Saturday, September 28, 2013

Oregon Trip, Jamison's Wedding: The Prequel

My childhood friend, Jamison, is getting married, and a few months ago he asked if I'd be one of his groomsmen. I immediately said I'd be delighted to. He's getting married next weekend in Oregon, so I decided to make it a full-blown vacation instead of a hit-and-run weekend visit. I'm currently on my way to Oregon, where I'll be spending as many minutes with my nieces and nephews (all 7 of them!) as I can and then reluctantly peeling away from them for the wedding.

Seriously, there are a lot of reasons I need to visit Oregon more often, and their names are [Konrad, Shannon, Annika, Benson, Elissa, Carson, Carita], [Randy, Shelley, Jocelyn, Charlotte], and [Shelby]. This is only the beginning, because I have several friends living in Oregon, most notably Jamison. He and I spent many afternoons and school recesses together.

Mom found me a fantastic deal through Southwest for my trip to Oregon. I feel like I need to point out how awesome that flight company is. You get two free checked-in pieces of luggage! Since Mom did all the work finding the ticket, she claimed one of the check-in bags. Sitting in my car is this giant cardboard box stuffed with all sorts of crafty items and toys destined for my two sisters.

My flights start in Omaha, but I haven't quite left Iowa, which is unquestionably the most beautiful of the 50. I'm sitting here at my cousin's house in Logan, IA, which is just 30 minutes from Omaha. Logan is located in the beautiful, rolling Loess Hills of Iowa, which is way cool because Loess hills are found in less than a handful of places in the world. Kyle and Kara graciously hosted me for a day and are going to be babysitting my car while I'm gone, because airport parking fees are ridiculous. (Maybe next time I'll submit my car as the second free check-in?)

I got to Logan around 6pm last evening and I've been having an incredible time since. Kyle was home when I arrived, but was on his way out to patrol in his Interceptor. He told me to hop in with him and I quite possibly left two small trails of rubber acknowledging his request. We stopped by the dispatch office to get a Dangerous Activity Waiver which made me understand (in no unclear terms) that I was putting my life into my own hands and the precinct of Logan was not responsible if I got filled with gunshot holes. I signed the waiver with all the giddiness of a Kindergartener on a field trip.

We started cruising around as Kyle explained the nuances of police life in the town of Logan. It's fairly small, with a population of 2,500, but its proximity to Omaha means there's a fairly busy drug route through the town on Hwy 30. Kyle showed me some of his shiny gear, and I tried my best not to geek out all over it. He educated me on the "Ten-code", which I feel every law-abiding citizen should memorize. Many people are familiar with "10-4", which means "OK", but less familiar with the other 98 codes. You can eyeball those here. The code is not just for police officers and truckers that still say "good buddy". Paramedics, First-Responders, and Firefighters also use the Ten-code.

Kyle picked up a warrant to arrest a resident. I was shocked. I'll get to witness some door-busting, thief-wrangling action!? But Kyle explained that most of the warrants were served for clerical mistakes, like when the offender forgets to pay a fine. We stopped at the offender's home but nobody was there. Kyle hopped back in the cruiser. "He's most likely going to be at the Homecoming game tonight. Man, I don't want to arrest him there."

We next stopped in at the home where a young man lives. Police had gotten a tip that the boy was contemplating suicide, with the additional note that he was a known cutter. "If I get enough courage to do it, I'm gonna kill myself tonight." The boy had texted to his ex-girlfriend, who then wisely passed on this horrendous information to the police. We stopped in to check on the boy. I asked Kyle if I could talk to the boy and pray with him. He considered it for a second but then told me it would be best if I stayed in the car. He explained that if the boy said anything about hurting himself or committing suicide, Kyle would have to take him in for processing and an overnight watch at a nearby hospital. "If I have to haul him in, you can talk to him while we ride." Kyle knocked several times and rang the doorbell, but no one answered the door. Before your minds leap to "OHNO HE ALREADY DIEEEEEEED", many of these suicide notices (and evidently there's a lot) are pleas for attention. I prayed for the boy (and for the community) and we were soon on our way.

