Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another Beautiful Day in the Ozarks!

For today's Thursdays are for thanksgiving post I am thankful for a close to 2015!
It was a good year to be John Hill!

Aaron and Jenny arrived last night and tomorrow Hannah and Daniel will be back from their holiday travels to visit his family. Some time on January 1st, all my babies will be here, with us.
All-in-all, a fine way to begin 2016.

Last year I managed a couple of trips to Chicago and took in the UFC Chicago Fights with Aaron and a Cubs game with Jenny. Chris and I returned to Zihautanejo/Ixtapa in September and had a great week doing nothing but relaxing on the beach. I managed several nights at the local ballpark watching the Cardinals' double A team and went to a game in St. Louis as well. It's been nice having Hannah in Springfield and we've had a couple of dinners with her and Daniel at their place and a few at our house as well.

Today is a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures more like one would expect for December 31st -- upper 20s this morning with an expected high of around 40. Sounds like good weather to check out my new motorcycling gloves!

As of today, I have been retired for eleven months. Next month, I will spend the last week of my first year of retirement on a beach in Mexico. That's a pretty good plan!

When we return, I'll get serious about shopping for a bigger motorcycle to take on a few road trips during 2016. I'm thinking St. Louis for a ballgame or two (with a side trip to Ted Drewe's to meet up with Mike), central Illinois to see my parents, OKC to visit my sister and her family and maybe as far as Chicago to see Aaron and Jenny. One brother and his family also live in the Chicago area and I may make it to Indianapolis to visit my other sister and her family. I'm just thinking out loud about traveling on the road via motorcycle right now. I don't even know if I'm really going to like the long rides, yet. As well as needing to find time for the travel, the trips will all be solo as Chris says she's not up for that at all.

We have June wedding plans for Hannah and Daniel and are hoping that many of our family members will be able to celebrate with us. Although we don't expect everyone to be able to make it, we are looking forward to celebrating with the ones that can.

This is my 173rd post of the year and sets a personal record for the most posts in a year since I started blogging. I don't know if my writing will be more or less consistent in 2016, but it seems to have taken a different tone than in the beginning. As John has evolved and gotten a bit more mellow, so has Out of My Hat. I've noticed that posts are more about what is going on in the life of John and less about relevant topics in the current news cycle. Somewhere along the way I realized that since I really don't care what most people think about any given subject, most people probably don't care what I think, either.

Now, I pretty much just tell my story. I share my opinions less and listen to the opinions of others less. I still like to learn and will listen to those that are able to articulate their thoughts and present a reasonable case for their opinions. Although I still strive to be a decent human being, I care less about what most people might think of me. I think the saying, "What other people think of you is none of your business," is a good one to follow.

Of course, there are people that I respect a great deal and their opinions matter to me. There are people that I wouldn't want to disappoint and I do care what they think of me. But in the end, we have to be true to ourselves.

I wish all of you well in the coming year. Thank you for stopping by and spending some of your day at Out of My Hat. Please visit often in the coming year and leave a comment on occasion.

John <><

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Dumbing Down of ... well, of Me!

I'm not talking about dumbing down as in the stupid kind of dumbing down (at least I hope I'm not getting more stupid). I'm talking about the lack of knowledge of current news events and political campaigns.

Since there seems to be very little real news and most of what I see on TV and read on the internet are just pieces of regurgitated sound bytes and somebody's convoluted spin on what they might mean, I've pretty much given up on paying any attention to most of it. I view my lack of keeping up on all of the garbage being floated in the media and cyberspace not as being less informed, but rather as being less misinformed.

Sifting through all of the hype and crap of the coming election is going to be a real chore. Finding the truth about the plans and character of each candidate and finding reliable sources of information is going to be a difficult task. I'm pretty certain that truth is not going to be found on Facebook in the countless memes and rumor spreading posts that populate my news feed. Something tells me that the more difficult the truth is to find, the less I'm going to like it when I finally do figure it out.

I know that I'll be sharing some of my political opinions here at Out of My Hat between now and the election in November, but it is my blog and I am free to do that. You are free to read it -- or not, and if you choose to read it, you are free to agree -- or not. In any case, as my blogger friend Bilbo says, "Don't let anyone do your thinking for you!"

Perhaps that's where the real dumbing down of America is happening -- we have abdicated our right to think for ourselves and allowed the extremes of the two political parties and their media outlets to do our thinking for us. We are all too happy to easily regurgitate what they tell us instead of taking the time to assess the information and evidence and draw our own conclusions. We have believed the lies that we have to be far to the right or far to the left or we are wishy washy and weak. Moderates in either party are left without a real voice in government because we have let the extremes hijack both of our parties.

Think for yourself.
Speak up! --for yourself.

Your political party doesn't need you to speak for them. The parties have their candidates and their media outlets to speak for them. They have a great wealth of political contributions to buy ads and airtime to speak for them. They can hire great minds and creative programs to speak for them and to convince the ignorant masses that they have all the answers.

If the literal meaning of the word dumb is to be unable to speak, then the dumbing down of America summarizes our political process well because we have lost our political voice. I want to find a candidate that agrees with me rather than one that I agree with. I want a representative that speaks for me rather than one that is bought and paid for by someone else.
Good luck with that, eh?

It is pretty difficult to keep up with the campaigns and keep the negative garbage out of your day. I've been keeping most politics at a comfortable distance for the time being. I have a feeling that will end soon.

Be informed -- not misinformed.
Stay positive.
Be well,

John <><

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Looking back / Looking forward

It is hard to believe that it is the final week of 2015. My retired self has nearly eleven months of retirement experience and I have to say that it was a good decision. I can't say that it has been an especially productive eleven months, but it has been pretty enjoyable!
One personal record that I've surpassed is in blogging. This is my 171st post at Out of My Hat this year. My previous high was 165 posts in 2008. Although my readership has dropped considerably and I rarely post anything controversial or meaningful, I'll continue to write as it is more of an exercise for my sanity than anything else.

I started out taking great care not to get too lazy or sloppy in retirement and kept up with daily exercise and even managed to shave nearly every day. (I know that shouldn't be a big deal, but daily shaving serves as a symbol of neatness and adulting in my mind.)
That daily shaving thing started to slack off about the same time the daily walking thing did somewhere around mid-year. After a relatively short time of not logging my daily food intake and not walking as often nor as much, the weight started coming back. Over the past 18 months, I've managed to slowly put back a third of the weight I lost in the previous year.
I really don't want to go back to logging everything I eat, but may have to if I cannot start to be a bit more disciplined about the what and when of eating. I am doing better about getting some exercise every day and I am trying to add more variety to my activity. I've decided to use a simple principle learned in this article. It has made getting daily exercise easier and also allows me to get some variety into my workouts. I've considered signing up for a run to have an end goal for a period of time, but haven't convinced myself (nor has anybody else convinced me) that I really need that just yet.

I'm also starting to apply that "minimum workout" principle to several other areas of discipline like mental exercise, magic, reading and writing. So far I've been practicing or watching more magic, reading for education a little each day and I have just started solving puzzles or problems of some kind. I haven't come up with a routine of any kind yet, but I do think that both the exercise and problem solving are activities best suited for the earlier part of the day. Reading and magic can easily be put off until later in the day (at least before baseball season starts!).

One older and wiser cousin shared that finding a rhythm in retirement might prove challenging. As a rule, I'm okay without a rhythm of any kind (and many would agree that I have no rhythm), but I am finding that not having a routine of any kind has its downside. Scheduling is good for getting things accomplished. After all -- if you're doing nothing, how do you know when you're finished?

So maybe a little more planning in 2016 -- especially when it comes to planning baseball games, motorcycle rides and travel!

For 2015, finish well!
For 2016, let's make it a grand year!

John <><

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Power of Christmas -- repost

These are two of my favorite Christmas posts.
The first tells the story;
The second is a song that commemorates the story.

The power and peace of Christmas are still in great need today.
It could happen again!
Merry Christmas!

John <><

Christmas Eve & Thanksgiving

Christmas Eve falling on Thursday is perfect for another Thursdays are for thanksgiving post.
I am truly thankful for the birth of my Lord and Savior. I'm glad that we celebrate it but I honestly have to say that it is way overdone. If we (Christians) are honest with ourselves and each other, most of the holiday celebrations have nothing to do with God at all.
We can best show our thanksgiving for His coming by living as He lived and sharing God's love on the other 364 days in the year.

Although I have another week before 2016 turns the calendar page, I am already looking at things I'd like to do in the coming year. The time that retirement affords me has been great in 2015 (and I am very thankful, indeed), but my hopes are to make it a little more productive in 2016. One of the things that I want to do is a little old school -- writing at least one long-hand letter per week! I already have a few people in mind and I have a few addresses.
However, if you would like to receive a long-hand letter from me during 2016, send me your name and mailing address. My email address is or you can PM me on Facebook or Twitter. If you want to leave a comment with your address, that's fine -- just be sure to remind me not to post it (you know how habits are).

