Sunday, April 24, 2011

Yeah, that's about right

Frilly pink dresses, butterfly wings, and an ATV. That's what little girls are made of.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I didn't need to walk anyway

When I was a kid, I remember frequently enjoying a ride on my dad's foot. Now, my kids enjoy it, too. This is a bit ridiculous, though:

Three kids, two legs!

I can eventually trudge over to a doorway, and hang on to the jamb while I swing my legs (and their passengers!) to a little tune I made up:

Swing Fiona, back and forth!
Swing Fiona, drop her on the floorth!

Swing Fiona, to and fro!
Swing Fiona, don't let go!

Swing Fiona, up and down!
Swing Fiona, drop her on the ground!

The kids rarely make it through all three verses before they're lying on the ground, laughing their heads off.

Walk? Who needs to walk?

Monday, April 11, 2011


There's an acronym that runs through my head, usually during a hurried commute along the lake's edge, when my eyes are fighting between staying on the road, and wandering off to the horizon. It's a mocking reminder for me to appreciate the things I have, and a lament that I can't stop and appreciate them more.


It's usually said with a little sigh, and then perhaps a tired, wry smile. Who am I kidding? It's a fleeting moment, one that's almost hopeless to try to preserve. It's something you have to be there, and enjoy it while it lasts.

When I first got to Winona Lake, I landed my first job — yearbook photographer — while I was standing in line to register for classes. It was a job I took rather seriously (until the second year, when I got distracted by some girl I met on the internet, and eventually married.) I was rarely seen without a camera around my neck.

The first week of classes were done, and I took my Sunday sack supper for a ride through the quiet streets of Winona Lake, until I wound up at Winona Lake park, where several other Gracies had congregated with the same idea.

Tammy, Rachel, Joelle, and Joanna. (One of the great advantages of being yearbook photographer is that someone goes through and identifies all your photos for you.)

Joanna, Carrie (a.k.a. "Cake"), Jon, and Sunny, who is trying to catch ducks with popcorn.

As the sun crept down over the lake, conversation slowed, and someone — Joelle, I think — shushed everyone. "I want to watch this." I turned around at the picnic table to look out across the lake. "What am I watching here?" I asked, bemused. "The sunset," said someone as if it was obvious. It looked perfectly dull as far as sunsets go. "What, they don't have sunsets where you come from?" I joked, still puzzled. "No," said several voices in unison. Apparently, in the hills of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, you don't get sunsets. The sun disappears behind the hills, and then it's dark. Sunsets were a rare treat for them.

Apparently, out-of-town college students aren't the only ones to be entranced by a Winona Lake sunset. A well known hymn, "Beyond the Sunset," was written not far from where I sat that evening, and a blind man saw it best:

The song "Beyond the Sunset" was born at the dinner table of the Brocks' home one night in 1936. Before dinner, text author Virgil Brock and his composer-wife Blanche watched a very unusual sunset at Winona Lake, Indiana, with a blind guest Horace Burr and his wife, Grace. Burr was Brock's cousin. A large area of the water appeared ablaze with the glory of God, yet there were storm clouds threatening gathered overhead.

Upon return to his home, at dinner, they still talked about the unusual spectacle they had earlier witnessed. What was amazing was what their blind guest excitedly commented, that he had never seen a more beautiful sunset.

The blind Horace's reply was simple and touching: "I see through other people's eyes, and I think I often see more; I see beyond the sunset."

The striking inflection in his blind cousin's voice forcibly deeply moved Brock. He began to write the first few measures of what is now "Beyond the Sunset" at the same time he started singing with his coined words. A spot-on inspiration.

His wife loved it, they went to the piano, and enhanced the first verse. The blind Horace Burr strongly urged that a verse about the storm clouds be added. A third verse was further added. Before dinner ended, all four stanzas had been completed and sang by them.

Words by Virgil P. Brock — Music by Blanche Kerr Brock
© Word Music, Inc

Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning,
When with our Savior heav'n is begun;
Earth's toiling ended, O glorious dawning,
Beyond the sunset when day is done.

