Dec 28, 2007

Christmas At Home

Christmas Morning at the Maycocks (Wow, I just noticed we've got quite a profusion of tropical beauty right outside our window!)

For Thanksgiving, as you know, we pull out all the stops. But when Christmas rolls around, the perfect celebration for Babs and I is a low-key one. Some of you will remember how hectic last year's Christmas Day was, with the multiple social engagements throughout the day and the inconvenient power outage. Well, this year we had the Christmas we love--up late on Christmas Eve, getting up late on Christmas morning and snacking on beefstick, cheese & tricuits (our traditional Christmas morning breakfast for several years now), opening stockings full of each other's favorite candies, bottled drinks, and magazines for leisure browsing later in the day, and then opening gifts together. While Thanksgiving is all about dressing the house up to the nines, Christmas is all about a comfortable disorder--crumpled wrapping paper and new gifts that stay on the living room floor all throughout Christmas day (and sometimes the next day too!). We stay in our pajamas until late in the afternoon, curled up on the couches reading our Christmas day "guilty pleasures"--Glamour or People for Babs and Esquire or GQ for me--and napping when the mood strikes.

When we're in the mood for some "real" food, around mid-afternoon we make up a few Christmas dinner favorites--a green bean casserole and another Maycock tradition, Holiday Chicken (vegetarian Tender Bits battered and deep fried, marinated in a cranberry and Russian dressing sauce and baked in the oven). We leave the complete, multiple-entree and side dish with dessert feasting for Thanksgiving. On Christmas, we eat whatever we feel like eating.

We call up the folks back on the Mainland and chat for awhile. We miss them, of course, but Babs and I have been sharing Christmas, just the two of us, for a long time now. We're used to it.

Finally, as the sun disappears at the end of another Christmas day, we finally leave the house for the church Christmas party, feeling rested, relaxed, and grateful for another quiet Christmas at home.

I hope your Christmas was as special to you, as our was to us! Happy Holidays everyone!

Me 'n Babs: Christmas Eve, 2007

I have to admit, Babs and I are pretty big on tradition when it comes to Christmas--the foods we eat, the music we listen to, and our little seasonal rituals, among them Christmas Eve at the Paez's. If I recall our first Christmas Eve with Carol Paez and her clan would have been six years ago, and we've been there for every Christmas Eve ever since. As always, it was leisurely, fun, and memorable, just like any holiday gathering with some of your dearest friends in the world should be.

Carol and Babs, Christmas Eve, 2007

Keisha Paez, home from college, with her fella.

This Paez, I refer to as "The Photographer"--he takes some really great pictures.

Some of the Paezes and guests play with sparklers on the porch of the Paez house.

Carol is big on games and it seems like every year she's got a brand new one for us to play. I can't remember the name of this one but it's basically like charades but you have to use the props that come with the game to get people to guess different words or phrases related to a given topic. It was a LOT of fun. Here one of the guests handles the props as she tries to get her team to guess. . .well, something.

Christmas morning mess at the Maycocks

On the phone with Mom on Christmas Day

Frying up the holiday "chicken"

Veronyka with a bunch of church kids at the annual church Christmas party. I believe the kids are supposed to be red-nosed reindeer.

These unexpected guests showed up at the Christmas party at the church, perhaps looking for their owners, the Piersons, who are gone on vacation. That's Tasi with Babs on the left and below are Tasi and Jelli.

The day after Christmas, Babs and I had a tasty Mexican lunch at Tijuanas with two former students, Aya, who is in Saipan for a week visiting friends (she's living in Hawaii now where she's in her junior year in the social work program at Hawaii Pacific Univeristy) and her former classmate, Myla who is working here on Saipan. From L to R, above, Aya, Myla, Babs, Me and Derek (Myla's boyfriend).

Babs and Aya

New Teachers! We've started a special winter school for ESL students visiting from Korea. Students will come and go for the next three months to study English while on vacation from their regular schools in Korea. Due to the large number of students this year, our winter students will be meeting at the church instead of our campus and will be taught by teachers hired specially for the winter school. Here are the first two, Antonee and Girlie. They arrived last Sabbath afternoon and began teaching the day after Christmas. From what I hear, they're doing a great job.

