Thursday, December 25, 2014

God With Us; or, He Loves Us, He Really Loves Us. . .

This is a conflation of a couple of Christmas meditations I wrote in my 'paper journal' back in the day (20 years ago and more. . .), and a partial re-post of what I posted here a few years back. . .


"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
     and they will call his name Emmanuel - 'God With Us'."
          - The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 1, verse 23
              (ref. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 7:14)

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
          - The Gospel According to John, chapter 1, verse 14

"In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets
     at many times and in various ways;
But in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. . ."
          - The Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verses 1-2

I recall a sermon I heard once, in which the preacher made the point that, in the Incarnation God, who is greater than the Universe, willingly confined Himself in human flesh.  The One who created the Universe, who called it into being and sustains it by His merciful love, emptied Himself of his infinite Divine prerogatives and lived among us, as one of us, knowing in His own body our finitude, our weakness.  It's as though I, in my compassion for worm-kind, became a worm, to live as a worm among the worms, to understand in my own life and experience, what worm-hood is like.  Except that God taking on human flesh is a bigger existential 'leap' than me becoming a worm; I already know what it's like to live in a body, for one example. . .

So then - God is no longer remote from us; He has come to us - God is with us.  He's One of Us (I think of the Joan Osborne song from the 90s; she asked a better question than perhaps she knew. . .)

How differently would we understand our lives if we were more consciously aware of this foundational truth - God is with us.

How differently would we relate to our minor trials (or our major ones, for that matter) if we knew - really knew - that God is with us.

How different would our sins look to us if we really understood that God is with us?

What a privilege, what an awesome possibility is laid before us - God has become one of us, that we might become like God.  And yet how little do we - do I - take hold of it and venture so bold as to live by means of God's grace?

And then this -

"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - 
     how will He not also graciously give us all things?"
          - The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 32

God didn't have to send His Son, the Eternal Word, to be incarnate, but he did.  And if He did that, what won't he do for us?  Can I even grasp what this - the Incarnation - means, in terms of how God wants to relate to me?  With what gracious favor, what kindliness, what gratuitous, extravagant, profligate love, He regards me/us?  The 'plans He has for us, plans for good and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope?' (ref. Jeremiah 29:11)

It reminds me of what CS Lewis said in 'The Weight of Glory' - "We muck about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us."  We just don't get it. . .


O God, have mercy on us; help us to see clearly, and to know, really know, the lavishness of your love for us.  Let it change us, purify us, make us holy, make us more like you created us to be in the beginning, to be your presence in the world, to shine as lights in the darkness. . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Please Pray, Won't You?

I've only got about 4 or 5 more-or-less regular readers left here in The Yard, and one of 'em, Buck Pennington, the Exile in Portales, is pretty seriously ill just lately, enough to be in an ICU one state over from home.  Would you please take a moment to offer a prayer for his recovery?  (Buck, who I believe has Buddhist leanings, likes to make reference to The Deity At Hand; I'm quite sure, at any rate, that The Deity At Hand knows Who He Is, whether we do or not. . .)  Buck has become a good friend over the blog-years (even if he is a fancier of Notre Dame; we hold the Red Wings in common, though), and I would hate to lose him just yet. . .


(update, 20 December)

Buck's sons posted of his passing yesterday.  Clearly, the Deity At Hand has His own inscrutable plans for Buck. . .

I will miss him.

Requiescat In Pace, Buck

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Pair of Heart-Warming Vignettes. . .

Or at least, so they seem to me. . .


One night recently, Jenn and I were in our bedroom, preparing to retire for the night, when she looked at me, grinning broadly.

"We're doing it!" she said, enthusiastically.

Um, doing what, Sweetheart?

"We always said we wanted to grow old together, and we're doing it!  We're growing old!  Together!"

What could I say to that?  Yes, we are.  And there's no-one I'd rather grow old with than you, dear. . .


I was a recent visitor to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn (a very cool place, if you're at all into historical machinery).  At one point, I was walking across an open space past a group of a half-dozen or so girls, who were, I would guess, around seven or eight years of age.  One of the girls, bolder than the others, perhaps noting my, um, girthiness, combined with my mostly-white beard and graying hair, approached me to ask, "Are you Santa Claus?"

I smiled at her benignly.  "No," I replied. "I'm his brother."

As I walked away, I heard behind me a chatter of excited voices - "That guy is Santa Claus' brother!"  "Really?!?"  "No, he's not!"  "Uh-HUH!  He told me!"

And I smiled. . .


The weather around these parts has been unseasonably warm/dry for December.  High 30s/low 40s, and aside from a couple inches the week before Thanksgiving, we really haven't had any snow to speak of.  And thus, I've gotten in two rides, for 27 miles, so far in December (and 1063 for the year).  I've also flatted three of the last four times I've gone out on my bike (*aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh*).  My working hypothesis is that, the roads being just slightly damp this time of year, stones stick to the surface of the tire, and slowly get pounded through to eventually puncture the inner tube.  But. . . December miles.  I'll take all I can get. . .

(*update, 17 December*)

I finally took my bike in to the shop to see if he could figure out any hidden causes of my recent rash of flats.  Turns out, I had three pieces of glass lodged in my tire, none of 'em so deeply that I could discover 'em with the standard run of my fingers across the inside of the tire (I always do that because, you know, if you leave the cause of the flat in place, you're gonna get repeated flats. . .) (D'oh!)  So, when I'd go out and ride for 20 miles or so, the little sharp edges would keep poking at the inner tube until, Voila! a complete puncture occurred.  So, one new tire later, I'm (I hope) back in business. . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent, One More Time. . .

In recent years, in solidarity with my friend Suldog and his Thanksgiving Comes First campaign, I've re-posted a piece on Advent that I originally ran eight years ago.  This year, I offer it to you once again, lightly edited. . .


This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent - the beginning of the Christian season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and the beginning of a new liturgical year (so hey, Happy New Year!). Over the years, I've really come to love Advent, imperfectly though I may observe it. In rough terms, Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, with a bit more low-key emphasis on the whole 'penitential' thing. Rightly done, Advent is a time of contemplation, a time to step back from the normal frenzy of daily life, take a few deep breaths, and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas. One of the old traditional Advent hymns bids us

Make your house fair, as you are able,

in preparation to welcome God in human flesh four weeks hence.  So, Advent is pretty much the polar opposite of 'consumer Christmas'. Pausing for contemplation is not a thing we Americans are terribly inclined to do (perhaps I should rather say it's a thing that we're inclined to do terribly).

In the larger American culture, the 'Christmas season' runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, but in traditional Christian circles, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and runs until Epiphany (January 6) - thus, the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' - and Advent is marked out by the four Sundays immediately preceeding Christmas. So, when most of our neighbors are finished with Christmas (sometime in the late afternoon or evening of December 25th), we're just getting started. It always perplexes me just a bit to see all the Christmas trees out on the curb on the 26th; when Jenn was a kid, Catholics didn't even put their Christmas trees up until Christmas Eve. And, just as I'm getting pumped to finally be singing 'Joy to the World' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', most of my neighbors are sick of the whole 'Christmas thing'.

Maybe I should blame it on the Magi - they started the whole giving-gifts-at-Christmas thing. I doubt they had any clue how far it would get out-of-hand, though.

When it comes right down to it, though, I've got to admit that my spiritual preparation for Christmas is my own responsibility. It's not up to American culture to get me spiritually prepared. It might be nice if the culture were more supportive (or even just less disruptive) of what I'm trying to accomplish, but it is what it is.

