Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Two Anniversaries

Stephanie and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary on Sunday. I've always liked the fact that it falls around Memorial Day because it provides a built in 3 day weekend to get away. Because we are heading to Hawaii in August, we did not plan a getaway this Memorial Day. Thanks to some free babysitting provided by my parents, however, we did play golf together and enjoyed a nice dinner.

We exchanged other gifts, but it was the sentiment shared in the cards we gave each other that was telling. We both expressed thanksgiving for the other through the ups and downs of life. We had some tremendous downs in our twelfth year of marriage, but the marriage itself only strengthened. The only way I know to describe being married to Stephanie is that she is a marriage artist. She takes what could be extremely difficult (putting up with me) and makes it look easy. That's what artists do. She loves and serves and puts great effort into making our marriage work.

Our anniversary and our lives were forever changed last Memorial Day when my sisters son Connor was killed in a car accident. This year it made for a weekend of celebration and sadness. But it also provided acute perspective that we often miss when giving thanks. As I thought about last Memorial Day, the phone call from my dad with the horrendous news that Connor was gone, the lonely trip home from Idaho, the collapsing into the arms of friends Stephanie had called to meet me at the airport, the outpouring of love, prayers and concern, the honest ways in which Lee Ann and Tod and their family continue to grieve, I hugged my own children a little tighter and little longer. I gave more sincere thanks for their health. I cherished life in a deeper way. I questioned things with a little more sincerity and a little less cynicism.

And we simply remembered the Con Man. That's an old picture of him below, but it's always been one of my favorites. It captures the sweetness that was at his core.

The end of May will forevermore bring with it two anniversaries for us. One will provide new stories, new memories, new experiences, new things for which to be thankful and new things for which to ask forgiveness. As for the other, there will be no new memories, but there are plenty of good ones. And for that I am thankful.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pray for the Chapman's

I was not a huge fan of contemporary christian music in the eighties. The message was fine, but the musicianship was lacking. Then I was introduced to Steven Curtis Chapman. I've respected him as a musician for a long time and have come to respect him as a man who loves God and cares so deeply about children. His family is beginning a new and terrible journey today after the tragic loss of his 5 year old daughter in an automobile accident (see story here).

As our family approaches the one year mark of the death of my nephew Connor last Memorial Day, this hits particularly close to home. I know so many of you are praying for my sister Lee Ann and Tod and their kids and all of us this week and that means more than you can ever imagine. As you lift up the Browns and the Baileys, please remember the Chapman family too. May the God of all peace comfort us all.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Know-It-All - X, Y, Z


Nothing of interest in the X section, so allow me if you will to use this space to x-plain (sorry) what a good time I've had reading The Know-It-All and writing about it. I've attempted to record my thoughts about these topics in my own words, but I'm certain I've plagiarized AJ Jacobs occasionally throughout the process. Forgive me. He's simply a very clever writer and I'm...well, I'm posting on a barely read blog.

My thanks to Mr. Jacobs for reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and allowing me a glimpse into that experience. Read his book for yourself and let me know what stands out to you. Now, onward to the finish line!


Yang, Franklin - Born Chen Yang, this 1957 Nobel prize winning physicist changed his name to Franklin after reading an autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Among his many accomplishments, Ben Franklin discredited a fraud who claimed he could put people in trances. His name was Franz Mesmer, from whom the word "mesmerize" is derived.

yodel - Everyone knows the Swiss can yodel, but did you know the pygmies and Australian Aborigines are also expert yodelers? However, their hot chocolate cannot compare to the Swiss.

Young, Thomas - Proposed the wave theory of light. At the time, any opposition to Newton's theory was unthinkable, so people poo-pooed Young's idea. This brings to mind a wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw: "All great truths start as blasphemies." Consider if you will, the life of one Jesus Christ.


Zywiec - A town in south-central Poland known for its breweries. More importantly, the last entry in the old EB.

It's interesting to finish this little exercise just as we begin a study of Ecclesiastes at our church. There is a fable wherein the wise men of the kingdom condense all of the knowledge contained in the encyclopedia into one sentence: "This too shall pass." Very Ecclesiastical. And comforting.

Donald Miller said, "It turns out the droplet of our knowledge is a bit lost in the ocean of our unknowing." After a year spent reading the entire EB, I wonder if AJ Jacobs would agree.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Know-It-All - V, W


Van Buren, Martin - The eighth president of the United States. Before that, Van Buren was Andrew Jackson's secretary of state. At that time, Jackson's secretary of war, John Eaton, married a woman named Peggy. Eaton was seen as quite a catch for the daughter of a local tavern owner and she was ceremoniously shunned by Washington society people simply for marrying out of her class. The anti-Peggy brigade was led by the wife of Vice President John Calhoun. This infuriated President Jackson who originally favored Calhoun to succeed him as president.

