Why is my father suddenly not receiving my texts?

“I can’t text my friend, but he can text me”

“Text messages not sending to one contact”

These are some of the search terms I used in my failed attempt to find why my father could not receive texts from me, but I could receive texts from him. We both have iPhones for goodness sake. They should love each other.

This situation lasted for a couple weeks. Then, today over lunch, he said, “Did you get your phone to work yet?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Is it something wrong with my phone?”

I said, in a good, Midwestern humble, “No, I’m sure the problem is with my phone.”

But a voice inside yelled, “Wait! My phone will send messages to anyone except you. I bet the problem is with your phone. But what could it be. I checked and I am in your Contacts. You are in mine.”

Then it hit me. YOU BLOCKED ME! You, and your 85-year-old fingers doing that random tapping thing they do when they try to work an iPhone, blocked me.

I Googled, “How to unblock someone” and said, “Can I see your phone?”

Sure enough I was blocked.

How to fix it.

I thought I would share the process of unblocking someone for you so you can unblock yourself on your elderly mom of dad’s iPhone.

Setting panel showing Phone
Go to Settings and tap Phone
Screen showing Blocking & Identification
Tap Blocking & Identification
Screen showing blocked contacts, and me blocked several times.
There I am… Blocked… from home, from work, from EVERYWHERE!
Slide your name to the left to show the “Unblock” button. Tap “Unblock”

Repeat unblocking for as many times as it takes to remove yourself from your dad’s blacklist.

Go back to the Home screen so your dad doesn’t get lost in Settings and screw something else up. Turn the phone off and set it in front of your dad.

Then smugly take out your own phone and text him “You blocked me!”

When he says, “How did I do that?”, say, “I don’t know, you crazy old man! I don’t understand half of the messes your fat fingers get into on that phone.” Or say, “I don’t know, Father. But we got it fixed now, so that is good.”

Make him pay for lunch.

Mr. Positive Writes a Christmas Letter

The Hale Family Christmas Letter 2018

Family photo at the saint Louis Arch
On our way to California we stopped at the St. Louis Arch, and some of the freaks climbed into the tiny capsule to ride to the top. The normal peeps stated on the ground.

This letter was slow in coming because I could not think of anything positive to write. But then I heard a radio preacher talking about why Jesus came into the world. The angel said, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This preacher pointed out that it doesn’t say Jesus will save me from annoying people, a dead-end job, or rotten children. He will only save me from my sins. After hearing that, I find my peeps don’t bug me nearly as much, and I can carry on writing this letter with a positive outlook.

Helen

Helen is a 19-year-old college student at Western Technical College. She is taking general studies courses and has no clue what she wants to do when she runs out of time and has to choose a major. Helen likes hanging out with friends, lamenting about the homework she did not do while hanging out with friends, getting straight A-s in spite of not doing her homework, and swing dancing when she should be studying for an Anatomy and Physiology final exam. Helen is the only Hale who knows how to work. She works at a children’s second-hand clothing boutique, and at church as a nursery supervisor. She attends a CRU Bible study at school, and co-leads a Bible study for middle-schoolers on Wednesday nights. (Is this chick the perfect wife for your son, or what? But I digress.)

Helen smiling in a canoe on the lake
Helen, the perfect child, is brighter than the sun itself.

Claire

ink self portrait of Claire

Claire, our 17-year-old, is a senior at Aquinas Catholic High School. Claire hates school and dislikes her teachers. She hates life and my dog. She hates injustice, capitalism, and the patriarchy. She is nice to me, though, so I let her live in my house. Claire works at an ice cream parlor/coffee shop where she gets half-priced drinks and treats. She’s happy when she comes home from there. Claire will go to school for art next year, but she knows not where. Claire is unable to ride a bike or walk to work or school because she suffers from a disease called 17-year-old.

Claire by a drawing of Ann Wheeler
Claire specializes in drawing little pictures of pretty girls. In this drawing, she shows her creativity by drawing a large picture of a pretty girl.

Edward

Edward Luke in a cycling jersey

Edward, our 15-year-old, is a busy kid, but not the kind of busy that results in an engineering degree. More like the kind of busy that results in a lot of YouTube watching and practicing double tail whips on his trick scooter. He is a sophomore at Aquinas Catholic High School where he majors in pranks and making disgusting noises with his mouth. Edward is also good at eating and sleeping, but not so much at bathing. Last summer Edward worked for a trail building company. He and a few other guys built a pump track, that turned a dead park into one of the most active spots in town. Edward is a hard worker, if he is directed by someone other than me. He has a winsome personality that makes him a favorite with everyone… except his siblings… and maybe his AHS vice principal. Edward’s newest obsession is finger boarding. Imagine a teen driving a tiny skateboard on the kitchen table with his index and middle fingers—causing it to jump and spin and “grind” across random books and my laptop, then exclaiming, “Did you see that? That was an 840 triple knock bucket down sample!” Yes, this activity seems destined to be Edward’s focus for 2019. I have very high hopes.