I had never been on this side of a traffic stop, and let me tell you, it's WAY more fun sitting in the cop car watching the radar than it is driving over a hill and seeing a cop watching you. Not that you have to actually watch the radar. Your speed makes a literal screeching noise; the faster you go, the higher the screech coming from the radar receiving unit. So we weren't stopped at an fork in the road very long before a car popped over a hill and the radar went EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooooooooooooo as the driver looked, saw the cruiser, and let off the accelerator. I thought maybe the radar was connected to a fancy GPS that kept track of each speed zone, but evidently not. It screeches regardless of speed zone. That way, if the police officer is looking one way as a vehicle heads another way, the high-pitched screech can alert him to a speeder. The radar also displays the offender's speed as well as the officer's speed.

So we were just turning around in a business parking lot when a flashy red little sedan swooped past us without a license plate. Kyle and I whipped up behind the vehicle, searching for one of those "In Transit" stickers or 30-day paper licenses. When we didn't find one, Kyle snapped on the flashers and pulled the vehicle over. There's a fancy transmitting unit that Kyle attaches to his vest when he steps out on a traffic stop. The unit contains a small camera and microphone, for legal purposes. Unfortunately the microphone wasn't working so I didn't get to hear the conversation between Kyle and the driver. Soon enough he came sauntering back and told me the situation. The driver and passenger, both young men, had no licenses with them, no licence plate, and no proof of insurance. The proof of insurance violation alone was going to cost them over $300. "If this kid gets in an accident, the fine for not having Insurance is above $700. I want to save this driver from that nightmare." Kyle mulled it over for a bit.  Some precincts allow you to tear up a Proof of Insurance violation if you get your insurance within 7 days. If that was the case in Logan, he was definitely going to write a ticket. But he wasn't quite sure. Kyle's Interceptor didn't have a computer in it, so he called in the driver's name to check on the license. The information came back, the driver had a current, valid license. They had just recently bought the car so Kyle made a judgement call and let them off with a stern warning. "I know what your vehicle looks like, and I'm going to be checking in a few days to see if you've gotten your insurance."

I was impressed, and more than a little grateful that I've had the opportunity to meet kind cops in my long, illustrious history involving the law. Kyle said "There's a fine line between being a Nazi cop and being so lenient that nobody respects you."

After my action-packed ride with Kyle, I went with his wife Kara to the local homecoming game. A huge portion of the town came out to watch the Logan-Magnolia high school powderize the competition. A king and queen were announced, "Oh good! The Queen is the girl I was rooting for." Said Kara. She clued me in that the other two girls were queens as well, but more just the drama type.

The Lo-Ma Panthers defeated the opposition 16-0. Kyle was on duty so we went and delivered him some sandwiches. He had also signed up for patrol at the after-game dance, where he'd be monitoring for underage drinking and general rowdiness.

After chatting with Kara and watching an intense episode of Extreme Weight Loss, I conked out in their spacious guestroom. I didn't hear Kyle when he got back at 3am.

This trip has only begun but it's off to a great start. Photos to be added...eventually.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Grandpa Keeps Life Interesting

A long day of work was slowly winding down. Much had been accomplished, but there was much still left to accomplish. So there I was, fielding phone calls and diminishing piles of paperwork in the office, when Grandma Ruth came busting in.

"Shawn! You want to come see the Bee Tree?"

"Bee tree? Where?"

"Right behind the shop! Come see!"

I had not been informed of any bees in any trees, so my curiosity was immediately piqued. What reckless hooligan installed a tree full of bees behind our shop?! I tossed my paperwork aside, it could wait til later.

Grandma practically sprinted through the shop to the back door, which opens up beside a small driveway that runs behind our shop and separates the buildings from a small wooded pasture. Out in the pasture, our trusty John Deere tractor was idling. Connected to the tractor was a chain. Connected to the chain was a decent-sized tree trunk which had been recently cut. The trunk was laying near the stump it had been attached to until only moments before. But there was nobody around. Great-uncle Terry's pickup was sitting there, abandoned. Grandpa's four-wheeler was out near the tree, but he too was MIA.

The reason was immediately evident. Thousands of bees angrily swarmed around the stump. The largest portion of them hovered twenty feet above the ground. Upon a careful scan of the landscape, Grandma and I found Grandpa and Terry, who were 200 yards away from the tree hiding from the swarm.

