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Monday, November 30, 2015

Keeping Warm

The holidays are upon us and I noticed that the weather really changed this week. With a frosty chill in the air and the leaves on the trees beginning to turn orange, it’s obvious that winter is well on its way. We finally fired up our furnace this week that had been off all summer and I was forced to actually break out a jacket for the first time as I headed off to work. It was really cold outside and as I headed down Pacific Coast Highway I spotted a homeless man pushing a cart. It reminded me that I’m really lucky to have a jacket (not to mention a car, a home and a job).

It also reminded me that the holidays are a great time to get involved with a charity. My wife and I like to give back to our community, so we donate our time and money to several different charity events throughout the year. Last week we helped with the “Festival of Trees”. It probably sounds a little crazy but what we do is think of a theme for a Christmas Tree and then go out and buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of ornaments and decorations. The actual trees are provided by the event coordinator, but ordinary citizens and local companies get together to decorate the trees, which are then sold at auction in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel with the proceeds going to an organization called the South County Outreach.

For this year’s event we decided our theme would be wrapped around inspiration and affirmation. So we purchased beautiful white, silver and gold ornaments as well as lace trimmings. But we also made a dozen small wooden ornaments with handwritten words of affirmation on them, such as “loved, valued, and empowered”. My wife and I, as well as our daughter and a friend, worked on that tree all day long and when we were done we were really happy with the results. There is something about working together as a team to do something good for others that makes you feel really warm inside, kind of like fueling a fun fire from the inside out.

Our Christmas Tree and all the others sold at auction will raise thousands of dollars for charity and that will provide a lot of food and jackets for cold hungry people in desperate need of help. Ironically, since we live in a tiny beach house, we don’t have room for a regular size Christmas Tree. So we usually stick a tall piece of driftwood into the sand on the beach in front of our house and then decorate it with just a few special ornaments. I’m sure that when people see our tree they think it’s a pretty sad little Charlie Brown tree and that we must be really poor (or just lousy at decorating), but the truth is that every time we look at that little driftwood tree it reminds us of the big beautiful tree we helped make for others…which is more than enough to keep us warm…with or without a jacket!
Our Tree at The Fairmont Hotel
Our Tree at Home
Spring, Summer and Fall fill us with hope; 
Winter alone reminds us of the human condition.
~ Mignon McLaughlin

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Bump in The Road

Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s always been one of my favorite holidays. We have a huge family and even when I was just a kid I looked forward to having a house filled with people and an oven filled with a big turkey. I remember always having a lot be thankful for, except for this one time…

In November of 1970 I was 15 years old and loved riding dirt bikes. I would ride my Yamaha all over the hills around our house and then on Saturday night my friends and I would go to Elsinore Race Track to compete for trophies. I worked my way up the ranks from novice, to amateur and finally to expert class and although I was fairly small at that age, I was totally unafraid to go fast and absolutely loved racing.

One Friday afternoon my friend, Bill Anderson and I, were practicing about 20 miles outside of town in a remote area called DeLuz Canyon. It was late in the day and we were blasting down a rocky fire road at full speed. Bill was in front and kicking up a lot of dust so I never saw the huge rock embedded in the road. I hit that rock head on and my motorcycle somersaulted forward throwing me to the ground. Less than a second later my motorcycle landed directly on top of me tearing a gaping hole in my right side. When I finally skidded to a stop all I could think was, “I hope my motorcycle is okay!”

Bill came back and found me lying in a bloody heap. All I was wearing that day were jeans, a T-shirt and a helmet so the skin was gone from both of my shoulder blades, my right arm was broken, and just above my right hip was a huge gash that was pouring out more blood than I had ever seen. Bill’s face turned white. He knew there was no way I could ride on the back of his bike. He took off my helmet, or what was left of it, because the front piece of the full coverage helmet was completely missing. I remember him saying, “You should be glad you had your helmet on because it definitely saved your life.”  

And then a miracle happened. A man came around the corner on horseback. I recognized him as a customer that came into the gas station where Bill and I worked. I couldn’t remember his name at the time but he saw our desperate situation and offered to help. He gave Bill the keys to his truck and explained how to get to his house which was only a mile away. Bill took off while the man stayed with me and when Bill got back with the truck they lifted me in and the three of us took off for the nearest hospital.

