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Spring Break Week: New Music

March 29, 2010

Katie and I love music; we lead worship at our church in Abilene, we sing in the shower, we both took a host of music classes in undergraduate. But we’re not really concert people; well, we haven’t made concerts part of our relationship. Part of that is the fact that our musical tastes are different; Katie likes country and folk music, where I like more alternative rock and pop music. Part of that is the fact that we live in Abilene, and the creative scene in our town in a bit underground, although we are starting to get more popular artists in our town (such as Iron and Wine). Part of it is laziness mixed with the fact that enormous social events aren’t really our cup of tea.

Craig and Laura, the people that we visited in Austin, have similar interests; they’re both creative, open-minded, somewhat outspoken people. They do happen to like the social gathering a bit more than we do. And they live in Austin, which is like the indie music capital of the south.

When we got to their house, we noticed several South by Southwest newspapers and brochures around the house. Several members of their church were playing at SXSW, and invited us to hear their friends; we gladly obliged, and were overwhelmed with the giftedness that we saw and heard Friday. This blog post is a shout-out to this creativity.

The first person that we saw was Grace Pettis; her father is Pierce Pettis, a world-renowned lyricist. Check out her song “Nine to Five Girl”. (This is actually Craig’s footage, which he put on youtube.)

Later that night, we double-dated at the Zach Scott theater to listen to one of their worship leaders, Dave Madden. Dave is an accomplished pianist and guitar player; the particular set that we saw including a grand piano and a strings section. Check out his song “Open Eyed”, and imagine Dave playing piano instead of guitar, as he is on this clip.

We quickly realized though that this wasn’t just a Dave Madden concert. The Zach Scott theater, with the help of local musician John Pointer, had gathered several local and international musicians (there were two Danish bands that played) into a benefit concert. So for three hours, we were entertained by five or six acoustic, very musically-talented performers. One of them, Molly Venter, is becoming one of my favorite new artists. I’ll explain this more in another post, but I love how her interpretation of folk music, especially the way she tells stories with vocal intonations. This is “Shaky Ground” from her newest album “Love Me Like You Mean It”.

The concert was at the Zach Scott theater, a very intimate, 150-seat auditorium with an octagonal floor. There are only four rows of seats at Zach Scott, which means everyone had really good seats; we ended up sitting right behind the strings section during Dave’s set. This theater may have be the most intimate musical venue I’ve ever been in.

There was about two hours of music, including the two performers I just mentioned, and after intermission, John Pointer got on stage. Several of the musicians mentioned that John would blow our mind; they underestimated his musical ability. John’s set consisted of a cello, several acoustic guitars, a couple of looping devices, and the grand piano on the octagonal floor. He began his set by beatboxing two or three rhythms into the microphone and setting it on loop; he then walked over to the cello and plucked out a bass part for the loop; finally, he got his guitar and played a couple of riffs and completed his loop. The rest of his set consisted of a couple of original pop numbers, another looping session, this time with whistling added, and a hilarious rendition of “No Diggity”. Oh yah, the guy has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. Check out “One by One” from his CD “Schizophonic”.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing from our spring break was getting to see these and other talented musicians at SXSW. We bought like five CDs and listened to them on our late night drive back to Abilene.

Who are some local artists that you support? I’m always looking for new, good music, and this weekend encouraged me to support more independent artists.

Spring Break Week: Reunions

March 26, 2010

Katie and I mostly have the same circle of friends that we developed either through connections at Highland, Sing Song, and/or some of the music classes we took together. However, there are two significant events that we’ve experienced over the last four or five years that were uniquely ours: Oxford (for Katie) and the MFT program (for me). We’ve done the best to be include the other in these circles–for example, I am an honorary member of Katie’s 2004 Oxford group, and Katie’s been to plenty of MFT functions. But the personal stories and inside jokes are uniquely individual.

Several people of the MFT crowd (sadly, none of them were guys except me) joined me and Katie at Amanda’s wedding in Lubbock. To the left is me with Ruqayyah, who is currently doing her PhD at Louisiana-Monroe. Mindy and Rebekah were members of the house party as well. The five of us (with a few other friends) sat together at the reception and traded stories, made comments about the job market, and asked about deep topics in our lives. And laughed. And danced. I’ll get to see my former classmates at conferences and other professional venues, but it was great to be together in a relaxing way in Lubbock.

