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Tuesday, August 30, 2005


News from Covington

this is an audio post - click to play


Monday, August 29, 2005



The winds of Katrina are picking up little by little. There is a definite roar and with the morning light we can watch the rain shoot across the parking lot like a water canon. It is interesting how the wind shifts. It seems to be coming from all directions. There is a constant wind then gusts of varying intensity rise and fall.

A leak has sprung in my office, but this happens anytime it rains hard. I removed a ceiling tile and put a tub where my printer previously sat. A steady drip, drip, drip is off to my right.

The wind is really picking up now and I hear the roof above me wobble. The sound is like a waterfall or rushing river. It is a fine noise. It is a powerful noise. It is a noise that reminds me how small I am and how big God is.

I want to thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and comments. I feel honored to be able to get my thoughts out and to have people want to read them. It does appear we will not get the worst of it. The eye should just miss us. In addition, the wind speed is down just enough I do not fear as much for my house getting major structural damage. Trees are still a concern, but whatever happens here in Covington will be nothing compared to what New Orleans and the southern parishes will receive.

That's the update

Until the next time
John Strain


Wake Up Call

Those of us not on duty talked, ate, and watched the news. We still had power and air conditioning. As it turns out, there were plenty of pets here. Bear could have come here after all I suppose, but I am glad they are in Baton Rouge. That gives me less to worry about and keep up with.

I began to fade at 12:30 am or so and the storm was still quite mild. Fortunately, I brought a blanket and pillow. I pulled up a spot thinly carpeted concrete slab and tried for sleep. My bed at home is considerably softer, but I went to sleep straight away. Lying there looking up at the ceiling in the business office, thoughts were circulating in my head like the hurricane outside. What will this day bring?

3:37 am: I awoke to the sound of wind above me. Sheets of rain were been driven into the roof. I could tell the power was lost, but the generator was running and some lights are working. Generator power gives us lights, some outlets, but no AC. I am in my office right now using my computer hooked up to one of the powered outlets. I had to dial in because our DSL line is out.

I was wide awake, so I put my shoes on and walked out to the lobby. The wind and rain were pulsating like a lawn sprinkler on steroids. A few moments of hard, sideways, wind driven rain, followed by lesser wind and vertical rain. It sounds pretty ominous, but this is only the tropical storm force winds, up to 50 mph. Before Katrina let's us go, the winds will be three times this strong.

Still, it is a fascination and me and some of the other men stood out under the over hang to watch and feel this phenomenon. As I type this, I can hear the wind howling and rain hitting the roof like the soundtrack of an old B movie, but this is real.

Standing in the lobby, we noticed lights on across the street. We discussed why they had power, and why we did not. About that time, the echoing, arcing sound of a transformer occurred and the lights went out. In the next two minutes we heard three more transformers blow. That put an end to the "Why do they have lights conversation."

It is 4:45 am now and I suppose I am up for the duration. My next task is to couple my coffee pot with a powered outlet and begin a caffeine transfusion.

We are hanging in there, but the worst is yet to come.

Until the next time
John Strain


Sunday, August 28, 2005


Waiting out Katrina

I finished shoring things up at home. I had to rid the yard of potential missiles. Then inside, I videoed the house so I can remember what I had, if I have to recall it for an insurance agent.

I took pictures and photo albums and put them in containers. Rats, I just remembered a bunch of photos I missed. Anyway, it was strange. What would you take with you? What would you try to protect? It is overwhelming, but not emotional in my case. At this time there are other things to do and higher priorities to observe. If things are lost, I am sure I will be sad and at some point, the weight of it will hit me. For now though, I do what I can and move on.

Right now, I am at the hospital. This is where I will wait out whatever Katrina does. The forecasters say things will begin to erode about 11 PM or so. As the night wears on the winds and rain will intensify.

I lost power at home for awhile, but it returned. At present, we have power here at the hospital. Ther are a lot of employees and their family memberes here. Coolers and bags hold our provisions and if it were not for the reason all of this is happening, it would be a big party. Still, I have had a few cokes, chips, and a hot roast beef sandwich. No sense in going to the grave on an empty stomach. Just kidding, a little gallows humor.

The mood is jovial now, but I am sure the sounds of Katrina's fury will replace that with fear and silent concern.

So that's it from here. The first rain bands are starting to come through. It is blustery, but nothing to suggest a major storm yet. It will all be here soon enough.

Until the next time
John Strain


Safe in Baton Rouge

Residents fleeing New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans residents driving north across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway ahead of hurricane Katrina (click photo to view latest image)

Barbara and Bear just made it to Baton Rouge. They will weather the storm with John at his apartment near LSU.

