Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grandma and Poppy

They came. My parents. They came to the other side of the world. And when I saw them in the airport, I cried, because I was so happy.

We show them Jakarta. We ride elephants. We brave the tropical heat.

We show them Puncak where the mountain sides are carpeted with emerald tea bushes, where the clouds play tag across the blue sky, and where gardens bloom.
We play croquet on the Merisole lawn. We hike the volcano to the triple waterfalls. We drive past the terraced rice fields that lay before us like a green quilt. Tufts of rice plants in perfect rows.
We watch the sunset from the Hilltop restaurant.

I remember my grandparents following my family all over the United States. From Alabama to Alaska.

And like them, my parents followed us.

We've shown them Jakarta. But nothing can compare to the love they've shown us by coming to the other side of the world.
My heart is full.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good Tidings

Today, we went to visit Lestari, an orphanage here in Indonesia. We came with presents, food, and baby supplies. I couldn't think of a better way to spend Christmas Eve morning.

I was prepared to be saddened, and perhaps a bit shaken, by the experience. But it was quite the opposite.

There are no sad faces here.

The children here are loved, kissed, and well taken care of.
They have sad stories. Sad histories. Like this fellow, who only had a father. The father had to work every day. So the boy was left by himself (age 3!) for 8-10 hours a day. His father would leave him money by his bedside to buy food. He recently came to Lestari. And he is now healthy and loved.
This is Roby. He is 1 year old today.
The woman who runs the orphanage, Ingrid, has a PhD in Social Sciences. She moved here because she wanted to make a difference. The orphanage motto is: "Always a shelter, always a home."

I left here, not feeling sad at all. I felt uplifted. There is good in the world. I saw it today. There are good people, like Ingrid, doing incredibly good things. There is beauty. There is joy. There is peace.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Leasie Turns 10

You came this way.
Sweet from the beginning.
A nurturer even when you were two.

A tender heart.
A sunny heart.
A heart that smiles.

A lover of music, dancing, and singing.

A girl who is brave and soft at the same time.
A girl who often shows me the way.

You are an angel on earth,
and I am so blessed to be your mother.

Happy Birthday.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Extra Package

I have seen many disabled people here, many with terrible deformities. There is the street of the blind, where the blind people stand every few meters, ringing bells. There is the one legged man who walks using his able leg and two arms, bent, head down, gorilla-like. There is the woman who holds her child in a sling, pacing through the traffic in the hot midday sun.

But nothing prepared me for this.

My girls and I emerge from the shops at Myestik, each holding a bag of fabric for new dresses. I watch as a mother spreads a blanket on the cracked concrete between the line of parked cars and the gravel road. She sits down, and then I see her daughter.

I consider shielding my own daughters from this sight, steering them in a different direction. But Meya squeezes my hand, and I know she has seen.

The child on the blanket turns her head to look at us. Where a mouth and nose should be, there is only a gaping black hole. Three teeth poke out at odd angles between her eyes. She cannot close her mouth, because the hole is too large.

She turns away from us, and I see that the cleft palate is not her only burden.

Bulbous growths protrude from the side of her head and back. Large and pink, the size of grapefruits.

She snuggles into her mother, her face against her mother's chest. Just the way my own children do when they feel shy.

I cannot open my wallet fast enough. But I stare at the bills. I feel sick. What can I give that could possibly express how sorry I am? What can I give that will provide any relief? I take out the most I have ever given and offer it to the mother.

She accepts with gratitude, but I am haunted. It is not enough. I'm not sure anything would be enough.

As we drive away, I clutch at my own children, pulling them to me. I hold their perfect hands and lean against their perfect heads. My gratitude has no words. But guilt is mingled with it. Guilt at too often, too little gratitude for all I have been blessed with.

There is a sadness. I carry it with me like a package throughout the day. It fills my hands and hurts my heart. But unlike the plastic bags from Myestik, this sadness, I cannot put down.

Sometimes Jakarta breaks my heart.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brown Paper Packages

Oh the love!
Brown paper packages...

