Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nature Calls

It must be something in the genetics. Surely it's a very part of the DNA in every little boy's body. That insatiable, uncontrollable urge to leave his mark in the yard. I'm pleased to announce that the fairly recently potty-trained Ezra completed his rite of passage this afternoon by marking his territory in our yard. At least it was in our back yard. Several times I've seen the obligatory little boy doing his thing, pants and undies down around his knees and whizzing like a garden hose -- in the front yard. I'm sure that's a violation of Homeowner's Association codes and covenants and something that could get the toilet-challenged little lad in big trouble. Ezra at least had the common decency to whiz in the relative privacy of our back yard. While I'm bemused and even proud of this seminal moment in my little boy's life, Julie is confused. Why must all of her boys at one time or another treat the great outdoors as their bathroom?

I try to tell her that they are just doing some "weed abatement" and that it beats us spending 20 bucks on Roundup. I don't know that it's convincing her that peeing in the yard is a good thing. But at the same time, I don't think you can necessarily stop it. It's just one of those things that our little boys have to get out of their system and then we can all move on. If it's an ongoing issue, then we'll address it. But truth be told, the boys seem to grow out of it. Most of us do, that is. Not all, just most.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Good Neighbor Policy

We live in a subdivision of 85 homes, two cul-de-sacs, one playground and a sidewalk on one side of the street. In many ways it's classic suburbia. In many ways it's not. Far from it. I'd say at least half the families in this neighborhood are military, folks who are either active service or retired from the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, you name it. Some are cops. Then there's the rest of us. A newspaper reporter, teachers, Wal-Mart clerks, kind of the average Joe types. Right now I'll take our Courthouse Square subdivision over any neighborhood around.

As you know, we got roughed up by a pretty serious windstorm the other night. We still have a tarp over what's left of our window, but a replacement should get here tomorrow. When we awoke Monday morning, we had parts of three trees and a section of busted fence planks in our yard. By two o'clock in the afternoon, our yard was clean and a troop of kids were down in the neighbor's yard cleaning it up. Our next door neighbors, Mike and Amber, owned the tree that smashed through their fence into our yard. Our neighbors behind us, Donny and Christina, had a section of tree hanging over their fence into our yard. We all rendezvoused in our yards about 1 a.m. Monday morning to make sure everyone was OK and then by 9 a.m. the chainsaws were firing up.

Let's get something straight here. Men need no excuse, I repeat no excuse at all, to fire up the chainsaw. (Wife to Manly Man Husband: "Honey, there's a tumbleweed in the back yard. Could you take care of that before my babies get tangled up in it?" Manly Man Hubby to Wife: "Sweet! I'll grab the chainsaw!") Wives, if you want to bless your husband at Christmas, buy him a chainsaw that will buzz through the hardest hardwood like it's butter. That being said, Donny and Mike and I were manning chainsaws and carving up the trees. A while later our friend Jennifer (who doesn't even live in our 'hood) showed up with a trailer and her four kids, and about 83 percent of my kids, my nephew Killian and a bunch of other kids from the neighborhood started hauling debris and wood to the trailer and Donny's pickup. Amber supplied the cookies and Powerade (it was the type of hot, muggy day where Mike was sweating so much he dripped his way through three shirts -- before lunch) and in no time the yard was clear, Mike had repaired his fence and we were just standing around thinking the chainsaws hardly got going.

Never fear, because on the other side of us, Zeke and Erin had a huge poplar tree go down in their back yard. But it snapped midway up and was still attached, creating a danger that needed to be eliminated with chainsaws. So Mike and Donny manned up and took down the poplar tree the rest of the way (Zeke would have joined in but was at work at the Coast Guard station in Yorktown). To top it all off, some neighbors at the end of the street in the cul-de-sac, who we hardly know, had some intrepid entrepreneurial kids decide they'd help us out with the window by having a charitable neighborhood lemonade sale. They showed up yesterday afternoon with $21.65 in a plastic jar.

