Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Winter Respite, A Taste Of Spring In Virginia

Our beach
A week ago we were snowbound here in Virginia, the kids sledding down our homemade toboggan hill in the back yard. Today it hit 66 degrees and we trekked a few blocks down to the beach. We didn't exactly work on our tans -- it was windy and the water is cold, cold, cold -- but we had a blast and were joined by our friends from Harrisonburg, Matt and Karmen Basinger and their 8-month-old son Mason who spent a couple of days with us.

One of the things that's always been remarkable about our time here in Virginia over the past almost 12 years is how winter can have these lovely spells of pleasant weather. I remember years when we've had a week of 70s and even 80s in January, the kids playing outside in their t-shirts and shorts and even the occasional winter mosquito bite. The warm days -- not the mosquito bites -- are a nice break from the onslaught of cold. I'm not a fan of cold. Actually, I hate being cold. Every year about this time I dream about relocating to Aruba. Today, no so much.

The weather here can definitely be schizophrenic. Or maybe it's bi-polar, like what looms ahead. The forecast calls for 70 degrees and even thunderstorms on Wednesday. Thunderstorms in early February is plain crazy. Then Friday just might put the polar in the bi-polar weather forecast when the North Pole might pay a visit and there's a chance of snow.

Julie said it best today when she was talking to Matt and Karmen about Virginia winter weather. You never put away all the summer clothes -- the kids broke out shorts today, for example. But you also never put away the snowsuits too early. Late this afternoon I took another jaunt down to the beach at sunset. Here's what I found.

Captivated by winter in Virginia

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I Learned About Buying Local In A Third World Country

Local charcoal sellers. Just not the right ones.
I've traveled to Haiti twice on short-term missions trips, part of a Christian non-profit organization working to establish post-secondary, Bible-based computer training schools. Each time I traveled with a friend from America to the north coast city of Cap-Haitien, home to more than 300,000 people.

Just a two-hour flight from the American wealth and comfort of Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, Fla., flying into Cap-Haitian is akin to dropping off the end of the world. The poverty is mind-blowing, the city nothing short of an intense experience of sights, sounds and smells.

From the sky as you descend the horizon is filled with thin columns of smoke rising from the countryside that's home to innumerable crude, tin-roof homes. Alongside the airport runway is a collection of wrecked, inoperable airplanes. It's not exactly the type of welcome you'd expect from the Cap-Haitien Chamber of Commerce. When you step out of the plane, you're hit with a blast of heat and humidity and you have to get used to sweating because you've pretty much left air conditioning behind.

Everywhere you go in the city you'll find the charm of colorful French colonial architecture reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Yet the streets are often lined with garbage and everywhere is the pervasive aroma of smoke -- fire is used to cook food in homes and along the streets and burn trash in smoldering heaps -- mixed with the combination of rotting refuse and sewage. And always the streets are filled with people. Extraordinary amounts of people clogging the sidewalks and spilling into the road. It's a very young collection of people -- 55 percent of the population is under the age of 25 -- and a very poor collection of people where 80 percent of them live in poverty and more than half live in abject poverty.

Vendors line the streets and jam the alleys, selling all manner of clothes, shoes, food, medicines, household cleaning products, soaps, shampoos and everything else. It's like a roofless Wal-Mart Supercenter -- Haitian-style -- everywhere you go. And they sell charcoal. Lots of charcoal.

Haiti has largely been stripped of its trees, hacked down and burned to charcoal that fuels the fires used to cook the food that attempts rather futilely to feed the 10 million Haitians. It's an environmental disaster, but in a country where electricity is basically a luxury -- a very undependable one at that -- fire and the charcoal to produce those flames is absolutely essential.

Largely like fuel in America, charcoal is a commodity that is central to the local economy. There are  fuel stations, but supply can be sketchy, it's almost a luxury in the impoverished nation and you have to get used to seeing guards armed with automatic rifles and shotguns guarding the pumps against thieves.

Each time I've been to Haiti I've had the privilege of being hosted by the same friend, a dear Haitian man who is kind, generous, gracious and everything you'd want in a host. I've stayed with local families and experienced first-hand Haitian life in what I'd call a middle-class setting. Check out this video I shot and edited: Life in Haiti

On my last trip to Haiti, one afternoon the house we were staying at on the edge of the city was short of charcoal. So my friend offered to go buy some. I figured it was a short trip into the city to one of the ubiquitous roadside purveyors to secure a big bag of charcoal. I was wrong. As we journeyed ever farther into the Haitian countryside to find the right charcoal, I learned three things about what it means to truly buy local. And I think the lessons I learned on that day apply to the American ideal of buying local.

1) It's about relationship: Buying charcoal in Haiti should be easy. It's everywhere in the city. Buying charcoal from vendors lining the streets is as simple as buying food in America, whether it's a grocery store, restaurant or convenience store. If you have even a little bit of money you won't go hungry in America -- although you very likely won't be eating nutritious food. But on this particular day we were on a mission. We were going hard-core local charcoal buying.

We traveled probably an hour-and-a-half or more deep into the Haitian countryside for our charcoal. I was seeing signs for the Dominican Republic, that's how far we went. It's like driving 90 minutes to a 7-Eleven for a hot dog and passing dozens of 7-Elevens along the way. We drove past charcoal sellers at road junctions, past them in the town of Limonade, past them in no-man's land on the highway. Somewhere just west of the Dominican Republic we stopped on the road. Down a long driveway I saw a cinder block house with a tin roof, pretty much like a thousand other cinder block houses with a tin roof we passed on the drive.

Our host made a quick phone call. Down the driveway came some women and young kids trundling charcoal crammed into bags like you'd find at Home Depot loaded with 50 lbs. of grass seed. In went two and then three bags of charcoal, along with ants and other bugs on the bags. There were exchanges of warm greetings, the exchange of Haitian money and then the women and kids peered into the SUV I was riding in, apparently awed and humored by the sight of a couple of white guys -- me and my American friend I was traveling with.

