11 things we are thankful for in 2011

This year, the final day of our anniversary falls on the same day as Thanksgiving. There is much to be thankful for, so much of it obviously connected with the tornado that wrecked our house in April.

We are thankful:

  • To the creators of Wheel of Fortune, for a show the family enjoys watching, which ensured they saw the tornado warning on TV in plenty of time to go downstairs.
  • To our neighbors who checked helped Yoli and the kids get out of the basement through a window and let them stay in their house until I got there.
  • To my brother Justin for connecting us with a contractor who did above and beyond what we hoped might be possible in rebuilding our house.
  • To my dad who was there the morning after the tornado, and on many other days afterward, to offer help and advice as we figured out what to do.
  • To my mom for, among many other things, finding a notice about a house for rent and passing it on to us. We spent a good 6-7 months in that house.
  • To State Farm for ponying up quickly and often. (However I am not thankful for all the paperwork, but what can you do?)
  • To all our friends and family who helped after the tornado with gifts, with time, with advice, with words of comfort.
  • To the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for continuing to give me a job that I enjoy doing.
  • To my coworkers, who sent us a gift of help after the tornado, and who nominated us for an obscure Lee Foundation grant that our family was eligible for.
  • To God for our home, for supplying our needs, for love, for everything; but mostly for our lives. If Yoli or one of the kids had perished in the tornado, this year would have been inconceivably different.
  • To that darn tree: I loved you for your tallness, for the cool shade you provided. You have given us a year of work and waiting, a new house — and fewer leaves to rake.

Waits and measures

Maybe waiting is the measure of a man. We have done our share of it.

Today, I daydreamed back to a sweltering Bolivian night eight years ago when we made pizza for Yoli’s family and I got down on one knee to propose. Not many days afterward, I boarded a plane bound for St. Louis.

I knew we would be separated for a while, working in two countries on the paperwork to obtain a fiancee visa. But I didn’t know how long.

How long turned out to be nine months. At the time I called it ‘the interminable wait.’

It seems to me that the waiting was hardest at the beginning (where the elation of getting engaged was followed by the loneliness of returning home alone) and near the end (though we never had a clear idea of when exactly “the end” would come).

My mind wandered, remembering those months of waiting, then returned to the present. I thought of our eighth wedding anniversary, just around the corner: Nov. 22 and 24.

But even sooner, I thought, our family will move back into the little brick house that was shattered by the Good Friday tornado.

Then it struck me: we have gone through another “interminable wait” this year.

In some ways it’s been harder. There was little joy at the outset, except maybe the solace that comes from knowing nobody was hurt and many of our possessions could be saved. There were so many unknowns: how do you pick a guy to cut down your tree? We chose one, and it went badly. Our temporary housing moved us farther away from all our usual places. We couldn’t walk Jadzia to kindergarten as we had planned, nor could we walk to the farmer’s market, or the bank, or the library.

But in some ways it’s been easier. Yes, we were separated from our house — but not from each other. We’ve been in exile, together. The rental house where we’ve lived was actually bigger than our own home, though it lacked some things (dishwasher). Our friends and family rallied around to help us. And our wait has lasted only six months, not nine.

Still, there’s no getting past the waiting. As with our engagment eight years ago, we had a vague notion of how long this reconstruction process would take. But the ending proved to be elusive. We would get close, and things would drag out.

At last, though, the finish line is in sight. Today our little house was full of people: cutting tiles, running pipes, painting walls, tracking in mud.

Tomorrow our long-stored belongings will begin to arrive at the house. Before the end of the week, we hope to be sleeping in our own beds again.

I would like to think that this “interminable wait” helped us, strengthened us inside.

Time will tell.

Geese attack

Ten years and two days ago, while I was the editor-in-chief of The Current, I published the following issue of The Stagnant (our annual April Fool’s Day insert).

There is a lot of goose-related humor throughout. Geese have always been a mainstay of UMSL, a problem shared by many other business and school campuses … including McCluer High School.

Today the geese had their revenge on me for poking fun at their expense. As I was returning to McCluer to pick up Jadzia from her preschool class, two geese loomed ahead of me on the sidewalk. I tried to give them a wide berth, but one began hissing. I moved farther away, but I guess it wasn’t enough space. One of the geese ran at me, and then began flying after me.

