Thursday, November 30, 2006

Miserable weather

It's 10:21 p.m. Thursday and we're in the midst of a terrible, widespread winter storm. It is 24 degrees with a wind chill of 8 and it is still snowing. Ice has covered everything. The weatherman just said we have gotten 7 inches of snow. We'll see low temperatures tonight in the single digits. I dunno -- hard for me to tell that it's that much. I'd say maybe 3 to 4 inches here at my house, with some drifts much deeper around the car.

The weather is making it impossible for me to get some of my work done for this week. I got the "must haves" taken care of, but there were a couple of others I needed/wanted to work on. The people I need for those, though, have done like me and stayed holed up at home. I can't blame them and there's nothing I can do about it. That's the problem with newspapering though -- rare is it that a newspaper person in any capacity gets to take off because of weather. I've spun out at 2 a.m. on the way home more than once. At my advanced age, (cough), I have become more obstinate (is that possible???) and refuse to take chances that I once did. My work is not that essential or critical, and praise the Lord I can do so much of what I do right here at home.

Anyway, like I said, I don't have to get out, but I know people who must, no matter what. E.R. is one of those, so pray for his safe travel. Also please pray for his mother who has been brought to OKC for heart surgery from the Fort Smith area. That's a long way from home, in the worst storm in a long time, for a serious problem. I sure wish the weather was better for that family since they've already got more than they can say grace over.

I'm well prepared to stay inside with the doors shut for several days if I have to. The fridge is stocked and the laundry is sorta caught up, so I don't have to go out to the garage to wash clothes. I'll stay inside, wearing my long johns and wrapping up in a quilt when I need to. Until the sun comes out I'll be protecting the public by staying off the street.

Y'all stay safe and warm now, y'hear?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Silly thoughts

You know what it's like when you see people in certain conditions, without knowing the whole context? Like when you see someone talking to themselves before you realize they're on a blue-tooth phone?

That's what I thought of when I took these photos at my friends' Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know these young guys, but they were part of the friends' family.

Now, just imagine telling guys this age to go outside and make up a dance like this. They would tell you you're crazy! But put a ball in the air, and it all makes sense, in a ballet kind of way.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Dainty, aren't they?? LOL!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Yes, yes, yes! It is Thanksgiving

It must be Thanksgiving! Here's how I know: Time spent with very best friends and their families; standing together, holding hands as we say prayers of gratitude; tons of food consumed and beverages drunk; fun time spent in the sunshine enjoying a glorious record warm day; hundreds of photographs taken for sharing memories; sounds of football games coming from the TV in the living room where some of the guys were gathered; children playing all over the place.

And one more thing. The thing that PROVES this is Thanksgiving in Oklahoma: I just saw the B.C. Clark Jewelers anniversary sale commercial during the 10 p.m. news.

I've posted about this in previous years; it still brings me a moment of comfort waiting for that first airing each year.

This happens to be the 50th anniversary of the jingle, and since we're now just a year away from the state's centennial, here's one version of the jingle for you. This is the bouncing ball jingle:
Bouncing Ball

For other versions, you can check out Other jingles.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Friends' kids enjoying the weekend

Playing follow-the-leader with the dog then throwing rocks in the pond to stir up the cattail pollen.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Happy 99!!

I cannot let this day go by without wishing my fellow native Oklahomans a hearty "HAPPY STATEHOOD DAY!" Today is the 99th anniversary of Oklahoma's Statehood Day.

Hang on folks, the next year sweeping toward 100 will be GRAND!

O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A Oklahoma! OK!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Simple Guide for Behavior

"Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get."

(Matthew 7 from "The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language" by Eugene H. Peterson.)

This was one of two passages read this morning at the dedication of a home that was moved and renovated by Mustard Seed Development Corporation: A Partnership With God. This little dedication, which lasted maybe half an hour, was one of the most powerful examples of human flesh becoming the arms and legs for God I've seen in quite a while.

The house is now located in a comeback neighborhood in north Oklahoma City, just a stone's throw west of my former office. It's been blighted with violence, drug infestation -- and mostly, poverty -- for the past 25 to 30 years. It's near the neighborhood where I bought my first house; I moved out right after my house was hit during a drive-by shooting aimed at my next door neighbor's teen daughters.

The house that was dedicated Saturday morning originally belonged to an Edmond doctor and his wife. They donated the home to Mustard Seed rather than bulldozing it when they decided to use the property for a new office building.

God's hand has been all over this project from before the beginning. First, a woman familiar with Mustard Seed's work on another project contacted Santa Claus -- the executive director of Mustard Seed (see yesterday's post). The next day he was contacted by this doctor and his wife about the donation of this house they had. The NEXT day, a landowner in this blighted neighborhood called him and said he had a vacant lot he was interested in donating.

Before the first week was up, the agency's finance gurus had raised the money to make it happen.

Things like this don't just happen, not even in efficient organizations, without God's hand being on top of it in a big way.

