This is why I got misty-eyed at Aly’s final choir concert

Aly's Final Concert

A few weeks ago, we gathered in Aly’s school gym for one final time as the 8th grade choirs gave one final middle school concert. As they gathered to sing the final song, I have to admit that I had a bit of an emotional moment. I even got a little misty-eyed. I probably wasn’t the only one. But it probably wasn’t for the reason y’all think.

Yes, it’s crazy that our Aly is already out of middle school and is going to be a Freshman next year. It’s a little concerning how fast everything is flying by. I was warned about such things, and I’ve tried to soak in as many moments as possible. And it’s amazing to see how our little girl who used to talk to bees and make mud angels in the puddles grow up right before our eyes. But that’s really not the reason I felt this wave of emotion come over me. And it’s not because this was her final choir performance, since she’s not planning on participating in any of the choirs or singing groups in high school.

No, there was a much more personal reason. In order to explain why I felt the way I did, I have to give you a little bit of background. So let’s rewind the clock some 25-ish years.

I hated middle school.

There. I said it. It’s out in the open for everyone to know. I hated almost everything about middle school. I hated riding the bus.* I hated algebra. I hated the cliques. I hated the inside jokes and the slang everyone would try to use. I hated being made fun of. And having come from a relatively small school where you knew everyone and everyone knew you, I hated being at such a large school where it was hard for me to know anyone.

I wasn’t a Jock. I wasn’t a Prep. I wasn’t a Hood or a Nerd. I was an outsider who didn’t really fit in with the rest of the outsiders. And I most certainly didn’t fit in with the popular kids. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. So I was overwhelmed throughout most of my middle school  career.

Me in 6th grade

I hated middle school.

I’m sure there were good things about middle school, but I’ve unintentionally blocked them out. OK, that’s not entirely true. I do remember some good things. I was baptized while I was in middle school. I became heavily involved in Scouting and came under the leadership of some pretty amazing mentors who poured life into me, even when I was silently miserable. My parents did the best they could. They’d never parented a middle school student before. And that’s funny, because I’d never been a middle school student before. Looking back, I’m pretty sure we were all just making it up as we went along. In spite of the struggles, I did know they loved me. But school itself?  I’ve blocked out most of my middle school experience. A lot of it is a blur. And I think I’m OK with that. Because here’s some of the stuff I do remember…

I remember the beginning of Summer Break between my final year of elementary school and my first year of middle school. I was told that the rising 7th and 8th graders had a “hit list.” You didn’t want to be on this hit list because that meant you were going to get beat up. Every day. At the beginning of Summer Break, a well-meaning friend told me that I was on the hit list. That ruined my Summer. It probably helped ruin the first semester of 6th grade, too. I was never beaten up in middle school. Never got anywhere near a fight.** My friend did. Once. Kind of. Actually, he was just pummelled while the rest of the school watched because he refused to fight back.

Speaking of that friend, he was one of the only friends I really had in middle school. And I remember constantly teasing him and mistreating him because I thought it would get others to think I was cooler than I really was.

I remember people making fun of my hair. Relentlessly. Repeatedly. Nonstop. Unceasingly. You get the picture?

Me in 8th grade

I remember feeling so much pressure to be accepted that I lied to people about having a girlfriend who lived out of the country. While I really did know some girls who live overseas, I want anywhere close to being in any type of dating relationship with any of them.

It was horrible. I can’t imagine what life would’ve been like if social media was thrown into the mix. You have no idea how thankful I am that it wouldn’t exist until long after I was out of middle school.

I hated middle school.

About a year ago, I had the chance to attend a class reunion at our middle school. I originally planned on attending, but work obligations prevented me from making the trip to my hometown. There was a part of me that was bummed. In spite of my horrible middle school experience, some of my middle school classmates did become friends of mine. In high school. So it would have been nice to see them. But I have to be honest. I was mostly pretty OK with not going back. Why relive such an ugly time in my life?

So as I watched Aly perform on stage, I thought about how positive her final year of middle school had been. Of course, there have been some rocky moments during her middle school career. That’s part of the middle school experience. But she is moving on to high school as a grounded, confident young woman.

