Thursday, February 28, 2013


I showed up unexpectedly at school to surprise my twins during their snack time today. Here were their extremely different reactions:

As soon as Meya saw me, she ran with open arms and gave me a huge hug. "Mom! I'm so glad you're here!"

Tman was only a few feet away when he realized I was sitting at his snack table. He stopped dead in his tracks, then took a couple tentative steps closer. "Mom?" he asked. "Hi Truman," I smiled. He thought for a moment then pleaded, "Please tell me you're here to take me home."

He recovered pretty quickly after I broke it to him that I was only here to share snack time, and he would have to stay at school for the whole day.

Meya chattered away easing from subject to subject as though she was flipping randomly through a book. She covered PE, the morning bus ride, what her friends were doing at recess, the afternoon schedule, and "by the way, how was your morning, Mom?" all in the matter of a couple minutes. Tman answered my questions but seemed more interested in the riveting tether-ball game just a few feet away. When he finished his snack, he asked if I would make chocolate chip cookies for him for an after-school snack. "Can you cook them so they're still warm when I get home?" he asked, then bound away to join the tether-ball line.
Oh my twins. How I love you. How I love your differences. Meya with your gift of gab and Tman with your very male-centric interests: food and sports.

It was only twenty minutes on a Thursday morning. Sitting together at the round tables outside the cafeteria. Talking over the sounds of an elementary school: giggling girls, squeaky swings, boys yelling on a soccer field, and a basketball pounding the cement.

Only twenty minutes. But my favorite minutes of the day.   

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I am the Mom of a Teenager

This week I became the mom of a teenager. On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Madi promised me that she wouldn't "morf" into a typical teen over night. Actually, I asked her to promise. And although I realize my request was quite selfish (and probably incredibly naive), I have great hopes that she will keep her promise.

I get kind of emotional when I think about how quickly time is passing. And so instead of spending this post giving voice to those thoughts, I want to record a perfect day I had with Madi.

On a Tuesday in July this past summer, I left the four youngest children with Holly Davis (bless her!) in her lovely home in Cheltenham, and Madi and I drove up to Northern England. Our final destination was the Preston Temple, 3 hours away, where Madi was scheduled to join a group from Scotland to do Temple Work in the evening. When I looked at the map as I planned our day trip, I realized we would be very close (just 30 minutes out of the way) to the Chatsworth House. This is the house used in the most recent Pride and Prejudice movie as Mr. Darcy's Pemberly.  I couldn't resist. We made a side-trip.

The sky was gray and the air was heavy with drizzly mist. But we both audibly gasped when we rounded the corner and saw Chatsworth, perfectly situated, amongst the rolling green hills. White sheep dotted the greenest green grass with white. 

With only an hour to spare, we took a whirlwind tour of the house. We had to ask one of the guides to direct us to the veiled statue "Femme Voilee" that Kiera Knightly looks at so intently during her tour of Pemberly. 
There it was, tucked away in a sunfilled alcove of the library. The statue was so hidden, in fact, that we almost missed it. 
Following our tour, I bought a pastie (still warm) wrapped in brown paper, and we walked the grounds. We both wanted to stay and explore, having only scratched the surface.  I hope to get the chance to come back and spend a couple days walking the trails and touring the house and gardens at a much slower speed. But even this single hour with Madi - sharing my love of England and Jane Austen (and wonderfully, she loves them too) - was wonderful.

I purchased a CD in the gift shop of the Chatsworth acapella choir. As we drove from Chatsworth to Preston, England, angelic voices serenaded us. The scenery was breathtaking. Stone fences created a grid of gray across the luscious green hills. The oldness and beauty of it tugged on my heart and filled me with what I can only describe as a strange homesickness. 

We saw the Preston Temple from the highway. A gray stone building that seemed almost white against the gray sky. Another beautiful building - but beautiful for much different reasons. My personal journal has my feelings recorded about this experience. Let me just say here, the joy was like a glimpse into heaven. And in spite of loving our tour of Chatsworth, we both agreed that the temple was the most beautiful place we'd ever been together.  

