America

First, I am proud to be an American. I live in a land where I am free to voice my opinion on the things that matter to me. I also have the freedom to vote for those who I want to represent me. My opinion may differ from your’s, but that is fine. I can respect you even if I don’t agree with you.

I feel as if respect for others is something we have lost. One thing that doesn’t help is that we all have been given a “bully pulpit” through social media. The term “bully pulpit” was coined by our 26th president Theodore Roosevelt. He used these words to describe the opportunity that he had as a public figure to speak out on the issues of his day. Roosevelt used the word “bully” to mean something that was magnificent or glorious. Sadly, “bully pulpit” has taken on a whole new meaning today.

One look at Facebook shows just how unkind we have become to each other. This is epecially true when arguments begin over political issues. We all have been given a “bully pulpit” from which we can spew hate, prejudice, and ignorance. We have moved so far away from the principles of our Founding Fathers. For instance, in his farewell address to the nation, George Washington warned about the division that political parties would bring.

Washington words have become quite prophetic: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” These words were written in 1796. However, they describe what is happening to America in 2020. We are coming apart at the seams.

I will admit my political leanings are more in the conservative direction. However, I would probably best be described as a libertarian. I believe our government has become an overreaching “big brother” that should leave us all to pursue life and liberty. This should be done in a way that is respectful of our nation’s constitution. Likewise, it should be done in a way that respects the rights of our fellow Americans. Finally, we should all act responsibly.

Our constitution gives us the right to speak our minds. However, it doesn’t give us the right to be cruel to others. We have lost our civility. We have used our “bully pulpit” to bash those who believe things that our contrary to what we believe. This needs to change. We can disagree with someone without hating them.

This weekend as Americans celebrate our independence, let’s take a step back and examine what this truly means. Let us use our freedom for good. Furthermore, let’s try to regain our civility as a people. We are one nation under God. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, who was running for the U.S. Senate at the time, gave an address in Springfield, Illinois.

In this speech Lincoln used the words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was addressing the issue of slavery, and the wedge that had been driven between those in favor and those who were opposed to this evil practice.

Today we are still divided, especially on issues related to race. However, that is just one of the many issues that separates us. I understand the passion with which people fight for the causes in which they believe. In fact, I admire the dedication individuals have in standing up for their principles. However, just because I believe one way doesn’t give you the right to demean me. Just as I have no right to demean you for your beliefs.

We should stop letting those in Washington D.C. divide us. It is quite apparent that many of our politicians are only out for their own interests. Our Founding Fathers never meant to create a system of “career politicians.” However, that is exactly what we have. Let us start using our “bully pulpits” for good. In the words of mothers everywhere, “if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it.” Today, let not only freedom ring, but let peace and civility ring as well.

On the Road Again

If you have followed this blog for a while you know that I ride a hand-powered trike. It is something that I enjoy quite a bit. However, I’ve not been out for a while, as I have had some back pain. The problems with my back have greatly limited my mobility over the past few months.

Fortunately, I am beginning to regain my strength. Today, I went for my first ride since last August, or so the app that I use to track my rides tells me. It is difficult to imagine that it was the end of August last year when I stopped riding. I struggled today to get back into a rhythm. However, muscle memory is a great thing. It was not long before I was gaining back some of my momentum.

It was a short ride today. I did just under 4 miles. Last summer my average ride was about 10-12 miles. It will be a while until I am back up to those distances. I think for now I’ll just focus on building up my endurance. These last few months have not been kind to my body. I’ve not focused on my health in quite some time. Working from home and leading a largely sedentary lifestyle is what led to my back problems, I believe.

I hope today was the start of turning things around and becoming more active. I know my mental health could use a boost. Plus, it is fun to watch all the people stop and just watch as I go by, like I am some being that has landed here from another planet. I am just a guy who pedals his bike with his hands. If you see me out, give me a honk. Although, I may not hear you, as I usually am wearing my headphones. After all, I do have to be on standby in case the Mothership calls me back to our landing site.

