Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Year in Review (a bonus for all you subscribers)

This morning in our church there was a time for open mic sharing-- what has the Lord done in your life, reflections on 2007. So I think I will reflect and say some of the things that I didn't say in church this morning.

January: We watch my mother get weaker and weaker as the cancer spread to her brain. Sh remains fiercely independent, only accepting the most minimal of help.

February: Avery is born on the snow-storm weekend. She is a delightful little girl who wins our hearts immediately.

March: We recover from Avery's birth and dig out of snow. Grandma gets to hold Avery a few times. She loves her granddaugher but hates having to talk to hospice workers.

April: Mom dies on April 16th in a special room of Methodist Hospital set apart for hospice patients. Many of her relatives see her before she dies, but she waits until Dad and I are with her to die. Her last act in this world is to acknowledge "Mom, do you see Avery?" She nodded that she did and made some kind of noise.

May: We put our house on the market and it sells immediately, for more than we ask. We feel confident that God is in this. We continue to look for another home, stumbling across an old farm at the end of May. It has almost 5 acres and looks like a possibility for us.

June: We buy the farm. There are complications early on (financing falls apart on moving day, propane tank goes empty at the end of the first week before we even own the property, some wires get crossed and the well stops working the next week, etc. etc. etc.)

July: We work hard on our outdoor services business and also begin to recondition the house. Much scraping, priming and painting happens in July. We also try to adjust to living in the country.

August: Rain happens. Lots of rain. We are amazed and thankful that we put up gutters on the house in July when it was dry.

September: Evan and I discover "commuting", an activity which I have not participated in since high school. We realize that living in the country isn't all romantic. Also, the goats come to live with us, three of them. We learn about goats.

October: We are in rehearsal for _The Miracle Worker_. It is a complicated show, but we feel like we can do it.

November: Rehearsals intensify. I begin to wonder if the show is going to turn out. I defer almost all life activities to another month.

December: The show ends on December 1, and it is not a disaster. God chooses once again to bless us, though we don't deserve it. I begin to recover from the show. Then everyone gets sick; Avery becomes quite ill, and it is discovered that she has staph, strep, and roseola. She is hospitalized and we pray along with our church family. She is released two and a half days later.

We celebrate Christmas as a family with Grandpa Herb and then later with my side of the family. The holidays seem more relaxing than normal because we don't try to travel anywhere particular.

We also go caroling at St. Mary's on Christmas Eve and celebrate our 9th anniversary the day after Christmas. The following week we have lots of people out to our house. It feels very social. I also spend lots more time with the kids than I usually do.

Today the skies are gray but we know sunshine will come again. Our hearts will revive and our lives will continue to have meaning because God through His son has called us out of darkness and placed his love in our hearts.

Blessings to you as you reminisce and look forward to 2008.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Snow Sculpting

Wow, I am finally almost healthy again after 10 days of various illnesses. It feels so good to feel good.

Last night I wrote our Christmas letter. I guess if you read our blogs, you wouldn't have to read the Christmas letter.

This morning my school kids in grades 7-12 had a snow sculpting contest. Some of them got into it and others just ate donuts and drank coffee. Some of the faculty are also competitive and also got into a little more than I did.

Tara nearly scared me to death by cleaning and reorganizing the house (it looks great) and by calling a plummer to come out and estimate some of our nagging water issues. We have nothing desperate happening, but a lot of plumbing issues like leaky faucets and low water pressure are ongoing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Help, Adulthood Is Killing Me!!

On Thursday morning, Tara brought Avery down to show me some sores on her skin... one behind her ear, another in the fat crease of her little baby legs. Turns out she had a staph infection, a strep infection, and roseola (sp?) all at the same time. So Avery got to spend Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the hospital waiting for the anti-biotics to do their thing and kick out these infections. She came home last night but still isn't really herself.

The nice thing about being 9 months old is that you can just clear your calendar without a struggle. Except for church, Avery hasn't missed any scheduled activities!

Meanwhile, Tara and I are trying reclaim sanity in the midst of our challenging life. Tara doesn't get nearly the sleep she needs because Avery is so needy. I don't get any breaks anywhere because everyone and everything else is so needy. It is a vicious cycle at this point. :-)

So adulthood is killing me.

