Friday, December 31, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume XII

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. Before I left work on Christmas Eve it had begun snowing downtown. I am a snow lover and the prospect of a white Christmas did make me a little giddy. When I got home my wife let me chill for a bit before she cracked the whip and implemented Operation Christmas Eve. I am busier on Christmas Eve than I am on Christmas Day. It was an enjoyable evening and I was reminded what a great extended family I have. By the time I got home, after a drive through the heavy snowfall, it was 1:30 AM. Thank God I didn't have to wait for my 28 year old son to fall asleep before making the final preparations for Christmas morning. The tradition in my family is for dear old Dad to get up and make breakfast for everyone. I was busy in the kitchen doing that when my oldest son and granddaughter arrived. It's wonderful to have a child in the family who totally believes in all the Christmas magic. Unfortunately she is a very bright young lady and she's starting to question the logic of some traditional beliefs. When we were together on Christmas Eve at my sister in law's she noticed the house had two fireplaces. She asked, "Which fireplace will Santa use to get in this house"? I suggested that he would probably use the one closest to the Christmas tree. At the same time she has never questioned what happens at my house which has no fireplace. She has also made the connection that anything in a J.C. Penny's red box is probably clothes. All in all it was another good Christmas and I have new music to play, new books to read, and some heavy socks to wear when I am taking naps in my favorite chair.

The recent Christmas snow is gone but I am sure we haven't seen the last of snow. We have a lot of winter ahead of us. For now, let me share my favorite poem about snow.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost.

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or we can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.
-Abraham Lincoln

It's all about attitude and humor. With the right attitude you can make the best of any situation. With a bad attitude even the best situation is unsatisfactory. When I was at work last Sunday I joked with a co-worker that one advantage to working on a Sunday is that you get a great parking spot. She responded, "I'm glad you have a sense of humor about being here". If working on a Sunday, when I would normally be home chilling out or taking a nap, is a thorn bush, the rose is that I am employed and have a job. This year is rapidly coming to an end. In 2011 I will be starting a new decade of living. There is a lot about getting older that is a thorn bush. Physically I am not the man I used to be. I am not as strong, I don't have near the energy I had in my youth, and I have a lot of aches and pains. I am also acutely aware that I have more years behind me than in front of me. However, there are also roses associated with getting older. I think I am a lot wiser than I was as a young person. I am certainly a lot calmer and I rarely get angry. I get to be my granddaughter's Paw Paw and that has brought me great joy. I also have a greater appreciation for all of life. For the most part I have my life together and I have passed and survived the challenges of my youth including raising my own children. I guess what it all boils down to is finding and appreciating balance in your life. There will always be some challenges but there are always blessings, too. When you move a little slower, like I do now, you notice a lot more. For example, this past Monday night I noticed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed. I bet most of the people speeding down the road didn't even notice it. All they saw was the thorn bush of rush hour traffic. They missed the rose of the sunset.

This morning, on my way through the park next to my office building, I saw a rabbit! That's a first for me in the downtown area. No, he wasn't wearing a suit, or holding a watch, and he wasn't yelling "I'm late! I'm late"! If that doesn't make an sense to you, read "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll.

It seems to me that people are divided on many different levels. People are divided by race, gender, economic level, sexual preference, culture, and religion to name a few. What I think divides people the most, however, is education. There are many intelligent people walking around but they are not educated and they are often unsophisticated. A lack of education can make an intelligent person ignorant and closed minded. A lack of education can make an intelligent person "rough around the edges". One of the great things about a good education is that it gives you a deeper understanding of the world and all of our differences. Differences are not the same thing as divisions. With understanding comes tolerance, acceptance, and a true appreciation of diversity. The purpose of a good education is not just to help you get a better job. A good education is it's own reward. Too much of what some people consider education is simply job training. A good education expands your mind and you become a thinking person with an enlightened consciousness, not just someone who knows how to do something. The truly educated person never stops learning. They realize that all of life is a learning experience. A truly educated person not only has knowledge but they also acquire wisdom. You acquire knowledge in the classroom or the library. You acquire wisdom by applying you knowledge in the classroom life. A good education can never be taken away from you. By the way, a lack of opportunity or resources to attend college does not doom you to a life of ignorance. When was the last time you read a book?

