Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mountains, Beach, and Blackberry Pie

Where in the world can you go from snowy mountain peaks to a sandy beach…in the same day?

Washington State. 

My parents live in a beautiful place (at least during the summer months), and we were fortunate to get to visit them for a week in July.

The kids and I hiked near Rattlesnake lake, had a snowball fight on the slopes of Mt.Rainier near Paradise lodge, built a sand castle at Pacific Beach, all while spending time with Grandma and Poppy.
Some of my favorite moments were:
*Playing Fox Tail at Soos Creek.
*Panera Bread and a movie with my sister Jen (she was such a trooper – agreeing to see “Despicable Me 2” even though she hadn’t seen the first one.
*Lunch at Paradise lodge.
*The epic bowling game (grandma did not win.)
*The even more epic croquet game (grandma did not win! inconceivable!)
*Pounce (grandma won...more than once and the balance of the universe was restored.)
*Rootbeer taste-testing with Poppy:

There was also the incident of Madi chasing after Poppy and Grandma's car on the entrance ramp to the highway because they had forgotten to give us the car keys. We were stranded! Madi sprinted in her flipflops, the strings of her monkey hat trailing behind her.

And then there was Sand Soaking. 

The beaches in the Pacific North-West are not known for warmth. (Remember the scenes in "Twilight" of Bella shivering on the beach?) The beach at Pacific Beach was no different. We wore multiple layers, and our fingers grew numb from digging in the chilly, wet sand. After Poppy and Elise searched for sand dollars and Grandma helped collect shells and sticks to decorate our sand castle, they returned to the rental house because it was super cold. The kids and I lingered…CJ wanted to finish her sand castle and Amelia was wet to her knees from a rogue wave.

We sought shelter from the wind near the grassy dunes. Here, the sand rose and fell in little rippled hills. They almost looked like ocean waves. Amelia, who was barefoot (her shoes were soaked), stepped near the edge of one of these small sand hills and stopped. “Mom, it’s soooo warm!” she announced.

I put my hand on the sand. It was indeed warm. Deliciously warm.

We took our shoes off and let our feet sink into the warm sand. As soon as the warmth dissipated, we moved on to the next spot.

I’m not sure who thought of it first, but soon we moved from sand soaking our feet to sitting on the warm hills. Soakin' our bums. The heat from the sand was like sitting on a heated car seat. Soon we lay down in the warm sand, letting the heat warm our arms, back, neck. A natural heat massage.

We didn’t want to leave.

Here's the only picture we have of the beach: Truman must have been doing more than sand-soaking; this was sand-immersion!

On our last morning, we awoke to the smell of blackberry pie. This was the second pie in a week! It was Grandma's sendoff gift of love in the form flaky crust and sweet-sour blackberries.

As I was growing up, my parents taught me to enjoy adventures. So it was true to the legacy that Grandma and Grandpa packed our week full of grand adventures.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sister Time

Alphabetically I'm to the Guisingers (even though, chronologically, St. George was our final stop of the summer).

We drove to my sister's house in St. George in mid-July. If I'm being honest, I need to say I was a little worried my large crew would be overwhelming for my sister and her very neat, very clean, very orderly house (she's extremely talented in this way). But we were greeted with a huge warm welcome, delicious food, and lots of joy. In fact, in the three days we were there, I never once felt as though my children were a burden or in any way un-welcome. And to my sister's credit, that is saying a lot. Cuz we are, after all, a large group!

Katie planned such fun activities.We picnicked.

She threw a surprise "un-birthday" party for the kids to (in her words) "make up for the past two years of birthdays." Cupcakes, balloons, party hats, and gifts. So much fun.
We toured downtown St. George where we splashed in the fountains, rode on the carousel, and ate delicious ice cream (I also had breadsticks and soup) at Jed's old fashioned candy store. Katie proposed we buy wax lips and wax mustaches for this fun picture.
Katie wasn't the only one who made sure we had fun. Uncle Joe carved out a morning to take Tman shooting. They stopped at the store for donuts on the way there. Tman used a 22 rifle to shoot at a plastic water bottle and targets. To this day, when Tman is asked about his favorite part of the summer, he always answers: "Shooting with Joe." Now remember, this is the summer we went to France. But shooting trumps it all. Tman saved one of the plastic water bottles from the outing (with lots of the bullet holes) and has it proudly displayed along side his soccer and chess trophies on his dresser.  
I can't write about Katie and Joe without writing about my adorable niece. I missed getting to see Katie pregnant. And I missed out on seeing Megan as a brand new baby. But oh the joy of holding her! Or seeing my children play with her! - eclipsed only by watching my sister be an incredible mom. One of the saddest parts of returning to Jakarta was knowing I wouldn't get to hold this precious girl for another year.
There are many precious moments I don't have pictures of. Katie and I got up early to run on two mornings. Joe saved me the first time because I was delirious with dehydration (true story) at mile five. The second time, we were more prepared with a mid-way water drop. Nine miles of pure joy, running along the river as the sun rose, just talking to my sister. Then there was the cooking and eating. I loved Katie's crockpot mexican chicken and her amazingly healthy, delicious granola. She helped me find all the ingredients so I could make it here in Jakarta. Lunch at the Painted Pony was divine. And of course, a little shopping at our favorite clothing stores.

