Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Choosing an Instrument

Our little boy loves music. Whether it's playing his toy guitar, pounding on a friend's piano, singing the 'ABC' song,or sitting at daddy's drumset after a concert or church service, he loves to be involved in music. And that warms my heart more than I can say. But now that he's approaching the formative age of 3, I'm faced with a dilemna. Which instrument do I place in his hands?

Here's the options the way I see them:
-Drums/Percussion -> easy one, we have plenty and I know a decent and cheap teacher; but they're a pain to carry around, hard to practice in a city, and do we really need two drummers in one household?
-Guitar -> readily available, already have one, widely useful for everything from camping to family worship time to big-time song-writing; but everyone plays guitar, I mean everyone. I'm trying to think of someone I know right now that doesn't play guitar, nope, can't do it.
-Piano -> classic, beautiful or jazzy or just about anything, can sing and play or can just play, I love listening to (good) piano playing; but there's so much to decide within, like do we start with classical music-reading, or playing by ear?
-Horns -> next...
-Other string instruments -> an interesting possibility, I love me some cello (even better if you can beatbox with it, though I believe the market on that's already taken), violins are purty or lighting quick and easily portable, a harp is odd yet quite davidic; but what if he likes the bass? We don't have room for one of those in our apartment!
-Woodwinds -> jazz flute, that is all.

Of course I'd like him to learn a little of a lot of stuff, to be a good musician he'd need to. But there's also the struggle that many like me face: we so want to do a little of everything that we never get good/great at one thing. I feel like that's most of my life. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd change it though. So, which one do I start with, suggest, hope he attaches to?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Provencial Christmas

Christmastime is often a revert to the past, to what's comfortable, familiar, and loving. We gather with family and share warm experiences and thoughts, gifts, hugs, and laughs. Unless of course for the last 6 years you've lived in entirely different cities spanning over 3 continents. As an expat abroad, holidays are fun but also tough times. We get to share new experiences and see how the rest of the world celebrates, but we're away from everything familiar and our family that we love. In recent years, we've made it a point to travel even more, letting the excitement of experiencing yet another new place overpower the loneliness of missing home. This year that didn't work out, and we weren't sure what to expect. God knew what He was doing though, and our Christmas at home in Provence has been a lot of fun already!

We've learned about the traditions of our current home (Marseille, France) and have truly enjoyed becoming more a part of this city and region. Perhaps the most famous tradition that Provence is known for around the world are the handcrafted and extremely popular Santons made here. Beginning in December, our Christmas markets fill up with thousands upon thousands of little people. Santons are, at their core, a nativity scene. You start with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus......then you can add some shepherds, wise men, animals, angels. And then the part that makes it original: You build an entire old French Provence town around the manger. There's fisherman, teachers, olive pickers, lavender farmers, bakers, old men playing pétanque, and the options go on and on and on. Yeah, it may not all be in the Bible, but it is all in the hearts of everyone from Provence. It's also displayed on a table of just about every home in Provence through the month of December. We haven't started our collection yet: these things aren't cheap! We will get it going next year, piece by piece until our house is overrun by clay French lilliputians.

Another tradition about which we've been learning is "la bûche" cake. This is the #1 traditional dessert in France for Christmas. We've now sampled at least one at every recent party and dinner we've hosted or attended. They can come in many different flavors and consistencies, but the thing that remains the same is the shape and look. They are designed to look like logs, ready for the fireplace, or consumption with a fork in this case.

In order to feel a little more normal at Christmas, we've made some efforts to get out and see lights. Living in a major city makes houses all decked out with lights and lawn ornaments and the like hard to find, but the urban centers do light up for festivity. Here's a few shots of our streets at night in December: Seems like a pretty high and traffic congested place to put a disc golf hole. Joyeux Noël tout le monde!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Potties and Fear

We’re in the midst of potty training. Right smack dab in the middle of the glory days.