After some more small talk we headed back to our home in Cap-Haitien. Past the women and children washing clothes in the muddy river, over the speed bumps that appeared out of nowhere in the road, past the droves of people waiting for rides along the road, past the myriad charcoal sellers, past the naked man with no legs next to an overturned wheelchair. (We passed him both ways. The first time I asked if we should stop and help him. No response. On the way back again I inquired about him and my host gave us the indication the man was crazy and we continued on. Some things from Haiti you never forget. And will never understand.)

I never got the full story of why we went so far for our charcoal. I can only surmise that it was extremely high-quality charcoal sold by people very dear to our host. Or maybe it was just your average charcoal sold by people very dear to our host. Whatever the case, it was very important to him that we get that charcoal from those people. It was about the relationship and about how much it meant to that family. Our trip probably meant they'd eat fairly well for a while. In a world of Amazon and and Wal-Mart, there's a lot to be said for supporting the local economy. Whether it's the family-run business in your town or in the Haitian outback.

2) It's about determination. As you read in the previous paragraphs, our charcoal-buying venture was quite the journey. It took determination. It took resolve. Obviously it cost extra. But the final result is that our host was happy, an entire family supplying the charcoal was happy and the people we delivered the charcoal to were happy. Everybody wins. That's the way it should be, even if it requires a little more time, effort and money.

3) It's about the trickle-down effect. A family way out in the Haitian countryside suddenly had money. The kids we saw were literally dressed in rags. They were dirty. The house was primitive. But that family suddenly had an infusion of cash. They could buy food from someone out there in similar circumstances. Or catch a ride from one of the "tap-tap" drivers passing by on the highway looking for customers. Or buy a shirt for a kid. Or whatever. The point is that in a place of desperation there was a glimmer of hope. Things got a little better. I wrote before that some things in Haiti you never forget. One thing I'll never forget is being hot, sweaty and confused, but pulling away from a house in the middle-of-nowhere Haiti and waving to a group of smiling and laughing women and children. With an SUV full of charcoal.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Faith Race That Goes To The Committed, The Courageous

Back in my college running days. That's me on the right there, the one you wouldn't recognize these days.

My last college cross country race was held on a warm, sunny November day in a big, hilly park in Fresno, Calif. It was 1990. I was 21, married with a little boy and in my senior year at the University of Portland. The race was an NCAA regional meet, my last chance to qualify for the national cross country championships and I was running with the big boys from the West region. All the Pac-10 (back when it was the Pac-10) schools were there along with big schools from other major conferences.

I was ready, if not a bit intimidated to race with the elites. To qualify for the NCAA championships your team has to be in the top three. Or for individuals, you have to be in the top three from non-scoring teams. I had a legitimate shot. A very good shot. The race was 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles. I always felt like we were at a slight disadvantage racing in California at that time of year because in Portland it was 50s and raining sideways, so a warm day in the 70s was a bit taxing for us and not something for which we could prepare. But that's not an excuse. The conditions were the same for everyone.

As the race went on I knew our team was in the running for a shot at the NCAAs and I was as well. I remember distinctly with a half-mile left thinking that this was the last cross country race I would ever run. In high school I had been fortunate enough to be a part of an amazing turnaround. My freshman year of high school, when I started running at Bend High School in Oregon, we were horrible in cross country, finishing somewhere close to last in our district. By the time I was a junior we dominated our district and finished second in state. My senior year we destroyed the competition, winning the state title by 69 points. That state title was by far the highlight of my high school athletics experience.

College was similar. My freshman year we weren't that good, but by the time I was a senior we had a shot -- albeit something of a slim one -- to get to the NCAAs. So with a half-mile left in the race I did something that I never did. I sprinted. I never had much of a kick and usually conserved energy for the very end of the race, maybe the last 100 meters. Not this time.

I don't recall how many runners I passed but it was a lot. Maybe six, possibly eight. Could be more. I absolutely crushed that last half-mile. And paid the price for it. As I stumbled across the finish line in 11th place, two runners who kicked much later burst past me. But I had beaten them to the line and the officials pushed me in front of them in the finish line chute.

Gasping for air I literally stumbled through the line on legs of rubber and I remember the strangest thing happened to me. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I was so exhausted I literally was falling asleep as I walked through the chute. I found a picnic table and promptly crashed onto the bench to go to sleep, or possibly die. My teammates probably thought I was dead, maybe just nearly dead at best, and kept trying to help me up to walk me around and keep me alive. I would have none of it. I told them to leave me alone. I just wanted to sleep. Or maybe die.

My effort was seemingly noble, yet all for naught. Our team finished 4th and I was the 4th individual. My cross country season, really my cross country career, was over. Since then I've looked back on that race and comforted myself knowing how hard I fought that last mile. I've even used it in messages I've preached at Calvary Chapel Gloucester about finishing the race well. To push yourself to the limit.

Yet that's not the truth. I've thought about that race a lot over the past 25 years. (Wow. Has it been that long? Mercy sakes.) And while it's a nice narrative I've told over the years it's not quite right. I've been wrong to talk about that race in the manner I have. It's long past time to come clean. I'll explain.

Here's why I've been thinking about this. I see too many Christians practice their faith exactly the way I ran that race. We all gather at the starting line -- that moment when you come to faith in Jesus Christ and make Him your Lord and Savior -- and from that point there are some who really go for it and are all out for the Lord. They are passionate, unwavering and zealous and the love of Jesus shines in them and through them. They are lights in a dark world, continually pointing people to Jesus, being compassionate, loving and radiating His grace. I admire them greatly.

Others run comfortably, more or less lukewarm. This is your typical Christian and a group I would characterize as the vast majority. Some flat out dawdle and others, sadly, drop out. But for pretty much everyone who sticks in the race there's a sprint at the end as the realization hits them that the end of their life is near and they want to "do something for the Lord."

So what really happened in that race of mine 25 years ago? In every cross country race there comes a point fairly early when you have to decide your level of commitment. The great runners push themselves to the limit from the start. For me, the moment of truth in that 10k in Fresno came around two miles into the race. At that point I backed off a bit and didn't fully go for it, opting to conserve my energy until the end. I played it safe. I ran comfortably, easily within my limits. It proved to be a decision I would regret. And still regret. Why not just go for it? It was my last cross country race! Ever!