Joey (the one in the black tie) got married last Saturday in Austin. He was one of 40 or so of Katie’s Oxford crowd. There have been six or seven weddings, and each one consists of a Oxford group photo. (There’s one from our wedding too.) We went to lunch with Val (far left) and our new friend Annie Saturday afternoon and caught up about jobs and living in new cities.

Reunions are unique for several reasons. First, of course, you get to meet up with people you haven’t seen in years. In fact, Joey’s best man, Jim, was one of my best friends in junior high. I hadn’t seen him in 10 years, but we spent about 15 minutes catching up and discovering how our lives evolved. Jim is one of the most creative, hilarious people I’ve ever met, and he’s working as an artist with Disney; I was so excited to hear that he’s doing something he’s wanted to do for years.

Things change, and yet some things stay the same. No matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other, it seems like you automatically assume the same roles in the group that’s present. For example, Ruqayyah is often a bit shy until you get to know her, but once she feels comfortable with a group, she’s the life of a party. Witness two Saturdays ago, when she was cracking jokes and referring to the “good doctor”. (Inside joke.) I don’t know Katie’s Oxford crowd as much, but Bret, the outdoorsman of the group, entertained us with stories of hiking and wild adventures that none of us have the courage to attempt. Val is the social director of the group, and was updating us on the newest movies and party ideas. Perhaps these people are generally like that, but these traits become exponentially more apparent when they’re with their group.

What are some important groups of people that you have reunions with? What role do you take in those particular groups?

Spring Break Week: Weddings

March 23, 2010

My experience going to weddings now that I’m married is completely different from my experience going to weddings when I was single.

For one thing, I have the most beautiful date anywhere I go 🙂

But I also have a shared experience with the people that I’m celebrating with.

For example, Joey’s wedding was originally an outdoor shindig–it got moved into a living room in the Plantation in Austin. So I couldn’t see the bride, Samantha, enter. But I watched the anticipation in Joey’s gaze as he waited for his bride to enter. Joey’s eager smile reminded me of the mixture of nervousness and excitement I felt standing before everyone waiting to see my bride for the first time on June 28, 2008.

When I saw my friend Amanda walking down the aisle last Saturday, I flashed back to when I saw Katie for the first time. I remember Katie’s beautiful wedding dress and the way that her eyes sparkled and contrasting her eye makeup. I thought about Josh’s incredible piano performance and transition from How Beautiful to Canon in D. Seriously, when I heard him play it during the rehearsal, I almost started bawling in front of the dozens of people there–it was that beautiful.

I heard both preachers bless the couples through the voice of Mike, our preacher. Mike encouraged us to incorporate many of the displays of love that we had already been sharing throughout our dating relationship and celebrated with us, through 1 Corinthians 13, in that these displays would grow deeper and more profound. Mike was intentional about making the language of his sermon communal, encouraging us that many of the people who witnessed the wedding had gone triumphs and struggles that we had and will be facing. Joey and Samantha based their vows on the same Ruth passage that Katie and I centered our vows around as well.

Both weddings had moments of unexpected folly that interrupted months of preparation. Amanda’s brother did the wedding, and he forgot to do the part “Do you take promise to take her, love her, cherish her, etc.”. So after the ceremony, Ben and Amanda walked in, grabbed the mic, and did the vows themselves. It was so funny, yet so touching. I can’t imagine how frustrated Samantha’s parents must have been having to rearrange the environment of their wedding after a cold winter storm buzzed through Texas on Saturday; however, the wedding was closer and more intimate inside the house. I remembered some of the difficulties that Katie and I had getting the wedding together; they were serious issues for us at the time, but now, we can look back and smile at those moments, knowing that they didn’t interfere with the greater purpose of our wedding day.

As Katie and I danced during both of the wedding receptions this week, I heard Josh Groban’s “When You Say You Love Me” playing and envisioned us sharing our first married-person dance in the WPAC lobby.

Forgive the sentimentality of this post, but am I the only person that does this? To my married friends, when you’re at weddings of friends, what events trigger you to memories of your own wedding day?

Spring Break Week: Leaving Abilene

March 22, 2010

Don’t freak out by the title. Katie and I aren’t permanently leaving Abilene.

Every now and then, we need to get away though. I have a feeling that we’ll be saying that any place that we live in the future.

The school schedule provided us with designated days off–for example, ACU was closed to faculty and students last week due to Spring Break. Katie’s a staff member, so Spring Break was not extended to her. I’m partially-employed, so the beginning of 2010 doesn’t count, but in the future, unless I go into teaching, I probably will never get an official Spring Break.