Today is the last day of 2010. Looking back this year has been a blur. Way back in 1969 I was a senior in high school. About this same time of year my best friend and I went to the Showcase Cinema's to see the movie called "2001 A Space Odyssey". In the hazy daze of the late sixties I thought we would be flying around in spaceships by now. OK, I admit that in the late sixties there were a few times my best friend and I thought we were flying around in spaceships. In 1969 the time we are in now seemed so far into the future. Just a few weeks ago they bulldozed the Showcase Cinema's where I spent so many nights with a variety of girls watching the hit movies of the day. Many conveniences exist now that we didn't have in 1969 but I am not sure our quality of life is better. Most of what my children take for granted didn't exist when my wife and I got married. We have more stuff that is supposed to make our lives more convenient, yet we all complain that we don't have enough time. There are many people, and they are not all old, who yearn for a simpler and much slower life. Even when I go on vacation I return home needing a vacation from my vacation. In parts of Europe there is actually a movement to slow life down. I thought my life would naturally slow down once my children were raised and were out of my house. It hasn't happened so I have been taking steps to slow it down myself. I say no a lot more than I used to do. I have stopped doing some things. Currently I have no commitments other than working. When I am not at work I am usually at home doing what I want to do. What I want to do is whatever makes me happy or gives me joy. Unless it is something really necessary, if I don't want to do it, I don't do it. In 2011 what I want more than anything is more leisure time to do what I want to do and for my life in general to move a little slower. I also want world peace and for no one to go to bed hungry.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Being With Basil Pennington

One of the books I received for Christmas is called "As We Knew Him...Reflections on M. Basil Pennington". The book is a collection of various people's memories and stories of their encounters with Fr. Basil Pennington. For those that don't know, Basil Pennington was a world renowned monk, priest, author, and spiritual master. I first became acquainted with his writings in the early 1980's when the now famous Centering Prayer movement was getting started. I continued to follow his work and considered him a true mentor in my contemplative life and I admired him from afar. I wrote to him several times and he always responded. Once he sent me the gift of an Orthodox Prayer Cord used in the recitation of the Jesus Prayer. In the late 1980's I began my own contemplative work as a founding member of a lay associate group at the Abbey of Gethsemani. As I became more involved in this lay movement I traveled to several Trappist monasteries in the United States and abroad. The high point of my involvement was a trip in 2005 to Clairvaux, France for an international conference of monks, nuns, and lay people. On this trip I was also able to visit the still active Abbey of Citeaux, the original monastery of the Trappist/Cistercian order. As one of the founders of the Centering Prayer movement, it made perfect sense that Fr. Basil would also be a strong supporter of what became known as the lay Cistercian movement within the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. This is where our paths crossed. I went to a USA regional gathering in upstate New York at the Abbey of the Genesee and much to my joy Fr Basil was attending the same meeting. Anyone who ever met Fr Basil could not be unimpressed with him. He stood six feet, five inches tall and looked like Santa Claus dressed as a monk. Most people assume all monks are deep introverts. Fr. Basil was quite the opposite. He came across to me as a larger than life extrovert. It was quite an honor for me to meet him. During this first encounter I was able to spend most of a week interacting with him during discussions and meals. I was truly sitting at the feet of a spiritual master. I spent another week with him a few years later at a Cistercian gathering at Holy Spirit Monastery in Georgia. At that time he was the Abbot of Holy Spirit Monastery. My final encounter with him was at the Abbey of Gethsemani when we were both attending the Abbatial blessing of Fr. Damien Thompson. Sadly, Fr. Basil died in June of 2005 from injuries received in a car accident. I received news of his death while I was in France. I know that I was only one of thousands of people who encountered Fr. Basil in his lifetime. We certainly weren't intimate friends. However, I feel blessed to have personally met him and to have spent some casual but quality time in his presence. One of my cherished mementos is a picture of the two of us taken during our week together at Holy Spirit Monastery. It sits in an honored spot on my bookshelf.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume XII

Merry Christmas to all of you!

My granddaughter, Chloe, spent the night with my wife and me last Friday night. We watched the Christmas movie "Home Alone" and laughed a lot, especially when the little boy Kevin put the tarantula on the bad guy's face. Later in bed all three of us watched SpongBob Squarepants before falling asleep. As I expected Chloe and I got up early on Saturday morning because "only Paw Paw's like to get up early". We went downstairs, she helped me make coffee, and then we had a tea party with a snowman, my Jerry Garcia doll, some dinosaurs, and other assorted stuffed animals. When it was time for me to get ready for work we woke up my wife who was still in bed because "Memo's don't like to get up early". Much of life is difficult and trying. Many chores and obligations take a real effort. My granddaughter, however, is a source of real joy for me. Maybe it's because I never had a daughter. Maybe it's because being a Paw Paw is a reward for being a Dad. It doesn't really matter why. Speaking of being a Dad....My two sons have begun to collect what they call "Dadisms". These are things I say over and over, apparently in a very predictable fashion. My youngest son also does a very good imitation of me. I must admit that I find it all very funny because my wife and I did the same thing with our parents.

