Easy Does It!

When winter weather keeps us from bicycling outdoors, we often use “spin-class” DVDs produced by cycling coach Graeme Street.

One such session was all about accelerating. A particularly useful piece of advice from that class has stayed with me: Resist the temptation to speed up by shifting to a harder gear. When you do that, your pedaling speed (cadence) can’t help slowing, and you actually lose speed. Then you struggle to catch up to tempo.

Instead, increase your cadence first, then shift up. Pedaling faster in the easier gear raises your speed even before you shift. This gives you momentum so that when you do shift up, it’s easier to maintain your cadence, and you speed up.

Not only do I use this “easy-first” technique when cycling out on the road, but I’ve noticed the principle applies to other areas of life. A few examples…

Eating habits: It’s really hard to drop unhealthy foods that taste wonderful. And then what? You feel deprived, limited to celery and rice cakes? Ewwwww. Instead, start easy by adding fresh, healthy goodies. Then, as you acquire a taste for them, the momentum helps you drop the chicken-fried steak and gravy.

Writing fiction: For years I’ve plodded through the gaps between exciting moments in my stories, typing through a verbal wilderness in hopes of making it to the next pivotal scene. But I’m learning to write the key scenes, which is fun and easy, first. Then I can go back and sketch in the intervals. This is not only easier on me, but my readers won’t feel like they spend half the book watching my character do laundry or sit working a crossword puzzle. (Yawn)

I should have known there’s nothing new under the sun. I recently found Jesus taking a similar “easy-first” approach to help someone get rid of some very, very heavy baggage.

The Gospel of Luke, 11th chapter, tells the story. In verse 14, Jesus cast a mute demon from a man, who could then speak. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of using demonic power instead of God’s power (that’s just how the Pharisees rolled), Jesus spoke about “a house divided” and knowing whose side you are on. Then, in verses 24-26, he warns about having an unclean spirit sent away, but then leaving yourself empty… leaving room for the enemy to come back with reinforcements.

As the Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, “The vacuum left by the banishment of evil must be filled with that which is good, or else the evil will become worse.”

Sort of like my chicken-fried-steak example, the man needed to “fill up” with God so he wouldn’t fall prey again to the evil one.

It’s all about momentum.
Easy does it!
Thanks for reading,

Posted in A Page From My Journal, Thoughts on Two Wheels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

An All-time Favorite

Well, friends, today I publish my 300th post on this blog.

Three… hundred…

It boggles my mind.

To celebrate, I’m sort of taking the day off and re-posting my sweet mother-in-law’s all-time favorite. (It’s one of my favorites, too.) This one first appeared on January 24, 2011.

For you, Mom!

“Termite Insurance”

One morning last week I came in from a few errands to find the home phone’s “message” light blinking. I dialed in and listened to a rapid-fire spiel that sounded like, “Mr. Johnson, this is Jerry from Quadrangle Corporation. You had called us about our termite service, and by now you should have received the information we mailed you. I’m calling to see if you have any questions.”

Oh, great, I thought, Brent didn’t say anything about seeing termites.

Jerry went on, unperturbed at the vermin that threatened our very infrastructure. “I’ll be glad to set up a time to help you with your termite insurance needs.” He ended with a phone number. Nice. Sounds like they guarantee their work. I saved the message and made a mental note to tell Brent.

But it sort of slipped my mind until after dinner that night. That’s when Brent picked up the phone, heard the beeping, and said, “Hey, we have a message.”

“Yikes, I forgot to mention—” but he was already listening to Jerry. In mid-stream, though, he deleted the message and hung up.

I looked around at him. “Oh–didn’t you call an exterminator?”

Brent froze, staring at me. One of his eyebrows migrated upward but the corners of his mouth failed to follow suit. What on earth . . . ?

So I said, “Did you get some information in the mail about termite insurance?”

“Yes, but I’m not going with that company.”

“But… they are exterminators… right?” I asked.

Same blank yet incredulous stare from Brent. This was going nowhere. I took shelter in repetition: “Termite. Insurance. Right?”

