Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mexicench Buffet

I remember a few years ago two words were guaranteed to light up my face and elicit an immediate response of “I’m in!” They were ‘Mexican Buffet.’ Living in the US, I knew the comings and goings of every all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet in our city. Oh those were the days.

Now I hear the words ‘Mexican Buffet’ and I’m, well, let’s say intrigued. While on our short Alps vacation, our hotel’s restaurant put on a Mexican dinner buffet. The dinner was included with our room, and I was legitimately excited about it. My excitement grew when I saw a sign by the resto listing the per-person price at almost $65 (which is funny, since with the internet deal on our room we’d paid less than that for a room, dinner, and breakfast). I’m not gonna lie, secretly, I was expecting a bombshell dinner.

The first ones in line, we had our pick of the buffet from the start. It would turn out that the things we wanted were barely touched by the rest of the patrons. From a distance, it was a good start indeed. The display was impressive: multiple platters on differing tiers of a table full of decorations, plants, fruits, and food. Then out came the staff. They looked amusingly ridiculous in their brightly-covered woven rugs-turned cape coveralls and giant sombreros. They came and explained to us basically what a buffet was, pointed out the wine selection (a nice rose was suggested with the Mexican buffet, really?), and then released us to attack the mountain of food.

But as we approached said mountain, the excitement faded a bit. Just behind us poured in some French folk and a large group of Italian tourists. We ate burrito-ish things while they filled up on cold tomato soup (that’s spanish, not mexican), potato/olive salad (greek, maybe?), fish, cauliflower, and other French foods. I did get excited when I saw a green mush and pile of Doritos. But the green mush was basically avocado puree, not exactly guacamole. For my main dish I went for the labeled “Chile Con Carne.” It turned out to be beef tips that were in a sauce of some sort, and about as spicy as a Wendy’s frosty.

After the appetizer came the wonderful Mexican cheese spread (that’s a joke, I’m 99% sure that there’s no cheese course in Mexico, especially not one with soft and moldy cheeses from the far reaches of France). Seriously, we had a cheese course. And then dessert. You know, stuff like chocolate mousse, strawberry tarts, and chocolate cake. Real mexi-like. Ironically, I don’t remember seeing flan, which I think is the one dessert eaten in both Mexico and France. It is also one that I’ll never touch, so maybe it was there and I ignored it.

Mmmm Mexican buffet. Thanks France. Nice try. Can you stop now?

The next day as we were checking out I saw the sign go up for that night’s buffet: Italian. And less than 2 hours from the Italian border. I think we drew the short straw on dinner buffets.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ze Alps

Thanks to a deal online, we took a 2-day family vacation to the French Alps. 5 of us (my sister's here visiting) packed into a small room decorated for ski season but a perfect launch pad for a summer of mountain viewing. We spent our days outside hiking, picnicking, swimming, and exploring. God's creation is a great place to go.

A fun part of the trip came when a very nice couple, err family (2 adults and their pet bird... they were close), from Monaco wandered by our picnic while they were shooting photos. They asked for some help in their 'family' shots and then offered to do the same for us. Immediately, they were infatuated with Sawyer. They talked to him, they laughed when he did, and they asked that he be included in some of their pictures. Then they could barely tear themselves away from him and his emphatic "au revoir"s on their departure. The obsession with him ran so deep that this (following) was the first photo they took of our family. Hey man, you see me up here!?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Defense of Cities (why I’m not a hippie)

There are a lot of reasons to love where I live. Marseille is a big city - the second largest in France (shush Lyon!). It is alive, wild, beautiful, and rough all at the same time. It’s an active and quite old port city. It has plenty of darkness and ugliness. With the port comes trade, and it’s not all wine and cheese. There’s trafficking of drugs, contraband, humans, and sex. But the city also has plenty of redeeming qualities. Millions live in relative harmony. Sports, hobbies, and warm air bring people outside and mesh nationalities and cultures together. Daily open-air markets encourage the buying of fresh (often local) produce. Life is laid-back, communal. A small minority Christian community which spans cultures and languages is alive, rumbling, growing and learning to live, love and work together.

