Autograph Adventures with Elliot and Cor

Road Trippin' podcast LIVE from Town Hall

More with Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton for a special live edition of the Road Trippin' podcast from Townhall before our Cleveland Cavaliers playoff coverage begins Saturday.

Posted by FOX Sports Ohio on Thursday, April 13, 2017

This evening my kids and I got to visit a live broadcast of one of our favorite podcasts: Road Trippin’ with RJ and Channing — featuring two players from the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers — and there was some extra-special interaction between our family and the stars.

Check out the video from 08:45 to 10:30 for some special love for Cor and Elliot, including Channing’s identification with Cor’s braces, indulging Cor with some special autograph-signing, shooting down Elliot for some special autograph-signing (though they more than made up for it later on), and a surprisingly-lasting impression upon the Fox Sports Ohio reporter who met them at a home game earlier this year.

Elliot also gets to pose a question (and a pretty interesting one at that) to the players on the video, from 19:22 to 20:30. It was a true dream-come-true for the boys.

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Olivia was a good sport through the whole process, so I took her to Mitchell’s Ice Cream (just two storefronts over) during the middle part of the broadcast. That was pretty special for the two of us to enjoy, too.

And we even made it back to Townhall in time for the boys to get some autographs and photographs at the conclusion of the broadcast.

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It was a pretty special night. Totally spontaneous. Totally out-of-the-ordinary. But totally worth it.

Posted in Children, Recommended Listening, Recommended Viewing, Recreation, Sports | Comments Off on Autograph Adventures with Elliot and Cor

In-Ex-plicable

My best friend says I’m wrong.

“You’re not an introvert,” he says, even though I’ve self-identified as such for most of my life. (The most basic definition of an introvert is a person who gains energy from being alone and loses energy in stimulating environments, such as social events). I’ve long recognized that I gravitate toward the middle of the spectrum between introversion and extroversion, but I feel like I’m more typically recharged by time to myself or within a few close relationships.

Still, my friend’s comment makes me wonder.

On the one hand, he can’t possibly know what it feels like to be me. He’s more introverted, himself, so of course I appear further toward the extroverted end of the spectrum in comparison to him — but how does he get off telling me that I’m inaccurately assessing my own personality type? On the other hand, he has known me for twenty years. We’re best friends. We’ve roomed together. We’ve regularly interacted across a wide variety of cultures, situations, social contexts, and professional environments. So he may well be more qualified to make such a judgment than one might think.

I decided to gauge my energy levels this weekend, before and after different kinds of activity or inactivity, trying to figure out what results in gain or loss.

It’s a bit of an unusual weekend in which to experiment and observe because Marci, my life partner and constant companion, is out of town for a linguistics conference — but then again, being the only adult in the house also provides me with opportunities to direct the flow of events to my preferences. “Am I an introvert? Or am I an extrovert? Let’s see…”

Late on Friday afternoon, after finishing my last scheduled activity before the weekend, I start with some time reading in bed. Definitely a check in the “introverted” column. I read some sports news on my smartphone. I flip through the pages of a magazine. I lie on my back and look up through the skylight to the deep blue skies and swaying tree branches. I pick up the phone again to check world news. I finish another article in the magazine. Energy levels are definitely rising.

When my kids end up tromping into the room, though, I’m not disappointed. It doesn’t feel like a break in the reverie. It feels like a welcome diversion. Is this a sign of introversion or extroversion? We talk about Elliot’s autograph collection, Olivia’s choice of outfits for her musical performance the next day. We discuss our plans for the evening and make sure we’ve got all our bases covered for the weekend (knowing that Marci usually plays a critical role in our family juggling act). It’s fun and relaxed. I continue to feel energized. I’m excited about the weekend, even though it will be a more active weekend than usual. Maybe I’m an extrovert after all!

Around 6:00 PM, we all trundle downstairs, find our coats and shoes, and pile into the car for a drive up to Broadview Heights (45 minutes away). I start up a playlist from my smartphone and get lost in the music. Every so often, I’ll interact with the kids in the backseat. We’ll sing a song together. But when John Denver starts singing about the way that “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy,” I feel a deep agreement. My energy levels continue to rise — which would seem to be a mark of introversion — but I’m also looking forward to the social scene toward which we are driving, which would seem to be a mark of extroversion.

