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Entries in Observations (73)


Cycling Season is Almost Here...

CyclingI can feel it coming. Cycling season is coming closer by the day. It's a matter of hours now.

I love the feeling of warmer weather, sunny skies and long rides on fresh blacktop. I can't wait to feel the warm wind gushing over my face as I descend off of a long hill, hearing the bearings race, the tire hum on the road, the flash of greenery around me and the roar in my ears as I cruise, completely still... down, down, down...

I want to experience the jolt of adrenaline, when my biking buddy leaps past me and I jump on the pedals to haul him back in. Hearing my friend challenging me to catch him and the laughs and back slaps when I do.

I'm waiting for the satisfaction I feel after climbing a killer hill, fighting the incline with every muscle. Pounding down to the the last gear on my ring, then, when I know I'm at the last gear, pounding the bike, myself and the road, fighting and pushing for the crest of the hill.

Most of all, I want to feel the morning greet me. The cool misty air waiting to embrace me. Feeling myself almost cutting through the thick morning air, like knife. Crisp, yellow-orange mornings where the day is waiting to greet me as I wheel out onto the road.

Cycling season is so close now... I can feel it coming.


TV, VCRs and TiVos

Lately my wife and I have been watching much less TV, and I think that's a good thing.

We still have 2 or 3 favorite shows we watch weekly, but more often than not, we're taping and watching them at our own leisure. Gail's brother supplies us with tapes of DIY (Do It Yourself) shows he tapes from his more-featured cable channel selection — we enjoy all of these shows as well.

Oddly enough, after getting used to VCR'ed shows, watching shows live is now frustrating, as I constantly want to fast forward through commercials. I can imagine TiVo owners are driven equally nutty when watching live TV. :-)

Funny thing is, I think we probably watch much less TV than the average family. In fact, Im sensing that we're reducing the shows we watch now, like cutting ER from our regularly watched shows. It just seems tired, jumping to sensationalism to generate buzz and offer something new. Borrr-ing.

It's been a slow process, but just this week I've realized how much we've changed in just the last few years.

Over the last few weeks, we had spent several evenings cleaning up our basement for a youth party we had here at the house. The results of that change in our lives surprised me in a couple of ways that directly relate to our change in TV watching habits:

First, I was surprised how much we could get done in an evening, even including distractions, such as stopping work to sit and check out something interesting in a box we'd just opened. Our basement has never looked so good in such a short amount of time.

Now, we did have a deadline for the party and probably stayed up later than usual, but even if we'd spent the "traditional" prime TV time leisurely going through stuff, cleaning and so on, we would still get quite a bit done. This seems so simple, but until I saw it by doing it, I had no clue. This realization brought home to me just how much time could be wasted watching the tube.

Secondly, I realized how much fun it was to spend time with my wife even doing menial tasks like clearing out boxes, cleaning and reorganizing things. And, after our basement was cleared up, we even took time to play dart games on the electro-dart board that finally was hung up. It was quite fun in fact.

This is encouraging, because I can see how time after dinner can be used so much more wisely. We can spend time playing with Nathan, or take a walk as a family, or choose some area of the house to clean up / organize, or play a game of darts, or watch a film, or, or...

This seems so common sense now, but often once we would sit down to watch a show, it was so easy to keep watching... and I think this is the sucking action of the TV. It discourages doing things and in many ways encourages inactivity. For us it took a VCR and taped shows watched as we saw fit, to realize this clearly. For others maybe it's a TiVo unit.

Now, I think TiVo is cool. However, for me, that much storage would entice me to spend time watching 40 hours worth of shows on the drive. I even recall stories of TiVo users stressing about all the shows yet unwatched and which if any they should delete first. Now, this is an extreme situation, but it does illustrate my point.

I kind of like the idea of tapes, because they are just hard enough. Recording can be automated so it can be done while I am doing other things, yet I have to remember to prepare and setup tape recording. The space of a tape is limited, so I can't tape too much, unless I am willing to swap tapes in and out. And finally, that show I want to see must be important to me to go through a little trouble to record it.

I don't want to watch much TV, so in this way a TiVo would actually go against my purposes. 40 hours of automated taping to me seems like it would lead right back to watching too much TV, even if they are shows I'd enjoy.

Maybe that makes me an oddball (who wouldn't want a TiVo?) but at least I have some sorta reasoning behind my decision. I think TiVo is a great tool, but at least right now, it's not right for us if our goal is to limit our TV watching. We want to encourage other activities, so crusty old VCR tapes work perfectly.

Anyway, I'm not sure where this post came from or what benefit it might have besides getting lots of comments from angry, torch-bearing TiVo lovers... but there it is. :-)

Hey, have a great weekend everyone!


