Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Once Every 15 Years Does Not A Good Skier Make!

In ten months, I will turn 30 years old. This is not something I dread, but the reality of reaching that milestone has been sinking in more and more lately. This past weekend, my wife Tara and I were in Vermont to celebrate the 30th birthday of my oldest friend (pun intended), Jeff Blakeman. Jeff and I grew up in the same town of Glenside, PA and go all the way back to elementary school together. Mrs. Dionne's class to be exact. To commemorate Jeff's 30th, he and his wife Jeanie organized a ski trip to Smugglers' Notch Resort in upstate Vermont. If you've ever been to Vermont, then you know how cold it gets up there in the winter, but the snow-covered mountains were picturesque enough to make up for the frigidness.

The condo we stayed at was gorgeous and is owned by the family of Jeff and Jeanie's friend Kathy, who was also there with us. Tara and I arrived a day later than everyone else and spent our first night there pretty much eating the whole time, while listening to everyone's skiing stories from earlier that day. Despite hearing about the occasional falls and crashes, it sounded as though everyone had a great time skiing and just hearing about it pumped me up for the next day.

Little did I know, I was in for a bit of a rude awakening.

The last time I had skied, the year was 1994, I was 14 years old, my body was quite malleable, and I had just mastered some of Pennsylvania's "finest" slopes. Fast forward to the year 2009, I figured that even though it had been a while, how hard could it be to pick up right where I left off all those years ago? And how different could slopes in Vermont be from those in Pennsylvania?

On Saturday morning, I rented my gear and we headed out to the slopes. Tara decided to stay back at the condo and not take any chances with her balky knee. As my friends and I stood in the ski lift line, I have to admit, I started getting butterflies in my stomach. I had this vision of falling down right before getting on the lift and needing the lift to stop so that I could be picked up off the ground and placed carefully into the next moving chair. No one wants to be that guy!

Thankfully, I didn't turn out to be that guy...not yet anyway. As I made my way up the mountain, taking in the incredible scenery around me, I figured the hard part was over. As we approached the drop off point at the top of the mountain, I pretty much took it for granted that the lift itself would gracefully nudge me out onto the slope. After hesitating for about a second too long, I realized that there was now about a foot of space between my feet and the ground beneath me, and that if I didn't act fast, I was going to then be that guy who ends up going back down the lift in humiliation and disgrace.

So I jumped...and the landing was pretty much what you'd expect. I tumbled over and quickly realized in horror that I was laying right where the next lift riders were going to be shooting out in about ten seconds. In a desperate attempt to not get ski-slayed, I army crawled my way to the side, just in time to see several experienced 10 year olds breeze by. Jeff came over and helped me up and I joined the rest of my group that had been waiting for me in amusement.

As I looked down the mountain, the reality sunk in that my previous skiing experience had done little to prepare me for what I was about to attempt. Before heading down, Jeff gave me a quick tutorial on stopping and turning; something I thought I had previously mastered, but now realized I hadn' all. As we began our descent, I immediately started "snowplowing," an elementary stopping technique that young kids are taught on relatively flat grounds, but one that will be your undoing on more challenging slopes such as this one. Before long, I noticed that in many places, there were large drop-offs on the sides of various trails, with no fences or guardrails to prevent one from taking a dive right off the side. I think it was also around this time that intense vertigo set in.

Somehow, I fared a little better than I thought I would by trying to implement Jeff's instructions, yet still took my share of spills and wipe outs. Jeff and my other buddy Eric graciously stuck with me as I tumbled and twisted my way down this unforgiving mountain. Before long, I had made it to the bottom and was back in the lift line with Jeff. On the second trip up, I managed to properly get off the ski lift and got about half way down the mountain before taking the fall that would end my day. Whether I simply picked up too much speed or somehow got my skis crossed, I'll probably never know. All I know is that I hit the ground hard and tumbled so aggressively that when I had come to a stop, one of my skis had flown off and my left knee was in excruciating pain. As I laid there groaning, wondering if my knee was functional, the thought of the ski patrol carrying me down the mountain on a snowmobile briefly flashed through my mind. There was no way I could let that happen; I would never have heard the end of it. When Jeff rushed over to me, I simply looked at him and said "Happy birthday...thanks for being willing to swim in the baby pool with me." A few minutes later, I was relieved to just be able to stand and I headed down the rest of the mountain under my own power, hoping not to take any more falls that could further injure my knee. And with that, I headed into the lodge to buy some ridiculously overpriced lunch, grateful to have walked away from the slopes with nothing more than some minor aches and pains. All in all, I was very happy with what I had accomplished, despite a fifteen year skiing hiatus.

That evening, we were all hurting and decided to head over to the indoor hot tub that was at a different area within the resort. Somehow, Jeff thought it would be a good idea to run from our condo to the pool facilities with nothing but his swim trunks on in single digit weather. He asked Eric and I to join him in this activity but we respectfully declined. Watching Jeff take off like a road runner on speed was quite a sight! The rest of the evening was relaxing and the next morning we closed out our trip with pancakes and authentic Vermont maple syrup.

After final goodbyes and one last "happy birthday," Tara and I set out on our 430 mile journey back to Philly. Two days before, it had taken us about ten hours to get to Vermont but we figured the drive home would be much quicker than that.

We were wrong.

About an hour into our drive home, it began snowing heavily, forcing us to slow down to less than 30 MPH. Along the way, we tragically saw several accidents and cars that had skidded off the road. As we continued to head south, the snow eventually switched over to rain, but not before creating a lovely wintry mix on the road. When we finally entered Connecticut, the sun had set and the rain and fog were so intense that we had almost no visibility in front of us or of the lines on the ground. With traffic moving heavily on the left and right, I seriously wondered if this was how it was to end for us. It was, hands down, the most nervous I'd ever been in a car. At that moment, I noticed a sign for lodging at the next exit, which was a quarter of a mile up the road. We took the exit and pulled into a motel parking lot, only then realizing that we'd been driving for eight hours and had only gone halfway from Vermont to Philly. Exhausted and thankful to be alive, we checked into the motel and pretty much passed out. Early the next morning, we got back on the road to completely clear skies and finished the last four hours of our trip home.

Overall, this was an extremely enjoyable weekend and I'm thankful to my friends for having us up to Vermont to commemorate Jeff's milestone. It definitely came at a time when I needed a break from the daily routine. However, the next time I visit Vermont -- an absolutely beautiful state -- it will be with the aid of an aircraft.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Big Exhale...

The center that I work for at the University of Pennsylvania -- the Center for the Advanced Study of India -- has just launched a new website! Why am I telling you this? Because, along with some amazing colleagues, I worked on this for the the better part of the past six months and I'm thrilled to finally see it come to fruition! So...check it out.

The launch of this new website came at a very intense time during the months of September, October, and beginning of November. For the past few months, my office had been in the midst of preparing for a major annual November conference that also required a lot of my time. Over the past two and a half months, I'm not sure I worked less than ten hours on any given work day. And if my job alone was not grueling enough, the month of October was also full of Phillies postseason games, resulting in daily out-of-the fire-and-into-the-frying-pan experiences.

But as they say, this too shall pass...
  • The new website is launched.
  • The conference is over.
  • Postseason baseball (while not resulting in my desired outcome) has finally ended.
For the past few days, my body has been going into various forms of shut-down mode. And in case you're wondering, that noise you hear is not an autumn's just me exhaling.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

This hurts worse than I thought it would.

I mean, I sort of remember what it was like for a Phillies season to end on a losing note. But ever since Shane Victorino grounded out to second base to conclude a series sweeping loss in the 2007 NLDS against the Colorado Rockies, I'd simply forgotten how crappy it feels to lose your last game. I guess it's only fitting then, that when Victorino grounded out to second base last night to end the 2009 World Series, I was struck with an odd and disgusting feeling of déjà vu.

