Sep 18, 2009

Resolutions for an All-New Year

It's time once again for my now annual tradition of posting my resolutions for the coming year. As I've explained before, for me the year really begins anew in August rather than January, and this year appears to have outdone even last year in the "newness" category. Last year, it was new life--Elijah--in our lives and this year it is a whole new life for all three of us. A new job, a new home, even a new car. We're starting fresh, and there are few key things I want to do as we begin again here in America.

Live the "Big Life."
That's how my sister Dawn described our lives in Saipan. It seemed the pages of this blog were ever bursting with gorgeous photos of tropical paradise, packed with exotic accounts of adventures on the other side of the world. Here we are off for a jaunt to a foreign country, now we're at some blissful beach around the corner from our home, and here again we're off on another adventure. It was an exciting life. It was the Big Life.

The expectation is that now that we've arrived in that most unexotic of states, Ohio, the Big Life is over. I'm determined to defy that expectation. I'm convinced that the Big Life is all about attitude rather than latitude and it can be found even here among the cornfields and big box stores of suburban Ohio. After all my students in Saipan would have told you that Saipan was the most boring place on earth. They'd have given anything to be living it up in exciting Ohio. So you see--adventure is in the eye of the beholder.

So, my goal is to keep right on living the Big Life here in America--to get off the beaten track, to be always ready for the next adventure, to not let the pace and race of living here suck all the excitement out of life. We've already been to an outdoor play at a park right here in Springboro, that we didn't know existed. We went to an Arts Fair on lovely summer Sunday afternoon last month. Sitting in the late afternoon sun listening to a local folk band jam, savoring a freshly made blackberry crepe and chatting with Carol (via cell phone), it almost felt like being back in Saipan at one of those great island gatherings like the flame tree festival. Babs wants to check out the local art house theater. There's a couple of interesting restuarants in Dayton that we'd like to check out. Columbus is sure to have lots of cool spots with it's Ohio State University and the attendant bohemian culture that most surely come with the college crowd. There's even local travel--quick flights to Florida, drives to Chicago, we're going to Portland for Thanksgiving--I'd really love to get up to Canada sometime. So, I'm not sure what adventure is around the corner. I've been telling Babs we really need to check out the Amish. . .

Look for Beauty
"There's so much beauty around us and just two eyes to see. But I'm looking." So sings Rich Mullins in the song "Here in America" that has become the theme of my new life, and I'm determined to do that--to keep looking. One of the things that I knew I'd miss in Saipan was her verdant natural beauty. The crystal blue sea, the abundant tropical greenery, the brilliant blossoms of exotic flowers, the many scenic vistas. But I was determined to find beauty here in America as well. And so far I have found in abundance. Our temporary digs here at Barbara's parents house easily rival Saipan for incidental beauty--the towering oaks and maples now just beginning to turn to autumn colors, the pines and firs, the vast green lawn. This is truly one of the lovliest neighborhoods I've ever seen. Babs and I have enjoyed sitting out on the porch swing at twighlight after Elijah has gone to bed, eating our supper, catching up on our days, and enjoying the pleasure of each other's company.

There's beauty to be found along the freeways too--the radiant, flaming sunrises in the morning, and rolling farmland bathed in great beams of sunshine that are much happier reminders of the second coming of Christ than the ominous fundamentalist Christian warning signs ("If you die today do you know where you'll spend eternity?" "Jesus is real!" "Hell is real!") that occasionally mar the landscape. While men bungle the proclaiming of His name, the heavens do still declare the glory of God.

Of course I miss Saipan, but my eyes are filled with the beauty of God's creation on this other far side of the world. While I dread the cold of winter, I'm looking forward to the new beauties that will come with the changing of the seasons.

Beauty on My Street: The Elijah Walk
Virtually since the day he was born, Elijah and I have a little tradition of taking walks together. When he was just weeks old, we would walk up the quiet street outside the teacher's housing compound in Saipan, turn around at the curve and the road and come back. We might make the circuit only once or do it a couple of times.

Now that we're in Ohio we have a new walking route. It's a lovely stroll and we have a couple places we always stop to visit on the way. These walks are really special time for my son and me. I love holding him in my arms, talking to him about the simple sights along the way, watching him reach out his little hands to touch the pine needles, oak leaves, an mailbox. I am pleased by his little squeals of excitement when a neighbor walks by with their dog. This walk is simple pleasure defined. It's our special father-son time--time I'll always remember and treasure.

I think some these pictures I took below give a good glimpse of the beauty right outside our front door. I took the photos just before sunset about two weeks ago, just after Elijah and I took our walk (it was too hard to take the pictures with him in my arms).

