Oct 2014: Prosthetic Tribal Nuttiness

I know a mouse with a wooden leg…name unknown.

I know, because, in personal combat in the dark of the basement, I wrested him out of his hidey-hole, bested him, and dispatched him forthwith. I had a hatchet handy for the purpose. I have since dispatched two others with slower reflexes, so I didn’t need my hatchet. My low-tech traps did the work. I have had great success with the simple, low-tech mouse traps. The ultra-new plastic ones never seem to catch anything. Maybe we just have country mice. Ya think?

One mouse died of a gun-shot wound after my son dispatched him with his BB rifle. Our useless cat sat in our basement, ignoring the mouse, also sitting in the middle of our basement, who was looking at us, obviously puzzled as to why we didn’t think he should be there. He wouldn’t listen to reason, so we used force. He was months behind on his rent, and never cleaned up after himself.

My children are using pillow cases as head-dresses, and can’t make up their minds about which American Indian tribe they want to be chiefs of. They are pronouncing tribes I’m not familiar with…and seem to be pronouncing them correctly, even my 5-yr old. I wasn’t this educated when I was a kid.

Of course, these are the same boys who took their gardening toys, dug up some weeds, and transplanted them to new places in our yard. I’m really proud of them…I think. I also think they should have more of a role in the real gardening we will be doing in the spring. Child Labor is a wonderful thing, for them and their parents.

These same boys also spent hours today cutting through brush and saplings to make a trail through the woods behind our house. This gives me more ideas about projects for spring. They aren’t strong enough to use axes, so they used machetes to chop down a tree as thick as my leg. Wow. I wasn’t this good with tools when I was a kid.

And my lovely daughter rearranged the kitchen to make a dance-floor so we could all boogey to Jars of Clay’s “Flood”, a family favorite, after evening chores. We jammed, danced, played air guitar and air drums, and one of my sons played a book. A really big, loud, hard-backed book. I wasn’t this confident or creative or…something… when I was a kid.

I can’t wait to see what their kids will do. I can’t wait to tell my wife and my parents, and see the expressions on their faces. I wish I could see your faces, too.

I wish you could have seen my face when I blundered around the corner of our deck into a view of 5, count ‘em, five deer in our backyard. I wasn’t expecting them, so I made noise as I came to a stunned halt, and that scared them off before I could get the rest of the family out to see them. But several of them have seen other groups of deer near our house at other times without me, so I guess it was my turn to be blessed by the God of Beauty and Wonder.

Our ducks and chickens are setting records again for eggs laid in consecutive days. I think our two-day record is 23. We send eggs to family, to friends, to church, and our neighbors from time to time. Our neighbors just love our eggs; they’re such happy, enthusiastic people, and seem to enjoy life so much, now that they have each other. We are thankful for such nice neighbors…and their chainsaws.

See, we need good, working chainsaws because we have so many trees. The scary halloween ride down the road may use chainsaws for emotional effect, but we use them for real. Blades are serious business in our neighborhood. You never know when your mailbox might need rescuing. Ours did recently.

A bradford pear tree lost several limbs on top of the neighborhood mailbox row, squishing and knocking off several boxes. By the time I got there, a chainsaw was already in use, and the rest of us began hauling the pieces to our burn pile because it was the closest one. Yessir, nothing like chainsaws, floral destruction, and fire to bring neighbors together. Yeah, don’t bother with the scary halloween stuff; we live in the country. We ARE the scary people with chainsaws!

You want to impress us at halloween? Come as a broken air-conditioner, or a flooded basement, or higher property taxes, and then we’ll shake a little. Maybe. If you can get past the mice.

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August, 2014: No Way! Way.

It finally happened.

No, we didn’t have a volcano in Oklahoma. We seem to have nearly every other kind of natural disaster here, but not those; at least, not yet.

No, all the teachers haven’t walked out and demanded a living wage, the removal of the state dept. of Ed, and the elimination of state testing and special ed regs…but what if they did?

No, we didn’t have a flood in July nor frost in early September…although we tried really, really hard.

We saw a deer…in our yard! One morning, a doe (I think) went bounding into the woods at the border of the clearing behind our house. We’ve been waiting three years (since moving in) for such a sighting. Of course, now we hope for even more such sightings. We just enjoy watching animals in their natural habitat, especially in the peace of the early morning. The quiet and stillness are part of the joy.

Something else I never thought I’d see: we live-trapped my In-laws’ cat…I thought. I was going for a ‘coon that was sneaking into my In-laws’ garage to eat their cat’s food, but their cat got into my trap first. I guess I shouldn’t have baited it with cat food. Sheesh. So I let the cat out and rebaited it; we’ll see if the cat goes back. (snort) I imagine the ‘coons and opossums slapping their knees in the hollow of some tree as they laugh at the cat. I would be, if I were a fuzzy, cuddly woodland creature. And it turns out it wasn’t even my In-laws’ cat, just a look-alike from the neighborhood.

All those Disney films that show the beautiful heroine singing to these creatures, petting them, and then getting into trouble that the woodland creatures help her out of…They ought to make a cartoon about the beautiful milkmaid daughter of a woodsman who makes his living from the woods, and has to defend his helpless, stupid animals from the onslaught of clever, ferocious fuzzy woodland creatures. I would watch that; I would cheer for every pelt, too.

And I cut my hand on an egg.

