Six Years Being Remembered

Today marks six years of being married to an amazing woman.  Obviously, I wouldn't have married someone that I didn't think I knew or admired.  I knew her well.  I admired so many things about her.  I loved her so much.  And yet, here we are, six years later, and looking back, it feels like I didn't know half of the things for which she is to be admired.  And I love her so much more.

This picture is of our first real date, getting ice cream in California in the summer of 2004.  This time was followed by watching Mulan on a VCR, and then a conversation where I showed my first real relational ineptitude.  Thankfully, she didn't think I was an idiot, but worked through it with grace.

In May 2005, we took our first international trip together, 9 days in Turkey, where we saw an amazing part of an amazing country, and slept on the bus 3 times in 5 days.  I don't remember ever having had so much fun before.  These are the travertine pools of Pamukkale.

These are the ruins of St. Stephen's church, from about the 7th century.  I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to be standing on them, but when we hiked up there, we were alone.  And then this random Turkish guy showed up, and insisted we stand up there for a photo shot, and he took the picture.  He was afterwards disappointed that we didn't have any money for a tip.  (and we really didn't)

December 31, 2005, we were married in Knox Church in Ann Arbor, surrounded by friends and family.  A beautiful day.

We took our honeymoon in Costa Rica, traveling to a few different places, including Monteverde, where we took the zipline canopy tour through the "Cloud Forest", something I wouldn't have heard of if not for Rachel, who had been dreaming about it for some time.

In 2007, our lives were full of residency training and hospitals.  We decided to use our vacation for a perfectly relaxing Caribbean cruise.  After a terrorizing trip missing the boat in Puerto Rico, we landed in St. Maarten, and I promptly celebrated by running into the ocean with our digital camera in my pocket.  We immediately went into the town, and bought a new one.  This picture was taken by the salesman on our new camera, to demonstrate it's quality to us.

Later that same year, we embarked on our first international medical trip, spending a month at Malumghat Hospital in Bangaldesh.  This remains one of my favorite pictures of us, not leastwise because it highlights just how crazy white I am next to my beautiful olive-skinned, Turkish-appearing wife.

On the way home, we stopped for a few days in Dubai, taking this shot standing in the Persian Gulf, with the world's only self-proclaimed 7-star hotel in the background. (separated from us by a ratty reed fence)

The following summer was enjoyed at our 1896 home in Ypsilanti, where we plied our gardening skills on our community garden.

In 2008, our small group hosted a halloween party, where we were to dress up using only stuff found in our home.  Things got ugly, but these are the times that are opportunities for marriages to grow.

 2009 was a banner year.  Maggie was born.  We finished our medical training.  We lived in 4 time zones in 5 months, and then moved to Kenya.  A busy work life with kids:  good, but with its challenges as well.  There is no one that I would rather go through those times with.  For Rachel's 31st birthday, our friends Logan and Julie gave us a special dinner in their apartment.

Down at the Tenwek waterfall, with Rachel sporting her obligatory Tenwek skirt, and me in my overly bright Kericho Toyota V-neck.

One of the best parts of our work in Africa is the chance to work together.  We trained at different facilities in the US, but moving to Kenya meant that my wife has able to invade, and thus bless, my time at work as well.  I knew I had been in Kenya too long when one day I shook her hand to greet her. =(

And now back in the US for the time being, now a family of four, new things and old traditions, like this picture on Christmas Day of the top of Camelback Mountain, Scottsdale, where Rachel's family always goes for Christmas.

Rachel, I love you.  I look forward to each year so much more, knowing that I can live it with you.  Happy Anniversary.


More Adventures in Brot-land

As we had posted before, while in Kenya we started messing around with the "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day."  Our friends the Millers graciously got us a copy of the actual book, which had tons more great info that one can learn from a YouTube video.  Lately, we've been trying out some new recipes.  On Christmas Day, we made a big batch of the Challah dough.  Half was made by Rachel into absolutely awesome cinnamon rolls.  (We also got a new camera, so this post is a chance to show some new snapshots)
 The other half was made into Challah for lunch.
 Given my bread hobby of late, I was tasked to make a bunch of loaves for Eric and Haidee Selle's rehearsal dinner, which is tonight.  So I spent the morning in the church kitchen, working lots of different ovens to make different loaves.  Here are the Pain d'Epi, which I'll be able to pronounce once I learn French.  But it means "stalks of wheat", which is what it looks like.  It's super tasty.
 A few more loaves.
 The finished batch of bread loaves for the rehearsal dinner tonight.


