The Midwest is Still Dreaming

Nate Leslie. To some, that name is just another name you don’t know. To some, it’s a name they’ve heard a few times in relation to his music. To others, Nate Leslie is synonymous with self-produced records and all around guitar wizard. I know Nate as a genuine human being, an incredible father, and an impossibly passionate musician. I’ve never met anyone in my life so completely devoted to music as a whole. Lover of all artists, master of instruments, and a quick study. An underdog hero of the unrecognized artists, Nate features musicians that he really likes whether they are popular or not. Nate is the kind of guy who will use the phrase, “sonically brilliant,” and “my baby just threw up on me,” in the same sentence. He just is. Continue reading “The Midwest is Still Dreaming”

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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.

 

Happy Birthdays are for Others

September 14th. It was a Monday when I was born. This day is becoming more and more of a day that I just let pass by me. Sure I like birthday parties, having others around me, celebrations, music, cake, laughing at almost nothing, staying up late, and enjoying other people’s company. Of course I love that. Still, I don’t like to make a big deal of something for myself. That’s just not how I do things.

When my 28th birthday was coming up, all I could think about was where I thought I’d be, how old I was getting, what I haven’t done, blah blah blah. But then I realised just what I HAVE DONE. How very much has happened to me. The people I have been blessed to have conversations with, laugh with, know about. I have listened to stories of pain, and joy…sat with people in their darkest, and their brightest. I have felt the weight of a culture nearly forgotten and a people fighting to staying alive. I have learned to be a better professional and a much better human.

Continue reading “Happy Birthdays are for Others”

Josh Garrels: His life, his music, his Influence

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Josh Garrels needs to be known for not being known.

Humble, genuine, gifted. Josh Garrels has become known for these qualities through his attitude towards music, life, and God. Musical at the very young age of 3, Garrels started getting more serious about his music at 13. Starting a band, Garrels gradually honed his craft on the guitar and writing music. By the age of 22, Garrels was making lo-fi recordings in rooms and pumping out music on his schedule. Unimpressed by recording companies and the bureaucracy behind the music business, Garrels chose to self-record, mix, and produce his music without a record label or industry management. Keeping true to this style, every album he has released has been from the sweat of his brow. In Love & War & The Sea In Between, he and his wife hand labeled and sent out all copies of their music. His grassroots approach is radical. It’s not supposed to work, but it does. His fans love and appreciate his diversion from the traditional craft and they support it.

Continue reading “Josh Garrels: His life, his music, his Influence”

I Will Wait.

Songs. We all know that they have deeper meaning than just the music that makes its way to our ears. The notes, harmonies, melodies, strums of the guitar, beats of the drum, and skills of the artist…mixed with the venue you heard it in…is a concoction for memories. We remember the mood we were in, the people around us, the smells in the air, the clothes we were wearing, the time period, and if we were crying or laughing. Songs imprint themselves on us like pieces of emotional history.

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I have to say that I remember many years ago when Mumford & Sons first came out with their giant hit and debuted on the scene with The Cave. I remember saying to myself, “This makes me feel pretty good. I like these guys a lot.” The reason I am writing about Mumford & Sons in this post today is for a specific reason.

url-2Mumford & Sons new hit I Will Wait, off of their “Babel” album is already a huge sensation. When I first heard this song, I was delivering pizzas in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was making money to get by, paying bills, paying rent, etc. At this time in my life, I had two degrees in social work and had put myself through 6 years of university and graduate school. At this point I had been planning to move to New Zealand for the past 3 1/2 years and had been working my fingers to the bone, day in, and day out, in order to fulfill my lifelong calling to work with youth in New Zealand. My calling was beginning to look like it wasn’t going to happen, and I really didn’t know what was happening. Things were tense and I was struggling to get a job. I took a degrading job so that I could survive in the meantime, all the while telling myself that it was going to be worth it.

The pizza parlor I worked in was right next to Gerald Ford Airport. It was a common occurrence to see airlines soar over me and take off for their destinations. I would be lying to you if I told you that I didn’t think to myself, “One day, I’m going to be on one of those flights, waving down below to the pizza guy looking up at me. One day.” Well, on this one particular day, I Will Wait came on the radio for the first time. I couldn’t help but feel overcome with emotions. Songs mean different thing to different people. Many will hear this song and think that it is being sung about waiting for a person. When I hear this song, I think about waiting for my dreams. And I’ll tell you why: It took everything within me not to ditch my job and everything I’d brought to Michigan behind, and chase my dream every time I saw an airplane take off. Instead, I did what I needed to do, and remained patient, and every time I saw a plane soar over me I thought to myself, “I will wait.”

Can I tell you how incredibly emotional it was being in the plane overlooking the ground on the day I left for New Zealand? Well, it was. And now that I’m here, fulfilling my dream, I cannot help but thank God, and thank all my family/friends who helped me get here, and stayed with me when I refused to give up on my dreams. You know who you are.

On a side note, this song is just really happy, and I’m found renewed with joy whenever I hear it. Enjoy.