“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Day 2007

The Chinese restaurant in Ft. Scott was busy on Christmas day. It was a good thing that Betty made reservations or we would have been standing in line for an hour or so. In honor of our Chinese buffet lunch we tried to watch the movie A Christmas Story, but couldn't get the DVD player to play nice with the TV.
Avery was excited about getting lots of presents. I hope Bart and Pam have room in their car for all of it.
On the way home there was an accident that closed Hwy 69. We backtracked and took a county road over to K-7. It turned into a long trip home.
Here is a video I made:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Right Tool

"Get the right tool for the job." I don't know if Ben Franklin said it, but he should have. I've preached this statement as well. At least I preached it to Brenda when I was on my way to Home Depot. Part of the fun of doing a project was finding the excuse to buy "the right tool" I needed to complete it. As a perpetual DIY person I always had a wish list of cool toys.

But it seems I sometimes ignore my own advice in little things and it turns out to cause a big problem. I've refused to give up on changing my own oil in my vehicles. I'm picky about the kind of oil and filter I use, and auto service companies don't have what I want. And changing oil doesn't take that long. At least it didn't until yesterday.

Auto makers have for years designed cars no normal-jointed person can work on. This allows tool manufacturers to make a living selling tools to reach into places no human can touch. When I bought our first Expedition I found this to be the case with the oil filter. I had to buy a new filter wrench to get the old oil filter off. It worked, sort of. I had to put the wrench on the filter and thread a hammer up between the frame and the engine and tap the wrench sung on to the filter. I then prayed the wrench wouldn't pop loose as I unscrewed the old filter. It always worked, after the fourth or fifth try. That is, until yesterday.

I always put the new filter on "hand tight". It's what I learned way back in high school shop class. I don't know if it is because of my recent strength training, but "hand tight" was now impossible to get off with my marginal tool. Of course the oil was already drained so I hopped into Brenda's Expedition and was off to the parts store to buy a better tool.

The only one they had was made of plastic. It did fit snuggly on the filter and I reasoned that the plastic industry has made great innovations in creating strong polymers. I bought it and headed home with visions of an easy job now that I had a better tool. I slid back under my car with my new tool in hand. This tool didn't have great innovation or strong polymers. It must have been made from recycled milk jugs. It promptly snapped leaving my old filter still smugly bonded to my engine. Another trip to the parts store and I found they only have plastic filter wrenches. I got a refund and went to Wal Mart.

Wal Mart had an old-style filter wrench with a new twist: a swivel handle. I did some quick mental calculations and decided it might just fit. It was under $4 so I wouldn't be out much if it didn't work. When I got home, I slid under my care and had the old filter off in less than a minute. Of course the whole oil change process had now taken 2 hours.

There is no substitute for the right tool.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fear of Success

Elan's blog: Point of vulnerability

In high school I defended the next to the last position on the tennis team. You had to win to move up, and I would usually play to a deuce and then lose the game.
I've recently seen how this pattern has played out in other areas through my life. I like to start things, but I have difficulty finishing. I used to think this tendency was because I like the process more than the completion of it. But I now realize it is the fear of success.
I've listened to a lot of speakers talk about motivation and goal setting. A few have talked about the power of the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious mind believes whatever it is told, and it is much more powerful than the conscious mind. If the sub-conscious believes that winning isn't a good thing, it will find a way to prevent it.
I'm just beginning to understand that I've been afraid of success and being a winner. I appreciate Elan's comments on pressing through to victory and success. We can all use this kind of encouragement.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Through a Glass Darkly

The "sons of the prophets" in the Old Testament were in touch with what was going on. Elijah was on his farewell tour and they already knew he was being taken away that very day. I would like that kind of connection to what's happening. But usually I stumble along and only find out what God was up to by looking back in wonder.
Our rehab house on 12th St. has been a weight on us for a long time. We recently listed it with a "for sale by owner" service hoping that someone would pick up the magazine from a grocery store and at least make us an offer. But I kept feeling that I needed to do more. I thought I needed to take the flyers and visit realtors in the area who might find me a buyer.
I searched online and printed maps. My first stop was in downtown Kansas City, KS, but the address was the Census Bureau building. I supposed that the real estate office may lease office space in the same building. But the receptionist hadn't heard of them. Someone standing nearby said the real estate company owned the building. She said she would take a flyer just the same. I thought it was probably a waste of time.
But I got a call a few days later from a woman working for the Census Bureau asking about how our lease-option offer would work. She was interested in seeing the house. When we pulled into the driveway she said, "I love it already." She liked everything about the house as she walked through it. And she wants to buy our house! She won't be able to buy it for 6 months or so but will lease with the option to buy.
I thank God for His leading even when, at the time, I don't see what He's doing.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving Day when I was growing up meant crowding into a small space to share a meal with family you don't get to see more than a few times a year. And it was always fun. Our house was not as crowded with family as the Thanksgivings I remember, but we still had fun being with family.

