Saturday, February 27, 2016

For every American, an epic road trip is a citizenship requirement

The amazing Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona. At 70 mph from the highway. Shot with an iPhone.
The quintessential American experience is the epic road trip. It's as simple as the fact that we are Americans. So we go places and do things, often on an epic scale. I would suggest that you are un-American if you don't. The epic road trip is in our blood. Our collective American DNA is that we are a nation of explorers. The New World. Jamestown. John Smith. The Mayflower. Lewis & Clark. The Oregon Trail. Apollo 11. (Going to the moon constitutes a most epic road trip. It would be hard to top that one.)

The epic road trip is a distinctly American rite of passage. It is a continuation of the historical narrative that establishes us as a people of varying backgrounds but who singularly refuse to be hemmed in by lines on a map, or distance, or barriers -- be they mountains, valleys, oceans, rivers, deserts or thin air, including the really, really thin air and rather expansive and even foreboding distances of outer space.

We all are descended from people who arrived here from somewhere else. Our ancestors were explorers and fortune hunters. They were the restless, the visionaries, the determined and the undaunted. If they determined a better life was to be found elsewhere, whether it was across an ocean, or a continent, or simply somewhere else, why they packed up and went.

I like to pack up and went. I always have, from the time I was a little shaver and summers and Christmas vacation were typically reserved for road trips. In the grand scheme of things, my roots are traced back to people of European stock who at some point packed up and went on a road trip -- ocean trip? -- to America. I have no desire as they did to leave the homeland. Rather, I long to see the homeland. As much of it as I can.

What triggered all this musing about the great American experience of the epic road trip is a song. I happened upon it the other day and a memory flooded back in my mind of one of the many epic road trips I have had the privilege of taking. The song is by U2, titled "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." It was released in 1987, the year I graduated from Bend High School.

The summer following my graduation, my good friend, Chris Hamilton, asked if I'd take a little road trip with him. Chris was a talented bicyclist and my memory is that he was going to compete in a bike race in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. I think it was late June, maybe early July, when we road tripped in epic fashion. Chris, our mutual friend Dean Dilday, another bicyclist who was a couple or few years younger than us, and I set out from Bend, Ore., to  drive 570 miles or so to Mammoth Lakes. I believe we were driving Chris' Toyota pickup that had a canopy on it. Now mind you, this is approaching 30 years ago so I may be fuzzy on a few things. But not everything.

We listened to a lot of U2 on that trip. The Joshua Tree, which I still consider the quintessential U2 album, was released that year and by the time the summer rolled around I had the songs memorized. Those songs are indelibly impressed in my mind. As is the road trip.

One thing I'll never forget is stepping out the door for my first run in Mammoth Lakes. At the time I was a couple of months away from heading to the University of Portland on a track scholarship. In Bend, I trained at an altitude approaching 4,000 feet, where the thin air deprived my lungs of oxygen but helped give me a competitive advantage when I raced at lower altitudes. I was fast and fit. Or so I thought.

I was wholly unprepared for what I was to encounter in Mammoth Lakes. Sitting near 8,000 feet of elevation where the air is so thin that simply getting out of bed gets you winded, when I was on that inaugural run I sincerely believed my lungs had somehow caught fire. Surely I was self-combusting, which meant death by oxygen-deprivation was imminent. Yet I somehow cheated death that day, probably because I slowed way down. But the epicness of any American road trip is directly proportional to how close you came to some sort of permanent and premature demise. The fact that I nearly died of oxygen deprivation on a mountain in California that sits not all that far from Death Valley counts for max points in the epic road trip scoring chart.

Yet there are two things from that road trip that I am forever grateful to have experienced. A premature death due to oxygen deprivation not being one of them. They both occurred on the trip home. We left Mammoth Lakes after the racing and bolted for Bend. Somewhere along the way, whether it was still in northeastern California or southeastern Oregon I can't recall, we stopped at a turnout or rest area amid the sagebrush and occasional juniper tree of the American West's Great Basin. It's a place that I like to say is a chlorophyll-free zone, emptied of most anything of a green, leafy nature and populated by the muted tones of plants and trees that have mastered the art of surviving in forbidding climates where water is often merely a mirage.

Exhausted, we bedded down for the night in the cool, open air. Above us, unfolding across the unfettered horizon, was the Milky Way in all of its astounding glory. The stars at home in their extraterrestrial glory spilled across the inky sky, lighting it up. I have never forgotten the glory of it all.

The second thing I have not forgotten occurred the next day. As we made a beeline for home across the emptied out landscape, we made a spur of the moment decision. The "spur of the moment decision" is an absolute requirement of any epic road trip. An epic road trip that lacks the suspended judgment and inadvisability of a "spur of the moment decision" is simply a road trip. It's just going from Point A to Point B. There's nothing too epic about that.

We stopped at Fort Rock, an extraordinary natural feature that juts 200 feet above the barren, foreboding Oregon High Desert. It's like a mirage, an ancient fort with rocky palisades stretching high above landscape. It was well out of our way, but well worth the stop. We killed an afternoon there, three teenage boys who, for at least this one time, were wise beyond their years. We climbed over the rocky walls -- Dean pretty much won the climbing competition as he shinnied up the walls -- and gawked at the views. It is a place very few have seen and experienced, which makes it all the better. On the epic road trip point scale, we scored a big, fat cha-ching. Link: Fort Rock

As the memories of my epic summer of 1987 road trip flooded back to me, spurred by the chords and lyrics of that iconic U2 anthem, I thought how fitting it all remains. I haven't found everything. I haven't seen everything. I'm not done making epic road trips. I'm an American after all.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The amazing thing I found down at my York River beach

The beach at Harbor Hills

At least a few times a week, perhaps more, I walk a few blocks down to the neighborhood beach on the York River at the end of Harbor Hills Road. I walk by a piney lot that a neighbor told me is the final repose of the bones of slaves resting in unmarked graves. I wonder if that's true. I have no reason to doubt, but I find it startling. And mysterious. I walk down a hill where on the corner is a house with distinctive Cape Cod-style siding that always reminds of something I might see on the Oregon Coast. It takes me back to the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport. 

There's a couple of spots on the road where I've encountered snakes. A copperhead once with its distinctive brown diamonds and then a long, skinny black snake another time. It's quite a journey down to that beach.

One time I glanced out my kitchen window and saw a summer storm had cropped up. I was hustling down to photograph the sinister clouds as they rose in ambush over the York River. I was nearly there to capture it all when the clouds unleashed their thunderous fury. I turned for home and ran, chugging uphill in a downpour as the pine trees bent around me, arriving home soaked, my ears ringing. I remember feeling quite happy I made it.

I'm drawn to the beach and it's dun-colored sand for the view, the peace, the water, the sky and the sun. It's a place to pray, a place to think, a place to ponder and wonder. I've been visiting the beach for a little more than two years. There's an inlet from the river that flows high and low with the tide and opens up into a long, narrow pond that's like a shallow natural harbor filling the low spot between two stubby hills. I suspect that's where the area got its name, as a harbor among the hilly bluffs jutting up above the York River, but I'm not quite sure. It's all silted in now and I wonder if it was once a place of shelter for boats, maybe back to colonial times. Who knows. Google doesn't seem to know.

The most remarkable thing of all has been how much the beach has changed in such a short span of my visits. The inlet's path changes almost daily sometimes. The wind, waves and tides alternately heap up sand and drag it away and the inlet's path and mouth has been altered steadily, moving farther and farther downstream of the river.

