The Raccoon Nightmare

My family and I just completed our only Autumn campout for the year this weekend.  It was a great time with some really great people!  Most of our Euchre Club were the other campers, so we decided to have it at the campground for this month.  We were by a large gazebo shelter that had a lot of picnic tables under it, which we made use of for our Euchre Club night.  (Certainly a first for all of us and probably a last as well, since we were fighting wind and rain during most of our time playing.  We stayed dry and we didn’t lose any cards, but the rain on the metal roof was irritating and almost required the use of sign language to communicate).

Well, some things were left out at the end of the night that brought in some rather unruly and uncouth vagabonds.  These infiltrators wore masks and moved about the gazebo under cover of the wind and darkness.  The only problem with their plan was the wind had picked up again and was snapping a table cover like a whip in the air.  This happened to not only be right by our camper, but right by our end of the camper.  So I woke up at 2 a.m. to the sounds of thumping and snapping from inside the gazebo, along with noises here and there of things falling off tables and crashing onto the floor.  Oh sure, they tried to time it so that it would look like the wind did it, but I was on to their silly little games.  But being awakened like that reminded me of a camping incident from years ago….

My Mom’s brother and his family were visiting from Arizona.  Both sets of parents decided that we would all go up to Wilderness State Park in the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula and camp there.  I’m not sure why, but my Mom and Dad decided that this time the four of us would stay in a tent instead of the pop-up camper that we had.  It was an old canvas tent that was an old shade of yellow and the four of us just barely fit into it.  My parents were on either end on cots and my brother and I were inbetween them on the tent floor.

Northern Michigan is beautiful country!  The wilderness that surrounds you up there is breathtaking.  But that also means that there are animals in that wilderness.  Animals that don’t necessarily appreciate you treadin’ on their turf….crossing the line….gang wars and all that.  We knew that we were in bear country–along with all kinds of other animals in their respective countries–so for a couple of early teenagers who knew that the woods surrounded three of the four sides of the campground (the fourth side being the beach of Lake Michigan), we went to bed with just a little trepidation.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I was slowly aroused from my slumber by a hideous growling and snarling that seemed to vary in pitch from deep disturbing tones of something big and ominous to higher tones of something small and ominous but with no less danger attached to it.  At first it seemed to be coming from just outside the tent, which happened to be about a foot away from my head.  As this realization began to cause my brain cells to fire in rapid succession, it seemed that whatever was just outside that tent wall was about ready to come tearing through that thin shell of old yellow canvas with razor-sharp teeth and claws, ready to carry off one of us into whatever country it had come from.

But as my disorientation became oriented and I finally got my bearings on where I was and what and who was around me, it slowly began to dawn on me what kind of creature this was that I was hearing with so great an interest.  As I lay there listening to its sounds, I began to realize that this creature was leaping from one side of the tent to the other!  And then, as I became fully awake (as hearing something so hair-raising will do to you), I finally came to the realization that at the same time this creature leapt to my Dad’s side, the lower tones were heard; and when it leapt over to my Mom’s side, the higher tones were heard.  Amazingly, this creature’s growls and snarls coincided perfectly with the snoring that was coming from my parents as they blissfully slept their night away.

Another moment of being an unhappy camper…..

Something Sweet

No, I’m not referring to me (although my wife would disagree).

I have always had a sweet tooth.  Especially for just about anything homemade.  And the richer the better.  My wife, on the other hand, although enjoying sweet things, does not like the rich desserts.  This usually means that when it comes to dessert, we don’t split anything.  She enjoys the fruity flavors while I prefer the rich chocolate, turtle-type or white chocolate-oriented creations.  (Don’t misunderstand that–I’ll help finish off just about anything she gets if she doesn’t want the rest of it.  “No dessert left behind” is my motto.)

So recently we took a trip to Ft. Wayne, a half-way point in our travels from Ohio to Michigan where my family is.  We met my Mom there for a half day of hanging out together and going to some places we’ve never been.  This adventure culminated with a stop at a dessert shop called DeBrand Fine Chocolates.  It’s off of I-69 at exit 316 (turn west and then left at the light after Speedway; from there, it’s down the street on the right.  You need to know this.)  All I can say is WOW.  I so wish this place was close to home!

They make all their own chocolates, which are top-notch in and of themselves.  But they also offer other desserts and a sitting area to enjoy them in that’s just flat-out cozy and relaxing.  And, to go along with that cozy atmosphere, they also offer coffee drinks.  What a great place to enjoy a coffee together!

As great as this find was, I found myself feeling irritated at something.  We’ve been married for fourteen years now.  In that fourteen years, we’ve made countless trips back and forth from our home in Ohio to the Lansing area in Michigan.  Exit 316 on I-69 has always been our half-way point for bathroom breaks / food and drink stops / all that jazz.  For a long time, a coffee shop called Groundlevel Coffee was our favorite stopping point.  Then, on a trip up to Michigan, we pulled in and saw that they were closed–gone forever.  We were crushed.  Devastated.  In need of therapy.  Since then, we just haven’t found anything that we could consider a replacement.  We have been wandering around Exit 316 aimlessly ever since, looking for a place to call home.

DeBrand has been there the whole time–just under our noses–right around the corner from where we typically stop.  Fourteen wasted years!  Well, no more!!  Once again, we have found our favorite stopping place for our Ohio/Michigan travels through the Ft. Wayne area.  We found a home!  We’ve been grafted into the vine!  No longer lost and homeless!  Oh, what a feeling!

