Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the Road Again

Believe it or not, I have another trip to report on this week. A few days after returning from Colorado, my daughter-in-law Erin called and asked me if I would be interested in a free trip to Mississippi to visit/babysit my two grandsons, Asher and Gabe. Since I had really been missing the boys and Erin was starting a new job and needed some help, the two pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit together perfectly for both of us. The next thing I knew, I was “on the road again.”

I had lots of excitement during my trip, starting with a mishap on my way to Kansas City when I got caught in a downpour and decided to pull off the road near a construction area. My right tires went off the shoulder of the road, leaving me high centered. My brother Bill and his son Kyle from Olathe offered to drive to the sight with some chains, but a police officer stopped by and said that it would take a tow truck to lift me up and over the ledge. When he told me that the fee would probably run between $75 and $100, I commented that it was almost as bad as a speeding ticket, except it won’t go on my record. Thankfully, the kind folks from Bulldog Tow in Lawrence had me out in no time, and they only charged me $60.00.

When I called Erin to tell her about the unfortunate event, she said that she hoped it wasn’t any indication of how my week in Mississippi would be. I’m happy to report that it was not.

I so enjoyed spending time with Erin and the boys and getting a chance to see their new apartment and surroundings. Unfortunately, Jared was in Kentucky for training, so I didn’t get the chance to see him. But we had a wonderful week together.

Gramma in her glory with Gabe & Asher

My only complaint was the heat. I have never experienced anything like it in all my life – even in Singapore which is about 100 miles from the Equator and has very high humidity. Within five minutes of being outside, your clothes would be drenched in sweat. Luckily, they have a pool in their apartment complex and they are only five minutes from the beach.

Erin had orientation for her new job all week, so it was my responsibility to see that Asher got on the bus for kindergarten and then meet him when he got off the bus in the afternoon.

Erin & Asher ready for the day

He looked so sharp in his little school uniform. They can mix and match red, navy and white polo shirts with navy or khaki shorts or slacks. Whenever Gabe saw Asher get off the bus he would run to meet him as fast as his little feet could carry him and give his brother a big hug. “I missed you, Ashur!”

Asher waving before he goes to school

The first day I arrived we all went out to Chuck E. Cheese for supper and had a fun time. Asher knows me very well, so he is always very affectionate. He says things like, “Gramma, I just want to tell you something. I love you soooo much.” Gabe hasn’t been around me as much as Asher so he has a tendency to keep his distance at first, but this time he warmed right up to me. It was Gramma this and Gramma that and, “Gramma, watch me!” It was funny though, the next morning when I emerged from my bedroom in my nightgown and glasses and messed up hair with no make-up, he took one look at me and asked, “Gramma? Is that you?”

But the story that seemed to generate the most amount of laughter at my expense had to do with their cat, Snowball (who happens to be jet black in color). One morning I opened up the double doors leading out to their deck when I saw a black cat leap off the edge. I immediately sprang into action and recovered what I assumed to be their runaway cat. Throughout the day, I petted the cat and Gabe enjoyed playing with him. He was very friendly. In fact, Gabe was absolutely giddy with glee over the fact that the cat would even allow him to get within three feet of him, much less pet him. I later learned that the real Snowball runs like a bat out of hell whenever she sees Gabe coming. So I took several pictures and some video footage of Gabe petting the cat and jumping for joy, shouting: “He likes me! He likes me! The kitty likes me now!”

It wasn’t until 2:30 in the afternoon when I noticed one black cat lying on the bed and another black cat walking down the hall. As it turned out, the cat I had “rescued” belonged to someone else! So when Erin returned home, she identified the imposter and put him back outside.

I wish I could say that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t. Apparently, Snowball’s cat feelings were deeply hurt by the intrusion of a stranger on her turf and she wanted everyone in the house to know about it! So when Asher went to pet Snowball, she hissed at him and scratched his nose, drawing blood and causing tears. I felt just terrible, so I later tried to soothe Snowball by petting her and telling her what a good cat she was. She allowed me this privilege for approximately 15 seconds before biting down on my hand with her very sharp teeth. Thankfully, all was forgiven by the next day and Snowball had returned to her normal cat self.

My only other cat mistake was when I filled Snowball’s food dish with Kibbles ‘N Bits, which is actually for the dog. As a result of this oversight, the cat woke poor Erin up in the middle of the night meowing because she was hungry.

Their dog is a very sweet beagle named Chance that they got from the pound in Manhattan four years ago. I had always liked Chance – that is, until I had to take care of him in that heat. Whenever we went outside, he took his sweet old time sniffing around until he found just the right bush to do his business. And even with double Wal-Mart bags, I could never get used to cleaning up after him.

I’ve never had the patience needed for pets; I guess I used up all my patience on my kids – and I still came up short in that department!

