Saturday, January 10, 2009

What's Up

After struggling for months with the location of the closet rods in the front closet, and not being able to fit the coats in, it suddenly crossed my mind, "DUH, we could move them!" But how long was that going to take me? So Paul took an afternoon last week and made all the adjustments in the walk-in closet. And now those of us with bursitis can hang up our coats on a rack that isn't 7½' in the air. And those of us with long coats are no longer dragging them on the floor of the closet. Every time I open up that closet, I am impressed with Paul's repair-job.

The tree finally got taken down, the decorations put away, and everything stored in the attic. Y'know, that tree that took up a lot of space in the living room takes up a HUGE amount of space in the attic!

The kids and I cleaned nearly the whole house today. The basement still needs some sprucing up. But it's nice to have that out of the way. Now there's only the taxes, the Christmas cards, soap-making, jam-making, and mending to do before I'll feel settled enough to get back to "regular life" again.

Paul was due back at college on Friday afternoon. The weather forecast for Friday was bad. All day Thursday I kept thinking, "I wish he didn't have to drive tomorrow." As we discussed it at supper, suddenly we thought, "Wait, he doesn't have to." So we finished eating, he gathered all his stuff posthaste, and left at 7:30 Thursday evening. He drove nearly 2/3 of the way to college and stopped for the night at a classmate's house. He pretty much drove to the east edge of the storm, slept while the storm passed overnight, and then drove the rest of the way on plowed Minnesotan roads while the storm was trashing our roads here. It worked out well, and he arrived safely. My worries are nothing like Polly seeing her kid off, but they were big enough for me.

There was a rather large fire in a neighbor's driveway early this evening. Worried, Maggie and I walked over to look at it, thinking we might need to start throwing snow onto it, and banging on neighbors' doors. Turned out it was nicely contained, and the neighbors were keeping an eye on it through the window. But as we walked back, the thing that surprised me was the TVs you could see through the windows. In our neighborhood, the houses are small, not built like the ones today, and everybody's TV is in the living room, usually right across from the big window. I thought our TV was large ... until I saw how tiny it is compared to the neighbors'. And it also struck me how much we as a society neeeeeed our TVs. Honestly, I think we'll put up with anything from the government as long as they don't deprive us of our video games, TV shows, ball games, and computer pastimes.

My computer has been driving me nuts the last week. Every time I click on a link, or try to open an email, the computer tries and tries and tries, then says it can't do it. But if I click on the "try again" button immediately, the window will pop right open. It's been taking forever to zip through mail or read blogs. Today Gary found that the registry settings had been fiddled with and fixed them. Hooray hooray! Now the computer is working right again. There's a little detail that somehow I have let some adware sneak onto the computer and it gives me pop-up windows with ads. But that's let's frustrating than taking one full minute to open each email. (Ah, how quickly we forget the days of having been on dial-up, six miles out in the boonies on old phone lines, back when I'd change a load of laundry or chop an onion to kill time during every instance of trying to open up a website!)

Today's Laugh

Little David was in his 4th grade class when the teacher asked the children what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up -- fireman, policeman, salesman, doctor, lawyer, etc.

David was being uncharacteristically quiet, so the teacher asked him about his father.

"My father's an exotic dancer in a cabaret and takes off his clothes in front of other men, and they put money in his underwear. Sometimes, if the offer is really good, he will go home with some guy and spend the night there for money."

The teacher, obviously shaken by this statement, hurriedly set the other children to work on some exercises and took little David aside to ask him, "Is that really true about your father?"

"No," said David, "he works for the Democratic National Committee, but I was too embarrassed to say that in front of the other kids."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Julie's Apple Cake

Time flies when you get old! I can't believe the two youngest kids don't remember this cake. This is moist and delicious -- and easy. But the thing I like about it most is that it reminds me of Julie. She apologized once for making it "all the time." She said it was something she took to all potlucks, and a dessert she frequently served for any and all company. Until she mentioned it, I hadn't realized that we usually did eat that cake whenever we had dinner at her house ... but it was something to look forward to, not to think "Aaaaah.... again???"

