Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Heavens Declare

I know I should have been in bed a long time ago, but I just have to capture this. Around 10:45 I finished working on the vans (some battery issues, etc) and was closing up and putting things away for the night. A moment later I headed for the chicken house to make sure that they were safe from predators by closing their door. As I walked around the dark side of the chicken house, the whole glory of the heavens was opened up to me. A perfectly clear sky combined with the darkness of the country to display a grand picture of the sky. It was one of the few times in my life that I wished I knew more about astronomy.

I think I also got a sense of why we call our galaxy the Milky Way. There was a segment of the sky that reflected a whitish hue to me, I assume because of the sheer volume of stars in that "area".

Breath-taking. It really was.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


This evening we loaded up all of our children and went to the annual meeting at our church. It was pleasant but not especially controversial or exhilarating in any way. Upon coming home, we noticed a huge branch partially blocking the gravel road in front of our house. After we put the young 'uns to bed, I went outside to look for Tara only to find her backing my VAN AND TRAILER RIG into the driveway. Now, honestly, how many of you have a wife (or are a wife) who can back a van and trailer?

So I jumped onto the trailer and we headed out to the road. We both lopped pieces and dropped them into the recently improved trailer (side rails now, remember?) We also got out the bow saw and sliced a few of the medium sized branches. Now that the road is clear, we can get some rest and then go after it again tomorrow morning.

This was a strange event to me because the branch was completely leafy and there was no sign of disease, except that raccoons are living in said tree.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Guest House Gets Rehabilitation

Saturday morning is the time for worship team practice at our church, and I was sound guy this morning, so I headed into town with that as first on my agenda. Practice went fine, and, returning to the van, I lumbered off to estimate a job in North Park. These people had one of the largest decks I had ever seen in my life, including a 20-foot swimming pool. Hope we get the bid for that one...

But my real joy for the day was heading over to the new Nazarene Well House, which is a guest house for people who have come to Mayo Clinic for treatment and find themselves in the middle of an extended stay for which they cannot pay. For those of you who are locals, the building is west of Silver Lake and used to be owned by Zumbro Valley Mental Health. For a while they called it Circle Center, I believe. Anyway, the Nazarenes are refurbished this 7500-square foot former hotel into a guest house, and they are almost finished.

So how to I enter this picture? The Naz invited our church to a workday to get the caretakers quarters on the lowest level finished. Being sort of in this business anyway, and being acquainted with the fine people at Naz, and seeing that some of my fairly good Berean friends would be at the event, I decided to load up the van with my very best paints, rollers, and tools and head for the guest house.

Well, it was tons of fun! I think I had the unique position of knowing just about everyone from both congregations. (Schaeffer used to rent space from Naz in the old days, and I taught in their building. I would often be working late hours, which is why the Nazofolks know me so well. And of course several of them hadn't seen me in years. It was such a privilege to see everyone... a little foretaste of what heaven will no doubt be like.) So I painted a couple of closets in the basement and chatted with numerous people from both congregations. I was particularly impressed with the love and compassion that the Naz will be showing to people from around the world who are in difficult medical situations. They will be inviting in the stranger that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 25.

Around 4:00 I snagged my dad from his house and dragged him out to the farm to help me build a frame for the trailer. He does a great job but just doesn't have the perseverance he had 20 years ago. The boys helped me finish after Grandpa went home. Fortunately they are good helpers, so we got the thing basically finished and I can now haul just about anything without fear that it will fall out of the trailer.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bedbugs for Jesus!

Most of you probably know that I run an outdoor services business in the summertime. It supplements teaching income heavily and it makes the summers fly by. It also gives us lots of great stories and encounters with fascinating clients.

Within the last few days, I received a call from a man around age 60. He lives with his 87-year-old mother, and their home had become infested with bedbugs. His call was to ask if I would be able to haul away the beds and other soft furniture that had become infested.

Well, I really didn't want to do this job for fear of introducing bedbugs into my home. But then I began to consider it from a Christian worldview perspective. What would Jesus do in this situation? I decided that He would help the outcast, especially the outcast humbly seeking assistance. And in our society, someone with a bedbug infestation is about as outcast as I've recently seen. So I told the gentleman that I would indeed help him with his dilemma.