Spending a week with a busy mother of two small boys reminded me of how all-consuming motherhood really is. Erin has really had her hands full with Jared being in the Navy. Shortly after she and the boys moved to Mississippi to be together, Jared was called away for the entire month of August, leaving Erin with the job of unpacking all the boxes and getting settled into their new apartment. On top of that she’s been job hunting and getting Asher ready for kindergarten. Basically, she’s had to be all things to all people.

As I watched Erin read bedtime stories to the boys and lead them in their nightly prayers (“Bless Daddy and everyone we love….”), feed them, bathe them, swim with them and hug them, I felt so much admiration in my heart. She is handling so much so well. And now she is adding a new part time job to the mix.

“She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed . . . .” ~ Proverbs 31:27, 28a (NKJV)

It reminds me of that new song by Jamie O’Neal called Somebody’s Hero. One of the verses goes like this:

She's somebody's hero
A hero to her baby with a skinned up knee
A little kiss is all she needs
The keeper of the Cheerios
The voice that brings Snow White to life
Bedtime stories every night
And that smile lets her know
She's somebody's hero

I hope Erin knows how very proud we are of everything she has accomplished. Most of all, I hope she knows how blessed we feel to have her in our family and how grateful we are for the greatest gift we could ever receive - our two precious grandsons.

That's something to be proud of
That's a life you can hang your hat on
You don't need to make a million
Just be thankful to be workin'
If you're doing what you're able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That's something to be proud of

Something To Be Proud Of ~ recorded by Montgomery Gentry

Erin & boys head off to the pool

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Been There, Done That

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” ~ Psalm 119:105 (NLT)

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” ~ John Steinbeck

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” But that wasn’t the case with the journey Keen and I took to the beautiful state of Colorado.

After Keen finished preparing for the bar for what seemed like an eternity, we were in dire need of some time away. But we didn’t want a well-orchestrated, pre-determined list of scheduled events. We just wanted to head out and see what adventures we could discover.

Unfortunately, on the day we were trying to leave it seemed like all the forces of nature were conspiring to prevent us from getting out the door. Keen received several phone calls from individuals in need of legal counsel or representation. Since he’s been granted a temporary law license from the Kansas Supreme Court, he’s able to do a limited amount of legal work. However, that license will expire on September 30th (when the next batch of attorneys will be sworn in), so if he doesn’t pass the bar then he’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start preparing to retake the exam in six months. Of course we’re really hoping that won’t be necessary.

In any event, we encountered numerous delays including a garbage disposal that decided to die right after I poured some week-old goulash down the drain. Despite the late start, we decided to get the heck out of Dodge before one more thing could go wrong.

We drove about four hours before stopping in the town on Wakeeney, Kansas near Cedar Bluff Reservoir. We made last-minute reservations at The Butterfield Trail Bunkhouse. The proprietor, Donna Deines, gave us directions to their family farm and from there we followed her husband William to the bunkhouse.

We thoroughly enjoyed the rustic setting and simplicity of the small hunting lodge tucked into a grove of trees in the middle of a pasture. The following morning we awoke before sunrise and went for a walk on the surrounding land, capturing beautiful pictures of the Kansas prairie. When we returned we were treated to a delicious home-cooked breakfast. It was a very peaceful start to our first ever week-long vacation alone.

Sunrise at The Butterfield Trail Bunkhouse

The next night we landed in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, home to one of the fanciest resorts in Colorado – the Hot Springs Lodge & Pool. They have a 400-foot hot springs pool with varying degrees of temperatures (up to 104), two giant waterslides, and an 18-hole miniature golf course. They were completely booked, but it looked like a terrific vacation spot – and they’re open year-round.

From Glenwood Springs we drove to Grand Junction to spend a couple of days with my stepmother in her new home, which is located right at the base of the magnificent Colorado National Monument. It’s the ideal setting for the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen.

We didn’t waste any time touring the spectacular sights surrounding Grand Junction. On the first day, we drove to Moab, Utah to tour the Arches National Park. The drive up the mountains was a bit precarious, but well worth it.

Keen, Eileen & Barbara at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

The following day we took another drive through the National Monument where once again, the view was simply breathtaking.

Colorado National Monument

After leaving Grand Junction, we decided to return to Kansas via a different route, rather than taking I-70 back through Denver. So we headed south and stopped for lunch in Montrose. While browsing through an antique store, a woman recommended that we visit the town of Ouray, which is also known as the Switzerland of America. Boy, were we ever glad we took her advice. The quaint little village is nestled into the base of the San Juan Mountains, and the majority of the unique shops are the original buildings built in the late 1800’s.

View of Downtown Ouray, Colorado

Keen and I treated ourselves to a night at the historic Beaumont Hotel in Ouray, and enjoyed a delicious meal in their fine restaurant. The next morning we were determined to try out some hot springs located underground in an actual cave. I know why they refer to it as a natural sauna!

