Sunday, May 27, 2012

My Sweetheart Gardener

For Mother's Day, I was able to find a potting bench, which my wife had been wanting for some time. It was one of those "assembly required" deals, so we managed to get it put together. It is quite solid and sturdy, made of teak. My wife wanted to paint it blue, but I wasn't so sure about that. As you can see, however, it turned out beautifully! We made a spot for it in our back yard and she has already put it to use.

My wife has a green thumb, a love for plants and an eye for beauty. She makes our yard more beautiful both by her presence and by her horticultural skills. Seeing the beauty of our yard reminded me of a couple of poems that my wife's gardening inspired in years past. 

The first is one I wrote after a weekend of planting and I was admiring the view and feeling glad. The second poem came after having enjoyed the orange marigolds that my wife had planted in two large planters that graced our front entrance way. I don't have any orange marigolds to show you this year, but I have included some of her current beautiful arrangements. 

To My Sweetheart Gardener

Carefully nestling petunias and lilies
In gathered mounds of earth,
She cradles beauty for the eye,
Sustenance for the hummingbird,
And joy for the heart.



I’m glad she planted orange marigolds
That first made blooms in early days of Spring.
They made a joyful cottage entrance way
And called the heart to sing a quiet prayer.

I’m glad she brought her honesty along
When we first walked along a single path.
Such truthfulness has always opened up
New venues for the living, dancing soul.

And with such vision comes her caring heart
That makes a way for children, plants, and beasts.
As all within the circle live and move
To speak a blessing to the passing day.

I’m glad she planted orange marigolds
That first made blooms in early days of Spring.
Now, in the cool short days of Autumn, still
They bring delight and peace to heart and mind.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Bob Dylan Interview: In Australia with George Negus (1986)

I found this George Negus interview of Bob Dylan online. It took place as the singer was kicking off his 1986 Australia/New Zealand tour. I found this interview to be very interesting. The folks in the United Kingdom have had a great appreciation for Dylan from the beginning. Perhaps it is that fascination that brings such energy to this interview. Negus questions the songwriter about his religious phase and Dylan replies that maybe he wrote those songs because they were what people were needing to hear, that perhaps he was tapping into that collective longing. I do think that part of what makes poetry and art speak so deeply to people is artist's ability to tap into that collective unconscious. Perhaps it was that poetic sensitivity to "tap in"   to that collective energy and awareness that has made Dylan so appealing through the years and which caused him to be dubbed "the voice of a generation" back in the 1960s.

So today, the day after Bob Dylan's 71st birthday, enjoy this interview from 1986.

Bob Dylan - George Negus Interview, 1986 by tedhamporterhouse

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Bob Dylan Interview: 20/20 with Bob Brown (1985)

I remember watching this 20/20 interview when it first aired in 1985. I was so excited to see it. Bob Dylan was at the peak of one of his most creative periods, in my opinion. Others will disagree, but I thought Infidels and Empire Burlesque showcased the height of the songwriter's skills. Others have talked about how they did not care for his music from the 1980s, but to me he was at the top of his game. Of course, the recording artist has had a number of high points in his career. The 1960s protest era when he was dubbed "the voice of a generation," for his work as a folk artist. Then he set new standards for rock with albums like Blonde on Blonde and  Blood on the Tracks. Later he would shock his fans and introduce himself to a new audience and a new generation with his "born again" religious themes in Slow Train Coming and Saved. 

At the time of the 20/20 interview he had yet to produce another masterpiece that would emerge in a few years with Oh Mercy which capped off his very productive 1980s period. There would be other Grammy-winning recordings in the decades ahead with Time Out of Mind  in 1997, Love and Theft in 2001, and Modern Times  in 2006.

