Fifty years and a week ago

Belated St. Valentine’s Day to everyone!

Last weekend we celebrated Dy’s parents’ 50th anniversary with many friends and family members in Central Illinois. Tee greeted and hauled coats between breaks with a cousin (right). That’s the bride’s dress on display behind Tee; Arey might have worn it to the gathering if it hadn’t been so extremely itchy.

A delightful time was had by all, for reasons besides the obvious fun. John appreciated the free Wi-Fi provided by the caterer. Dy introduced our household to the dozens of dinner guests.
After exploring the ancient bare brick walls a bit and enduring photo sessions, A.J. deployed a range of weaponry across the tabletop for mock battles between the protective stemware, silverware and napkins (left). His dad actually won one such engagement, before guests occupied the rest of our table. Don’t get A.J. started identifying the various nations’ vehicles involved, unless you’re ready to listen and play a while.
A.J. counted over 300 semis on the trip home. This weekend is much quieter with less travel. – j
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Farewell to Herbie

Belated news: Upon arrival home, we discovered (without much surprise) that A.J.’s fish Herbie had not survived the stint of solitude. A brief local burial was held immediately, followed in the evening by a memorial service featuring Psalm 8.

Sorry, no photo; imagine a red, white and mostly blue male beta in one of a couple quart-sized bowls we alternated.

We all took it pretty well, and A.J.’s already thinking ahead to the next pet – while enjoying a little less responsibility for a while. – j

Urbana transplants

That’s what we are – transplanted for these days to serve ~22,000 folk gathered between Christmas and New Year’s.

And Urbana itself has been transplanted, from its namesake city in Illinois to the larger urban center in the Show Me state.

So far, we’re doing well enough to call ourselves blessed. What with the craziness of check-in and subsequent recovery as a family, the following written late on Christmas Day (after a dinner overlooking the soaring arch) was stuck in the cache awaiting postage.

For content straight from the convention floor, don’t miss the delayed webcast.


Three energetic student sisters (right) volunteered for Lynn, hotels check-in coordinator – including removing the stabilizing plastic wrap from around all those boxes of bags. A.J. and Tee pitched in with a little help and creativity. What to do with yards and yards of leftover wrap? Dresses, neckties, headgear, kickballs, belly warmers…

This has been an unique and memorable Christmas! As our friends arrived to participate in Urbana and care for our kids, we both noted how little the day has felt like Christmas. Good thing the faith doesn’t rest solely on sentiments. It matters little what day of the year or even what exact year the Incarnation got into full swing. The fact remains (and I venture such a claim in view of the risks, known and unknown): ours is a visited planet.

As the registration check-in and other convention areas were taking shape, other advance staff kept arriving. Dy and teammate Sarah checked in the first wave during a Christmas Eve gathering – including Jim, Urbana 06 director.

These views can’t possibly contain the whole – but neither could the swaddling cloths, manger, stable cavern or heavens of old. Someone should write about the reentry of these elements into the story as strips of linen for wrapping, a wooden supporting structure, freshly carven tomb and obscured path of ascent.

A second unequivocal visitation has been promised once all the ethne (people groups, a.k.a. nations) of the earth receive news of the first (see, e.g., Mark 13:10). The date and hour remain unknown, along with plenty else we’d like to know.

Until then, A.J. keeps busy with Lego constructions and dreams of more. Here (right) a new and expanding battle group traverses the expanses of an America’s Center hall awaiting the vast friendly hordes of convention attendees.

Have blue tubes, will build airplanes

blue tube toys transformed into military vehiclesWhat’s a boy to do with an hour or two on his hands and a box of old toys?

If it’s a box of “blue tubes” and imagination is involved, no problem. (That’s a P-38 Lightning on the right, by the way.)

These 3/8-inch (10 mm) diameter blue plastic tubes have a nominal length of by 1-1/16-inch (28 mm). Besides the straight pieces, there are elbows, red gears, red wheels with (or without) black tires in a couple of sizes, yellow collars and spacers, flat square fillers in two sizes and colors and, of course, the necessary yellow friction joiners. At least, those are my names for them. There’s no instruction booklet with handy designs to try out, no indication of where they were made toward the middle of the 20th century. We’ve searched the web for clues; now it’s your turn to let us know if they’re not unique gifts left by extraterrestrials.

