Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Come, Thou Long Expected Snowdrifts

Yesterday morning I awoke to a balmy 56 degrees. Things cooled slightly throughout the day, with scattered rain and thunder. In January.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and beheld this:

Snow! Glorious piles of white fluffy snow everywhere, cancelling schools left and right. This sort of view SHOULDN'T be a surprise in January, but this has been a strange year in weather. I called in to work and was told that the only way to get there would be by four-wheeler. My four-wheeler happens to be at work, so I get the day off. 

Recently, I whined on Facebook about Shane's latest batch of German Shepherd puppies keeping me awake at night with their bawling. Despite my downy disposition, the petty pity-party promoted a prospective puppy purchase. One puppy down, two to go. I'm helping Shane sell them, so I'm going to shamelessly plug them on my blog. 

This puppy is potentially sold, but there are two more. You, dear reader, should buy them. 

This puppy is a noisy little troublemaker perfect addition to your wonderful family! Plus, you can be all smug when people ask, "Is that a Huskie?" and you reply, "No, it's an ultra-rare white German Shepherd."

We keep the little ragamuffins on their chains when they run around. The chain is just tied to their collar and free on the other end, but it allows us to quickly tie them to a tree if they start to run all over the place. Plus the chain slows them down, because Shane and I aren't getting any younger. 

Mitzy took Nigel's bowling ball away from him, but he's too good-natured to let something like that bother him. The bowling ball is one of their favorite toys, which is nice because they destroy normal toys. 

Shane and I pushed some large wooden spools around the yard, setting them up in strategic positions for use as barricades/forts/shields during an incredible snowball fight that we're planning. Pushing wooden spools through 4 inches of snow really indicates a person's body condition. Mine screamed "I'm out of shaaaaaaaape!" So after a while our exterior decorating energy dwindled and we went inside for some breakfast. 

My dad called to let me know that Kevin was coming over to pick up his phone. Dad had found a phone on the ground yesterday in Iowa city. 

There's a little smudge on your phone, Kevin.

All Droid fanboys rejoice! This iPhone is out of commission. OH WAIT it still worked. The phone was receiving phone calls, texts, messages, and alerts. I tried answering the phone calls but I'm not sure where to press or swipe to answer. My efforts were rewarded with little glass shards in my thumb. 

For the phone calls, the ringtone started out with the General Lee horns from the Dukes of Hazzard but then transitioned into some pirate metal. If you don't know what pirate metal is, you should google it. Make sure to crank up your speakers to their maximum first. 

I'm kidding. Don't do that. It's noisy. 

I grabbed a spare ipod USB cable and plugged the phone in. I was greeted with a message on the computer that stated "Cannot connect to Kevin LastName: Please enter passcode." So I looked up Kevin's number in the Iowa City phone book and left a message on his answering machine. After leaving the message, I pondered, "How do you contact someone when you have their phone?" 

I also found a Kevin LastName on Facebook, and sent him a message asking if he lost his phone. He said he hadn't, so all trails had gone cold. Lo and beholdeth, Phone-Book Kevin called our office to schedule a time to pick up his phone. Since I had the phone with me to take photos and blog about it, I had him come to my place. He stopped by and picked it up, thanking me profusely for saving him quite a bit of money. Evidently he can claim insurance and replace his iPhone for $50 but he has to turn in the old phone. Otherwise he would have had to buy a new one. He gave me a reward, which I guess I'll have to share with Dad. 

I asked Kevin how his phone ended up on a busy highway in Iowa City. He thinks he left it on his pickup's tailgate and took off. 

Well, my Mennonite senses are tingling. Reports are that the Kalona Coffee Shop is having a 25% off Snow Day Special. 

A little snow can't keep me from having an eventful day! 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Getting Stopped

There's an elderly lady with poofy hair that always gives me a partial heart attack when I see her. She drives a late-model white Impala.

"Oooh, feeling guilty when you see a cop? You shouldn't be worried if you're not doing anything illegal."

It matters not. I'm a Graber, and police officers can sense that. Poof-Lady is probably on their staff, hired specifically to give me mini heart attacks. She looks elderly and wealthy, like she could be driving anything. Buick, Cadillac, Mercedes...all sensible options. Nope, she drives a plain-white Impala just to introduce some anxiety into my life.

Granted, I've gotten stopped a fair share of times. Many of my Impromptu Police Officer Visitations are because I break the law regularly when it comes to speed limits. I live in Iowa but my right foot evidently lives in Nevada.

Other violations have included "Failure to Restrain Child", "Expired Registration Tags", "Headlamp Out",  and "Weaving". The last one has nothing to do with baskets and everything to do with the yellow center line. I wasn't ticketed for my faulty headlight or for weaving, but I was stopped nonetheless.

