Tuesday, September 29, 2009

October Agenda

For the semi-retiree and the on-leave teacher, our October calendar has a lot of items entered on it. Some of these will nudge our direction in the coming months. Some are just for fun. And, as so many of you pray for us, we want to keep you within the circle of our needs.

Doctors’ orders for September were to go and play. We did our best. October brings us back to the doctor. Friday, Mike will get punctured for lab work. He will also bring home ‘the stuff,’ the liquid he must drink for Monday. On Monday, he will go back to the hospital for his second high contrast CT. We will meet with Mike’s doctor on 10-13 in the afternoon, to discuss the findings of the labs and scans.

As I flip to October, I spy a few lingering legal matters that Mike will finish for clients. Son-in-law Jeremy tried, really tried, to get all files away from his buddy but Mike held onto some. Who knew that he would be able to work with his clients this fall? Well, God did. A reverse from years past, Mike has to doff his T-shirt, shorts and Chucks, and slide into the lawyer costume for these performances.

Blessing abound. A year ago, some very talented musicians created a concert of Beatles music, using authentic instruments. Guitar junkies were delighted to view the set with all its guitars. Proceeds aided a local food pantry. As they previewed, Mike leaned over and whispered, “Oh man. I’d love to be up there.”

So guess what? They decided to do it again. This year’s concert is much bigger; there are three sets that will move the concert through the Beatles’ music. Mike got the call. Would he like to play in the early set? Well, yes he would. And he will so there are rehearsals on our October calendar.

Among rehearsal dates, Mike and college buddy Dale will be traveling down to Deals Gap to run their motorcycles on The Tail of the Dragon. (see former post and check out http://www.dealsgap.com/)

A few months ago, when the people at our house thought that any day we’d speak our last, Mike whispered to me that he wished he could have more time and that he’d give just about anything if he could play guitar with Zach. So when one concert musician bowed out and they asked Zach to fill in, well, father and son will be playing together.

This year’s concert will benefit Bridges, a local youth organization. Check out http://www.concertwithacause.org/. And, if you are within driving distance, you will be blessed and will be a blessing if you join us on October 11.

Way back in July, Mike asked our pastors for an avenue of service. He was thinking about building maintenance and cleaning. Instead, they told him that they’d like him to teach one of the fall classes at church.

“I won’t be here,” said Mike.

Gratefully wrong again. So what’s right is that he will be teaching a class on three Wednesday nights. The working title is “How to Stay Married/How to avoid paying a divorce lawyer a lot of money.”

Tuesday, October 13 marks the date that The Kokomo Rescue Mission will dedicate their newest acquisition, Mike’s former office and parking lot. We all know that God will continue to use this mission to aid the fallen and reach the lost. Then, in the afternoon, we will meet with Mike’s doctor.

So, as you pencil us in, the short version for your prayer list:

10 – 2 Lab work
10 – 5 CT
10 – 6 through 9 Deals Gap/Dragon Tail
10-11 Concert with a Cause
10 – 13 Rescue Mission Dedication AM
10 – 13 Meeting with doctor PM
10 – 14/21/28 Mike’s class at Oakbrook

Last weekend we took a quick trip to New Albany (Indiana). Our brother-in-law Steve met us there as his family gathered to celebrate the home going of their father, W.A. Amerson.

Somewhere beyond the clouds, W.A. joins the love of his life, Virginia, who went home to heaven several years ago. Personally, I have never known a long-married couple who was as much in love as these two sweethearts. Passing is always sad but we can all rejoice because the love birds are together again.

Our time with Steve (and Kris and Matthew) was brief but since the last time they saw Mike, he was 2 weeks out of surgery, they got to see the hale and hearty Bolinger.

Southern Indiana displays the first blush of fall. What a beautiful drive! Thanks for staying with us on our journey. We will keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

So you think you're fast? Another mostly true story

Several years ago I reconnected with a good friend, Dale Mitchell, from my Wheaton College days. I do not remember how we both discovered that we liked motorcycles, but we did some how. Again, I cannot remember the details, but Dale called me one day and suggested we take a trip down South to ride our bikes. He said he had heard about a highway in southern Tennessee and North Carolina that was supposed to be challenging and unique. It took me two seconds to decide I was in for the trip

That telephone call started a tradition where Dale and I have taken a bike trip almost every year. We always go to the same place. Deal’s Gap, also known as “The Tail of the Dragon”. For those of you who are computer enabled, go to Yahoo or Google and type in either of the names and you will get the websites.

For those of you who choose not to look at the websites, let me tell you about the Gap. First of all, it is not a clothing store. It is Tennessee St. Rd. 129, which is about twenty five miles south of Knoxville, Tennessee. It is a perfectly paved two-lane highway that goes through the Nantahala Mountains. It has double yellow lines the whole way and not a single intersecting road. Thus, you never have to worry about some idiot pulling out in front of you when you’re going too dang fast.

At the top of the mountain is the Overlook. There is a place to get off your bike on both sides of the road. I have seen as many as fifty bikes parked at the overlook, with riders standing around swapping enormous lies about how fast they are and getting up the nerve for another pass down the mountain. The riders leave in pairs, usually, to begin their next pass. Since everyone is watching, I have seen many wheelies and heard many engines screaming at their red line. Very cool.

10.8 miles away, at the other end of the Tail is “Deal’s Gap,” which is nothing more than a crossroad, except there is a general store, a flea-bag biker motel, and a gas station, where you can get 105 octane race fuel for whatever machine you are piloting. There is also a small restaurant which sells man-food. Hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs, salsa, bacon and eggs, donuts and beef jerky. Very cool.

Now, if you have read this far, you are probably saying “big deal.” Doesn’t sound like much to me. Maybe not. But I haven’t told you the best part. You see, between the Overlook and the general store are 318 turns. Yes, you read right. 318 turns in 10.8 miles. Most of them are banked. Through a beautiful forest. With the road frequently cut through granite. Along the edge of cliffs. Oh wow!

