Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Home for the Holidays

I am sitting here bundled up with a cup of tea next to my Christmas tree, feeling a strange mix of contentment and homesickness.  I have just spent a beautiful morning starting with my husband and kids doing our Jesse Tree devotions, bundling up on a great rainy and cold day, followed by joining with people from all over the world at our Sunday morning worship service, listening to lovely Christmas carols in Korean and watching a Bollywood dance number.  Then we enjoyed a good lunch with incredibly dear friends with whom we have the privilege of sharing life here.  And, now, I sit here, sipping tea and enjoying the sound of a light rain and the chill and a quiet moment in my HOME.

My heart feels so full.

Yet, there are the pangs as I open facebook and see the pictures of a beautiful girl we've known since she was a little girl in her wedding dress, surrounded by her incredible family and so many others we love so dearly.  Then there are the photos of other very dear friends and family members holding their children who I know only through pictures.  There are extended family gatherings and traditions, which my children will likely never experience.  And, I feel the sting of the loss.

The expression goes that "Home is where the heart is."  The truth of that statement is that home isn't really a place at all, and for those who have moved away from family and cherished friends, it leaves the heart feeling torn and scattered, sometimes all over the globe.  My heart is in Iowa and tiny little Morgan Township and Gary and Bethel College in Indiana and in Los Angeles and in Bhaisepati, Nepal and little pieces scattered with friends and family all over the world.  It is not possible to physically be where my heart is.

I am always and never at home.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanks Tonight

This afternoon was terrifying!  I lost Isaiah.  I feel exhausted from the intensity of it, so I don't know how deep or articulate anything I write will be, but as we are now all safe at home together, I can't help trying to express how incredibly grateful I am.

First off, while we obviously have some things to work out with Isaiah (long story short, he ran ahead  of us and ran all the way back to our house--about a mile in total), on one hand, I feel grateful that a kid who was scared of so much when we moved here and has gone through seasons of feeling almost unable to deal with navigating life here, he seems to have some sort of crazy comfort and confidence in this place...HIS place.

Secondly, I am thankful for Nepal tonight.  There are certainly kind strangers in America, but you often see something go viral when there is a story of one person going out of their way to help a stranger.  Tonight, I was reminded of how people don't operate in isolation here culturally.  The shift can take some adjusting, but tonight, as I was quite quickly surrounded by a crowd of strangers, genuinely determined to help, I couldn't help be struck by this amazing aspect of this culture.  A man we have never seen telling my Dad to hop on the back of his motorcycle to drive up and down the road looking for our son.  Older kids and ladies scrambling to ask all around and search the area around us.  Several people pulling out phones and coordinating calling the police.  Not one, not two, but many, many people stopping to help.

And, last, but perhaps most significant to me, is my family, and by that, I mean not only my biological family but our "extended family" at CloudFactory!  My parents were with me, and I am so incredibly thankful for that!  Don't know that I would have ended up sane through any of it without them.  But, I have not, since high school, lived in the same town as my parents.  Since finishing college, I have lived quite far, and now, I live on the other side of the world.  God has always graciously provided beautiful community for us, and tonight was, in the midst of a horrifying experience, an incredible picture of what He has blessed us with here.  It didn't even register what was going on at first, as I walked back to the group of people that had gathered, within a few minutes of calling John at the office, and I saw a familiar face.  And, then another.  And another.  And, taking a few minutes to connect, I got a call from John that he had found Isaiah at home, and I realized that this huge group from the office had come specifically to look for our son!  They dropped what they were doing and instantly came to our aid.  Maybe you have that with your closest friend in the States?  Or, maybe a few?  But, literally, dozens of our friends were there, surrounding us.  Even after knowing Isaiah was found, some came back to our home to see him and just see and connect that he was ok.  That is not what just a co-worker, or even most friends, do.  That is what family does.

While I sit here tonight, exhausted but running it all back through my mind, words seem so inadequate to express the great gratitude I have.  I am SO thankful that my son is OK (though, if you see him on a leash, don't be surprised!)!  And, I am thankful for the amazing and very humbling display of the great blessings of people who surround us here!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Inside Out

I am an introvert.  I am an internal processor.  I'm convinced that is one of the things that keeps from doing well at actually blogging because I either mull things over in my head at length and feel that it is just so much extra work then to write them down, or I try to discipline myself to just write and not self-edit or analyze as I go, but then I am plagued by analyzing it over and over again after it is "out there."