So, our family is setting out on Advent. If, over the next few weeks, I seem a little reticent and low-key about Christmas, you'll understand, won't you? And then, if I'm getting all Christmas-y just when you're getting tired of it all, you'd be very kind to indulge me. In the meantime, I'll be over here, singing 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel', in a minor key. . .

Sunday, November 30, 2014

So Close. . .

Alas. . .

7M's football team lost a heart-breaker in the Division 5 State Championship game at the big domed stadium in Detroit, to the defending state champs.  The final score was 24-20, and we can take some small comfort from the fact that it was one of the more intense, competitive, exciting games of the championship weekend (Michigan crowns 8 state champions, in divisions according to enrollment). . .

Our guys started off slowly, making uncharacteristic mistakes (it's possible they were in awe, or at least a bit jittery, at the whole ambiance of the dome, and the championship stakes), and fell behind 17-0 by the middle of the second quarter.  They scored a touchdown just before halftime to make it 17-6 at the half (and those of us who keep track of such things were looking at each other saying, "hey, it's closer than it was in the semis". . .).

In the second half, the defense stiffened, and the offense started to find its rhythm.  In the third quarter, we mounted a 96-yard drive to a touchdown, making the score 17-13.  The defense stopped the opposing offense, and then the offense went back to work, starting again at our own 4-yard line.  They marched up the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown, making the score 20-17  in our favor with just over 7 minutes left in the game (it turns out that that was the first time all year that our opponents had been behind after halftime).

But of course, our opponents didn't become the undefeated defending state champions by going away quietly when things get difficult.  They began a slow, painstaking, 17-play drive, converting on fourth down three times, scoring the winning touchdown with a minute left in the game.  Hats off to them.

I'm sure that both teams tested each other as severely as either of them had been tested all season.  (Cliche alert!)  It's just a shame that one of them had to lose (and all the moreso that the loser had to be us).  Honestly (Cliche alert, redux) it was a great game, if you didn't care who won (but alas, I did. . .)

7M played a good game.  He made a couple tackles (and got his name called over the PA at Ford Field!), and generally contributed to the success of our defense.  And he was inconsolable at the final result (as were his teammates and coaches).  I'm sure, at some point, they'll all gain some perspective on the privilege they had of just playing in such a game, and taking the champions to the limit of their ability, but for now, getting so close and coming up empty feels maddeningly cruel.

7M is a junior, as are the majority of the starters on the team, so they'll have another opportunity next year.  I told 7M after the game that, starting now, he's one of the senior leaders on next year's team, and if they want to go back again and win, it will take even more hard work than what they put in to get so close this year.  Nothing whatsoever is guaranteed them; they'll have to earn their spot all over again, and it'll be no easier next year.  But they're in a position, having been there once, to understand what it takes.  We will see what we will see. . .

But it has been a heck of a ride this time through.  I'd love to do it again. . .


I was given a gratuitous gift of temperatures in the 50s this afternoon, so I went out on my bike for 21 miles.  Combined with the 13 I did on Thanksgiving morning (which was cold, but clear and dry), I'm at 1036 for the year (and 160 for the month of November).  Of course, any December miles are a gift, but as the eminently quotable Yogi Berra once said, it ain't over until it's over. . .

Sunday, November 23, 2014


(with apologies to Andres Cantor)

As if there weren't enough going on in our life. . .


This afternoon, I was the beneficiary of a completely gratuitous harmonic convergence of warm non-frigid temperatures, dry ice-free roads, no hardly any rain, and no other commitments on my schedule for just long enough to get in a 17-mile bike ride, bringing my total for the year to 1002 miles.  At last!  It wasn't all that long ago that I was pretty dubious as to whether four-digit miles was even possible.  But I made it.  A little good news, and a nice dose of endorphins, are much appreciated just now. . .

And of course, the year still has five or six more weeks to run, so we'll see if the tally runs any higher, or not.  But at least my 'basic goal' is securely in the books. . .


7M's football team played in the state semi-finals yesterday evening.  The team they played had been winning their games by the same kind of lop-sided scores we've been, and they were clearly the best team we've seen all season.  Things didn't start out so well for our kids; they trailed, 14-0 at halftime, and looked flustered and out-of-sync.  But something clicked in the halftime locker room.  They received the second-half kickoff, and drove the field for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 14-7.  Their opponent took the ensuing kickoff and drove down to our 10-yard line.  They tried to run a Statue-of-Liberty play, but fumbled, and our kids recovered.  Another 90-yard drive, and the score was tied, 14-14.  Our defense held, and then the offense drove to another touchdown, with just over three minutes left in the game.  The defense held again, and then the offense ran out the clock, with the final score 21-14 in our favor.

It was an incredible game to watch, even if you didn't care who won.  The fact that my son was playing for the winning team made it even better.  It was good for them to realize that they could dig deep and win a game that hung very much in the balance right to the end.  They haven't had many of those this year.

So now, they get to play for the state championship at Ford Field in Detroit next Saturday afternoon.  What a thrill for these kids!  The team we're playing is the defending state champion, so they won't be overawed by their surroundings, and they won't be intimidated.  As hard as the semi-final was to win, the final will surely be even harder.  But, what a run!  What a great ride!

(7M is number 33, just right of center)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Oh, Brother. . .

It was 10 years ago this month that Jenn's sister ended her own life.  She had been the 'black sheep' among Jenn's siblings, sort of the 'wild hippie child' type, and I usually enjoyed my own interactions with her.  Even so, for whatever reasons of her own, at 47 years of age, she decided that her life was not something she wanted to continue doing, so she ended it.

I immediately thought back to her when I got word last night that my brother (call him S; he was really my step-brother, but in our blended family, we quickly dispensed with any 'step-' designations, since we were effectively a new family, starting from scratch) had ended his own life.  He was 59.

I had a very, uh, complex relationship with S.  When his mom married my dad, he was the oldest of three kids that she brought with her into the new marriage, and I was older of dad's two kids.  To make things even more fun, we were only six months apart in age, and in the same grade in school; we were both 10 years old.  So, the first year we spent together was mostly engaged in establishing a proper pecking-order for alpha-hood.  And, at least at first, S was a better pecker than I was. . .

He had grown up largely on the mean streets of our hometown Up North (which, you might surmise, weren't all that mean, but you get the idea), whereas I had grown up as a pretty sheltered nerd-boy.  Most of the disputes between us devolved pretty quickly into him punching me repeatedly on my shoulder, until I cried and gave up.  But the long-term effect of our association, at least as far as I was concerned, was that I became less sheltered, more social, and more inclined (to say nothing of able) to physically defend myself.

At some point (probably around the same time as I had my pubescent growth-spurt), it dawned on me that I really didn't need to back down from him.  One time, when we had a group of neighborhood boys in our backyard for a pickup football game, he started teasing me, riding me pretty hard, and I decided that it was time to take a stand, so I chased him around the yard for several minutes, while our friends (mostly his friends, really) watched with amusement.  And I saw fear in his face.  Our relationship improved after that.

At the same time, we fairly quickly found a couple significant points of common interest - we shared a passion for the Detroit Tigers, and baseball more generally, and for the Beatles' music.  Together, we would stay up late at night, listening to a Tigers game from the west coast, or savoring the latest Beatles recording (33-1/3 rpm black vinyl, thank you very much).  We had some epic wiffle-ball games in the backyard.  And in those moments, we were brothers, and forgot all about who was pecking whom.