It gets even better. For the most part, the cops don’t care what you do between the Overlook and the General Store. They do not much care about what you are riding or driving, either. I have seen full race cars, Moto GP bikes with no headlights, cars with only a fiberglass seat for the driver, a full roll cage and a fire bottle system, along with supercharged Corvettes. If you own it, if it’s fast, bring it. Run it as hard as you can.

There is a sense of cooperation between the riders and drivers. Rule one: do not crash, or if you must, keep it in your lane. You don’t want to mess with someone in the opposite lane because you were stupid, right? Rule Two: Do not cross the yellow lines, period, ever. That’s simple enough. Unfortunately, some people break the rules occasionally. It is a rare year that someone doesn’t get killed. When that happens, the governor gets pissed off and sends the cops, who frequently sit at the Overlook and tell everyone going in the opposite direction to slow down before they get to town. Very considerate. However, once in a great while they invade the Tail.

Some years ago I was worn out from too many passes. I was leisurely riding down the mountain headed to the general store when I came upon two deputies standing beside their radar cars. One was handholding a radar gun, while the other was ready to go in the chase car. Being the obnoxious lawyer that I was was, I pulled off the road and parked my bike. I walked up to the cop with the radar gun and asked if he had caught anyone speeding. He replied in the negative and then volunteered that he was wasting his time. I asked why. He told me to listen. In the distance I could hear the engine of a sport bike screaming up and down the gears and growing closer. I commented that he would be an easy target. The cop said it was not going to happen. About the same time, another rider went by in the opposite direction, headed toward the oncoming sports bike. The cop told me to listen carefully. Within 30 seconds, the screaming engine of the sport bike was reduced to an idle. 30 seconds later the sport bike rider went by the cop, waving as he passed. I’ll bet he was smiling behind his full face helmet. Obviously, the biker who had passed going in the opposite direction had warned the oncoming sport bike rider about the cop. Is that cool or what?

The officer then told me that he had a sport bike and loved the Gap. He did not want to give anybody a ticket and that he had been ordered to come up there and patrol. He said that if he didn’t write some tickets, his boss and the governor were going to be upset. What a circus. I went on my way.

As usual, I digress. Let me continue. A few years ago, Dale and I were both worn out from multiple passes up and down the Tail. We stopped at the general store and were sitting on a bench in front admiring the parade of fast machinery stopping for fuel and food. I was drinking my usual chocolate milk, while Dale was drinking some vile perversion of coffee by Starbuck’s.

Just then we heard a sport bike shifting down and the rider pulled into the parking lot and rolled to a stop right in front of us. The bike was a Suzuki GSXR 600. For those not acquainted with motor cycles, this is a very fast sport bike or "crotch rocket.” The rider had on full leathers that matched the bike’s paint scheme. The rider got off and sat down next to us. I could tell that the bike and rider had both been down a time or two. (We call it asphalt surfing. I am a veteran.) The rider’s leathers were scuffed, torn and beat up on the knees, elbows, and shoulders. The bike had several scuffs to its fairing. To be sure, we were looking at a matched pair of old road dogs.

The rider took off his helmet, also scarred up, and said, “Howdy, boys. Been here long?”

Dale and I replied that we had been there a few minutes and were getting ready for another pass up the mountain. He asked which bikes were ours and we pointed them out. He commented that they were shiny and fairly new. We commented that his bike looked like it had a few miles on it. He confirmed, saying that they had both had a spill or two together.

Just then the door to the general store flew open and one of the cashiers ran out onto the porch, took one look at the newly arrived rider and exclaimed “A-vin, how you been, boy? I ain’t seen you in ages.”

Now, before I go further with this, notice how I spelled the rider’s name. His name was Alvin. But that was not how she pronounced it. Say “Alvin.” Go ahead, do it. Now say it without the “l.” That is how she pronounced it. I love Southerners, especially North Carolina Belles.

“Well, Lucy, how you been, girl? I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age,” said Alvin.

“A-vin, you up here running that ol’ road again? You ought to know better,” said Lucy.

“Well, I ain’t been here in a couple of weeks ‘cause I needed new tars on my bike,” said Alvin.

I must digress here, yet again, so you will get the whole effect. Alvin said he needed new tires. But that is not how he said it. Instead of saying “tires,” he said “tars” (rhymes with scars).

Alvin continued. “Yeah, I can’t seen to get them to last more than four or five hundred miles ‘for they a wore out.”

Dale looked at me and I looked at Dale. We were both thinking the same thing. Most bike tires will last between five and ten thousand miles. And Alvin is wearing them out in 400 miles? That was when we both looked at the front tire on Alvin’s bike. The center was almost new looking. But the sides were worn almost down to the cords. That bike was spending its speedy life leaned over on its side most of the time. I looked at Alvin’s knees. The rubber pucks in the leathers were paper thin. This dude was fast. Very, very fast.

Dale asked Alvin if he had been riding the Tail very long. Alvin said, “Bout 40 years, maybe. I remember when it was dirt and gravel. Member when it was first paved, too. Paving made it a lot easier on the tires, I’ll tell ya.”

Dale then asked, “How old are you Alvin?”

Alvin said, “Next month I’ll be seventy-five. Say, you boys fast? Maybe we could have a little bet on who could get to the Overlook, first? I might be willing to spot you a minute or two head start. Interested?

I couldn’t believe it. We were getting hustled by a geezer sport bike rider who is probably capable of running the road blindfolded.

“I’ll pass, Alvin, but thanks for asking,” I said.

“Well maybe I’ll see you boys up at the Overlook. Ya’ll be careful, now. He-ah?” At that he got up, picked up his helmet and started to leave.

Dale said, “Alvin, you are my hero. I hope I am still up here riding when I am seventy-five.” Alvin left.

About then Dale and I started to leave, when Miss Lucy came back on the porch. “Did he ask you boys the race him to the Overlook?”

