Administrative Announcement

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Due to the incessant bombardment of automated blog ‘comments’ advertising online poker and other less savory ‘offerings’, I have reluctantly shut down the comments feature on my weblog. Please feel free to e-mail me with any comments.

On a gentler note, may the Lord bless you and bring you joy on this glorious Christmas Eve.

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Veteran Shopping Bringham Cousins

Another weekend has gone by, and Christmas rapidly approaches. I am always astounded at how quickly Monday morning arrives, especially when my alarm goes off. Today was a very good day in that I found a back exercise that gives me some relief from the pain of a recent injury. In the past ten days, I have experienced considerable pain in getting out of bed … my vertebrae seem to bitterly resent the transition from recumbent to vertical. It has frequently taken me 10-15 minutes of sitting cross-legged on the floor, rocking in pain, before I could walk comfortably to the bathroom or stand in the shower. Today I tried lying on my back and bringing both knees up toward my chest, holding them there for 45-60 seconds … hurray, it seemed to work, and I was able to get out of bed with nothing more than the usual morning sluggishness! How delightful that our bodies can heal, thanks be to God!

Our packages are pretty much all mailed off, except for one or two gifts that are not time-sensitive. Now our attention turns toward the impending arrival of the Kansas Edgrens. My brother is not able to get away from the demands of his job this season and so will remain in Korea … we will miss his sardonic wit and silliness, among other things. But Elizabeth, Timothy, Rebecca and Samuel arrive this afternoon, with much fanfare. I wonder how much it would cost to hire a small brass band to provide some genuine fanfare … I guess you need at least two trumpeters and a French horn … I’m not sure what the standards are for this kind of thing. It would be fun to meet them at the gate with a small celebratory band. Admittedly, airport security would never cooperate unless they were incentivized, but it could probably be arranged. Maybe I should have stuck with my studies as a trumpeter, even though I never got past third chair.

It is getting pretty grim as Kathy and I squabble with my parents for our fair share of time with ‘the cousins’. A lot of people think my Mom and Dad are sweet, godly people … but they don’t know the ugly truth. Last night I tried to put in our family’s bid for a few small social engagements with Elizabeth and the kids … but I was firmly rebuffed. My folks obviously intend to hog the Kansas Edgrens for themselves, abusing their position as host, with no regard for propriety or fair play. It is sad to see two people reach such depths of moral deterioration in their dotage, but I guess it is just a lesson to us all, to be on our guard. Even Solomon turned away from God in the last days of his life. But I’m struggling with the shame of it all … this is just not the kind of thing you expect to see in your own parents!

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My parents aren’t complete ogres. They did invite us over to dinner, so we could at least see our beloved relatives.

On Saturday I took the older kids out shopping … it was quite a madhouse out there. We were foolish enough to attempt Tacoma Mall as our first stop … it took 15 minutes to get from the highway exit to the parking lot, and 20 minutes to get out! The mall is a stone’s throw from the highway. It was maddening watching the traffic on the other side of the fence zip along as we sat motionless behind half a billion shoppers. The stores were crowded and the lines were long … my back was aching from the outset. But I was impressed with my older three … they were surprisingly generous in spending their accumulated wealth on their siblings and cousins, and not once did I hear the dreaded words, “Can I buy something for myself?” For reasons of secrecy, I went through the checkout line three times (once with each of the older three) … not my idea of a fun time. We moved on to visit Ross’, Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble and finally Target, each time waiting through the lines. The line at Ross’ was so long that I ruthlessly abandoned Joshua to it and took the other two kids to Bed, Bath & Beyond … we made a circuit of the whole store and returned to Ross’, finding Joshua still in line. He was not particularly amused, but bore it without too many recriminations. I had fortified each of the children with a Slurpee after our harrowing escape from Tacoma Mall, so their spirits didn’t begin to flag until we finished Target (where the checkout lanes were blessedly short). Heading home, I began mischievously suggesting additional shopping destinations, while the kids chanted “Home, home, home” at the top of their lungs. A proposed visit to Ikea (40 minutes to the north, and known to be extremely crowded) brought out the most strident opposition, and so we returned home as conquering heroes.