An then one of the most obvious reasons to quickly fall in love with this city: Marseille is surrounded by natural beauty. The Mediterranean Sea, gorges and beaches, national parks, mountains... to me it’s a near-perfect combination. I get the living organic wilderness of the city and the (quiet) living organic wildness of nature within steps of each other.

I often wonder what God intended for the Earth. How would He have us to live here? The tree-hugger argument is a pretty easy one. Nature as created is perfect, don’t screw it up, live in harmony with it. I get that, and I can see through nomadic people groups past and present a definite upward focus: an almost required spirituality due to their way of life. I’m not saying these groups got it right, but when you rely on the land for life, you can’t help but worship a creator God. He gives life and He takes it away. He is ever-present and ever-evident. This sounds like a good thing. John the Baptist obviously thought so, he “was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6) while living in the wilderness.

Yet I still wonder. Is that what God wanted for us, humans, His chosen race of creatures? Is that all He intended?

Isaiah 45:18 points out that God the Creator “is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited.”

He created this world “to be inhabited,” but I still don’t know what that means.

He did command Israel to build the temple, and He even instructed the raising of OT cities, right? And Jesus spent plenty of time in the city...

What does He think of our cities today?

I’ve always loved nature as it was created.
Get out there, as far as you can go, and spend more than a few hours. It’s impossible not to fall in love.

But I’m starting to fall in love with cities too. It’s a love I’ve only recently discovered, and I don’t think I’ll ever shake it. There’s something alive, organic (dare I say... natural?) and redeeming about them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Double the Fun

A few more phun photos until I catch up on rest and schedules and start writing again.
Now that I've joined the man-purse world, Sawyer feels he must imitate. It is difficult to leave the house without him packing a couple essentials into some sort of bag and trying to carry it along. This time, his essentials were a bottle of water and a sippy cup of juice in a plastic bag. Does this mean I need to get my 2-yr-old son a purse too?
Hello world!! Tomorrow we apply for a passport for our little one. Yesterday we went to have some passport photos made. For a passport photo her head must be straight and alined with both eyes open. She decided not to cooperate. Many photos were taken and three spliced together to get two open eyes and a straight head. It's interesting. I sure hope they take it. And then my daughter will look like a baby alien in her passport until she's 5.
Yeah, that thing is spinning. Yeah, he's not holding on. Yeah, he's actively eating his picnic lunch. His mom and aunt cringed. I love it.
These two are inseparable now. It's really fun when child #1 wakes up at 6:30am and throws a fit until he can see and hug child #2 who would happily sleep until 8am.
Really though, as much fun as parenting one of these little ones is, two are even better.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Responses and We're Home!

Today we finally escaped from the hospital. In typical French fashion, the whole ordeal was a little overblown and took way too much time. Thursday night the pediatrician, midwife, OBGYN, and everyone else associated with our child's birth cleared us to go home. Mama and baby were both healthy, so on you go! Except that by the time we were cleared, the administrative staff had already left for the day. So we'd have to stay the night. And besides, she'd never been measured (height and head circumference), so that would have to be done in the morning after her bath.

Morning came. We were first in line for a bath. I hit up the admin offices when they opened. "Oh you don't have any paperwork to do, and no bill," I was told, "we'll be mailing it to you when it's ready, then you can come in to pay." 9:30 am, we're ready to go. But the pediatric doctor has yet to give us the Carnet de Santé, without which nothing medical can happen for the rest of Elsie's life. Thus we sat and waited. Till about noon. Argh.

But we're home now! Hooray! The first hour home - reunited as a family - truly was priceless. Here's a few images of siblings at play:

I also want to share some of the things that made me smile from the past week. You all sent some great emails and notes of encouragement, and some like these below (inputs outside of the blog comments):

Nick- My favorite part of the story is that it happened in France. You have no doubt caused many people in France to believe that in America husbands delivering babies for their wives is about as common as buying a loaf of bread. "Universal health care? No, thanks. I can handle this."