Charlotte's face pretty much sums up my feelings.

Presents with the Amazon insignia. Love boxed and shipped from the other side of the world. Karen - the care-package extraordinaire! Christmas arriving by mail.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Giving Back

I stand on the balcony of the JIS module. I'm just a substitute today, so I look on as an observer, not a full-fledged participant. But I'm happy to be here, to watch what Madi does every Friday.

The students gather at the Bali stage for the morning assembly. The air is warm but not oppressive. The trees spread out above us in a giant canopy. There is a buzz of excitement as students pile their backpacks on the grass and find friends to sit next to.

A teacher takes the stage. He describes another school in Jakarta. This one is an all Indonesian speaking school. This one has no Bali stage, no shade trees, no massive funding. And we soon find out - no library. "There are 150 students," he tells us. "And only 50 books...all in English. No Indonesian fiction books in the entire school." He goes on to challenge the JIS student body to help with a book drive.

And I am moved. Moved by the problem. Moved by the blessings I take for a library filled with books for my children to read. Moved by a student body who claps their hands and pledges their help.

And I pledge too.

That night, we gather as a family and make a decision. On Monday, we will go to an Indonesian bookstore. Each of us will pick out a contribution.

Madi wants to find The Lightening Thief in Indonesian. Elise wants to find a counting board book for 1st graders. The twins will look for mysteries or Junie B. Jones. Me? I think I will look for Harry Potter...because we all deserve a little magic.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Train in Jakarta

The motorcycle ride to the concert was usurped by threatening rain clouds and a flat tire (although Elise is convinced it was an answer to her prayers - she was extremely worried about her parents riding on a motorcycle).

There was no taxi to be found. They all seemed to be out of service for dinner. So we walked down the street until we found a sympathetic (non-dining) taxi driver.

Traffic was traffic. But we arrived at the venue just in time to eat a delicious dinner at a restaurant called "Grass Fed Cows."

I expected a crowd of expats. But we were definitely the minority. We stood head and shoulders above most of the crowd. Though I was stuck behind the one Indonesian with a three inch mohawk.
My only complaint was that it was soooo hot. Hot as in sweaty sweaty sweaty. I literally could have wrung out my clothes by the end.

My favorite moments:

Getting filmed for a local Indonesian morning talk show with Cherylyn, and the camera man saying "No good. Do over. This time with more emotion!"

Tanner announcing "sweat is dripping down my ankles."

Hey Soul Sister, Drops of Jupiter, Meet Virginia, Calling All Angels

Watching Patrick Monahan almost get mobbed by screaming Indonesian girls.

Holding hands with my husband while we listened to "Marry Me."

Finding and purchasing Train t-shirts that say "Train, Live in Jakarta"!!

And then there was the strange moment when I realized the people around me all knew the lyrics better than I did. And I was amazed how American pop culture has reached the far corners of even this wonderful third world country.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Indoor Snowstorm

Wednesday night. The kids watched Nickelodeon in the sunroom while I perused the internet. The night was turning out to be a forgettable one. Then I read a post by Shelley, one of my favorite bloggers and friends, and it changed the course of our evening. You can read her inspiring story here.

I shut my laptop, turned off the TV, and announced, "It's snowflake time."

We pulled out our box of scissors and a stack of pristine white copy paper. I demonstrated the folding process, and soon creations were underway.
Madi experimented with tiny snowflakes. Her masterpiece was one the size of a dime.
Soon the table and floor filled with tiny paper shards and scraps.
Meya remarked that the scraps of paper scattered across the table and floor looked suspiciously like snow.

I thought of my friend Shelley, again. And made a rare spontaneous (and even rarer messy) decision.

We scooped up the scraps in our hands and moved to the open space by our front door. On the count of three we threw the paper in the air. I looked up, and for a moment, it did look like snow, fluttering down. The scraps got caught in our hair and on our shirts. We piled them up a second time and made it snow again.

