Saturday, December 10, 2005

Something You Don't See Every Day

Here's something new under the sun...a new ocean being formed, and in a part of the world that can really use the water!

One caution: It will take about a million years for it to become a new
ocean, so there's no rush to stake out future seaside property.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

How I Know We're Getting Closer to Christmas

Here are some signs that I know it's the holiday season.

1. There's Christmas music playing on the stereo. After 20 minutes, Mary tells me that there's only 1 or 2 more Kenny G. songs remaining in the playlist. We'll do an iTunes shuffle on that list tomorrow. Oh, good, here comes the Brooks and Dunn section.

2. The big wreath is hung above the garage door and smaller ones are hung on the front door, the gate, and each of the front windows. The spotlights are aimed and the white candle lights are positioned in the windows. With these simple additions, our plain, out of proportion exterior glows with a new warmth in the cold night air.

3. The garland has been unboxed and strung up the stair rails, across the tops of the kitchen cabinets, and over the fireplace. This simple addition always seems to transform the inside of the house.

4. And the bears have arrived. Mary and I made two long strings of these paper cutout bears probably twenty five years ago. We didn't have much money for decorations, but we did have some brown paper grocery bags, some colored markers, a pair of scissors and a free afternoon.

Over the years, we've lost a few of the bears, but there are enough remaining to bring a smile to my face as I add a new set of tape loops to their backs and hang them above the doorway. Welcome back, boys. It's good to see you, again.

Now, where's the eggnog and fruitcake?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Making Sense Where None Seems to Exist

I've spent the last couple of weeks watching, stunned, as the events along the Gulf Coast have played out on TV and in the papers. What seems most obvious is that the magnitude of Katrina's impact will be far reaching and ultimately bigger than any of us can imagine. But bigger than the disaster, I am confident, is the spirit of the world community that is opening it's wallets, homes and hearts to aid the victims.

We are a different country today for many reasons, one of which is that we are now the recipient of foreign aid from other countries. This assistance ranges from millions of dollars and millions of barrels of oil from several Arab countries to money and telecommunications equipment from Sweden to about $6,400 from Bosnia-Herzegovina. While the money and goods will help to restore many suffering peoples' lives to order, it is the symbolism that strikes me as especially significant. It reminds us that we are not alone in the world. We are a member of an interdependent global community. And maybe, despite our most relentless efforts to destroy it, there is still a resevoir of good will felt toward us by our neighbors.

This is heartening to me, because I am increasingly worried about the complex future we have created for ourselves. It is easy to find things to criticize - the war in Iraq, the bungling of hurricane relief efforts, the mounting budget deficits. It is difficult, for me at least, to imagine the solutions or the path forward, especially when we are, as a nation, so politically estranged.

At the risk of adding to that estrangement, I have to quote Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote:

"The Bush team has engaged in a tax giveaway since 9/11 that has had one underlying assumption: There will never be another rainy day. Just spend money. You knew that sooner or later there would be a rainy day, but Karl Rove has assumed it wouldn't happen on Mr. Bush's watch - that someone else would have to clean it up. Well, it did happen on his watch.

Besides ripping away the roofs of New Orleans, Katrina ripped away the argument that we can cut taxes, properly educate our kids, compete with India and China, succeed in Iraq, keep improving the U.S. infrastructure, and take care of a catastrophic emergency - without putting ourselves totally into the debt of Beijing."

I read this earlier this morning, and have reread it several times. Beyond the fact that I respect Mr. Friedman's analytical and observational skills, this piece resonated with me because it illustrated the "underlying assumption" that I have been troubled by, but couldn't put into words. "There will never be another rainy day. Just spend money." Assume someone else will clean up the mess.

Here's a starting point for building a better future: Let's assume that there will be a rainy day. Better yet, let's assume there will be lots of them - not to wallow in gloom and doom, but to be prepared. Let's recognize that our resources - financial and human - are limited and that we have to make thoughtful choices about how to spend them. Let's pick our battles carefully - defend ourselves against agression, and use our strengths to aid our weaker neighbors but not to be the agressors.

It's a real boost to the national ego to talk about ourselves as the "lone remaining superpower". But it's time to realize that our power came from preparation, integrity, compassion and restraint, not as a result of swaggering around the world like a cowboy with a credit card. I think in Texas they call that "all hat and no cattle".

Saturday, June 25, 2005

(Not) Playing 'Possum

Yesterday was a hot day in Southern Indiana. When I left work just before 5 o’clock, the thermometer in my car said 101 degrees. That was artificially high – the car had been sitting in the sun all day. By the time I got home 10 minutes later, it was reading 93 degrees. That was a much more accurate reading.

