i am always changing

longing for one who never changes

I Am a Refugee

​I was born in Kuwait to Filipino parents who were working there as nurses. We are here in the United States because the Persian Gulf War took our home away from us. 

I am an immigrant. I am a refugee. 

I was not born here. When I was eighteen years old I raised my right hand to take the oath of citizenship, pledging my loyalty to this country. 

I am an immigrant. This is now my home. I am a refugee. 

I am a religious man. I look forward to a world without borders. A world without war. One kingdom under God. 

I am not of this world. This is not my home. I am an immigrant. I am a refugee. 

I will speak out to harbor those who are fleeing their homeland. I will speak out for the free practice of religion.

This is now my home. This is not my home. I am an immigrant. I am a refugee.

The Sky is Falling

I actually thought through what I would do for myself and my family in the event of a nuclear bombing. It’s a scary thought: a leader that has entertained the idea of using nuclear weapons at the helm of the world’s strongest military. Is this what it takes for humanity to rub itself out of the pages of cosmic history? 

My faith in humanity has been shaken. I wanted to believe that things were getting better for the disenfranchised, but they are not. The nationalist, sexist,  racist, xenophobes have won. Closet racists don’t have to hide their sentiments about brown people like me anymore.

I plan to counter the validation they feel with accountability. I won’t let it slide. I won’t be the passive Asian guy who lets people dismiss him. That’s fine. I guess that’s the best I can do: call people out on their bigotry. I’m tempted to think that is insignificant, but I need to remind myself how important it is to call bigotry out when I see it. Minorities, Muslims, women, LGBTQs, immigrants: all of these people still need folks to speak on their behalf; to stand up for them when most people won’t. I think of South Africa during apartheid or abolitionists pre-emancipation or the marchers of the civil rights movement. We took many incremental steps as human people to get to where we stand today. Generations of folks did not let it slide when their neighbors acted out in hatred against those they feared.

The biggest challenge is to find a way to love my bigoted neighbors even as I call them out. I realize the fear that led them to vote the way they did. Eight years with an optimist president did not perceivably improve their lives, so they voted for a pessimist, cynical, strongman. I’m saddened by the compromises that my neighbors had to make to sooth those fears. And, I need to bring that sadness with me when I call them out.

The best way to counter hatred is with love. I think we already have some great examples of this in our history: Ghandi, MLK; Jesus. How do we counter belittlement? Respect. How do we keep humanity from snuffing itself out? Love. If, as scripture says, “perfect love casts out fear,” then it is perfect love that will counter homophobia, xenophobia, any phobia. It is perfect love that will keep us going, even when the sky falls.

Life is but a Dream

I have taken for granted how much I am surrounded by people who have a zest for life. All of my friends live with such gusto. There is a momentum of love in their machinations. They are passionate people. Any one of them can tell you about at least one thing that drives them; one thing that excites them.

I have forgotten that many people are not like this. A lot of people just live their lives one day after another. They fulfill their responsibilities in a perfunctory manner. In between doing their duties, they numb themselves with distractions to prevent a longing for something more. I think the term for these folks are the “down-to-earth” types. I hang around a lot of “dreamers.” I know so because I am one.

A dreamer is someone who isn’t satisfied with just doing something for its own sake. A dreamer wants to know why. Dreamers want to be connected with a grand purpose. Dreamers are “into” things. They grab a hold of something and own it. They are compelled to learn constantly about their interests. They operate in a world of big ideas. They believe that they are a part of a grand conversation and that what they contribute will send ripples into the larger, tumultuous, sea of thought, contributing to the waves and tides of ideological change.

How does a dreamer connect with those down-to-earth types? How do I? I must reawaken in me a sense of the beauty in the mundane; the holiness of a moment; the transcendence of the transient. As an example, I will describe to you a topic that is remarked on the most by down-to-earth types. It is so mundane that it happens to everyone every day: the weather.

The color of the sky, the feel of the air on our skin, the press of light on our eyes, the precipitation on our jacket: all of these things affect us emotionally. They change the composition of our being. It may affect us in different ways, but the effect is there. It is undeniable. We all experience this thing, the weather, that affects us so much in a myriad of subtle ways and yet is something that we have no control over. It just happens.

There is beauty in shared human experiences. These experiences are the ones that shape us. Through them we are able to connect with strangers and grow closer to friends. In a day we all experience victories, tragedies, and quiet moments of wonder. I want to stay alert to these experiences. I want to share them with others. I want to connect with those around me. I realize that this is what this blog, my photo journal, and so much of my interests are about. I am interested in the things that we have in common as human emotional ecosystems. I am fascinated by the ways we are culturally, intellectually, and emotionally interdependent. But, to bring my grandiose thoughts back down to earth, I love the little things life is made of: little sensory details composed into the fraction of a moment you are experiencing right now. Enjoy this millisecond of your life. Enjoy every one as they pass by one after another and turn into decades.

Managing Social Fatigue

Okay. The introvert wants to talk now. Lately I’ve been devaluing the company of people. I don’t feel like I need anyone. I just want to be by myself and do my own thing and get lots done that I’ve been wanting to get done. I feel like I’ve been giving people normative attention, conversation, engagement as a favor. I hate that. I hate feeling like what I’m doing is just to fit into some social norm or to keep people around me from feeling bad. It’s not that I hate you, it is just that none of it is important. I’m supposed to love people, but I don’t. I don’t care.

I’m on the verge of a new stage of my life. If I get accepted into nursing school, I’ll have a solid year of focusing on studies and not much time for anything or anyone else. I’ll quit my job. I’ll tell everyone that I’m going to be a ghost and become that ghost. It’ll be books, classes, clinicals, and not much else. I’ll get to indulge in my anti-social tendencies and have a valid reason for doing so.

