Friday, June 30, 2006

'We're sounding amazing'

Kathy called Thursday from Germany. She bought a phone card, and I guess she's determined to use it.
There was a new maturity in her voice, as well as a tinge of homesickness. She said she was truly homesick when the group was in Minden, but she's over it. She still is looking forward to getting back to the United States.
The performances have been, in her words, "sounding amazing." The group has been performing primarily in churches, and even was part of a Sunday liturgy at a Lutheran church. That would have been something to behold.
The one performanced not in church was in an auditorium at Bückeberg, and that sounded fabulous, too, according to Kathy.
The Native American gifts are a big hit with the host families.
And she's met someone named Ranzenberger! Apparently, it's a guy about her age. When someone said the name with the Deutsch pronunciation -- "the way you say it, Dad," -- it got her attention big-time.
Still ahead: La Belle France!
I can't wait to hear these guys.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rhapsody in Blue Lake

Robert and I were approaching White Cloud along M-20, a very wooded, pretty stretch of Newaygo County, when a commercial came on the radio that featured the opening of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
That composition opens with a beautiful clarinet part. Robert seems to have set a goal that he wants to play the clarinet well enough to do that piece of music justice. We were on our way to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, so he can learn to achieve that goal.
A few summers ago, when the Ladies Home Journal profiled our family, Robert was described as “9 going on 42.” I’ve always known that was true, and I’m getting a deeper appreciation of just how deep that goes in that boy with the blond hair and blue eyes.
He’s older now, but he’s focused, far more organized than many of the adults I know, and he’s got the apparently innate ability to identify a goal, then go after it.

I didn’t worry about having him pack for a 12-day stay at camp. He had a checklist, supplied by the camp, and he followed it. Robert had gone over it weeks before, knew he would have to obtain more socks and underwear, and had us get it for him.
“I was surprised at how fast I packed,” Robert told me the night before we left. Well, yeah, because it had been planned, and executing a well-thought-out plan always works better than making it up as you go along.
We got to camp before the official check-in time, but that turned out to be a good move. The camp bank and the camp store already were open, and there weren’t any lines. Robert was the second kid to check into his cabin, and he got the bunk he wanted. All the paperwork was in order.
We wandered around the central camp for a while, then we both knew when it was time to leave. It was peaceful, well-ordered and just a good transition.
He’s 12 years old. He’s tall, blond, blue-eyed, polite, a little shy and very bright. There are girls in camp, of course. I suspect that after camp, he’ll be hearing from a few of them.
He might call them back, if they love Gershwin.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Wage slave

Andrew began work today on his very first job.
He's working at the Mission Street Wendy's. I haven't yet heard him say, "Ya wan' fries wi'dat?", but I suspect that's coming, if just in jest.
That young man decided he wanted to work this summer, and set about making that happen. He put together an impressive resume, emphasizing his leadership from Scouts -- being a senior patrol leader is a good start -- and his membership in the ski team. Being able to list yourself as a member of an Academic All-State team can go a long way toward impressing a potential employer.

It's not easy being 16 and getting a job. First, you have to ask, and somebody has to want to go through the trouble of wanting to hire you. Then, there's the whole work permit thing, which is a whole lot more complicated than I remember. Finally, there's the proof of citizenship and identity.
In two afternoons, Andrew and I trucked from Wendy's to the high school back to Wendy's, then back to the high school, then to the Secretary of State office, just to get the paperwork in order.
I know a lot of adults who would have just packed it in, but Andrew wanted this job. He even showed up 15 minutes early.
Most of his first day consisted of formal training; on Day 2, they put him on the building sandwiches, with an eye toward putting him on the till.
Man, when I was a McDonald's crew member, I started out scrubbing toilets and emptying trash.
It was a freaking promotion for me to be able to say, "Ya wan' fries wi'dat?"
Lunch rush, summertime.
He's already dreaming of new skis.

Monday, June 26, 2006

After the storm

A pretty potent thunderstorm dumped a lot of rain on mid-Michigan this afternoon. After the storm ended, I realized once again why I love this part of the world.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Father’s Day

At first, I wasn't sure if the person holding the baby on the other side of St. Anne's Church in Frankfort was a really geeky looking guy or a really ugly woman.
It was a guy, wearing an androgynous Land’s End-type outfit of a loose-fitting purple shirt, hiking shorts and boots. His hair was cut semi-short in the style favored by butches – of both genders.
But when the baby started to fuss, he calmly slipped to the back of the church, carrying that child in the way only experienced, involved parents do. Women get this movement a lot quicker than men do, but if men get involved in raising the children, they, too, begin to move like masters, not apprentices. This man clearly was a master parent, and on the way out, I saw his qualifications: he and the woman I assume was his wife had five children with them.

