Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

Why does it always seem as if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence? I can tell you that this summer, grass anywhere is greener than the grass (or better stated, the weeds and clover) in my yard. However, I don’t believe that the old saying necessarily only applies to my lawn (or lack thereof). It seems to apply to everything in our lives.

As a young boy, I quickly learned the skill of coveting. I wasted a lot of time wishing for things I didn’t have. You can imagine how disappointed I was when I finally became a Christian as an adult and found out it was a sin! Wow, all that work at perfecting my coveting skills, only to find out that it’s actually a behavior that is frowned upon.

I remember one of the first items I really wanted. It was a BMX bike called the “Predator”. I tore an advertisement page out of a magazine that had a picture of this particular bike and stared at it every night before I went to bed. I not only wished for this bike, I also asked, pleaded, and begged for my parents to buy me the bike. Eventually, my parents bent to my wishes and they bought it. Unfortunately, as much as I loved that bike, it never quite lived up to the image I had created in my head. In fact, to my parents’ great disappointment, I often went back to riding my fire engine red, Schwinn Stingray with the banana seat.

As an adult, I thought I grew out of coveting. I have taken great pride in how long I hold onto things as most can be described as “gently used” (although that might be generous). I tend to wear my clothes until they have holes in them (to my wife’s’ dismay) and am slow to invest in even something as small as a new wallet. When it comes to cars, we always buy used and I get great pleasure in bragging about the fact I still drive my wife’s college car (1998 Chevrolet Cavalier) with almost 200,000 miles on it. I take such pride in it that when the air conditioning died I didn’t even have a thought of getting rid of it. After I found out that to repair it would cost me over $1000 (I couldn’t pay that kind of money to fix a car with a blue book value on the entire car of $800), I just kept driving it. Now I’ll admit, I show up to many meetings in the summer covered in sweat, but I just can’t give up on the old girl.

So, I must have dropped my “professional” status and moved beyond the days of coveting, right? Wrong. Just recently, one of my friends described a new shotgun he had purchased at an auction and I immediately wanted one. I went online and started pricing shotguns and found a 12-gauge that I absolutely had to have. It wasn’t until I woke up the next morning and realized that it had been over 10 years since the last time I went hunting and I didn’t really “need” a shotgun that I decided not to make the purchase. So the moral of this story is we all need to guard ourselves against coveting, but I sure would like my grass to come in like my neighbors.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Son Still Needs Me to Catch Him.

Do you remember how television and movies represent the signature, father-son moments? Can you picture the grainy video of the father running down the street next to his son on his bike? The son is wobbling, unsure of himself, but peddling furiously. The dad is smiling, cheering his son forward. I recently experienced that moment.

As I was doing some work in the garage, my son brought me his bike with a flat tire. Excited to show off my mechanical abilities (How can you screw up a child’s bike with training wheels?) to my four year old son, I leapt at the opportunity to fix his tire. Unfortunately, as is customary in any mechanical project I take on; it was more difficult than it initially appeared. By the time I figured that out, I had bike parts spread out across most of our driveway. My ego would never allow me to take this little bike to my local shop in pieces, so I had two options: 1. continue on and hope that the stars would align in a manner that would allow me, by some miracle, to fix this flat tire; or 2. buy him a new bike. After careful consideration standing over the dismantled bike, I decided buying him a new bike because he had a flat was simply ridiculous, so I decided to press on (although I quickly checked the balance in the savings account in case I simply could not complete the task).

Ultimately, I did not have to make a trip to the bike shop for repairs (or to buy a replacement bike) as I was able to fix the flat. However, before I put the training wheels back on the bike, I paused. My son has become quite skilled in handling the bike with training wheels (as evidenced by the multiple skid marks on the driveway) so I thought, could he be ready for his proverbial step toward manhood – the removal of the training wheels? So, I decided to take him out on the driveway to give it a try (because if I successfully put those training wheels back on the bike, there was no way I was taking them off for awhile).

It’s funny how the most memorable moments in life are often a surprise with no planning or preparation. One moment I am bumbling my way through a minor project and the next thing I know I am standing at the end of the driveway, holding my son’s bike seat as he is about to try riding a bike for the first time. These moments come and go so fast, you wish you could rewind and do it all over again and again.