Now summer heat is a relative thing. For the 15 years we lived in Memphis, a 90 degree day was nothing unusual…unless it occurred in April. Here in Indiana, though, it’s a different story. Last summer we did not have one day where the temperature reached 90. This year, we’ve already had a handful…with more on the way.

While in Memphis, I developed a summer survival skill - I refused to complain about the heat. I figured that complaining did nothing to lower the temperature and only raised my awareness of how uncomfortable I was. For most of the time we were there, I told people I actually liked the hot weather. (In hindsight, this may have been the cause of some the the suspicious sideways looks I got from many of my acquaintances.)

After nearly 7 years in Indiana, I still don’t complain about the heat. I like the climate here. We have four complete seasons. In the fall the foliage is usually spectacular, especially in nearby Brown County. Most winters we get enough snow to enjoy the holidays. (Granted, this last winter was the extreme case.) This year’s spring was a roller coaster – very warm in April, then cool through May and into June. Summer seems to start suddenly – we go from cool, pleasant days to HOT almost overnight.

But it’s nothing to complain about.

So yesterday we got home after another mind-numbing week at work. I sat inside for a few minutes and checked emails til Mary got home. Despite the heat, we both ended up outside. After being cooped up in our respective offices all week, it felt pretty good to piddle around in the yard for awhile. Mary watered her gardens and trimmed the roses.

One of Mary's beautiful roses. Posted by Hello

I got out the rake and worked at de-thatching the front lawn. I had no illusions about doing the whole thing…just wanted to get a start. It was also a very restful, almost meditative, thing to do – repetitive and mindless in the sense that it required no conscious thought, yet occupied the mind enough to push out all thought of work, deadlines, and meetings.

After 20 minutes or so, I had done a couple passes down the side yard, and had several piles of dead grass to mark my progress. Mary came around and told me to clean up and move out, so she could start the sprinkler. I’d had enough meditation, so I did as instructed. I filled a trash can with the dead grass and carried it around to the compost pile in the back yard. I dumped the grass and turned back to the house, idly thinking of sipping a gin-and-tonic on the back porch while the world cooled off into evening.

As I passed by the corner of the back porch, I was jolted out of my reverie by the sight of an unexpected guest.

An unexpected visitor. Posted by Hello

I don’t know where this critter came from…and I’m sure he must have been wondering “how the heck did I get here?!” I yelled at Mary to come take a look, then ran in for the camera. I kept my distance, not certain of how fast a startled ‘possum could move. (In the back of my mind I was reviewing all the data I had about ‘possums – 100% of it involved memories of dead ones on the side of the road. Not much evidence of agility or speed, but I wasn’t going to take any chances, especially since I saw him raise up and arch his back as I approached. How far could a ‘possum jump?)

We eyed each other for a few minutes. He made no effort to leave the porch. It was, after all, the end of a long, hot Friday. Mary and I left him on the ledge and went in for the gin-and-tonic. Periodically throughout the evening we looked out to see if “Peter Possum” was still around. He was always in the same spot. Around 9pm we saw him, then went out front to turn off the sprinklers. When we looked again, he was gone.

We walked around the yard, shining a flashlight into the bushes, but didn’t see him again. I guess ‘possums can move pretty quick after all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Remembering Daisy

It's only Tuesday, but it's been a tough week under the Roof. On Monday afternoon we had Daisy put to sleep.

Relaxing in the kitchen. Posted by Hello

Daisy first came to live with us at Christmas time in 1989. We were celebrating our first Christmas in a new home in Memphis. The kids were all in school, and Mary and I spent several days searching all over West Tennessee for a cocker spaniel puppy.

After what seemed like an endless string of fruitless phone calls, we got connected with a family 50 miles outside of Memphis who had an 8 week old parti-colored female. I agreed to buy her sight unseen, and to meet them in the parking lot of a McDonald's at a specified time on Sunday evening. This coincided with the annual Christmas Eve service at our church, and we concocted an elaborate story involving a family friend, a flat tire, and an immediate need for help that would allow me to excuse myself from the family for a couple of hours. I drove to the rendezvous point in my MGB convertible with a failing clutch and weak headlights. At one point I got pulled over by the state police for going too slow on the Interstate.

I found the seller in the parking lot, as agreed, and quickly made the transaction. It was completed quickly, under the street lamp, with few words and a swift exchange of cash and small furry bundle. It seemed more like a drug deal than buying a pet. I could tell I was buying a dog, but little else. The sellers promised to send the AKC papers later. Being young and anxious, I believed them.

