I have Scandinavian heritage, but nothing (to my knowledge) that traces back to Finland. Which is unfortunate because I strongly identify with the Finnish concept of sisu. But I can only claim it as a spiritual descendent, not as a biological or cultural descendent.

My brother seems to feel the same way. He’s the one who told me about sisu. And it seems to be one of those cultural concepts that’s notoriously difficult to translate — like gezelligheid in the Netherlands… or hygge in Denmark… or taarof in Iran. I don’t even know if I fully understand sisu enough to be sharing the concept with others. But the internet helps. And I found this particularly-enlightening description on the website of a now-defunct American university on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which had Finnish roots:

To the Finnish people, sisu has a mystical, almost magical meaning. Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.

Sisu is an inherent characteristic of the Finnish people. You might call it backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance.  It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end.

Sisu is the quality that lets them pick up, move on, and learn something from previous failures. It’s the hard-jawed integrity that makes them pay their war debts in full. In short, it’s the indomitable will that sets Finns apart and explains many of the incredible things they do.

Due to its cultural significance, Sisu is a common element of brand names in Finland. For example, there are Sisu brand cars (and Sisu armored vehicles), the icebreaker MS Sisu, and a brand of strong-tasting pastilles manufactured by Leaf. Mount Sisu is the name of a mountain first ascended by mountain climber Veikka Gustafsson in the Antarctic.

Finlandia University: Our History & Heritage

I think the idea of sisu appeals to me because of its application in disciplines like running, hiking, bicycling, marriage, family, and ministry. These are all things that require a certain level of grit, or mental toughness. And I think I’m not super-talented when it comes to any of these disciplines, but I think I might be above-average when it comes to sisu, or stick-to-it-iveness. Getting through this last school year of H2O ministry — and especially the last semester when we had more ministry projects with fewer ministry workers — was an exercise in sisu. Getting through the gauntlet of last week’s family adventures was an exercise in sisu. And with a little bit of an opportunity to catch my breath, I look forward to having more opportunities to keep cultivating the exercise of sisu in my life for years to come.

Posted in Culture, Europe, Health, Hiking, Introspection, Language, Leadership, Running, Seasonal Depression | Leave a comment

What a Week!

Elliot's Graduation from Kent State University

It’s been a wild week for the Asp Family. Some of it was rather random, like, my parents needing extra help replacing some light bulbs in the tallest part of their living room (requiring me to haul an extension ladder over to their place) and helping to get some work done on their van. But other parts of the week were entirely intentional, even if the confluence of these auspicious occasions ended up being chaotic.

Cor in the POPs Concert

On Wednesday evening, I got to watch my youngest son Cor run his fastest 3200 meter race he’s ever run at his league meet for Track on Wednesday — and then I got to listen to him sing in his last Choir concert of the year on Friday night.

Olivia Moving out of Stopher Hall and Back into the Bryce House (Temporarily)

My daughter Olivia also had to finish her Finals at Kent State University — and then move out of her room in Stopher Hall on Friday afternoon (just a little before Cor’s choir concert). And now she’s got five days to unpack and repack for a summer of Leadership Training in Colorado!

My wife Marci had a lot of work to prepare for — and then execute — a booth at the Kent Flea and Makers Market for her business, Fleta’s Cupboard.

Elliot's Graduation from Kent State University

And then my oldest son Elliot had his commencement ceremonies tonnight — which is an amazing milestone, but also nuts because we had to leave, like, an hour after we got back from Marci’s work thing (packing up in a tornado warning, no less!). And then Elliot decided to make an early exit from his Commencement Ceremonies because his best friend was getting engaged.

Elliot's Graduation from Kent State University

I can feel inclined to complain about crazy weeks like this one. But with just a little bit of reflection, I can appreciate the fact that these are rich life experiences that I need to soak up while I can. It’s highly likely that Olivia will leave for Colorado in the middle of the week, and then by the time she gets back to Ohio her older brother will have moved to a new city (or even a new state) to take a Marketing job. And then we might even find ourselves wishing for a week like this, where we get to do so many things together.

I expect there will be weeks with holidays and weddings and funerals that will feel similar to this one, in the years (even decades) to come. Still, I want to learn how to stay present within all of the chaos. I want to enjoy the opportunity to be with family — under any set of circumstances. And this week was a good lesson in learning how to do that.