The joys of adulthood.

The last two weekends, though, we’ve taken the much needed chance to get away.

Last weekend, as I mentioned on the blog, we took a day trip to Lubbock to see my friend Amanda get married. Amanda was in MFT with me and started dating Ben, her now husband, about two years ago; Ben was a willing, brave participant in several of our therapist parties. I got to see a few of the people who spent two life-changing years with me in the MFT.

This weekend, we went to Austin for our friend Joey’s wedding. Joey studied abroad with Katie in spring 2004, and recently finished his law degree at UT. We stayed with our friends Craig and Laura, went to a few concerts at South by Southwest, and enjoyed the culture of Austin. (I had never had fish tacos until this weekend, for example.)

While Katie and I were processing our Spring Break voyaging last night, we talked about our need to be intentional about planning mini-vacations every six weeks or so. Traveling can be difficult because some vacations are not restful; some trips require unexpected emotional or physical efforts, whereas others are strictly professional. (We’re not there professionally, but I imagine we will be at some point.)

One of the unique things about our trip to Austin was that there weren’t any expectations or pressures on us. Katie and I could just relax and make ourselves at home with Craig and Laura (the concerts they took us to helped with relaxing and rejuvenating). Joey’s wedding gave us a chance to see some long lost friends (and meet new ones); telling my story to curious friends is a centering experience for me. I often realize that many people are undergoing similar stresses or joys in their own lives.

This week’s series consists of reflections from our Spring Break jaunts. But before that, I have two questions:

1) What makes a relaxing vacation for you?

2) Where are some of your favorite spots for miniature (two-three day) vacations?

One More Day…

March 17, 2010

Until one of my favorite days of the year.

The beginning of March Madness.

I have so many fond memories of these weekends. Watching low-budget mid-majors, like Gonzaga, George Mason and Valparaiso, shock sports viewers. Being taken out of school several times to enjoy father-son bonding with various CBS announcers. Having such great hope for my brackets, only to watch them crumble (sometime on the first day, such as the year that I had Syracuse winning the whole thing only to see them fall to Vermont in the opening round).

With the excitement and anticipation for a great three weekends of sports (tiding me over until opening day of baseball), I present 16 things to watch for (well, according to my bracket) in this year’s NCAA tournament.

1) This will not be a year that a number 1 or 2 loses on the first day. I think North Texas is probably the best #15 seed, and may have been able to outmuscle a #2 (such as Ohio State) for a tough win. But they face a K-State team with quick guards and tough perimeter defense that will force a bunch of turnovers. I think this will be the only close game between a 1 or a 2 on the first two days.

2) Poor Purdue. I hate to see a team with a legitimate chance at the Final Four have it unravel because of a fluke injury. They’ve still got two great players in E’Tuawn Moore and JaJuan Johnson, but they face a tough, athletic Siena team with four guys averaging over 13 points who should be able to overpower them. With Robbie Hummel, I think Purdue would be at least an Elite Eight team; without him, they’re done on day 1.

3) Other potential Cinderellas I see winning on day one include Murray State (all five starters average over 10 points a game) playing against an inconsistent Vanderbilt team, Utah State, a tough defensive-minded squad who’s playing essentially a home game in nearby Spokane against Texas A&M, and San Diego State, who won a tough Mountain West tournament with four guys averaging double figures, playing against a short-benched Tennessee squad.

4) Best first-round match-up: Temple v. Cornell. Neither team makes a lot of mistakes. Temple can counter Cornell’s 7-footer, Jeff Foote, with Lavoy Allen. Cornell has an incredible inside-outside game (best 3 point shooting team in the tourney), but Temple has an incredible backcourt themselves. I’ve got Cornell winning barely, but I may be regretting that call.

5) I didn’t pick UTEP to beat Butler, unlike every sports pundit that I’m reading. Yes, I know that UTEP has a renovated Derrick Caracter and good guard play from Randy Culpepper. I’ve heard about the their incredible FG% defense and supreme athleticism. Butler hasn’t lost a game since Christmas. I know they play in a weaker conference, but they manhandled an athletic Siena team, have just as much inside presence as UTEP, and have smart players who don’t turn the ball over. It’ll be close, but I think Butler will hang on.

6) Everyone’s talking about how Kansas got the shaft with all of the tournament winners and what not in their bracket. I honestly don’t see them having a tough game until the Elite Eight, where I have them playing Georgetown. Kentucky’s the team we should be talking about getting hosed. They have the most difficult #2 team in West Virginia, I have them playing a very athletic (although undisciplined) Texas in round 2, and a style of team that could frustrate a young Kentucky team in Wisconsin/Cornell in round 3.