“Yes, he did,” we replied.

“You boys ain’t got no call to be racing that old man. He is real fast and knows that road like his backyard. Don’t even think about running with him. You’ll jist get hurt. Ain’t no one ever beat him, that I know of.” Lucy walked back into the general store. Properly warned, Dale and I saddled up and rode up the road for another pass.

I have thought about Alvin frequently since our chance encounter that day. Why would this old guy continue to run that road where a little mistake could kill him? I think I know now. He was doing what he knew how to do to stay alive. He still had that spark of life that makes living a challenge. You could see it in his eyes. He was still having fun. He was going to ride that bike, I suspect, until he just couldn’t get on it anymore. That would be the day they hauled him off to the graveyard. Alvin wouldn’t live out his life in a nursing home, either. No way. Not him. What a man!

In two weeks Dale and I are again headed down to the Gap. It will in all likelihood be my last trip there. That thought makes me sad. I love my bike. I love that road. I love the speed. I love my friend. It will probably the last time I see him and that makes me sad, also.

I am still doing aerobatics. I can still pull 5 G’s. I’m still working on my routine for the Midwest Championship. I am going to fly that airplane and ride my motorcycle until I can’t do either anymore. Alvin wouldn’t go to a nursing home and I refuse to go back to the hospital. Alvin is still my hero.

Mike out.

The hub on the screen

As a child of the 50's, I've always had a fascination for television and people on television. Realizing that the internet is fast passing TV for exposure, I can now watch friends on a slightly smaller screen.

Our church is in the midst of a 4 week study called Chase the Lion.

On You Tube, search for Chase the Lion Oakbrook and see a black/white overview of the study. Mike is about mid way through the 1 1/2 video.

Also, our friend/minister/friend interviewed Mike for one the studies. You can view this at

Someday soon, I'm going to learn to link. Always good to keep learning.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So We Took a Trip

Followers of this blog may begin to sense the logistical/social/emotional/geographical/financial/ itinerarial (parallelism) challenges that these Bolingers faced in the planning and execution.

The hub expressed some concerns about venturing outside the good ol’ US with its superior medical care. I mean, we’ve been to some places where the national hospital is a double-wide trailer. And with ‘no money coming in,’ he hoped that we would not burn through our retirement accounts. Then there were discussions about places to go; how we’d get there; how long it would take to get there; what we would do when we got there; how long we’d stay and where; and what about the dog?

For a retiree and an on-leave teacher, our September calendar is surprising cluttered, but I scoped out a stretch where a trip could happen. We settled on Gettysburg, 9 hours away by car. This would be Mike’s third and my second trip. We brought along Zach who was making his first tour of the battlefield. Mike suggested that he read The Killer Angels in preparation.

We could drive it in one day. We could stay at a nice chain hotel where I’m accumulating points. We could spend an entire day walking, climbing, and viewing this historical acreage. We could drive back to Kokomo, again in one day. Mike began to warm to the idea but, of course, wanted details. More than what’s stated above.

As I prepared the Google directions, I realized that our route, I-70, would take us within 20 miles of Shanksville, PA, where Flight 93 crashed on 9/11. Ok, how could you come so close and NOT stop? You couldn’t. I announced that our itinerary would include this stop. That would be 7 hours into our initial trip. Yes, we would have to venture off the Interstate but I assured them we would be ok. Then we would continue on to Gettysburg, get a good night’s sleep, and then tour the battlefield. As that would take most of the day, we would stay again at our hotel.

Then, I saw an item in USA Today about Hershey, PA. “Hmmm,” wonder I. “Where is Hershey in relation to Gettysburg?”

50 miles.

Could you really be THAT close to Hershey and not stop? Isn’t that one of those places that most people want to visit? No and yes. So I injected the new idea at dinner.

This is where the recitation began about my forcing the family to view The World’s Largest Peanut Boil. (former post) “Is this another tourist thing? I hate tourist traps,” said the hub.

Hate? Strong. I’m all for reserving hate for the truly evil. (make your own list) So we discussed the nature of tourist traps.

It’s not that Mike is opposed to an educational side trip but there are several categories:
1) educational; 2) educational/touristy; 3) touristy/educational; and 4) touristy.

I have a friend who owns a unique gift shop on Winona Lake. She travels to Chicago and New York to stock her store. I asked her, “Is there a place where you can just buy tourist junk? You know, shot glasses and little silver spoons?” She says that yes there is. She never shops at such places. At touristy places, the gift shop will be filled with this junk.

I assured my men that they would enjoy this trip and we didn’t even have to venture into any gift shop. A bit of grumbling and then assent.

I also assured them both that I had directions and maps. I had mileage and time estimates. Really, they should just relax and not worry.

But that’s not ‘our’ travel style so the fretting began. “What if it rains?” (we’ll get wet) “What if we get lost?” (GPS) “What if the hotel doesn’t have a pool?” (It does) “What if it’s closed?” (Maybe we’ll luck out and there will be enough rain…)
“And what about the dog?”

Enough already about Ivy. She was the guest of the Young family whose canine welcomed her to the fold.

“And we’re NOT stopping,” announced the primary driver. “We’re going to pack a cooler and we’ll only stop to get gas and use the restroom.”

I’m not going to fight this. I will fill up the cooler. But we will stop and most of the cooler’s contents will go untouched.

I printed out the Google stuff plus reservation numbers and brochures from Gettysburg and Hershey. (“Chocolate World is Free!!”) I tucked it all into a red pocket folder.

Early Sunday morning, we were off and driving. 10 miles out of town we tore into the snack mix and licorice. (Nobody said the cooler had to have actual FOOD in it.)By 3 PM we arrived at Shanksville. The actual crash site is several miles out of this tiny town, in an open space near two lakes. Mike noted that the pilot chose a good place to crash….then rethought that.

The crash site is several football fields away from the memorial where there are plaques, flags and other memorials. A park ranger talked about the crash and plans for a more permanent monument to these brave Americans.

