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The Beginning of the Ending

This year I start the beginning to the ending of my twenties. Three years ago I wrote a piece on my thoughts entering the ending of my mid twenties. No this won’t be a drawn out piece on how a millennial feels old, or document my angst towards my wasted youth. No. In fact, it may be one of the shortest pieces I write on the subject matter. (Which if you’re a regular to the site, might be a relief, ha)

Some people that I have left behind, in a truly magical land called New Zealand (insert etherial voiceover), only really find out what’s going on in my head through what I write in this blog. Here you’ll find posts about some truly deep stuff, and then stumble on something that is anything but deep. You’ll get it all here folks. But one thing that I tend to do a lot of is talk about how things are effecting me from the outside in. What better thing to shake it all up than turning 29. Well…turning 30 I guess…Right…

I’m keeping it short because I don’t feel like giving the clichéd power to another year coming and going–or the overplayed record track, entitled, “What Have I Done With My Life??” Honestly, life is going great. Sure I don’t have a job yet, and I miss my friends overseas. Yes I’m not married. No, I have no children. Professionally I’m not where I thought I’d be. The reason these things don’t hold power over me is for one: Who says when things should happen in your life? Other people? Haha, no. The only reason I feel that I should be at a certain point in my life is because I was comparing myself to others and their “success.” So no, I don’t feel overly old or regretful.

The last time I wrote about my birthday I told myself similar things that I tell myself today: “Don’t worry about what I haven’t done yet,” “Be proud of what you’ve done so far.” All still hold weight and value on my life. I also ended that post telling myself to just “look forward,” which is exactly what I intend to do.

You see, I’m learning that the message doesn’t change from year to year. If anything, the message becomes louder and more singular. In fact, what’s become most clear of all is that God’s timing for things is the only thing I really want to seek. His timing is the most real, the most perfect, the most true. What more could I ask for as another year passes? I have friends, family, and Love. We need to worry less about the outcome when we set our sights on the proper light.

I claimed it to myself the night I turned 29, and I’ll claim it again here tonight. This is going to be one hell of a year. I just have to relax and enjoy the ride.

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July 4th

Today is the 240th year of this country that, if you call yourself an American, no matter where you came from, or what you believe, you can celebrate. That’s America. We take in everyone. The Statue of Liberty once stood as a marker of that very creed. Taking in “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” What lady Liberty fails to inform immigrants and refugees is that this freedom doesn’t come without judgement or centuries of deeply ingrained prejudice. No this wont be a post about how much America sucks, or how we could be doing so much better, though we really could. No.

As an American, I am glad to live in this country. Freedom is sometimes taken for granted when militia aren’t raiding your home or killing your fellow church members in the square as a public demonstration that your God is weak. We focus in on the Trumps and Budget crisis of the world…the pride parades and legalizations…the ‘not-in-my-back-yard’s’ and the ‘those people just moved in next door.’ I’m not saying some of those problems aren’t legitimate, I’m saying it’s easy to make problems when freedom is given to us without us having to really pay for it. It’s kinda like when I was 18, I drove a white Pontiac Grand Am, but it was really my Dad’s car. I drove it into the ground. Actually, that’s almost accurate. Mainly this happened because I had no ownership over it and thus failed to grasp how to properly treat it. I should have washed it every other week. I should have vacuumed out the interior, given it oil changes, and taken it in for check-up’s every now and then. I should have taken care of it. I should have cared.

Taking something for granted becomes easier when we aren’t reminded of the cost, or when we are so far removed from the price that was paid. Today, instead of raising a glass to ‘a greater America’ or ‘change we can hope for’ or ‘Murica,’ raise a glass to those who gave us this incredible land to make music, write stories, have opinions, worship, not worship, create, earn a hard-days-work, and live free. It’s kind of incredible, and it’s amazingly beautiful.

Happy 4th Everyone.

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Many Mother’s Day

What does it mean to have three incredible mother’s in my life? What is the impact of seeing motherhood lived out day in and day out? What is the alternate of this? The impact of a horrible mother, the effects of a neglectful, unloving, absent mother? The scars left by an abusive, overbearing, and insulting mother? This day, like Christmas, Father’s Day, or birthdays, can be a reminder of something we’d rather forget. The pain that is drudged up by the annual forced reminder of this person’s presence, or lack there of, can be more than they would like to deal with.

It’s important to recognize that not every persons situation is like our own, even though it’s easy to forget.