The puppy slept soundly during the cold ride home, bundled up in a blanket on the passenger seat. I arrived home after the rest of the family, and tucked the sleeping puppy under my coat. I entered the house and answered the questions about our stranded friend, then told the kids to come into the den. I can't recall what exactly I said, but remember lots of delighted screaming as the puppy emerged from my coat.

Daisy grew up with our kids, especially Will. She ran with him in the yard and around the neighborhood. If there was a pack of kids racing through the yard, Daisy would be in the middle of it, happily nipping at Will's heels.

She was the third, and smartest, cocker spaniel we have owned. Mary delighted in teaching her new tricks. Daisy could balance a dog biscuit on her nose, pensively waiting for the command "SIC IT!" that allowed her to flip it in the air and catch it on the way down. She could roll over, shake hands, and "speak" on command. The most elaborate trick they learned was a political joke. Mary would point a finger, like a gun, at Daisy and ask loudly, "Would you rather be a dead dog or a Republican?" Daisy would flatten herself on the floor, in her best Democratic pose.

In her later years, Daisy endured Mary's interest in costuming.

Do I have to wear this silly outfit? Posted by Hello

As smart as she was, Daisy was a mediocre watchdog. A stranger could come into the house unannounced, and she would just as likely wag her tail and pee on the floor as bark at him. But every afternoon when I arrived home from work, she would howl and bark like she had never seen me. I suppose she was just greeting me enthusiastically.

The years since have flown by. The kids are grown. Two have graduated from college and moved on. Will is now 18 and college-bound in the fall. Daisy grew up with them, and grew old before them. She lost her hearing about two years ago. We noticed it gradually. At first, we would be inside the house for several minutes before she would hear us and come out of whatever room she was sleeping in, looking slightly embarrassed. Later, we would have to wake her to let her know we were home.

In the last year and a half, her health declined even further. First her eyes went, becoming increasingly cloudy. Her sense of smell seemed to decrease, making it harder to find the biscuits dropped at her feet. She slept most of the day, and emerged ever more slowly and unsteadily. Her kidneys failed her.

Sadly, it was time. We made one appointment at the vet, then cancelled it when we thought there was improvement. We went another two months, then found her sitting disoriented in the dining room one afternoon. We made another appointment, and agreed that we would not cancel again.

Monday noon came and our appetites waned. The appointment was for 1:30pm. Mary fed Daisy some extra treats - a hamburger for breakfast, some ham at lunch, extra biscuits. We drove to the vet's office, Daisy in Mary's car with all the windows down, the spring air blowing across her nose stuck prominently out of the rear window. They walked around the yard outside the office while I attended to the paperwork. Then it was time.

It was mercifully quick for Daisy, but interminable for us. We swung at opposite ends of the spectrum - Mary weeping quietly until the final moment, while I stood stoic. Me dissolving in tears as I saw her lifeless on the table, while Mary felt a wash of relief. (We have lived together for nearly 30 years and have managed a dynamic balance - only one of us gets to be crazy at a time.)

Today the house feels empty. We are happy that Daisy is out of her misery, and was able to go out with some dignity. But we miss our puppy. I trust that soon the empty spot will slowly be filled with good memories, of a happy dog chasing dirt clods pitched in the garden and kids in the front yard.

Two Old Pals:

Two old pals. Posted by Hello

Cowgirl Daisy:

Cowgirl Daisy in full costume. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Talking Ourselves Into Another War?

Today's Top Story:
At the time of this posting, 1485 US soldiers have died in Iraq.

(Why is this "The Top Story"?

1. Each of these soldiers died in a war that was initiated by a President who intentionally misled the American people about the reasons for war in Iraq, (and
2. Like Gen. Anthony Zinni, I believe that this has got to be more important than "American Idol").

Today's Feature: Talking Ourselves Into Another War?

It's been awhile since I did a posting. My last one did not include the casualty statistics. After the election in Iraq, I was cautiously hopeful. (Unlike my sense after the election in America...) I wanted to believe that progress was being made. That maybe a good end result was possible. I heard Bill Maher on NPR's "Fresh Air" on February 8 talking about how we react to news about Bush & Co. His point...and I'm going to butcher it...was that we cannot listen to any news about Iraq, the administration, etc. and immediately try to figure out why we disagree. Sometimes we have to recognize that there are good outcomes, and we need to support these. We have to be smart enough to separate the positive events in the world from the political agendas that might have influenced them.

A very challenging point of view, but one I'm trying to adopt.