It is also one of the things that haunts me about my conversations in life as well.  It might be easier and fit better if I was quiet or shy because then I would be in my comfort zone of processing everything internally and only occasionally sharing the results of such processes.  But, somehow, I ended up being a talkative introvert.  An internal processor who likes to talk.  What a weird combo!  I think I try to connect with people by talking a lot.  Perhaps it is my actual lack of social prowess that then just comes awkwardly spilling out in an attempt to be "normal."  I don't know.  But, I find myself at the end of so many days, analyzing my conversations from the day and wondering why on earth I don't just keep my mouth closed more.  Tell me I'm not the only one who looks back on conversations and thinks, "Did I really repeat myself 6 times in the stretch of 3 minutes?!  Did I really tell that story to them?!  Why on earth did I talk so much and say so little of consequence?!  That was a ridiculously bad attempt at a joke!"  And on and on it circles through my mind.  Processing.  Analyzing.  So uncomfortable at my attempts to skip my internal processing mode and just roll with conversations in real time.

I keep praying that I will learn to talk less to save a bit on my analysis efforts at the end of the day and actually feel comfortable in my introverted skin.

And, now, I shall hit publish and add this to my long list of things to mull over for hours tonight instead of falling asleep.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Advent in Our Home

I LOVE Christmas!  Where I grew up, all of life was very seasonal.  The climate had distinct seasons,and it was a farming community that revolved around distinct seasonal events (planting, harvesting, etc.).  I adore fall and have a nostalgic warm fuzzy every year since I left the American Midwest, attempting to channel the fall season elsewhere.
But, perhaps even more than I love autumn, I love Christmas.  Not just the day but the whole season.  My family of origin always decorated the day after Thanksgiving, and we had lots of wonderful traditions...
Going into downtown Chicago to look at the windows at Marshall Field's on State Street
Choosing an ornament each year to add to our tree
Roasting hot dogs in the fireplace and eating oyster soup (I know it sounds weird) at my Grandpa and Grandma's house
At least one person at the extended family gathering every year getting sent on a scavenger hunt to search for his/her present
"Sticking" Psalms, where my great-grandfather would hold the book of Psalms between his hands, and each family member from youngest to oldest would stick in a table knife and read a portion of the Psalm s/he pointed to
Nativity scenes
Driving around to look at people's light displays
Singing carols around the piano
And, so many more!  And, I realize how having all of those traditions and memories is something in itself for which to be thankful!

I don't carry on all of those traditions, but I have carried on some, and we have made some new ones of our own, like new Christmas jammies each year, making something out of gingerbread (last year's attempt was a train), and a night of Christmas "camping" once our decorations are up.

I love doing all sorts of fun and festive things, but I definitely want to focus in on the true meaning of the season, so our Advent celebrations are important to us.  One of my favorite Advent traditions that we have in our home is our Jesse Tree.  My husband and I both have a passion for the Big Story of the Bible and how it all unfolds, so this opportunity to put the Christmas story in its amazing context just fit perfectly for us.  I have tweaked the traditional order a bit to include a few stories that I think are key in the broader narrative and have left out a few that I don't think are as key in it.  I've also added days after Christmas to extend it beyond the manger and, again, connect to that fuller picture.
For those that aren't familiar with a Jesse Tree, the name comes from Isaiah 11:1, where it says, "A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse; from his root a branch will bear fruit."  So, you start with a stump or bare branch of some kind (some use a symbol and some use actual branches), and then you place a symbol each day on that "tree" to represent the parts of the Story.

If you'd interested in how we do ours, here is the document that I've created for our family.  

I made a chart that lists the calendar date (so this one is obviously updated for 2014 specifically), the story, the symbol we put on the tree to represent the story, and the verse(s) we read.  I sometimes read the story from a children's Bible or tell the story and then just read the verses listed from the actual Bible, as my kids are quite young, but I did want to have a highlight verse or two for each story.

For our tree, I chose to make a big flannel piece to hang on the wall, and then all of our symbols are made of felt, and we put one up on the flannel each day.  As you can see from our photo, the boys don't really follow a specific order in hanging them up.  This is how ours looked last year as we finished, though it seems a few are missing.

In the chart, I've also put in the last column a suggested activity or reflection for that day.  Not all the days have one, and we certainly do other Christmas things throughout the season, but these are ones that I've chosen to connect up more specifically with our Advent time.

We also do light an Advent wreath on each Sunday of advent, and I've included those readings that we do right into the chart, highlighted in blue.

As you'll see noted at the bottom of the chart, I've included some references or resources from a couple of other sources.   There is a set of calendar connection cards at 1+1+1=1 for the Jesse Tree, and she has along with those a set of free printable ornaments that you could use.  They wouldn't match up exactly with mine, but she has readings listed for each day for the traditional sequence.  I hope to, at some point, have a set of my own to share to match up with this chart, but I just kind of made ours all free-hand, so I don't have that yet to share.

