My Daughters Are Growing Up

Jul 10, 2014 by

My daughters are growing up. It’s a daily event, but there seem to be certain waypoints along the way.

These days, my eldest is soon to begin her senior year in high school, while the twins are beginning their sophomore year.

Two of the three now have entered the workforce. Dabbled in it.

One is taking two courses at the local junior college for credit.

The twins turned 15 just Monday. The eldest is ready to turn 18 in December.

Oftentimes, as their Dad, I wonder where the time went. Maybe that’s something of my Myers-Briggs’ INTJ temperament coming thru, but in many ways it isn’t.

As parents we often get so caught up in the daily grind, we don’t notice how the kids are changing, maturing into young ladies and men on their way to being adults. Some parents coddle. INTJs like me want to give them the freedom to figure out what this world is all about, largely on their own, without hovering or “helicoptering.”

My parents raised me similarly. Not sure what Myers-Briggs Mom or Dad are. And while there are additional life lessons I wish they’d not shielded me from, I have to say I got a lot out of my youth in large part thanks to the USAF, which moved us around like ping pong balls on a pool table with no pockets. But I have to say, it worked out the way it should have. God’s way, clearly.

So as the eldest ponders colleges–she wants to get out of the South and go north–like to Indiana University, I keep reminding her that she’s free to go to any college she wants so long as it’s Auburn. I understand the desire to get as far away from home as she can. There should be enough written between the lines on this site to explain.

Typical view of the UP in September of each year.

Typical view of the UP in September of each year.

Many are the days when I wish I could pick up and get out of the South myself. Dreams fill my head at night of returning to the woods of Northern Michigan, where we were stationed three or four times when I was a child. I often drift to sleep with memories of the sounds of the wind racing through the evergreen pines and Birch trees that make up the deep woods of the North. I hear sounds of my footsteps echoing through the wood as I trounce on fallen leaves, step on and snap dead branches, inadvertantly kick rocks, and even the sounds of boots that slip or trudge into the dirt upon each step.

Hidden across our family land are natural springs that bubble up from the forest floor, trickling with an icy cold flow of crystal clear mana one could put a water bottle or soda can in and chill to perfection; no additional ice required.

And during the winter months, wow, do I ever miss snow. Visually, there is so much ugly in this world that I truly think the Lord created snow just to give Northern foke a break from much of it for months at a time each year. Johnny Mathis records have made immortal the sounds of him singing about that “mantle of white shining down from the night” as he’s walking in that Winter Wonderland. Few sights in life beat the shroud of freshly fallen snow, pine boughs weighed down with large clumps of white, and miles of it for as far as one’s eyes can see.

For me, many of those memories remain alive in my heart, much as this child once longed for a Tyco train set at Christmas.

Here in Texas, my daughters only vaguely know of snow and it’s allure. They’ve journeyed into my wooded playgrounds of Michigan once but need to return again. This time for longer. Someday.

September is but around the corner and in it’s third week, the leaves will be changing in the UP of Michigan. Maybe then the four of us, and guests, can once again walk into the woods ablaze with the colors of fire.

For now, I must leave you with these thoughts. My girls grow closer to becoming women each day; each with their powerful names to encourage them to prosper and seek out the best of what this life is all about. I’m proud of each of them, my darlings, Chandler, Reagan and Haley.

As the autumn of my life draws closer each day, late spring blossoms for my children and life races onward with us all ensnared its infinite circle…..


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The Melancholy of Divorce

Feb 19, 2014 by

The Melancholy of Divorce20081001_1898 20081001_1896

On my Facebook wall today are two photos with me and my dog, Molly, my Great Pyrenees we got in 2008 as a puppy and raised to a 70-lb adult, gentle giant.

It’s almost been four years now since the collapse of my marriage with K., expedited largely by external corruption and dishonesty, but also coupled with my own faults and those of my ex, who has lost access to all her minor children through the alleged use of meth and other drugs. (Molly was sent away before I ever got a chance to say goodbye to her–largely out of meanness.)

Two Sundays ago in church, preacher Gordon Dabbs talked about putting one’s past behind so that growth could once again happen. And I have to say that after nearly four years now, the melancholy of divorce isn’t nearly as painful as it was when it was so very raw on my emotions, but there still are triggers that pop up unexpectedly, like today’s photos of Molly, that make me sick inside like I was when my world was collapsing around me. Worse still are two refrigerator magnets of the youngest child; one I raised as though she were my own, who now supposedly is with her biological father, whom she’d never met until well after she’d been removed from her mother’s lack of care. Holidays and birthdays still are painful.

