Saturday, October 31, 2009

Another Mostly True Flying Story

As most people know, my lovely wife, Lynne, is a very talented writer. Several years ago, she had the opportunity to attend a writer's seminar at our alma mater, Wheaton College. Since her employer would pay for the seminar under the guise that it was continuing education and she would still get her regular pay, she decided to go. It was my job to get her to Wheaton on time.

Initially, I thought I would just drive her up there and drop her off at the college. When I mentioned this to my dad, he volunteered that we would fly her up there in the Cessna 310 and I could log some instrument time as a bonus. As my dad and I never turned down the opportunity to go flying, particularly when we could rationalize the trip as being "useful," we were set to go.

At six o'clock that evening, we drove out to the airport, strapped in, and took off for Dupage County Airport, which is about 25 miles southwest of Chicago and about 3 miles from Wheaton. Under normal circumstances the flight would take about 45 minutes, but as you will read, the flight was anything but normal.

The weather as we departed Kokomo was pretty good. We had a 5000 foot ceiling with about 5 miles of visibility. The weather guessers predicted that we would have light rain showers later in the evening, but nothing of any great concern to aviators like us. Lake Michigan, it turned out, had other ideas.

Once airborne, we requested an instrument clearance to Dupage. What this means is that we submitted a flight plan that had us flying from radio station to radio station, eventually arriving at a point close to Dupage, at which time we would begin our approach to land.

Flying from radio station to radio station is a lot like one of those connect-the dot pictures you made when you were a kid. You drew a line from one number to the next and eventually the picture was formed. Similarly, on an instrument flight plan, you fly along the course until you reach your selected station and then turn to a new compass heading which takes you to the next station. The concept is simple. Sometimes, however, it is not so easily done, given difficult weather.

The first half of the trip was uneventful. We were cruising at 8000 feet on an IFR clearance, making about 220 knots. What this means is that we were on instruments with a clearance. Chicago Center was talking to us, monitoring our progress and waiting to hand us off to Chicago Approach, who would line us up for Dupage and then hand us off to the tower at Dupage, who would control the landing. We could not see the ground, any lights, or the horizon. With no visual references, we were "in solid" as aviators say.

Flying on instruments is one of life's great pleasures. It is difficult to describe to a non-pilot, but I will try. Go out to your garage and get in your car. Put dark towels over all the windows, so you can't see out. Turn on the instrument lights, which will be readily visible. Now back out of the garage and go for a drive. Can't do it, can you? The difference between your car and an airplane is that you know your car is always on a relatively flat surface and you are driving in two dimensions. In an airplane you are traveling in three dimensions. Airplanes have instruments that tell the pilot how high he is, whether he is going up or down, what direction he is traveling, as well as how fast he is flying through the air. All of these instruments must be constantly checked during the flight, about every 15 seconds, or control will be lost over the airplane. The information received from the instruments is constantly changing and must be continually re evaluated by the pilot. Throw in monitoring the engine gauges, changing radio frequencies on two or three different radios and talking to the controllers, and you can be a pretty busy boy. Factor in nighttime and howling weather and it can become quite challenging to say the least. But as we say in our family, "Mere child's play, for men like us."

Seriously, instrument flying is a challenge for most pilots to learn. Consequently, the training is broken into segments, so you learn to perform one task and then go on to another, the multi-tasks piling up, until you can multi-task it all. If you can't do it, the airplane gets "ahead of you," and you are in life-threatening trouble. After all, the ground never loses.

So there we were winging our way to Dupage. When we were about 75 miles from our destination, we noticed that the air was getting bumpier. Nothing out of the ordinary, much like driving on a rutted gravel road. It also started to rain. No big deal. Since it was dark out, our blinking strobe lights on the wingtips outlined the rain smashing into us at 220 knots.

Chicago Center called us and handed us off to Chicago Approach, who would keep us from running into another airplane. Flying in the Chicago area is particularly worrisome as Midway and O'Hare are the busiest airports in the world.

It was about this time that our radio made a startling sound I had never heard before (and only once since). It went Whoop, Whoop, Whoop! Then a very stern voice said, "This is a sig-met. (Significant Meteorological Notice) All aviators in the Chicago area are advised that severe weather is predicted for the Chicago area. All aviators are advised to land at the nearest available airport." Now, that will get your attention!

Since I was flying, I picked up the map and began searching for an airport. Dad looked over at me and asked, "What are you doing?"

"Finding an airport, so we can put this bird on the ground," I replied.

"We are not going to do that, we're fine and we are going to Dupage," said Dad, who had a lot more flying experience than I did. Who was I to argue? On we went.

The air was getting more and more rough. Dad and I were strapped in with seat belts and shoulder harnesses. Lynne, who was pretty much oblivious to what was going on, was loosely strapped in by her seat belt and was reading. I commented that the air was getting more turbulent. Dad said it was only "light chop" and no big deal. On we flew.

And then it happened. We took a shot from a ferocious downdraft that picked Dad and I up off our seats. Lynne bounced her head of the top of the cabin and was now paying attention. Instantly, Dad and I had both of our hands and feet on the controls in a struggle to maintain control of the airplane, which was being slammed by updrafts and downdrafts, one after the other.

