2016: Worst. Year. Ever? Nope. Here's why.

this-trumps-everything-in-2016

In the past, I’ve recognized the arrival of a New Year with a retrospective Todd Top Ten List or the announcement of the year’s Matty (formerly known as Ralphie) Awards. After much soul searching and careful consideration, I have decided to indefinitely suspend these events.

Is 2016 the worst year ever?

When we look back on 2016, it’s hard to say it’s been anything but rough. Personally, this has been the most physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually exhausting year I can remember.  This has just plain worn me out.

I don’t think I’m the only one. It appears that 2016 presidential contest sucked the life out of many people. And this transition to a new administration is causing angst on both sides of the aisle. Then there’s Syria. And Russia. Ethiopia has also seen some political unrest and uncertainty. Oh, and then there were horrible terrorist attacks and horrifying mass shootings. And don’t forget the worldwide refugee crisis. I could probably add the hype around the Zika virus and the uproar over the death of Harambe and the wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg.  Don’t get me started on the way social media has turned everyone into an expert about everything from parenting to zoology to political science. And they’re not shy about pouring on the criticism when someone disagrees. It’s awful. It’s really awful.

It feels like we’re sitting on a powder keg. And the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey made many wonder if we were getting a front row seat to early 20th century world history repeating itself.

That’s a scary proposition.

Then you add in all of the well-known people we lost in 2016. Prince. David Bowie. George Michael. Kenny Baker (R2-D2). Erik Bauersfeld (Admiral Ackbar). Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia). Muhammad Ali. Florence Henderson. Alan Thicke. These are just a few of the many celebrity deaths in 2016.

On a personal note, I was heartbroken when I heard about the deaths of David, Sophia, and Ruth Ann Rinehart. We also said goodbye to my Grandma and laid her to rest at the end of 2016.

The hits just kept coming.

When I look back on 2016, it can be tough to argue that it is anything but the worst year ever.

One event changed everything.

Regardless of all of the other events that took place this year, this is what makes 2016 one of the best years ever.

Brothers meeting for the first time.

Todd Family of Six

Todd family of Six

We became a family of SIX in 2016. And that trumps everything else that happened this year.

It’s something worth celebrating.

So let’s dance!

In light of recent worldwide and celebrity tragedies, it feels like we’re limping into 2017. Many are wishing “Good riddance” to 2016. I get that. I really do. So whether you’re celebrating the end of what could be considered a pretty awful year, or whether you’re celebrating the good things that happened this year, let’s dance together as we look forward to what 2017 has in store for us.

Happy New Year, friends!

Take The #40Pounds Challenge and change the world

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #40Pounds #CollectiveBias

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School has been in session for almost two months now. I know. You don’t have to say it. Many of you didn’t start school until Labor Day. But in order to have longer Fall, Winter, and Spring breaks, something has to give. So that means a shorter Summer for us. For our three teenagers, that wasn’t exactly happy news. For our youngest? Well, she started counting down the days as soon as school was out in May.

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Yes. She’s a goofball. And we love her.

So now we’re just a few days away from the end of the first Nine Week Grading Period. That means we’ve had plenty of time to work out all the kinks and become a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine when it comes to getting our three high schoolers out the door and on the bus by 6:30 in the morning. Right?

Well, not exactly.

I’m not going to lie. It’s still pretty stressful in the minutes leading up to the bus’s arrival. But there are still a few tricks we’ve learned along the way. I’m happy to share the wisdom we have gained over the last two months.  Continue reading “Take The #40Pounds Challenge and change the world”

Happy New Year! In September. Seriously.

Remember 9/11

September 11 is a strange day for our family. I have a friend whose son was born on September 11, 2001. They named him Isaac, which I think is the perfect name for a child born in the midst of a national event like that. I’d imagine they feel a certain amount of emotional conflict every day 9/11 comes around.

That’s how things roll in our house on 9/11. But it’s not because of a birthday. It’s because of something else.

