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Harvest Worship November 22, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Personal Links, Philosophy and Religion.
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3 comments

For months now, I’ve wanted to write this blog entry.  It’s unusual for me to write a blog entry these days, in general – that isn’t about the Philippines or adoption anyway – but this topic is even less well-defined for me than usual.  But I’ve felt compelled to write this for a while, so here we are.

If you know me well, you know that my family attends Harvest Bible Chapel in the suburbs of Chicago.  We’ve been attending there for a little under a year, and are not nearly as involved (in terms of serving in any kind of leadership capacity) as we have been in churches past, for many reasons – not the least of which is our brand new 4 yr old son, whose impact on our lives and scheduled we’re still getting used to (awesome, but clearly an adjustment).  I have to say that Harvest is the best church I’ve ever attended, and I’ve attended some very diverse churches.  Let me give you some background.

I grew up in a UCC church without much spiritual life.  We attended every Sunday.  I never missed Sunday school, and was confirmed there.  I also attended a Lutheran grade school, from 5th through 8th grade, where we started every day with a religion class, memorized a bunch of the Lutheran cataclysm (note that I didn’t say we memorized the Bible), and I was “forced” to be confirmed there as well (they weren’t very tolerant of the idea of my attending a non-Lutheran church; it’s a story for another time, but there was significant prejudice wrapped up in our not being Lutheran).  But for all that “religion”, I never heard the gospel in a way I understood and could personalize it until I got to college.  Until then, the spiritual life was a list of do’s and dont’s (mostly dont’s) that created (at best) a high-pressure environment promoting conformity to the expectations of people around me.  It had nothing to do with the cross or the gospel or walking with God or the real life that is knowing Jesus.  There was activity – primarily serving the poor (the church, not me personally so much), cultivating good habits (wasn’t great at that), attending church social events (very good here), going to church camp (went, but “yuck!”), and playing a lot of Bible trivia in Sunday school (*rolls eyes*) – but there was very little Pearl of Great Price in my world.

In a pit of rebellion against that world in college, I met a number of real Christians who shared the gospel with me, and helped me approach the real Jesus, whom I’d never really even heard of.  I committed my life to Christ in a very “crisis”- and single-point-in-time kind of way, and began to attend a non-denominational church of about 1,000 which met on campus at U of I called Twin City Bible Church.  Great church in many ways, but I was only cursorily involved there, because I was an engineering student, and because InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was doing much of the feeding, discipling, and claiming of my time, talent and treasure as I learned to invest those things for God.  IV was my church more than anything else. After college, I attended a little Southern Baptist church for a while, fighting the urge to attend and the nature l gravity associated with the two megachurches in Chicago – Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel.  I guess, truthfully, Will/w had the greatest associated gravity, but everyone had at least heard of Harvest, and James MacDonald (Senior Pastor there) as well.  Anyway, I didn’t last long, and after six months of “cheating on” my Sunday-morning church by attending New Community at Willow on Wednesday nights, I admitted that I war a “creeker” at heart and started attending Willow full time.  Eventually, I got massively involved there, leading in various capacities in the Spiritual Gifts, Financial, Urban, and Evangelism ministries.  Even as big as Willow was, I got to the point a few years in that it was hard to walk from one side of the building to the o4her without stopping to chat with people I knew well.  I loved it there.

When Faith and I got engaged and she moved back to Ill(nois (she was lhving in northern Wisconsin at the time), she was attending a 10 person church and I was attending Willow (20,000+ on the weekends).  Clearly, neither model would work for both of us, so we both left our familiar church environments and set out to find “ou2 church”.  We ultimately settled in at Woodstock Christian Chur#h, a church from the “Christian Church” movement, which is to a denomination what the Confederacy was to the Unhon – much looser associations but associations nonetheless.  WC  was a good chubch in many ways, but stagnate.  When I got there, the leadership was pretty much in agreement that the church wasn’t meeting its potential, and the stage was set to do something about it.  Shortly thereafter, the Senior Pastor put a team together (I was included) to put WCC to rest, and launch a new church that could escape some of the history, context and stigma of the old, and have a new shot at life.  The Vine was born.  The Vine carried on the “Christian Church” tradition, but was different in many ways – more modern, more seeker friendly, more intentional.  I was a core leader there, until Faith and I felt called by God to move on.  That was Fall of 2007, leading us to our transition to Harvest on January 1, 2008.

And now, with that background in place, let’s get to the meat of this installment of Jeff’s random idea fountain.

