Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas in the new south

Happy new year everybody!

We're back in IL after spending a pleasant Christmas break with Jill's family in Nashville.  Uncle Matt's family has yet to find a new house after selling theirs just a few weeks ago, so we all stayed together at Grandpa and Grandma's house. 
(Before we left, our good friend Fereshteh stopped by for a visit.)

We all took a house hunting trip together, but didn't find 'the one'.   Interestingly to me, this adventure demonstrated a strong use case for cell phones.  The realtor gave us the address of the next house only after visiting the previous house.  Without a very detailed map (the search area was HUGE), finding the next house would have been very difficult.  However, it didn't matter because:
1.  I didn't drive (we rode with Jill's parents and the kids were with Uncle Matt)
2.  Since we were on mostly rural roads, following the realtor posed no difficulties.
But, hey, that was a real-life use case for a cell phone (besides compulsively checking social media)!  And yet, I'm still not planning to get one soon.

 Once in a great while, I feel the itch to visit an actual city.  So we braved the traffic and terrors of downtown Nashville for a day.  I did a quick search for interesting things to see and had the Belmont mansion (on the campus of Belmont U) and the Downtown Presbyterian church.  Clara didn't want to see anything, and Janny wanted to walk along the river and throw rocks into it.  So we started with the river and skipped Belmont (too far to walk from downtown).

We parked near the football stadium and walked over the  pedestrian bridge to town.  Clara was still cool on the idea of the trip until we stopped at a cafe for muffins (chocolate for Janny and blueberry for Clara).  Then Clara was happy.  Phew!  Maybe cities aren't so bad after all.

The church had an 'out to lunch' sign, so we walked around a bit more, eventually coming upon the really nice (and free!) Tennessee museum.  Clara and I played checkers (I crushed her) in the play area.  There are some really excellent paintings along with artifacts from the frontier settlers.

The Presbyterian church office worker was back at his desk and led us to the sanctuary.  The current building is the 3rd version (the first two had burned down) and was constructed around 1850 or so.  After the Union soldiers conquered Nashville, they used it as a hospital during the Civil War.  A few older photos from outside show an isolated building, whereas now it is dwarfed by the neighboring skyscrapers.
I think Enoch and Ricky won Christmas present opening because they got pocket knives.  So far only one of them has needed a band-aid.

I recently implemented 'no dessert Tuesday', which really means no dessert for anyone in the family after dinner on Tuesdays.  I am very frustrated by the kids' eating habits.  They are irritatingly picky and generally eat as little at lunch and dinner as possible so as to eat much dessert.  I'm happy to report that the kids enjoy the idea, sort of.  My theory is that living under constraints (even an arbitrary one like this) resonates with our spirits.  It feels right and is right.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

a Christmas newsletter of sorts

I took too long of a break from this blog.  So I won't cover all (any?) of the important stuff since summer came and went.  

Church-league softball (and summer itself) ended months ago.  I recall writing about the team's struggles early in the season.  I'm glad to report that we rallied back, winning the semi-final game against Vineyard Blue so that we could face Vineyard Red in the final.  The final was close and hard-fought, for 2 innings.  Then their #10 batter hit a rocket that was beyond me by the time I took two steps back.  I got to it quickly and relayed a throw toward 2nd, hoping to hold him to a double.  He was already on 3rd.  Then, the rest of their team decided they would hit (and run) like that too, and we quickly lost by 10.

My softball fire was not quite quenched after summer, so I joined a friend's team for the fall season.  We had some really excellent athletes, so I could take it easy in right center field.  Fall ball is an interesting mix.  Some teams hit home run after home run (I think one guy hit 4 home runs in the double header against us, including a walk off shot in the 2nd game), others were terrible.  We won about 1/2 our games, one of which on a walk off homer by me, my first over the fence shot in some time.  Our church-league shortstop, Joe, was playing for the other team, so this story can be verified.
 Clara and Janny are in school all day now.  With 2 kids in school, it's much harder to keep tabs on all of the characters there.  Janny helps me remember [redacted's] name, because s/he was the kid that threw up in the classroom just before the end of the day.

