Monday, December 28, 2015

Finding Christmas...At This Second

This year I tried to find my Christmas spirit.

I don't really even know what 'Christmas spirit' means, because it's been defined so many times. 

Here's what I'm finding it for me...that it's defined in individual seconds of time.

It's about focusing on the light in the darkness...not only with the decorations my wife so wonderfully creates, but in my own life. I do realize my 'dark' is pretty bright compared to others I know, but it doesn't stop me from not enjoying what I have...

....but as I discover through these photos:  Without darkness, the light around me wouldn't be so cherished

Snow. I love snow with outside lights.

Nothing really deep here, I just feel at peace when I'm out in a gentle snow with Christmas lights on.

I get emotional when I see this one. There's something about the color red in the winter night lit by Christmas lights. Maybe its telling me to focus. That I get so distracted I can't enjoy simple, essential experiences.

Sometimes Christmas time is bleak. Many times I feel how this photo looks. While this photo is just a longer exposure of a gentle snow, it brings a notion of it turns out, it was taken just about the same time I learned of an old high school friend whose husband suddenly died in a work accident. I don't have words for her but all I can do is try to appreciate what I have this second.

...and then there's this dog. This 30 pound animal has found a way to dig a hole so deep in our hearts and settle in there for all time. In one breath I love it and hate it...knowing that she'll be around a couple handfuls of Christmases. 

...again, cherish what I have this second

Cactus bites...a favorite appetizer that our kids make.

My girlies are growing, maturing, and surprising me with their awesomeness. They have the world waiting for them!

All kids...proud of each one...every one has their strengths and while I keep saying "I can't wait to see what unfolds", I should be just saying "So grateful for this second with them". Because while planning is important, cherishing what is happening at this second is most important...and something I've failed to teach them.

...of course, the next second, they are not posed, but reflect their natural state :-)

Our whole family...quite a year, and we are all least for the moment.

Of course the dog wonders why she's not the center of attention :-)

Finally, my oldest finding joy in his 18 year love of legos...

In the end, I found that each second can hold its own expression of Christmas Spirit...from fun, to thoughtful, to sad, to an overwhelming feeling of contentment that I really don't need anything, that everything I long for is right here.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Back In The Game

December 11th was the first gymnastics meet I saw of my 9th grade daughter since she started high school gymnastics (competing varsity level). After a rough previous year at club gymnastics, and a lot of injuries, I was extra excited to see her compete. 

Of course I brought my camera.  It was so fun to capture...

The poise she brings to the floor:

(click photo for larger gallery view)

The way she floats across the vault:

Suspends herself in mid-air:

Focuses on her lines during her routines:

Her team - the support and camaraderie...and smiles!


Now I try to pick the 'best' shots, but as I look at her performance, there are other great shots of her so figured why not show those as well, like...

Running to the vault:

 Leaping up and forward to snap herself off the vault:

 High on the bars:

 Spinning and landing:

 This seemed like too many shots but I couldn't decide which one to cut. each one has its own uniqueness:

 More suspending in air...this time in a pike position:

 Running all-out to get to tumbling speed:

I've always loved this pose:

and her flexibility:

 ...and of course I love capturing my Julia:

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Now THAT's a Proper Birthday - 2015 Amy Grant - Michael W Smith Concert

I was a pretty lame husband this last week.

I know my wife and I say we'd rather not succumb to the shallow, "Gimme a great birthday experience" as a measurement of each others's love...


We both feel pretty blue if the other doesn't put some effort into our birthday days.

Well, I didn't do a thing. Although we both knew we had tickets to a great concert the next night, it still didn't help her actual day...not to mention that other events made my wife's birthday pretty darned awful!

So I had a chance to offer her a "Birthday Do-over".
  • Drove to Minnetonka to see her old pottery teacher (who happens to be a world-famous potter) and buy some pot(tery)
  • Went to Outback Steakhouse for early appetizers
  • Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith concert
  • After-show drinks and dessert at Loon cafe
  • Night in hotel with FREE breakfast after a sleep-in morning
  • Meandering walk around Mall of America
It was quite a fantastic evening. The only glitch was the crazy security screening at Target Center...45 minutes of endless lines to get through metal detectors...horrible organization...and ended up missing 2 opening songs.

