The Christmas Altar

When I was a little boy my grandparents - Mémère & Pépère (well, actually I am pretty certain it was more Mémère) did some very specific holiday decorating.  One of the things she did each year that seemed so unique, was to decorate her windows.  Window decorating is not that uncommon, but the method Mémère used to decorate her windows was!  I don’t remember seeing anyone else doing it then, and I have not seen anyone do it since.  (Maybe advancements in window technology makes it no longer practical or even possible).

(BTW -  Mémère is pronounced "Mem-May” and Pépère is pronounced “Pep-Pay”)

My Mémère used to build mini Christmas villages between her sash windows and the storm windows.  She had miniature cardboard buildings, cotton “snow”, glitter, a Santa in his sleigh with reindeer, and even used lick-and-stick stars on the windows.  Basically, she created Dioramas of Christmas scenes between the windows. 

Quite interestingly, while researching this post, I was not able to locate any images that were similar to what Mémère used to do with her windows.  I am hoping maybe my mom has a few photos of Mémère’s windows… 


One of the other Christmas decorating traditions she had was her “Christmas Altar”.

Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar

The Christmas Altar is a tiered ceramic “structure” with several holes in it.  The holes hold glass “candles”.  I call them “candles” because the interior of the altar contains a light source and the glass “candles” collect, defuse and project the light from inside.  The altar is topped with a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, and two guardian angels (one on his left and one on his right).  Each guardian angel also holds one of the glass candles. 

In the center of the altar, is a hand painted relief of the Holy Eucharist over a chalice.  Below that is a hand painted relief of the Last Supper.  On either side of the Last Supper are several hand painted pillars and a relief of a torch with a glass candle where the flame would normally be located. 

Often, while staying at Mémère’s house before Christmas, she would pull out and together we would set up her Christmas Altar.  I have many fond memories of being together while helping her set up the Altar.  At one point somewhere in my youth, Mémère told me that she wanted the altar to be mine one day.

Pépère passed away in 1981, and Mémère joined him two years later in 1983.  After Mémère passed (when I was 14 years old) the altar came to our house.  Between 1983 and 2013, the altar was set up only a handful of times.  Most of those years, the altar was kept in the solitude of my parent’s crawl space

This year, while decorating for Christmas, my parents brought the altar out and decided it was time to “officially” deliver to me.  It arrived in (and will remain in) the original packing box.  The info located on the box helped me track down what little info I could about the “Christmas Altar”.  Since I found so little info, I decided to share the knowledge I have learned (and a few images) with the world.   

Below, are a series of photographs of the Christmas Altar.  Packaging, clean up (and a minor “improvement”), and some close up photographs to document as much as I can about the altar.   

Here is how the altar arrived.  The box is marked Fragile.
(The contents are certainly all that – and more!

Noma Industries, Inc.  S.H.Clausin & Co Minneapolis, MN Noma Industries, Inc to S. H. Clausin & Co. Jewlers Minneapolis, MN

Daytons Christmas BoxThe Altar is still packed in the original box that Mémère (and subsequently) my parents kept it packed in.  Inside the box is the altar and a very old “Dayton’s” box that Mémère kept the glass candles in.

According to the package, the Altar was manufactured by Noma Industries, Inc – then shipped to S.H. Clausin & Co. – both located in Minneapolis.

I have done a bit of internet research on both Noma and S.H. Clausin. 

Noma is no longer a “business” but is still considered a registered trademark for holiday lighting products.   The Jewlers Circular

S.H. Clausin & Co. appears to have been a jewelry (and gift?) shop.  I did not find a lot of info available on the shop, but I did locate a help wanted ad to fill an open “Material and Tool Man” position from the April 30th 1919 edition of “The Jewelers’ Circular”  

Since I was already researching Noma and S.H. Clausin – I turned my focus to the actual altar.  I started searching terms like Noma and Ceramic and Altar – and over time (and a number of search combinations) I was able to piece together some tidbits of additional info about the Altar.

In addition to Holiday lighting, Noma made several other items. 
Of interest – it seems that they had a large production of “Chalkware” items. 

According to Wikipedia - Chalkware is items either made of sculpted gypsum or cast from plaster moulds and painted with watercolors - most typically made in one of two periods: the first beginning in the late 18th century and ending by the beginning of the 20th century, the second being during the Great Depression.

If you do a few internet searches, you will find links and photos to several Noma chalkware figurines, music boxes, statutes, and the like – including a few (very few) of these religious “altars”!

What little info I did find was that it appears Noma made these altars between the 1920’s-1930’s through the 1950’s.  I wish I had a specific date on MY altar, but alas – I do not.

I have also found them referred to as a Noma Glolite Altar, Noma Glolite Chalkware, Glolite Altar, Glolite Last Supper Altar and similar combinations of those key words.  

Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar

 Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar

So far, I have seen a couple of different versions – some have the extended sides (and angel figurines) like mine does, but most other ones are a bit smaller.  These versions are missing the side extensions (where the torches and guardian angels are located).

Examples below were located on Ebay and Etsy.

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I have yet to see a photograph of a Noma Chalkware Altar with the red tipped glass candles like mine has.  I do not know if that is original, or if the red tips are something Mémère did to modify (improve?) the original design of the altar.

Here you can see a close up of the solid glass “candles”.  The first set are shorter and thicker.  These are the candles that fill the holes in the bottom and second to bottom tiers.  Then, the four thinner and taller candles (with the cork spacers) fill the top tier.  Finally, the two longest and thinnest candles (these are about 6” in length) go through the guardian angel figurines and then down through the alter into the light chamber.  

20131211_142038 20131211_142057 20131211_142103


One of the things I also remember was Mémère never wanting it lit for extended periods.  If my memory serves me right (and that is often “questionable, at best”) she was worried about the altar overheating or being a fire hazard.

I looked very carefully at the altar and decided I was going to “upgrade” the traditional incandescent bulb (and all the heat it generates) with a newer (and slightly brighter) CFL (curly) light bulb.  CFL’s run much cooler.  While I had it apart, I took the time to give the alter a deep cleaning (with all the TLC I could give).    

