Monday, February 28, 2011

You've got a friend in Me...

I sat down today with the intention of writing a post about one of  last night's Oscar winners, Randy Newman. What could be more entertaining than a piece about a singer/song writer who once recorded a song about short people and is now famous for songs written for short people? I've never really held that first one against him either...

But I'm going a different direction. A much different direction at that. I'm going to talk about our awesome God.

I was an emotional train wreck yesterday at church. For as much as I try to come across on Tony C Today as a hard-nosed. rock-gut former Jarhead, the truth is I'm often reduced to tears at the things I see God do. Now He already knows this, but for the sake of my faux-macho image I try to maintain, let's please not spread around that I'm prone to the water works.

After a very pleasant Saturday night dinner with two very good friends, I was in bed a little earlier than normal because I was attending early service Sunday morning. The church I attend has two worship service, one at 8:30 and one at 11, with Sunday School sandwiched in between. The second service is a contemporary-style service, and since I play drums in the Praise Team, the one I normally attend. On occasion, I do play drums for the choir which usually sings for both services. As it would happen, the choir was down in numbers for a variety of reasons, and needed a few bodies for both services.

Let me state, I do not profess to be a singer. I can, however, lip sync to put Milli Vanilli to shame (just google it young people), and the Choir Director is a person very dear to me. He has been my musical mentor for the past several years, and I'd definitely take a bullet for him (sorry, off setting the mushy stuff). To boot, he had been sick in that early morning, yet there he was being as obedient to his service as always.

Running behind as usual, I get there with just moments to spare. We throw down on a few hymns for the traditional worship service (which I've really come to enjoy playing), then it's choir time. I squeeze out of my drumming corner (literally) and head for the stage. As I look around at the thin numbers, it suddenly hits me I'm the only tenor in attendance (and I use the category tenor very loosely). There will be no lip syncing, plus the two songs we are singing both have parts that feature the tenors.

Sweating profusely doesn't do descriptive justice to my state at that moment...

The Director is looking at me nervously while trying to convey confidence all the while I'm sure afraid I might fall out at any moment. I took a deep breath, said a little prayer reminding God about the line in His word on making a joyful noise, and prepared to send something His way giving it my best shot.

Now let me also state for the record that when all was said and done, I still won't be expecting an invitation from the other two guys to replace the late Pavarotti in the The Three Tenors. But, I did have a feeling of peace for doing what I felt God wanted me to do.

I stayed for the first sermon and really enjoyed/related to the message. Blessing. Sunday School finished up a seven-week series that has really changed the way I look at certain aspect of my life. Blessing. As people filed in for the second service, God apparently just decided to dump His blessing pitcher right on my head.

I've been praying for two different people at church for two completely different reasons, and both of them walked right in for service. I got to briefly talk to both, fighting back tears, before it was time to take my place. As the choir assembled, I now had a couple of true tenors around me to shoulder...ahem...the load. But apparently that wasn't enough because a young man I've been encouraging to sing in the choir for some time walked right up and stood beside me.

Let me add that his dad was standing in front of the choir ready to direct for a second time despite his rough night medically. That's right...same guy. He needs no better example of obedient service to the Kingdom than the example his dad sets on a regular basis.

As we prepared to sing again, I looked out and seen my two friends sitting with their respective families. I saw my own family preparing to worship together too, and I saw so many people I deeply love and care about coming into one accord. Combined with my young friend standing beside me ready to belt out God of the Ages, I was overwhelmed with joy. Dropping my head, I started to weep, and I didn't care who saw it either.

I sang a lot louder the second time around. The Praise Team had two songs to play too, and we were well into the second song before I finally got it together. Mrs. Tony C said after the fact you couldn't tell my groove was off...but honestly...I really didn't care about that either. I was on a Holy Spirit high and nothing was stopping me from enjoying God's gracious blessings.

When I left for church early Sunday morning, I went with every intention of giving my best effort to God. When I left church early Sunday afternoon, God had given me far more in those few hours than I could ever give Him back in a lifetime of my best efforts. All I can do is share His greatness with others...and relish in your stories of His love along with you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The world could look vastly different by 2012...

We're sitting in front rows seats as history unfolds in the Middle East, but most people are already bored and ready to change the channel.

60 Minutes aired a segment last night on the 26-old Tunisian fruit vendor most Westerners have never heard of...Mohammed Bouazizi. His act of defiance was the initial domino to fall in the ongoing sequence of revolutionary events. I encourage you to check the story out here. 

