Friday, January 23, 2009

New photo blog

Hi all (my two official followers and mom)! I know I haven't been updating this blog very often, as a result of an especially busy few months, but I still plan on using it to communicate my thoughts. I am grateful for this page because it allows me to voice my opinions (see "Reason why we'll be home schooling..." below) and, hopefully, start some meaningful dialogue, without doing so in the context of our new business endeavor.

Yes, that's right, Dori and I have officially started a new business, called it "Brooktown Photography," and set up shop over at The photo blog is where we'll post all our best shots, so for eye candy, hop on over there. But this is still where I'll write about things that mean a lot to me, and where I will continue to be my opinionated self. When we're traveling, the new photo blog will probably be the one we update, just because it's nicer, I'm in complete control of it, and I'll want to showcase any traveling images over there. One bummer is that I believe you have to be registered with WordPress, the blog engine, to comment. (I can't remember if it's the same with

Anyways, for those of you who check in on me here from time to time, thank you. Please continue to comment with your thoughts, agreement and dissent, because I really do want to have meaningful discussions about important issues. Until next time...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reason why we'll be home schooling #427

"(Teachers) are there to make sure that the kids are being appropriate."

-Mother of a middle school student at a campus in Florida where a handful of 13- and 14-year-olds are in trouble for having sex during class. If that's what teachers are for, then what about teaching? Transferring knowledge? Who does that?

Read the full story here.

It goes without saying that sex in the classroom is way high on the list of social reasons I would never send a child to public school. But when parents start saying things like this, it points to the utter brokenness of the system. Instead of, "They need to be better instructors," we now have, "They need to be better babysitters." I know some very dedicated teachers, and I respect their heartfelt efforts, but how can anyone have faith in a system that is so far off the mark that most schools cannot even get 20 percent of their students up to grade level in English?

Folks--and I may be preaching to the choir here, but so be it--home schooling is not just about keeping children out of the world, because I'm not even completely sure that's what kids need. They certainly don't need to see their classmates going at it in the back corner. But it might not hurt for kids to see what the world is like every now and then.

Home schooling these days is about providing quality instruction, and if anybody asks, that's what I tell them. Some children don't have the privilege of parents who will teach them at home, so I hope the public school system improves for their sake. But my kids will have that privilege.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Here we go again

Fire season. Santa Ana winds. Southwest Fallbrook and northeast Oceanside are threatened tonight by the advance of a wildfire that began on Camp Pendleton Monday afternoon. Dori and I drove out tonight around 10:45 p.m. Traffic was blocked off at Sleeping Indian Road, which I think is to guard the houses of evacuees from potential looters. These shots were taken from the northeast.

They're saying on the news that it'll get worse tonight, and maybe spread a little more tomorrow, but that conditions will be easing by Wednesday. We know at least two families whose homes are threatened.

What's more, I grew up watching this indian sleep, but I've never seen him on fire. R.I.P. Sleeping Indian.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chengdu, part 2: the city

After getting run out of town up in the hills, Adam, our translator friend and I left early Sunday morning for Chengdu, the nearest large city and the location of the airport we were scheduled to leave from on Tuesday morning. We figured that, if there were any lingering hard feelings about what we were made to feel was an unwelcome intrusion, it would be more difficult to track us down and hassle us among the millions of people in Chengdu. So that's where we ended up for the rest of our stay.

I'm not going to lie--it was relaxing. Probably the most relaxing time I had in China this summer. (I'm home now, and readjusting to American life--driving and so on.) If you ever find yourself in Chengdu needing a place to lay your head, find a hostel called The Loft and take a shower. Check your e-mail. Sleep in. That's what we did. Here's a photographic sampling of the activities we participated in while sequestered in a city with far less foreigners than the other Chinese cities I visited this year. (We were stared at a lot in the city, as well as in the countryside. There were simply no other white guys around, other than the few French and Australian tourists we met at the hostel.)

This was what all the hallways looked like at The Loft, which was converted into a hostel from an old printing factory.

From the minute we checked in, all three of us were doing plenty of this:

And a little bit of this:

Pizza Hut was our first meal when we got back to the city. It was expensive (thanks, Adam), but it was so, so good.

