Saturday, July 31, 2010

Week #1 at French Vacation Camp

Wow, it’s been an interesting and difficult week!

We have been volunteering as employees at a French vacation camp. We had no idea what to expect before arriving, except that it was in the middle of nowhere, and that much is true. We made the drive from Paris and saw only one car spontaneously burst into flames (which was totally insane and DieHard or 24-like). Our first few days were a tough adjustment, as we now live with our 18-month old in a tiny room with a miniature closet, shower, and a toilet shared with our neighbors. There’s nothing but corn nearby, and runs to places with internet, canned food, and french fries are rare and major undertakings.

The camp is not as we expected in that it’s nothing like American camps we’ve been a part of. The schedule is not active from sun-up to sun-down, there’s no blob, no mess hall, no silly camp songs, no cabins of rambunctious teenagers, and no ghost stories. It’s just a bunch of families in rooms/tents/rvs/apartments, a pretty fancy swimming pool, and optional activities and meals offered throughout the day. So it’s like a rustic (rustic: a great word for ‘there’s nothing here, you’ve dropped off the face of the earth, but in a nice way’) vacation place with few amenities, but games, tours, and activities offered for both adults and children.

JJ has quickly become a hit with the children, whom she works with throughout the day doing art, crafts, stories, and games. They have all taken it as their personal missions to teach her French and do so diligently while she helps them with paint brushes, knot tying, and sitting down. They love her already, and I believe it’s with good reason.

I’ve been an odd-ball worker... My official job is a fix-it-man (are you laughing yet?) and a driver, though I sometimes get recruited for other assignments like dish-washing and cleaning. So far my handyman tasks have been completed successfully. They’ve comprised of fixing some lights (plugged them in...), stabilizing a wobbly RV (kind of like sliding a card under an uneven table leg), replacing a mattress, and unclogging a couple of sinks. At one point they showed the giant industrial water heater in the boiler room and told me it wasn’t working. I just laughed and said “call the pros”. I’ve been a driver to take people to do tours of farms where they often do taste-tests of fancy country French stuff (like foie gras... if I understood right, it’s a certain part of the liver of ducks that’s quite the popular delicacy - tasted ok to me, but I’m not down with the €100+ per kilo price tag), and I pick up new comers at the train station that’s a close half-hour away. Lots of driving through corn fields. And nothing out here has an address! It’s almost as bad as directions were in Africa, except I could pronounce the names of stuff there. Here it’s ‘turn right at the farm of’ and then I get a random string of r’s and l’s and eaux’s and saliva spittle. Like I’m gonna understand that.

And so we’ll be here for the next month, learning a new dialect and trying to stay on the good side of the locals. Seriously, this place is scarier than West Virginia, but with fine wine, foie gras, and fancy bread.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fun Videos, and We're Off

Here's a few videos from the summer. We're heading off to work at a summer camp for a month, where we'll be more or less off the grid. We may not be back on here in awhile, but will share thoughts and experiences when we get a chance.

A bientôt!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Wednesday Thoughts/Observations

-It’s summer and our French friends are wearing tank tops, shorts/capris, and scarves. Naturally.

-I have decided that the P90X guy is to workout videos what Michael Scott is to paper sales.

-My son eats his peas whole. How do I know? Because he poops his peas whole.

-Why is it that every time France makes international headlines it’s at least borderline comical?

-I think it’s great when our local grocery store carries “American Products” like a muffin mix that I recently bought. The front of the box advertises the ‘Blueberry Muffins’ you will enjoy, with little ‘paper cups included’, all in English. But when you turn the box around, the directions are written in French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Italian. Not English.

-Ikea’s great for organization in small spaces. Not so great for longevity or comfort.

-We’re packing today for our month+ jaunt to camp. Sawyer decided to do his part and grabbed a basket which he’s circled the house and filled. His travel items? A toy workbench and hammer, a bottle of bubble solution, an empty ice cream container, a pillow, soccer and basketball, and a stick of mommy’s deodorant.