Tunisians ran a corrupt dictator in power for 23 years right out of the country by protesting in mass numbers. Far too many numbers for the small government police force to try to control. Nevertheless, people died to bring change to their country.  At the center of the revolutionary movement...Facebook.

Egypt took note. So did Yemen, Bahrain and Libya with ongoing protest still to determine an outcome. Iranian revolutionaries have tried to gain some type of momentum for change, but unlike the uprisings in the fore-mentioned countries, they lack the ability to coordinate and mobilize. They lack access to the new tools of revolution...Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Americans have become so saturated with daily doses of sensationalism from the 24-hour news stations that it has become increasingly difficult to recognize what history will record as pivotal and what will be forgotten next week. I believe we are watching history on a 'once in a generation or two' scale unfold. Our country has been fighting for democratic change in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade at the cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars, while the action of a single, working and obscure man in one of the most peaceful nations on the planet triggered a wave of change still plowing through the region. Dictators Mubarak and Ben Ali are gone. Al-Asaad, Saleh and Gadhafi could be the next to go. Ahmadinejad can't be feeling too comfortable after Iranians protested over accused fraud in his 2009 re-election. My, my...the winds of change are whipping through the Arab region like never before.

Another crucial point to consider is the role Islam will ultimately play after all this shakes out. The Western view of democracy vastly differs from the rising views of the Middle East where democracy and freedom of religion (and thus, ultimately speech) are not interlaced. Stephen Prothero, professor of Religion at Boston University, has an excellent editorial piece in the USA Today that's worth checking out here

No conclusions today folks...this one's got a ways to play out. Stay informed because in the end, it's really going to matter.


Friday, February 18, 2011

For the sake of good taste...I'll refrain from Dolly Parton references.

No sooner had the 2011 Federal Budget proposal been released, and the crap started flying.

I keep clinging to the hope that eventually the general public will wake up and realize what fools our elected officials in Washington take us to be. The budget is released this week and immediately the spin begins on both sides. Half truths. Blatant lies. Double talk. It's all there.

As a conservative, I'm actually madder at the Republicans than I am the Democrats. We know where the liberals are coming from in this, spend, rinse, and repeat. But for mainstream Republicans to get up and start spewing President Obama this and President Obama that is just a slap in the face to informed, concerned voters. The Grand Old Party was given back control of the House for one reason...get spending and the deficit under control and do it now!

I don't want to hear about tax cuts. I don't want to hear about non-discretionary spending. I don't want to hear about taking the military budget off the table. We've heard it all before...let's see...oh that's right, just five short years ago when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress and federal spending increased nearly 4 percent in back-to-back years of 2005 and 2006. Republicans probably don't want people to know spending only increased 1.4 percent in 2010 (aka President Obama's first year in office).

To hear the newly elected Speaker of the House stand at a called budget press conference and cry about Obama adding 200,000 new federal jobs this past year is both insulting and irritating. Here's an idea... Instead of playing the politics as usual blaming game, roll up your sleeves, make some difficult choices and give us a balanced budget. That's just for starters!

The first thing Washington and those who feed off the chum of Washington start spinning is how complicated the federal budget really is and how complex and intricately related the various variables are. Really? I don't need a Masters in Economics from Harvard to understand that the country's 2010 GDP was $14.7 trillion and the total 2010 Gross Public Debt was $14.13 trillion or 96.3 percent of GDP...and that can't be good.

But alas, I have studied economics and do understand that we are in fiscal uncharted territory in this country. Sure, Public Debt has been high before, but the cocktail of economic conditions were very different in each historical case. Public Debt has proven to have an adverse affect on inflation, interest rates and economic growth. Each of those affects all of us in one way or another too. All it will take to remove the dark cloud hanging over our economic future is to exercise a little self-control. No...we're past that point. A lot of self-control. The federal government is just too big and needs to be drastically reduced. It's that simple. Shrink the size of government and Public Debt returns to a manageable level. Balance the federal budget, and we don't have to worrying about our grandchildren not living in the world's dominant economic superpower.

Back to President didn't think he was getting a pass on here today surely?

His proposed budget adds $1 trillion to the current debt. Let me just make sure and clarify that means increases. Have we become so callused by large numbers that a trillion just doesn't seem so darn big anymore? Well let me put that into perspective...