Here's why I made the decision I did. I simply lacked the courage. And commitment. The race doesn't always go to the fastest or strongest. It's often to the most committed. The most courageous. That wasn't me on that day.

Which brings me to my Christian life. And yours, if you're a believer. What's your level of commitment? What's the courage meter of your faith? Are you coasting? Have you settled?

I've settled in my faith far too often. I've coasted in my faith far too often. It's too easy to just back off -- daily Bible reading, prayer, sharing my faith, pressing into the Lord, missions and other elements of the Christian faith can all take a back seat to "life" and its distractions and enticements. It really comes down to who Jesus is in my life. And yours. Is Jesus worth living for? Worth dying for? Didn't Jesus lay down His life for you and me?

I say all of this because I'm wrestling hard with some major decisions. It has everything to do with my level of commitment and the essence of my faith. I'm guessing you have these decisions to wrestle with as well.

It's the two-mile mark and time to make a decision. What's my level of commitment? What's yours?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The 'Jonas' Snowstorm Makes A Virginia Winter Fun

This morning broke clear, cold and sunny. Winter storm Jonas had worn itself out apparently and it was snowtime at the Sabo house. Church had been canceled because we didn't want anyone driving on icy roads -- a snowplow didn't make it down through the main street into our neighborhood until 10 o'clock this morning -- so we launched "Operation Bobsled Run" at 0955 hours EST.

It was a bit of a challenge. The snow around our house consisted of about an inch of ice, a few inches of powder, then another layer of thin ice. Not exactly the type of snow with which you want to undertake highly technical engineering efforts such as building a sled hill. Fortunately it started warming up enough to get the snow kind of "melty" so we could work with it to build the min-bobsled run.

It's become something of a tradition when it snows at our house to make one of these little hills in the Sabo back yard. Living basically at sea level presents a certain lack of sledding options. So we make our own hill in our back yard and it's very kid friendly, as you'll see.

I made a video of our efforts that you can enjoy right here: Operation Bobsled Run

Ezra and Seth were the first to chip in, then it became a total team effort with the reinforcements of Eli, Gabe and Olivia. We built that monster hill in no time and enjoyed literally hours of sledding fun. I call our little snow engineering effort the "Jonas Bonus." It was a decent price to pay for a little more than a day's worth winter misery.

I have to say I'm thankful we're not closer to D.C., where they got more than two feet of snow. That's a bit excessive, but hardly out of the norm when it comes to D.C., where a little is never enough. Those politicians and government bureaucrats up there always have to have more, you know? They say D.C. will be socked in for days. Hopefully that means they can't spend our tax money while the government is shut down. That's what happens, right?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Day 2 Of The 2016 Virginia `Jonas' Snowstorm: Under Siege

These are not surfing conditions
Here is the weather pattern we endured over the course of the past two days: Rain, sleet, snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow. Now add bone-chilling cold and winds gusting to the 40-50 mph range and you have the makings for a long weekend indoors. Although here in Gloucester we only got several inches of snow, the weather was absolutely nasty over the past 12 hours.

I read where the area near Harper's Ferry, W. Va., which is around three hours northwest of here, got somewhere around 40 inches of snow. That's got Jim Cantore written all over it. We can't compete with that. So on the Winter Blizzardness scale, with 1 being a mild dusting and 10 being a Jim Cantore Live Standup Special, we are about a 3.7.

The thing about snow in Virginia is that for some reason, despite this happening every year, the state is wholly unprepared to deal with it. Which means the roads don't get plowed and motorists are not good in the snow here so schools get shut down and government offices close. Plus at the first mention of snow there's a run on milk, bread and toilet paper at the stores. Seriously.

We had an emergency situation here at the Sabo house -- no jam for peanut butter and jam sandwiches -- so I ventured down to the nearby Food Lion grocery store for jam. And pickles and a few other necessities. They had no milk. The bread was almost gone as well. I made it back home safely after a stop at the gas station to fill up -- enticed by the $1.49 per gallon gas, for sure -- and the clerk told me they had been cleaned out of bread and milk as well. I'm telling you, that's the business you want to be in when the snow flies in Virginia.

I made it back from that trip across the frozen tundra of Gloucester roads only to receive some devastating news: The peanut butter -- both crunchy and creamy -- in the Sabo house was nearly kaput. So it was back down to the store. You can't function during a weekend blizzard siege without peanut butter and jam.

This time on my return trip I ventured down to the Gloucester Point beach. You can see from the photo above the conditions were rough. I lasted approximately 1 minutes and 37 seconds in those conditions -- enough for a 5-second video and a few photos before my fingers turned blue. I managed to sled home safely and spent the rest of the afternoon making my world-famous butternut squash, kielbasa sausage and wild rice soup.

Our security cameras caught someone nipping at the pre-soup butternut squash
The final result
The rest of the family was much smarter. They didn't leave the house, save for Gabe and Abram making heroic treks through the `Jonas' blizzard to make sure Flopsy is still in her hutch, er rather to take her food and provide some company in these Arctic conditions. Everyone else hunkered down with the video games, puzzles, movies and cupcakes that Claire and Gabe made. Oh, and we had some impromptu concerts from some of the ladies.
The ol' puzzle serenade
So to recap, I've got to hand it to Jonas. Thanks to him we're having a great weekend. Quality family time, good memories, good food, we're warm ... nothing to complain about here. Just as long as we don't lose power ...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day 1 Of Snowmageddon 2016 In Virginia

The long, white walk home

We have good news at the Sabo house. We've survived Day 1 of Snowmageddon, the biggest snowstorm in the history of the world, if you believe the media. Which I don't. I remember bigger snowstorms here in Gloucester but don't want to get in the way of a concerted media hype effort. And any way you slice it, the several inches we got today doesn't compare to the 30-inch dump that socked Bend, Ore., one day when I was a kid. That was the winter of '73, I believe, or thereabouts. That humdinger of a snowstorm is best remembered in the Sabo house for causing my disappearance. We had a front porch and when I went outside after the snowfall I took a wrong turn and disappeared into the abyss of white stuff. Fortunately I was found before I froze to death and so I lived to tell about it. I guess that's kind of obvious, eh?