Okay, it wasn’t cooked, and it wasn’t even the egg part, per se. It was part of an egg shell that was supposed to be crushed and left on the ground for our fowl to eat and strengthen their eggs, but somehow it got left on a log in the yard. And I saw it. And I was feeling swaggery…so I punched it, Bruce Lee style. It hurt, but I was gonna rub it off until I saw…OH NO! I’M BLEEDING! THE EGG VICIOUSLY ATTACKED ME! I bet none of you have an egg wound to brag about, do you? Didn’t think so. All part of being in the country and being man enough to face down…the remains of…a fragile, hollow…never mind.

And I went to a teachers’ conference, the Advanced Placement (class) Institute at Tulsa University…and I liked it! I laughed and had more fun than I’ve had at any teacher training, workshop, conference, or seminar ever. We didn’t learn ABOUT science; we DID science. I think it may have changed the way I see science teaching, and I’m glad. I wonder how I’ll get to use it…

…since I’m currently employed by TCC as an adjunct instructor in Algebra. I’m still in the running for several other adjunct positions in the area, and I hope at least one of them fits my other job schedules. For the first time in 14 years, I’m not coaching this fall, this winter, or this spring. Ha! I’m kind of enjoying it, too. I still rant when I watch professional sports, but not with stories about my current set of players. It’s a more relaxed rant…I think.

Our church, Tulsa Christian Fellowship, has a Parenting Class on Sunday afternoons, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to discuss parenting in a structured, focused way with other parents in various stages of their children’s growth. It’s nice to know you’re not alone and that there are effective ideas within your grasp. Shazam! God wants us to learn! We can learn! Yeah! Go learning! Let’s grow! One, two, threeeee…GROW! (massive cheering)

Okay, maybe I haven’t let go of coaching completely. Perhaps I should use my motivational talents on the raccoon who got himself into our deck trunk to eat the cat’s food right out of the bag. We heard thumping, and saw him run away once, but the next time, I looked in the trunk, and there was the ‘coon, looking all sheepish. I quickly sat on the lid, but in further discussions with my wife, we couldn’t figure out a way to dispatch the animal without destroying the trunk. We let him out and put a concrete block on top to discourage him. I hope he enjoyed the food; the cat doesn’t seem to.

So if you see a really fat, slow, satisfied raccoon crossing the road, you have my permission to shake your fist at him and harangue him relentlessly for his gross gluttony. Tell him he’s an embarrassment to the trunk designer…or possibly the homeowner. Tell him the next natural disaster will be exploding woodland creatures. Hey, it’s Oklahoma. It might happen.

 

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July 2014: Moltin’ waffles

I must do that again.

The best, most delicious waffles I ever had were consumed this morning at breakfast. What made them so good? Two things: first, I made them with one part butter and two parts coconut oil, which made them crisp a little better when I arranged them in the oven. The other key ingredient was the topping – buttermilk syrup, made by my daughter, Em, which is just hard to beat, especially on a fresh, crispy waffle all hot and fluffy on the inside when you’re hungry…which all of you are, now, aren’t you? Yes, it’s my fault; no, I’m not sorry. Come for a visit and we’ll make waffles.

It’s that time of year again: the humidity is almost as distracting as the cicadas’ chorus, the grass is trying to break the growth record of bamboo shoots, and bug spray and sunscreen sales go up and up. Which means that our ducks aren’t laying eggs as usual; they’re putting all the protein they can find into new feathers for the summer and fall. We wade through a carpet of multi-colored feathers daily as we go to feed them, herd them, water them, and look for the one egg they may have laid. Thankfully, our chickens take no such break. They seem bent on laying one egg each, come rain or shine, coons or opossums, whether we take the eggs or not. So…we take them, eat them, and give them away to friends when we have more than we need. Which is most of the year, except during molting season, which is now. (sigh) It means I get to enjoy eggs less frequently, but it doesn’t bother our kids. They seem to relish a break from the routine of eggs for breakfast every day, and enjoy eating something else. We’ve eaten eggs every way imaginable: fried, over easy, hard-boiled, poached, egg salad, deviled eggs, quiches, parboiled egg fries, and eggshell meringue pie salad on toast. Ever tried egg smoothies?

My wife actually found a way to enjoy drinking eggs – in our coffee. Yep,  you read that right. Egg-and-butter coffee is our new favorite morning treat. We blend the eggs and butter with sugar and salt, and then blend in the coffee with an immersion blender, and voila!, which is french for “Look! A viola!” I don’t know the french phrase for “Wow! What good coffee!”

I also don’t know the french phrase for “Dadgum raccoons! Stay off my deck!”, but I bet it’s very entertaining to hear. I wonder if the french raccoons wash their food twice and check the label. The french ‘coons can’t be as dumb as our local ones. Last week, I caught one in a live trap after it kept invading our deck, eating our cat’s food, and leaving round piles of smelly excrement to show its gratitude. This week, I caught another one doing the same thing. They die in our pond and are buried in our clay soil, so maybe the other coons aren’t getting the message. Perhaps, if I eliminate enough of them, the local woodland creatures union will send a negotiator…

Of course, I’d prefer that no one came to represent the varmints. Bunch of freeloaders! I caught one in our chicken’s barn, aka the “Quack Shack”, last night, eating the feed from their feeder. Didn’t bother the birds, thankfully, and didn’t go for the eggs, also thankfully, but can’t go out and get his own food from woods that are full of other critters that need to be eaten. Sheesh. And I had to kill some mole-crickets in our basement. By that time, I really felt like it. I don’t go tearing into their houses to spread disease and disorder. Maybe I should send a negotiator…

Speaking of negotiating, it’s that other time of year again, time for all education field employees to…scramble desperately for full-time employment, make a mad dash for their resumes, and take a good look at the list of benefits in other fields, only to realize that ten weeks vacation every summer isn’t on the list. School administrators, however, have other headaches. Their problems involve rearranging the list of candidates and list of open positions about every other minute because of all the employees suddenly leaving for other positions, suddenly retiring, suddenly starring in movies, etc. This causes a chain-reaction in every school where other teachers are looking for work. When one person leaves, someone comes in from somewhere else, which then goes through the cycle, and gets someone from somewhere else, and then that school…you get the picture. And all the other administrators are trying to make sure the budget won’t break, the school won’t fall down, and the parents won’t move away.