The changing path of the Harbor Hills inlet
I like to take my kids down there. When the weather is warm for a good part of the year they love to frolic in the little stream and catch minnows and small blue crabs. They don't notice the influence of the greater forces on that little stream. I imagine they're not like me, watching the stream carve out a path through the ever-changing sandy obstructions. Or noting how the new path of the stream yields little treasures, like a bed of colorful pebbles and stones that surprised me the other day. The pebbles, shells and even pieces of smoothed glass seemed so out of place, like they had been dropped there. I posted a photo of them on Instagram and said they were stars that had fallen out of the sky onto my beach.

Unexpected treasures, or fallen stars
As I've watched that little stream change course I've come to appreciate it. It always finds a path, no matter the barrier. I like to listen to it on its meandering track back to the river as it whittles away at the sand in its course, never relenting, always moving one way or the other depending on the tide. When it's warm out you'll find me wading in the Harbor Hills stream, sometimes alone, often with my kids and fishing for crabs and minnows.

Mostly when I get down there I see footprints. Several people like to take their dogs down there. There's people who walk around and I can see where they stop at the water. I wonder if they're like me. If they notice how the beach is changing. How it's captive to the fury of the storms that gather force across the mile-wide river. I wonder if they notice the unrelenting stream, the life of that little stretch of beach.

When I was 25 years old, I was too busy to write letters that go viral

My first house. 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, 860 sq ft in Prineville, Ore.  Bought it for $58,500. 

Perhaps you've seen the news recently about the latest crisis that has gone viral. No, it has nothing to do with our presidential election -- I am telling you, in a nation of 330 million people it will forever boggle my mind that these are the "best" we have to offer -- the price of oil, Syria, Isis, the refugee crisis, or anything else.

Nope. The latest crisis to go viral is the 25-year-old Bay Area woman who wrote a letter to her boss at Yelp complaining about her circumstances. It's all over the news, has come up in discussions at home, work and elsewhere and it highlights what appears to be a generational mindset gap.

Talia Jane wrote the letter to her CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, and rather predictably she was fired that day. In the letter, she complains about her pay, her grocery situation and her rent, among other things. For example, she's living in an apartment that costs $1,254 a month.

Two things, real quickly. I've never lived in a house with a mortgage that high and maybe, just maybe, look to cut costs with a roommate? Okay, three things. Maybe work and live somewhere else with lower cost-of-living expenses? Just some thoughts...

Just to be clear, no one is making her work for Yelp, live in one of the most expensive places in the country and, most importantly, write a letter on social media that goes viral and gets her fired. Those are all choices she has made. Now she's living with them.

Talia Jane, I don't know what to tell you other than typically when we make choices there are these things called consequences. They go together. You'll figure this out soon enough I reckon. Maybe you have already.

In response to Talia Jane, another Millennial by the name of Stefanie Williams wrote an open letter to her that also went viral. She doesn't mince words and basically tells Talia Jane to buck up, get a job or two and do smart things like have roommates to cut costs. She shares her story of being down on her luck and bucking up and working hard and now things are good.

It's all a bunch of drama that is so unnecessary. I think that's my big takeaway. The advent of social media means everyone's problems can now be everyone else's. It's not that we didn't have problems back in the day, it's just that they were typically contained to small circles. The way it should be.

I do remember back when I was 25. Vaguely. That was 1994. I was living in Prineville, Ore., in a two-bedroom, one bath house with four roommates and a mortgage of around $400. Okay, so my four roommates were Julie, Brenton, Taylor and Ethan. A loaf of bread cost $1.59. The average income was $37,000 (Full disclosure: I was nowhere even close to that and was probably pulling down around $18,000 a year.) and a gallon of gas was $1.09.

In addition to working at a newspaper I would occasionally pump gas at a gas station for some extra bucks. I also occasionally did landscaping work and even made a few bucks as a professional runner. I recall having the mindset of trying to improve my writing skills and attaining other work-related objectives in hopes of achieving "professional advancement" and increasing my income the old-fashioned way: hard work.

I didn't post my issues on Facebook. Or write a blog post on Medium that goes viral. Or ask people to support me by launching a personal PayPal account.

Maybe you can relate.

Here's a major difference between the Talia Janes of the world and those of us who look back on our days when things were pretty hard. I mean, we didn't have much, finances were tight -- not much has changed there actually -- and there were plenty of struggles. Sound familiar?

Those memories make me smile. Those struggles and how we handled them and the faith we had that God is in control and we could trust His plan are vital to who we are today. The struggle drove us and pushed us. Struggles are central to our faith. They are central to who we are. Embrace them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A tornado, thunderstorms and stormy Virginia days. In February.

Things don't look too bad out on the rivah today, despite the tornado warnings
One thing I don't remember about growing up in Bend, Ore., is experiencing a lot of tornado warnings. Or any tornado warnings for that matter. Like the tornado warnings we're under today here in Kansas. I mean, Gloucester, Va.

February is a month where you should be whining about the bitter cold and the four-foot snow drifts and the sub-zero temperatures and the Arctic blasts and polar vortexes. But it's 70 degrees here and alternately raining sideways and sunny and the tornado warnings are popping up nonstop. Should we really have to be sheltering in place trying to cram 12 people into an interior bathroom that fits only three people somewhat comfortably? I think not.

My first inkling of trouble that was brewing in the weather came late last night when a friend of mine from Oregon, Matt Fields, texted me. He alerted me at 9:38 p.m. that pretty bad storms were headed our way. I think it's pretty cool I have a weather spotter 3,000 miles away.

I was blissfully ignorant of today's potential storms until that text. I then checked into things and saw we were under a "hazardous weather outlook." Then I saw a friend of mine in the Deep South post a family photo on Facebook -- from inside his tornado shelter. Nice.

I told Matt I thought we would be good because we rarely get tornadoes here in Gloucester. We had one in 2011 that killed two people, injured several others and destroyed one of our middle schools. Here's a link to a story I wrote about when the tornado barreled through the nearby community of Deitaville on the upper Middle Peninsula and obliterated a church. Tornado story

The power of wind when it gets to ripping is amazing. During the 2011 EF3 tornado that hit Gloucester with winds up to 165 miles per hour, one man was killed while working in his garage. The tornado lifted his entire house off its foundation and dropped it on his garage where he was working that sat 30 or 40 feet away or so. Incredible.

I want back and read the story I wrote about Deitaville and something said by Pastor John Snow of the church that was destroyed is poignant. I wrote, "He knows he will never forget April 16, 2011. He also knows firsthand how fleeting life can be. `Just the power,' he said. `I look at that and I think, the incredible power. The things we hold onto can be taken away like that."

They certainly can.

Which is why I'm thankful for hope. The hope of eternity that's life in Jesus Christ. In times of storms we have hope that through whatever circumstances we may have to endure, we have hope of eternal life. No storm can take that away.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In an instant gratification culture, parents should keep an eternal perspective

Keeping the eternal perspective is vital for parents
Several mornings ago I was reading in the book of Hosea and came across a short verse that I've been meditating on ever since. Hosea 8:7 reads, "They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind." It's a biblical principle that you see in Scripture that essentially means you reap what you sow. The easy analogy is that if you plant corn, you will get corn plants and eventually, if the plants receive enough water and sun and you take care of them as needed, you will get delicious ears of corn. You don't plan corn seeds expecting to get green beans, or strawberries, or a filet mignon for that matter.

In the context of the Hosea verse, the prophet was sending the message to the nation of Israel that they will soon be judged for their idol worship -- even though time and time again God had shown them his abounding love and mercy -- and the judgment will feel worse than the sins they committed. The concept is that sin is sown over a long period of time, but judgment is reaped quickly and it can feel very intense.

