This year’s St Paul Winter Carnival was cold.  No way around the fact.  It was 7 degrees when we wandered around Rice Park looking at the Ice Sculptures and then headed over to the State Fair Grounds to see the Snow Sculptures.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  A part of the carnival is the Securian Frozen 5k and Half Marathon. I almost ran it last year but decided not too.  However, I did run it this year and was faced with -11 air temperatures on race morning.  After a mishap with the cold a few years ago, race directors setup a system to help ensure the safety of participants and volunteers.  Due to the cold temperatures, the race was shortened to a 1/4 marathon distance or 6.55 miles.  You can read my full review over at Team Cross Runs.  Just for a point of reference, the air temp has to drop below -25 before they actually cancel the race!  The picture at right is a runner in my club after the race.

Yes, I’m a little crazy but there were over 600 people who actually ran the half-marathon and more were in the 5k.  We enjoyed this year’s sculptures.  Last year (pictures) we went before they were completed but it was still amazing to see the intricate detail that went into each piece of ice/snow art.  We were also able to talk a little bit with some of the artists.  It is amazing to watch them use a chain saw for large cuts and then  switch to a Dremel for fine tuning.  In the ice sculpting they even used blowtorches to help seal two pieces of ice together.  It was fascinating to watch.

This year we arrived in the evening after the awards had been announced so we got to see them in all their glory.  It also made it a little less personal and more like an art gallery.  I think overall this year’s sculptures were better than last, though I’m not an expert on fine ice/snow art!!

Here are pictures of the winning sculptures:

Fountain of Unicorns (zoomed in)

Hormel McSwine & Friends

You can see a full album of my pictures here.  There is so much to do during the Winter Carnival that it could really consume all of your weekend.  We enjoyed the parts that we saw the last two years and maybe we’ll take part in other events in the future.  Right now a few hours in the cold is good enough for one weekend!!

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Can you believe it? 2008 is over.  Minneapolis was a great place to spend 2008.  Sunday night as we were driving back to Minneapolis after a great trip to Ohio and Indiana we remembered that it had been exactly one year since we had made the same journey, albeit with a moving van and a lot of stuff!

As we left the relative warmth of Indianapolis (43 when we left) and returned to around a foot of snow and 1 above temperatures in Minneapolis we wondered what we were thinking. But superficial weather-talk aside this has been a great year and we are excited to spend 2009 in Minnesota.  We are quite blessed to both have jobs that we enjoy, new friends to revel with, and a growing community to become a part of.  2008 represented many new adventures and experiences for us as we learn about surviving a brutal and long winter and squeezing every possible second out of the perfect summer weather.

I realize you haven’t heard from us since early October and we apologize for this.  Things have been quite busy. We enjoyed our Thanksgiving with friends here in Minneapolis due to Christy’s work schedule but were quite excited to both get 2 weeks vacation around Christmas and New Years to be able to celebrate those holidays with family.  Unfortunately, Christy was “displaced” from her night-shift job in postpartum to a day-shift job in endoscopy.  Not exactly what we had expected but this was a lot better than getting laid off, like many of our friends.  She worked on the new unit for a week before our vacation started and has about 4 more weeks of orientation ahead!

You might recall that my year as an Americorps VISTA ended yesterday and through a long series of tough decisions I have decided to extend my term of service into April.  From now until then I’ll be doing fundraising and grant-writing to see if it is sustainable for the school to keep me on a full-time basis. My building principal will be able to sustain me through the end of this school year and then we’ll see what happens. I will continue running the after-school job training/fundraising program for the middle school students.

Those are the two biggest updates in our lives and both consumed a lot of our time and energy during November and December. We continue to be involved in teaching English to and befriending Somali’s in our community.  We both enjoy this time interacting and learning more about their culture and sharing some of ours.  We have also found a new church home.  It is a small church, a mix between church plant and house church it has been fun getting to know these new friends. We are excited to be a part of it and see the direction it is taking.

Okay, I have bored you enough!  Happy New Year to you and may you have a great 2009.

As always please let us know what is going on in your life.

Nick & Christy

Img from stock.xchng.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you are having a wonderful day enjoying friends, family, and food!

I looked up the word “thanks” in the Webster dictionary and it used the word gratitude, or having grateful thoughts. Using the Webster thesaurus brings even stronger words: appreciation, appreciativeness, gratefulness, gratitude, thankfulness, thanksgiving; gratification, indebtedness, satisfaction; acknowledgment, recognition, and tribute.