Outside the mosquitoes hummed in the warm night. The call to prayer from the nearby mosque mingled with our "Cherish the Ladies" Christmas album. And thanks to a brave friend, who is helping me be a better mom, we had our very own snowstorm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My morning drive

I got stuck in traffic on the way to meet some ladies from my church for a primary presidency meeting. While we were chugging along at a snail's pace, I snapped a few pictures out my car window.

Bench for guard and driver.

Corner grocery store.

Fresh vegetables. Love the rainbow umbrella.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Our smallish friendly gathering for Thanksgiving turned into a dinner for 30 as my husband and our embassy friends learned of co-workers who had no place to go. And Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is just one of those holidays that should not be celebrated solo. So we kept saying yes and filled up our house to the brim with pies, turkeys, sides galore, an extra dining room table, 10 additional chairs, and people, people, people.

Align CenterAnd so on this Thanksgiving, here's what I want to remember:
Pulling those 12 pound, $40 turkeys out of the oven and making sure not a morsel was wasted!
The mountain of Vanessa's rolls on my kitchen counter...
enough that everyone could have four if they wanted.
Trying delicious mangis fruit brought by an Indonesian family.
Having thirds of carrot souffle that turned out wonderfully
thanks to Megan's yummy recipe and an emergency call
to Karen in Virginia for tips.
Checking on the kids upstairs and finding them belly laughing together.
Cutting and serving pies (it was like handing out plates of love).
Finding my sweet husband and CJ taking a much deserved nap.

Standing side by side at the kitchen sink with Yuli doing dishes until late in the night. In just two months she has become an invaluable presence in our home, and also my friend.
The march of the dining room table and chairs at 10pm
from one end of the cal-de-sac to the other,
while the distant lightening turned the sky into a strobe-light.

It wasn't a cozy, relaxing Thanksgiving. There was no Macy's day parade to watch or cold weather to bundle up for.
But that's just fine.
It was a day filled with food, family, friends new and old, and
...that is what makes life worth celebrating.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


JIS soccer field, right before the rain storm.

I stand in the empty classroom, the students having just left.
Outside the rain comes down in steady sheets. Puddles grow before my eyes. The sound on the tin-roofed, covered walkways is thunderous.

Looking at the walkways, I remember when we first walked this campus at Madi's orientation in August. And I remember thinking "How nice that this campus has provided shade for the students as they walk from building to building."

Now looking at the pelting rain, I realize. The cover was less for shade and more for protection from the rain. There are, after all, plenty of shade trees on the campus.

I have just completed my first stint as a substitute teacher in middle school. Middle School. Now there's a place I NEVER thought I'd teach. In fact, just last year I warned my sister vehemently about taking a job in a middle school...because it is just so scary. And yet, here I am. And it isn't as intimidating as I once thought it would be. It helps, of course, that I have my very own middle school daughter, who isn't scary at all.

But it's gotten me thinking about perspective. About how experiences broaden my vision. How my perspective is not only malleable, but down right changeable.

After all, years ago, if you asked me what I thought about Jakarta Indonesia. I would have said it's a third world country somewhere in Asia.

And it is those things.
But it is also a place with warm summer-like days almost all year long.
A place with a churning sky.
A place with people who are quick to smile and just as quick to nap.
A place where the wind whispers through the palm trees.
Where fruit is fresh, abundant, and oh so sweet.
A place where I would teach middle school for the first time.
A place that for now, is home.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Morning Drive
We drive to church past the traditional Indonesian market.
A black cloud of flies hovers above the butcher block.
A live chicken struts and pecks at the ground under her hanging sisters,
pink, plucked and ready for sale.
Goats in bamboo pens bleat.
There is a truck with mangoes stacked higher than the cab
I wonder if they will spill over the side and roll down the street like marbles.
A woman wearing bright red flip flops
carries a plastic bag of newly purchased onions, garlic, and greens.

