Traveler's Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum

It's true. We're back in Michigan for a week, and decided to take advantage of our proximity to Grand Rapids, and meet up halfway with the newly married Alex and Tabitha Blanski (our cousins).

Halfway is the Lansing area, and Alex suggested a unique little venue in Okemos, Michigan, just east of Lansing: The Travelers Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum. A little hole-in-the-wall where the "international" menu ranges from gyros to Indonesian dishes to buffalo burgers (which are very low in cholesterol. Who Knew?). The "Travelers Club" part apparently refers to the various world maps hung up around the place, and the impressive international beer selection (though all their drafts were from various Michigan microbrews). And the "Tuba Museum" part was just what it sounds like. All the way around the restaurant were hung up around 50 tubas and tuba-like instruments. The first couple pages of the menu described the significance of some of the more memorable tubas. Perhaps best of all (partly because of it's being so underwhelming) was the world's only "sousaphountain", pictured below.

Every small town should have a place like this. Genuine, kooky, and with some very tasty food and drink. Thanks for suggesting it, Alex.

Congrats, Small Groupies

Our small group, after demonstrating our prolific-ness by having 2 babies in six months, decided to demonstrate its commitment to the institution of marriage by now having 2 weddings in 8 days. We are the "New Life Stages" small group. Of course, sadly, we're now just charter members of the small group, but were very excited to be able to return to Ann Arbor for the wedding of Kyle and Sondra this past weekend. I think they're lying on a beach in St. Lucia right now. Congrats! And also at the wedding, we got to see Josh and Erin, who had been married one week previously. While we were unable to attend that wedding, it was fun to celebrate, albeit a little belatedly. And finally, no blog post is truly complete without a picture of Maggie, here demonstrating her wedding finery.


Concerning Lions

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It remains unclear as to whether this band's name refers to "about lions" or "lions that are concerning", but nevertheless we're enjoying them.

This is, of course, my two brothers-in-law's band (Sami's Jonathan and Jena's Brian, a.k.a "The Chunkles"). How exactly my sisters' two husbands ended up in a band together is a story dating back at least twenty years. It's an interesting and slightly weird epic that is not our content today.

At any rate, they made a decision to go into the studio last month for a quality EP recording, and the firstfruits of that were posted on their myspace page, and it is most definitely worth a listen. Brian is singing, and since Jonathan plays sundry instruments, I don't remember what he's doing on this track. But we're excited for the EP release here in the next few weeks.


Free Awesome Music From Tyler

As we have previously reported, my cousin Tyler put out a fantastic record "Out of the Darkness" a while back. In the true generosity of his artistic spirit, he is giving away the record on his website. I guess it's a bit ridiculous for me to inform you that this is a good deal, seeing as though I think the record is worth more than free. And that says a lot, coming from us.

Seriously, this is good songwriting overlaid with some excellent folk-rock production. We would have bought the record just because he's our cousin, but we keep listening to it, again and again, and both Rachel and I can sing along with most of the songs. My favorite line: "O ragged love! O patchwork love! I will wear you out. I will wear you through the streets and ride you through the clouds."

So I make my case. There is no good reason not to get this record.


Music City, USA

When we were staying in Nashville during the month of July, one thing I really wanted to do was experience "true" Nashville culture. In my mind, this involved famous artists giving free benefit concerts. Or at the very least, I wanted to see some great shows performed by some of my favorites. This proved harder than anticipated to do. Some of the artists that Eric and I love the most were either out of town or not performing at all during the month of July...but in the end, we persevered and succeeded.

The first event really was a free benefit concert by a famous artist. Michael W. Smith performed a praise and worship event at Eric's home church (Belmont) during our third week there for a ministry called Caleb Company, which trains up young leaders and has an involvement with Israel and the Jewish community as well. One of Belmont's former pastors is a good friend of Smitty, and thus the benefit concert. It was less a concert and more a time of P&W led by Smitty on the piano, but as we sat in the front row of the balcony and enjoyed some great worship time (and it wasn't too loud to bring Maggie along), it was a great time none the less.

That next weekend we headed to Third and Lyndsley for a Sandra McCracken show. We sat at a table two feet from the stage and stared up her and Derek's nostrils while they performed some great acoustic songs from her most recent album, Red Balloon. In fact, they were the opening act for some other guy, but as we didn't know who he was, and had another engagement (see below), we took off as soon as they were done. My one regret is that they didn't play "She Must and Shall Go Free." Great song.
From there, we headed back over to Belmont to see Concerning Lions, which is a terrific up and coming band...not that we're biased (as we're related to them). Jonathan and Brian (husbands of Sami and Jena) were doing a few shows in Nashville that weekend to raise money for an EP (short CD) that's coming out soon. Both their regular and acoustic shows were fantastic, and they performed a number of originals as well as covers of Cold Play, MWS, and "Never Grow Up" from Peter Pan. At the risk of sounding like a blog reviewer, you should really check out their music.

On that note, I just have to share a very quintessential "Nashville moment" here, which actually took place in Chattanooga, where Brian and Jena live. Brian works at an awesome ice cream place in 'Nooga called Clumpie's. It was a quiet day in the store, and Brian decided to put on the new Concerning Lions CD, which he had just received a copy of. A man approached Brian at the counter and expressed interest in the music. After a short conversation, he told Brian to give him a call the next time he was in Nashville, and handed over a card. It was Andrew Peterson!!!! We love Andrew! That's the kind of thing I, as a Nashville outsider, think happens every day to people who live in Music City, USA. Like how everyone in LA knows movie stars.