I think most of us don’t use these words often enough. I know I don’t. I try to be thankful in every day life but it is hard sometimes. I want to take a few minutes and share with you a list of things I’m thankful for, but first I really like this verse from the Old Testament: Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

In no particular order:

I am thankful for…

… my wonderful wife

… my parents

… my extended network of family

… great friends that span the world and the technology to stay connected to them

… the opportunity to serve my community

… being able to wake up each morning in a warm house with food on the shelves

… great neighbors

… the ability to run and the strength to do so

… my growing network of friends who care about me individually

… friends and people who challenge me to strive to become the best person possible

… a church that cares more about taking care of each other and our neighbors than a building

… amazing co-workers who truly care about our students and their education

… the freedom to worship

… the snow, the sun, and even the rain (but maybe not -34 windchills)

What are you thankful for this year?

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This has been a year for weddings.  A good friend made a comment about me being ready for this season of life to be over.  It will be nice to not have any more weddings to go to, but it will also mean not seeing & catching up with old friends.  What it actually means is that we’ll have to find time in our busy lives to stop and hang out with our far-flung friends for no other reason than just hanging out!

This wedding was special to us because it was our good friend Amy’s wedding.  She has been Christy’s best friend since high school and mine since college and she introduced Christy and I.  She is also part of the reason we moved to Minneapolis.  So we were very pleased to be a part of the wedding (Christy was a bride’s maid and I hung out and helped with the slideshow!)  I also took a ton of pictures.  I took about 300 and was able to widdle it down to just under 250.  There were lots of cameras including the “professional” so I’m sure it will be well documented, although due to my camera phone I had the first picture of the wedded couple up on Facebook!

Weddings are always a good time to think back and remember the reasons why we got married and in a sense recommit ourselves to each other.  Amy & Kristofer may God richly bless the many great years ahead for you!

My entire album is here.

This recent post at The Moderate Voice easily summed up my thinking during this election season. A conservative friend who I trust and respect asked me to share with him some of my thoughts about why I’m a moderate. So here is my response:

I think I’m moderate about a variety of issues, but also moderate in that on some issues I’m conservative while others I may be a bit more liberal. In theory I like the idea of a small government and local control and as a Christian ideally having the church do much of the work that the government is doing. But I don’t think that the idea of a free market works anywhere close to 100%. I’m sure you’d agree to some extent that the true laissez faire approach won’t work. I think that our Biblical worldview shows us that humans are naturally self-centered and want what is best for ourselves. It is only after we have been redeemed that we can understand unconditional love and sacrifice for others in the purest sense. Therefore I think that if there were no regulations on the marketplace/country in general then all hell would break loose.

I think a pretty easy example of this would be health care. Letting the health insurance companies dictate the rules and regulations has left a lot people un- or under-insured. And like back in the old days when they would just deny all claims as SOP. Insurance companies want to increase their bottom line and will do whatever it takes to make sure their CEO gets a nice little bonus. I won’t dive into specific policy details, but simply put everyone should have access to some type of affordable health-care. We are currently paying insurance premiums that go up in part because our neighbors can’t afford a doctors visit and go to the local ER instead. This is expensive, partly because ER visits are generally more expensive, but also because many times the illness or injury has taken a severe turn for the worse. A close relative went to several urgent care facilities with stomach pains because she didn’t have health insurance. This is a little bit cheaper and more responsible than an ER, but because she was seeing different doctors no one really thought there was a real problem. I think ultimately she caught a good doctor and he realized something bigger was wrong and they found her cancers. But if she hadn’t got a good doc? who knows.. At the time she was being treated at Wishard hospital (which is a pretty decent place) but now that she has insurance she can go to IU Med Center (one of the top research facilities in the country). Why the disparity and double standard? Getting the cold or flu treated early can be a lot cheaper than treating pneumonia or something worse. Another major health related issue is prevention. Diabetes is a huge drain on the health-care system and can be prevented or at least have the affects stunted by proper preventative health-care. I could go on but the last point I’ll make about health care (I think) is that much $ is spent on CYA testing and procedures because everyone is afraid of getting sued. To an extent this is healthy but what is wrong with some type of tort-reform to prevent frivolous law suits??

I’m a moderate because I think abortion is a heinous act, but should a small government interfere? Or why not actually do something to prevent abortions from occurring?? We’ve had a pro-life government for at least 4-6 years and what changed? Yes, Chief Justice Roberts is a stalwart pro-life choice, but he also doesn’t believe in legislating from the bench so he isn’t going to overturn Roe v Wade anytime soon.