Primary Program
Four of my children are on the stand at church.
Tman looks at the congregation and speaks clearly - a huge accomplishment for him!
He peeks over the piano at me when he sits down,
I give him a thumbs up.
Meya recites most of her talk from memory.
I am not surprised - she's just that kind of girl.
Leasie talks about Jesus. And when she says she has felt His love, I know it's true.
It is Madi's eighth primary program,
and her last.
She sits with the other eleven-year-olds and narrates the program.
I look for traces of childhood still lingering on her face.
But she is more youth than child now.
She bears her testimony and teaches me.
Tears - happy tears because of the girl she has become,
and sad tears because of time's ferocious speed.

Afternoon Storm
CJ and I snuggle in my bed for an afternoon nap.
Her bare toes wiggle, tickling my knees.
We wake to darkened windows and the rumble of thunder.
I wander downstairs to find the children laughing and snuggling with Dad.
We play board games to the accompaniment of pattering rain.
Tman has a glorious win.
Leasie and I work in the kitchen together.
Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
We blow the fuse five times trying to use the electric griddle.
We opt for the stove top.
Warm gingerbread with whipped cream.

We stay together as the stormy evening blurs into night.
Our laughter drowns out the sound of the rain.

I have lived many Sundays.
This one...
this one was one of my favorites.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Two weeks ago I drove home from a soccer game. Yes, I drove! In the traffic! There were screams from all passengers - mine being the loudest. And there was a collision between me and a moped carrying a huge ice block. The moped and ice block disappeared up the street before my shock even registered into an audible swear word. Our car sustained minor damage to the headlight.

After the experience, I decided it was time I became a legal, licensed driver here. Just in case.

Thus, my trip to the Indonesian DMV:

I boarded the bus at the embassy early in the morning with other eager license-seekers. The ride to the Indonesian DMV was long. I stole glances at my book while we were at a dead stop. Then watched the city roll by as we trundled along. The muddy river clogged with trash. A crane lifting trash from the water. Street after street of tin houses with laundry strung from windows.

An hour later, the bus pulled a Uturn and entered a barbed wire area. From my window I saw drainage ditches as big as baseball diamonds lined with bamboo. They conjured images of castle motes, with spears jutting out.

We unloaded into the bright sun. To say we stuck out is an understatement. All eyes were on us as we walked to the first building. Rows and rows of blue folding chairs filled a warehouse-sized room. Our Indonesian "helper" collected the first amount of money from each of us.

Now, I'm not sure how much of that money was for a bribe or the actual cost, but we circumvented the long wait and were filed into a small room for an eye exam.

Easiest eye exam ever. Three letters. The same three letters the person just before me had to repeat. Hmmmm. Could explain a lot about the traffic problems in Jakarta...I'm just sayin'.

More money. (Bribe?) And a little waiting while paper work was filled out.

More money. (Pocketed?) And a long wait.

Finally our Indonesian helper announced that the computer system was down. We have to come back tomorrow.

Really? Another 2 hour ride home. Another 2 hour ride back to the DMV tomorrow?

Me: Not a happy camper.

But bright and early the next morning, I boarded the bus again. This time the computers were working.

Here's the room where we got our picture taken. I liked the fake flowers - added a nice touch, softened the room a bit, don't you think?

And here's the result of 10 hours of riding, bribing, and waiting...

Watch out Jakarta (i.e., ice-carrying mopeds), I'm driving!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Indonesian Halloween

I think what I love about Halloween is, at least for me, it involves an entire month of preparation. (Unlike Thanksgiving, for example, where really the prep is 48 hours max.)

This year, Halloween required an extraordinary amount of forethought. It began back in August when the movers had packed up my Halloween decorations and after tears and a good 'ol temper tantrum (actually a whopper of a tantrum), I had them dig out the orange Rubbermaid boxes, unpack them, and send my gravestones and garlands with our early shipment. I know those Spanish speaking movers went home to their families with stories of a loco lady who cried over fabric ghosts - but it was worth it!

