Monday, December 3, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I would like to apologize for not writing you as much. We’re unable to connect to the internet here at home except for your Aunt Crystal’s work phone. AT&T wanted to charge us an arm and a leg for a new modem, so we switched to T-Mobile. T-Mobile’s service was really awful compared to AT&T. I tried switching back to AT&T today and they want to charge me a reconnection fee, which I don’t want to pay - so I don’t have internet.
I think I’ll call Sprint next.
Doesn’t being an adult sound like fun? No? It is. Just let me give you a word of advice. Never pay a reconnection/activation fee. It’s like paying a toll. You can avoid it. Go around.
Your Aunt Crystal and I are attend a Methodist Church near our home. Don’t gasp. I know you are a Lutheran. I forgive you. Just kidding. Your Aunt Crystal is still a Lutheran and according to the books of our local Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, so am I.
On Sunday the Methodist Church held communion. The Methodist church practices open communion, which means anyone is welcome to take communion; members or visitors. The Lutheran Church practices closed communion, which means you either have to be a member of the Lutheran church to take communion or have a conversation with the pastor before the service to get permission.
The reason the Methodist practices open communion is fairly simple. They basically say that this is “God’s table and all are invited.” I can dig that. Sounds like God’s character to me.
The reason the Lutheran Church practices closed communion are a little more difficult to understand. You can ask your Grandpa about that. He gave me a good explanation once. I never really agreed with it, but when you want to join something a part of that is respecting the rules. I respect the Lutheran Church, so I respected the rules.
I also didn’t think it would bother me too much. I was wrong.
I wasn’t able to take communion for months. I would attend church, and have to stay seated when communion was given. I think it would have been different if it was my choice to sit out or not, but it wasn’t. The rules were that I could not have communion with them. I could attend church, tithe, sing, etc. - but I was not welcome at the Lord’s table.
The first time I took communion at the Lutheran Church, after taking membership classes and proclaiming what was to be proclaimed, I broke down and cried right during the service. It took me completely by surprise. I sat down and all these emotions just flooded out. They were not good ones.
Now I attend a Methodist church and can take communion whenever they offer it, but I don’t. I choose not to take it because I don’t feel welcome there either. During a service a member basically told my friend he was being rude for wearing a hat. He took it off. I was angry and took up words with him right then and there during the service. I stopped short because I was afraid I would embarrass my wife and friend (more than I already had). This didn’t stop me from following the man through the church hallways after the service an delivering a very prickly yet courteous verbal assault which ended with me saying “This isn’t your *&*% country club where you get to decided what everyone looks like. You are the worst sort of Christian.” etc. - Not my finest moment. My friend doesn’t attend anymore and the guy doesn’t go to the 9:30 service anymore. I guess this makes us even. Sort of.
I think the bitter taste the experience left has to do with the fact that this jerk proved my friend right about what he thought church-goers were like. I really wish God hadn’t let that happen, but he did.
I contacted the pastors about the incident and they were ashamed and apologetic for the event. I’m glad they agreed with me and I obviously don’t hold them personally responsible for individual member’s actions. Over the next couple weeks I noticed that an African American wore a hat and nobody bothered him. Then there were some obviously homeless people who showed up to church and people fell all over them with courtesy. The hypocrisy of people was making me sick.
So the next time communion came around I didn’t go up with the congregation and I still don’t. It’s funny how something that used to be so good and so simple is now complicated. I don’t plan on taking communion ever again at this point. God made the table, but people have messed it up.
Temple, it really all comes down to your personal relationship with God. Don’t let people muddy the waters for you. It can mess up something beautiful.
I love you much and miss you always,
         Uncle Justin

Friday, November 30, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I watched the movie The Hunger Games last night. It was pretty good. I read the first book in the series and enjoyed it. The day before I went over to a friends house and saw Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. I enjoyed that too. When you have as many children as I do, you don't have much left in the tank at night. Movies make great passive entertainment.
The Hunger Games was about a rich central society that squelched uprisings by having yearly lottery that selected children as area representatives to kill each other off in a game. Sound like fun? I saw this movie was kind of the same as a foreign film I saw a while ago called Battle Royale. It just goes to show you that there is nothing new under the sun.
Moonrise Kingdom was a 'coming of age' film. ahem. That means it's about children who are in a transitional phase. It was excellent. Anderson makes movies that are so beautifully shot that you almost don't need a story since you're too busy looking at the scenery. The film was a little uncomfortable to watch at times, but that's kind of the point. I've seen a lot of these types films done by foreign directors and didn't feel the same way. Maybe deep inside I feel only French people can have coming of age moments. In America you're supposed to just work three jobs and chase that dream. You don't have time for all that life nonsense. I'm kidding. Sort of.
This morning I was giving the baby a bath in the sink when our three year old said he had to go potty.
He's working on going poop in the potty. It's going alright. I was in a dilemma since he needs help with going potty. I had to choose between letting the baby drown in the sink or cleaning the bathroom after the boy. So I left the baby and tended to the three-year-old. I will miss him dearly. Just kidding.
I finished with the baby and checked on the kid in the bathroom.
There was poop all over the floor, toilet and on him. It was pretty gross. Usually I clean up after children. This was the first time I cleaned on my way to get to the child. When I got to him I picked him up and  had him stand in the sink and hosed him off with the sink sprayer. When he was clean enough I put him in the bath. I was seriously grossed out. Because the five of us were already in the bathroom, I threw Elijah in the shower and ended up with four kids all clean and fresh.
It was nice while it lasted.
They had meat, veggies and peanut butter on bagels for lunch. If anyone with a peanut allergy comes within five blocks of our house they will probably drop dead.
I taught the toddler to raise his hands when I say 'Green Bay Packer Touchdown.' I think I'll teach him the discount-double-check move later. Tonight we'll go down to main street for the holiday traditions festival stuff. We'll see all the period Santa's and characters that are associated with the Christmas holiday. Santa, folklore and Dicken's characters only. Nobody who'll offend religious groups.
I love you much and miss you always,
              uncle Justin

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. The little ones won't be going anywhere anytime soon. I talked with their social worker yesterday and she said there is no chance at reunification in Jan. The next court date will be late March or April. I was very happy at the news. The honeymoon was short lived at the baby got me up twice last night and was up for good around 5:30. His screaming waked the toddler. Luckily, the older ones slept through it.
We are going through a lot of coffee here.
I remember when we got the emergency call from the county asking if we could take the babies, I thought we had about thirty to sixty days before the baby would start sleeping through the night. That was seven months ago. I've gotten some advice about just letting him scream it out at night. I've also gotten some advice the other way - If the baby cries, tend to him.
You can't win pleasing other's with parenting, Temple. People tend to argue these things pretty hard. I have the choice of getting up with the crying child, spoiling him into a squealing brat. Or, I could leave him cry it out at night - which I was informed is the "Laziest form of parenting."
We've chosen to tend to the kid. For the reason that he's going to wake everyone else up. which he just did. It's going to be a long day. I have to go.
          I love you much and miss you always,
                       Uncle Justin

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I missed writing to you, but talking to you was better. It was nice having you here. Now that the wonder, happiness and family togetheressness of the holidays are over and we are back to our usual business, I thought I would write you a letter. I enjoy writing to you. It’s a nice break.
Today the little ones are at a visit with their biological dad. The older ones and I had a blast. We missed the baby and toddler, but big kid stuff is soooooooooooo much more fun. The babies being gone, everything seemed to go at a faster pace. The smell around here was better too. Those diapers can be nasty business.
I liked our conversation about cars. I’m thinking back to the cars I’ve owned, some of them nice, some of them didn’t last a month. Here’s what they were going backwards from my current car. This list does not include the Super Beetle or Gremlin project cars. I will also include a notation to what happened to them. Here we go:

Dodge Caravan
Chevy HHR (Inherited from Crystal when traded the Battle Wagon - traded for Caravan because of growing family)
Mercury Grand Marquis - THE BATTLE WAGON (Lost the battle)
Chrysler PT Cruiser (Intoxicated neighbor wrecked it.)
Dodge Daytona (Transmission went. Bought a different car instead of fixing it.)
Chevy Corsica (Totaled by a lady who didn’t look before turning left - I miss this car because it was so reliable.)
Buick Skyhawk (bought the car for a hundred bucks and it lasted a month before it died -money well spent!)
Ford Festiva (blown engine)
Ford LTD (fell asleep at the wheel and wrecked it)
Just for fun - Here are your Aunt Crystals
Volkswagen New Beetle
Chevy HHR (traded in for a van)
Chrysler PT Cruiser (electrical fried out - $5000 fix! No thank you. Goodbye car.)
Ford Escort (gave to your aunt and uncle.
Volkswagen Cabriolet (My dad tried to pull it out of the mud and ripped the undercarriage)
Honda CRX (hit from behind and totaled)
I’ve had more cars than your Aunt Crystal. I’ve bought some pretty interesting rides in my day. Thank goodness Wisconsin didn’t have safety or emissions inspections. You Aunt Crystal just said the list is a lot like old boyfriends. I don’t know what that means. I don’t have any old boyfriends.
I love you much and miss you always,
       Uncle Justin


