Monday, August 24, 2009

Simple Pleasures

I have been trying to take joy in the ‘simple pleasures’ recently. Rather than get caught up in the bigger-faster-better-more high tech-never-be-really satisfied kind of lifestyle that much of our world has been caught up with for too long, I have tried to find the little things that maybe we have taken for granted for too long.

One example of this was in the shower recently. I stood there, feeling the warm (nearly too hot, really) water cascading down my body and realized I really like a warm shower. And I like water coming out of a tap that is above head height, not having to stoop down and take water in scoops from a bucket or crane my head down to fit under a too low shower head. Our new house offers this lovely treat. A standing up, warm shower with no fear of running out of water. A simple pleasure.

Another example was a bike ride with my son the other day. We got him a new bike as a present for his birthday. He had clearly outgrown his first one. This new one is a little too big, but he was up to the challenge of trying to ride this around our new neighborhood. I really enjoyed the simple pleasure of a bike ride around the neighborhood with my son. His giggling at all kinds of random things, including nearly riding his new bike through a big ‘ol pile of water buffalo poo, but mostly at the simple joy of riding his new bike, made me laugh and smile too. A simple pleasure.

One final example came in the form of a dinner with some new friends who recently moved here from another country. They are not from our same home culture, but we really enjoyed a time of eating a delicious meal they provided for us, followed by some simple conversation around the table. A good meal with friend. A simple pleasure.

What about you? What simple pleasure(s) have you enjoyed recently?

Monday, August 10, 2009

What a trip!

I recently returned from a trip to the US. I have made more of those trips than I care to count over the last 11 years. Often I find myself going through the motions of the trip (airports, rental cars, hotels, Immigration, Customs, etc.) largely without thinking too much about the process itself. This trip home reminded me of how spoiled I have become when it comes to my treatment by the airlines.

I have typically flown one airline and its partners almost exclusively, and due to my high mileage travel patterns, I have been in the top tiers of their frequent flier program for most of the last ten years. Recently that airline stopped flying direct in to our home city, so we made the decision to change our ‘allegiance’ to a different carrier. That means becoming a ‘no-one’ for now until I build up my status with them. I felt the full force of this on my trip home.

I flew standby on an earlier flight for the first of my three flights to get home. That apparently is where it all began to go wrong. Somehow my subsequent flights got goobered up and I ended up being standby on one of the two long-haul international flights as well. After getting all of that sorted out (and being treated not as nicely as I used to be treated by my previous airline of choice), I was given a seat assignment for my first long flight, but told I would have to check in for the second one upon arrival in the transit city.

On the first 9 hour flight I was given a bulkhead seat near the front of the economy section. The seat map I was shown indicated it was right at the entry door, so there was no actual bulkhead, which turned out not to be true. There was a bulkhead, and my legroom was almost nothing as a result. A 9 hour flight with my knees in a nearly 90 degree position, which is terribly difficult for me to do after my numerous knee surgeries.

On the second 9 hour flight I was given an aisle seat near the back of the economy section – second row from the back to be exact. It has been literally years since I was not in the first 5-7 rows of the economy section, so this was an adjustment. At first I was ok with it since it was an aisle and not a bulkhead seat. I was looking forward to more legroom. That would change when I got to the seat and realized that the computer and control systems for the in-seat video system was all in a box located in the foot space for my seat. I had just barely room for my right leg under the seat in front of me, with no room to put my left leg anywhere but again in a 90 degree position for the whole flight. My knees were killing me by the time I got off that plane.

To add insult to injury, both meals served on the second 9 hour flight were ‘leftovers’ since the flight was full and they had run out of not only selections, but in one case they had run out of the entrée part too. We were being fed scraps they pulled together to try to create something that looked like a meal.

A final whack to my reality check was given when I realized that my video/sound controls for my seat were not working, thereby rendering the entertainment system useless to me – the same one whose control systems were blocking my leg room.

Now all of this sounds like a rant thus far. I don’t intend it to be so. In fact, this trip has caused me to reflect on the fact that I have in reality been quite blessed over the years with quite good treatment and some very good luck.

There were a couple of redeeming qualities to the trip as well. I made all my connections, and all my luggage arrived safely and in a relatively timely manner. I met the son of a friend of mine who was travelling on the second and third flights with me and had a chance to get to know him a bit more, including over a meal in Frankfurt on a layover. There was a woman and her very young son who were sitting next to me on the last flight, and the son was amazingly well behaved. As a parent of young travelers and someone who is keenly aware of how my own kids behave on flights, I made sure to tell her what a great job her son had done (and thereby her as a parent) on the trip. The process of getting through the health screening (for H1N1) and Immigration and customs went much faster than expected upon arrival, especially considering starting out at the very back of long lines for those processes.