The flight instruments were reading erratically because of the violence of the weather. We quickly reduced our airspeed to "maneuvering speed," which is a speed that the engineers say you can fly at, taking severe turbulence, without exceeding the airframe's design limits. Theoretically, the wings will stay on.

It was taking all of our strength and skill to keep the airplane upright and on course. The powerful turbulence would shoot us up at 2000 feet per minute and then slam us down. It was like being on a maniac roller coaster in three dimensions.

At about this time, we heard this radio transmission:

"Chicago Approach, this is Delta flight 246, we are declaring an emergency at this time." An airline pilot was in trouble.

"Roger, Delta flight 246, understand you are declaring an emergency. Are you requesting immediate landing?"

"Affirmative, Chicago Approach, we are experiencing severe turbulence and are requesting vectors to the nearest available runway."

Then I heard another radio transmission. "Chicago Approach, this is American flight 123, we are declaring an emergency. We are in severe turbulence. Requesting instructions for an immediate landing." Then I heard yet another distress call. "Chicago Approach, this is United flight 867, we are declaring an emergency."

"Roger, Delta flight 246, American flight 123 and United flight 867, standby one for instructions."
This was when Dad got upset. He looked over at me and said, "These people need nurses to look after them." Then he called Chicago Approach and said, "This is six niner five seven five, a light Cessna twin, inbound to Dupage and we are not declaring an emergency. We intend to fly our flight plan."

Chicago Approach then said, "Anybody else want to declare an emergency or are you going to put your big boy pants on fly like men? How about you 123 and 867? Still want to go with the emergency?"

"I'll pass on the emergency. Cancel me," said 123.

"I'm out," said 867.

"All right, then," said Approach. "Let's see if we can get everybody where they are going tonight".

Chicago Approach then said, "six niner five seven five, contact Dupage Approach for the instrument approach."

We changed radio frequencies to call Dupage and checked in. "Dupage Approach, this is six niner five seven five in bound for the ILS.

"Roger, six niner five seven five, report the initial approach fix and you are cleared for the ILS to runway 36. Report intercepting the localizer."

What this meant in pilot jargon was that we were to fly to an imaginary point in the sky designated by the crossing of two radio beams, turn to a prescribed heading and fly that path until we hit the glide slope which is another beam coming up at us from one-third down the runway. Picture an "x" made by two criss-crossing radio beams. We were to fly to the point they intersected, then turn to a course that would fly us into, the beam coming up from the runway, then fly down to beam, known as the localizer or glide slope. As always, the concept is simple, but it's easier said than done, particularly in ferociously bad weather.

We reported that we understood the directions and began the landing checklist. This was when we got another interesting call from Dupage Approach.

"Six niner five seven five, we have lost all electrical power to the field. We are transmitting on backup generators. We have no runway or taxi lights and we have lost the glide slope. Say your intentions."

If there is no glide slope, then you cannot intercept it and fly down it to land. If there are no runway lights, then we would be unable to see the outline of the runway and might also have depth perception problems figuring out how high we are off the runway, if we could find it. This was not good. All of my flight training to that date taught that we needed to regain as much altitude as possible, make a 180 degree turn and get out of there as fast as possible. But then, that would not be completing the mission, would it?

"Roger, Dupage Approach, understand no lights and glide slope. How soon will they be online?" asked Dad.

"Uncertain. We are working on it. The runway lights and glide slope are on separate systems. We might get one before the other. What are your intentions?"

"Dupage Approach, six niner five seven five, inbound for landing as filed and cleared," said Dad.

"Six niner five seven five be aware that we have winds at 270, at 25 knots gusting to 40 knots in heavy rain. Say your intentions."

"Roger, Dupage Approach, inbound as filed on the ILS, understand cleared to runway 36. Will report the field in sight or declare a missed approach." said Dad as calmly as he was ordering a hamburger at the drive thru.

"Dad," I said, "we've got no way to identify the glide slope and no lights. Let's call it a night and head home. I will drive her up. Besides, the crosswind component is exceeding the structural limits of the landing gear."

We were going to land to the north. The 40 knot wind was coming from our starboard or right side, tending to blow us off to the left of the runway, even if we could find it. To counteract the drift to the left, you bank the airplane to the right, so that the starboard wing is down into the wind. You then feed in as much left rudder as needed to keep the airplane tracking straight ahead. When you land, the right wheel hits first and then you throw out the right bank and left rudder and let it sit down on the left main gear. The problem is that if the landing is not made perfectly, you can twist or tear off the landing gear. Bad form as the British would say.

The maximum crosswind component in the Cessna was 17 Knots. Since the crosswind was gusting between 25 and 40 knots, we were going to be 8 to 23 knots over the maximum. This was clearly not going to work.

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Look, Son. We are flying into Dupage from the South. The wind is blowing us from the right. The initial approach fix is 10 miles from the airport due south. We are going to slow to 100 knots. We will report the fix, then crab into the wind to the right for about five minutes on a heading of about 30 degrees and we ought to line up with the runway, if we can see it. Simple."

"But we still have no lights. We won't be able to see the runway to land," I squeaked.

