Friday, April 28, 2017

Married life FAQs, April edition

When and where are you going on your honeymoon?

Our plan had been to travel to several European countries (Scotland, Netherlands, France, Spain, and Greece among them) in June 2017. However, for a variety of reasons (including focusing on strengthening our relationship), we ended up waiting too long to begin planning in earnest, and there simply isn't time enough remaining before what would have been our planned departure date in order to pull together a trip for summer 2017. Therefore, we've made the difficult decision to post-pone our honeymoon until summer 2018, which we hope will give us enough space to deep-dive into the planning and feel confident about our travel agenda.

How's "married life"?

Though the frequency of this question has waned, it still gets asked semi-often. And in re-reading my post-wedding FAQ from November, I'd have to say my answer is largely unchanged. Adapting to married life (sharing space, sharing time, finding balance) is hard. Before you succumb to giggles and a trite reply like "yep, welcome to the real world", I'd implore you instead to pause and appreciate that, for us, this journey has been no giggling matter; while our marriage is filled with much joy and laughter and fun times, it has also been filled with deeply painful struggles as we try our best to orient our marriage on a healthy heading. It has not been an easy path. Fortunately, with a strong support network of friends, family, and therapists, we are making headway.

Why aren't you writing on your blog anymore?

I should think that answer is self-evident :) Turns out being in a relationship consumes a LOT of time. When I look at my time budget, the sad reality is that I've needed to cut much of the "good" in deference of what I believe is the "great". This has included my weekly writing night. So, expect blog posts to be infrequent and sporadic.

How's the bathroom remodel going?

We started remodeling our downstairs bathroom back in December, with the hope of being done in a couple months. Well, it's almost May now, and we've yet to even finish the demolition phase. We were delayed in part by tile-backing glue, which turns out to be incredibly difficult to remove. We've been delayed in larger part, though, simply by having too many active Life projects at once (and a social life, to boot!), the end result of which is not being able to focus as much time on the bathroom remodel as we'd hoped.

I heard a rumor you might be getting a bunny?

It's true! Alissa has wanted a puppy for years, and I've always been very direct that I hate dogs (well, in fairness, it's more that I get mad at dog owners who don't train their dogs). I grew up with rodents (rats and hamsters) as pets, and said I'd be okay getting one of those, but Alissa wanted a more substantive animal with which to cuddle, so we compromised on getting one bunny (because of course if you get two bunnies, then all of a sudden you've got twenty bunnies).

After some searching on Bunn-e-Harmony (not the website's real name, but I think it should be), we found a pair of bunnies at the Eau Claire, WI humane society that were litter trained, already spayed/neutered, cute, and not too shy. Apparently bunnies are social creatures, and so if you get just one, it might get lonely during the day when you're not around to play. But also, apparently, you can't just get two random bunnies and stick 'em together, because they might get territorial and fight. In our case, the two we found are what's called a "bonded pair," which means they're BFFs and get along (and also must be adopted together).

After filling out an application with the human society, we were approved, and went to pick up Luke and Daisy this past Sunday to bring them to their forever-home. They're brother and sister, one year old, and we're told have a love for dried mangoes (as do Alissa and I - this could lead to some pretty serious mango competition when we run low). We were told to leave them in their cage for the first week so they could adjust (after that, we may be able to give them a larger patch of house to roam during the day), but we couldn't resist letting them run around the living room just a little bit in the evenings, with very close supervision (this also makes it easier to clean the cage, especially given their early propensity to overturn their litter box in apparent protest of being locked up). So far during these hop-abouts we've not had any bunny-poo-out-of-the-cage accidents, which gives us some confidence we may be able to keep the cage door open for longer periods of time.

Anyway, they're very cute, and Alissa's very happy to have live animals to cuddle (apparently my plush animals aren't cuddly enough :).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books I read in 2016

In 2016, I read eight old-fashioned paperbacks, and listened to 77 audiobooks, beating my personal record from last year's reading accomplishments. I also achieved my goal of reading at least 5 classics this year (by my definition of "classic," which includes classic sci-fi as well as more traditional literature, I read ten; I've marked these with asterisks in my list below).