Posted in Adolescence, Aging Parents, Children, Family, God, Introspection, Kent, Middle Age, Prayer, Young Adulthood | Leave a comment

Wetland Wonders

Grand River State Wildlife Area: Wetlands just off Norton Lane

I thought that Kent State University’s week of Final Exams was going to allow me to slow down and catch up. Students usually become less available when they have to lock in for final projects, final papers, and final exams — so I end up with extra time to catch up on desk work and reduce my hours to make up for putting in too many hours over the last month or so.

But for a variety of different reasons, things haven’t slowed down as much as I wanted them to this week.

Fortunately, I got to experience a moment of calm and clarity this week, in the midst of all the chaos of my everyday life. And it came about because this week just so happened to include the first Tuesday of the month. Our church’s Staff Team has developed a regular rhythm of using the first Tuesday of every month to set aside our business agenda and seek the Lord through the practice of spiritual disciplines. It’s like a way of “tithing” our time, reminding ourselves that we are not the Saviors of the world; Jesus is the Savior of the world. Truthfully, most times, these first Tuesdays of the month feel restful but not necessarily revolutionary. This week, however, ended up feeling like an absolute life-line for me.

Grand River State Wildlife Area: Wetlands just off Norton Lane

I decided to head to Trumbull County, where I’ve been chipping away at a hiking quest over the past year or so. I went to this place in the northern part of the county called the Grand River State Wildlife Area — since I figured that the preceding week or two featured more sun than rain, which would have allowed the muddy earth to solidify and provide safe passage through the natural world. And — I tell you what — it was so good to watch God’s Creation doing its thing without the slightest regard for the chaos of my life.

The muskrat was busy building a nest, I think, swimming through the shallow marsh with a small tree branch in its mouth. The bald eagle was swooping away from its gigantic nest to procure more food for its young. The butterflies were flitting and floating. The frogs were singing and jumping into the water as I passed. All of the grasses and reeds and bushes and trees — even the lazy old oak trees — were greening up and brushing out.

Grand River State Wildlife Area: Wetlands just off Norton Lane

It felt like a revelation, a wonder, to realize that life in the wetlands just off of Norton Lane was flourishing, even though I had never set foot on that land previously (and honestly, probably not a lot of other humans had set foot on that land, either). It did my heart so much good to see that God is a magnificent Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Protector, Comforter, Redeemer, and Savior.

I just needed to slow down. Sit with Jesus. Break my daily bread with a heart of worship and let God open up my eyes to see the world as He sees it.

Posted in God, H2O Kent, Health, Hiking, Introspection, Leadership, Ohio, Photography, Prayer, Recommendations, Recreation | Leave a comment

The Pittsburgh Metric

Pittsburgh Half-Marathon

The last time I ran the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon was in the first week of May, 2014. Almost exactly ten years ago. When I signed up for the 2024 edition of the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon, however, I didn’t plan for it to be a special ten-year anniversary thing. I just remembered it as an exceptionally well-organized race with significant crowd support along the majority of the course which wound its way through a particularly beautiful, interesting city. After the fact, though, I started to wonder if the ten-year anniversary thing might be a useful new metric for health: the Pittsburgh Metric, if you will.

Pittsburgh Half-Marathon

My friend Jason and I ran together for this race, just like we did ten years ago. We didn’t go particularly fast, finishing well behind the third member of our trio (Tyler) and almost exactly five minutes slower than our finishing time in 2014.

Pittsburgh Marathon Group Portrait

Still, we managed to run the whole thing, and I can honestly say our effort was respectable. For the small number of people who might actually care about the numbers, my time for the half-marathon was 1:51:29. In my division, I came in 61st out of 402 runners (top 15%). Among all men running the half-marathon, I was 1,025th out of 4,964 (top 21%). And from the total pool of half-marathon participants, I came in 1,405th out of 11,263 (top 12%).

It’s becoming more and more clear to me that I’m aging — and it’s very unlikely that I will be setting any further personal records in the half-marathon (or the mile, or the 5K, or the 10K, or the full marathon, for that matter). However: a more helpful metric might be to see how many Pittsburgh Half-Marathons I might be able to complete if I restrict myself to running one every ten years (or honestly, even if I were to try do it every year). It’s significant to note that my division this time (Men aged 45-49) numbered less than half the number of participants compared to the division that I ran in 2014 (Men aged 35-39). Aging just does that to people! Personally, I’m finding it harder to lose weight. My feet feel more achy during- and after events like these. My body is slowing down.

