IMG_4304The movie theater is a Houston refuge.  When the summer months descend on our city, the temperatures soar.  We have learned to take refuge in places where the air conditioning is always guaranteed.

Sometimes we go to the Mall for a walk.  Hordes of people have the same idea.  There is always plenty of parking.

Other times we do our grocery shopping.   For some reason we linger in the refrigeration area.  Even when we do not have to buy any frozen goods we open a door and pretend to be doing some shopping.

When the legs tire we hold out for the movie theater.  Our Senior status makes it an affordable option.  The air conditioning is always on.

Often the Texas way is to walk into a theater with short sleeves and shorts.  But, it is wise to carry a light jacket or sweater.  Yes, it is so cold that Texans go in to put something on.

This time the lights dimmed and the movie The Hundred Foot Journey was showing.  The plot is the adventure of an Indian family who trying to find a new home after they were burned out from bad people in their home country.  It is the father’s patriarchal extra sense that is leading them.

Their wanderings in search of a new home take them to England, Switzerland and finally to France.  It is the life in the flavor of abundant ingredients that keeps them in a small French village.  There they acquire a neglected restaurant and start their business.

Unfortunately, right across the street, a mere hundred feet away is an upper scale French restaurant.  The widowed owner is famous for her one star establishment.  Competition between the two establishments is the tension in the movie.

The talent of Hassan is finally acknowledged by Madame Mallory through painful admissions marred by arson, open impediments and social friction.  Yet, the melting of the cold feelings is the delight of the story.  Enemies become colleagues.  Colleagues become allies.  Allies become deep friends.

Success puts the spotlight on one.  Those who are left behind settle for the best that they can do.  But, love draws the family back together.

Love fills the kitchen.  Joy comes with the love.  You can taste the delight that climaxes the reunion.

The future is bright.  Laughter and achievement abound.  The third star is aptly deserved and appropriately settles in as part of the blended lives of these who treasure amazing taste.  It is an excellent film.

photo credit: brucefong photography

The traffic engineers made their intentions clear.  At the intersection the left lane continues forward and merges on to the interstate freeway.  The middle lane continues straight on the frontage road.  The right lane may turn right or continue on the frontage road.

All of the lines that are painted on the road make these maneuvers clear.  Solid lines indicate that crossing these lines if forbidden.  Drivers learn that solid lines are to be treated as if they were solid walls or barriers.

My wife and I were driving in the entry ramp lane.  It was time to increase our speed from surface street traffic to freeway speeds.  All was fine until a car in the middle lane that was to continue straight on the frontage road decides that he wants to enter the freeway.

He merges into my lane right on my front fender.  If I had not braked immediately, then he would have collided with me. God rescued us with divine protection!

When I braked I also sounded my horn.  I wanted him to know that I was there and he was causing an emergency near-collision.  The adrenaline was pumping.

Instead of speeding up and waving an apology, the driver in the wrong, maneuvering his vehicle without safe margins or yielding to the vehicle that had the right of way, he stops his car.  He is now deliberately blocking the road for me and all of the cars behind me waiting to enter the freeway.  He honks his horn.

Slowly he moves ahead.  He is not accelerating but intentionally driving slowly to show his anger at anyone who would honk at him.  He was wrong but he is unleashing his anger on others whom he has wronged.

Here is a man who cannot admit that he is wrong.  He believes that if he bullies others around him with a critical domineering attitude he can cover up his own error.  It is a distraction from the facts of the infraction.

He is arrogant.  Pride, the bad kind, the wicked kind, the hurtful kind is what his life is.  Pity those who are close to him who get burned every time he makes a mistake.

Finally, he speeds off on the freeway. He has embarrassed himself.  He will spend the next several days justifying his bad behavior. Others around him will be victims of his displaced anger and self-righteousness.  Are you driving out there this week?  Be careful!

My calendar was my reminder of where I needed to be and when.  I am grateful for the non-emotional markers that will positively point me in the right direction.  Without my trusty calendar and cellphone that is linked to my Administrative Assistant I would be spending a lot of time apologizing to busy people that I forgot that we had a meeting.

It is not the tyranny of the urgent or the necessity of the next hour.  Rather it is the mercy of the herder who knows where the flock needs to be heading before disaster unfolds.  Now, it is up to the faithful stead to carry me to my next destination.

Off for a distant location, I frown at my GPS. It guides me to where I need to go, generally.  The first 30 miles goes by smoothly.  But, then I get dizzy driving in circles.

It tells me with all gentleness to exit in 300 yards. 800 yards later there is still no exit.  Now, she tells me to make a left turn.