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. In stewing over hurting someones feelings yesterday, I've come to the realization that two events seem to coincide in my life. I don't believe in omen's or anything like that, it just occurred to me while brooding and I would like to share.
I would like to talk to you about seeking forgiveness and roadkill.
I'm not speaking about asking forgiveness of an animal after running it them. I really don't see myself asking Mr. Kibbles' mangled animal body for forgiveness. I talking about two separate events. More specifically, I'm talking about seeking forgiveness and not receiving it. These types of events tend to stick out in your mind.
A couple days ago I ran over a cat. We have a couple strays around here. We live in an area that has an older population, several of which leave out bowls of food and water for the cats. When we moved into our home back in 2006 we found two old bowls of moldy cat food under the porch. For awhile a grey cat would stop by and mew at the front door. That explained how our dog got fleas.
Anyway I hit one of those little buggers when I turned out of our alley. I didn't mean too. It ran out in front of my car. I couldn't stop in time and there was nowhere to swerve. Dead cat. It wasn't the grey one. It was the one I affectionately referred to as 'that orange one.' Since then I have hurt someones feelings, inadvertently, and have yet to be forgiven.
There was another time back in high school where I was camping with my friend Brian. We were driving at night out to our campsite in the Wisconsin nowhere. We were on a small two lane highway and all of a sudden out of the darkness came a flash of several eyes reflecting white from my headlights. Then came a series of several bumps.
The next day Brian and I saw the wreckage. It seemed that a large group of Raccoons were crossing the highway at the same time we were passing through. It was pretty gross. That same day we went to a state park that I was very fond of since my Uncle used to take me there camping as a kid. Since we weren't spending the night, I didn't think I needed to check-in at the state park office. I was wrong. We drove in, parked the car and spent some time hiking the park trails. When we went back to the car, there was a park employee there writing a ticket. I explained myself, apologized and asked for forgiveness. She told me it was okay. She took my license to copy and a small daily park fee. She tore up the ticket and told us to enjoy our day. We went back to exploring the park.
When we returned there was a state trooper parked next to our car. It turned out that she didn't really forgive us at all. She just went back to her office and called the police. He wrote me a ticket that was double what she had written. He didn't believe my explanation and laughed at my apology. Before he left he pointed at the Christian symbol I had on the back of my car.
"I don't see how you can have this on your car," he said. "You can't claim you're a Christian when you act like you do."
Maybe my next novel should be called "Roadkill and the Unforgiven." Maybe not.
Once I hit a bird on the highway. It just kind of flew into my grill and bounced upwards and over my car. Physics being what they are, the bird seemed to suspend in the air for a moment before I lost sight of it. The day before that I told a girl that I would be with her forever. That forever lasted about 21 hours. An old girlfriend that had broken up with me a few months ago came back and wanted to get back together. You would know her as your Aunt Crystal.
The other girl. She has yet to forgive me and I don't think she ever will. The next time my car runs over a creature great or small, I will have to really watch my behavior.
Forgiveness, Temple, is an opportunity to practice God in small. Don't get me wrong - All the responsibility isn't on the forgiver. The one seeking forgiveness needs to be repentant. Meaning there is a marked attempt at a change in behavior. If someone seeks forgiveness, but doesn't change. They really aren't looking for forgiveness - they are looking for blanket acceptance. Even if that means at your expense.
Anyway, I'm sure you can think of a few times where people didn't forgive you when you asked for it. There's really not much you can do about that. It hurts - it's also a good lesson for when you have the opportunity to forgive. When someone doesn't forgive you, it feels like your sin sticks to you. There is a part of you that is unable to move on since the other person is unwilling to provide closure. They are telling you that your relationship isn't worth repairing. They are holding a something, even a mistake, against you and will not drop it. Ever. You tend to remember those times more than the times you received mercy. Funny how that works.
I feel very thankful that God isn't like that. God doesn't hold anything against you. If you seek forgiveness you'll find it every time. No matter what. He even paid for your sins himself. Makes you feel pretty worthwhile, at least it does for me.
I would also like to add that forgiveness is an action - not a feeling. You can forgive even though you are still working through pain. Forgiving a person doesn't mean they are automatically your best friend. Forgiving a person doesn't make the ramifications of what they did go away. I've said, "I forgive you" through clenched teeth a couple times and it still counted. I'm sure I'll feel better after a couple days in good company and enjoyment of the holiday.
I will see you tomorrow.
I love you much and miss you always,
                     Uncle Justin

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I screwed up today. Since I'm home now and don't interact with as many adults as I used too, I'm obsessing about it. Here's what happened. I wrote on the 18th in my letter to you that my literary agent and I had 'acrimoniously' parted ways. I didn't mean that. Acrimoniously isn't a positive word and there has been nothing but positive in every interaction I've had with her, until today and it's my fault.
Here's what's going on - I've had some recent personal changes that have made it difficult to be able to afford to pay my agent, per our contract, the money it takes to send out queries and manuscripts to her contacts in publishing companies. Before I go on I would like to point out to the fifty or so people who read these letters every day, that paying an agent certain costs associated with copying and sending out query packages isn't a ridiculous thing to do. There is a general consensus surrounding agents that if you have to pay any costs the agent isn't a good one. These people say that if the agent is reputable, they won't take any money until the work sells and they get their percentage.
I used to have an agent like that. She is now out of business.
Times are tough right now and the publishing business suffers just like the rest of us. Publishing houses, more than ever, are wary of investing in a new author because there is not guarantee on their investment. Why publish somebody nobody has ever heard about when you can find something that is a sure sell? Get my drift? We'll continue -
Gone are the days where a book can be turned in unedited and hand-written on coffee stained legal pads. Publishers want a polished and finished project. Nothing else will be considered. When I first sent my work to my current agent she told me she wanted the project, but it needed editing. She offered to edit it herself, for a fee and then would represent it. Her price was reasonable, but more than I could afford. She told me that if I had the work edited by someone else, she would still take it for representation. Several months later I found an editor that was looking for new clients, and was offering to edit for half of what she normally charges.
I could afford that and took her up on the offer. Several weeks later, I got back my edited novel. It took me several more weeks to make the changes and then I brought it back to the agent. She read the book again and, true to her word, she offered to represent my novel. I've invested a lot of money in myself and my work and I see paying these monthly charges as part of my investment. If the book sells, I will easily make the money back and more.
In my contract are certain charges that I pay in order to assist in the costs of sending out packages to publishers. These costs are reasonable. What comes out of it is professional and goes directly to my agent's contacts within the publishing houses. These are people who wouldn't look twice at anything I did, unless they saw my agent's name on it. They trust my agent not to waste their time, so my book gets read.
So my agent, because she is a kind person, was willing to let me out of our contract. She offered me well wishes and told me to get in contact with her if anything changed financially in the future.
Then she read the blog post.
Now she's upset and is unwilling to let me out of the contract, because she feels I've lied to her. I've tried calling her, Facebook messaging her, and e-mailing her and as of this writing haven't gotten a response. I said something stupid and am trying to make up for it. It's kind of like dating.
This reminds me of a story about when I was in second grade. Back in school I called another kid a really nasty word and didn't know it. I know you're not a little kid anymore and know more swear words than I would like to believe, but you may not know this one - so I won't write it here.
I was just playing around with the kid's name and suddenly his face dropped.
"I never thought you would call me that," he said. He went to go tell the teacher. As he was ratting me out I called across the crowded room.
"I just said ****! I said ****! There's nothing wrong with ****!"
The teacher took me aside and explained to me the meaning behind what I said. I was embarrassed, but on the brighter side I probably gave her a story to tell her friends for the rest of her life.
The mistake I made on the previous blog post is even more embarrassing because when you throw around big words you should really know what they mean. I should have learned something in second grade.
We'll I'm off to check me messages and hopefully she'll forgive me and still be willing to help. We'll see. Sometimes mistakes cost you. I made one. I plan on learning from it.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I'm feeling a little discouraged today. My literary agent and I have harmoniously parted ways. I don't want to really bore you with the details, but this pretty much brings me back to square one with my writing. Oh well, Kurt Vonnegut became famous at 47 so I plan on slugging away for at least another fifteen years before I think about hanging it up.
The only problem is I'm not Kurt Vonnegut.
Anyway, I would like to talk to you a bit about failure. I would like to tell you a bit of a grown up story. Hopefully we'll both learn something.
I left college without finishing a degree and went into the workforce. College was someplace I always knew I was going to do, but when I got there I didn't apply myself and felt very lost. If I could offer you a bit of advice, even if you feel lost at college (if you decide to go) I would buckle down and complete you degree. Life is easier when you have one. There are millions of people who don't have degrees that are successful and lead happy and productive lives. I don't want you do get me wrong. But people who have advanced schooling degrees tend to obtain better jobs and make more money. For awhile after I left school I was underemployed - and let me tell you that's a tough place to be.
I was living in Milwaukee when I left a job at a bank for another job that promised more money and better hours. That job fell through and I ended up working at a liquor store. Even though I was working full time I wasn't making nearly enough money to live. I'm not talking about having to switch to a generic brand of caviar - I mean not enough money to pay rent and eat.
I needed another job and I prayed hard to find one. I applyed for several and couldn't find employment that would work with the hours at my other job and was very much at a loss of what to do. Then on a whim I opened up a copy of the Riverfront times and saw an ad to work as a bouncer/doorman for a new nightclub.
I walked in and applyed for the job and got it. I found it pretty funny that God blessed my prayers by making me a bouncer. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Now, I was working two jobs totaling around seventy hours a week and was still having trouble paying my meager bills. I was living in a bad neighborhood in Milwaukee. I could paint you a little picture of where I was living by telling you that once I was pulled over and cuffed by the police who thought I was in the neighborhood to buy drugs. It took a litte convincing to make them belive that I, in fact, lived there. Anyway, I really didn't have much going for me except my beautiful, smart, talented girlfriend who was dilligently working her way through school at Concordia. You would know her as your Aunt Crystal.
I needed to make money and I didn't have any more hours a week that I could give to earn it. So I turned to fighting. I fought toughman contests, Milwaukee Rumble and other smaller events in the area. I told your Aunt Crystal that I was boxing/kickboxing and God bless her, she thought I was taking an areobics class. I let her keep thinking that and did what I had to do.
You are now, I'm sure, old enough to notice ads with scanitly clad women plastered everywhere. The way women protitute themselves to make money, to me, is in the same vein as men beating each other to a pulp to satisfy a bloodthirsty audience.
I know one thing - God didn't make me a good fighter.
I lost more than I won and didn't make much money doing it, but the promise of a good payday kept me at it. The last time I fought was in 2006, which was my worst fight and the one seen by the most of my family and friends. I was sitting the back room with the rest of the fighters as we were lead out like cattle one bout after another. The kickboxing event was tournement style and I would fight once the first night and as many as many as four times the next, depending of if I kept winning or not. That night the luck of the draw was not with me as I fought a guy called 'the rock' (not the WWE wrestler) who knocked me unconscious in the first minute of the first round. I went home hurt and the next day painfully rolled out of bed, put a piece of tape over my cut eye and went to work.
It was a terrible feeling. I felt very worthless. When your time isn't worth much and you make your body worth even less - there isn't much left for you.
Now I have a family with secure employment and livable income. I have a home and a credit score in the mid 700's, something I never thought I would have. I work very hard, but feel like there is something more for me out there. I feel there is something bigger that I'm supposed to accomplish. What worries me is that on my deathbed I'll be surrounded by people who love me and have led as good a life as I could and still be thinking, "Is this it?"
This worries me becuase I have a feeling that I'll get into heaven and God will welcome me by calling me and 'ungrateful little sot' or something - and he will be right.
It's important, my delightful niece, that you work hard and do your very best to accomplish your goals and make your life worthwhile. You have to be careful, as I very much do, with how you define failure. You may not really be failing at all. The only one telling you that you are a failure is you. Nobody - not even the people that love you the most - can help you with that. You have to find your worth yourself. If not, then even a thousand sounding your praises with fall deaf in your ears.
I know that even if I never succeed at getting a book published that God will be happy with my hard work and efforts of creation. I'm pretty sure he likes people who create things. He can relate.
Just remember, Temple, that no matter what you do, I love you. You are an important and worthwhile person. You are surrounded by people who love you and would do anything to keep you safe. Everyone gets discouraged, especially when things don't happen in the timeframe that one sets for themselves. It's important to realize that all we have is time until we don't have it anymore. All we can do is try, Temple. I'm going to keep trying.
Maybe my work will be published post-humously and my grandchildren will reap the benefits. Won't that be nice - for those ungrateful little sots. :)
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Dear Temple
I hope this note finds you well and happy. This note finds me very much embarrassed. Let me tell you a little story. When you get to your thirties you will remember things from your past that you will want to re-live. You will spend a bit of your time, not too much, but a bit of you time savoring a little nostalgia. Your Aunt Crystal was in Minnesota for a conference not too long ago, and she spent some time with my sister and brother-in-law who live there. One of the fun things they did was spend an evening at a dueling piano bar.
These places are neat and I will be sure to take you to one in about a decade when you're old enough. At a dueling piano bar you usually have a couple guys playing pianos. That's it. Sounds great doesn't it? No? Well, I'm not finished. These pianists will play whatever song you want them too. Give them a couple bucks and they'll play anything. You could have them playing Billy Ray Cyrus all night long as long as you keep those Washington’s flowing. You think they will get tired of it? No way. If you're paying Washington’s for Cyrus, others will start paying Lincolns to get them to stop.
Anyway, So while I toiled and slaved taking care of the kids I got a call from your Aunt Crystal asking me what song she should request. It didn't take me long to think of a good one.
Quiet Riot's "Metal Health" - people think this song is named "Bang your head" but it's not. Before I continue I would like to point out, if your Grandpa hasn't already begun speaking, that the band Quiet Riot is nothing but horrible, tasteless drivel. The lyrics are disreputable and obscene. They are completely anti-Christian. It is for these aforementioned reasons and more which I thought made this a great choice.
Just kidding.
The reason I thought that song by Quiet Riot was a great one was because I thought it would sound absolutely hilarious on the piano and the lyrics are priceless. Here are the song's first lyrics.

