Sunday, January 31, 2010

I want to go that way!

Are you one of those people with ‘a good sense of direction’? Have you ever been out with friends, looking for a place, a restaurant, a particular street and quietly thought to yourself knowingly, “if we’d just turn right and go two blocks we’d be there”? Or are you the confident navigator who knows that he could be dropped anywhere in the country and find his way home? Could I spin you around, place you in the middle of a city, tell you to meet me at 4th and Vine in 20 minutes and see you there?

I used to be one of those. But then something happened. I moved to a new country where a new equilibrium is needed for sense of direction. I sometimes wonder if a compass would even work here. As we ride around with friends, or attempt to follow some directions, or walk the streets of our town, we quickly feel completely out of whack and can’t remember which way is east, west, up, down, forwards, backwards. What happened?!

France is a country where American road network norms do not apply. You know how there are square city structures in the USA with straight roads intersecting at perpendicular angles? And one road may be one way, but the next one down will go the other way? And if you miss your turn, you can make the next turn and get right back to where you want to go? And you know how most cities will have a major road or two coming through them, with multiple ramps to get on and off from either direction, and often a bypass that circles the city, also with ramps to enter and exit as you please? And have you ever had it happen where you miss an exit, so you go down to the next one, take it, get back on the interstate the other way and then come back to your exit? Have you ever followed directions to a friend’s house, knowing full well that you’d simply invert them to get back home? Yeah... all of those things: you can’t do here.

Cities and towns are not in block format. Major roads have ramps on and off, but often not the option to go either way or to return to the autoroute. Roundabouts are everywhere (after a few of those, directionality gets tossed out the window). One-way streets are the norm and rarely have a mirrored options nearby. You need totally different routes for getting to your destination and returning. There’s a sports complex in our town that’s just a little bit far to walk to, so it’s one of the few usual drives I make. I’ve memorized the route to and from, but I still can’t understand how 2 lefts and a right gets me there, but only 1 left brings me home.

Last night we went to visit some friends on the other side of the city. We used directions to get there, and all were amazed that on our first attempt at navigating alone we actually arrived (without a gps). We were a little surprised at ourselves too. I didn’t look up directions for the trip home though. Our drive home was a little more eventful. After making a few wrong turns and attempting to find our way back to the start, we gave up and just tried following signs. After some strange twists, turns, tunnels, and bridges, we eventually ended up at home, but still not entirely sure how we got there.

I know that there’s a logic to the network here. There has to be. We’re logical creatures. It’s just a different kind that I haven’t figured out yet...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Whose work?

Today I felt convicted of something. I was listening to a presentation of a friend getting ready to move to a country in west Africa. She had some prayer requests to share with our group. The presentation was in French, so honestly, I have no idea what she said, but what I think I read and extrapolated from the written prayer request went something like this: “pray that God bless our work as we...”

Again, it was in French, so I was only guessing and probably wrong, but that which I made up to be the translation struck me as backwards. And it then immediately struck me as something I say/write/think all the time. Pray that God bless my work! It looks so silly when I type it out.

If it’s my work, what part does God even have in it? Is that the way He works? Does He watch and wait for someone to start doing something good and then help it along? Or is it true that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17)? I think perhaps we should pray that HE move in a powerful way, and allow us to be a part if He so chooses.

In our work, we often send out prayer requests to friends around the world who pray with us. How many times have I written a prayer request that we pray for God to bless what we’re doing? How many times have I said it when talking to someone or speaking about my life? Or worse yet, how many times have I thought it and prayed it myself?

God, I know that all good things start and end with You. I know that You are at work in our world today. I pray that I step in line with what You are doing, and that I pray and plead for You to move even more. Give me Your work and Your purpose to take as my own and follow after You.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Great Day for a Party

Tuesday, we learned from our Australian friends that Sawyer’s birthday is a special day in the history of the world. He shares a day of celebration with that little island continent/country in the south pacific. Jan 26 is Australia Day!

What is Australia Day you ask? Well if you really dig in, the history can become a little clouded. But basically, the day is a celebration of when the first British ship landed to settle the outback. The more cynical refer to it as “imperialism day” or “invasion day”, but most Australians take it as an excuse to have a bbq (I don’t know the spelling of the real word, but they pronounce it ‘bahbie’) and throw a big party.

It’s good to know that 22 million other people will be celebrating each year on the same day we celebrate our son’s birth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tomorrow's One Year!


Can you believe it? It's already (almost) been a whole year since this little bundle of joy came into our lives. Really, it's been a few months more than a year that he's changed our lives...

Happy birthday Sawyer! We love you and can't wait to celebrate the day with you!

1 year old tomorrow!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Ryan!

