Saturday, December 29, 2007

Yard Day at Orangehouse Ends with Campfire

It was a family effort, but we finally completed tearing down the shed in the backyard. We salvaged some treated lumber to recycle into a tree house for the boys and hauled a lot to the curb for trash pick up. The weather was so nice that we set up a table, grilled hamburgers, and ate on the back porch. Then we decided to build a campfire right on the dirt patch where the shed used to stand. We pulled the patio furniture over by the fire and made more chairs out of big logs. The fire was so hot our shins were burning, and when we made smores we had to wear oven mitts so our hands could withstand the heat. As a finale to the day, D popped a pan of Jiffy-Pop popcorn over the fire. It was a great family day.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jono's B-day

Unfortunately for him, Jono's birthday is two days after Christmas. To celebrate him, we had a family party today, and will have a party with his friends in a couple of weeks after holiday travel subsides. We got him several fun presents and made him a cake.

We have a family tradition at Orangehouse. I make the cakes in whatever shape the boys request. When I asked Jono what type of cake he wanted, he said "uh... I dunno..." and then looking around the room for ideas, suddenly replied "a Christmas tree!" so that's what I made. I used strawberry cake mix, lemon icing dyed green, and red M&M's as decorations. Then I used some real tree bark stripped from our firewood to decorate the trunk. We won't eat that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Skater Boy

The boys got roller blades for Christmas and after every present was opened, we began the process of trying them out. I was helping Jono in the hunt for proper socks, the adjustment of the skates, and the adding of layers for five or ten minutes. Meanwhile, D donned his blades of danger and propelled himself out the door and out of site.
Wobbly Jono started off in the grass getting his sea legs and generally being pleased with himself. About that time I started looking around for D and saw him hobbling around the corner with four adults; he was limping and holding a fat wad of paper towels on his knee. I met them halfway and the man carrying his skates told me he had heard D fall from inside his house! They had cut his pants leg away like a battlefield medic. I thanked the man whom I did not know and carried D home on my back like a wounded marine. Gratefully, he'll live to skate another day.

His remote controlled airplane also took a beating today. He took it to the school grounds down the street from Orangehouse for its maiden voyage; the abundance of trees on our street is like an army of Scrooge hands, grasping to steal away his Christmas smile. But at the school grounds, there are only a half dozen trees on the ten-acre plot; low tree density. But like a moth drawn to the flame, within five minutes the plane was resting in one anyway. That's when I first saw him, throwing rocks up in a tree in an ill-conceived plan to bring it back down.

Thankfully, all of his throws missed the plane. But unfortunately, one of them came down on his remote control and severely bent the antenna! Eventually, we got the plane down with a stick and resumed our holiday flight schedule. But the winds proved too much for us and after several hard crashes and a broken styrofoam engine mount (can you glue styrofoam?) we came back inside. Despite the mishaps, we had a lovely day and are grateful for so much. Tomorrow I will try out my new one-horsepower weed whacker; D isn't allowed to touch it!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wisdom from the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

Today's post is a Christmas passage in the Papua New Guinean pigeon language called Tok Pisin as taught to me by my Melanesian friend over many cups of Starbucks coffee. It is from the book of John, chapter 1. The words are often phonetic spellings of English words, but arranged in different ways. Perhaps the linguist friends out in the blogosphere can shed more light on the language. Anyway, here's a picture of me (in my mind).

I will write the first line in Tok Pisin from the Tok Pisin Bible, Buk Baibel, and leave it black.
Then I will follow it with a blue "sentence" with word by word translations.
Then I will give the English translation in red.

Gutnius Jon i raitim, Sapta 1
Goodnews Jon writes, Chapter 1
The Gospel According to John, Chapter 1

1-Bipo bipo tru, taim olgeta samting i no kamap yet, Tok i stap.
Before before truly, time all things no come up (think of "sprout") yet, Talk (or the Word) stopped (as in stopped for a visit, existed).
In the beginning, before anything was made, was the Word.

