Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Guilt Over Something Silly

I read this article today, which reminded me of an event from my childhood that still triggers a tinge of guilt.

See, like so many kids before me, I had sent off balloons with notes hoping to gain a pen-pal in some far-off locale. Nothing ever came of them.

So, a friend of mine and I decided to up the ante. We wrote a note promising $500 to the person who found this note tied to a balloon and replied. We watched excitedly as the balloon rose higher and higher into the sky and eventually vanished out of sight...and after all of 15 minutes, out of mind.

But, flash forward several weeks later, and I had received a letter in the mail from a man requesting his $500. From Vermont. (We sent off our balloon in Michigan.)

And so this is where the guilt comes in. Because honestly, we never imagined anyone would ever find the note, let alone take it seriously. But this man did, and expected payment. How horribly disappointing it must have been for him when we had to reply back telling him that we were just a couple of kids. In a vain attempt at humor, we included a $500 bill in Monopoly money, but I can't help but wonder how he must have felt, thinking he won some real money, only to find out later it was just a joke.

Funny how we can hold on to something like that and still feel guilty about it years later. I think it is because unlike real life where we may cause damage, but ultimately ask for forgiveness or know it is this case, there is no such opportunity. No way of knowing if the person was angry about it.

And how much is life like that? Asking for forgiveness is a powerful thing. Receiving it is even more powerful.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Obsession to Win

I'm not much of a sport fan. Okay. "Not much" really means not at all. But I haven't been able to help but follow some of the Tour de France doping scandal with Floyd Landis. The whole situation is just one sadness upon another. And in the end, I can't help but realize that it all comes down to an obsession to win.

I don't know if Landis is guilty or not. Probably only Landis knows that with any certainty. But if Landis is telling the truth, and there was no doping involved, you have to feel sorry for the amount of turmoil he has gone through to defend his name and championship.

If Landis is lying, it is amazing to see what lengths someone will go to in order to avoid ruining their reputation, even if that ruined reputation is the result of their own misbehavior.

If Landis is lying, though, I can't judge him. Neither can you. Because every one of us is guilty of something. In the words of Gregory House, from TV's House, M.D., "everyone lies." Perhaps that's true. But what is even more true is the fact that not a single one of us goes through life without making mistakes, without messing up, without committing sins against ourselves and those around us.

If Landis is lying, what right do I have to condemn him? For that matter, what right do I have to condemn anyone who has made mistakes and tried to cover them up?

Anyhow, there is an obsession to win. To be on top at all costs. And despite the platitude that winning isn't everything, when it comes down to professional sports...winning is everything. Athletes risk their careers to dope just so that they have a chance to make it to the top. Athletes who are on top are found having to defend that position for their rest of their lives. Lance Armstrong still faces allegations of doping, for example.

What it seems is the issue isn't so much about the doping itself, but the need to dope to begin with. Something has instilled this obsession to win to the point that doping seems a necessary evil, yet at the same time, kept under the covers.

Then I look, again, to myself. What do I have under the covers in my life? What is it that makes me feel the need to be on top of my game? Or, rather (and more importantly), to give the appearance I'm on top of my game? What makes it seem impossible for me to be honest and up front and say, "Wow, I messed up big time," or, "You know what? I'm not nearly as good as I thought I was." This is honesty--something far more admirable than winning in a person. Only, honesty doesn't win you medals, or higher pay, or fame and fortune. At least, not directly. But at the end of the day, do I want to look like a winner, and then spend the rest of my life defending that title? Or do I want to live a life of honesty, where the need to defend myself is moot?

There is only one standard of perfection. I'm not it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Way They Used To Be

Ah, the good old days. Do you remember them? When you would load a web page, and it was a mish-mash of text and images, and that's it. Okay, maybe a cute little animated icon every once in a while. But the web was safe and comfortable back then. Leisurely.

As of late, I'm becoming more and more disgruntled with websites, no thanks to Podcasts and YouTube and Flash-based sites.

See, what was so great about the web is that you could click on a link and browse a site at your own pace. You could skim articles if you were in a hurry, or take your time and read over the course of a few visits. You were in control, and that was what set it apart from television. Sure, you have been able to record shows off the television for years, but ultimately, the pace was dictated by the format. The web offered freedom!

But today, that is becoming less and less the case. Take the Podcast. Somebody had this great idea of making an audio recording of something that you could download and play on your PC or iPod or whatever. Great. Except that in the time that it takes to download and listen to the file, I could have easily read through the article in text format twice. It turns what is simply my ability to read at my own pace to forcing me to listen at their pace...and ultimately listen by way of speakers or headphones, limiting the times and places I can take advantage of the information.

