Hanging The Lights

It was somewhere around my middle-school years that I came up with what I thought was an astounding idea for a holiday project.  I mused over it for a few days and then proposed the idea to my parents.  I offered my labor in putting up Christmas lights on the house, garage and front bushes if Mom and Dad would foot the bill for the lights and other stuff I would have to buy if this was to happen.

I was given free reign!  I had a blast buying everything “we” needed for the project:  new lights for the roof and garage, plenty of extension cords and then, for the six to seven bushes at the front of the house, plenty of lights to cover them with little twinkling  sparkles of colored goodness–all in the hopes that they would be seen through an inch or two of fresh snow some time that season (there’s nothing like seeing the subtle glow of Christmas lights through a fresh blanket of snow!).

But then my inexperience kicked in.  Me being the virgin Christmas-lights-putter-upper, I had all of the lights on the bushes plugged together with a single outdoor extension cord supplying the power.  That resulted in the constant blowing out of single lights here and there, with the occasional blowing of a whole strand.  I would come home from school and plug the lights in at dusk only to find another strand of lights wasn’t working (usually due to one nefarious blown-out bulb that refused to identify itself).  And back then, you didn’t have the “one-light-out-and-the -strand-stays-lit” light sets that are out there today.  No sir.  It was either throwing the whole stinkin’ light strand away just so I wouldn’t have to mess with it or going through each light to see if it worked or not.  So inevitably I would be found outside with a flashlight in one hand and a new bulb in the other, following the circles of darkened lights draped upon any one of the many bushes out front.  With snotcicles forming under my nose, I would try to pry with my cold numb fingers (because–of course–you can’t perform that task with gloves on) each tiny bulb from its peaceful nest within the strand without breaking it–only to find that as soon as I did find the nasty culprit and replace it, a totally different strand would blow shortly afterwards.

Well, many years have come and gone since then–with every Christmas season seeing me outside and up on the roof getting the lights situated on the house and surrounding landscape.  It went from the lights at my parents’ house up through my mid-twenties to my own house for a few years to the house my wife and I have been in since we got married fourteen years ago.  The concern of having too many strands of lights plugged in together and blowing bulbs or fuses is no longer an issue.  Now, instead of having four or five strands plugged in together and blowing lightbulbs, I have LED lights that actually tell you not to plug more than thirty strands of lights together at one time.

And now I find myself instilling the same tradition in my boys.  We just finished getting the lights up for this Christmas season on Thanksgiving morning.  My boys are soon-to-be 11 and just-over 12 and they both already have plenty of memories of helping me up on the roof with Christmas lights.  (Granted, the first few years of them being old enough saw them only coming up on the roof for a picture or to “help me” by just sitting in one spot and not moving.  But now they can actually help!)

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Their help this time cut what has taken 7 to 8 hours of time in past attempts at hanging the lights down to 3 1/2 hours.  I was very happy!  And they look wonderful.  I don’t have a recent picture, but here’s one that is very similar to what we just did:

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They’ve been bugging my wife all week about “getting the lights up”.  And all morning while we were up on the roof, I heard both of them talk about how much they love putting up the Christmas lights and that they can’t wait to be doing this with their kids.

And so it lives on!

A Pilgrim And A Turkey

As we all know, Thanksgiving is only four days away.  Which brings to mind the fact that I’ll have to put away my Pilgrim/Turkey ensemble for another year.

You’re probably already asking yourself, “What on God’s green earth are you referring to?”  Well, let me take you back to my 2nd grade school year.  What would I have been….seven years old? (I would have turned eight that year, but not until May).  So we’re talking 37 years ago, since I don’t turn 45 until May next year.

It was Mrs. Frank’s class.  My first recollection of that school year is an oriental kid by the name of Moon Kim.  What makes him so memorable for me is the fact that he stabbed my hand with a pencil.  An accident–I think.  He was “acting” like he was going to stab me with his pencil, so my lightening-quick reflexes kicked in and my hand shot up in front of me to protect my sensitive person from this sudden threat to my well-being.  And before I knew it, I had a pencil stuck in my hand.  I remember turning my hand over, watching the pencil rotate with it, and distinctly thinking two things:  1) I feel no pain…that’s odd; and 2)  What the….???  You can still see the gray pencil-lead coloring where it happened (it’s the dark spot at the bottom of my middle finger–the picture and 37 years of skin growth over the pencil-lead don’t do it justice, but you get the idea):

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So where do a pilgrim and a turkey come into this story?  Well, Mrs. Frank was quite the “art-class-involved” teacher.  Which meant that every season through Christmas Break we were in the art room working on some sort of seasonal masterpiece.  October was a witch and a spider (the witch made out of an empty glass Coke bottle and paper-mache, the spider made out of an empty dixie cup, paper-mache and black pipe-cleaners for the legs); November saw a pilgrim (male for the boys, female for the girls) and a turkey (again, the pilgrim made from the classic empty glass Coke bottle and paper-mache, the turkey made of a styrofoam ball for the body, a half-ball for the base and a combination of paper-mache and feathers covering everything);  and December saw us making three things:  a Santa (don’t remember how we made him), a Christmas tree (made out of a cone-shaped piece of styrofoam and plaster-of-paris, with a base of a dixie-cup filled with hard plaster–which comes off of the stick in the bottom of the tree, making it a tempting prospect to fling at someone if they get out of line) and a chimney (made out of the body of an empty grade-school pint-sized container of milk).