Today we went to church. Sawyer was running around afterwards as he usually does, then disappeared. JJ went looking, no sign of him. Other parents joined in. Nothing. Worry began to mount, then the bathroom door popped open and there he stood, naked from the waist down but grinning ear to ear. “I used the little potty!” he said with pride. Our church has a little kid-sized potty, he likes that. He had thrown away his pull-up diaper, and we didn’t have another, so he went without for awhile.

One morning last week my son and I were in Vieux-Port picking up a few things. He started to do the pee pee dance. I took him to the bathroom in Starbucks. With his pants to his ankles, I lifted him on the toilet. But before he spread his legs the stream began, straight up into the air. I jumped back, holding him by the shoulders and narrowly avoiding a shower. His sudden incessant spitting told me he wasn’t so lucky. He managed to stop and I pulled him off the toilet, stood him up, and pulled his pants, shoes, and socks off. But then he started up again, standing on the floor next to the toilet. I picked him up like an out-of-control fire hose and somehow ended up holding him horizontally over the toilet, doing my best to aim him straight down. We made a total mess. Naturally, a middle-aged woman was waiting to use the bathroom when we exited. Sorry.

A few weeks ago we really seemed to be making progress with the whole potty thing. He would go when he had to, tell us, and beam with a sense of accomplishment when he did it. Then everything stopped. We never knew why. He lost all interest and preferred diapers instead. When he finally did agree to try again, it was only the little plastic bucket potty on the floor, no longer our regular toilet with his kiddy ring seat insert. It all seemed odd, why had he reverted?

Fast forward to last night. It was midnight, both kids were asleep, the house was quiet and cleaned, and I was watching a basketball game while munching on a baguette. Then my pajama’d 2-year-old came shuffling into the living room rubbing his eyes. I could see in his face he’d been awoken by a nightmare. He climbed up in my lap and buried his face in my chest. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Fall off big potty,” he began repeating over and over. He’d apparently had a nightmare about falling off of the toilet. Which makes me wonder whether an experience (say a few weeks ago?) led to the fear, or the fear simply grew itself. Either way, it’s a fairly legitimate fear for him.

Which got me thinking about my own fears. What am I afraid of? I think a lot of people have never truly thought that through. Answers like snakes, spiders, and sharks aren’t all that legitimate, in my opinion. I’d be willing to bet that the percentage of people who have actually been attacked by a snake and consider that one of their top fears is pretty miniscule. Kids tend to be much more honest and perhaps even more self-aware at times. My son is afraid of falling from the toilet. Could happen. He’ll probably survive it though.

So what am I afraid of? My stock answer for that one is usually “being successful in things that don’t matter” (thanks to Mike Brady, Bob Warren, and whomever else that may have come from). It’s true, but to be honest, it’s not the fear that keeps me up at night. So what am I afraid of? Here’s a few that come to mind right off:

-teaching my kids that communication and technology are more important to me than they are
-waking up one day and realizing I’ve missed my kids’ childhoods because I was too busy with other stuff
-sickness and health loss, and years off of my active life because I don’t take enough care of my body
-a friend passing on and wondering why I never told him/her about Jesus and the life-changing salvation I have in Him
-loss of loved ones and the loneliness, guilt, and other emotions that would follow (thinking specifically of my wife and kids, I don’t think I’d cope well)
-pain (pain and I don’t mix too well)

Knowing these fears of mine helps motivate me to do worthwhile things, like put my phone down and raise my kids, work out, and share my faith.

What are you afraid of, really?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Picking out a Tree

We’ve never had a real tree before. For Christmas that is. Neither of us. Well, none of us four, I guess. This year, however, we decided to try the real thing.

You would think that I’d have learned my lesson during months of projects to turn our empty shell apartment into a home: always find and read “How-To” information before starting something for the first time. I have sticky wooden counters, extra holes in our walls, and a jagged shower door all because I like to learn by doing, exclusively. But I still haven’t learned. It’s just a Christmas tree, right?

