Perspective: An American missionary in Europe

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Paul Brazle leads a church service in Belgium, where he has served as a missionary for more than 30 year.

Editor’s note: I’m a member of The Springs Church of Christ, which has been a long-time supporter of Paul Brazle and his wife, Carol, who have served as missionaries to Belgium for over 30 years. I’ve grown to admire the Brazles for their commitment and tenacity. But I’ve also wondered how an American Christian like Paul approaches the job of “missionary” to a European country that had a large Christian population centuries before the U.S. was even founded. So, I asked him to participate in this Q&A about that topic as an American missionary in Europe. I’m grateful for his candor.  Here are his thoughtful and refreshing answers (some edited for length):

Question: Where did you grow up and what was your family’s background?

Answer: My dad was a preacher and a Bible teacher too, who emphasized “missions” a lot. In fact, in something of a parallel to what you are getting at with these questions, Dad was an American from Kansas who moved to Canada (via Montana) and so was often called a “missionary.” That meant that I grew up as not only a “preacher’s kid” but also a “missionary’s kid.” Dad provided for me (and my siblings) to have mission experiences. So, after one year of college I got to spend a year in Florence, Italy, as a “missions apprentice.”

Q: What led you to decide to lead a mission effort in Belgium?

A: In connection with my apprentice year in Italy, a classmate and buddy of mine went to Belgium at the same time. We connected a couple of times during the year and got to know the situation among our church fellowship network there as well as in Italy. At the end of the year, before returning to Canada, I hooked up with a summer mission project in Belgium. This was coordinated by my older brother with schoolmates from Oklahoma Christian University (then OCC) after he had also spent a year in Belgium as a “mission apprentice” (These days we call these “missions internships” in our circles.) Long story short, I got to be in Belgium for such “short-term missions” projects two more times. Then, when I married Carol, we surveyed and compared opportunities in Italy and Belgium and ended up choosing Belgium.

Paul and Carol
Carol and Paul Brazle

Q: How are you received by Belgium natives? I’m assuming that a lot of native Europeans would be resentful of an American coming over and presuming to teach me about religion.

A: There is certainly a basis for that assumption. For any number of reasons. More and more as America’s church scene becomes increasingly confusing or “worldly.” So, we steer well clear of the missionary designation where we can. That said, when we are ID’d as “religious practitioners” the question will come up again: “what for?” We seem to get the most benefit from asking the question: “If people are struggling with their faith in a Catholic context, or having left that previously, we ask to be free to offer an alternative way to embrace faith (again).” There aren’t many here who argue against freedom of religion; they just still laugh a bit when they see where it has led in the states. By the way, we came here in 1986. So, we have been here 35 years-plus. We came with a 3- and a 1-year old, added two more over time, raised them here in Flanders.

Q: So, how have you reacted to native Europeans who may resent your coming over to Europe and attempting to bring your faith to them as an American missionary?

A: Indeed, this touches very directly to something in my experience. I mentioned my dad being thought of by some as a “missionary” from Montana (or Kansas — i.e. almost Bible Belt) to Canada (Saskatchewan, just across the border from Montana). Much more challenging or awkward as it turns out, is the idea of an American Christian going to Belgium as a missionary to “preach and convert.” After all, after Italy, Belgium has likely sent out more (Catholic) missionaries than anyone over the centuries. Most of the Jesuits have had their base there. Father Damian went to Hawaii from Belgium. After I learned this, I became much more careful about the context and the listening ears where I drop the “missionary” word. I generally say we are doing church work. (Caveat: The visa designation on my ID always called me a “zendeling”… wait for it: a missionary.)

Q: What languages do you speak?

A: Our work is in Flemish (basically the same as Dutch; we speak “Nederlands”). I also can speak French well enough (learned in school in Canada; we use it in Brussels and south Belgium) and then I learned Italian that year in Florence. Dutch is a lot like low-German, so I can make my way there on a tourist level. I can still read most of the Greek alphabet, but that’s about it. When we came to Flanders, I had the basis of those four summer projects when I took random notes and was not shy to make big blunders. We both, Carol and I, did a month-long full time “snel-cursis” to get started and went from there.

Q: How has your Belgium ministry evolved over the years?