“Never forget…”

I remember. I always will. Like so many people who watched those horrific events the morning of Tuesday, September 11, I swore I would never forget where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt that day.

And I haven’t.

We remember that day every year. And I have to admit, I still struggle with how I should respond to these terrible acts, especially when I think about how messy it is when you respond to hatred with love and compassion.

Happy New Year!

But today is not only about remembering. Thanks to our family’s connection with Ethiopia, 9/11 has also become a day of celebrating. You might remember during the A to Z Challenge, I mentioned how Ethiopia has their own calendar. And based on that calendar, today, September 11, is the beginning of the New Year.

So today, we remember. We reflect. And we contemplate. But we also celebrate, dream, and eat lots of Ethiopian food. We’ve been told that Doro Wat (spicy chicken stew with boiled eggs) is a traditional dish for the New Year. So we happily had some today.

Doro wat for Ethiopian New Year today! Melkam Addis Amet! #EthiopianNewYear #MelkamAddisAmet

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

So we look back. But we also look forward. And we’ll probably hug our kids a little tighter as we spend this day remembering, reflecting, and celebrating as we encounter the whole gauntlet of emotions on this sobering anniversary/day of anticipation, celebration, and renewal in the New Year.

But that’s kind of how life goes sometimes, isn’t it? It’s a mixture of excitement and heartache, overwhelming joy and the deepest of sorrows, it’s the celebration of life and the mourning of death. It’s the good times and the bad times all wrapped up into one package that is hardly ever topped with a nice little bow. The plot is full of twists and turns and event taking place on top of event taking place on top of event. It’s ecstasy followed by unspeakable sadness followed by unsurpassed joy.

Such is the roller coaster we call the human experience.

So it may seem strange that on a day like today, I wish you a happy new year. But in many ways, it makes complete sense. Doesn’t it? Because when you look ahead at a new year, you can’t help but dream. You can’t help but work towards a better future. So in the midst of the sorrow of remembering the events of 9/11, I’m also reminded that there is hope. So. much. hope. And in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Because we’re going to make tomorrow better than today. We’re going to change the world.

Happy Ethiopian New Year September 11
A banner that was hanging in the hotel when we visited Ethiopia in September, 2009. It says “Happy New Year,” in case you can’t read what it says.

So I hope you understand what I mean when I tell you that I remember. Oh, I remember. I will never forget. Ever. And in the same breath, I wish you a happy new year full of joy, happiness, and a better tomorrow.

Meklam Addis Amet, y’all!

From the bottom of my heart.

 

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.

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.

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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.

Me and Vader

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!

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.

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.

S is for Soccer

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S is for Soccer #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016

When I kicked off this series as part of the 2016 A to Z Challenge (which is taking a month longer to complete than it should), I mentioned in the opening post that Ethiopians love their soccer.

So when a kid comes up to you and asks you to play soccer, you play soccer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your guard uniform or still working the front desk. If a kid asks you to play, you play. And that’s what happened one afternoon in the courtyard of our guesthouse. It was a pickup soccer game that I never thought I’d experience.

Soccer at the guest house #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
Manchester United FC

Of course Weldu’s friends love playing soccer. Several times a week, they’d play a pick-up game in a nearby alley in the shadow of some building construction. Two things I hope you notice…

    1. Note the scaffolding on the building in the background. It looks crazy, but I’m assuming it’s more sturdy than it looks to me.
    2. You see those two rocks stacked on top of each other? That’s one of the goalposts. The other is behind them.

Street Soccer Game in Addis #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
I didn’t grow up a soccer fan. I played one season in fourth or fifth grade (maybe sixth – I honestly don’t remember). I was not very good. And I never really showed much interest in the sport, other than the occasional World Cup game. That’s changed since Weldu has come home with us. It turns out both of us have a lot to learn. Playing an organized soccer game on an official pitch is quite different from the pickup games that he’s used to in Ethiopia. But that hasn’t dampened his passion for the game. He would eat, breathe, and sleep soccer if we’d let him. And he continues to hone his skills in anticipation of this Fall’s soccer season.