With the 2009 baseball season having come to an official close, I can't help but look back on this Phillies season with both fondness and frustration, though I can clearly say there were way more ups than downs this year. But boy, when the downs came, they were DOWNS!!!

1) Our beloved Phillies broadcaster/grandfather, Harry Kalas passed away in April.
2) Cole Hamels & Brad Lidge never found a groove after amazing '08 seasons.
3) Injuries ravaged the pitching staff.
4) The offense had a tendency to fluctuate toward extreme hot and cold spells at any given time.
5) We ultimately lost the World Series to the Evil Empire.

1) We started the season as the defending World Champions and went on to prove that 2008 was no fluke.
2) We had a decent April record (a Phillies rarity) despite losing Harry.
3) We took hold of first place in the NL East in May and never looked back.
4) We had four hitters with over 30 home runs.
5) We acquired seasoned veteran pitchers Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, who both strengthened the team immensely.
6) Rauuuuuul!!!
7) We made it back to the World Series, and despite losing it, are still champs of the National League.
8) Charlie Manuel will once again manage the NL All Star team in 2010.

So while all of this amounts to an amazing 2009 Phillies season, I still feel punched in the gut today as I read all the headlines reminding me that the store-bought Yankees won their 27th World Series over my beloved team. What an amazing feat it would have been to win back-to-back World Series titles and be included among the teams that are talked about for decades afterwards. Still, no one can deny how hard it is to win three consecutive division titles, including two consecutive World Series appearances, with one championship already in the bag.

And so the page is turned toward next year. If Cole Hamels can regain his dominance and form a lethal 1-2 punch with Cliff Lee, if Brad Lidge can remember how to get three outs in the 9th inning, if we can solidify our bench and bullpen a little bit, and of course, if we can keep everyone relatively healthy over 162 games, then I think it's safe to say we can look forward to some more dominant Phillies baseball in 2010 as the boys work to reclaim their throne! Without a doubt, we are living in the greatest era of Phillies baseball!

The Yankees may have won the World Series this year, but they will never be WFCs!!!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

I'm How Old?

I just celebrated my 29th birthday yesterday. To be honest, it's a little weird. It's not so much that I dread turning 30 next year. Far from it actually. It's more that it just crept up on me. Birthdays seem to come much quicker nowadays than they used to. I remember turning 21 like it was yesterday and it feels like I turned 25 about fifteen minutes ago. As a kid, you long for your birthday each year, and every school year feels like an eternity. I guess the pace of life just increases as you get older. I mean, 2009 itself has pretty much gone by in a blurry flash!

This October has been such a busy month as well, so I just haven't really thought much about it being my birthday month. And in an effort to be blunt without sounding conceited, I think I'm a little more than past the stage of wanting my birthday to come around just so I can "get stuff." If anything, over the past few years, I've been seriously forced to examine more and more just how much I have compared to so many in our world. It should be me giving away what I have, not receiving more items to feed my luxurious lifestyle. The fact that I could heat my home on a cold day yesterday is more than a lot of people in my city alone can do, and I should never take that for granted.

I spent most of this past weekend on a fall retreat with my wife Tara, who is a campus ministry director at Temple University, and a bunch of students from Temple and Philadelphia University. We rented a huge house called SPADE, which is in total farm country, just west of Allentown. On Saturday night, I was in the living room of this house, playing my guitar and having a pretty good conversation with the main speaker of the retreat. At some point midnight struck without my knowing it. At that moment, from out of nowhere, dozens of students toting balloons and streamers, came pouring into the room and heaved them at me with deadly accuracy. In the midst of this melee, Tara came in holding two pieces of cake: one chocolate, the other cheesecake (my two favorites!). It was a very thoughtful gesture by everyone involved, and I'm extremely grateful.

On Sunday, after the retreat had ended, Tara and I spent the evening with my parents and brother. After dinner at The Olive Garden (which was lovely), I got ready for my main birthday treat: an absolutely pummeling 11-0 victory by the Phillies over the Los Angeles Dodgers in game 3 of the NLCS, giving the Phillies a 2-1 lead in the series! All in all, a smashing day combined with a smashing weekend!

So here I am now, officially less than a year away from turning 30 and I'm honestly looking forward to it. I'm still not really sure why. Maybe 30 sounds like a mature age for a man...Maybe I just don't have the same dread about getting older that a lot of people have...Or maybe I just like round numbers! Whatever the reason, know this...having been born in 1980, I will turn 20-10 IN 2010! Not many people can say that. If you're one of the few, congrats. If not, be jealous!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


After a long season full of ups, downs, heartaches, and triumphs...the Philadelphia Phillies are officially the 2009 National League Eastern Division Champions, marking the third straight year the team has finished the season in first place!

The 2009 season began by commemorating our World Championship season from last year, followed by a typical Opening Day loss to the Atlanta Braves. After a few initial bumps to begin the season, the team settled into a relatively decent groove right before shockwaves were sent through the core of the team, the entire Philadelphia region, and many parts of the country. On April 13th, Harry Kalas, the Phillies' longtime Hall of Fame broadcaster, number one fan, and symbolic grandfather to Phillies fans everywhere died of a heart attack in the broadcast booth in Washington D.C., just hours before the Phillies were to take on the Nationals. Immediately after Harry's death, Phillies President, David Montgomery summed up the sentiments of a grieving city when he said, "We lost our voice today."

After a fitting tribute and memorial to the man who nurtured the baseball souls of so many, the team moved on in Harry's honor, and soon took over first place in the NL East for good in May. The month of May also involved the final recognition of the 2008 World Champions when the team was honored by President Obama at the White House. Throughout the course of the summer, the team was plagued by inconsistencies and injuries to key players. From the start of the season, closer Brad Lidge, who was absolutely perfect in 2008, couldn't find a groove and eventually lost his job as the 9th inning man. Starting pitcher Brett Myers went down early in the season with a hip injury that required surgery, yet was able to return in the middle of September. Cole Hamels, the team's ace and 2008 World Series MVP, struggled for most of the season, but showed several flashes of brilliance when September rolled around, leading many to believe he'll be as dominant in this year's postseason as he was in last year's. And of course, the bullpen, as a whole, suffered enough injuries in 2009 to fill up a triage unit!

However, as we all know, there's no crying in baseball. Great teams overcome obstacles and rise to the occasion when it matters most. Really "good" Phillies teams in the past have had their seasons ruined and completely undone by little issues and one or two injuries. The 2009 Phillies have faced it all and come through on top. This is the definition of a championship team! New additions, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, and Pedro Martinez all stepped up when needed, along with steady contributions from the rest of this dynamic cast. When the dust had settled on September 30th, only one team was hoisting the NL East Championship flag!

Truth be told, yesterday's division-clinching game was much less dramatic than the clinchers of 2007 and 2008, as there was clearly no better team in the NL East this year. Finishing in first place had more or less been expected by everyone since the team started running away with the division by June.

The highlight of the night, in my opinion, was when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel brought in struggling closer Brad Lidge with two outs in the 9th inning, with the Phillies holding a comfortable 10-3 lead over the Houston Astros. Hearing a sellout crowd stand up and cheer for the guy who blew eleven saves this year -- rightfully earning the ire of many fans -- was extremely heartwarming. I have to admit that after all the anger and frustration I felt toward Lidge this season, I wanted nothing more than to see him close out the division title. And with one pitch, he did just that. A bouncer to first base. Scooped up by Ryan Howard, who tagged the bag himself. Game over. NL East title in the bag.

In the midst of the celebration that followed, the entire team ran out to the left field wall and sprayed champagne on the sign commemorating Harry Kalas. A fitting tribute to the greatest Phillie that never played. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful moments in Phillies history!

And now, after a momentary breather, there's much more work to be done. It's time for the kings to defend their crowns.