The average length of these audiobooks was 8 hours on the dot. My average amount of listening per day was 1 hour and 42 minutes.

My "most influential book" awards go to The Blue Zones, the second half of 7 Habits, and a re-reading of Boundaries.

Walden wins my award for most rambling and least able to retain my attention (though Emma, The World Set Free, and the first half of 7 Habits also get honorable mentions in this category; Invisible Man would have taken the award, but I abandoned listening because after a few hours I couldn't stand the narration any longer).

Only counting non-Star Wars books, The Rosie Project was my favorite listen from this year. It was my wife Alissa's recommendation, being one of the only novelized romance stories she can stand, and I loved it. A close second was My Sister's Keeper, coincidentally (truly) also Alissa's recommendation.

This year also included 26 Star Wars audiobooks (of course it did; this is up from last year's 22). Of these, my favorite was Lost Stars, which tells the human-level stories of Imperial cadets as they grow up and serve in the Empire during the timeframe of movies 4-6, raising absolutely fascinating moral/ethical questions about loyalty to a cause vs loyalty to its leader vs loyalty to friends and family. I loved the book primarily though because it puts a face on "the other side." For instance: the main characters both had a best friend who perished on the Death Star during the Rebel's "terrorist" attack. We as a society struggle to understand the "other" - there is so much fear and mistrust created by our political parties both nationally and internationally. I think this is a great book which helps encourage the reader to consider the "other's" viewpoint, and does so in an accessible approach whether you're a Star Wars fan or not.

And of course, I also loved reading the Star Wars paperback novel Ahsoka, because she (along with Jaina Solo and Mara Jade) is one of my Star Wars universe crushes :)

And here are the lists of books:

TitleAuthorAudiobook length
Star Wars: BloodlineClaudia Gray12:14:47
Star Wars: Dark Forces Collectors Trilogy
Soldier for the Empire, Rebel Agent, Jedi Knight
William Dietz5:28:59
My Sister's KeeperJodi Picoult13:41:15
The Dark Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, Volume OneH. P. Lovecraft3:30:15
The Merry Adventures of Robin HoodHoward Pyle10:36:35
The Rosie ProjectGraeme C. Simsion7:32:00
The Zimzum of LoveRob and Kristen Bell2:12:18
Total RecallPhilip K. Dick1:00:00
Full Heart LivingTom Glaser5:40:00
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanJ.K. Rowling11:48:08
A Brief History Of TimeStephen Hawking5:47:20
I Am Number Four: The Lost Files: Zero HourPittacus Lore7:47:27
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneJ.K. Rowling8:17:00
The World Without UsAlan Weisman12:04:32
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen Covey14:03:00
Of Thee I SingBarack Obama00:16:15
Star Wars: Dark Empire IITom Veitch1:54:19
Star Wars: Dark EmpireTom Veitch2:37:21
Frankenstein*Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley8:42:00
Radio Free AlbemuthPhilip K. Dick7:45:02
Kisses from KatieKatie Davis8:52:57
The Scarlet Letter*Nathaniel Hawthorne9:28:00
Beyond Lies the WubPhilip K. Dick00:21:04
The Island of Dr. Moreau*H. G. Wells4:07:32
Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsJ.K. Rowling9:24:16
Star Wars: Aftermath: Life DebtChuck Wendig15:32:00
Watership DownRichard Adams15:53:32
Emma*Jane Austen15:18:00
The World Set FreeH. G. Wells6:38:00
The Minority Report and Other StoriesPhilip K. Dick5:33:25
An Invisible ThreadLaura Schroff7:02:44
The Blue ZonesDan Buettner7:39:17
A Journey to the Center of the Earth*Jules Verne9:17:23
King Lear (BBC Radio Shakespeare)William Shakespeare2:37:52
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde*Robert Louis Stevenson3:06:46
As You Like It (BBC radio collection)William Shakespeare1:59:45
NightElie Wiesel3:38:42
Star Wars: Crimson EmpireMike Richardson and Randy Stradley1:32:45
I am MalalaMalala Yousafzai9:55:03
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lord of the Sith (Full cast audio drama)Tom Veitch2:18:00
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi (Full cast audio drama)Tom Veitch2:42:00
America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the bridge to a new AmericaJim Wallis10:09:58
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl*Anne Frank9:55:21
Hamlet: a fully dramatized audio production from the Folger TheatreWilliam Shakespeare3:32:49
A Voice in the Wind (Unabridged)Francine Rivers21:26:43
Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson book 9)Patricia Briggs10:07:00
BoundariesDr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend11:00:03
Star Wars: Outbound FlightTimothy Zahn6:18:00
Star Wars: The Force AwakensAlan Dean Foster10:05:57
The Great Gatsby*F. Scott Fitzgerald4:53:29
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Radio Drama, as heard on NPRNational Public Radio3:12:15
Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight CompanyAlexander Freed13:40:57
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama, as heard on NPRNational Public Radio4:22:08
Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama, as heard on NPRNational Public Radio5:55:36
The Collected Stories of Winnie-the-PoohA. A. Milne4:27:00
Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars The Force Awakens: Lost StarsClaudia Gray11:26:01
Dragon Blood (Hurog duology book 2)Patricia Briggs9:34:24
Dragon Bones (Hurog duology book 1)Patricia Briggs8:56:56
Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars The Force Awakens: Smuggler's RunGreg Rucka3:22:07
All's Well That Ends Well (BBC radio collection)William Shakespeare2:14:47
The Great DivorceC.S. Lewis3:22:50
Star Wars: Heir to the JediKevin Hearne9:02:20
The Invisible Man*H. G. Wells6:13:47
Star Wars: Millennium FalconJames Luceno10:06:04
Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable JesusJohn Ortberg7:40:50
Star Wars: Apocalypse (Fate of the Jedi book 9)Troy Denning16:30:00
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Unabridged)Dan Ariely7:22:57
A Grief ObservedC.S. Lewis1:50:52
Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Honor Among ThievesJames S. A. Corey9:52:49
Walden, and, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience*Henry David Thoreau13:50:56
Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion: Razor's edgeMartha Wells9:57:19
Star Wars: Ascension (Fate of the Jedi book 8)Christie Golden14:44:14
Scary CloseDonald Miller4:07:38
Star Wars: Dynasty of Evil (Darth Bane book 3)Drew Karpyshyn9:22:33
Star Wars: Conviction (Fate of the Jedi book 7)Aaron Allston12:57:30
Star Wars: Vortex (Fate of the Jedi book 6)Troy Denning14:29:25
Star Wars: Allies (Fate of the Jedi book 5)Christie Golden13:23:57

And the paperbacks:

  • Star Wars: Ahsoka, by E. K. Johnston
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, by Michael Reave and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling
  • A Practical Wedding, by Meg Keene
  • The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey
  • Star Wars: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, edited by Kevin J. Anderson
  • A Practical Wedding Planner, by Meg Keene
  • XKCD: What If?, by Randall Munroe

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Second Noel

He's finally asleep.

J and I are exhausted. I suppose I didn't think birthing and raising a child would be easy, but, I never imagined the sleep deprivation. I don't think I've slept in a year. This baby might be my future Messiah, but he still cries and poops like every other baby I've seen. I need rest.

And we've also been on the run. J had a dream, a vision from God, telling us we were in danger. So we left. Decamped that very night, and headed to Egypt. We were welcomed, I suppose you could say. I mean, no one here has been overtly hostile to us. But it's not home. I miss home. I miss my parents, my brothers and sisters, my friends. I haven't seen them or heard from them in well over a year.