Today marks the celebration of the end of the 26th year and the beginning of the 27th year of my brother’s life (follow that?). Born on Super Bowl Sunday in 1984, Ryan has lived a dynamic life up to this point, full of great moments in history such as trick-or-treating as Robin to his brother’s Batman, and Mario to his brother’s Luigi (I can play the sidekick too), rocking perfect scores in Ohio Math League, earning the elusive MSE (most seeds eaten) award from a local sportswriter for his work in the high school baseball dugout, and once predicting exactly the moment UK would block a Florida punt in a live football game (I was there, totally true... of course he was a manager with the team, sort of had insider info).

He sports a golf swing that would make Arnie’s entire Army proud, he married a wonderful young lady (who happened to be JJ’s college roommate), he carries a 23:5 following to follower twitter ratio, and watching him care for his gentle and friendly diabetic dog tells me he is and is going to be a great uncle. Also, because I know of his love for life and passion for seeing kids grow to be men and women, husbands and wives, teachers, workers, researchers, athletes, practitioners, and more, I know he will love and help to raise any children either of us ever have. I’m proud of the man he’s become and quick to brag on him and say that I love him. As a teacher and coach, he devotes his life to a great calling and impacts kids in ways he may never be able to fully see. As a parent, I’d be delighted to have my child in his classroom and/or on his team.

I hope you have a great day Ryan!! Enjoy being a 26-year old. Even though an ocean separates us, know that you are loved and missed!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I think I’d prefer the mystery meat from Jr High

“You’re moving to France? Wow! You’ll get to enjoy the best food in the world!”

We heard this a lot before moving over here. It seems France has a reputation for culinary excellence. Sure, everyone knows about the weird stuff like escargot (snails), caviar (fish eggs, right?), and steak tartar (a raw hunk of beef, prepared how?). And then there’s the wine, bread, and cheese. But what about the rest? What is French food exactly?

I don’t know. Still don’t.

But... we took a big step in our cultural lives last night! We went out to dinner, on our own, at a restaurant. We’ve done this only once before, and it was lunch at McDonald’s, not so difficult. It may seem like a silly thing, but keep in mind that we’re not in the middle of touristy Paris where the English flows like the money from the tourists’ pockets. Out in our industrial suburb town, French is the language, the only language. And our French has barely progressed to the point of saying “I am,” “I have,” “I love,” plus the days of the week and counting to 100. So dinner out was sure to be an adventure.

We went to a place recommended by some friends. “A grill” they said, full of hearty grilled meats and sides. We walked in and saw a nice looking fire against the wall of the semi-circle shaped restaurant, complete with oils and skillets and wooden trivets. We sat down and read the menus.

I once read in a travel book that it’s always a good idea to order based on the recommendations of the chef and/or waiter. You’ll enjoy great food and make friends. So I read the chef’s special for the day and could tell that it was some sort of meat made with onions. I asked and it was explained to be sausage. Sounds fine to me. Then JJ narrowed down to a portion of the menu and asked the waiter his advice. The steak, he recommended. Ok. Well done? Yes, well done please.

When our food came, we chuckled a little at the sight of my plate. I’d expected something like a skillet with sausage and onion pieces mixed throughout. Instead, a giant curved hot-dog-like sausage with a tough skin sat on my plate. That and some fries. JJ cut into her steak and was greeted by the color red. Bright red. And it wasn’t so much a steak as hamburger meat patted together into a ball. We’d call what sat before her a bunless burger, very rare. Then I sliced into my meat tube. Instead of a simple rounded segment, my knife pierced the skin and was met by an ooze of black/brown meat substance somewhere between the consistency of cottage cheese and couscous. Yeah, it was gross.

At least we both had a mountain of fries on our plates.

On our way home I mused “whoever said the French have the best food in the world must’ve never eaten at a Chili’s.”

Hopefully, there’s no where to go but up now...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sirens!

Every time I hear a police car or ambulance drive by outside our apartment with the sirens wailing, I feel like I’m in a movie. You know the distinct European siren you hear when you watch an international thriller like the Bourne movies? Yeah, that one. Still seems surreal that it could actually be the normal siren and not just a thing of the movies.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Interesting finds in the Library

Yesterday we went to the library. A real French library! First we found the section of English books, which was smaller and less diverse than our personal bookshelf. After a quick look through the regular books we moved to the children’s area, which proved to be the most enlightening.

In the children’s books, there was a whole section on cultures and countries from around the world. You could read (in kids’ level french) about animals and trees in Africa, about the rich culture of India, and about the geography and people of South America. One entire shelf was devoted to North America, so I flipped through the offerings there. It turns out that almost every book on the North America shelf was about cowboys and indians (plus one book entitled “Le Mississippi”). That’s right America, French people think you are all cowboys and indians. French children at least...

