Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tickling the Ivory

Last week was the drums, before that it was any guitar he could get his hand on, this week Sawyer introduced himself to the piano, and loved it! We're all thrilled that he's encapsulated by music. Or maybe it's noise. Or maybe just forcing everyone to pay attention to him. Whatever the reason, we enjoyed watching him enjoy the piano.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Floridian Christmas

For Christmas this year, we escaped the shivering cold of KY and went to Florida, where we spent a week with both of our families. We had a wonderful time, and came home with a small truckload of stuff for our little boy. Our week consisted of some visiting, some golf (complete with alligator encounters and laughing at a guy who fell backwards in the mud), some swimming and grilling, lots of parties, and lots of eating.

Sawyer definitely loved the gifting part of Christmas. He learned very quickly how to tear wrapping paper off of gifts, and was involved in the opening of every one of his. He seemed personally offended when someone else opened a gift without his help.
Sawyer's 11 months old now, but since we won't see our family next month, we decided to have a birthday party while we were all together. Since his aunt Jenni is a master baker, we had some of the coolest cakes around. Yes cakes, every 1 year-old needs multiple cakes, right?
Turns out he adopted some traits of his dad, at least one or two. One in particular came to light during his birthday celebration. Anyone who's ever eaten wings with me will understand this one...

His cakes were musically themed, a guitar, a drum, and a xylophone. We popped a candle in the drum cake and sang to him, then spit on it together to blow it out, then we pushed him toward the cake with instructions to dive in! He tentatively looked the cake over, then raised his hand in the proper attack position for a good drum strike, and then the hammer fell. When his hand hit the cake he was not rewarded with a hearty thump of musicality, but rather a hand full of icing. Like a hand that just found itself in the danger zone of a rattle snake, he recoiled it back and turned to high tail it away from that wretched thing. Straight to daddy he crawled, screaming the whole way until his hand was properly cleaned off. And he wasn't really a big fan of eating the icing either. Strike up another 'like father' moment :).

Sawyer exploring his new tent:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

An Early Christmas Present

Yesterday, a phone call notified us that our visas for France are completed and waiting for us in Lexington. Waaaay ahead of schedule (which means about 5 days ahead), we're now able to plan our departure with more than a 24 hour notice. A month ago we feared we wouldn't be able to make it to France in time for the start of language school on Jan 4, now there's a cushion! We don't have a leave date yet, but we're looking at flying out right around new years day. After enjoying some important and what will be cherished last family time, we'll pack furiously and prepare our hearts to go. We pray that you, too, will be able to cherish your time with whoever you have tomorrow.
Merry Christmas!!
Joyeux Noel!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

A proud moment for a drummer dad

Today was a good day. One of those that make you smile... if you're me anyways.

Sadly, I just missed the swiss army triplets, inverted flams, and diddle egg fives. You can clearly see drumming fatigue setting in.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lies, Lies, Lies

Do you ever have those times when a little voice that seems to have weaseled its way into your head tells you a bunch of junk that makes you feel guilty, insufficient, insignificant, or worse? I have. Do you know where that's coming from? Do you know that it's absolutely not true?!

We have a friend, his name is Tim. Tim's been a wonderful friend to us for many years. We love Tim for many reasons. One of those reasons is the occasional beautiful nugget of truth that comes from his lips. He shares lots of truth, but some are just absolutely beautiful. Tim loves to listen to people and to share insight. He loves quotes, he loves the Word of God, and he loves to really get to the bottom of issues. A lot of people call Tim "Doctor" (with good reason, he is a doctor). For the first few months that I knew Tim, I assumed he was a psychologist or some sort of psycho-head doc, because of his quirky ways of listening, prying, and speaking to the issues he discerns. But he's not a head doc.

A couple nights ago we were together with some friends, living out our faith and sharing our lives. One friend shared about struggles with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, but acknowledged that those thoughts were clearly lies from Satan. Truly, 1 Peter 5:8 says, "the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour". In a fabulous moment of clarity and wit, Tim responded "well do you expect the devil to say, 'attaboy _____!'" Ha. I loved it. Of course Satan's not going to encourage and pat us on the back. Attaboy Michael! I'm so proud of you! No no no, his technique is lies, lies, lies.

When you feel down, beat-up, self-conscious, inadequate, delinquent... that is not from the all-knowing, loving God the Father. That is purely a set of lies from Satan himself.

