Sunday, December 6, 2009

5 months!



Happy 5 month Birthday (yesterday)!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dealing with it

"Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood."
-Dante, The Inferno

As I've approached this, the second anniversary of Evie's birth, I've not been able to articulate how I feel now about it. The second year of this grief journey has certainly been full of pain revisited but much healing as well. Yet I couldn't shake the feeling for the last few days that I was slowly approaching a dark place-- that daylight was slowly setting with the son as I approached shadowy woods. I would say that it is because this time of the year a different kind of pain is retouched. The general "ache" of Evie's absence is always with me, but at this time I feel the pit in my stomach at the memory of our trauma.

I enjoy remembering the happiness of Evie's birth. It was one of the few times in my life where I literally burst into tears of joy. That's a memory that cannot be taken from me. What does afflict me is the prospect of reliving the 21 days that followed-- the fear, the disorientation, and the trauma. We are glad to have so many people carry the memory and grief of Evie's life with us, and to celebrate with us the value of her life. But the trauma of those 21 days at Children's Memorial is something only Nicole and I understand.

For now, the task I have is embracing the memory of joy and the anticipation of our reunion at the end of time. These things ought to endure, while the troubles we suffered will pass away... and I will come out of these woods, and the pit in my stomach will pester me no longer.

We are a Family of Four


It's hard to believe Evangeline was born 2 years ago. In a way it seems like it couldn't have been that long ago, but it's also hard to remember life before her so in that was it seems like a very long 2 years. I've been stressing a little leading up to this day because I've wondered, how do you mark an occasion like this? November 17th, 2007 was a day of great joy, and I wish that I could just celebrate that joy, but instead all I can feel is what's missing.

I think I'll take the opportunity of her birthday to work with Matt to put all of her pictures into a album. Strangely, even though I have each and every picture of her printed and an album chosen, I have never completed that project. We will have the evening together as a family--please pray for us as we spend time remembering Evie on her special day.

-Nicole

Friday, October 9, 2009

Putting it all out there

I'm overweight. I have been as long as I can remember, but I've never weighed more than I do right now besides when I was pregnant. I think the fact that I've always been overweight made me not notice when I would gain more--sure, I felt fat in high school, but I would be thrilled to weigh now what I weighed then. After all, losing 40 pounds is a heck of a lot less daunting than losing 80. The fact is, I let it get away from me even though I think I've always thought that I could and would change. So why haven't I?

While I was pregnant and couldn't try to lose weight, I came up with a goal for myself. I turned 28 this summer, so the big three-oh is looming just around the corner and I want to be at my ideal weight by the time I reach that milestone. It's over a year and a half away, so it seems doable, but I have a LONG way to go. I need to lose 80 pounds to reach my ideal weight range, which sounds impossible! But I plan to take it 5 pounds at a time. A friend of mine who had a lot of success in weight loss recommended rewarding both small and large goals and that's what I plan to do!

I think putting this all in writing for the world (and by that I mean my 4 faithful blog readers) to see is my first step towards success. I think the reason I've generally failed to stay motivated is that I treat weight like money and politics--not pleasant or polite to talk about. But knowing that other people know that I'm trying will force me to get results so that I'll have something positive to report!

I've subscribed to Weight Watchers Online and it's my goal to log my food each day and stay within my daily points. Exercise is kind of tricky because now that I'm working and have Lucie, I don't have time for trips to the gym. But, I can walk with Lucie on days that it is nice enough to do so and I can do my workout DVDs in the comfort of my own home!

So here I go. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

3 months

This was supposed to go up yesterday, but we had technical difficulties. Happy Belated Birthday, Lu!

The second half of the slideshow has cute pictures taken by her Auntie Adrienne this past weekend. We had fun dressing Lucie up and doing a photo shoot, and Lucie had fun too (for about the first 5 minutes)! Thanks for your patience, Adrienne. :)



Lucinda is 3 Months old from Matt Kennedy on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Poop happens


"I'm naked because Mom had to strip me down and clean me up after a poop mishap in HER bed this morning! Oopsie Poopsie!"

Two Months






Friday, August 14, 2009

?Difacil o Facil?

You know those Geico caveman commercials? Forget the ill-fated sitcom about the cavemen, I'm talking about the commercials. For years they've made me literally laugh out loud. Somehow the joke doesn't get old as the commercials stay fresh and funny. Granted, its humor better suited for 30seconds rather than 30 minutes. We've been watching a lot of TV these days since Lucie arrived on the scene (as you can imagine, its been a little more difficult to get out with an infant around). There are a lot of crappy TV shows out there, but the Geico commercials make TV worthwhile.

Any honest parent will tell you that having a baby is hard. Everyday we come up with new questions and new mini-disasters befall us. Baby poops through her diaper, baby screams for three hours straight, baby wakes up every hour all night long... sometimes it seems like we don't have a clue what we're doing. Advice both solicited and not seems mostly ineffective. We scour our multiple books and scroll through endless websites for solutions but get muddled information and conflicting answers. There is a billion dollar industry that exists to convince you that to be a good parent you need to use certain gadgets to raise an intelligent and happy baby. There are also dozens if not hundreds of different "schools" of parenting that one must discern: ranging from "hippy-happy" granola parenting to authoritarian discipline and everything in between. Its enough to make your head spin. I start to wonder when I'll get the "bad parent" stamp on my hand.