I know that it is wrong for me to feel this way. I’ve figured out that the best impulses are ones that cause my path to intersect with others in meaningful ways. The most healthy activities for me are ones that involve others. However, as much as others may value my company, insight, humor, or inspiration, I am not currently in the mindset where I value theirs.

I think I know the reason. I have not spent enough time by myself. I’m a fairly accommodating person, so when someone wants to hang out or for me to be somewhere or help with something, I usually say, “Yes.”

As an introvert, I need solitude on a regular basis. This is how I recharge. This is how I recoup the energy I need to interact with others. With a healthy amount of regular solitude, I can be a charming, hilarious, energetic conversationalist. With regular solitude, I am able to be an incredible listener that can empathize with people’s perils. If I do not have this solitude, my social tolerance is weakened. At its worst, I can start thinking that most topics of conversation are petty. My taste for silliness sours. I start to believe that I don’t have any friends or true peers and see everyone as an acquaintance. I believe this now, even though there are clear signs that people view themselves as my friends.

How do I cultivate regular solitude? I’ve decided to make my room a safe haven. I’ll even create a doorknob sign that indicates when I want to be left alone. I really, really need this time. I don’t want to hate people. I want to care about what people care about and what they have to say. I don’t like anti-social me. In order to preserve my love for people, I need to learn when to say, “No.” I need to learn to say, “I need that night to myself.” This is hard. I’ve made it a habit to say, “Yes” to requests for my presence because I know my anti-social tendencies. This is usually the only way I’d spend time with anyone is if I grant their requests for me to spend time with them. However, I must be attentive to my attitude. Once I start feeling social fatigue, I must begin to say, “No” until I am able to appreciate the company of people again. So, if in the next few days, I tell you that I won’t be there, give me some space. I’m trying to care again.

Anamanaguchi, Eddie Vedder, A Fine Frenzy, David Bazan, Film Foodies, Work, Music, Painting, Wesley and Kaitlyn’s Wedding, Harvest Moon Ball, MFA, Color Fun Fest, Thanksgiving, Christmas Shirts

November 2012 was an insanely full month. There are so many photos that I will try to be brief with captions. I’ve edited many of these photos and I even include some 4:3 photos. Enjoy.

Josh, Veejay, and I eat lunch at Onion Creek then head to Waldo’s to get some work done.

Veejay checks out Warby Parker‘s site while we are at Waldo’s.

Rae makes a bug android version of herself for Greg’s phone.

Brandon has some sushi. He, Veejay, and I recorded the first episode of our movie podcast, Film Foodies, at Sushi Wabi. We discussed the film, Looper .

Brandon surprises Veejay and I after a church service by asking, “Can I show you something?” He gets us to sing harmony with him on a song he had recently written. Justin pulled up coincidentally and joined us as well.

Justin writes a message for our newest partner at the ‘bucks.

Josh, Veejay and I see the chiptunes rock band Anamanaguchi at Fitzgerald’s. The four scrawny white kids from New York and their Nintendo that acts as the lead singer were bookended by two crazy Japanese bands we’d never heard of before. The opener was Electric Eel Shock and the headliner was Peelander Z.

Electric Eel Shock’s drummer only wore a sock for a majority of the show. I’ll spare you any photographs of him standing up without his shirt.

The lead singer was a pretty metal Japanese dude.

The bassist rocks out. The band was pretty technically varied and quite energetic.

The drummer and bassist both sang a second and third vocal part during many of the songs.

The lead singer’s English skills were limited, but he was able to build some rapport with the metal fans in the audience. Many of their songs featured a word in English sung or screamed repeatedly.

Veej and Josh watch Anamanaguchi set up.

They sound check and set up.

The lights cut off. Anamanaguchi left the stage and returned hurling hundreds of glow sticks into the crowd.

The lights started going and the band played an amazing set. It was a dance party for 40 minutes or so. Super fun.

Here is a video shot by someone at the show who was standing to my right.

Josh, Veej, and I chill a little after their set.

We leave as Peelander Z is performing because I was scheduled to work at 7a the next day.

We hit up a Tex-Mex place for dinner.

Colin cuts one of the adorable frosted snow man cookies into bits and devours it.

A new bow tie comes in the mail for me.

Matty brings over The Afterman: Ascension, by Coheed and Cambria for a listening party. Daniel, Veejay and I participated as well.

Matty shows us an artifact from the world of the album.

Veejay inspects the award.

We read through the book together and look at the artwork before listening to the record.

Veejay helps me capture a photograph for our church’s website. The idea was to take a photo that would work next to a bio on the staff page, but we got a few quick portraits out of it.

I was wearing shorts. I put on an illusion of fanciness for the camera lens. This is the photo I chose.

We tried a few next to the bushes in my front yard for an alternate texture.

Veejay and I have lunch at Taco Milagro.

We then spend a couple of hours being productive.

A few of us help put primer on the Duncans’ pergola.

Michelle.

Greg.

Aleya.

Veejay, Brandon and I record the second episode of our film podcast at Red Robin, which you can find on filmfoodies.wordpress.com. We discussed Wreck-It Ralph.

Carli and Veejay share a hug. Veej and I were both involved in Kaitlyn and Wesley’s wedding.

Carli puts some final touches on the reception area.

I lay out some props for the silly photo area for the wedding guests.

Veejay practices a song to be sung during the ceremony.

Wesley goes over a few things on stage with the pastor.

Kaitlyn and Wesley take a gander at their guests.

They have their first kiss.

We make our way to the reception area.

Victor.

Aleya and Vic.

Veejay takes a photograph.

Michelle tries on the clown nose.

My task was to photograph the guests in silly attire.

Shannon, Selah, Veejay, Claire, and Michelle.

Wesley and Kaitlyn have their first dance.

