Monday, November 19, 2007

Walking Slowly

Maybe it's because I'm sooo not in a hurry to get to class, maybe it's because I'm feeling lazy, but for whatever the reason, I've noticed of late that I've been walking rather slowly... meandering, if you will, around campus, rather than my normal hustle and bustle, speedy race to and from classes. I'm finally learning to take my time, to let other people pass me, and to just be patient as I admire the campus, the wildlife (ie, squirrels), the construction, the sky, everything around me. It's so weird for me to not be in a hurry, but I'm finding it quite relaxing.

Monday, November 05, 2007

My Night with Public Safety

Last Friday I had an amazing experience: I got to ride along with one of St Olaf's Public Safety officers for a couple hours!

Most people I've told that to look at me strangely and question my sanity. A few have seen it from my perspective, as something that was actually really fun, and at the same time also educational.

How did this come about, you might wonder? A week and a half ago, while I was working SafeRide, I was sitting in Fireside and a Public Safety officer came through to lock up. I explained I was still on duty, and we talked for a while, me asking questions about what his job is like, etc. I also asked if they ever let students ride with–I have no good or legitimate reason to do so other than pure interest in the experience, but I thought, hey, why not at least ask? Turns out that they do on occasion let students tag along! And even better, this friendly officer said he'd be willing to let me come with some time, I just needed to arrange it with Fred Behr, the director of Public Safety.

So last week I went in to talk with Fred, expecting that I'd need to come up with some really good official reason for wanting to ride along. As it turns out, I'd no sooner stepped into his office after Donna [Hunter, the "Parking Office lady" whom I go in to chat with every now and then] introduced me before he simply asked "when do you want to do it?" No hard questions, no complicated reason needed (though I'm sure it helped that I'd been introduced as one of their SafeDrivers), just the question of when and with who.

And thus, I got to ride with Officer Murphy last Friday, help lock up Buntrock, Dittman, and Speech-Theatre, tag along as he responded to a call in Ytterboe which I'm not sure I'm allowed to discuss, and ride around the campus in the jeep, in the process learning a lot more about what their department does to keep us safe, as well as how to focus on being more alert about my surroundings and such. To the average St Olaf student it may sound quite mundane, but in all seriousness I have to say that was one of the most fun nights I've had in a long time!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


It may seem morbid to some, but I made a decision a couple years ago to keep track of death dates of people I've known. In fact, I consider this to be one of my most solemn "duties", if you will, putting one into my computer's calendar, recording the person's name, year of death, and setting the event to repeat itself in the calendar every year so that I never forget.

Two and a half years ago I did this for my friend Andrew. We probably hadn't talked since our trips to Europe as part of the People To People Student Ambassador program a couple years previous, but his death still hit me hard–he was only two or three years older than me.

Tonight, I placed a new name forever in my calendar. She was killed this past week, not of old age, not from an accident, not a heart attack or anything; she was murdered.

I don't have any words, really, so I'm just going to ramble.

Katherine was a junior when I started at St Olaf as a freshman, and she was one of the four actors in 'Perpetua', the first (and only) play I worked on in the theatre department. She was always a fun person to be around, every memory I have of her she had a smile on her face. She was one of the only upperclassmen I knew my first year, and she helped welcome me into the St Olaf community, not in some cheesy "welcome to St Olaf" way, but by actually stopping to say "hi" to me when we'd cross paths between classes or wherever. She never stopped doing that, even after Perpetua had finished. We weren't ever 'bestest buds' or anything, but I definitely consider KO to have been a friend.

I tracked it down: the last time I saw Katherine was on March 10th, 2007 (Day 11 of my "Surprise Me" experiment).


The night I first found out about Andrew's death, one of my friends told me something I found unsettling at the time, but have since learned to be pretty much a true assessment of life: she said "you're entering a time in your life filled with weddings and funerals". That hadn't really been the case for me before, but since that time I've lost count of the funerals I've been to or (considered going to, but couldn't make it), and this summer alone I went to four weddings. Weddings I can handle–those are happy–funerals I wasn't prepared to deal with. I guess I'm still not.

When someone dies of old age, or even just at an old age (from cancer or disease), that I can deal with, I can accept that, especially when you can see it coming and sort of brace yourself for the inevitable. When someone dies in their old age, the funeral is still a time of sadness, but it's also a time of celebration of a life full of years, and the incredible impact those years have had on friends and family. It's sad, but it's happy, too.

When someone is cut down in the midst of their life, that makes me angry and sad and so many emotions that I can't make sense of. Katherine was 24, just two years older than me. How do we even begin to deal with that? I'm the one who likes studying theodicy, right? The conclusions I've drawn from that study yield me no comfort. When I go to this funeral, there may be a celebration of 24 amazing years of an amazing person's life, but for me those emotions will be outweighed by the need to mourn such a premature, pointless, unnecessary death.

Someone reminded me earlier tonight that "Christians never see each other for the last time". My current theological struggles aside, I'll take that as true. That does nothing to address the issue that there is no good reason that I, in any earthly knowledge, can see for Katherine's murder. There is no good reason she should have died so early in her life. This, for me, will be a funeral of sadness.

It's a bitter reminder of how unfair life is, how unpredictable, and how scary. It scares me to think that I might wake up tomorrow, like Katherine did one day last week, and be killed, just like that, out of the blue. I'm not going to stop living my life and hide in fear, but I need to be honest, I'm still scared.

Katherine and Andrew, both, have reminded me how precious every day is. You are both missed, my long lost friends~

Friday, August 31, 2007

FaceBook and Virginia Tech

The more I take notice, the more I'm convinced that Thomas Friedman may be right: the barriers to communication are being flattened, and quickly.

I made these voice notes one bright and sunny day in the middle of this past April; the day now permanently seared into my memory as the Virginia Tech tragedy. We live in a changed world, but the point of this journal entry is not to comment on the murderer or the tragedy itself, but rather on how people responded, both during and after.

On April 16th I sat on a couch in the Pause (a student recreation area at St Olaf), eyes glued to the TV as CNN covered the breaking news out of Virginia. As part of their coverage they interviewed several students from VTech, most of whom provided the typical, not-so-great-quality of responses one would expect from inexperienced college kids doing their first news interview. But one of the interviewees really grabbed me–she was calm, incredibly well-spoken, and the insider's story she had to tell was eye-opening. Maddie level-headedly recounted to the anchor her experience of the building being locked down, and she and her classmates being confined in a computer / publications classroom. Rather than sit by idly, they took that opportunity, in true journalistic style, to start reporting, gathering information as best they could, and writing about the events even as they were still unfolding. With the phones non-functional, they were still able to keep in communication with friends in other buildings through means like instant messaging and FaceBook, gathering any relevant details, but more importantly to make sure they were unharmed.

Hearing that is when I realized: FaceBook has changed the way people respond to tragedy. In the days to follow, many VTech students chose to honor their fallen classmates by changing their profile pictures to a specially designed VTech ribbon of mourning, and countless groups were created in the global network (meaning open for anyone anywhere to join) as a way for others outside the community to show their support.

As her interview was finishing up, I found Maddie on FaceBook and sent her a message, just something simple along the lines of "You did a really great interview on CNN; you and the VTech community are in my prayers". FaceBook has changed what it means to be a college student–it's connected us to each other, bridging the boundaries between schools. That's not a bad thing. And in this particular instance, FB gave us all the chance to show our support, to send messages of encouragement and hope, to reach out to our fellow classmates several states away. Even though it was so many states away, this tragedy, I think, touched all of us (meaning college students)–the victims were our peers; the campus, just like any other, just like mine.

Within a day or two VTech had created an entirely new section of their website whose sole purpose was to provide continuous updates on the status of the campus. Seeing this I must morbidly admit I spent a few minutes thinking about how we'd do something similar at MA should the need ever arise. In any event, I was impressed to see how quickly, and how lovingly, the web folks responded.

Thomas Friedman is really on to something. The face of communication was completely changed this time around. Videos taken on cell phones on campus in Virginia were being streamed all the way to the TV set I was watching in Northfield, Minnesota not more than half an hour after the fact. People interviewed out of VTech were just a FaceBook message away. And, in general, the Internet, for all the problems it may be causing in the world, flattened the barriers to communication, not only so that students could contact friends and family to reassure them they're okay, but also so that other students across the nation, and other people around the world, could come together as a united family to offer prayers and support.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

WWDC07 & San Francisco

This past June I was privileged to attend Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference in San Francisco, which for someone like me, being the Apple lover I am, was really really neat. With an entry ticket price of $1600, there's no way I could normally afford to attend, but on a whim, several months prior, I'd filled out an application to receive a student developer scholarship to attend, and by some small miracle I was actually granted one, meaning the ticket was covered, all I needed to do was get there.

I didn't take nearly enough voice notes to make a very detailed journal, but suffice it to say the week was enjoyable. It would have been much more so had I actually known anyone, but regardless, it was an entirely new (and cool) experience to be walking the hallways and see other developers wearing polo shirts with the logos of software packages that I use. Wow! These are the people who actually make the programs I use in my day to day life. Pretty neat. (Putting in an in-person feature request to the Panic folks who developed Coda was definitely a highlight of the week for me).

With that summary, I digress to the actual voice notes I did take, both about WWDC itself, and about my explorations around the nearby streets of San Francisco.

- WWDC truly is an international event and community. My first day I sat for lunch with someone from England, and that evening met someone at my hotel from France. Roaming the hallways I saw any number of people with power adapters and converters for their laptops' power adapters, allowing them to plug into American outlets in the same way that I've had to use electrical adapters when I've traveled overseas. And there were Asians everywhere, and they were all really smart.