When Julie and our neighborly friend Cindy were recounting Monday's cleanup, how everyone chipped in and how the Sabo Memorial Window Donation Lemonade Sale was a rousing success, I thought they were going to cry. Who knows. Maybe this was just a dry run for something more serious in store, like a (dare I even utter the word?) hurricane. Or maybe it's just proof that the Lord has blessed us with good neighbors. Maybe it's both.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Freight Train, In My Back Yard

The first hint that trouble was brewing should have come after dinner Sunday evening. I looked outside and saw clouds gathering in an ethereal, amber light. I checked the weather and it said we would be under a thunderstorm watch until 8 o'clock. When we finally hit the sack around 11 o'clock lightning was still lighting up the sky. Rain had poured from the sky with so much fury, my neighbor later told me he couldn't see the house behind him that's 100 feet away or so. Thunderclaps were right on top of us, in some cases shaking the house. For Ezra's sake, we kept the doors closed. But not long after falling asleep I was awakened by the sound of what seemed like a freight train outside. Except there's no railroad tracks in our back yard. Or anywhere close for that matter. I was standing next to our bed and glanced at the clock: 12:22 a.m.
That's when a window next to our bed where Julie was sleeping exploded. Julie came flying out of the bed screaming and jumped into my arms. (It's nice to know she knows where to find her hero.) I stood there stunned momentarily trying to get my bearings. Then Julie scurried around to gather up the kids while I tried to assess the damage and figure out what to do next while rain and wind howled in the window. Some blinds were doing a good job keeping the rain out and a short time later the rain stopped and the wind died down. This morning I learned that wind gusts topped 50 mph and parts of Gloucester had 5 inches of rain from the storm.
We cleaned up the shards of glass that had littered the bed and floor and walked around outside talking to our neighbors. Our neighbor's poplar tree had crashed through the fence between our yards and glanced off the side of our house. Two other trees or parts of two different neighbors' trees ended up in our yard. Branches from the poplar tree are the ones that ended up smashing our window; I found poplar leaves and chunks of the branches on our floor and bed. A neighbor down the street who I'd never met brought down a tarp and fastened it around our window to get us through the night. Other than some damage to gutters and a couple of shingles, everything on the house seems to be fine. Though I am in the market for a new window.
The Lord protected us and no one was hurt. About 1:30 a.m., while reliving the sounds and fury of the storm with neighbors, I looked up at the sky and saw stars and felt relieved. After tidying up inside and vacuuming and changing the sheets and bedspread I headed outside to take another look around the house. It was about 2:30 a.m. when I looked up in the sky. The stars were obscured by clouds and off to the north lightning lit up the sky like strobe lights.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tour de Gloucester

Julie and I managed to get out today and explore parts of Gloucester we haven't spent much time seeing. Our chief aim was to try and see some of the dozens of historic estates that line the shores of Gloucester, but that didn't go so well. Most of Gloucester's historic homes and estates sit well back off public roads, way down private lanes and driveways and tucked far away from touristy eyes. For example, down on the York River lies the estate known as Little England, a portion of which dates to 1680. You can't get close to it. Over on Ware Neck, a finger of wooded land that juts into the Ware River and Mobjack Bay, sits Lowland Cottage, which was begun before 1670 and is obscured by woods down a long tree-lined dirt driveway. According to my handy-dandy history book, called "Past is Prologue; Gloucester County, Virginia," Lowland Cottage was the homeplace of Robert Bristow, who became the largest pre-Revolutionary War landowner on Ware Neck. But the family returned to England and lost its holdings during the Revolution.

Beyond the boats afloat in Timberneck Creek in that photo up there lies a peninsula of land known as Timberneck. It's the earliest known patent of land in Gloucester County,dating to 1639. The peninsula of land is going to be developed into high-priced mini-estates. But the property also boasts a house called "Timberneck," an 18th-century home with 14 acres of waterfront property that can be yours for $2.9 million. Believe me, it's beautiful out there, though the home is what's known as a "fixer-upper." Have your people get in touch with my people to discuss how to acquire this historic piece of Virginia history. Oh, it comes with a family graveyard as well, the oldest grave being that of 3-year-old Elizabeth Page, who passed in 1693. How cool is that?

