I turned 44 yesterday. And honestly: it felt great. I got to enjoy some extended time with God in the woods of West Branch State Park in the morning. I did some desk work in the afternoon. Then I got to celebrate with my family in the evening: eating homemade pizza and cake and opening presents… including a beautiful, brand-new Tilley Hat!
It’s hard for me to express just how much joy this silly hat brings to my soul. I’ve been wanting one for at least five years (I know this because I remember specific conversations about Tilley Hats with my children at Estes Park Leadership Training in 2016). My kids have been pretty resistant to the Tilley Hat. They’ve said that it would make me look old. And I always countered by saying that I’m getting older, anyway. Why not enjoy some of the benefits that come with aging, along with the drawbacks?!?
The Tilley Hat is incredibly well-designed. It just feels amazingly comfortable on my head. Excellent ventilation. It blocks sun and rain. It floats on water. The wind cords have a really clever design to keep the hat glued to one’s head in the fiercest mountaintop gales. And there’s even a secret Velcro pocket in the top of the crown (underneath the tag explaining the hat’s lifetime guarantee).
My adolescent children were not persuaded by any of these arguments, however. They groaned (audibly) whenever I found a display of Tilley Hats in a hiking store. And they refused to let me get such a hat until I was “old enough.” But after dropping some hints that I might take matters into my own hands before too long, they went in with Marci to get me a Tilley Hat for my birthday.
And I’m so happy they did.
I wore the hat for the rest of the evening, just for the joy of it. When I went to bed, I enjoyed the ridiculously-detailed Owner’s Manual for the Tilley Hat as recreational reading. Finally, I fell asleep, dreaming of hikes that will be all the more enjoyable with my very own Tilley Hat.
I stopped shaving on Christmas Day. So the picture below gives you an idea of what I looked like by the middle of February.
I’ve developed a tradition to grow out all of the hair on my head and face from Christmas to President’s Day, when I start taking away parts of the facial hair to “honor” some of our nation’s presidents. By the time I get to my birthday (on February 26th), I go back to my standard look. It’s a silly tradition. Kind of vain, too, I suppose. But I figure it’s just something to help keep the winter a little more interesting.
This year, President’s Day happened to fall on the earliest possible date: February 15th. A full eleven days before my birthday. So I decided to start with a tamer trim job, to reduce the amount of time that I would have to go about regular life with a really weird type of facial hair. Ulysses S. Grant had a nice, tightly-trimmed beard, with a bit of a fade at the temples. So I took him as my initial inspiration for the holiday.
I kept my mustache a bit longer than Grant because of subsequent stages of facial hair that I’d planned out ahead of time. But I actually really liked my “Grant” look. A pretty sustainable look, actually. Even better than my completely untouched look.
A week later, I decided to shave off the beard and go for the droopy, walrus mustache of Grover Cleveland.
I wasn’t willing to let my mustache get quite as long as Grover Cleveland (I seriously wonder how he ever managed that thing at mealtimes!). But I did my best approximation. For two days.
Yesterday I trimmed up the mustache a bit further, getting it off my lip and lessening some of the droop — trying for more of a Theodore Roosevelt look.
Honestly, though, the line between “Grover Cleveland” and “Theodore Roosevelt” is a pretty blurry one. Depending on what picture you use as a reference, they can be almost indistinguishable. But again, I’m just trying to keep things interesting in these waning days of winter.
By the end of the week, I’ll be back to my regular clean-shaven look. And I’m honestly looking forward to that.
I recently finished reading Penelope Wilcock’s book, The Hawk and the Dove. My friend Jason recommended the book to me. He had heard about it in a workshop about Spiritual Direction. But he started falling in love with the story, as he got into it for himself. And he thought it might be an interesting pleasure read for me, too.
Jason knows me pretty well, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he was right. It was highly enjoyable reading for me. But it was also highly (surprisingly) instructive for my soul.
The author is an English woman from a Methodist background. Somehow, though, she writes surprisingly well about a group of men, living in a Benedictine monastery in 14th century Yorkshire.
The title of the book refers to one of the characters: Father Peregrine. He was installed as the abbot (leader) of the abbey at a relatively young age. By his own natural personality and proclivities he came to be respected by the other monks, but not loved. Early in the book, however, a dramatic act of violence and suffering changes the course of the narrative.