Then, two more hours brought us to Gettysburg. We checked in. The pool was working. Mike had thought that we’d get up at 6. Again, we let that float for a while. “The Visitors’ Center opens at 9. They suggest 2 hours there and 3 hours, max, to tour the battlefield,” said I as I read from my folder.

So, after a really good night’s sleep (no swim) and a quick breakfast, we were off.

If you’ve never been to Gettysburg, an initial effect is of a series of large fields with random sprinklings of grave markers, statues, and rocks. Unlike a cemetery, there’s no uniformity. Various groups have honored the fallen in their own way.

You can climb up to Little Round Top and scan down to where a major battle occurred. You can stand in the place where a most famous battle photo was taken.

Here are my men, laughing at me, in front of Devil’s Den. Laughing? Well, we were really having a great time. Also, they asked me to take their photo and apparently I did not ‘get’ the camera and thought I had to get in a strange position.

So, after many discussions of people and events, our day on the battlefield ended. Back to hotel and pool. Another good night’s sleep.

At breakfast, the men asked me about the rest of the day. Did I think we’d stay overnight again?

“It depends on how long YOU want to stay in Hershey,” I said. They grimaced at each other. No matter. Into the car and on to Hershey.

And did we have fun? Yes, we did. First, there’s a tour/ride through a mock-up of the factory, showing the steps of turning white soft beans into the yum of milk chocolate. As you move along, little jets of air blow chocolate scent in the air. Glorious. As you come to the end, an animated cow (really) snaps your picture. Zach noted that the photo of us was perfect. “Dad’s eyes are closed, I stuck my tongue out, and Mom has never looked happier.”We did not purchase that photo.

We bought tickets to attend Hershey University, a 30 minute program that ended with confirmation of a Masters in Chocolate Tasting. A tough curriculum but we decided we were up to the challenge.

We were given 6 different kinds of chocolate and a bottle of water to cleanse the pallet between tastes. We learned that one should not bite and chew chocolate. One should break a piece, smell it at the break and then place it on the tongue to melt.

As we are now graduates, let me tell you that different chocolates sound, smell, and melt differently. Fruity. Robust. Tart. Sweet. Grainy. Smooth.

And, how did Hershey’s kisses get their name? When the machine drops the little dollops of chocolate on the tray in that distinctive form, it makes a pucker noise.

Hershey DOES have a gift shop, about the size of a professional stadium. You can purchase everything and anything made by Hershey. You can have a snack (chocolate cake/tart/pie/brownie) a drink (chocolate coffee, anyone?) and can make custom printed kisses on a conveyor belt.

Hershey, PA rates as educational/touristy. You CAN buy a shot glass and little spoon with Hershey printed on it and take home a diploma. I opted for a T shirt in distinctive Hershey chocolate color.

As it was noon, we held a brief meeting and decided to drive back home, a 10 hour marathon which included a few stops.

Our trip was a success. We’ll need to do this again.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Family Vacations

In our home town, there used to be a practice in place every spring. Much of the city’s population would hit the road and head to Panama City, Florida for spring break. Some left when school dismissed on Friday. Some snuck out early. All, except those who chose to fly, found themselves bumper-to-bumper, in two lanes, pointed south.

When you passed a car, the inhabitants waved at folks they knew. If you pulled off for a snack, you’d stand in line with neighbors. Once you arrived, motels and beach front rentals were filled with familiar faces. When you strolled along the beach, you stepped over the bodies transported from north central Indiana.

When you went shopping, to a restaurant, to the amusement park, you’d be surrounded by friends. Many establishments would post “Welcome Kokomo” on their marquees.

We made the trip three times when the kids were in grade school. Of course, they enjoyed it; seeing your friends at a Florida beach was a unique and then a pleasant experience. We mostly sat, and drove around, and ate, as northern Florida’s early spring weather was usually too cool for much swimming in the ocean.

The trip took about 12 hours of hard driving so we arrived tired; we’d return Saturday with a van full of dirty clothes and people, and I got to spend my Sunday afternoon cleaning up. We found, after three tries, that we could find other things we liked better to do on that week break from school.

During a recent trip (next entry), the hub started talking about how his wife the teacher was always trying to turn trips into something educational. As if that’s a bad thing. Contradictory to what a vacation should be. Oh, really?

Then, he reminded me that on one of these Florida treks, I insisted that we take a side trip to experience some enrichment. Specifically, I forced the family off the two lane interstate and on to a dusty back road to see The World’s Largest Peanut Boil.

My family has, for many years, accused me of having selective memory. Allyson’s insight is that I seem to forget how I favored my son. Zach has similar sister incidents to report. I have had former students recite that ‘one thing’ they’ll always remember me saying and when they do, I usually can’t recall it. But, come on. In 35 years of talking (English teacher, you know) I have worked with over 15,000 students so I can give myself a break on that one.

Then, there’s the hub. When it comes to retelling a story, he fabricates; he exaggerates; he manipulates the facts. So in the case of his tales, my problem may not be selective memory but no memory of the event because either it did not happen or only in the broadest sense, OR I was not present.

So it is with this incident, this insistence that we visit The World’s Largest Peanut Boil. He reports that when we got to the center of a tiny town, there was a huge boiling vat. “You see,” he explained to our children, “in the south, they boil peanuts.” (educational, yes?) And then we continued back to the highway.

Ok, I’m figuring that the entire field trip took 30 minutes or so. It involved a discussion and probably some disagreement, and Mom finally prevailing. It included getting off a main high way, something that makes us ALL nervous, a drive to this little town and a viewing of the vat. Perhaps we got out. Surely after all of that we would have gotten out of the car. Then, Dad’s explanation and back to the car. Turn around and try to retrace our tracks. And on to Florida. It also would have included much discussion of whether or not it was worth the time. And, knowing my family, there would have been slightly sarcastic remarks about how Mom had enhanced the vacation with this special trip.