So off we went to Ikea. Anxious to get one, we went the first day trees were stocked. Yeah, it was rush hour, and dark, and it happened to be raining. We figured out the system (pay 20€ now, and bring the tree back for recycling after Christmas for a 19€ Ikea credit), and went out to the tree lot. First off, the stock for the day had already been picked through. Everything left was tiny. Or, short at least. Secondly, they were all cut and wrapped up in packaging. They looked like sticky torpedos. How am I supposed to pick a tree that’s folded up like an umbrella?

After 30 minutes of trudging through the rain, I saw what looked like a nice full tree. But a teenage girl got there first. She pointed it out to her dad, who looked and said something about the trunk being too short, and put it back. Sounded silly to me, so I took my luck, picked up the tree, and checked out.

Since it was wet, I left the tree overnight in the garage. Next morning I opened it up to let the branches fall down a bit. Didn’t really think about how hard it would be to get an open tree through 4 doors, into an elevator, out of said elevator, and down the hall to our apartment. There’s now a generous trail of pine needles that goes from our door all the way to our garage.

Back up in our apartment, we discovered an issue while trying to stand the tree up. Because of a very large branch coming out near the base, getting the tree into its stand was almost impossible. That whole “short trunk” thing... apparently it meant something. Finally, I went to the internet and discovered that trees should be stood up and placed in water within 8 hours of being cut. And another inch or two should be cut off the bottom. Oops. Not happening. We finally stood the tree up, even have a tiny corner of the trunk touching water. It’s not drinking though.

Annnd, our tree is shaped like the letter < b >. Baby got back. Instead of having people thinking we have a new modern-art chair in our living room, we turned the backside against the wall. But it’s so big the tree is pushing off the wall, thus leaning out over our living room.

That’s our Christmas tree, 2011. And we love it.

Scary. We'd better get up.


from visual.ly
via michaelhyatt.com

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Burrito Expert?

There’s a burrito restaurant in Aix-en-Provence, a little place called BocaLoca. I’m pretty sure it’s the best Mexican/TexMex place in France (and yeah, I’ve checked). They fashion themselves after a Chipotle/Q’doba-type joint, and keep it simple with no-frills burritos + chips and salsa. As best I can tell, the place is French owned and operated, and for some reason this makes me happy. I had lunch there today, and a somewhat funny conversation. Thought I’d share it.

I walk into the restaurant and up to the counter to place my order. There are three people inside: myself, a manager making the burritos, and a new employee/trainee taking orders and money. (this is all roughly translated out of french for your reading pleasure)

Trainee: Hello, what would you like to eat?
Me: A beef burrito combo, please. No sour cream, extra guacamole, and make it spicy.
Trainee: Ok, 0-5 how spicy?
Me: 4
Trainee: [His eyes widen and he looks up at me] That’s pretty spicy, we don’t do too many like that. Are you sure you want it at 4?
Manager: [Chuckles] Don’t you hear his accent? He’s...
Me: American
Manager: American. So a 4 to us is like a 2 to him. He’ll be fine.
Trainee: Ok, if you guys say so.
Me: [seeing the manager dip a spoon into the pinto beans] Oh, and I would like black beans on that, not pinto.
Trainee: Oh, I’m sorry, but the black beans are for the chicken burritos, with the beef you can only have pinto.
Manager: [rolls his eyes] No, no, no! What are you saying?! He’s American. He knows this food better than you or I do. Everything that we serve, he knows the tastes and how they mix much better than us. If he asks for black beans he has a reason. We serve black with chicken and pinto with beef to keep it simple for everyone else. But if he wants black, we give him black beans. That’s his taste, it’s ok!

The manager then went into a rather long discourse with the new guy about why they do what they do and how it’s all for keeping ordering simple for people who don’t know what they’re ordering, not because it’s the only way to make or eat it. I stepped back and waited, then talked with the manager for awhile about his salsa recipe (they have really good salsa there!), which apparently came from Boston (who gets a salsa recipe from Boston? whatever, the stuff tastes good). The whole thing just made me laugh.