The floor soon gave way to dancing, even line dancing.

The cake is cut.

Aleya captures some candid photos of the bride and groom.

Justin adjusts Vic’s tie. We all got ready for the annual Harvest Moon Ball. This year it was held at the 1940’s Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. I anticipated that the night would be like travelling back in time, or at least being inside a film like Casablanca, so I decided to take sepia-toned photographs in the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Rae texts someone.

Carol.

Karen.

Rae and Karen show off their shoes.

Justin shows Rae the waltz.

Greg.

The 1940’s Air Terminal museum was inside an old air traffic control tower. It had some Art Deco styling to match.

We pose.

Victor and Aleya pose in front of one of the planes outside the museum. We all took a photo op.

Carol and Shannon.

Raeann and Michelle stand together with their red dresses. I took a couple of color ones to point this out.

The boys put on a dash of dashing.

Greg.

Justin.

Brenton.

I stand with Justin next to a flying machine.

Greg is caught by surprise by my camera.

Aleya and Vic.

Michelle and Justin share a dance.

Vic plays the part of a super spy for a moment.

The excellent band plays a tune.

Greg holds Rae in a pose. There was a photo booth set up in one of the rooms where we could get our photo taken.

Greg and I recreate one of the museum’s photos.

Greg is proud of his aircraft.

We could softly hear the music as the dancers crossed the floor. It was quite movie-like.

Michelle poses with Justin and Greg.

There were a few dance demonstrations and some competitions throughout the night.

Justin poses his old-timey self.

Glass cases with memorabilia lined the side rooms.

Rae and Justin.

A spontaneous dance circle formed.

After practicing the Charleston outside, I returned to the dance floor while my camera was borrowed to take “model pictures.”

Raeann takes a call. We took some period photos with some of the memorabilia.

Michelle looks through the Rolodex.

Carol argues with the operator.

Carol peruses the exhibits.

Greg dips Raeann.

Brenton and Karen show their enthusiasm after a dance.

Rae talks with Carol. We went to Katz’s Deli after the dance.

Greg enjoys a Crown and Coke.

Michelle laughs.

Rae asks for the camera and takes a shot or two of me.

I receive a 20 dollar tip at work. The lady said, “Because it’s Christmas time.”

The sunset was notably beautiful.

Veejay smiles from across the bar.

My boss, Jeremy, strums on the guitalele a little.

Carol and Veejay high-five each other. We were waiting to see Alison Sudol, aka, A Fine Frenzy, at the House of Blues. We were there early so we could be as close to the stage as possible.

I peek over the railing a few feet from where we stood in line.

Carol pulls out her camera.

Carol knew that Lincoln was my favorite president, so she showed me a bandage tin that was doubling as her wallet.

Carol thinks she spots Alison off stage.

Veejay and Carol see if it is her.

Madi Diaz opens the concert. She and her drummer/bassist Adam had a good sound going. Veej and I were inspired to incorporate a few things into our own two-person shows.

Stage hands turn on some string lights.

Alison Sudol, or A Fine Frenzy, takes the stage. Carol was right. It was her.

She enjoyed dancing during her set. It was adorable.

Joshua Radin was next. He shared the headline with A Fine Frenzy. He had a really good band and a smooth voice.

He sings and plays unplugged for a little bit.

This guy, Brandon, played a bit of everything. I only know his name because that’s what a couple of fans next to us were yelling.

Madi came out to join Joshua on a song or two.

Joshua talks about Madi as one of his favorite people.

They greet each other.

Joshua introduces the first song he ever wrote. He was sixteen riding on a train in France, sitting across from some elegant older woman who he couldn’t muster the courage to speak to. I am too embarrassed by my early songs to ever play them live or even try to remember them. I have to commend him for writing songs from the beginning that he still enjoys.

A bee walks on the Duncans’ pergola. I had come by to help put on the final coat of paint.

Veejay sits in Jones Hall. We were there to see Glen Hansard and Eddie Vedder.

Eddie gives everyone a moment to take a photograph so that people would stop taking flash photographs for the rest of the show.

The curtain came up and the stage was transformed for the final encore. The show kept going on for quite a bit more.

I have a short cranberry white mocha and a cranberry bliss bar for the first time this year. berryblissfulicious.

Veejay and Michelle walk down a chill breezy street in the museum district. We spent a day at the Museum of Fine Arts, hanging out with Michelle’s coworker Kate for a little bit and walking around the museum.

Veejay smiles. We had lunch at Cafe Express in the museum.

Veej gazes up at the skylights. We were headed to the upper floor of one of the buildings in the museum.

Michelle answers her phone.

Kate.

Michelle and Veejay relax on a bench in the sculpture garden.

We stop at the Black Hole Coffee House.

We check out a little park nearby.

We look at a statue of Columbus. Veejay mentions a petition to change Columbus Day to Native American Day. A day to honor the original discoverers of this land.

Michelle and Veejay examine a handmade stuffed elephant. We stopped by the gift shop of the Menil Collection.

Michelle reads a book in a little chair.

We made our final stop at the tree swing near the Menil.

Veejay and I get a turn on the swing as well.

Bella chews on a plastic man’s hands.

The Filipino Crew poses for a picture. Justin, Beefy, Veejay and I commemorate the rare occurrence of the four of us working together.

Veejay points out a penguin snowglobe at Target.

Rachel, Michelle, and Veejay do some warm-up stretches. We were about to run the Color Fun Fest race in Houston.

Rachel, Michelle, Veejay, Daniel, Matty, and I represented team Happy Fun Friends. Veejay came up with the name.

Matty gives Daniel a few punches as we walk to the course.

Our team has its own unintentional cool walk.

We arrive at the starting line to see a couple thousand already waiting.

Daniel presents the masses.