Well I'm an
Axe grinder, pile driver
Mother says that
I never, never mind her
Got no brains I'm insane
The teacher says that
I'm one big pain

Pretty funny stuff. These dudes were serious when they sang too. Now, here's the problem with nostalgia. Sometimes it turns around and bites you in the posterior.
When I said that this song would be a good one to play, I had the song on my mind and I wanted to listen to it myself. So I picked up a copy at our local library. I cranked up the volume and roared down the road being and axe grinder, pile driver guy who doesn't mind his mom and has no brains. It was great.
Then we traded in my HHR and bought a minivan. When I traded the Chevy I forgot to take the CD out of the player. I was horrified. I remembered the mistake that evening at dinner. I held my head in my hands.
"I forgot a CD in the HHR," I told your aunt Crystal.
"Just call them," she said. "I'm sure they still have it."
"You don't understand," I said. "I forgot a CD that I got from the library - just to listen to one song -all by myself and nobody would ever know about it - ever."
"What CD is it?"
"Quiet Riot," I said. She began to laugh.
"This is no laughing matter," I said. "I have to call the car place and ask for it." She kept laughing. Sometimes she isn't very helpful. Now, I know I could give fifteen bucks to the library for the CD, claiming it lost, and save myself the embarrassment. Apparently my dignity isn't worth fifteen bucks. I called. I told the receptionist what I was missing.
"Really?" she said. "Quiet Riot?"
"Yes," I said.
I went to pick up the CD the next day and nobody remembered me calling and nobody could find the CD. I stopped by the place during the day. I was the only one there. It was a domino effect of embarrassment. Seven sales associates, two finance people, six mechanics and two receptionists were looking for my CD. Nobody could find it so a couple salesmen went next door to the detailing place they use and all of them began looking around for the CD.
"You the big Quiet Riot fan?" A smirking detailer asked me.
"Oh, yes," I said. "I accept no substitute for my daily dose of rock."
Here's what I think happened - I think somebody stole my CD. Some dude at this place found the CD and took it because he liked it. He would fess up to taking it, but then would suffer the same embarrassment I'm going through.
Somebody at Lou Fusz loves Quiet Riot.
I think what I've learned about this whole thing is that we are all a bunch of closet Quiet Riot fans and if their music wasn’t so darn embarrassing - they would be lauded as the greatest band of all time.
Maybe not.
Maybe I learned that my dignity is worth fifteen bucks.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Friday, November 16, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I was at the grocery store and bought food for Thanksgiving and forgot what people eat at the meal. Now, I'm not an idiot. I got the main stuff, Turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes and libations. I didn't get pie - your grandma is bringing that. Then I hit a bit of a wall. I'm not really sure what to make and serve for side dishes.
I'm missing a primary, integral ingredient to any Thanksgiving meal and I think it's due to the fact that it's only been the past two years we've had it at our house. I'm missing the plethora of relatives that all bring their 'signature' side dishes.
You know what I'm talking about.
We will have a large group of people here. Our family, the Johnson's, You and anyone lucky enough to tag along with you from Illinois, and maybe a few couples from our small group. This is still about a week to go - we may even have more show up. I don't know. What I do know, is that we don't have several great-aunt-Hilda types who bring their famous rhubarb trifle every year.
I need more great-aunt-Hilda's. Work on that for me.
Before my family grew beyond my long road trip patience capacity level, we used to go up to Green Bay and spend Thanksgiving with my family. I can tell you I miss the trip very much. It's really the only time, apart from yearly reunions, that we see each other. You're now probably thinking that since we have reunions every year that Thanksgiving isn't the ONLY time everyone gets together. Here's how this works. Since our family didn't used to have reunions every year, Thanksgiving was actually the only time everyone was able to get together. Since that was how things used to be, the yearly family reunions are merely riders on the bill of singular family togetherness gatherings.
Have I lost you yet? I'm a bit muddled myself. It makes sense when you're old. Sort of.
Anyway - dang this letter is way longer than I thought it would be - for a bit my Uncle Tom used to bring his girlfriend Kate to our Thanksgiving meals. She was a very nice and quiet person, and she was the Generalissimo of Thanksgiving side-dishes. There are so many side-dishes of wonderment I could regale you with, but one sticks out in my mind with vapid fervor. It was jello - wait for it - a completely decorated swimming pool with diving boards and teddy graham swimmers. BAM! Thanksgiving just got Thanksgivinger.
Now, I love my Uncle Tom very much. He is hands down the funniest person alive on the planet. He's very quiet, that's why you have to sit close. Something happens or somebody says something and he slides in a little comment that is so insipidly (I mean that in a good way) clever that I just burst with mirth. His girlfriend Kate never really said much. In fact, I never remember her saying anything really. Her silence was absconded only once every year. She was a conversational sniper that would make me jump once a year without fail. She did it with three words:
"I made this!"
The family used to admire her side-dish handiwork as a part of usual small talk. When this began to happen I would start looking over my shoulder. I knew it was coming. I just didn't know when. Suddenly, while I was pulling burning rolls out of the oven or something, a side comment on her food would make her gush forth is sudden totalitarian nationalist pride "I MADE THIS!"
It was like God after making the duck-billed platypus.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Today was a pretty full day. I got the little ones ready for their visit to their biological dad and his girlfriend. Funny how I got his kids as well as my own and myself showered/bathed, fed, nails clipped, clothed, packed and to the pick-up spot five minutes early - and he couldn't get his own posterior up and dressed to be on time. He was fifteen minutes late and by the time the baby was pretty upset.
I was a little upset myself. I had scheduled to pick up our new son at 2:30. This meant that I had should have had alone time with Elijah from 9 until 2:30. Alone time that we will rarely see from this point onward. Any reason that time was encroached upon, especially when it's a selfish/stupid reason - didn't sit well with me.
Oh well, Elijah and I had a good time. We went to the Art Museum and the Zoo. We made it through everything at the art museum. I felt like we were speed walking. Never had I been slapped with so much culture at such alarming speed.
Elijah knew many of the artists work on sight. He knew Warhol, Kline (that's the stuff you like dad), Monet, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. I was pretty proud. Your Aunt Crystal has been working with him. We saw a really good media installation piece - James Nares' Street.
The zoo was fun. We saw everything we wanted too. It's nice to be able to go during the day since exhibits like the sea lions, which is usually a long wait, was empty and we could watch at our leisure. The animals are very interactive when there isn't a crowd around. Elijah played with Lemurs, monkeys and a baby sea lion.
Then we went to the camels. I didn't want to go to the camels but Elijah said we had too. He didn't want to miss the show. There is this one camel that hates my guts. He just watches me when there is a big crowd, but when it's just us he always trots over and just stares me down with unbridled menace. Once he spit at me. I don't like him either. I'm not sure really why we hate each other so much, but we do. Elijah thinks its hilarious.
I will get him in the end though. Once my novel sells and I make my millions, I plan to provided a large endowment to the zoo. I wouldn't ask for anything in return for such philanthropy....maybe just one little thing - a 40 ounce camel steak.
I love you much and miss you always,
                  Uncle Justin