Yesterday afternoon he called to say that the exterminator had been through and had identified the pieces slated for destruction. The exterminator said I should go to Fleet Farm and pick up stretch wrap for the mattresses and other furniture to be dumped. Apparently that keeps the bedbugs contained, though my stretch-wrapping abilities would leave that in doubt. I was also to get two cans of bedbug spray for the old man and his ancient mother to use while waiting for the professionals.

So I raced down to Fleet Farm after spending too much time trying to take down an apple tree in Northern Heights (chain saw broke during the effort... wasn't even my chainsaw... long story there... the owner of the apple tree happened to be a retired physics professor and so the two of us tore open the smoking chainsaw to see what be the matter...) and a wonderfully kind and practical young woman helped me find both the stretch wrap and the bedbug spray -- who knew Fleet Farm carried bedbug spray???

I raced back up to the bedbug hideaway and met the owners. Mom was a shockingly spry 87 who seemed more like early 70s, maybe. The son was a friendly if portly fellow who had broken his shoulder which resulted in surgery that made him unable to carry anything of significance-- except himself.

As it was getting close to 5:00 p.m., I introduced myself, changed into clothes that could be burned without any tears from me, and began the removal process. Zach arrived a few minutes later and we crammed and jammed through two mattresses, two box springs, and miscellaneous other stuff. At 4:57, I acknowledged that there was no way in **** or anywhere else that we were going to get this stuff to the dump. The thought was terrifying to me, because, what do you do with a trailer full of bedbug infested furniture?

So I got on the cell and called into the labyrinth of phone tag that is the county recycling center's phone system. On the third call, I got a live human, the supervisor of the solid waste facility who said that yes, he understood the situation, and yes, he would wait for us and keep the back gate open. So we hustled and he watched for us. Now, I ask you, what are the chances of government personnel answering the phone after 5:00 p.m.??? God nudged him to pick up that phone and moved his heart to help us out. I'm sure of it.

When I had a moment alone with the homeowners, I explained to them that in my natural self, I wouldn't have helped them, but as a follower of Jesus, I thought that helping them would be an "in His steps" kind of thing to do. They both smiled broadly and basically praised the Lord right there in their living room.

They also *tipped* more than $75 and promised that each of them would say an extra prayer for me. I can always use an extra prayer, even if it comes by way of a rosary, I think.

I have tons more great stories, but that's probably the best in a while. Evan comes home from camp tomorrow. I really miss him already!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Best of Toby from Today

After Toby was up for a little while this morning and I was getting ready to go to the dump (we haul our own trash), Toby wandered through the kitchen and into the laundry room. The following is our exchange as close to word-for-word as I can get it. Remember that Toby turned 3 last March.

Toby: Mom, do we have an old house?

Tara: Yes, Toby, we have an old house.

Me: Toby, our house is very old.

Toby: Well, we should get a new house!

Me: Why do you think we need a new house?

Toby: Well, this one has a crack in it. [at this point he gestures towards a tear in the drywall or joint tape or whatever. This rip has recently developed, for sure within the last two weeks.]

Me: That's a good point, buddy. But we don't need a new house; we just need to put up some baseboard in the kitchen.

Toby: Baseboard?

So I bought a few pieces of baseboard or casing as Menards calls it and I'm going to try to stain it and tack it on soon.

I closed another important deal today with a client from Lake City. More road trips!

Finally, when we were almost home tonight, Toby made another comment to the effect of, "After Grandpa dies, we get to inherit his stuff!" Yes, he really used the word inherit and then went on to describe how he was going to "wrench things" with Grandpa's wrenches.

So we had another opportunity to remind Toby that it's better to have Grandpa with us than Grandpa's stuff with us.

Speaking of Grandpa, he went to his doctor today because a lump of something has been sloshing around in his upper left arm. Turns out that the muscle separated -- the sinew or whatever holds things together properly either snapped or lost its hold on the bone. So half of his bicep is just sitting there, doing nothing and connected to nothing. On the positive side, it isn't anything disastrous (we thought maybe something was eating the muscle). On the negative, it minimizes his strength in that arm. But he can still carry Avery, though I noticed he had the bulk of her weight on his right side, not his left.

It is difficult to watch your parents fall apart. I suppose it's even harder to watch yourself fall apart. Blasted fallenness.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Now to the Nursery

Tara says my readership would like to know that I had a new experience today. After growing up in church, committing myself to Christ around age 18, and being involved with BCC for almost 13 years, I think today was the first time I worked in the nursery.