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This being said, I would like to acknowledge the three mother’s in my life, my sisters Robyn, Nicole, and my mom Sharon. My sister’s have always been there for me, even when we hated each other. Our relationship hasn’t always been good. Hardly. Nothing is perfect, even when that’s all we show these days on Instagram or facebook. I will say that something changed one day and we were like, “Why are we at each other’s throats?! Let’s cut it out and have fun!” Okay, it didn’t happen…quite like that…at all…but we did start to become friends after siblings. Since then, my sisters have been showing me up in the grand-child department. Being that, they have 5 collectively and I have…none. Whatever. They can be better than me for now. Ha. I love you both. Thank you for making me the cool uncle. Uncle status is pretty sweet. Also, don’t miss the feast tomorrow, it already looks amazing…[drools].

What can I say about my mom that hasn’t been said in my other posts about her? I am enjoying being back in the country with her. No matter if I get married, or have kids of my own, and no matter how old I get, Sharon will always be my mother. She will always be the best to me. She will always be the one who raised me, took care of me, taught me to study hard, love God, love others, and not be afraid of my sensitivity. Thank you, I love you Mom.

This Mother’s Day, think outside the box. Get to the heart of the matter. No one knows your Mother like you do. Love her. Appreciate her.

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Beauty in the Flatness

-running
-parking
-watching the sun set and rise
-watching a storm roll in hours away
-farming
-building
-biking
-wind energy loves flatland

As some of you know, I live in a very flat state. Illinois. I’ve lived here all my life and sometimes, the flat gets a bit old. Some would say that it is the flattest state. Well, you’d be close. We’re number two. Florida? Number one. That’s right. I don’t really get it either. Maybe most of it is under water and that makes it pretty flat. Either way, Illinois is still a proverbial coin. Pretty much as flat as the state quarter we’re printed on.

For most of my life, I have resented in some way, the flatness of this great state. Listed above are some of the marvellous things about our flatness. I think that sometimes, we crave the mountains, hills, canyons, or rivers to the point where our own beauty fades into the background. There’s still beauty in the flatness. Being able to place a lawn chair outside on a tepid summer night and watch our sun disappear into the still horizon is a majestic thing. Likewise, being able to have an unhindered view to the start of a day, viewing a burning sun rise in the east…is a gift. In some topography, you have to hike to see the sunset/rise. You have to hike up a hill/or even a mountain in order to get a clear view of the rise/set. Some would say this is the payoff to the hike. Me? I’ll chuck the chair in the backyard and drink to the end of another day.

Granted, I love hiking. Love. Why do you think I enjoyed living in New Zealand so much? Frankly, watching a sunset on a mountaintop sounds glorious, and I have done this. I’m just saying, to you who are in a “normal” topographical environment, there is good here. Just look.

Loads of other things are easier. Parking. Oh man. Try starting your manual drive car on a steep upward incline and tell me that flatness is overrated. Do it. Running. Flatness is AMAZING when you’re training. Sure, inclines are good to add variety maybe, but for me, nothing can beat the constant, even, plateau that midwest roads/sidewalks give you. When running in NZ, I actually tried to find a flat area to run and became disheartened when there were very few in…running distance. Biking. Same thing. I could bike for miles if given a flat straight-away to disappear on. Farming. Architecture. Wind Farms. All these things rely on good, solid, flat ground. Sure you could build on a hill, but I personally wouldn’t trust a house on a cliff. You can also farm on hills, it just makes it more difficult. Irrigation, plowing, collection, etc.

I guess there is a broader lesson in this. We shouldn’t chase what we don’t have. There is beauty where you are. Being content is a serious discipline. Being content requires control. Once you are, you realize that the things around you start to come into focus. Once distant, vanilla objects suddenly are given vibrancy, life, purpose, and color. We are happier. We are less needy. Less wanty.

If you live in Illinois, or Florida…or Kansas for that matter, find the beauty. It’s there, trust me.

#thereislifeafterflatness

PS: If you still can’t hack it, head here. Plenty to do in this flatland.

 

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Top 10: Immediate Differences I Noticed Returning to the States from New Zealand

Recently I became patriated back in the United States and lost my ex-pat status. Having lived in New Zealand for three years, while gaining professional development in my field, I was the outsider. There were some obvious things that changed about my everyday life once acclimating to the Kiwi lifestyle. Little driving here, little change in cuisine there, you get the idea. NOW, after coming back to my home country, the Motherland if you will, the Red, White, and the True…Gun toting, freedom speaking, manifested country, where if you look at our current election process proves that truly anything is possible in this land of promise (good or bad), I take note to the things that immediately stand out to me…in comparison. For your enjoyment, here is the Top 10 VERY different things about the two countries that I quite immediately noticed in my first week back. [I want to offer a DISCLAIMER that this is observational humor, try not to take too much offence to it. Also, this is true about the cities of Montgomery, IL, Aurora, IL, and parts of Naperville, IL as is the direction of my writing today.]