"Well, maybe, in which case we will shoot another approach and do better. It isn't going to be any harder than a night trap to a carrier deck. We've got plenty of fuel. We will see what happens."

"Even if we get the runway, the crosswind is too strong for the landing gear. We are still out of luck, Dad," I said.

"Son, the controller said the wind was gusting. It is not constant. If we get the field, we will look for a break in the wind and land. If we don't get one, we will go around for a second pass and see what develops. No problem." I couldn't believe we were going to shoot this approach.

Shortly thereafter, we reported passing the initial approach fix. Both of us clicked on our very manly pilot chronographs to time the five minutes inbound. May I remind you that we are both still having to jointly control the airplane because of the turbulence in the black rain.

Dupage Approach called again to confirm that we were still inbound and they had no lights. Onward we flew, hurtling toward what I thought would be a certain, fiery death in the black rain.

At four and three-quarter minutes, I said, "Times up, pull up and go home."

"Not quite yet, son, we are not beat yet. I have a good feeling about this approach."

At that exact moment, 200 feet off the ground at 100 knots, the runway lights came on. We were about 400 yards to the right of the runway. Unbelievable!

"Six niner five seven five, our lights are operational. You are cleared to 36."

"Roger, Dupage, on final to 36." Well, we had the lights, but there was still the crosswind problem. We immediately turned left to line up with the runway.

We came over the end of the runway, banked to the right with full left rudder deflected. The airplane was still drifting to the left despite our corrections. We banked almost 30 degrees to maintain the center line. Down the length of the runway we flew.

"It's not working, declare a missed approach and go around," I pleaded.
"Not yet, son, observe and learn," said Dad calmly.

And the wind stopped blowing for a few seconds. Dad deftly flicked the airplane level, neutralized the rudder and gently greased it on to the runway between gusts. He made it look simple, like anyone could do this. Not true. It was a brilliant demonstration of Naval aviator training, consummate flying skill, coping with the weather, and completing the mission, despite formidable obstacles.

As we taxied to the terminal, he looked over at me and said as he did after every flight, "Piece of cake, son. Cheated death one more time."

"Mere child's play for men like us," I replied.

Lynne's ride was waiting for her. We refueled and flew home. No problem.

Mike Out

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Star Struck

Dates: 10/9 and 10/10
Where: Dallas, TEXAS (don't mess with...)
What: Medal of Honor Foundation Award Dinner
Why me?: Sister of wife of honoree: Steve Amerson

The soldiers who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor are heroes. Sometimes, all too often, it is their family that collects the medal when it is awarded posthumously.

This weekend's goal was to convey awards to three men who have contributed to the success of the foundation and have demonstrated their commitment to our troops. Senator Sam Johnson, Bill O'Reilly, and MY brother-in-law, who also sang several soul-stirring numbers. His Star Spangled Banner is the best!

The real stars were the Medal of Honor recipients, including Brian Crandall who was portrayed by Greg Linnear in the film We Were Soldiers.

(Steve with Brian Crandall with his wife, sister Kris, and their son, Matthew.)

I had the privilege of meeting many of these truly humble heroes.

But I'm also kind of cloistered here in the middle of Indiana so meeting the famous was fun.

Guess who? I introduced myself, telling Bill I'd love to talk education with him. Then I gave him a BolingersCottage blog card.

And then there was Ross. Yes, THAT Ross. He volunteered for photos with anyone who came within a few feet of him.

PLUS, I had time to hang out with baby sister, Kris. Fun in October.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Baby Steps of Faith

It’s not uncommon to compare ourselves to others. When we think someone ‘has it made’ or is in any way ahead of ourselves, we forget that our view is relative and limited to our personal position.

I had a roommate in college who was one of the most spiritual people I’ve ever met. No matter what discussion we might have, she’d point out that MY position was biblical and then quote a relevant passage. I lived with this girl during an entire year and never, never, raised her ire. She had the sweet spirit of love for God’s children, including a most challenging bunk mate.

Once in a while, I would even go after her, trying to get a rise. It never worked. And it wasn’t as if her spirit was obnoxious or annoying. It was just pure and sweet.

Near the end of the year, after we had learned to live together and she had held my hand through a difficult time, I confessed to her, “You are the most God-like person I have ever met.”

I’ll never forget her reaction. She burst into tears, sank to her bed, and said, “Oh, Lynne. You have no idea how sinful I am.”

Well, yes, I did.

I was humbled. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. What I learned that night is that, as we live this life and try to be conformed to the image of Christ, the closer we get, the more clearly we see how far we fall from the mark.

So whenever a blog reader comments on our strong faith here, we are also humbled. We struggle to hold tight to what we know is true, that we belong to God, that He loves us, that He is in control and that His plan is the best plan.

There was the diagnosis in early April and our returning home to plan for the end of Mike’s life. I remember one dark evening as I sat with my pastor, saying that I wished I had savored Christmas and Thanksgiving, as those may have been our last together.

From his bed Mike said that if he had more time, he’d love to go to Florida and drive a convertible down Highway 1 to Key West.

We cobbled together a trip to Deal’s Gap but Mike’s health post surgery just wouldn’t allow it. He regretted that he would never ride on The Tail of the Dragon again.

