Sunday, June 27, 2010

Early Random Weekend - It's like you're reading ahead

  • We spent some time with my cousin, Jasen Friday night out at that huge Davison park with all the wood and castle-like shapes. I think it's called Ambercrombie Park or something. Anyway… it only has one entrance and exit for the largest play area. So, if you stake out that area, your kids can't escape without you knowing. The only bad thing that could happen to them would involve someone grabbing them away over the fence or the whole falling down thing.
  • I kid.
  • I'm going to be a bit judgmental here: Heidi works in Linden, and we enjoy the Summer Happening event they hold every year mainly because she walks in the parade. The kids dig it. They get tons of free candy. Linden has a bunch of churches crammed into that little town, and they all come out in force for the festivities. Some of them do a great job reaching out. Free water on a hot day - great idea! Free tiny copy of the New Testament that most people already have eighteen copies of hidden away in a drawer because they're too afraid to recycle a copy of the Bible - not so much.
  • The one that really seemed strange to me this year was the church that had a horse-drawn covered wagon and all of its young ladies dressed in obvious quaker costumes (one of the girls was losing her costume a bit) while handing out flyers for their next series on leaving Egypt. I could understand if the series they were promoting had something to do with Little House on the Prairie times. That would make sense to me, but I don't think that's what was going on. I think they were trying to show that they promote values from a certain bygone era.
  • You know. I love me some Little House on the Prairie. There's nothing like those bygone times when it was okay for men twice their age to approach your pre-teen daughters with offers of marriage. You could then whoop the dude once for good measure before finally realizing how beneficial it would be to marry her off. Hey, one less mouth to feed. (I do actually love that show)
  • I personally just don't know of too many people that are looking for a church to help them make their lives more out of touch with reality. I know people want to instill better values than our world currently seems to promote, but I don't think going to the other end of the spectrum is what most people have in mind. Too many of us have seen the movie, Footloose, and we don't want to give Kevin Bacon any more dancing opportunities.
  • Maybe I was breathing too much car exhaust. Maybe it was just a gimmick to accommodate the covered wagon.
  • The couponing continues. It wasn't as impressive this week, but we didn't have as many coupons saved up. Our bill went from $90 down to $30. It's still better for our budget.
  • We went out with a few new friends this weekend. I think I did okay reminding myself that these were not my usual friends. I don't know all of their interests yet. I successfully avoided launching into some of the more typical subjects that I discuss with my other friends. It was a good time, good people.
  • You know how some people are alcoholics? I crave Manicotti from Italia Gardens that way. I think I have a problem. It calls to me…
  • Genesee County readers, did you know that Showcase West is no longer owned by Showcase? It's now Rave West or some crazy thing. I suspect they still have armed security at night. They have combos and some refills available, but they're a little tight lipped about the pricing on such things until you actually order them. Very suspicious in my opinion. They do have good matinee pricing though.
  • Our church had its first service in its permanent home Sunday. We even had cake. Wildwind's new home is 6020 Corunna Road in Flint Township. If you're looking for a transformative place, a place ripe with community, you should join us on Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m. You can sit by me, if you actually know what I even look like. It's conveniently located near Fazoli's if that makes the deal even sweeter. Fazoli's has awesome bread sticks.
  • Fazoli's doesn't have manicotti. Mmmmm… Manicotti.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mid-Week Randomness