I secretly shed a little tear and secretly wiped it away before anyone could see it. Because while I know high school can have its share of drama and challenges, it is so much better than middle school. I know that it feels like middle school never ends. But there is a light at the end of that tunnel and it can lead to better things. Much better things. I’m convinced that Aly is going to love high school.

That tear also leaked out because of my great sense of relieve. Two of our children have successfully navigated the middle school minefield. We’ll have three high school students at the beginning of this school year. That means we only have one more kid to go through middle school. So in my head, I gave Christy an imaginary  celebratory “high five.” They made it through middle school. And I think they’ve turned out to be some pretty amazing kids. Just one more to go.*** And that’s a few years away.

We’ve got this.

If you know a middle school student, especially one who is struggling, please be there for him or her. Be an encourager. Be a shoulder to lean on. Please pass on the message that it will get better. So hang in there.

Middle school was not the end of the world. It gets better. So much better.

And I guess that was a good lesson to learn. No matter the circumstances that surround you, it’s not the end of the world. Like my Grandmama used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”

*I did think George, our bus driver was pretty cool, though. He probably let us get away with more than we should have during our daily commutes, but he tried to ease the boring bus ride. In spite of his efforts, I still didn’t like riding the bus. I was much happier walking to school like I did in elementary school.

**Shoot, the only time I was ever in anything close to a fight (other than with my brother) was when I was in 1st grade. And that was more like people running after each other and taunting each other.

***For a variety of reasons, I’m glad we didn’t enroll Weldu in school as soon as we got home. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like for him to try to navigate the final semester of 8th grade. Middle school is hard enough when you’ve grown up here in the States!

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I had to taste Fit to believe it. And you should, too.

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #TasteFitKitchen #CollectiveBias

You have to taste Fit to believe it Title #TasteFitKitchen [AD]

Around this time last year, I shared my newfound love for the fabulous flavors of STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ meals. So it’s been a year and I’m still a big fan of their meals. I love the convenience. I love the flavors. I love the variety. In my mind, there really wasn’t anything else that could be done to improve upon  STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ meals, except maybe add more amazing flavors.

And that’s exactly what they did!

New STOUFFERS FIT KITCHEN varieties #TasteFitKitchen [AD]

STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ has added four new varieties and I couldn’t be more excited!

I’m a busy guy – especially in the Summer. If I’m not at work, I’m usually running one of the boys to their soccer or football practices. Or I’m running the girls to their meetings. Or I’m trying to help manage all the housework that comes with being a family of six. I don’t have time to waste.  STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ is so convenient, it takes the chore of finding an easy, filling lunch off my plate.*

They’ve outdone themselves with the additional flavorful meals. These new options are made from wholesome ingredients with no artificial flavors. They’re also packed with protein, containing at least 25 grams of protein in each meal. The new varieties come in these great flavors:

  • STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ Teriyaki Chicken
  • STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ Chicken Poblano Enchilada
  • STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™Sweet and Smoky BBQ Beef
  • STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ Roasted Red Pepper Chicken

These new varieties are available at your neighborhood Walmart, so I quickly made my way to a nearby store and visited the frozen foods section.

In Store Collage #TasteFitKitchen [AD]

I have to say, I was more than a little excited to try these great new flavors. But I wasn’t going to take anyone else’s word for it. I wanted to taste Fit to believe it. Again. So I grabbed all of the varieties I could and headed home.

Walmart Bag #TasteFitKitchen [AD]

It’s comforting to know that you’re stocked up for the week and you don’t have to figure out what you’re going to have for lunch every day. These meals are so convenient. They’re chock-full of flavor and they’re ready in just a few minutes. They’re also the perfect fit for my lunch cooler.

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You can keep up to date on all of the latest great STOUFFER’S® creations by following their social platforms:

STOUFFERS FIT KITCHEN Teriyaki Chicken #TasteFitKitchen [AD]

Can I just say that the new varieties have lived up to the hype? I love the flavors – especially the Teriyaki Chicken and the Sweet and Smoky BBQ Beef. But you shouldn’t just take my word for it. You really should taste Fit to believe it! So head on over to your local Walmart and give the new varieties of STOUFFER’S® FIT KITCHEN™ a try!