Father Peregrine ultimately becomes an example to his community of how to live a life of faith, through brokenness. The other monks have their own flaws and foibles. Still, they learn to follow the example of their abbot and live together as a community in Christ. The characters are beautifully-rendered, each an example of a particular aspect of humanity. Consequently, their struggles are surprisingly relatable for us. Amazing, really, considering the fact that the stories supposedly took place almost 700 years ago. I found myself legitimately moved to tears by the ways that the monks of St. Alcuin’s Abbey learned to confront their sins, confess their sins to each other, and beg forgiveness from one another and from God.
I’ve already started sharing some of the stories from this book as illustrations of spiritual principles. I’ve started recommending this book to others. Jason and I have even joked about leaving the ministry of H2O Church at Kent State University and joining a Benedictine Monastery (or at least going back to Benedictusberg for a retreat someday. I was legitimately excited to learn that there are eight more books in the series. I hope to read them all.
At this point, however, I’ve only read one of the books. And if you couldn’t already tell, I highly recommend it. Each chapter functions like a self-contained story, so it’s easy reading, but the whole book also works together masterfully. They were most recently published 30 years ago, so you might need to buy a used copy or use your library’s holding / network-lending system to start reading. But trust me (and Jason): it’s worth the hassle.
At the height of the November Election season, about half of the homes in our area had political propaganda of one sort or another. Some were standard campaign-issue yard signs. Others were larger, homemade banners, billboards, and shrines. And then, of course, there were the flags. Mostly blue flags, with white letters and red accents demonstrating support for the re-election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I saw one or two flags in support of Joe Biden, too, but the vast majority of political propaganda flags were for Trump.
I thought it was interesting the way that the Trump Campaign used flags. Some were on traditional flagpoles, right beneath the American flag, or hung from balconies and porch rails. Others flew from make-shift PVC poles mounted in the back of pick-up trucks. They were even regularly worn as capes or waved by hand. The flag thing was different from any other U.S. candidate for office that I’ve ever observed.
More than the intrigue behind the way that these flags went up, however, I’ve been fascinated to observe the way that these flags have been coming down. Partly from a political perspective, but even more from a sociological or anthropological perspective.
November Election Day / Week?
Not many flags came down in the first week of November. A few campaign signs got pulled up from lawns. But the flags stayed. Probably something like 99 percent of the people who had originally displayed Trump flags continued to do so after Election Day. I thought this was somewhat understandable, given the confusion caused by delays in counting the vote that came by mail at historic levels.
After media outlets called the election for Joe Biden at the end of that week, a few more signs came down. But the flags stayed. Maybe something in the range of 95 percent of the original constituency. Donald Trump clearly didn’t want to accept those results. And his supporters followed his lead. Consequently, the focus shifted to the vote certification process.
Mid-December Vote Certification?
Recounts and legal appeals and investigations led to minimal disruption of the process. As time went on, Biden’s claim to the presidency solidified. By mid-December, the results were all-but-official. Still the flags stayed. I might estimate, from my own unscientific observations, that maybe a total of ten percent of Trump flags were down by the end of December. But not many. Trump kept pointing to the January 6th certification in Washington as a rallying point. And again, 90 percent of his flag-waving, most ardent supporters stuck with him.
January 6th Events at the U.S. Capitol?
I was saddened by the violent turn to the public demonstration in Washington D.C. on January 6th. It felt like the natural outworking of the previous five years of rhetoric, but it still shocked me. And the nation. I thought that such a climactic event would result in more of those Trump flags coming down. But the flags stayed. Maybe another 15 percent were intentionally lowered (or allowed to be battered by the wind and winter conditions). Still, I’m guessing that 75 percent of Donald Trump’s flag-waving, core constituency stayed loyal through the early part of January.
January 20th Inauguration Day?
I wondered if there might be a readiness to retire the Trump flags after his term in office officially came to an end. The inauguration of a new administration (which was publicly acknowledged by Trump himself) seemed like as good a time as any to make the switch. But I watched the houses in my neighborhood to see what would happen — and at most another 5 percent of Trump flags came down. I started to wonder if people would still be flying Trump 2020 flags in 2022 or 2023. I just didn’t know where the “off-ramp” would be with 70 percent of the original constituency still flying their flags at the start of a new administration.
I anticipated so many possible flag-lowering dates that I decided to give up on guessing. So I’ve been surprised in the last week to notice that several of the more prominent Trump flag houses in my area have suddenly taken the flags down. Maybe it was connected to his acquittal by the U.S. Senate? Maybe a slight warming pattern, with temperatures rising just above freezing? Maybe there was some internal communication sent out by the Trump campaign? Perhaps it’s just the truism about how a “watched pot never boils.” All of the sudden, though, I’d say we’re down between 25 and 35 percent of Donald Trump’s flag-waving, most ardent supporters continuing to wave their flags. There are still notable stand-outs, and I’ll be curious to see how long they stay.