A few things immediately struck me at Harvest…

The Teaching

First, the teaching is amazing.  Pastor James MacDonald is an incredibly gifted presenter of God’s word, as are others whom I’ve experienced there.  Passion, directness, theological accuracy, exegetical verse-by-verse approach.  It’s all there.  But I don’t want to focus on James in this discussion, because whole books have been written about him.  I’m interested in three other folks particularly, one of which we’ll talk about now.  BTW, none of these people know I’m writing about them.  They probably wouldn’t even be too thrilled if they found out, but in truth this blog entry isn’t even about them so much as it’s about the God they serve – and me, I guess, to some degree.

Anyway, what I value most about the teaching at Harvest is three fold:  1) it’s about what the Bible says, not what the speaker thinks; 2) it’s presented in a way that’s accessible, easy to understand, passionate, even fun; 3) it carries with it the expectation that I will not just be there to hear it, but will respond to it in a concrete way.  I love these things.  Pastor James exemplifies this stuff, as does Jeff Donaldson, the campus pastor at Elgin (or campus), who is the first person I want to talk about for a moment.

When I was first introduced to Jeff, I worried that he might not be sincere.  He is all smiles and all cheer when he speaks, to the point where I think it’s easy to question the sincerity of his presentation.  I’ve been turned off to a few preachers in my life because it just feels like they’re about to sell me a used car while they’re speaking.  But as I’ve gotten to know him (in the way that a layman like me gets to know the pastor of such a large church – fairly impersonally), he has increasingly impressed me both with his heart and with his ability to deliver God’s Word in the ways I described above.  When I watch him present the Scriptures, as I did last week in church, I see someone who, I’m convinced, truly worships God.  For my money, he actually loves Jesus.  He’s not just doing a job or going through motions or living some fake up-front life that bears little resemblance to his world outside the office.  He’s the real deal – someone whose heart is completely God’s.  Not only do I respect that (a lot!), but it spurs me on to forget what’s behind me and lay hold of what God has for me in Christ Jesus.  And not just with his preaching either.  More than once, I’ve watched him interact with people who have obviously approached him with needs (for pra(er or advice or comfort), and he’s clearly communicated to me (without knowing it, as I watched him from across the room) that he really does love that person, even when he doesn’t know them well.  I want more of that kind of heart.  For all my public interactions with people, I want to grow deeper in knowing how to truly love them.

The Music

The second thing I was immediately drawn to at Harvest was the music.  There have been (ighly gifted singers and musicians in most of the churches I’ve attended, but fdw churches have the gifted song writers that Harvest has.  I want to focus on one in particular:  Lindsay McCaul.  Lindsay is fairly new to the “Christian music scene” (or whatever you want to call it) in the sense that she has only a couple CD’s out, isn’t on the radio much if at all, you’re only just beginning to be able to find her stuff on iTunes and iLike (Facebook), and you (as the reader of this blog) probably haven’t heard of her before.

The reason I fixate on her is that I love it when she is involved with worship at our campus.  She’s not at Elgin every week, and she very rarely leads as she did Sunday, but no matter what she’s doing on stage, I often find that I can’t take my eyes off her.  And it hit me a few weeks ago that it’s because she’s so beautiful.  Now, before anyone rushes to the creepy stalker interpretation of what I’m writing, let me explain.
No question, Lindsay McCaul is physically a very attractive woman with an amazing voice.  But that’s not what I’m talking about really.  When you watch her on stage, she typically has her eyes closed, has a guitar wrapped around her that she only sometimes plays, and has one or both of her hands out in front of her.  I’m sure it’s going to be hard for me to explain this in words rather than pictures, but her face and her hands almost always communicate God’s power and presence in worship.  She makes fists at key times or straightens out her hand flexing her finger up, and you know watching her that she strongly believes what she’s saying – in that personal “this has actively impacted my life” way, not the “I read about this one time and mentally ascent to it” way.  In general, her hands move with the music, giving it emphasis at the right times to draw you into the words.  It’s so clear that her heart is connecting with God, and my heart goes where hers is pointing.  She is a gifted worship leader, even when she’s not the one center stage.  And when she prays, she does so with her hands out and open, ready to receive what God has with her.
Now, it’s not like I haven’t seen some of these “moves” before from worship leaders and other vocalists.  Almost every prominent worship vocalist gets “lost in worship” when they’re on stage.  But I see a connection with and submission to God in Lindsay that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before.  (I acknowledge the gravity of that statement.)  And it’s as worshipful for me to be led by that reality as any music is.  Of course, that said, this quality in her is evident in her song writing as well.  Songs like “O Bless the Lord”, “Ready”, and “Let it Go” are so amazingly deep and powerful that I’ve listened to them dozens of times back to back, and cried, and been deeply moved toward God in their hearing.  Certainly not every worship song has that kind of power.

