Thursday, January 28, 2010

They Will Find Him Some Day

My dad and I often found reason to fly to Chicago and parts north of there, usually to Oshkosh for the air show. Meigs Field was a short, public airport literally out in Lake Michigan, running parallel to Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. We often flew in to have dinner or to sight-see. Since the runway was surrounded by water on three sides, and was just a few feet above the water level of the lake, it was almost like you were at sea trying to get back aboard the carrier.

Many times we would be flying over Lake Michigan, usually on autopilot, just monitoring the instruments and the systems. Occasionally, like all pilots do, we would look out at the water or the shoreline passing by below and comment on how big Lake Michigan is.

Every time we flew over Lake Michigan, my dad would say the same thing. "John's still down there. Someday, they will find him." And on we would fly. I did not think much about his comment until one evening as we were headed back to Kokomo, out over Lake Michigan, just cruising on autopilot, I asked who John was and why dad always said that. This is the story he told me.

My dad, Lieutenant Commander L. O. "Bo" Bolinger, was the executive officer of a Navy jet fighter squadron based at Glenview Naval Air Station, which is right on the edge of Lake Michigan and about five or six miles north of the Chicago Loop. The squadron was commanded by Commander Richard Schmutzler. The squadron had gone from flying piston-engined fighters (the F8F Bearcat) to the Banshee, a primitive jet fighter, infamous for its engine and hydraulic system failures, both of which were unpredictable.

Lt. John was a WW2 veteran and often served as my dad's wingman. John, like my dad, simply loved to fly. They both often said that they could not believe they were getting paid to fly, as they would have done it for free.

It is widely known that Carson's Restaurant in Chicago has great ribs. It was widely known that the shrimp boats around Pensacola, Florida, have caught a shrimp or two. It is also widely known that Naval aviators like ribs and shrimp. The problem was that the aviators in Chicago wanted shrimp, while the aviators in Pensacola wanted ribs. What to do?

The remedy for this problem was simple. Send somebody in one of the fighters to get the shrimp or the ribs. This had been going on for so long that a system was in place to establish whose turn it was to fly the food. After all, what could be better than a solo, cross-country flight in your very own, I-can-do-what-I-want-for-awhile, no-pesky-wingman, no-flight-leader, no-training-mission, fighter jet?

Schmutz told my dad, "Bo," that the squadron morale of the Sky Giants was in need of improvement and to inquire whether the Jolly Rogers in Pensacola might be interested in trading ribs for shrimp. Appropriate calls were made between commanding officers and it was determined that in fact a trade of ribs for shrimp was in order, as the morale in the Jolly Roger's Squadron was also in need of improvement. Once a deal was made, the system went to work.

As it was the Sky Giants turn to fly, Schmutz ordered dad to assign a pilot to make the hop to Pensacola. Dad chose John from among a number of eager volunteers. Dad then went to pay a call on the Chief Petty Officer in charge of maintenance of the jet fighters to inquire as to whether one might be available for a shrimp hop. After the Chief consulted with the other Chiefs, it was determined that there just might be a jet available to make the hop…for a price, which was ten pounds of the shrimp cargo. A deal was made, but only after the officers of the Sky Giants agreed to spring for the ribs for the Chiefs in Pensacola. As Dad used to say, no ship will sail or airplane fly without the Chiefs' approval.

John strapped in and launched for the hop to Pensacola. Now you might think that the flight was pretty simple. Take off, fly south and turn left or right went you got to the Gulf of Mexico, depending on which way the wind was blowing. Not true. This was back in the day when precision navigation was in its infancy. Aviators still plotted courses based upon forecast wind (often forecast wrong) and timing the various legs of the flight. In other words there was a lot of room for error in going from point A to point B.

To make matters worse, there were those pesky regulations. The rule was that you had to have enough fuel in your aircraft to get to your intended destination, then divert to your alternate airport, if the weather at your intended destination was bad, plus 30 minutes. It sounds reasonable. Except that the Banshee would not hold that much fuel and everybody knew it. So, the regulations said that you needed to stop to refuel at Wright-Patterson Air Farce Base. Except that all the Navy aviators were hated by the Air Farce pilots, who always found a way to delay the refueling transient, interloping Navy guys. Not good.

However, the Banshee would make the trip to Pensacola on one tank of fuel, if you forgot about the regulations, providing the wind and weather cooperated. The problem was that it would only just make it. By a hair. with ten minute's fuel remaining, providing everything went right. So, the aviator would file a flight plan for Wright-Patterson, going and coming, and then just fly straight to Pensacola and then back to Chicago, ignoring the regulations. If anything went wrong, the commander was off the hook for authorizing an illegal flight, as he could always say that he approved a proper, within-the-regulations flight plan, which the pilot chose to ignore.

John managed to find his way to Pensacola, where the Jolly Rogers Chief was waiting on the ramp with the refueling truck and a bag for the ribs, which had been stowed in the ammunition bays in the nose and wings of the Banshee. Out came the ribs and in went the shrimp. John never even got out of the plane. Refueling complete, John launched for the return hop to Chicago.

All went well until John was about 150 miles out from Glenview. It started to snow. Heavily. Unpredicted. Inbound came John.

This was in the day that there were no fancy instrument landing systems like there are now. You called the tower and asked for a ground- assisted approach. What this was is where a controller would tell you what direction to fly and when to descend so as to line you up with the runway at the right height to land. It might sound easy and the concept is simple, but it is not so easily done on dark, snowy nights when your fuel state is critical.

John reported in and was handed off to the controller, who began giving John directions for the approach. As John got closer to the end of the runway, the corrections on the heading of the airplane were as little as two or three degrees left or right. Cleared to descend to four hundred feet off the runway, John flew a textbook- perfect approach. Except it was snowing so hard that John flew the length of the runway level at four hundred feet and never saw the runway lights. Everyone heard him go over. Schmutz and Dad, growing more concerned by the minute, were in the control tower.

John declared a missed approach, which meant that he could not see to land. Going below four hundred feet, called "busting minimums." was strictly prohibited as the runway was surrounded by civilian housing. He poured on the power and pulled up, telling the controller to give him a tight approach for another try. The controller asked for John's fuel state. John responded that he had enough for another pass, but not much more.

The controller gave John as tight and quick an approach as he could do. Once again, John shot the approach perfectly, but flew down the runway unable to see it. The unpredicted snow had increased to a near blizzard as can only happen on Lake Michigan. John poured on the power and pulled up into the swirling, cold snow.

The controller asked John was his fuel state was and John replied calmly that the warning light was on and he expected to engine to flame out within a few minutes.

The controller then said, "State your intentions, Navy flight 246."

Dad said there was a momentary hesitation, then John matter-of-factly said, "Give me a vector for the lake. Tell mom I love her." And nothing more was ever heard from him.

In the days and weeks that passed, there was discussion among the aviators about John's options that night. He could have ejected, which would have put him into the lake in the winter. He would have lasted maybe twenty minutes floating in the frigid water. But in those days ejection seats were not as good as they are today. An ejection would guarantee a broken arm or leg. He could have tried to ditch the plane in the lake, get out and into the dinghy, but that was almost an impossibility. He could have just waited for the engine to quit and flown it into the lake in a glide, only to sink beneath the dark waves of the lake. Or he could have nosed it over with the engine running and bored straight in. A quick and final end.

No one knows what John did. But what we know was that John knew he had danced one too many times with Fate. His number was up through no particular fault of his own. There was not going to be a happy ending. What we also know is that John did not try to land and risk killing civilians. It takes a man with character to make such a decision. There were no medals given to John posthumously for making such a courageous and selfless decision. His death was attributed to a "training accident compounded by unexpected adverse weather conditions."