Of course, if you think about it, it's adulthood that kills everyone. At least all those who make it to adulthood!

My dear friend Goldie turned 97 today. She was alert and pretty lucid for our conversation this morning. It's too bad that we weren't able to make more of a big deal about her birthday, but we had Teen Challenge doing the service at our church and our senior pastor is away on a trip to see his daughter in South America.

Apparently adulthood hasn't killed Goldie yet.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Two Found Frozen to Death in Garage

Yes, two were found frozen in one of our auxiliary garages. But take heart. They were only guinea hens.

Part of me doesn't really see it that way. I know, they were only guinea hens, but they froze to death in full view of their 9 or so friends who also live in the garage and peck enthusiastically at any birdseed-like substance you bring to them. They froze to death because I didn't have the time (or perhaps the right intuition or preparedness) to insulate their shelter and make sure they had everything they needed. Because obviously they didn't.

It also brings me up short because of the realities of life and death. Farming, or playing at farming, which is what I'm doing, is a lot more incarnational than anything else I've done. I have built water purifiers, packed granola bars, sold used items, and taught young people. Nothing has ever died on my watch. But these guinea hens, next door to worthless, remind me that if I were depending on them for my livelihood, I should surely be in trouble.

I am getting my life back after the play. This last week has been filled with gracious words from many people in our school community about how much they enjoyed the production and how they can't wait to see another one. I suppose I will, if God grants me the strength to continue everything. I seem to be doing well in spite of the myriad of demands on my time.

A story about cookies: I arrived at school on Friday, put my lunch away, and noticed that there were chocolate chip cookies on the staff table. So I had a few. Later in the day I ate two "grandpa cookies" that my wife had packed for me. After that, there will still chocolate chip cookies in the staff room, so I had a few more. Then Cindy, one of the parents, handed me a whole plate full of peanut butter blossoms at the end of the day. (The women weren't going to use anything peanut-butter based because of the epidemic of peanut allergies.) So I had a few of those. In the evening was the Christmas concert, a fairly glorious affair at our classical Christian school. While mingling afterward, I had a few more cookies at the cookie-and-cider reception. My estimate is that I must have consumed approximately 15 cookies yesterday.

I do not think I shall try to do this again.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Escape from the Ugliest City in the World

Well, friends, Thanksgiving happened again. To celebrate it we traveled to Sioux Falls, SD to be with Tara's family. Her sister Wendy and husband Owen own a home in Sioux Falls, and her parents also have rented an apartment there to minimize on the outdoor work that seems to befall all of us who are homeowners. I won't go into the details of the trip except to say that I'm really happy for our family members there. Tara's family used to live in Sioux City, IA, for which I coined the title "the ugliest city in the world." I said this because when we were dating (and for many years beyond) I would travel to Sioux City, entering from the north on highway 75. For what seems like miles it is all industrial... stockyards, used car lots, grain elevators, bread factories, electrical parts suppliers... it's aesthetically terrible. When you finally do run into residential, it's one of the city's roughest areas, and many of the homes are boarded up or covered with graffiti. Of course it has more beautiful parts, but they are harder to find -- well hidden.

Sioux Falls, on the other hand, just 90 miles north, is a very attractive city from its commercial districts to a beautiful downtown of striking buildings, many made out of pink granite. The residential areas also give me the impression of people who care and who are attempting to build a pleasant place to live and work. If I weren't so inextricably intertwined with my school, I would certainly think about Sioux Falls as a place to live. Heaven knows my dad would approve. Heck, we could take him with us.

Tara would like me to say that she found me a new cuddle-wrap on the trip. It is true. We hit several junk stores in Sioux Falls while we were there, and I got a new plaid one (see photo). You have to be very secure in your masculinity to wear a cuddle-wrap, but we keep our house cold and I often have sedentary work to do in the evenings.

We also have a new kitty named Lightning. It came home with us from Wendy's house because they were overrun with cats and (I guess) didn't really know what to do with her. She is the smallest cat I have ever seen. She is slender with white feet and a gray body.

We also bought Tara a new sewing machine for all the crafting she does. It's a Janome with lots of stitches and funky features of modern technology. Her birthday was not too long ago, so this qualifies as a decent if belated birthday present.

