Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tribute to Tara's Towing

When we were young and stupid, Tara and I used to tow vehicles all the time. This is because we had lots of semi-reliable cars and not a lot of cash. Common problem of young people, I suppose. Our record came in 1998 (or maybe '99, hard to remember) when we dragged a SAAB 900 all the way to Meyer Garage in north-central Iowa.

But of course we did most or all of this B.K. (before kids).

So it took a little more coaxing last night after the engine quit on our purple van to get Tara out there again. I was cruising on E.H. Drive at about 35 mph and the thing just lost power. I let it coast and ended not too far from old Berean, just a little north on 13th Ave, I think. Since I was only a few blocks from Grandpa's house, I hoofed it the rest of the way and got a ride home from him.

Then of course Tara and I had the discussion about what to do. She didn't really want to tow a van that night with four children. In fact, she made me call three tow companies, which I did. The cheapest was $69.55; the most expensive about $115.

So I offered to take her out for dinner later in the week with the money that we saved. Somehow that got through to her heart and we packed everyone up and headed to town.

I have to hand it to the girl. Once we got hooked up (yes, we have our own towing cable) Tara pulled out and the adventure began. When we tow, I always get the dead car and she gets the live one. This is because steering/braking the dead one is a bit trickier, and there's no heat in the dead vehicle typically. We towed through several traffic lights, curvy roads, and fairly steep grades. Except for losing me once after we were out of town (had to reattach the cable...) we really had no mishaps. I think we towed that old purple Caravan about 15 miles. As an experience it's a little tense, but it also comes with a good adrenaline rush. And I confess that my life isn't the most thrilling anyone's ever lived.

Something else interesting happened today (which I was going to blog) but I simply can't remember what it was. It's just gone.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Millenial Mystery

So today a student in my freshman Latin class asked, "Did the Romans have anything bigger than M [representing one thousand]? How did they take a census if that's the biggest unit they had?"

We discussed this for a moment and then I openly admitted that while it would be more fun to fake a sophisticated reply, the truth is that I did not know the answer to this one. Do you? Help me keep the ninth graders impressed.

I spent the last two hours of the day making a quick reference guide on cardstock for the seventh and eighth graders. I'm really quite proud of what came out. It is an easy-to-use (I hope) single sheet that goes through most of the very basic material we've covered so far this year.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Returns with Freakish Regularity

If you are in your mid-thirties, like I am, you have now survived about 1800 Mondays. Just thought you'd like to know.

If you are in your mid-thirties, like I am, you are also not young anymore. Just thought you'd like to know.

The kids were quite tame today, actually. A little ruckus late afternoon over some competition, but nothing major.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Antique Friend Calls

Well, my adventures in real estate continue. I have been chatting with more than one agent to decide 1)what to do and 2)how to do it once we decide what to do. It feels a little bit like playing the field in dating, which I was never comfortable with as a young person and still feels wrong even in regard to real estate. I just try to tell myself that I am doing the best I can for my family and our future.

I know I want to get back closer to my work but I don't want to lose the rural feel of life out here. The country is beautiful, lonely, and mysterious. It brings out a different side of me, one where I care for my chickens and think about planting an orchard.

My old friend Dick from [tiny town], Nebraska called me out of the blue on Saturday. I met Dick while working for a disabled person transport service. He had just had surgery to remove one of his legs below the knee and had to spend a few weeks in rehab before they would let him go home. I invited him to church, got him a couple of shirts to wear, and had him over to the house for lunch or something. He never forgot it. In the years following, we have gone to visit him in his tiny hometown where he is the local antique dealer. He has a big house full of antiques that the banker built in 1916. It is one of those things that's totally indescribable unless you've seen something like it. All the furniture, the decorations, the photos, the books, everything 19th century or before. It boggles the mind.

So in January Dick had at least one heart attack and was hospitalized again, in a care center again, and now needs to get a pacemaker. I have talked with him about Christ in the past, but while recognizing his sin, Dick doesn't seem to think Jesus would want to save him or do anything about the sin. Which, of course, is the whole point of grace. Nobody is good enough to merit Jesus' love; He gives it freely to anybody who will just say, "Yes, Jesus, I believe you. I trust that you died for my sins and you 'll give my your righteousness because you have plenty to go around!"

Pray for Dick, would you? I would like to see him in heaven when I get there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Arson Around

This afternoon Evan and I are going to look at a semi-rural property just south of unnamed important city in our lives. It features an old house, 2.2 acres, and a brand new humongous attached garage. Well, sort of. The garage has been (apparently) a victim of arson and is mostly burned out.

