Friday, December 31, 2010

Our German Christmas

Once Paris finally got ahold of some de-icer and decided to let us fly, we hopped town and flew to Germany on Christmas day. There, we hung out with some wonderful hosts and friends, drank lots of Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew, and took in the sights and sounds of Hamburg.

The metro/train system seemed extremely efficient. And on time. And clean. Weird.
The streets and sidewalks were wide open, made for walking, and warm and inviting. We loved that the architecture; though much of it new, it had what we'd imagine to be the 'old German' feel.
Christmas was festive. Lights all over the place; markets with fabulous sausages, hot drinks, and candies abounded. Snow fell. And fell.
Old town was cool.
The port was icy. And foggy. Felt like a whole different time period out there. Or maybe just a different world.
Listening to everyone talk definitely sounded like a constant flow of random combinations of consonants. If it weren't for the cold and the language, it would be a pretty cool place to live. A great place to visit though, and we're glad we went and will remember our German Christmas!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hamburgers and Hotdogs

You simply have not lived until you've eaten a bratwurst in Germany. In a blizzard. While unable to feel your fingers. And dancing to the sounds of jazzy Christmas music. Sooo good. It was heavenly.

We did make it to Germany on Christmas Day. We're hanging out with friends, keeping warm and watching the snow fall. Northern Germany is much different from France, and yet obviously European. We like it. A great place to visit. Too cold to live here though.

We're in Hamburg. Inhabitants of Hamburg are called Hamburgers. I told my wife that I wanted to take the camera out to snap a photo of a Hamburger eating a hamburger. I chuckled, she just shook her head. It's funny, really, it is.

Friday, December 24, 2010

De-icer? Seriously?

We seem to be stuck in limbo. Can't get out. And we have a de-icing liquid shortage to blame.

Last week we packed up all of our stuff. You see, we just signed a contract on a new apartment in Marseille two days ago. Yay! So excited! Our move-in date is set for the 31st. But between then, we had a plan. Notice 'had'. We're living in an apartment in a Paris suburb now, mostly on borrowed stuff. We're moving out and someone else is moving in, so last night I taped up the last box of dishes, all but two small luggage pieces of clothes are boxed away, and our pantry's cleaned out. This morning we awoke early to catch a plane to Germany, where we have Christmas with some friends scheduled. However, our flight was cancelled.

I'll spare you the details of getting the tickets changed (it was a mess), but we do have a hopeful flight scheduled for Christmas morning. We may get out of here yet. As I was riding the train through Paris today on my way to the airline's ticket office, I couldn't help but wonder, "why so many flight cancellations?" Tons of flights out of Paris CDG airport have been cancelled in the last few days. Tons. But what's weird is that there's not that much snow. Everyone here constantly tells us that it rarely snows in Paris, though my two winters prove otherwise, but right now there's barely a couple of inches on the ground and the roads are totally clear. It can't be harder to clear a runway than a bunch of city streets, so what's the problem?

It seems that our lovely main Paris airport, the second most travelled in Europe, has run out of de-icing fluid. Or close to it. Orly just across town still has some, so flights are going out of there fine.

I remember my student days at UK. In attendance at every basketball game we'd hear the announcement that if our team scored more than 70 points we could turn in our ticket stubs at one of the local auto part stores for a gallon of winter washer fluid. In Lexington, KY (hardly the frozen tundra of North America), they had so much of the stuff that they were willing to give away a gallon weekly to 25 thousand people. And yet in Paris, at one of the most travelled airports in the world, we don't have enough de-icer to get people to where they want to go for Christmas. Can't someone make a run to the local aturo parts store? And yet we sit and wait.

I found a supermarket tonight right before it closed for Christmas eve and picked up some cooked couscous and crab rolls for Christmas Eve dinner. We handwahsed our underwear for tomorrow. Here's hoping our flight is able to take off tomorrow, or we may be living a few days off of a bag of Reeses and a box of Sweetarts that arrived in the mail today [no, some wonderful friends in Paris have invited us over, we won't starve].

De-icer. Sheesh.