20131211_141850 20131211_141818

(Above Left) – The base bolts are sunk right into the chalkware of the altar. 
(Above Right) – The number 334 was written inside of the altar.  Is that a model number?  A serial number?

20131211_141840 20131211_141921 

(Above Left) The old 25w incandescent bulb.  I did not get a photo, but this bulb was replaced by a CFL bulb.  CFL’s are know to run much cooler than their incandescent counterparts.
(Above Right) – Just a view looking up to the top of the altar from underneath (with the base removed) 

Here is the assembled Altar, both unlit in the daylight and with the new and improved lighting in the dark.

Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar  Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar

And finally, here are some additional photos (close up) of the Altar lit up in the dark…

Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar  Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper AltarNoma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar Noma Industries Chalkware lighted Last Supper Altar

While cleaning and setting up the “Christmas Altar”, I was able to feel Mémère’s presence with me.  It was so comforting.  Just handling the altar again, flooded me with many fond memories.

Mémère’s “Christmas Altar” has joined a very specific version of A Christmas Carol as being my most cherished Christmas treasures of all time – and as long as I am able to, I will set it up and and enjoy knowing that Mémère is watching over me and my family!


This weekend I was completely flabbergasted by what I can only describe as a phenomena that I would have never (in a million years) have expected.  Unless you are sleeping under a rock, there is little doubt that you heard at least a little something about the 50th Anniversary of the first airing of Doctor Who. 



Who is Doctor Who (pardon the pun) you ask

Doctor Who is a [fictional character known as a] “time lord” from the planet Gallifrey who can regenerate his life, and travels through space and time in a transportation device known as the TARDIS.  (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space).  Besides space and time travel, one of the most notable attributes of the TARDIS is it’s dimensional transcendentality.  Simply put, “it’s bigger on the inside”.

I could go on and on and on explaining the world of Doctor Who for the unfamiliar, but it would be an overwhelming task which is readily available with a simple search of the world wide web. 

I am not here to explain the world of Doctor Who.  Nope, I am here to expound upon by level of complete and utter flabbergastery (as noted above). 

In order to do this, I need you to jump into the TARDIS, and I’ll take you back to 1980-1983.
(Push play on the YouTube play button)

FOFAhh, here we are!  Welcome to the early 1980’s! 

The Father of Five (as you know him) is now a geeky, chubby husky not-so-little 5th (6th, 7th or 8th grade) misfit attending Nativity of Mary Catholic School in a moderately isolated (and fairly “prestigious”) bubble of American Suburbia. 

He doesn’t fit in with the athletic kids at all.  His primary friends (Tom, Tim, Dan and Jim) are four of the most academically endowed boys in the class who (I honestly suspect) felt a little sorry for the young father-of-five-to-be misfit, and accepted him into their group (despite his mediocre (at best) academic performance).  While he may not have been at the same level academically, he shared many of the same interests with these young lads and many fond memories were created through these outlets! 

Things like…   Early computing (Commodore, TI-99, Timex-Sinclair, etc), Dungeons & Dragons (and other role playing games), Risk, Chess, Star Wars (and other science fiction – like… Doctor Who)

Back then, Doctor Who was predominantly an underground phenomenon (even within the SciFi culture), and held a small but loyal “cult like” following known as “Whovians”. 

If you openly talked about Doctor Who outside your Whovian circles, you were (at best) met with a blank stare followed by a raised eyebrow, and a “Who…” or “What… are you talking about?”.  The subsequent explanation would often result in a completely uninterested blank stare. 

If, on the other hand, you were not so lucky - you would find yourself teased unmercifully and your standing in the school-yard hierarchy would take an irreparable beating.  

tom baker_doctor_who I admit.  Back in the early 1980’s I was a Whovian.  I really really enjoyed Doctor Who.  Many times I would daydream that my bedroom door was a door to my own TARDIS.  Picturing the space beyond the door as much larger that it really was.  I often drifted off to sleep with the imagery of a TARDIS (MY TARDIS) whirling about in space, or traveling through a conduit of time – wondering just where I would wake up.

I wrote my own computer program (in TI-99 BASIC) that drew the TARDIS on the screen.  The light on top of the TARDIS would flash a couple of times, then the whole TARDIS would flash a couple of times, and then the TARDIS disappear, leaving the computer screen blank.  I spent a LOT of time writing that program! 

Completing the full “ensemble” of my Whovian fanaticism (literally) – was the last year I went out trick-or-treating (circa 6th – 7th grade). 

I dressed up as Doctor Who. 

This was Tom Baker (4th incarnation) era.  I wore a wool trench coat.  I took three scarves and pinned them together in order to recreate the infamous oversized scarf.  I donned a camouflaged “bucket hat” (which was the closest thing I had to the Doctor’s felt fedora) and carried my dad’s tire pressure gauge as my sonic screwdriver.  I lost count of how many houses asked me who I was dressed as (and how many blank stares I got in return.)

Somewhere, in the farthest reaches of my parent’s home, there is a photo of me dressed as Doctor Who that Halloween.  I will do my best to find it and post it for all to see embarrass myself by sharing it with you. 

Speaking of the farthest reaches of my parents home – who here remembers my “Amateur Archeology” post (link provided)?  Click on through, and scroll down.  Pay attention to the 5th and 6th photos down, and even CLOSER attention to the 8th and 9th photos! 

Over the years, my connection with my Whovian past has dwindled.  At one point “Doctor Who” was not much more than a distant (pleasant, but distant) memory.  That was until a few years back.  The BBC decided it was time to breath some new life into the old series and “regenerated” it (see what I did there fellow Whovians??  “Regenerated it”?!?!)

The series was brought up to speed, polished, decorated, and repackaged – and to be honest with you, they did one helluva job on it!!  When I first got wind of the update, I caught up with my old friend the Doctor.  Over several months, I watched the first 2 1/2 seasons – and really liked what they did!

Alas, the Life of a Father of Five (chaos in paradise) does not allow for much leisure television viewing – and I quickly fell behind and then (once again) lost focus on Doctor Who.     