Don't forget to come to Miracle Worker this Friday and Saturday. Leave me a comment and I'll get you details for tickets. It'll be a great time!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dude, Tara Is Amazing!!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I can't believe I just pasted this into my blog. I really don't understand how it happened (Tara walked me through it step-by-step from the other side of the living room). Multi-step processes that have to stay in order scare me. Ironically I'm a lifelong Minnesotan and should probably have a North Central accent, but oh well.

A Good Lord's Day and Skunk in the Garage

I was amazed to discover that it has already been a week since I last blogged. Good gracious, where does the time go? Oh yes, to drama rehearsal. That's where it goes. We have been rehearsing extra hours to make the difficult Miracle Worker come to life on stage. Saturday was our first tech run, including real food and a working pump. Come one, come all. It might not be perfect but it'll still be a rich experience, and at $4 for adults, it's a good cheap date too.

I also thought it was a great day at our home church, BCC. The worship set was very well integrated (if a little loud... the sanctuary volume seems to be creeping up again...) and the preaching of the type that terrifies Satan and exalts Christ in its accuracy and fervor. I get a chance to be a part of what God is doing here, too, teaching in adult ministries. We're about a fifth of the way through Doug Wilson's Future Men, which is about raising boys in the context of God's call and God's promises to us. It is an exciting series! We've had great discussions so far and I trust there will be more to come. The Lord is also bringing new people to us, and we're finding the face of BCC changing so rapidly that it's hard to keep up.

My dad invited us this evening to his church, CBC, for a thanksgiving banquet and skits, songs, etc. It is a huge event at a fairly large church, in its approach more conservative than ours, but not in a dangerous way. (When I say approach, I mean the style, not the doctrine or adherence to Scripture). We had a great time and were warmly welcomed by other brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe it also did my dad good to have us there.

After we got home (think 8:30 p.m.) I heard something ratting around in the garage and knocking stuff over. Further investigation revealed a furry black animal a little larger than a cat with a rich-looking white stripe down its back. I don't think I've ever seen a skunk from only 10 feet away, but I did tonight. I might have studied him longer, but Tara was telling me to get back in the house before I got sprayed, since she was short of tomato juice and did not want to have the responsibility of scrubbing me down anyway.

So I suspect that the skunk is still in the garage, but I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. Except for mice, we really haven't had any animal problems.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Little Drama...

Well, I've seen two shows in the past two weeks. One is _ The Miracle Worker_ as performed by Byron High School. This was good to see because we saw it about one month before our own production of the same show. It also showed me how the same show interpreted by different directors will look quite different.

Last night I went with friends (yes, friends... stunning, ain't it) to Angel Street at the theater in Mantorville. They have a lovely playhouse, and the 1880 set was gorgeous!! It didn't hurt that we knew the female lead, who turned in a stellar performance of a woman being driven to insanity by a criminal husband. Classic victorian thriller, quite well done overall.

We are plodding relentlessly toward our own show, hampered by the frustration of illness (I haven't been 100% for at least two weeks) and the reality of many classes being taught while directing. Arrrrgh. But I've seen lots of shows turn out well in the past, and I look for this one to be great too. Please, God.

I started teaching Doug Wilson's Future Men to my adult group at our church. So far it's going well and drawing enough fire to prove that we're saying something important!

As I write, there is a box elder bug crawling across the desk. I'm amazed that the little fellows haven't frozen to death or just become tired of plodding through the house. We have an amazing number of box elders and Asian beetles. Fortunately both are quiet and harmless. We just sweep them up when enough die to make it worth our time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Warm Chickens and Cool Theology

Our four chickens tend to sleep in the same place on the back yard every night: About 40 feet from the house in a completely unguarded location. I'm stunned that some predator hasn't come along and snuffed them already, but I guess there is grace, even for chickens. However, I know what a Minnesota winter feels like and I can't imagine four medium-sized birds surviving that without shelter. So tonight we instituted Operation ChickenLift.