But then I take a deep breath and remember that the human species has managed to perpetuate itself for thousands of years. Our ancestors didn't have all the newest baby gear nor were they schooled in scientific methods for raising children. Albert Einstein didn't have "Baby Einstien" products to nurture his infant brain. The reality is that we probably know very little about how to really raise our kids most effectively, but it still gets done. Its been done for millenia. I probably won't screw up too bad. Parenting, so easy a caveman can do it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

One month

EDIT: Oops, the videos were accidentally set to private. They should work now. :)

Lucie is one month old today. I feel like we've experienced so much already. We probably should have been taking more pictures, but for what its worth, here is a montage of her first month so far.





Also, the other day Nicole shot video of Lucie that shows off her athleticism.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One Week Birthday


Dear Lucie,

You're 1 week old today! We've learned so much about you this week. You've given us a hard time with sleep, until last night when you slept like a champ! We all felt so well rested that we took you to church this morning.

Other adventures have included your first pediatrician visit, a stroll around the neighborhood, a couple of baths, and a trip to a store. You've been a busy girl!

We love you!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lucie on TV

A short little video we took of Lucie this morning. She's doing what she does best: being adorable.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Love Lucie

Say hello to the newest member of our family: Lucinda Hope Gustafson Kennedy.



Early yesterday morning I left for work at the farmer's market, and just an hour later I recieved a phone call from Nicole letting me know that contractions had started. I rushed home, but as the day wore on it seemed to be a "false alarm". We went to bed last night around 11pm or so, and contractions started again. About 2:30am I awoke startled when Nicole announced her water had broken. I lept out of bed and nearly tripped over myself as we gathered our things for the hospital. Contractions began to come very quickly. The thought began to cross both our minds that we might not make it to the hospital. Fortunately, with great concentration we were able to make it down the three flights of stairs in our building and to labor and delivery at Swedish Covenant Hospital in time. Nicole only labored a couple more hours, and we were very surprised when with just one big push little Lucie nearly shot right out! Our midwife wasn't even ready yet to catch her!

We're glad to say that delivery went fine and that both mother and baby appear to be in good condition. Lucinda is 9lbs 7ozs with long black hair. The three of us have spent the day resting and recouperating from all the excitement.

We know many people have been thinking of us and praying for us. We're grateful for all the love and encouragement, and giving thanks to God for this new little blessing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Getting tech ready

The baby countdown is on! I'm technically on maternity leave now (although if she hasn't arrived during the weekend and I'm not in labor, I'm going to go in to work next week--it makes me crazy to sit and wait!). Being the internet addicts that we are, we are hoping the rumors of wifi at the hospital are true so that Matt can send updates via this blog while we are there. But we have a back up plan in case of a lack of internet: I added Matt's Twitter updates to the side bar on the right so that he can update from his phone if nothing else. So hopefully we'll be online one way or another. We know at least the grandparents and maybe a few other interested parties will appreciate it!


Monday, June 22, 2009

The things you learn at TJ's

It is getting HOT. I am not a happy camper in this humid, high 80's weather (with 90's looming in the forecast for the next couple of days). So when we did a big grocery shopping trip this weekend, I gravitated towards mostly cold and refreshing items, or things that wouldn't take long to cook. And after abstaining from "adult" beverages for many months, I picked up a Pinot Grigio at Trader Joe's for Matt and I to share after the baby is born. When I told the guy who was bagging our groceries that I was excited about enjoying a cool and refreshing wine in a couple weeks, he shared a great tip! He said a great way to keep your wine cold on a hot day is to keep some frozen grapes on hand and to put them in the glass with your wine. It's like having ice cubes that won't water down your drink, and you'll have some icy fruit to eat when your glass is empty! It also sounds really cute. Thanks, TJ's guy!

UPDATE:

Speaking of refreshing, I should share a recipe I love for a great summer salad. I like it because it's very easy and it can keep in the fridge for a couple days. I know lots of people make variations on this, but this is how I learned to make it:

Black Bean and Corn Salad

The salad:
1 can black beans, rinsed
1.5 cups frozen sweet corn
1.5 cups peeled and chopped cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (or to taste)

The dressing:
.5 cup lime or lemon juice (and some of the zest, if you prefer)
.5 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp cumin
4 teaspoons sugar (or to taste--I prefer a sweet dressing, and the lime in the dressing is quite tart)
Salt to taste

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl or shake in a bottle. Toss enough of the dressing with the salad ingredients in a large bowl to coat and flavor the salad. You may not use the whole cup of dressing, but you can save it for use on another salad if you have some left.

I had this salad with a hot dog and some tortilla chips last night, and I'm going to eat some with an egg salad sandwich for lunch in just a few minutes! Yum!

Friday, June 12, 2009

A third of the season played, half the games won.

It was getting pretty ugly for a while. The month of May was not kind to the Seattle Mariners as their offense got even worse and they dropped from first to third in the AL West. Adrienne Beltre continued a terrible hitting slump while Griffey's numbers trended downward. Russel Branyan and Ichiro had been the only decent hitters in the line up; the former crushing the ball the latter hitting consistently and more frequently with extra bases. The last time I wrote I argued that Beltre and Jose Lopez would not stay this bad forever, and they've finally seem to "caught fire". Consequentially, Seattle has gone on a nice little tear-- going 10-4 over the last two weeks and winning four series in a row. Conveniently, the Texas rangers have cooled off a little from their hot start and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim continue to struggle. That means with the Mariners now at .500, they're just 4.5 games back from Texas.