We also included a shot of a church in Ware Neck, replete with obligatory graveyard, and photo of a country lane called "Elmington" that meanders past soy bean fields, farmhouses and historic estates near the North River.

The U.S. Capitol, Jamestown, The Smithsonian...Bass Pro Shops

For the past month my nephew Killian has been staying with us. Killian is my sister's son and flew out here from Bend, Ore., in late June all by himself. He's become such a part of Team Sabo I don't even know he's here anymore. He went to church camp with the middle school group from our church and a few of my kids and had a blast. He's made the pilgrimage to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg something like three or four times, he goes to Friday night Bible study with our kids every week (Editor's note: Hasn't the youth Bible study been at our house all month? How would he not go to it? Author's reply: If you want to split hairs, I guess you can. He seems to go of his own free will and not find somewhere else in the house to hang out.) and I see him carrying around Olivia and generally helping out. It's been a pleasure to have him and we'll miss him when he heads home on Tuesday.

As his days here in Virginia are drawing to a close and he thinks about returning to a dry heat, we asked him what he really wanted to do. We have beaches, historic Jamestown and Yorktown, D.C. is a couple of hours up the road ... the sightseeing options are endless. It took Killian about a nanosecond to say what he really wanted to do: Go to a Bass Pro Shops store.Italic Excuse me? Yeah, to one of the Bass Pro Shops. Apparently they don't have these out West. And Killian loves to hunt and fish -- you'd think he was a native of Gloucester, where if you don't hunt and fish you're a dead ringer for an outsider -- and he wants to get a Bass Pro t-shirt for his dad and grandpa. It just so happens there's a shop no more than an hour from here. So we've assured him that we'll make sure he makes the journey to the closest Bass Pro Shops to complete this memorable month in Virginia. If any of our friends out West need anything, now is the time to put in your order. We accept cash, checks and most major credit cards.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm Not Taylor

Taylor is 17 years old now and apparently he sounds just like me. Even to his friends. Today I had another of his buddies call and when I answered the phone he said, "Is this Taylor?" No, it's not. I'm not sure what to make of it. Flattered that I sound so young? (If only I looked so young.) Or embarrassed that I sound like a teenager? I still only shave once a week, so I guess in that sense I'm kind of teenagery. But hey, at least I don't have to shave my back. (Editor's note: No way. Are you really going to print that? Author's reply: Believe me, I'm proud of it. So yes, it's staying in this blog.)

At the ripe old age of 40 I can still hold my own in Wiffle ball, hoops and other assorted sporting endeavors with these young shavers, so to speak. (I just try and steer clear of exhibiting my blazing speed in the 40-yard dash. The last time I tried that I pulled a hammy.) So here's what I'm going to do to distinguish myself from Taylor on the phone. I'm going all-husky voice. Barry White, look out. James Earl Jones, you got nothing on me. I'm going deeeeepppp. Kind of a Darth Vader type voice, except in a friendly, neighborly way. Without the breathing thing. Mark my words, from now on there will be no mistaking me for Taylor. Voice wise at least.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

`Nervous Time'

It was the bottom of the last inning of the third game of the day that Ethan's baseball team played on Saturday. It was about 9 o'clock in the evening, the tail end of a long day at the ballpark at the Virginia Sports Complex in Ruther Glen, Va., some 75 miles away from Gloucester. Somehow Ethan's team, the Gloucester Devils (Don't ask about the nickname; it's not my favorite.), had managed to surrender a 5-2 lead in the top of the inning. With one out, his team down by a run, Ethan came to the plate. Thinking ahead, to maybe when Ezra is involved in some sort of athletic competition and I'm there watching nervously as all get out, I leaned over to the couple next to me and said, "I don't know if I can do this for another 15 years."