From there we followed our noses and landed in Salida for one of the many highlights of our trip – whitewater rafting down Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas River. Neither of us had ever been whitewater rafting before, so we were really looking forward to it, although I must admit to feeling a bit of trepidation. Our guide, Ted (from Canyon Marine), and a former guide, Brandi, were the only other passengers on our raft. Although it was a level three trip, which is considered moderate in difficulty, it had plenty of excitement and adventure for this Kansas girl. With rapids bearing the names of “The Widowmaker” and “The Toilet Bowl,” I was just thankful to get through it without capsizing!

Whitewater rafting down Brown's Canyon on the Arkansas River

Before leaving the area, we checked out a resort called Mt. Princeton, which is located between Salida and Buena Vista near San Isabel National Forest. They have several hot springs pools, along with a beautiful mountain stream running through the property. They also have horseback riding, hiking, biking and rafting available in the immediate area. We spent about an hour and a half taking pictures of the premises so we could present it to my family as a possible location for a future Van Kirk family reunion. Since Keen and I haven’t sponsored the reunion in over ten years, I’d say it’s high time we step up to the plate and take our turn. (And I’m quite sure my siblings agree!) I don’t think we can go wrong with the beauty of the mountains and all the diverse activities Colorado has to offer. The magnificence of God’s creation is truly a wonder to behold.

“The mountains shall bring peace to the people....” ~ Psalm 72:3 (KJV)

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort in Nathrop, Colorado

After spending our last night in Limon, Colorado, it was time to make our final trek to “Sweet Home, Alma, Kansas.”

The concept of vacationing is somewhat new to us since we were only able to take two full weeks off in the eighteen years we owned the trash business, but we definitely learned about the numerous benefits of rest and relaxation during this past week. It’s invigorating to change your environment and explore a new part of this beautiful country we are blessed to call home.

“[T]he traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep . . . .” ~ Margaret Mead

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Dear Friends,

Since Keen and I will be on vacation, this week’s column will be a little different. I’d like to share a newsletter from a man named Larry Perry who emails inspiring stories about once or twice a week to 93,000 of his closest friends from 47 different countries. He has given me permission to share any of these stories. If you would like to be added to his list, you may reach him at

The main reason for this vacation is just to unwind and spend time together after two months of non-stop studying for the bar exam. I must admit that the time Keen spent preparing for this test was the most difficult stage of the entire process. The pressure and intensity was indescribable. Even though Keen was the one taking the test, I was on pins and needles and didn’t sleep worth a darn that entire week. When he called after the first day of essays he said he felt pretty good about it and I immediately felt half the weight lifted off my shoulders. Day two was more challenging with 200 multiple choice questions. Keen’s described the whole ordeal by saying that when it was over everyone looked like they’d just had a vasectomy. Although he’s not yet ready to do jumping jacks, he is cautiously optimistic about the outcome. (The test results will be released by mid-September.)

A week or two before the bar exam, Keen left the following message on my cell phone:

“I’ve just got overwhelming love for you in my heart right now. I can hardly express it. But I just wanna tell you that I am so in love with you. You’re on my thoughts all the time. And when we get done with this bar we’re gonna take a little trip for you and me. We might go someplace new to a bed and breakfast. We’re gonna do something, just me and you. And then Kirk and I will do something, too, but we’re gonna do something to reward ourselves for this. Okay?”

So we’ve decided to drive to Grand Junction, Colorado to visit my stepmother who just relocated there from Florida. We’re just going to follow our nose and make impromptu stops along the way as the Spirit moves us. We’re really looking forward to the beautiful scenery and to spending time together.

“Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there.” ~ Matthew 15:29 (NKJV)

God bless you all ~


(Here is the newsletter from Larry Perry.)

Good Monday Morning Everyone:

It is rainy here in East Tennessee but we need the rain for the crops and preparation for the coming fall months so the rain is beautiful in its own way. I hope that things in your part of our great world are just as beautiful.

Here is a good story for you to think about today.


A man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light, and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin.

The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. So, this the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down; his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all of his might.

Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain. Since the man was showing discouragement, the Adversary decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the weary mind: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn't moved.” Thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man.

"Why kill myself over this?" he thought. "I'll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough."

And that is what he planned to do, until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.

"Lord," he said, "I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?"

The Lord responded compassionately, "My friend, when I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all of your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it! Your task was to push. And now you come to Me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewy and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven't moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. This you have done.
Now I, My friend, will move the rock."


At times, when we hear a word from God, we tend to use our own intellect to decipher what He wants, when actually what God wants is just a simple obedience and faith in Him. By all means, exercise the faith that moves mountains, but
know that it is still God who moves mountains.