As you might guess, the next thing I knew, I was running down the driveway yelling, “Pedal! Pedal!” There was a big smile on my son’s face as he realized he was doing it when I pulled my hand off the seat and he began riding alone, all by himself, no help from daddy. At that moment, so many things flashed through my mind. His childhood is going so fast. Soon he’ll be going to school, going to middle school, getting a drivers license, going to college, and having a family.

But before all of that, he begins to wobble and I catch him before he falls off the bike. He turns to me with a big smile on his face and says, “Daddy, can we put the training wheels back on?” I smile, putting the visions of graduation parties and wedding receptions on hold, because my son still needs me to catch him.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sharing the road with a fat cyclist

One of my favorite forms of exercise is to get out on the open road on my bike. However, riding my bike on the road does have its risks as my 20 pound bike is no match for the 1000 pound vehicles moving past me at 3 times my speed. Because of that risk, I take several safety precautions. I always wear my helmet, I follow the laws of the road, and I ride as far on the shoulder as I can safely get. I try to make eye contact with drivers when possible and wave to anyone who gives me a glance in an effort to build cycling goodwill.

Recently, I was on one of my weekly training rides and I experienced a lack of cycling goodwill. As I rode on one of our local country roads, doing my best impression of Lance Armstrong, a late model pickup truck pulled alongside of me. Initially I was excited, as I envisioned this truck serving as a support vehicle, handing me a fresh, ice cold water bottles and yelling me encouragement, “keep pushing, you are looking great!” Unfortunately, my imaginary world did not measure up to the reality of the situation. A very angry man began yelling what would best be described as “not encouraging and not supportive.” Let me clarify, if his statements had been on television, it would have resembled a Jerry Springer Show and been one long censuring beep, HBO producers would have blushed.

As this southern gentleman sped away with squealing tires and a plume of black exhaust smoke, I was left wondering, why was he so angry? Well, since I had plenty of time to think in the saddle of my trusty steed, I decided to try and identify the cause of this mad man’s angst. My first thought was that he was simply a concerned citizen who had my safety in mind. However, after careful consideration, and interpreting his parting statement of, “I hope you are run down in traffic!” I doubt that my safety was at the core of his anger.

My second thought was that he was upset by the sight of me in proper cycling attire. While these garments are highly functional for cycling, they unfortunately are not very flattering (unless you are Lance or one of his teammates). To be honest, “not flattering”, is probably a minimization of the horror of seeing a grown man, my size, wearing tights. If this issue was at the core of his fury, I actually wouldn’t blame him. In fact, the sight of me in that suit for most people is probably something akin to drinking sour milk. Although, as I rode along with only my thoughts to keep me company, I decided a normal response would more closely resemble disgust than anger.

That only left me with one possible conclusion for this level of rage - he felt inconvenienced by my presence with him on the road. Now I guess I can understand that at some level as people who drive 5 mph under the speed limit drive me nuts, but I don’t pull up next to the 80 year old woman and curse at her. Ultimately, the anger was simply uncalled for. The reality is, cycling is a wonderful sport and is good for the community. It doesn’t take much to slow down a bit and give the cyclist a little space, especially when the alternative can be life-threatening. So next time you see a fat cyclist plodding along on the side of the road, please slow down and give me a wave, just don’t make it the middle finger.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Will You Marry Me?

Four words, that when put together, can change a couple’s life (hopefully for the better) forever . . . “Will you marry me?” My wife and I have been married six years, but it all started with those four words. My brother-in-law, Joseph, recently asked his long-time girlfriend, Alyssa, this very question. He had been building up to the event for quite some time. He had saved up to purchase a beautiful engagement ring, consulted with friends and family on how best to pop the question in the most romantic way, and diligently worked on trying to make it a surprise.

On the day of the big question, Joseph was clearly nervous, calling and texting his sister (my wife) on a number of occasions. Finally, after watching a local fireworks display with a group of friends, he pulled Alyssa aside. In sarcasm, Alyssa said, “What? Are you going to propose to me?” As she turned around, she found Joseph down on one knee, the traditional proposal stance. However, in a surprising turn of events, she yelled, “That’s not funny!” she lunged at him and pushed him, nearly knocking him down a hill.

“No really, I’ve got a ring in my hand!” yells Prince Charming. Finally realizing what was really happening; she accepted reality and accepted the proposal (disastrous tumble down a hill averted).

