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Due to time and money constraints, I have decided to not renew my domain: stuartjamesbeall.org

This could be my last blog for a long time. Thanks for visiting!

Stuart James BEALL

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Beating the Odds

kissed by a rose

If you didn’t get to attend our wedding reception, there are some things you probably don’t know about my wife.

When Tonnette was 19, on her way to Ricks College, the Volkswagon Beetle she was traveling in hit a herd of antelope. A boy was thrown from the car and died. Tonnette was knocked unconscious, her neck was twisted, and she stopped breathing. Her two girlfriends found the boy dead, and they thought Tonnette was also dead, and they went walking to find help. They stopped a truck driver, who in turn called for emergency help.

The medic who first responded saw Tonnette’s head slumped over a door frame. When he lifted her head, he heard her suck in a breath of air. Her brain was traumatized, but there was still hope for her. She had a gash in each arm, proximal to the triceps muscles, but these were not serious. A hospital physician suspected she might have a crushed spleen, or internal bleeding. He made a long cut from her sternum to her abdomen to investigate, and found that her internal organs were fine, and there was no internal bleeding.

Tonnette was in a coma for 9 months, at various hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities. A physiatrist who examined her suggested that she would probably live the remainder of her life in care institutions, since it did not appear she would ever be able to take care of herself.

Her traumatic brain injury was indeed a handicap, but not in the way people thought. Tonnette slowly regained consciousness; she had to re-learn how speak, how to eat, how to walk, how to shower and dress herself. It was miraculous, yes, but some miracles take a long time. This miracle happened with the faith, prayers, and support of her parents. It took lots of hard work with nurses, therapists, and many other caring people along the way. And it took the mercy of God, looking forward to the day when a truck driver would see Tonnette in a different way than other men had.

Tonnette continued living with her parents, and graduated from Boise State University. She became a teaching assistant with Head Start. Her four younger brothers served as missionaries for the LDS Church, got married, and had children.

Tonnette and I met through eHarmony, an online introduction service. I was living on a truck, doing most of my socializing through a Mac laptop computer. Our first meeting happened in 2005, near the Boise Flying J truck stop. I invited her to meet me face-to face for dinner, at the Mongo Grill. Wasn’t much pleased with their food or service, but Tonnette seemed to enjoy it. She walked slowly with the help of a hemi-walker, because of hypertonicity in her legs.

I was not exactly charmed with her looks, but I was impressed with her positive, encouraging remarks about almost everything. Despite her optimism, I did not feel we could be a successful couple, because I lived on a truck, I couldn’t attend church regularly, and I couldn’t see her regularly. She asked to see my truck, but it was obvious she could never climb into it.

For a couple years, every sunday, Tonnette would email me the sunday school and priesthood lessons, so I could read them when I was parked for a rest.

During lunch at a Boise IHOP restaurant, Tonnette was getting a little less hopeful about our future together. She didn’t think we could be more than friends. Her father had been asking her, “Where are you going with this?” Seeing his daughter meet a truck driver a few times a year when he happened to drive through Boise, didn’t seem like a very healthy relationship.

I often asked myself the same question. “Where was I going with this?” The answer in hindsight was, Wherever God wanted me to go.

He offered me an attitude adjustment, and slowly I accepted it. I quit driving trucks, started attending church regularly, and in the summer of 2012 I moved to Boise. After several months, I found a stable job with health benefits.

In 2013 Tonnette and I were married in the Boise Temple. In 2014 we visited an OB/GYN (female doctor) who told us that the chances of getting pregnant with Tonnette’s eggs were about zero. She clarified this later, saying the chance was less than 1%, because Tonnette was too old. Tonnette was devastated. She assumed she could easily become pregnant as long as she had a menstrual cycle.

We assumed we could never be parents, and tried to quit thinking  about it.

On my birthday, the 12th of February 2015, a home pregnancy test showed Tonnette was pregnant. She was astounded. The next day, her primary care physician confirmed it.

Genesis 18:14 “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

happy birthday to me

I suppose I had a happy birthday yesterday. It was also Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. If he were here,  there would probably be lots of questioning between us. I’ve always been curious about him, and wonder: If television broadcasting had been invented and established in Lincoln’s time on earth, would he have been elected president? He knew perhaps better than anyone else that he was not elected for his looks. When one political opponent accused Lincoln of being two-faced, he responded, “If I had another face, do you think I would be wearing this one?”

So what did I do for my birthday? Short answer:  Awoke feeling tired, because I had spent much of my sleeping time wednesday night working on a poster for school. I got out of bed earlier than I wanted, to help my wife with a certain crisis. Prepared omelets for breakfast, drove 30 minutes out to Nampa, spent 5 hours at the Milan Institute, drove to Meridian, spent 8.5 hours at the call center where I work, then drove home to Boise and went to bed.