I plan to take similar photos each month for the next year, and post them all a year from now so you can see the changing of the seasons on the Elijah Walk. (I hope we get at least one good snowfall for this reason alone!)

The beginning of our walk.

First stop: The Pine Tree

Next: The Oak Tree. You can see where Elijah has yanked off part of one of the lower leaves.

The Mailbox. We always check the mailbox and raise and lower the flag. I'm looking forward to the day when Elijah will figure out how to open the mailbox by pulling on the metal handle on the bottom rather than the stationary top part.

Heading down the street to the cul-de-sac.

The farmer's field at the end of the road.

Heading back home.

We always take a tour of Grandma's garden in the backyard.

Then we go to the front and sit on the porch swing, rock, and take in the view (below).

Decorate my classroom
Perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses as a teacher after over a decade in the classroom is the appearance of my room. For years, my students in Saipan suffered with a room that featured the same few posters that had been put up at the beginning of the year and most likely stayed up until June; a room that was often cluttered and junky; a room that uninspiring, uninteresting, and unappealing to the eye. I told myself I made up for the lack with inspiring teaching and interesting lessons. And maybe that was true, but it wasn't a good excuse.

It's hard because unlike Barbara, I'm not naturally good at visual creativity. Often my attempts at artistic creations come off looking sloppy and uninspired. But I'm determined to make an effort and shore up this area of my teaching. I think I'm off to a good start. I created not one, but two, bulletin boards for my classroom this year--I haven't done a bulletin board in years! And guess what? As we approach the end of the first month of school next week, I intend to change those bulletin boards I worked so hard on. My goal is to change my bulletin boards and decor once a month throughout the school year and to keep my decorations consistent with the lessons I'm teaching in class. I want my classroom to be as interesting, stimulating, inspiring, and educational as I strive my for my lessons to be.

My first bulletin board of the year. It's going to come down in the next week or so and a new one is going up.

This little bulletin board introducing myself to my new students has already been dismantled and a new one featuring one of the students will be going up this week. I plan to change this one every three or four weeks, each time featuring a different student.

Learn some music
This one will be tough. I almost hesitate to resolve to do it, as I don't like making resolutions I don't have any intention to keep it. But I want to intend to keep this one and so maybe that's a start. I want to learn to make some music--specifically I want to learn enough basic chords to be able play some simple worship songs. I have no illusions of becoming a virtuoso, but I want to be able accompany some simple praise to the Lord. You see, I hate singing acappella for worship. I always have. We did it when I was a kid at family worship and I didn't enjoy it. As an adult, I still don't. When it's my turn to lead staff worship, I always forgo the group singing and go straight to the devotional thought. For some reason, it's so much easier and so much more enjoyable for me to sing when there is some kind of accompaniment. Don't get me wrong--I love to sing (anyone who has seen me with a karaoke mic knows this). I just don't like to sing alone.

So if worship at home is to be less of chore and more of a joy we're going to need to have some musical accompaniment and its up to us to provide it (at least until Elijah is old enough to play an instrument--something we think he's likely to do. He has a better sense of rhythm than his old man and he loves to sing and dance). Babs plays the piano--though not chords. I would like to learn the guitar. There are a lot of obstacles to this--I don't even own a guitar for one and our current budget constraints make it unlikely I'll get one soon, but I wanted to go ahead and put this goal "out there" if only to make it more likely that I'll make it happen than if I kept it to myself.

Last Year's Resolutions.
A success rate of less than 50% isn't great, but hey at least I got achieved some of what I wanted:

Be an active dad: I think I've done well with this one. Elijah did end up going on a few of my favorite hikes, including Forbidden Island. We went to the beach together, and of course we have our walks together. It's harder now that I work so much and only see him for 30 minutes or so during the weekdays, but we'll keep looking for active, exciting father-son things to do on the weekends. Right now, I'm committed to Sabbath afternoons with him and also half of Sunday so Babs can have a little break after a week of full-time child care.

Be a better citizen: I kept my resolution and voted in my first ever election this past June, just before leaving Saipan. It was an open Republican primary for the governorship of Saipan. My good friend Galvin Deleon Guerrero was running for Lt. Governor with former-governor-looking-for-a-comebakc Juan N. Babauta. They lost the primary, but I'm still glad I voted. I'm already registered here in Ohio and intend to vote in local, state, and national elections.

The remaining three. . .well, not so much progress there. The novel still sits in it's first draft form. I've barely touched it since Elijah was born. I'm still resolved to return to it sooner or later. Family worship has yet to take off (maybe the guitar chords will help?), and I'm going to schedule a dental cleaning. . .soon. Real soon. For sure.