I still get flutters in my gut, my pulse quickens and I have to stand up. Then I sit down before standing up again. I usually holler out, "Let's go Ethan!" or something along those lines but don't say a whole lot. It doesn't take an MRI specialist to see I'm a wreck inside. It's kind of ridiculous really. But I reckon, as other parents can surely attest, I'm not alone feeling the way I do watching my kid play ball. Ethan got two strikes before whacking a ball over the first baseman's head into right field for a single. To say I was happy for him is a little like saying I kind of like kids. He did his job and that's pleasing. He's struggled plenty this summer, but he never got down on himself. He knows he can hit, just like I know he's a hitter. A couple of times during the day after he struck out or got out some other way I'd go down and talk to him through the cyclone fence in the dugout. He could tell me what didn't go right and why and we'd go over how to handle the situation next time. I'd tell him he can hit these guys and mostly he did; he went 4-for-9 with a triple, three singles, three runs scored and 4 RBI.

The next two guys behind Ethan walked and he ended up at third with one out, the bases loaded, his team still down by a run. When the third baseman saw Jacob Houston coming to the plate as the next batter, he blurted out, "Oh no." Well, not exactly those words, but you get the idea. Jacob "Freight Train" Houston pretty much had the run of the place all day, spraying balls all over the field. By a quirk of the schedule, the Gloucester team played all of its games on Field #3. Jacob spent so much time on the base paths at that field there was talk of naming them "Jacob Houston Way." With the infield playing in, the pitcher threw two straight balls and Jacob turned and looked at the dugout and smiled. It wasn't a fair fight. Jacob laced the next pitch between shortstop and the third baseman and Ethan trotted home with the run that tied the game. Right behind him was the guy on second, who scored easily when the ball squirted out of the charging left fielder's glove and headed toward the fence. Game over, Gloucester wins 7-6. Let's just say it was a nice 75-mile ride home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Yorktown, Va.

For your reading and viewing enjoyment, we have a historical and quite visual tour of Yorktown, Va., noted most notably for being the colonial port
where the ol' Brit Lord Cornwallis threw up the white flag at the hands of American and French forces in 1781. Julie and I were joined by Claire and MerriGrace for a little walkabout. We love Yorktown. As you can see it's quite a lovely little spot. Even the homes that have cannonballs stuck in the walls are pretty cool.
We found an old graveyard in town at Grace Colonial Church, or is it Colonial Grace Church? Either way, the church dates to the late 17th century and the graveyard out back of the church has a beautiful view of the York River. Not that the interred give a hoot. (Editor's note: Boy are you on a roll tonight. Author's reply: Hey, I laughed. That's all that matters.) I've included a couple shots of graves at the graveyard, including a photo of one dude's headstone who bought the plot, so to speak, in 1674 -- 1674! That's 335 years ago! That's a really, really long time ago!
Another photo is of the epitaph of William Nelson, whose son Thomas Nelson was a former Colonial Virginia governor, signer of the Declaration of Independence and all-around good chap. So good, in fact, a community college in Newport News was named after him. That's big-time. Thomas Nelson's home is the one up there with the cannonball stuck in the side of it from when the Americans shelled the town in the siege of 1781. Now just thinking out loud here, but I'd say a cannonball lodged in the bricks at your home is kind of an unusual exterior decoration, and not something you see every day. In fact, I don't remember one single house in my boyhood home of Bend, Ore., that had a cannonball stuck in the bricks. But maybe it was en vogue in Colonial Virginia. Perhaps a sign of distinction, as it were. As if to say that your house not only was so significant it was targeted for attack, but it also withstood the barrage in fine fashion. Who knows.
Julie is quite interested in finding out more about Nelson's wife, one Lucy Grymes. Lucy bore 11 children, which isn't too shabby. My hunch, and it's just a hunch, is that's what Julie finds among the more interesting things about Lucy. I was most impressed with the five children she cranked out from 1768 to 1773. She slacked off a little bit there after that, but managed to yield 11 children in 14 years. That's quite the pace. Especially back in the day.