My wife tells me that to be an expert at something, you have to log 10,000 hours in that field. I wonder if I’ve eaten 10,000 burritos. I’ve lived 10,000 days plus about 3 years. So assuming from the age of 3 on I have averaged a burrito a day, I’m around 10,000. Close? Maybe. Maybe that’s a stretch. Still, between eating, ordering, preparing, and discussing burritos, I think I can call myself an expert. Or, you know, I’m American. That’s good enough, right?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free Music is Best

An excellent, well-written piece by Derek Webb as to why free music is better for all parties involved than iTunes, Spotify, or any other money or ad-driven service.

Giving it Away: How Free Music Makes More Than Sense

And if you don't yet frequent Noisetrade, you need to. Lots of free music, all the time. Read the bios, the "for fans of", search by genre, or stick with the top downloads and find something new to enjoy. And right now, there's plenty of Christmas music floating around. Can't go wrong with free new Christmas music, right?

Monday, November 28, 2011


A couple months ago I was talking with a good friend, a Frenchman who was about to make a move to the United States. He was excited but nervous about his upcoming life change. Not a sports guy himself, he asked me this question:

“Is it necessary to learn sports in order to integrate into American society as a man?”

I pondered. I think I responded something to the effect of “it’s not 100% necessary, but if would make integration and understanding of society go a lot faster if you did.”

Since then, I’ve though a lot about that question. I’ve thought about it from both sides of my experience. What does it take to integrate into American society? What does it take to integrate into French society? And more generally, what’s important/necessary for integration into any society? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Last night I had an experience that showed me how far I’ve come and how far I have to go, as it relates to integrating.

An American friend and I went to see a movie. Usually we’d take public transportation, but knowing I had a few other stops to make I offered to drive. Two turns away from my apartment I regretted that decision. We hit stopped traffic and I immediately remembered that Marseille’s soccer team had a game that night. And not just any game; Marseille vs Paris. The two biggest cities in France. The two biggest egos in France. Probably the two most popular teams in France. Think Red Sox - Yankees, UNC - Duke, Ohio State - Michigan (as it relates to French soccer). And I live a few blocks from the stadium.

Once reminded of the game, I knew the traffic pattern and was eventually able to break free and get to our movie theater. During the movie I received a text from a friend at a restaurant by the port. It seemed a cruise ship had docked and the port was overrun by Americans and other foreigners generally making a fool of themselves. My friends there were people watching. Clearly I was far more integrated than those tourists.

After the movie I went to visit a friend (who’s not a huge soccer fan... prefers American football actually). We tracked the soccer match online, and about an hour after it ended I thought the roads would be clear enough to get home. I drove home and was successful in avoiding jams. Again, I knew the traffic patterns, I knew the timing of the game, I knew what to expect. Driving home I rolled down my window to watch and listen to the jubilant displays of fandom around me. Marseille had won. Horns were honking, fans with flags and scarves and team jackets and jerseys were dancing down the sidewalks. I understood it all.

Yet, I didn’t feel it. I was happy for Marseille. It’s my city, my local soccer team now too. But I didn’t feel the pride, the joy, the need to dance in the streets like most of my neighbors did. I understood it all, which was far more than the oblivious tourists in pubs and bars, who may have wondered why the city had no French people before midnight. But I didn’t feel it like they did.

I’m learning there’s a difference between understanding and fully integrating. I understand my new city, my new society. I really like it here now. I do feel like home. But I’m not truly local. Not yet. May never be. But I want to.

What do you think? What does it take to integrate? A new city, a new country, a new society... Have you ever moved?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Family of 4 photos

Family photos, taken at 2yr9mo, 7 months, and, uh... late 20's. These are a select few out of many taken while Stateside.

Thanks Tracy for capturing some excellent photos!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What’s new chez nous?

Been away awhile, been busy awhile, I think I’ll update with randomness on what’s been going on and what’s coming in our lives.

