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Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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A Colorblind Life

Most colorblind people cannot see the image above.

Most colorblind people cannot see the image above.

I needed a few things at Office Depot and was looking over the selections when a stranger walked up to me with a pair of headphones in his hand. He politely said, “Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but I’m trying to buy these for my daughter. Could you tell me what color these are?” He lifted them up for me to see as he added, “I’m colorblind.”

What he obviously did not know is that I am also colorblind. So when he lifted the headphones up for my eyes to see, I had absolutely no idea what color they were. The only thing I knew for certain was they weren’t plaid.

Undeterred, however, I leaned over, took a good look and said, “I believe they are blue.” The man smiled, said, “Thank you,” and went on to explain his daughter liked blue but disliked purple. He was turning around to leave when I added, “I suppose I should tell you that I, too, am colorblind.”

There was a special moment as four colorblind eyes met. Through the fog of unknown shades of color, we instantly bonded in a world where, without help, neither one of us can buy ripe bananas.

We just stood there, blinking, reflecting on the countless times we had asked total strangers, “What color is this?”

He finally broke the awkward silence and asked, “Can you see stop lights?” I stood tall and replied with a confident, “Nope.” That’s right; think about that the next time you pull up to a stop light. Especially if I, or my X chromosome deficient friend, is in the car coming the other direction.

My colorblindness was discovered in the first grade. My parents sent me to a private school run by a sweet Lutheran German lady who could bend horseshoes with her bare hands. Corporal punishment was the behavioral modification technique of choice and apparently, I required regular modification. When she said, “Take out the green crayon and color the grass,” she meant it. It wasn’t until my third or fourth behavioral modification session that it began to dawn on the Lutheran that perhaps I wasn’t intentionally coloring the grass red.

Colorblindness is classified as a “mild handicap,” and no matter how much you argue it doesn’t qualify for a handicap sticker. About 8% of the male population is colorblind and, to the relief of the fashion world, it is rare for women to have faulty retinal cones causing colorblindness.

We do, in fact, see colors. Being colorblind means you’re not able to perceive the differences. It’s really no big deal unless you want to be a doctor, pilot, police officer, painter, electrician, fire fighter, or buy ripe fruit.

It’s no surprise then, that I honestly don’t care what color something is. It just doesn’t factor in. You could paint my house lime-green (which I’m told is not a good house color) and it wouldn’t bother me in the least. It was during a college date in college that I learned the nice pair of khaki pants I had bought to impress my pretty date were, in fact, lime green. And I thought she was smiling just because she was happy to see me.

Standing in the Office Depot aisle with my new colorblind friend, we shared a few laughs about coping in our color-coordinated world — things like trying to match dress socks or a necktie with a suit. Watching me attempt either of those things is a source of great entertainment for my kids.

About this time an Office Depot clerk came around so my new friend politely asked, “Excuse me, but what color are these?” The clerk took a quick glance, gave us a strange look and said, “bright purple.” I watched as the clerk helped locate a pair of blue headphones and couldn’t help but smile. He was wearing khaki pants, just like the ones I bought in college.

Elliptical Gym Confusion

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My daughter is getting married soon, so I thought it would be a good idea to get in better shape. After all, when the pastor asks, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man,” I don’t want to be doubled over trying to catch my breath after walking her down the aisle.

I joined a little neighborhood gym offering month-to-month memberships which seemed like a good idea. It had been a long time since I had been in a gym with the purpose of actually using it, so I had my doubts about lasting even the first month. The other good thing was that this gym is real close to a Cuban bakery so I would be able to reward myself with a guava pastry after my vigorous workouts.

Like most gyms, there is a row of treadmills the size of Mini Coopers perfectly positioned so if one person falls off to the side, he or she will knock everyone else in the row over like giant dominoes. I stepped up to the NASA built console and began pushing buttons waiting for something to happen. After 15 minutes, my treadmill was still motionless, but I had given my index finger a hearty workout. I wondered if that constituted a sufficient workout deserving of a pastry.

While I was mulling this over, I noticed a lonely elliptical machine which seemed to have a minimal array of buttons and blinking lights. I got off the treadmill, sucked in my belly as I walked past some nicely shaped leotards about half my age, and strolled over to the lonely machine.

I really had no idea what “elliptical” meant and made a mental note to look it up when I got home. Remembering I constantly misplace my mental notes, I used my cellphone and called myself and left a message. “Hello Ed, this is Ed. What’s up? Listen, I’m at the gym and was wondering if you could find out what “elliptical” means when you get home. Thanks. I hope you’re having a good day. Talk to you later.” I also left my cell number so I could call myself back.

