Saturday, December 31, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside

My friend Lime has posted about dear friends of hers from Trinidad who came to visit over the Christmas holidays.  Trinidad qualifies to be called 'tropical', and her guests had explicitly hoped to share a White Christmas with Lime and her family (alas, if the weather in Lime-ville is anything like it is in Our Town, that may have been a forlorn hope).  But actual snow on the ground and in the air, such as is typically to be found where the Lime family lives, qualifies as a major novelty for most Trinidadians.

Besides which, it reminds me of a story or two from my own young life. . .


At the university I attended, there was a dormitory that was more-or-less reserved for housing foreign graduate students, and late every fall, with the first significant snowfall, a wonderful scene unfolded as dozens of African, South-Asian and Latin-American grad students would gather on the lawn, snapping photos of each other in the first actual snow any of them had actually seen in their lives.

There was another graduate student at my school in those days, not foreign, but American-born, who was known campus-wide (and it was a very wide campus) as The Mad Hawaiian.  He was, as the nickname might imply, a native of Hawaii, and when he arrived on campus, he didn't even have a pair of long pants to his name.  Now, one might presume that a Hawaiian coming to live in Michigan, in all its wintry wonderful-ness, might, soon after his arrival, equip himself with some typical Michigan-type winter-compatible clothing.  But not The Mad Hawaiian; he reasoned to himself that 'cold is just a state of mind', and why should he spend a big wad of money on clothes, anyway?  (He was studying Computer Science; 'nuff said.)  And so, in the bleak mid-winter, with snow and wind and sub-freezing temperatures, The Mad Hawaiian could be seen walking around campus in a T-shirt and shorts. . .

(As a footnote, some years later, a friend of ours, who hadn't attended our university, and had only moved to Our Town after Jen and I had long since graduated, told us about this unusual guy he worked with, whom everyone called The Mad Hawaiian.  I couldn't believe my ears, and double-checked the name, and it was indeed the very self-same Mad Hawaiian.  I aksed if he dressed unusually, and he said no, it being a somewhat professional business office, he was obliged to wear long pants and a collared shirt.  Which seemed a little disappointing, somewhow. . .)


Our family hosted a Nigerian grad student, years ago.  It was a wonderful experience for us, to spend a year getting to know a man from a culture very different than our own.  It was delightful just to sit with him and talk for hours about life in Nigeria, and his hopes and aspirations for when he returned (he was married, with four children, so his presence at an American university was a huge sacrifice, not just for him, but for his wife and kids, as well).  He came from northern Nigeria, which is a predominantly-Muslim part of the country, and he told us some eye-opening (and occasionally hair-raising) stories about living as a Christian in the midst of a Muslim majority.  The Nigerian Students Association on campus held a few events during the year, to which our family was invited as esteemed guests, and treated to authentic Nigerian cuisine (of which exotically-spiced cream-of-wheat seems to be a staple).

Over Christmas, the folks who were sponsoring his studies (a missionary society; he was getting a degree in counseling to benefit his church back home) brought his wife over to spend the holidays with him, and they were both grateful for the opportunity to spend a couple weeks together in the midst of the long grind of his studies.  It was the first time she had ever been out of Nigeria, to say nothing of America, or even The West more generally.


A brief aside - several of our friends have hosted foreign students over the years, mostly from Latin America.  Since the American school year encompasses the cold-weather months, they always tell their guests to be sure to pack a warm coat.  Which, to the ears of someone from, say, Costa Rica, evokes what Americans would call a 'wind-breaker' - a light jacket, suitable for spring or fall.  But in Latin America, it is 'a warm coat', and is only worn on extremely cold days, when the air temperature drops below 15C (59F).  One poor girl got off her plane in the midst of a raging blizzard, with snow, below-zero (F) temperatures and howling wind.  When her hosts saw her 'warm coat', they took her immediately to buy a REAL 'warm coat', before they even took her home.

Another family we know hosted a student from New Zealand (the South Island, which is the colder of the two).  He arrived in October, and stayed for six months, returning home in April.  But, New Zealand being in the Southern Hemisphere, the poor fellow lived through 18 consecutive months of winter (or something close to it). . .


So, returning to our Nigerian student's wife. . .  As it turned out, we proceeded to have a record-breaking cold snap the whole time she was here - below-zero temperatures virtually every day of her two-week stay. There is absolutely nothing in the experience of any Nigerian that would remotely prepare them for below-freezing temperatures; but this was cold that made even us hardy northerners shiver.  The poor woman wore about five layers of sweaters and thermal long-johns, and I don't think she ever got warm, the whole time she was here.  Even sitting in our dining room, next to the heat duct, and near the stove, she would just sit shivering.  We felt terrible that we couldn't do something to relieve her discomfort.  And of course, the cold broke the day she flew out. . .

