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, 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 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!