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Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Fixing the Toilet

ToiletMany people will blog about profound topics on this last day of the year. I am going to write about toilets. I have three of them not counting the trees in my yard. It is a guy thing to want to pee outside. It probably has something to do with freedom. Back to the point, I have three toilets and it seems one of them is always in need of repair.

The most annoying malfunction is when the flapper does not seat allowing the water to continue to run. I have to remind my guests to "jiggle the handle and it will stop running." One day I came home from work and the frigging thing had been running all day. My water bill almost doubled that month. I have tried to fix it and have experimented with shortening the chain, lengthening the chain, boring out the flapper connections where they connect to the shaft, and other ineffective interventions. The solution is probably to put another kit in the commode. I think I have one in my shed, but it always seems there is something better to do than fix a toilet. Besides, if I fixed the damn thing, one of the others would feel obliged to malfunction.

The toilet in the back of my house leaked in the wall. Instead of a floor drain, this toilet drains from the back. The sewer pipe comes up from the slab between the interior and exterior wall. When the leak started, I had to remove the wood siding on the outside of the house to fix it. This was a pain in the arse before I finished the job, but what home repair isn't usually a pain in the arse?

That pesky back toilet had me going a couple of weeks ago. It was not flushing so I got the plunger. I worked on it for 15 minutes or so before I figured out the tank was not filling high enough to make the toilet flush. The guts of this toilet were unfamiliar to me, but I finally figured out how to adjust the water level. There was an adjustment screw to handle that little task. No visible float or anything familiar in this toilet.

I had a burst of toilet ambition last spring and purchased new toilet seats for all three commodes. I would recommend this easy task to anyone interested in making their ordinary toilet a true throne. It made the morning constitutional something to look forward to for several weeks after that little upgrade. Now things are back to normal and the morning devotional has resumed its normal "ho hum" emotional reaction.

Speaking of toilet seats, I hate those fuzzy seat covers if they don't allow the lid to stay upright. It is a little more than inconvenient if I am standing there taking care of business only to have the seat come crashing down in the middle of my task. This extra fluffy seat condition is especially prominent at the houses of grandmothers.

I think I just stumbled onto my New Year's resolution - to fix my commodes. I probably could have fixed one of them in the time it took me to write this post.

OK enough toilet talk. This is the last day of the year. It has been a good year for me and I have been writing this blog since July 19. Happy New Year everyone. May your 2004 be filled with happiness and the things you want and need most. I am looking forward to more time reading your blogs and getting your feedback and support. Serendipity means an unexpected find. Blogging has certainly done that for me. I had no idea I would be making friends.

Here's to all of you and to a Happy New Year

Until Next Year
John Strain


Tuesday, December 30, 2003


December 30th

December 30, 199something I went out for one drink after work and got home at 5 AM. What a night. Unable to wait for the traditional party night of New Year's Eve, it seemed appropriate to have a warm up on New Year's Eve Eve. All day at work we spread the word to let people know where we were to meet for a drink. Linda and I got to the place first and she ordered a beer. I ordered a beer and a shot of tequila. "Make that two shots of tequila," Linda said, not to be outdone. The night got better from that point on.

Coworkers trickled in and we had a drink or two. Barbara was there, but had to leave to pick John up at school. A large group of us ate dinner since it was getting on in the evening. We feasted on fried seafood and assorted appetizers. Some of the group thinned out, but me and a few others were not ready to call it a night.

One of the folks there lived nearby and had a nice house on the river, so the party moved to her place. We continued drinking and snacking until there were only four of us left. Barbara had to take John home and gave me her blessing to stay and enjoy myself.

About midnight, we thought it wise to take a moonlight canoe ride. The weather was unseasonably warm - upper 50's so we walked down to the dock and loaded into the canoe. I was in the bow and straight away we ran into some brush which caused a small cut on my forehead. Though it was dark, the sky between the two banks was a ribbon of light and guided us on our tour. I do not think I could convey how much fun this was. We were laughing and talking and paddling down the river at midnight.

Along the way there were splashes in the river. They were frequent enough, we all tried to explain the phenomenon, but were at a loss. It sounded like a bowling ball being dropped from a three story building. To this day, we have no clue what it was. We made our turn and headed back home still laughing and having a great time. When we got back to the dock we all got out of the canoe and I was walking back to the house when I heard a splash and more laughter. Linda had backed off the dock and fell in the river. She was drenched and we all were laughing so hard it was difficult to stand. Linda got in the house and was issued some dry clothes.

Time for more drinks and chile. After that we sat in the living room in front of a roaring fire. It was so peaceful, what a night. The next thing I remember was waking up. You know the feeling of waking up in a strange place, I was trying to figure out where I was. The fire was still burning, but day was dawning. I had laid down by the couch and went to sleep. Linda was asleep on the couch. The other two people had gone into a room to sleep - they were a couple already. I checked my watch and it was about 5 AM. I thought, "uh oh, Barbara is going to kill me." I shook Linda to wake her up and when she realized what I had just a few moments before, she had a similar reaction. We got up and left. Linda dropped me off and I went to bed.

Barbara did not know how late I had been out. The next day she asked me. "You were out pretty late, when I got up at 1:30 AM you were still gone." I replied, "yeah, I got home at 5 AM." Then I added this line thinking it would be funny, "I was sleeping with Linda." Barbara did not respond as I had anticipated. She was pissed. Not bad though, I think she felt obligated to get chapped under the circumstances.

I talked to one of the other people there the next day and compared notes. He said when he got up in the AM he noticed chile bowls in the sink. "Oh, ya'll had chile last night?" he said. His friend responded, "you ate some too." "No, I didn't," he said, then he burped and said, "you're right, I did."

All in all it was a classic night. Friends, eating, drinking, midnight canoe ride, getting in trouble with the spouse. It doesn't get much better than that. Every December 30th I remember that night fondly as I am sure the other three do. It is a bond we will share like being trapped in an elevator together or getting food poisoning from the same restaurant.

That year, New Year's Eve was an anti climax. You just never know when one drink after work will turn into a legendary night and a bond among friends.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, December 29, 2003



I make a living at helping people who worry. I give great advice and give tips for handling problems of every sort. It is easy, if they are not your problems. It is always easier to help someone than it is to help yourself. Now it's my turn to worry. For four years I have had the luxury of being in stable employment. Healthcare, especially psychiatry, is an unstable business for the most part. For many reasons I will not go into, that security is no longer here. I may have to look for a new job soon.

I am reminded of how job uncertainty lurks in the mind and bounds to the forefront whenever it can. An idle mind is a mind that worries about the job, money, the future, the bills, and all the implications.

I toy with ideas of changing careers, but what? I am what I am and will probably stay that way. For now though, I wait and do some scheming of my own. Things may work out fine where I am. They may not, but I know somehow they will work out.

Mondays are traditionally bad days, because we have to go back to work. Not this week for me, I am glad I have a job because I may be facing life without one soon - but who knows?

I hope your job situations are stable and I hope I am worrying for nothing.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, December 28, 2003


Leaving A Record

I am a typical person. My life will not make the movie of the week and I doubt I will ever be a household name. On the other hand, I am me, I am all I have, and I am very important to a small group of people. Most people can say the same thing.

When I was in college I had a growing feeling of wanting to leave a record. It seemed so empty to live a life and have it forgotten. I thought about my ancestors and wished I could know them. What did they do? What were they like? What did they think and feel? I would never know, but I could leave this information for those to follow me, so I began a journal my senior year.

I kept it for about 5 years. It chronicled my last year in college, my seminary days, and the first year of marriage. The demands of going to school, working, and being married were my excuse to stop writing. Occasionally I would get a burst of creative energy and write a poem or a story. I wrote a piece about this topic and titled it Remembrance.

Thanks to an iMac frying lightning strike in 2001, I purchased a new computer and digital video recorder. I began making videos combining family memories. This genre appealed to me because I could be both creative and a historian. At present, I am making a year end video for 2003. I hope to make this a regular part of my routine.

As I sift through my digital photos and video, I am amazed at how many good times I had this year. The great thing about a digital camera is it makes it easier to take lots of photos. I carry mine with me almost everywhere and take pictures of things I would not have a few years ago.

Blogging fit my needs perfectly. I have been recording my memories from years gone by and the day to day experiences. It has given me another avenue to be creative, to share, and to meet new people.

I will spend the rest of this year looking back, recording, being grateful, and smiling as I relive some great times.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, December 27, 2003


Numbers Unfathomable

As many as 40,000 people may have died in the earthquake in Bam, Iran on December 26. I do not know about you, but those numbers are beyond my comprehension. On 9/11/01 3,000 Americans died in the terrorist attacks - a figure less than 10% of the Iran quake victims.