We got several inches of snow today in a storm that those TV weather guys are calling "Jonas." It strikes me as bizarre to name winter storms and I think it's purely to goose ratings and draw viewers but whatever. You go TV weather channel guys. It's supposed to rain tonight so tomorrow could be a royal disaster on the roads and disrupt any and all transportation plans.

Brenton has already received word that Starbucks isn't opening tomorrow so he has the day off. Let's not let the Starbucks stores in places like Maine, Minnesota, Montana, the Dakotas, the Midwest, Sibera, Northern Europe, the Yukon Territory and most everywhere else that gets snow know that they shut things down here in Gloucester after several inches "piled up." That's pretty embarrassing. I wonder if Howard Schultz knows about the store closing practices of his Starbucks stores in Tidewater Virginia. I imagine he wouldn't be overly impressed. Whatever you do don't let Donald Trump know about it. He would probably try and deport the Starbucks employees here for being sissies at best and un-American at worst.

We plan on hunkering down in the Sabo house tomorrow -- rain, snow, shine, or all of the above -- and doing puzzles, playing board games, watching movies and eating. Julie managed to clean out the local Food Lion last night ahead of Snowmageddon so we're in good shape here. If things get real bad we'll deck the lads out in snowsuits and point them toward the 7-Eleven a mile away for provisions. I think that would be a good parenting move.

One benefit of living in my neighborhood is that my boss' house is about a mile away. I had a conference call with them today and so I walked to work, as is my usual practice. By the time I headed home early this afternoon the snow was coming down at a right brisk clip. I shot some video of my trip: Down the dirt road past the cemetery, through the woods and then took a quick detour a couple of blocks down to the beach on the York River. I put together a video of my trip. Jim Cantore's got nothing on me, as you'll see.

I'm signing off for the night. I can already hear the wind blowing and rain pounding against the windows. It's about to get real weather-wise around here. Adios. Here's the link: Snowmageddon 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Biggest Snowstorm In World History To Blanket Virginia*

`Blizzard' conditions in Gloucester, Va.

I expect Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel, outfitted in one of those trapper-style fur hats with ear muffs and clad in a puffy jacket and Uggs, to show up here in Gloucester anytime now. There's a forecast of snow that may fall this weekend -- around here it's looking like a rain/snow/sleet mix -- which pretty much spells doom for the entire region. People are in full freakout mode. I happened to be in the grocery store during a snowfall last night and the clerk mentioned he's expecting the store to be cleaned out in advance of this weekend's possible snowpocalypse.

 It's pretty much panic central around Virginia. Washington D.C. could get a foot of snow, or more and the city will pretty much be shut down. It should snow in D.C. more often now that I think about it ...

For us species of non-native Virginians who are/were/have been fairly accustomed to dealing with that dreaded weather event called a "snowfall," the events that transpire here with the mere mention of the `s' word are a mix of mind-boggling and entertaining. Schools get canceled in "dustings." Schools get canceled for days when more than a couple of inches fall. I half-expect kids to start calling in snow threats instead of bomb threats to get out of tests.

The last couple of years we've had some pretty decent snow events. At least enough to make snowmen and snow ramps in the back yard for sledding purposes. The kids love it. I don't mind a good snowfall now and then, but it's this time of year I always start thinking about relocating to Aruba.
It appears we used every flake of snow in the yard for this `Olaf' 

I did my time in the snow as a kid in Bend, Ore., and I'm over it. Been there, done that. I think hauling firewood into the house a couple, few times a day through the snow as my big brother lay in ambush with a bushel of snowballs may have scarred me. One time the snow was so deep he actually climbed up on the roof and jumped off the roof as I plowed by in a surprise attack. I am not making this up. My bro was a Ninja snow monster.

The fact that I was so dang skinny with nary an ounce of body fat didn't help either. (That situation has since been remedied.) Once I got cold as a kid I could never heat up. Plus, I just wasn't into the whole snowsport thing. People are shocked -- shocked! -- that I grew up 20 miles from world-class skiing at Mt. Bachelor and have never once set foot on that hill in skis or a snowboard. I don't feel like I've been cheated out of anything or somehow missed out. I spent many an hour as a kid clearing the snow out of my driveway and shooting hoops or even playing on packed snow. It was a lot cheaper entertainment than skiing, I'll tell you that.

Anyway, we're hunkering down here in Virginia preparing for "The Worst Snowstorm Ever -- Or At Least In The Past 6 Months" by stocking up on essentials. Got the milk, eggs, bread and toilet paper so we're good to go. I drove by Ace Hardware, our cool little neighborhood hardware store, and saw they had some toboggans and snow shovels in the display window. I bet they're having a run on all items related to snow. Good for them. Bring on the snow. And I'll say hello to Jim Cantore for you.

*This headline may be hyperbole. Of course, I spent more than 20 years in the news media so I might know a thing or two about hyperbole.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hello Again. Goodbye Again. When Kids Grow Up

Hello and goodbye. A perpetual family cycle.
We're at this stage of family life that we will be in for the next couple of decades. The kids come and go. It's off to college, back again, leaving again, then back and then at some point off to make their own lives, typically with a spouse.

It's a strange place for us.

We're used to having all these kids around, a full house with people everywhere, the cafeteria that's called our "kitchen" always open, the dishwasher always running, a basket full of laundry permanently ready to be folded.

I have no clue what it will be like to no longer exchange the dreaded "What are we doing for dinner?" look with Julie and thinking to myself, "Well, there's always pasta." I mean seriously, I'm forever in debt to the nation of Italy for its contribution to the menu of fairly simple to fix Sabo dinners that in some weeks might look like this:
Sunday--Spaghetti with meatballs
Monday--Baked ziti
Tuesday--Italian sausage and pasta soup
Thursday--Ravioli. With sauce.
Friday--Bowtie pasta with sausage and vegetables
Saturday--See all of the above (aka "leftovers")

There's nothing wrong with that, right? The beauty of pasta is that it goes a long way at a conveniently low price. And it's filling. That's huge in this house.