-I love avocados. Mostly I love guacamole. But it’s all about the avocado.

-I also love nectarines. I think they are the perfect fruit for monkeys. Pure sweet tasty goodness.

-Is there something innate born into Americans that makes our sports interests different? I’ve been told that in most of the world, kids start out kicking balls. Sawyer picks up every ball he sees and throws it... but we don’t know where he’s learned it. He’s never really seen baseball, american football, or other throwing sports, just a bunch of kids kicking soccer balls around.

-Along those lines... the other day I was in the park and saw these two big, muscular, shirtless French guys tossing an American football back and forth. It was hilarious. They looked like 11-yr old girls when they threw. Their throwing motion was more like a shot-putter than a quarterback.

-I just heard that there’s this new restaurant in London called ‘Chipotle’.
Must. Get. To. London. Now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Losing It

Have you ever had that moment of panic when you realize it’s all gone?

Your files, calendars, music, notes, recipes, contacts, legal papers...

I did this weekend. Then I didn’t. Then I did again. Now I’m clear. I think.

I remember a nighttime campus ministry service from my college days where the speaker challenged us to let go of our stuff. I don’t remember exactly how it was put, something about strings or sacrifice or idols or burying your father maybe. But the point was this: we should have nothing in our lives of material value that is so important to us we could not give it up in an instant at God’s call. That night I took stock of my limited possessions and came to this conclusion: I would happily give it all away, except one thing. My golf clubs. I mean, it took me years to collect the perfect combination of clubs. The irons, the grips, the cleveland wedges, the swing weighting, the extra inch of length, the Nike driver. Could I part with those... even for God?

Today, I can happily say yes. I made the decision before going, and wo years in Tanzania without them confirmed that I didn’t need my golf clubs for life fulfillment. But I may have a new material vice. My computer.

It’s not that I idolize it, or am so stingy I wouldn’t be willing to give. If someone close to me needed it more than I do, I think I’d try to buy them a new one... because if I gave mine away, I’d be giving away a part of me. I mean, my whole life is wrapped up in the thing. I really don’t know how to function without it. This is a confession of sorts. As I’m typing, my son is hanging on my leg and holding a drum while looking at me with pitiful “play with me eyes”. Moments like this remind me that I should shut this aside and go play, go live, go have fun...

...Ok, I’m back. Back to the story.

My computer hard-drive crashed and burned this weekend. Friday morning I plugged in my mp3 to update it for my morning run, and my computer froze and started clicking. Never good. Once I knew that my hard-drive was deader than a doornail (I feel like I should be sipping an RC Cola on a wooden porch in order to use that phrase), I called Hitachi to confirm that this particular drive, less than a year old, was still under warranty. It was, so I was basically covered. Had some work ahead of me, but no big deal. My files are backed up, I’ll get a new HD in the mail in a month, and I have an old one I can put in my computer to use temporarily. So I popped my laptop open and swapped out the hard-drives and then installed my OS and had again a working computer. But then I discovered a little glitch that much of the internet world knows about but I’d never experienced. And when I did... well the timing was bad.

Apple Time Machine uses a file known as a sparsebundle to store hourly backups under one single manageable file. Oh so user-friendly, right Apple? Nice, but what if that one single file becomes corrupted? And what if that happens to be a frequent occurrence when backing up over a wireless network? And what if the corruption happens at the very moment one’s hard-drive crashes? Ahhh!!! I had this massive 320GB file that was a bunch of useless 1’s and 0’s, because no computer known to my world could open the file up. Oh how I wished Chloe O’Brien was on my speed dial.

I jumped to the internet and researched the problem. Turns out there’s basically 3 solutions: 1 - Buy Disk Warrior, and expensive program that can fix messed up files... sometimes. 2- Use terminal, the basic computer code aspect that 95% of mac-users don’t know exists, to input a magic combination of obscure commands and hope something works. 3 - Scrap the file and start over.