In the aftermath, the Iran government has opened its airspace to transport planes and relief workers are not required to have visas. All countries are welcome to help out except Israel. I guess some things will never be overcome.

Bam, Iran Earthquake 12.26.03
Dec. 26: An Iranian mother, centre, cries over the body of her daughter in Bam city after an earthquake.

The article I read made some references to individuals. A man in a white turban fainted when he saw the hand of his teenage daughter. Another man said his four year old daughter drew him a picture the night before the quake. She kissed her father four times before running off to bed. He asked her, "why four kisses." She said, "I may not see you again papa." The man's wife also died in the earthquake.

Survivors are sleeping outside in near freezing weather. There are no utilities and aid is trickling in. A city of 80,000 reduced to 50% of its population in a moment.

All over the world people die in large numbers from war, starvation, and natural disasters. The numbers can be staggering and unfathomable. When I turn on the news, however, the content is weighted toward Lacy Peterson or Michael Jackson. We wonder why society is superficial?

In the universe a life in Iran is as valuable as a life in the United States. This is not true in the media. I have to contemplate 40,000 lives suddenly ending for a while before it starts to sink in. Doing so is not an exercise to simply feel bad for these people, but it is necessary to maintain a realistic perspective as a citizen of earth.

We speak of a global economy. The world is smaller because of the internet, easy travel, and trade. I have come to accept this fact and think accordingly. Still, I do not react emotionally the same when 40,000 Iranians die the way I would if 40,000 Americans were somehow killed.

Right now, I cannot think of anything I can do, but feel for these people. Surely there is an aid organization where a contribution would help. This is another reason to be thankful for a life largely free of such devastation's. It may not always be this way, but it is now and I am thankful for it.

Prayers to the people of Bam, Iran. May your suffering end soon and may the world hear your pleas and send sufficient help.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, December 26, 2003


Out of the Box

The presents are unwrapped and out of the box, now it's time to start thinking that way. Christmas evening I opened the pantry door and took out a trash bag. For years we kept the trash bags under the sink. I probably walked ten thousand miles from the sink to the trash can before I moved the bags to the pantry right next to the trash can. I was acting out of habit and not thinking. In a week, people will be making New Years resolutions. If these resolutions are to become reality, they will need to be thought out and not born of habit. Some will be the usual, "I need to lose weight" kind, which will never be accomplished. Others will set goals to "go to the health club." They will go for a week or two and then revert to their familiar ways. A few will keep their resolutions. How will they do it?

First, they will spend some time dreaming. Goals have a better chance of getting completed if they are part of a dream. A goal is a step toward our destination. Goals are compass headings. Now, most goals are demanding and require discipline, otherwise we would "just do it." They are not often fun to do, but pay off with a desired result. I may not relish getting up early in the morning and running in the cold, but I like my pants fitting well. Goals are not always doing something; sometimes they are to resist doing something. Examples are to stop smoking, to cut down on our food intake, or to stop procrastinating about a particular project. Dreaming has you imagine what your life would be like if you did "X" or if you stopped doing "Y". With a clear picture in your mind, allow yourself to soak it in and really want it - now realize it is possible IF you are willing to pay the price. You will need this image when you are tempted to shirk your daily duty. Lying in bed just after the alarm goes off, I may need to remind myself why it is necessary to leave the comfortable confines of the warm, cozy bed and go out into freezing weather. Right now I can't remember why, but there is a reason I once dreamed about, ha.

The rest of it is practical stuff anyone can do. Many have written about goals and organizing to get them done. I do not believe the method makes a lot of difference IF your head is in the right place. You must be self motivated or you will break your resolution before the words leave your mouth.

The short answer is this:
A goal must be Measurable, Achievable, and Practical. (MAP)

If a goal is not specific how will you know if you achieved it? Quantify the goal. What will you do? When will you complete it?

Goals also need to be achievable. I could set a goal to be a Navy fighter pilot, but it is not achievable for many reasons. I could set a goal to learn about Navy fighter pilots, but not to be one. You must decide what is and is not achievable. I would not want to squelch someone's dream and the impossible dream has been accomplished. The Wright brothers wanted to fly and they achieved the goal despite popular opinion. They illustrate an earlier point of the head being the most important factor in goal achievement. They could have quit trying to fly, but they WANTED it. WANTING it carries you through the hard times.

The last factor in goal setting is, goals must be practical. If the goal is not a step toward the larger goal, why are you doing it? You could be making good time, but if you are going in the wrong direction, how do you benefit?

I will say more about goals before New Years, but I wanted to remind folks to dream a bit and see if you are in the mood to set a goal this year. You don't have to, but this is as good a time as any. What have you been meaning to do? What have you put off? What bugs you? Is there anything you have been meaning to get done, but haven't? Think how your life would be affected if these issues were addressed.

I invite you to dream a bit - the first step to accomplishing the impossible or just losing five pounds.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, December 25, 2003


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
George, Becky, and John 1961

This is a picture of me on the right in 1961 age 4, my sister Becky age 7, and my brother George age 11. I hope you are enjoying your day with friends and family. Merry Christmas.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, December 24, 2003



Christmas Card

While a seminary student in New Orleans, I wrote a piece about Christmas. This is now 23 years old which is how old I was when I wrote it. But this post is not about me. It is about the meaning of Christmas and the significance of the holiday. On this Christmas Eve let us remember why we celebrate in the first place. Merry Christmas.

Jesus and Santa Claus.
Wise men and fools.
A team of harnessed reindeer and a multitude of singing angels.

In essence, we celebrate the holiday with at least two expression:
Religious and Secular.

Christmas is a time of merriment and joy.
It is a time for peace, for benevolence, for a sort of justice.

We celebrate the birth of a baby who became a man,
And in turn became the savior of all people.

He magnified the message which was first proclaimed in a garden.


We eat candies and cookie s and again taste the bread of life.
We drink punch and champagne as we again drink the covenant wine.

We reflect over the past year and we look toward the one coming.
At the same time we reaffirm our commitment to our Lord.

We give presents and we thank God for the One He gave us.

May we some day unwrap the gift entirely and fully see its light.
And as we learn to use it, may we give it back to the giver
in a way that praises him.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, December 23, 2003



In a couple of days we will get a lot of new stuff. George Carlin did a routine about stuff. He talked about how we get so much stuff we fill up our house, then we get a bigger house to hold more stuff. I was talking with a friend today and we were laughing about how we get stuff, but rarely get rid of stuff. Eventually, your house gets the way George Carlin describes - full.

The stuff I hate to get this time of year is the unnecessary stuff. Huge cans of popcorn that seem to hang around forever. Gag gifts like singing animals which take up lots of room and other items someone purchased simply because they had to buy me something and this was in the aisle at Walgreens. I do not intend to sound ungrateful. We all do this. I buy people presents I barely know, but feel obligated to get something. What I get them is probably as much a white elephant to them as the thing they got me. I am not offering some great solution today to this world problem, just making an observation.

Our house is about 2600 feet and we have been here for 12 years. We moved from a small two bedroom apartment. At first, the house was empty, but eventually we filled it up, just like George talked about. I just hate to part with anything. I figure, if I get rid of this item, I will have to buy another one later. So the material things pile up in mass.

My friend and I laughed again when we compared notes about the kind of furniture we had, starting out. Most of our furniture, I put together. O'Sullivn brand bookshelves, entertainment center, and microwave stand. I also put together a desk and some other items. What a job, once the contents of the heavy, flat box were emptied, it looked like a big mess. Slowly, though, the parts were identified and the instructions led to a completed piece of furniture. All of the "put together stuff" has been retired now, mostly.

I am tired of stuff and this year we are going to liquidate some of it. I want space that is not full of clutter. Less is more. Still, I get attached to things and hate to part with it. How many times have you thrown something away or sold something only to need it the next day? I have on numerous occasions.

What a problem. I have too many things. I have been blessed too much. I guess that is a signal to pass it on and share the wealth - at least that is what I am thinking. Much of the world lives in poverty. Our scraps would be welcomed by them. I do not need a bigger house, I need to give some things away - to someone who needs them.

I have received much more than I have ever given. That needs to change. It is time to give back. It may not seem like much to me, but the things I have to give may be a godsend to someone who is in need.