I'll get to a few of my other 2016 goals next week, but figured to get a head start on gathering addresses. (Bilbo, I have yours and your name is on the list!)

I hope that all of my readers (both of you) have a joyous holiday season and a Merry Christmas. If you do celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, may His blessings and peace be upon you and your family. If your holiday is about celebrating with family and friends, I pray that His blessings and peace will be upon you, as well.

Merry Christmas,

John <><

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Solstice 2015

It is a little past sunrise on the 21st of December in the Ozarks of Southwest Missouri. Sometime before the day ends the sun will reach its southern most point (23.5 degrees, the Tropic of Capricorn) in its annual cycle. The official time of the Winter Solstice is 4:49AM UTC on the 22nd (which is 10:49PM on the 21st in Springfield MO).

As a kid, I never really understood why the first day of winter marked the beginning of the returning sunlight hours and the beginning of the sun's journey northward, but also meant the beginning of the coldest season. I mean, shouldn't it be getting warmer? Shouldn't this day mark the beginning of spring instead of the beginning of winter?

There are many cultural traditions that we have adopted into our seasonal celebrations. Simple things like the Christmas ham at dinner, the giving of gifts, the lighting of the Yule log -- all have origins in winter solstice celebrations.
Not being a big fan of winter, I am excited to see the sun begin its journey back to the north so that we can get look forward to the coming spring and summer of 2016.

Chris and I will be making a winter trip to the tropics in January and I hope to make regular winter trips to warmer climates a part of the retirement routine (unless I can convince her that a home in the tropics is a much better idea). Some year we'll have to skip the tropics and journey a little farther south to visit my cousins Down Under. We can skip the early part of our winter and enjoy the beginning of their summer. One of them posted this picture yesterday saying this is where they'll be anchored for the next ten days.

I could deal with that for the holidays!

For now, a still working wife and a meager travel budget will keep us a little closer to home with the occasional trip to one of the many beaches of our southern neighbor.

Even though we are heading toward the colder months, the days will be getting longer and spring is on its way. It's only 104 days until the Cardinals open the 2016 baseball season!

John <><

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bethlehemian Rhapsody

There are many ways to tell the Christmas story.
Over the past few days and weeks there have been music programs, Christmas plays, Christmas poems and news stories of the love of God and the meaning of Christmas.

Here's a fun take on the old, old story of Christmas!

John <><

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Magic fun!

How about a little magic for this December morning?

I love this video!
The effect is a new take on an old trick.
When Penn says he knew from the beginning what was going to happen, he wasn't the only one. Probably every magician watching knew what to expect as the final outcome. Of course, that's what makes it even better -- knowing what is happening without knowing how it's happening makes it crazy awesome!


John <><

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cleaning up my smart phone...and other stuff.

I've decided to clean up my phone -- delete unused apps, delete pics or move them to Picasa and to better organize the remaining data. I'm going to continue to scale back on my social media time and spend more time reading -- both books and internet news articles.

No more check-ins via Swarm or Foursquare (two of the apps I deleted).
Less time on Facebook (I do spend more time on Twitter, but most of my feed is linked to articles in areas of interest to me rather than status updates).

Really, if it weren't for family and extended family, I'd probably drop Facebook altogether. As it is, I'm getting ready to do another Facebook friend purge.
If you get dropped, please do not take offense nor read anything malicious into it. I'm just going to re-tool my Facebook use and use it to primarily keep up with family and relatives, as well as some friends that I don't have any personal contact with.
If I see you regularly (like at church or something), we can converse rather than read each other's updates. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @magicianary or like my Facebook account at The Message in Magic.

It's a little weird to think that disconnecting from people is a good thing, but I think that this is a case where that is true.

In keeping with my Thursdays are for thanksgiving theme, I should say that I am thankful for my family and friends. I just want to be more intentional about relationships where I can be -- personal contact, real conversations, shared experiences. I would like to think that I can be a positive influence and hope to be encouraged by my relationships with others.

I may take a page from my blogger friend Bilbo's book and actually write a few longhand letters in the coming year. I would much rather have a personal discussion with you about politics, religion, life in general or pretty much anything at all, than to post memes or argue positions via comments on yours, mine or a third parties post.

And I guess that means I'll have to get out of my house and actually interact with people -- ugh!
So be it.

John <><

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Music

I'm still working on that Christmas spirit thing.
I'm listening to some Christmas music today. Maybe that will help. I'm getting there...

Here's a favorite from a relatively new group. I ordered several of their CDs last year.

John <><

Monday, December 14, 2015

It's Magic!

Tonight is a pretty quiet night in the Ozark Hill home. I've been struggling with allergies and congestion for several days now. I think much of it can be attributed to warm December weather, hours of raking and burning leaves and gusting winds that have stirred up junk in the atmosphere.

Enough about my woes. No one wants to hear about that anyways.

One of the things that I have been doing lately is watching some magic videos. I have quite a library of instructional videos that teach many types of close up and stand up magic effects. Although I have always been fond of close up magic, I have rarely practiced it much because I haven't had a venue to perform this particularly challenging type of magic.

Now that I have the time to practice, perhaps I will develop a close up program and begin to look for a venue in which I might perform. I don't see myself hustling tips as a street magician, but perhaps I can find some suitable place to play and take on a new persona.

When I first started using magic as ministry, I went to work part-time at the magic shop at Silver Dollar City in Branson MO. I knew that they had a little 15-20 minute magic show every hour or so and I wanted to practice performing before an audience. Later, I worked (part-time, again) at a different magic shop in Branson. Working in a magic shop is fun. It is too bad that there is no longer a shop in Springfield. Can you think of a better place to have access to the newest effects and have the opportunity to practice and demonstrate effects for fun and sales?

I kind of wish I had a magic coach; a teacher that is more skilled in the art than I am that could serve as a mentor. Perhaps, in time.
For now, I'll get busy with the library of videos and books and see what I can develop.

It takes A LOT of practice.

I think it was Houdini that said --
You must practice until what is hard becomes easy; until what is easy becomes second nature and until what has become natural becomes magical.

It's a good thing I have a lot of time!

John <><

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Writing; Christmas Reading

Today was our December meeting of the Ozarks Chapter of American Christian Writers (OCACW). Our December meeting takes on a different format than our other monthly meetings and we set aside time to read different writings about Christmas, winter or the holiday season.

Some members shared from things they had written in the past, most wrote something just for this meeting. As our group has grown, it is interesting to hear the different styles of writing of our many members. I decided not to write for today's meeting so that others would have the chance to share their stories.

All of those that shared did a very good job!

I did notice that more of the readings this year stayed pretty focused on the story of Christmas. In previous years, there has been more variations for winter stories, family Christmases and holiday celebrations. Today there were more readings that dealt with some aspect of the biblical Christmas story. It was a good meeting.

I'll get around to writing more about Christmas in the coming days. It is less than two weeks away!
I haven't really done much to get into the spirit of the season just yet, but I'm getting there. We'll be going to Chris' work Christmas party later today and decorating the house for Christmas tomorrow.

Maybe that will help.
Maybe not.

I never thought I'd be a bah-humbug kind of guy so I'd better snap out of it and start spreading the Christmas cheer!

Merry Christmas!

(how was that?)
John <><

Friday, December 11, 2015

My Declaration of Positivity!

Today feels more like a mid-March day at the end of winter than a mid-December day at the end of fall.  It is 70 degrees in the Ozarks of Southwest Missouri, unseasonably warm, indeed!

I celebrated the day by taking another December ride on the motorcycle and am currently adulting on the deck with chicken on the grill and a Dominican cigar to calm the soul.

The sun is slowly setting behind a bank of clouds and rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. It's too bad that it is supposed to rain tomorrow. I need to make the trip into Springfield tomorrow for our December writers' club meeting and the Honda would be nice since we are temporarily short a car.
No worries, though. Life is good and only having one car and a motorcycle definitely falls into the category of first world problems.

Speaking of first world problems --
I'm going to say that I'm probably not the only one that currently zips through the social media news feeds, overlooking all of the garbage posts. I have tried not to be one of the people that determines to unfriend anybody with opposing points of view. I do tend to unfollow a number of connections if they constantly seem to post negative crap about others. I think we can get our point across of what we support or oppose without resorting to calling names and re-posting others negative and often untrue posts.

Yes, I realize that I have been guilty of that, as well.

I'm going to try to continue to curtail that kind of thing on my posts and would encourage others to that. too. There is more than enough negative stuff floating around cyber space without my adding to it.
I am going to begin a 30 day quest to flood the internet with good, positive thoughts and posts. Don't worry, you'll still get to see my food and sports posts (some of which may be quite negative: Can you believe the Cardinal's let J Heyward go to the Cubs!), but I'll also be adding notes of thanksgiving and encouragement.

I'll also be looking for just good news kinds of posts and I will be happy to share yours if they end up on one of my social media feeds.