Just before leaving we happened upon one more gem in the small children’s area. A little square cardboard book entitled “Strip Tease.” No, you didn’t read that wrong. I said, “Strip Tease.” Opening the toddler book, we found about 10 pages, each with an article of clothing and a description. The contents ranged from glasses to a shirt and even bra and panties. I’m hoping something is lost in translation here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Uh-oh Cheerio!

Sawyer's new favorite game:

It involves a sliding pantry door and boxes of cereal. Usually it consists of Sawyer crawling away and getting really quiet so that mom and dad will forget about his existence...

These pictures were taken after I walked into the kitchen and saw him sitting with the cheerio box in hand, open and perfectly horizontal. "Noooooo!" I yelled in a low-pitch slow-motion like way as I rushed toward him. But I was too late. The rat-tat-tat sound of spilling cheerios had already begun to fill our kitchen.
video

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Arrival to France

A story from our arrival that made me chuckle at myself, don’t know why I haven’t posted it yet:

So we debarked from the plane and passed through customs. I don't know why, but passing through customs is always a little nerve-wracking. When I handed our passports to the interpol agent, he flipped to the visa page and then spoke in French. I caught that he was asking if we spoke French, and I replied "no". In very broken English he asked "how many times did it take you to get your visa"? After a few re-phrasings, we figured out that he was asking how long it took to get our visas. I think he noticed the discomfort on our faces and laughed, explained that his girlfriend was American and trying to get a visa, so he wondered how long it might take. Ha. Nothing to worry about.

Then down to baggage claim. JJ and S took a seat and I went up, wrangled a few carts, and took up my position at the very end of the conveyor belt. The buzzer rang out just as I settled and was ready, and out came the bags. A crowd had gathered, b/c our plane was huge and there were a lot of people waiting for bags. As they came around, the first bag was our stroller, then my golf clubs, then a trunk, then a duffle... every one of our many many bags (moving requires a bit more than a vacation!) came out in a row, the very first ones through. So here I was at the end of the conveyor pulling off each bag just before it went behind the wall. Everyone was staring at me probably thinking I was some nutty guy who was trying to save everyone's bags from disappearing, or maybe stealing bags. Either way, it was admittedly kind of funny for 200+ people to be standing waiting and one guy at the end pulling giant bags in rapid fire succession.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Hard Bargain

We bought a tv! 1st time we’ve ever bought a tv. Living in a foreign country where everything’s really expensive and we can’t speak the language and don’t understand the cultural norms seemed like a perfect place and time to make our first tv purchase.

With only a slight portion of a plan, we loaded ourselves up and headed to “Cora,” the French version of a Super Wal-Mart. The place is huge and has everything, including tvs. I walked to the tv section and checked out a few models, most out of my price range. Sitting off to the side I saw a box with a tv and a small ’-30%’ sticker. I caught the attention of a salesman and began the communication carousel. In very broken French/English/Swahili (why is it that when trying to learn a new foreign language, old learned languages always seem to come out?) I explained what I was looking for, and asked why this one was marked with a discount. I ascertained that it was a former display model being sold for a price below retail. I then managed to communicate I was interested, and he grabbed a manager who knew a little bit of English.

This is where the communication problems became comical from my point of view. I had a simple question: is the price marked on the box already reduced 30%, or will it be reduced an additional 30%? In trying to ask this question, the manager that ‘spoke English’ thought I was pushing him about the price of an opened item. He backed down and said “Ok, ok, I give you 50% off.” Ha. So then he did some calculating and wrote down a price half of what was typed on the box. I’ll take it! Sometimes not knowing the language comes in handy.

We own a tv now, in France. Turns out that in France, if you own a tv there’s an annual tax you have to pay the government. It’s pretty steep. Maybe we didn’t get such a great deal after all...

Here We Are

Hoppin through the snow on our way to school

The view from our balcony.

Our apartment building. We're on the 5th floor on the left.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Les Soldes

The sales! The sales! The sales are upon us!

Yesterday was the first day of the official French sales, and also a day off of language school. So what did we do? We went shopping... for groceries! With the help of some American friends in Paris, we loaded up in a van and went to a ‘centre commercial,’ pretty equivalent to an American shopping mall, but one side was a giant grocery store. We walked through the mall and saw retail shops of all sorts announcing their sales. 20%, 30%, 40%, even 50% off! We have boots in black, dark black, light black, charcoal, and even gray! I love that just outside our apartment is a billboard advertising a popular laundry detergent made especially for washing black clothing. The mall was literally packed with people, on mid-day Wednesday, and everyone in a rush to grab their things and get in the massive lines at the registers. We did find a few items that came in handy, and became a part of the masses shopping for discounts.

