Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trials and Tribulations of a Rural Electric Meter Reader

(I wrote this four years ago when we still lived in rural northwest Iowa.)

Oh man, I’m dead.

A huge black Newfoundland dog lumbered toward me and I knew my life was over. Supposedly a person’s life flashes before their eyes when they face death.  I only managed to wonder if massive amounts of dog slobber were toxic.  I furiously clicked my handy-dandy dog zapper but it didn’t faze him.   
 He skidded to a stop two feet from me and underneath the slobber, I swear he grinned.  
            “He just wanted some attention,” my husband suggested when I told him later.  “So what did you do?”
            “Got back in the car.  You’ll have to go back and read their meter.” 
             “I can’t keep reading meters every time a dog scares you,” Keith said in exasperation.   “If you want to keep this job, you need thicker skin.”
            Ah, well, there you have it.  If I want to keep this job.  Some months I’m not so sure.  I’d landed this crazy job to generate a little extra income.  For driving to every house in our township once a month and reading 127 electric meters, I earn roughly $100 a month.  Subtracting $20 for gas and vehicle wear and tear, and provided I finished in four hours, I make $20 an hour. 
Meter reading looked easy enough.  Our old meter reader drove to our power pole, read the meter, and drove away.  He didn’t even get out of the car.  Piece of cake, I thought.  Nothing to it.  When our township’s meter reading job opened up, I applied, blissfully unaware that not all meters are created equal. 
            The first clue this might be more than I bargained for should have been that my predecessor had quit in December.  I started February 1, on an unseasonably warm winter morning, so didn’t discover for nine more months how unpleasant meter reading is in subzero weather.

            I was shocked that some meters were harder than ours to read. 
Some meters are behind people’s houses or buildings.  Some are in a field.  That means I have to get out of the car to read them, which is only a problem in the aforementioned freezing weather, or if the homeowner has a scary dog.
Halfway through my first day, after climbing over fences, dodging goats, slogging through mud, walking behind a stinky hog barn, and being scared by dogs, I thought, “Angie, you idiot.” 
REC provided a dog zapper that makes a noise only dogs can hear and don’t like, and a can of mace, in case the zapper doesn't work.  What had I gotten myself into? 
I told Keith about my first day.  He rolled his eyes.  “I suppose you’ll want me to go with you.”
What a great idea.  Then he could climb fences, slog through mud, and handle scary dogs.  I even offered to share my “easy money.” 

The second month, Keith and I set out, armed with dog zapper, mace, binoculars, and dog treats.  I was tickled we finished in four hours, until I realized technically, that’s more like eight, which means we only made $10 an hour. 
Keith took me home and said he’d finish the route on his way into town. He called twenty minutes later.
“Could Andrew (our son) come pull me out of the ditch?”
“What happened?”
“What do you think happened?  I went in the ditch.”
“I was doing your job for you and misjudged my turn and slid into the ditch.”
Hmmpf! My job.  If he gets half the money, it’s his job too.  Serves him right.

We settled into a monthly routine, which worked great until the first time Keith couldn’t go.
“But what about the dog houses?” I wailed.
“Do them yourself.”
 “You could do them on your way into town,” I reasoned.   “Call me with the numbers and I’ll do the rest.”
“Just this once, and then you need to learn not to be afraid.”
Hah!  Easier said than done.  I considered telling REC their meter reading ads don’t give near enough information.  They need a disclaimer: "Wimpy women afraid of dogs need not apply.”

Finally the dreaded day arrived.  Keith couldn’t go with me, and I couldn’t, for love or money, talk him into doing the dog houses on the way into town.  He used the lame excuse he was going a different direction. 
“They aren’t as bad as you think.  Show the dogs who’s boss,” Keith advised.  "Don’t let them know you’re afraid.  The Harper’s dog won’t hurt you.  He’s just big, dumb, and stupid.”
Big, dumb, and stupid.  Big, dumb, and stupid, I kept telling myself. I warily opened the car door and started towards the house.  The stupid dog jumped on me and growled.  Keith said the dog wouldn’t hurt me, but he looked even bigger up close. 
We played a variation of Mother, May I? “Big, dumb, and stupid dog, may I read your meter?”
“No, you may not,” he growled.  Turns out he wasn’t so stupid after all.  He saw right through my not letting him know I was scared act.  His alpha dog instincts kicked in as he smelled my fear and wouldn’t let me onto to his property.
I explained all this in great detail to Keith that afternoon. 
“So what did you do?” he asked suspiciously.
“Maybe you wouldn’t mind reading it for me?”
He muttered unprintable words and left to read the meter.