Pitching and defense have been great, you can't ask them to do any better. The team is 21-8 when they score four runs or more. Scoring runs is the trick. Like the Cubs, situational hitting has been dreadful. At one point in May, Seattle was 0-24 with runners in scoring position. Nothing says choke more than a stat like that. Yet, I remain cautiously hopeful if Beltre and Lopez continue to show improvement at the plate. I'd like to see Griffey hit a little more, but his offensive contributions are better than what his batting average would indicate. A better measure of a hitter's contribution is OPS: on base percentage + slugging. So with that in mind, before Griffey went on a mini slump at the end of May, his ability to draw walks and occasionally hit homers and doubles gave him an OPS of around .800-- which is a decent posting for your average major leaguer. Griffey should also get some credit for "smart" at bats. In the rare occasions he's got runners on-base, Griffey is often able to pull the ball down the right side or put it up in the air in the OF to move the runners over. So while I'd like to see him connect with the ball a little better, he's doing okay at contributing to the offense.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with the team as we approach the All-Star break. How close will we have to be to the division leader to keep management from trading away our payroll before the deadline? As soon as it appears that we're falling out of contention, I wouldn't be surprised to see the M's shopping around Erik Beddard and Beltre to some contenders in exchange for some prospects. But for right now, the team is winning and that is the most exciting thing for a baseball fan.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Following Christ

If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, you know that those who only admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors. The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness; but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back. Admiring the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be changed into exactly the opposite, to hate, jealousy, and revenge. Christ, however, never asked for admirers, worshipers, or adherents. He consistently spoke of “followers” and “disciples.” -Soren Kierkegaard

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Plot Thickens

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Bible is the idea that it is a "Book of Rules" or its "Advice for Living". I shudder when I walk into a bookstore and see the "Religion" aisle right next to the "Self-Help" aisle.

The Bible is a story. Its not fiction, but it is a story. Its the story of God's elaborate scheme to save the world. Its the story of how God has and will save you and me. Its a story God invites us to participate in.

There have been many days in my recent life where I feel directionless. As malaise occasionally visits me I think, "what's the point of it all?". The Bible says there is a point to it all. This elaborate scheme to save the world is the point of it all. God has a role for each one of us in the story. This isn't a time to float along and wait for something to happen. This is a time to move the plot along. When I'm bored and directionless its because I've forgotten that each morning is an adventure to see where Jesus is leading us into deeper places of love, truth, compassion, and justice. Each one of us encounters opportunities each day to do something good for the sake of God's creation and God's people. Consider the words of C.S. Lewis,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to
ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with,
marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does
not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment
must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between
people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no
superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with
deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners--no mere
tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object
presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in
almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the
glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

I'm feeling a renewed conviction to stop "wasting my time"; to remember that we are on a mission of the utmost importance. The busdriver, the barista, the coworker, the friend, the guy on the corner shouting obscenities-- each one of them is loved by God and each of them like you and I are waiting for the light of God's love to shine in. We need to be saved. We need to be helped.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Chilly Double-Header

It was cold in the Cell last night. More than a few times the mercury dipped below 37. The previous night's game had been rained out, and Nicole was unable to join me for Tuesday afternoon, so I spent a good portion of the day down at the ball park by myself and despite the weather and the solitude, it was a fun evening.

I only caught the last 4 innings of Game 1, which ended up being a big disappointment as our replacement fifth starter did an amazing job of holding Chicago to just two hits over eight innings, but the Sox turned those hits into runs and Seattle couldn't put up more than one run to support their pitcher. Griffey hit a deep ball to right center that suffered an ill timed change in the wind--most nights that ball would have been an easy homer, but it bounced off the center field wall and he was stranded at 2nd base with no one behind him to hit him in. It was the kind of game exemplary of Seattle's strengths and weaknesses this season: excellent pitching and defense, not enough hitting through the lineup.

During the brief intermission between games I stood in the front row and watched "King Felix" warm up for what I expected to be another pitchers duel between Hernandez and Sox Ace John Danks. I was joined in the front row by a couple of men who were also taking pictures and admiring the M's pitcher, so I struck up a conversation with them about the Mariners and Felix Hernandez. They were visiting Chicago from Venezuela for some conference, so in my broken Spanish and their broken English we talked about the great Venezuelan players on the Mariners and throughout MLB.

Game two started off with a bang. Ichiro hits a great leadoff single, gets bunted over to 2nd, steals third, and gets hit home by Mike Sweeny's awkward blooper single. Its the way they've been scoring runs all year: speed and luck. With Felix pitching, it could have been enough, but the Mariners bats decided to come alive last night. Yuni Betancourt is an incredibly frustrating player-- he doesn't draw walks, strikes out a lot, hits into a lot of double plays, and plays terrible short-stop these days. He manages to put up a decent batting average, but because he can't play "smart" he doesn't help us win. Thus it was a pleasant surprise in the second inning with two on and a full count he put a fly ball just over the left field fence to tack on three more runs. After that Seattle kept on hitting, scoring five more runs and racking up 19 hits-- more than enough support for Felix who stuck out nine and held the Sox to just four hits. It was good to see some run production from Seattle. First baseman Russell Branyan went 5 for 5 with a couple of doubles. This guy has awesome power, and if he stays healthy and can keep making contact, Seattle will indeed have an offense capable of winning. As I've said many times, Adrian Beltre might be one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball, but he needs to start connecting and hitting with power again. Right now he's batting a paltry .167, and even with a golden glove, that won't cut it. Eventually folks like Endy Chavez are going to come back to earth after an uncharacteristic hot start, it would be a huge help to the team if Beltre starts hitting around that time. I like that Wlad Balentien is hitting well and Wakamatsu would be wise to keep platooning him against lefties for Griffey and Gutierrez.

For the second half of the last game I sat in front of a family visiting from Seattle. We enjoyed talking together about classic Seattle baseball and how exciting it was to have Jr. back. Though they were there to root for the Mariners, one of the girls had a big sign declaring her crush on Sox bench coach (and former Mariner) Joey Cora.

