Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness (Green Integer) Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Provides some good descriptions of the Congo, but the best part of the book is the analysis of human nature it provides in the dichotomy between the two primary characters, Marlow and Kurtz. As a reader, by the end of the book the author's views on the potential for darkness in the human heart is apparent, and the way that such darkness is avoided is also presented. Interesting story, quick read.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reviewing the Evidence

In the midst of a very busy week at work...but some thoughts from my morning devotional reading...

The writer presented the idea that today's Christians are the physical evidence of God's love in the world. The idea of evidence is particularly appealing to me, probably due to my legal background and, in the course of doing appellate work, how much I am analyzing evidence to make one argument or another. Evidence is typically submitted in order to assist in the making of reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in order to support a specific conclusion or finding. As such, in this situation, the way Christians carry and present themselves is submitted to the world in order to support a given conclusion - be it the truth of Christianity, the presence of God's love, and so forth.

Thus, the natural follow-up question - is the evidence convincing? If an impartial trier reviewed the evidence, what would their conclusion be? What is our role as presenter / reviewer / listener of this evidence?

Friday, May 22, 2009

missing Ellie

I mentioned in a previous post that we would be leaving Ellie at the boarder for the first time when we headed out to Cleveland for our friend's graduation. Jackie and I commenting last night on how odd it was to lay in bed and not be jumped on and have someone jump into our face repeatedly trying to get us to play. I notice her missing the most now, as she is such a huge part of my morning routine. When I get up, she gets up, and we go take her outside to do her business. Then we come back in, and in the next hour or so, she is running around, usually getting in some type of trouble, while I am reading news, eating breakfast, showering, getting ready for the day, and all that.

I won't have her sticking her head in the shower trying to figure what's going on. Or her leaning into the trash bin to take out who knows what to rip it into pieces. Or, when she remembers that I am ultimately getting ready to leave, she will inevitable go hide under the bed, because yes, she is still small enough to fit under there. Thus, I usually have to act all nonchalant and pick her early to put in her kennel for the day, or, if I am unsuccessful with that, try to lure her out from under the bed. Usually the most effective is to open the bedroom door (that's where we keep her "quarters"), and act like I am leaving, and eventually she may come out. However, many times, if I just open the door, make walking sounds but don't leave, I get the following in response...Ellie performing reconnaissance from out under the bed. Makes me laugh. And this morning, I will be missing that start to the day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

a fun night

I mentioned yesterday that we were driving up to Lansing to surprise my dad for his birthday. Well, he was definitely surprised. Despite the driving, it was a fun night, and since we were at a local Mexican restaurant, Los Tres Amigos (the enchiladas was awesome), they came and sang to my dad and put a big sombrero on his head and a little whip cream on his nose. So, without further ado...Gas to drive to Lansing...$35...seeing you dad wear a sombrero on his birthday, priceless...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

hitting the road again

Well, the rest of the week will be very busy for us. Today is my dad's birthday. As a surprise, Jackie and I are driving up tonight to have dinner with him, along with my mom, and my sister and her husband and son. He doesn't know that we are coming (which is why this entry is posted as we eating dinner). Going to Los Tres Amigos on the south side of Lansing as my dad has always liked Mexican food, at least for as long as I can remember. So hopefully it will be a surprise for him, something nice for his 65th birthday.

Then after coming home tonight and resting up and packing, we head out to Cleveland Thursday afternoon to attend a friend's graduation from medical school on Friday. Once we get back from that, we have to start getting things around over the weekend, cleaning the house and the yard and the landscaping, along with shopping and everything else that's involved with hosting a cookout on Memorial Day. Having my folks and sister's family down, along with Jackie's parents, possibly her brother, and hopefully a number of friends who will be able to make it. We have done some small dinner parties before, but this will be the first gathering we have hosted at our house that will most likely have guests in the double digits. Jackie and I love having people over and entertaining, so I am sure that we will enjoy this as well. There will just be a lot of driving and then work to get to Monday.