Edward and Nikole
In a rare moment of compliance, Edward poses with his mother. Please appreciate the effort it took for him to not make a stupid face.
Edward with a surf board
Super model, Edward Hale, on the beach in Venture, California. (Photo by super photographer, Claire)

Ruthie

Ruthie in cycling jersey

Ruthie, our 12-year-old, is the same, except taller. Ruthie spends half of her day being a sweet and positive presence in our lives and half arguing, fighting, glaring, and rolling her eyes. She smacks little sisters and flashes looks at me that scare me a little. Ruthie is a 7th grader at Aquinas Middle School. She ran cross country for Aquinas. She raced for the local co-op mountain bike team. She swims for the YMCA. Ruthie also plays piano, percussion, and violin. I don’t know if Ruthie gets good grades. I think her teachers are afraid to give her a report card.

Ruthie with a fish in a pail
Ruthie caught this fish off the end of the dock and kept him in a bucket for an hour so he could think about his poor life choices, before she poured him back into the lake.

Bethany

Bethany by a bunch of Easter eggs

Bethany, our 10-year-old, is a sweet little chick who should probably be adopted by a family who shows up on‑time for things. She spends her mornings stressed out by feet-dragging siblings who are unmotivated to get to school. She spends her afternoons worrying about getting to swim team on time. But she is not an anxious person. She will be fine when she is old enough to get herself where she needs to be. Bethany plays the violin in the school orchestra and takes piano lessons. Bethany gets her homework done early.

Ed and Bethany at Bean Juice Coffee Shop
Bethany said, “I wish I had a table like this in my bedroom, just big enough for a book and a bookmark.” (Dream kid)

Lydia

Lydia with a birthday cake shaped like a chicken

Lydia, our 8-year-old, is spoiled. She is sort of cute. She still plays with dolls. But she takes advantage of our parenting fatigue to stretch the boundaries of obedience and civility. She refuses to answer when called and will never do what she is asked to do. (Except feed the dog. She will give her time to him.) She is our invisible child, always maneuvering under the radar. If we ever leave a kid at a rest stop, it will be her.

Lydia laughing
She is the forgotten, sixth child, but she appears to be doing okay. (Photo by Claire)

Nikole

Nikole at a coffee shop

Nikole is super buff, super mom. She loves spending her days driving her kids to practices, lessons, rehearsals, parties and play dates. When she is not driving, she is on her phone texting other mothers about driving kids around. Nikole is into fitness. She loves Burn Bootcamp, and going running with her mom posse. She did a half-marathon last fall and is signed up for a 25K trail race next year. Nikole volunteers at our church’s Wednesday night kids’ program as a 5th grade girls’ discussion leader. She still grinds wheat and bakes bread. She is cranking out the good works for her family, her Lord, and for her pipes. She is the real deal.

nikole with three running moms
Nikole with three other members of the Running Mom Posse, looking buff in the great outdoors.
Nikole and Ed by the frozen Mississippi
We celebrated 22 years of marriage by going to a B&B in Afton, Minnesota in early March. Nikole could not go farther because her brave husband cannot go in an airplane.

Eddie

I am 54.

Claire and Ed at Grounded Coffee Shop
All I ask is that one of my kids takes me to coffee once a day. Is that too much?
Edward, Ed and Jack the dog
Men

Jack

Jack The Dog is our 5-year-old yellow lab. He enjoys sleeping, eating, long walks, trail runs and sleeping. Jack still refuses to sit on my lap.

Jack with a heart stuck to his lip
On Valentines Day Jack fell asleep on a valentine from one of his little sisters. There is something dignified about a watch dog who does not realize he has a big piece of paper stuck to his lip.
Jack with a parakeet inches from his nose.
Mr. Self Control.

In Closing…

We hope your Christmas is full of the joy and peace the Christ Child offers, and each of you gets a fat bike in your stocking.

Portrait of an oak tree

Or, Why oak trees hold their leaves all winter?

Ink drawing of a little oak tree

There is a little oak tree on the route of my daily dog walk, and Jack and I often remark about how pretty it is— the way it holds its leaves through the winter. I like it so much I drew a picture of it. (Not a realistic drawing, but my impression of the tree, because it poses out in the cold and I often draw late at night in my nice, warm house.)