I high-pedaled it out of there, and took a circuitous route through the muddy grass to go around them. All the teachers and people inside were wondering what was going on.

Thankfully no harm came to either me or the geese.

Yoli told me later I should have used a slingshot and fought back ala Angry Birds (our latest iPad craze).

The Current passes swiftly

Ten years ago I was swept away by the current.

Make that The Current.

Time’s swift flow always catches me off-guard. Was it that long ago that I was using a wax machine to paste strips of paper onto pageboards? “Coffee and donuts with your paper” at the MSC? Zip disks? Blanche? The bowling nights? The Ecchers? Coming in second at College Bowl? Was it all that long ago?

Well, yes. It really has been a decade since perhaps the pivotal year of my life. During the 2000-01 academic year, I was editor-in-chief of UMSL’s student newspaper, The Current.

I remember a time in my office at The Current when I was looking at the “editor’s mug.” It was a metal drinking vessel inscribed with the names of editors of The Current, going back to Michelle McMurray, who had been editor exactly 10 years before me. I thought at the time, “Wow. Ten years. That’s really long.”

And now it’s been ten years for me!

Continue reading “The Current passes swiftly”

Cub reporter

From the vaults of the Renaud Empire, I bring you a recently-unearthed journalistic gem.

What is it? It’s Josh Renaud interviewing his father, Joe Renaud, sometime in the early 1990s for a school project. You’ve GOT to give it a listen. Josh is a pretty smooth interviewer, I have to say. And Joe was a pretty good interview. His anecdotes are top-notch!

I think it lasts roughly 20 minutes, which may be a little long for some of you. But the first 5-10 minutes are definitely worth it.

Preserving my digital history

I was a computer user from an early age. Our first machine was an Atari 800, complete with a tape drive. It was a sort of hand-me-down machine, so we were using it many years after its heyday.

I can remember my dad spending days typing in a long BASIC program that had been published in a computer magazine (ANTIC?). I think it was probably for a game. That sort of thing was common for computer hobbyists in the 70s and 80s.

Anyway, for all the advantages of digital communication, one thing is clear: digital files are more ephemeral than we realize.

Most of the emails, projects, and stuff from my early computing days are gone. Even modern stuff like webpages can disappear suddenly. For example, with very little warning last year, Yahoo killed the once-popular GeoCities. Millions of people had created homepages there over the years.

Among my own lost projects is a choose-your-own-adventure style game I wrote for the TI-8x series of calculators when I was in high school. It was called “Doom at West” and was related to my “S.S.S.” stories. I loaned my own calculator to my younger brother when I was in college. He lost it and by extension all the stuff on it.

Seeing the work of digital historians like Jason Scott has motivated me to preserve what I can of my own old digital stuff, and to share at least those bits that might be of some small interest to other people.

So here are a few little archives I’ve put together that you might want to check out:

BBS-related

  • ANSI art – A collection of ANSI advertisements I made during my years as a BBSer in the late 1990s.
  • SRE Text Series – A series of sci-fi stories I wrote based on the BBS door/game “Solar Realms Elite.”

High school

Edwin A. Richter, we won’t forget you

It was almost two years ago that I got in touch with Ed Richter.

He was a first cousin to my great-grandpa Frank Becker.

At that time I had made a lot of progress in developing my Becker family tree. As I was looking at all these first cousins, I realized that Ed was still living. On a whim, I wrote him a letter, and asked if he would be interested in some of the family history stuff I had uncovered.

I was excited to hear back from him and eventually to meet him in person. As it turns out, he lived only about 15- minutes away — just a straight shot down Chambers Road.

We talked on the phone and met at his house several times. He remembered quite a bit about his aunts and uncles on the Becker side, even though he wasn’t especially close to them. I learned things from him that never would have turned up in old censuses or church records.

During the time I knew Ed, he was diagnosed with cancer. At the end of March 2009, he died. But I didn’t know about it until recently — and I feel pretty bad about it.

Continue reading “Edwin A. Richter, we won’t forget you”