Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Back in Time

This week has been full of holiday cheer for our family. Sometimes it seems we are too crazy busy - swirling in a tornado of rehearsals, recitals, costumes, and performances. (And the house absolutely looks like a tornado has blown through with dishes and laundry everywhere!) But I so missed performing while living in Jakarta - the traffic was just too paralytic to get people together to practice and perform. So we're feasting on the fun.

Virginia represents the quintessential charm of yesteryear  - how I love the old homes decorated with garlands and candles for the holidays! It is nostalgic and magical. Elise and Madi sang with the Teen Pickwick Singers at the Hillsboro home tour on Saturday. There was a little drama when they realized they were the first to arrive and would need to walk to the house all by themselves fully decked out in Dickens costumes.

But they rallied, put on happy faces, gathered their music and trudged across the lawn to the holiday house.
There was this wonderful moment as I watched them gather their skirts to climb the stairs. They walked side by side, their long hair blew in the wind, and they looked perfectly fitted for the stone fences, white pillared porches, and the rolling hills in the background. I thought they looked timelessly beautiful. Reality returned quickly when Madi turned to flash me a smile and the capital "L" sign on her forehead. How I love these two girls!

They sang their carols in the biting cold. And I hope they will remember this festive event with joy...I know I will.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Beauty

Beauty is everywhere on this Thanksgiving Day. 

Owen, the girls, and I take a morning run. We want to go far so we can validate eating an extra slice of pie. 
We tackle hills, and we talk sometimes. But mostly we just run and breathe.  Beauty is in the wind that bites my cheeks. It is in the sound of our feet crunching on the crusted snow - miniature icebergs on the black asphalt. 
It is in the fields of cut corn filled with geese who scavenge for frozen husks. Beauty is in the shades of brown (who knew brown could be beautiful?) - the brown tree limbs whose bareness reveals crisscrossed patterns, the mottled brown of a darting squirrel, and the deep brown of the dirt roads.

I find beauty in my family. 
 The belly-laugh of Charlotte echoes through the house. Truman's rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag" on the piano entertains us at least five times in a row. There is even a beauty in the frenzy of cooking one hour before departure: Elise cuts the dates, Owen de-pits the olives, Amelia and Charlotte help make the salad, I saute the cauliflower, and Madi suggests a variation on our cauliflower dish (and I find such beauty knowing she will be a wonderful cook!).

I find beauty in traditions. Pies - I feel my grandma, mom, and sister beside me as I roll out the dough.
 Elise and I enjoy our newly-acquired tradition of green smoothies at 11AM, and we think of Katie.
I see beauty in friendship. The Davis house is warm and inviting. There is beauty in the spread of food- the sheer volume and colorfulness of it. There is beauty in the smell of fresh rolls. And there is  beauty in the hugs. There is beauty in the welcome I feel - we have, afterall, been gone for three years, and yet these friends still include us. There is beauty in the laughter as board games and card games ensue. And of course, there is beauty in the extra slice of pie!

There is another beauty which is harder to explain. It is the beauty of memory. I think of the past three years, of friends in Jakarta who braved floods and traffic to come to our home. I think of the swaying palm trees, the autumn dip in the pool, and of Yuli working beside me in the kitchen. I think of the Bill's brazilian turkey, of KA's pie buffet, of Lindy's eggnog, of Shana's stories (and spinach dip!), and of Melissa's challah bread. We were thrown together in the "Jakarta crazy," and yet I found such support and joy in these beautiful people. And although I feel a sense of sadness for no longer being with them - the memory is beautiful.

I am grateful for Thanksgiving beauty all around me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Running in the Dark

To Elise:

Our breath comes as ghostly white puffs barely visible in the dark morning.

We wear fleece gloves, hats, arm warmers under our jackets, and still we are cold. We are strangers to this cold that bites and stings and makes our eyes water. 

The headlamp light bounces before us - a meager aid in finding safe footings. 

Above us the sky is alight with stars. Stars so bright and so numerous. Stars, hidden behind city lights and car exhaust during my three years of running in Jakarta, are now clear. Orion with his three-starred belt remains fixed and steady. So very bright.

Some mornings we barely talk. Just our ragged breathing - a runner's conversation. 
Some mornings we talk. You tell me about school. I tell you about teaching. We joke about being "hardcore runners" when really we confess we're just plain crazy. 
And when we're brave, we reminisce about Jakarta and the things we miss. But those are rare and filled with emotion. Sometimes it's safer to stick to school and teaching - the here and now. 

Of all my coping strategies with this lifestyle change, with returning home where everything is the same but oh so different, these runs with you are most dear. 

