Sunday, February 28, 2010


Biblically speaking, the purpose of government, at its most basic, is to reward good and punish evil.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Inspired in no small measure by the figure skaters of this year's winter olympics, I have decided to start doing an occasional interpretive dance as a recurring feature here on the bummer-free zone. Who will be the first to guess correctly what activity I am attempting to represent through the medium of dance? Follow the link below to watch the video and then leave a comment with your guess. I'll give you a hint- it's not a seizure.

"Some folks dance cool, all angles and swaying hips
Sensual as all get out and in
Me, I'm a hick and I dance like one
I just kinda jump around and grin
I know a guy, he doesn't dance too much
But when he does, he gives everyone a thrill
You might run away or suck it up and stay
When he dances, Billy from the Hills"
Greg Brown (from the song BILLY FROM THE HILLS)



"I know! Those trees are soooo wimpy. They just bend over when it snows and then they look pathetic. I hate them!"
Middle aged woman- Post Office- Idyllwild, CA

"So...I don't understand, is Syria, like, a person?"
Teenage boy- sidewalk in front of the Post Office- Idyllwild, CA

"I used to be way more into Obama than I am now. I still like him, but, I don't know, I just used to be way more into him I guess. You know what I mean? At least he's not Bush."
Woman in her twenties- Fairway Market- Idyllwild, CA

Friday, February 26, 2010


Wow! Thanks to this article, I now know why women represent 75% of my blog's visitors.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Today I stepped out into one of those mornings that just makes your heart swell. It aroused in me a desire to describe it, to nail it down with words, but my poet's heart met the inflexible limits of my abilities, and I failed. All of my efforts seemed to me to be inadequate or trite. The song birds say it best.

* The air was cool, but the breezes were warm.
* It had drizzled overnight leaving everything damp and fresh.
* The smells of wet earth and wood smoke mingled under the pines.
* The sun somehow made everything soft around the edges.

It was glorious!

Ironically, my inability to fully describe what it was that made my heart swell threatened to lessen my enjoyment of the moment itself.

As I abandoned the effort, my heart gradually turned and focused on the author of this day. Instead of continuing in my frustrated efforts to bottle the moment by reducing it to words, I felt God liberating me in my heart to simply enjoy it. To enjoy it with Him. Things I could never accurately express to you, I was able to convey to my God through the unmuddied clarity of a grunt. I breathed in. I breathed out. He knows my thoughts from afar. It was a beautiful morning.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The air filters under the house have to be swapped out every thirty days here at the Tate ranch. It isn't anything I have to mark on the calendar though. As the thirty day mark starts to approach we know it is time because the whole house shakes and convulses as air slams against the clogged filters.

Some actual quotes from our guests in response to the heater kicking on have been:

"Is that an earthquake?"

"Is there a helicopter out there?"


"What is that?!?!"

If I let it go too long it can really be surprisingly violent, and the only reason I let it go longer than I should sometimes is because the job involves an army crawl through dust the consistency of baby powder in a close, dark, cobwebby space.

Today was a joyous day, however, as I trained Master Bowden to replace me.

Bowden has long been intrigued by the mysterious portal beneath the porch, which leads to untold adventures under the house.

"Alright Bowden, let me show you how we do it."

We did my side (the easy side) first and I showed Bowden how to open the door and how to orient the filter inside the heater.

Then Bowden wiggled under the heater like a dachsund into a rat hole with his flashlight gripped between his teeth. He's a gamer.
The door at the end of the army crawl is on the other side of the heater in a rather inaccessible spot.

Here I was very tempted to yell, "Bowden watch out for that rat!" But I didn't because he is deathly afraid of rats thanks to the animated classic, Lady and the Tramp, and because I was really very grateful for his help, and did not want to do anything to discourage his future cooperation.

Bowden is a good little man.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The village, with its closely clustered buildings and narrow streets, sat in the midst of the valley like a pebble in the palm of a green glove. A thin dusty track, which spanned the length of the valley, ran directly through the town’s middle before continuing on its lonely way. Towards the west, the road climbed, gradually becoming more faint and ill-defined as it went further from the town- just two thin wheel ruts through the tall grass. As it neared a line of low hills and rocky escarpments it narrowed to a single path before disappearing entirely within the low-lying, scrubby woods that stretched away from the valley's edge as far as the horizon.

Not far from the end of the track a boy, no older than sixteen and naked to the waist, sat indian style beneath his shirt, which was stretched between two branches to keep the sun off. Nearby, in the shade of a cliff, water seeped from a slimy crack in the rock and collected in a quiet green pool at the base of the cliff. The dry woods, brittle and thirsty, dusty and brown, surrounded the boy and his secret spot.