Just some random thoughts before I am showered with a new batch of stuff.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, December 22, 2003


Emotional Roller Coaster

I am a sensitive, caring, deep feeling person. However, one of my faults is I sputter when it comes to expressing said emotions face to face. Being touchy feely and hugs are not my strong suit, when it comes to individual relationships. I do better in groups, but it is a weakness of mine. I am not the first "guy" with this problem. I identify with the words from the country song "It Ain't Easy Being Me" which read, "I know the words that will bring you back, but I don't say nothin' as I watch you pack." I think I am getting better, but let's just say I wish I were better at expressing my emotions, especially intimate emotions. My outlet for emotional expression is music, movies, writing, and making videos. To further psychoanalyze myself a bit more, I overcompensate with humor to keep things light and avoid seriousness. Oh well, nobody's perfect.

I left out one important emotional outlet - sports. I can get emotional over sports. I will scream at the television, curse at the television, get mad, get happy and all in the course of a few minutes, depending on how the game is going.

Sunday, I was at Circuit City. My son works there and Barbara's Dad and "wife" were visiting from Vicksburg. They wanted to see John so we went to see him at work. Being Sunday, football was on and an electronics store is a great place to be to watch a game. I was standing by a big screen when an off duty cop walks up to me and asks me about the Saints game. I gave him the run down on the game and we discussed the Saints lousy season. They had to win the game today against Jacksonville or playoff hopes were dead. It is funny how guys have sports in common. We find instant friends or enemies depending on which sports team they like. For guys like myself who struggle expressing intimacy to others, this sort of superficial conversation is comfortable.

The game came down to this. The Saints had the ball with 7 seconds remaining and down by 7 points. Aaron Brooks the quarterback threw a 20 yard pass complete and after a series of laterals and hand offs, the Saints scored a touchdown. I was yelling at the TV with a couple of other people who came up to watch with me and the cop. We drew a crowd with our yelling and each of us who witnessed the amazing play were explaining it to various people and groups of people as they gathered and asked what was going on with the Saints. From despair of not making the playoffs to elation tying the game and going to over time, our emotions were on a real roller coaster ride and on their way up. But the ride was not over yet. The kicker missed the extra point. We stood there stunned. No one misses an extra point. A few expletives were hurled but it was striking how deflated everyone was. From elation to depression in less than five minutes. This only increases the theory the Saints are cursed. They have found more creative ways to lose than any other team.

Though my teams seem to lose a lot more than they win, I love the drama. The outcome is real. There will be no "twists" like some of the "reality" shows. One team wins and the other loses. They do not say, "let's call it a tie. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings."

Here's to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat: In life we get to taste from each vintage.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, December 21, 2003


The "Place" of Christmas

The other day in group, we were talking about Christmas. Some patients were concerned about being discharged before the holiday. A few did not want to leave until after the holiday. They all had a concern about place. Haven't we all had concerns at one time or another where we would be on Christmas? There is more than one movie showing twists of fate preventing the subject from being at their desired "place" for Christmas. In most of those stories a lesson is often learned - Christmas is more about the heart than it is about geography.

I cannot remember the first Christmas I spent away from my family. I have given it some thought and figured it must have been spent with Barbara and her family. I do remember my first Thanksgiving away from home. The important thing here is I wanted to be some place else, but it was not going to happen. It was 1979 my first year at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It just did not work out for me to get back to Missouri so I was bracing for depression and all sorts of imagined terrible things. I was invited to spend Thanksgiving with my roommate from Pensacola, Florida. Long story short, it was fine. I ate turkey, watched football, all the usual things - just with other people. It felt like Thanksgiving only different. I suddenly related to the Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is?" - Is that all there is to not being home for Thanksgiving? I realized Thanksgiving comes no matter where I am. Thoughts can be like bullies. We cower from them, avoid them, and fear them. Once they are exposed like my Thanksgiving expectations, their power evaporates and when they come around again we can deal with them.

In the movies, the realization I had is much more dramatic and often humorous. Steve Martin in "Planes Trains and Automobiles," is struggling to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving dinner. In Home Alone, Kevin is faced with spending Christmas by himself. While he likes the idea at first, he soon discovers his family isn't so bad after all. It's A Wonderful Life, Scrooge, Rudolph, all have a lesson. The solution is always a new attitude and a realization - Christmas comes no matter what. You may not have what you want, be where you want, or be with who you want - it still comes. If however, you learn to experience the true meaning of the holiday, then Christmas happens in your heart and your heart is always with you.

If you get to be where you want and with whom you want this Christmas, you are lucky. Our servicemen are far from home, our emergency workers stand at the ready, our phones, televisions, and utilities all work because people work on Christmas. I benefit from their sacrifice.

Even the first Christmas, Jesus was on the road and couldn't make it home. The hotels were all booked and he had to bed down in a stable. On second thought, maybe being away from home with strangers is a more accurate representation of Christmas after all.

Wherever you are and whoever you're with - I hope Christmas comes to your heart.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, December 20, 2003


What a Dream

Here is the dream I had last night. I was at a rather large house with wide covered porches all the way around it, a typical large southern home. I began to hear a helicopter and the noise got louder as the chopper neared. In my dream I thought nothing of it. It was probably coming or going from a nearby hospital. At the same time I realized people were running toward and past me I was hearing gunfire. Someone yelled something about the chopper. I dove into a corner on the porch behind some plants. The helicopter was circling the building shooting into it. Then it was gone. I crawled out of my hiding place and noticed bullet holes. No casualties that I could see, but things were still chaotic. I heard a lady exclaim. "They were disgusting," referring to the helicopter inhabitants, "they were naked and laughing as they fired the guns." Apparently, al Qaida was back at it. I glanced at the street and men were walking with purpose and some were trotting toward the City Hall. In my dream, I imagined they were going to muster a force to defend the town. I was still at the house and though there were people around, I was alone. The dream continued as I watched television reports reminiscent of Independence Day. There were live military feeds and the radio traffic was the typical calm professional voices of our soldiers. We had our own fighter planes and attack helicopters enroute to retaliate. Once they zeroed in on them all hell broke loose nearby. A rolling thunder of bombs and flashes of lights went on for several minutes - then silence. I remember feeling as though the threat was over, then I woke up.

Funny thing though, the rolling thunder of explosions could still be heard after I awoke. As the cobwebs cleared from my sleepy brain I realized the source of the bombs. My son was in the other room with his Play Station and the new Lord of the Rings game. It was 3:30 am. Don't those kids ever sleep! Oh yeah, they will sleep until noon. It cracked me up, but I still went out to turn down the volume of their battle. I had an 11 mile run to begin in a couple of hours so I returned to slumber.

When I got up at 5:30 am, two of John's friends were still playing the game. John turned in since he had to go to work at Circuit City at noon.

Just another night with a son who is a college freshman and whose friends like hanging out here. It aggravates the beejeezus out of me sometimes, but I know someday I will long for it - sooooooooo, I have strange dreams every now and then and turn down video receivers in the middle of the night. I also have a higher water bill, less food, lights left on, toilet paper never put on the roll, underwear on the bathroom floor, washcloths left in the shower. Am I really going to miss this someday? To keep a relative degree of sanity I will keep operating on that premise. I told Barbara I would get even with John. I am going to get Alzheimer's disease and he will have to take care of me. That will show him.

I think I am still dreaming. Have a great Saturday, go spend the rest of your money.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, December 19, 2003



Christmas 1957
Mom holding me my first Christmas 1957
Christmas 1985
Mom holding my son John his first Christmas 1985

I was thinking about gifts today. I still have some to purchase before Christmas. Somehow I started thinking about gifts I have already received and did nothing to merit. I thought about what I was born with and what has happened to me over the years. Some people might call it luck, others may see it as fate, I think of it as the grace of God. What follows is a short list of gifts I have received in my 46 years of life.I think the best gifts have been my relationships. People I have known have, for the most part, encouraged me and acknowledged me. They made me feel loved, accepted, and important. When a person feels these things they can flourish. I have had a few critics and folks I could not get on with, but they have been vastly outnumbered by the former group.

Now, since I know these things are valuable and important, and since I know they have largely shaped me, I should do my best to pass them on to others. I try to live that way - to pass on joy and laughter. If someone feels down, help lift them up. If someone feels inadequate give them encouragement. By giving those gifts, one also receives - namely the gift of friendship. Once you get into this sort of pattern, you are giving and receiving gifts all the time. It becomes a habit and it is contagious.

So when you are giving the material gifts this year, throw in a little lagniappe, a piece of yourself. Give a compliment, listen intently to someone, give a hug or a touch on the arm. Give some of your time - you will receive much more than you give.

The Gift at Christmas of course is Jesus. When we act like Jesus and treat others as He did, we are spreading the ultimate Christmas gift, and what a gift it is.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, December 18, 2003


The Heart Warming Story of Brandon Teel

Wednesday afternoon on ESPN Radio, I heard Dan Patrick talk about this heart warming story that took place in Omaha, Nebraska.