I hope that however you celebrate Advent and Christmas with your family is a joy- and awe-filled experience!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Food Master List

Recently a friend posted about her approach to meal planning, which revolves around a master list.  I had intended to post about making such a list awhile back, as it is what helped me get out of a slump with cooking.  I had been somewhat resistant to making a master list at times.  I get bored cooking the same things very often, and while it certainly made sense logistically when I heard friends talk about rotating through the same list each month, it made me feel uninspired.  I actually really like meal planning, but I occasionally hit a slump with it, and usually it is when I have been trying to work a bit too hard at it.  I am not in a phase of life to be trying a new recipe every day!  When I actually wrote out a master list for myself, I found that I had well over 40 recipes (which would cover more than a month of dinners, even using just the list) that are well-liked, feasible recipes that I make well.
A few notes on a "master list" living overseas here.  It has taken me some time to even develop this sort of core of dishes that work for us.  There are also things that are much simpler to make here, but given that my family gets a bit weary of the staples (lentils and rice) here and eat them often for lunch (most days for my husband and a few times a week for the kids and me), I try to avoid using them very often for dinner time.  I also have to change, at least in part, my list based on the season.  Now, this applies largely to produce, but there also are "seasons" where certain food items that are available here just disappear for stretches of time.  It isn't predictable in timing or duration, so you just have to roll with letting go of those recipes that use those things for awhile.  For produce, it really is more than just the value of buying local or trying to cook seasonally; it is just the reality of what is available.  More foods are starting to be imported, but they are often really expensive, not as fresh, and not reliably available, so it really is most feasible to cook with produce that is locally in season.  There are some seasons when that is a bit of a challenge!
The weather is also a factor, as few homes have air conditioning for the hot weather or heating for the cold weather, so we tend to eat a lot of hearty, hot meals and use the oven a lot during cold weather and try to avoid heating things up much in the summer (still figuring out some of what to do in the summer times!).
What I've found works for me is to keep a master list and use that to pull from and then maybe try about one new recipe per week.  On busier weeks, I may not try a new recipe at all, and on weeks when I'm feeling a bit more energetic, I might try a couple.  I also try new recipes for baked treats when I'm feeling inspired, which is an enjoyable outlet for me.  This keeps me feeling like I have freedom and room for new things while still keeping planning time reasonable.

Since we are nearing the end of the hot weather, I'll focus on my fall (and some of winter) master list and then note a few others that I have for other seasons.  Without further ado, this is my fall master list (in no particular order)!
1.  Chili and cornbread (usually make a big batch and then use some for chili mac or as a topping for loaded baked potatoes)
2.  Lasagna
3.  Loaded baked potatoes (sometimes this turns into toppings on pieces of potatoes if there aren't big ones available!)
4.  Broccoli rice casserole with chicken added
5.  Beef stew (I tweak this one just a bit, but this is the base recipe.)
6.  Pasta carbonara
7.  Chicken with dumplings
8.  Peanut sauce stir fry 
9.  Korean honey soy noodles (Soba noodles seem to be easier to find where I am, and they also work fine.  Oh, and I often have to sub veggies, as the ones listed are not usually available, but carrots, cabbage, peppers, and others work well.)
10.  Pumpkin gnocchi with creamy sage sauce
11.  Calzones or homemade pizza  (I use Jamie Oliver's pizza dough recipe.)
12.  Toad in a hole
13.  Baked macaroni and cheese (The Fanny Farmer recipe is my favorite!  This one is also good and a bit more economical here.)
14.  Pumpkin soup (I vary the kind I make--sometimes just a creamy one, sometimes with sausage, apples, and onions--and then often thicken the leftovers or add some cream to use as a pasta sauce.)
15.  Spanish beans and rice
16.  Pasta with meatballs and red sauce
17.  Chicken pot pie (I alter the filling some, mostly the veggies included, but it gives a good base, and it is the crust I always use.)
18.  SOPP (sausage, onions, potatoes, peppers--or subbing veggies that are available)
19.  Shepherd's pie
20.  Potato soup
21.  Cheeseburger soup
22.  Lentil soup
23.  Moroccan chickpea stew (similar to this one but tweaked a bit and with chicken added sometimes)
24.  Chicken noodle soup (I just skip the marjoram if I don't have it, and I use regular pasta noodles if I can't find egg noodles.)
25.  Pulled pork   (I adapted this to make it in the pressure cooker.  I double the spices and liquids if I want to use the sauce, but it cooks well without doubling. Without doubling, I use 1 t American chili powder and 1 t paprika. Use 2 T brown sugar and then some molasses. Cook in pressure cooker on low heat for one hour after coming to pressure.)
(Note:  Store-bought buns are not an easy reality here, so dinners like this or burgers or sloppy joes also involve making buns, and this is my go-to recipe.)
26.  Dirty rice
27.  Thai cashew chicken or another Thai chicken recipe we love with coconut milk and a couple of veggies over rice noodles
28.  Gyros or kofta (turkey isn't available here, so I sub ground chicken or beef) with pita bread
29.  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes
30.  One-pot spaghetti
31.  Burritos
32.  Ham and potato gratin
33.  Chicken with roasted potatoes and veggies
34.  Moussaka (similar to this recipe but roast eggplant instead of fry and sprinkle some shredded cheese on top)
35.  Pasta with chicken cream sauce
36.  Creamy chicken and rice soup
37.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup
38.  Swedish meatballs  (Beef broth isn't available here, but I just sub water and a chicken cube.)
39.  Hamburger gravy with rice or mashed potatoes
40.  Goulash
41.  Sloppy joes (something similar to this one)
42.  Chicken enchiladas

