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May be an image of 5 people, people standing, lake and nature

We were in this glorious beautiful place to swim--String Lake--with the family from British Columbia we met at our campground, who also had a seven-year-old.  We had to leave after only a couple of hours because I had tickets for the Jackson Hole Rodeo.

Sebastian had never been to a rodeo.  Rodeos seemed to be one of the things to do in Wyoming.  I hadn't been to one in a long time, and the last few were the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo.

May be an image of 1 person, standing and outdoors

But growing up I went to the county one every year.  My grandfather had roped calves--I have his lasso.  And when Dad was a kid they traveled the rodeo circuit some.  So, while I might currently have some ethical qualms about rodeo and my life really isn't in that cultural milieu, there was a sense that I have roots in that world.

The Canadian mom said she was curious to see what my reaction would be.  And I was too.

May be an image of 3 people

And I had to much fun.  And qualms.  And a little queasiness at some of the cultural aspects.  But also so much fun.

Rodeos aren't quite what they were when I was younger.  Like all entertainment, it is not constant spectacle.  The loud music never stopped.  The emcee was never quiet.  There was always something to fill the gaps between the action.

Also they were wearing helmets and pads.  Definitely didn't wear that safety gear when I was younger.

Sebastian wasn't quite sure what to make of the experience.  Some of it he liked.  Some of it he didn't.  Some of it thrilled him.  More than once he'd say, "Did you know they were going to survive?"  Sometimes he cheered for the cowboy or cowgirl, and sometimes for the bull or horse (as one should).  He was quite shocked that kids had their events too.

The Jackson Hole Rodeo had all the kids in the stands come onto the field for a sheep scramble.  Sebastian really enjoyed that--racing across the arena.  He said he got close to the sheep, but not before someone else got the winning bandanas.  If he'd only been in his fast shoes instead of sandals.

May be an image of 4 people, people standing and outdoors

He also liked the mechanical bucking bison he rode.

But then he wanted to leave early.  Which was fine.  We got ahead of the crush of cars by about ten minutes.


May be an image of 4 people, people standing and indoor

I think Sebastian was originally put out that the Old Faithful Inn didn't have a pool or a TV. But it's a magical place. With no WiFi or anything, in the evening everyone was sitting on the various levels of the grand lobby talking, playing board and card games, putting together puzzles, listening to the live music, or sitting quietly watching the geyser field. A magical experience.

May be an image of 3 people

We mostly played Yellowstone Monopoly that we had bought that day at the NPS Visitor Center Gift Shop.  We also played UNO, Transformers, and sometimes just sat quietly watching.

Our two days at the Old Faithful Inn were magical, and some of the best father-son time we've ever had. Ever since I've known about this inn I've wanted to stay there and the stay exceeded my dreams and expectations.

Besides Beauty and Adventure, we also had lots of fun on our grand two week vacation in Wyoming.  We played games and toys.  Did lots of cuddling and tickling.  Raced and played tag.  Put together Lego's.  And all of this besides the swimming, hiking, rock climbing, boating, fishing, camping fun.

May be an image of 1 person and standing

I had hoped for a grand adventure, a trip that he could remember over a lifetime.  And I think he will.

May be an image of 2 people and outdoors

The best day of simply playing was one we spent in Jackson, Wyoming where we rode a gondola up the mountain, did a giant maze, played mini-golf, rode the chair lift and then zoomed down the alpine slide, and (last and best of all) rode the Cowboy Coaster down the mountainside.  That provided one of the best pictures of the trip.

No photo description available.

Exterior Painting Finished, etc.

Early in the Summer, Sebastian and I cleaned up and redecorated this pass thru area of decking between our back stoop and the garage.  When we did so it became clear what bad shape the paint was in on the side of the garage.  I had thought, "I might get to that in the autumn," since it wasn't on my summer project to-do list.  