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I thought that Rachel really handled the news well, that we needed to go back to Tacoma Mall on Sunday.

The Bringhams came to visit us Saturday evening, arriving in time for supper and staying late into the evening, to celebrate Tom’s 50th birthday and to either celebrate or mourn the outcome of Tom’s recent application to the postmaster position in Brinnon. As we discovered, he did not get the job … I was encouraged by the way he bore the news cheerfully. It is hard when God says ‘No’, even when we trust Him to do the best thing.

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The birthday boy himself, complete with entourage.

Our original plan had been to visit “ZooLights” … an elaborate Christmas light display offered by the Point Defiance Zoo. So after dinner we all piled into our respective minivans and drove to the north end of Tacoma, only to find that the entire population of Pierce County was there before us. People were parking on the street a half-mile from the zoo parking lot (which was presumably also full). Wisely deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we turned our minivans around and headed back to the house for cake and ice cream. Still not very familiar with Tacoma, I led us haphazardly through some of the less-well-known neighborhoods until we finally found our way to a recognizable route home. The Bringhams stayed and talked fairly late, considering they were facing a 90-minute trip home … Tom left with Jeremiah and Teddi around 10 pm, but Casey and Annjanette stayed until after 11:30 pm. It was a delightful visit that brought back many happy memories of late-night gatherings in the Duckabush.

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Sarah sure loves her ‘Aunt’ Casey.

Sarah and David have both been sick over the weekend, suffering from various flu-like symptoms, and so I stayed home with them and with Daniel while Kathy attended the Lake City church with the older two. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to go Christmas caroling at the nearby Veterans’ Hospital … I took the older three and joined my parent’s Sunday School class. It was very sad to see the people at the Hospital … they seem to be the wreckage and driftwood of humanity, cast up on a cold and uncaring rocky beach far from the warmth of home. Many of them showed little comprehension of the reason for our visit, staring blankly at us without expression as we sang. Our society is so shielded from any encounter with old or handicapped people … I was glad to have the opportunity to show this side of life to the kids.

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A True Birthday Blog

This December 9th our dear daughter, Rachel, turned nine years old. We all thought it was very fun that she was turning nine on the ninth. Birthdays, as you know (if you’ve been reading this blog over the past year) are something to be celebrated in a big way in our family. We had a birthday party in the works, but the birthday girl and the Birthday Coordinator couldn’t come to an agreement on the plan. It was amusing to watch the two (Rachel and Joshua) work it out — or rather not work it out. Rachel wanted an animal-themed party, but we’ve done that before and the subject was ‘boring’ to Joshua. The ideas Joshua presented were rejected by Rachel. Finally I suggested we have a friend over for the weekend and abandon the whole party idea.

Everyone agreed with that plan and I was off the hook for party decorations and organizing. Whew!

This year Rachel’s birthday fell on a Thursday (excellent planning on her part) so Tim was able to be around for the whole day. Joshua got up early and fixed a lovely breakfast for Rachel (and the rest of us). Rachel decided to have her breakfast ‘on the couch’ rather than in bed — probably due to the fact she’s now sleeping in a bunk bed. It makes it a little difficult to serve breakfast, and it is hard to explain syrup stains on the ceiling.

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Princess for the Day, low-budget crown notwithstanding.

We took the day off from school and Rachel had a wonderful time playing with all of her presents. A friend had given her a Strawberry Shortcake horse the day before, so Daniel and I arranged for Tim to pick up another horse and a little doll to join the set. Rachel was so surprised that she would get some coordinating toys. She was delighted with her new things and spent the day wearing her new in-line skates and playing with toys.

In the afternoon Tim’s mom called and said she had a birthday cake for the Nine Year Old Girl and asked if she could bring it over. My goodness! No party to plan, a birthday breakfast chef in the family, and a gorgeously decorated cake delivered to my door. What more could a mother ask?

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To Rachel’s sadness, this is the only kitten she’ll be getting this year.

Rachel opened some presents with Grandma (Grandpa was out at the property working on the Retreat Center building). We had dinner in the dining room with our fancy china plates and crystal glasses. We even enjoyed sparkling cider with our meal. Dinner consisted of Rachel Favorites—macaroni and cheese (Kraft box), pears and little smokies. I’m almost embarrassed to write the menu.