This all brings me to last weekend. 
The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. 

The aforementioned update has really created a resurgence in the show… No, it’s even more that that.   The update has created a truly unbelievable level of popularity (world wide) for my beloved Doctor.  I can not believe how mainstream the series has become – even in the past couple of years! 

I was ASTONISHED to see SO MANY Facebook posts about Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary.  I saw postings about Doctor Who parties.  I saw photos (plural) of TARDIS cakes, and SciFi themed snacks and decorations for said parties.  I saw cover photos and profile photos of the TARDIS, users’ favorite Doctor, and even a Dalek or two.  I saw links to articles, and to videos of all things Doctor Who.  I saw photos of groups of kids gathered together for a Doctor Who marathons.  I saw parents (some I knew where Whovians, and others I had no idea) participating in the Whovian festivities!

It was off my radar.  I had NO IDEA how popular and mainstream Doctor Who had become.
Even MY MOTHER called me up and started sharing some Doctor Who trivia she picked up!!

I have mixed feelings about all of this. 

On one hand I somehow feel as if I lost a “badge” I once wore.  A “badge” I once EARNED!  The badge was part of being associated with a “less than popular” subculture.  It was quiet.  It was unique.  It was different.  It was something special.  On the other hand, I am ecstatic to see just how much the series has taken on a life of it’s own!  Doctor Who is part of many of so many of my cherished childhood memories – and I am delighted to think that another generation of Whovians will grow up fueled by the stories of The Doctor and his adventures through space and time!

With this resurgence one thing is certain.  I am looking forward to once again reconnecting with my old friend…   The Doctor.

30 Days of Thankfulness – The First Seven

In an attempt to breath a little life back into The Life of a Father of Five, I am stealing 30 Facebook statuses and putting them together here in smaller chunks. 

The statuses??  “30 Days of Thankfulness”

I first noticed this “trend” when one of my former Youth Group chaperones updated her Facebook status with one of her “days of thankfulness”.  I immediately fell in love with the idea.   During November (the month that Thanksgiving falls within) simply post one thing you are thankful for each day.  That’s when it hit me..  These items would make great content here.  After all, the primary reason for this blog is… 

I am keeping this blog as a collection of thoughts for my children (but others are welcome to enjoy too). Someday I hope they have they chance to read this and get just a small glimpse into the mind of their father.

These first seven are more “grandiose” (and “obvious”) concepts.  They have much more detail, and explanation included, and are much more lengthy than the others that follow.  I hope  these offer a little more glimpse into what it is like to be a “father of five”.

#1 - I am thankful for my AMAZING wife – The Mother of Five.

I could not have asked for a better partner in life. She has never been anything but loving, caring, and supportive – even when I have been less than perfect. She is beautiful – both inside and outside. Together we have built a astonishing family, and a wonderful place to call “home”. I can not even begin to imagine what my life would be without her by my side.

#2 - I am thankful for my wonderful children…

All of them. They each bring a different characteristic and element of joy (and challenge) to my life. From the first moment I met each of them up to (and including) this very minute - they have all surprised me with their unique sense of humor, intelligence, thoughtfulness, caring and compassion for others, athletic abilities, artistic talents, and ability to "push my buttons" (each in their own special sort of way).

These kids of mine have made every day of my life since their birth just a little bit better than the last - and I look forward to watching them grow into amazing adults!

#1 of 5, #2 of 5, #3 of 5, #4 of 5, and #5 of 5.

I would not be living a delightful live as The Life of a Father of Five without each and every one of them!

#3 - I am thankful for my faith in God.

Faith comes in as many shapes and forms as the name of God does (God, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, Elohim, Vishnu, just to name a few). Some people believe that (which I have been personally accused of) a faith in God is for the “weak minded” - but in my life I have been fortunate enough to personally feel (and benefit from) the tremendous presence of God – many times over. The knowledge that there is a power greater than “us”, responsible for the creation of all as we know it comforts me in ways I am not fully able to articulate.

Not only am I am grateful for my own faith, I am grateful for a faith strong enough to have a healthy curiosity and interest in beliefs beyond those of my own and the ability to recognize that not everyone must believe in the same way I believe. I have learned that by educating myself about other’s beliefs (include a lack thereof) – I further strengthen my own.

#4 - I am thankful for my parents.

I was raised by two very loving and very caring parents. They created (and provided) my sister and I a wonderful home and nurturing environment in which to thrive in. They made many sacrifices so that our lives were comfortable. It was through their sacrifice that I can say I was never in "need" of anything, and very few "wants" went unfulfilled. I have become the man (and father) I am today as a result of the example my father has shown me through his life, and I can see many of my mother's best traits within my wife. I have no doubt that the example she has shown me on what being an amazing mother is all about has helped guide me to finding someone just as wonderful to help me raise my family! I could not have asked for two more wonderful parents! It is just simply not possible to express my level of gratitude for ALL they have done for me throughout my life.

I am not only grateful for my parents, I am grateful for my in-laws. I know the running joke is for a man to not get along with his mother-in-law and to tolerate his father-in-law. In my case nothing could be further from the truth. My in laws have been accepting of me from the moment I met them. As with my parents, my in-laws raised my wife to be the wonderful person she is by their example. My wife is an amazing mother, and (I like to think) she selected a wonderful husband based on the traits she saw in her parents. Let's also not forget that they have entrusted me with one of their most precious gifts. Their daughter. I am a better man, a better husband, and a better father because of them. I will be forever grateful for having these two wonderful people in my life.

I will take it one step further.. My Grandparents. Those of you who know me best know just how much my grandparents meant to me. Not a day or two can go by without one of them popping up in my head for one reason or another. I have often felt their presence with me at various moments throughout my life, and I can still feel their influence in my life to this day. Many fond childhood memories are based on times spent with my grandparents, and I miss them all so much. I would give almost anything to spend just one more day with each of them.

#5 - I am thankful for my friends.

True friendship is a very powerful thing. Not many are aware of the internal struggles I deal with that interfere with fostering the bonds of friendship.