After three snowfalls, one ice storm, and some really cold days, this past Tuesday was the official start of winter. It was also the winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. There's a reason that Christians celebrate Christmas at this time of year. No one knows for sure what day Jesus was born. The early Christians believed that Jesus Christ was the "Light of the World" so what better time to acknowledge his birth than during the darkest time of the year? The date for celebrating Christmas is more symbolic than historical. The idea of Santa Claus did not begin in America until the 17th Century. Here's a link that gives you a brief history of the man in the red suit.

Now that the winter solstice has arrived the days will slowly get longer until we reach the Summer Solstice on June 21st.

This past Monday night my son and I were having dinner at the Waffle House. If he's home from the seminary and my wife is doing something else, the two of us usually end up at the Waffle House. When he was a teenager I took him to a Rolling Stones concert in Indianapolis. On the way home we stopped at a Waffle House and I introduced him to hash browns. He's been hooked on them ever since. These thoughts are not really about the Rolling Stones or hash browns. They're about my faith in mankind being restored. While we were in the Waffle house there was only one other customer plus a cook, our waiter, and another waitress. While we were eating and talking about life the waitress came over to our table and said, "The stranger that just left paid for your dinner". I was shocked and said, "Are you kidding"? She assured me that she wasn't so I looked outside and saw the man getting into his truck. I gave him a thank you wave and he waved back. There's a philosophy that some people call "Pay It Forward". It means that when something is done for you, instead of paying back the person that did it for you, you "pay it forward" to someone else. I thought of this philosophy in the afterglow of the stranger's kindness. My first impulse was to over tip my waiter which I did. Going forward, however, I hope I don't forget the kindness shown to me and when the moment is right I hope I show such kindness to someone else.

A friend of mine sent me the following quote.

The reason acceptance isn't more popular is that in acceptance there is nothing to do. In acceptance there is nothing that needs to be changed, fixed, worked on, or otherwise improved. It is what it is!
-Cheri Huber

Acceptance is not the same thing as giving in or giving up. Acceptance is not allowing life to just toss you to and fro as though you were a small boat on the ocean during a storm. I think acceptance is more of a realization that you can't control or manipulate everything around you. It is realizing that sometimes we are powerless. There is a situation in my personal life right now that I would love to change but it is beyond my control. It is very difficult to simply accept it. I am not a control freak but I do like to fix what is broken. For some people the idea of acceptance is rooted in faith. Some people's attitude is "Let go and let God". Their acceptance is a sign of faith and hope that the situation will take care of itself and everything will turn out as it should. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn't. It is sometimes difficult to accept that some things in life are what they are and happen for a reason even if we cannot understand it logically. When we are in situations where acceptance is needed I think we still need to ask ourselves if we have done all we can or all we should because acceptance is not passivity.

The cosmic event known as Christmas really kicked in this week. Earlier this week I had a team breakfast with one set of co-workers followed by a team lunch with another set of co-workers. Most of that afternoon I sat in a stupor from too much eating in too short a time. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. After a few hours in the office I will begin family visits to my mother's and sister in law's where I will see brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, in-laws and outlaws, sister in law's and brother in laws, boyfriends and girlfriends, and a few that have no specific title yet. My granddaughter will be wild with excitement and I will be weary and eager for bed. God willing, however, I will rise early on Christmas morning to prepare a tasty breakfast for my immediate family when they come over to my house. By the time we eat breakfast, have the final exchange of gifts, and clean up the mess, I will be more than ready to have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. What the heck is a sugar plum anyway?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume XI

This past Sunday was a good day to stay indoors. Much of the day my granddaughter was with me and my son is home from the seminary for Christmas break. I enjoyed watching the snow fall throughout the day and occasionally having a cup of Cafe Mocha. In my mind it was a perfect day for being at home. It occurred to me that it is still officially fall and we have already had three measurable snowfalls. What will happen when winter really gets here?

The Elf is still on the loose....