Finally, the light came on and Brent thawed somewhat. Enunciating carefully, he said, “That’s TERM. LIFE. INSURANCE.” He shook his head and added with a woeful look, “Don’t talk about ‘exterminators’ when I’m shopping for life insurance.”

I was laughing pretty hard, but tried to sound contrite as I explained, “No, I just thought that guy was an exterminator … he kept saying ‘termite insurance.’ … At least … that’s what it sounded like…”

I sputtered to a stop but by now Brent had rallied. “Another bad spy movie!” He struck a pose. “Paris is lovely at this time of year.”

“An oak tree grows by the gate…”

The moral of this story: If you leave someone a voice message, even if you have said the exact same thing a thousand times a day for six years and could repeat it backwards in your sleep, remember that the person hearing it does not have your spiel memorized. They will have to actually understand what you say, or you might as well not leave a message at all.

So slow down and enunciate — otherwise you risk sending the Johnsons into another bad spy movie.

Your Turn: Do you ever have communication glitches with a family member? Oh come on, you know it happens! ‘Fess up in the “Leave a Reply” box below!

Thanks for reading!

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… and a Hockey Game Broke Out

In the past, my interest in ice hockey has been purely evasive unenthusiastic. So you know that when our younger son, Greg, developed an intense passion for the sport, I had nothing to do with it.

He has grown from a fan (Dallas Stars, of course!) to an expert stats-analysis hobbyist to an independent hockey blogger. And now the man is serving as a volunteer off-ice official for the local NAHL team, the Lone Star Brahmas.

I may not care much about hockey, but I sure care about Greg. So I jumped at the chance to go to last Saturday’s home game (my first-ever) and see him in action. A few observations…

Their arena ain’t the American Airlines Center. Thanks to the echoes, I never understood a word the announcer said. It sounded like a record being played backward. The building felt more like a high school arena than a pro venue.
Even at that, while I don’t know whether or not the competition is international… the attitude sure is.









Greg keeps track of both teams’ shots on goal, where on the ice each came from, and who made the shot. This is roughly equivalent to watching a flock of squabbling seagulls and being able, at any moment, to tell you which one has the sardine.


Every time the home team scored, dozens of small black blobs went flying from the stands onto the ice. They looked like turds, which I thought seemed insulting. But Brent said they were little “stress-ball” Brahmas. He had seen them for sale in the fan shop. These adorable kids skated out to collect the miniature livestock. I never saw anyone throwing the cattle back into the crowd to be re-used. My theory? They’re herded back to the store, where they are sold again for the next home game. If true, think of the boost to profits!


So now I truly understand the joke, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” Seriously, I could not believe the amount of time the players spent fighting. I didn’t get any pictures showing the flying fists and bodies, because every time a fight started I was too busy asking “What is the deal with these guys??”

One player even threw an intervening ref down onto the ice. In the last period, the penalty boxes started looking like clown cars. Even Brent, who has attended many NHL games, was astonished. When I asked whether this was normal, he said, “No. And I’ve never even seen a seven-minute penalty before.” Several players got themselves ejected… I think. I wondered whether the coaches would have to start sending in the stress-ball kids.

I enjoyed the evening, though. And I gotta tell you, my respect for Greg’s focus and skill keeps expanding.

Could this be the same kid I worried about having the attention span of a flea?

Your turn: Do you have a passion / hobby that absorbs your attention? Do you go to huge amounts of effort to learn about it? Share a comment below!

Thanks for reading,

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In Memory: A Bluebonnet Anniversary

oem>This post originally appeared on this blog On October 18, 2010. I re-post it in loving memory of Brent’s dad, Dr. Arnold Johnson, who has been gone for eight years now.

Lupinus texensisOne of the most distinctive symbols of Texas, besides the Lone Star flag, is Lupinus texensis, the bluebonnet. Our state flower thrives in poor, rocky soil and tolerates drought pretty well, which probably explains why it is the state flower of Texas and not of, say, Florida or Louisiana. An annual,the plant lives only one year and must re-seed itself each season. It does so quite efficiently, thanks to its ingeniously-designed seed pods. When the seeds are mature, the pods dry out and burst apart, flinging the seeds all over.

