Sunday, July 29, 2012

Where we are and what we've been up to.

We finally conceded our apartment to the cockroaches. Threw up the white flag, made a calculated retreat. Surrender is another word we could use. Usually, I like to stand my ground especially when the opponents are so tiny. But I have to admit to being overwhelmed by their numbers. I am a man who likes to hold his ground. It’s a matter of pride. Some might call it integrity. I starting to see that waging that war as long as I did was foolishness more than anything. Defeat is a word with such negative connotations, but it’s not always bad. Defeat teaches humility. It teaches prudence. It gives you perspective. And, in rare circumstances, defeat can even give you a little more square footage and a better view. Would that all my losses were so profitable.

Our new views. It's refreshing to see the water.

I hate the process of moving, but I also hate stating the obvious. Everyone hates the process of moving, but we all love the promise of being settled. That’s what I’m reveling in right now—the promise of being settled. We’re still a few weeks out from things having their place. It didn’t help that our bookcase couldn’t make it into the elevators of the new place, so we’re still tripping over discretely placed piles of young adult literature and picture books. Libraries tend to grow quickly in this home. Books multiply like tribbles around here, which makes our relationship with Ikea more one-sided than I would like it to be.

It’s hot outside and it’s Ramadan, which means there’s not a lot to do outside. Ramadan is a holy time in Islam where, for a month, Muslims fast everyday from sun up to sundown. They do this so to better understand and feel for the poor. No restaurants are opened during the day, and, except for small children, there is no eating in public until after the sun goes down. It makes for very quiet days and very lively nights. It’s a good thing my kids are fine with indoor type activities. I’ve raised a brood of geeks and bookworms and it does come in handy sometimes (though they haven't watched enough Star Trek to get the above tribbles reference. I'll have to remedy that).
Wii Summer Olympics is something you can do inside that's almost active.

So is piano practice.

They do see the sunlight everyday as we walk from our new place to karate. I miss the convenience of having the dojo in our building, but I do enjoy being followed by my own army of martial arts experts. No one has messed with me since I started going out with them. Who would dare?

Turns out that stop motion film making is also a perfectly acceptable indoor activity.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Texas, week 2

If I have learned anything on my second week in Texas, it’s that I really don’t know what to do with myself without an agenda. I make all of these plans and then lack the resolve to see anything through. I won’t say that I moped about. I had a great visit with Doug and Sarah and their kids, but without Liam or the rest of my family, I drifted about a little aimlessly. I did a little bit of shopping (the novelty of Costco having worn off by the second visit), watched a little bit of TV, did a little bit of reading and did my best to evenly distribute the weight amongst my various pieces of luggage. I spent enough time on Skype that there won’t be much time catching up when I get back home. I’m most grateful to Skype for giving me the opportunity to hear my wife tell me daily that she missed me. Sometimes I worry that I create more problems by being around and it’s nice to know my absence is felt.

However, by the end of the second week, the novelty of seeing their Dad on Skype had pretty much worn off which meant they felt free to fight and carry on as if I were actually in the room with them. It is not an easy thing to try and instruct and discipline one’s children over video chat. It’s too easy to moderate my voice by turning down the volume and escape my gaze by stepping out of frame.  Any threat to take away toys is met with skepticism, for obvious reasons.

I regained my footing a little when I picked up Liam on Saturday morning from EFY. It had been nearly a week since I had talked to him. I don’t know if I’ve ever gone more than two or three days without talking to him. Of course, I told him that he could call me if he needed anything, but I didn’t want to be one of those hovering parents. The campus where it took place was only about twenty minutes from my sister’s and I wouldn’t have been the only parent to drop in to make sure everything was OK, but sometimes being a parent is about stepping back and closing your eyes.

The EFY high lasted long enough for him to give me an overview over breakfast at IHOP. As What I learned about Liam’s EFY experience:
First words upon seeing me: “It was awesome!”
How much longer he would’ve been happy to stay there: “About a month.”
Newly acquired skills: “I’m definitely more comfortable talking to girls now.”
Why he didn’t call me once: “Too busy.”
How it changed him: “Definitely going to spend more time in my scriptures.”

As soon as we got back to Sarah’s Liam pretty much crashed for a couple of hours. Awesomeness does take its toll.