Tok i stap wantaim God na Tok yet i God.
Word stopped with (wantaim = one time, they were together at one time, or with) God and Word yet God.
The Word was with God and the Word was God.

2-Bipo bipo tru Tok i stap wantaim God.
Before before truly Word stopped (was) with God.
In the beginning the Word was with God.
3-Long dispela Tok tasol God i mekim kamap olgeta samting.
By (or through) this fellow Word, only God made come up all things.
By the Word, God made all things.

Na i no gat wanpela samting i kamap long narapela rot.
And no got one thing come up by another road.
And there is not one thing made by another way.
Nogat. Olgeta samting i kamap, em Tok yet i mekim kamap.
Nothing. All things made, him Word yet made come up.
Nothing. Every thing that has been made, is made by the Word.

4-Laip i stap long em, na dispela laip em i lait bilong ol manmeri.
Life stopped with him, and this fellow life he light belong all people.
In Him was life, and this life was the light of all mankind.
5-Dispela lait i save lait i stap long tudak, na tudak i no bin duanim em.
This fellow light knew light stopped in darkness, and darkness no (bin=past tense marker) downed him.
This light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome him.

Em i naispela tok tok?
He nice fellow speech?
Isn't that a beautiful passage?
Em tasol, lukim yu behain! Gutpela Krismas!
Him that's all, look you behind (behind meaning later in time, behind the present)! Good Christmas!
That's it! See you later! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kitten Christmas Reunion (Feline Felis Navidad)

Remember that Gracie, our adopted-off-the-street-and-then-found-out-she-was-pregnant cat had five little kittens a couple of months ago. We kept one kitten, Henry, and gave away the other four, in pairs, to two friends. Well, said friends have gone out of town for Christmas and we are cat sitting all of them. Orangehouse has become a kitten madhouse. I took this picture a few minutes ago while writing my last entry. She was sleeping on the computer table while I worked.

Cat and Mouse

Last night we had the kittens jumping after toys; it was truly hilarious! We shot this mediocre quality video and uploaded it to YouTube today. It was my first YouTube upload and now I feel like a real power-user. I am numb with techno-savy.

Testosterone and Gasoline

I'm trying to teach my boys the value of hard work and the satisfaction of physical labor. So today we mowed and raked the leaves in the front yard.
Yes, the small person in the picture above is my six year old using a potentially lethal power tool. I'm going for father of the year. And below is D, eleven, working hard without grumbling!
Here's a bit of trivia. When we moved into this house, the whole house was the color of the bricks in this picture. The shutters, the trim, the garage door, and even the shingles were this color orange. It was as if someone had spray painted the entire house one color. Hence the name, Orangehouse. We added the Texas Rangers star partly in celebration of Texas culture, and partly because yard-gnomes are prohibited by city ordinance.
And at the end of the mowing, we look out over our job well done, cheeks cold from the wind, and nostrils full of the smell of fresh-cut grass and lawn mower exhaust. Learning to take satisfaction in the little things in life is a learned skill.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wookin Pa Nub

A close call today! I came into the front of the house and saw the front door standing wide open. There was no sign of Gracie, my cat who is very much in heat. Arg! We just finished giving away the first litter of kittens and now she's out making more! Wake up and smell the pheromones. How could I let this happen?

The M and I walked and drove around the neighborhood shaking a container of cat food like some kind of duck call or giant baby rattle, but to no avail. How could she resist such a hypnotic shake-o-shake noise? Shouldn't she come running out from the bushes where she must be hiding? Alas, she was nowhere to be seen. My shaking arm was getting tired so I gave up and went home. But just as I pulled into the driveway she come trotting across the yard to the front door. I was relieved but concerned. She was only gone for 20-30 minutes, so maybe we won't have more kittens. But man! no more procrastination; I've got to finish reading those DIY spay kit directions I found online.

Later, at HEB doing some shopping, I ran into my new friend, the produce guy with the eyebrow ring. I casually mentioned our little adventure with the cat while I fondled the butternut squash.