That being said, I wish to share how very grateful I am having made a number of significant and long lasting friendships I have throughout my life.

It was not until many years later that I fully realized and comprehend the friendships I was making through my elementary and junior high school years at Nativity of Mary, and during my high school years at The Academy of the Holy Angels. My college years were made truly unforgettable by the almost family-like-bond I developed with a small group of very close friends.

As life progressed and my family grew, the spare time I had to spend with my friends had all but dwindled. Despite the lack of time I have to invest in my friends, a select few significant friendships have endured the test of time (and / or the lack thereof). I am able to sit right down with these very special friends and pick up right where we left off as if nary a day had passed. I am not able to fully express just how much these friends mean to me. Their dedication to our friendship seemingly knows no bounds – and I will be forever indebted to them.

Time limitations and technological advances sent me in an unexpected direction. Little did I know some seven (plus) years ago what the wonderful world of blogging would open up to me. Through my blog I have made some amazing connections. Most of these folks I may never have the privilege of actually meeting. A few of these connections I have been fortunate enough to meet, a couple others I am looking forward to meeting one day. Meet, yet to meet, or never will meet matters not. Categorizing the folks I have connected to through blogging (and other various social media technology) as anything less than REAL and TRUE friends would be shameful on my part. These “virtual” friends (and I HATE using that term) have been there for me in ways that supported me others cannot. They have provided me an alternate method to circumvent some of my internal struggles, and have provided me confidence in areas that I did not even imagine they could.

Just know that by the mere fact that YOU are reading this status update, that YOU are considered a friend – and I will forever be grateful for the friend you have been, remain, or will be to me now and into the future!

#6 - I am thankful for a career that I enjoy and leaves me feeling like I make a difference.

Most of you know I am a 9-1-1 / Police / Fire Dispatcher. I never INTENDED that be my career. I obtained an A.S. Degree in Law Enforcement, attended Skills (a generic basic "Police Academy" required for all Police Officers in Minnesota) and past my P.O.S.T. exam (Peace Officers Standard in Training), and while working in the security field, stumbled into "dispatching" quite by accident.

With a background in computers, radio, electronics, and all things "geeky" - I quickly discovered that Dispatching may be the "niche" in the Law Enforcement world that fit me best. I spent a few years honing my skills in a very large (one may even call it "mega") mall. I applied to several 9-1-1 centers, was offered a couple of jobs (that I had to turn down due to residency requirements) before finally being hired. Then, only one month after my first 9-1-1 job began, I was offered a position at my "dream department".

January will mark my 19th year working for the same department. I consider myself very fortunate, and (daily) grateful for the opportunity to do what I do, for the city I do it for. While there is no "perfect" job, I can not begin to express how thankful I am that (after 19 years) I do not hate going to work. Each day brings something new, and affords me another opportunity to help someone in need or to do something good for the community at large. At the same time, I do my part in helping make sure that those who wish interfere in the lives of others (for less than noble reasons) face the consequences of their actions. It's truly rewarding!

I am also thankful for the opportunity to work side by side with an amazing group of people. Fellow dispatchers, police officers, administration, supervisory staff - all come together to make a exemplary team. Each member bringing their best attributes to the team. I am proud (and very thankful) to be part of that team!

#7 – I am thankful for my siblings

I have previously spoke of my mother and father, grandparents, and my in-laws – but I could not forgive myself if I did not take a moment to mention how thankful I am of my sister.  My sister and I are very different, and yet very similar in many ways. I actually enjoy both the similarities and difference between us!  My sister is just slightly younger than I am – and therefore she has always been my “little sister” to me.  Like some “big brothers” – I sometimes (even now as adults) feel a little protective of her.  I have in the past, and still would take “whatever means necessary” to protect my little sis.  As life progressed, my sister and I have dealt with a challenges in “geographic proximity”.  We have (for all of our adult lives) lived across country from each other – but I am very grateful that we have been able to remain as close as we have across the miles.

My sister married a wonderful man whom I TRULY enjoy spending time with.  He (and his family) have been a gift to our family.  They have also provided me with two twin nephews which I simply adore.  When I get to spend time with them, I am in another world.  I get to do things / be someone very different with them than with my own kids, and in a “slightly devious” way, I LOVE IT!  Every time I take a moment to look at what my little sister has grown into – I am nothing less than humbled and amazed!

I only have one BIOLOGICAL sister, but through my marriage – I quadrupled that number.  Just like with my Mother and Father in-law, my Sisters and Brothers-in law have also blessed my life in many ways.  I was accepted into the family from the first time I have met them – and have been rewarded by their trust, generosity, and friendship.  Like my sister, we deal with “geographic proximity” challenges with most of my brothers and sisters in laws.  Earlier this year, my wife and her siblings (and us spouses) had an opportunity to get together.  We sat around my in-laws deck “shootin the breeze” till the wee hours of the morning.  It’s one of the more  enjoyable evenings of the entire summer!

Like with my sister, I also have two nephews through my in-laws – and I love getting spend time with them!  Through the time I spend with them, I am also allowed to play the role of “crazy uncle”!

I am thankful for such wonderful “brothers and sisters” (bio or in-law)!  

Where’s the Beef?

I am a carnivore.  I make no qualms about it, nor do I apologize for it. I am perhaps what you would call a “biblical eater”.  To quote the bible (slightly out of context) “The fishes of the sea, the fowls of the heaven, the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth…” (Ezekiel 38:20) - It’s all good (tasty?) in my book…  Well, depending on how it’s prepared, and the choice of seasonings, of course!    

When we first moved out of the metropolis, and out on the furthest edges of the urban/rural boundaries – some of the first friends we met were through our church and its associated school#3 of 5 was starting preschool, and became pretty close friends with a young lad whose parents were honest-to-goodness farmers.  I simply loved the fact that my son was able to spend time at their family farm, and over the years we got to know the family pretty good. 

The farming family (like many around us at the time) watched as the “father of three” (when we first moved) progress into the “father of four” and finally landing on the now-all-too-famous “father of five” persona.  Somewhere along the line, there was talk between the families of the possibility of buying a half of a cow or a quarter of a cow to aid in the herculean task of feeding this ever growing mob stock our freezer up with beef.