Friday we went to Topeka so Michael could talk to Don Brent about a camera. Don let Michael try it out and we went to Dana & Jakes for dinner. Michael took lots of pictures of all of us, especially Judah. Brenda & I had our first encounter with the video game "Wii" as we played with Chris & Jacob.

Saturday we hung out at home with Michael & Heather. We did some shopping & then watched MU beat KU in football.

Sunday night we traveled again to Topeka for a wiener roast at Elaine Spade's house. We got home relatively early, but we were still tired. It was a good weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hallelujah Ho-Down

The tone of his first words to me had a hard edge, "Our pastor preaches the truth here. Some people are afraid to hear the truth." I thought of a brilliant response, 5 minutes later. We were in Tulsa waiting for the funeral service for Mary Carr, Brenda's aunt, to begin and the man who spoke to me was a member of the church. I became more apprehensive when everyone from the church was called brother this and sister that. I suspected what was in store for us in the service, and watching it develop was amusing to me.
There were hymns sung and a prayer. Mary's sister sang a song that was quite good. When the pastor read the obituary, he looked out of sorts and uncomfortable and presented it poorly. Another of Mary's sisters sang and played the piano. It was really good. Then the pastor stood to speak & I suspected from his demeanor that he wasn't planning to do a eulogy. He was revving up for a good preach. He had a handkerchief in his hand, along with a wireless mike. This was going to be interesting. To his credit, he did talk about Mary and her impact on him, the church, and the hospital staff. He had not known her long since Mary had only lived in Tulsa since April, but he gave a clear presentation of the kind of person she was. I noticed that his talk was scripted and he didn't make any eye contact with the audience. When he did look up he didn't look at anyone.
It wasn't long before he was pacing and talking louder. He became more animated. Soon spit was flying and sweat was dripping. I was glad he remained on the stage. The performance was void of serious content or a coherent point, but the crowd did respond to the emotion. I was fascinated and amused by the performance. Several thoughts came. I wondered how many microphones rust during the year. I thought, "This man is the wrong color." I noticed that when he really got going he added the syllable "uh" to the end of his words: "praise-uh" & "Jesus-uh". He did say that Mary would want us to celebrate rather than mourn. In his way, he was doing that. It just didn't register on the celebrate meter for me.
When it was over I thought about Mary's personality & said to myself, "She would have liked this." It did fit her personality and was a fitting tribute to her. At the graveside there was some quiet conversation about the intensity of the service. A lady standing by called it a "Hallelujah Ho-Down". That was an apt description.
Dale & I talked about the church as we drove home. He said they have a vision to add 50 new families to the church. I said that would be a challenge. There are some people who will like and respond to the style of service they offer. But I think many will find it weird. I think that "weirdness" is a problem many churches face. I think the world looks at Christians and assigns us to the "weird" pile. We're not remarkable enough. And becoming more like the world in an attempt to be "relevant" isn't the answer. We need to be different in a way that makes the world want to know what we've got.
When and if we think of evangelism, we think like hunters. Go out into the wilds of the big, bad world and find a trophy to shoot our evangelism gun at. It's intimidating for both the hunter and the hunted. I think fishing is a better metaphor. Throw out a line with something that's appealing. Make them want it enough to bite and be drawn by the Lord into the kingdom. I pray we can become people who are fishers of men.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Staring Down the Hidden Menace of What Might Be.

