What is beautiful?

Dandelions are not beautiful. Or that’s what someone decided a while back.

America spends tens of millions of dollars eradicating this lovely flower from their blandly uniform green lawns.

I’m an American. My family doesn’t spend very much getting them out of our lawn, but we do prefer uniform green blandness. (I have been known to pick the little flowers and throw them in the street — not a very effective method for preventing them from returning.)

Apparently, it’s not just an American obsession. They are also considered weeds in England, Australia and Denmark — to name just a few other cultures that categorize them as a nuisance.

Even the post-flower seed blooms are amazing — uniform spheres of light fluffy helicopters, each waiting to be carried by the wind onto a neighbor’s yard. Ikea took inspiration from this stage of the plant to create their Maskros lamp.

The dandelion’s medicinal qualities are so many that one must venture to at least the third page of Google results until it’s possible to find any reference to them being weeds. (The French word is pissenlit.)

But who decided that dandelions are ugly? Maybe it’s the spiky green leaves — when the English word is translated from sort-of French, the word literally means “teeth of lions.”

Or maybe the flowers blooming so fast and growing taller than the grass around them offends people who appreciate consistency and visual homogeneity.

I vote for a law requiring that dandelions will forever be considered beautiful.

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Blind

blurred image - what a partially blind person might seeWhat’s it like to be blind? Those with sight can never know. Those who lost their sight later in life have different perceptions than those born blind, as they retain memories of what the world looks like.

The perceptions of a blind person must be totally different than the perceptions of a sighted person. Temperature changes and smells are much more important, I would guess. Seeing people can never know what a song is like to a blind person. I imagine that a richer and deeper set of colors accompany the mood of a piece of music.

But we are all blind. Another Paul said this: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror.” They say humans only use about 5% of their brains (or something like that). Maybe a deaf person uses 10% of the visual part of their brain, and a blind person uses 10% of the auditory part of their brain — and a person with sight and hearing only uses 5% of every part. Everyone uses different levels of each sense. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths and weaknesses open us up to different vulnerabilities — and abilities.

If you are blind and reading this, I’d love your reflections on the topic.

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Time flies

Last Friday evening was a significant occasion for our family. Our oldest son Jay, a senior, was voted “Mr. Eagle” at a big high school event. He beat 11 other contestants. (His class has roughly 500 kids.)

It was thrilling to hear them announce the new Mr. Eagle, in a room of more than 700 screaming kids. Well, a few were adults, though I’m not sure how many of those were screaming. Heather and I screamed along with the rest.

Looking back, I remembered one of the events that shaped who Jay is today. We moved to Kenya, Africa in 2005, for a two year work assignment. Shortly after we arrived, Heather enrolled both Jay and Ben in Ligi Ndogo (“small league”) — a soccer club for boys. They were the only white kids in the whole league. They learned to relate to kids of another culture and to speak a little Swahili. They didn’t want to go every Saturday, but we basically forced them to take part. “Eat your spinach, it’s good for you!”

The Mr. Eagle evening included answering questions that the contestants were not prepared for. Jay’s question: “What one thing would you do differently, if you could live your life over?” He paused and said he wished he had been able to spend more time in Africa.

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How pure are you?

cigaretteWhen you put money into a retirement fund, do you check if that fund supports the tobacco industry?

If you buy baby formula, do you check if that company markets their formula aggressively to new mothers in developing countries — at the expense of their children’s health?

It’s hard to be pure in this world. Most decisions end up being the best of the mix we can find. Or we may not examine all the factors that go into a decision.

I’m often too lazy to examine my decisions. And sometimes I know the potential downsides to a decision, but I make it anyway.

My friend Tim Gier, a vegan, makes most of his decisions with a very focused approach. I admire that.

What’s a decision you made that you later regretted?

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Men are different from women

Photos of outfitsYou know that men are different from women. I know that too.

I’ve been married to Heather for more than 20 years. I love her and am always amazed that after all these years, we are still discovering new things about each other.

She started a new contract job recently at a large company that has a fairly formal corporate culture. She has to “dress up” to go to work. Some mornings involve a clothing crisis before the right outfit is found.

Now this is partly a personality thing, but it takes me about 5 seconds to choose what I’ll wear to an event or a work situation. Heather deliberates till she finds the perfect outfit. Since she has really good taste, she scores. (I don’t always score, but she often will warn me of impending mistakes.)

