Friday, November 21, 2008

A Hillock in the Swamp to Stand On

As another semester of college winds down, I find myself looking forward to a few weeks without classes and papers and homework. What I'm really looking forward to is getting back some of my time, if only for a few weeks. Of course, for most of that time I'll be wondering what to DO with all my free time. And then it's suddenly over and school starts again, and I can go back to grumbling about not having any free time.

What a precious commodity time is, and how much we take it for granted until we have it taken away. In my case it's not so much that it's been taken away, but more like it's been commandeered, or maybe grudgingly donated. In order to get from point A to point B, I have had to make some concessions, and my time is the main one. I am not free to do whatever I want whenever I want. My days are split between school in the morning, work in the afternoon, and school again at night.

I admire those who are able to work full-time and go to school full-time and get done quickly. They either have more fire, more drive and focus than I do, or they're more desperate. I restarted college in the fall of 2006 at Coastal Georgia Community College with an immediate goal of getting my AA, a two-year degree. Two years have now come and gone and I am still without that piece of paper in my hand. But the end is in sight! There is a possibility - slight though it may be - that I'll be able to finish this summer and have a Associate of Science degree in History (History is not science, you say. Social Science the college counters.). The more likely scenario, as much as it pains me to say so, is that I'll have to take another class or two in the fall, delaying my entry into a bachelor's program at another school. This means I would have crammed a two-year degree into three years. While that may not seem like cramming to you, remember that 3/4 time at school plus 3/4 time at work plus some time as a husband and individual adds up to more than 1.

And that's why I salute the people who are able to carry the load of two full-times: work and school - three if you add in parenting! I have been a full-time parent, worker and spouse, and I know that there's no time left for anything else. So how do you people do it?

Some just say, "I have to do it so I can have a better life." "I'm doing it for my kids." "I really, really, really want to be a (fill in the career of your choice), so I'm just doing what I have to do." I have cautioned some to make sure to allow enough time for family, spouses and personal time, but almost all have responded that their families and spouses are supporting them, sharing their vision of a future. My wife is my biggest cheerleader. She keeps trying to get me to say - out loud, mind you - "Yay, me!" when I accomplish something. I'm a little too Midwestern-Norwegian for THAT kind of outburst, though.

So we slog on. (Isn't that a great word? Slog.)
slog: pronounced slŏg  v.intr.
  1. To walk or progress with a slow heavy pace; plod: slog across the swamp; slogged through both volumes.
  2. To work diligently for long hours: slogged away at Latin.

Eventually we will slog across the stage to collect a handshake and a diploma, and then, our burden lightened by the addition of both, we will skip merrily along to our dreams. At least, that's the plan.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

When Fay Came to Visit

It’s been a long time since I have put any thoughts on paper that aren’t related to school (I went back to finish college in the fall of 2006 and hope to be done by the end of 2009), but it’s also been a while since we were impacted by a named storm. In this case it was called Tropical Storm Fay.

The last time we felt the power of one of these named storms was back in 2004 when Hurricane Frances came sightseeing. She followed on the heels of Hurricanes Bonnie and Charley, a pair of mild-mannered storms that got us all excited but then pulled their punches at the last moment. Frances dropped about 13-inhces of rain, I think, and blew hard for several days.

Fay was not nice to Florida, but she never came all the way up into Georgia and we just got a taste of her mean temper. Just a half-hour south, in Jacksonville, FL, they got flooding and massive power outages and numerous trees falling on houses, cars and people. There were pictures on tv of cars in water practically up to their roof, houses with water lapping at the bottoms of the first floor windows, and giant live oaks that had splt houses in two and completely flattened cars - one while it was being driven (the driver died instantly).

We got about five-and-a-half inches of rain over two days, and winds of 30-40 mph with higher gusts. I didn’t see it personally, but there was some minor flooding/storm surge in downtown St. Marys near the waterfront, a result of an abnormally high tide. We were not without power at our house, but news reports say that some parts of our area were powerless for part of Thursday night, the end of the first day of Fay’s visit.

Newspapers and The Weather Channel have been talking a lot about snakes and alligators seeking refuge in peoples’ houses, but we’ve had no freeloaders here.

A half-hour to the north, at Brunswick and St. Simon’s Island, there are reports of flooding and damage, and I saw a picture in the paper of someone on St. Simon’s Island with a couple of feet of water in their yard, but that has not been our experience. And I’m fine with that!