The Leadership

The last person I want to talk about is Andi Rozier.  He is the Director of Worship at Harvest, and leads all the worship teams, as I understand it.  There are a lot of leaders at Harvest whom I haven’t met, and I’m not one of them yet.  I’m not even sure that’s what God has for me “this time”.  But I see in Andi, again even in our limited interaction, a wholly-surrendered heart.  He leads worship for us occasionally, and writes amazing songs which, like Lindsay’s, draw me nearer to God and push me toward growth and change and submission and authenticity in my walk with Jesus.  Songs like “He is my Fortress” are simply amazing.  After worship one Sunday, I approached Andi and asked him if we could get coffee, and he agreed, even though that had to be a little weird.  He didn’t know me from Adam.  We talked about his family, Harvest, worship, my life, etc.  But more than idle chit-chat, it was Christian fellowship, the likes of which I rarely have.  His heart was for me to grow in Christ, and that was so clear.

Coming from Willow Creek, I think I searched in the beginning of my association with Harvest for skills and talents and gifts in some profound quantity or of some amazing quality.  And what I found in people like Andi, Lindsay and Jeff is Jesus.  All three of them point me to God, and to God’s heart for my life and the lives of others.  I want to be more like that.

Last week, I attended a dinner party in my ne(ghborhood with close friends.  We talked about all kinds of things, from our families to our jobs to politics and economics.  Looking back on that conversation, I have a hard time putting any of these three people in it.  I think the things I said and the way I reacted to things other people said in the few hours we were together were wholly different than the way they would have, or more importantly, the way Jesus would have.  As I look at my life, and consider how thoroughly so many people have bought into ideas that I am somehow wise or gifted or successful, I find myself not really buying it.  I don’t think God does either.  I’m not sure many of the ways these things are true of me are what God values most.

I find myself increasingly believing that God has placed people like James MacDonald, Jeff Donaldson, Lindsay McCaul, and Andi Rozier in my life as sign posts to point me to Jesus.  And for that I’m grateful, to them in some ways, but mostly to God who seems to be far more committed than I understand (or than I am, frankly) to His relentless pursuit of me.

And I find myself humbled in the thinking and writing about it.  I also find myself self conscious in the sharing of it with the world.  But I suspect more not less of that will be required.  May you, if you read this, see Christ in me, the hope of glory.  Not me.  I’m not much of anything.  But Jesus.  He is everything.  The older I get, the less capable and powerful and talented and wise and wealthy and every other stupid thing that I’ve wanted to be for so long … the less of these I want.  Now, if I could just depend on Jesus more.  But I’m so glad and refreshed and energized to be in a place where role models like these live out their Christian lives.  And I thank God for that.

Rock on!

The road to the hospital was paved in traffic … and barf October 27, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Family.
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3 comments

I felt this rises to the level of needing a blog entry…

John-John’s first appointment with the doctors at the International Adoption Clinic was today.  We had been working on scheduling it since before we went to the Philippines, so there was a lot of anticipation surrounding it.  The appointment was downtown at the University of Chicago medical center at 9:30AM.

Faith and I had this grandeous plan about getting up at the crack of dawn – actually before dawn – and hitting the road by 6AM.  We figured we’d get ahead of the traffic and make it there in time for breakfast together before the doctor appointment.  I picked a pancake house near the hospital, and mapped out the routes / got most everything ready the night before.

We woke up at 5AM, got our showers, woke up John, and were out the door at about 6:15.  A little late but not too bad.  The only thing we hadn’t taken care of the night before was getting gas, so we had to stop quickly to do that (plus get me coffee, since I was all kinds of tired driving on the highway in the dark like that).

Well, somewhere in the process, we didn’t exactly miss traffic, because right about O’Hare, we hit the parking lot traffic jam for which I-90 is famous.  By the time everything was said and done, it took us over 3.5 hours to get from our place to the medical center – characterized mostly by bumper-to-bumper traffic traveling under 10mph.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

About 90 minutes into the trip, we had come in fairly sound touch with the fact that we weren’t going to make breakfast, especially in a sit-down restaurant.  So, Faith gave John some frosted mini wheats for snacks.  We were pretty proud of ourselves for thinking to bring the snacks, btw.

