Monday, April 21, 2008

Little Women

Maddie and I got to have a girls outing where we went to see the musical Little Women put on by a local high school. I love the book and the movie but had never seen the musical (had no idea there was one). It was a really sweet rendering of the story and the students did a great job. I especially was moved by these lyrics that Marmee sings to Jo after Beth's passing:

So Believe that she matters!
And Believe that she always will!
She will always be with you!
She'll be part of the days you've yet to feel!
She will live in your bounty!
She will live as you carry on your life!

So carry on,
Full of Hope,
She'll be there,
For all your Days of Plenty.

Maddie was especially impressed by "the girls and their preeeetty dresses" and she really liked the professor. I think she showed good taste in her little critique. Later that evening Tom had run Cole out to a b-day party and Isaac and I were finishing up after dinner clean-up while Maddie and Si were outside. I happened to glance out the window to see this picture:

She was just talking up a storm to her little doll Emily. Then she proceeded to "teach Emily how to play hopscotch." I am proud to say I put away the dishrag and went out to sit on my frontporch and watch the best show in kids!

bouillon anyone?

This dear, dear beautiful boy of mine is at such a crazy and fun little stage in life. He recently raided the spice drawer, opened up the jar of bouillon cubes (screwed lid), unwrapped one of those shiny papered cubes and was trying to eat it. I caught him at this point but he didn't realize I was there yet. The funniest part was after he tasted it he made no puckered face...just calmly started wrapping it back up to put back in the jar. As if I wouldn't know?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

the gap

It has been five years ago, today that my Dad left this earth...and our daily lives. My Mom had part of the following quote inscribed on his grave:
"Nothing can make up for the absence of one whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other; even at the cost of pain."

My Dad never had a son...but I think all his longings for one were fulfilled (and then some) through the special bond he formed and preserved with Rob, one of his first riverguides. Rob wrote the following for my Dad's funeral.

To have even one set of great parents is to know good fortune, but from the ages of 13 to 21, I had two sets, at least during my summers. I lived and worked with Ed and Thalya on their river business in Ohiopyle and up in Canada for 9 summers. My youngest son Jamie still refers to Thayla as my "summer mom". It's hard to convey just how good those summers were or the lasting influence they have had on my life.

I was 12 years old when I sat in the front of one of Ed's canoes and paddled my first whitewater. At that moment it felt as if my life had finally gotten underway. I immediately knew a world had opened. The child-like wonderment of being swept along on moving water was a revelation. Today, some 37 years later, I am still in awe.

Two weeks after that first river outing, Ed was leading a 5 day canoe trip in Algonquin Park in Canada. I pleaded with my parents to let me go. The trip was all I hoped for. By day we paddled rapids and swam in rivers, at night we camped and cooked out. I saw the Northern Lights and caught my first really big fish.

And while every one on that Canadian trip had a good time, for me it was more than that. I had found my calling and life's desire at an early age. I think Ed recognized this in me and, as someone who was similarly afflicted by moving water, he took me under his wing.

The following spring, Ed called to see if I wanted to spend the summer working with him on the river. I was 13 years old and could scarcely believe this was for real. I accepted his offer on the spot without even realizing this was to be a paid position. That first summer I made $35/week doing something I'd have gladly done for free. And as the year was 1968 - it was as they say "some real money back then."

Summer life with the Colemans was the best. We lived in an old Grange building in Mill Run, PA. Ed & Thayla and their children lived upstairs and the guide staff lived downstairs. Depending on the year, there were anywhere from 7 to 12 guides living there full-time. We had meals together, Thayla cooked breakfast & dinner. As a teenager, it all seemed perfectly normal that an adult couple with two young kids and ultimately three when Jenny was born, would choose to spend their summer living and working with a group of guides ranging in age from their early teens to early 20's.

I just assumed Ed & Thayla were having almost as much fun as I was. Don't get me wrong, I know they have some great memories from that period of their life, but as a parent of 3 kids myself, I can look back on it with a clear sense of wonder for all they had taken on. Talk about complicating your life a little. I have kidded Thayla that were she a Catholic instead of a Methodist, she would surely be a candidate for sainthood.

Ed & Thayla's spiritual faith was always evident to me. Some of it in obvious ways like prayers before meals, or the fact they always went to church on Sundays and would not run river trips on the Sabbath. But mostly their faith was revealed in how they treated me and the other guides. They were kind, both giving and forgiving, and trusting. They had the ability to enjoy much of what is good in this world without ever belonging fully to it.

