Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Merry Christmas from the Hsu family! Blessings to you this Advent season. We’ve had a good year, and everyone has been healthy and happy. Elijah is three and a half now, and he transitioned out of his early intervention program and has begun preschool through our local school district. He is in a reading tutoring program and is reading words and sentences beyond his age level. He loves reciting letters, numbers and colors and singing songs like “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” He asks to go through his deck of word flash cards, and at bedtime he’ll sit by the bedroom door to read Blue’s Clues books by the light of the hallway. He also likes helping make pancakes and putting away laundry.

Josiah is now 7 and in first grade. He tells us, “I love learning stuff.” He’s in an advanced reading group and a gifted math class, and he enjoys all of it. He started riding his bike and has been learning to play a little tennis. Over the summer he took swimming lessons and enjoyed a day camp through the park district. Other highlights for him were playing Sonic Heroes and Lego Batman. He also finally watched the original Star Wars movie (twice – both the theatrical release and the special edition, and he counted all the differences).

We had a few local “staycations” this year, with day trips to the zoo, the arboretum, the children’s museum, the beach and so on. Josiah was excited to visit the new Legoland Adventure Center here in the Chicago suburbs. And for our 11th anniversary, we went to see the musical Wicked before it wrapped up its Chicago run. We love musicals, and this one was a delightful deconstruction and reconstruction of the Wizard of Oz narrative.

As the rights manager for InterVarsity Press, Ellen had some domestic trips to Miami and Orlando, and this fall her international travel took her to a rights conference in South Korea, Marketsquare Asia in Hong Kong (where she met up with a former IVP intern) and the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. She was invited to join the board of her professional industry group, the International Rights Managers Association, and promptly helped the group rename itself as the Licensing and Subsidiary Rights Association. She also took two sign language classes to continue to progress in her signing skills and vocabulary.

In addition to his editorial acquisitions and development work for IVP, Al applied and was accepted into a PhD program in educational studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. (He scored in the 99th percentile on the MAT, so he used that test score to join the Triple Nine Society, which has a higher standard of admission than Mensa.) He took his first doctoral classes this fall, and things seem to be going well so far. Al also served as a columnist for Christianity Today magazine this year, and he continued to do some occasional speaking, including the Envision 08 conference at Princeton Theological Seminary and a chapel at Wheaton College. Al also signed up as a volunteer for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid.

What have we been reading this year? Josiah’s big thing has been puzzle books, brain teasers and riddles. He would ask friends, “What’s purple and in China? The Grape Wall of China!” and “Did you hear about the man whose whole left side of the body was cut off? Now he’s all right.” He particularly enjoyed the Picture Puzzle series of “can you spot the differences” books, and he also read through lots of Calvin & Hobbes and Garfield books.

In the realm of fiction, Al and Ellen read through Stephenie Meyer’s stand-alone sci-fi novel The Host and her Twilight series (the last book, Breaking Dawn, seems to draw some intriguing parallels between vampirism and resurrection life). Ellen read through T. Davis & Isabella Bunn’s Heirs of Acadia series and Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter family series, and she enjoyed Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos and Linda Nichols’s books In Search of Eden and If I Gained the World. Al liked Sebastian Faulks’s new James Bond novel Devil May Care, which picks up where the original Ian Fleming novels left off. And Jorge Cham’s books of the comic strip series Piled High and Deeper (also known as PHD comics) provide a hilarious portrayal of grad student life.

In non-fiction we both appreciated Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, an inspirational and moving account of a dying man’s life of purpose and meaning. The Big Sort by Bill Bishop explores how people tend to self-organize themselves into like-minded communities. The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine is an accessible and explanatory tour of neurobiology. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee is a fascinating cultural history of Chinese food in America. Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is a sophisticated and intelligent presentation of the Christian faith for our day. (And Al was thrilled to find the out-of-print and amusing The Unrelieved Paradox: Studies in the Theology of Franz Bibfeldt, and even friended the elusive obscure genius and enigmatic figure on Facebook.)

Top of our list of IVP books this year is Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was also named one of the best religion books of 2008. It’s a stunning, paradigm-shifting book of how Christians need to move beyond merely critiquing, condemning, copying or consuming culture and instead create and cultivate culture. Also receiving a starred review was Living Gently in a Violent World by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier, which looks at the profound lessons of the L’Arche communities’ experience of disability and friendship. James Choung’s True Story is a fresh narrative retelling of the gospel that goes beyond escape-ticket-to-heaven and provides a holistic, missional vision for both individual redemption and global transformation. Jesus Made in America by Stephen Nichols examines how Jesus has been imagined and reinterpreted throughout American history. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey unpacks historical and cultural dynamics of New Testament passages. Finding Calcutta recounts what Mary Poplin learned from her time visiting Mother Teresa. I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp shares how their skeptical postmodern friends came to faith in Jesus. And Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove brings together prayer and social activism.

That’s it for this year! May the Lord bless you and grant you his peace.


Moe Lwin's Stuff said...

Just hitting the next button and here I am.
The photos are wonderful.
I enjoy family blogs, sorry i didn't read all of your post.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Great letter! Love the book recommendations... Ellen, when you were in Hong Kong did you happen to meet with Tien Dou bookstore/publisher? I was in one of their bookstores today and my aunt showed me "Invitation to Solitude and Silence" in Chinese. I had given the book to her as a gift a few years ago, and she said the next year she saw it had been published in Chinese. :)

Ellen said...

Moe Lwin: Thanks for stopping by.

Sabrina: Thanks for commenting. Yes, I did meet with Tien Dao. I think I visited one of their bookstores, too, but I can't remember for sure. I love the book "Invitation to Solitude & Silence" - good gift choice for you aunt ;)

Gary Sweeten said...

Al, Sorry about communicating this way but I do not see an email address. Can you get in touch with me about a grant we have to study the ways Christians can support families with special needs kids? Most writing focuses on the medical, psychological and spiritual needs of the child and I am a family therapist interested in ways to ciome around the family and reduce toxic conflict, divorce, etc. If the parents are overly stressed the children are harmed.