Thursday, February 27, 2014


I'm not a hopeful person by nature. In fact, I've struggled my entire life with "staying positive" and "looking on the bright side." My parents know I have the tendancy to feel "blue," and my poor, dear sister has served as my therapist for years. 

I know plenty of amazing people to whom optimism seems to come naturally (a true gift!)- and I envy them. I really do. For me, hope, is a constant decision. And sometimes a bit of a battle.

The strange thing about this phenomenon, is when I look back on my life, I'm quite happy with what has transpired. I have so much to be grateful for. And I can easily see how difficult times and challenges worked to strengthen me and my family. But most often, I complained my way through those times instead of trying to focus on the positive.

Remaining hopeful in the midst of a difficult moment - that's where I struggle.

A confession: I find it easiest to stay positive when I've got a trip planned - when I have something to look forward to.  Then somehow the daily grind, the frustrations, the annoyances seem more bearable. (I'm not rambling - really, I'm just putting all the pieces together to make a point soon).

I've been putting aside $20 a week for the past four and a half years to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary which occurs this October. (Again, not rambling, just building to a revelation.) For four and half years I've envisioned something grand. Italy maybe? A biking tour in South France? Or even a cozy bed and breakfast in New England with the autumn colors. Something memorable.

Yet, in the past two weeks, I've decided to spend the money on something else entirely.  In nothing short of a miracle, Elise was offered the opportunity to travel with Madi to Hong Kong for the Amis choir. She was the alternate and was offered a chance to go just days before the actual event. Because our family is working on some other dreams (aka a new house in Virginia), funds were scarce. So almost without hesitation, I cashed in a chunk of my 20th Anniversary Fund to help pay for her to go. And you know what? I was happy to do it. (And a HUGE thanks to grandma and grandpa who also made it possible for her to go.)

Then last night. Owen and the kids were offered the opportunity to join dear, dear friends of ours on a Spring Break trip to north Bali. (I will be traveling with a high school service trip to Uganda - so won't be able to join them). Again, I cashed in some of the anniversary funds to make it happen. And again, it made me feel very happy.
The anniversary fund has now dwindled far below any dreams I envisioned. I gave it up, NOT because I'm selfless (far from it! I'm still very selfish). I did it because I know the power of an incredible trip. 

And because I HOPE. 

I hope my daughters' experience with music, culture, and travel will be as magically wonderful as the ones I've been blessed to have. I hope the memories they make together will carry them through future difficult times. I hope my family will enjoy their time in Bali. I hope they will look back at their snorkeling and beach adventures with joy.

(Elise and Madi in Hong Kong)

(The JIS girls in Hong Kong)

Somehow my hope for the people I love outweighed my own selfish desires. This is a rare (perhaps non-existant) accomplishment until now.

Maybe it's being 40 - I'm practicing being a REAL adult now. Or maybe I'm just starting to learn something that those people who innately live their lives with hope have already figured out. Sometimes hoping for others, and acting on that hope, turns into happiness.

I've still got A LOT of work to do. I'm still not good at flipping on the "positive switch." But I hope my family knows how much I love them.

"Hope has the power to fill our lives with happiness." - Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I know this is true.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2.5 years later...

Catching up on some things I've been thinking about...

Two and a half years ago I flew from Virginia to Indonesia with the five children. I did this without the help of my husband who had already traveled to Jakarta two weeks prior. My survival of this experience with five children was made possible by my very mature oldest two daughters (then only 11 and 9 years old who I promoted to adult status for the 24 hours of travel) and the calming virtue of Xanax for me (sorry Mom, it's true). Our flight included a stopover in Hong Kong which I wrote briefly about here.

This January, we took the same flight again. And again, I was solo without Owen. The kids and I ended up in the same Hong Kong terminal. Same waiting area. Same view of the emerald mountains of behind the city of Hong Kong. Same shops and restaurants. So much sameness it prompted an easy comparison of the two experience. I had some quiet moments in the airport while the kids were reading or watching Adventure Time on the huge tv (did I mention that Hong Kong is a GREAT airport?) to think about how we've changed and how we've remained the same.