Accoring to the results of my informal poll (right), 75% of the people who read this blog are female. That's interesting. I'm not quite sure what to do with that information though.
"To be strict in goodness is to be pointed at and shunned. To be no better than one's neighbor is the only way of being at peace."
F.W. Robertson

Friday, February 19, 2010

A wind out of the north
Has turned the lake from calm to mean,
With white-cap crested waves
Dividing troughs of brownish green-
Like rows of snow capped mountains
With their valleys in between.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I want some adventure in my life, but not adventure for adventure’s sake. I’m not talking about that peculiar brand of adventure-lust that motivates people to go bungee jumping or climb Everest. I’m talking about a cause that requires more of me. My faith should be that, right? What’s wrong with me? Why am I so comfortable? I want danger!!! I want adventure!!!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Several times a year, Umpa, Sarah's Grandfather, gives me a sack full of oranges from his groves up in Lindsay, CA. It wasn't until I moved out to So Cal. that I discovered how amazing Oranges can be. I grew up on store-bought oranges, which always left me with kind of a ho-hum impression. I have discovered though that oranges picked ripe straight off of an orange tree are an entirely different fruit. Umpa knows how much I like them and it's very thoughtful of him to remember me in this way. I like to stuff a couple of oranges in my pockets when I go on walks. After receiving a delivery of oranges, you can more or less track the course of my walks, hansel and gretel style, by the little pieces of orange rind littering the way. I love it when the rind is thick and comes off in nearly one piece. That is very gratifying. This latest batch of oranges, delivered by Nanny who is up for a President's day visit, are especially sweet. I often find myself reflecting on how good and creative God is when I eat oranges, and then I think of 1 Corinthians 2:4, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him." I look forward to seeing how God will improve on the orange in eternity. I love the God who spoke oranges into being and who allows me to eat them worshipfully.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Saturday, February 13, 2010


I fell in love with Sarah during the summer of 1995. I remember the exact moment- I was walking across the camp's center grass and she was sitting on the front steps of the dining hall. She was wearing flip-flops, a dark blue t-shirt, jeans, and her hair was up in a pony tail. WHAMMO! Just like that, in an instant, I became smitten! I got bit hard! I remember coaching myself a lot that summer not to stare at her too much. My eyes wanted to drink her in at every opportunity, and it required a fair amount of self-control to rein that impulse in. I had never seen anything so lovely as Sarah in all my life, and when I combined all the things I admired about her with this intense physical attraction I became wildly infatuated.

We had met the previous summer,worked briefly together on summer staff, and had written each other over the course of that fall, winter, and spring, but it wasn't until that moment, when I saw her on the steps of the dining hall, that I fell in love with her. At that point, I would not have admitted my new found feelings to anyone, but I acknowledged them internally. She was dating another guy that summer, but there was no jealousy. I felt a calm sort of resolve in my stomach. It was one of the few times in my life where I knew exactly what I wanted, and right from go I laid a course to get it. I was going to put my best foot forward and bank that the other guy had an expiration date on him.

We flirted...a lot... (I was no respecter of the other guy's claim) and I suspected that she liked me, but I thought maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see. I was rife with insecurity. I knew what I wanted, but was not sure how to get it exactly. Up to that point I had played a good game, but I had no idea how to close the deal- how to make her mine. I had never asked a girl out, and I wondered if I had the guts to go for broke and risk rejection. I was scared to say anything overt. Plus, there was still the other guy- the one she called her "boyfriend." What was the deal with him? I met him once, and, not surprisingly, didn't like him. I continued my efforts to submarine him.

The summer of 1995 came to a close. I flew back to VT and she went back home to the valley and to her boyfriend. I had nothing to show for the summer, but a lot of empty flirting and an invitation to pick up our correspondence again, which I did with gusto. That was the winter that the mail box became a magical thing to me. I almost despised Sundays and holidays because there would be no mail on those days- no potential for word from Sarah. Oh, the joy of opening the mail box door and seing her familiar handwriting neatly scrawled across the front of an envelope.

The summer of '96 will always go down in my memory as the most magical summer of my life- the summer when I went on my first date and Sarah became my girlfriend. At the outset she was still dating the same guy, and so I continued my policy of puting my best foot forward, flirting a lot, and waiting for something to happen in my favor.

Then she broke up with him!

I was till too much of a scaredy-cat to go for it though.

Then one day she came and found me when she got off work. I was still working out on the grounds so she sat down nearby and started talking to me. She was talking about her recent breakup, and I mentioned that I had never even been on a date. It was still all very flirty and she suggested going on practice dates with the girls on staff. She even offered herself up as the first guinea pig. I thought that was a great idea!!! I jumped at it!