Which new flavor are YOU looking forward to trying?

 

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Father’s Day ideas for an Indiana fan

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In 49 states, it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana. We take basketball (and other sports) pretty seriously. And if your dad is a fan of Indiana like I am, you might be wondering what to get for him this Father’s Day.

I’m sure he’s going to love one of these suggestions.


Here are 16 Father’s Day ideas for the Indiana fan in your life:

Title Fathers Day Gift Guide - Indiana

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Z is for Zare

Z is for Zare - today #AtoZChallengeZare is an Amharic word. It means “today.” As we come to the end of this year’s A to Z Challenge (more than a month late), I think it’s altogether fitting that we conclude this series with this word. Because this is the only day we can control. Yesterday is already passed. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Don’t get me wrong. We can learn from the past. We can remember the past. We can even celebrate the past. But we cannot live in the past.

The same is true about the future. We can look forward to things to come. We can dream. We can plan. We can chart out where we’d like to be in 5, 10, or 25 years. We can dream some more. And hope for a better future. But the only way we can change the future is by changing how we live right now. Today. Because that’s the only time we can change anything.

Yesterday is finished. We cannot carry around any grudges or hard feelings. They don’t do us any good. Believe me. I learned the hard way.

Tomorrow has its own set of troubles. We cannot accomplish anything by taking on tomorrow’s worries today. It just bogs us down and keeps us from making the most out of today. So let tomorrow take care of itself.

With a firm footing in the past and our eyes looking ahead to what could be, what should be, what will be…let’s make the most of every opportunity and seize the day.

That’s right. I went all Dead Poets Society on you.

“Carpe Diem,” y’all.

Grab today by the horns. Wrestle it to the ground. Suck the marrow out of life. Live deep. Love unconditionally. Forgive freely. If you’ve offended someone, make amends. Find the proverbial hatchet and bury it. Bury it so deep that it’ll never see the light of day again.

Laugh often. Say “I love you.” Walk by faith with reckless abandon. Give generously. Show compassion. People are messy. Embrace the mess. Admire the everyday beauty that’s around you. Celebrate even the tiniest of wins. Give hugs. Lots of hugs.

The first of many hugs to be had.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

Go ahead and dream big dreams. Set audacious goals. And don’t let them go. Walt Disney has some good advice: “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done, and done right…All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Walt Disney quote about dreaming

Don’t put it off. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Don’t hesitate. We can’t wait around until the circumstances are absolutely perfect. Because they won’t be. And so you’ll just keep putting off to tomorrow what you could be…no, should be doing today. Stop waiting. Enter the race. Say what needs to be said. Write that book. Sing that song. Make that phone call. I don’t know what you’ve been putting off, but it’s time to get the show on the road.

Because here’s the deal: tomorrow never gets here. There is no tomorrow.

You know this. Once tomorrow gets here, it actually becomes “today.” I’m not saying this to create some existential crisis. It’s the truth. When you really look at it and all is said and done: All we have is today. So get started today. Yes, remember the past. Plan for tomorrow. Keep working for a better tomorrow. But live today. Because that’s what we have. Today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

It behooves us to live. It’s what we’re made to do. We can’t sit around and wait for life to come our way. Yes, there’s a time for reflection. Yes, there’s a time for planning. Yes, there’s a time to rest. Yes, there’s a time to wait. But even in the midst of that waiting? There are opportunities to live life to its fullest. In the midst of our planning, we cannot allow life to pass us by. That’s how we wind up with a life of regrets. I don’t know about you, but I want a life full of memories. I want to be able to look back and see how I helped change the world. I don’t want a life full of even the tiniest of regrets.

Is that what you want, too?

Then let’s get started. What are you waiting for? Start living.

Today. Zare.

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Y is for Year

Calendar #AtoZChallenge

No. I’m not talking about how long it took me to finish the 2016 A to Z Challenge. Yes, I know it’s june. Yes, I know this was only supposed to take up the month of April. I’m keenly aware of that. Thank you for the reminder. But we’re at the homestretch here. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel (and it doesn’t look like it’s the headlight from an oncoming train). So we press on. We press on…

As I was saying,

Y is for Year.