Ford Prefect, in the book Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, constantly quoted from the fictional "Hitchhiker's Guide". Everything worth knowing was in the "Guide".
The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferris, has become my Hitchhiker's Guide. It seems that I'm always telling someone about an idea or fact I learned form this book. This blog entry is now my latest reference to The 4-Hour Workweek. It's about Tim's strategy for dealing with fears. He talks specifically about the fears people have about taking a risk, quitting their job and following their dreams. He was running a successful business and was miserable. It consumed every moment of his time and still demanded more. He controlled every aspect of the business. His fear was that if he didn't "run" his business that it would wither and die. He desperately wanted to pursue his passion and travel the world. But he was afraid.
His solution was to "define the nightmare". He thought through every possible worst-case-scenario and found that even if all of his fears were realized they would really only have a minimal and temporary impact on his life in the long run. At the same time he realized that his worst fears would probably never happen. He includes a quote from Mark Twain: "In my life I've known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
I had my own time of defining the nightmare a few weeks ago. I wrote about our situation of no work on the horizon and 3 empty houses with mortgages, repairs, utilities, and marketing expenses eating away at our reserve funds. As I thought through the various worst-case-scenarios, my mind automatically gave strategies to deal with each one. The most radical strategy I called the "Nuclear Option" and was one step above living in a trailer by the river. But in each scenario I realized that we would survive. The result was that I began to look beyond the immediate problems and make plans for coming through on the other side, no matter what happened. And I relaxed.
We did the fall Home Show. It was close to a total bust. But we both felt better than we had for weeks. We had faced the monster of "what might be" and seen how insignificant it really was. The following week, our phone began to ring. We are now busy meeting prospects and sending out proposals. I'm still hoping for the phone to ring with buyers for our empty houses. But we trust the Lord to provide what we need. And we stand in faith knowing that nothing will ever separate us from His love. We also are thankful that our family is praying for us. We are truly blessed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Does this sign make sense?

I saw this sign in the grocery store. Does it make sense to you? Brenda laughed and said I would be the one to notice something like this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


About a mile into my 4-mail hike I realized how few times I have actually been alone in the woods. As a child, I was drawn to the wilderness, but at the same time I was afraid of it. I was afraid of a lot of things through my childhood: rabid loafer wolves (a result of reading Ol' Yeller at age 7), snakes, heights, unknown things lurking behind doors or under beds, and breaking yet another arm or leg. Outdoor Life was a favorite magazine, but the tales of survival in the"this happened to me" section fed my fear of facing nature on my own.
In a recent goals workshop one of the questions I had to answer was what motivates and drives me. I always look first to give a positive response, but in a moment of uncomfortable clarity I realized that much of my motivation has come from fear. I didn't want to admit it or write it as my answer, but I'm driven by fear of letting down the people closest to me. This fear has caused me to "play it safe" even though to most people I probably seem to be a "risk taker". But even as a child when my biggest goal was to see how far I could fly my bike through the air I always had a wide margin of safety. I see the extreme sports shows of high-flying stunts and painful crashes and know I was never that brave. (Or perhaps I was never that crazy.)
God has delivered me from many of my childhood fears. But some of those fears have morphed into monsters in my subconscious and are not so well defined. I think God is urging me to step out into the wilderness with Him and find my motivation and security from faith in His provision.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Elan wrote a piece on happiness. http://elantz.blogspot.com/2007/10/happiness.html Rather than put my thoughts in her comments box I decided to respond here.
It irks me when I hear people talk about "the wealthy" when they mention their luxurious houses and lifestyle and then end with the phrase, "But they aren't really happy." I believe this comment is often based on envy. People who are not happy either would like to trade places with the wealthy with the belief that, given the chance, they could have all those things and be happier than the average "miserable wealthy person". Or their envy causes them to wish their unhappiness with life on anyone more fortunate than them.
In my experience, I don't see that "the wealthy" are any more or less happy than anyone else. I think our society places such a strong link between material possessions and happiness that our understanding of happiness is skewed. A songwriter put it this way: "It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you have." The poor and wealthy alike can be miserable from buying the lie that things bring happiness. The poor and wealthy alike can be happy by understanding that happiness is more a decision than a circumstance. As the Apostle Paul says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain."
Wanting what you have sounds simple, but I've come to see that it is actually quite a complex process. We realized some years ago that we had many things we really didn't want. Our lives had filled with clutter and things that we got because it was "too good a deal to pass up" . We saw that the homes we worked in had a lot less stuff, but stuff in them fit with the homeowners' lifestyle and needs. We began the process of getting rid of a lot of our stuff. We try to make this a regular process now. One of our criteria for purchasing anything new is "do we really want it" followed by "do we have a place for it". We've not yet perfected this process, but we are working on it. And we are much happier now than we were 5 years ago.