  • Before we started couponing, I bought a Colgate Total Professional toothbrush. It was actually relatively inexpensive. No matter how many free toothbrushes we get, I'm still spending the three dollars to get another one of these. Best toothbrush I've ever had, and I'm not really into toothbrushes, so the fact that I"m gloating about one should mean something extra.
  • It's hard not to type teethbrushes for the plural of toothbrush.
  • We spent $31 this week on around $200 worth of stuff thanks to coupons. We have enough ice cream to last the entire summer. Not that I needed any ice cream.
  • They found cougars in upper Michigan this week. Or, more accurately, they finally found enough proof to satisfy skeptics. If you've ever hiked the wilder parts of Michigan, it's not hard to believe that things like cougars are hiding there. Our state is very undeveloped in a lot of ways, and I hope and pray it stays that way. On the other hand, I was afraid enough of wolves and bears while hiking. I really didn't need cougars on the list too.
  • We had this big plan to take Gage to his first movie this week. He loves the Toy Story movies. The plans were dashed when we found out they're not showing Toy Story 3 in 2-D anywhere but the drive-in. He wouldn't wear the 3-D glasses, and he'd likely be asleep before the drive-in got rolling.
  • Sometimes my best opportunity for spending time with my little brothers is picking them up at 11 p.m. from local concert halls and driving them home. Sometimes you have to seize those opportunities.
  • I wore my kids out last Friday. We started with a trip to the beach with my dad and brother, Bob. The boys played and swam. Gage zonked on the car ride home. We finished the day off at a great cook out at the Peavyhousehold. The boys played outside with their youngest until after dark. Inside, they continued to play as the girls played dress up. My boys were still interacting, but they had these confused looks on their faces. I think it was the dresses. Needless to say, they both were out like lights at when we finally put them to bed.
  • The strangest trend I noticed at the beach last week: Everyone was avoiding the shaded areas of the picnic area. When I was a kid, you had to get up at the crack of dawn to land a spot under one of the few shade trees. When we arrived Friday, there were multiple shaded areas available. Everyone was in the sun. Did someone decide that sunlight doesn't cause skin cancer?
  • Strangest trend I noticed at the Peavyhousehold gathering: Gage's unwillingness to speak to people paired with his piping right up when speaking to their dogs.
  • We tried to go to a petting zoo hosted by Lapeer's Farmer's Market. I guess it was seriously down sized at the last minute when they found out the animals weren't properly vaccinated or some strange thing. The boys got to see a goose and two chickens. With Lapeer and farming being somewhat synonymous you'd think their market would have been fantastic, but it was nothing compared to Flint's. It was overpriced and under stocked.
  • Father's Day is always so bland for me. Mother's Day is all happy, lovey, and eventful. What happens to us dads? Are we just too cool or modest to enjoy it a bit? I'm always more concerned with making sure my dad and father figures have a good day I think. It's like there's something integral to being a father that prevents us from making too much out of our "special day."
  • I highly recommend Shutter Island. Be prepared to watch it twice. The second time just to review all the obvious clues that you easily missed the first time.
  • Our church, Wildwind Community Church, is moving. We'll no longer be paying anyone rent. We'll have mortgage payments instead. Starting this Sunday at 10 a.m. we'll be meeting at 6020 Corunna Road in Flint. If you're looking for a transformative place to worship and grow, come join us.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Reviews

I’ve learned that one great way of dealing with stress is to occupy my mind with other things. Sometimes books are a great escape, but movies often work just as well. I’ve dived into movies the past few weeks.

SPOILER ALERT: These reviews contain spoilers and plot points. Read at your own discretion.

Dead Girl / Jennifer’s Body

Horror movies often symbolically deal with the trauma of growing up, specifically the teenaged years. These two movies easily fall into that category.

Dead Girl asks the disturbing question: How far would a teenaged boy, hopped up on hormones and inexperience, go to have sex with a woman out of his league? The most disturbing aspect being, these teenaged boys stumble upon a woman that is clearly undead but mostly healthy in appearance that has been restrained in an abandoned building. Tensions run high when one young man gives into temptation and the other resists. I don't think I need to go into detail here. Just let your imagination run wild and rest assured that most of what you can imagine was implied/off screen.

Jennifer’s Body approaches very similar territory from the female perspective. In this story, it’s the femme fatale breaking hearts and… necks. Beyond the subtext, this is a straight up, enjoyable horror movie. I’m not a fan of Megan Fox by any stretch, but she does a great job as the lead monster. I don’t quite undestand why so many horror fans shunned this one. It had a decent cast, a decent story, enough scare factor, and it wasn’t even a retread like most of the garbage out there recently.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I really wanted to like this one. The costumes and production value are fantastic. It’s very artsy in points, very imaginitive, but it falls apart. It falls apart because Heath Ledger died half way through the movie. It was noble of the producers and director to try to save the movie. The movie deserved saving. It just couldn't be done.

The good doctor's Imaginarium offers up salvation or damnation. Those who enter see just how good they could be. They're given a glimpse of Heaven-like scenarios, and at the last second, they're tempted with very honest depictions of their old dirty habits. There's also a love triangle in there somewhere, and we find out that the Parnassus has been playing a dangerous game with the devil for ages.

