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Saturday, July 31, 2004


Weekend Replay: The Plastic Bag

This was first posted Wednesday, August 20, 2003. It is a tribute to our seniors. After listening to this post you may want to download a song which goes well with the post's theme. It is by Beth Lodge-Rigel and is entitled Look Out My Window
Read the post

this is an audio post - click to play


A Passage From: Smoke On The Mountain by Joy Davidson

This is another great passage to make you think about how we treat our seniors.

this is an audio post - click to play

For those of you who cannot receive the audio post, here is the passage:

Once there was a little old man. His hands trembled when he ate, he clattered the silverware continuously, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live. It was apparent that the son's wife didn't particularly care for the arrangement.

Things finally reached a breaking point and she said, "I can't have this, it interferes with my right to happiness." So she and her husband took the old man gently but firmly by the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner looking at the table with wistful eyes.

One day his hands trembled more than usual, and the earthenware bowl fell and broke into hundreds of pieces. The daughter-in-law blurted out, "If you are a pig, you must eat out of a trough." So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meal in it each day. This family had a four-year old of whom the parents were very fond. One evening the father noticed him playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing. "I'm making a trough," he said, smiling for approval, "to feed you and momma out of when I get big."

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn't say anything. Then, holding back tears, they went to the corner and took the old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a regular plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded him when he clattered the silverware, spilled food on the table, or broke things.


Friday, July 30, 2004


Mad as Hell

Angry DogWhen I was 12 years old I worked on lawn mowers as a hobby. I liked to get some old mowers that would not crank and try to fix them. One day after school, I was in my front yard working on one such comatose mower when the wrench I was pushing slipped off of the nut and I barked my knuckles on the engine block. It hurt like hell and it rounded the nut. I was enraged and my knuckles were bleeding. I stood up quickly in the way only an angry, indignant person can. I did it so quickly, I forgot there was another lawn mower right behind me. The handle of the other mower hit me right behind my ear. I don't know if you have ever been hit right behind the ear or not, but it really hurts, even worse than bloody knuckles. Even then, I was not through. My anger meter was still climbing and through the fog of pain I saw a large cardboard trash barrel just inside the garage. Still reacting and not thinking, I swiftly walked over to the trash barrel and channeled all of my frustration into my right foot. I kicked the hell out of that trash barrel and nearly broke my foot. My knuckles were bleeding, my ear was ringing, and I was standing gingerly on my right foot. It was about that time a thought crept into my consciousness. It said, "you know, everything you do just makes it worse." I stopped my raging and felt a bit stupid, but I often think of that incident even today. It helps me control myself and how I express my feelings of anger.

When I am doing a group or teaching about anger, I tell folks anger is a fire. What we do in response will equate to either pouring water on the fire or gasoline. Anger can be extinguished or it can explode out of control.

Anger usually results from one of two conditions:
You get what you don't want
You don't get what you do want

I have mentioned Albert Ellis before and I will espouse his theories again as they relate to anger. Basically, Ellis says what we think determines what we feel and do. He describes it in his ABC Theory.

A EVENT: An event can be anything, but think of it as a stimulus. Let's say someone walks past you in the hall at work and does not return your greeting.

B BELIEFS: This part often happens immediately. We have beliefs which have been forged by our experiences and understanding of things at the moment. Automatic thoughts occur. "Joe must be mad at me, he did not say hi this morning."

C RESULT: both emotional and behavioral. If you believe Joe is angry with you, you may act funny around him. You may become angry with Joe for being mad at you.

The problem is, Joe may have been preoccupied and not even realize you said hi. There are many explanations why Joe may have passed in the hall without returning a greeting. Ellis has a person look at the B part and challenge these irrational or incorrect beliefs. They are what determine how we feel and what we do, not the A.

Here are a few points I'll make about managing anger:
(1) Anger is a non-evil human emotion. It is information telling us something is wrong and something needs attention.

(2) Anger is about you. You are mad because of what you are thinking. Even if you are justified, it is still a result of how you think. You make yourself angry. This explains why one thing may infuriate one person while someone else is unaffected.

(3) The best way to manage anger is to keep it from developing in the first place. If you had the awareness to know when you are a little angry, you could deal with it before it became a full blown anger outburst.

(4) The better you are at communication and listening, the better your tools for resolving anger. The source of the anger must be dealt with. If you know why you are angry, you can work toward resolution. What do you want? What do you want someone to do?

(5) If you are angry, slow down. Give yourself time to think and decide what course of action is best for the long run. It may feel good to scream at someone, but you will have more trouble later.

(6) Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

(7) Lighten up, laugh. Humor is one of the best weapons against anger.

Life is too short to be angry all the time. I used to teach a course for domestic abusers. It is amazing the little things people will become violent over. On the other end of the scale, people are quite capable of controlling themselves even when very angry. The trick is to be angry, but express it assertively. You do that by focusing on the behavior of a person and by not making it personal.

Wrong way: "You don't respect me."
Right way: "When you make comments about my weight around our friends, I feel disrespected. Please don't do that anymore."

Wrong way: "Are you stupid or something?"
Right way: "I am frustrated having to explain this to you again. You told me you understood."

Wrong way: "You are so irresponsible."
Right way: "It is your responsibility to pay your car insurance. Because you were late, there is a $20 late charge. I would appreciate it if you would take paying your bills more seriously."

Notice the wrong way usually begins with "you" and the right way begins with "I". In communication, let the other person speak for themselves and you speak for yourself. I know I hate it when someone tries to tell me what I am thinking or the "real" reason I did something.

Oh man, look at the time, I have to go to bed, damn it. I never get any time to do what I want. I work all the time and still don't have enough money. When I do get a day off, I have to work like a slave around the house just to keep up. Just kidding, I'm not really mad.

Here's to a happy Friday everyone and I hope you all have a nice weekend.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, July 29, 2004



Mushroom CloudSome of you may remember I had plans to build a home office. I wrote about it here. The dream is now reality. It took a while to order the cabinets, then to have the guy come install them. The counter top took another couple of weeks, but as I said, it is done. It looks great.

Have you guessed what the post title has to do with any of this? I shall continue. My intention was to take a few photos of the built in computer center and post them. Taking the photos went smoothly, but when I plugged the camera into my computer, iPhoto did not automatically open. I jimmied with the USB cables at which time I smelled electrical parts melting. Poof - my camera went up in smoke.

It is funny how things dawn on a person. Here I was going through familiar motions to add photos to my blog when something different emerged - a smell which if visible would sport dollar sign shaped clouds. The smell of fried electrical parts tells you (1) what you want to do is not going to happen right now AND (2) it's going to cost you. I believe my first response was to utter the word "shit." It is morbid, but funny how the last words transmitted by pilots just before an airliner crashes is often an expletive. The last words my camera heard were as well. I think I felt it shutter.

It served me well, so I called Canon to see about having it repaired. Usually, when you send them in, they restore them completely for a fraction of the cost of a new one. I have to say, the two guys I spoke to were very polite and helpful. None of this, "well what did you do moron" crap. They actually apologized the camera "bit the dust." I have had it almost three years and it has logged some serious service hours. I have no complaints. Tomorrow, someone is supposed to call me to tell me what to do next. "Mr. Strain, I am Joe Blow from Canon to tell you what to do next. Get your ass on eBay and buy yourself another camera, your bitch assed camera is fried." Hopefully not. I am sure they will lens me some support. If they don't, I will expose them for what they are or are not.

