Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New (used) Car door!

Finally after having the car at the body shop for 8 days I'm back in the saddle again. Or at least the driver's seat. Things just kept coming up with the previously owned door. First the molding along the bottom was too wide requiring them to remove the molding off the old door and put it on the new door. Then there was more dents to smooth out than they originally thought. Again requiring more labor. Then it was realized the molding around the windows was black instead of chrome like my old door so they had to take that off the old door as well. All these delays combined with the Christmas holiday and weekend prevented my car from being done until today.

But I'm very happy to say the wait was worth it. The door really looks amazing. They matched the paint about as perfect as it could be. They washed and vacuumed the whole thing. I felt a little guilty about this because my car was absolutely filthy inside and out. I would have washed it prior to taking it in but my window was covered with cardboard and it was just too cold to do it by hand. I imagine it had to be washed to get a good color match on the paint but to open the door and find every spec of gravel vacuumed and the sweet smell of some air freshener quite overwhelmed me.

I also remember the door I got at the wrecking yard had a light grey interior and my interior is black. A fact I was perfectly willing to overlook, but somehow they managed to take the interior off the old door as well. The only things that are different on the inside are the handle which is black instead of chrome and the window switch which is oval instead of rectangular.

I've said before my wife has been in more than her fair share of accidents and I really am impressed at the magic these body shops can do. At least the ones I've been to seem to take an extreme amount of care and pride in their work. They just seem to go above and beyond the basic repairs that are needed.

I'm so happy with how it turned out I really must give credit where it is due. If you are ever in the need of a body shop I strongly recommend Brendel's Collision & Paint. They are very reasonably priced, pleasant to work with and as I've said, seem to take a certain amount of pride in their finished product. Incidentally, they also install lawn sprinkling systems. (Brendel's Lawn Sprinkling) if you're in the market for that as well. I am very much a satisfied customer.

I must thank my good friend, Steve who, I might add, has a very entertaining blog at http://steveatrandom.blogspot.com/, for the recommendation of Brendel's in the first place. Thank you Steve!

Deepest gratitude must also be extended to my Mom and stepdad for letting us use their Blazer so we wouldn't be inconvenienced by only having 1 vehicle in our 2 vehicle family. Thank you Mom and Jake! Last week would have been a lot more miserable without the use of that car. Even though I am now officially spoiled with the 4-wheel-drive experience. We definitely will be at least looking at some SUV's when it comes time to replace my jalopy. Especially with the December North Dakota has had.

As I've said in my other blogs. This really was a miserable expensive thing to happen, but it could have been so much worse. I was not harmed, my kids weren't in the back seat, my car is almost as good as new and I have a family and friends that are more precious than words can describe. As my Dad says in his blog, "Life is good if you let it." I quite agree.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

DEER me! Conclusion - "The Cat From Outer Space"

Wow, I had no idea when I started this story it would take on a life of its own. I must applaud you readers for sticking with me this long. And now for the thrilling conclusion of my tale.

Johnson's wrecking yard has been around a long time, much longer than I've lived in Mandan. I've had occasion to visit there every now and then for some part or another. The place has not changed. There has always been a few very large dogs laying around every time I've been there. I'm sure these aren't the same dogs they had back when I was in high school but the dogs could've been related as they all had the same disposition. They were big but very gentle, they never barked, never jumped or tried to lick anybody. They were always very mild mannered and friendly. So the morning I drove up to get my car door I wasn't surprised to see a couple dogs on the porch. They stood up and wagged their tails in greeting.

Johnson's was a little busy so I waited for someone to help me when all of a sudden the hairs on the back of my neck started to prickle. Not very many people know this. Ok, absolutely nobody knows this. Dear readers for the first time ever I am about to reveal that I have a sixth sense. It is kind of a cat radar that warns me whenever I am in close proximity to a member of the feline species. I turned my head to the source of the disturbance and sure enough, slinking along the counter, acting for all the world like royalty has just entered the room and why isn't everyone bowing, was a medium sized gray cat.

I hate cats. All right, I don't hate them, I try very hard never to use the word hate, but I strongly dislike them. Not all cats mind you. Mountain lions, jaguars, Siberian tigers, any of the big vicious variety that can take your head off with one playful swipe are just fine. I adore these magnificent animals. It is just the members of the housecat variety that I really have a hard time getting along with, and I have every reason to believe they feel the same way about me.

But I perfectly understand there are people in this world that do like them. Johnson's Wrecking for instance, must have had some reason for keeping it around. So I do my best to give these animals the benefit of the doubt and am perfectly capable of minding my own business as long as the cats mind theirs. Never the less, I kept a close eye on this one as it walked along the counter and jumped gracefully onto the stool directly in front of where I was standing and gazed at me. One of the reasons I dislike cats is they have this way of looking at you that appears they can see right into your very soul. They look haughty, smart, knowing, and teasing all at the same time. This cat was looking at me as if to say, "I know something you don't know, nyah, nyah, nyah." It was unnerving to say the least.

But like I said, I was willing to give this cat the benefit of the doubt that it meant no harm and extended my hand in friendship. The cat, as if it knew exactly what was coming, stretched out it's neck and allowed me to pet it. You would have thought I just sent the animal into cat-heaven. It closed it's eyes and fired up the purring motor on all cylinders. It started moving its head around in my palm as if to present the parts of it's head and neck it most wanted scratched or petted. Then as if that weren't enough it started circling my arm winding itself around my hand and wrist. I put up with this for just a few seconds and I was just thinking to myself this is really getting weird. I no sooner thought this when the cat immediately stopped, sat up straight on the stool and stared at me again. It didn't move, it didn't blink.

My cat rader started going off again. I stared back into this spooky feline's eyes and tried to discern what was going on behind them. My radar started to signal even louder and I found myself thinking, this moronic cat is going to jump. Sure enough, these brain waves had just barely formed into thought patterns in my head when catzilla made a magnificent leap onto my shoulder like some nightmarish version of a pirate's parrot. Now I wouldn't call myself scrawny but I'm no NFL defensive lineman either. The cat was having a hard time finding a foothold. Go figure. So while it's back legs started scrambling to find purchase the front legs made do with digging into my hair and neck.

Now I must pause for a few moments. I know I do this way too much, but I can't stop being me. That would be like asking the Earth to stop orbiting the sun. I feel it's important to understand a few things so as to truly appreciate the bitter struggle that is about to ensue. Brianna is taking Life Science at Mandan Middle School, and as homework-helper-in-chief, I also am taking Life Science courtesy of Mandan Middle School. Chapter 5 - heredity. There exists two chromosomes. Females are given two of the X chromosome variety, while males, bless us, are given one X and one Y chromosome. I'm sorry this is very twisted logic but it seems to me we've got girl genes and boy genes running amok inside us. Sorry fellas but I find it's better to face the truth than try to deny it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or I should say, back at the wrecking yard, a vicious battle has just begun. That's right, boys against the girls, and the battlefield is me. My X chromosomes were pulling my hair out, (or maybe that was the cat) to scream like a girl and prance around like a chicken with it's head cut off. But my Y chromosomes, ever the voice of reason, were saying, "Do you really want to do this in front of these Johnson's employees and customers, not to mention about 20 square feet of dog lying on the floor who are gentle now but probably wouldn't appreciate having their tails trampled?"

Thankfully, most certainly through divine intervention, the Y chromosomes won out and I was able not to lose my head completely, sort of. I attempted to channel the desire to scream into grabbing this beast of a cat who was obviously from a planet far far away. Maybe a planet of the apes where the inhabitants have huge platform-like shoulders that cats can stroll around on surveying their kingdoms. The cat seemed to be one, or maybe 4 steps ahead of me, though. Every time I grabbed it scampered out of the way. The one time I did manage to grab hold it sunk its claws into my coat and refused to let go.

