Monday, September 29, 2008

Homecoming - A Reflection & A Rant

This past weekend was my high school's homecoming. As a member of the class of 1998, that meant it was also time for my 10 Year Class Reunion.

The festivities began Friday night with the homecoming football game. As Travis and I walked the several blocks from my car to the high school, and then to the football field, I was struck by how differently homecoming is viewed by students and alumni. For students, despite the fact that it's called homeCOMING (which obviously refers to those other than themselves), it's really all about them. It's all about which class will win the various competitions, what they will wear on each of the themed dress days, who will be their date to the dance and what they'll wear, and whether their football team will bring home the victory. I remember being a student wrapped up in all of the excitement and activity of homecoming. Interestingly enough, however, 10 years later I can't remember a single homecoming theme from my four years there, I don't regret not attending a single homecoming dance, and I couldn't tell you whether our football team won or lost. (I vaguely remember what I wore for the various theme days, and a review of the yearbook from my senior year revealed a nice shot of me looking like a dork on Hawaiian Day.) As impossibly young looking high schoolers shuffled by us, I commented to Travis with a slight sigh of resignation, "We're old to them. I'm one of those 'old alumni,' that aged curiosity who comes once a year to invade the students' turf with reminiscing and nostalgic tales of how it used to be." (Okay, I didn't say it quite so eloquently at the time, but that's what I meant.) While I am nothing but thankful to be where I am, and to only have had to enjoy/endure the high school experience once, many years ago, it was sobering to realize I am now one of "those old people."

This year's homecoming theme was "The Golden Ticket," a la Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I learned this when I came to work the week before to find the downtown store windows painted with moderately creepy teenage artist renditions of Willy Wonka, Oompa Loompas, and pieces of candy in all colors of the rainbow (the window painting tradition is part of the inter-class competition held during homecoming). I found the choice of theme a bit strange, and the myriad images of oompa loompas troublesome, as they got the oompa loompa song stuck in my head every time I walked by. At the football game Friday night I chatted with a fellow alum who now teaches science at the school. She said that the students came up with the theme and rallied for it, much to the puzzlement of the faculty sponsors. Unable to come up with a good reason to dissuade the student council committee from their choice, the theme stuck. In hindsight, my friend suspects it was just a ploy to incorporate obscene quantities of candy into the celebration. She also lamented that to her students, Johnny Depp is Willy Wonka, and there is no other. When she asked if they'd ever seen the version with Gene Wilder, they said, "Who?" Sigh.

Attending the game had really very little to do with actually watching the game (we gave it our undivided attention for maybe 10 minutes tops right before we left in the middle of the 3rd quarter) and more with conversing with the various classmates who were to be found clustered at the south end of the field. Though I wasn't feeling particularly chatty that night, I was glad to catch up with a few people with whom I'd had varying degrees of friendship back in the day. One classmate in particular shared with me a testimony of God's goodness to her and her husband as they dealt with fertility issues over the past couple years. Standing there listening to her tell the miracle story, watching as she smoothed her shirt over her 4-month "bump," aglow with pregnancy and an awareness of God's goodness and grace, was probably the highlight of the whole weekend for me.

The class reunion on Saturday night, however, was one point of disgruntlement after another. The fact that it was being held in a bar in Chicago should have tipped me off. But, anticipation and curiosity propelled me to the door.

It was at the door that disappointment began to set it. When we reached the girl at the check-in table, we learned that the invitation I'd received that had clearly stated the option of paying $15 for food only, or $40 for food and alchohol, was incorrect. I explained to her it was with this understanding that we'd decided to attend, and that more than likely scores of people after me would be approaching her with the same expectation (which was indeed the case), but she informed me that while this was indeed unfortunate for us, it was not her problem, and that would be $40 please. Everyone had to pay $40 to get in, regardless of whether he/she wanted to drink or not. The only exceptions they’d allow were for verifiable medical conditions…so basically, unless you were visibly pregnant (score one for my friend from above!), had a medic alert bracelet identifying you as a diabetic, or a doctor’s note (and who brings a doctors note to a high school reunion?!?), no dice - $40 bucks a head. Point of disgruntlement number one. (I suppose the fact that we'd had to pay $10 to park in a shady lot to begin with would be point of disgruntlement 0.5.)