Throughout the years (those preschool boys are high school juniors now) the idea would pop up from time to time.  The farm is a dairy farm, and not set up to produce beef, so they did not have a “readily available” supply.  Sometimes they would ask us if we were still interested.  Sometimes we would remind them that we were still interested. 

Well, it finally happened!!  A couple of weeks ago, we were contacted by those friends. 

As luck would have it, they were bringing one of their Black Angus Steers “to market” – and one of their “quarter-share” customers (typically a family member) had to pull out.  The farmers, recalling our previous interest, gave us a call.  They went over the basic details of the sale (approximate weight, approximate price, approximate cost to process) and asked us if we would be interested. 

I was a little nervous.  This was all a new experience for us.  Although we had talked about it for years, we never FULLY explored the possibility of a quarter share of beef.  The full details of the sale were still just an approximation (the steer was still in his stall on the farm so the weight had to be estimated - as well as the cost of processing).  We had no idea what the final price would be.

half I am (by nature) a worry wart (the Mother of Five will CERTIANLY attest to that).  I will admit I was a little nervous at first.  Buying a quarter of beef requires an upfront investment.  No two ways around that.  The only thing we knew for certain was that the folks selling us the beef are good and conscientious folks – and we trusted them.  After a brief discussion with the Mother of Five we decided to take that leap of faith, and jump in FEET FIRST! 

The more I thought about it the more excited I became!

Our friends sent us an email with some information on examples of what to expect from a 1/2 side of beef, and some instructions on how to contact the processor to let them know what we were looking for as far as the “final product”.  A couple of days later, I contacted the staff at A & M Processing who were very friendly, more than helpful, and beyond patient with my inexperience.  They walked me (step by step) through the process, and about a week later A & M Processing called me back to let me know that my quarter share was ready!!  The following day #5 of 5 and I drove out and picked up our beef, and by this time I was practically giddy with excitement!   

When I arrived, I gave the staff my name.  They knew exactly what my order was and where it was in the freezer.  They were great to work with – so personal.  Just like that, an employee came out of the back with a two-wheeler loaded with  three boxes.  He came out and helped me load up my car, and we headed home.  I could hardly wait to get home and unpack my bounty!

Have you ever wondered what a quarter share of beef looks like?  (I sure did!)  Working through the pain of frozen fingers (from having handled all this frozen beef) I laid it out on my counter for all to see! 

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I started with 234 lbs (“hanging weight”) of beef.  Hanging weight is the weight of the beef before processing.  Processing the beef removes (most of) the bones, sinew, and some of the unnecessary fat (although I suspect some of it is recycled into the ground beef). 

So, after snapping the photos above, I organized and took inventory of what I ended up with.   I then brought it all down to my recently defrosted and “ready to be filled” freezer. 

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                                  (Before)                                                     (After)

The processor does not weigh each individual cut.  Instead, they just package the number of cuts you wish into each package.  (Remember, it’s not being sold by the individual steak / roast / rib like a grocery store.)  Because of that, I do not have an actual “WEIGHT” of what went into my freezer (although I can estimate that the total is easily 150+ lbs).  What I can tell you is what cuts (and the quantity of the cuts) that went into my freezer.  The inventory of my “quarter share” included… 

36 1.5 lb tubes of ground beef.
2 packages of T-Bone steaks (4 steaks per package).
2.5 packages of Sirloin steaks (2 steaks per package).
2.5 packages of Ribeye steaks (2 steaks per package).
8 packages of round steaks (2 steaks per package).
1 (very large) package of Texas ribs (unkn quantity in package).
3 packages of beef short ribs (unkn quantity in package).
1 package of arm roast.
1 package of rump roast.
2 packages of sirloin tip roasts.
8 packages of beef roasts.
4 packages of all beef wieners.

I was given an option for (but VERY graciously declined) the organs, and the option for a couple scrap “soup bones” (although, since I completed the order without her there, I wonder if the Mother of Five would have wanted them). 

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As of the writing of this post, I have yet to “sample” the beef.  My work schedule, and a refrigerator full over leftovers (or previously thawed meat) interfered.  I am looking forward to next week, when I can fire up THE GRILL!!  

I’ll be sure to post an update!  

Just TRY and Keep Up

In a couple of previous posts, I shared with you little slices of life as a 911 / Police / Fire dispatcher.

Not today.  Oh, no.  Today, I am going to share with you a little slice of the “Life of Chaos in Paradise” (a.k.a. – being a “father of five”) is all about.

After getting off duty at 3pm, I hop in my car and start heading home.  A couple of miles down the road and I notice that the gas gauge is a little lower than I care to see it – so I decide to stop for gas.

The Mother of Five is working later tonight, and that usually means that dinner for the clan is my responsibility, so I make the decision to solve two problems in one stop.  I take the exit off the freeway for a quick side trip to Sam’s Club where I can pick up a rotisserie chicken (I was planning on making Chicken Caesar Salad) and at the same stop I can fill up my gas tank too!

Seconds after pulling onto the freeway exit loop my telephone rings.  It is #2 of 5.  He is trying to tell me the car (which he is now driving) is “dead”.  Having driven that car for the past several years, I am familiar with it’s “eccentricities” (the headlight warning buzzer not working being one of them) and quickly assess the problem with the car’s failure to start as likely just a dead battery.  I assure him that I will swing by to give him a jump start just as soon as I can, but let him know that since I am so close, I am planning on stopping for the chicken and gasoline beforehand.  (I am pulling into the Sam’s Club parking lot by this point.)

Once I finish my phone conversation with #2 of 5, I (try to) call the Mother of Five to alert her that the boys were unable to get home for when #5 of 5 gets off the school bus, and that she will be home alone for a few minutes.  There is no answer at her workplace, so I leave a message to have her call me when she can.

I run into the store, grab my chicken and (like a 1970’s Hertz commercial) I snag some grape jelly on my sprint through the store.  (We are out of grape jelly – which is a staple in my diet).  I check out, load the chicken and jelly into the car then make a quick run to the gas pumps where I fill the tank and (simultaneously) call home to check to see if #5 of 5 (who should be off the bus by now) made it home.