But I’m still running. If I can manage to keep running — at any pace — for another ten years, I think that’s a really meaningful metric. I cannot control all the different factors that might lead to accomplishing (or failing to accomplish) that goal. But I can take literal and figurative steps towards that goal day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, and year-by-year in the hopes of meeting the Pittsburgh Metric. So if anyone asks if I met my goals for the race this weekend, the answer is “Yes.”

Posted in Health, Introspection, Middle Age, Recreation, Running, Sports, Travel | Leave a comment

A Graduation Party for Elliot, at Long Last

Elliot's Graduation Party at Plum Creek Park

We got to host a graduation party for Elliot this weekend! It’s not super-common for folks in these parts to host graduation parties for college students — and, truth be told, Kent State University’s actual commencement ceremonies aren’t until next weekend. Still, we wanted to make the most of this occasion because of the very atypical graduation experience that Elliot had at the end of his high school years.

Elliot's Graduation Party at Plum Creek Park

So we filled two tables with lots of amazing food: street tacos from Mamacita’s… a selection of pies home-baked by my mother-in-law Louise… and Marci’s mint tea punch that tastes like summer itself.

Elliot's Graduation Party at Plum Creek Park

We invited our neighbors, our extended family, and a bunch of friends (particularly those who were a meaningful part of Elliot’s college experience). And we really did have a lovely evening of celebrating our graduate.

Elliot's Graduation Party at Plum Creek Park

It felt especially significant to celebrate Elliot’s accomplishment in earning his Bachelor of Business Administration Degree, with a focus in Marketing Management, since we didn’t get to have a high school graduation party for Elliot in that weird spring of 2020. Our 2024 graduation party was not devoid of weirdness, of course…

Elliot's Graduation Party at Plum Creek Park

But it was a lovely, welcome kind of weird this time around.

Posted in Family, Food, Kent, Recreation, Traditions, Transition, Young Adulthood | Leave a comment

The Kent Stater: Best of Kent

The Kent Stater: Best of Kent

It’s been a couple of weeks since The Kent Stater (“The Independent Student Newspaper of Kent State University, Serving the Kent State and Kent-area Community since 1926”) put out its annual “Best of Kent” edition. However, I didn’t get my hands on a copy until this past weekend.

I don’t feel particularly qualified to rate the Best Bar, the Best Alcoholic Drink, the Best Bartender, or the Best Place to Cure a Hangover in Kent (though these are the first four categories to appear in the “Best of Kent” edition!). When it comes to Best Coffee, however, I feel like I can meaningfully join the conversation.

The Kent Stater: Best of Kent

And honestly, I think that the Kent Stater got this mostly correct! I actually agree that Scribbles is the Best Coffee place in Kent — considering their seating, their cozy environment, and their Cortado (which I’d consider to be the best coffee drink in Kent) — and I’d also put Bent Tree Coffee in second place. I know that a lot of my friends would demand a recount for these top two finishers, but I think it’s correct. I’m not so convinced that Tree City Coffee is better than Last Exit or State Champs or Starbucks. But they’re all in the conversation for that three-spot, so I’m fine with how these rankings shook out.

The Kent Stater: Best of Kent

I also agree with the Kent Stater’s take on the Best Brewery in Kent (Bell Tower), the Best Restaurant in Kent (Ray’s Place), and the Best Pizza in Kent (Lucci’s!). I don’t as closely align with the newspaper’s opinions on their second- and third-place finishers in these categories. And I honestly don’t care that much about the categories for Best Breakfast, Best Vegan / Gluten-Free Options, Best Mexican Food, Best Drunk Food, Best Sweet Treat — so I won’t pick any fights with their rankings on these.

The Kent Stater: Best of Kent

I care a little bit more about the Prettiest Place in Kent, and I appreciate the sites they mention — though honestly, I tend to prefer the spots that are a little more off the beaten path, like Towner’s Woods and the Jessie Smith Nature Preserve. I don’t care that much about the categories for Best Shop and Best Study Spot — though I’m somewhat inclined to disagree on their rankings with these, too. The categories after this become even less interesting to me (Best Date Spot, Best Event / Festival, Best Salon, Best Tattoo / Piercing Parlor, Best Spot for the Under-21 Crowd, Best On-Campus Dining, and Best On-Campus Building). Still, I think on the whole that it’s a fun tradition. And I’m glad to see how much the newspaper aligned with my perspective in the categories I cared most about.