All of us will one day have our "rendezvous with death." I hope all of us will have the courage that John had that wintry, Chicago night.

Mike out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

About Dogs and Those Who Own Them

I read an article recently about the relationship dogs and their owners have with each other. When asked about how dogs view their owners, the author said most dogs view their owners as "very large, infinitely interesting tennis balls." I, for one, take that as a compliment. You could do a lot worse.

The article got me thinking about the dogs that have owned me. Make no mistake about it. Most dogs own their owners, even if the human does not want to admit it. I know not about you, yours, and your house, but I know who runs the show here on West Taylor St. Not me, not Lynne. Ivy runs it. Period. As Lynne often says, Ivy rules with an iron paw.

Most of us had a pet dog when we were growing up. I had a rat terrier named Kay. As dogs go, she was homely. She was mostly white with small black and brown spots. She was a mutt. But like you learn later in life, beauty is much more than how a person looks on the outside, it is what is on the inside that truly counts in the long run. So it was, I was to learn, about Kay.

I had a downtown paper route when I was about thirteen. Passing papers to the businesses downtown and about a block surrounding the downtown area was where I was on my 20 inch bicycle every morning seven days a week about 5:30 am. Kay would always run along beside me on the route which covered about five miles. Several times I would be riding along and Kay would growl and the hair on her back would stand up. Each time a person would be standing hidden in a doorway or alley. No one ever tried to hurt me, but you have to ask what were they doing there at that time of morning? Kay was looking out for me. She could not have weighed 20 pounds, but she could be fierce if provoked or if someone threatened me.

As time went on, I noticed that Kay was having a hard time keeping up with me on the bike. Simple solution, so I thought, just leave her at home. Kay would have none of that. If I went out the door with my paper bag, she would bark at the door until I let her out to go with me. A barking dog at 5:00 am is not what my parents wanted to hear. What to do?

What I did was to buy another paper bag. I hung the bag with the papers in it on the front of my high rise handlebars from two hooks. I hung the second bag on the inside of the handlebars from the same two hooks. Into the second bag I put Kay, who seemed happy to ride in the bag. Off I would go with Kay peering out over the top of the newspapers. And so it went for many months, through rain, snow, sleet, fog and everything else that comes with living in Indiana.

When I finished my route each morning, I would grab a quick breakfast and head out to school. When school was over, home I would go on my bicycle to be greeted each afternoon by Kay who would be lying on the back steps faithfully awaiting my return.

You cannot imagine the shock that rocked me one afternoon when I came home from school and was informed by my mother that Kay had died of an apparent heart attack while I was at school. I was devastated. I asked if she had suffered and was told she had died peacefully in her sleep. I asked for the body so I could bury her in the back yard. I was told that her body was already gone and could not be retrieved. I was shattered. I moped around for a few weeks, but life went on and I suggested to my parents that I needed another dog. The response was not hopeful. They said they would think about it, but not right now. So I waited.

You cannot imagine my joy when I came home from school shortly thereafter and who do you suppose was waiting, like nothing had happened, on the back steps? You got it. Kay was back.

Now being a parent, I recognize that my parents had a significant problem. They had been caught in a despicable lie to their child about his most treasured possession. I was not around to hear the phone conversation, but I know what Lynne would have done. I would have gotten a call at my office that would have gone something like this: "Mike, we got problems. Kay is back! No I don't know how this has happened! What are we going to tell him?" Good questions all. And not a good answer in sight.

Like I said, I never heard the phone conversation, but I am sure it happened. Dad came home that night and did not say much. We ate dinner and there in the doorway to the dining room lay the damning evidence of their guilt, which is how I see it now, but not then. I was sure there was an explanation, other than that Kay had risen from the dead. There wasn't.

It turned out that Kay, who was elderly, had begun peeing on occasion in the house. One or both of my parents, I was never told who, could not deal with it. So, one of my parents, I do not know who to this day, took Kay to the pound where she would be gassed. Except something happened that neither of my parents counted on. The pound manager took a liking to Kay. She became his dog with the run of the pound, including the yard outside the pound which was surrounded by an eight foot high chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. According to Dad, the last the manager saw of Kay was her climbing the fence, scrambling over the barbed wire, which accounted for some cuts I noticed on her tummy, and heading for home. It had taken her five weeks to plan and make her break for freedom and home. And some people say dogs are just dumb animals. Not by a long shot. The "Kayshank Redemption", if you will.

How Kay managed to find her way home is something I have always wondered about until I sat down to write this. I think I know how she did it. The pound is about ten or fifteen blocks from downtown Kokomo. By random chance she probably found the downtown area and remembered the way home from the paper route.

From then on Kay lived in our house until she died of congestive heart failure, in my arms one afternoon. I buried her in the backyard.

Years later after my Dad died unexpectedly, I was having some trouble dealing with it. I went to see a psychologist who dealt in grief therapy. I do not know how this event in my life came up, but it did and I told him the story as I have told you. After hearing it, he sat there for a while and then said, "It is a wonder you are not more screwed up than you are. Has it occurred to you that this incident is the cause for your inability to trust anyone close to you?" That shrink hit the nail on the head and was worth every penny I paid him.

Years later, when Lynne and I moved into the house we now live in with Allyson and Zach, we decided we needed a dog. I went to the library and got a book about the various breeds. A lively debate took place nightly for weeks over which dog would be best. Ultimately, like every yuppie couple with kids, we decided on a golden retriever. I was assigned the task of getting the dog. I quickly located a six-week-old litter about fifty miles away. I made an appointment.

Before I went to look at the pups, I knew I knew nothing about picking a good pup. So, I called on my good friend, Lee Moore, who knew a lot about dogs. He gave me wonderful, if not comical, advice. He told me to quietly enter the room where the puppies were and sit down for fifteen minutes and do nothing but watch them. He said that there would be one pup who would walk around and occasionally fall over, while running into the other pups and knocking them over. He said it would be like the dog was saying: Yup, yup, yup. I am the dog. Yup, yup, yup. In other words pick out the "bozo" (my word, not Lee's). And Lee was exactly right. It was obvious which pup was the bozo. I bought him and took him home. Like a true bozo, he crapped, peed, and puked in my car on the way home. The kids named him Buster. And a magnificent dog he was.

Let me tell you two stories about Buster.

Golden retrievers are bred to fetch. Period. It is all they can do. It is all they want to do. As my sister, a fellow dog-lover said, "The only chip in that dog's brain is the fetch chip." Buster lived to fetch anything that was throw able. He could not help himself. He was as addicted to fetching as the worst druggie is addicted to crystal meth. Buster would fetch sticks, no matter how small or large. As he fetched them, they would begin to get smaller from his teeth. I saw him fetch a twig less that an inch long. I saw him fetch firewood chunks. Tree limbs. Rocks, bricks, concrete blocks, old tires that would roll, baseballs, footballs ( if deflated a little), soccer balls, golf balls, tennis balls, paint brushes, and once, a tire iron. He also went for Coke cans, beer cans and anything else that was handy to throw.

With that background, we would occasionally have a Buster day. We would go to a park and throw a ball to Buster till he wore out. Except he never wore out. I did. It got to be a challenge.

I knew that the park had a hill in the center. So Lynne and I would go to the top of the hill with one on those flyswatter-like throwers with a place to put the tennis ball in the end and throw the ball downhill. Off Buster would go, tearing after the tennis ball, only to have to run back to us up hill. We kept throwing the ball and that crazy dog just wouldn't quit. I was about ready to give up, when I threw it one last time. Off Buster went. He snatched it up and took off back up the hill. Halfway up, he stopped and fell over. He dropped the ball from his mouth and his tongue was hanging out. I thought I had killed him. We ran to where he was and he just laid there, totally exhausted. Then he got up, picked up the ball and dropped it at my feet ready to fetch again. What a dog! We never did the hill trick with him again. I think that dog would have run himself to death, just to please me.

