Tag Archives: family

Our Best Habit

I got an email from a friend today, and it started me thinking about the things we do that build relationships, particularly marriage relationships. We’re in that stage where kids and careers are stealing away time from just the two of us, and we have to be more “on purpose” with almost everything in our lives.

So, here’s the big questions: what’s one thing you do, one habit or ritual, that builds up your relationship with your significant other.

Gretchen and I have struggled for years to figure out how to get regular time together. Date nights are great, but they end up being more expensive than we can really afford right now. Instead, we do a once-a-week “Late Dinner”. We feed the kids crap food at 5, let them have a movie night until 8, then one of use gets them to bed and the other starts cooking. We cook good food, we relax with no time pressure, and we talk in the kitchen while we do it. We sit down at maybe 8:30 or later, and we have a slow dinner. No kids, no distractions, just time to sit and talk.

It’s a new ritual, but so far, I think it’s our best habit. And it’s on my mind because I’m missing it tonight for a crap gig. Sorry, love.

What’s your best habit?

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Okay, let’s get one things straight. Addison Road isn’t going anywhere. All this awesome has permanent staying power, and no upstart rag of a 10 billion dollar social network site is gonna shut this party down.

Let’s get another thing straight. Don’t text me at 2 am to ask me when I’m going to start writing again. The answer is the same as it’s always been. Whenever the hell I feel like it, Dan!

Let’s get a third thing straight. I missed you all this summer. Well, not you, Dan. But the rest of you. So, in fine back-to-school tradition, here’s how I spent my summer vacation.

May

All of this obscene wealth and technical progress has conspired to gift us, the blessed generation, with something of inestimable value: time. We luxuriate in an excess of time. No previous generation has had to devote so little of their time to acquiring the basic necessities of life, and yet we squander this gift like it’s gutter trash. These were my thoughts in May, when my wife and my University conspired together to give me the gift of three days. I spent them on a mountaintop in Malibu, at a Catholic retreat center, writing music. The result was a new composition for trumpet, piano, and laptop titled “Serra”.

I also played keyboards on a trashy j-pop album for Sony Records, which was actually much more fun than it sounds.

June

Not the artist, the month. Although the artist did visit. June and Stick and the munchkins made the trip down to LA to stay with us at our new house, which has plenty of room for guests. Plenty of room. Except that a few days before they showed up, Gretchen’s sister also made the trip out to LA to stay with us at our new house, which has plenty of room for guests. With her 3 kids. Our house does not sleep 5 adults and 7 kids comfortably. Also, it was that weekend that we decided to throw a Princess Party to celebrate Sophia’s 4th birthday. All in all, it was 3 day of unmitigated chaos. It got to be so much that Stick even had to drown his sorrows in 1/3 of a glass of wine!

Also in June, I got commissioned by an amazing photographer in New York to compose a piano piece for the gallery opening of his next show. His manager somehow heard “The Science Project” from The Dailies record (I know, crazy, right?) and wanted something similar. (We think we know how this happened. If you google “The Dailies”, our band is the first hit, and this photographer is the second)

July

Ah, July. July, July, July. I learned so much from you, July. I learned that I can punch my liver 16 times in a night without passing out. I learned that the women who are hitting on you at the Hard Rock Casino are not amateurs (to all my bosses and my students and my wife, I know this only from observation, not from experience). I learned that disposable income tends to get disposed of. I learned that a good steak is improved by excellent company. I learned that Zack is a very quick study. I learned that the occasional 3-day fling of bachelor excess is fantastic, but that I am very glad to come home to my life.

At the end of July, the APU small group came back off the road, and we stepped into the studio. I was utterly, marvelously blown away. I can’t wait for you all to hear this album. It’s the best thing, by far, that has come out of that school. And yes, I am a little biased, but still. You gotta hear it.

August

On Thursday, at 3:15 in the morning, we got up, broke camp, strapped on our packs, and hiked 2 hours up and out of the wilderness in the dark. We had spent the week backpacking through the southern range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, some of the most beautiful wilderness anywhere. It was me, my father-in-law Phil, my brother-in-law Brian, and 4 other guys that were friends of Brian. I can’t really explain what a life changing experience this trip was for me. It was the first time in 10 years that I left my cellphone behind, had no email connection, nothing to distract me from being present in the moment. I spent long hours talking with Phil about life, work, family, priorities, and had some extended times of solitude to reassess the things I value in my life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the next scene of The Michael Lee Experience: An Unauthorized Autobiography started that week.

We hiked out of the wilderness and got to the cars just as dawn was starting to break, and we drove to the trail-head of Redcloud, a 14,000 foot peak. We hiked up above the treeline, then above the scrub meadows, and finally got up above all vegetation. At about 13,000 feet, the air is so thin that you can only take one or two steps at a time before gasping for breath. Unless, of course, you are my inhuman stud of a 68-year-old father-in-law, in which case you just sort of jog your way up the trail, stopping every once in a while to make sure we’re still following. A thousand feet from the summit, we stood on the saddle between two peaks with the mountain range spread out before us like a painting. As we watched, thunder clouds started rolling over the peak, and a dozen people came pouring down the trail warning us off the peak.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to turn around that close to the summit, and head back down. The reality of Colorado weather is pretty brutal though, and you just can’t be the tallest thing standing on top of a bare granite mountain when lighting comes crashing down out of the sky.

The next day, I got on a plane and flew back to my family. On Saturday, we celebrated the marriage of Zack and Sara. On Sunday, I threw up twice.