Besides Big, Dumb, and Stupid and the slobbering Newfoundland with his speeding train imitation, the dogs that scared me most were Rex, the big German shepherd down the road who tolerated Keith but growled at me, the Hank the Cowdog wannabe next door, the evil Dalmatian two miles east, a vicious mutt two miles west that scared even Keith, and two obnoxious car-chasing Collies who lived around the corner.  

After two years we’d seen it all. We’d been stuck in snow three times, and mud two times.  We’d seen dead fly-infested bloated pigs piled by a power box.  Once we returned the meter reading book and forgot to read our own meter. 
Over time meter reading got easier.  The evil Dalmatian was put down for biting the Propane man.  We learned how to sneak up on Rex the German Shepherd.  Big, Dumb, and Stupid moved to Idaho.  The drooling Newfoundland died.  (His owners said he went deaf; that’s why the dog-zapper hadn’t bothered him.)   
Keith and I split the route, although I suspect not evenly since he finished in two hours and I finished in three.  But he did the dog houses including two huge bull mastiffs that moved in that last summer. 
I rejoiced the day REC called to regretfully inform me they no longer needed my services as the system had been automated.  I was elated to be out of a job as I had long since decided that some things just aren’t worth the money.  Especially after Keith broke the news to me that we didn’t actually make any money.  Our electric bill averaged $100 a month so we had basically broke even. 
Moral of the story:  Only buy nice dogs, don’t put a meter on the back of your house, and think twice before taking an “easy” job.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nag - Nag - Nag

Several years ago Keith's friend gave him a mug for Christmas.  Keith loved it but I didn't appreciate the humor. 

The mug pairs old horses with the words, "Nag, Nag, Nag."

When our friend Brendon (who I've referenced before as Waldo, the Driving Instructor, and the Nose Breaker) comes over, guess which is his favorite mug?  

We have a good selection. 

Such as:

Our old McDonald's Batman cup

The Marine Corps Hymn mug

Since Keith was a Marine, our kids had to learn the song.
and our amazing Exodus Wonder Mug - the picture shows Moses crossing the Red Sea.  Hot liquids makes the water roll back and people cross on dry ground. 

Keith didn't know the cup did this. He bought it at a garage sale and got quite a surprise the first time he used it for coffee. 

Despite these good options, Brendon still likes the Nag mug best. I try not to be offended that both Keith and Brendon think this cup is funny. It's not like I ever nag. 

Last fall the unthinkable happened. The Nag cup broke. Brendon mourned it's passing and often comments when over at our house "I wish you still had the Nag Cup."

When his birthday came around I wanted to give him his own Nag Cup. Piece of cake I thought. You can find anything on the internet. 


Leanin' Tree doesn't sell the mug anymore.

Neither did anyone else. I scoured the internet with no success. I found a magnet and a note pad but they didn't have the same impact.

I found this framed picture but decided we didn't like Brendon enough to pay $750 for it. 

I was about to give up when one last internet search turned up an Indiana Buffalo Farm gift shop that sold these mugs. I couldn't wait to give Brendon his gift. 

We had Brendon over for a birthday dinner. He's been to our house enough that he knows where things are so he was rummaging around in our cupboard, whining commenting once again that he wished we still had the Nag Cup.

Rachel played along and asked what the Nag Cup was. Brendon described the cup and how much he liked it and how he wished it hadn't broke. 

We gave him the gift after dinner. He was tickled to have his own Nag cup. The only down side is he took the cup home so we still don't have a Nag Cup to use. If I'd been smarter I would have replaced Keith's broken Nag cup at the same time.

I'm going to be the bigger person and choose to ignore Brendon's comment that there are six "Nags" on his cup and I have six daughters. I'm going to forgive my husband for pointing to me and saying, "They're still six nags. Anna doesn't nag." 

So if you come to visit and don't like our mug assortment, feel free to bring your own.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Very Important Day

Today we celebrate
Erica's 20th Birthday!!!

Keith firmly believes that teenagers have "Mush for Brains."

Wishing Erica a Happy Brains-Starting-To-Firm-Up-Day.

Past posts about Erica:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Aged Regret

Certain songs yank me back. 

Singing “Just a Closer Walk” in church recently took me back to Mt. Gilead Bible camp when I was fourteen, young, and stupid.

We’d had a bumpy week. By we, I mean Dana, the queen bee, and me and four friends, her loyal entourage.