By the grace of God, the new resolutions will be kept, the ongoing ones continued, and the old unfulfilled ones realized in the coming year here in America.

Sep 7, 2009

Elijah's First Birthday!

Elijah. Sunday, August 31, 2008.

Elijah. Monday, August 31, 2009

It's been almost two weeks since Our Little Feller celebrated his first birthday. The pictures for this blog were uploaded about a week ago. Such is the busy-ness of life that I'm only now getting to finish this post in the few minutes before we leave for Chicago this morning.

What a blessing Elijah has been! Every day of this past year has been precious as we've watched him grow from a tiny newborn to a big-and-blocky baby. We remember his first smile, his first teeth, his graduation to baby food and from that to regular "people food". We remember when his cries turned to gurgles and then expressive shrieks and finally inscrutable baby words. We remember when he first rolled over, when he first got up on his knees, then began to crawl, and finally pull himself up on the furniture on cruise along on two legs. Just in the past few weeks he's started pushing himself up to standing without support and holding that position for longer and longer times. I imagine walking on his own can't be far behind.

A big thanks to all of Elijah's fans and friends--his Saipan Aunties, his nanny in Saipan, the teachers and church members, the aunts and uncles, Nona and Grandma and Grandpa. You've made this first year of his life all the more special. Even though he won't remember it, we will.

Elijah's birthday celebration was more of a season than a particular day--kind of like Christmas. The party began on Sabbath, August 29, with a gathering at the Leens home attended by a few friends and family in Ohio and a larger group from Saipan, present not only in spirit but also through the modern magic of the webcam! For a little more than an hour they gathered around the laptop in our old house (now occupied by Amy, the preschool director and acting principal of the school) and watched Elijah. We had our laptop set up across the table from him so he could see them too. We were so touched that so many of Elijah's old friends in Saipan took the time to share the celebration with us.

The Ohio Guets: From L to R--Barbara's sister Jenny and her husband Matt; Jenny's friend and Elijah fan, Emily Cowl; Mom and Dad Leen; Babs and the Birthday Boy; Keith and Tracy, old Cincinnati friends of Barbara's with their two sons.

The Saipan Party: Elijah's nanny, Venus, front and center. From L to R: Virle, Venus' husband Courtney, Girlie, Crystal, and Ken. Blurry in the back or not visible: Joeie, Amy, Megan, Linda Capilitan, and Edna. I believe I recall seeing Angie there earlier too.

The Cake, courtesy of J and Evelyn Carlos. They couldn't attend as they had just given birth to their own baby boy, Benjamin Michael, and were still in the hospital.

One of Tracy's boys fired up about the Feller's birthday!

Babs planned a few outdoor activites since Elijah loves to be outside, including bubble blowing, above, and a "Does He or Doesnt He" game, below. There was one thing on the list that at the time he "didn't" do, but a few days later he did it for the first time. I think it was standing up on his own.

More bubble blowing!

Elijah opens his gifts (while I try to get the webcam mircophone to work in the background. It never did despite working perfectly the day before when Virle and I did a test run. We ended up using my cell phone on speaker phone).

Elijah and Grandma

Elijah with his little friends. Thanks for the helicopter boys!

Elijah with his aunt and uncle. ("Cousins" Bailey and Shiloh, the dogs, not pictured, though they were present at the party and throughout Matt and Jenny's stay much to Elijah's excitement and trepidation).

Elijah and "Auntie Em"

Elijah with Tracy and Keith. This photo was taken at the end of the party after he'd bathed and changed into his pajamas. It was already past his bedtime.

Elijah enjoys his birthday supper. He had his favorite foods--spaghetti and french fries!

Getting ready for his first taste of birthday cake.

Listen closely, and you'll hear Elijah's Saipan friends singing along via the web cam.

Elijah's first taste of cake (and his first taste of sugar!)

We're so proud of our big boy!

Mmmm, guess he likes it!

Time for the bath! Elijah and I are shirtless because his entire shirt was covered in frosting and I didn't want my shirt to get the same way while we took him to the tub.

I can't think of a better way to spend a Sabbath afternoon than celebrating one of his more recent creations! We praise God for the precious gift of our son and we pray that this next year of his life will continue to see him grow healthy, happy, and strong, surrounded by the love of family, friends, and his Creator.

Happy Birthday Elijah William Maycock! We love you!

I'll be doing a month-by-month series of photos of Elijah over the past year in his blog this next week. Look for it!