Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final December Musings

Before 2013 slips from the calendar and becomes memories captured in pictures and journal entries, there are many December happenings worth recording.
First and exceedingly important: Elise's 12th birthday! 

I brought Krispy Kreme donuts (a rare treat in Jakarta) to school at lunch time and her friends provided this very shiny birthday sign. We celebrated with her favorite foods: waffles for breakfast and Thai basil chicken for dinner.
It just happened her birthday was also a YW mutual night - Elise attended her first young women meeting with Madi.

Choir brunch.
Very few things are better than music and delicious food.
 Eating before singing (of course!) with Lyndi, Rebecca, Tasi, Cherylyn, and Julia.

Oh how I love Yuli! We cooked side by side in the kitchen many times during the holidays.

Indonesian Santa at "Hero" our local grocery store.

 A Winter Wonderland in Kemang Club Villas with the portable golden reindeer.

 The Nutcracker Suite (synchronized-swimming-style).
This will be our last Christmas Eve to enjoy 85 degree weather and a swim in the pool, so we made the most of it.

 Christmas Eve Luminaries with our neighbors Rachel and Guillo Citron.
My most heart-tugging homesick moment was lighting our luminaries and thinking of our hometown Hamilton and our winter walks to see the entire town lit up.
Perhaps my favorite Christmas Eve moment was the spontaneous caroling with our neighbors who walked down to look at the lights.
With the New Year just minutes away, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this year. December was just the icing on the cake of an incredible year--a year filled with adventures, dear friends, travels, Indonesia, teaching, learning, and growing. 

A few weeks ago Truman asked me when I was the happiest in my life. Without any hesitation I answered, "This year." 

Farewell 2013, you've been my favorite so far.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Experiment

The eve of Christmas Eve was dismal. I spent the entire day shopping for last minute gifts (arguably lots of stuff we don't really need). I spent way too much. I felt cranky, fed-up, a bit sick to my stomach, and far from the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Eve morning I awoke before the kids and lay in bed thinking. We had planned to go to the mall for our traditional ice skating adventure, followed by an A&W restaurant lunch. But I realized I just couldn't stomach another day of malls, shopping, glitzy Christmas decorations, and basically activities that aren't very soul-satisfying.

So, inspired by this video on the Philippines, I decided to change our plans. I knew if I could just stop thinking so much about stuff, getting, and recreational fun for ME, there was a good chance I'd feel the holiday spirit. I had exactly one day to try to do some good. Obviously, I couldn't jump on a plane and head to the Philippines, but there were plenty of people in need right in my Jakarta neighborhood.

Little did I know just how much this day would change me and my family...

When I proposed the change of plans to the kids, I was humbled by their willingness and eagerness. We started with some cash (the $60 we would have spent on ice skating and lunch) and a list and headed to the neighborhood grocery store. Here's our story in pictures of what happened next:

(Yes, it's an escalator in the grocery store) 
Toys, food, and Bacari Sweat (like Gatorade).
Assembling bags. 
First delivery was to a family of four who own and live at their small shop, which is smaller than my downstairs bathroom. I buy minutes for my cell phone here every other week.
 Next stop: Ria and her grandaughter Sasha. Ria is a tailor who lives with her extended family at her shop. When Charlotte gave Sasha the gift, Sasha kissed Charlotte on the cheek.
Next we drove to the day workers - just a couple blocks from our house these men wait on the side of the road to be picked up for manual labor and taken to various construction sites every day. Notice they are barefoot. 
 Finally, the garbage pickers. They are the hardest working people I see in Jakarta. They pull their handcarts filled with trash down the busy streets.
My most heartbreaking moment: a garbage-picking mom and her young son. The young boy was sick with fever. He slept on the ground. Flies swarmed.

 Owen and I drove back to this location later that day with medicine. But the Mom and son were gone. I hope the money and food we gave them helped. 

This all happened within walking distance to my house - less than one square mile. So many people in need. While we only did something small - just handed out some food - it still felt good. 
So good, in fact, that after we were out of bags to give, my kids wanted to do more...

So my children donated their own money, we went back to the store, and repeated the entire event again.

What could have gone down as a non-memorable, self-gratifying day turned into one that changed me. I was humbled. I was touched by the meekness of the Indonesian people and their beautiful smiles. 