All in all, I realize I need to be thankful for the blessings I have had over the last number of years. This trip reminded me that all of those trips could have been worse.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Tooth Fairy

In the last week the Tooth Fairy has visited our house twice. Our son has lost his 5th and 6th teeth, both within a 3 day span. Both front, top teeth. They both had been loose for some time now, so it was definitely time for them to come out. He missed by days being able to sing the old song ‘All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth’.

He is not quite sure how the whole Tooth Fairy thing works, and has tried to explain it in a number of ways. The thing I have noticed is that they have such simple faith. Simple not in the believing anything they are told kind of way, but simple in the ‘this is how we have seen it work, so we believe that is what is really happening’ kind of way.

A few days ago when the first one came out, I helped him wrap the tooth in a Kleenex and carefully place it under his pillow. The Kleenex is to keep it safe and clean I explained, when it fact it really helps me find it in the dark under his pillow once he goes to sleep.

This particular night he got in to bed and about 10 minutes later he got up needing to go potty once more. While he was in the bathroom I made the switch of cash for tooth, hoping he would not check on the tooth when he returned to his bed. He didn’t, and went right to sleep.

The best part is always the next morning when, in wide-eyed wonder, he comes out so excitedly displaying the results of the magic of the Tooth Fairy’s visit.

Some would say we do a disservice to our kids by ‘tricking’ them in ways like this. I don’t think so. While I won’t say it is necessarily meritorious to do such things, I don’t think it is a negative thing. As I reflected on this experience, I began to ponder how God might view us. Does he see us as simple-faithed people who continue to believe Him because of how He has acted in the past? Or are we people who are easily ‘tricked’ by someone/something that is beyond our knowledge? I also pondered on how we as parents do many things for/to our kids that they simply don’t understand or see. In the same way, what things does God do to/for us that we simply don’t see or understand?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A few tricks left in this old dog

I am glad Christmas is over. Not because of any bad reason. For good reasons in fact. I had planned several surprises for my wife and kids over the season. Sometimes it is hard for me to keep things a surprise. I find myself itching to let someone else in on the surprise. I just want so badly to see the look on someone’s face when they realize the surprise. I love that part. But, I managed to pull off all of my surprises this year without spoiling any of them. One of my favorites was on Christmas Eve.

My wife had been in the US with her mom for two weeks and was due to come home very early Christmas morning. We had agreed that she would take a taxi home from the airport so the kids could sleep peacefully. We had the kids geared up for seeing mommy in the morning too. All expectations were set.

Just before bed time, while the kids were in taking a ‘tub-bath’, having had their dinner and then decorated the World’s Biggest Christmas Tree-shaped Sugar Cookies we had made earlier in the day as a surprise for mommy when she got home, I quietly slipped in to their bedroom and placed a ‘golden ticket’ on each of their pillows. I had made these tickets earlier in the week and kept them hidden from the kids. They said “Christmas Airport Express” on the top and had the kids name on each one with a few departure details, etc.

Once we had done the advent calendar I explained that they both needed to go to bed at the same time (normally one goes and then the other an hour or so later) so that they both had good sleep and would be ready to be happy for Christmas morning with mommy. They both agreed and headed in to the bedroom.

The girl saw the boy’s ticket first and asked what it was. The boy read the ticket and his eyes began to widen. I asked what they thought we should do with the ticket and his reply was ‘We should go to the airport and pick up mommy!” Then the girl turned and saw her ticket on her pillow, and there was much jumping and shouts of joy.

They both went off to bed easily after my assurance that I would wake them when it was time to leave for the airport. At 12:30 am I woke them up and told them to get dressed in clothes I had laid out for them, which they did quickly. We headed down to the car. Once in the car, I asked for their tickets, and made a big production out of ‘punching’ their tickets, having taken a cue from the character in the Polar Express movie. And off we went.

On arrival at the airport, we stopped in to McDonalds (there are two at our airport here) for fries while we waited for mommy to arrive. We then headed to the door nearest where she would come out and ate fries and waited excitedly. As the time for her arrival neared, I handed each of the kids a sign to hold, sort of like when a taxi or chauffeur is waiting for you at the airport with a sign with your name on it. The kids’ signs said ‘Mommy’ in big letters and my sign said ‘Wife’ in big letters.

She had no idea we would be there, so when she rounded the corner and saw the three of us standing with our signs, a big smile and laugh followed. As she neared the exit the kids went and hugged her. A truly fun moment. As we walked the kids told her the story of the ‘golden tickets’ and the trip to the airport.

We pushed the luggage cart (that we knew was full of fun goodies for all of us that she had brought home from America with her) to the car and got in. Before we left I asked the kids for their tickets again, and ‘punched’ them once more. I then asked my wife for her ticket. She said she did not have one. “Check your pockets” I said (just like the Polar Express character again). While pushing the luggage cart I had secretly placed a ‘golden ticket’ in her purse. She found the ticket, and the kids were amazed that mommy got a ‘golden ticket’ too. I punched her ticket and we all headed for home.

