Christmas 2006

24 Dec 2006

Hello once again, and Merry Christmas. I’d like to welcome all the newcomers, and once again remind you that all you have to do to opt out is send me a quick e-mail. Otherwise, I’ve been hearing enjoyment from some readers and recently heard I have an “interesting take” on things, so I hope you enjoy the installments in the coming days! Though I can’t find a copy on my computer of the first update, I think they began as a Christmas letter in 2002, but luckily I only have to fit in the last month and 1/2 into these notes, which will still take a while, so I better get down to business.

Looking back on last time, I stopped right at 9 November, the Thursday all the LVC houses of the Midwest (Chicago, Milwaukee, and Twin Cities) met to start our 4+ day retreat. Alli was coming from another conference, so 5 of us piled into this small gray car (I still don’t know my makes and models) for the 4 hour trip to western Wisconsin, only a stone’s throw from the Mississippi. We left pretty much on time, but after passing up a brewery, we decided to stop for some wings @ Quaker Steak and Lube (I had french fries), and this stop, coupled with our more “scenic” and direct (yet slower road) route put us into Sugar Creek Bible camp an hour or more after our scheduled arrival. However, Alli soon arrived, too, which gave us some time for a family dinner @ the local gas station/convenience store. When we got back to the lodge, everyone else was there, asking why we had been late, but things like that, doing things differently, have become a bit of the M.O. of the Double D (to others the Dorothy Day) House. We shared favorite childhood games as our ice breaker and then prepared for the next 3 1/2 days of retreat.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were full days, and we left Monday around noon. Our days consisted of cooking and eating, workshops and sessions, and lots of nice free time. For our sessions, we had some more time to discuss anti-racism and white privilege, environmental justice, spiritual practices, took and discussed a conflict personality inventory, and had some time of faith sharing and discussion. The environmental guy talked about how all of us should have earthworms in our houses (well, in boxes or large tupperware containers) where we put our food scraps so they can decompose them and create great fertilizer. Of if you’re not there yet, at least try to compost. For the retreat, each house was to prepare and share in some way what they had developed as a covenant. We, not being the best in forethought and planning, didn’t do a lot in preparation for our sharing, but we ended up throwing in a small prop joke, which was appropriate. Other houses’ presentation included a Full House spoof, a personalized Twister board, and a redone Clue board. We also had an open mic night, where DD provided three items, one being me reading one of the essays I had written recently.

While we were there, we also had a good amount of free time. I ran around camp, which is much more mountainous than I am used to, a few of the mornings I was there. For the most part, the retreats are the only time us in different cities see each other, and definitely the only time when we’re all together, so it was nice to enjoy each other during the extra moments. For indoor activities, I did some reading, enjoyed the fire in the fireplace, and played a game of Risk with five of my fellow LVCers (I lost). Also, after the childhood games icebreaker, I found someone else who knew how to play pinochle, then a third person was found, so after teaching a 4th, I played a little pinochle during my time, too. It snowed for us during the day Friday, so outdoors I played some snow kickball and snow ultimate frisbee (and some non-snow kick-the-can Thursday night). The camp was a bit posh, so I also spent a few minutes two evenings in their wood-burning sauna. On afternoon we left camp as a house and had some delicious pies. I mentioned cooking, and two meals were the responsibility of the DD house, so we made this nice bean soup and lasagna. I could tell more, but that’s already a lot about five days, so I’ll end by saying that our ride home was a little more spacious and expedient, as we now had two cars and took the recommended route home (which took us past a sweet wind farm). We have another retreat in March and then one more in June, both of which I’m really looking forward to.

Wow, that five days was jam-packed, but it also creates a good time for a break. I wish you all once again a Merry Christmas wherever you are and continued safety and joy, no matter how or what you may be celebrating.

God Bless,

The bonus features this time I’ve decided will be a variety of items. For this Christmas episode, I have something special. Many of your might remember one of the subject lines of a previous updates, in early/mid-November, saying how they were already playing Christmas music. This led to a few comments and discussions about appropriate times to play “Christmas” music. So, I decided that I would share with you a (non-comprehensive) listing of songs I created with, based on their lyrics, the appropriate time for them to be played. Feel free to add to them, comment on my choices, or debate them with me or your family and friends. Once again, have a blessed holiday season.

