Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Perfect Lawn

After last winter's record snowfall and bitter cold, many began to doubt if they would ever see grass on their lawn again. But with the Mother's Day snowfall in Denver now melted, it looks as if we are again at a place where we can get serious about our lawns. With that being the case, we are now on a quest to find the perfect combination of weed retardant chemicals; rich, organic soil; perfectly suited nutrients; and life-giving water in order to produce a full, lush, green lawn: the envy of homeowners around the nation -- or at least down our street.

This is the time of year debates begin to break out in the lawn and garden sectors of your favorite home improvement stores. Will it be Bermuda or fescue? -- Kentucky bluegrass or zoysia? -- sod or seed? It also seems folks have an equally strong opinion on such things as aerating, feeding, weeding and watering. Nothing gets guys going like a hearty discussion over the grill about the merits of maintaining a perfect lawn.

And if those topics aren't enough to generate heated debates, the whole subject of how and when to cut lawns can keep guys talking until the last burger is scooped off the grill.

In spite of all the differences, the goal of each man is to have the perfect lawn, i.e. one the greens keepers at the Augusta Country Club would be proud to show.

Now I'll let you in on a little secret. In spite of what the man next door with the green lawn thinks, I have the perfect lawn. The front yard is usually brown, except for the bright green patch over to the side. This is where the kids set up the sprinkler or the Slip-N-Slide. On hot summer days the sounds of squealing children can be heard as neighborhood kids run through the water, slide down the watery runway, and create huge mud holes in an otherwise mediocre lawn. When I look at the splotchy patches I have to smile, knowing how my lawn has given kids dozens of summertime memories.

And the backyard?

Well, it's not much better, with its worn, brown patches of dirt outlining a baseball field. The path from "home" to "first" is the most treaded, while the line from "third" to "home" shows some promise that grass might grow again -- the result of too many men left stranded on base.

For me the perfect lawn is the one kids feel free to run over, creating their own little universe: a ball park one day, a jungle the next.

Someday I may have the lawn men envy, but for now, it's the one kids enjoy, and that makes me smile.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vacation Time

The other day I was sitting on the couch, happily engaged in watching the latest from ESPN, when I was interrupted by my wife, taking a seat next to me. I glanced over and knew I was in trouble; she was holding a pen and calendar. Experience has long taught me what soon follows is a detailed presentation of things I need to do around the house. This wasn't the case however. Instead, it was time to plan our family vacation.

Vacations usually mean we pack up the family's must-haves into the car and hit the road. Now, lest some of you think less of me, I am not opposed to vacations per say. What frustrates me is driving with three children buckled into car seats, holding me hostage for hours as I try to concentrate on the road, all the while buffeted by the sounds of "music" coming from behind me. I know children need to exercise their lungs, but the piercing tones of their playful, little voices are sometimes more than I can handle.

But I digress. So my wife and I started going through the "list." It contains all the options we consider when planning vacations. This year near the top was "visiting family," with number two being "an educational experience for the kids."

I started to perk up. What could be more educational than a road trip to visit some of the major baseball parks in North America? It was a perfect no-brainer. There would be geography and history all rolled into one. And if we were really lucky, we might even catch a game or two.

Ever perceptive, my wife zeroed in on my thoughts, delivering a preemptive strike: "I was thinking we could visit some museums and then take the kids to see the largest shopping mall in North America."

I started wishing work would call, telling me all unused vacation time has been cancelled indefinitely.

Men, vacations are things we may not see as necessary, since many guys don't use all the vacation time they're allotted, but they are very important.

Vacations are not about the destination. Taking a vacation is about recharging one's internal battery, renewing one's broader perspective and, hopefully, reconnecting in a positive way with your mate and kids.

No matter how tempted you are to choose work over vacation, it's better to take some time away from the job, for some great memories are made on vacation.

For example, there was the time my parents took us to the beach. My brothers and I were fighting over a beach ball in the back seat, when lo and behold the ball jumped out the open car window. We still don't remember how the ball ended up on the highway, but we'll never forget dad's reaction as he watched it bounce off cars and sail into the air. Rather than earning us his ire and a disciplinary action, he gave a shrug and a chuckle, musing how some lucky kid will soon be the owner of a new beach ball. Dad may have wanted to say something more, but he didn't want to kill the fun we were having.

After all, we were on vacation.

Where are you going this year?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

But How?

