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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed tonight. I'm exhausted, but can't sleep; excited, but also scared. I've spent the past five days soaking in the reality that I will be living on the other side of the globe in a few short weeks. I've read vast quantities of information on Morocco, from cookbooks, to cultural practices, history of colonization to presence (or lack thereof) of Christian (and churches). I got my invite packet in the mail from Peace Corp this morning with a 200 page welcome book, files, and guidelines on everything from goverment passports to filing taxes overseas, designating power-of-attorney, to the travel and "staging" timeline.

I will be flown go to D.C., Chicago, Miami or somewhere for staging on Sept. 10th (or preparation and briefing) with fellow Morocco volunteers, before we are flown out (on Sept. 13th) to Morocco.

I have spent a tremendous amount of time already developing lists and more lists. Questions for Peace Corp, lists of everything I own to loan to family members, a calendar outline of each week and what needs to happen, responsibilities a power-of-attorney would need to carry out for me in my absense, more questions for Peace Corp. Should I bring my laptop? Will there be electricity to run it? How sure can I be that I will have internet access? What type of shoes are appropriate in a culture where sandals are too casual/scandalous, dressing well is important, but the roads are dusty and the climate hot? The big one, after reading for hours today and discussing the adventure with Adam-from-next-door (he took me out this evening for a "celebratory drink" at the Blind Lemon) I'm beginning to wonder if I really CANNOT come back at all during the two years, three months. There is a two-page instruction sheet regarding presence and on-site requirements, a whole worksheet for whose approval I need for any departures from my home village, timeframes of when I can or cannot leave, how soon I have to notify them, etc. It's starting to feel like I'm back at Cedarville with all the requirements, sign-out, limits on travel, permission required, etc. Ahh!! From what I can gather I am offered a Saturday-Sunday leave once a month for travel, and that's it. That puts a whole new perspective on this adventure.

I've been assuming I could come back every 6-12 months for a vacation in the states to see family, come to weddings of close friends and/or siblings, etc. What if it is really true that when I say goodbye, I'm saying goodbye for over two years to everyone?? My niece will almost be in kindergarten when I return. I have three single sisters, and at least one or two are bound to get engaged, if not married, in my absence. That, above all else, is a most unbearable thought. I will definitely have to call PC in the morning to figure out what the reality is.

On the financial/business front, I'm trying to give all my worries to God, but it's hard. The complexity of wrapping up a bunch of current projects, and getting them all to pay, in turn paying my vendors before I leave, and handling finishing details are now actions that I have to accept will not be completed by my leave date. One of my reps just lost a project this morning that I was semi-counting on to lower my debt level further. On top of that, I found out that I still have to pay $2000 for the French class I took at UC (Univ. of Cincy). The questions keep coming.. how much will I still owe when I leave? What about Corporate filings, what about projects that won't be installed until November? Should I dissolved The Play Connection now, January, never?

Other tasks: I just ordered another pair of cute glasses.. expensive as I had several requirements for them including durability and transitioning tinting, as I will need them day-in, day-out for indoor and outdoor activities. Expensive little buggars. I ordered more contacts. I got yet another completion letter (required by PC) from the dentist and let their staff know about my exciting invitation. I had friends tour my apartment who might want to rent it, notified my neighbor/friend Adam as well, as he's had his eye on it from day one, and spent an hour at my landlord's house admiring their pet rat, talking about Morocco, and wondering who would rent 522 Corporation Alley when I leave.

I also did a site visit to a new school construction site, where a Play Mart playground is to be installed next Monday. Funny thing was, I'm used to working almost strictly with older males. When I popped my head in at the General Contractor trailer, I found another young lady, probably younger than I, on co-op at the site. We donned hardhats and headed out to the playground areas, dodging bobcats and mud. We conferenced with the Project Manager, yet another colleague under 25 and one other key contact. I was standing there thinking how funny it was that on my most complicated project, I was standing on the large construction site as one of three very young peers, in hardhats, discussing construction details as if there was nothing abnormal about it.