A: When we came, we had been invited by a small Flemish congregation. After some orientation and language study, we picked up on that. But within about 7-8 years, the Berlin Wall had fallen, immigration patterns were changing rapidly and the demographic of Antwerp- — one million people — was too, before our eyes. We watched, trying to figure it out, while our church morphed into a half international group. Since then, it has continued, and we are now a full-fledged multi-cultural congregation, with a sister congregation sharing our location which is Spanish-speaking. Our assembly to worship Sunday AM is in Dutch and English. Along with that, we have some activity among refugee immigrants.

Q: How do you connect with Belgium natives, and how do you connect with the immigrant community?

A: This one is a little more challenging: do I address “what have we tried” or “what has worked?” A lot of our contact (i.e. efforts to reach out and to connect) with the “Belgians” has come through what many call “friendship evangelism”. An example: from the start Paul started singing with a vocal ensemble and we have become part of that “family”. We have learned a lot from them — hopefully, they also from us.

Another “mainstay” in our contact efforts, first with Belgians, then more and more with immigrants, has been to offer English conversation lessons. We have learned to know a lot of folks over the years with this, and a lot of them learned about our church opportunity through it. With the actual refugees of recent years, our activity has been limited compared to some colleagues across Europe — but our Spanish pastor was a refugee himself with his family from Venezuela, and they have helped to step up our connections with them as a church family. Helping where we can with what they need.

Paul Solwaster Liege Belgium
Paul and Carol Brazle with a group in Solwaster Liege, Belgium

Q: How do you measure success of your ministry?

A: That is the eternal question, isn’t it? In missions, even more than in ‘home-based’ ministry, I think. What does success look like? Some say you can’t measure spiritual things that way. Some want to see newsletters about conversions all the time. That’s a challenge in a ‘zone’ like Western Europe, for sure. In mission circles, they call Europe “hard soil”. Still, we are not too despairing when we look back and see relationships built over decades and people who say their lives have been changed. We always would wish there were more to show, it seems. But what there is, is gratifying.

Q: What is the state of Christianity in Europe? And how curious are they about “our” (American) brand of Christianity?

A: Even though the various nations have different forms of government, some with monarchies still tied to a state church in name, most have populations that are mostly secular and agnostic, even while many adhere to family traditions based in church and faith. There are a small percentage of folks in each nation that are active adherents in their faith. Europeans are generally very regional in their church diversity. For example, Germany has a generally Protestant part and a Catholic part. Belgium was considered to be 98 percent Catholic as late as 1985 when we came here. That has changed. That said, our Belgian friends marvel with bemusement at the denominational map of the U.S. with many streets having 5-10 different churches within a mile or two.

Q: From my life experience, it appears that the American Christian community assumes it is superior or practices religion more correctly than the rest of the world … how does the practice of Christianity in Belgium differ than here in the states?

A: Indeed, that attitude comes across all too much. It hinders attempts to share a message of a refreshing new –or old – look at how to do faith. Generally, we assume (in U.S. churches) that too much tradition will thwart a simple and straight-forward Christian practice. Rather, it sometimes looks like one set of traditions or habits has just replaced another. There can be some good things found in tradition. I think the key is finding a balance. The way the balance looks (or is measured) will just be different in social settings that are 200-300 years old compared with those of 1,200-1,500 years.

Q: When you welcome youth groups and others to Belgium during summer visits, what do you tell them about Europeans and the Belgium church that they might not be aware of when they arrive?

A: First off, we try to help them understand what the proverbial “ugly American” looks like. And how not to be that. We recommend just looking around more and speaking less — or at least, more quietly. We also warn them that when they make European friends, be careful about inviting them to come for a visit… They just might! And, if they do, they will plan to stay 3-4 weeks.

Q: The Springs/Quail Springs church has been a long-time sponsor of yours… what would you say to The Springs members that maybe you haven’t already said.

A: Indeed, it has turned out to be a long stretch. And we are thankful. The Springs church is our spiritual family, at “home.” (I told someone last summer we were going to visit our “home, away from home.”) There are a number who have visited and helped. That was a blessing. The support in prayer, and in funds, has been affirming and has blessed us with energy and will to keep on keeping on. So, that’s what we want to do!