When we get to Broadview Heights, we step into a foreign environment. We meet about ten new people, first thing when we walk in the door. Over the course of the next hour, we meet another hundred, perhaps. The majority of them are from the Middle East. Arabic. After some socialization and an ice-breaker, we receive instruction in how to enjoy a Bedouin feast, using our fingers to eat from the communal dish of rice and chicken in the middle of the mat on the floor. I’m genuinely intrigued to soak up every bit of culture I can get. “What’s the best technique to keep from scattering rice all over myself and my surroundings?” And, “Why do men and women eat separately?” I enjoy hearing the perspectives, traditions, and stories from these new friends. But there are times when I find myself retreating to the perimeter of the room, the classic wallflower: actively observing and listening in on conversations, but clearly different from my Elliot (“The Most Extroverted Man in the World”), who’s always in the thick of things. Elliot is clearly energized by the whole environment. He would gladly stay all night, but I’m secretly grateful when my younger children’s repeated questions of “When are we leaving?” allow me an escape valve. On the drive home from Broadview Heights, I realize that I’m happy and fulfilled from all the night’s activities. But energy has been lost in the course of the evening.

When Saturday dawns, sun-soaked and silent, I’m delighted to wake up slowly, in solitude. The kids sleep in, so I have time to read in bed for awhile, look up through the skylight, rest a bit longer, get up to unload the dishwasher, eat some breakfast, start a load of laundry, and read the Saturday edition of the Akron Beacon Journal — all completely by myself. My energy is completely rebounded from the previous evening, and then some.

I send a text to my best friend, confirming that my kids and I will be coming to the birthday party his family is planning for his daughter. I’m excited about that. Perhaps another check in the “Extrovert” column. It’s genuinely fun for me when my kids wake up, one-by-one, and make their way to the kitchen for some breakfast. I appreciate their company, but I also don’t mind taking a break from them to shave and shower. We all get in the car to drive Elliot to his soccer practice, and then Olivia, Cor, and I head to Panera for our regular Saturday morning ritual. I feel more energized than I’ve felt in weeks.

It’s a slight hit on the energy counter when we linger in the Five and Below shop, Olivia working to pick out a birthday present, and then again when we have to wait ten minutes in the high school gymnasium, as Elliot finishes up his soccer practice.

Still I’m feeling fresh and friendly, as we arrive at the birthday party. It’s fun to catch up with the grown-ups while the kids run around with each other. It seems that my energy levels peak right around the time that we’re eating lunch — and from there, it’s a slow loss of energy through the dessert conversation… through Olivia’s two performances at the Ohio Music Education Association’s Solo and Ensemble event at the local middle school… through taking care of household chores and running Elliot to another birthday party for one of his peers… through making dinner… into the evening hours. I feel like it’s been a good day — a genuinely delightful day off — but I also start to look forward to the kids’ bedtime.

I spend some time at the computer, blogging about the weekend, and it occurs to me that even in this solitary act of introspection I’m validating my “Introvert Identity Card.” I still think I’m somewhat borderline, as I review the ebbs and flows of my weekend. Ultimately, though, I find I’m most refreshed by the intermittent solitude. I actually appreciate the fact that it’s intermittent — but clearly it’s the time alone that fuels the time with people.

I consider calling or texting my best friend to tell him about my conclusions. But I decide against it. “Too much human interaction right now,” I think to myself. I can tell him when I see him tomorrow.

Posted in Introspection, Recreation | Comments Off on In-Ex-plicable

Spring Break ’17

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I’ll never forget the rush of adrenaline and air blowing through the windows of our vehicle, as we hurtled down the Interstate, south toward Florida.

“SPRING BREAK ’97!” We yelled into the night air. It was a battle cry throughout the entire week with three other friends from college. We had so much fun reveling in each other’s company, enjoying good food, tropical temperatures, random encounters with strangers, a spring training baseball game, and a whole bunch of other spontaneous adventures…

“But what will it be like to try this with a wife, three kids, another family of five, and five students from Kent State University?” I wondered as we made the drive through the night last weekend. The fifteen-hour drive allowed for a lot of thought and prayer for Spring Break ’17.

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Just before sunrise on Saturday morning, we took a slight detour from our route to watch the sun rise over the ocean at St. Augustine, Florida. It promotes itself as the oldest city in North America, which was interesting and ironic because we were on our way to Orlando to spend our week with the newest H2O church plant at the University of Central Florida.

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It’s such a beautiful thing to travel a thousand miles away and still find community. Family. Even though most of the members of our two teams had never met each other prior to this week, we quickly became friends. Brothers and sisters, even. A lot of this bonding happened through laboring together: Unloading production equipment at seven o’clock on Sunday morning… Handing out flyers on campus…

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Helping to maintain H2O’s weekly rhythms… Pitching in together for service projects…

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Discussing and developing strategy for ministry, together… Looking back, it’s kind of amazing all that we were able to squeeze into our week there in Orlando!