There was a stretch of my rambunctious teen years that I seemed to get stopped quite regularly. I mended my ways, knowing that, whilst speeding everywhere I went, I was speedily approaching a license suspension. So I calmed down and behaved for a while. I was told that if you go three years without a ticket, your license becomes clean. Whaddya know, I went 2 years and 10 months without a ticket, and just recently got stopped THRICE and ticketed twice. Being dangerously close to "Three Strikes and Yer Out", officers have been kind to me. I'm not sure if the "Three Tickets in One Year" is for a calendar year resetting in January, or it's 12 literal months. If it's the latter, I need to gently feather the throttle until October 2013.

There is something sinister at work here. I'm usually driving vehicles that have a hard time getting to 60mph, yet I still get pulled over. 

I drive the middle van. It's a stout little mule, but it BETRAYED me by going 45 in a 25. 

Lately I've taken to setting the cruise control on my way to work, so I don't get distracted and blast through Wellman going 60 in a 35. I get distracted easily, and my foot uses that as an excuse to have an epileptic seizure on the accelerator pedal.

Since my car's interior is pink, this photo is entirely relevant.

The cost of speeding tickets helps me behave. Recalling how much money I've spent on traffic violations that I could have spent on ammunition and cheesy snacks is particularly heart-wrenching.

This man has just been told that he has to hand over his cheesy snacks and pay for court costs, even though he's not going to court. 

Besides my poor driving manners and speeding tendencies, I have absolutely no clue why I get stopped so often. My license plate reads "SILLYAK", which is the children's pronunciation of "Celiac", the auto-immune disease I have. Perhaps police officers think it means "Silly AK", as in "The owner of this vehicle possesses a firearm and is irresponsible with it." That is entirely untrue, and my friends are liars. But it would help explain why not one but THREE officers have whipped u-turns just to pull me over.

"You could learn your lesson, you know."

Yes, I suppose I could. But if people learned from their mistakes, police officers would only have rude criminals to deal with. I provide them with a break from their hectic burglar-handcuffing job. Granted, I'm not the most pleasant in situations where I'm being told that I did something wrong, but I try to respond pleasantly. After all, the officer is serving and protecting me. It says so on the squad car. He's serving me traffic violations and protecting me from spending that $100 on ammunition.

Of all the ways to solve my problems, such as surrendering my car keys and/or amputating my right foot, I've decided to take the most drastic course: leaving earlier so I can take my time and drive slowly. I'm not sure if I'll survive the ordeal, but goodness sakes alive and help the needy, I'm gonna try. Also, I'm going to buy a hearse. See if I can introduce some anxiety into little Ms. Poof-Lady's life. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fake Mustaches and Busy Schedules

The play is over.

For the past four months, I've been practicing and memorizing my parts for the play "A Little Princess."

Parts. Plural. Like I mentioned in my "Upcoming Events: January" post, I was Monsieur Thibault as well as Mr. Carrisford, for those of you who have read the book and/or seen one of the several movie renditions. For those of you who have NOT read the book and/or seen one of the several movie renditions, I was a Frenchman who taught a French class, and an Englishman who had lots of money and adopted princesses and their friends to protect them from an evil teacher.
Here's a link to the article posted in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. This article is a fresh reminder of the sometimes-charming typos and mistakes that I often found in the Press-Citizen as a kid. In the article's photo is Valeria, who played Ms. Minchin, and Elizabeth, who played Sara Crewe.

Both the Saturday evening production and the Sunday afternoon production went fantastic. Mrs. Nolte, our director's boss, had low expectations for ticket sales, claiming we'd probably only sell 200 tickets or so total. When we sold 300 tickets the first night and about that much again on Sunday, she was shocked. I wasn't really surprised, though. Our play had a horde of young female actors, so on the first night, the theater seats were packed with their parents, siblings, and extended families. The second performance was attended by a good portion of Kalona, including members of my family and a lot of my friends. It was nice. My friend Brooks wisely pointed out that Mrs. Nolte was not prepared for the outcome of Kalona getting involved with something.

I'm unsure whether I'd do a large-scale performance with so many children again. Getting mobbed by squadrons of girls is every guys dream, but not so when the girls in question are 16 years younger. Who knows, maybe I'll enjoy that sort of age imbalance when I'm 75. Other than that, working with the kids was fun and exhausting and hilarious and frustrating all at the same time. These little ladies attend classes at Nolte (pronounced "Knoll-Tea") Academy, so they knew much more about theater and dance and stage presence than I know, much less when I was their age. Despite their years of professional classes, they spent a good deal of time snapping my suspenders, throwing wads of paper down my shirt collar, pulling on my bow tie and running off with my rubic's cube. Even with all this though, the play was enjoyable and I survived, so there are no complaints. If anything, the experience helped me begin preparations for the (extremely slight) possibility of one day having 25 daughters.