- Walking the streets of San Francisco the day before the conference was an entirely new experience for me: I'd never been that close to so many homeless people and beggars walking around on the street. Reading their signs was a might bit depressing, though the one that read "I need a girlfriend" I just found to be terribly hilarious. Conversely, the sadest sign I saw offered "Will take verbal abuse for spare change". During the conference days themselves, there was a beggar with a very clever line sitting not too far from the Moscone entrance: as we (the attendees) walked past he would call out "My name is [so-and-so] and I'll be your pan-handler for the next 5 feet"–he had a fairly sharp sense of humor about him.

- San Francisco has an overabundance of banks and cell phone store: without fail I passed at least one or two per block as I walked around. Scary.

- The Golden Gate bridge was too far away to walk to from where my hotel was, and I didn't feel like braving a trolley to get there, but I did manage to find my way to a peer overlooking water, which was beautiful. All in all, despite the somewhat cultural shock of seeing the inner city, walking around the city for those several hours was definitely fun, and relaxing.

Walking Her Home

Excepting the times when I find myself in an emotionally vulnerable place, very few songs can touch me deeply enough so as to make me cry. Some may make my eyes water a little bit, like Mark Schultz's "I have been there", Third Day's "Cry out to Jesus", or the Newsboys's "Something Beautiful", but very rarely will a song actually make me teary.

The other day, or, at least, what was "the other day" back when I made this voice note on February 20th, 2007, I caught the last part of a new song by Mark Schultz on the radio: "Walking her home". As I listened I recalled hearing a preview of this song at Mark's concert a couple years back, before the song was fully written. When I got home that day I looked to see if, per chance, this song was on the Broken and Beautiful CD I'd just purchased, and lo and behold it was.

And so I listened to the whole thing, and as I listened, I cried. I cried not of sadness, but of heartstrings–this song, much like the third verse of "I have been there", reminded me so much of my Grandma and Grandpa, their life story, their life together, and Grandma's passing a year and a half ago. It was as if Mark took their story and wove it into song, and it was beautiful:

Looking back
He sees it all
It was her first date the night he came to call

Her dad said, "Son,
Have her home on time
And promise me youll never leave her side."
He took her to a show in town
And he was ten feet off the ground

He was walking her home
And holding her hand
Oh the way she smiled it stole the breath right out of him
Down that old road
With the stars up above
He remembers where he was the night he fell in love
He was walking her home

Ten more years and a waiting room
At half past one
And the doctor said, "Come in and meet your son"

His knees went weak
When he saw his wife
She was smiling as she said, "He's got your eyes"

And as she slept he held her tight
His mind went back to that first night

He was walking her home
And holding her hand
Oh the way she smiled it stole the breath right out of him
Down that old road
With the stars up above
He remembers where he was the night he fell in love
He was walking her home

He walked her through the best days of her life
Sixty years together and he never left her side

A nursing home
At eighty-five
And the doctor said it could be her last night
And the nurse said "Oh,
Should we tell him now?
Or should he wait until the morning to find out?"

But when they checked her room that night
He was laying by her side

Oh he was walking her home
And holding her hand
Oh the way she smiled when he said this is not the end
And just for a while they were eighteen
And she was still more beautiful to him than anything
He was walking her home
He was walking her home

Looking back
He sees it all
It was her first date the night he came to call

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Just Meaningless. Or is it?

I've paid some great amount of attention recently to my own speech patterns and language choices: what words I use, how often I use them, etc, and I've frequently noticed that the word "just" has really just crept into my vocabulary just a bit, and I just use it a little too often. That's just what I think, anyway, and so it seems like it has become just meaningless. But has it really?

My rather public affair with the word "just" first saw light perhaps two years ago while assisting in a teacher workshop. I was helping one of the teachers do something, saying "just click here and just do that" when she [more or less] jokingly pointed out to me that, yes, for me it may be "just" do this and that, but for her it wasn't always that obvious. To clarify, she wasn't getting upset, but it was a revelation to me nonetheless that I do tend to diminutise tasks that I consider trivially or, at least, relatively, easy; If something's simple to me, I consciously or unconsciously assume it must also be simple for everyone else. And so I command someone "just click here and change this setting", because of course I've done it a hundred times, but I'm working hard to remember that doesn't mean the other person has any clue whatsoever.

In addition to the outward expressions of affection for "just", I've discovered it and I have a secret relationship in my prayer life, as well: "Just" has crept into my prayer vernacular and takes every opportunity it can to jump out and assert itself. But I realised something, and now I've concluded that I think it's okay for "just" to be so closely bonded with my prayers: overused as it may be, it may never be meaningless in a prayer setting. In the same sense that I use "just" out loud when discussing something I think is simple, any situation I could possibly be praying about must be so simple, so absolutely trivial to God, that to say "just" remains perfectly applicable.

This came to my mind some number of weeks ago when I first made the voice note that spawned this journal entry: I heard a siren, and I've gotten into the habit that, when I hear a siren, I always say a little prayer for the people in need and for the emergency crew helping them: "Lord, I just pray that you would be in that situation, that you would just be with them".

You may have noticed two sneaky little "just"s lurking in there: The first is used in the sense that it's so simple for me to pray–10 seconds and I'm done. Quick, easy, simple, painless. That's one of the amazing things about believing in a personal Deity and having a direct line of communication. The second "just" in there, I believe, is valid because it is a reminder of the fact that this situation I'm praying about remains something so incomprehensibly small for a God of the universe, and yet I believe that God still cares. God's just awesome like that–another use of "just", this time to exemplify something far above and beyond the ordinary.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Very Quick Rant About "Harry Putter"

I recorded this voice note on the road a couple days ago (I like to write things while I drive). Let me just say, it's so true:

I absolutely cannot believe how stupid some people are. Okay, to be nice maybe I should say "dense" instead. Let's stick with that: "dense". Why are they dense? I'll tell them about this movie I'm working on, "Harry Putter and the Chamber Pot of Secrets", and they'll just sort of stare at me blankly. The ensuing conversation looks something like this:

Dense Person [assuming I must be talking about Potter and not Putter]: "I don't read the books, I haven't seen the movies, I don't know anything about that".
Me: "Well, you don't need to, see, it's a parody: 'Putter', and 'chamber pot', see chamber pots are funny".
D [clearly not bothering to understand/process anything I just said]: "Oh, good for you"
M: "No! You're not getting it! Ahh!"

I generally skip saying the last line out loud, I just think it really really hard in the hopes that my mind will be powerful enough to break through the dense person's apparent complete block of mental activity and inspire their brain to start working again. This has yet to be successful.

Day 30 - Part 2

30 days of journals, but did I get anything more out of it than that? Did God really touch me more than just writing down what I did each day? What have I learned from doing this?

I never truly limited myself to just saying "surprise me"; there are so many people in need, so many of my good friends, who are so much more important than my silly experiment, and I prayed for them daily by name. I also prayed selfishly: "Please help me on this test", "Please let this email be received well", etc, but even so I feel I always kept an honest, welcoming approach to saying "surprise me", and then spotting the surprises when they came.

A lot of "surprises" aren't necessarily from God, Terry even talked about that a bit on Day 14 in his book. I'm not going to claim they are, or that they have to be, but God is still creator, He created surprises, so it doesn't seem wholly inappropriate to offer thanks for all these surprises in my life, anyway. Any number of the things I've written about can easily be dismissed as coincidental, or just "normal"; life would have done that anyway (like the date formatter in address book, to name just one trivial example from a while back). It's easy to say that wasn't really God surprising me, it was there already, only waiting to be discovered. Maybe so, but regardless that doesn't change how I became so much more aware of just how many surprises come in a day. I paid closer attention to all the glorious things God's put into my life, and maybe that's the real heart of what this experiment is about. Yes, it's a lot about learning to give control over to God, but I also think a major part is simply learning to see what God's already doing in my life. And it doesn't take a special prayer for Him to keep doing that; I just need to pay better attention.

All in all it was fun to watch, to pay that extra attention, and maybe I'll do it again sometime. Actually, in writing this 5 months later I can say that I have continued, off and on, to pray "surprise me", but I opted not to keep the detailed journals–it just takes too much time, and I think that's where the real drag came in, too: I forgot the purpose behind the prayer because I was so worried about keeping up with writing that I didn't really look any more at all that I was missing, all the surprises that were coming to me anyway. So, I still plan to journal about my really great days, but otherwise, the only record I'm keeping of the surprises will be in my memory.

As for this journal, it's complete. It's something my children or grandchildren can look back to read someday, or me, for that matter, to see what I was like at this age (for the future record, I was 21 during my "surprise me" month). I do realise, of course, that my little writings really pale in comparison of quality to Terry's; some days I had it in me to tangent and just talk and talk, other days it became merely summary. Some days I felt closer to God than others, but it was still a fun experiment to just open my eyes and try and see what is happening here, what's happening in my life, what God's doing for me.

It's been a good 30 days. Thank you, God, for everything.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day 30 - Part 1

Day 30: March 29th. Almost 5 months have passed, and now I'm finally getting the journal done. But hey, at least I'm getting it done! That's one more thing to cross off my to-do list. W00t. Back in time...

I was up until probably 1:30 or so last night, so I slept in until the late hour of 9:00. "It's day 30", I realized, bringing excitement, relief, and then slight frustration as I pulled out not just one, but two, socks with holes from my drawer.

Somewhere I'm sure I had heard or read that today was Founders Day at Minnehaha, but nevertheless, I was surprised to see quite a few extra cars parked in the lot. Yet somehow, miraculously, there was a spot open just about as close to the door as one can get, so I shamelessly took it. and went on inside to observe the founder's day chapel. There were a couple speakers lined up, most of whom were rather dull, but one, ironically probably one of the oldest men there, was actually interesting to listen to, and I was certainly caught unsuspecting at how in tune he seemed to be in appealing to his audience of students. Perhaps he won them over with his opening joke about a Christian tiger praying "Come Lord Jesus, be my guest..." over the missionary man he'd just caught for dinner.

