Category Archives: Daily Life

That’s Chief Petty Officer, to You!

When I was in elementary school, I suffered greatly from Middle Child Attention Deficit Disorder (MCADD). It was never diagnosed, but in hindsight, it seems clear that I had all the trademark symptoms:

  • A wildly-inflated view of my own importance in my family and in the world
  • A deeply selfish attitude toward my siblings and parents
  • A hair-trigger sensitivity to any perceived injustice
  • An insatiable desire for attention and privilege

A textbook case, as you can see. Of course, it was mostly my brother’s fault. Had he not been such a stalwart firstborn, oozing with virtue and a strong commitment to duty, perhaps my parents would not have been so entirely unprepared for a second-born who shared few (if any) of his brother’s character strengths.

When she could stand it no longer, my poor Mom would resort to sly sarcasm and insults.

Mom: “Have you considered a career in the Navy, Tim?”

This was odd, because our family (steeped in Army traditions) didn’t know much about the Navy except that they had strange-sounding ranks and presumably swabbed the decks a lot.

Me: “Not really, Mom. Why do you ask?”

I knew enough about my Mom’s slyness to be on guard.

Mom: “I was just thinking that some of the ranks might really appeal to you … “

Me: “Oh, really? Which ones? Admiral? Commodore? Commander?”

Mom: “No, I was thinking more in terms of ‘Petty Officer’.”

In our household, the word ‘petty’ was used to describe someone who was mean-spirited, small-minded, physically weak and cowardly, and in every way contemptible. Eustace Scrubb (from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader) in his pre-Dragon days was the template for this word.

So whenever my Mom wanted to tease and needle me for my lack of virtue, she would designate me as ‘Petty Officer’ or even (shudder) ‘Chief Petty Officer’. Howls of outrage ensued.

Jump forward with me, across the mists of time, some 40 years. My older two sons both participated in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program at a local high school, and David has decided to follow in their footsteps, these past 18 months.

David in his standard uniform, participating in a Military Order of the World Wars flag event.

David in his standard uniform, participating in a Military Order of the World Wars flag event.

Although he managed to distinguish himself early-on, receiving several quick promotions, there was a change in leadership in the program, and David found it difficult to gain the attention and favor of the new Commander, who also had no prior experience with David’s older brothers. Higher ranks tend to be awarded in direct proportion to the amount of time a student invests in the program, and David has been unable to spend very many extra hours at the school this year because (a) he doesn’t yet drive, and (b) the difficulty of his online classes through the Potter’s School.

And so he seemed to languish as an E-6, Petty Officer First Class, PO1. He went to the ‘boot camp’ 4-day exercise even though he was sick, and many of his peers were promoted, but not David. He waited for several months, yet each time merit promotions were awarded, David’s name was not on the list. It was a difficult time for him and for those of us who were watching.

Finally, I took David aside for some fatherly counsel. Since David is not a quitter, I felt free to explore some other options.

Me: “David, if the leadership of the program can’t see your obvious merit, maybe it is time for you to spend your time in a more profitable way.”

David: “Yeah, well, maybe you’re right … “

Me: “But … ?”

I could tell he was not yet ready to quit the program.

David: “If I can just get this next promotion, it would mean a lot to me.”

Me: “Why is that?”

David: “Well, if I can just get to the next rank, I can wear the SDBs.”

Suddenly it all became clear. Junior Navy enlisted uniforms are like most military uniforms the world around – they’re designed to be both uncomfortable and unattractive, and they succeed admirably. But the Service Dress Blues (SDBs), now, they are another story altogether. Even high school students look very sharp in SDBs, as we have noticed at previous Navy Balls attended by our older sons.

A couple of weeks ago, David came home with a uniform on a hanger and a wide smirk.

He always WAS a good lookin' kid.

He always WAS a good lookin’ kid.

“What’s that? Did you finally get promoted?”

I peered hopefully (and a little enviously) at the uniform on the hanger.

“Yep. These are my new SDBs,”

David waved the hanger gently in front of me. Light gleamed off the gold buttons, ribbons, medals and the sleek dark blue fabric. David’s patience had paid off in a big way.

I’m sure my Mom will be so proud – there is finally a Chief Petty Officer in the family.

Tim

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Back to the Grind

Today is the last day of my vacation from work — tomorrow I return to my ‘regular life’ of working for a living.

Already, David and Sarah are back at school, and Rachel and Daniel are working.

“But today is a Federal Holiday (Observed),” I complained to Sarah.

“Tell that to my Geometry teacher,” she rejoined, snappishly.