A booster shot for the greater good

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Waiting to receive COVID-19 ‘booster shot’ this week at Mercy OKC.

When I was a kid, it seemed my mom took me to the doctor every six months or so to get a “booster shot” of some vaccine or another. We never questioned the validity or effectiveness of the vaccines in the early 1960s that I can remember.

Earlier this week, I received the COVID-19 “booster shot” at Mercy Hospital in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that people my age (65-plus) get a third dose when six months have elapsed from their original shots.

I was fully vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine back in January.

My friend Steve asked me recently if I hesitated or had any second thoughts before taking the vaccine. I told him “absolutely not,’ and here’s why:

Although I have no scientific training in my background, I’ve had the opportunity over the past 20 years as a newspaper reporter and writer to visit with dozens of scientific researchers and their labs at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

I’ve learned about the incredible documentation that scientific findings are required to have and how experiments must be repeatable with the same results to be declared valid. Therapeutics designed for humans go through multiple stages of trials for safety and efficacy.

In short, I’ve learned to trust the science.  It is developed in highly controlled processes by people with high intelligence and credibility. These folks have undergone the most rigorous education and training before they tackle their own scientific exploration.

Mercy sign
‘Walk Ins Welcome’

So, I had no second thoughts about walking in to the Mercy vaccination clinic this week and getting the booster. In fact, their sign now reads “walk-ins welcome,” as opposed to January when it was a madhouse of thousands of people turning up to get vaccinated.

I know, I was there.

This time, I was in and out in about 20 minutes, including the 15-minute wait period after I received the dose. I woke up on the day after the booster with a sore arm, but that’s been about the only real impact.

Why did I get the booster so readily? For one, I hope to protect myself from infection of a virus that keeps mutating and making the rounds. But I did it also to be a good citizen who’s helping to put an end to this plague.

I call it doing something for the greater good.

But the decision to get the vaccine or the booster shot isn’t so easy for significant minority of my fellow Oklahomans. They read conspiracy theories about the vaccine or that it was “rushed” or that we don’t know what’s in it.

Can anyone tell me everything that’s in the flu vaccine?

You can read my thoughts on the reasons behind the COVID-19 vaccine resistance in an earlier blog post from a couple of months ago. I stand behind what I wrote.

Times have changed since my mom took me to get my booster shots as a kid in the ’60s. Trust the science.

Baseball cards re-imagined for modern day collectors

Sports Illustrated covers as Topps baseball cards

I left a shoebox full of baseball cards at my mom’s house when I went off to college in the early-1970s.

It was the last time I ever saw them.

My collection was nothing more than a mix-and-match assortment of Topps baseball cards I began buying with allowance money in the early to mid-1960s, along with cards I cut off the back of Post cereal boxes.

As a kid, I gave no thought to their future value — financial or sentimental.

Instead, I played with them all the time. I built my own all-star teams out of the cards and played a made-up game with them. I pinned them to the spokes of my bike with a clothes pin, giving it that awesome motorcycle sound for about 30 seconds until the cardboard wore out. I traded them with friends.

Anyway, for more than a decade I never gave them another thought.

Then I rediscovered card collecting in the mid-1980s and searched my mom’s house high and low for that shoebox of cards. I came up empty.

My folks had moved two or three times since I left them with her, so I assume she threw them out at some point.

But baseball cards lured me back in a small way in the ’80s. I went to baseball card shows and began buying unopened boxes of Upper Deck cards. I put them in a closet and hoped they would grow in value over the decades.

They haven’t.

Then a couple months ago, my friend Ed Godfrey rekindled my interest once again in baseball cards. He showed me some recent Topps cards he bought that were replicas of old Sports Illustrated covers. They are impressive.

“I’ve started buying some cards again online,” Ed said. “Stuff I like.”

What he likes are the SI replicas and another Topps series called Project 70 that takes historic Topps cards of the past and adds artistic flair.

Ozzie Smith Project 70 card from Topps

“They describe Project 70s as a re-imagination of cards,” he told me. “They’ll take a ’57 card of Mickey Mantle and have an artist add their own style to it. Some of their cards are looking like pieces of art and not baseball cards.”

So, Ed bought some of the Project 70 cards, as well as Sport Illustrated cover cards of his favorite St. Louis Cardinals players.

