The Universal Playlist Challenge

Life is Short! Don’t Forget to Have Some Fun!

While I was mowing the lawn last weekend, I had my bluetooth headphones on and I was listening to one of my favorite albums by Bowling For Soup. Then I decided to mix it up, literally. At last count, my phone had about 450 Albums and over 6000 Songs in my Music Library. I decided to put all of the songs on Shuffle and see what happened. I was able to finish mowing the backyard without listening to the same old stuff. It was quite refreshing actually. Then, something really funny happened.

Just to let you know, I have virtually ALL of my music on my cell phone. Some people like to separate different types of music, not me. Spooky Halloween Sounds, Christmas Music, Barry Manilow, it’s all on there. I was in the shower, with my phone connected to my bluetooth speaker, rockin’ out as usual. All of a sudden, the unmistakable voice of Bing Crosby filled the bathroom. He was belting out, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”. Talk about Christmas in July!!! This was followed by a song by Billy Squier, so I thought we were back to your regularly scheduled summer program. Then it happened again! The Ronettes were happily singing, “Sleigh Ride” when my wife came into the bathroom and yelled, “What the heck are you listening to?”

Then an idea came to me. The Universal Playlist Challenge! The challenge is simple. Take your phone and a speaker to an open area like your backyard or a local park. Or, if you’re feeling really brave, do this in your car with the windows rolled down and the volume set to 11! I know what you’re thinking, “Where’s the challenge?” If you’re like me and have a good selection of Christmas Music on your phone, it can get very interesting. Start with a 10 Song Challenge. Set your music player to All Songs, and Shuffle, then play it LOUD! If you can play all 10 songs without recoiling in embarrassment when, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”, “Livin’ La Vida Loca”, or “Who Let The Dogs Out?” comes on, you win the challenge! Bonus Points are awarded to the challenger who sings along with a Christmas song all the way to the end! Try to get people around you to join in! Life is short, you gotta have some fun!!!

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Peeling Away the Layers of Time

How to Access Your Personal Time Machine

Have you ever noticed when a building or business in your neighborhood has just been torn down, you can’t seem to remember what was there a moment ago? A dry cleaner? A jewelry store? A hair salon? Even though you drive past that corner every single day, now it’s just an empty lot. However, if you travel back to a favorite spot from your childhood, you can easily picture every business on every corner.

This past weekend, my wife and I rented a tiny cottage on Clark Lake, in Irish Hills, Michigan. We were there for a family reunion my brother was hosting at his cottage across the lake. I mixed up the days and wound up missing most of the folks. I’m sure I’ll catch up with them all at Christmastime. Anyway, my wife and I wound up going out to dinner at the Beach Bar. For me, that place is in a time bubble. Not much has changed since my family used to go there over 50 years ago. On the way back to our tiny cottage, we passed a market named Mugsy’s. I told my wife it used to be called the Town & Country.

That reminded me of a wonderful sensation I always have whenever I visit this area. It seems like the layers of time peel away as I drive through “town”. I point out a cottage our family always rented when we were kids. How my mom and dad ever fit four kids and a dog in there I’ll never know. A chalet-style cottage across the street from my brother’s place used to be painted a nice redwood color and is now a dull gray. I have always been fascinated with the concept of time travel. Now it occurs to me that we all carry a time machine with us. All you need to do is visit a well-loved place from your youth to access it. Suddenly you’re back at the Town & Country, with some pocket change in your sweaty little hand, ready to buy some penny candy.

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Death of a Chirpy Bird

How to Keep a Song in Your Heart

A few years ago, we noticed some very bright yellow birds in our neighborhood. I presumed they were songbirds because of the wonderful noises they would make just outside our kitchen window. We called them Chirpy Birds. In order to keep them near our house, singing their beautiful songs, I put up a thistle seed bird feeder. It took a little while to catch on, but soon our backyard became the local IHOT (International House of Thistle) for goldfinches, as well as house finches and chickadees.

About a week ago, I was driving down the street and it looked like a male and female goldfinch were either having a fight or were in the throes of passionate romance. It appeared they weren’t paying attention to oncoming traffic, so I slowed down and tooted my horn. They both came to their senses and flew off. A day or two later, Skittles found a male goldfinch in the middle of the street, dead. This made me very sad, since we consider these beautiful creatures to be our personal songbirds. I know all about the Circle of Life, however, it still put a damper on my day.