With lots of soups in the list for fall/winter, I'll need to keep some bread options in the works, as it seems to complete the meal a bit more for my family.  My friend Lizzy has a recipe for DIY Bisquick mix and then directions for drop biscuits or rolled biscuits.  She also has a good recipe for whole wheat dinner rolls I've been meaning to make but have had when she's made and can vouch for their yumminess!

As I mentioned, I am still working out a master list for summer, as late summer is actually the low season for produce where we live, and it is hot!  So, many of the recipes above don't fit, but I did find a few that were great additions to a summer list.
Summer additions:
French dip sandwiches
Black bean and corn salad
Corn chowder
Pesto pasta (when basil is available and sub almonds)
Super nachos (seasoned ground meat, cheese sauce, salsa, avocado)

Anyone up for sharing your list?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Let's Talk Water

As usual, I'm late to the party, as the hubbub now seems to be dying down a bit, but the ALS ice bucket challenge certainly did get people talking about a lot of stuff.  If you could call it talking.  It seems to be par for the course on social media these days that people criticize things without mercy and others dig their heels in to defend it.  Usually it involves some level of name calling and insulting each other's humanity from both sides.  Ah, but I digress...

One of the many issues raised with the challenge was the wasting of water.  Now, water is a serious issue in the world.  According to Water for the World, 1.8 billion people still lack access to fresh water supply.  They have some other really powerful statistics over on their website.  Water is essential for life, and the lack of clean supply is a truly significant issue.

But, let's talk about water for just a moment for those who were railing on the ALS challenge for this particular reason (I am not in any way intending to address the overall value of the challenge or its other criticisms).

Living in a country where the water issues are part of the daily reality, I'd like to just mention a few of the things of what that looks like for us.
*  We have a water filter in our kitchen.  It only filters (there is a reserve tank for the filtered water) when the electricity is on, which is currently about 17 hours per day but can get down as low as 8 hours per day, mostly at night.  Drinking water from the tap is directly asking to spend several days tied to the bathroom, at the very least.  We have to be very vigilant at making sure dishes and cups are dry before using them, and it can be a real challenge getting little ones not to get the water in their mouths at bath time.
*  We have a ground tank and a tank on our roof.  The roof tank is the one that feeds into the plumbing in the house.  Again, we can only pump up to the roof from the ground tank when the power is on.  Once the ground tank is empty, that's it.  We get a trickle of water daily from the city for an hour, but it doesn't amount to all that much.  When the water is gone, we have to call a water truck to come and fill the tank again, and with delays, we have had several occasions where we don't have water to use for a day or so.
*  We collect our shower water and scoop up the boys' bath water in buckets to reuse it for flushing the toilets.  Most of our friends also collect the water from their washing machines, but ours is positioned rather awkwardly to do that.

Now, every time I start to feel a slight bit cool about how careful we are with water and the extra effort we have to make with it, I am reminded how massively privileged we (my family) are here!  This is far better than the reality for the majority here (and in tons of other places) who don't have any water in the house at all, let alone clean or filtered water!!!

That all seems like I'm pointing back to why people should be upset about the ice bucket challenge, and yet, I'd like to sort of call out those who are fuming about the water issue with the challenge.
I've seen way more water used for far less noble causes.  I see photos of people's kids running through sprinklers and playing with water tables (which I am not suggesting are bad but certainly non-essential).  Quite a large percentage of parents in America use a bath as part of a daily routine for their pre-puberty kiddos.  (If you're one of those, please don't smell my kids too closely!)  I would say most Americans shower every day, or at least every other day.  (And, a moment of confession, this has been one of mine that I've had a terribly hard time giving up!  In the winter I try to stretch to every other day, but this is my personal weakness!)  I almost guarantee your daily shower wastes more than one bucket of water!  Know how I know?  Remember the aforementioned shower-collecting buckets?  With shutting the water off every time I am shampooing or lathering or whatever doesn't directly require water, my shower still uses about 3/4 of an average-sized bucket.

I'm certainly not as hardcore about the water stuff as I wish I was, and many of the critics may do a ton to really help the water crises around the world!