Kettle Brand Chips. The best chips ever!

So Babs and I were in the grocery store the other day and I saw these chips sitting on an endcap. The flavors looked interesting, the packaging was very eco-cool and organic-y, and I made an impulse buy, snatching up a bag of Black Pepper and Sea Salt flavored chips. Babs and I finished an entire bag in the time it takes to drive from the grocery store back to our house (less than 10 minutes!). I normally don't care one way or the other for potato chips, but these are GOOOOD! I bought Babs a bag of Sea Salt & Vinegar for her stocking, she bought the same for me, and I picked up an extra bag of Tuscan Three Cheese as well. We haven't opened these bags yet. . .we're planning to take them with us to the Mandi next week, but you can rest assured that once they're opened, they won't last long.

So look for Kettle Brand chips at your local grocer--I'm willing to bet you'll agree with me that they are the best chips ever! (They should pay me for advertising their product, don't you think?)

Dec 25, 2007

This years team at the halfway mark: Back row, L to R, Judith,our creative, committed, outstanding 5-7 Homeroom teacher; Missy, our fundraising coordinator and all-round school cheerleader back for her second tour of duty; Mai--also back for a second year--our 3/4 teacher and one of the best teachers I've ever worked with; Eva, our 1/2 teacher with a powerful voice and heart of gold; Veronyka, our kindergarten teacher and passionate missionary; Amy, our skillful and professional pre-school director; Joeiy, our reliable "lifesaver" at both pre-school and elementary campuses.

Middle Row: Me--the lone male this year (trust me there are worse things than working with a bevy of beautiful, brainy, and talented women) ; Babs, our bold and beautiful leader; Virle; our hardworking accountant and Bab's right hand for three years now.

Front Row: Jessica, our spirited and dedicated ESL/Bible/P.E./Science teacher and Riki, our super-cool and super-committed pre-school teacher

Last year, I called them rock stars. This year--maybe because I've been watching last season's episodes of Heroes on DVD during my break, but more likely because in a letter he wrote me a few weeks back no less an entity than "Mr. Incredible" himself (aka Grant Graves) referred to them as such--I call them action heroes.

Halfway through the year, they're going strong. The year hasn't always been easy. There have been dark times, times when despair and disillusionment threatened to overwhelm. There have been times when they've felt they've let themselves and others down. But like heroes always do, they've picked themselves up with a groan and a wince and thrown themselves back into the battle. And they're still here. Still fighting. They are making a difference that will last a lifetime. They give 100% of themselves to the kids and to the school, they've worked hard, they've refused to give up. I feel lucky to have them on our team and I remain convinced that God brought them each for a special purpose here in Saipan.

Right now they're scattered all over the globe--literally. Judith an Jessica are backpacking through Southeast Asia. Riki is discovering Pohnpei. Mai and Eva are in North America, and a few of us--Vero, Missy, Amy, Virle, Joeiy, and Babs & I are holding down the fort here in Saipan. But we'll be back together with the start of the new year, ready to dive back into the fray. New adventures await and I have no doubt these heroes will rise to the challenge!

The Runners: Jessica, Judith, Mai, and myself go running together three times a week. Here we pose for our portrait, ready to race!

Dec 23, 2007

This Year's Christmas Play "Mission: Possible"

The Nativity

This year our school returned a Christmas favorite at SDA, Mission: Possible, a Christmas play with Mission Impossible schtick. This is the third time that SDA School has done this play. The first production was in 1997, the year before Babs and I came to Saipan, and the second was in 2001, just before Babs became principal. It's a cute script with wonderful catchy songs, and on top of covering the usual Nativity basics--the stable, the shepherds, the wisemen and so on--it manages to highlight the reason Jesus came in the first place--for our salvation. For a Christmas play, it has a strong gospel message yet without being preachy or pushy. Plus it's a lot of fun! To the tune of the Mission Impossible theme, The choir creeps on stage dressed in black and wearing shades, there's a stable clubhouse with secret entrances, a showstopping bluesy King Herod number, and a "sandal phone"--a piece of high-tech heavenly hardware used by the angelic heroes of our story Agent 99 and her sidekick the Trip. The story revolves around the Bethlehem Kids, who are trying to solve the mystery surrounding the details of Jesus' birth and also Trip who for 35 billion years has been trying to earn his "wings" as an fully authorized Triple A agent.