In 15 or 20 years when we're down to one, or maybe at most, two kids in the house, or it's just the two of us, what will dinner look like? Will it still be pasta up the kazoo? Or will we have graduated to more sophisticated dinners like wild-caught roast salmon and broccoli with chili-caper vinaigrette?

Then again, in 15 or 20 years I could have 30 grandkids, give or take a dozen or two. Hopefully we'll have a sizable group of grandkids that live nearby. That theoretically could come over for dinner and hang out and have a sleepover.

Maybe I'll hang onto those pasta-making skills.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Futility Of Chasing Seagulls And Other Deep Thoughts

Diggin' the beach, not the seagulls

We are very nearly halfway through January. Mind-boggling, eh? Does time go faster when you get older? Or is it because we had a one-week vacation and time goes faster during vacation?

Time is as elusive as those seagulls on the beach. I've had 14 kids and not once has one of my kids caught a seagull on the beach. That's 26 years of futility. Only the Cincinnati Bengals can match that kind of failure. (In case you are wondering, I'm a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. So yeah, Saturday night's glorious Pittsburgh victory over the dreaded Bengals in the NFL playoffs was thoroughly exhilarating, not to mention exhausting.)

Let's face it, seagulls look dumb. I mean, they just sort of stand there on the beach, looking at the ocean, not really doing anything. Do they have a job? Besides pooping on the sand?

Do they catch stuff to eat? I mean with robins you can watch them thrust their beak into the ground and bag a worm now and again. Chickens scratch the ground and cluck and maybe root around for some grubs and stuff. There's a purpose to it.

But seagulls? It's my opinion they're just sitting around waiting for a handout. That's not living. No way, no how.

And they're always baiting my kids. For literally decades my little shavers have "snuck up" on seagulls, stealthily tracking their prey only to be thwarted at the last second by those beguiling birds.

It's like watching Charlie Brown try and kick the football as Lucy holds it. Or watching Wile E. Coyote try to trap the Roadrunner. Ain't gonna happen.

So maybe that's the point. Maybe, just maybe, the sole purpose of seagulls is to sit around on the beach and bait kids like mine into chasing them to give the kids an outlet and a little exercise.

Maybe I should go easier on the seagulls because as you'll see from the video I'm linking to below, they can be pretty entertaining.

Link: Sabo vacay video

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Curious Case Of Flopsy The Rabbit, Our Family Pet

Flopsy in the arms of Abram. Safe, secure and not on the lam.
With 14 kids, I always feel like I have plenty of mouths to feed. So we don't have pets. Well, I'm also allergic to dogs and cats so maybe that has something to do with it. We don't have pets, that is, with one exception.

Flopsy the rabbit. We acquired Flopsy a few years ago from friends and she is a very fine pet. Some neighbors gave us a rabbit hutch after we moved into this house and she spends her evenings in there nice and cozy and snug and warm. Mostly, but we will get to that story in a bit.

After we got Flopsy, Taylor made a portable "bunny tractor" -- essentially a cage that you can move around the yard so she can munch on the grass, dandelions, occasional chives and other herbilicious treats -- and we move her around the yard doing the day. She eats the grass and fertilizes it. It's mutually beneficial, I guess you'd say.

She's also something of a neighborhood mascot. I've had people, when I describe my house, say, "Oh, I know the one. You have the bunny!" Yes, we have the bunny. And she has us. Mostly.

There's been several times Flopsy has escaped her hutch. One time in winter there was snow on the ground and we had no idea where she was because obviously she blends. We sent out a search party to canvass the neighborhood to no avail. Then later that morning a neighbor in a Jeep Cherokee who lived a couple of blocks away dropped her off. The snow was so deep, he nearly got stuck trying to pull out of the driveway. What an adventure. What a good neighbor.

When we went to Kentucky we left Flopsy and her rabbit tractor with some good friends who live in a neighborhood several miles away. A couple of years ago, when Flopsy and Mopsy were siblings and roommates, we left the bunnies with our friends. Alas, Mopsy escaped and was never heard from or seen again. I hope Mopsy is in a better place.

This time, Flopsy somehow managed to escape and made a dash for freedom sometime during the night. She was gone all day, an extensive search of the neighborhood turning up nothing. Our friends were crushed. How could this happen again?

The next morning, a Sunday, as my friend was about to text me, he looks in the yard and who should he see there munching on the grass? Why Flopsy, of course! It was all hands on deck as the family corralled Flopsy then placed her in a "more maximum security enclosure," as my friend described it. Let's just say Fort Knox is probably less secure. Our friends believe they have figured out her subversive methods and assure me that this will be the last time she escapes their supervision.

Yet Flopsy's story takes a strange, mysterious twist. There is a Houdini element to to this rascally rabbit. While we were in South Carolina last week, we left Brenton in charge of her. Let me preface this by saying that Brenton is a responsible, caring lad who only wants the best for Flopsy and is very interested in her safety, security and even well being. But whether it was loneliness, or boredom, or a hankering for mischief on Flopsy's part, Brenton returned home one afternoon to find her MIA from the rabbit tractor.

A quick search of the nearby woods turned up Flopsy and he was able to fetch her and return her to her hutch. I believe he put her in a "timeout."

Flopsy's adventures were far from concluded, however. The second Flopsy freedom dash remains shrouded in mystery. All anyone in the Sabo house knows is that he had left her in her rabbit tractor in the morning. When he opened the front door after getting back from work late that afternoon, who should greet him in the living room?


Did she let herself in? We don't think so because the doors were all closed and she's not tall enough to reach the door handles. Did she sneak in through a window? Again, we don't think so. The windows were all shut.

The only thing we can surmise is that after bolting from the rabbit tractor, a concerned or perhaps exasperated neighbor managed to catch her and deposit her in the relative safety of our living room. Because Brenton assures us he did not leave her in the living room before he went to work. We actually believe him.