“It’s a way to get old guys like me to buy cards again,” he said. “I’ve got a cover with Stan Musial and Ted Williams, and a cover with just Musial. A Mark McGuire 60 home run cover. I got an Ozzie Smith cover, ‘The Wiz,’ that’s cool. I bought several of them.”

He’s displaying some of these cards on his fireplace mantel.

“I need a bigger house with a man cave just so I can display them,” he said with a laugh.

About a month ago, a small package arrived in the mail for me. I opened it to discover it was a Topps Sports Illustrated card of my favorite baseball player, Nolan Ryan.

Ed bought it for me. It’s on my fireplace mantel. And I’ve spent the past few days cruising the Topps website just to see what else is out there.

I’ve also discovered that baseball card collecting has made quite a comeback during the pandemic. So much so, that fights have broken out in some stores as collectors compete with one another to add the latest cards to their collections. Target suspended baseball card sales because of the melees. 

(An aside: Sad news. Topps is going to be displaced in a couple years as official baseball card producer by an outfit called Fanatics, which signed an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball and the Players Association.)

Not sure that I’m going to dive headfirst into card collecting, although I love the SI cover series. I’m content with the stash I have in my closet from the ’80s.

But I’m still mourning the loss of my baseball cards from the ’60s (thanks, Mom).

Then there are the lucky ones like my friend Ed.

“I have all my old cards I bought as a kid,” he said. “My mom kept them. Most of them are from the early ’70s.

“I’ll never sell my cards. My daughters will probably sell them when I die.”

She answered Red Cross call to serve in wake of 9/11

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Red Cross van at the Red Cross Service Center in New York City after the attack on September 11, 2001.

The events of September 11, 2001, were seared into the collective minds of all Americans. Everyone who was alive when the twin towers fell can remember exactly where they were when they either heard the news or saw the events unfold in real time on their television.

I heard someone today describe it as “our generation’s Pearl Harbor.”

In the week after 9/11 exactly 20 years ago, I could think of little else. How? Why? Who? There were no flights for days. Travel was at a virtual standstill.

Then my mother called me during the week after 9/11 and told me she was flying to New York City on September 18 as a Red Cross volunteer.

I almost dropped the phone.

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Ella Jean Stafford

Mom — we call her ‘Mema’ — had served as a Red Cross volunteer for years. She and my dad were trained as Red Cross responders. Both retired, they would take a Red Cross van to disaster spots after big weather events, like the Carolinas or the Gulf Coast and be gone from their home in Fort Smith, Ark., sometimes for weeks.

So, the Red Cross called and asked if she would fly to New York and become a trainer for hundreds or thousands of new volunteers who would serve the hurting population of the city.

She said yes, of course. Her family was nervous, but proud that she was willing to go.

This is her story:

“I left Fort Smith on an American commuter flight to Dallas, changed to non-stop jet to LaGuardia. It was not the first flight into NYC. The Red Cross office was already up and running in Brooklyn from Day One. I was asked by our state Red Cross office to volunteer to teach the classes required for every volunteer arriving before they were assigned to their work areas.

“I arrived in NYC to an empty airport, with phones not in service and no one to welcome us. Passengers on my flight were very scarce; the plane probably was about one-third capacity. I arrived exactly one week after the disaster, stayed in an elite hotel on Broadway, left for work by bus at 6:30 am, got back to hotel around 9 pm, had one day off in three weeks. We were treated with respect and courtesy by locals both traveling and eating.

“I never saw Ground Zero — it was blocked off to all traffic from six blocks away. I saw plenty of smoke and ashes from my travels from Manhattan, where I was lodged, to Brooklyn to work. Lots of workers suffered breathing problems from being out in the air full of ashes and dust. My most memorable moment was when a New York native on the subway said ‘if this had not happened, we wouldn’t have given you the time of day. But now with so many volunteers here, we welcome you, everyone.’

“Every time I had a class, I was very emotional because the casualty list kept growing and the distress shown by the New York natives was very strong. I hope I never again witness such destruction in America. It’s my daily prayer — God bless our country!”

This was her perspective looking back after 20 years. She told me that because it happened in the age before everyone carried smart phones with cameras, she did not have a single photograph made during the three weeks she was in New York.

