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Tuesday, September 30, 2003


Choosing Up Sides

Whose side are you on? Are you a Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Independent? Are you upper class, middle class, poor white trash? Have you been to college, Europe, Alcoholics Anonymous, jail? Can you dunk a basketball, play the piano, sell a car, wire a house? Labels are necessary and useful, but there is a dark side to them.

People are being bombarded with divisive talk and behavior from our elected officials. They want you on their team. They also want you to know all of the other teams are bad and wrong. If you disagree with them you are either stupid, without compassion, or evil. Too often complex issues are not discussed because the two sides are too busy calling each other names and using intellectual dishonesty to try and make their opponent look bad. Whatever happened to polite discussion? When two gentlemen disagree they are still gentlemen. It seems the tactic of choice today is to attack the person not the issue. Diversity is traded for unanimous agreement on several talking points. The two major political parties hire pundits more for the attack than to "get out our positive message." They go on news shows and tell lie after lie without challenge from the host.

It is going to continue until citizens become better informed and demand better behavior from their elected officials. We are all on the same team. We have various interests and concerns, but we have more in common than we do different. Resist looking at things in "black and white" ways. Try to gain a legitimate understanding of what the opposition is saying. Do the various sides agree on the problem? What solution do they offer? What are its benefits and drawbacks? Ask questions to gain better understanding. This approach would work to solve complex issues if that were the aim.

Unfortunately, I believe the drive of many of our politicians is to stay in office. If you are in office tell the people things are great and getting better. If you are out of office talk about how terrible things are - run around screaming "the sky is falling." There is no drama in debates or interviews anymore. I check to see if there is a "D" or "R" by the participants name, then I know exactly what they are going to say.

Ignorance and laziness leads to choosing "sides." We need to be about the process of working together on the problems instead of putting up obstacles.

I am making an effort to turn in all of my team jerseys in exchange for one - team mankind. I will take care of me. See what you can do about you. Then let's demand better behavior from our elected officials. I want to see them working together to solve problems instead of being problems.

It could happen

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, September 29, 2003


Making Them Laugh

I have always enjoyed making people laugh. I studied jokes as a kid. I read Mad magazine and joke books for material until I learned to manufacture my own. I compare telling jokes or attempting to be funny to baseball. One may swing the bat several times before the ball gets hit. Many jokes may return blank stares before one fosters a chuckle. To tell jokes one must risk embarrassment. Especially in big groups. A lot of people are wanting to blend in, but I am always looking for the right opportunity to unleash a funny line. The laughter is the treasure I seek.

In thinking about what makes people laugh, it occurred to me that some of my biggest laughs were completely unintended. At times I would be dead serious, but the reaction I got was hysterical laughter. I suppose the biggest laughs I ever got were when people witnessed me in some sort of pain.

The psychology of the thing is people really identify and relate to you, but they do it by laughing their ass off. Think about it. Have you ever watched someone hit their finger with a hammer? It is hilarious. Especially if they get mad because you are laughing. That makes it worse - trying to hold it in. Talk about torture.

I remember my mother telling the story of my step dad. You would have to know him. Warren was a no nonsense kind of guy most of the time. He was retired military and expected the rest of the world to run his way. Of course it did not so he was angry a lot. He was efficient and did everything the instructions told him to do. After all he was used to taking orders. Not following orders would make one a Communist or undisciplined or something really bad. Whatever impression you get from my description, I liked Warren. This is a description not an indictment.

Anyway, my mother traveled with him in his government (post military) job. In the morning before driving to the next town, Warren always checked the oil, water in the battery, power steering fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid, tire pressure, and radiator fluid. This routine was set in stone. If a volcano were erupting and lava was flowing toward us - he would not alter the routine. Well, on this one morning my mother was getting impatient. She was sitting in the car and Warren was going about his pre flight inspection. So she reaches over and lays on the horn. I am sure Warren was concentrating on his work, the horn blast came as a big surprise to him. His reaction of course was to raise up quickly banging his bald head on the underside of the hood. From inside the car all mom heard was, honk, thud (head hitting the hood), and "blankety blank blank, what the - beep beeeeeeeeep." It sounded like the Happy Gilmore soundtrack.

That is an example of how pain is funny. Now be honest. Who among us has not laughed seeing someone fall down? I don't care if it is a 90 year old man, one of my first reflexes seeing arms and legs flying everywhere is to bust out laughing. I would not laugh if they really got hurt - I am not sick like that.

Not long ago, my son had some sort of muscle strain from lifting weights. He kept complaining about it so I gave him this cream someone gave me for the same problem. I cannot remember what it was, but it was an analgesic cream. The guy I got it from said it came from the VA Hospital and was supposed to be really good. They should have called it "creamed fire" because it was hot. Being a father, I gave it to him with few upfront instructions. John slathered it on his ribs and in about five minutes he forgot all about his muscle pain and was looking for a fire extinguisher. "Dad, this stuff is really hot," he said. "Yeah, I know, that is how you know it is working," I said acting like I knew what I was talking about. He kept on with the complaining, "this stuff is killing me." "OK," I said, "go take a shower and wash it off." Still taking my advice, John got in the shower little realizing things were about to get even hotter. I heard him scream in the shower. "The water is making it worse." By now I am rolling on the floor laughing, because I remembered I had a similar experience with the fire cream, but had forgotten about it. I came to the same conclusion as John when I took a shower the next day. Somehow the water reactivated the fire cream. That fact had slipped my mind. John accused me of setting him up. I told him that I did not set him up, but would have if my memory had been better.

One night at someone's house after dinner we were sitting around the room and someone came running from outside. They did not realize the sliding glass door was closed. We all sat there watching this person run face first into the glass door. It was the kind of thing you ask yourself, is he going to stop? Surely he is not going to run into the - WHAM! We all laughed until some peed on themselves and others had sore ribs and sore throats, all courtesy of someone sacrificing their body unintentionally.

If you are going to laugh when someone else bumps their head or falls remember the rules. Others get to laugh at you when you are taking the pain - it's only fair.

I have provided folks with lots of laughs thanks to my unintended pain. The older I get I will be entering my prime for this sort of thing. I have bumps on my head now to remind me of the joy I gave someone else. My friend Debbie in Missouri will recall a good laugh she had when I raised up and bumped my head on a heater protruding from a wall. One of many incidents.

What does this mean? I have no idea, but I think part of it is people just like to laugh. I know I do. Have a nice Monday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, September 28, 2003


Oysters On The Half Shell

Becky's First Raw OysterThe leaves are falling. The local high school band marches past my house as they practice for Friday performances. Colors are more vivid. Humidity is below 97%. And oysters are in season again. In honor of oyster season I am displaying a picture of my sister eating her first raw oyster 12/01. To my knowledge it was also the last one she ate. Becky will try anything once, I have to give her that. The rest of my family is a bit more discriminating when it comes to ingesting strange sea creatures. To be honest I have only been eating raw oysters for three or four years myself, but now I can throw them down like a native.

Here is what you do. Go to a restaurant that sells oysters - this is an important first step. Order a beer. If this is your first time order a second, third, and possibly a fourth. I guarantee no problem with the oyster if you have a couple of beers. Order a dozen oysters on the half shell. You could order a half a dozen, but very few people do so go for the dozen. If the restaurant is any good, the waitress will bring you the fixin's so you can prepare for their arrival once the guy behind the bar shucks them. For those of you in Nebraska, shucking in this context is not what you are used to. The fixin's consist of a little basket of saltine crackers, some cocktail sauce, and horse radish. Dump the little container of horse radish in the little container of cocktail sauce and stir with a fork or whatever you have handy. Extra napkins are recommended since you will have drips of water, oyster fixin's, and cracker crumbs all over the place where you eat. It is considered bad form to eat over the oyster tray.

Make sure you have everything so when the waitress brings your oysters you can ask for whatever else you need. Most of the time you tell her to bring you another beer. She will bring your dozen delicious delectables on ice in a round tray. Round trays with a 1 or 2 inch lip are a must in Louisiana. They are perfect for crawfish, boiled shrimp, or to use in the cooking process. I fill them with breading and bread shrimp or catfish in them.

When the waitress puts the tray in front of you take a few seconds to thank God you have it so good. Now pick up a cracker in one hand and a fork in the other. I hold the cracker near the oyster and with my fork scoop the oyster onto the cracker. Once the oyster is positioned on the cracker I dip the fork into the cocktail / horse radish sauce then spread it on top of the oyster. Now let instinct take over. Open your mouth and put the whole thing in there. Chew and swallow. Take a sip or two of beer and repeat the above instructions until the oysters are gone.