Ledger’s performance was great. They recast his character using other well known actors and offer up a supernatural explanation. It actually makes sense to an extent, but it just doesn’t work. The story itself seems to drop off at that point. Maybe it’s just that it ends on such a negative, without the redemption you expect.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
2008 (remake)

I love the original 1951 movie, and the remake isn’t all that different. Keanu Reeves was a great choice as the unemotional Klaatu. This character in the original film was a little better defined, a little more likeable. He has a lot more interaction with the single mother/son in the original. He almost becomes a love interest to the female lead in that movie. We miss that here. In exchange for character development, we get special effects.

If I hadn’t seen the original, I might have found Reeves' character less enjoyable or understandable. So, I might be biased.

The motivation for the alien visit is also slightly different. The original was concerned with mankind’s invention of nuclear weapons and the history of warlike behavior among earthlings. Intelligent life forms on other planets feared that earthlings would someday declare war on the universe. They were willing to destroy Earth to protect themselves.

The modern version focused on our destruction of the environment and Earth’s impending demise at our hands. In this scenario, the other life forms weren’t concerned with their own welfare, but the welfare of Earth as a planet. In this scenario, the humans would have to be destroyed to save the planet.

I liked the remake. I liked the message it was sending. Over and over again, the humans kept saying, “Well, we know we need to change our ways, but we tend to only do that just before it’s too late.” Klaatu’s response, “You’ve got about five seconds until it’s too late.”

Up in the Air

What defines success for you? What makes you feel alive? Are those things the same? Should they be?

This movie asks a lot of questions about whether or not success in vocation is more important than having meaningful relationships with people.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a professional down sizer. He fires people for a living. There’s a lot of baggage attached to that, and he’s on the road 95% of the year. He defines success based on Frequent Flyer Miles. He has no friends, and he ignores his family. He doesn’t know much about love in any form.

Clooney is a great actor. It doesn’t matter what he does, how ridiculous his characters are supposed to be, he plays them straight (or perfectly crazy). His characters are always believable. I admire that.

My favorite part of the movie: Bingham asks a soon-to-be-groom with cold feet to think about his fondest memories. He then asks whether or not he was alone during those times or if there are other people involved. The answer of course being, life is better with other people in it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Love Affair with Banana Peppers

I used to joke with my vegetarian friends that, if I switched to a vegetarian diet, I'd quickly starve to death. The list of vegetables I like was very short until I was in my thirties.

In my quest to eat healthier, I've come to love certain kinds of peppers. This is one of those statements that, if you had told me a few short years ago that I'd be craving banana peppers, I'd have told you that you were crazy.

I think the problem is, the hurtle I needed to get over involved green peppers. Green peppers are, of course, the grand-daddy of peppers. They're the staple pepper that everyone likes. To this day, I can't stand them. I hate the flavor. Always have.

My best friend in grade school brought them in his lunch almost every day as a snack. I thought he was crazy. I tried them multiple times usually resulting in gagging and sick feelings for the rest of the day. That's the extent to which I hate green peppers. Cooking them doesn't help either. Yuck.

I grew chili peppers in my garden last year. I knew I could use them to flavor salsa and chili. I even thought I might can some for friends, but that never happened. They became my gateway pepper. They rubbed me the right way. They opened my mind to new possibilities.

I've always liked the smell of cooking peppers. I especially like the smell of banana peppers on pizza. So, a few months ago, I tried them. They were great! I thought it must be because they were cooked though, dried from the heat with less flavor. But, I started to crave them after that. Before I knew what was happening, I was eating them on sandwiches right out of the can. I'm hooked now. It's actually becoming a problem. I'm putting them on everything.

I started buying other peppers to mix into my homemade guacamole. I even picked up a few Hungarian Yellows thinking they were similar to Bananas. They weren't bad raw… Well… They weren't bad tasting raw, but they did some gnarly things to my stomach. I won't be purchasing them again. Oy.

So, I can now add certain peppers to that growing list of things I used to hate but now love.