Sunday, December 25, 2011

God With Us

This is from a Christmas meditation I wrote in my 'paper journal' back in 1987 (and yes, it does strike me the tiniest bit oddly to think that 24 years ago, I was 7 years married, the father of three children, and writing theological meditations in my journal. . .)


"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
     and they will call his name Emmanuel - 'God With Us'."
          - The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 1, verse 23
              (ref. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 7:14)

God is no longer remote from us; He has come to us - God is with us.

How differently would we understand our lives if we were more consciously aware of this foundational truth - God is with us.

How differently would we relate to our minor trials (or our major ones, for that matter) if we knew - really knew - that God is with us.

How different would our sins look to us if we really understood that God is with us?

What a privilege, what an awesome possibility is laid before us - God has become one of us, that we might become like God.  And yet how little do we - do I - take hold of it and venture so bold as to live by means of God's grace?

O God, have mercy on us; help us to take hold of what you've laid before us, to take on more of your divinity, as you've taken on our humanity.  Make us holy, as you are holy, and help us to live more truly as your presence in the world. . .

Friday, December 23, 2011

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

(ref. Isaiah 7:14)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

O King of the Nations

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

(ref. Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 28:16, Ephesians 2:14)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Morning Star

splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

(ref. Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:1-2, Malachi 4:2)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Key of David

Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

(ref. Isaiah 22:22, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 42:7)

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Root of Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

(ref. Isaiah 11:1,10; Micah 5:2, Isaiah 45:14, Isaiah 52:15, Romans 15:12)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

(ref. Isaiah 11:4-5, Isaiah 33:22; Exodus 3:2, Exodus 24:12)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Wisdom

For the last week of Advent, I am posting the O Antiphons, verses to an ancient Advent hymn (dating back at least to the 5th century), sung at Vespers, one verse each day from December 17-23.  These may seem somewhat familiar to some of you; the familiar Advent hymn/carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel is based on them (rendered into consistently-metered rhyming English). . .

I am here giving both the ancient Latin text, and the English translation, as well as the Biblical references provided in the excellent Wikipedia article. . .


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

(ref. Isaiah 11:2-3, Isaiah 28:29)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Godspeed, My Children

In the general busy-ness of the season, I find that I have neglected to mention to you all that two of our progeny - 2F and 4M - will be flying off tomorrow morning to spend Christmas with friends in the UK - London, Glasgow and Belfast.  This is the second time in the last three Christmases that they'll have been off-continent.  And, more to the point (at least where Jen and I, and the rest of the family are concerned), apart from us.

Of course, we wish them Godspeed, and joyous times with their friends.  Their friends are our friends, too.  One is a young woman who has shared many a meal with us around our table (and with whom we saw Paul McCartney last summer), who is spending a year in London doing missionary work.  Another is a young man from Glasgow who spent a year-and-a-half in Our Town (and who dearly wanted to see Sir Paul with us, but he got terribly sick the day of the concert; so 4M ended up using his ticket) doing the same thing, and became a close family friend while he was here (at his 'going-home party', one of the kids pasted his face onto a Harry Potter life-size 'cutout', and it has stayed in our dining room for the entire four months since he left).  2F and 4M will carry our greetings, and our love, with them.

2F is actually looking into returning to Europe as a 'missionary' in her own right, and part of the purpose of her trip is to make connections in that regard.  Which thought makes us immensely proud of her, and a little bit sad, to think that she could be so far away from us, for an extended (and possibly indefinite) period of time.  But those things will happen, when one undertakes to live radically for something (Someone) bigger than one's own preferences and comfort.  So you could pray for 2F, that God will give her clear discernment, and open or close the appropriate doors in her path.  And for both of them, that He will 'guard their going-out and their coming-in', and return them safely to the bosom of their family. . .


Could I also solicit your prayers for an immensely perplexing situation in which Jen and I find ourselves?  Without going into detail, I'll just say that two friends of ours are caught in a massive, emotional breach of their relationship.  We are trying hard, 'insofar as it depends on us', to be at peace with both of them, but it's not easy.  Pray that we can maintain friendship with both of them, and that the breach between them can be healed.


Come quickly, Lord Jesus. . .

Sunday, December 11, 2011


The Optimist says the glass is half-full. . .

The Pessimist says the glass is half-empty. . .

The Engineer says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. . .