Sean- You’re like Chuck Norris meets Dr Green... Nice work on the delivery, can you write up a Wikipedia page on emergency home delivery?

Ryan- I know that [your insurance company] is trying to save money anywhere it can, but I applaud you for taking it to an entirely new level. You probably saved them 5000-10000 dollars by doing it yourself. Great job!

Kevin- I'm a little disappointed that you were not also out of gas in your car....would've been a nice dramatic touch.

David- ...we were only imaging your face, thoughts, and desire/need to wipe your hands during this ordeal.

via twitter:
@pc1oad1letter “The front seat looks like someone had been murdered in it.” @goodbyeharan is my hero. #childbirthinacar

Then came my friend Paul, who was already having a fabulous day. It began when he took his truck to the dealer because of the sudden appearance of a rust spot on the frame. His truck he'd had for 10 years was suddenly being bought back by the dealer for $500 less than he'd paid (10 years ago). His sister beautifully and appropriately described his not-so-abnormal start to the day like this:
Pretty much most situations: "Paul, it looks like we have an obscene amount of compensation to give you today."
Paul: "Really? Are you sure? All I did was wake up this morning."
Them: "Looks like we owe you some chocolate dipped rainbows, unicorns, a new car and this pile of cash that we've been tripping over all day."

That evening he took a phone call from my sister with a quick run-down of our story, and he was left near-speechless. When speech returned, he declared May 6, 2011 to be the greatest day of his life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A few days later

The outpouring of love and encouragement from everyone has been incredible. Our story is ours not because we made it that way, but because God designed it, carried it out, and then we retold it. It's an honor and a privilege to tell this, yet another story of His provision and love. There's more than a few other stories throughout history in which God provides and God shows his powerful and perfect love. Often in a far crazier way. Start in Genesis, go through Revelation. And then pull out thousands of books, letters, interviews, blogs, and family-held generational stories and His love proves itself over and over. We are equally privileged to share those additional stories as well, anytime someone wants to listen!

Because some of the responses have been fun (I would want it no other way), I'll try and share a few of them on here in a day or two. If a part of our story mad you laugh, say so, I'd love to have more.
Some photos after a few days in the hospital.
JJ and Elsie are still full-time residents at the clinic (odd, since we didn’t even deliver there). Some elevated infection indicators have caused Elsie to take on a few rounds of antibiotics. Until they are down she and Mama will stay while the boys (and my sister) go back and forth. For some reason all of these ‘medical’ people think that my method and chosen location of baby delivery wasn’t ‘sterile’. Not too sure what that’s all about. I wiped my hands on my jeans before and after I caught her.
We’ve enjoyed some great family time at the hospital. Sawyer loves his new sister. And some new toys and treats from home (thanks family/friends via Courtney) don’t hurt either. This moment was really special to one of these two, can you guess which one?Elsie is beginning to come alive and proving to us that she is her own person. Absolutely nothing like her brother, Elsie enjoys to sit quietly in our arms and look around. Contentment is constantly all over her face. We love it. We hope it stays.In other ‘craziest event of our life’ follow-up, my car came back from the crime scene clean-up guy. Our passenger seat no longer looks like someone was shot and bled out. But it does look like someone spilled an entire Big Gulps of coke on it. Dark red coke. We apparently only contracted him for the fabric of the seats though, because there’s still blood streaks on the plastic and metal portions of the door and running boards.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers' Day!

Today's post is intended for an audience of two (but all are welcome to look in). Mom H and Mom S, we love you. We would never have become the family that we are without you two. You molded JJ and I into the adults that we are, and because of that we fit together and we've created our own crazy little family in a molded, mutated image of you. Enjoy some footage of your grandchildren below. We hate that we're not together today, or very often at all. We know of two little ones who would love nothing more than shower you in love and make you laugh. I hope we captured some of that on video.