Christmas Songs and Hospice

Last night, my cousins' grandpa died.  His name was Leonard Laubenstein.  We had gotten to know him well over the last 30 yrs as our families are close.  On Sunday, my aunt Joan asked if we could visit him in the nursing home and bring a guitar and sing some Christmas songs.  We were happy to.  Several hours before we went over, the nursing home called to tell Joan that he would probably be dying within the next few days.  And so the afternoon found us gathered around his bed, holding a hand, singing Christmas songs as he intermittently opened his eyes, and sometimes sang along.  It seemed appropriate for the season, but I wondered about the end of one's life, if singing things like "Hark the Herald Angels" was the best thing or not.  Shouldn't we be singing Easter songs or something?  And then I started to see a theme in the hymns.

Hail the heav'n born prince of Peace
Hail the son of righteousness
Light and life to all he brings
Ris'n with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by
Born that men no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

How silently how silently the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human heart the blessing of his heaven...
O holy child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today

Nails, spear shall pierce him through
The cross be borne for me, for you
Hail, hail the Word made flesh
The babe the son of Mary...
So bring him incense gold and myrrh
Come peasant, king, to own him
The King of kings salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone him

It was abundantly clear as we sang to a man yearning for his heavenly home that Christmas is about Easter.  Christmas is about our salvation, and our heavenly home, and about the love of our Father.  What else could have been more appropriate?  I've spent my life learning about Christianity and celebrating what Christmas means, but it made more sense this week.  The beginning of the fulfillment of God's plan, and what that means to both a Christian living out her daily life and a Christian nearing his eternal home and his loving God.


First Snow

We are doing our best to stay in warm climates this year.  Tenwek has spoiled us with its 70 degree year round weather, and I'm not sure we can go back!  Nashville has been really nice, and we spent Thanksgiving in 80 degree Georgian weather.  Then it was off to Phoenix, where it's been in the 60s.  But on the way, we got an unexpected surprise...snow in Missouri!  Perhaps the Missourians weren't so surprised. :)  Maggie actually has seen snow before, in 2009 when we got 3 inches of snow in October in Gallup, NM, and also when we got stranded in west Texas in December 2009 because a few inches of snow closed the highway.  But anyway.  This is the first time she could remember.

We spent a few days with our friends Julie and Logan Banks, who we met at Tenwek when they were working there for six months in 2010.  Their son Liam is Maggie's age, and they have a little boy Zeke who is Ben's age.  It was great to enjoy their awesome hospitality!  Mags and Liam totally hit it off.  They spent a lot of time bouncing on each others bed and reading each other books.

 The first morning we woke up at their house in Springfield, MO, it was snowing!  Julie rounded up some extra winter gear and off we went with the kids.
 Maggie walking in her first snow:
 Maggie and Liam, BFF.

 She spent a lot of time carefully dusting off all the bushes outside the house.
 The only mishap was a little slip/splits action that she needed help getting up from!  Hopefully this will get her excited for our two months in Michigan this winter, where I'm sure we will see snow again.  In the meantime, we'll enjoy swimming in the pool in Phoenix. :)



Just before we left Nashville, I thought it would be fun to take a trip over to the Opryland Hotel and see the Christmas lights.  It's been awhile since I had been there anyway...Mimi and Bapa had taken Maggie back in September while we were in Philly, and she enjoyed all the waterfalls, fountains, and landscaping.  If you've never been, Opryland Hotel has some AMAZING indoor gardens to walk through, complete with several waterfalls, fountains, and a river big enough to take a boat tour on.  We went with Eric's parents, and Sami and Jonathan and their son Liam.

Here are Ben and Liam, enjoying their free candy canes before we got started (my mom likes to say that I got my first taste of sugar at my first Christmas, when I sucked the wrapping off a candy cane and then held on so hard that no one could pry it away from me....I don't think Ben got past the wrapper!)
 Our first view of the HUGE Christmas tree inside the Delta section.
 Maggie was fascinated with it!  So sweet to see all sorts of Christmas things through the eyes of our kids.

 We saw Santa Claus next, but were unable to take our own pictures.  There was no line, so Maggie got to go right up and sit on Santa's lap.  She had no fear at all, and just sat there with a little smirky grin on her face.  She didn't know what to say when he asked what she wanted for Christmas, until Santa then asked if she liked Dora.  Maggie then regaled him with all sorts of tales of her Dora sleeping bag, the Christmas tree, escalators, etc.  Very cute!  Then it was on to another section of the hotel:
 Ben couldn't keep his eyes off all the sparkly lights on the ceiling.  It was pretty magical.  Overall, it was a fun way to kick off the Christmas celebrations!


I-40 is Like an Old Friend

We have safely arrived in Scottsdale, AZ, and are enjoying the company of our family.  It was nine days in the car, visiting with lots of great family and friends that we haven't gotten the chance to see in a while.  Incredible hospitality was ours, and we are thankful.  However, there is one old friend that we hadn't seen in a while that deserves special mention:  Interstate 40.