As is the same with you, the years have come and gone.  And over those years, most of those things have not survived (carelessness and mice being the two biggest culprits).  But I still have the Christmas tree, and the pilgrim and turkey are alive and well!  The pilgrim lost his gun and his bucket a long time ago, but everything else is just about like I made it 37 years ago:

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So Happy Thanksgiving!  And may your memories live on as well….

Moving Day

We recently helped my brother-in-law and his family move.  What can possibly go wrong on a moving day?  With prayer to the God of Heaven, for us it was much less than has probably happened for others.

So how did we watch the hand of God move for us?  My thoughts turn first to hearing over my brother-in-law’s phone that his wife got rear-ended by another friend’s wife who was also helping.  They worked everything out together, no one got cited for it and the damage appeared to be minimal.

Later on, I was following the moving truck as we headed to the new house.  This move was happening in Indiana.  Ever driven the roads there?  I don’t know what Indiana’s Department Of Transportation was thinking when they designed their road system, but between giving their roads numbers instead of names and making them barely wide enough for two oncoming vehicles to pass, I tend to think that alcohol was involved.  So, as I was following the moving truck, I noticed that every time an oncoming vehicle approached, a friend who was driving the truck had to hug the shoulder of the road.  Actually, “hugging the shoulder” in this case meant something more like “riding-the-edge-of-a-cliff-with-half-of-your-tire-hanging-off”.  Really, it was probably even closer than that.  More like literally becoming one with the pavement…and dirt…and grass.  Or so I thought as I watched the dirt and grass that were right on the edge of the pavement grab the rear passenger tires and start pulling the back-end off the road.  So much so that it was shockingly evident how quickly this was becoming a very bad situation.  But he got the truck back up on the road with a minimal amount of fish-tailing–and probably some brown stains on the backside of his pants–and, upon arriving at the new house, we found that hardly anything had moved around inside the truck through the whole event.

There were a couple of other things that happened:  by God putting me in the right place at the right time, I was able to prevent one of the kids from falling off the truck ramp as we unloaded (and he would have fallen hard); and on the way home, out of nowhere, a buck suddenly ran up onto the shoulder of the road–its trajectory matching that of the front end of my Avalanche–and just as suddenly as it appeared, it suddenly changed its direction of momentum and ran back off into the field it had come from (I know the use of “suddenly” is being slightly overused, but that’s what happens in a situation like that…everything is “suddenly”).  It was like the guardian angels that God has promised me and my family in Psalm 91 put themselves between my truck and that buck.  I’m telling you, the way that buck reacted, it was like it was being shewed away.

It may seem like an anti-climactic part of the day’s events, but there is one other rather significant occurrence that is worth noting.  That morning, I was picking up donuts and getting gas in the truck.  I got the donuts without incident–including all of the donuts still being present and accounted for upon arriving back home.  But as I pulled into the gas station and approached the gas pump that I had in mind to use, I noticed that a black quart-sized container was lying on the pavement in front of the pump.  It looked like an empty black bottle of motor oil.  So I just figured that, whatever it was, the truck’s tires would either push it aside or crush it as I pulled up to the pump.  What’s the big deal in crushing an empty quart container, right?  I’d just throw the crushed container into the trash can when I got out.

As I slowly pulled up to the pump, I heard a very loud “POP!” and suddenly saw the pump, the brick column of the gas station, my windshield and my window all sprayed with transmission fluid.  I got out of the truck and looked to the back driver’s side tire where the so-called “empty” container was still lying on the pavement–with an exploded crack in the side of it now–and red fluid all over the wheel-well, black plastic trim of the back door (it’s a four-door Avalanche) and the chrome running board bar.  Red fluid slowly ran down the chrome wheel, looking every bit like someone just got shot by my back tire.

I knew that I had very little time to deal with this, so I thought I would at least try to spray it off at the carwash that was just down the street.  I got there only to find that I was a quarter short of the $1.75 needed to use it.  Which meant that my only option was to drive to the other end of town to the other carwash that takes debit cards so that I could get this nasty stuff off my truck.  Well, that worked.  Or so I thought.  But instead of spending $1.75 on a manual wash, it cost me $6.00 on an automatic wash.  All because I didn’t have one more quarter.  And it didn’t even wash it off.  All it did was smear it everywhere.  (I found myself in a situation that David speaks of in Psalm 103.  He tells himself, “Praise the Lord, Oh, my soul”.  That’s just what I had to do.  Tell myself how to handle this….challenge.)

