Memories are like tree rings

Tree-stump1A few weeks ago my wife and I drove our sons to my parents so they could stay a few days while we attended a foster parent training. On the way, I decided to swing through my hometown and show the kids where we used to live, work, and play. We drove through the backroads where “The slow guy” would drive 15 mph, in his little Toyota pickup, often without a shirt, accompanied by his big black dog riding shotgun. We pointed out landmarks of our lives during their childhood, like Pheasant’s Orchard, and the field where we fed llamas.

No one knew it, but this was a big step for me. I was dipping my toes in healing waters. More than a few events took place there that haunt me today. I try to put them behind me, but my mind won’t let me. Each event is stored as a memory that can be recalled at the slightest trigger.

We had a wood stove in our basement meant to be used for heat. We never figured out how to use it without smoking the house out. But one year, in preparation for winter, we drove to our church camp to retrieve firewood. The campground had cut many trees to thin the forest and reduce the risk of fire.

One thing you notice when you look at the stump of a tree is rings that spread from the center to the edge. “How did they get there?” children ask when they first see them.
Tree rings are a record of events that take place in a year. One year might have excessive rain-fall while the next has a drought. Fire might ravage a forest this year and a plague of insects the next. Each event leaves a mark on the tree; a darker circle one year, and a lighter one the next. As long as the tree still lives, it will keeps growing, forming new rings recording the events of the new year.

Memories are a lot like tree rings. They mark in our mind events that happen from one season to the next. Some years are full of love and growth. Others include stagnation, trials, pain or heartbreak.

When I become fixated on troubling memories, I am learning to tell myself that they are only rings on a tree. Those events are part of me, just as rings are part of a tree. But if I fixate on them I am staring at a stump. That is not where life occurs. Like that tree, I am still growing, meeting new challenges. Life is to be lived now.

“Fast” Food

On your drive to work this morning, look closely and you might spot an Easter Egg hidden in plain sight. It won’t be a hard-boiled egg splashed with food coloring. Or a candy-filled plastic egg. These easter eggs are deep-fried breaded fish between two hamburger buns slathered with tartar sauce.

Every year towards the end of February, I point out to my family that Lent must be near because the fast food chains began displaying fish sandwiches on their reader boards.

Most people don’t know about Lent. It originates from the 2nd century practice of baptizing new members on Easter Sunday. In preparation, novices spent 40 days receiving instruction in the Bible, and a week of praying, fasting, and study culminating at Easter. Over time this practice extended to family, friends and the entire church community. It became traditional to fast during this time. It usually wasn’t a complete fast, often involving only meat.

Lent is a season that the modern church pretty much has to itself. Christmas and Easter have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Christians have black crosses on their foreheads on the first day of Lent, known as Ash Wednesday. Comedian Mike Birbigula posted on Facebook: “Either it’s Ash Wednesday or a lot of people have been experimenting with calligraphy.” Christians imitate the early church and fast during this time. Some fast meat. Others fast coffee, or TV. Our family is fasting Friday night pizza.

Here’s where the fish sandwich comes in. In 1962, Lou Groen, a McDonald’s franchisee realized he was losing a lot of business during Lent. So he invented the Filet-O-Fish, knowing that his largely Catholic customer base was allowed to eat fish during Lent. It was a hit, and is now on menus all year. Ever since, the fish sandwich heralds the coming of Easter just as the pumpkin spice latte is the culinary signal that autumn has begun. It is the “Shamrock Shake” of Lent. Fast food became “fast” food.

It would have been unimaginable to the first Christians that people would profit from this season of spiritual devotion. They were imitating Jesus’ fast in the wilderness. When the devil tempted Jesus to break his fast with bread, he didn’t ask if it came with a side of fries and a cola. He declared to his tempter that life is more than food.

“We rely on words spoken by God Himself,” he said. “God humbled the Israelites, allowing them to go hungry, so He could feed them with a food they had never seen before.”

Jesus’ point was that our lives have meaning beyond food. Our lives have meaning when we come to Him in poverty and humility, relying on hearing God’s voice, in whatever form that takes.

When Jesus came out of the desert, he taught his disciples to fast like he did. Some people intentionally looked gloomy, and disfigured their faces when they fasted, so that everyone around them would know they were fasting.

“These hypocrites have their reward,” Jesus said. “But that’s not what you want. When you fast, shampoo your hair and wash your face so that the people around you don’t know you are fasting. Your Father will. And he’ll give you a reward far greater than those hypocrites’.”

McDonalds won’t instruct it’s employees to wear sackcloth and ashes for Lent. But they will certainly have their reward when they sell an estimated 25 million fish sandwiches. That’s not what we want. God’s reward for people who don’t draw attention to themselves when they fast will be far greater than a sesame seed bun. We will hear God’s word and be all the more alive. And be given riches that money can’t buy.

The stories of Jesus’ temptation in the desert and instructions for fasting are taken from the 4th and 6th chapters of Matthew’s account of his life.

Knowing when to log off

Last week my cell phone was shut off because I was late making the payment. For some reason, Sprint felt it best to punish me as the primary user and keep the rest of my family members’ phones on. So I spent about 3-4 days without my phone.

It was a good experience. All too often, I can be seen with my head down, reading and tapping out texts. Suddenly, I was disconnected. I had a few cheat moments when I asked my wife or daughter to call or text someone for me. But by and large, I found that I can live without immediate accessibility.

None of us is immune to the feeling of being overly wired. It is an increasing problem on college campuses. In the article “Knowing When to Log Off,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2005), Jeffrey R. Young looked at different aspects of the problem. To begin, he discussed information overload with David Levy, a professor at the University of Washington’s Information School.