Spring break rolled around and I planned a spring camping trip to Big South Fork National Park in southern Tennessee. To this day, if you ask my children or wife about this trip, they will hoot with laughter and say it was a total disaster. It was. It was even worse. A complete fiasco. It started to snow and sleet at our campsite, so we packed up and headed for a motel.

Buster, a member of the family, was with us. I checked ahead of arrival to make sure the motel was pet-friendly, but I did not tell the kids that such was the case. When we arrived, just before I went in to get the keys, I told the kids to keep Buster down, so the manager would not see him. If we got caught with the dog, they would throw us out of the motel I warned.

When I returned with the two keys, I drove to a parking space. I pointed out the number of the room the kids would share with Buster. I handed the key to Allyson and told her to go to the room and let herself in. When she was ready, she was to flash the lights twice. I would respond by flashing the headlights twice. Zach would quietly let leashed Buster out the side door and quickly go up the stairs to the room so no one would see him. James Bond and family and dog. It worked like a charm. Lynne and I retired to our room next door to the kids.

Several times that night someone walked down the hall past the kid's room. Each time I would hear a low growl from Buster, who was letting the passerby know that he was on guard and anybody wanting to harm his two charges would have to get through him first.

After the growl, I would hear Allyson's hushed voice say, "SHHHHHHHHH Buster. If they hear you, they'll throw us out."

Buster died of kidney failure when he was 10 years old. I knew he was dying, so I called my friend, Dr. Bob Mason, who made a house call and put Buster to sleep in my arms. I went into the bedroom and cried over my dog. At the time I was ashamed of my behavior. I thought I was being unmanly. Later on I realized Buster was as much a member of the family as were my children and wife and my reaction to this terrible loss was normal. Buster's portrait hangs in the hallway in my house in Winona Lake.

The family lasted two weeks without a dog. The house just seemed empty. I was ordered by the kids to get another golden. Off I went and, using the tried and true Lee Moore Technique of dog selection, I came home with another bozo. We named the pup, Beaumont, and a magnificent dog he was.

Like Buster, the only chip in Beau's brain was the fetch chip. About this time, we had bought our lake house on Winona Lake. The house came with a pier that stretched from the shore about 50 feet into the lake.

Using that fly-swatter like thrower to fling tennis balls into the lake for Beau was great sport. I would make the dog sit in front of me on the shore. His eyes would never leave the tennis ball. If I did not throw it soon enough, he would start to whine. When I finally let it fly, Beau would streak to the end of the pier and dive in after the tennis ball. It was great entertainment for the neighborhood. After a while I started using two tennis balls, so I wouldn't have to thrown them so often.

You see, that was the problem. He wouldn't let you quit. You could not sit on the pier and read, because there would stand this dripping dog with the tennis ball in his mouth. If you tried to lie on the pier in the sun, Beau would stand over you dripping cold water on you. If you still did not throw the ball, he would drop the slimy, slobber-coated ball on your chest. It was maddening.

One day I told Lynne that I was going to see how many times I had to fling the ball with the flyswatter to wear Beau out. About two or three hours and 336 throws later, I was worn out and the dog was going strong.

Beaumont got sick one afternoon. I knew he was bad, so I took him to Dr. Bob, who told me he was terminal with a form of leukemia. Bob put him to sleep while I patted him one last time. Beaumont had a heart that was bigger than he was. I still miss him.

Toward the end of Beaumont's days, my daughter and her husband got a golden they named Bob. Bob was cool.

Bob, we used to say was "just glad to be here." He was a true party animal. When Lynne and I would get ready to go to the lake, we had to be careful and not say the word L-A-K-E in front of Beau and Bob. At the mention of the L-word they would become frantic and would run to the truck and wait impatiently for me to lower the tailgate. As soon as I did, they would jump in and off we would go to the lake.

Except we never went straight to the lake. The dogs knew I was going to stop at Wendy's on the way. The lady at the drive-through window would hand Lynne and me our food. I would then pull up so that the truck bed was even with the window. The lady would then throw two hamburgers and two large fries into the bed for Bob and Beau. Both dogs often told me that was truly living large and that they were the envy of the other dogs in the neighborhood.

After Beau passed, I had to put Bob down. He was only four years old, but he tore a ligament in his left rear paw. It was not fixable and was causing him severe pain. Bob-dog, as he was known, was a good dog. As Dean Koontz has said, there is nothing better that can be said about a dog than that he or she was a good dog.

Sometime before Beaumont and Bob died, Ivy came to live with us. I am not sure how we ended up with three dogs in the house, but we did. Eventually it was just Ivy, known also as "the Ive" and "Iverson."

When Ivy first arrived, she would have nothing to do with me. When I walked into a room she occupied, she would hide in the corner and tremble. She would not allow me to touch her at all. Once I picked up a broom to sweep the floor and she cowered under the table and whimpered.

I asked my daughter how Ivy came to live with them. It turns out that Allyson asked Jeremy to go to the pound and pick out a dog no one would ever adopt. Jeremy picked Ivy.

We noticed that Ivy has a permanent limp on her back left side. The vet said it was an untreated broken bone from when she was small. Someone probably beat her which accounts for how she acted with the broom. Also, she would hide from all males.

About six months after she moved in, she let me pet her. We are now the best of buddies. She goes almost every where with me. She is a regular at Lowe's and Menard's. She is on a first name basis with everyone at Moody's bike shop. She is known by all of our neighbors, most of which feed her every morning.

Her most important task is to keep me company. She sleeps with Lynne and me. Anytime I go somewhere in the truck, she goes. She knows that dog treats are given at Burger King and Menard's.

When I am working in my shop, she sits on the floor mat just inside or outside the door, depending on the temperature.

When I came home from the hospital in April, she lay beside me with her head on my chest most of the day. She knew I was sick. She wanted me to get well.

That is about all I have to say about Ivy. She is a good dog. She loves me without condition which is how it should be. As a final gesture, check out the picture below. Is she not the finest of dogs?

Mike out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The PRINCESS and one of her servants

She rules with an iron paw.

Princess Ivy

And the servant..................

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

35 1/2 Years

The hub and I just returned from a return trip to Fort Lauderdale. Mindful again of the school calendar, we took advantage of a 3 day weekend (thank you, Dr. King) and returned to our little slice there on the beach.

Our Fort Lauderdale friends asked us how we found this place, a small 7 room place, right on the beach. We told them we lucked into it, having conducted a search on THE GOOGLE. (Z: for you)

We got our same room; that would be #3. Our window is less than 50 feet from the beautiful ocean so we can listen to its grandeur all night long.

But how did we find it? We agree that it's another gift from our Father. It is as close to perfect as a place can be.

So this is our most recent trip to salt water regions.

Our first, together, was in August 1974 on our honeymoon. Mike's father gave us the gift of a trip 'anywhere.' We chose PuertoRico and St. Thomas. We were so young. We have lived quite a life since then.

No one knows, when he or she starts on that journey where it will lead. We continue to discover what God has for these two children.

Details on New Kitchen at the Lake

Pegs: no nails

The corner 'lazy susan' was a new challenge.

And: colors by Fran at The Color Company.

NEXT PROJECT? Walnut sofa table to locate behind 'that' couch.

Do Something They Will Remember

One of the many wonderful things about being a friend and having friends is that on occasion your friends do something unexpected for you that gives you indescribable joy. This happened to me this past weekend.