As you can imagine, I was putting on quite a show for the employees and customers who by now were laughing hysterically. One helpful man was finally able to talk between fits of laughter. "If you walk over to that candy machine, the cat will jump right on top of them." At this point I was willing to take the advice of anybody. In the middle of my mad gyrations I spotted two puny little gumball machines and I thought why would the cat want to jump on these little things when there was a great big counter and several stools to choose from? But I wasn't in any position to ask questions. Very carefully avoiding the dogs I made it to these pitiful excuses for vending machines and tipped my head over like I was about to do a handstand. The cat monster was having none of it and dug it's claws in further.

The guy said, "No, the big machine in the corner over there." Oh, well, excuse me for missing that, it's not like I was distracted or anything. I stumbled over to the corner, again, trying very hard to avoid slumbering dogs, and launched myself as if I was trying to throw a shot-put with my shoulder. The cat, thankfully, let go, landed on the top of the machine and looked at me like I was the one causing all the ruckus.

So you can see why I just cannot abide cats. This was just one example. I could write several more entries on vicious altercations I've had with these freaks of nature, through no fault of my own of course. Somehow I managed to get my door loaded and headed back home.

Deanna was absolutely radiant. It was nice to come home to something that wasn't trying to rip my head off. I could tell Deanna enjoyed her relaxing morning. She has to get the kids to school every day and deals with getting them dressed and presentable. I was happy one of us got to enjoy their morning.

So let us head to the debriefing room and review what we have learned from this little sequence of events. 1.) Life is very much a comedy production God has given all of us to enjoy, both as spectators and participants. This is meant to be a gift, not a punishment, so enjoy it. If you can laugh at yourself, you are a fortunate person indeed. 2.) Actual, true-life events are always much funnier and more enjoyable, (unfortunately, they can also be sadder and more difficult) than anything made up or contrived. As my good friend Steveatrandom says in one of his comments, "You just can't make up stories like this." 3.) I know I say this all the time, but I feel it's so important, that the key to happiness does not depend on the events in which we find ourselves, but our reactions to those events. The most wonderful occasion can be ruined by a bad attitude, and the most sorrowful situation, can perhaps, be a little less so by having a happy and thankful heart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

DEER me! part 3 - "The Kentucky Derby or a parachute drop, take your pick"

After disembarking the female member of our crew, the Meissner men proceeded to drop zone bravo otherwise known as the North side of the playground at Lewis & Clark Elementary School. I maneuvered expertly into the choicest location in front of the basketball courts. This really isn't saying much as there wasn't another car in sight. Today is a jazz band day for Brianna so she gets dropped off about 45 minutes early. This poses a bit of a problem with Brian since there isn't enough time to go back home and crash for a few minutes, and there is too much time to go to the elementary school and wait.

Brian's life revolves around recess. In his opinion, it's the only reason to go to school. Elementary scholars get 4, that's right, count them, 4 opportunities to wreak havoc on the school yard. They get the morning and afternoon versions, the after lunch version, and those precious minutes before school starts. It is these precious minutes that Brian is most concerned with. He insists on being one of the first kids on the playground every single day. An hour before the van leaves in the morning he's yelling at Deanna and Brianna to get a move on.

Getting any information from Brian is about as easy as pulling teeth. During our lengthy interrogation sessions, I've been able to narrow his haste to get to school down to two reasons. Number one, the first people in line at the door get first pick of the prime selection of basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, or whatever other implements of destruction they choose to equip themselves. The kids line up at the door and then someone opens it and distributes the coveted athletic equipment. The second, and I think most important, reason is that the first group of young alpha-males get to participate in the planning and strategizing sessions where teams are picked, battle plans are laid, and the various contests of skill are organized that will take place throughout the remainder of the day. Brian really enjoys these planning sessions. The worst thing that could happen to him is that he winds up on a team he doesn't like, or has to play some kind of game he doesn't want to.

We have timed Brian to see how long he can sit still before fidgeting or getting up. He has never exceeded 5 seconds. This morning was no exception. We were parked for all of about 2.3 seconds before the seat belt is off and he's moving around adjusting things (no idea what those things are) checking his backpack and any other manner of items to make sure he's ready when the van door slides open. I have to hand it to him. He has become a master of time management. Perhaps too much so.

I know for a fact my beautiful wife leaves the car running to keep things warm in the cold season. For that matter, I think she keeps it running during the hot months also to keep the A/C going. Normally, I would too if it's only a few minutes wait. But today we need to sit there about a half an hour so I shut it off. We're men, we're tough, we can handle the cold. Don't talk to me about how cheap gas is now. That is beside the point. I am determined not to waste a drop more than I have to. This poses another problem for Brian. (I'm starting to get the idea he likes it better when Mom drives.) He doesn't mind the cold so much. The windows weren't even fogging up. What he minds is that by turning off the vehicle, I've also turned off the dashboard clock. He knows he does not get to leave one second before 8:16AM.

I lean my head back thinking I could catch just a little bit more sleep but I should have known better. 1.5 seconds after I've closed my eyes, Brian asks, "Dad, what time is it?" I said, "It's NOT time to go." Another 3.1 seconds goes by. "Dad, what time is it now?" Now I get grumpy, "Brian, if you ask me one more time, you're not getting out until the bell rings." That did the trick. He stopped talking, but he didn't stop moving. This whole time he's shuffling and moving and arranging who knows what. My weary brain finally managed to tune his noise out and I think I actually drifted off until I heard a very loud CLUNK somewhere in the back. I didn't even ask what that was because I didn't particularly want to know. It got him to stop moving for about half a second though.

"Dad?" says Brian again. OK, I thought, let's check the clock. 8:16, right on the button. Brian gives a muffled, "YES!" and places himself in the door just like a thoroughbred pressing the gate at the Kentucky Derby, or you could also say it was like someone about to free-fall out of an airplane at a couple thousand feet. We have an electric door so you can push a button to slide it open. As soon as there was enough room for his body he was out of the gate and hit the ground running. Unlike Brianna, who at least looked at me when she said goodbye, Brian yelled his goodbye and sent his air-kiss when he was about halfway across the playground. I'm looking at him closely wondering to myself if he's thought about how slippery it is. Even on the grass the snow is packed down and frozen. I needn't have worried, however, somehow he made it across the grounds, skidded neatly around the corner and took his place at the ball-bestowing door.

"Atta boy!" I said out loud, turning the car on and pointing South towards Johnson's Wrecking and my used new car door.

I really thought I'd be able to finish this discourse but alas, it just got to be too long again. So I'm afraid I'll have to keep you in suspense a little while longer. Rest assured, the most exciting part of this adventure is yet to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

DEER me! part 2 - "A day at Johnson's Wrecking yard"

And the deer collision saga continues.

After talking to a body shop I found out the left-rear door that needs to be replaced is no longer being made. What are they thinking? My car is ONLY 15 years old! A new one would have been $2,100 anyway so that was way outside the budget zone. I was advised to check out salvage yards to see if a "used" one might be had. Johnson's Wrecking was recommended since many salvage yards dispose of most vehicles more than 5 years old. Just goes to show you are never too old to learn something new. Little did I know the learning was just barely getting started.

So last Tuesday I spent a lovely lunch hour(s) walking and climbing around junked cars looking for the coveted door. After being warned this was much like a "needle in a haystack" search I was impressed that there were actually several choices available. The very first vehicle was the exact model and color I was looking for. Alas, the left-rear door on this vehicle was badly dented as well.

But we Meissner's are persistent. (some would say stubborn, but I like persistent better). I was not going to be swayed from my mission. I wasn't kidding when I said climbing as some vehicles were stacked on top of each other so I did some climbing as I was looking not only on the outside but the inside of these relics as well.

EUREKA! (A word which here means, "I have found (it)". supposedly uttered by Archimedes when he discovered a way to determine the purity of gold by applying the principle of specific gravity) I located a door! It was white, but it can be painted. The interior is gray where mine is black and the arm rest is a little different but who cares? The outside looked to be in fine condition and after being painted and mounted should get my "ole junker" safely back on the road again for a few more months while we look for a replacement. And if anyone asks about the weird interior I have a fascinating story to tell.