In the early afternoon I had a most pleasant surprise encounter waiting for me. As part of the founders day festivities (ie, the development office brunch for the rich donors), one of my former teachers and mentors, Dan Olson, the man who taught me my first lick of HTML and debating skills, was back to give a speech! I accosted him while he was eating lunch with the rich folk and we spent a couple minutes catching up ever so briefly, but it was so great to see him again!

Beyond that conversation, the highlights of my day were unquestionably the random positive comments from various peoples about my presentation on Tuesday, and how impressed they were that I had been able to capture the students' rapt attention so effectively. Wow! I thought my speech was good, but I didn't know it had been as captivating as it apparently was. I was especially moved by Merrett's compliment, and her comment that the students are still talking about my speech two days later. Hearing that from her really meant a lot to me.

One other significant highlight came in the form of another random compliment, this one from Rich (my former math teacher, now co-MA-website-maker), about how impressed he's been with some of the things I've done on the new MA website. He wouldn't have had to say anything, which made it all the more meaningful to me, especially coming from a mentor, and someone for whom I hold a very deep respect.

The evening was not terribly eventful, though there was some excitement in store: I mailed my taxes, for one, and that's pretty exciting. I bought some stamps from the self-service machines in the post office entryway (which, huge surprise, was open past 5:00!). And I filled up my car with gas, after being surprised to see how much the price had increased [it had raised up to 2.589/gallon–note from the future, how I long for those days of "cheap" gas!]. Later I did a location tour at Minnehaha for a WaZoo sketch ("Dracula: Hall Monitor") that I got us permission to shoot there, and then, at home, [on my first try!] I successfully set up Address Book to look at Minnehaha's LDAP directory, meaning that Mail will now integrate automatically with both MA and St Olaf's email addresses (there's only going to be like one person who reads this that actually understands what that means; basically it just means that I can start typing a person's name and, even if they're not in my previous contact list, Mail will be able to fill in the rest of their name and email address automatically–it's a huge timesaver because it means no more having to look up email addresses in online databases).

I finished off the day watching more episodes from season 1 of Joan of Arcadia–probably the perfect way to end any day. And then I remembered there was a bunch of laundry on my bed that needed folding before I could tuck myself in. Afterward, perhaps fittingly, my day was closed by the reading of my own lenten devotion from the St Olaf Student Congregation's Lenten Devotional booklet. It wasn't that I'd planned it that way, mine just happened to be the next one in the book. Fitting, though, because it was a prayer that I'd written, and one that I needed reminding of.

And there was morning, and there was evening, the 30th day.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day 29

It's been almost 5 months since "Day 29" happened on March 28th, how on earth can I still write about it? Because, like all the previous 28 days, I took plenty of voice notes throughout the day, so even though my memories of those events may now be somewhat lacking, I still have a record of what happened.

On Day 29 I slept in. Shocking. That's one thing I love about my job at MA, though: being able to set my own hours. Besides, it's spring break, I think I'm entitled to a little extra sleep in the morning.

This morning was different than all the other mornings that week: my tube of toothpaste finally ran out after being on its last legs for several weeks. Time for a new one, and, according to my voice notes, that was exciting.

On my way into the lab this morning I had a short conversation with one of my former math teachers, who had just returned back from Ethiopia with his family after visiting their adopted child's aunt; he had pictures and stories to share amidst grading tests.

My focus today was on the Upper School section of the new website, and now we're almost done with that section, at least as far as creating the pages (images are another story). After so many delays with this website, it's great to finally be making some real progress. In addition, one of the consultants we're working with sent us his first draft of a flash animation for the new home page, and it looks super awesome; what a pleasant surprise to get to see the calibre of work he'll be doing for us.

Now begins a rant about unwanted surprises. Of course, I opened my day up asking for any surprises, but frankly there are some I'd rather live without, such as the surprises that DreamWeaver likes to throw at me, and for this reason it would not be a complete misnomer to call it NightmareWeaver.

DreamWeaver is a popular web development software put out by Macromedia (now owned by Adobe), and it's what I use when I build websites. One of the nifty features it has (that I use often) is called "apply source formatting", which formats the source code of the page you're working on, mostly just to make it more easily human readable. Well that's all fine and well, unless you un/intentionally make a change to part of the code that DW thinks is supposed to be a non-editable part of the template you're using. If that happens, the apply source formatting command will give you an error, complaining that you've changed something you shouldn't have, and warning that the change will be lost the next time the template is updated. Then it gives you a choice: do you want to keep the change anyway, or revert back the way it was. Here's the kicker: even if you click "yes" to keep the change, it will still revert, which means you just lost all your work since the last time you saved, which is absolultely infuriating. I've conditioned myself to remember to save first before asking it to do any formatting, but sometimes I forget and it's soo aggravating.

Onto happier notes. At the end of the day I was blessed with a chance to talk to Jenna for a little bit before heading home. I've no recollection anymore what we talked about, but I always enjoy my talks with her, since we're the last of what I call the 'old school techies', the last two who remember the Jerde years. I value her friendship very much.

When I got home this evening I had a slight surprise in finding out that I already owned two of the DVDs I bought yesterday at the CompUSA sale. Crumb. Well, maybe I can gift them away to someone (though 5 months later I still haven't done so).

Later in the evening I finally forced myself to sit down to finish signing all the HP1 thank you notes (while watching Joan of Arcadia), with plans to mail them (with premiere invites enclosed) tomorrow.

And lastly, I did my taxes! What's super awesome about that is that TurboTax runs on the Mac this year, which is great! Now, that said, I've had one pet peeve ever since I started having to file taxes (at age 15), and I'm not only referring to watching my refund amount keep going down as I put in more investment numbers. Our government, in it's infinite wisdom, allows you to contribute $3 to election campaign funds for free, meaning it doesn't decrease your refund or increase what you owe, and then they also give you the option to donate to a state wildlife fund, but this time whatever you want to donate comes directly from your refund, or adds to what you owe. This bugs me! So just to spite them I always donate $5 to the wildlife and nothing to the politicians.

Here ends Day 29.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Day 28 - The Speech

This is what I went off of as I spoke in assembly at Minnehaha today. I ad-libbed quite a bit, so it's not a verbatim copy of what was actually said, but this is at least the road map that I followed while I was talking.

[Clip #1, HP Trailer]

I've had since August or something to write this speech, so I started about 8:00 or 9:00 last night. Not because I don't care, but there's something about that last minute pressure that can really produce some great stuff.

My senior year at MA the publicity interns started making monthly comedic videos, partly to talk about what was going on in the school, mostly just to make people laugh. As the year went on, I became a recurring role, and it was a lot of fun. None of thought we'd keep making films beyond graduation, though.

That spring of my senior year, Mr Seeley played the lead in a local theatre production of the Music Man (over the same weekend we did the show here), and one of the times we went to see him I met one of his fellow actors, someone who would become one of my best friends; an actor / comedian named Matthew Feeney, who does a lot of work with independent film in Minnesota. He basically brought me in to the MN film world, and as a result I've been blessed with the chance to work behind the scenes on a bunch of local productions, including as an extras casting assistant on Prairie Home. Most of the time I work behind the scenes, every now and then I'll branch out and step in front of a camera.

But to the topic at hand. I started writing Harry Putter back in 2004, probably July or August right after graduation, after one too many comments about how much I looked like the Harry from the movies. The story's about the "real" boy, Harry Putter, upon whom JK based the books. But of course she and Warner Brother's took a lot of creative liberties, changing all the details around, so Harry wants to set the story straight.

That's the premise behind Harry Putter. It's a loving "mockumentary".

So I wrote the first draft in 2004, and then it just sort of sat. I didn't pick it up again until last January, then I just said, let's do this. Matthew agreed to produce it, he helped me get a crew together, and we shot it last summer. I really didn't know if it would turn out at all, but seeing the almost-finished product, I'm pretty happy with what we have. Personally I actually think it's funny, which is good. When we watch the two clips today, though, I'll ask you to keep in mind that we haven't finished mixing the audio or adding the soundtrack yet, so just be aware it is not totally 100% finished.

So let's go back to June 25, 2006, the first day of shooting for Harry Putter. I'm sure you all know movies aren't normally shot in sequential order, I think Putter is almost a perfect epitome of that: the very first day of shooting we shot the very last scene in the movie, and we even shot the second part of the scene first because our actor who played Draco Milfoil couldn't make it to set until later in the afternoon. We'll watch that in a minute, I just want to give some context about it first.

Harry's just gotten out of detention, and Professor Bumblesnore has sent him on a quest to get the golden snitch back from Draco and his goons. Now, if you're observant, you may notice that Draco's cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, are actually not boys, but girls named Crabby and Doily. We had 60 people come in to audition for the part of Hermione, compared to maybe a dozen for Harry. Normally not a problem, except unfortunately a lot of them were really good actors, so we ended up rewriting parts of the script and adding in more female roles so we could use some of them on camera as something other than just extras. Hence, Crabbe and Goyle became girls. With breadsticks as wands (and if you look closely you can see Harry's wand is actually a marshmallow roaster)

That's where we'll pick it up.

[Clip #2, Quidditch Field]

Some of you may have recognized that sound we used when Draco screams. There's this rather infamous scream that's been used in countless movies since the early 1950s, including every Star Wars and every Indiana Jones, called the Wilhelm scream. Actually, there's a video on YouTube that's compiled a bunch of those scenes, it's hilarious, you should watch it. The wilhelm scream is one of those sounds that, once you start listening for it, you hear it everywhere. One of my roommates was playing a video game the other day and we heard the scream in there even. We knew we had to use it in HP, so, well, there it was.

Back to Putter. This is my first "real" film, my first time directing, so on the first day of shooting I really didn't know what the heck I was doing. Honestly I didn't even remember half my actors' names that day. I remember a couple times when the DP (director of photography, he's the guy who runs the camera) would say rolling I'd wonder to myself, "why aren't the actors acting? Oh right, I need to say action".

But I eventually figured out what I was doing. Both the cast and crew were super, and I think we all really bonded over the shoot.