I started wondering why oak trees hold onto their leaves through the winter. I learned two things:

  1. Holding one’s withered leaves through the winter is called marcescence. I recommend you use this in general conversation over the Christmas holiday, to impress your in-laws who have never appreciated the depth of your wisdom and knowledge and general value in the whole scheme of things.
  2. Nobody knows why some trees, including oaks, keep their leaves over winter.

The reason oak trees keep their leaves over winter…

I will tell you why I believe oak trees keep their leaves. You see, when God was inventing trees on the third day, He was feeling all creative. I imagine him saying,

“Okay, so that is a tree, with thin, needle-like leaves, bark and photosynthesis and all that.

Nice.

Wait, I’m going to make another kind of tree with big, flat leaves.

Yeah!

Dude, I’m going to make all kinds of different flat leaf shapes.

YEAH!

Wait, Wait! I will make the flat leaves turn all kinds of beautiful colors in autumn.

Yeah.

Then they’ll all fall off so Ed can rake them off his brown lawn.

Done.

No, wait! I’m going to make, um oak trees, hold onto their leaves through the winter. Oh man, this is going to freak people out. They are going to fall all over each other trying to figure out why oak trees do it. I can’t wait to see what sort of explanations they will come up with.

Bang!

That’s an oak tree”

The preceding is not Biblical, but I am pretty sure it is true.

Ink drawing of a little oak tree being held up next to said oak treeThank you, little oak tree, for being different, and thank you, God, for making things down here so weird and wonderful.

 

Riding with local powerbrokers

I went on a 64-mile bike ride last Saturday with the local B-Team. Our plan was to start a few minutes after the A-Team and pick up their stragglers as we went.

About 20 minutes into the ride, we caught two old guys on a climb. As we rode the next 40 miles, the two old guys proved to be strong riders, pushing the pace on the flats. I learned that one of the old guys was Steve O’Mally, LaCrosse County Adminstrator. I bet you wish your county administrator were as fit as ours.

Steve O'Mally, Mark Brum cycling

Mark Brum, Steve O’Mally, Michelle Ericsson and Gary Terbeest bringing it home in the Lions Ride For Sight. Where is JP the Locomotive? He is back on the horizon pulling two riders up to the lead peloton. Try not to notice that I was in the wrong lane to take this photo.

Steve O'Mally's keens cycling sandals

What’s cooler than being the cycling county administrator? Riding 64 miles in Keens cycling sandals.

I spent the whole ride hoping Mark Brum and JP Ericsson would not notice that I carefully avoided taking the lead or breaking the wind. I think I was only out of their protective draft for 400 yards of the 64 miles.

Mark Brum Cycling

I believe there is none on the road with a better riding form than Mark Brum. He is smooth, always in just the right cadence and never bobs or looks strained. But he doesn’t do Strava, so he’s not perfect.

The 2017 Hale Family Christmas Letter

The family photo

I have endeavored to write an orderly account for you, most excellent reader, of the Hale family and their impact on the author of this letter, because, like everything else, this family and this letter are all about me. Let’s be real.

Helen in graduation regalia and Ed take a selfie

My most beautifulest daughter graduated from high school this year. She seldom accompanies me on long bike rides, but is always ready to take a selfie with her Dad.

Helen is the best kid we have. Unlike the other Hale children, she responds normally to stimuli, like another human saying “Hello.” She graduated from high school this year and is now attending the most prestigious public college in Wisconsin. She visits me in my office between classes and even acknowledges me when she sees me in the hallway. Helen balances college, homework, a landscaping career and supervising a room full of kids in the church nursery, all the while leading an active social life. I would like to say that she is at the top of her class, but how would I know that? She is an adult and I am just an employee of the college she attends. It would be impossible for me to know. But she is probably doing very well. She has the blood of the great Edward Hale coursing through her veins.

Claire under sheer yellow fabric

Drama, beauty, chai tea. That about sums up Claire.

Claire told me I cannot tell you she has a negative attitude. Neither can I discuss swimming. Remember the friend you had in high school who would say, “Well, I bombed that test”? Then, you find out that that friend got the highest score on the test. That is Claire. She sucks at everything. I mean, if you consider high test scores, varsity athletics and the production of beautiful art to be sucking, then she is the worst. Claire’s only redeeming quality is that she enjoys taking her father out for coffee a couple times a week.

Edward Erdmann, Edward Hale, and the younger Edward Hale in the Black Hills

Several men named Edward took a hike in the Black Hills of South Dakota together. There was no cycling involved, but thankfully that younger Edward was wearing a cycling t-shirt. (I think it goes without saying that I have the best hair.)