Since posting news stories that deal with politics, religion and social issues rarely change anybody's mind, I'll try to refrain from those on my feed. If I mess up and let something slip by, feel free to call me out on it.
I do realize that life happens and not everything is sweet and pretty. Some of life is just plain ugly and those things (realist that I am) may find their way to my blog or news feed. I'll try to keep it to a minimum. I'll also give you the freedom to post what you like without the apparently required judgment and offense on my part. I'll just move along as I have been trying to do.

Let me end this Declaration of Positivity (Is that even a real word?) by telling you that...

God loves you.
And Jesus died for you!

Be well.
Be encouraged.
Be positive!

John <><

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thursdays are for Thanksgiving

It's late on Thursday evening and I am typing while watching the UFC Fight Night.
I started to write my Thursday post early this morning but set it aside because it is not something that is easy to write about.

Monday afternoon, Chris and I spent a few hours visiting with a man and his wife in their home. He has terminal cancer and knows that the coming days will bring the very last Christmas that he will spend with his kids and grand kids.
We had a very nice visit. Other than the medical talk, you wouldn't know this couple is facing death in the coming months. I know that their hope is in Jesus and they are trusting God for the strength to face the coming days, but praying for them at the end of our visit was hard.

I know that I have taken life for granted. I go to bed each night with the full expectation that tomorrow will come -- for me, for Chris and for our kids.
But the truth is -- tomorrow is not guaranteed.
The coming Christmas could be our last Christmas to celebrate with our loved ones.
There is no promise of tomorrow, or next week or next year.

So I am thankful for today.
I am thankful for life and (oddly enough) I am thankful for death. I think that without knowing there is an end to life, it is too easy to miss cherishing the simple moments -- the sunrises and sunsets, the gentle breezes and the raging storms...and the rainbows, too. If there will always be tomorrow we will wait too long to say our I love yous and make our apologies.

I know that my friend would love to hang around a while longer.
I also know that he is ready to stand before God.
Are you?

What will tomorrow look like for you if you wake up dead?
If your life after death begins tomorrow, what will it be?
Are you trusting in your good deeds to gain access to heaven?
What if it isn't enough?

Because -- it isn't.

We are all sinners and unworthy of entrance to heaven.
Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except by him. He took on our punishment and gives eternal life to those that would believe and receive it.

I am thankful for today. It was a beautiful day -- mid 60s in mid December! I put around 100 miles on the motorcycle today and had dinner out with Chris. If I get a tomorrow, well ... I'll be thankful for that too!

And I am thankful for my Lord and Savior, Jesus.
If you need to know get to know him, drop me a note in the comments or send me an email, tweet or text. It would be my honor to introduce you to each other (of course, He already knows who you are!).

John <><

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Slowly Moving into the Tech World

About a year ago I added a Samsung Chromebook to my limited arsenal of technology. I also have a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. I have now linked them together so that I can text message from my Chromebook and as I am typing on my Chromebook, I just received a pop-up message that my phone battery is low and down to 14%.

I've added a few other features to my Chromebook and I am trying to make more use of my phone's capabilities.

As it is, both of my Samsung products are way more technology than I really need. I am happy to be able to make a phone call, send and receive text messages and access the internet. Yeah, I take some pictures and post on social networks, but I suppose I could get by just fine without that. I also get score updates for the Cardinals and the Blues, but again -- I could live without that.

I still read actual books and using the ancient method of e-mail to communicate.
And I still try to actually talk to people on occasion.
I do not have a Netflix account, nor do I use Hulu, Amazon TV, not even a DVR to watch shows that I miss. If I can't watch them during the broadcast time, I just don't watch them.

I think about things like a Fitbit or other wearable devices, but then I think -- nah, it's not worth it to me. All-in-all, I'm still a technological moron, but I am slowly learning to adapt. I suppose that I will continue to learn more things that I can do with my limited devices and knowledge. It is still fun to learn new things and find out how to do things that many people are already doing.

Little things still make me happy.

John <><

Friday, December 04, 2015

Prayer and Platitudes

There has recently been many memes on Facebook and Twitter that have mocked the prayers of those that have called for prayer for the victims of the most recent mass shooting in the US.

I have a problem with that -- sort of.

The problem I have is that I don't think that prayer is something to be mocked. I do believe that it is our way of communicating with God and I do believe that he hears our prayers. Often, when we are helpless to do anything else, prayer serves as our only means of doing something to offer comfort or aid to those in need.

And that's where the "sort of" comes in.

The "thoughts and prayers" comments that are quoted and shared are often by people that are in the position of being able to do something -- but don't. The frustration of those that are angry and hurting (and afraid of the continuing trend) is what is being shared in those memes.

Growing up, I remember one of the nuns at my Catholic school saying that we should pray like it all depends on God, but work like it all depends on us.
While I do often expect God to intervene in ways that only God can, it is unfair of us to expect God to do the things that He has clearly placed in our power and ability. We should pray for the comfort of the victims of any tragedy, especially when we are unable to lend comfort ourselves. But if we have the means to prevent (or at least reduce) further acts of gun violence (in this case), shouldn't we be taking steps in that direction?

I don't have the answers.
I do know that I don't want my home to be a country where gun violence is considered normal.
There are people that are way smarter than me that are tasked with coming up with solutions. Many of them spend millions of other people's dollars to be in the position of doing something -- and they do nothing, but offer platitudes.

When it comes to what I can do -- I vote.
You should, too.

When I am lost and don't know what to do -- I pray.
You should, too.

John <><

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Thursdays are for Thanksgiving

This Thursdays are for Thanksgiving post has not yet become a habit.
Consequently, this will be my second post for the day. Maybe I'll skip tomorrow.
Maybe not.

As I type, we (Chris and I) are waiting on Hannah and Daniel coming over to join us for dinner. It isn't anything fancy. In fact, it is pretty informal and down to earth man food. (That's what you're likely to get when John's in charge of fixing dinner!)

Venison nachos!
A neighbor shared some of his ground venison and beef with me and it is in the skillet with onions, black beans, pinto beans, green peppers, Serrano peppers & Rotel tomatoes. It has been well seasoned with cumin, cayenne, garlic, chili powder and cilantro. It will be served on tortilla chips with shredded cheese and green onions topping it.

And a pie is in the oven for dessert!

So the thankful part is that we have a kind neighbor and that Hannah and Daniel are close enough (and hungry enough) to join us for dinner once in a while. There is enough for Aaron and Jenny but they are too far away to join us tonight.

Dinner time!

John <><

The Non-reverent Non-Reverend

Before you get started -- I know that irreverent is the correct word usage. It's just that non-reverent fits better in this case.

I serve on a couple of teams in our local Southern Baptist Association that are made up of mostly pastors and professional clergy. I have never pastored a church, nor have I been to seminary. In truth, I probably bring more of a lay person perspective than preacher perspective even though I am a preaching evangelist and have (on rare occasion) been referred to as Rev. Hill.

I never really thought about it in these terms until the other night when my place on a newly formed advisory board (made up of pastors and church staff) was described as -- he brings a non-Reverend point of view.

I asked if that was non-Reverend or non-reverent and was told it could be either one.

I know that it was meant to be a positive thing since it was said by the person that put me on the board, but it did get me thinking ...

In a lot of ways I'm kind of an anti-church, anti-American Christianity kind of preacher.
Even while I say that, I need people to know that I am most definitely a pro-Jesus kind of preacher.
And while I certainly hear a lot of Jesus talk from conservative Christians in the media and conservative politicians that would have you believe that conservative politics and Christianity go hand in hand, I don't see a lot of Jesus action from those people and I am afraid that their constant message is changing the face of Christianity in America.

I'll be the first to admit that I am a poor representative of my Lord and Savior, Jesus. The good thing about that is that nobody is really looking to me for an example of how to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, there are many more visible clergy and politicians that wear the Christian label that people are following as some kind of spiritual role models.

If you are a follower of Jesus, then I suggest you ... well, follow Jesus. You don't have to do what other people tell you Jesus would do; you can read for yourself what Jesus would do. If you don't have a Bible your own to read, you can always read online. Here is a good place to begin -- the Gospel of John in an easy to read English translation. Go from John's gospel back to Matthew and then continue with Mark and Luke. If you have questions along the way, I'd be happy to help you out. Send me an email or text (info in About Me) and we'll work through it together.

Whether I am an irreverent Reverend or a non-reverent non-Reverend I will be happy to share the Biblical Jesus as best as I can.

John <><

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bring on December!

Another month in the history books as November 2015 comes to an end.

We are now within a year of the next presidential election in the USA and it is hard to believe that there have already been several debates. I have to honestly say that I haven't watched more than a few minutes in total -- and that includes the internet video clips and news channel highlights. I will be paying much closer attention as we drawn nearer to election day and Missouri's primary election. For now, it's just a lot of noise.

The Christmas shopping season rolls in with the usual post-Thanksgiving bang. It was nice to see some of the big retailers remain closed on Thanksgiving day this year. Maybe the big Black Friday deals will slow down in the coming years. I think that more and more shoppers are shopping online and avoiding the crowds altogether.

