Jul 31, 2010

A Few Florida Photos

The Piersons! We zipped down to Tampa on Sunday, July 18, 2010 to catch up with Ken, Crystal, and Baby Shylah who were in town visiting Crystal's parents and brother. We had a nice dinner with the Piersons and Crystal's family at Columbia, a Spanish restaurant, where this photo was taken.

We took a little family vacation to Florida to see my side of the family from July 16 to July 25. Here's a sampling of some of the friends and family we saw while there. Most of the account of this trip will be found in the Feller's blog, so check there for more pictures, videos, and details.

Ken, Crystal, and Shylah Pierson

The Feller chillin' with his Saipan "uncle" and "aunt."

A photo from Thursday, July 22, 2010-- our visit with Uncle Robert & Aunt Diana, and my youngest cousin Taylor, who at four years old is much closer to Elijah's age than mine.

Four generations: The boy, his dad, his grandmother, and great-grandmother

Jul 21, 2010

The Fourth Annual Inspirations List: 2010

It's time once again for one of my favorite posts of the year. I literally spend the entire preceeding year thinking about this entry and I'm so excited to be able finally bring this list online. It is such a wonderful thing to constantly be on the lookout for people who inspire you.

Perhaps some of my readers are wondering how I go about the process of choosing my heroes. I don't have a set number of slots to fill and I don't have a precise system or list of criteria I follow in choosing my heroes. My choices are not a judgement of how each person compares to other people I know. In fact, the main criteria I use in choosing my heroes is how they make me feel. At one point or another each person on my list is has made me go: "Wow! That is amazing. I want to be more like that!" When I get that feeling, I jot that name down in my pen-and-paper journal, and so the list builds throughout the year. Incidentally, because of this method, I know I'll never regret having chosen the people on my list--even if they were to somehow "change" or disappoint me in the future. The Inspirations list is about how these people inspire me now, at this moment in my life. I generally don't repeat names from year to year (otherwise Babs and the Feller would appear every year--they inspire me daily) unless something happens in relation to the person that inspires me in a whole new way. So far only one person has appeared twice on the Inspirations list-Virleshay Gayatin, who appeared once in 2007 and again in 2009.

This year's honorees include six women and one man. In the comic book world, most of the heroes tend be male. This year you could say I'm adding more Wonder Women to the rolls. Six on the list are people that I know personally, and one that, if there is any justice in this world, should only become more well known as time goes by. This year's honorees (as well those added to Inspirations lists in the years to come) will receive an invitation to attend a very special gala in Columbus in the spring of 2011, the Second Annual Heroes Reception put together by my 7th and 8th grade students and me. I know some won't be able to attend, but for those that do, it will be a very special evening.

Enough chit-chat. Let's get to the main event. Without further ado, let me introduce to you my inspirations for 2010:

Carol Leen
Angiemil Perez
Sharla Schroeder & Cyndi Rearrick
Jim Brothers
Crystal Bowersox

Carol Leen
I'm inspired by her quiet generosity

We wouldn't have the life we have now if it weren't for Mom Leen. When we first arrived back from Saipan, we were dependent on my income alone and couldn't afford to rent with just what I made. She and Dad let the three of us live in their home for more almost seven months until we got on our feet. With a three hour round trip commute every day, I needed to get a car of my own right away. She lent us the money for the down payment on our new car that enabled me to get to work every day. And when Babs found a job in Columbus, and we moved, she exceeded her previous generosity even more by giving us her car. At first we thought that gift was a merely a helpful convenience, but we quickly came to recognize that it was in fact an absolute necessity. We literally could not have continued to live in Columbus without that second car. These acts of generosity, along countless other smaller gifts, all came unsolicited. Mom Leen saw a need and offered to fill it, without expectation of reward, recognition, or repayment. She gave simply out of love. Mom Leen's the sort of hero who often goes unsung. She is unassuming, avoids the spotlight, and doesn't care to draw attention to herself. She exemplifies Christ's admonition to those that would give that the right hand not know what the left hand is doing. But while she may never sing her own praises, acknowledgement of what a difference she's made in our lives is long overdue. The band U2 often extends this accolade to their fans during their concerts and I offer it to Mom as well: "Thank you for giving us a great life."

Angiemil Perez
I'm inspired by her dedication

When push came to shove, Angie was there. In the darkest days of Saipan SDA School last fall, she was there to comfort, encourage, and pray with her colleagues. When the interim principal Amy Foote (a hero in her own right--see last year's Inspirations) needed a sounding board or shoulder to lean on, she was there. When the school needed a fundraiser, a facelift, a frontman, or a revamped website, she was there. She was even there to take our dog, Kimo to the beach! Last summer Angie said she wouldn't be returning to Saipan. She'd said that she'd come if she could and stay if she was able but it really didn't matter what she said. People say a lot of things. What mattered most was what she did. And what she did was show up in the trenches, doing what was needed, with her sense of humor, can-do spirit, and stalwart faith. Passion is great and commitment as admirable, but when you put the two together, you have what Angie exemplified this past year: Dedication.

