Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bob the Builder Award: The folks of Harrisonville play Hell's Angels for a day

I have heard of Harrisonville because I have had kids come to my leadership academy from there.  It is a small town here in Missouri. 

I can't tell you about it's greatest landmark. 

I can't tell you it's main economic contributor. 

And I can't tell you even what direction it is from my house.

But what I can tell you is that those folks are cool.

Last week, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, while I was hustling and bustling in search of the all-powerful cranberry sauce, the folks in Harrisonville were standing in line.  A long line.  A very long line. 

A line of between 2,000 and 3,000 people.  Men, women and children.  And frankly it wasn't just Harrison folks...some people drove from 3 or 4 counties away to stand.  Kids got out of school to stand.

If you are from or know life in a small town, it makes you proud.  It is what we do.

You have probably heard, no matter where you live in the United States about the minister, aka Wing Nut as Lori would say, Fred Phelps and his family church from Kansas, who are famous for (besides just being plain stupid) protesting military funerals. 

Speak his name here, and you will get an instant reaction.

We live down the street a bit from a funeral home.  You can always tell when a military funeral is about to be held.  It isnt' just the flags that are flying in reverance that gives it away.

It is the Hell's Angels in line as well. 

The Hell's Angels, known as the Patriot Guard Riders, attend as many military funerals around here as possible, just in case Fred and family decide to show.  If you don't know about Fred's antics, you can look him up on your own time.  I wouldn't want to share his antics here.

These 3,000 folks came out to line the street of the funeral procession so that the Fred family would not have a space within 1/3 mile of the church so the family, laying their son to rest, wouldn't have to hear the protesting during the funeral.  As a matter of fact, Fred's family did show and was basically overwhelmed and gave up.  They were gone before the family arrived. 

Hooray for solidarity!

Army Captain Jacob R. Carver, age 20, was a member of the Freeman Airborne Divisionand was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

Rest in peace, Captain Carver.  Three thousand folks have your back, soldier.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do you see what I see?

Wanna take a tour of the views from some of my days?

Sunday afternoon in Andersonville...for real

All taken at the same day and time

The view from my windows:
The computer space

The back yard

Pulling into the driveway

From the kitchen counter

Out and about:
After some yummy chinese, you are
welcome to some candy/mints, or of course
the all natural cheese balls you
scoop out into your hand....?
at the public library

Look at the size of this thing...
there is only ONE man I know that could
handle all this power...my brother

My nemesis:  The dropped fall leaves

This is what my yard should look like:

This is reality:

Last, but not least:
Views of the folks in the house
What The Girl wears when she
plays her dancing video game...sorry Girl
you are now ratted out.

My dad and The Girl's hands

Me, the most popular person in the house...
everyone wants food from me.  :)

Side note:  I don't really own four cats.
Two are here until we find a nice home for them.
Anyone wants some cats?  :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blood boiling at the Big Lots and why I am boycotting the University of Pennsylvania

Speaking of Asia (last post):

Does your blood ever bo-il when you are at the Big Lots discount store?  Yeah, mine neither.  Not usually.

It sure did when I saw this however:

It's not what you think.  This isn't about the Big Lots.  Or some $4 crappy reproduction piece of interior decorating. 

It is about what this image represents.

This is a Chinese Stone Steed. And we have a history, the Stone Steeds and I.  Their names are Autumn Dew and Strong Wing-Foot.  (Quanmaogua and Saluzi)

How do I know something so strange and random?  Because I have seen them in person.  Well, actually four of the six of the collection.  Four whose names I don't know in English (and can't pronounce in Chinese for that matter).

Let me explain.

Before Beijing (formally known as Peking) was the capital of China, it's ancient capital was a place called Xian.  It is wonderful there and a blog for another time.

In Xian, you will find some amazing stuff.  One place is a museum of some of the most valuable Chinese treasures in their whole world. 

These are some of them:  The Stone Steeds.
Six Steeds of Zhao Mausoleum (Chinese: 昭陵六骏--for those of you who are brushing up on your Chinese) are six Tang (618-907) Chinese stone reliefs of horses which were located in the Zhao Mausoleum, Shaanxi, China.