Apparently the Potters School is no respecter of Federal Holidays (Observed).

It has been a lovely vacation. I’ve been off since the 22nd of December, and have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to relax, watch Christmas movies, do some last-minute shopping, read books, and eat my way into a larger size shirt. Now, as I brace myself for my commute and the hurly-burly of a new work year starting, I am grateful for so many things.

  • I’m grateful for a God who loves me and who has saved me from my sin.
  • I’m grateful for a family who love each other and know how to have a lot of fun.
  • I’m grateful for many delightful Christmas presents, given and received.
  • I’m grateful that my employer is so generous with vacation time.
  • I’m grateful for a warm and comfortable home.
  • I’m grateful for a wife who loves me and makes my life fun.
We've had a few snowy days -- not enough to close the roads, but enough to make me grateful for the train.

We’ve had a few snowy days — not enough to close the roads, but enough to make me grateful for the train.

Even my ‘normal’ working life is pretty good, though it can’t compare with vacation-life. My job is not grueling, and I am permitted to work from home several days a week. Still, it is sometimes hard to gather the strength to face a new year, with all its ministry opportunities and difficulties. I guess this is right where God wants me, though — dependent on Him for my strength and joy.

Tim

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Fresh Starts

This morning Tim and I snuck away for a little date. Our church offers a worship service on Saturday nights, and we went last night before our big New Years Eve party, leaving this Sunday morning, Jan 1st, quiet and peaceful. 

I was given the January Starbucks mug for Christmas  (free brewed coffee or tea every day in Jan), and Tim wanted to take me out for my first cup. 

Coke Zero for Tim and dark roast blend for me. 

We had a sweet time talking about 2017 – some goals, plans for the month of January, and ideas for the blog. This will be our 25th year of marriage and 13th year of blogging. We’ve ranged from 4 blog posts last year (blush) to 405 in 2007 (wow).

We write mainly for our family – to chronicle our days and capture the special (and ordinary) moments. And we write to sharpen our thinking and express the truths the Lord reveals to us and honor Him in return. 

We are still reflecting and pondering how we will structure our family blog this year, but we have definitely committed to writing faithfully. 


May this new year be filled with joy, laughter, wonder, delight, mystery and growth. 

Kathy

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Secret Project

Some husbands travel a lot for their jobs – jet-setting about in dark suits for meetings in New York or conferences in Hong Kong. They rack up frequent-flier miles and dine out at upscale restaurants. They speed between airports and high-rise hotels in sleek black livery cars and bring home exotic souvenirs for their children.

Such a life is not for shabbily-dressed computer programmers, apparently.

Programmers spend much of their time slouched in poorly-lit cubicles, squinting irritably or dispassionately at jumbled, scrolling text and numbers on large black screens. From time to time they move the mouse, just to show that they are hard at work.

I was sent on a business trip, once. My destination: beautiful downtown East Alton, Illinois, where I spent a week in a windowless warehouse that had been converted into a data-center. Kathy and I were newly married, so we drove there together (from Connecticut) in our ancient Oldsmobile Cutlass-Ciera. Kathy read, journaled, watched daytime TV, and stared at the walls in our hotel room while I attended exciting presentations with titles like “The Proper Care and Handling of Magnetic Backup Data Tapes”.

The East Alton skyline

The East Alton skyline

Perhaps it is no surprise that Kathy has done most of the traveling in our marriage. As a homeschooling mom of five children, her schedule has allowed her to take advantage of invitations that others, in lock-step with public or private school schedules, must forgo. I generally encourage her to accept those invitations. After all, that is one of the well-deserved perks of home-schooling, which is not for the faint of heart.

Snack of champions

Snack cakes of champions

Whenever Kathy goes away, I try to accomplish some secret project, to show her that I love and appreciate her. I am always seeking to dispel her deeply-held conviction that, left to my own devices, I would stay home from work and play computer games the whole time she was gone, eating Little Debby Snack Cakes in my pajamas.

This is simply not true. I don’t even wear pajamas, except at Christmas.

Kathy’s Aunt Stephanie is a retired professor and an accomplished world-traveler, with friends and colleagues scattered willy-nilly across the globe. Some years ago, she began a generous practice of offering a trip to Europe to groups of her grand-nieces and nephews, when they reach their early-to-mid teenage years.

This year was Sarah’s turn, along with three of her cousins – so naturally, Sarah leapt at the chance to spend two weeks touring Italy. As this group of great-nieces range in ages from 11 to 15 (younger than the ones who have gone before), Aunt Stephanie graciously invited the parents to come as well. How could Kathy resist such an amazing opportunity! Dropping the two of them off at the airport, I sped home with plans and schemes of a secret project, dancing in my head.