Much has been said and written about the influence a man has on the life of a boy. As guys we know the influence men have had in our growing-up years, especially our father and for a fortunate few, granddads. However, some of us grew up without a dad and had other male mentors shape our lives. For some it might have been an uncle, while others might have had a coach or a neighbor fill that role. No matter who he was that person was instrumental in shaping our perspective about what it meant to be a man living out all his roles: employee, friend, son, husband, father, etc.

So we know the importance of boys having male role models, but how can we be that person in the life of a young man without a male in his life?

As was recently pointed out to me, if you spend too much time with boys you may be looked at with some misgiving. And if you go up to children you're not related to or familiar with -- and sometimes even if you are -- you can appear to those who don't know you or the situation, with even sharper suspicion. So how can we effectively be the mentor our young men need, especially if there is no male in their life?

The answer is that I really don't have an answer. Every situation is different. However, there are some tried-and-true ways to be an influence in the life of a young man that should not cause undue reservation. (This applies based on the assumption you are above reproach, honest, and know how to set boundaries.)

One way is to be involved in structured, recognizable youth organizations like the Boy Scouts, Big Brother, and the like. These groups always need reliable men of good character to volunteer to be involved in the life of young men. As a scout leader or big brother you have the opportunity to share your knowledge. Your life, words and actions will also give the boys a glimpse into what it is to be a masculine leader in today's society.

Many schools today would welcome a male to volunteer in the lives of its students. A visit to the principal's office will give you an idea of how and where you can get involved. For those active in a church, offering to teach at vacation Bible school or Sunday school are two ways you can impart your wisdom to students and enhance their lives.

There are many ways to be involved in the lives of young men around us, the real trick is to find what works for you and pursue it. What are your aptitudes and interests? What skills or knowledge do you have that would benefit the lives of young men growing up? How can you make a difference in the situation and circumstances of young men who could learn a lot from you?

As for me, I enjoyed my stint as a scout leader. If you're stuck on how to get involved, this might be a good place to begin. If this doesn't fit your style, go online and plug some keywords into your web browser, and see what ideas you come up with.

You may find your talents, skills and experience are a good match for helping others navigate their way through the oft-times perilous waters of becoming a man.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Garage Sale

For some of us, garage sales are opportunities to make a few bucks. Either we scour them for bargains we can resell later on Craigslist or eBay, or we're clearing out clutter accumulated over the last few years. Having moved a time or two in my life, I am more familiar with the second type of garage sale: getting rid of boxes of stuff that live under the stairs, in the basement, and over the garage. It seems I can store three boxes of clothes, and the next thing I know there are ten for me to remove. It's amazing how we accumulate stuff.

Recently, I was helping a friend in his garage sale. He and his wife are planning to sell their house, so the couple wanted to take advantage of their neighborhood's weekend garage sale to clear out their storage areas.

Now having three kids under the age of five meant they had piles of clothes theses young ones would never wear again. He asked me if I would help him price the items.

Being the kind of guy I am I said, "Sure!"

The first box was full of newborn boy's outfits. We spent three innings of the baseball game examining each piece for condition, frayed edges and, most of all, stains. Each piece was held up, evaluated a bit, and priced accordingly, ranging from $4 to $.25. At this rate I figured we'd be done by the end of the game.

Then his wife pulled out the other 25 boxes of clothes -- in all sizes, boys and girls.

At this spectacle, either the game would be a record-setting, extra-inning affair going into the wee hours, or we'd have to drastically change our pricing technique. Undeterred by this tsunami of kids' clothes, we got into the flow of things: pants were $1, shirts $.25 and, if something looked really good, it was $.50.

We laid out eight tables of kids clothes and arranged the other miscellaneous stuff in an attractive setting. Then we waited.

Three days later he had $700 firmly in hand, mostly by selling $.25 outfits. Now that was a lot of clothes!

My friend announced the results to his wife with the admonition, "Let's not accumulate that much -- ever again."

Gentlemen, that's good advice for all of us.

Each one of us carries around boxes of "stuff." Some are filled to overflowing with regrets; some are marked, "bad decisions"; others just say, "Stuff I don't feel good about." Maybe it's time we clean out those boxes, and pitch them to the curb. After all, there's nothing there to be passed on or resold, it's garbage. We need to let go of them and give ourselves a fresh start, with the resolution we will not accumulate that many items, ever again.

In truth, I'm on my way to drop off a box of "should haves" at the local church. In exchange for it, I'll take home some sweet words of forgiveness and relish in the fact my load just got lighter.

Good luck getting rid of some dead weight this week.