Yesterday on our morning walk, Skittles was nosing around a bunch of daylilies. All of a sudden, a bright yellow and black goldfinch burst out of the flowers. Skittles barked and I smiled. I considered it a sign that even though one finch had died, another one had come to take his place. Circle of Life and all that. As we headed home, I had a spring in my step and a Chirpy Bird song in my heart. All was right with the world.

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The Reign of Terror

Cut Off My Table Scraps, Eh?

Our dog is crazy. I never knew just how crazy (and crafty) until recently. My wife and I decided it was time for Skittles to stop her chronic begging. So when we returned home from our April vacation, we cut her off from table scraps completely. Skittles appeared to take it in stride, at first. In retrospect, I should have realized she wouldn’t take it lying down.

In order to put all of this into perspective, I need to backtrack a little. As you can tell from this picture, she is a beagle, but also has basset hound in her as well. Two weeks after we brought our crazy dog home from foster care, she made a break for it. She got all the way across Schoenherr (a very busy road) during rush hour and was coming back over when a lady spotted her and held onto her until our son could pick her up. My son has called Skittles a Tactical Genius. He has no idea how right he is.

Skittles determined that the Begging Boycott was an Act of War, and like any good General she consulted her battle plans for that very contingency. Her opening salvo was an attack on a forgotten box of candy canes in the basement. This resulted in red dye stains all over the carpet, along with small candy cane pieces stuck to it as well. She quickly followed up with a tactical strike on a box of fiber bars that she had previously ignored, or so we thought. Without going into too much detail, this resulted in a very disgusting week on our morning walks. Many similar attacks followed. This weekend, I am going to watch Patton again, to better get into the mindset of my adversary. She’s looking at me right now saying, “Come at me, bro. I’ve been planning this for years!” Stay tuned for more news from The Front.

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The Christmas Clip

How To Keep Christmas In Your Heart

Recently, I noticed I had missed a gutter clip when I took down my Christmas Lights in January. I made a mental note to take it down, but now I think I’ll leave it up. With all the nastiness in the world today, a little reminder that a season is coming that promotes peace on earth is a good thing. Plus, that’s one less gutter clip I’ll have to put up in December.

I’ll admit it, I’m a Christmas Junkie. I don’t create a light display you can see from space, but I do like to have the house nicely decorated. A few years ago, I discovered Organized Christmas. This website has helped me put my obsession into a highly structured checklist. Last year, I experienced a very well-organized and relaxed Christmas. Even with the Lambert Family Christmas Eve being held at our house. To cap it off, it SNOWED on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! It doesn’t get much better than that! However, I’m sure my family members (who had to crawl their way through unplowed streets) weren’t laughing all the way.

When I saw the clip on the gutter, I was reminded that the Christmas Spirit is always there, although sometimes you have to look very hard to see it. I know what you’re thinking, “This guy is crazy! It’s only July!” I know, but the back-to-school items are already on the shelves and that means Halloween ghosts and goblins can’t be far behind. On my blog The Brown Parachute Club, I have written two articles with a Christmas theme. They are about appreciating your life, as well as transforming it. Being George Bailey and Being Ebenezer Scrooge. If you can’t bring yourself to look at them now, please bookmark the links for later. When you do get a chance to read the articles, please leave a comment if you enjoyed them. Thanks!

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Swimming Between the Raindrops

Learning To Swim In The Sunshine

The other day, my friend Karen posted on Facebook that her grandkids were in the new pool and they were “swimming between the storms”. I know a perfect blog topic when I hear one, so I asked Karen if I could use it. She is a BNAT reader and happily gave me her approval. Karen’s statement is certainly a life lesson. I changed it up a little because it sounded too much like a book by Tony Robbins or Brendon Burchard. I don’t want to get sued!

Many times in life, it seems like we are completely obsessed with the problems raging all around us. The Storms. It seems to me that the key to living a happy life is to swim between the storms or the raindrops, as it were. I don’t want to get too deep here, but it’s an interesting analogy when you look at it from a weather angle. If you look above you, all you can see is your patch of sky. There may be storms in the surrounding area, but in the blue window overhead, your weather is beautiful.

Our recent heat wave illustrates this attitude perfectly. After a week of upper 90-degree weather, we finally got a break and had two beautiful days. I fell for the trap of looking at more 90-degree weather that was on the horizon after those two lovely days. Then it hit me, enjoy the days you have been given! Swim between the Raindrops (or Heat!). Storms will always be there, but you have to learn to Swim in the Sunshine! Thanks for the wise words, Karen!

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Harry Potter Lullaby

Just Like That, Kevin Was My Little Boy Again

Recently, I went down to the basement to get my workout clothes out of the dryer. Our youngest son, who has recently moved back home (temporarily we hope), was catching some zzzs on the couch. He was recovering from a long shift on one of his two jobs. As he snoozed, I heard a podcast playing on his phone. Some things never change.