The lovely Lynne and I took a long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale. We intended to goof off, play in the water, and do absolutely nothing of worth, except have fun. When we go to Ft. Lauderdale, we always visit two of my friends, Brent and Brian Hermann, who both live there.

Brent and Brian are yacht brokers. They buy and sell luxury yachts to people all over the country and the world. We are talking about boats costing several millions of dollars. You can tell that they love their work and it is obvious they are very good at it.

I got to know Brent and Brian when they were frequent visitors to my lake house. Brian loves sailing and Brent loves flying airplanes. I like both. You can see the connection. Put the three of us together and there is never a dull moment. There is not a lick of sense in any of us when we are not supervised by a responsible adult.

I called to give them the info on when Lynne and I would arrive. I got a call back telling me not to schedule anything for 3:00 pm on Saturday, as they had a surprise for me.

Promptly at 3:00 Brian picked me up in his Land Rover and off we went on a 45 minute drive. We ended up at an aviation community near Orlando. The beautiful houses surrounded a private airstrip, which was bounded on both sides by concrete taxiways. Each house had a hanger with a driveway leading to the taxiway. The taxiway could be used to get to the take off position in your airplane or be used to drive out to the highway in your car. I figured out that the surprise was probably going to involve flying.

Lynne and I got out of the car and were introduced to Ted, who had been working on one of his five airplanes. The hangar behind Ted's house was colossal. Ted and Brian spoke privately for a minute and then Ted informed us that his flying buddy, Mike, would be here shortly, as he was inbound in Ted's Piper Navaho ( an eight passenger, twin engine private plane).

A few minutes later I heard the roar of two fire walled Lycoming engines as the Navaho streaked over our heads about 100 ft off the ground at 250 knots. Mike pitched the nose up into a tight left bank, threw down the gear and flaps, and plopped it onto the runway. Nicely done. He taxied it to Ted's house and got out. Introductions were made all around.

Mike said to me, "I understand you can do some aerobatics?"

"Maybe a little," I replied.

"Let me go get my plane and we will have some fun with it," said Mike. Off he went in the golf cart.

About five minutes later, I heard a very throaty growl of an idling engine as Mike taxied up in an Extra 300. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this airplane let me simply say that if you were planning on flying the world aerobatic championship or the Red Bull air races which have recently been on TV, this is the airplane you would want. It has no aeronautical purpose except to do unlimited aerobatics. It is built so strong that the pilot will be incapacitated before the airplane breaks. It weighs 900 lbs and has 350 horsepower. It is an animal. It is not for amateurs. I was very concerned and definitely intimidated. I was going to get to fly this thing?

"Let's go," said Mike. I put on my parachute and strapped into the plane. Mike got in behind me and fired up the engine. We taxied to the takeoff position. I noticed that every time Mike blipped the throttle, the airplane torqued to the left. This thing had power!

Rolling into takeoff position, Mike said," You set? I'll get it off the ground and then it's yours."

"Light it," I said, trying to be cool. I braced myself for the takeoff roll.
Instead of hitting the throttle, Mike said, "Oh, I almost forgot, I never fly this thing without my tunes." Suddenly, "Sweet Home Alabama" came blasting over my earphones, as Mike hit the throttle. The bird rocketed down the runway and leaped into the air and started climbing. Mike flicked it into a right knife edge turn as we shot over the top of Ted's house. A quick waggle of the wings and we were gone. I was in heaven.

There was a low overcast with a 1500 foot ceiling. As were approached the lower layer of cloud, Mike said, "It is all yours. Have fun."

I took hold of the stick and promptly pitched it up 45 degrees , corrected it, and pitched it down 45 degrees. All unintentionally. Any tiny left of right movement of the stick made a 30 degree bank angle. I was wobbling all over the sky.
"Wow, is this thing sensitive!" I said.

"Give it a couple minutes, you will get used to it," Mike said.

I fiddled with it a little more and discovered that if you flew with the stick between your thumb and index finger, it smoothed out. Problem solved.

"See that break in the clouds up there?" Mike asked.

"Got it," I replied.

"Let's try to shoot through that little gap and see if we can find some clear air and sunshine to play in."

I aimed the plane for the gap and sailed through it into clear air in front of us. But on either side were dark clouds going up to maybe 10,000 ft. We were in kind of a giant hallway framed by clouds. It was clear in front of us and above us, but not to the sides.

"I think that this is as good as we are going to get today, but I think there is enough room," said Mike.

"It looks good to me," I said. I then pitched the nose up just a hair and flicked the stick to the right. The Extra instantly rolled 360 degrees in about one second. Wow! That was quick!

"Try a loop," suggested Mike.

I picked up 160 knots, and pulled the stick back. The airplane went vertical pulling 7 g's on the way to the top of the loop. I lost all color in my vision as I grayed out at the top. As I went through the top of the loop inverted and started down the back side, color came back to my vision. I started to pull out of the loop at the bottom and I grayed out again. 7 g's will do that to old pilots, and young ones, too. That airplane would load up the G's like nothing I have ever flown.

"Well, I can see that you can fly. Do whatever you like", said Mike.

So that is just what I did. I did loops, slow rolls, aileron rolls, snap rolls, a spin, a hammerhead, an Immelman and a couple of Cuban eights. All the while listening to Lynrd Skynrd, Allman Brothers and AC/DC. It does not get better. I was having the time of my life. As I have often said, there is no fun like having fun with a lethal toy.

But it did get better.

As always, I flew until I got sick. I told Mike I was queasy, so we headed for home, picking our way through the clouds. Up over one, under another, and around a few. It was breathtaking. Eventually we popped out under the overcast with in sight of the airstrip.

"Your airplane," I said and wiggled the stick to give it back to Mike.

"Unbelievable," said Mike. "Look at that! A B-17!"

Sure enough, there was a B-17 flying straight and level at our 10 o'clock. It is not every day you see a real life, vintage WW 2 bomber actually flying.

"Let's get over there and check it out," said Mike. With that said he turned to intercept the old bomber, which was giving rides to paying passengers at the Pompano airport.

We pulled up along side about 100 yds away and waggled our wings two or three times. Eventually they waved back. This was just too good to be true. There we were flying formation with the bomber that had won the air war in Europe in WW2. Too cool.

Then, to my astonishment, Mike said, "Your airplane, do something so they will remember us." I sat there thinking for a few seconds, and then rolled the plane inverted and flew in formation with the old bomber, upside down. We waved, and they waved back. I laughed out loud.

It does not get better than that. A hard turn to the right and down we went to an uneventful landing.

Writing this, I am so grateful to my friends, Brent and Brian, who arranged all of this. What else can you say but "Thanks guys, I owe you big-time."

As the commercial goes, some things are priceless.

Mike Out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Then and Now or What Was I Thinking?

The alarm CD would go off at 7:00 am, usually with a tune by Bob Marley and the Wailers. I figured out that you cannot go back to sleep with a reggae beat echoing through your bedroom. I would get up and head to the kitchen, where I would throw a boil-in-bag of rice into a pot of water to boil. Back to the bedroom where I would make the bed. Then to the bathroom where I would shave, shower, wash my hair, and brush my teeth while standing in the shower. It is quicker doing all at once. Out of the shower to the bedroom where I would get dressed in the clothes I laid out the night before. I did not want to waste time looking in the closet for something to wear. After dressing, out to the kitchen where the bag of rice was boiling. Slam it down with a banana and my heart medications and I was out the door to work. Altogether, I had this down to 25 minutes.

Most mornings I had to be in another county for court. Peru and Logansport courts started at 8:00 am, while Kokomo did not start until 9:00 am. I could be in Peru or Logansport by 8:00 am and back in Kokomo by a little after 9:00 am, usually. If I was running late, the girls in the courthouse were good about taking care of me.

