Hitting The Big Time

It was brought to our attention that googling "Eric and Rachel McLaughlin" actually gets someone to us! The first six entries are us. Number Seven is about Rachel McLaughlin, member of "The No Cavity Club", which Rachel may or may not be a part of, but that particular reference is, in fact, not her.

This is quite significant, since we've never been google-ranked so high before. If Rachel is googled separately, the first reference to her is number 6, whereas Eric is buried several pages under other references, especially a UCLA professor of the same name.

An interesting techno-object lesson for being stronger together than apart...


Eric and Rachel Taste of the Wood Ear

Last night we had dinner with our good friend Eunice. Eunice has many friends, and many of these friends are Chinese, who were concerned about the health of her blood. Thus they introduced her to Wood Ear or 木耳, which is apparently healthful for the blood in the Chinese tradition. Without going into detail, it seems to be working out for Eunice in a rather impressive manner.

Though our blood has no issues (that we know of), Eunice decided to make us some of her healthy Wood Ear Soup last night. This is some kind of fungus, sold in a dehydrated form, that blooms out with rehydration, and is then added to whatever dish, and apparently can be eaten with sugar as a dessert (which kind of freaks me out). We had it in a soup with a beef base, tofu, and celery. We have joined the ranks of the Wood Ear Eaters, and boy, do we feel energized!

What does it taste like? Not much, really. It tasted like beef broth. It's more of a texture issue. Imagine a shitake mushroom, but surprisingly sort of crunchy, like not-quite-cooked celery.


Autumn Evelyn Ingalls

born Sunday morning to proud parents, Clayton and Teresa. All is well. See here.

Pain (French for "bread")

In order to commemorate our trip to French Canada (pictured above), we decided to dedicate August's Ethnic Bread of the Month to the frogs. We had wanted to learn some standard Euro breads in addition to our more exotic choices, and we found a pretty easy recipe called "French Bread Rolls To Die For". We weren't particularly interested in dying for bread, but you must admit it sounded attractive. The result: quite tasty, though not as crusty as they look in the picture on the recipe site. We took them over to the Faders and snacked while playing Carcassonne. A good evening by any standard.

When You Go On Vacation For A Week And Were Growing Zucchini

Don't let this happen to you.
(Though Heather Fader gave us a great recipe for just such an oversized squash.)

Book Review with Give-Away

Mark Batterson, a D.C. pastor, has written his second book, entitled "Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God". I was initially reticent to review this, because I thought it was going to be some revision of "Wild at Heart", a book I was thankful for, since it seemed to positively influence many people, but did nothing for me, presumably because I never really felt as though my faith had been emasculated.

Having finished the book, I'm glad I didn't work on that assumption, since the truth is otherwise. This is a book about following God. That's right, big and broad, just like that. I realize that's about as specific as saying 'This is about life,' but I think it's accurate. And healthy, as well, since all of us need times to step back from details and look at the big picture, the broad strokes of where we are and where we're going in our lives. The title takes it's name from a Celtic name of the Holy Spirit, which means "the wild goose", and so Batterson's bent is to constantly remind us that God is not tame, nor is the life he calls his followers to. His style is incredibly conversational and easy to follow, and each chapter ends with thoughtful discussion questions.

Two things he does particularly well:

1. Obscure bible stories. Even after years of reading the bible, Batterson can reference a story that seems completely unfamiliar. Case in point, the title story from his first book "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" (yes, that's in the bible). I also got the privilege of learning about Hezekiah's steward and the key of David, as well as the time when only Saul and Jonathan had swords amongst all the Israelites.

2. Getting inside the biblical story. I wouldn't go as far as putting him in the Buechner/Rich Mullins category on this one, but in that same direction, at least. One example: He discusses how the Israelites were constantly building altars in various places, to remind them of God's work in that point in space. He then takes it further and wonders whether Paul ever returned to the Damascus Road, or David revisited the battleground of his fight with Goliath, or Peter ever rowed out silently on the Sea of Galilee where he briefly walked on water. This kind of creative thinking brings a refreshing light to often told truths.

A word of caution: This guy loves aphorisms. He even finishes the book with about twenty straight bumper-sticker phrases. Good phrases, but ultra-condensed nonetheless. If you want a long, sequential line of thought, don't look for it here. Rather, Batterson is constantly coining phrases, which is not everyone's style, but does make it easy to remember his points.

