Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We are insane


It was never really my dream to own a home.

To me, a house always represented being tied down, both in a physical place and financially speaking. And I didn't want to be trapped. When we lived in Indiana after college and every other family had a house (we were literally one of two couples we knew at church who rented rather than owned, and it was often a prayer request when a family had to move into an apartment temporarily while their house was being remodeled), we resisted steadfastly because we were waiting to see what the future would bring. We wanted to strike out on our own — somewhere — and it was not easy to fight the tide of inertia.

When we moved to Seattle and I was still telecommuting with my Illinois company, I knew that at any time my posh status might end, and so we deliberately chose a studio apartment, one of the cheapest we could find in the city, so that when that day came, we would not be committed to a certain threshold for housing costs that a long delay in new employment would threaten. Sure enough, that day came, and we decided to start our own business, and barely — barely — made it with our cheap-o rent before we started posting in the black. It was our dream to continue to enjoying working from home together, and God blessed us with the ability to do so.

Not too long before Corin was born, we knew we needed to move up in size to accommodate him, and we also wanted to choose a community in Seattle that felt like a real community, one that we'd want Corin to grow up in. That, combined with my deep-seated love for the coast of Maine where my great-aunt lived and where Amanda and I honeymooned, led us to try West Seattle, where the beach of Alki had enchanted us. It was a crazy, deluded dream that we didn't know if we could afford, but we were enamored with the idea of living in the middle of paradise, if only for a time. The promenade along the waterfront is where Corin has spent practically half his life, we take him out so often for walks.

From time to time we'd discuss the idea of buying. Now, we no longer wanted to escape where we were, and we didn't anticipate a complete loss of our employment, so, in theory, putting down roots and committing to housing was feasible. But we knew we could never afford Alki, and the idea of leaving it was so painful. Even if we were to live just a few miles away, we knew we wouldn't pop out twice a day and fight traffic to get to the beach for a stroll. Even if we had to move down in size and price eventually, if funds waned, we wanted to find a way to be near our real home, Alki.

Then, two weeks ago, there was a perfect storm of events. Our landlord, who had been somewhat of a nuisance for the first year we lived here but for whom we bent over backward anyway, since we had little savings to move again and had a newborn to boot, decided to be a nuisance again. (This is another post, but it's really none of her business how much soda we drink, how often we use the laundry room, or how our furniture is arranged.) Every time this happens we look at the apartment listings to see what our other possibilities are, seeing if it would make sense to move — but this time, we had recently received some pre-inheritance money, and on a whim, decided to see what houses might be available. The market has come down so much in the last year — bad news for homeowners and for the economy in general, but not so bad for us. There's also a significant tax credit for first-time homeowners that was part of the stimulus package. Adding it all together, there was a chance, a slim possibility, a hope and a prayer, that we could actually afford to buy on Alki. Not a house, but a condo, or half a duplex; still, a place of our own.

It happened so fast. It was six days from sitting down with the bank to see what our options were, to finding a condo listing we loved, touring other options with a real estate agent, confirming our first instincts, placing an offer, and getting it accepted, just tonight. Our heads are still spinning. There is still the inspection to go through, and paperwork, and escrow, and so forth and so on, where things could potentially unravel, so I don't want to rave about the place in detail until I get those keys in hand. But we are psyched. It's a completely insane thing to commit to, and something I'd never even seriously considered as a possibility for us until just two weeks ago, but it also means that Alki is our forever home. We don't have to worry that our landlord will unload the very expensive property to be torn down for developers. We don't have to worry of rent going up and pricing us out of the area, as happened in the '90s to many renters here. Our future in this place, which always seemed tenuous, like stolen dreams — as if this would be the time in our lives that we'd look back on wistfully — is now visible and tangible (pending paperwork).

