Shine, not burn.

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Luceo non uro means I shine, not burn. To me, though, it means that I have a choice. I need to balance the bad with the good, make sure to avoid the things that could burn or scar me but get close enough to the heat that I feel life and really experience it. – Elle Casey

I think that is quite a cool motto when applied to life. We need to balance the hardships and heat in our lives so that we continue to grow and to shine, but we also need to make sure we don’t let life burn and scar us. The motto reads like it is a choice, which I think it often is. We do choose how we react to circumstances. – James Brunskill

My family is Mackinney (later McKinney)*, of Mackenzie clan. Mackinney was a sept, a loyal family, to the Mackenzies. Once at the Highland Games, some guy tried to tell me that we are instead a sept of Clan Mackinnon. I did the research and no, we aren’t. In fact, since the letter Z (“zed” to the Scots) wasn’t introduced for a long time it’s quite possible that “Mackinney” is an original pronunciation of “Mackenzie.”

At the height of their influence, the chiefs of the Mackenzie clan led the fourth most powerful clan in Scotland. They got to the top by acting as royal agents for a succession of Scottish kings – being in effect the monarchy’s strong men in the north. Their lands extended from the Island of Lewis in the west, though to Ross on the east coast of the mainland.

So my people were a supporting cast, a special team to the King’s strong men. I’m not surprised that multiple clans claim the Mackinneys, though. We were badass.

( *-  Mc is an abbreviation of Mac, and the people recording family surnames back then were often in a rush and not always fluent in penmanship. The same person often had his surname recorded using both Mac and Mc on separate occasions.)

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There are two crests for Clan Mackenzie. The original features a stag’s head with the motto Cuidich ‘N Righ, meaning “Help the King.” Royal agents, after all. The more modern one features “a mount in flames proper.” Francis Mackenzie was the first Baron of Seaforth Island in the Outer Hebrides, which are famous for mountains and craggy hills. So the mountain is an appropriate symbol.

Apparently the saying came from blacksmithing (or smithing in general) where one had to make sure that metal being worked with didn’t get burned, but shone in the heat. The whole motto is virtute et valare luceo non uro, which means “by virtue and valor, I shine, not burn.”

It’s a great motto. My ancestors believed that whatever happens to them, whatever challenge or adversity they faced, they would rise above it and succeed. They would always overcome.

Luceo non uro. It means that the Mackenzies try to do their very best in everything they do – to shine, but not to burn out or be consumed. – Belinda Murrell

I shine, not burn! What a beautiful way to see the world! To choose to be a part of light, instead of destruction. – Jenna

Are you going to allow yourself to burn or to shine?

Ah, the holiday traditions.

When I was growing up, the holiday décor included several sets of small figurines (usually angels) holding small letters that spelled “NOEL.”

Naturally my brother Mike and I could not just leave them be.

So how happy was I to learn, via the Intertubes, that we weren’t the only ones who did this.

Joyeux Leon, everybody.


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This is so cute, it will make your head explode.

Cool kid, cool dad.

How I Spent My Memorial Day Weekend (or part of it).

IMG_20130524_172000_042My parents’ home is in east central Minnesota, about 120 miles due north of Minneapolis. The home is on a small lake, about ten miles away from a town of around 400 people. This is the town Dad and Mom grew up in, and became high-school sweethearts there.

About a half-mile from the lake home is a Presbyterian church with a small cemetery. Dad rests there, and so do my paternal grandparents.

For several years now I spend the Friday of Memorial Day weekend setting out flags for the veterans in that cemetery.

My dad was a Korean War-era vet, a Navy man. Dad was quietly but fiercely proud of his service. He was active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and eventually rose to the rank of Chaplain in his local post. This never failed to amuse the rest of the family, because Dad swore like.. well.. like a sailor. Go figure.IMG_20130524_172104_733

As part of his duties as chaplain, and because it was the right thing to do, Dad took responsibility for setting out US flags for Memorial Day on the grave sites of the veterans at rest in that cemetery. Some of these grave sites date back to the Civil War. For many years I would take that Friday off from work, drive up to the lake, and he and I would spend our day honoring the vets. It was important to Dad that somebody cared.

Growing up in this town, Dad knew a great many of the veterans and their families. And Dad was a great story-teller. We’d take several breaks and he would regale me with tale after tale of the exploits of the people he grew up with.

The cemetery was bigger than it looked. It made for a long day. Lots of walking. Lots of breaks. And when the day was done, naturally there’d be burgers and beer and more stories at one of the local roadhouses.IMG_20130524_172143_000

For the past few Memorial Days I’ve taken this up without Dad there. A few years back, health concerns caused Dad and Mom to stay longer into the spring at their “snowbird” home in Kentucky. And Dad passed away the January before last. I missed him on Friday: I wished we could have stopped awhile for a story about his high-school pals and an ice-cold Grain Belt.