They taste even better when you are sharing them with friends. We have food here that requires help eating sometimes. Some folks do not know how to eat a boiled crab, oyster, shrimp, or crawfish. That is OK, there are a lot of people who are too happy to share their knowledge with you. Oysters are a part of our yearly cycle here. Tonight were my first of the season. They were good and I can't wait until next Friday night at our favorite seafood restaurant - St. Roch. One day I will write about this place and the colorful owner Tony.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, September 27, 2003


The First Job

The words came through the phone at my work, "Dad, you are talking to a new employee of Circuit City." My son's voice was cracking with happiness. He could barely contain himself and I felt the joy in his voice. A week ago he put in a job application at Circuit City. They called him for an interview a few days ago. His appointment was Friday and he got the job on the spot. "I might be selling TV's or CD's and DVD's," he continued. John went on to tell me about his job interview and what he knew about his new job. What a wonderful thing to get that first job on your own. He is excited about getting his own name tag and business card. I just listened and kept telling him how proud I was of him and happy for him. It choked me up listening to his enthusiasm, remembering similar events in my life years ago.

I had a couple of paper routes before my first real job - bus boy at Red Lobster. I lied about my age saying I was 16 when I was really 15. My first night was hard. I remember coming home after what seemed like walking one hundred miles. My feet ached and I wondered if I could take it. The managers were on the bus boys like strict task masters. I was not George and Esther's little boy, I was someone that better do a good job or they would get someone who could. It was unnerving in some ways, but when I knew I could hack it, I developed pride and self-assurance.

It is a shame so many people hate their jobs. They complain about their company, boss, coworkers, customers, and many other things. Quite a contrast from the joy they probably had when they were first hired. Work is a popular topic to bitch about, but think what your life would be like without that job. Do you remember what it felt like to be unemployed? Work provides a feeling of security.

Do you remember your first job? Do you like your job now?

Here is to work, may yours please you or at least not bother you too bad.

Until the next time,
John Strain


Friday, September 26, 2003


Discharge Planning

Today was another one of those glamorous days in social work. Discharge planning is a large part of what I do. Many of the people I work with cannot go back to where they lived prior to their admission. They have a way of wearing out welcomes. One patient of ours came in after trashing the mobile home in which he was living. It seems there were evil spirits in the walls so he had to tear the paneling off to let them out. He also had to stand in the center of the room and hold up the ceiling to keep the spirits from crushing the roof down on him. Suffice it to say, the land lord was not open to our exorcist returning to one of his properties.

Often our patients do not believe there is anything wrong with them. They are often entitled and demanding. They frequently blame their social worker for not being a genie just released from a polished lamp. The finesse of the job is working with the person and getting them to accept a choice before them instead of holding out for the impossible.

I have been working with a guy I have mentioned previously. He is the one who was mad at me because I would not let him leave so he could go to LA and become a movie star. Well, he is somewhat better. Better enough to look into placement somewhere. In our area there is a nice group home head and shoulders above the others. They have a caring staff who understands mental illness and works well with people who have it. They take one-third of the patient's social security check for rent, place one-third in savings for that person, and give the other third to them for their monthly spending money 98% of which goes to by smokes.

Many private group homes charge more, give less supervision, and have staff who are poorly trained. So, my guy had a shot at the good place. They had a vacancy. I filled out two trees worth of paper work. I spoke with my charge about the rules and expected behaviors. He seemed to understand. He could repeat everything back to me. I just knew everything was going to work out. The people interviewing him were familiar with his case and were set to give him another chance. I was looking forward to wrapping up his case. Then we went to the interview.

I will call my patient Jack. We went in the van (I did not drive it) to the group home located in a nice neighborhood a few blocks from Lake Pontchartrain. We had to wait about an hour while the committee was interviewing another prospective resident. Things went well, Jack was a little impatient, but since he could smoke at will, he was happy.

Finally, we were summoned into the meeting room. A small room filled with a table and chairs around it. There was a two drawer metal file cabinet with a nonfunctioning copy machine sitting on top. An old wall unit held a few books and various office supplies. It looked a bit out of place. Instead of a TV and VCR or DVD it was holding reams of paper, boxes of pens, and assorted forms for reasons only their staff knew.

The interview went well until Jack was asked about drinking or using drugs. Jack explained that marijuana was the tree of life and beer was necessary for him to live. I could not believe it - he was blowing his good chance at a nice place to live. We talked with Jack, but in the end he would not give up on wanting to drink or smoke pot at the group home. He went into all kinds of crazy things. Here are a few: The book of Revelation healed me. I was crazy for three years, but when I read the book of Revelation I got three headaches. When I came to I understood. The Berlin wall came down and the stock market crashed. He went on and on about all kinds of crazy stuff. He did not realize the committee had laid down their pens and were just waiting for the appropriate place to say "thanks but no thanks." We went back to the hospital with no plan.

I won't go into all of the technical issues, but there are no other good options. His family cannot handle him and he will probably just walk away from a group home - he wants to get a car and go to bars. He has considered working as a gigolo. Despite everyone's best efforts and concern I am afraid Jack is going to be a street person soon.

It has been a long day and I am frustrated. Maybe tomorrow I will receive an epiphany and will know what to do with Jack. I am not giving up on Jack, something will happen and he will be discharged, but the long term outlook for someone like Jack is not good.

Be thankful for a mind absent of a thought disorder, and say a little prayer for Jack.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, September 25, 2003


Driving Blind

As previously mentioned I am legally blind which means I cannot get a driver's license. That does not mean I haven't driven. Do you remember the scene in the movie Scent of A Woman in which Al Pacino (who is blind) drives a ferrari at high speeds through the streets of New York? Well, my stories are not that dramatic, but close.

Having poor vision goes against my self-concept of being cool at times. I have grown adept at explaining my poor eyesight to people in a few words and moving on. Like at a restaurant when I am reading the menu with my magnifying glass, sometimes the waitress will say something like, "why don't you get some glasses?" I will reply, "this is what I have to do, glasses don't help me, my eyes are too bad." This approach usually works and she starts reciting the daily specials.

The toughest task for me is going into a restaurant where the customers have to go to a counter and order off of the menu on the wall behind. Because I cannot see it I have to ask to have it read to me. I would have to be starving to do that though. I cannot see myself going up to the cashier and saying, "would you read the menu to me? I cannot see it." Usually I am with someone and they read it off to me or I would just loiter near the cashier and see what others are ordering. Pride is something huh? I have not gotten off topic. This information is necessary to understand what is to follow.

The point is this: I would likely kill myself to avoid certain kinds of embarrassment.

Rain Boy
In high school I worked at a Red Lobster. Most of the employees had long hair - I did not. This worked to my disadvantage whenever it rained. If it rained, Mr. Boznango the rotund Italian manager would find me. "Strain, you're the rain boy, get out there." I hated to be the rain boy. "Why do I always have to be the rain boy? It's someone else's turn." "Just put on the suit and get your ass out there," he would say over his shoulder as he was walking away from me. I already knew the reason. Of all the kitchen help I looked the least offensive.

The rain boy suit was one of those yellow rain suits. The pants had suspenders and there was a hooded jacket. I was often mistaken for Big Bird when wearing this outfit. My task was to walk people to their car while holding the umbrella to spare them getting drenched. If there was no one to walk out to the car, I was to watch for people pulling into the parking lot and meet them where they parked to escort them to the restaurant.

One Saturday night about 9:00 PM it started pouring rain. My efforts to look busy or inconspicuous proved useless, Mr. Boznango found me - "OK Strain, we need you for rain boy." Everyone always laughed at the assignment. "Ha ha, see ya rain boy," came the chorus of razzings. They would emphasize the "boy" part. It was humiliating walking through the crowded lobby wearing the bright yellow suit which rendered its wearer completely uncool.

I went outside and began the job. It worked out sometimes. The people without umbrellas were very appreciative and often tipped me. An overhang provided a place for people to wait while I escorted other customers to their cars. Returning to the waiting area after a trip I was greeted by a rather large, well dressed man standing next to a brand new Cadillac. "Here kid, go park my car," he said grabbing my hand and placing two dollar bills in it. "Ok," I replied taking the money and getting in the running car. I just could not tell him I wasn't a licensed driver because I was legally blind. Maybe because of the humiliation I was experiencing due to the whole "rain boy" thing or maybe because I was becoming a man, for whatever reason I did not tell him.

So here I am, legally blind, pouring rain, brand new Cadillac, possible mob figure waiting for me to bring back his keys - life does not get much better for a 17 year old. I drove slowly around the building and parked in the back where there was plenty of room No one would be around to critique my parking skills in all the rain. I was hoping the rain would let up soon and the guy could go get his own car. It was a perfect plan.

When I got back to the waiting area a Lincoln Town Car was waiting for me. The big guy had a friend. The friend gave me two more dollars and made the same request. "OK," I said just like before, I slowly drove around the building in the Lincoln and parked next to the Cadillac. It started raining harder. I began to wonder if the rain would let up. If not I would have to bring the cars back - in traffic - with people walking around - in the dark - this could go bad on me.

Eventually the rain let up, but not completely. I did not want to chance the two guys coming back requesting I get their cars, so I went back to work in the kitchen. Mr. Boznango had radar like my mother. Within two minutes he noticed I was back and even more suspicious because I was working. "Strain, what are you doing back here? You're supposed to be the rain boy," he said. "Well, it quit raining so I came in," I told him. Mr. Boznango headed toward the back door to see for himself. He glanced out the door and saw it was still raining, "it's still raining, get back out there," he ordered.