So the big question a lot of people are still asking, is this Seattle team legit? We're now nearly done with a month of baseball and they remain on top of AL west. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in shambles right now with half their rotation and Vlad Guerrero on the DL, and Texas and Oakland are quite beatable. The circumstances are right for the Mariners to stay in contention. They've lucked out a little and they've won some games with "small ball", but the hitting will still need to improve in order to stay on top of the division. Manager Don Wakamatsu has Seattle bunting more often than any other team in the AL; and its worked so far, but the rate of return on continuing that strategy is declinging. If all you can do is bunt, then all the oposition has to do is play the infield in. Unless you can legitimately threaten with actual hits, Seattle will keep losing a lot of 2-1/1-0 ball games. If Branyan keeps hitting well, Griffey/Sweeny don't implode, and Beltre finally starts producing, it will not be hard to run away with the division.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

What a celebration! Church this morning was so beautiful. The bells, the choir, the brass, the tulips, the lilies, the tapestries, the butterflies--all to praise our risen Lord. I've always wanted to take some pictures in the sanctuary at North Park Covenant, and I though this would be a good opportunity.


The kids had a quick Easter Egg Hunt on the platform!

The choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus and invited the congregation to come to the front and join in
Multicolored butterflies were a new addition this year

Jesus lives, and so shall I. Death! thy sting is gone forever!

Resurrection

I believe the Easter story not because I can prove it, but because I need it to make sense of everything else. A Poem:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

-John Updike, Seven Stanzas for Easter

Monday, April 6, 2009

Its Finally Here...

...opening day. It snowed here in Chicago last night and its a brisk 33 degrees today. Not really spring weather, but that's okay. Opening day is here. Much to Nicole's annoyance, from here on out I'll be spending a lot more time watching MLB Gameday on the computer, listening to WGN on the radio, and commandeering the remote for Baseball Tonight.

Most of us Seattle fans were duped last year when the 2007 Mariners managed to win 88 games and come in 2nd in our division, we thought the addition of Eric Bedard to the starting pitching would put us in contention for for the AL West title. Instead, we got an injury plagued pitching and a total offensive implosion which resulted in 101 losses, the second worst in baseball. This was a scenario worse than dead last, because this year's draft includes the most important prospect in decades: San Diego State's pitching phenom Stephen Strausburg. The guy has a 101 mph fastball and a wicked slider. He once struck out 23 batters in a game. I wouldn't be surprised if this summer he wasn't some team's number three or four starter. The Washington Nationals will have the first shot at him, but had we lost just two more games he could have been ours! We'll see what happens around midseason.

But what about this year? With a new GM and field manager has Seattle put together a better team than last years? Absolutely.

First off, defense: The acquisition of OFs Franklin Guitierez and Endy Chavez combined with Ichiro in right field means we have one of the best defensive outfields in MLB. Our number 4 and 5 starters Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Rowland-Smith are fly-ball pitchers. This outfield will help them win games that last year's outfield could not. There are still big defensive holes in the middle infield, particularly with Yunieski Betancourt at shortstop, but with Ronnie Cedeno as a legitimate starter on the bench it could put some pressure on Betancourt to either sharpen up his game or ride some pine. Last year Tampa Bay proved that defense and speed can get you to the World Series (of course, a big offensive year from Evan Longoria didn't hurt either).

Some Seattle fans are concerned that without power hitters in the outfield that this team won't be able to score runs, but I think subtle offensive upgrades we've made combined with some more speed on the basepaths from Guitierez and Chavez will keep this team competitive. I'd like to think we've made a big upgrade at first base this year by picking up Russ Branyan from Milwaukee. Because he couldn't get playing time from Prince Fielder the last couple of years, he doesn't have a lot of career numbers to brag about, but he hit a lot of homers this spring and almost anyone would be an upgrade Richie Sexson. Manager Don Wakumatsu has been working on playing "small ball" this spring. Kenji Johima is unlikely to be as bad as he was last year. Sure we'll miss Raul Ibanez's RBIs, but Griffey is likely to be a power upgrade over Jose Vidro in the DH spot and if Jose Lopez continues to improve his power and contact, this line-up could certainly produce runs.

If Eric Bedard stays healthy, the Mariners will have that 1-2 punch in their starting rotation that we hoped for last year. Felix Hernandez has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, and we should hope that he continues to improve. I remember one game in particular last season when he struck out the heart of the Tiger's line up on 9 pitches. He's got the stuff to be a Cy Young winner. Carlos Silva was absolutely dreadful last year and did not look good this spring. One of the bright spots of last year was seeing the young Brandon Morrow get stretched out from the bullpen to become a starter. In his starting debut he 1-hit the Yankees through 6 innings, and I was glad to see another great starting pitcher in our rotation. Unfortunately, Morrow has type-1 diabetes and the stamina demands of starting has forced him to return to the bullpen. Morrow will be a great closer, but we are more in need of a great starter in the back half of the rotation. Aside from Morrow the bullpen doesn't have any superstar relievers, but they can all throw hard and there is plenty of competent relief arms in Tacoma to call up as the season goes on.

Finally, the bench has been greatly improved and that means more than some people might think. After cutting a bunch of the dead weight from last years team, the Mariners were basically sending a AAA team out on the field night after night to get slaughtered. GM Jack Zduriencik deserves kudos for cutting $20million out of the budget but building a team with better depth than last years. Cedeno can plug any holes in our infield, Chris Shelton would be a fine option at 1st base if Branyan is injured, and if Mike Sweeny isn't washed up he could serve as a fine pinch hitter.