To put this hurricane in perspective, think about the F-scale for rating tornadoes. An F3 tornadoe has winds of 158 to 206 mph. A tornadoe lasts a few seconds or minutes and is a relatively small area of wind. In contrast, Katrina currently has sustained winds of 175 with higher gusts. Those winds are said to collapse walls, tear off roofs, and even turn over trains. The eye of Katrina is 25 miles across right now, the size of Lake Pontchartrain. So, Katrina is like a giant F3 tornadoe, 25 miles across that will stay in the city 5 to 8 hours.

I don't think our minds will allow us to understand this. When it is over and we see the damage, we will know then. One thing at a time though, the first order of business is to survive the storm.

Until the next time
John Strain


Where Am I?

A few of you have asked where I am located. This link will show you where I live, Covington, LA. The hurricane is forecast to come right over us. That's bad.

Read this article for a description of what will happen to New Orleans.

Until the next time
John Strain


Katrina and Me

It looks like fate has placed me in a spot to experience the most devastating hurricane this region has ever seen. As the talking heads drone on about the bad news it all seems surreal. My head tells me it is true and it is going to happen, but I have no frame of reference to fathom the impending doom that spins toward us from the south.

Presently the Katrina is a category five hurricane with sustained winds of 160 mph. It is still strengthening and warmer water is ahead of it to help this process. The forecast track has Covington, LA directly in the path. I have read some of the worst-case scenario articles and they predict somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000 people could die in the city of New Orleans. This death toll is the result of many poor people who do not have the means to get out. Survivors will be on housetops competing for dry land with fire ants, rats, and poisonous snakes.

Imagine the Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico on a normal day. Now add 2 feet for high tide, add another 20 - 25 feet for the storm surge, on top of that will be 20 - 25 foot waves. I do not think the 15 foot levee system will be of much use in this situation. Once the water gets in the city, it will be days before it gets out.

We are trying to imagine a devastation that has not occurred around here. It could end the city of New Orleans and possibly the region. The economy would be so disrupted in the aftermath that it may never recover.

I can only hope this will not happen, but Katrina continues to spin and grow more ominous in the Gulf of Mexico.

These are my thoughts and I want to record them throughout the process of this storm. I am not trying to be melodramatic. I walked Bear this morning in an eerie calm. Many folks have packed up and left, a cool breeze is blowing from the north. It is hard to imagine that on such a beautiful morning, the opposite is nearby.

Barbara and Bear are going to Baton Rouge to stay with John at his apartment. LSU classes have been cancelled for Monday.

I am going to weather the storm at the hospital. We have three days worth of emergency power there before we need more diesel fuel. I will have food, water, and hopefully Internet access. I can connect through dialup of the DSL is down and if that does not work, I will use my cell phone to audioblog. I will have my still camera and video camera as well.

I am worried about my marathon in Tupelo next Sunday. I know in the grand scheme of things, it is a small thing, but I would still like to run the darn thing since I have done all of the training.

I have to run 10 miles today, then I will finish getting the yard free of potential projectiles. I then plan to come inside and box up my photos and other things that cannot be replaced. Tonight or early tomorrow I will go to the hospital and ride out whatever Katrina throws our way. At that point, I will have to react to her, because I haven't figured out how to control this situation yet. That last sentence was supposed to be funny.

So, ahead we go, whatever happens will be new for me; a real adventure. Thanks to those of you who are remembering us in prayer. I will keep posting throughout if at all possible.

Until the next time
John Strain


Saturday, August 27, 2005


This is the big one

Fleeing New Orleans ahead of Katrina

New Orleans has been called "the city that care forgot." This is a reference to the easy going, devil may care spirit that prevails there. It is not like that now. With a forecast category four or possibly five hurricane bearing down on New Orleans, care is not forgotten.

There are some unmistakable signs that this hurricane is a real threat. The local television stations are broadcasting hurricane information non-stop. Even more concerning, the weathermen have shed their jackets and tension and worry is heard in their voices. They think this is the big one - the proverbial "worst case scenario."

After Betsy in 1965, a levee protection system was built to encircle the city. It was said to be capable of protecting the city from the surge of a category three hurricane. The problem is however, the ground has settled and experts wonder if it would ward off the effects of a category two storm.

The city of New Orleans is below sea level. Its topography is like a bowl. Pumps have been constructed to move water out of the city, but they cannot keep up with a storm surge and terrential rains. Many citizens in New Orleans do not have the means to evacuate. Conditions are ripe for a major disaster both in property damage and loss of life.

I live on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. Forecasters say the hurricane will not lose much strength until it passes to the Northshore because there is nothing to slow it down. The many trees and higher ground of the Northshore will begin to weaken the storm.

