Friday, October 29, 2010

3 Quick Hitters

Yep. We're a family of rockstars. Coming to a coffee shop or stadium near you.

Can you tell this kid is my son? Curious, inquisitive, and not really afraid of falling in the precariously close water, but absolutely will not dare to get his hands dirty. If you've ever eaten wings with me, you know what I'm talking about:

In other news, so glad my parents are here for a visit! We've been busy, and are having fun. I'll try and post some pictures and stories from our time together and travels soon.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pre-Baby Name

JJ just asked Sawyer what we should call the baby. Constantly referring to him/her as baby brother baby sister is getting old. And we're certainly nowhere close to an actual name. So we need something for the interim. She told him that before he came into the world we called him Jack-Jack (much to her chagrin). She then said, "Sawyer, what should we call the baby?" He stood up from his seated position and announced with perfect timing, "Poopie."

I'll write about jealousy another time.

He then proceeded to squat and grunt. He took care of business toute de suite. Then he backed up to us and stuck his rear out so that we could check and see what he'd done.

Assuming we don't call the unborn baby "Poopie," any other suggestions?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Something Else

I’m going on strike against the strikes. Instead, here’s some fun photos.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lady Gaga brings peace to France

Sure, there's cars and trash cans burning in the streets. And there's barely a single gas station in Paris with gas. And France is now importing most of our electricity from other countries. And the trash continues to be the main sight to see in Marseille. And roads are blocked off by protestors in plenty of areas (including the roads to most major airports). But is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Yes there is! And we have Lady Gaga to thank.

This weekend Lady Gaga was scheduled to perform in Paris two shows. But with concerns of not being able to get her trucks and equipment to the venue, she announced today that both concerts will be cancelled. You can read about it here (if you can read French, that is). At this point, if you're a French striker/protestor, you have to ask yourself, "is it really worth it?" Is protesting over two years of retirement really worth missing the Lady Gaga show this weekend? I mean, she's probably not going to be dancing around the stage when you're 61 years old, man. C'mon! Stop the nonsense! One has to think that it's simply gone too far.

In response to the announcement, the labor unions have chosen two days of continued national protests: October 28 and November 6 (or 4, depends on whether you believe BBC's reporting or France 24's... I'm putting my money on the local French news). In other words, go home, enjoy your family vacations and regret the canceling of the Lady Gaga concerts, and then show up on those days for a countrywide Braveheart-like yell.

Ok, so the announcement from her showiness and the French labor union aren't don't actually coincide with one another at all, but it's fun to dream, no? Actually, we're hopeful that things will calm down because tomorrow starts a week and a half of vacation (as I mentioned yesterday) and the final vote might actually happen tomorrow. Lots of maybes, mights, and truthfully, I have no idea how the French will react. But I do know how Lady Gaga reacted. And if that doesn't make 'em lay down their arms, I just don't know what will.

Here's a recent update (with what I believe to be one wrong date, but otherwise good stuff).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wait two years? Oh no! *(Update)

Do you watch, read, listen to international news? Do you know what's going on in France? I only sorta do, so I'll give you my rundown. I'm not even slightly an expert on the matter, I'm not French and I sure don't understand where they are coming from, but I do live here and watch the local news, so here's an outsider-looking-in's view.

What's happening? Massive strikes, protests, and attempts to hi-jack the country's ability to function. That may change very soon, and I'll get to that in a minute, because it's kind of funny.

What's everyone so worked up about? The government is in the process of raising retirement age from 60 to 62, with full benefits changing from 65 to 67. People aren't happy about that. Clearly they had plans for those two years. Yes, France is currently the country with statistically the longest retirement periods in the world (retirement age and longevity of life factored in). Yes, life expectancy is growing, as is cost of living; pension contributions not so much. So anyhow, the bill was pushed by the president, has passed through the House and will be voted on by the Senate (today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week). Yes, Sarkozy was elected president on a platform of reform and change, but yes he is being protested for making reforms and changes. Yes, just about every other country in Europe has recently raised their retirement age.