Dana was pretty, thin, and funny. If she considered something funny, we did too. If she thought something was gross, we did too. Her suggestions always seemed like a good idea. She was comfortable leading and we were comfortable following.

My family moved alot. Being shy and insecure, I hated starting new schools every couple years. After living in the area a year I was elated to have friends to call my own. I finally felt like I fit in.

We didn’t like our camp counselor and rudely named her “The Hag.” Everyone else had college students for counselors. We had someone’s mother. Good grief. What could she possibly know about teenage girls?

We avoided our counselor and resisted her overtures. We rolled our eyes and giggled and whispered through devotions. We made snide remarks and dragged our feet.  

We griped about her to whoever would listen. One night we complained to a girl in the bathroom. Tight-lipped, she snapped, “That’s my mother,” and walked out the door.

Our rustic tent cabins had wood floors and half walls topped with a canvas cover. We rolled the sides up during the day for light and fresh air, and down at night for privacy and warmth. 

Not my cabin, but the closest I could find on Google Images
We got the bright idea to take the tarp off our cabin. Immensely pleased with our daring and creativity, we hid the evidence and ran off to join the afternoon camp activities.

The powers-that-be were not amused. The camp director sternly chewed us out. Seems it’s not easy to put tarps on cabins, especially in the blistering California summer afternoon heat. Since the maintenance men had to do it for us, our punishment was to help the maintenance men.

We shoveled wood chips in the heat of the day, repeatedly filling a wheelbarrow from a wood chip pile and spreading them on an outdoor volleyball court.

Two hours later we were hot, tired, and SORRY.  Finally heeding our consciences and sobered by the fear of our parents finding out, Dana decided we were wrong. She decided “The Hag” wasn’t so bad after all and said we hadn’t treated Judy (her real name) right.

We apologized to Judy. Dana suggested we sing a special number during chapel to show that we had truly repented. She played the guitar and we sang “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” in front of the whole camp.

I was sorry then but I’m even sorrier now.

I’m sorry that I didn’t understand adolescent insecurity. I had no idea other teens felt as awkward and unsure as I did.  

I’m sorry that I yielded to peer pressure. On my own I would never have damaged the cabin. I wouldn’t have disliked Judy or been rude and uncooperative. I also would not have sung in front of people. But in wanting to fit in, I did things I didn’t normally do.

I don’t blame Dana. She didn’t make me follow. I had a mind of my own. I chose to be influenced. I had willingly contributed to our fiasco and I had just as willingly repented. But true repentance is personal, not something decreed by your leader.

I’m sorry there’s no way as an adult to apologize to Judy. I counseled for four years and had my share of uncooperative campers. As a parent, I’ve dealt with uncooperative children. I’ve been paid back. I’ve walked in her shoes and I forever regret giving her a hard time.

I’m sorry that I didn’t understand shame. For years I couldn’t look the camp director in the face because I assumed he thought me rebellious and immature. I couldn't fathom that when we asked him to forgive us, he did. 

I’m sorry that I didn’t learn my lesson. Though I repented in this incident, the war for my teenage soul had not been won yet. I succumbed to peer pressure on other occasions. I tested the waters, sliding in tiny increments, and hung over the line pretty far before digging my heels in and finally making a stand.

Just like my friends influenced me to help take the tarp off, I let myself be swayed many times by friends, classmates, books, music, and movies. I threw off that which was designed to shelter and protect me. I questioned and rejected God’s control of my life.  The casting off of things I knew to be right led to pain and life-long regret.

I toyed with doing good things and I toyed with doing bad things. I waffled for five years before deciding at age nineteen that my faith was my own, not my parent’s, not some Queen Bee’s, not my Sunday School teachers, and I wanted to live for God and do the right things.
Every time I hear “Just a Closer Walk” it all floods back. Shame. Regret. Remorse.  

God forgave me at fourteen and every year since. He does not see me as young and immature. He sees me as beautiful and beloved. He forgave all my sins, even the young stupid ones, so I don’t need to decades later feel pangs of regret every time I hear that song.

Because the song is just as true today as it was then.

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Thirty-eight years later I’m still learning to walk close to Thee.

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be. 

I'm linking up with Shanda at A Pause on the Path for On Your Heart Tuesday,
Kasey at These Five of Mine Plus Two for A Handful of Heart

and Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Day I Hit a UPS Truck

Technically it hit me, but only because I was in the way. 

Last Saturday’s date brings back memories.