A parable, paraphrased:

"What do you think? There was a Father who had a daughter. He went to her and said, 'Daughter, go and work today in the vineyard.'
" 'I will not,' she answered, but later she changed her mind and went.
"Did she do what the father wanted?"
"She did," they answered (Matthew 21:28-31)

Cyndi Rearrick & Sharla Schroeder
I'm inspired by their courage

It took more courage for Cyndi and Sharla to stay in Saipan for ten months than it did for us to stay for ten years. After all, never once in all the trials we faced as missionaries did we ever fear for our lives. They felt that sickening fear more than once last school year--when their homes were repeatedly burglarized, when one of their roommates was attacked less than a half mile from home and barely escaped. Sharla surely felt that fear when she literally struggled to keep her head above water while awaiting rescue after a freak wave swept her off a cliff on one of Saipan's rough east side beaches and into the raging sea. Were they afraid? Absolutely. Did they seriously consider throwing in the towel and going home? Undoubtedly. But courage is not the absence of fear, it is the choice to act in spite of the fear, and this past school year these two young women demonstrated remarkable courage. They stayed when everything screamed "Leave!" They stuck it out. It wouldn't have been unreasonable or dishonorable for them to say that enough was enough. Yet, somehow God gave them the will, the courage, to carry on through the tears, the anxiety, the discouragement, and the doubts. Why did they stay? Perhaps it was a sense of duty. Perhaps it was pride. My guess is it had a lot to do with a classroom of third and fourth graders who needed their teacher, seventh and eighth graders that expected Ms. Schroeder to show up for school come Monday. I bet their courage had a lot to do with love.

Just after she returned to the States this summer, I asked Sharla if she was glad she stayed. Her answer was a hard-earned, unequivocal, "Oh my, yes!"

Jim Brothers
I'm inspired by his devotion to my sister.

Jim likes to think of himself as just a regular guy, doing what regular guys do, but I'm glad to say Jim is wrong. These days men don't have such a great reputation. Our society's conventional wisdom says men are irresponsible. Unreliable. Unfaithful. They leave. The role of husband and father has fallen on hard times. But my brother-in-law Jim bucks the trend. In age of overgrown boys, he is a real man. In defiance of the societal stereotype, he is responsible, reliable, faithful. As the oldest brother I couldn't help but hope for my sister to find someone she could be happy with, some one who would love her unconditionally. Someone who would not merely like but truly treasure her. Well, Jim loves and appreciates Dawn--sees her for the rare and precious gem that she is. Jim and Dawn are just starting out on their journey together, and the road ahead will surely bring great joy and great sorrow, but their combined strength and fidelity, blessed by the God who brought them together in the first place will see them through. The world needs more men like Jim Brothers, and if little Jamie follows in his father's footsteps, the world will one day gain at least one more.

I'm inspired by her integrity

"DeepBlue" became my hero when she got in trouble. The day "DeepBlue" earned a detention--the only detention she would receive for the entire school year--was also the day she earned my respect and admiration. Ironically I can no longer recall what the exact circumstances were that lead to the disciplinary incident near the beginning of the year. What I do know is that I had questioned "DeepBlue" along with several of her classmates regarding some classroom mischief. While most of her classmates responses ran the usual gamut from wide-eyed "Who Me?" innocence to sullen denials, I was floored by "DeepBlue"'s response. "I didn't do it," she said, "but I did do something else"--and she admitted what she had done--"and I think I deserve a detention for that." This is integrity! Not to never to do wrong, but when you do wrong to step up, take up responibility, and accept the consequences. I've never been more proud of a student as I wrote out her detention letter, or more happy to speak to a parent about disciplinary action then was when I called her mom that night. As the school year continued I would learn that this kind of integrity is the hallmark of "DeepBlue's" character. She's a hard worker, has a great attitude, is consistently respectful, and carries herself with remarkable dignity. What I hope to teach my students--responsibility, respect, and a positive attitude--"DeepBlue" already understands. Indeed, I learned from her.