I once again put on the Big Bird suit and went back outside. In retrospect, I should have told Mr. Boznango my dilemma and he would have done something to avoid the liability, but I did not say anything to him. Now back outside, I was praying for the rain to stop, but it continued steadily. Another lul came over and I headed back inside. Just when I thought things were going to work out, my two friends met me in the doorway. "Here kid, here's four bucks and the keys, go get our cars," "OK," I said possibly setting in motion an automobile /mob / blind guy / disaster of some sort.

Quite anti climactically, there was no disaster. I got both of the cars back without damage or embarrassment. When I went inside and told everyone what had happened, they of course thought it was hillarious, but Mr. Boznango almost had a stroke. "Do you know what would have happened if you had wrecked one of those cars? Do you realize the liability we would have?"

After that incident, Mr. Boznango still made me be the rain boy, but he would add these instructions as I would head outside, "don't park any damn cars!"

Who's Driving the Boat
My friend Brian had a friend named Pat who was the administrator of a nursing home. The corporation who owned the nursing home occasionally took customers deep sea fishing in the gulf. Luckily, I got an invitation for a trip. The night before we were to go out fishing we drove down to Grand Isle, Louisiana stopping along the way for boiled crabs and beer. We slept in a condo that night and got up at 5:00 AM to get ready for our expedition.

Our boat had a captain and a first mate. The vessel was open in the back to accomodate fishing. The midsection of the craft was a galley and living quarters. A metal ladder led to the wheel house located at the top midship. The seas were calm for our ride 30 miles offshore to the fishing spots the captain had in mind. I had invisioned the gulf as just water, but there were patches of sea grass and numerous oil rigs spotting the seascape. Once on scene we followed our captain's advice and caught lots of fish.

There was not enough rail space around the boat for all of us to fish at once, so we rotated. During one of my times not fishing the captain motioned for me to come up the stairs into the wheel house. I climbed the ladder to see what he wanted.

"Do you see that rig over there?" he said pointing forward. "Yes," I lied. "Just head straight for it," he said exiting the wheel house to go below. "No problem," I said (another lie). With the captain out of the way I started squinting to see the rig he was talking about. All I saw was water and sky. I began thinking what I should do. I quickly ruled out calling the captain back and telling him the truth. What was I to say, "which rig did you say to head toward? Oh, I don't see that one. . ." I tried picking out a a spot on a cloud until I realized the clouds were moving and following one of them would get us off course. I finally decided to watch the wake of the boat and make sure it stayed striaght - this seemed to work OK. I knew I was not going to run into anything, but I did not want to be miles off course when Ahab returned. I figured I could always act dumb when he returned. If I was off course I would just go, "oh, I thought you meant to do a figure eight in a zig zag pattern." Acting dumb would be no act at all.

It seemed like a long time before the skipper returned. He made it back just before I circumnavigate the globe. "OK, I'll take it from here," he said. He seemed even friendlier and very willing to take the wheel. I did not know it at the time, but Brian had asked him "do you know a blind guy is driving the boat?" That sent him up the stairs to relieve me fast. It was like yelling "battle stations - all hands on deck - a blind guy is driving the boat - we're all going to die."

Brian tells the story great. He describes his slow realization about who was and was not driving the boat. He will say, "I was looking around and I noticed the captain, then I saw the first mate. I saw Dr. D. and Pat then I thought - who the f**k's driving the boat." Then I asked the captain if he knew a blind guy was driving his boat. He had a very concerned look then headed up the stairs."

Those are my adventures in driving. Both episodes were more avoidance of embarrassment than a desire to take the helm. Has pride ever gotten you into trouble?

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, September 24, 2003



Sun RaysWhen I got to work Tuesday morning I had to take a picture of these beautiful sun rays. Good old Louisiana humidity. It is hot and sticky, but it throws you a visual bone every now and then. I draw energy from noticing these things. Often so busy we rush by a wonder of nature. Yesterday I shared some of my favorite poems others wrote. Today I want to share one I wrote. "Embers" is a poem about the ebb and flow of passion in my life and maybe yours too. I hope you like it.


Deep within is a stirring
Embers of forgotten emotions are kindled
Noticing nature and other gifts that were always there but passed over
Recognizing the beauty of life and love and friendship
Drinking in life like wine
Intoxicated with joy and love
Appreciating differences
Longing to love and be loved
To be accepted and liked by those you like
To love myself
To love you
To love God
To feel complete

Oh that these feelings were not fleeting
That I could bask and abide in them
But I never do for long
It is my excess, my greed, my sloth
And other vises smother the flames kindled by love and truth
And to know is not enough
And to do may not be enough
The flames die with familiarity and routine
And the gifts once again are passed over

And deep within me a spark of hope awaits the fuel of faith and love
To once again kindle the flame that is my passion, my expression of love
How sweet is the wine the joy of rediscovery
But like an open bottle of wine it cannot last
It must be enjoyed and shared - so too my love, my life

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, September 23, 2003


My Favorite Poems

Poetry has a way of crystalizing a common experience. When I was younger I thought poetry was for sissies, but I have come to depend on poetry to center me, to inspire me, to make me laugh, and to make me cry - yes cry. I have a hard time reading some of these poems out loud without choking up. These are some of my favorites and I want to share them with you.

God's World by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am almost reluctant to comment on such a beautiful poem. Its beauty does speak for itself. The poet is describing autumn. Overcome by beauty she fears she will die if there is but one more falling leaf or if one more bird sings. Is your world as beautiful as the one she describes?

Beau by Jimmy Stewart
Did you know Jimmy Stewart was a poet? He is and this poem about his dog named "Beau" will make you laugh and it will make you cry. A must read for dog lovers.

Anyway by Mother Theresa
There may be some question as to the author of this poem. It may have been written by Kent M. Keith and named "The Paradoxical Commandments." Regardless who is the author, the content is a challenge to discipline and principle. Do right even if it does not pay off.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley
When you are feeling down, this poem comes to the rescue. Invictus is Latin for "unconquerable" or "undefeated." The author had plenty of hard times himself. He spent a lot of time in hospitals due to tuburcular arthritis. His leg was amputated when he was 16. Read more about William Ernest Henley

Two Frogs
I read this to my group members every now and then. The poem encourages action even when the answer is unknown. Another poem about tenacity and determination. This is another poem written by that prolific author Anonymous.

Sea Fever by John Masefield
This poem sparks adventure in me. I love the line, "And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by." This site even has an audio version, but I did not like his over dramatic interpretation of the poem. Read it yourself first or he may ruin it for you.

If by Rudyard Kipling
A very familiar poem. It is a poem full of truth and challenge. Then there is the joke about this poem. "If you can keep your head while those about you are losing theirs . . . you probably don't have a grasp of the situation."

The Station by Robert J. Hastings
I will end with this one. It is not really a poem, but I will make this exception. I met Robert Hastings when I was a minister in Illinois. He was the editor of the "Illinois Baptist." Mr. Hastings has written books depicting life during the Great Depression and other works. Ann Landers ran this piece several times in her column over the years. Truth is truth no matter what the generation.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these works. I will have to do this again, because I have a lot more favorite poems. It is as hard to pick a favorite poem as it is to pick a favorite song. They all have a purpose. There are so many ways for us to experience this thing we call life. Poetry is one of my favorites.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, September 22, 2003


Slow Down

I usually write about things I am thinking, have experienced, or realized recently. Today is no exception. I want to talk about slowing down or quality over quantity. The context in which I am referring is in the personal arena. The catalyst that stirred these thoughts was an entire day of working on a video project. Creating a video is tedious. The basic steps are (1) Gather the media, photos, video, music, etc. (2) Put it all in the computer. (3) Put it in order. (4) Print it to video tape or DVD. I am presently working on step 3 which is the fun part.

Anyway, when I scan photos into the computer, I put them in Photoshop to color correct, crop, and clean up as needed. This process slows me down. I really "see" the picture. Now multiply this 200 times because that is about how many photos find their way into most of my videos. Then do the same thing with the video footage. Look at all of it frame by frame. It is labor intensive, but a funny thing happens in the process. I gain appreciation for the subjects. The subjects are usually friends and people I already know well, still I get to know them even better after spending time with their memories. My appreciation for them grows. Many go through the motions, mindless about what they are doing. Slowing down is a skill and the rewards are worth it.

Another example of what I am talking about has to do with painting your house. Whenever I paint the house, inside or outside, I become intimately acquainted with every imperfection. I replace boards if needed, fill holes, and whatever else is required. Some of the imperfections seem obvious while others are more subtle. The point is I never would have seen them had I not slowed down.

So what do you need to slow down about? What have you been rushing past or glossing over? Has anything been neglected in your life that you need to give attention? What beauty have you missed or passed by on your way to something "more important"?

If we are not careful we fall victim to the belief that we have to do this or we have to do that. We rush and hurry and do things out of obligation and duty while putting off the things we would like to do. I am not suggesting to neglect responsibilities only strike a balance.