McHumble Pie

Last Sunday, we had a special treat, both in the relational and culinary senses of the phrase. Eric's McLaughlin relatives from the Phoenix area (seen above, with the conspicuous absence of John, Sylvia, and Sarah, who arrived a little later) came together in Scottsdale, and Aunt Katie took us all out to Humble Pie, a Scottsdale pizza joint. It was really a great chance to catch up with a very fun group of people. Maggie performed in her usual uber-social role, content the whole time to have friendly faces all around her.

A word must be said about the pizzas, since not only were the ingredients extremely fresh and tasty, but the topping options were very unique (and delicious!). There is nothing we like more than adventurous dining that turns out to be delectable. Rachel enjoyed the prosciutto and pear pizza, topped with arugula. Eric savored the potato and roasted garlic pizza, complete with fontina and fresh rosemary. Maybe this sounds like a weird pizza. It was. Weird and awesome.


Google Books

I was reminded by our friend Teresa to look into this, the newest of the Google geniuses. So I start browsing Google books, and what do I find? Entire collections of full-length books, there for the reading. Even without a Kindle or some other portable reader device, the text is there, and I can stand to read some of the shorter stuff on the computer screen.
Sure, you won't find the recent stuff there for free and with the complete text. But the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Carroll, Augustine, GK Chesterton, Austen, Hardy... basically anyone who published more than 100 years ago. Right here. And so I started a little online Google library. What's in it?
-Bernard on the Love of God
-Augustine's City of God
-George MacDonald's Phantasies (which I haven't been able to find anywhere else)
-Early Christian Apostolic Writings
I'm going to guess that our blog readership is nerdy enough that someone out there actually finds this to be exciting, and not just me.



Just drawing a bit of attention to our other site, where there is some news (& reflections) about a 2-month detour we're taking on our way to Kenya, namely to Gallup, New Mexico. Also, some new music, where Eric plays games with a drum loop. Hmm...



Maggie has a new book from Dave and Liane Brinkman, with some title like "Peek-a-Boo Babies". That book is gold. The point is that it is full of photos of babies, and Maggie is enthralled by it. In fact, we've been noting that she seems especially fond of all the babies she has met in her life so far. To some extent this seems natural, as perhaps all of us gravitate towards people in our similar life stage. The difference is that I don't think Maggie has a concept that she is a baby. It's like "Hey, look at that unusual little person. I've never seen anything like that."

-Above with Calvin Rocke, and below with Adam and Kelly Rogers' newborn peanut, Andrew.

This moment with Wilson Page at the Pacific Ocean was the closest thing to a conversation I've ever witnessed Maggie engage in. Maybe it was the romantic atmosphere.

Here with Skyla Wilson in Loma Linda.


California Dreamin'

Our trip to California was wonderful, and exhausting! We managed to see over two dozen different friends and family members from all different areas of our lives, which was great. Since basically all we did was eat, drive, and visit with people, we'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Thanks to the Arledge Pages, Chrzans, Lious, Carla, Wendlers, and Wilsons for their hospitality. Sorry to those of you we visited but did not document our time in photos with you. We love you no less. And Rachel just needs to say that despite the fact that I look back on my time at Loma Linda with fondness, the brown air, forest fires, traffic, and heat did not make me wish that I still lived in southern CA!

My good friend from med school, Kim, and her pilot husband Jimmy. Pictures of their cute kid in a post to follow...
Jeff and Lisa Liou, our former small group leaders from Knox in Ann Arbor. Their 2 kids were sleeping during the photo shoot, no doubt worn out from our time in the pool!
Rachel's good friend Carla, a crazy missionary to Tibet and Burma, who is getting her PhD at Fuller in Pasadena. Then back to Burma.
Our friend Carlan Wendler, whom Eric met in med school/CMDA. Notice Maggie's excitement in this picture. She's glad her Uncle Carlan will be joining us in Africa in 3 years. Now, if only we can get there before him...
Rachel's friend Cherry, a physician mentor from Loma Linda
Rachel's good friend from med school, Becky Leenheer. Note that we're showing off 2 halves of a giant pancake from the Homestyle Cafe in Loma Linda. Also note the mismatched coffee mugs (bill for 2 cups of coffee and giant pancake: $3.70...experiencing the cafe, priceless). Becky's husband, who will no doubt someday win a Nobel Prize for his research in solar energy, can be seen in the mirror.

The State Race... Tied!

We spent last week visiting a bunch of family and friends in southern California, and in loving deference, Rachel allowed a slight detour to spend a night in Las Vegas, so that Eric could rack up his 47th state, and Maggie could claim her 15th state (though she got 16 the next day with California).

It was a nice brief trip. Coming from Phoenix meant that we traveled through an amazing 100 miles of nothing except Joshua Trees and hailstones, and then we crossed into Nevada by crossing over the Hoover Dam, seen above at night via a 15 second camera exposure.

We stayed at the Imperial Palace for about $30, and Maggie liked all of the lights, though she abhorred the environmental smoke (as did her parents). If you've ever been there, then there is no need for me to recount the spectacle that is the strip, but only three brief observations:

1. The Bellagio fountains are the best.
2. The whole strip is more interesting after the 3 Oceans movies.
3. I am still deeply troubled by the seeming transformation of Vegas into a family vacation destination.

Click here (and scroll down) for the latest in the state race!