Edward plays the drums. He went to Florida with the school band. He did a little balcony jumping and littering. He did not buy me a souvenir. Edward grows luscious, long, curly hair in a school with a “No Distracting Hair” policy. He lives in constant fear. Edward does a lot of homework and watches a lot of useless YouTube videos. Edward’s only redeeming quality is that he enjoys riding and racing mountain bikes. Some wonder if he rides faster than his dad, but I think it is stupid even to consider such a possibility.

Ed, Ruthie and Nikole take a selfie at a race course.

Try not to fixate on that beautiful, blue, Merino Wool, long-sleeved jersey from New Zealand. Also notice the beautiful women next to it. 11-year-old Ruthie is fresh off the Nordic Mountain race course. I cannot remember how she did, but I am sure she dominated in true Hale form.

I am trying to think of how to describe Ruthie without using the word, “sneaky,” or the phrase “selective hearing.” Ruthie is, um, “focused.” Ruthie reads a lot. Ruthie disappears when work is to be done. She is easy to find, though. You just follow the sound of her little sisters yelling, “Ruthie, stop it!” Ruthie is an upperclassman at her little Catholic school. She plays violin and is picking up percussion. We hope one day she will be that hip, well-rounded chick who runs from the orchestra pit, to sit behind the drum set in the jazz band. Ruthie’s most redeeming quality is that she rides and races mountain bikes. Ruthie is more willing than her brother to ride in adverse conditions,telling me she will go to the world championships someday. If she does not win, she will steal the first-place trophy.

Bethany and Ed in a selfie at a bike race course

Knowing that the way to her father’s heart is through cycling, Bethany volunteered to help set up the muddy race course at Seeley, Wisconsin. And I think she might have been the most focused and diligent volunteer present.

Bethany is easily the best Hale kid after Helen. She is beautiful, with big, brown eyes and curly hair. Her disposition is predominantly positive. She arrives at her obligations on-time. She has a clean desk. I think Bethany might not be related to me. Bethany plays the violin. (She stinks, which is a nice bit of humble in an otherwise perfect kid.) Oh, and though she reads very well, she has never returned a library book on-time, and constantly maintains a huge fine balance.

Lydia in purple hoodie

A beautiful photo of my youngest, taken by my beautiful wife. That slouching man in the background wearing the red jacket is not me. I never slouch and I have big muscles.

Lydia is milking the whole “baby of the family” thing for all its worth. She responds to directives and questions with grunts and dirty looks. She has learned that obedience is a suggestion rather than a requirement. Though she is as big as her older sister, she still needs help getting dressed and pouring her milk. On the positive side, Lydia reads well and, in class projects, she writes fictional stories about her happy home life. She has distinguished herself as a kid who fills the world with pretty works of art.

Ed takes a selfie with Jack the dog

Jack likes this photo because it hides his great, soft girth.

Jack is my emotional support animal. He is not good for much of anything else. He sheds, he snores and food falls out of his loose, floppy lips when he eats. Though I invite him, he refuses to sit on my lap. But, he does greet me with great enthusiasm every morning when I swing my legs out of bed and every time I return home. I pet him and scratch him and thank him that dog owners are statistically more likely to be happy and live a long life. Then I look at his big, square, fat head and think, “I bet a chihuahua would do the same thing.”

Nikole takes a selfie with Bethany

Nikole looking pretty at a June Dairy Breakfast in Bangor, Wisconsin. Check out the farmer in the background who wishes he had some sunglasses.

Nikole, how do I enumerate the positive qualities in a benevolent homemaker living among cavemen? The woman does it all. She feeds an army. She herds cats. She overlooks the most slovenly breadwinner the world has ever known, all the while getting fitter, smarter and more talented in the arts of sewing, knitting, cooking and battlefield first-aid. Nikole attends Bible Study Fellowship, a secret society of Jesus Freaks, and a prayer group for women with good-looking husbands. A recent hip injury has stalled Nikole’s Olympic distance running hopes for this year. Instead, she has taken to going on slow walks with a man and his dog.

I have not changed, though I am much older than last year. I don’t do much. I eat a lot of sugar and drink coffee like a fish drinks water. While other men are building additions on their homes, I am sketching flowers in my journal. My main goal in life is to be more fit. I want to ride my bike like a 20-year-old. I spend all my time exercising or thinking about exercising, mostly thinking. Sometimes I force one of my offspring to accompany me in my activity. But I only have a couple offspring who are game for that. If I did not have a great job that lets me teach a couple classes between sessions of push-ups and planks in my office, I would be completely and utterly void of value. I can fry an egg, though. I am good for that. I still don’t have a fatbike.