Along with the Christmas shopping season comes the winter weather season in the USA. This past weekend saw lots of rain in the Midwest that caused flooding in some areas and icing in others. We had three days of light, but constant rain in Southwest Missouri. I'm just happy that temps stayed a few degrees above freezing so that we didn't have snow. We'd be up to out butts if it would have been three days of snow. The cold rain kept me in for most of the weekend, but as I am fond of saying -- You don't have to shovel rain!

I'm working on getting into a good seasonal spirit. Hopefully, it won't take a heavy snowfall to push me over the edge.

Well there are things I must be doing today so I had better get to it.

John <><

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Unexpected Encouragement

Sometimes I feel out of place in church. I'm not sure why, I just do.
Perhaps it has to do with all of the people. I've mentioned that I'm a bit of an introvert. I'm not really uncomfortable around people. In fact, I'm very comfortable around them and can easily converse and get along well with most people. It's just that I would generally prefer to be alone.

And church is an interesting mix of people. The one thing that we have in common -- worshiping the same God -- is often the only thing we apparently have in common. Truthfully, we might never meet or relate to each other in any way if we had not first met in church.

But we do have much more in common with each other than worshiping the same God. Though we may come from different backgrounds, have different levels of education and different levels of wealth (or poverty), we are still people living in the same community and we all have struggles. Some of us have similar struggles; some are very different -- but we all deal with life.

And, occasionally, we can all use a little encouragement.

Maybe that's why I still feel compelled to go to church. To encourage others and to be encouraged.
Today my encouragement came from one of our high school guys. He sought me out after the service to tell me that the message of my sermon from several weeks ago has really helped him. He said that he often repeats the words to himself throughout the week and they are a part of his devotion time.

It seems a little odd that I have had several adults tell me that they really liked the message that day, and others have asked when I might preach again, but none of those comments have encouraged me the way this young man's did today.
I am always appreciative of the positive comments of others, but there was something special about today.

I am reminded that words have power.
We can be an encouragement to others simply by taking the time to let people know that they have helped and encouraged us.
Is there somebody that you need to thank for something?
Why not just do it?
Go out of your way. Send them a note, an email, a text or go to them and tell them that they have been an encouragement and help to you. I promise you -- it will be an encouragement to them!

John <><

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Weekend Thoughts

It's the end of Small Business Saturday and I have to admit that I didn't buy anything from a small business. The only place I've been in the last three days is a brief visit to Starbucks today for a cup of coffee that I didn't have to make myself. Other than that, I haven't even been out of the house.

At some point in the coming days, I suppose I'll have to get our Christmas decorations out of the attic and up. It has been some time since I've really felt like being festive around the holidays. Christmas Day  isn't the same with the kids grown and moved out. Aaron and Jenny will be here around New Year's Day. I don't know if we'll wait until then to exchange gifts with Hannah and Daniel as well.

It probably sounds pretty strange coming from a preacher, but I am becoming weary of the celebration of Christmas. In truth, there is little about the season that points to the birth of Jesus (an event that happened more than 2000 years ago).

I don't think that Jesus expects a birthday celebration on his behalf. And I don't think that we give our gifts with Jesus in mind.
Don't misunderstand me -- I like giving and receiving gifts. I like getting together with family and friends. I like the parties and festivities (and food) that goes along with the season.

But I wonder what God thinks of all the celebration.
I wonder what God thinks of our make believe "war on Christmas" that people talk about as they take their kids to see Santa and put up a holiday tree (see what I did there?).
I wonder what God thinks of us as we go much of the year never sharing Jesus with our neighbors and now take offense that they don't know about Him or observe Christmas as a celebration of His birth.
I wonder what people would think of us if we turned that around and talked about Jesus throughout the year and then just celebrated Christmas like most everybody else does.

I wonder if I'm just becoming a curmudgeonly old man that is tired of listening to people complain about the great life they have.

I wonder...

John <><

Friday, November 27, 2015

Random Thoughts: Black Friday and Other Things

It is a rainy Black Friday in the Ozarks.
While thousands of crazed shoppers brave the fall rain and the other crazed shoppers looking for the best Christmas deals, I'll enjoy my comfortable couch, Costa Rican coffee and share a few thoughts here at Out of My Hat.

I was thinking --
If Black Friday is called Black Friday because it's the day that retailers finally hit the accounting black for the year, how can they do it on a day when they offer such huge deals on merchandise?
Yeah, yeah. I know that there is a huge volume of their sales that will come from things that are not at great prices, but if this is the day that makes up for the rest of the year's losses, they must really be ripping us off for the first eleven months of the year.
Just wondering ...

I was also thinking --
Earlier this month was the Leonids meteor shower. In a couple of weeks will be the Geminids shower. There are periodic meteor showers throughout the year. Most of them are caused when the orbit of the Earth intersects with the orbit of a comet (the Geminid shower is caused by an asteroid) and the particles left in the comet's path are burned up in the atmosphere.
I usually think about this as I am enjoying the shooting stars. Yeah, somewhere out there is a comet (actually, several of them) on a collision course with the Earth!
No worries. It's a huge solar system. What are the chances it could actually happen ...
... again?

I was also thinking --
Why is it that some people claim that God is in control, but seem to be more fearful of the country's (or world's) condition than anybody else?

I was thinking --
How did we let Christmas get kidnapped by marketers and retailers to become a holiday that celebrates greed and capitalism more than the birth of Our Savior?

I was thinking --
Why do we still have Advent -- a season to prepare for the coming of the Savior -- when He is here?
He was born more than 2000 years ago, right?

I was thinking --
It's a good thing we have a monetary system. If we still relied on barter as a means of trading for goods, I'd be in pretty sorry shape.

I was thinking --
I have a very blessed life.
And I don't know why.
I don't know why I have been so favored that I live a simple, yet very comfortable life. I have a great, loving family and more material wealth than is necessary. I am not rich by any materialistic standard, but I am doing well. My struggles are few and relatively insignificant in a world that is often torn by violence and greed.
Yes, I was thinking -- I have a very blessed life, indeed!

John <><

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thursdays are for Thanksgiving -- especially this Thursday!

It's pretty hard not to be a thankful soul on a morning like this. Though overcast, it's not a bad day out.
There are storms forecast for later in the day, but temperatures are seasonably warm and you don't have to shovel rain.

Chris worked prepping most of the Thanksgiving dinner yesterday so pies are baked and everything else is pretty much ready for the oven.

I really enjoyed my weekend visit to Chicago and could see getting used to city life (again), but I am also very thankful for the quiet and pretty boring community of Ozark MO. In fact, I would also be happy living out in the woods with no neighbors for miles. While many areas of the world are tormented and oppressed, I am peacefully sipping on a cup of coffee made from freshly roasted beans and typing away on my Chromebook.

I am free to type without worry of censorship and I can write about the government, religion, politics or controversial social issues without fear of imprisonment or fine.
Later today, I will walk the streets of my neighborhood or town and I will not have to go armed and will not be afraid of my fellow Ozark residents.

We have plenty of food and will share it with friends later today.
And when this day is over, we will rest peacefully in a comfortable home.

Yeah, I've got a good life!
And I am thankful!

John <><

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Eve

Why isn't there a Thanksgiving Eve?
Okay, I suppose there is one, but why don't we celebrate it?

We have Christmas Eve celebrations, services and family traditions.
We have New Year's Eve parties and watch night services.

Why not a Thanksgiving Eve?
Or an Easter Eve?

Just a thought...

John <><

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Non-traditional Thanksgiving Dinners

We've always had pretty traditional Thanksgiving Day dinners.
You know the kind -- roasted turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, some kind of sweet potato dish, cranberries, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie.
Oh yeah...and the dinner rolls that you forgot to take out of the oven!

We'll have pretty much the same this year, too.

So I was wondering...

Do any of my readers have non-traditional Thanksgiving family traditions?
Or have a meal tradition of something other than turkey and the fixin's?
Do any of you have a daily tradition like a morning run, football game, etc.?
Or maybe you have a pretty traditional kind of day plus something special.

A part of many people's holiday includes travel over the hills and through the woods. We won't be doing any travel and rarely have for Thanksgiving. With a career that was one of those 24/7 kind of jobs, we usually were home for the day and often scheduled dinner time around my work day.

This year we'll have a few friends over for a late afternoon meal with Hannah and Daniel coming over, as well. Aaron and Jenny have started their own Thanksgiving tradition of hosting a holiday meal for international students that go to school at IIT in Chicago. I'm really proud of them but miss having them around our dinner table.

I'm pretty sure I'll try to be careful but will overeat anyways.
Okay -- let's hear about your non-traditional traditions!

John <><

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday, Monday. Can't Trust that Day!

What happened to Monday?

The day is nearly gone and no post for the day -- yet!