When I think back on this time in St. George there is another memory that stands out. We had just returned home after watching "Mulan" at the outdoor theater at Tuacan. Joe and Katie had lit their outdoor fire pit and prepared an incredible spread of smore fixings. I'm sure they were both tired - Joe had worked all day, Katie was balancing entertaining and being a mom to Megan. But they didn't make us feel that.

Joe showed us the trick to a perfect smore - putting the graham cracker with chocolate near the fire so the chocolate is all gooey. Our fingers were chocolatey, our lips were sticky with marshmallow, Joe had his arm around Katie, and I remember feeling such love for them.

We sat under the stars, ate smores, and just enjoyed each other.

Having a sister like Katie and getting to share this special time with her and her beautiful family is one of the biggest blessings of my life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What is better than Costco and Target?


Let me start with the Abbes (I'll make it easy and just go alphabetically).

First of all, I have not done a great job keeping in touch (Sorry!!). We have facebook, yes. But that's about it. So I was humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude at the warm welcome we received from Owen's brother and sister and their families.

There was the barbeque at Eddie's house and a breathtakingly beautiful (and freezing!) hike in Snowbird.

Then a delicious introduction to Iceberg milkshakes (wow, wow, wow).

And a gumbo feast (such a labor of love to have this authentic southern treat) followed by smores at Dawn's house.

We felt so loved. And we loved being "home" with them.
Aren't cousins the best?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

America - the Land of Plenty (and Havarti Cheese)

My arrival in America was VERY different than I'd expected. Having been gone for two years, I thought I'd have a special emotional response to our return. I thought I'd look out the airplane window at the Wasatch Mountains and get a lump in my throat. I thought I have a swell of patriotic pride when I saw the "Welcome to the United States of America" sign. And I thought I'd break down into sobs of grateful tears as I breathed in the dry, clean air.


Instead, I was really air sick. As in, throw-up-five-times air sick. As in, the airline stewardess handing me a steady supply of throw-up bags. And most embarrassing of all, as in, having to lay down on the floor while waiting in line to clear customs. Yep. That was my welcome back to the good 'ol USA.

Even my reunion with my wonderful Aunt Connie was marred by the necessity to run over to the bushes where I dry heaved because there was nothing (NOTHING) left to throw up.

Here is my lovely daughter reenacting my throw up moment in Aunt Connie's front yard:

(Thank you Leasie for capturing this memorable moment with such dramatic flare!)
Thankfully, I DID recover. And my anticipated emotional response to being back in America came. But again, it didn't come as expected.

I went to Target (cue clouds parting, beams of light shining down, and a heavenly chorus singing angelic praises). I was all by myself - I just wanted to get a few grocery items. Pushing the cart down the wonderfully wide aisles, I went to find cheese for sandwiches. First of all, the cheese section was like a WALL of cheese. Oh the choices! Oh the variety! As I scanned the labels, I saw a package of Havarti cheese.

I stopped. I stared. Havarti cheese! And the tears flowed.

Crazy, right? Well here's the thing: I'd forgotten Havarti cheese existed. And it's my FAVORITE cheese for sandwiches. Two years without the option of Havarti cheese, and I'd forgotten all about it. Completely forgotten.

Suddenly the wall of cheese represented everything I'd missed over the past 2 years. And once the flood gates opened, there was no stopping the tears. It seemed everywhere I looked, there were food items I'd forgotten about, missed out on, or just done without. I cried over the bag of heathbars, I cried over the greek yogurt, I cried over the bagged spinach, I cried over the frozen fish sticks, I cried over the aisle of haircare products, and yes, I cried over the hormel hams (an entire refrigerated shelf FULL of delicious hams!)

Did fellow Target shoppers think I was crazy? Probably, yes. But I didn't care. I was having my therapeutic post-traumatic-Jakarta breakdown.

America IS the land of plenty. The land of Havarti cheese.

Over the next few days, it was as though I was on a stimulant. Gone were the tears. It was just shop, shop, shop. Oh the elation! The gratitude of being back! So incredible.