So France's answer: 3.5 million people took to the streets (liberal number, depends on which news outlet you believe). They went on strike and they stage protests. The general idea is go on strike and shut down the country. Then they got creative and tried to essentially to force non-strikers into striking by making them unable to get to work. It's been most effective in a few specific areas: At first, public transit workers went on strike (typical) and trains and buses became few. Much later, truckers staged "go-slow" protests on the autoroutes, covering all the lanes and driving real slow. Perhaps most effective, oil refineries have gone on strike, port workers in Marseille have gone on strike, and so no new gas is being produced in country and imported gas sits in boats out in the sea (which for some reason makes me wonder if they have any ponies on the boats, and then I start singing along with Lyle Lovett in my head). Thus a gas shortage. I also hear that trash workers have been on strike in Marseille and there are now piles of trash 7 feet high all over the city, and that just stinks.

Back in Paris, we're out of gas. The government says they are dipping into their reserves and have enough, but I haven't seen any being passed out yet. When I first heard of the rush to the gas pumps I sat back and waited. No reason to panic, no reason to go wait in line. But 4 days later and with some expected need of our vehicle upcoming, I decided to get some gas today. Found a website that tells what stations have gas, so we looked up the nearest to us and off I went. I found a line about a half a mile long down the street, and I kept driving. Had some other errands to do, and along the way passed about 9 other gas stations, all closed and empty, no gas. Eventually I made it back and waited in line. About an hour later I reached the pump and discovered that they only had diesel left. Thankfully my car takes diesel. The guy in front of me wasn't so lucky. Now I'm set for at least another week.

There's limited violence along with these protests, but it's pretty scattered and doesn't seem to be escalating. As we can understand, the violence starts when students get involved. We've not really seen it (some evidence of broken glass, we see a little bit stronger police presence, we hear of isolated incidents on the news). It boggles our mind that over 300 high schools have closed because the students are on strike. Students on strike? To an American that's a foreign concept.

Now here's why we're hopeful that things will calm down and here's what we think is funny. Next week is vacation week. Schools, businesses, etc go on vacation. There's a holiday and it's one of those weeks (like spring break in the US, but for more of the nation) where everyone goes on vacation. Here, the news people say that protests will drop in numbers because of the vacation. It would seem to me that if you're passionate about something, an already scheduled vacation is the perfect time to go march in the streets. But no, apparently here a vacation means that you can't really go on strike, because you wouldn't actually be ditching work, and what message would that send? And besides, we need our vacations!

So we'll see what happens next week...


-my favorite quote from these, said Hugh Schofield of the BBC, "A kind of delirium has set in, propelling teenagers onto the streets in a re-enactment of an imagined revolution."

I really don't think the youth even know what they're protesting by burning trash cans and cars and throwing rocks at police.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Biscuits, you know, they're like...

My language abilities were strained this weekend when over dinner with some French men I was trying to explain biscuits. Simple, old-fashioned, American biscuits. The biscuits came up because of my home state, Kentucky. As often is the case when conversing with people for the first time, I was asked where I'm from. Kentucky. Oh, KFC? Yes, KFC. But then I took the floor and told my story of asking for free food at a Parisian KFC by showing my Kentucky license, which was greeted with a 'hang on and let me ask my manager'. My dinner-mates laughed and said that the French have no sense of humor. Then I explained to them that KFC here is nothing like it is in the States. In France, KFC serves chicken and fries. That's it. There's variations of the chicken, but no other sides. So I was telling them about all of the sides at a KFC buffet back home: mashed potatoes, green beans, corn... and I came to biscuits.

While there are a million pastries in France, there's really nothing like old-fashioned buttermilk biscuits. I tried to describe them but failed. I was encouraged when one of the other men at the table tried to help me. He'd traveled in the US and knew exactly what I was talking about, but he too could not find words to describe our tasty warm baked treats.

So apparently biscuits are very American and totally foreign in France, maybe the rest of the world too. It's funny what I've found to be non-existent outside of America, and thus in my mind more American. Biscuits are definitely one. Also buffalo wings. I've never encountered the flavor of standard buffalo wing hot sauce anywhere outside of the US. Simple sweet iced tea that's not flavored with fruit (peach, raspberry, lemon), there's another.

