Five Years for the Blog

By the way, did you know our blog has been around for five years?  It's true, as of last month.  Probably no one thinks this is interesting but us, but click here for our first month's posts, back in June of 2007.  We're proud that all of our siblings' families now have blogs as well.

Conflans, our Medieval City

Before we left Nashville, my dad said something to the effect of "make sure you enjoy this experience", and we've been trying to do him a good turn, especially this week before classes start.  Many of you know that I'm a not-so-closet Europhile, and the prospect of living here for 10 months has been a bit of a pipe dream come true.  However, in the aftermath of traveling around for a year with two little kids, I was finding it surprisingly hard to generate much excitement.  But the environment mixed with my dad's exhortation has a healing of its own.

So, our third day here, a few people were taking a little hike, and Rachel graciously watched the kids so I could join them.

Albertville itself is a lovely enough town (with gorgeous surroundings), but it is not the classic historic European town.  But they have one of those too, up on the hill, only 25 minutes by foot from our front door. In fact, we can see it from our third story window.  Conflans, the medieval city, about 1/3 of the way up the mountain, dating back to the 14th century.  Five of us set off to see it.  

On the way, I had a revival of my hopes that I can continue my funny sign collection whilst living among the Francophones, when we saw this street sign.

I don't know who this esteemed Docteur is, except that he seems very popular, his patients are very happy, and they have lower-than-average rates of cardiovascular disease.  Up the hill we went to the entrance of Conflans, seen below.  The white cross on a red background is the flag of Savoie, which is our "department", or province.
Some random shots around the windy street and alleyways that are one of the most enjoyable features of European cities for me.  Quite hard to photograph, though.
Here's our crew: The three McCropder singles: Carlan, Alyssa, and Sarah, joined by our guide Jodi, a nurse heading to Togo who has been here for several months already.
One of the two panoramic overlooks had a little grassy square surrounded by a walk covered in grapevines. So this shot is looking straight up.
And this is looking down on our fair city.  I think our building is a bit to the left of this shot, but I wanted to get the chateau in the foreground.
And taking a moment to work on honoring my father's instruction.


France: Our New Home

We have arrived safely in our new home for the next ten months: Albertville, France, tucked down on the edge of the French alps.  Travel went well, and our whole team got all our luggage at the airport.  Thank goodness we didn't fly through Paris, as everyone seems to think this is a surefire way to loose a bag.  The town is great, and the biggest surprise so far is the heat.  I mean, you move to the Alps, you pack heavy clothing, right?  Well, the first couple days were downright sweltering, and our apartment is the top floor with no A/C.  But it's cooling down a bit, and is quite nice now.

In response to several inquiries, we have here some pictures of our lodging.  Everyone asked about this before we left, and we had no significant info, so this was all a surprise for us, as well.  Without further ado.

A view of our building.  The classrooms and non-family apartments are on the left.  Note the mountain backdrop.  We are the topmost right two windows.  The parking lot area has a lot of kids' stuff, and the language school families have almost forty small kids this term!

A view out our window.

Our living room this morning.

A view from the living room into our dining/kitchen area.  Little fridge, but new.  Small sink, but good supply of hot water.

Ben and Maggie's room.  Someone left a 2011 Mickey Mouse calendar on our wall, so I chopped it up and decorated their walls.  They seem to love it.  All our windows are these funky bivalve ones where you can open it sideways like a cupboard, or from the top like an oven.

The distinctly Euro habit of having a separate toilet room.  There are advantages to this, but it does not seem to encourage handwashing.

Another view of the living room, with the kitchen off to the left.


A Good Smash at the Ending

Trying to contemplate timing can be perplexing.  Take our car for instance.  When we got back to the US, we knew we would spend a lot of time relying on a car, so we bought a 2003 CR-V, and it has served us very well.  2 weeks ago, we hitched a trailer to the back and drove up to Michigan, where we transferred the contents of the trailer into our team's shipping container for Burundi.  We got it done, and the next day used the trailer and hitch to go to IKEA to pick up a few things.  We turned the trailer back into U-Haul, and breathed easy.  Now, we just had to hang on for a couple weeks, until we sold the car as we moved to France on the 23rd.