Trevor Howe is a 15 year old high school freshman who has Down Syndrome. He is on his high school's wrestling team in a symbolic way. Due to mental retardation and poor motor skills, wrestling is a struggle for Trevor and he cannot compete under normal circumstances.

Prior to a wrestling meet, one of Trevor's coaches emailed the opposing coach asking him if one of his wrestlers would agree to wrestle Trevor. Seventeen year old Brandon Teel volunteered for the match. Brandon was to put up some resistance and not hurt Trevor. He was also expected not to pin Trevor until the third round.

To everyone's surprise, Brandon allowed Trevor to pin him. To Brandon's surprise, he has received a lot of attention for this selfless act of kindness. Check out the full story.

After winning the match, Trevor was jumping up and down, hugging his coach, and hugging his dad. The crowd was giving both wrestlers a standing ovation. Brandon gave Trevor something priceless, he gave of himself, he sacrificed his way for that of another.

Brandon Teel lost on purpose so a mentally retarded boy could experience winning a wrestling match. I am guessing Brandon was raised right. He knows that winning isn't everything. He knows that winning is not always winning. Though Brandon lost the match, I doubt anyone would call him a loser.

Brandon also gave Trevor's parents a gift. Those of you who have had children in organized anything know the tension of watching your son / daughter compete. We all want OUR kid to be the best, the fastest, the brightest - somehow it is a reflection on us. It is not really, but it sure feels that way. Trevor's parents were treated to seeing their son win the match. I know the feeling of pride Mr. Howe felt that night. His son was the winner, the victor. The crowd was cheering his son. I know his heart was so full of pride it spilled out his eyes in the form of tears. I doubt if he could muster words because of the lump in his throat. No amount of money can make you feel that way, but the actions of a selfless seventeen year old gave Trevor's parents just that.

What a contrast to our professional athletes. I heard Bryan Cox on the same radio program. When asked his opinion on athletes as role models, he launched into a rant. "I am paid to be the best football player. It is not my responsibility to raise your kids. I only have to raise my kids. Why do I have to adjust to the standards of middle class America? Blah, blah, blah." Needless to say, he did not think he should be a role model so he had no responsibility to act any certain way. Right now the NFL is dealing with players who go out of their way to pull contrived stunts aimed at self promotion. The most recent case involves Joe Horn, who made a cell phone call from the end zone after scoring a touchdown. The NFL handed down a thirty thousand dollar fine. I could list player after player who is a poor example for our young people. They are rude, ungrateful, irresponsible, and selfish. Brandon Teel should be their role model. Think of the good they could do with their celebrity. Instead they use their influence on themselves. They are squandering opportunities to be true winners - winners like Brandon Teel.

The best thing is we are all capable of doing great things like Brandon Teel. It is easy to see the opportunities once you are able to look past yourself.

Here's to you Brandon Teel - your story makes me want to be a better man.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, December 17, 2003



Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri

I do not see trains much anymore, but at one time in my life they were quite common. I loved trains. I guess it was the power of them and that wonderful noise. Have you ever stood by a train track and felt the power of the passing train? From a distance a low rumble and the brassy sound of the train whistle is heard. As the train approaches the rumble becomes a roar. Closing quickly, the engineer sounds the whistle and the train sound is both heard and felt. The rumbling diesels pass and the ground shakes. The noise abates slightly giving way to the rhythmic clatter clatter clackity clack of the individual cars as they are pulled along. Don't forget to wave at the man in the caboose. The clatter clatter gets quieter and quieter and eventually disappears. Once again the sounds of birds and grasshoppers fill the air until the 315 comes through.

Did you put pennies on the track like we did? No matter how many times we did it, if anyone had a penny and the train was coming, it was placed on the rail. After the train passed we would find it and marvel at how smooth and flat it was. A flattened penny was another manifestation of the train's power.

Railroad crossings are not too plentiful anymore. Progress has spared us from waiting on a train to pass. But when we did wait we occupied ourselves by counting the cars and seeing if the caboose man would wave back. Sometimes at night, the strobe affect from the car headlights on the other side of the train would hypnotize me and the wait seemed shorter.

My grandma and grandpa lived in a small Missouri town. Their little house was about 18 inches from the busiest train track in the country. At least it seemed this way when we visited. I loved it. It was a real treat to have a front row seat to so many passing trains. I slept on a cot in the front room. When trains passed, the big light would illuminate the room as if the sun were shining. The shaking house and accompanying noise made sleeping possible only for the most weary. My grandparents barely noticed the trains. Funny how one can get used to anything.

My favorite train reference in a song is in Brook Benton's, Rainy Night in Georgia
The distant moaning of a train seems to play a sad refrain to the night,
a rainy night in Georgia, such a rainy night in Georgia,
Lord I believe it's raining all over the world.

I can't think of a more lonely sound than to hear a distant train at night.

John & Barb in Union StationThe picture at the top of this post is Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. This structure was built in 1914. As train travel diminished in the 1950's Union Station (the country's third largest) passed its heyday. Falling into complete disrepair in the late 70's and 80's, a rebuilding campaign resulted in a complete restoration and it is a beautiful building today housing museums, restaurants, and the Amtrak terminal.

There is a lot of history with Union Station. In 1933 Pretty Boy Floyd attempted to free a friend of his from federal custody. His friend and four FBI agents were killed in the attack now known as the Kansas City Massacre. Each time we go there, we locate the bullet holes in the building that are still there.

The big clock in the main waiting room was a landmark. People would say, "meet me under the clock," and Kansas Citians would know exactly what was meant. My dad worked there in the 1950's with the US Mail. He told me stories about riding the trains, sorting mail, and going to exotic destinations such as Liberal, Kansas.

Once i rode the train with my family to Milwaukee for my uncle's wedding. On the way back we had a hard time getting a seat. In the sixth grade our class took a field trip to Chicago on the train. I have a lot of memory fragments about trains.

I remember meeting family members there when they came for visits. I remember taking them back to the station and feeling sad to say goodbye. My grandfather would always give me, my brother and sister a nickel. He would tell us "don't take any wooden nickels," then he would laugh, turn, and get on the train bound for southern Missouri.

Servicemen departed Kansas City for World War II from Union Station. Not all of them came back. Can you imagine some of the reunions that took place under the clock? I am sure more than one young man asked a girl to marry him at that spot. Real love stories acted out in the lives of common folk began there and probably still do today thanks to the rebuilding effort.

I marvel how a hunk of iron can summon such thoughts and feelings of nostalgia. It has been an exercise in reliving fertile memories of family and past trips. I feel some regret about change and the diminishment of trains, but i also feel grateful I have been able to experience them in the ways I have. Can you guess what is under my Christmas tree?

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Red Beans & Rice

Kim over at Kimmotion asked for a recipe for red beans and rice. While Emril probably has a better recipe, I doubt if it is this easy.

First you need some Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice Mix.
1 lb of dry red beans
1 can of Blue Runner Beans,
1 lb smoked sausage.

Soak the red beans over night in a pot on the stove. In the morning put the beans, the red beans mix, and the sausage in the crock pot. Go to work. Come home.

Add the can of Blue Runner beans. This thickens it up just right. Once it reheats, it is time to eat.

Individuals can use Tobasco Sauce to make their individual portions just the right amount of hot.

The Zatarain's site also has recipes. There are a lot of them and they are all good. Red beans and rice is like chili in that it can be done many ways.

Monday is the traditional day for red beans and rice. The reason, Monday was also wash day and women needed a no fuss meal. So, while the washing was being deal with, a pot of red beans was cooking on the stove.

If you make some, let me know how they turned out.

John Strain


One Million Voices Silenced, Now Will Be Heard

I have heard estimates that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the murder of one million people. Take a moment to let that sink in. Have you ever lost a loved one? Do you remember the pain of the loss? Do you feel it still? Now multiply the pain 1000 times 1000 and you arrive at one million. The lives affected by one million deaths is a much greater number still. So much pain and hurt all by the hand of one evil man. Sure he had help, but he was the leader. He did not stop there. Rape and torture were other characteristics of his regime. In contrast, we complain about tailgaters, rude people, and weather.

When he was captured, he looked like a homeless man. He looked weak, certainly not someone who killed one million people. He is a laughing stock for our late night talk shows. We must not forget those voices he silenced or those faces he eliminated. Saddam should not be the focus. He should not be treated like a head of state, but a common murder who is now a prisoner.

I have heard elaborate suggestions for his torture, but he could not suffer enough to pay for his crimes. Torturing him would only lower the civilized world to his level.