10. Accents

This was the first real thing that hit me coming back. You would think, “Eric, you’re an American. Our accent should not surprise you.” You would be right. The accent didn’t really surprise me, it was something else. I was attending a Josh Garrels concert a few days after coming back, and I was sitting in the auditorium when I noticed that I was not the only American voice in the din. For three years, I was the American. If in New Zealand I overheard an American in a crowd, it excited me! I went over to them and struck up a conversation about how they came to be in New Zealand, where they were staying, etc. The accent was special…unique. So was I. I’ll put it to you like this: You know how some women in America love a foreign accent? It was kind of like that, but now reversed. People made me say words just to hear how they sounded coming out of my mouth. It was bizarre at first, but it ended up being kinda cool. Now, I looked around, listening to all the Americans at this concert in Wheaton, IL thinking, “I’m no longer the only American in the room. I’m surrounded. This is no longer unique. Hmm.” SIDE NOTE: I also noticed at this concert…how loud we all are. For a long time (and even still…), I was the loud one in the room. But man, I just became attuned to so many loud, obnoxious, shameless people. For some reason, I heard WAY more Valley Girl dialects as well. Gag.

9. Gas is cheap….actually, clothing is cheap…also electronics are cheap…EVERYTHING IS CHEAP.

It’s true. If you’ve ever been outside the country, you know that things can get a bit pricy out there. But when I came back and gas was $1.29 per gallon, which equates to about 56 cents per liter…I was shocked. Apparently there is some fun stuff happening with our country providing its own gas now, leaving middle eastern countries in the cold and driving competition WAY up. I think I remember that competition is good in Economics class. Sweet! Clothing. Oh man. I’ll agree with you who know American clothing. Some of the clothing is cheap and not very well made. But I have noticed that there is some very good clothing made here that is not expensive at all. More and more people are getting into “U.S.A Made” products and textiles, which in my opinion is awesome. We should start taking more pride in this countries efforts and bring some more jobs back to our own. All in all, I’m noticing a vast difference in price, even with the exchange rate. Yes, some of the price difference is because things get shipped to NZ, but still. This leads me to number eight.

8. Amazon.com

Oh my Lord. I have so missed Amazon. Also, GET AWAY AMAZON! Too easy is it to buy vintage leather toiletry bags and a bundle of my favorite DVD’s, but also beard oil! No longer will I succumb to your tempting offers to also buy an add-on cedar scented candle with the sea sponge loofah. It stops now. Also, I never want it to stop. Amazon…you do you. And keep offering me free shipping.

7. No cafés

Where there are an abundance of cafés to choose from in NZ, almost too many, there just aren’t any in a good distance of your immediate location here. That to say, there are cafés around, but you’d have to drive there. The point of a local café is that it is proximate and offers a good selection of coffee and cabinet treats to get you on your way. They really are delightful in a way that you really take for granted. This leads well into my next observation.

6. Good Coffee

Right here, right now, know that I am not a coffee person. This being said, I have to tell you that the best coffee I have ever tasted was in NZ. My friend, who is a coffee fanatic, traveled across areas of Europe…including Italy, America, and other countries, and has sworn by NZ standards of coffee. For some reason, Kiwi’s decided, “Hey, yeah, we’re going to be the best in the world at this.” And that’s what they’ve done. They just get it. I don’t know how or why, but personally, I think they are coffee wizards. Magic. Dark Roast Magic. So if you go there, get Supreme Coffee. Now. America. Not bad, just not as good. Again, I’m not a coffee guy, but I’ve had enough to know. Leading neatly into quality vs. plain.

5. Industrial Everything

New Zealand is known for it’s mom and pop shops. Little places that open up and might be gone in a year, or might stick around for a lifetime, depending on their appeal with the surrounding community. NZ is known for having a variety of these kinds of places open up and about 80% don’t end up thriving and eventually shut down. Still, this environment gives you the blessing of choice. You could eat at a different Indian restaurant everyday for a month. You could also do this with Chinese, korean, mexican, tapas, burgers, you name it. Then you have unique pop up’s like Vietnamese, Southern St. Louis cooking, and authentic American diners. It’s incredible. When I came back I noticed that we have plenty of choice, but it felt so industrial, concrete, and plain. Restaurant chains were very common, as were shopping malls, strip malls, fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and long highways connecting it all. If I had to try and describe it, there just didn’t feel like there was any culture in it. These areas were constructed for convenience, but devoid of any individuality, any…pride. That’s what I liked about small shops. You found someone in there who fought, sweat, and bled for their dreams. Again, this exists in America, ABSOLUTELY, it just wasn’t the impression I got when coming back.