Your children are growing. Soon they will be adults. The cute things they did and said will be lost to you unless you drink it in now. Take time to marvel at the morning sky or the autumn leaves. Watch, study, enjoy the people and the world around you. There are smiles just waiting to be seen and waves just waiting to be returned. Include in your Monday the luxury of slowing down.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, September 21, 2003


The Manchac Swamp

Barb at 45They say a voodoo curse was placed on this swamp in 1915 by a voodoo queen to avenge her incarceration and death. Later that year a hurricane hit killing most who lived there. Manchac is a wilderness with still, jade waters and ancient cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. At the edge of the wilderness on the shores of Lake Maurepas is a small fishing village and a popular seafood restaurant specializing in thin fried catfish. Saturday, Barbara, John, Ben, and I met Barbara's Dad who drove down from Vicksburg to have a birthday meal with his daughter at the best catfish house in the world - Middendorfs.

Manchac is about 40 minutes from my house. Swamp tours are available which is the only way to see its natural beauty.

So if you are ever in the neighborhood, stop in at Middendorf's and order the large order of thin fried catfish. Then take a tour of the swamp, but watch out for the voodoo curse which still lurks deep in the swamp - oh, it's just a story - right? They don't really have curses, do they?

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, September 20, 2003


My Mind Finally Clicked: The Last Gasp of Denial

I value being healthy and fit. I think of myself as a runner and someone who is in shape. While this was true much of my life. It is not true now. I have dropped off on my running to once a week or so. I have gained weight to the point 36" pants are tight - I should be wearing 32" or 33" waist. I gave blood the other day and the free cholesterol test came in and it is a whopping 223.

I knew my weight was creeping up so I quit weighing myself. I have been spending a lot of time blogging and working on my latest video / DVD project so my running has tailed off. My running partner is injured so I do not have anyone waiting on me. I can tell myself I'll run in five more minutes until I put it off altogether.

I knew in the back of my mind I was making excuses. I did not like how I looked. I cannot stand having a gut, but I could not seem to stop doing the things and start doing the things I needed to do to prevent it. I kept telling myself, after today, that's it. I am going to cut back on drinking, eating the wrong food, and I will increase my exercise. Tomorrow never came and my weight got higher. My cholesterol level increased. The things I said I value were only true for my past self.

Here are the numbers. I got my cholesterol level of 223 yesterday. I weighed this morning 214.6 when I should weigh 180 or so. My body fat scale said I had 24.8% fat. My mind clicked and I made a commitment this morning (Friday) to get back on the wagon. I will eat healthy, cut back on booze, and exercise regularly.

I am writing this to hold my own feet to the fire. If I tell people I have this goal it forces me to do the right thing, because I do not want to admit failure. I can use pride and arogance to my advantage. I have done this before. Every 3 years or so I swing from one extreme to the other. In 1997 I ran my fastest marathon 3 hours and 24 minutes. I was in the best shape of my life. Now I am overweight and slow. From now on that condition will improve.

I can write this with the certainty it will happen. I felt my mind click. I finally had enough. I am willing to take the cure. I am ready to pay the price. That is how it works with me.

In about three months the weight will be off, I will be more fit than I am now, and I will be sticking to a healthy diet.

How about you. What does your mind need to click on? You can do it, what ever it is. Go public and do it. Think how much better you will feel in three months.

I will see you at the salad bar or on the running trails.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, September 19, 2003


More Antics From the Psych Files

It is Friday and time to lighten up. I have culled a few more zany moments from my experiences working in psychiatric hospitals. Hope you enjoy them.

CPR Class: As a healthcare worker I am required to take CPR regularly. This particular time I was in a class of three, my coworker (also a social worker), me, and a cute, petite, blonde headed nurse who had worked with us for about 6 months. Usually the social workers take a back seat to the nurses in medical matters and CPR was no exception. As the class went on, Cindy (the blonde) volunteered to go first at every opportunity. We had just discussed how to help someone who was choking. If the Heimlich maneuver failed you were supposed to press on the stomach up toward the diaphragm. As before Cindy volunteered to demonstrate her expertise. She straddled the dummy to begin her demonstration. If you have never seen a CPR dummy you know that they are a person from the waste up. Cindy must have thought it was a full size person because she straddled the dummy in the middle. This position strategically placed her crotch in the dummy's face. My friend and I were about to die. I did not want to totally embarrass her since I did not know her that well yet. My coworker, however, being a woman took the liberty to embarrass her. "Cindy, honey, don't you think you are a little too high up?" Cindy turned beat red and quickly slid down to the proper position. She pointed at me and said, "you better not say anything or I'll kill you." Don't worry I said, I won't say a thing . . . until you are gone. She is gone and I am telling you now.

Sexual deviant: It was one of those groups which had people from one gamut of life to the other. On one end of the spectrum was an attractive, affluent young woman from a gated community hospitalized for depression. On the other end of the spectrum was Charlie. Charlie had schizophrenia and was a sexual deviant. Charlie wore a helmet because he had frequent seizures. He was disgusting. He used foul and vulgar language. He leered at women and tried to make a move on any female no matter what age. He had the gift to alienate anyone within seconds of his introduction.

Inspite of Charlie the group was going well until I asked him how he had been doing. "Well OK I guess, but lately I have stopped masturbating and have begun f***ing the German Shepherd next door." To my amazement the depressed lady did not freak out at such an extreme statement. The group snickered and gasped, but they had been exposed to Charlie already and this was no shock to them. I said almost as a reflex, "I wouldn't worry about that Charlie, it's probably just puppy love." We all laughed and moved on. Sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Jail: Today (Thursday) a couple of patients combined forces to stage a protest. The female leader who is quite histrionic started screaming, "It is like being in jail here." "You treat us like shit." "This is jail." I told one of the techs within her earshot, "get her a tin cup." Dawn began laughing hysterically. "Did you hear that, he said give them a tin cup. HaHa Ha." She kept laughing and I thought she was laughing at my intended image of prisoners raking their tin cups across the bars in cliche prison behavior. I was incorrect. She continued, "it is so funny, a tin cup. . . we could walk around and do tricks and people would give us tips." She somehow associated an "organ grinder" with the tin cup instead of my prison movie reference.

Holding Back Laughter: Many times patients say things that are funny and I laugh with them. Sometimes though, patients say things that are funny, but intended to be serious. You cannot laugh then or it would be disrespectful. Once I was doing an assessment on a new patient. He was telling me why he was in the hospital and a lot of it had to do with his wife. After he described a litany of complaints about his wife he said, "I don't know. . .she has a bandana against me." Of course he should have said "vendetta." He kept repeating himself and the way he said it was hilarious to me. It was as if he had no clue about his wife. Then as if to give himself a reason for her alleged behaviors he would say,"I guess she has a bandana against me." It was very hard controlling my laughter. I had to do the fake cough a couple of times just to relieve the pressure. Who hasn't had to do that in church when they got tickled?

Keep your chin up and give the world a great big smile.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, September 18, 2003


An English Lady

LoisSome of the nicest and most interesting people live their lives without notice or formal recognition. Their value and uniqueness is appreciated only by the few friends and family members who know them. Lois is one such person and she will be moving away to Wisconsin next week to live with her daughter. Without Lois the aura of Covington will not shine as brightly. The citizens won't know the reason, but they will feel something is missing without her here. They will probably never know their uneasy feeling, their unexplained sense of loss is a result of one less English lady in their town.

England is where Lois' journey began. She grew up in turbulent times and remembers the German blitz well. There were times she and her family took refuge under their kitchen table in the dark for protection from the falling bombs. I asked her once if she was scared of dying during those times. "Not really," she replied, "I was more concerned about getting in trouble with my teachers if my homework was not completed." Apparently her teachers did not excuse incomplete work just because a few bombs were falling in the neighborhood.

I heard a story once about the English "stiff upper lip." During the blitz a home took a direct hit from a German bomb. Neighbors rushed to pull the only inhabitant - an older lady from the rubble. She was dazed and semiconscious. A neighbor remembered the woman kept a bottle of scotch under her stairway. He rummaged around and located the bottle then rushed back to where she was laid out on the lawn. They propped her up and gave her a sip of the scotch to help bring her around. After tasting the expensive liquor she said, "what are you doing? That scotch was only for an emergency." Lois could have been that woman. Maybe because she had to confront death at an early age or maybe because she had to get by on meager provisions she learned to be content when many around her were not. She takes things in stride and usually can find the fun or the beauty in something that others may overlook.

In England during World War II American troops stayed in private homes. The GI who stayed in her home was from New Orleans. Powerless to resist his southern charm, Lois fell in love. Two years after the war ended she booked passage on the Queen Mary. Her GI met her in New York and they were married. Next stop New Orleans. She would later have three children one being a close friend of mine - Brian the psychologist. (Photos of young Lois)

Her husband died about 13 years ago. Lois continued to stay busy working in some of the antique shops and a country club. Employers like her presence and the English accent. She loves animals and worked for the Humane Society as a volunteer. Seeing other needs for animals in our area she started an organization named "Pets and People as Partners." Their purpose is to make spaying and neutering of pets available to everyone regardless of income.