So, how come I have no recollection of this? Is it selective memory or something else? I maintained that it never happened. The hub, with his best dumbfounded expression, asserted that we did, in fact, visit the vat.

“I can’t believe you don’t remember. Ask the kids.”

And so I did. Zach, who had not had time to be paid off by his dad, said that he had no memory of a peanut boil. “Maybe I was too young.”

Did he remember Florida? The go-carts, the birds that ate his lunch? Yes. So.

I e-mailed Allyson. She is a busy gal these days with her babies back home and her Army residency. And, I’m betting that when she can’t recall events from her childhood, that brain space is filled with something medical. However, she’s got a good memory.

“No peanut memory, Mom.”


I’m sure that on most family vacations, I couldn’t turn off the teacher mode and I pushed and pulled us to learning activities. “No, that’s not just a piece of furniture. It’s a wardrobe. It’s C.S. Lewis’s actual wardrobe.” And then we’d read (again) The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe.

But, for now, it’s three to one that the Bolingers did NOT visit The World’s Largest Peanut Boil.

Maybe next year.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restless Night

You've probably read about Patrick Swayzee who died earlier this week. Then yesterday (Wed), both Myles Brand and Mel Simon passed away. Today's Indianapolis Star filled its front page with the story. All suffered from, fought against and ultimately lost the battle with pancreatic cancer.

That news hits harder in our home. Although Mike has gall bladder cancer, his diagnosis shares much with pancreatic cancer...the life expectancy after diagnosis is similar. So one's mind wanders to unhealthy places where the walk will do you no good.

Mike has been feeling well. We returned Wednesday from a trip that I will write about later. We had glorious weather and a good time. But he gets strange pains in strange places and although some are nowhere near his surgical scar, for at least fleeting moments, they are cancer and this is it.

I've been reflecting on how blessed we continue to be and how your prayers have visited many miracles on us. Prayers for time; prayers for special gifts like our anniversary and Mike's birthday; prayers for family whose challenges have added to our own. God has shown His hand.

As believers, Mike and I know that God will be glorified and that He will work our trials toward the ultimate goal of building His kingdom. We don't need to know the specifics, but He has graciously shown us some glimmers of how Mike's illness is touching others. I'll leave that vague and general for now. I don't want to highlight anyone specific but we are thankful that the Father has given us this glimpse of His working in the world.

Now today, we are restless. Mike has a strange pain on the inside of his left arm. It is tender and looks a little swollen to me. I quizzed him on what different activity he might be doing. He has had to stretch and swivel his arms to fit bolts on the Lotus, which by the way, is looking like a car these days. Could that be it? Maybe. Or maybe something else.

So pain and fretfulness are keeping us up tonight. I know many will not read until tomorrow. I will share this with you, our many friends, as another way you can prayer for us.

So, good night and God bless you. He IS in the blessing business.

Friday, September 11, 2009


For the crafty. For the curious. Here it is.

Introducing, the hub's summer project (one of them), copied from a photo in Fine Woodworking.


From the front, it is a glorious, sturdy (made for me, you know) oak desk with 10 drawers. It features dark wood inlays on the top and on the legs. Its writing surface is 33" from the floor. A normal desk, for a normal height person, stands 29". So, of course, the hub is working on a custom built desk chair for his long legged wife.
Here you can see some of the inlay detail. If you look closely on the legs, you can also see it. Creating the inlays presented the artist with some interesting challenges that he had to solve. Solve them he did.

"You are so loved"

I am blessed with a group of friends who take very good care of me. At least once a week, someone checks in and wants to meet me for coffee, lunch, breakfast, a walk. My gal pals and I are becoming fixtures around town. And, with my current non-employed status, I can make most dates.

Why, just last week, a long-time buddy and I fleshed out a former fantasy: Ladies Who Lunch. Working women imagine that there are females who dress up and dine at noon on a regular basis. Linen. Silver. Servants. The workers, on the other hand, often chow at their desks as they multitask. And if they are teachers, they are trained to take their mid-day repast (except at my school, it’s brunch time) in 10 minutes so they can also get their copying done.

One of these friends is a special treasure. I have had the privilege of teaching 3 of her 4 children all I know about American Literature. She was blunt. Each entered my course, filled with dread by the rumors, and each left “loving” it and me. Sweet.

And speaking of sweet. This friend often punctuates her affection with a side of homemade Turtles. You know, the pecan/caramel/chocolate kind.

At the close of every correspondence, she includes, “You are so loved.”

Now, if you didn’t know her, you might think this is cliché. You might think it is her more-original closing. But you would be wrong. When she tells you that you are so loved, you know that you are. You are loved by her; you are loved by her Father.

In addition to my girlfriends, I have the great gift of a husband who loves me. We have built a marriage/romance/adventure over the course of 35 years. When times are sunny, lots of people can share. When times are a bit more challenging, no one helps you shoulder the weight better than a spouse like mine.

As we move into the autumn, Mike will fulfill his offer to help at the church. He will be teaching one of their fall semester courses. In the past, these have included a eclectic variety of subjects from ‘End Times’ to ‘Financial Wisdom.’ The leaders asked Mike to teach a 3 week class on marriage from the perspective of a veteran divorce attorney. The working title, last time I checked, was “How to avoid paying a divorce lawyer and save your marriage.”

As my husband, he is all I could ask for. As a teacher, frankly, he’s also quite good. As an expert on why people get divorced, again, he knows a lot. Sad to say, the reasons are not as varied or specific as parties would like to think. People mess up their lives in predictable ways.

So right now, we’re brainstorming. He asked me (quick, off the top of your head) “What do women want in a marriage?” I said that security covered a lot and that I would put that first.
He’ll ask me something and when I try to answer, he says, “Write it down.” My scrawling notes need to be typed. AND, friends and readers, if you have some ideas, tips, etc., feel free to add in comments.