When I returned to my house from the site, I took a cat nap around 4:30 and woke up around 9pm. I think all this processing, planning and preparation is much more exhausting than would be expected. Now I can't sleep...guess I'll go back to bed and try again.

Friday, July 22, 2005


I just learned some very exiting news. As most of you know, I've been on a quest for my next career move and applied to Peace Corps back in January. This morning I was invited to an assignment in Morocco! I am so very excited!
The program will be small business development, working with artisians in semi-rural Moroccan villages. I will become part of the local community, work at the grassroots level with artists, developing marketing plans, website development, feasibility studies, micro-credit financing, empowering womens' small business enterprises, training and improving their business skills, etc. It is very open-ended and will allow me to use my knowledge, resources and creativity to help them. As a bonus, my sister, Dawn, is currently working to develop a retail business selling artwork from developing countries. We are very excited about the possibility of teaming on this project, me being the liason implanted in an artisian community.
I leave September 10th for Morocco to begin a 3-month training program, and begin my Arabic language training (which is also a key language for getting into the US State Dept). I will stay with a local family during training and then in December begin the program, and find my own apartment in the local village to call home for the next two years.
I want to thank each and everyone of you for the many ways you have been supportive in counseling, giving advice, praying, listening, etc. That has meant so much to me. I also want to thank my Lord, Jesus Christ, who has guided me toward this exciting step. Just in the past few weeks playground sales have been pouring in and I am very close to paying off all my debt (required before I leave). He has orchestrated all of this in such a wonderful way.

MORE THOUGHTS: I am also excited about the opportunity to witness to fellow Peace Corps volunteers during training (who, stereotypically are very liberal) and to the Muslims or Berbers I will be living with. In a way, this is a wonderful opportunity to be a missionary without the official label. I think of it as finding very productive, effective ways to help a poor people economically and have a chance to develop relationships that I can live a life of testimony through to them. Please be in prayer for me. I doubt I will have a local Christian church to go to, nor many (if any) Christian contacts, so I will definitely need the support and enouragement.

Geographically the area is extremely exciting to me: a ferry ride away from Europe (Spain), living in a country that has ties to Africa, Muslims, Europeans, the Middle East, and language-wise there are French and Spanish speakers, both of which I can speak to some degree, and Arabic and Berber which are very key languages for an international relations career. There are mountains and deserts and oceans and all sorts of exciting places to explore. The climate seems as though it should be very similar to San Diego, which I just recently visited and loved!

So, all-in-all God knew much better than me where to place me. I cannot be more happy.. indeed I think I'm getting a headache from the strain of all the excitement.


1. Peace Corps info about the program: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=learn.wherepc.northafr.morocco - scroll down to the Small Business Development section

2. Local News: http://www.moroccotimes.com/

3. What I might be expected to wear: http://www.triotours.com/faq/ma/clothes.htm

4. Story of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco: http://www.winchesterstar.com/TheWinchesterStar/050115/Life_morocco.asp

5. Photos of Morocco: http://flickr.com/groups/moroccan/pool/

That's it for now folks!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ultimate Intimacy

I am a Marlon Brando fan. Maybe I should rephrase. I was a Marlon Brando fan. After tonight’s episodes I have nothing but disgusted pity for him. Having been quite infatuated with his raw (albeit very sexual and violent) expression, I wanted to get a better taste for him and rented A Streetcar Name Desire.

It was at once disturbing and thought-provoking. Two of the three main characters drove me to insanity. Blanche DuBois, a delicate, superficial, yet neurotic and tainted southern-belle tries to cover over a life of promiscuity and pretentiously clings to posh ancestry. She denounces her sister for forsaking their heritage by marrying a commoner, a violent “Pollack” and dwelling in the squalor of the French Quarter of New Orleans. Her sister’s husband, Stanley (Marlon Brando), is a raw, animalistic brute. One evening he strikes Stella in a rage, but she returns to him, her anger turning to lust, and forgets any offense. Stanley, however, has no time to waste with airs and fancy ways. He questions Blanche’s superficiality, her reasoning for escaping home, her complaints of “the nerves”. After learning of her past as a prostitute frequenting the Flamingo Hotel, he presses Stella to accept Blanche’s pageant as a sham.

