Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas Letter

In what seems like a short span of time, I've made the switch from bachelor to husband. That switch comes with monumental changes in a person's life that extend far past adjusting one's Facebook relationship status from "single" to "married". I welcome those changes but still find myself catching up to what it is that married humans do. Writing a Christmas letter to send to family and friends is so far down on a bachelor's list, it hovers near "hunting for the source of that moldy smell" and "baking cookies to give to the neighbors and not eat all of them by yourself". I'm not saying Christmas letters are a bad idea...just one that didn't occupy my world until recently.

Heidi and I sat down and wrote a Christmas letter several weeks ago, but were unable to print it off and send it out to our families. We found ourselves traveling to the East coast for a lovely wedding and working every spare minute in between, with the Christmas letter falling beneath "sleep" and "eat" on our to-do list. But like good Mennonites that don't want to let anything go to waste, I'll post our Christmas letter here, rather than allow 2017 to show up without people knowing what Heidi and I are up to.

December 2016

Greetings, family and friends! Heidi and I wish a very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.

Okay, am I done?

“No cutie, you’re supposed to tell everyone what we’ve been up to.”

Oh, right!

Heidi and I have been blissfully married for just over 6 months, and for all the unmarried cousins reading this, we highly recommend the whole operation.  We’ve done a little bit of traveling but for the most part, Heidi has been transforming my humble trailer in the woods into a beautiful chateau perched near the English River. After kicking out my roommates (essentially by telling them how many cooties they were going to contract if they stuck around after our wedding), we began to meld two houses into one. Several friends and brothers pitched in to transport Heidi’s baby grand piano.  I admit I didn’t think there would be space for it in our trailer but it fits naturally in the living room and looks extra festive with a small Christmas tree perched on the lid. It took a few weeks, but the application of candles and scented oils purged out the baked-in bachelor stenches that had permeated the household before Heidi moved in. 

During the week, Heidi housecleans, babysits, delivers insulin to me when I leave it at home (which is more often than I'd care to admit), and fights off the crafty mice that have found their way into our chateau. She’s recently started repainting the rooms in the trailer, which have been in serious need of updating. Heidi is intensely focused when it comes to renovation projects but will set aside time to speak life to friends, family members, visitors, strangers…she is positively bursting with words of affirmation and love. 

I’ve been working at Graber Heating & Air, our family business. There are all sorts of wild stories to tell about the basements and attics and crawlspaces that I’ve been in, but I can’t possibly tell you about those because they may involve YOUR basements and attics. :D I’ve been busy attending classes to become licensed in Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning, or HVAC for short. I’m currently three years in to my 4-year apprenticeship, with a Journeyman’s program to be taken after that, and a Master’s exam following that. It sounds like a lot, but it’s relatively few classroom hours. I've already completed the apprenticeship's required 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, since they allowed me to grandfather in all the years I've already worked.

Heidi and I took an impromptu trip to Omaha, Nebraska recently to deliver an ancient gas pump to a collector, in order to keep it from falling into the hands of a greedy swindler. That tale requires its own letter, so I'll save that one for later.

How’s that, honey?

“Great! Did you mention Coach yet?”

I was totally getting to him, but then I got sidetracked and forgot. Thanks for the reminder! Coach is our stubborn golden cat that behaves like a dog. In my opinion, that’s the best kind of cat behavior.
EDIT: Coach died suddenly and unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, and I cried more for him that I've cried for any pet. I never thought I was much of a cat person but Coach and I had a strong connection. True to his nature, Coach stubbornly refused to let something like a work van make him move from his comfortable perch in the middle of the driveway, and got squished. In the dark, rainy hours just before the dawn of Christmas day, I buried him in the woods a short distance from our trailer.

Heidi and I have been meeting with a small group of believers on Sunday at a school house in Kalona. The group is called Cornerstone Christian, and it’s been wonderful to see God at work in the fellowship. We had a Christmas Eve service in lieu of attending a service on Christmas day, and it was lovely. Heidi and I were in charge of a children's meeting, and I read a story I found written by Dave Miller, which is worth the read. I'll leave the link for that story here.

I married a marvelous chef, and my body bears the evidence. I’ve gained 15 lbs since our wedding thanks to her incredible home-cooked meals and treats. Heidi’s family created a secret barbecue sauce recipe that requires all sorts of exotic ingredients. I’ve been commanded not to share it…well that’s not true. They don’t realize how revolutionary this barbecue sauce is, so I’ve decided to keep it a secret myself. Once I start marketing it as “Mama Zook’s Zesty Spread”, we’ll become millionaires, like that Sriracha guy. 