Though I'm pretty sure it's not written about Satan, I love the song Lies performed here by The Swell Season. It speaks to his tactics well:

You're moving too fast for me
And I can't keep up with you
Maybe if you'd slowed down for me
I could see you're only telling
Lies, lies, lies
Breaking us down with your
Lies, lies, lies
When will you learn

So plant the thought and watch it grow
Wind it up and let it go

Isn't that exactly what he does? Plants the thought and lets it grow? He keeps it going so fast and so constant, we often don't even realize what he's doing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A New Flavor for Date Night

Last night we went out on a date, leaving Sawyer behind in the capable hands of some dear friends. We decided to be adventurous for our taste buds, and went out for Chinese! Not that exciting you say? Well it is/was for us. We're not Asian food eaters. At least we never have been. I can count the number of times we have each eaten at a Chinese restaurant on one hand. And my previous experiences have consisted of heading straight for the peel-n-eat shrimp at a buffet and loading up on iodine, or maybe venturing out so far as, gasp, chicken fried rice!

But something's changed in us. I think one of the best things you can do for your taste-buds is travel internationally. It's not even necessary to go lots of places. Just one, that's really different than anything you've experienced before, and stay there awhile, eating what the locals eat. Before moving to Africa, we loved the full-board of American fare - southern, seafood, pizza, creole, chowda, burgers, sandwiches, wings, etc - and even some basic international favorites like Mexican, Irish and Italian that any American eats. But the whole Asian continent was never a draw for us (though we did learn to like Japanese hibachi grills). Then we moved to East Africa, where standard face was rice and beans, with the occasional tough goat or scrawny chicken. We'd go out to eat, and for a break from the rice and beans go to Indian restaurants. Oh Indian food, how I love thee! Then we made friends with the international community and were introduced to Korean food, Yemeni, Iranian, Ethiopian, South African, German - all wonderful!

Since being back in the States we've branched out to everything we can find, and now know that we love Vietnamese, Thai, Russian, Mediterranean, and I'm ready to say it... even Chinese.

What's next? Any suggestions for our next cultural taste to seek out?
I hear the French don't know anything about food... (that's sarcasm France, please don't hate us)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Can I get fries with that criminal report?

Today we traveled to the capitol of Kentucky, good 'ole Frankfort, in order to get background checks. We called for directions and were directed to a drive-up window on the side of a government building. A drive-thru? For a background check? We found it surprising to say the least, and were curious indeed. When we arrived, sure enough, we saw the drive-thru. We pulled up, handed in our IDs and our $10 a piece, then waited about 5 minutes and were presented with our very own criminal histories! Sadly though, the State Government does not provide fries and shakes.

Getting my criminal report was a good reminder of the high-school and college days in which I was apparently a speedster, or so my list of traffic citations would suggest. Thankfully, 2 years in Africa has taught me that there's no good reason to hurry, so I'm a much more law-abiding driver these days.

As a part of our visa application to move to France, we had to get full background checks from the FBI. We ordered these in mid-October, and still have nothing. Because we're planning to leave in less than a month and haven't yet turned in our applications (short only the FBI background checks), we decided to get as many others as we can in a more local sense, hoping we'll be able to push our application for a visa through and at least get it started. So we've now obtained a letter from our local city police HQ in Lexington, a state-wide criminal history from the capitol of KY, and we're still waiting on the FBI background report. Sort of sad that the State of KY could do in 5 minutes at a drive-thru window what the FBI needs over 2 months to do. Here's a rundown of how our city, state, and nation rank in providing background checks:

1. State of KY (5 mins)
2. City of Lexington (2 days)
3. FBI (almost 2 months and counting...)

1. City of Lexington (free)
2. State of KY ($10)
3. FBI ($18)

1. FBI (though still unknown, this is the actual form we're required to have, so in that sense it's the best quality)
2. City of Lexington (a formal typed and notarized letter)
3. State of KY (it was just a print-out, not at all official-looking)

1. FBI (the whole nation obviously covers more than state or city)
2. State of KY (this one listed my traffic citations, I'm not a fan of it)
3. City of Lexington (we're clean, we're clean!)

Thank you city of Lexington for helping us out when we needed a letter. Thank you State of KY for your speedy, though simple, service. Please please hurry FBI! We need you!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Do you think Christmas was stuck at the end of December so that we would say things like "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" and convince ourselves of it, even though it's bitterly cold outside and miserable with rain/sleet/snow coming down and slush covering the ground? I just can't help but wonder.

It is Christmas time, and weather aside (woke up to a little bit of snow coming down this morning), it is a fabulous time of the year! The last two years were strange for us, as far as Christmas goes. December is one of the hottest months in Tanzania, certainly no snow or log fires. We did have each other to celebrate with, along with a couple of friends. Even though evergreen trees didn't really grow in Tanzania, the custom had traveled from the West there, and in typical African fashion had been adopted and changed. So on Christmas day across Tanzania, single branches of evergreen trees are the hottest selling item. What do people do with them? Hang them on a wall, over a door, set one on a table, stick one in the grill of your car or on the handlebars of your bicycle. It's Christmas, so that's what you do! A few whole (though scrawny) trees are also available for sale in the streets on Christmas day (but not before). One of my favorite Christmas memories was standing by the market one year on Christmas day and watching a woman covered head to toe in a full black burqa (traditional islamic dress) buy one of the few Christmas trees to take home. A Christmas tree! It made me smile :).