J and I are getting along better now. It was a rough start for us. I suppose some girls my age would think it romantic to be swept away by their husband-to-be, but, truth be told it was just awkward. We barely knew each other. Even though everyone else our age was getting betrothed, I think we were too young.

But it's getting better now. Even away from home, away from our Community, we are ... dare I say, thriving? We used some of the gold gifts, and sold some of the myrrh, and that got us through a lot of the months. Now that we're at least somewhat settled, J's been able to find work. There's always a demand for carpenters, and J's really good at what he does. I'm so proud of him. I'm so grateful for him. I can't imagine raising this baby without him.

This baby.

Today's his first birthday. To think of where we were one year ago, desperate for a place to rest. Now he's resting comfortably on my lap. He's so serene. I treasure these quiet moments, because I know eventually he will grow up, and life will be more complicated. But for now, when I look into his face, I see Peace.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Runaway Sheep

Close call. Woke up this morning and one of the sheep had run away! We spent all day searching. I thought for sure he'd been eaten, or wandered all the way to Egypt. The others always say I'm the pessimist. Maybe they're right.

Well anyway, we found him. The sheep. Now he's watching the sunset with all his sheep friends. Looks like it'll be clear skies, a good night for star-gazing.

I wonder if sheep think like we do? They're all staring at the sky like it's the strangest thing they've ever seen. I wonder what they're thinking.

Now wait, what are they staring at? It's getting brighter. But how? It's night. There's a... it looks like a man floating in the sky, dressed all in white, and, he's glowing?

Shepherd #2, do you see what I see? Oh, good. That means I might not be going crazy. But that also means it's real! I'm scared. Do you hear what I hear, too? This, ... Being - he / she / it - is speaking! "Hark, fear not," he says. ("fear not," yeah, right) Good news, he says. Town of David, cloths, manger, Messiah - it's all a lot to take in at once. Now there are more of the... Beings. They're singing. It's beautiful. We sing to the sheep, but I've never heard music as moving, peaceful, hopeful as this.

They're gone. The heavenly intervention comes to a close. We're all dumbfounded. Was that real? It's hard to imagine we'd all have the same hallucination, if that's what it was, but... would YHWH speak to us in this way? Us, lowly and humble shepherds? I guess there's only one way to find out: we need to start stumbling toward Bethlehem.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-Wedding FAQs, November edition

How's "married life"?

This has been, far and away, THE most frequently asked question over the past two weeks, which is awful because I don't have a quick answer, and I get the impression most people are looking for a quick answer. For a variety of reasons Alissa and I did not live together before the wedding, and so for me, part of "married life" has involved growing accustomed to having a permanent roommate living in what has, for the last ten years, been "my" space. While yes, I've had non-romantic roommates off and on before, never before has that involved someone whose "stuff" was co-mingled with mine. (Speaking of "stuffed", I am very happy that Alissa's stuffed animal moose, Thidwick, has come to live with me now, because he's quite cuddly and adorable :) And so embarking on this journey of sharing space and time and possessions and finances, is exactly that: a journey.

Largely, the past two and a half weeks have been consumed by post-wedding "todo"s, such as unwrapping multiple layers of tulle from the light strings we'd hung over the length of the gym, or putting away gifts, or adding Alissa to my credit cards and checking account and insurances, or dealing with change-of-address updates, and so on (by the way, to date, we have made progress on all, but completed none, of the aforementioned tasks). We also have appointments over the next several weeks to deal with updating my will (and creating one for Alissa), as well as meeting with financial advisors, and continuing couples therapy, which we've found immensely helpful in aiding us to communicate effectively and lovingly.

We also continue to stumble through figuring out what "routine" looks like anymore. As one comical example: we have different sleeping habits - she sleeps with the light on, which of course is just WEIRD; whereas I require absolute darkness to sleep. Morning routines are working okay so far, since I leave for work earlier than she does, and so we haven't experienced bathroom timesharing issues. And I was ecstatic that, even in week 1, on Wednesday night (aka Jeremy's "me night"), Alissa went from work to a coffee shop to church small group, giving me the evening to myself. As we'd agreed during budget negotiations, it is SO worth a $5 coffee for me to have that recharge time to myself.