S was not a dumb guy, but school was never his thing, whereas I loved school, and excelled at it.  Our sister, next-younger than the two of us, one grade behind us, told us how one year, on the first day of school, her teacher, who had had both S and I the year before, called her name, and recognizing the surname, looked up, scanning the class, and asked, "Are you like S, or are you like Craig?"  Poor kid.

S always had a tense relationship with Dad.  Having spent most of his formative years without an effective paternal presence, he didn't take well to Dad's more, um, interventionist approach.  On the eve of our junior year of high school, S ran away one night, and never really came home after that.  He was taken in by a family a couple hundred miles away, who called Mom and Dad, and they worked out an arrangement for S to live there and go to school for that year.  The following year, he moved on again, lived on his own and got a job in the instrument-repair shop of a large music company.  Sports and music were the two large themes of his life.

Our family moved to a large metropolitan area in another state, basically simultaneously with my going to college.  Around the same time, S took a transfer to a place in the same metro area, so the family was, at least nominally, back in the same place together, and S re-integrated himself into the ebb and flow of the life of our family.

In his young adulthood, and really, into his 40s, S had a series of really interesting jobs, interspersed with periods of. . . less interesting jobs.  He spent time working in the sales/marketing staffs of both the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs (a couple times, he got me tickets to games and got me into the clubhouse), and even went to LA for a while and worked for the Lakers (I live in Magic Johnson's hometown, but he got an autographed Lakers media guide for me).  He did some freelance journalism (he was a talented writer, his lack of schooling notwithstanding), and promoted a few concerts (off the top of my head, Arlo Guthrie is one of the bigger names he ever promoted).  Really interesting stuff, but somehow, none of it ever really took hold for the long-term.  He had at least one 'serious' girlfriend, but never married.  How shall I say it?  Ummmmmm. . . substance problems. . .

The last decade or so, things didn't go well for him; work became sporadic, then nonexistent.  He moved in with Mom and Dad, until Mom went to a nursing home, and Dad moved to assisted living.  His final crisis seems to have been triggered when his indulgent landlord finally decided that he couldn't afford to be quite so indulgent anymore, and homelessness loomed (and homelessness, with snow already on the ground and another hard winter in the offing, is not a happy prospect).

As when Jenn's sister killed herself, my first thought is, "What the hell did you go and do that for?"  I confess, I haven't lived his life; I don't know the despair that lurked in his soul.  I want to think that he was loved enough to have seen his life through, but then, I ask myself, have I done enough to make him know that?  (Ironically, the medical examiner found cancer in him that might well have killed him before too much longer, anyway; it's unclear at this point whether he knew about that or not)

It's a little late to say that I will miss him.  In his last years, he wasn't much of a presence in our lives; he would come to family gatherings, and mostly sit quietly in a corner, away from the rest of us.  So I never really knew the raw, unvarnished state of his life, until it was nearly over.

But I will miss him.  We shared an awful lot of our formative years together.  We fought.  We reconciled.  We came to respect, and, I daresay, love each other.  I am so sad that his life went so badly at the end, and I wonder if I should have done more to help it go better (though, at the same time, I doubt that I could have).  In the end, I am left with the sure knowledge of God's mercy, both for S and for me.  And I'm grateful to have shared such of my life with him as I have. . .

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Woolly Bear

Or, Science From Your Bicycle Seat. . . Sorta. . .

As I'm out on my bike during the fall months, one of the more common sights I encounter is a woolly-bear caterpillar wriggling across the road as I roll by.  I have no idea why the caterpillars like wriggling across the pavement; seems like a kind of death-wish to me.  But then, possums are vertebrates and mammals, and I see lots of them along the side of the road, also, but usually in a more, um, deceased configuration.  So, brain-mass-for-brain-mass, maybe the woolly-bear caterpillar is actually smarter than the possum, since most of the caterpillars I see are still, you know, actively wriggling.

Now, some of you will know that there is a folk-legend associated with the woolly worms, as to predicting the harshness of the coming winter (and if you didn't know that before now, you're welcome).  The woolly-bear features prominently in the Old Farmer's Almanac's winter prognostications.  The legend goes that, the more dark bands on the 'typical' woolly-bear, the harsher the coming winter stands to be (on the theory, I suppose, that the darker bands will absorb more heat, from the scarce amount that's available).  Just for totally anecdotal purposes, last fall it was not uncommon to see completely-black woolly-bears, which portended a hard winter.  And so it was.  Some years ago, I recall seeing several woolly-bears that were all-brown, or even orange, which indicated a particularly mild winter in the offing, and so it was.  The actual scientific basis for such predictions is, uh, a matter of some controversy, but there you have it; a peek behind the curtain at the Old Farmer's Almanac.

And in case anybody is wondering, this fall, the woolly-bears I've seen have been pretty nominally-colored, with about the middle third of them brown, and black on the ends.  So, at least here in Michigan, that would portend a pretty normal winter, neither harsher nor milder than usual.  In case, you know, you were wondering.  Just remember, you heard it here first. . .


On a related front, I got in 25 miles on my bike yesterday (with temps in the mid-30s and a few very scattered snow flakes), bringing my total for the year to 985.  Just need to find 15 more miles before winter settles in for the duration. . .

This morning, there's a light dusting of snow on the ground.  It wouldn't be enough to keep me from riding, especially with 1000 miles looming so close.  But today is Opening Day of Firearm Deer Season in Michigan, and the light dusting of snow will be a boon to the hunters.  And those hunters are part of the reason I decided to ride yesterday, and not today.  And also why I wear a blaze-orange hoodie on my rides in November. . .

7M's football team won their third-round playoff game Friday night, 49-21.  They were behind, 14-12, just a minute before halftime, so the game was closer than the score might seem to indicate.  This win puts them in the Division 5 state semi-finals; one more win, and they get to play in the dome in Detroit.  Exciting times for those young men, for sure. . .

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Fans - Both of Them

I don't know that I've brought it up here before now, but a couple years ago, Jenn and I made the momentous decision to go off-the-grid, credit-wise.  Our credit card debt had hit an unmanageable level, so we just said the hell with it, cut up our cards, and set about running a zero-balance budget (including paying off the debt we had accumulated; we may be foolish, but we're not deadbeats).

The financial-types we consulted before taking this momentous step told us that first, and fundamentally, we needed to set up an 'emergency fund' of at least $1000, for things like repairs that come up, so we did that.  And almost immediately, the circus began.  Our washing machine went toes-up. Cha-ching. Tap the emergency fund, and then refill it.  Then our dishwasher died.  Cha-ching.  Tap the emergency fund again, and refill it.  My car got totalled, so we had to go back to the credit well to buy a not-too-heavily-used replacement, which put a fresh strain on the cash-flow, until the profit-sharing check came through.  And then the replacement car got rear-ended on a snowy/icy day.  I was nearly in a panic for a couple days, until it became clear that the damage to my car was merely cosmetic, and it was still fully drive-able.  Then Jenn's car woke up one day and discovered that it had nearly 200,000 miles on its odometer, and decided to call it a life.  So we scrapped out her car, and bought 4M's car from him, when he moved to Seattle.

By that point, we were starting to get creative about covering our bases.  One of the kids left the fridge door ajar overnight, and by the following morning, it was sitting silently, the motor no longer running, the milk starting to get warm.  So we moved everything to the 'reserve' fridge in the basement (which wasn't quite big enough to hold everything that had been in the 'main' fridge, so some stuff took up temporary lodging in the neighbors' fridge), and started making plans for how we were going to procure a new fridge with what was left of our emergency fund.  After a couple days, though, the main fridge had a change of heart, or caught its breath, or something, and began making happy electrical fridge-noises again, and making the inside of the box cold again, so we moved the food back upstairs, grateful for the reprieve (we didn't fully trust that the fridge had been 'healed', and we fully expected it to give up at some not-too-distant future time, but at least we could make use of the delay to refill the emergency fund once again; that was about a year ago, and the fridge is still running fine today, so thanks be to God).