The list is as follows:

  • Broccoli
  • Salads
  • Cauliflower
  • Tartar Sauce
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Egg Plant
  • Mayo (none of that Miracle Whip garbage)
  • Green Onions (every other kind is gross)
  • Cooked Carrots
  • Salsa
  • Avocado
  • Guacamole
  • Banana Peppers

I can't blame my parents for any of this either. They always tried to get me to try new things, and I totally believe that my taste buds were just different back then. I feel like such a big boy eating vegetables for a change. I wish I could like celery though. I've tried it so many times, and I still just hate it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Poker Saved my Family… Sort of.

The guy that got me into poker is now a pastor at our church. Sorry, couldn't resist starting with that line.

Seven years ago, I had no interest in poker. One night this friend called up and asked me to come over to watch a Texas Hold'Em poker tournament finish up on television. I was at a spot in my life where I was learning that expanding my horizons made life more abundant. The tournament was interesting. The next game my friend hosted, I attended and learned how to play. I was hooked.

I know. Poker, even Texas Hold'Em, is a form of gambling. Depending on how you play, money is exchanged. However, the way I've always played, no one can lose more or less than $5. We call it a buy-in. The entry fee buys you a set number of chips, the same set everyone starts with. At the end of the game, some people walk away with prizes, usually a portion of the entry fees collected. So, basically, you're only gambling symbolic chips. The chips themselves have no real value. Let's be honest, $5 is less than the cost of a movie, and we usually supply enough food to count as dinner. It's cheap entertainment, and more importantly, it's an easy way to keep in touch with people.

It wasn't long after my first game when an uncle of mine suggested we start a monthly game with our family and friends. I was all in. In a normal year, I might see my extended family once around Christmas time, but that was even getting rare. At this point, there were family connections that just seemed lost. No one knew what was going on with anyone else most of the time unless it was huge news. Our first game was a success. It was fun. It quickly became a monthly thing.

For almost four years, we had a regular game with around nine or ten guys every month. We'd sometimes skip a month or two around Christmas or in the heat of Summer. I missed a few when Owen was born. Each month someone new would host. There were no rules about missing a game here or there. We'd always re-extend the invitations. Sometimes people bring friends. Sometimes it's like we have a core set of players.

We've never played very seriously. At the beginning of each game we tend to discuss a few things: What are the winners going to receive? Are there any situations we need to clarify to any new players? We call this "house rules" implying that whomever is hosting decides ultimately what the rules are.

We keep it simple. We have fun. If people get too serious, we might not be as quick to invite them back.

We try to keep it a guys only event, but a few ladies have played here and there. It's guy time mostly. There's food that isn't good for us. There's beer and smoking. We don't watch our language as much. Sometimes jokes are told, but the ladies are never that far away.

Now I see my family almost every month. I get to catch up with aunts and uncles that don't use the internet to communicate. I see my grandmother more often. I get to hear about my cousins' families more often. We're far from strangers anymore. All of this has also lead to more family gatherings. My kids now know some of my extended family.

Texas Hold'Em is gambling, but it's a weak form in my estimation. I've never lost more than $5. It's never acted as a gateway game to other forms of gambling. It's too controlled. We do act a little more rough around the edges when we play, but it's given us a lot more. It's given us renewed relationships that were otherwise dying. It's given us something to look forward to on a regular basis, and I don't believe it's just the game because we could play the game in any number of other places. Poker has brought us back together.

It seems like we lapsed for about six months, but we recently fell right back into the old habit. We recently celebrated our fifth year anniversary. This past Saturday my Uncle Jim hosted out in North Branch. We had twelve players. I came in fourth. It was a great time. It's good to feel that warmth of family so regularly. The secret, of course, isn't poker. It's just being purposeful with life. It's finding reasons to get together and value one another.

