Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring Break!!

Oh, man. We're finally on Spring Break.

This is good for a number of reasons. First of all, March Merriment is over. The week of fun activities and other interruptions has come to an end. Second, it's a break from the continuous exposure to other people's children. Finally, it is a chance to see my own.

But this Spring Break is something more. It is our bid to get closer to town again and thus closer to school. We are listing tomorrow night, Lord willing.

I think we all have mixed feelings about this. Just when the property becomes lush and green, we may be on our way out. Of course, it may take a while to sell, which would give us a possible spring and summer here. Whatever happens, I feel that it will work out all right.

Things I've done:

--painted like crazy before the listing pictures tomorrow night
--gone out for lunch with our family, Grandpa, and a family visiting church for the first time
--had lunch with another friend who wants to meet for one-on-one

Things I'm hoping to do:

-- finish the house projects (or at least most of them)
-- get papers corrected and be organized for school
-- attend The Truth Project conference on Saturday with another friend from adult ministries

Well, Tara's watching a movie and I really can't concentrate all that well...

Blessings, y'all! Happy Spring Break.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Celebrating Toby

Tobias Andrew is our third born child, flanked by Aidan (#2) and Avery (#4). When Toby was yanked out, I looked at him, turned calmly to my wife, and said, "Oh, look. Another boy."

Toby is our warm-hearted, open-armed funny man. My colleague Anita coined the term "facesake" to describe Toby's relationship with me... we look similar in a lot of ways and usually enjoy each other immensely. And so when he turned three this week, we just knew that we had to celebrate. Three years of Toby.

You should know that Toby has developed an early fascination with tools and manipulative toys. When I was redoing the house exterior last summer, Toby was the one who helped me scrape. Toby was always ready at the bottom of the ladder to hand me more tools or whatever. Toby loves the mechanical side of life and being a helper!!

So I suggested that we buy him some tools for his birthday, and we both agreed that he would not want "play tools". They would have to be real tools that do real tasks.

So Tara went to Menards (can you tell that we like Menards?) and picked out a selection of hand tools and also got a few lengths of galvanized pipe from the plumbing department. These Toby can screw together, unscrew, and make different shapes out of them.

Well, he loves them!! He absolutely screamed when he opened the package. "Tools! Wrenches and... a screwdriver.... and OTHER STUFF!!!"

The other present that really made a hit with all the boys was a digger big enough for a three year old to sit on and operate. This present was from Grandpa, who did it in signature style: He bought the slightly broken toy at Saver's and repaired it with the sort of non-matching materials that you just wouldn't expect on a plastic child's toy. I could probably name 6-7 other things that he's fixed in this way over the years.

God, thank you for Toby and for all he has added to our family!

The Return of the Frank

Being so delighted at the outcome of our last plumbing project (functional) I decided to return to Menards and tackle another strange aspect of our plumbing, the hot and cold water from the water heater to the washing machine. The upstairs washing machine, that is. (Read last blog for context.)

And there, gloriously punched in and ready to serve me, was Frank. The Frank who has been at Menards 24 years and apparently all of them in plumbing. The Frank who knows a coupling from an elbow from a ball valve. The Frank who can inspire your plumbing to work. And I had him... all to myself.

So I approached the bench with a little confidence and a little trepidation. Timidly I lifted the corroded piece of copper piping and explained how I just wanted to put in a line of PEX tubing to replace all the old copper. Frank nodded and then stared at the copper pipe. He placed it next to samples of new copper pipe on his rack and turned his large, disapproving eyes on me.

"This pipe has been frozen, hasn't it!" he demanded. I tried to substitute aloofness for terror. "Several times," I quipped. Frank shook his head disgustedly. He examined the end of the pipe again.

"These is a flare fitting," he said, expensive concern evident in his voice.
Since I didn't know what a flare fitting was, I couldn't disagree. Frank went on to explain that flare fittings don't connect up with regular pipe fittings except by means of adapters. Multiple adapters, as it turns out.

Since I am sort of dense in plumbing and, one could argue, other areas, it took Frank a while to make this clear to me. By the time it was clear, Frank was getting louder and more emphatic.


Now, I didn't mean to question Frank, but I didn't want to buy 33 fittings, either.

After a cell phone call home, we finally discovered a way to remove the flare fitting and shorten the process. Somewhat. The pieces were in the cart. We were close to done.

And then I did it. I turned back to Frank and asked, "If you were doing the job, what would you use to cut PEX tubing?"

He mused for a moment, then replied, "Well, you could use a hacksaw, but then you'd have to finish the end with a utility knife. But you look like you're going to be doing a lot of this now."

I nodded, a little proudly and a little sadly.

"So I think," Frank went on, "that you could get a PEX cutting tool. On sale for only $7.00 this week."

Well, I didn't even hesitate as I usually do. I knew what had to be done to earn Frank's approval.

"I'll take it!" I exclaimed. Frank laid it soberly in the cart.