We've had relatively few appliance-crises for that past several months (I hesitate to mention that the dryer and the stove have held strong, lest they hear me, and decide to join in the fun).  We live with a degree of low-grade dread that one of the kids will stick a tin can in the microwave, and when I discovered 7M downloading 'free' music onto the computer, I had an, uh. . . over-reaction (that's what he called it; seemed perfectly reasonable to me. . .).  But the emergency fund has been in decent health, all things considered, and we're mostly able to anticipate and plan for things like putting new tires on two cars, and straightening 8M's teeth (not, alas, as optional as I wish it were; if you saw his teeth, you'd understand), and stuff like that.

So a couple weeks ago, just as the weather (back to talking about the weather again. . .) was transitioning from air-conditioning season to furnace-season, we flipped the thermostat switch from cooling to heating the first day when the overnight low dropped below 50F.  We were sitting in our living room that evening, and heard the comforting electric hum that signaled that the blower-motor was coming on.  Only the hum continued for several seconds, instead of giving way to the 'whoosh' of the fan blowing warm air through the house, and then it quit.  No rush of warmth.  A few minutes later, it tried again, and again we heard the extended electric-motor hum as it tried to come on and failed.  Crud.  Jenn looked at me and asked how the emergency fund was doing.  Okay, I said, but a furnace repair might just about kill it.  We called a friend of ours who knows a little bit about furnaces, and he came over and poked around for a few minutes before telling us, "I think your blower motor's fritzed."  Double crud.

So the next day, Jenn called the furnace-repair guy, and he came, and gave a quote north of $600, which was just higher than the current contents of the emergency fund.  So she told him we'd get back to him, once we figured out how to pay him.  Later that same day, our friend who had looked at the furnace came by with a page he'd printed from an on-line home-repair site, offering the motor we needed for just less than $200.  "If you can buy this motor," he said, "I know a guy who'll install it for $100."  Sold!

So all told, we were without heat in our house for about two weeks.  The house was chillier than we'd prefer, especially at night (into the 50s, which is about what we set the overnight thermostat for in the winter), but still very livable; Jenn just snuggled closer to me in bed, so, you know, win-win.

Somewhere in those two weeks without a furnace-fan, I got into my car and turned the key.  The engine fired up, but something seemed odd.  There was no fan-noise.  I checked; the fan knob was in the 'high' position.  I turned it off and back on; nothing.  It was a weekend, so I was just driving across town, but still, the windshield was starting to fog up.  So I cracked the window open, and drove around that way, just so I could see the road ahead of me.  I was getting annoyed by all the niggling little repairs that were starting to pile up again, and noting the irony that both my house and my car were suffering from fans that wouldn't blow the warm air.  The air was there, and it was warm, but the fan wouldn't send it where it needed to be.

The next day, when I had a few minutes to think it through, I thought that I should at least check the fuse box before I committed myself to replacing the fan motor.  I pulled the cover off and figured out from the schematic which fuse was for the fan motor.  I tried to pull it out to look at it, but it was in too tightly, so I pushed it back in, and prepared to find a pair of pliers with which to pull it out.  I had the keys in the ignition so I could listen to the Spartan football game on the radio, and when I pushed the fuse back in. . . the fan came on.  So it was just a loose connection.  For a couple days, I would start the car, and the fan wouldn't come on, so I would go into the fuse box and give a push to the fan fuse, and all would be well.  After that, the fuse, apparently realizing that I was onto his game, just said the hell with it, and stayed engaged.  I've had to give it a shove a couple more times in the past couple weeks, but nothing too terribly onerous.  Even if I had to push the fuse in every time I start the car, that wouldn't be too terrible.  I suppose that, in the fullness of time, I'll have to give a closer look, and maybe replace the fuse box, but that time is not yet.

And the emergency fund is on its way back to wholeness.  Again.


In other news, 7M's football team played their first playoff game Friday night last.  7M was, how shall I say it - geeked.  I don't know if he got any actual sleep the night before.  It seems that the team managed to channel their collective nervous energy in mostly constructive ways, pulling out a 61-0 victory.  The first round of the playoffs can be like that, as schools of similar size, that play vastly different levels of competition during the regular season, end up bracketed together.  Next week's opponent will no doubt be tougher.

The weather for the game was, um. . . brutal.  Around 40F, with a 20-mph north wind.  It was actually snowing just before kickoff, although it didn't snow (or rain) during the game itself.  Even so, it was merciful to the fans, as well as the losing team, that the second half was played with a running clock.

That nasty weather kept me indoors and off my bike yesterday.  Today promises to be sunny and a bit warmer, with less-than-gale-force winds, so perhaps I can get a few miles in this afternoon.  Onward and upward. . .

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Are You Ready for Some Football?

I don't usually post a whole lot about football around these parts, although in recent years, my Spartans have inspired me to wax rhapsodical from time to time.  But this weekend was a kind of football-ish harmonic convergence around here.  You would be very kind to indulge me. . .


7M is a high-school junior, and a linebacker for his school's football team.  He's pretty darn good (if I may say so myself), and is usually among the leading tacklers for his team.  It never gets old, hearing your son's name called over the PA, I tell you.

His team has had a really good season so far, going undefeated, winning their league championship, and qualifying for the state playoffs, besides.  This Friday night past, they played another undefeated, highly-ranked team, and won, 27-22.  It was the only game all year that they won by less than 30 points.  It was actually kinda fun to watch a game that wasn't played with a running clock for most of the second half. . .

The team is sufficiently highly ranked that it wouldn't be a surprise for them to be playing in the domed stadium in Detroit over Thanksgiving weekend (ie, for the state championship).  There being four rounds of games to win before that comes to pass, I'll stop short of counting any unhatched chickens.  But it's been a fun ride so far. . .


8M played football for the first time in his life this fall.  He hasn't been as athletically-inclined as his brothers, and I'm fine with that; he sure doesn't have to have athletic success in order to please me.  He has his own really unique personality, and his own set of unique skills and proclivities that make him a really interesting and fun person in his own very estimable right; we're glad to have him in our family, no matter how stunned we were to find ourselves expecting our eighth child deep into our 40s, all those years ago. . .

Anyway, it's been a lot of fun, watching him learn to play the game, progressing from "Where am I?  What am I supposed to be doing?  I have no clue. . ." to understanding his assignments, and making plays.  Last week, he got his name called over the PA for the first time (he made a tackle), and in today's game, he actually carried the ball a couple times.  Mind you, I'm not so much living vicariously through the success he's had (such as it is), as I am proud of him making the effort, and learning to do something that he started out utterly clueless of.  Very cool. . .


And just for the sake of saying so, I have to mention the way my Spartans man-handled the hated Wolverines over the weekend, the sixth time we've beaten them in the last seven games.  Truth to tell, I didn't think that the Spartans played all that well, certainly far short of their best.  But even so, they dominated the blue-corn guys from start to finish.  It's a sign of how strong our team is, I suppose, that they can dominate their rival while still not playing their best.

I'm still getting used to this whole rivalry-dominance thing.  Our friends from down the road have had far more success against us, in my adult lifetime, than we've had against them (though we pretty much owned them in my childhood; just sayin').  I'm just glad (*shedding a small tear*) to have lived long enough to see the tables turned, at least for a while. . .