Among Roman Catholics, today is popularly called Gaudete Sunday (because Catholics like to be all high-falutin' and throw Latin words around all the time, an' stuff; 'gaudete' just means 'rejoice'), the Third Sunday of Advent; the 'rejoicing' being because Advent is (at least) half-over, and it's all downhill to Christmas (so to speak).

Our family traditionally procures our Christmas tree on Gaudete weekend, although we might not set it up for a few days (if it's cold enough outside, we'll just stash it behind the garage), and we won't decorate it until it's at least less than a week 'til Christmas.

But - it's gettin' close. . .

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good Day, Sunshine; or, A Day In the Life

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been considering burning my last day of vacation for 2011 on the first sunny, 40-degree day that came along, so as to sneak in one more ride on my bike before pulling down the curtain on the riding season.  In checking the online weather forecasts, I came to the easy conclusion that yesterday was that day. . .

Besides which, I've piled up a few of those 'getting-ready-for-winter' projects that needed to get done, and the weekends have seemed to fill up with other things (what with Christmas approaching, and all that).  And last week's snowfall was a major warning shot across my bow.  The fact that it melted off so quickly can only be counted to God's mercy. . .

First, I needed a pair of new front tires on my car (in order to hold down the magnitude of single expenditures, I usually buy tires in pairs - fronts and rears, staggered by a few months so as not to hit the budget all at once).  I've known that for a while, and last week's snow served to accentuate the urgency of it.  But it's always a bit of a hassle to pull off.  Weekends, as I said, tend to fill up with other stuff, and it's hard to set aside the 1-2 hours just sitting in the waiting room.  Sometimes, Jen and I will trade cars for the day, so she can cover that detail for me, but her schedule is fuller than it used to be, and it's not such a simple matter for her, either.  So, having the day off, I showed up at the tire store at the opening bell, to get in at the front of the line.  And then, Jen had an errand for me to run, at a store walking distance up the street from the tire place, so I was gainfully engaged while the car was being worked on.  An hour after dropping the car off, I had my new tires, and Jen had some staples restocked in the pantry.

Next was the roof.  Our back roof has always had a pretty significant ice-damming problem, and a key component of our strategy for dealing with that has been a heat tape which we run in a zigzag pattern over the bottom three feet or so of the roof.  But this past spring, we had our back roof re-shingled, and the roofers had to remove the heat tape in order to put the new shingles down (heck, just to get the old shingles off).  So, once the new roof was in place, I needed to re-install the heat tape.  It would have been smart of me to do it in the summertime, or at least the early fall, when the asphalt of the shingles was still reasonably soft and pliable; but I wasn't that smart.  And again, last week's snowfall highlighted the urgency of getting the heat tape done; that the snow melted so quickly was pure grace from God.

So, after I returned from the tire store, I grabbed 5M, and the two of us went to work - he worked on the roof, installing the clips for the tops of the zigzags, while I worked from a ladder along the edge of the roof.  We borrowed 6F's blow-dryer to soften the asphalt in the localized areas where we needed to mount the clips.  The process is a little bit tedious, involving mounting the clips, running the tape through the clips, and then going back and readjusting everything to get the tape where it needs to be, while more-or-less matching the length of the tape to the required coverage area.  It was a bit chilly out - high 30s (F), but the blow-dryer kept our hands warmer than they'd otherwise have been, and the sun was shining.  We finished in a little over an hour, and now our new back roof is ready for winter's onslaught.

Having finished both of those, it was still before 1PM, so there was plenty of time for me to go out on another 17-mile bike ride, which, with the sun shining brightly, was a very happy one, even if it was a few degrees colder than last Saturday's ride had been (and the wind wasn't blowing quite so hard, either, so that was nice, too).  I even had time to ride over to the bike shop when I'd finished my ride, because the ride had exposed my need for a new rear tire on the bike, as well.

I went home, showered, and was preparing to take a short nap, when 7M reminded me that he had a basketball game on the other end of town last night.  With my long commute, I hardly ever get to his week-night games, so I had a rare opportunity, which I was only too happy to take (his team played their worst game of the season, so far, but he seemed reasonably philosophical about it afterward; perhaps my presence helped him reach such equanimity) (or, you know, perhaps my presence had nothing to do with it; who knows?)

So - one solitary vacation day, in the middle of the week, in December.  And what a day it turned out to be. . .

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Miles and Miles to Go. . .