I am in the right lane of a five lane interstate freeway.  It is loaded with fast moving vehicles and massive construction vehicles that could squash me like a bug.  A quick glance at my watch and my stress level rises even higher.  Now, I am officially late and there is no restaurant in sight.

Finally, I see some hope.  The GPS shows that I am a mere .25 miles from my destination.  When I arrive it is a corner gas station!

Yes, I called my GPS a dummy.  She is.  How could she be so undependable?

25 minutes later and 15 miles extra on my odometer, I pull over on a wide spot on a road.  I was done with driving through construction sites, high end neighborhoods, business complexes and freeway interchanges.  With a swift slap of the power button I turned my GPS off.

I dialed in on my phone.  She spoke clearly to me.  The restaurant was a mere mile away.  But, it was on the other side of the freeway.

When I rolled into the parking lot, my watch pointedly assessed that I was over 30 minutes late!  Oh, it was embarrassing.  But, my appointment took my tardiness in stride.

It took me an hour and 34 minutes to arrive.  He was so grateful that I could come.  He even picked up the tab.

“Boo!” to miles but “Hooray!” for new friendships born out of adversity.

 

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I have enjoyed the thrill of visiting several Presidential Libraries.  The newest one to open is in close proximity to my home.  President George W. Bush’s Presidential Library is located on the campus of SMU in Dallas, TX.

There was a time when I was younger that I thought that the greatest privilege in the world would be to serve as President of the United States of America.  After all I love leadership, I want my life to make a difference for others, my patriotism for this country is off the charts and I have given my whole life to benefit the lives of other people around me.  Over the course of decades I have served others no matter how difficult the challenge.

As I strolled through the exhibits and contemplated the facts of history, it became very apparent to me that the task of running this nation requires something beyond what is humanly possible.  No one in their right mind who cannot stand up against the negative onslaught of unchangeable minds would do this job.  Power and privilege is a difficult match against the constant scrutiny and immense implications of national and international demands.

I stood a long time in the library gazing at this seal.  It stirred in me another level of respect for what 43 did for our nation, the dignity with which he performed it and the class with which he treated the office.  No, I no longer think of wanting to serve in the office any longer.  My youthful aspirations have taken it off my life list.

Yet, what an amazing country the USA is.  What a remarkable honor to be the single representative of this seal of the great nation.  It is a symbol of all that has been exceptional and will continue to be exceptional about this democracy created under God.

Yes, I still love this country.  I relish the privileges that each of us enjoys as citizens.  While this office will never be mine apart from these occasional historic visits, I will long dwell in my thoughts over the burdens that 43 carried for us all.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

 

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There is a special wall in the Oval Office of our Nation’s White House.  A tradition has followed one U.S. President after the next.  Both parties have found a common ground with the decoration on this wall.

Each elected president is welcome to change the portrait.  It is reserved for the past president that most inspires the current president as he assumes the duties of the most powerful office in the world.  This portrait is a reminder that all are human, all need inspiration from others and that great leaders are standing on the shoulders of others.

One of the most popular portraits has been Abraham Lincoln.  This portrait hung in the White House as an inspiration for President George W. Bush.  The 43rd President of the United States drew from the inspiration of this historic figure.

Lincoln certainly had his share of historical challenges.  The Civil War threatened to tear the nation apart.  Opinionated politicians on both sides of the war fragmented into local factions.

There was no shortage of animus that surrounded Lincoln.  He had to be courageous, shrewd and faithful.  Morals drove him.  Passion fueled him.  Faith directed him.

History paints him as an honest man.  He was honest to a fault.  Whether in public or private he chose not just a cliché to dictate his public leadership but genuine choices.

Once he was the postmaster of a small out-of-the-way post office.  He received word that budget restraints forced the decision to close several post offices around the nation.  His was one of them.

The end date of operations for his little post office was certain.  Lincoln complied precisely.  During his shut down of the office and locking it down, he set aside the remaining funds of a few dollars and some change.

Years later when the post master General caught up with each of the closures, he was pleasantly surprised that Lincoln handed over all of the proper paper work and the exact sum of several dollars and change that was rightfully the property of the US Government.  It had been years between the closure and the accounting.  That integrity followed Lincoln throughout his civil service and political years.

Leaders must be honest.  Every leader doing anything worth doing will run into opposition.  The truth will always be the best course.

Once the bad ones are left to history, the honest leaders will ultimately prevail.  Their success is never determined by their manipulation but by God’s directive grace.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4275What is a man to do when he takes his beloved shopping and there is a long stay in Cosmetics?  It is time of masculine analysis and testosterone boosted creativity.  Do not panic, do nothing that is rash, speak little and remember these pointers.

First, put yourself in “hunt” mode.  This means that a you must have a fixation on your prey.  God created all men with this capacity.