October was a wonderfully fun and busy month in which we celebrated my sister's marriage, trick-or-treated, and watched our kids grow out of a clothing size. We did all of these things from US soil, observing and eating our way through an exhausting but blessed vacation. Another US observation, where are all the motorcycles? There are tons in France. Like maybe a 1-to-1 ratio with cars in urban settings. US roads are quite different.

While in the States, Sawyer started somersaulting one night, out of nowhere. Not sure how nor why he decided to flip, but it has provided much entertainment for all of us.

Leaving the US was really tough, goodbyes have become a normal part of our lives, but they never get easier. We learn to enjoy every minute we have with family on one side of the world, friends on another, and realize that everything can be taken away in an instant. Coming back to France was better than expected. It did feel like coming home, and getting back into the swing of our jobs and friendships has been natural and encouraging.

The day we arrived back, I stopped into a nearby grocery store for some bread and formula. As I rounded the aisle heading toward checkout, a corner of shiny maroon cans caught my eye. Is that Dr Pepper? It couldn’t be. But it is! Two blocks from my house. And the cheapest price I’ve seen yet in France (about $1.20). My first thought was that it was a one-time shipment, and I should buy all 30 cans on the shelf. But I restrained, bought a few, and returned a few days later. Since then, I’ve been going in every 2-4 days to buy a handful of cans of Dr Pepper. I think I may be the store’s only customer buying it, but my plan is that they'll think there’s a steady demand and thus it’s worth restocking. By my count, my plan is still working :).

November in Marseille has been really nice. Cool and rainy at first, it’s now brisk yet warm during the day, cool and dark at night. The city is beginning to gear up for Christmas, and it’s exciting! Lights are being hung from poles, storefronts are full of Christmas trees and toys, and chocolate advent calendars are everywhere. Speaking of Christmas, here comes Santa Claus:

As if the Dr Pepper story above wasn’t enough of a ‘welcome home’ gift, a week ago my buddy Ryan and I stumbled across Mountain Dew! This is big. Dr Pepper pops up occasionally, but not Mt Dew. This is the first time myself or anyone I’ve spoken to has seen Mountain Dew in France outside of Paris. And not just Mountain Dew. This little random coffee and pastry shop had Mountain Dew, Code Red, and Throwback Mountain Dew. I had one, but at $4.13 a can I won’t be a regular customer. Some other American imports I’ve stumbled across recently:
-A single bag of Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips sat on a shelf for $7.99.
-A bottle of Nestle Chocolate syrup runs $9.46.
-A liter (maybe it was 2?) of real Canadian Maple Syrup can be purchased for $29.17.
-3 Reese’s cups for $4.06.
-A small bag of M&M’s that’s not peanut (I saw coconut and pretzel): $3.72.
I passed on all of those items. But 3 months ago I didn’t know they existed in Marseille, so seeing them is a nice little reminder of home.

Elsie’s not big on American foods. She just likes Franco-American Toes.

This week is Thanksgiving! Thanks to the wonderful generosity and help from some friends and donors back in the States, we’ll be doing it right. Our association teaches English, but our French friends love it when we share our culture as well. Our desire is never to change the culture we’re in, but only to enjoy and appreciate one another. So this week we’ll be throwing two parties with about 20 people at each. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, pies... a lot of it from home. Can’t wait!

Did you know that Icy Hot and Wint-o-green lifesavers smell almost identical? Why do I know this? They say memory is tied to smell, right? Well in college, my sophomore/junior roommate and pal Eric always had a stocked bowl of Wint-O-Green Lifesavers by the door. I would steal them often, and ate a few nearly everyday. That’s also when Joe Joe and I started dating. So a smell she associates with our earliest days together is that of Wint-O-Green lifesavers. Well this week, some back pain sent me to the medicine cabinet, and immediately my wife’s memory went back to college. “You smell like those Lifesavers you used to eat in college!” she exclaimed, enjoying the memory and thinking I’d smuggled some American candy back. Probably disappointed to find out that I’m simply getting old. But I’m glad that my aches and pains can bring back youthful memories!