Tasting Kenya in My Coffee

Kenya CoffeeIn my morning coffee I imagine the taste of Kenya. It is a rich, smokey flavor, the primal essence of brown as seen in my minds eye. As I sip, I can see the sun baking the ground, wind sweeping it clean. Red coffee beans absorb the sun, just like millions of red beans before them.

Picked by hand, they now rest in baskets, in a shaded stall. The noise of the market surrounds them. Voices of shoppers and buyers, children, donkeys, birds, all echoing through stall after stall, absorbed by the beans.

Sealed and dark, they make their way across the ocean. Now the bright crimson beans are roasted until they resemble the same brown of the earth they drew their flavor from. Flavor is compressed and concentrated. The beans carry the magnified flavors of Kenya, the bright sunlight and rich brown soil, all sealed up inside.

This warm brown of coffee is here in front of me, but is not from here. It's a flavor from the distant place I can only imagine, as the coffee swirls in my mouth, starting the day.


Spring Morning

Café ChairsThe sky to the west is an even-tempered gray, with wispy clouds racing eastward toward a muddy sunrise. Like a wet oil painting, pinks and oranges merge with gray, separating the warm morning glow from the twilight's fading monotone. The warmth is winning — slowly, steadily the yellow glow of sunrise, changing gray into gray-blue and then to crisp, pure blue.

The smell is different this morning. The air has lost its dry bite. It's almost a pre-spring scent, not yet as rich as air after a spring rain, but still fresher than the stale winter air.

I walk briskly, not to shorten my exposure to the chill, but to feel the pleasantly cool spring air on my face. I breathe deeply to take in the morning flavor, while my eyes gravitate to the warmth of the sunrise.

Green grass catches my eye, reminding me of the icy crystals that were there just a month ago. The crystals have indeed transformed into green blades of grass and rich, dark soil.

Debris blanketed by the winter snow and ice is now exposed to the world. A piece of battered, gray styrofoam, a flattened, blackened orange peel, a brown flaky leaf. They all await the street cleaner's wet brushes.

At the cafe, the normal bustle persists, just like any winter day, but there is a subtle difference today. Groups of pewter outdoor seating are clustered together, claiming the sidewalk outside my window. Nobody dares to sit in them... no, the air still a bit too cool for this. But they sit and they wait, knowing that inevitably a warm spring day will come and when they will serve their purposes.

The pewter chair community signals the fade of winter. Winter has served its term and has now packed its bags. The door closes behind it, even as spring unpacks and settles in.


The Vital Luxury of Rest and Solitude

This weekend at a youth leader's conference, I was challenged with this question: do I set aside time for rest and particularly, solitude? I had to answer not nearly enough.

The culture I live in places high value on being busy — often busy to the point of nearly breaking. We like to believe our energy is limitless; that we can do everything we want in life. Who needs rest? No time for that. Rest is for retirees. How false. We do have limits. Yes, I can do quite a bit with the energy I'm allotted, but not as much as I imagine or wish.

The mantra of the culture around me is: more is better. But what if, in fact, less is better? Would it not be better to focus my energy on fewer things which I truly love and have a passion for? Would it not be better to include rest and solitude as part of that list so I can sustain my energy expenditure on the things I love?

I believe my energy output is directly linked to the amount of rest I build into my schedule. In fact, I am starting to see that the busier I am, the more protective I need to be about rest. Sleep is one part of this, but I'm thinking more along the lines of resting mentally. Social time spent with friends and family, but even more importantly for my mental well being is time alone, to reflect, ponder and think.

This quote, taken from one of the handouts this weekend, captures how busyness steals away energy and chokes out time for solitude and reflection:

"The press of busyness is like a charm, its power swells... it reaches out, seeking always to lay hold of ever younger victims so that childhood or youth are scarely allowed the quiet and the retirement in which the Eternal may unfold a divine growth." -- Soren Kierkegaard

Solitude? Now there's something I don't currently get much of. I'm too busy filling my time doing things, being places, staying connected to the net and living life with music or television playing in the background. I am surrounded by constant noise and distractions which demand my attention and energy. They deplete me.

It's this environment in which solitude seems like a precious, almost wasteful commodity. To enjoy solitude feels lavish, expensive and impractical in a world of go-go-go! My busy self scolds me with comments like "How can you dare take time to think and contemplate when there's so much to do?" or "Hey slacker, there's no time for this! Back to busyness!"

Just think about it. How often do you have time to just take a walk alone to reflect on your thoughts, on life, on God? Have you ever just stopped to listen... to hear the things you normally filter out? Does taking an entire hour to be quiet, with no phones ringing, no email arriving, no IMs pinging, no music playing, and no TV droning scare you?

So, I reject the idea that solitude and rest are luxuries I can't afford. Really, they are requirements I cannot afford to miss. My culture demands that I maintain busyness to an insane degree. I reject that notion, along with the idea that I must do more and more.

It's time to refocus and put my energy into what I value most. To set aside regular times of rest and solitude for recharge and reflection. Will you join me?