When I said I was making Julie's apple cake, the two youngest didn't remember it. Wow, was it really that long ago that Fentons left for Detroit? I guess so.... Well, Mag and Andrew certainly enjoyed the cake, and requested it several more times before I depleted our supply of apples from Pastor's orchard.

Mix the ingredients in order:
1 cup sugar
½ cup butter
1 egg
1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup coffee
2 cups chopped raw apple

Spread batter in greased 13x9" pan.

Top with mixture of
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Co-Pay Surprise

Our health-insurance card says we have a $20 co-pay for an office visit and a $100 co-pay to go to the emergency room. Because all labs, x-rays, etc, are included in the one co-pay for an office visit, I naively assumed it was the same for ER.


Turns out that the bill for Gary's broken and smooshed and chopped-up finger was $1700, and $600 of that is our portion of the bill. That's not what I was expecting -- not that we really could've made a different choice about his care that day. But boy oh boy, if anybody had a thought of going to ER for something that isn't absolutely necessary and that can't be handled at home, this pricing would sure cure you of that bad habit!

And this is why it worried me so much that the grown-up kids would be bopping along without health insurance.


Pastor used a word in the Epiphany sermon that he doesn't usually use: sovereignty. He was talking about the star that led the wise men, and the debate over whether it was a "natural" phenomenon or a "special" star sent by God just for that purpose. (By the way, his conclusion was that it was both because God arranged the stars at creation so that the natural phenomenon would occur at the right time to announce the Savior's birth.)

But this wasn't just some interesting little commentary about the science involved with the star. The point is that God knew from before the foundation of the world what He would be doing to save us, and even before He created time He was planning my salvation. That's the important thing about God's sovereignty -- that it's about all things being tied together in His outpouring of love to rescue sinners, and not about how powerful He is and how we should be awe of His greatness (even though He is and we are).

So my mind gets to wandering about this concept of God's sovereignty. Some people recently have objected to Lutherans talking about God's sovereignty (in that He can override our plans when He so chooses) as if it were Calvinist to make our plans about certain things while recognizing His option to put something else into effect for us. And then it struck me: there's that dominion thing from the first chapter of Genesis.

Obviously God is in charge. But in His position of authority, He gave us dominion. He put us in charge. He lets us decide things. It's okay with Him for us to make all sorts of different decisions about jobs and family and location and activities and purchases. (Of course, there are sinful decisions too. But if something is not sin, then we're free to make choices, and He allows that.) It's kind of amazing that God (I mean, we're talking God here!) will condescend to allow us to be in the driver's seat about so many different things in this world. You be tempted to think He's making us into little images of Himself.

Today's Laugh

Despite the cost of living, have you noticed how it nevertheless remains popular?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Garbage Day

I didn't get the trash out for the weekly pick up this morning before leaving for Bible class. When I saw the neighbors' cans out, I thought about going back to take care of the trash. But there was little enough that I knew we could skip this week's pick-up and probably be okay, so I decided not to make myself late. But when I came home, I discovered that Maggie had taken care of it! With no reminders!

Isn't she an awesome girl?


Maggie's exercise today was a stress test on the treadmill. She did fine. Didn't quite have the endurance they would like to see, but her heart responded just fine to the exercise. We definitely need to increase our efforts to get her working hard and sweating daily.

The doctor detects "minor" leakage from her pulmonary valve. When we were in a year ago, the leakage was "trivial." Doctor says he can hear it now, whereas last year the leak was detectable only via the echocardiogram. (So, that means Matt might want to bring a stethoscope next Sunday for a fun little listen???)

Although it's likely to be years away, if her valve should continue to leak more and cause trouble for her right ventricle, the doctor expects valve replacements to be done routinely through catheterization by the time she needs her next one. If so, that would hopefully mean no more surgeries. He also explained something today that I just haven't been able to picture: valve replacement is done by inserting a stent with a valve in it. Up till today I just couldn't picture how they could hook up a valve to an already existing artery. I also appreciated the forethought of the doctor who suggested making the next appt for 11 months instead of 12, so as to piggy-back on this year's deductible and co-pays which will probably have been met for the year already with just today's one visit.