I had a pretty full and enjoyable weekend. The Thursday drive to Chicago was uneventful (that's a good thing) and pleasant. I arrived around 6pm and then took Aaron to pick up their car from the shop. We then grabbed a quick bite to eat and waited for Jenny to get out of class. It was pretty cold out and I was dressed for driving (just a light jacket) but managed a short walk on the IIT campus while we were waiting.

Aaron had a Friday morning meeting. I tagged along and had coffee at a Bow Truss coffee shop and managed a morning post for the blog. Then we had a late breakfast at The Little Goat. On Friday afternoon, Aaron took me to where they roast the Bow Truss coffee.
Oh my! There were pallets and pallets of green coffee beans from all over the world. Somebody was roasting coffee and several people were weighing and bagging coffee. It wasn't fancy and many might have found it a boring place, but I thought it was pretty cool.
And when you walked outside -- oh the aroma of the roasting coffee beans!
Yeah, it was pretty cool to get to see that!

Anyways, I had a great visit, got to eat at a few of my Chicago favorites and even managed a short visit and dinner out with my mom and dad on the way home. Today was an all day drive. Tomorrow is a day of helping someone move. Wednesday is get ready day and Thursday is Thanksgiving!
Gonna be a full week!

I hope yours is a grand one.
Be thankful!

John <><

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chicago! Chicago! That Freezing Town!

It is a frigid Sunday morning in the city of Chicago. The thermometer hasn't moved from the 14F (-10C)  from when I first woke up a couple of hours ago. It's eventually supposed to climb all the way up to 29F (-1.6)! I had to move my car yesterday afternoon. California Street (where it was parked) by Douglas Park is a snow route. It's now parked a couple of blocks away near the Lagunita's brewery. I'll need to stop by their Schwagshop before I leave today to pick up something for a neighbor anyway. I had a late lunch there yesterday with my favorite daughter-inlaw. I had the Hogunitas with mac & cheese.

It sounds like we are going to hit The Haymarket for brunch. I already know what I'm having -- the morning riot!  Aaron has to work this afternoon and at some point I'll make way to Metamora to visit with my parents. Home on Monday.

Part of the good thing/bad thing of not living in Chicago is that there is so much in the way of really good food -- from pub food and sandwiches to the fancy, high dining places. With just visiting from time to time, I often want to go back to the places that I've been and really liked the food. Of course, that means missing out on something new! I think that we usually end up at places that Aaron and Jenny frequent and that's okay. They have great taste and know that we are open to trying anything.

Time for some coffee!

John <><

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Saturday Supplement

As long as I posted Thursday's thanksgiving post on Friday, I figured that I'd post a Saturday supplement to it this morning. I suppose it's kind of a kidding/not kidding kind of thanksgiving but I'm definitely saying that I am thankful that I don't live in Chicago!

I love visiting the kids here but prefer to visit them during the summer months.
Because it is cold and snowing -- and it is not even winter, yet!

It was snowing last night from about 8 o'clock and was still snowing at past 1am when I went to bed. There were still a few flurries coming down when I woke up this morning, but it has now stopped.
And it is cold.
My phone tells me the current temp is 34F (or just above freezing for my Celsius friends) and that is the expected high temp for the day. Tomorrow's high is forecast to be 26F (-3.3C) with tonight's low at 14F (-10)!

I know that there are many of you that love the snow and don't mind the cold. Great! You can have it. I am grateful that Southern Missouri doesn't get the snow and cold of a Chicago winter (although I understand that there is also light snow in Ozark this morning).

In a rather self-serving kind of way, I don't think I'll mind if we have a snowy winter in the Ozarks this year. I don't have to be out in the bad weather as far as driving goes. I can walk in the snow. And every time I hear Chris say, "I hate winter," I can suggest that we move to a beach in Mexico!

Have a great weekend!

John <><

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thursdays are for Thanksgiving (even on Friday!)

At some point during my drive to Chicago yesterday, I realized that my Thursday post was not a thanksgiving post. I thought that I might get another post in last night, but that didn't happen.

So today's Friday post will be a Thursdays are for Thanksgiving post, albeit a day late.

As I ponder about what I might share this morning, I can clearly see that I live a first world kind of life. I am truly thankful that so many of life's simple pleasures are mine for the taking. It is nothing for me to be able to drive all day to make the trip to Chicago to spend some time with my son, and yet there are many in the world that live out their lives within a relatively small area--maybe never travelling more than a few miles from where they were born.

Even in the USA there are people that -- whether due to means or circumstance (or choice)-- never experience life or cultures outside of their immediate area. My family has a bit of both. My dad (with the exception of that Navy gig that sent him halfway around the globe to meet my mom) has pretty much lived life in Central Illinois. He is not much of an adventurer and prefers to stay pretty close to home. My mom (and her sisters) all married men from different countries and moved away from their home in the Philippines. Her brothers remained in the Philippines.

My siblings and I (there are 6 of us) live in six different states. Our kids that are grown are also adventurous. Although Hannah is still in the immediate area, I sense that she longs for a more active city kind of life and a more diverse culture than the nearly pure whitebread culture of Southwest Missouri. However, I do think that Daniel (her fiance) is a less adventurous type and may be more content to stay close to home.

In any case, my thanksgiving today is for the ability and the desire to travel and to experience a bit of the life that other people live; to experience the tastes, the smells and the activities of life in their cities, towns and countries.

Yes, it is a first world kind of thing.
But the reality is I have a pretty good first world life!

John <><

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Religious Literacy

I've just started reading a book titled Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. I'm reading it to better understand the Jewish faith, but also to better understand the beginnings of my own faith. It is going to be one of those books that will take a long time to work through and I'll be reading it more slowly as learning material, not as one would read a novel.

I was intrigued by the opening sentences of the introduction.

"At a time when Jewish life in the United States is flourishing, Jewish ignorance is too. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of teenage and adult Jews are seeking Jewish involvements -- even Jewish leadership positions -- all the while hoping no one will find out their unhappy little secret: They are Jewish illiterate."

It goes on to say that many are uneducated in some of the basic things of Jewish history, culture and terminology.

I think that the same could be said of Christianity in the United States.
Just last Sunday my pastor was explaining a couple of simple words that are often misused, and therefore misunderstood, in our church language. It seems unfortunate that many today receive their knowledge of what Christianity should be from the news media or politically motivated personalities rather than from the Bible or from qualified teachers of the faith.

My plan on working my way through this book is to read a chapter or so each day after my daily Bible reading. Also in my 2016 reading plan is to work my way through the Qur'an and its teaching in much the same way. If anybody knows of a good Qur'an study guide, I'd appreciate your recommendations.
I also have the Kama Sutra, The Book of Mormon and a book on the life of Siddhartha on my bookshelves.
Oh yeah, and a few books on witchcraft, magic and the occult. Some Christians might find it disturbing that I have such books, but I just see them as tools of the trade.

I know that there are many books on Christian apologetics. I wonder if there are as many resources for Islam apologetics, Mormon apologetics or apologetics for any of the other multitudes of belief systems that exist in our culture.

I know that there are Christians of many different denominations that read this blog from time to time. I know of at least one Buddhist, suspect a couple of Mormons and know of several other non-Christians and atheists. It would surprise me if there are any Muslim readers. It actually pleases me that there are different beliefs represented in my small readership.
It is not my intent to become an expert on what everybody believes. I don't even know that I can become an expert in my own Christian beliefs. I would like to know enough about what others believe that I can engage in an intelligent conversation and ask good questions about their beliefs and I'd like to know enough about my own Christianity that I can truthfully and factually answer questions about my faith and the Jesus of the Bible as opposed to the Jesus of the media or contemporary culture.

Enough rambling for today.
I have an eight hour drive ahead of me as I make my way northward to see my son and his wife for a weekend visit.

A double check of the calendar shows this to be the 30th day of consecutive writing in my 30 Day Writing Challenge. I don't believe that I completed it according to its original intent and didn't use very many of the suggested topics. For me, it was more of an exercise in taking the time to write every day. I think I'll continue with a daily post through the end of the month and will try to be more frequent through 2016.
I thank you for your indulgence and for taking the time to read and occasionally comment on my posts.

John <><

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Good Morning!

Checking the calendar, I see that I have only three days left to complete my 30 Day writing challenge.
Without a topic of my own that seems demanding of being written, I turn to the suggested topic list and find one that says: Your morning routine.

I have a pretty boring morning routine, but I suppose the simple fact that we call it a routine would indicate that is the case for most of us. Of course, as a working air traffic controller, each day was a little different so it was more like having a Monday routine, a Tuesday routine, etc. Now that I'm retired, I can say I have a morning routine.

Typically, I sleep a little bit later on days when Chris isn't working. Part of that may be that we tend to stay up later when she doesn't have to get up for work (she works three days per week), and part is because I generally get up shortly after she leaves (around 6am) on days when she does work.
Once up, I head to the kitchen to make my morning pot of coffee. I use a stove top espresso maker that makes 12 oz and add hot water to fill a quart carafe. As I've said before, I'm glad that Chris isn't a coffee drinker because one pot is just about right on most days!

