Happy one-month, Everett James!

Everett James
Everett James, first week of life.

I received a lot of advice in the nine months leading up to fatherhood, but one quote stuck out to me more than all the others.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

Gretchen Rubin

It’s a reminder that despite how difficult the days might seem, through all the crying, lack of sleep, and challenges that accompany being a parent, the years seemingly go by so fast.

Before you know it, you look up and ask, “Where did the time go?”

That’s exactly how I feel looking back on the one month with our sweet little boy, Everett James.

It seems like just yesterday that we hurried to the hospital, checked in, and prepared for the arrival of baby boy Glab. I still vividly remember the first time we heard him cry as he made his way into this world. Tears were instinctive and emotions were overflowing.

I stood by his side taking pictures and marveling at the miracle that he was — and still is — while they cleaned him off and prepared him for mom and dad. Not normally one to want to hold newborn babies, I gladly accepted him into my arms and held him for the first time as we sat by Rachel’s side and had our first family picture taken right there in the delivery room.

Down the hall to the nursery, baby was wheeled with dad in tow. He was weighed and measured, tested and given shots, all with nothing but positive results coming back. He was our perfect little angel boy and I was floating on cloud nine.

In the nursery with Everett, while the doctors were finishing with Rach, I gave our little boy a pep talk. I told him how Jesus loved him, how his mom and dad were crazy about him, and how he already had so many people in his life who cared about him, something he couldn’t even realize. I told him I was going to teach him everything I knew and how I couldn’t wait to play basketball with him in the driveway and share so many great moments with him.

I swear, he was quiet and attentive — as much as a one-hour-old boy could be — the whole time I was talking to him. And if I didn’t know that babies that age couldn’t focus their eyes, I’d say he was looking right at me with silent reverie — but it’s okay, boy; there was plenty of that going in your direction.

Everett James
Everett James, such a happy little boy.

The past month since that joyous day has been a whirlwind. We’ve prayed for our boy and our family regularly. Friends and family have gotten to meet him, we’ve taken him for walks and to the store, we’ve brought him to church to be in the house of the Lord and around a loving congregation, and we’ve snapped more photos on our phones than I’m sure either Rach or I have taken in our past year of marriage.

Fatherhood has been everything I could have imagined or hoped for — and it’s only just begun. Just wait until he does more than eat, sleep, and poop, I tell myself.

Little boy has already gotten bigger. Born 8 pounds, 4 ounces, he just topped the 10-pound mark this week at his latest doctor visit. We can also see the growth in his face and hands, and he’s showing more alertness by the day.

We sing to boy — mommy well, daddy poorly — and also read to him and play music for him. Sometimes all of that soothes him, other times he cries and holds up one of his little hands as if to say: “Please! … I’m trying to sleep here.”

Our happy little family.
Our happy little family.

Rach and I often talk about the many things we can’t wait to do as a family of three, but we also know how short this precious time with a newborn baby is, and we don’t want to skip the present with both eyes fixed on the future.

Sometimes I catch myself staring at our boy for long periods of time, not necessarily waiting for him to do something cute — although Lord knows he can make the heart melt with a hint of a smile, a facial expression, a sneeze, a hand placement, a heavy sigh, or any number of subtle body movements. But instead, I’m looking at a little miracle from God. A blessing beyond our wildest dreams, who brings more joy to our lives than any possession could possibly do. I look in his eyes and see a whole other side of life not nearly identifiable until I became a father.

And for that blessed gift, I thank God for his abundance of grace and generosity.

Happy one-month of motherhood, Rach! You are doing a terrific job and I’m proud of you for all that you have done and endured.

And happy one-month, little Everett James! I hope we have shown you the love and nurturing that you deserve, because we always want you to know you are loved beyond all expression.

Everett James
Everett James turns one month old.

Paul Ryan correct in his cautious approach with Donald Trump

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that he is “just not ready to [support presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump]”.

This, of course, was met by a rebuttal from Trump in which he said — I’m paraphrasing here — “Well, I’m not going to support YOU, doodie-head! So there.”

Okay, that was a bad paraphrase, but it sounds like something a first grader might say, which is about the level of education Trump has used in conducting himself during his campaign up to this point.

But Trump, did, in fact, say he would not support Ryan, in essence saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” and thus flipping the proverbial double bird to the Speaker of the House.

Sean Hannity of Fox News, a prominent Republican who has one of the most popular talk radio shows in the country, had less than flattering words for Ryan.

“Establishment out to sabotage GOP nominee, yet they betrayed the base,” Hannity tweeted at Ryan.

Hannity seems to have disregarded the rest of Ryan’s interview with Tapper, in which Ryan said he wanted to support Trump, but that the presumptive nominee had some work to do unifying the party first.

What’s wrong with that? He didn’t say he was joining the #NeverTrump movement.

Hannity went on to tweet, “The Hell with what the voters think. Circular firing squad now led by @SpeakerRyan”, before suggesting “Maybe we need a new Speaker.”

What Hannity is neglecting to realize is that he is being hypocritical.

The “will of the people” and “what voters think” is not only reflected by those who voted for Trump, but also by those who did not vote for him.

Yes, Trump has received more votes than any other Republican candidate. And yes, he is on his way to receiving the majority now that his last competitors have dropped out of the race.

But to ignore the fact that this has been a contentious campaign fueled by hate and indignation and that large chunks of Republican voters are so upset at Trump to the point that they might vote for Hillary Clinton or just stay home on Election Day, is also ignoring the will of the people and disregarding what voters think.