I’ll never forget April 7th thirteen years ago. We’d been struggling from a job and church change.  Keith’s new job paid less than the old one and Baby #7’s arrival had stretched our budget thin.

Our savings were depleted.

On Monday our accountant said we owed $500 in taxes.

On Tuesday the furnace died.

On Wednesday, April 7, 1999, I wanted to take the kids, then nine months to thirteen years, on a Planetarium field trip ninety miles away. 

When Keith said we couldn’t afford to go, the kids and I emptied piggy banks, redeemed pop cans, and scrounged up money for gas.

After a fun field trip, and a picnic in the park on a gorgeous spring day, we headed home.

We were blissfully minding our own business when a UPS truck crossed the intersection and crashed into the side of my van.

Everything happened fast. Squealing brakes. Smashed metal. Shattered glass. Children crying.

Lani’s carseat, baby and all, flew from the back row and landed sideways between the front seats. Landing sideways protected her from the broken glass that showered her carseat.

Kiah’s door took the brunt of the impact and she hit her head on the seat in front of her. Still clueless about what had just happened, I was thankful that everyone appeared to be okay.

The UPS driver sat in his truck in the middle of the road. Maybe it’s company accident policy or maybe he was mad, but it bothered me that he didn’t get out to see if we were okay.

Rescue personnel finally arrived. I was astonished to learn that I had run a stop sign. The accident was my fault!!

Kiah’s head injury concerned the ER doctor. Brain swelling on her CT scan necessitated an airlift to Sioux Falls.

I had a difficult choice.  Either go with Kiah and leave my six kids, including the baby, with total strangers at a hospital far from home. Or let Kiah, who might be seriously injured, fly without me and call someone to meet her at the hospital.

Since the other kids were okay and Kiah wasn’t, I went with her. Keith drove down to get the kids—1½  hours both ways.

After a twenty minute flight, Kiah checked into a Sioux Falls emergency room. Head injuries can deteriorate fast so they weren’t taking chances. After a few tests, they said we wouldn’t know much until the next day.

That night I laid on the hospital floor in the dark room besides Kiah’s bed and wallowed in misery. Talk about rock bottom.

No savings.
$500 tax bill.
Dead furnace
Wrecked van that collision insurance wouldn’t replace
Kiah’s possible head injury.
My first ever ticket. 
Embarrassment - Do you know anyone else who's collided with a UPS truck?

I wanted to sink through the floor. The future looked bleak. The accident and impact kept looping through my head. I finally drifted off to a fitful sleep.

April 8 - God’s Delivers, Not UPS

God met us in the deep hole I’d helped dig.  

The next day Kiah’s swelling subsided and she only had a concussion.

Our accountant said that he’d made a mistake and we didn’t owe any taxes.

Keith’s co-workers chipped in to buy us a new furnace. Keith’s boss, Dan, sold the furnace at cost.

Dan loaned us an old white station wagon until we could replace our van.

A friend gave us $2500 towards another van.

Dan called the local car dealership and said, “Keith needs a van.”
Rollie, the car salesman said, “A mini-van?”
Dan said, “Nah. You got anything bigger?”
Rollie said, “Funny you should ask, but something came in this morning. We’ve only had five big vans come in during all the years I’ve worked here.”
Dan said, “Can you cut him a deal?”

Rollie needed to cover his costs so sold us a big blue (my favorite color even) Ford eleven-seater passenger van for $2600. Our wrecked van only had eight seatbelts so whenever we traveled together, Andrew sat unbelted on the floor.  The “new” van even had room for friends.

Money trickled in. We received a $100 dollar check in the mail two days after the accident from a friend two states away. She apologized for not sending a gift for Lani’s birth and said to use the money however we wanted.

She hadn’t given our other children gifts, so why Lani? And why then? Lani’s birth was nine months before. The envelope was postmarked April 7, the day of the accident! Before we had a need, God was already moving to meet it.

The next day we found an anonymous envelope in the mailbox with $200. An anonymous donor left $200 for us at a nearby church.

I regretted insisting on the field trip. The whole mess would have been avoided if I’d only listened to my husband. I felt terrible about wrecking the van. I felt horrible that my mistake endangered my children. It could easily have been worse.

I don’t know why God allowed those bad things to happen if he was just going to turn around and fix everything. Seems like it would be easier to not let those things happen in the first place than to have to fix them afterwards. 

But if I hadn’t crashed and hit rock bottom, I would have missed the awesome experience of seeing God meet our needs.  How could I properly appreciate the provision if I didn’t have a need?