Stella is caught between the irony of both husband and sister demanding her withdrawal from any relations with the other, based on the same basic element: character. One is a prostitute living a pretense of refinery, the other dwelling in an acceptance of a life of commonness and lustfully violent ways. They are two worlds, but both a breed of perverted swine. Blanche (her name an irony itself) begs her sister not to “hang back with the brutes” while in the climax (intimated only) Brando, in his rage at the whore prancing about his house in pretty clothes and enticing respectable friends with her stories, confronts her foolery and in his anger rapes her – his way of calling out her true self. This act defines their characters and leaves Stella with no choice but to separate herself from both, sending her sister to a mental institution and leaving her husband permanently, newborn in arms.

The theme - the act of sex dissolving any hopes of love and the intimacy it was designed to celebrate - runs throughout. Blanche had been lost in the world. She explained to her sister of her need to be around people. She was turning to her last hope in the world for love and security, after the disillusionment of the counterfeit intimacy with strangers in the night. Brando, in a vicious act, finally severed her last hope of love when he, who hated her most, committed the most intimate of acts with her in his wrath, driving her to complete insanity.

A friend let me borrow Last Tango in Paris this evening as well, and after mulling over the meaning of A Streetcar Named Desire, I was overly curious about any connections between the two films, and especially Marlon Brando’s conduct in comparison. I am ashamed to even admit that I started the latter movie. There grew a sadness in me, a pain of loss, as if with every minute more I watched the film, my innocence, my joy was drained and all was hopeless, and the beauty of sex turned to a sour soulless animal that drives humanity to irrationality, to violence, and manipulation. Needless to say, after fast-forwarding lude scenes and bearing it for a time, I sank into such utter despair and disgust that I could take no more and stilled the house from its pollution.

In so many ways the movies were alike, parallels of brute, animalistic sexual desire. “I’m better off with a grunt or a groan for a name. Why do you want to know my name?” demanded Brando to the young girl, “do you want to hear my name?” he asks and proceeds to make ape-like sounds. Men were portrayed and described as pigs, women as helpless, delicate or young figures to cower beneath brutality. In each existed a hope that sexual encounters (absent of any love or relationship) would bring relief, a shelter, an escape from life, and yet in both, it only brought more hopelessness, agony, despair and anger.

The opposite of such despair, of the rejection of love, violent, depraved, bestial behavior is fundamentally, inexorably Christ. It is God, the giver of life itself; He who is truth and grace; He who is perfection and beauty and love so unconditional we cannot fathom – we who are foolish, unloyal, faithless, treacherous, ungrateful and bestial sinners. He is the antipole of depravity.

True intimacy that all humanity longs for can only be ultimately fulfilled in the presence and love of our Creator and Lord. Sex in its most perfect, love-enveloped form is the closest glimpse we will have on this earth of the rapture of His presence and love. Heaven and God are untouchable here on earth. We cannot see God. We have no brochures or advertisements for heaven’s glories, much less the ability to experience its pleasures while going about our pithy mortal lives. The burning longing inside us craves fulfillment and we seek it in human love, romance, and sexual intimacy. Those who have so perverted every element of love and beauty, and of the hope of God’s love and eternity, are still pressed with an undeniable longing for intimacy. Though shunning the very idea of love in its conditional, hurtful human form, they seek out fulfillment in sexual encounters of more perverse nature such as rape, molestation, pedophilia, or homosexuality. We pervert even the simple acts of life. Concern turns to flirtation; selflessness to sexual attention. Let us draw our eyes and hearts back to Him who alone can ultimately fulfill our need for intimacy, and let us live in the hope and joy of eternity with Christ.

Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Lamentations 24 “I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."

Psalms 33:18 “But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose
hope is in his unfailing love.”

Monday, July 18, 2005

San Diego!!