While driving to court, I was usually on my cell phone, a file open on the passenger's seat, steering with my right knee. I got so I could easily drive 75 mph this way.

As soon as I got back to Kokomo, I was met at the office door by one of the four secretaries who would say, "Go! They are waiting on you!" I would almost run to the courthouse, reviewing the files as I trotted along.

Court was usually done about 10:30, so back to the office I went to answer the mail. Appointments were scheduled at 11:00 am through 12:30pm, so I had enough time to get to court out of county, if I needed to. While driving, I again was on the cell phone dictating letters or legal pleadings that were needed, or returning calls from a list the secretaries made up.

Back to the office about 3:30 pm for the appointments which were double-booked every 15 minutes. Done at the office about 6:00 pm. Then off to the YMCA to swim my mile. Then home for dinner about 7:00 pm.

Most of the time, I skipped breakfast and rarely had time for lunch. Often dinner was the first meal of the day.

The simple truth is that I loved this hectic treadmill. The best days were when I could say that not one minute was wasted. It was all productive. It made me a lot of money. And that was the point, right?

And then the cancer thing happened. Suddenly, my schedule was not all that important. Suddenly, my work was not all that important. Suddenly, I did not care too much about making a buck. I will not bore you with the details, except to say I decided not to play lawyer anymore. I gave away my office building, parking lot, and everything connected to the law practice. I figured I was dead, so why not get rid of this stuff? I figured that the Kokomo Rescue Mission, located at the rear of my property, could use it. I had 90 days left on this earth, they said.

Except I did not die on schedule. Ha! I am still here! And now……

Yesterday I woke up to Harvey Reid playing a pretty acoustic guitar slide tune. I got up and walked into the kitchen to have some boiled rice and a piece of toast, while I read the newspaper. I petted and talked to my dog, the Iverson. Then I took a ten minute hot shower and made the bed. I put on my jeans, which I had worn for 3 straight days and clean undies and a t-shirt. Out the door I went to sign a contract to teach at IVTech. I took the Iverson with me. After signing the contract, I headed to the oncology center to get some medical reports for my flight surgeon, so I can start up my aerobatic flying again.

From there I headed to the motorcycle shop, where everybody plays music and a guitar and amplifier are always available. I hung out for a little while and headed home to work on a walnut sofa table I am building for the lake house. It is such a pleasure to stand in front of my workbench and look out through the picture window, as I plane or sand the wood, all the time being guarded by the Iverson, who is there to be petted frequently.

I got a cell phone call from a friend who wanted to have lunch, so I packed up the dog and off to lunch I went. After lunch, I stopped by a local guitar shop to see how the owner was coming on a guitar he is building.

On the way home I stopped at another guitar shop to talk to the owner, a former client about a business matter. His shop is loaded with the finest acoustic guitars money can buy. Since he had a student who was there for a lesson, he handed me one of his favorite guitars and suggested I go into the auditorium, sit on the stage and play this guitar. So I did. After about ten minutes, I thought I had better get home. Then it occurred to me that I did not have to get home at all. So I stayed played another three or four guitars for an hour.

I went home and resumed work on the sofa table. Iverson rested on the dog blanket in the shop. Sitting on the stage, playing old blues and ragtime tunes was just plain fun.

Lynne came home and fixed dinner. We talked for awhile. I cleaned up the dishes and the kitchen while Lynne took a shower and went to bed. I played my guitar for an hour, showered, and climbed into bed.

As I lay next to my beautiful, warm wife, I told her that this was the first day in 33 years that was a delight to me. There was no stress; I accomplished a few things; I played music; I hung out with friends and spent time with my dog. It does not get better.

I told her that since my recent tests were clear, maybe I would ride my motorcycle to California or take a week and hike a part of the Appalachian Trail. Since I am rid of that awful office these things are not just daydreams, but are possibilities now.

My shrink told me the other day that his experience with counseling terminally ill patients was that a small number came vibrantly alive in their last days. He said they spent much of their time doing what they felt was truly meaningful to them, deriving great joy from these little things. I now understand this at least a little bit.

My pastor once told me that the Lord delights in what we do if it is done to honor Him. I would not want to say I am a great Christian, but I have a little bit of understanding about what he was talking about. When I build furniture or play music or hang out with friends, or talk with my wife, those are meaningful things to me and are what we all should be doing when the opportunity arises. I hope that these things make the Lord smile. I never did any of that before. I was always working.

I think I missed a lot in my earlier life, but I am trying to make up for the loss with the time I have remaining. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Iverson said so and dogs cannot lie.

Mike out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One More Cute Grandson Picture

The Drewster is an innovator. Need a drink? Can't find a glass?


Kitchen at the Lake

Mike's latest project was finished Monday afternoon.

He rebuilt all the drawers and made new doors for the kitchen at the lake.

Our friend Fran, gifted colorist, help us choose the paint, countertop and floor tiles to compliment those gorgeous oak additions.

More pictures will follow but here's the first look.

Truck Buddies

Two of the hub's favorite Truck Buddies.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Big "R"

Last night, we cuddled and talked wistfully about more time.

He wants more time.

More time for making furniture;
More time for deepening friendships;
More time to enjoy our children and grandchildren;
More time for me.

“If I had more time, I’d…” and then he would fill it in with wonderful, worthwhile projects and people.

He’d love another summer at the lake.
He’d love to get down to San Antonio again.
He’d love to see our favorite college student get that degree.
He’d take his wife to Alaska; he’d buy that Ducati in Asheville.
He’d read through the Bible again.
He’d teach another class on saving your marriage.
He’d help several friends whose lives are messier than ours.

And his wife, who is NOT a big-muscled faith warrior, asked in my puny voice that our Father would give this man more time.

And a few tears were shed as we faced this morning’s doctor appointment.

Our hospital’s oncology department is filled with sunny, smiling people who refuse to greet the day with anything but enthusiasm. Their mission statement, written or not, is to insist on looking toward the future with a hopeful face.

Everyone greets Mike and tells him how good he looks. That’s true, of course. But looks are not what we’re after. We are waiting to hear the doctor tell us about whatever they found last week in his blood work and the CAT scan. Are the occasional tummy ache, the sore joints, the itchy eyebrow an evidence of tumor growth?

We sit in the little room. Blood pressure is good. Of course. He’s not going to die from a heart attack. His weight is good. Of course, he’s not going to die from obesity.

In breezes the doctor. Hand shakes to both of us. She sits. She flips open the file and reads, again. She raises her head.

“Well, your reports are great.”

Say what?

“Blood work is normal. Tumor markers are normal. And the CAT…”

She flips to the multi-page report.

“Normal. Nothing to report.”


We have other things to chat about but my head begins to travel back to last night and that list.

I asked her what I should say to the people who are waiting for a report.

“Tell them REMISSION.”

So, I’m telling you.

Doctor says that it looks like that summer at the lake is going to happen. All those smiling faces, as we exit, are smiling even bigger. Each one shakes Mike’s hand and tell him, “Get out there and live.”

So we will. We will also have more time to ponder what a gracious God we serve. Praise HIM with us this day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Flying Jacket

The simple truth is that we were both bored silly. Even in the best of circumstances practicing law is no fun and sometimes it is truly boring. It was Thursday afternoon and I had appointments till six o'clock and I did not want to deal with any of them. I wandered into my dad's office and found him staring off into space. Obviously, neither of us wanted to do any work.

"I am bored," I said.

"Me too," said Dad.

"Let's go flying somewhere fun," I suggested.