Found in a neighbor’s garage in North Carolina, they survived my intensive use and are bearing up well under A.J.’s over thirty years later. They compete well against (or get creatively combined with) K-nex. They even offer periodic distraction from his first remote control model airplane purchased with some of his hard-earned cash – and now dangling safely from the ceiling.

Mere days until Urbana and that’s all we’ve got? No, but it was an excuse to see if the new Blogger was any better at uploading images than the previous one. Much better. On to less trivial items – j

object of saving brought much closer

A.J. is busy behind me, working on the mastery of remote controlled flight. Never mind that he’s never touched a powered R/C model aircraft, or a glider. It’s all on the PC.

His longings for a radio control model plane started this adventure when Tee suggested we search the web for what’s available. The Wing Dragon quickly became the focus of his savings. And of his entrepreneurial sales of anything not nailed down. His three prize pumpkins went on the auction block, to be snapped up by coworkers – from a department head to the kind lady who empties our trash and recycles.

Unable to double his net worth within the month of Oct. while it was on sale for under $90, A.J. was understandably bummed. Thankfully, the web – and a dedicated bunch of flyers and coders – came to the rescue.

To the free Flying-Model-Simulator we added a free Wing Dragon profile [corrected link with many other profiles] and then tweaked the settings (see #59) to match an experienced Wing Dragon flyer’s. Something similar is available for Macs, tho focused on helicopters.

The result is an enjoyable ride, even on the aging sub-GHz Win98 gift-from-grandparents PC (for which we’re very grateful). As long as you don’t expect too much or know what you’re missing from other game systems, which we don’t. Switch models and environments and viewing angles and you’ve got a new challenge. Occasionally one of us even lands on the runway; all but Dy have tried FMS.

And it led to the disposal of the joystick of suspect quality I picked up along the way – one less thing to gather dust. The keyboard is good enough, and sometimes a running commentary supplants even the need for audio. It’s about as much virtual reality as we can handle.

So, now the thing’s on sale for more than before, but I don’t think he cares as much as he did. I’m sure those savings and earnings will find a good target – and maybe some generous uses. Just as we may. – j

first benefit of a first pet, and a shared journal

Striking a mutually satisfactory deal with one of my teammates, A.J. recently traded a polished agate (he’d been given) for a beta fish and its life support paraphernalia. Herbie (never mind his previous owner’s name for him) is A.J.’s first pet – if you don’t count short-termers like worms and insects.

As I was reading Tom Sawyer aloud with him and Tee a few days later, A.J. agreed that deal was like the trade of a tick and a tooth between Huck and Tom, described in chapter six: they “separated, each feeling wealthier than before.”

After a few days of feeding, watching and caring for Herbie, A.J. asked me, “What does my fish give me?”

The benefit was obvious to me, if not yet to him: “Responsibility.”

A week later, he agrees. It’s about the right balance.

A.J.’s also plenty proud of his backyard (ours and part of a couple of neighbors’) pumpkin patch, having profited from its first sale today. It’s one thing to sell things for Cub Scouts, another to unload his spare stuff for cold cash. He’s the entrepreneur and saver of the three kids. Hymn with him at bedtime: “Riches I heed not, nor people’s vain praise…”.

Arey’s extended analysis for Honors English of avoidance of responsibility as a theme in Lord of the Flies reminds me of that and other early experiences in modern literature. I think she’s way ahead of my abilities in tenth grade, but declined to do a peer review of her rough draft.

Amid the mass media storm clouds of rumor and lightning strikes of violence, the hymn Tee and I often sing at bedtime rings all the more true: “‘Peace, perfect peace’ – in this dark world of sin? The blood of Jesus whispers, ‘Peace’ within.” How like the living God to make that professionally barbaric act of tortuous bloodletting the cure of humanity’s self-destruction.