Somehow, it all gets sorted out, the madness settles, August passes, and equilibrium comes once again to school districts everywhere. In many cases, this event is nothing short of miraculous.

Miraculous is also the description of what happens every summer in Vacation Bible School at Tulsa Christian Fellowship. It’s my seventh year to be involved, and I never cease to be amazed at all that God does through us in the lives of the neighborhood children…and in our lives, too: hearts soften, attitudes change, whole families come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we all find each other to be on the same side, no matter how many changes we have to make. The snacks are usually my wife’s charge, and they’re pretty creative, although they have never done waffles or egg-and-butter coffee…yet. Can you imagine 75 elementary kids sucking down egg-and-butter coffee in the morning, and then going to various highly decorated classrooms to learn about Jesus’ love? Yeah, maybe not the best plan. I’m not sure the teachers would be able to talk fast enough to keep the attention of those kids. Remember the MicroMachine Man?

Caught sight of a mouse leaving our basement last night. Why can’t they just call ahead? I’d have a nice, comfy trap all ready for them. They could sleep as long as they wanted…and so could I. Tune in next time for more adventures in the varmint hotel under seige with great food…known as Thorpeshire, the A-frame in a flood plain. See you then.

 

 

 

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June 2014: Rain and duck blood

So how do you spend time indoors when it’s too rainy to go out?

A) “It’s never too rainy to go out! Let’s find some puddles!”

B) “Now I can finish my stack of books and all those leftover hot chocolate packets from the winter.”

C) Puzzles, video games, and elaborate forts made of fragile furniture

D) “Zzzzzzzzzzz…”

E) “After my filing and emailing are caught up, I’ll make sure the trash is taken out, everything electronic is fully charged, and the menu is planned for 10 days out. If that’s too easy, I can clean my garage and plan future remodeling projects. Then I’ll install a new door and go dig out those pesky stumps where I want to mow.”

Ha, ha, you crazy overachiever, why don’t you take a load off and enjoy…something frivolous? No, frivolous isn’t necessarily sinful. Yes, all the projects can wait.

As I read this message I’m typing to myself, part of me is squealing “But this is the perfect day to dig stumps!” Part of me looks longingly at the soft pillows on the sofa; and I remember fondly the forts I used to make when I was the age my boys are now. And I missed coffee this morning…so I could exercise. I’m really feeling like an overachiever today. But I promise I won’t alphabetize my soups. Maybe I can pay one of my children to do that if I really want it done, but they have chores and schoolwork to finish first. Gah! I’m doing it again!

Of course, the overachiever remembers the lesson of the ant and the grasshopper (see “A Bug’s Life” from Pixar). If you have time, use it purposefully, and you’ll have free time later, your responsibilities will leave you alone, and your dreams will be closer; waste time now, and your responsibilities will catch up with you, and your dreams will seem out of reach, still. You can tell which side of the argument I tend to fall on.

Hey, guess what? Do you know what will strip latex paint right off of concrete steps? Duck blood.

(snort) How do I know this? I bet you can guess, unless this is your first time to read my blog. I had stored some duck guts in our deep freeze from when we cleaned (killed and plucked and ate) two of them. (Don’t tell the duck lady we got them from: they’re pets to her.) While digging through the freezer for something else, we took them out last night, and I fully intended to throw them out…(sigh)

Our cat returned last night after nearly two weeks of…doing…whatever male cats do…in the country…this is getting worse and worse, isn’t it? Well, he couldn’t ignore such a tasty treat as half-frozen organs from obnoxious ducks; that description just makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Mmm-mmm. But, of course, he left some in the plastic bag he didn’t eat, and the pool of liquid under them made the latex paint on the concrete step wrinkle and pull off like skin from a spy’s disguise. As an added benefit, our basement now carries the distinct odor of half-rotted duck. I know, you just can’t wait to visit, can you?

Maybe you should wait, at least until I can find another left-handed glove to clean up what’s left. I used two left-handed gloves to sop up most of the blood, but there might still be a little, somewhere, maybe…but what’s a little bird blood between friends, right? The reason for left-handed gloves? Well, when I use gloves, I tend to use my right hand because I’m right-handed, and so they just get worn out faster, and because they are cheap and get holes in all the fingers, I throw them away when they get like this, thus leaving a supply of left-handed gloves with miles still left on them. I know something you don’t know – I am not left-handed!

And I have cloth handy for soaking up the entrails of random livestock…’cause that happens around here. Yes, the Halloween ride Psychopath is just down the street; if they only knew. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

 

 

 

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May 2014: Mud harvesters eat dirt cheap

If you’re gonna play in Texas, ya gotta have a fiddle in the band.

If you’re gonna play in our neck of the woods, you better like woodland creatures and mud. ‘Cause we’ve got lots of both.