And I'll say this for ol' Willie Nelson. That's some epitaph. I've had to rethink things because I just wanted mine to read: "Threw a no-hitter in Wiffle ball against Brenton in 2004." In light of reading William Nelson's epitaph, maybe something more, um, I don't know, more profound is more appropriate. I don't know about you, but reading the William Nelson gravestone leads me to think that they don't make epitaphs like they used to. Now to be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure what those words on the gravestone mean. But they sure sound good!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

About That Test

So for some reason Julie took a pregnancy test. I mean, come on. After 12 kids you would think she might know when she's with child. (Editor's note: Excuse me, but do you know where your car keys are right now? Author's reply: Um, no. Editor's note, part deux: You've had car keys every day for over 20 years. You would think you'd know where they are. Author's reply: What this has to do with being pregnant, I'm not sure. There's a point you're making here but for some reason I'm just not grasping it ... let me go look for my keys.)

So the test came out positive. I'm going to be a dad!

Monday, July 13, 2009


Tests come in all shapes, sizes, forms and even people. Academic tests would qualify as tests. I remember once in my freshman year of high school our math teacher handed us all a test. I looked at it and was very puzzled. I didn't recognize anything. At first I thought maybe I had walked into the wrong class. Then I rememberd just a few moments earlier our teacher had taken roll call. My name was called. Either I was an imposter, or I had somehow managed to sit through class for several weeks without so much as learning a single thing. Unfortunately, it was the latter and not the former. So I got up, handed him the test and walked out of class. In that situation, I guess you could say I "failed" the test.

Sometimes a test will come in the form of a child. Say the kid disobeys you. Repeatedly. Then as you fetch your friendly wooden spoon out of the baking implements drawer, the aforementioned child -- who is very athletic -- runs up into his room and shuts the door and locks it. (Editor's note: Don't mention that Eli does those types of things. Author's reply: I won't. I wouldn't want to embarrass him.) In that situation, the test might be after not being able to find a key to the door, not losing your temper and taking a few steps back and crashing into the door, then through the door, like a crazed, steroid-fueled linebacker. That may not be the proper way to handle that test of a 4-year-old whose immature actions include fleeing the scene of his crimes and managing to make it upstairs to the safety of his room to avoid "facing the music." To handle the test, keep your cool. You are the adult after all.

Other tests come in the form of trusting God in financial situations. Or, um, let's see...oh! Here's a good one. Let's say, hypothetically speaking, God took you all the way across this great country to go to a school of ministry for a year. And before you left your good job, your comfortable home, your friends and everything else, you felt the Lord promise you that you'll get your job back when you get back home based on a portion of Scripture in II Kings about the Shunamite woman. But then in the course of that year the company you work for goes bankrupt. They start laying people off like crazy. They impose a hiring freeze. But you head back anyways after finishing the schooling, even though your job isn't guaranteed. You start to think you're crazy and that maybe you should be looking a little harder for a job (kind of a "Plan B" type of thing). But then on the drive home, let's say you're in Tennessee a day away from home, your boss calls and says congratulations it's Christmas and your birthday all in one because you're getting your job back. That situation, trusting the Lord when it seems by the world's standards that it's a pretty ridiculous thing to do, that's called a "test." Lord willing, you'll pass that test.

And then there's pregnancy tests. Let's say, hypothetically speaking, you've had 12 kids. And you're youngest is, oh, 15 months old. And you start to feel a little funny. You've been losing weight by dieting and exercising and then one day you're not losing weight anymore. And you just feel a little off. So you take a pregnancy test. How do you think that would turn out?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dressed For Church!