There was one little boy actor in the sea of ladies, and he made me laugh every single time he opened his mouth. Perhaps because he was spaced-out and had us all wondering if he was on Ritalin, Kiefer was comical. He was an add-in part without lines, and was supposed to hold the hand of his "older sister" and just look nice. But instead he'd add in his own lines. During one scene, when the kids greeted their father after his return from a lengthy trip, they'd say "We missed youuuu!" to which Keifer with his jovial little smile would add, "They missed you but I didn't." 7-year-olds are allowed to get away with saying things like that and still be funny. We finally got him to pay attention and keep his mouth closed during the performance, but I felt bad that he didn't get to say anything so I'd have conversations with him in the dressing room.

Keifer: "Girls have to plink their eyebrows but us guys don't because our eyebrows have natural shapes."

Keifer: "You might be wondering why I'm wearing basketball clothes. Well, I just played basketball."
Shawn: "That's great! Did your team win?"
Keifer: *sigh* "They don't let us keep score. They just tell us "Good game" at the end and we hafta shake hands with the other team."
Shawn: "Hmm, that's a bummer. Are you excited about the performance tonight?"
Keifer: "Yeah. Mom's bringing me something to eat."
Shawn: "Oh? Do you know what she's bringing you? I wish my mom would bring me delicious food but she's in Chicago tonight."
Keifer: "Nope I don't know but I bet it'll be good!"
Shawn: "What's your favorite food, Kiefer?"
Keifer: "I'm really into chicken."

At that point I couldn't continue the conversation because I was beginning to snort with mirth and I thought I might inhale my fake mustache.

Do you have any idea how painful it is to remove a fake mustache that's glued to a real mustache? No, it's nothing like childbirth.

Speaking of real mustaches, I shaved mine off. I gave it daily encouragement to grow for the performance, after which I rewarded its efforts by annihilating it. Interestingly, removing three-months' worth of facial hair is infinitely easier than one-night's worth of eye makeup.

The adult actors were awesome. Rob, Abby, Shane, Alaynna, and Valeria made me laugh all the time with their crazy backstage antics. I'm nervous at all performances that require me to stand in front of an audience. Therefore, I was grateful for the comic relief. Rob expertly applying makeup to make himself look 40 years older. Shane running around with a turban on his head and a stage mic/headseat perched on the turban. Abby and I cracking jokes about the performance. I'm still convinced Valeria spit that water all over the floor just to make me laugh, even though she vehemently claims it was an accident. Something to do with unscrewing the cap on her water jug and then forgetting she had unscrewed it. 

After performances the adult actors would hang out at Cafe Crema or Applebee's, and I'll miss that. It was fun to just relax and eat some food after a late practice or performance. I'd like to say we brought joy and festivity into the restaurants, but more than likely we were just viewed as the rambunctious goofballs buying 1/2-off appetizers at 11pm.

The final performance was yesterday, and I still don't feel like it's over. I expect that the realization will settle in deliciously this next Friday, which would be the next time I'd have to drive to Coralville to practice. I wanted to take photos of the actors and stage and performance, etc etc. but I was told that a professional photography team already had the corner on that market and I'd be getting copies of the photos. So, stay tuned for picture updates, I suppose.

I erroneously thought my schedule would become instantaneously clear upon the completion of the play, but I see now it was foolish to think such thoughts. Sure, I'll have my evenings on Friday and Saturday back, but this is Monday and the phones are ringing. Both phone lines. Some day I'll find out just HOW furnaces know when it's 2 degrees Fahrenheit outside. They certainly weren't malfunctioning last week, when temperatures were in the 40's and 50's.

"But Shawn!" you may say. "Of course furnaces work harder when it's 2 degrees than when it's 40 degrees." To which I'll reply

"A furnace still has to run when it's 40 degrees out, unless you're one of those rare breeds that shuts yours off until it gets down to 2."

Or perhaps

"Quiet down with all that logic nonsense. It's Monday."

"Seriously, man. I'm trying to not think here."

Tonight we're having Kids Club at Pathway, and I'll be picking up kids. Every time I'm put on pick up duty, I briefly imagine literally picking kids up off the ground and carrying them around. But that's not what pick up duty is at all, except for when the children get ornery. I drive a 15-passenger van to either North Liberty or Coralville or Iowa City or a combination of several cities to pick up a mountain of eager children so they can participate in story time, games, arts and crafts, worship, and a snack. The kids are given strikes if they disobey or break a rule, and if you get three strikes, you're out. Out of luck getting any snack.

I've become so busy, I have plans interfering with other plans. Kids Club supersedes my Volleyball league in order of importance. Volleyball games are Monday evenings and I'd like to help continue our winning streak, but Kids Club takes precedence. My volleyball team is undefeated so far. The games started last Monday, but that's beside the point. Schedule conflict is nothing new to me or practically every parent/young adult in the entire world, but I still remember wanting to DO STUFF as a teenager at home, and now I just chuckle and wish I could be that teen with nothing to do again, except without the teen part.