There are very few perfect days. But I suspect, when I'm an old lady and I look back on my life, this very well may be as close to perfect as it is going to get. 

It has been a privilege to spend the past 13 years with Madi. And I look forward to an eternity more to share. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Redo Birthday

Last weekend, just 10 days after my actual birthday, I finally celebrated - really celebrated - my birthday.

The older I get, the less fussy I am about having a "party." But the truth is, when something actually comes together, it feels so nice. I don't like celebrating accumulating years (at my age, getting older is no longer an anticipated accomplishment). But I do love being with friends. Is it too narcissistic to say that, if nothing else, a birthday celebration is a reminder that I have family and friends who like me enough to celebrate the years I've been on this earth? (Probably too narcissistic. But since I'm in a low-editing mode, I'll leave it). 

Madi has a February birthday and so does Karla Ann (my neighbor and friend). So we combined. A triple bday celebration! We met at Lena and Dan's house. (Actually we just invited ourselves over because they have Wii Rock Band and Kinect Dance Central.) 

We boogied, sang, and did a series of serious competitions. I love this picture because Renee (hand over face in frustration) ended up being the dance champion of the night.  

One of the birthday presents from my husband (by special request from me) was that he promised to dance at the party. Here he is fulfilling that promise: 


The blurry little guy in the front is Tman who pretty much rocked the house!

And we made three cakes because you can never have too much cake. I made the lemon cake, and it turned out quite yummy.

The best part about the birthday redo is that it trumped anything I had planned for my actual birthday.
This past year was filled with some huge moments for me: 
Fulfilling my lifelong dream of traveling to Italy.
Taking Madi to the temple in Preston, England.
Watching my twins get baptized.
Becoming a 9th grade English teacher. 

But none of those things crossed my mind as I blew out my candles. I had just one wish. Happiness. Happiness that comes with huge things (like listed above) and small, everyday things. Like watching my husband dance to the Blues Brothers and eating chocolate and lemon cake (of course I had both!) with people I love. Happiness.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Barefoot on Valentine's Day

I love a reason to celebrate. And "love" is so worth celebrating!   
  Valentine's Day started with a run in the dark of pre-morning.
Followed by pink, heart-shaped biscuits.
 CJ literally ran to her preschool because she couldn't wait for the breakfast Valentine's Day party.
Tman left the house with his homemade cards made on army green paper with a hand-drawn jail on each (I decided to just let it go, though I'm sure there's some deep 9-year-old boy message here.) 
Meya was so very proud of her pink and purple stenciled cards.

I had a quick subbing gig at the Middle School. 
Traffic was terrible - so with just 20 minutes until the start of my class and stuck in standstill traffic, I did the only thing I could: 
I got out of the car, took off my sky-high shoes, and ran.
Margono, my driver, was unphased as I jumped out of the car - it's not the first time I've bailed in bad traffic.
However, it WAS a first to go barefoot.
Local Indonesians waved or laughed.
I wasn't embarrassed - I was in too much of a hurry.
I remember thinking, "As long as I don't step on glass or in something worm-infested, I'll be okay."
The asphalt and cement was warm. Grit. Sand. Rust-colored clay.

I made it on time.
Here's a picture of my dirty foot. I selected the far-away shot, since the close-up was a bit too gross. 

I stopped by the High School English department at lunch to deliver some cookies. We shared our favorite literary passages about love. My favorites: 
Tina quoted Sylvia Plath's poem about her unborn child "You're":
wrapped up in yourself like a spool. 
 And Yuchiro shared his favorite passage from "Gargoyle": I believe in your love for me. I believe in my love for you. I believe that every remaining beat of my heart belongs to you, and I believe that when I finally leave this world, my last breath will carry your name. I believe that my final word--Marianne--will be all I need to know that my life was good and full and worthy, and I believe that our love will last forever.
 (Really, how cool are these people? I LOVE my fellow English teachers!)