But as we rushed in, and it was as if Mike and Amy were looking our way, saying "Welcome. Glad you made it! You're going to love this"

They traded singing favorite Christmas songs, they sang and played together on songs they co-wrote or played on "back then". They both seemed quite emotional as the songs they played brought memories, possible regrets, thoughts of family who are no longer here, and their relationship to their Savior was very much present.

What a fantastic night.

...and it was with a full orchestra!

From what Amy said, the front of stage was the touring band, and the back of stage were local musicians. That was pretty cool, too.

A highlight: When they both sang Christmas carols and had us sing along. We all got out our LED phone flashlights...and it was a magical site...hearing the audience sing along, feeling the love and community...wonderful.

After, we ended up at The Loon continue the great night, and to let the parking traffic die down...and to have a really awesome nachos with top shelf margarita and whisky manhattan. While this is the least in-focus photo, it might be my favorite of the night...a happy wife...

...with a grateful husband.

Here's to life!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Weekend of Extremes

Every once in a while a cosmic singularity occurs in our marriage...

...a series of events that make a single weekend a blessed encounter where nothing else exists except and her...together exploring the world's awesomeness...

A few weekends ago (November 13th) was one of them:

  • Our groupie band, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers was playing in St Paul
  • My work travel stopped and provided points for a fancy-dancy hotel
  • Our kids were away at camp (the three littles at a weekend church camp, and the oldest at a 20 week Military Police camp)
  • The dog was at grammas
  • The weather ... November! ... was warm enough for our Miata 

...and when it was all over, it was one of the best weekends ever for us, but I couldn't help but think about the extremes that surrounded this weekend...for some reason we were in the middle of this cosmic singularity protecting us and providing us this glorious weekend, while extremes could have meant the exact

Roger Clyne vs. the opening 'band'
While I always enjoy hearing RCPM, the band was extra-awesome this weekend.

...which was completely opposite of the opening band. I won't even write their name in the off chance that the Google will link this blog to their internet presence. They were beyond bad...disgusting? vile? I've actually never been embarrassed for a band before. Sure I've heard angry bands who make a statement...but this duo was just sickening.

Maybe once Roger and crew took the stage the difference between the bands was why I was so impressed with RCPM, but I think there was more to it. They were recording every show so that may have pushed them, but to me, it was like they met earlier in August and said, "We're sounding pretty darn good...lets see how good we can actually get". Each song had nuances I hadn't heard before...syncopated hits, guitar riffs, the bass and kick drum were more in sync than ever, and vocals were great!

We left overflowing with happiness...and happened to find their bus and thought it would be cool to measure the extreme difference of our traveling vehicles :-)

Flowers vs. Dormant Grasses
We went to the Como Zoo conservatory. Inside was lush, flower, beautiful...whereas outside was approaching winter. Everything inside was colorful, alive, vibrant, whereas everything outside was brown, dormant.

Normally, November can be brutally cold...not really in temps, but in combination of damp, cold, windy...yuk.  But THIS November weekend was superb!! 55-60, sunny, calm, no need for jacket, simply delightful!

Safety Vs. Danger
We were always safe. St. Paul is a great city, and the RCPM fans, us 'Peacemakers', are kind, supportive and awesome. We all gathered for a concert to listen to our favorite band and rock out with a bit of tequila and amazing musicians.

This was in stark contrast to fans in Paris who on that SAME NIGHT also went to a concert to listen to their favorite band and rock out...only to be attacked and many killed. This was awful on so many levels, but to me it was especially bad since it was during something I love so much...listening to awesome, live music with a community of like-minded fans.

Commitment Vs. Slumps
We saw Bonsai trees that have been in training for many, many years, and have been living for even longer. The level of commitment is stunning to me...and I should know.

I used to own around 30 Bonsai trees at various levels of training. Over time some of them died due to mysteries, and others died due to my mistakes. But last year I had a down period and I just gave up on my last two. One I had for 20 years and it was alive for probably 30 years. My hard-heartedness still surprises me that I'd just give up on it and let it freeze.

But for a moment I was able to stand in the presence of wonderful Bonsai that have been lovingly cared for...and it inspired me, and reminded me that anything truly remarkable takes time, takes commitment, and takes grit to push through low times because the result can be awe-inspiring.