But maybe Trumpism will eventually fade. Who knows?
We’ve got another blizzard passing through Northeast Ohio today. Snow and ice cover everything. Frozen solid. So it certainly doesn’t feel like Spring is coming. But I know that it is. The sunrise is getting earlier and the sunset is getting later, with each day that passes. Buds are forming on the trees. Crocuses crouch beneath the snow, ready to rise when the conditions are right. Things will be very different a month from now. Maybe even a week from now.
Just like the climatological Spring is on its way, I believe that a sort of “COVID Spring” is on its way. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Yesterday, I read an encouraging article whose title says it all: “COVID-19 Cases are Dropping Fast. Why?” It was published by The Atlantic, which is somewhat left of center on the political spectrum. So if anything, The Atlantic would be slightly closer to the “COVID is a complete catastrophe” end of the spectrum, as opposed to the “COVID is a complete hoax” view. And honestly, this understanding of potential bias made their article especially hopeful! Even with their bias, they’re publishing a COVID story that is hopeful. The article cites four factors that might help to explain the recent drop in numbers (in total cases, hospitalizations, and deaths):
I’d recommend reading the article for yourself, but it reminds me that we’ll still have vestiges of “COVID Winter” for awhile — needing to stay faithful with precautions against the spread of the virus — but we may be turning a corner. Isn’t that encouraging?!? COVID Spring is coming!
On the more practical level, today I heard about an online tool for How to Sign Up for a COVID-19 Vaccine in Your State. And honestly, I just wanted to bookmark the site for my own reference — whenever I’m given the green light to pursue vaccination. If it’s helpful to anyone else who’s trying to sign up for the vaccine right now, so much the better! We all need to stay patient in this interim, through the waning days of our “COVID Winter.” But we’re getting there. COVID Spring is coming!
Dutch people go crazy for ice-skating. When a hard freeze starts, it’s a topic of casual conversation and serious news reporting. They know exactly the right conditions and the right period of time that’s needed for the right amount of ice to form on the canals. And when everything comes together, the party’s on! It’s super-fun. But also super-rare. It only happened one time in the decade that our family lived in Amsterdam. And I gather from my social media feeds that this winter is the first time that it’s happened since (almost exactly nine years later). I’m just glad we got to experience it once. It’s something truly magical.
But where do all the ice skates come from?!? Amsterdammers have tiny apartments, with minimal storage space. But somehow, they all seem to have access to a pair of skates for that once-in-a-decade moment when the canals freeze. This is another part of the magic, I think.
When our family was living in Amsterdam, our magic came in the form of my friend Jim. He (and his wife Allison and son Luke) just so happened to have a visit planned in the same week that the once-in-a-decade hard freeze happened. And Jim just so happened to be volunteering at an ice rink in Orlando at the time, where he had access to a bunch of used equipment. And the three of them just so happened to be traveling together, with more baggage allowance than they needed. So they packed a bag full with hockey skates, figure skates, and hockey sticks. And it just so happened that we could all join the party with our own magical ice skates!
I still feel that sense of magic whenever circumstances come together here in Ohio. The little bog in our neighborhood freezes thick enough for at least a day or two of skating every winter (so, more frequent freezes in these parts than in the Netherlands). Still, the ice skating has been especially good this winter. So, I’ve been especially grateful to still have those skates from 2012. Sixty percent of our family has grown out of the sizes that we wore at that time, but we’ve been able to keep at least half of our family in skates by having kids “graduate” from one set of skates to another. And we got Olivia a pair of her own skates for Christmas one year, when she outgrew the largest size of our figure skates.
Recently, I’ve been encouraging others to use our skates, so they can experience the magic for themselves. And enough people have started taking us up on the offer, that I’ve decided to say that our periodic visitors are “shopping at Crazy Jim’s Skate Emporium.” It’s totally free to “shop” at Crazy Jim’s Skate Emporium. So, I hope that the trend will continue! If you’d ever like to try it for yourself, here’s our current stock:
US11 Hockey Skates
US9 Figure Skates
US8 Figure Skates
US4 Hockey Skates
US3 Hockey Skates*
US1.5 Hockey Skates*
* Estimates (Actual Sizes not Listed on the Skates themselves)
Satisfied “customers” include Brooke, Meaghan, and Halle, who went to the large reservoir at West Branch State Park.
Griffin and Gillian also went to the large reservoir at West Branch State Park, and they seemed to have a good time.
Another H2O friend, Lauren, took a pair of skates to Sylvan Pond in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). And we met my sister and her kids for some skating at Kendall Lake in the CVNP.