So we've got this film, well, almost finished. What do you do with that? We'll have a premiere, then get it put up on the website and YouTube, submit it to film festivals, and then, this summer, if all comes together, shoot number 2, "Harry Putter and the Chamber Pot of Secrets". But why? What's the point?

Partly for fun. Being on set with such an awesome group of people was a lot of fun.

Partly to give people a chance. Most of our actors were new to the camera, and it was such a rewarding feeling to be able to offer them their first role. I look at it like this: someone gave me my first chance, this is sort of my way to give that back to society.

And for me a large part of it is ministry. Okay, Harry Putter's probably not the most religious theme you can think of, but it is a stepping stone toward other projects that will be. I really feel like God put all these people, all these chances in my life for a reason, to help me grow for what I think I'm being called to as part of my ministry. When I asked Mrs Johnson if I could give this presentation, I had high hopes that I'd come up with something profound to say. That was my best attempt, I tried.

I have one last clip to show you, this one we filmed here at Minnehaha. We actually had several MA people work on the film: a few current students, a couple alumni, and one teacher, who you'll get to see in this clip playing Professor Snape. Thanks for listening everyone. Roll it.

[Clip #3, Potions Class]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Day 28

It's the big day. I give my Harry Putter presentation in front of the Minnehaha student body today. And I didn't proofread my speech yet. Fortunately giving speeches really doesn't scare me. Singing in Boys Choir in my younger years, and then doing Debate in high school, have both served to mostly remove any apprehension about speaking in front of people. Truthfully, I only got nervous once today before the big moment, and that was as I left the computer lab to go down to the chapel. For a few seconds during my walk, I felt a wash of worry, realizing, oh my, I actually need to do this! But then it passed, and from then everything just seemed to come naturally. It felt "right" when I walked onto stage and to the microphone. I won't take the credit all for myself; I know God was watching over me.

I'm not afraid of giving speeches. After having sung in the Metropolitan Boys Choir for a couple years and then doing debate in high school, I generally don't get nervous in front of a crowd. In fact, I love being a featured speaker, being given a chance to "perform", as it were. It's my chance to feel like I can make a difference, like people will listen to what I'm saying and take it to heart, like I might actually be able to affect someone's life for the better by what I say. Maybe such a feeling is really in the realm of being conceited, but I prefer to think upon it as a foundation, the existence of which will be of help to me in any public ministry I am called to do, be it from a pulpit or in the pitching of a movie script with a moral message.

The sound system played a collection of my current favorite songs while the student body streamed into the auditorium (a collection which, I feel I should mention, included two songs by Away With The Stone). After a few announcements, Nancy Johnson, the principal, introduced me. She had approached me yesterday when I was down in the officeland to ask for a brief synopsis of the film and my filmmaking experience, unless, of course, I just happened to have it written down somewhere that she could read. "Well," I replied, "it just so happens I do have it all written down on my website". Apparently she read everything on my autobiography page, and warned me that she'd found a few juicy morsels to feed the assembly as an introductory foretaste for my presentation. I use the metaphorical food language because, of course, she chose some information from my discussion about food: how I always order the same meals whenever I go to either Noodles or Taco Bell (this was said after a slightly embarrassing plug in which she encouraged people to learn more about me by reading my website). Her idea was to use food as a means of making a concrete connection between the students and me, a Minnehaha alumnus of aught-4; point being, there are similarities they can relate to, especially given that Noodles is more or less the official Minnehaha restaurant of choice among students. This introduction was even more amusing for me thanks to Jenna, next to whom I was sitting at the time. Jenna is the last remaining techie who was a student at the same time I was, so we've known each other for a long time and are very good friends. She has also been to the aforementioned restaurants with me some countless number of times, enough that she kept nodding and verbally agreeing, "yep, yep, it's true" as Nancy mentioned my favorite foods to order. At least I know that portion of my autobiography is an honest portrayal of real life.

To tangent slightly, I was surprised earlier this morning in talking to Nancy to find out [in addition to her telling me she'd found some "interesting" details she planned to share during her introduction] that she hadn't realized the extent that my faith plays an important role in my life. In all truthfulness, this was a not-so-pleasant shocker to me, because in a very real sense it means I have not been living out loud in the way I have desired, despite thinking that I've been "doing well". That conversation has been on my mind a lot, and I'm sure it will continue to be.

Introduction concluded, the big moment finally arrived. To applause, I stepped onto stage, the lights faded, and the recently completely trailer for Harry Putter played on the screen. Oh my goodness, it sounded so awesome with the subs right next to me on stage. The clip finished and I approached the podium, ready to do my thing.

My speech sat there, waiting patiently for me to read it. And I think, if I may say so myself, that I did well as presenter. I did not merely read from my script, I ad-libbed a lot, a decision which allowed me to maintain a great amount of eye contact with the invisible crowd (because the lights were down, remember) rather than worry about each specific word. God kept me fluent, and I didn't really stumble; of course, I think it may have helped that I was talking about me and my own project, so I know the material pretty well. In any case, though, not reading from a piece of paper keeps the presentation more lively and exciting for the audience–this I know from listening to too many boring speeches being read in monotone.

I'm amazed at how well everything went. As far as I can tell, people paid attention, and they laughed at the "right" times during the two clips from the movie that I showed, so that's a good sign. (The movie looked great on the big screen, too; and I'm really glad I did that little bit of last minute sound and color correction last night).

Apparently I talked quietly; one of my former teachers saw me later in the day and said she'd never known that I was so soft-spoken. I didn't either, but it was another conscious decision I'd made going into the speech, of how I would speak. Honestly, I was trying to imitate one of my role models who has a very calm, soothing, reassuring voice when he speaks. My thought process could also be summarized like this: "Adam's cool, I want to be cool, I'll adopt this mannerism of his in the hopes of gaining some coolness".

And apparently, to some degree, it worked. This was written tomorrow by one of the teachers:

"First of all, thank you for a terrific convocation yesterday. It is rare that someone as softspoken as you could have the rapt attention of 500 post-break high school students. I loved the fact that you never had to raise your voice to command their attention. And then, of course, the content was fascinating and your film clips delightful. (I have to admit that I doubled over during the infamous Dinardo wink!) Congratulations on the near completion of your film and good luck as you bring it forward."

I heard similar reactions from more than a few others throughout the day, in addition to comments about how "amazing" the film looked and also how proud they are of what I'm doing with my life. I even got a "good job" from the one person I was really concerned wouldn't think the film was funny at all, but he was one of the first, immediately after chapel, to approach me with the compliment; that was a day-making highlight for me.

I'm so thankful I had this opportunity to talk not only about my film, but also a little about how I see God working through that, even in something as secular as a Harry Potter parody. Thank you God. And of course I'm also very thankful that there were no surprises from the tech side of things: everything worked, which was a huge relief.

After chapel I was approached by two girls who'd seen Nathan Shrake, my Harry, in "High School: The Musical", and wanted to know how on earth I'd got him for my film. They definitely had star crushes, which was amusing. I offered, and who knows, they may end up working on HP2 this summer. Later in the day another girl bumped into me in the library and complimented me on a job well done, and mentioned she'd actually been in the musical with Nate, which was a cool connection to make. I've seen her act at MA before, and I hope she'll come in to audition for HP2.

Patrick and I took some time away from campus for McDonald's lunch to catch up on life, work, and everything. Seems we both have a lot going on, which is interesting if only to note that apparently life doesn't get any less hectic once I'm out of school. After lunch we took a detour to a CompUSA. This was most definitely a surprise to me, since I thought they'd all closed by now, and I still had a gift card to use up. Unfortunately, even with their sale going on, everything was still vastly overpriced, which was terribly disappointing. I eventually found a couple DVDs I thought I needed, just to use up the gift card. $5 out of pocket for three DVDs isn't terrible.

We got back to campus and I got another surprise: a malfunctioning iBook from a teacher... and I couldn't fix it. The machine wouldn't boot; it would just turn off in the middle of starting up. I did all the normal troubleshooting tricks, zapping the PRAM, fscking in single user mode, target disk booting, but it never booted reliably, and worse I couldn't even get the files off because it wouldn't stay turned on in target mode. Tomorrow Duane figured out it must be a heat thing (which, in my defense, had been my guess).

Time to go home, and right as I got home, it started raining. Perfect timing really, because I was just putting the key in the door as the raindrops started speckling the sidewalk. I closed off my day with dinner and some Joan of Arcadia (surprise, surprise). One of the episodes I watched, though, had a real life tie in for me, because about two minutes in God shows up as a street musician playing Joan Osborne's "One of Us" (the show theme song) on His guitar. So I thought to myself, I wonder if I can play that? As it turns out, I can; the chords I found are the same as Living Water (which one of my current favorite songs, and also one of the easiest I've learned to play), just with a capo on fret 2. Way cool.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Day 27

This morning I slept in until I woke up naturally (except for that phone call at the unearthly hour of 8:30, but I managed to fall back asleep for another hour after that). Glorious. When I finally dragged my well-rested body out of bed, I found my way to the kitchen and conjured up a tasty oatmeal breakfast, which I may or may not have eaten while watching part of another episode of Joan of Arcadia. By that, of course, I mean that I did indeed watch TV, but only while I ate, and then it was off to work I go-ed.

My day was spent playing with pictures. Not entirely "playing" per se, rather engaging with Photoshop in an attempt to produce some nice graphics for the new MA site, a task I feel I succeeded in, with no small thanks due to Peter, our new web consultant, who sent me a PSD with all the necessary components to break out into smaller, individual graphics. The superb graphics were well received by both Merry and Rich when we met this evening, and, even though we did some tweaking to them, I can rest easy knowing we ended with a pretty good result. Even with regard to the new website as a whole, I'm feeling much better about where we are. We're nowhere near done, but we're a lot closer than we were not too long ago, and I feel like we're finally on the right path toward completion of something we can be proud of.