Zhao Mausoleum is the mausoleum of Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626-649). The steeds were six precious war horses of Taizong.
Their names are: Quanmaogua (拳毛騧), Shifachi (什伐赤), Baitiwu (白蹄乌), Telebiao (特勒骠), Qingzhui (青骓) and Saluzi (飒露紫).The sculptures are regarded as ancient Chinese art treasures. They were broken by smugglers in 1914 and two of them were shipped out. The stonework is exhibited in the Stele Forest museum of Xi'an and museum of the University of Pennsylvania, USA  separately.  Wikipedia
When I was in China in 2001, we visited the Stele Forest Museum.  I didn't know about the Steeds or their story.  They are in a wonderful display, all six images.  But there was something I read about the last two horses that looked strange.  They looked plastic...not like stone of the others.

So I asked my trusty Chinese tour guide, Josie, what their story was.

She got a little sad look in her eye and said "They are plastic.  The Americans have the last two.  The University of Pennsylvania (to be exact)." 


As the story goes, in 1914 some bad guys (the Americans say it was the Canadians, the Chinese say it was the Americans--I like that--blame the Canadians since they are too nice to stick up for themselves) broke the  two store reliefs (fancy art term for big engraving) into pieces and smuggled them out of China. 

And those good folks at the University of Pennsylvania were kind enough to purchase them.  To keep them from being destroyed.  From being on the Black Market.  Good on ya--U of P.  But what the good museum folks won't tell ya is that they kept them.   For themselves. 

Don't believe me?  See it here...linked from this morning.
A stone steed in PA--home of the Amish--
so you can see it is imperative that we Americans hold on to them
because of their historical value to the
Pennsylvania area...

See how they forgot how to mention that the Chinese didn't give them to us on some nicety sister-city cultural exchange? 
You know, I wish the U of P read my blog. I have something to say to them.

Not that they haven't heard from me before.  They have.  Saying the same thing. 

But since I am printing my blog in a book, and someday my descendants will read those bloggy books, I figure I should record this.  Actually, shopping at the Big Lots last week for fluffy socks reminded me of this stoney story that vexes me, 10 years later.

Josie, the 65 pound tour guide, stood in a parking lot of Xian, moved to tears about the fact that the Stone Steeds (did you notice they are about 1,400 years old now) were not in China.  People come from around the country to see the remaining original four, and the two plastic ones.  Those horses are comparable to our Liberty Bell or even our Constitution in their fame.  Can you imagine what the Americans would be saying if this was our junk in China?

Imagine if thieves (those damn Canadians--who can trust them?) broke into our museum, 1,100 years from now and took the Liberty Bell and the Constitution?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  (I am guessing it would involve some secret ops program involving some Stealth Bombers, men in black face paint...)

I am guessing, judging by the reaction on my face of the entire 16 Americans standing there (in case you don't know, you can tell how I feel about most things by my face most of the time), Josie turned to me and said "Will you ask your government to give them back?" 

It made me cry.  "But of course" I say.  And that was before I knew I was Chinese...:)

You know how else it made me feel?  Embarrassed.  Embarrassed that some of our country men are so greedy. Damn greedy.

So, the short rest of the story is when I got home, I got to work.

I researched.  Everything she said was true.

And I found that the new trend is for countries to give back priceless treasures to other countries they belong to.  I had documented proof.   A little thing called "good will." 

So I decided it was the perfect teaching opportunity.

Back in those days, I was the advisor to an elementary school student council.  It was made up of two reps from each class, from each grade.  I had about 36 kids, ages 5-12.

It was a few months after 9-11.  I was teaching them that not everyone will agree with things you do, or like, or are.  And there were two ways to handle it.

You could blow them up  Like terrorists do.

Or you can write a letter. 

I taught those kids about the power of the pen (although this exercise didn't bring a single piece of change regarding the Stone Steeds).  I explained how to write a letter of protest.  A petition.

I gave the kids the information.  I told them Autumn's and Stong's horsey story.  And we wrote a letter.

It was a good one.  Full of facts, conviction and passion.  The kids had a choice whether to sign it or not.