On October 1st, Tman enlisted the help of our driver, Abidin, to hang up the ghosts on our front porch. Together, they strung the rope-web between our house and tree and carefully mounted the big, hairy, black spider.

Then of course, there were the costumes. Decisions. Decisions. We've always done family-themed costumes every other year. And this year was a theme year. I figured, this might be the last year I can convince my family to do a theme, so I wanted to make the most of it. And oh it was fun to visit a tailor and get custom-made costumes.

Alice in Wonderland ("We're all a little mad here") seemed the perfect theme for our first Indonesian Halloween. Not pictured: my husband who was an Ace of Spades soldier for all of fifteen fun minutes.

The kids enacted their favorite scenes from both the Disney and Tim Burton movies in our back yard. Meya's "Off with her head!" was by far the most authentic.

I had this plan to have a "small" dinner with friends before trick-or-treating on Halloween night. And as with most holiday plans, it grew and grew until we had a full-on PARTY. No less than 30 kids and 14 adults came. Yuli and I worked in the kitchen side by side for 3 hours getting all the food ready. I served Karen's award winning white chili, mummy hotdogs, bat cupcakes, fresh papaya and dragon fruit, and homemade pumpkin doughnuts. Friends brought witches brew, pumpkin soup, more chili, and lots of treats.

With full tummies, we poured out of our house into the dark night. The streets were damp from an afternoon thunderstorm. Peels of laughter could be heard as children approached the more "scarily" decorated houses. There was no traffic in our gated neighborhood, so the children walked from house to house and crossed streets, with no worries. It was a strange sight, strange in its familiarity.

Only the air did not feel Halloweeny - it was humid and warm, more like a summer night. But everything else felt just right. Children. Costumes. Smiling neighbors. Cobwebs spread over bushes and trees.

And of course plenty of candy.

It is a strange holiday to get emotional about. But there they were...a few stray tears just as we walked back to our house and ducked under the ghosts on the front porch. Perhaps it was the result of familiarity lapsing into a bit of homesickness. Perhaps it was gratitude for friends and traditions here on the other side of the world.

Most likely, it was both.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What does she do all day?

Last week at work my husband was asked "What does your wife do all day?" I'm pretty sure, this question was in reference to the fact that since moving to Jakarta our family has hired a full time pembantu who does most of the housework.

Over the last couple days, I've thought about that very question. What do I do? And is what I do of value?

The literal answer to the first question is:

I get up at 5:30AM, make breakfast, have a family prayer and get the kids off to school. Then I exercise for one hour (aka my therapy time).

From 9:30AM to 2:30PM I mainly take care of three year old CJ which includes getting on the floor and playing with her, doing puzzles, reading books, swimming at the pool, and occasionally teaching preschool. There's also grocery shopping, volunteering at school, and church responsibilities.

2:30 to bedtime, I greet the kids when they get off the bus, I make after-school snacks, I help with homework, I make dinner, I take kids to and from soccer practice, I spend time with my family, I pack lunches for the next day, I read aloud from a chapter book to the kids, we read scriptures together, have a family prayer, and I tuck each of my children into bed.

The answer to the second question (is what I do of value?) is simple.


Sure, I don't bring in any money. And I'm not contributing to any business, government, or corporation. But I believe what I'm doing, and what every mom does, is vitally important. Being a mom is full time job, even without the laundry and house cleaning. I'm creating a home. I'm raising five amazing children into five independent, talented, incredible people.

So what do I do all day?

I mother. And I LOVE my job.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Mayestik: An Indonesian plaza with every fabric under the sun. Satin. Polyester. Cotton. Silk. Raw silk. Brushed silk. Chiffon. Linen. Wool. Every color imaginable.

Meya and I literally wade through meters of fabric looking for the perfect black and red for her Halloween costume. We are handed disposable cups with sealed lids - there is no air conditioning. We sip water through our straws as we search. My broken Bahasa Indonesian coupled with their limited English and we leave the store with a bag of our material.

Next stop is the one-stop-shop of everything else. You want ribbon? They've got ribbon!