I had the chance to visit with the new homeowner today and she told me all the ways this was a blessing to her. It's material that I'll use in an article, but I'll tell you it was a powerful testimony.

Ah, but there is something even more powerful, which will never see newspaper ink. And I think this is the REAL story about this deal.

The doctor and his wife attended this morning's dedication. So did the people who donated the first house that was renovated by Mustard Seed. So did two city council members. And several neighbors. And others who were instrumental in fundraising and the behind-the-scenes work that helped pull this together.

And so did Sherman, who lives across the street.

Sherman is a black man in his 60s who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years or so.

"I'm Uncle to a bunch of kids around here, kids who have grown up now and have kids of their own who call me Uncle too," Sherman said. "Most of them I don't even know their names any more, but when they call me Uncle I look at them and wave and try to remember them for the next time."

Sherman keeps an eye on his block, better than Gladys Kravitz ever could. He knows who comes and goes on the street and knows who belongs here and who doesn't. During the day he walks the block, visiting with his neighbors. At night, he keeps watch through his curtained windows like Gladys.

"I used to work security at night, so it's hard for me to get to sleep and I just keep watch," he said.

He starts pointing out where everyone lives on the street.

"I used to live in this house next door and I owned this lot," nodding at the new house. "Then I lived down there, and then over there, and now with my mom across the street there. I want to get her a new roof, because without a good roof you don't have a good house."

The doctor's wife touched his arm, her mouth open slightly.

"You donated this land, didn't you?" she asked him quietly.

Sherman just touched his lips with one finger. "It's better not to tell your secrets when you do something good," he whispered.

"But this makes us partners, doesn't it?" she said. Both she and her husband shook Sherman's hand. I felt like a sacred observer, being the only person who saw this exchange between them.

Sherman turned back to me.

"I came to Oklahoma City in 1968. I had been a poor black cotton picker before I got here and made 75 cents an hour," he said. "When I got here I got a job and they said they could start me out at two dollars and fifty cents an hour. $2.50 for cleaning rooms! I was going to get rich!"

Later Sherman and his daughter, who was 4, moved to Alaska. "We moved back here when she was 7, still intact," he laughed.

"I married a woman I thought was the finest woman in the whole world and we lived here next door," he said. "She was so fine I felt like I needed to put her on top of the house to see her. But she done me wrong."

Sherman was down so low he was ready to die after that split. His heart was broken.

"I figured if I was going to die, I might as well die for something," he said. "So I joined the military and did my service."

He talked more about God's blessings in his life. He learned a trade and made a life he never dreamed possible during his young years as a poor, cotton-picking black man.

Today, though, Sherman got to see how he made a difference in someone else's life. He got to see the power of neighbors working together to change a neighborhood. And for the most part, he has gotten to keep his secret. I don't think it was an accident that I was privileged to hear his story or to see his secret partnership with the doctor and his wife.

Thank you Father God for Sherman and his goodness, and for the goodness of all the others who made today's blessing what it was.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What a fascinating day!

There are days, which follow weeks like this, when I start the morning with a prayer asking for the eyes and heart to see the wonder in my humdrum life. I have learned without fail that this prayer is always answered in abundance, in unexpected and delightful ways.

The first time I clearly remember saying such a prayer, I was on a four-wheeler zooming across a golden pasture an hour later. Completely unexpected, and totally one of the best days of my life. I still laugh as I remember how much I dreaded making a trip to a country development way south of the metro area. I flat did not want to go that particular day.

Not only did I have the thrill of driving a stranger's vehicle wide open across untouched prairie, but I learned so much from the man and how he conducted his business. He was the kind of guy who could dig a hole and make money selling the dirt. Literally! He had dredged out a lake on a piece of property he was developing in Colorado, and sold the dirt to landscaping companies in a five-state area!

He also had closed out some livestock operations and was looking for another way to make some money from the land. Well, he happened to discover that the hay made excellent bedding for apes, and coincidentally was an excellent food for giraffes. Zoos could not buy enough -- turns out his stuff cut down remarkably on the number of respiratory infections giraffes got.

Likewise, he had owned a horse trailer company, which he started to meet his own needs in transporting horses. After selling off the horses, he looked for another way to use the trailer company and before you know it, he was making specialized trailers for catering companies to use as party trailers at big rodeo events and other venues!

Seriously, I think the man could sneeze and make money.

It took a few days to pry the smile off my face, not just for all I saw, learned and did that day, but because it was such an obvious answer to the pitiful prayer I had whined that morning. Lord, help me see the good -- and boy did he!

And so it was with today.

First thing this morning, I returned to the home of a man I had interviewed a few weeks ago. One of the editors I sometimes work for had wanted me to make a photo assignment to go with the story, so we went back to Buck's home. Buck happens to be the uncle of my best friend's fiance, so I have sort of a familial feeling, like he's my adopted uncle twice removed or something. I think he's a great guy and he's got a fascinating story as a retired furniture maker.

