Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Easter, Bunny!

Permit me to share a little of my story. My wife was born, "Arlene," but when her Daddy first held her she had pink ears and a little pink nose. He declared, "She is as cute as a bunny," and she was "Bunny" ever since.

I called her Arlene on our wedding day and sometimes when I was less than happy, but any other time she was Bunny. Every Easter morning I would awake and begin the first of our Easter traditions, as I greeted her with "Happy Easter, Bunny!" Then the other traditions would begin:

New Easter outfits for the kids

Family sitting together at church, hearing the Easter story

Dinner featuring ham and a home-made, red-velvet, butter-creamed, frosted lamb cake (with memories of one Lamb that "bled" raw, red-velvet dough when cut into -- not a pretty sight)

Easter baskets: one hidden in the bathtub, one in the oven, others behind furniture

Egg hunt, featuring plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and an occasional coin

Easter lilies on the table

No matter what the family situation, no matter what the finances, no matter what was the chaos that surrounded us -- the familiar Easter traditions provided a day for stability, comfort and joy. This day and its traditions surrounded our family with a peace. No matter what the future would bring, we would awake, shout out, "Happy Easter, Bunny!" and hear once again the Good News of the open tomb.

Today, the family is separated by time and distance, with the kids separated by time zones, as well as an ocean. Our kids are now on their own, with children and traditions of their own.

Bunny has been called home to her Heavenly Father, no longer present to hear, "Happy Easter, Bunny!" Yet, in the dark, quiet hours of this coming Easter morning, I will awake and speak the words, "Happy Easter, Bunny," and will be comforted. I will not hide baskets or eat a lamb cake, but I will look at the Easter lily in church. My eyes will tear and my throat will close as I hear the words, "He is risen!"

And I will whisper, "He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!"

"Happy Easter, Bunny" reminds me of a lifetime of love, joy, happiness and traditions. I will recall the past and delight in His gifts of today: another wife, a new family, new traditions, and the opportunity to share Him in all I do.

I thank God for traditions. I thank God for memories. I thank God for promises. I thank God for new traditions.

Happy Easter ...

This was first published for Easter 2010.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lessons from the Penalty Box

With the end of this year's abbreviated National Hockey League season fast approaching, fans across North America are looking to the rink. Although the NHL has a smaller fan base compared to Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association, these fans are some of the most loyal and engaged in all of sports. Even I, though not a dedicated hockey buff, will watch my favorite NHL team in action, when I get the chance. As I watched a game the other night, it struck me how we could learn some life lessons from this fine sport.

Now some would argue absolutely nothing good can come from hockey: a fiercely aggressive sport with a real knack for violence. In fact, so prevalent are the game's displays of open hostilities, it has given rise to a fairly oft-used expression, which captures the game's propensity for settling scores with one's fists: "I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out."

We've probably all seen violence in major league sports: the bench-clearing brouhaha that erupts after a batter's been tagged by a gunning pitcher, the NFL's late hits and cheap shots, and the flagrant fouls of the NBA are all examples of tempers flaring, passions rising, and a distinct lack of self-control. Of course, violence in the NHL results for the same reasons. Interestingly though, the consequences for the offending player's team in the NHL are different than other sports. If a baseball, football or basketball player is penalized, that player stays in the game, and the teams remain evenly matched. On the other hand, hockey players penalized for any reason, including violence, serve their time in the penalty box, off the ice. While there, his team may not replace him, thus giving that team a disadvantage in the number of men on the ice. And, of course, there are real and immediate game consequences when playing a man down. The individual pays for his mistake, and the team suffers the consequences.

To me this parallels life in many ways: my negative actions may well have consequences beyond me. When I am caustic or embittered or show aggressive tendencies at home in front of my family -- yelling at the neighbor, cussing at the dog, reading the "riot act" to some business person on the phone -- the family is upset, i.e. they suffer. I need to remember my actions impact more than just me. If I've put myself in the penalty box -- if my actions are detrimental to the family unit and our ability to thrive together is hindered by my unseemly behavior -- we all lose big time.

And one more thing: have you ever paid much attention to the guy sitting in the penalty box? He's not only publicly shamed for his conduct, he also has to deal with the opposing team's unruly fans, rattling the glass behind him, jeering and egging him on.