They say “time heals all wounds,” and yes, I am largely recovered emotionally from the trauma of the early part of this decade, but its impact will endure probably till my end.

I think the only way the ending of that marriage could have been thwarted was never to have begun it at all. But I also look back on good times, travels, and the difference my time made with a couple of the kids and when I think of it in those terms, I have no regrets.

I miss Molly, A. and L. J, too. I know my three girls feel the same. Life is hard. Some people have it out to make it even harder on others. And then there are just those variables in life one cannot explain.

Today is a new day. I could not be where I am today but for the hardships of the past, many of them that still have a claw in me. But more and more each day I continue to look forward, eager for new opportunities and new growth–more growth than what I’ve been able to accomplish in the new quiet of the past four years.

There were times when I wondered where God had gone in all the Hell I was enduring. I know now with greater resolve that he was right there next to me the whole time, knowing he’d not put more on me than I could handle, even with the heart attack two years ago, and wanting me to grow in life experiences and pains in new ways so I could greater fulfill the purpose he has for me in this life. That’s not easy to see when one is in the middle of the tornado of divorce and wondering why all of what was is suddenly getting sucked out of one’s life and thrown miles and miles away, possibly never to be seen or experienced ever again.

But God, I have found, has this way of taking us out of our comfort zones when it’s time for us to do something in his plan, not necessarily in ours. Sadly, today, it seems divorce becomes a vehicle for making transitions in life happen. And the result is usually something far better than what we had before. Amen. (That isn’t saying I condone or encourage divorce. But I do believe that in the end, good can come from such bad.)

If you’re suffering from an active divorce, either of your own making, a spouse, or one involving your children or parents, I pray for you constantly. It’s one of the worst experiences in life and it causes so much lasting pain. People shun you. People get mad at you. People form their own judgments of you, right or wrong, and there are times when you feel so very small and hurt inside.

Anger and pain are part of it, but so is answering God’s calling and voice to find good in the bad and make something positive come from it.

That’s not easy, I know. But it’s the only way to make things better, not to mention God has something bigger and better in mind for us all in the end….

Molly Ball on Jan 25, 2009

Molly Ball on Jan 25, 2009 (Photo credit: ClaxtonCreative)

Sophy And Fizz

I plan on getting two Great Pyrenees pups again as soon as I am able. I’m going to name one Sophie, and the other, Fizz. When I was a kid in Northern Michigan, one of my best base housing friends was Robbie Webb and he lived a Where The Red Fern Grows life with two black labs he had of the same name. He’d call them by name or he’d call them “Doggers!”

Eventually I will be returning to the woods of Northern Michigan to ply my book and eLearning trade from the beauty of those many and magical woods.

You see?  A plan.  And moving on from the pains of yesterday. Progress.

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What Is The Meaning Of Thanksgiving?

Nov 19, 2012 by

What Is The Meaning Of Thanksgiving?

Got your turkey out of the freezer yet and into the fridge so it can start thawing? That’s probably not where you thought this post was going from the lead, but I’m throwing it in for free.

As you begin to make preparations for Thursday’s holiday here in America, I want to ask you about your meaning of Thanksgiving?

In years past, in many ways for me, it has been a gateway holiday, kinda like a gateway drug.  It gets you started, but very soon you need more to get to the good stuff–the granddaddy of them all, Christmas.

First Thanksgivings

I remember being in Northern Michigan, with snow on the ground, and mom having cooked the meal.  I can’t recall if dad was home that year or Arc Light in B-52s. Little else about it do I remember.

I remember being in kindergarten and living in Northern Indiana at my grandparent’s house while dad was in Vietnam a second time circa 1970 or ’71. I remember making a pilgrim’s belt out of construction paper and seemingly a black hat, too. I remember our kindergarten field trip where they took us to a turkey farm.  I don’t remember the meals. (Though my mom has shared a story with me about how there were conflicts between the Sheptak and Claxton meals in regard to how large or small the celery was cut for the stuffing….)

But that’s about it. After that, Thanksgiving largely turned into a day that opened the doorway to the Christmas season.