The AL west might be a toss up again this year. I don't know anyone picking the Mariners to run away with it, the Angels are certainly still the favorites, but if all the pieces fall together we could see Seattle and Oakland contending late into the season. If at mid-season we aren't in second place, expect management to unload some of our best talent in their final year of contract (Beltre and Beddard) and watch the team fall to 3rd or 4th.

=====================

In the NL central I think the Cubs are destined to dominate again this year. They might have been the best club in baseball last year, and they're almost certainly better this year with the addition of Milton Bradley. Defense is the Cubs only weakness. The can score runs in all kinds of ways, and they have an excellent rotation. Carlos Marmol will be as good a closer as Kerry Wood was. The trick is not choking in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row. You might be getting tired of hearing it, but this is the year. The Brewers are a fun team to watch, I hope they can win the Wild Card again this year. Then again, Albert Pujols and the Cards could always come up with some surprises too.

The AL Central is another "toss-up". Of course I like the Twins, but if Joe Mauer doesn't get healthy and stay healthy they could struggle to keep up with Cleaveland. The White Sox squeeked it out last year, but its hard to imagine lightening striking twice for a team that doesn't look any better on paper.

I was thrilled last season when Tampa Bay finally pushed past the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East--especially when you consider the Rays have the second lowest payroll in baseball and the NE teams have the two biggest! Rooting for the Rays again this year, though most people are picking the Yankees barring a meltdown from A-Rod after his offseason from hell.

Aside from that I got the Mets in the NL East and the Dodgers in the West. Even though last year was a miserable season to be a Seattle sports fan, the level of parity in baseball last year and this year makes for some excitement as "dark horse" teams keep just keep us guessing. As the saying goes, every team starts the season in first place.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Album as a Work of Art

Is "shuffle" hurting popular music? Much has been written about what digital music is doing to the entertainment industry. I can only write from personal experience, but about 3 years ago I got my first MP3 player and its probably no coincidence that about three years ago I stopped buying as many albums. I bought lots of various singles and have been introduced to lots of new artists by having easy access to digital music, but in the end I must admit I probably listen to less music now that I have an iPod than I did when I had a boom box and a giant stack of CDs.

Like I said, the easy access to digital music has helped me find some new artists, so I won't sit here and totally disparage what MP3s have done for music. But the playlist shuffle mentality has prevented me from appreciating new music too. For instance, when I first heard U2's new single "Get on Your Boots", I was pretty unimpressed and speculated that the album would be a disappointment. Fortunately, I decided to purchase the album anyway when I found a great sale at Amazon. After listening to the whole album I found that there were a lot of good songs that I probably would not hear on the radio. Without committing to listening to a whole album, some musical treasures might slip by me. The upside is that I've got plenty of "Greatest Hits" CDs that I bought only for a handful of songs, but now with MP3s I can buy singles of certain songs I like without wasting my money on alleged "Hits".

A second thing I miss about CDs is the "tactile" experience of holding a piece of music in your hands! When you want to find something to listen to, its fun to look through all the album artwork and do the preparation of carefully removing the CD from the case so as not to break those stupid little plastic tabs. Listening to a CD was an event. The ease of the MP3 infinite playlist makes music more "background noise" than an event. Finally, an album has a structure to it. Songs might not sound so good listened to by themselves, but as part of a larger movement of music they can mean more and be more enjoyable.

Last month BMG music service announced they were going out of business. For years I, like so many others before me, signed up and then cancelled a BMG subscription to take advantage of the "Buy 1 CD get 13 more for 1 cent each!" deal. In college we used to do "Top 5" lists inspired by the John Cusack movie High Fidelity. In honor of BMG and the dying art of the "Album", I thought I'd count off some of my all time favorite albums. Ranking them is a difficult thing to do, so I'll start off with my three "Desert Island Discs" (the CDs you'd have with you if you were stuck on a desert island) and then round out the list of 25 from there.

Desert Island Discs in no particular order:
Achtung Baby- U2
Moondance- Van Morrison
El Corazon- Steve Earle

The Rest of the List:
4. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road- Lucinda Williams
5. White Blood Cells- The White Stripes
6. Blood on the Tracks- Bob Dylan
7. The Joshua Tree- U2
8. Odelay- Beck
9. Unchained- Johnny Cash
10. Wrecking Ball- Emmy Lou Harris
11. All that You Can't Leave Behind- U2
12. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill- Lauryn Hill
13. Cold Roses- Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
14. IV- Led Zeppelin
15. What's Going On?- Marvin Gay
16. Soul to Soul- Stevie Ray Vaughn
15. Old Crow Medicine Show- O.C.M.S.
17. Time out of Mind- Bob Dylan
18. Transcendental Blues- Steve Earle
19. New Favorite- Allison Kraus and Union Station
20. War- U2
21. Songs in the Key of Life- Stevie Wonder
22. Elephant- The White Stripes
23. The Waiting- The Waiting
24. Harvest- Neil Young
25. Riding With the King- Eric Clapton and B.B. King

Of course, this list is simply a static picture of what is a more dynamic affair of music appreciation. While its a stab at an "all-time" list, a list made a month ago or a list made 6 months from now might look a little different. It should also be said that this list more reflects a time in my life before MP3s, so newer artists are under represented. And finally, one should not mistake the placement of a certain album on this list as an overall ranking of an artist. While someone may not have an album in the top 25, their overall body of work might put them in my top 10 favorite artists (e.g. Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Buddy Guy, etc.). Or take Lauryn Hill for example, who made one masterpiece of a CD but has not done hardly anything notable since.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Best Job in the World

My cousin Heidi submitted a video application for the Best Job in the World. Please follow the link below to view her video and rate it!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Girl Power!