No sex, no special dinner, no unwrapping gifts, no cake, and no pie for this birthday; I didn’t have time for it anyway. However,  there was one rather surprising birthday gift – if I choose to look at it that way. Maybe I’ll save that part for later.

One of Tonnette’s uncles baked a German chocolate cake for his wife’s birthday, and saved a piece for me. I had some of it this morning. Thanks Uncle Mike!

It was a stressful day, mainly because of school. It was a final exam day. It was also a presentation day for me, using that poster I was working on; some highlights on the Integumentary System (skin, nails, hair). These poster things are fairly subjective, and every student does theirs differently, and I was stressed about making mine look neat and interesting.

So I made my presentation about the Integumentary System. It was neat and interesting, but it lasted all of about 7 minutes. Now there is no more use for that poster I worked so hard on. No entering it into a competition, or posting in in the school hall for everyone to see. Too big to post on my cluttered refrigerator. And because I only scored 89% on the final exam, I keep wondering why I didn’t spend less time on that troublesome poster, and more time studying for the exam. As long as I was losing sleep over it….

Kanel Aebleskivers

 Aebleskiver is the Danish word for apple fritter. It is a type of pancake or donut. This is a Rocky-Mountain version of Danish apple fritters, derived from a recipe provided by Harry J. Goodro.

kanel_aebleskivers You will need:

1- Danish aebleskiver pan (Lodge makes the best cast-iron aebleskiver pans)

2- a gas-fired stove, or induction cooktop

3- electric beater or whisk-type beater

4- cutting board with chopping knife

5- butter – at least a stick

6- fresh apples

7- cinnamon powder

8- vanilla-flavored almond milk

9- eggs (from a chicken grower who uses only vegetarian feed)

10- all-purpose flour

11- natural cane or granulated sugar

12- sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)

13- sea salt (do NOT use any “free-flowing” concoction)

14- cream of tartar

15- large mixing bowl with soup-size spoon

16- medium whipping bowl

17- melting cup

18- fork, knitting needle, or wooden chopstick

19- serving plate

Peel and core three or four large apples. Choose a variety that is crisp and juicy, rather than “delicious” – soft and pithy. Chop the apple fruit into small bits. Separate two fresh eggs: put the whites into the beater bowl, and the yolks into the mixing bowl. Discard the shells.

Whip the egg whites on high speed until they start to peak. Add 1.2 ml cream of tartar, and continue whipping until peaks hold stiff.

Use a melting cup to melt 1 stick (125 ml) of butter. A Pyrex measuring cup and a microwave oven will also do fine. The melted butter should not be so hot that it burns your finger.

In the mixing bowl, add 300 ml almond milk, 3 ml sodium bicarbonate, 500 ml flour, 3 ml sea salt, 5 ml cinnamon powder, and 60 ml white sugar. Stir together well to form a batter, then add the melted butter. Stir the butter completely into the batter.

Add the chopped apples, and stir completely into the batter. Gently stir the whipped egg whites into the batter. Heat the aebleskiver pan over medium heat for a few minutes, then smear some butter generously into each cup. I use a fork stuck into a cold stick of butter. If the butter burns quickly, reduce the heat slightly. The center cup tends to be the hottest; you may want to avoid using it until you’ve cooked a few rounds in the outer cups.

Using the spoon, place scoops of batter into each cup. Try to fill no more than 2/3 full. When the edges are brown, use the knitting needle or chopstick to turn. Push one edge gently toward the pan bottom, so that the ball “rolls over”. If it doesn’t turn completely over, don’t fret. Let it cook for another minute, then roll it a little more onto the area that didn’t quite cook.

Remove the aebleskivers from the pan, and place on a serving plate. Always smear some fresh butter into each cup before adding fresh batter to the pan.

There are countless ways to serve aebleskivers. You can roll the cooled aebleskivers in powdered sugar. You can dip the hot aebleskivers into maple syrup. You can cut one in halves, and smear your favorite jelly on it. You can make a warm glaze or icing, dip the aebleskivers into the icing, and allow to harden.

Neverending Repentance

A Presbyterian Church sign in Boise recently showed these words:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.

-Lily Tomlin

An early version of this statement is attributed to William Faulkner. Later, Oprah Winfrey borrowed the idea and created another variant. Just for that, I’m almost ready to forgive her for promoting Barack Obama.

Regardless of who originated the thought, it struck a chord with my soul, as I seem to have tried a lot of re-living the past. One example of this was the second Yugo I purchased.