Lois is a good sport. I like to tease her about W.W.II. Brian and I will be talking about D-Day and I will ask her, "were the British at that battle?" Or we might tease her around July 4th - something about the US kicking England's ass in that war. She came to one of my storied Halloween parties with her daughter both dressed as cows. She attends the Mardi Gras parties and most social gatherings. She offers a unique spin on things to conversation. The "F" word has never sounded so elegant as when Lois says it. One of her favorite television shows is "Jerry Springer." She watches it with her son sometimes amazed at the behavior she is witnessing. "I say Brian," she will comment. "Have you ever seen such carrying on?"

Next week she will move to Wisconsin to be with her daughter. Our BBQ's will be minus one English accent. We will have one less person to harass. We will miss her wit and her genuineness. Get ready Wisconsin. Louisiana is sending a priceless gem your way - don't overlook her - a real English lady.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, September 17, 2003


Just Another Day

Today was my 17,000 day of life. You may have missed it on the news, but it happened. I have not been looking forward to this day in anticipation. Somehow it slipped up on me. There were no special celebrations or parties held in honor of day 17,000. It was just another day. How can that be? We usually stop to recognize milestones. I noticed the 1,000th hit on my blog Friday evening. I went to someone's 50th wedding anniversary party on Saturday. But my 17,000th day on earth was just another day. Unrecognized by everyone including myself. I refuse to not give it some sort of recognition.

The day began beautifully. When I stepped outside to get the paper the first thing I noticed was the usual sticky humidity was absent. The temperature was cool. It looks like fall as the sun comes from a different angle. The sky is bluer. It makes me feel different, almost expectant, but for what? I am energized with school starting back, football games, and shorter daylight. My live oak trees are dropping acorns like crazy. Squirrels around here get fat because they do not have to work at all. In the early AM the acorns can be heard hitting tin roofs or sheds around the neighborhood. All of a sudden I hear the POP, then the roll of something uneven down a roof, then silence as the acorn falls to the ground.

Work was busy and draining. I had several folks in my face a lot with unending demands. It eventually beats you down. I worked pretty hard today - for a change. On my way home I remembered my friend's political forum was in an hour. I had to wolf down a Sonic hamburger and tator tots for supper to get to the forum on time. He is running for a parish (they call them parishes in Louisiana instead of counties) council seat. The forum was arranged by the League of Women Voters. I have to say, I was heartened by the candidates running for office on the parish level. They were intelligent and well intended. There are good politicians out there and I am glad good people still seek to serve.

After the forum, I got home about 9:45 PM and was hungry. I opened the pantry and almost grabbed Hobo's Pedigree Breath Busters snacks instead of my chips. I think Barbara is trying to give me a hint about my breath. Since my dog Hobo has been getting in the closet to help himself to his treats, Barbara started putting them on the same shelf as my snacks. Were it not for a picture of a big dog on the package, I would probably have eaten half the bag before I realized it.

So day 17,000 came and went with nothing of significance to remember. Another day like so many before this one. Many days have been worse and a lot have been better. I shouldn't feel too bad. Mars was closer to the earth than it had been for a zillion years and a lot of people yawned.

Here are my day 17,000 thoughts. Humbled and grateful for such a gift, challenged to use the days I have left productively. I am grateful for my life including my friends, family, abilities, and experiences.

Here's to regular days, may you appreciate them and may they be many.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, September 16, 2003


A Sense of Wonder

When was the last time you wondered? The word "awesome" is overused today, but when was the last time you were awestruck? Adulthood and responsibility sometimes extinguish the flames of wonder and awe in a person. Children have it naturally. Then we get "cool" and stop making fusses over sunsets and rainbows. In the song "Both Sides Now" Joni Mitchell went from seeing clouds as "boughs and boughs of angel hair and ice cream castles everywhere" to "now they only block the sun, they rain and they snow on everyone." The lyrics are a poetic way of describing one's loss of wonder.

On the dedication page of the fairy tale series, "The Chronicles of Narnia," C.S. Lewis wrote to his granddaughter. "I am afraid you have grown too old for fairy tales, but someday you will once again be old enough for them." The muppet song, "The Rainbow Connection" is about those who still have their sense of wonder. "Someday they'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me."

My mother tells a story of a first grader who drew a picture of a purple cow. He came home that night proud of his work and showed his grandmother. "Look at my picture Grandma," the little boy said proudly handing the picture to his grandmother. Seeing the color of the cow, grandma commented, "I have never seen a purple cow before." "Oh grandma," he said very seriously, "that's too bad."

The movie "Hook" was about a man who had traded his sense of wonder for the corporate rat race. I do not think I will spoil the ending for you if I say he got it back.

I have heard some say that wonder is for childhood. It is dispersed as knowledge grows. To me knowledge only increases my sense of wonder. I remember the childbirth classes Barbara and I attended. The more I learned about prenatal development the more I was amazed and was in awe of the birth process. Miracles are everywhere. We do not recognize them because they are common place. It is easy to take them for granted. Traveling cultivates a sense of wonder often to the amusement of the locals. I love to have guests from other parts of the country. They marvel at the Louisiana landscape, the culture, and wildlife. Through their eyes, I can see things anew. When I travel to the mountains I cannot look at them enough. The sun and clouds cause a constant change, a kaleidoscope of color and beauty. It is the same at the beach. The sunlight glistening on the water and the sound of the surf are hypnotic and relaxing. Wonder requires the fertile soil of an open mind.

We kid ourselves into thinking we know a lot. Compared to what there is to know in the universe the collective knowledge of mankind probably amounts to one grain of sand out of all of the seashores and deserts on earth. Education really shows us what we do not know. That leaves plenty of room to be amazed, to be in awe, to feel wonder.

How do butterflies get such beautiful colors? How do lightening bugs illuminate? How does sperm and an egg become a person? How does a seed know to make an oak tree instead of a cornstalk? How do the sounds of music make us weep or words make us laugh? Our universe, our world, ourselves are marvels of wonder for those who can still be as a child and look at something with an innocence and a freshness.

Will this way of looking at things carry over to political debates and personal relationships? Will people open their minds and see things as though for the first time? I wonder.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, September 15, 2003



Turbo dog Beer
I know, it's Monday morning and you are bummed. The weekend is a memory and ahead of you awaits 5 days of work. First of all, say a prayer of thanks that you have a job. Now let's talk about beer for a few minutes. Beer is something dear to my heart and pallet. I know some people are alcoholics. I know some people drink and drive. I know adolescents abuse alcohol. However, that does not mean we should reenact prohibition. That would be like swearing off of chocolate cake because some folks have diabetes. I will say it right now, I like beer. There I said it and I feel better. I am a Baptist and beer drinking is frowned upon. Guilty, your honor. Luckily I live in Louisiana and I think there is some sort of special dispensation for beer drinking. Many of my friends are Catholic. They can drink beer all they want. They go to Hell for all sorts of things, but not for drinking beer. We have compared notes and came to the conclusion that if God is really nit picky and serious we do not have a chance. If, however, He has a sense of humor and is more interested in the general direction of our lives we have a case for going to heaven. (in case you cannot tell, this is a tongue in cheek theological discussion, not intended to instruct or offend.)

Speaking of "case" let me talk about my favorite beer. Turbo Dog is made by the Abita Brewing Company. I have gained a fondness for the full bodied beers. Ales, the thick stuff is what I go for. Light beers taste like water to me now. I keep them around for other people, but I like the ales. I noticed Chris likes the ales too.

I started drinking beer when I was 15. A lot of alcoholics have a similar opening line. As a parent, I did not want my son to follow in my footsteps where it came to drinking. I drank beer at home and John finally noticed dad was drinking something different. "What's that daddy," he asked once pointing at my bottle of Bud Light. I told him it was beer and he went on about his business. Eventually, his curiosity grew and he asked to taste my beer. He was 7 or 8 and this particular day I was drinking a Turbo Dog. "Do you want to try a sip?" I asked. "I guess so," he said taking the bottle from me. He put it to his lips and took in a small sip and his face immediately contorted into what one would expect to see if they had just OD'd on Sweettarts. "Yuck, how do you drink that," he said spitting and gagging. "Don't you like it," I said laughing and reaching for the bottle. He never asked to sample my beer again. To this day, he wants nothing to do with it.

I have had some good beers. When traveling I enjoy sampling the local brews. Kansas City has a pale ale called Boulevard I like to drink when I am up there. I like the imported beers. There are not too many beers I do not like. One local watering hole The Columbia Street Tap Room is a great place to enjoy a cold brew. My favorite selection there is a "black and tan". A black and tan is half Guinness and half Shiner Bock. The beers do not mix, but create a gradient in the glass from black at the bottom to a dark barely translucent brown at the top. Goooooood stuff.

Probably the most enjoyable beer I have each week is the one I crack open after doing the yard work. I like to get everything done and if I can wait, take a shower, then sit out in the yard with an icy cold beer and enjoy the freshly groomed yard. Oh man, it don't get no better than that. Not unless you can somehow work sex into the formula, ha.