And then this morning, the Lions played the Sunday Brunch Special from Wembley Stadium in London.  That's London, in the UK, not Ontario.  Five time zones to the east of here.  NFL marketing-types, gotta love 'em. . .

The Leos started out terrible, trailing 21-0 at halftime.  But they turned the tables in the second half and ended up pulling out a 22-21 victory on a last-second field goal (some real bizarre doings in those final seconds, which I'll decline to discuss in detail, but it did make things, um interesting).

I'm not quite ready to start calling them "MY Lions" just yet (6-2 and leading the division has gone down in flames too often, too recently, for me to jump on the bandwagon quite this soon).  But this could yet turn into one of the better years of my own personal memory. . .


So, lots of football this weekend, all the way from middle-school, to high school, to major-college, to the pros.  And all of 'em went according to my own humble rooting interests, which was nice.

And the weather in these parts was spectacular this weekend - mid-60s, brilliant sunshine, cloudless azure skies. . . So I put another 32 miles on my bike, bringing me to 876 miles for the year.  Barring any nasty weather wiping out entire weekends, I should just sneak past 1000 before the snow flies.  But, we will see what we will see. . .

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Michigan Weather. . .

If you don't like it, goes the saying, wait five minutes. . . it'll change. . .

[This quote is actually attributed to Mark Twain, in reference to New England; I'm not sure Ol' Sam ever even set foot in the State of Michigan.  I'm also reasonably sure that pretty much every state not named California has 'borrowed' this quote for itself.

The meteorologist-types of my acquaintance tell me that the Great Lakes actually have a 'moderating' effect on Michigan's climate.  But the saying is common among my fellow-Michiganders (or are we Michiganians? I can never remember), whether justly or not. . .]


My Tigers having finished their season early this year, I'm left to talk about . . . the weather.

No, not really.  I'll just revert to my other favorite autumnal blogging topic: tracking my bicycling miles.

This has been a tough cycling season for me.  First off, last winter was extraordinarily long and cold, and whereas I'm usually out on my bike in early March, this year the snow and ice and cold temperatures didn't abate, so as to allow me to get out on the road, until the very last weekend of March.  So I lost nearly a full month at the beginning of the season.

Then in April, I came down with a nasty respiratory virus.  My normal protocol in such instances is to get plenty of rest, and cut back on my miles (riding, say, 17 miles instead of 25 or 30; gotta keep the legs working, dontchaknow), and in the fullness of time, the virus runs its course, and I haven't lost too much of my conditioning edge (heck, sometimes, a ride can even have a 'blow-the-gunk-out' effect on my respiratory system).  This time, though, every time I put on even very modest miles, my lungs responded by getting even sicker, and threatening to fling small chunks of themselves through the air.  I finally went to see my doctor, who prescribed an oral steroid for me, and that, plus a couple weeks off the bike, finally brought me back to my normal, radiant good health.  But by that time, it was early May, and I was basically starting over at building up my miles, two months behind schedule.

And so it went.  My schedule seemed to conspire against me more than usual, as well. Events like funerals, or marriage-enrichment conferences (Jenn and I started working in marriage-prep classes for our parish this year) kept coming up, pushing my rides to a less-convenient time, and obliging me to ride fewer miles than I'd planned.  And then I had a mild relapse of the respiratory virus in August, so I had to skip another ride or two again.

So now, here I am, in mid-October, when I'd normally have something like 1200 miles on my legs and lungs (a couple years ago, I was over 1600 by late October), and wondering how many hundred more I'd be able to get in before the snow flies and the shoulders of the roads are covered with ice, relegating me to the stationary bike for the winter.  And I've got 811 miles in for the year.

My 'basic goal' every year is 1000 miles, and I've usually reached that by early/mid-September, so I can set my sights higher.  In recent years, I've averaged about 1400 miles a year, give-or-take, but this year, I'll have to be pretty diligent just to make my 'basic goal'.

Which brings us back to the weather.  Fall weather can be unpredictable in my part of Michigan, as the seasonal transition takes hold.  It is more prone to be rainy and windy during this time of the year, and the temperatures are trending downward.  For several years now, I've been blessed to have most of our 'Weather' happen during the week, while I'm at work, and can't get out on the road, anyway.  This year, though, the 'weather' has come on the weekends to a greater extent than usual, forcing me to consult forecasts, trying to work my riding schedule around the particular 3 hours when the rain will be taking a break.  And of course, that leaves me subject to the, uh, accuracy of the forecasts.

So, three or four times in the last few weeks, I've targeted a three-hour window in the rain pattern, and gotten out on the road at the first sign of non-threatening skies, only to find that, 15 miles out in the countryside, the weather had a different schedule.  Riding in the rain is not my favorite thing to do, but once you're out on the road, you don't have much choice.  One recent Saturday,  I was a little late getting out on the road, when I knew I had about a three-hour rain-free window.  So, when I was about five miles from home, the skies opened up, and the wind-machine turned on (20-25 mph, directly into my face, which seemed kinda over-the-top on Mother Nature's part).  It only lasted for a mile or so, but you can get awfully cold and wet in a mile of downpour, against a stiff wind.  Another time, I left the house under blue skies, with the promise of the weatherman that I had a good, solid three hours before the rain returned.  Within three miles, I was being pelted with sleet (SLEET!  add my normal 12-mph to the wind-borne velocity of the falling ice-needles against my face, and you have a distinctly unpleasant experience), all the while seeing blue skies off to the west.  For the rest of the ride, I was mostly riding under sunny blue skies, but as I turned onto the final 7-mile run back toward home, there was a large, dark, ominous-looking cloud directly ahead of me.  Nothing to do but keep riding, and by the time I was even with where the black cloud had been, it had moved off to the east, and I missed getting rained on, for once.  Which, you know, was just fine with me.

So anyway, as things sit, I'll have to ride some pretty aggressive miles, and hope that the weather stays ride-able into December, if I hope to make 1000 miles for the season.  Which is by no means given.

But then, in the last two weeks, the typically schizoid fall weather, driving rain alternating with bright sunshine, has meant that I've twice driven home at the end of a work day, under a stunningly brilliant double rainbow, so, you know, there's that. . .

Monday, October 6, 2014

Well, That Was Quick. . .

Recalling what I said in my previous post about frequency of posting during the baseball post-season month of October. . .  Yeah, well, so much for that.  My Tigers were unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs yesterday evening.  It's not like I didn't see it coming, or anything, but, you know, we hoped for better. . .

Our three-game whirlwind tour (and I use the term 'whirlwind' both in the sense of 'brief and frenetic', and also 'getting slammed by a tornado') of the baseball post-season was really something of a microcosm of the entire season - the bullpen imploding, wasting creditable, if not spectacular starting pitching, and then the bats inexplicably disappearing when we did get solid pitching.  I mean, 12 FREAKIN' RUNS OVER CONSECUTIVE 8TH INNINGS?  Twelve!?!  Seriously?!?  But such was the quality of our bullpen this year; no lead was ever safe.  I'd be listening to a game on the radio, and the starter would be through seven innings with 110 or so pitches, and a nine-run lead, and I'd be anxiously wringing my hands, wondering if a nine-run lead could hold up through two innings of relief pitching.  (I don't recall if the bullpen ever actually blew a nine-run lead or not, but it had some atrocious meltdowns.  I know we lost more than one lead of three runs or more in the 9th inning)

And, for all the all-star caliber hitters the Tigers have, they were prone to mystifying offensive droughts, making guys with career ERAs of 5.86 look like Sandy Freakin' Koufax.  On paper, before the season, it looked like we should win our division by at least 10 games.  Our starting rotation included two of the past three Cy Young Award winners (and we picked up the third one at the trade deadline), and Miguel Cabrera was the two-time defending Most Valuable Player.  We even unloaded Prince Fielder's horrible contract and even more horrible defense; things were looking good.  We had some injury problems, but nothing terribly our of the ordinary (although both Cabrera and Justin Verlander were coming off off-season surgeries, and both of them were mystifyingly un-dominant for long stretches of the season).  We ended up squeaking out the division championship by one game, after looking up at the Kansas City Royals for a lot of the summer.  It was a frustrating season, but it seemed like were starting to get our stuff together just in time for the playoffs.  I guess not, huh?