Sawyer loves his new tool set. Whenever something of his breaks (i.e. the batteries run out) he breaks out his tools and goes to work.

Our sensational friend Tracy B took some lovely family photos of us (like the one up top) recently. I'll try and post a few favorites in a day or two.

Our little ones love each other, and we love that about them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Get in the Game

Remember playing youth soccer? Did you ever sit down and start picking dandelions in the field while the rest of the team chased the ball? I’m pretty sure I did during tee-ball playing outfield. I mean, no kid ever hit the ball over the infield, and my early childhood was before the days of sunflower seeds as a dugout staple, so I had to do something to pass the time!

I think God likes sports, and competition. At least a little. We are made in His image, right? And everywhere I’ve been in the world, people love sport. It’s somewhere inside us: to run and compete. Not only the innateness of sports in our being leads me to this little theory, but God’s Word is replete with sporty examples too. Paul talks about running the race, working out, and winning a prize. Joshua meets the Captain of the Host of the Lord and his first question is “whose side are you on?” (God’s on no team’s side, by the way). And Jesus, he loooooves to talk about victory. We love to sing about it. “Oh victory, in Jesus, my savior forever!” That’s best sung while swinging arms in a jovial march-like-fashion, in case you didn’t know... digression.

Jesus perhaps sums up victory best in this simple statement: “Be brave! I have defeated the world!” (John 16:33)

Let’s put it into a sports metaphor. And then insert ourselves. I’m in Europe, so I’ll use soccer. You can use whatever sport you like to play. If you don’t like sports, stop reading and check back next week.

Imagine you’re in a massive, galactic game of soccer. And you’re on the Jesus team. During the game, you huddle up and Jesus says this: “ok guys, here’s the deal: we win. I have it covered. When the final whistle blows, I guarantee a victory. I’ve already won it. Now let’s go!”

Coming out of the timeout, you’re struck with a perplexing choice: what do you do? The victory is guaranteed. Jesus said he already took care of it. So you could sit in the corner of the field picking dandelions and counting grass blades. At some point you’d get a crazy show of Jesus whipping around the field scoring goals. But what fun would that be, sitting? And Jesus didn’t say “go wait over there while I kick butt.” He said, “let’s go!” Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to go out and play your part, catching a mid-field pass and booting it down the field? Slide tackling the bad guys for a shocking takeaway? You’re guaranteed the victory, so what is there to lose? Yeah, you may get hurt. Sure, the other team may score on you. But who’s on your team and there to encourage when that stuff happens? Jesus is.

I’ve begun to stretch my metaphor. I need to get back to the point.

Go. Play in the game. It doesn’t matter whether we kick the goals in or Jesus does, the results will be the same (hear that Calvinists? Armenians? silly squabbles over nothing... I’m stretching again, sorry). So go be a part of the victory. It’s more than worth it.

“Be brave! I have defeated the world!” -Jesus

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mercy with the Morning

"With every new morning nature offers a tribute of praise to God's mercy. The sun rises; the birds sing; the trees sway in the breeze. Shall we alone be silent and ungrateful? Shall the Christian, who has the most reasons to praise God for His mercy, be slow to acknowledge that God's mercy is renewed to him each day? Will we allow the natural creation of God alone to praise its Creator?

No matter how dark our day may appear to be, let us remember this with Jeremiah, "It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23)."
-Woodrow Kroll

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011

Here's the obligatory Trick-or-Treat post!

Somehow, in less than 3 years of life, Sawyer has experienced 2 Halloweens in the States. Not a bad deal for a little guy. Except that he doesn't really like candy yet.

Sawyer and Elsie went as big little bugs this year, a bumblebee and caterpillar.