As good an influence as the Colemans were on the guide staff, I believe we were also good for them - we definitely expanded their capacity for patience and humor - patience because when your business depends mainly on teenage work force there are always things that don't happen quite like you planned, and humor for the same reason. I can only recall three times in nine summers when Ed really yelled at me - and in each case I was fully worthy of his admonition.

My relationship with Ed grew as I matured. But even from the start he never treated me like a kid. He instilled in me a powerful work ethic and gave me substantial responsibility at an early age. A lot of the time, our day to day relationship was consumed with the details of getting raft trips on and off the river.

But there were times we talked at length about the enduring matters of human existence which, for Ed, tended toward running rivers and religious faith. I remember in particular a drive to Canada with Ed. It was 14 hours from the Grange in Mill Run to Algonquin Park in Ontario. I was 16 years old and had recently gotten my drivers license. Ed let me drive the truck and trailer - a clear case of questionable judgment on his part. I did pretty well on the interstate through Pennsylvania and New York but before I knew it we had crossed at Niagara Falls and were on the Queen Elizabeth Way around Toronto - 6 lanes in each direction at 75 mph and no place to pull off. At first, it didn't occur to me that I was in over my head driving-wise but this fact was rapidly becoming apparent to Ed. I know there were moments with me at the wheel that day when Ed felt closer to his Maker than he had ever wanted to be during mid-life.

Of course we talked about river stuff during the drive but also about religion. ed was the first adult with whom I had ever explicitly asked or talked about faith and religion in a serious way. With my parents it was something I just assumed but never really delved into. While I viewed Ed as an adult, not my peer, there was something about him that seemed oddly accessible to me when it came to these matters. In my teen years, neither school nor church held my interest at all but I read extensively and thought a lot about the ideas I encountered.

I can't remember which of us first broached the topic of religion that day. It may have been Ed, fresh from our near-death experience 10 miles earlier but I was definitely in. I asked him about every religious quandary that was on my 16 year-old mind.

How did he reconcile scientific inquiry with religious teachings, what about evolution theory and did it present the same quandary to his faith that Galileo had posed for the Catholic Church? How did he discern what was truly divine in his faith tradition from what was added by men along the way, how much dissent could be tolerated, how much of the Bible did he see as literal truth versus allegory and metaphor, what did he think various Bible stories were actually about, did he believe that Christ was really born of a virgin and why should that matter anyway and how likely would that have been, and what about people of other faiths....I just went on and on. As I said, it was a 14 hour drive.

Ed endured my inquisition with considerable grace. He was neither defensive nor dismissive about what I was asking. He may have wondered a bit about just what kind of spiritual formation I had been exposed to but he saw my questions as heartfelt. He did his best to explain to me how and what he thought about these issues. He was less doctrinaire than I expected. Ed was a very intelligent man. He told me faith rarely emerges fully formed. He said that the intellect is not the only or necessarily the best way to faith. That the kind of discussion we were having was intellectually interesting but probably not productive from a spiritual standpoint. That it was unlikely I could be argued into a faith that would be worthwhile or sustaining. I think he was a little tempted to try but wisdom got the best of him. In the years afterwards we would, from time to time, revisit this topic.

In addition to Ed & Thayla, some of the best friends I have are fellow guides I worked with during those summers. I also met my wife, Dee when we were 16 and working on the river in Ohiopyle. We married in 1977 and have sustained our love of each other, our 3 kids and moving water ever since.

What's funny is that whenever I get together with old river guides, invariably what we end up talking about are stories from the summers we spent on the river, living with the Colemans. And it's not as though nothing has happened in our lives during the past 30 or so years - honest- we've fallen in love, gotten married, had kids, raised kids, worked at real jobs and careers but what we always come back to are the amazing memories from our river days. They were that good. Life on the river had its own rhythm. Each day was long but had a beginning and end. At night sleep came easily without nagging thoughts of unfinished business. Each day started anew. I think I speak for most of my comrades when I say it was the best job I ever had.

Ed was truly one of the pioneers of Eastern whitewater. He and Thalya built a successful company in a brand new industry. He developed one of the best guide staffs to be found on water. He had no formal management training but ran trips on rivers in the US and Canada simultaneously. He did the first rafting runs on the Ottawa river in Canada in 1974. Several of the guides who worked for Ed now own rafting companies in the US, Canada and Costa Rica. Two of these companies are the larges of their kind in North America. If you paid attention there was a lot you could learn from Ed. He always had ideas and it never occurred to him that he couldn't make them work.