I directed the play for the first time this year, and I'm happy to say that I was very un-stressed throughout the entire production. I'm not sure why--there certainly were a lot of details to worry about, but for some reason I remained resolutely worry-free. Perhaps, it was because a lot of the people working with me did a lot of stressing and worry! Babs rehearsed for hours with the choir and the soloists, Judith worked really hard to create quirky, fun, and creative costumes, as well as making the program for the evening. Missy and her team did a standout job on the set and backdrops, Eva, Veronyka, and Mai wrangled the younger kids during the younger program (Eva even got into a sheep costume to keep an eye on the little ones during the sheep scene), and Jessica managed to collect all the props and run the sound system. I deeply grateful for all the effort they put in to this play and in my opinion, they are the ones that made Mission: Possible possible!

Backstage in the hectic hour leading up to the opening curtain.

Our heros! Almost Angel Agent Trip, above and Triple A Agent 99, below.

In addition to the usual Biblical headgear, Judith had all the shepherds wear t-shirts she made with the slogan I Heart Sheep. Love it!

"King Herod" reinvented by Judith as a girl gansta. She was brilliant in the role.

Two of the Bethlehem Kids.

Our Innkeeper.

As usual the pre-school kids kicked things off with a mini-program of their own.

Here are the sheep on stage. (This pics special for Britni. . .see any familiar faces Brit? I confess I did refer to one of them in a moment of aggravation as a "black sheep". . .sorry abut that).

"Herod" belts out "Go Down to Bethlehm", with our "Wise women", Trip, and Agent 99 on back up. (We had a real shortage of boy actors so a lot of the traditionally male roles like the innkeeper, Herod, and the wise men were given to girls).

The angels reveal themselves to the shocked Bethlehem Kids as Mary and Joseph prepare to flee to Egypt.

Agent 99 breaks down the plan of salvation to the Bethlehem Kids during the song "Mission of His Heart"

Curtain Call: Herod's "Fan Girls" and Rabbis

Curtain Call: Wise Women and Shepherds

Curtain Call: The Bethlehem Kids

Curtain Call: Trip and 99 (Notice Trip is now wearing the Triple A belt, cap, and wings having successfully earned his Triple A status at the end of the play).

Curtain Call: Missy's crew. Three of the boys also worked with Kinder and first grade students during the play, keeping them out of trouble and they did a fantastic job.

Dec 16, 2007

Ah, it's that time of year again. . .

Check out my latest entry at Maycock Media Mix where I recommend some the very best Christmas music out there. Over the next week or so I'll add a few of the tunes here on this blog so you can hear some of the songs I talk about in my entry.

On a more somber note, also new in Maycock Media Mix, is my review of John Krakauer's book Into the Wild. It's a book worth reading so I hope I don't scare you off with my rather grim take-home message from it.

By the way, the picture above is of Miss Eva, our 1st and 2nd grade teacher helping decorate our Christmas tree on the night of the at our house staff Christmas party, Sunday, December 16, 2007.

Dec 15, 2007

Taking Care of Business: The 2007 GMM Triennial Session

The Bored. . .ahem, the Board Members. . .

Two weeks ago, from December 4 thru December 8, Babs and I were in Guam for Guam Micronesia Mission of Seventh-day Adventists Triennial Session. Every three years, delegates from all the Adventist churches in Micronesia gather together in Guam for several days to elect new church officers, make amendments to mission policy, and generally chart the future of the Adventist church in this part of the world. Think of a church board meeting that stretches out over eight hours a day for three days with hundreds of board members and over a hundred agenda items and you’ve got a pretty accurate picture of what the Triennial Session is like.

It’s not always very exciting.

The Agenda

Here's somebody making a report of some kind.

There were moments where I struggled to stay awake, moments where I rolled my eyes as someone especially in love the sound of their own voice insisted on questioning the simplest agenda item. There were also moments where things got heated—especially when the agenda had anything to do with money. But there were inspiring moments too, such as when the delegates spontaneously raised thousands of dollars in about an hour to help a beleaguered church in the Marshall Islands buy a new boat engine so the pastor there could reach his far-flung parishioners.