Grandpa and Terry were crouched in the small gully near the bottom right of this photograph. The driveway I mentioned earlier is on the ridge of the hill on the right of the photograph.

Terry was holding the chainsaw, and Grandpa was rubbing his head. They came over to talk to us.

"Did you get stung?" Grandma asked Grandpa.

"Yes, right on the back of the head." Grandpa replied.

"He got stung when he removed his hat to swing at the bees!" Terry said, laughing at the irony.

I was still in shock. Why didn't I know about these bees, located a stone's throw from my office?

Grandpa explained that the bees had been there for quite a while. The tree was completely dead, and the top half had broken off and fell against an adjacent tree. It was inside that crook that the bees set up their Mega Command Center. This was why the swarm was hovering twenty feet above the ground; that was where their home was, the last time they checked.

"Man, that's gotta be a thousand bees at least." I said, watching the thick clouds of outraged Apis Mellifera churn the air above the stump.

"Thousands." Said Terry.

"I reckon there's a hundred thousand bees in that hive. There's probably a hundred pounds of honey in that trunk." Grandpa mused.

When Grandpa found out about the bees a month or two ago, he tried enticing several local Amish farmers to relocate them. They weren't interested. "Evidently it's the wrong time of the year for moving bees. If you move 'em too close to Winter, you gotta feed 'em all Winter long." Grandpa explained. Obviously the bees store up food for the winter months, so you have to move them before they begin storing.

Grandpa needed his four-wheeler and Terry needed his pickup, so they both dashed in the woods like madmen and charged out with the vehicles. Grandpa moved the tractor forward a couple of yards and shut it off, opting to leave it in the pasture til later, when the bees forgot he was the tree-chopping fiend that had displaced their hive. Terry escaped with only two bee stings, but Grandpa gained an additional two to bring his total up to three. Even a hundred yards from the hive site, the bees angrily followed Grandpa like a modern-day lynch mob.

"You need some lavender oil. That'll take the pain out of those stings, Dad." My dad said to Grandpa.

"Naw, they're alright now. The one on my head felt like someone clubbed me but it's nearly gone now. The other two stings were on my back and those are gone as well. On the plus side, that's three less bees alive. Terry said that could be an effective way to remove the bees; get stung by them until they all die off." Grandpa said with a smile.

I grabbed my camera from my car and walked behind the shop. I snapped a few photos from over a hundred yards away and was STILL chased off by some irate bees.

Not sure if you can see the bees in this photo, but I wasn't inclined to get any closer to the stump just so my dear readers could see angry bees from the comfort of their homes.

It appears we'll just have to wait it out. Winter will calm the bees into hibernation, and then we can chop up the tree. Grandpa is already itching to get it done, which made me laugh. Apparently, it's a common thing for Grandpa's generation to shrug off bee stings in order to get work done. I deeply admire Grandpa's work ethic, and I hope to have at least a third of his stamina and strength when I get to his age.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Lost has been Found, Sort of.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had misplaced my Yellow Fever vaccination card.

Today I got a message from my friend Jon Sauder, who is the missionary living in Ghana. He said that he took a trip to the clinic that administered my Yellow Fever shot and asked them if they had any records on file. THEY DID. Seriously that is completely astonishing. We're talking about a small clinic in a city with a population of 4,010,054, and they had kept the record of my vaccine from 18 months ago. He emailed me the card and I printed it out. I'm so grateful God worked out that obstacle, despite the fact that it was my fault for misplacing in the first place.

Taking a look at this Yellow Card, I really shouldn't have been worried. I could have grabbed some canary yellow stationary and made my own. All it has is my parents names and my name on it, along with a handwritten date of the vaccine administration.

I'm joking, of course. I don't plan to forge any important documents to get in OR out of a foreign country.

I had asked for prayer about this Yellow Card snafu and God certainly answered! Thank you, dear readers, for your prayers.

Jesus is good. That is all.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Roommate Got Married So I Guess He's Moving Out

I wrote this post backwards, partially by mistake. Travel back in time with me as I recount the past weekend.