On Monday, Gretchen and I left the kids with Linda (my birth-mom) and Thom, and headed to Napa to celebrated 10 years of wedded bliss! We drank wine, ate food, drank more wine (I threw up zero times), stayed at the best little inn anywhere, stayed at another place that smelled like cinnamon, drank more wine, and just generally luxuriated in each other’s company. We rediscovered our marriage, not just as a business partnership, or a baby-raising club, or as roommates, but as husband and wife. It was fantastic.

We ended the week by heading to Sharolyn and Jason’s house (they picked up our kids from Linda midway through the week), drank some more wine, and then home.

Also, in August, I started writing a musical with one of the artists I play for, who has an uncanny ability to make things happen. Think Stephen Sondheim meets Jon Brion.

August was a good month.

This was a good summer. Great, even.

We are a blessed generation, and I am a blessed man.

Gathering Eden

Kyrie Yeshua,

We have no memory of happier times
except the mimeographed black and white
irrelevant and unlived kind

No touchstone of bliss to serve as reference
For reconstruction and renovation

Instead we forage through the present pieces of ordinary lives
gathering Eden from the disparate strands presumed to be
echos of the first thing, the better thing, the joyful thing

And perhaps the joy itself is provenance enough
to prove that such things were present there
And have floated down the Tigris to us here.

7.8 Earthquake will hit LA on Thursday Morning!

How prepared are you for a large earthquake? Like, walls of Jericho, power out for days, freeways torn up, gangs of rabid Lutherans wandering the streets looking for dogs to eat, that kind of thing? A bone-crushing 7.8?

How much emergency water do you have stored up? Canned food? Ummm … can opener?

Fire alarms working? Know where the main gas shut-off is for your house? Is your iPhone stored in such a way that you can quickly grab it, and some decent headphones, on your way out of the house? If I’m spending 3 weeks sleeping on a cot at the local shelter, I’m not doing it without my jamz, yo.

This Thursday morning, Southern California will be holding the largest earthquake drill in history. 5 million people participating, so far. If you want to be one of them, register at shakeout.org.

So. How ready are you? We here at the Lee family … are absolutely not prepared. Please don’t tell my scoutmaster.


A Year Ago Today…

A year ago today I was in a lot of pain. I looked and felt as though I had been run over by a truck. I was hooked up to I-Vs and drugs, my husband by my bedside to wake me out of my anesthesia and hold my hand. And I was completely joyful. Because there was also this little clear glass basket by my bed that held our son, Josiah Michael Lee, just hours old and sleeping peacefully. We were now the parents of two.

Now, a year later, my little guy is literally trying to run around the house after his sister, climb anything that is going to get him a little bit higher, and eat anything available, even when that means having to find it himself somewhere off the kitchen floor.

It is amazing to think back on this last year and how much our family has grown and changed. The joy we have felt to be parents two times over, the frustrations we have faced while trying to  parent those two, the laughter shared as Sophia entertains us and Josiah reacts to his favorite big sister and the wonder of “what’s next?”. And we’re just getting started.

I know it’s cliche, but I imagine a lot of the parent readers out there can attest to the fact that time flies fast. I am trying to hang on to these fleeting moments now, knowing they will be gone too fast. And at the same time, remind myself during the wakeful nights, tantrums and “neediness” that this is just a stage. I am excited to watch both Sophia and Josiah daily learn new things, show us their personalities and become amazing little people.

It is a year later, and I am blessed by something I never thought would happen for Mike and I. I am blessed and thankful. Happy Birthday my sweet one year old!

100 things mostly about Beth (a.k.a. “the-reason-we-invite-corey-over”)

beth and the fam

1. I wanted to be a mom of six. That was way before I understood anything about finances.

2. I can’t multi-task when cooking, I usually burn whatever is in the oven.

3. My maiden name was Schafnitz, therefore, you can imagine how excited I was when, at age six, my mom told me that when I got married that I would have a new last name.

4. I can’t take multiple choice tests. Therefore, my SAT scores were NOT 1450.

5. I wore shoes that were too small for my feet in high school because I thought my feet looked big.

6. I don’t know Stick, but I think I like him. I, too, think most “worship” sets/settings are uncomfortable. Many worship leaders should not speak.

7. I believe in infant baptism.

8. I don’t believe parents should reason with their young children.

9. I think about deleting this about every minute or so because I’m not sure I want people to know stuff about me.

10. I have an opinion on everything.

11. I have strong opinions on parenting.

12. The house I grew up in was gold and avocado green until I was in sixth grade. Then my mom chose gray/blue for everything because “blue never goes out of style”

13. I harshly judge openly judgmental people.

14. I have been skydiving and don’t remember being scared.

15. I like doing risky things. See #14. Corey says that I think I am bullet proof. Maybe I am?

16. I love to travel but I hate to pack…. sometimes I don’t travel because I hate to pack.

17. I don’t know what I want to do “when I grow up” but I do know I will not sell anything for money.

18. I like to try new foods, I don’t like most fast food, and salads taste much better when other people make them.

19. I don’t like to cook for people because too many grown ups don’t eat anything green.

20. My husband has taught me that it’s OK to do nothing… sometimes.

21. Corey says I’m gonna die at age 33 due to the fact that I worry about everything. It has been nice knowing you all.

22. I love that my son, Toby, is interested in reading this as I type. He said I should write that he thinks I am the prettiest girl in the world. It doesn’t get much better than that.

23. My first real job was at a pet store and oddly enough I sold pets on commission. So why #17?

24. I believe that every parent should have life insurance.

25. I think I would’ve been a good doctor, but I would have never finished medical school. See #4

26. If a book hasn’t hooked me in two chapters it’s not worth reading, if a book is good, I won’t put it down until I’m finished.

27. I never question my faith but I often question theology, the church and christians.

28. Blood, needles, skin disorders, guts, vomit, etc. don’t bother me, but a suspenseful movie can make me shake, turn white, and hide under a blanket.