A category four storm will devastate everything in its path. Mobile homes will be totally destroyed, homes will sustain serious wall and roof damage, most trees and all road signs will be blown away. This refers to the winds near the eye. The damage is less the farther away from the eye one goes.

I am worried about this one. My responsibilities will most likely have me at the hospital. Barbara can come with me, but then I don't know what to do with Bear. I can't leave him home alone. I need a plan that will see us all safe. John is back in Baton Rouge and, at the moment, out of harms way.

By tomorrow evening, the tropical force winds will be constant and the weather will continue to degrade. Monday from noon to 5:00 PM is when they think Katrina will pass through our area.

I have to go outside now and batten down the hatches.

Until the next time
John Strain


Uh Oh! Yikes! & Oh S%*T!

Katrina's Projected Path

As it stands now, and I hope this time they are wrong, hurricane Katrina should pass directly over my house. This is forecast to be a bad one - catagory four.

The last major hurricane to hit New Orleans was Betsy in 1965. It was a category three and caused major damage.

Monday evening may change my life.

Stay tuned.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 26, 2005



When I came home from work, the package was waiting for me on my front porch. It was the USB flash drive I had ordered from Amazon. A thumb drive is only the size of a disposable lighter so the package seemed a little heavy.

Out with my trusty Swiss Army Knife and the package was soon open. No peanuts flying around for cushioning, Amazon uses plastic bags full of air to absorb the shock of shipping. There was a box inside the box and when I opened it, I found 5 thumb drives instead of the one I ordered.

The mistake must have taken place in the warehouse. The worker must not have noticed the "quantity 5" on the box. He must not have known how small a thumb drive is either or he would have caught his own mistake.

I looked at the packing slip and I was only charged for one thumb drive. The paper showed only one drive shipped.

Now the temptation. I could have made off with $200 worth of thumb drives. They would have made great Christmas presents. I could have sold them and made extra money. I didn't wrestle at all with the decision though. They were not mine and it would be stealing to keep them.

I emailed Amazon about the mistake and they responded by telling me they were sending me a postage paid label so I could return the merchandise. I put it in the mail today. I am still hoping, Amazon will give me something for being honest, but they don't have to.

The secret to avoiding such temptation is to hold a principle and live by it instead of a situational ethics approach. I believe I should get what I order - no less and no more. Besides, if I had kept it, God would have broken our car or home air conditioner to teach me a lesson.

Have a great Friday folks and an even better weekend.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 25, 2005


An August Picnic and a Predawn Run

I stepped out of the hotel at 5:00 am to begin my 20-mile run down highway 30 out of Blair, NE. Heading out of town to the south, the road eventually wound to the west. High in the sky, a full moon illuminated the rolling hills of eastern Nebraska. The silver fog added to the beauty and I was treated to a picturesque journey. The locusts were still at it and their serenade was only drowned out by the occasional freight train that passed on my right. The freight cars passing by lazily in one direction and the 18-wheelers whizzed by intermittently on the highway. It was Sunday morning though and the traffic was light. Running along the road, I began to recall the events of the previous day, our family reunion.

I had not been to Blair, Nebraska since 1985. My son was only 4 months old at the time. In the 60's, I was there nearly every summer for the Stricklett family reunion. The Stricklett family is my mom's mom's family.

Those gatherings were what I suppose most family reunions were like. People come from the ends of the earth once a year or so and "catch up" with each other. Stories are told and there is lots of hugs and laughter.

As the years pass and lives become "more complicated" reunions are put off and come less frequently. Every family goes through this. But this year, efforts were made to have another one, thanks to Bruce, Joy, and others. I flew from Louisiana to Kansas City and met my mother, her husband Rocky, and my brother George. Together we drove the remaining 3 hours or so to Nebraska.

Friday night, we checked into our hotel and immediately met up with some family members. A group of 10 of us dined on Pizza Hut and old stories. I asked my second cousin Mary if she remembered the time I pulled the fire alarm at the White House. She of course did remember and we all had some laughs and shared our memories about that trauma circa 1964.

Saturday was the big day. The family had been summoned to the city park. It was a beautiful day for a reunion and when we made it to the large shelter, my Aunt Phyllis was already there with a percolating coffee pat. Like the movie "Field of Dreams", "If you hold it they will come." The family began to trickle in and before we knew it there was a bunch of us. Conversations went like this:

Hi, now who are you?


I'm John Strain, Esther's youngest.
The response might be, "I know who you are." or "Who is Esther?"

I was struck with the fact of generations. I used to be the youngest, but now I was closer to the top than the bottom. Looking at the individual families, it was a marvel to see the life that sprung from those of us who used to be the kids.

It was a happy time and in the laughter, handshakes, and embraces, I felt a sense of completeness. I was with my family.