Matty helps Daniel stretch.

The race begins. We can see the end of the first of 5 kilometers. At each K, racers were doused with a color powder. The first was red.

We begin with the second wave.

Daniel is reddened after the first K.

Michelle takes to the grass and dances while “Jai Ho” plays from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Pump up music played during the race.

We run in tandem, and some skipping was involved.

The second K was yellow.

Matty, who has somehow missed out on red, was yellowed.

He puts some excess color on Veejay.

Green was the third K.

The fourth K was blue.

Daniel got covered.

Rachel holds out her blue arms.

We were purpled at the final K.

Some of it had gotten in my teeth.

Rachel shows off her speckled self.

We were waiting for other racers to arrive so we could begin the color parts. Each of us picked up a color pouch to toss all over each other and into the air.

Michelle jumps around.

Veejay shakes some color out of her hair.

Matty sports blue facial hair.

We all get ready to start the color party.

Colors fly everywhere in a yell.

We were soon enveloped in a gray cloud. The yell had turned into coughing and a brief moment of finding each other.

We find each other outside of the cloud, more covered than before.

Rachel, Veejay, and Michelle jump.

We pose on the ground.

Daniel and Veej sit in the purple station.

Matty has a spring roll. The three of us made a few stops in Baytown, eliciting the wondering looks of quite a few people.

Veejay and I throw together a dinner with cheese ravioli, longanisa, tomatoes and marscapone cheese. It was delicious.

This dinner is Veejay-approved.

The fog rolls in on the way home from Houston.

I have a meal with Brenton at Pipeline Grill.

Veejay holds up a Hello Kitty Asian snack that involves dipping cracker sticks into chocolate.

Veejay and I pose for a picture in a mirror at Academy. We were helping our dad pick out some new work shoes.

Veejay pets Daisy. We dogsat for a couple of days.

Kelly and Daniel pull into the drive through in their invisible car.

Marc washes a pot. Veejay and I came over to help him and his folks make some preparations for Thanksgiving dinner.

Serena stirs the butternut squash soup.

Marc flavor injects the pig. In true Filipino fashion, we were to have a roast pig on Thanksgiving. Mike instructs us on proper flavoring technique.

Marc applies the salt rub on the pig.

Veejay watches Tita Nikki make some preparations.

Serena captures our handiwork decorating the candied yams.

Veejay marvels at her new iPod.

Thanksgiving arrives in all its roasty, delectable abundance.

Veejay communes with a plush armadillo.

I spend an afternoon and evening figuring out a DIY video recording set up in our music room.

I used the set up to record this video.

Veejay smiles. We record another episode of Film Foodies after watching Lincoln.

I show off my hoodie to reiterate how Abe is my favorite US president.

Matty and Veejay mirror each other at work.

Veejay wears a monkey face wearing a Santa hat. We had the chance to be festive at work during the holiday season.

Mark speaks. We had a get-together with childhood friends. We do some reflection over 18 years of friendship.

Emily and Matty show off their unintentionally matching, snazzy selves.

Carol and Veej chat after church.

Daniel and Vanessa harmonize on a few songs together. We had a Thanksgiving dinner at Brenton’s dad’s place.

Daniel sets up his Charlie Brown Christmas tree. His secret Santa gave him a gift for each of the twelve days of Christmas.

Victor tries on a reindeer hat. We stopped by Hobby Lobby to get some crafty, Christmas-y supplies for our trip to see Sufjan’s Christmas concert in Austin on the first of December.

Veejay grabs a bunch of jingle bracelets.

Aleya hangs on to a snowflake stamp. We decided to make our own Christmas shirts with fabric paint.

Victor asks my opinion on an outfit at Target. We hunted for shirts in different places.

Aleya and Vic look at the menu at Pipeline Grill.

Karen and Aleya.

Jayce joins us for dinner.

We take a look at Goodwill for shirts.

Vic tries on some blazers.

Aleya finds some appropriately themed shoes that she’s tempted to buy.

Vic wants to get some shoes as well.

Aleya has trouble deciding whether to get the Christmas-y shoes or these zebra ones.

We begin decorating our shirts back at the house.

My ‘m’ frolicks in the falling snow. We were making shirts to spell out the word, “Christmas.”

Veejay is the ‘A.’

Jayce is the ‘I.’

Matty and Brandon come over. We planned to see Skyfall dressed in our best Bond suits and dress.

We watched the film at Sundance Cinemas. With its roomy, confortable assigned seats and immaculate projection and sound, it was an appropriately classy place for our outing.

Veejay and Matty stand in a cold, empty street after midnight.

Matty takes a look at the menu. We went to Katz’s Deli to have dinner and record an episode of Film Foodies.

Veejay has Challah French Toast.

Daniel puts on Veejay’s glasses and tries to muster a strong hipter-barista attitude.

He can’t keep up appearances for long.

Vanessa and Daniel come over to help Daniel decorate his shirt for our upcoming trip.

Daniel has the idea of having candy-cane arms.

Vanessa takes a photo accidentally before filming. We record a video of a Christmas song we wrote last year.

This is the video we shot of our song, “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Vanessa works on Matty’s shirt, a ‘T.’

Matty plays on Veejay’s Ovation.

Daniel’s ‘S’ shirt is finished.

Veejay and Vanessa wash fabric paint off the stamps.

The green paint glows in the blue light of our TV.

Veejay holds a friendly Bella.

Daniel sports some shades. We were getting ready to embark on an adventure into the picnic loop in Memorial Park and the Houston Arboretum.

We walk to our picnic site.

Daniel asks Michelle if she thinks he could jump up onto this tree.

Veejay passes around some hand sanitizer for us to use before we eat.

Rachel and Michelle have salad.

Gerald sits in Michelle’s lap.