Why they didn't torch the house instead is a mystery to me. It would have been a much better candidate.

I got my act together enough today to email Roger the famous tractorphile and also to oppose the increase in gasoline taxes that my beloved home state thinks will help our transportation woes (35W bridge, anyone?).

It's enough to make you want to run for office. Of course, if I can't charm a room full of eighth graders, how do I think I could stand up with the electorate???

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Roger Writes and Tara Travels

The latest in a string of unusual days...

After being gone for 32 hours, Tara returned for 32 hours and then left again. Of course, this time she took three of the offspring with her. By my count, that leaves one for me to take care of. Wonder where he is...

Just kidding. Evan got to go on a field trip to the Eagle Center (I think) in Wabasha. I found out about this not by seeing a permission slip but rather by his teacher finding me in the faculty workroom and saying, "I don't have Evan's permission slip for the field trip tomorrow." "Field trip? Tomorrow?"
And it continued from there.

Lest anyone have any fear that Tara doesn't like me any more, please realize that both of her sisters recently had babies in SD and IA. As big sis, she is there to dispense advice, counsel, opinions, and Lansinoh. As little sisters, they are there to ignore her.

Also, I just got a comment from Roger Welsch, the college-professor-turned-tractor-nut whose book I am reading in my non-existent spare time. It was a real thrill because I think the last time I chatted with someone remotely famous or published was Michael Card. Roger (if he lived) is recovering from cardiac surgery around Valentine' Day.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eggstra Time with Children

You know, for a fairly impatient, quirky person, I spend a lot of time with children. I believe I have now topped 10,000 class periods taught to young people and adults.

But this weekend I am talking about my own children.

My wife and a few of her pretty good friends decided that this weekend they would have an old-fashioned slumber party at Em's house. So Tara left about 12:30 today and I am here with the kids until either she chooses to come back or I crack up and put them up for adoption.

Actually, that's a bit extreme. All of the children are already in bed after an afternoon of...

1) Cleaning up egg messes. Our chickens laid two today and I brought them in and left them on the kitchen counter, thinking they would be fine. Not so. Aidan got ahold of one of them and in attempting to wash it (noble idea, just not when you're 4)broke it all over the bathroom floor.

2) Cleaning up more egg messes. The instructions note from my wife said to make pancakes and eggs for supper. Since I am pretty good at that, I make said meal for the children. The only problem is that our griddle has a section of the guard cracked off... got damaged a few months ago, I think. So when I poured the embryonice scrambled egg mixture onto the griddle, it ran towards the missing edge and leaked all over the counter. So I'm not so good with liquid eggs. Apparently neither is Tater.

3) Keeping Avery occupied. I think she had a vague sense Mom was gone which made her a little fretful. But nothing keeps that girl's appetite down, and she plowed through snacks and pancakes and anything else we gave her. Evan and Aidan were pretty tolerant of her and did some supervising and taking care of the littlest one.

4) Grandpa came out. He brought city water (everyone else can drink the water out here except for me) and some of his famous Grandpa cookies, which he bakes for us almost every week. Grandma taught him how before she died, and I have to say I think his are probably better than hers ever were. Go figure. I got a good picture of Grandpa playing castle toys with the boys. Grandpa has also started telling stories about Ridgeview and growing up, since he figures he might be the only one alive who still remembers them and he does not want them to die with him.

5) Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Does it ever end with four children and all the stuff of contemporary American life???

Well, I am going to call this good. Our church's membership series starts tomorrow, and I happen to teach that. Part of my responsibilities as director of Adult Enrichment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Without Waffles I Am Nothing

That's what I told the 7th graders when we were working on creating a class valentine for the seniors here at [unnamed] Academy. The annual contest goes like this: Each class gets space on the walls in the gym to make a big valentine for the class below it. The winning class gets breakfast made by the cheerleaders In our case, we're the bottom, so we got the senior as our recipients. Anyway, I have the sweetest homeroom this year who all work together without much coaxing or threatening. On top of that, one of the girls is a natural leader who is able to organize and get people working together without being pushy. So she coordinated everyone, got them excited about a plan, and then they all executed together.

And we won!! And we got waffles!!