Humiliating and unjust, that Lamb’s suffering was only as inescapable as his loyalty to the One who set him in motion as the eternal Word. He walked into Passion Week knowing what lay beyond its wrenching end. Through him at least one universe entered existence, and its birthpangs of regeneration commenced historically at the rising of the Firstborn. Alternatives are endless and empty of such holy love, wisdom and power; I will venture on no other hope.

Opening my thoughts like this echoes an experience from 20 years ago. Dy and I visited Turkey for the summer with a group of students, staff and recent graduates, learning the culture, language and sharing ourselves with new friends. One of the latter weeks we all spread out among host families in communities around Istanbul, enjoying a variety of adventures in immersion and hospitality.

As my host and new friend Ercan (EHR-jon; not his real name) and I got to know each other over tea and games with friends through slow summer days, we each revealed as much as we dared about ourselves with growing trust. Living in close quarters, he soon discovered my habit of digesting each day’s experiences and insights in a written journal. I was especially keen to note things I knew would interest Dy, as we were out of touch for that week and dating as seriously as appropriate in that setting. My reflections on my Bible reading, conversations with Ercan and others to whom he introduced me, and prayers punctuated my entries in a notebook set aside for the purpose. (Do I need to mention it was paper? My offline journal is not so insecure these days.)

Friends share. Ercan one day asked to read my journal. The wave of incredulity at this unintentional assault on my sense of privacy passed quickly as I understood his honest curiosity. Without too much hesitation, I said, “Sure.” His English was excellent, so comprehension was not a problem. You can imagine how a daily cycle of writing, reading, questions and discussion continued to deepen our exchange of ideas, values and experiences. My risk in transparency was rewarded with mutual understanding and trust.

Don’t get me started, or I’ll tell more of our adventures that week. Between a wedding and a traffic accident, it was memorable for us all. If I get back to Istanbul some year, as I’ve (literally) dreamed, I look forward to finding out where Ercan and others we met then are venturing these days.

Dy announces the successful entry of about 30 staffing job role requests in the system supporting the world-class convention for which she’s helping manage registration. 270 more to go… – j

camping out – inside – while Jesús works

Dy and I are camping out in the living room while the ceiling in the master bedroom is replaced due to significant water damage. Like 30,000 others in the area, our roof was damaged by hail in April. Repairs were hampered by rain, and then we left for a vacation in late August. It’s a very strange feeling to drive away from your home on the way to the airport and Florida – with the roof half done and half tarped.

After we returned, my wife’s mold-sensitive nose got us looking at the ceiling. The roofer has been super about it. And we’re thankful for insurance!

A.J. recently purchased a “two-person” tent with his own money. Maybe two his size, or one of me. He and Tee have played with it and our old, damaged dome tent (long background story there involving a windstorm at a beautiful, large, artificial lake in NE) in the backyard. I consented to sleep out there with them a few weeks back, but they both got cold and came inside before I laid down a second time. So I got in on the fun, without the pain of the early wake-up on too little cushion.

Sometime we’ll chronicle more of A.J.’s exploits in fishing. For now, he’s content to have “the best teacher in the world.” Should we tell her? He, Tee and Arey seem to be learning well and enjoying most of the process, if missing the more open structures of summer.

We’re all learning plenty these days, with Dy tackling registration for a world-class convention and me guiding vendors and stakeholder representatives through my first-ever professional-grade RFP (for online registration).

Added the next morning: There I went and left out one of the main points. Jesus is taking care of us.

The name of the drywaller (who’s starting as I write, I trust) is Jesús – a sturdy fellow who does good work. The kids were excited to hear who was doing this job, a little like carpentry. There’s a vibrant Hispanic/Latino community in town – one of the largest of many ethne gathered for educational and economic opportunities. – j

purse purchases, coincidental comparisons

Before posting yesterday evening’s musings, a couple of notes on the relative silence of this page for several months. Reasons, not excuses: (1) The pace of life continued to pick up, both at home and at work. Non-essential activities were curtailed to focus on the really important stuff in front of our noses. And (2) I had a lot to journal about following Easter, and it’s not always easy to discern what’s fit – or interesting enough – for all audiences. Nor is there always time to figure it out (see 1). Last night’s notes are a case in point; you decide if it was worth the effort to move the bits.