David Schwartz, a children's book author whose How Much Is a Million? tries to wrap young minds around the concept- "One million seconds comes out to be about 11½ days. A billion seconds is 32 years. And a trillion seconds is 32,000 years. I like to say that I have a pretty good idea what I'll be doing a million seconds from now, no idea what I'll be doing a billion seconds from now, and an excellent idea of what I'll be doing a trillion seconds from now."

To me, the same analogy applies to dollars, and it ends with a bankrupt future for our country. Don't be so quick to write off the Tea Party movement and its ideas as just Chicken Little crying 'the sky is falling!' That's just the typical politics of Republicans and Democrats alike...and exactly what they want you to believe about the Tea Party while they continue their Potomac Two-Step dance of irresponsible fiscal behavior.

It's time for true elected conservatives to start acting conservative and not just using the label. Yes, I'm a little aggravated...and if you're a conservative, you should be too!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day Mrs. Tony C...sorry you married an idiot.

That's my Valentine today, and yes, I am a lucky man...

My wife and I share something that, to me, is as precious and vital as any other attribute a relationship can possess. Trust. Of course, trust is a cornerstone of any solid relationship, but I'm speaking of a trust that goes beyond the cliche associations with the word. I'm talking about a trust that says no matter what stupid things you say or foolish things you do...I'm in this with you for the duration.

I just wish I wasn't the one always leaning on that trust...

For those who know us, to say Mrs. Tony C is patient is as an obvious overstatement as saying Albert Einstein was smart. While she established her footing in life very early (her mom would say at age 5), I'm still practically flying through by the seat of my pants looking for a decent landing spot. Sure, I've settled in a few areas of life. I love Jesus, Mrs. Tony C and the three other females that occupy our home with all my heart, and I completely understand each has to hold just that order of priority in my life for everything to come together the way God planned it.

But, everything else is still a work in progress and open to debate in my mind.

I don't think (or hope) I'm irresponsible, but I'm definitely...shall we say...spontaneous. Take Saturday night for example. All five of us were home, the teenager and the Crazy Tomato doing their own thing, when I came to the conclusion we needed to do something together as a family. Never mind it was approaching 6 pm and the time of day everything starts winding day at our house as a normal ritual.

Mrs. Tony C: What do you have in mind?    

Tony C: Let's go somewhere.

Mrs. Tony C: (skeptically) Okay...where?

Tony C: I don't about...Bass Pro Shop!

Now I know what my non-local readers are thinking. Tony C, Tennessee, Bass Pro Shop. Must be a regular event for my household. But, you'd be wrong. I've never been to the gigantic Bass Pro store just off the Sevierville exit that draws visitors on Interstate 40 like mosquitoes to a light source. As a matter of fact, I've never been to one period.

Was Mrs. Tony C taken aback by my suggestion? Despite the fact the store is over an hour away, the newborn was in 'feeding frenzy' mode, the Crazy Tomato had been battling diarrhea on Friday and the teenager, well, just carries an attitude about anything and everything in she wasn't. She was quite supportive of my idea and managed to hide her reluctance at the insane suggestion quite well.

So, we load up and head for Bass Pro Shop. My only true motivation was an alleged selection of Croc shoes to be found there. For some reason, I have an obsession with the rubberized, garden footwear made famous by television chef Mario Batali, and my favorite pair are wearing thin on tread.  Mrs. Tony C knew this, but she never let on and rode my wave of spontaneousness without a word.

I must admit I was highly dissapointed. Since I've neither hunted nor fished in a couple of decades, a superstore dedicated to everything hunting and fishing was for me, being a fish out of water. Wait. That's not right.  Maybe that should be a bird in water. Wait. Ducks are birds....okay, forget an animal analogy/cliche. How about a sumo wrestler in a Victoria's Secret...just for Valentine's Day.

So, the Croc selection was bogus, and I struck out on that front. Mrs. Tony C didn't even come into th store because the newborn was hungry and demanding her...ahem...attention, then I round a corner looking for the other two who have scurried off to see this sight on display:

The last thing a dad wants to see is a hormonal teenager and a toddler nicknamed The Crazy Tomato brandishing firearms...even if they are fake. Chances are one of the two was picturing my face on the moving target board, and the other one surely will too in about ten years. Plus, I don't really mean to be judgemental, but Bass Pro Shop might want to implement a dress code too. Spandex just isn't made for anyone and everyone to wear (including myself), and I saw far too many examples of that while walking around. Refer back to the sumo wrestler in Victoria's Secret for a mental image.