Our runs make me feel less lost. My footing becomes more sure. 

Somehow in the dark of morning with the stars above us, it is easier to believe that everything is okay. Even more than okay, everything is beautiful, 
and wonderful, 
and good.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

October Loves

In the middle of all the hard, there has been much good. In fact, as I review the month of October, the good shines brighter than any of my grumbling thunderstorms. Isn't the passage of time wonderful like that? What seems so hard at the moment, can soften after some reflection. 

So here are some of my October loves worth celebrating and remembering:

Owen and I celebrated 20 years of marriage! Wow, that is a long time. I have now been married for half of my lifetime. 

We had taken our trip to Bali as our big celebration before leaving Indonesia, but Owen still found a way to make our actual anniversary day special. White roses have always been my favorite.

And it may have taken 20 years of marriage...but Owen knows exactly how to encourage me. He strategically placed love notes around the house, like this one:
And I found this note in my car as I left to go teach:
We enjoyed a night in Washington DC, and in an act of TRUE LOVE, Owen bought tickets for us to see "Evita" at the Kennedy Center. Owen is not a huge fan of musical theater - in fact, he says he likes it just fine until the actors break into song and dance. Hence, the tickets were truly a selfless gift of love. 

Another thing worth celebrating is the autumn season. I get to walk out on my front porch every day to this sight:
Gold leaves glow like sunshine. Orange leaves, almost florescent in hue, eclipse even the bright pumpkins. While running along the trail, my feet create a rhythm of crunch and swish on the leaves - a lovely autumn melody.

While driving along a tree lined street, the leaves tumble through the air in impossible elegance. Then with a sudden gust of wind, a plume of leaves takes to the air like a startled flock of birds.  

The sights and sounds of autumn have healed my transient soul this past month. And for that, I love October.

And then there is the pure joy of Halloween. Oh what a fun holiday. I love everything about it: the cold weather, the costumes, the family excitement, the walk through the neighborhood, and of course the chocolate! We were a Gatsby gang this year (thanks to some pre-planning and Ria, our favorite Jakarta seamstress!)

I loved walking down Main Street as the night grew dark, climbing the wooden steps of front porches together, admiring jack-o-lanterns, and holding Charlotte's hand. I loved watching Elise and Charlotte run from house to house in their last "frantic" fifteen minutes of trick-or-treating. I loved laughing with Amelia and Truman as we scooped his candy off the road when his bag broke. And I LOVE LOVE LOVED spending the final hours of Halloween with friends, delicious food (oh the warm artichoke dip!), and hearing the squeals of frightful delight as the children played Ghost in the Graveyard outside.

Yes, there was plenty to love in the month of October. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Hard

I don't like to write when things are hard because I don't like sounding whiny or ungrateful. But with some distance between now and "the hard," I decided it's time to write it all down.

Moving is hard. Period. Whether you're moving across town or across the world, the chaos, disruption-of-normalcy, and shear amount of labor is hard. After our "honeymoon" return to the US with our wonderful visits with family and friends over the summer, life got hard pretty quickly.

We lived in a hotel for one month. Yes, the room had a small kitchen, and the hotel served breakfast every day. But seven people in a hotel room for one month gets very tight very quickly. It was a mad rush in the morning to get out the door in order to get Madi to seminary at our church (20 minutes away) and get the rest of the kids to our Ivandale house to meet the bus. And the nighttime routine of big kids needing to finish homework while little kids needed to go to bed created a contentious, grumpy atmosphere.

And then the shipments arrived. Chaos beyond chaos. Boxes upon boxes. I loathed myself for having so much STUFF. There was so little space in our Ivandale house, we could barely make progress of unpacking, because there was just no room to put anything away. We lived amid boxes for at least a week. We went from no floor space, to paths between skyscraper piles, to slowly moving lots of the boxes to the basement and unpacking the rest. 
In the middle of all the shipment crazy, we decided to renovate our kitchen. What were we thinking? Really? So now, there was also the construction mess...in addition to the box mess. This is my old kitchen in my driveway:
All of this "hard" was somewhat expected (or chosen), so when life decided to give us an unexpected challenge, I just about died. Our new (but used) minivan, died a quick sudden death. It happened on a Friday night when Owen and I were about to go to our first big social event with friends. At first we thought the minivan needed a new battery, but it turned out to need a new engine.

Between the expense and the emotional toll of figuring out what to do about transportation while it was in the shop, it just about put me over the edge. Here are the guts of our minivan (which pretty much symbolizes how I felt about life in general that week):
Two days after getting the minivan back from the shop, our truck's transmission died. It's still sitting, unfixed in our driveway. Oh life can be hard!