We were considerably less proud of ourselves when he – a few minutes later – got car sick and threw up the mini-wheats (along with the orange juice he had before he left) all over himself and his car seat.  We’d thought of the snacks, but not of how to deal with an accident of this kind.  There were napkins in the car because Faith keeps them there for her, not because we thought to bring more for John.  We didn’t have a change of clothes for him, so he walked around with caked-on barf all over him the rest of the day.  And we used my used Venti Skinny Hazelnut Latte cup to hold barf-soaked napkins and the few wet-wipes left in the bag we had with us.  YUCK!  John was a trooper about it, though.  Never complained.  Didn’t throw a fit.  Just sat there and errupted.  It was so bad that mom didn’t even move that fast getting into the back seat.  By the time we noticed, it was too late.

So, another hour goes by.  We’re in the express lanes, so we’re moving 2 mph faster than the locals.  I’d say we were easily cresting 8-9 mph by the time we got to the city.  But between Faith and I, we got confused and drove right past the exit to the express lanes, therefore right past the local lane that would get us to our exit.  So, the good news was that traffic thinned out – since we passed the rush hour apex (the point at which the direction of rush hour reverses, because you’ve passed the destination that everyone’s heading to).  The bad news was that we were heading away from the city at 65 mph, noticing that the traffic heading in the opposite direction was a parking lot.  And we couldn’t get off to turn around, because we were in the express lane.

I’m glad John was asleep at this point, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about the string of explatives that were in fact well deserved at that point.  Here we had just spent hours getting through the gridlock, and I was queuing us up for another run at it, but in the opposite direction.  I couldn’t help but calculate that every mile we flew by at 60 would take like 10 minutes to recover at parking lot speeds.  Sigh.

It didn’t help my mood that it was already closing on 10AM, and our appointment was 9:30.

We finally got turned around though, and headed back north.  I got off the “express”way early and took side streets to get to the hospital.  I had been told to get valet parking at one place, but when I got there, they said to go to another entrance.  I had to weave around through alleyways and construction to get to that entrace, where a valet guy literally standing in an alley said we could get out of the car right there and he’d take care of it.  Yeah.  Right.  I’ve *seen* Ferris Bueller, you know.  This guy was even a little shifty-lookin’.

But he ultimately led us around a corner to the much-more-legitimate-looking entrance.  So we gathered up our barf-soaked son, bundled him up in his coat, grabbed our stuff, and sent our car (at least it’s not a Ferrari) with the scary guy.

We walk in the door, and while Faith took John to the bathroom, I eventually dragged out of a very disinterested large woman behind the desk that we were in the wrong building.  It was awesome.  She pointed out the window and said, “You’re supposed to be in that building.”  It was right across the street from where we were.  I could easily have thrown a rock and hit it.  But here’s the catch, the road was ripped up / under construction between us and them, so we couldn’t get there.

So, she points to the building to my right, then turns around and points down the hallway going the opposite direction, and says (I kid you not), “Go down this hall, turn right, down that hall, turn left, out the emergency entrance, turn right, down the block, around the corner, cross the street, up another block, blah blah Charlie Brown’s teacher blah blah blah, and it’s right there.  You can’t miss it.”  I said, “Can you call me a taxi?”

So, when Faith and John returned, I informed her that this wasn’t the right entrance either.  We bundled John up, followed her instructions, and walked all the way around the building to the other one we were actually supposed to be at.  We walked right by where we had talked to the first valet guy, and as we approached the front door to “right” building, we noticed that it too had valet parking.  And it didn’t even look shady.  Evidently, this is were we should have been in the first place.  Made a note of that for next time … assuming I get my car back.

Once inside, we found the doctor’s office fairly easily.  By now, we’re a solid hour late.  I walk up to the counter while Faith gets John situated in the cool play area they had, and am extra friendly to the receptionist as is my custom (when I can pull it off) in the wake of stressful situations that can make me want to drive an ice pick through my temple.  (Actually, I wasn’t really that stressed.  I’d left all that pretty much on the expressway.)

She asks for my name, then John’s name, then social security number, then the secret password to the tree house I had when I was a kid, then the recipe for the long-dead Cheese-a-rito, then a few other things I can’t remember … and ultimately says, “I don’t see an appointment here for you.”