I’m proud of you, Ella Jean Stafford, and thankful for your service in our nation’s time of need. I salute you.

OKC’s TokenEx still on growth spurt as Inc. 5000 list shows

inc list

If you’ve read horror stories about all the sensitive customer information stolen by hackers and online thieves in recent years, then you should know about Oklahoma City’s TokenEx.

No, wait. TokenEx has nothing to do with online data theft except this. It created a patented concept called “tokenization” that protects sensitive information for its customers. There’s no “password” to unlock; just random numbers that have no relation to the information the thieves are seeking.

Anyway, I’ve kept up with co-founder Alex Pezold and TokenEx for almost a decade now through my work at i2E, Inc. It has become a fast-growing company, and, in fact, one of the fast growing in the U.S., according to Inc. Magazine.

In the latest Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest growing private companies, TokenEx came in at No. 2,316 with 184 percent growth. That’s after previous years of substantial growth, which means that adding to the earlier numbers is quite an achievement.

And TokenEx is in the top half of the Inc. list. Congratulations to Alex and everyone at TokenEx.

If you want to know more about this company, here’s a link to a story I wrote earlier this year for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s velocityokc.com website.

I invite you to check it out.

Another big win for Stillwater’s XploSafe

Explosafe logos

For the last five years that I worked as a Business news reporter at The Oklahoman in the early 2000s, my job was to cover Oklahoma’s ‘tech’ industry.

It was exciting to see new Oklahoma technologies bubbling up all the time. Health care was big. Software. Products developed in labs of university professors.

Sometimes, I got an early look at an emerging technology through the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition. Now called the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup, the annual event is managed by i2E, Inc., the not-for-profit corporation that provides business advisory services and investment to Oklahoma startups.

Students from campuses across Oklahoma compete annually in the Love’s Cup and pitch some amazing technologies.

Anyway, back in 2009 I met a young Oklahoma State University student named Shoaib Shaikh, who pitched a concept developed around explosive detection technology at the Love’s Cup. The intellectual property was developed in the labs of a couple of OSU professors.

The team did not make the finals of the event.

But guess what? The students and the professors continued to pursue the technology and launched a business to advance it. It was called XploSafe, LLC.

Today, more than 10 years later, XploSafe is an emerging Oklahoma success story and still based in Stillwater. And Shoaib is its CEO and chief financial officer.

XploSafe has broadened its menu of safety products to include homeland security and first responder applications, air monitoring for chemical and vapor detection, transportation security and hazmat safety.

space suitThe company continues to make groundbreaking news on a regular basis. Just two months ago I published news that XploSafe had been awarded the Green Chemistry Challenge Award by the Environmental Protection Agency for a sorbent product it developed for the removal of phosphorus and nitrogen from water.

This week, I received a news release from XploSafe that revealed it has been awarded a $750,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program research contract from NASA. XploSafe will develop sorbents to protect astronauts from potentially harmful contaminants in their spacesuits.

It’s great to see this Oklahoma company continue to push the innovation envelope with groundbreaking products. Congratulations, XploSafe!

Here is the entire XploSafe news release about the NASA award:

XploSafe Wins $750K Phase II NASA SBIR Research Contract

Stillwater, OK – 19 August 2021 – XploSafe announced today that it has been awarded a $750,000 Phase II SBIR contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to advance the development of vacuum-regenerable sorbents for the next-generation of American spacesuits over the next two years.

The XploSafe sorbents shall keep the spacesuit’s internal air-flow free of potential toxic, trace contaminants, which can pose severe health threat to the crewmembers. This capability is necessary for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, in which the United States intends to return to the moon by 2024, and the XploSafe team is aiming to submit working prototypes to the team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center for testing within the first 12 months of the project. This can have major a positive impact on the logistics of future space missions by replacing the current non-regenerable sorbent with a vacuum-regenerable sorbent.

Dr. Moumita Bhattacharya, Research Scientist I at XploSafe, stated that “we felt that we had not only met, but greatly exceeded the goals set forth by the team at NASA during the Phase I. Winning a follow-up contract was validation that we had done just that.”

During this Phase II project XploSafe aims to develop and deliver prototypes of the new Trace Contamination Control System that can be directly integrated into the spacesuits’ life support system.