Harry Putter once more ruled my evening. When I got home from work I spent some length of time redoing some of the the color correction on the two scenes I'm showing in assembly at MA tomorrow, as well as a little sound tweaking (and one instance of soundtrack addition). I want to have the best quality to show, and I just wasn't happy with what I'd burned last night.

Then there was the whole speech thing. Yes, I've had since August or so to write this speech. It's not like tomorrow was any big surprise (ironic, no?). Somehow I just haven't had the time to devote to actually writing anything for it yet. My big fear was that I'd leave it until the morning of and then do a terrible job, but I couldn't let that become reality. Now it's crunch time. I started typing somewhere between about 9:00 and 10:00, and I just went. I'm basically talking about me, my favorite topic, so it went very quickly. I scribble typed a few things I wanted to say into a semblance of an outline, and then just wrote. The end result, which from the future I can say I don't proofread until tomorrow morning, I thought was decent, maybe even pretty good. Now my big fear is just whether the students will like it. Not much I can do about that. I think the film clips are funny, I think my speech is relatively sound, and I think there's a message to be taken from it, if only about why I think I'm in the film business. I'll post a copy of the speech tomorrow.

Day 26

I've been saying it for a few days now, but Spring is really here, and the way I know today is by taking notice that I went outside without employing the use of my faithful polar fleece outer layer. After a quick bowl of cereal I was on my way out the door sans fleece to go to Church. Not Emmaus today, not even a "normal" church, per se. Today, the first Sunday of break, I went again to visit the River Church at Mall of America. And today it was even more different than normal, because the service was held in one of the AMC movie theatres (normally they are in the Great Lakes Ballroom just inside "The Park at MOA" from the west). That was certainly a different experience. The seating was arguably the most comfortable of any church service I've ever been to. I like visiting that congregation, though, just for the novelty factor, and because, at least for the two times I've heard him preach, the pastor delivers a good message. Still, I'm not entirely convinced that the church in a movie theatre idea works for me. I felt very disconnected, very distant, even from the people in the row behind and in front of me. There's something about sinking into that comfortable stadium seating that also makes the sense of community sink away.

On my way out of the Mall I stopped in the Barnes and Noble and was astonished to see quite the contingent of Jesus books waiting to greet happy customers as they walked along the main entrance isle (if I were being really picky tonight, I'd have revised that sentence to remove the ambiguity of whether the books or customers were the ones walking... but I'll just let you think about it and choose the interpretation that works best for you). Books about Jesus, a whole table of Bibles, it must be getting close to Easter, but hey, I'm not complaining if B&N wants to use that as an excuse to promote the central figure in my faith.

Mom, Dad, and Grandpa met me at Taco Bell for lunch, or rather I met them, and yes, I got my usual #7 chicken quesadilla with hard shell taco and large Baja Blast Mountain Dew drink. We wouldn't want to stray from normalcy, now, would we?

Harry Putter more or less dominated the rest of my day. I had some free time to myself in the afternoon right after lunch, but about 3:00 until midnight, Harry ruled. This started with a trip to the composer's house in the hopes of picking up the soundtrack, which I would then bring to the editor's house and we'd put it in. The composer hadn't answered his phone all morning, so it was a bit of a risk to just show up, but fortunately he was there when I got to the house. Unfortunately, he'd not yet burned the music onto discs, so on my way I went without music.

Tony [the editor] and I spent three hours perfecting the Putter trailer. Not too many surprises there, other than I'm just really glad we're done with it. Arby's for dinner was delicious, as always, and then we set off to the composer's house (we called and talked to him first this time). Here's the surprise: we actually got discs from him! So we went back to Tony's and put them in the computer. Here's the next surprise: there was nothing on them! Arg! After all that waiting, and now nothing. Crumb. We called back to have them re-burned, and set off in the car again. Before that, though, while waiting to hear back about the re-burning, Tony sent me a short little film idea he'd written a while back, based on a real life experience of his in a coffee shop. I really liked the story. The basic idea is there's an attractive young woman sitting by a fireplace in the coffee shop, but the protagonist is intimated and never approaches her. It's only a two or three minute thing, tops, but reading it I felt like I was recounting some of my own experiences, and I started to picture, if I were shooting this, how would I do it? What would it look or sound like? In short, I felt an immediate connection with this script, even though it wasn't in script format at all. "Cool," I thought. "Maybe Tony'll let me help when he shoots this". Then he asked how I'd direct it, so I told him the ideas I'd had, and then he asked if I would be willing to direct it. Of course!

Our hope is to shoot in late May.

We drove back to pick up the second set of CDs, and this time we checked them on my computer first before driving away. Yes, they both have music on them. Great. We left, Tony copied the files onto my laptop while I drove, and then kept the original discs with him. It was time to call it a night. We didn't get as far as I'd hoped (in that I'd hoped to have all the music laid in today), but at least we finally finished that trailer, which means now I should have everything I need to get ready for my short Harry Putter presentation at Minnehaha on Tuesday. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Day 25

God and I got a jump start on surprises today: I woke up at 8:30 and actually felt rested. Wow! I can't express how much I love not having to get up at 7:15 for an 8:00 class. Even better, I made a productive use of the morning, sorting papers, taking care of house stuff, setting my Scooba loose on the basement floor, that kind of thing.

In case I've never mentioned before, I own two robotic floor cleaners: a Roomba to vacuum the carpet upstairs, and a Scooba that I've been using to scrub the basement floor. The scrubbing needs to be done as a prerequisite to sealing the tiles (which needs to happen because the carpet was removed a while back after a very heavy rainstorm and water damage). Scooba is pretty high maintenance, though, and I'm not entirely happy with it for just that reason. Changing the water every 45 minutes, that I can handle. But dealing with all it's stupid complaining is tiresome. By this I mean it has come to frequently complain about its front wheel being stuck, even though when I take it out and try to clean it, there's nothing to clean, and it works fine. Then of course, you can't tell the robot to resume, no, you need to power off and restart the cleaning cycle, which means then it will complain that there's not enough water in the tank (since some of it was already used before the wheel malfunction). After a few rounds of this, then the battery will die, and the poor thing never actually finishes a complete cleaning cycle (and thus hasn't run it's self-cleaning in a while).

On a completely new but still moisture related note, when I went outside this mornig to go shopping I discovered it's really quite foggy. As in, I can't even see a full block ahead while I'm driving. Fortunately I saw well enough to make it to the bank to deposit the reimbursement check I finally received from Madrigal Dinner, and then to Sam's Club to of course spend a significant portion of that money. I'm trying not to feel too badly about that, though, because most of the expenses were for things like a huge massive block of toilet paper, and a giant container of honey, neither of which will need replacing for probably the rest of my life. Okay, fine, by next year, but still, not a weekly expense, thank goodness.

I also made some healthier decisions (I think) about what I bought in terms of food. The aforementioned massive vessel of honey aside, I made a point to pick out some fresh items from the bakery rather than the preservative laced plastic wrapped tasties that were, ironically, only slightly less expensive. This is not to say I made the healthiest choices ever, but still, better than normal, which is a good start for me.

After unloading all my wonderful groceries into the house I spent the afternoon and early evening over at MA, first to meet with Rich, my fellow webmaster, and then afterward to continue working on what we'd talked about. For any web geeks out there, if you ever need to dynamically position, say, a magically appearing/disappearing flyout menu, and you don't know at the start exactly where on the page it will need to be displayed (because you're displaying it relative to other elements that may be in varying locations), this site might be helpful for you:

Sometime today, while driving, I heard something on KTIS that I need to share: another Hebrews verse, this one is 13:15: "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name." I'll have to wait until the end of the month, but I will need to go back and piece all of these Hebrews references together to see what I can make out of them.

My evening was far less adventuresome or exciting than my day. I cooked dinner (and by "cook" I mean "microwaved a container of fettucini alfredo with chicken from Sams"), did some floor scrubbing (and by "did" I mean "pressed a button and let the robot do the work"), rearranged some of my kitchen cabinets (now the dishes are above the dishwasher, and the food is right next to the microwave), entered my ideal schedule for next semester into the St Olaf Student Information System, and watched an episode or two from the first season DVDs of Joan of Arcadia. I love that show. The characters are so real... and the lead is cute. But star-crushes aside, I fell in love with the series because it's exactly the kind of filmmaking (or TV-making) that I want to do some day. A story with a moral, with a message, that's fun to watch, yet real to life. Some day, God willing, maybe my name can show up in the ending credits of something so great.

Day 24

Spring Break. It's almost here. One last day of Individual Fitness and I'm home free. I go early, work out, have class, work out a few minutes more, and leave early. Class is over for the week, but unfortunately homework still abounds in the form of much reading, a take home midterm, and planning for two papers that I'll be writing in the second part of the semester.

But that could wait. In order for me to even think about focusing on homework, I needed to pack so I'd be ready to leave campus tonight. This was productive in and of itself, too, as I ended up with an extra box full of stuff that I can bring home and leave home, which is a good feeling, even if it's an extra trip to and from the car.

Early afternoon I finally decided to be hungry, so lunchward I went to seek food, and, happy-surprisingly, I found a group of friends to sit with. When I go to meals alone, I always hope to find people to sit with, but it doesn't always happen. In fact, it rarely happens, which makes a day like today even more special because not only did I find one person to sit with, I found three. The food was good, too, but I more enjoyed the company.

The afternoon wasn't too exciting; I sent back some comments to my editor about the Putter trailer, and then finally got some ideas sent to the publicist for the next press release. There was some homework time in there, too, just to try to get ahead for after break.

Later in the afternoon I got together with Ash to offer some small help with her footnoting and citations in her Jesus in Scripture and Tradition paper (the one I turned in earlier this week), and then she, her roommate, and I went to have a very calm and relaxed dinner. This was the first time in a long while we could remember not feeling some sense of rush as we ate; it was very freeing knowing there was nothing that needed to be done for a long while. It was also great to have my second meal of the day with Dalay (Ash's roommate; she was one of the friends I found at lunch)

Loading the car went quickly; I brought all my stuff up, and then, because I also gave Ashley a ride home, went to wait for her, and in the process had a completely random conversation with Dalay about why Macs are better than PCs. Well, that was my position, at least :)

The last bit of greatness for the day came when we got to Ashley's house, and she and her mom and I had a chance to talk for a while, something we haven't all done for probably a year. That was a perfect way to end the day, just spending time with good people talking about anything.