Me on my “alien craft”

A Day in the Life

I work in social services. As you might imagine that puts me in touch with dozens of people on a daily basis. Since the end of March I have been working from home. This means that all of my interactions with other people take place over the phone. If you’d have told me five years ago that my work would involve speaking to others on the phone all day, I would have called you crazy.

I’ve never really enjoyed talking on the phone. If I am going to have a conversation with someone, I’d much prefer it to be in person. I think this is because I like to be able to read body language. Plus, most of the time it is easier to communicate in person.

Many of the people I speak with on a daily basis don’t realize just how hard it can be to hear them. For instance, I hear all kinds of background noises, such as flushing toilets, barking dogs, screaming babies, and blaring televisions. I think I might have even heard someone trying to land a helicopter in their backyard once.

It is no surprise then that I often have to have the individuals with whom I speaking repeat much of what they say. This usually elicits an impatient response that is delivered at the speed of sound. For instance, just today I was interviewing someone and was unable to hear their response. They sarcastically spelled out the word using military lingo, such as “zero,” “tango,” “charlie,” and “alpha.” I was tempted to use some military jargon of my own and pretend to send in a team of commandos to apprehend “Mr Zero Tango Charlie Alpha.” However, I refrained and continued on as politely as I could.

Perhaps, one of the things that annoys me the most about speaking to others over the phone is how they just do not listen. I can answer a call, give the person my name and where my office is located. The first question out of their mouth is “where are you located?” I feel like telling them that I am in a call center located deep beneath the Pentagon. However, again I am polite and will repeat the information that I just gave them.

Working with the public can be a challenge. However, it also has its rewards. There are people who are very thankful for the services that I provide to them. I am happy to say that I have far more positive interactions with others, than I do the negative. It gives me hope that we have not completely lost our humanity.

Men of Integrity

I was fortunate to have grown up surrounded by men of integrity. My own father was a man who was honest and treated others with respect. He had faults, but I believe he acted with integrity in his dealings with other people. In addition, my father was someone who tried to make things right when he felt he had wronged another person. I believe the values that my dad had were passed down to him from his father, as my grandfather was also a man of integrity.

My grandfather, Oris Bradshaw, was born on August 23, 1908 in a small town called Whitehall, which is in Greene County, Illinois. The Bradshaws were some of the earliest settlers to this county, according to research I have done into my family genealogy. From historical accounts that I have read, the Bradshaws were known as virtuous people.

For instance, in a document that was published in 1879 by Donnelly, Gasette, and Lloyd my great-great grandfather, Perry Bradshaw, was described as “a member of the Christian Church, and is endeavoring to live a life that is in harmony with the principles he professes” (1879 History of Greene County Illinois). These traits were passed down to Perry’s son Shannon (my great-grandfather), who then passed them on to my grandfather Oris.

It is on this Father’s Day that I look to these men who lived lives of integrity. Amanda and I are raising a child through foster care. It is a privilege to be given the chance to shape this young life that has been entrusted to us. Although, my own father passed away while I was a boy, my grandfather was there to help guide me through my formative years. He is a man that I greatly admired and respected, as I believe he was the true definition of a husband and a father. Likewise, he was a great example of how a man should conduct himself. I hope I can instill the same values in Baby Boy that my grandfather did in me.

My grandfather was married twice. His first wife died when my Uncle Richard and my Aunt Shirley were both still children. He then met and married my grandmother, who gave birth to my father and to my Aunt Diane. Around the time of his first wife’s death, my grandfather was employed by Walgreen’s in Memphis, Tennessee. He had a very good position in the company. However, he gave this up, I believe, to move to Rock Falls, Illinois so that he could help his aging parents.

My grandfather then had a few different jobs once he moved to Rock Falls. For instance, he drove a delivery truck for the Coca-Cola Company, and he also worked at one of the local high schools as a custodian. He gave up a promising career with a major corporation, humbled himself, and did what was right for his family. He was one of the greatest men I have ever known.