If you are one of the super vocal critics of the water use of the ice bucket challenge and you are doing the following things:
*  Reusing any gray water (from showers, laundry, etc.)
*  Turning off the water in between shower steps
*  Rationing your water for recreational use (this includes your lawn!)
*  Wearing clothes multiple times before washing
And, in the bigger picture (as residential water use is actually only a small percentage of the problem):
*  Avoiding major companies with egregious water waste, pollution, and/or exploitation
(Don't even get me started on Nestle!  They make everything, and they are a company known for exploitative issues in this and other arenas!)
*  Donating significantly to organizations doing REAL work (not just griping at people) to help with water solutions for those who need it most

...If you're doing all of those things and more, then by all means, call people out for dumping one bucket of water, but maybe include a bit of positive direction on how people can be part of the solution.  Or, if you are that conscientious, and that is your only issue with the challenge, donate the money and skip the ice water, like my cousin's husband who had his son dump a bucket of cash on his dad's head for their video...or, even donate the full amount associated with skipping the challenge to a cause you are passionate about, like those doing the real work for clean water.   Heck, do it even if you weren't "nominated."  Just don't sit back and feel like you've done something noble for the truly significant water issues in our world by criticizing people for dumping one bucket of water to raise money and awareness for a charity.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bus Delight

My son, like many little boys, absolutely LOVES vehicles.  He spends a lot of time talking about vehicles, reading about vehicles, playing with vehicles, and pretending to drive vehicles.  The difference from other little guys his age in America is that his real-life vehicles, and therefore, the things he talks about and pretends with them, are quite different living overseas.

Without a vehicle of our own, if we need to go somewhere that is farther than walking distance, we end up taking a taxi or a bus.  He really wants to take the local tuk tuks more, but they don't go up the hill to our area, so it is a rare "treat."  One day when we were going across town, just to humor him, we took a bus and then a tuk tuk and finally ended up in a taxi for the last stretch.

It is fun to watch him, as a third culture kid, as his "normal" unfolds in front of us.  He was too small to really remember life before Nepal, so this is how life is for him.  He hit a stretch a few weeks ago where I would hear him in the other room, chattering, "Kaha chha?  Yaha chha?  Bhaisepati kaha chha?  Yaha chha..."  (Basically, where is it?  Is it here?  Where is Bhaisepati--our area?  It's here...and so on.)

And, he has a special love for the bus here.  We often opt for a taxi, if I have both boys with me, as the bus stresses my older one out when it is crowded, which it usually is.  So when the little and I go out together, he thinks always requests to go by bus.

Now, when little kids in the States play bus, they might line up a bunch of chairs or pillows or something to sit on.  They all sit, and maybe one sits at the front and pretends to drive, yeah?  Well, this is what playing bus looks like to my little guy:

And, when friends here saw him climbing the bars, and I said, he's playing bus, they all went. "Oohhh" because it totally makes sense here.  The effect you don't get in the picture is him calling out the names of places and banging on the "side of the bus" (window)--once to stop and two bangs to go.

I just love his enthusiasm about it all!  Today, as we were riding on the bus and approached a fork in the road, where the buses usually go to the right but at which he asks every single time which way they are going to go, the bus went right (as expected), and he looked at me and said, "This is my FAVORITE way!!!"  And, a couple minutes later, he pointed out another bus crossing our path.  It was rather old and dirty, as most of the public buses here are, and it was simply painted blue and white with a few random words and designs on the windows.  Ezekiel asked if I liked that bus, and when I responded that it was a nice bus, he said, "It is a BEAUTIFUL bus!"  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Proud of Me

It has been over 19 years since my Grandma passed away, and it was the year before that in which both of my great-grandparents passed away.  That is a long time.  I'm realizing that I have now lived longer without them than I did with them, and yet they were such a big part of life and forming who I am.  I feel like I am a rarely blessed person who grew up really sharing life with grandparents and even great-grandparents.  I am from a Midwestern farm family, so we had canning days and corn days and baking days and big meals together for holidays of all kinds and birthdays and lambing seasons and harvests and planting and farm equipment sales and just lots of life together.

I often think of my Grandma still, and those times sometimes feel a bit random, but I always think of her a lot on and around my kids' birthdays.  While I do really wish that they would have had the chance to know her and celebrate even with her, there is sort of a funny trigger beyond that for me.  Grandma always made us cakes for our birthdays.  Now, she was a good cook and good at baking, as is expected of you as a good Midwestern/Mennonite farm wife, but she also liked to decorate cakes, and she was good at it.  So, every year, she would make us a special cake of something we liked, such as a Sesame Street character or something like that.  It was really special to me, and it is one of the things I decided I wanted to carry on for my boys.  Ironically, I married someone and have two kids who do not actually enjoy cake.  I have usually still made a cake, but for this most recent birthday of my son's, I finally let go of my own need to make a cake and decorated some cookies for him instead (instead of BOTH for many recent birthdays!).  I have often put a lot of time into making their special birthday treats, and I have often thought and gotten comments from other family members that Grandma would be proud of me.