Mike thought he should list our lake cottage as we would not be spending any time there. We traveled to Fort Knox and San Antonio on what we called our Farewell Tour. Mike began making me a desk which he assumed would be his final project. Zach, putting his life on hold, moved home to help us, mostly me, as I would be closing up the house.

People dropped by, to have what we came to call their “last words.” Friends dropped by with food and offers to help. We got fed. We got mulched. We got mowed. We got loved.

Would we see our 35th anniversary in June? Would we get to spend any time at the lake? Maybe, but probably not, we’d celebrate Mike’s making it to his birthday in August. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Mike regretted that he hadn’t spent enough time with our son. Having Zach move home would give him a bit more time. But his big wish…that they could play together…THAT would never happen.

Church leaders had approached Mike to teach a class this fall, in October. “I’d love to,” he said, “but I won’t be here.”

We worked together on closing down our usual habit of planning events in the future. We figured that we should work to live each day, as it comes, and not think too much about tomorrow. If the next day arrived, we would live it as it came.

And so as we learned to lean on Him, God’s blessings have fallen on us around here. Friends’ prayers for miracles are causing us to form a list and to plan for more next days.

Anniversary? Check.

4th of July fireworks at the lake? Check. Other fun times at the lake? Check.

Birthday Party? Check.

Here we are in late October. Zach and Mike played together at the Beatles Concert.

Mike and Dale took another trip to The Gap. Check and check.

Mike’s class (check), How to Stay Married if you Really Want To, will hold its 3rd and final meeting on Wednesday. And that trip to the Keys? Upcoming. Convertible reserved.

My desk, a massive and glorious thing, now has a matching custom chair and, I believe, a bookcase is coming.

Thanksgiving plans are set. And we’ll hug grandbabies over Christmas.

And so we take a step of faith: In January, we’re ALL going back to school. Mike will be teaching at the community college…he’s really a gifted teacher. Students are pleasantly surprised to discover his dry sense of humor, and drawing on 30+ years as a lawyer, he can illustrate most points with fascinating examples.

Zach will return to IU to finish up. I will step again into my classroom at Kokomo High School.
It is our statement of faith in what God has shown us. It forms an aura of normalcy here at the homestead.

It is our looking toward 2010.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Not House People

When describing us to others, the hub has a list of names for this partnership. One is that we are "not house people."

What that means may be up to you but what HE means is that, although we live in a house, actually a very nice, large, older house, we don't pay much mind to much here beyond cleaning, and in busy times, we choose to keep our chins parallel with the ground.

You might expect that clutter and stuff diminish when the kiddies move out. Not for us. As we get older, we need more notes, more directions, more stuff on horizontal surfaces; it DOES cut down on the need for decorative touches. Some of our clutter consists of items that make this our home: guitars and amplifiers fill several corners of living space; model sailboats perch here and there; trophies and diplomas; well-used recliners by tables with lights; a chess set in mid-match; photo albums that seem to find their way out and never back in.

We have friends who are house people. They live in those professionally decorated places that always seem to have fresh flowers on tables, in sparkling vases. The accessory pillows match; they can find their coasters; clutter is banished so you can see the lovely marble, tile, and chrome and those interesting pieces of art that are arranged thoughtfully. Colors are startling.
These are the houses you'd expect to see in magazines.

Or perhaps you've seen those photos in Architectural Digest of grand homes in grand places. Over the years, the hub on occasion would pour over such pictures and say, "Wow. I'd love to live there."

But where would he put all his stuff? These places don't seem to collect stuff. In fact, I often feel that they look like no one lives there.

We live in our home. No, make that WE LIVE LIVE IN OUR HOME.

So it is with mixed feelings on our part that our home will be featured in next month's Howard County Living, a glossy publication that displays all the glories of life in mid north Indiana.

I have a wonderful circle of friends who have been to my house. When I shared this news with them, almost all said with surprise, "Really?" And then backtracked with what a pretty color my living room is.

They also have seen the houses that look unlived in. "Hmmmmm," they mull. "What an interesting editorial decision."

The exception to this reaction came from two friends: Sandra who lives in happy exclamation point land and Fran, the lady who is my color expert person. Sandra has the gift for finding the excitement in any situation; Fran can look at a printed fabric, pick out an obscure paint color, and in decorator terms, make the fabric POP.

If you who know us are still scratching your heads, I'll try to explain. The angle of the story is that we have pieces of furniture than Mike has made that we use. The editors find that fascinating. Newest to our collection are my desk and chair. I've been assured that the photos will be selective. I don't have to take them into my laundry dungeon.

(Note: even if I had my house decorated, I believe I'd stay with the dungeon motiff in the laundry room. Form fits function...something like that.)

I think they will also take the photographer out to Mike's workshop to let the world (of mid north Indiana) in on his latest project, a gorgeous walnut table with a drawer. Shhhhh. It's a gift.

We are making some sweeps through the house. I set the dining rooms table with our pretties, as though we were going to sit down to a fine meal. We 'neated up' the guitars and amps but they're staying out among home-made furniture.

Add this to the list of things we never considered we would do. You'll want a copy, I'm sure.