We make our way to the arboretum after our picnic lunch.

Veejay points out the tiny hummingbird nest.

Daniel and Veejay peruse the gift shop.

Veejay greets a plush owl.

Rachel laughs.

Rachel walks across a fallen tree.

Daniel hops on a piece of tree.

We make our way to the pond.

Daniel tests a fallen tree.

We arrive at the pond.

We watch the turtles swim up to us.

Two turtles peek from the water.

We read and work for a while.

I make some headway into re-reading The Hobbit before the film releases.

Rachel works on a Bible study.

We move to the other side of the pond where the sunlight helps offset the cold wind.

Daniel walks across a fallen tree jutting into the pond.

Daniel walks down another fallen tree that he found.

We walk back toward the car.

Daniel checks out a cross section of a grand old tree.

We explore the exhibits in the lobby of the arboretum.

A turtle swims by. There were a few creatures on display that showcased some native wildlife.

Veejay balances on the rope bridge. We played a little on the nearby playground.

Rachel crowns herself queen of the hill.

Michelle balances on a beam. We play a game of hot lava, moving around the playground without touching the ground.

Rachel peers at me from a tube.

I do the same from my side.

We feel a hug-able Eucalyptus tree before leaving.

Rachel isn’t into hugging trees.

Veejay smiles. We were about to see one of my musical heroes, David Bazan, play through his album Control, from when he went by the name, Pedro the Lion.

Salvador and Daniel examine the pedal board of the opening act.

Daniel shows me how his water cup looks like an eye.

A self-serious duo from the Midwest opened the show. They went by the name: Stagnant Pools.

I take a photograph so Daniel can better examine David Bazan’s simple set up.

Daniel and Veejay show their excitement.

David Bazan gets set up.

After the show, Veejay, Daniel and I have dinner with Salvador and Deborah down the road at Taco Milagro.

The month ends. We leave for Austin the next day.

Becoming More Journal-like, Agora, Starbucks Leadership Conference, Shark Head, Horsie, Liz’s, Djohariah, Reservoir, Black Hole Coffee, Pinewood Cafe, Games’ Cards, Andrew Bird, Pergola, Wine Down, A Horse and His Man, Abigail, Dora y Diego, Pinkberry Dance Party

I’ve decided to try to write more in these posts, because I miss writing. So, expect more words between the pictures at some points.

Daniel orders a drink through the Starbucks drive through.

A few partners take a moment to figure out where to go in the Toyota Center. A few of us from the Baytown stores had the chance to help out with the Starbucks Leadership Conference. The conference happens every four years. Store managers from stores across the country and around the world came to Houston.

Michelle sits at a table in the meeting room. Partners from stores in the Houston area were represented among the 200 or so that came to help out.

Drew has a bit of coffee.

Mandi helps a partner adjust the straps of his hawking tray. The 200 of us were tasked with serving a coffee tasting or two to 10,000 people in a few minutes.

We line up in groups to do a run through.

We stand at our respective rows after our first successful run through.

The partners pose for a photo the next morning.

We get ready for our first tasting.

Giant brewers with hose attachments sit ready to dispense the dark brew.

Howard prepares to address the 10,000 partners in the Toyota Center. Howard Schultz is the chairman and CEO of Starbucks. We affectionately refer to him as “Howard” and find him to be fairly inspiring.

Drew points out Howard.

The session continues after our first tasting.

I hang out in the nearby Discovery Green park in downtown Houston while I wait for Veejay and Michelle to pick me up.

Veejay looks up other study spot alternatives as Michelle has a seat. We stopped by Catalina Coffee shop looking to do some coworking, but found it to be devoid of power outlets.

Michelle sits with her teacher’s crate in tow.

Michelle lugs her crate up the steps to Agora.

Veejay brings her drink to the nook we claimed upstairs.

Michelle settles in by the window and a bust of Beethoven.

Veejay and Michelle do computerish things.

Later that night, at Whataburger, Rachel snaps a photo of me after I tell a couple of stories. I barely slept the night before and had been conscious only through the aid of caffeine. Michelle had gotten us on the subject of serendipitous encounters with the opposite sex and Raeann took advantage of my uninhibited state by coaxing me to tell a few stories. I actually have a few examples here on my blog. You can read them by clicking here, here, and here.

Veejay marvels at the heavy, huge box that our new computer arrived in.

In other tech and gadgetry news, I have a new thing to put all of my books in.

Ah, reading. The definition is appropriate to how I feel about the subject.

The new computer, though quite capable and quiet, is much larger than I anticipated it to be.

Mandi smiles. We baristas were led to the George R. Brown convention center for an unknown reason. We were given Starbucks swag in a messenger bag filled with a gift card, cup, aluminum water bottle, t-shirts, and a zip warm-up. We were fairly thrilled about it.

Drew rides the escalator less-traveled like a true nonconformist and reader of Robert Frost’s poetry.

We peek at downtown Houston through the convention center’s windows.

Michelle compares swag with a neighboring barista.

The bags were made for the conference and included a couple of nods to Texas.

We run into our store manager, Jeremy, on the way back to the Toyota Center.

We get ready for a second tasting.

A couple of Starbucks execs reveal the new home coffee system by Starbucks, the Verismo. After the tasting, we were allowed to sit in on the rest of the conference.

Blair Taylor, Starbucks’ newly-named Chief Community Officer, introduces himself and his position. It’s telling when a company has an executive position devoted to giving back to the community. The quote by Howard Schultz is a wise one: “Companies must recognize that long-term profit is not an enduring component of the strategy of a company if you are not giving back to the communities you serve.” If you want your work to have an impact after you are gone, it must be based on values that will outlast you. Put your heart into things that won’t fade away.