4. Music

In New Zealand, you are going to expect some different types of music. I definitely heard more Pacifica music than I ever had in the states. I kinda liked some of it…enough to make a mix-playlist for the return back home. I’m not sure if I’ll ever hear the soothing tones of Stan Walker singing over the radio to Aotearoa from the beaches of Piha, but it will always fondly remind me of another time in my life.

3. Banking is Getting better…but

I’ve never really been too impressed with the banking infrastructure in the United States, but when I went to New Zealand…I got a dose of how this can be done better. Not only are the banks in general better at getting back to you and helping you with your problems and not charging you weird fees, BUT their “pay-and-go” system is incredible. They have a thing called EFTPOS or electronic funds transfer at point of sale. This allows you to pay very quickly. We pretty much have this too. But, they have “Pay Wave” allowing you to, when prompted, place your card next to the machine and pay with a beep. You’re done! That’s it! So simple and so hassle free. On top of that, their mobile banking is second to none. Because the banks communicate with each other fairly well, I can pay any of my friends via my phone, even if they have a different bank than me. I just type the amount, and send it. It’s like the money never left their pocket. This came in handy when we saw a movie together and ordered tickets online, or when we paid for a meal after eating out together. Seamless. SIDE NOTE: You can order seats in a theater for movies. How genius is that?! No more waiting in line. I’m gonna miss that.

2. Cars are HUGE

I will say this. Maybe there is less demand for a massive truck in New Zealand (definitely not true on the farms), but you just don’t see massive trucks, especially with 6 wheels on said truck’s axels. You don’t. Neither Hummers, massive Expeditions, Escalades, or whatever massive car you can fill in the gap with. You do see a lot of Land Rovers though. Hmm. Anyway, we like it big here in the good ol’ U.S of A. and I’ve known for a while now that this love permeates into food, clothing sizes, houses, and yes gas guzzling cars. I guess it was just a little bit of a shock how many more massive cars there are here compared to NZ. Which leads me in a car related note to my final and most passionate observation.

1. Aggressive Driving

Some who know me, whether in NZ or the U.S., know that I can be a bit of an offensive driver. I take turns quickly, zip into an opening when I see it, and pass cars faster than some would like. Growing up on I-88, I-294, I-355 and the formerly dreaded 80/94, I had to learn how to make some decisive decisions. Out there, if you don’t make a choice quickly, you get passed up. Sometimes and indecisive driver can cost someone their life. When I moved to New Zealand, I was told to “chill out.” There is no need to drive this way. And they were right, there wasn’t. New Zealand has bad drivers, as any country will, but what I noticed was a vastly different driving culture. Let’s take merging for our primary example. “Merge like a ZIP!” The catchphrase will be written on a road sign and burned into everyone’s memories growing up in NZ. Drivers over there know how to merge and let people in, taking turns and not getting self righteous when someone needs to get in. It’s beautiful people. For three years, I had an incredible merging driving culture. In the second day back in the country, I went out to do some errands, as you do. I turn right on red into a two lane road with traffic in the left lane and me in the right lane. The road quickly turns into a merging one lane road. I indicate to the other cars in the left lane that I want to come in. The car just behind me on the left speeds up, blocking off my way in. Naturally I’m a bit mad about that, but I wait for him to pass so that I can get in. It’s what happens next that sends me into the deep, dark pit of “bad-driving-habits.” A hole reserved for foul mouthed sailors and vindictively colorful sign language. The car behind the car who sped up saw that I was trying to get into his lane. He also saw the car in front of him speed up to block off my entrance. I can only assume the man had a brain aneurysm and this caused his foot to jam on the accelerator because he ALSO sped up to block me off. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. I am now driving through a “right turn only” lane…because I had no other choice, the two cars pass me. As they glide blissfully by, singing the tune “Penny Lane” in their stupid cars, they would get a front row view of my window…displaying a most offensive bird attached to my hand. Was I proud immediately after I did it. Sorta…yeah. Then shock settled in. I had NEVER done that to anyone before. I had never in my life been so enraged by another driver’s actions. Something spoiled me in NZ when everyone merged so well, no matter what. Most kiwis are probably thinking, “Well, that guy is probably pooping in his pants and is racing to the nearest porcelain refuge. I guess I’ll let him in.” But really, it’s because they’re decent human beings. Godbless kiwi merging.

So that’s it, the Top 10 Immediate Differences I Noticed Returning to the States from New Zealand. I hope you enjoyed that. If you did, check out some of my more impassioned writing on the home page labeled “BEST OF THE BLOG”. Enjoy.