(Next post: an interview in Australia from 1986)

(Update, 9/21/13: Apparently the 20/20 interview is no longer available on You Tube. I did find a transcript of the interview at )

Newer update: Here is the interview, back on YouTube,

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dylan Interview: 60 Minutes with Ed Bradley (2004)

Today, May 24, Bob Dylan turns 71. Here is Ed Bradley interviewing  the song-writing legend when he was 63, looking back on his career. Dylan has some interesting things to say about the creative process and about his personal sense of destiny. The interview is a little over 15 minutes long.

Update (May 2017): The 60 minutes interview that I have had on this post for five years has been taken down for copyright reasons. CBS has, however, recently posted some clips from that interview on their website which you can see here.

If you are a subscriber of  "60 Minutes All Access" you can see the full interview here.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Our New Graduate

Four years ago I had difficulty when that day came for our daughter to go off to college. We were thrilled that she was going to one of the top liberal arts colleges around. My wife and I were also glad that even though she would be living on campus, the school was just across town. When that day came I was excited and exhilarated by the sight of the campus. I loved my own college experience and the sight of a college campus always thrills me. That first week, though, it hit me. Even though she was only across town, she would not be coming back – not like before. The little girl was growing up and out. 

I remembered the first time our daughter walked all the way to our next door neighbor’s house to play with her best friend. I stood on the front porch and watched, unbeknownst to her, making sure she made it safely – it was a thrilling accomplishment for both toddler and parent. Now she was making an even greater trek toward adulthood. I spent that week going through lots and lots of photo albums and putting together a PowerPoint of all the events in my daughter’s life. I had to do something to get out of my funk.

Now my wife and I are so thrilled and proud to have watched our daughter walk across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Birmingham-Southern College. It is yet another milestone in a life that is remarkably unfolding.  It will be a challenging and exciting time for our daughter; it will be a challenging time for us as we face the empty nest.

Insights from Parenting

Parenthood may not be for everyone, but I would have missed so much if I had not become a father. One of the biggest insights for me came when my daughter was a toddler. I was out in the backyard where I had been working all day building a fence. Toward the end of the day, I was hot, sweaty and tired, but still consumed by the task of sawing 4 x 4s, digging post holes, pouring cement, etc. My daughter came out the back door to tell me that Mom said supper was ready and I had to come in. When I looked up at her, the evening sun caught her blonde hair as she was carefully making her way down the back steps (my daughter is like I was – blond-headed as a toddler, then she turned brunette by the time she finished high school). The sight of her filled me with the light of joy and love. In that same instant I realized for the first time that that must have been the same way my own father had looked at me. It was as though I were the giver and the recipient in the very same moment.

Other Things I Realized by Being a Parent

  • Childhood is but an instant. My own childhood seemed immense, mythic, a huge chunk of my life, but to my parents it must have just been an all too short segment in their lives together, one of the many things they did together.
  • I never really realized how much my parents must have prayed for us, but when I look now with the eyes of a parent, I realize that you do everything you possibly can and then offer constant prayers as your child faces each stage in life.
  • Biggest lesson if you didn’t already know, life is not about you.

The Clay is All Dry Now

Even though we want our kids to grow up, we treasure them so that sometimes they have to tell us how old they are. I will never forget the day my daughter and I were going somewhere, about to cross the street. I took her hand before we crossed. She let go and pushed my hand aside, saying something like, “I can cross by myself, Dad.” Ouch, another step away, but it was a healthy step.  A couple of years ago, my daughter, then 20, was preparing to go down to the beach for a vacation with one of her friends. My wife was reminding her of all the things she needed to do and watch for, and to remember to call, etc. My daughter said, “Mom, the time of clay is over – I’m all dry now.”