I generally do a dozen squats or so and a little stretching to get the blood flowing while the coffee is brewing. Most mornings I drink my coffee black, no sugar. Sometimes I add a little half and half, and on rare occasions I add half and half and a splash of Mexican vanilla. I'll pour a cup, grab my Chromebook and sit in a comfortable chair (not always the same one or even in the same room) and read my regular blogs, check Twitter and Facebook and fall into the Great Internet Time Suck. I manage to break away a couple of times to go refill my coffee cup, but generally spend a couple of hours before deciding that I've spent enough time doing nothing. Sometimes (very rarely) I watch a couple of morning news shows. I'm more likely to watch a training DVD in an attempt to learn some new magic.

Then it's usually out for a walk before getting a shower and figuring out how to spend the rest of my day.

All-in-all, it is way better than the make coffee, shower, dress, drive to work, grab my headset and camp out on radar for awhile routine that I had for much of the past few decades. It's generally way past noon before I ever encounter another human being (other than Chris on days when she's home) and I kind of like it like that.

I'll manage some reading time later in the day -- sometimes before I take my walk -- and maybe watch a little TV. Most days are pretty non-eventful. On nice days, I tend to spend an hour or so on the deck with a decent Dominican (sometimes Honduran) cigar while reading or just taking a break from doing nothing.

I've learned that retirement is no picnic.
You never get a day off from being retired.
Avoiding people, while not difficult, is an ongoing task.
And when you're doing nothing, you never really finish.

Yes, I have a good life -- but I need another cup of coffee!

Have a grand day!

John <><

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Diminishing Circle of Influence

To be fair, I doubt that my circle of influence is truly getting smaller. I think that I am just beginning to realize how small it has always been.

When we are young and full of ourselves and our grand ideas and opinions, we think that everybody wants and needs to hear our thoughts on every subject under the sun. Sometimes, even as we grow older, we continue to believe that we have all of the answers and people want to hear what we have to say.

I'd have to be honest if asked how often people actually come to me and ask, "What's your opinion on this matter?"
It hasn't been very often. There have been very few times that somebody has come seeking my opinion or advice.

I guess we often figure that if somebody freely offers their opinion, they are inviting us to give ours. I'd say that isn't really true. Having to listen to our affirming or contrary thoughts are just the price they have to pay to speak their piece. They know that. It doesn't mean they want to hear what we think. It means they want us to hear what they think.

I've considered writing about the attacks on Paris and some of the worldwide responses, but I've decided that I'm not willing to pay the price of sharing my opinion. In fact, I'm going to pull a page from a much older and wiser cousin's Facebook playbook and just restrain myself. Having to listen to the views of others is often more than I'm willing to do.

I don't mind that we have differing opinions and I actually enjoy discussions with well informed people from diverse backgrounds. I'm happy to have thoughtful friends that can give me valuable information that may give me a better perspective. However, the truth is that we (self included) usually don't want a better perspective or to have to change our opinions. That would imply that we were wrong and had to learn something from somebody else -- and don't we all want to be the smartest one in the crowd? Don't we want to be the one doing the teaching?
Shame on us when that is the case.

There are many social, political and religious battles that we can fight over. The grand majority of them have little impact in our daily lives and are not worth the time and argument effort to me.

(A couple of notes here -- discussions and arguments are different things,
and social media discussions between two three people can easily turn into fights or arguments when others decide to chime in.)

Realizing that giving my opinion (which nobody really wants to hear) is an invitation for others to give theirs ... well, I may just keep them to myself (at least in public forums). I'll also be more selective about sharing in personal discussions. As I said before -- I don't think there are too many people that are really interested in what I think about most things.

Looking back over this post I'd have to say that I've said a lot about saying nothing!

Be informed.
Be well,

John <><

Monday, November 16, 2015

Leonids Meteor Shower

I love watching the night sky!
The winter sky is pretty impressive on its own. Some of the brightest stars and deep space nebulae and clusters are visible in the winter sky. It's too bad that it is often too cold to stay out and star gaze for an extended period of time.

In addition, the fall and winter months offer a couple of other highlight events. Tonight (actually early tomorrow morning) the Leonid meteor shower takes place. This will be the best night for viewing, although you may still catch a glimpse of a few shooting stars through the end of the month. This year isn't expected to be a grand event as in some years, but if you have clear skies you should be able to see a dozen or more per hour.

It is forecast to be overcast in the Ozarks, but I'll still probably get up and check the sky in the early morning hours. For those of you that don't have clear skies or just aren't going to get up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower, the Geminids shower is only a month away and is best viewed just after sunset (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere).

John <><

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars , which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Psalms 8:3-4 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How Cold is Too Cold for a Motorcycle Ride?

I have decided that I really enjoy riding my little motorcycle. I also know that I'll be upgrading to a more highway worthy bike before next spring. I'd like to take a couple of long rides next year.

But as fall sets in and the temperatures continue to drop, I'm wondering -- How cold is too cold to ride?

I don't really have any cold weather riding gear (yet), just a leather jacket and gloves and a full face helmet. I have been riding in the 40s with a pair of exercise tights on under my jeans and was very comfortable. I know one guy that has a heated suit and rides year round as long as there isn't snow or ice on the roads.

I suppose I could get a snowmobile type suit and gloves that do a better job of covering my wrists, but I'm still curious about how cold is too cold for most riders? And how do you dress for riding in the cold?

I found a motorcycle windchill chart but if windchill is how it feels against exposed skin (and it is) then this doesn't really apply to being properly dressed, right?

Whether you are a fair weather rider or pretty hard core when it comes to winter riding, I'd be interested in your opinion.
I'm just curious.

John <><

Saturday, November 14, 2015


After the monthly meeting of our Christian writers' club I am forced to realize how little I actually write and how little I promote the material that I've written. It is true that I haven't written anything that is for sale or worthy of marketing in any way, but there is an awareness that someday that may be the case. Building a brand and a base may not be a bad idea.

In the past few years, I have been surprised at the number of people that are writing and publishing books. While I have always thought that I might do that (and even have a couple of ideas and starts) I have yet to be inspired or motivated (or disciplined) enough to actually do that. These simple posts at Out of My Hat are the best that I have managed.

As for my blog (blogs if you count the times that I occasionally post on healthy living), I only share them on my social networks and have seen the readership dwindle to a faithful few over the years. At one time I was getting over 100 hits per day. Controversy, coarse attitude and general curmudgeon-ness has managed to cut that in half. I think perhaps I am writing to one demographic and marketing to another (when marketing at all).

Perhaps separating my personal Facebook account into two accounts -- one for business and ministry, and one as a personal account will help. If you are a pastor, minister or Facebook friend through church contact, please go to my new account The Message in Magic and "like" it so that you can follow my ministry related posts there. I will soon be dropping you from my personal account and will be using it for family, friends and personal contacts from ordinary life. Truthfully, you that are ministry friends or business accounts care little about day to day postings. It is not meant to offend anybody. It is just a way to catalog contacts in a more efficient manner for everybody.

I have no plans for a separate Twitter account, but that may change.

I am currently only a week away from completing my personal 30 Day Writing Challenge and will continue to try to post more often. I also think that I will work more towards some real writing every day (think books I have started on) which was probably the original intent of the challenge, anyways.

I do have some ideas about regular series of posts for the coming year. You know us retired guys have all kinds of time on our hands for such projects, right?

In any case, I will continue to write and I hope that you will continue to read. If you find something worth sharing, please do.

John <><

Friday, November 13, 2015


I may have written about procrastination in the past. If I haven't I can at least say that I've meant to do that...

However, there often comes the time when you can procrastinate no longer and must be about what ever dreadful task lies before you. I have arrived at that time -- or at least nearly so.

In this case, the dreaded task is house cleaning. I've been meaning to do this since the beginning of the week. Monday was a weird day with an unusual headache most of the day. In addition to that, I was kind of giving myself an easy day after a day of driving and a late night on Sunday. I started doing the floors on Tuesday but remembered that it was supposed to rain all day Wednesday and decided that I should just put off the indoor work for a day that I would not be able to get outside much. Wednesday came and it didn't rain so I was outside and didn't take care of the house stuff. Besides, Chris was going to be gone on Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday, so I could always take care of business then.

She left yesterday (Thursday) morning. I was in a meeting for a few hours in the afternoon and there was a St. Louis Blues hockey game on last night. Today I finished reading a book and took a motorcycle ride into Springfield. I've now had an evening walk and dinner and I know that I have the early part of tomorrow set aside for our monthly writers' club meeting.

I guess that only leaves tonight!
...Which is why I'm on my Chromebook writing about what I need to be doing instead of doing it.
Actually, I also need to write today so this takes care of that while allowing me a few more minutes of procrastination on the house cleaning.

One task finished. One more ahead of me.
It's time...
...or at least, close to it!

John <><

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Alone; not lonely

Today's Thursdays are for Thanksgiving post might seem a little odd. It's probably not so odd that I might be thankful for alone time -- many people probably long for some time alone. I have lots of alone time. I'm almost always alone. And I really do like it that way.

