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Life Without a Driveway

When you live in an urban setting with no personal driveway, I guess you’re in for life’s unexpected surprises – like getting towed when your car is parked as normal in front of your apartment. The funny thing is that I was in my apartment, a mere 30 yards from my car, which was parked on the block where I usually park it. It just happened to be the bi-annual (or whatever) street cleaning day. The last time I messed up on this one, they just slapped a ticket on my car and drove around it with the street cleaner. This time, they decided they wanted to babysit the Corolla in their “pound” for a day or two. Now, I get to go to the sitters and pay them $60 to get Chamby (named so for her Champagne color) back. Ahh, what a life.

25 Random Things About Me

This is a repeat of my response to this immensely networked question on Facebook.

1. A perpetual habit I have is running my fingernails through the seams and edges of blankets, clothing, and sheets of paper. I certainly got this habit from my childhood, when I naturally did the exact same thing with my precious “blankie.”
2. I have spent the night in a homeless shelter.
3. I have never been skiing, even though my wife is from Denver, Colorado.
4. I have been working on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables for over two years – and I’m only halfway through it!
5. My blood type is B positive. I always thought of myself as an optimistic person.
6. My wife and I do not own a TV, which caught the door-to-door cable saleswoman off guard when she came by last year.
7. Speaking of door-to-door salespeople, I used to be one.
8. I’m in the process of collecting all the state quarters (from both mints). I’m only missing three from the Philadelphia mint and a handful from the Denver mint.
9. I am currently reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion – and loving it (despite being a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary).
10. Since the day I got my driver’s license 12 years ago, I have never gotten a moving violation of any sort.
11. I’m allergic to cheese, but I love pizza.
12. I am a chainsaw juggler.
13. When I was first dating Sarah, we were in different states for a summer, and I mailed her a handwritten letter every day of the summer except for one day. Her responses were not quite as frequent, but she still ended up marrying me.
14. I once got Sarah a clothes-drying racks as a Christmas present. I quickly learned that such practical gifts are not her type for Christmas and moved on to more sentimental things.
15. I have never broken a bone in my body.
16. I am left-handed, along with Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Obama.
17. I would rather spend 45 minutes alone in a room with 1,000 elementary schoolers than with 10 “too-cool-for-school” teenagers.
18. As I write this, my wife is feeding me freshly cut grapefruit.
19. I am very picky when it comes to board games and card games. I tend to like ones that require more strategy and less chance.
20. I am a lifelong Mac user.
21. When I played little league baseball, I once played on a team with some players that had just returned from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
22. I have lived for at least 3 months in 8 different states (MA, RI, PA, VA, IN, KY, OH, TX). The year 2008 was the first year in a decade where I resided in only one state for the whole year (that made state taxes much more simple).
23. When I lived in Israel, I got to attend a Shabbat Dinner, a Ramadan meal (after sundown, of course), and help out with a Christian food charity.
24. I sometimes call my sister Sarah and my wife Rachael (it’s really the other way around).
25. My wife sometimes calls me Josh and her brother Jesse.

John Calvin’s Institutes

A friend of mine and I are reading through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion this year. I got the book (which is two volumes in one) from my Dad for Christmas. We get together on Wednesday mornings at Starbucks and discuss what we’ve been reading. It looked overwhelming at first, but we use a daily reading guide from Princeton Seminary that breaks it up into bite-sized chunks (http://www2.ptsem.edu/ConEd/Calvin/).

If you don’t own the book, you can read it online (and/or listen to it if you like). As my friend and I are reading it, I’m realizing that John Calvin was indeed a great thinker and theologian. The topics on which he writes are extremely relevant for any generation, including ours. We just finished a section where Calvin was defending the authority of the Bible (good stuff). Today’s reading was about idolatry and God’s jealousy.

Decadent Chocolate-Chip Cupcakes

Here is a recipe for Chocolate-Chip cupcakes that is AMAZING. First of all, I used the Nestle-Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe as my base, then I innovated from there. Secondly, there are NO BUTTER cupcakes – and they come out amazing. What do I use instead of butter? Not margarine….not shortening (yuk)….but I use apple sauce. And no, they do not taste like apple sauce when they come out of the oven. In fact, there is no trace of apple flavor in these cupcakes. It is all yummy chocolate chip cookie flavor in a caky consistency that is perfecto for cupcakes.