Howard takes the stage and recaps the successes and struggles of the past few years. He mentioned that taking the conference to New Orleans four years ago made the most sense because of that city’s great need for an influx of visitors and money after Hurricane Katrina. He spoke about how yesterday’s community service projects in which store managers participated around Houston, such as the Fifth Ward, and the money invested into charitable organizations of the city during this conference was part of the company’s DNA.

We heard about a type of leadership that acts out of love. It was very much in line with the talk Reverend Calvin Butts had given earlier in the conference as he spoke through the famous “Love” passage from one of St. Paul’s letters and spoke about how the qualities that he sees in that passage are ones that line up with those that Starbucks is trying to emulate. It was surreal to see a stadium full of store managers express their affirmation of this, and it was inspiring to see Howard embody it in his words. At the end of his speech Howard gives a sweet gesture of taking a few hands in his as he walks by. I had a lot to think about after this conference. Such as answering the question: Why is a corporate, for-profit entity more known for its love or at least more excited about acting in love than other non-profit, faith-based entities that claim to worship Love?

A video plays with some messages from celebrities about their affinity for the green siren.

A DJ plays some transitional tunes.

The baristas enjoy watching the screen showcase store managers dancing in the stadium.

Alicia Keys performs an incredible set.

I was floored and allured at the same time.

She and Howard walk off the stage like buddies.

Michelle, Mandi, and I get smuggled into the after-party in Discovery Green. Food, drink, and local vendors were spread throughout the park.

We spot Jeremy and chat with him for a bit.

The park was packed. It is amazing to think of the relatively small amount of space you can fit 10,000 people.

Starbucks people sit and saunter as musical acts play on different stages.

Matty, Veej, and Vanessa pose with their spiffy selves on a chilly Sunday morning.

Veejay is happy that a shark chose to gnaw on her head. A group of us went to our Pastor Dave’s house for lunch.

Daniel takes her photo.

Later in the afternoon, Nathan spots a horse that wandered onto the field after a game of ultimate Frisbee.

Eric tries to tame the mustang.

The horse, now docile, gives him a pleasant riding experience.

The horse eats some hay.

The horse says hello to another horse.

The other horse is intrigued and confused.

It comes closer.

The horse shies away.

In the early evening, Brandon scouts out a location for a music video shoot.

Liz pours a few glasses of wine. We had gone to visit her in her new house.

Liz and Brandon decide what to have for dinner. Tess looks for attention.

Brandon looks at the footage we shot earlier.

Djohariah leads her companions forward. Aveline and Djoharia’s sister, Bethany follow. Veejay and I started a first play-through of Dragon Age 2. We always attempt to create a lead character that resembles a Filipino woman. Djohariah ended up looking more South Asian, but it worked with the name we chose, which is the name of Sufjan Stevens’ sister. He’s written a couple of songs about her, namely, “Sister” and “Djohariah.”

Merrill talks about her life among the Dalish elves.

Djohariah listens to her story.

Veejay and I get ready to run at the Highlands reservoir. It’s my favorite running spot both for its quiet, scenic beauty and its long stretches of uninterrupted distance. It is currently (somewhat sadly) being reinforced and paved. Hopefully the work is finished soon so I can start running it again.

Veej had never been to this spot before. I was glad to show it to her.

Twin sisters Gia and Bella lay on a blanket in the front yard of the Duncan residence.

Charlotte smiles as she speaks to them.

I enjoy a triple espresso with whipped cream at Black Hole Coffee.

Veej gets some work done.

Michelle does computerish things as well.

Gerald peeks out of Veejay’s bag.

We park and walk toward Pinewood Cafe for lunch.

Michelle sits pensively.

Veejay takes a photo or two.

It is a gorgeous day.

Veejay has a wrap.

Michelle digs into her sandwich.

We return to Black Hole Coffee. The floors of the restrooms are inlaid with pennies.

Michelle converses with one of the twins.

A set of Dishonored tarot cards come in the mail. They don’t follow the standard symbols but are instead made as if they originated in the city of Dunwall from the game. It was a nice touch and fit in with the impressive world-building I’d expect from Half-Life 2’s Victor Antonov. Veej and I actually have another set of video game themed Tarot cards, from the game, Persona 3, which is very-much based on Jungian archetypes.

Houston shines its city lights.

Here We Go Magic is the opener at the House of Blues.

Andrew Bird started his set alone with a violin, microphone, and loop pedal. That first ten minutes made the whole evening. Amazing, amazing stuff. Click here to see a song he performed: “Why?”

Then, his band came on. It was good, but man, that stuff at the beginning was amazing.

I do admit that what they did with light and shadow was really cool.

Another highlight of the show was the acoustic stuff they did around a single microphone. It was bluegrassy and wonderful.

Veej and I visit the reservoir again.

My dad looks at Houston from a building in the medical center. I had driven him into the city so he could undergo a varicose vein procedure.

I finish translating the Dwarfish on the jacket, title pages, and map of my borrowed copy of The Hobbit while I wait. I’m attempting to re-read it before the film is released.

Veejay checks her texts. My family made our own visit to Pinewood Cafe after bringing my dad for a check up.

My dad.

Ducks do duck things.

Dad, Veejay, and I grab some ice cream from an ice cream vendor.

A family plays among the birds.

We walk back to our table with dessert in hand.

Veejay, Dad, and Mom relax a little.

A little girl stands with the pigeons.

Daniel sits on the pergola. After young adult group, the fellas got on the pergola at the Duncan’s place in a fit of spontaneous dudeness.

Brenton sits on the corner.

Philip and Marshall.

Daniel listens to what Matty has to say.

Veejay brings a couple of bottles of dessert wine to a “Wine Down” at Evan’s family’s Christmas tree farm in Magnolia. A while ago, Courtney, Veej, Evan, and I proposed getting together with friends to have a wine tasting. Courtney and Evan had taken a semester course on wine at Texas A&M. Everyone was tasked with bringing different varieties of wines: from reds, whites, to a dessert wine.