It's not that I haven't had opportunities before. I just always found effective ways to weasel out of them. For example, either I needed to go to service myself or I was teaching adult classes or my stomach wasn't doing well or...

Since Tara was subbing for someone else, and since she had nursery last week, I though it might be good if she went to the service where she could join in the musical worship and get some preaching of the Word. So I went to the nursery.

I decided to be with Avery's group, the just-walking-but-not-really-talking folks. There were 11 one and two-year-olds and three adults. For the most part, it was pretty easy, except when one of the toddlers would remember that his/her cruel parents had left him/her in the nursery and then the wailing would begin. One little lady named Harley periodically retreated to the doorway again and again as if Mom might be waiting on the other side. So I picked her up and read her some stories and tried to keep her occupied. Everyone else did the same. Avery did fine except when she realized that this other little girl was sitting on my lap instead of her.

Oh, and it's dangerous to go down on the floor in a roomful of toddlers. I got down there once and I think three of them were sitting on me at the same time.

I've decided that everyone who preaches should do a minimum of three weeks in the nursery prior to preaching. Thus the preacher would be sensitive to what the nursery is like if he should happen to go long. It isn't that he shouldn't go long if the Spirit directs him to; it's just that he'd be aware of what the last 10-15 minutes before pick-up look like. I know I never was.


I painted a door and a trailer bed today amongst all the usual activities. I was very energetic.

Friday, July 18, 2008

It Just Ain't Fair -- or Is It?

So I went to Greg's office a few days ago to write an offer on this $35,000 property in said neighboring small town. Honestly, I was pretty excited about the opportunity. This place represented the best of both worlds: nothing desperately wrong with it, and an ideal opportunity to completely redo the interior.

As soon as we sat down in the little office, Greg said, "It's sold."
So that ended our quest to buy this particular little property.

Toby and I took a road trip to Lake City yesterday. We have a client who owns a home up there (two blocks off the river - gorgeous!) and wanted us to do some estimating. Lake City is a long drive from here, but fortunately a fairly pretty one at the same time. The people of Lake City are also proud that their town is the birthplace of waterskiing, which yes, is spelled with two i's.

While in Lake City, I learned that we were going to have a showing at 5:30, so we high-tailed it across the open country and headed for home. Thursday night is Tara's "night off" -- she goes to town and meets some other women for Bible study, then goes out to Applebee's with her friend Melanie for appetizers after 9:00 or however that works. I, of course, take the children.

We went to the fair last night. The kids and I all love the exotic animal displays, including animals you can pet. Particular favorites of mine include the Patagonian Cavy and the miniature donkey. The miniature donkey reminds one a lot of Donkey from Shrek but it a little shorter and a little fatter. Also, it doesn't talk as much, but its coat is extremely soft and pettable.

Evan made me laugh by the firm way he manages his younger brothers. He insisted that they not spend any unnecessary money and also made them wash their hands with anti-bacterial soap after they had gone through the petting zoo of exotic animals.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Fine Toothed Comb

After a very warm morning running around like crazy people to get ready for Flea/Farmer's Market (Evan's idea), and sitting at the Farmer's Market roasting my *** (still Evan's idea), I had profitted exactly one dollar. Clearly it was time to be... anywhere else! So we came home and did a few things while the excitement was mounting for our afternoon's activities. It was time for the inspection with the fine-toothed comb.

During the two o'clock hour we dumped our kids, picked up Greg, and headed for the peaceful town of [oh, yeah, can't say the name in my blog]. We had the ladder, the tape measure, the flashlight, and the notebook. We checked out everything imaginable... the roof, the structure, the heating and cooling, the laundry hook-ups, you name it. And yes, there were some issues, but not anything insurmountable. At the end of almost two hours, Tara and I were in complete agreement that this would make a fine stopping off place for a family for the next couple of years.

Tomorrow morning I will be sitting down with Greg to finalize the details of our offer. I would love to go non-contingent, but I'm afraid that might be a foolish idea, so we're going to ante up a few hundred bucks and send our plan to the bank.

By the way, Tuesday nights (5-8) are kids' nights at Fazoli's. Our whole family ate for $12.78. Seriously. And nobody was hoping for more.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Special Sunday

Our long-time friends, Russ and LaVonne, invited us out to their farm for dinner yesterday. I have known them for almost as long as I have been in this area, since we go to the same church. They are sort of our "senior saints", the ones who have been setting the example for us forever just by the way they live and the gracious things they say.