Produce Guy: waoh dude, you had a close call, yo?
Me: Yes I did, our family would have been really sad if she hadn't come home. "Inside" cats are especially eager to get outside when they're in heat.
Produce Guy: yeah, she was like, driven, to get out and connect; make like, a cosmic connection, yo
Me: er... yeah I guess so.
Produce Guy: all of us are like, hard-wired for connection, yo

He then went on to explain how people (and cats, by implication) are universally social, that we need connections with other people, and how this is on account of the Trinity, but I didn't understand what he meant by that last part. He said this desire, this drive, can be motivation for healthy connections, or good relationships, but also for self-destructive ones. He went on to explain how romance novels and pornography are essentially the same thing: a self-destructive embodiment of the universal desire for relationship.

At this point he rolled his produce cart over to the tomato section and started softly humming Johnny Lee's "Lookin' for Love in All The Wrong Places" from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. I just stood there in stunned silence.

String Theory

D had his first orchestra concert the other day and was very nervous beforehand. Not only was he worried about performing on stage, but he had to "dress up" and was worried about what he was wearing. We tried to get him to dress up and wear a button down shirt, but he was convinced that his friends would laugh at him. So he wore a short sleeve knit shirt instead. Within seconds after arriving, he was wishing he had dressed higher, rather than lower. (Do you remember how hard adolescence was?) The good news is, by the end of the evening he didn't care anymore and the concert was fun. He is the cello in the front row, middle.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fundraising and Self Condemnation

Today M and I addressed and stuffed 101 fund raising letters and put them in the mail. I have to say I still feel a little funny asking people for money, but I believe in what we are doing (the Uganda trip) and the truth is we couldn't afford to spearhead this project without help. A voice in my head tells me if I was a better person I could have saved up my money and paid for the trip myself. But the truth is, I'm not that "better" person, and if my family and I are to go, we will need help.

Why do I hold this double standard against myself? What if I applied this same logic to the Ugandan orphans I intend to help? "If they were better people these orphans would pull themselves up by their bootstraps (if only they had shoes) and stop asking people for help." Of course, this is ludicrous. The only explanation for this dichotomy is my pride. I don't want to admit weakness or imperfection, at least when it comes to money management. I can joke about being fat, but relying on others financially makes me embarrassed. Someone recently reminded me that Jesus didn't have a job during his three-year ministry, but that he must have relied on others for his material needs like food, shelter, and airline tickets. Hmm.

Monday, December 17, 2007


M and I like to think ourselves as having strengths other than being photogenic. We generally dislike photographs of ourselves, but love them of our kids. But despite my grumblings, M coordinated with a friend who is also a professional photographer, bought us matching shirts, the whole thing. But I must say they came out wonderfully and were well worth the reasonable fees. Here is my favorite of the boys. The best family shot is coming in your Christmas letter (if I know you).

Please see for her gallery and contact information. Tell her Middle-Aged Fat Guy sent you.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Uganda Eat That?

Dear Friends and Family,
Dear Advocates for the Weak, Marginalized, and Oppressed,
Dear Proponents of Alternative Energy,
Dear Believers in Education and the Transformative Experience of Travel Abroad,
Dear Lovers of God,
Dear Lookers for Year-End Tax Deductions:

I have a fantastic opportunity for you! I am more excited about my next trip than any I have taken before. Let me tell you about it and explain why I think it is an excellent opportunity not only for my family, my students, and me, but for you as well.

What is the plan?Half a dozen engineering students will travel with me and my family to 500 acres of rural Uganda on the Victoria Nile River to partner with a new Christian non-profit organization called Restoration Gateway. Among the goals of visionary leader Tim McCall, M.D., are to build an orphanage, a medical clinic, a seminary, a vocational training school, and other ministries over the coming decade. At this early stage, infrastructure needs have a high priority. At present, a team of 40 Ugandan employees is producing bricks for building construction. The first orphan home now has a foundation and walls. Our assignment is to provide electrical power for a cluster of orphan homes using wind power. We will specify, purchase, and assemble a suitable wind turbine(s) and associated electrical gear. We will design, construct, and erect towers to mount the turbines including guy wires and foundations.