Postseason adversaries be warned......the WFCs are coming through!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Addition to the Family

Ok, so it's not quite a kid...yet. But it's the next crucial step before a baby enters the picture. Tara and I just purchased a 2005 Hyundai Sonata and couldn't be more thrilled after being without a car for the past month.

The prospect of buying a car was not something we thought would become a necessity for several more years. If you're not aware, our previous car was totalled last month in a scary crash that could have been much worse than it was.

For the past month, Tara and I had been doing a lot of car research and online homework in order to make sure we educated ourselves as best as we could going into the process of buying a car. We started out by visiting several dealerships in South Philly, which unfortunately meant that we also had to deal with a handful of really pushy and sometimes incompetent and/or unprofessional salespersons. One guy took us out to look at all the used cars in the lot and didn't know a thing about any of them. When he would go inside to get information on them, he'd be gone for fifteen to twenty minute intervals, only to return claiming that someone had hidden the info on him. Riiiiight! Another dealer greeted us by complaining vehemently about his previous customers (always a comforting feeling when you're the next customer). When we got into a car with him to go for a test drive, he spent about 99 percent of the time giving us way too much information about his annoyances with his friends and about 1 percent of the time talking about the car and answering our questions. To his credit, he did go down to Tampa for games 1 and 2 of last year's World Series between the Phils and Rays, so I did enjoy that part of his exhortation. When we went inside to talk numbers, he immediately switched into ultra-sleazy car dealer mode and when he refused to budge from a certain price, we walked out. It was a truly liberating feeling. I suggest you try it at least once in your lifetime.

At a certain point, we just became fed up with South Philly dealerships and expanded our search to the surrounding Philadelphia area. In one of our online searches, we saw a 2005 Hyundai Sonata listed at Keyser Miller Ford in Collegeville, PA. While the car looked great and was within our price range, we were skeptical about its availability because car dealership websites are rarely accurate, but we called and they said the car was available.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

We went up there and fell in love with the car almost immediately. After having driven a good handful of cars over the previous month, there was just something different about this car. It rode smooth as silk, had a really comfortable interior, and was silver (I like silver cars!). Keyser Miller Ford gave us a great deal and was a breath of fresh air to work with after our South Philly experiences. As a small family-owned dealership, they were courteous, patient, and not pushy at all. I highly recommend Keyser Miller Ford to anyone looking to buy a car.

Many thanks to all our great friends who let us borrow their cars repeatedly over the past month! We're happy to return the favor if ever needed!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rat Poison, Anyone?

My wife Tara and I currently have a little bit of a mouse problem in our house. We had a pretty big problem last year and after all else failed, we brought in Orkin Pest Control to handle it. And handle it, they did. Our mouse problem was pretty much taken care of until the start of this fall, when the little monsters inevitably returned. Still being under contract with Orkin, we requested their services once again last week. In addition to putting down more traps and plugging up some holes we hadn't noticed, they put some poison into a strategic location under one of our counters, out of reach of any humans or pets that may be in the house. This poison, called bromadiolone, comes in the form of little blue and red cubes. Once the mouse eats it, the poison acts as a blood thinner. Long story short, the mouse dies and there is much rejoicing.

Sounds safe enough, right?

This past Friday night, at about 10:30pm, Tara and I came home to find our dog, Bailey playing with a piece of this bromadiolone poison, and to boot, it was half eaten. Usually when one of us freaks out, the other one automatically becomes calm and rises to the occasion. Tara freaked, so that meant I was on calm and collected duty. I checked under the counter; the glue traps, which were in front of the poison, were undisturbed. If Bailey had somehow gotten in there, she would have had glue traps stuck to her fur, which would've been a whole other issue in and of itself. But as it was, there was no way she would have been able to reach the poison where the Orkin rep had placed it. The only logical possibility is that he somehow left a piece sitting out before he left. Bailey was acting completely normal and not showing any symptoms of illness, so I wasn't sure how serious the situation was, if at all.

I called Orkin's emergency number and asked them to tell me the name of the poison and how toxic it is to dogs. After a short time, I got a call from Orkin's branch manager and he told me to take Bailey to the ER and that he would cover the charges. And with that, we headed out to the only veterinary hospital that was open at 11pm, the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.

When we got to the Penn Vet ER, they immediately took Bailey in the back and gave her a drug to induce vomiting. After that, they gave her a charcoal substance to absorb whatever might have been digested. Bailey was then brought back out to us in the waiting room, all chipper and happy as ever, without a clue as to what just happened. We were told that she would be just fine and that we just needed to be discharged. At this point, it was about 12:30am and I figured this had turned out to be a pretty quick and painless outing.

Now normally, when you think of being discharged from any place, you imagine going up to the window, collecting your bill, and heading out on your way. Well, it turns out that "discharge" at the Penn Vet ER involves continuing to sit in the waiting room until summoned by a doctor, having your pet receive a full physical, and answering tons of questions. This once-seemingly painless discharge didn't even take place until 3:30am due to the crowd that materialized in the ER that night. When all was said and done that night, we didn't get out of there until 4am, and we were told we would need to come back in 48 hours so that Bailey could have her blood tested to make sure her clotting factors were working properly (which thankfully, two days later, tested normal). We also learned that Bailey was the third dog brought into the ER that night for having ingested bromadiolone, so clearly this was a routine occurrence at this hospital. I wonder if the doctors roll their eyes behind closed doors each time this happens...

Overall, I am very grateful to the Ryan Hospital at Penn Vet for their great work and to Orkin's branch manager for being willing to cover the vet bill for us. I explained to the Orkin manager that we are not angry at the rep who may have left a piece of bromadiolone poison out and that we are not interested in seeking any sort of legal action against him or Orkin. Even though this was a serious situation, mistakes do happen and the fact that they are covering the bill and that Bailey is healthy is good enough for us. I would still recommend Orkin to anyone having pest control problems.

With that, my work here is done. When the next emergency situation arises, it will be my turn to freak out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Newly Crowned, Justin & Christine Matulewicz

On September 12th, I took part in the wedding of my two good friends, Justin Matulewicz & Christine Rabe. They're a wonderful couple that my wife Tara and I are very close to and I'm really excited to see them begin their new lives together.

I first met Justin sometime in the fall of 2006, shortly after I had gotten married and moved into the city. I was first introduced to Justin while he was a student at Temple University, where Tara is the Director of Campus Ministry. Back in '06, his hair was a little out of control and his goatee was about a foot long. Sometime during Justin's college career, he joined my church, liberti, so I started seeing him around regularly.

In the spring of 2007, I took part in a liberti seminar that was designed to help the congregation determine where we might be best suited to serve our community and our neighbors. I recall that one of the needs mentioned among the many was the discipleship of younger people, specifically college students. At one point, we broke up into groups of about ten and went around the circle, discussing where we felt God might be calling each of us to serve. I really didn't have much of a clue at the time so when it was my turn to share, I turned to the guy at my left, who randomly happened to be Justin, and sarcastically said, "I want to disciple that guy!" I went home afterward and thought nothing of it. Two days later I got a phone call. It was Justin. The first thing he said to me in his typically excited Justin inflection was, "So yeah man, let's do this!" I didn't have any idea what he was talking about. He said, "Discipleship!" Only then did I remember my little remark from the seminar a few days before. Totally caught off guard, I responded with, "Um sure, why not?"