Day 23

Spring is here! It's warm, it's sunshiny, and it was the perfect day to go driving with the windows down and moonroof open. Driving where? It's a school day.

After morning classes, and after chapel (the pastoral intern from last year was back today to speak!), I took a ride down to Emmaus to learn about their sound system from Kurt, an Ole grad from two years ago and the current director of Worship at the church. The task at hand: "practice", or in a sense, "prove myself", on the sound board by mixing a vocal and piano, then later a guitar. That sounded harsh; it was more so that I felt a need to prove myself to myself before I could feel ready to jump in as one of the rotating sound technicians for Sunday morning worship. And I suppose showing someone else that I know how to use a sound board didn't hurt at all. My conclusion, I have the sheer knowledge of what the knobs and buttons do, I just need to develop my art of mixing, which will only come with time and practice.

My Photoshop skills are also in need of refinement and practice. Why? Because I talked to my graphic designer for Putter today, and it turns out he won't be able to do it after all. Surprise. This means I'll have to take it on, in the midst of homework, papers, and everything. At least there's break next week, maybe I can get it all done then. Panic.

Tonight, though, the panic can wait. It's a night of celebration for me: I'm done with classes and homework for the week, and tonight is a fancy ice cream social for the students on the Dean's List, which I made for last semester (only the second time in my college career).

There was a special event in Ytterboe tonight put on by CAN (the Christian Activities Network) in place of Thursday Night. I only made it for the last 10 minutes or so, and that time was spent in quiet prayer and meditation. Walking out of Ytterboe turned out to be somewhat opposite of the serenity I'd left: I watched as a car drove up onto the sidewalk toward me (as they are apt to do, it's actually not that unusual on this particular stretch), but what was "surprising" was to discover the people in the car were none other than Ashley and Kyle, just stopping by to pick something up from someone. We talked for a while before I went on my way to deliver chocolate and visit with a couple good friends in Mellby, one of whom has a huge paper to write for tomorrow (I gave her the chocolates to help her stay awake through the night), and the other has a Norwegian midterm. Naturally we ended up talking for a long time about the class and test instead of her actually studying for it. Like I've mentioned before, I love the random long talks with friends.

The most powerful story of today I've deliberately saved for last. Let's go back in time some number of hours, to about 4:00 in the afternoon.

Some number of weeks ago I'd agreed to drive one of my CS friends to the airport today. There's nothing surprising about that (other than coming back: the 35E exit from Cedar always sneaks up on me). But sadly, there was a surprise lurking as I waited in my car outside Ytterboe. Remembering that I'd not yet received a confirmation from another friend about dinner tonight, I decided to make good use of my waiting time and call him to find out for sure if we were on or not. It's generally not a good sign when someone answers the typical "how are you today?" with a not-so-typical "I've had better". As I found out, his fiancé's father had just died this morning after a two month battle with cancer. How does one respond to that? Prayers, as well as my "if you need to talk, I'm here" offer, just didn't seem like enough, not for this.

Suffering is my favorite topic of study in theology. But it's a much different situation when the question of theodicy comes into full swing in your real life, or the life of a friend. One thing I've concluded, though, is that suffering gives the person not suffering an opportunity, not only to pray, but to reach out, to be a small light in that tragic darkness. Grieving and recovery take time. Period. There is no getting around that. Still, in the midst of grief, observers are given a unique chance to step into the ring, stop observing, and do something to lift that person up, even something as simple as a smile or a hug. It may not seem like much, and let's be honest, to some people it won't be much. For some people, though, that smile or hug, that sign of affection, that reminder that someone else cares, can make a difference. I don't live under false pretenses of thinking it will take the pain away; it won't. But it may lessen the pain, ever so slightly, and that makes the smile, or the card, or the hug, or whatever, worth it.

I waiting outside Ytterboe to bring someone to the airport, but I'm sure God put me there for another purpose: so that I could go inside and give my friend a hug.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day 22

They had chocolate muffins at breakfast today! This is always a sign of a good day to come. Yes, of course I took one for a snack later; why should I not try to prolong the goodness that is chocolate-y muffin deliciousness?

Today's selection of homework-reading brought to my eyes the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical collection of stories about Jesus when He was a child. For years I've known the stories existed, but until now I'd never known where to find them, so it was neat to finally read this book, all the while thinking about the question of why it wasn't included in the Bible. It didn't take long before that answer became very apparent: Jesus is a brat! A downright angry, mean, vengeful little child who almost derives a holy pleasure from killing people all over the place. Again, it's no wonder it didn't make it into the canon.

With Thomas done, I finally got to play guitar again after a few days of nothingness in the midst of paper, test, and homework, and surprisingly I was no worse for wear after the time away. The surprises kept coming when I called the Putter composer: first of all, he answered, which was a miracle in and of itself (I always get voicemail), and secondly, he's almost done with the music (this after just starting when he got a disc from me in the mail yesterday). Wow. Now he's working on alternative arrangements so we have choices when we go to put the music into the scenes.

On my way into Buntrock, I passed Nicole on the stairs and we ended up talking for almost half an hour. I love those long, random conversations with good friends; it's so refreshing to just stop, take a time out and talk to people!

Later, while I was waiting by Fireside to go to dinner with Ash, one of my friends who I thought was rather upset at me tapped my shoulder, waved, and said "hi" as she walked by. Happiness, I'm not hated after all.

After dinner I sequestered myself in the library to do my last little bit of reading, but, not vert surprisingly, there's nothing quite like a textbook and a comfortable chair to put you to sleep, so I decided to come back to my room, where at least I could lay down for a nap if I needed. Oh, but wait, surprise! It's raining outside! (As I found out tomorrow, the rain gave my car a much needed shower, bringing it back to a state of beautiful cleanliness).

What a day. I want more surprises like these!

Day 21

Today was not a bad day; in fact, far from it. As is always the pressing question when I wake up on a Tuesday morning, I made it to breakfast, and today, going in, I bumped into a friend who I'd remembered last night is going through some trying times in her family. The point: it's odd, or perfect, coincidence that I just happened to remember to be praying for them last night and thinking to myself, "I should send an email and see how things are", and then I see her the next morning in person.

Classes came and went. We turned in our papers in my first class (I'm happy with how mine turned out; and I can even say I had fun writing it), and then took a midterm test in my second class. Ah yes, the test. This is a test that I really should have studied for, well, a lot. I studied slightly less than a lot. It's in fact quite possible I studied a lot less than a lot. In other words, I didn't study nearly enough, and because I also hadn't done the reading in this particular class for the first several weeks of the semester, the test went... less well than it otherwise might have. But that was out of choice, it was my decision making all the way that produced this outcome, and I don't feel bad about it. I hadn't done the reading those several weeks because I was still playing catchup after Madrigals, and I just never was able to catch up in this course (I did in all my others, and then, scared of the shear mass of reading that had piled up here, I just picked up where we were instead of backtracking). And I didn't study as much this weekend because, well, frankly, there are more important things in life, like friends... and maybe Lost.

The test is over now, and that means I have normal homework for Thursday, but otherwise, Spring Break is here! To top that, I got a phone call from someone this afternoon to whom I'd offered the position of graphics designer for Harry Putter, and he wants to do it! I thought I'd have to do all the graphics myself, but now it's looking like I'll be able to pass that off to someone else, which is absolutely awesome.

Evening brought our group back to the George's home after a week away while John and Karen visited Israel. It was fun to be back and to hear a few stories from their trip, as well as just be together with that group of friends again.

After watching a friend's stand up comedy routine in the Pause (he had a really good crowd there), it was off to get ready for FCA. No huge surprises here, other than a fun time being allowed to mix the audio for them. Pastor Will spoke tonight (he's the pastor at Emmaus, where I normally attend on Sundays), and he was intentionally very funny, as usual.

To follow up with the laughter from Pastor Will's talk, my last act tonight was to come back to the room and watch Top Secret!, which was absolutely hysterical. It's by the same people who did Airplane, so it makes sense that there isn't much in the way of plot, other than to cram as many absurd silly little jokes into 90 minutes as possible. Like I said, hysterical. A good way to end a long day.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Day 20

Today was the day. After months, if not quite possibly over a year, of the zippers on my briefcase showing signs of wear (by coming detached from the fabric they're supposed to hold closed), one of the slidy things finally came undone. Sure, I could spend a lot of time trying to get it back together, but I was ready to be on my way out the door, I've been considering buying a new bag for a while now, and I just took this as the sign that that time had finally arrived: I needed to go bag shopping (by the way, it's pronounced "baig", with the long "a", none of this "bahg" business here in Minnesota).

Dave and I cancelled our normal Monday talking time since we both had a lot on our plates to do; he's leading the Thursday Night missions trip to Costa Rica next week, so he's in those final days of preparation; me, I just have a lot of homework and studying that I should be doing. Before homework, though, a trip to Best Buy must be made.

Staying awake on that oh-so-familiar stretch of I35 can sometimes be a challenge, especially today, given that I didn't get much sleep last night. Actually, I'm really not sure at all how much (or how little) I got; I was awake some number of hours or minutes with a pain in my neck and head, such that I just couldn't fall asleep. The pain was mostly gone when I got in the car and started driving, and clearly, based on the fact I'm writing this now, I stayed awake on the way to and from Best Buy.

Finding a good briefcase can be an adventure, and of course there are a certain number of key requirements that must be met by the bag. First, it needs to be able to hold my laptop. Most bag manufacturers nowadays make their products friendly to 17" machines, but it's still something to be aware of, that not all bags will necessarily be large enough. And of course, when I have my laptop, there needs to be another pocket that holds the power adapter and any other accessories I need to bring along. This bag also has to double as a school bag, meaning there needs to be a separate pocket to hold folders and papers and notepads, oh my!