Clara and Janny would have perfect behavior scores if not for the miscreants in their classes.  The scores are posted online, so we check on them once in a while.  At most, Clara has two red scores, and they're always because 'the whole class' (Clara excepted) was doing something wrong.  This frustrates her.  She was disappointed in the fall when we took a day off from school to visit our relatives in MI because her chance for perfect attendance for the quarter was gone.  So I bought Clara and Janny prizes for skipping school.  We'll see if that's still needed in about 10 years.

Jill continues to be so happy about having her energy back after surgery earlier this year.  She has retaken up piano learning, so my background music for writing Christmas carols.  Despite her increased energy levels, she would like a housekeeper for Christmas.  I'm trying to do a few more chores, as I'm much cheaper.
 I'm starting to lose... (insert your joke in the comments) ... my fire for minimizing our energy usage.  Our thermostat is now set to a whopping 66 degrees during the day and 60 at night.  Jill is talking me into getting a gas burner insert for our neglected fire place.  Our house has always been very humid in winters (every cold morning I took a squeegee to the windows to remove condensation), so I bought a dehumidifier this year.  It has been pulling about 3/4 of a gallon of water per day from our house, which has me a bit befuddled.  I suspect that the moisture is coming up from our crawl space.  The plastic on the ground has some holes that could be repaired, but I'm thinking that rainfall runoff is the main problem.  I don't have a good plan to solve this yet.

Work continues to be good and challenging.  Recently, I joined the ranks of Wolfram certified trainers (http://www.wolfram.com/training/instructors/), so feel free to book me for your next training session.  My photo and bio should be on that page soon.
Our church is having a rash of trouble marriages, and some of these are good friends of ours.  This is such a downer.  It's not clear to me if this is a new trend, or just something that I'm able to notice more.  We continue to pray and work on our own marriage.

A number of work colleagues are from cultures where arranged (or 'suggested') marriages are common.  Interestingly, every person that I have asked says that troubled marriages are extremely uncommon in their culture.  One lady said that around year 3 is when the husband and wife typically begin to fall in love.  More investigation required....

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Still hot at night

A strong memory of my first days after moving to IL for grad school was how hot it was at night.  I'd be walking around campus town with some new friends (primarily Europeans) wondering how it could still be 80 degrees F at 10 pm.  Well, I don't have to dig deep into my memory vault to recall what that feels like.  I can just step outside.  It's 10 pm and the heat index is 100 degrees F (but a whole lot cooler than that in my modern home).

 Did you know that Janny will start kindergarten in about a month?  She graduated from preschool, and we'll miss her super teachers.  As part of the prep for school, Jill took the girls to the doctor today.  Along with the usual lecture about feeding the kids more, we learned that Janny's hearing is slightly below average (I don't think that fully explains why she says 'WHAT?  WHAT DID YOU SAY?  I DIDN"T HEAR WHAT YOU SAID!' very loudly a thousand times a day, but it might) and that Clara has a slight heart murmur that might mean nothing.  I guess that it's good to know these things???  Or maybe that's why I avoid the doctor like the plague.
Speaking of Europeans in IL, my company hosted a whole bunch of interns of such background this summer.  As part of a farewell celebration of their time in America, I led a bike ride from our house to the Sydney dairy barn.  Spain, Italy, and Ireland all represented, along with India, China, and some US citizens.  The most pleasant sounding of all the homelands was Turin, Italy (the chance to be on a snowy peak while looking over the Mediterranean sounds excellent).  But don't count out India.  I've been told of a happening tech city populated with mostly young cosmopolitans (and not too crowded either).
 This week we're hosting a couple of middle schoolers from China.  Our neighbor (below) is sort of a co-host, providing either transportation or watching the young girls while Jill drives the English learners to class.  5 people don't fit too well in the old Mazda.  But don't worry, we'll probably get a new car some time in the next 10 years (134000 miles on it now).
Finally, TCBC softball is BACK!  We've played 3 games since my last report, and we've won 3 times.
  