Aunt Sarah helped get Liam set up on Facebook before EFY and by the time he was home he already had a number of friend requests. Anyone who spends a lot of time with Liam knows that he tends to play things pretty close to the vest. He’s very diplomatic when it comes to expressing himself emotionally. It was refreshing to see him express himself so enthusiastically.

Saturday afternoon was the “worst barbeque in Texas.” We all went to an authentic pit style BBQ restaurant in a converted gas station. The food was great and the atmosphere was everything you could hope for.

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This is what BBQ should look like.
Sunday was church, and there is always some comfort in its familiarity no matter where you are. We had a moment of panic when Liam thought he lost his scriptures. It wasn’t the physical thing that worried him. Liam is not one to get too attached to artifacts. What was tragic about his loss was all of the notes and markings he had made in his scriptures over the week at EFY. He worried about losing knowledge not stuff. We did find them, but I was glad for their momentary loss and what it told me about Liam’s experience.

Liam's mad Lego skills were not wasted in Texas.
Monday was Liam and I and roller coasters at Six Flags. About eight hours of continuous roller coaster riding in the blazing sun does not do wonders for one’s stomach, but it was a lot of fun. Liam hadn’t been on a roller coaster since Space Mountain about seven years ago and I wasn’t sure how he would take to some of the epic contraptions at Six Flags. Well, he took to it just fine.
Liam just before getting soaked.

Soaked Liam.

The Goliath,  a favorite of ours.
For some reason, I decided to go to a midnight showing of Spider Man with Liam and Doug. Probably not the most prudent of decisions, but I wanted to see at least one movie at the Alamo Drafthouse before I left, and I was glad I did. The movie itself was fun enough, but the theatre was great even if I didn’t get to take advantage of the Draft part of the experience. The quality of the projections, the food and beverage selection and the theater’s attention to maintaining a quiet and focused experience made for as good a movie going experience as I have ever had. I’ve written about watching movies in Abu Dhabi, and this was pretty much its antithesis.
Yup, it's 2:30 AM, the morning of our departure.
It was hard to say good-bye to Sarah and her kids. We were so well taken care of over the two weeks we were there. No doubt we were a major inconvenience and disruptions to their routine, but we were never made to feel anything other than welcome.
Liam's got a fan club.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

San Antonio Week 1

Our trip to San Antonio was uneventful. The seats weren't exactly comfortable and the movies on the flight weren't exactly engaging, but we made it in one piece without losing anything. It was my first time in Texas and we were excited to see just how the Roberts lived.

Liam swears he's having fun.
After a day to get acclimatized, we took a trip downtown to see the Alamo and do the river walk. It was quite the walk and Sarah's three oldest were troopers in the heat.

Liam's got a fan in San Antonio!
Best Tacos in San Antonio.
Yup, this is the actual site of the famous musical water glass scene from Miss Congeniality.
"Could someone show me the way to the basement?"
On Friday, on the recommendation of Doug, Liam and I drove about an hour outside of San Antonio and rented some tubes for a lazy stroll down the Guadelupe. It was definitely an experience only Texas could give us. Even though it was a Friday, there were a number of groups out on the river. Most were a little more prepared than Liam and I. It was fairly common for us to pass a flotilla of guys and girls centered around a tube just for the cooler full of beer. At times, it felt like Liam and I were the only ones heading anywhere, everyone else seemed more than content to just let the river move them on down or not. It really didn't matter.

On Saturday, I got on the road at around 6:00 AM to Gainesville.

When I told people about my drive from San Antonio to Gainesville and back (about 1700 km each way for those who keep track of those types of things), I would get lots of "Why would you do something like that?" looks. I have to say, it was kind of nice. I like to drive and it was kind of neat to see this part of the country in all its greenness. I pretty much timed the drive perfectly with the audio book I had picked for the trip (a little over thirty hours on the road). There was the little matter of hurricane Debbie which didn't disrupt things too much apart from cutting out the campus tour portion of orientation. I really enjoyed getting to know the members of my Ed.E. cohort. It's a diverse group with a lot of talent. I think I'm going to learn a lot working with them. While in Gainesville, they did a pretty good job laying out the program and it looks like I've basically given up even the idea of free time for the next three plus years, but it'll be worth it.

This is my group for the next three years. Pretty good looking, huh?
Before leaving town, I had to pick up some Gators paraphernalia. There was a shirt that read, "In Gainesville we root for two teams: Florida and Whoever's Playing LSU." Out of respect for my brother in law, I resisted picking it up (it took some considerable willpower).