As you are putting in your time at work this week just think about how good that cold brew will be on Friday's happy hour. Or how good it will taste on the way home from work tonight. Little rewards help us endure the work of our lives. When I am doing the yard work I am sometimes looking ahead to that nice cold beer when everything is done. I like that feeling. The beer does not taste as good if I do not mow the grass. The guilt makes it taste flat.

I would not want to eat crawfish or raw oysters without beer. Pizza is much better with beer. Mexican food requires a Dos Equis or Corona. Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, BBQ's, football games, and holidays have a beer connection - why fight it?

How about you? What is your favorite beer? Have a great Monday and I will see you at the Tap Room.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, September 14, 2003


Happy 50th Emma and Earl

Emma & Earl 50thEmma and Earl are the parents of a close friend of mine. Saturday we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the local Maritime Museum. It boggles my mind to think of being married for 50 years. I am only 46. I have been married 20 years. I think they deserve an award for just living that long. What I am trying to say is the longer I live I can better appreciate milestones like a 50th wedding anniversary. I also recognize Earl and Emma have been blessed to get there. They have shared their lives together longer than I have lived. Good for them.

Look at this picture of Earl and Emma as a young married couple in 1954. This photo adds perspective and shows how far they have come. Here is another good one of their young family. They still had one more child to be born when that picture was made. Just think about all that has taken place in their 50 years together. All of the meals cooked, diapers changed, homework helped with, clothes washed, and dishes washed. A family experiences a lot of joy, but they deal with a lot of problems too.

How fortunate to have a partner for 50 years. I consider myself fortunate to have had a partner for 20. As single parents can attest it is difficult to raise children without help. I value connections and having someone with whom I can share my thoughts and dreams. Earl and Emma have had this for half a century. As Earl points out, they have 100 years of marriage between them.

The event was of course attended by numerous friends and family members. A casual glance around the upstairs party room saw people of all ages. Happy people, many of whom exist because of Emma and Earl. Their 5 children have produced and soon their children will follow suit. Their influence goes out to their children, grandchildren, and the sons and daughters in law.

So it was a happy day, a proud day. It was a day to look over two lives lived, to marvel at how God blesses, and to give thanks for so many years together.

Here's to you Earl and Emma. May you have another 50 years. May we be as fortunate and as blessed as you. May our lives be as much a blessing as yours have been to so many.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, September 13, 2003


The Here and Now

On September 11 I opened my group therapy session by asking the patients if they remembered where they were and how they felt two years prior. I got a few comments I would have expected and a few patients said, "we have already talked about this in another group." Damn, the nurses beat me to it, I thought. A group leader is sometimes required to perform an "on the fly" shift of plans. This was one of those times. My segue: "We remember the fear and shock we felt - we feel it again just thinking about it. Tell me about one of the happiest days of your life." Right off a woman said, "the day my child was born." Then a man said, "the day I lost my virginity." The group erupted in laughter followed by loud congratulatory comments in support of the former virgin. I could not resist this set up. When the group calmed down, I said, "I remember when I lost my virginity too. It was dark and I was scared and I was all alone in the closet." Again the group erupted in laughter. I made a further observation, "ya'll sure participate better when the topic is sex."

We continued talking about happier times. Story after story was shared. A first bicycle, a particular Christmas memory, a graduation, and other cherished memories were articulated. With each story there were nods and words of identification. This group of people, who moments before were down, without energy, and apathetic were now laughing, vying to tell the next story, and having fun. This was the outcome I had sought.

Now the lesson. I pointed out that a few moments ago they were depressed and lethargic. Now they are energetic and laughing. Their life's circumstances have not changed. The only thing that changed was their attitude. They chose to open their minds, to participate, and dwell on happy thoughts. Maybe Peter Pan knew what he was talking about. The things we choose to focus our thoughts on are under our control. The results of how we feel are drastic depending on our choice.

I suggested the patients use this technique to change their mood. Stop negative thought patterns by laughing and thinking about good times. When one does decide to reengage his/her problems they will be better equipped to address them.

The above is an exercise in the here and now. Anxiety, in part, is a future focus. One looks ahead and sees problems leading to problems leading to more problems. Since the problems are in the future there is nothing that can be done. This frustration and fear becomes anxiety. The anxiety can become so uncomfortable that it surpasses what the feared circumstances would cause were they to happen.

We are alive now - the present. We can only act now. What we do now gives us distance from a past we would like to forget. What we do now gives us hope of a different tomorrow. We must plan, but some stay about 10 minutes ahead of the now. They never enjoy the now because they are in constant preparation for what is next. If you want to get back in the hear and now watch a child. Have you had this experience? Opening presents at Christmas creates a big mess of paper on the floor. Boxes, wrapping paper, and packaging are all over the place. Children often jump in the pile, throw the paper at each other, and decorate the dog or cat with it. There is usually an adult to say something like, "all right you kids, we have to clean this up. We need to set the table for the meal." Instead of enjoying the moment they miss it or worse experience it anxiously awaiting the future. A future which never comes because we are only in the present.

There is a story I once heard on the "Incredible Hulk" - I scour theater, art, and literature to find the best illustrations for you folks. Bill Bixby was putting the moves on some chick. Her concerns about the relationship of course centered around his anger problem and how it changed him. She felt there was no future in being his girlfriend. He explained that life is short and one must live life as it comes instead of waiting for things to be perfect. I don't know if Bill Bixby said all of this or if I am putting words in his mouth. Anyway he talked about a man walking in the mountains. The man wandered too close to the edge of a ridge. Rocks gave way and the man fell, but managed to grab a hold of a bush a few feet over the edge of the cliff. He was hanging there realizing the roots of the shrub were giving way to his weight. There was no way he could grab anything else. He knew he was going to fall to a certain death. As he hung there waiting to die he noticed that the bush had on it some fruit. He picked the fruit and ate it still hanging on. He thought to himself - how sweet, how delicious. He was in the moment. It did not matter he was going to die within a few minutes. He did not quit living just because death was near.

Past failures and future concerns are the stuff of anxiety and depression. Living in the here and now is one way to balance yourself.

How to get into the "Here and Now"

This stuff works. I am not a "touchy feely" person. I am practical. I know the value of living in the moment. Give it a try.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, September 12, 2003


Hunting Elephants with a Squirt Gun

Men and self confidence are almost synonymous. John Wayne was never unsure of himself. If you can't talk sense into 'em, then punch 'em in the face. If it doesn't work properly, kick it. Blow it up. Curse it. Kill it. That will show them. They won't mess with me again.

The men I observed growing up were like this. They always knew better. If someone disagreed with them, they were stupid. If they were wrong, they would never admit it. If they were lost, they would never ask for directions. Better to drive around for an hour cursing poor road signage than to admit you don't know where you are going. If they needed help in a store they would not ask for it. Better to walk up and down every aisle for an hour than ask for help and be on your way in 5 minutes.

Women have observed this behavior for years and laughed at how ridiculous and childish it is. On the surface it appears to be a character flaw, but closer examination reveals something positive about this manly behavior.

When President John F. Kennedy said "we will walk on the moon before the end of this decade," he could just as easily have been driving and looking for an address or wandering aimlessly in a hardware store resolved not to ask for help.

This attitude and behavior is the catalyst for achieving impossible dreams. To seek what would seem to exceed one's grasp. To attempt what has never been done. All necessary for making the impossible reality.

Men know the rallying value of this emotion. It is the very thing that inspired the Notre Dame football team to win one for the "Gipper". When men see quit or disillusionment in the eyes of a fellow teammate or friend they appeal to this emotion. It has the power to make someone who has all but given up stand and fight one more time. To give it one more shot. It is during these times that men know their character is at a defining moment. At that point winning is not as important as is not giving up. Losers can be respected - quitters cannot.

Unfortunately, this attitude comes with the negative, childish side along with the positive, prone to greatness side. Society lauds the victor and scorns the stubborn won't ask for directions, won't ask for help man. They are in fact the same. Each of us, man or woman is capable of greatness but prone to mediocrity unless we fix our gaze on something higher.

Those who do achieve the impossible do it because they do not accept the limits they are told exist. They dare to dream what could be and strive to make it so. Their accomplishments are legion and their names are inscribed in our places of honor.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, September 11, 2003


Remembering September 11, 2001

Statue of Liberty Cries
More 9/11 Photos
This drawing of the Statue of Liberty was drawn by an 8th grade girl shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

It began as a typical Tuesday for me. One difference though, I was not watching the news as I was getting ready for work. While at work I received a call from a friend telling me about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. I walked to the unit and watched television with a group of staff and patients. Details were trickling in as we watched the second plane hit the other tower. We all knew then it was some kind of attack. This was unfamiliar ground for me. We were not watching the aftermath of something we were watching something in progress. Then the reports of the Pentagon being hit rolled in. I remember watching the smoke rising from the Pentagon and a fear welled up in me I had not known until that day.