We were in Frankfort, about 100 miles northwest of Lake Isabella, because this weekend getaway was my Father’s Day present. Frankfort is a neat little town on Lake Michigan, with a fabulous little downtown and a fabulous beach. It once was a railroad town and port. The railroad and the ships left years ago; now it’s kind of an artsy resort town.
Kissy Missy and I spent a night here on our honeymoon, and we decided to go back with Andrew and Robert.
We rented a charming, funky little cottage, and headed into town.
Dinner at a place called the Villa Marine was amusing – it seemed that every cliché character was there. There was the 40-something wealthy blonde with the skinny husband wearing the U of M hat, the swarthy, heavyset man who looked as if he was vacationing from his job running scummy liquor stores, the older guy dealing the 20-something blonde, and she was just going along for the ride.
At least I waited until I was out on the street before bursting out laughing.
The beach we found is a little tough to find, but man, it’s gorgeous. It’s at least a mile long, and there were only about a dozen people on the entire stretch. It’s below towering sand dunes, and the Lake Michigan surf was kicking up ahead of a cold front.
Andrew and Robert plunged into the chilly water, while Kissy Missy decided just to lay on the warm sand and vegetate.

Later, we drove back up to the top of the dunes to watch the sun set over the lake.
Sunday morning, the rains came, and that canceled our plans to go to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Another time. After church, we drove up to Empire – the little town right in the middle of the national park -- anyway and had a fabulous lunch at the Village Tavern. Fuzzy called me while we were there, wished me a happy Dad’s Day. We were home by 5 o’clock.
It was all totally normal, all totally family.

Any man can plant a baby. Any guy can write the checks and keep his mouth shut. I am so blessed that I learned more than that, maybe even have learned to move like a master dad.

Larger, printable versions of these images and others are on the Kodak Gallery.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


I woke up at 3 a.m. Saturday. I wasn’t worried, exactly, but I immediately jumped online to, punched in Air France Flight 51, Chicago to Paris.
It had arrived. It had left Chicago almost an hour late, but arrived within two minutes of its scheduled arrival time in Paris, carrying 78 members of the Blue Lake International Choir. No problem. I went back to sleep.
Kathy was on that flight, and by now, she should be in Germany, getting set up with her first host family. What a ride.

Fuzzy came up from Grand Rapids to help see off his sister Friday morning. The early morning – the sendoff breakfast was at 7:30 – drive from Lake Isabella to Blue Lake was nice. Driving away from a summer sunrise is a nice way to spend a morning.
Kathy is so, so confident. The change in the level of growth and maturity were palpable even over the last week.
I see that same kind of growth among university freshmen in their first semester. They are on their own, they must rise to the occasion, and often, they do. Those who can’t quietly pack things up and go home, to what?
It’s now embedded in Kathy’s soul that she has the raw talent, but more important than having the raw talent is the knowledge of what it takes to bring that out. That’s rehearsals, work, practice, sweat.
Her first concert will be Sunday in Minden, Deutschland, at Christuskirche. The concert has been previewed by the local paper, Mindener Tageblatt. I hope there’s a good audience and the performance will be awesome.
That would be the best Father’s Day gift I could get.
Kissy Missy, the boys and I are off for a weekend in northwest Michigan, their Dad’s Day present. It will be nice to put life out of my head for a while.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Please, St. Joseph

Andrew, Robert and I spent the evening doing idiot stick* work in the front yard, digging up the statue of St. Joseph we buried last fall when we put the house on the market. Somehow, I knew we'd done something wrong.
It turns out we did a lot wrong. Let's see:
a) We buried the statue in the front yard, not the back yard.
b) We didn't have him facing east, toward Nazareth.
c) and perhaps, most important of all, we took down the crucifixes in the house when we got ready to sell it.
The crucifixes have to go up again, and St. Joseph, you've got a breather.
The Novena starts tomorrow.
Wanna buy a house?
* Idiot stick: a stick with a shovel, rake, broom, mop, etc. at one end, and an idiot at the other.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

She’s on her way

The tears came before she left.

