March 2010


Evan was home this past week on spring break.  He didn’t do very much but it was spring break after all.  He has signed up to go on one of the Campus Crusade summer trips to Colorado where he will work with some inner city Denver kids.  He has to raise the money to go and his first few checks came in along with two verbal commitments. 

But I needed some work done so I made him help me fix the fence.

I find that I can replace about two sections per weekend which keeps me from getting worn out as well as budgeting the expenses out.  Unfortunately we hit a roadblock Saturday.  The fencepost was rotten at the ground and so I had to take down the section that I replaced a couple of weeks ago and dig out the old post.

I guess the smart thing would have been to simply dig a new hole near the first one and set a new post in it.  That would have been quicker although it would have made the spacing all wrong.  Still, that would have been easier in the long run.  As it was, I put Evan to digging and went to get a post and some concrete.  When I got home with it, he had dug up a hole that was about two feet in diameter and two feet deep.  We almost wore ourselves out trying to lever the old chunk of concrete out of the hole with the new post and a piece of pipe but in the end we did it.  Now I have a brand new fencepost but I also have a gigantic chunk of concrete laying on my yard.  Next time I encounter a bad post, I’m definitely leaving the old one in the ground.

The spacing was still a bit off so I had to trim part of the section I replaced before but in the end we got the thing back to its former state by the time Evan had to leave for Fayetteville on Sunday.  As he drove back, I put up the pickets on the remaining replacement section and called it done. 

I hope the remaining parts of the fence go smoothly.  I also hope that the rest of Evan’s fund raising goes smoothly as well.  He has to raise a little over $3000 (or pay it himself) and he has only received $200 so far but it’s just the first week.  Everybody at the church who hears about his intended trip says “Awesome!” but they are not thinking about the lost income from half a summer spent not working.  He still has to have enough money to make it through the next school year but he’s not thinking in such long terms.  It’s awkward for me since I am in the position of saying he should avoid “God’s work” and get on with earning money.  The Bible is chock full of stories about how bad that is; the story of a camel and the eye of a needle comes to mind. 

We had his life planned out so that he wouldn’t have to take out a loan to finish his degree but if he doesn’t raise the money, he will have to.  I know that’s a time-honored tradition these days but it’s still better not to have to do that.  Campus Crusade sell these trips with an almost unholy fervor but to their credit, they’re pretty good about telling the kids about how important it is to raise their own money and not just try to tap their parents for it. 

Well, I guess I’ll just go out in my back yard and try to force myself through the eye of a needle.  It will be easier to force a camel through a section of my rotten fence.  Here’s hoping that both of these projects go well.

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Erin’s plane was due back at 9:40pm Saturday night.  As that time approached, we checked the AA website often and discovered that the arrival time kept moving away from us.  Finally, we saw that it was off and so we took off ourselves for the airport.  Unfortunately, the website was wrong.

When we got there, we saw that it had not in fact taken off and their departure had been delayed another hour.  We took long walks back and forth, up and down the airport to pass the time but if you’re on the unsecure side of security, there isn’t much to do or see.  The one Starbucks was closed; the only food or drink available was from machines and that did not appeal.

Some other parents were there so we just sat and talked.  Evan spent his time playing games on his iTouch.  After all was said and done, their plane arrived at around 1:30 am.

Every kid from Asbury was exhausted from traveling all day; they had all been up at around 5:00 am to get ready and they all looked pretty ragged.  Erin could barely talk and refused to wear the “birthday girl” crown Mel brought along.  Her birthday had passed while she was away and she seemed not to care by that point.  We all staggered out of the airport into the snow.

Oh, and by the way, it snowed Saturday, Saturday night, and Sunday.  It had been a beautiful week with every promise of warm spring-like weather in the future but suddenly it got cold and we got dumped on.  So as we drove home listening to Erin’s fatigued report of how her week had gone, the road became increasingly obscured with snow. 

I hate that.

We made it home OK even though the last few feet up our own driveway were a bit slippery.  I have a long, ongoing animosity towards my neighbors across the street because they always park their cars on the street opposite my driveway.  As a result I always have to greatly slow down on my approach to my driveway in slippery weather and so I can never get up enough momentum to carry me up the slope.  I just kept at it Saturday night since the car has traction control.  I just kept giving it gas, it kept slipping but slowly inched us up until we made it inside. 

We spent a little time letting Erin finish her story but all went to bed soon at somewhere between 2:00 and 2:30 am. 

We slept in.

I got up at pretty much the regular time because that’s what my body does.  I did have a nice nap in the afternoon though.  Mel and the kids slept in much longer than that.  Erin and Evan staggered out of their bedrooms at around 1:30 in the afternoon.  We all finally got ourselves together by dinner time and went to our favorite restaurant to eat and let Erin tell us all about the trip in detail.