I think my grandfather’s work ethic was passed on to my father, as he was a wonderful provider for my family and I. He was never afraid to work overtime to help the family make ends meet. In addition, my dad was a very skilled welder. He took on side jobs for people in his home workshop, often times charging people far below what the work was worth.

I know I have many shortcomings as a man. However, I was provided with great male role models as I was growing and maturing. I still have some today as well. Both of my brothers are great fathers. Likewise, my father-in-law is a man who shows his love for his family in so many ways.

In conclusion, I just want to say that those who have come before me have left a lasting legacy. I feel very blessed. Happy Father’s Day to all you who are fathers. Take care of your families. Leave a legacy for them of which they can be proud.

My grandpa and me.

The Polite Elephant

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been a fan of Richard Scarry since I was young boy. For those of you unfamilar with his work, he was a prolific author and illustrator of children’s books. The characters in his books were often anthropomorphized animals, who Scarry used to teach his readers various things, such as manners. One such book is called “Polite Elephant.” This is a book that we often read to Baby Boy.

It is a pleasant story about a young, male elephant who has impeccable manners. For instance, he always remembers to say “please” and “thank you.” Furthermore, when waiting “for the bus, he takes his place in line.” Likewise, he seems to be the perfect guest when visiting a friend’s home. Who wouldn’t want a friend like the “Polite Elephant?” There are just a few questions that I have.

First, we know he has a car, but he sometimes takes the bus. However, I am not sure how an elephant would drive a car since they don’t have hands. Perhaps this is the reason his car appears to have no steering wheel, at least on one page. If this is so, he maybe should just stick to riding the bus permanently.

Second, one of his friends is Mrs. Smith, a small mouse who lives in a house built out of a tree stump. The “Polite Elephant” goes to Mrs. Smith’s house, where we see him inside. I don’t know many elephants who would fit inside of a house so small.

Third, before sitting down to dinner with his mother, he washes his “hands” and face at the bathroom sink. Again, with no hands and fingers, how is he turning the knobs? I know, this is a children’s book and we are supposed to suspend our disbelief somewhat. However, it is difficult throughout this book.

Fourth, as noted above, the “Polite Elephant” has his own car. However, the relationship that he has with his mother still seems pretty childlike. For instance, he still calls her “mommy.” He also is still playing with children’s toys. Likewise, he introduces his friends to his mother, as if they have all come over to play after school. I don’t know many grade-school aged children who drive cars, do you?

Despite my questions this a good book that teaches children manners. The illustrations are enjoyable, but there are just those nagging questions that I have. Where is the steering wheel? How does the “Polite Elephant” drive with no hands? However, my biggest question is, why hasn’t he moved out yet and gotten a job?

He needs to put down the toys, grab the want ads, hop on the bus and make his way to some job interviews. With his people skills and the polite way in which he interacts with others, he’d make a great customer service representative.

Strange Days

If you are anything like me you might be asking yourself, “where have the last three months of my life gone?” Did we enter a time warp? It seems like just yesterday it was March, and today it is June. I think one thing that has seemed to speed up time is that we have lost a lot of the things that generally mark the months of the year for us. For instance, the whole world seemed to come to a halt on March 13, 2020, which was my birthday. Likewise, the professional baseball season has yet to get underway.

This is the time of year where teams either begin to go on a hot streak, or they begin to cool down after a lightning fast start in April and May. I miss turning on the radio and hearing the sounds of a Cubs game coming through the speakers. Baseball is a way to make sense of the world for me. Without it, every day just seems like a repeat of the previous one. I think it is that way with many things in life. We have our rituals and routines that help us structure our lives.

I must admit, it has been difficult to find new ways to bring a sense of order to life. I rarely have been behind the wheel of a car since I started to work from home in late March. In fact, I have not purchased a tank of gas for my car since February. The low fuel light is bound to come on one of these days, but who knows when. It has become sort of a game to me now. Likewise, I’ve not really worn a real pair of pants for at least two months. That might not be so much of a fun game when I do have to put on a pair of dress pants again.