I guess the only thing really nice about sitting in the penalty box is you've got a front-row seat to watch the other team score.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Joy of Cross-Country Skiing

For those of you living in warmer climates, the snows of recent weeks have been a blessing to all who like snow sports, especially downhill skiing. Downhill or alpine skiers are the ones who take a lift to the top of a mountain, so they can head downhill in a variety of twists and turns to the bottom of the mountain. Each path or run is color coded to indicate level of difficulty. The Green Circle is the easiest; next is the difficult and demanding Blue Square; this is followed by the Black Diamond for advanced skiers and, finally, the Double Black Diamond, reserved for experts and those who've had three too many eggnog rum punches. The runs are classified based on the steepness of the slope and condition of the trail. Most downhill skiers start as I did, on the green "bunny slopes" and progress through the colors. The lure of downhill skiing is found in the rush one experiences as he or she glides effortlessly across the surface of the snow, surrounded by the stillness of the mountain and the beauty of the snow-covered countryside. The exhilaration of surviving the occasional tumble also adds to the lure of the sport.

Don't get me wrong, while I like the rush of wind on my face as I schuss downhill at speeds that would snap many a bone if I took a tumble, I have recently found a real interest in cross-country skiing. Admittedly, sliding one's feet back and forth inside two tracks doesn't sound very appealing, but there is more to it than that, and much which I thoroughly enjoy.

I like quietly gliding up on unsuspecting wildlife, catching them by surprise.

I enjoy letting my mind wander, without having to pay attention where I'm headed.

I relish the burn in my muscles, as they work to keep me headed forward.

I rejoice in the small victories, as I ascend an incline and then glide down the other side.

I take in the thin briskness of the open air, as I push forward to the chimney smoke rising in the distance from my cabin.

And then there's the end of the trail, when I can relax by the fire, watching the sun burn out, and knowing that for a little while I experienced something this continent's early Americans must have felt, as they too carved their way through the wooded reaches of our northern frontier.

Sure, summer is always fun, but winter, up in the mountains, is another world altogether. May your slopes be covered in powder as spring closes in. Happy skiing!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Someone once said we make more than 5,000 decisions a day. Now before you decide to disagree, think about all the mundane choices you make every morning -- sometimes before you even get out of bed: yes or no to the snooze bar, cereal or bagel for breakfast, caffeine or decaf, milk or orange juice, two percent or skim, local morning news or The Weather Channel. Now add to this a series of decisions on what to wear, and you've got a couple dozen decisions knocked out before you even leave the house.

All through the day decisions present themselves to us, demanding resolution. Each decision made carries a corresponding consequence. Sometimes our professional occupation can determine how serious these consequences can be. Take the auto mechanic, for example. His decisions on taking the extra time to do his job right can make a difference in the safety of those who entrust their car to him. Then there's the surgeon whose continual pursuit of learning offers new hope to her patients by bringing them the latest health options for their condition. On the other hand, sometimes the decisions we make are more mundane -- but not without their own special consequences. Think about, for instance, how a spicy Mexican or Indian dish can wreak havoc on the stomach later on. We regretted that one but, boy, did it taste good going down!

Most of us feel better if we have someone else to consult when making significant decisions. I know I do. For example, in my house I make all the big decisions, and I leave the small ones to my wife. I make mine based on the latest U.N. resolutions, a close-reading of The Old Farmer's Almanac, and a daily review of how the markets are doing, from Beijing to Wall Street. She decides on things like our budget, raising the kids, and what's for dinner, consulting (now get this!) her own intuition and impeccably good sense.

As for the kids, they have their own take on how the decision process goes. They learn early how to pit parent against parent, as they ask for permission to spend the night at a friend's house or delay a curfew. A "no!" from dad means a "why not?" to mom, banking on the hope mom won't consult dad on the matter. It's important for parents to work out a system to prevent this sort of circular negotiating. To fend this off, I simply ask, "What did your mother say?" When I see them hem and haw, I already know what their mother said.

Sometimes we make decisions in haste without thinking through all of the ramifications too. It is these decisions that can sometimes lead to future regrets. Hence it is always best to take a little time and weigh life's most important decisions. A good example of decision deliberation was my wife's review of the pros and cons of marrying me. Her careful consideration of my proposal bore all the trademarks of a general on the brink of a major campaign. She knew there would skirmishes, battles won as well as battles lost. She knew there would possibly even be some treaties along the way, but she believed the effort was worth it, so much so she committed all her resources to the operation.

When she said, "yes," I knew just how good a decision-maker she was, and smart too.