Later Years

When I began putting up Christmas trees and decorating for myself, it became a tradition that the tree would be up before Thanksgiving. That way we got to celebrate the Big Deal twice, as it were. The thankfulness part largely got lost, it was just something we did to eat a big meal and be ready for Christmas and all. Then we’d watch the Cowboys football game. And later still in life, came a friend whose family would be up for the Black Friday sales–something I’ve never seemed to have the extra dollars to go partake in, let alone, the interest.

Then Came The Second Divorce

In my second marriage, Christmas and Thanksgiving became harder holidays to enjoy. My second wife really didn’t like much of either day. Her dad would come into town from Washington state and stay a few days. That brought stress upon the house because somehow we all had to present more of what we weren’t than what we were or something, I still don’t comprehend nor ever will.  There were always mean verbal words that were exchanged for reasons I still don’t understand, doors slamming, and extra naps. The best part was time sitting with my out-of-town mother-in-law who took it all in stride, was patient, caring, and actually fun to be around. I miss her.

Throughout the months of November and December I would be trying to excite the kids about the holiday season, while my ex was trying to get them to think about something else.

We had the house decorated from top to bottom, inside and out.  It was a very happy time for me, in spite of all the undertow.

When I moved out in 2010, I lost a  lot of my accumulated Christmas fare. With the agony that came from a second failed marriage, and subsequent things I’ve learned since, it got hard to enjoy what has always been my favorite time of the year.

Thanksgiving 2012

Time, they say, heals all wounds. I don’t know about them being completely healed, but this year, for certain, I’m doing all I can to see Thanksgiving and the holidays in a new light. One which I’ve lost touch with, and maybe never really quite understood.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving--Count Your Many Blessings

The Meaning of Thanksgiving–Do you ever Count Your Many Blessings?

Yesterday I went back to church for the first time in months. And like often happens, when you sit there in church and you hear a message, somehow it seems like God was waiting for you to be there in that perfect spot to share with you just the very words you needed to hear.

All weekend long, I spent cleaning up the apartment here and getting ready for Thanksgiving. And yes, I put two trees up Saturday night, put out my animated, mechanical Santa and Mrs. Claus and began to settle back into life and my “home,” as I have not been able to do since before I met my second wife, before we got married, before my world got majorly turned upside down.

So yes, the potential is there to make Thanksgiving 2012 a “going through the motions event,” but there’s more afoot here this year.

Count Your Many Blessings

We didn’t sing Count Your Many Blessings yesterday in church, but this weekend I hanged a sign from my mom above the door that says THANKFUL, and in cursive over that, is Count Your Many Blessings. I’ve been singing the song over and over in my head all weekend. If you don’t know the song, here are the lyrics:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.


Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.


When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.


So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Over the past three years, I’ve let the weight of all that was wrong, all the wrongs that had been done to me, all the misfortune, all the sadness, all of what was wrong in the world, become the overwhelming force in my life. Last year, we didn’t even put up a tree here in the apartment–well, we put up the Charlie Brown Tree–and of course, a lot of that had to do with the fact that we were supposed to be getting back the house–one we found had been trashed, appliances removed and the mortgage hadn’t been paid on since July of 2010.

This year, I’m rising above all that.

I have so many things in life to be thankful for. Things that in many ways I’d lost sight of.

I have my three, beautiful and very intelligent daughters, whom I love beyond words. Each amazes me daily with their many special talents, insights and inner strength. Because of decisions I have made, my girls have had a tough road at times.  But through it all, they have grown stronger and are more prepared for the hardships that this life can cast upon us than I was in so many ways.

Albeit my weight is still an issue that brings me down and troubles me daily. Going swimming five days a week for the past three months hasn’t seemed to help; it’s just made me hungrier!  But I have good health in spite of it all. I can get up daily. I can walk. I can run.  I can work out and I can be productive. I can also eat less and healthier.  It’s my choice. It’s something I must own up to and I must face.

I have some of the greatest friends I could ever have hoped for, many of them scattered around the globe.  Some are closer than others, and that’s okay.  Each has just the right impact on my life.

The list goes on.

This Thanksgiving

My girls are coming Thursday and we’re going to spend the day cooking. We’ve got a great big turkey in the freezer right now and it’s about to make the drop into the fridge to start thawing. We’re going to have healthy and unhealthy snacks during the day and we’re going to have a fancy meal together Thursday afternoon. Every year while chopping onions and celery for stuffing, I tell myself that next year we’re all going to be in NYC for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though I was told by a friend the other week the best vantage point for that remains on my living room TV set. Maybe next year, we’ll see.

