Forced Away

May the Force leave me the heck alone.

When my wife wanted to watch a movie in the early days of our marriage, she knew better than to ask me for a suggestion. “Star Wars” was a likely first response. She got tired of that, especially since she wasn’t a sci-fi fan in the first place. She hated it less than Star Trek, but I was such a nut about it then that she soon lost any fascination she might have had otherwise.

Now we have come full circle. I am officially tired of Star Wars. There; I said it.

Actually, I still like the original trilogy…mostly. There was a lot to like; I mean, you’ve got a classic coming-of-age story with Luke and his mentor, Obi-Wan…which later includes deception, disillusionment, and maturity (?) and the oft-used “I am your father!” plot twist that no one saw coming. I enjoyed Chewbacca’s frustration with a world not built for his size, and C-3PO’s British humor and timidity to go with R2-D2′s spunky resourcefulness. Han Solo and Leia’s sassy romance was subtle, intense, and relatable in all its stages. The Rebels vs the Empire context, and saving the universe (twice) by blowing up a massive space station, and all the cool, exotic worlds to fight in, including the indigenous creatures and weather, are all the marks of the best stories in any medium. The non-Force characters (good guys) were ennobled when they got caught up in something bigger than themselves. Han learns faithfulness, Lando sticks his neck out, and…um, well, the others are pretty static, I guess. Except Luke. He’s a problem-child.

See, he breaks all the rules of the Jedi code, and gets away with it. Spoiled, impetuous punk. Just like his father…who also broke all the rules, and almost got away with it, then didn’t, then broke more rules, then, finally, destroys the Emperor/Darth Sidious, and…gets redeemed on his deathbed.

Everyone who’s supposed to be a good guy involved with the Force either becomes cruel and twisted from the Dark Side, or becomes stupid and impatient from the Good Side. Think about this: what Jedi ever became more patient, tolerant, and good-humored with age? Obi-Wan? Nope. His relationship with Anakin shows increasing impatience, frustration, and distance. Yoda? Don’t even get me started. The older he got, the worse he became at teaching anyone anything. He became the classic grumpy old man. He knew all the answers, would only do things his own way, and had very few encouraging words for anyone. Anyone else? Nah, they all died from a surprise attack by the forces they were leading against an uprising. Never mind that they have been the guardians of the universe for centuries; never mind that they have done battle with all kinds of evil. No, they just can’t seem to anticipate a political maneuver by Palpatine, or his double identity as a Sith Lord, despite his many apprentices and their disruptive terrorism. None of the Jedi can figure this out, and none of them see the game Palpatine plays with them until it’s too late. (sigh)

Notice, too, how Luke benefits from his Force skills until his time with Yoda. In the attack on the death star, on Hoth in the creature’s cave, and in his practice on the Millenium Falcon, he becomes more patient, more controlled, and more effective from his use of the Force. But after visiting Yoda on Degobah, he becomes cruel in Jabba’s palace, impatient in Cloud City, and confused on the death star as he battles the Emperor. He gets worse, not better, from his experiences…much like his father.

Part of the problem, of course, is that George Lucas had to write his prequels with a specific set of circumstances in mind for the end. But in making the characters fit the story, instead of the other way around, he has made the good Jedi short-sighted, impatient, and bitter as they age. Not a good selling point for the Padawan program, if you ask me. And the Sith become unbeatable, undiscernable, and irresistible until a sudden, unforeseen streak of sentiment at just the right moment causes the poster-child of Sithness to snap and give it all up.

Call me crazy, but I much prefer the rest of those movies: the space battles, the planets, the political issues in the Imperial Navy, the mechanical problems of the Millenium Falcon and the droids, the rescue of the princess (twice), the problem of frozen Han, Luke’s many injuries, and the noble courage of the Rebels. That’s fun to watch. The Force? I can’t figure it out, I can’t believe in it, and I can’t see that it’s even consistent in its own story.

And then come the prequels. Let’s examine the Jedi. Qui-Gon has to be made clumsy to be killed by Darth Maul; Obi-Wan has to be made impatient and frustrated with Anakin; and all the others have to be killed off by surprise because they’re stupid. Again, not a selling point for the Padawan program. And then the writers of all the stories between the prequels have to resurrect Darth Maul…(sigh) My suspension of disbelief has been permanently damaged. To bring back an ugly villain after the hero killed him most decisively is to admit that the story is no longer the goal; making a quick buck is the obvious goal here. I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt for the prequels, but this is too much.

Now my children are memorizing the names of characters from the years between episodes 3 and 4…which don’t need any stories, thanks. And then, there’s all the Legos…

Lego has shown us just how to be the most successful merchandising firm ever. Period. They are the best at what they do. The problem is that, like Star Wars story-lines, they are becoming so ubiquitous in so many story lines as to become annoying, to be avoided rather than sought after. This is dangerous territory; they should learn from the failures of Luke and Anakin. Don’t go messing with a good thing; learn what makes it good, and learn a little balance. Isn’t that what Yoda was always promoting? “ConcenTRAAAAATE!!”