I profusely thanked the nice young Johnson's employee who led the expedition and said if they would be so kind as to remove the door and have it ready the next day I would be by to pick it up. And now..... the rest of the story.

Chapter 3 - "another day at Johnson's Wrecking yard"

I happily find myself at this time of year with a surplus of vacation hours to be used so it was no problem to let Deanna for once have a leisurely morning while I took the van and dropped the kids off at school. I was all excited about going to get my door. (It's the little things that make life worth living) I was going to be a gentleman and help Brianna get her big Tenor sax case, her flute case, her over large music folder, and her way over large trapper keeper monstrosity that they expect middle scholars to cram everything they need for the whole day in, out of the car so she can pack that load into school. Thinking I was unlocking all the doors I punched the button, heard the satisfying click of the automatic locks, and got out and shut the driver's side door. Only to find out when I walked around the van that I had locked, not unlocked the doors and now I've got both kids inside, the car is running and I'm on the outside with the doors locked. Do you see my dilemma?

Brianna starts to panic. (I think she gets that from her mother) She knows where the lock button is, but like me, didn't seem to know the difference between locked and unlocked. She is madly clicking the button back and forth and I'm madly working the door handle and nothing is opening. I hold up my hands in the "stop everything" position. I calmly try the door, locked, I gently motion my finger to have her try her button again. I listened to the satisfying clunk of what I prayed were the doors unlocking. I took a deep breath. I don't know why, I just did. I tried the door. EUREKA! the door opened.

Brianna was beside herself. Kind of unfairly, I thought. My thanks, for trying to be a gentleman, I suppose. She jumps out and yells, "I CAN GET MY STUFF MYSELF!" Yes ma'am. In spite of her anger she still managed to say, "Bye Dad, I love you." Although maybe a tad bit chillier than she usually says it. Must have been the weather. Then she blows me one of our traditional family "air kisses." There is no possible way for me to explain what these are so you will have to ask Brianna and me to demonstrate if you see us sometime.

I watch her hike her gear up to the school along with some more students making the trip into the building. All of them loaded down like some Sherpas going up Mount Everest. I shake my head and climb into the van for the next leg. This whole time, by the way, Brian is just sitting back there, his eyes as big as saucers, not saying a thing. Sometimes, silence is golden.

Stay tuned for more, I still have to drop Brian off at school and go get that car door.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

DEER me! Part 1 - "A funny thing happened to me on the way to church this morning"

I've gone back and forth way too many times asking myself if this is BLOG worthy or not. Since this pertains to events that happened last Sunday and I still can't get it out of my head I must post something more for my therapeutic benefit than anyone else taking the time to read these words. I do appreciate your attention.

Yet another side job I have; I try very hard not to consider it a job though as it is most definitely a ministry, is that I am a certified Lay Speaker for the United Methodist Church. One of the things I do is go out to Hebron, ND once a month to lead worship services as they do not have a regular preacher assigned to them. So the parishioners are responsible for lining up a speaker every Sunday.

December 6, 2008 was my December Sunday. I was headed there traveling West on Interstate 94 when somewhere between New Salem and Almont I noticed some Whitetail does running across the highway. As a Game & Fish employee I have listened to numerous talks about what to do in these situations. One point of information is that if you see some deer there are more than likely others. So I slowed down and was scanning the ditches to see if any more animals were going to be foolhardy enough to attempt a crossing.

Everything happens so fast yet seems in slow motion as it is occurring. I'm not sure if it was just the lay of the land or if the ditches were deep enough that there was a blind pocket big enough for a young buck deer to hide so that I was not aware of him until he popped up right in front of me. I was still continuing to slow down and even then drove passed him a little bit so that he ran into the rear driver's side door. A sound like a muffled gunshot occurred and then sounds like hail as tiny bits of shattered glass showered the entire back seat of my car. I felt more shrapnel dusting the back of my head and jacket. Then there was the initial jolt which seemed to kind of shift the back of the vehicle over and then a small secondary bump was heard more than felt as the deer glanced off the rear quarter panel. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the buck rolling end over end in the ditch. When he stopped moving, he did not get up. The "experts" that I work with have to over-analyze everything and said he probably busted his neck when he collided with my vehicle and was killed that way. Okay, thanks.

The car continued to slow to a stop just like nothing had happened. I pulled off onto the Almont exit to survey the damage. What a mess! The whole back seat and floor was covered in deer hair and bits of glass. The left rear window which consists of a bigger movable section and a small triangular section was no more, the pane connecting the 2 sections was dented considerably and there is a small dent in the left rear quarter panel. Typing this at work I almost wish now I took a picture before I taped and sealed everything up. I may post a picture anyway if I have time later.

Well, I promised a church in Hebron that I would be there, the car was still drivable, and the door shut reasonably well except for another bent portion at top of the door frame. I shook the glass out my hair and coat, brushed away some of the fallout to the front seat, and got on my merry way although somewhat chillier and noisier due to the missing window.

Hindsight is always 20-20. By the time I finally got to Hebron it dawned on me that I had this windshield shade that I use in the Summer so the inside doesn't get so hot when it is parked in the sun. If I unrolled that I could drape it across the window and shut the door to keep it in place. I had to play around with it to get it tight enough and covered enough but it was definitely a much quieter and warmer drive back home again.

I was really bummed. I've always driven the older of the 2 cars in our family and this one had 180,000 miles. It's a 1993 model that we got in 1995 so it's been in the family awhile. Of course we only carry liability on the junkers that I drive so we don't have insurance coverage on this type of accident. The vehicle is so old they more than likely would have totaled it out anyway. But we were probably going to replace it this Summer and I imagine would have gotten a better trade-in before the accident than we will now.

But, I do try to practice what I preach and that is always, always......ALWAYS look for a bright side when deplorable things happen. You can almost always say, "things could have been worse." My children were not in the back seat and did NOT receive faces full of busted glass which they most certainly would have if they'd been in the car. I was in the front seat and so also did not receive a face full of busted glass. Vehicles can be fixed or replaced, human lives cannot. I'm still thanking God for watching over me and my family as I'm writing this.

The car is still drivable, I've got cardboard and duct tape on it now so it's sealed pretty good and we have some time where I can still drive it while we look for a used car door or a used vehicle to purchase. And like the hymn says, I continue to "count my many blessings and name them one by one. Count your many blessings and see what God has done." Words: John­son Oat­man, Jr. Music:Edwin O. Excell.

I feel so much better for having written this. Thank you for putting up with my blog.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A night at the Elks club

One of my little side jobs is that I play trumpet in a "Big Band". I don't necessarily mean big in terms of size although that is how the term got started. The Big Band era originated in the 1930's and 1940's and became a style of dance music as much as a description of the bands that played during this time. These were the days of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, with songs like "String of Pearls" and "In the Mood."

Big Bands are a dying breed. For one, they are expensive. It costs a bit when you have to pay so many musicians. Many clubs choose DJ's or smaller groups to save on cost. For another, people tend to do other activities these days than go out dancing, probably because there aren't many clubs that pay for live music so they find other pursuits. But I do notice most of the people that we play for are, shall we say, of the more "senior" generation.

It's too bad, really. This music is way before my time, before my Dad's time in fact. But it is wonderful music to play and listen to. I understand it's also some of the best music for dancing. Statements like this always bring to mind one of Schroeder's comments from the Peanuts comics. "Musicians don't dance." A more apt phrase could not be applied to me. I truly have 2 left feet when it comes to perusing a dance floor.

It's a great job. We don't play as often as some of the more popular groups which is just fine with me. When you have a full time job, a part time job, involvement in church functions, and 2 children in a variety of activities your discretionary time is very limited. But it's just often enough that I get to play and keep up the trumpet skills I spent 7 years of my school life honing. I know I wouldn't play hardly at all if it were not for the bands I'm in. And like all talents, if you don't use them, you lose them.