At this time of year, let’s not dwell on how awesome the Hales are. Let’s think instead ­­of how awesome God is for coming to earth as a little baby. Let’s celebrate his birth. And eat lots of frosted cookies.

God Bless You!

Feeling conflicted

I went to a graduation ceremony for my beautiful daughter, Helen. The first speaker told me how life is fleeting and I should not waste any time. I thought about how little I have accomplished. I should have a bigger house. I should have more in savings. I should have books in libraries. I should have paintings in museums. I am a total failure.

The next speaker channeled Dr. Suess and told us to try new things. I thought about the golden chain around my neck — the one that binds me to a really good job with excellent benefits and pay. Though I would like to travel the country exchanging doodled portraits and hand-lettered coffee shop signs for food and drink, I think remaining in the employ of the technical college might be a more prudent choice.

Then the last valedictorian spoke and told me to do what I like and not consider money. She told me I should do what makes me happy. But I just want to sit in my garden and draw irises all day. That would make me happy.

sketchbook with a drawing of irises and real irises in the background.

During one magical hour on the weekend of my daughter’s graduation, I sneaked away to draw in our garden. I look forward to next summer when I can steal another hour to sketch flowers. (Feel bad for me. I have a really hard life — sarcasm.)

I will not be attending the graduation ceremonies of my other five children. My delicate emotions cannot handle the conflicting messages. My wayfairing spirit cannot handle the tease.

I would go to the garden now to draw some lady slippers, but I have to prepare a lesson for class. Please, you go draw for me.

Ode to a key lanyard

The long lanyard at home

Ed walks the halls with his classroom key always at the ready.

I carry a biggish ball of keys with me wherever I go. Finding the right key can be difficult, so I have them grouped onto color coded lanyards. The ugly, teal lanyard is for car keys, because cars are evil smog producers, and deserve an ugly lanyard. The prettier black lanyard is for house keys, because home is a sanctuary (teaming with loud, screaming children). My work key has a special, long, black and yellow lanyard, because when I am rushing to class, I want to be able to find it quickly.

When I get to school, I unhook my work key and leave the huge key planet in my office. I walk the halls with one, light key in my pocket. The long yellow lanyard enjoys hanging from my pocket, and catching on door knobs and hooks.

Here is where the drama starts

On Thursdays, I have to get to work early to open all the computer labs. I always arrive with just enough time to lock my bike and rush into the building, where I find the five really serious students waiting by their classroom doors. Last Thursday, as usual, I rushed to string my cable through my bike wheels and hook the cable on my big u-lock. I fumbled with the massive key ball to find the tiny tubular u-lock key (which lives on the pretty black lanyard with house keys, because home and bikes are both beautiful things.) I locked the big u-lock and turned to rush to the door. But the rushing stopped when the long, yellow and black lanyard, having secretly looped itself around my bike cable, yanked me to a stop.

Ed being yanked to a stop by a hooked lanyard

Oh, the hardships I must endure, as I try to eek out a living

This is where the excitement stops

So I was an extra 40 seconds late, after I went back to the bike rack, fumbled some more with my wad of keys, and released my work key from the bike lock. I thought the experience was just funny enough to illustrate in my journal, and because I took the time to draw it, I am forcing you to hear about it here.

I hope all your lanyards stay where they should be.

No, You Cannot Keep the Bunny

It all started with a baby bunny.

At the very end of our Easter visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s, Jack the dog flushed two baby bunnies out of a rabbit nest. The kids rescued them and determined to keep them. I forced them, amid much arguing, to place the bunnies back in the nest. We entered the van with tears and sadness.

Ed thinking about a pigeon

An image from my handwritten journal.

On the drive home, I tried to distract. I filled the car with stories of the many wild animals I had brought home — stories that mostly ended in dead or escaped animals. The only animal that ever worked out was a pigeon I found with a broken wing. He thrived in my care, and one day flew away.

I told the kids that later, I owned homing pigeons.

Edward asked, “Why did you get rid of them?”

I told him, “I was a cool teenager. I didn’t have time for them anymore.”

He asked, “How much did you sell them for?”

I told him, “I don’t remember.” That made me think, I wish I would have journaled back then. It would be nice to remember some of those details.

The stupidest decision of my life

I wish I still had those birds.They were an amazing pet. They had the capability of running away in epic fashion — They were birds, for goodness sake! How would you ever get them back once they have flown off. Yet, they seemed to be hard-wired to return to their home coop. I could even take them miles away, and they would find their way back home.

Why didn’t they run?

They did not run, because they loved me. I mean, I bribed them with food and protection. But I choose to think they loved me.