Tara held the flashlight for me and I scooped and carried the egg bearers one at a time to the chicken coop (yes, they have a beautiful chicken coop that they refuse to use). After each trip, we closed the door to keep said chicken inside. When the first one was deposited, she made a sorrowful noise between a coo and a cluck. We both laughed. Two of the chickens went without protest, one was pretty easy to catch, and the last one led us on a wild chicken-chase all around the backyard before being cornered. It is hoped that they will settle into the chicken house with a little reinforcement.

In other news, we were watching _Because of Winn Dixie_ early Sunday morning, and came across a scene likc this:

Older, wisdom-filled black lady: In life, you got to find the most important thing.

Adorable pre-teen white girl: What is the most important thing?

(Dramatic Pause)

Old black lady: Why, the most important thing is whatever's most important to you.

So I went and asked Aidan (4) what the most important thing was. And he said something like, "God is the most important thing and loving Him and serving Him." He said more, too, with confidence and conviction. For my part, I gave him a high five and rejoiced at God's work in a little fellow. Tears of joy came into my eyes, for he knows the truth, and the truth will set him free!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Well, I didn't think this was going to be difficult, but it was. Jeanne came on Sunday after church and picked up her goats. From a practical standpoint, I could see that it was a good decision, and I was, after all, the one who suggested that perhaps it was time for them to go home. With cold weather upon us, I was concerned that the goats would have a tough time finding food and staying warm.

I didn't realize that I had become somewhat attached to Earl, Java, and Buckeye, three wether goats that have lived with us since late summer. They were very personable goats, especially Earl, who would come and let his head and shoulders be rubbed by just about anyone. They were also funny and got themselves into lots of scrapes while staying with us. Curious to a fault, they even climbed up in my trailer to get a different perspective on the world.

And now they're gone, and the pasture looks so empty. The surrounding land looks empty too, as the farmers have harvested their corn. You can see a long way from our house. It's not bad, but it is strange.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

House Beautiful

Well, we've been working on our new old house since the middle of June, and we're finally getting close on the exterior. I primed the last of the gingerbread/scalloping (or whatever that stuff is called) yesterday. My dad came out for the afternoon and took off downspouts so we could prime and paint behind them. He does a great job though he did lose a few screws (screws lost, not loose... think about that one) in the grass.

I suspect we would have the house done already, but it's been rain-rain-rain in SE Minnesota. That means no painting for days on end.
And that's all from Jim's end of things. He abandoned the computer, so I'm hijacking his post. Someone hop over to my blog and give me a bit of inspiration for what to blog. We're just doing life and that's getting a little short on providing fresh blog material! Thanks!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Latin Secrets Revealed

Here in Minnesota we're on fall break, which is a good thing for everyone even though the liberal Education Minnesota folks are meeting together and plotting their latest assaults on quality education and traditional morality. At my house it means more time with the children, time out for my wife, and house/business/school projects that get attention.

Thus it was last night that I was able to sit down with the 1897 edition of an 1877 Latin grammar. I found it fascinating to discover how differently 19th century scholars approached language study. You can see in their approach that they considered themselves highly scientific (which would have been part of the pragmatism of the day, if I recall my study of Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth) by their use of "science of language" and other similar phrases.

I can also see why people of earlier eras considered Latin study so difficult. Pages and pages of small text bring out intricacies of the language right away. There was no attempt to simplify at the beginning, only to explain. Also a fairly erudite vocabulary of grammatical terms was assumed.

However, I found myself learning (within the first 20 pages) several things that I'd been wondering for years. For instance, what is the vocative of 3rd-5th declension nouns? Bet you don't know. Why is the dative plural of filia filiabus instead of filiis? I used to wonder these things too, but no longer. Eductus sum!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Amazing Evan

When my oldest son was about two years old, Grandma Sheila, my mother-in-law, dubbed him "the Amazing Evan"! I can't speak for her, but I have always been impressed by his uniqueness and precocious ways. Today yielded some good Evan stories, so I would like to blog them.

I was talking to another school parent at the end of school today who told me that she was working in the gym on something a few minutes earlier. Evan had offered to help her, but she told him, "I don't think you're supposed to be in here." Evan replied, "No, it's OK. I'm a staff kid. I have special privileges." (I laughed pretty hard at that. It's so totally Evan.)