Our warm and cozy caterpillar:

Hitting the neighborhood:

Sawyer loves his glow-in-the-dark skeleton jammies!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

USA Early Observations

Whenever I move to a new country, I like to make some observations after a short time. Maybe interesting, maybe they show my small-mindedness, maybe funny, maybe insightful... fresh perspective is a rare and beautiful thing, and so I observe. I have not been in the USA in 2 years, I haven’t lived here in 4 years. As such, I do feel like I have some new observations, not completely as a foreigner but a bit of an outsider. So here are my return to America observations:

-Everything is bigger in the US, at least compared to Europe. Roads, cars, farms, houses, grocery stores, hamburgers, portions, parking spaces, campuses, and people.

-Choices. So. Many. Choices. I step into a Wal-Mart and I’m awed by the choices, of mostly junk. I walk through a mall, and I’m overwhelmed by all the different ways I can throw away money on things I don’t need. So many choices. I’ve learned in France a little tip for how to find a good restaurant. In general, avoid the places with 10-page menus offering everything from French to Thai to Moroccan cuisine. Go for someplace that specializes in very few things and only offers what they do well. Coming back to the States with an overabundance of choices is a bit intimidating. Did you know that there are currently 67 varieties of Pop-Tarts?

-A tank of gas in the States costs me about $45. In France it's about $90.

-I was driving through Lexington, KY and noticed a church of some sort on nearly every street corner. All over the place. And big churches too. I started eye-balling and guessing some numbers, and I honestly think that there may be more seats in all of the local churches than there are habitants of the city. Someone should do that study. And then reteach the whole concept of “building drives.”

-The current Dodge Chargers are nice-looking cars.

-Mmmmm bacon. If anyone in southern France knows how to buy and prepare bacon in the American fashion, talk to me.

-I love the woods. National Parks. Trails. I hope our country protects them. When I talk to people about visiting the USA, I always direct them to the parks. Very much worth discovering and exploring. I also think that our country is far better visited in smaller towns and cities, local diners, and getting away from the interstate. The same is true of other countries. If you want to come to France, your visit will be infinitely richer by getting away from Paris.

-I love milkshakes. But I have to limit myself to one a day. Two is too many.

-Everyone in the US drives. That’s the way the country is set up: expansive, open, and car-dependent. It’s not bad, not better, just different. But I miss my walking and public transit European home.

-TSA. Cincinnati. Sheesh.

Friday, October 21, 2011

When Cultures Collide - Hiking in a Speedo

So there I was. Hiking through the Smokey Mountains. It was hot out, so I did what any of my French friends would do (well maybe not any...): I took off my pants and hiked in my speedo briefs. Seemed natural. Made sense. Right?

Well after a short time, a group of trail riders passed us on their horses. Four in all. The leader was a 60-something mountain man in a cowboy hat with strong grip on his reins. Following him was an equally aged, equally comfortable-in-the-woods-on-a-horse woman. Then a younger couple in college t-shirts, out for a fun afternoon ride. My friends and I watched and chuckled as each of the four riders passed, looked me in the eyes, slowly gazed downward, then suddenly became infatuated with the treetops. What must they have been thinking?

About three hours later, the riders passed us again on the trail, and their musings over our peculiar hiking attire became evident. The mountain man leader greeted us with a question, “You boys been swimmin’ today?”

“No sir,” we answered, “sure haven’t.”

They passed, and the intrigue continued.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Traipsing through the Woods

I am back from a 3 night backpacking extravaganza with a few of my closest guy friends. We hiked through the Smokey Mountains, slept on the ground, ate protein-packed everything, bathed in ice-cold stream water, and hoisted our food every night to keep it from the bears. On the last morning we awoke and hiked out in a downpour, a fun ending to a great trip away. My favorite bits of the whole thing were our great spiritual discussions on the trail, the complete disconnection from all technology, late-night Rook games inside a tent while winds raged outside, and the fabulous diner breakfast that followed our hike out (biscuits, hash browns, sausage, grits, eggs, and a milkshake). I desperately needed the reconnection with God that came through the beauty of meandering mountain streams and early morning quiet prayer, accompanied by the symphony of nature. The community that I desperately crave everyday of my life was fulfilled by 5 men that know and love me as I do them. Much fun.