I did visit my office this past Wednesday, but I felt very disconnected to the place while I was there. At this point, I think I’d rather just keep working from home. Why drive to work when you can be just as productive at home, if not more so? Plus, it cuts my commute time down from 9 minutes to around 2 minutes.

Not having attended church since March feels odd as well. Amanda and I do stream our weekly service through Facebook, but it just isn’t the same as meeting together in person. However, it is nice to stay in my pajamas and watch from the couch. Nonetheless, I do feel that I need the structure of actually physically going to church. Again, let’s just hope the pants fit once it is time to head back in person!

The Tarantella

Recently someone asked us how our lives have changed since becoming foster parents. I don’t think Amanda or I have experienced any huge changes, other than we get fewer hours of sleep now. We are also not able to just take off on the weekends and go somewhere. Likewise, there is a lot more “stuff” in our house, such as a baby swing and toys. Finally, getting ready for work takes more time in the morning.

Starting out with a newborn was something we thought would never happen. However, Baby Boy has been very easy to raise so far. He is a gentle soul that seems to be happy most of the time. His smile is infectious.

Of course, for the first couple of months there were round-the-clock feedings, but that soon faded. He now is sleeping through the night, except for a few times here and there. I think Amanda and I picked up on his “non-verbal” cues pretty quickly. For instance, a demanding, unrelenting scream usually means he needs to poop. Watching this process is actually quite humorus, as there is a lot of grunting and contorting of the face.

When he wants to be fed, we usually hear a cry that is a bit less unrelenting than the “poop cry.” However, it is certainly enough to get our attention. Baby Boy is also very stubborn when it comes to burping. You would think we were asking him to go run a mile. He tends to stiffen up as flat as a board and starts to cry. This is when we talk to him gently to try and calm him down.

One thing that baby boy seems to enjoy is music. Just today we started to play music to help him burp. I think the song we chose is one we will stick with for a while. I am not sure why it popped into my head, but it is a song that is often played at Italian weddings. It is called the “Wedding Tarantella.” It is a pretty lively song, which probably confuses Baby Boy more than anything. However, he did not cry as he was burping today. The only problem we have now is that we feel like dancing while he burps.

Someday when he grows up I envision Baby Boy going to a wedding of an Italian couple. The “Wedding Tarantella” will play at the reception and he will be able to do nothing but burp. I hope I am there as well so that I can see what happens.

Nowhere Man

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you probably have noticed that I am a Beatles fan. I’ve enjoyed their music for quite some time. My favorite Beatle was John Lennon. I have always appreciated his wit, and I can relate to his cynicism. These two things combined made his songwriting something that speak me on a very personal level.

I often have a very cynical view of the world. I believe that things will turn out all right in the end. However, sometimes I just need to convince myself of that fact. In order to deal with a world that can seem like a rather dark place at times, I try to use wit and humor to lighten the mood. Sometimes all that you can do when life throws your a curveball is laugh. I feel as if I have had my fair share of curveballs.

One thing that I have had trouble dealing with recently is a sense of isolation. This is something that most, if not all, can relate to as we look forward to the world once again hanging out its “Welcome-Come On In!” sign. I just want to go to a public place without wearing a mask. However, I must say the Chicago Cubs mask that Amanda made for me is pretty cool, but I digress.

With warmer temperatures and sunshine here now, it is even more difficult to “social distance.” I want to be in the bleachers at Wrigley Field with a hot dog in one hand, and a cold drink in another. I want to hear the sound of the pipe organ between innings. Most of all, I just want to be able to travel again to the places that I love.

This week I have been perusing my “Facebook Memories” quite a bit. I’ve been able to look back on trips I have taken together with family and friends. Nearly a year ago Amanda and I were in Washington D.C. enjoying Memorial Day weekend. Eight years ago we were in New York City visiting the Statue of Liberty. Finally, my brother Shannon and I were in Alaska twenty years ago this month. May apparently has been a great month to travel. I long to have more adventures and to make more memories.

