Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankful for the Weekend

Saturday morning chess and coffee -- does life get better?

Something about this past weekend reminded me of long holiday weekends in college when Kip and I packed our laundry in our little station wagon and drove through mountain roads home to wash the clothes and let our parents worry about being the adults. We would inevitably spend the weekend sleeping in and play cards with my younger brother and sister who were still living at home.

Even though we are adults with two kids and a mortgage now, it has felt relatively carefree this weekend: watching movies with the kids, reading books, playing cards, having Thanksgiving dinner with LA extended family including my brother, his fiancé, her family, my cousins and aunt and uncle. We even helped initiate my brother's fiance into the family with an "enthusiastic" round of Nurtz.

This weekend Kip has also been finishing a home improvement project that he started a month ago. And I’m finally happy that he chose to do it himself instead of spending the thousands it would have cost to hire it out – although a month was a long time to wait without a sliding glass door. It is a good thing it hasn’t rained here.

Almost done

My daughter and I even did a little Christmas shopping together. I am not really a shopper. I go to the mall/store when I have to and usually at the last minute. My daughter is more “gifted,” at picking out special presents for people. So she was my helper.

We also tried to go sailing Saturday. Kip was pretty excited to get out into the steady autumn breeze and crisp sunshine, but there was a high swell advisory that we didn’t know about. As soon as we left the marina and faced the 8-foot waves rolling our boat parallel to the surf, I freaked out.

I know logically that it is very unlikely that the boat could capsize, but I couldn’t feel that knowledge as we were being tossed around and blown over. It is kind of like walking past a chain link fence with a snarling, angry Pit Bull on the other side. You know it is very unlikely that he would be able to jump the fence and attack, but it doesn’t make walking past him any more comfortable.

So I guess my lack of adventure ruined Kip’s. And that was depressing.

Chilly wind

But we came home and made Jambalaya, watched the Incredibles on TV and played Nurtz with the kids.

Simple days.

Advent began this weekend too. The kids really enjoyed helping put the Christmas tree together at church.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Death of a Pet Rat: Part II

A few weeks ago I posted about my daughter's pet rat dying.

When my dad read the blog entry he sent my daughter an e-mail response with his thoughts on animals and death. My dad is not a theologian or a pastor, but a physician who deals with life and death daily. His love for scripture and life and everything in between came through so beautifully in this response that I asked him if I could post it here.

So here are Dad's thoughts.

We're sorry to hear about the premature passing of your beloved pet.
It was nice that you were there to comfort him at just the right time.

May I give my opinion about animals and heaven?
It is, of course, just opinion, but based on the Bible, so I think you can trust it.

God's Word (the Bible, words Jesus said would never pass away - see Matthew 5:17-20, for example) talks about animals living together peacefully, not hurting each other. When Jesus brings in the new heaven and new earth, I believe that everything that is wrong with the world will be corrected and restored, like it was in the garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned. At that time there was no reason to be afraid of a talking snake, until Satan deceived them. Anyway, here's a picture of the kingdom of God, from Isaiah's prophecy, chapter 11:

11 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;

and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze;

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,

and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

9 They shall not hurt or destroy

in all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea. (esv, copied from )

So, I think all the animals and insects, all the life-forms God created will be there, but restored to their original, beautiful, harmonious purposes, including rats and spiders.

Once I heard a man talk about having a vision of heaven in which he walked across a field of beautiful flowers. He was afraid to step on them, but when he did, and turned around to see where he'd walked, the flowers stood back up and smiled at him. Jesus knows that we love our pets, and I trust that he'll satisfy our desire to have them restored in heaven. It may not be exactly the way we imagine it, it will be even better.

God will comfort you about losing George. He even comforts us about people who have died. In fact, I think God lets us go through grieving about losing pets to prepare us for losing people. It is especially comforting to understand that we'll see them in heaven, restored, never to get sick and die again. Isn't God good to us, to give us those promises? Jesus even went through death for us, to show us a glimpse of what it is like on the other side (we're told that our new bodies will be like his).

I love the pictures you've had on the blog of you and George.

Grandpa Bob

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Seeing Purple

It has been nearly 10 days since the Malibu Marathon, and I have a purple medal hanging from my bedroom mirror and a matching purple toenail to remind me of the good times. But it already seems like a long time ago.

