Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can you find my parents?

We went to this very cool pyramid outside of Mexico City this weekend. If you've seen the movie, Apocolypto, this is pretty much the same place.

From up top, about 300 yards away, I took this photo. My parents are in here somewhere. Can you find them? (Click on the image to enlarge)

I did and it was easy. All I did was look for that very familiar Tim Rovenstine pose. (Look under the tree.)

And while it is his signature pose, it is very simlar to Rodin's The Thinker, except my dad puts his cheek in the palm of his hand and looks at the floor and thinks.

My sister is laughing because she knows this pose very well and he does it all the time and we all know what it means. It means that a burst of inspiration or a flurry of risky schemes is soon to follow.

I'm needing some inspiration this afernoon. Maybe I'll go out on the front porch, put my cheek in my hand, rest it on my knee while looking at the floor and see what brilliant thoughts hit me. If nothing else, maybe the strong urge to take a nap will pass.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Shave in Uganda

My very good friend, Tim Troyer, took me to Uganda last month and while there, he recommended we get an old school shave.

Have you ever had one of these? It's a trip!

They lather you up with a brush and soap, use a straight razor to shave in two different directions, and then do about 3 stages of skin conditioning treatments by rubbing stones on your face, lotions and brushes. They top it off with a head and shoulder rub and beat you around a little. But it's ok, it's all part of the process.

The whole even took a half hour and was very elaborate and methodically executed.

The most memorable part was the setting. The barber shop was in a concrete walled basement type structure. Green flourescent lights buzzed overhead and the Indian barbers did their thing in silence while watching a television out of the corner of their eye broadcast some dramatic Indian song and dance musical.

Which reminds me that good friends, like Tim, give their friends opportunities to enjoy the seemingly insignificant but memorable moments of life.

Thanks Tim!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Little Boys Go Camping

Why do boys like camping so much?

Von and I did an overnight camping trip in a very large and cool meadow at the foot of a dormant volcano. And I marveled at how much boy is in him. And I marveled at how much old man is in me.

It was a very cold night, but in the morning, Von and I went out to 'hunt' for something while the sun was coming up over the volcano. And this is where you wish you were a professional photographer to capture the essence of the moment when all you get is a mediocre snapshot to remember it by.

I still can't admit it fully yet, but I think I'm not a recreational camper. Not because I am inconvenienced by it, but because I don't get it. I've camped in many interesting places, by the railroad tracks on a border town, in a fishing village on Lake Victoria, in a huge swarm of gnats in Nicaragua, even a Panamanian jail (yes, the conditions were so rough, it qualified as camping).

But those camping experiences were always out of necessity or they were because I was on my way to somewhere. But just packing up to drive an hour to go sleep in a tent, dig your pocketknife in the dirt, and give your eyes a smoke-purging treatment from the campfire...I either don't get it or I'm an old man.

But if I'm on my way to explore someplace, or I have someone very special along with me, then I get camping and the little boy comes out in me.

Does anybody else have this quirky love/tolerant relationship with camping and can you explain it to me?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Austrian Bicyclist

My friend Lamar sent me a USA Today news article today explaining the US Government initiative to issue new pocket sized passports. I think I understand the reasoning behind this.

And this article reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was in Austria with a literature team. Our hosts told us to always, always, always carry your passport on you. You never knew when you would need it or when you would be asked for it.

A few days later, I am driving to Croatia with a Finnish truck driver to deliver a load of humanitarian aide to the a refugee camp there. We are climbing a winding mountain road behind a long train of cars waiting to pass something ahead.

It turns out to be an elderly man on a bicycle, biking up the mountain, naked, and the cars pass him slowly one by one. He has a helmet on, and shoes, but no garment of any type, shape or fashion. Nada. Just him and nature enjoying a bike ride up the mountain, with a long stream of cars behind him.

The Finish truck driver and I pass in awkward silence. We don't know each other that well yet and...well, what is one supposed to say?