The more snow that falls, the less optimal the skating conditions are. But the ice is so thick and safe right now that there’s not much to lose in giving it a try — as long as things stay at or below freezing. Feel free to send me a message, if you’re interested in giving it a try for yourself.
At Crazy Jim’s Skate Emporium, we don’t guarantee much. But we don’t charge much, either.
Today, my kids and I hiked to a waterfall and lounged on the shores of Lake Erie. We played basketball and baseball in the park before we went to get ice cream at Mitchell’s. And then we finished by meeting some friends in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. All of this in spite of the fact that we’re still in the middle of a multi-week hard freeze, with snow and ice and temperatures in the twenties. We call it “Laughing in the Face of Winter.”
It was pretty crazy. But also pretty fun.
This was our fourth year in a row of choosing to Laugh in the Face of Winter. Previous editions have taken place over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Unfortunately, this year it wasn’t wintry enough in mid-January. So we waited. Even when the weather got colder and more cooperative, however, we had a hard time getting our schedules to align. Including Elliot was especially challenging with his college schedule and part-time job. But the circumstances finally aligned for this Valentine’s / President’s Day weekend. So even though I didn’t particularly feel like it — due to my own fatigue, some grumpiness from the kids, and the feeling that we were just shoe-horning the event into our calendars — I made some fun-in-the-sun plans. And we made it happen.
The concept is to pretend as if it’s a lovely summer day. To spite the snow and ice. To Laugh in the Face of Winter. In 2018, we hiked to Deer Lick Cave in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, strolled the beaches of Lake Erie, and got ice cream cones from Mitchell’s in Ohio City. For the 2019 edition, we hiked to Blue Hen Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and got blizzards from Dairy Queen. In 2020, we had a picnic on the top of Gildersleeve Mountain, ate ice cream from Handel’s, and played frisbee in the park.
This year, our favorite parts were probably the lakes on the front end and back end of our afternoon. We started out at Bay Village, just west of Cleveland. And seriously: I’ve never seen Lake Erie as frozen as it was today. There was no open (liquid) water anywhere within range of view. We walked on the bumpy, bulbous surface of the water, out perhaps 100 meters from the shore. Even where we would normally expect to encounter the breakers, the waves were stacked up like broken glass. It was amazing to “walk on water,” pick up shards of glass, and play war games throwing some of the smaller spherical ice formations like grenades and hiding in trenches on a beach that felt like Normandy in the Second World War.
At the end of the afternoon, we met our friends AJ and Jana at Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. They reached out when they heard of our developing plans, and it ended up being super-fun to include them in our tradition. Winter sports are one of those rare things where you can interact with other people and it almost feels like COVID-19 doesn’t exist. We skated around on the smooth surface of Kendall Lake for an hour and a half. Even then, it was hard to leave. We weren’t cold. We were still having fun with our friends in the park. But we had to get back to regular life in Kent.
Even so, it felt good to ride in the car, listening to old summer playlists. Laughing in the Face of Winter feels empowering. The weather can’t stop our fun. We just need to stay creative and resilient.
Why am I so drawn to trails? Why do I love consulting the maps?How does it help me to soak up the natural beauty so meaningfully? What produces that clarity of mind and soul I experience when I’m on the trails?
I figured this book would be a deep dive into the history of hiking trails. I hoped for glimpses into exceptional trails around the world that I might hope to hike, myself, someday. But that’s not really how the author chose to approach the subject.
Moor hooked me in the Prologue with some stories about his own experiences through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. But then he nearly lost me through the first two chapters of the book, as he attempted an academic treatise on the way that prehistoric invertebrates made the world’s first trails. I happen to be a pretty stubborn reader, foolishly striving to finish what I’ve started; otherwise, I might have just returned the book to the library at the 20 percent mark.
Fortunately, my attention was recaptured — gradually — from chapters 3 through 6. By the end of the book, Moor settled into some of those stories from the trails that I’d been hoping to read. He talked some more about the Appalachian Trail. Then, he introduced the development of an International Appalachian Trail that’s been building in recent years. These connecting / extending trails stretch from Florida, up through the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Then, following geological historical clues, the trail scoots across the Atlantic Ocean! Through Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Mainland Europe, and North Africa. I especially enjoyed Moor’s description of hiking in Morocco, where the proposed terminus of the International Appalachian Trail would be located.
The book concluded with another interesting account of a hike with a trans-continental wanderer who called himself the Nimblewill Nomad. The scale of his hiking quests was impressive, and he was an interesting character. But some of the dialogue recorded in the book also helped to approach some of the metaphysical elements of trails. In particular, the author talked about wisdom as a defining characteristic of those who walk trails. And I think he was really onto something!