I get it. I understand that no matter how unpleasant Trump might be, no matter how unpresidential, smarmy, pompous, arrogant — and any other synonym you might want to add — Trump continues to act, four years of Clinton is a near death sentence to conservatism and would be far worse than a Trump presidency.

But that doesn’t mean that Americans — Republicans specifically — should just fall in line and blindly pledge allegiance to somebody whose character and values they strongly question.

That’s not called democracy … that’s called dictatorship.

Americans want a president that they can believe in. Somebody who leads by example and can be a role model for the youth of the nation. Yes, Americans want a leader who “get things done.” But dictators get things done, too, and they still don’t have the love of their people.

I think Speaker Ryan gave a perfect response when asked if he is now supporting Trump as the presumptive nominee. He said that he wanted to, but that he’s not there yet.

I feel the same way.

Trump offended a lot of Republicans on his way to becoming the presumptive nominee. Now Trump should be the one to work on mending the fences — or “walls”, as is more applicable with Trump — for the sake of uniting the party.

Ryan is also getting some flak from other members of the Republican party and staunch supporters of Trump, who claim that Ryan needs to “be a leader” by setting a good example for other skeptical Republicans to fall in line and unite behind Trump.

Those who lay that burden on Speaker Ryan are misdirecting responsibility.

Yes, as Speaker of the House, second in the United States presidential line of succession, Ryan holds the highest Republican office in all the land.

But he’s not the most prominent Republican. That honor now belongs to Trump, because he’s running for president. And as the most distinguished person in the Republican Party, Trump is responsible for “leading” and “inspiring” and causing Republicans to find hope in him.

Thus far, he seems like he has no interest in fulfilling that role. Maybe he can do that by the convention and give people a reason — not to “fall in line” behind him like minions at the feet of a dictator, but instead to race to his side with loyalty like followers of a great democratic leader.

Harriet Tubman $20 bill: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Harriet Tubman $20 bill: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Harriet Tubman $20 bill: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

I’m a believer in the expression that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, when news first reached me that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, my first question was, “why?”

Not “why did they choose Harriet Tubman?” Not “why did they choose the $20 bill?” And no, not even “why did they choose a woman or an African-American?”

Instead, my question was, “why fix something that didn’t need fixing?”

Does changing the face on a piece of currency make it any more valuable? Was keeping Jackson’s face on the money somehow harming our economy?

No? Then I repeat: “why fix it?”

If the currency absolutely had to be fixed, then I applaud the government’s decision on Tubman. In principle, it makes sense. Tubman was an abolitionist born into slavery who escaped and helped lead the efforts of the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War. Jackson, meanwhile, was a slave owner and former President responsible for the Indian Removal Act, which stole land from Native Americans and led to the Trail of Tears, causing the death of thousands of American Indians.

In essence, the switch from Jackson to Tubman sounds like a no-brainer, right?

While Tubman was a good choice, I’m still hung up on the intent behind the currency change.

Those who know me best understand my level of distaste for Donald Trump, the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination for President of the United States.To put it more bluntly, I think he’s an obnoxious, arrogant blowhard with little knowledge of what it takes to be president.

But Trump put it correctly when he said that he thinks highly of Tubman but believes the move to put her on the $20 bill was “pure political correctness.”

To put focus on a trivial matter such as who graces our nation’s currency, simply to pacify a small segment of people who might be upset by it, is just an incredible waste of time.

Seriously, does anybody even pay attention to who is on our money? I don’t care if it’s Andrew Jackson, Michael Jackson, Harriet Tubman, or Harriet the Spy … I just care how many of them I have in my wallet.

The idea that our country is trying to appease everybody so as not to offend anybody is just hard to wrap my head around. Some might try to call that progress, but I call it spinning our tires in the mud. If we wait until everybody in the country catches up, the rest of the world will pass us by, and we will cease to grow and progress.

The constitution was written not to make every citizen equal, but to ensure opportunity exists for every citizen, which it most certainly does for those willing to work hard and earn what they deserve.

So, while I applaud the choice of Tubman for her courage and bravery, I frustratingly loathe the reason behind the switch. Changing the face of currency in order to put a woman or a minority on it, not for monetary improvement but simply for the sake of “equality”, belittles Tubman’s great accomplishments and instead puts the focus on qualities she had no control over.

Warriors break Bulls record: Stunning and unfathomable

The 1990s was a good time to live in Chicago, particularly if you were a Chicago Bulls fan.

His Airness, Michael Jordan, was in the prime of his basketball career and helped lead the Bulls to six championships in a span of eight years. And, some may argue, that if Jordan had never retired for two seasons, the Bulls would have won eight titles in a row.

But for as magical as the two separate three-peats were, one shining moment stuck out more than any other in the course of those six seasons. And that was their 1995-96 championship season when they set the NBA record for most wins in a regular season with 72.

I remember that season very well, and I knew the team was in for a special year in the summer prelude. The Bulls front office boldly pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs for the enigmatic troublemaker, Dennis Rodman. The hair-dyed, multi-tattooed former Detroit Piston “bad boy” was just the missing piece the Bulls needed to fill their power forward position — a guy who would play defense and grab rebounds.

As a brash teenager, I confidently predicted the Bulls would win the championship on the very day they acquired Rodman. That seemed all but inevitable given that the team already had the greatest player of all time in Jordan, and one of the best No. 2 players ever in Scottie Pippen.

No, the question wasn’t whether the Bulls would win their fourth title of the 90’s … it was how quickly and by how much.

Little did I or anyone else expect at the time that the Bulls were destined for the record books. The Bulls destroyed their competition and went on to win 72 regular season games, with just 10 losses.

That was a record I didn’t think would ever be touched. To only lose 10 games in a season seemed impossible, as if you were playing a video game on “rookie mode” — the easiest competition level, for those of you unfamiliar with the video game lingo.

