I Found a New Hobby

Can you name that bird?

I never thought I would admit this, but I just got the “bird-watching” bug this morning. My friend, Kevin, took me on a hike near the James River with a few binoculars and some bird books. He has been birding for a few years and this was my first day. Coincidentally, we happened to run into one of the most “famous” birders in Virginia (according to Kevin). This kind sir (from England originally) knew all there is to know about birds (he called it his “obsession”). Because of his help, I saw 25 unique birds in the wild in a matter of 2 hours of birding – most of them with my binoculars. Here is the list of what I got to see today:

Blue Jay
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Mourning Dove
Black Pole Warbler
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Common Grackel
American Redstart
Bay Breasted Warbler
Carolina Chickadee
Spotted Sandpiper
Redwinged Blackbird
Black and White Warbler
Prothonatary Warbler
Turkey Vulture
Carolina Wren
American Goldfinch
Tufted Titmouse
Mallard Duck
Graycat Bird
Indigo Bunting
Orchard Oriole

Kevin said that learning something new like this allows us to name that which is naturally around us – and the better we get at that, the more we expand our experience in life – which leads to greater joy and appreciation of God’s wonderful Creation.

Again, name that bird (hint, its in the list above)

Library Surprises

Have you ever gone to the library for certain books and left with a stack of completely different books? If you do that with your grocery list at the grocery store (too many times) you might spend too much money in life. But libraries are FREE!

I went to Union Seminary library in Richmond today with a few books in mind. I instead found a small stack that was different than I intended, but they look like great reads. I started two of them today and I am looking forward to digging into both. The titles and authors are pictured above. Have you visited your local library lately?

The Canterbury Cathedral Choir

Sarah and I had a surprising date tonight – a free concert at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond for the USA tour of the Canterbury Cathedral Choir. This world-renowned choir of men and boys is on their first US tour in 10 years and is making stops in NYC and DC, among other places. They stopped here in Richmond for a concert tonight, which was superb.

They sang a beautiful French piece called Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Faure, which I had sung as a senior in High School. They also did the magnificent Zadok the Priest, which is often sung at coronations and other royal events.

Afterwards, there was a reception full of yummy foods. Sarah and I got to meet some of the young choristers and ask them questions about their lives. I found out that thousands of boys audition for a few dozen spots. They board at Canterbury for school, and they practice their singing every day. This choir has a 1400-year tradition of performing.

After watching Bill Maher’s movie Religulous earlier in the day (his “treatise” on hedonism and why theistic faith is delusional and destructive), I was struck with the thought of the wondrous beauty in the music of human voices (just listen to a clip of this choir on iTunes). Could such sounds really be the result of godless chance? I seriously doubt it. And that’s what Maher wanted me to do as a result of watching his movie – doubt. I just don’t think he had that type of doubt in mind when he produced the movie.

The "Instant Equity!" Scam

I’m sorry, but as I look through the real estate market, there is something that really irks me about the misleading things sellers like to say about their homes. Let’s take a home that is on the market for $150,000. The seller says that the recent assessment of the home’s value was $180,000, so if you buy it, then you will have $30,000 “instant equity”!

Now, think about this: A home is only worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it. If I am willing to fork out $150,000 and nobody else is willing to fork out more than that, then guess what? The home is only worth $150,000 and there is NO “instant equity.” I could turn around and immediately try to re-sell the house, but I will probably only get that same amount or less for it – unless I fix it up, wait several years (and hope the neighborhood appreciates), or try the same stupid misleading tactics of telling potential buyers that they will have instant equity.

A home is NOT worth what your municipality tells you it is worth. That might be an educated guess (some more educated than others, I’m sure) based on the recent sales of comparable homes in the area. But ultimately, a home is only worth what the buyer actually pays for it.

Phoenix and Boston in One Weekend

This past weekend, I got to spend time in both Phoenix and Boston – and half of it was unplanned! I did a scheduled trip to Phoenix as I got to share my juggling presentation at a church on Easter Sunday in Prescott, AZ. The people there at Heights Church were great to me. On Easter afternoon, a family invited me over for a big extended family lunch. They lived out in the desert country. While driving to their house, which sits on some 40 acres of family property overlooking a beautiful mountain range, I passed an elderly couple running their dog while driving their car. Yes, they had the leash out the driver’s side window and the poor dog was trying to keep up with the running vehicle, with other cars trying to go around it all. Now, that is redneck.