I figured out the elliptical machine console and spent the next half hour or so working up a legitimate and healthy sweat. I was so pleased with my workout, in fact, I decided to bypass my well deserved Cuban pastry reward. I made a mental note to have an extra stack of pancakes for breakfast.

When I got home, I checked my messages and was surprised to see I had missed a call from myself. The message was to find out what “elliptical” meant so I could have a better understanding of what I was subjecting my body to during those long, rhythmic, circular, oval shaped motions on that machine.

Dictionary.com explained that elliptical means, “pertaining to or having the form of an ellipse,” which of course was no help at all. A secondary definition says it means, “tending to be ambiguous, cryptic, or obscure” of which I certainly agreed.

Obviously a look at the word, “ellipse” would clear up the matter. Here is the actual definition of “ellipse” from Dictionary.com: “a plane curve such that the sums of the distances of each point in its periphery from two fixed points, the foci, are equal. It is a conic section formed by the intersection of a right circular cone by a plane that cuts the axis and the surface of the cone. Typical equation: (x 2 / a 2 ) + (y 2 / b 2 ) = 1. If a = b the ellipse is a circle.”

After reading the definition, I had to take a nap.

The next day at the gym, I stopped at the front desk as I glanced at the elliptical machine with a wary eye. I was certain the nice young man could help so I asked him if he could verify that “a = b” on that machine or if, at least, the foci were equal.

He looked up at me with a blank stare and pleasant smile and after a long pause said, “Hola, puedo ayudarle?”

I called myself and left a message to learn Spanish.

Enjoying Life

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Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.

I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.

By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.

I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.

Man had won over beast once again.

Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.

I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”

I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.

Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”

I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”

The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”

So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”

Trouble with Math

mathWithout fully realizing our children would one day ask me to help them with their math homework, my wife and I started a family. For about eight years, everything was going great. We had three beautiful, healthy kids who showed signs of intelligence and not one of them asked me anything about fractions or if they could have their navels pierced.

I have never been good at math and I’m not at all pleased that someone decided to invent fractions and grow polynomials. Then, just to be mean, the Babylonians invented word problems. No wonder their society didn’t survive.

Shortly after our oldest son, Matt, entered the third grade, my wife rudely left to visit her parents in Vermont for a week and left me alone to help with our son’s third grade homework. I checked our wedding vows and saw nothing in there about math, but that didn’t seem to matter to Matt.

He read me his assignment in his cute little voice, “A circus performs four more shows during the week than it does on the weekend. Each week day, the circus performs two shows.  How many shows do they perform on the weekend?”  He then looked up at me with big, hopeful eyes. What he saw, however, was a grown man’s face contorting into strange spasms of confused panic.

I finally mustered, “The circus is in town?”

Matt just stood there looking at me with those big, wide eyes. I wondered if he could tell I was silently cursing the Babylonians. Then, in a moment of brilliance, I remembered Walt Disney’s Snow White on Ice was in town. I picked up the phone and called the ticket office.

“How many shows do you perform each week?” I asked. “We have two shows Monday through Friday and three shows every Saturday and Sunday,” the nice lady said.  “So, how many shows would that be on the weekend?” I asked excitedly. There was a long pause and then the nice lady finally said, “That would be six.”

Matt and I slapped high-fives.  Sometimes math is easy.

The Good Samaritan Strikes Again

missed bus

So here’s the story.  I was driving to work and noticed a big city bus pulling away from a bus stop while a middle-aged lady with a large bag in her hand ran frantically behind trying to get the bus to stop.  The lady was obviously upset and I couldn’t help but feel mildly irritated that the bus driver so callously drove away.

I pulled off to the side of the road and as non-creepily as possible, told her I’d help her catch her bus by driving her to the next stop.  She was a bit wary of course, but then seemed relieved as she got into my pickup truck. “Let’s go catch your bus,” I said with a macho flair, quite pleased with myself and my Good Samaritan intentions.

Stomping on the accelerator, we took off with a jolt for the next bus stop.  Ignoring most traffic laws we darted between cars and other obstacles and arrived at the bus stop just as the big bus was slowing to a stop.  My passenger gave me a grateful smile.  Then suddenly, the bus picked up speed and took off down the road.  All I could assume was that the bus driver hit the gas after determining there was no one to drop off and no one waiting to be picked up.

My attitude changed from mild irritation to slightly miffed.  “What’s with this bus driver?” I said to my anxious passenger as I once again stomped on the gas.  Her eyes widened as we lurched forward.