As the day wore on, the towers collapsed. I watched the replay of the planes crashing into the towers again and again until the images were etched into my memory. So many images of fear and disheveled people disoriented and confused. Beneath it all were the nagging questions, why did this happen? Who did this? Is it over?

I felt my share of anger and yes hate. I saw the video of people dancing in the streets in parts of the world. They were somehow happy that innocent civilians guilty only of going to work were dead. In some way this helped their cause. But what cause? What could justify such action? There is nothing to justify such action.

I stayed up late that night watching the news. Still in shock. Still asking questions and attempting to answer them. Thousands were dead, four planes crashed, the Pentagon was damaged. The world was now different.

It is impossible to comprehend the loss of 3,000 people. I browsed the 9/11 victims list and looked at some of the faces. Some of the pictures posted were from weddings or vacations. With each photo I became more aware of just what was lost on that day. Here are a few of the 3,000 people who died on September 11, 2001.

  1. Charles Falkenberg, 45 and his two children Zoe 8, and Dana 3

  2. Colleen Ann Barkow, 26

  3. Michelle Renee Bratton, 23

  4. Michael Boyle, 37

  5. Veronique (Bonnie) Nicole Bowers, 28

  6. Dennis Michael Cook, 33

  7. Barbara Keating, 72

I found a song written by Lynn Skinner entitled Voices from The Sky. The last verse reads:

Missing voices
whisper through the broken sky
Live your life
and we will never die...

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, September 10, 2003


Do You Remember September 10, 2001?

NYC 8/11/01We all remember Tuesday, September 11, 2001 vividly. What about Monday, September, 10, 2001? What were you doing on that day. What was going on in your life up to that point before the events of the next day occurred? I had to think pretty hard. A search of USA Today September 10, 2001 returned these news items:

In my home that evening I had no idea a few Middle Eastern men were eating at a Pizza Hut and shopping at a Wal - Mart, spending the last night of their lives before taking part in the murder of 3,000 people. How did the 3,000 who died spend their last night? How would they have spent it had they known it was their last night? No doubt the phrase "I love you" would have been spoken and whispered into the ears of their loved ones.

The events of the next day would alter so many things. Lives would end, lives would be forever changed, military actions would follow. Our sense of safety was about to be shattered. In a few hours the actions of a few would impact so many. It is difficult to comprehend there are people in the world who hate me and want me dead and do not even know me. I did not hate anyone on September 10, 2001. I was about to experience that very emotion within a few brief hours along with a kind of fear I had never known.

I was headed for a values check and a realignment of my priorities, but according to my computer directory I was downloading music September 10, 2001. Whatever else I did that evening was not memorable or noteworthy.

The next day would bring the death of innocence to my generation. We would then stand along side those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II and understand them a little better. We too would have to divert resources both human and financial to ensure our safety and our freedom.

I went on to bed that night like everyone else in America. Unbeknownst to us all we were about to change. We never know what tomorrow will bring. I certainly did not on September 10, 2001.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, September 09, 2003


Influences Part Two

Keeping things on the lighter side, I have described a few events and people that have influenced my life. These represent the tip of the iceburg. Who and what has influenced you?

Over the hill: When I was a seminary student in New Orleans in the early 80's my roommate and I were avid runners. I still am and in a moment you will see why. It was January and between the regular sessions. Most of the regular students were away from the campus and hoards of mini term attendees took their place. I was 24 and in good shape. Not only did I run, but I worked on the seminary ground crew so I got extra exercise pushing a lawn mower and carrying a weed eater. As Richard and I walked out of the dorm we had to pass through a small convention of rather rotund middle-aged men. They had convened to determine where they would eat dinner. Making our way through the maze of Old Spice wearing, pop bellied preachers one of them said, "it must be nice to be young and full of vim and vigor." Without hesitating, Richard replied, "yes, and it will be nice to be old and full of vim and vigor too." As we continued on, we broke into our warm up stride and listened to their retorts fading in the distance behind. In a knowing confidence they were saying with mixed laughter, "that's how I used to feel. . . you'll see, ha ha ha. . . you'll be like us some day. . . ha ha ha." Those words have both haunted and motivated me ever since.

The Sheep Lie! and so do advertisers: An old joke goes like this: A ventriloquist was traveling around the country. It was getting late so he asked a farmer if he could stay for the night. The farmer agreed and let the ventriloquist bed down in the barn. In the morning the ventriloquist decided to have some fun with the farmer. When the farmer came to check on the man and inquire about his night's sleep, the man replied, "Oh, I slept fine and did you know you have some remarkable animals here?" The farmer said "they seem pretty ordinary to me, what is so special about them?" "They can talk," said the ventriloquist. "Go on," the farmer said waving his hand at the ventriloquist in disbelief. "They really talk - just let me show you." The ventriloquist walked up to the cow. "How are you today Bossy?" "Fine," she said. "How does your farmer treat you?" asked the ventriloquist. "Pretty good," she said, "he milks me everyday and gives me food to eat." The farmer was dumbfounded. "I don't believe it," he said, "my cow can talk." The ventriloquist continued, "that's not all" he said walking toward the chicken coup. "Hey chicken," he said, "how does the farmer treat you?" The chicken answered him, "fine, he gives us chicken feed and hay for our nests." Even more astonished the farmer was getting excited. "Wow, not only my cow, but my chickens can talk too." The ventriloquist continued the charade, "There is more," and he walked over to one of the sheep. "Hello Mr. Sheep, how does the farmer treat you?" Before the sheep could answer -the farmer interrupted nervously, "now wait a minute," he said, "the sheep lie."

I was young, probably 7 or 8. Because my legs were turned outward at birth I went through braces and corrective shoes. I do not remember the braces, but I do the shoes. Tennis shoes were out of the question until everything was fixed. When I finally got my first pair of Red Ball Jets I was really excited. I had watched the advertisements and knew that with these shoes I could run faster and jump higher. Those were two things I wanted. Imagine my disappointment when I came home with the new white tennis shoes promising almost superhuman powers. I laced them up then headed outside to enjoy my new speed. I ran around the front yard for a test, but it did not seem much faster. Then I tried to jump high and again my powers were mainly unchanged. The commercial lied. The seed of skepticism germinated in me on that day. This guy had a similar experience.

Bugs BunnyLaughter: I value humor and laughter. I learned a lot from The Three Stooges and Warner Brother's Cartoons. Bugs Bunny was my hero and I enjoyed all of the Warner Brothers characters. I think in "cartoon" at times. If I am stressed I sometimes imagine what Bugs Bunny would do or what Moe would say in my situation. It happens in my head, I can laugh about it and hold my temper. I call it cartoon thinking. This is closely related to "after hang-up messages." AHM's are what people say after they hang up the phone. It cracks me up to hear someone on the phone talking professional, but change when they hang up. I am sure you have heard it in your office. It goes something like this: "Yes, yes, yes sir. . .I. . .I. . . yes, yes sir - OK sir, OK, Goodbye." Then the phone hangs up, then you hear, "asshole!" "Bitch" and "asshole" are probably the most widely used AHM's. Other early fuel for the development of my humor was MAD Magazine.

Therapeutic philosophy: Albert Ellis and his REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) is what has most influenced how I work with people. REBT is more than a therapy, but a complete philosophy of life. Albert Ellis is in his 80's. I saw him last year at a confernence in Baton Rouge. He still travels and carries a case load. He is down to earth and practical. One phrase he used several times was, "why do people do (fill in the blank??) . . . because they are out of their f****ing minds." He kept the place in stitches while teaching very useful things. If I said something like that at a conference I would hate to imagine the results. He says it and everybody laughs. My hero.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, September 08, 2003



The social sciences have debated the role of"nature and nurture" in personality development for years. Today the consensus is that many if not most personality attributes are biological. What we experience in life combines with this collection of biological attributes, traits, and preferences to form our personality.

Let's say you had 500 different varieties of seeds. If they were all put in potting soil at 75 degrees and exposed to direct sunlight, many would germinate and grow. Some of these seeds might fare better in a warmer temperature or a cooler temperature. The amount of water is a factor, while sunlight is another influence. This is how our personalities are. We have seeds or possibilities within and our experiences and nurturing determine what grows or develops.

The frontal lobes of our brains do not fully develop until age 20 or 21. Studies have shown how brains can become structurally different based on experiences, particularly abuse. Jonathan Pincus' research explores the link between child abuse and violence. His book Base Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill is an interesting read.

I would never say that a person's behavior is not their fault. I am not willing to give people a pass on personal responsibility. However, I work with people I am convinced lack insight and the ability to exercise good judgment. What we are born with and how we are raised is out of our hands. Poverty, abuse, starvation, and neglect may influence people but not in the same way. Some overcome while others are destroyed.

If you wake up every day and go to work, if you have good relationships in your life, if you have interests and pursue them, then you are one of the lucky ones. In part you were born that way. In part you were nurtured that way. The hardships you experienced taught you and probably made you better somehow.