After great food and socializing, I took my first four-wheeling trip of my life. The dad and son took me up into the hills to see some ruins, a water spring, and an old mine with a wild owl that was protecting her eggs. It reminded me of the Humphrey Bogart movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (if you haven’t seen it, it is a great narrative of the gold rush days).

On Monday, my friend dropped me off at the airport with about an hour before my flight. But it ended up being the wrong terminal (long story). So I took the shuttle to the right terminal and ended up being too late to check my bags for the flight. It was then impossible for them to re-route me to Richmond, Virginia that night. I had to be re-routed through some other city and arrive home the next day – and pay for my own hotel somewhere.

One of my re-routing options was Boston. So I called my college roommate, who lives in Boston (at BU) with his wife, and he was delighted to hear from me and was excited to put me up for the night. He just happened to have the day off on Tuesday (so did I). So he and I saw one another for the first time in several years and spent all day walking the streets of Boston and eating authentic Italian pizza in the North End. We even took the free tour at the world headquarters for the Church of Christian Science (the “reading room” folks). That was very educational, since neither of us Protestant boys knew much about this Christian Science group. Not to mention, the architecture and grand organ of the building were stunningly beautiful. The entire day was a pleasant surprise for both of us.

God is so good. He takes what seems to be disasters (missed flights) and somehow turns them into glorious experiences (seeing a long-missed friend).

Listen to Your Local Police Scanner

I just learned about a neat website that lets you listen to live streaming audio of your local emergency responders. Listen in by clicking on your local area at this website:

July 1-3, 1863

Those are the dates of the bloody battle of Gettysburg. On Monday night, I had the privilege of sharing my juggling presentation at First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, PA. On the drive home Tuesday, I took a few hours to stop and look around in Gettysburg, which is only about an hour away from Lancaster.

I had no idea how large Gettysburg Battlefield was. There are monuments everywhere. I had never seen so many monuments covering one landscape. It seems that every single regiment that fought in the battle got a monument erected somewhere on the battlefield. The battle claimed some 50,000 casualties, and it started by a chance encounter between the two armies, each in transit.

The most meaningful part of the day for me was reading the text of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address near the spot where he actually delivered it. He says that we, the living, cannot consecrate and hallow this ground (the dead already did so). Rather, we the living must forge ahead for the sake of that which these soldiers stood, for they did not die in vain. What did they fight for? A government of the people, for the people, and by the people, all under God.

I was also struck with the thought of the destructiveness of war. 50,000 lives in three days is a lot of carnage (roughly one death every 5 seconds on one battlefield). Something about it does not make sense to me. But what do I know.

Red Pepper Avocado Sandwich

Here is one of my favorite lunches. It is quick, easy, simple, and healthy.

The Red Pepper Avocado Sandwich.

Ingredients (for two sandwiches):
1. 1 Avocado
2. 1/3 Red Pepper
3. pinch of Celtic Sea Salt (to taste)
4. 4 slices of Ezekiel bread (or any kind of sliced bread), toasted

Make two sandwiches, using half an avocado (sliced), 1/6 of a red pepper (chopped), and a pinch of salt for each sandwich. Squeeze the bread slices together tightly to smash the ingredients into the sandwich. It all stays together better that way. Enjoy!

Car Review – 2009 Dodge Nitro

This past weekend, I got to take a 2009 Dodge Nitro from Richmond, VA to St. Louis, MO and back. I rent a lot of vehicles for my job and I thought I would share my personal opinion about some of them in case it helps anyone out there. First of all, I usually get a smaller vehicle, but I took advantage of a “free upgrade” coupon from Budget and enjoyed the larger and more sporty Nitro this time around.

Overview: The Dodge Nitro has an “oversized boxy jeep” look to it. It can be driven in 2WD or 4WD. It seats 5 comfortably (there might even be some hidden seats in the far rear, but I didn’t check).

PROS: Lots of visibility when you check your blind spots. Lots of room. Sporty look. Satellite radio. Comfortable driver’s seat. Feels like a solid and strong vehicle.
CONS: Not the best gas mileage. No radio controls on the steering wheel (I like that feature in a car). Acceleration pick-up seemed to drag a little when I wanted to speed up quickly. My model did not have any driver’s seat adjustments other than the floor latch (for forward/backward) and the recline latch.

I’ll try to do more car reviews in the future. Whether you’re in the market for a car or just curious about new models, I hope this helps.

-Jesse Joyner