Take our neighbors, for example. They own two large, black dogs, who pretend to be the local terrors…from inside their fence. They howl along with the musical siren of the Sherriff’s department vehicles that sometimes cruise our two-lane tunnel through the woods at upwards of 80mph. Our neighbors also have turkeys, who came over recently to visit and sample our weeds. They were easily led home by the sound of their food canister, and I was amazed at how similar they looked to those gangs of undersized, menacing meat-eating dinosaurs you see in the movies. Maybe I should watch different movies.

We had our own food-as-bait story going on for a week or two. A raccoon kept eating our cat’s food from our second story deck. Oh, sure, he ran for the woods if I came out, and of course our cat laid there, watching it all. He catches a bird or mouse once a year, and spends all the rest of his time sleeping, eating, and rubbing his hairy self against us unexpectedly. I knew I couldn’t depend on him to discourage the free-loading coon, who decided to hang out after eating the cheap, crunchy cat food, and left multiple piles of poop on an otherwise excrement-free deck. So he had to go.

I baited my trap with cat food…and the next morning, I found that the coon had dug under the edge of the metal cage like a medieval army to collapse the wall, and had made off with all the cat food. So I reenforced my cage trap, and next morning, I had it caught. Now for the execution…hm. Bullets are expensive, so we hooked up a chain, dragged the varmint to our pond, and threw it in to drown it. I felt pretty swaggery as I hauled up the chain that Sunday morning…until I looked down at my church clothes covered in mud from the chain. Dang.

I would have buried the thing, but rain interrupted. No, not right then for a few minutes. Rain came on Sunday night, and stayed through Wednesday morning, then came back on Friday and Saturday afternoon. Apparently, monsoon season is an Oklahoma phenomenon, too, even while the sun is shining. You can’t help having mud under these conditions. Since I have young children, I also had muddy children under these conditions. Tell me if you’ve had this conversation:

“Daddy, can we go outside to play?”

“No, it’s wet and you’ll get muddy.” Blank looks from children, as if to say, ‘Yeah, Dad, that was kinda the idea.’

(Sigh) “Okay, you can go out, but not in your good clothes, and only on the deck, and don’t push each other, and for heaven’s sake don’t even think about getting in any holes, or I’ll spank you and plant you there and harvest your earlobes!” More blank looks.

“Okay, Dad.” Within minutes, all children are totally covered in what used to be harmless yard dirt, but when combined with water, it becomes Mutant Muck and begins to emit an odor that will keep all civilized creatures at bay for hours. It will now permanently darken the shade of their clothes, hair, and skin. But they stay out in it for hours, losing all their clothes in the process, so I don’t find this out until I mow the yard later and shred them all, which is just as well since I can’t clean them anyway.

But the fun part is cleaning the naked, black clay-encrusted creatures that come to the door when their hunger becomes too great to ignore. If I can catch them before they get in the door, I can do the cleaning there instead of the bathroom, where they go to wash up if they can sneak in unnoticed. Either way, the floor will need sweeping and mopping afterwards, and there will be no clean or dry pieces of cloth in the house for the rest of the day. And there will be several extra loads of laundry waiting in the bathroom, the bedroom, and by the door for the cleaning fairies, who have fainted or called their union reps when they see the work awaiting them.

No, I don’t have any fairy traps. No, I wouldn’t drown them if I caught one. I would enslave it, of course.

I’m finally getting a screen door installed for Mothers’ Day. No, for this year’s Mothers’ Day. After gluing all the joints for added stability, I was about to paint it when I noticed mold growing where the rain had sogged it. So I set it out in the sun for a day, and as soon as I began to paint, it rained again. I just had time to get it indoors with my son’s help. I feel I should cover it with plastic wrap or a tarp before I install it, but I haven’t found a color that goes with our house. Sheesh.

This afternoon, I trimmed it some more, painted some more, fitted some more, trimmed some more, paintedsomemoreandfittedsomemore…(gasp) I’ll have to mount the hardware later. There’s an epidemic of mud. But at least the door is painted mud brown.

Frankenstein’s Mower has begun reproducing: I now have Frankenstein’s Mower and the Son of Frankenstein’s Mower. Both my riding mower and push mower are out of commission, despite new air filters, fuel stabilizer, fresh oil, good spark plugs, and the finest 3-year neglect I could give. I rigged an adjustable choke/throttle for my push mower, but I can’t reach it fast enough after pull-starting the mower. Imagine a child reaching into the ocean as the waves recede, only to jump back, startled and desperate, as the waves come crashing in, and then diving desperately forward again to grasp at the waves that never stay close enough to actually grab. This is me trying to start my push mower.

Imagine a hospice for appliances, where you start them up and just wait for them to die inexplicably only seconds after roaring to life like they will recover. This is me on my riding mower. (Sigh) I am enlisting help today. I sure hope it works. My yard is tall enough to hide small animals or camouflaged muddy children in.

My father-in-law came to my rescue again, and took me deeper into the intricate world of combustion engine mechanics. He’s a genius. I discovered I will need a new ignition coil for my push mower, but everything else is fine. I even got to use Frankenstein on my yard before it rained again today. It felt so good to see the lawn trimmed…I realized my feelings had become dependent on the reliability of my mower – not the smartest arrangement, so I will be learning how to let go of a perfect lawn and be okay anyway. My Mom always said I was entitled to have any complexes I wanted, so I guess this is mine. Currently. God has a way of using life to reveal our weaknesses, and using our weaknesses to reveal His strength. Isn’t He so good?

The increased water reminded me of the status of our house’s flood insurance. We have a strange house, especially for an insurance form to comprehend. We live in two of our three stories, but it’s not a two story dwelling. We have a basement, but it’s not underground…at all. We want to finish out part of the basement to make it like part of a house, but only part of the basement. Every time we try to give the insurance company this information, they keep finding another form for us to fill out. Dear Insurance Company Form: I don’t think you will ever understand our kind of house. Please give up and just insure us at a lower price. Then come play in the mud. We have plenty.