But the legend of Flopsy grows.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Pandemic, Cheeky Comments And Mugs: A Youtube Sabo Christmas

Eli says, "Score!"
Maybe it's a few weeks late, but let's just say we've been kind of busy here at Sabo central in the post-Christmas haze. We've been playing with our presents, taking trips to South Carolina, drinking coffee and hot chocolate out of our new mugs and playing with our light sabers and strategizing through games of Pandemic ... it's a miracle we even eat around here!

The gift that keeps on giving: A Disney Princess mug!
After downloading the massive gigs of photos and videos taken by the noted and esteemed Sabo family photographer and historian (that would be me, in case you're wondering),  I put together a little video of what Christmas morning is like in the Sabo house. It's just a small sample but two things stand out about it from my perspective: The thrill of opening the presents and the entertaining commentaries. We have some real comedians in the house!

The coveted green light saber!
I think you'll enjoy the video. If not, call our toll-free hotline and ask for your money back: 1-800-667-2267 (1-800-NOSABOS). Our operators are standing by. Also, if you'd like to share what you think the highlight was let us know by adding a comment. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Here's the Youtube link: Sao Christmas 2015

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What I Learned Traveling The Roads In Africa

There's an opening. Do you see it?

Inside our little red four-door Toyota, it felt like either an unwanted trip to the sauna or what life is like for the Thanksgiving turkey inside the oven. I couldn't be sure which was the more precise analogy. Either way, I was getting baked to a crisp. Relief was not in sight.

I was with another missionary and a lovely Nigerian educator who was supposed to be taking us to a boarding school for children of Christian pastors and missionaries, many of whom have been left orphaned by Boko Haram terrorists. We were in Jos, Nigeria, a hot, smoky, dusty city teeming with an amazing collection of people, all manner of motorized vehicles, soldiers armed with AK-47s and a wide variety of animals both alive and slaughtered. It was mid-afternoon and we were ensnared in your run of the mill Jos traffic jam. Think NASCAR meets a demolition derby meets Los Angeles freeway parking lot at rush hour and that's about what it's like. 

I was riding in the back seat, trying to remember how much life insurance I had and whether I would perish first of dehydration or in a car wreck. It seemed either scenario was inevitable. My traveling partner was a savvy American missionary who had spent 15 years living among Muslim Bedouins in Niger and was well-acquainted with the inherent dangers of African dangers. I had the distinct impression he was enjoying this because he kept looking back and smiling at me and making small talk about survival tactics on African roads.

We survived that trip to the boarding school and when we arrived I may or may not have kissed the ground upon exiting the car. But that trip and others I took on my journeys across the highways and byways of Nigeria taught me a few important things

1) Focus on the things in front of you. My missionary friend shared this with me after asking if I knew the one thing that mattered when driving in Africa. You see, there is chaos all around you on the roads in Africa and it's easy to get distracted by all the crazy things. There's cars, trucks, buses, three-wheeled taxis, motorbikes -- all with horns blaring and all crammed full of humans and cargo -- and people, animals and obstacles like vehicle-swallowing potholes or assault rifle-toting soldiers at checkpoints.

It would be easy to get lost in the mayhem. It can be overwhelming and fearful thinking of everything that could go wrong on the road. But your main concern is always moving forward -- sometimes inch by inch, sometimes at great speed --  eyes with a laser focus on what's in front of you. Distractions can be costly. Same for indecision. Decisiveness and aggressiveness are rewarded. So is fearlessness, for that matter.

So what is the Lord calling you to do that's in front of you? What leap of faith? The world needs followers of Jesus whose desire is to fulfill the Great Commission. That plays out in our families by modeling a faith to our kids that's centered around a love of Jesus, with hearts of grace, mercy and compassion and a firm commitment to please God with our lives. It plays out in hearts to reach the lost, comfort the afflicted and share our faith. "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." (John 14:12 NKJV)

2) It's a race for the space. The faint of heart are left behind, literally, on the roads in Africa. There's no room for the tentative and hesitant. As you're focused on what's right in front of you, you will see periodically among the jam of traffic a glimmer of light. It's an opening. The first to that tiny crack in the circus of vehicles wins. It's that simple.

Every day there's a race for the space in our hearts. The world or Jesus? I contend that this race starts first thing in the morning when we make the choice to either get in the Word or find another way to spend our time. Commitment to Jesus starts early in the day continues all day. Our focus should be continually on Him. It's the life Jesus modeled: "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." (Mark 1:35 NKJV)

3) Know you're going to have to improvise and adapt on the fly. On one trip across hundreds of miles of Africa we had to plan our trip to avoid Muslims leaving Friday afternoon prayers because there's a heightened danger of being an American traveling through certain areas. Even then, however, you never know what could go wrong or what you might face. The occasional goat streaking across the "highway" or maybe a herd of oncoming bulls. Seriously. 

As near as I can tell, there are no rules, or guidelines or even suggestions about driving protocol in Africa, other than generally keep to the right. Speed, lane usage, when to pass, the use of turn signals, driving a car in general operable condition that's safe for the roads, the number of suitable passengers -- human and animal -- cargo limits and other vehicular type rules are all highly subjective. Since that's the case, just know that something will go wrong on your trip and then deal with it.

On one trip I was with some men who actually made a repair on the fly with a shoelace and wire until we could get the vehicle to a suitable "garage." When we got stuck behind dozens of parading Muslim horsemen in the town of Bauchi that created a horrific traffic jam it meant our tight traveling schedule got thrown out the window and we would soon be driving the last leg of our journey at night. Let me just say that you don't want to drive at night in Nigeria. It is tempting misfortune at the highest level. We made the best of it however, and overcame potential disaster. And lived to write about it.