I have been thinking about this in the context of parenting and how we are given our children for a long period of time before releasing them into adulthood. So the question becomes: What are we sowing into them? What will they reap?

You hear a lot in this culture about "living in the moment" and we are absolutely an instant gratification culture. When you cruise through the Starbucks drive-thru line, you don't expect to dawdle for a half-hour. You want your coffee now, you want it made just right and anything less is unacceptable. At least that's how the Starbucks workers I know describe the experience to me.

It is definitely not okay for wi-fi to go out when you are online. Downloading off the internet should be instantaneous. We don't memorize any phone numbers because they are in our contacts and basically at the tip of our fingers. An instant gratification culture is all about me getting what I want right now. That's America. And it plays out in a bunch of different ways.

We now have what I call "drive-thru church services," where churches get so big they have to have multiple services so you stack one on top of the other -- maybe an hour or so apart -- and get people in, get them out, get the next service going, no one gets hurt. Because, you know, that's what Jesus did when the crowds got so big, right? He held multiple short church services one morning a week. Oh wait, that's not what he did? Interesting.

As parents, we too often live in the moment and want instant gratification in our parenting. The kids' behavior issues are dealt with in the moment and there's not an eternal perspective. For example, instead of dealing with behavioral issues consistently and lovingly at a young age, it's easier for some parents to just get the kid on drugs that basically zones the kid out. Voila! Issue solved! Never mind there's no way that's the best long-term solution. And you tell me. What is the message that sends? What has the child learned from going on drugs that they will carry into adulthood?

Or when behavior goes haywire we respond and deal with just that specific issue and try to fix that one thing. It's a short-term solution. For example, if a kid hits a sibling and then you correct it in the moment and maybe the aggressive one is punished with a "time out" that's so popular today. The kid has five minutes in the corner and then it's over. Here's the problem: You haven't dealt with the bigger issue and that's the one in the heart. Was the child sorry? Does the child understand what he or she did wrong? Do they understand the concept of sin and why sin is bad? Was there restoration?

You can get a kid to do what you want and train behavior, but what's going on in the heart? If you don't deal with the heart, what happens when they leave your house and head off to college, or the military, or take a job and go out on their own? Or maybe as they get older they can do what you want in your house, but what happens when they are out with their friends?

I truly admire Julie over the years because she doesn't parent in the moment. She always takes the eternal perspective and looks to get to the root of the issue. If there's a hitting problem with a small child, she's going to deal with what's going on in the heart of the child and work on that issue and keep working on it until it's solved. If there's an attitude problem in a younger or even older child, it's going to get worked out and dealt with because she does not want that issue carried on into adulthood. I have one older son in particular who spent many a night as a teenager working out issues with Julie. I have another son who spent many an hour as young boy working out issues. It may vary from kid to kid but it goes back to the biblical principle of you reap what you sow.

And it's how Jesus taught: It's the heart that matters. Jesus was surrounded by a culture that had all the outward appearances of righteousness. But what was going on in the heart, particularly among the religious elite and the priests and Pharisees, was evil and wicked. And Jesus called them on it out of love. He loved them to the cross, in fact.

When it comes to our children, we want to sow love and reap love. Too often, however, parents sow wind and reap the whirlwind.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My 4-year-old had my iPhone for 5 minutes. This is what happened.

First shot pulling out of the county offices parking lot. Everything is in focus!
On Saturday I had a rendezvous in the Gloucester County Parks & Rec offices to pick up my team roster of the 9-11 year olds I will be coaching this season. I took Judah (age 4) and Seth (age 3) with me since it looks like they will be my assistant coaches this spring. I think I will have them do some scouting and put them in charge of snacks. (Goldfish for everyone!)

Somehow after I had strapped them into their car seats in our stylishly luxurious 15-passenger van, my iPhone got in the hands of Judah. His seat is on the driver's side, right behind me. Right behind Judah in the next bench is Seth. They can't see each other but they can definitely hear each other and I will hear them comparing notes of what they see in the great big world flying by.

Judah (as we're passing houses): "Hey Seth, do you see that house?"
Seth: "I see it Judah!"
Judah: "Hey Seth, I see the moon! It's following us!"
Seth: "Where Judah? I don't see it."
Judah (pointing out the window): "It's up there!"
Seth: "I see it Judah!"

An inspection of my phone after retrieving it from him in the Walmart parking lot revealed that Judah is a very accomplished photographer. In terms of volume at least. In the course of five minutes he fired off 84 photos.

I think this is a shot on panorama mode that he kind of got artsy with. Shows Judah's creativity!
Basically our whole trip was documented by Judah. From leaving the parking lot to our arrival at Walmart we had a photographic journey. It was really cool to relive the whole journey. I'm guessing it was around three miles and now I know exactly how things look from the car seat right behind me. And now you do too!

Judah really captured the atmosphere of me driving. My razor sharp focus, my concentration, my attention to every driving detail...
After reviewing the photos, it made me wonder what goes through a 4-year-old's mind when the iPhone comes into his possession. What made Judah decide he wanted to go crazy with photos? Was he just bored? Was he exercising some creative juices? Does he aspire to be an Ansel Adams with an iPhone? Whatever it may be I definitely think the kid's got talent, though I may be biased. Of course, if you take 84 digital photographs in five minutes I sure hope at least a few of them are decent.

Capturing the essence of Seth. While pointing the camera behind him and shooting `blind.' Impressive, if you ask me.
Judah caught all the little details of our trip. His own feet. His little brother sitting behind him. His dad driving expertly with great skill and ability in front of him. The passing landscape. Even the most dangerous part of the journey -- the dreaded "Walmart roundabout" where dozens, perhaps tens of thousands, of motorists daily remain utterly baffled, confused and otherwise totally bumfuzzled by its elaborately mysterious and arcane rules. (Yield to the traffic in the roundabout, in case you are wondering about all those `elaborately mysterious and arcane rules' ... )

The obligatory shot of feet that you see people post on Instagram when they are traveling. Judah may just be going to Walmart, but quite obviously this is Instagram worthy material.
As I reviewed the photos, I was able to relive every single moment our journey. It was, um, captivating. It made me think that all the little things in life we miss. Or could miss. Unless we arm our 4-year-olds with smartphones and let them fire away in photo mode. I mean, I totally never get to see his feet pressed up against my seat. Sure I feel them, but I never actually get to witness it. Until now. I saw the four photos of his feet pressed up against my seat and exclaimed, "That's what it looks like!"

Buckle up! We're heading into the "Walmart roundabout" ... we're living dangerously!
As I surveyed the sheer volume of photos and how aggressively Judah fired away with that digital camera at his disposal, I thought two things:
1) I'm going to have to get a bag of ice at Walmart for his finger so he can ice it down.
2) I'm really, really glad he didn't have my iPhone in his crafty little hands on our trip to Oregon because at the pace he shot on our trip to Walmart that would have been 250,000 photos. Not good.

The final shot in the Walmart parking lot: #84

Friday, February 19, 2016

Some `expert' blames husbands for 7 hours of extra work for wives

There's not much room to put my feet up after a hard day's work with all the folded laundry on the coffee table.
Few things in life annoy me more than academics and scientists and their bogus studies. For example, a recent study found that bogus biomedical studies with results that were flawed or outright fudged cost the government and private sources $28 billion a year. A billion dollars here and a billion dollars there and pretty soon we're talking about real money, especially considering you and me taxpayers are paying for guys in white lab coats or plaid coats with elbow patches to gin up some pseudo-science.