Well, you know I've spent this time in between trips working on some projects, including what started as touch up work on the front porch that then evolved into touch up painting all around the exterior of the house in areas that I could reach.  Seemed like I should go ahead with this then.  I scraped the area on the miserably hot and humid July 5 and the rain all week kept me from getting the painting finished, but this morning I finally got it done.  This area, particularly visible when we have guests come over to the backyard and visible to us every day, now looks so much better.  Still a few things I want to do to finish it up, but that's all the exterior touch up painting for now.

I did get some writing done this week as well, particularly during the rain.  I'm working on a collection of memoiristic essays, which mostly draw from work I've written over the years in various settings and genres.  Hopefully I can pull it all together in a book that works.

But a lot of what I've done this week is prepare for my upcoming trips.  Our big one to Yellowstone begins next week and then I've got Glacier and Boundary Waters coming quickly in August.  Many supplies, like bear spray, will be good for all of the trips.  Yesterday I visited Dick's, Scheel's, and Cabela's (twice) getting supplies.  The next few days will be spent packing and getting everything ready.  I'm SO excited.

The Front Porch, & More

Today we awoke to a lovely and much needed rain.  It is surprising how much this has cooled off the air, rather than creating summer humidity (at least so far).  I've spent almost the entire morning on the front porch--drinking coffee, reading the news, reading books, and now some writing.

May be an image of furniture and outdoors

This week of the sabbatical has been very focused on the front porch.  Between trips I have a few weeks of being in town and have been using those to get some home projects accomplished.  Nothing too big and involved, but there are a bunch of little things that have needed attention, and I finally have the time to get to them.  All part of one of my spiritual commitments for this season of my life to make my home even more beautiful and comfortable.

So, this week I have done touch-up work on the porch.  First I scraped, sanded, and painted the tops of the porch railings.  I had done this very thoroughly about five years ago, but it was needed again.  This time it wasn't as involved because I had done such a thorough job last time.  Then, I decided to paint the porch floor, which I also hadn't done in years.  Doing so made me wonder why I had waited so long?  Then I decided to spray paint the porch swing and a small table and did it in black to match the shutters.  Next up was the front steps.  I used to refresh those every year and not sure when I got out of the habit.  And getting the pain out also gives me a chance to do some touch up painting around the exterior where it's needed (and I can reach).  And because it has been a few years since I've done that, there's a lot needing touch up.  I hadn't planned to do that much painting on Monday when I began, but it's been good to do.  The porch in particular looks great and makes me feel even better sitting out here.  Today's rain is preventing me from finishing the touch-up painting today, but I'll take the rain and the chance to have a more restful day of reading and writing.  And I've got more days to do the painting anyway.

The latest news from Yellowstone is exciting--the northern loop will reopen next week. So I think I'll cancel my backup reservations and plan to spend as long in the park as we had originally.  Still won't be able to do everything we'd planned, but a lot of it.  I'm really getting excited.  

May be an image of outdoors

And last weekend Sebastian and I got out all of our camping equipment and set it up in the backyard to see that it was all okay and what we needed to refresh.  On Sunday night, which dipped into the fifties, we slept outside and it was a wonderful night to do so.  The only adventure in the night was when the neighborhood raccoon family came to eat the birdseed in one of my feeders just a few feet from where my head was laying inside the tent!  Two evenings ago I watch this family of six--mom and five babies--playing in the tall tree east of my property.  The little ones were wrestling and trying to best each other in climbing higher in the tree.

Yesterday met with Katie Miller and Stephen Bouma to plan more for our August trip to Glacier National Park.  And Robyn Reynolds and I have done some of the planning for our August trip to the Boundary Waters.  The second half of my sabbatical is going to go by quickly.  I'll probably be tired afterwards and need a rest!  Ha ha!

I have also gotten some writing done this last week, working on pulling together a collection of memoiristic essays, largely drawing from things I've written over the years.  And my publisher said he thought that was a good follow-up to the last book and timely given the state of our politics and people wanting to better understand the Heartland.

Looking back at my writing it was fun to reminisce being a newspaper columnist--I sure miss doing that.  Also I realized I have a lot more writing saved that's never been published.  I had forgotten that I had two books I'd submitted to publishers early in my ministry that never got published.  I'm thinking about self-publishing those and some other collections I have, just to get them out there.  So, another spiritual goal I've set for this season of my life is to get more of my writing done and out.