Every single one of them did. 

The kids got it.  When you have something that isn't yours, you give it back.  Especially when it means the world to that country, and 300 million folks (minus probably the 10 people reading this) in this country have never even heard of the Chinese priceless treasures.

We sent it with our documented facts.  We sent it certified mail.  We waited for the U of P reply.

And we waited.  We waited for a letter of explanation that never came.

And the kids remembered.  They still do....10 years later.

"Kiddos," I would say, "their no answer is their answer.  They don't have an answer for why they are not doing what is morally right." 

To add insult to injury:  the steeds are starting to fall apart, here in the good old USA.  Imagine, we don't have the materials to repair them.  Duh.  Read this:
Experts from China and U.S. cure for stone horses 
May 26, 2010 The names for two war horses "Feng-lu-zi" and "Quan-mao-gua" and their master is well-known throughout the country.

He was Tang Dynasty's Emperor Taizong... a man who contributed greatly toward building prosperity in ancient China. Unfortunately, the two historic stone sculptures of these horses are sick in the US. Now, a delegation of the best Chinese experts are offering their help to restore the relics in Pennsylvania.

Curing the ancient stone horses isn't any easier than saving a real one. Finding the best treatment started a year ago when experts from the US and China began cooperating. After about ten lab experiments, the restoration has finally entered its most crucial moment. Now, to keep the horses as original as possible, a special stone powder has been brought over from China.

Zhou Ping, Relic Restoration Expert, said, "We've brought the stone powder from Fuping in northwestern Shaanxi province that the stones horses were made of. The stone powder is combined with these tiny glass balls and a special glue to make up the broken parts."

To the University of Pennsylvania:
I have been boycotting you for ten years.  I love Chinese art and I will never go and see your collection.  Especially the Autumn and Strong.  Not while they are housed here in America.  And how rude to not at least acknowledge and respond to elementary school children who asked the valid question.  Where is their answer?

To Josie, the 65 pound Chinese tour guide:
I still remember.  I have done what you have asked me to do.  I am waiting for your steeds to be returned to their rightful home as well.  Me, 36 elementary school aged children from 10 years ago, and my family (so I will stop brewing about it).

And to the Chinese:I apologize.  You know you can never trust those Canadians.  I mean really...they eat gravy with french fries?  No ketchup?  How un-American can you get?  :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wanna take a field trip? Val stumbles across a Buddist Shrine

 I looked at the (truck) window and what did I see?  A buddist shrine along the street.

I have always had a soft spot for the Asian cutlure...especially the Buddist.  I was never sure why until the other day and then it hit me. 

The colors. 

These flags were calling...Come see us Val.
It is off Vivion Road. 
 A true visual treat for a thirsty eyes.

 An offering/sacrafice:  Buddist style.

Guardian of the shrine

A little Val pick-me-up for a long fall.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Blogger: Tom-- on what it feels like to be dying

My thoughts on what it is like to go through the dying process. 

I realize through going to cancer class and being around other people who are dying that it is really a mental will of the mind.

Dying is very emotionally difficult.  If you are not strong willed. you will die right away.  I believe it is desire and good attitude that keeps us going.   When someone is in the dying precess, they slowly  lose all that they ever were.

They lose their career.

All the normal things that people go through every day.  Those things are taken away from you.

You don't sleep well.  Your sleep patterns change.

Your hobbies...you can't do them anymore if you are physically unable.  I was athletic.  I was physically conditioned.  I have lost 40 pounds of muscle. 

I lost my camero.   

Your friendships change.  A lot of them don't know what to say, so they say nothing.

Maybe not everyone has this happen to them, but I have lost everything that was me.  The only thing I remember that is the same is my desire to serve, but I am too sick to be able to do that too.  I can still make sandwiches for the homeless but that's about it.  I can't do anything else.

I used to be spontaneous.  But I am not.  You have to have energy to be spontaneous.

I don't know who I was anymore.

You forget what it is like to be normal.

You have to figure out a new normal for you.  It is really hard.  Absolutely.  It is like having a box full of toys and you can't play with them.  You have to figure out something else.