29. As a kid, I had everything I needed and some of what I wanted.

30. My dad made the best sack lunches. The brown bag was always overflowing and you never knew what you might find. My favorite was peanut butter or cream cheese in a plastic baggie, all you had to do was bite off the corner and decorate your crackers. The napkin always had a secret note in the fold.

31. I love horses. If I could have a ranch, I’d move today.

32. I secretly want to be a country star. I guess it’s not a secret anymore.

33. I know every line to the movie Pretty Woman. How bad is that!

34. I pray every time before I sing in front of people. because I once froze while singing a solo when I forgot to pray beforehand.

35. I have broken my two front teeth twice…. both times on the bottom of a pool.

36. I have always learned things the hard way. See #35

37. My grandma was the most influential person in my life, she could sew a dress in a day and could spend a dollar 15 different ways. She taught me how to use coupons and budget. I miss her.

38. I never wanted to break up with boyfriends, I just tried to make them break up with me.

39. I was engaged twice. I married once.

40. As a kid, I was somewhat of a tomboy, funny that my daughter is into princesses and sparkles. I’m not sure if that’s irony or cruelty.

41. Democrat or Republican?….I want a viable third option.

42. I have been on TV 3 times.

43. I use the word ‘selfish’ too often.

44. I have a small meltdown when I feel I have bought something I can’t afford. Oh wait, we own- I mean- pay an insane mortgage on a house in Southern California. Honey, brown paper bag!

45. 100 is just too many.

46. I don’t fit in with South Countians.

47. I couldn’t fall asleep while laying on my back if you paid me but I’m told that I end up in that position frequently. (Direct copy from another list)

48. Speaking in front of people is my fear factor, I’d pee my pants if I had to pray.

49. I’m pretty good at a lot of useless things. For example, the banner I made for Toby’s baseball team won 2nd place…. so that means… I’m good with felt????

50. I don’t think that I’m particularly good at starting something from scratch, I think I’m better at improving on something mediocre.

51. I admire people who can write succinctly.

52. Can anyone call himself an artist? Is it a matter of my opinion or theirs? I struggle with who gets to choose.

53. Babies make me smile.

54. I have never felt better than when I was pregnant, unfortunately, that has only been 120 weeks of my life.

55. Corey and I cuddle every night. He changes the way he sleeps for me. How cool is that!

56. I want to take voice lessons.

57. I rarely completely finish a home project before I start another one. However, when helping a friend, I have trouble leaving before it’s done done.

58. I’m thinking that because this list is taking so long, I may not be very interesting.

59. I’m not motivated by money, I’m motivated by the fear of not having it.

60. I want to master something but can’t think of anything I want to master.

61. I’m more empathetic than sympathetic.

62. I brush my teeth in the shower.

63. I am overly pessimistic because it is better to be pleasantly surprised than let down.

64. When using the words “leery” and “weary”, I always choose the wrong one.

65. I have never missed paying a bill on purpose.

66. I’m not sure how anyone can NOT believe in God after having a child. It’s too amazing for US to take credit for doing it correctly.

67. I’m left handed. I point out every actor on TV who is left-handed (ever since Corey started pointing out every Mac).

68. I’m not a fan of oak furniture.

69. I always said I wasn’t going to say “because I said so” to my kids. I totally do.

70. I cut every family member’s hair so that I can justify paying for mine.

71. I wasn’t a very good older sister.

72. I cry watching the Shamu show at Sea World.

73. I went to my junior prom on a school bus.

74. I often look at the price of an item, figure out how many gallons of milk it would buy and then put it back.

75. I told Corey to take the gig that consequently made him miss the birth of our daughter.

76. I arrived at the hospital 18 minutes before she was born.

77. I look funny without bangs.

78. Prayer lists sometimes seem like cleverly, or not so cleverly, disguised gossip columns. God already knows the details.

79. I think “why me” is a horrible thing to say. It’s as if you wish your misfortune on someone else.

80. I’ve had some hard decisions to make in my life. I made them based on what I knew was right and disregarded all that I felt.

81. I wish I had a better vocabulary.

82. My mom and dad are still married. I’m thankful I can say that.

83. I miss out on a lot of opportunities because I fear failure.

84. I have never written a song, nor do I think I could write a good one.

85. The traits that frustrate me most about others, I have.

86. My tastes in decor change every year or so.

87. I almost always use a recipe when cooking. I can’t wing it very well.

88. I often think of something funny to say on the way home from the party.

89. I’ve known my best friend since junior high.

90. Being a mom of teenage kids scares me.

91. I hardly ever remember my dreams.

92. I find that I say the same thing twice if I feel it is important.

93. I am not photogenic.

94. My parents said to eat what is put in front of me, I do.

95. I have danced with sea turtles and been chased (kind of) by an eel.

96. Kauai is my favorite Hawaiian island because of #95.

97. I lived in Houston for a year. Corey will correct me and say it was nine months. It was long enough.

98. This past year I’ve put more emphasis on making memories.

99. I burnt a batch of cookies while doing this list, further proving #2.

100. Delete. :)

The End of Childhood

I may be 30 something. I may be a wife and mother. I may have graduated from college, graduate school and have my own business, but just this last week I had to face the end of childhood.

After almost 40 years, my parents are selling their house. My childhood home. The only home I ever knew until leaving for college and starting out on my own. It’s the home where all my memories are from. The place where I brought friends home from school, so we could play dress up in the playhouse in the backyard. It was the place I first learned how to ride a bike, roller skate and put on makeup. It was where I learned that matches hurt if you let them burn down too low, that crayons melt in the heater vents on the floor, that you can slide all the way down the steps on your stomach to save time if you don’t feel like walking. This is where I helped my dad almost build a doll house. This is where I cried over my first crush, where I got ready for my first dance, carved pumpkins, learned to cook and had slumber parties. This is where I learned to drive, had a curfew and late night talks with boys. This is where I proudly brought friends home from choir tours so they could have a restful night at “home” and hot fudge sundaes. This is where Mike nervously asked my dad for my hand in marriage and where I spent my last night before becoming his wife. It is home.