I am relieved to hear that she has indeed made it home safe and sound.  I explain #2 of 5’s dilemma to her, and assure her that I will be home within 20 minutes or less.  She appears no worse for the wear, so after a short conversation with her, I hang up.

Another five miles down the road and my phone rings.  It’s the Mother of Five.  I catch her up with everything that has been going on.  That’s when I find out that she came home on her lunch break, and started a crock-pot meal (which was quite tasty I may add) and that I did not need to pick up a rotisserie chicken. 

That Figures.   

She asked that instead of going straight to the school to jump start the car for #2 of 5 (remember, he is still sitting up there waiting for me) that I stop by the house and pick up #5 of 5 first.  Then I can deliver her to the Mother of Five’s workplace – which is directly across the street from the Dance Studio where she takes lessons.  (Whoops, forgot today was dance class.)  I agree, but ask her to call #5 of 5 and have her all ready to go when I arrive.

All goes well for the next 15 minutes of my trip home.   Just as I pull off the freeway when I arrive in town, I spot #3 of 5 and a friend walking home along the roadway.  I slowly pull up along side of them, roll down the window and inquire - “Hey little boys, want some candy?”  

Creepy?  Yes.
Inside joke from way back?  Yes.
Reason for concern, or to call the police?  No.

I look around to make sure the police (or any do-gooder) is not watching me, and tell the boys to hop in the car.  (Can you imagine the 911 calls that may generate??  I can!!)  I quickly run #3 of 5 and his friend  home.  He lets me know he is scheduled for work at 5pm.  NO PROBLEM (or so I tell myself).

Once the boys are dropped off, I located #5 of 5 who is indeed ready and waiting for me to take her to dance.  I unload the rotisserie chicken and grape jelly… (Remember the rotisserie chicken and grape jelly?) put it in the refrigerator, then load #5 of 5 up and head for The Mother of Five’s workplace.

Once #5 of 5 is safely delivered to the Mother of Five, I head up the hill to rescue #2 of 5 who is still waiting patiently for me in the High School parking lot.  Amazingly, he has only called to check my “status” once in the past 30 or so minutes.  I arrive at the school, locate the car (with #2 of 5 in it) and quickly get the car running again.   Since he does not work, he asked if he could head off to a friend’s house.  I tell him to “enjoy”, and bid him a fond adieu.

Time to head back home to start preparing cleaning the kitchen for dinner.  One more quick stop for batteries (#3 of 5 needed them for a new calculator – which has my blood boiling and will be fodder for another blogpost soon enough) on my way home and I should be back cruising on easy street.   As I enter the store, my phone rings.  It’s the Mother of Five (again).

It seems that #4 of 5’s volleyball game (45 minutes away) was canceled, and that the team was upon the bus on the way home.  I was asked to also make sure I was at the Middle School to pick up #4 of 5 by 4:45pm.

By now, my head is starting to spin.

I grab the batteries, and head home.  I head inside the house, install the batteries, and plan on cleaning up the kitchen before the Mother of Five comes home for dinner when all of a sudden I hear voices in my head from the basement.  Whoops!  I have completely forgotten #3 of 5 downstairs who still needs to go to work!

#3 of 5 came upstairs to tell me that his friend (who also works at the same McFastFoodJoint) was called by their manager and asked to come in today.  I explain that I need to have the BOTH of them dropped off at McFastFoodJoint by 4:45 (or earlier) so I can run up to the middle school and grab #4 of 5.  They agree.  The friend runs home to get his uniform, and I prepare to head out yet again. 

Once both boys are in uniform, I load them up and drop them off at McFastFoodJoint  then quickly head up to the Middle School where I find #4 of 5 waiting with a friend.  Apparently, there was a little confusion and the friend’s mother thought she was bring #4 of 5 home.  Had I been even a minute later, the friend’s mom would have not been there, and I would have sat in the parking lot trying to figure out where my kid was at.   

Once I pulled into the lot and was spotted by her friend’s mother - #4 of 5 jumped out of their car and into my car.  Then, and we headed home.

I arrived home at 5:15pm – roughly two hours and fifteen minutes from the time I left work.  In that period I bought dinner (that I did not need to) gassed the car, made/received four phone calls, found one of my kids wandering around town, brought that kid home, took another kid to dance class, rescued yet another one of my kids who was stranded, picked up batteries for some uber-calculator (don’t get me started), received another phone call, took the found wandering kid (and his friend) to work, picked up my daughter from the vollyball game that never happened and brought her home…

Oh yeah.. One other thing.  During these couple of hours - I LOST MY DAMN MIND!! 

Father of FIVE???  Sheesh…  What was I thinking??

Will you help me?

I am going to try a little experiment – and I WANT YOUR HELP!

For the past two and a half years I have been collecting hoarding content on my kindle in an attempt to re-establish “reading” back into my life as a recreational activity.  I must admit, for the past two and a half years it’s been a pretty successful endeavor.  I went from reading nothing (for several years), to an almost regular diet of reading!  Some of the books I have read are better than others – but I have yet to read one I disliked completely.    

As proof of this success, click through to the link of my Kindle Reading List
It now contains TWENTY completed books!!  Yup, twenty books in twenty months!! 

Normally, when it’s time for a new book, I just go through the collection of books on my Kindle (which is sorted by date) and find the first book that “tweaks” my interest at that moment.  The problem is, I add (roughly) ten books on my Kindle for every one book I read.  This leaves me with content I added years ago (and have often even forgotten about) that could prove to be quite entertaining, but I never scroll down far enough to find.

So, I am going to try an experiment.  Below, you see a number of unread books that are in my Kindle that come from various locations throughout collection. (My current penchant for historical / religious fiction / thrillers is glaringly obvious!)   

Here is where YOU can help me!  Look through ‘em.  Tell me which book YOU think I should read.  (Maybe you have knowledge of one of these books – for the better or worse).