I want a trial. I want to see him face his accusers. I want the world to hear the names of those he murdered, raped, and terrorized. The victims are owed that. We cannot comprehend the pain he has caused. A trial would honor those silenced voices. They must be heard. I expect him to deny everything. He will not apologize or admit any wrong doing. That is OK. After the trial, he will be found guilty, hopefully he is given a sentence of death and it is carried out quickly and without fanfare. I would cremate his body and flush the remains. There should be no marker to memorialize him.

For a moment, think about your family. Envision your parents, siblings, children, and extended family. Think of how unique they are, how much you enjoy and love them. Remember all they have done, their accomplishments, and all of your interactions with them. Now imagine them gone because of a man like Saddam Hussein. Millions of people have lost their family and they do not have to imagine it - it is their reality.

As we enter into the debate about what to do with Saddam, let us keep focus on a million silenced voices. I care very little about his rights and how he is treated. The sooner he is killed the better. Not for revenge or to get even, but to silence his voice and to begin the destruction of his memory. As a rabid dog would be killed so must Saddam Hussein, but not until his victims have been honored on a world stage.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, December 15, 2003


How Evil Are You?

I took this test and since I came out OK, I thought I would post the results.

How evil are you?


Sunday Gift Exchange

Our gang consists mainly of four couples including Barbara and I. Today, we got together to exchange gifts since Brian and Faye are taking an excursion to New Mexico next week. We met at Claude and Judi's log cabin to begin the festivities.

The log cabin holds some good memories for the guys of the bunch. If anyone is doing a major project, the other three help. Projects are usually smoke screens for getting together to curse, tell dirty jokes, and have a few drinks. This time though, we were tearing down a section of the roof and replacing supports for the porch. I have to say, at first, I figured trying to remodel the cabin was a waste of time. It was in poor shape. There were holes in the roof and the floor. When the door was shut, cement from between the logs crumbled off and hit the floor. It sounded like the place was falling apart. Believe me, Brian, Marty, and I gave Claude hell - as is the duty of any guy to rag his buddy at every opportunity.

So there we were, sitting on top of Claude's roof, tearing off shingles and rotten boards. We were laughing and making fun of the place. When we demolished the part we were going to rebuild, we stood back to admire our handiwork. Someone said, "that looks pretty good where we removed the roof." I added, "yeah, why don't we keep going and make it look even better." We worked the whole day on the place; Claude would spend many days and to the amazement of us all, it turned out great. It has real character and has a real character living there.

Back to the gift exchange. I stopped by Lowe's on the way to get my gift for the boys. I bought each a pair of fancy safety glasses. Get it? The blind guy giving something to protect sight? These were stylish too. I also bought them a box of assorted sheet rock anchors. Now you ladies are probably scratching your head about now, but any guy would appreciate this gift. If you don't know what a sheet rock anchor is, it is a little plastic tube that one presses into the wall (after a hole is drilled) then a screw goes into it. They are used to hang pictures, shelves, and anything else you want hung on the wall. Every guy has needed one and had to go to the hardware store to get one instead of just walking to their tool shed or kitchen drawer like they can now. I am saving them a lot of hassles here. The last thing I bought them was some bungi cords. Guys always need to strap things down so I am helping out.

We also swung by the grocery store and bought some vodka and bloody mary mix. Everything was in place for a good time. Friends, a nice place full of memories, presents, and some refreshments. We had a great time laughing and exchanging gifts. After the gift exchange, we all went to Outback for a late lunch / early dinner.

It was a great time on a great day with some great friends. Just another seasonal tradition I got to enjoy. I feel blessed to have such good friends.

Here's to you Brian, Faye, Marty, Cindy, Claude, and Judi - ya'll have given my life much happiness.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, December 14, 2003


Roasted Corn Grits

I talked about these roasted corn grits yesterday and had some inquiries about them. I have tried making them with some success, but the best place to get them is at Zea's Restaurant in New Orleans. The easy way is to get some Quaker yellow grits, make them according to the box, then stir in a can of creamed corn. Cream can be added to make the consistency smoother.

Here are a few recipe links you can experiment with. They are simple. An alternative to roasting the grits over charcoal is to do it in an iron skillet.


Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, December 13, 2003


Busy Saturday

I got up at 5 AM to get ready for my run. Stepping outside to get the newspaper I noticed the clouds overhead sailing quickly across the sky. It was blustery and the leaves were making clattering sounds as they brushed against each other. The birds were not singing yet and it was about 30 minutes before sunrise. I thought to myself, I hope that rain holds off until after the run. I made the coffee and applied vaseline to strategic areas on my body to prevent rubbing myself. Long runs are notorious for causing bad skin rubs. The nipples and crotch are most at risk. Some runners put band aids on their nipples, but I just use vaseline. I am a bit concerned about what the paramedics would think if I dropped dead and they found band aids on my nipples. "Oh lord Lou, look at this - another weirdo - we get 'em all."

Neal showed up right on time - 6 AM and we took off. Just barely light, by now the squirrels were running around the trees. Their toenails clicking on the tree bark and singing birds gave testimony of a new day. Temperature was in the mid 50's and all went well until about mile 5 when the rain started. I do not mind so much if the rain starts when I am into the run, but I won't start in the rain. It ended up pouring and I could not have been more wet had I jumped in a swimming pool. It was different and different is usually welcomed by me. One stretch of road was fresh black top and the rain made it look like glass. I imagined I was running on water like a river - it looked that way. I remembered Hawkeye from the TV show MASH in the episode when he was temporarily blinded saying the rain sounds like an egg frying - he was right.

I was not the only one running in the rain. I passed some people and we acted like nothing was strange. Altogether, it was about 40 minutes in the rain. Ran a total of 11 miles. The Napa Valley Marathon is March 7, 2004 and I am right on schedule.

Once home, I rung out my clothes and hit the shower. Oooooo did that feel good. I had to hurry, because by 9:00 AM there was an inservice at City Hall for the Planning and Zoning Commission, of which I am a member and the City Council about city planning. Not what I wanted to do today, but it was informative and the speaker was very good.

After the meeting, I had to go into work for an hour or so to do a social history for a new admission. Now, I am back home and about ready to install a new 120 GB hard drive in my computer. I am replacing my main hard drive which is 2 years old and I am losing faith in it due to some strange noises. Since I do video work, the extra GB's will come in handy for more scratch disk space.

Tonight, the big reward is going to Zea's Restaurant in New Orleans. Their specialty is ribs and my favorite side dish, roasted corn grits. It would be easier to describe heaven than to describe how good these grits taste.

After eating we may go to the Celebration in the Oaks. City Park in New Orleans is decorated with zillions of tiny lights and it is an amazing sight. I will take my camera and try to get some good pics.

That's it from Louisiana on this Saturday. I hope your Saturday is going your way.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, December 12, 2003


Snowman Joke


Animals With Attitude and A Flute Playing Indian

Today is show and tell. I want to show a kind of art I admire. I call it Animals With Attitude. I am drawn to this sort of thing for reasons beyond me. I just like them. They are at once cute, funny, cool, and unique.

The crows, for instance, stand proudly and quietly yet emit an "if you don't like me kiss my ass" attitude. I admire that in their case. These crows came from Restoration Hardware. The tall one is aproximately 18" in height. Their size ads to their boldness and my appreciation. I would hate to see the scarecrow that would work on these guys.

The bunny is exerting himself. He is giving maximum effort. Just look at how spread out he is and his ears are appropriately bent back to assist him aerodynamically. This is one hare who will not lose a race to a tortoise.

Pelicans are the state bird of Louisiana. This one is fancy, probably on his way to a party. his head is cocked back exuding lots of pelican attitude. I am proud, I'm loud, let's get it on!

Seagulls are a favorite of mine. This one reminds me of the Florida beaches we frequent in the summer time. He looks happy to me and his wings are poised for a take off. If you listen hard you can hear his happy call as he hovers and floats on the warm summer air currents.

The reindeer is simple yet elegant. He comes out every year at this time to add a touch of class to our home. Right now he is posted by the ficas tree in my bar.

The kokopelli, mahu or humpback flute player is found carved on stones from South America to Canada. Koko means wood; pilau means hump.  His hump carried seeds and rainbows.  In his flute he carried music of warmth and love.  His large penis is a symbol of fertility and abundance. How could you not like this guy? Just looking at him makes me happy. More indigenous symbols are located here.

I think I have a fish somewhere I would have included, but Barbara probably moved it to make room for some Christmas decorations.

Drop me a comment and tell me about any art themes you admire or collect.

(You may click the photos for a larger version) TGIF!