Weiss House

But this period of my life and that of my parent’s life has come to an end. And it’s okay. Actually I was in the party that encouraged them to do so. It’s not as if my parents are settling for anything less than what they’ve known. They have an incredibly gorgeous home in Northern Washington on 10 beautiful acres, complete with 3 ponds, a horse pasture, wine in the making and a forest to get lost in. A grandkids’ paradise. Oh yeah, and a new playhouse that kicks the old playhouse’s butt.

But this past week I’ve been nostalgic. I came up to the Bay Area for the week with Sophia, to help my parents pack. Now, many of you readers have actually been to my parent’s home in Oakland and know that this is no small task. As I have said, my parents have lived there for almost 40 years. My parents, especially my mom, are what you call “collectors”. They have incredible antiques, and more collections than one can count, or would even want to. My mom is an entertainer, and has all the dishes, service wear, linens, and centerpieces to go along with it. This past week has been exhausting, but gratifying. I accomplished a lot. I got to go through memories. I got to throw things away! (Something I’ve always secretly wanted to do ☺) It’s been an emotional time for my parents, who are not only moving their lives, but having to make difficult financial decisions along the way as well. It’s hard to have painters, realtors, stagers and more come in and tell you all the ways that your house is imperfect or not quite right for the cliental who will want to buy it. It slowly starts becoming a building and less and less your home. It slowly starts becoming some one else’s home, even though you don’t know who that might be yet. And that feels weird.

Then there are all those projects that are finally being done, that you just never had the time or money for. Now you get to see them through, for someone else. Oh well.

Having Sophia with me was great. True, she could unpack a box just as quickly as I could pack it. But man, my parent’s house was a paradise for a curious 20 month old. She had a great time exploring. It helped rejuvenate my mom and dad to have her around. Nothing like taking a break from hauling boxes to zerbert a little tummy or help color the boxes in the living room with crayons. I loved watching her explore my old toys, my old haunts. I loved bathing her in the same great bath tub that I used to sit in with my sister Heather as our dad would sit at the doorway singing old 20s songs on his ukelele. I laughed as she discovered the joy of dropping coins through the slots in the railing up stairs just to watch them land on the steps below. I loved watching her climb up on the big couches and chairs and just sit and look at her books while the hustle and bustle went on around her.

I needed this time. I needed to let go, to say goodbye. I needed a chance to sort through life, memories and unnecessary necessities. In saying goodbye I could be excited for what is ahead for my mom and dad, and for my own kids. I’m glad I could have this week with Sophia here in my childhood home, even if I’ll be the only one with the memory of it. I’m excited that she and peanut 2 will have new memories in Washington, of adventure and family. I know that home is where my family is, not just this structure. I love that my family has become more than my mom, dad and siblings. I love that Mike and I have a chance to one day have our own home to help build memories in. That my own children will have to go through all my junk and ask me why I kept it all. I’m excited for all the life there is ahead of us. I can let go of the past 30 years without losing any of the memories. I don’t need the building to help me hang on to those. I don’t need all of my childhood toys or old letters to help me recall the love and compassion that was shared under this roof.

Episode 39, In Which I Save The World

… from having to endure one more hackneyed network sitcom.

I got a call last week from a company called “Audience Studies”, offering me the chance to win valuable non-cash prizes in exchange for giving my opinion on a new show. I thought to myself (as I often do), “I watch television. I like valuable non-cash prizes. My opinion is valuable. I’ll do it!”

The DVD arrived. We popped it in ye olde laptope.

And, for the next 15 minutes, sat through the most miserable train-wreck of a sitcom ever. Stop me if you’ve seen this one:

GUIDO: husband, mouth-breathing moron with excessive back hair whose only skills seems to be figuring out mathematically the most offensive and inane thing to say in any given situation, and then saying it. Think New Jersey Italian trashy, but with a bigger beer gut and less hair.

BETTY: wife, peppy, fashionable, and oh so quick with the witty one-liners. We assume that she married Guido in a fit of youthful rebellion, and has been sticking it out for the last 16 years for the sake of the kids.

GREG: best friend of Guido, single, constantly getting Guido into trouble with Betty by suggesting horrible ideas, which Guido then acts out with simple-minded obedience. Serves as intellectual foil for Guido.

JILL: teenage daughter of Betty and Guido, more emotionally stable than either of them. (casting note: should be played by a short 26-year-old, unhealthily obsessed with her own cleavage)

RICKY: preteen son of Betty and Guido, socially awkward genius. With computers, and whatnot.

INT. BREAKFAST TABLE – MORNING

JILL: So dad, what did you get mom for her birthday today?

GUIDO: Same as always, a box of chocolates and a coupon for a free oil change.

(audience laughs)

JILL: Daaaaaaad!

(audience laughs)

GUIDO: What? No good?

JILL: No, dad. The art of gift giving, or Futakaido as the Japanese call it, involves selecting an object that suggests the thematic subtext of the relationship. It should say something about the giver, and something about the receiver, eliciting an unspoken acknowledgement of the relationship between them. (sticks chest out)

GUIDO: Right! That’s why it’s perfect – I know her car needs an oil change, and she likes chocolate!

(audience laughs)

JILL: Daaaaaaad!

(audience laughs)

GUIDO: I’ll never understand you broads!