What followed over the next two years turned out to be an amazing time of dual-discipleship as we both ministered to each others' needs and struggles in a number of encouraging and sometimes difficult ways, thereby pushing each other to grow as men of God and men of character. We both realized we had a lot in common and a lot not in common, which helped us form the foundation of a tremendous friendship and brotherhood.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Justin began pursuing a few different girls. At the time, I started getting a little bit of that big brother fear that he'd end up with the wrong woman. One day, he started telling me all about this girl named Christine, who he'd met through some friends. The thing that seemed to excite him most -- other than the fact that he found her really attractive -- was that she really helped him address his struggles head on and wouldn't dance around important issues. She was lovingly blunt to his face when necessary, which I think Justin found rather hot. Not only that, but she appeared to really want to get to know the many layers and facets that make up Justin's unique personality. Clearly, this was no surfacy girl. Long story short, I approved!

After Justin and Christine got engaged in late 2008, I was humbled and floored when Justin asked me to be his Best Man. Their wedding and reception were to be outdoors at Bartram's Garden, a beautiful botanical setting in Southwest Philadelphia that overlooks the city's skyline. On the day of the wedding rehearsal, the rain poured down on us as we walked through the details of the ceremony. Needless to say, there was a little tension about whether or not we would all have to cram into the nearby barn the next day in order to keep the bride, her bridesmaids, and the guests from getting drenched. I can speak for the groom's party in that we didn't really care much about the rain. We're men. We shower, shave, get dressed, and we're good to go!

The boys...

The day of the wedding, it lightly drizzled right up to the start of the ceremony and then completely cleared up! I was honored and excited to stand up front with Justin and the rest of the boys to witness not just a culmination, but the start of a new beginning. The day before, Justin had given me the two wedding rings to keep on me until they were to be needed during the ceremony. I can honestly say I've never been more nervous to hold onto anyone's possessions than I was to be in charge of those freaking rings! I checked my pockets about fifty times before even leaving the house that afternoon, and at least another hundred when we got to the wedding location. It didn't matter that I could clearly feel the rings in my that point, full OCD had taken over. When our pastor, Steve Huber, got to the part in the ceremony about the rings being a sign of Justin and Christine's commitment to each other, I had never been more relieved than to get those two little objects out of my pocket and into their hands.

The whole crew...

And with that, Justin and Christine were husband and wife and the celebration officially began! I gave my Best Man speech at the reception, and even though I was pretty nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, I think it went over well. I spent the rest of the night in great company and ate a lot of good food. The wedding cake, in particular, was exceptional! Before Justin and Christine departed the reception to the farewell tune of Queen's "We Are The Champions," I took part, along with the rest of the bridesmaids and groomsmen, in the age old tradition of "decorating" the bride and groom's car.

One of the most exciting things about Justin and Christine getting married is that they are now both officially my neighbors, having just bought a house right down the street from mine! I'm looking forward to all the great years ahead as we live in community together.

Congratulations to the newly crowned, Justin & Christine Matulewicz!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Never Been More Grateful

My car has been completely destroyed.

My wife is completely unharmed.

I'll take it!

A couple of days ago, my wife Tara was driving in a rural West Chester area while on a work trip. As she came around a curve on this particularly rainy day, she noticed a single-lane underpass ahead of her with a small truck coming through. As she attempted to slow down to yield to the truck, her car hydroplaned and spun out into the oncoming traffic lane. By the grace of God, both her car and the oncoming truck collided in such a way that the major impact took place on the side of the car. A few extra feet of skidding in either direction or a lack of head's up, last second swerving by the truck driver, and it would have been a head-on collision. I shudder to think of how things may have resulted in that case.

As it turned out however, Tara and the two passengers in her car walked out without injury, as did the driver of the truck. Our car however, was almost unrecognizable after the accident and was rendered totalled almost immediately. After a momentary breather, Tara called and told me what happened. Thanks to our good friend Justin, I was up in West Chester in no time and we brought Tara home to get checked out by a doctor. Thankfully, the doctor found nothing wrong with her and we left the ER with a clean bill of health.

Having had a couple of days to digest this near catastrophe, I am beyond grateful for God's provision in protecting Tara, her passengers, and the truck driver in what could easily have been a worst case scenario. Bottom line, the car can be replaced...Tara cannot. While it is really unfortunate that we are completely without a car at this time, I cannot help but to marvel at the way our friends and family have come alongside us since the accident took place, and I know that God will continue to provide for us as we look to get a new car soon.

In light of this accident, I was forced to put some things into perspective. In the midst of the chaos, I thanked the Lord, quite honestly, more than I have in some time. Please allow me to share with you:

Jesus, thank you for keeping your hand of protection over Tara, the passengers, and the driver of the truck. Thank you that our only loss in this entire situation is strictly that of material possession. Thank you that you are the only one who is ultimately in control and that our lives are in your hands. Thank you for providing always, even in the most distressing of circumstances. Thank you for providing peace in the middle of this turmoil. Thank you for forgiving us when we neglect to thank you for all we have under your care.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Return to (in)sanity?

I just returned from a week long vacation in North Carolina and it was just what I needed after a pretty grueling summer. I spent the week in the western part of the state, which by process of geography, is not where the Outer Banks are located. This was hard for many people to grasp. Conversations usually went something like this:

Me: "I'm leaving for vacation next week."
Person: "Where to?"
Me: "North Carolina."
Person: "Mmmm, Outer Banks...beautiful!"
Me: "Yes they are, but I won't be anywhere near them."
(Person leaves with confused look on face)

Anyway, my wife Tara, three friends, and I rented a cottage just outside of Hendersonville, NC in a cute little town called Tuxedo. Our cottage, aptly named "The Sunshine Cottage," was a perfect fortress of solitude for the five of us. We spent the week doing a whole lot of nothing and everything. Specifically, we hiked through various mountains, saw some cool water falls, went for scenic drives, swam in a lake, hung out in the hot tub, imitated southern accents, watched many DVDs, read books, gave each other bizzare nicknames (ex: Bacon Betsy), caught up on a year's worth of sleep, wrote impromptu songs (ex: "The Ballad of Bacon Betsy" and "Phil Bits"), and ate tons...tons of food! More than anything, it was a wonderful time of marriage renewal for Tara and I, as well as a time of growing closer to three wonderful friends.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then below are 15,000 words (well, more if you count the captions).

The sign said not to climb on the rocks. We did anyway. (Boo yah!)

A beautiful couple in front of beautiful mountains

Lunch at Lake Lure (or "Lula" as Betsy renamed it)

Phil, Betsy, and Ruth were pretty intense about their puzzles

Betsy...most likely reading about bacon

It took a while, but I ate the whole thing

Tubbin' it!

The Sunshine Cottage

We make this look good...

Nothing witty to say, Betsy & Ruth buying fruit

One of the many times Phil saved me from certain death

Joining forces with an angry squirrel

Lounging at Lake Lure (sorry, Lula)

Batman will not be pleased...

On the road again...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

3 Years & Counting...

Today, my wife Tara and I are celebrating our third wedding anniversary! It's been a whirlwind of awesomeness these past thirty-six months in a number of ways: We've bought a house. We've made a bunch of new friends here who we consider family at this point. We're in the process of welcoming home a son or daughter at some point in the near future. And let's not forget, the Phillies have won a World Series during our marital tenure. What I'm finding lately however, is that a lot of people are asking about the prequel...the story before the story, if you will. So in an effort to satisfy the fans, I present to you Episode I of the Alan & Tara story.

In the Beginning - Fall 2000
I met Tara Siegle when I was a junior in college at Arcadia University. Tara had just entered as a freshman. I don't recall the first time we met face to face. My first concrete memory of her was sometime in late 2000 when I was taking the bus home from the mall. Tara hopped into the bus, saw me, said hi, and then said "Oh wait, I didn't want to get on this bus!" and proceeded to jump off before the driver pulled away. Typical Tara. Oh well, it was a good thing I guess. I had one of those facial recognition things going when I saw her, but couldn't pinpoint her name at the time. Over the next couple of years in college, we solidified a tremendous friendship (starting with my learning her name of course). We felt comfortable talking to each other about most things going on in life and just about stuff in general. There were no strings attached and no ulterior motives on either side. We had a genuine care, trust, and respect for each other.