Well, of course the dinner was delicious, between the fresh vegetables and the farm cooking. Our kids were very well behaved and got to have lots of new experiences, including, but not limited to, a tour of a dairy/cheese-making building and a chance to climb around on huge round bales of hay stacked in one of the machine sheds.

About mid-afternoon, it was time to head up the road to Jay and Kim's, son-in-law and daughter of the aforementioned couple. As if the hospitality hadn't been gracious enough already, Jay and Kim let us ride horses, took the boys for a ride on the 4-wheeler, and then grilled out for dinner. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, the scenery breath-taking, and you could just about feel the smile of Father in the glory of the surroundings and the love of His children.

We have now been inside of the $35,000 house that I mentioned last time around. It wasn't in great condition, but it wasn't as bad as we expected, either. This has been a very lively topic of discussion around our house for the last few days. We think it would be fun to see what life would be like without a mortgage payment. Also it would give me an opportunity to redo and interior from front door to back with a clear plan in mind. A color scheme, if you will, and a way of looking at things cohesively.

Many thanks to my dear friend Everett for bringing me Alan Jacobs' The Narnian as a birthday gift. I have been reading faithfully and learning a great deal more about the man who has become C.S. Lewis to the world.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Our Current Hare-brained Scheme

Most of you regular readers know that we have been trying to sell our house for some time. It has been slow going in this weird economy with a rural property.

Well, one of the searches that we use just brought us a property in a neighboring small town. It has three bedrooms, one bath, and is priced at $35,000. Tara and I kind of looked at each other and said, "Do you suppose we might be able to buy it outright and be done with loans and mortgages?" So we drove to said small town (very cute downtown, by the way) and (it's vacant) had a look around the outside and peered in the windows. It seems to be in fairly good condition. We have left messages with two agents, but no action from anyone yet, so I don't really have anything to tell.

I also spent five and a half hours roto-tilling yesterday at a place off Marion Road. The client wanted a 50-foot round horse paddock to be tilled so her horses wouldn't trip or be in any danger. Besides being miserable work after about an hour, I was started at by eight horses most of the time. In fact, one of them tried to eat the handle of my garden rake, but I convinced her that handles are made of wood, which horses should not eat. They were beautiful horses.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shot Heard 'Round the Pasture

I have lots of things I'd like to say today that have no relation to one another, no thread that I can discern to tie them all together. All right, you've been warned.

Last night one of our good friends came out to the farm and brought his... GUN! Yes, a real firearm, a Sigsauer P250 with interchangeable grip or whatever they call that part of the gun. Now, I have fired a BB (or beebee, not sure how I should spell this) gun since childhood and am a relatively decent shot. I can take down a pop can with the best of 'em. In fact, it's really funny of late, since the boys and I have been shooting the BB gun and Evan fills the cans with water before he sets up the pyramid. That way, when we hit a can, water flows from the side and it becomes really obvious where the shot landed. But I digress. What I was trying to say was that I have never shot a real firearm before in my life.

So my friend set up his target, went through all the safety, and we began to shoot. We included the friend, myself, Evan, and later Tara. So yes, if my 7-year-old tells you that he's shot a real gun, he's not lying. He really has, probably 10 or so shots. I think about three of those he actually put into the target. Again, not bad for a little guy shooting a 9mm firearm.

I was surprised by the strength of the kickback from such a small weapon. I was also surprised by the amount of dirt that Tara kicked up from her first few shots. Of course, she was closing her eyes when she pulled the trigger...

Our friend also brought a tea kettle with him, and we filled that with holes as appropriate. The bullet flies so fast that it enters one side of the kettle, exits the other, and leaves the kettle still sitting on top of the stump. Amazing.

Business has slowed down considerably, which is not a big deal to me. I am just happy to have more time to spend with my family.

I would like to share a brief anecdote about each of the boys in context. The whole family was at Shopko Optical this afternoon to help Tara pick out her new glasses. I think she was dreading this, but it actually turned out to be not-to-crazy. However, they advised her that there would be a good sale about three weeks from now, so she decided to wait and order them during the sale.

As we finished our Adventures in Eyewear, Evan and I headed out front to choose some annuals because Shopko has several types of annuals available for TWELVE CENTS A PACK. Yes, sports fans, you read correctly. We loaded a cart full of fairly healthy but undernourished begonias, vincas, and impatiens for a total cost of $4.37. Now, we do not actually need 125 annuals, but remember, Evan has been dealing at farmer's market in [insert local small town here] and this looked like a great opportunity for mark-up. So all three of the boys and I spent about an hour this evening repotting the annuals into bigger containers which will give them room to grown and look healthy by Tuesday. Evan and I are thinking three for a dollar.