These were the temporal challenges. The tangible ones. The ones that could be fixed with hard work or money. As my children went back to school, we also faced the hard of re-establishing friendships and finding a place of acceptance. Our ward exceeded all my expectations (thank you Hamilton Ward!), and we received amazing love and support from family (thank you Mom&Dad Abbe, my parents, Allison, and Uncle Truman!!). But school for the kids wasn't as smooth. There were nightly tears. Here's one heart-wrenching conversation I had with Charlotte not too long ago:

"Mom, this doesn't feel like home," Charlotte said looking around the house.
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What does home feel like?"
"Well first, home is warm, NOT cold!" (She's still getting used to the autumn weather). Then with some thought she added, "Home is Clara, Tate, and Yuli. Home is Indonesia."

Yes, we all miss Indonesia.

And then my Mom. My strong, healthy, hard-working, hoe-to-the-end-of-the-row Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. On the one hand, the news was devastating. I'd never truly contemplated the mortality of my parents. And the last thing I want is for them to have to suffer.  On the other hand, it gave me heightened perspective on what really matters. Our family prayers became much less focused on material things (like praying for the kitchen to be finished or that we could come up with money for the car repair) and much more focused on sincere hopes, like that my mother's surgery would be successful and that she would feel our love and support.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Our kitchen is finished. Most of the boxes are out of sight (actually most of them are in the basement!). Our minivan is fixed. My mom's surgery was successful. I can hope that the worst is behind us...but that's not a guarantee. But at least I can write about it now. We're here - alive and kicking!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Running...and Hills

We've been doing a lot of running in the last few weeks. And so this morning, my thoughts are tied to the those runs:

Leesburg Early Runs:

Our feet strike the brick sidewalks. In the early morning hours the quaint streets are empty and quiet. Everything seems to still be sleeping, even the white-columned court house, Lightfoot's restaurant, and colonial houses with their lazy front porches. The hanging baskets of petunias, their petals bright pink and deep purple, breath perfume into the morning air.

We reach Ida Lee park. A mist covers the rolling hills - like a blanket snug in the corners, tucking in the meadows. Our shoes become damp from the morning dew on the soft grass. We are knee deep in the midst as we forge our way across the open field.

And I count my blessings with each step. I'm not sure I completely appreciated the beauty, the calm, and the scenery of Virginia as much before living in Jakarta. The contrast is so polar, so complete, I can hardly believe both places can exist on the same planet. And yet they do. And both places are a part of me.

Madi's first Cross Country Run:

For years I saw the Loudoun Valley High School cross country team training on the roads and trails around Hamilton and Purcellville. So it was with mixed emotions I dropped Madi at her first cross country practice. How could she be old enough for high school? Wasn't it yesterday I was pushing her in a stroller with my friend, Jodi Harris, in College Park, Maryland - trying to keep her entertained with fruit snacks and primary songs? And yet, here she is. A Valley Viking runner.

Her first race was at the beautiful Great Meadow in The Plains, VA.  Oh the beauty!

It was hot and humid. So humid, it felt like we were wading through thick water. But her three years in Jakarta paid off. This was weather typical of Jakarta, and she'd spent the past three years playing soccer and running in the tropical conditions.

Watching my daughter race was quite exciting and surprisingly emotional. I wanted to throw-up at the starting gun because I felt so nervous for her! Then watching all her hard work pay off as she moved her way through the 100 runners to 10th place. Then fight her way to finish 4th. Oh wow. Such a joyous moment!

Here she is working hard during one of many uphill battles.

Which gets me to my final thought today.


Elise and I talked about hills during one of our morning runs. Having just reached the top of a particularly steep hill, I said something like, "Ugh! That was a doozie!" (Yes, I use dated words like "doozie").

Then Elise said, "But oh the downhill sure feels good!"

It's true. I don't think I really appreciate the downhill until I've had to climb a killer hill. Certainly this holds true for literal walks or runs. But maybe more importantly, this holds true in the spiritual and emotional hills I face in life. I'm not sure I would appreciate clean air so much if I'd never lived in Jakarta. I know I would never have appreciated grocery stores (Target, Costco, Wegmans) if I hadn't had the struggle of shopping in Indonesia. And certainly, I would not have appreciated the good in my life if I hadn't faced struggles and challenges.

Our battles aren't over. My family is currently facing some hills. And as we fight, battle, sweat, cry, and work our way up those hills, I know we will become stronger. And those down hills, when we reach them, will feel oh so good.