This means that you must always hunt the wind.  Just as you puff your talc bottle to keep your scent from becoming adversarial you must also steel yourself against the overwhelming fragrances that cloud the Cosmetic Department atmosphere.

If you hold your breath you will pass out.  Concentrate on a distraction.  It is possible to overcome with the right desperate focus.

Second, think of your objective.  It begins with knowing your prey.  What is your intended target.  Fixate on that and never let it go.

Your first priority is to find a chair.  Do not worry.  There are always plenty of seats in the Cosmetic Department.

You have to exert great confidence and certainty.  If the feeling surges that you should not be here, arrest that thought.  Own the place and exude your strength as “unchallengeable.”

I sat in a chair that I selected.  It was in an out-of-the-way part of the foo foo displays.  Few of the fairer sex were in that area.

Once I staked my claim, I felt safe.  Using highly tuned and skillfully trained observation skills, I scanned the area for curiosities.  That is when I felt that unmistakable feeling of being watched.

Every hunter knows the feeling of being hunted.  The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Your eyes race back and forth, looking for anything suspicious.

That is when I locked on to the source of my feelings.  Two men in bright red T-shirts were looking me over from 10 yards away.  Their shirts announced that they were in-store security.

The game was afoot.  Never show fear.  Do not move unexpectedly.

My eyes locked on them.  They looked away.  With determination I knew that eye contact was aggression in the woods where wildlife thrives. Here in the domesticated section of the population, this same technique operates on the same plane.

There was nothing else to look at so I bore down on my observers.  Caught, they were uncomfortable.  They melted away in the crowd.  I remained in hunt mode until my bride smiled and had finished her priority business.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4213Getting a chance to slip out of Texas during July is a respite from the searing heat and sticky humidity.  Taking a week to see family made sense.  Yet, it did not take long for the soul to be missing the tug from the Lone Star state.

Texas has a pride that grows on you.  I was not born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.  That is a standard line for all of us transplants.

It usually gets a knowing laugh from native Texans.  This phrase also brings a warm welcome from the locals.  Soon the mystique grows on everyone who emigrates here.

It is not usually the scenery in Houston that conjures up  the spirit.  Houston is flat with no landscape sensations worth mentioning.

Natural beauty takes place in June when the wildflowers burst into bloom.  Blue skies and puffy cumulus clouds add to the flavor of the state.  Green grasses set off the blues, reds and yellow flowers.

Another natural wonder that we see often are the cloud formations.  Since the land is so flat we watch the spectacular thunderclouds roll in and see jagged flashes of lightning across the skies.  Jacob’s ladders form in the clouds as the sun fights to send its rays on to the earth.

People are a strength in Texas.  The people here have a kindness and hospitality about them that is refreshing.  Texans are likable and they like others in return.  God seems to have added a larger dose of cheer in the average Texan.

While I enjoy a variety of cuisine, Texas BBQ is special.  When the smoker is pumping out the white billows of hickory mixed with the aroma of pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken halves or sausage links the mouth waters up cheeks full of saliva that only knows eating as a solution.  This is the Texas spirit.

While away in Oregon, I saw an opportunity to take my family to some BBQ.  An eatery was recommended.  They served BBQ beef ribs.  I did not have to think about that choice; it was off my lips as soon as the waiter greeted us.

The aromas of the grill wafted through the restaurant.  I was looking forward to my treat.  The plate was mounded with ribs and the sides were just like home.

I sank my teeth into the fare.  At first I was happy.  Then, I knew that I was just encouraging my own spirit.  I missed Texas and BBQ was one of the reason I did.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4178A few hundred gathered for an outdoor wedding.  It has been on my calendar for months and we booked our flights early.  It was a nephew who was going to exchange his vows.  Family is important enough to fly half way across the nation to be a part of the festivities.

The temperatures hovered in the eighties.  As a Houstonian the 80’s in July is like a cool breeze.  My friends and relatives laughed about the weather.

We had left Houston and her 90’s temperatures for our flight to the Northwest.  When we stopped in Albuquerque for a transfer the temperatures had reached the 100’s.  Stepping off the plane in Oregon was like a refreshing breather with her 80’s temperatures.

Of course we cannot forget the humidity.  Houston is famous for the trapped water vapors that make the sticky environment test the patience of the most humans.  Oregon was relief.

Ushers seated us on the groom’s side, stage left.  Tall trees cast a broad canopy of shade over half of that side of the seating.  Those who had claimed those seats were parked and did not give any indication of budging.

IMG_4184The rest of the guests left something in their chairs and were crowding in the aisle under the shade.  It made for fun and exuberant reunions.  All of us who had not seen each other for years caught up.