Stay tuned, I will let you know what develops. I won't be cameraless for long.

Mystery solved. I have a bad USB hub. Guess how I found out? I fried my scanner. Last night, I used the printer through the hub thinking that cleared the hub, but since it has its own power source, it is different from the camera and the scanner. I should name this post "Poof Pause Poof Again - Double Shit." Such is life. I think I will go for a PCI card this time instead of a USB hub. Now where are some boxes I can ship these things in?

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Keeping In Touch

One of the things I like about my work is becoming a part of someone's life. Like a pastor or a country doctor, I and my colleagues watch folks grow up. We become intimately familiar with their families. We know their history with all of the ups and downs. Some patients I dread to see readmitted, mostly because of their behavior when off of their meds or some other reason. Some, however, I am glad to see return. I am not glad they need to be hospitalized, but I am glad to see them again.

Many patients keep in touch after they are discharged. They call to say hi and to give us an update on how things are going for them. One guy has been calling me for some time. He had a hard life and has schizophrenia. He spends a lot of his time on the streets. He chooses this lifestyle. I, personally, have gotten him into various group homes and living arrangements. Sometimes he stays a few days, sometimes longer. Fred has an unmistakable voice and when my ears hear the first syllable, I know it is him. Recently Fred was in another hospital, but he called me regularly. Fred would usually call in the afternoon and ask me what I was doing and ask a few questions about the staff. From the hospital to a group home, Fred was set up. Today, however, I got a call from Fred who informed me he was in Mississippi. One night at the group home was his limit this time. Fred was paranoid too, because he would say, "I am going to hang up so you can't trace the call." Twenty minutes later, Fred would call and talk for 30 seconds. He was his old crazy self, out on the road.

I have come to accept Fred and his choices. I do not like it, but there is nothing I can do. Laws do not permit authorities to permanently place someone like Fred. He can be committed for 15 days and even 6 months, but even if he were committed for 6 months, a bed would most likely not exist in the state hospital. So Fred is on the road in Mississippi. I am afraid his long term prognosis is not that favorable. He runs the risk of being victimized by the predators who prowl the streets. Somehow, Fred has avoided such a fate, but no one's luck holds for ever.

I have my feelings of compassion and concern for Fred and others like him. I also feel helpless to do anything to help his situation in a long term sense. The feeling I always conclude with is gratitude and appreciation I do not have Fred's problem - neither myself or my family. I can appreciate a warm dry bed and steady provisions.

I suspect I will see Fred again. He will come in reeking of days without a shower and looking half starved. He won't complain. He will rest up, refuse all good recommendations, maybe accept one, but in a day or two repeat his behavior. Maybe it's the wander lust. I would like to think it was something romantic like that, but it is the result of a brain disease that robs an individual of a normal life. These people endure a silent hell the DSM-IV calls schizophrenia.

It looks like Fred's guardian angel will be working over time for the next few days.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Hit Me

My site meter has been going through the roof - for me anyway. I was getting about 50 hits a day or so, but then I noticed it was up in the 100's. Today it is over 200. Is the secret out about "John's Online Journal"? Is my writing attracting more and more people? No. it seems my Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition article last February was discovered. The hits were for the photos. I expected this in February, but I received about the same traffic as any other post then. I can't quite explain what is going on, but the photo links are getting hit quite frequently these days.

My guess was the hits would die down after a few days, but they are increasing. Then I remembered a few posts others wrote about getting lots of hits and their web host wanted more money. My solution was to rename the folder with all of the photos thus breaking the links in the post. In a few weeks, I will repair it hoping the pervs have moved on to another source for whatever it is they do whilst looking at those photos, hehehe.

When I first installed my site meter, I checked it every five minutes to see if someone visited my site. I looked at the ISP to get a clue for what part of the world the visitor was from. As time passed, I gave less attention to the site meter hits and more to the comments. Now that I am getting a zillion hits, I am trying to lessen them. Ain't it funny what a year will do?

Exciting stuff huh? Well, it is Monday, I just paid bills, and it is bedtime. I am always in a bad mood after paying bills. My thin veneer of denial is pierced when I pay bills - I like denial better.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, July 26, 2004


Lance Banner

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong wins 6th Tour De France
Lance Armstrong is the best at what he does. He has said, "The man who works the hardest deserves to win." In his case, this has worked out. He has accomplished something in cycling that has never been done. He won the Tour De France for the sixth time in a row. What makes this accomplishment even more amazing is Lance had cancer eight years ago and was given little chance to live much less continue cycling.

Paul Sherwen, one of the OLN TV commentators for the Tour De France coverage said he visited Lance in the hospital in 1996. Lance had no hair or eye brows. The doctors gave him three months to live. Yet in 1999, Lance won his first Tour De France and has won the race each year since.

Armstrong had testicular cancer and it had spread to his lungs and brain. He had the cancerous testicle removed, brain surgery, and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. He beat the odds. He got back on the bike and dedicated himself to excellence. They say that he generates 600 watts with each pedal stroke which is about four times better than most professional cyclists can muster. Lance is a true iron man.

The Tour De France is perhaps the most grueling sporting event in the world. Over a three week period, cyclists ride about 2,100 miles. They traverse mountains in the Pyrenees and the Alps. Each day, they are on the bike some four to five hours. At times, they average speeds up to 30 miles an hour. If you get a chance, get on a bike and try to get it to 20 mph and see how long you can hold it.

I have been addicted to the TDF coverage on OLN TV. I so admire those guys. I have cycled some myself and I can appreciate what they are doing. Lance has a foundation dedicated to cancer research. You may have seen one of his yellow wrist bands with the inscription "Live Strong." Since he has overcome cancer, "Live Strong" has become his mantra. Many in the TDF are wearing the wrist band and if you look for them, I bet you will see them more and more. I have my order in for ten of them myself. I am hoping it will motivate me when I am running. When I feel tired and want to slow down, the words "Live Strong" will spur me on.

History was made today. I cannot be happier for the man who made it. He has overcome cancer and has risen to the top of his sport. He has distinguished himself as the best ever. Not bad for a boy from Texas.

See Lance Ride
Lance Armstrong Foundation - Order "Live Strong" wrist bands

Here's to all who "Live Strong."

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, July 25, 2004


One of Saturday's Golden Moments

Life has its rewards. Usually you have to work for them, but that only makes them better. For instance, a meal may take hours to prepare and only a few moments to consume. A party may take days of planning and work only to be over in a few hours. Yard work is like that too, but the reward is something I look forward to and it keeps me working until I am there.

What is the reward? I will explain. Once the mowing, weed eating, blowing, stick picking up, and plant watering is done, I am hot, covered with sweat, dirt, and grass, and powerful thirsty. Not to worry, because I have a refrigerator with beer in it. Now, I prefer dark beers, but for this moment it is a can of Bud Light.