From a prior blog, you will learn about my first Yugo. That story partially sets the emotional stage for my second Yugo affair. Why would I set myself up for more heartbreak with another Yugo, of all things? You know the saying, better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all…. whatever.

I still remember what happened to each of my cars, in order: Pontiac Tempest, Oldsmobile Toronado, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Fiesta, Yugo GV, Chevrolet S10, and Honda Civic CRX. Every one of those automobile relationships ended badly.

In 2010 I purchased a used Jeep Grand Cherokee. It seems God blessed me with the Jeep, or perhaps he baited me into liquidating my 401K savings to pay for it – in order to drive up a certain mountain road in Emigrant, Montana. While the Jeep was a great ride, it was using too much fuel for my liking on the 45-mile round trip to work every day. I was not interested in getting rid of my Jeep, but I was looking for a cheaper way to commute. No buses or trains were available in that area, so another car was my only plan.

A certain wealthy retiree had a little red Yugo sitting on his property, with windows left open to the rain and snow. He was willed the car from a deceased friend, and obviously didn’t care much about maintaining it. The paint had faded, and there were many mechanical things wrong with it – some that he didn’t tell me. He wanted $1000 for the car. I told him if I could get it to run, I’d pay him the money.

What was I thinking? Nobody in my world wanted a Yugo that was twenty years old, and certainly would not pay that much money for one if it were in mint condition. Sure this car would run, after I rocked it out of the rut it was sitting in, but the windshield washer wouldn’t work, the speedometer/odometer wouldn’t work, the gasoline level sensor was bad, the fuel cap didn’t fit, the fuel spout hose was rotted apart, the muffler was missing, the windshield wipers worked only while a certain button was held down, the tire treads were cracked and peeling, the water pump leaked, the scissor jack was missing. This thing was a lemon among lemons. My plan was to fix most of these problems, and simultaneously work off some of my emotional baggage.

I got some car wax and tried to shine up what was left of the red paint. I cleaned and re-installed the rear bench seat, which had been temporarily missing. I decided I could live without a working fuel gage, if I just carried a small spare gasoline jug.

After purchasing new belts, new ignition parts, new fuel and air filters, a new muffler, new tires, a new water pump, a new odometer cable, a non-expiring Park County registration, a new fuel cap, and an oddball jack from a junkyard, I had spent over $1000 in addition to the original purchase price. And it still wasn’t quite right.

I spent the better part of a Saturday installing the new water pump. This was quite a challenge, because I had no repair manual. In order to get to the bad water pump, I had to remove several other items. And I had to guess where some of the bolts were, because I couldn’t see them.  I thought I had put together a fairly complete set of car repair tools, but I didn’t have a certain short wrench necessary for part of the procedure. Fortunately, my friend Dave Singleton happened to have it.

There was one thing I couldn’t fix on this car, and none of my friends could either.

Yugos, and other small cars from the previous century, were usually equipped with devices called carburetors. A vehicle with a well tuned carburetor is often more fuel efficient than a similar fuel-injected vehicle.  It’s a lot like rocket science, but it’s being replaced by fuel injection systems.

That Yugo carburetor had been abused, to the result that the engine would not idle. It ran fine at 65 mph with my foot on the accelerator, but as soon as I came to a stop, it died. This was not suitable for waiting at intersections, or in stop-and-go traffic.

A mechanic with carburetor expertise could supposedly get it idling perfectly, but those people were hard to find. A person like me would have better luck purchasing an expensive rebuilt, pre-adjusted carburetor, instead of fiddling with one by myself. After all the money I had already spent, and with so little benefit to show from it, I turned the vehicle over to a friend, to try his luck with it.

Loyalty To A Car

Before you can be old and wise, you must finish being young and stupid.

* * *

In the summer of 1992 I packed my valuables into my white Yugo GV, and drove her to Memphis, Tennessee for a new job. From there, I drove her into Southaven every day for work. I drove her to Utah to visit my mother. I drove her to Elora, in a heavy rainstorm, to meet a relative. For several months, I drove her into Millington for line-dancing. I drove her to singles activities in Talahassee, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Huntsville, Independence, St. Louis, Nashville, and Baton Rouge. I’d plan my vacation time around Thanksgiving and drive her to Branson, Missouri and hang out there for several days at a time; shopping, dining out, and watching various music shows.

There were a couple maintenance issues that came up with the car. The first was a worn-out clutch. The second, discovered during a routine tune-up at a shop in Southaven, was a ripped wheel bearing seal.

