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Out with the Aughts


This has been quite a decade for me... completion of two degrees and nearing the end of a third; two study abroad summers; three other European trips; marriage; first college and university teaching jobs; move to the city; and lots more. I'm happy with the first ten years of the millennium overall.

This year, my resolution is to be more patient. With others, with myself, with situations, with plans, with goals, with God, with the crazy world around me. Patience always creates peace for me, so I'm going to strive for it. And you know what they say about praying for patience...

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Dreams and Dreaming

"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing."
--C. S. Lewis


We've had several friends get engaged lately, and it's got me reminiscing about the gift of falling in love, the time when you both figure out you're to be together forever, and the time leading up to making that commitment. I have always been a dreamer and I'm glad my husband is too. In the almost 2 years leading up to our marriage, we shared our dreams and hopes and goals with such wonder and excitement.

I told Eric about my dreams of living overseas, writing a book in every genre, saving the world, and finishing my Ph.D. so I could do all of the above. He shared with me his desire to have seven children, write a memoir, and see the world. Gradually we came to dream together, as an us, and we fantasized about our life together... from the decor in our first apartment to our dream house, from newlywedded "time alone" to the names of our (much fewer than seven) future children, from weekend trips to international tours, from finishing school to founding our own.

Something about being in love makes everything seem blissfully possible. I am one to put a realistic spin on things pretty quickly, but the whole point of dreaming is to shatter the impossibilities, create best case scenarios, and be willing to put your heart out there enough to believe something can happen, even if it's just in the realm of fantasy. We love our life now like crazy, and feel extraordinarily blessed, but we still dream.

And more than that we take steps to make the important dreams happen... some big, some small. Sometimes the hardest part comes when you're over halfway there, and you realize it's going to be harder than you ever thought. That last stretch before the finish line seems utterly insurmountable, but you keep going because the dream is worth pursuing, and quitting is more impossible. That's when the real dream manifests.

And that's where I am now... so close to finishing I can literally feel it, and so tired of pursuing the same dream with the same hardships and the same emotional stress. I question myself and I curse the day I decided to pursue something so hard. Knowing I can do it is almost worse, because I have no excuse to back out. So I do it. I break down when I need to, but I keep at it. I keep this picture in my head and heart of what it's going to be like when I'm there, and I pause to reflect on how great the journey is now, even when I'm so exhausted I can't think about anything else.

Tonight Eric and I dreamed for fun about taking a year off from our jobs and lives and doing whatever we wanted together. We would become movie/film/food critics, visit all 7 continents, learn how to cook from nuns in Italy, write a screenplay, star in a reality/fiction tv show, and campaign for my shot at the presidency. It feels like such freedom to really fantasize about things that seem crazy but actually aren't that far off from who we are and want to be. And it all felt possible again.

So, I kissed him goodnight and went to my computer. I sat down at 12:30 am and wrote two more pages... simple keystrokes that are bringing me closer and closer to a dream I have held for so long.

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Christmas Movie Favorites

The holiday movies I just LOVE come in at a three way tie: Christmas in Connecticut, White Christmas, and A Christmas Story

Christmas in Connecticut

I love this for so many reasons. Elizabeth Lane writes a column for smart house-keeping as the perfect cook, wife and mother on a Connecticut farm. The trouble is she's a complete phony - she's single, lives in a tiny apartment in NYC, and can't cook to save her life. When her editor invites himself and a war hero to spend Christmas at her farm, she's scrambles to fool him. Barbara Stanwick wins in this role, she's so awesome. Apart from being tremendously entertaining, it's great social commentary on the fragility of 1940s gender expectations, and an example of how women got around them.


Fav. Quote 
Elizabeth: "I'm tired of dancing to someone else's tune, tired of being told whom to marry! In short, I'm tired."

White Christmas

Another favorite since my childhood, thanks in large part to the Haynes Sisters. My sister and I had the song and most of the routine memorized! You can't top Bing Crosby and I love all the dancing.

Fav. Quote
Phil: "In some ways, you're far superior to my cocker spaniel."


A Christmas Story

I know it's a cliche, but it's still hilarious to me. The board game Mall Madness was my Red Rider bebe gun and I looked like Ralphie's brother when I tried to brave the Wyoming winters outside. Makes me laugh as much as the first watch.

Fav. Quote
Narrator: "Let's face it, most of us are scoffers. But moments before zero hour, it did not pay to take chances."

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Gerard Manley Hopkins on Advent

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and always:
Now begin, on Christmas day. 





Photo Credit: Roger Hutchison 

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Reflecting on Reflection

Thanks to a special Blurb (my favorite book-making and self-publishing company) was running, I found the motivation to create a Blog Book for our other blogs - Musings (my personal blog from 2005 through 2/10) and Feminist Fiancee (our engagement blog). I love digital publishing, but I'm wedded to paper preservation for the really important things.

Reading through all my Musings entries was a trip. I have always been a reflective person (and I have shelves full of completed journals to prove it), and it's always interesting to see what the common themes are. My introspection in the Musings years focused on perseverance, justice, love, identity and faith. And school, of course. I began dating Eric about halfway through, so there's a lot of poetry about falling in love and opening myself up to "us".

The themes are basically the same now, but I have a different perspective on things. I'm a bit more settled in who I am and don't feel the constant restlessness about my identity. In all I haven't changed much, but I reflect differently. Most of my reflections are conversations with Eric. I find it harder to take the time to reflect alone, probably because it feels like work. I like who I am, but I don't always want to face the deeper parts of me. The way I talk to God has also changed, and I'm not sure how to articulate that shift. It's easier to comment on gender equality or relationship issues or teaching moments than it is to expound on my own self-awareness.

When I was 17, I spoke to a woman in her late twenties and explained why I wrote poetry and prose about my life. She said that she used to write "reflective stuff" like I did when she was younger, but now wrote about things like health and world events. I remember thinking that was so crazy, why should she reflect less in her writing as she got older? But I think I understand now--both the positive and not so positive implications of that.


I suppose our reflections ebb and flow with us. I'm glad to have an account of that journey.

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Rienzi

Last year around this time, Eric and I started writing a "Houston List" of all the things/places we want to experience in Houston that we've never done. We rarely find ourselves with an unplanned Saturday afternoon, but this weekend we did so we finally made it to Rienzi.

The Rienzi center for European Decorative Arts has belonged to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for ten years. It's a gorgeous mansion built in the 1950s in River Oaks on 4 plus acres of manicured grounds filled with the previous owners' extensive art collection. Our tour was led by a docent who has volunteered every Saturday for ten years and obviously loves the place. It's a glimpse into Houston high society and the life of some very generous philanthropists that contributed a great deal to the city.

My imagination always runs wild in places like this, wondering what it was like to live there. We imagined ourselves on the back porch sipping wine whilst overlooking the bayou. We envisioned throwing a killer party in the "ooh, ah" room, but I'm not sure I would have let anyone touch anything because it's all essentially priceless. I also wonder what it's like to be so rich you don't have a job, just hobbies, as the Mastersons did.

All in all it's worth the trip. The tour is an hour and it's cheap to get in, then you can walk around the grounds. Another Houston gem!

Photo Credit: www.museumdistrict.org

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An Education


Last night, we saw the new Nick Hornby movie An Education, starring newcomer Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson. It is a departure from Hornby's other screenplays, like About a Boy and High Fidelity because this films focuses on a young woman coming of age too quickly rather than men experiencing delayed adolescence. First off, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. The acting was superb across the board. Probably my favorite performance was Rosamund Pike who plays the "dumb blonde" with such subtle complexity.

The movie takes place in suburban London during the early 6os and follows 16-year-old Jenny (Mulligan) as she tries to finish high school (at an all-girls college prep school of course) and earn her acceptance into Oxford to study English. Her plans are derailed when she meets and falls in love with David (Sarsgaard), a charming 35-year-old man, whose sophistication, wealth, and status allure Jenny much more than her fruitless Latin studies. David introduces Jenny to hip jazz clubs, fancy cigarette brands, art auctions, and even Paris. She feels free from the expectations and limitations of her parents, her school, and her pre-women's-lib culture. As her education in the "school of life" begins to overshadow her traditional education, Jenny begins to become increasingly lost in the adult world, disdaining the childhood world of her peers and family. I won't give away anything else, but the themes are certainly very interesting to me given my own egalitarian leanings and my current job teaching 16-year-olds at a college prep school.

At one point in the movie, the school's headmistress (Thompson) basically tells Jenny that even though school is boring, she needs to get an education. Jenny responds by questioning why. Why should she be bored now just to get an education that will only allow her to become a teacher or service worker, boring jobs to her. Is she just supposed to be bored forever? This moment in the movie really struck me profoundly. As someone who teaches girls that are often bored with school, it seems a legitimate question. What is the point? Unfortunately because the headmistress has not really experienced life outside of her "bored" existence, she cannot really come up with a satisfying answer for Jenny. It isn't until Jenny sees that perhaps she has misjudged her English teacher (who she believes is living a "dead" life), that she comes to understand the value of an education.

