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?