The Ethiopian calendar is a little different from ours. The New Year begins on September 11 (or 12 if it’s a Leap Year).* The first 12 months are 30 days each. That leaves five (or six if it’s a Leap Year) extra days in the Ethiopian calendar. Those extra days combine for a thirteenth month. That’s right. Ethiopia has an extra month.

That’s 13 months of sunshine!

Seriously. That’s a travel slogan of theirs. Ethiopia boasts thirteen months of sunshine. And I think that’s kind of fun.

Ethiopia

Not only does their calendar have 13 months, but the years are different, too. I always forget what year it actually is in the Ethiopian calendar, but according to EthiopianCalendar.net, it’s currently 2008 in Ethiopia. So not only do you get 13 months of sunshine in Ethiopia, but you’re also several years younger!**

They also keep track of time differently. But I’ve had several people try to explain it to me, both in Ethiopia and here in the States. I still don’t understand it, honestly. But I’m pretty sure it’s based on when the sun rises. So noon here is 6 a.m. in Ethiopia. I think. That all makes sense. But I can’t really figure out how they talk about time when the sun goes down. Because when I tell Weldu it’s 10 p.m. in Ethiopia, he looks at me like I’m crazy.

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Of course, that’s kind of my natural state. He’s not the first person to look at me like I’m crazy.

Ethiopians kind of march to the beat of their own drum. I think that’s partially what people refer to when they talk about Habesha time. The culture has been around for thousands of years, so that just makes sense. And that’s kind of beautiful.

It’s konjo.

 

*The Ethiopian calendar is similar to the Julian calendar, unlike the western Gregorian calendar.
**I know you’re not really younger. But it’s fun to think about. Especially since I keep getting older every day.

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X is for X-Wing

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FandangoNOW

I know what you’re thinking.

“Really? An x-wing? What does that have to do with Ethiopia?”

I promise. There’s a legitimate connection. But even if there wasn’t a real connection, you really shouldn’t be surprised that X is for X-Wing. During my first endeavor into the Blogging through A to Z Challenge, I announced that X is for X-Wing. And that it will always stand for x-wing, no matter the theme.

While I was in Ethiopia, The Force Awakens was in theaters around the world – including Addis. I even had the opportunity to go to the cinema housed at a nearby mall and watch the long-anticipated and much-hyped Star Wars sequel.

Edna Mall in Addis

It would’ve been a pretty interesting experience, watching Star Wars in a foreign country. And it would’ve been fun to share this experience with the missionary friends of mine who suggested that we go watch it together. It’s always memorable to watch a movie in a different place.

StarWars_BannerAds

I remember watching A League of their Own with my family when we were in the Southwest. I remember watching Apollo 13 and Batman & Robin in the same night in Taos, New Mexico. I also watched Independence Day in Taos the following year. That was also the year I wound up looking down on the fireworks display, but that’s another post for another time.

It was certainly tempting to watch the movie in Ethiopia. I really didn’t want to have to wait any longer. But I had a commitment to watch it with Aiden. And I was going to keep that commitment. I’m glad we have that shared memory together.

Obligatory “We’re about to watch #StarWars, y’all!!!” pic.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

Of course, I’m looking forward to the release of Star Wars: Rogue One this December. It’s another memory I’ll be able to share with my boys. Shoot, I’ll probably share it with my whole family. Because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I became a Star Wars fan at a very young age. And I’ve done my best to pass on what I have learned.

Maybe there will be some x-wings in this new installment. I mean…Rogue Squadron had a pretty strong connection to x-wings. But who knows if Rogue One is actually connected to Rogue Squadron in any way, shape or form? There’s part of me that hopes there isn’t a connection. But there’s also part of me that does.

That way I’ll already have my “X” entry for the 2017 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Of course, at the rate I’m posting for the 2016 challenge, it might be 2017 before I finish posting!

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W is for Water

Less than half of the population of Ethiopia has access to clean drinking water (source). This is not a good thing. We take water for granted here – even in our rural areas. Yes, there are some outliers, like the water crisis in Michigan. But very few people in the States worry that the water they’re drinking could actually kill them.

When  you throw in the fact that many more people in Ethiopia lack access to proper sanitation, I think you can see the potentially disastrous situation here.