Things like late nights and disrupted sleep schedules always discombobulate my body clock and so I never felt quite right for the rest of the day.  Hopefully I’ll be able to work without feeling too wonky.

We bought a mattress Saturday.  The last time we did so, as nearly as we can remember it, was 1984.  I had some vague notion that mattresses needed to be replaced occasionally but it never bubbled its way to the top of the priority list until we both began to suffer from random back problems.  Now I find that one should replace it about every 10 years.  One guy at a mattress store laughed out loud and expressed his incredulity at that longevity. 

I’m a bit cynical about sales of such items – if they say you need to replace them every 10 years at least and probably more often than that, I usually assume that they’re overselling the point but I’d say 26 years is above and beyond the normal lifetime. 

I can never remember my parents ever buying a mattress but that’s not the sort of thing you tend to remember as a kid.  That’s the sort of thing that they just took care of – or I guess they must have since none of us were sleeping on bags of straw. 

So when the squeaking and hammock-like shape finally got our attention, we decided to shop for another after dropping Erin at the airport. It didn’t take long – mattresses are not the sort of thing that change a lot over time and everybody sells the same thing and the same brands.  Only the prices vary and they vary widely.  We bought from a place in our town and that was closest to our house.  It’s a family owned business and their teenage son followed me home with it in the back of his pickup.  This was far superior to the nationwide chain store that informed us that it would be at least a week before they could deliver.

I can’t believe how much better it feels to lay on it.  I’m definitely not waiting another 26 years to buy another one.

Spring break has begun and, like every spring break since middle school, we dropped Erin off at the church so she could spend a week doing mission work.  I’m not sure if this is part of a larger movement among young people to do more public service or if it’s unique to the Methodist church but we’ve gone with it.  She always has a great time and always comes home with a broader sense of perspective.  It usually manifests itself in her not wanting expensive things for her birthday. 

This year, they are headed to Guatemala for a week of construction work.  This sort of thing is often overcome by events and depending on how the ongoing construction projects have gone, the students may work on the advertised project or they may go on to the next one.  They are trying to build a new church down there and when you mix all your concrete by hand and move it up via bucket brigade, the projects take awhile – Evan did that a couple of years ago and I imagine they’ll be doing it again this year.  Most of Evan’s time was spent tying rebar and handling buckets of concrete. 

When they get back and the slide show is presented they often show many photos of paint-splattered kids painting rooms.  Erin tells us that this is because whoever has the camera doesn’t often get outside the building because it’s hot outside and that the kids who are assigned to paint are generally the deadbeats.   The reason they are paint-spattered is that they flick it on each other because they are attention-deficit do-nothings.  She tends to be brutal in her assessments but she’s often accurate.  These kids are all put in the same room with paintbrushes so that the adult can supervise them (and crack the whip) all at once.  More efficient use of resources and all that.  Unfortunately, kids that are spattered with colored paint are the most photogenic so what you see is often not representative. 

Last year in Mexico, Erin worked in the blacksmith shop which nobody wanted any part of since it involved hard work, heat, and frequent sparks.  There was one photo of her with a nondescript piece of metal in her hand and it was not at all obvious from the photo that the size and shape of it were the result of a great deal of effort to make it exactly as it was to within a millimeter or two and that great energy was expended to make it so.

This year, she was super excited to go since it involved an airplane ride and the use of a passport.  We have done this enough that we don’t get worried any more.  I am only guilty of feeling a bit wistful as we watch her disappear around the corner with the large chattering group of her friends.  We look forward to hearing all about the trip when she returns next Saturday.

It’s a bit early in the year to be starting yard work but the weather turned off very nice and since I dislike working in the heat it made sense to start work on the back fence now.  My fence has been looking pretty dilapidated for several years so I decided to go buy some wood and start the replacement process.

As usual, things did not go perfectly.

My method has been to try and replace one eight-foot section at a time.  That way, I can knock it down and get the hole plugged back up in a reasonable length of time and not get too tired.  It was extremely frustrating therefore to find out that the existing fence posts are not separated by eight feet.  I thought that this distance was a universal constant but whoever originally built the fence spaced the posts at between 8.5 and 9 feet.  I’d like to find that person and kick his ass.

I can’t imagine anyone intentionally creating a situation where he would have to buy oversized 2x4s (10 or 16 feet is the only way those are sold) and then cut each one to size.  But even though this is an annoyance, it only lengthens the job by a little while – maybe an hour when I include the time it takes to go buy larger 2x4s. 

Anyway, things went swimmingly after that.  Building a fence is very satisfying for several reasons.  It is not complicated so that one can simply slap it together without having to worry about a lot of measuring.  You can cover a lot of ground and so it looks like you’re accomplishing a lot pretty quickly; you go from old splintered fence to new fresh looking fence in a few hours.