Most of us tend to be dismissive of this type of church business—I know I am. We think it’s somehow un-spiritual to dirty our hands with the humdrum business of budgets and financial statements and filling the gaps in the church bureaucracy. And Lord knows, it’s pretty boring work. How much more exciting to be “loving people for Jesus” and “reaching out” and having uplifiting worship services! That seems like real spirituality.

But the thing is, someone’s got to pay the bills. Just as marriage isn’t all hearts and flower petal-strewn bedrooms, the bride of Christ—the church has mundane business to attend to. In a relationship someone has to do the dishes, clean the toilet, balance the checkbook—and the love will be sorely tried if those things aren’t done. Likewise the church must talk about budgets, and wage packages, and retirement plans in addition to the feel-good praise and worship stuff. And in the church too, the neglect of these things can also try our relationship with God.

And really, when you think about it--feeding 5000 hungry people is kind of humdrum task. Jesus could have dropped the whole "man shall not live by bread alone" scripture on his audience and continued to focus on the "higher things." But instead he made sure everyone got taken care of, and He was even organized enough to make sure the leftovers got picked up!

Babs reads off the names of the nominating committee (chosen by the Committee to Nominate the Nominating Committee, which we were both on) with Southern Asia Pacific Division officer Gary Rustad. Thank goodness I wasn't nominated to the nominating committee! They met after the regular session was over in the evenings to choose the myriad mission workers. It's all very democratic though, as we all vote on all the names the committee chooses. Our church is very much a representative democracy.

The Palauan Delegates sing a special song during one of the devotionals.

My Official Nametag.

We live in an entertainment oriented culture where everything has to be FUN! That attitude often seeps into our spiritual lives. We think if we’re not utterly stimulated by every spiritual activity, if we’re not having fun, then it must not be of any value. But the reality, not everything is—or should be--a barrel of fun. The work accomplished in Guam was important, and I’m glad I could contribute in some small way to the functioning of our church in Micronesia.

Plus I got to see a lot of friendly faces, some old some new, and that was a lot of fun.

Some pictures:

Babs and I with Arlene and Daniel Lacayan. The Lacayan's were in Chuuk the year I was a student missionary there--way back in 1994. Daniel is now the principal of the SDA School in Chuuk. They were sooo excited to see us and there enthusiastic love for us really touched my heart. Daniel was a real mentor to me in Chuuk--he literally saved me in the classroom with his ideas in suggestions in the early days when I didn't know what I was doing.

The Taitigues. Pastor Bill Taitigue, his wife Bernie and his three daughters (one of which is pictured here--the others are now in college) were in Saipan when we first moved here. Pastor Taitigue was the pastor at our church and our neighbor on our compound. They live on their home island of Guam now and they took us out for dinner and ice cream Wednesday night. It was great to catch up with them.

The Spivas. Jim is principal of the SDA School in Majuro and Chrystal teaches there. They're a fun couple. We hadn't seen them since the teacher orientation in Honolulu.

Barbara with the father of one her former 2nd grade students from when she was a student missionary in Palau 15 years ago.

One of Virle's friends, Ryan Ibanez, the principal of the SDA School in Ebye says hello! I met him for the first time when he was working as an accountant at Chuuk SDA School when I took our drama team REAL Christian Theater on tour to Chuuk and Pohnpei in 2003.

Babs with another familar face from her student missionary days, Mrs. Tua Mtule. Mrs Mtule is one of the leading ladies of the church in Palau, and she is just a wonderfully kind and sweet soul. It shows in her smile doesn't it.

The Martins. Pastor Doug Martin is the pastor of the largest Adventist church in Palau. He and Barbara go way back as he used to be her religion teacher in high school. I also remember him from my own high school years because he conducted a few weeks of prayer at Forest Lake Academy. He is without question the funniest man I have ever met in my life! He makes Robin Williams look like an undertaker. His wife Geri is the principal of the school in Palau. We went out to eat with them Thursday night and the four of us laughed and laughed all night long!