There was one man in the cabinet, however, who was gracious to Peggy Eaton: Martin Van Buren. Jackson noticed this, made Van Buren his vice president for his next term and then supported him for president four years later. It's good to see nice guys get ahead every now and then.

vehicle - It turns out Hummer owners are not the first drivers to be scorned for vehicle opulence. In the 1500's, large four wheel horse drawn coaches became popular. They were the SUV's of their day. The EB says, "Poets derogated coaches as ostentatious vehicles employed by wantons and rakes..." Pretty harsh language, and they weren't even considering high oil prices or the environment.

vinaigrette - A small gold container with a sponge soaked in vinegar and lavender used to battle body odor in the 18th century. "Darling, your scent is like a glorious green salad on a summer day. I must have you!"


war, technology of- Nagasaki was not the original target for the atomic bomb dropped on August 9, 1945. The primary target was Kokura. Because of cloudy conditions, the primary target was difficult to find, so the B-29 proceeded to the secondary target, Nagasaki.

Consider the number of lives that were changed because it was a little overcast in Kokura, Japan on August 9, 1945. People use words like fate, destiny and luck. I don't understand any of it. Like the good people of Kokura that day, until I read this book, I never knew what didn't hit them.

Wood, Grant - The painter of the famous American Gothic portrait we've all seen hundreds of times. I always figured those were his parents or grandparents in that picture. Turns out, the woman is Wood's sister, Nan. And the farmer holding the pitchfork was...wait for it...his dentist! That makes sense. He looks very comfortable holding that sharp implement.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Know-It-All - T, U

Let me begin by saying I did not forget Mother's Day. It's just that I'm on a roll here with this Know-It-All stuff. The truth is, the vast majority of what I do know, I know because of my mother. She taught me to love reading and music and allowed me to participate in a myriad of diverse extra-curricular activities that served to educate me in ways the classroom experience simply could not. She taught me that a sense of humor coupled with a sense of timing will take you a long way in this life. For that I am truly thankful.

As for my wife, she wins the-greatest-mom-who-has-no-idea-she's-the-greatest-mom award. She amazes me with her energy and patience. Although far from the stereotype, in my mind, Stephanie is the definition of a homemaker. She makes our home a place where the girls and I like to be. Our daughters are truly blessed.


Taiping Rebellion - A Chinese upheaval in the mid-nineteenth century. This rebellion took place roughly the same time as our Civil War. An estimated 650,000 - 700,000 lives were lost in the Civil War. The Taiping Rebellion? 20,000,000 lives were lost. That's right million with an m. And here's the thing, I'd never even heard of the Taiping Rebellion. This makes me feel both ignorant and very small. It reminds me that there are billions of people on this earth who have no idea who I am, and yet I continue to think pretty highly of myself. Huh.

thinking - There are basically three types of intelligence: analytical (the ability to solve problems), creative (the ability to come up with new problems), and practical (the skill of incorporating solutions into real life). Although I see myself as a pretty creative person, I think I'm more practical than anything else. I'd like to have an equal balance of all three. Makes you think, doesn't it?

triumphal marches - The Roman triumph was only given to a general who killed at least 5,000 enemy troops. He rode in on a chariot wearing a special gold and purple tunic and carrying an ivory scepter. Here's the best part though: during the triumph, a slave held a crown above the generals head and repeatedly reminded him that he was a mortal man. I love that. That's the way it should be at all celebrity red carpet events, championship parades and professional athletic contract signings. Someone continually whispering in the celebrities ear, "You are not a god. You were blessed with good looks, good fortune and athleticism. That's it. You're one bad break from losing all of this, you putz! And by the way, nobody cares about your political views."


university - When universities began, teachers charged fees for each class. Therefore, it was in the teachers best interest to spice up their classes so as to appeal to the students. Interesting idea. Would it encourage better teaching or simply more entertaining teaching? Doesn't matter now anyway. In Texas, you simply teach to the TAKS test, but don't get me started on that.

urine - Dalmatian dogs and humans have very similar urine. They're the only two mammals to produce uric acid. Note to Dallas Maverick forward Josh Howard: step 1 - buy a Dalmatian, step 2 - collect urine samples, step 3 - smoke out during the off season and during the season. Glad to be of service Mr. Howard.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Know-It-All - S

At 2,089 pages, volume S of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is the longest volume in the set. I think it can stand on its own here.