I walk back outside with the ice cold can of beer. I take a seat in the swing under the shade of one of our live oak trees. The can is cold in my hand and the beads of sweat are running down the can and dripping on my leg. It is a welcome shock of cold. My legs are crossed and the one on the ground gently pushes me in the swing. I am being rocked and listening to the afternoon lullaby. A distant lawn mower buzzes occasionally hitting sticks causing the clank chink sound. The poor bastard is still working in his yard, but I am enjoying the reward. I also hear the whir of the neighbors air conditioner. Children can be heard screaming and splashing in another neighbor's pool. The afternoon clouds filter the sun and though hot, the gentle breeze feels cool and refreshing. The yard looks so good. It's all done for another week.

It is so comfortable and the beer is going straight to my head. I feel sleepy and allow my eyes to close. I concentrate on a lone bird scolding a cat or a squirrel and I am aware of the high pitched hiss of insects. It is all so peaceful, the cool beer, the gentle breeze, the rhythmic rocking, and all in a freshly cut lawn.

Five minutes pass and I begin to think about the next thing. I have a few pounds of boiled shrimp I need to peal for our salad tonight, yum. I need to throw away the empty can and take a shower. My work is complete and the rest of the weekend is for rest and fun. This moment is truly golden.

Life does not get much better than this if you ask me. I am healthy, my grass is cut, and there is plenty of beer in the refrigerator.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, July 24, 2004


Weekend Replay: Hunting Elephants With A Squirt Gun

Originally posted September 12, 2003. This post attempts to explain some of the things about men which are often seen as flaws. It is the silver lining, if you will, of some of the lesser appreciated male behaviors.

this is an audio post - click to play

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, July 23, 2004



Jar of Fireflies
These sultry July nights wrap arms of heat and humidity around you like a warm blanket. The crickets and night sounds are an ancient soundtrack which has played for eons of time. If I sit in my yard in the dark, my memory soon conjures images of summers past. Right now, I am thinking about lightning bugs or fireflies.

As a child, fireflies had a magical aura. What else could explain living, flashing lights in the night? I remember playing outside after the evening meal. As the sun slowly slipped beneath the horizon, color drained from the earth and darkness reigned. But in defiance to the darkness, tiny points of light began to blink. Silent lights piercing the darkness, moving and flickering were attached to little bugs. I remember their smell and the look of their light in my hand as they walked about.

Of course, as children, we had to possess them. Many times I ran scurrying through the garage for a mayonnaise jar, hammer, and large nail. After poking some holes in the lid and throwing a handful of grass in the jar, it was ready to hold the lightning bug catch for the evening. Sometimes there were two or three jars, but most of the time, the jar was filled by group effort. Some kids, usually girls, and I am pointing my finger at my own sister, made rings of the fireflies. I think they made the usual clover ring, then set it with a firefly butt. I was not nearly as brutal with my treasure. I let them out before going in for the evening.

In our neighborhood, the adults often gathered in one yard or another for coffee and conversation. They would sit around in the old aluminum and nylon strap lawn chairs. The glow of a cigarette would illuminate a face, laughter and happy voices surrounded their group. The kids would run through to show them the jar of fireflies or to seek arbitration in some sort of childish conflict.

Eventually, the party would break up. The parents would send little brothers or little sisters to tell the older children it was time to come in, and it would be time for baths and bed.

This describes many of my summer nights growing up. At the time, they seemed so ordinary, now they have become sweet memories.

I looked up fireflies on Google and found an explanation of how they "light up." If you are interested in knowing how fireflies work read this. One other thing I read which I found interesting had to do with one species of firefly. The female of the species has learned to mimic the light patterns of other breeds of lightning bugs. The duration of the light and the time between blinks is a form of communication fireflies use to "hook up." Each species has their own blink pattern. Anyway, these females blink various patterns. When a male responds to her, they either mate if they are alike OR if the male is a different species than her, she eats him. Talk about your bait and switch cons. Sheesh.

Well, it's getting late, I think I hear my dad yelling for me to come home.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, July 22, 2004


Taking Yourself Seriously - Or Not

I am the kind of person who really gets into things. I have been using computers since the early 80's. Desktop publishing appealed to me because I could go beyond a plain old page of text. Unless you used a typewriter before a word processor, you may not be able to appreciate just how neat it was to be able to put text in BOLD, italics, and to underline. Beyond these tools were the use of graphics and different sized headlines and don't forget fonts. Some of the first flyers I made were so "busy" with everything my software could do it would have done most car lots or firecracker stands proud.

At any rate, I learned desktop publishing and used it in my work in churches and as a student. One particular piece I worked on was to be a church bulletin insert. I spent several days designing the flyer, scrutinizing the text, and making it happen. When it was finished and copied, I was proud. It looked good. Barbara knew how hard I had worked on it and always encouraged my ideas relating to the flyer. As you may know, there is great satisfaction when a project is completed. One of the things I really like is when people notice and comment. I am sure this is one reason I like blogging.

Anyway, Sunday came and the bulletin insert made its debut. I guess I expected people to look at it and say something like, "man, check out this bulletin insert. I have never seen anything like it. It's beautiful and well written. Who did this? Author! Author!" I will never forget standing in the sanctuary after church and looking at the empty pews. Hymnals and bulletins littered the seats and sanctuary floor. One of my inserts was lying on the floor and I stood there looking at it. The contrast of my expectations against a lonely piece of trash on the floor, struck me as funny. Things began to fall into their true perspective. Not everyone appreciates what it takes to make a bulletin insert. Something that was very important to me was not important at all to someone else.

Then I thought about all of the pieces of junk mail I had thrown away without opening. The newspapers and magazines I never read. I realized someone had sweat and worked on them like I worked on the insert. Something important to someone else was not at all important to me. It all came full circle. I realized there were things I was passionate about and things I could care less about. We are all like that.

So take your passions seriously, but take yourself a little less so.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Comes The Dawn

A poem I have always liked follows below. It is a poem of perspective and attitude. There are many bits of wisdom in this poem and they are beautifully arranged.

Comes the Dawn
After awhile you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
And you learn that love doesn't mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats with you head up and your eyes open.
With the grace of maturity, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on
today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After awhile you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure...
That you really are strong
And that you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn and learn...
With every goodbye you learn.
Author: Veronica A. Shoftstall

I like the line, "So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers." What are you waiting for someone else to do? Stop waiting and do it for yourself. From cut flowers to painting the back room, this is the stuff of decorating one's own soul.

I jut wanted to spread a little encouragement and motivation today. When you realize that you are enough, you will have tapped a great resource.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Girlie Men

The latest name calling furor was set off by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He referred to legislators caving to the special interest groups as "girlie men." The anticipated cries and whines from some are already flying around. The offended are demanding he should apologize to women and gays.

A recent John Kerry fund raiser featured Whoopi Goldberg engaging in tasteless name calling aimed at President Bush. This behavior offended conservatives and calls were made for Goldberg to apologize and for Kerry to renounce her words.

I remember the advice my mother gave me when I came whining to her because someone called me a name. "Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never harm you," she said. I did not quite understand what that meant then. I was more disappointed she did not go down the street and set things to my version of "right." As time passed, other adults gave me the same advice. Eventually us kids gave the advice to each other. "Sticks and stones" was accepted wisdom and the way to deal with someone calling you names.