When I went for my walk Friday morning, there was a lot of debris in the streets, but mainly pine straw, oak leaves and small branches. I saw only three small trees that had toppled in the night, and two were clearly long dead, and none of them were out in the street. There was only one that forced me off the sidewalk. By Friday evening, there was another large limb that had come down and was lying across the sidewalk, but that was about it for our neighborhood.

I don’t say this to minimize anyone else’s experience, or to boast of our own good fortune. God is good all the time; and all the time God is good. That doesn’t mean God only allows good things to happen and all bad things are of the devil. Rain falls on the just and the unjust and bad things happen to good people. When bad things happen, His people act as His arms and hands and feet, loving, blessing and helping hurt, devastated people. When people ask, where was God in this mess, the answer is that He is there helping people put lives back together after a natural disaster.

God is not Santa Claus who gives you only the good things that you want or your own personal bodyguard to keep all the stink off of you while you do whatever you want. You can’t just look to Him in bad times or when threatened. He is there for you every day, waiting for you to realize it.

Fay has come and gone from our neck of the woods. She shook down some of the dead branches that we were meaning to get at, and she helped refill our aquifers after two years of drought, but that doesn’t mean we want her to come back. Besides, there’s some more posers out in the ocean refining their act and hoping to come to town in the near future.

As for me, I’ll take some wind and rain over three feet of snow, snowdrift over my head, and 50-below wind chills any day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Penny's Worth

How often do you bend over and pick up a penny on the sidewalk? "Pick up a penny??? Why bother? What can you get for a penny?"

Well, I stop and pick up pennies all the time. There's a number of reasons why I do it. Number one: After I pick up 100 of them, even if they've been run over and nicked up and scratched, I can trade them in for a dollar. If you saw a dollar on the street, would you pick it up? Of course you would. It's the same thing except you have to pick up more pennies first to get to the dollar.

Number two: it's good for me to bend over and flex my waist and back muscles. Sometimes I squat down and flex my gluts and thighs. The older I get the more important it is to maintain flexibility, so I guess you could say I'm getting paid to do a little exercise.

Number three: sometimes the penny is near a nickel or dime or quarter. If someone has tipped change out of their pocket when they're getting in their car, there may be more than pennies lying around.

Number four: You can put them in the penny tray at the convenience store. How many times have you taken a penny without putting a replacement in later? If you pick them up off the ground, it doesn't cost you anything and you won't feel bad next time you have to use one from the penny tray. Pennies can assuage guilt.

And number five, the main reason: Pick up a penny and look at it. Over Lincoln's head are the words, In God We trust. Every time I bend over and pick up a penny, I am reminded that God is trustworthy and that He is looking out for me. I can't tell you how many times I have been stressed over one thing or another, and when I get out of the car and look down, there's a penny. I can't always see the words, but I know they're there. In God We Trust. A reminder of who I put my trust in. It's much more than just a phrase or a few trite words; it's a way of life. Trusting God, that is, not picking up pennies.

Let's say you are faced with a stressor like a test or a speech. Let's also conjecture that you claim to trust in God's plan for your life and His promise that you are more important than a bird. Now put it into perspective. Say it to yourself, "Because I trust in God, I'm going to let this test/speech get the best of me and fail miserably." Because I trust in God, I can't win. Because I trust in God, I have no future. Sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?

Start with "Because I trust in God ..." and then tag on whatever trial you are facing. You'll start to grin and realize that worrying runs counter to what God wants for us. Try it. I think you'll like it. I can't take credit for stumbling onto this, either. I read it somewhere else and I realized how completely true and correct it is.

We all get tripped up when we read Philippians 4:6 where it says, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything." (NLT) My response has always been something along the lines of a very deep and philosophical, "Yeah, right!" But I'm learning to trust. And part of the lesson has come in the form of pennies with a reminder that God is worthy of our trust. Proverbs 3:5-6 says "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (NIV)

The next time you see a penny, pick it up and accept that blessing from God, that little hug over Lincoln's head that reminds us Who is in charge. Maybe it's God's way of inviting us into a conversation with Him.

I guess you still can get something valuable from a penny.

© 2008 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Reason Why

Some folks look at the long, dry spells between my posts and may wonder why. If you look back at my regular website (, where I used to post stories before web-logs became blogs, you'll see I went through dry spells there as well. It's because writing is a creative outlet for me. I don't have a best-selling novel hidden away in me, but I do have ideas and stories I like to express and I use them as a way of sharing what's in my head with others. 
I believe that everybody needs a creative outlet and it doesn't have to be in the mainstream of creativity. I used to work in a restaurant kitchen many (many) years ago and cooking food for people is a creative outlet. Writing music and singing songs are also outlets for me. But I think I really love to use words to get it out of my system. 