The morning after dropping off the trailer, I was brushing my teeth at Aunt Karen's house, where we're staying, and I hear a loud metallic crunch.  It sounded ominously nearby, so I rushed to the door, and see an F-150 pick-up "at one" with our CR-V.  The driver begins to pull away, and I go running, toothbrush in hand, out on the lawn.

Well, there was no need to run, since it was the neighbor across the street, who wasn't used to a car there, backed his truck out of the driveway, didn't look, and crunched our driver's side.  Here's the result, including a non-operational driver's door.

We couldn't have had a kinder man smash into our parked car a week before we needed to put it up for sale.  He apologized profusely, got his insurance info, even bought us dinner, he felt so bad.  His insurance picked up a rental, and will now shell out over $2000 in body work.  We'll get the car back on Monday, with a few days to sell it.  We sort of wish he had totaled it, as then we would have "completed" our sale automatically.

Now, about timing.  I suppose it was the best of timings.  It was the worst of timings.  We really needed the CR-V for various trailer-related moving tasks, which we had just completed.  We have rarely stayed put for a few weeks this year, and yet this accident happened when we weren't going anywhere for a bit.  And the vehicle's "drive-ability" wasn't affected at all.

On the other hand, we have quite a few big things going on right now, and we don't really need a bunch of paperwork, a small Ford Focus rental, and a short period of time to sell our car.

And I think it's often like that.  Because we can never see all ends in a situation, there is always an element of choice in our reflections on the meaning, the good or the bad, of a situation.  As Christians, we believe that God is good and in control.  So we try to trust in purpose bigger than what we see.  And the point is that this integration of a worldview is unavoidable, and any claim to pure objectivism is off-base.  Even when we strive to be objective, we still have choices to make regarding how we see a situation.

And yesterday, the body shop guy called to ask how much we were selling the CR-V for.  I guess some guys in the shop are interested.  Maybe this won't turn out to be so ambiguous after all.  At least the kids got to watch a tow truck in action.


Flying Without Kids

In a couple hours, Rachel and I are flying to Philadelphia for two days, to debrief some final things with the World Harvest Mission home office.  The kids are staying with some very kind friends, the Paternosters.  This will be the first time that we have flown together without kids in a very long time.

The result of this.

  1. We will not get to priority board
  2. People that see us might think we are savvy travelers.  In fact, we have become more adept and savvy at traveling since rising to challenge of flying with kids  But you would never know it to look at us.  There is no possible way to be smooth going through security with 2 small kids, a stroller, a diaper bag, 2 laptops, a couple cups of milk, and a electronic toy that needs to go through the scanner again.  But nevertheless, we have learned much.
  3. You need not fear being behind us in the security line.
  4. We will not check bags.
  5. We may even read a book. =)


The Last Four Newberys

As predicted, our time in the US has meant increased access to Newbery Medal-winning children's books, and this has meant some good headway on our goal of reading and ranking all 91 of them (at least between the two of us, this being a joint goal and not a race).  Our list is up to about 75, and you can see our ranking here.

There is an ongoing controversy surrounding the medal.  Since getting the medal means that you will likely be required reading for enormous swaths of the upper-elementary schoolchildren in the US, it also means the selection greatly influences kids' attitudes towards reading.  For a while now, Newberys have tended towards having a social message of some kind.  In fact, some of our favorites, such as Maniac Magee and The Giver have definite social messages.

Then Harry Potter came on the scene, and the world of children's lit was reminded how much a well-told tale can set afire a general love of reading.  And the criticisms of Newberys increased, saying they should just focus on a durn-good yarn, instead of a social agenda.

And we agree with that, generally, though we think some of the "social" books are also excellent tales.  All this to say that it's always interesting to see what the new selection will be.  And the newest ones are the hardest to find in Africa.  So, by the time we returned, there were three new ones we hadn't read, and another came along in January 2012.