For the last five years (roughly coinciding with my renewed commitment to seriously riding my bike), the weather around the turn from November to December has just been uncanny - within a day either side of the First of December,  we've gotten the first significant snowfall of the year, which stays on the ground, and marks the change in temperatures from generally above freezing to generally below.  Meaning that, once the snow comes to stay, it really stays, and my riding season is effectively ended.  Five years in a row.  You'd think that, one of those years, the Sender of Snow would slack off just long enough for me to sneak in a quick 15 or 20 miles on the 3rd, or the 5th maybe, but no dice.

So when we had a run of warm weekends this November, I was hopeful that maybe this year, winter would hold off a few days, and I'd be able to get a few December miles in.  And all the moreso, since, as of Thanksgiving weekend, I was at 1388 miles for the year, and it would only take a dozen miles for me to pass 1400.

But, when I checked the weather forecast Tuesday afternoon, Our Town was predicted to get 6-10 inches of snow.  Which is a lot of snow, especially for the first real snow of the season.  I took my laptop home from work, and made arrangements to work from home on Wednesday if the forecast proved accurate.  Which it did.  The snow started falling Tuesday evening, as I was maybe 20 miles from home at the end of my commute, and it snowed hard all night and into Wednesday morning.  When we went out to shovel the sidewalk and driveway, by golly, there was anywhere from six to ten inches of wet, heavy snow on the ground.

So I called my boss, and told him I'd be staying home.  He seemed surprised, since where he lived, they'd only gotten a bit more than an inch.  So I checked the weather map online, and it turned out that the 'snow belt' ran right up the middle of Michigan's mitten, virtually centered on Our Town.  Fifty miles to the east, or fifty miles to the west of us, barely an inch of snow fell, but from the Ohio/Indiana border, running right up the middle of Michigan, it was 6-10.

So I just laughed, and noted ruefully that Wednesday was the Last Day of November.  Right on schedule.  But Wednesday itself was a pretty warm day, with high temperatures going into the 40s (Fahrenheit), so even by the time we went to bed on Wednesday, there was quite a bit less snow on the ground than there had been that morning.  Our street, which is only two blocks long, and a dead end, never did get plowed, but by the end of Wednesday, we had no problem getting in and out with our cars.  So, for a 6-10-inch snowfall, it was pretty benign, as such things go.

But of course, there's a big difference between what you can reasonably drive a car through, and what you can reasonably ride a bike in.  Patches of ice aren't that big a deal in a car, but on a bike they can be treacherous.  And, riding as we do along the edge of the pavement, if the snow significantly impinges on the available pavement, it quickly becomes a pretty dicey situation, sharing even less pavement than usual with the motorized vehicles, which are ten times heavier, and at least three times faster, than I am.  So I was not particularly hopeful that I would be able to get a real, outdoors-on-the-pavement ride in.

Thursday and Friday were warm-ish (for December), with high temperatures in the upper 30s (F), which is above freezing, but won't turn snow into water at a very rapid rate.  Plus, we got maybe another half-inch or so over Thurday night.

Yesterday morning, it was overcast, but again in the low 40s.  I wasn't optimistic, but I really wanted to ride.  So, after my usual round of morning errands, I decided to reconnoiter the route I would take if I did ride.  And I found that the pavement, for the most part, was clear and dry, especially on the country back roads that I'd mainly be riding on.  The busier country roads all have paved shoulders, and even those were clear.  The biggest problems were all in the city, and they were manageable, if I just exercised some common-sensical caution.

So I scurried home, got into my 40-degree riding gear (regular riding gear, with an extra pair of wool socks, sweat pants, and a blaze-orange hoodie, and real gloves with fingers and everything) and got out on the road.  I had a great ride (especially once I got out of town) - 17 miles, brisk fresh air, and no significant issues with the motor-vehicles.  My heart, lungs, and legs hummed happily along, and I even got home in time to get to 7M's basketball game (and before the rain started).

So it's 1405 and counting.  I've got one more vacation day left for this year, and I'm thinking of burning it on a 40+-degree day, should one pop up in the middle of the week, and get one more ride in, before I pack it in for the winter, and take my bike for its annual winter tune-up.

Man, this is just more fun than a human being ought to be allowed to have. . .


And alas, my Spartans went down to defeat in the Inaugural Big Ten Championship game last night.  Great game, if you didn't care who won; we've had a few of those with the Badgers, in recent years.


Honestly, though, in August, I'd never have expected us to be this good again.  I figured we'd be good, but our graduation losses from last year's co-championship team, along with a really gruelling schedule, seemed to portend a small regression, at least in the wins and losses.  But here we were, playing for another conference championship.  Whaddya know. . . maybe, just maybe, we're becoming pretty good.

Wouldn't that be fun?