7) Four exciting second round games I have: Michigan State/Maryland (Izzo vs. Williams), Washington/New Mexico (two of the top four teams out west), BYU/K-State (more on that in a minute), and Syracuse (sans Onauku)/Gonzaga.

8) This year’s version of Stephen Curry: Jimmer Fredette, BYU. Two games of 40+, 46% shooter from a 6’2 combo guard (shot 48% last year), and 44% from 3. Maybe the best shooter in the tournament.

9) With that, my overall tournament Cinderella is BYU. With Jimmer Fredette injured this year, they beat and outrebounded UTEP in El Paso, with 20 and 11 from Tyler Haws and beat UNLV (Fredette did play in that game, but shot 2/10 on a gimpy leg). Everyone rebounds on the team, and I can see them beating K-State; they have great guards but an inconsistent inside game.

10) Four teams that could bust my bracket: Wisconsin, UTEP, Georgia Tech, Cal.

11) Yes, Cal. Everyone’s been justifiably knocking on the Pac-10 this year, but Cal’s offense can keep up with Duke in round 2 (assuming they beat Louisville in round 1). They shoot 48%, 37% from three, and are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the tournament. Duke for once has size in this tournament, but they don’t have the quickness to keep up with Jerome Randle.

12) Speaking of Duke…They finally got the tournament they wanted. Easy bracket–weak 2, 4, and 5 seeds that all could be going home the first weekend. Still not making the Final Four. I’ve got them going out to a tough Baylor team in Houston in the Elite Eight.

13) Baylor’s the team I’ve got to shock everyone and make the Final Four. People are knocking they’re defensive efficiency, whatever that is, but they’ve got two incredible guards (Dunn and Carter) and the best shot blocker in college ball, Ekpe Udoh. They should beat a tough Notre Dame team in round 2–Harangody/Udoh is a dream matchup, but Notre Dame doesn’t have the most athletic guards. My fear is that they’re too short on the bench, but they, in my mind, have the easiest patch to Indianapolis. And they’re a good team that knows how to win in March (last year’s NIT finalist).

14) Other Elite Eight teams in my bracket include the four #1s, Georgetown, West Virginia, and BYU.

15) Final Four: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, and Baylor

16) Championship game: Syracuse over Kentucky. Kentucky may be the most skilled group of individuals in the tournament, but Syracuse is the best team. I don’t think Onauku’s injury will be that big of a deal by the first week of April, and the 2-3 zone defense may be too much for Kentucky’s freshman-laden squad.

How many of these predictions do you think will come true? I’ll grade myself after the tournament. What are some other predictions you have for the tournament?

Poking and Prodding

March 15, 2010

I’m two for two in my goal for this week of waking up by 6 AM this week. Of course, the last two mornings have both been a bit unconventional.

Saturday evening, we got in late from a wedding in Lubbock (more on that later this week). We pulled up to our house at 12:30, only to realize it was Daylight Savings Time and we had to set our clocks forward an hour. We led worship at Highland Sunday morning; there have been many times where I’ll get poor sleep before I lead worship out of fear of oversleeping. I woke up about 5:30 (right after my first REM sleep cycle of the evening) and couldn’t get back to sleep; rather than toss and turn and wake up Katie, I checked out the NY Times Sunday headlines.

This morning was a bit more intense. I went to bed last night with a really sharp pain in my stomach; I was able to sleep through it for a bit (although Katie evidently didn’t sleep because I was tossing and turning). I woke up at about 5 with the same, more disruptive pain in my stomach. I hobbled to the living room to check out the morning news and did a bit of medical research as well. I feared that I had appendicitis–the pain was in the right area of the abdomen, evidently it’s common in men between 18 and 30, and so forth. The pain subsided for about three and a half hours–so bad that I set up an appointment with my doctor (well, my friend Elizabeth, my doctor’s nurse practitioner).

By the time that I got to the doctor, most of the pain was gone (a warm shower was incredibly relaxing), but I spent about 45 minutes there doing different tests to rule out different viruses and disorders. Doctors poked around at different areas of my stomach, asking if it hurt; I wanted to say, “Yah, it hurts when you poke me there.” Elizabeth hypothesized my fear–appendicitis–and set up an appointment at the hospital to get a CT scan and blood work done.