I can see Corin growing up on the playground swings, meeting friends at Pepperdock, skateboarding the promenade, wading in the ocean, living amid the bustle of art fairs and pirate landings and 5K runs. The condo itself will be a nice place for him to grow up in, but, when he returns, after he is grown, it should be Alki itself that stirs his heart. It will be his home. All his life, I hope, he will be drawn to this shore, and its languid blue ocean, as I am.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Corin's latest YouTube obsession

This one is actually entertaining the first six or seven times:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The free souvenir baseball I got at the Mariners game last night was not long in the plastic, as Corin wanted to play soccer with it. Turns out he's a natural, with great aim, and gets amazing lift on the ball.

Corin has a million "safe" balls, of various sizes and colors and squooshiness, but it turns out what he really wanted was a good old-fashioned dangerous real ball. Watch out, Pele!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mariners lose

Went to a baseball game with my dad for the first time since, what, high school? The home team lost, but in a 9-7 game that saw 23 hits, it was a good day for watching baseball.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Even people like me, who are only vaguely aware of vampire mythology, know a few of the classic vampire traits: no reflection, sleep in coffins, held at bay by garlic and crosses, killed by a stake through the heart, etc.

Various incarnations add their own distinguishing characteristics — I've heard, but not seen, that the vampires in "Twilight" glitter in the sun, instead of being incinerated by it, as happens in the original vampire movie, 1922's "Nosferatu."

One key element of "Nosferatu," however, that never made it into the vampire lore is the idea that a vampire has to carry around a large quantity of the dirt that he was buried in. This concept was taken directly from the Bram Stoker novel that the film brazenly ripped off, but it's utterly comic in practice.

I was trying to find a YouTube clip of the sequence, but you'll just have to imagine two minutes of this:

Hmm... good thing there's no one around in the middle of the afternoon, to see me walking around with a coffin under my arm! Me, the undead, who can walk through walls, defy gravity, astrally project myself, and subdue men's minds ... nothing much I can do about this dirt but lug it halfway across town in real time. I'm so scaaaaarrry.

Edit: this is funny only to me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We run a high-class joint here

Corin just spent the last half-hour repeatedly saying "poo-poo," prompting me to make loud fart noises, in reponse to which he would fling himself backward on the bed and laugh hysterically.

Introducing: sugar wraps

Following up on my dessert creation from a few weeks ago: I was really trying to find a word that would reflect the upright nature of the cookie — towers, spires, shoots, points, stalks, spears, etc. — since that's what's so unusual about it, but no matter what I could think of, the words didn't seem to make much sense outside of seeing the cookie. A "crunchy tower" or a "whipped spire" contain correct elements of the cookie but doesn't convey an immediate sense of what it is.

I thought that "sugar wrap," even without the picture, gives a better impression of what it is: a sweet dessert that has a thin layer wrapped around a filling. Plus, my intention was to add variations to the sugar wraps depending on my mood — a dash or cinnamon or cocoa powder on top, a single raspberry, or walnut, or maybe a smear of Nutella or cheesecake filling along the inside. I can easily describe these as:
  • Cinnamon-sugar wraps
  • Cocoa sugar wraps
  • Raspberry sugar wraps
  • Walnut sugar wraps
  • Nutella sugar wraps
  • Cheesecake sugar wraps
and they still convey a sense of what you'll be tasting. The other nice thing is, so far as I could tell from looking at allrecipes.com and google, no one is using the term "sugar wraps" for anything, so I'm not ripping off a dessert already out there.

Next up: the recipe, and photos of the creation process (and I'll try out a few of those variations I have in mind to see if they're as good as I'm imagining)!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lean on me

Spent a couple hours at Gas Works Park with some of the other c-group leaders from Quest.

Corin got somewhat tuckered out, but found a nice spot to take a little respite.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cheap fun

If you want a good half-hour of enjoyment for under 50 cents, buy yourself a bottle of bubble solution and go crazy. It's just as fun as you remember it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Word of the day

In keeping with yesterday's thread, today Corin said "tall" when he wanted to get up on something. Presumably I've said "you're so tall" or something similar when he's climbed on boxes or on the patio ledge. So now getting up means "tah."