2 and 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup apple sauce (or 3 medium apples blended in a high powered blender like a vitamix)
1 and 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 inch of real vanilla bean if you have a high powered blender)
2 large eggs
1 regular package of chocolate chips (I like to use Ghiradelli dark morsels, and just a little less than the whole bag)

Preheat oven to 375

In one container, mix flour, baking soda and salt
Using a separate container, mix apple sauce, sugar, vanilla, and eggs

Use a mixer while adding the contents of container #1 (flour, baking soda, salt) to container #2 (apple sauce, sugar, vanilla, eggs)

Mix in chocolate chips (or blueberries or whatever you want in these muffins)

Chill in fridge or freezer for an hour or more if desired (helps the ingredients blend together)

Fill your cupcake tins with cupcake cups (or else grease the tins very well) and fill the cups to just under the level where the cup hole is even with the tin

Bake for about 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven. Check to see if they’re done by sticking a cupcake with a knife or fork. The knife/fork should go in and out without any resistance and come up clean of any sticky dough (except for maybe the top part, if you like them that way).

Enjoy!

Other names: No Butter Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, Apple Sauce Chocolate Chip Cookies, Death by Cupcake, Low Fat Cupcakes, Healthy Cupcakes, etc.

Magazine Review – Bible Study Magazine

I agreed to write a review for the brand new “Bible Study Magazine” in exchange for a copy of their inaugural issue. I’m not one for long reviews in prose form, so I will put what I see as pros and cons about the magazine in list format:

PROS:
1. The articles are both scholarly and readable at the same time. One does not have to be a Greek or Hebrew geek to get a lot out of this magazine.

2. The content covers a wide range of theological topics, including, but not limited to things like apologetics, archaeology, and marriage.

3. With 50 pages of magazine, only 14 are given to advertising (when adding the sum total of ad space), which I see as a low percentage. It is nice to have magazines that come across as being rich in content as opposed to an ad catalogue with a few articles to give it credence.

4. Of all the theological magazines out there, this is the first one I have seen that is devoted to “Bible Study.” There are plenty of specialized theological journals and publications, but this one seems to find a good niche that is very important to the life of the Church.

CONS:
1. By looking at the cover of this copy and the preview cover for the next issue, I do not like the really big headshot of the featured writer/contributor. This first issue has Josh McDowell staring you down, with a big smile on his face, like your friend’s Dad talking to you too closely and breathing heavily near your nose. You can even see the layout of his teeth. Next month, Kay Arthur has the exact same smiling headshot on the cover. In my opinion, zoom out a little, or take a picture of something else.

2. This magazine is put out by the Logos Bible Software company. I am an avid Accordance fan, and I know that Logos just came out with their Mac version, but I am still not going to switch. Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I hope this magazine does not turn into a large ad for Logos over time.

3. By glancing at the contributors and their backgrounds, I sense that there is a heavy representation of Conservative Baptists (a la DTS) running the show here. Now, I love the Baptists, and I love their focus on the Word (which is what this magazine is all about). But I hope to see a more broad representation of ideas from within the Evangelical community, such as the Pentecostals, the Wesleyans, the Emergent/Missional community, the Calvinists, etc. Perhaps that is already in their plans, but I just had that gut feeling about this first issue (footnote: I understand there is plenty of blurry crossover in the aforementioned groups).

There you have it. It is not a very scholarly review, but thanks to BSM for giving me my free copy. I love the chart in the back about the different canonical traditions within the Church (Protestant, Catholic, Ethiopian, Syriac, Orthodox, Hebrew, Samaritan)

-Jesse Joyner

10 Ways to Save Money This Christmas

Since we’re in an economic recession, it might be nice to look at some ways to save money this Christmas. We can all still have a very meaningful Christmas season and show love to our friends and families without having to slaughter our own personal finances. Here are ten ideas:

1. The Christmas Card Trick – Take Christmas cards from last year, neatly cut off the half with writing on it. Now you have a fresh new Christmas card.
2. Shop Online – This saves gas and (sometimes) time. Unfortunately, you could find yourself surfing the web for as long as it would take you to go out and buy it at the store. But you can find the best deals on products using web features like “Google Shopping.” That saves the time of going from one store to another during the busy traffic season.
3. Bonus Points – Do you get bonus rewards for your credit/debit cards or sky miles from your airlines? Use some or all of those bonus points towards getting gifts for others this Christmas.
4. Thrift Stores – This is where some of us need to swallow our pride. I just went to four thrift stores here in Richmond, Virginia last week in search for a few small items (computer speakers, a shirt, etc.). While perusing one of the stores, I noticed that they had just received a donation of what appeared to be boxloads of brand new, unopened children’s toys. Perhaps Target got a damaged pallet and just brought the whole thing to the thrift store, even though most of the products inside were just fine. It can be like searching for gold at some of these stores, but the gold is there – even new stuff.
5. Ask Your Family and Friends for Wish Lists – This might be another issue of pride – as you do not want to give the impression that you “don’t know” your friends and family well enough if you have to ask for a list. Some people are good at knowing the perfect gift without asking, but I’m not. My wife and I exchange lists so that each one of us has some idea as to what would be worth while to purchase. If you try to guess what someone wants and then you’re wrong – then that money is pretty much wasted (unless you consider that “it’s the thought that counts”). Make your money go further by getting people what they really want and need.
6. Try to Avoid Gift Cards – This is not a universal law, but a general suggestion. Gift cards can be good sometimes, but for the most part, they are not the best “bang for the buck.” I heard that there is about a 20% profit for businesses when they sell gift cards. Now that does not make sense, but it is true. Companies love to sell gift cards because they know that not all the money will be spent. For every $100 in gift cards a company sells, only $80 will be redeemed. That’s because people forget to use their cards or they use part but not all the card in a purchase. Then the remaining $1.83 goes unspent and expires at some point in time. Furthermore, you could buy a gift card for someone and then the company goes belly up in two months. All of a sudden, the gift card is no longer good because the company went bankrupt or out of business. And it’s not just small companies that go bankrupt, as we all know too well.
7. The “Priceless” Gifts – A few years ago, my wife and I sang a song for her uncle as a Christmas gift to him. He loves the song “O Holy Night.” We printed the lyrics with a nice font and framed the lyrics, which did not cost us much. Then we gave him the framed lyrics and sat at his piano and sang it to him. There are TONS of things we can do for other people that require little or no money. You can write a song, a poem, or a short story. Get some low-cost materials and make sometime (like a craft or woodwork or a painting). You can offer a coupon redeemable for services rendered or simply for time spent together. You could cook a meal or dessert for someone. Use your skills, talents, and hobbies to give people those unique gifts that they will never forget.
8. Give Money, Time, or Skills to a Charity – This might seem counterintuitive. But this is what Christmas is all about – selfless gfits. Just the act of giving without any hope of getting anything in return will put us in the right attitude during Christmastime. When we are in the right attitude of giving, then somehow we do not succumb to the pressure to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND at all the retail stores. Compassion is the opposite of consumerism. Furthermore, God has a way of rewarding cheerful givers (in whichever way He so chooses).
9. Do Not Spend More Money Than You Have in Your Bank Account – This might sound like simple math, but this is why our country is in so much turmoil right now – because of debt-based spending. Putting that DVD player for Uncle Bob on credit and then paying interest on it until late 2009 is NOT a good use of money. Save yourself the interest payments by only buying Christmas presents with “cash on hand.”
10. Potluck Christmas Parties – You do not have to host a Christmas party and spend tons of money on food for people to enjoy themselves. People come for the friends and family, not the food (well…I come for all three, but that is beside the point). If you put on a big production Christmas party, save some money by toning down the caviar and shrimp. Either simplify the menu or have a potluck. Or you could have people bring ingredients and then you all bake and cook together.

I hope these ten things help. For a website the combines numbers 7 and 8 in the list above, check out www.adventconspiracy.org

Merry Christmas


Here is our Christmas tree in our small Richmond, VA apartment. We put it up on Saturday. I set it up while Sarah put the ornaments on. It’s a fake from Target. But it does the job. Merry Christmas.

Talking to Humans in Customer Service


Have you ever called a customer service number and had that 10-minute conversation with the computer-automated voice? She asks you to input numbers (followed by the “pound” sign, which you always mix up with the “star” key). She also asks you to clearly answer her questions with your audible voice.

Have you ever kept hitting numbers (especially “zero”) in hopes that you would be brought to a real human, but to no avail?