I found a bag that met these requirements and so much more (meaning several extra pockets/areas than my minimum needs), and the price, well, it was the same as my previous briefcase: expensive. Drat. But it's the perfect one, I'm very happy with it, and so, well, I just had to swallow that price and hope for the best.

Best Buy has a large collection of DVDs, and I normally take a gander just to see if there are any movies on the shelves that I'd forgotten I need. Today I told myself going in that I would limit myself to one and only one, and I also specified that, if there was going to be a "one", it had to be "Top Secret!", a 1984 movie that I haven't seen in years but just recently found the name in a somewhat non-related Google searching endeavor the other day. I didn't remember plot, or many details from it, just enough to recognize the description and recall it being absolutely hilarious.

Coming up with creative transitions between stories is not my strongest point. Later in the day, as I was leaving the library to go find food in Buntrock, I was randomly approached by an acquaintance passing in the hallway, and he complimented me on how great the slideshows at Selah and FCA have been when I do them, and how glad he is that someone has finally stepped up to the plate with something better looking than PowerPoint. It meant a lot to hear that random compliment. He didn't have to say anything, didn't have to go out of his way to stop and talk to me, but I'm really glad he did. It's another voice telling me I've made good choices in my efforts to keep the motion backgrounds subtle and non-distracting during worship. But furthermore, and more importantly, it's validation; it's reassurance that I'm doing something that's actually appreciated, that's actually noticed. Thanks for that random act of surprising compliment-ness, God.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Day 19

On my way to breakfast and church this morning, just outside Rand, I found a dollar bill, just lying around, waiting to be given a new home. That's a good way to start the day, isn't it?

But aside from that, there weren't a whole lot of surprises during the morning and afternoon. Church was a mixed bag: the sermon was inspirational, but the technical side of things saw the worst performance they've had in a long time, and, me being me, I too easily get distracted by those sound and media glitches. At least I had friends to sit with, that was a definite plus.

It's quite possible that I spent the majority of the afternoon watching more Lost. Actually, I'm sure I did. After all, I need to catch up if I'm going to start watching the new episodes again on Wednesdays (almost there; of 12 episodes this season, I'm through about 8 so far this weekend - oh yes, I'm hard at work). Wait, no, I did make a run to Target to pick up water today, so I didn't spend the entire time watching TV.

The night was more adventuresome than the day, starting with Selah group dinner at 6:00. I was late (busy on the phone–that's a whole other story, but suffice it to say it was all Putter related), so no one was left in Fireside when I got there, but then, oddly, no one was upstairs, either. I spotted one other group member who had also just come up the stairs, so we started our own table and eventually half a dozen or so people joined us, but it was still weird because none of the very recognizable leaders were there.

From dinner we went down to the Pause for rehearsal, and I got my computer all set up. This was the first time I'd run slides for Selah in the Pause (last time we were in the ballroom upstairs), so it was a new experience, but fortunately there weren't any major technological surprises (you know about my fear of Windows), except for when I had completely the wrong lyrics for one of the songs. Good thing that got ironed out during rehearsal, otherwise that would have been very embarrassing. The performance itself went great, very few errors on my part, and then several good conversation with friends during and after cleanup. Great day.

Day 18

God didn't get too many chances to surprise me today, because I spent almost the entire day in the library writing my paper for Jesus in Scripture and Tradition. And perhaps watching a few episodes from this season of Lost, I'm not sure I can admit to that publicly, though.

I planted myself in various parts of the library throughout the day: fifth floor right by the shelf of religion books about John's Gospel, later on 3rd floor by a window, and later on first floor in a small little cubbie with comfortable chairs. The change of scenery helps keep the brain active. Sure.

And throughout my writing, God did end up having a few little surprises to throw at me: namely, Microsoft Word kept having fits. Now, of course, that should be of no surprise, given that it is a product of the Evil Empire of Gates, but today was worse than normal because, apparently, it thought it found another copy of MSWord on the St Olaf wireless network in the library with the same product id as mine, and thus it decided that it just had to quit. I found this to be incredibly aggravating, because I purchased my copy of MS Office fair and square, so for it to have the nerve to suggest to me that I'm using pirated software is beyond insulting, especially considering how much that horrendously buggy piece of something software cost! Thankfully I'm a habitual saver, because otherwise this awful misfeature would have caused doom and lost work. As it was my productivity sunk because I could not be simultaneously working on my paper in Word and also be connected to the network (read: "internet and email"). I guess I did volunteer to take the bad with the good, though. Surprise.

In the midst of cursing Microsoft, some research did actually happen, and I found a couple books that were wonderful resources. Who would have suspected that entire sections of books had been written on just the exact subject I wanted to write about?! Certainly not I, because until today I had no idea. (My topic, by the way, concerns the applicability of the title "king" for Jesus in John's Gospel; it's something I've wanted to look into since first-year religion two years ago, but not exactly something I would have expected to have much written about it–Surprise!).

Somewhere in the middle of the day I left the library to meet Nicole for lunch (I think that was my transition between fifth and third floor), and then came back to hammer out my introductory paragraph. It actually came pretty quickly: based on what I'd read and my own opinions, I knew where I was headed, so laying it out wasn't hard. Making the rest of the words appear on the page, on the other hand, was slightly more difficult, and I didn't finish until about 9:30 (after being exiled from the closing library).

This paper is the first time I've ever had to use footnotes instead of inline citations, but, to my very pleasant surprise, the professor had given us an example online of how these footnotes should be formatted, saving me from the guesswork of trying to decipher the cryptic "style guide" that he also so kindly provided.

My day was not completely consumed by my paper, though it feels like it. Dinner I ate alone for the first time in 17 days (sad surprise), but perhaps that was for the best, since I needed to finish quickly and get back to work. Then later, while, um, "taking a break", I happened upon a friend's FaceBook profile (clearly FaceBook was actually part of my Gospel of John research... yes), and saw another Scripture passage from Hebrews (I think I mentioned some number of days ago that I'm now keeping track of all the Hebrews references I find, or that find me): "Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see" - Hebrews 11:1. I'm too tired to think about the deep meaning much right now, but perhaps some day when I look back and read this, it will make complete sense. Or maybe there's someone else who will read this that needed to hear that, who knows?

The rest of my evening was lost to Lost, as well as discovering some of the episodes hadn't downloaded properly, so I needed to restart those. Good to find out now, though, before I'm ready to watch that particular episode only to discover it's not ready.

Hmm. In retrospect, I guess God did have a number of surprises lined up for me today after all.

Day 17

The first surprise this morning came bright and early when my phone rang at 8:50. My cell phone is always set to vibrate... except when it's plugged in, then it sets itself to loud. That's a good thing, normally, in case it's in a different room from me, I can still hear it. Unfortunately, when it rang this morning, I wasn't awake yet–my alarm was set for 9:05–and it was right next to my pillow. I became confused: why is my alarm playing David Crowder, and why isn't the snooze button making it stop? Oh, right, cell phone, plugged in, ringing.

I made it to breakfast just in time before they closed, sat with Sarah for two minutes until she had to leave, and then eventually made my way over to the Pastors' Office in Boe to get ready for chapel (I read the scripture passage today). On my way I was delayed in trying to drop off a card in someone's PO, because right as I got there a tour group of middle schoolers happened to step in the way... and then their guide talked for a couple minutes. There was no way through them, either, I just needed to have patience.

Nancy, the pastors' secretary, had a surprise waiting for me today: she had neglected to mention I needed to lead an additional prayer reading later in the 20-minute service. Not a huge deal, I just start the congregation and then they turn the microphone down, but unexpected nonetheless.

We had a test today in individual fitness. It wasn't really a test, moreso a quiz, and it wasn't particularly difficult (I say this now, before seeing the graded results), except for the extra credit question. Our teacher warned us about extra credit question, that it would either be something about his family that he's mentioned in class or something in the news that everyone would know. I was ready to answer anything about his family, or at least come up with an amusing answer if I didn't know the real one, but the question (surprisingly) was where Anna Nicole Smith is buried right now. I don't know, that's not anything in the news I care about. What kind of stupid extra credit question is this, discriminating against those of us who don't really care about pop culture? I guessed the answer correctly from what I thought I'd heard at some point. Still, that was close.

I ate dinner with Kyle at the Cage; just a short time to get to know him a little better. For as close a friend as Ashley is, I've never really talked with Kyle for more than a few minutes at a time, so it was nice to have that time to actually meet part of the real person behind the name.

After dinner I spent the rest of my evening working on Putter stuff. Nothing too surprising, just updated the website a little bit, and started working on some invites and the DVD cover. Kind of a very blah evening. Worse, I was forced to stay awake much later than I'd planned or wanted: one of my roommates had a group of noisy "friends" over, and that made it rather impossible to go to bed until they left. I was not happy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Day 16

Today started as a "late" kind of day; I woke up later than I'd planned (the snooze button is deceptively good at calling my name... and I obeyed), made it to breakfast just in time before they closed, and then made it to class just as the teacher was preparing to close the door (someone else was just as almost-late, though, so I didn't feel as horrible about it).

We watched an awesomely hilarious fake movie trailer in Jesus in Scripture and Tradition. It was a parody of what the next Terminator movie could have been: Arnold with his shotgun protecting Jesus. Words won't do it justice. Here's the link:

I finally fixed my mighty mouse this afternoon; for months the scroll ball hasn't scrolled down (physically it does, but it doesn't register on the computer). The problem is that dirt and grime collects inside the mouse casing under the scroll ball, preventing the little movement detector thingies (that's their technical name) from detecting some of the motion, specifically, the downward scrolling motion. I had brought the mouse into an Apple store some number of months ago, they cleaned it, and it worked for about a week. Now I finally got fed up and decided to do something about it again.