Marriage and parenthood are the two hardest jobs in the world, but by far the most rewarding. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Feeding the Aussie in Me

I heard about Vegemite years ago. I even saw ads for it when I lived in Hong Kong back in the early 1980s. There was, of course, as significant Australian expatriate community in Hong Kong. I heard that the spread was a by-product of the beer brewing industry – the dregs from the brewery vats. I knew some Australians while I was living there, and I liked them, but for or some reason, I never brought myself to try Vegemite when I was over in that part of the world. A few weeks ago, I was strolling through World Market over near The Galleria in Hoover and spotted some Vegemite on the shelf. I decided it was time to try it, so I bought a little jar – 220 g to be exact.  I had to look that up to see how many ounces that would be (since we in the U.S. still use the old system of measurement). It comes to around 7.76 ounces.

I took the jar home, announced to my family that we now had Vegemite in the house.  According to the label, it is concentrated yeast extract, a rich source of Vitamin B and a rich source of folate, with no artificial colors or flavors – I’m sorry, make that no artificial colours or flavours – that’s how the Aussies and the rest of the English speaking world spell it. I was looking forward to my new international food experience, but it still took about a week for me to open the jar.

It happened on a Sunday afternoon. Looking for a snack, I reached for the Vegemite. My wife had purchased some freshly baked hot dog buns at Winn-Dixie the day before, so I carefully spread the Aussie product on the open bun, closed up the bun and took a bite. “Whoa! Why in the world,” I thought, “did anyone ever think that this stuff would be edible?” This was not a happy encounter.  I decided to finish what I started. I had not had lunch, and surely this would be nutritious. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rest of that jar. I wasn’t sure what to tell my family, I didn’t want to say, “This stuff is terrible,” after I had so proudly proclaimed the arrival of a new foreign cuisine. After I had consumed my Vegemite sandwich and the salty bitter taste had subsided, I have to say that my body did indeed feel nourished. I decided I needed to find out how the folks in Australia eat it.

A quick inquiry on the internet revealed to me that I had approached Vegemite all wrong. First, I learned (as if I hadn’t already figured it out) that Vegemite is "an acquired taste." Second, I read a comment that Vegemite does not go well at all on “these American sugary breads.”  That freshly baked hot dog bun was quite sweet. As I read further, I saw that Vegemite could be spread on white or wheat bread,  and that the best way to enjoy it is to toast the bread, then slather on some margarine prior to spreading a thin layer of Vegemite (I had spread it much too thickly the first time). The writer claimed that butter would do, but margarine is the best thing to use. Well, I had to draw the line there. As I’ve stated before, I am with Julia Child on this: “I always use butter. I never use, nor do I mention the other spread.”  Furthermore, margarine is not natural and can even be unhealthy.

Nevertheless, with that bit of encouragement, and the discovery of what I had done wrong, I was determined to make this international food experiment work. A few days later, I took a slice of wheat bread, toasted it, applied some butter then spread a thin layer of Vegemite. This time, it was not an awful experience! It was actually quite tolerable. My taste buds knew not to expect anything like the sweet creamy peanut butter that American kids grow up on, and certainly not anything like jelly or jam that one would apply for a sweet treat at breakfast.  This taste was unique, a salty taste (though there are only 173 mg of sodium per 5 g serving), with a not-quite-bitter edge to it.  This time I knew that I could indeed acquire a taste for the product.

The next time I tried it, the flavor was actually becoming somewhat agreeable. I could foresee better eating experiences ahead. A few days later, I had another slice of toast with butter and Vegemite. I was truly learning to enjoy it! The real accomplishment came – my true transcultural identification with my Aussie friends – when I awoke this morning and decided I would have Vegemite for breakfast. While the coffee was brewing, I was excited about preparing my toast with butter and Vegemite. I also had some strawberries, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds along with it. It was a great morning in America!     

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Our Immigration Dilemma

Alabama State Capitol
I just returned from a run to the post office. While I was there, I saw a young Hispanic woman at the customer island counter in the process of packing eight separate boxes. Each box was identical in size, and from what I could see as I walked past she was packing each box with jeans, shirts, and sneakers.  I did not want to intrude with questions about what she was doing, but I assumed that she was in the process of mailing things back home to family members. There are so many stories of immigrants who come to the U.S. in order to send money and needed items back home to support their families. I imagined what this young woman must be feeling, her sense of industry and her ability to make life a little better for her people back home. This has been happening in so many towns in the U.S. for years.