This one was supposed to be a picture, thus a 2 second accidental video. But it still made the list and I think you'll see why:
And a still of baby Elsie-
Happy Mothers' Day!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Elsie Joy - The Story

My last post labeling my wife an incredible woman: it doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Elsie Joy. 7.7lbs of beautiful baby girl. She and Mama are healthy, and she is truly a blessing from God.

Throughout this pregnancy, I’ve sort of felt bad for our daughter. Her brother was born in Africa. We drove 13 hours on washboard dirt roads to get him to the city in which he’d be born. He spent his first six months sleeping in a mosquito net. Being born in the middle of a mega-city in France just couldn’t compete with that.

Oh, but it did. And I’d say her story wins hands-down.

Wanna read more? I’d recommend it.

I wrote 3 weeks ago that I should forget about hospitals and start reading “Where There is No Doctor.” I should have taken my own advice.

At 6:25pm (Friday May 6) JJ was sitting down and talking on the phone. Sawyer and I were making pizza, our usual Friday night family ritual. During her conversation I noticed a grimace on her face for about 30 seconds, an obvious contraction. No surprise there, nearly every night for the past week she’s had runs of contractions that always went away. I smiled, mouthed “I love you,” and went back to making pizza. Before her phone conversation another contraction hit. She hung up and said she’d had two fairly quickly, but not so bad.

Then the third came, and I started a timer. This one she said was different. Very much so. It hurt. So I slow danced with her and helped with the pain. It lasted over a minute. Less than three minutes later another began, just as bad. “We’d better make some calls,” she said, “this is it.”

So I called our friend who had planned to come watch Sawyer when the big day came. She said she’d come right away, but was 30/40 minutes out with travel. I asked her to hurry. I then called another friend and asked if she could come over so we could get a jump start to the hospital. Sure thing, 10/15 minutes out. Then a knock on the door. Another friend was standing there, he’d stopped by to borrow something from us. He stepped inside and heard a loud groan from the bedroom. The look I threw his way combined with an astute understanding of the situation was all it took. “Go,” he said, “I’ll stay.”

It was 7:03pm.

At this point, the contractions were lasting about a minute and a half, with the same amount of time (or less) between.

I yelled bye to Sawyer, who happily yelled the same back and then returned to his pizza. I helped JJ up and grabbed our bag. Just outside our door she said, “I don’t think we can make it to the hospital.”

Knowing the primary role of the husband in childbirth, I did what I was supposed to and calmly reassured her, “of course we will Sweetie, it’s only 7 minutes away, you’re doing great!”

I don’t think she was convinced. I wasn’t either. But she kept walking.

We got on the elevator to go down to our garage where the car awaited. On the elevator she told me the contractions were strong, and not like the usual ones.

Outside the garage she was visibly shaken, but also calm. I helped her into the passenger seat. The moment she sat, she said, “I can’t sit, if I sit, I feel like I have to push.”

Push. Wait, what?! Did you say push?!? Whoa, slow down... I don’t like that word. Not one bit.

“Let me take a look,” I said.

Holy schnikies! That’s the head of a baby. I see it. Oh boy. What’s going on? This is not right! I can see why they call it crowning, it kinda looks like... Wait, we’re in our car, 2 floors below ground in our garage. There’s no one else here! No cell service down here, I can’t call for help! I could run upstairs. No, I can’t leave her. Am I about to deliver a baby? What? No way. I had told her I didn’t even want to cut the cord. Encourage, back rub, talk in French, encourage some more. That’s my job. Not... this. OH NO!! “Our daughter has hair,” is what I said.

Once I realized that we were on our own, no help coming, and that we weren’t moving till this baby came out, a wave of calm washed over and through me and I became... someone else. I was actually ok, level-headed, ready.