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Kids, don’t try this at home — leave it to the paid professionals.

After dinner Tim’s mom came over to join us for cake and ice cream. It was a lovely celebration! The next day Leanne came over to spend the weekend. She joined us in two plays, a neighborhood party, and church. A busy, fun weekend.

I’m very proud of the young girl Rachel is growing up to be. She loves the Lord, is eager to read and learn new things. She loves honesty and justice. She cares for her little brother and sister and delights in their sweet ways. She can reach beyond her age and play with Joshua as well as relax and have fun with Daniel. She is a very satisfactory daughter and I’m pleased to be her mother.

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Sisters forever.

Lately we’ve been enjoying some mother/daughter shopping times in the evening. One night there was an accident at a store downtown and Rachel was eager to return home safely. She said to me, “In case we don’t make it home, I want you to know I love you. You have been a good mother to me.”

Precious moments.

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Doing the Hustle

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing at work recently … mostly phone screens to weed through candidates for some of the open positions in my group. One recent candidate actually refused to answer a technical question I posed to him over the phone … not a promising sign for someone who purportedly wants a job. My employer prides itself on ‘raising the bar’ with respect to hiring new employees … the interview process is quite grueling. I suspect that I was hired on largely because of my hard work while a contractor … I doubt I would have been hired on the basis of my interview alone. It is humbling to see people who are more qualified than I be turned away … it makes me wonder if there is a future for me in this job. Yet I am reminded that my future is determined not by my employer or by my abilities, but by my Master, who seems to have placed me here for His own purposes.

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Our tree this year is not up to our usual 9′ standards, but it is a well-sculpted, cute little tree, and we’re proud of it.

I am slowly becoming more experienced and improving my skills in Perl, but there is not a lot of scope for such improvement because of the extent of less challenging work. Most of my time is spent writing test plans and manually testing various system components, rather than writing code to perform the testing. I am beginning to assemble considerable knowledge of the systems I support, but I’m not sure how valuable that will be to me in my ongoing career. In my experience, many employers seriously undervalue the accumulation of business knowledge by their employees … they seem to believe that there is enough overlap of such knowledge that they can afford to let experienced employees go, either through layoffs or pay practices that are not competitive. It seems a penny wise, pound foolish philosophy, but is nevertheless widespread.

Lately the train has been full … perhaps as we approach the darkest and wettest time of the year, more people are unwilling to stand at bus stops or drive in the rain. I find that I usually have to share a table with two or even three other passengers, which can be a bit snug. One day recently I was typing away on some blog entry or other, and I noticed that a passenger beside me kept reading as I wrote. It made me rather uncomfortable … I usually get a chance to edit and rephrase before anyone sees what I write. We humans such strange, social beings … why should I care what a total stranger thinks of my rambling? And yet it stopped me from writing some of the things that I would ordinarily have said.

Kathy seemed discouraged last night … she feels overwhelmed by the competing priorities of home-schooling and parenting, not to mention the ongoing burden of keeping the house. She misses the teenagers who were available to help when we lived in the Duckabush. Once I started this job in April, she began hiring several helpers for as much as ten hours a week. She seems to feel that she is neglecting the older kids’ schooling and not giving David and Sarah enough attention … truly a lose/lose situation. My parents are helping, frequently babysitting and tutoring the older three … but Kathy still seems to feel that she isn’t able to do a good job in the time allotted. I certainly know how that is, feeling much the same way about my work situation … I wonder if there is something that can be done?

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‘Big Blue’ is a major help to Kathy in her read-aloud time, as demonstrated by showroom models, here.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed during this season … so much to be done by Christmas. Neither Kathy nor I do very well when faced with a deadline … we both tend to procrastinate and many things end up slipping between the cracks. Last night I finally paid some bills that badly needed paying … but there are still several Christmas gifts that need to be sent to out-of-town relatives, and we are rapidly approaching (if not already passing) the shipping deadline for packages to arrive by Christmas.