In some ways, the movie's conclusion is too simple. We learn that the best things in life do not come easily or quickly without serious compromises, that we should be satisfied that we can have what we want if we work hard and have patience. But I am left wondering how an adult can really adequately communicate that to a 16-year-old girl who feels devalued, bored, and inspired only by glamour and young love. Jenny reminds me of so many of my own students, whose situations are certainly better now in the new millenium than the early 60s, but who also struggle to see the relevance of Jane Eyre to their lives (a book Jenny and my students both study). They are often bored and only find enjoyment in their boyfriends, in popular culture, and in the romantic worlds in their dreams. Why would they believe me when I tell them that an education is the only way they can get what they want in life? There is still a glass ceiling, still people who think a woman is at her best when taken care of by a man, still people who live exciting lives by compromising their moral values and taking the easy way. These forces still assault the value of an education in the eyes of a naive 16-year-old girl, especially the smart ones like Jenny.

If there is something about the movie that disturbs me, it is the fact that Jenny doesn't realize this until she has made many mistakes she regrets. I suppose the "school of life" really does teach us the most profound lessons, but as a teacher, I hope that I can prevent my students from making bad choices. In that sense, I become too similar to Jenny's overbearing father (Molina) who worries only about her future and has no sense of who she is in the present, nor her dreams and desires. Perhaps my students must make mistakes in order to see the value of a life well lived, the value of a strong education, and the value of their childhood innocence too.

Anyway, I highly recommend An Education, especially for high school teachers like myself. It has given me much to consider. I hope that if a student asks me, "What's the point? Am I just supposed to be bored for the rest of my life?" that I can answer her more honestly and effectively than Jenny's advisors.

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Why We're (Not) Hipsters

According to the Wikipedia page, a hipster is revived term that describes "young, recently-settled urban middle class adults and older teenagers with interests in non-mainstream fashion and culture, particularly alternative music, independent rock, [and] independent film." As much as we attempt to defy categorization, this label fits us pretty darn well. We get produce from an organic co-op, bike, avoid chain restaurants, use Green Mountain Energy, got liberal arts educations, live in an old house in a funky urban neighborhood, discuss postmodernism and quickly ran out to see Where the Wild Things Are.

I could go on and on, but Eric and I made a list of how we're NOT hipsters, to make ourselves feel better. Here's how we don't fit the stereotype:

1) Most importantly, we don't like coffee. We can't stand the taste. Never mind that we frequent coffee shops. We prefer organic tea (and Dr. Pepper).

2) We don't wear thick-rimmed glasses a-la Rob Bell.

3) We don't listen to NPR. We don't have anything against public radio, but I listen to crappy top 40 stations and Eric listens to sports talk.

4) We know what we want to "be when we grow up". I've known I wanted to teach history (et. al.) since I was at least 15. We're both living those careers and we like them.

5) We may like Nickel Creek and Bob Dylan and some of the other hipster flagship musicians, but we are really quite removed from the indie music scene. I think I consumed a little too much as a teenager. I probably couldn't pick out an Arcade Fire song from a mix.

See? We don't fit it completely.

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My Year of Peace: Peace and Classroom Management

As I seek to be more peaceful in my personal llife, I have also tried to be very intentional about peacemaking in my professional life. Much of the impetus for my quest for peace has come from the actions of my school's Diversity Club and Solidarity Committee. This year, our focus is "Waging Peace," and I have had some really interesting discussions with colleagues and students about ways to wage peace in our school while also encouraging international peace efforts. It has been such a humbling experience. I have always considered myself a pacifist, but when I was in high school, I never gave it the kind of careful consideration that my students are giving it. They serve as such inspiring examples for the whole school community.

Over the last few weeks, a couple of interesting situations have come up in my workplace that have really given me opportunities to apply my own efforts to "wage peace." One of my classes has been challenging the last couple of weeks. My first thought was that I could just crack down and start assigning detentions to the students who were off task or causing distractions, but I paused to consider if that was going to be the most effective way to work with these students. Really the problem was minor, just three or four students were continually off task and in general seemed to have bad attitudes. Assigning detentions may have been an acceptable short term solution (even though I rarely use it), but I felt like if I assigned the detentions, it would bring short term peace, but not long term peace. I decided to observe the students who were off task much more carefully over the next week to see if I could determine the root of the problem.

What I noticed was that one student seemed to be the main "ringleader" for the others. They all took their cues from her. When one would say something distracting, she would turn to this girl to see if she approved. I thought about the best way to approach this particular student. Her grades had been dropping in recent weeks, and she seemed to be upset about something. She is a very intelligent student, so I decided that I needed to talk to her. Peacekeeping is always the easiest solution, but it does not lead to long term peace. Waging peace requires us to work diligently and patiently, and it depends on good communication. It would have been peacekeeping for me to just give her a detention and a heavy handed punishment, but deep down whatever resentment she was building for my class or school in general would have simply increased even if she modified her behavior to avoid detentions.

Instilling fear in students will keep quiet, at its best only the illusion of peace. I know as a teacher, it is easy to settle for these short term solutions because they are quick and simple and allow most of us to get quick results with minimal conflict. Still I asked myself, "Is this real peace?" Behavior and performance modification is not my goal as a teacher. I want my students to learn and grow. In fact, behavior and performance modification are hindrances to growth because they provide the illusion of growth as a substitute for real growth.

I decided to talk to the student, not in a confrontational way. I try really hard to avoid commanding students to respect me and their classmates. If I have to demand their respect through fear or guilt tactics, then I probably don't deserve it in the first place. I simply pointed out to the student that I noticed her grades had dropped and that she had seemed very distracted in my class. Then I asked her to tell me what she felt was going on and how the two of us could work together to make things better. It is important to give students ownership of their own education and conduct and to show them that you are working together, not against each other.

I did not expect this one conversation to be the be all and the end all. I hoped it would be a good first step in building a good relationship with this student so that she and the others in my class could have the best opportunity to learn. She did not point out any specific solutions we could try. She may not have even taken this conversation very seriously. She may not respect me at all at this point. Still, I believe that she knows I am not oblivious to her, that I noticed something was different, that I will not just let her hijack the class (even if I am not a heavy handed disciplinarian). I have noticed a difference. It is not a night and day difference, just a small one. I imagine that I might need to have more of these talks with her or her classmates, but this first step is so important.

Peaceful relationships begin by establishing trust. Once that foundation is in place, conflict resolution can begin in earnest. This is not a quick process because the issues that bring us into conflict rarely develop quickly even if the precipitating events for conflict seem sudden. If we only react to precipitating events and refuse to address the motivations and conditions behind those events, we are not really waging peace, just keeping quiet. I don't want a quiet classroom; I want a peaceful one even if it takes more work to get there.

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Learning as a Teacher through Diversity

It's a tired cliche that teachers learn much from their students, but it's true. I have the fortune of teaching in one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the country. The diversity of the students in my class brings a new dimension to my understanding of things I teach. Here's two examples.

An Asian student wrote a paper responding to an article about Disney's upcoming film The Princess and the Frog. The student agreed with the author that the princess might not be the best possible portrayal of an African American woman, and lamented the lack of black illustrators on the picture. I have many times criticized Disney's attempts with this film, saying they are pandering to an audience, or out of touch with black America, etc., etc. But my student also mentioned that children are less inflicted with racial prejudice than we are. And being Asian, she remembers feeling empowered by Mulan.

An Indian student wrote a paper responding to a class reading on several atrocities in the past decade in Namibia. He said he was often offended when American authors chose only to focus on the negative things occurring in other countries. He wanted the author to say positive things about Namibia as well.

So these two instances have taught me another layer of denying white privilege. I might have the luxury of tearing apart a Disney film for its racial insensitivity, but the positive implications of a black princess are vast, and might actually outweigh these concerns. I might have the safe harbor of American academia from which to locate the problems of the world, but I don't live in the countries I choose to insult rather than understand.

See? It's a cliche because it's true.

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Church Tour: The Decision


It's hard to believe we started this process in December of 2008. That's almost a year ago! In February, we felt it was time to move on officially from our last church (where we had a great experience) and visit all kinds of different churches. We had a goal to choose a new church by our European trip in July, but we didn't make it. So, here we are in October. And we've found a new home!

Drum roll please...

Riverside United Methodist Church
touched our heart so much the first time we visited in June, and has continued to bless us every Sunday we've been. Every time we tell someone we decided on this church, they ask, "What do you like about it?" I'll tell you!