Sunday, September 15th:
Grandpa built a deep fat fryer to end all fryers. He and Grandma put it to good use whipping up the best gluten-free fried chicken I've ever had in my entire life. We started this fantastic tradition last year, so I was very glad to attend this year's gathering.
My brother Shane, eating a gluten-free apple fritter in a seductive manner.
Sweet, crispy fritters, I loved you the moment I laid eyes on you.
This is how one properly eats fried chicken when one is trying diligently to prevent splattering grease on one's clothing. "Why are you so dressed up for a family reunion?!" You may ask, as did my relatives. Well, I was too lazy to change from the previous day's activities, which takes me to

Saturday, September 14th:

Shane Schwartz, my childhood friend, just got hitched to the apple of his eye, Alaynna. I miss him already, but that's pretty silly because it's not like I'll never see him again, right? Married people have loads of free time to hang out. :)

Shane moved most of his stuff in the week prior to the wedding, and as his move progressed, I slowly realized how much of his stuff I was using. Like the coffee table. And the computer desk. So now I have my desktop perched on the dining room table as a temporary bandaid until a suitable computer desk/table can be located.

I'm pretty excited that if Shane and Alaynna decide to return from their honeymoon, they'll be living just a mile or two from me. In the meantime, I get to babysit Nigel and Mitzy. When Shane finally decides to take his dogs, I'll petition for joint custody.

The wedding was simple but very elegant. Shane told me it was going to be "a gypsy wedding" and I had no idea what to expect. I was pretty surprised to find out that a gypsy wedding looks exactly like a stylish wedding with lots of color.

Shane and Alaynna asked me to be their emcee at the reception, which was held outdoors at Rodney & Jodi's. I snapped a few photos in the moments I wasn't blathering on the mic. I got to announce all the exciting events, such as the "Poopity Corn and Nachos" and a "Pickle Toss". Instead of tossing a bouquet to the girls and a garter to the boys, Shane and Alaynna tossed dill pickles. Tanisha Stutzman caught the girls' pickle and then stole the boy's pickle, so I ran over and wrestled it from her in a gentlemanly, totally polite way. I wasn't entirely sure how to preserve my Wedding Pickle so I disposed of it. I considered eating it but it had rolled on the ground due to an unexpected between-the-legs toss from Shane, which is how it got past all us young men and into Tanisha's hands.

On the night Shane met Alaynna, a small group of us were sitting in Kalona on the sidewalk outside the Coffee Shop. The conversation turned to weddings, and we were talking about little details we wanted at our weddings. Alaynna declared that she wanted elephants and zebras at her wedding. Evidently zoo theft is frowned upon, (viewed to be similar to swiping an antique painting!) so I brought some coloring pages instead. Alaynna also mentioned she wanted people to throw radishes instead of rice upon their departure, but I had forgotten about that part until Kerri reminded me. Kerri waited to remind me til AFTER the wedding and before the reception. We considered buying radishes and dicing them (because we're not completely evil) , but there wasn't any time.

So now they're on their honeymoon in [redacted for security] and they'll be back on [insert date here].

Friday, September 13th:

A few days before August began, I challenged my brother Shaylon to read 1,000 pages in 1 month. For a prize, I promised we'd get some delicious grub at Buffalo Wild Wings. In response, Shaylon started burning through books faster than a groundhog in a garden. He read the entire Chronicles of Narnia and, since school started halfway through August, read some books for Literature. He read close to 1,100 pages in 31 days. On Friday, we went out to eat together. Shaylon and I both got loads of wings and shared a basket of French fries. [Insert photo of a sauce-covered pair of Graber boys] I asked him about book reading and the 1,000-page assignment. He said it was tough, but the reward was worth it. We played some trivia games and then afterward I took him to a gun show in Cedar Rapids.

Now you may think I'm completely stark raving mad, but I'd recommend taking your kids/siblings to gun shows. Gun shows are very family-friendly. The police officers, guests, booth owners, staff, EVERYONE is extremely polite. The distributors are charming and helpful and completely alright with letting strangers get their sticky fingers all over the merchandise.

We spent an hour and a half there. Shaylon was completely fascinated with the 37mm flare launcher and the display case full of bayonets. We walked past rows and rows of handguns, shotguns, rifles, spare parts, accessories, scented candles, relics, knives, gun cases, exotic shotgun rounds, clips and magazines, potent bug sprays, war memorabilia, and more. Admission was $7 for adults but Shaylon got in for a dollar. Because I'm a nice older brother, I told him I'd pay his admission to any gun show he attended. Because I'm a Mennonite, I added the clause: until his 13th birthday when he would be considered an adult.