The Ski Hill

Ever find that you get to the point where you just can’t wait for Autumn’s cool temperatures and amazing colors?  That smell in the air that tells you Autumn is here….campfires at night–or in the morning with a cup of steaming coffee….yessir, there’s much to look forward to about Autumn.  This season of brilliant colors that leads into gentle snowfalls as the Christmas season arrives is my favorite time of the year.

Autumn makes me think back to my high school days when I ran Cross Country.  That’s a fall season sport that goes from pre-conditioning in mid-August to Invitationals on the state level in early- to mid-November.  I remember around the end of June thinking that I needed to get out there and start running every day to begin my conditioning for the mid-August Cross Country practices we would be having.  Man, if you didn’t prepare ahead of time for those, your butt got kicked all over the place for a good week.  Really, though, no matter how much you thought you had prepared for those practices, you still got your butt kicked–especially by “The Ski Hill”.

We had a beautiful CC course that took us through 3.1 miles of wooded areas, fields and wide open spaces.  The ominous Ski Hill was encountered deep within the bowels of that mysterious and formidable span of time between the second and third mile known as “The Twilight Zone” of any CC course.  The Ski Hill was encountered just as runners came out of a patch of woods and into a small field where the path curved to the right.  You couldn’t see it right away, but as you started into the field, there it would be, looming ahead, taunting your exhaustion and stretching you beyond what you thought you could do.  It was a decent hill–more steep than long–and just as you got to the top, the path curved to the right again, back into the woods and went right back down a smaller wooded hill.  About fifty yards down the trail, where the CC course trail kept going straight, a path went to the right which took you right back around to the Ski Hill again.  So imagine that mid-August pre-season practice when the coach tells everyone that after their warm-up they will be doing ten Ski Hill loops…and then on to something else.  Yeah…..pure excitement….one big goose bump…..

The only redeeming quality the Ski Hill possessed was the fact that the downhill slope contained a small grove of apple trees where the apples never grew into anything bigger than an oversized golf ball.  These apples in the hands of upperclassmen instantly became the projectiles of choice that would be launched with amazing accuracy at all of the underclassmen on the team.  If the underclassmen came back to the school with red welts all over their backs and legs (they were always running away for some reason), everyone else knew what had happened and what would be done about it (….nothing).

I hate running.  Never liked it.  Yet I ran four years of Cross Country, enduring such atrocities as the Ski Hill loops.  What’s up with that?  I can tell you that I enjoyed the camaraderie and the Fall scenery, but beyond that I have no logical reason to give you for such asinine behavior on my part.  At this point of my life, I suppose that some things just aren’t meant to be explained….


In a few days, my wife and I are going to be celebrating our 14th year of marriage together.  Some people look at their time with their spouses as something less than ideal–some even view it as a jail sentence of sorts, something to be endured.  Jeff Dunham’s “Walter” is a perfect example.  When asked about his marriage to his wife of forty-six years, Walter’s happiest time of life was forty-seven years ago.  According to him, “til death do us part” is a goal to be reached.

As for me and my wife, though, I can honestly say that these have been the best fourteen years of my life.  That can easily sound corny to some, but when something is true, it should be simply stated as such.  She is my best friend; my confidante; my “sounding board”; my one and only lover; my “secret weapon”; my support system that puts all others to shame.  (Since you’ve been walking with me for a while, you probably remember an earlier story about how we found each other; if not, look under “The Journey” and see what you find.)

I fully believe that there are a few very big reasons for our relationship and our marriage being what they are today (follow me on this….the direction is very specific and you’ll see why):  First, we kept ourselves for each other, which is pretty remarkable for not having found each other for the first thirty years of my life and the first thirty-two of hers.  I so wish the young people of today could see the value of saving themselves for their future mates.  They are well worth waiting for!  It also keeps a whole lot of unnecessary baggage out of your lives and your marriage.

Secondly,  we both chose to become better people long before we met each other.  We were both reading marriage and relationship books as well as other self-help type books as early as thirteen years of age, preparing ourselves for each other and the people we would encounter as we live out our lives on this planet.  So much of life is about the choices that we make and those choices lead in very specific directions.  Our relationship and our marriage have both taken a lot of work to make them what they are today.  But that started years ago with us choosing individually to change…and change for the better.

Third–and most importantly–our lives individually and together, our marriage and our family all have one thing in common:  Jesus Christ is the foundation.  (No worries, I’m not going to preach at you if you don’t believe the way I believe.  Walking in each other’s snowshoes, remember?)  But with that said, you cannot argue with facts.  God gives us human beings–made in His image–guidance through His Word (the Bible).  If we do what it says, we’re going to benefit; if we choose not to, we won’t.  Plain and simple.  My wife and I have chosen to make Him the cornerstone of this marriage and He has honored that choice by helping us get to where we are today in every area of our lives.  It’s not been easy–things worth having and doing never are–but it’s certainly been the best choice we ever made.  You can tell a tree by its fruit:  if the fruit is bad (or non-existent) you’ve got a bad tree; if it’s good, you’ve got a keeper and you do what you can to help that tree get even bigger which will produce even more fruit.  Jesus made it pretty simple and we have the tendency to complicate things.

Kids get it….why don’t we?