His class does not have to be sermoniacal (like THAT one?). He can teach it from a secular standpoint but sooner or later, he’ll feel the need to include God and His teachings. “And as soon as I get to ‘submit,’ (Eph. 5:22, as most Bible reading men know), I’ll lose all the women.”

No he won’t. But he needs to keep it in context, says the professional teacher.

Ephesians 5: 21 – 30. We are, as believers, to submit to one another. Then, married people have special instructions. Wives ARE to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord. (Wow. What man needs THAT ego boost?) Paul explains and then hands THIS to the husband. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. As in, he gave his life for his church.

And this is not an If-you-do-then-I’ll-do proposal. If a man and woman join together in marriage, God has given each of them a task, a role, a duty. It’s up to each to do what he/she has been instructed to do, to the best of his/her ability.

In the early years of our marriage, which coincided with the first blush of feminism, this was not an easy pill to swallow. Luckily, Mike and I agreed on most things and/or we were too busy/broke/sleepy to take a stand. AND when we could not agree and the issue HAD to have a solution, then I would take a breath and go with his decision, comfortable that HE would take the brunt of the responsibility if/when the decision proved to be a bad one. Luckily, again, most of his decisions were sound.

Not luck, actually. Yet another reason to keep young married couples in your prayers.

My only concern about the upcoming class is that the hub keep it at least general enough NOT to include our marriage specifically. It’s a good one, after all. However, he can get a bit creative and dramatic when telling stories to the point that, sometimes, although I was there, I do not remember the event.

One thing he SHOULD include, though, is a practice he began about 8 years ago, whenever we would be separated for the night. He would leave a note on my pillow or in my suitcase, telling me how he loves me and that I should hurry home. If he was the one who was gone, the message would be a variation on this theme.

Such a simple thing. Such a special thing. What a guy. He has my heart.

A few months ago, when the surgeons first dropped the bomb and our plans for the distant future came crashing down around us, in our saddest moments, I would say that I had hoped that we would be that Old Gray Couple, the one the young-uns honk at, try to pass on walking trails, grow impatient as they stroll, hand-in-hand, into the shopping mall.

So how sweet was it, when I returned from Sisters Weekend, that he had found a poem (we ARE liberal arts grads) and placed it on my pillow?

Archibald MacLeish writes of "The Old Gray Couple."

"They have only to look at each other to laugh
no one knows why, not even they:
something back in the lives they've lived,
something they both remember but no words can say.

They go off at an evening's end to talk but they don't,
or to sleep but they lie awake hardly a word,
just a touch, just near, just listening but not to hear.
Everything they know they know together -
everything, that is, but one: their lives
they've learned like secrets from each other;
their deaths they think of in the nights alone."

Again, how does Christ love us? John 15:12, 13. “I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it – the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.” (NIV)

In my trusty King James, it goes…”no greater love” as in we are ‘so loved.’

Pass the turtles.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Birthday Boy

You say it’s your birthday.
It’s my birthday, too, yeah.

(The Beatles)

Mike shares his birthday date with, among others, Michael Jackson. They do not have much in common and did not sing to each other last week.

We had a birthday party last Saturday (8/29) at our lake cottage on Winona Lake. As I had posted an invitation on the blog and as our at home friends are only about an hour away, we had no idea who or how many would show up. This sort of thing makes the hub nervous.

Actually, just as there have been other revelations during this adventure, I realized at least one reason why we don’t ‘do’ a lot of parties. It has a connection with why we don’t travel that much.
We have different styles. With travel, if I have about $200 in cash (American is just fine) and a good credit card, I would be ok with landing anywhere that they speak English, and having an adventure. When I was in London, yes, I saw the sights. I also rode the TUBE during evening rush hour and shopped in a grocery store on Saturday. I wanted to people-watch real people.

Mike prefers to know the exact itinerary, minute-by-minute; ok, he’s not that anal….hour-by-hour. He wants reservation numbers, phone numbers, addresses, etc. etc. etc. He feels uncomfortable if we are not on schedule.

As for entertaining, whenever we DO venture into this endeavor, Mike will always (ALWAYS) ask, “What are we going to DO with the guests?” He would be more comfortable with an agenda: Arrive 7 PM. Move into dining room 7:15 PM. Eat and leave…..

Ok, and my style is a big more, shall we say, organic. Let the party become what it will. Food, friends, an event. Really, what more do you need?

And I know that my method is NOT shared by other, more successful hostesses. My neighbor, a gifted entertainer/decorator, asked me, “And what is your theme?”

Uh. Mike’s birthday.

“And what is your color scheme?”

Uh. Uh. Birthday colors.

She was going to loan me all sorts of stuff to help and I’m betting she has a color-coded pile of decorations and serving dishes. This was not her kind of party.

But it was MY kind of party. My feeble decorations, besides a really big cake, included a HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner, balloons, and some noisemakers that, alas, did not make noise.

Who came? Well, first there were our lake friends, including Dean, Sandy, John, Connie, Bruce, Jenny, Hal, Randy, Peggy, Joclyn, and family. My mom, Evelyn, flew in for the weekend, mainly to celebrate this special day. My mom is like that. Then, several friends from Kokomo like Jessica and Jeff and Dr. Susan, several from far away, and I think a few random people who saw the lights and dropped by.

It turned out that my colors were Red and Blue (can’t get away from it) as The Cake Lady, with no guidance from me, made a red velvet cake (major YUM) and accented the frosting with red. Our table cloth was blue. So.

Guests brought goodies so we loaded up the table. We had another cake, some cookies, some fruit and veggies, chips and salsa, some cokes, some beer, some wine coolers and coffee.

After Mike blew out his candles, he opened his few gifts. His biggest smile was for the electronic frame from his wife. Also, my card got a big laugh. It has Doctor Evil on the front and he’s saying something about $1 million. I tried to explain it to people who has not seen the movie and decided it’s an inside joke.