For me Ed was a teacher, a mentor and a friend. I am glad that my kids had the chance to know him. I often remind them that many of the activities I love doing with them are things I learned from Ed.

One of the things that most inspired me about Ed was that his love for whitewater remained with him throughout his life. It wasn't a business he used to be involved with, it wasn't a hobby he outgrew or decided he had become too old to pursue. It was an enduring passion that he loved to share with others. It was, if you will, Ed's other gospel. While I concede it is possible to live a reasonably full life without knowing the joy of moving water, it has never been this way for me and I know it wasn't like this for Ed.

It was little more than a year ago when Ed last accompanied family and friends down to Ohiopyle to go rafting. By that time his disease had progressed to where he could no longer join us on the river. But for Ed, just being there to see the trip off and meet us at the end of the day was enough. I will be a happy man if I can run rivers as late into my life as Ed did.

In our mind's eye we carry pictures of those we love, the way we remember them best. With Ed, the picture I have is how he would get on the Canadian canoe trips...about 2 days into it when he was pretty relaxed and there was nothing left for him to worry about...he would just be smiling contentedly as though he knew exactly why God put him on this earth.

The last in-depth conversation I had with Ed took place about 2 years ago in early spring. Ed and I were taking some rafts to a place in Northern Pennsylvania for some repair work. Ed wanted to make sure the fleet was in good shape for the summer season. It was a gorgeous day and we had a three hour drive to get there. At times, Ed had to work a bit to hold on to his train of thought or search for a word, but he was in a really talkative mood and definitely glad to be getting ready to go rafting. He was remembering a lot of things from his early days, thing I hadn't heard him speak of before. He also talked about his plans for the future. He asked how things were going in my life.

It was good to be with him. My father had died several months earlier and I was still dealing with that loss. I sensed that Ed's illness was progressive, that time was no longer his friend. I was able to be with my dad in the hours before his death. I remember needing to make sure I thanked him for all he had done for me. It was one of those times when words are so incredibly inadequate, but they're all you have and you need to say them.

That spring day int he truck with Ed, I wanted him to also know how much my life had been shaped by his presence, how grateful I was for what he had taught me, for the interest he had shown me, how inspired I was by his accomplishments. So... I told him - I think I got a little emotional - Ed seemed genuinely touched and surprised to learn that he figured so large in my life and that I held his accomplishments in such regard. To me, all that I told him seemed like it should have been self-evident. Maybe at some level it was but it mattered to me that he knew my mind and heart.

It saddens me to know I will not see Ed again in this life. I believe he is in a better place. He was a great friend who I loved dearly.

I'd like to end with two brief quotes from Sigurd Olson. In all the years I knew Ed, there were only two books he suggested I become well acquainted with - one was the Bible and the other was the collected works of Sigurd Olson. Olson was a canoe guide and college teacher who, like Ed, was born in Wisconsin and began his canoeing in the Quetico region of Northern Minnesota.

These quotes are from the essay, The Way of a Canoe and they remind me of Ed:

"Only fools run rapids but I know this: as long as there are young me with the light of adventure in their eyes and a touch of wilderness in their souls, rapids will be run. And when I hear tales of smashed canoes and lives as well, though I join in the chorus of condemnation of the fools who take such chances, deep in my heart I wish them bon voyage. The elements of chance and danger are wonderful and frightening to experience and though I bemoan the recklessness of youth, I wonder what the world would be like without it. I know it is wrong but I am for the spirit that makes young men do the things they do. I am for the glory that they know."

And lastly...

"There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Tom and I have been taking Dave Ramsey's class, Financial Peace. So far, we are enjoying it and picking up some great tips...but I think both of us would say that our favorite part of the class is just being together and purposefully dreaming about tomorrow. My one big caveat with him is step #7 where he says then you will be "the rich getting richer" and while he says this is the goal so that you will be enabled to give more, I'm still left going "huh?"

Anyways, I digress, my point in posting is to talk food budgets. Friends of ours are teaching this class and they were sharing with us that food had been the largest area they saw they could "attack" to reduce their spendings.

Well that was right down my alley because I had been challenged a few months back to think the same way by Crystal Paine ( Crystal feeds her family of four on $40/week. However after reading some of her materials she suggested starting at $3/day per family member food allowance. Then over time try reducing to $2/day per family member. For us (family of 6) that gives a weekly range of $126 ($3/person) down to $84 ($2/person). I found that SO much more manageable to shoot for than her own example of $40/week (I read her blog and say go girl! but so far just have not been able to find that within the scope of reasonability for us).