I grabbed a pillow from the backseat and put it over the stick shift. I told her to lean back and pull her knees. I then pulled a handkerchief out of my pocket and laid it under her (yeah, it was laughable).

“Next contraction you breathe, relax and breathe, don’t push. I pray,” I said. “Then the second, you take two deep breaths, and then push and we are going to do this right here, right now.”

And that’s what we did.

7:10 pm - That baby girl shot right out. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what she looked like in that moment. I caught her. I handed her up to her Mama who held her to her chest, and I walked around to the driver’s side.

Every little boy (and a lot of big boys) dream about one day being the hero. Or at least doing something heroic. I know I have, and do, often. But my dreams never included delivering a baby. Never. What they did include though, was driving like a controlled maniac through a city of 2 million to make record time when clutch driving was needed. Now this I was ready for.

I sped out of the garage, always careful to keep it smooth, and I rounded the corner cutting off cars and popping my hand up when I needed to. I ran some lights, pulled right in front of some people before lights turned. I dared a cop to stop me, “Do you see what I have in the passenger seat? That’s a Mama, and a baby. They are still attached to each other! Do you know what that means?! Legggooooo!”

Pulling up to the hospital at 7:15pm, I ran in and the first person I saw was a security guard. “Open the gate, I’m pulling up to the front door. We need some help, my wife just gave birth IN THE CAR.”

“Go” he waved and grabbed his radio. Moments after I turned off the engine a small gaggle of wide-eyed midwives came running out of the hospital. The took our daughter, cut the cord, and tended to my wife. I followed the baby, JJ smiled and said “I’m fine, and I love you.”

They checked out. They’re both in perfect health. We’re now the celebrities of the hospital. Booyah.

Later that evening my wonderful servant-hearted friend Daniel came to take our car and clean it a little. The front seat looks like someone has been murdered in it. I handed him the keys and said, “don’t get pulled over, or you’ll have some fun explaining to do!”

He soaked up a lot of blood and did all he could, but the car still looks like, well, you know. So my amazing friend Tiffany started making phone calls. She found one person/company who said he could clean our car. He says his job is to “clean up after something sinister has taken place”. Nice. Real nice.

That’s my story. No, that’s Elsie’s story. And it’s a doozy.
Welcome to the world baby girl!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

An Incredible Girl

My wife is something else. That’s an expression, ‘something else’. Looking at it now, I don’t think I understand it. But what I mean to say is that she’s an incredible girl. 1 Peter 3:7 tells me to “show her honor.” This is one feeble attempt at doing so. I think you should know what she’s been through and done for our family.

In September we found out about our pregnancy with child #2. We were in the midst of finishing language school, which meant hours everyday on wooden chairs spinning our brains to keep up with all that français. Early months of pregnancy are exciting, hopeful, and fun. There was sickness, but she didn’t complain, even when her head was in the toilet everyday. It would pass, and it was worth it to usher in our baby girl. At least that’s what she said.

In December the craziness began. We packed to move, from Paris to Marseille. We didn’t own a lot and had been living in a furnished apartment, but it was still a chore. A night spent in the emergency room a week before our move didn’t help. Asthma and pregnancy don’t mix, and finnicky doctors refusing to prescribe anything helpful = ER breathing treatments.

In January we arrived to our new place. An empty apartment was furnished by a toddler bed, toy chest, and futon left to us by some departing expats. Painting, installing cabinets, and much more occupied my time. JJ graciously took care of our son, fixed dinners, managed everything medical, and did everything she could to help me relax and recuperate (manual labor’s not my thing). And she kept on being pregnant.

Next the world turned upside down. A routine doctor visit sent her to the hospital for a 48-hour stay. Then another a couple weeks later. It may have been overcaution, it may have been necessary, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that a nearly two month period of her life was stripped away as she was placed on strict bed rest. That futon became the only thing she saw 24/7 for a month until our real bed arrived. Then it was the bed. Weeks and weeks of no movement and isolation isn’t good on the body, or the mind, or the soul. But she did it: she held out. And when the day came that she was allowed to live again - albeit 9 months pregnant - live she has, prepping for the coming of our baby girl, getting out as a family, not shying away from work and establishing meaningful relationships with some ladies nearby.