But what really got me riled up today was an article I found while surfing the net hard at work on my couch with a cup of coffee within easy reach writing really important stuff for one of my company's clients. This University of Michigan study, which I fully expect will be quickly disproved and outed for its obviously flawed research, made the outrageous claim that husbands cause their wives on average an extra seven hours of work per week. While wives save their husbands from an hour of chores a week.

This is just the latest example of husband hate out there. First of all, who comes up with these ideas? What professor was sitting around on his couch in his cushy University of Michigan office while on sabbatical and had a moment of inspiration that led him to illogically think that it's even remotely plausible that husbands specifically, and maybe even men in general, are slobs and quite possibly good for almost nothing around the house?

I brought this bogus article to Julie's attention as she was helping six of our kids with their schoolwork while she was folding her second basket of laundry, right after she helped them with lunch and right before she got them snacks. She could only shake her head! Something doesn't smell right with this research!

According to the highly dubious "science" in this article, women with more than three children spent 28 hours a week cleaning, cooking and washing. If my math is right, that's an average of four hours a day on household work! Can they really be serious?

It was a little frustrating trying to read the article in its entirety to Julie because she kept getting interrupted. Someone had to go potty, there was a question about what to do for dinner and what needed to be fetched from the grocery store, then someone said we had no toilet paper, then one of the boys said all his jeans had holes in them and wondered if he could get some new ones ... all I wanted to do was read her this article! I just can't get a break!

By the time I finally got through reading the article, after she put the roasts in the crock pot for dinner and got one of our little kids some chocolate milk and took a phone call from the doctor's office about one of our kids' recent appointments, I figured out I was going to be late for a meeting for work if I didn't leave pronto. So I really needed Julie to make me a sandwich while I got out of my jammies and got dressed. It was noon after all.

Of course, I couldn't find my shoes. I ran through the house looking EVERYWHERE before Julie finally found them. Someone had put them under a pile of my clothes in the bedroom from the past few days that hadn't made it to the laundry basket in the garage. I'm sure it was one of the kids who hid my shoes. Do they really think that is funny?

As I headed out the door for my meeting with my sandwich in hand, I reminded Julie that she needed to pick up one of our daughters at work and that we needed potatoes for dinner from the store. Then I smiled. Would it be possible for her to make one my favorite cheesecakes for dessert?

As I walked to the car I just shook my head. The study really had me riled up. I think I'll have Julie reach out to that professor and set him straight. Oh, and one other thing. Go Michigan State!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A daddy moment: My baby's breath and answered prayers

Julie doing what she does best
This is one of my all-time favorite photos of Julie. I think it captures so much of what I love about her. It's how I know her so well. She's just loving on a baby. There's more than a few of these photos around believe it or not, but this one just captured my heart. I think that's because there's a tenderness to it, on many levels.

You can see Julie's right hand is in mid-pat and little Seth is asleep, looking quite content and loved. The way babies should feel. I'm guessing he has a full tummy from nursing, judging from the blanket over Julie's shoulder. I also like how Ezra is in the background reaching out and has his hand on his little brother. Our older kids have always loved our babies so much. It's always been so sweet.

I had forgotten the back story to this photo until it showed up on my Facebook news feed today under one of those "Three years ago" notifications. Indeed the photo was taken three years ago and there's a story to it. It turns out little Seth was really, really sick. He had been suffering from a cold and had a fever.

The next day he was admitted to Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk because he couldn't breathe. He wasn't even two months old yet and I'm pretty positive a lot of parents can relate to the torture of listening to your babies struggle to breathe. I remember many, many sleepless nights when our babies have been sick and neither of us sleeps. Or we try and take turns sleeping while the other holds the baby. Rough, rough nights. And rough days to follow.

The day after that photo was taken, after what I'm sure was another sleepless night, Julie took him into the doctor. The doctor didn't take long to advise Julie to go home, pack her things and take him down to CHKD. Right away.

Seth having a rough couple of days at CHKD
He spent a couple of days, maybe three at most, at CHKD while they got his lungs cleared up. I remember driving down there late in the afternoons and spending several hours in the room with Seth and Julie, who didn't leave of course. I like to say she nursed him back to health -- literally. I remember driving home at night, saying prayers across as I crossed the James River on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, prayers that didn't stop miles and miles later as the Coleman Bridge carried me home over the inky night darkness of the York River 90 feet below.

I'm thankful for doctors and places like CHKD. We've spent more than a few days down there with various Sabo kids for various reasons. They've always taken care of us.

When the photo of Julie and Seth with Ezra in the background popped up in my Facebook feed it brought an immediate smile to my face. And as I looked back through the photos around that time three years ago and remembered the trauma of the moment, I thought how blessed I am by the Lord with all these healthy babies we've had. They've had their moments of illness, but they've always been relatively brief.

And I don't think it's so strange that I found myself missing those moments. Those times of holding a tiny little baby in my arms, snuggled up against my chest with his arms and legs all folded up and wrapped tightly in a blanket and listening to him breathe easily. And knowing that prayers are answered.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When two sons graduate from college -- on the same day

Taylor (left) & Ethan (right) back in their youth
It was a couple of months ago that we got some news that threw us for a loop. It was unexpected and came from out of nowhere. It was kind of a shock really. No, Julie didn't find out she was pregnant again. We figured out that the college graduations for Taylor and Ethan are on the exact same day.

I checked and rechecked and then checked again and came to the same troubling conclusion: Berea College, where Taylor attends, is holding its graduation on May 8. Hampden-Sydney College, where Ethan attends, is holding its graduation on May 8. What are the odds?

We figured this out when Julie and I started talking about attending our sons' college graduations and looking into planning for them. Before learning they were on the same day I had been looking forward to spending time with Julie together in a big moment in our sons' lives. And then this.

Some quick research shows that the two colleges, one in Farmville, Va., and the other in Berea, Ky., are 460 miles apart. Not nearly close enough for any possibility of squeezing them both in on the same day if they were holding their graduations at different times. Unless I can perhaps charter a Learjet to make that happen ... I wonder what that costs.

Playing ball together in Prineville, Ore., back in the mid-1990s
So now we're trying to figure out what to do. We think one of us will go to one graduation and one of us will go to the other. Divide and conquer, I guess you'd say. We're not really sure. I hate that we have to decide.

I've offered to go to Taylor's since it's a much longer drive -- about 9 hours to Berea compared to the 2 1/2 hours or less to Farmville. But I've also gotten to know some of Ethan's friends and even some of his professors over the years and it would be fun to be at his graduation. But there's also people we've come to know in Berea and it would be fun to see them as well, plus Taylor is married now and his lovely bride Bethany is graduating with him. So there's that bonus of seeing the two of them together on a very big day and spending precious time with them.

Life is just complicated! You know! I'm thinking of making it a rule in the Sabo house that if you go to college you have to be sure to stagger your graduations. Does that sound like a good rule? I can see some eye rolls already when I try and implement that.

I definitely am thinking ahead on this because even as we have two sons preparing to leave their college years behind, I have two daughters preparing to enter college next fall. Just like this year, we'll have three Sabo kids in college. Which is fine. Just as long as a few years down the road they don't graduate on the same day.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Parents and the insanity of the rise of youth travel sports

The best kind of soccer: In the back yard ...
Even if there may be an occasional injury ...

That requires being stretchered off the pitch.
This might not be a real popular blog post among many sports-minded parents. They might not be wanting to hear it. I might get cyber hate mail. I'm going to write it anyway.