Plumbing. It's not just about pipes any more.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why, Oh Why Do We Try?

So I left school this afternoon, dropped a load of junk at my dad's house, picked up Evan, and listened to an explanation of bowling and other things Evan likes to do on the way home.

When I got home the entire house was torn up. This, presumably because Tara had just finished laying linoleum in the dining room. We are planning to list on April 1, so we need to get all of our projects either completed or underway. But I wonder how many wives would attempt linoleum with no husband at home and three small children rustling about. Tara not only tried but got about 90 percent of it down. We still have to do some of the edges, which will require cutting and that sort of effort. Oh well.

I have made enough progress on the laundry room to call it progress. The priming is done and most of the painting is done. There's a bit of drywall work to be completed over the stairs, but beyond that, I feel pretty good about that room. The only problem is that the copper pipes to the washer are suffering pinhole leaks. So I am planning to rip the copper there and replace it with ultra-cool PEX tubing, which is cheap, easy to install, and will last for years to come. To get the pressure off myself, I convinced Tara to help me move a different washer that we had in the barn to the basement, where there is another water hook-up and drain area. Thus we could wash in peace while getting the main-floor laundry in shape.

Well, that was the plan. The two of us succeeded in moving that washer to the basement, and I succeeded in hooking it up. There's only one problem. After it filled water, it would not start. It makes a little humming noise and then gives up. This is most troubling because the machine ran quite nicely when we pulled it out last July.

It is also troubling because I already put half a load of laundry in it, figuring the
simple machine would start up and we'd be ahead of the game.

So now I have a machine full of warm water, wet clothes, detergent, and absolutely no plan.

Good night.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tenebrae and Its Relation to Home

As you are probably aware, it is Good Friday -- not necessarily the day that Jesus died, just the day that Christians commemorate the most serious and sobering event in human history. Tonight I want to reflect on this day and the challenges facing Christians as we seek to both meditate and celebrate the passion of our Christ.

Having grown up Lutheran, I am quite familiar with Lent. My parents were faithful church-goers in every sense of the word, so during Lent, it was church on Sunday, church on Wednesday night beginning with Ash Wednesday, and church again the next Sunday. For Holy Week we were there for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and sunrise service on Easter Sunday.

During my freshman year in college, I was introduced to the real Jesus (not plastic Jesus, but Jesus who is still building his church and cares about me, yes, even me) and I stopped being Lutheran and over time became something of an evangelical with a focus on Christian worldview applications. I have never regretted this at all, but there are some things evangelicals in our area just don't do. High church Holy Week celebrations are among them.

All this is to explain why I sought out a Lutheran church (LC-MS, as it turned out) on Good Friday. One not far from our farm had a tenebrae service tonight, so I went. I offered Evan the opportunity to join me, and he took it.

I will not bog down in the details of the service except to say that for what it was, it was very well executed and reverent. Not bad for a small-sized, small-town congregation. After it was over I cried in the van. I do not think Evan noticed, and I did not point it out to him because I didn't really know why I was crying. I suspect it had something to do with sorrow for both what they had and what they didn't have. And probably for what I have and what I don't have, ecclesiastically speaking. And for the fact that you just can't go home, and home, if I'm honest, wasn't that great to begin with, again, ecclesiatically speaking.

I will slow down to tell you why I am no longer Lutheran.

1) There is only one man in the sanctuary who is able or empowered to teach God's word. There are plenty of other men who will never get the chance because they did not or could not go to seminary. I get to teach the word every single day and once (yes, only once) on Sundays.

2) The difference between pastor and people is profound. The pastor is an other-worldly sort of being, who, though he confesses his sin with everyone else, is believed to be without sin...sort of.... by the people...most of them. See #1.

3) The identity of the people is still "poor miserable sinner" in the preaching and the liturgy, though, presumably, the people are there to learn of Christ and be his followers. According to the riches of New Testament teaching, Christ's spirit in you changes you from identified with sin (how you were before Christ) to identified with Christ (how you are now with His righteousness imputed to you -- perfect in standing before the Father!).

4) The clarity of the gospel is still... hazy. Lutherans have always been big on grace, but not always able to communicate it in crisp, understandable ways. For it to take root in any heart, the sinner must be aware of his lostness (and the depth of his desperation) before he can really appreciate what a gift Jesus' death and resurrection was.

The tenebrae service was good for me. It renewed my sense of purpose in teaching the Word and proclaiming and living the truth of Christ wherever possible.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Outstanding in Onawa

My wife's grandmother passed away last week. Her name was Martha, and she really was worried and troubled with many things, just like her biblical namesake. But I enjoyed the woman and actually bantered with her on occasion.

There was no funeral. Instead we had a graveside service right there at the cemetery in Onawa. I have to confess that I enjoyed the trip. The day off from school was probably good for my mental health. The time with family was excellent... we even saw Uncle Bill and Aunt Teresa as well as Uncle Joel from Texas.