Before bedtime I told Evan that I wanted him to read for a while. He pulled a book off the shelf called _The Lord of the Journey_. It's a compendium of prayers and essays in Christian spirituality. He began reading a prayer of St. Anselm and I heard him say, "That's funny." Anselm was highlighting the nurturing qualities of Jesus and comparing him to a mother. Evan didn't quite know what to make of it. He continued to read, and the bookmark is now on the last page of the prayer.

He has also taken to listening to an evening broadcast of "Grace to You" with John MacArthur. He asked to have his radio turned on so he could listen to the program tonight. I was stunned again. I suspect that there are plenty of adults who find MacArthur erudite, even difficult to comprehend at times, and here's my 7-year-old falling asleep to the messages. For my money, MacArthur doesn't even have a soothing voice. However, as I thought more about it, I can see how J.M. would appeal to Evan: intellectually rigorous, fast delivery, no nonsense, and firm conviction. Fits him to a tee.

Well, enough delighting in my son. How great a God we have who gives gifts like Evan.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Preachin' the Word

I have been a committed Christian for about 16 years (and have probably been a Christian much longer than that...not really sure when I became part of the Kingdom) and I'm always amazed by how the Lord uses strange little servants like me. I wanted to teach the Word in adult classes; He's let me do that since I was about 22. I wanted to play on a worship team and lead worship... I've had opportunity to do that. I've wanted to preach, but thought that was kind of distant dream. But God has allowed that, too. In the last two years I've had three opportunites to preach at my home church when our senior pastor has been away.

The last of those was yesterday. I preached two services on "A Life That Bears Fruit", centered on John 15, but incorporating other Scriptures as helpful. I used the illustration of two apple trees in my yard to support my talk. One of these trees in misshapen, badly damaged, and short on branches. The other is gorgeous, nicely shaped, and has hundreds of leaf-covered branches. But only one has fruit. The ugliest tree in my yard produces delicious apples. I brought a small basketful to share with my listeners.

So I enjoy preaching, but it takes a lot of prep, energy, and spiritual warfare. I'm tired today but glad that we are working together to spread the glory of God!

(Edited by Tara to include a link to the sermon. At Berean's website you can click on Jim's name to hear his message!)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Wouldn't Do This Day Over

Since our move to the country in June, Evan and I commute quite a distance to the school where I teach and he learns. He is very patient with the drive and sometimes reads to me in the morning (may I say it's pretty amazing to have a just-turned-seven-year-old who is useful reader... Scripture or Laura Ingalls or whatever you want). However, today we left approximately on time and were at the Century light (notorious for its many waiting cars) at 7:27. When I say "at the light" I mean more than half a mile down the hill. The line crawled forward... for more than 25 minutes. Apparently the traffic signal had malfunctioned and no one knew what to do. By the time I got to the light, it was repaired but my day was broken.

When I arrived in my classroom, the desks were in a different arrangement because the maintenance guys had shampooed the carpet on Friday night. So I sustained two major disruptions between 7:30 and 8:00 and never really got my feet under me until after school was out. Even then it was a little late to feel accomplished.

The evening with the children wasn't much better. Toby is at a terribly clingy stage. If you try to leave him, he yells, "Daddy, I want yoooooooooooou!" Aidan is very cooperative and pleasant these days. At his worst, he will end up being a pleaser and wish for approval. Evan is just being Evan... competent, imperious, able to sense but largely indifferent to other people's feelings.

Also, I was going to try to write a sermon tonight (I'm preaching at our church on Sunday) but I was swamped, exhausted, and frustrated, which are not good conditions for sermon writing. I will try again soon... maybe during school tomorrow.

[Aside to Everett] You should be jealous... but I'm sure you've met more great saints in your ministry than I have!! Though I have met a few: James Sire, Gene Edward Veith, J. Bud-ji-chef-ski (no idea how to spell that) as well as some of the most amazing doctors in the world.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"Mike, C'mere a Minute"

I haven't been to a concert in years, that is, the type that you pay money to attend. I've been to plenty of choral events (being a St. Olaf graduate I suppose it runs in your blood) and I'm a frequent attender at concerts put on by my school, but I typically don't enjoy paying for a concert. Come to think of it, I don't like to pay for anything. But I digress.

I found out a few weeks ago that Michael Card was coming to Autumn Ridge Church. We have a lot of friends there and would easily be able to attend. So we actually got our act together and bought tickets mostly ahead of time. Expensive but not unbearable.