Trip to The Gap

Mike and Dale’s most excellent adventure, fast times at the Gap,

or thoughts on relationships

Last March I called my old Wheaton College buddy and fellow motorcyclist, Dale Mitchell, to see if he could get away for our annual trek to Deal’s Gap to run the motorcycles. A date was set in May for the trip. Unfortunately, when the date rolled around, I had been diagnosed as being terminal ill with cancer and was trying to recover from an aborted liver resection. So, no trip. I figured there would never be another trip, as I was toast. My learned doctors told me I would not likely survive past June and that I had best “get my affairs in order,” whatever that means.

However, when September arrived and I was still very much alive and feeling pretty good, I thought Dale and I just might do the Gap trip after all. I called him and suggested that we go in October, providing my health held up. Dale said he was in and a date was set.

Last Monday, right on time Dale pulled up to my house towing the trailer, ready for the 10 hour slog to the Gap. We left Tuesday morning. I drove the first 225 miles. I hate driving. If I never drive another car in my life, that is just fine with me. I am spoiled, I know. Airplanes are so much quicker.

We used the first part of the drive to catch up on what was going on in our lives, with the wives and children, and our work. Just small talk, guy-style. For several hours of the trip neither of us said anything. We drifted with the driving. This would make a lot of people uncomfortable. Not us. Dale is a man of few words, to begin with. We are a lot like an old married couple who each knows what the other thinks about most things, so why discuss them?

We arrived at Deal’s Gap uneventfully and on schedule. After a good meal and a night’s sleep, we were ready to ride the next morning. Before I go further, some of you may not know about Deal’s Gap, known to the informed as The Tail of the Dragon. Let’s simply say that if you have a fast car or motorcycle, regardless of whether it is street legal or not, if you think you are fast, or you really are fast, if you can get your machine to the Gap, you can drive or ride the snot out of it on 10.8 miles of perfectly paved two lane highway featuring 318 turns. No cops, no turnoffs, no stop signs, no stop lights, no hassles. Just the opportunity to play boy-racer to your heart’s content or until you screw up and crash. Which happens frequently. But not to men like Dale and me, because we may be old, but we are still slow.

In the memorable words of a young sport bike rider, who was admiring our bikes, “It is good to see mature gentlemen on sport bikes." I did not know whether to thank him or smack him. For the rest of the trip, we referred to each other as Mature Mike and Mature Dale.

While I really liked riding my bike at the Gap, that was not the best part of the trip. The simple truth is that hanging out with my friend Dale was the best part of the trip. The conversations over dinner each night were interesting, funny and sometimes sad.

One evening, Dale commented that he couldn’t imagine that Lynne was still with me after 35 years, as I was still pretty much a jerk and life with me had to be a pain. I agreed and responded that he wasn’t a bit better and that Sue had to be a saint to put up with him. He agreed, saying that it amazed him that she was still around. We both concluded that our wives were truly remarkable for putting up with us. They both have had multiple occasions and reasons to dump us, bur continued to hang in there. I suggested they stayed simply for the entertainment value we unwittingly provide.

Dale said that he had had a business reversal, coupled with his own cancer issues. He can’t run and can hardly walk because his hips and knees are worn out from countless sprints up and down the basketball court, when he played at Wheaton. At least one knee has been replaced and the other one needs to be done. He has an ugly scar from tearing up a tendon in his arm playing basketball. In short, he’s banged up pretty bad.

I’ve closed my law practice and do not miss it a bit. Good riddance. I have torn rotator cuffs from swimming, six broken ribs and a punctured lung from a motor cycle misadventure, a broken neck and punctured lung (the same one) from a mountain bike problem, together with an old scar running from my breast bone down to where it can’t go any farther, coupled with my new one which starts over my diaphragm and goes south for ten inches before veering off to the east for another 6 inches. Not pretty. It turns everybody’s head when I walk into the swimming pool, I guarantee you. Physically, both of us are shot to pieces but still limping, literally, along.

Both of us were in agreement that neither of us could have foreseen our lives turning out the way they have. Dale is soon to be out of work and is falling apart physically, while I am dying of cancer, so they say. Neither of us could figure out how we ended up doing what we did or still do for a living. The jobs

have been good to both of us and our families, but now Dale’s job is gone and I have quit playing lawyer. Who would have thought?

Dale asked if I would still be working, if I hadn’t gotten sick. I admitted that I would never have quit, until I died at my desk. Dale commented that I was almost there anyway. Soon to be dead, just not at my desk. True.

From time to time, people have asked me about this “dying in slow motion” business. It is hard. You measure what you do by how much time you think you have left on the clock. Like any of us know that. I was supposed to be dead last June, but here I still am. I’m dead, the doctor’s say,

but they do not know when. So I am in a sort of limbo. I never plan anything move than 30 days away. Five minutes during the day do not go by, where I do not think about how much time remains. It haunts, taunts, and stresses me. I have periods of sadness each day when the situation gets me down. I suppose it’s depression.

The doctors are quick to tell me to “get out there and live,” whatever that means. They seem to suggest that I should be working on my “bucket list.” Not a one of them have a clue. I watched that movie, The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Most people thought it was about checking off the things you wanted to do in your life. Wrong. It was about two lonely men finding each other, developing a mutual friendship, and then reconciling with their estranged families. You do not have to climb a mountain to do that. I may not know much, but I know this. In the end, there are only these things: you and your God, you and your family, and you and your friends.