RICKY: Here Dad (shows him laptop screen). I built a cross-indexed database of mom’s personal preferences, by price and seduction potential. I then hyper-texted a link to the internet shopping, so you can e-buy something for her.

GUIDO: Computers! (throws hands up)

(audience laughs)

JILL: Daaaaaaad!

(audience laughs)

INT. SEEDY BAR – MORNING

GUIDO: … so, anyways, I gots to get something for Betty for hers birthdays.

GREG: The oil-change didn’t work out?

GUIDO: Nah, Jill says I gotta get her something Japanese, like a Futa kaka, or whatever.

(audience laughs)

GREG: Jill said that? Huh. (Pause) Great set of cans on that kid.

(long pause – audience laughs awkwardly)

BARTENDER: Another round?

GUIDO: God yes.

GREG: So you need to get her something Japanese, that symbolizes the relationship, expressing something you like, and something she likes, and you need it by tonight?

GUIDO: Yeah

GREG: I got it! Get her a …

GUIDO: Don’t say stripper!

GREG: … nevermind.

(audience laughs)

GUIDO: Can you for one minute stop thinking about cans and help me out here?

GREG: Sorry – yes. (pause, then abjectly) No.

(audience laughs)

GUIDO: Well, yous clearly ain’t gonna help much. I gotta get to work anyway.

BARTENDER: Here you are, gentlemen.

GUIDO: Can I get that to go?

INT. LIVING ROOM – EVENING

GUIDO: Hey everybody, I’m home!

(Betty, Jill, Ricky enter)

BETTY: Hi sweety! How was work today?

GUIDO: It was good – that new receptionist is such a flirt. She’s hot too. Man, I’d love to just …

JILL: Daaaaaaad!

(audience laughs)

BETTY: Jill, it’s fine, honey. It’s been years since my sense of sexual identity was tied to your father’s interest. Now, my self-perception is constructed entirely from bits and pieces of sexual innuendo cast my way by anonymous gawkers in public places. Why do you think I wear these tight velour sweat-pants with the word “Juicy” on the butt whenever I run errands around town?

GUIDO: Haha! Broads!

(audience laughs, but in a pitiful self-loathing way)

RICKY: So, dad, what did you get Mom for her birthday?

GUIDO: Well, I did like you said, and got her something Japanese (reaches into pocket, pulls out two fistfuls of raw salmon fillet). It’s Sushi! Happy Birthday, baby.

BETTY, JILL, RICKY: Daaaaaaaad! (Jill sticks chest out)

GUIDO: (to camera) What’d I do?

ROLL CREDITS

We actually turned it off after the first 15 minutes, because we couldn’t stand to finish it. It was that awful. When they called back to ask my opinion on the show, I did the only honorable thing: I suggested they buy 3 seasons, and run it opposite Studio 60.

You can thank me when the fall line-up comes out.

60 Months

Saturday (2/3) was the 5th anniversary of my mom’s death. Coincidentally, it was also the 4th anniversary of my dad’s death. (Mom had Lupus that gave way to Leukemia and my dad suffered a heart attack.) I tell myself that when the calendar came full circle and my dad realized that the years would all just be duplicates of the one before- without my mother – his heart gave up.

A Mama’s boy through and through, the loss is still challenging. I still have pictures of her on my desk and on my dresser, and I find myself staring at them from time to time, allowing my mind to let her move just enough to allow the photos to come alive. In the one where my brother and I are in our Christmas pj’s, sitting on her lap in the late 70’s, I see her hands pull us in closer as the photo gets snapped. In the one where she and my dad are smiling on our back porch, I see her eye squint a little because the flash never fails to catch her off guard. I still have dreams where she tells me that the kids are growing nicely and that she misses getting to visit with Ellie. I appreciate the short visit, and usually just find my way over to one of her pictures to watch them move again.

So it’s been five years since Mom died. And I struggle to find the perfect adverb to describe how much life changed. Catastrophically? Drastically? Suddenly? Thankfully? Finally? On this 5 year anniversary, I thought it’d be helpful for me to make a list of the things I’ve learned since she died and life changed as it did. And although I’m sharing these in a public forum, I have no delusions about them being universal.

1. Overwhelming stress forces man into the deepest recesses of himself. Job loss, death in the family, divorce, etc all work like a mine shaft to drop a man into his own well. What commodities he finds there will surprise him. I found plenty of overwhelming irresponsibility, the capability to behave in unspeakable ways, and the ability to disregard rational thought. At the same time, in the darkness, I met up with Paul- who sang while imprisoned – who shared his own struggles with me and called them a blessing – who reminded me that victory is sweet when the struggle is severe.

2. This, too, will pass. It has become the great equalizer. Knowing this: regardless of the season, another one is knocking on the door has been a source of strength as well as a healthy dose of reality. When we had no money, it passed. When we had so many questions, they were satisfied. When we had need, it was met. When we feared for our future, it came- and we were still in it! On the other hand, I’m reminded of my parents’ spending habits. My dad was an engineer and in sales. If you’ve ever eaten a Frito Lay product (my guess is that you have), it probably ran across a series of conveyor belts that my dad designed and sold to them for their Dallas plant. And when he did jobs for Frito Lay and Coca Cola, we were mafia rich and we lived as such. However, when those jobs didn’t materialize for a year, we had very very little. And after all the years of living with whiplash economics, my folks never prepared for the downtimes. If only I’d been wise enough to look at my folks when we had money and said, Mom, Dad, this too will pass. Keep your eyes on the calendar when things suck, keep your eyes on your appetite when things are good.