Now tell that to Mary, who had to listen to one of the longest streams of profanity I have ever uttered as I listened to the NBC Nightly News tonight. The story centered on how Iran has become our "enemy" and how President Bush was in Europe rounding up support for this position.

Did I miss something important? When did Iran become our "enemy"? (I'm obviously ignoring the "Axis of Evil" comments from the past. This might be a big mistake.)

Are we at odds with Iran on a number of issues? Yes. Would we prefer that they do not develop nuclear weapons? Absolutely.

But the rhetoric being used today, even by Brian Williams on the Nightly News, suggests that we are about to repeat the collective rethinking we did before the invasion of Iraq. We literally talked ourselves into that war. The politicians drove it. The media bought it. Colin Powell sold it at the UN. "Weapons of mass destruction" became the mantra...and the justification...even though they didn't exist!

If you tell the lie enough times, people will believe it. The march to Iraq proved it. Maybe some good will become of that effort. I remain hopeful and optimistic. (Read "pollyanna"?) But I'm also suspicious of the political/media machine. We haven't yet absorbed the cost (financial and human) of our excursion into Iraq. Why do we need to pick the next fight already?

Pay close attention to the news reports for the next 3 months. I'll bet you twenty dollars that we'll hear more and more about what a "grave threat to the national security" Iran represents. We'll hear George Bush and Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice opine about the "moolahs" and the "nucular" weapons. I'll bet we'll see the national threat warning level (whatever it's called) raised and some more news about "non-specific Interet chatter" that implies an imminent threat to our national security.

Our national leaders will promote an invasion of Iran, and our media will fall in line, looking for headlines and an opportunity to score an exclusive interview.

Here's the only scenario I can imagine where I would support an invasion of Iran: The US military forces crossing the Iran border are led by new recruits Jenna and Barbara Bush (G-dub's twin daughters) and our forces follow the troops deployed by France and Germany.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Tale of a New Sagamore

Dear Friends and Family,

This started out as a lengthy email. I decided to post it as a blog, so I could include some photos and links without overwhelming your inboxes.

Our daughter Sarah joined the staff of then Indiana governor Frank O'Bannon as a "Governor's Fellow" shortly after she graduated from Indiana University in 2003.

2003-2004 Governor's Fellows (L-R) Aaron Smith- Indiana Univeristy; Stacey Martindale, Indiana University; Sarah Johnston, Indiana University; Emily Jones, Purdue University and Matthew Ewing, Indiana University (from )

Posted by Hello

Sarah and the other Fellows (and most of us Hoosiers) were shocked and saddened by Governor O'Bannon's untimely death in September, 2003. Joe Kernan, the Lieutenant Governor under Gov. O'Bannon, was sworn in as Governor, and the state moved forward under new leadership.

The Fellows with Governor Kernan. Posted by Hello

Joe Kernan is a native of South Bend, Indiana. He was a Navy pilot in Viet Nam and was shot down in 1972 and spent 11 months in a POW camp. After repatriation, he completing his service and returned home. After several years in business, he entered public service as the controller of South Bend. He served three terms as mayor of South Bend before being elected Lt. Governor in 1996 alongside Frank O'Bannon. He is a man of tremendous character and integrity. I'm delighted that my daughter had the opportunity to serve under him.

A sidebar: One of Governor Kernan's first official acts was to nominate Kathy Davis as the new Lieutenant Governor. Lt. Gov. Davis had a degree in engineering from MIT and an MBA from Harvard. She originally came to Indiana to work at Columbus-based Cummins Engine Company in the 1980's and later gravitated to public service. We saw this as one more affirmation of the innate intelligence found in the midwest: In the same month that California elected a swaggering body-builder as their new governor, Indiana's General Assembly unanimously confirmed one of the most intelligent, articulate people you'd ever want to meet as Lieutenant Governor. Sorry, California. We got the better deal!

Governor Kernan initially said he would not seek reelection, but after several months in office, changed his mind and announced his candidacy. The Fellows cheered...along with a lot of Hoosiers. In her off-hours, Sarah was an active campaigner for the Kernan/Davis ticket. But during business hours, she was rigidly non-partisan. As interested bystanders, we were impressed by the message that was drilled into the consciousness of the state government staff by the Governor: "We are here to serve all citizens of Indiana, regardless of their political affiliation. Don't forget!" Our discussions with Sarah's friends and colleagues confirmed that this was part of their DNA. Even in the midst of a contentious election year, they embraced and lived out their mission to serve all Hoosiers.
Unfortunately, Joe lost the election, and this coming Sunday will be his last day in office.