 

The Hale Family 2016 Year In Review

Editor’s Note: In the past the Hale Christmas letter has leaned too far towards self-depricating humor. This letter is an effort to push the pendulum back toward the center.

Laying on the Awesome, Thick and Strong

One of my kids recently justified her lack of goals by saying, “But, Dad, you always say how we are mediocre in our Christmas letter.” So, I had to explain to that child that “mediocre” is a joke, and the “Awesome” runs deep in the Hale family.

In a former life, Mr. Hale was an intimidating cyclist. Mrs. Hale, in her youth, was a three-sport varsity athlete. Both were straight-A students. Are you feeling the seeds of awe?

The biggest family news is that the local Catholic prep school so desired the presence of the Hale Awesome Train that they offered each of the kids a full-ride scholarship. Now, the formerly pajama-clad home schoolers must rise at the unmerciful hour of 6:30am to prepare for the freezing trip to school. Twice a year Nikole and I are forced to sit through parent-teacher conferences to hear how polite, conscientious, and hard-working our kids are. We just hold up our hands and say, “You don’t have to tell us how awesome they are. It’s genetic.”

Edward by the Aquinas bus

Edward Luke wearing his “Most Awesome 8th-Grader” Medal

Swimming is still the dominant sport in our family, and our kids regularly dominate. When average kids are honing their Xbox skills, the Hale kids are honing their front crawls and flip turns. Helen and Claire both lettered on the high school swim team. Bethany recently qualified for the YMCA State Meet. They are all just getting stronger, more chiseled and… well… awesome. The only un-awesome part of swimming is the constant driving to three different flavors of practice. Sometime after Lydia graduates from high school, we plan to have our first supper together.

Helen

Helen with her birthday cake

The most beautiful 17-year-old in the mid-west. Now she is almost 18.

Helen (17) manages to be awesome on five or six hours of sleep every night. Helen does sports, helps with the school play, and is constantly working on an art project. She hangs out with the church youth group. Helen does well in every school subject, including the very un-artsy subject of math. It is not uncommon for her to be at the table working on an oil painting, and suddenly lean over and say to a sibling, “You gotta use the quadratic formula for that problem.” (What even is that?) I want her to become a professor of mathology, but she has this silly notion that she might go into art. This past summer Helen was a landscaper. She built stone walls. She moved tons of earth with shovel and barrow. She got tan. If Helen could, she would spend all her time painting, drawing and reading books. Helen is my favorite child, because she enjoys going to the coffee shop with me and drinking chai tea. (She drinks the tea. I drink manly coffee.)

Claire

Claire in Festival Foods uniform

Claire getting ready to spread the awesome over Festival Foods. She won’t put the 64-ounce can of beef on top of your bread.

Claire is awesome and thinks all of you who start your paragraphs with something like, “Claire (15)” are lame. So, I will not tell you how old Claire is. Just know that she is somewhere between Helen (17) and Edward (13). She cannot yet drive a car. She is a couple years away from voting. Claire spreads the awesome pretty evenly over her life. She was at the top of the high school swim team. She is number 1 or 2 on the YMCA swim team. Claire enjoys rising before the sun. She showers, eats breakfast, gets beautiful and spends the hour from 6:30-7:30am tapping her foot and saying, “Can we leave for school now?” Though she claims to dislike it, Claire is thriving at high school. She gets excellent grades (except in that stupid class about biology. But who cares about that?). On every third Saturday, Claire works as a bagger at Festival Foods. If Claire were free, she would spend her time reading books, and drawing perfect illustrations of superstars and ballerinas in the margins of her biology notebook.

Edward

Nikole and Edward

This photo was chosen because Claire said Edward looks cute in it. Yes, let the record state that Claire thinks her brother is cute.

Edward (13) is awesome because this year he raced mountain bikes. I need say nothing more. But I will. Edward joined the all-city mountain bike team, training and racing on the ratty, old, used mountain bike his father bought for him. He so distinguished himself that the coach placed him on a loaner Trek Excalibur 6 Hardtail 29er. On the new bike, he quickly rocketed up to the same position he occupied before the new bike… but, man, did he ever look good. Edward made the podium in three of the four mountain bike races and helped the team to place fourth in the state. Edward is awesome in school and gets good grades, but just to keep it real, he gets a C in religion class. If Edward were a free man, he would read books and build Lego creations all day. He hopes to become an engineer and get a job at Lego.

Ruthie

Ruth with her egg drop box.

Having dominated the egg drop competition at school, Ruthie poses with her technology. (That’s right. Three drops from three stories. No sweat.)

