October 25, 2011


(props to my brother Jon for the art)

Saturday morning, around 11 am, I boomed out Nicki Minaj's Superbass to a group of 54 high school kids  here at Campamento del Caribe. I then showed them a clip of Sophia Grace Brownlee singing the same song perfectly, belting that catchy chorus just like Ms. Minaj. It was the cutest thing ya ever did see.

But those lyrics... they're kinda nasty. In the very least, they paint an odd picture of what an ideal man should be. (Nicki's take: "He pop bottles... he's always in the air but he never flies coach, he might sell coke") And that's where we took our ensuing discussion. It's just a little weird having a discussion about naughty English lyrics with a group of Spanish speaking kids. Many of them were bobbing their heads and shot their hands in the air when I asked if they knew the words.

Discussing the dangers of pop music officially ushers me into one of the stages of adulthood between "permissibly cool grown-up" and "please stop, Dad, you're embarrassing me." I think the one I'm at the post-plateau coolness plummet. My trajectory is negative, no doubt.

But my own coolness aside, it was all part of our Contracultura retreat.

The point we were trying to get across was: Be different. Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform to the powers of the world, and we wanted to find some cool ways to get that point across to the campers. Part of that was our discussion that morning, dubbed "THE VOICE OF TRUTH." We compared various takes the entertainment industry and media have on subjects like men, women, God, Good and Evil, Success (we never got to sex and relationships, dadgummit) with the Bible. The format worked well - Clip, introduce topic, discuss in small groups, hear from a few groups, look at what the Bible says.

That discussion was one of the hardest things for me to plan - it only came together a few days before the retreat. Also tough: coming up with a name. Julio gets credit for that. He clearly has not plateaued in coolness, as I have. We kicked around a bunch of ideas, almost settling on a few others, until he pitched Contracultura. It was like, "Bingo." And it stuck.

Our high school camps have been really, really encouraging to me. Before the summer, Jon gave me a capacity number, and I looked at the previous summer and said there was no way we'd hit it. And somehow we did. We had a full camp, and the kids had a blast. And the energy at the end of the week was amazing.

So they seemed to carry it over into the retreat this weekend. Good numbers again, up from our last retreat in February. On Saturday night, Julio spoke and gave an invitation, and at least four kids went to talk to their counselors to accept Christ. Praise God for that.

I got to speak Sunday morning. I'm not nervous about that anymore, not here anyway. It helps when you know what you're going to say. And when you speak through a translator, you get a minute to formulate your next thought. Which really disrupts your flow, if you have flow. I am not a person who has flow. I don't think, anyway. But I was glad to get the chance to speak, if only for 20 minutes. It went well - I told an embarrassing story, shared a funny clip, and used a good illustration I learned from Francis Chan.

I really don't like to dwell on numbers, but it's a special thing when camp is full. Once again, parents were dragging their kids away from CdC. God is doing big things here.

I got to leaf through some of our evaluations from the retreat today, and the most common suggestion for improvement: Let us stay longer. The thing they liked the most: The teaching times.

That's why we do these retreats. It's great that they have fun and want to come back, but for them to leave with deeper understanding, strengthened in their walk... That's huge. Pray for those 54 kids, that they really would keep at it, and truly be Contracultura.

October 16, 2011

The things you find on the beach

Living on the ocean, you're at the edge of the world, it seems. So when garbage washes up onshore, I like to imagine it could have come from anywhere.

Glass bottle? Dropped in the ocean by a sailor decades ago. Obviously.

A barbie leg? A little girl somewhere in Venezuela is tailoring special barbie pants.

Plastic car parts? Some freighter from Hong Kong lost a crate overboard en route to Brazil or Detroit or Latvia.

Clearly I have no idea how the gulf stream works.

In reality, when the rain falls, it flows down the mountains and through the city streets and sweeps all the debris into the river and out to sea. And shortly thereafter, it washes up on our beach. So while the barbie legs and bottles and plastic debris - and a mountain of bamboo and sticks - could have come from a long way away, odds are they're from down the street in Pastillo or Juana Diaz or Santa Isabel. There are lots of familiar objects in there.

Yesterday, a number of kids were here at camp to pitch in and clean up the beach to earn a discount for our retreats the next few weekends. It's really more for them than for us. We even feed them lunch. We don't, however, give them swim time when it's all said and done, something that made me lots of enemies as I drove them home after we ate.

I spent most of our two short hours of work dragging a few of them back from the water cooler in the shade and encouraging them to keep helping while the others kept working. A lot of them haven't quite grasped the benefits of hard labor in the hot sun.

Builds character. Grunt. 

I'm 27 and still working on my attitude towards this kind of thing. So I don't know why I would expect an 11 year old to joyfully sift through all the junk on the shore. 

You never know what you're going to find.

Almost immediately after we started, one of them found a syringe.

She jokingly asked if it was mine. That's the brand of humor I expect from this particular girl. I shrugged it off and assured her it wasn't.

A minute later, she found a tiny baggie. She knew it had held drugs, and again asked if it was mine. I again denied it with a smirk. She explained to me with a few gestures and some basic Spanish what had been in the bag and what someone would have done with it, then threw it in her garbage bag.

Had I found that baggie, I'd probably have thought nothing of it. And had I found the syringe, I'd have quietly dropped it in my bag and then washed my hands for twenty minutes. It's the kind of thing you don't want kids to ask you about, that you'd rather them never know anything about. You'd like to protect them.

I stood there for a minute and spaced out. Here was a 13-year-old girl who lives right next to a drug point and has had far more exposure to drugs than I have. And she was making jokes. How do you protect them then?