Winter Songs (December-ish through February-ish, ish)
Frosty the Snowman
Jingle Bell Rock
Jingle Bells
Let it Snow!
Sleigh Ride
Winter Wonderland

Advent through Christmas Eve
All I Want For Christmas is my Two Front Teeth
All I Want For Christmas is You
Blue Christmas
Deck the Halls
Happy Holidays (He’ll Be Coming Down the Chimney)
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town
Santa Claus is Watching You

Advent through Epiphany
Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You
Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Do You Hear (What I Hear)?
Holly Jolly Christmas
Little Drummer Boy
O Christmas Tree
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Advent through New Year’s Eve
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Christmas Eve Night through Epiphany
Carol of the Bells
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Feliz Navidad
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Happy Christmas (So This Is Christmas)
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Joy to the World
O Come All Ye Faithful
The Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas Eve
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
Here Comes Santa Claus
Santa Baby

Christmas Eve and Day (night)
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Oh Holy Night
Silent Night

Christmas Day
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Christmas Day through Epiphany
Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer
There’s Something Stuck up in the Chimney

Season of Epiphany
We Three Kings

Songs that Have Nothing to Do With Christmas
My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music)
The Cha Cha Slide
We’re All In This Together (from High School Musical)

26 Dec 2006

Hey, welcome back! I hope everyone had an amazing 25 December wherever you were. Mine was a lot of fun, with my grandparents here from Minnesota. We had dinner and opened some presents during the day and then played one of the gifts I received, a card game called Fluxx. It’s a lot of fun, and maybe you can play it with me sometime. But maybe I’ll talk more about that later, so let’s just back into things.

Thinking back, I’ve realized that, for the most part, my time during the week is pretty predictable. School is still going well. There have been some mini changes with classes, the most substantial being that our fourth hour Geometry class was split in half so that Lucy and I now each have about 10 students each, I think creating a better environment for both students and us teachers. Aside from snow covered streets, I continue to bike to school and some other places. I have choir practice on Tuesday nights and community/family time Mondays (though it will probably change after the first of the year), cook about twice every three weeks, and clean something each weekend. So aside from the fairly predictable weekdays (though school itself is never predictable or boring, but hopefully you get the drift), I try to have excitement on my weekends, which you’ll see as I continue on with my month before Christmas.

So, the week after the retreat was only four working days, and that following weekend was a weekend extraordinaire for the gospel choir. It started Friday night, when ten of us from the choir traveled to Lutherdale, a church summer camp, to sing for a retreat group there that weekend. They fed us a nice meal before we returned to the city later in the evening. The next morning, @ 10 a.m., the full choir met at Repairers of the Breech, a daytime drop-in shelter for the homeless, not too far from the church. We sang for about 30 clients of the center and some college students who were volunteering there that morning. It was a really powerful experience, and I really felt God was working though our voices and testimony. A few of the clients even visited our church service the next morning, when we sang again, for the third time in as many days. Then we had lunch together before loading up into a van and SUV to take the 20+ of us on a road trip to Chicago’s south side to since at the celebration of a church’s 125th anniversary. It was a pretty sweet concert, with their choir singing a few tunes, too, and two combined numbers. We’re hoping to combine again in Milwaukee this Spring for a concert, so I’ll keep you all posted as I learn more. It was an awesome weekend, and just reaffirmed in me my choice to join the choir in the first place.

The following week was a short one, too, as it held Thanksgiving. Wednesday @ school we had a 1/2 day, culminating in a pot-luck luncheon (I took carrots and a pumpkin pie). I quickly helped clean up before catching a bus downtown to get an Amtrak train to Chicago to then catch the commuter train to South Bend where I was picked up about 8PM Thanksgiving Eve. My grandparents from Maryland, along with my only aunt and only cousin had made the trek to see us. We had an enjoyable Thanksgiving meal, and we had lot of fun during the two days they and I were both in Ohio. We played some pinochle and a few of us went swimming at the pool in the hotel they stayed. It was a quick stay for them, but still very enjoyable. That Saturday, the four Bjorlins went to see the movie Bobby (I enjoyed it), church, and out to eat before playing cards a little more. I got up early Sunday to attend church again before driving to South Bend to catch the commuter train to take me to Chicago to catch the megabus back to Milwaukee.

In addition to seeing Bobby, I have seen some other good movies in the past month+, the most enjoyable being a documentary called Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. It deals with the “cult” that started in the Bay Area and moved down to Guyana, where the largest mass suicide (technically, though the movie show how it is more of a mass murder) in modern history occurred. Many believe it will be up for an Oscar when nominees are announced in January, and it will be on PBS sometime in the Spring. I highly recommend it if you have the chance to see it (and still remember about it by then). Other movies I’ve seen as of late include Babel, This Film is Not Yet Rated, and The Pursuit of Happyness — all good, too, but not great.