I have been thinking about the people and events that have influenced me. Tomorrow I will write about them. It is an interesting exercise I would recommend. Just reflect about the people in your life that stand out. Who was most influential in your life? Who was the next most influential person? What events (positive or negative) most shaped your life? What do you value? Why? After you have identified some of these influences, bask in a little gratitude. If it is at all possible - if that influential person is still alive - let them know. Too often we do not acknowledge these "shapers of our lives" until they have died.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, September 07, 2003


Free Associations

The only thing these topics have in common is they are in this blog entry.

Computerized Crack: Blogger was down most of the day yesterday for some reason and I started going through withdrawals. I was reading a blog this morning and the author said something like this: "Blogging is like computerized crack." I would agree. He went on to say he had been unable to blog for a week and had been "jonsing." Another author of a blog commented that she just waited for interesting things to happen to her so she could write about them. My own friends are getting paranoid. When anything happens they will say, "I bet this will show up in his blog tomorrow." It just might, so watch it. I can see myself at a 12 step meeting, "BA" Bloggers Anonymous - My name is John and I am a blogaholic. . .

Funny DogThe Taste Dogs Love You've heard the dog food commercials claiming their dog food is the taste dogs love. My dog does not seem to have a discriminating pallet. I have seen him eat his own barf, lick turds, and his own schlong. He would lick his nads, but Barbara had them cut off. I had nothing to do with it. If they really wanted to make something dogs liked how about, cat flavor, or mailman flavor, or gas meter reader flavor.

Love Bugs: Love BugsIn May and September in Louisiana and other Southern States the love bugs fly. These bugs live for about three days and all they do is hump. They do not sting or infest crops, but are a royal pain in the rump. They are "doing it" while flying. Follow the link to see love bug porn shots. Their favorite position is locked up facing away from each other. I guess that way they can fantisize about other bugs. Anyway, these little devils can render a windshield opaque. I avoid little kids when it is love bug season. I do not want to have to answer the question, "what are they doing?"

Could this be the Chief's year??? I hope so. Thank God for Direct TV and NFL Sunday Ticket. I get to see every game. If you are a sports fan you understand. I remember one time I had been out of town and returned on a Sunday afternoon. I was surprised to find Barbara asleep on the couch with a football game on the television. I said to her, "I didn't think you liked football." She replied, "it just seems more like Sunday with the game noise in the background." I agree. As I write this LSU is abusing Arizona 38 - 0. Have a laugh on me with some of these football jokes.

Happy Birthday Ben: This is a picture of John and his three best friends. Ben just turned 19 and is the one seated. Josh has the long hair on the left, Will is standing behind Ben and John is on the right. The picture was taken at Morton's after polishing off some good seafood last Thursday in celebration of Ben's birthday. Some of the gifts Ben received was some fuzzy Homer Simpson slippers, a box of condoms, a box of Summer's Eve, a box of bikini briefs, a tacky glass candle with a black Jesus on it and other gag gifts from Wal-Mart. I am sure they will be life long friends. The stickers they are wearing are to endorse Marty a friend and local politician for the upcoming Parish Council election in October.

Have a great Sunday and go chiefs! and Saints!

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, September 06, 2003


Airport Security Pre 9/11

Our family utilizes air travel so infrequently it is usually fun and adventurous when we do. John was 5 and we were all flying from New Orleans to Kansas City to visit my family and go to a couple of baseball games.

It is always hectic preparing to leave for a few days. To compound things, I had selected an early flight. My reasoning at the time was we would get to our destination earlier and not spend the day waiting to leave. All of the last minute things were getting done. Setting the thermostat, turning off the ice maker, watering the plants, feeding the fish, blah, blah, blah. I was tending to that stuff and Barbara was getting John ready. We were scurrying around getting everything completed and though hurried, got everything done and out the door in time.

Barbara hates to fly. She worries we will all die, but mostly she worries she will die. My logical attempts to comfort her are ineffective. Her fear is not what I would call a phobia, but close. She learned that a Xanax or a glass of wine made flying tolerable. I usually say things like, "if we crash and burn, I want you to know I love you." This technique is an attempt to use exaggeration to get her to see her fear humorously and a way for me to exercise my sadistic side.

The drive to the airport was about 30 minutes. We left the car at a "Park and Fly", then hopped a minibus to the departure area. A sky cap checked our bags at the curb and we walked inside. Airport security in those days was painless. They did not even ask questions like, "did any terrorists give you a bomb to blow up your flight?" or "did you leave your bags unattended, but still manage to notice a stranger implant some explosives into your things and you forgot to remove them?" In New Orleans, like most other airports I suppose, one places their carry on items on the conveyer belt then walks through the metal detector doorway. There was a short line at the security area. As we were standing waiting our turn, Barbara said almost as an afterthought, "I hope that gun in John's bag does not cause any trouble." "WHHAAAT!", I replied. Now I was getting nervous. We were about two people away from the x-ray conveyer. "Just before we left I grabbed the toys he was playing with and put them in his backpack. One toy was his cap gun," she said. "Are you crazy," I asked rhetorically. I was thinking to myself - "this could be bad." To my amazement the purple Sesame Street backpack rolled right through without so much as a raised eyebrow. "There, you see," she said, "they can tell if it is a toy or not." Amazed, I agreed and we continued to the gate - which was the farthest geographic point in the airport from the curb where we were let out. In those days, John liked to be carried part of the time, so going a distance with a kid in your arms and all of the carry on paraphernalia made that trek a form of exercise on a par with a spinning class.

John was still at that "cute age" that drew attention from strangers. On the plane the flight attendants made a small fuss over him and showed him the cockpit and gave him the plastic wings to pin on his shirt. He was mesmerized and over stimulated by the whole experience. The take off was like an amusement park ride and the view was something he had never seen. I love to look out the window of the plane. I especially like it when it is overcast. The plane takes off and at some point breaks through the clouds. The bleak, dark day ends and all of a sudden you are enjoying sunlight and looking down at a white, fluffy, cotton like carpet of clouds.

The flight from New Orleans to Kansas City usually has a stop somewhere and today it was Memphis, Tennessee. Usually, when one has to change planes it is the next gate over, but since I had to carry John and tons of carry on luggage the gate was in another concourse. That meant having to go through security again. For a Saturday, the Memphis airport was pretty busy. We had just enough time to get to our plane, but I was nervously checking my watch anyway.

Finally, we got up to the x-ray conveyer. We set our things on it and waited for them to pass the scrutiny of the security official. When John's purple Sesame Street backpack entered the machine the conveyer belt stopped. The lady at the controls said something to the male official next to her. He turned to us and said, "I must ask you folks to step over here." He was motioning to the side of the area where there was a table and a couple of chairs. He led the way while talking on his walkie talkie. I heard his last two exchanges. "We have a code 7", (can't recall the exact number) then he said simply, "it's a gun."

I knew it. I knew it was a bad thing to bring anything resembling a gun to an airport. I knew you could not even joke about guns or bombs, but here I was being detained by security because of a toy gun grabbed in haste. I said to the security official, "It's a toy gun, my wife put it in there not thinking." I rolled over on her fast. I would take a bullet for her, but I did not want some dude thinking I would be dumb enough to bring a toy gun into an airport. Let me be clear. I am not saying she was dumb because she did it. This is one of those things where if a guy does it HE is dumb, but a woman gets a pass - oh she did not know. Conversely, if a guy ruins a load of laundry he is just a guy, but if a woman did the same thing she would be an incompetent woman.

The security official said in his monotone cop voice, "sir, we have to check it." I like the way police can be so polite. Sir, I am going to have to arrest you. Sir, here is a ticket. They have you thanking them for locking you up and having to pay a $300 fine. This man was polite. Well, in about 30 seconds there were five or six more polite policemen at the scene. They were all wearing those big coats with huge yellow letters spelling the word POLICE. So here we are in Memphis, a line growing longer because the family over there has something suspicious in the x-ray machine, six cops and other security officials around the machine. One brave officer slowly reached in the machine and pulled the purple Sesame Street backpack out. It looked so small and unthreatening in his hand. What a contrast - cop, gun, police coat, and little purple backpack. He unzipped it and pulled out the weapon. A pearl handled six-shooter no cowboy would be without.

Fortunately, John was oblivious to the whole thing. He could have been crying for his backpack, but there was enough stimulation to keep him busy. The security staff quickly assessed the situation as more of dumb travelers than a terrorist threat. They resumed the line saving us from certain lynching by the ever growing restless throng of travelers. On top of all of this we had a plane to catch. The polite security official continued his monotone conversation,"sir, you are going to have to come with us downstairs and fill out some paperwork." "Is this going to take very long," I asked, "we have a connecting flight leaving in twenty minutes." The security guys talked for a moment out of ear shot then returned. "If you want to surrender the weapon you can place it in our amnesty box or you will have to go downstairs and fill out some paperwork. The weapon will be returned to you when you arrive in Kansas City." "I'll go with the amnesty box," I said, "just don't let my son see you throw it away." We were released on our own recognizance.

I had Barbara so good I could sit back and not even have to say, "I told you so." She apologized all over the place and I let her. But it wore off pretty quick. Thank God that happened pre 9/11 or I would be writing this blog from "Gitmo".

Until the next time
John Strain