Ragtime in Kansas City

I never thought that "Ragtime" and "flute" would be used in the same sentence let alone the same performance, but Jeff and Anne Barnhart make it work. Dale bought tickets to the performance at a fund-raising silent auction in Ft. Scott. The concert was sponsored by the Kansas City Ragtime Revelry. Jeff interspersed the history of some of the songs and their composers throughout the performance. Anne played the flute and acted as straightman to Jeff's humor. She performed the song "Summertime" while leaning inside the grand piano. The piano strings began to sing in sympathetic vibration to the notes of the flute. The sound was hauntingly beautiful.
Brenda & I were definitely the youngest people there. Of the 100 or so attendees I would guess the average age to be over 75.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mortgages Multiplying

We've been paying the mortgage on the house on 12th St. in KCK for over a year. The things I've done to market it have not been very effective. I decided to use a FSBO listing service that will list it on the internet as well as magazines found in grocery store racks. I hope this will get us an offer on it.
Our other house in KCK developed a mold problem. With no central air, the humidity in the basement rose and provided a perfect climate for mildew. The tenants had adverse reactions to the mold. They moved out the first of the month, and I'm getting ready to tackle the water and mold problems so we can get it rented again.
Today I also discovered that our tenants moved out of the house in Merriam. I stopped by and the neighbor said they had been in a rush to get out before the first of the month. We went to inspect the house this evening & it isn't in as bad a shape as I had imagined. We still have a lot of work to do, but it could have been much worse. We're going to start by ripping out the smelly carpet on Saturday. We're going to put it on the market for sale or rent-to-own, whichever comes first.
The end result is that now we have 3 mortgage payments besides the mortgage on our own home. Also, after being booked 6 weeks ahead for work all this summer, we've seen a slowdown. Our prayers have become increasingly fervent as the summer progressed. I believe we have been complacent in the past few years and taken God's blessings somewhat for granted. We haven't had the times, as in the past, of having to ask God to send us work for the next month. Perhaps we should have kept that intensity even when His blessings were rolling in.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Pinetop, AZ

Pinetop, AZ is 170 miles NE of Phoenix. It's 17 1/2 hours of driving time from Kansas City. The land is vast. From the Flint Hills in Kansas, the mesas of New Mexico, and the desert of Arizona, we saw lots of open spaces. Pinetop, however, is 6000 feet in elevation and covered with Ponderosa pine trees.

The highlight of our trip was a 2-hour horseback ride through the forest. It was the off-season and we were the only 2 people in the "group". Johnny, our guide, saw that we had some experience with riding and took us off the main route. We were fording streams and picking our way over fallen logs. A storm moved in near the end of our ride, and we got wet.

We also went to see the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. We were amazed at the size and quantity of petrified wood. We learned that much of it has been taken away, both before and since the park was established.

We stopped on the trip home to see the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, NM. At dusk the balloons were sitting on the ground with their envelopes filled with hot air. Pilots would let loose yellow flame from the burner to light up the entire balloon. We wended our way through throngs of people and balloons as night fell punctuated by the hiss and roar of propane burners. A man from one of the ground crews told us that this is the largest balloon rally in the world: over 700 balloons. We regretted not being able to stay longer, but we had to get back on the road home.

Friday, September 28, 2007

MS 150: Winds and Bonking

Last Saturday and Sunday I rode the MS 150 in Topeka. The route on Saturday started at Heartland Park Racetrack. We began the ride with a trip down the dragstrip and then a lap around the road race course. Black marks showed where drivers going much faster than I was had lost control and spun into the grass.
I rode out to Eskridge with a nice tailwind, making great time. But the wind gives and takes away. The return trip was into the wind. I finished 85 miles by 3:30 and headed back to KC to have dinner with the group I fell in with on the BAK this summer. One of them made a DVD from the pictures we had taken. Brenda told me before I left to make sure I was in the pictures I took and not just get pictures of scenery. So most of the ones I submitted to Kyle (the guy who did the DVD) had me in them. An embarassing number of the picturs on the DVD had me in them.
Sunday I was back in Topeka for the 2nd day of riding. The sunrise pictured is from Sunday. We rode from Topeka to Clinton lake. The winds were lighter, but the hills were many and steep. Most of the riders chose the 50 mile option and were finished long before I got in. There were only a handful of riders behind me. I didn't eat enough at the rest stops and was "bonking" at about 50 miles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonk_(condition) I did make it to the next rest stop and ate enough sugar to put me in orbit on a regular day and damn the trans-fat. Eating all that sugar was like buying gas for your car in Mexico: it runs, but not very well. I made it the next 20 miles to the finish, but could tell I had low-octane fuel in my tank.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Last Supper Group