Here's to running in Virginia! And here's to climbing the hills!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Back to School

After three glorious months of summer (saying goodbye to Jakarta, repatriating ourselves here in America, and visiting family and friends), the first day of school arrived!

It's hard to explain what happens to my heart on the first day of school. I enjoy summer so much with my children - I love the luxury of time when we can do lazy mornings and crazy adventures. I love relaxing under the shade trees, long road trips (St. George and NYC!), frequent trips to Dairy Queen (love the SMORE blizzard!) I feel sad knowing I won't see my children as much during the day. But of course, I'm also happy for them too - I know they'll have challenges and successes that come from attending school, making friends, and trying new things. And of course as I watch them work through their anxieties, my heart hurts for them too.

There was a lot of reminiscing about Jakarta International School yesterday. All of my children miss the JIS campus - the tropical trees and open spaces. They miss their friends and their teachers.

I bounced between feeling like a therapist and a life coach throughout the morning. "How are you doing?" "You CAN do this!" "Smile and be kind." Lots of hugs. An extra fervent family prayer.

Here are my favorite images of the day:

Lunch box line up! 
(Notice Charlotte's Monster High lunch box - her prized possession!)
When Charlotte saw the bus come down the street she started giggling. Her excitement bubbled until we were all laughing. So, there were no tears from me this year. Charlotte was just too happy to board the yellow school bus with her big brother and sister that I was simply happy for her.

Sisters! Both at new schools. Elise starts as a 7th grader at Blueridge Middle School and Madi starts as a 9th grader at Loudoun Valley High School. (Yes - no glasses, Madi got contacts this summer!)

I snapped this last picture as I dropped Madi off at Valley. Notice how they rolled out the red carpet to the school entrance...love this school!

I think my favorite part of the first day of school was just watching my children be a support system for each other. They buoyed each other up. Comforted each other when the tears threaten to come. And cheered each other on. 

How I will miss them during the 8 hours each day!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A few more reasons

The past week has been a healing time for me. I am enjoying reconnecting with people and being reminded of all the goodness in America. They say people who live overseas experience a "honeymoon" period when they return to their home country. And that's exactly how it's been. I go on my daily run and feel so grateful with each breath of air. I eat my breakfast of raspberries (fresh! not frozen), chia seeds, and greek yogurt and it makes me so happy. I start my car (thank you Joe for finding us a winner!) and look forward to driving on the rule-obeyed, orderly, clean roads.

Here are just a few more things, even though they're so very simple, that bring me joy:

1. "Look mom - no worms!" (Charlotte on eating American broccoli)
How strange (but wonderful) it is to NOT have to pick through my broccoli and cauliflower looking for little green worms. And just look how white the cauliflower here is!

2. Greek Yogurt
The last time I found and purchased greek yogurt in Jakarta, I think I paid the equivalent of $5 for one this size:
I found this on sale (oh sales are good too) for less than a dollar a carton. Chobani every day!

3. Lagoon!
We've been on a three year amusement park diet. Yes, we took the kids to water parks in Indonesia, but I steered clear of rides. Too risky. The safety standards in Indonesia were too low (or non-existent) for me to trust having my children ride the big roller coaster rides. So to end our diet, we spent 11 hours at Lagoon amusement park. The kids rode 8 rides in the first hour, and then I stopped counting. Charlotte LOVED the bumper cars and any other "big kid" ride she was tall enough to go on. 

We only had two "incidents" which is pretty good for my family. The first was when I decided I could handle a ride - wrong! By the fifth time around I had to yell to the attendant, "Stop! I'm going to be sick!" I required only one hour of recovery in the car (yes, I earned the lamest mom award!). And the second incident occurred when Charlotte got too scared and once again I had to ask the attendant to "Stop the ride, please!"

The rest of the day was filled with squeals, screams, laughter-to-tears moments, and tons of big roller coasters!

4. Grass
Who knew the grass in America was so soft? It tickles my toes, it cushions my bare feet, it invites me to sit down and linger in the shade, and it smells fresh and clean. Oh American grass! It is one of the best parts of summer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top 5 Reasons I'm Glad to Be Home

5. Open Roads and Blue Sky
I drove approximately 80 miles per hour for 5 hours from Centerville, Utah to St. George. No paralyzing traffic. No motorcyles. Just the open roads and the biggest, bluest sky. We rolled down the windows, opened the sunroof in the car, and breathed in the sweetness. 