-It's tiny. Like 75 people or less. We like not getting lost in the crowd and people recognizing us on Sundays.
-We like Methodists. Of all the denominational doctrines, we seem to align most closely with Methodist. Every Methodist local church is REALLY different, though, and many are not as Gospel-centered as we like. Riverside is all the things we love about Methodist, and very few of the things we don't.
-Women are fully welcomed and recognized as pastors, leaders, laypeople, and everything else. Their last senior pastor was a woman, and now the pastoral staff consists of a male senior pastor, a female associate pastor, and a female pastoral intern. I can't tell you how much this means to us, to have men and women serving together as pastors, as servant leaders, fully using their gifts and acting out God's calling without discrimination.
-The congregation is predominantly African American. As we said before, it became clear to us fairly early on our tour that we wanted to be somewhere multi-racial or at least not predominantly white. We have a heart for racial reconciliation, and we desire the rich experiences that come from being in fellowship with diversity.
-We LOVE Sunday services. We love the 9 person choir, the lectionary readings, the acolytes, the clapping, the singing, the prayers, the extended greeting time, the intentionality of everything. We love how we connect with God and how that time feels sacred.
-Everyone preaches. We've been four times and heard 4 different people preach. The whole pastoral staff preaches, allowing each person to use their gift of teaching and preaching. Each sermon we've heard has spoken directly to us, with a good mix of conviction, hope, and perspective.
-There are only a few church activities each week. We wanted to be somewhere that we didn't feel obligated to spend every night doing something church-related, and it's nice to be somewhere that we don't have to do 12 things to feel connected. There's a weekly Bible study and bi-monthly outreach opportunities, a fourth Sunday dinner, and that's about it. It's great.
-It feels very genuine and authentic. It's not very slick, sometimes there are technical difficulties no one can solve, and no one is trying to impress me with a gimmick.

We have not made any decisions about "joining," though we most likely will. And we are in the honeymoon phase, we realize that. We are finally at the place where we realize there will be things that go wrong, possibly people that hurt us, things we don't agree with, etc. And that's ok. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. And surprisingly this church doesn't "have" some things we thought might be important, like people our age, small groups, etc. But it feels like more than enough right now. We are very grateful to God for our last church, the church tour journey, and our new home.

Solo dei gloria.

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The Body Beautiful

In the women's studies course I teach, we've been talking about body image, media representation, and other related issues. One article we discussed brought attention to how we view the body as parts, not as a whole. I've been pondering this idea, because I think when we don't like something about our body, we fixate on the negative "parts." Then the whole becomes negative. "My hips are too big" really means I don't think my whole body is proportionate. Our perception of our body comes from our comparison of our own bodies to images or representations of other bodies. It's not a true examination of our holistic body.

Some magazines lately have done some interesting things to talk about the body. I applaud the efforts, but sometimes I think they fall flat and occasionally might actually be harmful. (Be forewarned: I've linked the following examples on the bolded words, but some of them are nude photographs of women. They are covered, but nude.) Serena Williams says she's insecure about her curves so she poses nude for the cover of ESPN Magazine's "body" issue this month. Glamour gets some good comments on an "au naturael" photo of a woman sitting au naturale with a belly and a smile on her face, so they do an official shoot of some of their "fuller figured" models and run a supporting article. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty sponsors a movie called The Women featuring a cast who isn't super-skinny, but thinner than average.

Feminist critics, politically and religiously conservative commentators, and other folks have a lot to say about women being nude subjects of photography. The nature of photographs meant for consumption in magazines really is a whole topic in and of itself. I think the photographers and subjects meant well, I really do. And I draw some encouragement from their attempts.

However, there are some (perhaps unintended) messages getting through here. First, be confident about those curves as long as you aren't fat. Sure, a size 8 is ok. But beyond that you don't look sexy naked. If these women are "plus-size" then what about women who are overweight? Second, "natural" confidence can only be exuded when you are in a professional studio, your picture taken by an artist, and your make-up and hair done with expensive products. And it would help if you're a model. I don't see someone's no make-up, candid backyard photograph, taken by a friend, appearing in these mags as features on "real" women's bodies. And third, the way to express your confidence in your body is to pose nude. In many ways I think it would be better to show women in clothes that hug a stomach that's not perfectly toned or ill-fitting jeans or something. Naked models complicate our gaze because it's always going to be voyeuristic in some way, even if we're meant to sincerely appreciate the female form.

The whole body, then, is an account of our interior and external struggles and triumphs. There are ways to hate it and love it (sometimes simultaneously) in constructive ways. And I'm glad to see that some people in the fashion industry are at least trying to show us that.

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Words

I could make waves with all my word,
Could address,
Could empower,
Could challenge.
And I do.
It's just that the words
Are silent sometimes,
Lost in the meaning of
Many thoughts gone awry.
Because I plan my words
To lift up,
To connect,
To exemplify.
And sometimes they fall short.
And I do.
And you wouldn't guess
That I'm on my way,
That I'm closer
And broader
And higher.
I give you my word.
Count me here through it all.
You can't stumble on devotion,
It has to be built.
That's why I stand on the Word-
It's a peaceful sword
With multiple meanings
And countless graces.
It's like apples,
Like silver,
Like every metaphor
Rolled into one.
I'm a word,
Or a letter,
Or a poem,
Or a story,
Singing my way to the open distance
That won't be forgotten.
And I don't.
Because it's why,
And how,
And perpetually who
I choose to live my life to be.
The myth of beauty
And the allure of wealth
Will not be my end.
I'm real,
Before a word
Is spoken,
Before a breath
Is drawn,
Scoring my way through those waters
Beating on.
Against the current.
Not ceaseless,
Just steady.
In a word,
I am.

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Journaling

Around age 15 I got inspired to journal. I don't recall how it happened exactly, but I remember sitting under a tree one afternoon at a summer ballet school, away from home and usually all my creative energy on everything I could find. And after that poem, written on one of the first pages of a journal with pink ballet shoes on the front, I was hooked.

In my parents' house, I have lined an upper shelf with 10+ years of journal books, and the others are crammed into a bookcase in my home. I went through different phases with the kind of books I liked--spiral, lined, unlined. At one point I only wanted the kind that was "night" on one side and "day" on the other. Now I'm into unlined, light weight, and made from sustainable paper.

At one point I read all of them, probably six years ago or so. I catalogued my teenage musings and my twenty-something dreams into all these little books, and they are really quite telling.

I've kept up with the pace for the most part, but somewhere around May of this year I abandoned it altogether. Somehow it felt inauthentic, or redundant, or an inadequate picture of what my life is really like. Since I tend to pick up the pen in an effort to deal with suffering, sometimes my journals read like an account of someone who is constantly afflicted and looking for hope. I am that person sometimes, but I'm also incredibly content right now, and thoroughly enjoying my life. Not to mention, with all the writing I do for school, it felt like a chore.

But last night I opened my unfinished journal and wrote. And it felt really good. I apologized to the pages for my neglect and after a page or so of disclaimers I just let go. I tend to come to forms of epiphany when I journal, or at least make unforeseen connections, and I always find hope is God's unfailing love. In this instance, I was attempting to make sense of something big. And I did find some poetic hope in the pouring out of my words and heart, to pages who won't tell a soul and to a God who always listens and always understands.

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My Year of Peace: International Day of Peace

Happy International Day of Peace! On September 21, 1981, International Day of Peace was born (only a few months after me). The United Nations conceived this day as a memorial to the end of war worldwide.

IDoP celebrates the movement for political peace. My own journey focuses on spiritual peace, but I find that the two are clearly linked. In the spirit of today, I thought I would share a few thoughts about my political pacifism, since most of my other posts focus more on spiritual issues. For me, the two are inextricably linked. I cannot live a peaceful life without mourning the cost of war even if it does not seem to affect me directly.

I don't support war. I know that can be a problematic statement. It does not mean that I do not support the armed services. I just do not support war as a political policy. I know that the issues are complex, but I do not believe that violence can ever truly end violence. It may be the easiest temporary solution. Certainly wars have been fought for valid reasons, but I do not believe that wars can really bring about peace. I know that most governments would prefer peace to war, but I think that some of them do not do the difficult work that is required in order to "wage peace."

I can't think of a single war that has brought long-term peace. World War II certainly ended some grave atrocities, but it also led directly to the Cold War, which led to many more lost lives all over the world (many of them ironically in ways eerily similar to the Holocaust). We are still reaping the consequences of our militaristic national policies back in the early part of the 20th century. I know the "War on Terror," is more than just an off-shoot of the World Wars, but I think that few people would deny the many connections between them.

For the last eight years, our nation has been waging two wars. There seems to be no real end in sight even though many politicians have promised we are "making progress." How do we measure the "progress" of war? Do we measure it by how many lives are lost, or do we measure it by how "peaceful" Iraq becomes? How can peace come during an eight year war? Even if we do achieve our objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, objectives that have always been unclear to me at best, do we really believe that we will institute sustainable peaceful governments there. By showing the rest of the world that we use violence to solve our international disputes, don't we teach them that terrorism really is a viable option? War destroys infrastructures, destroys lives, destroys morals, and destroys morale. Aren't these the very conditions that lead to terrorism and more war?