And no matter what’s happening outside of my home, no matter how much I owe to this or to that, how much I have been hurt by this person’s actions or that, how much I wish there was snow on the ground or my family or dearest friends were closer, I’m going to be counting my many blessings this holiday season.

God has given us so much to be thankful for, and really, only a few years to enjoy it down here. The promise of Heaven afterward is something I’ve often lost site of these past few years.

So what is your meaning of Thanksgiving?

What do you have to be thankful for?


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Snow Storms in the South & TV Snowpocalypse coverage!!

Jan 7, 2011 by

Having spent multiple years of my life playing in real snow in Northern Michigan where my brothers and I would tunnel through the snow banks and make some of the coolest snow forts ever, when I hear that we’re likely to get even just a wee bit of snow in the South, I get excited.  It so reminds me of my kid-hood and my longing for the innocence of those much simpler times. 

Snowpocalypse 2011 in the South

In the North, 1/2 to 1 inch of snow is little made mention of.  Big whoop.

In the South?  OMG.

For one, people race to the grocery stores and go buy enough toilet paper they could roll half the houses in DFW with it.  They also stock up on milk.

The Sport of Watching TV Snow Coverage In the South

It’s also the time that TV meteorologists get to take their coats off on air and roll up their sleeves.

Cub reporters get sent out with their warm coats, hats, mittens and gloves to do remote live feeds.  They usually stop first at a truck stop to get some unawares red neck on tape saying, while shaking his head and then spitting before saying, “I ain’t never seen nothing like it.”

Then there’s that proverbial shot of CAR CAM News Channel 7 HD (Everything now has an HD behind it!) rolling down the highway with flakes falling and the wipers wiping.

The Remote Cub Reporter

For each snow “storm” I think every cub reporter in town goes out and buys a brand new ruler to take out into the Snowpocalypse with them.  You’ll see this for when they set up on a bridge with the highway behind it.  It’ll either have cars racing past like nothing’s happening, or creeping along.  If it’s not snowing yet in their location, the toss from the station will be something like this, “And for more of our Arctic Snowpocalypse Blast, we now turn to News Channel 7 HD’s cubette, (I couldn’t decide whether that should be Cube, as in ice, or Cubbette, because it’s most often the youngest female reporter at the station trying to pay her dues.) reporter Susan X, how’s it going out there, Susan?”

This is when the humor really takes off, (though Susan is dead serious) because Susan will have multiple directions in which she can venture.

1) “Oh! It’s cold out here!” (The first No-sh**-Sherlock moment of their continuous coverage. It’s supposed to almost be snowing!) We’re out here and as you can see behind me, traffic is A) still racing at a fast clip (because it’s not yet snowing)/ or B) there are cars out here braving the elements and just creeping by.” She’ll then roll the video that she shot back at the truck stop (“I ain’t never seen nothing like it!” spit) then go to the video of them driving down the road with their exclusive News Channel 7 Car Cam in HD,  and then come back to Susan, shivering out in the cold.

2) If it is snowing, she’ll have that ruler with her.  “Oh! It’s cold out here!  It’s been snowing where we are for like, two million days and as we here at Channel 7 HD like to bring you the latest on Arctic Snowpocalypse Blast 2011, I want to show you something! (Out comes that ruler….)  I’m just going to step over here, Kevin, can you pan over here to me,” and Susan will then show us how much snow is on the railing of the highway, the concrete top of an overpass, or the hood of the News Channel 7 HD remote truck.

3) If it’s icing, well, then Susan has strategically set herself up along the Interstate somewhere, (Actually it will have been Kevin who did it because he’s done this so many times he can’t recall) and Susan will be standing next to that guard rail or the metal bars that protrude out of the overpass cement, and take her gloves off and run her hands over the ice. “Oh, it’s really cold out here!”

Now if it’s one particular station in town, Kevin some how will have had the incredible luck to set them up in just such a space where a car coming up over the hill apparently sees them as they peak over the hill and begin to slam on their brakes like one does if a police car is half a mile in front of them.  Because of the ice/now, the unsuspecting driver will now begin to slide, (Doesn’t know to turn into the spin madly applies the breaks because he/she “Ain’t never seen nothing like it!” let alone driven in it. Spit!) and come to a stop somewhere in the vicinity of the News Channel 7 HD remote truck.