Several teams since that year had tried, but just couldn’t come close. The Los Angeles Lakers teams of the early 2000’s with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton couldn’t do it. The Miami Heat “super team” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh flirted with the notion but didn’t have the prowess. And none of the great San Antonio Spurs teams of the entire millennium up to this point could manage to top 70 victories.

Then something strange happened. A team from Oakland, California, which played an up-tempo West Coast style of play, started shocking the NBA landscape with ridiculously high shooting percentages and better-than-expected defense. The team was led by little 6-foot-3, 190-pound (soaking wet) Stephen Curry, a player who could go down as the greatest shooter of all time.

To think that a player of Curry’s stature could win the Most Valuable Player award and destroy opposing players who are bigger and stronger than him just seemed outlandish.

But alas, the Warriors have done it. They have won 73 regular season games and not only beat the greatest-team-of-all-time’s record, but they now hold the distinction of being the only NBA team in history to lose single-digit games in the regular season.

And that … is … amazing.

Even though I said it before for the Bulls, I now say it again for the Warriors: I don’t see any other team coming close to touching that record for a long time — if ever.

Part of me is bothered that the Bulls’ record is broken. As a fan of the team, of course I wanted them to live in immortality. There’s a banner that hangs in the United Center, where the Bulls play, proudly displaying “72” in honor of that record-breaking season in ‘95-96. I’d hate to see that banner come down, or worse — think of how that number is only second-best every time I look at it.

But then there’s another part of me that realizes change is inevitable in this world, and sports are no exception. Records — not rules — are made to be broken, and what the Warriors did this season was remarkable. But the Warriors winning 73 games does not take anything away from the greatness of the Bulls in the 90s.

Sure, there will forever be comparisons between the two teams and the question of “which team is better?” will be asked for a long time. My belief, of course, is that the greatest player of all time gets the benefit of the doubt. And there’s also some part of me that believes if the Bulls had it all to do over again, knowing that they would need 74 wins to hold the record — they would do just that.

So, why does it bother me that the Bulls’ record no longer stands?

I think part of the reason is the pride factor. Every sports fan wants to support a winner. A champion. A team team that defines greatness.

But in my moments of clarity — usually late at night, such as the time of this writing — I realize that sports pride is just foolish.

For starters, I had absolutely nothing to do with the Bulls’ success in the 90’s. Fans want to feel like they’re part of something special, which is why they use first-person possessive pronouns when referring to their favorite teams. But I didn’t step onto the court that season. I didn’t help them win 72 games. I had nothing to do with it.

Secondly, pride is a sin. To look so fondly upon a sports team for some kind of ego boost or self-satisfaction is just plain wrong.

With a level head, I’ve come to the realization that I’m more stunned by the manner in which the Warriors have won games this season than I am saddened or angered by the Bulls’ fallen record. I’m also relieved by the notion that this Warriors team is mostly — if not completely — comprised of good men with normal egos.

Could you imagine the feeling if the arrogant LeBron James held that record? I’d be devastated.

Instead, the Warriors are a team of talented, hard-working players who win as a team. They focus more on the names on the front of their jerseys than the ones on the back.

Kudos to them. They broke the “unbreakable” record and they deserve the recognition.

Emotional Intelligence Quotient: What are your EQ behaviors?

How high is your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)?
How high is your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)?

How high is your EQ?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry. I didn’t either until recently.

EQ stands for emotional quotient, but is also known as emotional intelligence (EI). Similar to how natural intelligence is measured by the IQ, emotional intelligence is measured by the EQ.

Throughout my childhood and into my early twenties, I was prone to outbursts of anger and frustration, sadness and despair. Those aren’t uncommon feelings for children to exhibit because kids lack the maturity to handle the disappointment of not getting what they want.

But as you enter adulthood, you need to learn to manage your emotions better. And it was sometime in my mid-to-late twenties — not coincidentally when I began my serious walk with Jesus Christ — that I found emotional peace and contentment. Are all Christ-followers exempt from bouts with unhealthy emotion? Of course not. But faith helps.

I came across this article from titled “18 Behaviors of Emotionally Intelligent People,” and I was curious to see if I exhibited them. For the most part, I found similarities between the behaviors they were describing and what I feel I possess, because I do feel I have a good grasp on emotional intelligence.

But I am human; thus, I am imperfect and have work to do. Here are the 18 behaviors that they listed in the article, along with my analysis of where I stand for each of them. I encourage you to read the article and do a self-assessment for yourself, too.