Sarah, Aunt Stephanie, and cousins Aydia, Layla and Zoey

Sarah, Aunt Stephanie, and cousins Aydia, Lyla and Zoey

Kathy loves variety. She delights in fresh colors and designs and often coordinates our linens with the seasons. Summers typically include a project of some kind – painting a bedroom, decluttering the garage, etc. She simply cannot abide the idea of leaving her environment unchanged.

For this reason, and because we have 7 people in our family and beds of all shapes and sizes, we have acquired a goodly supply of bed-linens, and storage is always a challenge. We have a large, walk-in closet, but someone has rudely filled it with clothes.

Our bedroom is fairly large, and has a generous, south-facing double window, with a wide window-seat below it. Kathy has often critically eyed that window-seat, lamenting the lack of storage under the bench. “That window seat is just not pulling its weight,” she grumbles.

Stopping off for a quick errand on my way home from the airport, I suddenly realized what I could do to please and amaze my bride.

“Eureka!” I shouted, startling another shopper in the Little Debby Snack Cakes aisle of the grocery store. “I will tear down that useless window seat and replace it with a row of kitchen cabinets! Kathy will have enough storage for all the bed linens, comforters and towels her heart could possibly desire!”

The other shopper smiled nervously and edged away, clutching a package of Nutty Bars.

There was one tiny flaw in this plan: I am in the running for the title as the world’s slowest-working and most incompetent handy man. Home improvement projects involving the proper use of tools and materials are generally at least two trains and a bus ride outside my comfort-zone.

Undaunted by reality or reason, I began by removing the carpet and padding from the top of the existing window seat. I had measured the opening and found that, by some serendipitous miracle, the 9-foot width of the existing window seat would exactly translate into two 18-inch-wide cabinets and two 36-inch-wide cabinets. (This was later amended to 2×18” and 3×24” cabinets, which still happily adds-up to 108 inches.)

Setting my face like tapioca against discouragement or ridicule, I addressed the removal of the window seat. Exerting my sloth-like top speed, I had the plywood top removed in a mere four hours, revealing the attic over the garage and a five-inch recess beneath.

There's nothing quite like a reciprocating saw, to help you get in over your heard in a project.

There’s nothing quite like a reciprocating saw, to help you get in over your heard in a project.

I summoned several friends over to advise me, fearing that the removal of the window seat supports would result in the collapse of the wall that holds up the bedroom windows. They came gladly, chortling at my foolishness. “Don’t worry,” they assured me. “We’ll tell Kathy that we told you not to do this.”

There’s only so much chortling a handyman can take, even when he’s desperate for counsel, so I sent them packing and resumed my deconstruction efforts.

And so the project unfolded. Hours passed, in which I grimly studied the problem and considered alternatives. Never before, in the history of home projects, has so much thought produced so little actual work – but somehow, by the end of the second day, I finished removing the old window seat.

Nearly all of the window seat has now been removed .... but what is supporting the window wall?

Nearly all of the window seat has now been removed …. but what is supporting the window wall?

I found that the wall under the windows was apparently supported by wishes and prayers (or maybe it hung from the beam above), so I determined to support it with salvaged 4×4 post fragments (remnants of my fallen back fence).

I used the jack from the van to hold up the wall while I worked, and to make sure the 4x4's fit properly.

I used the jack from the van to hold up the wall while I worked, and to make sure the 4×4′s fit properly.

Shopping at Home Depot for the third or fourth time, I purchased the cabinets that would fill the space, but found that they would not quite fit into the recess beneath the former window seat. I would need to trim them a bit, which gave me a moment’s pause.

The cabinet looks tall because I haven't yet cut off the bottom and fit it into the recess of the window seat.

The cabinet looks tall because I haven’t yet cut off the bottom and fit it into the recess of the window seat.

“What we have here, is a sort of a crossing-the-Rubicon moment,” I mused. “Once I cut these cabinets, the good folks at Home Depot will be reluctant to let me return them, if Kathy doesn’t like what I’ve done.”

Over the years, I have come to recognize these critical junctures in time, if only by hindsight. For example, if I had actually attended some of my college classes, I probably wouldn’t have lost my ROTC scholarship. Or if I had made sure the emergency brake was on, before leaving my car on the ferry deck … well, you get my drift. There are often subtle clues.

On the other hand, surprise was a critical aspect of this project. If I consulted Kathy, it would give the whole thing away.