How can this be explained after our rough start?  As you might have guessed, the answer is Jill.  Yes, my wife Jill!  3 games ago, we were in a bind.  We had 8 players (which is technically enough to play, but having only 2 outfielders is tough).  So we looked around.  And we saw Jim's expecting wife, Matt's wife, and then, flowing down the sidewalk, 2 daughters in tow, the most lovely lady you've ever seen: Jill.  After a short negotiation with Matt's wife, Jill agreed to play.  She played catcher.  She batted 4 times, and 4 times hit the ball in fair territory on her first swing.  And, as you know, we won the game.  She didn't play in the next 2, but her indomitable spirit filled each player, including those new guys that I had never seen before but have joined our squad because at least 1/3 of the regular guys are gone every week.  

May that spirit continue on.

Oh, and we visited the local Vineyard church last Sunday.  My last visit to a Vineyard church was to the church in Anaheim (CA) as a middle schooler in the late 1980s.  At that time, there was a good bit of, um, spirit.  Apparently, that degree of spirit is much reduced, but I still really enjoyed the experience.  The aesthetics of the stage were really lovely -- a deep blue/purple in contrast with my own church's stark white.  The clergy and leaders are extremely open about spiritual struggles and encourage attenders to receive prayer both after the service and at a special healing prayer time.  With quite a few of us struggling through grief, anger, etc. this summer, this is an excellent emphasis.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Vacation in Alabama

After missing softball playoff games the past 2 years due to family vacations, we pushed for an earlier trip this year.  Initially, we planned to head north to hopefully have slightly cooler temps, but schedules didn't quite work out.  So the plan became Alabama in June, and we were ready to face the heat and humidity.  Except that the heat and humidity mostly didn't show.

Our schedule went something like this:  eat breakfast, read a while, visit the pool, eat lunch, read, visit the pool, eat dinner, fish, read, bed.  Quite relaxing.

On the fishing front, I caught a few sun fish using a cane pole.  I'm still squeamish when it comes to hooking the worm and unhooking the fish.  Maybe when I'm older it won't be so scary.

The champion fisherperson in our family was Clara.  She caught a pretty decent sized catfish.  Thankfully, Grandpa was there to pull the hook out it's mouth.
 The pool was a bit chilly.  On most days, we had to swim around to stay warm enough.  Or jump in and out.
 Clara and especially Janny are interested in bugs now.  At home, they catch fireflies.  On vacation, the best bugs to catch were willow flies.  They come in swarms in shady areas (especially the trees near the pool), fly very slowly, and don't bite...
 And often drown in the pool.
 Clara and Janny really enjoy being in pools, but they can't swim like cousins Ricky and Enoch.  Hopefully by the end of summer, they'll make some good progress.

 This is as close to an infinity pool as I've been in.  Note the Tennessee River in the background.  I had planned to swim in the lake, just so that I wouldn't feel like such an urbanite.  But I never actually got in.
Finally, TCBC softball continues to struggle this year.  Our record is now a grim 0-5.  A possible explanation is that we've lost too many quality players in the last few years.

That may be true.  But I dare you to doubt us.  Even if nobody believes in us, we'll still believe in ourselves.  We have the heart of a champion because we are the defending champions (I have the wind breaker that says so in my closet).  We know how to win when it's all on the line.  We are TCBC!!!!!

And now I must go kill some Japanese beetles.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

at home, springtime


Spring is the best.   We survived another cold, dark winter, and so did our garden.

The first project of the spring was Clara's idea:  build a mini-swing inside our tree fort.  We used some rope that had been in the garage for some time, and a short piece of wood.  Nothing fancy, but it brought many smiles.


