What’s up down on Fraggle Rock?

Sorry for the absence … again.

Things got crazy around here. Our fourth high school graduate was taking up our time when she wasn’t working. Her sister was dating and getting engaged. The last kid in the batch was presenting his own challenges.

And then a young lady called and told us, “I can’t take care of my kid right now. I need your help.” That was six months ago and the young man in question has become an even bigger part of our family than he already was. We had been there for his birth. Our house was his first home after the hospital. He’s been on vacation with us. He goes to church with us. He evaded Hurricane Irma when the rest of the family skeedaddled to North Carolina in September.

Things have settled back down, now, and we are used to the idea that our oldest daughter will soon move out and get married. Our oldest son, in the Navy, continues to excel as a sailor and is coming to visit soon with his wife. The second oldest, is doing well in Nashville, but looking for something more. Of the two youngest, one prepares for nursing school and the other is preparing to graduate high school with his associates degree. Next step? USF Bulls and a commission in the United States Marine Corps.

And where does that leave the adults of this little tribe? The missus has found herself in a challenging position that she enjoys. As for me, I’m finally able to get some writing done on a regular basis and making headway on the follow-up to “A Taste for Something New.” It is tentatively titled “Wolves in the Storm.” I hope to have the first draft completed soon and in the hands of an editor by November, with an eventual publish date in mid-February. I plan to share a sneak peak of this new work by the end of the week.

Hope is out of her cone. Small dogs may still bark, but the moment her head turns to glare, they run away. The squirrel in the back? He runs past and doesn’t stop to chatter at her anymore. Brandi relies on Hope as her muscle and Cowgirl is back to being Hope’s punching bag. Koda/Dakota and Hope are sorta friends for real now. Midnight, my future son-in-law’s cat, is not as accepted. We still volunteer with Peace River Search and Rescue and love it.

One final note — Savage 4×4, Inc., in Fort Myers chose my Jeep and I for their 2017 Heroes Build. If you visit their website and social media platforms you can learn more about this project and ways you can support it. I was nominated because of my status as a veteran and for the work I have been doing with PRSAR. Around Nov. 1, Savage will get my Jeep and I won’t see it again until Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. They did this last year for a truly deserving guy and it was incredible. I’m truly blessed to be a recipient of this honor and the work and so forth that goes into it.

And that, dear readers, is a snapshot of life down on Fraggle Rock.

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Fun, fun, fun: Don’t let anyone take the T-bird away

The last few days I have been part of a program set up by Jon Acuff. It’s called #30DaysofHustle. Jon’s been sharing ideas with us on how to make ourselves more productive at what we’re doing in the new year. I’ve been sharing, as part of that, how those ideas are impacting my decisions and thought processs.

Change should be fun. People don’t like change, so they drag their feet, become argumentative, and generally are just really sour when change happens. Around January 1st, though, everyone (it seems) wants to change.

Around February 1st, though, most of those folks are back to where they were on December 1st.

I’m pretty sure there are two things that make a world of difference between those who change their life and those who don’t. First is a strong why. We’ve talked about that. The second is fun. If you’re not having fun when you’re changing, you’re probably not going to keep up with it.

As you may know, I’m working this month on keeping up with my writing. I’d set a goal of 1000 words a day. My other goal has been to get 30 minutes of exercise in daily. It turns out that both of these are difficult. Life gets in the way, things trigger other behaviors that keep me from doing what I know I need to do. When that happens it is very easy to beat yourself up and suck the fun right out of what you’re doing.

What’s that mean? Keep the goal fun.

Writing isn’t fun for everyone, so I might have to explain how to do that. Writing, for me, is a creative process. Creating is fun. When I write a poem it lets me express difficult emotions. When I’m writing a story I create characters and the world they live in. It’s an awesome feeling.

Working out. That’s tough, especially when you have body parts that don’t always cooperate when you want to do stuff. I put on some music and talk to the dog, who watches me like I’ve lost my mind. Also, my family has committed to doing an activity together at least once a week that allows us to exercise together. The Peace River opens into Charlotte Harbor just a couple of miles from here and a bridge runs over this. It’s more than a mile long and has a pedestrian lane that is walled off for people to run or walk on. We plan to do this from time to time, but other options include visiting some of the local parks to hike, and in some cases the trails aren’t just walks, but fitness trails with workout stations. I’m looking forward to our first trip out in a few days.

If you have a goal this year and you’re struggling with it, look for a way to make it fun. If you can’t think of a way to make it fun, let me know in the comments. Don’t keep it to yourself. Let me, or another reader, help you with your goal. We are, after all, made for community, and there is no shame in asking for help.