I don't know if she knew that this was the stuff of fantasy for me. Words fail to describe the emotion of that moment. I had somehow secured a date, a real honest-to-goodness date, with the sole object of my desire. This was the culmination of a lot of daydreaming and posturing. I was on cloud nine! Afterward I went back to the guy's staff house, went into the bathroom where I could be alone and had a little freak out!!! So excited!!!

We went out for dinner at Chelseas, a little burger joint in town, but the details of the date are fairly inconseqential. The main thing was that I had GONE ON A DATE WITH SARAH, and after that things quickly fell into place. I found the courage to explain how I felt. I felt tingly all over and slightly dizzy (like when you stand on the lip of the grand canyon or next to Niagra Falls) when she told me how she felt for me. WOW!!!

...and, as they say, the rest is history.

Happy Valentine's Day, Sarah. I love you. You remain the sole object of my desire.

Friday, February 12, 2010


"They call it the bump and grind. We really liked it!"
Elderly woman outside Vons Supermarket- Palm Desert, CA

"Will you be my valentine?"
Teenage boy speaking to a girl on sidewalk in front of Idyllwild Pizza Company- Idyllwild, CA

Teenage girl speaking to a boy on sidewalk in front of Idyllwild Pizza Company- Idyllwild, CA


I've decided that I'm actually kind of a big Taylor Swift fan. I even like her stuff that has a decidedly country sound to it. Are you judging me?


Wednesday night found Bowden and Lucy at the Target in Palm Desert excitedly picking out boxes of valentines to give away to their classmates. I fondly remember doing the same when I was a wee lad myself- tape a brown paper sack with your name on it to the front of your desk and exchange cards with cartoons saying things to girls you would never dare say yourself. It was flirty, but not dangerous. I actually really enjoyed it, and like so many things, I am now able to enjoy it once more through my kids.

But this morning, before school, as Bowden was signing his cards I glanced at this card and immediately noticed that something wasn't right. I have watched enough nature programming since becoming a Dad that I think I'm probably the equivalent of a zoologist or at least a herpetologist (my kids love them some snakes) . In fact, I think most American parents with a television could testify in court, if need be, as an expert on most any type of fauna (especially dinosaurs).

Anyway, back to the valentine, with regards to the animal featured on the valentine above- that is not a chimpanzee. That is an orangutan. How do I know? 'Cause I have a six year old! Get your house in order Animal Planet.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


These postcards, spanning nearly one year between March of 1918 and February of 1919, were sent by my Great Grandfather, Brooks McCuen, to my Granfather, John McCuen, while stationed in France as a surgeon with the army during World War I. They were given to me by my Mom several years ago and summarily filed away and forgotten about, but this week as Sarah was searching for some missing papers she stumbled upon them, and it was interesting to take them out and look at them again.
This postcard was apparently sent from Washington D.C. prior to being deployed. At the time my Grandfather would have been either two or three. Judging by the address and the "c/o Rev. Wiseman" my Grandpa and his Mom probably went to live with her family while my Great Grandfather was away in France.

"Your Daddy is here in Washington but he is thinking of you and wondering how you are and if you are a good boy."

Happy New Year from France! Heureuse Annee! Judging by the postcards that follow he was likely stationed at a field hospital near the Marne River in Northeastern France not far from the border with Germany.

"Daddy thinks of his little boy real often. Be good."
I think the "PASSED AS CENSORED," stamped in red letters is kind of interesting. So is the "officer's mail" scrawled carelessly across the top of each card.

Chaumont is a city on the Marne River in France.

" Daddy was up here and saw a little boy who looked something like you- be good. Daddy"
Philippe LeBon- inventor credited with the creation of several early steam engines.

" Daddy is thinking of little John."

Andelot was a small village on the Rugnon river which is a tributary of the Marne.

"Be a good boy."

American troops marching through Paris on Bastille Day.

" Regards and love to all."
This card wasn't censored! What a breach!

"Be a good boy. Daddy hopes to see you soon."
This must have been an exciting postcard for my Great Grandmother to read to her little boy. Daddy's coming home soon!

Monday, February 8, 2010


This is Rey Reyes, my accountability partner. Usually we meet over breakfast at a restaurant, but on his suggestion we met this morning at the end of a dirt track on government land (bureau of land management) way out in Garner Valley to shoot off a few rounds. Rey has recently started channeling his inner redneck and has bought a small of arsenal of firearms. I haven't really fired a gun since my police days, but I have to say it came back to me pretty quickly, and I really enjoyed it. Ridiculously fun!