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
–Hebrews 13:20-21

As Heidi and I nestle cozily under warm fuzzy blankets inside, we watch fuzzy snowflakes blanket the yard outside. We wish you all a Christmas as warm and joyful as ours.

“And a happy New Year too.”

Oh yes, and a Happy New Year to you and your families!


Shawn & Heidi Graber

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Love Your Spouse Challenge

Lately on Facebook there have been a lot of trendy "challenges" that have swooped through; the ALS ice bucket challenge and "Change your profile picture for Paris" come to mind. Currently the hot topic is the "Love your spouse" challenge. Now, I'm not against these challenges, especially the latest one. My standard Facebook news feed is bloated with advertisements and awful news, so seeing a man praise his wife with words of love or a woman speaking life to her husband is a welcome respite from the barrage of drama and Farmville requests.

A few weeks ago, my cousin Kendra tagged me to complete the challenge, which requires a person to post something uplifting about their significant other once a day for seven days.

"Posh!" I declared.
"As if that's a challenge!" I scoffed.

The notion that loving one's spouse was a challenge to be conquered...I rejected the whole premise. I shouldn't have to be CHALLENGED into loving my wife, I should do it naturally! I should desire to! My relationship with Heidi shouldn't be based off someone double-dog-daring me to say "I love you." Silliness!

But it is a challenge.

Loving a spouse takes everything, and the moment you say to yourself "Ah, this romance is effortless", you've been lulled into a dangerous complacency.

Big words for a man who's been married one day over three months.

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)
I've gone from being grouchy about this whole challenge to introspective about it. The challenge is calling men and women out and saying "Hey, you know that love you lavish on each other? That's rare and precious in this culture. Share about it." For perspective, Heidi and I have some Godly friends in Canada that are completely unfamiliar with displays of affection between husband and wife. One couple explained how they turned it into a game; chasing the children down the hallway before giving their spouse a quick peck, unseen by the kids. Now "love" and "excessive displays of saliva transfer" are not the same. But what should be considered normal--the love of a man for his wife and a woman for her husband--is abnormal in our time and is almost unseen by the youngest generation.

Essentially, that's all I have to share. You may continue browsing Facebook now, or perusing other blogs, or checking those unread emails, or harvesting your crops in Farmville.

All gone? Okay, good. Heidi, this is for you.

I love you, Mrs. Graber. I love the way you prioritize communicating with me throughout each day, even when your hands are full. I love the hand-written notes and drawings you make for me, as well as the texts and voicemail recordings and Snapchats and phone calls. That barrage of communication may seem overwhelming to a bachelor but let me tell you, this former bachelor adores it. You are the bee's knees, little lady.

Thank you for waking up early to pack delicious lunches for me. I have been SO well-fed by you, Heidi. The touches that you put into my meals are astonishing. I often feel like an emperor as I pull out perfectly crafted sandwiches, piping hot soups and stews packed in a Thermos, tasty snacks and fruits and desserts and salads...all in the same lunch box. Seriously, you have done an expert job reminding me that my bachelor years were woeful times indeed.

Speaking of challenges, I love the way you rise to them, Heidi. I have loved marriage with you, and I owe a lot of that to the way you meet every obstacle with vigor and determination. I am so grateful I'm not a mountain in your path, because I know I'd get bulldozed just after you've had your morning coffee.

This photo was taken at our yearly extended Graber reunion, which takes place over the course of a Sunday afternoon and packs enough conversation to last a four-day weekend, easily. There were around 100 Graber descendants at this reunion and Heidi jumped right into the noisy fray. (Great-great Uncle Joseph hosted the reunion this year and held it in a refurbished hog barn on his farm. He remarked that our reunion cacophony sounded very similar to the barn's previous inhabitants.)

Heidi, you're holding a hammock strap that was impossibly knotted to itself, so tight that both my Mom and I gave up after assailing it with pliers, screwdrivers, and stern looks. I say "was" because you managed to unravel the knot that stymied the rest of us. The word "helpful" gets thrown around a lot but you are truly full of help, my dear.

This photo was taken after work on an especially long day for both of us. You had been cleaning and running all over the countryside, but when I arrived at home you had me sit down so you could rub my hot, sweaty feet. I have been so respected by you, Heidi. You have shown with your words and your actions that you cherish me. If putting up with my smelly toes isn't the epitome of faithful loving, I don't know what is. :) Even when you spend your full day blessing others, you bless me too. When I get home, you greet me at the door with a hug and tell me how glad you are that I'm back.

