Did Someone Say "Free"?

Now, as some of you may already know, there is almost nothing that Eric and I enjoy better than a good deal. Some might call us cheap; we prefer to be called “frugal.” It comes from being raised by moms who are garage sale fanatics, raised children on minimal incomes, and would go to great lengths to make the dollar stretch just a bit further. We have somehow inherited those cheap (erm, frugal) genes and revel in spending less than $10 a month on clothing, and keeping our house at 55 degrees all winter to lower the heating bill, and saving $60 on our $90 grocery bill last month (we were so proud of the receipt that we hung it on our fridge).

Next week marks one of the biggest jackpots of good deals (the best deals of which are free), my BIRTHDAY. I’m past the point of getting lots of gifts from family and friends—the reason that my birthday has become such a jackpot is that last year I discovered that there are many businesses and restaurants that give away FREE STUFF on your birthday! And that if you work hard to plan it all out, you can get enough food and free meals to last the next week. For example, I signed up for a few different birthday clubs last year via email. The companies send pesky emails all year long but they just get filtered to my junk mail box and I never bother with them. Then, a week before my birthday, I start carefully checking my junk mail and voila! Free ice cream from Cold Stone, free entrees from Noodles & Co and bd’s Mongolian BBQ, and a free appetizer from Macaroni Grill. I’m still waiting for my free Caribou Coffee coupon. Plus, I can get ½ dozen bagels for free at Zingerman’s Deli, a very famous (and very expensive) deli in Ann Arbor, and a free movie rental at Hollywood Video, and….well, I can hardly contain myself. You get the picture. The only problem is finding enough time to go to all these places to pick up the loot (and then finding time to eat it all).

On a side note, I was listening to NPR the other day while I was driving somewhere and they had a fascinating talk by a researcher on the psychology of “free stuff.” He actually experimented on kids using Halloween candy. What he found was that most people recognize a good deal when they see it, and are willing to pay a small amount of money for a very good deal. But when offered a really good deal for a small amount of money, and an OK deal for free, people almost always go for the free deal, which in the end is a “not as good” deal. HE cited thing like waiting in line for 3 hours for a free ice cream cone. Would that be worth it? I used to say yes, but say the ice cream costs $3, and as a resident physician I make the whopping sum of $10/hr (no, for real, I do). Shouldn’t my time be worth more than $1/hr? Of course. Perhaps I am sometimes blinded by the lure of free things. But once a year, maybe it’s OK to cash in.



About 800 years ago, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church gave quite a gift to the world of architecture. Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia has a number of stone churches, unique in that they were built by carving stone out of the ground, and carrying away everything that was not part of the church they were building. I've included a couple photos, since the concept is a bit hard to describe if you haven't seen pictures before. A great photo gallery can be found here.

I've been somewhat fascinated by these buildings lately, maybe a little more because there is a chance we could end up living in Ethiopia for a couple years of medical training. But more fascinating is the idea of worshipping in a hole carved out of the ground. In a larger sense, it may be more often than we realize that God carves a part of us out, in order to create a space for worship.
So I wrote a song. As Rachel often reminds me, lyrics without music are incredibly incomplete, which is true but somewhat unavoidable in this medium. Maybe this will mean something to you.

Lalibela (God hews out of stone)
africa has holes, carved deep in the ground
solemn joy centuries agorubble washed away
pick and spade swing down
ardor lets the heavens in below

God hews out of stone
All we call our own
Severe, your mercy falls
Leaving love to grow
As it echoes off the wall

so the woman at the well asks the Teacher where
worship will be offered at its best
the temple or the hills, but we descend the stair
and worship within the emptiness

i wouldn't let it go, but you could take it from my side
carve it out, and give me breath again
let the heavens blow, and push the oceans wide
space where ardor hears the praise begin


The Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor

This is fascinating. The other day, when walking around downtown Ann Arbor with Rachel and Kim (see below), we passed The Ark, the fine folk venue where we took in an excellent Christmas show by Over the Rhine two months ago. Rachel points and exclaims "Look, a Fairy Door! I've heard about these." A what?

Apparently, there has arisen a little-known (obviously "little-known" since I was out of the loop until a couple days ago, right?) practice of the installation of "fairy doors" into the exteriors of various Ann Arbor homes and businesses. There's even one at the public library and a local elementary school. I don't know too much of the background, but the meister of this project has a full description to enjoy if you'd like.

As soon as we noted the door at The Ark, we kept our eyes open, and there was another found a few doors down. This secret world has been opened to us, much like when we first discovered geocaching (see link at sidebar). In fact, we may try and rig up a virtual multi-cache to tour the fairy doors of Ann Arbor. I realize this last sentence makes sense to about 5 people who are likely to view this blog.

Google has recently opened some offices in our fair(y) city, and were apparently not slow to be visited by the pixies, who are apparently not without a sense of "cute".

Lobster Tail at Market Price

This is part of a story my wife would be unlikely to blog/brag about, so I'm telling it. There is a (in my opinion) very fine tradition at Rachel's residency program, where any resident who scores above a certain percentile on their annual inservice exam is treated (significantly, with their significant other) to a dinner on the house at the Chop House, Ann Arbor. The most-improved resident also gets a spot at the table. The remainder of the residents are taken out to White Castle by another boss physician, a tradition aptly termed "Chomp House". This is the third of four of Rachel's years, and we just got the news that she scored high enough for the third consecutive year, and was also the most improved. (I wonder if that means we can take a meal to go?)