We had a really great day yesterday! We had our appointment for my 20 week ultrasound, and given our history with Evie, I got a little more than the routine treatment. I saw 3 specialists for about a half hour each: 1 to do the routine ultrasound, 1 who looked only at the structure of the heart, and 1 who looked at all the other organs and bones and such. All in all my belly was abused for about an hour and a half! But it was so fun. One of the very first things we found out was that it's a GIRL! And the best thing we found out is that she seems to be in great health. They can't see everything on the ultrasound, but they can see a lot--including most of our concerns about the heart. Everything is in its right place and appears to be the right size. Thanks to everyone who prayed for us and encouraged us! We feel so lucky.

Interesting coincidence--I knew that the person who would be looking at the heart would be a cardiologist from Children's Memorial, but I imagined the chance of it being someone we knew would be slim because they have nearly 20 cardiologists on staff and we only met with 3. It just happened to be that the cardiologist who came to do my ultrasound was a Dr. we met on the very first day that Evie was admitted to Children's. She did Evie's echocardiogram on that day, but that was the only time we met her. She still remembered me and Evie even though it has been over a year! Such good people.

I feel that while I'm being honest about my joy I should also be honest about my grief. I found that when we discovered that the heart was in great shape I was so relieved, but then also heartbroken all over again that Evie didn't get to have the same fortune. I wish our 2 daughters could have had the same opportunities. Matt and I have seen a therapist periodically since Evie's death and we have talked extensively about future children. One thing he's always noted is that with the joy of seeing milestones in our children's lives, grief will also come. I didn't take that to heart until yesterday and now I can see what he means. While I feel like I have gotten a great gift, I also am bound to remember that Evie got cheated out of the gifts of health and life.

With that said, we are THRILLED! So happy that we got a good health report, and also that pigtails and dresses are in our near future. :) Poor Matt will be outnumbered in his own home!

The Kid

If I remember right, the very first baseball game I ever went to was when my grandpa took me to see the Bellingham Mariners. They were a single-A farm team for Seattle. I don't remember much of what happened at that game. We sat on the steel bleachers eating peanuts and my grandpa spent the game explaining to me what was happening and how the game was played, but he also talked a lot about this "Kid" that had been playing outfield for Bellingham earlier in the spring. He said this 18 year old right out of high school was dominating on the field and in the batters box. He said, "He'll be in the Major leagues soon, and he's going to be a superstar". Grandpa was right and for the next ten years all the baseball fans in Seattle and across the country were thrilled by a Kid who seemed destined for the Hall of Fame. Needless to say, the announcement that Ken Griffey Jr. will return to the Mariners this season has made me giddy as a school boy again!

No one will argue that Griffey has enviable career numbers, though his tenure in Cincinnati was less productive--certainly due to the significant injuries that hampered his performance. Some will look at the decline in his statistical production and consider his age (39) and say that signing with Seattle is a dumb move-- that he's going to decline even further and it'll rob playing time of younger up and coming players. While that's very possible, I'd argue that there's a good chance he can provide a good contribution to the team this year.

With the departure of Raul Ibanez, the team needs some power hitting in the middle of the line up. Of course, last year Jr. only hit 18 homers slugging a moderate .424 (which might not be Hall of Fame power, but only three hitters on the M's last year did better), and considering the standard decline of power hitters, that could be discouraging. On the other hand, we've come to learn that he had been playing with some discomfort in his knee again and that it has been rehabilitated in the off season. A lot of your musclebound power hitters (and juicers) use upper body strength to smash the ball, but Griffey has always relied on what we call "the sweet swing", and that starts in the legs. With a healthy knee, we can probably count on better HR production. It was only two years ago when he hit 30 homers. It'll also help to be playing in Safeco, where a short right field fence lends itself well to a lefty who can pull the ball. Also to consider is that where Griffey struggles the most is against lefty pitchers (he only hit .202 last year against LHP)-- his line against RHP is much better. If we can effectively platoon him in the DH/LF positions, you can expect his numbers to be better. The Cubs were able to do this effectively last year with Jim Edmonds (another aging former star). After a miserable start with the Padres (hitting .178) he was let go, but then the Cubs picked him up and Lou Pinnella played him against righties and Edmonds slugged .521 against them. Sometimes these old guys pull together one last big season late in their career, lets not assume Griffey can't do the same. Its unlikely to be an All-Star caliber season, maybe he'll hit a .270/.360/.460 line with 20 dingers; which is decent enough in its own right and when you consider the kind of hitters we put out there last year (Vidro, Sexson, Cairo, Wlad Balenetein)-- Griffey will at the very least be a wash, most likely an upgrade.

What about defense? Can he play the outfield anymore? Its obvious age and injury has taken a toll on his legs, so many people prefer to see Griffey solely in the DH role. I might argue that "range" isn't everything when it comes to playing outfield. Griffey didn't hit real great for the White Sox last year, but surprisingly one great play in the outfield helped the Sox squeak into the playoffs. With a 1-0 lead in the one game playoff against the Twins, Griffey threw a strike to A.J. Pierzinksi from the outfield to stop a third base runner from tagging up and scoring at home. All that to say, throwing accuracy should count for something in the outfield inspite of limited range. We have Endy Chavez slated to play LF right now. He's allegedly an amazing defender but a pretty mediocre hitter. The M's would do well to utilize him in late-inning substitutions on any day that Griffey plays OF. Griffey won't be terrible in the outfield, but the risk of injury says he should stick to DH as much as possible.