I am a pacifist. That does not mean that I believe that America should back down from evil and oppression. It simply means that I believe we should not use war as a foreign policy. I do not know what the solution to terrorism is or how we can best achieve world peace, but I am sure that the answer is not war.

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My Year of Peace: Peaceful Conflict

Conflict... a scary word for many peaceful people. I am a master at conflict avoidance, and I have a bag full of passive aggressive tricks that help me to fight dirty while still looking quite peaceful when I am forced to deal with conflict. As I am pursuing being a more peaceful person, I already know that the area of conflict is going to be one of my biggest challenges.

It kicked off immediately this week. It was not a very personal conflict, and much of it was actually related to things that I read online that I disagree with. For many people, this kind of conflict is easy, but it tends to be the area where I fight dirtiest, where I am least peaceful. The cover of a computer screen emboldens me to attack more brutally and sarcastically than I usually do in person, especially over issues that really do matter to me personally. One of those issues is the whole gender issue. I am an egalitarian, and I feel very strongly about it, but I do not always offer much grace to those who don't see things my way.

Earlier this week, I was reading the Christians for Biblical Equality blog. They had a really interesting post about hyphenated names that I had already read, but I decided I wanted to read it again. I was scrolling through the comments and noticed a few that really annoyed me. One person equated name hyphenation with wives rebelling against their husbands. Another just started blasting egalitarians in general with most of the usual attacks. I started to tense up, but then I noticed that one of the egalitarian members started launching fairly juvenile attacks right back at the second offensive commenter. I paused for a second because her attacks also made me tense up. She made many assumptions about the anonymous commenter that made me very uncomfortable. This was clearly a case of two people fighting dirty. Fortunately, one of the admins posted a long comment in which he addressed both and illustrated how to disagree in a peaceful way. He merely expressed what he did and did not believe in a respectful and intelligent way.

This was an important illustration for me because I was faced with some similar conflicts later in the week. One of them was at work during lunch when I sat down in the middle of a debate about health care. I feel strongly that our health care system needs reform, but I am not sure what is the best way to go about it. I know that my views are somewhere in the middle of the current debate, but I am sadly not informed enough (despite reading articles about it from both sides) to state my views very clearly. In this situation, I realized that listening would be a more fruitful and peaceful way to participate in this debate, and I was participating. Listening is an action, and sometimes it is the only correct action to take during a conflict. I actually learned a lot from my colleagues and walked away with respect for each of them, no matter their opinions on the subject.

I won't really share the details of the other incident except to say that in this case, simply listening silently was not the best course of action. The issue at hand was one that I am very informed about and is very personal to me. The person I disagreed with had said something mostly in jest. Normally, my fear of conflict would tell me to say nothing, but I would hold that joke against the person. That is not real peace, so I decided to share my feelings about it. The result was actually very pleasant. I walked away with a much greater respect for the other person, and I felt good that I had shared how I felt rather than simply holding a grudge about it.

Peace is not an easy black and white way of living. It requires wisdom, and most of all, it requires me to consider my actions prayerfully.

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Church Tour: Recap


Well, the "tour" part of this journey has come to an end. Now we are in the process of choosing a home. And we are sooooo close! Probably by this time next week we'll know, and we'll let you know.



And here's the tour by numbers:
1 Messianic Jewish
1 Greek Orthodox
3 Episcopal
3 Methodist
1 Mennonite
1 Evangelical Presbyterian
1 Lutheran CMS
1 Vineyard

It seems like I missed one, but it was a great experience overall. We are really glad we did it, and really glad to be at the point where we're ready to commit to a local body once again.

The point of it all was to explore our spiritual identity as a couple, and to experience God in many different modes of worship. We also vowed to be very positive and focus on how God was moving in those churches, rather than focus on the negative and critique each one.

Having spent my spiritual upbringing in mostly non-denominational and Baptist churches, whereas Eric spent his childhood in Catholic and Lutheran churches, and meeting in an "emergent" church, we thought we might have to look hard for something to suit both of us. In a way we did, but we both opened up along the way to new styles and connections to God that we didn't necessarily anticipate.

And what became the number one priority for us (apart, of course, from the centrality of the Gospel) was a multi-racial congregation. For many reasons this is so important in our lives, and in God's racial reconciliation work in general. There are so many breathtakingly beautiful people in the world, and we want to expand our Christian circle beyond the white, middle-class ones we have now. We recognize the cultural needs that more racially homogeneous congregations provide, and don't want to appear judgmental of people who choose those churches. It's simply about where we happen to be called right now.

So stay tuned, the decision is coming soon! Please pray for us and we seek confirmation on this final choice.

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My Year of Peace

Over a year ago, I took a personality profile that told me I was a "peaceful" person. It really had me completely pegged, all of my strengths and weaknesses. Since then, I think I have been coming to terms with the idea. I think that in the past I have been hesitant to embrace my peacefulness because we live in a culture that frankly does not value peace, nor is it seen as a masculine quality. Well, our culture is wrong about a lot of things, and this is yet another one to add to the list. I am a peaceful man. I have always been most at home when I have been at peace, but part of me has always resisted, and far too often I have settled for temporary peacekeeping rather than peacemaking.

Over the last week, I have heard God calling me to peace. The Diversity Club on campus has made "waging peace" their theme for the year, and on Tuesday, they invited me to join them to speak about my visit to the Peace Palace in Den Haag this summer. I felt honored to be there, and their words challenged me to think about my own pursuit of peace. I am at my best when I am at peace. I have learned this about myself, so it really makes sense that I should seek to "wage peace" around me. I am not sure exactly what it will look like yet, and I kicked off the week by posting a sarcastic political remark on my Facebook page (clearly I have some work to do). So this is my challenge, to "wage peace" for this next year.

I started my day today reading in my "Year Bible," and I came across this verse: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." I think those are good words of encouragement for me as I start this new phase of my journey.

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Wall Call

My photographer friend Shauna Maness is having a clever contest now called Wall Call. She shot mini-sessions of 13 different folks and posted them on her blog. Now, she's having people vote on their favorite photo. The people with the most votes will get a free session.

If you're in the Bryan/College Station area I really recommend her... She's got such a great eye. She also gives classes on photography to beginners and advanced.

Check her out here!

My vote:

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Bye Bye TNIV

I'm trying to reserve some judgment on this until I see the updated NIV, but right now I'm heartbroken. Zondervan just announced that they will scrap the Today's New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible and undergo a major revision of the NIV due out 2011.

The TNIV is a gender inclusive translation of the Bible that very responsibly uses references to "men and women" and "humankind" and "brothers and sisters" in its text. Any time the original language used inclusive references, they are stated as such. It keeps the male pronoun for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. The translation was very liberating for Eric and I. It is such a relief to be directly spoken to as a "sister" in the Bible, as it should be, rather than told "Oh, mankind means everybody. You're overreacting."

I'm not overreacting. Language is powerful, so when I get picky about semantics, it's because they carry meaning far beyond the words themselves. If there is "neither male nor female" then we need to be vigilant about making sure our language reflects that equality.

Several years ago I read a book by a woman who was severely abused by her father, and underwent all sorts of victimization from men. She struggled often with the male-dominance of churches. A gender-inclusive Bible was a big step in her restoration. She cried when she read it.

So I pray that the next version of the NIV will seek God on how to lift up our brothers and sisters through this translation. I don't want to have to fight to be included in a Bible that was written for me, too.

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First Day of School

I have always loved the first day of school. Even as a home-schooler my parents made a big deal about it, with new clothes and books and lots of build up. In college, I looked forward to new classes and challenges each semester. And now as a teacher, I still get butterflies and can hardly sleep the night before.

I guess that means I'm in the right profession! Last year when I was just writing, I found it hard to have any sort of rhythm. I also felt like I wasn't contributing to the world like I wanted to. It's hard to let your gifts lie dormant. I don't regret taking last year off from teaching, but I did miss it terribly.

And I'm glad to be teaching my one class this semester. I feel a little rusty, and in the past I've definitely over-prepared, while now I'm quite under-prepared. Oh well, here we go.

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Micro-blogging: Why I Love and Hate It

I've been mulling over these thoughts for a while now, and decided to be the two millionth or so person to analyze the complexities of micro-blogging. I've never gotten into Twitter, and I've only been on a Twitter website a few times, but Facebook status updates are a constant barrage of bits of information about people's lives for me.