Crystal Bowersox
I'm inspired by her authenticity

Under the hot glare of the media spotlight, in noise of the 24-7 reality TV junkyard, it's not just her talent that's rare. I'm not so foolish as to claim to know what Crystal Bowersox is really like. I don't know her personally. All I've seen of her is her weekly appearances on last season's American Idol. Somehow--so far--she has survived the numbing, homegenizing starmaking machinery and emerged as someone different, someone unique. While her fellow contestants ranged from needy self-doubt to premature arrogance, she projected a remarkable mix of confidence and humility. While others struggled to figure who they were artistically, Crystal already knew. She exhibited compassion for her fallen competitiors and grace in her seemingly ineveitable victories. In an age when the ever-present eye of the camera seems to reveal increasingly false personas, physically, emotionally, and spiritually--where everything and everyone it seems, is an act, Crystal came across as refreshingly real. And of course she could sing everyone else under the table. Each week last spring, I was looked forward to seeing her on TV, not only for the original take on her song for that week, but to see something you don't see much any more on television (or, sadly, in real life)--a person with authenticity as real as her talent. She didn't win in the end, but if she is anything like what we saw in her performances, whether her star continues to rise or fades from public view, she will continue to shine to those for whom she is not merely a star but a daughter, mother, friend. As for this fan, I'll gladly buy a ticket if I get a chance to see Crystal Bowersox live in concert. After all, isn't it always great when you get a chance to see the real thing?

Jul 17, 2010

Our Songs: The Mat Kearney Concert

Mat Kearney sings his soul at the Alban, Saturday, July 10, 2010, St. Albans, West Virginia.

It just occured to me that live music has been a important part of the romance between Barbara and me. It's not immediately obvious as we've never been regular concertgoers, but then in Saipan there's not much to be had in terms of concerts beyond the local bar bands. But nonetheless, from the very beginnning "our songs" have been played live. Our first real date was to the best concert I've ever attended, a Rich Mullins show in South Bend, Indiana. In the years that followed we saw Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Jars of Clay, Michael Card, Caedmon's Call, and Rich Mullins (again) among others. Sometimes we went with friends, more often it was just the two of us--a drive to some far-flung town, dinner at a new restaurant, holding hands when we weren't clapping along to songs we loved by artists we admire. This has been the archetypical date night for us--a date night we hadn't had in years, until last weekend. So it was somehow appropriate that the artist we would be seeing is the one who sings "our songs." You know how some couples have "their song." Well, we have a whole album's worth of songs that are "ours"--all tunes by the one artist Babs and I are equally enthusiastic about--Mat Kearney.

Our first "real" date since Elijah was born was Saturday evening, July 10, to a Mat Kearney concert in the little town of St. Albans, West Virginia. On Sabbath afternoon, Barbara's parents came up from Dayton, with Barbara's sister, Jenny and her two dogs in tow. (Matt, Jenny's husband, is still in Minnesota closing up shop. Jenny got a new job in Cincinnati and they will be relocating there. Until their house sells, Jenny is staying with her parents in Dayton and Matt is in Minnesota). After providing them with detailed instructions for the Feller's care, the two of us jumped in the car and started for West Virginia. I was a little anxious about leaving Elijah. This would be the longest we'd both been apart from him, both in terms of time and distance. But after a few cell phone calls back home and receiving assurances that our son was doing just fine, I relaxed and enjoyed the drive.

And it was a beautiful drive. We headed southeast on OH-33 and within the hour the landscape changed dramatically the flat farmland giving way to rolling hills. Virtually all of the drive was on the old system of state roads and U.S. highways instead of the Interstate highways. You can't drive as fast on these roads that predate freeway travel--sometimes you're cruising along at 65 mph, but a few miles down the road, you're slowed by traffic lights and residential speed limits as you cruise through a small town. But in exchange for longer travel time you gain atmosphere--beautiful countryside, bucolic little towns, picturesque slices of Americana (On this jaunt through America's heartland I actually did see a Mail Pouch tobacco poster on the side of rotting barn, just like in the Rich Mullins song). The time seemed to fly by--Babs talked to my sister Dawn and to Carol, our friend from Saipan, on the cell, putting them on speakerphone so I could listen in. When we weren't talking on the phone, we played Mat Kearney tunes as a primer for the evening's concert, talked, and marveled at the beauty around us. We drove through the Hocking Hills, traced the Ohio River, and finally crossed into West Virginia about 40 miles from St. Albans.

A glimplse of the green hills of West Virginia from Main Street., St. Albans.

St. Albans is a charming little town nestled in the Appalachian foothills about fifteen miles from Charleston, the state capital. Like many small towns across America it seems to have seen better days. Babs and I arrived in St. Albans just before eight o'clock in the evening and walked Main Street a little bit before the concert. There were empty storefronts, and even the stores that were still in business seemed to be relics from another time.

Looking up Main Street, St. Albans, WV.