In general God has blessed me with an optimistic and positive attitude about life. I can usually see the sunny side of everything. I admit there are occasions when I am cynical. It doesn't take any special skill to be cynical. The world is full of liars and charlatans who try their best to manipulate us regular folks. Sometimes these people are well disguised and we don't always immediately recognize their insincerity. When people or leaders turn out to be less than I thought they were, my cynicism rears it's ugly head. In spite of the existence of such people, I usually see life as a glass half full or over flowing rather than half empty. Because of my generally positive attitude I am usually able to make the best of most situations. The ability to be flexible and adaptable are great life skills. I know I am a creature of habit and routine and I can get stuck in them. Sometimes I am slow to change but more often than not, I am happy when I do so. One of my favorite sayings these days is "It is what it is". I try to avoid perceptions whether they are my own or other's. I try to deal with reality in a positive and optimistic way. It's too easy to be cynical and negative and both are life draining. If you are positive and optimistic you are filled with hope and hope is always life giving.

Last summer I went to Chicago and attended an all day rock, jazz, and blues music festival. That particular day the heat index was 105 degrees and I thought I was going to die of a heat stroke. I remember thinking, "I'll be so glad when colder weather gets here". Now the colder weather is here and the last few mornings I thought I was going to die walking from the parking garage. Autumn is my favorite time of the year and technically we are still in autumn. Why then have we had three measurable snowfalls, single digit temperatures, and below zero wind chills? I guess one should be careful what you ask for! I actually like winter with it's snowfalls and exquisite sunrises. Summer is a time of long days and much activity. Winter days are short and many of our outdoor activities are on hiatus. Winter is a time to get cozy, stay indoors, read books, watch movies, drink hot chocolate, and take naps. During winter I usually get into hibernation mode and I am happy to withdraw and slow down. Some people think I do this all the time. Of course we can't really hibernate or wait until spring before reappearing in public. At this time of year life is also anything but slow. There's lots of work and holiday demands. I still like it but I do hibernate as much as possible and after the holidays I always enjoy the nothingness of January.

On top of all the other winter weather there was an ice storm last night. When I was outside cleaning off my cars I did a triple backwards double axle in my driveway that probably qualifies me for the Olympics.

This is a time of year when I really try to be grateful for how blessed I am but the holidays are a strange time of year. There is so much material excess in terms of the commercial side of the holidays but there is also a much greater awareness of the poor and those in need. People's spending is usually out of control, and although this is good for the economy, it is usually bad for people's bank accounts. Regardless, at this time of the year people are more giving than at any other time of the year. As I sit here typing these thoughts I am grateful for many things. In general, I am grateful that I have a good life. Now a "good life" is a relative thing and what is a good life is often in the eye of the beholder. I think I am "middle class" yet the news would have me believe the middle class is disappearing. The last time I looked I was still here. I certainly don't think I am poor but I am also a long way from wealthy. However, when compared to much of the world I am wealthy and I live like a King. At this time of my life I have everything I need and most of what I want. I have food, shelter, employment, and enough creature comforts to satisfy me. More important than my material possessions are the people in my life. I have family and friends who are important to me and who care about me. Life is good and I am blessed with many good people and things in my life while also being spared many bad things. Sometimes we must also be grateful for what we don't have.

I was also grateful for the extra sleep I got this morning since my employer had a delayed opening and for the wonderful pumpkin bread that one of my co-workers brought to the office.

Most people are passionate about something. It might be their work or a hobby that gives them a creative outlet. Anyone who is truly artistic must be passionate about their art. A true artist would never be complacent about what they create. Some people are passionate about a political or spiritual cause. They will be activists for a political point of view or some social need they see in our society. Sometimes, however, our passions are just for things we enjoy. In my life there have been a few things I am passionate about. From my youth I have been passionate about books and music. I suppose I should be thankful to good teachers for giving me a love of books. Even though I was a typical boy who loved sports and riding my bike, I also loved when the bookmobile came through my neighborhood. I have also always loved music. I can still remember how thrilled I was to get my first transistor radio. It was the 1960's equivalent of today's ipod. I loved listening to the "Top 40" hits of the day and I went a little crazy when I went to my first rock concert and saw the original Beach Boys. I have been rocking and rolling for nearly 50 years now. I have seen most of the great musicians of my generation and I have the bad hearing to prove it. When I got about 50 years old I realized I had a talent for writing so now writing is a creative outlet that I must allow to happen. I started out writing for friends and co-workers. Eventually I created a blog. At this time over 15,000 people from all over the world have visited it. Because of this I've made several friends in foreign countries. The point of all this is to encourage all of you to find your passion and follow your bliss. It's who you are.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume X