Until then I will remain a “Nowhere Man.” The opening lines to this John Lennon penned Beatles tune sum things up for me perfectly for now:

He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Changing Diapers in the Dark

A powerful storm moved through our area tonight. The storm was accompanied by heavy winds, which took down trees and knocked out power to hundreds of homes. It seemed like the storm was here and then it was gone. Unfortunately, our home was one that lost power. Being someone that loves to be “plugged in” at all times, I don’t enjoy power outages. Now that we have a baby in the house it is even more of a challenge.

Fortunately, Baby Boy had his last bottle for the night just before sunset. However, he also decided it would be a good time to go poop. I’ve never changed a diaper by flashlight, that is until tonight. Let’s just hope Baby Boy sleeps through the night. I’m not sure I really want to change another diaper when I can barely see what I am doing. You never know what kinds of things may hit your face. Perhaps, I should grab a welding mask before I bed down for the night.

At last check, it looks as if our power could be restored by 4 a.m. Then again, when I first checked, the estimated time of restoration was 7:45 p.m. It is now just past 9:30 p.m., so it is really anyone’s guess. Luckily, we keep our thermostat set to just above freezing in our house once summer temperatures start to set in for the season. So, by the time this nightmare comes to an end it might not be all that hot in the house. I guess time will tell. The penguins might have to migrate to the basement tonight, as I am sure it will be too warm for them upstairs.

I see now that the houses across the street are once again illuminated. Let’s hope this side of the street is soon to follow. However, we have our flashlights at the ready. Now, I just need to find that welding mask!

Surrealistic Westerns

If you are anything like me, you are tired of turning on the news and hearing about how chaotic the world is becoming. My last few posts have been on the more serious side. Therefore, I thought I’d lighten the mood today and share a short story I wrote several years ago. All of the names have been omitted to protect the innocent. What follows is a slightly modified version of the original story. All of the details are true.

The last few days have been pretty surreal. I came home sick with the flu on Thursday. My stomach was so upset. It felt as if someone had been twisting my intestines into knots. I slept for about 17 hours off and on between Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning.

Most of the day Friday was spent in front of the television, although I did venture out to the store once. Who knew going to the store took so much strength? Once I got back home I felt like I had just made my way up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I definitely was in need of more rest.

I then woke up Saturday morning and did what most people would do after nearly dying from the flu. I went to a funeral. The grandmother of one of my closest friends had passed away. His grandmother’s dog was in attendance, which I found rather touching. My friend’s uncle did not dissapoint either, as he was dressed in blue jeans that he was having trouble keeping up above his waist. This particular uncle is known for wearing blue jeans to most functions. In fact, he often sports a pair of blue jean cutoffs while out and about.

After the service at the funeral home was over, I attended the graveside service, which unbeknownst to me, was in a town about 15 miles from home. So, I joined the funeral procession as it snaked its way across two towns. On the way some tumbleweed came blowing across the street, which is a rare sight in this area. It made me feel as if I was in a Spaghetti Western. The only thing missing was Clint Eastwood chomping on a cigar. Eventually, we made it to the gravesite, where we stayed for no more than five minutes. It was a magical, mystery funeral, that is the only way to describe this event.

After the funeral was over I broke out in a cold sweat because the flu still had its hellacious grip on my body. So I did what all people in my condition would have done, I went and had the oil changed in my car.

I then came home and had a long talk with the guy who had been fixing my computer, as it had become infected with a virus. He was there to deliver it to me. With my computer and I on the mend, I was feeling deliriously happy. On second thought, I might have just been plain delirious. After the computer repairman left I went outside to clean up the yard.

As I was outside picking up twigs, I looked up only to see an umbrella blowing down the road. I once again felt like I was trapped inside a Western film. One based on a painting by the Belgian Surrealist artist Magritte. I would have much preffered more tumbleweed. At least that would have been more in keeping with the theme of the rest of this influenza fueled weekend.