Not long ago, some people changed the phrase I learned in childhood. The new version is something like, "sticks and stones can break your bones, but words are much more horrible. Anyone who offends you should apologize immediately and be sued to teach them a lesson. You should never have to tolerate a contrary opinion or be called a name by anyone." I have had time to consider both versions of "sticks and stones" and I really think the version I learned as a child is the better of the two.

The original version of "sticks and stones" is empowering. I learned only the words "I believe" can harm me. If I chose not to accept them, then they do not harm me. The later version of "sticks and stones" empowers the name caller. The victim cannot rest until an apology is offered. This is a set up for an emotional upset if I ever saw one. If your happiness depends on the behavior of others, prepare to be unhappy a lot.

My mother also told me, if I acted like the names were bothering me, they would just keep calling me by them. The way to stop that behavior is not to reward them by getting upset. It worked too. Did any of you tell the teacher or have your mother come to the school to try to stop the name calling? Of course not. Even as children we knew the best way to extinguish the name calling was to turn a deaf ear to it.

Should people call names? No. Do people call names? Yes. Do you have the choice to be bothered by the names or ignore them? Yes.

The articles I browsed on this topic seem to fall into two camps. One body believes the old "sticks and stones" and the other believes words are quite harmful. They say they lead to hate crimes and violence. They suggest programs for teaching sensitivity and prattle on in a quite serious tone.

I tired long ago of all the offense people seem to take at the least little thing. Even if it were a bigger thing, so what? If we temper language to the point all expression must not offend anyone, our dialogue will be without passion and feeling. We should make less of an individual word and try to understand "what" the person is trying to say. Instead, many "lie in wait" to pounce on an out of context word. They miss the entire point altogether, and try to bully the speaker into taking back the offending word.

Arnold was talking about gutless legislators when he used the term "girlie men." He was not trying to offend women and gays. I hope he does not cave to any pressure and offer an apology. To do so would only reward the whiners. Oops, I called them whiners, I hope I did not offend them.

In a society with a right to free speech, it sure seems we have a lot of restrictions.

I am not advocating we call more names, but I do suggest we return to the wisdom of our childhood, "sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never harm us - unless we let them."

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, July 19, 2004


My First Blogiversary

Number One
I have no noble purpose in this or grandiose expectations. I simply feel compelled to write my thoughts. I do hope these posts cause you to think or laugh. (From Introducing Me, my first post July 19, 2003

It has been one year since I began this blog. Since then I have posted 397 times. I haven't missed very many days and writing has become a daily discipline. I had hoped it would be. The process has helped me write down my memories and thoughts of the past. I have commented on some current events and written some things totally silly.

Writers write. I have always loved these two words. It is like the answer the mountain climber gives when he is asked, "why do you climb the mountain?" "because it is there," he says. Writers simply write. Blogging has made it convenient for writers to write.

I also wanted to learn a bit about HTML and web design. That has happened on a small scale, but enough to satisfy me for now. What I did not expect was the relationships I would make. I entered a whole new culture complete with its own etiquette and rules. Commenting and blogrolling were nowhere in my vocabulary or consciousness one year ago.

I will always feel a debt of gratitude to Mollie. She was the first to email me, I didn't even have comments yet. She helped me get my blog fitted with the basic bells and whistles I wanted. She also provided a lot of encouragement.

Then out of the blue, Kim found my blog and I was treated to more encouragement. Kim and Darin both were frequent commenters and I looked forward to reading what they had to say.

Just look at my blogroll. They are all good folks and from all over the world. I now know people in Canada, Australia, Belgium, and Wales. I could not say that a year ago.

My sister followed my lead into blogging and eventually, my mother. We are all writers and the appeal of a blog was more than any of us could resist.

I look forward to reporting about the events of my life and posting photos. I enjoy the feedback of the comments. I think about those on my blogroll. Some are up and others are down. Life has a way of delivering both conditions to each of us over time. The blogroll is a community of supporters who laugh when we are laughing and cry when we are crying. All it really takes to get through tough times is knowing someone cares - the blogroll represents a number of sincere caring people.

Blogging continues to evolve. I have dabbled with the audio blog. It has its place, but the meat and potatoes will continue to be the written word. I think in the early days of computers, some feared a decline in writing and personal communication. In my case, a computer has kindled my desire to write and communicate. I guess sometimes we never know.

So today is a marker, hopefully one of many. Writers certainly write and bloggers blog.

Thanks to all of you who read my posts and leave your comments. I sincerely appreciate you and your opinions. Here's to another year of blogging.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, July 18, 2004


Human Achievement

I have been watching the Tour De France and marveling at the endurance and athletic ability of the riders. I have cycled myself, so I can appreciate what these guys are doing. They ride around 30 mph for more than 100 miles a day over a three week period. Some of their rides are over incredibly steep mountain roads. I have cycled, but they are so far beyond my ability, it isn't even funny.

Looking around the sports world, illustrations are everywhere in every sport. Those with inborn ability and who have worked their butts off have risen to the top of their sport. Our heroes are often sports figures. It is easy to make heroes of athletes because we can identify with the difficulty of the task at which they excel.

Human achievement goes far beyond sport. A consideration of art, architecture, science, and other fields reveals innovators, inventors, and heroes in other areas. We are all indebted to these men and women for making our lives more beautiful, safer, easier, and fulfilled.

Then there is the flip side to the coin. While humans can achieve beauty and invention, they can also cause grief and heart ache. History is riddled with names like Stalin, Hitler, Bin Laden, McVey, and Manson. Many chose the dark side and seek to visit their fellow humans with carnage and hate. They are predators without feeling seeking to destroy and to plunder.

Many have spent their lives trying to discover why. We have explanations, but no solutions. The world will always have the heroes and the villains. I suppose there is hero and villain in each of us. It reminds me of, the now politically incorrect illustration, about an American Indian telling of a battle which rages inside him. "A large black dog and a large white dog fight within me," he said. When he was asked "which one wins?" he responded, "the one I feed the most."

The Indian's words are perhaps the most simplistic and practical answer to the mystery of human behavior. We each choose our food. The things on which we dwell become part of us. If we drink in hate and dissension we will have one result. If we dwell on beauty, love, and that which is good in life, our result will be different still.

As it says in the Bible, "As a man thinks, so he is." Proverbs 23:7

Here are a few more quotes along these lines:

• “If you think you can do a thing, or think that you can not do a thing, you are right.” –Henry Ford

• “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” –Carl Jung

• “What proceeds from you will return to you.” –Confucius

• “They can because they think they can.” –Virgil

Just a little food for thought

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, July 17, 2004


Weekend Replay: The Prostate Exam

My posts have been health care related the last few days. First Hobo, then me. I usually audio post the Weekend Replay, but my voice is messed up due to the cold and I have to stop to cough every minute or so, therefore, I am simply providing the link: The Prostate Exam.

