Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fall Traditions

I enjoy creating new traditions with Jackie. Over the past few years, I think we have tried to create some that we can look forward to each year, and look forward to continuing them whenever we have kids. Last year in December, we took a Christmas shopping trip...we leave town for a weekend, hammer out most if not all of our Christmas shopping, take in a couple very nice dinners, and try to catch a holiday show of some sort. We have already made plans to do that again this year, and while it is several weeks away or so, I am looking forward to it.

But that's very new. We have done some "Fall" traditions ever since we got married. At some point around the first of October, we head out to a pumpkin patch/corn maze/orchard, etc., and enjoy some of the festivities, and hand select our own pumpkins to carve. We have always picked out three, one for each of us and then a small one for our dog (be it Toby or Ellie this year) that Jackie paints. Later, right before it gets to Halloween, we carve the pumpkins. Earlier this month, we headed to Kercher's Apple Orchard down in Goshen, picked some apples right of the tree (so delicious!), took a hay ride (why do kids find this so exciting?), picked up some fresh apple cider, and picked our pumpkins (including Jackie selecting a whopping 26 pounder).

Its interesting to see how the carving has progressed over the years of this tradition. Initially, I put as little work into it as possible, not so much because I didn't like doing it, but because I have very little artistic ability, and the simpler the better. The first year, 2005, I carved a D for my first name. Year 2, 2006, it was three letters, SJC, in honor of our alma mater, Saint Joe. Year 3, 2007, the first year in the house, it was a block S, our last name. Jackie has always picked out some more challenging things, from a face, a dog face, a ghost, she enjoys the challenge.

Last year, I finally branched out from the letters and carved the Obama campaign logo (as Jackie didn't want to put any political signs in our yard). It was still pretty simple, and it turned out fairly well. So that little success sparks unbecoming confidence, and this year decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to carve the MSU Spartan helmet logo. Jackie decided to go with a crescent moon and stars. Last night, after dinner, we grabbed the pumpkins, cleaned them out, and started carving. A fun night in our little household, and continues a tradition that we started together that I have grown very fond of....

The end results....

Monday, October 19, 2009

This past weekend Jackie and I headed up to Lansing to visit with my parents and my sister's family. Originally it was billed as a "fall" weekend thing, where we would watch some MSU football, and then maybe head outside for a fire. We did end up watching the football, and thankfully MSU won (with Purdue pulling a huge upset against Ohio State) making for a good day on the football front. We never did end up outside, not that the day wouldn't have been good for it, but we all just got cozy inside and decided to hang out there.

We got to share some good food with the family, including being able to see my grandmother, which is always nice. Got to play with my nephew Gavin, who at 18 months, is at such a fun age, and its such an interesting dynamic to watch him grow up in the times we don't see him, and witness how quickly he matures in those gaps. Before heading back yesterday my parents made us breakfast and we talked. Also marking the weekend for me, in addition to the time spent with family, was the number of good conversations. Talking about life, politics, work, whatever...the conversations were good, not necessarily all in agreement, but good discussions with people you love and you know love you back - I think that makes the discussing easier at times.

Much of this is pretty mundane, but I was thankful for the weekend. As difficult as going out of town for a weekend can be at times, and how it seems to throw us for a loop for a couple days when we get back, it was a nice break, a nice separation from the usual routine. It's a good reminder, at least for me, to be thankful for those opportunities and enjoy them when they come along.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Thoughts: The Places in Between

Finished reading The Places in Between by Rory Stewart last night. The book chronicles Stewart's quest to walk across Afghanistan, from Herat to Kabul, following the path of the ancient King Babur. Stewart begins his journey shortly after the removal of the Taliban, in January of 2002, and literally walks every step of the way for the next 18 months. He cuts across rivers and ice, mountains and snow, and has various encounters with local villages and new Afghan military, with varying degrees of hospitality. The book is a very easy read; the sections are short and manageable for quick reading in various settings, and the author's style is revealing of the environment and the people he encounters. Good read for anyone interested in learning just a little more about the people, land, and culture of Afghanistan.

I had two primary short reflections that I wrote while reading this book....


Its simply amazing to see how ancient some of the villages and buildings are that Stewart comes across. I think its easy to forget the amount of human history that exists that we are unaware of due to the limits of education. As someone who enjoys history, it was also disappointing (although that may be too strong of a word) to see how little concern there was for preserving that history. One example is a minaret that juts into the sky in the middle of mountains in one of the most inaccessible areas on earth. There is little information at all about who put it there, what its purpose was, how it was constructed, and so on. It was also apparent that there was little concern over preserving the area. It was being excavated by locals and others for the sole purpose of selling the antiquities for profit. Thus, there will be even less evidence to ascertain the history of that structure, as well as the region.