Writing a dissertation means I'm on the computer and internet all the time, and when the writing is not going well I'm on Facebook pretty constantly. Dissertating is a lonely process, and hitting refresh on FB to bring me news of friends and acquaintances somehow makes it feel less lonely. I'm always thrilled to hear about someone I hardly ever see or talk to getting engaged, a new job, etc. It's nice to be in on the random details of someone's day, too, the inconsequential things that seem important enough to tell the world about. Even with friends I see or talk to often, I have key points to address when we next talk, like "I saw on FB that you went to that new restaurant" or "Oh you saw that movie, what did you think?" My personal status updates come when I'm feeling particularly interesting, or I've done something cool, or I'm feeling thankful. And telling my 400 odd FB friends about me somehow validates my actions or thoughts.

So here's why I hate it. It feels dishonest in some ways. For example, yesterday I posted an update about the organic apple/kiwi juice I made fresh. Impressive, right? But I posted nothing about the gross fast food I ate for lunch, or how I'd skipped breakfast because I didn't feel well, etc. Even if it's about something as banal as food, you will never get the full story. Updates or tweets are carefully chosen selections. I may be having a really terrible day but post something about how much I love summer. Both may be true at the same time, but the crappy day is more encompassing and you'd have no way of knowing that. The point is it shows some of what we are doing but not how we are doing.

And sometimes, I have this crazy jealousy for other people's days. Based on their statuses, their life seems way more interesting than mine today. Sometimes I get my feelings hurt because I see that someone did something cool but didn't invite me or a close friend posts news I wish I'd heard in person (I know more than one person who has learned of their sibling's engagement via Facebook). Seems silly, but an instance like that could affect me deeply for a while.

In Laurel Snyder's article "Addicted to Twitter" she talks about how she thinks in Twitter when she's not around it. I find myself doing this too. When we were abroad this summer I did not miss my cell phone one bit, and barely missed the internet, but I still found myself thinking after many experience, "Lauran just saw a lake where scenes from Harry Potter were filmed" or "Lauran is trying out an English accent." What? That's what I'm thinking about? How I can sound the coolest on Facebook? Like it's a twisted popularity contest I'm playing with myself?

Snyder brilliantly puts it this way:
"It’s all the mental and creative energy spent on words that don’t even get archived. It’s all the tweets that could have been conversations with my family. All the words I could have poured into poems or lines of dialogue or essays like this one. All the thoughts that should not be formatted, reduced, condensed to 140 characters. All the ideas meant for mulling. All the words best spoken to an audience of one (or none). It’s the idea that thinking is not a performance, hard as that can be for someone like me to accept."

I'm not quitting micro-blogging or taking a fast from it or whatever, I'm just trying to be aware of what effect it has on me and to temper it as much as possible. My life is way too complex for 140 characters.

And just for fun, here's a spoof of Twitter called "Flutter":

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(500) Days of Summer

Lauran and I went to see (500) Days of Summer a few nights ago. I will try not to spoil it for those who haven't seen it, but I must say that I found it to be very entertaining and revealing. It gave me a lot to think about because I could relate to so much of it. It felt very real.

The male character, Tom, is overly idealistic. I say he suffers from "Prufrock syndrome," something I to tend to suffer from. I get the name from T.S. Eliot's poem (the most amazing poem in the English language by the way). The poem is essentially about a man who experiences life from a distance, who is so trapped in his ideals, that he is paralyzed. I tend to fall victim to my own overblown idealism, romanticism, and optimism, so I can relate a little too much to this character. In fact, it was on rereading this poem for the umpteenth time that I decided finally to ask Lauran out because I didn't want to "grow old" and "wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled." Tom has some of the same problems. He is an architect who works at a greeting card company because this job conveniently allows him to protect himself from the possible disappointment of not being able to succeed at his dream. It allows him to live in the trite world of get-well-soons and i-love-yous and happy-birthdays rather than face the possibility that reality might not coincide with his ideals.

Tom meets Summer and falls for her instantly. Summer, however, wants to keep things casual. She is skeptical about love and guarded about her feelings. Tom only thinks he is guarded about his feelings. He only sees roses and singing birds. I can relate all too well to this way of seeing the world. I am an incurable optimist and romantic. I don't apologize for it or even think it is a bad way of going about life. I like being an optimist and romantic, but it does have its pitfalls. I have a tendency to avoid conflict. I sometimes am oblivious to people's pain and anger. I withdraw from those who don't affirm my ideals.

Fortunately, Tom is not a static character. I won't give away the ending, but it was refreshing to see how he and Summer grew. Real growth is not something you see in most romantic comedies (and I admit that I tend to like romantic comedies and am glad to be married so that I can have an excuse to watch them without breaking any guy codes). Fortunately, I have also grown (with my fair share of regressing and relapsing of course). The beginning stages of Tom and Summer's relationship reminded me in many ways of the beginning of my relationship with Lauran. I fell much quicker than she did. I avoided conflict and was often confused when she showed hurt or anger. I idealized her.

One day reality set in, and I was like Prufrock swimming with the mermaids when "human voices wake us and we drown." Our first real conflict made me feel as though my world was crashing down around me, but it wasn't. Rather, the reality of our love (with all its imperfections) crashed through my illusions. I think the reason this movie has resonated with so many in my generation is that many of us tend to be either Summer or Tom, either disillusioned cynics, or hopeless romantics. Sadly, both of these things lead us to a love paralysis (a la Prufrock). Love is not some perfect ideal, nor is it some sugary delusion. Yet we often think it is. We rush in like idiots, get hurt, and then build up our defenses. Our illusions get shattered, so we abandon all our ideals and hopes.

I thank God for Lauran and for the opportunity to know real love, not pop song love, not fairy tale love, not romatic comedy love. As we watched the movie together, I laughed some (ok I laughed a lot, you know I never laugh just a little), and I winced a little as I watched this couple navigate the treacherous waters of love armed only with romanticism and skepticism, our 21st century weapons that are really so useless in the face of love's storms. Afterwards, I had a greater appreciation for the journey love has taken us on and for the way we have both grown. There is still hope for us romantics and for you skeptics.

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Blog for a Year


Eric and I saw Julie and Julia tonight, which is a delightful film that I actually found really inspiring. I love that Julia Child didn't discover her passion in cooking until her 40s, and worked on her book for over 8 years before it finally was published. Julie Powell gained her notoriety by cooking her way through Julia Child's cookbook - 500 something recipes in 365 days - and blogging about it.

After the movie, I asked Eric what he would blog about for a year. We didn't come up with something right away. But plenty of people have done it. Like the "Year of Slow-Cooking" blog by a woman who made something in her crockpot everyday - from casseroles to breads to desserts. Or Kevin Roose, whose "Unlikely Disciple" blog followed his "study abroad" year at Liberty University.

I've actually had some pretty good ideas, but I'll keep them to myself in case this whole doctorate things doesn't work out. (haha) It's just fun to think about.

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The Best of the Rest of the UK

During one of our days in the UK, we got to spend the morning and early afternoon in Hampton Court Palace and the rest of the day in Windsor. It was a royal castle extravaganza.

Hampton Court was the favorite residence of Henry VIII. It now functions as a tourist attraction kind of like a permanent renaissance festival. It has actors portraying Henry and his court on the day of his sixth wedding. You can tour the kitchens which have been designed to recreate the actual medieval kitchen experience. There was even a falconer. We enjoyed touring the kitchens and apartments, but perhaps the most impressive part is the gardens. They are huge and ornate, filled with interesting trees, flowers, and fountains. They were beautiful. They also had an old hedge maze built for King William. It is the most famous hedge maze in the world, so we had to take a stab at it. We almost gave up, but in the end, we persevered and triumphed. It was fun.

Later that afternoon, we headed over to Windsor, a beautiful city on the Thames famous for being the home of Eton and the weekend palace for the royals. We toured the palace, and it was amazing. The exterior is huge and formidable. The interiors are elaborate and filled with expensive treasures and artwork. It is hard to imagine that people actually live in this place. The queen wasn't there while we were, so we didn't see her or any of the other royals. Still it was really interesting. Out of the four castles we saw, this was by far the most impressive. Later we took a river cruise along the Thames that was very nice and quiet. We saw lots of the beautiful countryside around Windsor. We also saw lots of swans. During our time in Europe I think I took about ten pictures of swans because I had never seen one before. I think Lauran was less impressed. Finally, the Bowsers came out to pick us up that night, and we had dinner at a great Indian food restaurant (Brits' favorite food).

Our last day in the UK, the Bowsers took us out to Bath about 1 and 1/2 hours west of where they live. It is an old resort town where the Romans originally built some thermal baths and spas, the only location of a natural hot water spring in the UK. It is beautiful because it is nestled in a valley along the River Avon. We toured the baths which are over 2000 years old, probably the oldest place I have ever been. We also visited the Jane Austen Centre, which was fun since we both like her. She apparently hated the time she lived in Bath, but that didn't stop them from capitalizing on her success. On the way back home, we drove past Stonehenge, so I could see it. It is impressive, but much more "in ruins" than I expected it to be. I didn't realize that some of the stones had fallen over.

We had such a great time in the UK. We were sad to leave, and we owe much thanks to the Bowsers for being such great hosts and tour guides. We are blessed to have friends like them.