Have you ever shouted at the automated voice, hoping your emotions would be conveyed to the computer?

Have you ever labored through the prompts and data-input, only to get cut off after waiting on hold for 15 minutes? Or worse, get cycled back to the very beginning of the prompts?

Here is your answer, my friend: It is a website called www.gethuman.com

This website lists the customer service phone numbers for tons of major companies – and then it gives instructions on what numbers to press and what prompts to follow in order to talk to a REAL HUMAN.

I just used it for contacting amazon.com, whose website is very hard to navigate in search of a customer service phone number. I got a human and got my problem solved.

Enjoy.

Joggling the Richmond Half-Marathon

Let me start with a confession. I do not run much. I signed up for this half-marathon as a spontaneous, last minute whim because my wife was doing the full and I was tired of watching people do half-marathons and thinking (“I could do that”). So, without any training or stretching (except the biking that I often do), I got up and ran 13.1 miles. Or rather, slowly jogged. And yes, I was able to juggle the whole time (with a few drops – let me explain)….

This was my first half and the furthest I have ever joggled (or even ran, for that matter). I made it all the way to just shy of the 11-mile marker without a drop (nor did I stop for water, bathroom, or to walk). Then it all fell apart. I dropped about 4 times in miles 11 and 12 because I started to walk a little and got my cadence off. I realized that walking and juggling is harder than joggling (for me at least). There is not a consistent rhythm. It was also hard to get back to running and juggling after having walked. Nonetheless, I picked up and kept going after the four drops and I finished strong with a jog and a run for the last half-mile. Finished in 2:33. My goal was 2:30. Had a great time. Sarah and I are enjoying limping around the house and neighborhood.

I must also make another confession – I love the attention and cheering I get for being a joggler. I do not know if I could do these races without joggling (or without some sort of batman suit or tutu). I love the rush of hearing all those bystanders cheer for “the juggler” (or even the remarks from other runners – which range from praise to jealousy). The cheering sends chills through me and it gives me enough boosts to make it through the race successfully.

What a day. I think I could do this again.

I Saw The Wooden Paddle

Today, Sarah and I enthusiastically voted – after standing in line for a mere hour and a half. I’m sure there are plenty of other people in this nation who waited much longer than that today. It was drizzling and a little cold, but it went by fast, especially since we had one another’s company. We met some of the candidates for the office of mayor and school board here in Richmond. We are a “swing district”, so the candidates wanted to catch us as we stood in our long lines. I asked two of the mayoral candidates the same question – “What makes you different than the people you are running against?” I asked that question because most of my research on the candidates showed that they all pretty much said the same thing – “We need better schools.” “We need to be responsible with the city’s finances.” “We need to make sure we develop the city and think about the needs of the people at the same time.” “We need this, we need that, blah, blah, blah.” I got to hear them try to distinguish themselves while they were talking face-to-face with me. One of the candidates impressed me more than the other in his answer, so I voted for that guy.

Anyway, I really want to share about my week of juggling at school assemblies in Mississippi last week. A church in Northern Mississippi sponsored me to come in and teach about “perseverance” with my juggling show to the local public schools in their area. The church also had me perform at some events at their own church. It was a great time with some great southern hospitality. In fact, one of the best parts of my meals was the option to have tea flavored sugar (others call it sweet tea). A few things about the culture in Mississippi surprised me. First of all, the county in which I stayed was a completely “dry” county. Not only were alcohol sales banned, but you could not even possess alcohol in your homes. They are voting today on whether to allow liquor to be sold in the county. Secondly, and more surprising to me, was the “wooden paddle.” As I was setting up for my juggling assembly at one of the public elementary schools, a teacher about my age walked in with her class – with a wooden paddle in her hand. Yes, they still paddle the kids in parts of America. This paddle was a bit bigger than a ping pong paddle yet smaller than a racquetball racquet. It was made of wood and had tape wrapped around the middle that was flapping off a little bit. I almost could not believe my own eyes. My friend told me that when he was in High School, the High School shop class would make the paddles for the elementary school. Wow. Now parents do have to sign a waiver allowing the child to be paddled if necessary. Apparently, most of the parents are cool with it.

All in all, I had a great time. And I hope to visit my friends again in the great state of Mississippi.