Post Graduation - 2003-04
After I graduated, Tara had one year of college left and she and a few other girls moved into an off campus apartment in the fall of 2003. I found myself hanging out there a lot and probably overstayed my welcome on more than one occasion. But nothing had really changed between Tara and I. We cared for each other, but that was pretty much the extent of it. Things took a different turn in the spring of 2004 after a bunch of us took Tara out for her birthday in April. At one point during the evening, I hugged her -- something I'd done many times before -- but this time it was...different?! I still couldn't tell you what the difference was, but I wasn't the same. I just sort of wanted to hug her...a lot...and a lot. I laughed it off later that night as I went to bed, but over the next few weeks, Tara and I began hanging out more and I began developing this scary feeling that I really wanted to be her boyfriend?!...and you know, maybe get married one day?!...and then be parents together?!...Whoa!...settle down self!!! I kept all of this quiet for a few weeks until one day in an awkward phone conversation, I blurted it all out to her with quivering quakiness in my voice. I held out some sort of naive hope that Tara would totally reciprocate. I was respectfully, but articulately shot down. Thanks, but no thanks Alan -- I'll keep your name and number on file should the need arise.

Ok, it wasn't that harsh, but it was a bit of an uphill battle. Slowly but surely, Tara gave in to the darkside of the Force and we started dating in the summer of 2004. June 21st to be exact. Yes, I will always remember that date. Go on and laugh if you must. From then on, God began working amazing things in us as we grew together as an official couple. We were always comfortable talking, praying, laughing, and crying with each other and we knew we'd really have to rely on God's strength to get us through what was to come next.

The Separation - 2004-05
In the fall of 2004, Tara left for Mission Year, an inner city missions experience that would consume much of her time over the next year. This wasn't a surprise thing by any means. Tara had been planning it for quite some time before we even started dating and I had no intentions whatsoever of talking her out of it. Throughout that year, we actually managed to grow closer by being apart. Words took on a whole new meaning since they had to take the place of hugs and kisses most of the time. And still, we found joy in talking, praying, laughing, and crying together, even if we couldn't always be in the same location. We learned a lot more about each other during that year as we continuously encouraged and built each other up in the good times and bad. It was a true test of our relational strength and while it was sometimes difficult, I thank God that it happened that way right at the beginning instead of way down the road. It was a beautiful picture of what the Lord can and will do when he's at the center of a relationship and I'm truly humbled by it.

The Return - August 2005
Tara returned from Mission Year in August 2005 and moved into an apartment in the city with two other girls. At the time, she began a new job as a 5th grade teacher at a nearby elementary charter school. If you know anything about teaching in the inner city, then I need not list some of the hardships that Tara faced during the school year. At the same time -- being the loving gem that she is -- she went out of her way to understand her students, met them at their levels, and showed that she really loved them and wanted them to succeed and make wise choices in life. After all, some of these kids had parents doing heavy jail time and had been bounced around from relative to foster family for years.

During this draining time, Tara and I began to discuss the glorious, magnificent, and perilous topic of engagement. We thought it would be somewhat wise to at least let her get through a few months of teaching before REALLY broaching that subject, so it really wasn't brought up much again in great detail for some time. I was a little bit worried at the time about my being able to be a solid, providing husband because although I was working, it was a temp job and wasn't full time. I was working hard to land a full time job with benefits and was pretty stressed out about it. Amazingly, instead of walking in fear, Tara simply encouraged me and said she wasn't worried and that there's never really a "perfect" time to get engaged anyway. She knew that God would provide and she expressed how much faith she had in me and my ability to be a hard working, dedicated husband, no matter how unstable things looked at the time. I'll never forget how calming those words were. Her steadiness has since had a profound impact within our marriage, as I have a tendency to get really worked up.

The Engagement - December 2005
Around the beginning of December, I was clearly getting the feeling that Tara was getting engagement antsy, so I decided this was it! I bought the ring and planned to propose to her the following weekend. As I was running through possible proposal options in my head, a surprising turn of events occurred. Tara and I were informed that one of our mutual friends was having a surprise birthday party thrown for him that first December weekend in New York where he lived, and we were invited to attend. I had one of those slow motion, light bulb moments..."We'll be in New York...Tara likes New York...I could propose in New York...Tara likes New York...this is the coolest idea ever...Tara likes New York!!" Yeah, it went something like that in my head.

After surprising my friend for his birthday, we went back to his place and crashed. The next morning, Tara informed me that she wanted to sight-see around the city. As if on cue, I "grumbled" a little bit about being dragged out of bed. Oh yes, everything was going according to schedule! My plan was to propose at Rockefeller Center in front of the huge Christmas tree. When we finally snaked our way there, let me tell you, "crowded" is not the appropriate word choice to describe how many people were there. I'm talking NO breathing room. But I guess it made sense since it was Christmas time. At that moment, the Command Center in my brain sent a message to the troops to abort the mission and we left that area with no rock on Tara's finger. Eh, it was probably too cliché to propose in front of the famous tree anyway. At one point, we walked past a jewelry store that contained the word "diamond" in the store's name. Tara looked up at the store and said "Oh look Alan...DIAMOND!!" -- a blatantly sarcastic hint-hint. If she only knew...

We finally made our way to the Little Italy section of New York where we planned to eat dinner before catching a train back to Philly. After an exhaustive search, we settled on a cute little restaurant called Casa Bella and ordered our dinner. I knew I'd better get this over with before attempting to eat, or believe me, it wasn't going to be pretty. I reached into my coat pocket and held the ring box under the table. Now let me tell you, aside from that first time I told Tara I wanted to date her, I've never been nervous to talk to her. However, I felt a little light-headed as I pondered the fact that this moment -- my actual engagement proposal -- had always been thought of in my head as a future event. I couldn't believe I was actually living it in the moment. So in typical Alan fashion, I got weird and asked her jokingly if she was still happy with me. The rest becomes a bit of a blur, but from what I remember, I told her how much I love her, how much she means to me, and that I would be honored if she would spend the rest of her life with me as my wife. I busted out the ring and put it in front of her. Somehow, she avoided choking on the bread roll she was eating and managed to emit a "yes" as I put the ring on her finger. We then shared a big huggy moment, at which point I noticed a few heads turn as people tried to act like they weren't watching this monumental event. I didn't care. I wanted the whole world to watch! Afterall, it's not every day that you come to New York with a girlfriend and leave with a fiancée!

To Infinity & Beyond...
Seven months later -- on July 29, 2006 -- we were married in Hatboro, PA. We moved into the city and four months later, brought home our first new addition to the family: our dog, Bailey. Currently, as many of you know, we're in the process of adopting a baby and growing our family even further. Tara is no longer an elementary school teacher but, in a much better fit, is now a campus ministry director and mentor to college students at Temple University. I'm now working as an Online Editor at UPenn's Center for the Advanced Study of India.

I couldn't be more honored and humbled to be going through all of this with anybody but Tara: my bedrock of support, encouragement, joy, and without a doubt my best friend. She has helped me to grow as a man of God, a man of character, and is continuously a living example of what it means to put others ahead of yourself. It also doesn't hurt that she's hot! As I reflect on the journey that got us here, I'm becoming more and more excited about what's to come in the years ahead.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"I'm not your *bleeping* Mommy!"

This past Friday, the new horror film Orphan was released across the country and three days later, is number four at the box office, with a rating of nearly 7 out of 10 on Not too bad for an opening weekend.