I-40, especially west of Oklahoma City is, for me, the quintessential American road trip, and that kind of road trip is truly a uniquely American experience.  Open roads.  High speed limits.  Vast distances with nothing in between except little peppered bits of classic Americana.

Western Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas (still part of "West Texas", apparently) are about the same:  amazing flat nothing-ness.  In 2001, I took a rather famous road trip to the Grand Canyon with some friends, and I still remember someone (I can't recall who) telling me that the only thing that impedes your vision is the curvature of the earth.  I thought they were exaggerating.  But no.

America is big.

And then you get to Amarillo, a town of about a thousand hotels and restaurants, a big train station, and little else.  However, deserving special mention is "The Big Texan", a restaurant I have never visited, but has lots of billboards, which are really like the tour guide of I-40.  A 72-oz steak for free if you can eat it.  And a free limo service as well, presumably so that they can get you home to one of your many hotel options after your steak-eating attempt puts you into a uremic coma.  According to the picture, they are open for breakfast.  I can only imagine.

As soon as the majesty of the vastness of this region wears off (which may or may not take longer than the time it takes your car to accelerate to the 75 mph speed limit), you don't have too long to wait until New Mexico.  You have been subtly climbing thousands of feet since Oklahoma, with nothing to show for it except a reduced fuel efficiency on your car, and all of a sudden you are in the high desert at 7000 ft.  The scenery truly is beautiful, with the same vastness, but a little more to admire.

The thing about New Mexico is that you are constantly reminded of the fact that the I-40 you are driving is, in fact, the old Route 66, that once was "America's Main Street".  Nostalgic billboards are everywhere, and homemade roadside attractions are still of the type you would imagine from old road trip movies.  In fact, many of them were there then, and haven't changed much.

Every town has way more hotels than would be justified for a town it's size, testifying to the "stopover" nature of these locations, including the famous "Hotel el Rancho" in our old once-upon-a-time home in Gallup, NM.  According to the billboards, Hotel el Rancho is "Home of the Movie Stars", using the present tense for something that you're quite sure is now past tense, which further buttresses its charm of yesteryear.

Once you cross the Arizona state line, the environment has been distinctively Navajo for quite a while, and you can stop at Fort Courage if you like.  Don't be fooled by the gigantic "Pancake House Restaurant" sign or the prominent gas station.  Those services are no longer available.  We know.  We stopped there years ago to find a place to feed baby Maggie, and ended up huddled in an unused cubby hole of the remaining souvenir shop.

From there, it's a straight shot past the Petrified Forest and the Meteor Crater, on to Flagstaff.  Just hang a left and coast down 4000ft in altitude until you ditch the snow and enter the valley of the sun.

When you move away to another country, you may fear that some things will be changed irrevocably by the time you get back.  I don't have such fears about this little corner of my home country.



Ever since I met Eric, I have been hearing about the great family tradition of Thanksgiving in Waycross.  His family has been going down to his aunt's in southern GA for probably over 15 yrs now, but we were never able to go.  Until this year.  It was originally the plan to spend Thanksgiving with Rachel's family and Christmas with Eric's, but all his sisters are also alternating holidays and were doing Thanksgiving in Georgia this year.  Combined with the fact that Rachel's brother is getting married in Phoenix at Christmas and it made sense to switch.  So last Wednesday we loaded up the car and drove nine hours through just a little bit of holiday traffic to Waycross, along with about 30 other relatives from his mom's side of the family.

It was quite a holiday!  First, the McLaughlin siblings did a little ornament and gift exchange in the hotel.  Pretty ironically, every kid preferred someone else's gift to the one they received.  No tears, though!

 Our niece Sierra:
 And nephew Liam:
We were really surprised to receive an awesome gift of an accordion from Eric's sister Jena and her husband Brian.  Brian's grandma had left him three, so they gave us one.  Should be fun to learn how to play!

Thursday night was an awesome seafood feast of crab legs, shrimp, fish tacos, fish stew, two kinds of cake, etc.  That wasn't even the Thanksgiving meal!  The big meal was celebrated Friday afternoon.  First, we dressed up the girls in their matching cousin outfits.
 Then it was time for family photos.  Mimi made matching pajamas for all the grandkids.

  While the meal was cooking, Maggie and Sierra enjoyed playing with some window decals.
 Ben and Liam grabbed each others' toys.
 And Grammy and Papa got a picture with all five great grandkids, aged 2 1/2 to 4 months.
 Daddy and his kids!
 Finally, the meal!  It featured no less than 17 dishes, like corn casserole, sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole...well, you get the idea.
 32 people sat around the table!
 One of Eric's cousins made the name placesettings.  Look at Ben's cute little leaf!
Then on Saturday after a feast of leftovers, we headed back to Nashville.  A long drive, but great to finally be a part of this family tradition!