I have only been running once since the big race. I took a few days off and then I caught some kind of fast-moving, flu-like virus that only made me miserable for about 12 hours but left me with a stuffy head.

Saturday Kip and I took the kids on a bike trip down the coast along part of a 20-mile route I ran last month. It still seemed like a long trip, even with a pair of wheels. Feeling the distance like that made me realize how big of an accomplishment running a whole marathon is. Which is probably good, because the way my mind works I had already started thinking about how it was only a marathon, not like a 30, 50 or 100 miler. I’m not sure why I do that.

I am thinking about running the LA Marathon in March. There is a new and improved race route from Dodger Stadium to the Ocean. I’m sure that it will be cool. I am just not sure I need to run it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Malibu Marathon

The Malibu Marathon in brief: beautiful sunny day, amazing ocean view, challenging hills, least crowded marathon ever, wonderful personal support and encouragement from my ever faithful friend Kip, and overall the most enjoyable long run that I can remember.

I finished in 4:57, just barely under that 5 hour mark, and nearly 20 minutes slower than the LA marathon, but not too bad considering I had trained less for this race and the course turned out to be significantly more challenging than the LA race. Most importantly, I finished the race feeling fine. I was certainly ready for the race to be over as I crossed the finish line, but I was strong enough to enjoy the rest of the day.

Unlike the LA Marathon in May which attracted at least 15,000 runners, only about 370 runners ran the Malibu Marathon, which made it feel comparatively like a quiet, laid-back run along the beach, sort of. I’m not sure 26.2 miles will ever really be “laid back.” But it felt relaxed, and I ran it feeling relaxed.

The race began just after dawn in Ventura County, along country roads in a sample of California’s beautiful farmland. My marathoning partner from the LA Marathon, Jon, and I played name-that-plant/vegetable for the first hour. Having spent some of my childhood in rural farming communities, where rolling acres are devoted to the same crop, tobacco or cotton in Alabama, corn in Wisconsin; I was delighted by the diversity of plants growing at every turn – artichokes, cabbages, celery, and strawberries.

El Caballo really wanted to run with us.

When I passed mile 10 I remembered that 11 months ago my goal had been to run 10 miles before the end of 2008. I ran that on New Year’s Eve and was so exhausted that I zonked before we were able to ring in the New Year. I could barely walk the next day, and here I was, less than a year later, passing mile 10 with a smile.

About half way through the race the route turned along the Pacific Coastal Highway, and the runners were treated to the world famous views of mountains and ocean. Sometimes the wind blew against us, and at one time I had to turn around and chase my hat.

Let the hills begin!

Up hill ..against the wind

Around mile 18, just when I started to really feel tired, we hit a series of challenging hills that continued until mile 24.

Jon, who had been taking it easy, (he is training for more challenging races over the next few months) decided to speed up around mile 20 and he ended up finishing quite a bit before me. But being alone for the last few miles gave me time to focus on the run and dig deep for that perseverance that makes runners into marathon finishers.

Through the whole race Kip was the most amazing support person ever. At the beginning of the race he noticed that I had dropped my energy snacks, a little stick of strawberry-flavored jelly chews that stick to my braces and give me that little extra boost. And by the time I rounded the first big intersection, he was there, camera and energy snacks in hand.

I had not expected to see him often along the route, but he was able to follow me all the way, driving a few miles ahead and waiting for me, taking pictures, offering Gatorade, smiling, cheering, doing his best impression of Chariots of Fire – which actually became less funny around mile 22. He even changed into a pair of running shorts and ran up a hill or two with me.

Because the hills were so difficult, I forgot about the actual mileage at one point and just focused on running. I was actually surprised when I passed the Malibu fire station and someone yelled, “just two more miles to go.” I thought about that in terms of circles around my neighborhood park, and I knew I could make it. It was helpful that the last two miles were mostly downhill too.

The foot I sprained about a month earlier was throbbing by this point, and I just wanted to make it to the finish. Focus. Finish. Focus.

I also started listening to a podcast of This American Life at this time, which made me laugh. I realized that it was probably not a very competitive strategy to start listening to NPR in the last leg of a marathon, but it was relaxing in a way that helped me zone out of my discomfort.

finishing at 4:57

At the finish line, after receiving my medal and commemorative beach towel, I took my shoes off and waded into the chilly ocean water. It felt great on my swollen feet.

