Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mmm Hummus

Sawyer discovered a love for hummus. Mmmm, so good!

Then he finally found a use for vegetables:

For added fun, here's a few one-sided conversations I've had with my son in recent days:

-Tonight’s dinner is chicken, not my shoulder.

-Come here, and please tell me that’s not poop on your face.

-That’s very nice Sawyer, but kisses are for Mommy and Daddy, not the random little boy you just walked up to.

-Seriously, stop biting me.

-Your foot? Really? Why can’t you be like a normal kid and suck on your thumb or a pacifier?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to the World's Greatest Gal

In one hour the birthday celebration shall commence. My wife of five years and best friend of a few more turns... a year older tomorrow.

I tell her this often, but sometimes I need to stand on mountains and shout it out. But I've discovered that when I do that no one hears it. The whole tree falling in the woods thing...

So now read this:
In my beautiful wife, God has given me the greatest partner, helpmate, audience, critic, navigator, chef, roommate, fellow student, coworker, spiritual adviser/encourager/'shut-up and take a good hard look at yourself', and mother to my child that I could ever ask for.

She's the glue that holds our family together.
She's the favorite jungle gym in our household for both of her boys.
She finds the inspiration for a lot of what we do and how we live our lives.
She's an artist, a historian, a warrior, and God's gift to our family.

In Proverbs 31 a God-fearing woman who is worthy of praise is described: "She is clothed with strength and dignity, she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue" (v25-26). Add to that the compassion of verse 20 (oh how I wish I could experience compassion and empathy like her, even for a minute). This is my wife. And I love her.

Thank you Jesus, for making her your child and then molding her life together with mine.

Joe Joe, I love you.

Old and New

It just hit me! What’s so different, so alluring, so charming about much of France. Wait for it, this is deep: it’s old!

I remember a few short years ago being in my youth in America. I wondered often why in the world anyone would want to travel to Europe and tour ancient castles, chateaus, and palaces. They’re all old, they don’t move, they probably have weeds in the cracks of the sidewalks too. I’m much too busy checking out the new ride at the amusement park, playing the golf course that just opened, and trying out that new restaurant at the mall. Why would I want to travel across an ocean to look at something that’s been there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon? It doesn’t even move, or flash, or dance or sing!

I can’t say I’ve changed all that much. I’m still pretty bored when I walk through those places. I still don’t like museums as a way to spend a day. BUT living here in the midst off all the oldness has actually made me fall in love with it. Not enough to spend hours looking at it, but enough to appreciate living amongst it.

You see, there’s really nothing old in the US. That’s part of the charm of the place, it’s a big part of why it has the status it does today, and it’s significant to why everyone under 30 we meet anywhere in the world wants to go there. The country isn’t that old, and the buildings certainly aren’t. What happens when something does get old there? It’s torn down and replaced (if possible). Our cities are all modern, and in general the country is looking ahead to progress progress progress, not history.

I see now that’s what makes the rural towns here so great. They’re not double-wides with aluminum siding, they’re not cookie-cutter homes, they’re not centered around the new-at-the-time strip mall. They are made of old old stone houses and brick barns. Walled fortresses are now towns. Simple villages where farmers meet to sell their goods. And the cities too - ever been to Paris? It’s old. Old buildings and statues and fountains and palaces and churches. It’s short. Modern is mixed in and infused, but there’s so much character in the oldness!

When the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua had them build a memorial with stones so that they could remember the occasion. The stones would stand as a reminder so that when future generations asked “what’s with the stack of big rocks?” the story could be told [Joshua 4]. In the same way, “Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying “thus far the Lord has helped us” [1 Sam 7:12]. And then Jesus comes along and says we need new wineskins, because old wineskins can’t hold new wine! And an old patch on new pants... useless! [Matt 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, Luke 5:36-38]. He tells those who want to follow Him, “sell everything” [Matt 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22], “do not look back” [Luke 9:62], and forget your former life.

I believe there’s room and a place in our life for both. We need memorial stones to look back and remember what God has done in our lives. I’ll bet there are really fascinating stories to go along with the old stone houses, statues, and walled cities. If I could find someone old enough to have lived through some of them (and could understand), I would love to sit on a porch with lemonade (err, cheese and stuff) and just listen. At the same time, we who are new creations in Christ are told to “put off our old self” [Eph 4:22] and look ahead to our eternity with God. And we must always be ready to at a moment’s notice drop everything and do what He has called us to.