The trip wasn't a total wash though. We did eat at one of my favorite restaurants as a consolation for  coming home without my new Crocs. But then again, there is a Cracker Barrel just 20 minutes from our house.

Happy Valentines's Day Mrs. Tony C, my love...and thanks for loving me just the way that I am...anyway.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Best of Tony C Today - Anyone have a cougar I can borrow?

By request, here's a best of Tony C Today from 2009. I'm still driving the same Mazda (with a new mirror), and the mad dash still happens Monday through Friday...

My commute to and from work each day

I live in a quite little town of just over 50, 000 people. Each work day, I travel to my office in a neighboring little town which also has just over 50, 000 people and back again at day's end. My 24 mile commute is mostly conducted on a stretch of Interstate I-26, which by the way, actually starts where I get on at Exit 1. I say it starts there and eventually ends in Charleston SC because, quite frankly, the pendulum is far off balance when comparing the two ends...but that's another blog down the road (pardon the pun). I stated... it's Exit 1.

Don't get me wrong. I love my little town nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee. My commute is decorated with breath-taking scenery that people commuting in other parts of the country would love to see...that is...if I could take time to look.

My stretch of I-26 is more akin to a NASCAR race at one of the circuit's super speedway tracks than a leisurely drive through the countryside. It's white-knuckled driving at its finest and not for the timid or faint of heart. Part of that equation is created by the fact that probably half of one city works in the other neighboring city... and vice-versa. Throw in the natural 'banking' on this particular stretch of interstate and you've got a recipe for some of the best amateur racing since Hanna-Barbera's Wacky Races was cancelled in 1969.

Several months back, I was very content not to get drawn into the daily suicide run. I would cruise along smoothly at the posted speed limit, listen to my iPod via my car stereo (thanks Mrs. Tony C Today), and reflect on the day to be or the day that was...depending on which way I was traveling. Lines of cars would blaze by at blurring speeds, and I would fight back the competitive person I truly am with a God bless you directed at the aggressive drivers. Being an avid Seinfeld fan, I borrowed Frank Costanza's serenity now ...which was a little to 'New Age' for me... and added a more pious tone.

There was a safety issue holding me back too. The tires on my '99 Mazda Protege were a little worse for the wear...well...actually, they were pretty bald. Several hydroplaning incidents during wet weather had contributed to my throttled back demeanor not to mention a number of impromptu prayers.

Then it happened. Rubber only goes so far and mine was passed the point of safe highway travel, so I bought a new set of Goodyear Eagles. The playing field might be changed to near level in my mind and the game had changed.

Now wait a minute. It's not like that first morning I hit the top of the on-ramp at Exit 1 doing 75 mph ready to race. No, it was much more subtle. A guy following right on my bumper trying a 'drop and go' around me to avoid slowing down.

God bless you.

The 'run up, cut over in front of you' move to get around you and the other 4 cars behind you in the left-hand lane.

God bless you!

How about the back and forth lane switcher behind two cars travelling parallel as if to intimidate someone into speeding up or slowing down.


That's was it...I was in the race. After all, I'm a much better driver than 95% of the yahoo's out there, and the Protege still had a little punch left in all 4 cylinders...most of the time. And that funny noise at speeds over 70 mph? Well that's where Michael W. Smith on the old iPod comes in handy. If I can't hear it over W. it really a problem?

Fast forward to a mere week ago (okay, I'll stop with the puns now). I leave work ready for the weekend that was just 24 miles ahead. After clearing the speed traps at the city limits, it was on like Talladega.
Just a mile or little more into the jaunt, I looked around to survey the field. I was car number 4 in a line of 9 cars on the inside with a line of 12 riding the right lane...all packed together...all screaming down I-26. A quick glimpse to my immediate right found a Ford Escort Station Wagon circa 1992 running on the emergency spare tire on the right side back driven by a older man in a zen-like state of concentration determined not to lose a spot in line.

God bless you!

Directly behind me was an angry looking man driving a black SUV with a phone in his right hand, a cigarette in his left hand partially out the window... leaving me with the uneasy feeling of wonder to exactly what was steering his vehicle planted on my bumper.

God bless you!