God doesn’t always meet needs in such a spectacular fashion but this time He did. We encountered hard times but He carried us through. 

To this day, when we pass a UPS truck on the road, I’ll say, “Aaahhhh!!!” in a loud wobbly voice.  Though they know the story, my youngest three daughters don’t remember the accident.

But I do.

And I’ll never forget the time I learned the hard way about Jehovah-Jireh, My Provider. 

And my God shall supply all your need 
according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
--Philippians 4:19--

I'm linking up today with Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ten Christ-Centered Easter Ideas

Fun Ways to Celebrate Easter

Courtesy of Pinterest 
(click on blog name for directions)

1. Four Free Printables

By Dreams Into Plans

by A Night Owl

2.  Last Supper Craft
By Catholic Icing

3.  Passover Meal

by Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus  

4.  Repentance Box
by Kristi Stephens

5.  Resurrection Set

by Catholic Icing

6.  Easter Story Cookies


7.  Resurrection Rolls
By Women Living Well Ministries

8.  Resurrection Eggs
By We Are That Family 
by Raising Busy Chickadees

9.  Resurrection Story Napkin Rings
 by Catholic Icing

10.  Lessons Learned From the Easter Bunny
(a little stretch but kind of clever)

by The Happy Home Fairy

 Let me know if you try any of these. 
Do you have any Easter traditions?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Good-byes Are Never Easy

(Picture source - Google Images)
Their picture is on my refrigerator.

Dear friends from college. Three months ago happy and whole.
Today, grieving the loss of husband and father.

Colleen and her three daughters had no warning. One day he was there and the next he wasn’t. Their world’s been turned upside-down.

He was only 49.

Though I hadn’t seen James much in his later years and didn’t know the man he had become, I knew him in his earlier years and had a part in his becoming.

1980 or 1981 - College Banquet

James was a novelty at college. He’d grown up a missionary kid in Mexico, so had graduated high school early and started college at 16. Good with cars, he breathed new life into an old Mercury Comet. He often carted me and my friends around.

He was responsible and worked hard to put himself through school. He was helpful, kind, and loyal.

He was also fun. I vividly remember going after hours to the empty parking lot of Cinderella City Mall in Englewood, Colorado in his Comet crammed full of people. On one side the parking lot had heaved in a long series of concrete rises. He drove really fast over the rises and we’d bump, bounce, and occasionally fly. Once a guy in the front middle seat threw up.

My fondest memories are the Spring Break road trips.

Six of us laughed, played Dutch Blitz, took two hour driving shifts, and drove the Comet twenty-four hours straight from Colorado to California.

After a week of visiting people, we hit Disneyland on a slow day so didn’t have to stand in long lines. We went on rides over and over again and our stomachs did loop-de-loops for hours afterwards.

We drove to Tucson to visit their families, quickly seeing where James and Colleen got their niceness from.

I feared we might die on our day trip to Nogales, Mexico. Mexicans are crazy drivers. James had learned to drive in Mexico so was totally in his element. He zipped in and out of traffic and I closed my eyes after the third close call.

We went shopping in Nogales. The aggressive vendors tried to take advantage of us since we were obviously American. James rattled off something in Spanish and they backed off.

While driving over Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado, James and Colleen started to argue. To argue more discreetly, Colleen crawled on his lap. Us back-seaters exchanged worried glances, wishing James would argue later and pay better attention to the mountain pass!

We made the same trip the next year. We also took two road trips to Nebraska to visit a friend’s family.

1981 - Kearney, NE  (James on left, me - second from right)

Once James bit a green jalapeƱo-like pepper, saying it tasted great. I eyed the pepper suspiciously and asked if was spicy.

James said, “No, not at all. Try it. It’s really good.”

So I did and instantly burned my tongue. It hurt so bad. My eyes teared up and James roared with laughter. The stinker could bite hot peppers with a straight face.

Our group of friends drove to Tucson for their wedding. They were the first of us to get married. They were the first to have kids.

1984 - Kearney, NE

Eventually college ended and we went our separate ways. We’ve kept in touch the last three decades by Christmas letters. On my own road trip two years ago, I stopped by their house on my way home.

2010 - Kalispell, Montana

We picked right up where we left off. 

"The best antiques are old friends."

I didn’t know that would be the last time I’d see James in this life. But it’s not the last time I’ll see him. Though he’s my first friend to die, he won’t be the last. Someday I’ll see James and all my other Christian friends and family members again.

Thanks my friend for being a part of my life.  You’ll be missed.

Friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them.
--Michael W. Smith--