Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas in Jakarta

Our second Christmas in Jakarta was full of old traditions and some new ones. For the second year in a row, we enjoyed swimming on Christmas Eve. Although we dreamed of a white Christmas and oohed and awed over the Facebook posts of snow in Virginia, the sunshine wasn't too bad either. Someday, perhaps we'll look back on these pictures and actually envy the balmy 80 degree weather.

Madi entertained us with waterballoons (a white elephant gift she received during a YW/YM activity.)
 Decorating Christmas cookies are always a favorite.
Another continued pajamas and books on Christmas Eve. Without a Target within easy driving distance, I relied on local stores and was please to find the girls coordinating pajama pants at Pajaten Village. Then with a little help from Ria (our favorite Indonesian tailor) the one-size-fits-all pants turned into four different perfect sizes.
A "second-year tradition" was the annual Christmas caroling party with the Indonesian instruments: Anklungs. They are made out of bamboo and produce sound by shaking them (kind of like a tambourine). When the bamboo pieces strike, they produce a tone. What started a small gathering of a couple families grew into a neighborhood caroling event. It was so very memorable and just what I needed to keep from getting too homesick.
We tried to continue the "visit Santa" tradition. But as we approached Santa at the Ambassador's party, CJ clung to her Dad as if her life depended on it. She didn't loosen her grip or look up during the entire exchange. 
 Here she is - post-traumatic event.
Now for some new traditions: 
We read aloud "Fig Pudding" this December and the family in the book made pizza shaped like a Christmas Tree for the night they were to decorate their Christmas Tree. We adopted the tradition and love it!
And my personal favorite new tradition: soapy snow at the Lippo Mall in Kemang. For just a few moments, the white specks floating through the air really did look like snow. Meya slipped and slid through the accumulating bubbles. Though it was not a typical white Christmas, for this homesick girl (me), it was just the right mix of crazy Jakarta and fun.

 Of course, the best part of Christmas was being with family and friends and feeling the love and joy that comes with celebrating the birth of our Savior. 
We feel truly was a wonderful Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jakarta Orphanage

Tonight, with the presents all wrapped, the lights on the tree twinkling, and soft carols playing, I found myself feeling homesick. I knew my parents and sister were gathered together for Megan's blessing, Katie's birthday, and of course, Christmas. And even though I am surrounded by my own family and good friends, I felt the homesickness begin to creep in.

So in an effort to ward off potential Christmas blues, I thought I'd write about something wonderful that happened this Christmas season.

For our ward primary activity, we loaded all 32 primary children on a huge blue bus (yes, the logistics were crazy) and drove to The Shining Star Orphanage - a Christian orphanage in South Jakarta. The idea was to have our primary children do what Christ had done during his life: serve. We planned a morning full of activities including coloring, games, and making Christmas decorations. We also brought gifts for each orphan.

We were greeted by 42 children ages 4-17. Some were orphans in the traditional sense (their parents had died). Some were orphans because their parents had decided they would receive better care at an orphanage than at home usually due to extreme poverty. 

We colored together.

We cut snowflakes.
We strung popcorn and beads to decorate their Christmas tree.

We came to the orphanage to do good. But the reality was the orphans went out of their way to welcome us, to make us feel happy. They smiled. They introduced themselves. They sang a song called "Happy Birthday Jesus." And they expressed gratitude again and again.We came hoping to lift their burdens and bring some joy to their lives. But really, they did that for us. I left humbled by their cheerfulness. These children, who have so little in this world, taught me about what it means to be happy.

"Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

Light. Joy. Gratitude. Love.
Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Elise Turns 11

In keeping with our Jakarta tradition, we went ice skating with the Prendergast family for Elise's birthday. It was also a monumental occasion because it was CJ's first time to try ice skating. Madi and I took turns helping CJ skate around the rink. She did pretty good for a first time. She tried to keep her "crazy feet" under control.

Here, Elise and her friend, Grace, get ready to skate.
Elise at eleven:
You are getting so grown up. You like clothes, earrings, and music. You invited mostly older girls from the neighborhood to your "Spa" birthday party because you're used to playing with older girls (thanks to having Madi as your big sister).

You have a tender heart. You cry when you hear about people or animals getting hurt (you even cried when Dad killed the rat in the outside garbage can!) 

You are my go-to helper girl. If I want something done well, you are the person I ask. 
I love when you help me in the kitchen cooking and baking. And I love when you decide to help pick up the house just because.

 Sometimes when I look at you, I remember holding you as an infant. You came to this earth with a peaceful, calm spirit. And you have magnified that talent as a peacemaker.

You and Madi have become very close this year. Many nights I can hear you whispering and giggling in your room. Often Dad has to encourage you to "stop talking and go to sleep." But it makes my mom-heart so happy to know you and Madi are good friends.
This year has had its challenges especially with friends at school. I have watched you make good choices, even when it was hard, and seen you choose kindness and forgiveness, even when it wasn't reciprocal. This is what makes you so beautiful to me. 