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I already wrote you a letter today, but our Internet is having trouble keeping it's signal recently and I lost it. The letter was funny and engaging. I'm sure you would have liked it. I was very proud of it. But it's gone and we have to move on with our lives. I thought about re-writing it, but that's stupid. You will just have to keep living knowing that there is an awesome letter from your Uncle that you will never get to read. It's lost in cyberspace forever. It's almost worse for you since I know what it was and you can only ponder it's magnificence.
Well, maybe it wasn't THAT good, but I'm still a little miffed that it's gone. These letters don't grow on trees you know.
I think I'll write you about something else.
Last night I was driving home from my friend Jeffrey's house and was hit by a song that never fails to make me cry.When I heard it last night it made me cry again so it sill never fails. If, for some reason I listen to it in the future and it doesn't make me cry, I will have to change the 'never fails' to 'nearly always'. As of this writing, it never fails.
Anyway, the song is R.E.M.'s - Let Me In. I should preface this by letting you know that my sister Theresa is the number 1 R.E.M. fan of all time. She's been listening to them for as long as I can remember. As goes with siblings, since she liked them so much, I really didn't listen to them much. I always like the band, I was just never a super fan growing up - so it's only been recently that I've been listening to their music. It's been a very enjoyable experience.
About a year ago I was listening to them pretty much all the time and then they got relegated to some cupboard somewhere in the house and I listened to something else. Yesterday, I went into the recesses of the cupboard and took out the REM Monster CD. Let Me In is a later track on the CD and comes in all static and heavy - so at first listen, it sounds like a throwaway song.
Michael Stipe, the lead singer, comes in with some nonsense lyrics and you're about to hit the button to go the the next song, then the chorus hits. Stipe says the words "Hey, let me in" in such a vividly strong yet soft plea with so much emotion that you can't help but taken away with the feeling. I didn't know much about the song so I asked my sister about it and she told me that it was written by Michael Stipe to Kurt Cobain after his suicide.
Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of a group called Nirvana. It's very weird to me that I have to add that information. I must be getting old.
Anyway, the song speaks to me as a friend reaching out too late to another. It's a very sad and lost sound. It's also good lesson. I've been surprised continuously throughout life where I've felt very alone only to have found others who have lived through the same things I have, known exactly what I was going through and could tell me things were going to be okay. Whenever you feel that way, and we all do at some time or another, just give me a call.
I just might be able to help you,
I love you much and miss you always,
                 Uncle Justin
You can click the link below to listen to the song -

Monday, November 12, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Only ten days until Thanksgiving. I'm waiting for the Turkey's to go on sale here. I had an excellent weekend. My friend Ben and his son came down from Wisconsin to visit me. There were five kids (all boys) here and it was a very busy and fun time. We went to the zoo. I don't really know what to tell you about the zoo. I was thinking of saying something obvious like 'there were animals there', but that's kind of dumb. I could also say something like, 'it was zootastic!' but that doesn't really sound like something I would say. I don't get how some people like that kind of stuff. We had a zoorific time! HA HA HA - vomit.
We went to the zoo. We saw animals. It was nice.
The weather was really warm too. I think it's the last nice weather we're going to get until Spring. My friend picked a great time to visit.
We watched a movie called 'Monster Camp' about people who do live action role playing. My computer wasn't streaming well so we didn't finish it, but what we did see was pretty entertaining. I have mixed feelings about watching those kinds of movies. I think most people watch them because they get to make fun of nerds who are into things like live action role playing. Some of the people in the documentary seemed pretty lonely or stuck in life and people like to watch movies like that because it makes them feel better about their own lives when they see someone else struggle.
I'm not into live action role playing and I thought some of the things they did were kind of funny, but they really seemed to be having a lot of fun. Maybe they know something about getting enjoyment out of life that I don't. Then again, maybe they don't get enjoyment out of life so they make up a complete fantasy one to escape. Maybe I'm overthinking this.
Anyway, I liked the movie.
Your Aunt Crystal is off work today due to the holiday. It's nice having her here.
Elijah is doing his homeschool and the boys are playing in the living room. It should be a good day. We're getting rid of the roseback couch. I'll put it on craigslist today and hopefully someone will pick it up and get it out of our lives. It's a pretty couch but pretty doesn't mean comfortable. Besides we need the room for the boys.
The little ones worker extended the visits for the biological family so they will be gone for longer periods on their visit day. Soon they will probably have overnights. We'll see. Our new kid will stay with us again from Thursday to Sunday, I miss him already. We dropped him off yesterday evening.
I love you much and miss you always,
               Uncle Justin

Friday, November 9, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Today is going well. All four boys are here and are having a good time. Elijah is happy with having someone to play with. I didn't think it was going to be a good day. The toddler was up at 5:30 and the baby woke up three times during the night due to teething. Your Aunt Crystal and I didn't get much sleep, but I guess we asked for it having so many kids. The odds of one or two having a rough night are pretty good.
We're not doing homeschool today. I'm trying to keep it simple. We'll probably go to the park later. We'll see how brave I am. I guess with four kids if one runs off and gets hit by a bus it's not too bad. I still would have three. Just kidding. Sort of.
Elijah set up a video game store outside. He figured out that when he picked a job he could choose one that immerses himself in what he likes. He told me he sells Star Wars toys at the store too. Doesn't sound like a bad job to me.
Your Aunt Crystal is off work for Monday, which is nice. My friend Ben is coming down from Wisconsin with his kid, which is also nice. We're going down to Forest Park and go to the zoo and maybe the art Museum. I may have told you this already. The best thing to do when and adult repeats stories or information to you is to humor them. Pretend to be interested. We like to hear ourselves talk. Deal with it.
I've been working on my novel again. I put in about 4,000 words this week, but couldn't get many yesterday. Too much going on to really lose myself in writing a book. Your Aunt Crystal thinks I should write one about the process we're going through now. I think it would sell. there is a definite market for it. I just don't want to write it right now. Maybe later. I don't know.
We have to get some Christmas shopping done soon. We were way ahead of the game a while ago, but we've done nothing since and now we're about par with everyone else. I really dislike going shopping around the holidays with the packed stores and the sick consumer-frenzy feeling I get from my fellow man.
We already got your gift and I think it's a good one.
I love you much and miss you always,
                  Uncle Justin

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Today I get to pick my new kid up around 2:30 and drop him off in the evening. Tomorrow I'll pick him up again and he'll be staying the weekend. My friend Ben is coming down from Wisconsin and he's bringing his kid. Should be a good, testosterone-filled time.
We're probably going to be spending a lot of time in Forest Park. We're going to the zoo, art museum and maybe the history museum. The little ones will be at their visit with their biological family so doing a whole-day thing is possible.
We're getting closer (still a couple of months away) to the court date for the little ones. I found I had to check myself a bit on my expectations for what will happen there. I've had a lot of expectations of what I thinks going to happen during this whole process and each time I've been wrong. That shouldn't be surprising, since this is a new experience for me, but people usually like to know what their lives will look like and mine has changed dramatically every couple months for the last year.
I believe that the judge will begin the transition of the little ones back to their biological family. They are doing what they are supposed to do to be reunified with them. The process has been hurried and the current system view here in Missouri is to reunify at all costs.
To be honest with you, part of the fact that the boys will be going back has been a relief to me. I've gone from one kid in April to three kids and now by the end of November I'll have four. That's a lot of kids - quickly. It's not that I don't think they'll eventually stay. I believe that they will. Having them here means court dates, two or three visits to coordinate a week, social worker visits and all the joys of working with a completely dysfunctional biological family.
I can't control whether the boys stay here or leave, but a part of me thinks that if they leave all the government baloney will stop. The biological family will hurt the boys again and we'll get them back, stripped of parental rights, plain and simple. We adopt them and can move forward.
What might happen is that the judge will put everything off again for another three months and I'll have to figure out how to do all this with four kids. Your grandma will know something about that.
We have another change going on for us as well.  The boys we have here now are all pasty white skinned and mega blond. We look like we're leading the Aryan race down the block. Even though the boys don't look like us, people assume they're ours. Our new son is African American. So we are now what is referred to as a trans-racial family (You would know something about that.) That is another big change for us. We're going to do all we can to keep the guy immersed in his culture. For example; if he wants to join choir or a theatre group, we're going to find one that's representational of his race. It's not as simple as that, but I'm not writing a book here.
I am worried though. I've already screwed this up with Elijah. Ever since Elijah has been with us we thought he hand an Irish background. A year ago I got a pretty harsh look from a short, red-haired, kilted, ruffian who told me "That is not an Irish name! That's Scottish!"
"What's the difference?" I told him. Just kidding. I'm kidding. Sort of.
I love you much and miss you always,
                   Uncle Justin