The heart of Main Street is the Alban the tiny old theater that was the venue for the concert. We couldn't figure out how Mat Kearney ended up at this little town in this theater so small that with door open, you could stand on the street and hear the performers on stage. There's no nearby college town or enclave of urban ex-patriots to explain the St. Alban's art scene--it would appear that Kearney's concert was simply the work of St. Albanians determined to keep the arts and culture alive in their town. We only spent a few hours in St. Albans, West Virginia, but I came away impressed by the spirit of this town--small but proud, open-hearted and open-minded.

St. Albans Celebrates the Arts (with high-quality recording artists, I might add)

The pride of Alban's art scene, the little Alban theater.

After our little walking tour, as the Sabbath faded with the sunset, we drifted into the Alban, arriving just after the opening act Jane Carrey (daughter of the famed Hollywood actor Jim Carrey) had left the stage. In a little place like this any seat would have been a good one, but we were able to find really good seats, on the left side of the stage, six rows back from the front. Seated next to us was a teacher from St. Albans who was working at a school in Saudia Arabia--a kindred spirit! His date was an aspiring jazz singer who would herself be singing at the Alban later this year.

Mat slipped on to stage with little fanfare, joined by only his friend and guitarist Tyler Burkum. What followed was a little more than an hour of Mat's finest work.

A relatively new artist, Mat Kearney has rapidly ascended the ranks of my favorite music to inhabit the rarified air occupied by U2 and Rich Mullins. I first heard his major label debut Nothing Left to Lose in the summer of 2007 and was instantly blown away. Mat’s music on that album was a perfect and original combination of rich, warm acoustic guitar, the occasional smooth rhythms of hip-hop style rhymes, and poetic, literary lyrics. I’d never heard anything like it before and was instantly hooked. During our annual week of teacher’s meetings in Hawaii that summer, Mat was in heavy rotation. To this day every time I hear the buoyant thrum of “Undeniable” it takes me right back to the drives over the mountains from Honolulu to Kailua. I hear “Nothing Left to Lose” was and I remember walking on hand in hand with my favorite girl along Waikiki ten years along into our journey together.

Later that year, J sent me some of Mat’s earliest work—songs like “Chicago”, “Memorial Stones”, and the song that has become my Favorite Song of All Time, the Theme Song of My Life, “Lifetime.” This “old-school” song (as Mat himself described it to me) is from his earliest days as a recording artist and is quite hard to find now. Unfortunately, I can’t post a link to YouTube because there isn’t one—that’s how rare it is—but I can direct you here to an 2007 entry where I posted the lyrics to this powerful song.

Mat emerged from too-cool-for-Christian-Contemporary-music obscurity when Grey’s Anatomy picked up one of his songs for their soundtrack. His heartfelt singer/songwriter vibe seemed to be a good match for the show and several songs of his ended up being played in various episodes. The Grey’s exposure thrust Mat into the mainstream limelight and his fan base expanded dramatically. His sophomore album, City of Black and White released last year, reflected this expansion with a more commercial sound and the retirement of the rapping over guitar chords that had been a key to his earlier style. Still, the melodies on these new songs were some of the best he’d ever written and the lyrics remained solidly literate, truthful, and fresh.

For this tour, Mat explained that he’d decided to go back to basics—a simple acoustic tour, just him and Tyler in a van criss-crossing the country playing at a bunch of tiny venues like the Alban. Ours was the first show of the tour, and I imagine Mat might have been tempted to question the wisdom of this idea. Many of the people in the audience were unfamiliar with his music and the sing-a-longs fell a little flat. But I felt we couldn’t have been any luckier to see Mat in this setting. Here he’d hit the big time, and we still had a chance to see him as if he were just starting out. And I’m confident that St. Albans was a fluke—the show scheduled for the next night in Ann Arbor, Michigan sold out weeks ago (we had intended to go that one but the tickets were gone by the time we were ready to buy)—and I’m willing to bet throughout the rest of this tour the sing-alongs will be drowning Mat out. I was impressed with how Mat handled the unexpected unfamiliarity of most of our audience with his work. He was funny, friendly, poked fun at himself, and won the crowd over with his charm and undeniable musical talent and songwriting chops. He may have had few fans in the audience when he began, but certainly had a roomful when he finished.

In keeping with the old-school theme, Mat’s set list was stacked with older material—a lot of material from his first album, a few from even before that, a handful of new songs, and only two tunes-“All I Have” and “Closer to Love” from City of Black and White. He even delivered a fantastic cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic “Dancing in the Dark.”