I've been told it gets worse. Half of the adults in my life are prodding me to get married, the other half are telling me how difficult my life will be once I get married. "You think you got it bad now, wait til you're married. You won't have time for anything."

In the back of my mind, I felt like there was a verse pertinent to this situation, where God would never give me more than I can handle. But upon searching for it, I realized I've been using 1 Corinthians 10:13 out of context for quite a while now.

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

Truly, God will never send us more temptation than we can bear without first providing a means of escape. But that has nothing to do with how many responsibilities and activities He gives us.

This blogger points out some beautiful truths about this subject and you should read his entire post. I was especially impacted by four of the points in his article.

If God is only giving you what you can handle, you’ll never have to be dependent on God.

If God is only giving you what you can handle, then you are staying in your comfort zone.

If God is only giving you what you can handle, then you aren’t growing.

If you want God to use your life for something great, it’s going to be more than you can handle.  God’s plans are huge!  If God’s plans relied on human limitations, He’d never get anything done.

I'd like to think I could whip out incredible proverbs all by myself without borrowing them from other blogs, but Matt Appling said it eloquently and I just can't beat that. Besides, it's Monday.

God, please give me more than I can handle so I can
grow, but please stay by me to help me along the way.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Life in the Day of a Brain.

I've calculated that you presume the title of this electronic document is false.

I respectfully disagree, Sir and/or Ma'am.

Humans frequently use the phrase "A Day in the Life of [insert relevant topic here]", but I, Shawn's Brain, cleverly rearranged the wording. Word rearranging is a delightful exercise that I perform as often as possible, whether my owner asks me to perform it or not.

I keep active, much more active than I let on. If Shawn's human counterparts, cohorts, and conspirators knew what I'm capable of, they would most likely transmit feelings of envy. Or run away.

Using only 25 watts, I can accomplish between 1013 and 1016 operations per second. Written out in inefficient human longhand, that results in 10,000,000,000,000 to 10,000,000,000,000,000. Written out in human words, (which I also see as hopelessly cumbersome) that's ten trillion to ten quintillion operations per second. I wisely disable this processing feature when Shawn needs to multitask, calculate sums, or talk to women. Shawn likes to complain that I seem to run at 1,000,000 operations per second (dreadfully sluggish!) in the mornings when he wakes up. Let me assure you, that assumption is entirely misguided.

 This 25-watt bulb gives me feelings of mirth. Such inefficiency.

I do perceive that when I refuse to operate within normal expectations, it causes Shawn to use me creatively, like when he strikes up conversations with people whose names I've misplaced. I enjoy observing the awkward social interactions my stubbornness creates. Truthfully, I enjoy all things awkward and/or embarrassing. Conversations, accidents, misunderstandings, body functions, lapses of memory (my personal, devious favorite) and other mistakes, I just cannot get enough of. I frequently store those events for later playback, because I find those memories to be worth saving more than the various commitments my owner has agreed to perform. Shawn and I disagree on memory importance, but I do the thinking for us so I get the final word.

Shawn makes me do all sorts of complicated tasks during the day, like oversee all the other miscreants he calls organs. In emergency situations (such as those pesky low blood-sugar comas) when all unnecessary functions have to be shut down, I have the important decision of choosing which organs I like best. The heart has auxiliary functions that can supersede my instructions, which I'm not terribly impressed with. Occasionally Shawn's heart goes rogue and tries to do my job. I'd shut that cheeky buggar down FIRST but unfortunately it has a built-in pacemaker that I can't override. Also, I have myself to think about. If that lumpy muscle went AWOL, I wouldn't have a fresh, delicious oxygen supply.

As a general policy, I require fresh oxygen in regular intervals.

I haven't talked to the pancreas in over a decade. We're still not on speaking terms after that publicity stunt it pulled back in 1998. I purposefully ignored its final cries for help, because I knew it was just trying to get attention. "Help, please! The antibodies are rebelling and attacking meeeee!" Puh-leeze.

The liver and I are good friends, as are the kidneys. I can't say the same for the large intestine, who is a high-maintenance customer. I'm trying to keep us all functioning by locating and acquiring nutritional content, and the intestines start bawling and whining about gluten. Honestly the nitpicking they do. Wheat looks no different than salt, sugar, sweet rice flour, and a thousand other powdery white substances. To say that they can tolerate CERTAIN white powders but not CERTAIN OTHER white powders is plain ridiculous. But the whining intestines hurt me. (I'm not sure why Shawn calls these episodes "headaches", when "brain pains" are much more accurate AND cool-sounding.) Also, the stomach tells me that the intestines put a lot of pressure on him to join their union, so he starts acting up, refusing and returning food that I've provided. Utterly childish.