Last Tuesday I got my latest test results back. To my doctor’s astonishment and delight, I seem to be disease free, although she was quick to point out that the cancer is just deciding where to land. I’m dead, she said…just not yet. Soon, I will be “worms’ meat,” as Shakespeare called it. I seem to be refusing to die on schedule just as a contrary lawyer would do.

At the end of the appointment, Dr. M (who truly is a saint) looked at me and said, “Do you have any idea how lucky you are?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I am married to the greatest woman on earth who loves me beyond reason and tells me she loves me everyday. I am surrounded by lots of friends who truly care about me.” And Lynne. Darn right I know how lucky I am. Probably the luckiest guy around, I am

pretty sure.

Mike out.

P.S. I promised Dale I wouldn’t tell anyone that he ate all six chocolate covered donuts from Krispy Kream on the drive home. I did not promise not to write about it.

PPS. Cousin Scot rode over and met us at The Gap.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News Updates

So, what’s the news at the Bolingers?

Shall I tell you about Mike’s motorcycle trip to Deal’s Gap? He and his buddy Dale had a spectacular time and came back whole. We have photos…………

Shall I tell you about my adventures in Dallas? Met Ross Perot: wore flats. Met Bill O’Reilly: wore heels…….

Shall I tell you about the concert last Sunday? As all 30 musicians closed with Hey Jude and “nah nah nah nah nah,” Zach unplugged from his amp, walked over to his dad and plugged in there. His papa smiled so wide, it cracked his face. Would you like to hear about that?

Or perhaps you like to hear about the dedication ceremony Tuesday morning, hosted by the Kokomo Rescue Mission, with friends and family, people who love Mike, gathered outside. We unveiled a plaque, said a few words and prayed and then hopped inside for warm cider and goodies and fellowship……

No. I imagine most of you are awaiting the report from Mike’s doctor, this afternoon. We know that you are praying for us, following with us, and would like to know that we sensed your prayers when we met to discuss the test results.

Yes, we did. There is a soothing comfort that comes when we feel God’s arms are around us.

Here it is: the CT shows no change from May, when there was no visible evidence of tumor growth. No change in a disease where any change will mean the cancer is growing.

No change?

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No change.

The other tests, blood work that measures all sorts of things including function of the organs that this cancer will target: all good, normal, functioning well.

Tumor markers, specific proteins that indicate tumor growth, are normal.

UH. That would be NORMAL.

Do we believe in miracles? Yes, we do. Our doctor asked us if we realized how lucky we are. We told her we are blessed.

We continued to discuss Mike’s disease. Yes, eventually CT will show tumor growth. When? No one knows.

Well, God knows. And we know He knows best.

We need time to reflect on this quietly and continue to ask God what He wants us to do with this gift of time. He has some reasons for this unexpected result. He will make that known to us and we will keep you posted.

For now, for tonight, please join us in praising the God who created the Universe, who holds us in His mighty hands, who hears our prayers, who carries our grief, who gave these servants the gift of drawing us closer and then has demonstrate His power.

Thank you all for praying for us. We are blessed with the many friends who are journeying with us.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Call me!

We’ve talked a lot about ‘character’ in our home: doing the right thing; sticking to your responsibilities; contributing to your community; putting others first, second, and sometimes third. As Christians, we should do this because of what Christ did for us. If you want to step into the secular, we should do this because that’s what good citizens do.

It’s really not that hard as we are usually not put in the place of actual sacrifice; we do the right thing and we continue to go along our merry way. Real character involves stepping away from the almighty “I” and expending the energy to the other.

The peril in the pursuit is that you can grow complacent, assuming you will do the right thing. Then, when you don’t, you have to look straight in the mirror and say, “You dog.”

Arf. Arf.

Several years ago, on a cold, snowy school day, I needed to rush out during my 30-minute lunch hour to run some errands. With a traffic plan, you can get a lot done. My route would take me by the post office so as I ran through the main office and spied some metered mail, I asked the main desk lady if I could help her by posting the letters.

“Well, yes. That would be great. Thank you.” She looked surprised and pleased, and that was all at me.

I hope that somewhere in my suggestion was something other than making myself look like this great servant in her eyes. I hope that I actually wanted to help her.

I grabbed the stack and headed for my car. Zoom, zoom, zoom around town I went and with 10 minutes to spare, I turned into the drive-through at the post office. I touched the automatic control of my window and stopped at the box.

Feeding the mail into the shute, I got almost all of it in. Three letters fell to the ground, crunching on piled up snow. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Now here, I’d like to describe how I turned off my car, opened the door and retrieved that mail.

I did not.

I rolled up my window and drove off.


50 feet down the road there’s a simple place to turn back in. I passed it and then a most interesting exercise began.

You know how in cartoons, when a character has to make a moral decision, an angel pops up on one shoulder and a devil pops up across on the other? They argue between themselves, trying to influence the head in the middle. Lynne’s devil cleared his voice as the angel, knowing that I know better, checked her fingernails. My mind began to tick off all sorts of reasons why I did what I did and did NOT do what I should have.