Ruthie (10) is awesome because she likes to hang out with her dad. She and I work on social studies homework together. She still likes me to read to her. Ruthie swims on the YMCA team like all the Hale kids. Ruthie began her volleyball career this year — and there are few things more awesome in athletic prowess and volleyball awareness than a fifth-grade volleyball team. (Well, maybe more than a few things.) My greatest hope for Ruthie’s awesomeness is her desire to be on the all-city mountain bike team next year. Before the snow ruined everything, she and I would regularly go on rides in Hixon Forest to train for next year. I can see us now, traveling to mountain bike races together… me consuming coffee and M&Ms in the driver’s seat and her reading out loud to me from the passenger seat. When Ruthie grows up she is going to be a lawyer, “…because they make a lot of money.”

Bethany

Bethany in a kayak

Explorer, Bethany Jane, leaving for a paddle around the lake.

Bethany (8) continues to be awesome in her complete selflessness. She is a sweet child and has so far resisted the Creep training she gets from her siblings. Bethany is responsible. She gets her homework done on time. She, like her sister Claire, enjoys arriving early for school, but unlike her big sister, she does it without the toe tapping and harassment. Bethany cannot spell. When she is not studying for a spelling test, Bethany is playing pretend games with her little sister (that usually involve being clad in swim suits while the wind chill outside is -30°).

Lydia

Bethany with a hen

Farmer girl, Lydia, holding one of her backyard hens.

Lydia (6) is a wildcard. She is very smart, but displays awesome stubbornness. She can read, but she would rather plant her feet, clamp her mouth shut and refuse. Lydia swims competitively, like her older siblings. She plays with her dog. She starts works of art, but seldom finishes them. If Lydia were free, she would play with her dog and move in with her friends across the alley.

The Parental Units

Nikole and Eddie at a lighthouse

Nikole and Eddie celebrated their 20th anniversary in Door County Wisconsin.

Nikole (young) is the same. She runs. She lifts. She rides those silly stationary bikes at the YMCA with the other creatures of the pre-dawn. She cooks for her army platoon. She attends a Bible study. She volunteers at her kids’ schools. She’s, like, awesome. She drives children around a lot. I seldom see her. This fall Nikole went to Uganda with several lady friends to teach women to sew on treadle sewing machines. She also taught the women about human trafficking, hygiene and female things that manly men like me just don’t want to know about.

I am awesome at school, where I teach children to draw with their hands and with computers. I teach them how to build web sites. And the state sends wheel barrows full of cash to my bank. My athletic awesomeness is waning. My only physical activity is walking a very worthless dog every morning. I am sure if I had a few more bicycles, I could find the time to ride them. But my backward-thinking wife believes that seven bikes and a tandem are enough. How could I possibly stay interested with only seven bikes? Not awesome. Because Western Technical College is not big enough to contain my awesomeness, I got a part time job at Duluth Trading Company. No, I am not designing their catalog. I am selling pants and underwear to tradesmen. It is a very fun job. The boss likes nothing better than to see me talking to some old guy about what he does for a living and the proper length of a belt. When I am not teaching or selling extra-extra-extra-large t-shirts, I like to draw. I draw doodles in my journal. And I draw involved illustrations with my classes at school. If I were a free man, I would ride bikes all day and draw dog portraits all night.

Jack the Dog

Jake the dog

Jack hanging at the lake and smelling like a wet dog.

Jack the dog is very consistent. He is very obedient, if you are holding a dog treat. He enjoys running with his mom. He also enjoys mountain biking with his big brother. He really enjoys sleeping.

My editor suggested I include one serious paragraph, and I said, “What do you mean? It’s all serious (except the part about full scholarships to the Catholic school).” So, seriously, we have had a pretty good year. Our little house is still standing. Everyone has at least one bicycle. We are all well fed. We hope your life is ten times more awesome than ours… as if that is even possible. And we hope you have a happy Christmas.

My Scrape with Death

Me holding a steering wheel and looking terrified

The Build-up

My huge, beautiful, Ford van had loud steering. I took it to my mechanic and he diagnosed it as a failed steering gear box. I said, “At least it is not the rack and pinion.”

The Flashback Scene

You see, my father worked for 30 years at Goodyear. I remember him talking about the great expense involved in a rack and pinion replacement. It sounded like the hip replacement of the car world. When a person’s car was sick, friends would whisper to each other, “I hope it isn’t his rack and pinion.”

Back to the Present

My mechanic said, “That van doesn’t have a rack and pinion. The gear box is its ‘rack and pinion.’ So, my son, you get to experience the great expense you have feared since you owned your first car.” (The last sentence was not spoken, but I know he was thinking it.)