Our friend Katy took this photo while visiting Restoration Gateway. These children, while poor, are not orphans. Imagine the plight of orphans there...

Why Uganda?
Beginning in 1987, civil wars ravished the country, especially in the north, halting forward economic and social movement, and robbing thousands of children of their innocence. The guerrilla army known as the Lord’s Resistance Army has engaged in mass abductions, rape, murder, and forcing children to be child soldiers or sex slaves. The conflict and abductions largely ended a few years ago, but the scars (physical, emotional, economic) are still present.

Part of Dr. McCall’s strategy is to train and mobilize the church in the southern part of Uganda, relatively stable and prosperous, to minister to its own in the north. Thus, there will be educational and training aspects to his planned medical clinic, for example. My point is that investments made in this project will not only serve the immediate needs of the area, but continue to earn the interest of good works from future generations of Ugandan nationals.

A Personal Note:
M and I went to visit Restoration Gateway in September of this year. It was her first time to Africa and she was profoundly moved. She often cried at night and when I asked her why she said it was just so hard to see such poverty and suffering. It is hard. And it is life changing. We slept under a mosquito net in a traditional mud hut with a thatched roof (albeit with a new concrete floor). I was helping with a solar panel array for the base camp, and M made bricks, worked with a medical student doing HIV testing, and befriended the ladies. M made a friend in Evelyn, one of the workers employed by Restoration Gateway. Her two youngest children would accompany her to work and quietly play while she made bricks. The older of the two was named Jewan and was about eight. She took care of her little sister, Small (her real name apparently) who was less than two. On our last day, Evelyn brought a gift for us from her children, three raw eggs from their chickens and a bag of “gee nuts” which you and I know as peanuts. We were touched by her generosity.

For our next visit we plan to stay three weeks instead of one. We want to bring the boys too. We feel that this trip could be a trajectory setting experience for them as they see their parents and many others living out a calling to service to Christ through the service to the poor.

How Can You Find Out More Information?
This post could be a much longer, but I want to respect your time and be concise. However, I created a blog to help disseminate information to my students and their parents. Please see (this is not a joke despite the witty URL). From there you can read more about why I believe this is the project God has for us right now. You can also read a detailed list of the equipment we need and perhaps choose one to underwrite.

Will you please prayerfully consider joining us by contributing financially to this endeavor? Please leave me a comment or send an email to find out more about this tax-deductable opportunity.

Middle-Aged Fat Guy

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sara Groves: I Saw What I Saw

Inspired by her trip to Rawanda, musician Sara Groves has made the following video. It resonated with me powerfully. I have had the pleasure and priviledge of leading teams of undergraduate engineering students on energy-related, discipline-specific mission trips to Kenya, Honduras, and next year, Uganda. These trips are powerful experiences for everyone, myself included. I am delighted to be the guide for them at a highly influential time of their lives. This song captures the emotional impact of these trips, especially to Africa.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Marrow Donation Part 1

Eight or ten years ago I worked with a lady whose daughter had cancer and needed a blood marrow donation. In effort to find a suitable match for her daughter, she organized a company-wide blood drive and match testing program with the National Marrow Donor Program. I was not a match for her daughter and after that company closed down we went our separate ways.

Then, last year, I got a call telling me that my records were in their database and had been found to match a man with a type of lymphoma that could be treated in this way. Was I interested? Sure. But later my patient developed complications and the transplant didn't occur.

But last week they called again and we are back on track! So today I had a physical where a doctor confirmed that I was indeed a middle-aged fat guy with blood marrow. They did an EKG which was painless until the tape ripped some chest hairs out! The doc was sure surprised when my chest x-ray showed a rare Rogaine-producing internal organ, but it finally accounted for my general state of hairiness which had puzzled the medical community for so long.