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, December 11, 2003



Yes ma'am, no ma'am, yes sir, no sir. When I moved south to Louisiana I heard these phrases a lot. Children are raised to say them. Boys are taught to look another man in the eye and shake their hand upon greeting them. When addressing an adult, a child does not call them by name like Sally or Robert. It is Miss Sally and Mr. Robert. It is expected in most circles of polite society. We call it having good manners.

I take it for granted, but when I have visitors from other parts of the country, they often comment about how polite the kids are here. My son and his friends all employ the above expectations. The visiting adults are nearly floored. They speak of less mannerly behavior from where they hale.

When considering manners we must take into account form and substance. Eddie Haskell in "Leave It To Beaver" had form without substance. He was polite to the adults, but he was always running some kind of con. Some people are opposite, having poor presentation, but good as gold in their intentions. Being "politically correct" to me is more about form than it is about substance. The debates in the media are usually more whining about someone's choice of verbiage than it is addressing the substance of the issue.

The media is influential. I grew up watching television. Thank God I watched Ward Cleaver and Andy Griffith. Today it is Homer Simpson and Ozzie Ozborne. Bad manners are pervasive in the media. News programs are more shouting matches and less debate. James Carville is a good example of form over substance. He has a rapid fire delivery and it is entertaining, but most of what he says is not true. The media is not very good at holding people to the truth. Instead, people prattle on telling one lie after another, unchecked.

Another mannerless area of the media is the "in your face" format of Jerry Springer. I suppose it has some degree of entertainment value. The constant yelling at each other and the dysfunctional scenarios are the opposite of manners.

I am not one to shift responsibility from an individual to television, video games, and comic books, but I do recognize these things in society have some impact especially on young developing minds. Garbage in garbage out.

I have been thinking about manners the past couple of days due to so called blog reviewers. I was struck by the total lack of manners by these folks. Criticism can be delivered constructively or it can be used to ridicule and to hurt.

I am a counselor and a lot of what I do is teach. If someone has a problem with their anger, I do not point my finger at them and say, "what a dumb ass, you can't control your anger." They already feel bad about it. I go out of my way to make them feel OK so they can begin to learn how to change. I suspect some of these reviewers are getting some sort of pleasure out of hurting people's feelings. This behavior is much more prevalent in grade school. The bully feeling bad about himself learns to feel better by putting others down.

Mature individuals can politely and effectively share criticism with others. This is where the substance part comes in. If I receive criticism from someone, I assign weight to it based on the substance or intentions of the critic. A coach may yell at me, but he wants me to improve. A teacher may push me, but she sees potential in me I may not see in myself. We find it easy to respect the teachers who have good intentions. If we disappoint them it usually motivates us to work harder.

The folks with poor intentions or who employ harsh, mean, hypercritical tactics are sadistic. You are the dog they are kicking because they cannot face their problems head on. Run from these people. It is not worth your time to attempt to reason with them they will only use that as an opportunity to kick you again.

When we pour out our heart in a blog and post it on the internet, anyone can read it. When we put up comment links, anyone can comment. Some however believe free speech is a license to use bad manners. Blog reviewers would better get my attention if their criticism was delivered with some encouragement. Sometimes blog reviewers are professional programmers or writers. They have spent a lot more time in school than I have learning how to design a web site. I would be an easy target. So if my code looks like a rookie wrote it - a rookie did. Play laugh track now.

I enjoy learning about other people in other parts of the world. It is our diversity and differences that draw me (the form). Then when I explore the differences (the substance), I find more and more similarities. The similarities are people who love life, choose encouragement over ridicule, seek friendship, optimistic, humorous, and guided by common sense forged from a life lived. They are people who have known pain and hardship, but have not become bitter and angry with life. Help instead of hurt, love instead of hate, laugh with instead of laugh at - all these things are characteristics of the folks in my list of "Blogs I Read."

You can please some of the people some of the time - be satisfied with that. Manners are a choice in both form and substance.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Is There A Santa Claus?

LJ and Santa"Mommy, Daddy, is there such thing as Santa Claus." Few questions leave parents mumbling and stumbling over words as this one. What do you say? You do not want to be the one to crush their dreams. I certainly do not relish having my face conjured up in someone's memory every time they remember the day they learned Santa was not real. On the other hand, we do not want our children laughed at by their peers for being a baby. I remember the day my mother told me. I was in the fourth grade, age ten, the sun was shining until she said those words. "You know that Santa Claus is not real don't you?" From the look on my face she did not have to wait for my response. I was crushed. I felt that sinking feeling in my stomach. I was sad at first, then I began to wonder what else was real. "Is Jesus real?" I asked. Honestly, I do not recall the conversation, but I do remember riding in the car when I was told. It hurt.

John was about the same age and still believed in Santa. During the summer he lost a tooth and put it under his pillow for the tooth fairy. In addition, he wrote her a note and taped it to his wall. It read, "Dear Tooth Fairy, May I have your autograph?" Barbara signed the note, "Mom." John, after seeing the note, asked Barbara why she signed it. "Because I am the tooth fairy she said." He was unsettled like his father was hearing the news. "Is there an Easter Bunny?" he asked. "No, the Easter Bunny is not real either." John continued, "What about Santa?" Barbara was mumbling and tripping over words by now. Somehow she got the point across to John there was no Santa either.

Thank God, I was working and did not have to deal with this little situation. John was upset and hurt. He cried and Barbara felt like a class A heel. He calmed down and they continued to talk. Barbara explained that although Santa was not one real person, he was more like a spirit or an attitude. This seemed to satisfy John and he went on to play with his friend Jennifer from across the street.

A little later that afternoon, John came in the house with Jennifer and another friend Roy. "Mom, they don't believe me that there is no Santa; tell them." Barbara had just started getting herself back together, now there were two more lives with dreams waiting to crash on the rocks of reality. She stuttered and stammered a bit, then said something to the affect, "you kids need to talk to your parents about Santa Claus." That got rid of them and I think Barbara hid out the rest of the day.

Tonight when I got home, I asked John and Barbara about that day. We had some good laughs telling the story.

The best thing written about the existence of Santa Claus appeared in a New York Sun editorial in 1897. Francis Church received a letter from a little girl named Virginia asking the question, "Is there a Santa Claus?"

Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

"Dear Editor--I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
115 West Ninety-fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.  They do not believe except they see.  They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.  All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little.  In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.  Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!  It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.  There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.  We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight.  The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus!  You might as well not believe in fairies!  You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?  Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.  The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.  Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn?  Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there.  Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.  Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.  Is it all real?  Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus!  Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever.  A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

(To find out more about Francis Church and what happened to Virginia follow this link.)

I still hang up a stocking and I still believe.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, December 09, 2003


Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt

Nile River, EgyptToday someone attempted to renickname me from "blind mf" to "cockeyed bastard." This term of endearment was flung over the shoulder of a patient as he was leaving group. My crime? I did not agree with him. He was in "denial" and craving opiates badly. Funny, just the other day, this guy was a poster child for all things healthy. Now he is mad at the world and our staff in particular. He left treatment against medical advice to return to, what he denounced only a few short days ago. This patient is an extreme example of something we all do - denial.

Denial is a defense mechanism and sometimes helpful. A defense mechanism is something we do to protect ourselves from psychological pain. You may have done this or seen it when someone has experienced the loss of a loved one. You may refuse to believe the person is dead. This is a way to protect yourself from the full impact of the loss. If denial is taken to the extreme, however, it borders on delusion, which is a held belief in the face of uncontrovertible evidence. Substance abusers made denial famous. Here are some examples of denial: "I can quit anytime, I just don't want to." "Marijuana should be legal, besides, I know a cop who smokes weed." "I found some marijuana in my daughter's room, but it is not hers, she was holding it for a friend." "So my liver enzymes are up, those tests aren't accurate anyway."

It is pretty easy to spot denial in someone else while your own is not as obvious to you. Look at this picture of Baghdad Bob. Do you remember him? This guy was certainly in denial. There was a Saturday Night Live skit with William Shatner about the cancellation of Star Trek. Shatner, still in the character of Captain Kirk, kept commanding as though he were from Star Fleet Command, but the movers just kept disassembling the set.

Baghdad Bob in Denial . . . I repeat, there is no U.S. presence in Baghdad

I must admit, I was not sorry to see this patient leave. He did not appear to be on the verge of breaking through his denial. On the other hand, it does bother me. I hate to see someone miserable who can be helped. One of the tragedies of substance abuse is the cure is inside the individual. The same was true for Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Call it a disease or not, the individual must do the work. The drug or alcohol is only a symptom of a spiritual problem. Removing the substance is not the cure, but the beginning.