Even before its release, I heard a lot of buzz about the film, so I finally looked into it. The premise of the film involves a married couple named John and Kate (such original names!) who suffer a stillbirth and as a result, their marriage takes a hit. To get things back on track, they decide to adopt a nine-year-old girl named Esther from a local orphanage. Once they bring Esther home to be their daughter, a bunch of unexpected things begin to happen -- namely, she starts killing people (big surprise!). From here on out, Esther naturally poses a threat to John, Kate, and their two biological children. As a result, she is no longer seen as their daughter and member of the family, but as an outsider...a curse...something to be contended with and, if necessary, exterminated.

The initial promotional ads for the film contained the tagline:
"It must be difficult to love an adopted child as much as your own."

Wait....WHAT?!?!?! Are you freaking KIDDING ME?!?!?!

Think about this for a second; would you EVER expect our culture to stand for the following movie promo taglines?:

"It must be difficult to love a retarded child as much as a normal one."

"It must be difficult to love a gay child as much as your straight ones."

"It must be difficult to love a black child as much as your white ones."

No, you would never see those, nor should you. Such taglines would be hideous and deplorable and would surely sink a film before its release. But the reason for Orphan's tagline is simple: it's perfectly acceptable in our society to attach stigmas and false stereotypes to adopted children and to specify the fact that they are adopted as much as possible, especially when they go through even the most normal of developmental issues. Thankfully, due to very necessary outcry from the adoption community, the film's sick tagline has since been removed and changed to run two interchangable taglines of "I don't think Mommy likes me very much" and "There's something wrong with Esther."

To be honest, I'm not a fan of those two new taglines either, nor the entire premise of the film for that matter. The general theme seems to be that adoption is something to be feared, especially if you choose to adopt an older child because the bottom line is they're not your real family. This stranger-brought-into-the-family scenario doesn't contain much logic however. While I've personally seen a lot of people make some seriously horrible choices with their lives -- people who've been raised by their biological parents no less -- those people were never treated as non-family members or had their rightful titles of "son" or "daughter" stripped from them.

Without giving away too much of Orphan's final plot twist, the scene at the end of the film between Kate and Esther climaxes with Kate screaming "I'm not your f---ing Mommy!!!" -- a proverbial nail in the coffin, so to speak, in which it is made absolutely and unequivocally clear to the film's viewers that when things get really bad with your adopted child, it's in the parents' best interest to completely divorce the parent/child relationship, because hey, they're not really "your" kid anyway! They're just orphans.

What's the point of writing this? Some have said it's just a movie, no big deal. I disagree. People are constantly going into filmmaking because they want to get some sort of cultural message out. Movies have the capacity to bring issues and concepts to light in both positive and negative ways. Often times movies put spoken words and pictures to what our culture is really thinking but maybe doesn't want to say out loud because it's just not PC. On top of that, movies tend to influence our culture in profound ways towards even the most basic aspects of life. Tons of people were afraid of showering after the release of Psycho. People didn't want dolls in their houses after seeing the Child's Play movies. The presence of dogs instills panic for some because of the film, Cujo. And I personally know people who are terrified of clowns because of the film, It. It's not out of the realm of possibility for Orphan to have the same effect on people who might be thinking about adopting a child, yet choose not to out of fear of bringing home another Esther. And what about the people who might not be interested in adopting, but start to look a little differently at the adopted kid down the street? How about all of the adopted kids in school right now who are going to have to listen to the taunts and labels thrown at them as a result of this film? All of this might sound far fetched, but the next time someone tells you they don't stereotype, just ask them what movies they watch.

My point is not to say you shouldn't see Orphan, but to think about and even speak out against the overall context and the utter falsehoods contained within the premise of this film. At a time when our society should continuously be promoting the beauty and necessity of growing families through adoption, this film appears to remind viewers that adoption is nothing but a risky, second best option.

If you're interested, please check out Orphans Deserve Better - a grassroots initiative launched after the release of this film, that works to take the side of children who don't have the power to speak for themselves.
This entry was first published on my adoption blog: The Atchison Adoption Story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Canine Fiasco

Last Wednesday, I got a phone call from my wife Tara shortly after I arrived at work. I really didn't expect what she was about to tell me. Turns out she was doing some work while sitting on our front porch when our dog Bailey started going nuts about something to the right of our house (we live on the end of our block next to an empty grass lot). When Tara peeked over the ledge, there was a stray dog standing in the lot, who then slowly made his way to the front of our house and just stood there. Bailey, a hyper, playful dog who just wants to socialize with dogs and humans at all times of day (or night) greeted this new quadruped with barks, growls, and an assortment of other canine language. Wisely, Tara took Bailey inside before -- perhaps unwisely? -- inviting this homeless young rottweiler/husky mix into our front yard and offering him water and dog food. She checked his neck and found no collar, no tags, and he appeared to not be neutered either.

At this point, Tara called me and filled me in.

"I really like him," she said.
"Are you freaking kidding me?! And where's Bailey?" I responded.
"Inside the house. Can we keep him?"
(She then proceded to take four pictures of him and immediately email them to me)

The truth of the matter is, Tara and I are two of the biggest suckers for dogs you've ever seen. If we didn't have job responsibilities, owned a mansion, and somehow had tons of cash to spare, we'd probably have a dozen or so dogs at this point. Unfortunately, with reality serving as that all too familiar buzz kill, we both knew that it was just not feasible for us to take on a second dog, especially since we're planning to become parents soon. But since the dog was now in our front yard and had been fed, we were too involved. There was no way Tara could or would just open the gate and let him loose again. At the same time, with Bailey inside, we didn't want to risk putting them together. This stray was much bigger than Bailey and if he attacked her, there's no way Tara would've been able to pull him off her, especially since he didn't have a collar on. But since Tara and dog were growing more and more attached to each other by the minute, she ended up having to pretty much cancel much of her day's work plans in order to sit out on the porch with him and make phone calls to local shelters to report a found dog, while I posted online ads, hoping against hope that an owner was out there and would contact me.

When I got home around 5:30, I was quite surprised to see that the dog was a lot bigger than his pictures made him out to be. Isn't the camera supposed to ADD weight? Tara had been busy teaching him how to sit and was proving successful...(not good). I went into the house and locked Bailey into one of the rooms upstairs and we decided to bring the stray inside. He looked huge as he playfully thumped from the living room all the way back to the kitchen. Bailey was freaking out upstairs and didn't sound pleased that we were keeping her isolated from our new guest. Without much discussion, however, we knew we couldn't prolong this any further. We put a leash on him and loaded him into the car...praying he wouldn't have any bodily episodes along the way.

Thankfully we arrived at the animal care and control center without any incident. In fact, it seemed as though the dog really enjoyed the ride, as most of them do. As I filled out the paperwork, Tara was starting to lose it. She had spent less than a day with this dog, but that had been more than enough time to forge a bond. It didn't help that the dog decided to roll over and let us scratch his belly right then and there -- something he hadn't done all day. For the purpose of the shelter's records, we told the woman behind the desk about how friendly the dog was, that he was great with three young kids who stopped by earlier in the day, and that he was well-behaved in the car. The last thing the woman asked us for was a name to put in their system. Tara and I had decided some time ago that when we get a second dog -- whenever that is -- we will name him Utley (after Phillies' second baseman, Chase Utley of course). But hey, why not now? So we told the woman our name choice and she gave a sort of weird half-smile as she entered it in. (When I reviewed the paperwork later that evening, I understood why she made that face -- it turns out she thought we said "Ugly"...oops!). One of the people in charge told us about the care the dog would be receiving, the medical checks, the screenings, and most unfortunately, the risk of euthanasia if the shelter becomes too crowded. However, the good news is that the first dogs to be euthanized in those situations are ones with the worst behavior and/or health problems, so the fact that "Utley" is friendly and healthy bodes well for his chances.