Monday, June 8, 2009

A new stage

Corin just said his first word today that we hadn't explicitly taught him with pictures or signs.

"Puh-tuh? Puh-tuh?" he said.

We made a few incorrect guesses, then Amanda said, "Why don't you show us?"

He led us over to the laptops.

"Oh, computer?" I said, which we often refer to as "'puters."

"Yeaaaaaah," he said, vigorously nodding.

(Actually, come to think of it, we didn't specifically teach him "yeah" either, as he's been saying for the past week or so... he must have picked that up from our uncultured utterances.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"When Will I Become?"

I just finished writing my fourth song, both music and lyrics — and the first one completed when not under deadline for our annual community-group song-sharing night.

I have four others half-completed as well, and hope to finish them this summer.

I think it's safe to say now that I'm no longer just dabbling in music, but I'm a songwriter. It's quickly becoming a key way of worshiping God for me.

(Only one of the songs has been recorded in a final state so far, which I've posted below for your enjoyment/encouragement/pondering. Others are on the way.)

lyrics by Steve Lansingh, music by Steve Lansingh & Amanda Caldwell, performed by Amanda Caldwell

(if the embedded version won't play, you can download the song here)

I’m living so small
Lord, can this be all
that you meant for me to become

I don’t want to settle
but do I have the mettle
to push through on what I’ve begun

I know I must die
and let you inside
if I hope to love everyone

and be more like my Savior
more like my Jesus
more like the Christ Immanuel
more like my Savior
more like my Jesus
more like the Lamb of Israel
more like my God
so full of love
when will I become

I think I’ve come far
then I look at the bar
that you set when you died on a tree

can I call myself yours
if I choose to ignore
all that you can accomplish through me

give me more of your Spirit
and let those who come near it
feel your touch in my words and my deeds

make me more like my Savior
more like my Jesus
more like the Christ Immanuel
more like my Savior
more like my Jesus
more like the Lamb of Israel
more like my God
so full of love
when will I become

I have not arrived … I am becoming
I’m not satisfied … so I’m still running
I can not stand by … I must do something

to be more like my Savior
more of his nature
more like the Christ Immanuel
more open-hearted
more joyous and love-led
just like the Lamb of Israel
more like my God
so full of love
please let me become

more like my Savior
more like my Jesus
more like the Christ Immanuel
more like my Savior
more like my Jesus
more like the Lamb of Israel
more like my God
so full of love
when will I become

more like my God
so full of love
please let me become

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I feel so cosmopolitan today

I took a 14-minute bus ride to the baseball game downtown this afternoon, and zipped down the beach on my scooter to the urban market to pick up an ingredient I needed for dinner. Everything I need at my fingertips.

Happy anniversary (for reals)

Our 11-year anniversary means that we have now spent 1/3 of our lives in marriage, wedded at the oh-so-young age of 22.

Looking back, it seems so implausible that we would feel confident enough to make that commitment. So much older and wiser now, it's hard not to look back on those naive little creatures and think: What did we know of love? What did we know of each other? We thought we understood life but were only beginning to scratch the surface of living.

But I love that we took the risk. I love that we had faith in each other, and hope in our future. I love that we didn't wait around for "certainty," for a few years of testing our compatibility — figuring out a stable career or sense of self, making sure that we knew what we were getting and giving in the bargain. We just gave of what little we had, what little we were, in trust.

We've been through a lot of things together, if not exactly better or worse, then at least thick and thin. We are have not come out of that the same people we were eleven years ago, but neither would I want us to be. I hope that at our twenty-second we are different people still: changing, growing, striving.

So I am not going to tell you the old cliche that I love you more today than the day we got married. It's true that I am more comfortable with you, connected to you, compatible with you, and bound up in you than ever before, but those things could just as easily be hindrances to real love.