There is just no getting around it – I am getting older. By sheer attrition, I’ve acquired something that could pass for wisdom, at least in poor light. So I texted Kathy. “I need you to call me.”

As it unfolded, she did NOT actually want our bedroom dominated by a bank of large white cabinets, in spite of the sheer, glorious magnitude of storage they would provide. She wanted to keep the window seat, but to have storage under it. When she said, “I wish there was storage under that window seat”, she had apparently NOT meant, “That window seat must be reduced to rubble!”

I was disappointed.

“Rookie mistake,” my friend Peter told me, when I confessed that I had asked Kathy for her input. And so it seemed to me – back went the cabinets to Home Depot. Now I was faced with the unpleasant prospect of rebuilding the window seat I had so enthusiastically destroyed.

Whenever you do something to please another person, whether it is buying a gift or providing a service, there comes a moment when you have to face the question: “Am I doing this for them, or for me?”

All too often, the answer is that I’m doing it for me.

I managed to persuade Kathy that a discreet (unfinished) cabinet on each end would still allow room for a window seat in the middle, and so I installed the two end-cabinets and began the process of reconstructing the window seat, ably assisted by our two cats, who have probably been sending Kathy regular updates.

I admit, the unfinished cabinets will probably work a lot better with the overall decor of the bedroom.

I admit, the unfinished cabinets will probably work a lot better with the overall decor of the bedroom.

Suddenly, I realized that Kathy was coming home on Sunday, and it was already Friday evening. I rushed to complete salvage the project, since I had reduced our bedroom to a handyman’s war zone.

David shows off the two end-cabinets in his inimitable style.

David shows off the two end-cabinets in his inimitable style.

Except I had miscalculated, since I also needed to prepare for Sunday School and finish the Vacation Bible School attendance program that I have been (slowly) building for our church. Let’s just say that Saturday was a long day. I rebuilt the window seat that I had so blithely destroyed, and rushed to make the bedroom habitable.

I shang-haied some passing ruffian volunteers to stress-test the seat.

I shang-haied some passing ruffian volunteers to stress-test the seat.

Now all that remains is to make a cushion for the seat, panel the sides of the cabinets, and figure out how to acquire and hang doors on the front of the window seat itself. All in all, I think Kathy was thrilled (even if she wasn’t surprised)

Tune in later (no promises how long it will take) for the final rendition!

The not-quite-finished product.

The not-quite-finished product.

Tim

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Young Eagles

As Kathy and I have aged (yes, I’m afraid it happens to nearly all of us) we have noticed a troubling trend: that our children tend to grow into their teen years, start driving, develop their own distinctive interests, and eventually leave the house. This last school year has been unusually quiet, with Joshua, Rachel and Daniel all away at their colleges.

That is not to say that David and Sarah are TOO terribly quiet. David plays the piano (and occasionally the drums) and Sarah can be counted on to fill the house with the sound of her Les Miserables soundtrack day and night. But it cannot be avoided: there is a big difference between five children and two, if only in terms of the noise they make stomping up and down the stairs and slamming doors.

When the kids were growing up, we worked hard to foster a strong sense of family identity, favoring relationships inside the family over outside friends or interests. It seemed to us that if our children could become lifelong friends with each other, this would be a good and precious thing. And so we scheduled family movie nights, celebrated every possible occasion, played lots of games, and generally strove to make our home a warm, cheerful, fun place to be.

Joshua helped me sample a fresh batch of smoked brisket ...

Joshua helps me sample a fresh batch of smoked brisket …

And yet, the kids had different inclinations, and the age and maturity gaps between them sometimes seemed insurmountable. As our boys have grown into young men, and our girls have blossomed into young ladies, their interests have typically diverged even further. Kathy and I sometimes worried whether our kids would choose to be close to each other after they were grown.

Now, as the college kids are returning home for the summer, a new and delightful joy has gripped our home, as our kids rediscover and enjoy each other, more than ever. Whether it is Daniel teaching Rachel how to ride a longboard, or watching all of them play a dice game together at the kitchen table, there is a deep and satisfying delight in seeing their relationships with each other deepened (or in some cases, reforged).

A quick game of Splendor

Or maybe a quick game of Splendor

To add to the fun, Joshua and Kelsie have arrived on a whirlwind visit from Tennessee, and my heart is full, having all the young eagles back in the nest for a few moments.

Admittedly, the 'nest' is a pseudonym for the 'table', much of the time.

Admittedly, the ‘nest’ is a pseudonym for the ‘table’, much of the time.

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