These Treasured Moments

On this past Lord’s Day morning, we sat outside enjoying our breakfast in the pleasant coolness. Gathered with Randa, Sam and me were my sister and her husband from North Carolina and my niece and her husband from Oklahoma. Freeda and Olian had driven over twelve hundred miles; Andrea and Scott nearly five hundred. Sam had just returned from Texas on a visit to be with Sara Jane and the boys. He is on temporary duty at Ft. Leavenworth.

Ostensibly, what had brought the other non-residents to northeast Kansas was the publisher’s official book launch party celebrating Amazing Things Press’ recent release of several books by several authors. That list included my new poetry book, Tears and Prayers. Hosted jointly by Julie Casey (publisher) and by Rick and Terri Tobiason at their wonderful Stained Glass shop in downtown Saint Joe, the event also included the work of several artists.

That group included Randa’s brother, Kevin Burleson, who is quite talented at making ceramic art and entertaining children. A group quickly gathered as he began his demonstrations at the potter’s wheel. Different children (some of whom were over forty) took turns under Kevin’s guidance while his wife, Cheryl and the rest of us looked on. Of the many pictures taken that day, my favorite is one of Kevin’s hands, coated with clay, wrapped over the small hands of a child feeling the shaping of their very first work in that of which we are made.

It was a wonderful day in more ways than one. I met a few people, was honored to have some of my family and friends there and autographed a few copies of my book.

As the waffles and sausage gradually disappeared, as sips of coffee and juice were enjoyed, I reflected on the gathering. Surrounded by green hills and hardwood trees, with the limbs of the locust tree swaying softly in the slight breeze, I closed my eyes for a moment. I savored the feel of morning air, the aromas of breakfast, the sound of voices.

It is good to love and to be loved.

H. Arnett

9/3/15

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A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’

Well, it was a good day in Ark City, Kansas yesterday. My first day at the new job was pretty well packed with meetings and greetings and getting things underway. A few hours with the president and other administrators in the morning, an hour or two with the interim vice-president in the afternoon and a little bit of starting in on the duties.

My first official act was pretty simple: approving a travel request that didn’t involve any time off work or any money from the budget. The ones coming up next won’t be so simple. A few situations that will require executive decisions that may not be universally well-received. That’s part of the territory and a big part of the reason why a good number of folks don’t want a job like this.

What wasn’t part of the territory was a text message from Randa that she had ordered up a little surprise for me back at the hotel. The reason there’s a hotel in this story is that we haven’t yet been able to close the deal on the house we’re trying to buy here in Arkansas City. So, I left her and Sam at home in Blair and drove down to Ark City on Monday.

The reason there’s a little surprise in this story is that yesterday was our twenty-sixth anniversary, which is about twenty-five more than some people thought we’d ever celebrate. It was the only anniversary in those years on which we had not been together. We’d texted each other good wishes for the day early in the morning but I was very much looking forward to the bouquet or fruit basket or whatever it was she had ordered for me.

I got to the room about seven p.m. and opened the door, expecting to see some bright colors greeting me from the little table. Nope, nothing. I checked on the bed, in the chairs, even on the dressing counter. Nada, zip, zilch.

Just about the time I was about to go confront the front desk clerk and find out what happened to my wife’s wonderful little surprise she’d ordered, there was a knock on the door.

Turned out, it was no little surprise. That darling wife of mine had driven two hundred and fifty miles so we could be together on our anniversary! I was so overwhelmed with emotion and appreciation, I ordered us a pizza. Deep dish pan style supreme. It’s hard to go overboard with someone this thoughtful.

We just might make it another twenty-six…

H. Arnett

9/2/15

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A New Adventure

For the past seven years, I’ve tried to secure a vice-president position. I’ve interviewed seven times at six different colleges, including twice at my former institution where I worked for over eleven years. Whether it was the Lord’s timing or the president’s preferences, I failed in six of those efforts.

It was more than ego deflating; it was devastating. Until this string of disappointments, I’d landed every job for which I interviewed. I guess it was time for me to learn what so many others had already learned: not getting a job that you really, really want really, really stinks!