I arrived home and after taking the foot picture and washing my feet (twice), I made our traditional family Valentine's Day dinner - because this is one way I love to show my love.
Marinated flank steak.
Mashed potatoes and thin green beans.
Homemade rolls shaped into hearts (Leasie and I experimented with shapes and they turned out beautifully).
And my favorite: dark chocolate brownies cut into heart shapes with raspberry sauce. 
We ate by candlelight and celebrated.
And we talked about everything and nothing. The ordinary stuff that I know I will look back on as sublime. And so I tried to cherish each word.
I was surrounded by the best of my life.
I looked at my husband across the table and smiled.
I told my "barefoot" adventure, and we laughed together between bites of edible love. 

Happy Valentine's Day
(With truly very little editing - it really was a wonderful day.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An Atypical Valentine's Day Post

The problem with my blog.

Okay, perhaps I should address the good before delving into the problem. I like my blog. This is my space to record significant events – some more significant than others (like a Medevac verses making an octopus craft for CJ’s preschool). I love to have a place that I can re-read these events. I have a terrible memory. Really terrible. And sometimes I go back and read what I wrote three years ago, and it’s like turning on a light in a forgotten room and suddenly seeing everything for the first time again.

Now to the problem. 

I am a self-editor. A brutal self-editor. I edit before I write. I edit while I write. If my blog entry starts as a whiny post where I complain about something or someone in my life, I edit those first few sentences again and again until I’ve worked myself out of whiny or doubt or just plain crazy. I hate those voices in my head that are whiny and tell me I’m no good – so why in the world would I breathe life into those words by giving them an ink-body to live in? Right? Then in my self-editor mode my entries resurrect into “everything is okay” and even “I have so much to be grateful for.” Which is true. But perhaps it is an edited-truth. A hoped-for truth.

I’m pretty sure that the only people who read my blog (or will read my blog) are me and my family…and a few dear friends who put up with me no matter what – those that know perfectly well how unperfect and ungrateful and selfish I can be. So for them (and myself) I try, really try, to put forth something worthwhile…and when I’m at my best, maybe even worthy of invoking emotion (other than boredom).

I believe in the power of words. They heal (for a reader) and they are the vehicle to healing (for a writer). I believe in the heading I’ve had at the top of my blog since I started it. Stories can make the world (even if only my own small world) new again. But perhaps I’ve missed out on the power of truth unedited. The power of seeing where I’ve been, honestly, if only for a few dark, uncertain, or unclear moments.
So I’d like to start an experiment. I will try once a month (baby steps – I’m only writing about once a week anyway) to write what I’m really feeling or thinking and not allow myself to edit. The last time I tried this was a mother’s day post which wreaked havoc on the relationship with my oldest child and spawned a “repentance” type post.

Today here are the words that touched me and filled me with awe and understanding and light. It’s Valentine’s Day and I found a passage in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (okay – who am I kidding? – I totally googled “love quotes,” but at least I have read the book…twice). “Love is a great beautifier.” It is, isn’t it? And even better, my friend Jess (mother of three), posted this on facebook (and I NEVER want to forget it): “I look at the footwear lined up by the door (ala thrown haphazardly willy nilly everywhere) and think, ‘My whole world fits into four pairs of shoes.’ I could not love them more.”

I wonder how much Louisa May Alcott or Jess edited their truths before publishing them for the world to read? I guess it doesn’t matter. Because both sets of words make my soul sigh with a kind of lovely ache. Their words make me hope that I have loved enough, and that I have recognized the beauty of the love I’ve experienced. 