And I was reminded that competition often seems to bring out the uglier parts of our sinful nature. So I don't know what to think about competition for fun.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Package for Jim

Well, last night Tara asked me to bring in the mail, which I was pleased to do because I always like having a reason to be outside (on my terms, that is, not on something like recess duty, which I do not have but would not want)and so I went to the mailbox. And lo, there before me was a beautiful, bubble-insulated package from the mother of my best good friend Everett, who (to my knowledge) has never sent me a package before. So I figured it must be for my wife, Tara, since these women always seem to have some sort of bloggy give-away going on. But no, it was addressed to "[well, this is a blog, so I can't put m' full name here, but I assure you, first and last name of me were both present]". By the way, I hate that rule of blogging. I would love to shout my full name to the heavens because it is a decent name and I happen to like attention/visibility etc. But no matter.

So I opened the bubble sheath and discovered a most wonderful book called Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them or something like that. Well, I could see right away that this was going to be the perfect book. The subtitle is "How to keep your tractor happy and your family running" which I think is exactly how it should be!

So far I have read the introduction and part of chapter one. I can't believe how much I identify with this guy! His name is Roger Welsch, and he spent 30 years teaching linguistic something and folklore at the University of Nebraska. Then the antique tractors caught him, and now he's doomed. Probably a lot like I am.

FYI: For lunch today I am having ratatouille, inspired by the movie and promoted by Rachael Ray. My wife and my pre-schoolers watch Rachael Ray almost every day. Why does 4-year-old Aidan like Rachael Ray? Really, I have no idea. But he does.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tough Month for Grandpa

I wrote last year about my mother's death in April -- what a kind and wonderful woman she was. The miracle, besides some of the circumstances of her departure, is that my dad has been doing as well as he has. They were married 35 years and really, I know, considered each other their best friend. "I hate to leave you" was my mom's comment to my dad a few weeks before she died.

So Grandpa had to get through a funeral, figure out housekeeping for himself, and have gallbladder surgery in August. Then, this winter, he discovered that he had a hernia. Once again, it was time for surgery. He had the same surgeon do the procedure, which was a week and a half or so ago. This time went even better than last, but still recovery is tough when you're so old. On top of that, he had intestinal problems and then came down with a cold. So I suppose it will be the middle of February before he gets to feeling much better. I just pray for spring to come, so that with the poet we can say, "so that I too bloom and sing" or something like that. Not teaching English this year, you know. :-)

Boring Day Belies Big Decisions

I have said for years I am going to slow down. Well, I have, sort of. My teaching responsibilities are less demanding than they ever have been before. I haven't played on worship team for about two years, and my term as elder ended a few days ago. I'm not directing any plays or coordinating any events either.

The problem is that I don't have a good "slowing down" personality. When I rest I feel guilty. When I feel guilty, I look for something to assuage the guilt... which would be productivity and positive change (or failing that, at least something fun like playing Monopoly with Evan, though the little rodent beat me handily again today). I think I also take a lot of pleasure from ministering to people. Somehow it feels like family doesn't count in that arena, even though I know it does. Go figure.

We are having second thoughts about living in the country. The mortgage is brutal, the cost of heating is brutal, the daily commute to work/school is 22 miles one way, and just a few days ago two women collided with each other and DIED five minutes before Evan and I came through on our way to school that morning. They made front page in the PB, but we are still alive!!!

However, it got me thinking about the dangers associated with frequent commutes and the possibility of dying out there for no really good reason (how this fits with the sovereignty of God I still don't understand). And, dadgummit, if I'm going to die I'd like it to be for a good reason, not that I hit a patch of ice and slammed into the oncoming traffic. Both women who died were involved in different types of people-related/compassionate sort of careers. The definition of a tragedy.

So part of me thinks going back to town might be a good idea. The other part of me (that made a brief visit to a modest home in NE yesterday afternoon) felt my soul wither as I looked at the .15 acre yard and noted the other houses 20 feet on either side of the home in question. Please don't misunderstand. I'm perfectly comfortable with lower middle class. I've been there all my life, and actually nice surroundings make me a tad uncomfy. Why else would we always seek something that needs restoration or TLC? We could afford the basic rambler that needs pretty much nothing. What makes me uncomfortable is knowing that now I can step out into my yard and see the stars unimpaired, just as Abraham did. When the moon is visible, the beauty and solitude of it brings some melancholy to the surface of my being. God is so great and I am so fallen. Yet I continue to hope because of Him.

So it is hard to think about going back to neighborhoods and little concrete sidewalks which have to be shoveled because of city regulations. And neighbors who could become cranky because of something I say or something one of the boys does.

I hope for wisdom, but I guess I will just see what God brings into our path.