So later that night, my wife remembered that one of the parents of the kids she watches for her daycare business also does car-detailing on the side.  We told him the situation, dropped the tuck off, and later picked up a truck with no trace of transmission fluid on any of its surface!  He did a great job!  Here’s a picture of my “restored” externally-applied-transmission-fluid-and-buck-free truck:

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God is good!!

Limericks

Probably the first thing you think of when you see the word “limerick” is a leprechaun skipping down a countryside road in Ireland somewhere, the cool shoreside breezes blowing his bright red beard hither and yon as he belts out one rhyming five-line stanza after another.

Limericks, for me, started way back when I was a wee lad.  My brother and I had a Goofy album called “Children’s Riddles & Game Songs”  (How do I know this?  I still have it.)  Overall, I enjoyed the whole album.  But when it got to the limericks Goofy would share with the listener, they were the best!  I still remember a couple of them:

There once was a man from Sneeds,

Who simple indeed were his needs.

Said he, “To save toil

Growing things in the soil,

I’ll just eat the packets of seeds.”

Aaheeuull!!  (Envision hearing Goofy give one of his famous laughs right here.  I know, that’s pitiful, but how do you put a laugh like that in writing??)

There once was a woman from Wooster,

Who used to crow like a rooster.

She used to climb

Two trees at a time,

But her sister used to boost her!

I know….kid humor, but I sure remember those being funny back then.

I remember having to make a “Poetry Book” for my Mom for Valentine’s Day one year in early grade school.  Yes indeed, one of the requirements of that assignment was a page of limericks that were supposed to be originals.  I thought long and hard–or short and soft, depending on whether you think it’s humorous or not–and came up with, at least by my standards back then, what I felt were some rather good lines for the poetry masterpiece I was to make:

I once knew a boy named Nick

Who very much liked to kick.

But he kicked a ball

And took a great fall.

Now he’s given up the trick.

Hmmm.  I read that now and it’s just not as good as I thought it was back then.  So let’s see what I can come up with now:

I have a favorite football team,

The college type–colors white and green.

If they could just dominate

And then subjugate,

They’d be college football’s “Bruce Lee”!

The Arts Of My Life

You could say that I have been in the “arts” in some form for most of my life.

In my grade-school days it was mostly music, with some actual art thrown in here and there since I was pretty good at drawing things.  At the end of my 5th grade year, I was tested somehow for musical talent and it was determined that I would be best at either playing the drums or the trombone.  (Why can’t I remember what they did to test me?  What diabolical scheme was construed at that moment in time that has this former 5th grader unable to remember this event?  Hang on, a distant flicker of a memory is presenting itself.  I think I remember…..an acronym, though what it stood for is beyond me:  A.G.E.)  My parents took one look at those test results and I suddenly became very aware and convinced that drums weren’t nearly as cool as the trombone was.

As you are already aware from an earlier visit, I picked up acoustic guitar somewhere around my 8th grade year.  In my junior year of high school, I was presented with the opportunity to learn bass guitar for Stage Band and still play to this day.  Amazingly, I wasn’t able to do much of anything with drums until six or seven years ago.  But I can now say that I have been a back-up drummer at some point for the Music Team at my church.  I guess you could say that my test results have come back…. positive.

In my late teens and early twenties, I was involved in a little acting through a college I attended and the youth group of my church at the time.  These roles were very minor, but needless to say, I rather excelled at the acting roles that brought out my dry sense of humor.    The college experience was for a madrigal dinner where I said a few very important lines and sang a whole lot of bass.  The youth group involvement was for skits that we did, and that’s where most of my dry sense of humor got to shine.  During this time, too, I was involved in some acapella singing through that same college (that Christmas madrigal dinner that I mentioned) and a male acapella group in my church that I sang bass in.  I miss those days!  The highlight of my days in Nu Creation (the male acapella group) was two events.  The first was singing the National Anthem at a Detroit Tigers game (hot and humid and dripping sweat, but what a rush it was standing in the center of the Detroit Tigers baseball field, belting out an acapella version of the National Anthem that really knocked the socks off of those who heard it).

The second event was no less memorable.  It was a televised event, occurring on the campus of Michigan State University.  The college’s basketball coach was retiring, so they were bringing in players from his first ten years of coaching to play against players from his second ten years of coaching.  What made this such a major event was the fact that Magic Johnson was there.  He went to MSU and had played on the team while there, so all of the local television stations were filming the whole thing live–especially him.  So we made our way out onto center court in front of 18,000+ people and sang the same version of the anthem.  Know what’s really cool about that event?  I got my hands on a copy of the television footage of us singing.  Granted, it’s still on a VHS tape, but I’ve still got footage!  Gotta get that old-school technology out of my house and transfer that onto something I can actually use (we haven’t had a VHS player for years).

Some things just can’t help but get relived–a lot.