I didn’t see exactly what happened to that seal they were talking about, or why it was so important, but a mechanic explained that I didn’t want to allow the bearing grease to leak out or get contaminated, which might dry out the wheel bearing, and cause the wheel to seize. I took the bad advice of that mechanic, and purchased a whole new axle assembly. He could have re-packed the bearing with fresh grease and installed a new boot cover, but that wasn’t as profitable as convincing me to buy a new axle assembly.

I didn’t realize they were taking advantage of me until a year later, when the same mechanic told me again I had a ripped wheel bearing seal, and he had already checked on a price for a new axle assembly. It didn’t feel right. To borrow an old proverb…

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

I left that repair shop and never went back. I also examined the wheel bearing seal, and discovered that it was a flexible rubber boot with a clean straight cut in it. Someone could have sliced it with a knife. If I did nothing to it, the boot was probably sufficient to protect the bearings for another two or three years. No new axle was necessary. A friend from work, Brian Murrell, suggested that it was easy to replace that boot, and he would help me do it.

This emotional affair with my car began to decline when she was struck broadside by a United Parcel Service tractor truck on Millbranch Road in Memphis. The impact dented the driver side door, and knocked my eyeglasses off my face. No visible damage to the UPS truck.

You might wonder how I put myself into the path of a UPS truck. Okay, I’ll try to make this quick, so pay attention. I was trying to help a chaplain of some sort who had broken down on interstate 240, who needed to get to a hospital to provide ministerial service to a sick person but we were headed east which was the wrong direction, so I trusted the chaplain to navigate us to the hospital in question, which he seemed anxious to do, and after I exited 240 onto Millbranch, I glanced at the signs and was inclined to take the jughandle loop to get turned around, but the chaplain had a different plan: he directed me into an illegal left-hand turn at the Nonconnah intersection, where he seemed rather cautious, telling me to wait for northbound traffic, during the which we were sitting in the path of – and oblivious to – southbound traffic.

* * *
When you’re driving on a strange busy road, and you get a feeling that something isn’t right, it just might be too late already to avoid having the sense knocked out of you.
* * *

After that incident I was driving damaged goods. The white Yugo GV wasn’t a new car anymore. But things could get worse with her – and things did. I was asked by a member of my LDS Ward to give somebody a ride to church, one Sunday, during Sunday School. He handed me an address to an old section of Memphis, and I rushed off in my Yugo, thinking if I hurried I might make it back to church before the opening prayer of sacrament meeting.

I had no GPS device to help me find the place, and no cell phone to call ahead. But I did have paper maps in the car. While rounding a curve, my Yugo suddenly lurched sideways. Before I could think clearly my foot hit the brake pedal. Bad idea. Her rear end pivoted around over 180 degrees, into the direction I was headed, and her rear wheel crashed against a curb. It made a loud crashing noise, which at least one man heard a block away. He asked me if I had hit a road sign, before he directed me to the address I was looking for.

It was more aggravating, though not surprising to me, that nobody answered the door at the address I wanted. I went to the side and back doors, looking for a note, a word of gratitude. No joy.

I had plenty of winter driving experience, but I didn’t expect to hit black ice in Memphis. Upon close inspection, I learned I had bent my car’s suspension, and ruined a wheel. She would never drive smoothly again. However, I looked at my Yugo like a good husband might look at his marriage. Just because a spouse is getting older, and has a few bad bumps, doesn’t mean you divorce her. I was willing to work with my Yugo to keep her running as best I could. What better choice did I have?

I found a replacement wheel at a junkyard in West Memphis. For several months, I continued driving my Yugo, and she carried  grateful friends to church with me. Without warning, she gave me grief when starting up in the morning. After trying simple remedies like new spark plugs, new ignition coil, new spark plug wires, new air filter, new gasoline, I sought help from an auto repair shop.

The auto repair shop was supposedly operated by import car specialists. I’m not sure about that. These guys proved they were not Yugo specialists. I was told that I needed a new magneto-distributor assembly, which was not a cheap item. After the mechanic  received and installed the new distributor assembly, he decided he had received a faulty new distributor and ordered another one. Second new distributor, same diagnosis. He said he would have to order another one, a third one. But by then he said wasn’t really sure a new distributor would fix the car.

At that point, I lost faith in that mechanic, and sought help from another friend at work, Jim Sanders. Jim was a meticulous troubleshooter, almost to a fault. With the help of a Haynes repair manual, he figured out that the distributor was fine. It was sending sparks to the spark plugs, but the timing was somewhat tricky to adjust. We got it running, and I drove it home.

She ran fine for several more months, then the ignition problem showed up again. I tried making adjustments for several days, which didn’t seem to do much good. I got tired of the time wasted fiddling with the Yugo, and being late to work. I wanted a reliable car, or truck, and it was time to cut my losses. I sent that Yugo to a junkyard.