You must be the change you want to see.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was a nonviolent man who lead India to independence from British rule until he was killed by an assassin in 1947. He was the primary inspiration for Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement in America during the 1960's. It's our loss that we have few leaders like him today. The only one that comes to mind in recent times is Nelson Mandela. Gandhi was quite the revolutionary although he did it mostly on a spiritual level through his example and the gentle persuasion of his diplomacy. He is a real example for all of us. There is not a day of my life where I don't hear people complain about something. Occasionally I am the one doing the complaining. Gandhi urges us to be the change we want to see. If you don't like the way things are, if you think something is unjust or unfair, do something about it. If you think there is a problem, don't just whine about it. Suggest a solution. One person can make a difference. It may take some courage and persistence on your part. Even if you don't implement a change I think it's better to fail trying to do the right thing than to succeed at doing nothing but complaining.

A little while in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.

Rumi was a Persian poet who lived in the 13th century. He wrote beautiful poetry that was also filled with much wisdom. Have you been to the Mall lately? Do you like rush hour traffic? Have you ever gone to the grocery store when there's even a slight chance of snow falling? We live in an increasingly crowded world that moves at a very fast pace and it seems to do so 24 hours a day. Modern life is frantic and stressful and it can often feel like white water rafting. We are in our little boats and the river of life seems to just carry us along and we have no power to stop it. Rumi offers us a simple antidote. Make a little time in your day to be quiet and to be alone. If you have a personality like mine such time is mandatory for your mental health. Spending a little time each day in silence and solitude is the way I recharge my batteries after I deal with whatever life has asked of me that day. Everyone can benefit from such time and it can be a gift to yourself.

The journey is the destination.
-Zen saying

My youngest son makes fun of me because I have a tee shirt with this saying in the back. However, the joke is on him because the saying is true. In other thoughts I have talked about mindfulness and being in the moment. We often daydream about a past that wasn't as great as we imagine it was or we long for a future that may never be. We are so busy remembering the past or dreaming about the future that we miss everything in the middle. The middle is now and the journey is now. Our goal, our destination, is to be where we are now and to appreciate the moment. This doesn't mean we can't remember people or events in our past with fondness or that we can't have hopes and dreams that we hope to achieve someday. I think it means to enjoy the ride! I used to attend Grateful Dead concerts all the time. I can distinctly remember being at one and thinking, "Enjoy this moment. This won't last forever". Sure enough, a few years Jerry Garcia died and the Grateful Dead as I knew them ceased to exist. I dearly love my six year old granddaughter but sometimes she wears me out. I try to have the attitude "Enjoy this tea party, Paw Paw, because one day she will be all grown up and hanging out with Paw Paw won't be her top priority". Enjoy your life now because these are the good old days.

Yesterday, in the early afternoon, after delivering an unpopular message to my co-workers, I decided I needed some fresh air. I took a walk in Waterfront Park past the Christmas tree lot and along the river. The cold air was refreshing and the flowing of the river was calming. Christmas is a little over two weeks away. Work is demanding and the holiday schedules are crazy. It's a stressful time in the office. While I was out walking I thought about all of this. If your "hard times" are because you have to work a lot this holiday season, count your blessings. Remember that your sacrifices at work are benefiting your families. I saw on the news earlier this week that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were applying for 1000 temporary jobs at Zappo's Shoe Company. These jobs will barely last two weeks and most of the people will be let go right after Christmas. The current unemployment average in this country still hovers around 10%. Most years during the holiday season I take time off because it's my favorite time of year. This year I am working more than I normally would. I made a conscious decision to not complain about it and to be grateful that I am working. Many people would love the opportunity that has been given to me and my co-workers. I know some of them are not happy and I understand. However, I have realized in my life that my happiness is in direct proportion to my gratefulness. Employment is something for which I am very grateful. I can take time off later when life and work is not so crazy.

It has been a beautiful morning. I don't normally start my workday in late morning but I did today. The change was pleasant because it gave me three solitary and wonderful hours at home. I got out of my bed at my usual time so I could enjoy the morning. The change in hours will seem a little less pleasant when it's 4:00 PM today and I realize I have to work three more hours.