3. Ferris Bueller was right. Life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you just might miss it. 5 years ago, I was in a totally different career. There was something that I loved about it- something that made me better than others, but that something was such a small piece of the job. In actuality, I was miserable but I’d latched on to a sliver of something so much larger. It was like becoming a pilot because I liked the smell of the jetway. I have found myself to be infinitely more happy when I take inventory of the aspects of my life where I suffer the flight because it’s bookended with jetways. When my folks died, up was down and down was up. Work became pure misery. I left that job and went through a string of other jobs, each one training me to take inventory of the things that I loved and the things that I tolerated. I was a construction worker, a guitar player, a handyman, a painter, a graphic designer, a consultant, a charity case, a social worker, a bum. All in the first year. (see #’s 1 and 2) I started to get a better idea of what it was that I loved about work (and ultimately about myself) and found a way to spend the lion’s share of time in the jetways and very little time suffering through the flights. Which leads me to…

4. Know Thyself. I have spent 5 years in regular, expensive, offensive-at-times therapy. When I started, I thought it was just to help me get over the loss of dear old Mum. But as I got into it, invested effort into it, and started working on my head I realized that there were elements of the heart and mind that I’d never thought about. After my third year of therapy I went to my therapist and said, “okay, I started by blaming my father for being emotionally distant. Then I blamed my brother for that of which we do not speak. Then I blamed my mother for distorting my worldview and building me into a marionette. What do I do when I’m out of people to blame?” He responded, “you just stop blaming.” This isn’t applicable to everyone, and it took me a long time to get to the point where I could say these things and actually believe them. But I think that we are soft, pliable, not-so-resilient beings. We get bent out of shape. We get little pieces broken off of us. We get dinged and scratched. I’m convinced that we spend the first 3.9 years of our lives on the assembly line. Then we spend year 4 in showroom condition. And as soon as we set foot in school, we get taken for a life of test drives. And I don’t know cars, but I know plenty about guitars. Every guitar looks great the day it gets sold. Every guitar goes through a period where it gets played, abused, used, dinged, and aged. Many guitars fall into disrepair and eventually get dismantled. Some, however, fall into the hands of a person who recognized the value in vintage instruments, and he relishes the scratches. He shows off the fact that the forearm contour has lost it’s paint because of stage wear. The back of guitar necks that have been played lose the gummyness of a factory finish and start to get a soft, satin feel. The fingerboard actually flattens out over years and the edges of the neck start to contour to the shape of the hand of a player. What one man calls a “beat up guitar”, Fender can make you in their CUSTOM SHOP for outrageous prices. The only difference between “old” and “vintage” is the marketing. And there’s nobody to market us besides us. I think every person could benefit from some time spent staring in the mirror, saying nice things to the person with whom he or she is talking. It sounds retarded, but it only breaks down when you invite a 3rd party into it (a third version of yourself telling you that it looks stupid for the two of you to be talking into a mirror).

5. God is real. I’ve been a believer for 15 or 16 years. I learned the party lines and tried to share faith with family and friends. I believed in God and had faith that I was saved through Christ crucified, but it was what I call an academic faith. I can describe what a steak looks like. I can even give you a job at a steakhouse and you can work with steaks and smell the glory of great steak cooked to perfection. But nothing gets you to that understanding of steak like eating a great steak does. This all seems very elementary on the surface, but I think some people suffer from growing up in a steak family, and the magic of great steak is lost – or at least covered up with other memories. In these last five years, I’ve found that there is no description, no writing, no story, no sermon, no movie, no substitute for being the Honorary Chief of Sinners, and having God reveal his love for you in Christ at that time. I’ve grown a little weary of going to church and hearing people talk about how they were victimized by others. I empathize with them and feel sorry for their struggles, but I find that it misses the point of the Gospel. Yes, come to Jesus when you’ve been broken and beaten. Come to the Father when you’ve been left out. But where are the testimonies of the still-active sinners? I found that steak tastes great to those who’ve been robbed. But steak becomes unforgettable and irreplaceable when a man has sworn off food, separated himself from sustenance, run away from those who can provide for him, and yet someone hunts him down in the deepest recesses of his well, and cooks the steak for him right there in the darkness.

6. Stereotypes and Archetypes are the cancer of the church. I was driving the other day, and a lady slammed on her breaks right as a light turned yellow. She and 2 other cars could’ve easily made a very legal turn, negating the need to wait through another very long red light. As is usually my style, I went on to berate her and to tell my boys why the lady was an idiot. (see #1) Later, as we got to where we were going, I see the lady pull into the same parking lot and go into the same store. This isn’t a devotional story, so if you were expecting some high-drama twist at the end, like she just came from her husband’s funeral or something, you won’t find it here. She was a normal lady. Nothing special, and in fact, I couldn’t tell you today what she was wearing or what she looked like. But I remember thinking that what was once a silhouette of an idiot in front of me was now a lady who goes to the grocery store just like me and has a name and a life. The point here is that Homosexual is a silhouette. Alcoholic is a silhouette. Sex Offender is a silhouette. Unbeliever is a silhouette. Fat person is a silhouette. A–hole is a silhouette. Those are easy, what about the harder ones? Pastor is a silhouette. Worship Leader is a silhouette. Good Person is a silhouette. Great Singer is a silhouette. We box, and compartmentalize, and order, and file, and build a nomenclature so that we can access information quickly. “Oh, idiot?, lemmeseeeee… yep- I know 4 of those. Alcoholic? Yeah, I can tell a story, too, because I have one filed away right here… I’m only 33, but I see more and more that people’s greatest weaknesses are also their greatest strengths. Everyone is a paradox. When we fashion people as silhouettes, we fail to see the dynamic of the human. (see #4) How can we save humans if we’re fighting silhouettes? How can we help the hurt when we try to illuminate the silhouette instead of bandaging the heart? I say, bandage the heart, and the silhouette dissipates. To that end, many of my favorite people on this earth are non-christians, because they’re less involved in being a spotter for God The Sniper. They’re living with struggle, and frankly, they’re living in the darkness that is their silhouette. (see #1)

7. Everyone needs an Addison Road. Thanks be to God.

(NOTE: This was posted over the weekend, but ended up disappearing off of the site. I’m reposting here, which means some of you will be getting this in your email subscriptions and feed-readers twice. If those of you who commented on the original post would like to repost your comments here, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, and sorry for the confusion. – ml)

Happy Birthday Mike!