We took lots of pictures, ate lots of chicken and potato salad, and said goodbye at least 10 times to each person. Someone would say goodbye and eventually head away, but get stopped talking to someone. Before you knew it, they would make a circle and be back in the fray. Goodbyes were exchanged again, but they wouldn't leave. The fact is, many of us did not want it to end. The young folks, that's another story. Some of them could not get out of there soon enough. I was them once.

After the picnic and we dispersed, we reassembled at Grandma's old house. It is the house where my mother and grandmother came into this world. One of great grandma Stricklett's granddaughters lives there now with her husband, kids and grandchildren. They have done amazing things to the inside and outside of the house. Check out page 3 of the Stricklett reunion photos to see the house. Click the photos link at the top of this page to get there.

A memory explosion is what was going on inside my head. I was bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells I had not experienced in 20 years. I missed whole lives in that time.

I kept running as the sky went from black to the colors of dawn. The pinks, purples, and oranges clung to the horizon in back of me and chased away the darkness as it fled to the west. Highway 30 is a hilly road the temperature drops in the valleys and the vistas are great from the hilltops. I was feeling good, escaping the heat and humidity of Louisiana. It occurred to me my grandfather told me how he would run from town to town when he was a lad. I only half believed him at the time. My grandfather was a "leg-puller". He said he would start a pace and go for 15 miles to town and not even be winded. I believe it now. Maybe my distance running comes from him.

I finished the run back to the hotel. After a quick shower we went back to Joy and Dan's house for some donuts, coffee, and a few more stories. By 10:00 AM, Mom, Rocky, George, and I were back on the road to Kansas City where I would board a plane for Louisiana. It was a long travel day and I finally made it home at 11:00 PM.

We had our reunion and a need I didn't even know I had was fulfilled.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 24, 2005



My flight from Atlanta to Kansas City was almost over. The flight attendant was giving her landing instructions and going through her routine. At the end of her talk, she said something like this:
We have some special gusts on the plane today. You may have noticed them in their camouflage uniforms. We want to extend our thanks for your service. These men and women have not been home in a long time so I would ask everyone to remain seated when we get to the gate to allow our servicemen to collect their belongings and deplane.
When she finished talking the capacity cabin erupted in spontaneous and extended applause. It gave me a lump in my throat.

When we landed and began to taxi to the gate, I wondered if my fellow passengers would heed the flight attendant’s request. The plane came to a stop and the tone signaled it was OK to leave the plane. Not one soul stirred except the servicemen. Again, the applause was offered as an expression of heartfelt gratitude. Some folks offered their hand and mouthed the words "thank you" as the servicemen walked by. I was proud of my fellow passengers. On the way out, several people thanked the crew for recognizing the soldiers in that way.

It was just a routine flight on a Friday, but the thoughtfulness of one person took a plane full of people to emotional heights no airship could ever reach. If I were a soldier, I think this is the kind of gesture that would touch me. It was sincere and spontaneous.

That flight attendant did a wonderful thing. Her gesture is a challenge to us all to thank our servicemen in ways that are meaningful and sincere. They are honorable and they deserve our honor.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Reunion Photos


Family Reunion Photos

If you follow the above link to my photo pages, look for the first links at the top. They read Stricklett Reunion 1 of 3, 2 of 3, and 3 of 3.

Page 3 has several more photos of butterflys.

I am going to bed for now. I will eventually get to the things rattling around in my head and write about them.

I want to talk about the family reunion and share a heart warming story that took place on my flight up.

Stay tuned.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 22, 2005


Stricklett Reunion 2005

Stricklett family reunion August 20, 2005 Blair, NE

Even after 40 years, I am still on the front row on the ground. The reunion was a good time of catching up and seeing people I had not seen for 20 years. I have more photos to post and certainly more thoughts to express. More to come.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 18, 2005


Stricklett Family Reunion: Blair, Nebraska

Family Reunion

That's me in the front with the coke bottle glasses. I was about 9 or 10 at the time. To my right in the plaid shirt is my brother George. My sister Becky is the second from the right on the front row. My mom and dad are on the back row. Dad is the second man from the left on the back row. Mom is to his right. I am guessing this photo is from 1966.

In the center of the photo is my great grandmother Esther Stricklett. She has long since passed on and others in this photo have followed her. Family reunions have slowed down as the family has scattered to the four winds, but this coming Saturday, August 20, Grandma Stricklett's birthday, we are having another one.

I have not been to Blair, NE (a small east Nebraska town on the banks of the Missouri River) since 1985. It will be good to see people I have not seen in 20 years.