But by far the most rewarding aspect of this is seeing the look on these older couple's faces as they pirouette around the dance floor. Their eyes are either closed or they are transfixed in the eyes of their partner. The joy truly glows as they're transported back 50 years or more to what had to have been, "the good 'ole days."

We've developed a respectable following at the Bismarck Elks club. The band manager gets along well with the club's manager, and we've had a few good reviews that have found their way back to the Elk's management. So that's where I was Saturday evening. We've got some more dances scheduled for January 16-17, February 13-14, and again on May 5. We play from 8-11PM. If you're not an Elks member, you can be really polite to the door man and say you'd really like to come and listen to the band. Most of the time they'll let you in. Please check us out if you're interested. For my male readers, your significant others would really appreciate an evening of dancing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A tribute to hotdishes

Hopefully by reading this title it won't be too obvious I've ran into a shortage of Blog topics. I simply haven't been able to think of anything I feel other people would want to take the time to read. However, Wednesday evening I took part in sharing our church's weekly family meal. This week the menu was Potluck. If you don't know what that is it's when everyone brings whatever dish they want to share. So you don't know what you will be eating until you start moving through the buffet line. My absolute favorite of church dinners. Just imagine the adventure of sampling several dishes I've never had or don't get very often. I love to eat and it's even more exciting when I find out I enjoy something I've never tried before. You always run the risk you might not like it, but what's the fun without an element of risk? Especially for me when there are very very few foods I don't enjoy, the risk is very small.

But what I love the most is the fact that for so many participants the meal they bring is (queue drum roll) THE HOT DISH, or casserole, or meal-in-one or mystery meat or whatever you want to call it. Can you think of a more perfect food? First of all, ever the practical person, I can't help but admire the brilliance in throwing everything into one pot, and then serving it out of the same pot! Having to clean many dishes in my time I can appreciate having a few less. After all, the food all gets mixed together in the stomach anyway, right?

The transportation factor can also be thrown in. Not only are there fewer dishes to wash, but there is only one pot to carry to the function, rather than who knows how many. This is probably the number one reason why they are so popular at church potlucks is because it is much easier to carry only one pot to the event and of course, there's only one pot to bring home. Both the coming and going must be considered.

But what I enjoy the most is the variety, you truly never know what to expect. They say, (I'd like to find out who "they" are), that variety is the spice of life. I think this true especially when it comes to food. Hot dishes can be made with just about anything you can find in the fridge. Potatoes, noodles, those doughy things called knoephle. Hamburger, stew meat, sausage, ham can also be thrown in. Various vegetables like carrots, peas, green beans, and of course, SAUERKRAUT! (I believe that could be considered a vegetable) Usually something like a gravy to hold everything together, several condensed soups come to mind, or else making your own with flour and oodles of butter. Throw in some salt and pepper and again any other seasonings that tickle your fancy and you have a worthy feast.

Hopefully I've now made you so hungry you've forgotten about my lack of subject matter. Go out and enjoy a hot dish today!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deer Head Collection?

If you drive by the Game & Fish Department building where I work you will see a sign that says, "Deer Head Collection Site." You might also see this sign at certain other places within North Dakota. And without any additional information a reasonable question might be. "Why on earth would someone want to collect deer heads?"

Allow me to enlighten you. For the past several years now during the deer hunting season the ND Game & Fish Department has been collecting deer heads to obtain tissue samples to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease. If that name sounds bad it's because it is. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of white-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk. It is essentially the "deer" version of Mad Cow Disease. It causes the animal to not want to eat and the body starts to waste away, hence the name. It has become a concern in recent years because cases of it have been found in almost every state surrounding North Dakota. Fortunately, we have not yet discovered any instances of CWD within North Dakota.

To help prevent this disease from coming into North Dakota certain regulations have been established pertaining to the transportation of deer across state boundaries. In addition for the last several years we have been sampling roughly 1,000 or so deer heads from selected areas throughout North Dakota to check for any occurrences of CWD and to help us learn more about this disease.

Getting samples from over 1,000 deer heads takes some time so the Game & Fish Department encourages employees to help out when they can. I've tried to participate for the last few years now. It's definitely not for everyone. It involves digging into the back of a deer head and taking out the lymph nodes which get sent to Wyoming for testing. It's bloody, messy, and a bit smelly from the piles of deer heads that have been sitting around for various lengths of time. But for reasons unknown even to me, I do find it interesting. You get used to the smell after awhile and it feels good to be helping out. It certainly is a drastic change from my normal line of work with computers.

In addition to collecting lymph nodes, certain information about each deer is recorded. The hunting unit where it was harvested, the type and sex of the deer, as well as the age. If you're wondering how you find out the age of a deer, you check it's teeth. Biologists can tell by the size and wear of the the teeth roughly how old the deer is. The lymph nodes get packed in little bags, labeled, frozen and then sent off for testing.

Another question you might ask is why in the world am I bothering to write about this? The answer is, "I don't know". Possibly because it's something I'm interested in, or maybe just to give you a little more insight into the place where I work and one of the extra-curricular activities I participate in. I think it does fall outside the realm of, shall we say, "ordinary" job duties. At any rate, whether you're interested in this topic or not, hopefully you can find some comfort in knowing the state game & fish department is doing what it can to help make sure CWD stays out of North Dakota. And if you are a deer hunter, consider donating your harvested deer head to the department for testing. For more information, please visit the Game & Fish website at http://gf.nd.gov/

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Very Meissner Christmas

"Honey, are you ready to set up the Christmas trees?" My wife asks in the sweetest voice she can muster. An audible groan escapes my lips. No I am not ready, and it doesn't appear I ever will be ready. I would be more ready to take a serious beating, maybe two beatings.

Christmas for us starts on Veteran's Day, a bit earlier than most people. My wife Deanna absolutely loves Christmas and her philosophy is that you can only enjoy the decorations for a short time each year so you might as well stretch it out as long as you can. I don't mind the decorations at all. The kids enjoy it and if it is something that makes my family happy I'm all for it.

What I don't like is setting up the trees and what I REALLY don't like is stringing the lights. Deanna and I are perfectionists and this means there is a minimum requirement of lights per square footage of tree that must be upheld. If there's not enough lights scattered proportionally throughout it's not worth having a tree up at all. This was not a problem in our "shoebox" apartment at North Dakota State University. Our tree was only 3 feet tall. Now we have this 9 foot monstrosity that I like to call the bane of my existence.

It looks so small in this picture. Every time I try to add up the number of lights on this beast I lose count but I know for a fact there are at least 1,000. Over the years we've found that it just doesn't look right if you just circle the tree hanging lights on the outside edges of the branches. You get a much better effect if you weave in and out and get the lights further inside the tree as well. As I said, not a problem with a 3 foot tree. But when I throw a 150 bulb string and barely cover the bottom row of branches I start to weep.

It further adds to my consternation that no matter how hard I try to hook up and tear down and store all these lights as carefully as possible it never fails that there are 3-4 strings that refuse to light the following year. I don't appreciate having to keep buying all these lights every Christmas. Last year one string waited until it was on the tree for a week before deciding to go out and I refused to replace it because it was all tangled up with the other lights and ornaments and it would have been a real mess. I heard about the "bare section" all season long and need I remind you this started before Thanksgiving? So now every time I hit the switch I say a little prayer, "Lord, let there be light......" And there is, whew! "Thank you Lord!"

Still in spite of all my "Scrooginess" I do enjoy it once everything is up. The kids really like it and this year we were blessed by them both getting along, usually there's fighting over who gets to hang up what ornament and so on. We had the Charlie Brown Christmas video going and had a great time. We all have our favorite ornaments. Mine are the vintage airplanes. I've got the Wright Brothers flyer and Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and a "Gee Bee" which was popular during the airplane races in the early 30's and a very treacherous aircraft to fly.