In moments, we had closed the gap until I was directly behind the bus. To get the bus drivers attention, I began honking my horn and flashing my lights like an emergency EMT ambulance.  Inexplicably, this caused the bus to actually pick up speed.  I upgrade my “slightly miffed” to a full “miff” and angrily stomped on the gas.

A tiny break in traffic enabled me to cut off a little wimpy “Mr. Bean” French car and I pulled up beside the bus so that my passenger and I could yell at the bus driver through closed windows.  As we yelled and flailed our arms, I couldn’t help but notice that for some reason, the lady bus driver appeared frightened out of her mind.

Rather than slow down, however, the lady bus driver hit the gas and barreled ahead. I quickly upgraded my full miff to “extremely miffed” and said, “There’s no way that bus is going to arrive at the next stop before us.” I abandoned all traffic laws and tore down the road in search of the next bus stop.  My wide eyed passenger let out a small gasp and clutched the dashboard.

We arrived a full 15 seconds before the bus and screeched to a halt in front of a handful of startled passengers in waiting.  With surprising agility, my passenger bailed out of my pickup truck almost before I came to a complete stop.  Her eyes were about the same size as my steering wheel as she stood there glaring at me, softly hyperventilating.

As I slowly drove off while my passenger continued to glare at me, I realized that in all her relief and excitement to reach the bus stop,  words had simply failed her regarding saying, “thank you.”   But of course, we Good Samaritans aren’t looking for such adulations.  We’re just glad to help.

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Monkeys in My Coconut Tree

There are monkeys in my coconut tree.

No, really.  Little Capuchin monkeys–the “organ-grinder” kind.   We live a few miles from the Miami Metro Zoo and assume they escaped after one of our hurricanes.  If so, they hiked several miles before finding the county-protected wooded area behind our house.  We’re just glad it’s monkeys and not rhinos.  Everyone knows what to feed monkeys.  I have no idea what to feed a rhino.

There are three of them.  We’ve watched as they climb through the trees in the protected wooded area, climb over our back yard fence, and make the quick scamper into one of our coconut trees.  They like to sit on a palm branch and eat the little coconut eggs (or whatever you call them) and chirp with delight.  They actually sound a lot like I do when eating a Heath Blizzard at Dairy Queen.

They showed up quite often before (we assume) the county monkey squad caught them and returned them to the zoo. But for almost a year, we enjoyed sitting on our back porch, sipping coffee while enjoying the traveling zoo.  In fact, I highly recommend that when you have the opportunity, you should sit on your back porch and watch monkeys eat berries in your coconut trees, too.

I have a rather long history with little two-and-a-half pound Capuchin monkeys.  In fact, I grew up with them…and I’m not talking about my three brothers.  As I was sipping coffee and watching the monkeys in my coconut tree, I thought back about the time my monkey broke my arm…

Ed & ReepicheepHis name was Reepicheep and he was named after the pugnacious talking mouse in the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series.  He came to live with us when I was ten years old.  We got Reepicheep from the Amazon — not the online place that sells everything except monkeys — the actual place in South America with jungles, wild animals, and piranha.  Just to make sure, however, I went to Amazon.com and typed in “monkey.”  I was relieved to see they do not sell Capuchins.  At least not yet.

Reepicheep arrived via missionaries traveling on furlough to Miami. But as so often happens when  foreigners get a taste of America, he didn’t want to go back.  So when the missionaries went back to South America, Reepicheep stayed with us and become an illegal alien.

Reepicheep lived outside in a treehouse my Dad built specially for him.  It was a lovely but sparse two story condo with a front porch.  To keep Reepicheep from wandering off and joining a gang, he wore a leather belt around his waist which was attached to a light chain about five feet long.  The  chain was attached to a pulley wheel which was attached to a strong cable with one end anchored to the tree and the other end to the corner of our house about 30 feet away.  Got it?

This set up is important because Reepicheep taught himself the most amazing Tarzan-like trick which he performed all day long.  He would casually stroll to one end of the wire cable and dive off in a headfirst bungee jump.  Knowing exactly how far he could free fall before the five-foot chain would jolt him by the waist, he would deftly grab his chain and swing like Tarzan to the other end.  Honest!  The only thing missing was Tarzan’s jungle yell.  I used to charge the neighborhood kids fifty cents to come over and see our monkey swing.  I made $18.50 the first weekend we had him!