As an added bonus, I checked the weather and the lows will be in the 50's. Sunday AM I have to run 20 miles. The cool weather will be wonderful. Here in Covington, the weather has been oppressive for distance runners. I run early and the temp ranges from 76 at the beginning of the runs to 80 or 90 by the time I finish. I am looking forward to cool fall weather to say the least.

Friday early, I fly from New Orleans to Atlanta. All flights go through Atlanta it seems in the south. There is a saying that when you die, you will have to go through Atlanta on your way to heaven. From Atlanta, I go to Kansas City. My mother, Rocky, George, and hopefully my sister Becky will meet me at the airport and we will drive the remaining 4 hours to Blair, Nebraska.

Saturday is the reunion at the park. Sunday I get up early and run 20 miles, ride back to KC, fly back to Atlanta, and eventually get back to New Orleans around 10 PM. Monday is back to work.

Next week, I may have some photos updated 40 years from the one above.

OK, it is time to get to the morning run. 12 miles easy today.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 17, 2005



Monday on the Today Show, some guest was talking about her program to tutor 4 year olds so they would be ready for kindergarten. The segment was the classic argument about how to educate children. One point of view was to pump little minds full of facts and expose them to the world ASAP. The other point of view says you cannot rush development. Children learn better if it comes through discovery and exploration, and too much emphasis on education only puts pressure on them and sours them on learning in the long run.

If you cannot guess my point of view, it is the latter of the two. I have seen it with my own son. There were tasks I tried unsuccessfully to teach him. I got aggravated and aggravated him, then it seemed, overnight he would just start doing it. I realized that just because a three year old could tie a shoe does not make a 5 year old who cannot tie a shoe a moron. By age 10 everyone can tie their shoes, even kids who do not have arms. This is an example of development and how you cannot rush it.

We all develop at our own pace. We develop physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, intellectually, and in many other ways. The teens who develop physically, but lag mentally are the stereotypical dumb jock. The scrawny smart kid is the classic nerd. By age 20 or so, things begin to level off.

Back to my rant, these days and for some time, children are segregated. Not racially, that would be bad, but, so-called gifted children are pulled out of regular classes along with behavior disordered and learning disabled. They all have special classes, while the left over kids are considered the average Joes.

Studies have shown how children live up or down to their expectations. Here is an example. A group of children with similar educational abilities were divided into two categories. One group went to a teacher who was told that the children were gifted. The other group of children went to a teacher who was instructed the children were learning disabled. After a time of instruction, the perceived gifted kids did well, as expected and the perceived slow learners did poorly, as expected. In spite of this research, we continue to segregate and have expectations.

I think the whole gifted thing is more about the parents wanting to have bragging rights in their circles than it has to do with education. On the other hand, separating out the bad kids can be about giving up on difficult kids or an excuse for not getting creative. Both instances are not about the kids, they are about the adults taking care of them.

Another thing I don't like about the term "gifted" is that it implies some kids have it and some do not. My thinking is we are all gifted. It is much more important what we do with what we have than it is to glorify what we have. In other words, someone with an IQ of 130 may be intelligent, but it does not necessarily predict how successful they will be. A kid with a 100 IQ who works hard can easily out perform a lazy person with the IQ of 130.

My concern is that message is not being sent. The gifted kids already feel like they have arrived by virtue of their label. Average kids are not encouraged to reach for the stars and the bad kids slip farther and farther behind the pack. Jail awaits them almost certainly.

Now, I know there are good teachers out there who work their tails off. They spend their own money on their kids and lie awake nights worrying about how to get through to them. I also know that what I described above exists all too much.

I would advocate keeping the mix of kids together. If junior is so smart, then why deprive the dumb kids of his brilliant comments in class discussions? Maybe they will be leaders or inspirations to others. Maybe one of the mid packers will get the attention of the gifted children when they see how hard they work to learn.

I would like to see parents lighten up. Children do not need tutors and flash cards as much as they need their parents to spend time with them. They need their grandparents too. History is much better learned from eyewitnesses.

Do you remember the movie "Baby Boom." The whole point of the movie was to lighten up and not be so anal about education. Some people feel their kid is ruined if they aren't accepted into the in vogue day care.

Educators debate about the path of education, but we all seem to do just fine no matter which path we took. This brings us back to an earlier point. Somehow, we all know that 2 + 2 = 4 and that George Washington was the first President. Do we really need to know it at age 3 or 4?

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 16, 2005



Few things make a man feel like a man more than walking through Lowe's with some lumber, throwing it in the back of a pickup truck, going home while listening to country music, and building something with said lumber.

John needed a desk for his new apartment. After some unsuccessful shopping expeditions, he sketched out what he wanted and we built the darn thing. It was funny, in the process of building the desk, I got a phone call from my friend Calvin. He said, "What the hell are you building?" He was watching my webcam. I forgot it was on and had no idea we were acting out an episode of "This Old House."