A first we will have with all this going on is sending Ellie to the boarder's while we are in Cleveland. It will be the first time we have had her boarded. I think its much different having a dog boarded then left with friends or family. Back in January for my firm retreat, after Ellie had been with us for about two weeks, she stayed with Jackie's parents. That didn't seem like such a big deal. Maybe part of it is that we had only gotten use to the routine of having her around for a couple weeks as compared to the last few months. But I think the big difference is leaving your dog with family that you know and trust and so on versus leaving with a boarder, who, while you trust and know somewhat (same place where she gets groomed), its not the same knowledge and trust and sense of comfort one gets with family.

In any event, that will be a first for Ellie and for us (for me, totally a first, Jackie has boarded a dog before, but its been awhile). I imagine this is similar to a lesser degree of what it must be like to leave your child with a daycare or baby sitter for the first time. For all the daily grief Ellie causes as she continues to be as mischievous as ever, the fact is she is part of our daily life and routine, and often makes a smile and laugh many times each night. For that, I am sure we will miss her and look forward to picking her on Saturday morning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Struggle Between Faith and Doubt

After every service at our church, as you walk out of the sanctuary, you go through a line to greet the pastor as well as any lay leaders who helped with the service. So this past Sunday, as we were going through the line, our pastor stopped me to thank me for my comments at the church's administrative council meeting the previous week. (I have previously written about being on my Church's Administrative Council).

The issue came up about allowing some property that the church has (hoping that it gets used to build a new church on sometime soon) with a nice pavilion be used by non-members. The particular situation was that someone had requested to use the property for a wedding this fall. Naturally, as these things go, there was an agreement that was drafted to be used and it was simply supposed to be a matter to have the council approve the agreement.

Then the whole attorney side kicks in, the side that assumes the worst of human nature. My comment – that there was no provision in the agreement regarding liability and having the users of the property hold the church harmless should something happen, and it should have such to protect the church's interests. I was somewhat hesitant to raise the issue, chiefly because it feels somewhat odd in a discussion at church to raise concerns about the worst happening. Simply, when an accident happens, as lawyers, our assumption is that the person will sue, and usually they try to sue whoever has the deepest pockets. Again, to think about this happening, and to think about how you go about to preempt the issue, means you are thinking about the worst of human nature; thinking about the worst things that can happen. I have never been able to determine if people who naturally think this way are drawn to the legal profession or if the legal education and training draws it out of people.

In any event, I raised the issue, it was changed, and this past Sunday our pastor thanked me for raising it. I explained that I was nervous about doing so because it was such a focus on the negative that can happen, when church and the people in our church family are such positive people. Her response was very quick and very firm: the body takes and needs all types of people.

I have been thinking about that for the last day or so and just keep thinking about it. In part I have been thinking about it so much because as I have become more involved with various activities with our church, the more concerned I become with how honest, how authentic I am being with both myself and how I am representing myself to those in our church. I obviously would not seek to get involved, let alone attend a church if I did not have some faith. And while I know “intellectually” that faith inherently implies some doubt, I view myself (maybe incorrectly) as having too much doubt at times.

I have no issues with having faith in something beyond myself, in having faith in some “sort” of Divine Being existing, which we casually refer to as God. Yet, beyond that, there's much more doubt than any faith or belief. The nature of God? The veracity of the world's major religions? Particular Christian doctrines such as the Trinity? Divinity of Jesus? Resurrection? And the big one for me recently, the whole focus on atonement theology of Jesus's death within Christianity? As to all these things, I have no idea if I believe in them or not, and am unsure what it means if I do or do not believe in them, or rather, have more doubt about them than faith in them.

So back to my authenticity dilemma, if I am a person of such great doubt, but feel like I am representing myself to others as a person of faith – going to a church that implicitly and explicitly recognizes faith in various doctrines that I have doubt about and struggle with; being involved in that church, which tends to signal faith over doubt, when doubt tends to me more prevalent in my thoughts than faith. I continue to ask, am I being honest with myself and others in these matters? And is this issue only in my head?