This year is an exciting one for us. It will be our first Christmas home with family in quite a while, but it will also be our first Christmas as a family with our son, Sawyer. That means this year we get to mix and create some of the traditions for Christmas that our kid(s) will grow up knowing and remembering. Any good suggestions? We've already decided one: we want to celebrate through the advent calendar as a family with daily and/or weekly devotions in the month leading up to Christmas. It's fun to make it a whole season and to get to the heart of why the holiday exists. We want to make it a special time for our family, as we will often be in different homes and countries than even the year before, and we will really have to cling to one another as a family. Other than that one, we're open to ideas to make Christmas a special one for our family unit. Some from our childhoods: M's family always started the day with a coffee cake, complete with candles and a "happy birthday" to Jesus song. Then presents, a day of relaxing, and a big ham dinner. JJ's family always celebrated with a huge hot breakfast, complete with country ham, biscuits, and much more. We also both remember hot chocolate as a staple of the day, and an assortment of home-baked cookies. What about you? How do you celebrate the day and the season and what do you love about it?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Glory in the Highest

Last night we went to see Shane and Shane, Phil Wickham, and Bethany Dillon in concert for their joint Christmas tour. We were a little bummed when we showed up late and missed about half of Phil Wickham's (way too short) set, but pleased that he later joined the rest of the crew, playing bass for some Christmas jams. We were surprised on a couple of accounts at the show: #1 - Shane Barnard and Bethany Dillon are married. Which seemed especially weird because when we first heard Bethany Dillon she was 17, and Shane B has always been our senior (she is 21 now, so it's ok after all). Didn't see that one coming, and the curveball meant that the first opening act we feared to miss a bit of was Phil, not Bethany. We love her music as well, but that was a let-down to those of us who are a bit over-obsessed with Phil Wickham's sweet tunes. Surprise #2 was the discovery that Phil was born in 1984. That means he's younger than us. You know that point where you start to realize that you're aging? We first noticed it when we graduated from college and all of our favorite sports stars were the same age or younger (though they seemed much more physically mature), now we've realized that a favorite musician we sit around listening to is our junior.

If you haven't listened to these artists, you should.
-Phil Wickham has a free album available for download on his website: singalong. (*note: download is currently unavailable until jan 1, 2010)
-Shane and Shane have a fan website, where you can hear some of their songs and get guitar chords and lyrics (they are a lot of fun to play on the guitar).
-Bethany Dillon's website can link you to her stuff, check it out. She's a great songwriter.
Also, if you like Christmas music, go buy Shane and Shane's Christmas Album, "Glory in the Highest", released last year. It's unique and good.

The other fun part of last night was my discovery of a new drum toy now on my wish list: The Remo Mondo Snare. It's basically like Remo took their standard djembe, cut it off just below the head, and then attached a snare bottom to it. This is a wonderful discovery for me, as I often swap the snare on my kit with my Remo Djembe to get a more percussive wordly feel. With the Remo Mondo Snare I hope to one day have the best of both worlds and less of equipment to cart around! And a snare mixed with the Mondo head just has a great and distinct sound to it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My How You've Changed!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a hibernating bear, wake up after a long winter and have no idea what happened while you were asleep? Or like Han Solo, frozen in carbonite? There’s a great scene in the movie “Castaway” that depicts it... Hanks’ character returns from years on the island and has no idea what’s taken place since he left (though the scene really speaks more to the changes in him than the changes around him).

We had a chance to get about as close as we’ll ever come to a hibernating bear, castaway, or frozen hero. When we returned to the USA after two years in East Africa, a lot had changed. We weren’t completely cut off from our old American lives. We still received news in Africa (in fact, we think there was more election coverage there than there was here... our african friends cared more about the race than we did: said one neighbor, “it is the election of the president of the world”), we still saw some new products come in through the ports, we had friends in the States who wrote to keep us abreast of the relevant goings-on. But there’s a lot we missed, and a lot we never experienced. Take Twitter for instance. That whole thing happened while we were gone. We’re still behind on that one.

We’re often asked what we notice is different. I’ve realized in recent weeks one thing that’s drastically different now than over two years ago when we left: TV on the internet. I’ve just about decided that there’s not reason to own a TV in the US anymore, or at least not a cable subscription or dish. You can watch TV shows on websites like or the actual network websites (,, etc). ESPN streams a ton of live sporting events at, and other websites exist with similar offerings. None of this existed that I can remember 3 years ago! And while it all seems a pretty sweet deal for international transplants like ourselves (who still love our NCAA sports, NFL, and select other shows), sadly most of these websites work only within US borders.