What I see as a mental battle of the wills.  It is very easy to just give up.  And if you give up emotionally, then your body will give up physically and you will pass much quicker.

I personally have noticed the emotional struggle that I see.  Some days when you are so physically fatigued or hurt, you welcome death.  Or I guess I should say I welcome death.

So what makes me keep going --it's gotta be the attitude.  I have always had a never give up attitude. 

My children are my foremost reason for carrying on.  But as they get older, it is becoming easier to see that they don't need me as much. 

I think it is vitally important to have good friends.  Without their emotional support, I believe you are that much more likely to give up quicker. 

Even though I believe that  a slow and painful dying process is much harder than a quick death, I still would have chosen the slow and hard death.  I can enjoy some of the great things that life has to offer.  When you are slowly dying, you know it.  So you are given a chance, kind of like a second chance, to make the rest of your life anything you want.  I have chosen to do just that.

Even with limited physical and mental abilities, just being able to enjoy the warmth of the sun in the morning or seeing the spring flowers come up or watching one of your children in a band concert or school play, makes it all worthwhile.

Most people look at life and forget about all the beauties that are all around us.  Everyday I wake up and I am just happy to be alive and feel warm in a bed under shelter that is my own.

I have said it before.  It is like your senses are heightened.  So while you physically feel more pain, you also get to feel more joy.  The goal is to try and have more joy than pain. 

I think if most people lived my life for one day, they would want to die too.  But if they could feel the way I felt, they would trade it all to have that same feeling.
Thanks Bestie Tom

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bob the Builder Award: The Mormon "Church Ladies"

Today's Bob the Builder goes to a small group of women (and some funding from the Rotary and some other folks from the community like Mom and Betty) who have given a whole lot in the last 16 months.  They are the ladies from my church group we call the Relief Society.  Our goal is to build families and serve those who are in need.

About 18 months ago I was asked to lead the ladies in doing charitable donations of time or goods here, to serve the local population of Kansas City.  With my Rotary connections, my natural curiosity and my big mouth-not afraid to ask folks or groups what they need, it has been working out nicely. 

We call our projects "Church Ladies" projects.

We have formed an unofficial business partnership with my Rotary club (that I never go to because of illness--thanks Rotary for your support even though I am not there) and whoever else would like to participate.

Everyone wins. 

Here are some shots of some of the different things we have been doing:
We wrote a year end report like all good organizations.  Here it is:

August 2009
Foster Care System
Donated school supplies

September 2009
At-Risk Family Center
Donated winter coats

November 2009
Ronald McDonald House
Donated homemade/store bought greeting cards
December 2009
Northland Christmas Store for the poor
Supplied tour guides for patrons

December 2009
At-Risk Adult Needs Center
Supplied families Christmas gifts

January 2010
Homeless Shelter
Donated homemade cookies and new pairs of socks
#576 cookies
#50 pairs of socks

March 2010
Central American Medical Mission
Used formals for at-risk teens
#81 supplies
#17 dresses (I think)

May 2010
Northland Cathedral Church Job Fair
Donated homemade cookies

August 2010
Clay County Children Services
Donated books for their family rooms

August 2010
Baptist Church
Donated food and help for a funeral
#10 desserts
#10 salads
#72 rolls
5 servers

September 2010
Military Families over seas
Collected and readied coupons for food/non-food
Donation total: 34,682 items or services
The LDS folks believe that when you are in the service of your fellow men, you are also in the service of God.  :)  (looks like a

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My favorite holiday tradition

Greetings from Krank-ville!  The number one question for Val this holiday season is "Are you putting the tree up this year?"  Remember last year I made a tree out of paper, that stuck on the wall. 

Good question.  I don't know yet.

Mr. Fun had wrist surgery this week.  His dominate hand will be out of it for the next ten weeks.  Translation:  tree putter upper and light stringer.  The boy is sick sick and doesn't really go to school anymore.  And Tom is sicker.

So the great question of the Christmas tree of 2010 is far from my mind.

But, one holiday tradition is not.

After spending the morning this morning, hidden in my warm bed, reading about the dying process --"terminal illness is a marathon"--bawling my eyes out, I came down to my email to strange news.