That whole “don’t look back,” “sell your possessions and give it all away,” “let the dead bury their dead” stuff... Jesus wasn’t kidding. He meant that every time He said it. Remember what God has done and then move on, listen and follow. I guess that’s all there is to it. And yet somehow, living in two places with very different pasts and structures makes all of it seem richer and more real.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More France Observations

Cut up some tomatoes and sprinkle parsley (or something small and green) on them: Voila! A salad. And sardines? Turns out some people love ‘em. As a salad. Which comes before the cheese (either before or after the main course, preferably both).

In France, it is totally ok and accepted to strip down to your underwear anywhere, anytime, and with only the slightest bit of reasoning necessary (i.e. the sun’s out and I want a tan, changing clothes, I think my pants might smell funny -- bonus points if you’re wearing pink briefs with red hearts... that’s what the guy out my window in the parking lot has on as I type these words from my car).

You know those conversations where someone with a strong lung capacity is talking and talking and talking and you are distracted by a TV or something? You just sort of nod and say ‘yeah’ and ‘uh-huh’ and maybe occasionally throw in a ‘no kidding?!’ or ‘wow...’ Yeah, well those are surprisingly easy to have in a language you struggle to understand. Take French for example. All you need is ‘oui’, ‘ah bon?’, ‘bien sûr!’, and ‘ahh’. And no distraction needed. A tree trunk will do.

Seriously though, there had better be cheese at dinner. Cheddar is not acceptable, and Velveeta’s not cheese.

The French countryside is surprisingly alluring. It’s not so different from a bunch of farms or the sticks in the States, and yet it is. The farm land is rolling and beautiful. There’s giant watering devices and tractors, but you don’t see super-industrialized farms nor do you see broken down cars on blocks in front of houses with weeds taller than the front door. I shake my head at the high-society French as much as anybody, but it works in the countryside. It makes it really inviting actually. Less scary. And the villages are all old, small, and strong stone and brick buildings with a ton of character. Every village has an ancient and beautiful church (long since last used) in the middle, and there’s probably a bakery and a butcher shop and that’s about it.

Still on the theme of rurality: village/country festivals are soooo much better here than their American counterparts. Well better if you are going to take a date, not better if you want an evening of choked-down chuckles and mullet-watching. They have stands of fresh meat cooked up to steaks, crepes with local jams, lots of local products to sample and buy, sorbets, and of course every local cheese and wine and plenty of bread. There’s also live music, usually jazz. And they are always held somewhere beautiful, like in a town square around a fountain by the aforementioned church or in a field at the top of a wall overlooking the countryside from the ancient walled city. It really is nice. If only they weren’t overrun with British vacationers...

A common topic of conversation among people who know me is whether or not there exists a slower eater in all the world. The answer is yes. There are 65,447,374. The entire country of France. I could eat two, three, maybe four meals in the time they do one. Unless it’s all-you-can-eat shrimp night at Red Lobster, then I think I could go longer. Man I could go for a Red Lobster in France.

I’ve been bitten by West Nile mosquitoes in Kentucky, Malaria (infected) mosquitoes in Tanzania, and monstrous mosquitoes in Mexico, but I think the wee little French mosquitoes hurt worse than all of them at first bite. And with that, I’m done. Gotta get inside.

Friday, August 13, 2010

More Naked

One day in the past we had the privilege to spend a couple of days at a resort on the coast not far from our old East African home. As we were checking in we saw a sign for the spa services. Reading the list, I mused aloud wondering what the difference is between a regular massage and a swedish massage. My good friend Lisa said, “I think it’s like a regular massage, but you’re more naked.”

That’s sort of what French swimming pools are like. For the fellas anyways. Back in Paris, JJ would occasionally go to a nearby pool to swim for exercise. She had told me that there’s a sign informing swimmers they must wear proper swimwear. She also told me that she believed “proper” swim attire for men means no long shorts, but rather tight speedo-type swimsuits. I laughed and worried not. I did not have any immediate plans to swim laps. Plus, that place is just for exercise, so I guess it makes sense that you have to wear something more ‘sporty’, right?

Then we came to camp. Our camp, though in the middle of nowhere, has a great swimming pool. But it’s a play pool. Not for lap swimming. This pool is not square, not even oval, it’s not a normal geometric shape at all. The pool really doesn’t get any deeper than about 4ft, and there’s a kids area, 2 waterfalls, a small jacuzzi/jets area in the middle, a bridge, and a slide. Our first week we were too busy with trying to figure out our jobs to do much swimming, but as the week progressed I noticed that even though almost every guy vacationing at the camp wore what I would call swim shorts (board shorts, trunks, etc) while playing volleyball and badminton, they all stripped down to next-to-nothing to get in the pool. I inquired, and sure enough, that’s the rule. No shorts. Only those little speedo things. Why?