I was in the hospital for five days but got to go home right before Thanksgiving. I know we’re supposed to be thankful at Thanksgiving time, but I was miserable. My motorcycle was totaled, my right knee had 18 stitches in it, my side had 38 stitches in it and my arm was broken. To make matters worse, every time I moved the cast on my right arm would bang into my side and tear open the stitches. I wasn’t thankful about anything and I’m pretty sure I was making everyone around me miserable too. But then I got a phone call from Bill who said he was going to stop by to cheer me up. It was dark and cold when he got to my house but I was glad to see him. We talked for a long time, mostly about motorcycles, and when he got ready to leave I noticed he didn’t have a helmet with him. I told him he could borrow my busted up helmet and although it wouldn’t offer much protection, at least it would keep his head warm.

Bill never made it home that night. On his way home he took a turn too fast and flew his motorcycle down into a steep ravine. He hit a rock on the way down that shattered his leg and the only reason he finally stopped was because he smashed head first into a tree. With a broken leg and a broken collar bone, he couldn’t make it back up to the street. He laid in that ravine all night thinking he was probably going to die, but fortunately another miracle happened. Two migrant farm workers heard his cries for help the next morning as they were walking to work.

Bill called me on Thanksgiving morning and gave me the news about his accident. I was shocked and bummed out to hear about his accident, but although he was still in the hospital, he didn’t sound miserable at all. In fact, I was surprised by how happy he sounded. He told me that he found it incredible that one helmet could save two lives in less than one week. He also told me that he was happy because he was so super thankful to be alive. Bill’s positive attitude and cheerful disposition made me realize that I had been looking at things all wrong. Life may present us with a bump in the road from time to time, but if we still have life, then we still have a lot to be thankful for! 

All that we behold is full of blessings.
~ William Wordsworth 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Abundance

My wife and I went to visit friends in San Diego over the weekend and stayed overnight in their beautiful home. It’s a huge Tuscan Italian style house with a long winding driveway that leads to a magnificent porte-cochere and when you enter the ceilings are over 20’ high. Everywhere you look their home is filled is gorgeous furniture and furnishings, not the least of which is the fully stocked kitchen with state of the art appliances, a dream kitchen for someone like my wife who loves to cook.

I mention this because my wife and I used to own a similar style Tuscan home in Coto de Caza. All the way home I kept thinking about the big beautiful house we use to have compared to the tiny beach cottage we live in now and I found myself feeling guilty that I am not providing a nicer home and nicer furnishings for my wife. I am not saying that I don’t love our beach cottage…I mean it is right on the sand…but sometimes as a man, I just find myself wanting to be the best possible provider that I can be.

And that got me thinking…
If I made a list of the five finest possessions I used to have - it would include a really nice home with a gourmet kitchen, a pool, an expensive BMW, a boat and a grand piano. If I made a list of the five possessions I have now - it would include a couch, a TV, a bed and a late model Ford Truck, that’s it. Oh yeah…and my golf clubs. Not a very impressive list for sure.

But what if I made a list of the five things God has abundantly given me. Love, Forgiveness, Mercy, Happiness and Everlasting Life. Now that’s an impressive list! And here’s the cool part. All that stuff, all those possessions we think we want to have and work so hard to get, we never really have, because none of it really belongs to us and we certainly can’t take any of it with us when we die. However, all the stuff God gives us, He gives us at birth…free of charge…and we totally get to take it with us when we go. Now that’s really cool!

I’m not saying it’s bad to want material things and work hard to have them. Been there, done that. But I guess what I started realizing as I fought through traffic to get back to my tiny little beach house last night, is that if I want to be the best possible “provider” for my wife, kids, family and friends, then what I need to give them are not things. What I need to give them are my love, forgiveness, patience, help and support…and do so in abundance!