Schmeling, Max - I knew Schmeling as Hitler's great Aryan boxer, the Great Nazi Hope, but it turns out he wasn't a soulless person after all. Hitler simply had a great PR department.

Boxing fans know Max as the guy who knocked out Joe Louis in 1936, but was defeated by Louis in their 1938 rematch. I'm not even a boxing fan and I knew that. What I didn't know was that Schmeling openly associated with Jews including his Jewish trainer and hid two Jewish boys in his apartment during Kristallnacht. This kind treatment of Jews earned Schmeling a wartime assignment with a dangerous parachute troop where he was injured in 1941. Instead of getting a cushy position like most celebrities, Maxie got to jump out of airplanes and into battle. After the war, he opened a Coca-Cola franchise in Germany and gave financial aid to the widow of his former nemesis, Joe Louis.

I'm not campaigning for sainthood here, the man did fight for the Nazi's. But it does go to show that people are much more complicated than the one part of them we sometimes know. A good reminder to stay out of the judging business. We rarely have enough information to make judgments, unless of course you've read the entire EB.

Shaw, George Bernard - The Irish playwright wrote Pygmalion on which the musical My Fair Lady was based. I had a bit part in Pygmalion my Freshman year of High School. So, there's that. He wrote a lot of other things too and won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938).

I like him most for his clever quote about marriage: "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition until death do them part." Good luck with all that.

sleep - The Tajal people of Luzon believe that the soul leaves the body during sleep and goes to a special dreamworld. Therefore, in that culture they dole out severe punishment to anyone who awakens a sleeping person. I would vote for that law!

I was a champion sleeper when I was a teenager, but my sister was even better at it than me. I remember when we sang the old song about going to heaven in church, When I Wake Up to Sleep No More, and she said she thought that sounded awful! She loved to sleep! She preferred the idea behind There is a Place of Quiet Rest.

snorkel - This probably caught my eye because my family is looking forward to a trip to Hawaii this summer, but it interested me for another reason. I'm intrigued by the origins of words, especially commonly used words that had a negative connotation in their inception. "Snorkel" came from the ventilating tube used on German submarines in WW II. I did not know that.

Another favorite is "sandwich" - named after the bribe taking, back stabbing, gambling addict, and earl of Sandwich who invented the snack so he could eat without leaving the gambling tables. Nice guy.

sports - The first basketball game was played with a soccer ball and peach baskets in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. The final score was 1-0 thanks to a mid-court basket by William R. Chase. I wonder what kind of contract and endorsement deals he received for not only scoring the winning basket, but all of his teams points. I'd like to see Kobe or LaBron do that!

Star-Spangled Banner, The - Francis Scott Key's poem was originally called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry." The melody was taken from a British drinking song. Ironic, since Key wrote it during a battle with the British.

Stravinsky, Igor - I know this name more for it's use by Chevy Chase in the original Fletch movie than for the composers' work. Outside of The Rite of Spring, I cannot name any Stravinsky hits. However, I learned that The Rite of Spring caused an opening night riot at the Theatre des Champs Elysees because of its "scandalous dissonances and rhythmic brutality." It's a little more difficult for artists to shock their audiences these days, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Know-It-All - Q, R


Quaker - Originally, members of the Society of Friends were called "Quakers" as an insult. People made fun of them for trembling at the word of God. The Friends keenly adopted the intended insult and now the term carries no negative connotation. Brilliant! They stole the slam and turned it around. I love it!


raspberry - Here's the deal, a fruit is technically anything with seeds, so a tomato is a fruit. And try this on for size: a strawberry is not really a berry. Neither is a blackberry or a raspberry. They are Aggregate fruits. So, what's a berry? I'll tell you what a berry is, a banana is a berry. That's right, so's an orange and a pumpkin. A berry requires a single ovary with lots of seeds. In summary, a tomato is a fruit, a raspberry is not a berry, but a banana is. So there.

Reed, Walter - You've probably heard this name a lot recently on the news because of the Army Medical Center that's named after him. What I learned was that Walter Reed solved the yellow fever mystery during the Spanish-American war. Reed proved that the disease was being spread by insects, not by infected bedsheets and uniforms as was suspected.

However, two names you've probably never heard are James Carroll and Jesse Lazear. These two brave scientists accompanied Reed to Cuba and volunteered to be bitten by infected mosquitoes for the cause. Carroll suffered, but survived; Lazear died. They helped prove Reeds' hypothesis to be true and in the process saved hundreds, even thousands of lives.

riot - It only takes three boisterous people to legally qualify as a riot. Let's be careful out there people. Break it up, nothing to see here.