has been raining a lot this year. Tropical storm Bill hit us and there have been almost daily heavy rains. Oh well.

It makes me think of control. I cannot control it (the weather). I have to adjust my plans if the rain comes. This statement may sound obvious, but many of the people I work with or oboserve to be in distress are often not accepting a similar fact. We cannot control what other people do, think, want, say, feel, dream, love, hate, and crave. Only the most disciplined of us can control ourselves most of the time.

If you are looking to raise your stress level or depress yourself try to control something you cannot. To stay sane and calm we must practice "acceptance". Here are a few examples of how acceptance is our best course. Think of an NFL game (or any game for that matter). We have all seen bad calls by referees. When players do not accept the injustice of it and continue to complain and feel cheated, they are at risk of botching the next play. Think. I am sure you can think of several good examples. The announcers always allude to this fact, "He better get back to the huddle or they will get penalized for delay of game . . . He needs to get his head back into this ball game . . ."

Acceptance does not mean to "like it" or to "condone what happened just to "acknowledge it as reality". If I accept a problem as a fact of reality I can begin to address it. If I refuse to accept a problem as a fact of reality it will continue.

The Serenity Prayer covers all of this in simple eloquence:

Grant me the serentiy to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

So ask yourself what you need more or less of. Control, acceptance, wisdom, or God.

Until the next time,

John Strain


Saturday, July 19, 2003


Introcucing Me!

This is it. My entry into "blogging". In the past I have done some writing of poetry or short pieces. It has been a while though since I have engaged in the discipline of sitting down and writing my thoughts. Feel free to look in on my journey and give me your opinions, thoughts, and feelings about my words.

Who am I? I think I know, but to describe myself to others is a challenge. Usually one describes or even defines themself by what they do or what they have done. They may talk about their relationships to other people, institutions, or philosophies. All of this at least gives people a starting point of understanding. This is the short answer of "who I am", the long answer will be revealed day to day in my writings. Maybe I will gain a better understanding of "who I am" in the process and maybe you will too.

My name is John Strain. I was born in Kansas City, Mo on March 2, 1957. Today I live in Covington, Louisiana where I have lived for the past 12 years. I was married February 19, 1983 (20 years). My son is 18 and will enter college this fall 2003. My dog Hobo is a black lab and is 12 years old.

I have a BA in religion and psychology. I attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and earned a Master of Divinity in biblical studies. Later I returned and worked toward a Doctor of Education in counseling and psychology. I never completed the degree. All but dissertation.

I work at a psychiatric hospital with the chronic mentally ill. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor. My profession overlaps with my interests in religion, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and current events. People and what they do fascinate me. I am a people and I sometimes fascinate myself.

I am legally blind so I often see things differently. I don't use a cane or dog, but I can't drive a car either. Still I get around just fine. I can do everything I need to. I am interested in computers especially Macs. Presently I am dabbling with creating videos and DVD's. I have run marathons and consider myself a runner, but lately I have been lazy. I need to hit the road again.

Friends are important to me and I have some good ones. I particularly enjoy getting together to eat, drink, and talk. I love to laugh and make others laugh. I value laughter highly - it is an elixer.

The above should serve as a general introduction to me. In the following days my words will reveal more. I have no noble purpose in this or grandiose expectations. I simply feel compelled to write my thoughts. I do hope these posts cause you to think or laugh. Please let me know what you think in response to what I think.

Until the next time,
John Strain