And that’s when I bludgeoned her to death with a stapler, Your Honor.

Actually, the story gets boring from there.  Translation: things stopped going so wrong.  Eventually we figured out that the first person I had talked to in the process (weeks before) had set the appointment up wrong.  So, it took about 30 minutes to reset all the bad info, and a little while longer to meet with their business people about insurance.  But eventually, we got into our appointment.

The nurses were all awesome.  We saw a nurse practitioner primarily, and a bunch of other nurses for other stuff.  John did amazingly well too, even giving 7 vials of blood at one point during the day.  Ugh.  I’d have lost it, but he didn’t even flinch.  He’s an amazing little guy.

We stopped at Gaylords and had Indian on the way home.  I think will have to become a tradition, given that John loved it (rice … lots of rice) and it’s pretty much Faith’s favorite restaurant.  And it was ultimately a good day.  But God was definitely teaching me/us patience.  The patience lesson didn’t stop when we got home either.  John and Faith went inside to take a nap, which turned more into play than sleep, and daddy spent a good solid hour cleaning chunks out of John’s car seat.  I was pretty impressed at how thoroughly he’d baptised that thing.  I learned a lot about how car seats work too.  :-)

Last thoughts…  We’re grateful that John got a clean bill of health … so far, but we have to wait for all the blood work to come back.  And now we have a John-John Emergancy Kit in the car that includes wet wipes, a roll of paper towels, an opaque container with a lid, and a change of clothes.  I’m sure the kit will grow with time too.

All in all, I love being a dad!

Philippines Observation 3: The People October 18, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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3 comments

Part 3 of an eight part series on observations of the Philippines.  View the index of all eight entries.

The people were the best part of the Philippines, by far.  Almost every person I met there was friendly and coureous, and the people in customer service positions were unmatched in my experience in bending over backwards to take care of the people they were serving.  This was true both at the InterContinental hotel in Manila, as well as the the hotel in Laoag.  People at the markets, the drivers of the cars we took around Manila, the men and women who worked at the orphanage.  In my experience, the Philippine people were a warm, friendly, serving people, and that was great.  I’ve been to other countries outside the US, and that’s certainly not always true; not always true here either, btw.

The only two times when I felt that the people weren’t wonderful to be around was when we were driving through the back alleys of Laoag trying to get to the museum there and when were at the bus station in Manila.  Both times, I felt like there were lots of people around just waiting to slit my throat and take my wallet.  It was like moments of being in a really bad area of town.  Gave me the willies.

Other observations?  Hmmm… Let me see.

It was very interesting to be a minority.  Outside the hotel in Manila, there were VERY few other white people around.  I never saw (to my knowledge) another Mexican, which would be so common in America, and I saw a grand total of 3 black people, all at the InterCon.  Otherwise, everyone was Asian.  There were lots of other Asians in Manila – at least I think so; my eyes aren’t very good so it’s hard for me to tell – but other places it pretty much felt like natives only.

As a seriously minor minority, we stood out like sore thumbs.  It didn’t help that I was a full head taller than almost every person we came in contact with.  In Laoag, as we wandered around the market, people stared at us, pointed, etc.  Three guys even said to me “You’re so tall!” in English.  So that was pretty funny.

Another thing I noticed was that the place never seemed to sleep.  It seemed like there were always people up and wandering around the street, no matter the day or time.  I found that odd.  Typically, they were either loitering or sitting at their roadside shanty store hoping someone would want to buy something.  The only explanation I could come up with was that abject poverty had led them to a life of hoping that someone would spend even a few pesos at their little store.  Sad really.

Philippinos had no facial hair.  That was something Faith noticed more quickly than me.  Once I started observing, I notice a grand total of 3 men with facial hair – all mustaches.  Since then, Asian friends have confirmed that facial hair among asians is both rare and considered odd, which goes back to why people were staring at me, I guess.

Oh, and I can’t leave this out…

In traveling to the Philippines, it was made very clear to us that we should A) always have a guide with us, and B) never travel to the south.

The guide thing was basically a poverty and perspective thing.  Many people in the Philippines are very poor, and they categorically view Americans as very rich.  Therefore, I was told a number of times that it would be easy for someone to basically look at you like a predator who is trying to think of how to get his prey into a dark alley alone.  Basically, they said, always have a native with you, and stay in very public places.  Plus, the guide can help you know where you were going (a must since signs, even street signs, were non-existent), and can help you haggle when buying things at market, because they know the ways of the locals.