Today is my mother's 81st birthday. I am her oldest child but five more children came after me. It is also the anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk and spiritual writer who has been a great influence on my thinking and living. In 2005 I was asked to give a talk at the Cathedral of the Assumption here in Louisville about the influence Merton has had on my life. It was a great honor for me.

I am looking forward to this weekend. My granddaughter will be around and it is the only weekend I will be off work for the rest of the month. It is also going to snow again so I look forward with giddiness to the thought of snowflakes filling the air and covering the ground.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume IX

Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.
-Mark Twain

There is an order to the universe that I find very comforting. I can depend on the rising and the setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons. On the other hand, I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, "The only thing you can depend on is death and taxes". However, within the framework of the truly dependable, and the many things we can predict with reasonable accuracy, there are many, many things that we do not see coming. Sometimes they are good things and sometimes they are bad things. Sometimes they are neither and they are just things that happen. One time I found a $50 bill lying on the sidewalk. Another time I was knocked unconscious in a car accident that I never saw coming. Occasionally I have been "surprised by joy" with no warning or reason. Buddha says that all things are impermanent. The downside of that is that all good things will come to an end eventually. The upside of that is that bad things do not last forever either. Each day is full of new possibilities. Yes, I know that sounds like a cliche but it is true. As an aging hippie I am a believer in good vibes and karma. I believe that sooner or later you will get what you deserve. If you put out good vibes, good things will come your way eventually. If you are constantly negative or hostile, I believe you will eventually experience negativity and hostility. All things are possible but much of what happens to us we bring to ourselves. What do you want to happen today?

My wife recently bought a book titled "The Elf on the Shelf". It is a children's Christmas book and it comes with a small toy elf. The real elves are all working overtime at the North Pole in preparation for Christmas. The point of the story is that the elf on the shelf was sent by Santa to see if a child is being naughty or nice. The book explains that a child may talk to the elf but can never touch it or the elf will lose it's magic. In addition, the elf will listen to the child but never speak to the child. The fun part for the parents....or moving the elf around the room when the child or grandchild is not around. My wife and I have been doing this and it's making my granddaughter crazy with excitement and wonder. Remember, she already thinks my house is magic. This past weekend we took the elf over to her house when we took her home. When she wasn't looking we put the elf on a shelf in her kitchen. When she saw the elf in her own house she really freaked. It's a wonderful thing to see the joy and excitement on a child's face during this time of year.

Avoid the crowd. Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.
-Ralph Charell

Speaking from my own experience, it seems that when we are young it is very important to feel part of a group. No one wants to be an outsider and we all want to be accepted by those we consider important. As I have gotten older this has become less important to me. The older I get the more independent, and even rebellious, I get. I don't need acceptance from everyone and I am happy to walk my own path. I've never been a control freak and I hate when others try to control me. One of the gifts of aging is that most people acquire a renewed desire to live their own life rather than have it controlled by others. I am not advocating being anti-social. I like people and generally they like me. Friendships and relationships with other people are important to me. What I am saying, and what I think the author of today's quote is saying, is that the goal of your life is to become self-actualized as a person. If you are growing, you are becoming who you are meant to be, and when you are all you can be, you have become self-actualized. This is the highest level of Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" in our psychological growth. It is a life long journey.

In old age nothing is better than a warm fire.
-Native American Saying

I think my age is catching up with me because this quote makes more and more sense to me all the time. When I was young I used to stay out half the night, running the streets, and howling at the moon. The older I get the more I just want to be at home. It is my favorite place to be. Home should be our refuge from the world and all it's demands. If we are fortunate our homes are also havens of peace where we can collect our thoughts and center our minds. I am a very introverted person and I realize more and more that my father's solitary nature is part of who I am. I also lived part of my youth in a monastery where solitude was part of the training. In spite of my solitary nature I am not a real hermit. I have been married for 36 years. My wife, however, is also an introvert. I think we are still married because we have a nice balance of personal solitary time and time together so we don't drive one another crazy, at least not too much. Once my oldest son, during a time in his life when he was out half the night...or all night...and running wild in the streets, challenged my wife and I because we were no longer "out there". He told us we were living boring lives. We responded, "We were out there but now we prefer to be 'in here' (home). Plus, we don't want to be 'out there' because you're 'out there' and we don't want to run into you"! Whether you are introverted or extroverted, sooner or later you will appreciate the "warm fire" that is home.

I'm thinking more and more about less and less.
-Robert Hunter (lyricist for the Grateful Dead)