You want buttons?
A whole room...four huge walls, floor to ceiling of buttons!
It is like a treasure hunt. Definitely a new favorite spot in Jakarta.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Happiness is...

We drive in the car past the buildings whose tops touch the yellowish sky. We take the toll road for a mere twenty cents. In the back seat of the car, the kids fight over the two leapsters. Really CJ creates the biggest scene as she screams when it's not her turn to use the leapster. But fifteen minutes into the drive, her head bobs and her eyelids droop. And I'm glad I decided to give her the full dose of Dramamine.

Soon the sky scrapers and the smog is behind us. And all I see are fields and red tile-roof houses. Banana trees line the highway. My husband and I share the ipod, one ear bud each.

Once we enter the town of Bogor we catch glimpses of mountain peaks. Purple and gray mountains playing peek-a-boo behind the fluffy white clouds. As we begin the ascent of the mountain, driving the switch backs, my stomach lurches. The steep mountain side is cultivated with tea plants, shrubs the size of azalea bushes with lime green new leaves.

The vacation house perches on a mountain ledge surrounded by a lawn of true green grass just begging for us to play a game of soccer (which we do). I breathe deeply and it's as though my lungs are tasting the sweetness of the air.

I have four days of wonderful moments (mingled, of course, with all the crazy that comes with five children).

I sit on the porch with my husband and laugh at the kids as they play tag on the grass. The clouds float in, coating the yard in white gossamer. The clouds touch my childrens' heads and settle amongst the trees.

I watch my children climb six foot tall tree roots as though they're playing on a jungle gym.

I gasp as my two most brave children, Madi and Tman, lunge in the pool at the base of the waterfall and then stick their heads under the falling water.
I scream at the animal snouts and trunks and faces coming through the car windows at Taman Safari - and I watch my husband laugh so hard he goes into a coughing fit.

I run (but mostly walk because it is so dang steep) along mountain roads with my husband in the morning. I watch him barter with a local to purchase a painting on canvas of the mountain we've so enjoyed.

Happiness is hiking for two hours and feeling the spray of a waterfall brush against my cheeks like a million kisses. Happiness is hearing the kids fight in the car followed by the peace of all of them sleeping. Happiness is wrestling a three-year old in the tub, trying to get her clean followed by a fire crackling in the fireplace, cuddling on the couch, hot chocolate, and a good movie. Happiness is being wakened way too early by CJ who pat pat pats into my room and climbs into bed with me. Happiness is the morning mist that pools in the mountain valleys. Happiness is Tman crying in the car because he's scared of the animals at Taman Safari. And then watching him gather his courage and reach a carrot out to a zebra.

Happiness is the mess of screaming children and the music of their laughter. It is exhaustion mingled with satisfaction. It is the good and bad rolled into one. It is knowing the peace because I've known the crazy. It is recognizing beauty because I've seen the horribly sad. It is savoring clean air because I've breathed the smog. Happiness is the bitter, sour, and sweet. And it's only during those moments of clarity when I truly see this, that happiness comes fuller, and sweeter, and sooner.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Good Things

Tman and I visited the commissary this week. We found Thomas bagels and english muffins! Heaven! I did a happy dance right there in the corner of the store. Tman refused to join me in my public celebration. Though thoroughly embarrassed of my boogieing, he still wanted to take my picture.

And oh the cheers I received when the rest of the kids came home from school. Bagel sandwiches galore.

There are no coin operated "rides" at the local malls and shopping centers here. But! I found this at one of the Carrefore stores: a pedal-operated ride. The swans and cars go up and down as the man pumps the bicycle. And the bike operator will even turn on music with his cell phone if you pay a little extra. Music and a ride - the Jakarta way! This is a good thing.
Finally, though the calendar says it's October, it is a little difficult to feel autumny when it is a balming 80 degrees outside. And palm trees swaying in the breeze just don't do the same thing to me as the vibrant autumn colors. Still, I opened all my Halloween boxes and decorated the house with garlands, pumpkins, and all things fallish. For family home evening, we ate caramel apples thanks to Karen who shipped me a caramel apple kit from Virginia. So even through it may not look or feel like autumn, we still were able to enjoy some autumn family traditions. And that...that is a very good thing.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seven years later...