A messed-up no good day ended up being worth it though. Tonight before bed we talked through the Christmas story with Sawyer, and at the end of it he looked at me and smiled, then said for the first time: Jesus! We went to bed singing it over and over, "Jesus". That was a special Christmas Eve moment in our limbo apartment surrounded by taped up boxes. One worth remembering.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmasy Evening in Paris

After a full week of a sick little boy...
We decided that a trip to town for a Parisian Noël was in order. Some fresh air should do us all good, right? So we headed for the Galleries Lafayette, a fully French shopping mall extravaganza. As we stepped out of the metro, the first thing we noticed was lights lights lights!
Walking along the side of the mall, we saw for the first time a French Christmas tradition: window boxes. All of the window displays previously filled with mannequins and Europe's latest fashions were transformed to miniature winter-wonderlands. Penguins and elves and wooden children played and laughed and danced in their own cubed-meter case. We've since noticed versions of these window displays everywhere, from our apartment to otherwise empty-courtyards to pharmacy entrances.

Stepping inside the Galleries Lafayette, we stood face-to-face with an immense and beautiful Christmas tree. The galleries themselves are circular in shape, floors up and around the open center, filled up by the tree.
Up on one of the highest floors was one of the best toy stores we'd ever been to. Best as in great quality toys, beautiful displays, and a fun environment. Not so much in price. We happily watched as Sawyer ran the aisles, eyes wide, simply enjoying himself:

We were happy when Sawyer stumbled on each of the two things that we did get for him for Christmas and lit up with joy. Of course, we bought them elsewhere for half the price...

Back outside, we stepped across the street and took in the full view of Galleries Lafayette and Au Printemps.

Well done Paris. Well done.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Apartment Update

Sawyer’s apartment tout-seul...
Our less than 2-yr-old son continued his quest to convince us of his readiness to move out tonight. During dinner he hopped up and drug me to the bathroom. “Bath,” he said, and I started some water running. Content, he came back and ate. Then we returned to the bathroom for him to hop in the tub, where he splashed around for awhile. Later in the evening, dressed in pjs, he danced around the living room. We as parents both mentioned in passing that it was Sawyer’s bedtime, but exhausted from our days, neither of us moved. A few minutes later he grabbed his chair and walked off. We peeked around the corner to watch him place the chair by his crib and then crawl up and over the rail into bed. Who does that? When he saw us looking in, he stood up and simply grinned as us. “Think I’m ready now?”

Our new apartment in Marseille...
Don’t know if I’ve talked about it on here much, but we’ve been in the process of finding, applying for, and coordinating a new apartment in southern France. Now finished with language school (hooray!) in Paris, we’re moving to a more permanent place. It’s been a process to say the least. But the red tape has been cut, evaded, and passed through, and we’re ready! We need now to go down and sign the contract (probably in a couple days), and then we’ll load up our possessions and make the move shortly after Christmas. Hooray for a new home! Hooray for our home, with our stuff. Hooray settling!

Let’s get to work...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Too sick to dance?

Since the time of hearing his first bits of music, our little boy's been a dancer. Even when he could do little more then shake his arms and legs to the music while laying stationary on the ground, he did so and made his wishes of contant melodies known. His moves have been fairly consistent and simple: the bounce, the spin, the side-to-side sway, the running man, and more recently the jump.

Since the weekend though, he's been sick. Poor guy has been running a constant fever and coughing and just generally being pitiful since Friday night. He sits a lot (1st sign he was sick). He'll read with us or watch cartoons, but mostly just wants to sit in our laps or head to bed for a nap. Eating is mostly non-existent, and the smiles rare but cherished. This is sort of what it looks like right now: (you may notice that in his sick state he's taken a liking to mama's socks and daddy's hat)

However, Sawyer did escape the sickness for a few minutes last night by busting a groove to his favorite singing lion (thanks again Aunt Jenni...). Check out the moves:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lonliness in the cold

There’s a lot of words my wife, my family, and my friends might use to describe me, but emotional is not high on the list. They’re there, emotions. Somewhere inside of me. Every now and then a movie will pull the tears out (Glory, 7 Pounds, Patch Adams, ET). But in general I find emotional satisfaction by living vicariously through music and the psalms. Being that I have a special place in my heart for emotional rides in music, I hang onto albums from the turn-of-the-century whiney Emo run, as well as the emotional up-and-let-it-out songs like Radiohead’s Creep or DMB’s Bartender. But when I really want to experience emotion in its realist, rawest form, I go to the Psalms.

I love reading and experiencing David’s heart. He never hesitated to tell God how he really felt. And yet he seemed so balanced. “How long O Lord will you forget me?” is followed not too distantly by “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness” (Psalm 13). Something about it all feels right. Much more so than actual life. Much much more so than what I typically hear coming from the world of Christianity (question God? accuse God? nooo). When I feel a little twinge of emotion, I search for it in the Psalms to see what it really feels like. To discover passion and honesty and to try myself to communicate that to God.