When the shelter worker took the dog from us and headed back through the large double doors, Tara completely lost it. In the almost-decade I've known her, I've never seen her cry that hard. While I didn't actually cry, I felt exactly the same way. Even though we know there are so many stray animals in so many shelters, something just happens when one of them becomes a personal companion to you, even if it's just for a matter of hours. If two grown people that upset over an animal seems weird to you, then I'm sorry, but you just can't understand that kind of painful sentiment. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, but you have to be a true dog lover to get it. At the end of the day, we both agreed that we did what needed to be done, and thankfully many of our friends encouraged us in the same way. To the best of our knowledge, the dog is still at the shelter and available for adoption. Let me or Tara know if you're interested and we'd be happy to help you out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Acid-Tripping Masterpiece

Last Friday, I saw the new Pixar film, Up along with my wife and a few friends. It was the first film I'd seen in 3D that wasn't some sort of ten minute Disney World attraction. I was a little worried that an hour and a half of 3D mania was going to encourage my burrito dinner to make a second appearance, but a mere twenty minutes into the film, I was downing my box of Raisinets as if I hadn't eaten in weeks. Maybe 3D films are some sort of new subliminal food marketing ploy. Further studies are needed...

The film itself was absolutely spectacular and in my humble opinion, the best one Pixar has made to date. However, the various elements that went into making the storyline successful were the most bizzare I've ever seen. Oddly enough, the whacked out details worked together to form a true masterpiece.

In a nutshell, Up is the story of a young boy (Carl) and girl (Ellie) who live in the same town, form their own "adventure" clubhouse, and imitate their adventure idol, Charles Muntz. As they grow up and get married, they plan several times to visit a secluded section of South America, known as Paradise Falls, but never end up getting there due to life circumstances. Ellie then dies of old age before they are able to make the trip to Paradise Falls, leaving the stage set for Carl to make the trip by himself in his late wife's honor.

That's the simple explanation of roughly the first ten minutes of the film before things get really weird.

I am still completely flabbergasted as to how a team of writers actually sat down at a table and wrote the storyline for the rest of this film. The only thing I can think of is a giant Pixar writers' acid trip that went something like this:

Ok..guys I got it!! like Ellie dies and then Carl starts talking...and then he hits the guy who hit his mailbox and he's in trouble...BIG they come to take him to the retirement home....and then he goes back in and unleashes all the balloons and his house starts flying...and then he opens the curtains and woooo, he's flying along!!!! Yeah then the kid wants a badge, so he knocks on the door and Carl's pissed...REAL pissed...and so then he grabs the garden hose and he's gotta drag his house to the waterfall.....wait dude, wait wait wait...ok, I got it...and then the dogs are like talking all around them and then this huge friggin' bird comes out and eats the chocolate and squawks in Carl's face...wait...yeah, his name's Kevin. And so like, the dog points and chases squirrels and then they go eat in the zeppelin...and then the guy's like "You took my bird!" and so he sets the house on fire and then they run away...and then the dog hides under the porch because he loves the guy...and then they fly back to the zeppelin and the dogs fly planes and chase squirrels, so like then the kid gets the badge, but it's like a bottlecap or something....and yeah, it's over....oh and so yeah we should do 3D so the people will be like WHOA!!! was just a movie.

Somehow the insanity worked brilliantly and combined with the 3D experience, was actually worth the exorbitant price of admission. Take my word for it. 4 stars out of 4.

Monday, May 18, 2009

LHP Obama to Join Struggling Phils' Pitching Staff

In a startling move today, the Philadelphia Phillies signed President Barack Obama in order to address the team's recent pitching struggles. It's unclear whether the 47 year old southpaw will compete for the 5th spot in the rotation or join a tired bullpen that has been forced to compensate for the ineffectiveness of the starting pitching.

Last year, the Phillies made a push for Obama during the stretch run of their eventual world championship season. However, Obama spurned the team's offers, citing the 2008 presidential campaign as his top priority. However, as this season has worn on, he claims his desire to get out of the Oval Office and onto the mound has intensified.

"My change-up has the Phillies. A season filled with hope will once fullfilled," said Obama, as he pulled on his jersey for the first time. "Prosperous times in Philadelphia will once enjoyed. The freedom of championship baseball...will continue."

News of the signing spread quickly throughout the Washington region, with many of those on Capitol Hill expressing support for the president's decision. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in particular offered her endorsement.

"I think the president's decision to pitch for the Phillies is a commendable one," she said. "To not step up and help this team defend its title would be torture, but then again, I'm not familiar with how torture works."

Detractors to the Obama signing included former presidential candidate John McCain.

"My friends, if I could lift my arms above my shoulders and not wave to people like Frankenstein, I would have been the most logical choice to not only be president, but also to pitch for the Phillies," he said. "What the president has done in signing with this team is nothing short of mean-spirited."

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. defended the Obama signing and hopes the president can help the team repeat as world champions.

"Last year, he did a hell of a job with his campaign while we were simultaneously on our way to winning the World Series," said Amaro. "I don't think that was any coincidence."

President Obama signs autographs for fans shortly after signing with the Phillies

Most Phillies themselves were nothing short of thrilled, starting with the team's skipper.

"You know like, we wanna win and you know, he's proven successfull know like, his presidential run, and we think he know like, help us eat up some innings," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, whose pitchers have been scuffling, said with confidence. "I think he gives us like, you know, a chance to win."

Phillies' shortstop and nine year veteran, Jimmy Rollins said that he looks forward to becoming teammates with President Obama and cited himself as one of the main driving forces behind the completion of this deal.

"Last year, while I was making campaign calls on his behalf, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd keep that in mind while the '09 season played out," said Rollins. "I guess you could say at this point, with the change he'll bring to this clubhouse, there's no way the Mets should even bother stepping on the field against us!"

Other players couldn't contain their exuberance upon hearing the news of Obama's signing.

"Barack Obama...BARACK F@#%ING OBAMA!!!," exclaimed second baseman Chase Utley as he sat at his locker.

Despite overwhelming support, one Phillie in particular took exception to the Obama signing as a response to his recent struggles.

"I know I haven't pitched all that well lately," said pitcher Jamie Moyer. "But one thing I've always had going for me is being the oldest player in the game. Now even that's been taken away from me."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Cost of Frugality

My wife and I went to a Phillies game last night. Nothing new. We've done this many times together and I've been to more Phillies games over the years than I'll ever remember. But when it comes to getting bang for your buck, nothing tops last night's game.

One of my coworkers emailed me several weeks ago to let me know he was getting a bunch of Phillies tickets through an organization at UPenn and wanted to know if I wanted any. They were $2 each, he said. I replied to his email, correcting him on the dollar figure. Surely, he must have meant to write $20 per ticket, right? No, they were $2 each. T-W-O! In this era of grossly inflated MLB ticket prices, I naturally couldn't pass that up and asked for two tickets for the May 12th game against the Los Angeles Dodgers (a team whom it bears repeating, the Phillies destroyed in last year's NLCS, en route to winning the World Series...but I digress). With the Yankees charging somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 PER TICKET if you want to sit anywhere in the lower level of their dumb new stadium, $4 for two Phillies tickets was more than getting away with murder!

Well it turns out that last night's game was also one of only a few annual "Dollar Dog" nights, meaning that hot dogs would only cost $1 each as compared to the normally horrendous $3.50. When I found this out, my goal was to see how I could make this the most cost-effective Phillies experience ever. When all was said and done, I thought it was too cool not to share. So here's how the night panned out financially:
  • $4 (two tickets)
  • $12 (four hot dogs & two drinks...yes, drinks were $4.00 each...ugh!)
  • $4 (round-trip subway fare for my wife)

    TOTAL COST: $20 (ie, priceless)

$20 will usually not gain even one person admission to a major league baseball game. Yet on this night, it provided two seats in the ballpark, dinner for two, and my wife's transportation to and from the game.