So what did we do with our guests? Nothing. They made the party their own. They migrated to four different areas, visiting and getting to know new people. Then, every 15 minutes or so, everybody seemed to migrate to a new area. The house shook with laughter.

The crowd dwindled about 10 and I excused myself, really dragging. I told the hub that I would clean up in the morning. When I got up on Sunday, wouldn’t you just know that it was all shiny and clean, everything put away or thrown out. What a guy!

The banner was still arched across a doorway. “Put it away, in the drawer, for next year,“ my mom said. “I will look forward to hanging it up again.”

Love you, MOM.
Reflecting, it was a grand party. Those who love my husband gathered to celebrate his birthday. And Zach gave me the best remembrance.

He said, “I never saw my dad laugh so much. I got to hear him tell my favorite story of his and he was laughing so hard, he was crying.”

That story, by the way, is posted here on the blog. It is not MY favorite story. Son tells me that Mike’s delivery adds a lot. I hope so. For all of you who wished Mike a happy birthday, thanks. He had one for the record books.

"So have you updated your blog?"

Having been asked that question oh, about two dozen times lately, I know I have neglected my audience. So, faithful readers, you may be wondering what we have been doing. Or not. A quick look at my index reveals a slacker’s lack of output. I analyze several factors.

In those dark days after diagnosis, writing became a salve for me, a place to pour out all the jumble that was inside my head. Writing is a great way to organize your thoughts and make them tangible. “Oh, THAT’S what I was thinking.”

The month of August has been so normal, so like our usual life. Mike is busy and, as everyone who sees him says, “He looks so good.” (To his wife, he always looks good but he DID sneak into the barber. “I told him to keep it as long as possible, “ he wailed. No more solo trips!)

The month of August has also been full of adventures, some mundane and some colossal, that have filled our time. Although I’m not living by the clock as I would be if I were at school, the time flies as I do this, run there, clean (yes, friends) those. It does take a concerted effort to sit down and write.

New technology. At home, we have the desk top computer and the wireless hook-up. This second gizmo was a challenge but we have a techno person named Joclyn (and she has some friends at Purdue, a conclave of computer people) who has tweaked, called, tweaked again, called again, and finally got rid of the gremlins, at least for now. Her phone calls, by the way, are awesome to observe, a study in effective assertive consumerism. You would NOT want to mess with The Joss.

I had been using a nice little piece of technology, a notebook that Kokomo Center loaned to each teacher. Although it has its limitations, its portability makes is very useful. NO ONE at school even hinted that I should give it back while I’m on leave. However, I became aware that some people are having to share and, really, it’s best for each teacher to have his own so I began to research a replacement.

I had seen those little net books, compact, light, smaller screen and keyboard, at the store. I had done a little research plus had a lengthy conversation with my Best Buys techno-friend and former student, Brannon. (when ARE we going to have coffee, Buddy?) These mini books are great for writing and can connect to internet; I did not really want to invest in a laptop right now and my computer needs do not involve graphics, games, and other goodies, so this seemed like a good purchase.

The final piece of the endorsement puzzle came from my friend Sherry. Sherry and I began our teaching careers together. She bowed out last year. She is one of the most organized people I know. She is now busy with many projects and a grandbaby, and she loves her net book. OK, enough for me. Back to BestBuys where I plunked down a little cash.

Now this net book is all that I have said above. In cafes, I have seen women pulling these out of smaller purses and setting them up to write. However, my adjustment is slow. This is my first computer with a touch-pad mouse. And it’s very touchy. It is not uncommon for me to look up to the screen and see that I am in a new area of the document. It’s taking many rounds of Solitaire to get the hang of it. The keyboard is ‘cute,’ as all observers say. It’s also smaller so it’s not uncommon to go for “A” and hit CAPS LOCK instead.

Also, and perhaps this betrays how long it’s been since I purchased a new machine, the net book came loaded with WORKS, not OFFICE. Way back in the early ‘90’s, I used WORKS and I liked it. When I began selling my newspaper columns, I needed to switch to OFFICE and WORD. I believe it had something to do with a more universal acceptance. I didn’t really understand it except it made the difference between getting paid and not getting paid. I chose the check.

So before I left the store, I purchased WORKS Student Addition. As the net book has no CD drive, the Geeks had to install it. Home I went and fired up the net book. Well, what is THIS? THIS does not look like WORD. It says WORD. Where are all the familiars? Ah, a newer version. Something else to learn. And Zach returned my notebook to the school.

There have been a few other issues but now I’m almost acclimated so the technology excuse has become lame. Output is a matter of discipline.

I know that there are lots of readers of our blog who check it and then take us to the Father’s throne. I am committed to giving you relevant information as we continue on this adventure.

Right now RIGHT NOW (not a mistake) we are spending Labor Day Weekend at the lake. We are having autumn more-like weather, pleasant days and cool nights. This is ok with us: windows open and lots of blankets on the bed.

Mike is practicing the music he will be playing at the concert on October 11. My task is to firm up travel plans for the next month.

Your prayers have been answered in many ways. We have had a terrific summer. God’s mercies are everlasting.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

One of those Family Legends

Every family has its oral legends. Family legends are stories about what a member or members of the family did or didn’t do, intentionally or unintentionally, knowing or unknowingly, that some members of the family wish never happened or, at least people would have the common decency not to speak of it. My family has lots of legends that are mainly true. I thought I would share one with you, contrary to the wishes of some members of my family.

After I graduated from Kokomo High School, I needed a job for the summer before enrolling at Wheaton College. My next door neighbor, Jim Lemasters, who later married my sister, Lisa, told me I could get on the trash truck crew for the City of Kokomo. I applied and was promptly employed in what turned out to be the best job of my life. I loved that job.

It I with no small amount of pride that I can say I became a “packer man.” At the time a packer man would ride standing on a steel footing welded to the back end of a big packer truck. I would hang on to a small steel railing, also welded to the truck. Each packer truck had a driver and two packer men.