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Yesterday we elected Barack Obama the 44th president of the United States. I didn't vote for him, but there is no time for election hangover. We are headed for another fiscal crisis and we must work together to figure this mess out.
I hope our government can work together on this. Increasingly, nobody is willing to compromise on anything - so nothing happens. This is especially true in our Senate. This is not the way things used to be. When Bob Dole was the Senate Majority Leader he would basically put people in an office and tell them not to come out until they resolved their problem. We don't really have that now. We've become very polarized. That is not a good thing.
When you compromise on a problem to come up with a solution, it doesn't always mean you're compromising on your faith values or personal moral principles. Your morality hasn't changed. You haven't changed. You just cooperated to solve a problem. When we've lost the ability to do that, we are in pretty dicey territory. The people we elect to govern should have the ability to work out issues. This is a skill. It's easy to find someone who has values that match your own. It doesn't mean that they have the ability to work out our country's issues and solve problems. It just means they have beliefs and that is not enough to govern.
We all do this on a daily basis with the people we work with. When you get a job, become famous and send your Uncle lots of money - got lost there for a second. When you get a job, you'll work with a group of people who will have different value systems, religious beliefs, problem solving skills, intelligence, skills, etc. You will have to work together, even though you believe different things, to reach the company's goals. If you can't do that you'll be out on your posterior.
I get the feeling that making a compromise to obtain solutions to problems has become synonymous with defining you personal morality. That's ridiculous. If you and your satan worshipping neighbor work together sharing labor on each other's home projects, It doesn't mean you're now a satanist or that he's into God. It means your dang porch railing is fixed and his gutter doesn't leak anymore.
Get my drift?
I love you much and miss you always.
              Uncle Justin

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Today I have to go to the library and would like to share with you my favorite library story. Once upon a time I went to the library and checked out a book. The end.
Did you like that story? No? Try this one.
Once I went to the library and was astounded when my schema of what a library entailed was blown asunder by our area branch remodeling which included several things, but none so wonderful as a drive-up window for fast pick-ups. When you get as old as I am, you become astounded by menial things. Maybe I wasn't astounded, but starting a story with "I was reasonably contented by this small convenience" doesn't really make for something you want to keep reading.
Anyway, I had a few items to pick up and didn't want to unload the children from the car - so I chose to try this new drive-up window thingy. I pulled the Chevy to the window and pressed a large red button for service. A tired looking twenty-something clerk walked up to the window.
"Can I help you?" He said.
"Yes, I would like to pick up some reserves." I said.
"Did you call ahead?" He said.
"No," I said, "Am I supposed too?"
"Yes," He said.
"Can you make an exception for me this time?" I said. "I'm already here."
"You should really call ahead," He said.
Lucky for me the library's phone number was printed on the drive-up window. I took my cell phone out of my pocket and, still facing the clerk, dialed the library. The phone next to the clerk rang and he picked it up.
"Hello?" He said.
"Hi," I said. "I would like to use the drive-up window to pick up some reserves. My name is Justin Hunter."
"Okay," He said. We hung up our phones and stared at each other for a moment. Then I leaned out my car window and pressed the red service button.
"Can I help you?" He said.
"Yes," I would like to pick up some reserves." I said.
"Did you call ahead first?" He said. Totally deadpan.
"Yes I did," I said.
He got my selections.
When you get a job in a few years, Temple, there will be some rules that may seem pretty stupid but it's a good idea to follow them anyway. I'm sure this clerk thought the call first rule was stupid, but when you have a new thing like a drive-up window at the library you have to teach people how to use it. Otherwise they would be running back and forth from the front to the back all day and that would make for a pretty long day. Our interaction, although silly, was pleasant and we were both able to get what we wanted.
After what I did at the library drive-up window there was a new policy with large signs dictating the new drive-up rules. Not only do you have to call first in order to use the window, your selections won't be available for fifteen minutes. I'm changing the world Temple.
I've done this once before. Back in 2000? I went to the University of Milwaukee Wisconsin for a short time. I instituted a Wednesday night card night in the smoking area where we played cards well into the late hours and smoked cigars (a filthy disgusting habit.) There were so many complaints about the smoking that they closed the smoking area inside the building. Ever since then smokers have had to indulge in their habit outside. You'll remember its very cold there.
This means I am personally responsible for every single University of Milwaukee Wisconsin college student who had frozen their posteriors off outside for a smoke for over a decade.
Changing the world, Temple. I'm changing the world.
I love you much and miss you always,
            Uncle Justin

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Dear Temple,
You should have gone to bed by now. Maybe you're up. I don't know. It is Saturday after all. Maybe your sitting by your computer on a Saturday night just pining for whatever gibberish I have to spew all over this page. Maybe not.
Met my new son - your new cousin - today. He's a neat kid. Very nice. Well mannered. Runs all over the place. Pretty much your average and healthy three year old boy. He's got a great personality, he should fit in well here. He's got a raspy voice. He sounds like he's been smoking unfiltered cigarettes drinking whisky for decades. It's the kind of thing that's cute when a kid, not so cute when you're sixty. His foster family thinks he'll have a deep baritone voice when he grows up. I agree.
He's spending the day with us tomorrow. We have a lot of plans for what we could do, but he'll probably be so into our home and all his new brother's toys that he won't want to go anywhere. We'll see.
I cleaned the Gremlin for awhile today. I'm working on the dashboard and seats. There's a lot of scrubbing to do. I'm thinking about taking some automotive classes. Should be fun. I'm getting more fond of the car daily. Since I've been going through the car, I've found three knives hidden in various places. I think the previous owner may have been a bit paranoid. Whenever I pull out one of those camouflaged-handled beauties I smile a bit. The knives arent' expensive ones by any means. I think he may have gotten them in a package deal. I can just see the dude going out to his car and picking out the best places to put them.
I found the first one in the glove box, pretty standard spot. The other two were in pretty hard to reach areas tucked under the seating. It's funny to me, because if he were ever in any sort of trouble he would have to ask his assailant to wait a minute while he contorted his body enough to retrieve his defensive weapon.
Take it from your Uncle that whenever you have to ask an assailant to 'wait a minute' the answer will always be no.
Has your Grandpa given you a pocket knife yet? I think I had my first one when I was nine. It was a Swiss army knife that I got from my Uncle. I thought is was pretty cool. It had a knife, file, tweezers, toothpick and saw. I wish I still had it.
I don't know why you would want a camouflage knife anyway. What if you dropped it is dense foliage?
I really didn't intend this to be all about knives. Nice tangent. Next time I'm going to talk about flowers and bunnies.
I Love you much and miss you always,
              Uncle Justin

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Goodbye to October. Guess we'll see it again next year. Mayans be darned! That whole Mayan calender thing isn't really going to be the end of things, Temple. It's kind of the same thing you do when your yearly calender runs out. You start the year over. We all don't explode after December 31st do we? No.
Anyway, I bought a van. I actually really like it. The kids have space. It rides well. It's practical. That's really all I have to say about it. It could probably use some flames or a big skull or something. We'll have to look at decals when you're up for Thanksgiving.
I had trouble sleeping last night so I got up and played Elijah's Lego Star Wars Wii game for about five hours or so. It was a good time killer, but I don't recall having a lot of fun while playing. I unlocked all the characters for him and beat a bunch of levels, so he's happy. I don't know why I couldn't sleep last night. I just couldn't - so I got up. Your Aunt Crystal said I should just roll over and go back to sleep. That's just crazy talk.
Crystal got Elijah a Star Wars Lego set as a present from her trip. He saw the box at around 5:45 this morning so he got up early too. Your Aunt Crystal said that she can't leave anymore because all the boys in the house develop weird sleep patterns. I disagree. We are men of the night. Not exactly all night - you have to sleep sometimes. We are men of the day and odd times of the night depending on current circumstances or Star Wars sleep disruptions. That's better.
Star Wars always makes me think of Ronald Reagan. Ask your Grandpa about that.
Elijah's pumpkin survived Halloween without being busted by delinquents. He's very happy about that. He guesses it's because he made the face upside down this year so the kids thought it was already messed with. Maybe he's right. We must have some pretty dumb delinquents around here.
Tonight I'm going to work on our new son's room. It's going to have a pirate theme. I've obtained a world map that I've cut up and burned to make it look old. I'm framing the pieces now. We've got a Thomas Tew pirate flag, pirate toys, a pirate ship wall decal, and some photos of Somali teenagers in rafts (just kidding) If the kid likes pirates, he's in for a treat. If not? Oh, well. He's just going to have to deal.
I love you much and miss you always,
                          Uncle Justin