I returned to the weekend gun show on Saturday morning with my manfriends Christian and Brooks. Here Christian examines ammunition prices. His face tells you exactly how exciting those prices were.

In this photo, I'm holding a firearm I have long admired: the Fabrique Nationale PS90. Straight out of science fiction, it fires the rare and delicious 5.7x28mm round. If it weren't for the 5.7x28's outrageously steep price, I'd be saving my pennies for a PS90.

Thursday, September 12th:

My brother Shelby came out for the wedding, and he arrived just in time to join Dad and I for our golf outing. The annual event is hosted by Plumbers Supply, a company we purchase our duct, water heaters, and other various supplies through. I'm pretty horrible at every type of golf that isn't Miniature, but I really enjoy it. My friend Brooks happens to be awesome at golf, so we took him along to bail us out. The weather was beautiful. Much cooler than the previous week, with a hearty breeze and plenty of sunshine. 

Halfway through the course, I finally managed to properly introduce my golf ball to the face of my driver. With the wind blowing against us, my ball cruised out to 200 yards and landed on the fairway. It was the farthest I've ever hit a golf ball WHILE being able to find it. (Who knows, maybe that ball I crushed into the deep woods went 300 yards? With the help of a squirrel?) Brooks hit his golf ball much further, but I didn't let that minor detail dampen my victory dance.

This monstrous tree is right in the fairway of one of the golf holes. 
I love large trees. I quietly pondered on the best way to remove the tree, put it in our minivan undetected, and transplant it in my yard. 

We played "Scramble" golf, which means all four of us would tee off, then proceed to the best-placed shot. We would all hit from that location, and continue in the same fashion. We also played by the "Two-putt rule", which stated that after you landed on the green, you would putt to try sinking it in one shot, but in the event you missed, you just added one more stroke and called it good. There is no better way to play golf than this. We finished the day with a score of -3. Most sports frown upon negative scores, but not golf. The negativier, the better. Our score put us in the 2nd Flight of four flights, but not high enough to garner prizes, so our two-year prize-scoring streak was broken.

At the end, we were fed a giant meal and our names were put into a drawing for door prizes.
"For the $50.00 cash prize..." the staff announced, "Our winner is Shelby Graber!"

We cheered and Shelby sheepishly got up and snatched his winnings. We told Shelby he deserved the $50 because he was the #1 candidate for "Most Responsible Money-Spender" in that room full of beer-chugging plumbers.

"Now for our $75.00 cash prize.."

Roughly 120 of us waited anxiously as they grabbed a name from the basket.

He pulled out a name. Brooks saw it. The name was Shawn Graber.

One staff member whispered to another, "We just had a Graber. Pick another."

They put my name back and picked SOME OTHER DUDE.

I was pretty bummed about it. Next year, I'm changing Shelby's last name to Porkbuns on the admission paperwork. That way, he can win his prize without ruining my chances for sweet cash.

It was a wonderful day though. Taking a Thursday off to golf and eat food was excellent.

As soon as I returned from the golf outing, I turned around and met with some manfriends to take Shane Schwartz out to eat for his bachelor party. We went to Red's Alehouse in North Liberty, where I discovered truly delicious gluten-free flat breads. Despite being stuffed from the meal at the golf tournament, I ate the medium-pizza-sized flat bread, along with a large portion of bacon cheese fries and a couple of Dilly Bars. The suffering I endure for my friend's sake!

Afterward, upon Shane's request, we diligently scoured Netflix for a good kung-fu action movie, but were sorely disappointed when we couldn't find one that we hadn't already seen twice. So by complete chance, we ended up watching possibly the most hilarious, ridiculous, strange, awesome movie ever created: Iron Sky. You'll need a significant lack of maturity to enjoy it, but it tickled our funny bones in ways they haven't been tickled in a long time. Nazi's living on the Moon in a Swastika-shaped colony? Sarah Palin as president, with an Oval office filled with moose and bear taxidermy? A horrifying super-powerful German weapon powered by a smartphone? All that and more.