About two years ago I went back to college to finish what I started back in 1975 (Whoa, dude! You're, like, really old, man!) Since then I have had to use up the words I would have used for creative outlet to fill up papers for history and English and Communications classes. I used a lot of my creative juices when I took college Algebra (I think I sprained a muscle in my brain, but I got an "A").  It seems like there is always a project of some sort due, especially in World Civilization and American Government, to say nothing of putting together speeches for, um, Speech class, y'know. So my creative juices have not run dry, they've just been diverted.

So why this sudden burst of posts? It's Spring Break. Woo-hoo! Oh, wait; no woo-hoo for me. It just means I get to sleep a little later some days but it also means I get to work a little longer some days – those days when I usually have to go to an evening class and leave work early. I did email my parents back in northern Minnesota (where it's been below freezing this week) that I was going to have to go to Daytona Beach and get drunk with all the rest of the college kids. I told them I really didn't want to, but it's what college kids do, so my hands were tied. Yeah, right. Like a 51-year-old, overweight, balding man who's gone back to school to become a minister of music is going to go and par-tay with the kids. Snort, chuckle and guffaw. 

All the reading, writing and 'rithmatic I've been doing has gotten me used to having an outlet for the words and ideas that flow through my brain. Suddenly, that outlet has been temporarily pinched off, and I find myself stuffed with words that need to come out. So I returned to that thing I enjoy and which leaves me feeling as though I have actually done something that may last longer than I: putting those words to paper (or actually just into cyberspace). Someday someone may stumble across my blog or website and read something and feel their cockles warmed or chuckle at something I went through and realize they're not going through life alone and that someone else has felt the same thing they have. They may read I Should Have Raised Goldfish and realize they are not terrible parents, just tired and war-weary. 

So I've just got words that need to come out sometimes. And that's the reason why. 

© 2008 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 07, 2008

On Our Way to 200K (miles, not dollars)

It all started so innocently, so properly and for all the right reasons. It was just supposed to be an oil change, two new tires and, "Oh yeah, there's a little leak up front. I don't know if it's a hose or what. See if you can fix that." It wasn't a challenge. I just knew that I was leaking a little coolant because I had suddenly started seeing a little spot in the driveway under my car and it was antifreeze, not oil.

It's a 99 Chevy Malibu, and it's been a pretty good car for the most part. I like the way it feels on the inside, with plenty of room for everyone who rides in it, front seat or back. I got the V6 so I can get some good passing speed when I'm on the highway. We got it in 2000 after it came out of a car rental fleet in Oklahoma. It ran perfectly for the next two years, and then it went into a ditch in the middle of a Minnesota winter and lost the back bumper and dinged up the front one. Those things were fixed by insurance and we went on with our lives.

Every mechanic says it is fine, but ever since that night when the ditch appeared where road was supposed to be, the ride has been slightly different. It's as though the car is slightly crippled or arthritic, maybe. No one can find out why, but there's a creak/rattle in the front right that wasn't there before the ditch incident (hereafter to be referred to as the ditch-ident) and which is not there all the time. It only really makes itself known when you're running the A/C or the heat. After the compressor has run for a bit, it seems to make a rattling noise when you go around corners or over a bump. Nothing I haven't been able to live with, but it still preys on your thoughts that something is not quite right with the car and you never fully trust it after that.

After dropping the car off this morning for the routine maintenance, I went home and did my usual morning stuff. After a couple of hours my wife called to see if the car was ready so we could get back to our normal routine with both of us mobile and independent. That's when the routine got all shook up.

The little leak? It's called a water pump. And some gasket and as long as we have the top of the engine off, the spark plug wires are cracking and the serpentine belt needs replacing .... how much? "Well, we'll have to look and total ... the water pump business is going to run $957, plus tax. Then there's the tires and the oil change, which are already done, and the other parts and labor." We still don't know; it won't be done until tomorrow. It'll be somewhere between $1500 and 2-grand. As my wife reminded me today: This is why we have a savings account.

Plus, think about how much we haven't paid in car payments in the last 5 years, which is when we refinanced the house and rolled some loans together and consolidated our debt. So it'll be like having a new car. Almost. Parts of it will be new, in any case. And maybe I'll be able to put some faith in it again. I'll be happy if the rattle is gone.

The funny part? (Yes, if you look hard enough there's always a funny part.) The funny part is that the last thing I told them when I dropped it off was that my wife had just reminded me that we won't have this car for another 100,000 miles, so don't get the most expensive tires. With that much money dropped into it, maybe we WILL have it for another 100,000 miles!

© 2008 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved