Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Winter, Spring, and now its Summer again

Considering we are entering into our third season since our last post, Lois said it well when she said "either do the blog while I am gone (she was in Winnipeg for two weeks with the kids doing swimming lessons) or we shut it down." I did not want to lose this "history" of our family, so I will attempt to briefly summarize what has happened in the last half year or so. Quite possibly there might not be that many interested anymore, and to be honest, things aren't as "exciting" as they once were with travels and house fires and building of a new house, but God continues to lead us and we continue to enjoy the experience of seeking to live faithfully for him in our small corner of the world.

So let's go way back to winter. We truly love winter out here, and this last year we had a great deal of snow to make it even that much more fun. The whole family continues to like cross-country skiing, and Lois figured out the best way to enjoy it was for her to take one kid at a time on our trails so that there was no complaints about going "too fast" or "too slow". We haven't replaced our snowshoes yet since after the fire, so tromping down the trails is a bit of a challenge. But that challenge has ended thanks to this . . .

That's right - this beauty is ours! Before you pass judgment, here's the story. We made friends in town with a couple who have a son Stephen's age and daughter in Caleb's class. They came to our first ever, just for fun, adults only Christmas party that we hosted (and really, really enjoyed!) and afterwards Mike asked if I would ever want to go snowmobiling. I said sure, and he showed up a week later with two sleds and we had a great time driving the trails and making things easier for skiing. He then asked I would like a snowmobile, to which I responded it wasn't in the budget. He then offered that if I was willing to put some work into it, he would give me one. I immediately emphasized I was completely deficient of any kind of mechanical skill and would only accept the machine if it came with a warranty (ie: he would fix it if it broke!), which he said he would. So thus in January I learned a whole lot about engines, body work, painting, etc, and while I still don't know much, I am glad I learned. So the above piece of rust was one of the two vintage Elan Skidoos from the 1970's that was turned into first this sleek black beauty

and then with the rest put together (unfortunately the plastic engine cover had a few cracks, and we busted the windshield up on the first cold day of driving!) and with our new wood/kid hauling sled it looks like this . . .

We told Mike and his brother Paul (the talented Loney brothers, who in our opinions can fix and make and do just about anything) that God gave us a snowmobile via them, which has made for some interesting conversations. Having the sled made cutting firewood way easier (and a lot more motivating for the kids to get involved!) and winter in general was a lot more fun with our Elan around, and we look forward to more snowmobile parties with our kids and friends this coming year.

(This is taken on our driveway in front of the house. We pay the town to plow out our driveway after heavy snowfalls, and the $20 it costs for the grater each time to pull off the road and drop his blade and scrape us down to the gravel is well worth it!)

As I mentioned, there was a lot of snow this year, and it lasted well into March. Not only was it good for burying children, it provided for lots of fun on our sledding hill and with a thaw/freeze that created a hard crust, great hide-and-seek with MSN kids in the bush at night. The only downfall was that we had to shovel out our rink a lot. I am still learning how to make a rink properly (hopefully next year I will have it figured out!), but even though it takes longer than it should, the end result is definitely worth it. There were lots of hockey games this year, and the boys even helped me flood the rink with hot water to make it smooth. I was very proud to say that at 38 years old I finally learned how to raise a slapshot off the ice (a feat which my two oldest boys promptly copied!). Having a rink 20 feet out your front door, and being able to dress inside is really a blessing, and is all the result of having our old house concrete pad still intact. A very useful reminder to what God has all blessed us with since our house fire.

Spring for us really started with the kid's Spring Break from school in March. For the second year in a row (and likely the last year for a while!) we went on our big trip of the year a bit early. This time we joined my Mom and Dad down in Phoenix, which was the first time just our family and them were there together. It was an amazingly refreshing and relaxing time for us, and we created many great memories. Lois and I had been in Phoenix back in the fall for a study break, and we did study, spending maybe 30 minutes max lying by the pool the whole week. This time we prayerfully asked God for the wisdom to actually slow down, and we did spending lots more time just hanging out, playing games and not needing to feel like we always have to accomplish something.

The kids loved their breakfasts outside (including fresh oranges off the tree!),

the boys going to the zoo with Opi

(Lois enjoyed it too - especially the turtles and feeding the stingrays)

and shopping, going out to eat, and playing the card game Rook as a family, which is something I did with my Opi when at the condo when I was there age.

A highlight for me was taking the family on a hike up Camelback Mountain, right in the heart of Scottsdale. Lois and I had hiked it once before with my cousin Peter just after we were married, and I figured our tough kids could handle the 1.5 mile but over 1200 ft elevation rise. Everyone seemed up for the challenge and after being turned away the day before (due to an emergency rescue team needing to carry someone off the mountain!) we tried it really early on Thursday morning. The climb in some parts was very, very steep (literally hand over hand holding onto a railing) but it was worth it. We got a great workout, saw Phoenix from an amazingly high viewpoint, and bonded as a family. The kids even voted that we should do it twice when we are there next time!

Not sure when we will get back, but at least for a second year in a row, Lois got to celebrate her birthday in a unique and very hot place!

As a family, we really enjoy our vacation times, and Phoenix was no exception. The chance to be together, celebrating God's goodness to us as a family, and experiencing more of the world he has made, are part of what makes these times great memory makers. One other way we make memories as a family, has been our new way of giving presents to our kids at Christmas time. Well actually, it isn't at Christmas, since then we try to keep the focus on Christ, and give the kids presents (or tools and resources) that will help them grow the gifts God has given them. The straight up "fun" presents we give at Valentines, as our way of saying "I love you" to our kids.

Since our house burned down in January 2009 (over two years ago already!) we have had even less of an attraction to "stuff" then before, and so rather than give our kids more stuff (which they get lots of already) we decided to give invest in family memories with them, which looks different for each kid. For Stephen, that meant that Lois went into Winnipeg with him for a "date weekend" in February, with the main attraction being a chance to see Disney on Ice! They really enjoyed their time together, and the show was great.

Watching hockey highlights on TSN in the mornings before school has become a bit of passion around here this past season, so after a bit of looking at options, it was decided that Caleb, Joseph and I would go to an NHL hockey game together. Since the Jets weren't around yet, and the Coyotes weren't playing any home games while were in Phoenix. We worked our plane tickets out of Minneapolis so that we could see the Minnesota Wild play Joseph's favorite team, the Montreal Canadians! The atmosphere was just crazy as thousands of fans had traveled down from Canada for the game. The Canadians won 8 - 1, which made for a fun game for all three of us. It has been fun reliving a bit of my childhood as the boys have started to have favorite players, check standings to see how their teams our doing, and call me over to see great goals and saves on the highlights.

Going to the game wasn't the only highlight for me on that Sunday, as we spent the morning at Bethlehem Baptist Church where one of my "heroes" of the faith, John Piper, preaches. It was great to worship together as a family, to see Lorianne take notes from a guy I have taken many notes from during conferences, and to hear my kids say "Which one is he Dad?" "Go get is autograph Dad!" Special memories.

Lorianne's gift was a trip to the musical Cats, which was playing at Rainbow stage these last two weeks. She loves cats (and music!) so it was a good choice, and she had a chance to go with both Lois and my Mom (another lover of music - but not cats!).

While we are talking about the kids, here are some of what God has been doing in their lives in the last half year

Lorianne is 14 and finished Gr. 9 at Fort Francis High and she loved it. She gets her self up (at 6:00 am!), makes her breakfast, packs her lunch, and joins her friends on the bus at 7:25. She got braces this year, continues to have lots of good friends (as well as be a good friend) as she lived in her two different worlds - school and church, and worked on her hobbies. She enjoys food prep or "food art" a lot (this is the drum set she made for Caleb's 12th birthday party - a top view!)

and is getting really good at taking pictures.