Our second night we crossed paths with a man and his teenage daughter who were on their fourth night in, backpacking and backwoods camping. I was touched and inspired, and I can't wait to hit the trail with my own kids!

Having fun in the woods, I completely failed to take any photos. Oops.

Today, back in civilization I felt the call back to nature and took Sawyer for a hike along with his uncle. Sawyer is already a fantastic hiker, taking quickly to the trail and loving the exploration.
After our hike in the woods we came to a huge hill that ended in Kentucky Lake. Naturally, I taught my son an important skill that every little boy should know: rolling down the hill.

One last important boyhood skill: rock skipping:
Err, throwing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wedding, check!

The wedding is in the books. It was a good one, everyone was beautiful and even the kids shaped up. Was soooo good to see a lot of family in for the event.
Now we're off to relax and enjoy some Americana. Family time. Friend time. Much good to come. But first, 4 days in the woods with some fellas. I'm going off grid. Later y'all!

Congratulations Courtney and Josh!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pond Jumping

After eating some pizza from a van we have finished packing, handed off keys and responsibility, and we're about to head to the airport. We'll be flying to the USA for a few weeks to visit family, celebrate new family at Court's wedding, and of course indulge in at least a little bit of Americano fun and goodness. We realized this evening that this will be our first ever cross-continental trip that's not accompanied by significant sadness. Usually we're saying goodbye to dear friends and family, if not forever then at least for significant life-altering amounts of time. If we aren't parting forever, we're at least leaving knowing that loved ones will not be there for major upcoming milestones. But this flight will be one of pure joy, we're going to introduce our newest family member to numerous family and friends. We're going to have little responsibility but to visit, laugh, and hopefully relax. Maybe some camping, golf, restaurants, and back-yard play will be involved. Perhaps some trick-or-treating. And we have to say "goodbye" to no one. To our dearest friends in France, of course we'll miss you. This is but a mere jaunt, back in a few weeks! À tout à l'heure (imagine that in Sawyer's voice).

Thanks Ryan, Kimberly, and Hillary for taking on some extra responsibility and keeping everything running smoothly!

Friday, October 7, 2011

All 4 of Us

Full-family photos seem to be kinda rare in our case, so here's one and I thought I'd share.

Thanks to our friend Kimberly for playing amateur photographer for a few minutes!

In our household, the countdown is on. In less than a week Elsie gets to meet her American family for the first time, and Sawyer might get to hit a ball with a baseball bat instead of a spatula or funnoodle. Yet... much to do before then!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Less Members: may not be a bad thing

Today I had coffee with a local pastor. He’s a good friend and someone I really respect and am having a blast getting to know. He said something simple in passing that struck me as interesting and worth sharing.

His church, a local fellowship in Marseille, has 40 members. That’s what he told me. On their little rolodex in the office somewhere, 40 members. 40 people receiving newsletters. 40 people who call themselves members of this particular church. 40 total people, not families. Not too odd. Most evangelical churches in France I would guess hover in the 20-60 range.

But you know what? They average 60+ for Sunday worship (excluding les vacances of course!). Yes, average attendance is higher than membership. It’s not that this church is suddenly on revival and growing so fast the secretary can’t keep up. That’s just how it is.

If you live in the USA and go to church, ask your pastor/secretary/record-keeper sometime the number of members of the church. For most churches, even small ones, I would guess that number to be in the thousands. Now take a visual survey of how many people are in the worship service on Sunday, and do some division. This is a total guess, but I’d say it’s maybe less than 30% of the membership (and feel free to tell me if I’m wrong).

So why does this church in France have less members than attendees when most churches in the USA have vastly more members than weekly attenders? Well in France, having your name on a membership roll doesn’t get you anything. No one would tell their neighbors they attend a church they don’t really attend. Why heap ridicule on yourself? No one identifies themselves as a Christian, especially not an evangelical church-going Christian, unless they really mean it. So in the same way, no one asks to be a member of a church unless they are truly committed in every facet of their lives.