Instantly, Dad perked up. "Good idea," he said. Put two pilots together and you have the potential of two brains engaged in concocting an excuse to skip out and go play with an airplane.

"Where would you like to go?" asked Dad.

"Somewhere warm and on the ocean," I said.

"How about we fly down to Pensacola, Florida and tour the Naval Aviation Museum? Get out of here tomorrow night and make a weekend of it. Get your brother and be ready at 1800 tomorrow," Dad ordered.

Friday afternoon before we left, I stopped over at my parents' house, ostensibly to see my mother, but what I really wanted was my dad's leather flying jacket. If you do not know what this jacket is, let me clue you in. In the trailers advertising the movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise is wearing one. He also wears it in the movie while riding his Kawasaki crotch rocket. William Holden wore one in the movie The Bridges at Toko-Ri. If you qualify as a Naval Aviator, you get a leather flying jacket. Nobody else gets one. You get to sew on your gold wings and rank emblems. Your squadron patch goes on it, as well as patches noting where you have served. The more patches, the cooler. Some are cool just by themselves. Like one that showed a pilot caricature dripping wet with an inner tube around his middle and a caption that said "Tonkin Gulf Swim Club."

You did not get that one without getting shot down off Vietnam. Very cool. My Dad's jacket was neat because he was the squadron commander of a Navy jet fighter squadron. Being commander got you another patch. I wanted to take that jacket on the trip with us, because I had a plan. I sneaked it out of the house.

The next day we started the engines at 1800 hours. The wheels were in the wells at 1805 hours and we were climbing at 1500 feet per minute with an instrument clearance direct to Pensacola, 900 nautical miles away. The cockpit was stocked with Coca-cola and peanuts, survival food for generations of aviators. We leveled off at our assigned altitude, set the autopilot and began our vigil of monitoring the systems, tracking our course and communicating with a series of controllers who were observing our progress. For pilots it was heaven.

The evening air was smooth. Flying the plane was like sitting in your easy chair at home. Just a gentle rocking of the wings and the steady drone of the engines. The sun went down and the instrument lights softly glowed in the dark. Far below you could see clusters of tiny yellow lights which were identifying cities and towns we fly flying over at 250 knots.

Occasionally a needle on an instrument would flicker almost imperceptibly. An aviator's attention and familiarity with his aircraft and its instruments is so intimate that the least little change in the sound of the engine or the minute flickering of a needle of an instrument is instantly noted. Not because a change in sound or the movement of a needle is a warning sign, although both can be, but because a true aviator knows that his ship is not just a manmade machine or a collection of parts. All pilots know inherently that their airplane is a living, breathing woman. And like all women, all airplanes have their little quirks. They make subtle noises when flown properly and they always respond to a gentle touch. Sometimes, they almost purr. Pilots never refer to their airplane as "it" or "him." The airplane is always "she" or "her." Occasionally "the bird," but always a term of affection.

We made Pensacola in a little under four hours. A completely uneventful, fun flight. Now we needed to get a rental car and food. Accomplishing these two little things with my Dad was going to be interesting because he was a child of The Great Depression, and it had greatly affected him. He had a problem with spending money unnecessarily or on what he would characterize as pleasure. He expected me to rent the cheapest car the rental company had. If left to make a choice about where we would eat, I knew it would be Burger King or the local Chinese place. My brother and I were both working and were making a few bucks in our jobs. This was the first "father and sons" trip where everybody had some money.

I told Matt and Dad that I would cover the rental car. Matt said he would spring for dinner. Dad would cover refueling the plane. I went to the terminal to find a car.

I love cars. I am always in the market for a new car, even though I rarely buy one and never would buy one on a whim. When I asked the rental car agent what kind of cars were available, I was told that they had a new v-8 Lincoln Continental. My favorite magazine, Road and Track described it as a gentlemen's hotrod. Why not? It was only a little more money. I rented the Lincoln. When I rolled up to Matt and Dad, the first thing Dad asked was how much the Lincoln cost to rent. I told him to not worry about it. Dad was not amused, but then he started messing with all the bells and whistles on the car as we headed for a late dinner.

Before I go further on about dinner, let me remind the reader, some of whom did not know my Dad, that he was very frugal. Let me give you an example. Many years ago on the corner of Washington and Sycamore, there was a hamburger joint named Scotty's. It was a low budget competitor of McDonalds, except not near as classy. Occasionally they would hand out coupons where if you bought a sandwich, the next time in you could get two sandwiches for the price of one. My Dad quickly figured out that after you had bought the first sandwich, from then on as long as they were handing out the coupons or chose to honor the coupons, no matter how old, for the price of an extra soft drink, two people could have lunch for the price of one. I will not embarrass my Dad's regular lunch partners as some of them read this blog, but allow me to simply say that a coupon was used every day. When there were three people having lunch together, Dad talked the manager into allowing a single ticket to be used for three people, as long as three soft drinks were purchased. It got worse. Eventually one of the workers told Dad that the two-for-one deal was going to be stopped. (Gee, I wonder why?) However, the old coupons would still be honored. Somehow, Dad ended up with what had to be a couple of hundred coupons. He and his cronies ate there for years on those coupons. Ultimately, they did not even ask him for a coupon, they just gave him the two-for-one deal without asking. Now, I wouldn't say my Dad was cheap, but I would say he knew how to maximize a good deal and he probably was instrumental in Scotties going out of business. With aforesaid in mind, I will return to my story.

Like I predicted, as we rolled out onto the main highway, Dad saw a fast food place and suggested we stop for dinner. I was driving so I responded by saying it had been a long flight and I was interested in something more substantial for dinner. I kid you not, he next spied a Chinese place and suggested it. Irritated I said that I had not flown 900 miles for junk food. I said I wanted a salad with French dressing, a steak, a baked potato, and it had better be in a restaurant with a pretty waitress and a tablecloth. Within a few blocks, I saw a restaurant that looked decent and had a sign that said they served steak and seafood. I pulled in and announced that this was where we were eating.

"It looks expensive", said Dad.

"Don't worry about it," I countered. "Matt's paying for it."

I need only tell you that (big surprise) we all ordered steaks. That would have been the end of it had not the waitress came back and asked if we wanted dessert. I do not ever recall going out to eat with my Dad in a place that would even serve a separate dessert, let alone be allowed to order one. Quickly, I replied that I wanted dessert. I chose apple pie, as did my dining companions. When she asked if I wanted it with ice cream, I said yes. I could almost see Dad squirming at the expense. When she brought the bill, Matt snatched it up and paid it. Dad asked Matt how much it was and was told that it was paid, so who cares? Dad was not amused with his "spendthrift" sons, who he thought he had raised better.

After a night's sleep in a motel, we headed to the Naval Aviation Museum. Nearly all naval aviators learn to fly at some point in Pensacola, which is also the home of the Blue Angels. The museum keeps a large number of airplanes that are restored, but the museum is not large enough to house them all. So, they rotate the airplanes on display. I was concerned before the trip that they might not be displaying the airplanes that my Dad flew. Purely by luck, I couldn't have ordered a better display. The airplanes on display were a lineup of what Dad had flown. It started with the old Stearman biplane, on to the Vultee Vibrator, to the T-6, to the Wildcat, Hellcat, Corsair, Bearcat, Dauntless, Helldiver and then to the jet fighters. There was the Phantom I, Banshee, Fury, and Phantom II.

Each of the airplanes had been carefully restored and painted in a former squadron's colors. Even the name of a pilot who had flown that very plane was painted on the side.

As we walked along, Dad would point out the names of some of the pilots, who he knew. He said several were squadron commanders; he had flown as wingman with some of them and they with him. He started to tell stories of their legendary flying abilities, as well as their limitless ability to drink alcohol and still fly. He told stories of hair raising missions flown, of crashes, most fatal, but some not, and of terrifying night traps on stormy seas. He was in pilot's heaven.