Happy Birthday Baby!

It’s Mike’s big day, and in honor of said occurance I thought we could all get together and come up with 31 (yes, it’s the big 3-1) “titles” for Mike. Be creative, sentimental, corny, cheesy…whatever.

Here, I’ll start:

1. Husband

2. Father

3. Brother

4. Son

Okay, basic and easy to see coming, so get a little more creative and help me celebrate my man’s big day.

Love like Gravity

You breathe in, you breathe out, and that quickly, everything you know about love changes.

We were driving home today from Phoenix, where the whole family had gathered to celebrate my Grandmother’s 90th birthday. People flew in from all over to be together, to share memories, to hold her hand and talk softly. She’s not doing very well – she had to be wheeled to the birthday party in a hospice chair, with an attendant nearby most of the time – and the unspoken thought of the weekend was that we might not have another chance to talk with her before she’s gone from us. She fell, early last week, and had surgery to pin her hip together. There’s no such thing as a minor fall or a simple surgery when you’re 90, and you can see some of the strength ebbing from her eyes when you talk to her.

She met Sophia for the first time, and Sophia reached out for her, and her Great-Grandma kissed her, as old women and young girls have always kissed, and they shared that secret joy called family, even though one is too young to know what it means, and one is so old she sometimes forgets, and even though they share none of the same blood, and have only just met – love sometimes works that way.

There is a lullaby that my wife and I sing to our daughter, and as this weekend unfolded, I kept singing the words over and over in my head.

Sophia, my beauty, I love you,
But you don’t know yet what that means

Love always works that way – it is given to those who are ignorant of its full value, in a thousand private acts of sacrifice. My daughter doesn’t know that we love her – she has no knowledge of its absence, and so, to her, it is just life. It is just what Mama and Dadda are to her. May it never be otherwise!

This is the great mystery of love – that my Grandmother and my daughter can be caught up in its grasp, even though they had never met, and may never meet again. It is a force of nature, like gravity, and even though it might never be played out between them in those thousand acts of patience, of compassion, of sacrifice, it still binds them together.

My daughter doesn’t know this yet, but it is also true – I don’t know what love means either.

We all love in ignorance. Truly. We give in ignorance, and we receive in ignorance, and by these commissions we practice the art of love, knowing nothing of the force that compels it. It is the strongest force in the world.

There are deep rivers
beneath these still waters
and this love is more than it seems
this love is more than it seems

On the 210 freeway, driving home from Phoenix, at 80 mph, our left rear tire separated. The tread peeled off from the tire, and in an instant the steering wheel jerked loose from Gretchen’s hands, and we started to skid across 4 lanes of busy Sunday afternoon traffic.

As Gretchen fought for control, she grabbed the wheel, struggling to straighten out the van. We swerved sharply in the opposite direction, and as we did, I felt the van start to break loose – I saw the mountains sink below the window, and the pavement rise up on the other side, and felt my stomach turn upside down. The van started to tip over.

Your mother and I both had tutors
In heaven, and down here below

Sometimes Sophia decides she wants to do something, and nothing can dissuade her. If I push the matter, I can see her eyes flare up, and I see a glimpse of how strong her personality will be.

My dear daughter, you have no idea.

As the days of your life unfold, your mother and I will sit with you, and tell you the stories that you are a part of. My girl, there is fire in your veins – you are a daughter to strong women, women who love fiercely, and live deeply. You are the daughter of women who boarded ships to sail to strange lands, who forged homes in dark and inhospitable corners of the earth, who built businesses and fortunes in times when women were not allowed in boardrooms, who worked 12 hours a night to pay for their children’s medical care and schooling, who sent husbands and sons off to war and prayed for their safe return, women who never finished high school but whose daughters hold master’s degrees – my dear little girl, you are the daughter of strong, beautiful women.

And the strong and beautiful women who are your heritage have always taught their sons and daughters how to practice the art of love. They love like breathing in and out, like gravity, and it is a force that compels the world to turn.

Whatever we know of love, we learned at their feet.

You weren’t old enough to understand the words that Grandma said as she held you, but I will repeat them to you until you are.

“Love them.” She was looking at you, and at your mother, but she was talking to me. “Love them – you know that’s your most important job, don’t you? They are God’s blessing to you. Love them.”

They taught us the meaning
of love without ending
and, baby girl, that’s how we know
baby girl, that’s how we know

Gretchen was driving, my brother was in the front seat, and I was in the back seat next to Sophia, who was strapped into her car seat. We had all of our luggage in the back of the van, along with a big TV that my dad had sent with us to drop off for him at home.

As my stomach turned upside down, and the van tilted further and further, as the tires screamed and horns around us blared, I threw myself across Sophia, grabbing the far side of her seat with both hands, crushing her little body beneath my chest.

All I could think about was the massive TV spinning forward from the back of the van, crashing into us.

Sophia, my beauty, I love you,
But you don’t know yet what that means

You can’t possibly understand this yet, but I have never loved you more than when I was crushing your face into my chest, and you were screaming and beating me with your fists.