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Mommy, why?

My Mom almost never left me wondering.

Yes, I was baffled by her tears from time to time, puzzled by her scheduling, and periodically frustrated by the “How’s your love life?” inquiry, but that’s par for the course. All children have imperfect Moms who love their imperfect children. But what set my Mom apart was her passion for understanding. She studied; she watched; she asked; she went exploring; she nosed around; she didn’t quit until she found some principle or connection for the problem or issue in her life. As a child, I knew that if Mom didn’t know, she could probably find out, and if she didn’t need to know, I didn’t either.

Mom was curious, and had seen enough of life not to believe all she heard or take everything at face value. She always wanted to see past the surface, to find the hidden things that most people wouldn’t expect to find or wouldn’t take the trouble to find. She was an intrepid explorer and adventurer of the human heart and mind, and she has inspired me to be one, too.

She was the one who helped me to understand that not everyone was confident enough to handle my blunt honesty. Thanks to her, I am far more compassionate and gentle with my words than my natural bent would make me. She was the one who helped me understand the motives of others that were foreign to me, the invisible motives that drove visible behavior. She trained me to notice and connect needs to actions and words, and this understanding has served me well many times in my life.

Mom seemed to sense that I needed to make sense of life, and she always had a direction for my mental energy and questions. I’m sure there were times she wondered why I wanted to know, or what business was it of mine, or why I couldn’t just let it go. But while she didn’t squelch my passion for understanding, she also didn’t let it get out of control. She knew there were limits, both natural and necessary, and she helped me accept them gently as I grew. To this day, the conversations I have in my head as I sort through life are guided by her words from years ago.

Her help has been especially valuable to me in my socially oriented field of education. I have learned from her not only how to communicate, but also when to communicate, and why. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about everything, and I have my Mother to thank for understanding discretion and the refusal to divulge what would only cause more distress.

Mom also helped me process grief, anger, fear, and despair. I tend to stew on things, and sometimes wallow in feelings for days, but she modeled for me the Biblical and Godly path of forgiveness toward the injustices of this world, and I saw her find freedom on that path, so I followed. I found freedom, too. She had many opportunities to show me the value of forgiveness: trouble with relatives, trouble with friends, trouble with church, trouble with Dad’s job, and even trouble with some of us in the house. I learned patience and kindness from watching her work through her feelings in prayer as she tried to follow God’s word. I gained confidence in the God who answered her prayers, and who had earned her trust even when He didn’t answer prayers right away, or the way she wanted.

From Mom, I also learned to make my imagination help me with my feelings by choosing to be resourceful. Too often, I have let my imagination be the servant of negative feelings, and that leads to more negative feelings, but she showed me I could take control and imagine good things coming from my situation instead of bad ones. Now I teach my children this same valuable lesson. We are never victims of circumstances, or others, or feelings unless we choose to be so.

My Mom has distinguished herself in another way; she was always humble enough and even grateful to learn from her children. She always seemed fascinated with anything we wanted to tell her, and even more so as we got older. As we grew in maturity and understanding, and shared what we learned, she learned and grew right along with us. And we all learned a lot from Dad. Mom was always asking questions…and Dad usually had a very thoroughly researched answer. Sometime he knew so much that he had questions for us in order to make his point. Mom showed us that we could learn from each other, that familiarity, and living in close quarters for years at a time, didn’t have to breed contempt. I’m very grateful for that; it’s how we raise our children now.

And when Mom didn’t know, she was never afraid to ask. She would ask God where the missing shoe, or keys, or money was. She would ask her children about who they liked at school. She would ask her husband why Christians believed in this doctrine and not that one, and where the idea came from. She would ask coaches to let her sons get a drink after running for 30 minutes while the coaches chatted…okay, she yelled about that one, but the point is, she saw nothing shameful about not knowing and nothing virtuous in remaining ignorant. She believed that you had not because you asked not, that God would help you find if you looked, receive if you asked, and get in if you only knocked loudly and long enough. Time and again, she proved to be right. And I’ve never forgotten. Now I teach my children the same thing. I’ve added my own corollary to her cherished principle for lost things: if you’ve looked everywhere something should be, you have to start looking where it shouldn’t be. They taught logic in my school.

And then, of course, Mom showed me how to understand the mystery of marriage. Some parts are always mysterious; I learned that real quick. But I also learned that it gets better with time if you both keep working at it; that it’s never quite perfect, but it can get pretty close sometimes; and that it’s foolish to build a relationship on feelings alone. They don’t last, good or bad, and you need to have something solid to fall back on when things are hard. She reminded me that you and your spouse must be in agreement about the most important things, but should complement each other’s personality and sensitivities. The weakness of one should be the strength of the other, and you need support around you to remind you of these things.

Mom was never timid about sharing truth…with anyone. She prayed with the Mormons who came to our door; she prayed with friends at their dining room table; she prayed with us in the backyard. As kids, we knew the state of our parents’ finances, the names of people at Dad’s work that made his life difficult, the family beliefs that should not be loudly and publicly shared with certain relatives, and the reasons why we weren’t allowed to watch this program or stay up later than our parents. You wanted to know? She’d tell you. And I learned so much when she did.

I’m sure I was more nosy and less oblivious than I should have been, but I had a sense, I think, that I would need to know these things. I think my Mom knew I needed to know them, too. Thanks, Mom, for telling me why. God blessed me with you…and that’s reason enough.