 Jill is a gardening fiend.  We've been eating lettuce from the garden just about daily. 
 ... while I and the kids eagerly await the arrival of raspberries and blackberries.  The giant cherry tree is even holding some cherries, despite the bounty of last years crop.  Perhaps the awful smelling fish emulsion that I poured around the base helped?
Latest project around the house:  2 rain barrels.  During intense rain storms, water overtops the front gutter.  So I added this new downspout near the front door for one of the new barrels.  We'll have to wait a few more days before we see the barrels in action.  [I had a photo of the setup, but it's gone missing.  Google warned me not to use Microsoft Edge, but I did anyway.  That's because Chrome completely stopped working on this computer.  I tied re-installing twice without success.  I'll also note here that my software also doesn't always work.]

In sports news, church league softball is underway.  The senior members of the TCBC men's team, Matt A. and I, have returned for our 8th year.  Back in year 1, we had zero kids between us (though Clara was on the way).  Now we have 5.  But we're still out manning the left side of the outfield together. 

The squad has started the season off with 2 losses.  Can we pull ourselves together and make a run?  Are we getting too old?  Too complacent?  Did we lose too many players to graduation and free agency?  Or, perhaps we're saving ourselves for the post-season?  Stay tuned...

For the 3rd (4th?) year in a row, I raced the local Joker's Jaunt gravel race.  Neil crushed us all.  I was riding with Larry until I ran out of energy with about 4 miles to go.  I was riding my Boulder Bicycle, which continues to be a fantastic bicycle (and, no, Mike Kone does not sponsor me).  This year, I used Vittoria Hyper-something tires in size 700C by 35mm at about 40 psi.  They're okay.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Another idea for church.... podcast-style preaching

Winter continues about as you'd expect this year.  It's cold (20 °F).  Today it snowed about 2 inches.  So we have lots of time to be inside and think.  You'd think I would have lots of time to write blogs also.  I suppose that I do...

Our church's proposal to purchase the building next door was the inspiration for a good bit of thinking this winter.  The scale of the project (about $2M) spurred us to think bigger about the church.  With that much money, a church can do some interesting things.

For example, we could hire another pastor.  A big focus of TCBC is to help students at the University grow in their faith and impact the campus, and in turn, world.  Interestingly, we don't devote much pastoral staff to this part of the church.  Our youngest pastor spends much of his time with our middle and high school students.  Our other pastors are decently removed in time (and I am as well FYI.  1998 was some time ago!) from college life.  If we hired a youngish person to work in this area, I think some interesting projects and ministries could be developed.

But our membership overwhelmingly voted in favor of purchasing the building, so additional staff is unlikely at this point.  But don't worry, there are more ideas swimming around my head.

A idea that has been floated to us community types is to think about how our (mostly-community (non-student)) small groups can serve the campus (read: students).  Jill and I have participated in the adopt-a-student program for many years, and enjoy getting to know students by serving them dinner (and sparkling conversation) weekly.  But how can this be "part" of our small group?  This is a hard question.

So instead of answering that question, I'll ask a different question.  What if instead of looking for ways to serve students (who, let's face it, are pampered in nearly every possible way), we try to provide ways for students to serve?  I also don't know the answer to this question, but it's more exciting to me.  By having them serve the church or community in some way, they will feel more a part of our church anyway.

Lastly, I have an idea for a new type of sermon.  A typical sermon at our church is a 40 minute monologue about a topic or Bible passage.  During that time, the speaker has very little indication of what parts of it are meaningful to the listeners.  Based on looking around at people's faces, I'd guess that they feel very discouraged by looking at the audience.

So, how about have a conversational-style sermon?  2 pastors (or one church leader and 1 pastor) will be at the front.  One will be the "interviewer", and his/her primary job is to introduce the topic (why does it matter, where have we been, where are we going?) and to sharpen the points of the discussion.  This could be by asking clarification questions or bringing up other passages or personal stories, but also by just "guessing" where the conversation should go next.  The benefit for the main speaker is that another person is giving immediate, direct feedback.  The sermon can feel more like a conversation.