We've also got some smaller trees in the kid's rooms. I always do the monster tree first because putting the kid's trees up seems like a cake walk after that. Here is Brian's. Please excuse the blurry image. Deanna is the digital camera master. I can't seem to take very good pictures and she was working when I took these. Note the Coors Field sign on the wall. Courtesy of Grandpa and Grandma Meissner who used to live in the Denver area.

And of course, those of you with children know you can't give something to one child without giving to the other so Brianna has her own tree as well. I like the signs we've got in her room. "Dream" and "Relax", some things I need to do when I'm struggling with the 10th string of lights.

Still, I really can't complain. It's done now for another year. I don't mind the tear down half as much as the setting up and we've got all the pesky little green shrapnel that you get every time you set up a fake tree vacuumed up. I also noticed the other day the neighbor behind us tramping over his roof setting up the outside lights which is something I've so far avoided. When I see someone struggling with their lights outside I don't mind my predicament quite as much.

I know I'm a little early since it's not even Thanksgiving. But I do hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas! And may all your decorating be stress-free!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Be a good sport!

Good grief, yet another excuse as to why I don't post as often as I should. Let's see what should I say this time.......I know, I've been so busy responding to other people's blogs that I haven't had time to write any of my own. And it's actually a true statement. I think responding and commenting on other people's blogs is quite a bit more entertaining than trying to come up with something that anyone out there in cyberspace considers worthy reading material. Try it sometime by commenting on one of my worthless pieces of drivel. Especially if you've yet to take the plunge and create your own blog you can post comments on my anonymously so I won't even have the pleasure of knowing who are.

But I digress, if you've read any of my other posts you know this is one of my shortcomings. I start off on one topic which leads to another and another and goodness, there I go again. Back to topic. My daughter's volleyball season has just gotten over and my son's basketball season has just started and I felt driven to post something on sportsmanship.

I absolutely love watching team sports. The reason I love watching is because I am notoriously inept at any kind of athletic activity. I have been since 3rd grade. I have experienced the humiliation of being among the last children picked to be on someones team. I have experienced the stress of having every kickball, every baseball, softball, and volleyball sent my direction by the opposing team because they knew there was a better than even (actually much better) chance I was going to screw things up. It's a great thing, actually I would say a great God-given thing that I discovered a talent in music or I probably would have been developing all sorts of inferiority issues before the 7th grade. But I'll save that for a future blog.

I do love to watch sporting events of most any type. I've been to my brother's and sister's soccer and hockey games, and now have the pleasure of watching my son and daughter try their skills at various activities. I've seen good and not-so-good players, coaches, and referees, but the group I need to pick on continues to be the parents. Please don't misunderstand, most parents are great! They cheer on their kids, their team, they even go so far as to appreciate when the opposing team has made a good play. But it is the small handful of shall we say, "over exuberant" parents that really ruin the game for all spectators within ear shot.

Thankfully I've never had to witness any violence like that which has been reported in other states, but I've had to listen to more than my fair share of verbal abuse, not directed at me, necessarily, but having to listen to it directed at others is abuse in my book as well. I've listened to parents yell at coaches, referees, and what hurts the most is listening to them put down their own kids as well as the children of others.

First, please remember these are children, not paid professionals, the whole point of grade school sporting activities is to learn the skills, improve their skills, and HAVE FUN! Being shouted at by the "armchair" quarterbacks in the stands is not my idea of having fun. It's always frustrating when your team is not doing well, but there is absolutely no excuse for chewing out your kids in that manner, in front of their friends, teammates, and everyone else who is watching. It's ONLY A GAME!

Second, I think it takes real nerve for some parents to have scathing criticisms when they aren't the ones out on the field, arena, or court. When I hear some parent shooting off their mouth I'd like to throw them on the volleyball court and see how good they are at returning a spike from the opposite side. Just like at home, we like to sit in our easy chairs yelling at the TV about athletes or officials who for whatever reason don't live up to the standards we impose on them. I really enjoy an old native American proverb, "never judge someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins." I first heard this in 7th grade during my first experience at bible camp. What right have we to criticize anyone until we have actually been in their shoes for a time? I would argue even then we really still do not have the right to judge anyone....ever.

Mandan parks and recreation had a poster on display last year. I haven't seen it yet this year but I wish they'd bring it back. I'm sure it was targeted at these "over-exuberant" parents I'm talking about. I can't remember it word for word but it goes something like this. Parks and recreation activities are designed to teach children skills and encourage and promote good sportsmanship. Please let the children play, let the coaches coach, let the referees officiate, & above all, have fun. Sounds like pretty good advice.

We can practice good sportsmanship outside of athletic competitions as well. Letting someone into a busy traffic lane. Holding the door open. Saying please and thank you. Being kind and considerate to others. All of these are ways we can be good sports even outside the arena.

Come on, be a good sport!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crash course in hair care

My goodness it's been almost another month. I'm getting behind again. I am one happy guy. My wife has returned from spending 4 days in Minneapolis at a Women of Faith conference. So my 4 days of playing "Mr. Mom" have ended. Now don't get me wrong. If I do say so I am a fair hand in the kitchen so feeding myself and our 2 children was not a problem, especially with the Schwan's driver coming every other week and a stop at the Burger King we definitely didn't starve. I also manage to do a bit of cleaning on occasion so the house wasn't a total disaster either.

This certainly wasn't my first time alone with the kids and I've always enjoyed it. It gives me an excuse to take some days off work and spend some quality time with the young'ns. What made this time different was that it was the first time beauty skills were involved in the list of job qualifications.

Brianna, our oldest, happens to be a 12-year-old girl. Or, as she likes to call herself, a "pre-teen". Suddenly the morning routine has evolved to much more than simply spraying some "no-tangle" stuff in the hair and combing it. Maybe bunching it into a pony tail if I really wanted to get fancy. Brianna recently lost several inches of golden tresses to donate it to "locks of love", a program that makes hair products for cancer patients. Shorter hair does not a good pony tail make. And being a budding young woman she is now suddenly gotten interested in make-up, boys, and demands to look her best every day.

So I had to go through a crash course in hairstyling from my beautiful wife. I took copious amounts of notes and stressed out the days leading up to the morning she left for Minneapolis. Spending nights tossing and turning, waking up in cold sweats, having nightmares about my daughter screaming that I'm the worst father ever. Okay, maybe that last bit was a slight exaggeration. But only slight. I was stressed out to the max. And those of you that know me personally know that I am generally not one to get stressed out over things. This is a new and very uncomfortable experience for me.

Last Thursday morning was my first trial by fire. Now I am truly not one to brag, but I majored in Computer Science in college and have worked as a computer professional for 18 years. People have said I can take a stubborn computer and make it start behaving with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks. But if you take my fingers that are so comfortable with a computer keyboard and mouse and put a hair dryer and brush into them, suddenly it feels like I'm learning how to write or feed myself for the very first time.

But I am as stubborn as I am inept at hair care and refused to give up. My daughter was counting on me to deliver her to middle school in all her radiant beauty. After much sweat, crying, and gnashing of teeth I managed to get her looking fairly presentable. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the stinging criticism that was sure to follow and asked her, "well, how did I do?"

She looks at herself in the mirror and nods her head, "not bad Dad."

SUCCESS!! unbelievable overwhelming success! Some of you might think this was barely a passing grade but for someone who spent the earlier part of last week hardly sleeping from worry, it was like a tremendous load had just been lifted. Flush from my success I realized that I would survive the next 3 days, my daughter's hair might not be up to my wife's meticulous standards but if Brianna says, "not bad", I'll take it.

Please understand I love my wife very much and miss her deeply when she's gone. And I was happy to have her back again not just because I could hang up my beautician's hat, I was truly happy to have her back home again.

But it was sooooooo nice to get up this morning and have me be the only person to worry about getting ready.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spirit of Christmas?

One of my very large pet peeves is the rush for stores to push out their Christmas items. It seems as though Halloween is barely over and stores start setting out the plastic Santa Clauses and Christmas Trees. And here I sit with Halloween almost a month away talking about Christmas. However, it isn't exactly Christmas I want to talk about but the "Spirit" of Christmas which is something I feel we should have in our hearts all year round.