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But we also had a lot of fun: Eating some of the best barbecue we’ve ever had… Swimming like manatees in crystal clear spring water at the Blue Spring State Park… Laughing and telling stories around the hot tub at the end of a long day… Taking in a baseball game together on a gorgeous spring night…

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It was definitely a week to remember! There is so much potential at the University of Central Florida. It’s currently the largest university in the United States, with 63,000 students roaming around a beautiful campus of concentric circles with all kinds of interesting spaces for people to meet and interact.

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It was an honor to be in on the “ground floor” of this new movement on campus, with H2O. We’re praying for God to multiply their efforts 100-fold in the years to come.

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Regardless of what sprouts from the seeds we scattered behind us at the University of Central Florida, I’m convinced that one of the most meaningful elements of our trip to Florida for Spring Break ’17 was God’s work in the hearts of our team from Kent. I’m so, so proud of the way that Rachel, Kairie, Josh, Scott, and Lindsay (as well as our Staff families) leaned into our objectives for the week. They brought inestimable energy and enthusiasm to H2O and the University of Central Florida. They gained first-hand experience in the weird, wacky, wearying, and wonderful work of collegiate church planting. They forged deep relationships that will carry them through the rest of their college years and beyond — perhaps even continuing to yield spiritual fruit by Spring Break ’37!

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Our Spring Break experience was fantastic — everything it’s supposed to be. We absolutely reveled in each other’s company. We enjoyed some really good food (especially 4 Rivers Barbecue!). The tropical temperatures, with sunshine and highs in the 80s every day, were a delightful break from the cool and rainy conditions in Kent. We made so many new friends: Ashlyn, Agustina, Ethan, Will, Matt, Savannah, Brendon, Arik, Hannah, Joseph, Marlon, Kevin, Jasper, Julio, Nick, Max, Angelica, Rosie, Dennis, Stefan, Own, Greg, Briana, Maddy, Krishannamarie, Bryce, Knightro (to name just a few)… It was epic. (And in case you’re interested, all of my pictures from the week have been been posted in an on-line album).

But I will say that it’s also good to be back in Ohio, getting a bit of a break from our Break before classes start up again and we sprint to the finish of another school year at Kent State University.

Posted in Church, H2O Kent, Photography, Prayer, The Bible, The United States of America, Travel | Tagged | Comments Off on Spring Break ’17

To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 15th Birthday

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Dear Elliot,

I hate to procrastinate, but I didn’t get the chance to sit down and start writing this letter until 11:00 PM on the evening before your birthday (and I didn’t get to finish it until a week later!)! Our Spring “Break” has been filled with interactions, activities, and autograph-chasing, and I just feel like I haven’t been able to catch my breath — much less put thoughts into words — until late at night, in the stillness of a borrowed moment at a borrowed desk, and in scattered moments thereafter.

It’s been that kind of week. It’s been that kind of year.

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Your transition to high school (together with your mother’s transition into graduate school) has felt chaotic at times. How did we ever manage to keep things together through that frenzied fall of soccer games and marching band performances and Expedition Academy excursions?!? It was crazy-making! I don’t do well with that kind of cacophony and chaos.

You, however, thrive under those conditions.

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You seem to grow stronger under siege. You become invigorated by the crush of activities. Your enthusiasm grows through the thousands of conversations with friends (and strangers for that matter!). Your spirit is stirred by action and adventure, not stillness. And as different as your mode of operation may be from my own, I want you to know that I really admire the way you work. I’m proud to call you my son.

There’s a verse in the Bible (Matthew 11:12) which says the kingdom of heaven is advancing forcefully, and forceful men take hold of it. And even though I still sometimes wonder at the meaning of this verse, it’s clear that our world is a tumultuous place. Chaos is far more common than calm — still, God’s Kingdom advances in spite of the challenges, and we play a role in this advance through these tumultuous times. Having seen you in action over the course of the last year — taking the initiative and striking up conversations with people from Boulder to Cleveland to Memphis to Orlando — it really strikes me that you are a man of action, a force of nature, a potentially-key player in these tumultuous times. So I’m praying that God will guide you in the year (and years) to come.

Your forcefulness can be one of your greatest strengths. You’re a natural leader. You won’t just sit idly by, while problems persist; you do something about them. You have a direct approach and boldness that astonishes me — yet people respond remarkably well to that boldness: smiles, high-fives, favors, a shooting sleeve from LeBron James, a signed basketball from Russell Westbrook… Keep up the good work, my son. God wants to use that leadership and boldness for the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 4:18-20) — and as you follow Him, there’s no telling what you may one day accomplish.