Adam kept telling me about how the Chinese would visit the one-trip salad bar and come back with a bowl stacked about a foot tall with produce, all contained within walls of cucumbers stacked meticulously to bring back half the salad bar. He was upstairs at the produce buffet for about 15 minutes, then came back down with his cucumber tower halfway accomplished...

...then came the quote of the day: "I don't even like cucumbers," he said. "I hate cucumbers." Which, from a man who eats anything--and lots of it--only means he'd rather be eating copious amounts of something else, but cucumbers would do. He's such an easy-going guy, and a great brother. There is no one I'd have rather spent that particular weekend with. If you read this, Adam, thank you. You're the man.

After explaining what "hut" meant to our dear Chinese friend (I'm not naming him or showing him in any pictures because he's afraid of getting on the wrong side of the authorities), we felt a little sheepish about our language. At least I did. "Shack" was the best translation we could come up with, to which he repeated, "Pizza Shack?" Yeah, tell us about it. "Radio Hut" doesn't sound quite right, either. Neither pizza nor radios should be peddled out of crude shelters, in my opinion.

So here we were, feeling sheepish, wishing English made more sense, when we saw it.

Now, I hate poodles in the first place (sorry to any poodle lovers out there, and forgive me if this specimen is not truly a poodle). But poodles with orange eartips? I felt better about my language immediately. We saw many, many other interesting sights, and I wouldn't be surprised if a picture or two of Adam and I are floating around on some Chinese dude's blog. Folks were staring, snapping photos with their cell phones and generally making us feel like dogs with orange ears or something...

Turns out Chengdu is usually a touristy city--giant panda breeding grounds are nearby, and a travel agency located within our hostel was advertising trips to just about every place in China you would want to see besides the Olympic complex in Beijing. I think that must have been where all the foreigners were, because as I mentioned, we didn't see one outside of the hostel.

All in all, it was an amazing four days. Saturday, when we got to talk to earthquake survivors and hopefully cheer them up a bit, was definitely the best. But the rest of our time wasn't so bad either. (We also got mostly painful foot massages from a guy named Bob whose orientation, if you get my drift, was questionable.) It may sound like our time in the city was fruitless or frivolous, but remember that our good friend is an earthquake survivor. He'd been away at college when it hit, but his family has been devastated, and he spent the summer living in the refugee shelter. He's one of the estimated 15 million people left homeless by the quake, and I think Adam and I were able to encourage him a bit. In fact, I know we did, because he told us so repeatedly. Just hanging out with him was a privilege that I will not soon forget.

So that about says it for our adventure in Chengdu. I am extremely glad that we chose to go, and that God opened doors like he did. Please pray for our friend. Many of you know his name; even if you do not, our Father will know who you are talking about.

I have a few more things to say about the entire six-week trip, and as I catch up on my sleep and memories, I'll jot down a bit more in retrospect here. Thanks for reading, and for following our adventures in the Far East. It's been a pleasure to keep you in the loop.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The pinnacle of this summer

Part 2 of "Chengdu" is gonna have to wait, because last night... was... awesome! We took the five orphans with us for week six of camp here in Beijing to the Olympics, thanks to a former Olympian named Gary Morgan who's stayed involved with the U.S. side of things since he competed in '88. Gary helped us get 10 tickets to tonight's track and field competition--which included several huge final events such as the men's 100 meter hurdles, in which the U.S. took gold, silver and bronze. We also saw women's javelin, men's triple jump, and women's 400 meter. It all took place inside the Bird's Nest stadium, and it was every bit of the Olympic experience we'd been hoping for.

But the really cool stuff happened before we even set foot in the stadium. Gary rallied four 2008 U.S. Olympians, including three of the eight-man rowing team that won the bronze last week. Two of the guys brought their medals, and let me tell you, seeing Olympic medals hanging around the necks of orphans was out of this world. After everything I've seen and done this summer, that moment stood out as the highlight. That's the only way I can describe it. Here are a few photos from today.

I don't need to describe this one...

And here is a view of the aquatic center when everyone was leaving. It's opposite the stadium, and the two made an amazing spectacle all lit up at night.