I’ve decided to separate myself and my family from the Star Wars culture. It reminds me of the Death Star’s tractor beam, the Sarlac pit, and the Dark Side itself. So I’m punching in coordinates for a new rendezvous point with the faithful, and kicking in the hyperdrive. I’m blowing this thing so we can go home. And I will make it past the first marker, thank you. See you there.

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November, 2014: Like a Piece of Craft

Some things just take a lot of killin’.

I’m referring to squirrels first. I’ve been a hired gun at my third job as outdoor handyman; the pesky varmints get into the potted plants on the front porch and, well, plant nuts. They’re cheeky devils, gracefully bounding across your path when they know you’re not armed, and raining loud nut-bombs on your car or path as you go by. I like to remind them when they miss. At least they aren’t as bad here as the ones at public parks, or even worse: the ORU squirrels, who go into every man’s world to get as much food as they can carry off. Don’t let the cuteness fool you – their god is their belly.

So my employers have armed me with an air-rifle and pellets. And my aim seems pretty good. I know I have hit a critter more than once – I’ve seen them jump into the air suddenly with all limbs sticking out – but it takes 3-4 shots to get them to run away, and I’ve yet to see one die. (sigh) My employer told me not to feel bad; apparently, their bodies are so muscular that it takes a really good head shot or a really large, fast shot to the body to take them out. He also told me that one is supposed to have a small-game license to hunt squirrels and rabbits, even on one’s own property. That’s another thing that takes a lot of killing: bad laws.

Another hard-to-kill woodland creature is the opossum, affectionately known as the Large Rat. They aren’t smart enough to leave when attacked, and they aren’t really very fast, either, so they get into altercations more frequently…with cars, mostly. They don’t last long on the road, but when I discover them on my property at night, eating my cat’s food (which the cat does not seem to mind), I’m not armed with a katana blade or my .45; I’m doing good to find a stick handy. (sigh) Sticks just don’t get it done; opossums need something bigger, or they need to run faster, or something.

Guess what else refuses to die? My Grandma’s hope and courage. How do I know? She just got married…for the 4th time. Divorced, widowed, and widowed, for those who are interested. She’s 83, I think; her new husband is 85, and he’s stable physically, financially, and spiritually. For the first time in decades, her husband will take care of her. It will be a change for her, but a good one. All of her descendants (2 children, 7 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren) and extended family are joyful and delighted at the new stage in her life. We know she is delighted, too.

The wedding was inspiring, the sermon bold, the reception a taste of heaven, and I don’t just mean the food. The food was delicious, but the company was better. I got to see all my siblings and all my cousins and all my aunts and uncles on my Dad’s side for the first time in years, and I finally learned all the names of my cousins’ children. And most of us are followers of Christ. And we all get along. And we all laugh. A lot. That reception could never have been long enough for me. But heaven will hold no such regrets. And the food will be even better.

One thing that’s doesn’t last long in Oklahoma is the weather. The temperature tries to make us think it’s staying cold for the whole winter, but this is Oklahoma – it was 70 degrees yesterday, Nov 29th. It snowed two weeks ago. We’re not worried about snow drifts here; it always melts off, unlike the Northeast, where hundreds of flights were cancelled the day before Thanksgiving due to bad weather. I think God had a lot of conversations that day. He doesn’t go away easily, either, and we are very thankful.

We’re also very thankful for our new van, given to us by my aunt and uncle…just because they wanted to bless someone. Yay! We got a van for nothing that has fewer miles and a newer production date than our other van. Plus it plays cassettes, baby! I’ve got a collection from the 80′s and 90′s that still haven’t died, and now I get to enjoy them on the way to my three jobs each day. I am very thankful. 

For several nights, I watched a skunk poke around our yard, grateful for the distance between us. Our neighbor watched, too, with his spotlight from his house. We watched the skunk go under his barn. Next night, I heard shots, and the next day, my neighbor informed me he had dispatched the critter, but that it had taken several shots over several days to finish it off. Wow. I didn’t have skunks pegged as tough, but I guess this one was. Then our neighbors offered us several hundred Christmas lights they didn’t need, and we were thankful again…until after we put them up on our deck stairs to the front door, when we smelled a gift from the skunk. Ah, well, at least we can see our way to the door at night instead of stumbling in the dark. Try drawing a spiritual analogy here that includes the bad smell; this should be fun.