I tried explaining the danger in that: “My thighs have never seen the sun before, I might actually get skin cancer at the first exposure.” “I’m an American, we don’t do that.” “Can you please give me one logical reason why that is necessary?” But no matter, rules are rules. So the first time we drove off to the nearest town with a supermarché, I hit up the small men’s clothing department for the smallest item in the section and made my purchase. Seriously, this thing is smaller than my underwear. And once I cross through the pool gate, it’s all I’m allowed to wear. Why is it that the now most minuscule item in my entire wardrobe is the only thing I can wear at a public pool? Not sure if I’ll ever get used to this...

So without further adieu, I present to you a photo.

Of me.

In a Speedo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

American Cultural Insight from the French

Here’s a few conversations I’ve had this week. Where applicable, they are translated into English for the benefit of your ability to read it, and my ability to remember (still not thinking in French).

French Man: Where are you from in the USA?

Me: Kentucky.

FM: Where’s that?

Me: It’s sort of in the middle of the USA.

FM: Oh. Is it near Los Angeles?

Me: No.

FM: Is it near New York?

Me: No.

FM: Is it near Washington?

Me: Neither one.

FM: Huh? Oh, well, I don’t know it.

Teenage French Girl: Oh, you’re American? So you like big sandwiches?! [Mime’s holding a giant burger to face and taking a bite]

Me: Umm, sure.

French Lady: What size shoes are those, 58? You can’t buy something that big in France, can you?

Me: 13 in US sizing, 47.5 in European. Yes. Yes I can buy shoes here. Thank you.

French Boy: Were you just speaking English? Are you from England?

Me: Yes I was, but no, I’m from the USA.

FB: Oh. Where is that in England?

Me: It’s not in England. I’m American. The USA is another country.

FB: So it’s not somewhere in England?

Me: No. A whole different country.

FB: So how do you know English?

Me: We speak English in the USA.

FB: And where is it?

Me: Across the ocean. Far away.

FB: Huh.

This conversation I’ve had a few times, more or less the same, with different kids. It makes me worry about the education over here. I mean are the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria not standard part of a kid’s early schooling in France? What’s wrong with these people? Christopher Columbus? The New World? Any of that ring a bell?

(This conversation was not in French, so the words below were the actual ones spoken)

Me: I heard that you speak English.

British Guy: Well, I’m British.

Me: Oh ok. I’m American.

BG: So neither of us speak English then, do we?

This morning we were sharing breakfast with 6 French friends around a table. Sawyer got up midway through and squatted into a catcher’s stance next to the table. He then grabbed his toes, lowered his head, and began straining and grunting. Classy.

Even more classy is that our friends then asked us the English word for what he was doing. We said ‘poop’, and then the breakfast conversation was dominated by a bunch of French people saying ‘poop’ over and over.

French Man, born and raised in Toulouse, France, never been to the USA: So where are you from in the USA?

Me: Kentucky.

FMfT: Oh yeah? They have a great basketball team at the University of Kentucky.

Me: Will you be my friend?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ahh, snake!

Is there something about living in a developed country that immediately makes you more of a wuss? I saw a snake today, and my reaction was the same as most people who’ve never lived outside a city or in Ireland (did you know that there are no snakes in Ireland?).

When I lived in rural East Africa, I saw cobras, mambas, a puff adder, a giant python... all very wild and quite deadly. My heart rate quickened slightly at the site of most of those, but my reaction was one of mostly curiosity. I observed, sometimes a little closer than I should have been, sometimes from a distance. One I helped to kill with a rock (though I was pretty sure that one wasn’t poisonous). Never once in Africa did I turn and high-tail it away from a snake.

Today though, I was walking with my family down a trail into the woods. We were barely 100 yards from the campsite when I saw a flash of movement to my left. I turned and heard a hiss, then saw the black and green mid-section of the snake as it slithered off into the bushes. My heart jumped in my chest and immediately I turned around and said something to the effect of “let’s go that other direction, on the gravel road.” Who is this wuss living in my body? It’s just a snake. Probably not even that dangerous and just perturbed that we upset his afternoon nap.

Ugh, I move to a city of millions and I forget how to live simply in and with God’s creation. Yep, civilization makes us fear the wild.