Speaking of Lowe's, I had to detour to the little boys room while there. After doing my business (number one) I flushed the urinal then went to the sink to wash up. I fumbled with a big silver knob for a while, but no water. I then realized it was one of those automatic sinks. I held my hands under the faucet for a moment, and then the water flowed. Next stop was the hand dryer. I hate hand dryers. I don't have the patience for them and usually end up wiping my hands on my pants anyway.

Well, I held my hands under the dryer, but no hot air. All this told me was I was not in Washington DC. Eventually, I noticed a big silver knob. I pushed it and nothing. Then I moved to a different dryer, pushed the button, let the thing blow for a few moments, and then wiped my hands on my pants.

To recap, I had to flush the toilet, the sink was automatic, but the hand dryers were manual. This stuff gets confusing. I wish they would keep a consistent motif, either automatic or manual. All the questions: Do I flush the commode? How do I get water out of the sink? and How the heck do those hand dryers work?

One time I went into the bathroom at the Superdome and some guy was peeing in the sink. It was one of those big round sinks where water sprays out from the center. Stepping on a lever turns it on. Well, I couldn't resist, so as he was peeing, I stepped on the water lever and washed my hands. I think he was embarrassed.

Speaking of automatic things, I once used the bathroom at an airport. When I stood up to pull up my pants, the auto flush engaged and it sounded like the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon there was so much force. It would have scared the crap out of me, but I had just taken care of that little detail only moments earlier.

Maybe it is just me, but flushing a can and turning on a sink isn't that big of a deal. I would just as soon keep it all manual. Now if they came up with an automatic lawn mower, I might be interested.

Until the next time
John Strain


Friday, August 12, 2005


A Letter from Sam

Occasionally, patients write notes to their therapist. I save them for teaching purposes with supervisees. The following letter is from Sam a young man with schizophrenia. The letter will give you a glimpse into his mind. This letter represents a few thoughts and a moment in time. Thoughts like these are a constant in Sam's mind.
I was about to reach out to the Devil himself, but I see I was mistaken. I'm not quite sure whats going on in my life but I'm sure it's interesting. I don't know how to say this other than to just say it. Do you know anything about area 51 and will you take me. You have to understand stand that I will get very emotional - dramatic if you tell me yes. So you better be precautious for my fear also.

Or if not can we be friends when I get out of here you seem like a very intelligent man which is close to my heart. I am very scared and confused. So please don't mind the maliciousness or the getting straight to the point. I've never trusted anyone in my life. But I would like to.

Please help.
Sam has had his ups and downs. It has been a while since I have seen him, but the last word I had was he is doing fine.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 11, 2005


Runner's High

I am often asked about runner's high. Usually when I am telling someone about my running they will say something like: "I guess you like that runner's high," or "Do you experience the runner's high?"

The implication is that when I run, I feel this orgasmic, wonderful feeling and that is why I run so many miles. I guarantee you, if running was orgasmic, I would run a lot more than I do now AND there would be a lot more people running too. The concept of runner's high is debated in the scientific circles. Here is my take on it from nearly 30 years of running.

First of all, there is no clear, cause and effect wonderful feeling from running that I experience. Sometimes when I run, it is painful and miserable. Other times when I run, it is just uncomfortable. Rarely, when I run, I feel wonderful, fast, strong, powerful, and euphoric. This is probably the closest thing I feel to the runner's high, most people imagine.

There is more to it than that though. I think sex and running have some parallels. They each involve the physical, emotional, and spiritual facets of our life. I think a lot of non-runners view runner's high in the way a sexually inactive adolescent views sex. The focus is on the physical feeling. Adults try to tell teens sex is much more than a physical feeling and that is why it makes sense to wait until other conditions are right before they have sex. To do so enhances the overall experience of sex.

Hollywood often glorifies the physical aspect of sex and leaves out the emotional and spiritual factors. I wonder how many people are let down after their "first time" when sex is just physical. In the same way, running as a physical act does not pack a lot of gratification. In fact, it often hurts.

Those who have made running a part of their life have done so not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Yesterday, on my way to work, I told Barbara, "I love how I feel now." I had just run 11 miles over hills. I got up at 4:30 am to be able to get the workout in before work. I had to hurry to feed the birds and squirrels, walk and play with the dog, and water the plants. I was drenched with sweat and had exerted myself, but had since showered and eaten breakfast. On the way to work, I felt happy to have all of that behind me. My muscles were a little tired, but what I call good tired. I had run the hills well, so I know I am on my way to the level I need to be at for the Tupelo Marathon September 4. I will run nearly 70 miles this week. It is almost time to taper. The goal is in sight and I am right on schedule. I feel grateful I am not injured. I feel thankful to get out and experience nature. All of these feelings converge into what I call a runner's high.