For the next 24 hours, this will be the video that runs in a nauseating loop in all News Channel 7 HD’s Arctic Snowpocalypse Blast bumpers, news updates, and then the post-Arctic Snowpocalypse Blast promos that say, “News Channel 7 HD brought you the most accurate breaking news when X’s weather was at it’s worst.”

When Susan finishes, she will then toss it over to Steve who is on the other side of the viewing area.  But not before saying, “If you don’t have to be out in this, just stay home! This is Susan X reporting from News Channel 7 HD, how’s it going over there Steve?”

Before repeating the series line up again, Steve will first say:

“That’s right Susan, if you don’t have to get out in this, just stay at home.  Even though  it’s not yet snowing/icing/snowpocalypsing yet here, but it looks like it might.”

Whew.  With it being Friday evening and the snow supposed to be here on Sunday, I’m almost ready for Monday night when the Auburn Tigers are going to beat the snot out of the Oregon Ducks.   Lord knows I hope the ABC station still isn’t into Arctic Blast Snowpocalypse mode. 

I’m already ready for it to melt.


For those of you in the South who want to see what a REAL snow storm looks like, here, from 1976-7 at KI Sawyer AFB in Northern Michigan.   Now that was snow.

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Think About This: The Value of Sketchbooks

Jan 4, 2011 by

I have about a dozen sketchbooks around the apartment now.  In them my imagination runs wild.  My hand draws images of what is and what could be.  I draw word maps.  I sketch.  I do SWOT analysis.  I learn a lot by actively thinking and writing this way.  It’s great to be able to instantly see what you’re thinking about with a few strokes of a pen.

I’ve had one with me most of the time since probably the middle of 2009. One day my girls are going to go through them and get a better idea of who Dad really is/was/etc.  At least that’s my hope and so sometimes I do leave them Easter Egg-type thoughts and notes.

My favorite sketchbooks right now are ones you can buy at Half Price Books.  They’re hardcover with a spiral and have a good 100-200 sheets of the prettiest, most inviting white space one can imagine.  They’re only about $8 and one of my greatest fears is that they’re going to quit carrying them. (If you’re ever in there and want to pick me one up, I’d be happy to fill it up for you, though, I’d also encourage you to keep it for yourself and go exploring.) I’ve tried the ones for my Mac, or the iPhone, and thought about the one for the iPad, but to me there’s nothing like writing in one in pen, or pencil or marker, or pastel, or charcoal.  Yes, you can do that on a computer now, too, but I think I’m going to stay Old School; at least on this one thing.

A Gift From My Mom

One of the things my mom gave me for Christmas was another sketchbook.  It wasn’t like my HPB books, but it has something I’m left to ponder.

And as I sat dining this morning over my bowl of Life cereal and eating an English muffin, I looked at the cover and began to ponder what’s written, actually pressed, into the cover of this one.

It says:  Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.

What Does That Mean? 

Ok, so here’s the question. In a sketchbook, where I share my dreams, aspirations and often strategic thinking, am I actually working hard at it, too?

Or is it commenting about dreamers who sit idly by and write something down in the book instead of going and doing something about it?

All I Know About Everything

Once one of my uncles at Christmas gave my late grandfather, Andrew Sheptak, a similar book.  (Grandpa was an artist.  He was born in Czechoslovakia and had emigrated to America before WWII, I think. And oh, was he ever opinionated.) The title on it was: All I Know About Everything.  The family joke was this: when it came to what all grandpa knew, the book appropriately was filled with blank pages. (I can still hear Grandma telling me about it over the phone.) The corollary to the first book was a second book, this one entitled, “More About What I Know About Everything.” And yes, it was blank, too!

Of course, Grandpa Sheptak thought where ever he was was a sketchbook.  In my youth I watched him sketch scenes on the bark of Birch trees in Northern Michigan, and write on the walls of the garage and basement of their house about what the temperature was that day, that my mom had come to visit, or that he’d seen the first bright red cardinal of the season contrasted by the white of the snow still on the ground.

His notes are in dozens of art books I still keep on my shelves.  I may never get to some of the art work in the books, but I have made a point to scan through them to learn more about what Grandpa “knew about everything.”  Because it’s in a sketchbook, that answer often becomes quite apparent–the person writing in them oft confesses more about what they do not know than what they presently or maybe ever will understand.

Maybe I should write a one act, one sketchbook play on such.   Now what would be the most appropriate thing to call it?  Sketchbook? Or All I Know About Everything?

Time to get out my sketchbook.  Enjoy.

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