“I got most of them in.”

“I was doing a favor anyway. It's not my job.”

“I’ve got to get back to school.”

“The road is slick and if I don’t keep driving, I’ll be late.”

“Maybe those three letters were discipline notices for some parents that would get three kids in trouble.”

“Someone else will see those three letters and pick them up.”

“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I didn’t drop those three letters. Maybe they got in the box anyway.”

In the midst of this monologue, it was like I stepped away from myself and stood (metaphoric...I WAS driving) amazed that I am, after all, so carnal. My little angel shook his head.

I got almost all the way back to school, about 2 miles, when the Lynne I hope I am most times seized control. Shamed, I turned back to the post office. As I approached the drive through, there were those three (Huh. I guess there WERE three) letters. I scooped them up and shot them into the shute. Back to school.

So much for character. Mine needs more work.

So I was face with another chance, about a week before Mike entered the hospital for the liver resection. I pulled into a local grocery store, parked and opened my door. It was a great, glorious, and very breezy spring day. A gust of wind caught my door and tore it from my hand. My door scraped across the side of a very nice, shiny SUV parked next to me. Its owner had left his car about 30 seconds before the accident. He was already entering the store.

It was a perfect hit. My door managed to scrape the door and the metal on the rear seat wall. It was not a ding. It was a scrape.

And this character-challenged pilgrim did what?

I started my car and pulled away, parking several aisles away from the SUV.


At this point, it does not matter than I stop for ducks and dogs who cross my path. It does not matter that I don’t read a magazine and then put it back. It does not matter what most people think of me. It matters only that I tried to run away and hide.

However, this time the little devil fell off his perch.

Now, I don’t believe in karma or good luck, but it did pinch at me that we were heading into the hospital to see if Mike’s cancer was contained. At any rate, I got out of the car and walked into the store, intent on finding the owner.

Big store. All I saw of my victim was that he was a he and he was taller than I am. I trotted from aisle to aisle until I found him.

I identified myself and told him that I had dinged his car.

“Maybe it’s not so bad,” he offered.

“No. It’s bad. Here, let me give you my phone number.”

I had no paper on me. I had no pen in my purse. I grabbed an old receipt and a pink lip liner pencil (never use it, what was THAT doing in there?) and wrote down my information.

“Look. If you lose this (or can’t read it?) my husband is…..and then I identified us as best as I could. “Please get an estimate and let me pay for this.”

He said he would.

Did I get his name? Well, no. After all, HE was not a guilty party.

It was Friday; Mike’s surgery was the following Monday. Then, in the next few weeks, our lives became very complicated. Among other things, we were busy trying to close the office. By the end of May, the office was closed and then I had time to realize that my victim had not called us.

This debt ate at me. Whenever I was in that grocery store lot, I would drive around to try to find the SUV. Never did.

It was late August when the SUV’s wife called us. She said, as I knew she would, that she felt bad dumping this on us, what with all our problems.

I assured her that I wanted to pay her for the repair. She indicated that it was more than I might think.

“Really.You need to bring us the bill,” I said, and I gave her our home address.
She promised she would and mentioned that her church,like so many, are praying for us.

Now, here it’s October and I don’t have the bill yet. But I know the SUV’s owners follow our blog and I hope they’ll follow through.

And I’m thankful that I’m loved by God who loves me in spite of what a stinker I am.
I’m learning.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Going to the Ball

I have a friend who has the gift of faith. She has taken to heart that biblical directive to pray about everything. Once, as we were setting up a ladies’ luncheon, she tugged on my shirt.

“I can’t find my keys. I’ve looked everywhere. I need to get into my car.”

Taking a breath, I was just about to launch into that all-too-frequent Baby Boomer exercise, “Now when did you last have your keys?” You know, we’d trace her steps mentally in an attempt to prime her memory.

My friend, beating me to the punch, froze, closed her eyes, and prayed that God would help her find her keys. I stared at her until she was finished. She opened her eyes, smiled, and started to look around. And, wouldn’t you know, we found them on the shelf under the podium. Her keys were tucked into a corner.

Now here’s the thing. I struggle with taking all my needs to God. I tend to forget that He’s not like me, that He actually does have unlimited attention and energy and can handle all requests, big and small. My take on lost keys would have been that God really expects us to keep track of our stuff and if we lose it, we pay the consequence. So this pilgrim would root around, maybe not find the keys and then have to call someone, walk, cry, worry, and so forth.

I know I miss a lot of blessings with my misconceptions; few things bring more joy that to realize that the God of the universe has heard and answered your prayer. He has placed several Christian sisters in my life who regularly remind me that He can handle the small things as well as the gigantic. I remain a slow learner.

Coming up soon, I get to travel to Dallas for a special event. Our brother-in-law, Steve Amerson ( is being honored by National Medal of Honor Foundation at a dinner at the Westin Galleria. We received an invitation for the October 10 event.

As this is concert weekend, I knew that Mike could not go. However, as I would love to go, I ran it by the hub and he said, “Sure. You should do that.”