Running helps me with other aspects of my life. Running teaches that goals are attainable, but you must do the work. If you do the work and attain the goal, then you are rewarded with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Then you feel grateful to God for having the ability including the strength of body, the strength of mind, and the strength of the heart to get the job done.

It is nearly 5:00 AM. I need to get the coffee going so I can get to today's run. Another runner's high awaits.

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 10, 2005



Messy desk

This place is a friggin' mess and I have to take credit for it. I hate clutter, but not enough to keep it from happening. When things get like this, it just feels bad. I can't seem to find the time to fix it either. I am going to have to do something before this disease spreads.

Right now, though, it is 10:18 PM and I am sleepy. I have to get up and run 12 miles in the AM, then work. Maybe tomorrow evening I will tackle the clutter, no maybe this weekend.

What's that you say? Me, procrastinate? Preposterous.

Until the next time
John Strain


Monday, August 08, 2005


An Open Letter to the NCAA

Dear NCAA;
In light of your recent decision to ban schools who have American Indian mascots from post-season play, I would like you to consider something that offends me.

I am glad you have everything squared away in college sports so your board can worry about things like what a school calls itself when it fields a team to play games like baseball, football, and basketball. These things are important and God knows we would not want anyone offended because a school calls their team something offensive, hostile, and abusive like "Seminole," even if the real Seminoles are proud to be associated with the school. I suppose history is hostile and abusive so we should do away with it. Good idea there, folks.

I thought you all would be trying to make sure athletes were getting degrees instead of coasting through their academics until their eligibility was up. Steroids, drugs, and crime have also been concerns at your schools. I have even heard about corruption with alumni interfering in athletic programs. I guess all that TV money can make good people do bad things. I guess after the other important items at your meetings are discussed, like where you plan to go to lunch, team names are the next most important topic. What would we do without your dedication?

Anyway, on to my request, I am an animal lover and I find it offensive that some of your teams exploit and deride animals by depicting them as aggressive, bloodthirsty, angry, and sometimes silly. I mean Bears are nice animals, and so are Tigers, Eagles, and Ducks. The list is endless, even Gophers are singled out. I have a dog myself and do not appreciate Georgia making bulldogs look like thugs. I demand you sanction schools using animal mascots as well as the American Indian naming schools, because I am offended too and I think I speak for everyone in the world.

While I am at it, my father's side of the family is Scotch-Irish and Notre Dame offends me with their "Fighting Irish" mascot. We do not all fight you know, but I am getting angry enough to punch someone in the nose if I don't get my way.

I am going to study this further. There may be more schools out there that offend me, but I am not aware of them yet. I want them to change their mascots too.

Thank you for your consideration. Keep up the good work. I hope it isn't true about a backlash to your decision. It would be too bad if your attempt to rid the NCAA of Indians only caused every student attending games to wear headdresses and loin cloths.

You are brave, pardon the American Indian reference to take such a stand on such an important matter. I hope you consider my equally important request to restore the animal kingdom to the dignity it deserves.

John Strain


Friday, August 05, 2005


Memory Bursts

Thursday evening I was at the gym doing my routine. Music plays through the speakers in the ceiling and it is usually at a level that blends into the background noise. Gym noise: lots of clanking, people at the desk greeting patrons coming in the door and saying good bye, see ya later to those leaving, big muscle heads grunting and puffing air with force through tight lips, little conversations between groups of 2 and 3 people, laughter, the water fountain clanking, spewing water, and satisfied customers saying ahhhh after a drink.

As I workout, I often go into my own little world. I mostly think about what I am doing, how many sets I have to do, and figure out ways to tell myself it isn't so bad. Then I was aware of Grand Funk Railroad's "Closer to Home" as its strains wafted down from the speakers in the sky. I would post the song, but it is 10 minute long. Anyway, in the span of a millisecond, I was whisked back to Trailridge Junior High School in Shawnee, Kansas sitting in study hall. It was about 1970, I was 13, and they permitted the radio to be played during study hall and gum to be chewed. Both conditions were radical in those days.

We sat side by side, but not across from each other at white tables set up in long rows. The music wafted down there too and that song was popular at the time and one of my favorites.

It all made me smile. I just took a little mind trip and marveled at the vividness of the memory. Then I came back.

Music and sound does that for me like no other sense. How about you? What songs bring back powerful memories for you?

We made it to the weekend, here's hoping yours is a nice one.

Until the next time
John Strain


Thursday, August 04, 2005


A Mother's Love

Mental illness has a profound affect on the family. I have worked in the same geographical location for fourteen years and I have seen the impact on families. Today, I was talking to the mother of a patient and she told me he was no longer a part of her life.