Finally, there are the "intangibles" of having Griffey back in Seattle. 2009 is a rebuilding year, we've got a lot of new young players to develop. Griffey has experience and leadership. He's a positive presence in the clubhouse. Younger players will benefit from his mentorship. Its also no secret there was a lot of discord in the clubhouse last year. Griffey is an affable and sensible player. His presence might help smooth things out a bit so focus can be put back on winning games and less on passing blame.

So the Kid might be a bit of an old man now, but after a miserable year of Seattle sports (the M's losing 101 games, the Seahawks settling at the bottom of the NFC west, the disappearance of the Sonics from the face of the earth), Griffey is a breath of fresh air. One of the greatest athletes to play in the city from one of the most exciting eras of sports in the city. Welcome back, #24.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Last Minute Gifts!

Hey folks, I'm going to do a quick plug for an organization I'm doing some work for this weekend: Urban Meadows is a non-profit florist that employs people who suffer from mental illness. Not only does it help individuals with new job skills, but its also a work environment that is therapeutic for them. Their shop is in the loop, but they deliver to most of Chicagoland.

Most people I know are shying away from Valentines Day extravagances this year, but if you are going to send flowers to someone in Chicagoland--support a good organization instead of the fat-cats at the big chain florists.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Joe Buck Sucks

Some of you know of my intense... err, uh... "dislike" of Bob Costas. For as long as I remember he's come across as a pompous, arrogant, and somewhat insipid sports commentator. Then HBO gave him his own freaking show. I just didn't get it.

In more recent years my hatred dislike of Costas has waned a little. This is mostly due to the fact that I have a newer sportscaster to loathe: Joe Buck. Listen to Buck's voice when he calls baseball playoff games. He seems bored out of his mind. As he makes commentary on various football games, I often find myself wondering if we're watching the same game? Then there was this little gem from a year ago:




One of the most amazing plays in Superbowl history, and Joe Buck seems more occupied watching the grass grow. Basically, he's a terrible sportscaster. And he's terribly boring. .

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recession-nomics: Part II

You can read more in depth analysis below, but this provides a good visual in regards to the mess we find ourselves in:

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Balance Sheet

In case you hadn't heard, our economy is bad. I'm not an economist, I'm a pastor. I'm not very good at math, but I do have (some) common sense. As a pastor I should (ideally) have some insight into our spiritual condition. With that in mind, I thought I'd throw out a few humble observations I'm making about our economy these days.

First off: how bad is it? This morning we learned that the "official" unemployment rate is now 7.6%. I use scare quotes here because I understand that unemployment is actually worse than that. If you look at the Bureau of Labor statistics there are more than 7.6% who are looking for a job; you have the folks who've been so unsuccessful at finding a job we just stopped counting them (called "discouraged workers") and you have the folks who work part-time but still don't have sufficient income to live on (called "marginally attached workers"). Those numbers put unemployment much closer to 14%-- almost double the "official" numbers you probably saw on the news today. I know this is the case, because I'm one of the other 6.3%. I have a little part time work and some odd jobs to help out, but on our income we can contribute near zero to our savings and I've even been forced to defer my student loan payments for the time being. Times are tough.

Why? The housing crisis was a big reason. The value of our houses was artificially inflated, and we borrowed against it to buy stuff. We were told that real estate is a great investment, that the value of your house will nearly always climb. Here's where my common sense kicked in-- is it really possible for home prices to always keep going up? What happens when all the people who can afford a house have one? What happens when all those new condos and developements get finished and there are more of them than people with the income for mortgage payments (see above)? Our resources are not limitless. It was a lie we chose to believe. Now we're paying the price... not in a deflated home value. But in jobs.

Here's where else my common sense took me: where do we work anymore? What does our post-industrial economy produce? A small fraction of us make food, most of it is imported. Most of our goods are imported too, produced in squalid conditions for low wages. Most of us who work don't actually create or produce things-- we just kind of shuffle them around and skim a little off the top for our selves. Isn't that what the stock market is? Isn't that what retail and consumerism does? The job sectors that are hurting the most are manufacturing. Again, we've believed a lie that our goods and materials are limitless. You can't get something from nothing, and not everyone can become rich at the expense of a smaller labor force working for less.

These are the reasons I feel some complusion to speak about the economy. This is a spiritual problem. Work is good. Its good for people to have work not simply because of the income (though that's important), but because human beings are designed to have vocation. Without meaningful work to do, we suffer existential angst. That's why I'm much more concerned about unemployment than I am about the stock market. In fact, I'd argue that an obsesion with "growth" in our stock market has adversley affected the employment situation in our country. Take a look at these companies who have never laid off a single worker. Something most of them have in common is that they are privately held--that means when times are good, profits aren't shipped off to investors, but can be reinvested into the workers (cash assets can be set aside in order to make payroll during lean times). The Hebrew Prophets in particular have much to say about how the wealthy should treat their workers. Its time for managers, owners, and wall street to see its labor force not as a liability--but as an integral asset.

But this is not simply a rant against a select few of the wealthiest among us. We all bear personal responsibility for the condition our economy is in. No one has clean hands in this mess. All of us have a responsibility to steward our resources wisely. The debt we've incurred due to our consumeristic lifestyle has hollowed out our economy. Consider this, would we have had the foreclosure crisis if we took a lesson from the Amish? It turns out that the mortgage banker who serves the Amish of Lancaster County, PA has never lost money on a loan to them:

"The Amish live well within their means — no splurging on iPods or HDTVs, no dinners out that they really can't afford... This old-fashioned system works. In this year of financial crisis, of storied old banks collapsing in hours, Hometowne Heritage [the local community bank] has had its best year ever."
The Amish know a thing or two about following the radical gospel of Christ. I'd be surprised if they're wrong on this one.