After the new year, the plan is for me to get a series of shots that makes my marrow go into overdrive and produce an abundance of stem cells. These are then sifted by pouring all my blood through a very small kitchen strainer and then the patient gets them by mixing them with left-over holiday eggnog and swigging it down with a flourish of machismo. Something like that. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Camping with Pops and Mimi

Hot off the press! Pictures from the camping trip to Lake Meridian. Pops and Mimi brought their pop-up camper and took the boys camping for the weekend. They built fires, went on hikes, and even caught a few fish! The following are photographic highlights for your viewing pleasure.

I like this one because it makes me look ripped.
It's an optical illusion of course, no Photoshop tricksies.

To the bat cave!

Imagine everyone's surprise when, after an evening of ghost stories,
this scary image rose up out of the campfire!

Pops' high-tech goggles allow him to see the secret path through the emerald jungle.

D caught a rare feathered crawfish but had to throw it back
on account of it being endangered.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Axe 'Em Jacks

Don't panic! The guy in the pictures is not the wild-man lumberjack he appears to be. It's just my son D; we chopped firewood today. He's getting stronger and more muscular every month. We chopped for a good half-hour; he was still energetic but I had to go inside and wash down a couple Advil with my coffee. And just like they used to say of me, I can't believe how fast he's growing up. I am so proud of the man he is becoming, even if he is a hatchet man.

As my son grows older and into a man, my father-in-law grows older and into a child. His Alzheimer's is progressing and he is beginning to forget my children's names. The other day we received an emotional voice mail from him, asking us to please come visit this weekend. We have many things already planned, so M reluctantly called him back today to say we couldn't come this weekend, how about another? He didn't even remember inviting us!

Photo credit: NASA Langley Research Center
He is like a giant ship that leaves a spinning, swirling, vortex-riddled wake in his path. He is now unaware of the smaller watercraft that are rocked and jolted in the emotional turbulence that results from relationship with him. His ability to "rock my boat" makes me suspect that I am more influential than I realize in the lives of others. Are there tornadoes in my jet trails? Have my words hurt my wife (yes) or my children (yes) or my students (probably) or even my blog readers (as if there were any) lately?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

On the Move Like Osama

I have been trying other blogging software out and I think I'm going to stay with "Blogger" from Google. It's a lot easier to post pictures and video and make edits. I'm sorry you have to redirect your browser. In an effort to make it up to you I'm going to post one of my all-time favorite pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Jono threw up this morning. We were awakened by a distressed "mama" and then it came splattering over the hardwood floors of our bedroom and covering M's magazines and house shoes. Poor boy. In effort to nurse him back to health we made him home made chicken noodle soup for dinner. He loved it because he was starving! I had limited him to crackers and water all day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Blogability of Predestination and Free Will

In an earlier post I discussed, perhaps confusingly, the four levels of contradiction. I have received questions and requests for clarifications regarding the Mystery and the Paradox categories. However, despite the advice in Blogging for Dummies that says I should be nice to both of my readers, I am going to politely ignore these requests for now and post a thought on the Temporary Agnosticism.

Consider, if you will, the New Testament doctrine of predestination. Why should you? Mostly 'cause I'm an amateur on the subject and I like to stir up controversy to build my readership. Predestination is when the you forget to change your clocks for daylight savings time and you accidentally arrive at your destination one hour early. This is not to be confused with re-destination which is when you miss your exit on the freeway and have to double U-turn to get back to it. At least that's what I used to think...

Until the produce guy with the eyebrow ring told me otherwise. It went something like this:

Me: Excuse me, but can you help me pick out a good butternut squash? I can't seem to choose.
Produce Guy: dude, you have to like, thump it and roll it over in your hands, yo, and like, smell it (he takes a big sniff)
Me: But what am I feeling for? I mean, how is it supposed to smell? What does a good one sound like?
Produce Guy: woah, that's like, a lot of questions dude, ultimately you just have to pick one
Me: But how do I know which one is best?
Produce Guy: well dude, really what you need to do is let the squash pick you, yo, yeah, let it pick you (at this point he mumbled something I couldn't understand and began adjusting the bell peppers)
Me: So which is it then? Do I pick it or does it pick me?
Produce Guy: (with yoda-like seriousness) yeah dude, you got it.