But, then I think about what our pastor said to me, the body takes and needs all types of people. Obviously, she was referring to the body of the Church and the ubiquitous Christian concept of the Body of Christ, but it makes me wonder if included in those “all types of people” are those that want to believe, those that hope to have more faith than doubt in the future, but for right now, have much more doubt than faith. Because when I think and reflect seriously about this, that's where I am at. I honestly have much more doubt than faith, particular when looking at specific concepts and doctrines and dogmas and so on. Yet, I enjoy the fellowship of church, the being involved and the community and getting to know those around me. And as I like and wish to be a part of these people's lives, I don't want to feel like I am misrepresenting myself to them, that I am in any way being inauthentic. And the fact of the matter is, discussions about what one actually believes rarely occur, regardless of what arena one is in our society. there room in the body, whether that be the body of a church or the Body of Christ, for someone who has more doubt than faith, both in the general and specific context? And more importantly for me, does that body “need” people of all types, including us serious doubters? Is it inauthentic to represent yourself as something you are not, but as something you want to work towards and hope you become?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

an important lesson

Well, sometimes things happen which make you think more and more about things of the faith persuasion. Early this morning, I was stressing over finances and making everything happen by the end of this month that we wanted, and fretting over having to dip into savings for certain things, and before we left for church, Jackie and I talked about it. She gets me, and knows how intense and serious I can get about these things, so she was very understanding, but just reminded me to keep things in a little perspective...i.e., we have a home, we can pay our bills, we have jobs, we have savings we can dip into, and so on.

Then off to church. A couple weeks ago our church started having two services, so we now go to the second service after we go to our Sunday school class for some fellowship time. So while we are at the class and people are sharing, one of the other couples, who have a few kids, asked for prayers that the father would find a job soon. He has probably been out of full time work for 3 months or more if my memory serves right, and from what they were saying, just completed some training to start driving trucks and was asking for prayers that he would get a call soon and get an assignment, and his wife echoed the same, requesting prayers that something would happen soon.

Talk about having that perspective handed to you in big, bold writing. These are excellent people, with kids, struggling to get by and asking for prayers, prayers so that they can continue to provide for their children and themselves. And not provide things like I was thinking about, things such as birthday presents and having to use savings to pay for gas due to some extra driving we are taking to visit friends. Rather, provide things like food and clothes and such for their family, necessities that can't be “cut out” of one's spending habits to be more fiscally responsible.

It was a great and timely lesson for me to remember my personality, remember that I tend to get obsessive and over-serious about these types of things, and make them bigger stresses than they really are. A lesson to remember those in our community that are not as fortunate, that have much more real and pressing concerns than the random things that stress me out. A lesson to be more aware of those around me, to be more giving in charity, and to be more grateful for the abundant blessings that are present in my life. A great lesson for how important perspective is in how we view our struggles, and our ability to help those around us.

So while I need to remember why I was stressing, to initiate change on the handling of our finances, I also need to remember the luxury and the blessing that is inherent in being able to stress about things at the level I am stressing at, as compared to dealing with much more serious struggles. And its important to remember this feeling, and use it as an impetus to continue that constant struggle and journey to become a better, more generous, more charitable, and more positive person.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Good Day

My dad came down for the day today. My mom's side of the family was having a get together, and because of some old history on that side of that family, he decided to come down and spend the day here, working on putting a new part on the riding lawn mower to make it work (hopefully) and then we played golf together. It was my dad's first time playing golf in about ten years, so considering that he played pretty well. And it was a good time to spend together if nothing else.

As time goes on, the more and more I appreciate and am grateful for my relationship with my father. Besides the “silly” stuff like being the only other Tigers fan or MSU fan I really know and being able to talk to him about those things, I also get to talk to him about politics, religion, marriage, life. As most father son relationships go, there was always some bumps in the road along the way, but now, I can seriously count my dad as one of closest friends, one of my few confidants. He's one of the few people I feel comfortable being open and honest with, one of the few people who truly knows me, all the good along with all the bad. In addition, he remains such a model for me as I go through in my life. Whenever Jackie and I are blessed with children, he is a model of fatherhood for me, a model of the active and participatory father. In my marriage, he is a model of what true devotion is, and how one obtains true strength through sacrifice. In all relationships, his confident outgoing mannerisms and simple ability to relate to practically anyone is something I envy and aim to develop; his constant thirst for new information and knowledge, his desire to understand ideas completely and thoroughly, are all things I strive to emulate; simply put, he remains a strong, good model.