It's an interesting phrase to begin with, as "proud" is just not a word that would have been used by a good Mennonite in any context.  But, my Grandma used it.  She didn't grow up Mennonite, and there were certain things she held onto, and I guess that may have been one of them, as she certainly let us know often how proud she was of us grandkids.

Well, this year for my son's birthday, it was different.  I love to do special things for my boys.  I love making a big deal of birthdays.  It isn't just some external pressure I feel; I really do enjoy it.  But, like with many things, I have not exactly walked in the realm of realism and ended up totally exhausting myself trying to carry out my ideas.  I have gotten better at setting some limits on the crazy, but the culture I grew up in isn't one to set limits on efforts.  For good and for bad, it is a culture of crazy hard work ethic and often perfectionism, and what starts out as a joy can often feel like a burden.

As I approached my son's birthday this year, I decided I was really going to take a big step in simplifying.  My mom and dad are so sweet to send fun birthday party goods for each of the boy's birthdays, and the boys LOVE it!  Leaning heavily on those, I decided I was going to make some special cookies, order some food, and basically leave it at that and just try to enjoy the day with all of its mess and imperfections!  

Now, I know these may not look like a victory in any sense of the word.  They are neither a feat of decorating glory nor are they the total freedom of just having something made by the local bakery.  But, for me, this was a huge victory!  I was in bed by 10:00 the night before the party.  That doesn't happen!  I had a full night of rest and enjoyed the actual party time.  

As I sat decorating the cookies that night, with no rushing around and knowing I would be finished at a reasonable hour, I thought about my Grandma.

Grandma worked hard--crazy hard--preparing for any sort of family gathering.  But, there is one thing that I remember about her that isn't entirely typical of our culture, and that is her chair.  It often took some prodding from family members, but at every gathering I can remember, my Grandma would come and sit in her special chair in the living room and enjoy us.  Enjoy just being with us.  And, while I'm sure she wrestled with some guilt over not having all the dishes finished or thinking of the things that still needed to get done, but when she was with us, she was present; she genuinely enjoyed just *being* with us!

So, while this was definitely my least impressive showing yet on the birthday treat and party front, I can't help believing that this might be the proudest my Grandma would have ever been of me. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

TV Wimp

I have never had a very high threshold for many things that are common in TV and movies.  I have an especially low threshold for violence and get scared easily.  It probably has something to do with growing up a pacifist and watching very limited things as a kid.  But, definitely I've always been sensitive to it.  When I used to get invited over the phone to slumber parties when I was a kid, I would ask what they were planning to watch, and if it sounded at all scary, I would say, "Just a minute," cover the phone and then say, "My mom says I can't go."  A little lie, but my mom didn't mind being the scapegoat.  I wasn't eager to admit that I was just too much of a wimp to watch the movies that they all wanted to watch.
One of the funny things is that I would not describe myself as a person who is easily scared in real life, probably not as much as I should have been at times.  When other girls would talk about being afraid to walk alone at night, I was pretty convinced in my mind that I would super confidently and skillfully whip out some awesome martial arts moves or something if I was ever attacked, in spite of never having taken a lesson.  I have never been tentative about going places by myself and even used to get kind of offended at people suggesting I needed someone to walk me somewhere. When I moved by myself to South Central Los Angeles fresh out of college, I was quite aware of the kind of dangers and challenges that were very real there.  But, one night when I flipped on the TV and Boyz in the Hood or some such movie was playing and the police were calling in a crime scene or something that I realized was set in the movie just a few blocks away from my apartment.  There is something about seeing things on the screen that just stresses me out.  I think that, in spite of living in LA for over a decade, it really does affect things that I still sort of watch TV and movies as something that magically just appear on the screen and am really disengaged from the reality of all the technical and artistic crafting of this fictional work.
I had, for awhile, gotten really into crime shows and spy shows and things like that.  The analytic part of my brain really likes seeing clues come together and figure out what is going on and see it all piece together.  I am quite a details person, so I track with all of the little things happening and being said.  Also why, however, it really irritates me when the writing overreaches or backs itself in a corner and resolves things in a way that ignores some of the previous details.  (Don't get me started on Lost!)
Anyway, after I had kids, my threshold for anything violent or scary dropped to basically zero.  My oldest is almost 6, and I don't think I've followed a drama series on TV since before he was born.  Honestly, even things that are just emotionally intense have been unappealing to me, as I think the introvert in me is emotionally done by the end of the day most days, and if I'm going to watch a show, I just choose something to make me laugh.
I'm not really suggesting that I wish I was more desensitized to violence and things in what I watch.  I'm kind of glad, really, that I don't enjoy much of it.  But, it would be nice, once in awhile, to be able to make it through a well-crafted show that is interesting and gets me thinking without having a heart attack.
We recently started watching Orphan Black.  It sounded interesting, and I figured I would give it another try to watch a drama series, as I really do find them interesting.  It is a really good show, and I find myself totally drawn in and needing to know what happened next.  But, I also find myself clinging to my seat with heart racing, and even a few times (bless my poor husband for watching with me), letting out squeals and shrieks.  I don't know if I'll keep watching the show.  I really want to, but man, does it get me stressed!
Guess after all this time, it just confirms my TV wimp status!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No Camo Pants