Lately I’ve been thinking about loneliness. For a couple reasons. I started out musing not just on loneliness, but utter despair, pain, and losing the will to live. Walking to a movie in Paris late one night with my wife, snow blowing around overhead, I saw someone laying down on a concrete step in a doorway, a blanket of roughly stitched together bags doing little to deter the frigid cold. I was taken aback, finally hit with a deeper reality of homelessness, especially in a cold place. Survive a winter? In that place, I don’t think I’d have much interest in even trying. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly judgmental for ever turning away from a drunk street person. If I was bitterly cold and faced with the proposition of cuddling up to a brick wall while winds whipped by and snow and sleet fell for the night, would I be any different? If a drink made it go away, replacing the ice-cold pain and despair with warm delirium, would I find any point in sobriety?

Back to my life of comfort (doesn’t seem that my problems are so bad when put in that perspective)... loneliness. We’d heard before of Christians in Western Europe feeling estranged and alone. We get it. It’s weird: being in the most populated place I’ve ever lived, neighbors on top of and all around us, we feel more alone than ever before. We’ve found community here with some friends, and we know we’re only getting started, but in the midst of the masses, we feel alone. Turns out David experienced the same emotion, probably exponentially more.

In Psalm 142 he cries aloud, pours out complaints, and declares his troubles to the Lord. He says,
“Look to the right and see;
For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.”

Sounds pretty lonely, no? Now here’s the interesting part. This psalm was written by David, in a cave. So says the manuscript. There’s only 2 mentions in the Bible of David in a cave that I know of: 1 Samuel 22 and 24. 1 Samuel 22:2 says, “ there were about 400 men with him.” Two chapters later it appears to be a similar situation. Surrounded by 400 others, in a cave, and David felt so totally alone that he wrote this? Pretty amazing concept. And yet I get it. Unlike David, I don’t have anyone chasing after and trying to kill me, but I am surrounded and yet alone.

And it’s Christmastime. Time to be with family and celebrate the Birth of Christ. Sadly we don’t have family here, so we’re trying to figure out a way to make the holiday we always associate with family special. We know God will provide.

A simple suggestion, especially to our friends in the States... could there be some people around you in your everyday life that are in the midst of a crowd and yet totally alone? Is there someone you could invite over for a gathering, a meal, a party, a week away from school? Make the day of your single friend, an international student far from home, or some empty-nesters who’s kids are half a world away. Invite them in for even the simplest of festivities. Loneliness is no fun, and yet it’s a plight with a simple remedy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ready already?

It has been an absolute joy for us as parents to watch our little boy grow in his desire to help. No longer is he an eating, pooping, and sleeping machine. He’s growing out of the run in circles and scream, throwing objects and giggling phase. Wait no, he’s firmly in that one... but that’s no longer ALL he does. Instead, he loooooves to help. His first actual chore was unloading the dishwasher. One at a time he’d pull utensils out and hand them to me to depose in the correct place in the drawer. Now he feels it necessary to get everything, and thus I must keep up on the receiving end, or the glass/plate/bowl in his hand will inevitably crash to the ground. No breaks yet, but I know the day is coming.

Later he learned to put toys away, which is fantastic. Mommy says this is because Daddy’s obsessed and puts them away moments after Sawyer moves onto the next thing. He watched, he imitated, he now (sometimes) puts his own toys away. I say it worked.

One of our favorite things to do together is make pizza. Sawyer likes to spread the toppings. Of course always one at a time and it would take him about 2 hours to dress one pizza, but it’s fun to do together. Now anytime we cook he feels he must pull his stool up and do something at counter height with spoons and ingredients.

Just like God doesn’t need us to do His work in the world, to carry His gospel around, to love and protect and help when He could easily do it himself, He sure loves to see us trying with an honest and earnest heart. We too love Sawyer’s heart and interest in helping.

Lately Sawyer’s helping has become more independent. We often find him in the bathroom brushing his teeth (err, getting the brush wet and putting it in his mouth). We’ve walked in the kitchen to see him standing over a sink full of dishes, dousing them in dish soap and trying to reach the faucet. He refuses our help with his socks, insisting he can dress himself (he can’t). When we leave or arrive, he runs to the light switches to illuminate or darken the room. If he spills anything - baby powder, rice, couscous - a pan and brush or mop is never far behind.

Yesterday when he walked into the kitchen at lunchtime, casually opened the fridge and grabbed a bowl of applesauce, then walked to the table, sat it down, climbed into his high chair and began eating, realization struck. He must be trying to prove to us that he’s ready for his own apartment. I know they say that kids grow up fast, but even in the modern day, an apartment at 2 seems a bit premature.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ready to be a Big Brother?

