Merry Christmas 2015

Merry Christmas from the B’s!

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The highlight reel of our 2015 is unbelievable. Between the four of us, we’ve hit Europe, South America, Mexico, and the U.S.A. What a crazy year!

David and Joey embarked on a “rite of passage” trip to the United Kingdom in honor of Joey’s 16th birthday. He’s quite the young man: driving, taking college classes, and even teaching. Joey planned the entire UK trip, including Scotland, London, Dover, and sunrise at Stonehenge on the Solstice. It was the trip of a lifetime. We even ended up on Google Street View on Downing Street!

While the older boys were in Europe, Christy and Will took a cruise to Mexico. It was a laid-back trip full of sun, sea, sand, and scrumptious treats. Will planned the excursions and even convinced Christy to let him bring a friend. He’s smart, funny, handsome, persuasive, and compassionate.

David and Christy went to Brazil for the fifth ustime. This was their 5th chapel-build, with plans to return again in 2016. Each trip is a unique and beautiful experience full of miracles and adventure. These trips have been so incredible that in 2016 all four of us are planning to go! We have no idea how the $$$ will work out, but our generous friends, family, and God have always helped get us there.

 

There’s so much more to say… Joey is looking at colleges and dreaming about MIT. Will is falling in love with the art of writing. Christy loves impacting lives as a science teacher. David is attending seminary and was licensed by the church. He even performed a wedding. God continues to prove the depths of His love and His sense of humor!

Our holiday prayer is that your lives are rich with the fullness of life with God.

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Stumbling across serenity

After we ordered dinner and paid, the waitress said “You can’t eat here. Take away only, love.”  We had been on our feet all day. I was hungry. Like a hippo. Carrying our dinner around Greenwich looking for a park bench wasn’t my idea of a relaxing meal.

“Let’s head back up to the pier.” It was just a few blocks away. Once there, we spilled IMG_5363ketchup on our shirts and mustard on our jeans while balancing the burger and chips on our laps. But the breeze of the Thames was relaxing and refreshing. And then…there was the sky. Peeking through the clouds and reflecting off the river…it was more gorgeous than we expected or could have imagined. We accidentally found a hidden gem of beauty and serenity.IMG_5374

We were in the UK for 9 days. Of all the unbelievable things we saw, this was my favorite moment. Stumbling across serenity. That’s how life can be. We plan, prepare, dream, and build. Then life reveals its own unexpected surprises.

So when your plans don’t go quite how you intended, look around for unexpected beauty. There isn’t always a silver lining…sometimes it’s golden.

Stonehenge, sunrise, solstice!

IMG_4879The summer solstice is the biggest day of the year at this ancient “Wonder of the World.” Our colorful tour guide (a whimsical fellow who was a writer and poet when he wasn’t a guide) informed us that more than 40,000 people were expected that day. He had done the coveted “double shift,” leading a tour at sunset late in the evening followed by sunrise on the solstice.IMG_5618

“You can feel the vibes!” the Bard of Bath told us, with a voice equal part reverent whisper and jubilant squeal. He also told us he won the title of “The Bard of Bath” in a writing contest years ago. Personally, I believe him.

Most of our fellow sunrise watchers were definitely feeling the effects of something beyond everyday reality. The atmosphere was vibrant and chaotic.

It was impossible to remain inside the inner circle of stones. Although the sea of humanity was fluid IMG_4886and welcoming, the chaos was virtually impossible to navigate. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t establish a solid claim on any patch of ground in the inner ring. We allowed the tide to wash us just outside the inner ring and stood firm at the base of a gigantic monolith. It was the perfect vantage point to watch the creator paint a masterpiece in the heavens.

The crowd was a strange mix… there were tourists and families just like us. There were a few people dressed in full druid (or wiccan) garb, exuberantly cheering and chanting. Joey snapped a picture of Gandalf. Just after sunrise a middle aged man with a saxophone started playing jazz standards while leaning on a stone. Most people seemed to be there simply for the party. For them it had been a long night, full of thrills and mood altering substances (from beer to Monster to “other things”). They were trying to hang on for the grand finale. Most made it, too. Others slept through sunrise wrapped tightly in a blanket, oblivious to the thousands of pairs of feet trampling by mere inches from their slumbering heads.

The morning forecast called for overcast skies but no rain. The cotton ball clouds stretched all the way to the horizon, but then broke. Right where the sky touched the ground, there was a big enough opening to let the brilliant rays from the rising sun break through and dance off the clouds. For a full hour before sunrise the heavens were full of brilliant oranges, purples, pinks, reds, and yellows. And then…sunrise.

That’s when things got really weird. Someone at Stonehenge on the solstice probably saw a glimpse of the sun. We, however, did not. After the stunning pre-dawn show, as soon as the sun was above the horizon, it was behind the clouds. All the color drained from the sky and the world turned a colorless gray.