It's been close to eight years now since an unforgettable moment that occurred on a baseball field and helped cement my opinion of youth travel sports. Ethan was 14 at the time and playing in a tournament in Danville, Va. Against my better judgment I had traveled with him to the tournament for the weekend so he could play baseball, the sport he loved. It was a lovely spring day, sometime in May. That's where the pleasant memories of the day ended, however.

During one of the games while legging out a single, Ethan had strained his hamstring. After checking on him I began walking over to the concessions stand to fetch a bag of ice, a journey that took me by the opposing team's dugout. As I was walking over to the concessions stand there were a couple of plays in the game that got the opposing team's manager riled up. Quite riled up. The second play was an incidental collision in a bang-bang play at first base in which his player, the running batter, pretty much got unintentionally taken out by one of our players. If I remember correctly, it was right after one of his batters had gotten hit unintentionally by the pitcher.

But the opposing manager was losing it. He was storming around and yelling and gesturing and essentially making a fool of himself. At a baseball game of 14-year-olds. As I was walking by the dugout watching this spectacle, I saw him turn to his team and tell them that if Gloucester was going to play like that then his pitcher would throw at their batter's head. I was stunned. What kind of coach tells his players to throw at the other team's heads? Especially a coach of 14-year-olds? It stopped me dead in my tracks and I blurted out to him, "Hey!"

What happened next, I kid you not, I am not making up. He looked right at me, grabbed his crotch in front of the team and everyone else and asked me if "I wanted to go." He wanted me to fight him right there basically. To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement. Behind me were parents of the opposing team's players sitting in the stands. I turned around, looked at them and asked if the Neanderthal behind me -- apologies to Neanderthals -- was their manager. When they nodded yes, I said, "That's embarrassing. My kid would never, ever play for him." Then I walked away.

I tell that story in the larger context of a trend that boggles my mind: The rise of youth travel sports. It's become more than a cottage industry. Crazy dollars are spent by parents in America on youth travel sports. This article in the Washington Post (Link: Youth sports gone wild) taps it at $7 billion annually. That's enough money every year to pay for around 220,000 kids to attend the average private college in America. Let me ask you something: What would be a better investment?

The rise in youth travel sports hasn't been driven by kids. It's parents. A lot of parents who have lost their collective minds if you ask me. If you're thinking you're going to get your kid a college scholarship, you are wasting your time and money. Your kid, yes yours, has a less than 1 percent of a chance of earning a college athletic scholarship.

My sense is that parents are doing it more for their own entertainment and to fulfill some sort of warped idea of parenting in which they have to have the best of everything for their kid. Taken to the limits that means thousands of dollars spent every year on topnotch equipment, coaching and team fees, travel costs and a whole bunch of other things. For kids as young as 8 or 9 years old.

From a pastor's perspective, youth travel sports represents a compromise: When it comes to Sunday morning games, what's more important? Church or the game? I've seen it happen almost every time. Church loses out. So what's the message to kids from mom and dad? Sports is more important than their faith. So parents, don't be too surprised if your kid walks away from his or her faith when they grow up. You've set the example and let your son or daughter know what's really important.

I am so thankful we didn't have youth travel teams growing up. I played parks and rec soccer, basketball and baseball and had a blast. I didn't have my entire weekends -- or weeks for that matter -- taken up by tournaments. I played a lot of pickup games with my friends during the year and if I didn't feel like playing, I didn't play. You think kids on travel teams have that luxury? Like they can really say, you know, I'm kinda sore today, or I really don't feel like playing today so I think I'll skip practice and do something else instead. Is it any wonder that there's a dramatic increase in injuries among kids who play year-round sports? Link: Kids get hurt

When I was growing up, our family vacations weren't built around my next travel team tournament. We had actual family vacations. You know, things like Disneyland, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, even Washington D.C. We even had vacations where we spent actual quality time with relatives and went to actual family reunions, not another reunion of my teammates' families at the Holiday Inn by the sports complex in Sportsaddictsville, U.S.A., followed by dinner at another Cracker Barrel.

I'm wondering how much of the youth travel sports is driven by insecurity. Maybe there's a fear among parents that if their kid doesn't play on a travel team that they are somehow not as good of parents as their friends or acquaintances whose kid is on a travel team. Maybe there's a fear they aren't doing what's best for their kid and would somehow be failing them. Maybe they just can't say no if their kid asks to play on a travel team.

Here's another thing parents. Your kids never get those years back. All that time spent shuttling them back and forth to practices, or going to tournaments, or going to Dick's Sporting Goods, or being at the tournaments and going to the doctor or the emergency room and I could go on and on ... Is it really worth it? You're the one making the decision for them. Can you live with it? Might there be better ways to spend time with your kids? Is there a balance in there between your kids' love of sports and not making it so all-important?

I'll finish with another story. Many years ago, one of my sons was on an All-Star baseball team at the age of 12. Much to my horror and shock, the coach of the team promised the kids that if they won the game he would take them to Hooters. I was in disbelief, as if I was living a "Bad News Bears" moment. When they won the game, I told my son he wouldn't be going to Hooters and explained why on his level, for reasons that included the objectification of women and the very nature of the restaurant itself. He was fine with it when I explained it to him.

Of the 12 boys on the team, my son was the only one who didn't go to Hooters. Later, a few parents came to me and said if they had known my son wasn't going, they wouldn't have let their 11- and 12-year-old sons go either. They didn't want their sons to go, but allowed them to go along with the team so they wouldn't be left out. Really? Folks, it's called parenting. You can make the right choices for your kids.

So parents, the ball is in your court, so to speak, with youth travel sports teams. What's the play?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hey Millennials -- and myself for that matter -- don't be the selfie generation

That's me, the guy with glasses on the right, taking a selfie at a roadside food stand in Bauchi, Nigeria. 
Earlier this week I had the honor and privilege of speaking to about 50 students from Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College at a Baptist Collegiate Ministries gathering in Farmville, Va. We studied through a passage of 2 Chronicles 20 in which King Jehoshaphat calls for a nationwide time of prayer and fasting when a group of nations gathers to take out the Hebrews. I spoke on several aspects of the text we can apply to our lives and looked at how King Jehoshaphat led his nation at a time of crisis.

One of the things we talked about in regard to leadership is humility. I listened to a podcast last year in which the interview subject was a decorated Navy Seal, a mountain of a man of great courage, strength and abilities who I concluded could kill with his bare hands or at great distance with a sniper's rifle. Either way it would not end well for his foe. During the interview the host asked him an interesting question about the defining quality of a leader. The Navy Seal answered, after a period of thought, with one word: "Humility." It's a low view of one's own importance, or humbleness. Do you see that in any of our leaders? Let alone in the generation of Millennials.

It is a trait that, I fear, has been lost in the morass of American self-expression and self-exaltation. Face it, we're a nation of narcissists, especially in the younger generation of the Millennials. Although us older folks are not exempt; just watch Donald Trump, the chief narcissist of narcissists.

It's no secret either, our obsession with self. The whole world knows America is the "Land of the Free, Home of the Narcissists." Here's what the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology had to say (Link: We be narcissists): "Americans and non-Americans alike perceive other Americans as highly narcissistic. This finding does not simply reflect perceptions of higher levels of agentic traits but instead reflects the belief that the typical American is grandiose, callous, and self-centered. Although an inflated view of narcissism of a typical member of one's culture is shared across a diverse set of regions and cultures, the effects are generally smaller in other regions of the world."

New York Times Op-Ed Writer Arthur C. Brooks, in a piece headlined, "Narcissism Is Increasing. So You're Not Special" (Link: Narcissism on steroids), described the rise of narcissism and how social media serves as an accelerant. I wholeheartedly agree.