I just finished listening to the original version of Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol". I say listening rather than reading because this edition happened to be an audio book on CD. For some time now I've been kind of addicted to audio books, particularly when driving. I've always been an avid reader of all things and audio books is just another way to enjoy a good story when I'm not able to actually read. (You really shouldn't be reading when you're driving)

This particular book happened to be narrated by Jim Dale. He is without question my favorite narrator. He is probably most well known for his performances of the audio versions of the Harry Potter series. (Another series of books I highly recommend) But he also has some great recordings of the original Peter Pan novel and the prequels to Peter Pan, "Peter and the Starcatchers", as well as, "Peter and the Shadow Thieves". If you've ever asked yourself how Peter got to Neverland in the first place, or how he was able to fly WITHOUT fairy dust you simply have got to check out the two books above or for extra pleasure, check out the audio versions of these performed by Jim Dale. (The Bismarck Public Library has got audio books for all the above)

I told myself after that last novel on patience I would try very hard to shorten these down and i'm failing miserably. I mean 3 paragraphs of introduction and I still haven't got to the spirit of Christmas yet, c'mon!

I enjoy stories read by Jim Dale because he uses different voices for the characters, as all good storytellers will do, but I feel it takes effort to not only change your voice but to add all the various emotions to the tone of what is being said so you truly believe these are different people. When Scrooge was in the middle of his visit with the ghost of Christmas past, he begins to start feeling some regret at the life he has lived for so long. Scrooge tells the spirit that there was a young man singing a carol and he had slammed the door in his face and how he would have liked instead to give him something for his trouble. The remorse in Jim Dale's voice was so realistic my eyes started to water. (My wife is reading this and saying, "that cold fish?") I love you too, honey *hugs*. This is the by George truth, I almost started weeping that Scrooge was feeling sorry for his actions. And we hadn't even gotten to the really sad stuff with Tiny Tim yet.

Another peeve is when people spoil a good story for me so I'll try not to give you too many details. But again at the end, when Scrooge "wakes up" and turns over a new leaf. He is as giddy as a child who just got the gift they always wanted for Christmas. The laughter and the tone in Jim Dale's voice now almost had me running off the road I couldn't contain my excitement and laughter. *LOL* (sometimes you shouldn't listen to books while driving either).

Would that we all could act like the new and improved Ebeneezer Scrooge year round. Sometimes I think we all should get a visit from three ghosts in the middle of the night to open our eyes to what is truly important in the short time we spend on this earth. Instead of being cranky complainers, it is high time we turned into happy encouragers, not just in these troubling times but all year round.

In the meantime, check out a good audio book, you'll be glad you did.
Happy Christmas!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Patience... it's a virtue

May I have a drum roll please? This is the last of the, "I've been meaning to write but haven't had time," posts and after publishing this will be officially caught up. I can only hope that this isn't the start of another drought of posting "more words to ponder".

I am the first to admit that I have a problem with patience, the problem being that with me, it is always in very short supply. The frightening truth is that it would seem the older I get, the less patience I have. Now I know the 2 people that read this post will probably say, "not Randy, he has all the patience in the world." I blush and say thank you for the very kind words, but they are in fact untrue. I don't have all the patience in the world, some days I would be hard pressed to fill a thimble full. And if I do seem to present a portrait of someone with near infinite patience to the outside world it is only through very well rehearsed acting and a considerable effort.

The emotion I do seem to have an over-abundance of is anger. It would seem to me that anger and patience usually have an inverse relationship to one another. In that the more you have of one trait, the less you have of the other, and vice versa. Now that my head is starting to hurt I must press on to the meat of this post so I can go and have a nice lie down.

The title of this post, "Patience... it's a virtue" starts with me back in my high school days in the marching band. How can I miss the quintessential test of patience that is the marching band? Don't you just love the word quintessential? It means the pure, concentrated, essence of anything. At any rate, in my high school days, the pure, concentrated, essence of a test in patience was playing in the marching band. Understand I was still a child, not yet married, and not yet a parent so I had yet to learn that the quintessential tests of patience change as we get older.

Marching band epitomized (I like that word too) a test in patience. It seems as if everything in the marching band required patience. You had to wait to load the bus, you had to wait to get on the bus, you had to wait to get off the bus, and you had to wait while the band director chewed out someone who was messing around. So my buddies and I came up with a song called, you guessed it. "Patience... It's a virtue." And it came to pass that whenever we felt patience ebbing away, we sang the song and let the blissful waves of patience envelope us and make us feel at peace. Nice thought, but it usually failed miserably. It was a good song though.

Of course, as I grew older I found more and more severe tests of patience. The first severe test was my 1st two years of marriage. Please don't get me wrong, I love my wife dearly and could not imagine life without her, but those first two years, my goodness, am I glad they are over. We had gotten married, the honeymoon was over, I had taken her from the only home she knew and moved her 200 miles away into a shoebox sized apartment. (married student housing at North Dakota State University is not known for its spacious living conditions). Times were rough. I spent many hours either working at one of my two part time jobs, going to classes, or doing homework. Very little time was left for us to spend together. What little time we did have was spent arguing about something or another.

After I finished college, we moved back to Mandan and then we started having children. How naive I was to think that two years of marriage would be my worst test of patience. Children, I really cannot think of any other extreme test of patience than raising children. Children don't just test your patience once, they do it on a daily (several times daily) basis.

So when people comment on my inexhaustible supply of patience, I try not to laugh. If I seem to have so much patience, it is only because I am tested on an almost daily basis. And it takes work not to lose control. Your patience has already been tested by just reading to the bottom of this long blog. So the next time you find yourself about ready to strangle someone. Stop, take a breath, think about what it is that's causing your anger to rise. Ask yourself if this is really worth losing your temper over. If you happen to have any fairy dust, sprinkle some of that on you and think happy thoughts, you might even get airborne. And if all else fails, sing my little song. Sing it with me now to whatever tune enters your mind, "Patience.... it's a virtue."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Enchanted Highway

OK, after this post I will only be 1 blog behind schedule. Pretty good huh? Please hold the applause until the end. Last month my family and I had the pleasant experience of traveling the Enchanted Highway. If you take Exit 72 South off Interstate 94 at Gladstone, North Dakota (20 miles East of Dickinson) and follow the road about 32 miles into the town of Regent you will have traveled this interesting piece of North Dakota landscape.

The enchanted highway consists of 7 of the "world's largest" metal sculptures erected at strategic points along the road between Gladstone and Regent. This first one, "Geese in Flight" is visible from Interstate. These pictures can only give you a taste. Only by visiting these sculptures close up can the enormity of these constructions be appreciated.

Like many people who live in close proximity to area attractions, I had never been there. I think locals tend to believe these attractions will always be there and we'll get there someday and then we never do. Also added is the fact that gas prices are not conducive to any unnecessary driving. And to be brutally honest. I had considered these to be just another cheesy tourist trap and not worth the time to experience.

I was wrong. My dad and step mom were still in town for their Summer visit and wanted to go. They had been on it before but there had been a couple sculptures added since the last time. Apparently, these monstrosities don't just appear overnight. It takes considerable effort constructing and putting them up for display. Here's another one which portrays a family of pheasants. There's a few chicks that are not pictured in the frame although you can see the head of one of them on the left.

We had a fantastic time driving, stopping, taking pictures, and visiting the whole way into Regent. I had particular fun at the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Statue. Part of the display is a wooden stagecoach and wooden horses that you can climb all over. I've got the Roosevelt component pictured but unfortunately the photo of me posing ridiculously on the stagecoach didn't make it to my memory stick. (maybe a future blog)

Here you can see my two children (aren't they adorable?) seated on two smaller grasshoppers. Grasshopperzilla (not pictured) towers above them off to the side. This is one of the attractions that has a small play area and picnic table so you can bring a lunch and enjoy it under the huge watchful eyes of a gigantic steel bug standing guard. Speaking of kids, this is a fairly "family friendly" journey. I don't believe I heard the words, "are we done yet?" one time during this whole experience, the kids traveled very well.