Here’s the set list, with links where available to the songs on YouTube. Listen! I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
1. All I Have
2. Crashing Down
3. Girl America
4. Breathe In, Breathe Out
5. In the Middle
6. What’s a Boy to Do
7. Chicago
8. Undeniable
9. All I Need
10. Closer to Love
11. Rochester
12. Dancing in the Dark

13. a new song whose title I couldn’t figure out.
14. Nothing Left to Lose

Despite occasional technical mishaps here and there, the show was excellent. My only complaint is that it was too short. Mat played for just over one hour and I would have been happy for a second. But I guess that’s the sign of a good show, when you’re left wishing for more. I highly recommend this tour. Click here to see if he is coming to a city near you, and if the show hasn’t sold out already, GO! You’ll be glad you did.

This video is not from the St. Alban's show; it's from the show the following night up in Ann Arbor at a venue called the Ark. I took two videos, one of the song above, "Undeniable" and one other, but both turned out terribly. The digital camera we had did a terrible job of recording the sound clearly and it is literally unlistenable. I'm quite disappointed, not least because in an amazing feat of lyrical prowess Mat added an extended rap to the end of this song that included virtually everything he'd learned from the audience that evening. Small as the venue was, Mat was able to actually interact with individual members of the audience between songs. All of those littler interactions he turned around into an impromptu rap. Amazing. I got the whole thing, but unfortunately the sound is so bad you can't understand a word he's saying. I don't know if he did the same thing in Michigan the next night, as this video cuts out partway through the song, but at any rate it will give you a sense of what the show was like for us.

The Merch. I decided to buy Mat's latest release, a four song EP on sale only on this tour and available only on old-school vinyl. I don't have a record player, but I bought it anyway, not least for the achingly beautiful ballad, "Rochester", a tribute to Mat's father. I figured I'd find a record player and a way to get it copied on to a format I can listen to. I've heard that musicians make most of their money from touring so I wanted to be sure I did my part to support one of my favorite artists and bought a T-shirt as well.

Babs and me with the man himself, Mat Kearney after the show. He was gracious and friendly in the few brief minutes we talked to him. To all appeareances not only is Mat Kearney a great musician and songwriter but a good guy as well.

So with an autographed record in one hand, Babs hand, soft and warm in the other, and Kearney’s tunes still playing in our heads, we headed out into the balmy West Viriginia night. The show had ended earlier than we had expected, and on the one hand we were tempted to hop in the car and go straight home, getting back to our little boy as quick as we could. On the other hand, this night was special—a rare opportunity to feel like we were college kids in love again. It seemed too early to call it a night. We decided to go with that feeling and hunted up a local diner called Dwight’s for a late dinner. The food was okay, but the folks were friendly and helpful—both staff and fellow diners. An older couple sitting at the next booth over even took the time to help us figure out directions for the drive back home.

Overall, it was a special memorable evening, made so most of all by the woman I got to spend the evening with. Without her the songs just wouldn't be the same.

Me n Babs.

Jul 9, 2010

Beyond Happiness

So I was listening to NPR this past spring--it was the week before Mother's Day in fact. I had just caught the tail end of one of my favorite programs, a buisness-oriented broadcast called "Marketplace". The final commentary of the program was a reflection by Betsy Stevenson, a professor of buisness and public policy at the Wharton School of Business, on recent research that indicates that women (and men) who don't have children are happier than those who do.

You heard me right. The childless are happier than parents. Accounting for religion, stage of life, income, education does nothing to change this stunning stat. No matter how you look at it, those who don't have children are happier. Stevenson, a new mother herself, had some interesting thoughts on this research, and I highly recommend giving a listen (or reading the transcript) to her commentary. It's only a few minutes long and is great food for thought. You can either listen or read here.

Stevenson got me thinking and I decided I'd give my own take on the subject of happiness as it relates to children as well.

Let me begin by saying, that if I'm honest, I can't argue with the research. I think it's true. If we define happiness as being able to do what we want, when we want. If we define it as an absence of fear, worry, or stress. If we define happiness as the confidence that comes with knowing what you're doing and being certain that the outcome of your efforts will be successful. Then yes, those without children are happier. After all, once you have children your life is not your own anymore. It's remarkable, how for some years to come Babs and I will literally be unable to leave our home, just the two of us, without some serious advance planning. Since we're still new to Columbus and to parenthood, we have little in the way of resources so basically, we just don't go out on dates anymore. Ever. And it's not just date night--virtually all our decisions every day are dictated by one very small person.

Also, with Elijah's birth came a sort of low-level anxiety that has remained until this day. Always in the back of your mind are the thousand and one different things that could go wrong--so many ways your child can be hurt, can be taken from you. The love I have for my son makes me vulnerable in a way that is downright scary. And of course, you constantly question whether you're doing a good job as a parent. There is no training manual for this job. It's easy to see the mistakes parents make--it's far harder to know how to avoid making them yourself. In short, parenthood means a loss of autonomy, an increase in stress, and a crisis of confidence. Not exactly a recipe for happiness.