I have returned from an era of travels: three weeks, three trips, three states. First to Colorado for Erica and Jason Heddings wedding, which was absolutely beautiful! It was quite a treasure to see all my Cedarville friends again and staying up late talking like we did back in the dorms. The second was to Kentucky, to the family reunion, which I have partially recounted already. My last trip, from which I returned yesterday, was a week in San Diego with three girlfriends: Shauna, Lexi and Melissa.

I was a little leary of spending a full week with three girlfriends, but besides a few tense moments (and getting chewed out for carelessly running alone on a beach late at night with a Marine soldier :) we had a blast. San Diego is a beautiful place on the planet. There are high hills with massive boulders scattered about the landscape, palm trees and bougainvillea splashed about spanish-tiled roofs, vineyards and orchards rolling like waves over plantation hills, and cliffs overhanding pebbled beaches. I love it. They call the entire stretch of land beyond the coast the IE for Inland Empire (i.e. the desert). The clouds along the coastline did surprise me. Apparently when the cool Pacific air meets the warm desert air it forms a heavy cloud cover over the first mile or two of land and then suddenly you disappears and you find yourself in a bright, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. We stayed with Shauna's Aunt and Uncle in Temecula, about an hour north of San Diego, inland near the vineyards and a beautiful backdrop of mountains.

SUNDAY: The family, Uncle Arlin Gregg, Aunt Kathy, Travis (14), Tyler (11), and Shelby (6 1/2) accompanied us to La Jolla Beach (pronounced hoya for non-Spanish speakers). The beaches were encased in cliffs. Sea Lions and Dolphins swam near the rocky crags. A couple of Sierra Club groupies decided that the chance of a Sea Lion seeing humans was a perilous
crime against their ability to survive this precarious life and sat on the beaches near them with signs asking us to stay off the beach area. Shauna, in character thought a small insurgence should be in order. She and Meliss walked past the green warriors inviting demands to stand back. "We can go anywhere on this beach we please" Miss Shauna reminded them. They found a great cave where the water rushed through during higher tides and returned to take all of us back to explore it. We walked past the protestors again lying there on the ground. The cave was cool.. little Shelby was a bit scared and fussy, but we got her back out again ok. The sea-lion lovers looked at us with pitiful eyes.. "Did you do this on purpose?" I looked out into the waves where the Sea Lions were merrily bobbing their little heads and wondered what crime she thought we had committed.

I also found a vent for creativity.. sand castles! Travis, Tyler, Shelby and I created a whole city, complete with crisp walls, cliffs and pools, a moat with levers for lowering and raising the bridge, tunnelways, kelp flags, sea-moss trees and gold dust-paved streets.

MONDAY: We went to the desert to Lake Paris on Monday because there was so little sun at the ocean beach. The water was so clear and blue, as was the sky. Rocky mountains surrounded the resevoir and palm trees shaded the picnic areas. The temp was said to be upwards of 100 degrees. As the sun beat down on us I wisely respected it more than I have on any other trip, applying 8 SPF every day and managed to get by with almost no sunburn after four days of laying out .. much less than I can say for my three friends. (I officially proclaimed Melissa to no longer be of a caucasion ethnic background she was so black, but she's Italian anyways.) We teased the excitable lifeguard by nonchalantly "floating" far past the swimming boundaries toward open water. We would stop every now and then and turn in the opposite direction we were heading (so as not to appear premeditated) and then turn around and sublty kick our feet. The life guard kept eyeing us and eventually climbed off his throne. He would step near the water and draw back aggitatedly... and then.. he started running. We took first conspicuous notice of him and acted surprised of our surroundings and swam toward shore. He stood there for a while and then chided us when we came safely into harbor. "Oh I'm so sorry!" I said. "We won't do it again" and smiled. Hee, hee.