Somehow us children of the '70s and '80s have produced a generation of children, the Millennials, that seems to communicate solely by the selfie. The entire world is viewed through the lens of their selfie that they post ad nauseum on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Kik and whatever other medium they are using. It's almost as if nothing exists beyond the borders of themselves.

So who's to blame? Parents. Our generation has told these kids over and over again how great they are at everything, given them trophies they didn't earn just for being a part of a team -- even if all they did was pick flowers on the field the whole time -- celebrated every inconsequential feat (Since when did going from 5th grade to 6th grade become such a big deal that it basically calls for a graduation ceremony?) and given them drugs for "ADHD" and "ADD" and whole host of other "diseases" and "disorders" instead of being parents and dealing with behaviors with love and discipline. (Which sends the kids a message there's a drug to cure everything, real or imagined. How on earth for thousands of years -- even as recently as my generation -- did kids thrive and survive without medication for ADD and ADHD and everything else?)

And I'm not immune. I may not post many selfies, but I sure see how many likes I get on Instagram photos or stuff I post elsewhere on social media. It's probably time for a social media fast ...

The world doesn't revolve around self and it's a frightening place when it does. Imagine if social media existed at the time of King Jehoshaphat. Would he have taken a selfie and posted on Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat that it might well be the last selfie anyone will be blessed to see because he's likely going to get slaughtered by the Ammonites, Moabites and their henchmen?

A world that exalts "self" is a world that will devour itself. It goes against the very nature of Christianity, of following Jesus who came to serve and not be served. Who had compassion and abundant love for all. Who died that all may live. That world of love and compassion doesn't exist in narcissism. Here's what I told the young men and women when I spoke to them a few days ago when I talked to them about being leaders and being followers of Jesus. I said, "Don't be the selfie generation. Be the selfless generation."

I hope we all take it to heart.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The foodie truth, or why winter and Pinterest go together

A power chowder: Just add bacon
I have come to the conclusion that winter can be useful. I'm not a great fan of winter by any stretch of the imagination. If I were to rate the four seasons from favorite to permanently exile it to Siberia, it would go like this:
1) Summer
2) Fall (Truly, Virginia falls are absolutely splendid and a very, very close second to summer in my book. It's almost a photo finish. The only real issue I have with fall in Virginia is that every day you are that much closer to winter.)
3) Spring
97) Winter

So you can see that winter isn't exactly my favorite. I hate being cold and winter here just off Chesapeake Bay -- where the air is so thick with humidity on some days that you can actually catch it, put it in a Ziploc bag and watch it turn to water -- is a bone-chilling cold. It's a damp, miserable affair in which there are days where if I spend too much time outside I just can't get warm for the rest of the day.

One of the few redeeming qualities of a Tidewater Virginia winter is Pinterest. Seriously. I'm on Pinterest and I get the occasional Pin on my board or whatever you call it that just doesn't seem right to me.

For example, from actual things on my board I saw this morning it might go something like: "Top 10 Tips to Reduce Swelling During Pregnancy" (I don't even know where to begin with that. What sort of Pinterest algorithm came to the conclusion that I might be having problems with swelling when I'm pregnant? I've never, ever had swelling during pregnancy!) or "Amazing 2 Ingredient Makeup Remover -- You'll never go back to expensive department store versions again!" (I'm going to nip this in the bud right now before you draw conclusions about the things popping up on my Pinterest board: When it comes to makeup, I'm okay with using expensive department store versions of makeup remover because I believe that's something you definitely don't want to mess around with.)

What I find Pinterest useful for, when I don't need pregnancy or makeup tips, is finding recipes. Yeah Pinterest has lots of other cool features, like DIY stuff, parenting stuff (The one that cracks me up lately is all these Pins about "How I Survived Going From 2 Kids to 3" and "How to Decide If You Can Handle Going From Two Kids to 3" ... so naturally I'm thinking of writing a useful blog and throwing it up on Pinterest with the title, "How to Decide If You Can Handle Going From 13 Kids to 14" ... I bet it will get a ton of Pins.) and links to somewhat interesting and useful blogs.

But far and away the #1 Pinterest feature in my book is recipes. Especially on bone-chilling frigid winter days where the only redeeming quality of it is that it's a great excuse to make soup. I think that is the one thing I am thankful for when it comes to winter: It's the season of soup-making.

Recently I came across this soup recipe on Pinterest that I tried and let me just say -- and it's not bragging if it's true -- that the day I made it is the day I made the best soup in Gloucester County. I also want to say that Claire helped me out ... well technically she did all the heavy soup-making lifting and I was more like the sous chef to her head chef. Claire can flat-out cook. She's a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. So the other day for this soup, I did the chopping and dicing and prep work and Claire expertly assembled, added, poured, stirred and lovingly coaxed greatness out of that pot.

The soup is called "Smokey ham, potato and corn chowder" and it was a huge hit in the Sabo house. I mean, it's got bacon, ham, cream cheese, potatoes ... there's a lot of things going right just in that grouping. So go ahead, hop on Pinterest and weed through the pregnancy, makeup and parenting pins and find it. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The One Thing I Did As A Kid No One Does Anymore

My old stomping grounds: Pilot Butte Cemetery
Today was a good day for the simple reason I went back to my roots: I walked places. I dropped the van off at the shop to get a state inspection and for an oil change then walked 20 minutes home. Later on I walked the 20 minutes back to pick it up. Then I walked to work. Later on I walked home. It was cold, the wind was blowing and it took an hour out of my day to get everywhere, but it was great.

It was just like when I was a kid back in the day in Bend, Ore. Maybe it says more about my age than anything else, but I must be one of the few people in this country who walked to every school he attended -- starting in kindergarten. I was telling one our daughter's teenage friends the other day how I walked to Trinity Lutheran kindergarten -- a whopping two blocks -- and crossed a highway to get there. Of course, Highway 20, or Greenwood Avenue as its also known, carried a little less traffic in 1974 than it might now. But our daughters' friend was horrified that a 5-year-old kid would walk across a highway. Her horror is misplaced. I grew up in a different time, a different place. I consider myself lucky.

When I hit first grade I walked to Bear Creek Elementary, meandering through Pilot Butte Cemetery to get there. I was saying how much I enjoyed the walk to school. Maybe not every single day -- before global warming it used to snow in Bend as I recall -- but I just loved having that quiet time before and after school. I got the blood pumping -- it might pump more today if I was walking seeing as how a cougar was spotted in a nearby neighborhood last fall -- and got some exercise and got an education along the way. By the time I hit middle school I could have given you a walking historical tour of Pilot Butte Cemetery, including where to find the grave of a Civil War veteran and the grave site of a man born in 1845, the earliest birth date of any tombstone I had cataloged in the graveyard. To this day I have a soft spot for graveyards.

Miss Nesting, Mrs. Flanary, Mrs. Shepard, Mr. Powelson, Mr. Moore. My teachers at Bear Creek from 1st-5th grade.

From Bear Creek Elementary I matriculated to Pilot Butte Junior High. It was a longish walk to what's today known as a middle school. A couple of blocks down 11th Street, across Highway 20/Greenwood Avenue -- oh, the horror! -- then snake around the northwest flank of Pilot Butte. A lot of the time a few of my buddies, RB "Rand" Smith, Brian "BT Express" Thomas and Brian "Schwartz" Fleck, would assemble at my house and then ride our bikes to school. Either way, it was a great way to start and finish the day, from my perspective. I had a little adventure dodging cars on Highway 20 -- I never stopped when I crossed the highway and figured, rightly, the cars and trucks would yield -- a little communing with nature navigating the trails snaking through the juniper trees and sagebrush and then, of course, the exercise.