Somehow, on the polluted streets of Jakarta, I found the Christmas spirit. I thought of a tiny baby born in a stable. I thought of His life spent in service and sacrifice. And I went to bed Christmas Eve night not only overwhelmed for my blessings, but also praying for all the people I had come in contact with that day.

Best Christmas Eve ever.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Jakarta Christmas Performance!

I got to sing on a stage...in Jakarta! 

Rebecca, Lyndi, Tasi, and I represented our church in an annual Christmas concert. Yes, we had matching sparkly shirts (fabulous!) We sang "Christmas in 3 Minutes" - a medley of Christmas songs.

After our song, our children joined us on stage for "Little Drummer Boy." It felt very Von-Trappish (although minus husbands). 
The building we were in was a bit dilapidated. When the kids explored during the dress rehearsal they went to the fourth floor where cat feces was scattered all over. A man, who appeared to be living there, asked them if they wanted to see the roof. And they said yes! (Stranger-danger seemed to have escaped their brains.) Luckily, the man was very nice, and did indeed show them the roof. He also stopped them from trying the elevator which was broken, thus saving them from plummeting to their death. 

Here are the girls when they weren't "exploring."  

My wonderful singing friends! There are very few things I enjoy more than singing with people I love! 

Charlotte and her friend Clara waiting for the show to begin.

We knew the night was truly Indonesian style when the emcees jumped up on stage and yelled "Salamat Natal" (Merry Christmas!) so loud we had to cover our ears. Behind them the huge screen projected all the acts. Oh yeah, it was a BIG deal. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bah Humbug!

Madi acted in the Middle School production of "Bah Humbug!" 

With the Indonesia-access to incredible seamstresses and carpenters, the costumes and sets were amazing.

 Miriam, Madi, and Dewi
 "Oh so sad that Scrooge died...NOT!"
 Generous Scrooge!
What a delightful cast. Oh how nice it was to see Madi on the stage! We have missed our Pickwick adventures. Also, Christmas activities/cultural events in Jakarta are scarce. No Nutcracker or Hallelujah Chorus here. So it was wonderful to come and hear the Christmas songs and feel the Christmas spirit...even if it was before Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Over the Pot Holes and Through the Mud

"Over the pot holes and through the mud" (sung to "Over the River and Through the Wood)

A Jakarta Adventure

Saturday was one of those busy, over-scheduled days. Church-cleaning, birthday party, soccer tournament, cub scouts, and primary activity. And those were just the "scheduled" events. There was also the Christmas baking to be done, cards to be signed, envelopes to be addressed (don't die of shock - but YES I'm sending Christmas cards this year!!), and normal daily-living responsibilities. 

On days like this, Owen and I have to divide and conquer. We ran together at 6:30AM, then he left at 8AM. I didn't see him again until 9PM. 

One of my responsibilities during the day was to get Amelia to the American Club by 4:30PM so she could catch a ride to the primary activity. Owen had the car at the soccer tournament. It was raining, so I couldn't call a taxi (they are VERY hard to get when it's raining). So I had the grand idea of walking. It is, afterall, only about one mile from our house.

Elise, Charlotte, Amelia and I braved the rain. I made the decision mistake to wear flip flops because I didn't want to ruin any good shoes in the muck. Poor thinking. Sure, I didn't ruin in shoes. But the yuck factor of slogging through mud, grime, and puddles (with all kinds of horrors) reached epic proportions. 

We took the underground walkway from Lippo Mall to Antesari St. Elise got a fume-induced headache in the non-ventilated tunnels. When we emerged, we had to cross the crazy busy street. I nearly slipped on the slimy sidewalks. I actually had a conversation with Elise about "what to do if one of us is hit by a car or motorcycle."

On the return trip, Elise stepped in a puddle that splashed mud (and probably poo) up the front of her shin. She became slightly hysterical (vacillating between laughing and crying), especially when we saw the dead rat sitting in a nearby puddle. It was all a bit too much. Charlotte thought the moment was entirely hilarious. I will never forget the three of us laughing (Elise half-laughing, half-crying) in the rain, jumping in our flip flops, trying to avoid the puddle-pot-holes.

We rewarded ourselves with a rare Baskin Robins ice cream cone ($4 each!) and a triple-scrub down/sterilization of our feet in the bathtub.

Oh the joys of Jakarta! 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Some Things I Learned from This Year's Primary Nativity

Last night we gathered in the Bill's home at the American Club for our church's annual Christmas party. The warm balmy air stirred the palm trees. The buzz of the motorcycles was drowned out by Tom Bill's piano playing. And the fact that the only snow to be seen was the fake snowflakes hanging above the door, didn't hinder the Christmas Spirit.