But through it all, do you know what I love? She didn’t stop living. She took the opportunity of being stuck in bed to build her relationship with our son. They played together, they colored, they read book after book. Now Sawyer can barely start his day without a reading from his “Jesus Book” by Mommy. She planned healthy meals that were simple for me to fix [or so she claims]. In so doing, she planned out grocery lists to minimize my time away from home shopping. And perhaps the most meaningful: she prayed for our family, our friends, and our city.

Now we’re waiting for this baby girl to arrive, and anyone who’s been there knows the final days of pregnancy aren’t easy. Yet my wife is doing it with grace. She waits, she wants this baby to come, and still she loves her family. She talks through her thoughts and fears with me. When she sees something off in me, she asks, pulls in out even. We’re across the world from our family and life-long friends, so we desperately have to rely on each other. In my case, there’s no one I’d rather have by my side.

JJ, I love you. You are a truly incredible girl. This life of ours would be impossible without you as the caring wife, nurturing mother, and relentless lover that you are. Now let’s go have a baby!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This water bottle lost its battle with the dishwasher. Early in the morning Sawyer and I pulled it out as we were putting away dishes and panic set in to his mind.

Water bottle?” He said, his words laced with concern. “Not working? Not working!
Then his thoughts turned quickly to the owner of the bottle, fearing the same fate may have befallen her.
Mama! Mama ok?!” The worry was obvious this time.
What if Mama’s not ok? Her water bottle clearly isn’t. As Mama’s water bottle goes, so goes Mama?

Why does everything in man’s life have to be owned? It’s an old worldview conflict we talked about in grade school between the American settlers and the Native Americans. The settlers would parcel out and take ownership of land, while the Native Americans insisted land was not something to be owned, nor anything that the earth produced, only used. While I love the concept of the Native Americans and really do agree with and want to agree with it, I’m starting to have a hard time believing they truly lived the way the history books tell it. I don’t have any historical reason, only what I see in the heart of an ‘innocent’ child.

From day 1, we’ve made every effort to avoid the word “mine” and the concept of ownership with our son. It’s an ugly word, especially amongst other children. He’s 2 now, and in 2 years this concept we’ve tried to avoid has already permeated every thought he has. There have been times we’ve slipped up or ownership was nearly unavoidable (‘no Sawyer, Daddy’s shoes are too big, you need to wear yours’). But in general, we’ve always shied away from such words.

Even without our teaching, Sawyer has felt the necessity to label not just some things, but everything in the house. To be honest, it is cute to be reading a book and see a vacuum cleaner which he quickly labels as “Daddy’s”, or to pull out a tea cup (Mommy’s) and a glass (Daddy’s) to the names of the person most often using them. Still, it’s frustrating that we’ve tried so hard to avoid possession and yet it’s become a large part of his every thought.

So why does everything have to be owned? Is there some innate part of our brain that insists on possession? Do we have a natural need to categorize in that way? In my head and my heart, I know that I am living within God’s Kingdom, on this earth. And He is a good King. He promises to take care of me, my every need and beyond. He owns everything and everything is His. I’m simply using it. And yet I hang on tightly to the few euros in my bank account. I guard the walls of my home and my time with my family, sometimes insisting that our comfort is ‘ours’. I love our nomadic type of life that’s had us in 3 continents over 3 years, yet I cling to certain possessions that I won’t part with, and now that we’ve unpacked into a long-term home, I can’t help but really set up our little camp, our corner of the globe that belongs to us. Ugh, why can’t I escape it? I know better, this stuff, this place, this world and everything in it belongs to my God. He chooses where to put us and what to give us, shouldn’t that be enough!?