2009, 2010, and 2011:  Awesome.  The Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me, and Moon Over Manifest, respectively.  All three are just excellent books with great twists, plots, and characters.  We couldn't put them down, and I would think kids would feel the same.  The Newberys are on the right track.  So, we're naturally excited about 2012.

Enter Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.  I just finished reading it, and I have to say that I was quite disappointed.  The one big thing in his favor was his excellent penning of the needlessly graphic mind of a pre-teen boy.  But that's about where it ends.  The story saunters along without much direction, develops a very understated murder mystery, which resolves without anyone caring that much that many people were murdered.  Then it ends abruptly with next to no resolution.

I don't get it.  I'm sure this medal is political and they have competing agendas or whatever, but in the end, take the good tale.  And I have a hard time believing this was it.  Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick was a much better book.  And I know that Selznick's unique style of combining illustration and narrative makes it hard to judge for a Newbery (the same author as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, i.e. the movie Hugo), but still.  Which one will spur fifth graders on to love reading?


Crafty Mama, Part II

Some of you may remember that I made Maggie's Christmas stocking several years ago, in time for her second Christmas.  After the rather long and time consuming process, I decided to commit to making a Christmas stocking for all my future children as well.  It was only fair, right?  Well, even before Ben was born (and we thought we were probably having another girl), I went online and found a stocking kit that I loved.  It was cross stitch, and I thought, hey, I know how to do cross stitch!  It was something different than Maggie's and looked adorable, so I ordered it.  My mom brought it out to Kenya in June of 2011, when Ben was three months old.  I didn't look at it until August, when I opened up t he package and realized that I had probably gotten a bit more than I had bargained for.  This was going to be a LOT of work.  But I plunged in...

Fortunately, I had set the bar low and hadn't finished Maggie's stocking until her SECOND Christmas.  Christmas 2012 came and went, and here was the state of Ben's stocking (it's on the far right):

Finally, it was do or die time.  I wanted to bring a finished stocking to France, not a bag of thread and work left to be done.  So I finished up the stocking last week, hurray!  Eric's mom very graciously took time to help me cut and machine sew the stocking into a stocking-like shape.  She was more stressed out than me, actually. :)  Hopefully this stocking is something that Ben will love and keep for the rest of his life.  I estimate maybe 100 hours on this project.  If a doctor on average can earn $100/hour, that makes this stocking worth approximately $10,025 (the kit cost $25).  Just about what it would have cost to buy one. :)


The State Race Continues!

As you blog readers and friends will know, Rachel and I had been locked into a race to get to all 50 states since we first met each other.  We were both far along.  We both had personalities that tended to make lists, and then get serious about accomplishing them.  And when we first met each other, we had already been to all 50 states between the two of us, which meant that, any new state for one person was not new for the other.

So, we had to work on the marital art of compromise.  Me: "Let's go to Maine for vacation!"  Rachel:  "Hey, you're just trying to sneak ahead of me again in the State Race."  Me:  "Well...we could go to Vermont on the way back."  Rachel:  "OK."  And so it went.  We often blogged about it, for example here, here, and here.

And then in June, Rachel got off the boat in Alaska, beating me forever to the fiftieth state, landing here in what was interestingly, my first state.  We had just visited Oregon for my 48th, and now we just got back from South Carolina, my 49th.

We started maps for Maggie and Ben, with the naive parental expectation that they are going to care about it later.  Mostly, we just like making maps.  Maggie has been to 30 states and Ben 27.  People ask if that should count, since they won't remember it.  We don't really think it matters.  Rachel remembers all her state visits, but there are four that I don't remember.  I asked Rachel if, after I get to Hawaii, I should set a new goal of revisiting the four I don't remember.  She asked what they were.  I told her it was Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota.  She said that, though there are some really beautiful parts of those states, they can be hard to get to, so another goal has yet to be set.

Eric's remaining states:

Rachel's remaining states (none as of June 2012):

Maggie's Remaining states:

Ben's Remaining states (currently the same as our travels during 2011-12):