Posted in Food, Kent, Ohio, Recommendations, Recreation, Traditions | Leave a comment

Crying on Airplanes

I got choked up on my return flight to Cleveland. Tears formed in the corners of my eyes, and I swallowed hard. It wasn’t the fullest or best crying session I’ve ever had, but it was more emotional expression than I’m usually able to access. I was watching the final episode of a series about U.S. Marines who were heading back home after their tour of duty in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the Second World War. So, it kind of made sense to cry for something like that: processing images of homecoming while in the process of a (much smaller) homecoming, myself. War films provoke emotional reactions from me more than a lot of other things, with the stakes of the narrative so high: literally life or death. But I think the airplane had something to do with my emotional reaction, too.

A few years ago, I had an even bigger emotional reaction on a trans-Atlantic flight. I was on one of those planes where each passenger gets his own entertainment system, so I spent most of the long flight watching movies. And in this case, the first movie I watched was another war film (I think this happens more regularly on airplanes because of my wife has a pronounced dislike for the violence and pathos of war films). Anyway — as we’ve already established — there are some heavy emotions that go with war. And by the end of this particular film, I was absolutely weeping in my plane seat: tears rolling down my cheeks… Blowing a large amount of mucous from my nose into the napkin on my tray table… Wondering what the Canadian guy sitting to my left was thinking of me…

Honestly, that emotional release felt kind of good, since I’m not always able to access that sort of full-fledged emotional expression. But it also felt kind of strange. So: the next movie I picked for this flight was a very different sort of movie (one that had been recommended to me by a friend). I figured I’d be safe from any further instances of “emotional diarrhea.”

But I started watching the movie — and about a third of the way into the film I again found myself moved to tears. And the movie this time? Pitch Perfect. A teen musical in which (according to Wikipedia) “The plot follows a college women’s a cappella group, The Barden Bellas, as they compete against another a cappella group from their college to win Nationals.”

Pitch Perfect is not typically considered a tear-jerker — but that “Riff Off” scene… where they’re all in that skate park at night… musically battling each other… and Becca puts herself out there with rapping a few lines from “No Diggety”… and then all the rest of her singing group joins her… and then all the different music groups join in with the “Hey yo, hey yo, hey yo, hey yo…” That’s powerful stuff, man.

[I told this story once, during a sermon, and it got huge laughs]

Seriously, though, I like to think of myself as being pretty emotionally healthy. I’m emotionally stable… But then something like a plane flight crying session happens, and I recognize that I’m actually not good when it comes to crying in appropriate moments. I can cry easily at the “Riff Off” from “Pitch Perfect,” but then when I hear about the break-up of a friend’s marriage I don’t shed a tear. I’ve got some issues with expressing a full range of emotions.

But I’ve actually learned that it’s not just me! I remember being floored when I listened to an episode of This American Life entitled, “Stuck in the Middle” (Episode 553, Act 3). It describes numerous instances of other people crying on airplanes. And ever since then, I’ve just been fascinated by this phenomenon. I don’t know if I can fully explain it, but I appreciate it. Have you ever had any experiences like this? What do you think is going on when you find yourself crying on airplanes?

Posted in Introspection, Recommendations, Recommended Listening, Recommended Viewing, Transition, Travel | Comments Off on Crying on Airplanes

Self-Care or Self-Discipline?

Running through Airport Lakes Park and Hotelland

I’m at a conference in Orlando this week. Meetings usually start around 8:00 AM, and it’s usually not until 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM before I get back to my hotel room. There are a lot of enjoyable components to a conference like this: catching up with old friends… eating good food… networking for strategic initiatives… But the days feel pretty packed.

Still, I rise before the sun rises every morning. I put on some shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, I lace up my running shoes, and I go out for a run. Four miles yesterday. Three miles today. Five miles tomorrow (God willing). Then, I cool down for a little bit before taking a shower, getting dressed, and packing up for the day. And often, over breakfast, I get a particular question.

“How do you do it?!?”

The question is usually asked with a sense of awe and respect (and I appreciate that). Because other attendees know how things feel, as conference fatigue starts to set in. And fatigue seems to call for sleep. Not extra exertion. Especially not in the early morning hours of the day of a conference. They assume that my early-morning runs are an example of tenacious self-discipline.

But then I tell them that their assumptions are totally off-base.