So I arranged air transportation, reserved a room and started googling Dallas. I’ll have some time to see the sights; my sister Kris, aka Mrs. Amerson, will be joining us and it will be just pure fun. I’ll get back in time to catch the concert so it looks about perfect.

But there is the matter of proper attire. The invitation states “Black Tie Optional.” Ok. I ran with ‘optional.’ That means you can dress up or not. Great, I thought. I have a nice knee-length black dress that I can doll up a bit and that will be just fine. And then I slept on it.

In the next morning, I mulled. Military guests, and there will be many, will be in full dress uniform; most other men will be in tuxes. And most of their companions will be in ball gowns. Will I look like the rube from the cornfields in my all purpose short dress? Yes, I will.

Now those of you who know me also know that I don’t get all fixated on wardrobe although I do think one should dress for the occasion. Flip flops at the White House? I don’t think so. So the formal dress thing began to eat at me.

I began looking for something appropriate. I checked locally and on line at the better stores in Indianapolis. This is what I found: there just isn’t much out there for women of a certain age. Most gowns are cut low, cut thin, strapless or spaghetti strapped. One thing worse than looking like a rube would be looking like an aging prom queen. There are parts of a vintage woman’s frame that should remain a mystery.

There were some dresses with boleros: boxy, mother-of-the-bride things that struck even me as dowdy. What to do? What to do?

I sorted through my stuff and brought forth a really nice white blouse. Then the solution formed in my brain. I would get a plain, black, long skirt to wear with this.

Perfect. It should not be too expensive and really, really, I could wear it again, unlike all those legions of bridesmaids’ dresses that most brides justified with, “You can wear it again.” Yes, sure. Take that big bow off the back and you'll wear that puffy sleeved fuchsia every day.


So how hard is it to find a plain black skirt? Well, just about impossible. I mean it. The vision was that it would go to the ground. I found mid calf, high ankle, those handkerchief bohemian things but nothing like what I was looking for. I even searched bizarre sites on line after checking out all stores. Nothing.

Ok. Fixer that I am, I went to the local fabric store and found a pattern, a 6 gore job that would have to be made longer but it would work. I just needed a seamstress. I contacted every number I had. Alas, as it is prom season around here, no one could get it done on time.

Sigh. Look, I know there are big things in my life that are lots more important than this. I did not bring this need to God as I considered it waaaaay down on the importance list, and a bit vain on my part.

Last weekend, on our way to southern Indiana, I asked Mike to stop at Nordstrom’s so I could try on one of those prom dress things to see if it looked as hideous on me as I thought it would.

It did.

I left the fitting room, handing the dress to the clerk.

“You look disappointed. Did it not fit?”

I laughed. “I’m a bit old for this one. I just haven’t been able to find what I was really looking for.”

“And what’s that?”

I made an incredulous face. “I have been looking for a plain, black, floor length skirt.”

She smiled and turned to a rack. Two black skirts lurked in the shadow. She pulled one out and said, “Like this?”

“Oh my.” It was the same as the pattern I had found.

“Hmmmm. It’s a size 0.”

Oh good. Two of those and I could have long slacks.

The other one was my size. Really. And it fit, like it was made just for me. And its length was perfect, no small trick on my tall frame. I snapped it up and we were off on the highway.

I’m also slow to process. About 50 miles south it dawned on me that God had given me a little kiss on the forehead. The perfect skirt, the thing I felt I needed for my fun weekend. He orchestrated all my desire, frustration, and reward because He loves me and wants me to seek Him, in big things and small.

Sister Kris likes to remind me (us) that “we are God’s favorites. We are children of the King.” And, I’m feeling like Cinderella, except at midnight on Saturday, if I’m still up, I don’t have to worry about the pumpkin thing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Funk and Fun

We kept our appointment Monday for Mike's CT. There's the prep...drinking the stuff..and the actually test and then we walk away.

Entering the hospital, even as an outpatient, puts Mike in a funk. We spoke little over our after- test breakfast. It feels wrong, going into the place, meeting with whatever specialist for a few minutes and then walking away. There's no logic here....just a feeling.

The, as we couldn't mow on Saturday (cold and rainy), Mike said, "You know, I"d like to go up to the lake." Well, why not? We are not currently bound by week day appointments. So, we drove up, ate lunch with sister Lisa and mowed.

The day turned into one of those glorious autumn days that we love around here. A bright blue, cloudless sky and a light breeze. The trees are turning; flower boxes will need to be emptied soon. Lawn mowed, we drove back to Kokomo.

Later in the day, college friend Dale arrived. The men ate dinner and then drove out to concert practice. Dale reported that "it sounds good" and that there was a lot of technical adjustments made to make that sound perfect.

Dale and Mike were to leave this morning at, as Dale puts it, a very colorful picture image that means early early early. My job was to pack the cooler. I rolled over at 5 and thought about getting up, but not for long. I rolled over again at 7:30 and decided I better get to my chores.

The boys ate breakfast, loaded up the trailer with their motorcycles, packed the Durango with clothes, cooler, and gear, and they were off to Deal's Gap, on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. They will meet up with Mike's cousin Scot and will ride the trail for several days and then return. Dale plans to stay over until Monday.

Mike and Zach have dress rehearsal on Saturday and then the concert ( is Sunday.

More fun than funk.