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.

 

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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.

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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!

 

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An Unfortunate Miscalculation In Cold Weather Riding Apparel

A cyclist frozen in an ice cube but still riding

I drew a sketch of a frozen cyclist. It is not meant to look like anyone we know

This past Saturday I went on a little bike ride with my sister. My crazy sister is turning 60 years old next year, and decided she wants to ride 60 miles on her birthday. She asked me if we could train together sometimes, and I thought, “Lady, I could ride 60 miles before breakfast and again after lunch.” (I don’t struggle with pride. I am just awesome.)

I was a little late to Laurie’s house and we began our ride at 3pm. It was 51 balmy degrees. I wore two long sleeved shirts and a jacket on top. I wore fleece lined tights on the bottom. I thought, “I am going to roast out there.” And I would have roasted, if it were 51° at 3pm in June. But it was November 27, and the sun was laughing and saying, “Look at the idiot in the yellow windbreaker. I am going to bed soon, and he is going to be a popsicle. (Hey, why is that hot chick riding with freaky, yellow, twig man?)

We started out heading north through Winona, Minnesota, and after a few miles, I noted that it felt cooler than I thought it would be. I kept telling myself, “I can feel a little cool for a couple hours.”

When my sister’s phone announced, “You have gone 10 miles,” my torso announced, “I am freezing.” I was glad I wore my winter gloves. I thought back to when my sister asked if I was going to wear my fleece jacket… my beautiful, red, fleece jacket that right now was hanging uselessly on the back of a chair in my sister’s dining room. Why hadn’t I worn the jacket?

The sun was in South America now, and the temperature was dropping fast. I was trying to hide my frigidity from my sister. Around mile 15, I swung my arms around trying to force blood into my frozen fingertips. My sister asked if I was cold. I confessed I was getting cold. I asked, “Are you cold?”

She said, “No, I’m fine.”

How was she fine? She had no windbreaker and she was wearing thin, leather driving gloves. I am the seasoned cyclist. Why am I the one hurting? And I had no idea where I was. Were we 10 miles from home, or 2?

A few minutes later, we rode up to Winona Lake, and I knew we were close to done. My sister asked, “Do you want to ride around the lakes, or head for home?”

I said, “I think I must head home.”

Oh the knowledge that we were on the “downhill side” of this ride gave me renewed strength. I was the great explorer headed home for a hero’s welcome. I was going to live!

Three miles later, my bike was leaning against the garage door at my sister’s house, and I was running for my street clothes. With my ice cube fingers, I put on every bit of clothing I had. My sister made hot coffee, and after I drank that, she fed me hot chili.

I drove home with the heater on full blast, drinking more hot coffee.

My Take-Aways

  1. Do not trust natural fibers! Trust chemicals. Wool long-sleeved jerseys do not keep you warm. Wear the polyester Polar Fleece.
  2. Don’t leave your neck gaiter in the car, Sir Edmond Hillary! Stuff it in your jersey pocket, just in case.
  3. Always bring coffee money!

 

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Bee Stings Don’t Hurt That Bad

I want to apologize to my children for every time I thought, “Come on! It’s a bee sting. Get over it!” I was stung as a kid, and it wasn’t that bad.

Today, I was riding with the high school mountain bike team. I was dominating from the back, as usual, when someone stuck an ice pick in my forehead. I realized I had been stung, and, man, did it hurt? I wanted to ask the other guys, “Does anyone mind if we stop so I can curl up and cry for a while?” (I didn’t. I kept riding and trying to look tough.)

man snarling but thinking about crying

I’m not crying… on the outside

The pain grew and I kept thinking of my kids and how little sympathy I have for them when they have a run-in with a bee.

Now I am blogging, with a throbbing red forehead… that itches! And I am getting less sympathy than I deserve.

I am sorry, kids. You are right. It hurts.

Epilogue

After deciding to press on with the ride and not cry, I was doing my usual thing where I drift farther and farther off the back of the group of fearless young people. I felt a drip of sweat slowly running down my eyebrow. A moment later I realized that it was actually my six-legged assailant crawling down past my eyeball. I smacked him off my face in a reflex action and also sent my glasses flying off into the forest.

I stopped… fell farther off the pace… found my glasses… and resumed the chase.

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Formula for an Awkward Conversation

  1. While checking out a customer, laugh at his email address because it is pw.schmuck@something.edu.
  2. Notice too late that the domain is .edu
  3. Realize in horror that .edu addresses usually involve real names!
  4. Glance through customer profile and see that indeed “schmuck” is the nice man’s name.
  5. Change subject to the color of the customer’s shirt, while you pray that the ceiling caves in so you can stop thinking about what a SCHMUCK you are!
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Nascar Carpool Mom

Drawing of Nikole in old time driving gogglesDear Mrs. Hale,

Can you explain the following quote to me?

“Wow, Dad. Your speed is a lot different than Mom’s.” Your daughter Claire uttered this quote as I drove down sleepy Farnam Street. Another of your daughters stuck up for me, saying, “Lighten up, Claire! He’s going the speed limit.”

Here is another quote I enjoyed: “Dad, why are you driving so slow? Mom would floor it and then screech to a stop in front of Isaac’s house.” Note to my readers: this exciting depiction describes the first forward motion of the car, and it takes place in a 50-foot trip down our gravel alley.

Finally, as I rolled serenely to a stop in front of the high school, Claire said, “Dad, that took you six minutes! Mom gets us here in four.”

Why do I share this story?

I think you should know there is a menace on the road. He drives the speed limit. Be careful you don’t rear-end him as he placidly drives down West Avenue.

Disclaimer:
I have the best wife ever… she bakes, she sews, she teaches. I just think a woman that amazing needs to be teased now and then.

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