Shawn also heavily relies on me to recall information I've stored in my data banks, but I keep hinting that he should just write things down on paper and stop bothering me so much. My hints are usually in the form of outright data corruption/misplacement. For example, Shawn loves his pastors and the sermons that they give. He really enjoys the messages, the scriptures, the parables. But as soon as a friend asks him what he learned at church the previous Sunday, I erase all recollection of the pastor, the sermon, the theme, and the 7th day of the week. Shawn stands there babbling, "uh, Sunday. Hmm...what was I doing on Sunday?!" I again hint that he should probably resort to writing things down, including sermon notes. After all, he writes constantly. Notes to his roommates, lists of business messages, things to remember, scriptures to look up, events to plan, meeting times, etc. Shawn usually loses those papers, though, and I can't be bothered to remember where he placed them! Usually I'm too busy cycling annoying song lyrics on repeat loops. 

Night time is my favorite part of each 24-hour interval. Specifically, sleep. The organs practically hibernate, the heart quiets down, the auxiliary body functions are on standby, the antibodies are on their maintenance routes, and I have an entire playground of memories to romp around in, in the form of dreams. Sometimes I'm so excited about getting started, Shawn can't fall asleep. But once he does, I have free reign. I use my quintillions of calculations to good effect. I craft alternate realities, melding illogical locations and social interactions together into all sorts of exciting possibilities. For example, I start out by taking a nice female human that Shawn has met and placing her in a 10-year high school reunion that neither of them belong in. The reunion is held in a maze-like composite of Shawn's school, his cousin's basement, and that one church he went to in Florida 15 years ago. Once the scene is set, I introduce Shawn into the midst of it, wearing pajamas. Or able to speak only gibberish. Or I distort physics and make him move really slow, like he's treading jell-o. But it's not all bad. I make sure that he wins a fantastic prize and/or a date with the nice female human right before he wakes up. I really like doing that.

Upon awaking, Shawn uses me to try to decipher his dream. Because I'd rather just play around without any rhyme or reason, I dislike being held accountable to my creations. So during my latest storm, I realized that if I run Shawn to exhaustion, he'll fall into a black sleep and wake up without any memory of dreams. Without memory, he can't question my decisions. I prefer that, and practice it as often as possible. I've found the cure to 18 types of cancer, invented frictionless travel, revolutionized deep-sea exploration, and discovered the optimum ratio for picking Shawn's nose while getting noticed the maximum amount of times. Unfortunately Shawn doesn't remember any of it. He really should go to bed earlier in the evenings. Of course, I refuse to implement anything I've discovered unless it gives me credit, so from that aforementioned (incomplete) list, I've only used the nose picking formula. I get a kick out of that one.

Shawn keeps me busy, I'll give him that. You humans think that idle hands are dangerous, but I'll have you know that idle minds are far worse.

As for myself, I'm not perfect quite yet. The scriptures are decisively clear as to what my job is.

Matthew 22:37
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'

The scriptures also forewarns behavior that is unseemly for me.

Philippians 3:19
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

I'd be sunk if I had to do things on my own, thankfully God is here, guarding me.

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


A lot of life is being lived each day between your own two ears. What are you doing with it?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Upcoming Events: January

A lot of things have been happening lately, and whether it's relevant or not to my dear readers, I'm going to post about it. Hmm, I think I've just discovered the true power bloggers have. It's alarming.

A young man came up to me on Wednesday and asked for forgiveness. He confessed to entering my home last July and taking my video games, which he then sold for cash. He felt terrible and wanted to make things right. His confession and apology shocked me, but what shocked me most, though, was my positive attitude. Who am I and what have I done to Shawn?! I had been bitter and upset months after the theft. After I had a pity party for myself, God reached down and let me borrow some maturity, so by the time the young man showed up, I was able to forgive him. I asked if I could help him with finances. He replied that he was doing far better and was growing in his relationship with Jesus. He asked if I wanted him to replace what he had taken. I replied that I wouldn't mind a PS3 to use as a Blu-Ray player but I wasn't concerned about getting the video games replaced. We prayed together and he ended up encouraging me more than I think I encouraged him. That young man is turning into a powerhouse of talent and energy for God, and no possession in my home is as valuable as that!

I'm in a play called "A Little Princess" and you should all come see it.

It's a children's play that happens to have adult roles in it. I play two characters, Monsieur Thibault and Mr. Carrisford. Monsieur Thibault is a French instructor, and he flirts with a French maid, Marie. But seeing how the young lady that plays Marie is 9 years old, we altered the script, much to my relief. I'm currently growing a mustache for the part. My pitiful little lip rug is only going to survive until January 21st, at which point I'll vigorously remove it from my face. Mr. Carrisford will undoubtedly get a mustache as well, although since he's a distinguished elderly gentleman, I'll hopefully get a large fake one for his part. (You may have gathered that our theater director, Alaynna, loves mustaches.) As if mustaches and myself weren't enough to entice you to come, my roommate Shane is in the play as well, playing the part of Lascar, Mr. Carrisford's servant from India. Now there is literally no excuse not to come.