Tara predicted that the concert would be a who's who of Christianity in Rochester, which it actually wasn't. Not that there weren't some great people there, just not as many different churches represented as I'd hoped. We did see plenty of friends and enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed yet profound experience in music, artistry, and worship. I do appreciate Michael Card. I think he's one of the finest musician/poets living and creating in the US at this time. I also make a hearty slap upside the head to any Christian radio station that refuses to play his work. What's your excuse???

As soon as Card introduced his band, I was delighted to see one of my college acquaintances playing percussion with him. Paul was our worship leader for a Wednesday night Bible Study of about 100 college students back in the early 90s. I don't think I had seen him for at least a decade, but I'll say that he's aged pretty much not at all (the opposite of me). I really wanted to talk with Paul, so after the show I found Brian (media coordinator for the church and I happen to teach his kids) and he took Tara and me back. It was great. Every parting, someone said, is a little like a death, and every reunion like the Resurrection. So we imparted a little life, health, and encouragement to each other in those moments.

And then, as we were chatting, Michael Card sort of wandered back out to stage and Paul said, Hey, Mike. C' mere a minute. I want you to meet these guys." So there we were, chatting with Michael Card for a few minutes. It was a real blessing and totally unexpected. He is a real inspiration and a blessing to millions. Thank you, God, for your people in this world!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The First Woman in My Life

My mother passed away on the 16th of April this year after a seven-year battle with cancer. I would like to tell you about her.

She was born into a family full of family problems in the late 1930s. Her mother died when she was four years old, and the five children were split between two grandmothers. Her two older sisters were sent to live with Grandma Catholic. Her two brothers and she were sent to live with Grandma Lutheran. Consequently Mom became and remained a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran for her entire life.

"Grandma Lutheran" was very old when she received the children and she died when my mother was about 13. I cannot imagine what her childhood must have been like, between the dying relatives and alcoholic father as well as other problems that were hinted at but never really stated.

She grew up to become a teacher in the Wisconsin Synod elementary schools, and I imagined her to be the sort of person who would have been an old maid schoolteacher. She taught variations on K-1-2 for 14 years, until she married my father in 1972. Their marriage was unlikely. He was over 40 when they were married and had also taught in the WELS schools, sidestepping a few disasters along the way. She was distrustful of men. I think they met at an apartment warming party that was held for Dad when he moved to the Twin Cities area. I really can't remember the details.

From two homes marred with alcohol and abuse they created one that had infinitely fewer problems. I suspect that it was their sincere faith in Jesus Christ that made this possible. There was no alcohol, no major dysfunction, and a genuine commitment to each other. About year and a half after they were married they had one child. Me. I grew up in an environment empty of children, so actually I did not really believe that I was a child. I was simply the third adult in the house, a little smaller than the other two but definitely part of the decision-making committee. We had our conflicts, but my home was really a refuge from the storm of the outside world. My mother helped make it that way.

She was a woman of great hugs and natural affection. She loved people with her words and with her cooking. Easily scandalized, she struggled somewhat with gossip but it never seemed like gossip because I don't think she intended to hurt anyone. She was very slow to anger and put up with my dad's bizarre ways without much argument. Though she was not stupid as most people would understand the term, she was a simple person who did not have a lot of complicated thoughts or abstractions clouding her mind. If the conversation turned too theoretical, she would wait patiently for about five minutes (much of which I suspect she could barely follow) and then turn it to something about people or practical matters. It was all she could do.

She was a woman of many fears. Driving alone, for example, terrified her. She did not get a driver's license until age 34 (my age now) and directions mystified her. Thinking back, I recall some years that she drove me/other kids to soccer games all across the Cities. Those rides must have been traumatic for her in ways that others would not understand. She would drive alone if she knew the route and the weather was decent. Otherwise she relied on my dad and me for transportation. Dad was always great with maps, directions, and the general how-to of traveling. Mom was not.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Latin Teacher Buys Antique Tractor

I have been bugging Tara for weeks now every time something interesting happens. I say, "You should post that on your blog!" Over time she got sick of me saying this and now I have my own blog. Blessing? I don't know. You be the judge.