Then it was back to the grocery store we went. Since we had some french-speaking Americans with us, we picked up everything possible while we had the help of interpretation to make sure we really were buying ham, milk, olive oil, juice and the other necessities. It was kind of funny really, everyone else was rushing through the stores to take advantage of the deals, much like an American Black Friday, but here we were simply filling our cart with groceries. A few people looked at us like we were nuts when we went trotting through the mall with a full shopping cart of groceries, trying to avoid collisions at every turn.

The coolest discovery of the day was the method for going up and down floors. Instead of the moving stair escalators we’re used to, or even elevators, this mall had motorized ramps. Sort of like the moving walkways at airports, but angled up or down 30 degrees. Sure, they were a bit longer than escalators, but you could pack people more tightly on them, and you could walk right on with you shopping cart, which would lock down to the magnetized floor with its metal wheels. Pretty neat, huh?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bienvenue France!

We’ve arrived, and are now citizens of the republic of France (I have no idea whether or not France is actually a republic, just thought it sounded nice). We have an apartment, transportation, a day care, and a job (sort of - language students).

Our apartment is nice, 2 bedrooms, an office, bathroom, simple but decent kitchen, and living room. It’s on the fourth floor of a tower, so we often get to meet people in the elevator. So far, they’ve all spoken French only. Either they don’t know, or won’t speak English. Since our French vocabulary is pretty much limited to “hello, thank you, goodbye, good night, I don’t know, and I don’t speak French,” it’s made for some fun interactions over three days, especially since we try not to say the last one. We’ve done our best to blend in with our dress and actions, and have apparently done a good job because people have no problem coming up to us and rocking off a list of thoughts and questions in French. We listen intently, and then choose carefully our response: “merci” (thank you) or “ah”. Sometimes “au revoir!”

Today was our first day of French class. No big surprise, I managed to learn French words for both ‘fart’ and ‘butt’ on the same day. Who knew they’d correspond with letters of the alphabet when simply arranged? Also, today was the fateful day of receiving my French name. Not like in high school foreign language when we could choose a name, but like in real life when they hear my American name and then pronounce it in French... that’s right, I’m Michelle now. Actually spelled Michel. I tried to protest, and may still try to find a loophole in which to get an alternate pronunciation, but for now it seems to have stuck. Michel I shall be.

We’re told tomorrow the sales start. Weirdest thing, in France shops simply aren’t allowed to have sales except twice a year. So tomorrow is sort of like the American Black Friday, except that it’s the ONLY time (plus once in the summer) that ANYTHING in the country is on sale. Great, we just arrived, and now everyone says we need to go buy all of our supplies/furniture/electronics tomorrow!

Thanks for your prayers. The transition has been better than we expected. We’re pretty well adjusted to the time, the people, the weather, and our new home. It’s our first time to ever live in an apartment, and to be one that looks out over a city of over 2 million, we thought it would be a major life shift, but to our surprise, it feels like home.

We’ll be back soon with more early observations of our new culture. Au revoir!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Goodbye

Goodbyes suck. So do “see ya later”s. Some of you should stop reading here. You know who you are.

We love the life we’ve chosen - the life God chose for us - but as with any life, there’s some parts that just aren’t fun. This week is one of those. We’ve had a lot of fun this week too, traveling to Florida to spend Christmas with family, getting to ring in the new year with friends, church, dinners out, football games, basketball games, movies, late nights of talking and giggling. But the thing we’ll remember the most about this week is the goodbyes.

It’s one thing to say “have a nice trip.” But “we’ll see you in 4 years, the next time you return to the US, when your son is walking, talking, and kicking a soccer ball, and you’ve changed and had crazy life experiences that we won’t be able to understand, and our lives will have changed immeasurably, and then you’ll just stay for a short visit and leave again,” just isn’t a fun thought, and certainly not something we acknowledge with our voice.

As you read this, we’re en route to France, and by the time we pop our computer open again, we’ll be residents of yet another new country. Sawyer will begin learning French in the child-like way that only God understands, and we’ll be pouring over books to try and do it the dumb adult way. Sawyer will begin a life of childhood experiences that we can’t fully sympathize with, and we’ll begin finding our way in a foreign place that we’re supposed to call home.

Thanks for the past five months. Each of you have meant more to us that we can ever express. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the support, thanks for the love. It will carry us for many many months. Even though not fun, thanks for making the goodbyes so painful.

And yes... we want pictures, stories, movies, updates. Everything about your lives! If you don’t tell us, we won’t know.

Next update from Pa-ree!