If we can avoid a total catastrophe of unemployment, perhaps there is a silver lining to this recession. For decades the American savings rate has plundged, to the point of a rate of zero last year. In just the few months since all our idols of mammon started falling, its jumped up to 3.6%. Of course, that makes retailers upset because its less money buying their junk. But in the long run, it might make us a more healthy and sustainable society.

As I said, I'm not an economist, so I can concede there are some of these things are a bit beyond me. I don't know what (if anything) the government can do to help. Some things in the stimulus plan I like, others I don't. But ultimately this is a problem of values: do we understand our place in the world? That our resources are NOT limitless? Do we consider that the health and welfare of our neighbor is directly related to our own health and welfare?

What does all that look like? Maybe Mr. Berry of Kentucky knows.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oscar Worthy?

Am i one of the only people who thought, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was incredibly overrated? The whole time I was watching it I thought, "This is very familiar. Where have I seen this before?" I think I just found out.



So this gets a best picture nomination but The Dark Knight gets shut out? For shame!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Repentance

Its one of the most contentious issues in our society, but important things deserve attention even when they are uncomfortable to talk about. Today is the 36th anniversary of the supreme court decision that legalized abortion on demand here in the United States. Nicole and I are proud members of Feminists for Life because we reject violence and exploitation--especially of the most vulnerable members of society. One of the chief tenants of Christian action is solidarity with those who are defenseless. We believe that Jesus Christ came to our defense when we were defenseless to the powers of evil and death, and thus believers are come to the defense of those who are marginalized in our society: the disabled, the sick, the elderly, the minority, the poor, and the unborn. Abortion is a justice issue. I'm not attempting to incite debate in this context. I recognize the nuance of ethics in medicine and how morality is legislated in a pluralistic society. At the very least, we all have participated in a system that has exploited vulnerable people. For that we should repent. But we also should look to the future. I'm grateful for the progress that has been made to open our eyes to this travesty. Consider the testimony of this pro-choice writer Caitlin Flanigan who saw her first child in an ultrasound for the first time and wrote this:

An ultrasound image taken surprisingly early in pregnancy can stop me in my tracks. In it is much more than I want to know about the tiny creature whose destruction we have legalized: a beating heart, a human face, functioning kidneys, two waving hands that seem not too far away from being able to grasp and shake a rattle... The demands pro-life advocates make of pregnant women are modest: All they want is a little bit of time. All they are asking, in a societal climate in which out-of-wedlock pregnancy is without stigma, is that pregnant women give the tiny bodies growing inside of them a few months, until the little creatures are large enough to be on their way, to loving homes.


In the meantime, I pray our blinders will be lifted and all of us who believe would seek to love God's creatures as he has loved us. Lord, have mercy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Homeboy

So we spent some 20+ days traveling around Christmas and New Years. Usually, at the end of a trip we get a feeling of dread at the thought of returning home to work and routine. This time was different. Perhaps because we were both sick, we felt a great sense of relief to arrive at our home after the holidays. Still, it was surprising. We moved into a new apartment at the beginning of December. Well, it was new to us. Its actually quite an old building. The wallpaper is peeling in the stairway. There are layers of cheap paint splattered on every surface. It has ugly carpet. Carpentry so shoddy there probably isn't a single right-angle in the whole place. Yet, when we arrived home late last Sunday night--we sighed relief and were glad to be there.

Initially the main appeal of our place was price. We're poor, and the place was cheap. But it didn't take long to find things to like about it. We have more room than we used to; a bigger bedroom, kitchen, and a whole dinning room (which kind of dwarfs our humble kitchen table). Though we live just three blocks from our old place, it is incredibly more quiet. On a clear night I can see the Sears Tower from my bedroom and out the dining room I look down onto a charming little street of houses.

But I think this new appreciation of home goes beyond the physical charms of the place. I'm learning more about what really makes me happy. I think for Nicole and I, its being together. This week, a friend asked me how I was doing considering my struggle to find a ministry call and the financial pressures of this current recession. Though those things do weigh heavily on me, I was still able to say with integrity, "we're doing great". Nicole and I enjoy the simple pleasure of each others company and the great excitement about another baby on the way. These are things that are important to us. Yeah, nice things would be nice and I can't honestly say that I don't feel a little malaise as I struggle to find a job, but we've got a roof over our heads and food in the fridge and reruns and friends and boardgames to keep us entertained. Life is full of challenge, but life is good. We're doing great.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year, Big News!

Matt and I have been travelling from sea to shining sea in the last month (if you consider Lake Superior a sea) visiting many friends and family members for Christmas and New Years. We went to MN for Christmas, drove back to Chicago on 12/30, and flew to WA for New Year’s Eve. We stayed in WA long enough to see our friends Devyn and Ryan get married (congratulations!) and just came home 2 days ago. It was a great break but we are so ready to settle in at home and not fly anywhere for a long time!

We have had pretty sparse internet access over the past few weeks, so one exciting item has gone unreported on our blog. We are expecting a baby! This is great news for us, and we can’t wait until approximately July 7th to welcome a new member of our family. We appreciate your prayers as we wait because the memories of Evie’s problems produce a lot of anxieties for us.

Here’s all the info that you’re surely dying to know! :P


  • I’m 15 weeks pregnant

  • I haven’t had any sickness due to pregnancy (though I caught a nasty cold on the tail end of our travels—normally I’d medicate myself with Nyquil and sleep my way through it, but since it’s not allowed I have to endure every disgusting symptom!)

  • We’ll have an ultrasound a month from now to tell us if we should expect a boy or a girl. We also plan to have a fetal echocardiogram at that time to give us the best image of the heart. I can’t wait to put my anxieties to rest!

  • My due date is July 7th