Quote of the day, by A.J., after hearing that schools in Florida begin this week and in Illinois in two weeks, compared to his freedom until the day after Labor Day: “Isn’t it great that I live in Wisconsin!”

Yesterday…


After the day’s accounting, which included cash, check and credit entries to cover most of a departmental birthday lunch, Dy moved into her new purse with some consulting by Arey. It felt “like a small suitcase” once filled and shouldered. No matter how the stuff was arranged, and despite a light purging, it proved somewhat of a stretch to accommodate the well-used DayTimer. Altoids end up in the external cell phone pocket.

I passed the traditional price guess, knowing it was bought at Goodwill. My rule of thumb is to estimate fair market value and divide by two – or four for Goodwill. Thus my $1.50 shot came in just below the actual $2. And it can be returned for credit if necessary. I didn’t account for the fact that it seemed unused.

While Dy was unloading the remains of Saturday’s garage sale and searching for a deal at Goodwill, I was at lunch learning about leather product purchases from the women of one of my departments. Somehow I ended up being the only guy not on vacation the day of this lunch. Over delicious stir fry at a new Flat Top Grill, I heard a local purse shop recommended (stock reasonably priced at $15) and tips for buying such goods south of the border (pinch the leather, show the dealer a lighter). The classy joint’s loud atmosphere lent itself to observation more than conversation, at least for me.

The commercial references above aren’t paid product placement. The only point is that Dy and I often feel strongly the cross-cultural adjustments to suburban life and in ministry based from a large (for us) office here with multiple subcultures. The chosen simplicities and sacrifices learned from years in the field and a season at camp – our form of what some call a wartime lifestyle – is challenged by various kinds of differences. Our commitment’s survival no longer seems to be at stake, but reaching far beyond numbers and attitudes stretches space to live and describe the glorious vision that graciously compels such radical commitment. Thankfully, we’re well aware that the disciplined life can look very different from disciple to disciple. The day’s confluences were just interesting enough to prompt questions that reflect and probe deeper realities – in a quieter setting. – j

havin’ a garage sale now

8:10 a.m.: Our esteemed first customer is browsing the various offerings of our first Madison garage sale. Signs went up at both ends of the street last night. A.J. is set to sell cups of lemondade from his wagon near the sidewalk, while the rest of our wares are spread along both sides of the driveway on makeshift tables. (The most creative one of these involves two garbage cans, a couple of short boards, plywood a coworker was discarding, and beach towels.) She’s been quite conversational, asking A.J. about his favorite things to do. He just carried her purchases across the street to her vehicle, and is filling her bottle. I hope our coworkers don’t mind paying ten cents for the “cool sips” promised in the daily office announcements email.

Dy suggests doing something of value – not blogging – to make the morning count. Can’t mow, but I do need to trim some branches back from touching the roof, and earwigs are wandering past the bleach solution I need to refresh around the outside of the house. She’s begun a litany of reasons she doesn’t do garage sales:

  • You spend lots of time pricing things and setting them out to sit around for hours just to make $20.
  • You have to watch people slow down their cars as they pass along the street, deciding by the barest glance whether or not to stop and see more.

Despite the frequent traffic and the almost constant blasts of roofers a block over, a dark mouse made itself heard poking around the corner of the garage. Dy is not impressed, but it stopped the litany.

Two more customers drop by, a guy who must know what he’s looking for and doesn’t see it here, and a neighbor we met when cutting down our hedge last Saturday. We marvel again at the timing of that exploit, with the city brush trucks arriving just as we finished. Arey’s jewelry is attracting some attention now, as she shares a trick with an admirer.