  1. You have a robust emotional vocabulary
    I feel that this is one of my strong points. I’m a big believer in semantics, that words have many different meanings. There a synonyms, sure, and quite a few words that share similar meanings. But they’re not exactly the same thing. Think about it: if multiple words had the same exact meaning, there would be no need to have that many. The article points out that someone who is capable of clearly expressing what is bothering them — i.e. not just saying they “feel bad” — then it’s easier to deal with the issue.
  2. You’re curious about people
    The article describes the curiosity as one borne out of empathy. And as a Christian man, I try to exhibit empathy, but still knowing that there’s always room for improvement in that area. I think I’ve always had this burning desire — at least since adulthood — to try to understand people. For starters, I love stories, and every human ever conceived has a unique story. Secondly, I find human behavior and emotion fascinating, and that’s a core reason why I took up psychology — albeit briefly — in college.
  3. You embrace change
    In a moment of clear transparency, I must admit that my first instinctive reaction to change is one of hesitation. It’s not that I dislike change, per se. It’s more a reflex than a feeling. When presented with a scenario that would cause some kind of change in my life, I want to first weigh the implications that will come from such change. Is it a big, life-altering change that will require a lot of work? Is it something small and trivial that won’t make me skip a beat? After thinking things through, I am more likely to accept change than what my initial reaction may portend.
  4. You know your strengths and weaknesses
    I feel that I have an extremely good grasp on my strengths and weaknesses. I know what I’m good at, what comes naturally, what contributes to my success in life. I also know what I need a lot of work at, what challenges me, and what faults tend to hold me back. The article also speaks of people who “push [one’s] buttons,” and I certainly know which types of people those are.
  5. You’re a good judge of character
    I’m confident in my ability to judge another’s character. Can I read them like a book? Not really. I’m not God. But I happen to have a ton of people in my life who have exceptional character, because I choose to surround myself with others who make good choices and live respectfully. As Proverbs 13:20 states: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” And 1 Corinthians 15:33 says: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
  6. You are difficult to offend
    This is an area where I need improvement. I care so deeply that I allow too much to offend my sensibilities. But typically it’s only those closest to me, like family and friends, who are able to offend me. There is little that any stranger or mere acquaintance could say to me to offend me, for their opinions do not define who I am. But if a loved one says something to me that may be true, however unpleasant, it’s often a difficult pill to swallow.
  7. You know how to say no (to yourself and others)
    I’m a bit of people-pleaser, always wanting to make others happy in whatever way possible. Thus, saying no has not always been the easiest thing for me to do in that regard. However, the article refers to delayed gratification and avoiding impulsive actions, and that has long been a strength of mine. I rarely buy things for myself. I sometimes go years with the same clothes. I wear my shoes until the soles come off. That’s not always the smartest thing, but I know how to tell myself “no”, and I’m learning the right way to tell others no when it’s important for my health and sanity.
  8. You let go of mistakes
    As a bit of a perfectionist, it’s a little bit harder to let mistakes go, but I’m improving. A mistake — especially an avoidable one — will initially bug me because mistakes are a cause of lost production and/or time. But I also firmly believe that mistakes offer the best opportunities to learn because of the negative stimulus that is generated from the incident. Therefore, I don’t let mistakes linger for too long, but there is an initial hurdle to clear.
  9. You give and expect nothing in return
    I literally do not need anything more than the essentials of life. And my wants are few and far between. When asked by others what I want for my birthday or Christmas, I have a difficult time coming up with responses. Now, does this mean I would never care if I didn’t receive another gift the rest of my life? That’s easy to say in the moment, isn’t it? I have no idea how that would make me feel — gift giving is one of the Five Love Languages, after all, and it’s one way to feel loved by others. But I don’t need a gift in return just because I give one to others. A gift by definition is something that should be given without any kind of expectation of return. Otherwise, it’s known as a debt or a loan.
  10. You don’t hold grudges
    Much like the mistakes (No. 8), grudges are a little bit of a challenge as well. It’s not that I will hold something over someone’s head forever and treat them differently because of it. But certain words or actions can stick in my memory for longer than I care them to be there, and that leaves me with occasional sadness or frustration. I try to use analytical reasoning in times like this, to let myself know that either something is incapable of being changed and thus should not be dwelt on, or worrying about something does not help solve it.
  11. You neutralize toxic people
    I hate conflict. To a fault, actually, because some conflict is healthy, so I’ve learned. But this behavior that the article refers to has more to do with people who are excessively difficult and just aren’t on the same wavelength as you, as opposed to a loved one with whom you might have a disagreement. These “toxic” people I have no problems keeping at bay. I will not avoid them altogether, especially if they’re in my life for one reason or another — such as a coworker or neighbor or a friend of a friend. But I will certainly not let their negative thoughts and words become a drain on my emotion. I will also listen to them respectfully, and if I disagree, I can do it courteously.
  12. You don’t seek perfection
    Boom. This is a big problem for a perfectionist. Even though I am acutely aware that there is no such thing as perfection, I have a hunger to do better and achieve something more. I develop websites for a living, and in such a creative field where most projects are open to subjective evaluation, I have a hard time accepting my work as “good enough.” As a result of this, I often repeat my work, doing things over and over again until I feel they are satisfactory. Admittedly, this is not the most effective use of my time and my production could be better by setting expectations that aren’t anywhere near perfection.
  13. You appreciate what you have
    “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” -1 Timothy 6:6-8. The Bible speaks of the need for contentment, and it’s an area that I’ve mastered, quite honestly. When I sit back and think about the desires in my life, little to none have to do with material possessions. Do I have dreams and goals like anyone else? Sure. But I also know that if I don’t achieve these things, or accumulate certain possessions that would be fun and enjoyable, that my life would turn out just great by the grace of God.
  14. You disconnect
    Often when people think about “disconnecting”, their initial thought is about cell phones and social media. That’s just a product of the society we live in today. But that’s just one aspect of disconnecting. To disconnect also means to ease the burdens in your life, to remove or lessen the stressors that can weigh heavily on you, and to take vacations and small breaks from normal rigors of the everyday world. And it’s in these areas that I excel at disconnecting.
  15. You limit your caffeine intake
    Yikes! Talk about one of the most challenging behaviors on the list! I have regularly consumed caffeine for years — to the point where it’s caused gastric issues that I’ve had to monitor and regulate. But I must say, I don’t completely agree with the premise in this article. The article states that caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, causing the “fight-or-flight” response. And:“The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response to ensure survival. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email.” That’s a bit too simplistic. To say that a person who is on a caffeine hike can’t rationally respond to a curt email is a bit of a stretch. I’m not a person who shoots from the hip. I think things through and don’t respond on pure emotion. Whether my adrenaline is pumping or not, I’m going to put careful thought into what I say or do. In fact, I’m more likely to have a brain that works when it isn’t dog tired and lacking adrenaline.
  16. You get enough sleep
    I have a difficult time sleeping. No, I’m not an insomniac, and I probably get more sleep than most who have “sleeping issues.” But I’m both a bit of a night owl and a person who can’t really sleep in. Somewhere between six or seven hours is considered a good night for me, and I seem to be able to function well on that … especially if paired with an influx of caffeine in the morning! (see No. 15!)
  17. You stop negative self-talk in its tracks
    I don’t like to be a pessimist. In fact, my glass is generally half-full. But I’ve been told I have a tendency to “talk down” about myself at times. That’s difficult to hear because that’s certainly not my intent. I’m a person who knows his strengths and weaknesses (see No. 4), plus I try my best to be humble and admit my faults. But I guess there is a fine line between admitting your weaknesses and talking down about yourself. Maybe it’s an art form I need to practice more? In general though, I don’t sit around and dwell on negative things. Life is too short and is filled with too many blessings to be upset all the time. I’m generally happy-go-lucky.
  18. You won’t let anyone limit your joy
    I don’t need the approval of others to be happy in life. Do I like to make others happy? Of course. It’s a good feeling. But if I’m surrounded by Debbie Downers, rather than let them rub off on me, I’m just going to leave the room. If somebody has a negative opinion of me, I’m not going to let that bring me down. Like I mentioned in No. 6 about being offended, if a loved one is upset at me and says something that may not be pleasing to the ears, it’s going to initially bother me. But I’m not going to let it bother me to the point I live my life in sadness and despair. I’m going to want to work it out so the joy can return.