Aidan asked to have three pieces of candy from his 4th of July stash instead of cake after supper. I agreed to this and Aidan went into the phone booth to choose his three pieces of candy. Since it took him some time to do this, Evan suggested that perhaps Tater was actually consuming more candy while in the phone booth. Evan wanted to launch a full-scale investigation, but I found this unnecessary and taught Evan that unless we have a reason to mistrust someone, it's our job to take them at their word. Love your neighbor and all that. Aidan also took me to see one of our apple trees which fell over in the windstorm this afternoon.

Toby worked very hard at the flower effort as well. He poked the hole in the bottom of the cups before Evan and I installed the extra dirt and additional flowers. As usual, Toby started crying when it was time for bed because he wants to stay up and his little spirit gets overwhelmed with sorrow at the thought of being in bed while Daddy is still working on stuff. Toby would work with Daddy 24-7 if you let him. He continues to prefer a tool to a toy. I continue to enjoy this.

Blessings, y'all.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bubba Breaks In

Well, internets, it's good to be back. Our CPU was in the shop last week, so I missed out on a lot of blogging.

At the end of my freshman year in college, I met a classmate named Everett. I think it happened after Wednesday Nite Bible Study down at Bill's Pizza in Northfield, though I can't be sure because that part of my life is a 15-year-old blur. Over the next three years we became very close friends and in fact roomed together our junior year. Everett, known as "Bubba" to close friends and family, is from Kentucky, has half my anxiety, twice my intelligence, and twice my bulk. As Pastor Gary once said, "You meet the guy, and you think, 'yeah, he'll grow up to be a truck driver.' But the guy's smart, he's really smart."

Anyway, we have stayed close throughout the years though neither one of us has any ability to initiate communication and though he is cataloguing librarian at Trinity International University, not exactly in my back yard, er, pasture.

So it should not have been a surprise when he burst through the door at 11:20 p.m. on July the third. But it was. Oh, it was.

Unbeknowns to me, my wife had planned a small birthday celebration on the 4th. I was already planning to host my dad and a few relatives on his side, but Tara decided that my birthday present should be much larger than that. So she got me an Everett for my birthday, as well as Phil and Nancy from this area. On the night of the third, Tara and I were chatting in the living room (she had just come home from Applebees). I was just thinking about locking the house and getting to bed when the back door opened and then slammed shut. This was quite distressing to me since we live several miles from anywhere and doors do not open by themselves very often.

"Hello?" I said in a firm voice. There was no answer, just footsteps.

"Who's there?" I asked in a less firm and more anxious voice. I was frozen in my ugly green recliner, knowing that I was about to be murdered here with my family and thankful that I know Jesus has paid for my sins and granted me eternal life with him.

"Hey, Jim!" said a familiar voice from the inky darkness. It was my very old, very dear friend Bubba. He hadn't realized what a fright his coming would create in me. If he would have, he might have worked harder at it...

I had a wonderful birthday, thanks for asking. I turned 35 years old and no longer claim to be young by any stretch of anyone's imagination. The maturity is not a bad thing; the realizing that you are twice the age of your high school students is.

While Everett was here, and playing with the boys, Evan turned to me and commented, " I don't think you're going to like this, Dad, but with Everett here it's like having two dads." Yeah, he was right. I didn't particularly like it, but I could see his point. I relate through work, projects, listening, theology, and more work. I am most at peace when I'm working. Everett is more laid-back and recreates well.

After I got home from work tonight, Toby and I spent a little time in the barn. He wanted to learn how to saw, so I taught him. With a real saw. It took him some time, but while I finished touching up the paint on the side of the barn, he sawed something like a real 1x4 in two. By himself. Wow, was he proud! The rest of us were pretty amazed, but you couldn't argue with the results or the cut. It was just about straight.

We still have no action on moving. I wait patiently for the ol' thumbs up or thumbs down, but neither seems to be happening. Mercy.

Evan goes to the farmer's market tomorrow to try his hand at selling produce. We have maples tree seedlings for $3 each and hostas for $2. He will probably add some reasons tomorrow for his nickname "Little Tycoon".