My only hiccup was in thinking that the neighbors did not have a dog.  I knew they used to have a scroungy looking little mutt that barked a lot.  He was OK though since he was very friendly.  His personality overcame his ugliness and he was a pleasure to have around.  I don’t know what happened to him though.  I had assumed that because there was no barking, there was no dog.  Not so.

About the time I had ripped down four feet or so, I looked in and discovered the pit bull.  I had a brief moment of panic before I realized that it was looking at me in total fear.  After it had determined that I was not going to come in and hurt it, it skulked away to the other side of the house and I never saw it again.  Still, I felt the need to not stop for a break to avoid the dog coming into my yard.  That’s not so bad except that if it came over to my yard, I’d have to get it back before putting up those last few pickets which might have been tricky.  Their little mutt used to dig under the fence and visit our yard but he never seemed to fit back through the same hole.  

Anyway, I did one section on Saturday and another section on Sunday before running out of wood and screws.  Now I know how much I can do before getting tired.  If I do this much each week, I’ll have a new fence by summer perhaps.  The trickiest part is getting the wood home since I can only get so much into the van without removing the seats.

I had great plans for digitizing all my old home video and making something creative and oscar-worthy.  It turns out that just putting little snippets on facebook and tagging them with the people in the video is plenty fun for everybody. 

Simple is better I guess.

To mutilate a phrase from Jane Austen:  “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a railing with vertical bars must be in want of a child’s head to get stuck in it.”

I’ve seen it happen twice.

When we were living in Fort Worth, Texas, Mel’s sister and her son came to visit one summer along with her Mom.  The boy was about five at the time and we all went to the mall to hang out for awhile.  We were seated at a table along the edge of the upper level overlooking the central fountain.  While eating our lunch we suddenly became conscious of the fact that he was yelling.  Screaming would be a better description of it.  We looked over and he had managed to get his head stuck between two of the bars of the railing.  There was a slightly wider space at the top of each pair of bars and he had stuck his head in up there and slid it down and had then tried to pull his head straight back and then panicked.  We didn’t notice at first because he was facing out and downward.  We only noticed after he got to his loudest volume.   By this time the patrons on the bottom level were looking up and pointing. 

While Mel and her sister were trying to get him to stop freaking out and lift his head up to the top where it would come out, I walked some distance away to laugh.  This is not a very honorable way to behave but that’s the way it was.  To my surprise, Mel’s mom came after me laughing just about as hard.  This all played itself out pretty quickly but it was definitely memorable. 

But that’s not the only time this has happened.

Way back in 1969, we moved into my grandmother’s house next door.  It was a large square two-story house that was in need of quite a bit of updating.  Dad undertook the huge task of ripping down the shaky second floor balcony and replacing it.  He did some very cool stuff like building his own railings and staircase.  The staircase was the coolest thing: he had gone to the demolition of the old fire station and somehow come home with the old fire pole.  This he welded stair treads to and thus created a spiral staircase from the first floor porch to the second story balcony.  It was the coolest thing ever.

But, as I said, he also made his own railings.  These were ordinary looking with vertical bars like every other porch railing ever made.  One day my younger cousin came over and we went out on the balcony to swing on the porch swing.  She was about five just like the kid in the first story.

I don’t remember how it happened; I was talking or looking away when she started screaming.  She had somehow gotten her head through the vertical bars and had then not been able to pull her head back out.  Dad and her father were down on the ground and of course they looked up at the sudden racket.  It was, in all respects, just like the previous story – same scenario, different year.

The two men immediately grabbed some tools – whatever came to hand.  When they came up the stairs, they had a short piece of a 2X4, a pipe, and a hand saw.  I’m not sure what they intended to do with the saw; the bars were metal.  Perhaps they intended to shorten the 2X4 and use it as a pry bar.  She twisted around to see her Dad coming with a saw and totally freaked out.  Apparently, she thought he was going to cut her head off or something but that was motivation enough for her to start thrashing around and, by some chance, pull her own head out.  I don’t remember laughing about this one – it seemed pretty serious at the time especially since both our mothers had heard the commotion and come upstairs and out onto the balcony with us by that time and were interrogating me as to why her head happened to be stuck between the bars of the railing.  I had been guilty of not paying attention certainly but not guilty of putting her up to it.  I was unjustly accused.  But once it was all over, things calmed down. 

Dad gave vent to some residual profanity at the circumstances.  Something like:

“God damn it!  I tried to carefully plan out how far apart to put those bars so a kid would NOT get his head through and now look what happened!”

If her parents were pissed off at me for my sin of omission, I don’t remember it but I have always been remarkably clueless about such things.  All I know is they aren’t mad any more.

Later on though, I thought it was really funny and I still do.  In fact, it’s a favorite story of Erin’s too.  Every time she sees an old photo in an album, she asks:  “Is that the kid that got her head stuck?”  That cousin is a facebook friend now; I should ask her if she remembers.