It was a simple idea. Take the kids to the airport to get mommy. It was made all the more fun for a few surprises like ‘golden tickets’ and so on. All easy enough to do, and cost almost nothing. Just a little creativity, planning and forethought. I love pulling off surprises. There were a few other surprises too, but those will have to wait for another time.

So what about you? Any surprises this Christmas season?

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Today the number 12 is important. Why? Here are twelve 12s about me.

-Leah and I have been married for 12 years as of today.
-We were married in the 12th month of the year.
-Our kids’ combined ages total 12 years (7 and 5).
-I have been to approx 12% of the world (according to my Facebook gizmo)
-We have 12 employees in our company here.
-We as a company are working on 12 different projects right now.
-I have a car with a 12 volt battery in it.
-If you add the numbers on the license plate of our car (8547) and divide it by 2, you get 12.
-If you add up the numbers on the license plate of my motorcycle (9690) and divide it by 2, you also get 12.
-It was 12 years ago that we first came to this country to visit.
-I am not currently in any kind of 12 step program.
-I like Diet Coke, which comes in 12 ounce cans.

So there you have it. Twelve 12s about me. What about you? Any 12s in your life? Or another number?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What drives them?

I saw something the other day the reminded me of one of the reasons we love, and at the same time dislike living in a place like South Asia. It can be a fascinating and yet confusing place.

I was sitting in the car waiting for my son to get dropped by his school bus. Every day we park by the side of the road in the same spot, waiting for him. Just ahead of where we wait is a moderately busy intersection where a traffic policeman is often standing and guiding traffic or catching offenders. While sitting there waiting I often take notice of various cultural things going on around me.

This particular day I noticed a number of people who were breaking laws with impunity. As an example, I will use motorcycle riders. Here there are helmet laws for the rider (passengers are apparently not worth saving), as well as limits of only two people per motorcycle, etc.

One bike pulled up right beside me and stopped. I noticed three guys riding on it. One deftly hopped off the back and began walking while his friends causally rode through the intersection, with the cop standing right there, and waited for their friend on the other side of the intersection. All three did not have helmets on. As soon as the friend got through the intersection he hopped back on the back of the bike with his other two friends and off they went, totally unnoticed by the cop. They were obviously more scared of triple-riding than of riding without helmets. Or perhaps the logic was if they were doing both they would get caught, but only breaking one law at a time was ok.

Another bike pulled up and stopped near the side of the car. This time there was only one person riding, but he did not have a helmet on. As he stopped, he casually reached down and grabbed the helmet sitting between his legs and on top of the gas tank and slipped it over his head and then proceeded through the intersection. Again, all of this done in plain view of the cop, but no action taken by him. As soon as the rider was through the intersection off came the helmet and he was on his unencumbered way.

This got me thinking. What is the value system that determines how these people behave? Safety does not seem to be the priority like it is for some cultures. And it does not seem to be guilt that drives them since they clearly knew they were doing something wrong (hence their stopping before the intersection to correct at least part of the wrongful behavior) but kept doing it anyways as soon as the immediate danger of the traffic cop was passed. Was it expedience? Avoidance of an awkward situation? Did they somehow know that the thing they were doing wrong would be excused if they appeared to be at least ‘trying’ to do the right thing? So many possibilities, and so little understanding of what drives them to do what they do.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Where did you learn how to ride a bike?

Our son, aged 7, recently learned how to ride his bike sans training wheels. We had tried raising the training wheels up a little some months ago, but he has not ridden much in the last couple of months. The other day he decided he wanted to try riding without training wheels. We first tried raising them a bit more so he could try learning to balance, but still have the ‘safety’ of the training wheels to catch him. Within a few minutes he was riding all around on only the two main wheels, so off came the training wheels. It was literally minutes until he was riding all over on his two-wheeled bike, with a joy that knew no bounds. Incredible, really. It was like he simply decided that it was time, and knew he could do it.

However, this whole process made me realize one thing that was fundamentally different about my son’s bike riding learning process than most. Certainly different than my own. The big difference? He learned all of this on the roof of our house/apartment building, six floors up.

Now, before you freak out at the imminent danger we placed our son in while letting him ride on the roof of a 6 story building, let me clarify. We live in south Asia, where most buildings are made of cement and brick, and have flat roofs. Our apartment building has this, and the half of the building across from our apartment is known as a terrace. It is quite wide open and smooth and flat. And there is no animal or other traffic to contend with while learning to ride.

So, where did you learn how to ride a bike? On the top of a 6 story apartment building? I bet not. This is one of the many, many things we love about living here.