Calling Mom and Dad to tell them all about it.

I told one of my friends today that I really don’t want to see myself as a 5-hour kind of marathon runner. I think if I run another marathon I’ll work on improving my time, but for now, I’m happy that I enjoyed this run. My constant prayer had been, “help me to run well and finish strong.” And I felt like God helped me do that.

My sister asked me a few weeks ago why I wanted to run a marathon, and I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her. Maybe I run marathons (hey, I can be plural now) because it feels really great to set a huge goal and accomplish it. But it must be more than that because I don’t quite get the same feeling from finishing my taxes or organizing the hall closet. Maybe I just like the medals.

Not sure why, but I think I want to do it again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Death of a Pet Rat

This morning one of my friends told me the story of how his daughter found her beloved pet rat dead and how they had held a simple backyard funeral service for it, complete with a star-shaped, gift-box coffin.

I thought it was sweet, but I didn’t really relate.

We had recently lost a pet rat too. But it was the mean one, the one that the kids quickly shut into the cage and hoped it would not try to get out and bite them. When he died in the middle of the night, Kip double bagged him and slipped him into the dumpster. We told the kids in the morning, and they seemed relieved. Now they could play with the nice rat without fear of his vicious roommate.

But this afternoon, when we came home, I noticed our precious little furry friend looked strange. His body seemed contorted and he looked emaciated. I tried to break the news gently.

Sweetheart, I don’t think George is doing too well.

We brought him his favorite foods and tried to coax him into drinking from his water bottle. He let us pet him, and I told the kids I thought he might be dying.


Can we take him the emergency room? Can we call 911? Can we get a pet doctor to come here?

I called Kip for the ok on the vet. He had grown to love George as much as the kids and he okayed a potential vet visit for our $5 pet store rat.

I started calling around to find a rat doctor, and even made an appointment. But when I went to check on George, I realized he was not going to make it to the vet. His breathing had slowed and while my daughter was petting him, he died.

She wouldn’t believe he was dead. His eyes were still open. He was supposed to live for five years.

He didn’t even have a birthday! January 7th is his birthday! We never finish anything we start!

In a torrent of emotion she began to list disappointments and heartaches I had not realized held a claim on her soul.

He knew his name. He stood on his hind legs when he wanted us to pick him up and pet him.

She was crying. I was crying. The little brother was wailing, wrapping himself in his baby blanket.

My son said, “I loved him, but I don’t want to look at him anymore.” So I covered George with a piece of newspaper. He was quickly becoming much more dead looking.

I felt like I should say something parental, something spiritual, something meaningful.

I didn’t have anything. I was sad too.

He was a rat with a creepy long tail and beady red eyes, and I really liked him.

The only thing that came to mind was a Bible verse about giving thanks in everything. So we made a little mommy-and-kids huddle and thanked God for letting us have such a nice pet rat.

My son asked if George was in Heaven. My daughter looked at me with big soulful eyes and answered him, “No, I don’t think so.” She later explained that it wouldn’t make sense for rats to be in Heaven because some people might not like rats and it would not make sense for them to be there if other people didn’t like them.

What if a boy had a pet spider that died? Would God let spiders in Heaven?

It made sense to me. The brother, however, continued to talk about George being in Heaven. (FYI -- He is double-bagged in the dumpster.)

I decided it would probably be kinder for me to clean out the rat cage myself, so I downloaded some episodes of a Disney comedy sitcom that the kids really like and I let them watch that while I took on the worst part of pet ownership.

Even with yellow rubber gloves, I could hardly bare to pick up the now cold, stiff body of the rat that no longer resembled our furry, fat friend. I don’t deal with dead things much. But I could hear the children laughing in the living room and I powered through it. Sometimes I don’t like being the adult.

As I finished rinsing the cage in bleach, I heard my son yell.

“I’m over him now. Can we get a new one?”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Running and Music

Malibu Marathon

I am running the big 26.2 again this weekend. And I am feeling kind of nervous about it. I’ve been logging long weekend runs since July, but somehow it doesn’t seem like enough and I hope my body doesn’t crumple under the pressure somewhere around the 20 mile mark.