TUESDAY: We toured San Diego finally. Mrs. Gregg had given us tickets to Sea World so we headed there first. The tickets were for ages 4-18, but we figured since everyone thought our mommies had just given us the car for the week, that we would easily pass unnoticed. However, complications developed. As we approached the gate, Melissa began reading the tickets more carefully. "Umm.. guys, these say we get a discount, but we still pay $31". We each read them thoroughly and coming to the same conclusion halted our progression and turned back to the car. The next adventure was a crash-course on San Diego's transportation system of trollies and buses. No less than a consultation of eight people.. police officers, etc. and we finally bought a day pass for $5 and boarded a trolley for Fashion Valley. We got off, saw JC Penny and Macy's below the tracks and boarded another trolley. But not before consulting a kind older man about three different routes and finally making up our minds to go to Balboa Park. He accompanied us to the bus stop and hesitantly let us go, a bit disinclined to let us navigate the city ourselves. Everywhere we went that day, before we could inquire of anyone where to go, someone saw our clueless chatting clique and offered their guidance. This began to grate on me a bit, as I am accustomed to traveling solo and at least presuming an air of confidence so as not to bring attention to myself, or become vulnerable to sly persons of any foul motive. We had plenty of maps and I preferred to consult them and develop our own gameplan, but whether I wished it or not, San Diegoans are very friendly people and wished to help us.

Balboa was beautiful. A maze of museums, rose gardens and spanish-tiled edifices. We saw kids splashing about in a fountain near near San Diego Zoo and cooled our feet for a moment. Two police officers strolled up to us: "Would you still be doing that if you knew homeless people bathed and pee'd in there?" they laughed and half snarled. Clearly it wasn't a violation of any law, as they took no note of the kids, and they didn't seem to be hitting on us, unless being rude and obnoxious was their strategy, who knows. I was in search of a mosaic-tiled area that my sisters had told me about from their travels there a few years ago. I finally found it, a little resort behind the main scene, with little shops and tables interspersed throughout a quiet pavilion.

WEDNESDAY: We decided we had had enough of navigating cities and skipped the trip to LA. We slept in and chilled out. Uncle Arlin gave us a tour of the U.S. Marine Base where he is stationed ... at least his little area of the 125,000 square mile base. No kidding. They have their own shopping and entertainment centers, McDonalds, training grounds in the mountains, a beach, you name it. It also boasts an endless supply of hot Marines! I must say that I don't often see many guys that I think are so good looking, but everywhere we looked.. well, we didn't look, I must admit that we gawked and honked and waived and laughed. Yes, we were ridiculous. I didn't care. That night, still on a high from all the guys at the base, we decided to drive back to Oceanside Beach where all the Marines supposively go (and where the Top Gun house was located). Probably a bad idea. We didn't get there until after 9pm and promptly decided to take a walk along the beach. I, being the one who loves flying solo, had to take off ahead of the girls and go running. Presently I ran past a group of three and one guy casually asked if he could run with me. I thought he was kidding and shouted a "Sure!" as I ran past .. a few seconds later I heard him panting as he sprinted to catch up with me: "Wait up!" Oh. We ran for a bit and chatted for a bit, him pressing the questions and me not really asking much. He finally gave up, bid me good night and fell away into the night. I turned around and the girls caught up to me. Lexi laid into me. She was quite peeved at my lack of responsibility and common sense. Running, alone, at night, on the beach, lots of guys around, the girls couldn't see me.. yhadda yadda yadda. She was right, but I was mad at getting chewed out for it. I would have done it if they weren't there, I felt like it, so why did she have to get mad at me? Well.. her point was proved soon enough. As we strolled back we saw a guy dressed all in black, leaning on a bike with headphones on. As we passed, he growled: "You're all in hell!" Chills went up my spine. I seriously think he was demon-possessed. He began following us and mumbling more threats or something. I told the girls to be calm, walk slow and square their shoulders. I think he sensed that we weren't acting freaked out presently and passed us scowling and saying something about taking our parents to hell. There was not another soul in sight. It took us a bit to get over that one. Lexi's point was definitely proven.