The book with the most votes by 7am (central USA time) on Monday morning will be my next read! 

Leave your vote in the comments below, on one of the Facebook status updates, or on the Twitter “tweet” and feel free to share the link.  The more the merrier!        

Thanks in advance!

The Messiah Matrix by Kenneth John Atchity

First Jesuit Pope predicted in THE MESSIAH MATRIX!

To what lengths would the Vatican go to suppress the secret origins of its power? Current papal politics has made this thriller eerily prophetic! The Messiah Matrix is a myth-shattering novel whose protagonists delve into the secrets of the past—and expose the fundamentalists who hide them still.

A renowned scholar-monsignor is killed in Rome while a Roman coin is recovered from a wreck off the coast of ancient Judea. It’s up to his young American protégé--a Jesuit priest--and a vivacious, brilliant archaeologist to connect these seemingly disparate events and unravel the tapestry that conceals in plain view the greatest mystery in the ecclesiastical world. Together they pursue their passion for truth—while fighting to control their passion for each other. What they uncover is an ancient Roman imperial stratagem so controversial the Curia fears it could undermine the very foundations of the Roman Catholic faith--much like the secrets emerging from the Vatican in today's news.

From the ancient port of Caesarea to Rome's legendary catacombs and the sacred caves of Cumae, this contemporary novel follows their exhilarating quest to uncover the truth about the historical existence of the real "Christian Savior."


The Shekinah Legacy by Gary Lindberg

In this controversial Amazon best-selling thriller, international cable TV journalist Charlotte Ansari and her Asperger's son are caught literally in the crossfire of history when terrorists, the CIA, Mossad and the Vatican all converge in a pulse-pounding search for relics that could forever change the balance of power in the world.

Three decades ago, Charlotte's mother suddenly vanished with no trace. The mystery was never solved. Then suddenly, on the same day that Charlotte's home is attacked by terrorists, her son receives an email from the grandmother that he has never known. The coded message catapults Charlotte and her son on a dangerous mission to India and Kashmir to find the only objects that can save the old woman's life. Unfortunately, Charlotte and her autistic son don't know what they are looking for.

The Shekinah Legacy is a thriller in the tradition of Dan Brown, Steve Berry and James Rollins. In this provocative novel, author Gary Lindberg uses the form of the thriller to explore the limits and perils of belief.


The Gar Diaries by Louis Bourgeois

Young Lucas grew up as a gar fisherman's son, in the steamy backwater bayous of southeastern Louisiana. His story invites you into a brutal world that is dominated by domestic violence, poverty, and the day-to-day struggle for survival ... a struggle that might have left even the strongest of us emotionally scarred and bitter.

Lucas (a distinctly non-heroic hero) reveals the childhood fights, the family traumas, and the fiercely wrought beauty of a visceral existence that feels ill at ease with itself. He gives us an unflinching look at a place and people we need to know.

As you begin reading The Gar Diaries, be aware: the language is vivid, the emotions are intense, and the honesty is often disturbing. This book will truly reshape your perception of life in the Deep South - and might very well haunt your mind for years to come.


The Delphi Agenda by Rob Swigart

Papyrologist Lisa Emmer’s world flips when the Surete meets her at her Metro station with news of the savage murder of the esteemed Paris historian Dr. Raimond Foix, her friend and mentor in the study of ancient documents. Horrified, Lisa finds clues at the crime scene left behind for her by her mentor—clues to a secret kept hidden for centuries. These clues make her a prime suspect in the murder investigation, and also put her directly in the cross-hairs of a deadly commando group that proves to be none other than a contemporary offshoot of the Inquisition.

They want an ancient document that reveals a secret so explosive it could change the world—a document they’ve been tracking for centuries. Led by a sadistic priest and a vicious but very accomplished nun with excellent military cred, their mission is to destroy the document—no matter what the cost in blood.

Desperate to clear her name and to stay alive, with the help of a handsome yet mysterious banker, Lisa must solve the clues and uncover the millennia-old secret before her adversaries can find and destroy it. Since she was a child Lisa had suffered from uncontrollable fugue states. Now she discovers just in time that what she always thought was a liability may in fact be an almost paranormal ability to see things in ways others cannot. The trail leads everywhere from ancient cemeteries and tombs throughout France to Istanbul and Greece, as Lisa and Steve desperately stay one step ahead of their enemies, solving the clues to a dangerous treasure hunt their lives now depend upon.


The Lost Journal by Chris Blewitt

In 1778, during the peak of the Revolutionary War, a secret document is hidden and its whereabouts are known to only one man. Now, more than two centuries later, Seth Layton accidentally discovers the journal that will unlock its location and he is on a quest to find it. Joined by his grandfather and new female friend, Madison, they are chased by unsavory characters and some powerful people through historic Philadelphia to the streets of Washington DC. What American secret will the journal unveil and will Seth and his companions live long enough to reveal it?


The Templar Concordat by Terrence O’Brien

When the truth is your greatest danger, and the enemy knows the truth, things can only go downhill when the enemy finally gets the proof. And that's the proof the Hashashin get when they steal what the Vatican doesn't even know it has. Now the infallible decrees of two Twelfth Century popes and three kings, stolen by the Hashashin, threaten to catapult the bigotry, bias, and religious blood baths of the Third Crusade straight into the Twenty-First Century. When Templars Sean Callahan and Marie Curtis are drawn into the mess, they face an ancient enemy that has already nearly won the battle, a newly elected Mexican pope being undermined by entrenched Vatican powers, world class scholars who will sell their prestige to the highest bidder, and terrorists lingering over lattes in sidewalk cafes. Moving from Rome to London, Switzerland, and Saudi Arabia, Callahan and Curtis are desperate to find some way to stem the success the Hashashin are having enlisting the majority of moderate Muslims in their Jihad. Out maneuvered at each step by the Hashashin, only a last ditch roll of the dice has any chance of success. But it's the only chance they have.


Twenty year anniversary! I want to wish a very special  Happy 20th Anniversary to the most amazing, most wonderful, most bestest woman in the whole wide world!