Weekend Randomness - June 7

  • We did some garage saling this past weekend. Heidi's grandparents live in a seniors' subdivision, and they had a subdivision-wide sale. It's hard to believe we found toys and DVDs at great prices.
  • Owen found three Transformers from the nineties for a quarter a piece.
  • I found one family selling all of their DVDs in favor of Blu-ray. I found Casablanca for $2 on DVD!!
  • I'm meeting more and more people without health insurance. A lot of these people are working full-time, professional jobs for big companies.
  • One family is paying $250 a month just to hold insurance that doesn't cover anything more than one (yes just one) yearly physical until a $5,000 deductible is met. They can't even go to the doctor if they're sick. It's almost like they have to hope that any injuries or illnesses they incur will cost more than $5,000.
  • One of my relatives said that he has very basic insurance that runs $40 a month but only covers himself. If he adds his wife, it will cost over $900 more a month.
  • A friend of mine had to take his daughter to the emergency room for what turned out to be a sprained ankle. His bill? Over $1,000 for a simple, very temporary splint. They don't have insurance.
  • I know a lot of people didn't like our president's ideas on reform, but at what point do we admit that what we're doing isn't working for too many people? I know we should worry about deficits, but will they even matter if entire generations of people can't even go to the doctor regularly? I know I'm relatively young, but this seems like madness to me.
  • My kids are tentatively scheduled for August eye surgeries, possibly both on the same day.
  • The stress, even though I'm trying to deal with it, is eating me up. My wife and I both are showing physical signs of being under too much pressure.
  • I don't drink alcohol very often, maybe two or three times a year. Actually getting drunk is even more rare for me. But, I'm beginning to understand why my dad has an alcohol problem. Escaping temporarily is very tempting.
  • I'm currently reading three faith-oriented books. I hate reading more than two at a time, but one is for a reading group, the other is with a friend, the third just for fun. The funny thing is, the books couldn't be more different. One is very conservative, one is extremely liberal, and the third can only be described as radical.

Breaking Benjamin

I recently stumbled upon a few old CDs of mine. Forgot how much I enjoy this band:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend Randomness

  • I hate to be judgmental, but if you have a cross tattoo that covers you're entire back and another on your chest, dropping the f-bomb every other word loudly out in public with your own kids around, as well as many other children, seems extra wrong somehow.
  • I'm far from perfect. I'm just saying.
  • I read an article late last week that suggested that it was counter productive for parents to neglect teaching their children about their specific race and heritage. It suggested that it actually caused them to be more racist because "everyone assumes they're white," and it can be very traumatic for kids when they find out that they're not. This is posted on a website designed to fight racism. To a certain extent, I'm simplifying. Our kids interact with diverse groups of other kids all the time. The differences have yet to come up, and I couldn't be happier about that. We have no plans to ever explain that there may be some differences or that they in any way matter. One commenter sited a Newsweek article that suggested kids become racist in such situations because they are "taught that the subject is taboo" and "therefore they are superior to other races in some way." I replied that it likely had more to do with a lack of interaction with people that are different. If your kids play with kids that are obviously different than themselves, but never notice, how can they develop the idea that the other races are taboo or inferior? I'm just confounded by the idea that we teach our kids to ignore the differences by pointing out the differences specifically.
  • To be perfectly honest, the only "difference" Owen has ever pointed out happens when he sees tall people. He honestly believes that these people are giants, and he very publicly announces such ideas.
  • On a similar note: We sat comfortably in a McDonald's at one point this weekend eating ice cream. Another family that was sitting closely by started loudly discussing their son's upcoming first visit to a Christian church with his friend. The father starting making some very comical (to me anyway) statements about Christians. He said that Christians view outsiders as narrow minded people. He then asked what his kids considered appropriate attire would be. I had to bite my tongue as he suggested shorts would be highly inappropriate for church. I wear shorts just about every weekend in the summer to our church. I believe the only dress code at our church is: Don't wear clothing that is in any way R-rated.
  • I've found that stereotyping any religion, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, is like stereotyping most anything else. It's a bit futile. There are millions of mosques, churches, and synagogs with different ideas about dress codes, not to mention the tens of thousands of denominations with slightly differing ideas and ideals.
  • I had to bite my tongue, but I kept focused on our own family conversations. It's hard to be stereotyped though. Speaking up would have likely reinforced another Christian stereotype that I've never much appreciated.
  • I caught Johnny Cash's Gospel Road DVD from Netflix this weekend. I've always loved his music, and his faith has always been an inspiration to me too. I love the scene in Walk the Line where the record exec points out that Cash's Christian, gospel music listening base won't like it if he decides to have a concert for the inmates at Folsom Prison. He replies, "Then they aren't real Christians are they?" Gospel Road was dated, the music was good, but the actors that were hired were way off. I'm pretty sure most of the people in the Bible weren't caucasian. It was the seventies though. What can you do?
  • I picked up a comic book for the first time in years this past weekend. Art Adams penciling any form of X-Men can't be ignored. His artwork is phenomenal.