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Missed

Things I missed while we were traveling:

1. Family and friends (the obvious answer)
2. Charmin toilet paper
3. Water (restaurants give you shot glasses of water, if they give it at all)
4. Our dog Morgan



Things I did not miss:

1. Driving a car
2. My cell phone
3. Normal responsibilities
4. Super-sized anything

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More London

Eric was set on taking the double-decker bus tour, and it really is a great way to see the city, so we spent the better part of a day on the "coach". He was also really set on sitting on the top, which was fine except the first 30 minutes when it was raining like mad. But I toughed it out b/c I love him, covered in a very unfashionable poncho.

Thankfully the sun came out in time for the Thames river cruise part of the tour, guided by a delightfully funny Brit with a classic dry humor. He referred to the London Eye as the London "eyesore" and a lot of other clever things I can't remember. I guess you had to be there.

We toured Westminster Abbey, my second time there. It's a little weird b/c it's basically a really ornate, indoor cemetery, and we're walking around with an audio guide. But the abbey itself is beautiful and I enjoyed hearing the Cantor's remarks on Anglican faith. Eric of course spent a good amount of time in Poet's Corner.

The rest of the afternoon we spent on the bus tour, with just one stop at Notting Hill. We weren't there on market day, but Portobello Road is still a great little street and it's a cool area.

We were fortunate to get tickets to see Wicked in a West End theater that night. Actually we were totally freaking out about it, b/c we've been trying to see this musical since we met. It exceeded our expectations and we had a blast. I didn't know much about the actual storyline but Eric had read the book, and we both enjoyed it immensely.

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Jolly Ole London

Our friends the Bowsers who teach in an American school outside London graciously let us crash with them for four days, then were the best tour guides ever.

Saturday we walked from Waterloo Station to the Thames and down the river to the Globe Theater. We wanted to see a show but it was sold out, so we settled for an archaeological tour of the area. That was cool b/c they told us how things would have been in Shakespeare's Day. We also got to see the Rose Theater, currently under reconstruction, where Shakespeare did plays before he got popular.

Then we went to the Tate Modern museum, which has completely altered our view of modern/contemporary art. The works are explained enough to appreciate them more fully but not so much as to take away the viewers' interpretation. Of course some of it we really didn't "get", but it's a fantastic museum and I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. We ate dinner on the 7th story restaurant with fabulous views of London and enjoyed a leisurely evening walk along the Thames.

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Den Haag and Gouda

We just arrived yesterday in jolly London, but I figured I should catch everyone up on the end of our Netherlands trip.

The Hague is such a great city. It is the cleanest city I have ever seen. It is also a seamless blend of modern and traditional (as is so much of Europe). Aside from the power-tripping tram cop, everyone there was extremely nice and very friendly, and they all spoke English. Some of them probably spoke it better than me, with just the slightest accents. I was quite impressed because I could barely pick up a word of Dutch. Dutch has many things in common with English. Some words are exactly the same, but it has for some reason been the hardest language for me to catch on to.

The second day in the Hague, we walked to the beach and rented bikes. The Dutch bikes were a little challenging to ride, at least to get on. Lauran just never stopped and would go in circles until we decided where to go next. She was sore the next day from trying to get on and off the bike. The North Sea is beautiful, but too cold to swim in. Instead we had lunch at a place called Noah's Ark. It was not the greatest dining experience, which is sad because everywhere else we ate in the Netherlands was amazing.

The next day, Lauran and I visited the Peace Palace in the Hague. It was very inspiring. The palace was originally built by the Carnegie Foundation in order to house the International Permanent Court of Arbitration, where countries and multinational corporations come to work out their differences peacefully. It has prevented much warfare and bloodshed. In return for this valuable service, the countries have given lavish gifts to the palace. For example, China gave four Ming vases that are literally priceless, they can't even be insured. Because of these gifts, the palace is simply stunning. Furthermore, the UN International Court of Justice is located here. We got to tour the courtroom. I found it so inspiring to see peace and justice held in such high regard, and the building was beautiful and fascinating.

The last day in the Netherlands, we took a quick train trip to Gouda (pronounced How-dah), where Gouda cheese originates. It is a small and somewhat traditional Dutch town, complete with canals. It was very beautiful, especially the church with its gorgeous stained glass windows. It is where Erasmus was ordained. Gouda was his hometown. We also visited the cheese museum and dined on some Gouda with mustard, the Dutch way of eating cheese. It was tasty and informative.

On our last night, our host took us out to eat at a great Italian restaurant. It was a wonderful way to end the visit, with great food and great friends in a wonderful atmosphere. We are so spoiled.

The Netherlands was a pleasant surprise overall. I had no idea what to expect, but I didn't imagine that it would be able to capture my interest like the other places we visited. It did thanks to its charming culture, beautiful cities and towns, and to wonderful people like Jess, Josue, and Randall.

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Den Haag- Day One

We really knew nothing about the Hague, and probably would not have come here on our own, but are so glad we came. We're staying with friends so we are getting a more personal view of the city, too.

Our friends were going to pick us up at the train station, but we miscommunicated about the details (i.e. we were at the wrong station) so we took a tram (like the light rail in Houston) to their house. We accidentally free-loaded on the first tram b/c we couldn't figure out how to buy tickets. On the second tram, 3 tram cops surrounded Eric and demanded to see his ticket. He played the dumb tourist (which fit us in this moment) and said he didn't know how to get a ticket. One of the police condescendingly asked him, "Where do you come from?" Eric replied the U.S. "Do you have trams in America, or buses? Where do you buy the tickets then?" We explained that we buy the tickets on the bus, and after some more condescending remarks showed us to the machine. He could have told us in the first place, but I think he has such little enforcement power, this was some sort of power trip.

We talked until midnight and took it easy the next day, as the 2 weeks of non-stop traveling started to catch up with us. We at in the Plein, a nice downtown square, and visited the M. C. Escher museum. I have always loved his work, and now I'm even more fascinated. They don't have any of his woodcuts, but do have many of his original prints, including his last work. The third floor of the museum houses interactive exhibits exploring how Escher accomplished his optical illusions. After a dessert of sorbetijs (sorbet) we spent the evening at home, where I beat them all in Scrabble (of course :).

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In Bruges

We spent two magical days in this charming village in Belgium, where we splurged to stay at a medieval house in celebration of our anniversary. The bed and breakfast is run by an artist who raises his 7 year old daughter in this fairytale. When we arrived, he popped his head out of the second story window and said "Hallo, welcome!" It's the only 15th century house in Bruges with an intact medieval interior. It's just as magical as it sounds, with a beautiful garden and overlooking the canal, which is connected to the other side by the Lover's Bridge. The owner gave us a print to commemorate our anniversary, even. We stayed on the third floor with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows with a projection screen movie. It was paradise. We were even served a 3 course breakfast in our room. We felt extremely spoiled and pampered, and all this for less than the price of a basic room at the Woodlands Marriott.

In Bruges, we had no agenda, b/c we wanted to enjoy each other and a slow pace. We took the canal tour, where we saw the Lover's Park, a famous dog that sleeps in a window overhanging the water, beautiful swans, and lots of old churches. Bruges has 27 Catholic churches for its relatively small population. It's all stone pathways and very old and romantic. The evening of our anniversary, David (the b and b owner) recommended a fabulous "gastronomic" restaurant where we ate lobster salad, raw salmon, lamb, and dessert.

The next day, we toured the chocolate museum (complete with demo and tasting of how pralines-filled chocolates-are made). Then we walked through the "romantic heart" of Bruges, where we saw the nunnery and old fish market. Finally we toured the brewery of the only beer brewed in Bruges, and had a tasting of that. (It was a tasting, mind you, not a chugging, b/c "Belgians are no Germans." :)


Oh, and we consumed inordinate amounts of chocolate. There are streets lined with fresh chocolate shops, so every time we got hungry we at chocolate. It's the perfect way to live!

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Finding My Roots in Wallonia

Well, we have safely arrived in the Hague, The Netherlands. We have gotten behind on our blogging because we were celebrating our anniversary in Bruges. Lauran is going to blog about that amazing experience later. I am going to talk about the day before our anniversary when we took a brief trek to Wallonia to visit the hometown of one of my Heraly ancestors.


My great-great-great-grandfather, Jean Joseph Heraly, was born in Corroy Le Grand, Belgium. His family emigrated to America in the mid-1800's. I am not sure why they came or why my other Belgian ancestors came around the same time. Corroy Le Grand is a tiny farming village about 30 miles to the southeast of Brussels. Nearby is a university town built in the 1960's called Louvain-la-Neuve. We weren't sure how we were going to get there, but we knew we could take a train to Louvain.