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Crazy daze

Amphibious Landing Craft shape?

Maybe. I’m just crazy enough to go for it.

See, I’m already crazy enough to have another child. Yes, the world is a dangerous place; it won’t get safer if people have smaller families out of fear. Yes, children are expensive; they also contribute much to the family, if they are properly trained, motivated, and appreciated. Yes, it’s more work to take care of another child; it’s also more love, and everyone could use a stronger dose of the messy, painful, beautiful, mysterious thing called love.

I’m also crazy enough to live where it floods often (though it hasn’t since we moved in), where wild animals roam, and where the roads sometimes consider pavement optional. Ah, country life…You should see the stars…or listen to the frogs, horses, cows, and owls at night…or smell the woods after the rain. And the neighbor’s barbecue smells pretty good, too. :)

I’m also crazy enough to catch, kill, and pluck my own ducks. They taste pretty good, especially in soup, but I recommend skinning over plucking. All those feathers get kind of tedious. We keep ducks for the eggs; I’m crazy enough to eat those things birds lay on the ground. We use them for cooking and give them away as gifts (the eggs, not the birds). And since the two youngest, newest males to the flock were harassing our females and eating too much, we found a better use for them. I even got to teach my sons some anatomy in the process. Yup; that was a good day.

More crazy? Sure. How about…mowing the yard before the last snow of the year? Did that last week. That was wild; giant, white flakes for 15 minutes on April 14th. I thought I had seen it all.

How about doing my own serious plumbing while my family was at home? Yeah, I have to admit, I’m crazy enough to do that, too. Looking back, I should have called my plumber friend first to get the tips I learned from watching him fix my mistakes in half the time it took me to make them. But I did most of it right. And now I know how to fix my mistakes much faster. My wife has so much courage…and patience. I guess she’s crazy, too.

I’m also a school teacher, which some think is crazy already, but it really tests you in the springtime. Everyone gets a taste of nice weather, and no one wants to be inside anymore, and then standardized testing fries your brain…your sense of humor comes in handy, and it helps to remember that school is almost over.

Oh, and we home-educate our children. Yup, crazy in most places, I guess, but it’s actually much less stressful here in Oklahoma than almost anywhere else. Even so, most people can’t imagine finding the time, giving up the career or the income, or putting up with their child’s attitude for hours at a time. These are legitimate challenges, certainly, but not impossible to overcome. You just have to be crazy enough to step out of your comfort zone, and get creative. And be willing to accept the incredulity of others without being defensive. It gets easier with time.

We don’t own any video games. Our kids don’t watch programs on our one television with no cable, and don’t have cell phones. Our kids don’t do any highly-regulated youth activities. Our kids eat vegetables every meal…and they like some of them. They don’t get to keep all the candy they get, and they write ‘thank you’ notes to their relatives when they receive gifts. We believe children are a blessing, and we insist that they be that way to others. I know, totally nuts, right? Guess what? We aren’t the only ones.

Go back to your Grandparents, and ask them about how they were raised, and you’ll find the normal family was much like what we try to be – simple, unhurried, unplugged, and home together most of the time. Granted, the culture was less frantic, but the families at home were the reason why. Families are the primary influence on society, including the Church. We always have been. Which means we can cause change by how we live at home…or by how we don’t. Crazy? Oh, yeah. Crazy awesome!

Think about it: the book you read to your child prevents a TV show from telling her she needs to look like a starved refugee to get attention. The work you and your children do in the yard keeps them from following the neighborhood punk into a life of crime. The places you take your children fill them with dreams for their own families instead of isolation and a search for entertainment. Think about it. What an opportunity!

And this isn’t just about your kids becoming honorable citizens or people of character. This is about you slowing down, having deep thoughts of your own, passing on what you have learned, and learning some more as you listen to your children. As you replace stress with family time, exchange activities for unstructured creative time, and trade busy road-time for work at home, your health will improve, your mind will clear, your marriage will become interesting in wonderful ways, and you’ll suddenly find you have time to look ahead and look back. The time was always there; you just have to say no to some good things to make room for the best things.

Yes, it’s a sacrifice. Yes, it requires intentional focus and energetic execution, especially at first. Yes, you are going against your own nature and the popular culture. That’s why others will call you crazy, but that’s the fun, isn’t it? You have to do something really different to earn that coveted label. And then, you get to enjoy the crazy results.

See you there. Or you can watch us be crazy and wish you could have the results without the sacrifice, but we know that doesn’t work. Come join us; you can always go back to busy and normal when you want. If you want. I’m crazy enough to think you won’t.

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May, 2014: Life gets messy and 7owm9c##^!bbb;…

Ah, Spring…when a young homeowner’s fancy turns to thoughts of…destroying all the pests that try to invade his house all day long from every direction! (Panting, wheezing)

The local woodland creatures seem to find our home an immense source of amusement. I found large piles of poop on our deck recently, but they were too big for our cat. Puzzled, I finally put two and three together (and got 4!) when I scared a raccoon off the deck several nights later. Apparently, he had been eating the cat’s food. He must have been REALLY hungry to go that far. We don’t spend any more money on our cat than absolutely necessary; his food is bottom of the line. Maybe the ‘coon thought he’d rather have bad food than catch something. “I know a place where you can eat dirt cheap, but who wants to eat dirt?” Woodland creatures, that’s who.