There are many fine ministries and organizations that are working to help end this problem. I saw some of them with my own eyes. They’re making a difference. And if you join me in partnering with World Vision, we can help them change communities, too.

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V is for Vehicles

Traffic in Addis is insane. It’s just crazy. I was recently with a family who lived in New York. They said that the insanity of Addis traffic puts New York City’s traffic to shame.

Instead of explaining the vehicles we saw in Ethiopia, I figured I’d share a few pictures.

The red trucks on the right? If I understand correctly, they have a reputation of shutting down at inopportune times. They’re not looked upon favorably. The truck on the left is a water delivery truck. I’ll talk more about water in the next post.

China trucks and vehicles in Ethiopia

Rickshaws…

Rickshaw and motorcycle in Ethiopia

You never know when you’re going to encounter a livestock-induced traffic jam. Sheep in the road in Ethiopia

Put all of this together and it looks like an insane video game. I didn’t take this video, but it captures the traffic perfectly.

This might give Frogger a run for his money.

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U is for Understanding

U is for Understanding #AtoZChallenge

When I worked in New Mexico, I met people from all across this nation. By listening to them talk for a few minutes, I could usually pinpoint where different groups were from. I was pretty good at recognizing the different regional accents throughout the United States. And somewhere along the way, I managed to pick up a Wisconsin-style accent (in spite of my preference of having a hint of a Southern drawl). There are definitely some distinctions between the regional dialects in the States. A Bostonian can have trouble understanding someone from the Bayou. Of course, the converse is true, too. And there’s likely to be at least a little miscommunication between a Southerner and a New Yorker.

It’s not uncommon for us to have trouble understanding each other. And we all speak the same language.

Imagine what it’s like living in a country where more than 80 different languages are spoken. Imagine what it’s like living in a country where well more than 100 different dialects are used. It kind of boggles the mind, but that’s how things are in Ethiopia.

That opens the door to a lot of misunderstanding. But it can also open things up to a greater understanding between people. Because sometimes you have to show a little patience with each other in order to communicate.

Maybe we could learn something from that. It seems like all we like to do on social media and in political discourse is to talk past each other. Maybe we could work a little bit harder at talking with each other and listening to each other. Maybe we’d be able to get more accomplished as a country. Maybe we can even find a deeper level of understanding.

This is my prayer. Not only for our country, but also for all humanity. I hope we can come together in peace, hope, love, and understanding – celebrating our differences as well as our commonalities. Like a beautiful rainbow, I pray that we can become one.

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T is for True Cross

Around two months ago, I built a fire in the backyard. It was a relatively small fire because we just wanted a few coals to roast marshmallows, not a burning inferno. It was kind of like this one from the Fall:

Preheating the oven for dinner.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on


When Weldu came out, he asked me about the fire and why it wasn’t very big. I explained to him why and he seemed to be satisfied with that answer. Then he explained to me that the fire he was expecting was one like the fires they have during Meskel.

By Beevo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43996793

By Beevo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43996793

Meskel is the annual celebration of the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helen, the mother of Constantine, in the 4th Century. According to legend, Helen was on a mission to discover the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. She had a vision in a dream that instructed her to build a fire and it would show her the location of the True Cross. She had the people of Jerusalem build a giant bonfire and she added frankincense to the flames. The smoke went high into the air and then came back down – exactly where the cross was buried.

They celebrate this day in Ethiopia at the end of September. And it makes sense for them to have a giant bonfire in commemoration of this legendary event. Legend also has it that one of the cross-shaped churches in Ethiopia has a piece of this cross buried underneath it. So this day, Meskel – the celebration of the discovery of the True Cross, is a big deal in Ethiopia.

So I can understand why Weldu might have been a little disappointed when he saw our rinky-dink fire in comparison to the giant tower of flames that he’s used to seeing.

Maybe we can fix that the next time we go camping. If that’s the case, I should probably have a few campfire stories to tell. And I have a few, thanks to my experiences at Philmont. I just have to dust them off a little.

Of course, we’ll have to add this holiday to our growing list of family celebrations. But any excuse to build a rockin’ fire is a-OK with me!

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