When I was newer at this, I would agonize much more than I do now over the fate of each patient. I learned along the way to let go. Letting go does not mean giving up on them or hating them. It simply means to understand your own individual limits as a helper. The man who left may some day "get it" he may not. If he comes back we will give it another shot, but I cannot want it more than him or I am doing his work.

A good story about denial, bad choices, and love is found in the Book of Luke in the Bible. The prodigal son insulted his father by asking for his inheritance - another way of saying, "I wish you were dead." He insisted on leaving the home so he did. The father allowed him to leave though deeply saddened. The son squandered his money on loose living, eventually winding up eating out of a trough with pigs. The epitome of depravity to a Jew. About that time the Bible says the son "came to his senses" another way of saying "he broke through his denial." Well the boy was now humble and figured just being a servant at his father's house was better than his present life so he went back. The father saw him coming from afar - he must have been looking for him. Before the son could complete his well rehearsed speech of confession, the father kissed him and welcomed him back. He was not received as a servant but restored to full son ship. The son now "got it" and the father knew it. Something like that must happen to anyone who has an addiction if they are to be cured.

One of the hardest things in life is to agonize over a loved one's poor choices. Parents watch their children befriend the wrong people, drop out of school, squander money, marry too young, and live dangerously. Spouses watch their partner slowly kill themselves with drugs and alcohol. The mistakes are seen ahead of time and the person is warned, yet they make the poor decision. How hard must it have been for the father to watch his son leave home with the attitude he did. How happy he must have been on the return. I have always clung to the saying, "If you love something, set it free. If it returns to you, it is yours. If it does not, it never was."

One thing I am not in denial about is relationships enrich my life. I cherish the interaction with people and connections, feeling understood and understanding others.

Give those folks you see every day a longer look today. Let it sink into your soul how much you love them and find some way to let them know it.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, December 08, 2003


Grandpa's Knife

If you look in the dictionary under the word "character," you will probably see a picture of my grandpa. He is also listed under, tough, hard working, fisherman, good story teller, and one of a kind. I was lucky enough to know him and spend a few summers with him before he died somewhere around 1974. I was 17 and that was nearly 30 years ago, but I think of him often. Grandpa grew up on a Nebraska farm. He was one of several brothers and they all worked very hard. He lectured me often about being tough and working hard. To him, a man's dignity was in direct proportion to how hard he worked. He respected people who did their job well. He held little respect for a free loader or a slacker.

My grandfather did several things in his life. He was a farmer, plumber, and finally, a mechanic. At one time in my life I wanted to be a mechanic like him. I admired his knowledge and ability to fix anything that could be fixed by mortal man. He was a good teacher and I asked him questions all the time trying to soak up as much of his knowledge as I could.

A bit on the ornery side, my grandpa gave me my first taste of whiskey. He told off color jokes, and he did not suffer fools well. Those he liked he would do anything to help. I learned to ski behind his boat. I learned how to fish under his watchful eye. During our summer conversations, he explained to me the finer points of the work ethic.

He would entertain us for hours with his stories from his childhood, fishing at the lake with his gang of characters, working at the highway department, and his own brand of political commentary. Grandpa loved to laugh and he was always looking for a victim. His neighbor Bob was the perfect mark. Bob was a salesman and knew nothing about cars so he always brought his problems to grandpa. One time grandpa noticed Bob's left front wheel was missing the valve stem cap. He looked at it and started talking with a worried tone, "oh, would you look at that," grandpa said, "the alignment of this car is being completely thrown off." Bob never knew if grandpa was telling him the truth or pulling his leg. Being a laughing stock was Bob's payment since grandpa never charged him.

A knife was a necessity of life and grandpa always carried one. It was carried in his pocket always available to strip a wire, open a package, or to cut some fishing line. If he ever used the knife to cut any food like cheese for a snack outside, grandpa would say, "this knife is clean, I just used it to trim my toenails." It usually resulted in more cheese for him.

When grandpa died I asked if I could have his knife. It was given to me by my grandmother. It sits on a shelf in my house and I see it frequently. It is nice to have a piece of him I can put in my pocket. It goes well with his memory I hold in my heart.

Here's to you grandpa - rest in peace.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, December 07, 2003


Add Free Site

FYI. For those of you who have blogs on Blogger, you can get an ad free site free. I emailed Blogger and asked for the ad free site and someone named Christine answered me. She gave it to me for free. I told my sister Becky and she got her site ad free without cost. So, you may want to ask before they introduce a pricing structure or something. Just wanted to spread the wealth.


Are You Ready For Some Football?

I love sports. As I child, I played baseball, football, and basketball in the neighborhood. The poor eye sight prevented me from playing any organized sports other than some wrestling. I caught on to running when I began college and have been a consistent runner now for 28 years. Today though, I want to talk about football.

Either you "get" being a sports fan or you do not. I suppose if I were in court and I was called upon to give rational and logical reasons why I spend so much time reading about, talking about, and watching football on television; I would be hard pressed. Back to the first sentence in this paragraph, you either "get it" or you do not. I know it is tradition and is a thread connecting my childhood to adulthood. It is also drama and entertainment. Football is a male soap opera. I am interested in more than what happens on the field in the games. I want to know what so and so said, and what they said about so and so. I want to admire them and hate them and get angry at them. Them being various football players, coaches, sports writers, and television commentators. Men discuss who is the best team, player, coach, quarterback, etc. We like to argue about it, tease, and harass those who support our opposing team.

Arrowhead StadiumI have successfully passed this "blessing / curse" on to my son. He has surpassed me in some ways. He has his own fantasy football team. I am a long time, die hard Kansas City Chiefs football fan and I brainwashed my son to be the same. For luck, we have a Chiefs helmet on top of our television when watching the game. If things are not going well, the helmet is reversed to point the other direction. This usually does the trick. The helmet is not reversed until it is absolutely necessary, because one does not want to waste the magic. I am the one who decides when it is time to reverse the helmet. We actually discuss this. "Dad, you better flip the helmet," John will say. "Not yet," I say very Captain Kirk like. "There is still plenty of time, we don't want to waste the magic." So far this year, it has worked. The Chiefs are 11 and 1 going into today's tough game with Denver.

I get an extra treat today. My pal Marty has season tickets to the Saints and I am going to the game today against Tampa Bay. I love being in the crowd at a game. The photo of John and I in Kansas City was one of my favorite moments at a game. For us it was like a pilgrimage to Mecca. The other time at a game I will never forget was the first playoff victory for the Saints. New Orleans beat St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs and the Superdome was electric. Everybody in there loved each other. After a play virtually sealing the victory and ending the fever pitched suspense, some big guy next to me picked me up and hugged me. My feet were off the ground. I am thinking, "slow down big fella, I don't want to know you this well." The noise was deafening. The sound of the crowd building to a crescendo sent chills up and down my spine.

I could go on, but I have to get ready to leave for New Orleans. This is the best time of the year for football fans. The NFL is heading into the playoffs. College football is doing the same. Get ready for tension, joy, disappointment, and frustration. Still, what would Sunday be without the background noise of a game? I remember once I had been gone overnight. When I returned Sunday afternoon, I found Barbara sleeping on the couch surrounded by the Sunday paper. She had a football game on the television. I was surprised and when she awoke, I asked her, "were you watching the game?" She replied, "it just doesn't seem like Sunday without football on in the background." Ladies, if you think your husband is asleep in front of the game just because his eyes are closed and he is snoring, you are mistaken. Want proof? Just flip the channel, my guess is he will say, "hey, I was watching that." I have heard of some mean wives asking him to tell them the score to proove he was really watching the game, but most just flip it back.

PS Blogger was down so I could not post this in the AM. The game is over and the Saints lost. Oh well, I am watching the Chiefs against Denver 14 to 14 right now - GO CHIEFS!

PSS (Monday AM) Chiefs got beat bad 45 - 27. Damn!!!! I flipped the helmet but no dice. Well, that's part of football. When you win you are happy, when you lose you are bummed, but you keep going.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, December 06, 2003


This Just In

Dances With Wolves SketchThank you to The G-Man for sending this original sketch inspired by the movie Dances With Wolves. Click on the sketch to see it full size. It seems a lot of people liked that movie - it is easy for me to see why. This scene Gary chose to draw is my favorite moment of the entire movie. It is where the lump in my throat is its biggest. Just after Kevin Costner's character left the tribe with his wife culminating in a poignant scene of telling his friend goodbye, the camera cuts to the approaching cavalry and then this lone wolf howling from a mountain top. The tragedy of friendship and separation was juxtaposed to the US Military trying to destroy Lt. John Dunbar and his new friends. Though very different on the surface, the indians and John Dunbar discovered they were perhaps more similar than different. To me the ultimate tragedy was knowing history. Knowing that the movie could not have a happy ending. The indians and their way of life had to change. Now we all long for it in some way. We all lost something. Today the tragedy is many do not know they have lost anything or that they miss anything at all. Thanks again G-Man for the drawing. Check out his site, there you will find good drawings, photos, and writing.