I like that I have only me to be concerned with most of the time. I like not having to worry about how someone else feels about -- well, pretty much anything all day long.

I am fine with long drives -- alone.
I am fine with long walks -- alone.
I am fine with watching a ballgame -- alone.
I am even fine with going out to eat -- alone.

I know that there are plenty of people that live in loneliness and always feel alone, even when they are in a group of other people. Because of my family and (few) friends, I never really feel lonely. I don't have feelings that nobody loves me or suffer any kind of loneliness related depression.

It is true that technology helps keep me connected -- even when I am alone. I don't know if that is a good thing or not. It may add to some people's isolation rather than connecting them to others. Maybe it does that for me, too. I don't think so.

I've said that there are plenty of days when the only other person that I talk to is Chris -- and I'm okay with that. Yesterday I had interactions with a few other people -- a hostess and waitress at a restaurant (dinner with Chris), a grocery store clerk (errands with Chris) and I met a neighbor while walking.
However I also sent a couple of texts to wish a Happy Veteran's day to friends and posted or commented on Facebook or other social media to other friends. Maybe that sounds a little pathetic when it comes to personal interaction, but I'm okay with that.

Maybe, given that I am alone most of the time, I should just be thankful that I am okay with that.

Yeah, I know -- it's weird.
But it's real.
And it's me.

John <><

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Think before you speak; then just keep quiet!

Long gone are the days when a person can simply forget the stupid things they've said or done and move on. Gone are the days when we can distort the truth without somebody "fact checking" our content and accuracy.

While these are well known bits of information, one has to wonder at the competency of those that we elect to serve as public representatives of our government. Politicians want everything they say to be heard, but seem to forget that it is also recorded. It's pretty hard to claim that you never said something when it can be played back for you (and yet, they do this anyways).

I've been blogging for going on ten years now.
I have changed my thinking on some things and have said things that I would no longer defend. That happens over a lifetime. We learn new facts. Our perceptions change. We gain experience and wisdom. We change and sometimes we change our minds.
I'm certain that I believed whatever I wrote at the time I wrote it. That doesn't mean that an older (and hopefully wiser) John still believes or agrees with the younger me.

And that's okay.

I think that anybody that runs for public office is a little crazy. I can't imagine having to answer for everything that I've done in a public forum. The person that you see today isn't the same as the twenty-something kid that would smoke a little pot and get throwing up drunk on occasion. My best defense of some of the stupid things I've done would probably be to just admit that I was once a stupid, immature kid and move on.

In an era where everything that you say is recorded and judged, it seems it would be best to say very little and to only speak words that have been well thought out in advance. I'm glad that few people care about what I say or think. It makes it a lot easier to say nothing when nothing is expected ... and still, great care should be taken before I speak.

I am often surprised at the impact of words that I have spoken or deeds that I have done. There have been times that I later found out that my simple words moved someone and had a positive impact. It makes me fearful and careful for words or deeds that may have a negative impact.

People sometimes think that blunt honesty is a good trait. I used to be that way -- one of those "at least you know where I stand" kind of people. I no longer think that is a good thing. There are some things that we should keep to ourselves.

One of the things that I have learned in the past few years is this:
While as an American I enjoy freedom of speech, as a follower of Jesus, I do not.
There are things that I may have a right to say, but saying them may not be beneficial to anybody and may not glorify God.

There are pastors that are Republicans that keep Democrats (or liberals as they call them) from coming to their churches by the things that they say and post in social forums. Where will they learn about Jesus?
There are preachers that believe (and preach) that you can't drink alcohol and have a Christian world view. What happens to a friend that is looking for a church home for his family but enjoys a beer or owns a bar? Do we send them down the road and wish them luck on that whole heaven/eternal life thing?
It's funny, but I know Democrats that are followers of Jesus
...and I know Republicans that are not.
I know people that drink alcohol that are Christians and people that don't that are not!
I know pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans.
Too often, we forget to keep the main thing (Jesus) as the main thing!

We (as Christians) often have differing opinions on politics or social issues. If that is the hill you want to make your battle about, have at it. But you'll have to fight that fight with somebody else at your side. It's not my fight. Wage your war on Starbucks or alcohol or over political ideals ... but know that while you fight that battle, people are going to hell because you'd rather judge somebody for buying a lottery ticket or having a glass of wine with dinner than to tell them that God loves them and Jesus died for them.

If we (as Christians) agree on eternity through Jesus and Jesus only, shouldn't that be our focus? If we believe that people that die without Jesus are condemned for their unbelief (John 3:18), shouldn't we make it a point to tell them that God sent His Son for them?

If Jesus says to boycott Starbucks or to fight to defund Planned Parenthood -- I'm in!
For now I'm going to go with that go and make disciples thing (Matt28:19-20). You know -- baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teach them the things I taught -- yeah, that thing.

I'll go back to being quiet now.

John <><

Monday, November 09, 2015

A Brief Red Cup Rant, Baseball and a Date in History

I had considered writing about the stupid Starbucks boycott over the "War on Christmas" that some self-righteous, self proclaimed spokesperson for God has declared, but decided that it really isn't worth the time to try to make sense of his proclamation or anybody that takes him seriously. Neither is it worthwhile to defend Christianity from these idiots because those that really believe that he represents Christ are as unreasonable as he is.
If I believe that Jesus is being attacked and believe that he needs my help in defending him, I'll be there for him. That won't be at this time. I don't believe that Jesus is being assaulted by the red cup, that Christmas is under attack by Starbucks or that Christians should be offended by anyone other than the morons that claim to be offended by a simple red coffee cup.

In other news...

There are 146 days until the St Louis Cardinals' Opening Day baseball game. The Springfield Cardinals open 3 days later.

Tomorrow, November 10, is the fortieth anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
If you care to, you can listen to the Gordon Lightfoot song here.

John <><

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Family Matters

One of the 30 Day Writing Challenge topics is to write about a family member that you dislike.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind.
1) I don't have any family members that I dislike
and 2) This writing challenge is about writing and not about actually publishing or sharing in an open kind of forum

...unless of course, you really dislike this person and want everybody to know it!

I have written several past posts about my family so if you have been reading for some time, you already know that I think I have a pretty awesome family. Even beyond my immediate family, I have some pretty awesome cousins and other relatives (meeting some of them for dinner tomorrow night).

Although I know that there are families that do not get along with one another, I really don't understand it. Many families seem to have a crazy aunt, creepy uncle or obnoxious kid that no one else wants to see at family get togethers. If our family has one, it must be me ... because I don't know of anyone else that it could possibly be.
Oh we have our crazy ones (Have you met my mom?), but it seems that everyone wants to see them. Heck, the crazy one are usually the reason we get together in the first place!

I hope that there isn't anyone in your family that you would write about if tasked with writing about a family member that you dislike. And I hope that no one in your family would write about you.

I'm sure that there are plenty of people that might write about me if it were as general as just writing about somebody -- anybody that you dislike, but I hope that my family feels about me as I feel about them.

I guess I'll have to come up with a different topic on that day!

John <><

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Hacked Off at being Hacked

So it is once again the end of the day and I'm just now realizing that I haven't posted anything.
I've spent the some of the afternoon and evening responding to several friends and family about Facebook friend requests and messenger contacts that they received from somebody pretending to be me.

I know that I have many friends that did not grow up in the internet era and perhaps are less savvy than those that have. (Yes, I'm calling out you older people that grew up when networking was making personal contact and actually talking to people!)

I know this because when I went to the bogus account to report it, FIFTY EIGHT of my Facebook friends had accepted the friend request in spite of the fact that we are already friends!

If you are one of those friends, go to the cover photo of the fake account and click on the ( ... ) in the lower right corner. Then follow the instructions to report the account. If you are unsure if it is my account or the fake one, my account address is
Then you'll probably want to unfriend and block the false account and maybe change the password on your account.

I suppose that there is something to be gained by accessing somebody else's friend list. I imagine that we all fall for a scam at some point. Hopefully, not often and not at an expense other than feeling a little foolish at being a little too gullible and trusting.

I would offer the advise that if you receive a social network request to connect with somebody that you are already connected with, it is probably a bogus request. Let them know before taking any action. And you can (and should) make the report about it being a fake account!
I had many messages, posts, texts and a few phone calls to tell me of the infringement on my account.
Thank you!

I should probably change my passwords more often than I do and I should probably make use of better techniques. Unfortunately, since I use my account for ministry contacts, I have more open access than if it was for friends only. I guess I need to set up a separate account for that.

I hope your day was a grand one. Tomorrow is supposed to be another beautiful day. I'll be spending several hours (6+) in the car as I head to southeastern Missouri for a morning service.

John <><

Friday, November 06, 2015

Low-tech Music Guy

One of the 30 Day Writing challenge topics is:
Put your music player on shuffle and write the first 3 songs that play and what your initial thought is.

I don't actually have a music player.

Yeah, I know.
Weird, right?