I guess that’s all for now. I’ll pick back up with the exciting start of December!


I guess I wanted to fill you in on something you wouldn’t know by only reading my e-mails, and that is somewhat important to a future update, though if you’ve seen me lately, you already know about it. I actually even have a picture to go along with it! (You may have already opened or previewed it, actually.) The big news, or lack of news, possibly, is that I haven’t cut my hair since July, when one of my fellow counselors at camp did it. I don’t have any plans to get rid of the “shaggy” look any time soon, but I may get it cut/trimmed up sometime in the coming months, if not weeks. I had tossed around growing it long enough for Locks for Love, but I don’t know if I could even do that (and a few people I know said they wouldn’t want my hair anyway — thanks!). So, next time you see me, don’t be surprised if you can’t see my ears and if you want to call me Eric Foreman (from That 70s Show) or Shaggy (from Scooby Doo fame), as the kids at school and in gospel choir do!


2 Jan 2007

So what’s so exciting about December? Well, on the first, a Friday, I awoke at my normal time, looked out the window and saw the nice helping of snow we had been gifted with overnight, and decided I would definitely be taking the bus. I showered and got ready for my day as usual. About 7:10, the phone rang. It was Kelly’s boss, telling her that Milwaukee Public Schools were cancelled, because of the 9+ inches of snow that had fallen, and thus she was off of work. As she danced around, I figured it was likely we were closed as well, but I wasn’t completely sure. I decided to wait at home until 8, when people usually arrive at school, and call to see if anyone was there, and if that made me late, it would likely be understood. However, I didn’t have to wait that long, as I got my own call at 7:30 from Shalom’s principal, telling me that we, too, had been cancelled. So, for the first time in probably 7 years, I had a snow day! There were actually 4 of us who got to stay home — Kelly, me, Alli, and Aaron — and Amanda got home around 1. I spent the morning watching Love Actually while grading papers and then shoveled some snow before just hanging out in the afternoon. The next day I went with the gospel choir to sing at the Saturday night service of our sister congregation in the suburbs. It was a fun experience, singing Amazing Grace and Emmanuel to all those white folk.

I got the next Friday off, too, because it was scheduled @ school as Women’s Day. We had had Men’s Day a few weeks earlier, where we had a little programming for all the guys (the females, both students and teachers, got that day off), mainly discussing obscene lyrics and the power of language, but I also spent an hour or so playing basketball with about 12 of the male students. It didn’t quite go how we had planned it, but I do think I benefited from the time to bond with the male students.

So with the 8th off automatically and an LVC gathering scheduled @ one of the houses in the Twin Cities, I decided to use the opportunity to take a trip up there to visit LVC people and some friends I have there. As is true when you live in Milwaukee, it seems, the direct route isn’t the cheapest, so I used megabus via Chicago, heading there Thursday night and then taking an overnight to Minnesota, arriving Friday morning. After sleeping a little more @ the house where I would stay Friday night (I slept pretty well on the bus), I set out to visit a number of my fellow LVCers at their placements. I made it to 5 placements in addition to visiting the Twin Cities coordinator, which kept me busy and moving during most of Friday, and then it was time for the gathering, which was a lot of fun. One of my camp friends who did LVC last year was there, too, and I ended up then on Saturday, after running, visiting him where he did LVC and now currently works. I then biked up to another LVC house and, after a bit of a nap, did various hanging out items, with various LVCers who came and went, including (but not limited to) watching Star Trek, eating, playing Phase 10, jamming to their amazing record collection, chatting, and playing a Scattergories-esque word game. It was then (past) time for bed, and Sunday morning I biked to church where I knew three people — one current LVCer, one camp friend who did LVC there last year, and the intern pastor who worked @ the church I went to in Chicago last year. That afternoon I had lunch and hung out with my camp friend before heading back to the LVC house to get my stuff, where I was then enticed to attend Yoga with them. I don’t know if I’d like to do Yoga regularly, but it was kind of fun.

After a few more hours of LVC bonding, it was time to get my overnight megabus back to Chicago. Here’s my cautionary megabus tale: The bus was scheduled to depart @ 11:45, and when it had still not arrived by 12:15, some people got on their cell phones, and it was discovered that the driver was a substitute who had left a 1/2 hour early and was now 40 minutes from downtown. So, they had him turn around to come pick up the large number of us still waiting. We ended up leaving at 1am (as Armageddon played, for whatever reason, on the TV screens), and instead of arriving at our scheduled time of 6:45, we got there at 9. It, luckily, wasn’t that big of a deal for me, and it may have actually been better, as I was on the bus longer and thus able to get more sleep. That Monday, which I had taken off, I decided to head up to New Trier, where I worked last year, to visit some of my former colleagues. It was a little weird, but it was also fun to catch up with people and hear about changes in people’s lives, namely pregnancies and engagements. Then it was back downtown to catch my final bus to Milwaukee, arriving home just in time for dinner.