Overall, a fine book for personal reading, and likely quite useful for a group setting as well.
By the way, I have an extra copy that I can mail to the first one that requests it.


A Child’s View of Heaven

Thus marks the return of the book reviewing blogs. We try not to do it too often for our faithful readers :), but I was approached about some fun books and ideas lately, so here goes one of them. This week is Children’s Book Extravaganza. I received three kids’ books in the mail. Now, I don’t have kids, and I haven’t read kids’ books in many years, but I do have fond memories of many books from my children. Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, The Cat in the Hat, The Hungry Caterpillar, etc etc. I think the key to a good children’s book really lies in the illustrations as much as the words. When you can’t read, it’s all about the pictures, right? Maybe even when you can read…

So my favorite book of the three is called “God Gave Us Heaven,” by Lisa Tawn Bergren. It’s about a little polar bear cub and his father talking about what heaven will be like. Maybe I liked it so much because several months ago, my cousin lost her husband to lung failure and is now in the process of raising their three year old son by herself. And I wonder how in the world you even start to talk about something as abstract and mind blowing as heaven and eternal life. How do you tell you child where his father has gone, in a way that would make any sense at all? Even as an adult I only have vague ideas and concepts about it. I remember when I was little, imagining heaven as a gigantic slab of rock floating in space. It was dark all around, except for the stars. And there were people just milling around, some dangling their feet over the edge. And in the middle of the rock slab was a big building that you could go in to play Nintendo. Quite a view, hm? My new favorite description of heaven is found in C.S. Lewis’s final Narnia book, “The Last Battle.” I cry every time I get to the end because it’s so beautiful. Here’s Lewis’s description of heaven:

"Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the glass there may have been a looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked like it meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean. It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia so much is because it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"(ch. 15)

Anyway, back to the book review, it’s at least a good start in the right direction. And really, relevant for both adults and kids. The other two books are both by Dandi Daley Mackall, entitled “God Loves Me More Than That” and “When God Created My Toes.” They’re both kind of goofy rhyme books about the love that God has for us, on a level that’s probably pretty accessible to kids.


The State Race Continues!

It has been documented elsewhere regarding our intramarital race to visit all 50 states. Since Rachel recently visited Alabama, and became tied with Eric for 45 states, the race has only intensified. Thus, with our recent trip to Maine, which Eric had never visited, it became necessary for the due course of etiquette for us to visit Vermont (which Rachel had never visited) on our way back, since it was not too far out of the way.

Thus it was that Eric enjoyed 3 whole days of being ahead in the State Race, during which time he gloated ceaselessly about his superior travel achievements. Rachel's graces then improved, as we crossed into the Green Mountain State, and Eric once again learned a valuable lesson regarding humility. See the updated maps here.

Vacation Part II: Maine

After a few days hanging out with the Quebecois, we drove through the Canadian countryside, and crossed over into Maine at a tiny rural border crossing, with only fumes in the gas tank, since we were adamant that we weren't going to pay Canadian gas prices any more than was absolutely necessary.

We had both long wanted to visit Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert (pronouced "dessert") Island, off the coast of Maine. We drove in and camped on the west and quieter side of the island. Highlights at the campsite included making 2 successful (but labor-intensive) campfires with wet wood from the previous days' rain, as well as biking back to our site carrying our dinner of lobster bisque and clam chowder. The next night, we actually had our first Maine lobster out of a cardboard box, in the dark at our campsite, with nothing but a plastic spoon for utensils.

During the days, we may extensive use of the free bus system (with bike racks!) that L.L. Bean runs on the island. We perused the village of Bar Harbor, biked the scenic "carriage roads" through the hills that the Rockefellers built, walked the ocean coast, and hiked to the summits of the twin "bubble rocks". My guess is that few places in the USA have been cultivated as a park for so long as Acadia. Thus, it is rustic, but not rugged, the way that parks out west would tend to be. All the roads and trails are very well maintained, and there's a fun history of wealthy patrons building huge cottages back at the beginning of the 20th century.