Tomorrow I will probably post something cheerful and bright (and heavily edited) about our Valentine's Day celebration (with pictures of my homemade chocolate brownies with raspberry sauce). Until then, these truthful words, by a renowned author and a dear friend, are enough.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Medevac & Jakarta healthcare

Tuesday afternoon I came home from school feeling miserable. By Tuesday night, with a temperature of 104 and abdominal pain that put me into "pregnancy labor breathing," I knew something was wrong. However, I assumed, flu. Just a virus.

Getting sick is just part of life in Jakarta. Between bacteria issues in the food and water, parasites, and regular germs, Jakarta is a petri dish of sickness just waiting to happen. It seems that any given day, someone I know is sick. So I wasn't surprised or alarmed by my symptoms.

I got up Thursday and still felt really bad. I'd been plagued by abdominal pains that kept me awake. So I made an appointment and drove the hour to get to the embassy (something I don't like to do uless absolutely necessary because of the hassle).

The embassy has a fantastic medical unit - currently, three full time doctors and a full staff of nurses. During the exam, Dr. Blaker noted that my abdominal pain was quite localized - lower right. He wanted to rule out an appendicitis, so I found myself back in the car on the way to Semanggi hospital for a CT scan.

Semanggi hospital is a local Jakarta hospital. It is quite modern, clean and spacious. Also very quiet. But the staff seemed in absolutely no hurry. So I waited and waited and waited. I watched Indonesian TV - melodramatic soap operas and world news. At one point, I walked over to the huge windows and looked out from the twenty-fifth floor across the Jakarta skyline. Below me I could see hoards of cars. A brown river snaked near shacks and behind the high walls of luxury hotels. A group of boys, just specks, played a game of soccer in a dirt field. I hummed "Happy Birthday" to myself and allowed myself a moment to wallow in a bit of self pity.

Between my limited Indonesian and the nurse's limited English I followed instructions to disrobe and drink a scary orange liquid (which I thought I might die from if the abdominal pains didn't kill me). I showed up in the CT room with my pants still on - due to miscommunication - and was whisked back into the changing room.

More waiting. Finally, hours later, I left with my CT results in hand. The best part of my day was arriving home to find a chocolate cake waiting from me. From my Visiting Teacher. It is amazing how one act of kindness turned a pretty dismal day into a happy one. That act of kindness was like a warm hug that I carried with me over the next couple days.

Friday afternoon, at my follow-up appointment, the doctor expressed concern with the CT results. With the  risk of possibly needing an operation (something that I prefer NOT to have in a 3rd world country), he recommended a Medevac. And within just hours, I found myself on an airplane to Singapore. Hindsight is always 20-20, and I learned that I truly should have brought my husband with me.

Here's the quick overview:
One hour delay in Jakarta.
Arrived at Singapore at midnight.
150 people in the taxi line ahead of me (yes, I counted. I had plenty of time to count).
Taxi driver took me to the wrong hospital.
Second taxi driver took me to the right hospital.
Admitted at 3AM.
Totally exhausted. Can't think straight.
IV - ouch. Fluids so cold that I can feel them enter my hand and arm.
Shared room with a lady who had had mouth surgery. Lots of moaning from her side of the room.
Not much sleep.
Missed my family something fierce.
Next day. Abdominal pains gone. Fever down.
Final prognosis: Probably just a nasty virus. And watch appendix for future complications.
Discharged at 2PM.

It was Chinese New Year weekend. So the embassy arranged for me to stay in a nice hotel instead of figuring out flights on the holiday.

Here's the only picture I have of the entire Medevac trip. And I realize it has absolutely nothing to do with the medical part of the experience. It was my room service dinner. The first solid food I'd eaten since Friday morning. Oh, it was so good.

As I sipped the tomato soup, I found myself feeling overwhelmed with all the things I take for granted in the US: Food without fear of bacteria (most of the time). Water from the faucet. And access to world-class medical care just a short 20 minute drive away.

Bottom line: I was well taken care of. But wow, I really miss America.

Interesting fact: American Embassy in Jakarta medevacs 2 people per week to Singapore. That's over 100 a year.