We found Courtney among the goats.

Veejay greets the kids.

Courtney and Veejay wash their hands.

Courtney starts us off with one of the reds.

We were given copies of worksheets that they had used for their class. It was very informative.

Evan writes his evaluation of the first wine on his judging sheet.

Veejay does the same.

Courtney writes down our scores and comes up with an average for each wine. She also writes down how we described the taste of each.

We paired the wines with some bread and cheese as well.

After tasting the red and white varieties we hopped on a wagon for a hay ride into the middle of the Christmas tree farm.

Courtney talks about the farm as we ride.

We gather around a fire.

Courtney roasts some marshmallows for smores.

We relaxed by a pond.

We brought two half-bottles of a Moscato D’Asti by Dante Rivetti. Delicious, delicious stuff. It is a light and luscious wine with a smooth body and soft aftertaste. It’s like drinking apple blossoms.

We paired the dessert wine with s’mores. The wine was gone quickly.

We visited the sturdy and high tree house a short walk away.

Christmas evergreens stand in their rows.

A lighted tepee stands close to the wagon and the fire.

Matthew and Veejay sit for a spell.

Courtney and Veejay look at a sky map using someone’s phone.

Veejay snaps this picture of the pond.

We make a final stop in the old farm house turned gift shop before we leave.

Veejay checks out the soaps.

Veejay finds a stuffed horse in one corner of the shop.

Matthew peruses.

An aerial view of the farm hangs on a wall.

Veejay retraces our path through the farm.

I trade my old work hat for a new one.

Matty, Karen and Aleya get ready to watch Snow White and the Huntsman at Raeann’s place.

Mom and Dad come home with a bunch of chocolate. Whenever they hear about something with positive nutritional properties they bring home a bunch of it.

Marshall and Raeann come over to play some video games. We settle on starting a play through of Shadow of the Colossus. It may be one of the most artful, contemplative, and moving games I’ve played. It may be my favorite.

Wander finds a way onto a lumbering colossus and pierces through one of its vital points.

Argo looks at Wander.

Wander rides Argo to the edge of the sea.

I wave at my little buddy, Abigail, as she waves back. She enjoys yelling my name and seeing me wave at her.

Abigail laughs.

Dora and Backpack work at Starbucks for a day. Veejay and I dressed up at work for Halloween.

Dora and Diego smile for the camera. The kid show cousins brought smiles to quite a few customers’ faces.

Dora sits at a table in Pinkberry. We stopped by after having dinner at TGI Friday’s.

Matty has some froyo.

Kelly looks at his phone.

Dora starts dancing. We heard a song by Craft Spells start playing on the speakers outside of Pinkberry. Click here to listen to “After the Moment.” The next few photos make more sense with the song playing in the background.

Matty joins in.

Daniel moves with some restraint.

Kelly gets into it.

Daniel hops on his chair.

A dance party of a not insignificant proportion ensues.

We end our dance party after a short while.

Kelly takes Daniel’s beanie.

Dora resumes the dancing.

Dora suggests that we make a dance mix and have a dance party.

Matty looks up some songs while moving to the music.

On the way to the car, we have a little dance party celebration, while playing “After the Moment” on one of our phones.

This section of the party ends with a jump.

Matty, Daniel, and Kelly continue the dance party in the car after discovering an LED strobe light app. (If you can’t see the video above, click here.) Daniel accidentally elbows Matty in the face.

Veej snaps this photo of the Fred Hartman bridge.

Dora stands in line at blockbuster. Backpack smiles for the camera.

Veejay and I pose as the kid-famous cousins, Dora and Diego.

Carli and Cory, Teahouse, John Mark McMillan, Inversion, Pop Party, Underwater Portraits, River Oaks Coffee, Aleya and Twins, 59 Diner Swing Bomb, Antidote, Dry Creek, Another Park