I am mostly computer illiterate, but my job has forced me to learn enough to enter grades and create lesson plans on line. This is a very evil trend in education, especially as my computer skills have been rotting for the last decade of classroom teaching. Up until a few weeks ago I still did everything in the old red gradebook. This felt a lot better and more natural, because when you post grades into RenWeb, they go... somewhere else. I do not know where they are, and only a strange little machine that occasionally makes whirring noises can call them back from the abyss of cyberspace.

No, though I am a pretty abstract person, I like concrete things. I like painting, not to create art, but to protect and beautify buildings. I think of it as part of God's plan for humans to have dominion and master the earth... the cultural mandate. I also have developed a love for tractors in recent months. You really haven't lived until you've driven a tractor!!

In June my wife Tara and I moved with our four (adorable, energetic, inquisitive, you pick the adjective) children to a 5-acre farm about 15 miles from the hub of civilization in our part of the world. Previously we'd lived 9 blocks from the heart of downtown. So this has been... different. I have to admit that I love it. Less than an hour ago, my oldest son, Evan (7 in a few weeks) and I were lying on the roof of our 1900 farmhouse gazing at the stars. It was awe-inspiring to see all of them and realize in some poor way how far away from us they are. It is also a little humbling to admit that Evan is more comfortable on steep-pitched roofs than I am.

One of the things that I just had to get after we moved to the farm (by the way, think old farmstead... old farmhouse, chicken coop, concrete block building, grainery, small barn, horse shelter...) was a tractor. I don't know why this desire hit me so hard, but it did. We are mowing about 2.5 acres of lawn, and then the rest is trees and pasture. Southern Minnesota has had a a lot of ran this summer, and the grass grows out here like jungle weeds. Also, all the neighbors, distant as they are, seem to have tractors. So I began to search for a tractor.

There was only one problem. I didn't really know anything about tractors. Don't misunderstand. It isn't that I'm unmechanical. I buy used equipment (prefer it to new, actually; part of residual effects of being brought up a half-step above poverty) all the time... cars, snowblowers, riding lawn mowers. It's just that I never had occasion to even drive a tractor before 2007. There wasn't a need.

So I started asking questions. Of my dad, who grew up on a farm in the dustbowl 1930s. Of Uncle Roy, who has farmed himself since the early '50s. And then I started responding to classified ads and test-driving tractors. I discovered that the market for old tractors is lively and draws its own subculture, mostly of men in jeans and western-style shirts, who do not seem incredibly much like me, but I digress. The vast majority of these people were gracious and answered a lot of really basic questions like, "What does that lever do?"

I also learned that just about everyone has a favorite brand of tractor and reasons for holding that opinion. It remined me a lot of sports teams... Green Bay fans, Vikings fans, Allis-Chalmers fans, Internation Harvester/Farmall fans. It was hilarious.

After two weeks of searching (I tend to build up to big decisions) my wife banished me from the house with orders not to return until I had a tractor. So Evan and I took a road trip though the southern border of MN and actually made it all the way to Algona. We bought our new toy in the tiny town of Kensett, Iowa (maybe only one 't' in Kenset, can't remember). It was a great experience. Evan and I had a really good father/son bonding time which I'm sure we will both remember for a long, long time.

We came back as the proud owners of a 1954 IH Farmall 300 with the narrow front. It has 42" rims and a 38 horse engine, five speeds forward, and live PTO. May I say that we've had a lot of fun. It also has a 6-foot Arts Way mowing deck underneath, which can mow quite a piece of earth in a short time. Sometimes as I'm mowing with it (or whatever) I try to picture the guy who bought the thing brand new in 1954. He could still be alive, of course, but I kind of doubt it. I also figure he must have been pretty proud. As tractors go, it's kind of on the line between small and medium, but that doesn't change the fact your head is still over 7 feet off the ground when you're driving it!

My youngest son, Toby, gets a huge thrill out of riding on the tractor with me. We mow together quite a bit, and when I put the tractor away, he usually says, "Dad, I can keep driving it in here?" He just doesn't want to get down. So I normally let him sit on the driver's seat a little longer. Then I lift him down, usually over some mild protesting, but he knows he'll get to go mowing again soon.