As you can see, there are areas where improvement can be made in almost any behavior, even in something you feel may be a strength of yours. I encourage you to read the article on emotional intelligence and see how you fare in each of the examples.

War on Terror only way to fight against terrorism

War on Terror only way to fight against terrorism
The War on Terror is the only way to fight against terrorism and those who seek to do us harm.

I am a peaceful man by nature and hardly possess a vengeful bone in my body … just make sure you follow the rules of the road, or else!

I believe violence is never an answer to any of our problems with the exception of self-defense.

But one issue that leaves me longing for retribution and resolution is the ongoing threat of terrorism.

In most cases, words are the best method for resolving problems. All other means of conflict resolution are usually escalators that push dilemmas past a threshold, sometimes beyond the point of return. Heck, even words themselves can heighten tensions more than they bring about peace.

But when it comes to fighting terrorism, words are like blowing bubbles at battleships.

How do you use diplomacy with terrorists who care not to negotiate?

How do you speak reason into the minds of terrorists who have far different ideologies and systems of morals than you do?

Terrorists, by both definition and intention, are hellbent on destroying the fabric of our democratic societies and attempting to disrupt the peace and civility upon which our nations are built.

They’re bullies, in layman’s terms. And sometimes bullies need a pop in the nose.

Defeating terrorism and defending our nation’s interests both at home and abroad is the biggest challenge we Americans face today. And when I hear about ISIS beheading Christians at a regular interval, then claiming responsibility for brutal terror attacks — such as the one in Brussels this Tuesday — there’s only one way to respond to those who clearly lack the morals that most peace-loving people do:

Stand up and pop them in the nose.

I’m usually not an advocate for sending our troops into war. For starters, I wouldn’t want to send others into harm’s way when I’m unwilling to do the same thing myself. Secondly, the emotional toll forced upon a deceased soldier’s family is a terrible burden to carry. Not to mention, even those who survive battle could develop long-term mental, emotional and physical ailments.

But our brave soldiers know what they’re getting themselves into. They know that death is a possibility and that serving in the military is not just a scholarship program.

Fighting terrorism is one area where I fully support the use of force. I think it would be in our nation’s best interest — and in the best interest of all democratic nations around the world — to rise up and fight extremism.

For if we don’t fight back now, we are enabling and encouraging the continuation of such practices, and leaving ourselves in danger of losing the freedom and peace we fought many years to obtain.

First time voter: Every vote counts, not always

First time voter: Every vote counts, not always
First time voter: Every vote counts, not always

“I’m not going to vote, because my vote doesn’t count.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this declaration before. You might have even uttered that phrase a time or two in the past.

I still maintain that in parts of the country — like states that are heavily Republican or Democratic — this holds true.

For the longest time, I used this as an excuse not to vote. I live in Illinois, after all, which turns a deep, solid shade of blue every four years for the general election. The last time Illinois was won by a Republican Presidential candidate was in 1988 when George H. W. Bush picked it up.

Sure, there are local and state elections that are more up for grabs, but I have never known enough about the candidates and their platforms to give anybody my vote.

Some people tried to convince me to vote anyway, calling it my civic duty or telling me people fought and died for that right. To which my response was: “While I appreciate the sacrifice made by many, and while I’m grateful for all the freedoms given to us by the constitution, I also feel that I have as much freedom and right not to vote as I have to exercise a vote.”

Freedom is a two-way street, after all. Freedom not only gives you the right to do things, but it also gives you the right not to do things.

With that said, I had gone 13 years of my adult life without exercising my “civic duty,” until this year. On Tuesday, March 15, I cast my first ever vote in Illinois’ primary.

My reason for voting had as much to do with denying one candidate a victory as it had to do with voting for another. While my vote ultimately was unsuccessful, I have no regrets about breaking the 13-year abstention.

Now that I’ve finally taken the plunge, I imagine I’ll be voting more often in the years ahead. Not out of some sense of obligation or duty, but if and only if I see an opportunity to make a difference.