What about you? If you've traveled outside of the country, what American foods have you found to be non-existent in the rest of the world? Do you agree with my biscuits and buffalo wings assessment? I'm especially curious of those of you that have lived for some time as ex-pats in other countries. What can you absolutely not find that's common in the USA?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kicking It

I just returned from the park with Sawyer, and I had one of those proud Daddy moments. I try not to be a super competitive dad that wants my kid to show up the others, but this little thing made me smile. I wrote sometime back about the innate Americanness of my child (who's barely even been to America), who would always pick up and throw any ball he encountered. Most kids in both Africa and Europe that we've met seem born with the ability and desire to kick anything that's close to round. Well today the tables turned.

Sawyer was running around the park having a ball when a little boy came up and picked up his ball. Sawyer (thankfully) was nice about it and just laughed as the boy ran back and forth holding the ball. Eventually the ball was handed to my son, who promptly dropped it to the ground and kicked it. The other boy picked it up again. Then recycle. Ball gets into S's hands, he drops it, kicks it, other kid picks it up. That's right, today my American son was the legitimate soccer star on the playground!

Of course then we returned home and he stuck his finger straight into a candle flame to touch the lit wick. Can't win 'em all!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thicker or Thinner

This morning my frustration got to me and I now must make a decision. I have to either lose 5 pounds or gain 5. I'm in between 2 holes on my belt (yes, my only belt... and no I will not go get another one). I wear my belt on the larger size, and my pants slowly slide down further and further throughout the day. I drop to the smaller size, and I'm hiking them up above my waist and grimacing in pain every time I sit down. So I need my body to agree with one or the other.

This then got me thinking back to something we'd noticed early on in France, but not really revisited. The French as a whole are a pretty thin people. Perhaps they are just small all around, they seem to be kinda short too. But if you know much about French cooking, it would seem highly improbable that they all be so thin, and yet they are. Butter is the #1 most important and overused ingredient throughout the north of France, oil in the south. Creams abound. Bread is plentiful and inhaled daily. Cheese is cheese. And yes they do eat french fries, lots of them. Plus pastries for breakfast.
How could they all be so thin? Is it because of their obsession with all things bio and organic? Is it that they take a full 2 hours for a meal instead of an American 20 minutes? Is it because they put a surgeon general type warning on all McDonald's ads which reads 'for your health, consume at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day' or 'exercise regularly'? Is it that one of the greatest offenses in France is that of being bored, and thus they move more? Is it because food (especially eating out) is so expensive here they just consume less? Could the fact that I've seen only 1 golf cart in my 3 times playing golf have something to do with it? Meal portions are smaller... but everyone eats dessert and appetizers when they go out to eat. I see plenty of small contributors, but none of them seem to stand out. Maybe they just burn lots of calories when they are striking.

So back to my dilemma. I think I'm going to try and gain 5 pounds. This may sound like an easy decision, but my problem is that I'll have to somehow make it stay. That means muscle. I don't really do muscle well. If I just pile on some fat, it'll disappear within a week of basketball and typical activity. But I've decided to go up instead of down because if I go down I'll have to buy all new pants. I don't want to buy new pants. So I have a pie in the oven :). Gotta go!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Simplicity vs Symbolism

I’m having some curious thoughts about my faith that I don’t know how to sort out.
A couple weeks ago I went to visit Sacré Coeur. Inside the massive church building is a wealth of artwork on the walls: in the stained glass, in statues, painted on the domed ceiling. But as I looked at it, I saw symbols, symbols, and more symbols. A lot of the art seemed weird to me. Less like depictions of Bible stories and more like scenes from movies such as National Treasure, Indiana Jones, The Skulls, and The DaVinci Code. The stuff I saw reminded me a lot more of secret societies than of any kind of a relationship with our Creator and Savior. I mean, a kneeling Pope holding a globe up to a massive and well-dressed Jesus, while a dude holding his head in his hands nearby watches and boats are filled with people and keys and shields and birds and robes and hats. And then all over the place there’s keys keys and more keys in different positions and combinations...

A relationship with God is simple right? It has to be. That’s a cornerstone of my faith.

Jesus showed up and told us to stop with all the religious junk and instead listen to Him, accept His Spirit, and simply follow it. That’s all there is to it, right?

Then I open my Bible up and read Exodus 25, 26, and 40. It’s where God gives instructions to Moses regarding the building of the early temple, and the ark of the covenant, and its place within the temple. I realize that Jesus brought a new covenant which rendered the old one, well, old and outdated. But these instructions that God gave are incredibly intricate, and somewhat cryptic. Things like the type of wood, exact sizes, gold all over everything in specific places. Where to put rings and tables and bread and curtains. Who can go where and do what. How to decorate the table, the lampstand, and the dishes. Exactly which rooms they should go in and when and how. It just seems a little weird. And very not simple.