The new sorbent technology will advance the viability of NASA’s crewed deep space exploration objectives. To enable longer spacewalks, lighter launch payloads, and substantially improve time in-suit over the duration of upcoming missions.

XploSafe’s Operations Manager, Michael Teicheira, had the following to say: “the awarding of this Phase II contract shows just how special our research during the proof-of-concept phase was. Our team is excited to continue showcasing the research and development efforts of XploSafe here on the biggest stage, and we are grateful for another opportunity to show the world what Oklahoma can offer.”

XploSafe based in Stillwater, Oklahoma is a provider of critical safety solutions for homeland security and chemical safety. Their XploSens explosives detection, XPell peroxide safety products, and XCel+ chemical vapor sampling badges are used by first respondes, industrial safety officers, threat assessment officials, and laboratory and chemical manufacturing personnel all over the world. The company holds multiple patents for vapor nanoconfinement technology that facilitates high-capacity absorption, stabilization, and consistent recovery (removal) of a wide range of volatile, semi-volatile, and even reactive organic compounds.

For questions, please contact Shoaib Shaikh, Co-Founder and CEO, at Shoaib@XploSafe.com, or visit XploSafe online at www.XploSafe.com.

Road trip! Noodlers & rain delay theater in Tulsa

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Fans of the Tulsa Noodlers were treated to a live noodling demonstration before last weekend’s game

The boys and I hit the road just after noon last Friday, Tulsa bound. We were on a mission.

About a month ago, the Tulsa Drillers announced that they would play this past weekend’s games as the “Tulsa Noodlers” in honor of Oklahoma’s reputation as a haven for catching catfish by hand. Under water. In dark and dingy water.

Some people call it “hillbilly handfishing,” and I can’t argue with that.

Anyway, my friend Ed Godfrey is the outdoors editor of The Oklahoman. The idea of a team putting on completely new uniforms and playing under an assumed name appealed to him.

Ed ordered a Tulsa Noodler’s cap the day that they went on sale. We decided that we would make the trip to Tulsa and take Ed’s 16-year-old son, Cade, with us to watch the city’s minor league, AA-level team.

So, off we went, but not before a stop at the Butcher Stand in Wellston to fuel up with some barbeque. It was awesome, although I’m not as all-in as Ed, who said it may be the best in Oklahoma.

Here’s how the rest of the weekend unfolded:

We arrived at our hotel just after 3 pm, checked in and immediately headed to the pool, as per Cade’s request. While Ed and Cade swam for most of an hour, I sat on the sidelines and started getting text alerts about nearby lightning strikes

I hadn’t noticed any clouds as we pulled into town, but this IS Oklahoma after all.

By 5 pm, a torrential rainstorm hit the downtown area. Our hotel was maybe half a block from the ballpark, so you know the turf was soaked.

The rain relented somewhat about 6, so we roamed a bit to explore a nearby bookstore. We decided to head to the ballpark just before 7.

The Noodlers were set to face off with Wichita at 7:05.

tarp
We knew game was on when tarp crew began removing it.

Naturally, the tarp was still on the field when we arrived. But the good news was that a mobile catfish tank had been pulled up right inside the rightfield gate.

So, we watched a noodling exhibition with a veteran noodler who brought a large catfish to the surface for photo opps.

I took plenty of pictures of the unusual ballpark sight.

The tarp was removed from the infield about 8 pm, so we knew there would be baseball. Bad news, the game wouldn’t start until 9:05.

But, we hung tough, hitting the team souvenir store for Noodlers merchandise, feasting on catfish po-boys — notice a theme? — and doing some people watching.

I owe a special thanks to my friend Mark Lauinger in Tulsa for providing the tickets in a prime location.

The Noodlers announced the game would start at 9:05, but it would be played as a 7-inning game to keep it from running into the early morning hours. Fireworks were scheduled at the conclusion.

I won’t give a play-by-play of the game except to say that neither team scored for the first seven innings. So it went into “extra innings” where a player was placed on second base to start each extra inning at bat.

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Tulsa Noodlers Ryan Noda greeted with Gatorade shower after hitting game winner.

“Free baseball!” Ed yelled, his theme whenever a game goes into extra innings. We won’t debate the merits of the free base runner in extras.