When I was 13, I just wanted to watch Animaniacs and eat cereal.

October 7, 2011


Last night I stayed up in the office watching the Tigers beat the Yankees to advance to the ALCS. 

I settled in the office because my wireless reception was a little sketchy from my house, and I'd rather sit in an office chair to watch the game without interruption than recline on a couch and watch the game freeze and stop up every other play.

Take the first inning. I get the game going, kick back, watch Austin Jackson strike out (no surprise there) to make the first out of the game. Then - connection goes down. A little tinkering and I get it back up. Now the Yankee crowd is silent and we're suddenly up 1-0. I missed Don Kelly's solo shot. I do a fist pump. Sit down on the edge of the couch to watch Delmon Young bat. Ivan Nova goes to his windup and -

Connection down again.

Nope. Not doing this. I pack it up, move to the kitchen where my wifi signal is a little more reliable, set my projector and computer on my table and get it going again. Now we're up 2-0. Still one out, nobody on base. Delmon hit a solo shot too? Another fist pump. Miguel Cabrera strikes out and there's a murmur from the crowd. Victor Martinez grounds out. End of the first inning.

I sit there at my kitchen table and watch Doug Fister mow down the Yanks on my wall. This might work out fine. And then-

Connection down again.

No question, I'm not gonna put up with this. I migrate to the office, where I sit for the next three and a half hours in an office chair. It's not the ideal comfy setup but it'll do.

The Yankees trot out six more pitchers after the first inning, and each one of them is effective. The Tigers only get one more run and never establish a safe lead. 

But to me the story is the Tigers pitching.

Throughout the game, they let lots of guys on base, but strand 11 of them. Sometimes three in an inning. It's exciting and terrible and scary. I sit, shaking, heart palpitating, hands over my eyes, peering through the gaps like a child in a scary movie. I text my brother - "Can't. Watch." A thousand miles away, he's doing the same, I think. "Sickening," he says.

Scherzer gets Russell Martin to swing like the tinman at a pitch he clearly doesn't want. Joaquin Benoit loads 'em up and walks in a run, but leaves the bases loaded. In the 9th, Jose Valverde closes it out and gets Granderson and Cano to pop out. Then he strikes out Alex Rodriguez who, for the second straight year, ends the Yankees season by striking out. As a Tigers fan, it's beautiful.

I clap, and shout "YES!" - I can do this in the office without fear of disturbing anyone else. At home, the windows are always open and certainly Julio and Beth would hear me and think I'm ridiculous. 

Maybe I am ridiculous.

Soon, all my fellow Tiger-fan-friends are texting me and littering Facebook with Tigers-related statuses. This might be one of my favorite things about Facebook - it gives people far away from each other the chance to celebrate together. Otherwise, I'd have no idea just how many people are out there enjoying and celebrating this along with me. 

October 3, 2011

On Baking Cookies

I'll make no secret about my ignorance in baking cookies. I may have done it before... I know I've made brownies. I do have a sweet tooth, and odds are that at some point I baked some out of desperation.

Now, of late I'm doing my best to watch my figure as I creep toward 30 years old and the inevitable demise of my metabolism. So I'm trying to avoid unhealthy things. And yet, someone left me some butterscotch chips, a true rarity in these parts. And I'm on an oatmeal kick - oatmeal, brown sugar, raisins, check. What more do you need for cookies? Eggs? I've been known to fry or scramble them. Flour? I keep that around in case I want to fail at battering and frying something. Salt? Check. Butter? Obviously. Despite my bachelordom, I know these are essential for baking and I keep them all on hand anyway. I started thinking - cookie-baking is a skill I can further develop in my spare time here, and it just so happens I have the majority of the necessary ingredients. Gotta start somewhere.

And so it came to pass that I decided to bake some oatmeal cookies.

I located the following Betty Crocker recipe:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts

blah blah 350 degrees blah blah combine ingredients drop dough 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet, bake 9-11 minutes blah blah cool on a rack.

I don't have a cooling rack. I didn't think about this until the cookies were actually in the oven.

What I had to start with.

I had to plunder the Marshall's house for the remaining stuff. Since this was my first time baking since moving here, there was no way I was going to have vanilla on hand. I didn't have any baking soda that hadn't been sitting in a freezer for less than a decade. Also, I didn't have a mixing bowl. Also, I was out of eggs for some reason.

me, plundering the Marshall's house.

Everything you need for a breathtaking baking adventure

Dial it up to 350 for fun. No digital clock ovens in this house. Analog, baby. That's how I roll.

There they are. No turning back now. That's butter and sugar - essentially frosting. The butter, for the record, smelled and tasted a little funky. Not enough, though, for me to think it was unusable. A more experienced cook might have turned back at this point. But like I said - no turning back now. We're doing this.

Add eggs and vanilla and stir "until light and fluffy." I guess this is light and fluffy. Then combine all the rest.

Artist with art. Taking self-portraits and not looking like a doofus is very difficult. Poor framing. Meh.

That's definitely not the prescribed two-inches apart. No big deal, though, right? Who cares? It was at this point that I realized - what in the world are they supposed to cool on? My mom always put them on newspaper. I don't read newspapers here. Bare on the table? Nope. I had something:

Paper towel, baby. A few of them got a little close together and turned into squares. No biggy. I'll fast forward to the end here:

They really don't look too bad.

Now. Finished. I can enjoy a few of these, but I'm going to have to give a lot away. I tasted one two a few. I should have added more raisins. I don't think the butter-funk played a big role. A few taste testers will tell. 

All in all - not a bad experience. I followed the recipe. They look like cookies. They taste like cookies. I can chalk this one up as a success.