Think of what it would take for a mother to say those words. I know the history of this case and I know what this mother has done over the years. She has put up with a lot and allowed this individual to live with her even though his behavior is often violent and, at the very least, stress provoking. The words, "he is no longer a part of my life," were not uttered in haste or in anger. They were instead her acknowledgement that she could no longer subject herself to such a chaotic life.

I understand completely. She was not angry or vindictive. She did not sound remorseful or offer apologies. She paid her dues many times over. She sounded resolved and matter-of-fact. Her decision was arrived at after years of heartache and denial.

Imagine your child having a mental illness so severe you would choose estrangement over being with them. Mental illness is the robber of dreams and a destroyer of family relationships.

Even a mother's love has limits.
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long ways from home
A long ways from home
True believer
A long ways from home
Along ways from home

Until the next time
John Strain


Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Gay Awesome Hero: A semi-rant about word usage

Words have meanings determined by usage. Our dictionary is dynamic and words that meant one thing in the 1950's may not mean the same thing today. I do not like all of the changes and here are three examples:

Gay: The word gay used to mean happy and light hearted. Now, the primary meaning is homosexual. It is confusing and restrictive at times. In the confusing category, I think of the Christmas Carol, "Deck the Halls." The line, "Don we now our gay apparel," conjures images of flamboyant, bright colored, silk shirts, leather pants, penny loafers, and other stereotypical "gay" attire. In the restrictive category, you better answer "fine" when someone asks how you are doing unless you want to cause raised eyebrows. What would happen if you answered the question, "How are you doing?" with "I'm feeling particularly gay today thank you?" I know what my friends would say.

Awesome: The problem with this word is it is watered down from overuse. I have always reserved this word for that special feeling I would get from experiencing natural beauty. It was a spiritual word for describing a feeling of the presence of God. This was a special word to be used sparingly.

These days the word "awesome" almost always precedes the word "dude." Everything is awesome now. The only word used more than awesome is the word "man."

Awesome is when one is filled with awe.

Hero: Another overused word is a hero.

He takes care of his kids - he is a hero.
She's deaf - she's a hero.
He has one leg - he is a hero.
He got an A on a book report - he is a hero.

While the above list contains achievements and overcome circumstances, I do not think they are heroic.

To me a hero is extraordinary, not something you are supposed to do or have to do anyway. The media tosses the term around a lot and more often than not, the newly labeled hero declines the characterization.

Everyone cannot be a hero or the word hero does not mean anything.

Well, I don't expect people to correct this just for me, but that would be awesome. This is just the way language evolves or devolves in my humble opinion.

This concludes my rant. Today, everyone who leaves a comment will be considered a hero in my book, because comments are awesome and they make me feel gay.

Until the next time
John Strain


Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Reality Matters

It is no secret that I train for and run marathons. My coach tells me how far to run and I do it. The final test is the race. The race is 26.2 miles and that is real.

Let’s say I decided that running 9.5 miles was the same as 10 miles or that 18 miles can count for a 20 miler. My training log would look to be in order, but my distance distortion would become evident on race day. The reality of shaving miles would hit me like a brick wall long before the finish and I would surely be disappointed with the result.

Distortions are all around us. Another is found in and around education. Children are told they are a genius because they do something expected. Some schools reward commonplace thinking the benefit to the pupil’s ego is worth it. But what happens when this child grows up and has a boss who is not so nurturing? What if the boss is demanding and does not see the need to massage fragile egos? A crisis occurs and a conflict arises.

Last year, a girl at one of the New Orleans schools earned the title of valedictorian. Her ACT scores were so bad, she did not qualify for college. She would have been better served to know the reality of her scholarship.

In the world we have winners and losers. Some people succeed and others fail miserably. At some point in my life, I have won, lost, succeeded, and failed miserably. It hurts to fail and I hate it, but I have learned from my failures. Furthermore, the failures make the victories much sweeter.

I believe folks are motivated by good intentions, but just like helping a baby bird out of an egg, deviating from reality does not help people.

Reality is the best thing for people, because it is what we eventually face. I heard a football coach comment once about the fragile psyche of some players. He said one of his most challenging tasks was to get his players to understand that coaching is not criticism. Just because a player needs to improve his tackling technique does not mean he is a bad person, loser, failure, or anything else.

Failure is one of my best motivators. I work to avoid failure. I work harder to erase a failure. If the adults in my life had shielded me from the pain of failure, they would also have robbed me from the education failure can teach.

Reality matters. Blowing things out of proportion by minimizing an achievement or elevating something common is equally destructive.

Until the next time
John Strain