Happy Birthday my sweet girl.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Memorable Nativity

Our ward Christmas party involved a nativity performed by the primary children.
 In my husband's words, 
"It was everything a children's nativity should be."
I'm sure he was referring to some of the twists on the normal themes of the season.
 Some of the more memorable moments included the innkeeper's scene.
The innkeeper's line was "You can use my stable." The stage directions told her to point to the stable. However, with only one very rushed rehearsal, we hadn't told her where the stable would be. So our darling innkeeper said, "You can use my stable...which is around here somewhere."
 The wisemen were solemn. The shepherds on the other hand...not so much. Two brothers who played shepherds decided to have a family feud. There was hitting and chasing - in the fields and in the stable. Their mother had to go up and restore peace more than once. The fact that the boys were the bishop's sons made it all the more amusing.

My favorite moment was when two little angels (CJ and her friend Clara) just couldn't contain their curiosity any longer and opened the wisemen gifts while the congregation sang "Joy to the World."

There were, of course, sweet moments too. Like watching Leasie help the younger angels and letting them sit on her lap. Or listening to Tman and Meya recite their narrator lines (Tman was particularly loud due to the fact that I bribed him with a lego set - yep, it's true. Meya required no bribing.) 

But it's the warring shepherds and pillaging angels that I will remember most.

This nativity was just what I needed to feel the Christmas spirit. It wasn't perfect. But it was a perfect reminder of something I constantly need to remind myself of:
Things don't always go as planned. But there is plenty of joy to be found in the unexpected twists and detours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


What are you doing on 12/12/12? This morning, each of us ate a dozen, silver-dollar sized pancakes.
Some of us ate a few more than others. And some of the pancakes were much smaller than silver-dollar size.
All silliness aside, it is strange to think that this is the last day in my lifetime that the calendar will digitally align. But my kids may get to see the numbers again...January 1, 2101.  If I did my math correctly (which isn't likely) Madi will be 101, Leasie will be 99, the twins will be 97, and CJ will be 93. An entire lifetime away. They'll be grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents. 
I wonder if they'll eat a dozen pancakes on that day...and think of me?

For the sake of nostalgia, here are twelve things I'm grateful for today:
1. My kids who make my life so much more fun
2. US Postal service
3. Raspberry syrup from Great Country Farms (thank you Karen!)
5. Being able to be a Teacher (almost done grading 40 short stories and 40 exams - at 10 minutes a pop, you do the math)
6. Christmas music!! (My current favorite collections are Nat King Cole and Cherish the Ladies)
7. Indian food (enjoyed it for dinner last night and lunch today)
8. My beautiful niece, Megan - I keep sneaking glances as her cute pictures sent from Katie.
9. Books (Currently reading "Tinkers" and I'm in awe of the beautiful language)
10. Jakarta, Indonesia
11. Rain. It's the rainy season, and I love the thunderstorms that rumble across the sky each afternoon.
12. The fact that I still have 13 days to celebrate my favorite time of the year (Christmas)!! 

Happy Dozens Day!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ambassador's Party

The annual Christmas party at the Ambassador's house was this past weekend. This was my first time at the Ambassador's house. I did not make any attempts to play it cool and hide my enthusiasm. This was a big deal for me.

After all, it's not everyday I get to hobnob with the elite. 
The house and grounds were quite impressive. The lawn was as manicured as a golf course. Large banyan trees draped the perimeter. We strolled the brick walkways to see the waterfall, koi pond, and gazebo (which was larger than my front room). Leasie remarked, "Wow, Mom, you could do your morning run here!" Indeed, the expansive grounds were enviable - like having a park for your front yard.
The kids enjoyed the traditional Indonesian horse and cart ride (called a Dokar).   

While the festivities were in the outdoor tent on the lavish grounds, I begged (yep, I'm not ashamed) my way inside the Ambassador's house to see the huge Christmas tree.

Santa made an appearance in the outdoor tent. Almost everyone was thrilled. CJ, as seen below...not so much. She did not look up once - not even when Santa tried to hand her a candy cane. She clutched her Dad as though she feared for her life.
In spite of CJ's death-clutch fear, fun was had by all!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Exams and a Second "Home"

Here at Jakarta International School, the high school semester exams are a BIG deal. I'm talking, serious, collegiate-like exams.  

Thursday morning, I arrived at 6:45 to set up the 9th grade English exams.
I walked into the gymnasium and was greeted by this sight: 

 Two hundred and twenty empty desks waiting for the students. Then at 7:15, the students arrived. The stress level was tangible - like a humming static in the air.
I had vivid flashbacks of the BYU testing center.
My favorite moment was watching my students look up after reading the "unseen" short story and giving me a knowing nod. Yep, they got it! 

In addition to exams, there has been some much needed celebrating in the English department too.
Can I just say, I love my department. I love these teachers.
These are incredible people - they love books, they love teaching, they love life, and they work HARD. Such good people.
I am in constant awe. In addition to the hard work, there is plenty of laughter and weighty lit discussions around the center module lunch table. Joy!
Every time I am with these people, I am inspired to be a better person.