Lately we've had the enormous blessing of having other babies in our home. Between a visit from friends and a babysitting job, Sawyer's had the chance to interact with some younger ones in the comfort of our own home. And he has absolutely loved it!! As have we. He becomes a whole different person when babies are around. No, that's not true... He just shows that much more his gentle, caring, teaching, and protecting traits. He loves to baby the babies. To sit by them and hold hands, pat heads, or help pick up dropped toys. We still have to teach him that he's a little too big to plop down and lay on top of the babies, but the desire in his eyes to impart what he's learned to the younger being is amazing to watch. Of course as pregnant parents, we couldn't be happier and can't wait for his own baby brother/sister to arrive!
Here's a shot from our french Thanksgiving: Sawyer pigging out on bread.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

January through November

There’s a song I remember from my childhood called Sunday Best, or something like that. It was sung by one of those cutesy Christian couples that toured churches singing to tracks and selling CDs. It was a song with a good heart, an annoyingly catching tune, and a message that I’ve always thought a bit off base. The crux of the song is in the chorus: “Monday through Saturday I can’t take a rest from putting on my Sunday best.” The idea that everyday of the week we (meaning American Christians) should be just as nice, smiley, clean, etc as on Churched Sunday. Yeah, I don’t want to get into that... but this song popped into my head today as a petite metaphor of something bigger, and I believe legitimate.

It’s Christmastime! Noël! The season of... what? Giving? Yes, giving! Have you ever had that strange Christmas sensation come over you where sometime in December you just want to do a little something out of the ordinary and give a little extra? In a sudden moment of Christmas warmth you’re inspired to dig deep in your pockets or go out in the cold to give a helping hand. Maybe to the Salvation Army Santa Clause ringing the bell, maybe to the orphanage you know of in town, perhaps to your church, or to a friend that you want to really surprise this year. Have you experienced this? This desire to give, not out of guilt, and not to get anything back? Have you then done it? How does it make you feel? Good? Good. Good!

We have Pizza Hut here in Paris, which I’m pretty fond of. So we ordered some pizza. But when I went to pick it up, a mistake had been made and the wrong pizza prepared. The manager righted it for us and cooked up our usual pan supreme, and then sent me home with a free extra. Our little family of 3 clearly didn’t need the additional pizza, so I hopped in my car with it and went in search of a beggar, a person or family in need. I found a Roma mother and her small daughter, freezing and sitting outside by a wall. I offered them the pizza, and in that moment I felt wonderful, seeing their eyes light up and the joy at opening the box and finding a whole fresh pizza. They ate a piece each and then stored away the rest, perhaps for later, perhaps for other family members. But when I got back in my car, I felt horrible. I hadn’t given anything of myself. Not a bit. That was an extra pizza that I didn’t even pay for and truth be told didn’t like (had bacon and sour cream on it). So what had I given? My scraps. That’s it. Kind of pathetic really.

Living in France has helped us to become much less wasteful. It’s natural, and sort of expected in society. I can no longer take a plastic grocery bag away from a store without feeling a little grossed out by it (in part because it costs a nickel, in part because it’s killing the environment, mostly because it’s just wasteful). Much less is consumed and wasted here than my former life in the States. I actually look back on our burning trash in Africa and think we wasted a lot there too. I’m really glad that our lifestyles have changed to the point that it’s natural to reuse, recycle, and give away what’s excess.

Think about how much good we could do the world if we were intentional about putting our excess to good use. You know that silly phrase moms use to get their kids to eat vegetables by saying that there’s starving children in Africa? Well I’ve lived there, and it’s true. But you can’t box up your green beans and ship them to “starving kid in Africa.” You know what you can do? Pull together all the leftovers, mix them into a casserole with some cheese or something (not the cook in the family...), put it in a box and go find a family in need. I’m willing to bet there’s more than one within a couple miles of your house. But don’t confuse it: that’s not giving. That should simply be normal. Everyday. Expected.

I want to get to the point that giving, actually giving of myself is easy, natural, and a lifestyle. Giving of my excess is a nice step. One that will help the world, but maybe not change it. Instead of (or rather in addition to) passing on my scraps of pizza, how about finding that same family and asking what they’d like on their pizza? Then order it, pay for it, and hand-deliver it. That’s a bit more like giving. And I don’t want it to be seasonal. I want it to be January through December. Every month, every year.