Its interesting to note this fact beside the obvious sense of history the people Stewart encounters have. But that history does not possess the concept of nationhood, as our history does. The history if familial, and local. Many of the people he encounters have never been a day's walk beyond their village in their life. Seeing an old building, because of the known history of the place, has no ties to them. Afghanistan appears to have gone back and forth among Arab and Asian settlers and warriors, from Persian/Iranian control to that of Genghis Khan and later even some Hindu and Buddhist groups. Because of this, I think, modern generations have little to identify their history with, besides simply their family and their village. There is no overarching historical theme to attach to, like there seems to be in the West. But I think due to the nomadic past, the terrain of the area, and the ever changing historical residents, its difficult to feel attachment to monuments, the way some may feel towards Stonehenge or the Pyramids.

Its also serves as a reminder of the wealth of human history that we will never know about, and never can. The more history one becomes aware of, the more one observes the sheer volume of history that he will never know. That knowledge serves to produce humility rather than arrogance, and that is a needed thing.


The author's journey is entirely and solely possible due to the hospitality of those he meets on his way. For certain, there are plenty of individuals he meets that are suspicious (he is a Westerner just several months after September 11, 2001) and refuse such service, or even threaten violence. But the majority of people, even if they were initially reluctant to provide food and shelter for a night, ended up doing so. It's remarkable...a total stranger, walking on foot, dirty, unshaven, smelly, gets such kindness. The locals nerves had to be well served - a man looking like a drifter, a total stranger, and you provide not only food, but shelter for a night.

It makes me wonder if such a journey would be possible in the United States. Could a man, who looked dirty, scruffy, smelled bad, and so on, could he travel on foot relying solely on the kindness of strangers. I could see people giving food, but I have a hard time imagining providing shelter...letting someone sleep in your home that you don't know at all. I know I would have difficulty with that.

How many of us, instead of inviting that person in, serving that person, caring for that person, would instead scoff, turn that person away, let our fear (be it a reasonable fear?) rule rather than compassion? How many of us would generously reach out and offer food and shelter to a man walking across the country?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Routines, Pt. II

This morning's worship service at church made me think back to the last post regarding routines. Our church service has a normal routine, and it always follows the order printed on the bulletin/program. Everything was done that is usually done, meaning message, prayers being lifted, benediction, singing of opening, closing hymns, opening prayers, offerings, and so on; but it was done completely out of order. At first it was interesting to see how people reacted, first, mostly with laughter, but then, admittedly, I think people had to pay a little more attention than normal to make sure they knew what was going on, and thus, could participate in the service. The little shakeup in the routine made people more aware than what they may have normally been, and as a result, they may have focused a bit more.

So thinking back to that earlier post, how can such shaking up in the daily routine make us focus more on little things in our lives to become more participatory?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


" On and on, time goes on, never stops, Just goes on."

Feels like the theme of things lately. I think frequently about how, without the benefit of a measuring stick, like being in school, time just flies, days to weeks, weeks to months, and so on. I notice it more often than not whenever I think about posting something to this here blog, as I have the measuring stick (the time since the last post), but get curious as to where that time went, because I can't really qualify it. What was I doing? Did I do anything meaningful? Am I just going through the motions?

While there are always subtle differences within a routine work week day, generally the days are the same. Rise around the same time, follow the same routine in the morning getting around - what's on the TV, the order of showering, brushing teeth, then hair, then shaving. It's always the same, never a deviation. Its the same routine with Ellie - she knows my routine well enough that she always goes under the bed to hide once I start putting my tie on - so I leave the bedroom, wait for her to follow, eventually close the door when she does, and take her out on more time before leaving. Its the same exact route into work each day.

Once at the office, it always starts the same - opening email and calendar and see what's on tap; will quickly check twitter and facebook for updates since I am rarely on in the evenings; then schedule the day - writing down when certain tasks will be worked on, what and when phone calls will be made, and so forth. Then its up to the fridge to grab something to drink, and then the work begins. Then those tasks are completed and phone calls from clients are handled as they come. Not every day follows this routine for sure, days with lengthy meetings with clients or hearings in court are obvious wrinkles, but generally, this is what happens.

Then its a pretty common routine headed home. Same route, and once in, usually head downstairs to say hi to Jackie and Ellie before changing and starting dinner. Then dinner, dishes, and most likely a combination of reading and watching TV, sports, news, etc. Again, when I have evening events, like meetings at Church or at the library, things get different. But generally, the routine is always fairly consistent.

As regimented as this all is, I find it important not to get weighed down. While there is a certain security in having such a predictable routine, there is also the strong possibility of becoming trapped by it, by using it as a crutch, to avoid other and better opportunities. So, my question at the moment is, is it enough to try and remain cognizant of this danger, (or at least what I consider a danger) or should I be striving to mix it up on a small basis each day, so as to not get too comfortable in the routine, and be ready for those "opportunities" (whatever they are, not sure how to quantify or define that either) whenever they may arise?

Maybe a crazy thing to be reflecting or worrying about I suppose, but its really about attempting to avoid the pitfall of complacency, which I do believe is worthwhile.