A really great family lost their job this week.

I could get some bargain prices at the Big Lots tomorrow.

And ElfYoursef is ready.

My favorite!!


Friday, November 5, 2010

I think I saw Jesus at the homeless shelter last week

Let me start by saying that I am not a born-again religious zealot.

This is especially for those who have known me for most of my life...those folks I grew up with in Slowtown.

But I do like Jesus.  A lot.

Before you click away from this blog post because maybe you don't like Jesus, or care about Jesus or think the way I love Jesus is too different and "wrong" then the way you love Jesus, give me a minute.

Believe.  Or don't believe.  I love you either way.

The thoughts I want to write about today go beyond just liking Jesus.  Being Christian.  Or being religious at all.

Remember this song from the 1980's?  Bruce Hornsby and Range:  The Way It Is
and these lyrics:
Standing in line marking time, waiting for the welfare dime

'Cause they can't buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by as he catches the poor ladies' eyes
Just for fun he says "get a job"

I saw some folks last week in "that" line.  Folks that don't have jobs.  Or cars.  Or clean underwear.
"They don't even have a pot to pee in" as my mother would say.  Literally.
Folks like this man I saw sleeping on the ground in Montreal. 

This very moment, a week ago, I was "in line" with those folks at the Kansas City Rescue Mission.  Yep, a men's homeless shelter.  I had been invited to a "graduation" of sorts.

The graduation was two homeless men who had just completed their 6 month addiction recovery program offered by the shelter.  One was a tiny white man named Eric.  The other was a huge black man named Kip.  They were "brothers" as Kip said.  Brothers in their addictions and brothers in their sobriety.  "I won't believe you will be an addict again" said Kip to Eric. 

Isn't that cool?  Someone who believes in you that much.  That is how much homeless Kip believes in homeless Eric.  He believes SO much that he WON'T believe it. 

I like friends like that.  A friend, like Saudi Arabia, that tells you that you have bombs on your American soil. 

A friend who has your back. 

A friend that won't believe it.  I have some of those friends.  You know who you are.

No doubt that all 40 of those men, sitting there in that small chapel, have been to the end of their rope.  They have gone to hell--real hell--some of which have come back and some have not made it back quite yet.  As one newby said, "I am here now because I am finally open-minded enough to watch you."  He is in his personal hell now, only looking from across the shore to those who have traversed their way to higher ground.

(this is not Eric)
Eric didn't say much.  He was a tiny man, with nicely pressed slacks and shaky notecards in his shaky hand when he got up to say some remarks.  One amazing fact about him:  even when he was homeless and living on the streets for that 1 1/2 years, he still volunteered his time to the Humane Society.  Can you believe that?
The residents there said that Eric was a "friend of God's." 

I go to church every Sunday and I don't know if I can say that about myself.

Kip was the opposite personality.  He was smiling, and spoke like a fully ordained minister.  He made me want to believe in whatever he was selling. 

I don't know these people.  Didn't matter.  I don't need to. 

Which brings me to what I think Jesus might think about these guys.

The bottom line is that I think Jesus loves them. 
I think Kip said it best.  "God is using us even in the midst of being broken."

The current president of the LDS Church, Thomas Monson, said some things recently that I have given a lot of thought about in regards to these men. 

 "Charity...impels us to be sympathetic, compassionate and merciful...
[even] in times of weakness or error on the part of others. 
It is accepting people as they truly are.  It is looking beyond
physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. 
 It is resisting the impulse to categorize others."

How did I find myself in a better place?

I guess to me, the bottom line isn't just what I think Jesus thinks or what I think He wants me to do.  The bottom line is that I am a fellow sojourner in this life.  The bottom line is that in the end, it is none of my business that Kip was snorting coke in a hotel room six months ago.  That piece shouldn't and doesn't matter to me.

The bottom line is that I not called to save or fix these people.  As I have heard, "They have a Saviour and it's not me."

The bottom line to me is I believe that I am called to love them. 
That's it.  Just plain old love.

I heard this song once and it instantly become one of my all time favorites.  I think you will like it.
It is called Face of Christ--by Chris Rice.