I am going to the doctor on Monday for a physical and I am sure somewhere during that visit, he will say, "drop your pants and lean over on your elbows. . . ok . . .brace yourself." As bad as it will be, it won't match the first time.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, July 16, 2004


Sick Leave

This cold is kicking my butt. I woke up this morning with a pounding headache, the chills, and head/chest congestion from hell. I felt lower than a snake's basement. However, after an Alka Seltzer Plus, I am beginning to come around. I will probably go into work around noon.

That said, I want to say a couple of things about sick leave. I rarely use it, knock on wood. Some however, especially in health care see sick leave as extra vacation days. They have no problem calling in "sick" just because they want a day off. These folks often rationalize this behavior by saying the company does not pay them enough, or some other reason. I cannot understand how someone can call in sick and pile more work on their coworkers and not be ashamed.

Many people feel entitled, but sick leave is not vacation - it is to cut you a break if you get sick. The company trying to crack down on sick leave abuse penalizes the people who are honest. Requiring everyone to bring in a doctor's note is one often used measure, but an inconvenience for the honest people.

I always liked the "earned time off." ETO is time one accrues. It is used for vacation and sick days. It is amazing how much healthier people get when it costs them to be sick.

I know in my field though, it is an accepted thing. People will abuse their sick leave and nothing will be done about it.

Speaking of sick, Hobo is feeling better, but not until we had to take him back to the vet for more treatment. The diarrhea finally looks to be over.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, July 15, 2004


Sympathy Pains

Do you know what's bad? Even worse than dog diarrhea? A summer cold. It never fails, when I hit the training hard, I get a cold. The immune system gets stressed and to add further risk, I work around folks with all sorts of diseases and bugs. The bottom line is I have a cold. I am hoping it will be short lived because I don't like it. I know the universe really cares whether I have a cold or not. Oh well, what are you going to do?

My dog has stopped spewing - I think. Until I witness a solid poop I will remain paranoid. Every time he moves I throw him outside. He only had one accident yesterday and that was when I was at work and John had to clean it up, hehehe. I told him it would prepare him for fatherhood. To drive home the point, Barbara and I recounted several stories when we had to clean up his poop / pee / vomit. What made it even better was we told the stories in front of his girl friend. She seemed to enjoy them and he did not seem to mind.

My favorite was the time we were in a Toys R Us and he was so enthralled and over joyed looking at the toys (age 2) he pushed out of his mind he had to pee real bad. As we stood in the aisle, I heard water hitting the floor. Glancing down I noticed a puddle forming around his feet. I picked him up and held him out away from my body as if transporting toxic waste and walked out of the store. Can you say clean up on aisle 5.

My coaching is going well. I run different distances every day. Today, I run 4 miles. My weekly milage is increasing and so is my long run. For instance, this week I run 9 miles on Sunday and my weekly total will be 26 miles. My speed is increasing. I begin at a 7:50 pace and finish at a 7:20. I am still losing weight. Today I weighed 178 and that is 36 pounds lighter than last September. I am still eating cottage cheese and peaches for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, I eat something sensible and small portions.

I am really enjoying the Tour De France. I was really into cycling for several years, but have lost some nerve after a pretty hard wreck at 20 MPH. The traffic around here is worse and I don't want to tempt fate, but I love the sport. I hope Lance pulls off another win. Those guys are in the most incredible shape. To perform at the level they do day in and day out is the ultimate endurance test. Just try to get your bike up to 30 MPH for a second or two, then keep in mind they cruise around 28 MPH.

My computer center is nearly complete. It only lacks the counter top. Once completed, I will post some photos.

I am coming up on my first blogaversary July 19 so I will figure out something special to commemorate the event. It is hard to believe I have been blogging for one year.

For now, the streets await the pounding of my running shoes, then it is off to work and it has been really busy. The weekends have been welcome respites from the chaos.

I hope all is well in your spot on the globe
Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Dog Diarrhea

Do you know what's really bad? Dog diarrhea. Do you know what's even worse? Dog diarrhea on your bedroom floor . . . in the middle of the night. Monday evening I completed my post about sleeping so well and how comfortable it all was. I suppose the gods were listening and felt my post was rather arrogant. "We'll show him," they must have said, "we'll smite his dog with a case of projectile diarrhea." I suppose the capper was leaving a comment at Bacon and Eh's that I was an optimist - not a pessimist. The Greek gods were always a bit on the mischievous side. My two pronouncements on the web only invited a leveling intervention. At any rate, I consider myself leveled.

I am the master of a 13 year old black lab mix dog. Being a master does not mean the dog does what I say, it only means I am the guy who has to give him medicine, pay the vet bill, and clean up his vomit / diarrhea whenever deposited in the house.

It is funny how you get stuck with certain tasks. Barbara was the designated dirty diaper changer for my son. I would pretend not to smell a dirty diaper knowing the fumes would soon summon her motherly instincts, rescuing me from a gag fest. If the car has a flat or the toilet over flows, I get the call. Likewise, when the dog spews from one end or the other out of place, it is understood "I" have a mess to clean up.

Realization is a funny thing. I was lying in bed at 4:26 AM. A smell began seeping into my awareness, then poured in all at once. I sat up quickly hoping my nose was playing tricks on me, a hope which would be soon dashed. It was the unmistakable smell of dog doo. I made sure the floor was clear next to the bed, then stood up. I flipped on the bathroom light and saw my loyal friend Hobo lying down with two piles of poop about 6" from his tail. He has been having accidents lately, but thank God they are firm and easily picked up. On closer examination I learned #1 The poop smelled much worse the closer I got and #2 The poop was runny. I don't know about you, but if I had a list of least favorite things, I would have "waking up at 4:26 AM and cleaning up dog diarrhea" near the top.

Barbara was sleeping very much like I wrote about just last night. She looked so comfortable and peaceful. She had no idea her poor husband was embroiled in an environmental disaster. I fantasized about her waking up and handling the problem, but that sort of thing only happens in the movies.

I began cleaning up the poop by getting toilet paper and picking up what I could and flushing it. Of course, stirring the poop only broadcasts the putrid odor and I had to stop and gag and let my eyes water. Then I got a cloth, wetted it, and scrubbed the carpet. I repeated these steps until it was a dull stain. I rummaged around and found some Fabreeze to spray on the spot to help the smell.

No big deal. I handled it. Then I walked out to the kitchen and smelled more poop. Evidently, when I opened the bedroom door to fetch a cloth to clean up the diarrhea, Hobo went out to the kitchen and spewed diarrhea again. All over the tile and another patch of carpet. It is situations like this one which challenge my optimism. The only real damage was losing 30 minutes of sleep.

I penned Hobo up in the kitchen when we left for work. My son got to clean up two poop fests himself. It seems the vet gave Hobo a cortisone shot for something when he was being boarded last weekend. Diarrhea is a side effect. I hope it is that and not a permanent condition. The poor dog is failing. He has a hard time getting up and down. He falls a lot and his back legs fail him more and more. It is sad, but I think my pup is not long for this world.