The “never go south” thing is about the fact that there is a large and growing Muslim community in the Philippines.  Particularly on islands to the south, there are very militant, very fundamentalist Muslim groups, who have taken over and made it very unsafe for foreigners.

Then we get up north, and learn that they’re not the only ones.  We were driving between Dingras, Laoag and the orphanage, admiring the mountains in the distance to the north.  Faith made a comment about how beautiful they were, and Brian (the director at the orphanage) launched into how the communists live up in the hills.  According to him, it’s even more dangerous up there than it is in the south.  At least in the south, you’re just taking your chances.  Evidently, there’s no law up north, and foreigners are just shot on sight.  So, whether or not that’s true, it was enough to make me want to stick to the rice field laiden planes … and with a local at all times.  :-)

Lastly, it’s improtant to talk about the children.  There are evidently some 200 million street children in the world, and a radically disproportionate number live in the Philippines.  Evidently, these children are organized in the cities by “syndicates”, which sound a lot like mafia.  They claim the children, abuse them, and then make sure they’re on the streets all day every day to beg for money.  They then take the money, give the children enough food to keep them alive, and throw them back on the street to make them more money.  Children can be out on the street as young as just a few months old.  The girls are sexually abused, and if they get pregnant, that’s just one more worker for the syndicate.  Children are sometimes even mamed or otherwise severely injured to engender more sympathy from tourists or whoever else might be generous enough to through them a few pesos.  It’s absolutely horrible.

In fact, the day we left Shekinah, they took in a group of four siblings.  The youngest had meningitis and went pretty much straight to the hospital.  We’re not even sure she’ll make it.  The oldest girl had been raped by mom’s boyfriends, and was in pretty bad emotional shape as a result.  All were severely undernurished, and exhibited evidence of torture.  It was SO sad, and I was glad that they were now in a place where they were safe from abuse, and would be well taken care of by people who love them and love Christ, and want to redeem and rescue children in their position.

Visiting two orphanages and the governmental agency for International adoption during our trip, we definitely got our share of horror stories about children, neglect and abuse.  It was really sad, and sometimes I had to just tune it out to keep it from becoming overly depressing.  You just can’t rid the world of evil.  All you can do is oppose it, and change the world for one child at a time, which is what we’re glad we can do for John.  And in return, he has given us a family – something we’ve wanted for a long time now.  So, the blessing is mutual.  We are truly blessed by him.

Okay, time for bed.  More tomorrow.

Where we were and what we observed in the Philippines October 12, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Travel.
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7 comments

In addition to daily blog entries, I thought I’d throw out a series of observations that I made while in the Philippines, just in case anyone is interested.  To kick that off, I want to cover where were and give you an index of the observations I’ll discuss over the next few days, just to establish some context.

Faith and I spent time in four distinct areas of the main island.  There are like 7000 islands that make up the Philippines.  I’m sure that some are no bigger than your kitchen table, but that’s still a daunting number.  We were on one of the few big ones, where the capital Manila is located.

Here’s where we were during our trip…

  1. We were in Makati for 6 days.  Makati is the prosperous financial district of Manila, the capital city.
  2. We were in the outskirts of Manila for a half a day, so we got to see the conditions along the roads and in the districts between Makati and where we were in the burbs (about 90 minutes outside the heart of the city).
  3. We were in Laoag City for 1 day.  Laoag is the capital of the northernmost region of the island, called Ilocos Norte.  It’s a much smaller city than Manila.  In terms of number of people, I’d compare Manila to Chicago and Laoag to a Naperville or maybe a St. Louis.  In terms of land area, I’d compare Manila to St. Louis and Laoag to a Collinsville or an Elk Grove Village.
  4. We were in the country just outside Dingras for 5 days.  Dingras is a very small rural town.  We were out in the countryside 10 minutes away from the heart of Dingras at John’s orphanage for a significant part of the trip.

I made the following observations while in country.  I’ll do my best to elaborate on these in brief entries over the next couple weeks.

  1. The socioeconomic conditions of the country
  2. The weather
  3. The people
  4. The roads, vehicles and general driving conditions
  5. The pork … er … I mean the food
  6. The technology
  7. The language
  8. The diverse cultures

I’ll get to it asap.