I'm not entirely sure what brought this up in my mind recently, but I was thinking about some of the rules and boundaries I had growing up.  As a young kid, it seemed like we had a lot of things that were off-limits, but as I was thinking about pre-teen and teen years, there weren't actually a whole lot of things that were clearly defined limits.  Now, a lot of that is likely related to the fact that I was a pretty hyper-self-monitoring, goody-two-shoes kind of a kid.  I can distinctly remember coming to my parents various times, proposing stricter rules/expectations for myself than they had laid out, much to the horror of my younger brother who usually then inherited those!

There were several things I can remember that had been set that were going to be rules that never really came into play.  I was not going to be allowed to get my ears pierced until 16, I think.  I never asked to get them pierced.  (Now, that one, to be fair, was an issue of vanity because I hated my ears and not some act of piety in any way!)  I was not supposed to be allowed to wear makeup until I was 13 (or 16, can't remember).  Pretty sure when my dad saw my attempts before that limit, he figured I was safer going out looking like that and figured it would likely be boy repellent!  I never had a curfew, and I can very distinctly coming home "too late" one time.  I knew it as I was heading home.  There wasn't a defined time, but it just seemed like I was out later than I "should have" been.  I think the fact that I was super stressed over breaking a non-existent boundary kept me from having one imposed, and I don't remember ever pushing that limit again.

There is one sort of random thing, though, that came to my mind where a line was drawn in the sand, so to speak, and given the overall context, it might seem a little strange.  I very distinctly remember having a conversation with my Dad and it being very clear that I would NOT be wearing camo pants around my grandparents (his parents).  I'm not sure if I even would have or if I was even asking to, but I remember thinking it was something that was off-limits.  Obviously, that bears some explanation.  I grew up in a conservative Mennonite family, and one of the values of that upbringing was pacifism.  My grandparents and parents were all registered C.O. status (conscientious objectors), which meant that they would not be part of a military draft, due to these beliefs.  My grandfather served in voluntary service instead of drafted military service during the war, and it was a core part of their identity and beliefs.

The funny thing is that I am pretty sure I still was a pacifist myself, though I have gone through several phases of internal conflict over the issue...and still do.  I would probably call myself a "conflicted pacifist" or something these days.  There was a phase that I would still have basically held the ideals of pacifism but was strangely drawn to revolutionary idealists that seemed so radical (albeit misguided), such as Che Guevara and the likes!  Thus, the camo pants, I guess.  I don't even remember if I actually owned any.

Anyway, the line...somehow I knew at the time that is wasn't a battle over control of what I was allowed to wear.  It wasn't even about expecting that pacifism to be held as a core value.  What came to my mind as I was thinking about it recently, that I think I understood at the time even, was that it was about honoring my grandparents.  It was important to them and was a decision of respect for who they were, and there was a very clear expectation that we would honor them.  I'm quite sure it would never have been spoken in disapproval (few things ever were) from them, but it wasn't even about whether they would approve or not.  It was a decision to honor.  And, I realized that I sincerely hope that is a value we will pass on to our boys.  We are not as strict with the way the boys address people or what they wear or some other things as the norm in the community where I grew up.  But, I hope that my boys will respect and honor those who have gone before them.  Whether they follow or adhere to all of the things their parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles or whatever other elders are a part of their lives or not, I hope that they will be boys and eventually men who respect and honor those who have poured themselves out for them in more ways than they will likely ever know.  I am not a fan of arbitrary, outdated rules just because it is what has been done.  But, I hope that we will help them to see ways to communicate honor, even in things that may seem small.  Not sure what our "camo pants" are, but I hope we'll find them and draw those lines for our boys.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Childlike Heart

This morning as I was waiting for a skype call, I was scrolling through my facebook feed, and the boys noticed a picture a friend had shared as a link to bring awareness about and advocacy to the tragic kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria.  Isaiah asked me who it was and why she was crying.  I proceeded to try to give a simplified version of the events.  Isaiah, in particular, is quite sensitive to things that might seem scary, so I am cautious with the details and stories we share with him, but I also want my boys to know that there are terrible injustices in this world, and I want them to care about those things from a young age.  So, I tried to keep it pretty basic but being honest that there were over 200 girls that had been stolen and were being sold or used for bad things or forced to do things they don't want to do.
The reaction from my boys was both encouraging and convicting.  Isaiah right away jumped to, "That's terrible.  We have to get them back," to which Ezekiel chimed in that we "will go on a big airplane and go to Africa and get the girls."