But hey, the Los Angeles Angels, who by most all accounts were the best team in the American League, got similarly broomed out of the playoffs by the aforementioned Royals, and the Washington Nationals, who were likewise counted the best team in the National League, are on life support, having lost their first two games at home, and heading to San Francisco with no more losses 'to give'.  Which goes to show, I suppose, that once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen. . .

The coming off-season promises to be tumultuous for my Tigers, in all sorts of ways.  Max Scherzer, our best pitcher the past two seasons, is a free agent, and I can't imagine that the Tigers will be able to match the money that teams like the Yankees will be prepared to throw at him.  Victor Martinez, who was our best hitter this year, is also a free agent, and it is not a given that we will be able to re-sign him, either.  Torii Hunter has given the Tigers a couple of solid seasons, even at 39 years of age, and he's a free agent, too.  We will see what we will see, of course (we always do), but there is a large sense that the Tigers' window of opportunity to win a World Series is about to slam shut.  It's been a nice run for the past 5-6 seasons, but they haven't yet won it all, and it seems about to become less likely, not more.



The Lions also lost ignominiously yesterday afternoon, making it a dismally lost weekend for Detroit professional sports teams. . .

But at least, on a somewhat happier note, my Spartans won their game Saturday night.  Not, however, before they gave up most of a 24-point, end-of-the-3rd-quarter lead, having to intercept a pass on the 10-yard-line with 30 seconds left in order to hang on for a 5-point win.  In the last four minutes of the game, they gave up a touchdown on a punt return, and bounced a short filed goal off the upright.  I was seriously hyperventilating at that point.  Credit to Nebraska, our opponent, for not getting the memo that the game was over at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The mismatch in intensity between the two teams in the 4th quarter was glaring.  My Spartans will have to play hard for all four quarters, if they hope to contend for the kind of honors they aspire to.


At any rate, given the end of the Tigers' season, things might be a tad less sports-oriented around these parts than I'd hoped (or some of my readers might have feared) this month.  So, who knows what stuff I might be posting about?  With a sideways tip of the hat to my friend Suldog, I can't promise that my next post will be soon, and I sure can't promise that it'll be better.  But, you know, eventually, with more stuff, of one sort or another. . .

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fire the Bastards!

It's October, and in recent years here in The Yard, that has meant a sudden uptick in my posting frequency, as I follow my Tigers through the baseball post-season, and this year, that grand tradition continues, as the Tigers have won their division for the fourth consecutive year, the first time in team history that they've appeared in four consecutive post-seasons.  Although, to be candid, post-seasons these days are not what they once were, with 10 teams out of 30 qualifying for the festivities; whereas, back when Ty Cobb and the boys were appearing in three consecutive World Series from 1907-09, two teams out of 16 faced each other in the World Series, so that still seems like a bigger deal. . .

Even so, these recent years have been a period of noteworthy success for the Detroit Baseball Club.  You might think that such a period of unprecedented sustained success would make for a happy group of Tiger fans.  But you would be wrong.  At least on a wider level; myself, I'm as happy a Tiger fan as I've ever been, except in the immediate aftermath of the '68 and '84 World Series.  But at least judging from the people who call in to the sports-talk-radio stations, Tiger fans by-and-large are unprecedentedly angry and frustrated.

Both last year and this year, the Tigers finished atop the division standings by just a single game over the second-place team.  Many fans, evidently spoiled by the team's run of success, think that the division race should have been over by Labor Day, and by such a dominant margin that the next-best team should be in third place, not second.  When the team struggled with injuries, and a few of the players who were being counted on to perform at a high level, um, didn't, these fans became even more angry and frustrated.

The Tigers' manager this year is a man named Brad Ausmus, who is on his first managing job after a long career as a player, during which he achieved average-to above-average success from, shall we say, less-than-elite-level skills.  He played two separate tours with the Tigers, during which he was a consistent fan favorite.  So when he was named the Tigers' manager last winter, the move was met with approval, for the most part.  But when the team failed to dominate in the 'expected' manner, a growing undertone of anger arose.

This is nothing new, mind you.  For the eight seasons prior to this one, the Tigers' manager was a man named Jim Leyland, who was what they call a 'baseball lifer'.  He'd had a couple previous gigs as a major-league manager, taking the Pittsburgh Pirates to a couple of post-seasons back in the early 90s, and winning a World Series with the Florida Marlins in '98.  In his eight seasons in Detroit, the Tigers made the post-season four times, and played in two World Series, both of which they lost (they also lost a one-game tie-breaker in '09, which ought to count as a 'post-season' game, especially if you're going to count a one-game wild-card playoff as a post-season game; but I digress).

Virtually every day of those eight years, somebody in Detroit was calling in on talk-radio, calling for him to be fired.  Because he didn't call for the bunt when he should have.  Because he called for the bunt when he shouldn't have.  Because he left his starter in one batter too long.  Because he pulled his starter, who was obviously cruising, and good for another 23 innings.  Because a hit-and-run play backfired.  Because the third-baseman threw the ball into the upper deck, or the left-fielder missed the cutoff man.  Etc., etc, etc.  All under the general heading of "We know more about baseball than you do."  A guy who's been in professional baseball for 50 years, and some pizza-delivery guy is certain that he knows more about baseball than him.  'Cuz, you know, he played baseball in high school, and he KNOWS baseball.  It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

And so this year, when injuries set in, and key players under-performed, and success was less certain than it 'should have been', the same set of brilliant fans began calling for Brad Ausmus to be fired.  Or Dave Dombrowski, the general manager.  Or both of them, in a public execution at home plate, before the next game.  It's just a good thing that the Tigers finally did win; who knows what might have happened if they hadn't.

And here's the thing that really grinds my backside about the whole thing, even beyond the pathetic aspect of thinking they know more about baseball than a guy who's been in the game professionally for 50 years - these folks are awfully casual about wanting someone else to lose their job.  Look, I know that professional sports is a results-driven business, and if you don't win, you won't keep your job for long; I get that.  But the constant, day-after-day drumbeat of 'Fire the Bastard!' directed at a team, and a manager, having considerably more-than-normal success, is jaw-droppingly bizarre.  Would they want other people to be as casual about pulling the plug on their continued employment as they are about the managers of their favorite sports teams?  Do people act like this in other towns?  I mean, other than New York?

My modest proposal - anyone who goes on talk radio and calls for the coach of his favorite team to be fired, should be judged by the same standard.  Get the change wrong on a pizza order - you're fired!  Have a typo in your sales report - you're fired!  And so on down the line.  Any bit of strategy that backfires - that's it, you're gone!  Have great results year after year, but some guy with flecks of spittle on his I-phone thinks you're a moron and he could've done better?  You're screwed, get outta here!