And that’s a freedom I’m happy to exercise.

Best pies in honor of Pi Day

Best pies on Pi Day - Apple Pie
Best pies on Pi Day – Apple Pie

Math was always one of my best subjects in school. It just came naturally to me because I have an analytical mind that seeks reason and meaning.

While other subjects like science, language, art, and geography are flexible to change, there is something to be said about the definitiveness of math. Something comforting in knowing that math has a resolution to it and is not going to change.

Science is always evolving and amending itself. Language will change with the times and cultures. Art is a random hodgepodge of creativity and interpretation. And geography updates itself as societies dictate.

But with math, one plus one will always equal two.

With that said, I have never understood what pi is and how to apply it to my life. It has something to do with the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, but what kind of fun is that?

So, as the world celebrates National Pi Day on March 14 — or, 3.14, the first digits of pi — I’m going to celebrate Pie Day — which was actually January 23, but it’s worth repeating.

Here’s a list of my favorite pies — which I can no longer eat unless there is a gluten-free alternative.

  1. Key Lime
    I was tempted to leave this one off the list because I’m not currently craving it, but it’s very tasty when I’m in the mood for it.
  2. Banana Cream
    I’m hit or miss with this pie just as I am with bananas in general, but when I do feel the craving for it, this is a delicious choice.
  3. Lemon Meringue
    I’m not a huge fan of lemon-flavored things, but this pie has just the right amount of it.
  4. Vanilla Caramel
    Perfect for when you want something tasty yet not over the top.
  5. Turtle
    Some people prefer simplistic desserts without too many ingredients — but I love desserts with lots of flavors and “stuff” in them!
  6. Pecan
    I’m a big fan of pecans and I also like them in my ice cream as well as my pie.
  7. Chocolate Creme / German Chocolate / Chocolate Silk
    I couldn’t figure out which chocolate pie I liked best, so I threw them all together.
  8. Cherry
    I typically don’t like cherry-flavored things because it gives me flashbacks to when I was sick as a child and had cherry cough syrup. But this pie is the exception to the rule.
  9. Boston Cream
    I love custard-filled desserts, and this also finds its way onto my favorite donut list.
  10. Oreo
    One of the best-flavored cookies of all time made into pie format!
  11. Pumpkin
    I love all pumpkin-flavored treats, and what’s best about this is that it is seasonal, thus it becomes better for its timeliness.
  12. Apple
    You’re not American if you don’t like apple pie. In fact, the old saying, “as American as apple pie”, spells out its greatness.

Donald Trump running for class president … and winning

Childish name-calling. Finger-pointing. Excessive bravado. Lack of professionalism. Canned one-liners. Surface-level ideas that lack clarity and substance.

Ah, yes … Donald Trump is running less for the White House than he is for student body class president.

What has become of the Republican Party in part, and America as a whole? The party seems to be headed toward a civil war, with members of the establishment using #NeverTrump on Twitter and vowing to do whatever they can to stop Trump from winning the nomination. Meanwhile, the “outsider” Trump has started a revolution of sorts and his breath of air — not so much of the “fresh” kind — has toed the line of respect and civility and has fueled the anti-establishment emotions of the disenfranchised in this country.

In a matter of months, Trump has cursed on camera, offended world leaders, said he wanted to punch a protester in the face, made misogynistic remarks toward Fox’s Megyn Kelly — among other women — has insulted his GOP opponents and has attacked their character rather than their policies.

And this is the man whom we want leading our country?

Trump is fanning the flames of hatred and anger in this country.

Trump is fanning the flames of hatred and anger in this country. He’s not trying to unite the party or this nation. His positions amount to isolationism and his personality can be summed up as so:

You’ll either agree with me, or I’ll bury you beneath my feet.

I know that diehard Trump supporters will say, “what about Marco Rubio? He’s been behaving childish.” And you know what? Sadly, he has.

But you can be darn sure he didn’t start doing that until Trump dragged him down into the cold, dark abyss.

How can Trump’s antics be seen as anything but juvenile behavior? If you call him out on his record, he’ll call you a liar or a choke artist. If you disagree with his policies, he’ll pick on you like a schoolyard bully.

I’m just waiting for him to respond to a challenge one day with a “Nuh-uh, boogerhead. You’re wrong!”

I’m sure you remember what it was like during your school days when your fellow classmates were running for student council.

Did the smart, ambitious nerd ever win? Of course not. It was always the “cool kid” whom everybody envied and wanted to be like. The kind of kid who wanted to be president for the power and status, not to help his peers and improve the way things were running.

I think Jeb Bush’s former chief strategist David Kochel made the best comparison yet to Trump’s juvenile campaign running parallel to that of a middle school kid’s.

After the — let’s call him — generously-proportioned Chris Christie dropped out of the race and endorsed Trump for President, many people — myself included — viewed it as a blatantly transparent attempt for Christie to ride Trump’s coattails and stay relevant in the political landscape.

Christie may have been working for Trump all along

While most candidates running for President of the United States choose campaign slogans that have something to do with helping Americans, Christie chose a more personal slogan to put emphasis on himself: “Telling it like it is.”

Sadly for Christie, he never stood a chance with that slogan considering nobody “tells it like it is” better or more than Trump.

But I digress.

I’d hate to stereotype all of Trump’s supporters and call them “uneducated” — Trump said he loves the poorly educated, after all — because I know that’s not true. But I know there is a large contingent of them who are grossly misinformed about who Trump is and what he stands for.

Rather than study Trump’s policies and press him for details on how he plans to pay for and get them passed, Trumpers flock to his rallies to see him flaunt his celebrity status while they hang on to his every word, waiting for the next punchline or insult to spew from his mouth.