Pet owners make a commitment similar to a marriage. I love my dog for better or worse, in sickness and in health. That means I sometimes have to clean up messes. Still I am hoping for better and health over worse and sickness.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, July 13, 2004



In medical terminology, "HS" means bedtime. It is a nice part of the day. I usually arise at 5:00 AM and start the day with my running. I make it to work between 8:30 and 9:00 AM. At 6:00 PM I come home. That leaves me with 4 to 5 hours to pay bills, blog, watch TV, and eat dinner. I am freshest and most productive in the AM, but I write my blog post at night. Take now for instance, I am sleepy, but have the need to write, so I push the sleep away for a few moments.

Children's books and old cartoons always made bedtime look so inviting and comfortable. The beds were cozy, the pillows were fluffy, the rooms were neat, and everything seemed in order. Sometimes an owl would be perched on a limb outside a window in silhouette against a full moon. Other times, lightning bugs would be twinkling in the night sky. When I go to bed, Barbara is usually already there. I have already made the rounds shutting off computers, lights, TV's, and stereos. The coffee is made and set to timer. Hobo has been out and is slowly following behind me. He can't see in the dark like he once did so waits for me to walk through the dark and turn on lights ahead to light his path to his bed in a corner of our bedroom.

When I open the bedroom door, the fan drowns out any distracting noise. It is cool from the circulating air and when I crawl between the sheets it feels so good to finally go horizontal. I enjoy it for about two minutes, then drift off to sleep. I sleep well, but the alarm clock goes off at 5:00 AM and the process begins all over again.

I hope you slept well and you are ready to tackle your Tuesday.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, July 12, 2004


3.0 MBPS

My broadband is getting broader. For $5 less per month I am getting a speed boost from 1.5 mbps to 3.0 mbps. My upstream speed will be 384 K, and I get a static IP. All of this for $40 per month through Bellsouth. Yeeeeeeeehaaaaa!


Sunday, July 11, 2004


Florida Photos

Beach Colors

Here are a few photos from the weekend.


Thursday, July 08, 2004


Mini Vacation

I will be in Florida for the next three days. Someone has to lay on the beach and drink beer while everyone else toils away. We go to a condo just over the Florida line from Alabama. Go to Gulf Shores and turn left. Hobo will have to do time in dog jail (the vet) and the lawn won't get mowed, but I am going anyway, muahahaha. I will try to post a few photos on Sunday evening when I return.

You know what they say? Life's a beach. At least it will be for the next three days.

Until the next time
John "beach comber" Strain


A Rare Rant

I know, I know, I am supposed to be an optimist. Cheeky Squirrel often points out that I am an idealist - and a lot of me is. Today, however, I am fed up. I am pissed and I am going to let it out here.

I am sick of getting gouged by corporate America. One thing is promised and another thing is delivered. A price is quoted but the final cost is much more. Advertisers apparently never saw Pinocchio. Business today is legalized extortion. Calling customer service victimizes the customer further by robbing them of their time while nothing gets resolved. I am frustrated, chapped, pissed, mad as hell, and aggravated beyond words. Oh yeah, if you express your frustration "inappropriately," the customer service twit puts your name on some kind of "asshole list" which gives them even greater latitude when they feel like abusing you.

Why am I chapped?

Reason Number One: Service Contracts
I do not usually buy service contracts, but I did when we bought my son's preowned truck, a 2000 Nissan Frontier. I paid $600 for a 6 year 75,000 mile warranty. It is supposed to cover everything except things like the battery, tires, belts, hoses, and anything that goes wrong. When they are selling the policy, they make it sound like it is the mother of all insurance policies. When you go to the service department, they explain the fine print. The fine print basically says, "we ain't paying for a f$%#ing thing that goes wrong with this truck."

Anyway, John's AC went out. I took it to our mechanic who charged it with refrigerant. Naturally, in a day or two the AC was not working again. No problem, we have the service contract. I was smart for getting that baby. Long story short, the repair is not covered, because the problem is an AC hose ($90) and total cost of $280. To ad insult to injury they have to order the part after we prepay. I do not know why service people don't just say something like this, "How do you do Mr. Strain. We are ready for you now, so if you would drop your pants, bend over and grab your ankles, we can get on with it."

Reason Number Two: Cell Phone Charges
I have a couple of college degrees, but have a hard time understanding cell phone charges and roaming rules. I suppose the phone company fine print reads like this, "We reserve the right to charge you indiscriminately for anything we like. You have no recourse, but to call customer service, who will see to it you are transferred, cut off and placed on hold. We will be polite but incompetent. We also reserve the right to tell you the wrong thing and later deny it and blame it on you."

If your plan is supposed to cost $40 per month, get ready for $60. Do you want to get pissed? Just read the line items on a phone bill. If pants were sold like cell phones it might go something like this: A sign reads - "Pants $20." You pick up 2 pair and head for the checkout where you are charged $80.00. You complain, "What the hell, shouldn't it be $40.00?" The clerk explains, "Sir,the pants are $20 a pair, however, you selected some additional features, such as, belt loops, zipper, pockets, and two legs." You protest, "zipper?" The fake happy clerk explains, "Most states have decency laws about weenies hanging out of pants. We at Acme Pants installed the zipper as a device to protect you from violating such laws, blah, blah, blah."

"OK, screw the cell phone company," you say, "I will take my business elsewhere." Not so fast, Buddy, you have a contract. They own you.

Reason Number Three: Satellite and Cable TV
Very similar to cell phone companies, cable TV is about quoting a base price and tacking on another 30% for extra bullshit charges.

Oh phooey, what's the point? The only way around these rip offs is to break your own need for the products and services these creeps pedal. So I bring this crap on myself, because I have to have it.

Damn, I went and changed my rant into an examination of self-responsibility. I guess if I want to dance to the music, I must pay the fiddler. That said, F'em anyway.

Rant over,
John Strain


Wednesday, July 07, 2004



Do I have your attention? I will get around to explaining the title in a minute. As most of you know, I work in a psychiatric hospital. My daily experiences are often quite bizarre, but sometimes poignant, sad, hilarious, and interesting. The people with whom I work are effected by mental illness. Their malady is usually quite visible and most people shun them. If you look beyond their problem or just accept it, you find they are just people. I laugh with them about their problem. I laugh at myself when I goof or do something crazy, why should they get special consideration? The truth is, it makes them feel less like a mental patient and more like a regular person.

My job requires multi tasking. I may be trying to work on a discharge, but have to shift gears and handle an intake call. I may be talking to one patient and another one intrudes or does something i cannot ignore. I am constantly shifting gears and changing tasks. The trick is to get things done and not just scurry around doing parts of things. This is where the humor often comes in.

Today, for instance, I was dealing with one of our frequent flyers. This individual was wanting to be discharged and trying to work out a plan. After a lot of discussion, it became apparent to this person that his plan was not going to fly. I was blamed for keeping him in the hospital for reasons of money and I think the Aids epidemic and global warming. The guy went off and I broke off talks. A social worker has an abuse limit after all. I went to my office and began working on something else, when this pt. comes to the door way and states, "do you want to fight?" I was on the phone, so I covered the receiver with one hand and told him, "just a minute, I'm on the phone." He turned and walked away. A few minutes later, one of the psychiatric techs informed me that the angry individual had gone into the classroom and wrote something about me on the chalkboard. "What did he write?" I asked. "Something about you liking big gorilla dicks," she replied. In fact, I was accused of liking gorilla penis and even performing fellatio on said gorillas. My response to the tech was, "damn, I didn't think there was enough light at the zoo for me to be identified. You get friendly with one gorilla and you are looked down on for life. I guess he showed me. He later apologized and erased the board. This was the bestiality reference to which the title promises.