Beyond the sunset, no clouds will gather,
No storms will threaten, no fears annoy;
O day of gladness, O day unending,
Beyond the sunset eternal joy!

Beyond the sunset, a hand will guide me
To God the Father whom I adore;
His glorious presence, His words of welcome,
Will be my portion on that fair shore.

Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion,
With our dear loved ones who've gone before;
In that fair homeland we'll know no parting,
Beyond the sunset forever more!

Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time I'd run across this hymn. I first came across it in Germany, while I was looking through an old hymnal for something else entirely. Oh, this is nice, I thought, you can sing this at my funeral. Not so much because it's a nice song (it is) or because it's common at funerals (as I learned later) but because of something I asked God for.

After I die, have my funeral in the late afternoon. Bring a lawn chair. Bring a whole picnic. Don't be formal on my account. Sit out on the grass, or in the sand at the edge of the water, wherever you like, and watch the sunset. I asked God if I could paint it that day. And He said yes. Forget that my body is over there. I'm up here, in the sky, burning down the heavens, whooping my way across the horizon in a roar of oranges and purples. And maybe, if I can manage it, a little bit of green.

It might be spectacular. It might be... just another Winona Lake sunset.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Race Day 2011

Want to guess what my favorite part of a pinewood derby is? Nope, it's not the thrill of speed. Not the joy of victory. Not the agony of defeat. Not even the cool gadgets timing things down to ten-thousandths of a second.

It's not even the cake. Although that's quite good, too.

Give up?

It's the creativity.

OK, case in point: Normally, if you go to a car race, you'd expect to see people racing cars, right? Not here. On race day in a pinewood derby, your car might be matched up against...

A tank!

A shoe!

A gymnast on a balance beam! A UPS truck!

A rocket-powered pizza delivery wagon! Rocket Barbie, whose pink ship has been hit by a silver meteor! (Seriously. I asked.)

A pirate ship!

....not to mention dragons, of course. But you already knew about that.

CREATIVE WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Write a short story involving a tank, a gymnast, a shoe, a dragon, and your choice of Rocket Barbie, a supersonic delivery guy, and/or a pirate ship. Send it to kerr at kconline dot com. I'll publish the best ones here. You have 10 minutes. Go!

Of course, I enjoyed the racing, too.

We were seeded 12th out of 31 this year, at 4.3262 seconds — a big improvement over last year's performance of 4.5771. Yeah, two tenths of a second is huge in this world.

OK, confession time. After last year's third-from-the-bottom performance, I was secretly quite pleased to find ourselves in the ranks of the "sorta-fast." While I'd let Fiona have free reign over the shape and design of the car, this year the wheels and axles were mine. Oh, the tools I got into. There were pipe cleaners. Files. Drills. Jeweler's rouge. Dad gave me a book of pinecar speed secrets for Christmas, and I used as many of the tips as I had time and tools for. It wasn't so much an overt competition with the other dads (there was enough of that going on without me getting involved, most of it pretty friendly) — it was more to see if I could do it, too. Granted, that's complicated by the fact that one has to compete to see if one measures up....

Wanna know why those other cars were so fast? There'a s dragon behind them! Yeah! You'd run, too!

On the whole though, there was good fun to be had from the start of the track...

At the starting pin. the end of it.

Racers get a prime spot right at the finish line. Remarkably, Fiona is actually in contact with the ground here.

We didn't win any prizes this year. I knew I hadn't done enough rocket science to win on speed, and our car really wasn't a replica of anything. I thought we had a chance on "best of show" (craftsmanship) or creativity, but those passed us by, as well. But all that's OK.

I won my prize two weeks earlier.

Fiona and were out in the shed together, huddled in our jackets, and sanding away happily at our little wedge. "So, Fiona," I asked, "Whose car is this? Yours, or mine?" She looked thoughtful. "It's your car and my car. And the time that we're working on it is, like, special you-and-me time."

What prize could be better?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Client

The client.