A few moments pass and while still staring ahead, the truck driver says in a Finnish accent, " Where does he put his passport?".

That was a good day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stealing Ideas or Being Inspired by Them?

You have probably heard of Gold's Gym, but did you know there is a Golden's Gym? There is in Mexico.

When I saw this sign, it instantly took me back in time to a discussion I had with an old boss once. We were talking about the work and resources it takes to be first to market with an idea and he said something that I am remembering years later when I drive past Golden's Gym.

He said, "Jason, we'd rather be an inexpensive second than have to be first". He was a good boss, but I didn't last there very long.

In some cultures, there are laws that protect people's ideas and expressions of those ideas. So there is this built-in reward if you use your head to think up something clever or different or new. In these cultures your neighbors will tip their hat to you and respect your success.

But in cultures that don't protect ideas, there are few rewards for innovative thinking. China is a good example. There are few laws that protect intellectual property. So the enterprising individual doesn't waste his or her time inventing something new or different because the neighbors will borrow the idea instead of tipping their hats in admiration.

In China, you can buy a pair of Prada sunglasses that Prada didn't make. What incentive is there for a person in China who wants to develop a proprietary line of fashion eyewear? Their best hope is the assembly line to produce someone else's ideas.

The world's wisest man said there is nothing new under the sun, and that all ideas are old and it has all been done before. How, then, does one do new things without copying?

At the end of the day, my hope for whatever books, ideas, or products come from my office, is that they are unique and fresh expressions, inspired by the same old ideas that get hashed around over and over.

Maybe I would paraprhase my old boss's words and say, "I'd rather be a unique second, inspired by the first, if I wasn't fortunate enough to be the first."

What examples can you share with me that would help me differentiate between stealing ideas and being inspired by them?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A woman named Coco, and other fireplace learnings

I found out that we live high enough in the mountains to be at the same altitude as Vail, Colorado.

That explains the winded feeling I get going on morning walks.

That also explains the cooler weather and fire we've had in the fireplace the last three nights in a row.

Von and I stayed up last night and he told me stories around the fire. Here are six things I learned about his life that I didn't know.

1) He has a teacher named Coco. (Doesn't every three-year old boy need someone early in their life named Coco to tell stories about?)

2) He wants to go camping but is afraid of a black hand reaching into tents because of a story I told him about a monkey getting into my tent when I was camping in Guatemala.

3) He likes everything about school, including Coco, but hates not being with us, and that is why he cries when we drop him off.

4) He approves of my parents, Oma and Opa, and tells me I did a good job of picking them.

5) If he had to choose between being 'stretchy guy' from Fantastic Four or Spiderman, he would choose stretchy guy.

6) He thinks that if he can kiss Lisa, he has married her and then we have to wrestle to settle the wife ownership issue.

I learned a lot about his early little life just sitting in front of the fireplace, asking him questions.

It makes me wonder how many other things I need to learn about my family by just taking some time.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Our kids are taking horse-riding lessons this week.

Our very good friend Kala would have cringed in disbelief at what the first day of horse riding classes entailed. She gave our girls some lessons in Ohio.

Kala wisely had our girls clean out the barn, learn how to feed and care for the horse, how to approach the animal, etc, and then let them ride. I think that echos the concept of needing to be faithful so that you can then be faithful with much.

Yesterday, in Mexico horse training, my wife brought home photos that I couldn't believe. She may not have captured the photos of them cleaning the barn, or combing the horse, and they may have done that. But the photos she did capture confused me.

Take a look and see if you can explain.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Spooning with the Lawn Furniture

I've got this friend who makes these really cool works of art that he calls lawn furniture.

I would describe them as 'neato' like my friend Amy in Tulsa would do, but then she would tell me I am dating myself.

It's amazing stuff and I've never seen anything quite like it. The piece pictured here has these flexible rods that run through the back so that when you sit on it, it conforms to your body and it feels like the thing is spooning with you. And it looks so cool too! When I look at it, I see an exotic sports car. Is that wrong?