How Now, Mr. Cow?

My primary goal this month is being a more consistent writer. I’ve set a bar that determines my day’s progress: 1000+ words. Writing that much can be tricky, but I’ve figured out a few things that help me get it done.

 1. Write at the right time. I tend to write better — and more — if I write around mid-morning.

 2. Write in the right place. I sit at the dining room table with my laptop when I write. It means I’m out in the open, accessible, while I work. The alternative is sitting on the bed with the laptop, in my room, alone. Which of the two do I think is safest and most likely to be blessed by God? The dining room has worked well so far.

 3. Write. I can sit there for an hour and scratch my head looking for something to write about. It would get me nowhere. So I just write. Maybe I open up a file with a story I’m already working on, or maybe I start a new one to work on a line of thought. The important thing is that I write during the time I’m able to.

 Next on my list is building a healthier me. That’s tricky. I have years of bad eating habits to overcome, plus the double-whammy of bad knees and a shoulder that doesn’t support me well during push-ups or planks. The final kicker is that I can’t afford a gym membership right now, especially not anyplace with a pool.

So what am I going to do?

I’m glad you asked. I turned to Google. Several results came up for people with bad knees. If you’re in the same boat I am, you want to focus on results that have lots of pictures or videos, so you can see the exercises being done. You don’t want to try exercises you don’t know on injured body parts based on one photo. That’s just a bad idea.

Several sites suggested I ride a bike for cardio. Cycling definitely doesn’t have the impact issues, but having raced for a few years, I know you can stress your knees riding. It’s important to place your feet properly on the pedals, adjust the seat height and position yourself properly above the pedals. Correct body position on the bike will help alleviate any potential pain.

I swam in high school and played water polo and swam for Kutztown University before I joined the Marines. I love swimming. Sadly, my shoulders are yet another part of my body that got wrecked while I was serving, and you need them for swimming. Not so much for aqua aerobics, though. It’s not something I can do right now, but I’ll be looking into them if we reach a point when we can join the local Y. Low impact exercise aimed at raising your heart rate and maybe pushing your heart and lungs to work harder is a good thing.

None of this is easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. It requires discipline and it requires accountability. You need a friend or family member who will keep you on task.

Today has been a strong case-in-point for my writing how. I know what time of day works best for me. I didn’t use it. I let it drift away, making even 500 words a difficult chore. Looking back, though, my distraction led me to write a lot more than I realized on a topic I had not planned. So, sometimes God will make the most of our failures. In this case, I wrote a personal piece to two high school seniors who plan to make a 13-week visit to Parris Island, S.C., after high school, encouraging them for their future endeavors and providing some suggestions for how to make the most of the time they have before boot camp.

I hope that my sharing about the things I am doing in 2014 helps you make a change and stick with it. What are you doing differently this year? You’ve read about my what, why, and how. Tell us about yours.

Pneumonia and new lessons for a new year

It’s ironic, don’t you think, that I make a post about being a more consistent blogger and then don’t post for a few weeks?

Mister Murphy came to visit shortly after I hit publish and gave me a wonderful gift for the holidays – pneumonia.

I know what you’re thinking, “Jay’s being sarcastic about this ‘wonderful gift’ business,” but no, I’m not.

Pneumonia has been a learning experience for me.

Foremost, it has given me a gift of understanding. I have a daughter with several chronic health issues, some of which are respiratory. The constant coughing, especially the first few days, became painful in my abdomen as well as my throat. It had been a long time since I had worked my abs hard enough for them to be that tender. Also, the coughing was keeping me awake. Heather is in the room closest to ours and I can hear her coughing at night, so I don’t even need her to tell me that she’s not sleeping well. Coughing that much leaves you weak, as well. When Heather’s cough is at its worst I know she won’t get up for school in the morning, or if she does, she’ll probably be too worn to go by the time she gets ready. I’m Daddy; I love her and take care of her through all this. I have the head knowledge gained from watching her that knows how she’s doing and how to respond. Now, however, I have a better understanding of just what she goes through and how it feels. I’m sure I’ve probably had these feelings at other times in my life when I’ve been sick, but not in the context I’ve had them this time.

Not only have I gained some wisdom, understanding and empathy through this, but so has Heather. My wife came down with respiratory issues, as well, and Heather said she’d take care of us because we take care of her. The result? She has an idea of how hard it can be to take care of people when they are sick, both emotionally and physically. Finally, her sister joined in with being sick, too, and we’ve all talked about this. The level of understanding of each other has really changed. I thank God for this, his tendency to turn a mess into a message.