On Saturday morning, Evan and Aidan and I trekked from Onawa to Rosalie, Neb. to see my old friend Dick Gustin. He is the local antique dealer and in fact the only remaining business in Rosalie. We continued to encourage him toward Christ for salvation and forgiveness, peace and joy.

I think God is working on his heart.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

National Latin Exam Cometh

Tomorrow my kids in 9th and 10th grades will be taking the National Latin Exam, an international test given to more than 135,000 students worldwide, last I checked. We have an unusual situation. Three or four ninth graders are sick, and since the exams are pre-ordered, I am prepping three eighth grade girls who are far and away the best Latin students in that grade to rise up and take their places.

So we had lunch today and went over a practice exam, along with three ninth grade boys who are really competitive and really into Latin.

It warms my heart to see kids spending time outside of class at an "academic" school to specialize in something they want to learn.

I also received the sweetest apology note today from a student. That warmed my heart as well and reminded me that God really does still move in people's hearts.

Monday, March 10, 2008

That's Frank!

Our adventures in plumbing continue. There are so many things leaking in the basement that you could now take a shower down there simply by standing under various pipes. So Evan and I went to Menards on Sunday afternoon to the plumbing department. And Frank and Alex were on duty.

As Evan observed, "That's Frank." (recalling the scene in Cars after the tractor tipping in which Frank the combine chased Mater and Lightning out of the field.

This Frank, however, was a short man in his fifties with large eyes and an exacting way about him. We later learned that he was the undisputed guru of plumbing at Menards north. In the time we were there, two other customers approached and said, "Hey, Frank...." without looking at the name tag. Whatever he said they bought without hesitation and performed other obesiances.

I explained my situation and Frank went to work finding PEX piping, joints, etc. To install the new sink fixture, he made me purchase plumber's putty which I have never used before but didn't really have the courage to say no.

Since there are shut-offs in the basement, I thought that would be good enough. But Frank looked at me with a piercing stare from behind his bifocals.

"Well, it's your house, but if you spring a leak under the sink, what're you gonna do? Run all the way to the basement to shut it off?? No, you need shut-offs right there under the sink. This kind's got a ball valve and a lifetime warranty. That kind's a dollar less but doesn't have the ball valve."

I bought the one with the ball valve.

What happened to the days when the customer was always right???

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I'll Soften YOUR Water!

So my colleague Rich, with whom I have taught for the last 11 years (he tracks who long he's been at the Academy by asking me my years of service and then subtracting one) came out last night to help me install a water softener.

I think he was figuring this would take about an hour. As you well know, in situations like this it never takes just an hour. He arrived around four and didn't leave till nearly seven. In the interim, we discovered that the "in" and the "out" were reversed and therefore we would have to reroute the copper to make the unit work properly. Of course,we were one fitting short of that, so I went to Hardware Hank while Rich kept at it.

He successfully sweated all the joints and got water into the system. But later that evening, since the pressure was up, another pipe in another part of the house had a pinhole spring a leak. So now we have no cold water to the kitchen.

I give up.

The softener, however, looks very attracting in its little corner of the basement.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Arrival at Arnold's

So we took the van (the one Tara towed, remember?) to Arnold's a few days ago. And it sat. And sat. And I get home too late to actually interface with the guy, so we just let it sit. Then a few days later it was missing. So this morning I made a pretty decent effort to call the man, but it was noted that, though a professional mechanic, he is not listed in the phone book. He is also not in the residential directory. In fact, he is pretty much a reclusive curmudgeon and apparently doesn't like phone calls.

But then Arnold made the mistake of calling, and Tara tricked him into giving his number. So I am going to program it into the cell before the man disappears again.

Maybe he'll fix my van anyway. It deserved to have something like this happen, I suppose, since it did have 196,000 miles on it.

In other news, I have decided to read the Old Testament book of Joshua in the near future.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Passel o' Paperwork

According to school policy, notifications of possibility of failure have to be sent to parents at least two weeks before the end of the quarter. So yesterday I totaled my books (which aren't books but actually a glorified spreadsheet program on the web)and learned how to send emails to parents. It's actually pretty easy.

Meanwhile Tara is reconfiguring the house to get it ready to sell. Every day when I come home, something is different than it was the day before. The bathroom has more space than anyone ever realized before.

N.B. If any of you readers are looking for a house, now is the time to tell me. It is a classic farmhouse located on 4.93 acres with about 6 outbuildings. I would like to be back in town by the time business season starts, but I guess that's probably ambitious. We know that the Lord will provide for all of our needs, and he can certainly get our house sold quickly if he wants.

Tara is at a conference this morning called "Intentional Motherhood." The consequence of intentional motherhood is "Unintentional Fatherhood." That's right, I've got all four kids. Again. Fortunately Tara has done such a good job training them that they're generally very easy to work with. This morning Aidan (4) was unloading the dishwasher and putting the dishes away exactly where they go. I was amazed by his diligence.