1 year before deadline: Client starts talking to designer about a project they've got coming up in a year. Designer commits to helping the client achieve her goals. Client and designer discuss concepts leisurely, with no real hurry.

3 months before deadline: Client starts developing concepts and models in earnest.

Left to Right: Fire F, Cactus F, Ice F, Sun F. If you look really hard, you can also see the Dragon F, Bunny F (my favorite), Cat F (Deborah's favorite), and the Frog F.

1 month before deadline: Designer asks client what she has decided on. Client produces design brief, detailing her project.

"This is probably the best Dragon F I've ever made. Make my pine car like this one."

Designer balks, and suggests design alternatives.

Client sticks to her vision.

Designer wonders how in the world he's going to make this.

3 weeks before deadline: Designer gets inspired during a sermon in church. Unbeknownst to the pastor, it's not inspiration concerning the sermon. Designer sketches designs on back of bulletin:

Hey, I could make this thing in layers...

Client approves concept sketch. Production work begins.

Gotta love Ponoko. They make something as complicated as CNC laser cutting and engraving easy as just choosing the right colors for your design.

2 weeks before deadline: Designer presents first proof to the client. Client marks up the master copy with corrections.

She was very adamant that the texture be dots — not scales, not checks, not zigzags, not crosshatching, dots. And the eyebrow has to be straight. Get it right, Daddy!

10 days before deadline: Client approves final proof; files are sent out for production.

Confident that all is well, client and designer turn their attention to producing supporting material.

The car body is painted blue, then covered in painter's tape; the client is given a marker and, after practicing on a separate sheet of paper, makes the design she wants...

which is then cut out, peeled, and painted over...

then cut and peeled again...

to reveal just what the client wanted:

8 days before deadline: Designer, checking daily, starts to wonder what's taking so long. The file has been approved at the plant, but has not entered production yet.

Designer does some digging, and finds that the projected completion date is in two weeks.

Designer panics. Briefly.

Designer assures client that all will be well, even if not everything is together on time. Meantime, designer scrambles to find a local supplier who can work on very short notice.

6 days before deadline: Designer finds a shop that will do the work in a single day. Relief is palpable. Tells shop that production will start as soon as first order is canceled.

Client discovers provision for cancellation fee at first shop. It's more than the job was worth to begin with. Shop agrees to slip this job in, a week ahead of schedule, if Designer will pay the shipping upgrade to get it there on time. The design spends 15 minutes on a laser cutter, and is packaged up and makes the last pickup of the day by less than 5 minutes.

5 days before deadline: Designer discovers that the deadline isn't Saturday. It's Wednesday. The same day the parts are supposed to arrive.

Designer arranges for time off from work on Wednesday.

8 hours before deadline: The parts arrive.

There's something very oddly satisfying about popping out laser-cut parts.

Test fitting. Everything lines up the way it should. Good.

5 hours before deadline: Designer picks up client from school. They spend a leisurely afternoon together, decorating and assembling the final product.

My favorite part? The eyes follow you.

3 hours before deadline: Client leaves for Kids' Club. Designer stays behind to finish putting the project together. Saws, blowtorches (plural, both out of fuel), lead, drills, and very large hammers are used. Carefully, of course.

90 minutes before deadline: Designer packs up the Product carefully in an old shirt and Amazon box, and roars off towards church on his motorcycle, with a small sledgehammer, balls of lead, and a tube of superglue in his backpack.

1 hour before deadline: The final product takes its first trial run on the track. It flies off and breaks a wing. Designer does not swear. He is, after all, in a church gymnasium.

From previous research, Designer knows that superglue will leave a large white area on the acrylic. Appearances matter here.

45 minutes before deadline: Wing is mended with acrylic fingernail glue.

30 minutes before deadline: Weight is added and subtracted, to get the car up to the 5 oz. maximum. The weight of the drops of superglue attaching the weights to the car puts the car over the weight limit. Twice.

5 minutes before deadline: Client cheerfully presents her car for weigh-in. It comes in at 5.00 ounces exactly, and is cleared to race on Saturday. She christens it "Fiona's Fiery F."