For the past several months, Sarah has been working in the Governor's Residence, a beautiful home and meeting center in a fine old Indianapolis neighborhood. Her final assignment as a Fellow was as an assistant to Maggie Kernan, our First Lady. This past summer, after she completed her year as a Fellow, Sarah was selected to be the first Director of Mentor Indiana, a program initiated by Mrs. Kernan to recruit 1,000 adult volunteers to mentor disadvantaged middle school students. I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Kernan when she and Sarah visited Columbus to recruit volunteers.

Sarah, Mrs. Kernan, and me in Columbus. Posted by Hello

I volunteered, of course.

Earlier this week, Sarah was working at home (her office in the residence was being transferred to a new building as part of the transition to a new governor, and her car was in the shop), when she got a phone call from the Governor's office asking her if she could come in, right now. This alarmed Sarah. She worried that, like many of her cohorts in government, she was about to get the axe as part of the regime change. She was quickly reassured -- "This is a good thing." When she said she'd have to take a cab, they replied, "We'll send a car for you". So she changed out of her jeans and waited for the ride...wondering what was going to happen next.

When she arrived at the Governor's residence, she was shown into one of the meeting rooms where the Governor, the First Lady, and a group of staff members had gathered. The governor called her to the front of the room and presented her with a certificate naming her a "Sagamore of the Wabash". The term "sagamore" was used by the American Indian Tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.

The official proclamation. Posted by Hello

The text of the certificate reads as follows:

State of Indiana
Council of the Sagamores of the Wabash

Joseph E. Kernan
Governor of the State of Indiana
Know All Men by These Presents:

WHEAREAS, the Greatness of the Sons and Daughters of Indiana derives, in part, from qualities possessed by the noble Chieftains of the Indiana Tribes which once roamed its domain; and

WHEREAS, it has been the immemorial custom of the State of Indiana to attract to its support those who have exhibited such qualities; and

WHEREAS, there has endeared herself to the Citizens of Indiana, one

Sarah Johnston

distinguished by her Humanity in Living, her Loyalty in Friendship, her
Wisdom in Council, and her Inspiration in Leadership:

NOW, THEREFORE, recognizing her greatness and desiring to avail myself of her counsel, I do hereby appoint her a Chieftain upon my Staff with the rank and title of


WITNESS my hand and Seal of the Council of the Sagamores, at Indianapolis, Indiana, this the Ninth day of January, in the Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Five.

Joseph E. Kernan
Governor of the State of Indiana

We just thought you'd like to know that we have a Chieftain in our family.
Congratulations, Sarah!

Mike/Pop & Mary/Mama

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Blizzard of "Ought-Four", Part 4.

Today's Top Story:
At the time of this posting, 1333 US soldiers have died in Iraq.

(Why is this "The Top Story"?

1. Each of these soldiers died in a war that was initiated by a President
who intentionally misled the American people about the reasons for war in Iraq, (and
2. Like Gen. Anthony Zinni, I believe that this has got to be more important than "American Idol").

Today's Feature: The Blizzard of "Ought-Four", Part 4.

Monday, December 27, 2004

7:30am: We awoke today to a cold, clear and brilliantly sunny morning. Outside the trees were coated with a shiny layer of hoarfrost. (While I had seen it before, I didn't know what hoarfrost was until I read about it in our local paper the next day. One more thing I've learned this week.)

I got outside quickly to get some pictures before it melted.

Hoarfroast on the Serenity Garden. Posted by Hello

A brilliant view. Posted by Hello

I walked down to the end of the street to get a shot of the early morning sun shining through the trees.

Sun through the trees. Posted by Hello

As I walk back to the house, I feel invigorated by the cold and the sunshine. Maybe, I think, I can learn to like this winter thing.

11:00am: The street still hasn't been plowed, but we venture out anyway. The main streets are clear, but the stores are still packed. We buy our supplies and head back home.

5:00pm: Just at dusk the snowplow comes through the neighborhood. He works our streets for a couple of hours, methodically working back and forth.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

We've had 4 days of unseasonably warm weather. Today it was 55 degrees outside. The snow is almost completely melted. I even drug out the garden hose and washed the cars. Surprise - instead of two dull grey vehicles, we actually have a black one and a white one! Tomorrow the vacation ends and we go back to work. Life here is almost back to normal.

But we are very mindful that for hundreds of thousands of our neighbors on the other side of the planet, life will not be back to normal for years, if ever. An editorial page headline in our local paper this week put things in the proper context: "Tsunami makes our 'crisis' pale".

For a very immediate view of activities around the crisis - reported by a group of people close to the scene - see the South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog. To make an online donation to one of the major relief agencies, visit .