We were surprised by Louvain. It was built because the oldest Catholic university in the world is in Leuven, a town of mixed Flemish and Walloon heritage. Belgium is kind of like two separate countries, but the areas around Brussels often have a strange mix of the two. In the 60s, the university had a huge split over the language of instruction, and the Walloons decided to start a completely new town and take part of the university with them so that all the classes could be taught in their language, French.

The town was built as a pedestrian only city. All the roads go underneath the city. It is built like a giant outdoor mall above the ground, kind of like a less futuristic version of the Jetsons. You park or take a bus or train, and then take stairs up into the town. It is just as strange as it sounds. The town looks like a giant shopping plaza made out of reddish-brown brick. People live in what look like dorms with shops and cafes on the bottom floor. They must walk or bike from place to place because their cars (if they have them) are parked in some garage below. It was a strange and unique experience to say the least.

When we got off the train, we saw a tourist office. The woman their was very helpful. She gave us a map and told us how to get to the bus station. She was not sure how the buses would run that day, but she found a line that went to Corroy Le Grand. We had some time to kill, so we ate lunch at a waffle place. We had waffle sandwiches (a uniquely Belgian cuisine I am sure). They were very tasty. Finally, we caught the bus to Corroy Le Grand.

Corroy Le Grand is still a small farming village, just updated and now with more commuters who drive nice cars and live in nice homes. The countryside bears a striking resemblance to the part of Wisconsin where my ancestors eventually settled. It is also filled with dairy farms and barley fields. We also noticed that Belgians are fond of taverns (places where you can get a beer but also a pretty good meal if you like). This is interesting because my grandparents ran a tavern for several years, and the small towns in Wisconsin are full of them.

The bus dropped us off right next to a small dairy farm at the bottom of the hill the town is on. The familiar smell of dairy farm greeted us, and I laughed and told Lauran, "It even smells like Wisconsin." The village was beautiful. There were old brick homes with beautiful gardens, probably not much left from the days of my ancestors except for a few stone paved streets and perhaps the Catholic church at the top of the hill. We walked through the whole village in thirty minutes or so. The rolling hills full of fields of crops, the spotted dairy cows, and the lone Catholic church all reminded me of the town in Wisconsin where most of my family lives. One of the main streets was called Rue Eglise ("Church Street" in English), and my grandparents now live on Church Street, one of the two main roads in their town.

It was a really incredible experience. I walked on the same streets my ancestors walked before they came to America. I saw the connections between the Old World and the New. I experienced my heritage in a really unique way. It was a real privilege. It took a bit of ingenuity and traveling savvy on the part of Lauran and I, and it took a lot of patience, but it all paid off to be able to connect our European travels to my own family history. It gave a greater significance to the rest of our time in Belgium, knowing that even though I am far from my home, there is something of home here too.

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Belgium, My Homeland

Well, we arrived two days ago in Brussels. We are staying in a hotel on the outskirts of the central part of the city. Brussels is a very interesting city, somewhat schizophrenic. The neighborhood we are staying in is inhabited by mostly immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. I have heard ,any different languages spoken, but officially, people speak either Dutch of French, depending on which part of Belgium they come from. In Brussels, everything is in both languages because it is right in the middle. It is also the headquarters of the European Union, so many people speak English.

Yesterday we toured the central part of Brussels. The Grand Place is the main attraction, a beautiful market square surrounded by old buildings that used to be the town halls and administrative buildings. I have enjoyed connecting my family's past and present. For exanple, there is a huge church dedicated to St. Nicholas, one of Belgium's favorite saints, and still a favorite with my family. As a kid, my grandparents gave us gifts on St. Nicholas's day, a popular Belgian tradition. I have also noticed that Brussels is in general a very eccentric, even goofy city, also like my family. The national symbol seems to be a statue of a boy peeing into a fountain. They dress him in various costumes throughout the year. It really helps explain where I got my cheesy sense of humor from. The patron saint of Belgium is the archangel Michael, and there is a huge cathedral dedicated to him. Strangely, there are no Michaels that I know of in my dad's family, but coincidentally, it is my middle name.

The food here is awesome. Yesterday we hqd waffles with strawberries and ice cream. We also had waterzooie, a Belgian stew. Today we had waffle sandwiches for lunch. We want some fries before we go - they are Belgium's most famous food product, even though we insist on calling them French fries in the US.

We are about to catch a bus to the village my great-great-great grandfather was born in. I will blog more about that later.

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Paris New

I have been to Paris 4 times, its the European city thats easy to fly into and its central so you have to go through it. But its worked its usual magic on me and has completely captured Erics heart.

Today I saw mostly places I hadnt seen before. Vincennes is a medieval castle just outside town with the tallest keep in Europe. My imagination went wild inside the stone walls and royal chambers. we even got to climb the bell tower. The chapel is now a museum housing an exhibit of Bulgarian icons.

Then we visited the Orange museum; which has been under rennovation every time I came. The ground floor houses renoir; Gaugin; and others. But the main attraction is Monets water lillies; 8 mural sized paintings that were his final pieces. He painted them specifically to donate to France; and left instructions on how they were to be displayed; so they are stunning.

We also walked thru the Tuilleries which I dont recall doing before. They are a lovely large garden/park that used to be part of the Louvre.

We were to catch a train at 7 to Brussels; but the metro route we had taken all week changed just the day before and dumped us off halfway. we had to take a longer route which put us at the train station 3 minutes before departure. we rushed to print off our eticket but the Machine would not recogniZe our name and we missed the train. After an hour in the ticket line the very nice clerk simply moved our time for no fee and we made it to Brussels last night.

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Paris Je T'aime

Forgive my typos because French keyboards are very different from American ones.

I must say that Paris has truly surpassed my highest expectations. It must surely be the most beautiful city in the world. Of course, we have benefitted from lovely weather and a nice air-conditioned hotel. Still, the city is breathtaking in so many ways. I won't say much about the normal tourist stuff. It is all great of course. Our hotel is right down the street from the Eiffel Tower, so we have seen plenty of it. It is stunning, much different in person. I always thought it was black, but it is actually brown. Who knew? The Musee d'Orsay (which features the famous Impressionist painters) is my favorite museum ever. It is housed in a beautiful renovated railway station. I liked it much better than the Louvre, which Iwas mostly bored by, except for the beautiful castle it is housed in and the glass pyramids outside. Notre Dame is also beautiful, inside and out.

Here are my real highlights though. First of all, I love the people here. Most people have been so friendly and lively. Maybe it helps that yesterday was Bastille Day, but everyone has had such high spirits They have defied every stereotype Americans have of the French, just like I though they would. Second, the food is amazing. So far I have had crepes, baguetttes, chocolate mousse, foie gras, and not a bite has been anything but delicious, whether from a cafe or street vendor. Third, I love walking the streets and sitting outside the cafes. It is a magical experience. Fourth, we got to see the most amazing fireworks show yesterday to top off Bastille Day. The show was at the Eiffel Tower. It was thirty minutes of amazing pyrotechnics coming off every inch of the tower. It was stunning. It made all other fireworks shows look like sparklers in the backyard. Not to mention that while waiting in line for the Orsay, we got to see the French air force fly by for the Bastille Day parade, a great way to wait in line.

Paris is wonderful, a magical place.

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Flamenco

I am having a hard time going to be on our last night in Spain. Also, I cant figure out much of the punctuation on this keyboard, thus the seeming lack of enthusiasm. I am in fact quite excited.

We decided to see a Flamenco show, we were so tired but talked ourselves into it and we loved it. It was an Opera and Flamenco, a showcase compiled to introduce tourists to the art form, but with some of the top dancers in the country. A male and female dancer traded off and did some dancing together. I didnçt know men did Flamenco. This was a particular form, zarazuela or something like that, that is very passionate and uses clapping or snapping instead of castinets. She had about 5 costume changes and in one dance the 5 foot train was an integral part of the choreography. Interspersed a tenor and soprano narrated in operatic form the tumultous love story, and the whole time musicians played. It was so impressive.

I am going to buy a dress and start dancing.

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We Will Miss Barcelona

Today is our last day in Barcelona. We have had a great time, but we are on our way to Paris tomorrow.

We decided to tour the mountains of Barcelona today. It was a very hot day. We booked a new hotel for today because of some previous complications. It is not nearly as nice as the other one, but it is very centrally located. Lauran says I needed to experience a trashy European hotel sometime on this trip. Anyway we left our bags there this morning and headed off to Tibidabo, my new favorite word to say out loud over and over again, just ask Lauran. Tibidabo is the mountain that overlooks Barcelona. It has spectacular views of the city and ocean, and at the top is an old amusement park and a beautiful church. We took the old Blue Tram and a funicular to the top of the mountain. It was really fun. We did not ride any of the rides at the top because the lines were a little long, and it was really hot today. Still, we really enjoyed seeing Barcelona from so high up.