Once Upon a Tar Creek

Once Upon A Tar Creek   Mining for VoicesOnce Upon A Tar Creek Mining for Voices by Maryann Hurtt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maryann Hurtt, despite not being from my home county, has portrayed it quite well in this volume of poems. She has captured the spirit of the place.

The book also contains detailed documentation, so there were facts and stories that I learned about my homeplace while reading this book.

It's core subject is the lead and zinc mining that has polluted Tar Creek. But she ranges through the history of the county, particularly the stories of Native American tribes relocated there.

View all my reviews

Conscious Uncoupling

Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even AfterConscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After by Katherine Woodward Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Life has broken you open and it is violently, mercilessly forcing you to evolve, to develop, and to grow."

I saw this book linked in an article last week, ordered it, and then read it in one afternoon and evening. I only wish I'd read it two months ago.

When we first decided to divorce I was intent on making it a good and healing process. I felt alone in that idea. It was so refreshing to realize that there is a body of work trying to help make that more of a common reality.

There is much that I identified with in this book. Much that I found helpful. And some stuff that is really challenging. Now I'll have to go back through and work with the questions and exercises it offers.

If your relationship is having serious difficulties, if your relationship is ending or has recently ended, or if you are still grieving a painful ending, I recommend this.

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"The War." The War?

Last night Sebastian wasn't listening.  I was in a patient mood, so I sat him down to talk about it to see if there was some reason he wasn't listening.  "Are you mad or something?" I asked.

"I'm sad," he answered.

"Sad?  What about?"

"The war."

"The war?"

As I probed further I realized he meant the Second World War.

Why would my five year old child in 2020 be concerned about World War II?  Two stories.

Over the recent holiday weekend we watched the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe which begins with the London Blitz and the Pevensie children being sent into the English countryside.  Sebastian had this spring also watched a number of times Return to Neverland, the Peter Pan sequel also set during the Blitz. 

So, he asked questions about what was going on in the movies, which prompted me to tell him about the war.  And to personalize it by sharing stories of his great-grandfather who had served.  Knowing me, I'm sure I was a little emotional telling about it.

Then, last Thursday, we were driving home from piano lesson and he saw a billboard on I-80 for the Marines that had the Iwo Jima Monument pictured on it. He asked what the image was, so I told him and he immediately connected with the earlier conversation.  I said that none of our family, that I knew of, had fought at Iwo Jima.  He responded, "But they fought in the war?"  Yes.  "And they fought for freedom?"  Yes (and score parenting points).  

Clearly Sebastian has no sense of the war being seventy years ago.  All he knows is that twice recently it has come up and both times he's felt some familial and personal connection and sensed emotion from his father.  So, for him, this historical event must feel very real.

And the more I reflected on this moment, the more I felt awed by his empathy and intelligence.

At Home: Labyrinths


Daniel Defoe, in A Journal of the Plague Year, which I'm currently reading having intended to read this year even before the pandemic, writes this key paragraph:

Now let any man judge from a case like this if it is possible for the regulations of magistrates, either by shutting up the sick or removing them, to stop an infection which spreads itself from man to man, even while they are perfectly well and insensible of its approach, and may be so for many days.

To that end, I recommend Thomas Pueyo's "The Hammer and the Dance," which does the best job of anything I've recently read about the best current steps and what comes next.  

Even so, there are other voices.  As with any scientific question, there are unknowns.  There's this piece I read on Towleroad entitled "What's the Best Path Forward?"

Part of the value of reading Defoe, or any of the other classic works of plague literature, is that we so often live in the fierce urgency of the now, and historical perspective gives us some sense of what has always been case and the ways our time is not unique.  Also that this too shall pass.