On January 26th, we'll be having a combined-youth Christmas banquet, and I'm really really excited. This marks the first combined banquet in YEARS. The three Mennonite sister churches: Upper Deer Creek Church, Fairview Church, and Sunnyside Church, used to have combined activities all the time, but several years ago we all went our separate ways and organized our own banquets like school children that don't get along with each other. Alaynna (the theater director/White Christmas Party host) burst in and decided to change things up, for which I'm grateful. She's working from Fairview, I'm working from Sunnyside, and Victor is working from Upper to pull all the strings, gather support and attendance, and get all the three youth groups to play nice with each other. It's been so long that Sunnyside did things with the other churches, kids in my youth group confessed they don't even know ANYBODY that goes to the other churches' youth groups. I'm not worried, though. I'm looking forward to a fantastic evening, where I expect kids from my youth will meet new friends. 

When Alaynna and I decided on a banquet, we started out with the plans for a young, single adult banquet with a romantic Christmas theme. I suggested calling it the "Jingle Jingle Single Mingle." After proposing the idea to my youth group, I was met with strong opposition against a "dating" theme. Many individuals of the Sunnyside youth are nervous about sitting next to a member of the opposite gender, much less dating. So we turned it into a youth banquet with an emphasis on "making new friends" rather than "finding a life partner".  We invited young married couples to attend as well, and placed the attendance age range at 16-35. Unfortunately, this cuts out some youth that aren't quite 16 yet, but we plan to do this sort of thing regularly, so they should be able to catch the next one. (At least, we plan to do this more regularly than before. The last banquet of this type was back in 2004 or something like that.) To make sure youth groups didn't clump together, we'll be assigning seating to mix things up. The only way to guarantee a seat beside a certain person is to ask them to attend the banquet with you. We've added an additional benefit to bringing a date: single tickets are $16, two tickets are $25. Being the good, bargain-hunting Mennonites that they are, several of the guys in my youth group are hoping to find a loophole in this clause by inviting each other, but we're cracking down on that nonsense. 

While I was in Oregon, my pastor Floyd called me up to ask if I'd agree to joining the Sunday Evening Committee. Floyd called at 11am Iowa time, which was 9am Oregon time. Normally that would be perfectly fine and reasonable, but I had spent a good portion of the night awake with my niece Charlotte, holding her and rocking her to sleep. Also, I was enjoying vacation. So I awoke at 9am to grab my phone and listen to my energetic pastor talk about the exciting opportunity of planning Special Sunday Evening programs. My mind formulated a few choice questions, like "How long is the term for?" and "What duties does my position entail?" but I ended up mumbling out "uuhahhhmmmmm how long." and "ahhh whadda, er, what'm I s'posta do?" I'm not intelligible, much less eloquent, in the morning. I promptly forgot Floyd's responses and fell back asleep. I suppose if you want to relay information to me AND have me remember it, tell it to me when I'm not on vacation and I've been awake a minimum of 2 hours. Later that afternoon, I called him back and asked the questions again. Because I couldn't think of any valid excuses and realized that God's blessings sometimes show up as strange opportunities, I agreed to take the position. 

Our first meeting was last Tuesday evening. I still didn't know how long a term on the Sunday Evening Committee (SEC) was, but quickly found that I had signed away 1 1/2 years of my life. I'm on the committee with two married couples from my church that are my parents age, so I felt decidedly young and non-married. The meeting went well. We plan roughly one Sunday evening program per month, so we sketched a rough draft of plans for the next 6 months. Here I was thinking we'd meet every month and hash out details, but evidently the veterans of the SEC are very practical. If we can plan 6 months in a single evening, we can banish the need to meet every month. After 3 hours our creativity dwindled and we called the meeting adjourned. We've got awesome plans laid out for the foreseeable future, so if you happen to be plan-free on Sunday evenings, come to Sunnyside Mennonite.

That wraps up this edition of recent and upcoming events. Stay tuned for more tomfoolery, hooliganism, and haberdashery.

P.S. If you have any ideas for creative ways to honor Mothers and Fathers, let me know. I'll incorporate them into our Sunday evening services in May and June.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Roomies are Better than Yours

As each day passes, I feel more and more blessed with the roommates that the good Lord has provided me with. I've thought this from time to time, but the tipping point of my gratitude came after reading this Craigslist ad:

where some feeble man pleas for a roommate that meets his outlandish requests. I fear that the only person to meet those requests would be a deaf/mute with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or someone who has been deceased for at least two years. The man seems nice enough, and I can certainly relate to his comment that "...I've realized that life is much better when it's shared with people..."