Click here to read the rest of this article at my blog “Too Much Information!”

Energy drinks and the epidemic of insufficient sleep

I’m tired.
Do you know why?
Because I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
What is the solution?
Get more sleep.
…not according to the energy drink and supplement industry.

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Discovering iTunes coverflow for browsing my albums

I have 153gigs of music. Yes. That’s right. 150+ gigs. That’s 21,112 songs. It would take me 80 days of listening straight through to listen to everything.

Years ago, Apple introduced something called Cover Flow that allowed you to browse your iTunes music via a graphic display as if it were a digital bookshelf. Click on the link to see an example of how this works.

This really has never been useful to me. With that many songs in my library, it’s more like browsing a music store then it is your bookshelf. But a new discovery has changed that.

While reading “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor I was inspired to turn back the clock and start listening to the music of my youth. But my angle on this experiment was more sophisticated then starting a “Bon Jovi” Pandora station. Instead, I wanted to listen to albums. Because back then, I bought records. Yes. Vinyl. I’m that old. (My parents grew up on wax cylinders. ;) ) So I built a new play list made up solely of the albums I used to listen to. Not the singles. The albums.

A feature people may not know about is that when you create a playlist, you can double click the title of the playlist and it will open up into a new player. I realized “this would be cool in Cover Flow.” And sure enough… it was. Transported back in time, seeing and listening to the music that defined my 20’s. Pretty cool.

The soundtrack of my life

Inspired by a book I was reading, called “The Happiness Advantage,” I decided to go through my iTunes library and create playlists of albums from different seasons of my life. This turns out to be a much different experience then starting a Pandora station with “Night Ranger.” Because, back then, we bought albums and <gasp> listened to the whole thing. The more I go through my music with an ear towards what I was listening to at different times of my life, it evokes the sense of place during those times. I am transported back to the rooms I was in when I was listening to these albums. In the mid 80’s, I listened to a lot of Keith Green, Kansas, Petra, Genesis and Prince in my bedroom (much to my mother’s chagrin.) In the late 80’s and early 90’s it was Van Halen, more Prince, Sting, and Chick Corea in my dorm room (much to the chagrin of my roommate.). In the mid 90’s, it was Van Halen, Arrested Development, Paul Simon, and Phil Keaggy, in my music room at our first house in Ephrata (to no one’s chagrin.) But another thing I’ve done is to cull the stuff that I really liked. There’s a lot of music out there that I just played but really hasn’t stayed with me. Some albums brings back bad memories. Others, great memories. It is remarkable how emotive music is.


I periodically hear stories like these that seem just too incredible to be true. A quick Google search usually leads to which provides the facts to debunk the myth. I have no horse in this race. I don’t need to defend the consumption of Coke. But it is an important example of how rumors often hold more weight in people’s eyes then scientific research. For some, it is simply easier to just believe that chain email then it is to put in the tiniest effort to make a quick Google search and find the truth.

Myth #1 Coke is owned by the Mormon church.
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As a public school teacher, I spend time with young children who are learning their alphabet, vowels and consonants, and how to pronounce words. Of course, they don’t need to know this to talk. We don’t learn to talk by studying consonants. We learn to talk by being around talking people. But to write and read, children need to learn the grammar of the English language.

But teaching English does not end in the 1st grade. This year, my son Elijah brought home a mural that showed that he had moved to the next step after grammar. He had combined those consonants and vowels into a story. Complete with pictures, it showed that he could do more then string words together into sentences. He could use those letters to create something that had never existed before. A story about himself and me.

At some point, music students must cross this same divide where their piano playing moves from a recitation of notes to the performance of a song.

Music, like English is made up of its own grammar. It is called music notation. In place of consonants, vowels and verbs, notation includes the notes, and rests, sharps and flats to communicate how a song should be played or sung.

The system we have and us for writing music developed over many centuries. But it is the means to an end, and not an end in itself. When a melody gets written down, only the surface elements are transmitted: pitch, and very bald rhythm. And if it is all that is used to communicate music, as a musician you are simply parroting the notation, like a 1st grader reading a sentence.

In her book “Creative Hymn Singing,” Alice Parker uses singing to describe playing the song, rather then reciting the notes. She says

“For millenia, music was transmitted only aurally; that is, from parent to child, from one village to another. A melody transmitted aurally keeps its tempo, pulse, pitches and phrases with all their subtlest inflections, to be modified as desired by the next singer.” – Alice Parker, Creative Hymn Singing, p. 6

In other words, the song is not a stoic representation of notes and rests. It lives and breathes. As players or singers, we must wrestle with the song, tapping into our own creativity to own the song for ourselves.


Attached is the .mp3 from the Forward of my upcoming audiobook, “Got Gumption! Survival Skills for the Financially Desperate.” Scanning the bookshelves at Hastings, I saw that there is not a single resource for people who are in a desperate situation. People who are choosing between food or rent; gas for the car, or keeping the water on. This resource is designed to address these needs… from firsthand experience.



Five years ago, I was the odd parent who was texting his teenagers. Today it is the rare parent that doesn’t. Five years ago, I had an account at Myspace, which I believed was one of the ugliest websites I’d ever seen.

Now, thanks to the graphic below, we have a picture of a much different online social sphere.

- There are 5.3 Billion mobile devices used worldwide. 77% of the world’s population

- Facebook has 629 million users, 250 million of which access the site via mobile. (I do.)

- Little known (by Americans) Qzone, China’s version of Facebook has 480 million users.

For more, click on the link below to the article. Very interesting world we live in.

Geosocial world.png

[From Infographic: A Look At The Size And Shape Of The Geosocial Universe In 2011]