And yet. I wouldn't change a thing. As crazy as it sounds I'm happy to be "less happy." It occurs to me that perhaps there is something more--something beyond happiness.

When I sat down to write this blog, I really didn't know how to articulate the incredible feeling of being a parent--it is a sensation that doesn't lend easily to words. But as I analyzed it, I was able to identify a few key things that I gain from being a father--things that are far better than mere happiness. First, there is the deeply gratifying privilege of simply being around my son. It's very hard to describe the feeling unless you've felt it--there's no parallell in the childless world that I'm aware of. Perhaps it's biological--a God-given instinct, a gift of bonding, that awakens the moment your child comes into the world. As much as I eagerly anticipate those blocks of time to myself--naptime and after he's in bed for the night--when I can finally do what I want, I find that when I'm away from him for even a short while, I miss him. Companionship seems inadequate, but that's the word I keep coming back to. I enjoy the companionship of my child. I am beguiled by his childish efforts to understand and explain the world, to see him discovering new things every day. Even when he is cranky, petulant, and selfish--I find he wins me over.

Parenthood also provides the rewards that come with risk and the satisfaction that comes from great effort. In being a parent, you risk greatly. The entire act of raising a child is a huge gamble--you really have no idea, and less control than you'd like to think over how they'll turn out. You want them to be happy (ironic, isn't it), healthy, at peace with themselves and others, making a positive contribution to the world--but there's no guarantee that they'll be any of those things. The odds are pretty favorable, it seems, but still, if we lose, we lose big. In having children we parents risk shattering heartbreak. Likewise, parenting is hard work--emotionally and physically--and like all hard work, the payoff that comes from putting real effort into something is far more rewarding than the high that comes at the end of say an afternoon of watching movies. As Rich Mullins put it, "there's a rest that you find in work, that you can't get out of sleep." All the things that matter in life--that really mean something, involve risk and effort. It's why we run marathons, climb mountains, travel. The greater the risk, the harder the work, the more satisfying the reward--and the risks don't come any greater or the work any harder than in parenthood.

Finally, there is love. Not just the warm, fuzzy feeling you get--though there's that too, but the choice to love, to focus on something beyond yourself. If all you have is Whitney Houston's much touted "greatest love of all", i.e. to love yourself, that's not much. Love's best gifts come when it is directed outward. When you have a child, putting the needs of someone else before your own becomes second nature, and the reward that comes with the giving is as regular as a royalty check in the mail. Happiness comes and goes, but love remains.

I'm not here to suggest that every one has to be a parent. After all, the blessings of companionship, risk and effort, and love are not limited to those with children. But, I'd wager it takes extraordinary intentionality and wisdom to seek these things out when there's no child to demand them of you. And whether you have children or not, to share meaningful companionship, to risk big and work hard, to make service to others a priority in your daily life may cost you some happiness. But you gain you something else far more valuable. A lot of time we confuse this benefit with happiness, but though they can often seem similar I believe they are not the same. Happiness is what I feel when I'm getting what I want, when things are going my way, when life is good--but this is something else, something better and more lasting, something that I believe can ultimately be immune to the vissitudes of life, something beyond happiness. It can all be summed up in one word, and that word is. . .well, I'll let him tell you:

(Okay, actually he was talking about a person, not the concept, but still, you get the point, right?)

Jul 3, 2010

Stay-At-Home Dad

Some of this summer's handiwork.

So, this summer I'm on full-time Dad duty. We decided to have the Feller stay home instead of going to daycare this summer. We save some money and he gets to spend some extra time with Daddy. It's not so different from summers past though. I still read a lot--though, now the books are favorites like "Good Night, San Francisco", "God Made Me", and "Tomy's Little Mother Goose."

The Feller goes through phases of favorite books. Right now this memento of our trip to the Bay area last summer is in heavy rotation. It's a beautifully illustrated book of San Francisco's highlights--every time I read it, it reminds of me all the fun we had there last summer. They have a whole series of "Good Night" books and I'd like to collect more from the places we visit.

We have a little worship together every morning after breakfast too--sing a song, read from his Baby Bible (his favorites are Zaccheus and David & Goliath) and pray together. Usually, we read a few more books after that too. I read to him again, if Barbara doesn't come home before his afternoon nap.

We also go to the library once a week for their storytime. The New Albany branch of the public library is just five minutes away, and he's always excited to go and listen to the stories and sing the songs with other kids.

At the library (or "libarebary" as the Feller calls it) for story time.

I still do little reading of my own too--I might sit out on the balcony in one of our deck chairs and read while he naps, and I try to read a bit before bed every night. But the days of reading until my head hurts are long past.

