Sunday, September 22, 2013

Someone Got Braces!!

One week ago, Leasie got braces!

We opted to do braces here in Jakarta because of the cost savings (about 2/3 price of braces in America). While we had horrible, torturous experiences here our first year with dentists, the orthodontics seems to be very good.

We chose Hilly Dental because of its good reputation and close proximity to our house. Leasie and I walked to Hero grocery store, then took a Bajai for $2 the rest of the way. Ten minutes from the moment we left our house, we entered the waiting room. (That's a record for going anywhere in Jakarta!)

The dental office reminds me of Balinese villas because it is a series of small buildings connected by courtyards with Koi fish ponds and blooming lilies. I think the ambiance comforted Leasie's nerves.

One hour later she had a gleaming silver smile! I think it makes her look at least two years older!

She's been a trooper - she didn't complain too much about her sore mouth, she brushes her teeth diligently, and she's been careful to avoid popcorn (a true sacrifice!)

Only 9 months to go...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sometimes the World Comes into Focus

There are moments in my life when events and experiences seem to trigger something in my heart and soul. And it is as if there is a tangible click. Often, these moments help me see the world in a new way, and I see my place in the world in a new way.

These past few days, such an experience occurred.

One of my colleagues in the high school English dept, Shana Gilbert, used to be a producer of documentaries. This past week she got a call from a former student who was shooting a short film that will be shown at the Global Citizen concert in central Park at NYC on Sept. 28. (Click on the link to watch a PR video on the event).

The filmmakers originally planned to make the film in India, but with Visa complications, they needed a new venue. With my Shana's support and a quick script rewrite, they jumped on a plane and arrived in Jakarta Friday night.

I was mostly on the peripheral of this whole experience. But I did get to bring two of my English classes to a presentation and Q&A session with the filmmakers. We listened to Jonathan Olinger talk about the filming process and watch raw footage of the film.Their short film is about an Indonesian mother in the future (the year 2045) who tells a bedtime story to her daughter about what poverty used to look like. Then the film flashes back to the present (2013) where we see a young girl living in the slums of Jakarta and her challenges.

In the raw footage we saw poignant scenes of a young Indonesian girl born with all the disadvantages you can imagine. She was beautiful on many levels in the midst of crumbling buildings, laundry strung between tin shacks, and barefeet on dirt floors. Her genuine smile and equally genuine hurt represented humanism and optimism in the most humble circumstances.

While watching the film, something inside me clicked. The young Indonesian girl in the film represented the poverty I see and accept every day here in Jakarta. And somehow seeing it on film made my heart break. You see, I have the luxury of teaching and philosophising about global controversies like poverty and women's rights in a nice, clean classroom knowing that when school is finished I will return home to a house with running water and electricity. Education isn't a bonus, it's an expectation. Food on the table isn't even in my top list of 100 worries. Access to good medical care is guaranteed. I have so much to be grateful for...and such a responsibility to give back.

I felt extremely inspired by the filmmaker, Jonathan Olinger of, who as one of my students said, "Restored my hope in humanity." In a very simple way, he has dedicated his life to make a difference in this world. I was inspired by his story and his calm passion about what our world can truly become.

On Sept. 28, 60,000 people will watch this short film in NYC and 1.5 million more will watch in live via the internet. But it's something I see every day in Jakarta. In a moment of rare clarity I realized how powerful even the smallest change can be.

It's not about the NYC concert. It's not about film. It's not about teaching or students. It's not even about these ambitious, but attainable, UN Global Citizen goals. It is about one person having a vision for what our future world could be and deciding to make a difference right now.

Just a few pictures:

On the set of the short film (future 2045 setting).
 On the set in the slums of Jakarta:
In the classroom, hearing Jonathan talk about his experience as a documentarian (I'm in the back row):

Now when my students or my own children ask the question, "What can I do?" I have a concrete example.

There are good people in the world doing good things.
They inspire me to be better and do more.
The world has so many thunderous problems. But it also has so many amazing people.
We just need to choose to act.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

First Days

The first morning of was a mad dash! Gobbling down breakfast, grabbing lunches from the bottom shelf of the fridge, and taking backpacks lined along the wall near the front door. There was very little time for philosophising or emotions. We had a moment of small peace during family prayer...then we were out the door.  

So many firsts! This was Leasie's first day of Middle School - how blessed she was to have her big sister there to ride the bus with and reassure her that all would be well. First day of 4th grade for Tman and Meya.

This was also my first day as a full time high school teacher. I had all the mixed emotions you can expect. (Am I doing the right thing? Will I be a good teacher? Will I be a good mom? Can I balance the stress of teaching? Will my children need therapy in the future because of this decision?) But mostly I felt blessed to have this opportunity to make and save some money, do something I LOVE, and get to experience school with the kids. (I could NOT do the full time gig without Yuli - our full time maid/nanny/amazing lady! - more to come about her in future blogs). 

CJ took the picture below of us as the buses waited in our driveway. I like the way it seems a bit dreamlike with the out-of-focus light over my shoulder. This is the way I remember the morning - almost dreamlike in the frenzy and excitement.

Just one week later, CJ joined us in the "firsts" category. She started Kindergarten! This beginning did not occur without a few hiccups. We had wanted her to join us at Jakarta International School, but she did not meet the age cutoff. Last spring, we tried everything to convince JIS to make an exception. We had VA county school information sent, we involved the embassy liaison, and even tried to pull strings with friends who serve on the JIS board of trustees. I thought maybe I'd have special pull as a JIS teacher. But JIS did not budge.