I was immediately reminded of what I always called the Harry Potter Lullaby. Since my wife is a TV Sleeper, early on my sons developed the habit of falling asleep while listening to background noise as well. They would listen to the soothing sounds of Jim Dale, as he recited one of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s greatest adventures. Or, maybe it would be Artemis Fowl or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This would provide the necessary white noise as they drifted off to sleep.

For 19 years, I worked afternoons and my wife worked days. When I arrived home after midnight, odds were good that Harry would be playing on one or more MP3 CDs, my wife would have the TV going, or both. I fall asleep quickly, but I am a light sleeper. I would carefully turn off all of the CD players and TV, then gingerly crawl into bed before anyone realized the background noise had stopped. It’s the kind of ritual that’s a pain in the butt at the time, but when I look back on it now, I kind of miss it. Kind of.

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Firefly Trail

Just A Little Everyday Magic

Since we never had any in our Detroit neighborhood when I was growing up, I’ve always had a fascination with fireflies. After my wife and I bought our house in the suburbs, I was sure there would be some out here. Nope, skunked again. However, over the past few years, we have started to see some in our neighborhood. Last year there were a lot, and this year there are even more.

For obvious reasons, I always thought fireflies had a magical quality about them. In the past I never really had the chance to explore that idea. However, the other night my thesis was confirmed. I was out walking my dog on a very hot and humid evening. Suddenly, the path before me was a mass of glittering fireflies. I felt like I had been transported to the Elven City of Rivendell. I almost looked around for Frodo and his traveling companions. Magic indeed.

I was reminded of a TV show I had seen many years ago. It may have been Stephen Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. A young boy is disappointed to learn that magic is just an illusion. In order to console him, his father tells him to take a stick and drag it along some reeds in their backyard. A large cloud of fireflies emerges from the reeds, confirming that magic does indeed exist. Somewhere, Albus Dumbledore is giving us a sly wink.

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Green Highway Signs

Becoming Part Of A Mobile Community

I have quite a drive to work. Thirty-one miles to be exact. It’s not that far, but when you factor in the afternoon rush hour and construction projects, a thirty-five-minute drive can turn into an hour. I’m not looking for sympathy, I just want you to know I spend a lot of time on the freeway. While driving home from work one day, I saw a sign that said Port Huron 74. I was reminded of something that struck me during our recent Florida road trip.

I never really noticed before, but when you’re driving on vacation, your focus is primarily on reaching the next major city on the green highway signs. However, many people in the cars around you are just driving through life. They’re on their way home from work, going to the movies, meeting friends at a restaurant, picking up their kids from practice, etc . . .

Driving home from work today I wondered, how many of these people around me are traveling to Pure Michigan on vacation? How many of them are heading west to Chicago, or California? While you’re driving on vacation, you’re just passing through. However, you’re temporarily part of that town, city, or village. For a brief moment, we are all part of a mobile community. As we drive on, we leave our travel companions behind. Soon, we join a new community and the process repeats. I find that kind of comforting.

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Cool Nights

Be Careful What You Wish For

After being cooped up in our homes in Metro Detroit from early November to late May, it’s good to finally get some weather where we can open our windows and “air out the house”. Unfortunately, our miserable springs are usually followed by Hotter than Hell Memorial Day weekends. This year was no exception. However, once all of that calms down, we are usually blessed with warm days and cool nights for the remainder of the summer.  Until this year.

Anyone who lives in Michigan is aware of the radical temperature swings that can often occur within hours, if not minutes. However, this summer has been positively schizophrenic. It has been as low as 46 degrees in the morning and as high as 96 in the afternoon.  It has been a roller coaster of temperatures that will be in the mid-70s all week, jump into the 90s for a couple of days, then nosedive again back into the 60s. 

It’s truly amazing everyone in this area isn’t sick.  I was knocked out for a few days when Air Conditioning Laryngitis (yes that’s a thing, and I reserve the rights to that name) turned into a full-blown cold. On the morning I wrote this, it was 51 degrees and going up to a high of 80 by late afternoon. By this weekend, we are supposed to hit 97. Don’t get me wrong. I love Michigan, and I consider myself blessed to be born in the Great Lakes State. However, I think Tim Allen should do a spoof commercial where he says, “Have you ever run your furnace and air conditioner on the same day?  If you have, then you have been to Pure Michigan.”  Only us Michiganders would get the joke.

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