After leaving Acadia, we took a day to explore the involuted coast of Maine, which apparently has more ocean coastline than any other state, including California (Alaska?). At Muscongus Bay, we achieved a personal goal, that of eating super cheap lobster (less than $10) on a picnic table, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (see picture above). We followed it up with yummy blueberry ice cream that may or may not have been eaten by JFK back in the day, judging by the pictures on the wall. We ended the night in New Hampshire, and drove the rest of the way the following day, stopping at Niagara Falls on the way back, just in time to watch the moon rise over the falls.


Oh Canada!

Eric and I just returned from a wonderfully relaxing and much needed vacation to......Canada! I know some of you voted for our vacation destination several months ago when we were debating between Peru, Greece, Canada, etc. In the end, there were no good airfare deals to any international destinations, so we loaded up the car, strapped on the bikes, grabbed our passports, and drove to visit our giant neighbor to the North. We figured this would be the closest thing we got to an international destination (and we did need the passports, although Rachel was too embarrassed to ask for a passport stamp from the Canadian border guards, so alas, an undocumented trip).

Now, for all of my years living along the Canadian border, I can't say I know much about this country. I have been to such exotic destinations as Windsor, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, and Niagara Falls, even Toronto, and have been underwhelmed. Canada more than made up for these previous lukewarm impressions though, when we crossed the border into Quebec. Only 10hrs from Ann Arbor, but when we entered Montreal, the signs were in French (traveux! means construction...we saw that one a lot), there were cobblestone streets, and boulangeries serving French baguettes abounded. Quebec was even better. There was a hotel called the Chateau Frontenac which, I kid you not, looked like a giant castle. Quebec is the only city in North America that has been labeled a UNESCO world heritage site, because it has city walls, which are about 300 years old.

We stayed at a cute little B&B, where the second morning over breakfast we had a hysterical conversation with two middle aged Quebec women. Despite the fact that they had lived in Canada their entire lives, they couldn't speak more than a handful of English words. Amazing. Sacre bleu! Of course, most of Eric's and my French words come from Disney movies (Les Poissouts? Remember the chef from Little Mermaid?), so we're not really ones to talk.

But just to prove that Americans are woefully ignorant of Canadian happenings, I was going to mention the Canadian Prime Minister in this blog. And I realized I didn't know his name. So I looked it up on wikipedia, and then promptly forgot it again. So I looked it up again: Stephen Harper. Now you know. The other thing that I didn't realize until just before we entered Canada is that for the first time ever, the Canadian dollar is just as strong as the American dollar, with an exchange rate of almost exactly 1:1. This didn't exactly make for a bargain vacation, but as a later post on the Maine portion of our trip will reveal, the cheap lobster we ate later made up for it.

Adieu, my friends! Je me souviens!


Victory for McTim!

Just FYI that my dad's school board election was yesterday, and last night results were announced, and he had a resounding victory, capturing 60% of early voting, and winning in all 5 precincts within his district, including those in which his 2 opponents lived. He was the only non-incumbent to win out of 6 board seats up for election!

It's the end of a long and fairly arduous campaign (full of positive experiences nonetheless, of course) for my parents, and the beginning of what hopefully will be an opportunity to serve the people of their county well and benefit the school system. Congratulations, Dad!

Pros and Cons of Amtrak

Rachel came back from Chicago on Sunday night, but seeing as I had some vacation time, I decided to stay a little longer and take the train back. Often, during the week, it's a pretty cheap trip via Amtrak from Chicago to Ann Arbor. I missed the official special price, but still picked up a $29 ticket.

The last time I took a inter-city train in the US was when I was about 3 years old. Since then, I've been enamoured with train travel experiences I've had abroad, and was looking forward to the experience. I'm assuming that more and more people will look for alternative forms of public transport as time goes on and oil remains high (or increases), so I thought I'd share a bit of my experience.

1. The train was clean and very spacious. It's not even fair to compare to a bus ride, and it was about twice as spacious as a plane, in empty seats, seat size, baggage size, and hallway size.
2. Unlike highways, towns and other commercial shops don't build up along the train track, since it has already chosen it's stops. Thus, you get to travel through a lot of open countryside. And when you enter a town, you go right through downtown, instead of only an interstate exit.
3. No billboards.
4. The clickety-clack. You know what I'm talking about.