At the hospital, I was asked to drink 40 ounces of this stomach medicine laced with ginger peach tea before the CT scan to clear out my digestive/urinary tract; needless to say, the concoction served its purpose. An hour and a half after I took my first sip, the technician guided me to the CT scan machine, where I was poked with an IV that inserted iodine and monitored my heart rate. (I’m overcoming a phobia of needles, and still have to take my glasses off whenever someone gives me a shot so I won’t see the doctor pricking me.) The CT scan took 15 minutes to complete; at one point, I found it quite painful to breathe (the technician told me to expect that). Afterwards, I was asked to return to the waiting room, IV still in my right arm just in case they had to repeat the CT scan. They sent me home about 20 minutes later hungry and a bit woozy; I scarfed down leftovers from Friday evening’s dinner at Los Arcos.

About an hour later, one of my doctor’s nurses called and gave me the results of my test. I don’t have appendicitis or any other weird thing going on. In fact, I ended up getting a physical out of the deal–the other dozen tests or so they conveniently did turned out normal as well. However, the hospital forgot to do bloodwork on me, so I was asked to return to my doctor’s office to draw blood; more poking and prodding–this time in my other arm.

I went to the doctor a bit before 9 and returned for good at 3:30. And I am exhausted–I have a headache, I didn’t eat very much tonight, and I want to go to sleep.

But, in spite of the poking and prodding, I wanted to give thanks as well.

I’m grateful that I have doctors and nurse practitioners who are compassionate, friendly, and ethical as well as extremely brilliant and practical. I’m grateful that my wife works at an organization that gives benefits–today was rather expensive, but it would have been much more without our insurance. I’m also grateful that she works in an understanding, thoughtful environment that would have been okay with her leaving and being with me at the hospital had I stayed there any longer.

I’m grateful for my health. Yah, my body has its quirks–I sneeze at just about anything that germinates, for example. But, in a weird way, I’m glad that today was uncomfortable–my body isn’t used to being medically explored and examined. I know and work with people who have chronic pain–physical issues that are beyond their control that result in doctors routinely poking and prodding them, drawing blood and performing tests. If six hours of that today was draining for me, I can’t imagine the exhaustion that the chronically ill go through. Today gave me a small glimpse of the wearying struggles of that population.

The Happiness Project: March, part III

March 13, 2010

I’m continuing to read through Gretchen Rubin’s NY Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, a book in which Gretchen proposes monthly ideas to promote happiness. This month, Gretchen discusses research that suggests people who work more are happier, and a week ago (forgive the time lapse), I mentioned how difficult, yet appropriate, these thoughts were in my own life, since I’m currently beginning month #8 without a full time job.

Gretchen’s final thoughts in March’s chapter revolve around the concept of the arrival fallacy, “the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy…The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because, though you may anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate.” Reading that was a nice reality check, because I’ve tended to have a belief that whenever I find a job, my feelings of worthlessness will subside and I’ll be able to re-enter the mode my ultra-efficient mode that I described in yesterday’s blog.

Gretchen continues, “By the time you’ve reached at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness…The challenge, therefore, is to take pleasure in the ‘atmosphere of growth,’ in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present.”

So much of my thought the last several weeks has revolved around the future–whenever I can get out of this current season, when the rains come and replenish me with zest and excitement. What is my schedule going to look like when I have a job? When am I going to find out whether or not I’m still in the running for this job? Is it even worth it for Katie and I to be in Abilene with its saturation of older, more experienced therapists?

The question that I want to practice answers to this week is “How do I find happiness, presence, and peace of mind in seasons of drought?”

This week, starting today, I have several opportunities to forget about those questions and focus on opportunities to be present with friends and during exciting events. Today, Katie and I are going to Lubbock for the wedding of our friend Amanda, who was in the MFT program with me. We’re also meeting our friend LeighAnne for lunch/coffee–she’s a friend of mine from high school youth camp who knew Katie when she was in elementary school. Long story. Thursday through Saturday, we’re going to Austin for another friend’s wedding and staying with our friend Craig and his new wife. I get to lead worship tomorrow and next Sunday at Highland. One of my favorite sporting events, the beginning of March Madness, starts on Thursday–I will be at the gym Thursday watching first round games while running on the elliptical until we leave for Austin.

My prayer for myself is that these questions of fear and uncertainty will be erased this week and that I can enjoy the excitement of cheering on my college basketball picks, waking up early in the morning, and celebrating life with friends.