Can I just say? Mormons really know how to present a wonderful meal for a huge crowd. Moist turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, salads, homemade rolls...and delicious cookies and bars. I will not confess how many treats I tried, but I will say the soft ginger cookies and the Hello-Dolly bars were my favorites. (I'm starting to taste sweet again--and it is truly delightful!)

I sat by Dawn, Cherylyn, and Julia at dinner...we talked about food, holiday plans, and furniture shopping. And somewhere between a bite of mashed potatoes and thinking about going back for seconds, I was struck with how much I love these ladies. So instead of going back for seconds, I just sat back in my folding chair and listened to them. Knowing this is my last Christmas celebration with them made the moment particularly bittersweet.

And then there was the program, organized by the primary (Oh the joy of getting to sit back and just enjoy - now that I'm no longer serving in primary!!) Some favorite moments:

1. Bishop Woodland as the Ghost of Christmas Future - full on Grim Reaper costume saying "Beware!"
2. Tom Bill's energetic rendition of "Feliz Navidad"
3. The Prendergast family's mini-people dance (I laughed until tears streamed down my face!)
4. Joining the women for an anklung choir of "The Chipmunk Song."
5. The girls and I singing Jakarta Style Christmas Carols: "I'm Dreaming of No Traffic" (to the tune of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas").
6. The youth presenting a hilarious version of the 12 Days of Christmas
7. And of course...the Nativity.

The Nativity this year was full of the normal humorous antics: Mary practically juggled the baby Jesus in her enthusiastic rocking. The Shepherds exhibited true fear when the angels arrived and they had to be told to "stop being fearful" by the narrator (Elise). And the "live" sheep played by Madi Whitaker looked more like a white executioner in her ghost sheep costume.

But there were some tender learning moments for me too...
After MUCH practice (reciting in various locations like in the car, at meal times, and during family scripture study), Amelia delivered her well-rehearsed Angel Lines. As she said those beautiful words "For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord..." I wondered...had the angel who greeted the shepherds that night long ago practiced the wonderful declaration too? For such an eternally important event...I suspect the answer is yes.

I learned something from the Wisemen too. While the congregation sang "We Three Kings of Orient Are" the Wisemen (led by Truman) circled the living room - enacting their long journey. On their second lap around the room, they realized the song was ending soon, so they picked up their speed. By the end, they practically ran, nearly tripping over their long robes in their hurry, to get back to the Manger. How fitting. And I wondered, do I show the same amount of eagerness to find and follow Christ in my life?

Charlotte did not pillage the Wisemen gifts this year. Instead, she sang her angel songs with joy and with a huge smile on her face. She kept trying to catch my eye - as though she wanted to make sure I was seeing her effort.

I smiled back. And my smile said: Yes, I see you sweet girl! Yes, I feel so joyful too!

But perhaps one of my favorite moments was after the program, in one of the Bill's bedrooms/converted to a dressing room for the Nativity. I found myself gathering and folding the robes, scarves, and sashes with my friends, Lyndi, KA, and Tasi. I've loved celebrating Christmas with these awesome ladies. How I will miss them next year. My Jakarta family.

We walked out into the tropical night, said "Selamat Malam" to the embassy guards, picked our way back over the broken sidewalks to our car, and I realized there was no place I'd rather be.

Merry Christmas from Jakarta!!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Walking to School with Charlotte

Every once in a while my schedule allows me to enjoy a slower morning (not the crazy scramble for a 6:30 departure, followed by a 45 minute commute, and a 7:30AM class start time). On these rare mornings, instead of rushing off to school, I accompany Charlotte to her school.

It is a short walk. Just a meander, really. Up our brick-paved street, past the columns of towering palm trees, a morning greeting of "Salamat Pagi" with the embassy guards at  the green gate, across the street from, Hero, our neighborhood grocery store, and next to the flower stalls. 