One of my jobs was to feed the monkey. This meant I would have to climb about seven feet up the tree, find his metal food dish, climb back down the tree, walk back inside the house, fill his tray with left-overs from dinner (no Purina Monkey Chow for our chimp), then climb back up the tree and hand over the dish.  At first it was sort of fun, but after six or seven months of this, it lost all its excitement.

So one day, in a moment of adolescent genius, my brothers and I decided to hang a rope swing.  We figured we would not only save gobs of climbing time, but our “speed feeding” system would  actually make feeding the monkey fun again. We attached one end to a thick branch and the other end to a deflated inner-tube tire. The trick was to run as fast as you could and dive into the inner-tube.  If done right, your momentum would carry you all the way up to Reepicheep’s tree-house. Once there, you had to then reach out and grab onto the tree house and hold yourself in the precarious prone position long enough to locate the metal dish.

It was a thrill seekers delight.

It became even more dangerous, however, when Reepicheep turned mean.  I don’t recall exactly when he turned mean, but I think it was right around the time I started throwing mangos at him.  Reepicheep was amazingly agile and hard to hit.  At first I thought he enjoyed our little game of dodge-mango, but as it turns out, it just made him cranky.

Even so, feeding the monkey had now become fun once again.  If Reepicheep was in a good mood, you could swing up and chat and play with him for a while during your search for his food dish.  If, on the other hand, Reepicheep was feeling a bit irritable based upon the amount of mango juice dripping from his fur, it became a rather daunting and terror filled experience.  It’s amazing how scary a two-and-a-half pound ball of fur with fangs can appear at dusk.

So it was, on a particular summer night in Miami, I was trying to coax the little ape away from his treehouse to the other side of his cable by our house.  A couple of near miss mango tosses were doing the trick and Reepicheep was as far from his tree house as he could possibly get.  My plan was to take off for the tire swing, dive into the inner-tube, swoop up to the treehouse, grab the food dish, and swing away to safety before the savage beast reached his house. It looked good on paper.

I lobbed one last mango to distract Reepicheep. My ploy worked as the gullible long-tailed organ grinder wasn’t even looking when I took off for the inner-tube.  My dive was close to perfect as I launched myself into the tube and felt the momentum propel me upwards.  I smiled at how smoothly my plan was working and how easy it was to trick a primate whose brain was much smaller than the mangos he was dodging.  At the same time, I could hear loud snorting coming from the enraged orangutan running as quickly over the cable as his hairy arms and legs would take him.

I grabbed onto the treehouse and began a mad scramble for the metal food dish.  That’s when I swore I heard the little ape let out an evil laugh.  He had purposefully moved his food dish to a little crook in the tree and was closing in fast.  He was almost close enough for me to see some mango dripping of the left side of his face.

Panicking, I tried to reposition myself in order to grab the dish.  To do so, I had to slide my waist out of my perfectly aligned center of gravity position inside the deflated rubber tire and wiggle out to where my thighs were holding me in place. My outstretched fingers were just beginning to close around the metal food dish when the evil monkey leapt off the cable and disappeared in a nose dive.  I temporarily lost sight of him, but I could hear his Tarzan like yell as the pulley wheel whizzed and he thumped his little chest.

Then, to my horror, the gorilla suddenly came swinging up holding onto his Tarzan-like chain and then let go in a perfectly timed move the Flying Wallenda’s would have applauded.  The flying furry fanged beast was hurling straight at my face which caused me to not only let out a bloodcurdling scream, but also let go of my grip on the treehouse.

I remember thinking how much faster I was going down than going up. That’s also when I remembered I had wiggled out of my perfectly aligned center of balance position in the inner-tube.  As the rope swing pulled me away from the crazed gorilla, it also released me to fight gravity all by myself.  Fortunately, I landed on a rather large and rotten mango which sufficiently softened my fall so I only broke the two bones in my left forearm.

Later, as the emergency room doctor was putting a cast on my broken arm and pulling mango out of my hair, he asked if I could once again tell the story of how my monkey broke my arm. But this time, he asked if he could invite a few of his fellow staff members to listen.   Apparently, I was his first patient to have his arm broken by a little two-and-a-half pound monkey.

My arm healed and I stopped throwing mangos at Reepicheep and over time, we made up.  He bit me a few times after that, but never again broke any of my other bones. Thankfully our rope swing remained, but we were no longer allowed to use it to “speed feed” the monkey. Even so, Reepicheep and I never fully trusted each other again.  He, for one, lost his appetite for mangoes, and I lost my desire to be an Acapulco cliff diver.  Perhaps it was all for the better.

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