That’s probably the way Kathy wanted it. By the time we got her to Blue Lake Friday night for the beginning of International Choir rehearsals, she already had begun to get into performance mode.
That’s a good thing, because the first rehearsal of what Blue Lake calls “Intensive Week,” – read “Hell Week” – was scheduled a whole half-hour after she was scheduled to arrive. She won’t have time to be homesick.
Kathy’s been focused on this day ever since the word came that she’d been selected for the Blue Lake International Choir. She actually began rehearsals a couple of months ago. Now, it’s begun for real.

It’s a month-long adventure, beginning with a week of intensive work at Blue Lake. Here’s a typical schedule:
5:30 a.m. Awake, shower, prepare
7 a.m. Breakfast
8 a.m. Rehearsal
11:20 a.m. Language Class
12 Noon Lunch
12:40 p.m. All Group Chorus Rehearsal
1:15 p.m. Mandatory Rest Period – in bunks, feet up
2:15 p.m. Rehearsal
4:15 p.m. Orientation
5 p.m. Recreation
6 p.m. Dinner
7 p.m. Rehearsal
9:30 p.m. Orientation/Cultural awareness
10:30 p.m. Taps, performed by a selected horn section

Dropping her off Friday was a flurry of last-minute preparation. I got gifts for her host families – polished gemstones carved with clan dodems from the Saginaw Chippewa s. We decided there could be nothing more American, and nothing that said “Mount Pleasant” like these.
Besides, they’re beautiful. A Bear Clan, a Lynx Clan, an Eagle Clan, two Beaver Clans and two Turtle Clans.

I decided that perhaps we should include an explanation, so I wrote something. It was in English. I dusted off my high school French, and Andrew took his year of German, and we translated it. (Thank God for Babelfish.)
Bear is l’ours en Français, Bär auf Deutsch. Lynx is lynx in all three languages; Eagle is l’aigle en Français, Adler auf Deutsh. Beaver is le castor en Français and Biver auf Deutsch. My favorite is turtle: le tortue en Français, and a great word – Schildkröte – auf Deutsch.
It looks something like this:

Chez moi, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, est egalement chez la Premiere Nation du Saginaw Chippewa , une tribe du Indiennes Americaines. Voici le symbole des Chippewas du Clan de le Tortue, d’un signe de le force, de la fidélité et de la famille.

Wo ich lebe, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, auch, wo der Saginaw Chippewa, den indischer Stamm der indianer dieses leben. Das Symbol des Clan Schildkröte der Chippewas’, des Zeichens der Stärke, der Loyalität und der Familie ist.

It means: My home, Mount Pleasant, Michigan, also is home to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, a band of Native Americans , Indians. This is a symbol of the Chippewas’ Turtle Clan, a symbol of strength, loyalty and family

Strength, loyalty and family. Kathy’s on her way.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Sunrise in the north country

It was a beautiful weekend forAndrew and Robert.

This was the Scouts’ annual summer canoe trip, and once again, they traveled to the Upper Manistee River. The stretch is west of Frederic, and it’s a calm, gentle stream.
This particular trip had a pretty good turnout. The troop invites families along, and many families took advantage of the opportunity.
Kathy had a sleepover, and I decided to pass on the opportunity to go canoeing. Kissy Missy and I took the boys up Friday night, and I went after them Sunday morning.
In between, they had a great time. Robert says he stayed completely dry, a claim I completely believe. Andrew got doused once, and he says it wasn’t his fault.
The SPL decided to jump into the canoe with Andrew and his friend Alex. That’ll do it.

I went back up by myself Sunday morning, on a beautiful drive into the North country. Public Radio’s “Echoes” provided the soundtrack, the drive was clear and dry, and National Geographic light flooded the hour after dawn.
When I arrived, the camp was relaxed, calm and stress-free. A fire was burning, just because if it’s a camp, there has to be a fire. Robert was up and packed; Andrew didn’t take much motivating to get up.
The guys worked together to load up the canoe.

Andrew tied the canoe down with a trucker’s noose, a knot I taught him. One knot, and it’s tight. He’s got it down.
Breakfast at Big Boy in Grayling, watching a cute, young waitress flirt outrageously with a customer, the road home, rest.
For the guys, the perfect campout, the perfect canoe event.