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I pick your Aunt Crystal up from the airport today at 2:30. It will be so nice to have her home again. She's been gone since Saturday afternoon and that's too long. I don't feel quite myself when she's not here. I plan on saying 'hi' and then throwing three kids at her and then go take a nap. Not really. We're probably going straight from the airport to test drive a van. Today I may become a 'Van Achiever' - a great honor in parenthood. Is there really such a thing as Van Achiever? No. I just need to make my life more exciting than it really is.
Yesterday we had small group come over to our home. We had a really good time. We're discussing the book The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn. It's a good one. I wish you dad was here for last night's discussion. We are on some chapters that have a lot to do about numbers in how they deal with time and the Hebrew calender vs. our own. It would have been good to have your grandpa here to help sort that out. I'm sure he could explain it better than the book does.
That's kind of the key to a lot of things - having the right person there who can explain things the right way so that they can be easily understood. That's why it's good to know a lot of different people. I know how social you are, so I dont' think you'll have a problem with that. Me? I'm very social. I just prefer to socialize with myself. I find myself to be very good company and I tend to agree with my own opinions.
I seem to be rambling today, but I'm very tired. So just deal with it young lady. When I was a kid I had to listen to adults when they rambled, so now it's my turn. It will be good to have Crystal back. I don't know how single parents can do this non-stop. God bless them. I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.
I love you much and miss you always,
                          Uncle Justin

Monday, October 29, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I'm happy to be seeing you over Thanksgiving. It should be a good time. I'm going to be making a big meal. There is a great spice shop on main street and there is a maple brown sugar rub that will make that turkey taste very nice indeed. I love turkey, but nobody else in my family does. It's the only time of year I feel okay buying an eighteen pound bird that I'm going to eat myself. Not all at once, mind you. That would be piggish.
If my memory serves, you are a fan of turkey yourself. If you want some you better sit close to me. Your grandpa can put away a sizable amount of fowl himself. Here's the plan. We keep the bird close to us and have him sit at the other end of the table. We then make sure there are a bunch of starch-heavy, belly-busting side dishes that he will have to eat through to get to the meat. It will be a battle, but we shall overcome.
I took Elijah bowling while the boys were on their visit with their biological family on Sunday. It was a good time. I forgot what a cheap form of entertainment it was too. I found that I bowl how I handle most things in life. I whip the ball as hard as I can right down the line. I don't do that little crescent spin I see most avid bowlers doing. What happens is that I usually hit an easy strike or veer sharply left or right and knock down a single pin. I do everything with rampant gusto. It may look like I'm laid back, but that's just how I rampant gusto.
Elijah had a good time. Maybe we could go bowling when you're here. Maybe you hate bowling. Maybe that's the worst idea ever. Let me know.
I love you much and miss you always,
            Uncle Justin

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Dropped the boys off for their visit with their biological mom this morning. I pick them up at five. Elijah and I went to church. I would have probably skipped it but he was insistent, so we went. He's such a good boy. He also didn't have to wake up several thousand times last night. I don't know what was up with our dog Delilah. She barked a lot last night. Normally she doesn't say anything. She's getting old and I'm sure when I'm old I'll do a lot of barking at nothing too - so I guess it's par for the course.
My grandmom - What a terrible bridge to this conversation. I talk about my old dog barking at shadows and that leads to talk about my deceased grandmother? Yes I am. She was a wonderful woman, but neural synapses are going to fire how they do and I am powerless to stop them. Anyway, my grandmom who has since passed on, was in a nursing home for a long time. She lived independently in an apartment for a long time, and as long as possible. She once told me that when she planned on living only a few months when she moved into the nursing home. She was wrong and the years wore on for her. She used to tell me when I was in town visiting that she didn't know why she was still alive.
"Why don't I just go ahead and die?" She said.
"I don't know," I said.
"I can't see anymore. I'm in a lot of pain and I can't do anything for anybody," she said.
"You're making me happy just seeing you," I said.
"That's a bunch of phooey," she said and she was right.
My grandmother wanted to die a lot earlier than she did. Time is a funny thing in that it is a singular difference in something we are bound by and God is not. He created us and he created time and he created us to live in time. He doesn't have too, obviously, and sometimes this can create a lot of strain on us humans because of this. A million years is as a day to God, but a million years is a million freaking years to us. My grandmother entered the nursing home and then went blind, couldn't move, couldn't do anything but sit or lie down and talk and even talking hurt. What's worse is that you get put on all these drugs for the pain that make you say and do things you normally wouldn't. What's worser than worse is that you can live long enough in that state and people start remembering you like that instead of the vibrant person you used to be. My dad once told me that everything vital to life works in her, but everything extra is gone.
What's the point of living like that? She buried her husband and three of her children. Who wants to live longer then their children? Me, that's who. Just kidding.
So when my grandmother asked me on a few occasions why she was alive, I didn't know why and couldn't tell her. Sometimes I would tell her that God new why, but I think we both thought that answer was a little weak. I think we both thought that God kind of forgot about her.
But then it happened.
My father died suddenly several years ago and things were a mess. We went to go see her and let her know what the arrangements were for the funeral. My mom was a mess. My sisters were a mess. I was a mess. There was my grandmother. She was sad, but, I don't know, solid. She sat in her wheelchair, blind and in pain, and seemed strong and even enough to hold up everyone herself. She didn't blubber. She didn't whine or complain. She just started talking, practical and in charge.
"Well we just need to cut back," she said. "I don't have to have my hair cut every week..." she just went on listing things she could do to help right the ship that had just took on a lot of water.
"Darn Straight Grandma," I thought, but I thought something else too. I was thinking about our conversations as to why she was kept alive and so many years in pain. Maybe it was for that moment in time where her strength was needed for our family. Maybe God hadn't forgotten about her after all. She was paying the bill in spades for our blessing, but sometimes blessings come from pain.
Then the door shoved inward and I heard the nurses shouting "Maynerd! Don't go in there Maynerd! Maynerd!" This dude was shoving his wheelchair backwards into people's room doors trying to get in. He had a look of incredible intensiveness on his face. I tried to meet his eyes but he didn't look at me. He didn't want anything but to get in the room. His face said, "Booyah, I'm in!" while the nurses scrambled to get him out. I'll never forget that guy. All those ladies yelling "Maynerd!" ha ha ha.
If I ever end up in a nursing home, which I will, I want to be like Maynerd. I don't want to just sit there without purpose. I want to wake up and get in my wheelchair and create enough havoc that they will put a little extra juice in my IV drip to knock me out.
I love you much and miss you always,
                      Uncle Justin

Friday, October 26, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I am not a proud man today Temple. I have given up. It's time I let you in on a little secret that I've kept since middle school. I tried this week to go back on what my heart has told me over and over for so long, but it is not meant to be.
I, Justin Hunter, hate James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans. I hated this book every time I've attempted to like it, and there have been several.
I should really like this book. I am well-read. I love the classics and what is more famous or classic than this work by Cooper? Not much. I love the movie and the book is always better than the movie, isn't it?
I finished Gore Vidal's Lincoln and found myself staring at my built-in bookshelves looking for my next read. I saw the book and thought to give it another chance. You see, Temple, this book makes me feel stupid. Why don't I like it? Is there something wrong with me? Am I not learned enough to find joy in such a weighty tome?
I went in search of the answer at the library. I know I didn't have to go to the library. I have a beautifully bound copy at home. But I've tried to get into the book so much that I was bringing out the big guns, audio book style. Whenever I've had trouble getting into a book, my last resort is listening to it on CD. I can put it on when I'm on the treadmill, working on the car, doing the dishes or whatever. I've 'read' a lot of books this way I wouldn't have otherwise.
So this week I came home with all sixteen CD's of The Last of the Mohican's unabridged (that means they don't cut out anything).
I listened to the first three CD's and hate the book now more than ever. BUT NOW I KNOW WHY. I'm older now Temple and that makes me wiser. I knew I hated this book when I was a kid, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Now I can. The pacing is terrible. Cooper flowers his words more than an old lady splashes on rose water. His inability to use words less than three syllables make the pace of the reading seem as slow and jumbled as driving over a ten mile stretch of speed bumps. If this didn't hurt the reader enough, he's added footnotes and sequences of French which is akin to learning how to drive a manual car. You just get the thing going and it dies suddenly, like the book, it's hard to pick up again.
Things happen so slowly it makes the reader want to die. Cooper gives advance notice to any and all action, then has lengthy conversations and illustrious paragraphs about character's turning their heads, that you are sick on the action before it even happens. You cousin Elijah said it best, I had it on while we were doing homeschool.
"What are they doing in the story?" He said.
"They got out of the river and are talking," I said.
"They've been doing that a long time," He said.
"I know."
"They are talking about the same stuff. They aren't doing anything. Aren't they in trouble?" He said.
"They are supposed to be," I said.
"This is the worst book ever."
I agree.
I love you much and miss you always,
                         Uncle Justin