(*puff, pant*) (*puff, pant*)

(*deep, cleansing breath*)

Okay, better now. . .

Anyway, the Tigers begin their fourth consecutive post-season on Thursday against the Orioles in Baltimore.  And once again, hope springs eternal.  I wish all your teams well, until they play my Tigers.  Maybe this will finally be our year. . .

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day of the Drunken Birds

These days, I'm not posting so much, and occasionally, I'm leaving some good, post-worthy stories as comments on other folks' blogs.  Such is the case with this one, although by now I forget whose blog I left it on as a comment.  It really does deserve to be preserved for posterity along with the rest of my stories, though, so here you go. . .


The house I grew up in, Up North, was situated at the end of a dead-end street, out near what, in those days, counted as the edge of town.  There were no other houses within a block of ours, and our back yard was bordered on two sides by what could only be honestly described as a swamp.  In one corner of the yard was a mountain ash tree, the kind with the little orange berries.  For most of the summer, the tree would be liberally speckled with orange berries, which made for a colorful splash in that corner of the yard.

Now, birds (mostly robins and blue jays) loved those little orange berries, and would come from far and wide to descend on our yard in order to partake of their orange-y goodness.  And throughout the summers, the, uh, bird-lime that was splatted around our yard (and on our cars, and house, and back porch, etc) had a distinctly orange-ish hue, sometimes containing the stems and other accoutrements of the birdly-eaten berries.

The birds usually kept the berries eaten to a degree that meant that, by summer's end, the berries were gone, and the tree wasn't producing any more of them.  In the fullness of time, the leaves fell, and the following spring, the cycle commenced anew.

One summer, though, the berries lingered into the early fall.  I don't know if the birds were otherwise occupied that summer, or if the tree put out a particularly abundant berry crop that year, but September came, and there were still berries on the tree, where, in a typical year, there were none.

Then suddenly, one day, a massive flock of birds descended on our yard and denuded the tree of its remaining berries.  The berries, however, having remained on the tree so much longer than usual, had begun to, uh, ferment.  In fact, they were well-advanced in the process of fermentation.  And so, by afternoon, we were treated to one of the most bizarre spectacles I've ever witnessed in my young life, which has gone down in family lore as The Day of the Drunken Birds.

Dozens of birds were reeling and stumbling around our back yard, staggering sideways, hopping on one leg, trying desperately to keep (or regain) their balance, like something out of a Red Skelton skit.  I was still a couple years away from heading to college, but, in retrospect, it was reminiscent of last call at a college-town bar.  Birds were bumping into each other, knocking each other down, and struggling to regain their feet with indifferent success.  A few of them tried to take flight, but they simply couldn't get their wings and tail-feathers working together, and they would careen sideways, a foot or two off the ground, until they crashed awkwardly back onto the lawn, somersaulting a couple times before coming to rest.  I didn't witness it first-hand, but I'm sure that, scattered around the yard were numerous small puddles of worm-scented bird-puke.

By evening, a few, maybe half, had recovered enough to have moved on, but our yard was still scattered with several comatose, semi-comatose and near-comatose birds.  Some were just lying there, awake, their wings splayed out from their bodies on the ground, staring with glazed eyes off into the sky.  Others were asleep, dozing off their unplanned bender.  If my mom had been inclined to serve robin for dinner, marinated in ash-berry wine, we could have invited company and had enough to go around.

By the next morning, they were gone (perhaps amazingly, I saw no evidence that any of the neighbors' cats had come marauding overnight).  I smile to imagine them, one by one, drifting groggily awake, shaking their heads to clear the fog, wondering what the hell had happened to them, complaining about how loud the damn crickets were chirping, then taking weary flight while promising themselves, "never again. . ."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Honeymoon in the Hotel Chevette

Since our wedding anniversary was just a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about our honeymoon (and hey, who doesn't enjoy thinking about their honeymoon?), and recalled that I had posted a story from our honeymoon, some years ago, on my old blog.  It's been a long time since I re-posted anything, so I suppose you all won't mind too much.  Besides, it's a pretty good story. . .


For our honeymoon, Jenn and I went on a tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We actually spent our first night in our own house, then went to Mackinac Island. We spent two days and a night on the island, then drove on to the tiny village of Paradise (sign on the outskirts: “Welcome to Paradise; Glad You Made It”), where we spent our third night of wedded bliss (yes, we really did spend a night in Paradise on our honeymoon) before taking in Tahquamenon Falls the next day. At the end of that day, we drove on to Munising, where our plan was to take in the Pictured Rocks the following day.

Now, other than Mackinac Island, I hadn’t made any reservations. Northern Michigan, especially along the shores of the Great Lakes, is blanketed with hundreds of little mom-and-pop cabins, and it is not usually a very big deal to just drive along the road near the area you intend to stay, looking for a ‘Vacancy’ sign to be lit at a place that doesn’t look too nasty. I’ve done it dozens of times, and never had a problem. Except once.  On our honeymoon.  Oh yeah. . . Good, good times. . .

After a delightfully scenic drive from Tahquamenon Falls to Munising (I think I'm not supposed to mention skinny-dipping at a secluded beach on Lake Superior, so I won't), we began to see the little cabins popping up as we got close to Munising. ‘No Vacancy’. Hmmm. . . OK. With the Pictured Rocks, though, there ought to be no shortage of other cabins available to choose from.

Next place – ‘No Vacancy’. And the next place, and the next place, and the next place. We were into town by now, looking for a not-too-seedy-looking motel, and we found several, all with the ‘No Vacancy’ sign lit.

Hmmmm. . . well, we’ll just head on down the road on the far side of Munising, and see what we find there. . .

Again, ‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’.

I’m starting to get frustrated now, and Jenn is starting to get a little concerned as I’m getting more and more agitated as the ‘No Vacancy’ signs continue piling up. Finally, I pulled into a gas station, and asked a guy where I might look that I haven’t tried yet. He suggested a couple back roads out into the hinterlands surrounding Munising, and I thanked him for the tip. We followed his directions, and found the places he was sending us to.

‘No Vacancy’.

I actually went into the office at one of the places, just to confirm that they really didn’t have any rooms, and the neon ‘No’ wasn’t just inadvertently lit. Alas, the sign told the truth. But the manager pointed us farther down the road, to the little village of Christmas, Michigan, about 10 miles or so west of Munising. I thanked her, and we drove off.

We arrived in Christmas (greeted by giant plastic candy canes, and a giant plastic Santa Claus, as we drove into 'town', such as it was), and found a small cluster of three or four cabin-resorts.

‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’


What!? Was this a mistake? Did one of these places actually have an available room? Or was the neon ‘No’ cruelly lying in its unlit state? I pulled into the parking space by the office, and fairly sprinted in. When I walked through the door, there was a guy standing at the desk, with a mildly disgusted look on his face, and I heard him say,

“Well, if that’s the only room you’ve got, I guess I’ll take it.”

My heart sank. I looked imploringly at the manager, as if to say, please tell me you didn't really just rent out the very last room you have? The very last possible available room within three days’ drive of Munising? She shrugged, nodded, and said, “Sorry.”

I asked if she had any suggestions for where else I might look, and she said, “Well, you might try the KOA.”

I thanked her, and retreated to my car (a still-pretty-shiny ’79 4-door Chevy Chevette) to weigh my options, as the neon 'No' flickered into light above our car. At this point, I was NOT a happy camper, despite the prospects of spending the night at a KOA. On my honeymoon. Here I was, four days into my marriage, and I was already an abject failure. Tasked with nothing more onerous than taking my bride on a nice vacation so we could (*ahem*) get to know each other, I had failed miserably.