Now we come to my personal favorite sculpture, the fisherman's dream. (or maybe nightmare) To get an idea of the absolute size of the big rainbow trout in the back, take a look at the fisherman sitting in the boat. (You have to see his expression to try to determine if he is happy or scared out of his wits at the size of his catch.) This is an actual by George honest-to-goodness fishing boat. Picture a fishing boat in your head and put it up against that fish and hopefully you have an idea how huge this thing is. In addition to the trout you will find several other native North Dakota fish like the Northern Pike, Catfish, and the delicious walleye. (caution, steel sculptures are not edible)

Nearing the end of the tour we have the sculpture that started it all, the tin family. Ladies and gentlemen, you will more than likely remember the tin man from "The Wizard of Oz" but here we have a whole family. What I thought was interesting was the coils of barbed wire which formed the woman's hair. I can imagine what kind of comb you would need to get that mess under control in the morning. I also got a kick out of the metal lollipop the "little" boy is enjoying.

And then you come to Regent where the last sculpture on the tour is right in the middle of the town. We had lunch at a quaint little cafe and enjoyed some delicious home-made soup and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. (Thick, sliced ham, not the processed stuff). After lunch, we went to the shop next door and had some ice cream. I'm very partial to black licorice ice cream and the only places I've ever seen it are at the Happy Joe's in Dickinson and this gift shop in Regent. In yet another shop they have panini sandwiches and various coffee beverages. I would have liked to visit the museum. (I'm kind of a sucker for those things.) But the family wanted to head home.

If you want more information, you can visit the web site, http://www.enchantedhighway.net/ or even better yet, come and travel the Enchanted Highway yourself. It's worth seeing.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Farewell Dean

The first line in the Bismarck Tribune article read, "North Dakota lost a true friend Tuesday." Very fitting words as Dean Hildebrand had a lot of friends and did a lot of great things for the State of North Dakota and the people who live here. Fitting words but not enough. The words, "I lost a true friend Tuesday," would be more appropriate for me. Dean Hildebrand was the former director of the ND Game & Fish Department where I am currently employed. But he was much more than a boss. He was a truly kind and compassionate human being. Many of my co-workers feel the same way, some even went so far as to refer to him as "uncle Dean". Although I have never thought of him in that respect I did consider him a very dear friend. I am now about 3 blogs behind schedule. I've had things I want to write about but just haven't had the time. But I feel I have to write this before I can catch up on any of my other nonsense. This is my tribute to a man I feel very fortunate to have had the pleasure of working with for almost 10 years.

To say Dean cared about his staff is an understatement. Every year each employee received a handwritten card for their birthday. Each card would include everything Dean was thankful for whatever job it was you happened to do. Every card also included best wishes and greetings for our families. Dean was that kind of person. If he ever needed to talk to you about something work related, he never told you what he wanted without first sitting down and asking how your family was, how the kids were, and what they were up to. It was only until after he was satisfied with your family life did he get around to asking you about whatever the work related question was. A lot of times he didn't come to see you about work at all. He just wanted to know how you were. During one of the many "Dean discussions" we've had this week around the proverbial "water cooler", one of my co-workers commented on how the entire time my co-worker's son was deployed to Iraq, Dean made a weekly visit to ask how he was doing. You could set your watch for the Monday morning visit my co-worker received, Dean was that dependable.

Dean was also a fan of big band music and loved to go out dancing with his charming wife. I happen to play trumpet in a couple bands and the Elks club in Bismarck hires us on a fairly regular basis. Dean and his wife could usually be counted on to attend. I still remember the first dance we played that I noticed they were there. During our break he made a point to come over and tell us how much he enjoyed our music. He picked up a small place card that was promoting our band and took it home with him. He brought the card with him to work and must have told half the building what a great band I was in. There were very few people I work with that knew I even sang or played. I'm not one to "toot my own horn" (pun intended) so to speak.

Even after Dean retired December of 2005 he found time to stop by on occasion and make the rounds visiting people. One of his visits several months ago was after I had recently been promoted. He had heard about it (of course) and had to congratulate me and tell me what a good choice the department made and that he was sure I would do a fantastic job. I'm still not sure about that but I appreciated his sentiments. He had a "palm-breaking" hand shake that you had to watch out for because he loved to shake hands with people.

He was active in so many organizations, his church, and his family. You really wondered where he found time for everything. Our department web site http://gf.nd.gov/multimedia/news/2008/09/sp-news.html has a great tribute with some video and links to other places. I would encourage you to take a look at it and get to know this man who was once my employer but even more, a true and very dear friend. One thing all the people who knew Dean would agree on is that he embodied the personal philosophy that you should always try to leave the world a better place than when you found it. Mission accomplished Dean! You will be missed!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Where has the Summer gone?

It seems like it wasn't that long ago when I was half apologizing for not writing blogs because I didn't feel I had anything worthwhile to say. Now I've had all kinds of things to say, but just haven't had the time. This blogging stuff is a lot harder than it looks, at least for me.

I work for the North Dakota Game & Fish Department and for my section, Summer is our busiest season, particularly the months of July and August when we are running all our hunting lotteries, it amounts to about 4 weeks of running reports, looking at numbers, and checking results. We want to make sure the lotteries are fair and accurate. By the end of August I, who normally enjoy math and number-crunching, am so tired of looking at numbers and my finger is numb from punching a calculator and computer keyboard that I want nothing more than to take a long nap until Winter or else curl up with a great book.

After work, my "at-home" hours are usually spent in the yard, mowing grass, pulling weeds, and watering. Again I usually enjoy these activities, particularly after a busy day of staring at a computer screen, but by the end of August I think I will scream if I look at another weed, or have to pay another outrageous water bill or electric bill from running the air conditioner.

But enough complaining. I always try to preach life is not so much what happens to you, it's how you react to it. Always look for the bright side. I've done many wonderful, enjoyable activities this Summer. I've greatly enjoyed my Dad and step mom coming up for their annual Summer visit from Tuscon, AZ. This year, for the most part, the weather has been phenomenally cooperative and we've gone golfing, ate outside, and drove down the enchanted highway which I hope to blog about shortly. (I need to see if I can post pictures on this thing)

In four days I will turn 40 but my family threw a wonderful party for me last weekend because that worked out best for everyone to get together. My grandparents and uncles also surprised me by showing up for the occasion, reminding me again how I need to try to get to Minnesota more often to visit. Life is far too short.

I had a great time. I'm finding it much easier turning 40 than it was to turn 30. "A day which will live in infamy." For me, 30 was tough, it was like, "I'm no longer a kid" or "I expected my life to be different somehow" and other similarly ridiculous lines of thought. 40 is no problem, in fact I'm truly enjoying it, partly because my friend and fellow blogger http://steveatrandom.blogspot.com told me when I turned 39 last year that it was just like being 40 and went around telling everyone I was just as good as 40 anyway. So it seems like I got the "over the hill" business all over with. Thank you Steve!

So, I raise my 8th cup of coffee today in celebration (don't worry, decaf) here's to a great 40 years and hopefully another 40 + years to come. May I find myself spending even more time with family and friends whom I love dearly and enjoying the little things that make life worth living! And of course more regular blog posting : )

Friday, July 18, 2008

Kids grow up too fast

I had fantastic day Tuesday. There was free golfing all day in honor of Citizen week in Bismarck. My dad and step mom are in town for their Summer visit and my 9-year-old son recently took up golfing. So for the first time ever, we had a 3 generation golf outing. After a fabulous 9 holes we had lunch at the North American Steak Buffet (I know, my good day just keeps getting better).