Because this is my second time around, I guess I was just hoping that I would finish at least one 20 miler and say, “wow, that was easy,” and that just hasn’t happened. Nearly every run this fall has ended with me thinking “Hang in. Just another mile. I can make it.”

About a month ago I rolled my right foot, and I took the next week off from running. Sometimes that side of my foot hurts during long runs, and I think I’m a little concerned that might flare up. Although it did not hurt last week when Kip and I ran 9 miles.

I have been less consistent with the weekday runs, some weeks running only a couple times a week in between long runs. I guess my average is somewhere between 20 and 35 miles a week. Not bad, but nowhere near the 100 miles I hear about marathoners running.

So as one of my dear friends reminded me this morning, I don’t have to finish. I don’t even have to run it. It’s good to remember that I signed up to run it because I wanted to.

I think if I let go of any sort of expectation of finish time and just enjoy the run, it should be great. The route goes through rolling farm land to the Pacific Ocean. It will be beautiful.


My favorite singer-songwriter, Matt Kearney, finished his tour in Los Angeles this week. And thanks to my future sister-in-law who generously offered to babysit the kids last minute, Kip and I were able to go to the show.

It was amazing.

Matt Kearney has been my favorite running music for the past few months. Unlike other music I have run with, Matt Kearney is not high-energy rock or danceable hip hop, but sweet, thoughtful, poetic, gentle music -- road trip music.

“The world is too big to never ask why. The answers don’t fall, straight out of the sky….”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just a Quiet Day

Boys enjoying the foggy afternoon on Monday.

It was just a quiet day here.

My son woke up with an upset stomach and complained that he wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to stay home instead of attending our weekly community Bible study. I hated to miss, especially since I missed last week because I was feeling under the weather. But it seemed like the right thing to do. Everyone is so worried about the flu.

After a few hours he was fine, not really energetic, but fine.

We read books, watched a PBS documentary on Sacagawea, used our new Rosetta Stone Spanish program. I taught our son how to “carry.” I think it is officially called addition with regrouping now. It is one of those concepts that takes a few tries to sink in, and then it all makes sense. He explained it all to Kip over dinner.

This afternoon, after watching the documentary on Sacagawea, my daughter said, "I wish it was a movie so we could see what she looks like."

What do you mean?

"I'd just like to see more than just her hair."

That's when I realized that both documentaries we watched used voice over narration with either drawings, or even worse, Native American actresses with wind blown hair silhouetted in the sunset.

Where was the face of Sacagawea? I don't think there has ever been a feature film of her either.

Other than that, it was just a quiet day.

When the fog rolled in mid afternoon it felt like a snow day back East.

I wonder if I’ll remember today ten years from now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Haunted by Halloween

My family didn’t celebrate Halloween when I was a kid, a decision I understood and supported as a child, seeing how it was the Devil’s holiday and all.

We didn’t trick or treat. We didn’t carve pumpkins. We didn’t dress up as scary, ghoulish things. And we didn’t drape our home in orange and black, spiders and skulls, witches and death.

I heard all the stories of how Halloween originated with Druids collecting blood from door to door, medieval Christians scaring away evil spirits in preparation for All Saints Day, people praying to dead ancestors, and more recently, Satanists sacrificing babies on Halloween.

It all seemed like good reasons to abstain. And I hated the whole Halloween season.

I hated when strangers in the grocery store asked me what I was going to dress up as. I hated feeling left out in public school when teachers assumed that Halloween was a safe, nonreligious holiday that everyone could celebrate. I hated candy corn because it had that guilty orange and yellow coloring.

The whole month of October made me uncomfortable.

But ironically, I actually looked forward to Halloween night, second only to Christmas, birthdays, Easter and maybe the 4th of July.

On Halloween, in the buckle of the Bible belt, Evangelical churches out did each other every year with their “Harvest” parties. There were carnival games, costume contests, mazes, prizes and candy galore. And it seemed that every sizeable congregation from the tongue-talking Pentecostals to the Bible-quoting Baptists had something going on that night.

And I loved it.

But when I became a parent, far from the Bible belt, I hated Halloween season even more. I hated the costumes coming out in stores. I hated how every ugly display frightened my pre-school age daughter. I hated how strangers in the grocery store always asked us what we were going to dress up as. I hated that friends made me feel like I was depriving my children of an American rite of passage.