We've been though many ups and downs.  We've shared much laughter and and a few tears.  We've experienced some wonderful triumph and some unbelievable heartaches. But, through it all I have always known just where to find you...  Right by my side.  You have always been there.  Supporting me in times of need,  and celebrate with me in times of rejoice. 

Twenty years ago today God gave me a special gift and for twenty years I have tried my best to nurture, share, enjoy, appreciate, and be thankful what was given to me. 

I can only imagine (and look forward to) what the next twenty years will bring! 

Thank you for making me the happiest man alive twenty years ago today – and for making each day since even better than the last!

I truly love you.

Another Reason I Love Living in Jordan!

Back in December of 2010, I wrote a blog post about one of our Minnesota Blizzards.   In that post, I added a photo, and wrote…   

Snowmobile gassing up


“One of the things I like about living in a small / rural town is seeing things that others may find quite odd.  Things like snowmobiles driving along side of you, and folks gassing up those snowmobiles – not on trailers mind you, no, they drive up to the gas pumps ON their snowmobiles and gas ‘em up right there at the pumps!” 



Well, it’s now July 2013 – and today I had a very similar experience. 

But, since it’s July, there is not enough snow for snowmobiles – so today I had to share the road with something else most people don’t see very often!!

You Taught Us So Much

Mrs. Audrey Wacker
Those of my readers who attended Nativity of Mary School at any point during the 1970’s or 1980’s will undoubtedly remember Mrs. Audrey Wacker and for those of you who didn’t, permit me a moment to fill you in.

Mrs. Wacker was one of the four Junior High School (7th and 8th grade) teachers at Nativity during my time as a student there.

One of my first memories of Mrs. Wacker (as my teacher) was a humorous lesson about the pronunciation of her name. She wrote her name on the chalkboard, and acknowledged to all of us that while her name LOOKS like it should be pronounced “whack-er” it is actually pronounced “walk-er”. (Remember folks, she is teaching 7th and 8th grade students.) It’s almost as if she knew these pre-pubescent junior high school kids were going to grab hold of the obvious, and using humor – she emasculated that power that “whack-er” may have had right from the moment of introduction!

Smart lady!

As a younger Nativity-ite (a student grades 3-6), I would often get short glimpses into her basement classroom from my lunchroom table. These glimpses were filled with wonder, amazement, and (to be honest) a little trepidation. Her classroom was filled with items that would capture the imagination (and maybe even fuel a few nightmares) of “tweenaged” school children. She had several glass display cases filled with various “scientific” items. Bird nests, birds eggs, snake skins, turtle shells, rocks, minerals, fossils, skeletal remains, preserved animals of various species, and jars of formaldehyde filled with tapeworms, bovine (or equestrian?) eyeballs, brains, and even a one very large jar containing two fetal whitetail deer (that would seemingly stare out at me from their perpetual state of suspended animation inside the jar). It was obvious to all around that her passion was teaching Science class.

If you had Mrs. Wacker as a teacher, you will certainly remember many things. Just a few of the things that stick out in my mind include…

Pithing” and dissecting earthworms, grasshoppers, and frogs.

Using microscopes to search for some elusive protozoa or amoeba (the name of which escapes me at the moment, but am certain I would know it if I heard it) in droplets of water “brewed” in our own micro swamps (buckets of swamp water, leaves, sticks, and debris left to ferment into “cesspools” of bacteria).

There was her famous slide shows from trips to the Galapagos Islands, and stories about big game hunts and African safaris.

I’ll never forget being introduced to the concept of genealogy, and how Mrs. Wacker had us build and challenged us to expand our own family trees.

Her lessons often included a television element. We would be asked to view one of several educational television shows (usually on PBS – Shows like Nature, Nova, or Cosmos) and she would have quizzes ready for us the following day.

And, let’s not forget the “World Geology Timeline” that I unearthed during a recent amateur archeological discovery (and lamented my “less than deserved” grade). That was a Mrs. Wacker project also (and so was that darn grade)!

While science was her obvious passion, she taught other academic subjects (and many non-academic lessons) as well. Mrs. Wacker was the last teacher I had that started the day off with a prayer, and had her class stand at attention to pledge allegiance to the flag each and every day. She was the teacher who made us memorize many of the formal Catholic prayers I still use to this day, and she had NO FEAR of openly and quite frankly sharing her thoughts on the subject of pre-marital sex with her students. (I recall several instances of her telling us how much she wished she could jump up and down, stomp her feet, and shout “no sex until marriage” from the rooftop – actually stomping her feet, jumping up and down, and cupping her hands like a megaphone for emphasis.)

Mrs. Wacker was a patient woman. She dealt with kids in an age group well known for their “squirreliness”, lack of maturity, and hormonal imbalances (a truly volatile combination of traits) in a kind, compassionate and understanding way yet was not afraid to discipline students that required it. I am not aware of any students that harbor any ill for having been disciplined by her.

The genuine interest she had and maintained in her students was obvious – both during their time in her classroom and well beyond. Several years after passing through the halls of Nativity, I ran into Mrs. Wacker. Not only did she remember me (by name) – but she also inquired about my sister (by name) as well.

Mrs. Wacker captivated our attention, challenged our abilities, and left a lasting impression on so many of us. Even now 30+ years later, I still can recall many fond (and vivid) memories of the time I spent as her student. More so than with any other teacher I have had. It’s not just me. When my Nativity “Family” (quotation marks intended) have a little get together – inevitably, our conversations turn to our memories of Mrs. Wacker.

Sadly, a few days ago Mrs. Walker was called home into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior. Yes, sadly for us – but at the same time I am grateful for her eternal freedom from the struggles and limitations she and her family dealt with for the last several years.

Thank you Mrs. Wacker.

Thank you for all you have done for me, and for all you have taught me. Thank you for all you have done and all you have taught the countless students that filled the desks of your classroom. There is a special place for an angel like you in heaven!

For those of you who knew Mrs. Wacker and are so inclined - here is a LINK to her obituary and on line guest book on

Also, feel free to share any of your favorite memories of Mrs. Wacker in the comments of this blog - below!.

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