As the steam slowly seeped out of my ears, Jenn tried to be helpful. “You know, we’ll look back on this and laugh, someday.”

I was in no mood to think about how funny this predicament would come to seem, from the vantage point of some future time. All I knew is that I had failed. The Universe had conspired against me, to make me look like a fool in front of my bride, in whose eyes I had previously been able to do no wrong (well, OK, maybe she wasn’t quite that star-struck, but I wanted to think she was). And I was, how shall I say it. . . pissed!

I think I spent a couple minutes having a small tantrum in the car (it was a small car; there wasn’t enough room for a really big tantrum), before Jenn finally got me to calm down. She said how it would be fun to sleep in our car at the KOA, and c’mon, we could make it work out, and it would be fun, and a great story to tell afterward. I wasn’t really mollified (those of you who remember my old blog will get the pun that this used to be), but, lacking any better alternative, agreed that the KOA was probably our best (meaning, 'only') option, at this point. The sun was setting, and it was too long a drive to our next destination (the Porcupine Mountains, if anyone is interested), and besides, we really wanted to see the Pictured Rocks.

So I drove back toward Munising, and pulled into the KOA. The very portrait of dejection and defeat, I moped into the office. Approaching the desk, I simply asked the clerk, “What’ll it cost me to stay here tonight?”

“What have you got?” she cheerfully replied.

Now wait just a minute, missy – I wasn’t born yesterday. I may be desperate for a place to sleep tonight, but you just tell me your price, and I’ll pay it.

“No, no – do you have a camper, or an RV, or a tent, or what?”

Oh. Uh, we’ve got a Chevette.

“What’s that?”

Our car – we’re sleeping in our car. Do you just have a place where we could park it for the night?

“Oh, um, sure.” She seemed almost embarrassed, like I was some poor unfortunate homeless person asking her for a handout. “I guess two bucks is plenty for that.” I shoved a couple dollar bills at her, and shuffled resignedly back to our car.

When I arrived, Jenn was well into the process of transforming our little Chevette into the Honeymoon Suite Munising. She collected every towel, or grocery bag, or t-shirt we had readily at hand, raided the first-aid kit, and taped towels/bags/shirts over all the windows with band-aids. “There!” she declared triumphantly. “That ought to do the trick!”

My wife is a great, great woman.

I could only smile at my new bride’s resourcefulness, and her glee at having rendered our little car honeymoon-worthy was just irresistible. I grabbed one of the towels that she hadn’t used as a window-covering, and went off to take a shower. When I returned, I poked my head in through the car door, to find Jenn wrapped in my bathrobe, flashing me her very best ‘come-hither’ smile. The back seat was folded down, and our sleeping bag was rolled out. The car was too small for us to stretch all the way out – when it came to sleeping, the most comfortable arrangement involved us draping our legs over the backs of the front seats.

But it was our honeymoon, and we had business to attend to. Getting to (*ahem*) know each other, and all that. . .

When we emerged from the car the next morning, and began taking down the window-coverings, and packing up to get back on the road, I think the folks on the neighboring campsites were looking at us a little bit oddly. But who cared? We were on our honeymoon! We were going to see the Pictured Rocks!  Life was good!

And our very first marital crisis had been successfully defused, besides. . .

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bliss My Soul. . . Again. . .

Just a quick note today to mark the arrival of Jenn's-and-my 34th wedding anniversary (or, put another way, the successful completion of 34 years of wedded bliss) (Well, Jenn might not agree that all 34 of them have been exactly blissful, but why quibble?  It's been good.  Mostly.  ;)  )

Thank you, My Beloved, for throwing your life in with mine, and for loving me so very well for lo, these 34 years.  I'm well aware that you didn't have to do that, and blessed am I that you did, and that you stayed with me even when I made it hard for you.  You have made my life both richer and happier, and I'm grateful for every minute we've spent together.

Happy Anniversary, My Love.  I owe you, big-time. . .


You may have noticed that I've spelled my wife's name with two 'n's above.  This is a change of somewhat recent vintage, so as to distinguish her from our neighbor Jen, who lives across the street, and is in a women's group with her, in our Christian community (and who, coincidentally, also writes a blog of her own; hopefully, it wasn't too confusing to see the occasional comment from 'Jen' who seemed to know things about our family that I'd never blogged about. . .)  Besides, her mother, for whatever reasons of her own, has always written her nickname as 'Jenn'.  So now, you can, too. . .

Friday, August 1, 2014

I Am a Nazarene

The mark shown above is a 'Nun', the Arabic letter 'N'.  In northern Iraq and Syria these days, it is being spray-painted on the houses of Christians ('Nazarenes' as they are known among Muslims) by radical Islamist thugs, to mark the house as a 'Nazarene' house.  When the spray-painted 'Nun' appears, it announces to the occupants of the house a four-fold decision, effective immediately:

1) Convert to Islam, or
2) Pay the dhimma*, and submit to dhimmi-tude, or
3) Leave, without your possessions (which now belong to Islam), or
4) Die

Nice, huh?

*The dhimma is essentially an 'infidel tax', designed to maintain the infidels in economic subjugation.  Dhimmis (those who pay the tax) essentially accept second-class citizenship.  They may not offend the eyes of pious Muslims by displaying any infidel religious symbols (eg, wearing a cross, or a nun's habit, or priestly vestments, or displaying a cross on a church building); neither may they build new churches, or repair old ones.

The very ancient Christian population of Iraq and Syria, which dates back to the early beginnings of Christianity (and pre-dates Islam by several centuries), is essentially being eradicated, as you read this.

The response of the rest of the world has barely been more than chirping crickets, and I can't begin to fathom why.

Is it because the 'victims' are Christian, and in the secular West, we think of Christians as the killjoys of the Sexual Revolution?  Or because, when we hear 'Christian', we think of obnoxious southern-accented TV evangelists, or the weird family with 20 kids?

Or is it because the thugs in question are Muslim, and we fear their irrational wrath?  Or because, somehow or other, we're stuck in a stereotype of Christians as 'oppressors' and Muslims as 'oppressed', and so, finally, the Christians are getting a little come-uppance (and about damn time)?

Or, do we tell ourselves that this is a 'religious problem', and therefore out-of-bounds for a secular state?

I really, really don't understand that Western governments (our own included) won't even issue impotent 'statements of condemnation', much less initiate any humanitarian measures on behalf of the Nazarene refugees.  And Western media will discuss the political and 'warfare' aspects of the dispute, but not the 'religious cleansing' aspects.

What in the world is going on?

By myself, I'm at a loss as to what I, as an individual, can do, concretely, to help my brothers and sisters in Christ across the world.  Anything I can do, like displaying the 'Nun' at the top of my blog as a sign of my solidarity with them, seems utterly 'token' and impotent.

But I do stand with them.  And, if I can do nothing else, I want them to know that.  I, too, am a Nazarene.

And, I will pray.  Partly because, even if I figure out how to do all manner of humanitarian good, but don't pray, I'm kind-of missing the point.  I will pray that God (Allah, as even Arabic Christians call Him), who sees every sparrow that falls from its nest, will watch over them and protect them, and deliver them from evil, and stay the hand of the evil-doer, and grant them His peace.

Oh, Lord, have mercy. . .


(edit, 13 Aug)

Here is an essay posted yesterday, making a similar point to the one I'm making, but providing more supportive documentation. . .


(edit, 21 Aug)

And here is another one. . .