All along the way, Charlotte stops to smell and pick flowers. She wears a uniform, and I love to see her in her red plaid dress. A little school girl.
She collects a bouquet of flowers for her teacher, Ms. Sheryl, while keeping up a constant stream of chatting...about her school, her projects, her friends (Adam, Matthew, and Sienna), and her dance class. I nod and answer "uhuh" in the affirmative so she knows I'm listening. She pauses only long enough to hand me a flower to smell. 
Once we've entered the wooden doors to the school, Charlotte picks up her name tag. We climb the stairs together then she places her backpack at the "bag drop" near the front door of her classroom. I'm impressed by the neatness and order of things. Games and activities line the floors and tables, ready for the students.
When it is time for me to leave, Charlotte hugs me in an over-dramatic way. She clings to my neck, monkey-style, and grunts with the exertion of the hug. Then she looks over her shoulder to make sure Ms. Sheryl is taking note of this display of affection.

After I extricate myself from Charlotte's enthusiastic goodbye, I walk back down the stairs and begin my commute to work. It is always a bittersweet moment...where I try to balance my gratitude for Charlotte, her unconditional love, her great school, our walk together, and wondering if I made the right decision to work full-time.

I love my little girl so much. She is my sunshine.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What I missed

I've been waiting to write this blog. Waiting until I had time to upload the pictures of the Halloween I missed. But I never seem to have enough free minutes when I'm home...and I'm worried my thoughts about this will disappear before I can upload the pictures.

While I was traipsing around Australia, here's what I missed: two soccer tournaments, a basketball game, ten breakfasts, ten dinners, two family home evenings, two Sundays (both of which my children attended church sans parents, yes they were orphans), an elementary school United Nations day, and Halloween.

I'm not going to philosophise about whether or not my trip was worth missing all these family events because life is a balance. And I wonder if part of my enjoyment of the trip was knowing I had exchanged so much to be there. (Oops, I think I'm philosophising).

Here's what I want to record. I missed my kids. A lot. Especially on Halloween. I thought of them Halloween morning during my run along the highway in Katherine. As I watched the sky wake up with orange and fuchsia stripes, I wondered if Owen was fixing them a fun Halloween breakfast. As I handed out the spider and scull rings to the students on the bus, I wondered if Madi had helped make Tman's ghost costume. As I walked through the palm grove with hundreds of fruit bats hanging from the branches, I thought about how my own children would think it was very "Halloweeny" and cool.

And Halloween night, as I ducked and shimmied to avoid the pesky, flying beetles and braved the toilets with the poisonous toads, I thought of my children in their costumes trick-or-treating.

Now I will also confess in this blog entry that when I returned home, all was not perfect. I may have actually uttered outloud the following words in a moment of great frustration, "Twenty-two 14 year olds are easier than my own five children!" And in an effort to try to make me feel better for missing the family so much, Madi tried to comfort me by saying, "Don't worry mom. We missed you. But really we didn't need you here."  Ouch.

Quick tangent...I think the reason twenty-two 14 year olds were easier than my own five children is quite simple. My investment level (emotional and spiritual) with the students was minimal. My main job on the trip was to keep them physically safe. My investment level with my own children is eternal which makes my job never-ending and oh so important. So when my own five children have five very different needs all at the same time, I'm pulled very thin logistically, emotionally, and spiritually. I want to do a good job. That is what makes mothering so much more challenging than chaperoning.

Conclusion: I loved my trip. I love my children. I love being a teacher. I love being a mother. I'm grateful for both. It's a balance that I'm not sure I've completely figured out.

But here's what I know for sure: I'm going to try very hard not to miss another Halloween with my kids. Cuz, I really missed having fun with them on Halloween!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Snakes, Spiders, Frogs, and other Australian Wildlife

My first night in Darwin, Australia we stayed at Banyon View Lodge - a YMCA hostel. This HUGE stick bug greeted us in our bathroom:
Do you see how the bug is bigger than my hand??
And this was just the beginning. In fact, I like to think this bug was the welcome committee warning, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

There were some cute Australian critters. At the aboriginal cultural center outside of Katherine, I got to hold a baby wallabie.
In this case, the baby was not as cute as the mom. I thought the baby looked a bit alien or rat-like (but a whole lot cuter than snakes!)

This green fellow might appear cute. But just imagine him and ten of his friends lining the toilet seat at our campground. 
Yep, the frogs liked hanging out on the toilets - guess it was the best source of water they could find. They would peer up at me with their apathetic eyes, just daring me to go to the bathroom. Now imagine having to use the bathroom at night, not knowing if a frog is going to jump out of the toilet at any minute! Horrifying, let me tell you.