There are plenty of things that are going to "go wrong" in our lives. There are things that are going to require improvisation and adaptation. But here's the deal. Either we believe God is in control and there's a purpose in the things he's taking us through or we don't. It's that simple. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NKJV)

One other thing. It's a funny thing, too, as I think back about careening around Nigeria and the adventures and travails I experienced on the roads. It's like nothing else I've experienced. I miss it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My Best Worst Diaper Story: The Portland `Diapercicle'

Judah gives `no more diapers' a thumbs up

A very triumphant moment: The donning of the underwear

I took the kids swimming twice today at our Hilton Head Island resort's indoor pool and was thinking how nice it was not to have to hassle with a swim diaper. One thought led to another and I was reminiscing back to that fateful day in Portland, Ore., in 1990 when we transitioned from cloth diapers to plastic diapers. For some reason, I had this desire to share my story. This story originally appeared on my 12 Kids and ... Counting? blog back in 2009. I've edited it and updated the blog post but if you like a good diaper story, er maybe it's more if you like a 'bad diaper story,' then you're in business. Enjoy!

Jan. 16, 2009 -- 12 Kids and ... Counting?
We've been changing diapers for 19 years.* That's 19 years straight. Surely that puts us up in some sort of record category. A lot of that time we've had two cute little rumps in diapers. I tried to do the math on it and by my calculations (Warning: I'm a journalist whose last dalliance with upper level math was as a high school sophomore, so any mathematical undertakings are subject to ready suspicion.) we've changed in excess of 60,000 diapers.**

I'm going to let that marinate for a minute. Ruminate on it even. Sixty-thousand. Diapers. Probably more.

I work at home so I've changed diapers in a pinch while writing articles on deadline, interviewing sources, even while telling my editor why I might have gotten something wrong in a story I just filed ("Dude, I was changing a diaper. Cut me some slack, eh?") I'm not sure what size of dumpster 60,000 diapers would fill, but I'm sure it would be an extraordinary sight. In a disgusting sort of way, I reckon. With a 9-month-old and an un-pottytrained 2-year-old in the house, we're still going strong diaper-wise. I've got plenty of bad diaper stories. What parent doesn't?

But here's my best `Worst Diaper Story.' We got married at the onset of my senior year of college, circa 1990, and lived in this drafty little 3-bedroom shack, er house, in North Portland. It was a tough neighborhood. A few houses down was what I called a “24-hour pharmacy.” The cops and others knew it as a “drug house.”

Being young and idealistic and in a perpetually tight spot financially, we found ourselves in a cloth diaper phase. It’s admirable to be young and concerned about the environment. But we got over it.*** 

In the aforementioned cloth diaper phase, we stored the soiled diapers on the back porch in a plastic 10-gallon pail with a lid on it. It worked out just fine until February, when an Arctic Blast hit Portland. We're talking sub-zero wind chills, ice everywhere and the city at a virtual standstill because Portland is wholly unprepared to deal with snow.

Inevitably, we ran out of cloth diapers during the height of the Arctic Blast. In a heroic deed, I bundled up, trundled out to the porch and grabbed the pail and headed down to the basement to the washer and dryer, risking frozen digits, limbs and certain frostbite.**** The washer was a top-loader and when I went to dump the diapers in the wash, out came a ... frozen solid brick of diapers. A full-blown diapercicle. "Clunk," it went on the washer.

When the initial shock and horror wore off, several thoughts went through my head. "Do I get a blow dryer and thaw it out?” That seemed rather unappealing, for some reason. Not to mention it was a completely misguided use of a blow dryer.

“Do I grab a hose?" was another, thinking maybe I could squirt some water on it and thaw it out. Of course, the hose was frozen solid so that was pretty pointless. 

I was at a loss. This wasn't in my “Parent Handbook.” I couldn't Google “frozen solid brick of diapers" and "how to thaw out" because Al Gore hadn't even invented the Internet yet way back in 1990. Let alone that the guys who invented Google probably weren’t even born yet.

I looked around the basement. Hmmmm. There's a hammer over there. I grabbed the hammer and went to work, taking apart that brick one whack at a time. The worst part about it? The frozen slivers of, well, you can imagine what sort of projectiles came flying at my face. After the first whack or two I was shielding my face with my left arm and swinging away with my right. 

I conquered that diapercicle and wrestled those frozen solid butt hugging pieces of cloth into the washer. I remember feeling triumphant. Against all odds I had overcome the ravages of the dreaded Arctic Blast. Perhaps — hopefully? — the only guy in Portland who had to attack a diapercicle with a hammer to survive the unforeseen effects of winter’s icy tendrils. 

Needless to say, it wasn't long after my battle with the cloth diapercicle o’ doom that we changed to plastic diapers.

*Since this article was published, we went six more years in diapers. Which makes it 25 years straight. 
** Since this article was published, we revised the estimated diaperage total upward with the additional 6 years of diapering to somewhere between 75,000 and 90,000. Give or take a few … thousand.
***Before and since this article was published, we remain/remained environmentally concerned.
We recycle. We don’t fertilize our yard with harmful chemicals. We prefer paper over plastic. 

****Since this article was published, I realize I am prone to exaggeration. It’s called “literary license.” Deal with it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Family Vacation Time In South Carolina

Boys on the beach are all about digging

There are many different philosophies when it comes to family vacations. There's the "Manic Trip to Disney" family vacations where parents exhaust themselves taking kids to Disney or some other theme park and try to do as much as humanly possible in a limited time and blow the equivalent of the GDP of a small Caribbean island in the process. Been there done that ... and have the photos and scars -- physically and emotionally -- to prove it.

There's the "go see the kinfolk" vacation where you traipse off to visit relatives and spend some quality family time with people you may rarely see and hardly know but share the same bloodlines. It's a noble pursuit but, like going to theme parks, can be exhausting because you're staying in someone else's house with different rules, regulations and parenting philosophies. I've heard some real horror stories about these kinds of vacations.

Olivia loves the beach, even if the sun is really bright!

Another form of vacation is the Sabo personal favorite. It's the weeklong getaway with no agenda, no plans and no duties, obligations or places and people you "have to see." This is our specialty. We head down to South Carolina, get a place on the beach for a week and wake up every morning and wonder what we'll do that day. It's perfect for us.