If I were to travel further back in time, I'd tell you about my youth group's wonderful weekend camp out at Sugar Bottom. But I don't have time right now, so that will just have to wait.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Canoes and Root Beer

Edit: I tried to make a quick recap of this weekend's events, but it has sprawled into two vast topics that deserve their own separate post. Alas, I'm too lazy to separate them now, so be warned, this is a long-winded report. This post has also developed into a giant thread of photos. If your internet connection is less-than-speedy, go get yourself some popcorn and a comfortable chair. Okay.

Last year, I joined the Kids Club canoe trip down the Iowa River. Several male leaders and I took some of the oldest boys and spent a day out in the sun, paddling down the Iowa river. It was a great trip, but I told myself I would NOT do it again because of how ridiculously exhausting it was. We spent half of last year's trip dragging the canoes over sandbars and obstructions, thanks to the intense drought Iowa experienced.

My brain obviously decided to misplace all the memories of that trip when I signed up to go again this year. Instead of a one-day trip, we went two days and slept a night out on a sandbar.

This year, we had six leaders, six youth, and six canoes laden with sleeping bags, snacks, drinks, and meals.

 Malik and Jaylen, goofing around before we left the Hills river access.

The weather was spectacular. I made sure to apply suntan lotion to myself because my brain allowed me to remember that I burned my kneecaps last year.

Jaylen was in my canoe, and we had a lot of fun. He's a good paddler, but he liked to visit the banks of the river much like a ping-pong ball in a blender. I had to keep a steady hand on my paddle to navigate us through the rocks and brambles strewn everywhere.

You may be thinking to yourself, "Why is Matthew lounging around and making T'Kius do all the work?!" Well that's a good question. I was a model example for hard work and dedication...

Sometime Saturday afternoon, we stopped at a sandbar to snack and rest our arms by...swimming? It turned out to be a fantastic idea. We felt refreshed after splashing around for 30 minutes and then were on our way. The river was far kinder to us this year, and although there were still shallow spots that required getting out of the canoe and pulling, we experienced far fewer hangups in comparison with last year's trip.

Jaylen is a rabble-rouser, but God worked in both of us during the trip. I wasn't necessarily looking forward to being stuck with a kid in a tippy metal container for two days, but he made the trip really enjoyable.
T'Kius, showing off the biceps he earned through vigorous canoe paddling. This is the sandbar we camped the night on. It was the size of Rhode Island, which had benefits. Hauling everything 300 yards from the canoes to the camping spot was not one of them.

We found stuff that has possibly never been discovered by mankind, so we called it "narky". Stretches of the river are lined with rubber tires, a huge environmental project that went horribly wrong and strew tires through the river. (Which has actually spawned environmental projects of its own) This bacteria/fungus grows inside the submerged tires. It was cold and incredibly slimy, with the consistency of jello and the faint stench of raw sewage. We had a lot of fun throwing it at each other, until I found tiny little red worms wiggling around inside it, at which I instantly dropped all the narky, disinfected my hands, and considered burning the entire bank of tires.

Remove the marshmallows from the blazing hot stick before eating them? Ain't nobody got time for that! Especially Daquan.
Darryl packed several incredible meals. For Sunday breakfast, we had scrambled eggs (pictured), bacon, hash browns, sausage, and orange juice. 

T'Kius introduced me to Jolly Rancher pop. How did I not know of its existence?! He wouldn't let me try any though. It is evidently too delicious to share.

As it got dark on the sandbar, the kids became restless and agitated. They started fighting and kicking sand and causing all sorts of confusion, so we staff began to pray for God's peace to flood their hearts. The boys decided to run to the canoes and try to escape with them, until they realized how a) heavy the canoes are without the leaders helping and b) how much work it is to paddle a 12' canoe alone. We kept praying for God to visit our sandbar and defeat the spiritual enemies fighting us, as well as the physical enemies. A thick, heavy cloud of mosquitoes rushed out of the woods to devour us. We were getting eaten alive, even though we had a fresh application of Bug Soother, pretty much the best bug spray ever invented. Since this bug spray never fails to send bugs high-tailing it in retreat, I recognized that there was a spiritual facet to their attack. We continued to pray and hide in our sleeping bags, and eventually the kids returned and began to sing Kum Ba Yah quietly around the campfire. I was shocked. I should have expected to see God work in their hearts, after all we were praying for it! But to see the complete change was astonishing. I asked them if they knew what "Kum Ba Yah" means. When they shrugged, I told them it means "Come by here" and it's a song asking God to visit us. Darryl sat them down and had a discussion on the Spirits of Darkness and of Light. Although my prayers didn't quite stop the insect horde, there was a definite slack in the intensity of their attacks.