After each episode, I’d go through the usual cycle of self-pity, disappointment and discouragement. Then, I’d return to doing my job, going beyond the minimal level of necessary effort and trying to continue to achieve excellence. Even though it’s not particularly easy to work for the person they hired instead of you, it can be done. In fact, it can even be pleasant for all parties concerned, if you choose to make that the goal.

Now, oddly enough, I find myself in the other chair.

Today, I begin working for Cowley College as their new Vice President of Academic Affairs. There seems to be a fair amount of mutual excitement; they seem to be genuinely looking forward to me serving and I am certainly excited about it. Seven years, seven interviews and finally, I got the job!

But there are at least two people here who have good reason to be less than happy about it. Two people here who have learned the sting with which I have lived for seven years. I will be as gracious and pleasant as were the two supervisors for which I worked. I will be fair and positive. I will pray for grace and wisdom.

I will also pray that in a couple of years not just those two people but pretty much everyone else will be very happy and pleased that I was selected to work here at Cowley. To no small degree, I pray that that group will include Randa and me!

When we take the pain and disappointments of our lives and use those things to help us remember to treat others in the way that we would like to be treated, no experience is wasted.

H. Arnett

9/1/15

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A Few Good Things

The slate blue of storm clouds hems the view this morning. A southern breeze sways limbs and leaves on the locust tree beside the patio. While we sip coffee and eat our breakfast, Randa and I reminisce about last night’s wedding and discuss plans for tonight’s company. The cat poses along the retaining wall as a mourning dove calls from the top of the dead spruce tree. Although there is more than a hint of rain in the air, it is pleasant and cool. Not the typical northeastern Kansas August morning.

Nor is it a typical week for us.

Some of it focused on the preparation for hosting a very private marriage event. Thanks to a fair amount of coordination and quite a bit of cooperation and collaborative effort, everything came together late yesterday afternoon. A makeshift arbor of wrought iron frames fastened to the peach tree, some flowers and ribbons strategically placed and a bit of yard work set a nice stage for the wedding. Leah outdid herself making the corsages and the cake, which was nothing less than a work of art. My part was a lot easier.

After doing a short and simple ceremony for Jay and Leah, I left to do a poetry reading at the library of the college where I have worked for the past eleven-plus years. Jay grilled steaks for the small wedding party and I hoped there would be some left when I got back. There were and they were good.

Tonight, Lord willing, my sister and her husband will arrive from North Carolina, via stopovers in Tennessee and Kentucky. If the weather continues to cooperate, we’ll probably have waffles and sausage served on the patio. Later tomorrow morning, my niece and her husband expect to finish their trip here from Oklahoma. Around noon, I plan to drive over to the Kansas City airport and pick up my son Sam as he returns from a week visit with his family in Texas. (Sam is living with us while temporarily stationed at Ft. Leavenworth.) Then, in early afternoon, we all plan to go over to St. Joseph for a book release party hosted for several new authors by our publisher, Amazing Things Press.

Other than that, it’s just been a lazy sort of week, finishing drywall and painting in the dining room and working on the new ceiling in the entry way. Taking our morning and evenings on the deck or the patio, giving thanks for cool breezes, hot coffee and the blessing of living with someone we like. And for other lives with which to share ours.

H. Arnett

8/28/15

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Night Planting

After a late evening run into town in order to buy paint for the dining room makeover, we sat in the kitchen for a while. Having skipped supper for the fun of whatever else it was we were doing, I compensated with crackers and cheese. I’m not sure the meal rates high on the best foods list of the American Society for the Criticism of Whatever It Is You Are Eating, but it satisfied the purpose of me not feeling hungry. Maybe it is a bit elemental but sometimes serving the lower purpose will get us by until we are better fortified for the higher one.

While I was doing that, our son Jay brought over supplies for the next evening’s celebration supper. According to the conversational fragments I’ve managed to hear well enough to decipher, he and Leah are planning a small private wedding. Per the previously cited source, that will be followed by a small private supper at our place.

Even though it was nigh onto bedtime by the time Jay arrived, not to mention by the time he left, Randa and I nonetheless opted for some more private time outside on the patio.

A nearly full moon shone from its nocturnal zenith in a clear sky. Soft shadows formed beneath the trees. The evening air was cool and pleasant, bringing more a sense of September than August into the night. While we sipped our drinks, the cat prowled about the planters and chairs, stalking whatever was crawling about that hour of the night.