She also really excelled in playing the saxophone in the Junior band (same instrument that her dear old Dad played!).

and was invited to play in the Jazz Band, and even willingly took home a different instrument to learn over the summer. She loves the challenge of learning something new, won some awards at school (she is really smart like her Mom!), and is thrilled that she will be "living the dream" as she travels to Europe for a 3-month German exchange trip! She can't wait to travel to Italy, Austria and parts of Germany with the Rempel family, who are friends of my parents. God worked out some amazing details to bring this trip together, and He gets the glory for providing this experience for Lorianne.

Music also brought Lorianne in connection with all her brothers this year. She taught both Joseph and Stephen piano (a feat which developed her patience a great deal!) and also took part in the Rainy River Music Festival with Caleb. They did a duet of "He Reigns" by the Newsboys, and did a great job. We are thankful that Lorianne is our oldest, that she continues to love Jesus and live our her faith in the world, and that she loves life. We will miss her when she leaves at the end of August, but thankfully there are things like email, and Skype!

Caleb, our mature 12 year old, has really been blessed in a lot of ways this past year. Not only has God blessed him with some good friends at school, but he continues to have opportunities to use his acting/singing skills in the school musicals. This year he played the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. He volunteers in the Library at recess times, is beloved by a gang of SK and Gr. 1 girls who he supervises and helps during some breaks, and helped the teacher with some powerpoint presentations. The picture above with the snake around his neck is fitting, since Caleb's speech "Why Snakes Deserved to be Liked" earned him first prize at the district wide speech competiton this year!
The competition was for Gr. 6-8, and he was very surprised that he won over the other 12 finalists from as far away as Rainy River and Fort Francis. I think the best part for him was being interviewed for the newspaper, and getting to tell the reporter how his Omi hated snakes! The best part for me was when the MC for the evening, a member of the School Division staff who attends our church, told me she said to one of the judges - "Do you want to hear more good speaking like that? Well then you should come to our church on Sunday. His dad is the pastor there and he speaks just like him!"

Caleb is involved in a lot of different after school activities. He enjoys Cadets which takes place at the local Christian Reformed Church on Wednesday nights. He made a pine "truck" for the derby and it was voted "Best Looking Vehicle" which resulted in him getting an Air Soft BB gun as a prize (no injuries so far!). He also curled during the winter, and as been very busy with his lawn mowing business, Caleb's Lawn and Order this spring. He mows 4 lawns in town, and has also started working for our neighbour, which he really likes because he gets to drive his riding mower! We are impressed with Caleb's diligence in working, but are still working on balancing what he (and we, because we have to drive him to town!) can handle. Last year he purchased an electric start push mower, this year he bought a gas trimmer, and he has also saved enough money to buy his own .22 caliber rifle with a scope. He hopes to use it to shoot grouse, and now that he has his hunting license, he wants to beat me and be the first in the family to shoot a buck. (But since he will have to borrow my new deer rifle to do it, we will have to see if I let him!) We appreciate Caleb's diligence in so many areas, and are thankful that he enjoys serving Jesus by playing drums and running the powerpoint at church.

Joseph is 10, and completed Grade 4 this past June. He continues to be the one in the family with the biggest, goofiest grin, and often entertains (and sometimes annoys!) his siblings with his silly noises and facial expressions. Much of Joseph's joy in life comes from sports.

Joseph again really, really enjoyed his Saturday morning Rec Hockey times. He was one of the oldest in the group, and scored a lot of goals, which was fun for him. Stephen joined him on the ice this year for the first time, and I did as well, as I ended up coaching the little kids and beginner skaters in the group. Joseph really enjoys playing goalie here at home on our rink, and tried it once at Saturday morning hockey. That day wasn't a big success though, with the most frustrating part being that his little brother scored three goals on him! (I assisted on one which was fun for me!) Joe received an MVP medal, while Stephen got one of the "Most Improved Player" medals. Definitely a fun time, even if we had to wake up at 7:00 almost every Saturday!