THURSDAY & FRIDAY: We discovered Mission Beach and camped out there Thursday and Friday. My dentist had told me of an amazing place in Mission Beach to get fish tacos and I was on a mission (no pun intended :-) to find them. While eating gyros and massive pizza slices, I asked a hot model where I could find the famous tacos as he was preparing for a swimwear shoot. World Famous was the place to head. While the girls tanned on the beach, I strolled a mile or two down the boardwalk (and a fine NavyOfficer offered a ride on his little bike down the boardwalk, so after laughing him off and chatting for a bit, I stood on the wheel pegs and got dropped off at World Famous. Silly boy.)
Here's the restaurant website, awesome views.
http://www.worldfamous.signonsandiego.com/1.html. It was worth the trip. The Baja Fish Tacos were absolutely amazing! I found the recipie..you have to try them!

One night we discovered the Reaganomics playing their hearts out at The Wave.. for a private party. That didn't stop us.. or a funny old man from jammin' outside the gate.. and the guitarist kept running out to give us private performances! Hee, hee.

We also found time to go to the vineyards and beautiful winerys to taste test
wine. Quite fun.

All in all the trip was a blast.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Is having an Ideal ideal?

The family has dispersed. Tabi and I are the last to leave. We head out in the morning after delaying a day.

A question arose during our time together: Is have an ideal picture of a future spouse a good idea? I'll briefly explain the scenario. Half-way through the reunion Dawn decided to call Terrence, her on-again off-again boyfriend to fly out and meet the family. She wanted to get our input. He did. They've all left, but the results are yet to be determined.

If you ask anyone of us, we can easily give you a description of Dawn's ideal guy. Tall, outdoorsy, a bit hippie/naturalish. A bit scruffy, casual, hair on the longer side. Easy-going.
Terrence is a business-man. He is sophisticated, always well-dressed. A black man, shaved head and gotee. Doesn't quite fit the picture. Doesn't seem like they quite fit each other.

There are numerous other details and aspects of a relationship to discuss, but to focus on this one I beg the question: should we have an ideal? Most of my close, married girlfriends have husbands that fit their ideal descriptions very well. But I know many couples who married someone very different from the picture in their head. Can the ideal be an obstacle to meeting a great match, someone who comes in a very unexpected package?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Events & Eternity

I'm at home with the fam. All eight of us plus baby Gracia. You could call it a family reunion. I might call it a celebration of food. Granted, the Beaches are more health-conscious than most, but what we do eat usually looks like a work of art and tastes better. No such thing as paper plates and casserolls. Even the hamburgers we had for lunch couched Danish Blue Cheese and were accompanied by a melody of fruit and spring salads. The setting changes frequently. The tables twinkle with votives and flowers cut fresh from the gardens. Dimmed party lights and billowing opaque fabrics hover overhead.

Some might raise a grumbling that all we spend our time doing is either preparing for a meal or cleaning up after it, but I tend to think of cultures where eating is more than a chore, it is the event. Meals last for three hours, celebrating the art of cusine and a gathering of friends or family. I like it this way. I don't really mind if we don't do a lot.. provided there is ample time for excercise to work off lean but ample courses. The French think this way. I may not appreciate their diplomatic efforts and find their armed forces a wellspring for wisecracks, but when it comes to food, I find reason to speak kindly of them.

In other thoughts, we suffered through an amatuer sermon this morning. The regrettable thing about visiting family, and thus their churches on holidays is that usually the pastor is usually doing the same thing. I'm sure in any given church, on any given holiday visiting pastors are sprinkled about enjoying the day off, and to make it better for them, a fledgling is nervously stumbling through speach notes, boosting the pastors' egos.. "I suppose I preach much better than he..". At any rate, this youth pastor pontificated on the oft repeated phrase of Christian-speak: "We are unable to anything without His strength." Now, to any heathen sitting in our midst, the matter is probably settled quickly as foolishness of religious minds, not well thought through, a nonsensible dictum. Of course we can do many things without His strength. So why to Christians say that? We might have to quickly shut off common sense that remembers the list checked off before leaving work on Friday.. probably without a prayer. I suppose what we really mean is that we cannot do anything worthwhile to God without His strength. Americans have perfected busy-bodyness. What we forget, or at least don't phrase right is that most things we do are meaningless scurrying. What we should remember is that God's direction is necessary to lead us into paths that are eternally worthy.