The perfect place for a summer afternoon read while the Feller naps.

In summers past I usually watched a lot of movies during the summer as well. Now, my video diet consists mainly of the BBC video "All About Elephants" (at least a couple of times daily), and Sesame Street. I suppose we could watch more, but I don't want him to get used to watching a lot of television--and his age, he's really not supposed to be watching it at all.

I get on the computer still, although much of the time it's to look at "pictures!", usually of Saipan. The Feller likes to see the "beach!" and Saipan friends like Virle "O Vee" Gayatin, Joy, and Tali "Tidy" Paez. I still manage to steal some time to drop into Interference to discuss politics on the Free Your Mind forum while he's napping. Naptime usually lasts for about three hours from about 1 P.M. to 4:00 P.M., though he can go as long as four and sometimes even five hours. Up until this past week, a good chunk of that time was spent working on my class for my master's degree. I'd usually go down to the library and work in the study room for a couple of hours, coming home around 5:30 or so. That class wrapped up on the July 1 so it feels like I'm now fully on vacation.

This is the little "village square" in New Albany. This photo is looking from the library entrance. When I was working on my master's class, I would be here every afternoon. Now it's just twice a week--once to prep for next school year, and once for story time with the Feller. I usually eat lunch on my "work days" every Wednesday at a tavern called the Rusty Bucket. It's obscured by the trees approximately in the center of the frame.

In addition to the old summer standbys, there's new activities too. On most mornings we're up by 7:30 and done with breakfast, clothes & diaper change, toothbrushing, and worhsip by nine. On many days we have to make a run to the store, something the Feller always looks forward to because he likes riding in the carts that look like cars (complete with steering wheels) at Giant Eagle, and "holding" the groceries (especially the produce) at Aldi. On other days we might go for a walk outside or my friend J "JJ" Carlos will come over with his son for a playdate.

On a morning walk with the Feller. Our apartment complex has a neighborhood feel, with lots of green space for walking, running, and playing.

The mornings usually go by pretty quickly. Before you know it, it's 11 o clock--time for Sesame Street while I make lunch. We eat lunch around noon, and then it's naptime. Barbara usually comes home from her job around this time, though she sometimes has me put him down for his nap so she can run errands.

Now that my class is done, we hope to spend some time doing fun family summer stuff in the afternoons after he wakes up from his lap. So far this week, though, he's slept so late most days that there hasn't been much time to do much else beyond squeeze in some playtime, have supper, and take a bath. This past Wednesday, we did make some time to run up to the Farmers Market in Westerville. It was nothing spectacular, just a few tents with a handful of local farmers hawking fresh produce, honey, pastries and jams, and free range meat. But it was nice to walk through Westervilles quaint Uptown district browing the Amish furniture store and antique shops.

The Westerville Farmers Market

Uptown Westerville, a slice of small town Americana.

The evenings fly by quickly. Though he's supposed to be in bed by seven or 7:30, with the long naps, he's been going to bed an hour or so later, so by the time he's down it's almost time for us to hit the sack as well. I never manage to get to sleep as early as I'd like, but the old summer bedtimes of 2 in the morning are long gone. An eleven o'clock lights out is late for me, a late bedtime I will pay dearly for the next day. When you spend a good part of your day chasing a toddler around you need the energy provided by a good nights sleep.

My life this is summer is simple, and the time goes by quickly--things like making breakfast and lunch and keeping up the kitchen from devolving into a dirty-dish disaster area seem to be never ending tasks. But the time with my son is precious.
On the one day of the week when he goes to daycare (just so he doesn't get out of the comfort zone of being there) and I have time to do prep work for school next year, I miss him a lot. Every day he grows a little more and he won't be this age ever again. So I'm grateful for this golden summer in Ohio with my son, staying at home, and being a full-time dad.

Happy Independence Day! (These huge flower basket line the main drag through Uptown Westerville).

Jul 1, 2010

Old Friends at the Show

A publicity photo for the English folk-rock band, Mumford & Sons. Were they worth the road trip, the ten dollar admission, and the three hour wait? Absolutely! Ten bucks to see a show worth ten times that much was definitely worth it.

We rolled into Bloomington around six in the evening. Though I’d never been to Indiana University, the place brought back memories nonetheless. College was one of the best times in my life—it was when I think I finally began to enjoy life. Those years were marked by stimulating classes, interesting work on campus, pretty coeds to pursue (one of whom would become my wife), a new sense of independence, and most of all knowledge gained--of myself, of the world, and of God. Cruising the tree-lined streets of the IU campus brought all that flooding back,

We had supper at Mother Bear’s—a hole in the wall pizzeria that lived up to its reputation for serving some the nation’s best pizza. We ordered up a half olive, half cheese deep dish (made with the sauce on top), and it was fantastica—a pillowy, melt-in your mouth crust, rich sauce, and lots of melty mozzarella. It’s hard to do pizza wrong, but it’s equally difficult to do it exceptionally well, and the folks at Mother Bear’s pulled it off.