Let's assume the interviewer asks a question that isn't where the main speaker wants to go.  She/he could say, that's a good question, but I really want to emphasize (...).  This transition can help the audience understand and track the sermon's main points.  And it gives a signal that this is a time to really listen.

So podcast-style preaching isn't a good name for this (need some help with that), but the idea came from listening to a podcast.

As always, all blog ideas are free to use.

In family news, Jill had her hysterectomy just over 2 weeks ago.  The first several days were spent primarily in bed resting and taking pain-killers.  Since then, she's steadily added more activities to her day.  Today, she made the best pizza in town for dinner.

Clara has been so excited to play Uno lately.  She tracks the number of times she's won:  15 as of the last round.  She's also knows even and odd numbers.

Janny enjoys playing Old Maid and watching the rest of us play Uno.

Many nights when the girls are asleep, Jill says that they are the cutest girls ever.  This might be true, but I observe that she rarely says this when they are awake.  Jill responds, "I don't say it then because I don't want the girls to hear.  It might get in their heads."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Let's monetize your church

Does your church have a bigger vision than budget?  Giving from parishioners isn't keeping up with expenses?  You've come to the right blog.  Jill and I have spent at least 30 minutes working on solutions for you.  And we're not even going to cover the boring, traditional sources (renting out the facility for weddings/memorials).  Here are some solutions by category.

1.  Staff services.
If your pastor has been around for more than a year, he or she has astounding listening skills.  Maybe he or she has a few moments to spare where that gift can be used?  Monetize it!  I'd guess that 10 hours per week of counseling some depressed well-offers could cover about half the salary.

We're fortunate to live in a town with a large university that has a number of international students.  We also have some staff (pastors and others) that have marketable editing skills.  Let's get together and make some money editing those papers

2.  Sunday services.
Yes, of course your church has Sunday morning services.  But do you have car detailing or oil changing services while you worship?  How about coffee or tea delivered to your pew?  Maybe we could arrange house cleaning while your soul is purified.

3.  Phone apps.
A lot of people at our church use their phones as Bibles as well as note taking devices.  Let's make an app where you could take notes.  The app could be a game based on the sermon.  Maybe if you finish the game, you get a sponsored prize or coupon.

4.  Sponsorhips
Speaking of sponsorhips, how about "Today's communion is brought to you by County Market"?  The church would never change it's name, but the name of the building is available for the right price.  We have a weekly bulletin.  That thing is begging to be stuffed with flyers and coupons.  How about 15% off your entree at a local restaurant following the service?

Did you like the pastor's tie?  His sweater?  We'll have links and QR barcodes in the bulletin and on our screens for his entire outfit.  This is even better if you your pastor is a woman.
How can churches with male pastors reach the women?  Our host/emcee is a woman!  While she's giving announcements (brought to you by Wolfram Alpha) about upcoming events, we'll zoom in on her shoes and provide a link on our big screens.


5.  Remote events
Our church is special in that a large number of students have attended and moved away.  Many of them have been in Chicago, made good money, and don't have a good channels for giving back to our church.  Following the political fund-raising approach, we can have fancy dinners that that cost considerably more than usual.  Former pastors could give a brief devotional and share some fond memories of the good old days, reminding everyone that the good times can continue (when sufficient funds are available) today.  Did you know a bunch of university athletes have attended our church?  I'm sure they'd be willing to stop by and shake a few hands.

6.  On the controversial side
Recall in the book of Acts where hankees held by apostles could heal people.  We don't guarantee that level of service, but perhaps a pastor could pray that a tissue would bless you.  Maybe you could ensure that your request is lifted up first during pastoral prayer meetings.

May your church prosper!