And, they only take cash, which meant that we had visit an ATM before we could even get in, because who carries $80 in cash to their high school reunion when only planning to pay 30?!?! Point of disgruntlement number two.

Then, the only food provided was plain cheese quesadillas, messy hot wings, and some completely unappetizing chips and salsa. Not even worth the $15 I’d planned to pay for food alone. Point of disgruntlement number three.

Since I was forced to pay for alcohol, I had 2 amaretto sours, which definitely tasted like well drinks, and a sketchy tasting diet Coke--certainly not worth the extra $25. Point of disgruntlement number 4.

While the invitation led one to believe the reunion was to be held in a private party room (which at least redeemed the bar venue in my head), as it turned out there was really nothing private about our space. The area designated for us was to the left of the main entrance, and separated from the hallway that led to the rest of the establishment by only a partial wall and a few ropes. So, our reunion was on display for everyone entering the bar, and the same really loud, bass-heavy music that was being pumped everywhere else made it hard to think straight and frustrated all attempts at any conversation in a voice below a yell. Points of disgruntlement numbers 5 & 6.

I could go on and name several further points of disgruntlement, but I am starting to feel the nasty weight of complaining. On the plus side, I will say that I enjoyed catching up with a few friends who attended, I was able to do some satisfying people watching and had my curiosity assuaged, I opened up a time capsule I'd completely forgotten about making to find that I had a little wisdom back then, as well as some strange ideas about what I'd want to pull out of a time capsule in 10 years, and the occasion prompted me to tell Travis many stories from my high school days that probably wouldn't have otherwise come up.

Since I'm confident I've made the few assertions I set out to make, and wish to spare you the paragraphs required to make several more, I will stop here. However, in case you would like to review them in full, here they are in handy bullet form:
  • The older you get, the younger high schoolers appear.
  • A high school reunion in a bar is a bad idea. Period.
  • If you are going to invite people to a party, make sure you get the details correct.
  • An event where conversation is pretty much the sole activity should ideally be held in a venue where you can actually hear the people with whom you are attempting to converse.
  • Though 10 years is a long time and smooths over some things, curiously it is not long enough to erase feelings toward certain people or to eradicate the social groups to which we gravitated back then.
  • Facebook takes a lot of the mystery out of a high school reunion.
  • If your high school reunion is a big disappointment, stopping for ice cream on the way home helps. (Thanks, Travis.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happy National Punctuation Day!

Yes, September 24th is National Punctuation Day. Chase's Calendar of Events bills it as "A celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis."

And they should be celebrated! Punctuation marks are so misused and abused by the general public--especially the dear, misunderstood apostrophe--that perhaps this celebration will inspire a thirst for knowledge and proper usage. Okay, well, probably not. It's more just a chance for nerds like me to find solidarity with other nerds, such as those who form the Apostrophe Protection Society. (Let me tell you, just reading their manifesto got me fired up!)

Not sure how to celebrate?'s Grammar & Punctuation blogger Richard Nordquist suggests 10 Ways to Celebrate National Punctuation Day. Read, and then get busy!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Caution: Icy Conditions May Result in Jazz Hands

I saw this sign at the Chicago Botanic Garden this past weekend and it struck me as funny.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Warp and Woof

At the moment (well, not literally at the moment, but more like 2 minutes ago, before I decided to needed to take a short break and blog about it) I'm reading a chapter on contextualization in The Changing Face of World Missions. At the end of a paragraph I came across the phrase "warp and woof," as in:

[Contextualization] cannot be limited to propositional truths. It must be carried into the very warp and woof of church life and practice.
I've never heard this phrase before, and it struck me as odd and rather funny. I could figure it's meaning by the context, but being the word nerd that I am, had to look it up online to confirm my guess at its meaning and ascertain whether or not this is a legitmate phrase that people (well, at least some people) actually use.

So, I looked it up in both and Merriam-Webster Online, and indeed, it's a bona fide phrase dating back to 1842, and it refers to the underlying structure on which something is built; a base or foundation. Huh.

So, my readers, a question and a challenge:
Question: Have you ever come across this phrase before?
Challenge: Leave a comment and use it in a sentence.