Do you know what it's like to go to a store with a list of items you want to buy, and you can find ALL OF THEM?! Joy, people. Joy.

Madi took a couple choice pictures of us as we did "Jumps for Joy!" in front of our favorite stores:

 Costco. A slice of heaven. The berries you see below...we ate them all in three days.
 What? Cute, modest dresses at Costco?! Happy dance!
 Ross. Oh Ross, how I love your shoe racks!
I know America has much more to offer than Target, Costco, and Ross (and I'll be writing about that too). But having been deprived for two years, it was wonderful to be back. A huge thanks to patient, kind Aunt Connie who went shopping with us those first couple days. Thanks for laughing with us! And thanks for never rolling your eyes at my unfiltered joy over such simple things.


Friday, August 9, 2013

French Food

I can't finish blogging about France until I've spent a little time writing about the food. THE food. The FOOD.  I had high expectations. And those expectations were not only met, they were exceeded.

Our first dinner in Paris was at a cafe on the corner of Boulevard Magenta, just two doors down from our hotel. As soon as I saw "croque monsieur" sandwiches on the menu, I knew what my first meal in Paris would be. I had taken a cooking class from Michele Reynolds a couple years back, and we had made these. I convinced everyone but my husband, and we ordered 6 croque monsieur sandwiches (my husband opted for Pad Thai - which I thought was crazy! Thai food in Paris? Really? So funny!) The sandwiches did not disappoint. Gooey melty cheese, white sauce, thick ham slices, and bread. Oh yum! (For the record, my husband quite enjoyed his Pad Thai too.)

We tried to stop at every bakery and street stand that offered fresh croissants. But the small restaurant right outside of the Louvre was particularly memorable. I ordered a quiche, Madi ordered a baguette, and Leasie ordered an apple pastry. They were warm, flaky, and buttery. We shared bites. We sat under the shade of the Tullerie trees and ohhhed and ahhhhed and mmmmmmed.
In Munster it was all about cheese and fresh fruit. We walked to the Tuesday outdoor market at the town square. The juicy strawberries tasted like a completely different fruit from the strawberries we can get in Jakarta. We ate them out of the carton like candy.
One of my favorite moments was sampling cheese from these huge round blocks at the outdoor market. Smokey and rich in flavor. We purchased a small slice - possibly the most expensive cheese I've ever purchased, but worth every penny.
We made sandwiches nearly every day. Huge sandwiches - almost two hand-lengths for each person. I know it seems strange to write about something as normal as a sandwich. But that's the thing. These weren't just normal sandwiches. The bread was the perfect consistency. The tomatoes had flavor (beyond the cardboard tomatoes we can get here). And the meat and cheese! It was like eating from a gourmet bistro, but we had made them in our kitchen. 

Finally, my favorite food moment of the trip. We ate at an outdoor cafe in Colmar. I ordered the potatoes au gratin - an Alsace specialty. The dish came in a small cast iron pot. The potatoes were smothered in munster cheese, slices of bacon, and cream.

Every bite was divine.
It was a good thing we walked everywhere and took 6-7 mile runs each morning because when it came to eating, I did not hold back. If food is joy (which I think it is) then France is perhaps one of the most joyful places on earth.

The First Last

Yesterday was our last Idul Fitri holiday. And so began the first of many lasts. As I enter our final year here in Indonesia, I find that I'm trying to see things with new eyes. And I'm trying to experience order to remember.

I ran on empty roads for my early morning run. No traffic. No bajai's lined up waiting for passengers. Even the flower stalls opened later than sunrise. The stillness and absence of the normal hustle and bustle was almost eerie.

As I rounded one corner along my route, I faced a crowd of Indonesians pouring out of a nearby Mosque. The women wore long white dresses and veils. The children were adorned in bright colors: hot pinks, turquoise, lilacs.

Then men donned batik sarongs. Many carried individual prayer rugs, rolled and tucked under their arms. They smiled and talked amongst themselves as they returned to their homes for their Idul Fitri feast.

The road in front of the Mosque was covered tip to tip with prayer rugs - evidence of the large holiday crowd that exceeded the normal capacity of the building. I stopped at the first long green rug - my route was completely blocked. I watched as men began to roll the rugs. The men were barefoot - their shoes lined up neatly outside the Mosque. I wondered if I should turn around and finish running another direction. But I decided, instead, to remove my running shoes out of politeness and walk along the outer edge in my stocking feet.

I carried my running shoes in my hand. I felt the cushion of the rugs and cardboard boxes beneath my feet.