I’m moderate because I think peace is a great idea, but sometimes we need to project and act out our power and military might just to remind people that peace takes some work. And maybe we should occasionally live up to our promises and really be a leader (Darfur).

I’m a moderate because I think each individual person has inherent worth and dignity as a child of God and each person should have the equal opportunity to succeed in life. Just because I grew up in a screwed up family doesn’t mean I should be forced to live a screwed up life. I was blessed to have people around me who cared and supported me – not everyone has that. A family living in the ghetto struggling to make ends meet needs more than a free lunch at school to ensure educational success. Why can’t inner-city schools have the same gorgeous/opulent facilities of a suburban school? Why must the school I work at scrape together every possible resource to make sure our students can pass a test? One of our students saw his mom stab her boyfriend in the eye with a screwdriver and another student saw a man gunned down on the street and those are just two instances that I know of. We have an amazing staff but kids still get lost because of their home and surrounding environment. Why should they pay for their parent’s sin?

I’m a moderate because I believe the US is a nation of immigrants, founded and prospered through illegal immigration. Yes we need to do something to insure the physical safety of our country, but immigration is a part of our history and the global economy in which we are a part. If we want to insure national security we need to do more than kick out immigrants and build fences, we need to make sure that our trade policies are a little fairer, we need to make sure that people around the world have a chance at education and maybe a real meal or two a day. Did you know there is enough money in the US alone to (on paper at least) end world hunger? Why should we spend millions of dollars to ship food to Africa on an American flagged vessel, when African farmers produce the same product? If we spent our food aid money on food in Africa, we could help African farmers and their entire country pull themselves out of poverty – which makes our country a little safer.

I’m a moderate because I don’t think drilling off-shore is going to produce any long-term benefits to our energy issues. Drilling off-shore will only allow us to keep the status quo a little bit longer. How can all the major auto manufacturers make cars that meet California emission standards or cars that are much more fuel efficient but get shipped overseas – yet claim they can’t produce the same car for the US? Did you know for awhile that Honda produced the most fuel efficient vehicle on the market – but it was gas powered? At the time according to Consumer Reports the Honda gas-engine car was overall more fuel efficient than the hybrids being produced? The market dictated more horsepower and said hell to fuel economy, until energy costs sky-rocketed. When I worked at Honda’s Accord and Acura plant they switched all kinds of parts around for a European or Asian and even Californian bound car to make them meet the stricter standards. Why shouldn’t the government step in and make some minor requests for the long-term benefit of our country.

I guess those are few reasons why I am a moderate… no one party has all the right answers for me.

I look forward to your thoughtful responses…

We recently went camping in Bayfield Wisconsin. We had a great time and were pleased that it wasn’t too cold and that lots of leaves were still on the trees. Our camp site was nestled right next to Lake Superior with a sweet view of Basswood Island. One day was spent wandering around a bunch of apple orchards, testing a wide variety of apple flavors and even picking a bag of our own. Our favorite orchards was the Sunset Valley Orchard. The owners were extremely friendly and generous with his apples.

I haven’t really had time to play with the pictures at all, so below is a slideshow of pictures.

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It has been almost a week since I finished my first marathon!!! Yes I made it the entire 26.2 miles!

It was quite an adventure as the rain pelted down on us for at least 4-5 miles of the race. But it was very thrilling to reach the finish line and to know that I had accomplished such a large feat. My finish time was 3:25. My Dad asked, “What does that mean? Is that fast, slow, really fast or what?” He’s not a runner so that’s understandable. Most of my running friends know what that means – I finished in the top 10% of all the finisher’s in Sunday’s race. I didn’t quite make the “gold standard” of a Boston Qualifying time, but for my first marathon I am quite pleased with the effort!

I have already posted two reviews of the race, so I would encourage you to check them out. The first is Grading the Race Plan and the second is a more traditional Race Review.

On a similar note I am very excited to say that we have surpassed our $2,000 goal for Team World Vision!! Isn’t that awesome. So thank you to the many of you that donated and supported this effort. It was a pretty amazing and overwhelming feeling to know that my running a marathon changed my life, but also lives of children and families in Africa. Thank you for being a part of the journey with me.

As I write this today, pretty much all of the soreness is gone, but you can ask Christy and she will tell you that I kinda hobbled around Sunday and most of Monday! The truly insane part is that I’m already thinking about running another one sometime next year (maybe I am a little nuts!)

I wanted to give you an update on the marathon and thank you for your support. If you were planning to make a donation you still can! Tax-deductible and secure donations can be made at

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