P.S. It also struck me as funny that when I looked it up on Merrian-Webster Online, this ad showed up in the right hand sidebar. I had to wonder whether this ad randomly appeared, or whether I'd been selected to view it because I'd looked up "warp and WOOF." Either way, that's funny. Well, at least to me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Camping: Good Company Trumps Bad Weather

This past weekend Travis & I went camping in Door County with his sister & bro-in-law and our friends Rachel & Eric. Although it was rather wet and chilly all weekend (tarps and umbrellas came to the rescue more than a few times), we still had a great time together exploring the little towns & boutiques along the peninsula, sampling local wines and goodies like apple butter, cherry salsa and fudge, playing games and laughing together, and eating lots of delicious food--both at our campsite and in local restaurants.

Saturday night we attended a fish boil at the Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim. Fish boils are a local custom where they (surprise) boil some fish outdoors in a big pot with potatoes and onions, and then at the proper time, douse the whole thing with kerosene to burn off the oils released by the fish. This results in quite a conflagration, which I was able to capture in a photo. After "the show," we moved into the dining room to enjoy the meal, which was capped off with a slice of cherry pie. Apparently, the fish boil tradition comes from Scandinavians who settled in the area over 100 years ago.

Sunday morning we enjoyed a yummy brunch at Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant. Their Swedish pancakes and meatballs were excellent, but they're best known for being "the place with goats on the roof." Which there are. See:
This was my second camping trip this year. The third will be next month at Warren Dunes in Michigan with friends from small group. The first excursion was frigid, this last time was wet, and yet I still enjoyed myself. Although weather and location are certainly important factors, I'm finding that the success and enjoyment of each camping experience depends a lot on who you're with and how you camp (I was very impressed with Jon & Jamie's set up, which included a camp stove and coffee maker). I wouldn't have expected it of myself a year ago, but I think I may now be on my way to becoming a happy camper. Well, at least a weekend camper. At official campsites. Where there's a conveniently located bathhouse outfitted with clean toilets and hot showers. :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Calmer of My Troubled Heart

Sometimes a song can settle...still...provide a moment of solace as it points the listener to the Prince of Peace. I've found one of those songs. I recently downloaded "Love Shall Never Die," the new EP from Indelible Grace's Matthew Smith (you can download the album here) and I'm completely taken with the song "Calmer of My Troubled Heart (Hallelujah)." Here are the lyrics:

Calmer of my troubled heart
Bid my unbelief depart
Speak, and all my sorrows cease
Speak, and all my soul is peace.
Comfort me when e’er I mourn
with the hope of Thy return
And til I Thy glories see
Help me believe in Thee

Simple, but so calming, so comforting. Praise be to the calmer of our troubled hearts.

I [heart] NoiseTrade

Sometimes you come across something so great you just have to tell people about it. NoiseTrade is one of those great things. Launched by Derek Webb, NoiseTrade is a site that allows artists to make their music available to fans who can download the music for FREE by spreading the word about that artist/album (and NoiseTrade) to 5 friends. There's also the option to purchase the album for whatever amount you'd like to pay.

Through NoiseTrade I've come across some artists with whom I was already familiar and albums I'd really been wanting to hear/own, and I've also discovered some new artists and music that I really enjoy. So, I encourage you to head over to NoiseTrade, check out the albums available (you can listen to samples of each to get a feel for their sound), and then download a couple by spreading the word.

If you'd like a few personal recommendations, here are some of the albums currently available on NoiseTrade that have been getting lots of play time on my iPod lately:
  • Sandra McCracken - Gravity Love
  • Matthew Perryman Jones - Throwing Punches in the Dark (check out the widget in the sidebar of this blog)
  • Andy Gullahorn - Reinventing the Wheel
  • Jill Phillips - Nobody's Got it All Together
Spread the music! Spread the love!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why Do We Watch?