At the same time, I just want to remind you that our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses are often closely related.

Thus, it’s good for you to realize that your forcefulness can also be one of your greatest weaknesses. As you grow in your leadership and boldness, you will also do well to grow in your consideration for others. Listen well (James 1:19). Cultivate patience and self-control, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Love whole-heartedly (Matthew 22:37-40). And if you can keep those supplemental skills in mind, going forward: May the force be with you!

I love you, Elliot. More than words could ever convey. I love your creativity, your quirkiness, your intelligence, your spiritual sensitivity, your transparency, your responsibility. And all the intangibles, too. I love you for being you. Your points of distinction from others in your family, or in your classes, or on your sports teams — those differences are delightful! Stay strong in the grace of Christ Jesus, my son (2 Timothy 2:1).

It’s important for you to know that I trust you, too. Even as we get closer to the time when you’re driving cars and going out on dates and getting invited to parties, I genuinely believe you’ll be ready to accept the responsibilities that go along with these privileges, in time. Your mother and I are here for you, as you need us. Still, we’re doing our best to bless you and release you to become the person God has made you to be. We named you after a pioneer, an initiator, a hero… So go! Blaze new trails! Initiate as God leads you! Practice heroism in the big things and small things of everyday life!

Happy Birthday, Elliot. I’m praying that this year will be your best year yet.

Much love and prayer,
Dad

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Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever

We brought back the magic of 1977 to celebrate my 40th Birthday this past weekend. There was lots of great food, great disco music, great fashions, and great stories shared by all.

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But naturally, the best part of the whole evening was my friends and family who came to share the occasion with me. Many of them took advantage of the opportunity to pop into our makeshift “Photo Booth” for a snapshot — and even though not all of the pictures have been processed yet, I wanted to post some of my favorite “early returns.”

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All the pictures are turning out beautifully, but for the sake of concision, I thought I’d pick ten of the ones that really stood out… Like the above shot of two vintage-1970s, stone-cold killers: Rick Asp and Jack Slack…

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Or these crazy kids, who kept the party thumping with their moves on the dance floor…

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My sister came in a fabulous fur coat (originally worn during the 1970s by our Grandma Liechty), and the dress she wore was hand-made by our mother during the same era! She wore the 1970s fashions well!

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I’m not sure how true-to-the-period my little Cor’s thrift store selections were, but he still looked fabulous to me…

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Our friends from H2O Kent helped to bring a really fun energy to the party. And it was just beautiful to see people from so many different social circles — neighbors, colleagues, church friends, family members — come together for a fun evening of “Saturday Night Fever” on my behalf.

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My Dad probably caused the greatest surprise of the night, when he walked in with brown hair and a brown mustache (he’s usually marked by distinguished white hair and no whiskers)! It was so fun to have my parents there: especially seeing how they were the only other people who were there for the original event in February of 1977.

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The real MVP of the night, though, was undoubtedly my wife, Marci. She put in a lot of work — in the midst of a very busy stretch of the semester — to make sure we planned and prepared adequately for such an event.

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There are more pictures — and I will soon be adding even more — available to view and download in an on-line album I’ve set up on Flickr. Once I get the whole collection, I’ll also post some more to my social media accounts. For the time being, though, I just want to register a big THANK YOU to everyone who came out and made my 40th birthday such a special event. Keep the Fever burning!

Posted in Family, Home, Kent, Photography, Recreation, Transition | Comments Off on Saturday Night Fever

Best President’s Day Ever

UntitledPresident’s Day is not typically a great holiday.

I mean, the day seems to be nice enough for school-children and government employees (who get the day off), as well as for people who sell cars or furniture (who seem to make a big deal out of the opportunity to move inventory). But for most of us, President’s Day is quite forgettable.

This year, though, something magic was in the air.

Over the weekend, I started my annual tradition of gradually whittling down my Christmas-to-Birthday Beard — and my first step was an unusual look I call the “Chester Arthur.” He was the 21st President of the United States of America, but it may well be that one of the most significant elements of his legacy has become his facial hair: seamlessly linking sideburns and a handlebar moustache. I’ve gotten some funny looks over the last couple of days — especially from my own children — but it’s been fun!