I love that you Snapchat me throughout the day. I also love that I have a difficult time finding Snapchats that are appropriate to share publicly. ;) You are beautiful, my love. We just received a copy of "Cosmopolitan" magazine (which puzzles me, because neither of us signed up for it) in the mail. The magazine's cover boasts about the latest "super sex secrets" and "booty boosting cardio tricks" but that magazine can take a hike. I have beheld true beauty, and she snuggles with me at night.

Life with you has been a true adventure, and there isn't a soul I'd rather have by my side, honey. I love the snarky humor you have, especially about the way you believe the world is out to inconvenience short people. There are a lot of complainers out there who have the ability to manufacture gripes out of just about anything.
Sunny day? "It's too hot to do anything!"
Rainy day? "My socks are all damp ugggghhh."
Day without coffee? "Waaahhh I can't get anything done I'm hopeless without my caffeine fix."
Day with coffee? "Man this coffee is expensive and tastes bad and probably isn't fair-trade."
But that's not you, Heidi. You have remained steadfast and upbeat and always have a word of encouragement to keep me going, even when it's "This too shall pass. I'll go get you another pair of socks."

Heidi, you've been sick this past week with a fever and a bad cough. You've had days where it was painful to breathe and nights where your coughing kept you from sleeping. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics and said that, unchecked, your condition could have developed into Walking Pneumonia, which sounds even more awful than Regular Pneumonia somehow. Through this, you have worked extremely hard to provide for our marriage and our home. You have been faithful to care for me despite your own need for care. Yesterday I had a slight cough and you rushed around to nurse me back into health even though you were coughing enough to summon the Grim Reaper.

I have been so blessed beyond what anyone could ever hope to deserve. I'm so grateful for you, my darling. Thank you for being my spouse.

I love you, Heidi.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Quest for a Rare Book

I read a lot. The amount of books I read has diminished in the past few years, but I still manage to stalk, overpower, consume, and digest several books a month. Lately I've been getting in on some of the audiobook phenomenon and it's been nice. Not extraordinary, because I will always love the weight and smell and feel of a true book*, but it has had its advantages, such as listening to beloved Narnia tales alongside my little lady.

*Before you label me as a "book hipster", I'll have you know that the word you're searching for is "bibliophile". I DO like reading ebooks but often find the process for adding books to my Kindle or smartphone akin to wrangling an ostrich into pajamas. One day I'll be able to take my Kindle into my local library and "e-borrow" (as much as I hate the fad of adding "i" or "e" in front of things to make them sound techy, I wasn't sure how to explain my idea) a book for three weeks. When that day comes, I'll drop real books like they're full of termites.

But there are certain books that cannot be downloaded, copied to a PDF, or sent to an e-reader. Neither would they fare well as an audiobook. This post is about such a book.

One of my most favorite man-made objects ever created is the Lockheed SR-71 stealth plane, nicknamed "Blackbird". You may not recognize the name, but you'll definitely recognize the plane. We're talking about an icon of American Freedom right up there with bald eagles and Abraham Lincoln.

Every time I look at that magnificent beast, I appreciate it even more.

The SR-71 retired from the skies when I was still in diapers so I have never seen one fly, but I have seen two of the exquisite creatures in person. One, in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, and the other in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. If I were to take a road trip starting at one museum and ending at the other, it would take me roughly 42 hours by car, traveling over 2,873 miles. The SR-71 could do the same trip in 1 hour, 8 minutes, and 17 seconds while averaging 2,112 miles per hour. Seriously, don't even get me started about this aircraft unless you want to be completely DELUGED with trivia.

But how does one become packed with trivia about an airplane that has little public information released? You read books about the airplane, of course! And the best books are written by the builders, the engineers, and the pilots that spent countless hours with the airplane. A few months ago I discovered an online article written by SR-71 pilot Brian Shul. The article was excellent and I wished there were more. In the comment section was a mention of a book Mr. Shul had published called "Sled Driver."

Cool, I thought. Maybe I'd buy a copy off Amazon. SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A USED COPY?? (or $1,999.95 + $3.99 shipping if you want the collectible version.) Good gracious, I haven't seen prices that bad since I bought textbooks for college classes. Perhaps I would download the book or borrow it from a library. NO DOWNLOADS OF ANY KIND AVAILABLE, EVEN THE ILLEGAL TYPE OF DOWNLOADS?? What kind of ultra-rare book am I dealing with here? It turns out that crafty Mr. Shul had released a very limited run of his book; a giant glossy coffee-table monopolizing tome filled with photographs that he personally took of the airplane. Supposedly, the way to sell expensive books is the following:

1. Take an exotic, secret aircraft that became an unrivaled champion of speed and stealth for decades, swath it in a cozy blanket of top secrecy.