As I write this, a hostage situation is unfolding 3 blocks away from my office. I can hear helicopters (three of them at last check) circling overhead. When I left my office around 1:45 this afternoon to run some errands, I noticed the flashing lights of police cars and a number of people gathered on the street corner. I conducted my business at city hall and the post office (in the opposite direction of the hubbub), then made my way over to the gathered throng at the other end of the block. I asked one of the people who seemed to be paying the most attention what was going on, and learned that there was a hostage situation at the bank building across the tracks. I could see policemen crouched behind vehicles parked askew in the street, rifles at the ready. I saw a sharpshooter in camoflague gear walking down the street with his gun and scope, headed to his post. But mostly I saw ordinary people flocking onto the sidewalks from every direction save the south, which was blocked off, to gawk at the situation unfolding. Restaurant busboys and servers, employees from other banks, retail salespeople, office workers like myself, condo residents, postal service employees, moms with kids in strollers, old people with walkers...all gathering to watch and wonder.

And I found myself asking, Why? What is it about human nature that makes us want to watch? To know what's going on, even when we have no real connection--save conincidental proximity--to the situation at hand? After a few moments I walked back to my office, grabbed my purse, and then headed out to my car to run another errand across town. When I returned to the area about half an hour later, the number of police cars and personnel seemed to have tripled, the streets blocked off doubled, the crowds moved back and out of sight line from the building in question, and there were scores of high school students milling around the garage where I park. School had let out while I was gone, and curiosity and boredom had drawn skaters and cheerleaders alike to the area.

I checked online for news when I got back to the office, and found that is reporting on the situation, and updating it frequently. Apparently also while I was gone, dozens of people were seen running from the bank under police guard. The latest update says that at least one person is still being held hostage, and that while the scene is a bank, the incident is not a robbery or attempted robbery.

Even as I write this, and refresh the news page every few minutes, I wonder, why do we watch? Why am I so hungry to know? The scene will continue to unfold, without my surveillance, and I can just learn about it all on the news tonight when it's all over. And so although it's difficult--for reasons I can't really define--I will turn my attention back to my work, try to tune out the whir of the helicopters, and finish up for the day as I say a prayer for the police and the hostage(s) and the one who felt so desperate that he turned to this.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More Food for Thought

Philip Yancey writes,

"Thinking about what to say to the leaders gathered [for a state prayer luncheon], I recalled a line from the contemporary German philosopher Jurgen Haberman: Democracy requires of its citizens qualities that it cannot provide. Politicians can conjure an exalted vision of a prosperous, healthly, free society, but no government can supply the qualities of honesty, compassion, and personal responsibility that must underlie that vision.

"For all its strengths, the United States shows some alarming signs of ill health. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners--more than Russia and China combined. We consume half of all the prescription drugs in the world, and yet by most standards our overall health ranks lower than most other developed countries'. In every major city, homeless people sleep in parks and under bridges. And our leading causes of death are self-inflicted: obesity, alcohol, sexually transmitted diseases, stress-related illnesses, drugs, violence, environmental cancers. Obviously, politicians have not solved all our problems.

"...Fortunately, U.S. politicians of both parties still recognize that faith plays a vital role in a healthly society. People of the Christian faith are charged to uphold a different kind of vision. That this is God's planet, not ours, and as we scar it beyond repair, God weeps. That a person's worth is determined not by appearance or income or ethnic background or even citizenship status, but rather is bestowed as a sacred, inviolable gift of God. That compassion and justice--our care for "the least of these my brothers," in Jesus' words, are not arbitrary values agreed upon by politicians and sociologists, but holy commands from the One who created us.

"We Christians don't always live out that vision. We find it difficult to maintain a commitment to both this world and the next, to this life and the next."

- From the article "On the Grand Canyon Bus," in the Sept 2008 issue of Christianity Today

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Food for Thought

"[Redemption] speaks of a dynamic rescue mission. It is the promise that the story is not yet over, there is more to be written, and the final word has not yet been spoken. Redemption picks up the broken threads and weaves them into the storyline with the grace and mercy that only our Redeemer could offer. At that moment, the whisperings said that my deepest longing was not for perfection but for redemption. I long to see, experience and know the dangerous beauty of authentic life. Dangerous because it goes beyond the realm of my control and rarely follows my script. Beautiful because it reflects the heart of our Creator. Authentic because it is broken, imperfect, and unhidden. Whereas the lure of perfection hid and stifled life–-beginning with my own–-God's promise of redemption beckons and invites me into life. I can begin to breathe." - Amanda Bricker, in "Perfectly Redeemed," from the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of Women of the Harvest Magazine