That gets me close to Christmas celebrations and heading back to Ohio, but not close enough to tell about it now. I thank all of you who sent greetings and well wishes, be in the mail or e-mail, Christmas or otherwise. I hope you had an enjoyable celebration of the arrival of 2007, wherever you might have been. We know not where it will take us, but I pray that it will be a year of joy and happiness for all. I’m excited to see what the year will bring me, especially the days after 10 August. Stay safe!


(You might want to save this “extra” for later… It’s a bit long.)
It’s not often in life that I’m preachy, and that’s for good reason. I like to speak by example, as I think this is the best way to show people how you feel without making them feel like you’re battering something down their throat. But I’ve been struggling lately with where actual speech and “evangelism,” if you will, of my beliefs come into play. Hopefully this will be an appropriate time, as we begin our new year (together).

What I wanted to share with you is two challenges I pose to you this year, having to do with eating, based on a few conversations about vegetarianism and eating I had in December, mainly when I was in Minnesota and Ohio, and share a little bit about my changes, too. Even if you don’t adopt them, I encourage you to read and think (and question me) about them and what they mean to you.

The first I’d like to call “100 Servings.” Cutting meat from your diet completely may not be in the cards for you, and I realize that. But hopefully you’ve talked with me (or another vegetarian in your life) enough to recognize the benefits of a diet based on less meat — lately, I’ve recognized more the environmental reasons, like saving water and food and energy used in meat production, that hopefully all can recognize (in addition to reasons I hold about the treatment of animals in factory farms). In my current house, there are 2 vegetarians and 4 non-vegetarians, but those who do eat meat have graciously accepted a diet filled with much less meat than they had eaten previously, which I commend them for greatly. I, too, have done some thinking, and I’ve decided that I’m opening myself up a little more, to eating about one meal with fish/seafood and/or “family” farm raised meat a month if given the opportunity. The challenge I pose for you (which might be easy or hard, depending) is that during all of 2007, you eat only 100 meals that contain meat. Someone like my dad, a diabetic who eats sandwiches with lunchmeat every day, isn’t going to be able to do it, but my mom has agreed to try. It might cause you to alter your cooking habits, but I think it’s more than possible for many of you. It’s still about 2 meals a week with meat, which would hopefully appease most desires for it. Think about it and decide if this might be a possibility for you. I’d love to hear if you’re planning to try it to see how it turns out for you and to offer encouragement, too.

The other challenge is just a basic one, suggested by my mom, which may or may not cause you difficulty, I don’t know. She was lamenting the number of “meals out” some of her co-workers have, so I thought of the catching slogan “Four Score and Seven Meals Out on the Town.” Here, the goal would be to eat only 87 meals “out: in 2007, whether you measure that as fast food or otherwise. That’s a little more than 7 times a month, which, again, I think is doable.

I just thought I’d throw that one out there, too, while I was at it, but I encourage you to really think about the “100 Servings” challenge. Good Luck!

6 Jan 2007

Here comes the last one for a while! So savor it ;-)

Since Aaron was scheduled to leave Friday,15 Dec, we set up our family Christmas celebration for Wednesday evening, the 13th. We had pulled the tree up from the basement a few days earlier, and we all gathered in the living to decorate the tree or watch as others decorated it. We had decided to exchange “personality poems,” poems that described the person whose name we had drawn the week previous. We also decided to give a small gift to the person we wrote the poem for. I received two funny haikus to accompany my gifts, one dealing with my long hair and the other dealing with my eating habits. To speak to the eating, I received a large spoon and partitioned plates, to help me better learn portion size. For the hair, I got a small pair of scissors to use, but since it wasn’t planning on cutting my hair any time soon (though I might get a trim in a few weeks, though I’ll be staying with the longer/shaggy/hippie look for a while here), I also received a nice headband and some barrettes and clips :) How about that for sweet, hunh?

My last few days at school were nice — we did a gift exchange there, too, where I gave the somewhat cheep LVCish gift of baked cookies, though I think they turned out really well. The weekend I spent getting ready to go home and watching movies (Talladega Nights and Wedding Crashers, both pretty funny). I sang with the gospel choir Sunday morning, and then we all went to Ponderosa for a nice buffet together.