We went to sleep, but I was restless. Nothing was comfortable, I was itchy and sandy and tired and wide awake all at once, so I took a walk by the river and talked with God for a while. It was a beautiful night with thousands of stars visible, and the weather had cooled nicely.

After I returned to the camp, I stayed up for a while and stoked the fire. Earlier in the evening when the kids had been making Mountain Pies, I wasn't hungry. But now my walk had given me quite the appetite so I sat down and made one. I buttered two pieces of gluten-free bread and placed them inside the pie clamps. Then I placed cherry pie filling inside the pieces of bread and roasted it over the coals. I had great hopes for the snack, and when it came out golden and crispy and oozing hot cherry filling, I couldn't wait to dive in. I waited though, because the sandwich was hot enough to melt a hole in my Styrofoam plate. I bit into it once it had cooled a fraction and received a great disappointment: it tasted like a grilled cheese sandwich, except without delicious cheese and with a lot more cherry. I ate the rest of the sandwich but it needed something. What that something was, I couldn't place. Whipped cream? Ice cream? Less sand, perhaps?

Sunday morning we ate and had a worship service on the sandbar, and Darryl gave a message about Game Changing Moments in History. He started with accounts of incredible sports plays that the boys were familiar with, and then moved into the story of David and Goliath. The Israelites were psychologically defeated by the fearsome Goliath until David killed him. At that game-changing moment, the Israelites regained their chutzpah and routed the Philistines.

We packed up, shipped out, stopped for another 1-hour swimming break at the midway point. Along the trip, we saw several bald eagles soaring over the river. I had hoped that they would come swooping down and snatch up a naughty child some fish but they kept their distance from our noisy bunch. While paddling, I began to notice the angry red bumps on my feet, arms, and legs from all the mosquitoes in the night. I estimated that I had north of 40 bites. BUT my knees were only the tiniest bit burnt, unlike poor Jonathan and Sam, who had knees the color of a freshly-painted fire hydrant.

Around 4pm Sunday afternoon, we arrived at the pickup location near Columbus Junction. We had journeyed 24 miles by river in two days, averaging 2mph. The kids commented several times that it would be nice to have a motor boat. "Posh!" I replied. "Paddling builds character AND muscle!" But after 12 hours of it, I was secretly wishing I was had packed along an Evinrude outboard motor.

The six leaders from left to right: Shawn, Wendell, Darryl, Sam, Jonathan, and Matthew.
The six youth from left to right: Jaylen, Dijon, Daquan, Devion, Malik, and T'Kius. 

A pickup with the canoe trailer and one of the Kids Club vans met us at the rendezvous. The van was not prepared for 12 exhausted canoeists and all their gear, and it let us know so by leaking all the air out of its left rear tire. We put on the spare, which (unknown to us) was also flat. So Pickup-driver Darrin ran and filled the spare with air, and we were soon on our way back home.

I got back home and sat in the shower for a good, long soak. Then I responded to the texts and calls I had missed during the trip, since the staff decided not to take phones along. My manfriends wanted to host their long-planned Root Beer Tasting at my place. I told them to come right on over. I wasn't planning to drive anywhere.

"Root beer tasting, wot? Whatever do you mean, old chap?" you would ask, if you were British.

Jordan and Tyler had a dream. A dream where all root beer varieties would be assembled and tasted, judged by their flavor, aftertaste, and emblem art. Brooks, Jordan, Harlan, Christian, Kendal, and myself gathered 37 distinct varieties and began the difficult judging process. Before we cracked open the bottles, Kendal made a fantastic chip dip and cleaned my kitchen. I promptly told him he could visit anytime.

"Thirty Seven varieties?! Surely you jest, old boy."

I don't jest in the slightest! Here are the titles, listed alphabetically, separated by periods.