The men rolling the rugs greeted me with smiles and salutations of "good morning" (Salamat Pagi) and "Happy Idul Fitri" (Salamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri). Their faces were bright and inviting.

Having passed the Mosque, I bent over and put my shoes back on.

The feeling of the morning was wonderful. And I felt so grateful to be here, to have caught a glimpse of beauty and celebration on this last Idul Fitri.        

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


CJ: "Mom, is this the town from Beauty and the Beast?"
Tman: "Mom, is this town real? Or is it a pretend town like Williamsburg or the ones at Disneyland?"

The town of Colmar looked so much like the fictional representations of fairytales, my children had a hard time believing this was REAL.
From the crooked buildings painted in bright blues, yellows, and pinks to the meandering canal with charming bridges and flower was easy to imagine Belle coming around the corner singing "Bonjour!"  
And just a short drive away, sitting majestically atop a hill...a real castle.  The Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg was built in the 1100's (wowza!) and was restored between 1900-1908.  
 Leasie and CJ shot arrows from the archery windows.
Real spears in the castle armory.
Tman leaves the castle armed and dangerous with his Mace.
I have nothing profound to say about this. All I have to say is that I may not live a fairytale life, or have a fairytale ending. And that's okay. My life is much more complicated than easily recognizable villains, princes on white horses, magic, or even the too simplistic "happily ever after." But these days in France were as close to a fairytale as I will get. I loved exploring, eating, and watching my kids experience this beautiful, real-life place. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

As Far Away As Possible

 I had a great crazy idea. I wanted to get as far away from Jakarta as possible - not literally, as in distance, just as far away from the kind of place Jakarta is. Not forever. Just for a week...or two.

I wanted clear, blue skies. Air that smelled clean and sweet. No traffic. Lots of parks and trails. Space to walk and walk and walk.

I found my ideal Alsace, France. The great crazy part of this idea was that I decided we should rent cars (carS with an S because Europe doesn't have a lot of 7 passenger car rental options) and drive from Paris to Munster. I wanted the freedom of a car (instead of a train) so we could just pick up and go wherever and whenever we wanted.

The drive from Paris to Munster is long. Crazy long. Google Maps said 4.5 hours. It was closer to 6.5 hours. Plus, I was driving on the opposite side of the road than I had been for the past 2 years. A little stressful.

We relied heavily on Judy (our GPS), but she led us astray a couple times. Our favorite was when she instructed, "Turn left onto unpaved road" at a point when there was no road...only a forest thick with pine trees...and a very steep cliff. Ah Judy. We gave her a break after that.

The car rental was also crazy expensive. When pricing out train tickets verses car rental, I kind of forgot to add in insurance prices and the whole buying gasoline part. Ouch.

In spite of the crazy. My idea worked.

Can I tell you how wonderful it was to wake up every morning and look out my window at this view? Tears. Daily.
Do you see those hills behind the clock tower? Owen and I took the most incredible morning runs through those hills. The air smelled of fresh cut grass, wildflowers, and trees. It smelled green. My lungs sung praises to the clean air.

Each day, we walked into the town for fresh bread. My children played at the town square and at the nearby shady park.
On our first full evening in Munster, Owen and I took a walk in the hills behind our chalet. We walked until the sun set and the sky turned from azure blue to deep violet. We walked past small, well-kept gardens. We admired the window boxes dripping with flowers. We walked and walked and walked. We walked until my legs ached. But it felt so good to be outside. In the clean air. There was no buzz of traffic - the only sounds were our feet on gravel, the laughter of children playing at a nearby school yard, and a periodic moo from grazing cows.

To walk in clean air. Surrounded by nothing but quiet and green hills. Such a blessing.

Don't get me wrong. We love our Jakarta experience. But it was wonderful to be as far away from Jakarta as possible for this week.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Gift

At the recommendation of friends who had traveled to France, we went to the Musee D'Orangerie to see Claude Monet's Waterlily murals.

The museum is not well marked - but easy to find - just off to the right, at the end of the Tullerie Gardens. 

Inside the museum, we found the complete opposite of the Louvre. Gone were the lines, the clicking of cameras, and the shoulder to shoulder crowds.
Instead, it was quiet. 
The diffused light from the skylights created a softness.
And without instructing my children, they immediately assumed a hushed, almost-reverent attitude.

Monet's masterpieces occupy the walls of two oval-shaped rooms. We sat on the cushioned benches in the center of the rooms to marvel and wonder. We walked up close to see the individual brushstrokes and the surprising mix of colors, from florescent orange to lime green, almost hidden amid the predominant hues of blue and lavender.

I had packed pastels and sketch pads for this visit. We stayed for over an hour, letting the kids draw, reflect, and enjoy.