We have two flower beds in our back yard where I try to encourage bluebonnets (one by the house, shown above; the other, out by the back fence, pictured on my “…And Writers Read” page.) I rescue stray seeds that fall on the sidewalk, and poke them into flowerbed soil where they will have a chance to come up. So where do the most bluebonnet seeds sprout each summer and fall? Right — the vegetable garden, of course. Never fails.

First I tried letting the vegetable-garden bluebonnets grow, bloom and go to seed, thinking I would capture all the seeds so the same thing wouldn’t happen next year. Hah. You can never catch them all. So last summer, I decided No more Mrs. Nice Gardener. I would put a stop to Bluebonnet Encroachment!

I really love the plants and would hate to lose any of them, so I decided to dig them up — not pull them up — and transplant them to the nice, sunny, rocky, flower bed where I could enjoy them. My trusty trowel and I got out there one hot day. I cleared off some spots among the river rock in the flower bed and made new holes, then traipsed back and forth to and from the veggie garden. On each trip I dug up a baby Lupinus with some soil and as much root as possible, and patted it tenderly into its new home with a drink of water.

As I dug up about the fourth plant, a whimsical notion popped into my head. Suppose the bluebonnets knew each other, and those still standing among the utilitarian carrots and onions worried or grieved over the ones that had been removed? Don’t worry, I wanted to reassure them. They’re just fine — they’re right over there, in the flower bed. Where they belong. I knew what I was doing, and I had the bluebonnets’ best interests at heart, whether they could see that from their mulch-level position or not.

Perhaps I had that fanciful idea of the plants missing each other because my father-in-law had passed away just a few months earlier (March 2009). I missed Dad Johnson even as I gardened that day, and still do. But, although he had retained his kind and humorous sparkle, the physical limitations of his illness had begun to cramp his style. It comforted me to think of the Lord Jesus “transplanting” him from this workaday world into a sunny and favored place of beauty.

Thanks for reading,

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Tex-Mex In Any Other State…

I wasn’t born in Texas. We moved here when I was in the first grade. I wouldn’t so much as taste any kind of Mexican food until about ten years later.

However, I’ve been making up for lost time (and tamales) ever since. Of course, in these parts the foods are adapted to Texans’ tastes, giving rise to a sub-cuisine known as “Tex-Mex.”

One of my favorites is the chimichanga. It’s a large flour tortilla piled with a double handful of meat and/or other goodies, rolled up with both ends closed, then–and this is the key to its crispy greatness–deep-fried.

The resulting entree is roughly the size of an overstuffed 6-inch sub sandwich, or Shaquille O’Neal’s right thumb, whichever frame of reference works for you. Some chefs top them with cheese sauce or a salsa, but the standard is a dollop each of sour cream and guacamole. These toppings perch waaay up on the chimichanga, trying not to get dizzy and fall headlong into the side of shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.

I don’t get out of Texas too often, so I’m spoiled to my idea of Mexican food. However, when traveling, I know not to expect actual Tex-Mex. And I like to think of myself as a fairly unflappable traveler, going with the flow and not complaining that “this ain’t like Plato Loco makes it” or whatever.

During my last trip to Washington state, we all went to the (one) local Mexican place for dinner. Yaay, the menu included chimichangas, and I was kind of hungry for one. Oddly, though, it was part of a combo that also included a tamale. As if anyone could eat a chimichanga and anything else.

Oh well, I could get a to-go box for the excess.

My plate arrived, loaded with the tamale, rice, beans, and some shredded lettuce. Beside the lettuce sat a dollop of sour cream and another of guacamole. Notably absent was any sign of a chimichanga.

You know… the entree.

Deciding embarrassment was better than starvation, I turned to the waiter. “Umm… the chimichanga…?”

With a puzzled frown, he pointed to the sour cream-guacamole duo. “It’s right there.”

I lifted the guacamole with an exploratory fork and found one open end of a small, rolled-up, meat-filled tortilla.

“OH, THERE IT IS!!” I proclaimed triumphantly.

Yes, I actually said that out loud.

About my entree.

On the bright side… embarrassment did, in fact, turn out to be better than starvation.