Sabos storming the beach in South Carolina!
We always come down to South Carolina beaches in the offseason. For one thing, it's easier for many of our older kids in college to work out joining us. Also, did you know that Charleston, S.C., is farther south than Los Angeles, Calif.? When we hit the beaches of South Carolina in fall or winter, there's no hordes of people to fight, the weather is usually quite pleasant and it's still nice enough to hang out down at the beach. We swim indoors, play games, relax -- Abram is out on our fifth-floor balcony that overlooks the ocean right now soaking up the late afternoon rays -- and Julie and I often spend a day getting away. This year it will likely be a day trip to Savannah, Ga.

Sabo ladies enjoying the beach!
Our vacation is how we recharge. Judah even has his own term for our vacations. Because we stay at resorts that aren't really houses but not really motels either, he always asks when we can "go to the other room." When he hears we are going to "go to the other room" next week, he gets totally stoked.
We were on the beach this afternoon talking about what our vacations will look like as a family as the kids are getting married and starting their own families. We were kicking around several ideas. Maybe book several rooms -- like 10 or so -- similar to the ones we're staying with at this resort on Hilton Head Island. Maybe it will be to rent a huge house -- or lodge? -- and fill it with Sabos.

Like mama like daughter
However our vacations look in the future, and however many Sabos will be able to make the trip, there's a few things I know will happen. We'll laugh a ton, Ethan will do and/or say something crazy,  we'll take a ton of photos and we'll relax and rest up. Now if I could just figure out how to vacation like this about six months out of the year.

When these finish digging, hopefully there will be some beach left

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy Birthday To My Amazing Wife Julie

Julie & Seth
Julie and I met when we were 20 years old and we were married 16 months later. By 30 we had seven kids and had lived in four cities.

When we hit 40 we had 12 kids, had moved across the country -- and back while I attended a School of Ministry for 9 months in Oregon -- and had lived in somewhere around 20 different "residences" that included an apartment, a barn and houses that ranged in size from 860 square feet (with five kids) to over 4,000 square feet.

Oh, and there was that two-week stretch in a couple of rooms in a motel when we arrived in Gloucester and no one would rent a house to us because they said we had too many kids. (Like nine is really a lot of kids ... what would those folks say now?)

Sometimes we talk about the plans we had before we got married. We'd have two kids and they'd be best friends and I'd have a nice career in the newspaper business. I'm not sure what all we had planned or if we planned much beyond those few details but it definitely looked nothing like what we have now.

I write all this because I want to say how thankful I am that I'm married to a woman of great faith. Julie inspires me with her devotion and love of the Lord, a pure faith that reflects and radiates the love of Jesus in so many ways. It's a selfless, sacrificial love for me and her children. It's patience, kindness, endurance, strength. It's wisdom. And so many other things.

A couple of months ago we were walking together on a date in D.C. heading to the Mall on an extraordinarily pleasant November night. We had snuck away for a night, just the two of us with no agenda, no demands and no plans other than to enjoy the evening together. Maybe the past 25 years together hasn't looked anything like what we thought it would. It's had so many unexpected twists and turns. And I can't imagine it now any other way.

But walking in D.C. is the part of my life I definitely envisioned. The two of us laughing and talking about the things we've done, the plans we have and the places we'll go. I envisioned us always being together.

Together we've done some pretty incredible things. We have such a good life, far different than anything we could have imagined when we met in her living room in her parents' house in Canby, Ore. We're blessed beyond measure by a family full of kids that love each other and has so much fun together. There's joy in this house and that's something I don't take for granted.

For that I thank Julie and her faith and love and passion to live a life pleasing to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She's an amazing example to our kids and many others.

Today is her birthday. Happy birthday babe. I love you.

Things Kids Say: Judah's Words Of Wisdom

The coveted green light saber
Judah is our resident 4-year-old who is as extroverted as a Sabo kid comes. He loves people, loves to interact and loves to talk. And he says the funniest things sometimes.

The other morning I was here on the couch starting the morning off right -- reading my Bible and enjoying some coffee. The house is quiet, the kids are still sleeping and I'm in the word with a cup o' joe. Doesn't get much better in the morning.

For some reason Judah had migrated to the couch across from me during the night and was in a heavy state of slumber. As I'm reading I notice him stirring. Then he opens his eyes, starts to sit up and looks right at me. He blinks a couple of times and then says, "The green light saber is longer than the blue one."

Was he dreaming about the green light saber? Was it some sort of prophetic vision involving a light saber duel? I can't be sure. All I know is that the green light saber is longer than the blue one. What else would I need to know?

The other day Seth sat at the table enjoying a yogurt. It was one of those generic little store brand containers of yogurt he was plowing through. It looked pretty tasty to Judah as he sauntered in from the other room where he took a brief pause from watching TV so he asked MerriGrace for one. She dutifully brought him one and while she was still within earshot he opened it and came to a rather devastating revelation: "Holy smokes," he said somewhat under his breath. "I'm going to spill this all over the place."

But he quickly recovered and came to his senses with a request. "MerriGrace," he said, looking over her way in the kitchen. "Can I take this into the family room. I promise I won't spill it."

Needless to say, he ate the yogurt with Seth at the table. I will point out that Judah polished off about half of the container of his yogurt. Seth devoured off two of them.

Another time we were driving home from Taylor's wedding and Judah was in one of the back seats next to Ethan. He and Ethan had a very lively conversation on the way home and we all got lots of laughs. We were in West Virginia somewhere and talking about stopping for a snack at a convenience store. We talked about picking up cans of black beans and corn to snack on. "Who eats black beans and corn?" Ethan said.

Judah had a quick answer: "Seagulls do!"

We have no idea where that came from but you just never know what will go through his mind. And usually what goes through his mind comes out of his mouth. As we proceeded through West Virginia the kids were trying to agree on a movie to watch on the portable DVD players in the van. Ethan suggested "The Santa Clause" starring Tim Allen. But Judah objected. Rather vociferously.

"Oh man!" he said. "That's the worstest movie ever!"

I have a sneaking suspicion Judah was holding out to watch one of the Star Wars movies. After all, he's apparently a kid who dreams about light sabers.