I listen to the radio, CDs or albums ... yeah, actual vinyl.

The player on my phone doesn't have any music on it, only Pimsleur Listen and Learn Spanish!
Crazy, isn't it?

Chris has a Sirius subscription in her car and generally listens to 70s music.
I have regular radio and usually listen to classic rock, NPR or nothing at all ... until March when baseball will begin again. I have a few CDs that I may listen to, but not often.

While walking, I use a Milk Music app for music, listen to my Listen and Learn Spanish or to nothing at all. I'm okay with just walking and observing my surroundings. Sometimes it's necessary due to the proximity of traffic, other times it's more enjoyable if I'm in a quiet area.

In any case, I don't have a "music player" to put on shuffle so I guess this will have to do for today's post!

John <><

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thursdays are for Thanksgiving

Some time ago I started a post label of Thursdays are for Thanksgiving. As with most things in my life, I have a way of getting distracted from a good intention and it falls by the wayside. As this is the first Thursday of November and I'm in the middle of this 30 Day Writing Challenge, I thought it might be a good time to revive it and begin anew a reflection of things for which I am thankful.

I don't want my Thursday posts to be trivial, nor do I want them to be a long list of many things. There are many things that we take for granted and often go without saying -- even though we should probably mention them every now and then.

I'll begin this first Thursday of November with something that is simple and yet very significant to me.
This will be my first holiday season as a retired person!
I can't begin to express how blessed I feel to have been in a career that allows (or forces, depending on your attitude) me to retire at an age that is much younger than most. Though not wealthy by any means, we are in a safe place when in comes to finances. Even though Chris continues to work, we have more time to do things together and to take an occasional trip -- even if it's just a short weekend adventure.

I truly feel that I am in a good place -- financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally.
Financially -- I don't know if we ever have as much money or as many things as we want, but I have more than what I need.

Physically -- I still have areas to work on and a lifetime of poor habits to overcome, but I am probably in the best condition and health that I have been in for several decades.

Emotionally -- I'm not really certain of how to judge that, but I feel that I am pretty stable. I don't know if it's age, maturity or that my "give a rip" factor now dismisses most things that used to bother me, but I generally feel that I am on a pretty even keel.

Spiritually -- Yeah, that's good, too. Blessed, challenged, comfortable but not really content.

Mentally -- This one is kind of a big deal. Toward the end of my career, I was really beginning to worry about dealing with depression. Most days, I didn't even want to get out of bed, much less go to work. And there is no help for a depressed air traffic controller. You can't work if you've been diagnosed with depression and you can't work on the medication that treats it. You're just finished.
So you don't even talk about it. You just put on your big boy pants and deal with it.
The walks and getting into better physical condition helped a lot -- but still...
Coping with life is much better when you spend most of the day alone and with your own thoughts.
Who you spend time with, what you think about, what you talk about, what you read, where you go ... all of these things are better when you have more control.

Today is a rainy day and I'm doing laundry. Chris is running some errands and meeting a friend for lunch. I'll probably take a walk -- in the rain. Later, we'll go to an afternoon movie.
It's not a glamorous life, but it's a good life ...
...and it's my life.

John <><

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

My Life in Seven Years

Another one of the 30 Day Writing Challenge topics.

In seven years two things will happen that will be of significant financial benefit to us.
Our mortgage will be paid off and I'll get a bit of a raise as a change in my retirement plan kicks in. I'm hoping that will mean that we'll be able to do more traveling.

I really have no idea what my life will be like next year, much less in seven years.

I imagine that I will still be preaching some and doing some magic. I hope to be in decent physical condition and good health. I expect that we will be living in Southwest Missouri. Other than that, I really don't know what life holds for us.
I do expect that I will be happy.

Although there are many areas of life that are out of our control, choosing to be happy is well within our control. It is a choice. We can choose to be happy in spite of our circumstances. Even though I have never really faced adversity, I hope that I will choose to be positive and have a good attitude no matter what challenges we face.

Having more control over the people that I am around on a regular basis definitely makes keeping a positive attitude easier.

All-in-all, life is good and I'd rather live it a day at a time than to think about what might be years down the road.

John <><

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Too Much Stuff!

It is late in the evening and I've yet to write to keep the streak alive in the 30 Day Writing Challenge.

One of my projects for the winter is to finally get my magic room organized to the point that I know what is in there and can find it when I need it. For the past few years it has just been a place where stuff goes. When I first started putting my stuff in there, it was in some kind of order. But eventually it became a place where stuff just disappeared in the mass collection of -- stuff!

And it's not just magic stuff!
Also in the stuff are my books that have to do with church stuff and other spiritual stuff and books that are about all kinds of other stuff, too!

You know the kind of undertaking I'm up against (or maybe not)! It's the kind of project where there is so much stuff that you really don't know where to start so you just start. And you can't really put stuff away yet because there isn't any place that doesn't already have stuff that is going to have to be moved and put someplace else -- that already has stuff!

But I am finding some cool stuff that I had forgotten about!
I have some really cool stuff that I haven't ever used in a show. Early on, I was buying stuff that I thought was cool magic even though I didn't really have a venue to perform with it. Fortunately, I gave up that bad habit. However, I have some fun magic and need to work on it and maybe work on finding some new venues.

I am looking forward to working on some close up skills this winter and am thinking about a venue where I may be able to hone those skills. I want to work on cards, coins and other close-up stuff and maybe a little bit of mental stuff.
But first, I need to get my stuff organized!

Maybe I can be working on some stuff while I'm still getting organized.
After all, I have all winter and it's not like I have a job that I have to go to!

I'm going to have to get a video camera and a You Tube channel to demo some stuff and maybe sell some of this magic that I never use.

John <><

Monday, November 02, 2015

If You Could Start a Church...

In a recent conversation with a church planter, the comment was made that if you don't like what church has become you should start your own and make it what you want.

Well that got me thinking and wondering...

I know that many of my readers are church goers and many are not. For those that are not, the reasons for not going are many. Even for those that attend church on a semi-regular basis, the reasons for going are many and the taste in churches and service style is quite varied.

I am not foolish enough to believe that everybody believes in God the way I do. So I do not believe that everybody wants or believes in a church that I would attend or start.
But I am interested...

What would the church of your design be like?
What would be the doctrinal basis for your beliefs?
Would there be a set of rules for members?
What would a typical gathering be like?
Would it be for everybody or would you target a certain demographic?

There are countless other questions that could be asked and I know that most of you haven't thought in terms of designing your own church. But, I'm sure that you have thoughts along the lines of, "I wish my church would ...," or "What if our church tried...?" or how about, "I wish that churches would be less (or more) concerned with ..."
You get the idea.

What would be some of the things that you would like or wouldn't like in a church of your design?
What are the things that would attract you to a church?
What are the things that would drive you away from a church?
If you were on the planning committee for a new church, what would you want the new church to be like?

Really ... I'm interested in your thoughts.

John <><

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Adios, Daylight Savings Time!

It's Day 11 of my 30 Day Writing Challenge, Halloween, the end of another month (putting us 5/6th of the way through 2015) and the final day of Daylight Savings Time (DST) in the USA.
My! How time flies when you're having fun!

I'm really thinking about adjusting my sleep habits to wake up a little earlier so that I can take advantage of the shorter daylight hours. Not being a big TV watcher and no baseball games ought to make that a little bit easier. It's not like I have a real schedule to have to work my sleep hours around. As it is, I get up when I'm finished sleeping.

Take today, for instance.
I don't normally get up at 6am anymore, but I had been awake for about 30 minutes and wasn't falling asleep again, so...why waste the time lying in bed?
I got up, brewed a pot of coffee with those organic Mexican coffee beans, added some Mexican vanilla and a little cream and grabbed the ol' Chromebook. It's a little cool out and there is a light rain, but I may try to get a walk in or maybe just hit the indoor cycle and weight machine this morning.

It'll be interesting to see how the change back to Standard Time affects me this year. While working, I always disliked it -- a lot! The evening shifts seemed to last forever and it was dark shortly after I got home from a day watch! I wonder if the longer hours of darkness will have the same negative impact while at home.
I have to admit, I never really got the whole changing time thing. I know that DST is supposed to save a lot of money (or make a lot of money for some), but wouldn't changing business hours/school hours/recreational hours/broadcast hours on a seasonal basis do the same thing?
Oh well! Another case of nobody asking John for his opinion!
I'm getting pretty used to that.

While we're on the subject of seasonal changes, some of my northern Facebook friends have already experienced a little snow. We have had a couple nights that dipped into the 30s but are still dreading the first overnight frost. It looks like it will be at least a week away as the first week of November looks like it's going to be very nice. I hope that the Chicago weather will be kind to me when I journey north later in the month.

This is the time of year that I think I should join my Australian cousins and enjoy the Southern Hemisphere spring! When Chris finally hangs up the OR scrubs, I hope to take a long journey Down Under. This would be the right time of year (I think)!

I hope that your weekend will be full of treats!

John <><