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.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What Indonesia is doing to me

(Disclaimer: Most of this blog will sound awfully whiny, because, well, it is. But stick with it, or simply skip to the end).

Saturday was busy from the start. We had to get Tman to the JIS fields by 9:30AM for a soccer game. That meant leaving the house at 8:30 because A) we needed to navigate to JIS with my husband driving and B) you just can't predict the traffic, so better safe than late. It was a stressful drive, we made a couple wrong turns and then when we finally arrived, the guards at the gate wouldn't let us in because we didn't have a parking sticker. Who knew we needed a parking sticker? Tman and I jumped out of the car and ran to the fields while my husband sorted out the parking.

The morning was HOT HOT HOT with a cloudless sky and plenty of humidity. I entertained the four children in the shade of the bleachers while my husband cheered for Tman on the sidelines. CJ, who has decided that she doesn't want to wear diapers anymore (yay), but hasn't figured out potty training completely (ugh), poohed in her pants. I tromped across two fields with her to get to a bathroom and change her. Let's just say, by the end of the soccer game, I was not the cheeriest soul.

We had just an hour at home before needing to turn around and head back to the fields for Madi's soccer game. After getting lost...again...we finally arrived only to find out that we were half hour late for the game (I had read the email wrong!) Huge failure on my part which I felt horrible about. Madi played the second half of the game.

By the afternoon, I was ready for a break. Some pampering. Something!

So we joined two other mommy daughter teams and headed to a spa. Halleluiah! My heels have been dry and ugly for a month and the nail polish on my toes has been chipped for weeks. We arrived at the spa and I plopped in a chair. Turns out they only had one pedicurist...and she was already busy with a client. That was okay. I could wait in the peace and quiet.

My friends and daughters opted for other spa treatments: reflexology and a hair cream treatment. But I was going to hold out for a pedicure. One hour went by. Two hours went by. I asked the receptionist in broken Indonesian what was taking so long. The pedicurist was also doing a manicure AND a color job on the client. That was okay. I was still willing to wait.

And wait I did. Three hours went by. Everyone else drove home while I waited, patiently. I planned to just take a cab home. Finally I got my pedicure. And I confess, it was lovely. Almost worth the three hour wait. Almost.

I gave the receptionist my credit card to pay. But it didn't work in their machine. Embarrassed, I asked where the nearest ATM was. Luckily, it was close. I went downstairs to an ATM to pull out cash. But it didn't like my card, either! Panicked, I called my dear, sweet husband for help. I waited for another 40 minutes for him to arrive with cash.

Five hours after I arrived at the spa, I returned home. Grumpier than ever. I felt so sorry for myself. All I'd wanted was a nice time to relax and recharge. Surely I deserved some perks for living in Jakarta.

Today in church was testimony meeting. We were late (which drives me crazy) and there wasn't enough room on any benches for our family to sit together. I was ready to throw my hands up in the air and call it quits for the day.

Soon after the meeting began however, an elderly Indonesian man stood to bare his testimony. He stood straight and tall at the podium. His deep voice resonated in the chapel. I was in the middle of mental whining, when he said the following, "When I was growing up here in Jakarta, my parents didn't have very much. They didn't have enough money to send me to school. And they didn't have enough money to buy me clothes. But they loved me. And I knew it."

My mental whining was silenced as the magnitude of his humble statement hit me full force. I am so blessed. I have been blessed my entire life. Here, I had spent most of my weekend complaining and sulking, about trivial things like traffic, potty training, and (I'm ashamed) waiting for a pedicure, when I should have been counting my blessings.

And I realized at that moment that I have two choices. I can let Indonesia and all of its challenges turn me into an unhappy, whiny person. Or I can let Indonesia and all of its humble, wonderful people, turn me into a grateful person.

For now, I choose the latter. And hopefully, with practice, it will become habit.