And the more and more I think about our relationship, the more I realize how much something like that should be treasured, and how often I should let him know how much I treasure our relationship.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

4 Layer Lasagna

I think I mentioned on twitter and on facebook that I was attempting to make Lasagna for the first time. Below if the recipe I used, and I have to say that it turned out pretty well. Its interesting because it looks so sloppy when you put it together you think it will just be a pile of much when it comes out. But it comes our all formed and looking the way it is supposed to with the nice layer look. And since the dish was so huge just for two people (I'll have to cut it down next time), lots of leftovers, and its pretty good as leftovers to. Ahh, my adventures in cooking...I always like them better when they yield better results.

* 1 pound lean ground beef
* 1 (32 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
* 32 ounces ricotta cheese
* 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 2 teaspoons dried parsley
* salt to taste
* ground black pepper to taste
* 12 lasagna noodles
* 1/2 cup water


1. In a large skillet over medium heat brown the ground beef. Drain the grease. Add spaghetti sauce and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the mozzarella cheese, eggs, half of the grated Parmesan cheese, dried parsley, salt and ground black pepper.
3. To assemble, in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish evenly spread 3/4 cup of the sauce mixture. Cover with 3 uncooked lasagna noodles, 1 3/4 cup of the cheese mixture, and 1/4 cup sauce. Repeat layers twice. Top with 3 noodles, remaining sauce, remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Add 1/2 cup water to the edges of the pan. Cover with aluminum foil.
4. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

the obligatory update

Well, there have been several times in the past week where I have meant to blog or post about something, and it has just slipped away. So I guess its just a mundane update instead...

Part of the struggle with writing on here the past week has been due to the fact that I have been under the weather. Last Monday, I woke up with a sore throat, and from there, a cold proceeded to take over my head and most of the week. Just a terrible cold, horrible congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing. It was made worse by the fact that it last an entire week (and even now I still have a small cough left over). I didn't really get a chance to rest and help my immune system fight it until Saturday as I was needing to finish an Appellate Brief for work by Friday. So it made for an exhausting week, a week that all I remember is being sick and working. Not good times. Although it finally feels like things are settling back into the routine...I am back up early without being tired, a good sign that my system is recovered from the cold, and I was finally able to get the yard mowed yesterday, to continue my jungle prevention for the summer months.

Around here locally, the economy still stinks, but there has been other excitement. Our local high school and middle school had some bomb threats recently, and there was actually some arrests made. Big happenings in the small town. Of course, over at Notre Dame, we have the whole brouhaha over President Obama being the commencement speaker and receiving an honorary degree. There has been protests for much of the last few weeks in seems, at least covered so in the news, including so rather graphic pictures and extreme language. For someone who tends to be pretty conflicted over the issue of abortion, which all this stems from (is there any other issue that is this divisive?), the nature of all the protesting and language used and what not is kind of a turn off. Personally. In any event, President Obama speaks on Sunday, so I will be glad when it is over just so I don't have to hear any more news reports about it locally. Its too the point of over-saturation really.

Work continues to roll along. As everywhere, business is down from previous years, although I have an increased number of court appointed criminal appeals to handle. Actually looks like I will be working on appeal cases non-stop from now until about September, assuming nothing else gets appointed to me during that time. Its a lot of work for not a lot of money, but in this economy you take what you can get, and I like doing appeals so I guess its worth it.