And I didn’t even need that to-go box.

Thanks for reading,

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Welcoming our Newest Family Member

You may have met my Mr. Coffee some time ago. He’s become an indispensable member of the family. But once we moved, my relationship with him became a bit… well, strained.

See, our new house has two floors and my office is upstairs. Kitchen, coffeemaker, and coffee supplies? All downstairs. And where do I actually drink most of my coffee? Yep, in my office. Upstairs.

No problem, right? I can carry a mug of coffee up a flight of stairs as well as the next person. The first day I went up to work after breakfast, I poured a fresh cup and did just that.

Now, I always start my day with some time in the Bible, so I set the mug on the side table next to my armchair, settled in, picked up my Bible and journal, opened the journal to the next blank page, found my place in my Bible, jotted down what passage I was reading… and took a sip of coffee.

It was barely warm.

Yeah, I know… talk about your “first-world problems,” but… what could have gone wrong?

I put my stuff on the side table and retraced my path to investigate, reheating the coffee in the microwave while I was downstairs.

See, the coffee station and microwave are along the front wall of the house. The bottom of the staircase is toward the back (14 steps). You climb the stairs (18 of them–and no running with a full cup of coffee in hand!), ending up at the front of the house again. Then hang a U-turn, walk through the game room toward the back of the house (17 steps), and–poof!–there’s my office.

Waaay less than a mile from the microwave. But still….

What to do? I considered putting a microwave upstairs, but it would overwhelm the tiny counter space in the game room.

One day I tried loading the coffeemaker, taking it upstairs, and making the coffee there. Not too bad, but then I had all the paraphernalia, plus my hot-cocoa mix and sweetener, to take back downstairs and clean up. I couldn’t see doing that every day.

The spittin' image of Daddy Coffee...  only shaped more like a bagel.

The spittin’ image of Daddy Coffee…
only shaped more like a bagel.

What about a smaller, second coffeemaker to pour the auxiliary coffee into, and keep it hot upstairs? Naaah–more of the same maintenance issues.

Well, allow me to introduce my long-awaited solution: Mr. Coffee, Jr., the mug warmer!

This cute little guy plugs in (no batteries to deal with), has an “On” indicator light, and does a very credible job of warming the mug (thus living up to the term “mug warmer”). As long as I turn Junior on first, then go pour the coffee and preheat it to scalding in the microwave, and hustle upstairs without dawdling… I’m golden.

He seems very content and easygoing so far.

Knowing my history with appliances, though, I’m kind of dreading the day Junior hits the “terrible twos.”

Thanks for reading,

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To Feed a Child: Bestwa, Inc.

If you care about kids, you gotta love Bestwa (pronounced “best-way”), Inc. This non-profit works to provide food, medical care, education and hope to children in Liberia.

Brent and I had the opportunity last week to attend their annual benefit dinner. This group does an amazing amount of good with the resources entrusted to them.

Bestwa’s motto:

Building a path of opportunity for the children of Liberia

Building this path requires raising support to deal with these four urgent needs:

1. Food has been the first priority. Many children were starving; often suffering exploitation and dying from malnutrition-related disease. Bestwa now feeds 927 children — and counting — at three feeding stations. These before-and-since pictures of Felicia show what a difference a daily hot meal makes.

2. Health care is another serious issue. In Liberia, an easily-treated illness like strep is often a death sentence. The most common medicines are simply unavailable. Bestwa brings loads of donated life-saving medicines to Liberia.

3. School is a rare privilege for children in Liberia. Bestwa donors provide scholarships for kids like this uniformed boy to attend school.

4. A second aspect of Liberia’s health needs is the lack of prenatal and birthing care. The maternal mortality rate runs a horrifying 10%. Bestwa has been working to bring doctors and midwives to the rural areas they serve. Also, they are building a birthing center. Unlike the typical hospital, the Dennis Birthing Center will have electricity, real floors (rather than dirt), and running water.

This last photo says it all.

If you’d like to read more or would consider supporting Bestwa, you can visit their Facebook page or click here to go to their website, Bestwa.org.

Thanks for reading!
On behalf of the children,

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