Once I got past some of the fever and “God, please just kill me” stuff I had a lot of time to think. I got a lot of reading done, learned some new technology, and just reviewed a lot of things. When I was younger, especially during the yearly years of my time in the Marine Corps, my life had a lot of structure. Today, however, I make my own way, as it were. I don’t get in trouble if something doesn’t get done at a certain time, usually.  I have certain commitments and I show up for them. I have deadlines for a few things (bills, for example) and I meet them. There are a lot of other things, however, that I tend to just let slide. I think it has made me sloppy and undisciplined.

You may not think you need discipline in your life, but the truth is that we all do. It’s what keeps us on the path. I’m not saying straying from the path is a bad thing, but if you move off the path you need a plan to keep yourself from being lost. Our lives, especially as we grow and gain more responsibilities, require more discipline. Finances require a plan. The household diet requires a plan. Chores require plans. Spiritual, intellectual, and emotional growth require plans. This may be cliché, but clichés are the result of time-tested truth, so when you fail to plan you plan to fail.

I’m working to put my discipline into my life in several areas. I chose work (writing) as my first focus, as I hope to finish several short stories and a novel I’m working on in order to publish them and make money. I realize I need to be more consistent about my writing, so I’ve set a goal of a minimum of 1000 words daily for the next month.

The next area is physical fitness. I have some knee, shoulder, and neck issues that are service related. The knees have reached a point where I’ve been told I should join the aqua aerobics class with the senior citizens at one of the county pools. Seriously. My kids all want to increase their fitness, as well, so they have asked Mom and Dad to join them in spending time exercising each day. I’m committing to 30 minutes, daily, of exercise.

Spiritual fitness is another important part of my family’s life. I’m fairly intentional about this for myself, but not really living up to my job as the spiritual head of my family. That is changing, too. I just asked my 15-year-old daughter if she knew the story of Rachel and Leah. Her response, “the only Bible story I really know is the little guy who kills the big pickle.” This from a member of the youth group worship band. Obviously I have some work to do and I’ve a plan for that, as well. Thank you, YouVersion!

Many Americans fail to plan properly in the area of finances. Carolyn and I have gotten better at this, with a lot of help from Dave Ramsey, but we need to tighten our belts and do better. Again, back to the basics. If you don’t have a budget, you’re not controlling your spending, your spending is controlling you. Think about it. That moment when your card gets declined and you’re like, “Where did it all go?” It is painful to even imagine, isn’t it? I don’t like that either. Having some financial discipline, though, is what makes it possible to still pay the bills when something bad happens. My local VA clinic is at 400% or more capacity. When I called about my pneumonia I was blown off as having a cold and an appointment wasn’t even set. Later that day I was in a walk-in clinic paying out-of-pocket for an exam and, later, for medications. It wasn’t cheap and it was totally unplanned for, aside from the fact that we work at keeping some control over how and what we spend. Things will be difficult the next couple of weeks, but we will make it. I was also able to find that my expenses will be reimbursed. Thank God.

I could go on, but I think you understand the importance of having discipline in your life. I think, too, that there is a good case for how discipline in various areas of your life can work together. A healthier me that didn’t get pneumonia would have meant a me that wasn’t worried about minor expenses right now.

I have a lot to thank God for as a result of being sick. I’ve probably left some stuff out. That said, while I wish you all the best at the beginning of 2014 and I wish you the benefits of someone else’s hard-won knowledge, I do not wish pneumonia on anyone.

A late post … and why that should be rare

I’m late.

I have been trying to get on a weekly schedule with my posts, but I blew it last week. I made a mistake.

What mistake was that?

Not sticking to my plan.

There’s a military maxim that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. The better the plan, the more you drill it, the better your chances of survival. Mine is still new to me and I let pressures get the better of me, leading to procrastination.

See, in addition to writing I’m a stay-at-home dad. I have three teens in the house (one with chronic health issues), one that lives out of state, and another in the Navy. I end up taking forgotten stuff to school, picking up sick kids, mailing packages, and hauling kids to see doctors. I run to the store to get food, or parts to fix things. I walk the dog. I talk to neighbors. Last week was pretty non-stop.

I’m saying all this to share this: you should check out Donald Miller’s Storyline. This is an awesome blog, and Donald offers a great tool (for free!) I’m learning to use to help me be more productive in my creative endeavors. I find, when I’m applying it, that I’m more productive all around, as well.This was the plan I failed to stick to. If I had, I’d have survived “first contact” better. Instead, when I ran into trouble, I just went back to the old norm and let procrastination win.

So, being the nice guy I am, I wanted to share that with you, completely unsolicited. I mean, what kind of person keeps something awesome to themselves when it could help their friends, as well?