Anyway, I think there's more to post about, but maybe more appropriate for separate posts, so I don't get too many random topics in this one. And maybe breaking it up will help with my goal of blogging a little more often and openly, we'll see. As for today, I get to run down to Warsaw and the Kosciusko Superior Court No. 3 to pick up court files related to another appeal. Two interesting tidbits about appeals I am or will be working on...(1) one case the defendant was not present at his own trial, didn't show up; (2) the other appeals the sentence, yet, considering how long the appellate process takes, its likely he will have served the sentence before a decision is reached by the Court of Appeals. Have to love each situation's uniqueness. Now, off to Warsaw.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

checkbook obsession

So, last night Jackie and I went to the annual Purdue Club of Elkhart County annual meeting/dinner. We decided to join the club considering how big of a fan Jackie has become now that she can actually watch Purdue play on TV, and we knew a couple people already in the Club, including the teacher Jackie worked with when she first started at Middlebury and one of the other attorneys from my office. It was a good dinner, and included a nice talk from a former Purdue basketball player. As the goal of the club is to provide scholarships to Elkhart County students who are attending Purdue, there's also various fundraising things going on like a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction.

Naturally, Jackie bid on some things at the silent auction, and ended up winning a new Purdue sweatshirt. And naturally, my reaction was mixed, as I tend to be a grouch at times when it comes to spending money that I didn't plan on spending. Jackie commented to me that she prepared herself for some of my gruff. Its not like we don't have the money, its just that I hadn't planned on spending any that night (which may very well be poor planning on my part), and I am always trying to save money so as to pay off some of our bad debt issues as quickly as possible.

All this kind of leads to the title of this post, I am obsessed with our finances. I check our bank account online everyday. Every other Friday I check to make sure Jackie's check deposited, and if it doesn't show up at 8:01 a.m., I start to freak, even though history should tell me that it will be there by 8:05 a.m. I balance our checkbook, on average, probably twice a week. And I think about the grocery shopping, the credit cards, the mortgage, the car payments, the student loans every day. For whatever reason, it seems and feels like I am always thinking about our financial details. And I know that all this must drive Jackie nuts, as she tends to be much more laid back and a "go with the flow" personality than I am, who must have everything planned out (another example of neurotic personality - it continues to drive me nuts, and will do so until August, that I don't know exactly what we are going to do when the lease is up on Jackie's car, I feel the need to know and make the decision now).

I was thinking about my stressing over the financial details in the confines of our marriage in part because of a conversation I had earlier in the week. I was talking with the attorney in our office who does family law, and she was discussing some new clients she had and in general the common factors leading to divorce, and without question the most common is money. Either one person makes more than the other and it builds tension in the relationship; there is a lack of understanding of one spouse's part of where the money goes (bills, etc.); only one works and money becomes a divisive issue; one controls all the money so the spouse has to "ask permission" of the other spouse to spend, or buy something; and so on.

In our marriage, I do all the finances and my obsession over it leads to some unwarranted tension, I suppose. For instance, Jackie doesn't ask permission to spend money, but she knows that if she spends it and I don't know about it before hand, that my initial reaction won't be positive. And while there are reasons for my constant up-tightness regarding it (we do have a lot of debt that we have to work on paying off to help settle things better for our future), I always get the feeling immediately after my immediate reaction that said reaction wasn't the most healthy for reducing any potential tension.

As I continued thinking about the issues, I came to the realization that I was probably worrying a bit too much about the potential tension in our marriage due to money. In part because my obsession over such matters has led to both of us to change our spending habits, and be more conscientious of what we are doing financially. And in part because Jackie and I work well together. She's laid back enough on this stuff and has a good sense of humor that she can diffuse some of my initial reactions that would be counterproductive. And because she has lived on her own, and has had to be in charge of all these details, she knows what the money is going towards, she understands our debt situation, and ultimately gets why I react the way I do and knows its for positive goals. I also think a big aspect of our ability to deal with it is that we have always characterized it as our money, never my money and her money. Some people may scoff that such a simple characterization would make a difference, but I think its huge. Thus, its never "stop spending my money" or "why don't I get to use my money for things I want" and so on. We don't create for ourselves an unnecessary division and conflict by thinking of the money we earn in such terminology (language, as it helps shapes perception, is so important).