4. Food
From Grandma's homemade blackberry pie to Cafe Rio salads, the food in America is wonderful. We have treated ourselves to raspberries, blueberries, and peaches daily (a rare and expensive find in Indonesia). I think we've consumed 15 pounds of fresh baby spinach in the past three weeks. We've also enjoyed Sonic milkshakes, Lion House rolls, and Dairy Queen blizzards. America is the land of plenty...especially when it comes to delicious food!

3. Temples
Our closest temple in Jakarta was a four hour flight away in either Hong Kong or Manila, Philippines. How wonderful to see the Utah hills dotted with beautiful white temples. During our first couple days here, we drove to the Bountiful Temple. Charlotte spontaneously started to sing "I love to see the Temple." How very true.
On Sunday morning we went down to Temple Square. Oh my heart! 
To think that Owen and I stood in this exact spot nearly 20 years ago...the beginning of our family!
How wonderful it is to be just minutes from the House of the Lord!

2. Friends
We met enroute. Lisa and her family were driving south to Las Vegas. The kids and I were heading north back to SLC. We met at Cafe Rio in Cedar City for lunch. It was symbolic. This crossroads meeting. She is leaving in just days to move to Japan for three years, and I'm returning home after 3 years abroad. 
The reunion was very sweet indeed.
I'm looking forward to reconnecting with friends who have been so good to my family while we've been away. We've missed you! And we can't wait to start making new memories. 

1. Family!!
My dear sister and THE cutest almost-two-year old ever!
We had the best time running in the rain in Seattle, playing in the sand on Pacific Beach, and enjoying the sun in St. George. How good it is to be on the same continent as my favorite people on earth!

What could possibly be better than family? Family AND FOOD! My cousin Luke is an amazing chef, and he has spoiled us with homemade crepes and homemade donuts. 
Six different glazes to choose from. (I had thirds!) Aunt Connie and Amelia loved the peanut butter chocolate icing.

Yes, it is good to be home.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What I Miss Most

It has been almost three weeks since I loaded my children, 10 suitcase (50 pounds each), and 5 carry-ons (all over the regulated weight limit) in a Silverbird taxi, rode through the crowded streets for one last time, and said goodbye to Jakarta, Indonesia.

My "radio silence" for the past three weeks is not because I was too busy to write. It was because I couldn't bring myself to write. I was still in mourning.

I finally feel like I can record my thoughts without breaking down into hysterics that might scare my children.

I will keep it simple. 

Here are the top 5 things I will miss most about Jakarta:

5. The Food

Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Gado Gado (Indonesian salad with peanut sauce), Yuli's saute ayam, Soto Ayam (Indonesian chicken soup), mangoes, pineapple, pisang goreng (fried bananas). Yes, there were weeks where we avoided Indonesian food and cooked western-comforts like lasagna and macaroni and cheese. But I will miss the food. The spices. The Hero grocery store (yes, even Hero!) And of course the fresh tropical fruit! 

4. Traveling

I'm not sure what to do with myself to NOT have a future trip on my calendar. I have discovered that I love (as in LOVE!!) traveling, seeing new places, and meeting new people. Australia, Uganda, Bali, France, Italy, Taiwan. The world is an amazing place, and I am so grateful to have seen and experienced a lifetime of travel in the past three years.

3. Jakarta 3rd Ward and the Jakarta Stake
From the thrill of actually finding the right building in the middle of crazy Jakarta to being the ones wearing the translation headphones - how I loved Stake Conference.

And of course the incredible people in my ward:
Oh I will miss these amazing women who taught me so much about service and love!

2. JIS    
I got to work my "Dream Job" for the past two years. I learned from the best of the best how to be a better teacher. I have never felt so appreciated, challenged, and fulfilled. 
I loved my students! 
 I loved my colleagues! (Best AP PLC ever - wow I will miss you Brian and Shana! And Carri Turner - best travel-to-Uganda-partner ever!)

I sobbed when I walked off the JIS campus for the last time. And that's all I can write about that for right now.

1. Yuli
Of all the people, places, and things we've experienced here in Jakarta, it was hardest to say goodbye to Yuli. She was more than an employee. She lived with my family for three years. Yes, she did our laundry and cleaned our house (for which I will miss her tremendously!) and made delicious food. But she also became a member of our family. She loved my children. She picked up Charlotte from Kindergarten every day. She taught me the beauty of living joyfully. The only times I ever saw her sad was when she was worried about someone she loved and when she said goodbye. 

I hope in my life I can learn to live as joyfully as Yuli does. To say we miss Yuli doesn't match the magnitude of the loss we feel to live apart from her. She was cheerfulness incarnate. She was a gift to me and my children. She was the best of Indonesia. 

I am so grateful for the past three years. It has been the best three years of my life.

And that's all I can write, for now.