Veej and Michelle take a stroll down a Houston neighborhood street. We were heading to Cafe Brasil. Cory and Carli were in town from California, which called for a Houston day. Rachel and Michelle look at the menu. Aleya looks at vegetarian options. Veejay knows what she wants. Shannon replies to Veejay’s inquisitive poke. Claire. Wesley and Kaitlyn. Cory. One of the iced coffees I brought back for Veejay and I sweats. Kaitlyn takes a photo of it as well. Josh has a laugh. Veejay walks by the giant jack, or knucklebone. All that’s needed to complement the piece is a giant rubber ball falling from the sky. Carli comments on my photo taking as we walk toward The Menil. Veejay gasps as I take a forbidden photo in the museum. Daniel gets cozy with a piece of street art on the street: a knight smoking a pipe, a Pipe Knight. The Broken Obelisk stands in its reflecting pool. We had gone to the Rothko Chapel after  strolling through the Menil. Daniel sits on the sidewalk. We walk into the cleft of the chapel in the nearby St. Thomas University. We then walk the prayer labyrinth behind the chapel. Claire, Veejay, and Rachel run back out of the labyrinth. Josh examines the ceiling. We stopped for lunch at the Hobbit Cafe. Josh and Veejay wait for the group to assemble before we leave. We check out some ceramic pieces crafted by Carli’s mom, Carmen. They were on display at a private art gallery. A rainbow lights our way home. Veej and Rae hug at church. Vanessa. Matthew sports some red suspenders. I share a bacon shake with Veejay. We went to Denny’s for lunch. Matty sits in an empty phone bay. Brian, Rowell, Karis, and Hannah play some Rock Band at our house. Hannah sings “Hungry Like the Wolf.” She soon notices me taking pictures and says, “Are you taking pictures of me?! Delete them!” I laugh and say, “Sorry. I’ll stop.” Veejay laughs at Hannah’s reaction to my camera. The moon hangs low in the horizon as we drive home one night. Veejay makes a face at Rachel. We spent an afternoon at The Teahouse. Rachel reacts to Veejay. Michelle stares deeply into her lesson planning. Veejay replaces the guitar strings on her Ovation. Veejay hangs out with Gerald in her room. Gerald coolly says, “What’s up?” Daniel tries on a medallion Justin is making for a game for his youth group. A few of us went to Justin’s for a chicken wing fry. Victor sits to chat by the pool in Justin’s backyard. Daniel gets creative with the sauces. Justin holds the sauce box. Stephanie shows of her finished tattoo. Tim puts Kelly inside two combined trash cans. Matty and Veejay take photos of the Houston skyline. We arrived at Ecclesia Church’s new location to see John Mark McMillan perform. The empty stage waits with its full load of performance accouterments. Daniel drinks some coffee before the show starts. Veejay texts somebody. Jude Moses is the opener. They had a great, two-person thing going for them. John Mark McMillan was next. Aleya and Shannon watch the performance. The bassist, Lance, rocked. It was great to stand by such a solid rhythm section. (Daniel Colvin and I, along with a few others, were able to talk with him after the show. We learned a bit about the session musician who recorded the original bass lines and about how Lance came to tour with John Mark.) The drummer stares in my direction. The newest member of the group was from Houston. The guitarist added color to the sound. John Mark adjusts some settings on his pedal board between songs. The lead from Jude Moses played acoustic guitar and banjo in the band. Daniel and Matty sing out during “Death in His Grave.” Veejay and Vanessa sing too. John Mark addresses the crowd about how the things we do define who we are. The performance included a mixed-media projection of lyrics that combined hand-written text and photography for an aesthetic that infused meaning into the mundane. Matty grabbed a copy of the set list after the show. The city had changed into its evening wear by the time we left. Michelle pays for her order at the Inversion Coffee House. We had another glorious coworking day in Houston. Veejay browses Facebook before diving into her work. Michelle begins lesson planning. I snap a photo of some Aussie-themed foods before trying them. A Dos Equis food truck in the parking lot was running a promotional contest to win a trip to Australia. They were serving Australian-themed foods Veejay listens to Michelle as we wait to be served. We ate at Nidda Thai for lunch. Michelle looks over the menu. Veej claims a little corner of the spacious couch in Inversion. We went back for a few more hours of work. Aleya reads come cards from the game, “Fact or Crap” by phone light. The young adult group from our church went to one of our favorite hang outs after our meeting that night: a local park. We called it a “Pop Party,” because we stopped by the grocery store and picked up foods starting with “pop,” like Pop Tarts and popsicles, for example. Aleya, Michelle, and Matty brave walking the endless monkey bars. Greg hangs around. Veej and Rae pose. A group of us took some underwater pictures in normal clothes. Hunter had borrowed an underwater camera from a friend. I persuaded Veejay to come, if only to get some new band pictures for our neglected music Facebook page. Veejay, Raeann, and Vanessa. We attempt some photos of them underwater. Vanessa submerges. She surfaces. Rae finds gum (?) in the pool. Veejay looks at the camera. Veejay comes out of the water. Rae floats beneath the surface. Veejay and I have Rae take a few band photos for us. We try some taken after rising out of the water. Vanessa photo bombs. We try out some hungry grins. Rae does her best, “Lady of Shallot” impersonation. We take a few more. This last idea was our favorite. At the end of our amateur photo shoot we got some winners. Gerald the giraffe, our unofficial store mascot, dressed as a pirate for International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. Veejay wheels in our new ginormous neighborhood recycling bins. I was impressed that the City of Baytown’s recycling initiative has grown in both scale and popularity. Veejay has a coconut creme frappe. We went to River Oaks Coffee House I was served a heaping little cup of espresso con panna. It was delicious. Aleya plays with Bella. A literature anthology came in the mail for me. I only got it so I could read the introduction by Sufjan Stevens. My enthusiam for things Sufjan can be somewhat ridiculous at times. Greg receives Hunter’s fealty. The throne-like qualities of the chair compelled Hunter to treat Greg as swing-dancing royalty. We went to Taft Street Coffee for their monthly swing dance. Carol and Greg dance. Brenton and Greg stand pensively. We “swing bomb” 59 Diner. It only took a couple of coins in the juke box. After the dance we hung out with some fun folks from U of H. I discover a Keurig at the church with a couple of choice coffees. I haven’t had Caribou in a while. We play ultimate frisbee on a hot Sunday afternoon. We cool off in the shade after a game. Veejay laughs. Veejay eats a cinnamon roll. She, Michelle, and I went to the coffee shop, Antidote to get some coworking done. The outside seating area was very colorful. Our beverages sit finished. An artsy heart hangs on the wall. Veej and Michelle get the work done. Michelle sports venue appropriate attire. We have lunch at Dry Creek. Michelle chows down on a ginormous burger. Michelle walks a rope. We hung out at a nearby park. Veejay joins Michelle. They look out of the window of the castle. The two bounce on a plank bridge. I swing around a little. Veej and Michelle also swing. I take a turn. Veej tries one of the kiddie swings. Aleya holds the twins Gia and Bella. We went to the Duncans’ to hang out and have our young adult group meeting. A little sunlight and a colorful umbrella can keep these kiddos entertained for entire half-hours. Red. Blue. Yellow. Daniel plays guitar on a park bench as people play in the park. We hit up another local park after the young adult meeting. Carol creates a design out of sticks. Shannon sits. Rae claims a comfy perch. Marshall does the same. Daniel spins around while playing the guitar. Matty, Rae, Marshall, and Greg pose for a final photograph.