Basketball is fun for Joseph as well, and he plays it often at school breaks with his friends. He also really enjoyed playing soccer at the Emo Sportsfield this spring. I coached his team, and it was encouraging to see his confidence improve throughout the season. He also grew more confident in playing guitar, something which he started in the fall. He even "performed" at the Golden Age Manor Seniors service we lead as a family every 6 weeks. And he has developed a bit of a love for baking, especially when Grandma came over and taught him how to make her famous meat pies! I know the more time I spend with Joe doing active, sports stuff, the more fun we will have in the years to come.

Rounding out the Dueck 4 is our fun loving, 8 year old Stephen, who is both very cool, and still very willing to cuddle and sit on your lap. He loves reading Boxcar Children stories with his Mom, convincing Dad to make something with him, or just drawing (especially at school where he seems to have a lot of free time.). He saved up a fair bit of money from his Birthday and allowance, which allowed him to purchase . . . .

three Atlantis Lego sets off Ebay. He actually really loves to shop and spend money, so saving is a bit of a challenge for him! He enjoyed building the sets with Joseph, and while they don't play with them as often (in my opinion) as the investment warrants, he does like them. He also enjoys having friends over, and would love to have "playdates" every weekend if we let him. Because he turned 8 he was allowed to have his first sleep over this year, and so . . .

invited his best friend Ben from school, and Lenny from church. Stephen is similar to Lorianne in that he has two very distinct circles of friends - those from school, and those from church. He often asks us to pray for him that he would be able to have a good Christian friend at his school, as it is a challenge for him to live for Jesus joyfully everyday. (For those of you who pray, feel free to join us in that!). Stephen does have a lot of joy when he is singing and dancing around the house, and often can be found listening to music on our ipod, or on his CD player while he is taking his turn folding laundry. He loves music (not necessarily piano practicing though!) and art, and we are thrilled that God provided him with a godly Christian man to teach him piano in the fall, who also happens to be a very accomplished artist!

As you can might be able to tell from the pictures of our kids, there is a lot of energy in our home, and lots of coordination that is needed to keep everything flowing smoothly. Lois does an amazing job of being the Dueck 6 Administrator, and by God's grace (and lots of prayer!) she keeps us all fed, clothed, organized and well loved. At church she is involved in leading the Care Committee, which enables her to minister to seniors and others in need, as well as pray and walk with the other ladies on the ministry team. She is also is the Administrator for MSN (Middle School Night) the Gr. 6-8 outreach ministry we have been leading together for 3 years. This year we "Graduated" the first group of youth who have with us from the beginning.
Thankfully, God has provided some women to pray for Fort Frances High School with Lois and a new Moms In Touch group was birthed in January. Prayer is a critical way to be involved in our children's lives and care for their schools and its staff.

Extended family is still a big part of our lives, with most of the Winnipeg family taking time to come out here at least once a year, and with our folks coming out more. We are thankful for our country hideaway which is a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city for them. As a family we also enjoy going into Winnipeg to connect with family and friends, do city stuff, get some foodstuffs cheaper than what is available out here, and go to our old church. On the Mother's Day weekend we made our usual trek to see the moms, as well as go garage "sale"ing in Whyte Ridge, one of our favorite family past times. This is one of the first all siblings with Mom shots that Lois has taken in a long time! Taken on Mothers' Day in preparation for her Mom's 75th birthday party which will be in September.
Arguably one of Lois' biggest highlights this year has been the long awaited arrival of . . . . .

the chickens! That is right after the "were getting settled year" and the "house fire year" and the "we just moved into the new house" year, Lois finally has her chickens! We ordered 30 Cornish Giants (aka genetically modified meat birds!) , and in case you were wondering what was with the box, they came in the mail! That's right, they get shipped from MB to the post office, get picked up by the feed store owner, and we picked them up there. They remained very cute for the first two weeks or so, and also were a bit fragile (1 never really had a chance, and 4 more died in the first couple of weeks). We have lost 5 more since then, but the rest are doing well, and should provide us with a chicken dinner a week for most of the winter! And they are a lot bigger now - and smellier and nosier!