After three years in junior high it was off to the big leagues and a half-mile or so walk to Bend High School. I recall getting to school on some days with frozen hair. Seriously. I wouldn't wear a hat -- things have changed since then, obviously -- and would often leave for school with wet hair. Again, back before global warming it got cold in Bend in the winter and there were days I would use first period to thaw out my hair. Sometimes I would run home for lunch and then run back to school. Of course, there were plenty of times my homies and I would hit Sweetheart Donuts down on Third Street. Those were the days. I remember spending 35 hard earned cents on an eclair donut from Sweetheart Donuts. Can that be right? What does 35 cents get you anymore? Certainly not a donut.

The days of walking to school are long gone. Times have changed. In addition to the occasional cougar that might be prowling around, there's all the other stuff you have to worry about. For starters, I bet there's a little more traffic on Highway 20/Greenwood Avenue these days, especially considering there's about five times as many people in Bend now than when I grew up there. Then there's the general concern that a little kid walking alone through a cemetery might get abducted. That's definitely in play. Or that walking to school in snow might somehow constitute child abuse these days. Would Ma and Pa Sabo get busted for child abuse for letting their kid walk to school in the snow?

As I was walking back and forth through metropolitan Gloucester Point this morning, it brought me back to crisscrossing northeast Bend from the mid-70s into the late '80s. I go back to what I wrote earlier. I was a lucky kid.

To get an idea of what my walks around my neighborhood are like lately, check this out: Gloucester Point walkabout

*Author's note: A special thank you to Katherine Cockrum for snapping some photos of my old stomping grounds today and sending them to me. As a side note, her brother is none other than my longtime Bend homie the BT Express himself. And her husband is my friend and former Bend High School cross country teammate, Joe Cockrum. God bless you all.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Celebrating Our Family's 12th Anniversary In Virginia

Sao family, circa late summer 2004. 
On this date 12 years ago, Feb. 8, 2004, we arrived on the eastern outskirts of Nashville, Tenn., a family of 11 journeying across the U.S. via Interstate 40. Several days before we had bid our goodbyes to the West Coast and pointed our packed 12-passenger van east, leaving behind my beloved Oregon -- where I gladly spent my first 35 years -- to stake our claim in Gloucester, Va. We had first traveled south to Disneyland and after a long, glorious day in the happiest place on earth we were hitting the road.

I have a few distinct memories of our trip across the country. Beginning with Los Angeles traffic. We made it as far as Barstow, Calif., that first night. Not quite Williams, Ariz., my planned destination thanks to a -- surprise! -- clogged freeway heading out of LA. The next day, Feb. 6, 2004, dawned clear and cold. Evie would celebrate her 7th birthday in three states that day. On Feb. 7, 2004, MerriGrace would throw up in three states.

From Barstow we made it to Albuquerque, N.M. I remember swimming in an indoor/outdoor pool at our motel and Brenton becoming a human scab after an unfortunate incident on a fitness room treadmill. Next stop, Henryetta, Okla., where we stayed in a motel that I do believe had the worst "breakfast" I've ever had in my life. I also remember nearly freezing to death unpacking the van that night as an Arctic wind howled down off the Great Plains.

As we headed to Nashville 12 years ago today, we stopped for gas in a little outpost off the freeway in Arkansas. Somehow I avoided becoming a human ice cube filling up the van and ducked inside the convenience store for supplies and food stuffs. While waiting in line, a man struck up a conversation with me. I had no idea what he was saying and apologized before asking him what he said. We went back and forth about two or three times before I figured out that in backwoods country Arkansas, the word "wind" has three syllables. Maybe four. He was talking about the cold wind.

We would make it eventually, well technically the next day, to Gloucester, Va., where we hunkered down in two rooms at the Comfort Inn, right next door to the Winn-Dixie. RIP Gloucester Winn-Dixie, a death caused by the opening of the nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter. There were still people living in the Comfort Inn who were waiting for their houses to get patched up from getting bushwhacked by Hurricane Isabel, five months after she had barreled through the county. And every morning at the continental breakfast we were greeted by grandmotherly Miss Bernice.

The kids remember playing in the snow in the woods out back of the motel. I remember hearing tree frogs hollering from the woods one day and thinking we were under attack. We got turned down three or four times for rentals, always with the same story: Either the well or septic system, or both, would in no way, shape, or form handle the volumes a family of 11 would surely consume and produce. Never mind that even with a bunch more kids since then we would never have a water or septic system problem in all the years of living here.

We spent a fortnight plus one in the Comfort Inn before we found temporary housing until our house in Oregon sold. We were able to close on a place of our own in the woods a stone's throw from Burkes Mill Pond. We've moved around plenty since we've been here. From Mill Pond Road to a new home on Ark Road, where out back of the house and a football field away, down by a mountainous gum tree, a stream trickled right out of the side of a hill.

Then it was on to a big house in a new subdivision off of Belroi Road ,where one night a micro-burst -- that's weatherman talk for a mini-twister -- dropped a neighbor's tree in our yard. It narrowly missed our house but it pitched a limb from the tree right through our bedroom window, prompting an unexpected tumult that was like a shotgun blast for an alarm clock. This was at midnight and I've never seen Julie move so fast. To this day I'm positive I heard the sound of a train right before that limb tore through our window. Mind you, there's no trains in Gloucester.

From there we moved down the county to a Marshall Lane rancher in a peaceful neighborhood at the Point. It's where my kids walk a few blocks to the beach and fish minnows and little blue crabs out of a salty York River inlet not far from where the big rivah eases gently into Cheseapeake Bay.

We've had a grand time here in Gloucester. It's the only place where I've been asked more than once if I'm a Yankee. That makes me laugh. I usually answer that Oregon didn't become a state until 1859 and thanks to its relative newness, a general lack of a supply of able-bodied men and its great distance from the action in Virginia and elsewhere on the bloody Southern battlefields, the War of Northern Aggression wasn't really our scrap. Truth be told, however, I guess I am a Yankee seeing as how I count Ethan Allen of Vermont's Green Mountain Boys fame as an ancestor. But let's just keep that between us.

I usually greet people with a lively, "Howdy," something I trace back to my roots east of Oregon's splendid Cascade Mountains range. I guess people aren't used to my Oregon howdy because sometimes I have people respond, "Ah'm fah-ahn thanks, how're y'all doin'?" I've been asked about my accent, even though I've never known an Oregonian, not even those out east in John Day, Burns, or heck, metropolitan Fossil, to have one. I've been introduced to okra and collard greens, the glories of Chesapeake Bay, country ham biscuits and the best rivah sunsets in all of Virginia. Or anywhere for that matter.

I admit it. There's things I miss about Oregon. That meadow between the groves of towering ponderosa pines just east of Sisters alongside Highway 20 where the snow capped Three Sisters mountains seem to take up the whole sky. I can't ever help but stare at the awesome sight. Or the amazingly vibrant colors of the Painted Hills outside of Mitchell, where God got crazy with the paintbrush. Or the nights staring up in awe at the High Desert skies without a tree or a city light for a hundred miles to hide a single star that, as the prophet Isaiah tells us, like the millions of other stars in the Milky Way was hung in place and named by God.

My home  -- our home -- is here in Gloucester now. You know the place. Where one day in February the kids are playing soccer in the yard in shorts and t-shirts and two days later they're making Olaf out of the snow. Where the Coleman Bridge spans the York River at its narrowest point, a full three-quarters of a mile wide and where dolphins frolic in the summer. It's the same place Pocahontas called home and where she intervened, as the story goes, to ensure John Smith wasn't the first Englishman to get his head lopped off in the New World.