We wandered around the post-dawn monochrome field and stones for a few minutes. Maybe we were wondering if the sun would break back through in spectacular fashion. Maybe we realized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we weren’t quite ready for it to end. Once the crowd began to disperse, the chill really set in. As we made our way back to the bus, the Bard was talking again about vibes and burial mounds. History and harmony. We certainly experienced both. It was unforgettable and unrepeatable.

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The trip. Part One

It’s time to go. I’ll be in London tomorrow.IMG_4121

A few years ago I hatched a plan. It was crazy. Extravagant. Audacious. Inspired by my friends Walker and Mark, with a little help from a couple of experiences with “Raising a Modern Day Knight,” I decided to take each of my sons on a father/son rite-of-passage “welcome to manhood” adventure.

The rules were simple. The year they turn 16, we would take a father/son trip anywhere in the world. They would be the “Team Leader,” taking on the responsibility of planning the trip, setting the itinerary, and making sure we got great deals. I would play the role of adviser and angel investor.IMG_3642

He was so little when the plan was hatched. Where did the time go? The day for the trip is here, the adventure has quickly turned from fantasy to reality.

I’ve heard “must be nice” comments about our trip from others. Ten days in the UK? Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice? Overnight train to the highlands of Scotland? They’re looking at the finished product. They are ignoring the humble beginning.

 

Here are a few behind the scenes key points:

  1. Get intentional. Unforgettable things rarely happen on accident, particularly good ones. Make the decision. Write it down. In my case, it was a decision to do something meaningful, memorable, and significant with my sons before they left the house. It’s not just about one trip either, it was a decision to be intentional about fatherhood.
  2. Make a reasonable plan. Because of what I do, how I’m compensated, and the lifestyle we live, I knew that “anywhere in the world’ was a reasonable plan for us. We can’t do it every year, but with enough warning, we can make “anywhere” happen. Not everyone can. That’s okay. There are mind-blowing sights within a couple of days drive of where you live, no matter where you live. A rental car (or van) is more affordable than an airline ticket. As long as you ditch the electronics, a lot of bonding can happen on the road. The adventure is in the journey, not the destination.
  3. Think long-term and take baby steps. Sunrise at Stonehenge on the solstice doesn’t sound reasonable. It isn’t–if it’s an impulse. With a couple years of warning, though, amazing things are possible. Cut back on the premium TV channels and funnel that money into a savings account. Tax refunds or bonuses? Don’t buy that 50-inch TV or the fishing boat…put it into the dream account. Twenty dollars a month adds up to nearly $500 in two years. Every little bit helps. You have to think long-term.
  4. Adjust as necessary. In my head, my son would’ve been a project manager. I wouldn’t have done anything. He would have had budgets and spreadsheets. There would have been multiple options, all color-coded with their respective strengths highlighted in yellow and weaknesses highlighted blue. He would’ve worked a job (preferably for a company he started himself) to help pay for the trip. But one thing I learned through this process…he already works hard. He earned straight As in school, held parts in multiple dramatic productions, learned three instruments, played in two bands, and taught himself how to program. I wouldn’t ask him to drop any of that to start a lawn mowing business. My expectations were too high. So I adjusted. I started off putting the responsibility for driving this project entirely on him. When I made it a “we” project instead, things came together quite quickly. I scheduled a weekly meeting with him. During our meeting, he’d share what he had found and what direction he was leaning on important decisions. I’d offer advice and give him goals for the next week. It worked beautifully. In hindsight, it was exactly how things should have been running all along!

And now, we’re about to embark. Two parts of the the family are headed across the pond while the other two remain domestic. The adventure begins.

“I don’t remember getting older…. when did they?”

Brothers, Bug-bites, and Buntings

Another trip to Texas, another great adventure. I was joined on this adventure by Duke (my dad) and my two boys. Duke took on the role of trail guide and walking bird encyclopedia while I did a lot of spotting and shooting (with my camera). The boys were intrepid and fearless adventures.
At the crack of (vacation) dawn (9ish), we headed to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area. Duke had already scouted it out, having been here to do some volunteer bird-banding. Along the road we saw swallows, hawks, and quite a few vultures. As we parked, a great egret flew overhead, eager to see if the fishermen on the river below were catching anything interesting.
We headed along the trails and boardwalks, looking for adventure, wildlife, and maybe even a unique bird or two. For some reason, I was expecting a relatively tame terrain. I typically do my birding in my backyard, the local (well-groomed) soccer fields, along the pedestrian path by the local lake, or in the winter when the bugs and branches aren’t abundant. This was not any of that. Jeans and boots would’ve been much more appropriate than my shorts and tennis shoes. Oh, well. Onward!
The trail was easy to follow and not a bad hike at all. As we went deeper, the trail narrowed. Much of the area is marsh…which in Texas means bugs. Bugs mean bites, but it also means birds! We came across some experienced birders that were resting on a boardwalk, listening to a bob-white and watching a couple of eastern phoebes snatch snacks off the surface of the marsh. 
All in all it was a great hike. My GPS said we went a little over 2 miles (we went out and back, not the longer loop). We saw Egrets, Eastern Phoebes, Indigo Buntings, a kingfisher, red tailed hawks, turkey vultures, a red bellied woodpecker, snakes, dragon flies, fire ants, fuzzy caterpillars, and four other birders.
Fuzzy caterpillar on the boardwalk
Oh, but the highlight of the day…  We were walking along the boardwalk when Duke pulled out the Audubon Bird App on his iPhone. He started playing the song of the painted bunting. Very quickly, one flew down and started landing on the branches all around us. It wouldn’t stay in any one place very long, but I was able to snap a few pictures of it. It ended up landing on a branch in very plain view and just called out to the app. I don’t know if it was looking for a friend, a rival, or a mate, but it gave us a lot to listen to and look at! Check out a few of the pictures below.