Debby and I on the front porch of our Coto house in 2012
You give but little when you give of your possessions. 
It is when you give of yourself, that you truly give.
 ~ Kahlil Gibran

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inspiration and Perspiration

I played in my final baseball game of the year yesterday. It was an annual charity event at Angel Stadium and although our Halo Baseball Club Team lost, it was still exciting and fun because we raised money for several charities thanks to awesome support we received from Dennis Kuhl, Chairman of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Dennis started this event 8 years ago to honor his father, Bud Kuhl, and I am certain his father was smiling down on him yesterday for so many reasons. Dennis and I are friends and I know he misses his Dad every day because his Dad was a real inspiration to him. I feel the same way about my Dad and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and strive to become a better man because of what he taught me. Isn’t it funny that no matter how old we get, if we had a Mom or a Dad that really inspired us, we still want to do our best to please them.

When we have a really awesome parent (or two) it can make a huge difference in our lives. Even to have just one parent that is truly loving, caring and inspirational is a blessing. I know we don’t get to pick our parents, so that is why when we’re blessed with a loving parent we need to make sure we honor them in every way. That led me to an interesting question.

We can’t pick our parents but we can pick our friends and our friends have a ton of influence on our lives, so shouldn’t we be careful when it comes to picking our friends? The people we associate with, have dinner with, or play sports with are people that we choose to make a part of our lives. When we choose our friends it shouldn’t be quick and easy. We should work hard at it, sweat over it, and be patient to find people who impress us, inspire us and motivate us to grow in character and integrity. When I look back at my life, I can see that there were times as a young man that some of my lazy choices for friends were questionable (and so were they) and that ended up getting me into trouble. Looking at my list of friends now though, I can see that I have been doing a much better job of picking because my current list includes dozens of people that consistently inspire me to be a better man.

Obviously one way we can honor our parents is to be the best people we can be. But becoming our best…works best…when we surround ourselves with the best!

Bud Kuhl Wood Bat Invitational - Angel Stadium - Nov 7th, 2015

Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
Charles R. Swindoll

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Response Time

Last week I played in the MSBL World Series in Phoenix and all I can say is that it was one heck of a rollercoaster ride. Last year was my first time playing in this event and instead of my regular team, I played with the South Bay Zehpyrs out of Long Beach. Last year could not have gone any better because although I’ve never been anything more than just an average player, for some reason my batting was off the charts, and I was able to contribute to our team winning every single game including a come from behind win the Championship. So I wasn’t sure what to expect this year.

But the best thing about this year was getting to play with my regular Halo Baseball Team, an awesome group of guys that define the true meaning of friendship. I was a little nervous before the first game because the WS is the toughest tournament you can possibly play in and I didn’t want to let my friends down. I was also nervous because last year I only played defense about half the time, but this year our new Manager told me I would be the starting second baseman. So I committed myself to playing the best second base I possibly could, shook off the nerves, and took my position in the field.

We lost our first game but I thought I played well getting 2 hits, 2 RBI’s and scoring 2 runs. I also felt my defense was solid because I turned two double plays, made three ground ball plays and fielded a tough pop up behind first base. However, I did make one throwing error late in the game. The next morning as I entered the dugout I noticed my name was no longer in the starting defensive lineup. I hate to admit it but I was shocked. Our team made 5 errors that first game, so we all contributed to the loss, but I was the only defensive starter who was now sitting on the bench. Our Manager never spoke to me about it or explained his decision or said a word to me. He just took my name off the list. Unfortunately, I got angry about it and ended up striking out my next two at bats. And oh yeah…we lost that second game too.

That evening when I got back to my Hotel room I contacted a friend who played with me last year. I needed someone to talk to because I was totally bummed out. I told Danny what happened and he told me exactly what I needed to hear. He basically said, “You can’t control what someone else does but you can control how you respond to it. Don’t let the Manager bring you down or change who you are. Besides, one of your best attributes is your positive attitude and the way you help everyone around you become a better player with your praise and support. Whether you’re on the bench or in the field you need to focus on helping your teammates do well, because that’s what you do best!” 

Those words of advice really hit home with me and I realized that getting angry was only hurting me and the rest of the team. I immediately changed my attitude and went back to being upbeat and positive…and guess what…the Manager put me back in and we won the next 5 games in a row, making it all the way to the Semi-Final Game! I guess Danny was right, in the game of baseball or in the game of life, we can’t control what happens to us…but we can definitely control how we respond to it!

Baseball is the only place in life where a sacrifice is really appreciated.
~ Anonymous