He sells them here to the local tourists and gold clubs that want to have some nice furniture out by the pool.

It's such cool stuff, I'm convinced someone in the US needs to have some of it. I'm trying to hook him up with someone that might know of an outlet or furniture connection for this really cool stuff.

Anyone have a furniture connection or an uncle who lives in Jersey who sells stuff?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Do I have a piece of grasshopper in my teeth?

You know it's going to be a great dining experience when your new friend sitting next to you leans over and says, "Hey Jason, if I order a plate of grasshoppers, will you split them with me?"

We have family in town and to celebrate we went out for a boat ride on the lake and then for dinner at a nice place up the street.

It has a great view of the lake and grasshoppers on the menu. Actually, they were crickets, but calling them grasshoppers somehow makes it more ok for some reason. (I should call them locusts so I can be more biblical)

Now If I had come to your house and you served me some crickets you caught on your back porch and fried up just for me, I would punch you in the ear. I really would.

But when you go to a restaurant with a nice view, they can bring you a plate of crickets and decorate them with guacamole and tomatoes and you feel like it's somehow OK to pile a bunch on your spoon and shovel them in. No punching considered.

My son, Von saw me eat them and immediately wanted to try. He gagged a little because he had a leg that stuck to his tongue and would not go down. The girls all ate one (and then proceeded with much drama to let the whole table know how awful it was.)

And I have a simply amazing wife who also tried them. She smiled at me afterwards and she had a grasshopper leg stuck in her teeth.

Having a friend tell you that you have parsley in your teeth is embarrassing. But having a friend point out the cricket leg in your teeth...brilliant!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Denzel Washington

Is it just me, or does this kid look a whole lot like Denzel Washington?

While I was in a remote part of Kenya, I discovered this little guy. He had an infection under his cheek and hard as I tried, I could not get him to smile for anything. I danced, I fell over, I even made flatulent noises with my armpit which instead of producing a smile, only created a look of confusion and mild concern.

So I finally put my hands to my face, pinched the corners of my lips and made a gesture that looked like I was creating a smile and then motioned for him to do it.

The result?

This interaction made me tear up and also very thankful for the opportunity I have to work with a development group that focuses on communities like this and brings hope. I was reminded that this young Denzel is going to be one of those that inherits the fruit of what I am privileged to be a part of there.

(Yes, I'm blatantly trying to build your anticipation for hearing more about this development group in a later post.)

Moronic Boys

I'm not sure exactly what a moronic boy is, but I'm pretty sure I met a couple of them this week while I was taking some photos of our kids.

(Why is it so hard to get a good photo of kids?)

My wife is more patient. She waits and waits until all the planets line up and the kids are all smiling. Then 'snap' she captures it.

Me? I shoot, and shoot and shoot and then just pick the best one later on.

While I was taking this photo (yes, this is the best one out of the 23 I took), there were these Mexican boys off to the right in the background. They were wrestling and pushing each other and shouting in play. A body of a twelve-year-old boy was hurled over the hedges right in front of me and they piled up on him in while laughing.

I was annoyed at why they had to do this right near us and cause such a commotion.

And then it dawned on me. Because I have daughters, this will probably be normal fare for at least another decade.

Sigh. I'm so glad I don't have to be embarrassed about ever acting this way.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Elite Access

I've never been privileged enough to be one of those people who belong to that special club that gets to board the plane first.

You know them, you've seen them. They get to board the plane before anyone else. The airline puts out a special little mat for them to walk over and reminds them that they are "Elite" and special people.

Most of the time, they still have to sit right next to the normal people that board the plane later, but the point is they got to do it first...even before the old people in wheelchairs and the families with small children.

So you can imagine my delight when I was in the airport in Mexico and saw this sign.

It is intentionally placed at the entrance of the toilets, which is exactly where I think the whole 'Elite' status needs to go.