Seven years ago I taught my first preschool class. A group of my peers, all with three-year-old children, started a home preschool. We were young. Bright-eyed. Eager. All first-time mommies. I think we opted for the official "Joy School" program designed by the Eyre's. I have fond memories of the experience, mostly because of dear friends.

But my memory of that time also holds a lot of unseen angst (unseen, that is, hopefully from my peers and co-preschool moms). At that time in my life, getting ready for preschool was a monumental chore. On a preschool morning when I was teaching, I stormed around the house, picking up, shoving clutter in closets, agonizing over the snack, organizing the craft supplies so that everything was exactly ready, wielding Madi's hair in perfect pigtail-buns, and stashing away Madi's "special" toys that I knew she wouldn't want to share. Stress comes to mind. Stress and ironically, not much joy.

By the time the children arrived, I glued a smile on my face. But inside I was exhausted from the self-imposed stress.

Seven years later (and half a world away)...I get a last shot at doing a preschool with my youngest child. This week I taught my first class.

On this last-first preschool morning, there was no sign of a storm. Not even a drizzle. I prepared the crafts at the last minute with stuff I had on hand (cotton ball clouds and puff ball catapillars as pictured below).

Toys littered the playroom. But hey, that's what a playroom is for, right? Snack was simple. And when the children arrived, I greeted them with a smile. Not glued on. I was actually happy to see them.

So why the change? I'm not sure. Maybe I could chalk it up to experience-I've since taught everything from preschool to college. Or maybe I've adapted to the chaos of my own five children - so a preschool with four three-year-olds is no big deal. It could be that I know this is my last child, and therefore, my last home preschool. Or maybe I've just learned to let go of the need for perfection over non-important things. Whatever the reason, the day was delightful.

As I read "The Quiet Cricket" to the four children sitting cross-legged on the rug, I felt a deep sense of joy. They asked me to read the spittle bug page again and again...I read it four times in a row and they belly laughed each time.

So this is what home preschool can be! Seven years later, I'm finally enjoying the experience.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fruit Find

"Let's try a new fruit every week!" Madi says as we walk down the aisle at Grand Lucky grocery store. Crates on either side of us are piled high with foreign fruits. Sure we can find familiar ones against the far wall like Gala apples, Sunkist oranges, bananas, and pineapples. But the rest of the fruit section is a maze of new sights, bright colors, and fragrant smells. To our right is a bin of various melons, mostly green. A few cantaloupes labeled "rock melons" (they do look like rocks, don't you think?) peek out.

To our left is a pile of yellow angular fruit the size of a mango. Star fruit. I'd tried it in a salad at a restaurant a week ago and was already a fan! We buy four.

Once home, we fill a large bowl with bottled water and add a squirt of fruit wash. We add the star fruit and wash them thoroughly. Next we transfer the fruit to a colander and rinse them with more bottled water. Then...we sliced them.

Oohs and ahs as the stars accumulate on the plate. "They're beautiful!" Leasie says.

They are. Can you believe nature has created such a beautiful fruit? (Am I the only person who has never heard of these before moving here?)

We each take a slice and bite. The texture is like a firm tomato. But the flesh is fruity with a tart kick. Refreshing.

Love this fruit find.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Before living here, I'd considered myself a pretty well-traveled gal. I traveled to Russia and Poland in high school with the choir and band. And when in college, I completely lucked out and was asked to be TA of London's Study Abroad. Check England and Scotland (twice). But having lived here for almost two months, I realize that my "world" experience was extremely limited...and sheltered. I can't even really count England and Scotland as different cultures, right?

But here. Everything feels different. Take for instance, the way garbage is collected. People put their trash out. But not in cans. It just goes though a hole in people's gates and sits on the side of the streets. Often un-bagged. Just a pile of garbage. (Don't get me started on the rodent problem.)