But then later, Jesus comes along and lives an impossible life, does impossible things, and suddenly some old cryptic symbolism starts to pop up. What happens to the curtain that blocks off the holy of holies room in the temple when Jesus dies on the cross? We’ve all heard that sermon before. It’s torn in two and opened up. This signifies that with the death of Jesus we can finally approach God directly. There need not be an intermediary. That’s good news! And a fabulous picture provided by the fact that for centuries, man had to stay separated from God by this room, this curtain, which He very vividly tore at a very opportune moment. But back to Exodus (and many more places in the OT), the instructions are incredibly meticulous. I have to ask myself, why did God insist that ”Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand” (Ex 25:33)? A super-theologian could probably tell me. Or just a regular one who pays attention better than I in seminary class.

So here’s where I am: do I dive into all this symbolism, this stuff, this intricately woven story of epic proportions that God put down in the Old Testament, all of which points to the coming of Christ and all of which He reveals in His time to make sense (which is what I believe happened/happens, I can’t tell you with experiential confidence yet that every weird little thing God said in the OT has a future reason)? Do I jump in and consume myself with turning over every rock and figuring out every symbol? Or do I keep my life and my relationship with Him simple, “I listen, You lead, I follow”? Did God put all that stuff in there because He wants us to figure it all out? Or did He put it in there to wow us a little bit along the way?

I tend to fall back on a hiking analogy that raises a similar question. I love backpacking, hiking and exploring forests, gorges, mountains, and wilderness. The woods are so rugged, organic, and wild, aren’t they? Have you ever been deep into them, far removed from anything man-made, perhaps trudging along on trails wishing you could have a recliner with a cold drink and some pop-corn on hand, and then you look up and see something truly majestic? A vividly bright flower, a perfectly placed waterfall, an impossibly balanced boulder. Do you think sometimes that God puts stuff like that out there so that we’ll stumble upon it and say, “wow God, that’s just incredible”? Or do you think He puts it there and wants us to tear down the forest to find it? Of course, my wife reminds me, “if we’re not at least looking up, we may never see what God’s put out there.”

So what do you think? Do we keep it simple and focus on one thing (ps 27:4)? Do we wander along and stumble on God’s intricate puzzle pieces? Or do we do all we can to figure it all out, right now?

Why did I not expect it?

I have some paperwork to get from the prefecture, so I just took a trip out there. Turns out that the prefecture, a government building, is closed today. Why? Because the entirety of France has chosen today as a day to protest the government's decision to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. France already ranks as the country who's citizens spend the most years in retirement, so cutting two years off of the national average is surely inconceivable! Read about it here.

Why did I not assume that a government building would also shut down in order to protest a decision of the government? Where was my head?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Perfect 10

Today is October 10, 2010. Or 10-10-10. Today also marks the day that my wife starts her 10th week of pregnancy. 10-10-10-10! That's like a win, win, win, win. Or something. Speaking of perfect 10's, here's some great photos:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010

October 2, 2010 was "Nuit Blanche" in Paris, or 'White Night'. Nuit Blanche is sort of like an all-night party in Paris that celebrates art, and in this sense especially uses light to display it. Installations are set up around the city, often centered around white/light, and are there or running all night long. It's been happening for a few years, and is now copied in other cities around the world.

After the "Fete de la Musique" this summer in which nearly every street corner had music acts performing, I had high expectations for Nuit Blanche. But to be honest, I was a little disappointed. The art was not nearly as plentiful or easy to find, and a lot of the displays were indoors, with waaaaay too massive of lines outside for me to wait in. I much prefer stuff that's just out in open air, and those seemed to be very few. Instead, it was massive amounts of people wandering around and not finding much. It was a very good night for the few musicians that took to the streets, because they drew huge crowds or bored wanderers who weren't getting their entertainment fix through the art.