So I came up with an idea to save her time in the morning. What if I took photos of each of her outfit combinations and she could just flip through the set of photos to choose the outfit for a particular day?

No. She didn’t like that idea. Why? “You just wouldn’t understand.” (True.)

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Taking Time

Loveland Pass TrailThis is the very first guest post by Heather, my wife. Yay! (She wrote it back in August.)

It’s 100 degrees this August day in Denver. The school year has started at a time that feels way too early. Our family’s getting cheated out of beautiful days in the mountains, and togetherness around campfires. Summer is not over yet! The narrow window of warm summer mountain days has not closed.

Busy” has started for everyone but me, and I am alone. What a rare place to find myself. I head rebelliously to the mountains for a hike. I want to see the exotic colors of “the best show of wildflowers in years.” I’m pulled in, determined to soak in the beauty, alone or not. I park and start walking. A short distance later, I leave the forest and the carpet of wildflowers behind and trudge along alpine tundra, passing little springs flowing from melting snowfields. The sun flashes silver and sparkly on an emerald alpine lake. Massive, intimidating and stunningly beautiful peaks surround me on all sides.

I am small in the vast silence. I see how big God is. I speak, but no human hears. My voice and footsteps fall like a tiny drop of rain in the ocean, but the sound reassures me. I’m a little scared. I sit, read, and think, letting a fresh breeze blow away the stale and the stuck in my mind. The sun has moved, the clouds are gathering. It’s time to go back down. Things look different going this direction. I feel invigorated and happy. This heart-pumping day has changed me. Life among mountains always does.

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Recapturing that lost childhood

Matchbox Mustang No. 8During the summer, I saw an amazing toy car collection worth thousands of dollars. It was not in a museum — but in a home office. Few people beyond the collector, his wife and daughter ever see these cars.

So why would he invest so many hours and and so much money in that? (One small set alone is worth about $1,000.) My theory is that he is trying to recapture some of his lost childhood. He remembers when he saved up and bought those cars when he was a kid. As a proportion of his income, the little cars might be similar in what they cost him today, maybe.

I collect little cars (in spite of my primary emphasis on collecting digitally). I don’t pay very much for them. I don’t collect very many. But to anyone who visits my home office, they will see probably 6 or 7 little cars lined up, looking at me. Am I trying to recapture some of my lost childhood? Maybe. Mostly I just like cars and it’s fun to see those little cars every day.

What’s the difference between the previously mentioned collector and me? He goes to great lengths to find specific models. He’s willing to pay a ton when he finds the pearl of great price. I just randomly pick up a Trabant when I see it at Walgreens. Or a friend will give me a Mini.

By the way, the model shown is from the amazing collection. (He very kindly let me take several pictures — which are in now my digital collection.) That white Matchbox Mustang is one that I owned when I was a boy. Today on eBay with the box it costs $100. Sadly it won’t regain a place of honor in my collection.

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Listen to that advice

Flooded basementA year ago, our friend Jack said our water heater was probably going to break soon — and he recommended getting it replaced.

We though, “Why spend the money today? It probably has 2–3 years left, and we’ll get a new one when we feel like we can afford it more.”

So Saturday morning, it broke and flooded our basement. Thankfully, recovering from the flood cost no more than a Saturday afternoon and a sore back. But I would have avoided both if I had listened to Jack’s advice.

So my advice to you is this: please listen to your plumber, your doctor or your car mechanic when they say it’s time to get that work done. They probably know more about the problem than you do. And it may cost you more than a Saturday and a sore back to fix that disaster.

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How do you stay healthy?

BicyclingThat’s a question. I’d love to hear what you do to stay healthy. Please leave a comment at the end of this post. Why? Your healthy activities and interests might inspire me and other readers in new and interesting directions.

Here’s what I do:

- Ride my bike. I try to ride it places instead of driving. This takes some planning. And it’s rarely possible with the whole family. (Those rides are usually for leisure.)

- Exercise my arms and shoulders. Last October, I pinched a nerve in my neck. A great physical therapist gave me a set of several exercises that have kept that pain away. I do this 3 to 5 mornings a week, using a very simple stretch device.

- Eat dinner with my whole family. With two teenage sons and a ten-year-old daughter, this is not easy, but we do manage to share our evening mealtime about five days a week. This allows us to stay closer and keep up with what we are all doing.

- Read the Bible. This keeps me focused on what’s important. (If you’d like to explore this one, start with the book of Mark or Luke.)

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