To make this amazingly cost-effective outing complete, the Phillies beat the Dodgers 5-3. Starting pitcher Chan Ho Park got his first win as a Phillie, outfielder Jayson Werth stole four bases (including a rare and dramatic steal of home plate!), and closer Brad Lidge survived a shaky 9th inning to record his 5th save of the season.

There are some things money can't buy...
...and those are Yankee tickets on a normal person's wages.

Go Phils!

Monday, May 4, 2009

We're Having a Baby!!!

Have I got your attention? Well, while the title statement is infact true, the method of doing so is a little slower, scarier, and a lot less predictable. However, the end result will surely prove to be worth all the time, energy, and effort.

My wife Tara and I have begun the process of adopting a baby through Bethany Christian Services. We're in the beginning stages and have a long way to go, but would like to invite people along for the ride.

In order to keep our friends, family, and the entire blogosphere in the loop, we've created The Atchison Adoption Story: a blog that will catalogue the journey, including all the positive and negative aspects of the adoption process. Please check it out when you get a chance and if I am able to persuade you to subscribe to it, I would be eternally grateful.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Urgent Memo to the Young Generation

Dear young people of the 21st century,

There is much I admire about you. You have a zeal and passion for life that is severely lacking in generations of old. You value being real, honest, and pursuing quality relationships with people. You're sick of settling for tradition just for the sake of tradition. You want to know WHY things are the way they are! These are healthy, admirable traits, that if used properly, will help you go far, achieve much, and enable you to give back to a society that is starved for authenticity. However, if I may be forthright for a moment, I have one humble request: stop popping your freaking shirt collars!!!

Incase anyone has not yet told you, let me respectfully cut to the chase: Popping your collars makes you look stupid and ill-equipped to handle the rigors of real life. And you can forget about ever being taken seriously in job interviews. When I see you dressed this way in public, I don't know whether to slap you or give you a helmet. As a nine year old back in 1989 (yes, some of you were not yet even born), I recall watching a scene from Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty is trying to fit in fashion-wise while visiting the year 2015. Doc tells him to turn his pants pockets inside out because "all kids in the future wear their pockets inside out." This scene was especially funny because I thought about how absurd that looked in the film and felt quite confident that our culture would never move in that sort of direction.

We totally don't need our moms to dress us anymore...

Well, here we are now, just six years from 2015 and here you are thinking you're all enlightened because you refuse to make proper use of the natural folds at the tops of your shirts. If your name begins with Dracula or Elvis Presley (or if you are one of those cool Dilophosaurus "spitter" dinosaurs from Jurassic Park) then you can get away with this ridiculous look. But seeing as you are clearly not one of the aforementioned exceptions, please fold down your shirt collars like the rest of humanity and we will forget that this silly experiment ever took place. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Remembering the Legend: Harry the K

Two days ago, I received the devastating and gut-wrenching news that Philadelphia Phillies' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Harry Kalas had died suddenly, only two hours before the Phillies were to play an afternoon game against the Washington Nationals. I had just settled in to eat my lunch on that seemingly normal day at work, but after viewing that horrific headline, I could barely get anything down my throat. Over the course of the day, the foggy reality slowly set in: the man who had been the soulful voice of baseball in Philadelphia for almost forty years would never again call a single play.

Harry Kalas' enthusiasm, generous demeanor, and of course, booming baritone voice actually created baseball fans over the lengthy course of his career. When my passion for baseball first began in the early '90s, it was Harry who got me into the Phillies. Subsequently, it was Harry who actually enabled me to enjoy watching Phillies games during several abysmal seasons in the mid to late '90s. And it was Harry, whose colorful exuberance paved the journey for Phillies fans everywhere throughout the team's world championship season in 2008. His love for the game, regardless of the team's standings, was evident in the way he called each play. It was pure joy to hear his home run calls of "Swing and a long that baby....outta here!!!" no matter how good or bad the team was doing at the time. It was equally thrilling to hear him yell "Struck 'em out!!" after key strikeouts by Phillies pitchers; especially ones that ended an inning or ended a game. Harry resonated both our joy in the good times and our collective anguish through all the hard defeats.

The loss of Harry Kalas is right on par with the loss of my grandfather. Ironically enough, I'm finding out that many others in the Philadelphia area are feeling the same way. On the day that Harry died, I got a call from my friend Brian, asking me how I was doing. I found it kind of striking and actually somewhat beautiful because he and I ended up consoling each other the way one would during the passing of a family member. The reality of it is that Harry was family, not only to us, but also to millions of others in the Philadelphia area. This was a man I never met personally, but was still someone with whom I felt I had shared a lifetime of memories. On almost a daily basis during each baseball season, Harry had been a welcomed guest in my home or in my car. He knew Phillies fans and we knew him in return. He loved Phillies fans and we loved him equally in return! For many of us who've grown up as baseball fans in Philadelphia, Harry is all we know, and is the person primarily responsible for nurturing our initial sparks of interest into a roaring love for the game.

Since the 2009 baseball season began just two weeks ago, I've admittedly had a little trouble really getting into it since the Phillies are the reigning World Champions. However, over the first several games, hearing Harry's voice and his passion, even in the little details, helped to pull me back in and get me pumped up for this year's title defense. Truly this man had a gift for curing any and all forms of baseball apathy. The day before Harry died -- April 12, 2009 -- I was at my in-laws' house in Allentown and ended up watching the first eight innings of an eventual 7-5 Phillies win. Right before my wife and I left to return home, Chase Utley hit a 2-run home run to tie the game at 5. It was the last live home run I heard Harry call while he was still with us. Given that fact, I'll never forget it, nor will I forget how thrilled Harry was at the way the Phils had battled back from a 5-1 deficit to tie it up late in the game.

Going forward, the Phillies will have tremendous shoes to fill and a grieving city will have to face the unthinkable task of watching and listening to Phillies games without the steady guidance of the one affectionately known as Harry the K. There has never been and never will be another like him.

2008 was for you, Harry. Thank you for making us all champions.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gaining the World, Losing the Soul

The article below was written by Brian McLaren, founding member of Emergent Village, and was printed in the book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.
It struck a chord with me personally and I thought it was worth sharing.

Gaining the World, Losing the Soul
by Brian McLaren

From a vantage point further in the future, I think that an honest diagnosis will tell the truth about the pivotal role the Religious Right has played in these depressing statistics. In the aftermath of the Religious Right's ascendancy, it is not an accident that "antihomosexual" is the number one perception of Christians in America these days, followed closely by "judgmental" and "hypocritical" and "insensitive." Young people today could, if we had taken a wiser path for the last few decades, think "antipoverty" or "pro-environment" or "pro-fidelity" or "antiviolence" when they hear the word "Christian" or "evangelical." But because of the path influential people have taken over the last thirty years or so, what young people think of the Religious Right is what they think about evangelicals and even Christians in general.

That's why some of us believe that leaders in the Religious Right have, in a classic case of gaining the world and losing the soul, successfully gained political clout but helped lose our next generation.

But even so, a diagnosis of the evaporation of Christian commitment in the West and a prescription about how to respond must go deeper than complaining about the mistakes of the Religious Right. There are many factors, and they run deep. As for prescriptions, yes, we need more Bible--but we also need a better, more holistic and profound understanding of the Bible and what it says about justice, compassion, the future, power, poverty, money, war, sex, and the kingdom of God. Yes, we need more maturity--but we also need a better and more holistic maturity, a maturity willing to face the historic and social realities of our so-called Christian past: a past that includes anti-Semitism, racism, chauvinism, holocaust, colonialism, apartheid, slavery, attempted genocide of native peoples, and much else that is ugly and calls not for excuses and minimization but for forthright repentance. Yes, we need more discernment and missional engagement--but we also need better discernment that goes beyond name-calling and making pronouncements on two or three issues.

The data presented here can help us greatly in this regard, prompting us to discern how deep and serious the problems are, so that our missional engagement in the coming years won't be more of the same.