“So Jesus said to them . . . if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
~ Matthew 17:20 (NKJV)

When everything seems to go wrong ... just P.U.S.H.!
When the job gets you down ... just P.U.S.H.!
When people don't react the way you think they should...just P.U.S.H.!
When your money looks "gone"; and the bills are due...just P.U.S.H!
When people just don't understand you ... just P.U.S.H.!

P = Pray
U = Until
S = Something
H = Happens

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Unlike the Rest

Keener, Age 4

“Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.” ~ Proverbs 22:6 (Amp)

"We should say to each child: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.” ~Pablo Casals (1876-1973) ~ Spanish cellist, composer,conductor, pianist, and humanitarian

With each of our four sons, Keen and I had a distinct sense about their individual characteristics. We described Jared as wise, Josh as strong, Keen as special and Kirk as a combination of “all of the above.”

Our third son, Keen II, just turned twenty-one on July 8th, and to say that he is special is an understatement. Keen is especially talented, especially funny, especially caring and especially tenderhearted – towards God and others. Recently, when one of his coworkers at the Department of Revenue lost his hair due to cancer treatments, Keen and several others in the office decided to shave their heads to show support for their colleague.

Keen is a free spirit who has never been afraid to be different. In fact, he goes out of his way to be “unlike the rest.” When it comes to clothing, he has a style that’s all his own. What might be considered weird for most people somehow looks cool on Keener.

"Follow your own path, and let people talk." ~ Dante

There is so much more to Keen than meets the eye. He is a deep thinker who has a unique gift of writing. When he was in high school he shared some of his poems with me, and I must admit that I was in awe. They left me with the feeling that I had not even scratched the surface of who my son really is.

"Poetry is something to make us wiser and better, by continually revealing those types of beauty and truth, which God has set in all men's souls." ~ James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) ~ American poet, editor and diplomat

Here is an example of one of Keen’s poems:

The Road Less Traveled

Around this globe I wander
Without a sense of direction
Observing the paths that converge and diverge
Without the will of correction
Who are they to say
That I must make a selection?
When it is my life
That will crush the fear of dejection…
Round and round I go
Carefully being sure
To avoid the “flow”
This world doesn’t understand
-They just don’t know-
What it truly means to be a man
Yet, in this world I coexist
With all of the hatred and poverty
That has run amiss
Now I saunter near the “crossroads”
To see what I can see
I’m not shocked to know
That there’s no one here like me
Just the blank stare…
-Monotone voices-
Of people making other peoples choices
Just masses of nothing
Content to be less
Their life was over before it began
I will succeed; To you I confess
The 21st Century?
The century of success?
Ha…fooling ourselves blind
For people have not yet begun to progress
Rather, they’re satisfied to regress
The others have unraveled…
Not I.
I chose the road less traveled.

Keen A. Umbehr II ~ December 25, 2001 (Age 17)

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” ~ Matthew 7:13, 14 (RSV)

This is an excerpt from another poem Keen wrote titled Changes:

These tears I’ve wept
Because, have not I, a defense to battle the strife
Where does it end?
Will we let it remain?
Why should I assume my beliefs will be the ones that transcend?
When hate continues to conquer this orb with an eternal reign
What if I were like all of the others and were content to blend
With those who care not for this ever-present pain?
I have not the strength to fight it all
Yet I do not possess the will to let it fall
I’ll fight with all my soul
I’ll stand up
I’ll be bold
For let it be known:
And men be put to shame
On my own if I must
I will be the change.

Keen A. Umbehr II ~ December 24, 2001

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." ~ Robert Frost

Whereas most of my poems are quite simple, Keen’s writings capture and express his innermost thoughts in a much deeper way. I know he has many more literary works which he has not yet shared, but I am privileged to have been given this rare glimpse into our son’s hidden talent.

Keen has many other gifts as well. Besides being a natural-born athlete, he has an amazing ability to relate to people of all ages and from all walks of life. He is easy going, non-judgmental and full of wisdom. But it’s not enough just to possess wisdom; the true gift is in knowing how to deliver that wisdom with compassion so as not to crush the spirit of the hearer. I myself have been the recipient of this unique gift. I have cried tears as I’ve listened to my own son gently yet firmly tell me how God would want me to handle a particular situation. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Shouldn’t I be the one imparting wisdom to my child? But I am humble enough to accept that God often uses other people in our lives to give us guidance in our darkest hours.

I’d like to close by sharing a portion of a card I sent to Keen last fall. The text was written by Ginnie Job:

I just want you to know how glad I am you’re my son
An how lucky I think the world is to have you in it.
You earn respect because you honor commitments,
Work hard, and play fair.
Your generous spirit and good nature make you a fine man
And such a pride to me.
I’ll always treasure a heart full of memories of “my little boy.”
But with every day that passes, my appreciation deepens,
And my admiration grows for the remarkable man you are….
The son I love so much!

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11 (RSV)

Mother and son, Eileen and Keen II on Keen's 21st Birthday