I snapped this single picture before a "room monitor" quietly asked for no photography. 

Monet painted these murals as his final gift to the world. Though he had already bequeathed them to the French government, he could not bear to part with them. The rooms were built in the museum to Monet's specifications, and then the walls remained empty until after Monet died. 

We read that Monet wanted these paintings to be a gift of healing and a gift of solace to anyone who came seeking a break from the world. 

 It is one of the most beautiful places I've have ever visited.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Paris Part Deux

Our Paris Afternoon:
After walking through the Tuilerie gardens and a stop at the Musee D'Orangerie (worthy of its own blog entry), we took the metro to the Notre Dame stop. From our previous evening's walk, we'd already seen Notre Dame. But today we wanted to climb to the top. This was mostly for CJ who has a healthy obsession with "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" - the Disney movie...alas, not Victor Hugo's classic...maybe someday :). The line of people waiting to climb to the top was daunting; it extended from the entrance, around the corner, and went almost the length of the cathedral. I walked down to the end and prepared myself for a long wait in the hot afternoon sun. 

A few minutes later, a worker came down the line, took a look at my crew and asked, "Are these all your kids?"  

"Yes," I replied rather sheepishly.  

"Come with me," he instructed."You can skip the line."

What? Had I heard him correctly?
I was actually being rewarded for having lots of kids?! Happy Day! I love France!

So we walked past the very long line and went inside the significantly cooler, dark building. CJ prided herself on climbing all the stairs to the top, keeping a constant lookout for Quasimodo.
We did not find Quasimodo. But we heard the bells. We were at the top of the cathedral at the two o'clock hour. The bells pealed through the afternoon air. I could feel the vibration of the deeper chimes in my chest. 

Being upclose, sometimes face-to-face, with the gargoyles was very cool. The stone was rough against my hands, and I was impressed how well the gargoyles had held up to weather, wars, and even a cathedral fire. CJ was pretty sure she saw the exact gargoyle Frolo fell from. 

But out of the hundreds of gargoyles, these were by far my favorite ones:

Paris by Night:
When planning our 24 hours in Paris, the number one item on my list was the Eiffel Tower. But I had heard/read horror stories of long lines. When I tried to buy tickets online, to avoid the lines, the ONLY time left was 10:30 at night. I remember turning to my husband to tell him our only option with a plea, "Do we dare?" We looked at each other knowing 10:30PM could potentially be miserable for our family of early-bed-goers. But as a once in a lifetime experience, we chose to book the tickets.

What that translated to in reality was that CJ fell asleep at 9PM and my dear husband carried her the entire way to the Eiffel Tower. Holding her on the metro wasn't so bad. But carrying the 40+ pounds of deadweight from the metro to the tower was an act of true love. I know CJ will not have any memories of this part of the trip. But I will always remember watching my dear husband carrying her along the streets of Paris.

CJ, in Dad's arms, on the metro:
Here we are walking to the Eiffel Tower. The sun had just set (it stayed light until quite late). We were about 1/2 mile away...a long walk for my sweet husband.
Like the French baguettes and the delectable pains du chocolate, The Eiffel Tower did NOT disappoint.
A surprise:
I knew we were the last group of the night to take the elevator up the tower, but I didn't know that the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkle at the top of the first hour after dark. So while on the tower, looking out over Paris, you can imagine our surprise and delight when all of sudden the lights began to twinkle. The lights danced up and down the steel beams. The entire structure shone like a giant Christmas tree. The crowds around us cheered, and we could hear people below clapping and cheering at the sight. Although the picture below doesn't begin to capture the brilliance or our amazement, it is our record of the added bonus of the night: 

The kids (minus sleepy CJ) were absolutely giddy. They pointed out landmarks like the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe. They oohed and ahhhed at the fireworks we could see in the distance from Versailles. They loved the experience even more than I could have imagined.

I love this selfie of the three girls...on top of the world!
Here we are on the Eiffel Tower! It was cold and blustery. But absolutely beautiful. CJ finally woke up for about 15 minutes. Just long enough to see the twinkling lights and snuggle her Dad. 
We could not have packed our Paris day any fuller. We saw everything on our bucket list...and then some. And life surprised us with unexpected bonuses, perhaps even "tender mercies" - like the skipped line and the twinkling lights. There on top of the Eiffel tower, in a city I never dared dream to visit, time stopped for a moment. I took in the stars, the lights of the city, my smiling children, my patient husband, and my heart soared.

In the future, when I'm having a bad day (cuz I know I'll have plenty of those!) and I need a "happy place" to go to in my mind...this will be the place.