My title for this post refers to my wife’s determined attempts to use words other than “crap” when she gets frustrated. “Crab” is hard to remember, so “craft” has become our favorite substitute, as in: “a piece of craft”, or my wife’s preferred expression “Craftola!” My title combines this unique phrase with the inexplicable endurance of little hand-made pieces of…well, craft. These doo-dads made by children who aren’t old enough to use power tools are too meaningful to throw away when you are cleaning, but don’t really have a home or convenient display area, so…they keep getting moved around, sort of like the orange construction barrels in Tulsa – they go from street to street because there’s no room to store them elsewhere, according to my Dad’s theory.

So these pieces of craft endure from season to season, homeless and destitute, in need of a larger house, or a grandparent, or a someone with care to spare…much like broken souls, now that I think of it. Wouldn’t it make a difference to a lost someone to get into a place of beauty, feel the love and wisdom of someone older, and share time with someone who has care to spare? (This is what the Church is for.)

All of us need the care of each other; all of us should set aside some care to spare for someone else. The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. He took a lot of killing, and then, after allowing Himself to be killed, He came back to life to be the source of unending life for everyone. Even though our best efforts are just pieces of craft to Him, He doesn’t see us that way. He has unending care to spare, even for you, even for me. He will turn our “craft” into something beautiful to help others find their way to Him…and it will smell a lot better than our lights.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Light for the Crazies

My favorite time of the year is coming up.

 

When the holidays are over

When the music, lights, and decorations get put away again

When all the rich food is finally gone, and all we want is vegetables and water

When all the gifts aren’t new or wrapped anymore, and we have to find a place to store them

When the fall sports are over, the winter sports don’t matter yet, and the spring sports have yet to begin

When we’ve all but forgotten warm, sunny, smiley weather

When our New Year’s resolutions lie in shattered ruins

When all our friends and family are gone to their homes, and we are alone

When we’re too fat, too tired, and too sick to face ourselves

When the bills and taxes are due, the cars need repairs, and the house leaks

When we are reminded that our messy, real relationships don’t measure up to the unrealistic, scripted fantasies fed to us by the media

When the animals are asleep, the leaves have fallen, and the beauty of nature is hidden away

When bad habits taunt us with hopelessness and regrets

When we are tired of trying, ready to let go, and considering the advantages of giving up

When the sun is covered in clouds, the temperature stays too low all day and all night, the wind bites, and water from the sky brings death and not life

When all the superficiality of life dies away to leave a stark, raw reality

This is where He searches for us. He finds us, wading through the garbage and chains of our existence to give us some of His. The Light shines in our darkness, and we can’t begin to grasp it. We would be crazy to hope for light. He would be crazy to give it to people like us…so He does. His still, small voice, great in power and in mercy, reaches warmly toward our frozen hearts…and we begin to live; we begin to move; we begin to have an identity, and a hope.

I am drawn to the light in this dead, dark stillness. I know I’m crazy to look for it here, but I can focus better here without all that other stuff shouting at me. In the light, I can see Him better, and I can see myself a little better, too. I begin to understand how He sees me, about what’s actually crazy in my life. I am able to share a little light, a little hope with those other crazies I can reach in the dark.

He’s crazy, too, you know…about me, about all of us. He brings His light, His warm love, His power and truth to loonies like me who get the insane notion to come here on purpose…He shines for us just because we’re here to be found. He sends his light just because there are crazy people who hope that He will, who look for light in this light-less place, who know He must be here if He is anywhere. And He is here.

He is more real than the dark, the bills, the pain, or the loneliness.

He is more valuable than the gifts, or the possessions, or the power.

He is more sustaining than the food, the vitamins, the drugs, or the exercise.

He is more nourishing than the music, the air, or the view.

He is more beautiful than what we can see, or hear, or write.

He is more enduring than the winter, the noise, our promises, or our memories.

He is more secure than the shelter, the insurance, the loopholes, or the stash.

He is more true than the gurus, the experts, the experience, or the training.

He is more entrancing than the new app, new game, new gossip, or new show.

He is more adventurous than the business, the battle, the relationship, or life itself.

He is more peaceful than the vacation, the sleep, the headphones, or the therapy.

He is more faithful than the friends, family, spouse, the children, or even the sunrise.

He is more our Lord than the bad habits, the schedules, the rat race, or the fix.

He is more joy than all the holidays, successes, pleasures, people, and all of nature put together.

He is Light. The Light who shines for us when we can’t even remember light. He is Light for the crazies, the lost, the broken. He is light because He knows broken isn’t our final destiny. He shines for us because He knows lost isn’t where we were made to live. He came to us because He knows that crazy is what it takes to go looking for Him. As long as we try to be normal, we spend our lives searching for all that He is, and never find it without finding Him first. Actually, He finds us…

He is the Light for the crazies. Has He found you like He found me? Maybe you should look for Him in the only place a crazy person would look for light in your life. I bet that, in the middle of broken, lost, dark, dead nothingness, where no one else would be if they had any sense, there’s a light shining for you, too. He’s going to go crazy when He finds you.

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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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