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. It's about 5:45 in the morning. I've been up for awhile and off and on all night. The baby it teething. The little sharp bones lacerating through his gums makes him uncomfortable. He's awake and he makes sure we are too.
Your Aunt Crystal and I get to meet our new son on the 3rd. Elijah is coming with us. The little ones will be on a visit with their biological family. It should be a good time. He could be with us permanently as soon as Thanksgiving. That would be nice.
Having four kids will keep us very busy. You can ask your grandma about that - but we will survive. We are made out of the sternest mold. Sternest mold? I know I'm mixing up my phrases, but I don't care. You get the idea.
Yesterday I actually sat down and wrote 400 words on my newest novel. I haven't worked on it in awhile. When I get any sort of break I'm just too tired to really invest in something like writing. That's kind of depressing so I'll talk about something else.
Tuesday started roughly. The baby kept us up all night with his teething issues. He only slept when it was time for us to get up, which makes you want to strangle the little buggers. The toddler was calling to get up so I got him. Two things happened to him during the night that don't usually happen. His diaper slipped and he had a bowel movement. His pajamas showed no leakage from the outside, but unzipping them showed a foulness that cannot be described without vomiting on my laptop, so I won't...yes I will - It was like he was wearing a Hazmat suit backwards - all the nasty kept inside.
I gagged all the way through giving him a shower and gagged while cleaning the shower after. Then Elijah and the baby woke up. They got baths/showers and breakfast and we went right into a pretty intensive homeschool session with Elijah.
We had to accomplish homeschool quickly since I had a meeting in Saint Louis to go over our adoptive son's file. It was also laundry day so I was washing and folding mountains of clothes. I used the stove timer to keep on track. This was a very busy morning.
Now usually I don't get my shower in until 10:00. I can shower earlier if we're going somewhere, but that entails putting the little ones in a bouncer and pack-in-play in the bathroom so I can watch them while I get clean. They hate this and let me know about it. I don't like showering amidst the screams of young children, so I was planning on waiting.
Things were in full swing when we heard a knock on the door at nine. I ignored it at first. I thought it was either one of Elijah's friends or a neighbor who needed to borrow something. It's not the nicest thing to ignore a knock, but I did. The person wouldn't leave and continued knocking so I answered the door.
There was the children's foster social worker. We had a meeting that morning and I had forgotten about it.
Usually when she comes for her monthly visit our house looks like the set on Masterpiece Theatre. Everything is spotless. The toddler walks in wearing his cummerbund. I pretend this is how things always are. We talk for awhile and she leaves.
On Tuesday she walked in and the sofa was full of folded laundry with a pile on the side that needed folding. Laundry that doesn't get put in the dryer was hung on the built-in bookshelves. Toys were everywhere. I was putting most of my concentration on getting Elijah's schooling done rather than cleaning up after the toy dumping duo.
The worst part was me. Now the boys were clean, fed, wearing clean clothes and happy. I was a mess. I hadn't showered. I needed a shave. To top it all off, I answered the door wearing nothing but jeans. My greeting went like this.
"Hi," I said, "I'm going to go put on a shirt." She didn't beg me not too, so I know I should hit the treadmill a little bit more. I'm kidding.
I was very embarrassed. Now the house was messy with toys and clean laundry, but it wasn't dirty. I wasn't showered and dressed, but the boys were. It was kind of a normal day here, it's just not the picture I strive to portray to the social workers that pass regularly through our home. I explained my appearance and apologized for forgetting our meeting, and the worker said it was okay.
"It's not the first time I've had someone answer the door that way," she said.
"That makes me feel better," I said.
"Never in a foster home," she said, "But it's not the first time."
"That's nice," I said.
Darn it Temple - When you start to take yourself seriously, God gives you plenty of reason for humbleness.
I love you much and miss you always,
                    Uncle Justin

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Early morning note for you. The boys have been keeping me very busy and I'm tired of flaking out on making sure I get to talk to you. So you get an early morning note - Your uncle has risen to the new dawn (actually I wish the boys would let me sleep until dawn. I'm going to have to rephrase.) Your uncle has risen to the waning night. That's better. I'm going with it. Night can wane in these notes. I don't care.
Our toddler is a little nuts in the morning. He wakes up as early as possible so as not to miss your aunt Crystal going to work. He is very insistent. He's also a light sleeper. I think this morning he woke up to the automatic coffee pot turning on. So I'm sitting here thinking about how I need coffee because I'm tired, but the coffee is what's making me tired since it woke my kid up. It's kind of like the snake solacing his hunger by devouring his own tail.
I'm not really sure what I want to eat for breakfast. Maybe I just won't. When I grew up I would eat leftovers for breakfast usually, so I've had some pretty nice spreads when I've broken fast. Right now I could go for some Chinese food, as odd as that sounds. I don't have any leftover Chinese food in the fridge and I'm feeling pretty particular - so I just may skip food until my taste buds wake up with the rest of my body.
I used to live in De Pere, Wisconsin. It's a nice place near Green Bay. I had a small studio apartment above a photography studio. It was cheap and served my needs. I have a nice house now, but I still sometimes miss the simplicity of living entirely in one room. Your Aunt doesn't agree with me on that. Anyway, There were small apartments above stores and one of the store, which I frequented, was Number 1 Chinese Restaurant. They made some really great food there. Being the Number 1 Chinese restaurant, I guess they should.
Where was I? The story I'm about to tell you isn't about breakfast. It's not about De Pere. It's not about very much at all except for Chinese food. This conversational bridge only supported by my minor food craving. I'm tired - just walk with me.
I knew the owner of the place back then. We got on well. Earlier that day I had watched a news program that spoke to how bad Chinese food was for you. After ordering I asked him about that.
"I heard Chinese food is bad for you," I said.
"It's not bad. It's good," He said. "I'll show you." He brought out two plates and set them on the counter.
"Ready?" He said.
"I can't wait," I said. He took a large scoop of rice and put it on the first plate.
"This is China," He said as he put a small scoop of Sesame Chicken on the bed of rice. "You understand?"
"I follow you," I said.
"This is America," He said as he put a small scoop of rice on the second plate then slathered it with a heaping dollop of Sesame Chicken. You couldn't see the rice under all that sweet brown goo.
"You understand?" He said.
I did.
I love you much and miss you always,
                     Uncle Justin

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I had a great time this weekend. I got to forget stress and just enjoy time with family and friends. My brother-in-law Aaron drove down from Green Bay and took me to see the Rams/Packer game. I've lived here since 2003 and have never been to a Rams game. Season tickets are reasonable and we can use your Aunt Crystal's work parking space which is two blocks from the stadium. I may pick up a couple season tickets for next year. If you're down on a weekend when they're playing, I would like to take you.
I was a little worried about wearing a Packers jersey at Ram's Stadium, but the place was half full of Packers fans. It was almost like a home game. The fans of Green Bay really love their team to make the drive. Green Bay is truly a great place to be if you're a football fan. You've been alive when the Packers have been predominantly a winning team, but I've lived through some pretty awful seasons. There is a difference between St. Louis and Green Bay. Even during those years when the losses pile up - the stadium is full of fans and everyone loves their Packers team. The Rams just don't have that. They love their team when they win. When they lose - not so much.
I also got to enjoy a nice time with our friends Amy and Jeffrey who hung out with us last night. Crystal, Aaron, the Johnson's and I had a nice fire outside and talked well into the night. Good conversation with good people. I think you would have enjoyed it.
I'll write more tomorrow, I have some funny stories for you.  I just have a lot to attend to tonight. Just want you to know that I miss you and love you very much,
              Uncle Justin

Friday, October 19, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Forgive the lack of letter yesterday. Your Aunt Crystal went to a conference so I had the boys to myself for a night. We watched Darby O'Gill and the Little People. It was a good movie, but I didn't remember all the scary parts it had. Elijah, who gets nightmares pretty easily, closed his eyes for those parts. He doesn't shake scary images well. When you put garbage in your head you can never get rid of it.
It was fun to see a young Sean Connery in the film. He sang a couple times. Now I know why his musical career never took off.
With Crystal gone I stayed up late, smoked a couple pipes (which is a filthy and disgusting habit) and read. I'm reading The Black Rose by Costain. I picked up the book at the library book fair not knowing anything about it except that it had a beautiful cover. It's nice that the story is as good as the binding.
I was able to get the Gremlin started. I have a lot more to do before I'm able to drive it around, but it lives. I am learning a lot about cars and having a great time while doing it. Right now most of what I'm doing is cleaning it. I'm going to make the shop-vac cry and ask for seconds.
You Aunt Crystal just came home and three blond boys were very happy to see her. I plan on getting out of the house for a bit of solitary time. The boys are into the Berenstain Bears books and we've read about forty of them in the last few days. That is not an exaggeration. Stan and Jan Berenstain are nothing if not prolific. I think our library has over two hundred of their works. I think I may press the issue of moving on before then. I need a little more variety then the boys do I guess.
The baby got some shots today and Elijah has a bronchial infection. We had a lot of waiting room time today. We made it out alive, but I don't know if we are any better for the experience. I know Elijah is. I am like most parents in that I prefer my child to be able to breathe.
I love you much and miss you always,
             Uncle Justin

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Today I've got bathrooms to clean, laundry to fold and put away, dishes and vacuuming. Last night I picked up a bed and mattress for your new cousin. The bed needs to be put together, which I'll do during the little one's first nap. Your Aunt Crystal will be out of town tomorrow and most of Friday for a conference, so I got the boys all to myself. I don't plan on doing anything different really. Her trip is during the week so our schedule will go as normal.
We're going to take her Beetle in to have the tires checked. We just got her car's oil changed and we have AAA in case something happens on the road. I'm sure she'll be fine.
She gets pretty bored on these trips and I don't blame her. Hotels are much more exciting when you're a kid. When you're an adult and have to spend a lot of time in hotels due to work, it gets a lot less fun. My most exciting hotel stay was on a road trip to Florida with my high school buddy Brian. I think we spent thirty bucks to stay there. The room was dirty and the door didn't even lock. We kept getting dubious calls from dubious people all night long. Not great for getting a good nights sleep, but it's something I'll always remember.
Come to think of it, we spent a night in a worse place on a mission trip to Texas. That place was infested. Our room was okay for a night, and I mean ONE night, but the girl's had to be put elsewhere. Think about flipping the mattress and seeing all sorts of nasty things scurrying for cover. I should have slept in the van.
Sometimes life gives you a dirty mattress, Temple. Think twice before flipping it, what's underneath might be worse. Just lay down and try not to think about the crunching sounds you hear when you roll over. Pray for daylight and put a few hundred miles between yourself and that motel that next day. Just check your shirt first - you may have taken a few friends with you.
I'm also working on trying to consolidate Crystal's school loans. It's a fun process. Mine are all paid off. Crystal's would have been to by now if she wasn't so into all that fancy book-learning. We are reaping the benefits of all that knowledge crammed into her pretty head so I'm okay with the cost. When I was younger you could put off your payments forever, but now the Federal Student Loan people wield the powers of mighty Thor and can garnish themselves to oblivion. They are not to be trifled with, so we don't.
I have to mow the lawn too. I'm hoping it's the last time for awhile. Although I remember last year doing it once in January.
I love you much and miss you always,
                  Uncle Justin