Instead I want to tell you that I love you to exactly the same degree as I did when we got married: with the same sense of adventure, the same sparkling of the eyes, with the same hope, the same confidence, the same desire to leap into the unknown together. We had it then, baby, and by God we can hold to it still.

Happy anniversary, Amanda!

Guess who got a Nerf basketball hoop for her anniversary?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Happy birthday, Corin!

Someone got a Nerf basketball hoop for his second birthday! It's Slam Dunk Corin!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Review: "Let's Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste"

Let's Talk About LoveI WAS WATCHING The Colbert Report a few weeks ago when a music critic came on to promote his book centered around Celine Dion, called "Let's Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste." With the phrase "the end of taste" I assumed that he meant that Ms. Dion had more or less sailed off the edge of the world of taste, that she had somehow broken the needle off the the taste-o-meter, or that she had murdered taste in the cold of night and buried its corpse in the woods. After all, what else would a self-respecting music critic have to say about Celine Dion?

But Carl Wilson isn't a self-respecting music critic. He is an other-respecting music critic, or at least desiring to become so. He asked himself the question: Rather than just denigrate hypothetical Celine fans for having no taste — imagining them to be frumpy spinsters, preening teens, or weak-spined conformists worthy of contempt — what if he actually talked to some flesh-and-blood Celine fans? After all, she's one of the best-selling artists of all time, so there are no shortage of them, even if they are reluctant to raise their hands and identify themselves lest they be subject to a game of critical-whack-a-mole. After years of being a guardian of taste as a reviewer for the magazine 33 1/3, he asks the question: Are there other, cohesive, taste profiles out there other than the ones cool and edgy enough to make it into a music magazine, and of course the answer is yes.

This is such an amazing act of empathy that I am still flabbergasted after finishing the book. Did I really read that? Did a professional warrior just set down his tools of the trade and sit down and have lunch with his opponent? Did someone who calls himself a critic actually seek a greater understanding of humanity rather than heap praise on a singular view of the heights of humanity?

Why don't we all do that? Why is it that we find it so necessary to scoff at others' taste, whether it be their music, their movies, their food, their clothes. Do we do it to validate our own taste profiles, to set ourselves apart and above? Why are we so quick to denigrate and try to convert, instead of taking time to listen and to break bread with those of other perspectives? Why can't we see that each person's taste is a convoluted mish-mash of identity-staking anyway, one that is continually churning and evolving and being re-written as one grows and changes, meets new people, gets older, finds love. We are none of us the sum of our tastes; we know that, but how often do we read someone's Facebook profile and cringe that someone we know and respect actually likes that book or that band? Wilson's book is a good place to start for a recoil-antidote.

MY OWN EXPOSURE to Celine Dion has come mainly through her movie-soundtrack songs: "Beauty and the Beast," "When I Fall in Love" from Sleepless in Seattle, "Because You Love Me" from Up Close & Personal, and "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic, as well as a smattering of other songs I heard on the radio but often didn't know they were hers until I read this book. I'm probably one of those few middle-of-the-road people on Celine, because I've never actually sought her out or bought an album, but I never really cringed at her either — potentially because I didn't cringe at the open sentimentality of the movies associated with her songs. Yes, "My Heart Will Go On" was mercilessly overplayed in 1998, but in the context of Titanic, as the song plays over the end credits, what else would you want but an openly effusive tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, the ability to move past adversity but still hold in remembrance what is lost? What would be the point of something more restrained?

Wilson writes: "In critical discourse, it's as if the only action going on when music is playing is the activity of evaluating music. The question becomes, 'Is this good music to listen to while you're making aesthetic judgments?' ... Celine Dion, on the other hand, is lousy music to make aesthetic judgments to, but might be excellent for having a first kiss, or burying your grandma, or breaking down in tears..."