So there it is, a temporary agnosticism. Still don't see it? Let me elaborate. The New Testament insists on two seemingly contradictory viewpoints. One is that God is in ultimate control of everything and that even if we "choose" to follow him we have done so only because he made us to, or predestined us to. But the New Testament also says that we are responsible to God for our choice to follow him or not. Therein lies the apparent contradiction. Do we have freedom to choose or not?

Instead of trying to answer this question, a question that has eluded an answer that can be agreed upon by all (or even most) Christians for centuries, a question that has received lifetimes of scrutiny by smarter folks than I (like John Calvin in the painting), instead of embarrassing myself by giving an answer, let me just tell you what has brought me some phycho-peace about the subject. You guessed it: the wave-particle duality of light.

Physicists couldn't see how light (or electrons) could be both waves and simultaneously particles until someone eventually figured it out (Richard Feynman). Until he figured out QED theory physicists fell into one of three categories: wave guys, particle guys, and temporary agnosticism guys. The later could not dispute experiments that showed contradictory evidence, and yet they could not explain it, but they figured that one day someone would untangle the nasty mess. (See my other post about physicists and philosophers on November 27)

So perhaps those of us who take the New Testament seriously can agree to hold these two, seemingly contradictory views in tension for a while. It seems unlikely that humans will ever discover a way to reconcile them, but surely God can in heaven. So being a temporary agnostic, at least in this sense, is sounding pretty good to me. Does that sound like a cop-out to you?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cat Disciples

Today I hypnotized the kittens with a feather and a tinkle bell. At first they chased it on the ground, but then I moved it from side to side over them, they all moved their heads back and forth in unison like some kind of feline tennis match. I enjoyed a drunken moment of Machiavellian-style power before having the sober realization that my children follow me like these kittens.

Every day they are watching me, learning good habits and bad. And not just my children, my students are watching me too. Heaven help them all.

Tonight I was having Jono read to me. We chose "Hop on Pop" and he read it pretty well. Then we got to "Thing thing, that thing can sing" which he read "Thang thang, that thang can sing". What's worse is I didn't even notice at first! Where did he learn to talk like that? Probably from his mother.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Boy's Night Out

The boys and I went to a BU basketball game tonight. I think Jono's favorite part was riding the bus from the parking lot! They were playing the #6 team, Washington State. The Ferrell Center was packed and the crowd was very crazy-loud. Though we led for most of the game, in the last few minutes they overtook us and we lost by three points. Sad face emoticon. We had fun, though; we should do that more often.

I was reminded of the light saber fights we had a few years ago. I love this picture. The boys got light sabers and jedi capes for Christmas.

Before the game I had a group of students over for dinner to talk about a trip to Uganda we are planning for next summer. As we sat down to eat I said to one of them, "John, will you offer thanks for our food please?" and to my surprise my little Jono thought I was talking to him and said "sure". Before I could say anything he started the cutest little prayer. I can't even remember what he said because I was so shocked that he would do that in front of everyone. We all exchanged looks after the "Amen" to acknowledge we had just witnessed something special.

Milkish Camping in the Living Room

The photo is of an accident that happened in Papua New Guinea when a tanker truck full of diet soda overturned near the world's largest mentos mine. Well, not really. It's just eye candy to keep you coming back to read more. Blogging for Dummies says I should use lots of pictures to keep readers happy and engaged.

The boys and I put up the Christmas tree today. Tonight they are sleeping on their camping pads with sleeping bags in front of the tree. As I write this they are laying in their sleeping bags reading books.

Earlier D said his stomach hurt and that it "felt like the milk had given him indigestion" and that he was feeling "milkish". I couldn't help laughing out loud at "milkish". A couple of Tums and all was better. Next time I'll give him mentos.