Trump’s “fans” are there to be entertained, not to listen to how exactly he intends to improve their lives.

I love our country and I’m grateful and thankful for the freedoms that we’ve been given thanks to the sacrifices of so many. However, with freedom comes responsibility, and I’m afraid not everybody in this country takes that seriously.

For example, I don’t think it’s ever right for an American to vote for a candidate based purely — or mostly — on that candidate’s personal appeal rather than the viability of his policies.

But, much like junior high class elections, we like to vote for candidates that look or sound good, that offer more sizzle than steak, and make us feel positive or hopeful about whatever trifles we’re experiencing.

I have to admit, one of the reasons why I strongly opposed Hillary Clinton in 2008 was because she was annoying. Her voice cut through me like nails on a chalkboard. I delightfully referred to her as the “Wicked Witch of the West Wing,” in an ode to a combination of the Wizard of Oz and the wing of the White House where the Oval Office is.

That was petty on my part. These days, I have much more substantive reasons for disliking her: she’s deceitful, a liar, not trustworthy, and has policies of which I hold almost 180-degree differences of opinion.

I’m just so sad and disappointed that an abundance of voters in this country are so upset and angry with politicians that they would vote for an unqualified outsider who has strong opinions but no real solutions. A man who preys on innocent Americans’ emotions and says what they want to hear, rather than what he believes.

Because when people act out of anger, fear, or any other type of erratic emotions, that’s when poor decisions are made and mistakes are bound to happen.

Fortunately for this country, there’s no way Trump will beat Clinton, considering how put off blacks and Hispanics are toward Trump — not to mention members of the Republican establishment who want nothing to do with him.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party, this looks like the beginning of a very long, disruptive process that could leave the White House in Democrats’ hands for many years to come.

Small talk topics: How to make conversation

One of my biggest weaknesses is, and always has been, my lack of ability to make small talk. But I feel somewhat relieved that I’m not alone in this area, for small talk supposedly is a common issue for many Americans, especially introverts like myself.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

You meet somebody for the first time at a party or other social event, you exchange names and hellos, and then you stand there in deafening silence with a stupid grin on your face and with nothing to say. Inside your head, you desperately flip through the Handbook for the Conversationally Challenged, looking for something to fill the void, but you instead use coughs, yawns, or other body gestures to break up the monotony of the moment.

My personal go-to favorite is to smile awkwardly and audibly exhale while saying “Oh, man” or “Oh, boy” and “that’s funny.”

Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve been there, too. It can be an uncomfortable situation, almost to the point where you want to avoid saying hello in the first place. Sure, you may come off looking like an aloof, antisocial recluse, but at least you aren’t uncomfortable, right?

Wrong. Tucking and running is not the right way to handle this situation. And for as difficult as it is for me to engage in small talk, I’m still determined to forge ahead.

With that in mind, I set out to find better ways to make conversation and came up with the following list of small talk topics. I often find it surprising where a conversation can end up, and how off the beaten path it can get from where it began — and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes all it takes is one single spark to set your conversation ablaze.