Until the next time
John Strain



Howling WolfAbout 12 years ago, I became fascinated with wolves. I am not sure how it started, but some of the early influences were posters and books I saw at the Nature Company. One Christmas, Barbara bought me the book Wolf: Spirit of the Wild. This book is chalk full of photos, illustrations, and good information about wolves. The more I learned about wolves, the more I liked them. Not only were they fascinating, there was something else intangible and mysterious about these creatures. Their eyes were deep and expressive. Their movements were fluid, graceful, and quick. They seemed to appear and disappear like ghosts. Wolves embodied the frontier spirit of the west.

If you read my post yesterday, you know I had a love for the period of history in the mid to late 1800's, in particular the American west. Wolves certainly symbolize this period and their existence today is a living link to that time. I know of the controversy surrounding wolf introduction programs, but my interest and admiration of wolves is more of a spiritual thing with me. The wolf is a bridge of sorts, linking my childhood to my present. Wolves show emotion, they have relationships, they work together, they play. Their howl is haunting and sets free our imaginations.

Gray WolfI purchased this poster at the Nature Company and hung it in my bar. The photographer's name is Brandenburg. Wolf photos are plentiful on the internet. You can find some nice photos here.

In 1990 Kevin Costner's movie,Dances With Wolves, brought my love of the American west and wolves together. I love that movie.

I have various wolf items in the house. I couple of posters, some figures, a snow globe, and a dream catcher are but a few. I am selective about my wolf items. Each piece means something to me. I remember where I got it and the circumstances around the item

I do not want to own a wolf. If a wolf is captive it ceases being a wolf. They need to be on the fringes, in the shadows, like our dreams and fears. The wolf reminds me of a time that is no more, but in my dreams. They remind me of possibilities, mysteries, and uncertainties. They are symbols of strength, cunning, and family. Something deep within me reaches out to the wolf. I like that feeling. It is nothing I learned or strove to feel - it is just there where it has been no doubt for millions of years.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, December 05, 2003


Books and A Young Boy's Imagination

Chief JosephBooks are capable of transporting the reader anywhere in space and time. When I was in the fourth and fifth grade I was fascinated with the Old West. I loved reading about indians and the cavalry. My favorite author was Shannon Garst. This author had me hooked. I read many of his/her 19 books. This picture is of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians. His story is compelling. He did not fight the US Cavalry, but ran from them. His elusiveness was legendary. He and his people were retreating to Canada. Their one thousand mile trek ended only forty miles from the Canadian border. Chief Joseph's words still haunt me from his surrender speech, "as the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever." My young heart sympathized with the indians. It seemed all they wanted was to live their life as they had for thousands of years.

I learned about the Sioux and other plains tribes. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and others. I also read about Custer and the military campaigns of the day. I could not get enough. I remember my eleventh birthday (1968) I got to go to downtown Kansas City and see the new movie, Custer of the West. I would not recommend the movie - not accurate.

About that same time, our family took three week vacations in the summer, two years in a row. One year we went to the northwest and the next we visited the southwestern United States. My dad drove a white Chevy station wagon which pulled a tent camper. On these trips, the books I had read came to life. I got to associate real places with the battles and historical figures I had read about. In South Dakota, I already knew the Black Hills were sacred to the Lakota tribes. I also knew the indian name for the hallowed land was "paha sapa." When we first saw the Badlands, I told my mother, "mama, this is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen."

In Montana standing on the wind swept hill where Custer and his troops were massacred, I could imagine the sounds of battle as I watched the tall grass bend from the breeze. We were there in June which is when the battle actually took place. Shannon Garst had me well prepared to visit these places and today my memory is still vivid. There is something sacred and dignified about a battlefield. Most people sense it and show respect with silence and subdued voices.

The next summer when we explored the southwest I learned about the Navajo and Hopi Indians. I remember sitting at campfires listening to park rangers tell stories about Indian legend. The cool air drove the campers closer to the fire. The faces illuminated by the dancing flame were fixed on the story teller. We hung on every word as he described the Kachina's - spirits that would pay visits to children who misbehaved. This took place at Mesa Verde.

I owe a debt to whomever steered me to Shannon Garst and those wonderful books. I feel so fortunate to have traveled around the areas of the United States which represented the epicenter of my then interests. Those memories and images are still with me and I flip through them often.

Grand Canyon
Me, My Dad, and My Brother at the Grand Canyon

There is no substitute for experience. In the film Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon plays Will, a genius, but with major attitude problems. Robin Williams is the psychiatrist charged with turning the boy around. Robin Williams character almost gave up until something occurred to him. The psychiatrist said to Will, "you cannot tell me anything that I cannot learn from a book. But can you tell me what the Sistine Chapel smells like? Do you know the feeling of holding your newborn son? Do you have any idea what it is to be completely in love with someone?" As a young boy, I was amazed already by reading those books. The pictures my imagination painted was reward enough, but when I got to go to the places and smell the loam of the earth, feel the breeze and the warm native sunshine on my face, my imagination could go even farther. I could gaze at the horizon and imagine a line of indians charging. I could turn around and imagine being encircled as Custer was. I thought about the aftermath when the soldiers were stripped of their uniforms and some were mutilated; the smell of death and smoke; the sound of women crying in the way only the loss of a spouse can produce. The only survivor of the battle was Custer's horse Comanche. I have seen this horse several times on display at the University of Kansas. We went to KU five years in a row to take my son to the Roy Williams Basketball Camp. Seeing Comanche rekindled these memories each time.

Books, travel, good fortune, and a young boy's imagination. I have been fortunate enough to have had them all.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, December 04, 2003


My Addiction

I have a confession to make and it is somewhat embarrassing. I like to think of myself as a strong person, but I must face the fact I am weak; and that is difficult for me to admit. Instead of being together, in control, and in command; I am disconnected, out of control, and more a slave than a master regarding self control. I am talking about an addiction. There I said it. Now it is out in the open after being hidden for 15 years.

It all started innocently. A coworker gave me one and I liked the way it made me feel. I did not buy them at first, instead, so called friends kept me supplied with the little white things that made me feel so good. It was not long before I was buying them. They were a little expensive, but nothing else worked for me like them.

I went from having a stash at work to having a stash in the car, my briefcase, and in my home. I had to have them available all the time, even in church. I had lost control and become slave to a white disk. Running out was the worst part. My focus became acquiring that which gave me such pleasure. I would rummage through drawers licking powder from metal tins – it was all so pathetic. I am of course speaking of my addiction to Altoids.

Maybe by sharing my story others can also be helped. I am struggling with this addiction today, excuse me while I reach for another. . . . . ahhhhhhhhh. I love to feel the cool air come into my mouth right after doing an Altoid. But I digress.

I remember one night in particular. I had just eaten a hamburger with garlic and onions. I needed a triple Altoid in the worst way. I walked to the drawer to get one. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach when I picked up the can and felt its emptiness. The only thing in there was a piece of paper and crumbs. I turned it up and poured the powder in my mouth, with little satisfaction. It was pathetic as I licked the powder from the inside of the tin. Panicked, I began opening drawers feverishly, rummaging through my briefcase, and checking the glove compartment in the car. Even the one I had taped behind the toilet tank was empty. I begged Barbara to drive me to the all night Walgreens downtown. She was as sick as I was in a codependent sort of way and agreed to take me. Once in the Walgreens my heart sank even deeper when I realized they were out of Altoids. Damn, all they had was Tic Tacs and Certs. Those impostors would not do – it had to be an Altoid. That was it for me, the bottom of the barrel, rock bottom. I knew then I needed help. Barbara drove me to an Altoids Anonymous meeting (AA) and I admitted I was powerless over Altoids and that my life had become unmanageable.

I have not stopped totally, but I do not have that big Altoid monkey on my back like I did in those days. No more white fingers. I used to tell people I had been eating powdered donuts because I was too ashamed to tell them the real reason. I do not sneeze nearly as much. No more telling people I am coming down with a cold to cover up the Altoid fumes irritating the nose.

Altoids AdHere is a picture of my pusher in the old days. He has since stopped pushing Altoids and is himself an Altoid abuse counselor. Things are looking up for me and I have been Altoid free for about five minutes now. . . . wait a minute. . . . well, I have to start over again, but I am handling it.

Altoids Web Site

Until the next time
John Strain