Most were eager to hear about Texas.  We drawled on and on about the weather, the state pride, the Western garb and of course the BBQ.  Some chimed in on outdoors and the wide open spaces.

Finally, the ushers invited us to our seats.  The wedding was about to begin.  I settled into my seat and drank in the beauty of the Northwest.

Tall Douglas fir trees surrounded the patio. Overhead the sun was doing its daily dance through the sky. Its rays felt wonderful, invigorating and comforting.

There was no need for artificial lights or candles.  One bright light shone overhead.  It was sufficient and complete.

God’s creation of the sun was all that this wedding needed to give the perfect ambiance for memories and photographs.  Videographers were  happy with the natural light as well.  The shadows added texture to the images captured in digital form.

The bridal party stepped into view.  Oohs and ahs were abundant.  The creator’s sun came in handy for that gathering.  It was as perfect a setting as perfect can get.

photography credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4235My culture is marked by its cuisine.  It is no doubt a favorite take-out choice of many busy Americans and people the world-over.  Many of the menu selections of a Chinese restaurant are comfort food for the billions of us who grew up eating that style of food.

Mom’s devotion to her task of feeding the family marked our palates for life. Grandma double-downed on the family recipes.  Daughters and daughters-in-law copied, observed, tasted and tested the ingredients for that familiar family smile and reservoir of compliments.

Now, when we celebrate we go out to a local restaurant.  On a menu that seemingly needs a magnifying glass to read it, we pick out what we know.  Something familiar leaps out from the pages and we wait with expectation to enjoy all the memories of family, youth and legacy.

Once in a while something new happens.  It is not a completely new dish but there is a certain twist that captures our creative adventuresome spirits.  That happened at a Portland restaurant with my best buddy.

We have joined him there only once before.  It was so long ago no one could quite fix their finger on the occasion or date.  Finally, we set that thought aside when it was time to give the waitress our order.

Bob asked about our favorites.  We told him our short list.  He filled in a few gaps.

“You guys like tofu, right?”

“Oh, yeah!” it was a chorus in unison.  Comfort food was written all over that interchange.

“Then this will be a real treat,” he smiled broadly.  “I have this dish a couple of times a week.  You’re gonna love it.”

We have been friends for decades.  Our paths in life have covered many adventures.  Some have been sad but most were marked with great joy.

When the dish showed up we all took a modest helping.  The expectation was reserved.  After each one in our family tasted the dish we were stunned.

It was very familiar to all of us.  Nevertheless, it was very new.  Everyone was eager for a second helping only with a bigger portion this time.

The texture was buttery smooth. It nearly had the similarity with custard. Everyone complimented this dish.

Bob was right. We loved the dish.  There was some leftovers that he graciously allowed us to take home.

Excellent leftovers make it to breakfast. After that they are just a memory.  Something so familiar with a new twist gave us another great memory to tuck away with a fabulous friend.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4126A funny definition of grandchildren is that they are God’s blessing to parents who did not murder their teenage children.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Then, marvel at the wonder of words that time the unexpected with the fully understood message accomplished with a very few words.

What is nearly as marvelous as a well timed joke is the wonder of how a grandchild can capture your heart as a grandparent and never let it go.  Before there is even a single cogent conversation love is permanently established.

How is it possible to be so in love with a young life when we have never had the briefest of conversations?  Yet, devotion to this little one is permanently established.  There will be no compromise on that family bond of loyalty.

When he smiles, I smile.  Of course when he laughs it is infectious and I laugh heartily.  Even when he cries I do not panic, there is no discomfort I just love on him.

Bringing comfort to this little soul is a sheer delight.  We cuddle together and his little life quiets down.  I sink deep into my easy chair as his crying slows and transforms into a quiet whimper.

He snuggles into my arms and breaths like he is relieved.  Tears soak into my shirt and little brown eyes stare up into mine.  A gentle smile breaks out on his countenance and I melt in a deeper sense of commitment.

Yes, I will teach him many ways to enter into mischief.  Together we will laugh through adventures and make fabulous memories together.  We will learn about fun, humor, the outdoors, the Bible, faith, hope and love.

Honestly, I will love passing on the lessons of life and the joys of daily living to this precious little one.  Who knows but God what the potential of this one life will be.  He will bring great blessing into the lives of many.

In the mean time I will laugh when he goes through his antics.  Each time he achieves a new landmark in his progress I will smile.  Eagerly I will look forward to the many firsts of his life and chuckle while he finds his way through the maze of growing up.

Pictures will remind me of those times since thousands of miles will separate us for most of the year.  Videos will allow me the joy of reliving those life stages especially when I cannot be physically present.  Grandchildren are a miraculous bundle without a doubt.  They are treasured gift from the Lord.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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