And we're sort of falling into a frequent habit of making dinners together and watching part of a movie while we eat. Since Alissa's vegetarian, our joint cooking adventures are aided by my recent decision to begin minimizing meat in my diet to once per day, which typically has been lunch; this makes it easier for us to cook meals together in the evening. To clarify a common misconception: my decision to minimize meat is health-related and came after watching a documentary titled Forks over Knives; Alissa (while happy about my choice) had not attempted to sway me in either direction. But, because of my choice, she's introduced me to veggie bacon, which, as much as I can't believe I'm saying this, I actually find quite delicious. Om nom nom.

When are you going on your honeymoon?

Following the wedding reception we took a short (two night) vacation to the Outing Lodge in Stillwater, got back in time for church Sunday morning, but then took Monday off work so we could relax a little longer, and finish opening cards and presents. Since Alissa works in a school, taking extended time off during the school year isn't really viable, so we are planning a European odyssey for June. If I get my hopes, we'll spend a couple days at the start going to museums in Washington, D.C., which will have the added advantage of subtracting one hour off our jet lag. My other dream destinations include Scotland and Greece. While we don't have any specific plans yet, the general plan is that we'll take three weeks to do "all the things" in Europe. I'm sure that should be plenty of time.

What happened to all the sandwiches from the reception?

Instead of a dance, our reception guests made over 3200 sandwiches for Catholic Charities to distribute to people experiencing food scarcity, poverty, or homelessness. Aaron, my contact at Catholic Charities, tells me that all 3K sandwiches were distributed that same weekend, half at the Dorothy Day center, and the remainder by various partner organizations around town.

Check out my previous blog post for pictures of the sandwich making!

Did you raise enough money to pay for the sandwiches?

If you recall from my blog post a few days before the wedding, we had a small debacle regarding sandwich supply cost, for which I ended up spending an unexpected $1500 on meats and cheeses. A Thrivent Financial "Action Team" grant cut that cost by $250, and an incredible outpouring of generosity from coworkers and friends paid off another $1,000+!! As of this writing, our out of pocket expense remains only $167.54. I feel so blessed by all the support we've received.

Where can I see pictures of the wedding?

Huge thanks to Randy Baranczyk, our wedding photographer. I've posted the photos on my Facebook page. If you're not my friend yet, send me a friend request or an email!

What's in those MATTERboxes you handed out at the wedding?

We invited all our guests to take a MATTERbox (produced by local NGO MATTER, where my good friend and groomsperson Joe happens to work), which are small boxes filled with non-perishable food. The boxes are meant for handing out to panhandlers you might come across on street corners or freeway exit ramps. No one (not even Joe) is quite sure what's actually in the boxes, though, so I decided to open one up and document the un-boxing:

Disclaimer: this is simply the contents of one single box. Based on the varying weights between boxes, I'm pretty sure each box has a different adventure waiting inside.

I'd like to buy more MATTERboxes for myself or my organization! Who should I contact?

You should contact my buddy Joe at MATTER, who's in charge of the MATTERbox distribution!
Joe Newhouse
joe@matter.ngo
(952) 737-6093

Your reception food was amazing! Who was your caterer?

Short answer: Abi's Cafe in Minneapolis.

Longer answer: Months ago when we first started thinking about caterers, I wanted to find one with ties to either a shelter or food shelf, so the leftovers could go to people who really needed a good meal. In that search, I came across these news articles about Abi's Cafe: nydailynews, abcnews, and asked Alissa if we could go check out the restaurant for one of our date nights. We loved the food, and also loved the idea of supporting a local business, owned and operated by a young immigrant woman who was our same age. Abi worked so hard for us, and quite gracefully handled a lot of me asking "oh, can your staff do this, too?" She even closed her restaurant for our wedding day, so she and her staff could focus exclusively on us. We can't say enough good things about her, so if you're ever looking for some Salvadorian food, please drop by Abi's and tell her you heard about her from Alissa and Jeremy's wedding!