At about 5 minutes to 6:00 PM I got a call - there was a walk-in up in the lobby. I am sure you can relate to this. it has been a long day and you are almost out the door, then a big hand grabs you and says, "you have one more hour of work." Rats. So I go to the lobby and it is a guy who is mentally retarded. I had talked with this man before. He actually functions quite well. He stopped in for some advice about his girlfriend. I won't go into the particulars, but my heart went out to him. He was upset and confused. I let him take his time and say everything on his mind. This man has to struggle to do the things most of us take for granted. Major stressors have more of an impact on him and tonight was one of those nights. I went from being pissed about having to talk to someone, to wanting to help someone who was hurting. It happens every time, just sitting across the table from someone sharing their problems brings out the desire to help from inside me.

Walking back through the lobby, the security guard comes in the door with a young man. The guard says to me, "watch him while I make a call." Huh??? You would have to know our security guard. This guy is a charicature. Once the FBI was at our hospital and the security guard was near orgasm. He was kissing ass like there was no tomorrow. Once free from the ass kissing assault, the FBI guy said he knew our guard, because he submitted about two-zillion job applications. So anyway, the guard calls the unit to verify the kid was who he said he was - the child of a visitor just waiting in the car. The guard thought he nabbed a clever car thief. This guy makes Barney Fife look like Jack Webb.

I can be laughing one moment and touched the next. Most of the time I am laughing. My coworkers and the patients we serve are a lot of fun.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, July 06, 2004



I could not think of anything to write last night, I was tired and just went to bed. This morning I still had nothing to write. I can't let a little thing like that keep me away from a post. Now I have about 30 minutes to peck something out and decided to write about stress.

Definition of stress: Your horn sticks and you happen to be following a gang of Hell's Angels.

But seriously folks. Here is what I tell people about stress:

• Stress is any challenge to our system and can be physical or emotional. A lack of sleep, an upcoming speech, meeting the parents, and having the stomach flu are all stressors which often result in stress.

• A stressor is the thing we react to whichproduces stress. Stress comes from within. It is a product of our thoughts and experiences. We all react differently to stressors. Jumping out of an airplane might invigorate one person while terrifying another.

• Stress is not a bad thing. The amount of stress determines its value. Some stress keeps us on our toes and helps us perform our best. Too little stress and we are bored. Too much stress is the recipe for burnout.

• The Three A's: This is important. Whenever we are faced with a stressful event, we can respond in one of three ways. We can either Alter the situation, Avoid the stressor altogether, and/or Accept the circumstances.

The art comes in knowing what to do when. Those of you familiar with the Serenity Prayer will recognize the similar advice:

God grant me the serenity
To ACCEPT the things I cannot change
The courage to CHANGE (alter) the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference

The first thing to do is try and ALTER the situation. Let's say you are trying to read a book and the television is on too loud for you to concentrate. You simply grab the remote and turn it down. You just altered the situation and the stress welling up inside you subsides. Now if the noise is coming from the apartment above you, altering the situation may involve banging on your ceiling or calling your neighbor. Altering situations is where your creativity can help. There are, as they say, many ways to skin a cat.

If you cannot alter the setting, perhaps you can AVOID it. Avoidance is not always bad. For instance, if you have relatives visit one weekend out of the year and they leave their towels on the bathroom floor going against your strictest rule, it might be easier in the long run to "blow it off." Why risk a family feud over something that will not exist in two days? The stress here would be confronting your family. If you tell yourself you are going to let the towel on the floor go to avoid the conflict, you are making the decision and are no longer a victim.

Sometimes at a fast food restaurant I order one thing and get another. I would be within my rights to go to the counter and get the right order. However, I often just eat what they give me to avoid the line and waiting. I made the choice to eat the Big Mac instead of the Quarter Pounder. Now, IF, I am going to be pissed off about it, I did not avoid anything. The important thing about avoiding stress is you really avoid it and not sweep it under the carpet.

Some things cannot be avoided. A coworker problem better be addressed because it repeats itself and occupies a large part of your day.

The last approach is Acceptance. If you cannot Alter or Avoid the situation you must ACCEPT it. That does not mean you have to like it. In the case of death or debilitating injury, one must eventually accept the circumstances. The grief process is about acceptance. One finds a way to live on even though circumstances have taken a turn from their idea of how life was "supposed" to be.

I once saw a news story talking about people who lived to be 100. A characteristic they all shared was an ability to accept tragedy and continue to find meaning in life. We all get a turn to experience tragedy and grief. If you are not experiencing it now, be grateful. When it happens, know it is part of life.

That's it. My sermonette about stress. You have the ability to control your level of stress. The 3 A's are a good start.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, July 05, 2004


July 5th

We in the United States celebrated our 228th Independence Day yesterday. July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence was adopted and the signing began - finally completed in August. On July 5 copies were made and the first newspaper printed the document on July 6. Public readings occurred on July 8 to enthusiastic crowds. It was not until April 19, 1777 in Concord, that the "shot heard round the world was fired." What began as thoughts and ideas, became an agreement and a document, and eventually a war.

Plenty of things led up to these events in 1776, but I started thinking about my own life. How many times have I had an idea born of struggle or desire for something better? Then the idea became more tangible and was manifested in some sort of commitment or action which began a long struggle. We could probably all think of events in our lives this way.

Drafting the Declaration of Independence was an intellectual exercise. Like writing a letter to a company or discussing politics with a friend, you can say just what you think. But when that document is released, there will be consequences. The founding fathers set in motion a conflict which resulted in war. Their words and ideas were tested with the currency of their lives. They were committed to the cause and so were so many that the independence stood and America remained free.

When you attempt something in your life, success comes best when the intellectual work is done. Drafting a well thought out plan is essential. Publish your intentions and back them up with an unwavering commitment. July 4th is the easy part. Difficulties will lie ahead. At some point, you will have to sacrifice something to keep your dream alive. You will face, as the minutemen did, a Concord in April. You will have to fight, maybe not literally, but more likely you will have to struggle against your own apathy and doubt.

Life is full of July 4's with their enthusiasm, July 5's with their work beginning, and April 19's where we face pivotal battles of will and resolve. Some we will win and others we will lose. More often, the fight is turned by what lies within us than the circumstances outside us.

May your personal battles be won and may your dreams come true.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, July 04, 2004


Happy Birthday America!

FireworksCovington's official July 4th celebration was last night at the park. We sat in lawn chairs listening to a big band play patriotic music, old standards, and swing. We ate cheese and boiled shrimp and enjoyed the warm evening. Fireworks capped off the night in traditional fashion.

Today, I am running in a 4 mile race. I will update this post after the race.


The race went well. I ran 4 miles in 29:18 which is a 7:19 pace. My place was 38 out of 200 runners. I am happy with that time. It was about all I could do today, because once across the finish line I had the dry heaves for a minute. On an even better note, I won a door prize - a George Foreman Grill and a Two Slice Toaster. These appliances will be heading to Louisiana State University with my son this fall. I am always lucky with race door prizes for some reason.