The scene I witnessed also reminded me of the fiasco of an immigration law passed in my home state of Alabama. The State legislature passed the harshest immigration law in the country, which many citizens oppose and are asking for the law to be repealed. Instead, the State House is about it try to pass some amendments to strengthen the law and make it more palatable to the business community. The law has already been seen to be unjust and has been harmful to the state’s economy. It should be abolished rather than amended.

Here are my other thoughts about the young lady I saw at the post office. Assuming she is an immigrant, she works very hard and has contributed much that our community needs (we gladly accept immigrant labor to pick our crops, roof our houses, tend our lawns and clean our buildings). I also know that she does indeed pay taxes – with every items purchases and with every paycheck receives she is paying taxes ( last year in Alabama, immigrants paid $132 million in taxes).  She is also loving under much more stress and fear since the passing of our state’s immigration law. I recall my conversation with an Hispanic pastor named Antonio who compared life under the new law with life under the Samosa regime in Nicaragua. I also recall the article in U.S.  Catholic about the difficulties of the Hispanic community in Opelika, Alabama due to our new law (“Alabama to Latino immigrants: No room at the inn”).

There is no question that the immigration laws need to be changed. Since we are so dependent upon immigrant labor, we need new laws that will make it easier for Latino immigrants to work in the U.S.  That legal reform however, must take place at the federal level. Immigration policy is under federal jurisdiction. The problem is that today so many are reacting out of fear.  The U.S. Congress is afraid to do anything of any consequence for fear of the ballot box and congressmen’s fear of not being able to stay in power. State governments are operating out of fear of losing control and seeing too many brown-skinned people around. There has to be a better way to reform our immigration policies. There has to be a way in which all parties can operate with purpose and industry rather than with fear and prejudice.

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UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Alabama State Senate has voted not to repeal HB56, but instead has voted to change the law without repealing it. Read the press report in The Montgomery Advertiser here. An earlier article has a little more detail here. As the song says, "Not dark yet, but it's gettin' there"

FURTHER UPDATE - May 17, 2012: Here are just a few recent statements about the harmful effects of Alabama’s Immigration law. (For the record, I have found no one crediting this legislation as good or helpful, even when I Google "the good thing about Alabama's immigration law.")

From Jeb Bush:

From the New York Times:

From Fox News Latino:

ONE MORE UPDATE - June 26, 2012: When my state refused to repeal or even budge on its Immigration law, it became all to clear to me that Alabama will not do what is just and right in this situation unless and until the Federal government intervenes. I should have known this. The same was true with it's Jim Crow laws, civil rights and integration (but one can always hope that his state will do better).

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona Immigration law it a sure step toward correcting Alabama's law. As reported in The New York Times, immigration is a matter of federal jurisdiction , not individual states:

The justices make it clear that this case is about the power of the federal government to set immigration policy and to pre-empt, to a large degree, state policies that can infringe on that federal power. An expert on immigration law, Micahel A. Olivas, explained: "We can't have 50 different immigration policies, 50 different foreign policies."

The only part of the Arizona Law that the court tentatively upheld was the  allow law enforcement to determine immigration status  of someone detained for other reasons if there is legitimate suspicion. When this part of the law is enacted, it will likely lead to racial profiling which may then be struck down by the court.

So in short, there is some hope yet for justice. Will congress now embark on serious immigration reform?

Previous posts on Immigration:

Alabama's New Immigration Bill

Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law: The Faithful Take Action


Friday, May 4, 2012

Something Like the Peace Corps

Hong Kong Baptist College
I once heard news commentator Chris Matthews talk briefly about his service with the Peace Corps in Africa as a young college graduate. He said that serving in another country, offering humanitarian assistance, living in another culture affected everything he did subsequently in his life. He encouraged young people to get involved in some service like the Peace Corps, and to do it before age thirty for an experience to set the course of their life for the better.