Our cat disappeared for 4 days. When he returned, he had a tuft of fur missing from behind each ear, and a cut on one ear. He didn’t say where he’d been. I’ve told him to quit clubbing and get a new hobby, like killing mice. We have used traps to kill four of them in the last few weeks. I have even resorted to the more exotic traps: the disk with a hole in the side that rotates shut when the mice go for the bait inside; and the half-pipe, that slams shut on the mouse after it sticks to the glue paper. Really. Neither has been productive, but at least they were cheap, I keep telling myself. Like dirt.

While the cat was gone, a pair of wrens built a nest in our garage/basement, and hatched at least three young ones. They laid, hatched, and learned to fly in the time the cat was AWOL. They were all grown and gone by the time he got back. I think God was involved in the timing, and enjoyed it.

After the cat returned, the birds left, the mice were gone, and the ‘coon found other amusement, a snake decided to join our little menagerie. I found him in our garage/basement among the toy weapons, helmets, and sports equipment my sons play with almost daily. He backed up immediately when he saw me, and I spent the next twenty minutes searching the tubs, moving the stuff, and telling my sons to get on shoes and stay out until I was sure it was safe.

Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonably brave, somewhat tough guy…kinda sorta, but I had no idea what I would do to kill this snake. My only thought was to chop him with a hoe on the concrete floor, but God had other ideas. The snake had backed himself behind a massively heavy sheet of something or other, amongst some smaller pieces of the very heavy substance. Once I knew he was there, I blocked him in, lifted a smaller piece, and dropped it on him. I wiggled the gigantic shard back and forth, and severed him into three pieces. Brilliant! But not my genius; God gets all the credit for the perfect snake trap. And I am grateful.

My sons all wanted to play with the snake carcass. They poked it, stroked it, mashed it, and began to pull it apart. Then we had to go in and wash up for dinner. We didn’t eat snake, in case you were wondering. But we did get a good look at the maggots that ate the carcass the next day before breakfast. Then we threw it away.

With all the other creatures going nuts, I should have expected the ants to join in. They have commandeered one of our several laundry lines strung from trees in our front yard. Now this line connects two trees, and other lines are connected to these lines, but the ants have spoken: only the one line is worthy of their tourism. They form convoys to travel from the Big tree to the Short tree, laundry or not, and many have found themselves suddenly flung into oblivion, crushed by fingers, or furtively spirited away in a laundry basket with the clothes they were traveling over in their pilgrimage to the Short tree. Makes me wonder if they know something about that tree that I don’t…Hm. Nah.

And that’s just the animals. The plants are sending out sorties and missions to populate and conquer in every area they can find dirt. Thankfully, my riding mower and weedtrimmer are in good working order, although my pushmower is proving difficult to keep running. I have even rigged my own choke (don’t tell the manufacturer) after the hair-thin metal coil controlling it broke (Ahem! Outdoor power tools should not be dependent on anything that small!), but no dice yet.

We have asparagus and lettuce and sunflowers and peach trees coming up, a pleasant surprise beyond our wildest hopes after the chickens invaded accidentally and tore up all the raised garden beds looking for grubs. But at least they lay eggs. I even saw one nearly snatch a red wasp out of the air, but it got away. More’s the pity.

Our berry patch has spread, again surprising us, and the new plants seem to be going along with all the growth. I encourage you to go get some plants and see what you can grow. Use plenty of water and fertilizer, but stay away from raccoon poop or all your plants will smell like cat foo88sp-’]#^%

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January, 2014: getting jiggly with ice

Imagine Johnny Carson, doing his monologue on the Tonight show: “It was so cold…it was so cold…”

“How cold was it?” shouts someone.

“It was so cold that my hamstrings jiggled when I scraped the ice off my car because I was in a hurry to get in out of the cold.”

Okay, it doesn’t work as well as Carson’s original material, but that was me last week, jiggling in the light of the sunrise, scraping my car windows as if I was about to strike gold. And the frost on my car has mutated. It’s a strain that has developed immunity to ordinary methods of removal. Lemme ‘splain.

There’s the thin layer you can melt with your breath; the scattered, dirty, pretty bits you debate about scraping because you can kind of see through them; the thick layer that gets your blood pumping when you scrape and is so satisfying to cut through; and the super tough, super thick kind that you can’t chip off with a screwdriver. I’ve tried. This one requires thirty minutes of running the engine…and then a screwdriver works.

But this new kind is worse than the others. It taunts you.

See, it looks like the thin layer that comes off in pretty curly bits. One scrape, and then you think it’s the thick kind that comes off with extra effort. And some of it does; but underneath it is a layer that defies scraping. I think it has been cross-bred with moss, slug slime, and superglue, because it resisted my every attempt to scrape it up. I finally got desperate, and began to use the corner of my scraper. It worked, but was more headache than relief. It scraped off pencil-thin streaks, and I scraped all over in my haste to avoid hypothermia, so I had a few pencil lines in my window to use in my drive to work. My drive involves avoiding oncoming traffic on a two lane country road with potholes and no shoulder, so visibility is key to maintaining your car’s integrity. I had more work to do.

I tried to scrape right next to a pencil streak, but ended up scraping the same streak. This makes it take a LOT LONGER. And being frantic because of the cold didn’t help. Since I couldn’t scrape a clear area, I did the next thing panicked, half-frozen drivers do: I scraped a cross-hatched pattern – vertical pencil streaks crossing horizontal ones. Brillant! Not. Now, I had a confusing web of streaks to try to see through as I dodged potholes and semis. I gave up, and went inside while my car warmed up. I was late, but I lived to tell the tale. And I plan to buy a new scraper, maybe a battery powered one with the word “industrial” in the name.