Nonetheless, the fact remains that money tends to be one of the most significant, if not the most significant, reason why many marriages don't last. And while I have no doubts of our ability to navigate the tension that arises from financial matters, it serves as a constant reminder to me to not let my obsessive behavior over the checkbook become more than a quirky personality trait. To let it be a tool for productive and positive aspects within our marriage, and not let its result be destructive.

And of course, as I think about all this, I need to stop writing and go balance the checkbook. Management of the obsession rather than abandonment, right? At least that's my story for now.

Monday, May 4, 2009

why blog?

I was reading another blog over the weekend that was reflecting on its fifth anniversary, and the post made me begin to contemplate why I blog, or what reasons are there to blog. I have switched among the various blogging services, always changing when I wanted to change why I was blogging, or just when I got bored of one service. For a long time, I had a blog at Wordpress that I poured a lot of work into and came to like. I ended up writing mostly about books, news, and politics, particularly the last election. It was a conscious decision to write about the politics, because it drove traffic to the blog, and I liked seeing the increasing number on my stats page. But then you almost feel obligated to continue to write about politics even if you don't want to, and while politics inevitable draws visitors to a site, it also draws comments which tend to be negative. Such was the case at Wordpress, where I felt like I couldn't approve comments because of various vulgarity involved. And at that time, blogging became less about doing something for me and more about a product or persona to be represented.

Thus, several months ago, I decided to switch to Blogger to make a clean break from the past. But the question that still wrestles in my mind from time to time is why do I decide to blog? What are the reasons to blog? Mostly I reflect on this because I don't put a lot of value into the things I am writing about...i.e., about the various happenings in my life and the random books that I read. While I like reading them, its a somewhat limited purpose being served. The best blogs that I read, at least the ones I consider the best, all have one thing in common that I tend to lack, and that is courage in being open. That is to say, the best blogs, personal blogs, the blogger is open about their inner feelings, taking the courage to put out those thoughts and not shy away from the same due to negative or just disagreeable comments. It takes courage to be so open in such a public forum, but I think that's what makes those blogs interesting.

I am naturally a fairly reserved person when it comes to sharing or "exposing" various things in my life to strangers, or those that I don't know. Therefore, the blog stays limited to reflections on random books and synopses of random activities and travels. I don't bare my soul, so to speak. And while I am not sure that a complete baring of the soul is necessary, I think its valuable inherently, and makes the idea of a blog better. Ultimately, I think the key to blogging and any type of writing is that it has to be done for the benefit of the blogger. In other words, I can't be writing to satisfy someone else, and I should be writing and blogging in such a manner that I like, that benefits me, and enriches my life.

I say all this because if I am not writing for those reasons, than its not really a worthwhile pursuit in my mind. And while I like writing generally, its mostly...I like writing in my journal that I keep and re-reading old entries from one or two years ago. The blogging never really factors some ways, it ends up feeling like a chore to do rather than a joy. Its somewhat of a shame too as when I write about various things regarding my inner thoughts, doubts, worries, plans, and all of that, it ends up being very cathartic. And my sense is that it becomes even more so when shared. But sharing at that level takes courage and openness...a willingness to put not only your writing but yourself out for anyone to see and examine and critique and analyze.

All of this eventually gets to the thought that started this post...why blog? More specifically, why should I continue to blog if I am not putting my best into it, if I am not working to get everything out of it that I can? I end up feeling like I am either wasting my time by writing blog posts half heartedly and out of a sense of obligation (to what or whom I have no idea) or I am failing by not putting forth my best, or by not working to receive all the benefit, or by giving up and just rejecting the whole concept. Waste and failure...maybe the two things I can't stand to have in my life.

Thus, in my diluted logic, I think I have two real choices to avoid the constant entanglement I feel with blogging. I either stop, leave it behind, and just not worry about it (which I can't help but feel is a recognition of failing). Or, I put the effort in, I become more open, I try the whole courage thing in blogging, I share more in the hopes of getting out of the whole process what I really want - a cathartic relief for my thoughts and feelings, and the ability to develop that courage to be more open in the non-Internet world, to build and grow relationships and community.

Really not sure what direction this will end up going, but with the way I was raised, I don't think I can walk away without having "tried my best."