Here's a good view of two of the largest things in Beijing: Bird's Nest Stadium and my beard, which hasn't been trimmed in more than a month and bears striking resemblance to a bird's nest...

I'll have more to write later as I continue to process what happened last night. This morning, we're leaving to watch some more Olympics with the little guys, then I'm coming home tomorrow. It's been an epic trip. Thanks for all your Thoughts and support.

There are no words to describe the last photo. I hope the sight hits you like it did me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chengdu, part 1: the hills

After a flight and a train ride over the last two days, I'm now in Beijing with David Bolt and Adam Neesby. We'll be attending a few Olympic events with the five orphans who are here for the sixth--and last--week of camp. One is standing at my elbow now as I type, pointing to the screen and asking me questions in Mandarin that he knows I couldn't possibly answer. They are so precious, and I'm glad to have this final opportunity to spend a few days with the children we came here to serve.

While I'll have more on the Olympics and Beijing sights later, I wanted to revisit Adam and my trip to Sichuan Province to visit a friend there. You might recall that Sichuan was where the 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit in May, killing tens of thousands of people and destroying even more homes and places of work. It was a huge tragedy, one which everyone in China seems to regard with the same kind of somber recollection that enters the American heart when it remembers Sept. 11, 2001.

First, I will post a few photos from the hills about two hours north of Chengdu, where we visited an earthquake refugee shelter but were promptly asked to leave. Because of the sensitive nature of our visit there, I can't post some of the best images, but I hope these will give you an idea of what the area was like (hint: it was beautiful).

There was a river flowing right by the camp. This photo shows scenery typical of what we were surrounded by during our brief stay in the mountains.

On Saturday afternoon, we took a rickshaw further up the mountain, via this road...

Then hiked up this path...

Past this flock of noisy geese...

To meet this man...

He was a tobacco farmer up on the hillside, and the walls and roof of his house were destroyed during the earthquake, along with his pig sty and chicken coop. You can imagine what kind of financial hardship this put on the 70-year-old farmer. We met dozens of good, sad people who had lost possessions, land, family members, and yet still found hospitality in their hearts for us. We were blessed over and over during the 16 or so hours we were in the foothills of the earthquake zone, and even though it was a crazy and sometimes nerve-wracking day, it was totally worth it to meet the valiant survivors of China's worst natural disaster in decades.

Next up: What we did after we had to leave the mountains.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shanghai'd in Chengdu

So after a crazy 18 or so hours beginning yesterday morning, a good friend and I are staying in a hostel in the southern city of Chengdu. It's fairly close to the Himalayas, and to the epicenter of the earthquake that killed tens of thousands of Chinese people in May. I can't go into all that we've done in the past 36 hours, but suffice it to say that we didn't sleep where we thought we would last night because of pressure from local authorities. Yesterday was definitely one of the craziest days of my life.

But now we're here, this friend and I, with a little time to kill in Chengdu. We're totally safe now, because there's no reason we wouldn't be allowed to sightsee in this tourist-oriented city. It's pretty nice, the weather isn't too oppressive, and we've actually had a really relaxing time. We checked into a really nice little Danish-run place called "The Loft," which has comfortable, clean rooms and showers, among other luxuries.

While we've been here, there has been plenty of stimulating conversation. I can't upload any photos because I don't have my own computer, but Adam and I have been talking about a lot of different stuff. After dinner at Pizza Hut tonight, we walked to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken (that's right, we've only seen a handful of other foreigners, but they have Pizza Hut and KFC) for one of their coffee sundaes. While we were there, Adam continued a line of questioning about marriage that began earlier in the trip. We got to talking about how men and women think and operate differently, and I said, "Take multi-tasking, for example. Dori says women are good at it and men can't do it. To which I say, 'Huh?'"

That's just a little snippet of what it's been like. Even though some potentially heavy stuff was going down around us, God has kept the mood light and our friendship has grown really close. What a blessing to spend such an intense time with a good, strong friend and Brother.

I'll write more later, but I just wanted to get a brief update up about my continued adventures in the Far East. Next week: Beijing and the Olympics. Then home on Saturday. The countdown begins.
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