I only wish Moor could have drawn some of the same conclusions that I’ve drawn in my life of loving and following trails. There seemed to be such a clear path towards Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life!” (John 14:6). The author is of a more secular-humanist persuasion. So he missed that destination. (Though it really is a powerful metaphor that I appreciate even more after reading this book). Still, I was able to make that connection for myself. And I’m glad that I read this book.
Do you want to run? Do you want to be my friend? Then you should join my new run club!
Anyone who wants to run with our group is welcome! We launched the club with a few people from H2O who started calling themselves the Fellowship of the Hawk (FOTH) because of a red-tailed hawk we repeatedly encountered in the trees near our starting (and ending) point. But you don’t have to be a hawk. You don’t have to be a part of H2O. In fact, you barely have to be a runner. We welcome anyone who wants to give it a try.
We meet for a no-commitment, once-a-week, easy-does-it group run around the campus of Kent State University. Our standard distance is three miles, but we can help make suggestions for shorter or longer variations on our route. We also guarantee that a new runner will never finish last!
We start warming up together on Thursdays at 4:30 PM. We’re usually done between 5:00 and 5:30 PM.
We start on the campus of Kent State University, at the picnic area between Centennial Courts and the Music Building. It’s easily walkable (or runnable) from anywhere on campus. Our meeting point is right next to a large Kent State University Commuter parking lot. In addition, metered parking is available nearby.
It’s hard to maintain — much less build — friendships in the context of a pandemic. Running offers an open-air, easily-distanced, healthy space for conversation and camaraderie.
We run rain or shine, steam or ice. At least through the end of the Kent State University Spring Semester. We hope you might join us for a run, whenever you feel like the circumstances might be right.
We’re in the midst of a hard freeze here in Ohio. For the past two weeks, we haven’t gotten more than a degree or two above freezing — and even those “spikes” in temperature were only for the briefest stretches when a new weather system was passing through. They say that this upcoming week will be the coldest yet. So we’re taking advantage of it. Recently, we’ve been particularly excited about ice-skating.
Olivia, Cor, and I spent an hour-and-a-half in the freezing cold today — but we almost didn’t feel the cold because we were having so much fun. It was especially enjoyable because we got to use the part of nearby West Branch State Park that we almost never get to use: the surface of the lake itself! Some parts of the ice were pretty bumpy. Other parts were as smooth as glass. All of it, however, was splendidly, surprisingly, super-solid. Probably an average of about six inches thick.
Conditions like these don’t come along every winter in Ohio, so we’re making the most of the opportunity presented to us by this particularly cold (and uninterrupted) stretch of freezing temperatures.
Flash-Back to 2012
Our current hard freeze has reminded me of another time, in 2012, when our family got to experience a similar cold spell. In Amsterdam. I wrote about it as “A Classic Dutch Winter” back at the time. But honestly, the fairy-tale quality of that winter has only increased, as the years have passed and our family has resettled on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Some of the pictures that I featured on my blog and social media accounts back in those days are still stunning. They capture a unique moment in our family’s history that’s crystallized (if you’ll pardon the pun) in our collective memory. And they also show just how much Dutch people love the chance to ice-skate on the canals. Even though it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you might think.
I went back to look through all the different pictures that I took back in 2012. And other pictures jumped out at me in different ways that apparently didn’t grab me at the time. Like the night-time image above, catching the back side of the crowd cheering on the famous Keizersrace in the heart of old Amsterdam.
Or the closer shot of the crowds on the Herengracht, capturing details almost like one might see in an old Averkamp painting.
I found this picture of children crowding a bicycle-lined bridge to be especially charming.
And I loved to see the photos of itty-bitty Cor and Elliot playing ice-hockey with our friends Luke and Jim Poorman, who happened to be visiting at the time. They also brought us the skates that we still use today!
Another photograph shows a canal in our old neighborhood in Amsterdam Oost. A Dutch man carefully shovels off the surface of the ice to make it ready for skating. I learned a lot from the Dutch about how to foster the right conditions for ice development and skating!
The Dutch “Koek & Zopie” was kind of like a summertime lemonade stand in Ohio. It served up warm drinks and snacks to keep skaters energized.
Our kids were especially fond of the Belgian waffles. (Olivia was playing over at a friend’s house on the day that we took a lot of our best pictures).
I’m really glad that we had all of those experiences in Amsterdam. But I’m also glad that we get to have the experiences that we’re having now in Ohio!