It took me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled the day I asked my wife to marry me. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat (which for any of you who knows my eating habits, should have been a clue to her that something was up). We were on a double date with our friends Beth and Jesse (who also went on to get engaged and married and are now neighbors, living three doors down the street). I handed the camera to Beth, asked her to take a picture of us and then surprised everyone by dropping to one knee and pulling the ring out of my pocket (it made for a terrific picture that we cherish to this day – the shocked on her face is priceless). She was so surprised, she didn’t say anything . . . not even “Yes!” The excitement in her face and the hug I received led me to ask, “Is that a ‘yes’?”

Engagements and weddings are always exciting because your family grows, but it is extra special when that person already feels like a member of your family. We have known Alyssa for nearly three years. Our children love her as she has often been willing to undergo the torture of babysitting for them (and survived). Our son affectionately calls her “Wyssa,” we now affectionately call her “family”.

So, what wedding day advice would my wife and I give the bride-to-be? My wife would say, don’t take anything too seriously, have fun, at the end of the day, you’ll still be married (after six years of living with me, I was pleased to learn she didn’t say, “Don’t do it!”). I would say to remember that while the wedding day is wonderful, it isn’t about the day, it’s about your marriage. Most importantly, we both would like to say, “Congratulations Joseph and Alyssa, enjoy your blessed lives together!” This is an exciting event, besides, it now gives me a whole new series of events to write about in this column.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Only Fools Rush In

As incoming President of the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland, I recently had the distinct pleasure of serving as a delegate at the Kiwanis International Conference. After holding the conference in previous years in places like Toronto, Tokyo, and now next year in Geneva, Switzerland, this year I learn, they hold it in Las Vegas (they must have known I was coming). As we walked through the convention center during the conference, a woman walked up to us and said, “Do you want to get married . . . by Elvis?”

Now, since I began writing this column, I have been asked some strange questions, but this one was definitely unique. Anywhere else, this question would have seemed out of place, but considering the fact we were in Las Vegas, it seemed just about right. So of course, my wife and l almost immediately and simultaneously said, “Yes!” It was actually quite a coincidence she asked, because when we were engaged, we often joked about slipping off to Las Vegas and getting married by Elvis. Now we were faced with the real life opportunity.

Following our positive response, the woman quickly warned us, “Now this is for real, it will be official, Elvis is an ordained minister.” We took pause. A few thoughts ran through my head. First, I thought wouldn’t it be funny if the real Elvis really was an ordained minister and had done weddings when he was performing in Vegas? Second, I figured it would be legal to get married since I had already been married for over six years (assuming I was marrying the same woman, which after a quick inspection, I was). Lastly, I wondered if my wife would actually agree to marry me again, considering she has spent six years getting to know me (for all of you who were wondering, she did).

Despite the warning, we agreed to go ahead with the ceremony. We introduced ourselves to Elvis (he was slightly shorter than I had imagined) and he quickly reminded us again that he was an ordained minister and that this was a real ceremony. I wondered for a moment why they were so persistent on making this point clear and then I had a picture of some unsuspecting couple out on their first date, thinking this would be cute, going through a “mock” wedding ceremony, only to find out after the fact that they had actually been married by an ordained minister impersonating Elvis (it might make a great reality TV show). After the reminder that I was indeed going through an official marriage ceremony with my wife, he informed us that he had left his guitar in the trunk of his car. This was almost a deal breaker. What kind of self-respecting Elvis would leave his guitar in the trunk of his car when he planned on doing wedding ceremonies? I bet the real Elvis would have never allowed that to happen. Nonetheless, I had become overwhelmed with wedding fever and agreed to go through with the ceremony, despite the absence of the guitar.

We jumped into the ceremony and with a number of Kiwanians observing, my wife agreed to, “Love Me Tender” and never leave me at “Heartbreak Hotel”. I, in turn, agreed to not be a “Hound Dog” and be her, “Big Hunk O’Love,” while having a “Burning Love” for her for all of my days.

Just like that, we went from attending a International Kiwanis Conference to being on our second honeymoon, Viva Las Vegas! I guess after six years of marriage, renewing our vows made the old Elvis ballad, “I Can’t Help Falling In Love with You” true once again.