CJ was ready for Kindergarten, and if we were in the US she made the VA county school deadline. So I was very frustrated by the denial. But I picked myself up and got to work investigating different school options. We found a wonderful Montessori school...just walking distance from our house. We got approval from the embassy and registered her. In the end, I think this is exactly where Heavenly Father wanted her to be. It is a good fit. And although I would have preferred she was close to the rest of us, she has a wonderful teacher and only 5 children in her class - so she gets lots of teacher attention.  
CJ is used to being left you can imagine her excitement to be one of the "big kids" finally going to school.
There were no tears from me on this happy day. You can read past blogs about first school days where I was an emotional wreck. Not today. I knew CJ was ready, and I knew she was going to be happy. (There was also the fact that Owen suffered a major head wound the same morning while exercising, and we were bandaging him up and making medical arrangements for him. Oh the trauma!)

I love this picture of CJ at 6:30pm that same evening. During family home evening we looked over and saw her head bobbing in pure exhaustion. We carried her upstairs, changed her into pjs, and she slept until morning. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A letter to my Children

My Dear Children,

Although the summer is three weeks in our past, I couldn’t leave it behind without a few parting thoughts.

This was the summer we ate the most delicious bread in the world.  Do you remember the day we enjoyed pastries, gelato, giant soft pretzels dipped in sugar, and ├ęclairs (all in one day!)? Do you remember walking to the bread shop in Munster on the cobblestone sidewalks and ordering practically one of everything?

This was the summer we climbed the steps of Notre Dame helping CJ look for Quasimodo. We gasped as the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkled, and we huddled together in the cold wind. 

This was the summer Tman, Meya, and CJ were introduced to Utah. I loved watching you all play barefoot in the creek for hours at the park near Aunt Connie’s house.

We ended our “Musical fast” and went to two shows: Ragtime and Mulan. Joy!

This was the summer of your first concert: Kelly Clarkson and Carly Rae Jepson at the Stadium of Fire. We boogied and sang in the stands. Your faces reflected the lights of the fireworks: red, green, blue, and yellow. I cried as they offered a prayer for the Americans serving overseas and thought of your Dad.

This was the summer of a long drive to and from St. George on wonderfully open roads. Madi, you kept me company while the rest of the children slept. Remember “no services” in Holden, the mirage town? Beaver – voted as having the best water in the country? “I spy…sage brush.” Remember watching the sky fall in sheets of grey from mountainous clouds?

This was the summer of tender mercies – Heavenly Father allowed us to see our dear friends the Andersons and the Petersons. An afternoon at a park, a dinner on the 4th of July, and a reunion at Olive Garden.

This was the summer of the calico critter zombie musical. The summer of “The One and Only Ivan.” Who knew a story about a gorilla and elephant could tug on my heart? And this was the summer we realized just how much Jakarta has become “home to us.”

Sure, there was the storm and flood near Paris when we thought we were going to die (for real). And of course the elephant-ankles after the 30 hours of air travel. There was the broken-but-not-broken air conditioner in the car and the horrendously expensive car rental. There was also the lost camcorder and iphone which still makes me nauseous. And of course, there was the last 12 hours in America when I did "the chicken" (squawking with flapping arms) in a panic because of the stress of packing. But in spite of these less than stellar moments, when I look back on the summer, I find myself wondering just what I could have done to deserve this much joy.

Thank you for spending the best summer of my life with me.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Our entire US summer visit was contingent on one family: the Woodlands. They graciously allowed us to stay in their home in Centerville Utah for weeks (yes, weeks with an "s"!).

In addition to getting to stay in their lovely home, we loved spending time with them. On our first night, as we unpacked from our long flight, CJ disappeared. I found her upstairs with Aunt Connie reading books. This is the first time CJ had met Aunt Connie. They got along splendidly!
 We spent a fun evening walking by the Bountiful Temple followed by custard at the Galaxy shop.
My cousin Luke joined us multiple evenings for pounce and ice cream. And when I pulled out my small box of sparklers (admittedly a bit pathetic), Luke supplemented our 4th of July celebration with some REAL fireworks. There may have been a tipped-over firework, fire, and screams (from men, women, and children) as sparks flew toward us instead of the sky, but I swore I'd never tell. 
A highlight of the entire summer was listening to my Uncle Lee read aloud his children's book. We gathered in his lamp-lit living room. The kids snuggled on the couch in their pjs.
Mackie, Uncle Lee's faithful companion, endured our affection then trotted around until he found a comfy spot, usually near Uncle Lee's feet.
The story, rife with allusions to real family stories, beautiful descriptions and heart-tugging moments, brought us to laughter and tears. My children looked forward to story time with Uncle Lee and often begged me, "Just one more chapter, please?" There was such a feeling of love and peace as I sat with my children and basked in the beautiful words and story.  I'm sure there will be a day this book will be sitting on the Barnes and Noble bookshelves. And I will always remember the joy of these summer nights getting to hear it for the first time.

On my last day in the United States, I was a wreck. There were too many bags to pack and weigh. Then I realized I had more room in a suitcase and took a crazy last minute shopping trip to Target and Costco. And the thought of 30 hours of travel had me in a panic. Thankfully, Aunt Connie took my kids to the park and to Dairy Queen (for corndogs and blizzards - another summer "to do" checklist item). Thanks to Aunt Connie, my children's last day in America was full of good things and good memories.

Thank you, Woodlands, for all the love and for making our summer so memorable.