The Noodlers’ Ryan Noda won it in the bottom of the eighth when he crushed a 3-run home run over the center field fence with two outs. The home team celebrated with a Gatorade shower for its hero of the moment.

Our reward was the late-night fireworks show, although it was 11:50 pm before they actually lit the fuse. I’m sure the booming fireworks woke every sleeping person in downtown hotels and apartments.

On Saturday morning, we made a couple of stops on the way out of town. We stopped at the Woody Guthrie museum so Ed could pick up a T-shirt. He ended up with a “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker instead.

Then we stopped at Tulsa’s Gathering Place and were impressed by the awesome park. I told Ed it reminded me of a zoo without the animals. He pointed out that there seemed to be a playground around every curve of the walking trail.

We topped off a spectacular Road Trip 2021 with a final stop at the Wellston Butcher Stand on the way back to OKC.  As you can tell, we walked a gastronomic tightrope on this trip without a bib or the cardiac unit standing by.

Let’s do it again next year.

Maybe the Drillers could change their names to the Harvesters for a weekend and we all hit the park in John Deere green.

I’m down with that.

How to set the mood for a wedding

alpaca
Before the bride and the groom appeared, a pair of alpacas were marched down the aisle.

I remember a wedding almost 30 years ago where the extended family gathered for a portrait after the vows were exchanged and the couple pronounced “man and wife.”

It was my own.

As the photographer worked to fit us all in our places for the family photo, he also commanded that we smile for the pix. That was easy for the groom, but my grandfather-in-law maintained a steady stoic face with every attempt.

Finally, someone asked, “Granddad, can’t you smile for the picture?”

He replied: “This is a serious occasion and it calls for a serious expression.”

So there you have it.

I guess times have changed for wedding expectations. I went to the wedding Sunday of a young man named ‘Brett,’ whom I’ve known all his life.  The wedding was held at the Springs Events Center in far north Edmond.

The actual wedding was held outdoors behind the events center.  It was a grand occasion filled with lighthearted moments …  the first of which occurred when two alpacas were marched down the aisle before the official wedding party appeared.

I never figured out how the alpacas fit into the wedding party. It’s best not to ask any questions about the theme, I guess.

Then, after the respective mothers were seated and the groomsmen and bridesmaids were on the stage, a young man suddenly appeared dancing to the Def Leppard song, “Pour some sugar on me.”  He was firing bubbles from a bubble gun and throwing rose peddles at the well wishers. He had moves like I imagine that a Chippendales dancer would have, except he kept his clothes on.

Flower boy received an enthusiastic ovation when the song ended

Did I say the wedding was filled with lighthearted moments?

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The bride and groom

After the Chippendales act, the wedding followed a familiar script,  completed by the traditional kiss at the end.  But the reception had its own flair, with food, drink and an actual “candy bar” where you could help yourself to a smorgasbord of sweets. I grabbed a sack and helped myself to several of everything.

Despite the oppressive heat of an outdoor summer wedding, we had an awesome time.  We wish Brett and Margaret the best in life, alpacas included.

And I hope when the extended family assembled for pictures after the vows were exchanged that “Grandad’s” expression fit the mood of the day.  A good natured smile.

A Vintage coffee shop idea for the 2020s

Ed Coffee
Ed Godfrey enjoying his newspaper at a local coffee shop this past Spring

My friend Ed Godfrey may look like he hit his prime as a Stigler High School football star back in the 1970s, but he’s really a guy full of ideas for the 2020s

Ed and I like to meet in coffee shops across the OKC metro and solve the world’s problems over a cup of Joe.

Ed takes his coffee black, thank you very much.

Anyway, we were sitting in a local bagel place last week talking about a new family-owned coffee shop some friends of mine recently launched in Bethany. It’s called MentaliTEA and Coffee. The owners are Steve and Lisa Buck and their daughter Avery.

I had already sampled the Bucks’ new shop, and Ed wanted to know what it offered.

bucks shop2
MentaliTEA and Coffee

I responded that it offered a relaxing setting with great spots for conversation, along with the usual coffee shop menu of drip coffees, various espresso drinks, teas and pastries. It even offers hot biscuits.

Ed thought about that for a few seconds.