But the little green frogs were NOTHING compared to the giant cane toads at the next campground. 
These bulbous creatures are as big as an adult's foot...and poisonous! Their skin secretes a venom that is deadly for small animals and can cause a serious skin irritation for humans. Guess where these lovely animals liked to hang out? 
Yep, the bathrooms. The showers. And the toilets. 
We had the boys go in the bathrooms to scare out all the toads so we could take showers. I've never heard boys holler quite so loud. There was no pretending - we were all afraid of the cane toads. For my closest friends, and I mean closest (those who will not disown me, no matter what) I will share, in person and under strict confidence, what happened when nature called at this campground in the middle of the night. 

Okay. So I can deal with bugs, frogs, and toads. Snakes, on the other hand, make me fly into chicken-flapping-screaming-panic. While walking through the Cutta Cutta Caves 50 km outside of Katherine, our guide pointed out this cave dweller. The stalactites were home to these venomous snakes who fed primarily on bats. Imagine me, huddling through the cave, trying NOT to think about a snake falling on me. 
Here was a non-venomous snake we found at a rest stop.
Our guide thought it would be fun to let the students hold the snake. I was perfectly fine letting the guide hold the snake during my picture. Do I look scared? Cuz I am.
Which gets me to the last "critters" of Australia. The Australians were as colorful and entertaining as all the animals we saw. I found the beer drinking, shirtless men whose burps rivalled thunder, quite charming. Our guide named, "Sauce," (yes, as in tomato sauce) looked every bit of the crocodile dundee Aussie man - from his long scraggly hair and greasy beard to his tan shirt and shorts which I'm pretty sure he never changed out of during our seven day trip. There was Flick, our cook. Her short pixie hair was fuchsia and purple - as bright as bubblegum.  She swore like a sailor and cooked our morning eggs with a cigarette between her lips. But this was nothing compared to the drunk men who flashed us while we walked home from the late movie on Saturday night in Darwin. I think there might have been some silver speedos...but I averted my eyes as fast as I could.

We retreated back to our YMCA oasis to the chorus of "Who let the kids out, who, who, who?" (to the tune of "Who let the dogs out?") An entire bar singing us home.

Australia was definitely an adventure!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Do You Come From the Land Down Under?

10 Days in the Northern Territory of Australia with twenty-two 14 year olds. A recipe for crazy fun, physical challenges, and incredible views of aboriginal land. Three national parks. Seven nights of camping. Here are just the highlights - my favorite moments. I'll post about bugs, reptiles, and "colorful" people in the next few posts.

After two days of acclimating in Darwain at a YMCA hostel, we finally got our first taste of the outback. Here we are in Kakadu National Park where we hiked to the top of a Mesa. The Australian outback spread out before us in all directions. 
I kept having dejevu moments because the outback is so similar to Southern Utah and the four corners area in the US: the mix of spring green trees, rusty red rock, and blue sky. I found myself thinking often of Owen and the time we spent together exploring, hiking, and camping during our courting and first years of marriage. To say I missed him and wished he was with me are huge understatements.
The next day we hiked up to Gunlom plunge pool - a series of natural infinity pools at the top of mesa. I swam in the emerald pools. I felt the heat of the bright sun on my shoulders and back. I listened to the splashing and laughter of the students. I breathed in the warm, clean air. And I looked across the vast expanse of land so primitive, raw, and beautiful - and I was grateful to see nature, such a respite from Jakarta city life. 
On day four we kayaked Katherine's Gorge. I was grateful to my Dad for his years of "adventures" - all which prepared me for the hiking, camping, and kayaking. Wayne Kelsey and I were a force to be reckoned with on the river. My years of kayaking in Alaska paid off - I actually knew how to hold the paddle and steer. Some kids literarily couldn't kayak in a straight line. Some went in circles while others zig-zagged through the water, covering twice as much space as they had to. 
We beached our kayaks and hiked a short distance to the next gorge. Stunning.
My final favorite scenic moment of the trip was our last day in the outback - a hike to Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. 
We hiked to the double waterfalls. The water was refreshingly cool - almost chilly. Such a refuge from our 95 + degree heat (both day and night). Here I am with Erin, a JIS student from South Africa. We swam to the waterfall, dipped under the pounding water, and touched the slick rock on the other side. 
Besides feeling extremely hot and longing for cold drink of water (the campsites' water was bathwater warm), the overwhelming emotion I felt throughout this trip was gratitude. I never dared dream to see this part of the world. And while I missed my family to the point of aching, I will be forever grateful for their support to let me go to Australia.