Isaiah was not fearful, as I thought he might be but his little mind started spinning with plans to get the girls back.  At one point he got a bit concerned, asking me if the bad guys have guns.  When I told him that it seems that they do, he was a little worried.  "Then how will we be able to stop them?"  John and I tried to talk with the boys to make it clear that we weren't going to be going ourselves and that we don't have the skills to stop this directly but that we need to pray and try to let people and governments know that this is a big deal and put pressure on them to help.  Frequently, the thoughts kept coming back to making plans on how this can be stopped.  John tried to tell Isaiah that some people are not able to be talked to and reasoned with, and Isaiah immediately jumped over to our new house guidelines poster we had put up yesterday and said, "Well, maybe we need to tell them things like this...like 'Love God,' 'Love each other,' and other things like about God."
At one point, he did envision a plan that was that, if the Teen Titans were real, they would be able to defeat the bad guys and get the girls back. :)

The first thing he told his friend when we saw him at lunch was about the girls and needing to get them back.

There is obvious wisdom lacking in the plans that form in my little guys' minds, and I know that situations like this are very complex in many ways.  Yet, I wonder how the world would look different if more of us had a reaction like theirs.  My adult, "sensible" reactions are to think how terrible it is and to feel sad at such a tragedy and to share links on facebook to bring awareness.  But, what if, instead of my action amounting to clicking a button on a computer...not that it doesn't have value, but just what if...my heart jumped "all in" at the news of injustice and was ready to hop on a plane to go and get those girls back?!  What if I somehow was captured by how I, how we, were going to stop this...now?!  May God keep the hearts of my boys just a bit less "sensible" and keep them ready to fight for these girls and against the many other injustices that they will encounter.  And may He make me a little bit more like my big-hearted, courageous boys!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Where is my autopilot switch?

It is coming up on the two-year mark since we moved overseas.  It isn't really news to anyone that adjusting to a new place and a new culture comes with some challenges, and there are many aspects of life here that make life a little harder.

Last week we hit a day where we were out of power for 24 hours due to a storm, and it had only been on an hour before that from our regularly scheduled power outages (which are at 12 hours per day off right now).  When the power came back on, my oldest son made a comment something to the effect, "What if the power was on ALL the time?"  Well, son, that would be what you call "normal" life for most Westerners. 

The thing is that I have come to the place where I feel quite comfortable here and on most days am not really conscious of it feeling hard anymore.  I am truly happy here and surrounded by so many amazing things and people that we would not have in our life if we didn't live here.  We can see the Himalayan Mountains from our roof for a good portion of the year, for goodness sake!  We have a wonderful home and are surrounded by incredible people, many of whom help us tremendously with any challenges that do arise with life here.  And, there are many things about life in America that would be really hard for me if we went back--the materialism and frenzied pace of life, for example.  

But, as I've been thinking and talking about with some friends recently, there is one dynamic that does take a toll, and I've found it hard to describe, but basically, it is just never being on "autopilot."  You know that mode where you just stroll down the street or drive your regular route in your car or go about the routines of your day without really thinking about them?  There is certainly something to be said for being more "tuned in" a lot of the time as we can sometimes miss much of life in the moment if we're just going through the motions.  But, I'm talking about just having the ease of rolling through some things in the day without everything requiring heightened attention and energy.  

I was comparing it to when I used to do parent conferences in Spanish as a teacher.  I got to the point where I was pretty decent with my Spanish, but having focused conversations for a couple of hours in a language that I had to constantly be thinking about and not just naturally rolling with was exhausting, and I would usually go home feeling like I had just run a mental marathon.

Maybe that "auto pilot" mode will develop over enough time of being here, but for now, I'll just accept a little extra energy drain that it takes to be "on" constantly and keep searching for that magic little switch.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Stuck in My Own Head

Being an internal processor presents some challenges for blogging.  I love writing, and I find myself thinking through floods of posts and constructing them in my mind.  One challenge, though, is that once I don't think while I write; I think and then I write, which makes it feel like an extra step that I often don't take the time and energy to do.  Along with that comes my tendency to over-edit.  If I can't quite think of the exact way I want to express something, I'll avoid ever writing the post.  And, if I do write the post, I tend to read and analyze and edit a bunch, making it an even longer process.
So...you can see why I experience some gaps at times in keeping up with blogging, even though I do enjoy it.
Sometimes I go through stretches of overcoming these challenges better than others.  I convince myself to let go of some of the editing, just write, and hit publish before I can over-analyze it.  Sometimes, I get a little stuck in my own head.
Well, here is to another effort to get out of my head and enjoy the writing!  Jumping back in...