Lois has enjoyed her morning and evening ritual of feeding and watering them (the rest of us, well, we'll wait and see how the meat tastes!) It is pretty cute seeing Lois in her rubber boots and watering pail walking with a smile to "her" chicken coop (which is right next to our shed) and greeting the chickens with a "here chicky chicky"! She deserves all the sources of joy we can give her, as she does an amazing job of dealing with four children and a husband who lead a lot faster pace of life than she really feels comfortable with. God is her source of strength, and the wisdom He grants her as she waits on Him. This blesses all of us, and many others in the church and wider community.

And what about me? Well I continue to seek to be faithful in the various responsibilities that God has given me, as well as have fun once in awhile (which actually isn't my strong suit - I tend to want to work more than relax). I do really enjoy working/serving with my family, which we have quite a opportunities to do here in Emo. The local Emo Walleye Classic fishing tournament is one place where we get to use our different skills. Lorianne helps with children's crafts (including making fish cookies!), Caleb is a River Rat (he travels back from the docks with the boats to the weigh-in so there is no cheating) while the rest of us clean up in the arena during the afternoon weigh-in. It is a great way to mix and mingle with many people in the town and help our community out too.

One "fun" thing that I still like to do is go running. I ran 10k in January in the International Falls Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard run (and it was -26 degrees!), but even more fun than that was doing the Willie Walleye 5k run this past June with over 100 runners, including a crew from our church.
Many of these are good friends (and as you can see by the 1st and 2nd place ribbons - they are fast!), and it was fun cheering everyone on. I ran my personal best time of 23:20, which was 30 seconds faster then my 2nd place finish in the middle aged men (30-39) category last year, but sadly there were a few faster guys registered this year so I came in fourth! Lois and the kids came to watch, and then we hit some garage sales, took in some of the events on Main Street and just enjoyed being a family.

God continues to be gracious to us at church, and Calvary Baptist continues to be a healthy, growing church, with lots of kids and young people. We desire to be faithful with the resources that God gives us (we are carrying a fairly large budget surplus), and minister to the new people that come through our doors (we have had an influx of people from a church in Fort Frances which doesn't have has many kids/programs as ours, which has been a challenge/opportunity to deal with). We desire to reach the community with the gospel, and are praying that God would stir in people's hearts a desire to reach out with the good news of Jesus, and give people a hunger to hear his word. Small town ministry is very different then ministering in the city, as everyone knows everyone, they can tell you who the "sinners" are in your church, and there are major barriers to cross before going to the "Baptist" church. God has blessed me with 3 great men who serve as Overseers with me. We meet every Friday morning to connect, talk church, and pray. On Tuesdays I am thankful for the men's morning prayer group (M2) - a time when 3-8 men praise God and then share and pray for each other.

One new thing for me this year, is that I performed my first weddings (Dec, July, and next week). I really enjoying meeting with couples and helping them prepare for their wedding day, and more importantly their married life. Each couple is very unique, and the first wedding was in the school auditorium in Fort, while the second was at a farm, with the reception in a century old barn! I am thankful for the gifts God has given me in talking with people and in front of people, and pray that he continues to be glorified as I continue to minister here in Emo.

With about 1 month left of summer, we continue to pray daily for balance in doing what God wants us to, as the options to fill our time are many! (feel free to join us in praying for wisdom) Family, church, personal time, couple time, and only 24 hours in the day, just like everyone else. We are grateful that God continues to show his mercy and grace to us daily, and look forward to what He will do in and through us in the months and weeks ahead. One way God has slowed us down this summer is having a closed road between us and the town of Emo. We have to use our two vans to shuttle to town - park one on one side of the closed road, walk across to the second van parked on the other side. God has a sense of humour and we thankfully have two vans that we have been blessed with.