On Monday morning it was time to begin my ambitious journey homeward. I started by heading to Chicago, where I visited 3 fellow LVCers at their placements and then hung out and stayed @ the Casa Romero house, once again, before taking the train back downtown Tuesday morning, where I caught a megabus to Cleveland to visit a camp friend and then headed Wednesday to the Camp Mowana reunion, which lasted until Thursday noon. My brother came over to pick me up and interviewed for a counselor position, which I’m happy to say he received, so if you’re thinking of working there and need any more incentive to apply, that should be it.

I arrived @ my parents’ place (my second home) Thursday afternoon. We hung out a little bit that evening, and then on Friday we all went out to eat in a somewhat pre-Christmas celebration before seeing a movie. Saturday my grandparents arrived from Minnesota, and then it was a bit of a church whirlwind from there on out. I did an LVC presentation @ my parents’ church Saturday night and @ their two services Sunday morning. I got a small afternoon reprieve before playing a few tunes on the guitar, first as a guest guitarist prior to the children’s service at the same church (I left after my duty was done), and then accompanying my mom and brother (separately) for pre-service music before Christmas Eve Candlelight where my dad is currently interim.

Christmas day saw a wonderful feast along with your standard present opening, though no It’s a Wonderful Life this year. Day after Christmas I spent a little more time with family, eating dinner our, celebrating my grandfather’s 80th birthday (a little early), and searching through our storage locker for (and finding) some items I had not necessarily forgotten to pack, but which will make me a little better off. The 27th I rode back to Milwaukee, in a car, with my grandparents as they returned to Minnesota. Over the course of the next few days, I didn’t have any work to do, so I rode my bike a combined total, in two days, of 30 miles to see Dreamgirls and the Queen and watched a few other movies at home. I celebrated the new year with three of my housemates and (two of their significant others), and here we are, 2007!

Once again, I wish you an amazing 2007, and I look forward to seeing many of you and hearing from the rest of you (right?) in the coming months! God Bless.


My last aside/extra for this grouping is the listing of the many books I’ve finished since the end of the summer, which is an insanely large amount for me, which I’m totally stoked that I’ve read so much. I’m very excited to share them, with a few recommendations in the mix. I’ll put them in the order I finished them, more or less.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I’ve still never seen the movie based on this book, but I did enjoy the book. Probably the longest book I had ever read (at the time), which was a good accomplishment, and I enjoyed the “fate” aspect that Owen talks about during the book, but I’m sure it could have been a lot shorter.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The best book I’ve read in a long time, possibly because the narrator deals a lot with mathematical ideas. It truly was, for the, the very unique narrator’s way of telling a story that made the book so amazing. I HIGHLY recommend it (though not everyone will like it, as is evidenced by one of my housemates giving it a try to then not finish it).

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
I had read it before, in early high school, but I liked it much more this time. I better understood the psychological and philosophical ideas contained within.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
Not quite as good as the Dog book, but not too bad.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A little slow for me in the middle, but a lot of good philosophical ideas to think about.

The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret
This collection of short stories is pretty amazing, and funny. Keret is an Israeli author who penned the work the movie Wristcutters (I highly recommended it in Nov) was based on. It’s the only thing I could find by him in the Milwaukee libraries, so I’d think anything you can get your hands on that he has written would be enjoyable.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Kind of LONG (my reading of this overlapped with the previous three books), but also really good. Has a lot of asides in the story about life and philosophy, which is what, in the end, kept me going.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
A quick read for me I should have read in junior high or early high school but never did. I really liked it, and I think everyone should read it once, if you haven’t yet already

America: The Book by the Staff of the Daily Show
I read this a little at a time as I ate breakfast each morning. A nice “coffee table” book, but also fun to read in sequence. Kind of makes you wonder if our country will ever turn itself around, though, no matter who is in power. (If you have another breakfast eating book for me to take a look at, do be my guest.)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
I had been wanting to read this for a few years and finally picked it up from the library. The best part, in my opinion, is the Acknowledgements section. It starts kind of slow and mundane and tends to be a little self-indulging (which is what I worry my writings are or will become), but he has some good sections in the middle, particularly chapters 4 and 6 and any time someone steps out of character. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you do read it, you’ll at least find some enjoyment. I tried a few of his short stories, too, and wasn’t impressed.

The Coffee-House of Surat by Leo Tolstoy
This is a short story that speaks about faith and the unity of different faith traditions. I think it would be great as a discussion starter or something to get you thinking a little more about what and why you believe.


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