A&W.  AJ Stephan's.  Always Ask for Avery's.  Baumeister's.  Berghoff.  Boylan.  Blumer's.  Capone.  Dad's.  Dog n Suds.  Frostie.  Frostop.  Goose Island.  Gray's.  Great Dane.  Hansen's (Diet).  IBC.  JC Gray.  Jack Black's.  Jackson Hole.  Jones.  Kutztown.  Mason's.  Millstream.  Mug.  Old Faithful.  Point.  Rat Bastard.  Sam's Choice.  Sea Dog.  Sioux City (Diet).  Sparky's.  Sprecher.  Stewart's.  Triple XXX.  Virgil's.  Zevia.

(Interestingly, the Last was definitely the Least. Despite being brightly packaged and filled with Stevia, Zevia was abominable.)

Various tiny drinking vessels and shot glasses were procured, and we all would taste together and then discuss the flavor and aftertaste. Between flavors, the guys ate a cracker to clean their palate. I ate tortilla chips.

Only a handful of these drinks were sugar free, so I was given smaller portions than the others. But as the taste-testing progressed and the mixture of root beers started causing toxic results, everyone quickly adopted Shawn-sized portions.

 We had to take a break around flavor #20. The combination of so many rooted drinks was causing great distress in our stomachs. Poor Kendal politely excused himself from the table, walked outside, and threw up. We began to question if we were drinking ROOT beer or the real thing. The things we do for Science. Initially we thought that 37 varieties was not NEAR enough to do justice to the vast world of Root Beer, but after we started, we were extremely grateful that we did not have more.

 Although Jordan originally wanted a blind taste test with silent votes, we decided to make it more of a review panel. We conversed about the flavors after each test. Each of us had our own individual tastes, which became obvious as we agreed and disagreed on the varieties. But several flavors were downright delicious on all accounts. Here is a sampling of the notes:

Boylans: Very unique. Perhaps the yucca extract?
Dad's: Worst? Tastes like soap.
Goose Island: "Tastes like mouthwash." -Kendal. Top 5?
Great Dane's: Unique aftertaste, in a good way.
Zevia: "Worse than Dad's." "Like burning diarrhea from a buffalo"
Virgil's: Brooks loves it, everyone else dislikes.
Point: Smooth. Chemically?
Sam's Choice: Best-tasting cheap root beer.
Sprechers: Smooth and creamy, no aftertaste.
Capone: VERY sharp. Canned farts?
Sparky's: Root beer hard candies, in a bottle.
Rat Bastard: Uh, spunky?
Sioux City Sarsaparilla: Best diet Root Beer tested.
Millstream: Good vanilla taste, top contender.
Frosty: Aftertaste dies on tongue?
Mason's: Punch to the tonsils.
AJ Stephans: Entirely different than all the other root beers, alright.
"They all taste the same to me." -Christian.

We narrowed it down to the top seven flavors, pictured above. This photo was taken just after the final round of testing, before the scores were calculated. Therefore, they are not in any particular order. From left to right, Frostop, Goose Island, Sprecher, Great Dane, Baumeister's, Jackson Hole, and Millstream. From there, we wrote down our votes for the top three. Each 3rd place nomination received 1 point, 2nd received 2, and 1st received 3.

In 7th place with 0 points, Jackson Hole. (It's very good stuff, but wasn't quite as tasty as the others)
Millstream and Baumeister tied for 5th with 2 points.
Goose Island received 4 points, giving it 4th place.
3rd place was given to Sprecher, with 9 points.
Frostop earned second place with 12 points. Frostop was my personal favorite.
First place was awarded to Great Dane, which earned 13 points. Overall, a delicious, delicious flavor that we couldn't argue about.

The contest was very close and the results surprised Jordan and Tyler, who thought Great Dane was going to completely plaster the competition.

Afterward, we all laid down in the living room and recuperated for a while. I iced my shoulders, which were starting to ache from all the paddling.

Nothing feels quite so wonderful as your own bed after a long week, so after we finished watching the Count of Monte Cristo, I conked out around 2am. What would have been fitful sleep caused by the dread of work in the morning, I slept like a little old lady until 10am.

Thank you, Lord, for Labor Day.