Option #1 - follow Apple's directions: rub vigorously with cloth. Nope, no luck at all.

Option #2 - disassemble the mouse following directions I found via Google. I started to, then discovered part of the disassembling required a thin sharp knife to cut loose a glued piece. I didn't have a knife that would work. Convenient excuse.

Option #3 - Using a twist-tie, insert the metal tip into the scroll ball receptacle and poke around a lot, followed up by vigorous rubbing on my little mouse carpet (it's seriously a little mouse rug, not a mouse pad). Success!

Joyful, I spent some time finally making a few updates to the Harry Putter website, then briefly skimmed over my phy ed readings to "study" for the test/quiz tomorrow (the teacher told us very clearly not to worry about it: it's going to be super easy such that even his 1st grader could probably score a 50% without studying).

Today the math and science people gathered in the Science Center for the "Pi After-day Party" (yesterday was Pi day, but the speaker couldn't make it then). I went, indulged myself in some delicious French Silk, then went back to the dorm to keep working before meeting Nick for dinner.

I ran slides again for Thursday Night tonight, and I think the only surprise was that there weren't any computer surprises. Thank goodness. I even got the set list of songs a full hour and a half in advance; that's a new record.

My only real "surprise" surprise of the day ironically came at the very end of it, a couple minutes past midnight, right before I went to bed. Ash has a test tomorrow, and I know she's been studying a lot for it, so, assuming she'd already be asleep, I walked to the other side of Rand to slip a good luck card under her door, but before I got there I bumped into her in person! I never imagined she knew what it was to be up past midnight, so that was a bit of a shocker. It was much nicer to deliver the card in person.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Day 15

Day 15. It's been just over two weeks. Half-way through. Am I surprised? Have I been surprised? Is God really doing anything or am I just spotting ordinary coincidences and pretending they're divine surprises?

I've been thinking about that a lot over the past week: what really is a surprise? Sure, I've used the word an inordinate number of times in this journal, but were those fair uses? In a sense I have to say absolutely: a surprise is a surprise, period. The more appropriate question to ask is whether they came from God. Maybe everything would have happened just as it did anyway, regardless of if I'd prayed the "surprise me" prayer. God only knows. What I can conclude, though, is that regardless of whether these "surprises" are really coming "from God" or not, I can still thank Him and I can still praise Him for all of them. God created the world, He created surprises. These random day-to-day events, well, maybe they're surprises sent from God, or maybe they're not, but regardless, I've become more aware of them, of everything around me. Maybe that's the point: just trying to recognize all the gifts God's already put into my life. When I start counting, now there's a surprise!

Today itself was relatively uneventful. I delivered two of the White day chocolates last night before bed (since the recipients are in my dorm) and the third this morning to a PO box, alongside a sympathy card for another friend and a birthday card for Kyle. It wasn't "surprising" when I saw a bouquet of sticks wrapped in newspaper sticking out (no pun intended) of his PO box today, but I still laughed [it's a long story; suffice it to say this was one of the very funny and very fitting birthday gifts I helped Ashley think up for him: instead of expensive flowers, sticks were much less costly, which is how he would want it]. I made the decision not to follow through with a mistake that I really wanted to make, I went to class, I worked out, I came back, played guitar, and then went to Buntrock and the Library for the afternoon to tackle some long neglected items on my todo list.

About my guitar: I reached a dramatic conclusion not too many weeks ago. I realized I can learn to play anything: any chords, any strumming pattern, any song–it just takes time. I'm nowhere near "good" yet, but I'm getting there, and I'm a lot less "bad" than I used to be. I can pick up a guitar and strum out a semblance of not just one, but several songs. That's a good feeling. It's validating. I think it's God's way of telling me that all this practicing hasn't been in vain; there's a purpose behind why I'm learning this instrument.

I also realized just now that I've probably made some mention of my 6-stringed love in almost every entry in this Surprise Me journal. That's probably a good thing. It's important to me, and I'm happy that I've been able to play just about every day.

I'm off to dinner with Amy now. I'm caught up on journaling, I've sent a bunch of emails that I needed to send, I've dealt with the most recent wave of pictures on Wendy's site (have I mentioned?, and now it's time for food.

Back from dinner. Wonderful and long chat. Decent salad. Banana to go.

I got the email with this week's schedule for Selah, as well as announcing that the semester schedule is now available. I'm on for this week, and then two more times in April and May. What's really neat is that this week I'll have done the lyrics for FCA, Thursday Night, and Selah–it will be my first week acting in a capacity I like to term something along the lines of the "official Christian slidemaster"... or something. I'm grateful God's given me these gifts that I can share with others in all these different groups.

Tonight was fairly unproductive. I did some reading for tomorrow, but I don't feel I really did a whole lot. Maybe that's okay. Maybe I need time to relax? I wish it could have been a more productive relaxation, though.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Day 14

The weather outside was curiously out of whack with reality: didn't Mother Nature know I had a test today? Shouldn't it be gloomy and raining and icky rather than warm and sun-shiny and, well, nice? Maybe that's okay, though; maybe that all-too cheerful sky was a good omen for tests to come.

Amy spoke in Chapel today! So after three hours of class (again, starting at 8:00 in the morning, before the world was meant to exist), I went to listen to her. I wasn't surprised, but that's only because I already had some idea of what she was planning to talk about, otherwise I would have dun been shocked. The speech was very much "Amy", though, complete with descriptions of the attractive young temple priests their Global group met in India and other slightly scandalous comments. She did well.

Theology of Creation. Great teacher, great class, except most of what we've talked about so far has been on the philosophers: less so about "creation" and moreso about how to know what's "real". Ooohhh. The test was typo-ridden. I can't stand typos. One or two, fine, I understand that we're all human, and I make mistakes, too (shocking, I know). But honestly, there was a little too much humanity going on in that test. I tried hard not to be too distracted by my perfectionist personality.

Being that this was a religion test, I knew going into it that I wasn't going finish first (always do for Computer Science tests, never have for a religion test). I was right near the tail end: five minutes past the technical end of class, only half a dozen students still scribbling into their blue books. But it went well. I think. I mean, I wrote a lot, more than I normally do for essay tests, and the multiple choice, true/falses, and fill in the blanks went decently (except the one for which I wrote in the teacher's name instead of a real philosopher whose name I had no hope of remembering). So I'm hopeful. Maybe that's a surprise in the making: the test I thought for sure I would fail I might end up earning an A on. Hint hint, God, that would be a really great idea for a surprise...

Later in the afternoon I went to hear a guest speaker who is a journalist in India. Even more cool, she's from Chennai/Madras, which is where I stayed when I was there two years ago. Oh, I miss their accents. Listening to speeches is one of those really odd things: I remember enjoying it at the time, but now, reflecting, I can't really remember any details of what she talked about. It was something about being a Christian in the midst of a non-Christian press, and she talked also about how much respect reporters have in India by their very nature of being able to reach out to so many people. I'm not sure what else, but take my word, she spoke well, and I was actually amazed at how fluent her english is; one could make an argument that she may speak better than most students at this college, myself included.

I needed to make a trip down to Target today to pick up some diabolical supplies for tomorrow. Might as well talk about it now, seeing as it is, in fact, "tomorrow" when I'm writing this. March 14th is a special day. Not only is it Pi Day (you know, the Greek letter that mathematicians use as a number, has to do with circles, 3.14159...), but, as I learned in my Interim class about Japanese culture, it's White Day. What the heck is that, you ask? As I understand it, White day is closely related to Valentine's day. In Japan, Valentine's is the day for girls to give flowers to guys; White day, then, is the day guys give chocolates to the girls. What I'll be doing (slash, have already done) is giving a bag of chocolate-y goodness to a couple of my best friends, along with a note explaining what it's about; thus, the need to purchase things at Target (my drive into town was gloriously refreshing, since I could leave the window down and moonroof open. Sweet).

I got back, played guitar for a little bit more (oh, yes, I had played earlier today after studying and before my test), then met Ashley for what turned out to be a surprisingly long "quick" dinner. But I'm very grateful we had that time: I had a couple things I needed to ask, and, to no great surprise, Ash responded exactly how I knew she would, which definitely gave me some much needed guidance. One thing I'm so thankful for in our friendship is that she is always a straight shooter and doesn't shy away from saying something just because it's probably not the advice I wanted to hear. Anyway, it was a very good dinner talk.

Tonight was my debut for running lyrics at FCA. As with anything involving Windows, there were more than a few unpleasant surprises lurking, waiting to pounce on me. First Windows forgot how to do the proper 1680x1050 resolution on my laptop display. A simple reboot fixed that. Then, some of the motion backgrounds I used in EasyWorship lagged or jumped. Grrr. I also made a boo-boo: in the middle of the first song, I moved my laptop slightly, which unplugged the VGA cable going to the projector. 5 seconds of black screen. *Groans of agony*. The reason I tried moving things, though, was to fix another problem I'd caused: the VGA cable was, well, not tangled, but, "amidst" the power cords, which was causing a distorted image from the projector. After the blackout, I decided that slight, barely noticeable distortion was better than no image at all, so I stopped messing.

After the FCA speaker finished speaking (which, incidentally, included yet another reference to Hebrews; 2:3, I think), I needed to replug the video cable from his computer back into mine. That was easy, but, for whatever reason in its infinite stupidity, Windows forgot what it was doing with multiple displays, so it took the entire length of the transitional prayer time (a full two minutes, while everyone had their eyes closed, thankfully) for me to get things working again. I finished just as they said "amen". Thank you, God, but that was a little too close for my comfort.

Back in the room, I got an email from a friend who's grandmother just died a few days ago, and at the end she included a verse from, guess where: Hebrews 3:14. I decided I need to start keeping track of these verses.

I wrote a little, tried posting a couple days here, but Blogger's server was either having trouble or going through some nightly maintenance or something, so I couldn't get in. One last small surprise.