Oh, Chop House, how I love thee! And how I would never shell out the cash to go there if it wasn't free. Fine service, excellent presentations, superb wine. The lobster bisque is a must to start off with, but the entree is always an interesting choice. Our first year, we were more cautious, ordering a middle-of-the-road steak (price-wise). Last year, I plucked up and splurged on the $54 Kobe beef steak, which was the finest steak I have ever tasted. The last great hurdle is the South African Jumbo Lobster Tail (roughly the size of a football), which goes for a mere "market price". Market price? You don't even want to know.

My wife is good to me. And by the way, she gets excited about this, too.


Kim joins the Ethnic Bread of the Month Club.

Yay! Kim (Rachel's good friend from medical school) came to visit and together we pursued month #2 of our new year's resolution to make a new ethnic bread of the month. This month: Pita. We used a yummy recipe from allrecipes.com, found here. I think the reason for the success was placing the dough bowl near the fire in the wood stove, so that it was actually warm enough in that part of our house to rise. Interesting fact: After the pita is taken out of the oven, it's super fluffy, and has to be covered with a damp towel in order to become malleable and for the pita pocket to be as we all know and love. Schwarmas ensued, found here.

Wonderful time watching Rachel and Kim together. Alias reruns and games of Quiddler filled the hours, but they could tell you more about that than I can. We're not quite sure how we can fill 12 months with 12 different ethnic breads, so if you have any suggestions, then your idea could be our next ethnic bread...


Comedy on the Web

Not that we consider ourselves meisters of the Internet, but there are a few places one can go for a good laugh, and they are worth sharing:

Book-A-Minute: ultra-condensed versions of books (and movies) that are funny because you may love the book, but you are forced to admit that their satire is true. I'm excited to see that they have started to update them again.
Miss South Carolina: I imagine a lot of you have seen this already, but it's awesome.
Amateur Sportscasting: Very painful, very funny.
Fellowship 9-11: Micheal Moore takes on Middle Earth.
Outside Hospital: Yes, this is peculiarly medical humor, but maybe could be enjoyed at large. Let us know.



First, some new quotables added. Second, a new ongoing entry link available at the sidebar for our most recommended reading.

Ships Passing In The Night

Not quite as idyllic as this photo, we have ventured into the month of February, and we are very thankful that it's the shortest month of the year, for the following reason: Rachel is on nights, and Eric on days. Rachel is off weekends, and Eric is on.

Here's the weekly run (with minor variations): Sunday night through Friday morning, Rachel works 14 hours every night. She gets off at 7am, when Eric goes into work, and goes back in at 5pm, and Eric arrives home shortly thereafter. Most of the weekend, she is free, but Eric works at least half of each weekend, including overnight. Thus the challenge.

After we spent 4 out of the 12 months before our wedding in different hemispheres, the first words out of Rachel's mouth were "Let's never do that again." And we still hold to that, and currently we wish our schedules seemed less reminiscent of that time. But there's a few things we cling to.

First, that time does pass. This is an amazing fact, but not quite as amazing as our hearts' unwillingness to recognize it. Heart knowledge of this kind seems to come with age, and we're still pretty young, as that goes. But we've learned it some, and we hold to this truth. Second, we have had difficult months before, and when entrusted to our heavenly Father, we are amazed that time together can materialize in the strangest places. Will this trend continue this month? We don't know, but God's behavior in the past gives us reason to think he might act similarly in the future.

So pray for us. Send Rachel nice emails and visit Eric in the evenings. =)


Big News

Clayton and Teresa (if you don't know them, you want to, even if you don't know that either) have some big news, of the natal tradition.


Other People's Chillins'

Before we get too far away from the event, we should share a few moments from our "South Texas Family and Friends Desert in the Winter" tour from the second week of January.

After our all-too-brief-2nd-Christmas weekend in Phoenix with Rachel's wonderful family, we flew into Houston, where we spent a few days with Patrick and Deann Taylor, Eric's cousins, and their kids Douglas and Evelyn, who are a total bundle of fun. We learned a lot about Captain Underpants, and we got the privelege of taking the kids on their very first geocache, which by some lovely mystery turned into a hunt for Davy Jones' heart and other Caribbean treasure. Patrick took us through Houston, and we saw some NASA, some Gulf coast, some oil rigs, and of course, neverending Houston. You know, the works.
Danny and Abby Fahim, Michigan med school friends at Baylor Medical now, met us for dinner at a fab old place with a mean brisket, which was next to a bar with a gigantic (I mean, 25' tall) armadillo out front.
Lastly, we headed up to see Peter and Sarah (and baby Greta!) Bast a few hours north in Temple, TX, where we also got to see Jaime Paauw. As seen truly in the photo, Greta is an adorably smiley little girl, and we all enjoyed a veritable Festival of Meats from the hand of Grillmasters Basts. A fun side trip to Austin discovered a nice Dim Sum locale, a must for topping off any traditional trip to Texas.


Carcassonne Bowl XLII

In the hours leading up to the 2nd most watched television event of all time, we decided to find out for ourselves who would be victor via German Board Games, which hold more truth than the general public is currently willing to admit.

Carcassonne, the Spiel Des Jahres of a few years back. A brilliant game, in which a match between us was played with the blue pieces (the Giants) represented by Rachel and the grey (Patriots) by Eric. The following was elucidated: The Patriots received the kickoff, and made an impressive runback. However, they were quickly dominated by the Giants, who took control firmly, until the beginning of the 4th, when the Patriots briefly took the lead by a very dramatic Hail Mary. The Giants' final drive put them back into the lead, and despite a valiant final drive by the Patriots ending deep in the red zone without anything to show for it, the Giants won 27-23.As you may or may not know, we did get the winning team right (against the odds) and our final score was only off by the tens place digit. Some of the superfluous details may have been off, but I think we all realize the real thing when we see it.