I actually consider early-morning runs a nod to my weakness, more than my strength. I think of running as a form of self-care, not self-discipline. I need time away from other people, especially during weeks like this. I benefit from preserving a space where my mind can slip into a meditative flow. And even on the physical level, running helps to loosen my muscles and prepare me for a long day of sitting and standing. Each stride of each run functions like a tiny little “scrubbing bubble,” scouring away the little bits of grime from my mind that accumulate over the course of a day or a week. And when I’m finished with a run, I feel more refreshed and more ready for the rest of life.

I’m grateful for this form of self-care, or self-discipline. Even if it means running three-and-a-half loops around the 0.88-mile loop that runs past ten large hotels in this section of Orlando, it’s worth it.

Posted in Health, Introspection, Recreation, Running, Sports, Travel | Leave a comment

Redbud Season

The Peak of Spring Color for the Eastern Redbud Tree
[Regular Photo Mode, Close-up]

The natural world is coming back to life, after its winter rest. I saw my first wild trillium of the season on a hike in the Cuyahoga Valley this morning. Much of the forests’ lower layers are fully leafed out now. The grass in our lawn is growing like crazy.

The Peak of Spring Color for the Eastern Redbud Tree
[Portrait Mode, Close-up, focused on a branch in the middle distance]

I love it all. But my favorite components of this spring symphony are the Redbuds. In Northeast Ohio, our Eastern Redbud Trees are at the peak of their spring color right now. And even though I can never do an Eastern Redbud Tree justice with my photographic skills, I can’t stop trying to grab onto the ephemeral beauty to make it last in a meaningful way.

The Peak of Spring Color for the Eastern Redbud Tree
[Portrait Mode, Medium-Distance Full-Frame, focused on near branches]

The world is just blooming and booming and blossoming and breathing out blessing. And those Redbuds feel simply electric to me. I get charged up just being near them.

The Peak of Spring Color for the Eastern Redbud Tree
[Regular Photo Mode, Wide Shot]

Spring continues its decades-long climb up my personal ranking of Seasons, from fourth to second, these days, even though I still don’t love hiking in the mud. There’s still a lot of moisture in the air and on the ground in Northeast Ohio at this time of the year. Even so, it feels like a privilege to watch the world unfurl. Especially those Redbuds.

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CLE Parking “Cheat Code”

Brook Park RTA to CLE

I’m getting ready for some travel, soon. And in a recent conversation with my friend Lauren, I was reminded of the fact that we discovered a sort of “cheat code” for parking at the Cleveland Airport that I never ended up sharing in this space (even though I thought that I had)! So now I’m writing to share my information and experiences. There’s no actually cheating when it comes to this “cheat code.” It’s borrowing a term from the world of video games, where the game designers build in a special shortcut to get around tricky sections of the game — but one generally needs to be a true gamer, connected to the relational web of other gamers, willing to dig deep into the structure of that world, to know the cheat codes. So anyway, Lauren and I feel like we’ve found a cheat code to traveling out of CLE that seems worth sharing for any other true travelers who want to take advantage of the opportunity.

Brook Park RTA to CLE

So, this CLE parking “cheat code” involves driving to- and parking at the Brookpark Rapid Station, just one mile from the airport itself. Parking one’s car is fast and free at this train station! Publically-posted signs indicate that one is allowed to park for up to seven days. And then, after parking, one can ride the train to the check-in area at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in less time than it takes to park in the Orange Lot at the airport and walk in from there. Trains run four times an hour from 3:36 in the morning to 12:51 at night. And I’m telling you: It’s totally painless. And it costs just $2.50!

Brook Park RTA to CLE

I tried this myself back in February of 2023 — so I’m speaking from personal experience, not just internet research. It’s really kind of amazing. Americans can be a little squeamish about public transportation (except for people from lower socio-economic strata who have no choice), but this is one of those things that’s worth the learning curve. I expect that the squeamishness is mostly a lack of knowledge and experience. It’s another one of those things that makes sense for health, for wealth, for the earth, and for mirth. The “for health” argument is maybe not as convincing for this Brookpark shortcut as it is for using a push reel lawn mower or considering cycling a form of transportation. But the economic benefits, environmental benefits, and experiential benefits are all very much in play with this CLE parking “cheat code.”

Brook Park RTA to CLE

So use my information and experience to help develop your own information and experience, if you want. Or don’t. That would just leave more parking spots open for me.

Posted in Ohio, Recommendations, Social Issues, Travel | Leave a comment