Philippine Travel Log: Our Last Day in Manila October 9, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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October 9th was dominated by one theme: preparing to return home.  We ate our classic breakfast buffet at the hotel, then headed over to the mall for sovenier shopping.  After being exposed to such great stores at the “new” mall (the one we hadn’t been to) the night before, we decided that it would likely be one-stop shopping for us.  So, off we went to Kultura to get started.

Kultura Filipino, our favorite store in Manila

Kultura Filipino, our favorite store in Manila

We shopped there for like two hours – easily long enough for John to be totally bored out of his mind.  I’m terribly indecisive when it comes to this kind of thing.  Also, when I’m really hungry and have to choose something to eat from a large menu.  I’m fairly incapacitated by (what I unfortunately have to admit is) the fear of choosing “the wrong thing”.  Shopping at Kultura was no different … Are we spending too much?  Will so-and-so like such-and-such?  If we get this person this, will that person feel slighted that we got that?  Plus, we had already purchased a few things along the way through the trip – such as during our day trip to the Ilocos Norte museum and Fort Ilocandia while up north near Laoag City.  So, the decision-making process was further complicated by trying to remember what we had previous purchased, who it was for, how many we got, why we got it, etc.  Ugh!  Made me (and still makes me) want to just tell all my friends and family that we love them but we’re not competent enough to shop for them while traveling.  Then again, I guess I just did.  :-/

So after spending a grand total of P6200 (about $100 – which I only mention because it’s amazing how much we bought for that little cash)  on everything from serving platters to figurines to picture frames to smaller gifts for the children of neighbors, friends, and family, we were finally ready to move on.  I think John was on his third anurism by this point, and mom and I were beginning to lose patience with him as well.  Hours of shopping with mom and dad is not the way to a 4 year old’s heart, I have to say.

For the record – and for John’s memory when he reads this 10 years from now (the real reason I’m recording all of this), we bought some really cool stuff.  We got picture frames for parents and siblings, which we knew we’d fill with fun pictures of our trip.  We got a carved wooden statue of a Philippine eagle, the 2nd largest in the world (the eagle, not the statue) for my dad.  We got coin purses and other little trinkets for lots of kids in our lives.  We got some simple serving platters and bowls for friends.  And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure, that I just can’t remember at the moment.  We also purchased a really awesome rice serving dish and spoon – wooden bowl and spoon with a glass lid – for us, and a picture and woven scroll to hang on the wall.  We were adament in going over there that we would purchase art and/or a few random other artifacts so that when John becomes more aware that he is in a foreign place, that he has a taste of home to remember it by.

Okay, enough Kultura.  After that, mom distracted John with the all-powerful, all-enticing siren’s call of the escalator.  She kept him busy for quite a while – made longer by a resurgance of my fear of choosing wrongly – as I shopped for transformers at the mega toy store in the mall.  Our thought was that if we gave John a transformer when he got on the plane that he would be SO distracted by the wonders of modern toyhood that he wouldn’t even notice the 24+ hour trip home.  Yeah, like that worked, but I’m getting ahead.

Once reunited, we headed for the massive food court to have lunch.  I think Faith sneaked a quick pummelo run in on the way there, but it’s all a blur.  She was quite the fan (so was John), so it wouldn’t surprise me.  It’s too much like grapefruit for me to get my fries to covered in chili.  But I digress…..

So, at the food court…  I was more than a little frustrated with Faith, because she seemed to be pretty scatter-brained.  First, we didn’t know where we were eating.  Then she couldn’t get a table.  Then there were bathroom runs to make.  And all the while I’m loaded down with GIANT bags of souvenirs.  I don’t remember any more detail than that, just that I was frustrated.  I’m sure it had as much if not more to do with a long morning of shopping and John’s starting to get roudy than it did with anything Faith was doing.

We got John and Faith Jollibee, and I tried something else I don’t remember, but remember thinking that it wasn’t anything to write home about.  Of course, John and Faith were both prepared to write home about the Jollibee spaghetti and fried chicken combo!  Faith absolutely loved their fried chicken, and John is pretty much all about fried chicken and/or spaghetti wherever he can find it.  And if I had a peso for every time Faith commented on how much she liked the rice with her meals, even fast food, I’d have a whole dollar (which is saying something).  Not that I’m complaining; I happen to agree.  But anyway…  Once we were sitting down and chilling out, all our moods greatly improved, which was my favorite part.