2. Get selected for the grueling, extra-top secret SR-71 pilot program.

3. Pass aforementioned program training (along with the extra rigorous physical examinations) with sanity intact.

4. Fly the airplane successfully without piledriving into the ground at the 3 times the speed of sound.

5. Write a book about your experiences. Snap a few photos.


7. Profit.

Brian Shul has just recently re-released the book in another Limited Edition run with glossy golden book covers. Those copies, under the lofty title of SR71 Golden Anniversary Set are fetching the princely sum of, uh, $550? For a brand new book? Granted, that's still astronomical but used copies are more expensive than that. What's the deal, Amazon?

Faced with such a ghastly price tag, what was a purebred Mennonite to do? Acquiring a copy of the book just to read it became an obsession. None of the local libraries had a copy so I started looking into interlibrary loaning (or ILL for short), which is a cool book-sharing system (one could say that it's a SICK program hahahaha okay I'll stop). If a local library doesn't have a resource, it will reach out to its network of libraries to see if THEY have the resource. If they do, the local library will borrow it on your behalf. I started by asking the ponderously large Iowa City Public Library and they informed me that "...[ILL] is just for Iowa City residents, you country peasant!*"

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!" -Monty Python

*I may have added the "you country peasant" part. In reality, the ICPL librarian I spoke to was stern but kind. That seems to be the norm for all librarians worldwide, as if they all attended the same college and learned how to be stern and informative and quiet hahahaha but seriously.

Next, I visited a small local library about five minutes from my home in the town of Wellman. The Wellman-Scofield Public Library is run by one of my most favorite librarians, a sweet lady named Carol. Carol is not stern in the slightest (maybe she missed the Stern Librarian course in college?), even when I forget to bring in my library card to borrow items...which is every single time I visit the library. I told her about the book, which by now had grown its own identity, that of an elusive hardcover unicorn. I admitted that I wouldn't be surprised if there were zero copies available. After all, who gives a $700 limited-run book to a public library? And what library would let grubby little kids mash their Cheeto-stained fingers all over the aforementioned $700 book?

Carol checked the ILL database that her library was affiliated with. The database contained literally dozens of libraries across the state of Iowa, which may come as a shock to those of you who thought Iowa contained 2.5 towns, at most. A most surprising search result came back: there was one copy of Sled Driver in the library database. Huzzah and hip hip hoorayyyyy! I nearly shouted, until I remembered I was in a library. Carol explained that she would have to send in a request to see if the library would send the copy to Wellman. If so, she would give me a call when the book arrived. I thanked her and left, knowing full well that no library in their right mind would transfer that book. After all, what library loans out a $700 book to let OTHER library districts get their Cheeto-crusted fingerprints all over it?

The Harlan Community Library in Harlan, Iowa, that's who.

Carol called me several weeks later and told me that my book had came in. I didn't have to be reminded which book she was referring to. I rushed over to the library and picked it up.

 *reverent whisper* I FOUND ONE IN THE WILD.

The book was extremely good, just as I had hoped. I took my time and enjoyed reading through the chapters, getting to know the author and the plane just a little bit more.

It cost me $1.50 in ILL postage to read this book. Take that, Amazon resellers! 

I was tempted to take a photo of every single page and make a PDF or eBook but I decided against it because A) the real book is just too wonderful to confine to a series of photos and B) the pursuit of the book was half the fun.

After I finished reading the book, I passed it on to my dad, and then my fiance's dad. Is it a coincidence that I'm marrying a woman whose father loves the same aircraft that I do? Yes, that part was a coincidence.

Brian Shul is truly an amazing author, and like many have already commented on forums and Amazon comment sections, Brian makes you feel like you're in the cockpit with him. The book didn't contain the story I had read online, which I found slightly odd...WHAT!? Brian Shul wrote another book, entitled "The Untouchables"? I MUST ACQUIRE A COPY.

*Checks Amazon* Amazon wants $200 for a used "In good shape" copy of The Untouchables?? *sigh* The book is about as difficult to obtain as its name implies.

Those of you who have been following the links in this article saw that the SR-71 Golden Anniversary Set includes a copy of Sled Driver and The Untouchables. The Mennonite in me wants to buy the Golden Anniversary set for $550, read the books several times, then run to Amazon to sell Sled Driver for $700 and The Untouchables for $200, thereby making a fabulous profit.

Eh, maybe I'll just check my local library again.

Small local librarys are truly lovely. Take a little time out of your week to stop in and visit yours.