I have never felt more at home (outside of my own home and a few choice friends' homes). 
We celebrated Christmas (yes, Christmas at a secular institution!) with Indian food, Nat King Cole music, cinnamon rolls, and a white elephant gift exchange. And in the end, the group was too nice to do much stealing.
Everyone needs a place where they feel like they really belong.

 I'm so grateful to have found this second "home."

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a lot like...

There's no snow on the ground outside. The palm trees are swaying in the balmy air. The preschool girls went swimming in the neighborhood pool just a couple days ago. 

So although it may not feel or look like Christmas outside, inside...
we've got the Christmas decorations up. The whole house feels a little more cozy, a little more cheerful, and a lot more joyful.
 Even waiting for the school bus to arrive in the morning is more fun with a Christmas tree.
 CJ helps redecorate the tree...multiple times a day.
 Glass ornaments from my favorite Purcellville Christmas store make me think of my Virginia home.
I love this season. I love the traditions, the music, the giving, and of course, the food. But what I love most is the focus: family, friends, Christ, and service.

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 will be remembered 
as the one where I made 80 rolls with CJ's help so that everyone could have four rolls each (Madi's personal request.)
It will be remembered 
as the one I worked. For the first time in my life, I worked on Thanksgiving day. I taught English to my wonderful 9th graders at Jakarta International School.
It will be remembered 
as the one where I scrambled to collect Madi, Tman, and Meya from school during one of my breaks, loaded them in the car with our driver, and sent them home early so they could enjoy time with Dad.
And it will be remembered 
as the one with the torrential downpour. 
After two hours of hard rain, the main road to our housing complex flooded and was consequently closed.
So our sweet friends (Barkers and Prendergasts) endured more than double the normal commute time to reach our house. 
"Over the River..." has a new meaning.

But once everyone arrived safely, we unloaded the food, gave thanks, and piled our plates.

 Pictured below, our friend, Owen Prendergast, enjoyed all the sides.

We had two kids' tables, and one adult table. Madi is not pictured below because she finally graduated from the kids' table to the adult table this year. 
I loved having a bustling, over-flowing house full of people. It helped me not get too lonely or homesick for friends and family who are far away.

I found a poem by Emily Dickinson about Thanksgiving:

One Day is there of the Series
Termed Thanksgiving Day.
Celebrated part at Table
Part in Memory.

The poem is longer, but this is the stanza I've been thinking about all day. It's true. Thanksgiving is split. It is celebrated at the table with friends who are present. But Memory plays a large part in the celebration. So on this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for friends who braved the Jakarta floods to reach my house. And I'm also grateful for friends and family with whom I've celebrated in years past. And finally, I'm thankful for family who is no longer here. My grandparents. My great aunts and uncles. Memories of them adds a tenderness to my Thanksgiving celebration. It is the joy of the present and the heart-string-tugs of the past that make Thanksgiving meaningful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stake Conference

Stake Conference is a regional church meeting that happens twice a year. Because of living in Jakarta, more than half of the service is in Bahasa Indonesian. Here we are listening to the translation (which puts a whole new spin on the experience). I am so grateful to the translators. My favorite line today broadcast over the live feed was from a missionary: "Louder? I have to be louder?"
There is something powerful in joining voices to sing hymns in Indonesian. I've been singing these songs since I was little. The melodies are the same, the messages are the same, only the language is different. To hear them in another language and add my voice, makes my heart soar. "Come come ye Saints..."
 CJ loved wearing the headset. Certainly helped with the sitting-still factor.
I am grateful for these experiences. For the combination of the familiar and the new. Tradition and the culture. But mostly, I am grateful for the world-wide church, where the teachings and Spirit is the same, no matter where we are.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Hike

We almost didn't go on this hike. Friday night we held an emergency family council to debate. "Too hot..too far away...too buggy" were just a few of the excuses. In the end, we voted. And by a slim 3 to 4 count, the majority spoke, and our course was set.

Just an hour drive out of Jakarta, we turned off the highway to drive the narrow roads. I stopped to talk to this "Ibu" who was drying her rice harvest on the side of the road.
The rice field spread out behind her like a lake of emerald green until it met the base of the mountain.

We hiked up the mountain. Villages peeked through the tree tops. The path snaked passed homes, chicken coups, and village mosques.

Clean laundry decorated backyards and front patios like cheerful flags.
My kids had their moments of squabbling over who was the leader or how fast/slow we were/should be going. We even had a critical point where we were clearly no longer on the path and had to turn around. As seen below: some are happy, some, not so much.

Crossing a fragile bamboo bridge felt very dangerous in an adventurous Indiana Jones way. And suddenly all was forgiven and happy again.
And then the reward: a natural swimming hole, complete with a Tarzan vine for swinging and jumping. 
There are very few things in life that I regret doing...the regrets I have are mostly over things I didn't do and should have. Today was a good reminder of this. Had we not come, I would have missed out on not just the beauty of Indonesia, but this memory with my family. I would have missed the sounds of their laughter echoing off the rocks, the splashing, the feel of the warm sun on my back as it dried my wet clothes, and holding CJ's hand as we navigated the slippery rocks together.

Some days, happiness is tangible. 
This day, on a river in the middle of the Indonesian jungle, happiness was a tangible as it gets.