“I think we ought to open up our own coffee shop,” he finally said. “We’ll call it Vintage Coffee. No espresso machine. No fancy pastries. Donuts only.”

I laughed at the thought of a straight coffee-only coffee shop run by a couple of old school geezers.

“We’re going to offer only Folgers, Maxwell House and Sanka, which was my father’s favorite coffee,” Ed continued. “It’s like a step back in time.”

SankaHe was rolling now. It would be located not in the heart of the metro, but in a rural community where they might still appreciate coffee out of a can the way their fathers and grandfathers drank it

“We don’t need any baristas, either,” he said. “Pour it into a cup and stir it up.”

I was already seeing Formica countertops.

Ed also is the guy who had the excellent idea to connect community events across Oklahoma like the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival with the Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball team.

We haven’t seen any watermelon seed-spitting contests yet as between-inning entertainment, but it could happen.

Ed’s already working on outreach for his coffee shop concept.

He knows that I’ve worked for years with the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup collegiate business plan competition. It’s an event in which teams of students from college campuses across Oklahoma pitch innovative ideas to panels of judges with thousands of dollars of cash prizes on the line.

“Maybe one of those college teams could take this idea and win the Love’s Cup,” Ed said.

It could happen.

Why the unvaccinated are taking a political stand

Unvaxxed

Back in early January of this year, I was pretty excited to snag an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccination at Mercy Hospital. Nimble fingers and computer savvy allowed me to find a time on the county health department website and complete the registration form before someone beat me to it.

So, I was able to secure both doses of the Pfizer vaccine before the end of January. Mercy ran the operation incredibly well and only allowed us to enter the facility within 15 minutes of our appointment.

That meant there were virtually no lines. Much appreciated, Mercy.

Similar vaccination sites were set up around the city, including a giant operation at the fairgrounds that could vaccinate hundreds at a time.

Then what happened?

Despite evidence that shows the COVID vaccines are incredibly effective, the numbers of people flocking to vaccine sites quickly dwindled. Health care providers anticipating a crush of people seeking protection from the potentially deadly COVID virus sat idly, waiting for patients who never arrived.

The need for vaccination sites that could handle hundreds at a time evaporated and most closed up shop. Now you can schedule a vaccination at your local Walgreens or CVS and have no trouble finding open time slots.

Oklahoma vaxxedI just peeked at the numbers, and while 46 percent of my fellow Oklahomans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, less than 40 percent of us have been fully vaccinated against COVID.

Those are pretty disappointing numbers, but I’m not surprised.

Just like wearing of masks over the past 15 months or so, getting the vaccine has been turned into a political statement. And we’re a Red state.

When I hear people say they don’t trust the vaccine or how it was developed, that’s not the real message I’m receiving.

To me, there’s no doubt that these are the same people who supported Donald Trump and bought into his BS about the COVID-19 pandemic being a hoax, yada, yada, yada.

Sure, there may be some people who are merely procrastinating.  But when you look at maps that show low rates of vaccination, the standout states with low numbers match up pretty well with the Red states that supported Trump.

And we’re watching COVID infections rise dramatically in the Trump hotbed states like Missouri, across the South and in Oklahoma.

So, what are the implications?

Well, we’ll watch our neighbors and our elderly relatives get sick. Some will die.  Even those of us who are vaccinated are at risk of infection because of our unvaccinated fellow Oklahomans.

All because of their proud vaccine resistance that has its roots in the Trump insanity.

A story in today’s edition of The Oklahoman reports a new poll that shows that the majority of unvaccinated Americans say they do not plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows 56.5% of Americans have gotten at least one dose, and 43.5% have not received one. Of those people, a poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35% say they probably will not get the vaccine, and 45% say they definitely will not.”

As one who is proudly vaccinated, I reluctantly keep my mask at hand. I fear more disruptions loom in our future. All because of the unwilling who are making a political statement by shunning the vaccine.

So, what’s the point of all of my rambling?

What we’re seeing in the unvaccinated is a collective display of the Ugly American. The me-first. The selfish who would never consider doing something for the greater good.

That’s ‘merica. That’s “freedom,” as defined by Oklahoma Gov. Stitt.

Sadly, the pandemic is far from over. And it’s no fault but our own.