Remember the first day of school when you were little? New crayons, new pencils with sharp points, a new notebook with nothing written in it, maybe even some clothes you'd never worn before. Then as you get older, that first day of school means there are no grades in the teacher's book yet, no absences, no tardies - it's a nice feeling. Actually, you can have, in a sense, a lifetime of those first days!

Ahhh, Laurie. She may have been my first romantic crush. It was 7th grade - I was insecure (that's a synonym for 7th grade) and I didn't know how she felt about me. So one day I went to the store, I spent all the money I had - which wasn't much - on a little rhinestone necklace. And then I wrote this mushy little note to Laurie and put it in an envelope with that necklace. The next day, as I was sitting in study hall, (the only class we had together), I smelled that perfume. I knew Laurie was approaching. I handed her that love-filled envelope, which she took with her to her desk. The next day - study hall, approach of the killer perfume - my heart was beating out of my chest. Then, as Laurie went by, something very familiar appeared on my desk. It was that envelope - with the necklace and the note inside. Ouch. Of course, it didn't really bother me that much. Then why am I talking about it so many years later?

Where we live in New Jersey, 12 straight days of rain is pretty unusual. But not long ago we got to take our turn at almost two weeks without sunshine. For most of us, it was just a soggy nuisance. But for some people across town, it meant trading in their car for a rowboat. And I turned on the news one night as they were talking about a roof that had caved in on a store in our town - it was the pharmacy I go to all the time. Apparently, water had collected until it just broke through the ceiling, and it literally washed one customer out the door like a raging river! She was okay, but the pharmacy was wrecked! Now, I couldn't help but remember something I saw on a couple of recent visits there - there were a couple of buckets on the floor, catching these drips from some leaks in that ceiling. First, some little leaks - and then suddenly the roof caved in!

It's definitely the age of doctors who are specialists. Including one of the latest, new specialties - the spin doctor. The spin doctor is actually to be found in the world of politics. As soon as some news breaks that might be damaging or embarrassing to a political leader or candidate, someone on their staff talks to the press about it - and they find a way to put a positive or undamaging "spin" on those revelations - to put their man or woman in the best possible light. The more powerful you become, the more "spin doctors" you need. And depending on how good the "doctor" is, a lot of people may end up believing the "spin" rather than the truth!

Years ago, I was at a youth conference where we needed to raise some money for a camp scholarship fund. So we challenged the kids to buy their counselor into this Friday night food fight. Oh, well, the kids found the money all right! So Friday night all of us leaders showed up on the field of battle with the campers watching like these sadistic spectators at the Roman Coliseum. Now, for starters, we got hosed down so everything would cling to us. I'm embarrassed about the food we wasted, frankly, but I'm at least glad we paid for a few kids to get to camp.

The Titanic has sailed into the Internet - bigtime. You wouldn't believe the mountains of information available about the sinking of that "unsinkable" ship back in 1912. With the Academy Award-winning movie, and endless TV shows and articles, a Broadway musical - fascination with the Titanic is at an all-time high. A lot of this information has been known for decades, but suddenly there's a tremendous appetite for that information. Like the tragic mistake made that fatal night by a radioman on the Titanic. The ship had received a number of warnings about ice ahead, and had adjusted her course southward as a result. But two hours before the Titanic hit the iceberg, the radioman received a warning from another ship about a major iceberg, along with the longitude and latitude coordinates. They put that iceberg right in Titanic's path. It's the one that sank the ship. But the radioman didn't know it was in their path. He was busy that night, so he stuck that message on a spindle where it could be dealt with later. That one choice doomed him - and 1,500 other passengers who died that night.

I first noticed it one day when I was mowing the lawn - a little dent in the ground. Over a few weeks, that little dent became a growing sinkhole. The ground was literally collapsing. I asked a neighbor, who was an amateur "sinkholeologist," what caused this phenomenon. He told me it was the drought of rainfall that we had been having. He said an underground spring had probably dried up. And that dried up the ground, and the roots above it - and my yard fell in.

We have some wonderful Native American friends in the Northwest, and during last summer's reservation outreaches, they honored us by inviting us to stay in their home. We had a great stay, but I did have to learn a custom that was new to me. When you walk in their front door, you are greeted with a pile of shoes. Now, in many Native American homes in that area, it's expected that your shoes won't make it past the door. Which makes you think about what socks you're going to wear that day - probably not the ones that look like Swiss cheese, you know. Actually, to come into the house with your shoes on is really to dishonor your hosts. And anyone who has had to sweep or vacuum the trail left behind by dirty shoes knows this is not just about honor - it makes sense to not track dirt into a clean house!

When it comes to the Olympics, it seems as if there are always certain athletes that give the Games a personal touch for us. In the 1994 Winter Olympics, we all wanted to see the women's skating showdown between Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding. In 1998, it was two teenagers named Michelle and Tara. Michelle Kwan was heavily favored to leave Japan with the gold medal; 15-year-old Tara Lapinski was expected to bring home the silver. But in a stunning performance - and Olympic upset - Tara Lapinski captured the gold. Michelle Kwan - who had skated an almost flawless program - was disappointed, but gracious. She won a silver medal that so many would love to win, but you know it still had to hurt. Some of that hurt slipped out as she sent a message to her family as TV carried it around the world. She said, "I love you, Mom and Dad, and Karen and Jimmy. I hope you still love me."

Now I don't do movie reviews, and I sure don't recommend movies. But I laugh just hearing about this Bill Murray movie called "Groundhog Day." I understand that it's a pretty popular video rental. It's about this TV weatherman who goes to Punxsutawney, PA - the hometown of the famous ground hog - to broadcast that fairly goofy American tradition. We're supposed to be able to predict whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter weather based on whether or not the ground hog sees his shadow on February 2nd. But that's not the point of the movie. The weatherman, who has a serious attitude problem, wakes up at 6:00 A.M. the next day, only to experience exactly the same events he did the day before. And every new morning, the clock radio goes off at 6:00 A.M. and awakens him to the same old song - "I Got You, Babe" by Sonny and Cher. And day after day, he sees the same people, he experiences the same relationships, the same places, the same rhythm - even down to the guy in the diner dropping a plate the same time each day. It just about drives him mad - experiencing the same day over and over again.

            

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