Thanks to help from friends around the world, I was able explore these options and more (but the truth is that these are the only 3 legitimate ones for a corrupted sparsebundle file). I spent close to 36 hours straight on my computer pulling out my hair. In the end it was jthon’s blog that led me to the promised land and when I rearranged quite a few of the commands I found there I was able to open up my backup just long enough to copy all of the relevant and recent files to another drive.

So now I have my files, I’m running a temporary set-up until I get a new HD, and my world is close to normal.

If Jesus was alive today would he carry a laptop? I guess he could remember all of his appointments and passwords and answer prayers instead of e-mails, being God and all... but I am but a man.

How about this: I’m willing to give up all of my possessions, even my computer, but can I upload all of my files to an internet server somewhere so that I can access them again someday?

Nope, I’m still holding onto something. Argh.

I think in this picture, he's also wearing Chaco's, the official sandal of mission trips. Love it. Jesus was so hip.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


One word could describe the air that hovered about the streets of Madrid at midnight on Sunday: Elation. Absolute, unhindered elation.

Words spewed forth (which I hadn’t a prayer to understand), cheering surrounded us, dancing ensued. When I woke up again at 6:30 Monday morning, horns were still honking, flags waving, cries of joy let loose.

The entire country of Spain had watched, waited, cheered, prayed, hoped... for weeks, months, years, and some would say decades... all for this moment. Their country had achieved ultimate success in one of the world’s most beloved sports championships. If only this night could last forever!

But it can’t.

It won’t.

It doesn’t.

By Tuesday, Madrid was back to life like normal. Some extra Spanish flags still hung from balconies and souvenir shops were filled with championship t-shirts and banners, but life was again everyday. People went to work. The Metro went on strike. Cooks cooked, musicians played, the homeless begged.

What drives you? What’s one of your ultimate goals? What happens the day after you reach that goal?

This week I thought about this question at the prompting of a friend and I came to realize that my life passion -- my goal, the place from which my elation comes -- is to worship God the creator, his Son Jesus my savior, and the life-changing Holy Spirit, and to do it with as much of the world as possible.

Today, if I see 200 French people come to Christ and I get to worship God with them, I will revel in the elation of that moment. And then tomorrow I’ll go try to find some more people. There will be no let-down, no “now what?” Just the drive to know and worship the Father with more and new brothers and sisters everyday. That's elation. Continued.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Let’s Go (to) Spain!

Will you be watching? The game that the world is watching? An epic match between two teams who have never before won the World Cup? One will become a first-time champion tonight!

We will be watching, and feeling it. If you have the game on your TV and you see Spain score a goal, you will likely hear the announcer scream something to the effect of GOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!! At that very same moment, we will be experiencing an earth-jarring quake. You see, we’re going to be in Spain... in Madrid... in a hotel... right next to the Real Madrid stadium... watching the game with 80,000 of our closest Spanish friends on hand.

We should have lots of fun Sunday! It will certainly be an experience. One that will likely last all night.

Then we have a few days of meetings, then we’ll be back. See ya next weekend!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We've finally made it

On our way:

And here we are! The Eiffel Tower!We have some friends who live in a different town in France, they moved here shortly after we did. Their daughter refused to believe that they lived in France until she saw the Eiffel Tower.
We'd seen it plenty of times, but just now finally climbed the...
no, we took the elevator up.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is a near-perfect replica of the one I frequented as a kid in Kings Island. They say this one's taller, but I don't know. I mean, you can see both lifts of The Beast from the top of the Kings Island Eiffel Tower.

It's scary up there!
Even for Mighty Mouse.

Hey look that way! You can see our old home, a mere 7140km away!
That's 4437 miles. Or 3855 nautical miles.
Or 7,808,399 yards.
With a good tail wind, I could totally drive it. Probably with a 3-iron.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tourists or Parisians?