Because of this very article, as well as many other indicators, I've come to the realization how tremendously blessed I am in the roommate department. So for this post, I'm just gonna brag up my roommates.

Shane Schwartz is my childhood friend, my accountability partner, and my adviser in fashion and appearance. He's the blunt friend that asks me what I've been up to and how I've been doing spiritually. He sang for many years with me in a male quartet that holds some of my fondest memories. He has a dry humor that is irreplaceable, and he's always up for a game, a midnight conversation, a work project, or a "let's go second-hand shopping right now" trip.

If I made a list of "Ideal Roommate Qualities", a good deal of the list would be modeled after Shane. He's orderly and clean. He cooks fantastic meals and shares them. He has an excellent taste in board games, knives, and cheese. He sleeps through hurricanes, nuclear holocausts, and noisy parties that I hold at odd hours of the night. He does many thankless chores without complaint and doesn't make a big show of all the cleaning he does. With the help of his wonderful, massive German Shepherds, Shane has tamed the woods around our trailer to suit our bachelorous needs. We have clean campfire spots. We have a not-quite-finished 400-square-foot dock. Once upon a time Shane grabbed a machete and now we have a 1/4-mile trail hacked through dense growth alongside the river that leads to a secluded sandy beach.

That's Nigel, one of Shane's incredible German Shepherds.

I sometimes grumble when I see Shane sleeping in and/or deciding not to do roofing for the day, but when I get back from work I'll inevitably find a project Shane has thought up, designed, built, and completed that day, like the one time I left for 8 hours and returned to find an A-frame shelter he built using spare wood and some leftover shingles. He obviously didn't get the memo that he was supposed to be lazy all day so I could at least feel smug.

Shane loves trying new things and being random. Once, he emptied an entire clip of .22 ammo at a squirrel without hitting it. When I asked him about that (for he is an excellent shot), he replied that he just wanted to spice up the squirrel's life. He once got his hair braided while in Honduras. He named his incredible mustache "Cedrick". He frequently goes to theater try-outs and has been in several community theater plays.

Shane, working on Cedrick II whilst displaying his Honduran hairstyle, which contained over 90 braids.

Shane likes breakfast, but he doesn't really prefer cold cereal. He enjoys hot meals but like every other human in the entire world except for mothers, he doesn't like making hot meals in the morning. Instead of resigning himself to pop-tarts or Eggo waffles, Shane will occasionally throw together an entire crock pot of delicious food to cook overnight. I have experienced many cool things in my short life, but the smell of bacon-wrapped chicken breasts with potatoes wafting their sultry scent through the trailer in the wee hours of the morning is one of the coolest.

Victor Gingerich is my awesome man-friend from high school. I've known Victor and his identical twin Benjamin for longer than that, but I didn't become close friends with him until high school, where we shared many a note slipped to each other behind the watchful eyes of our Superintendent.  Victor is energy. There is just not much he can't do when he sets his mind to it. Victor works with heavy construction machinery with his family business and often puts that expertise to good use around our place, grading and smoothing embankments, removing tree stumps...all things that I'm extremely grateful for. Victor has a passion for truth, justice, and seeing hearts changed by Jesus Christ. He keeps his room spotless and always has his bed made, much to my shame since my room looks like the beaches of Normandy after D-Day.

Victor is the dapper man in the argyle. The tie-wearing man on the right is my good friend Anthony Helmuth. This photo was taken at a wonderful White Christmas Party staged by my friend Alaynna.

Many times Shane and I will arrive home with groceries we've selected and purchased without consulting Victor, yet he gladly pitches in with the cost. Victor brings home and shares exotic fruits, like pomegranates, raspberries and carambola. Victor is honest, trustworthy, and hard-working. I don't see Victor very much at home, due to his schedule being packed with work, league basketball, helping the youth group out at his church, and diligently attending Intercession, which is one of those special prayer times that churches organize because they're excellent ideas, but many are sparsely attended. VICTOR GOES TO THOSE. He normally heads to bed earlier than Shane and I, but on occasion Victor will sacrifice sleep to have awesome chats with me about life, leadership, following God, sexual temptation, the state of our nation, and a billion other topics that seem SO important that they just can't be discussed later, they have to be discussed at 1am. Victor speaks life into a group of young men in our area, including my little brother Shane (not to be confused with my roommate Shane). He does activities with them, feeds them snacks, prays with them, counsels them, and leads them by example, showing those impressionable teens how a gentleman should behave.

Mostly, I'm thankful that both Shane and Victor tolerate me. Victor is passionate about our nation's government and still loves me even though I chose not to vote this Presidential election. Shane allows me to use him as the brunt of jokes when we have guests over. Shane's also extremely patient when I painstakingly explain to EVERY GUEST how his parents stole my parents' name for me, 14 days before my birth. Both of them sleep peacefully through all the racket I make late at night, which is something I'm incapable of doing in return. (I feel pretty guilty about being such a light sleeper, and since I stay up late most evenings, I am more than willing to accommodate when my roommates plan late evenings.)