As you can see from the photo of the #11 Sabo, Ezra got into the dress up box. Big time. He asked if he could go to church like this. Um, no. Nice try, though. His older brothers, Ethan and Taylor, are always so horrified when the little guys get into the dress up box and come out looking something like this. Little do they know that they did the same thing.
I have to admit, he's a cute ballerina. And the necklace and pink shoes are really working for him. Our dress up box has quite a collection of gear due to years and years of donations. From Claire's ballerina outfits, to Spiderman costumes, to camo jackets and pirate costumes, there's clothes for every occasion in there.
Except for church. We'll just stick to the shirt and shorts he was wearing under the ballerina outfit. And we have some sandals he could wear to church that are a little less scandalous than the pink Barbie heels.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Down in the marsh grass in southeast Gloucester is the land of Guinea. It's hard to explain Guinea. It's just different. Many of the men who live down there still make a living plying the waters of Chesapeake Bay for blue crab, oysters and fish. It's a hard life and it takes a stubborn, hardworking man to make a go of it.

Legend goes that following the surrender of the British under Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, deserters from the vanquished foreign foe took up residence in the Guinea marshes. Today the Guineamen, who may or may not be descended from Revolutionary War losers, speak a distinct form of Southern English that must be experienced to appreciated. It usually involves the word, "Bubba." If I'm hearing it, my typical response is, "Um, could you say that again?"

I was down in Guinea today working on a story for the Daily Press and snapped a bunch of photos. You'll see a typical Guinea house (notice it's raised up; after Hurricane Isabel roared through in 2003, many of the houses got a lift to avoid getting flooded during the next go round), typical Guinea water views, a typical dead Guinea fish in a typical Guinea skiff and another view of a typical Guinea house hidden behind typical Guinea overgrown marsh grass with typical leaves that cut you like they were a saw, as a typical Guineawoman told me.
Guinea is a great, fascinating place peopled by fascinating people. I'm of a mind to spend more time down there. If I spend more time down there visiting with the locals and catching up on my Bubba-speak, maybe I'll even be able to hold a conversation with a real-life Guineaman.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Character Building

Ethan turns 16 tomorrow, exactly six days after MerriGrace turned 11. MerriGrace had her birthday at church camp and she made the best of it despite suffering the effects of taking a spill and spraining her right index finger. It looks nasty, let me tell you. The length of her finger is black and blue and yellow and swollen. But it's getting better. Ethan thinks for his birthday he'd like to have a bunch of buddies over for a killer game of Wiffle ball.

When we got home a month ago, Ethan was invited to play for an AAU baseball team from Gloucester. It's a team he's played on before and although he hadn't played baseball in a year, he loves the game. Always has. He's been blessed with talent and has made All-Star teams routinely. But he was rusty, as expected after a year off. Still, he figured he'd give it a shot and at the least get some practice in before fall ball starts in September. The team had three games this weekend, one Friday night and a double-header Sunday evening. In all the games he got one at-bat -- he grounded out to the shortstop -- and got to play several innings in right field. I'm not sure the last time Ethan played right field. He's always played second or third base, but hey, he'll go where the coach tells him. Taylor played with him most of the years and he couldn't remember when he played right field either. But Friday night, Ethan ran down a fly ball and caught it over his head for a huge out in the bottom of the last inning to help preserve a 4-3 win.

Despite hardly playing, he kept a good attitude. It's something I can learn from. I'm working on it, too. Every parent wants to see their kid play and perform well. Especially when some of the kids on the team have some real 'tude problems; one boy hit a pop up and jogged a few steps before stopping. If I was coaching and he hadn't run out that pop up, he would have been sitting next to me on the bench. During the game Sunday that started at 5 o'clock -- the second game was scheduled to start immediately afterward at 7:15 -- the pitcher for Ethan's team was having a tough outing and getting shelled in the early innings. The game ended a short time later under the mercy rule, when the opponents hit the 15-run mark. Before that happened, though, the first pitcher on Ethan's team got pulled and he moped over to the bench and sat down and wallowed in pity. Ethan went up to him to give him a word of encouragement. Then he tried to look on the bright side, as only a teen-age boy can. "Hey, look at it this way," Ethan said, "at least we'll be done in time for dinner." The pitcher couldn't help himself. He laughed.