Last week we finished our semester of school, next week we start some work-related summer travels, so this week we decided to become tourists in Paris. You know, the city that we live in but still don’t know much about. But in our attempt to become tourists we may have become a little more Parisian as well!

It started with the purchase of Navigo passes. These are the unlimited usage bus/metro/RER/tram passes that allow you to use public transit all over the city. We bought week passes, which require these nifty little cards that are carried by nearly all Parisians as they skip the lines of tourists trying to figure out which machine to slide their paper ticket though. With the card, you just walk by and wave it before the gate which picks up the signal, goes green with a beep, and lets you in. Much more convenient!
Once able to travel wherever we wanted without careful planning, we took it easy. We went to the east end of town and hopped on a bus that would cross the city and a lot of the major sights. JJ landed in a seat next to a happy talker, while I stood with Sawyer. From that position, JJ heard the life history including age, weight, number of children and grandchildren, and political views of her seat neighbor. She also was given commentary of the whole city and learned that [supposedly] 5 church buildings in a row that we passed were all named ‘St. Paul’s Cathedral’. Seeing our eye contact and occasional words (in French, bien sûr), the lady asked JJ if her husband (moi) is French. First time every mistaken for a national... bing bing bing!

After departing the bus, we found some great roads to roam around and enjoy. A totally unexpected pleasure was crossing paths with a little American shop called “McCoy’s Cafe.” Less café and more tiny boutique/exotic grocery, this shop carried all and only things American. We found and happily drank a Dr Pepper and Mt Dew (first Dew we’d seen anywhere in France), we gawked at the $10 Pancake Syrup and $8 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. We remembered the days of Pop-Tarts while browsing through $10 8-packs. And then we dreamed of the other horrendously expensive items that are simply not available in France, or most countries outside the US (ie Reese’s peanut butter cups, ranch / thousand island / honey mustard, mexican and buffalo hot sauces, yellow mustard, etc).

Back on the streets, we wandered through shops and restaurants. Paris being the most tourist-visited city in the world, and us actually being in the heart of Paris, most of the service-industry types here asked “English or Français?” We happily jumped into French out of choice and not necessity. Sitting down at a little Chinese restaurant, we sampled some fried rice, chicken, and shrimp. Sawyer, of course, dove into a pile of french fries.
Recently some friends of ours made their way through Paris and asked us to take them to a very French restaurant. Not a tourist spot. We found a place and sat down. Our table neighbors to our right were speaking French like, well, French. And our table neighbors to the left were speaking British English. Had we failed!? Argh! No. At any given time, nearly half of the population of urban Paris is made up of tourists. So what is truly Parisian has to have some tourists there, right?

In front of the Eiffel Tower there’s some nice areas to walk and play. We found some shade and enjoyed the afternoon like Parisians. In a touristy place. So we were like tourists. But that’s what the Parisians do. I’m so confused!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

No More Mullets

The Iranian government has issued a list of outlawed haircuts for their male citizens. The target is the rebellious youth of the country and their spikey hair, gelled up in a stegosaurus-like fashion, but included in the banned do's are pony tails, mullets, and more.

One can only hope that a show of solidarity among the youth who dissent will lead to mullet-wearers flooding the streets. Not that I'm suggesting that, Iran. But it would be pretty sweet.

I do wonder what would happen if Chuck Norris showed up in Iran rocking a mullet.

Read/listen here:

The Jerusalem Post

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Camp

Do you remember Summer Camp?

Unless you’re a youth pastor or oft-chosen chaperone, you probably have to think back to your teenage years. Well in France, camp is for everyone. Not just youth groups and kids with behavior problems or health issues. Everyone. Adults, families, singles, kids. They all go to camp! Since the month of August is basically a forced vacation to all working French people, many of them go to camp.