Food from the grill, good wine, fellowship: these are why we joined the Last Supper Group, one of our church's small groups. Tim and Jean Sigler have the gift of hospitality and a large grill that cooks everything from capons to pizza. Friday was our next-to-last meeting until February and fajitas were the theme of the evening.
Brenda was working west of Parkville and had to add another layer to the finish she was doing. She wanted to finish the job and did not plan for the finish to look purple after it dried. Sometimes you just can't plan for everything. She drove home to get product for the final layer to fix the finish. While at home she chopped 3 lbs. of onions and lots of peppers. She finished up the job and met me at Sigler's. I brought the peppers and onions. We always have a blast helping get the food cooked and talking with whoever shows up for the evening. We are blessed to have such an opportunity to make connections with people from the church.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Riding to Topeka

Labor Day weekend we always travel to Topeka to meet at Elaine Spade's house with friends for a cookout. There's always good food, good wine, and good conversation. I decided that I would ride my bike over and Brenda could drive there later in the day.
I set out about noon with 2 bottles of electrolite drink and a 2-liter bladder of water in a backpack strapped to the back of my seat. Traffic was light until I reached Lawrence. Highway 24 had stretches of road with no shoulder so I had to ride out in the traffic. Most drivers moved over at least to the far side of the lane. A couple came close enough to make me really nervous. Ever since we had Kuno stay with us I've dreamed of taking a long bike trip. This gave me some idea of what it will be like to ride alone on a moderately busy highway.
The trip was 60 miles and I had 3 hours and 40 minutes of riding time. I stopped in Perry to refill on water and buy a power bar. I saw a guy from KC I'd met through my real estate group, and we talked for a few minutes. I stopped and talked to mom and dad for a couple of hours before riding on to Elaine's. We got home at 11:30 and I fell into bed.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Marble Day

Brenda & I have a jar of marbles on our countertop. Whenever we have an exceptional day we put a marble in the jar. It serves as a reminder that these great days do come around from time to time and we need to cherish them when they do. Placing the marble also helps us keep from letting a memorable day just fade away.
Yesterday we placed a large marble in the jar. We were invited to stay for dinner after we finished our work yesterday. The place we're working is in the hills of Missouri between Parkville and Weston. We finished our work for the day and had wine and cheese along with good conversation. For dinner we sat on the deck and listened to the cicadas in the trees as the sun set. We made a toast to new good friends. I think we need bigger marbles for days like this.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Driving

Church was great today. We had 2 men make a commitment to the Lord. Pastor Phillip had them come up front. One of the things he told them was that following Jesus wouldn't make their life rosy and easy, but Jesus would walk through the dark times with them. I appreciate such honest, straightforward words.
After church we headed south to Ft. Scott to have lunch with Dale & Betty. Today is Dale's birthday. After dinner Dale showed us around the yard. Brenda wants ideas on what flowers to put in our yard next year. Ours haven't done so well the past few years. She got the name of a vinca variety that looked good, even in the dry and the heat of these past few weeks.
Dale and Betty taught us how to play "Rook". It's like "Pitch" in that you have to bid on how many points you will win. I bid high on the first hand and won the bid, even though I didn't know for sure what I was doing. We made our bid, though. It was a good day.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Michael & Heather have started a blog so I think I better do better at keeping this thing up to date. I have big gaps in my journals as well.This is the first Saturday we haven't had a pile of stuff to do nagging us from overfull plates. I'm dressed for a bike ride and it's getting hotter so I'll head out soon. We were at the Royals game last night--they won by 1 run--so slept in today. After talking to mom & dad, I made pancakes for us: whole wheat for me & white for Brenda. I still didn't get Breanda's batter runny enough so she added milk and cooked her own. I've been taking the Livinity weight-loss product and my apetite has been much less. I used to eat a stack of 2 plate-sized pancakes. Now it's only one and I'm fine. Well, time to go. I'll be back!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Family at Christmas Eve

Dana and Jake have their own home now so they invited the family to come for Christmas Eve. We had dinner and then went to their church for the Chrismas Eve candlelight service. It's been a while since Brenda & I've been in a candlelight service. We found our missing wolf pictures. Jake presented them to us as a gift. Unfortunately we can't find them. We need to make a dilligent search because I'm sure they will be passed on to some other unsuspecting family member.
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