Small Talk Topics

  • Analyze your surroundings
    There is an awful lot to gain from paying attention to our five senses. Using our senses, we have — at least — five different small talk topics for conversation starters. Do you see something interesting going on? Point it out to the person you’re standing next to and share a comment about it. How about something you happen to hear? Is there a song on in the background that you like or did you overhear something interesting? Are you eating, or did you just drink something? Share your taste sensation with your companion and suggest they try it. Do you smell something good in the vicinity? Even if you know what it is, simply asking someone next to you what that enchanting aroma is will likely get them to respond to you. And finally, if you touch or feel something, share that. Maybe it’s really cold in the room. Or, maybe you share with someone, “boy, they really should turn up the AC in this joint.”
  • Discuss current events
    If you’re not one to pay attention to what’s happening in our society or country, you should really take a moment each day to do so, because there’s a wealth of information out there just waiting to be shared — thus, the social media movement that we’re living in. Maybe the Super Bowl is coming up and you ask someone if they’re looking forward to it. Maybe you comment about the latest political debate and ask what that person thinks of the candidates — careful with this one. Or, maybe you ask if they’re concerned about the outbreak in mass shootings or the spreading of the latest disease — like the Zika Virus, at the time of this writing. There’s always something going on in the world, thus, there’s always something about which to get — or share — an opinion.
  • Offer praise for others
    Humility is a lovely virtue that God wants us to exhibit, so try turning the attention away from yourself and offering up praise and compliments toward others. Give someone a compliment on their clothes. If you’ve seen them do something nice for others, let them know. If you’re somewhere where live music is going on, tell someone next to you how great you think the band is. And how about if you’re at an event with your significant other and you’re standing quietly in the corner while she’s making the rounds? Remark to the person next to you how great you think your significant other is at communicating. “Boy, she can really work a room. I admire that about her.”
  • Get opinions on food and drink
    One of the easiest and best small talk topics is to ask for someone’s opinion about what he or she is eating or drinking. It can work anywhere you happen to be — coffee shops, diners, restaurants, parties, backyard barbecues, etc. “What are you drinking there? Is it any good? I might have to get me one of those. How does that taste? Do you like nuts in your dessert? I’ve got a gluten allergy and can’t eat bread. Did you try the pasta yet? This might be the best latte I’ve ever had. If I eat any more cookies, color me blue and call me Cookie Monster.” There are tons of different variations of questions and comments you can ask — or make — about food and drinks.
  • Acknowledge abnormalities
    No, I’m not talking about physical ailments and deformities. In 2014, we had a cold wave in this country due to the “Polar Vortex.” My car battery died and I literally wanted to hibernate for the winter. There was plenty to talk about with that abnormality. Just this winter, 2015-16, we are having very mild temperatures due to El Niño. This doesn’t have to be limited to weather, either. The 2016 calendar year is dominated by another Presidential election cycle. Donald Trump is turning into one of the most abrasive Presidential candidates in history. The Golden State Warriors are winning games in the NBA at a record clip. Adele’s ’25’ album broke early sales records. Star Wars: Episode VII was released 32 years after Episode VI. Find something that strikes you as different than the norm and then ask someone about it for his or her opinion.
  • Seek advice
    People love to give advice — sometimes unsolicited, but that’s a topic for another day. But they’re flattered when someone comes to them for help. Depending on where you are at the moment you are trying to engage in small talk, you can ask someone near you for help. “Hey, how do I do this?” is a good question if you’re doing something constructive in the moment. “How’d you get such a deal on that? Can you show me where I can find this?” Understand and recognize when there is something you don’t know and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask somebody for their advice.
  • Ask about work or school
    For the most part, people are either in school or in the work force. And even those who are not currently employed might have been employed at some time and are looking for a new job. Work and school are two of the biggest eaters of our time. They are activities that we often spend the majority of our time doing — especially for those who don’t get much sleep. Ask somebody what they do for a living. Ask them if they like it. Ask them what exactly that job does (if you don’t know). Ask them for more details if their explanation was confusing. Ask them how long they’ve been doing it and how long they had been aiming to enter that field. Do they like their job? Do they see themselves there for a long time to come? Just keep asking questions as if you were a reporter or a prospective undergrad studying to enter that field.
  • Gather more information
    Unless you’re an aimless drifter, nobody wanders into a particular setting without some kind of reason. Ask someone why they’re there. What do they like about the place and what don’t they like? Ask them if, like you, they’d rather be somewhere else. Ask them if this is a recurring event you’re at and if they had ever been there or done that before. Try to find out how long this event or place had been in existence. Are they aware of anything else like it out there? Surely you can’t be an expert on where you are, so ask others around you for more information. And if you are an expert, that’s all the more reason to share what you know about the situation.
  • Cover the 5 W’s
    Do you remember your high school or college English or journalism classes? (Actually, I think they teach the 5 W’s even earlier than that, but I can’t remember). What I do remember is that the 5 W’s are who, what, where, when, and why. They are the basics of information gathering. Some people even throw how into the mix — but not only is it not a “w”, it’s very closely related to why. Nevertheless, when you are out and about and are looking for small talk ideas, try interviewing someone — informally, of course; otherwise it’s just plain weird. Not only ask them who they are, but ask where they come from, why they’re there, what this place or event is all about, and when they found out about it. The “when” is a little more difficult to work into conversation, but challenge yourself to fill in the blank on that somehow.
  • Focus on the weekend
    ”Everybody’s working toward the weekend” is not just a song title and lyric from the Canadian rock band, Loverboy. Although for most working people the weekend is just two days long, it’s the focal point of our attention — unless we’re workaholics. The majority of people just yearn for Fridays and dread Mondays because they know there is something they’d rather be doing on the weekend. And because our focus is almost always on the weekend, that’s a golden small talk topic to bring up. If you’re meeting somebody on a Monday or Tuesday, ask them how their weekend went and get details. If you’re seeing them Wednesday through Friday, ask them if there are any fun plans coming up for their weekend. And if it already is the weekend, ask them what they did today, or what they have coming up later in the day. The person will either delve into details — usually with enthusiasm and depth — or they’ll reluctantly say “nothing” or “just relaxing.” And even if it’s the latter, you can still remark how sometimes those are the best weekends, and that it’s good to kick back and forget about the rigors of the work week — which, in itself, can lead to an even deeper conversation.

So, what do you do with all this information? Well, if you’re like me, you’re not going to remember it all, so just start with one of those methods, memorize it, and put it into practice.

The other thing you can try is a mnemonic device to help you remember. I came up with an acronym to try to help with small talk. Keep in mind, I have not used this yet, thus I cannot speak to its success rate. But, hey — it just might work.

When trying to engage in small talk, remember the SMALL part of it:

  • S: Smile
    Approachability is one of the big aids in conversation. If you’re standing off in the corner and don’t look happy to be where you are, you appear much less approachable than if you were standing around others and smiling. People are more receptive to talking with those who are happy than unhappy.
  • M: Mimic
    Try to copy what others around you are doing. If it works for them, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for you. At the very least, it shows others that you are engaged with what’s going on and it could always spur them to ask you a question. And if you see or hear others asking specific questions, do the same to those around you.
  • A: Ask
    One of the cardinal rules of communication that they teach those who are in the dating world — as well as in business and other aspects of life — is to ask more than tell. In practicality, somebody has to talk more than the other because a 50-50 ratio is hard to come by. But make it your goal to ask questions of others because other people — particularly in a casual environment — aren’t looking for someone to talk their head off.
  • L: Listen
    After you’ve asked someone a question, the next step is to actually listen to what they are saying. Don’t just ask a question as a means of passing the time. Pay attention to what someone is saying and listen for particular words, phrases or ideas that might trigger follow-up conversation.
  • L: Learn
    If you knew everything about someone, you’d be that person. Whether you’re a teenager on his first date or a married man of fifty years, there is always something new to learn about someone. So, when you are engaging in conversation with someone — even if it’s just small talk — try to pick up on something that you did not know before, and then learn it — in other words, commit it to memory, so that the next time you see that person, you can ask for an update on it. And even if you never see that person again, you have something new to share with someone else.