I did however walk by this gem (thanks for the tip, David!). It was very cool and much fun to see in person.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Me Voici

I’ve befriended a pastor of a church that meets a town away from our current home. About once a week I take the train up to his church building where I talk with him for French practice and to learn about the people of the country in which I live. Sometimes I take my guitar along and sit in play in the church. A week ago I met a man who came into the church and introduced himself to me. I was later told that he’s been dropping in from time to time for awhile. My first thought was that he might be homeless, but I’m not sure (I feel awful saying that, if someone’s not homeless is it wrong/insulting to suggest they might be?). He sat quietly and listened to a few songs that I played and sang but seemed disinterested. Then I played the song “Majesty (Here I Am),” I believe written by Delirious?. I sang it in French, and I could tell he was paying attention. When I finished that song, some other people nearby were chatting and he suddenly cleared his throat and quieted the room to announce that he was touched. He described my song as “très sympa,” which is a good thing, and he said that the song was powerful. I was floored. I don’t get complimented on my guitar playing and singing abilities too often, for good reason (I’m not asking for compliments, I’m just stating there’s not much to compliment... I’m moderately good at drums, guitar’s a hobby, and singing is a necessary evil at times in my case), so when he said that I felt extreme gratitude for having just played what I did. Today I went back and saw my pastor friend again. He told me that this same man had come back to see him again this week and told him that song had affected him. He said they talked about it quite a bit.

Huh, who knew a song I sang in French, probably off-key and with poor pronunciation, could ‘affect’ someone? It’s been a good day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Charging Bull

I was finishing up some laundry and holding a red t-shirt. Talking to my lovely wife and our dear friend Ashlyn, I noticed something in my peripheral vision. My son was running head-down at me in a bull charge!

For the next 20 minutes he proceeded to rush over and over again, head leading the way, at the red t-shirt I was holding. We live in France, not Spain! Where did this idea come from? To my knowledge he's never seen a bull fight; in person, on tv, nor in cartoon form. Is there something primitive, animal, and natural about the color red that makes a little boy want to charge and head-butt/spear? Who knows, made for some good video though:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hooray for the wait!

You go to the prefecture, enter the door marked “foreigners,” and tell them you want to apply for a “titre de séjour.”

That’s what my friend told me as instructions. I do not remember hearing the part about standing in line for 2 hours (that’s exact... it was 120 minutes). A line that moved a total of about 15 feet. I came prepared though, brought a book. Learned that trick in Africa. Don’t go anywhere, ever, without a book. Outside of the US, that is. In the US you can always find a TV with sports or news, magazines, or you simply don’t have to wait. So I had my book, but I had to stand in line. And then this young couple behind me, she French and he an American-English speaker starting making fireworks. He became incredibly irritated that they had to wait forever in a barely moving line to pick up a single sheet of paper which they would then mail in for his continued stay visa. So he tried to go up to the window and ask for the paper, to which he was promptly chewed out in French. Then he tried to sneak back into the private area and ask for the form. Again chewed out. Finally he stormed out, and back in, and out again. Luckily for him, his French wife knew the drill and quietly stayed in line. I was silently thankful when in his loud rants and complaints to his wife of these “ignorant” French people he also outed himself as Canadian, talking about “back home in Canada.” Whoo-hoo! At least that guy didn’t get attributed to the US.

So I waited, and I waited. Realizing everyone around me was as bored as I, I thought I might as well do some French practice, and struck up a conversation. The fellow behind me in line was French, and he was there for paperwork for his Tunisian wife. Once he interpreted my blank stares and clearly wrong responses, he slowed down his speech a bit and we had a good conversation. I had an interesting cultural insight by one of his responses. I had talked some about my background: that I’d lived in Tanzania before coming to France, that my son was born in Africa. When I mentioned that my wife was currently pregnant, he immediately assumed that she was Tanzanian, and back in Tanzania. Clearly in France, as in most of Europe, inter-cultural marriages are much more common. So much so that they are almost the norm. So much so, that the idea of me having an American wife who had traveled the world with me never came to my new friend.

I was also really pleased today that during our two-hour conversation he switched from the formal ‘vous’ pronoun to the informal ‘tu’ pronoun, signifying comfort, friendship, informality. It may have meant nothing. But it made me smile.

After two hours, I reached the window. I turned to my new friend and said “I’ll try to be fast, but no promises!”

Turns out that when I told the lady what I was there for, she handed me a piece of paper, told me to fill it out and include the documents requested, then mail it back in. I too, was waiting for a single piece of paper!