The whole point of art, I think, is that is is meant to be of use to us, to be entwined with us. It is meant to intersect with our emotional life. If you don't have at least ten good stories of experiences you've had at the movies that outshine the movies themselves in your memory, but you love the films all the same for bringing back those memories — of first dates, romantic escapades, graduation parties, a family outing, a drive-in, a trip downtown, a birthday, a reunion of friends, a vacation escape — then maybe you're missing out on what film has to offer. It's the difference between enjoying a Thanksgiving feast around the family table and eating alone at the highest caliber restaurant. The emotional component is part of the appeal, not a hurdle to get past.

"When this album was first released I assumed that it was shallow, that it was beneath me. A decade later I don't see the advantage is holding yourself above things; down on the surface is where the action is, the first layer of the unfathomable depths. Down there is where your heart gets beaten up, but keeps on beating. It does go on and on. The story is true."

My emphasis has largely been on the intersection of faith and art, between Christian living and artistic experience, and even though Wilson is not a Christian, he nails in this paragraph the key intersection I have found between the two, which is that you get the most out of them when you get your hands dirty, when you go where the action is. As long as Christianity remains a certain set of beliefs and theoretical abstracts about life, it is entirely missing the point. Our experiences and failures with trying to love our neighbors brings us to a deeper understanding of the mystery of God and the grace of Christ that ten thousand sermons or hours of study cannot bring us. Analysis is important, to be sure, but moreso in reflection and contemplation after the fact, after jumping in headfirst and wading through the unknown. In the same way, an analysis of art is mostly useful to me only after I've made myself available to be swept up, and fully immersed in the art — when I am seeking to better understand my reactions, my process, and the reasons that the experience affected me a particular way.

"It's often assumed that audiences for schmaltz are somehow stunted, using sentimental art as a kind of emotional crutch. ... Isn't it equally plausible that people uncomfortable with representations of vulnerability and tenderness have emotional problems? Sentimental art can be a rehearsal, a workout to keep emotions toned and ready to use. ... Sympathy and compassion are prerequisites to charity and solidarity. So between the sentimentalist and the antisentimentalist, who is the real emotional cripple? Me, for one."

As I read the book, I was stunned by how many of his observations like this seemed to mirror my own journey as a critic. I too came to a point where I realized that my encounters with art had to lead to more than just reflection, but to action — to be propelled the exercise of sympathy and compassion. I resonate with his characterization of art as a practice ground for the deepening of charity and solidarity.

But while I got to my conclusions through instinctual wanderings and reactive lurches, Wilson lays out his reasoning with strong arguments and good theory and historical precedent, with substance and facts, with humor and humility and cordiality. He's made me so much more aware of how critical interpretations have changed in the last ten and twenty years, and the historical roots of different philosophies of critical theory. My experiences have not been in a vacuum, but have been been shaped by a context larger than what I was able to perceive on my own. I value his book deeply, as a companion piece to my own story. Like a good song, it lets me know that I'm not alone out there in the universe, that others have felt and thought as I have.

(cross-posted at JoyOfMovies.com)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A morning dialogue

I wake up to Corin saying "Eye? Eye?" and find him holding my glasses. This is his signal that he's ready for a playmate.

"Uuuuunh," he says as he pulls my arm, in case I didn't get the hint.

I stand up, put on my glasses, and he takes me over to the fan we use to circulate air during the night.

"Ah, Ah?"

"Off?" I confirm. He nods, so I turn it off for him, and he adds "Chu" ("Tschüß," which is German for "goodbye"), saying goodbye to the air.

We're off to the bathroom. "Tee?" he says.

"You want your toothbrush?" Again, he nods, and I give him his toothbrush to use while I use the toilet.

When I finish, he tears off a piece of toilet paper and adds it to the bowl. "Chu," he says as I flush the paper down.

We head out to the living room and he heads right to my laptop.

"Pay?" he says, also using the sign-language motion for "play."

"You want it to play a video? OK, let's do that." He loves to watch cars, airplanes, monkeys, nursery rhymes, and of course, himself on YouTube clips.


"You want a car video?" He does. We find some racing footage and he is enthralled for the next 52 seconds until it ends.

"Mo? Mo?"