The headstone marker was installed on Dad’s grave just this past week. I didn’t realize how long it takes for one of those to be made. But it looks good. Dad and Mom had decided to put “Parents Of..” and the names of all six of us “kids” at the bottom of the marker, something I’d never seen before. Kinship.

IMG_20130524_172329_782I’m proud that I am his son, and that I could do my small part to honor him and the other vets in this small community. There’s something stirring in looking at the expanse of grave markers, and at a sea of American flags. I realize it’s not a lot to give up, one day of a three-day holiday weekend. But whether or not the other grave sites have visitors this Memorial Day, it will show that someone cared.

Do what you can this Memorial Day to honor those who went before us. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It will be enough.

Song of the night: “Church Folks Comin'” by Terry Anderson

This song is truer to my growing-up years than I probably should admit. We lived out in the sticks, a quarter-mile from our little country church. So when the pastor and his wife (both lovely people, I might add) felt inspired to do some “outreach,” our home was a natural first stop.

“Church folks comin’!” was regularly announced at my home. Panic ensued. We would go into “red-alert” mode, and scurry around to appear more presentable and less heathenish. Terry Anderson could have been part of my family.

Christmas In Kentucky, Chapter VII: Preparing To Embark

monopoly devil

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Wherein weather conditions are not trifled with, adorable niece is introduced to The Infinite Game, and plans are in motion for a Great Meeting Of Clan McKinney at Christmas 2013

The snow has stopped, but Indiana still has glare ice on the roads and strong winds. I’m not willing to chance it. So another day here. Will set out for home tomorrow (Friday).

A quiet day with Mom, followed by pizza with Pete and Nolia. I’m stunned at the ruthlessness that the game “Monopoly” reveals in my family. “Aggravation” is like “Candy Land” in comparison.

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To make up for it, I taught  Nolia the finer points of the game of backgammon. Seems safe, right? Nobody ever gets nasty in that game.

It will be hard to say goodbye and return home. I’m glad that Mom has Mary and Pete and Nolia so close by. And good dog Lady is ever watchful.

Plans are in the works for a big traditional Christmas in Minnesota next year with the entire family. This is something that we haven’t been able to pull off for more than a decade, for a number of arcane reasons. We shall see what we shall see; we won’t know till we find out.

Once again: shower the people you love with love this holiday season.

Christmas In Kentucky, Chapter V: It Wants To Snow

Wherein a present-opening frenzy is revisited, a holiday feast is consumed, a game of financial acquisition is barely survived, and travel delays are anticipated

Woke up to Christmas morning, bright and clear and dry. Two days ago temps were in the 60s, but today there was a familiar bite in the air. It wanted to snow, I could tell.

Cinnamon rolls and coffee for breakfast, followed by the frenzy of presents being unwrapped. We’ve tried, believe me, but gift opening with my family has never been orderly.

It was a Southern Christmas dinner, definitely. Pork with barbecue sauce, crab cakes, butternut squash dressing, green bean casserole, shrimp wrapped in bacon and pepperjack cheese, hard rolls, vegetables, cranberry-maple-citrus sauce, pumpkin cornbread, and pecan pie for dessert. Whatta feast.

The clan gathered at Mom’s place for a table game. Adorable niece Nolia had never played Monopoly, so we gave it a try. Monopoly games traditionally go for quite a long time; my mom and aunts and uncles would joke that they were “only going to play till Tuesday.” It went a long time. And much like family games of Aggravation, it became bloodthirsty.

Sometime during the late afternoon we began to see and hear TV reports of bad weather on its way. Later in the evening the reports were confirmed: a blizzard advisory for northern Kentucky and the portions of Indiana and Illinois I’m about to drive through. White-out conditions predicted till noon tomorrow.

My original plan was to get on the road by 4 am and to make it home by 6 pm. But I don’t want to end up in the ditch again. So it looks like another day of family love and togetherness. As my dad would say, we won’t know till we find out.

Christmas In Kentucky, Chapter IV: Halls decked

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Wherein I settle the hash of an Internet provider, prepare items for Christmas dinner, have a moment of inspiration at church, and whomp my relatives in a table game

Two relaxing days in a row. I don’t know if my system can stand it.

Spent most of the morning in intense negotiations with Mom’s Internet service provider. When the dust settled, I had her online with a nifty mobile broadband unit from Verizon. This is the clear deal. Once the contract runs out with my ISP, I’m going this route.

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Shopping, gift-wrapping, cooking, baking. Quality time with Mom. My sister took this pic of the cottage.

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Evening took us to Settle Memorial United Methodist Church for a candlelight service. I don’t care what anyone thinks about this: it always moves me when “Silent Night” is sung, lit with nothing but candles.

And from that moment of moving inspiration the family returned to open a few presents (the rest in the morning), followed by more bloodthirsty games of Aggravation. Yeah, Christmas Eve with Clan McKinney. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Christmas In Kentucky, Chapter III: Chillaxin’

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Wherein I forego another six hours’ car travel, poke fun at a classic movie I watched 42 years ago, get my butt waxed in a board game (by my adorable niece!), and rediscover a great part of the holidays

On my arrival last night I was invited to my bro-in-law Pete’s family Christmas in Louisville today, three hours away. With great appreciation, I declined. I couldn’t see myself sitting in a car for another six hours round-trip.