Have a fun day everyone.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, July 03, 2004


Weekend Replay: Pulling The Fire Alarm At The White House

Yes, I really did it, I pulled the fire alarm at the White House when I was 7 years old.
Originally posted August 11, 2003

My Mom's version of the story

Part I

this is an audio post - click to play

Part II

this is an audio post - click to play

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, July 02, 2004


Hello Daddy (Audio Version)

I tried to post this last night, but Audio Blogger was on the fritz. This is the audio version of the post below.

this is an audio post - click to play


Hello Daddy

I submitted this as an audio blog, however, audio blogger is apparently down. I assume it will soon be corrected, but until such time here is the post in its traditional form - written.

In 1984 Barbara became pregnant with our only son. We were living in the Quad Cities area of Illinois and it was during the summer olympics. Perhaps they were inspiration. Yesterday, I heard a story on the news about the upcoming olympics, I was reminded of "that" summer and the circumstances around me learning I was going to be a dad. Here is what I wrote back then:

Hello Daddy
"Hello daddy," those two words set off a silent explosion inside me. All at once I was thinking about the joys and drawbacks of having a child of your own. Everything from playing catch with my son to where is the money going to come from for junior's college tuition.

Barbara and I had just started trying to have a child. It didn't take very long. Several of the signs were present so to confirm our suspicions, we invested in an $8.00 early pregnancy test kit. It resembled a small chemistry set, so naturally Barbara let me figure out how it worked. It was very simple really, a few drops of her processed water and 45 minutes were all that was required. If she was pregnant a little circle would appear in the solution.

I got up and started the test about 7:00 AM on a hot summer day in August. 45 minutes was too long for me to wait standing still, so I opted for an 8 mile run. I remember running along and thinking about all the "what ifs" and possible scenarios. I really hoped that Barbara was pregnant. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" was my attitude. If other people could do it then so could I. I do admit to being a little scared. I guess if you half way realize the responsibility and opportunity that comes with being a parent, you would be a fool not to be just a little scared.

I finished my run and came up the stairs to our apartment. Tim and Prisca were visiting us from New Orleans and Prisca was in the bedroom with Barbara. When I came in things were relatively quiet given the fact that it was morning and Tim was sleeping in the next room. Then Prisca looked at me and said very matter of factly, "hello daddy" and I knew that the circle must have appeared in the chemistry set.


The rest is history

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, July 01, 2004



I am sure you have read the email about all of the things we used to do which are now considered dangerous. It lists things like unsafe cribs, to unsafe toys, to unsafe activities. I am not sure if fireworks was numbered among the other items "tempting death and dismemberment," but it should have been - especially if they had observed me. I probably broke every rule in the fireworks safety handbook, but have lived to write about it today. As an adult looking back on it all, I am not sure whether to shudder, cringe, or just thank God for seeing me through.

A couple of weeks before July 4th, the firecracker stands would begin springing up. They were usually brown canvas tents and they had a magnetic attraction for me and my neighborhood friends. Fireworks were something we only saw once a year. Kansas law did not permit fireworks stands for New Years. I know some states sell them year round, but for us, it was an annual treat only.

The way it usually worked is our parents would give us a few dollars to get firecrackers to shoot off before the 4th. Later on, each family would purchase a larger amount and wider variety of fireworks. This is when we would get the fountains, bottle rockets, pinwheels, smoke bombs, helicopters, snakes (girl fireworks), sparklers (more girl fireworks), Roman candles, and airiel bombs. I loved everything about fireworks and that time of year.

There were several brands of firecrackers, but my favorite and the ones I judged to be the loudest were the Black Cats. They came wrapped in red crinkly cellophane with a yellow label featuring a black cat looking very angry. I liked the exotic Chinese writing on the label. Once home with the firecrackers, the first task was separating them. Only rich people and lazy people set off a whole pack at a time. For my friends and I we sat down, unwrapped them, then carefully unraveled the complicated tangle of fuses. If one became impatient and tried to force the firecrackers out of their knot, they sacrificed individual crackers by pulling out their fuses. Every now and then, I stumbled on to the secret and found the right string to pull easily freeing the little beauties. By the end of this process, one's fingers were silver with gun powder. We each had our brown paper bag which held our firecrackers and punks. Do you remember the punks? They were used to light the firecrackers, they were slow burning, non flaming, lighters if you will.

We had a use for firecrackers which had lost their fuses. These we unwrapped and made a pile of gun smoke on the driveway or garage floor. Then, one could throw a match on it or lay a fuse down next to it. The gun powder would flare up quickly without popping.

Most of the time, I held a firecracker in one hand and the punk in the other. I had to hold the two close to my face in order to see the fuse well enough to light it. The way it was supposed to work is the fuse lights and evenly burns to the firecracker in about 4 seconds. PhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhBAAAAAAAAMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It did not always work that way. Sometimes I would hold the punk to the fuse and it would light, then go Phhh and stop. Then it would go a bit further Phhh and stop. Then it would go really fast, PhhhBAAAAAMMMMM!!!!!!!!! Only young reflexes could fling it away before it exploded in your hand and in my case the face. There were a few occasions when I did have one blow up in or near my hand. One time it felt like my thumb had just been smashed in between two hammers. Yeeeouch!!!!!!!!

The main activity was lighting and throwing until that became boring, then we looked for things to blow up. Plastic army men were always fun. A firecracker under a can would send it up in the air like a rocket. Someone would usually bring a doll or some girl thing from a sister and we would orchestrate a blowing up of the item just when the unsuspecting sister would have the chance to watch her doll's head get blown up. Mothers in our neighborhood had to mediate all kinds of special disputes around the 4th of July. Property damage claims, firecracker ownership disputes, attempted bodily damage claims, and others.

One time on the 4th, the neighborhood BBQ was held in our back yard. After everyone ate, the adults were sitting in a circle of lawn chairs while the kids were running around doing various activities. I was throwing firecrackers waiting for night to fall. I got the bright idea to throw a lit fuse in the center of the circle of adults. I imagined it would be funny. First they would think a stray firecracker was about to blow, when nothing happened, they would all laugh. Well, half of my plan worked. I threw the fuse in the circle, which drew immediate attention. My dad, in his haste to distance himself from the impending explosion, tipped over backwards in his lawn chair flinging coffee to the four winds. I announced it was only a fuse, I was not crazy enough to throw a real firecracker. My dad did not think it was funny neither did the other adults. He chased me for a ways and I guess he figured there were too many witnesses so he just stopped and pointed at me. He basically said not to do anything like that again or I would be really sorry. Geeze, no sense of humor.

My friends and I engaged in bottle rocket fights and Roman candle fights as well. I wonder why none of us ended up as statistics. They really are dangerous, but somehow we lived through it.

I drove by a firecracker stand the other day and many of these memories flooded my mind. It made me smile. I may go buy some firecrackers for old time's sake. I may even light the whole pack, because I am a little bit richer and certainly more lazy.

Until the next time
John Strain