With their humor, wit, and fun-loving attitudes, Shane and Victor breathe life into my little corner of the world.

Both of my roommates are single, despite being the most eligible bachelors in all of Washington County, if not the state of Iowa. Please don't do anything to change that. If Shane and Victor were to get all hitched to some super nice lady (one lady each, not the same lady), I would be deprived of some first-rate roommates.

One of these days, I'll get around to figuring out ways to show my appreciation for them. I have no idea what object would possibly convey the depth of my gratitude. Perhaps I'll put my coins in the coin jar toward buying them solid-gold SUV's with the words "I TOTALLY APPRECIATE YOU, MAN" emblazoned on the back.

You guys are the best. I'm grateful to call you my roommates, and lucky to call you my friends. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Turn on the A/C!

Happy new year, everyone! Brace yourselves for an inevitable rant about the proper pronunciation of our current year (It's Twenty-Thirteen, people) that I'm sure I'll write eventually.

Two days ago, with temperatures wavering around in the teens, a customer called our family business to tell us that they were FREEZING and their furnace wasn't operating properly. The house had cooled to 58 degrees. We quickly scheduled an appointment to repair their furnace. On that very same day, a company called to inform us that their computer server room was 93 degrees. This company is a long-time customer of ours, and since we had installed the air conditioner for their server room, we ran out to check on it. Unfortunately the little Sanyo mini-split (a cross between a window unit and a whole-house air conditioner) had given up the ghost and needed to be replaced.

That's where I found myself today, standing 25 feet above the ground on a wind-whipped rooftop, changing an air conditioner. In January.

As my brother-in-law Konrad likes to joke, certain Iowa days are "colder than a tin toilet seat on the shady side of an iceberg." Thankfully today wasn't quite worthy of that title. The sun shone down and the temperature stayed around 28 degrees. Had it not been for some stiff winds, it might have been downright pleasant.

The company had a forklift that they graciously let us use to hoist the new air conditioner and all our tools up to the roof.

This isn't the exact forklift we used, but one similar. That is just a photo from the internet, as evidenced by green trees and snow-free ground. 

The forklift was expertly operated by Shelby, who has gained some forklift experience in different ventures of his work career. When the forklift operator handed the controls over to us, he asked if any of us knew how to drive one. Shebs immediately said "Yep! I know how." After the operator left, Shelby confessed that he has only operated forklifts like this: 

But he was confident that there wouldn't be much difference. He ended up being right, lifting us to the precise spot on the roof with style. The forklift had a work platform attached to it, which we filled with tools, parts, the air conditioner, and ourselves. The platform had guardrails on it, which made it feel like a giant crib that you ride in.

This platform was perched right beside the slanted roof edge, and saved my VERY LIFE when I started to slip down the icy metal roofing. In gratitude, I very nearly decided to name my first child "Safety Platform Graber". I recanted such thoughts when only an hour later, the platform tried to murder me by allowing the side gate to swing open when I backed into it. At that moment I was suspended 23 feet above a set of train tracks. Don't tell OSHA that I had failed to examine the environment, including but not limited to safety equipment, ladders, guardrails, and warning signs. 

While dad and I froze our collective buns on the roof, Shelby and Stan poured literal and figurative sweat indoors. We don't work on Sanyo mini-splits (which look a lot like hotel room air conditioners) very often, and they're compact and complex. Because of this, the installation was a bit tricky, not at all helped by the 90-degree server room. To imagine this, first find a small room/large closet in your home. Fill 80% of the room with high-power computer processors. If you don't have processors handy, you can substitute them with a bread-making kiln or a fire-breathing dragon. Once you have sufficiently roasted the closet, carry the youngest child of your home above your head and mount him/her to the wall. Cover your fingers in grease and refrain from making any marks or smudges on the child, who just happens to be wearing all-white clothing. 

The top piece, the coil/air handler, hangs on the wall inside and spews cold air. The bottom piece, the condenser/compressor, sits outside and spews warm air. (All air conditioners do this, including window units.) This was refreshing to all parties involved, bringing comfort to Shelby and Stan and causing Dad to exclaim that he has never, in his 35 years of installing air conditioners, turned one on to warm himself up. 

I truly love the variety of my line of work. I get to meet friends, customers and strangers (technically there is no such thing as a stranger, only potential customers) on a regular basis, I get to help solve problems while providing comfort. 

Reading what I've just written, I now see that my job description is alarmingly similar to that of someone working in a rest home.  

Ah well. Another day, another dollar. I'm excited to see what this new year brings by way of surprising work.