Back to Financial Peace...the friend who is leading this told me that they started out feeding their family of 4 on $50/wk, and then increased to $75/wk after having another baby.

So, that's where I'm at...trying to stick to a rigid food budget of $80/week with the hope we can even cut that down by maybe a little. It's changed the way I shop a little, but honestly, not greatly. I buy chicken in bulk when it's on sale, we eat a lot of deer and moose (thanks to Tom's parents or the occasional hunt he gets to go on), and I shop first at Aldi and then onto another store to find rarer or higher quality ingredients. I am not couponing at present. I'm trying to get good at it but just find it sooooooooooooooooooooooo overwhelming. Maybe somebody could help me with it that's good at it.

Anybody else thinking food budgets out there...and if so, what resources/ideas do you recommend? And, do you think this is the right ballpark for a family of 6?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

15 reasons to smile on tax day...

...if you have a Walgreens close by you can get 15 free prints today by entering the coupon code TAXDAY. Not exactly a deal if you had to drive very far...but we can walk to one just a few blocks away and I am excited to get a few free prints. 5x7's are only $1.00 if you order at least two. Walgreens should start paying me for the free advertising.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chicago b-day celebrations

This morning we are laying low around the house as Dad is "suffering for the work of the Lord" in Florida while we are home in Wisconsin with a forecast of snow possible. Actually, it's been rather refreshing to just hang out around the house together. It's hard to believe just a week ago today we went into the city to hang out at the zoo and with my sister and brother-in-law. What a beautiful spring day it was (and all of Chicago joined us at the zoo). I love the picture below of Tom and the 2, it's just a cute picture...but mostly for the memory of my two kiddos with "shoe/boot issues." Isaac won't leave his shoes (or socks for that matter) on, and Josiah seems to think he "has" to still wear boots even though the snow really is gone (or so we thought). Due to driving separate vehicles on this particular day, Tom had wound up with these two in his car and wasn't the least perplexed by forgetting shoes for both of them...Si, of course, did have boots on (we finally had to hide his boots to get him to stop putting them on, we usually would not catch that he had put boots instead of shoes on until we were en route was always a smashing presentation....dress clothes and thick winter boots which were of course pulled up to his knees with his trousers in a wad above); Isaac, didn't have any on because I figured it was easier to keep track of his shoes and socks if I just put them in my purse. Well, Tom gets the resourceful Dad of the week award for searching high and low through the suburban to come up with a pair of dress shoes to put on Isaac (without socks) as I had to park a long distance from where he had parked before we met up in the zoo later. This is probably a confusing story but it really, really cracked us up. I am very thankful for a husband that reminds me what is and is not important...and teaches me to laugh about the insignificant. I am remembering another trip to a museum late last year when Tom had not noticed that Cole had mistakenly put on Si's pants. He had highwater pants by a literal 5 inches....neither Tom or Cole were the least bit bothered! I still can laugh out loud when I remember that day.
Later we went back to my sister's where she surprised Si with a really, really cool cake. There was an elaborate lion and giraffe made out of fondant on the cake. It was by far the neatest cake we have ever had for a b-day. She had special ordered the filling to have fresh strawberries as Josiah adores eating them (more than cake)!

Many thanks to Amy and Steve for a delightful day!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Happy B-day Preston!

Joint baby dedication--August 2007
Isaac & Preston, cousins
It is so sad to realize that we have only been with you a few short days of your first year in our family...we love you so much and wish we could have been with you to help you celebrate. What a sweet, snuggable, huggable bundle of love you are!!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Happy B-day "Si"!

6 years old!

Josiah, being the animal enthusiast he is, really enjoyed going to the Rainforest Cafe on his birthday. Today we are off to the Lincoln Park zoo in Chicago for him to get his fill of the real thing. He is such a joy to watch, especially in his enthusiasm and delight in all things wild. It was a really sweet night to remember how very special he makes our family.

I don't know, Nana & you think he likes it?!

Looks like all his grandparents know him pretty well!

All good things must come to an end

Be sure to see the conclusion of Sense and Sensibility (Sunday night, PBS) if you can. This is a new reendition and I found it thoroughly delightful. This is also the conlusion of The Complete Jane Austen series, which showcased all six of her books. In my humble opinion, I enjoyed Persuasion the most of all.

Happy 8 years old to you...cousin Tyler!

(Better late than never :-)!)We wanted to take this opportunity to say how thankful we are that you are in our family. The picture above reminds us all of a really fun walk we got to enjoy while we were camping together last summer. Have fun playing ball this summer...we want to hear all about it!