So I avoided Halloween altogether.

But the problem I had was that the church culture around me was changing its opinion of Halloween and I had to deal with it. By this time I was involved in Evangelical church communities who were questioning a lot of what we had previously accepted about the intersection of faith and culture.

Very subtly I had grown from being a child basking in the warmth of an isolationist family to a parent discovering daily what it means to follow Christ in all things and to live faithfully in this culture that God has placed our family in.

I’m currently learning how to not separate and live a monastic, culture-free life, but to become a culturally-engaged part of the greater community while being faithful to God and His redemptive purposes.

Yeah, headful isn’t it. I’m not sure what it means yet either.

Part of that means I question the value of restricting myself to the boundaries of Christian art and culture – Christian music, Christian books, Christian T-shirts, Christian lingo. I think some of that is nice for the Christian community, but it seems to alienate everyone else and that seems counter productive for a community called to emulate the man who was “a friend of sinners.”

So six years ago, when a friend invited me to a kids’ Halloween party at her house, I went.

I was a little uncomfortable, but appreciated the creative energy poured into making crafts and themed food for the kids. But I still declined invitations from other friends to join their families for trick or treating. I just couldn't embrace that.

During this time I talked to lots of different people about Halloween and I read a Catholic priest’s (unfortunately I can’t remember who!) perspective on the history of Halloween and its place in the Church. He made an interesting point of the significance of medieval Christians using Halloween as an artistic way to recognize their own mortality. We all die. We all face judgment for our moral decisions. I can understand that.

But maybe more importantly, I came to accept the concept that children dressing up as imaginary characters and gathering candy from neighbors was not inherently bad.

Two years ago our family dabbled in trick or treating, hitting up a couple blocks with our pastor and his four kids. And then last year we went all out, everyone dressing up, attending a community Halloween carnival and trick or treating with a large group of families. It was kind of fun and my kids loved it – especially the “with a large group of families” aspect of it.

But honestly, Halloween still makes me a little comfortable. And I think the caveat is that I believe in a literal Satan – not a comical red-horned, pitch-forked cartoon, but a real evil force waging war on humanity. I don’t think celebrating Halloween is tantamount to worshiping the Devil, but it does seem to mock spiritual things in a discrediting way that undermines our struggle against evil.

And Now .....

This year Kip carved pumpkins with the kids. The kids each designed their own costumes and we went to two Halloween parties.

The first was on Friday night at the Nickelodeon studio. One of our friends works there and gave us tickets to their in-house party. The kids decorated cookies and “trick-or-treated” through the office cubicles. Ironically, having grown up watching Nickelodeon, I was more impressed with the location then they were.

As my 11-year-old daughter pointed out, It’s just Sponge Bob.

But it was a fun party and a nice family time.

On Saturday night, actual Halloween, we went with Kip and his band to a Harvest party at a church in Ventura. Unlike the parties of my childhood, this one was in the church’s parking lot and was a clear, open invitation to everyone in the neighborhood. The costumes weren’t restricted to Biblical characters and there was no one distributing anti-Halloween cartoon tracks.

There were moon bounces and face painting, cotton candy and carnival games. Last year at the community sponsored Halloween carnival my kids bought tickets and got to bounce for a couple minutes while a sweaty line of costumed kids impatiently waited for their turns. This year the kids played in the moon bounce for hours, stopping only to run over to the cookie decorating booth and pumpkin bowling.

My kids and the friend we brought along loved it.

Everything was given as a free gift to the community and the only advertisement for the church was a banner across the band stage that announced the services at 10 a.m. If I lived in Ventura, I’d visit that church. The people there clearly wanted to get to know their neighbors. Maybe they are finding a better way to inch toward a healthy balance of faith and culture.

Kip and our daughter at Nickelodeon.

Jedi Anakin and his friend the Mummy at Nickelodeon.

Kip and Beautiful Criminal rocking the block at Ventura's Calvary Chapel party.

Happiness in the moon bounce

It's an old fashioned doughnut eating contest at the Harvest party.

Decorating cookies at the Harvest party. Is that candy corn? Jack-o-lantern cookies?