One of my main worries last week was that I saw so much focusing only on one dimension of the problem--the medical questions of the virus (or secondarily the economy) but less about all the other well-being and moral issues implicated.  This week there does seem to be more of that, including more articles about mental health impacts of social isolation, the rise in domestic violence that has already occurred after only one week, and this article in The Atlantic "The Kids Aren’t All Right" about the lasting effects this trauma will have upon a generation of children.  I also had an engaging conversation with a professor of gerontology on Saturday who thought that nursing homes should be providing residents a choice instead of placing them unilaterally in lockdown.  Her reasons were that lack of visits from family and friends are proven to shorten life expectancy, so residents should be offered the choice of whether they want to run the risk of the virus and still be with family and friends.  This is vividly brought to light in my own congregation by a member who was already in hospice and yet now doesn't have those visits, at a time when she would normally be surrounded by people loving her into death.

Defoe has this (among other things) to say about churches in the midst of the 1665 epidemic in London, "Indeed nothing was more strange than to see with what courage the people went to the publick service of God even at that time, when they were afraid to stir out of their own houses upon any other occasion."  He writes about the courage of ministers staying in town and ministering to the citizens.  We are, of course, doing it differently in 2020.  Most of our connections these days are virtual.  This week's staff meeting was inspiring as we now are getting a little more used to everything and are beginning to come up with more innovative and interesting ideas for what to do.  Also this week we will be rolling out more of our programming.  The staff meeting was one of the things that yesterday helped to lift my mood.

Neptune painting

At Dadda's Preschool today was about the planet Neptune, which included painting our papier mache planet.  We also spent a good hour outside with Sebastian riding his bike and walking the church's labyrinth (which I recommend if you can get over there some day on your own).  While walking and biking the labyrinth, Sebastian kept asking, "Is this the right path?"  

I kept answering, "It is.  But it tricks you."

Sebastian biking the labyrinth

I also seemed to have a lot more work to do today.  I didn't come near to completing my to do for church or here at home.

Yesterday's paper in Omaha reported that our citizens are doing a good job of following the guidelines.  Fingers crossed.


At Home: Finding a Rhythm

After my rough patches on Thursday, which I wrote about here, I feel like the last two days we've found more of a rhythm, though I've still had my moments of tiredness, lack of patience, anxiety, and irritability.  

Moon phases

First some Dadda's Preschool updates.  We learned about moon phases with Tatay using Oreos.  We figured out ways to do physical education inside on a cold day by creating obstacle courses to run.  We enjoyed the Zoom meeting that his preschool put together and will be doing every weekday morning so all the kids can see their teachers and each other.  Because the skies were going to be clear, we finally got out the telescope, which Sebastian has become very interested in.  Some new books we ordered arrived and we've enjoyed reading them.  And this morning we started our project of making a model solar system.  We blew up the balloons and cut the newspaper into strips and tomorrow will begin the papier mache.  Here are a few photos:


I'm really proud of the way Sebastian's holding up, though he's had his moments too.  I think he's grown up a lot in one week.  It's been particularly nice to see him helping even more with the daily chores and doing so with enthusiasm.  This morning he got his toolbox out so he could fix some broken things around the house.  His future spouse will hopefully thank me and Michael.

Yesterday I enjoyed some good cooking and baking time, a nice therapy.  

This morning I also finally found some time to catch up on reading various sites I usually follow closely.  Politico had a thorough discussion of ways that the Coronavirus may permanently change society.  I think this speculation may be a little early, but was interesting to read nonetheless.  Many thought that 0n-line education was a permanent fixture now, though one thinker thought the opposite.  An entire generation will be tired of on-line learning and will long will old fashioned human engagement.  I liked that idea.

Another article a couple of weeks old and so maybe already a little dated though still interesting, was a philosophical analysis of costs and benefits in order to evaluate what are the rational responses to the virus.  One interesting consideration discussed there--are the longterm effects to young children worth extending the lives of the elderly by a few months or years or will the current public health decisions inflict a greater longterm harm?  

In the morning I did find myself shedding a little tear at the news of Kenny Rogers's death.  Not that I was a big Kenny fan, but he was such a major star and fixture of popular culture in my early childhood, when I was the age of our son.  

Tomorrow our First Central worship service will be streamed live at this link.