About this time I asked Matt to go out to the car and get Dad's flight jacket which we had kept hidden. When Matt brought it in and handed it to Dad, I said, "Put this on and go stand over there by the Bearcat (Dad's favorite plane) I can take your picture so your grand children (there weren't any at the time) can see what you flew.

Dad said, "Where did you get that ratty old thing? I am not putting it on."

"Well, at least stand by the airplane and hold it up," I said.

Dad walked over and kind of half-heartedly held up the jacket as I began shooting the pictures. And then it started to happen.

An older, gray-haired man, spying the flying jacket, walked up to Dad and noting Dad's squadron patch, the Sky Giants, said, "I used to fly with the Pukin Dogs. Dick Schmutchler was skipper of the Sky Giants, wasn't he?"

"Yes," said Dad. "I was the executive officer and flew wing with Dick for a while."

"I remember Dick sure could drink when I flew with him. He used to get in the plane fifteen minutes early just to breath oxygen through the mask to sober up. He ever do that with you?"

"Sure did. A couple of times, but Dick always said he could fly better drunk than I could fly sober. I used to tell him I had never seen him fly sober, so I couldn't compare." At this they started to laugh.

And then another guy walked up and said that he flew with the Jolly Rogers. Did they know his commander? And another guy appeared and said that he flew with the Red Rippers and before we knew it, there were seven or eight old naval aviators standing there talking about the War --- who survived, who didn't, the long cross country flights, the countless night hops, the carrier landings and what they had done with their lives after the Navy.

I quietly motioned for Matt to move away from them and we sat on a bench and watched them remember the days when they were twenty- two and fearless, and were going to live forever. The moment was priceless And it all happened because Matt and I insisted that Dad hold up the jacket for a picture.

That photo sits on the bedside table in my bedroom at Winona Lake. The picture is one of my most prized possessions, along with that flying jacket. I often look at that picture and remember my Dad, who has always been my hero. He still is.

As we left the museum, Dad asked me what I was going to do with the flying jacket. I told him I was going to put it back in the closet in his house.

"Don't do that," he said. "Your mom will probably throw it out someday. You keep it and give it to someone in the next generation of aviators, who will appreciate it."

So I have kept it all these years. Seeing as how my life is just about over, I have to decide what to do with it. What a lot of people do not know is that from the day I buried my Dad I have kept a model of an F8F Bearcat on his headstone. I bought 50 of the kits and have faithfully replaced each as the weather takes its toll on them. I suppose that the replacement of the Bearcat will come to an end at my death, but I still have to deal with the flying jacket. I have a couple of ideas, but I just can't decide what to do with it.

Mike out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Laura's Angels

A lot of my readers already know this: I am part of a special group called Laura's Angels. This is a prayer/care web that originated with Kokomo High School quite a few years ago.

Our school is large and the staff is spread out. Friendships form easily within departments but, for instance, English teachers don't even tread the same halls as those math people upstairs. Consequently, it's not uncommon to walk past adults in the halls and not know who they are.

But teachers, by their natures, care about people, their students and their colleagues. One of those people could be carrying a heavy load and others would never know.

So, Laura's Angels formed, first to meet some specific needs of one of our teachers. It was and is, at first, a prayer chain. If someone makes a request known, within moments, e-mail flashes that message to any who open it. And, since so many of our teachers and staff are praying Christians, prayers begin to rise.

Then, from some mysterious closet, gifts arrive at a desk. Those gifts can include baby clothes, restaurant cards, snacks, inspirational books, and etc. That last is the constantly organic brain child of the head Angel.

The Angels have been on the case for the Bolingers since last April. As I returned to school, I sent this note to my fellow angels.

Hi Laura’s Angels.

You may have noticed, or maybe not, that I am back in 137 this semester. It’s good to be among you, my friends, for many reasons.

Teaching has consumed my life, my heart, my time for much of the last 35 years. I took a leave, rather abruptly, last spring when my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 gall bladder cancer. Don’t bother to GOOGLE it; it’s bad.

You, my dears, rallied around us, as you do for all who bring needs to your attention. Tangibly, you donated many, many, many pillowcases for a specific need. And in that miraculous realm of intercession, you began to pray for us. When I began to blog, many of you continued to follow us on the path we walk.

We were given good, scientific information that Mike would not survive 6 months. We spent our spring and early summer preparing for that, as much as one can. And we hung on to each other and to God.

Last August, Mike was doing much better than expected but I extended my leave as we both figured the clock would wind down in the fall.

It is still ticking. Folks who know Mike see him around town and are 1) pleased; 2) surprised; 3) confused; and/or all of this. He has gained 10 pounds, swims 2 – 3 miles most days, and is making beautiful furniture in his shop. I talked him into letter his hair grow so now he has a great golden mane.

Some well-meaning people shake his hand and say how glad they are that he is healed. Please understand my heart here. He is NOT healed. Lurking in there, in secret places, gall bladder cancer is waiting to take his life. His doctors are pleased and amazed at his progress. We are enjoying a sweeter marriage than we’ve ever had.

It was Mike’s wish that I return to school this semester. It’s kind of a move toward some sort of normal. I was not all that sold on the idea at first but he said, “It will be good for you.”

Guess what? He’s right. I’m among friends and some really nice teenagers. It is my milieu.

But, my friends, I would ask that you continue to remember us in your prayers. We don’t know how this disease will progress. I will keep you updated with specifics as/if such needs arise.

For example, Mike had a CAT scan this week and we will meet with his doctor next Monday at 9:30. We will appreciate knowing that you are holding us up.

I can visualize the movement from that initial newsflash to this greater community. So many of our teachers belong to local churches, prayer groups, women's groups, men's groups, groupie groups, and they forward this need to their friends.

Who forward it to other friends. And on and on.

Personally, we have heard from absolute strangers in far away places; of course, they are strangers no more as they become part of our safety net, those invisible strands that wrap themselves around us.

Laura’s Angels: what a blessing to KHS and our greater community.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Miss them already

Everybody is back into his or her routine. I miss you, my boys. Keep reading, Drew. Noah, built mighty block towers.

Both of you: explore and make your own adventures as you camp in the back yard.

Gramma and Grampa will be back. And MAYBE we'll bring you buddy, Uncle Zach.

Monday, January 4, 2010

KHS -- first day of second semester

So, how did it go? The hub, the son, several family members and one of our superior administrative assistants wanted to know.

Just fine, folks.

I had visited my classroom a few times over Christmas Break -- this is what I'M calling it; deal with it.

It felt like an alien landscape. Among other things, like having been gone almost a year, the fine young fellow who filled in for me had leftr the place neat and orderly. The desk was cleared; all clutter was tossed; all materials were sorted, stacked, and slid into the side bookshelves.

This is NOT the way I usually leave my room nor re-enter it. It took me almost a hour to re-nest, scattering papers here and there, opening textbooks and marking them and then leaving them open at non right angles.

I had hoped that teaching would be like riding a bike....once you learn, you never forget...but that's not really possible as the objects (students) with which you work will change from year to year.

I did my best to get organized last week, making notes of things I was unclear about..."what color pass for dress code violation?" "what times we must never send students into the halls" "do I stil have an assigned parking space?" (yes) and "who has a copy room code?"

In advance, I shot e-mails to the wise ones who could answer and by Monday morning, the answers were there and my questions disappeared.

So, in they come, 6 classes of high school students. Some knew me from several years ago when I had a freshman SRP (kind of study hall but DON'T call it study hall!) Some, and this happens more often, had heard things from their moms or dads or older siblings. Many knew that I had taken a leave and so I gave them the short version of why I was back at school.