I knew exactly what Chris Matthews was talking about.  When I was in my late twenties, I took part in a mission program with the Southern Baptists called the Journeyman Program. The purpose of this program was to allow college graduates the opportunity to serve for two years in various missions across the globe. There were over 80 of us in our group that went out in 1981. Within our group there were teachers, nurses, youth workers, agricultural workers, and a variety of other jobs that gave aid and supported church missions. I was an English teacher at Hong Kong Baptist College (now Hong Kong Baptist University).

Becoming a World Citizen

A moment relaxing after some
intense Journeyman training sessions
The director of the Journeyman Program at the time was Dr. Stan Nelson. Stan really made that program into the quality endeavor that it was.  He told us during training that after our experiences overseas, we would become world citizens. How right Stan was!  My time in Hong Kong definitely shaped how I view the world. Sometimes I tell people that my two years as a Journeyman in Hong Kong were like ten years of experience.

The Journeyman Program was my “Peace Corps.” You cannot view your place in the world or the plight of others throughout the world in the same way once you have lived, served and worked alongside people in another culture. I have found that in all of my subsequent roles and occupations since then, I have had a sense of mission that others around me often do not seem to grasp. My values, my hopes, and my endeavors have all been shaped and borne by my life as a missionary Journeyman.  What’s more, my path has not been at all what I had planned, but it has all been good.  I recently found a quote that resonated with me, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.”

Renewing Old Friendships

Recently members of our Journeyman mission group have re-connected by way of the internet after thirty years. We have gone in many different directions as we have pursued careers, started families, and lived in various parts of the country and the world. It was amazing and invigorating to discover that immediate camaraderie that still existed after all these years.  I was excited to see the pictures that people shared commemorating their time overseas – it brought back such memories! I was equally invigorated to hear where my colleagues are now.  It was thrilling to hear one another’s stories of where life has taken them in the intervening years.

The bond that was formed as we prepared to go out into the world so many years ago was immediately renewed.  I tried to explain that camaraderie to my daughter, but my words probably fell short. It’s an experience that you can really only know by being there.

The Rewards of Service

I am extremely grateful for having been part of such an awesome group of people. We were young, inspired, and on a mission. We were setting out to parts unknown and we subsequently met with many wondrous encounters. There were joys as well as struggles and sorrows that occurred within our various experiences, but most seem to agree that those were transformative years for us – those two years of service.

I would like to echo the sentiments of Chris Matthews that I mentioned at the outset.  I would encourage all young people to consider giving a year or two of service overseas before you start your career. It could be with the Peace Corps or it could be with your church or religious organization. It will be challenging yet rewarding and you will not be the same thereafter.

Many Possibilities

I should add that if you are not in that youthful category, it is not too late. Did you know that Lillian Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother, joined the Peace Corps and went to India when she was 68 years old? My brother spent his vacation time for four or five summers providing assistance to a village in Brazil in a church-sponsored mission. There are nurses I know who have assisted with medical clinics in Central and South America for one to two weeks at a time.

Furthermore, there are many avenues of service available. Some that I know of are Doctors without Borders, SIFAT, and Oxfam. Other organizations that I have recently heard about are Give a Year Partnerships for college students, Proworld, and the Global Volunteer Network. The Quakers also have a number of service opportunities available.  By giving a gift to others somewhere else in the world, you will also be giving a priceless gift to yourself!

Some students from one of my English classes at HKBC
Members of the English language Sunday School class
I taught at Emmanuel Baptist Church
(in Cantonese, that would be pronounced 
Yee-mah-loi-lay Tsum-wui Lai-bai Tong)

Sunday School class at picnic outing in the park
Group shot at church picnic, Emmanuel Baptist Church  

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Previous Posts about my Hong Kong Experience:

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