The real fun, however, happened this afternoon. After I got home from my last meeting of the day, I found our neighborhood buzzing with all kinds of activity. The sun was shining. The air was fresh and mild. The boys of the neighborhood were playing soccer across three yards. The girls were selling iced tea on the sidewalk. And the adults were all centered around our neighbors’ driveway, where they were boiling down maple sap into maple syrup: another 19th Century anachronism that proved surprisingly delightful on a day such as today.

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I was welcomed into the circle and served a drink. We watched the littlest ones show off their new skills in walking and talking, far advanced beyond the point on the calendar when we were all driven inside for the winter. We laughed deep belly laughs at stories of our kids, our associations with the 1970s, and the maple syrup experiment unfolding in front of us. We arbitrated disputes between our children. We caught up on all the latest news from each other’s lives.

We had to troubleshoot the syrup-making process a couple of times, but we had such a good time enjoying the process together. I don’t know how the syrup will end up tasting, but the experience was sweet enough in its own right — and you could say that it definitely brought our neighborhood to a point where we stick together, like a stack of flapjacks.

It was easily the best President’s Day I can remember. But already, I’m looking forward to the next one.

Posted in Family, Home, Kent, Recreation | Comments Off on Best President’s Day Ever

The Netherlands Welcomes Trump in His Own Words

This video is a brilliant example of satire: across cultures, across linguistic divides, and across political ideologies. I’m seriously impressed with the way the comedy was executed in a way that makes sense to both Dutch audiences and American audiences. The degree of difficulty for something like this is quite high — still, it’s executed quite effectively.

I’ve felt tongue-tied since Election Day: very concerned about the rhetoric coming from Donald Trump, but also quite concerned about the rhetoric coming from those who disagree with him. I guess sometimes it just works best to say it with satire.

Posted in American Politics, Culture, Dutch Politics, Politics, Recommended Viewing, The Netherlands, The United States of America | Comments Off on The Netherlands Welcomes Trump in His Own Words

MLK Day

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On our way to visit my brother and his family in Texas for New Year’s, we had the chance to spend a day in Memphis and visit the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, in 1968. The former motel has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum, and I was impressed with how they provided the context and the consequences of Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for civil rights. (I’d highly recommend a visit to the museum, if you ever get the chance).

I’m so white I used to see “MLK Day” on the school calendar and wonder why they made a special day for drinking milk. I still feel clueless a lot of the time, when it comes to truly understanding and meaningfully engaging with the struggles that people of color face in our culture today.

But I want to keep learning and growing.

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Certainly, I believe that part of the process of learning and growing comes from studying history. Even more than grasping the basic facts and timelines of the civil rights movement, though, I think it helps to experience the struggle. Walking a mile or two in another person’s shoes goes a long way toward making sense of their world. A day at the museum is a good place to start, but it can’t stop there.

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I gained sympathy toward Mexican immigrants to the United States when I was an immigrant, fighting through all the red tape that a government throws up to keep me out. I understood an element of the awkwardness that many African-Americans in the United States experience, as minorities, when I lived in a neighborhood where a majority of the residents were Berber Muslims. On so many different levels, I see how our Amsterdam years were good for us.

But how can I continue to learn and grow, now that I’m back in Ohio, back in the majority, back in the place of power and privilege?

We’ve still got a lot of work to do.

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Posted in American Politics, Culture, Introspection, Leadership, Social Issues, The United States of America | Comments Off on MLK Day

Flying South for the Winter

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Ever since my struggles with seasonal depression in northern Europe, I’ve become a big proponent of “flying south” for the winter: even if just for a week or two. It’s really amazing how much some regular exercise, some vitamin supplements, and some extra sunshine and rest can help with beating the winter blues.

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A couple of days after Christmas, our family loaded up our minivan for a long drive south and west: to visit my brother and his family in north-central Texas.

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We got to watch my nephew play in a basketball tournament. We played hours of basketball with the boys on the court in my brother’s backyard, while the girls took a trip to visit the Magnolia Market in Waco. We played family games every night. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Stockyards in Fort Worth, and the Civil War battlegrounds in Vicksburg. We ate elaborate homemade breakfasts and some really good southern barbecue (one incredible meal at Central City Barbecue in Memphis, and another even better meal at Cooper’s Barbecue in Fort Worth!). We brought in the New Year with many of our favorite people in the world.

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It was delightful.

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Now we’re back in Ohio. We’ve packed up all our Christmas decorations. We’ve gone back to work and school. We’ve carried on with life while the temperatures have plunged far below freezing, down around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Yet somehow, it all feels bearable because we’ve stocked up on sunshine and smiles. There are still many weeks of winter to come, but we’re going to survive.

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