My first question- "Rey, did you bring me out here to kill me?"
Rey let me blow up a water jug with a hollow point round. He tried to capture the explosion in the photo below but was only able to get it as it fell to the ground.
We also shot at some paper targets and shot clay pigeons out of the air with his shotgun. I think I could spend all day shooting clay pigeons. It's so much fun! I've got to try and talk Sarah into getting a shotgun.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Due to my hasty and ill-advised pledge not to post about football anymore until next season, I will limit my comments about today's superbowl to the commercials.

I was struck by the commercial for the Dodge Charger entitled "Man's Last Stand." It reminded me of a quote I read recently by the 19th century, English publisher and author, Edward Verrall Lucas, "The trouble with marriage is that, while every woman is at heart a mother, every man is at heart a bachelor."

The central premise of the ad seemed to be that men have surrendered too much of their personal autonomy and are suffering silently like so many martyrs within the onerous confines of their marriages. The wild man that lives within the breast of all males is chafing under the well-intentioned but irritating attempts of women to domesticate him and suffocate his spirit with petty indignities like cleaning up after himself and putting the toilet seat down. It's time to push back...and buy a Charger!!!

Now Dodge didn't pony up a fortune in ad time without doing their research first. You can be sure that their pitch was carefully crafted and designed to hold maximum appeal for their target market- married men. You can be sure that their research and polling data showed that their message held strong appeal to their key demographic. I will confess that I resonated with it, but that part of me which was picking up what they were laying down was sinful. Yes, sinful.

Ephesians 5:25 says "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." If we are at heart bachelors then shame on us because we are in fact husbands. How did Christ love the church? He gave Himself up for her. How should we love our wives? By giving up this bachelor-at-heart business and making ourselves a blessing to our wives.

Do I do this perfectly? No- Sarah will tell you that, but I submit to the truth of it, set it as my goal, and allow you to remind me and hold me accountable.

No Charger for me- I'll stick with my Astro Van.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


The kids and I finally finished "Swiss Family Robinson" today. We read the first chapter on Christmas eve and have been reading a chapter a night ever since. It was a good book, but I'm glad to be done with it so we can move on to something else. We decided to celebrate by watching the Disney classic inspired by the book and by camping out (Swiss Family Robinson style) in the living room. This marked the second time this winter that the kids and I have camped out in the living room. (Check out the first time here. We camped in last winter too. It's fun!) Sarah was planning on joining us, but she is a tad under the weather this week, and thus opted to pass the night back amidst the comforts of civilization. Too bad, everything is more fun with Sarah.
I was surprised, and so were the kids, by how different the movie was from the book, but they really enjoyed it. It's a great movie! It was fun to hear their comments and see how their imaginations lined up or diverged from that of Walt Disney. The movie was also scarier than the book and numerous times they fled into the tent or into our laps to escape approaching pirates or man eating tigers.

It wouldn't be camping without a fire.

After the movie I crooned them off to sleepy town with a forty minute performance. That's way longer than normal. I guess they were having a hard time falling asleep because of the excitement and all. I don't usually sing them to sleep anymore, usually just a couple of songs and then I'm out of there, but I felt like tonight if I didn't escort them into oblivion they would never have nodded off.

Sweet dreams.

SARAH AND I AT THE TABLE LAST NIGHT (AKA- sometimes I think I'm soooo funny.)

"Ewww...I just squished a grape between my toes!"

"You're Italian! You were bred for that weren't you?"

Thursday, February 4, 2010


The World Bobberball Association is pleased to announce Steve "Sheriff Lovely" Maxon as the winner of 2009's international tournament. As this was the nascent sport's inaugural tournament, Steve has the singular honor of being the first champion of the sport. Steve also holds the record for the highest known score in Bobberball history- 21 points. He'll have a target on his back going into the 2010 tournament. We're all gonna be gunning for you in 2010, Steve!
Freakishly long arms and an indomitable will to win characterize Maxon, who is rumored to have undertaken a 2-week train trip to learn the secrets of Bobberball at the site of its invention. When competing he takes on the guise of a small-town lawman who holds your fate in his oddly calloused hands and doesn't appreciate your attitude one bit. He has the eyes of a hawk, the heart of a lion, and the stout constitution of a bear. As a result he has been banned from all zoos in North America. Children trust him.
(Sarah Tate has stepped up to the challenge of chairing the tournament committee for the 2010 world Bobberball tournament. Hopefully, under her leadership things will flow a little more smoothly than the 2009 tournament. Sorry for all of the hiccups.)