Anyway, I enjoyed getting to visit with him again for a little bit and getting to play with his little dog, Penny. After the photographer left, we visited a few more minutes. I told him I was going out to his nephew's house to dog sit later in the day. We started talking about fishing in his pond and half-joked that we should get out there with a couple of poles this afternoon. I told him I'd be content to sit out there with a stick and not even mess with a hook.

Seeing Buck again put me in an even better mood and I caught myself smiling as I drove the few blocks to the next appointment. I was meeting with the leaders of a nonprofit housing group in the same area.

Sometimes, when I meet with people in this type of nonprofit work, I get the impression that there are some very big-hearted people with big visions and very small business plans. They often are underfunded and dream bigger than their purse will pay for.

When I drove up, the banker who is part of the leadership team was sitting in her little sports car, talking on her cell phone. I didn't rush to get out of my car -- I made a few notes, then decided to get out and look around, while she finished her call.

I heard another car down the block and it caught my attention. It was a ruby-red PT Cruiser, sparkling like a gem. Driving it was a chubby man with long, white hair and a long, full white beard. His deep blue eyes twinkled through his wire glasses.... are you getting the picture here?

Guess what his car tag said. Go on, guess!


He slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop right next to me, hopped out and called me by name. I shook his hand and realized my mouth was hanging open. I snapped it shut, smiled and said "Yes, I'm so-and-so. Glad to meet you!" He laughed and introduced himself by name.

We wound up talking for a very long time about the nonprofit's work, and a bunch of other stuff. He said something about being busy with his "other" job. Yes, indeed, he IS Santa Claus and has the pictures to prove it. He works during the season at a Christmas store called North Pole City. Honestly, it's one of my favorite places. Walking through it makes me feel like a young child again. Sometimes I make a couple of trips there during the season just to experience that joy that the holiday always brought.

Meeting Santa Claus was enough of a delight for the day, but wasn't really even the biggest blessing of our meeting. We had moved the meeting to the nonprofit's office space in a nearby church, and during that second part of our conversation I started realizing that I have done several stories on such housing ministries. Small clusters of houses are being renovated and rebuilt in formerly blighted neighborhoods all over this metropolitan area.

You know what? When I started with that thought, I realized exactly what I was witnessing. With each of these groups and their work, I am seeing God's fingerprints all over this city! YES! That's what they are!

Not any group can do everything, but every group can do something. And with each change that each group makes to improve housing for the poor and disenfranchised in our city, we're making life better for everyone here.

You've no doubt heard or read the statement: "If you want peace, work for justice." These ministries and non-profit projects do exactly that. They instill the pride of home ownership in parts of the city where ownership rates are miserably low. They treat people with dignity and respect. They bring neighbors together in areas where such contact has been unheard of.

Yes, I can see God's fingerprints on this neighborhood and this non-profit.

Security bars are coming off windows. Drug houses are being abolished and replaced with good, quality homes that are safe. People are able to sit on their porches again and visit with their neighbors.

And in this area, one of the neighbors is Santa Claus. He is so vested in his work and seeing this neighborhood improve, that he's actually bought a home there himself, so he can be present with those he's trying to assist. It's the best way to find out what their needs really are, he says. It also helps him see what the neighborhood resources are.

And who knows -- there may be some child out there who is writing a letter to Santa asking for a safe place to live. There's a good chance that's a request that would be granted.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's been a tough week or two

I've been doing a lot more extra work the past couple of weeks, so I haven't had any time for blogging or even much blog reading. I've missed it!

Yesterday I worked hard and steady from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. -- I finally did get to eat about supper time. Unfortunately once I did, I started moving in slow motion.

All tallied, I wrote about 2,700 words, did three interviews, shot two photo sessions and I don't know how many phone calls during the brief moments I was home in my office. I fell asleep in my clothes once I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes and woke up about 4 a.m. still dressed, with the TV and lights still on.

Today's been a slower-paced day. Still productive, but fortunately not like yesterday.

There are crews replacing the water lines on my street, so there are heavy machines outside my window tearing up the streets and yards across from me. I don't know if my yard will be torn up too. They put notes on our doors yesterday morning, which, of course, went unseen until things down the block were already torn up.

I'm glad the lines are being replaced because we've had some water tests showing violations of water standards. See, I live near an interstate so the water lines in my area end at the interstate. That allows the bad stuff to build up in our water mains. In areas where the mains continue flowing, any bad stuff keeps moving.

Anyway, there's minor inconvenience while the work is being done. My poor yard still has never been the same since the tree fell a few months ago, and this certainly won't be adding any curb appeal for a while. They do come back and resod the torn-up areas, but they tend to settle over time and leave valleys. I'm so glad I was gone over the weekend meeting up with friends, because I had seriously thought about planting mums in the damaged area of the yard. Thank goodness I didn't!

Well, just wanted to stop long enough to wave and say hi! Hope all is well with you out there.