The neighbor’s expecting her roof replaced in coming weeks as well, so she and Dy are comparing roofing companies with similar insights. After an April hailstorm across the area, an estimated 30,000 households in Madison are anticipating roof replacement. Sample hailstones I retrieved from the back yard melted later by accident, but I’d swear they were up to 2.5 inches in diameter. Insurance is covering the vast majority of the costs, but just the building permits should pump millions into city coffers at $150 a pop. The staccato of air-fired nails must be music to some ears.

More neighbors and customers are trickling through. A.J. is wandering around waving a sign advertising “A.J.’s Store.” Arey makes her third sale, surpassing all other departments combined so far. T. has set herself up as cashier for A.J. and the general merchandise, quickly and correctly computing correct change. One of her classmates from this past year shows up with extended family, so we get to tentatively practice some Spanish.

If we had a boom box out here, it would be playing Pat Terry from his 1983 album Film at Eleven – either “Yard Sale” or “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs.” Had to pause typing to help finish the doughnuts, a special treat from last night’s lemonade supplies run. Dy announces again that this is the last garage sale she’ll do; next time, the kids are on their own. Between moves and the outgrowing of clothes, seems we’re frequently downsizing as a household – aiming to travel lightly in a number of ways.

Between visitors, several of us test the limits of this Bluetooth keyboard. Now the kids are trying to see how far a drooping branch will loft one of them after the other two pull it further down. There will be less branch to trim as a result. And lots of those little green hopping bugs are wondering how to find their way from the grass back to their preferred aerial habitat.

Later: We ended before lunch, with time to clean up, bag the majority of stuff going on to Goodwill, take down signs and visit a more serious garage sale at least a block north. Managed to split the remaining earnings equitably over lunch, after setting some aside to benefit others. Now it’s on to cleaning…or delaying it by posting this. – j

Summer-like reflections

The other morning while walking back up the driveway from delivering garbage and recycles to the curb, I heard a woodpecker sound off a few houses away. Homing in on the direction automatically, I laughed at the audible reminder of how accustomed I’ve been to enjoying such sounds as common during our stint at camp.

Coming in the door to find A.J. donning his coat for the walk to school, I mentioned the bird. “Was it a piliated?” was his excellent question. Probably not, but where else but at camp would he have learned to ask?

Six summers ago, Edmund Clowney was addressing the Pastors Seminar at Cedar Campus. (Now he continues to dwell with his Master, but on high. And the pastors welcome non-pastors like us.) Sunday morning he began with a sermon to the families on what “Jesus Tells Us About Praying to Our Father.” (Many others were recorded, but not that series.)

Dr. Clowney’s exposition of Jesus’ pattern in Luke 11:5-13 and story in 18:1-8 was more like them than an article which Jesus wouldn’t have written. And so the pith stuck with seven-year-old Arey clearly enough that she could recall it in her own words as she and I made canals that afternoon in the sand at the edge of Prentiss Bay past Forbrich Cabin.

All this comes to mind as I reread a poem from that week’s retreat of silence that’s ripe for a reworking. The other page in the packet records that Sunday’s hymn of profession, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” which with Jesus’ words served as inspiration for some not-so-free verse.

Breathed On
(behind Taylor Lodge; John 3:8)

What else could dance before the breeze
Quite like these bright and hardy trees?
The cedars sway, and poplars bend
Revealing paleness in the wind.
Some firs and pines stand trembling, dark –
Stout wardens of this woodland park.
Mere grasses, weeds and bushes grow
To mimic treetops from below.
The gray of stems turned into trunks
Someday will glow in embered chunks
Or grace a fence or polished chair –
Now witness serve of moving air.
It pleased the wind to blow this way:
So yield your boughs while it’s today!

Surprisingly to me, I only changed two words in the rewrite (green and leafy in line 2, FMI). As little metered and rhymed verse as I generate, I’m not sure what came over me that day.

After I shared that bit at today’s poetry read-in, someone suggested an illustrated collection of poetry inspired by Cedar Campus. I’ve passed along the idea to the appropriate coworkers – who are in the thick of preparing to welcome students yet again. It’s one of several labors of love I’d enjoy making into a hobby. Hoping not all such impulses wait until retirement – j