Today's Laugh

Excuse me.
I was lost in thought there for a moment.
(It was unfamiliar territory.)

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Pay-Off for the Suffering

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Anthony. Anthony attended the public high school. Anthony had never been overly fond of school. He went because his parents made him, because it was the law, and because the teachers told him how important it was that he receive an education. But school was never a thrill to Anthony. His teachers were like most teachers -- they had a lot to cover, and many students, and when it came right down to it, teaching the material took priority over teaching the students, all with their own particular needs, weaknesses, and strengths.

Anthony had some neighbors who were homeschooled. Anthony was fascinated by this -- in an odd, gawk-at-an-accident sort of way. Sometimes he expressed a wish that he could be homeschooled. But what he said most frequently about homeschooling was that those kids would never get a job. He often pointed out to the neighbors that they would never amount to anything, would never get a job, and would be failures in life ... because they didn't go to school. This sometimes amused the homeschooled teens and sometimes irritated them. But what it revealed was that Anthony endured school because he believed there was a pay-off: a job. The school and all of society had indoctrinated him with the message that he had to go to school to make anything of himself. If he dropped out, if he didn't attend school, woe and unemployment would befall him in his adult life.

These homeschooled kids -- they would have to grow up to be failures. Right? They weren't paying their dues, sitting through boring classes. So they would pay for it in the end. Right? The reality that homeschooled kids go to college and are hired for jobs -- that didn't matter. If somebody could not go to school, and still make something of himself, that totally undermined the message that school was necessary.

You get what you deserve. Put in effort and the time (and sometimes grit your teeth and suffer through it) and you get your reward: your diploma, your paycheck, your low insurance rates, your beautiful golf-course-quality lawn, whatever. That's how it works in the world ... even IF some people can put in their effort and their time and have the audacity to enjoy it while they're earning their rewards.

That's not how it works with God, though.

Lutherans know that works-righteousness is bad. We know that nobody can pay money to the church so that their sins will be forgiven. We know that doing nice deeds for the neighbors won't earn us time off purgatory. We know that you can't grease God's palm. We know that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, earned by Jesus, and given to us entirely apart from our merit.

And yet ...

How often we hear people talk about growing in faith like as if they're getting better and better at their obedience, and that God is liking them better because of it. Now, it sounds crass when I put it that way, but we hear it. Of course, we don't think we earn heaven by our improved behavior. It's just that we think God is more pleased with me than He is with So-and-so because I've advanced further in my prayer life or my altruistic deeds or in stifling my anger. Maybe I know something about His will that most other people don't know because they're too caught up in our typical American ways.

What happens when someone suggests that those "not-as-far-along Christians" are entirely pleasing to the Father because they have been united to Christ in their baptism? Have you noticed that sometimes we have the same response as Anthony? "Wait a cotton-picking minute here! I have been putting up with doing these good deeds [swallowing my pride, forgiving my crabby wife, raising all these children, being honest on my tax forms, tithing, or whatever] and you mean that other guy is just as pleasing to God as I am? But but but..."

Doesn't seem fair, does it?

And that's just the point.

Today's Laugh

What do you call a row of rabbits walking backwards?

A receding hare-line.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

What Grace Does

In 2 Corinthians, what did Jesus tell Paul?

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect when you get strong too?

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect when you overcome your struggle with sin?

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength helps you to become more obedient in your faith-walk?

No, that wasn't what He said.
Jesus' grace is sufficient, for His strength is made perfect in weakness.

The theology of the cross is just plain weird.
Good. And true.
But still weird.

Today's Laugh

What's red and green and goes 200 miles per hour?

A frog in a blender.

(Eeeeuuuwww! Courtesy of Mork from Ork.)