So I'm sitting there in the booth just aglow in the warmth of my family. Having my dad and my son sitting with me was so precious I cannot put that into words. My dad left to load up his plate again so I was just sitting there with my son and I asked him, "so, whaddya think?"

With a response so fast I think it put a crick in my neck, my son said, "What do you want me to think?"

I was shocked! This is my son, my baby boy! I expected his face to get all red, I expected him to smile shyly and shrug his shoulders. I did not expect a snappy comeback. Recovering quickly, however, I asked him, "OK, how are you feeling?"

He looked at me with these big eyes and with all the seriousness he could muster, "dad, I'm feeling really happy." It took every ounce of will power I had not to burst out laughing he was so serious. I looked at him with all the seriousness I could gather and said, "Brian, if you're happy, then I'm happy."

Again, with yet another lightning comeback, Brian said, still very seriously, "no dad, if YOU're happy, then I'm happy." I couldn't help it. LOL!! If you've spent any time chatting with computers you more than likely have run across these three letters which mean "laugh out loud". Its a quick way for people to type how they are feeling. At that moment I was LOLing like nobodies business.

My son has a way of raising just one eyebrow I've wished my whole life I'd be able to do but I just wasn't blessed with the "one eyebrow raising" gene. Combining the raised eyebrow with his big eyes he has a look so quizzical as if to say, "are you nuts?" Brian was looking at me with this expression as I was laughing and laughing and laughing some more.

I took a long drink of iced tea and came to my senses again. Brian still had his eyebrow raised and I was afraid it would freeze that way so I said, "Brian we must be two very happy people."

Another snappy retort, "dad, I just don't get you sometimes." ROFLOL!!!! These letters mean "rolling on the floor, laughing out loud". Which I happened to be doing then. Brian had his eyebrow back up AND was shaking his head as if to say, "my dad has completely lost all his marbles." If I had a dollar for every time I just "didn't get" my children all my credit cards and my house would be paid off with money to spare.

Just then grandpa came back and asked, "What's so funny?"

Kids grow up too fast.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Be kind to others

Earlier this week my wife and I got into a spat. I know during our 20 years of marriage imagine us having a disagreement? It was nothing really, compared to the humdingers we had during the first 2 years when we were still getting the bugs out of the system. (computer term) We were still speaking to each other just not in the sugary sweet tones that are usually in our conversations.

We went to bed and she promptly rolled on her side with her back to me. I characteristically rolled my eyes and pulled out my recent issue of Guideposts magazine as I am wont to do. I read a story about a twin sister who died instantly from a stroke. The living twin was obviously going through a hard time. Both sisters were married with children and had planned a vacation at a beach where the women had spent their Summers growing up only this time the husbands and children would all be together. Now the 2 families were on the vacation dealing with one of them not being there.

With tears in my eyes, I turned my head and said, "honey, I love you." All I could think about was what if both of us went to sleep that night and only one of us woke up the next morning? How would the living person feel that the last words we spoke to each other were spoken out of irritation?

In Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthian's he tells us three things remain. Faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love. I'm not sure, but I believe there is also an East Asian proverb that says, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger." Wise words. Sage advice. I believe the foundation of the Christian faith is love. I believe when those of us are standing at the judgement seat of God we will be most seriously judged on how we treated others during our lives. Not just our friends and loved ones, but our enemies as well.

Loving our enemies is probably hardest to do. It's tough to love suicide bombers, child molesters and rapists, but I believe there is a great difference in loving a person but not loving a behavior. I'm not perfect, if I see or hear about someone being violated I'm going to get angry and if I'm able would probably take action to stop it occurring. But one of my daily prayers is, "Lord, help me to love others."

I love you,

Friday, July 11, 2008

Labyrinth Experience

This blogging business is much harder than it looks. I was all excited and created my first one and then haven't posted anything for over 2 months. Maybe my life is simply too uneventful to contain anything worth reading.

However, I did have a meaningful experience this week walking a labyrinth that I was amazed to find out is in the Bismarck area. But first a little background for those of you new to what labyrinths are. I've always been interested in puzzles and mazes are just one type of puzzle I grew up with and enjoyed as a pastime. Mythology has also been a long time interest and Theseus and the Minotaur was a familiar story of a hero going into a maze or labyrinth to defeat the Minotaur that dwelled at the labyrinth center.

But it wasn't until a "Touched by an Angel" episode on TV several years ago that I was introduced to the use of labyrinths as a spiritual enlightenment tool. Most of the puzzle type mazes or labyrinths are multicursal which means there are multiple paths some of which lead to dead ends. The spiritual type of labyrinths are usually unicursal which means there is only one path albeit a very long and winding one. To traverse a unicursal labyrinth all you need is a little patience and trust in the "path".

After the introduction from the TV show I didn't really think of labyrinths much after that. There wasn't any in my area that I knew of and I didn't know when I would ever be somewhere that had one. Then in a recent issue of Guideposts magazine there was an article about labyrinths as well and a reference to a web site to http://labyrinthsociety.org/ where you can search for labyrinths in a given area. Would you believe we have one right here in Bismarck at the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery located at the University of Mary? Information about this labyrinth can be found at http://www.annunciationmonastery.org/labyrinth.htm

So during my lunch break this week I went over to this site and walked it myself, it is open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year. It was, please pardon the pun, aMAZEing. Labyrinths are wonderful tools of reflection. As you walk slowly along the path you have plenty of time to purge any distractions and open yourself to seek a communion with God. You are proceeding toward a goal (center of the maze) which is much like our spiritual walk in our lives. You can pray, you can reflect, you can just enjoy the peaceful serenity of "getting away" from the daily routine. I truly enjoyed my walk towards the center which took about 15 minutes of normal walking speed. Once I got to the center I paused spending some time in quiet prayer, thanking God for the experience and the people that worked so hard to construct the labyrinth. My walk out was much faster and more purposeful as I found myself refreshed and renewed and ready to face once again the pressures and stress of the rest of my day.

Labyrinths are amazing things and I encourage you to try them out if you ever have the opportunity. I pray you will find yourself closer to God or at the very least a refreshing break from a busy life.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dedication and Introduction

My first blog! please bear with me as I learn the intricacies of this unique form of communication. First, to give credit where credit is due. Elroy Schuetz was the original author of "Words to Ponder", which was a regular article in our church newsletter. He was a great friend, mentor, counselor, and spiritual guide. He taught me more about life than anyone I know. Sadly, he passed away several years ago but his memory lives on in me. It is to his memory that this page is respectfully dedicated.

After Elroy passed away I have thought many times about resurrecting the column in our church newsletter but as so many of my ideas, I start out with such great and noble intentions only to have them sputter and die before they ever get started. Hopefully this blogging endeavour does not turn out to be another such idea. The thing that frightened me the most was having a monthly deadline to follow, I don't do well with deadlines. I didn't know if I wanted the pressure of having to create something every month. That's why I felt the blog site was a good idea, no pressure!

I was born in Fargo, ND and moved three times before 3rd grade before eventually settling down in Mandan, ND where I still am today. I've lived here so long I consider myself a native and Mandan will always be my home. I've always been kind of a technology junkie and cut my teeth on video games and practically lived at the roller skating rink and arcade every weekend (note that I said roller skates, not roller blades which are different things entirely) I always dreamed of writing computer games back then. That was my idea of a dream job.

But we all grow up whether we want to or not and after reality set in I settled on a career in Computer Science. It wasn't computer games but has been rewarding and something I enjoy. I was also very fortunate to be able to find a job that would allow me to live in the town where I grew up. I enjoy traveling a great deal but have never wanted to live any place else.

I married my childhood sweetheart 20 years ago this month and we have 2 wonderful children. Other than being too much in debt, like most of us I am sure, life really could not be any better. I am, and always will strive to be, an optimist. No matter how bad things get, I must always look for the bright spot.

So that is me in a nutshell, time will tell but hopefully at some point I will manage to create something others consider worthy of reading. My gratitude goes out to those of you who managed to make it to the end of my first blog. THANKS!