There was a soothing stillness in the breezeless quiet, a calming presence. In between questions and answers and more questions, I leaned my head against the back of the chair, stared at the moon and closed my eyes.

Even on a tired night after a long day, there may be things worth giving up a bit of sleep. When we keep such moments as this, we both reap the harvest and sow good seeds that help relationships provide even more than what is needed.

For the richest harvest, we also need to invest such time in conversation with our Heavenly Family.

H. Arnett

8/27/15

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Fruitful Even in the Lean Season

It was never intended to be orchard stock, I’m sure. Even though its fruit is sweet, the peaches from this tree have very little meat. Their pulp barely covers the seed and every year it seems that something makes the core rot around the pit. I suppose I could spray something if I knew when to spray and what to spray. I don’t and as of yet haven’t mustered up the necessary gumption to find out.

What I do know is that most springs the little tree is absolutely covered with pink blooms, justifying its place in the yard and bearing a most welcome offering of beauty and color. This year, on the whole tree, which is now about twenty feet tall and twenty-five feet wide, there were only two or three blooms. A late freeze did not kill the leaves but destroyed nearly every bud.

Absent its usual offering, the little tree still adorns the back yard and anchors the curving sweep of our back patio area. River rock and Kentucky flatstone fill in around its base and connect it to the maple tree and the rest of the area. A curved wooden deck, built around the maple, offers a place to sit and the peach tree accentuates that. Small but densely branched and thickly leafed, the little tree provides shade in mid-afternoon.

We took a break yesterday, sipping our drinks and enjoying the shade on an August afternoon. We talked of the week, our work on the house and coming plans. We reminisced about past company and visits to come. In the breaks between conversation, I studied the shape of the branches on the little peach tree.

I also considered that there are times in our lives when we do not feel that we are bearing our greatest fruit. Sometimes we feel bare, perhaps even useless in our worst moments. Sometimes, maybe, the summer has been too hot and too long and we feel like giving up. Other times, we feel that some unseasonably late freeze has brought its sting and ruined our blooming.

Certainly the years of heavy bloom and rich fruit seem more fun. But as long as we persevere, we will see the sprouting and seed and the ripening of fruit planted long ago. And we might keep in mind as well, that even when we do nothing more than give a bit of shade on a hot day, we have still yielded fruit. We have given rest to someone else and borne witness that we were made to serve.

H. Arnett

8/26/15

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An Hour of Prevention

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the new dining room ceiling. On one side of the room, mice had eaten away a pretty big chunk of the old acoustic tile. There was another hole left for access to plumbing and covered with a plywood patch. Even though such things give a place a certain nuanced charm, I suppose, we decided those quaint qualities had to go. Now, there’s a new drywall ceiling that does not as yet have any mouse holes or utility access.

It also doesn’t as yet have any paint but it moved a big step closer yesterday. After a half-dozen or so steps and layers of finishing, we finally got to the sanding phase. Of course, when it comes to sanding Sheetrock ™ at our house, “we” means “me and the mouse in my shirt pocket.” Even he shirked work yesterday.

Mouse is apparently averse to drywall dust, which is admittedly rather pernicious. About the consistency and color of talcum powder, it has a way of drifting into and onto every crevice and surface in the house. Having learned the hard way about the less than complete effectiveness of just closing doors, I took the extra measure yesterday of also sealing the doorways with plastic.

Randa helped me cover the double doorway into the living room, the kitchen doorway and the large built-in china cabinet. After she helped me start covering the final doorway into the den, she then abandoned me as prescribed by ancient rules of remodeling and local ordinance. I sealed the final doorway and began sanding.

An hour-and-a-half later, with arms aching and neck sore, I emerged, looking like a cross between Fuzzy Noller and the Abominable Snowman. Fused by sweat, layers of gypsum had built up into a cocoon on my arms. Puffs of dust rose from my shoes with each step. There was so much white dust in my beard and hair that I looked nearly three years older. But there wasn’t a speck of drywall dust anywhere else in the house.

There are jobs that by necessity involve some measure of mess. The best we can do is to get through them without making the mess more work for those around us. I believe the old adage says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Sometimes, it’s also worth more than that in preserving marital relations.

H. Arnett

8/25/15

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