1. Half of my trip was actually on a bus. They sort of snuck this in on me, but from Chicago to Kalamazoo was all bus, then on the train to Ann Arbor. Why? I don't know, but it's really a different thing to ride a bus (see above Pros), so this should have been more emphasized.
2. Through a variety of largely unavoidable planning mishaps (no equipment failures or anything), my trip was delayed almost 3 hours. It's only a 5 hour trip total. There may be a good explanation for this, and they were apologetic, but no real explanation was given.

I really want Amtrak to work as a form of train travel for Americans. However, as it stands, they certainly did not impress me. Train travel impresses me, but not Amtrak. Seeing as though it's our only choice, I may give it a go in the near future if the opportunity appears, but I won't really be seeking it out.

Vacation and Cross-blogging

We are heading out tomorrow for the vacation that everyone voted on. We sort-of took the recommendations from people. The plan is a few days in both Montreal and the Quebec City, then down to Acadia National Park in Maine for a few more days.

Part II to the prior cross-blog up here.



We had the opportunity this past weekend to visit Eric's cousin Alex and his fiance Tabitha in the Windy City (we also briefly saw the Richards, see the next post). It's only about a four-hour trip and much penance was needed for the absence of visiting that took place whilst they were in Grand Rapids, so it was high time that this chance for good company was manifest.

All of us having been to Chicago multiple times before, there was no special need to do any of the standard things, so we first went to a bookstore and watched Tabitha try to explain to us the awesomeness of a book about a vampire who falls in love with a human. I don't think she really succeeded. We had Dim Sum and bubble tea in china town for lunch and Tabitha did not die of anaphylaxis from peanut oil. Then we walked down to millenium park, and tried to build really tall towers out of the blocks at the Kids Adventure Center, just to shame all of the pathetically small towers the preschoolers were building all around us. We were awesome. We also took some obligatory "Chicago Bean" pictures (also below). We finished up with a really long walk that included some very successful geocaching adventures, including one pictured below, found outside the Wrigley Building (below).
We were super tired at the end, but were really glad to see them, and to have them show us around their fair city a bit more. It's been quite a while since we've been to Chicago, and it hasn't been really cold.

In Town For a Baby

We took a visit to Chicago last weekend, and Jonathan and Debby Richards were gracious enough to let us stay in their barn-house, even though Debby was getting quite close to delivering their second child. As it turned out, we never saw them at their house, because Debby had been hospitalized a few days prior and Jonathan was staying with her. Before the second night was done, Jonathan called us and said they would probably stay another night, because they had a daughter born earlier that day. And he said it like that, too, just so nonchalantly. A few things had subtly changed that day, tipping the balance in favor of delivery instead of waiting, and thus Eliana Faith was born at 3# 6oz.

We had the privelege of coming by to see them in the morning, and watching this little beautiful peanut have her first bottle. Highest Congratulations, Richards Family!


Speaking a little too soon...

Apparently, someone stole all the (unripe) peppers from our garden this weekend. Alas! Pepper pride cometh before the pepper fall.



A posting on our other site about medicine, objectivity, and treating friends.

Geocache #100

We will not rehash the glories of one of our most treasured recreational activities, geocaching. Suffice to say that the Edwards family are testament to the fact that this is the wave of the future - the wave of the - the wave of the future.

Since we got our GPS 2 years ago and joined the ranks of the coolest people in the world, we have discovered parks and scenic views all over the world that we wouldn't have known otherwise. Last week, we found 3 more, which put us up over the 100 mark for total caches found. We decided to combine this with our lesser-known New Year's resolution (the more publicized being "Ethnic Bread of the Month"), which is to walk to a local restaurant every month.

We discovered a cache out in front of the Corner Brewery, a venue we had been meaning to visit for a while now, and celebrated our #100 with a couple fine brews while we played 90's Trivial Pursuit. We would tell you where exactly by the Corner Brewery said cache is hidden, but that would be breaking the secret and sacred blood oath we had to talk in order to become cachers. Sorry.

Pepper Pride

Here is today's harvest. The important part is that we have successfully grown a pepper (this one is a cayenne, and is about 7x bigger than we thought it would be). Last year, we tried growing bell peppers, and every last one was stolen or destroyed by wicked vandals, and chili peppers, which didn't ripen before the end of growing season. Victory is ours. Maybe we can even make salsa before the cilantro dies!