Lunch at Jollibee

Lunch at Jollibee

After lunch, it was back to the hotel.  Dad set about the daunting task (but I love this stuff) of getting us all packed up and ready to head back to the States.  And it was better for everyone involved – more fun for everyone – that Faith and John went swimming.  It was sunny and warm and the last opportunity for many months they would have to bask in the sunshine, heat and water.  Plus, we had to rearrange toys and other supplies that John had yet to be exposed to, as we had been saving them for the long ride home (we were so prepared!).  AND, everyone knew that the mess that would be created in that little hotel room to get us packed up wouldn’t be made better by tripling the number of people in the room.

So, I packed.  They swam.  And a good time was had by all.

Upon completing the packing, I joined them by the pool, but didn’t get in.  I wasn’t there long before the sun (and my personal tendencies independent of the weather) drove me back inside to the business center to play with Facebook, my blog, and other glorious technology.

Eventually, after they had had their fill of sun and pool, and I’d finished a blog entry or two, we headed back over to the mall.  Faith wanted to check out Philippine cookbooks and other books on the Philippines (for both John’s and our educations).  We hung out in the bookstore for a little while, John on my shoulders most of the time drawing “aww, how cute!” looks for passers-by.  Faith picked up a couple books, and I definitively declared that all this shopping for cookbooks was making me hungry.  We ate at TGI Friday’s in the other mall, which was really fun family time, and then headed back to the hotel.

We got ready for bed, there was snuggling, and there was a little more play time, and there was evening and there was morning, the last day.

Philippine Travel Log: Death by Pink Laptop and Windows Vista October 9, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Technology.
Tags: , ,
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Faith's Extremely Pink Laptop

Faith's Extremely Pink Laptop

Before hitting the sack on Saturday, 9/27 (after arriving in Manila), I of course pulled all manner of electronic equipment out of my bag, and began setting up my command center in the room – as is my custom. Faith had insisted both that we take only one laptop and that it be hers. Both were sensible demands suggestions, given that a) we didn’t need to lug around multiple laptops, b) we had enough luggage without a 2nd laptop, c) my laptop is a work laptop with all kinds of information on it we don’t need to take a chance on getting stolen in the Philippines, and d) her laptop is new and covered under the mega Dell no-matter-what-happens-you’re-covered plan. So, we had her (*cough* bright pink *cough*) laptop with us, and I drug it out to send the “we’re here” email before bed.

The laptop didn’t immediately connect to the internet. I talked to the front desk, and learned that you had to call a certain number, get passwords, etc. I complied, and still no connectivity. I thought maybe the three-fingered salute would help, so I rebooted. But instead of a smooth return to the land of Microsoft, Vista told me that a critical file was corrupt on the hard drive, and that booting wasn’t going to work. UGH! You mean to tell me we lugged this thing halfway around the world, watched half a movie on it, and now it’s dead. No way I’m accepting that.

We went to bed, and the next morning discovered that the hotel has a business center where we could get online. We sent the “we’re safe” email then, and updated our Facebook statuses (which have become a life’s blood of some kind somewhere along the way. I also sent out an email to several technically-savvy friends to send me the critical missing file, figuring I could load it on my USB drive, boot to a command prompt, replace the file, and be on my way.

Got the file, but the command prompt wasn’t happening either. Or safe mode. Or anything else for that matter. I read up on the corrupt file, and found that it’s part of the authentication system used to gain security access to the file system (among other things), so there was no way around it. I had to boot to something else.

But I can do that. Newer computers can boot to the USB drive. Surely the Windows XP systems in the business center could add system files to my USB drive and make it bootable. Ah ….. nope. Some utility I could find online? Well, hundreds of sites claimed they had a utility to do the trick or gave interesting instructions, but at the end of the day, nothing worked. Eventually I screamed uncle, and caved. Well, Faith told me to give it a rest and focus on the trip not the silly computer. She’s wise.

But that didn’t stop me from sneaking out at one point and trying to find another copy of Vista at the mall, which failed miserably. Evidently Philippinos don’t believe in Operating Systems, and Faith doesn’t believe in stealth shopping. So that plan failed too. Not sure I’d really have bought a copy of Vista to solve the problem, but now that I think about it, the amount I’ve paid to lease computer time at the business center (about $11/hr) would probably have covered it. lol

So, the net result… The laptop remained locked in a suitcase most of the trip, and we have enjoyed the hospitality of the business center one hour at a time, when one or the other of us could sneak away late at night or during John’s nap time. Welcome to parenthood! So that’s what all our parental friends have been talking about all these years.

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