Anyway, it felt good. It felt right to be there, passing out my class rules as per requirement, going over those rules plus the 'refinements' like no drinks and no food in the classroom. Then, as we have budding lawyers everywhere, we had to discuss what 'drink' means and my definition of 'food.' So we did.

Rules rules rules. It seems like there are a lot of rules. And as a child of the late 60's, I remember when I was in HOW TO BE A TEACHER school and they told us that students crave rules, I thought, "No they don't."

But they do. They want to know what to expect and most want to know how to avoid conflict. Most, not all.

I kicked out my first two students ON THE FIRST DAY. I couldn't BELIEVE it! If anything, I'm more mellow and patient that normal. And it's unusual, really, for 17 year olds to draw the line in the sand. Most are mature enough to just want to get along.

However, God and the computer have given me my challenging class, made up of about 6 kids who teamed up to disrupt. Really, someone should study such things. It's amazing. In this, at least, they've embraced that group-think thing. And as the chaos was moving around the room, from this desk to that one over there, to the one in the back and then on, among the troubled ones was the sea of faces who were begging me to do something and was fretful that I would not be up to the task. "Oh great. We have to put up with THIS."

Now, you might ask, what in the world could some poor kiddies do to get the boom lowered on the first day.

One little delight said, out loud at the wrong time, "You're going to have a problem with me being tardy."

"I"m not going to have a problem with it."

"Yes you are. I will be tardy a lot." (First class of day)

"I'm not going to have a problem with it."

"I don't like your tone, lady. You should NOT be talking to me like that."

Really? She said THAT to the teacher?

As the legion of high school teachers would say, "Welcome to our world."

We DO see a lot of kids who have been encourage to speak their minds, whenever they feel like it and to anyone they feel like talking to. Perhaps this student is one of those of the encouraged.

Don't know.
Don't care.
Out she goes.

Of course, she'll be back. They always come back. This is public school, after all and they are entitled to their education. Of course they are.

What they are NOT entitled to is disruption of OTHERS getting THEIR education.So when the mouthy child returns, he/she may have the bad judgement to say that nothing has happened to him/ though I care. And if that's true, that the powers that be did NOT address this (again, don't know don't care), then the behavior will emerge again and out he/she will go again. I can keep this up all semester if needs be.

What I care about is that the students who want to be there get THEIR due. He/She will have to learn to play it my way or the path the the office will get worn.

Whew. That felt good. I'm back and THAT feels good.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Newest Project

When it comes to home improvement projects, my daddy raised himself a cupcake. I grew up oblivious to what it takes to fix things. I never experienced a stuck window, for example, but I would have imagined that if you found one, you’d just have to move to a house with windows that work.

Cooking and laundry were tasks that just happened in my life. Food materialized in the refrigerator and on the table. Clean clothes replaced the dirty ones that I tossed down the chute. I had to make my bed but no one said it had to pass inspection. (Good thing…I doubt that anyone ever looked UNDER the bedspread to identify various lumps.)

I was also spared the details of car maintenance. My dad must have taken care of changing oil/checking tires because I was an adult before anyone suggested I do such things. (Really? You have to change the oil? How often? Really?)

As for yard work, well, I think Dad actually liked mowing. I recall watching him pace and smile, his mind drifting to some far-off golf course. As for gardening, my only involvement there was when I was sent out to weed as punishment. I believe I pulled up some wrong things because the parents only employed that gimmick once.

So what was I doing during my formative years? Well, not cleaning, washing, mowing, cooking, ironing or cooking. Memory fades but I believe I was filling my head with wonderful plots, lyrics, inventions, and ironic asides that would come in handy later in life.

My own children now know the truth. I made them do lots of things that NO ONE ever made ME do. Deal with it, kiddies.

Speaking of irony, I married a man who is all about fix-it projects. His dad paired his teenage son with a maintenance man who taught the hub to roof, fix basic plumbing, replace gutters, and paint. My father-in-law owned some rental properties in town and when the hub was in high school, HE became the crew chief, employing his buddies to crouch up on roofs with hammers, nails (not nail guns) and shingles. They used to compete with each other to finish rows.

I married into this family and in our early married years, Mike’s dad would let us earn extra money, which we needed, by working for him. So, I learned how to paint a rental (get a roller and paint everything white that doesn’t move…watch out for that cat!), construct lumber/cinder block bookcases, and resurface parking lots.

This last task, apparently, needs to be done when the temperature reaches the humid mid 90’s. In case you’ve missed THIS experience, it involves pouring gooey black stuff out of 5 gallon cylinders and then brush, brush, brushing it to coat the paved ground. By the way, and leaving out details is always a problem when I’m enlisted to work, no one mentioned that, although it may be hot, it’s best to wear long pants and crummy shoes because they will get coated with tar. If said tar gets on bare skin, well, it burns and doesn’t stop, even after bathing.

Older and wiser. When I drive around town in the hot summer, I see that lots of places use machines to coat parking lots. Where are those manual laborers with brushes?

About 20 years ago, LOWE’S Home Improvement Store came to town and the hub, like lots and lots and lots of others, bought into their spiel that ANYONE can tile a bathroom, replace a floor, and hang drywall.

We’ve had those adventures, some good and some needing to be, um, refined by other skilled craftsman.

So, on New Year’s Day, while most Americans were either sleeping it off or watching football, I found myself up at the cottage with the hub, working on his latest last project.

Followers of this blog may remember that Mike started on a custom desk for me, wondering if he’d be able to finish it. Then came the chair and bookcase. Along side, there have been some framed mirrors, a special table for our Thanksgiving hostess and then the eight tables for friends who visited Mike in the hospital.

As the finish was drying on those tables, Mike decided that what our cottage needed were new drawers in the kitchen. That kitchen is probably original with the house. It has been painted a few times but with no other major changes.

Mike brought the 4 kitchen drawers home, took them apart and made new ones, staining them with ‘Golden Oak Minwax Wood Finish.’ (I have been sent to the store a few times.)

But new drawers, while nice and shiny, would only serve to contrast old, boring, painted doors. So he took all of the doors off, brought them home and made new door fronts. These are works of art.

We loaded up the truck, grabbed Ivy, and took off around 11 for what would be a long day at Winona Lake.

At any work site, there are roles that must be filled and the work will go more smoothly if all agree on the pecking order. Mike filled “Master Craftsman” easily. In an earlier time, he would have shepherded several skilled apprentices and a few worker bees or yeomen. My personal best skill is described as “Driving to pick up the pizza.”

But as a two-man crew, he looked to me to fill several roles. As he assembled the tools, I sorted wood screws. THIS I can do: flat for inside the cabinet; rounded for the outside. I could have sorted all day had there been that many screws.
Alas, the master wanted me to DRILL HOLES into the wood that he had carefully crafted, stained and finished.

Electric Drill. Permanent holes. No room for error.

Talk about living on the edge.

And then I was assigned to attach the hinges with the wood screws. I found the screws well-sorted (!) but this is hard work. After several feeble attempts, the task became 1) me starting the screws and 2) the master finishing.

The wind outside howled, bringing the wind chill down to below zero. However, I insisted we stop for lunch when we started to make mistakes. No pizza. Not much open on New Year’s Day. Wendy’s Chili did the trick and back to the project.

We teamed to hold up the various doors and tighten those screws.

Several neighbors plus sister Lisa dropped by to oooh. And, once we stepped back, we had to agree. We knucked (fist bump), and then we doubled knucked.

I’ll post pictures soon.

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It's hard to get five people to sit still, face the camera and SMILE for 10 seconds.