It's also where, in 1642, an Englishman named Augustine Warner settled by a branch of the Severn River and whose most famous descendant, a great- great-grandson, was a man by the name of George Washington. Yes, that George Washington. And, of course, a Confederate general and Southern icon named Bobby Lee traced his lineage back to ol' Augie Warner.

It's an amazing place, populated by a great many people with whom we've made enduring memories. I expect many more memories to come, even if it doesn't involve another Sabo baby. I can't imagine living anywhere else. Twelve years on now and Gloucester is the place we Sabos call home.

Augie Warner's old place, now a B&B known as The Inn at Warner Hall

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Surprise! It's Another Birthday In The Sabo House!

Evie celebrates her 2nd birthday with joy.Dur
Here's what I love about Evie coming home from college for the weekend. It's not that it's her 19th birthday today, although that's tres bien. It's not that the laugh-o-meter in the Sabo household goes up many, many percentage points, although that is reason enough to pick her up from VCU and bring her home every weekend if we could.

No, what I love about our accomplished young artist is that she insists on snuggling with her little brothers when she gets home. This morning I found her on the couch with two little boys wrapped in a blanket watching a Disney movie. If she is on the couch -- and awake because the snoozing comes naturally to our second daughter -- and a little boy wanders within an arm's reach you can bet they're getting swept up for a snugglepalooza.

Evie training a young Seth in the snuggling arts.
The little boys, Seth and Judah, protest sometimes. But when "Frozen" or "The Incredibles" or other top flicks get popped into the DVD player, next thing you know it's brothers-sister bonding time on the couch. During the course of a given week I send Evie a great number of Snapchats of her little brothers in various moments and elements of cuteness. I think it pretty much is like food to her.

For me, it brings great contentment to see my older kids be such a big part of their younger brothers' and sisters' lives.  To see how they love them.  I'm a blessed man.

Happy birthday to my beautiful daughter Evie. I love you.

A pre-teen Evie

Thursday, February 4, 2016

When Mama Is Away, It's Dad In Charge Of 11 Kids

Julie got away for the night, but left her mini-me Madeline behind
Julie managed to sneak away earlier this afternoon for a night away alone leaving yours truly in charge. We're at the midnight hour here at Sabo central and things are running smoothly. That's the full-blown truth. It's a well-oiled machine here when Dad is in charge.*

 Julie is heading to a Calvary Chapel pastor's wives event over in Lynchburg tomorrow -- well, technically today now that the clock has struck midnight -- and took off today with a big grin on her face.

She hit Richmond to check in on Evie at VCU, then headed to Farmville for a date with Ethan at Hampden-Sydney College and to take him shopping for socks and underwear and laundry detergent. And food. She said she loaded him up with food. I imagine he's a happy college camper tonight, even if UCLA is getting pounded in basketball.

She's staying with dear friends of ours in Farmville who live out in the country where on clear winter nights there's a million stars lighting up the sky and a lovely silence. She called me tonight and she's hunkered down in our friends' cabin, on a mattress in front of a blazing fire with her Bible and no little boys asking for chocolate milk or saying they need to go potty or arguing over toys. She sounded so happy.

Life here in the Sabo house with 11 kids present and accounted for is surprisingly smooth. Maybe it's not surprising from the standpoint of I have a crack crew of older kids who help out. Everyone got dinner, I believe some brushing of teeth took place, there are little kids in actual pajamas asleep in their beds, I said nighttime prayers ... there's checks all over the night duties checklist.

We'll see what tomorrow -- er, later today actually -- holds. I'm enjoying the quiet, but I admit I'm wishing I had a fire to fall asleep in front of in a cabin surrounded by silence beneath a starlit sky. I'm happy for Julie.

*Miracles happen every day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The One Key To Our Family

A Sabo team meeting to see who's responsible for meals tonight.
Our family is what you would call a loosely run organization. By that I mean there's not an overabundance of rules, mandates, directives, laws and the like. If you're a Sabo kid, you'll learn about Jesus and be encouraged to own your faith in Him, you'll share a bedroom -- quite possibly a bed at some point -- share your toys, be kind and loving, grow into responsibilities, contribute to the welfare of the family and put up with your dad's sense of humor. Oh, and deal with your dad posting stuff on social media about you.

We don't have meal times set in stone, there's a rolling bedtime depending on age, there's no morning reveille and there's a lot of flexibility in how things operate. All this to say that we work on instilling a sense of personal responsibility, operating on the belief that strictly controlling our children's environment with rules, regulations, schedules and the like -- including medicating them for all variety of "concentration" and behavioral issues" -- leads to major problems as the kids get older.

I bring this up because this helicopter parenting is out of control. Sometimes I think there are basically two kinds of parents. The ones who aren't really involved in their kids' lives, or nominally involved. They don't have a relationship with their kids and think the "school system" should basically raise their kids, or basically anyone else other than them, and blame anyone and everyone other than themselves when their kids grow up to be ... just like them basically.

Then there's the other extreme, the parents who rigidly schedule every minute of their child's life, try and control every possible outcome and when they send their kid off to college pester their professors about their grades, monitor their college kid's every movements by tracking them on their smart phone and calling them daily, if not hourly, to see where they've been who they've been with and if they've been taking their medication. I kid you not. I have a child who has seen this firsthand.

Here's what I'm leading to. We're not perfect. We're not a perfect family, I'm a far from perfect dad, I've messed up, our kids have messed up and will mess up. But here's the one thing I think we've been blessed by. As our kids grow up and mature they come to own their faith in Jesus Christ. There's struggles and missteps along the way, but I truly believe that an authentic faith in Christ is the one thing that makes a family complete.

Knowing Jesus and following Him means you understand grace, mercy, humility, compassion, love and especially sacrificial love. I don't know how families operate without these things. Ours certainly wouldn't.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Difference In `Justice' In America And The Middle East

Refugees arriving on a Greek island
A good friend of mine told me the story of a little boy with an arm that ended in a stub below his elbow. My friend was a volunteer soccer coach in a league of refugee boys in a large Midwestern city. The boys and their families were Muslim and had left their homes behind to come to America. They hailed from places like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria, countries that swallow up their residents in sinkholes of bombings, shootings, starvation and other means of violent death.

One day at soccer practice my friend asked the Iraqi boy what happened to his arm. The boy explained that years earlier, when he was 4 and living in Iraq, he had stolen something in the market. He was caught and under Sharia law there was a stiff price to be administered for his crime. The penalty he paid was his hand that was hacked off.

Four years old.

I have a memory myself of stealing something in the store when I was a young child a little older than the Iraqi boy. I was standing in the checkout line at Wagner's Supermarket in Bend, Ore., and managed to filch a piece of candy and put it in my pocket. My memory is that it was a piece of hard candy. I glanced up to meet the stink eye of an older woman in line behind us. I don't recall anything happening to me; apparently the lady didn't rat me out. I certainly didn't lose my hand.

I tell this story because I've thought a lot about the refugees from the Middle East and Africa. We've all seen the pictures and read and watched the stories of the people who risk their lives to flee their countries in hopes that at least they may live. Or there's stories like that Iraqi boy, the one with the arm that ends in a stump.

I would encourage you to listen to this recent teaching by David Platt on the Biblical response to the refugee crisis. I have plenty of thoughts on the refugee crisis that I'll share in one or more upcoming posts. But listen to Platt's message as I found it enlightening: Message on refugees