 

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December 2013 – January 2014: Seriously? No.

I’m starting out serious because Christmas started serious for me this year. I have never seen Christmas quite this way before. So much was in need of rescue; Jesus came to save us, and I needed to see Him that way this year. 2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.”

We think compromise is reasonable. We think some loss is acceptable; we don’t expect 100% efficiency or faithfulness from people because we don’t want to be held to such a standard ourselves. And then a child speaks…and our cynicism defends itself. God is not stopped by the limits of people, even the “others” we have to interact with in our dogged pursuit of His will for us. Failure does not fit in His vocabulary regarding our future. That’s wonderful news! Or is it? Do we want victory, or just survival? Do we want our little dream because it’s comfortable, or do we want God’s dream because it’s uncomfortable? (sigh) Death to self. Not just sickness, or weakness, or silent passive-aggression, but death – final, complete, irreversible, no-refund, total commitment to God’s will, no matter the cost. Most of us go for what’s comfortable…most, but not all.

Oh, yeah. Jesus puts the “Man” in “Em-man-uel.”

“If it ain’t broke, you’re not tryin’.” – Red Green, home handyman from Opossum Lodge, Canada. And there is some truth to this. If you never risk, you have nothing to make your story worth hearing. No wounds means you haven’t defended someone in danger. No stories means…you haven’t really lived. Go break something oppressive; go get into some trouble with the local Pharisees; go dare, that others may dare more. Be bold, that others may have confidence who follow you.

And speaking of bold…Warning: bodily function humor is about to be used. Proceed at your own risk. I have three sons…and I’m a guy…and my wife laughs at the noises we all make, so if you’re “dainty”, proper, or don’t have any kids, or smell like lilacs after eating chili, maybe this won’t click with you; but for all the dads with poop under their fingernails, and moms whose sons make farting noises on their elbows, enjoy.

My wife and I lay in bed, lazily awaking to a snowy morning under a warm blanket, and wondering what to have for breakfast. We listened for noises of play from our children on the floor below, by which we can tell how many are awake and whether we can get them started on their morning chores. Instead of laughter, or grunting, or thumping, as usual, we heard what sounded like muted tuba practice…or maybe dragging a heavy chair across a tile floor underground…or an enhanced version of what happens when you squeeze the last few drops of honey out of the bottle. Somebody got a lot denser in a hurry, because they let out some serious air. We could almost feel the bed shake. We looked at each other…and burst into giggles. We caught our breath, looked at each other…and burst into giggles again. Yes, we are parents of boys. And we are not ashamed what makes us laugh…usually.

It reminded us of the episode that happened during our camping trip to Colorado this summer. We had set up camp after a very difficult trip over very rocky ground. Our kids passed the noisy time by counting the “ka-DUNKs” our heavy van made when it encountered the uneven ground. Rain had drenched our clothes and tent, and even though I finally got a fire started, and managed to keep it going in the rain, and even cooked hot dogs for supper (although our youngest ate half of them while we all cried and argued), we decided we couldn’t spend a night in a soaked tent under soaked sleeping bags and get any sleep. So we found an expensive tourist-trap hotel nearby after driving out the 4.5 miles of ka-DUNK trail to highway, and settled in for a comfortable sleep.

Early in the morning, I lay in bed reading, and my wife had just begun to open her eyes.  We had begun to discuss our plan for the day, and sip some coffee when…BRRRRAMP! BRRRRRRRRAAAMMMP! Everyone woke suddenly surprised, in shock and awe at such a loud noise that seemed to come from inside our room. Slowly, it dawned on me that one of my sons had made these sounds all by himself, without really trying. I lost it, laughing to myself. But then my son realized HE was the origin of the noise and then his siblings did, too, and we all lost it, laughing out loud at the power of…digestive release, I guess. My wife summed it up by saying, “Well, morning has broken.” We all lost it again, collapsing into giggles, snorts, guffaws, and moans. I wonder what the other hotel guests thought we were doing. Maybe they complained about the air ducts, or the pipes, or the ground shifting, but let me tell you, the real event was far more…natural. Earthquakes happen all the time, right? Especially if you have boys.

Go borrow from your local library the Pixar Shorts DVD, and watch “Mini-Buzz” about a miniature Buzz Lightyear with a huge head and Jersey accent. See if you laugh at the forgotten toys left behind at Poultry Palace that came with the chicken version of a happy meal. A short list:

Tai-kwan-doe, the female deer dressed in the white robe and pants, whose left hoof is always raised so she can chop a pre-broken plastic board in half

Beef Stewardess, a female cow in a blazer and skirt, whose life-vest inflates

Bozo the Ninja clown…(snort)(silent shaking). I’m sorry, you’ll have to come up with your own description for this one.

Dee Jay Blue Jay, the bird in the headphones with a double-LP player on his lap

Funky Monk – think Friar Tuck meets Ice-T, dressed like a disco dude; says ” ‘sup.”

Steak-bot, who transforms from a steak into a robot, and battles the Vegetrons for dinner table dominance

Neptuna, member of the Mermaid Battle Squad, both beautiful and dangerous…to swallow, who leads the rejected toys in therapy sessions.

Pixar really should have released this one in theaters by itself. I would have paid to see it.

John Eldridge reminds me that the same God who has already planned the overcoming of man and Satan’s worse schemes is also the one who gave us laughter and the confidence to relax that laughter produces. Who better to relax than the Almighty? Who better to give us joy than Jesus? So give thanks for Christmas, enjoy fumigating the holiday pounds away with the young, and laugh because our Jesus laughs, too.

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