We then ate the best meal we have had yet on our trip. It was at an old traditional Catalan restaurant. We ate fideo, it is like paella but with vermicelli noodles instead of rice. It had prawns that we had to shell ourselves, and it was also covered with allioli, a garlic mousse that is very delicious. We must try and make some when we get home.

The other mountain we visited today was Montjuic, where the old administrative center of the city was. It is a smaller mountain that is right in the middle of the city, beside the beach, again making for beautiful views. We walked around and went inside the Olympic Stadium. We were going to visit the Museum of Catalan Art, but it was closed. Instead we rode the cable cars to the top of the mountain where there is a really cool castle. It was a fun alternative and my first time visiting a castle. We spent some time sitting on a bench on top of the castle, gazing out across the Mediterranean Sea. It was beautiful and relaxing. The cable car ride was really fun too.

We are now just resting and cooling off, but we are about to head back to the Rambla in hopes of finding a cool flamenco show. We have loved Barcelona. It is a very laid back and beautiful city. The people are welcoming, and the culture is amazing. It has been a great start to our European adventure.

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Barce Love

We started out the day with a trip to teh Picasso museum. Picasso lived in Barcelona off an on throughout his life, and went to drawing school here. At age 15, he began winning awards as a realist artist. School turned him into an anti establishment painter, and he rebelled with explicit cartoons and cubist works. Many of the paintings he completed whilst in Barcelona are housed in this museum, including works as a teenager and his entire study of Las Meninas. The museum is housed in two Roman mansions, which are great to see by themselves.

The Parc de la Ciutadella (castle park) is the big city park with zoo, a few museums, acres and acres of grounds, and the famous cascada (which unfortunately is under repair at the moment). We got some icecream here and strolled quite a bit.

Thanks to teh miracle of advance online internet deals, we´re staying in a 4 star hotel right across from the beach, with a view of the Mediteranean from our window, for less than teh price of a hostel. We took advantage of this in the afternoon to chill at the beach. The water is gorgeous but too cold to get in.

We had a delicous meal of Catalan sausage with curry cream sauce and other goodness, making up for the terrible Buffet LIbre last night that we ate simply b-c we had waited too long to find a place. Catalan food is great.

Finally we spent the evening on Las Ramblas. We got some sangria from La Boqueria and walked the entire length. It´s basically devoid of Barcelonans save teh market, so very touristy, but still worth the stroll.

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European Adventure - Days 1 and 2 - Barcelona

We just spent two amazing days in Barcelona. Yesterday, we had quite a hard time finding our hotel, considering we were very jet lagged, soaked from all the rain, and misled by our transportation map. We were happy to get to our hotel and find that it is pretty nice (and right on the beach). The only weird thing is that we have to leave our room key in a little box to keep the electricity on.

Yesterday, we got a two day ticket for a tourist bus. It was well worth the price. We got to see every major site along the way. Barcelona is a beautiful city. Almost every building is a work of art, even regular office buildings. There are parks and trees everywhere, and for such an old, big European city, it is very clean and nice everywhere we have been.

Last night we spent a little time near the Olympic Port. It is a newly developed area that is very tourist friendly. We ate seafood by the harbor. It was delicious. We also tried paella yesterday and loved it.

Today, we spent most of the day touring the most famous works of the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudi. We woke up at 11:30 because of our jet lag, but we have felt better today. Gaudi´s La Sagrada Familia is probably the most impressive work of art I have seen. It is an amazing temple that is only halfway finished. They have been working on it for more than 100 years. It is breathtaking, incredible, and inspiring. Words and pictures don´t do it justice, so you all must simply come to Barcelona and see it.

Next we went to Gaudi´s Park Guell, a huge public park filled with his archtecture. It has interesting viaducts, a chapel that looks like it came right out of a fairy tale, incredible houses, beautiful plants, gorgeous views of the city, creative fountains, and everything else a public park would have. It was quite a hike to get there and walk around. We were very tired afterward, but it was wonderful. I felt like a child there. It was magical, the perfect park for such a magical city.

If you never see us again, it is because we decided never to leave Barcelona.

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Getting Here

So how´s this for a small world? Eric´s principal sat right behind us on the plane to Newark. She was going elsewhere in Europe, but what are the odds? So random. And we also got a great view of the NYC skyline when we left the U.S., so that was fun.

But here we are, loving Barcelona! We had 4 different subway maps that gave 4 different instructions, so getting to our hotel from the airport was a chore. Add the map debauchle to just a few hours of sleep and a downpour of rain and we were quite a site! Nonetheless we are delighted to be here and fell instantly in love with the city.

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Church Tour: Update


Our church tour has stalled a bit this summer, as we have been gone most Sundays. In truth, we're starting to feel a little homeless and ready to choose a home. We miss the corporate community and the service opportunities and the spiritual encouragement.

So we've narrowed it down to three. After we return from our trip, we'll re-visit each one, try out a Bible study or small group, and meet with a pastor or deacon. We'll see how God leads us together and choose from there. Stay tuned!

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To Journey With

"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares." --Henri Nouwen

In countless conversations this week, the above ideas have been expressed. It's so important to me to share my life with my loved ones and not just be tangentially involved. Finding those with whom we can achieve that depth, particularly as a married couple, can be difficult. But we are profoundly grateful for those that do.

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Loss

"Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love."
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Someone I'm close to lost someone unexpectedly today. Today also marks the four year anniversary of my friend D.J.'s death. These words are my attempt to start processing it all...


Hope
Is more like cracks in the pavement
Than bursting sunlight.
When the big picture is so bright,
It's hard to count the losses.
Hope
Is the people who hold you
And don't try to make sense of it.
Just let the pain pronounce,
Let it take root.
Hope
Is the opposite of reason
When reason says doubt.
Give me faith for the step,
Not the staircase.
Hope
Is the never-ending cycle of words
That soothe with encouragement.
Build connections with prose
And start to find healing.
Hope
Is my God,
Who never forsakes me.
My soul finds rest in God alone,
He is my fortress.
Hope
Is remembering that I'm a little girl,
Small enough to curl up in my Mother's lap.
Possessing the emotional freedom
To cry whenever needed.
Hope
Can be a dark cloud,
When it promises to hover.
Embrace it,
Don't push against it.
Hope
Springs eternal,
Or at least bubbles to the surface.
Grief is like a mystical rain
When it mixes the memories with the tears.
Hope
Feels less like fear,
And more like love.
Intimacy triumphs
Over all the distractions and obstacles.
Hope
Believes anything is possible
(But allows doubt)
Hope
Rises above
(But allows wallowing)
Hope...
Endures.

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Welcome to Our Neighborhood

We live in the coolest and strangest neighborhood in Houston. It is a very artsy and diverse area. One of my first memorable neighborhood moments was standing in line at a local grocery store behind a man in spandex biker shorts, a businessman in a tie, and a mother with a stroller. That is a fairly typical experience. A few days ago, we had another strange neighborhood experience that was less typical but still very much in character with where we live.

Lauran was going to the local Wendy's for some Frosties. On the way home, she got rear-ended at a stop sign. She was okay, but her car was not. They pulled into a nearby gas station and waited for the police to arrive. Now the particular intersection where this occured happens to be the central hub of activity in the neighborhood. If it had been a weekend night, our experience would have been a thousand times weirder. Lauran called me, and I headed over immediately. As she was waiting for me, standing beside her obviously-wrecked car, a man rode up on a bike and asked her for money. This same guy has asked me for money at the very same gas station. I even watched the store manager chase him away with an automated warning message that he played over the loudspeakers outside. On one hand, I have to admire the guy's persistence.

When I pulled up, I parked in front of a homeless woman who began yelling at me. At least I think she was yelling at me. After a while, she got over it and started singing Elvis songs to us, notably "Love Me Tender" and "You Ain't Nothin' But a Houndog." We waited 30 minutes for the police officer. Fortunately, we were serenaded the entire time. The guy who hit Lauran was also very apologetic and kind. He seemed very distraught because he had never hit anyone before. After the whole incident, he thanked us for being so gracious, saying that we had restored his faith in humanity. That was a nice thing to hear at the end of a rough day.

The police officer finally showed up. He was very helpful and sorted things out fairly quickly. For a while we stood by his car as he filled out the accident report. During this time period, an acquaintance of ours pulled up and waved. We really can't go very far in the neighborhood without seeing someone we know, pretty cool in a city the size of Houston. A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman approached us (as we were standing by the police car clearly talking to the officer). She asked us if we knew where any good bars or clubs were in the area. I was a little surprised by the question, and off the top of my head, the only bars and clubs I could think of were the gay clubs just a couple blocks away. I just told her that the bars and clubs were not really our scene. Clearly, we had other things on our mind anyway. Shortly after this, the guy on the bike returned, but this time he left just as quickly as he saw the police car.

All in all, it was just a routine neighborhood experience in the world's weirdest neighborhood, but it is experiences like these that we treasure because they are so unique and memorable. It lightened a pretty crummy experience.

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