There is a particularly interesting sounding Podcast on a website that I'm really interested it. But the format has kept me from listening to a single episode, and they don't bother ever posting a transcript, which is all I really care about.

On-line videos are another annoyance of mine, for similar reasons. I just don't have the patience (or time) to sit and watch something to learn something I could get in another format. Okay, I don't have a problem with downloadable video in general...just not when I have no option for information another way. YouTube is primarily about entertainment. I get that. But why must I only be allowed to view certain news items on news sites such as MSNBC if I'm willing to watch a video? Kind of defeats the whole advantage of the web.

And don't even get me started on Flash-based sites. Those annoying websites with cleverly-laid-out graphics and animations that ultimately keep me from getting to the information I want at the pace I want it. Instead, I have to hold my mouse over a little picture, have it whirl around, doing acrobatics on my screen, eventually landing me to another graphic with limited information that forces me to repeat the process.

There is a tendency to use technology for the sake of using it, rather than using it because it is ultimately the best way to accomplish something. The web is ripe with sites that abuse that. Just because we are able to download videos now at blazingly-fast speeds doesn't mean we want to. Maybe we just want to be able to read the news. The 21st century version of the newspaper...a format that has worked for a couple centuries, actually.

I preferred the good old days of web surfing. I think I'm becoming an old-fogy. But more and more, I like things the way they used to be.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Peanut Butter, Parenting, and Pumping Up

Well, my three-day weekend with the kids went really well, and I even managed to have a good time and keep the house in decent shape. Admittedly, by Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted. I'm not used to doing so many activities. Let's see. We went to the playground on Friday. A huge wooden play structure where I had to stand up on this tower perch to see all my kids easily. I just couldn't keep up! We also ran a bunch of errands that I figured would take the whole weekend...but didn't.

Saturday, we went to a different playground...this one smaller, where I could actually follow them around. Later, we took a bike ride, with me toting my youngest two in the bike trailer. At the end of the day we tried to do some kite flying, but the wind had died down too much.

Sunday, after church, we headed to the park to fly the kite. Did that for about an hour.

All in all, though, an enjoyable weekend with my kids.

On to other things...two of my kids are allergic to peanuts. From the time my oldest boy was one, we've pretty much been a peanut-butter free household. That is sad for me, because I lived on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. So, yesterday, I did something new. I bought myself some peanut butter, jelly, and bread and brought it in to work with me. Wow! Have I missed PB&J! (And for the record, it has to be Simply Jif. Not regular Jif, not off-brand, not Peter Pan brand. Simply Jif is simply the best!)

An exercise update. Since I started in January, I have to say I haven't really had much problem with exercise affecting my Blood Glucose Levels. In fact, in the past four months, I think I've only had two exercise-induced lows. And in the meantime, my strength has improved dramatically. I've even started doing some Cardio about 4 days a week. I kind of look forward to the exercise now. (No, no. Really, I do. I'm not just saying that.)

And in final news, over the weekend my blog just crossed over to 20,000 views since I started it. Pretty cool.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Few Days in Recovery?

Tomorrow, I start a lesson in wife appreciation. Not that I don't appreciate my wife now. She's great. But it isn't until I "walk a mile in her shoes" will I fully grasp her contribution to our family.

See, tomorrow, my wife is leaving me. Okay...she's leaving me for only three days...spending a much-needed vacation with a good friend away from home. She deserves it. This is something she's done for the past few years.

And while I'm all in favor of her going, I'm also scared. Because it means for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I'm both father and mother to my kids. I mean, I love my kids...but spending 72 straight with them is something I'm just not accustomed to.

I already know how it will go. Day one will be a breeze. I settle in, enjoy spending some alone time with them, maybe take them on an outing or something. No problem.

Day two, things will start to change. I'll start to see the house falling apart, and I'll realize that I have no idea where my daughter is, only to find her playing with something she isn't supposed to be. My patience will be tested as my youngest son taunts my daughter, and my daughter screams in return, and I yell and send them both to their rooms, and eventually rummage through the kitchen looking for comfort food.

But I'll keep it together.

Day three...well, we're entering unknown territory now, because this is the first year my wife will be gone for three days instead of just two. When she comes home, she might just find me drooling, staring at the ceiling, speaking incoherently. I'll probably have lost feeling in my brain.

In the end...after a few days spent in recovery...I'll have a renewed appreciation for all my wife does as a stay-at-home mom. And not even so, because I won't be taking on several responsibilities that she does in addition to keeping my kids from killing themselves...or me killing them! It will be worth it, though. My wife will be refreshed, experiencing freedom she gets only a couple days a year.