Superstition vs. Reality
I didn't even think that it was Friday the 13th. While I'm not superstitious, it still impressed me how the reality of the weekend was so outstanding...that it completely wiped out any thought that it could have been a weekend of disaster, dread, or 'bad things gonna happen'.

But then again, that was our reality...and the reality of others was, in fact, filled with disaster, dread, and countless bad things.

I guess in the end, all I can be thankful for is our reality. That our weekend was filled with extreme love, music, beauty, craftsmanship, outstanding service, food, and above all, the weekend was with an amazing wife that I get to spend all my days (and nights) with.

Here's to life!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Impact of a Military Police Graduation

It seems I can, for the first time, freely express my thoughts about my son's MP basic and advanced training.  I have so much to get out, but for some reason didn't want to jinx it or make any statement that might have some irrational cosmic effect on our amazing son who is now a Military Police Soldier.

First - graduation; Then - the impact it had

Graduation Week
What a week...what an experience for us to get the smallest glimpse of what he's been through.

As we arrived to Fort Leonard Wood, we saw the company flags

These alone brought emotions since we saw them over and over during key phases on the company's Facebook page, but now could see them for real.

Once we entered the field house for Family day, we saw all 200 or so soldiers, completely focused and still...and they stayed there for over an hour. The drill sergeants were close, and I assumed hawkishly monitoring their discipline for no movement. Some parents got really close and took at a wax museum! One soldier made a twitch, and once the parents left, the drill sergeant swooped in and gave them a stern talking-to.

We heard a short presentation...and then the soldiers were dismissed. The first hug could not come fast enough...

...and was a fitting bookend to when we last saw each other 5 months earlier:

It was so great to have the family together again, and the smiles seemed genuine all around

I couldn't wait to take some photos of him with places that mattered to him so we took pictures of....

His company and platoon flags:

Him and his mother outside the Military Police Museum:

...and in front of the steps leading up to his barracks he spent 20 weeks living in. These steps are where his bus dropped him off at the beginning of Basic Training, and where, he said, "this is where I I heard my drill sergeant's voice for the first time".

After we dropped him off at battalion headquarters, we did get a quick shot of him and some fellow soldiers just before their last night of cleaning and  (as we learned later) very little sleep ... kind of a end of training hang out.

Graduation Day
The next morning was graduation ceremony. Full of emotion. The videos, the speeches, but especially the cadences they chant as they march. Some were fun, "Proud Mary", but some were super sad and thought provoking, "Jonny" - where a soldier performs admirably, ends up jumping onto a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, who later we learn had a new child he never knew.

2nd Platoon marched up, and each soldier shouted their name and home town: Our soldier makes us so proud!!!

At the end, the master drill sergeant shouted, "COMPANY",

...and that was it. 20 weeks of the hardest, fiercest, best, worst, most memorable experience he's ever had ... over with a simple dismissal.

We did get a shot with his favorite drill sergeant. From a Dad's perspective, I couldn't have asked for anyone better...he wasn't even the platoon's drill sergeant, but was one that understood my son...looked past his initial quiet demeanor and saw the quality-soldier he could be.

With a final family photo, we were finally able to take our soldier home to his next adventure

...we did capture a few photos of friends he made

And some the 5 days he spend in the fields being a gunner on top of a HUMVEE just like this:

In the end, our family is together again

Our grown and growing kids:

and our amazing, can't believe our awesome family

The Impact

...and what do I think of all this?

I am so proud of my son. He's accomplished and proven himself (to others, and more himself) more in these 20 weeks than most do in 20 years. He's had to pull himself out of failure and into success in such visceral ways that no matter what happens in his future he can look back and say, "Oh, yeah, this is nothing like that time in Basic".

He is the finest example of a respectful, smart, capable young man I can find. He is part of a brotherhood that takes him farther, makes him better, pushes him harder, demands his best, offers respect and demands respect ... and creates a bond between humans that most of us can't even comprehend.

I truly wish every young man and woman in this country would partake in this training. Not that everyone needs to be a soldier, but just imagine if everyone learned how to do more than they thought they could, learned discipline, grit, respect, honor, how to be humble...even with...or especially with lethal skills, and how to work with all walks of life, culture, economic background to work as a team and accomplish a mission for the greater good.

Thank you,  787th Military Police Battalion Delta Company...for protecting, training, breaking, building, improving, and giving my son clarity, commitment, confidence, and a sense of belonging he'll have his whole life.

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