Our bellies full, we drove over to the Bluebird for the main event of the day—the Mumford and Sons concert. We waited in line outside the venue for about 45 minutes before the doors opened and we were ushered inside. We walked through a darkened warren of bar areas—low lights, wood counters, walls a scrapbook history of the bar’s past—to the performance area in the back. There was an upper level about the same height as the stage, a lower level a few steps below, and a back bar on the wall opposite the stage. We found a good spot on the railing of the upper level and settled in for the wait. And it as it turned out, we would be waiting for a good while. First there was an hour wait before the opening act—a humble man whose name I can’t recall in an overlarge rockstar t-shirt, sporting a mustache and a respectable talent. He played a handful of songs accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar. Though we’d been waiting for almost two hours by the time he came onstage, the audience responded to his gracious self-deprecation with appreciation and patience. We later realized that he was Mumford and Son’s sound tech.

After his exit there was another wait of about half an hour and then what appeared to be an accountant wandered onstage and started fooling with a bright red electric guitar. He was soon joined by a Toby-McGuire look-a-like who took a seat at one of the drum kits on stage. There was a muted sigh from the audience as we realized that this unlikely duo was yet another opening act. Unfortunately, the French & Indian War (that’s the name of the two-man band) were unable to win back the audience’s regard. They were awful. The vocalist in his ordinary oxford shirt, jeans, sneakers, and conservative haircut had no rockstar pretentions, but no rock star talent either. After haranguing the sound guys for various adjustments, including more "reverb" (you know that effect you get in the shower that makes you sound better than you are), he strummed tunelessly on his guitar, intoned a-melodic noises into the microphone, occasionally inserting a dramatic yelp. Toby on the drums, tapped away in the background, looking bored and vaguely apologetic, occasionally laying down his sticks to take a swig or two from his beer bottle, as if to fortify himself. The pair slogged through half-dozen so-called songs, including an unrecognizable cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland." The audience grew surly, expressing their irritation with increasing boldness as the War wore on.

As is the case with all wars, we were all thankful when the French and Indian War finally came to an end. It was now almost 10 P.M. and yet another wait ensued. Around 10:30 P.M., at long last Mumford and Sons took the stage and proceeded to make the wait worth it.

This photo of the band is not from our show, though the venue and the passion for music that reflected in this photo were similar to what you see here. My camera was dead, so I got this picture off the web. I'll replace it with actual photos that Greg or J took if or when I can get them.

Mumford and Sons is a folk rock act out of England—four guys playing an upright bass, bass guitar, banjo, guitar, keyboards, and drums (obviously not all at once—all four band members seem to be able to switch instruments effortlessly, and did so throughout the show). Greg, in his trademark role as the explorer of the outer reaches of the musical universe, had discovered the band and mailed us each a copy of their album in advance of the concert. Their acoustic-y sound—hard strumming on the guitar and banjo, almost reminiscent of bluegrass--big harmonies, and earnest, emotional lyrics had already won me over, but the show made me a fan. They ripped through their set with buoyant energy and furious skill, playing virtually every song from their debut album and tossing in a couple new songs that instantly felt familiar. The tunes were perfect for singing-along and the audience obliged, belting out not just the choruses, but the verses as well. I got the distinct sense during the show that this was a band that was about to break out big. I think the band felt it too—throughout much of the show front man Marcus Mumford had this amazed, appreciative look on his face, as if he couldn’t quite believe the enthusiastic reception they were receiving. This was not an audience with a passing interest in a band who happened to playing. These were fans, as evidenced by the fact that they sang all the lyrics to the gentle, introspective, “After the Storm.” “I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone sing along to that one before,” Mumford remarked gracefully at the end.

“Best show I’ve ever seen for ten bucks,” Greg commented as we walked out of the Bluebird just before midnight. Indeed, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at any price.

Greg sent me the link on Facebook to this video for Mumford & Son's soaring, life-affirming "The Cave." This is one of my favorite songs by the band, though not their most popular one. Funny thing, this is music you'd feel safe bringing home to meet the parents--the lyrics are poetic, articulate, and clean, with the exception of their biggest single, "Little Lion Man", in which they drop the F-bomb in the chorus no less. It communicates well what they wanted to say--it's the story of a repentant man who declares (and I'm paraphrasing), "It was not your fault but mine, and it was your heart on the line, I really messed it up this time, didn't I, my dear."