Then it happened. You always hear tragedy seems to occur in slow motion, and to that cliche I can attest because as I watched the tire piece fly up in the air from underneath the vehicle in front of seemed to hang if it were a movie special effect. A quick mental calculation and I knew the gator (as they're known in my neck of the woods) was going to hit my vehicle somewhere up front. I couldn't swerve right or I'd take out Phil Jackson and his gimped Escort. If I slowed down suddenly, I risked being plowed over by the 5 cars in tow or being the catalyst to a potentially very bad wreck. Besides, the Marlboro Man was too consumed in conversation and nicotine to react quick enough.

Please God, don't let it break my windshield...not the windshield!

I watched the tire chunk reach apex and begin the plunge.

Please not the windshield!

It was heading right for the windshield on my side. With a loud slap, the tire half hit the windshield directly in front of me and half slightly off to the left, quickly disappeared...taking my driver's side mirror with it. Poof...gone.

Shake and bake!

The pack never broke stride as we barrelled toward the weekend. My windshield was undamaged, my right side mirror MIA, and my nerves a little rattled...but I never touched the brakes. I've determined my daily commute will require some regular training to make sure I have the intestinal fortitude to endure and prevail...that and I'll have to drive in the right hand lane until my new mirror gets here. I'm painting '00' and 'Mean Machine' on the Protege along with Ricky Bobby under my door window...

Guess I'd better take this off first...

No, on second thoughts, I'd better leave it...and just forget the new paint scheme.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Adventure of Joe Pony...(what we'll do for our kids).

To say I love my daughters would be a gross understatement. I adore my girls! So needless to say, I was crushed when the 3-year old (aka the Crazy Tomato) was heartbroken and confused when I didn't take Joe Pony to work with me yesterday.

Who's Joe Pony you ask?

Having all girls, there's not very many toys for little boys in our house. I know better than to include the numerous sports toys and balls laying around the house because I understand the spirit of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. But I digress...

So me and the Crazy Tomato were playing with her My Little Pony toys the night before in our living room. She had one called...Rainbow or something, and wanted to know the name of the one I was playing with at the time.

Tony C:  Joe.

I'm not very good at naming inanimate objects. Nicknames for real people I can whip out in a flash. Dolls...not so brilliant. So my baby blue pony was Joe Pony...despite the fact it was wearing a skirt. Hey! I don't judge peopl....pon...toy things. Okay?

When Mrs. Tony C told me the Crazy Tomato came into the living room the next morning and saw Joe Pony in the floor, it broke my heart to think she was disappointed or maybe thought I didn't have fun playing with her. So...for the benefit of my own personal Jan Brady (she's the middle child, keep up), I took Joe Pony to work with me today and documented the whole adventure for her to enjoy.

Okay...I had a little fun with it too.

Joe Pony prepares for the mad dash that starts each workday for me. Between us, I don't think Joe combed its hair this morning.

The teenager just doesn't get the spirit of the situation and chalks it dumb!

She seems to have forgotten the numerous tea parties yours truly attended between 1998 and 2001 as the international guest of tea drinking events known as Mr. Cumberbucket...

Joe Pony isn't required to wear a seat belt in my state because...well it's plastic. A legal loophole liberals haven't figured out to date.

Traffic was light this morning in the overcast commute.

We got to work a little ahead of schedule today. I hope Joe Pony doesn't get the wrong idea that's a normal occurrence for me.
That unkempt hair is killing me. How embarrassing!

Joe Pony had a difficult time comprehending the company's complex telecommunications system. Then does everyone else at work.

A true student of Dale Carnegie principles, Joe Pony decided to give the Billing Department a hand since they were down a person today due to illness.

During a pretty lengthy post-lunch meeting, Joe Pony nodded off, so we decided to play the old 'everyone quietly leave the room' joke. It was a real hoot!

Joe Pony's making new friends fast by being good natured.

While visiting the Shipping and Receiving Department, Joe Pony met a long lost relative. It was a very nice surprise to the day, and we all gathered around and sang For He's a Jolly Good Fellow just to add to the festive moment.

I was completely shocked to find Joe Pony had wandered into the President's office and was trying to pull up a 'racey' website on his computer. He claims someone else put him up to it.

Luckily, the company firewall prevented me from having to access the computer later and do some selective web browser history cleaning.

All in all, it was a great experience bringing Joe Pony to work with me today. I just need to remember not to play with the rather large Molly Dolly with her before bed during the week. She's not very nice and might damage my reputation at work...