The job consisted of riding all over Kokomo standing on the back of the truck and going down prescribed alleys and dumping the contents of 55 gallon barrels into the back of the packer truck. This is how I got to be familiar with the various neighborhoods of my city. I might not have known what the front of the houses looked like, but I could identify neighborhoods and in some cases particular residences by their trash and garbage. The smells helped, too, particularly if they were raising farm animals in town. Nothing like the smell of warm manure emanating from a barrel on a hot July morning.

One of the cool things about being a packer man was that you could keep anything you found in the trash. I know some people who furnished their first houses/apartments with relics found in the trash (Lisa, your secret is safe with me.)

One day Jim and I found the remains of a cow in a barrel. It was quite dead, being covered with maggots. The two femurs were sticking out of the barrel, so Jim and I pulled them out, took them home and cleaned them up. We drilled holes through the sockets and attached hand straps. Why would we do this? Well, our driver, Wayne, had narcolepsy. He would drive up to a couple of barrels and promptly fall asleep, repeatedly. We got tired of yelling at him to wake up, so we used the bones to bang on the side of the truck to keep him awake. Those bones made a terrible racket on the steel sides of the truck. Combine that noise with these two demented souls yelling at Wayne to wake up and the problem was solved. I hate to think of what the good citizens of Kokomo thought about us. They probably thought it was a government job program of some sort to try to employ the psychotic or dangerously mentally ill.

At any rate, one day Jim and I found a starter pistol and some blank ammunition in the trash. We loaded the pistol and fired it, scaring Wayne half to death. I took it home with me.

Bear with me for a moment while I digress. You need to know that each packer truck was assigned a route each day. If you had run your route, you could clock out, go home, and be paid for eight hours. Is that a great system or not? The drivers all wanted Jim and me on their trucks, because Jim and I literally ran the alleys. That truck never stopped rolling as we would throw the barrels into the back of the truck, empty them and run to the next barrel. Jim and I never worked past 11:30 am. We were always done way early. We would clock out and go home.

It is interesting to note that a lot of guys never told their wives or significant others that they got done early. All the wives knew was their hardworking husbands came home every day at 4:30, their clothes covered with remnants of trash. Little did they know that there where showers and lockers at the city garage. Many of the guys kept nice clothes in these lockers for act ivies engaged in between 1 pm and 4 pm. They would return to the city building, take off the nice clothes and put on their work clothes and go home. Where were they for 4 hours every afternoon? Well, what happens at the city garage stays at the city garage.

The problem was that my parents were irritated that I didn’t have to actually work eight hours for eight hours pay. Of course, they never saw me hauling butt down the alleys rolling barrels at a dead run, either. Consequently, my blessed mother decided that when I got home everyday at noon, there should be other jobs for me to do to finish out a “real” work day.

One day I came home and she decided that I needed to paint Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Like the dutiful son, I did it. Their bedroom had picture railing running around the room about one inch from the ceiling. When I told her I was done, she looked up at the railing and said I missed a bunch of places. I couldn’t see where I had missed any places, but I painted it again. I told her I was done. She told me in no uncertain words that I had done a terrible job and I had best do it over. I did. The third time I reported the job to be complete, she said I was worthless, couldn’t do anything right and I would never amount to anything. (How did she know back then?)

I had had enough at that point and told her that no matter how much paint I put on the space between the top of the chair rail and the ceiling, I couldn’t paint out the shadow. She told me I was a smart aleck and that I could just wait until Dad got home and he would take care of my insolent self.

I went over to Jim’s house and told him what had happened. I then got a devious idea. I got the starter pistol and loaded it. Jim and I went back to my house. I rang the back door doorbell and waited for mom to answer it. She did, commenting as to why I would ring the doorbell to my own house. At that point I started yelling about how she was crazy, was impossible to please and I had had enough of her. Whereupon, I whipped out the starter pistol, pointed it at her from a range of three feet and fired that sucker, aiming directly at her midsection.

The look on her face was priceless. She felt around for a bullet hole and staggered backward, looking for blood. I thought about reloading, but didn’t. Jim was laughing so hard he was almost in convulsions. Finally, she figured out that she had not been shot. I was howling with glee. She was furious and incredulous, all at the same time. I knew I was in big trouble when Dad got home, but, quite frankly, I did not give a hoot.

She recovered her composure and said, “I am calling your father right now.” She did. Dad zoomed home. I was out in the garage when dad talked to mom. Looking back, I wish I had heard that conversation. I am sure it went something like this:

Mom: Owen, your son shot me.
Dad: He what?
M: You heard me. Your son shot me.
D: Well, are you hurt?
M: No. But you have got to do something about this.
D: All right, Mary Ann, I will talk to him.

Dad rarely got upset about anything. I am sure he was puzzled about what had happened. Out to the garage came Dad.

“Did you really shoot your mom?”

I replied in the affirmative. Dad asked if I had a reason. I told him I had painted the chair railing three times and I could not paint out the shadow. An odd look came over Dad’s face.
Dad left the garage, saying he would be back. Upstairs he went and inspected the paint job. I could hear him ask Mom to show him where I missed with the paint. She showed him. He then explained that what she was complaining about was a shadow, not a missed spot. She was not amused and asked him what he was going to do about his budding assassin son. Dad said he would take care of it. Back to the garage he came.

He asked to see the starter pistol and ammunition. He asked for a demonstration of how to load it. I complied. After a few moments contemplating the starter pistol, he asked how loud it was. I told him it was pretty loud…probably louder when fired at you from 3 feet away.

He then told me it was not nice to shoot your mother and that I should not do this again. I told him I wouldn’t. He gave me the starter pistol, which I still have, and told me that I needed to lay low for awhile until he could get Mom calmed down. I told him I understood. He got up and left. He almost made it to the backdoor before he exploded with laughter. I knew then that I was out of trouble.

My dad was so cool.

So there you have it. The legend of the day that Mike shot his mom. As they say on TV, do not try this at home.

Mike out.