Then the garbage is collected daily by a garbage man like the one shown below (I snapped this picture on my run this morning). They load the garbage in the hand-pulled wagons and walk to the neighborhood dump - nothing more than an enclosed vacant lot. So different.

But then I'll have moments of absolute sameness. Today I walked through the Ponduk Indah mall and walked by a Gap, a Wendy's, and a Krispy Cream store. The floors were polished and shiny. The overhead lights, bright and modern. I could have just as well been at the Dulles Town Center mall. Sometimes during these moments, my head spins, and I'm not sure whether to be grateful or sad.
And then there's a mix. This morning, I came across this group of Indonesian boys. They were on break at school. While their classmates bought snacks from the booths across the street, they were playing in the water by the flower stall. They giggled as one boy removed his sandal and inserted a hose. Water squirted out like it was going through a sieve. The playfulness was exactly like something Tman would do if given the chance.

I paused to watch them in the morning sun before starting my run.

Different and same all in a single moment. While the differences out number the similarities, it's the unexpected sameness-those on a personal, human level, that make me glad I'm here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My New Running Route

I walk through the gate that separates our section of the neighborhood from the rest. I greet the three guards, "Salamat Pagi" good morning. They flash their smiles - Indonesians have wonderful smiles - and return the greeting. One calls out, "You go jogging?" (his English is much superior to my Indonesian.)

I walk past the grocery store where the parking lot is already buzzing with mopeds and vehicles.

The road is wet and I splash across the giant puddles. The man holding the hose smiles.

I start running through the neighborhood, criss-crossing through the narrow streets. Most of the houses are fenced off from the road with cement barriers nearly as tall as castle walls.

I approach my favorite tree with the vines hanging down. I jump up and swipe at them with the palm of my hand.

Flowers adorn walkways, trees, bushes, gates, and walls. Almost everywhere I look there are flowers of some kind. It is strange to see flowers blooming in cracked pots and growing along crumbling sidewalks. Life and beauty in the midst of disrepair and decay.
My lungs begin to burn. Not from exertion but from the exhaust coming from the cars and modpeds. I get stuck behind a bus. Black smoke plumes from its exhaust pipe. I stop and cover my mouth and nose till it passes.

I feel grit in my teeth when I bite down.
I finish my run by turning at a flower shop. My shoes splash in the puddles. I notice that there are fresh blue hydrangeas. My favorite. They remind me of home. I will be coming back later today ready to bargain.

I slow to a walk. I raise my face to the warm sun which is high in the sky even though it is not yet 9AM. I squint into the brightness and wipe the sweat from my forehead.

It is not my Virginia run by any means. But it is a run. And that is good enough for me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

To be 3...

You wake up early and come to find me, calling "Mommy, I awake!"

You ask for bananas, cookies, and Welch's fruit snacks on a regular basis.

You sing for absolutely no reason at all. And your songs are usually about what's going on around you. For example: "I swinging at the playground...I eating my making me angry."

You love this banana tree at Madi's school - it is just your size.

You just about killed me with the potty training. But on your third birthday, you just decided to be potty trained. It was like flipping a light switch. You haven't had an accident since. Thank you for that special birthday present!

You can't wait to be a big girl and go to school like your brother and sisters. You love living in a neighborhood here in Indonesia where friends are just a short walk away.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like without you. And I confess, I allow myself to imagine moments of delicious solitude doing exactly what I want to do. But then you come and climb in my lap, look up at me with your big brown eyes, and say, "Mommy you my best friend." And I am grateful for you - more than any free time I could ever have.

So thank you for being my partner as we figure out the Jakarta grocery stores together. Thank you for being my taxi companion. Thank you for letting me read to you and swim with you. Thank you for asking me to take you on walks so we can discover new "tropical flowers."

You are sunshine. You are the glue that keeps our family laughing together.

My life would be so lonely without you.