Definitely worth every bump and itch.

The journey to Villers Saint Paul (part one in a series)

Today’s journey opened the next chapter in a story that began for me more than thirty years ago. The summer after my second grade year my friend Jason and I got to spend a week with my grandparents. They were both retired and had a house on a lake in Missouri.

One day Jason and I were sitting in the living room with my Grandpa when Jason suddenly asked him about the war. Everyone knew that my grandpa was a bomber pilot in World War 2. We even knew he was shot down over France, captured, and held as a prisoner of war. But he never talked about it. Not once. Not to his own children, and not to his grandchildren. I suspect he never even talked about it with his wife. But that day the circumstances were right. Jason’s innocent question opened a door that had been locked for a long time. He sat us both down and told us everything.

Soon, the rest of the family found out that he had told us. Slowly everyone encouraged him to write it down. He began to do so, but unfortunately he died just a few years later. He had completed a memoir that began the day he took off on that fateful mission on June 2, 1944 and covered the time until they arrived in a POW camp. It is just a few days, but the story is powerful and almost unbelievable.

Today, my family and I journeyed back to his crash site in Villers Saint Paul. While my journey back was not as hazardous as my Grandpa’s, it was both unlikely and miraculous.

This morning we were to catch the 9:10 direct train from Gare du Nord to Creil. Upon arriving in Creil, we would catch the 10:31 bus to the Villers Saint Paul town center, arriving at 10:44. Just in time for the Liberation Day ceremony.

It was raining this morning when we set out. Nine of us, all traveling together. A motley collection of Americans searching for Pain du Chocolat on our way to the metro. First one metro, then another. We arrived at Gare du Nord and followed the signs that looked right. “D” line, RER to Creil. But the “D” line didn’t go to Creil. The train to Creil was a TGV and was leaving in 5 minutes, three floors up. And we didn’t have tickets yet. So we hopped on the “D” line anyway, knowing it would get us closer. Maybe we could catch a bus or a taxi later.

The end of the line was “Villiers-le-Bel.” Still quite a way to Creil. Another train came along that was going a little farther. We hopped on and made it to “Orry-la-Ville-Coye” which is a lovely French town just outside of Chantilly. According to Google maps, it’s about 24 kilometers from the end of the train line and the crash site. I didn’t see any taxis. Others went to find a bus schedule. It’s Liberation Day everywhere in France, and nothing much was running.

As we were exiting the train station, we saw a beautiful weimaraner (large grey dog) come through the gate, followed closely by his person. Later, as we were standing near the bus stop, the man with the dog overheard us and said “I can take four or five.” He didn’t even know where we were going. Me, my wife, and my two kids hopped into his Volvo wagon (with the dog happily panting in the back). He had to run by his house and get his phone, but very quickly he was off!

Villers Saint Paul is a small town. Our benevolent driver hadn’t heard of it. I figured if he could get us to Creil, that would be a definite improvement. He was charming and colorful the entire way. His profession was wine, something any good Frenchman would aspire to. He had just dropped his daughter off at the station and his wife was out of town. Since it was a national holiday, he didn’t really have anything going on anyway (at least that’s what he told us.) As he sped through Chantilly on our way to Creil, he asked if we wanted to see the castle. I figured we were running late anyway, so why not?

Pictures don’t do justice to this incredible sight. At our first glimpse, the four of us simultaneously went “Wow.” Our jaws dropped. Then he said “Oh, that’s the stable for the horses. The castle is farther down. It was raining and I snapped this from the car, but it really is a breathtaking sight.

Once we made our loop past the castle, our driver gunned it toward Creil. He expertly sped through the roundabouts, beeping his horn a the appropriate times. I don’t recall there being any fishtails or power slides, but I did see the speedometer hit 140 km/h (about 85 mph). When he wanted that car to go, it WENT.

As we got into Creil, there were signs for Villers Saint Paul. We followed them, then followed some more to the town center. A small crowd was gathered in the square and I glanced at the clock in the car. 11:07. Even with the detour around the castle, we were only a few minutes late. And they held the ceremony for us. Our new friend helped us out of the car, refused any form of compensation and wished us well.

This man’s generosity, kindness, good spirit, friendliness, and fast car can do a lot to restore one’s faith in the human race.

Continued in part two…