I can’t make you understand this yet, but everyone in that car would have done the same thing. And so would Papa, and Grammy Weiss, and Grandma Lee, and Grandpa, and your mother’s sisters, and their husbands, and your Uncle David, and Auntie Kim, and your dad’s aunts and uncles, and his cousins.

And even though she can’t move her legs, and even though she has to have help feeding herself, and getting dressed, and even though she sometimes gets confused and can’t remember where she is, even though her body no longer obeys the commands of her heart and mind; in her heart, and in her mind, your father’s father’s mother would do the same.

And behind her, a hundred generations whose bodies gave out before they could demonstrate their love for you.

There are deep rivers
beneath these still waters

My grandmother’s love was almost always the peaceful sort – the still waters. It was gentle, and compassionate, and it usually was accompanied by simple cards, and gifts, and thoughtful words.

And it was poured into my dad over 60 years of simple recurring acts of love.

Which was how he taught it to me.

And I will teach it to you in that same way – by simple repetition of silent sacrifices.

What I cannot explain to you, the deep mystery of love, is this: the still waters of simple repetition and silent sacrifice are the ripples on the surface of a raging torrent.

I will swing you in my arms just to hear you laugh, and to share in your joy.

I will also raise my arms to shield you against any onslaught, and will spend my last breath so that you can draw one more.

And though I cannot explain to you how, it is the same thing. Both acts are drawn from the same well. It is love.

At the last moment, when the van pulled itself upright once more, and as your mother guided it across 4 lanes of traffic to a safe stop on the side of the freeway, the first thing she did was reach back to touch you. You quieted instantly, and reached out and took her hand.

this love is more than it seems,
this love is more than it seems

In a few days, or weeks, or God willing, a few months more, Irene Lee will breathe her last breath, and someone beautiful will have gone out of the world.

I’m glad you got the chance to meet her, and I’m glad that you reached out to her, and that she kissed you.

When you grow, and you begin to imitate your mother, and she shows you how to live in that secret strength that the women in both of our families have always carried, and you begin to practice the art of love, it will not be something new that you do – it will be something very old. It will be something handed down from generation to generation, lived out in a thousand acts of patience, of compassion, of sacrifice.

Love is learned by imitation, and taught by repetition, and as my Grandmother leaves this earth, I pray you will take her place in this dance.

sophiasong.mp3

Sophia’s Lullaby
by Michael Lee

The Uncoolest Cut of All

I had a moment.

It was one of those moments where you can see into the future.

And the future is sassy.

bath timeThree or four nights a week, I do Sophia’s bath. The main goal of bath time is for Sophia to move large quantities of water from the tub out onto the floor of the bathroom. Her mother and I, in our infinite wisdom, have seen fit to give her several brightly colored plastic toys, such as cups and buckets, that serve to greatly amplify her ability to move that much water. Every once in a while, she pauses just long enough for me to quickly scrub down some part of her with soap, then she’s off again making a tub-tsunami.

One of her favorite bath-time games is “Ducky Bombs”. This is a very complicated game, which I will try to explain simply, so that you can understand the subtlety and complexity. Sophia pics up her rubber ducky. She holds it high over her head, and looks expectantly at daddy. Daddy then, in a very loud and very, very silly voice, yells out, “DUUUUUCKYYY BOOOOMMMMBS!” This is Sophia’s cue to thrown the rubber ducky down into the water with as much force as her little 1 year old arms can muster (hint: a lot of force. A surprising amount of force. Like she’s a robot-child or something). When the ducky hits the water, daddy does his very best explosion sound, and we both fall over laughing. Rinse. Repeat. Maybe 5 or 6 hundred times in a single bath.

So, I say this just to let you know that bath-time is silly time, completely unrestrained, joyful play time. One of the other games we play is called “Putting things on my head”. Again, within this game there is a subtle interplay of meaning and motion to rival even the oldest Noh play. Basically, it works like this: Sophia takes something, and puts it on her head. Sometimes, she can’t quite figure out how to get it to stay on her head, so daddy puts it on her head for her.

She loved this game. She would play it endlessly, with anything that was within her grasp. She even got the shampoo bottle to stay on her head for a second or two, to our great delight. For a while, this was her favorite game – even more than ducky bombs, if you can image such a thing! Then, suddenly, two nights ago, something changed, and I saw into the future.

We were doing bath time. We were playing “move the water out of the tub”. We were playing “Ducky Bombs”. We were playing a new game that she just made up, called “I pull the drain plug out and daddy has to put it back in 50 times”. Then, I reached into the tub, grabbed a plastic fish-cup (the red one), and I put it on her head.

Everything stopped. My daughter looked at me, fish-cup still on her head, and said, “Dad, that is so lame. I mean, who puts things on their head anymore? I’m 14 months old now, you know, not some little baby who likes to put things on her head.” The fact that she said all of this with just a look in no way diminished her ability to clearly communicate her meaning.

Suddenly, I was transported 12 years into the future, and I was standing in the doorway to her bedroom holding tickets to go see a band that had stopped being cool, like, weeks ago, thinking how I was the awesome dad that was going to drive and chaperone her and her friends to the concert, and she’s thinking about how she’s going to have to explain to her friends that the mildly retarded ape-man in the front seat is just the chauffeur, and in no way actually related to her.

I, of course, will not be allowed to speak during the evening.

Mom and Dad in Peru

So, my mom and dad have taken a few weeks off from their busy schedule of taking cruises, watching sophia, and taking cruises to head down to Peru for a few weeks. They are part of a medical mission / work crew / sports camp team through Hope For Kids International. You can read the blog about the trip here. The “Mary” and “Howard” that they’re talking about are my folks, and Sharon is their friend that mom dragged along with them.

This is my dad, reff’ing a soccer game. Brought back memories of him coaching my AYSO team.

dad refmain-1.jpeg