If I want to mail you a card, what salutations should I use? (a.k.a., what's Alissa's last name now?)

The answer surprises a lot of people, but it's actually quite simple: nothing has changed :) Alissa is still "Ms. Alissa Carsten", and I am still "Mr. Jeremy Gustafson". If you're addressing a card or package to both of us, we have no preference on whose name is listed first, so you can either address to "Jeremy Gustafson and Alissa Carsten," or, "Alissa Carsten and Jeremy Gustafson."

Now if you're thinking, "oh shoot! I sent you a card/check/package to 'Jeremy and Alissa Gustafson,'" it's okay, you weren't the only one, and I think all newly married couples need to have a lot of grace helping friends and family navigate the salutation issue, especially when doing something non-standard like we have. But now you know!

Do you REALLY have 850 Beanie Babies???!!!

Yep. And probably a few more. I have 828 Beanies (2 were wedding gifts :) and Buddies and Teenies that I've inventoried on my spreadsheet. I also have a box of several dozen unopened Teenie Beanies, still in their original McDonald's packaging (so that they're worth more :p ), bringing the total somewhere between 850 and 900.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wedding Reception: The Sandwich Project

You may recall my previous blog post about the meat & cheese acquisition debacle. Well now it's time to share how it all turned out!

The support of my workplace in contributing to offset our costs was incredibly heartening, uplifting, and encouraging: we had a God-sized dream to pull this off at our reception, and God showed up (via coworkers wandering by my desk and throwing money at me) to help make it happen. I just need to share how incredible this is: I started with a $1,473 out-of-pocket expense for the meat and cheese; $250 was covered by a grant from Thrivent Financial, and now to date, I've received an additional $1,045 from co-workers and friends to help offset the cost, leaving my out-of-pocket at a mere $178. That, to me, is a "wow" moment.

I shared something related to this in my last post that I think is worth sharing again:

I've had three separate people offer me donations today because of my FB post. I've teared up each time.

I'm sharing this with you to say, *we* *are* supported. The unlikeliest people (well, and some likely ones, too) are stepping up and offering suggestions, tangible help, and even money, to help us do our sandwich making service project. And the ones who can't help (a few of the nonprofits/businesses I've called asking for donations) still say "what a neat and cool idea" to do instead of a dance.

Also, this is a practical lesson for me about what my Jesus Calling devotional has been talking about today and the past couple days: relying on God, rather than my own abilities. The idea of shelling out an un-budgeted $2000+ to make the sandwiches happen, was a bit overwhelming to me. Now money and help are coming out of the woodwork. God is providing. God is teaching me that God provides. God is teaching me that God works through people I wouldn't have expected God to work through. And it is beautiful.

At our reception a week and a half ago, the service project got off to a slightly bumpy start, largely due to my not-fully-thought-through logistics of distributing aprons and gloves. But once people got going, they really got going! We made over 3200 sandwiches in less than an hour, and everyone (at least seemingly) truly enjoyed the project. I and my family heard innumerable unsolicited comments about how much fun people had had, and how meaningful it was that Alissa and I would choose to spend our special wedding day focused on serving others.

In addition to the sandwich project, we purchased 300 MATTERboxes - boxes full of non-perishable foodstuff - and invited every guest to take one or more to then hand out to panhandlers they might encounter. This had the unintended, but wonderful, side-effect of sparking conversations among the church staff about considering a similar gift for their parishioners. As well, we hope by both the MATTERboxes and sandwich project, that we have not only encouraged our guests to consider the "outsider," the less fortunate, the outcast whom Jesus loves, but also pointed them toward God and a heart of service beyond just our wedding day.