Spent the day with Mom and Lady: shopping, wrapping presents, cooking, enjoying the day.  Watched TV for awhile in the evening. Flipped between the Seahawks-Niners game and  a showing of the movie “Oliver!” which Mom and I went to see 42 years ago. It held up okay, but somehow I kept thinking about what great Monty Python sketches it would all make.

Pete and adorable niece Nolia stopped by later in the evening to play a few games of Aggravation, a long-time family tradition. Except playing against my family is like how I imagine it would be playing against the Sopranos. All-out, full-on, take no prisoners.  Nolia seems to have acquired the family blood-lust that accompanies this game. That’s a good thing, I believe.

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Owensboro is the fourth largest city in Kentucky. It is located 32 miles southeast of Indiana, and has a population of 57,265.  Famous Owensboro-ians (?) include Johnny Depp, Florence Henderson (the mom on “The Brady Bunch’), and movie actor Tom Ewell (“The Seven-Year Itch”).

Bro-in-law Pete grew up in Owensboro. He and Mary and Nolia moved back here from Georgia in 2005. Dad and Mom made many visits here, and in 2008 bought a small house (dubbed “The Cottage”) three doors down from Pete and Mary’s place. They spent the winters here in ’08, ’09, and ’10. Last winter they remained in Minnesota due to Dad’s illness. This is our first Christmas without Dad, and Mom’s first time in Kentucky without him.

Christmas gets hectic and commercialized and somewhat obnoxious at times. But there’s one thing it’s always very good for. When you spend time with your loved ones this Christmas, let them know that you love them. It doesn’t need to be overt or gushy: quiet and unspoken is fine. But make sure to let them know. You’ll be glad later.

Christmas In Kentucky, Chapter II: The Arrival

Wherein I reinforce avoiding a particular vocational path, performed my own interpretation of “Shit My Dad Says,” pay tribute to two idols at once, perspire like our 37th President, and conjecture on Iowans’ driving abilities

The day dawned bright and crisp and fine in Clear Lake, Iowa. Sadly, I didn’t greet it as I was still asleep.

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Got back on the road at about 8:30 am. I had chosen to travel through Iowa instead of my normal Wisconsin route as I had heard there was significant snowfall and poor travel between Madison and Rockford, IL. Well, if that were actually true I can’t imagine it was worse than traveling through east central Iowa. It was like a war zone. Travel on interstate highways was down to one lane for several hours: if there was a second lane, it was generally coated with ice.  I lost count at 100 cars, trucks, and semis in the ditches. Some of them had rolled over, and I can sympathize. Right around Cedar Rapids the temperatures climbed above freezing, and the improvement in road condition was dramatic.

My dad had a relatively mild (for him) epithet for pokey, oblivious drivers. He termed them “goddamn duds.” Well, he would have had more of his share of goddamn duds on the road this day. Not just on the snow-narrowed roads, but even on the dry and clear straightaways. I’ve devised a working theory about why Iowans drive like they do. At first, I suspected that it was difficult to steer with their elbows because they had both thumbs jammed up their asses. I determined that it’s more basic than thatI don’t want to commit to anything, but it’s diagnostic that they own motor vehicles and DON’T use them to LEAVE IOWA. Draw your own conclusions.

Soundtrack for the day’s trip: The Spongetones, R.E.M., Marshall Crenshaw, Eytan Mirsky, Graham Parker, The Lamont Cranston Band. Radio sucks in the heartland.

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Crossing over from Iowa into Missouri I was able to give a tribute to two geniuses at the same time. I was driving on US Highway 61 which of course called for as many lyrics as I could remember of Mr. Zimmerman’s “Highway 61 Revisited”:

Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son.”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on.”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want, Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run.”
Well, Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says. “Out on Highway 61.”

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And 61 leads right through Hannibal, past a huge roadside statue of my favorite author Mr. Clemens, so I gave him his propers as well.

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Fourteen hours’ driving. Should have taken nine or ten. Long drive. Long, long drive. Too many goddamn hours behind the wheel. I know right now that I can never be an over-the-road hauler.

A white-knuckle trip through downtown Saint Louis. As Rachael Ray would say, I was “sweating like Nixon.” Still a little shell-shocked from recent driving experiences. I did get to see the Arch lit up at night, though, which was spectacular. If you ever get a chance to ride to the top in it, I highly recommend it.

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More driving: Illinois, Indiana, finally crossing the bridge into Kentucky at about 10 pm. Found my way to Mom’s house. Mom, sister Mary, bro-in-law Pete, lovable niece Nolia, and good dog Lady had all stayed up to welcome me. A pint of cider and an hour or so of stories and jokes, and the day caught up with me. All was calm, all was bright.

A hellacious day’s trip, yes. Would I do it again? Oh, hell yes.