We are going to go volunteer at a camp. Why? To practice French mostly. But also to have opportunities to talk to all sorts of French folk. And to get away from the city. And to pray together, worship together, and grow. Our work will likely be simple and behind-the-scenes, like dishwashing, maintenance, yardwork (actually, we have no idea what we’ll be doing). Our language will be all French all the time. Our living situation: well, we don’t know. But we do know that from late July to the end of August we will be living and working at a large secluded camp somewhere in the south central western part of France!

Before camp, we have some travel for meetings and such the next couple weeks. We’ll be in Spain, then back to pack and make a month-long move. We don’t know our internet capabilities going forward, but will continue to stay in touch through the summer when we can!

The Man-Purse in the News

Apparently former hot-head Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez was arrested this week for stealing none other than a man-purse from a New Jersey Polo Ralph Lauren store. Interesting. And quite expensive ($1395) for a murse. But then again, I don't know much about them... yet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Man-pris vs Man-purse

Which one will I go for first?

Living in France I very quickly noticed the distinct fashion differences from the US. Lots of black (in Paris), scarves everywhere, tight pants and shirts, layers, small and colorful shoes, no baseball hats, and of course the two that I swore off before we arrived: manpris and the man purse.

In case you're not familiar with the term, manpris refer to short pants for men. Not the super-long and baggy shorts made popular by late-90s basketball teams. Think tighter, a little longer, worn at the waistline, and shin/ankle exposing. Think of capris, the pants popularly worn by women starting around the turn of the century, but for men. Do you have that image? Does it make you think "MAN"? Yeah, me neither. Here's some photos for you:
When it started getting warm in France I saw these everywhere. I actually noticed them a little more in European tourist spots because I think they're a favorite of northern Europeans (like Danes, Swedes, etc), but they are also immensely popular with the French fellas. At first I laughed every time. Then I started to realize how hot I was in my khakis and jeans. A little bit of a draft around the ankles sure would feel nice...

Then there's the manpurse. These little bags are literally worn and used by every single man in France. Even my American friends in Paris have them. Get on the metro and look around, everyone has a purse. Is it because their pants are too tight to fit a wallet? Is it that they need somewhere to stash their ipod, keys, wallet, phone, checkbook, paintbrushes, passport, money, and cologne? I really don't know. But everyone has one. At first I carried a backpack when I had too much stuff for my pockets, then I realized I looked like a tourist and my back was sweating. So I trimmed down what I carried, but when you're living on public transit and don't have a car everywhere you go to throw stuff in, that's tough. Now I'm at a crossroads, I just don't know where my values lie.

Here's a video to show what I'm talking about:
(*note, I am not endorsing the product, simply using a commercial that illustrates the American perspective on the Man Purse)

About 6 months ago I thought to myself, "there may come a day where I bend, break, and actually wear the manpris, but I will never carry a purse!" Now, I'm almost ready to consider the purse, while I'm off the manpris thought thanks to my realization that my American shorts aren't all that out of style here either. Tomorrow I may go the other way.

What do you think? On which (American) Man Fashion Faux-Pas should I consider taking the plunge first?



There's no way I'm ready for that.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Spa Mont Saint Michel

Not too long ago, we made a second trip to the alluring Mont Saint Michel. Since we’d already done the historical tour, this time I decided to take my wife out for the exotic spa treatment.

Our day at the ancient monastery’s spa began with a simple foot rinse.
Then we had a gentle 4-hour foot massage (at least that's how our guide described the 7km hike across the hard-packed lumpy sand/mud at low tide).

During the foot massage time, we also stopped for some deep exfoliating mud bath treatment on our legs. This was easily attained by dropping to knee depth in quicksand.

In time, we reached an exotic island.

But not before first enjoying some fabulous wildlife viewing.

The backdrop for this ancient monkish spa was pretty too.

I highly recommend it. In addition to the skin and muscle treatment, the spa provided excellent mental stimulation as all of the instructions given (like how to escape from the man-eating quicksand) were done in French. This was purely for a more wholesome experience.