Weldu heading the ball in Addis

And me? I’m learning all the teams and terms and intricacies of the game that he loves. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know it’s worth it.

Because he is worth it.
Manchester United FC

R is for Rainy Season

nature-plant-leaf-rain

Here in Indiana and the majority of the continental United States (except maybe the southwest and southeastern corners), you can generally expect to experience four seasons throughout the year. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. That’s how it goes.

OK, considering the fact that it’s the middle of May and we’ve had several days that were 15 degrees colder than an average day, one could argue that Spring hasn’t been much of a season this year. But you get the point. As a rule, there are four seasons. And Winter is drastically different from Summer.

In Ethiopia? Sure, there’s Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, but there’s another season that makes a huge impact on people’s lives.

Rainy season.

I haven’t been in-country during the rainy season. We were there shortly after the rainy season when we first visited Ethiopia in September of 2009. And Christy happened to be there at the beginning of the rainy season last year. She said some of the roads were already starting to wash out and the serious raining hadn’t even happened yet.

The heaviest rains apparently happen in August and sometimes into September (in Addis, anyway). The rains are so heavy that the Ethiopian government traditionally shuts down during the month of August. And sometimes this even goes into September. The roads are that unreliable during this time.

It happens like clockwork. And the people of Ethiopia have adapted to it. Because that’s what we do. When we can’t change the situation, we find the pattern and adapt to it.

Perhaps this is what the Teacher meant in the book of Ecclesiastes. And if Solomon was really the author,* wouldn’t it be interesting if he had the Queen of Sheba and the seasons of her kingdom in the back of his mind when he composed this poem. It’s unlikely (or maybe even impossible), I know. But the point remains. There’s a time for everything and everything has its time. It’s up to us to make the most of the time that we’ve been given so we can live life for the purpose we were created to fulfill.

To every thing there is a season

So what season is your life in right now? What can I do to encourage you?

*I know tradition says that Ecclesiastes was penned by Solomon. Many scholars dispute that claim. Does it really matter who wrote it? No. Its message is still inspired and profitable. Let’s focus on more important things.

Q is for Queen of Sheba

queen of sheba

And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. – 1 Kings 10:4 & 5

And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants. – 1 Kings 10:13

According to the legend that we heard when we visited the National Museum of Ethiopia (home to “Lucy”), the Queen certainly got all that she desired. All of it.

In this story, King Solomon and the Queen reach an agreement when she arrives at the king’s palace. He won’t attempt to seduce her during her stay as long as she doesn’t take anything that doesn’t belong to him. Sounds like a fair deal. Right? I mean, aside from the fact the “No” should mean “No.” But that’s not really the point of this story (although maybe it should be the point).

One night (possibly her last night in the palace), Solomon treated the Queen to a fabulous dinner. He had his servants pull out all the stops. He also had them add extra spice to the food so it would be extra-hot. Now, I need to digress here for just a second. I’ve had Ethiopian food. Some of it is pretty spicy. How hot was this meal? It had to be on fire for a woman from Ethiopia to think it was spicy. Right?

Anyway, she ate and enjoyed the extra-hot food and eventually retired to her quarters. As she was preparing for bed, the spices did what spices do and the Queen needed some relief. Conveniently, Solomon had ordered that a glass of water be placed near her bed.

The wisest man in all the world had just tricked her. She had taken something of his without permission.* She had failed to uphold her end of the bargain. So Solomon was free to pursue her.

Cue Barry White.

Nine months later, on the road home, the Queen of Sheba gave birth to a son. She named him Menelik, “Son of the Wise.” And subsequent emperors claimed direct descent from Menelik I.

I told you the Jewish connection ran pretty deep.

* First of all, is it really taking something without permission if you place the glass of water right in front of a person who desperately needs a glass of water? Implied consent and all that. And secondly, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. There were plenty of women around who would do whatever he wanted. Why the need to trick someone like this? Solomon might have been wise, but he seems kind of shady here.