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Of course the season is not without rewards, such as this princely Christmas basket sent by Kathy’s Uncle Jim & Aunt Kay.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle it is easy to forget why it is that we celebrate Christmas. Joshua is memorizing Luke 2:1-19 and Kathy is doing a fairly detailed study of Advent with the kids each day. I think we just need to get our shopping and shipping done, and settle in for a delightful season of joy, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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A Birthday Blog with hardly any mention of the Birthday Girl

Another Monday has come upon us, and I find myself unready. Weekends never seem to contain enough hours to do what I need to do. I had hoped to work on our Christmas newsletter, to wrap (and mail off) presents to out-of-town relatives, do several hours of work, and pay some bills; yet none of these things happened. I guess those tasks weren’t as important as I thought. I rarely seem to do a good job in managing my time … procrastination seems to be my destiny. Of course, this is a time of year when most people feel the squeeze … I suppose it is nice to know that I am not alone.

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Sarah aspires to a career as a vocalist.

Yesterday we re-visited the Lake City church … I still find myself holding on to the church we have been attending for the past month or so. We attended a Sunday school class as well as the worship service. The longer time in the nursery was apparently hard on Sarah and David … when I came to pick them up after church, Sarah looked like she was ready to cry at any moment. Usually our kids are so comfortable and easy in nurseries … it made me sad to look at her tragic little face, even though I know it was mostly an act. I’m guessing there was some kind of altercation with another child … when I checked on them earlier, Sarah and David were both scowling blackly at a little girl who sat next to them during Song Time. It is funny to see David be so protective of his little sister … I guess, like brothers everywhere, he bitterly resents anyone poaching on his exclusive prerogative to beat up on Sarah.

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David often ‘reads’ to Sarah — he is a good brother, no matter how I may malign him.

We had Leanne over for the weekend, which always shakes up our family dynamic. Rachel doesn’t do well when she gets tired, and the girls do tend to stay up late, talking. Leanne is so gracious and easy to be with, sometimes we hardly notice that she is there. Joshua complains, though: “If you had to ‘adopt’ another girl, did you have to pick one that is taller than me?” I guess a couple of inches make quite a difference.

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Leanne and Rachel, thick as thieves.

Come to think of it, I recently had a similar experience. Before attending the annual Scrooge musical at a local church (a near-Broadway production, with 100+ in the cast) we attended a Christmas party at a nearby friends’ home. When I walked in the door, I immediately noticed that all of the men present were taller than me by a good three inches, at least. Honoring a house preference, I had taken off my shoes, so I was bereft of even that half-inch advantage. At 5’11″ and over 200 pounds, I don’t usually consider myself a small person … it was strange to be so comparatively short, if not particularly less bulky.

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Two of my girls, in the days before Big Blue (our new double-recliner) was delivered.

The Scrooge Musical presented by Covenant Celebration Church in Puyallup was glorious, as usual. Rachel says that since we have now attended three years in a row, this has become a “Tradition”. The performance is a distinct departure from some of the more secular interpretations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol — there is a strong (almost heavy-handed) Christian message in the play that only the most determined could overlook. Although I am very fond of Dickens’ original work, I think that the Christ-centered version is a considerable improvement … long-term change in Scrooge’s character is only believable within the context of a changed heart and the power of the Holy Spirit. This year there were few surprises, and I found that much of my enjoyment came in observing my children. Joshua, in particular, seemed to deeply savor the performance, frequently laughing so loudly that I could clearly hear him over the sometimes-deafening music. The simulated snow falling on the audience at the end of the performance was a big hit with kids and grown-ups alike … there is something magical about snow, even the soap-bubble variety.

Friday night we attended a local amateur production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a charming story about a church Christmas pageant that is transformed by the participation of a family of un-churched thug-children. Smoking cigars in the ladies room and guzzling the communion grape juice, the six Herdman children end up playing all of the major roles in the pageant. As it is unveiled to them, the Herdmans react to the Christmas story in ways that seem funny to those of us more familiar with the story … Joseph wants to threaten the innkeeper, and the three wise men make plans for a commando raid on Herod’s palace. But it is the oldest Herdman girl, playing Mary, who experiences the deepest change, holding the plastic doll tenderly as she comes to grips with the awesome vulnerability of the Savior. It was a very poignant moment, and I was privileged to see it. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for buying our tickets and watching Sarah and David!

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