The Boring Part

I had the gear box replaced. Our mechanic is about 10 miles away, so we had trouble finding time to pick up the van. Nikole and I finally had time to pick it up at 5:30am on a Monday.

The Plot Thickens

Driving the van home in the dark, I wondered if there was a little play in the steering wheel. I attributed it to being hypersensitive because of all the money I had just spent. When I drove under a street light, I was surprised to see that, though I was driving straight down the road, the steering wheel was aiming to the right… I mean way to the right. I should have been careening into Lake Onalaska. I decided the mechanic probably forgot to center the wheel.

Later, I made a left turn, and when I straightened the van on the next street, the steering wheel was aiming a little to the left.

Oh Great Brainless One

An intelligent man would have screeched to a halt and run from this possessed vehicle. But, being free of meaningful brain waves, I just kept driving it and wondering.

The Week of Bliss

I called my mechanic and made an appointment to have it looked at the next Friday. I suppose he thought I was a little light on brain waves, or he would have asked me to bring it in right away.

We drove the van all week. Nikole drove it full of little kids and a couple old ladies 50 miles per hour to our Wednesday night church thing. She thought it steered funny.

My Scrape With Death (not really)

On Thursday evening I was driving Edward to the Onalaska YMCA for swim practice. I kept telling him, “This thing is steering really weird.” I turned right and the van hesitated before making the turn. I felt like I had to correct a lot to get it going straight down the next road. (This might be a good time to read the section labeled “Oh Great Brainless One.”)

We drove by my mechanic and I wondered aloud if I should pull in, park, and call Nikole for a ride home. But I didn’t. I dropped him at the Y, and sat in the parking lot wondering what to do. I had dreams of going to Farm Fleet to get chicken food (because I know how to party). But a 65 mile per hour highway lay between me and Farm Fleet. I decided to drive slowly through town to get a cup of coffee and wait for my kid to get done swimming.

I passed the on-ramp to Highway 53, and wondered if I should just chance it. Thinking about how bad that might have been sort of makes me sick. I get the same feeling when I think about the time I almost drowned in Swift Creek.

I got to Panera Bread and pulled into a parking spot. I was not happy with how I was centered between the yellow lines. I inched the van forward and turned the steering wheel to the right. I felt a snap, and the steering wheel became a freewheel. It spun effortlessly as if it were not connected to anything. I rolled down my window and craned my head out to look at the front wheels, and indeed, they did not turn when I spun the steering wheel. I said in my head, “Oh God. What would have happened if this would have broken at 50 miles per hour? Thank you, that it happened in a parking lot.”

A Few Sort of Humorous Parts

I drank coffee in Panera as I waited for the tow truck. I wondered why people were looking at me like some sort of pariah as I swaggered back and forth to the coffee carafe and my table. Finally, I caught my reflection in a window and I was wearing my neon yellow biker jacket. I am sorry. I was layering. I forgot I had it on under my fashionable The North Face coat. I look normal in my neon yellow jacket when I am with 20 of my biker friends on the road, each of us in our own neon jacket. But in Panera, I looked like a freak wearing a street sign.

(Warning: there is a naughty word in this section. Cover the children’s ears) When the tow truck guy arrived, we exchanged the pleasantries usually shared by burly car guys. Then he asked, “What is the problem?”

I said, “It doesn’t steer.”

He asked if he could check it out. He got in, started the engine, and turned the wheel back and forth. He looked at me incredulously (Tow truck guys always do that) and said, “You have steering.”

Rather than give him a lecture on customer service, I just struck a pose like a teen-aged girl, pointed both index fingers at the left front wheel and said, “Yeah, but check it out!”

He stuck his head out the window and turned the steering wheel and said, “Shhhhhit! That sucks.” I agreed in less vulgar terms.

Is It My Mechanic’s Fault?

With mild difficulty, the tow truck guy got my un-steerable van onto his flatbed truck. He delivered it to the mechanic’s now closed shop while I drank coffee and waited for my beautiful wife to come and pick up me and my son.

The next day, I pondered how my mechanic would grovel and apologize for installing a faulty gear box. He would probably offer me free oil changes for life. Then he called and told me it was not the gear box he installed. It was my stupid Pitman Arm.

So, I got to buy a rack and pinion AND a Pitman Arm. My mechanic said that in 30 years of mechanicing, he has never replaced a Pitman Arm. He did not know they could wear out.

So, as usual, I am Mr. Special. The guy who breaks the unbreakable. The guy whose rack and pinion wears out. But at least I’m not the guy who sailed off the road into a cement wall because his steering failed at 65-miles-per-hour.

Soli Deo Gloria!