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Yesterday I got my AMC Gremlin car. I really like it. It runs, although not well. A little bit of elbow grease and a lot of cleaning and I'll be zipping around town in no time. I think this car is really cool - pretty much exactly what I want in a fun project car.  The car was really inexpensive since the guy I bought it from had to clean up his property or get evicted. Don't worry, I didn't take advantage of him. He told me the price - it was so low that I didn't even try to talk him down.
But you know what? I feel pretty bad about owning it. Not bad because I think the price was too low for what I got. Think scrap metal prices. I called the guy last night to tell him the car was here and he was happy and thankful for the deal. What I feel bad about is spending the money on something selfish when it could have gone to other things.
This feeling I have is palpable to those around me. Your Aunt Crystal likes the car too and she doesn't really understand why I'm kind of upset about it. She says we never buy each other anything substantial - ever - and she also wants me to have something to do when she leaves town for conferences. It's good to be busy. Especially someone who broods as much as I do. Better to brood over drum brakes.
Here's my issue. I have another kid coming, two little ones that are going but are expensive, a van to purchase and bills to pay. Shouldn't I be spending my money more wisely than a old car? The answer is a resounding Yes and No at the same time. The answer Yes makes the most sense to me at this point in time. I could easily make a profit seven times what I paid for the car if I put it on craigslist today. The guy who brought the car to me said he got five offers while it sat in his driveway overnight. It's not that I'm behind on payments on anything or that this car will lead to our financial ruin (it's the kids that will lead to our financial ruin:) It's just not a 'smart' purchase. Does that make sense?
I don't need this car.
I want this car and I'm worried my wants are getting in the way of focusing on my needs.
Crystal thinks I'm overthinking this, but I don't know. There's also the obvious that I'm a stay at home dad and am not bringing in any money, which makes this purchase seem ultra selfish. Crystal thinks that ridiculous and it is, but it's still on my mind. I bet that every parent that stays home thinks this way from time to time. It would be nice if my agent sold my book so that I could bring some scratch to the table.
What I do know is that I'm going to try and listen to your Aunt Crystal and enjoy the car. If I brood over it too much it will annoy everyone around me and we didn't spend the money to make me conflicted. We spent the money on a cool car. We spent the money on a healthy hobby that will give me something to do outside of wiping butts all day. We spent the money because sometimes it's nice to ENJOY the fruits of labor instead of taking care of needs and socking away the rest for when you're bedridden at seventy-five.
I also think your Aunt Crystal will steal the car from me when it's done. It's that cool.
I love you much and miss you always,
                  Uncle Justin

Monday, October 15, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Today my car is coming - I'm feeling very happy and trepidatious at the same time. I wish I trusted people more than I do. I can't get rid of this feeling that the guy stripped the car before he put in on the shipping truck. It's not a good thing to feel this way. Most of the time people are worried about other people doing things that they themselves would do in the same situation. Don't get me wrong Temple, I am a good person and don't steal from others. Maybe I just need to be a little more positive on a Monday morning.
Anyway, Friday night was spent babysitting our friend's children. Their Dad had a working weekend and Mom had to go to a wedding. Enter Mr. Awesome (me) to look after the kids. Your Aunt Crystal and the boys were there for awhile. We had fun playing outside and got some pizza from Mr. tiny- Greek-hairy pizza guy resturant place. I can't think of the name right now. Boy, Temple, your Uncle is a little tired today. Little Ceasars - that's the place. Good to know Alzheimers is thundering chronologically in my personal direction as we speak.
Everything was good until bedtime. My friends have two delightful girls ages 2 and 4. This is a very fun age until bedtime. Easy for trusted parents who know the routine, hard for trusted parents' dubious friend (me).
The two-year-old was NOT happy about bedtime. She hid in her sister's closet, didn't want to be read a book, didn't want to be sung a song and didn't want to be tucked in. She DID want me to leave her alone - which I did when she was in her own bedroom. I was given explicit instructions to get her daddy right now. Basically, everything I wanted to do to give her comfort didn't provide her with any comfort at all and the one thing she explained would give her comfort, I couldn't give. It's hard to be two. She must have been tired because she went to sleep quickly.
The four-year-old has a strict routine for bedtime. It's pretty easy to follow. Pajama's, teeth brushed, potty, book read, a little television then off to bed. I was feeling like a Rockstar. She wasn't crying, I had this down pat. Both parent's were gone and I was able to get their little girl down with little stress. She climbed into her bed and I covered her up.
"My mommy and daddy sing me a song," she said.
"I can sing you a song," I said. "What is the most special bedtime song that they sing to you?"
"Head, shoulders, knees and toes."
"Really? That's the most special bedtime song?" I said.
"Yes," She said. I sang the song. When I finished I got up to leave when she sat bolt upright in her bed, yelling for me to wait and that I forgot prayers.
"Do you have a special prayer or would you like me to pray for both of us?" I said.
"I have a special prayer," she said. "Repeat after me."
What followed was a lengthly prayer about Jesus, hedges of protection, keeping nightmares away, angels and paragraphs about rainbows. When we were finally done, about 45 minutes later, I got up and left. She was a little sad, but eventually went to sleep.
When her mommy came home later I asked about the prayer. She said everything was correct except for the rainbow part. That whole half-hour section was just an add-on for my benefit. She also explained that there was a little misunderstanding with how the 'hedge of protection so no one can do her harm' part can be worded so that she thinks that the nightmares are inside the hedge and can harm her all they want. This might explain the small bout of crying when I left. Next time I think I'll have them write the prayer down in advance.
I love you much and miss you always,
                       Uncle Justin

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. I'm having trouble starting this letter. I was going to start it - "There I was" or "Last night was an experience", but both beginnings sound equally lame. Pretty much as lame as how I throw out random punctuation. I went to an alternative school and learning was pretty much alternative to what I was actually doing. I think today I'll tell you a little story about my education at Aldo Leopold School in Green Bay. Not the topic was going for today, but tangents are what they are - We are but powerless to follow.
Aldo Leopold School was an alternative, tree-hugging, nightmare-gulag of an educational experience for me. I really didn't do much work in regards to education. You'll find, Temple, that there are a lot of schools out there that use pseudo-technical babble that really means nothing when it comes to true academic learning. Trust me on this. Even as a kid I knew there wasn't much there.
Take report cards for instance. The report cards at Aldo Leopold didn't have written grades, only comments on progress. Mix that with a err toward the ultra positive-esteem building dogma of the place and you get something like this. "Justin has made some progress in math since last quarter. Would like to see more initiation in the completion of projects." Translated: "The dang kid hasn't done any math all quarter. He just sits in the corner and reads." I did have the teaching staff pretty well pegged. If I put up with a lecture every other day or so I really didn't have to do any work. You'll get a lot of people who rile against the grading system, but it's hard to argue a failing grade. The comment system could always be twisted and rationalized to fit my needs.
Anyway, (can't I stick to anything?) all this just because I don't know where to put my commas. If a system like Aldo Leopold had would work, it would have to be a little more active in the free wheeling atmosphere of taking advantage of teachable situations. For example, our grade-level was doing a "sim city" project. One classroom was filled with huge boxes that we turned into businesses for commerce. It was a fun. Every frivolous subject like science, math, English, etc. were flung aside. For weeks we hung out in our simulated city every day and all day. We ate popcorn and played video games, bought and paid for with our "money."
I don't remember what the money looked like except that it was you basic play money reprinted off the copy machine. A teacher controlled the city bank and stamped the back of each bill with a dinosaur stamp. This stamp made the money valid. What a few of us realized is that nobody was verifying the money stamp when they took the bill. So a couple kids (not me, but I knew about it and used the money so I get just as much blame) took the money and made copies of it at the library. They used the counterfeit money the next day and nobody caught them. You know what that means? That means that stacks and stacks of bills were copied over the weekend. Kids in middle school don't have a real sense of scale, so there was money literally strewn about all over the place.
The teachers noticed - I don't know how they couldn't have - and they didn't handle it very well.
They called an assembly and, frowning and solemn, spoke of how disappointed they were in us and the grave disgrace of counterfeiting that was going on in our city. They had us write down on a piece of paper, confidentially, the names of the people involved.
We were one step ahead of our teachers though. They had announced the assembly earlier that morning and had closed the city for the day. It didn't take rocket science to figure out what they were going to talk about. Those involved in the printing of the money or the use of it made a pact and all wrote down the name of another kid. He was our sacrificial goat - but not really. The teachers must have known they were being duped and dropped the whole thing. They took the money off the market and told vendors to check each bill the received for authenticity.
What would have probably worked better, and have been truer to our project, would have been this - Keep the money in the system and see what happens. The teacher who ran the bank could hire a select task force of children to develop new money that was harder to counterfeit. It could have been a lesson in inflation - if prices went up everywhere 800% because of the mass-printing of cash (a problem we have today in real life) that would be a harsh pill to swallow for awhile until things balanced. How would we have handled all that worthless money? What would we do for the businesses that were duped the most? Would they go under? How could they be saved? Should they be saved?
It could have been so much better.
Sin is also a part of society, which is why we have so many safeguards against it. There are always people trying to take advantage of a system. They reap benefits of the system while at the same time messing it up with their own destructive behavior. Isn't it better to learn how to deal with that in a simulated atmosphere than to sweep it under the carpet? I think so.
I love you much and miss you always,
                                    Uncle Justin