Here's what I came up with: 
1) Traveling is a lot easier with older children. I actually got relatively good sleep on the airplane (except when I sat by the drugged, drooling man), and even got to watch a couple movies. 
2) I did not need to use Xanax (though I had a few with me, just in case). I'm much calmer than I was two years ago. Perhaps it's exhaustion or laziness, but I was pretty chill. 
3) I really love watching my children be independent. They are champs when it comes to security checks and customs. We have the process down: Madi goes first to collect my purse and laptop on the other side. I go last to help everyone else through. Jackets off. Shoes off. No liquids. Etc.
4) Teenager-hood. Whoa. Whole different ballgame. Enough said.  
5) The emerald mountains of Hong Kong are still enchanting.
6) The bowl of noodles is still the best Truman has ever had. After enjoying a first bite he announced, "They're just as good as I remember." 
Two and a half years ago, the traveling was a HUGE hurdle, a challenge, a test of my patience and survival parenting skills. This time, it was more than do-able. It was, at times, even fun.

I hope in the future as I face trials and challenges, I can look back on this comparison and find strength. Some things do get easier.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Thoughts about "40"

Sunday night there was panic. Sheer panic. Some of my thoughts: What? How can I be turning 40? Real adults are 40. I can't possibly live up to real adulthood. I haven't published my book yet (I guess I'll never be the next Stephenie Meyer). Crap. Crap. Crap. It's an uphill battle from here. I'll never be younger. I'll never have less wrinkles--at least not without surgery. I'll never feel less-tired. I cannot adequately celebrate my 40th birthday without some stupendous, exotic trip. I'm thinking Italy. (There also may have been some feet-stomping, and other not-mature-40ish-behavior).

My husband listened patiently.

Monday morning I had a good, therapeutic chat with my fellow English teacher Gina. She gets me. Her advice, "Take a personal day and go hike a mountain, or lounge on a beach, or visit a volcano." I looked up some flights to Bali during my break.

I posed the idea to my husband that night. Again, he listened patiently.

Tuesday morning I had a good facebook exchange with Karen. She gets me. She told me what I needed to remember. Plus she said she'd join me on a pilgrimage to NYC to see Les Mis this fall.

I told my husband. And, you guessed it, he listened patiently.

Finally, I woke up Wednesday (with only 48 hours left of being 39 years old) and I started a mental list of all the things I'd done so far in my life. I thought I'd aim for 40 cool things. My list looked like this:

1. I married the man I truly love.
2. I carried six children in my womb (2 at the same time!)
3. I've cried over a miscarriage.
4. I've seen the northern lights.
5. I kayaked with my Dad in the Pacific ocean (and saw whales).
6. I ran a marathon.
7. I danced and sang on a stage in Russia.
8. I studied Shakespeare in England.
9. I've admired the twinkling lights of Paris from the Eiffel tower.
10. I ate dinner on a rooftop in Rome with a view of the colosseum.
11. I swam in the blue ocean of Bali.
12. I applied for grad school and was rejected. I applied again and earned a Master's from Georgetown.
13. I've known the peace of rocking my own sleeping baby.
14. I've taught my favorite book to a classroom full of students.
15. I've cheered for my children on the sidelines of many soccer fields.
16. I listened to a symphony at the Opera House in Sydney.
17. I ran for student body president (and lost).
18. I've made my own raspberry jam.
19. I've taken my daughter to the temple in Preston, England.
20. I've laughed, shopped, and cried with my sisters.
21. I've mastered baking with yeast dough.
22. I've been blessed with incredible friends.
23. I've been poor, as in not-enough-money to pay rent and buy groceries poor.
24. I've enjoyed lemon gelato in Florence, Italy.

The list goes on.

Somewhere in the 30s, I realized I didn't need to go anywhere special or exotic or exciting for my birthday. The past 40 years have been incredibly full - full of ups and downs, victories and stupendous failures, memories upon memories upon memories.

I can only be grateful.

So instead of some grand adventure, my 40th birthday looks something like this:
An early morning run in the black Jakarta morning.
Chocolate cake with my English department.
A day of teaching.
Baskin Robins Ice Cream with my kids on the way home from school.
Pie making.
Mexican dinner with family and friends.
Board games with kids.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Flood

We drive in the rain. Two of the three roads out of our Kemang neighborhood are blocked with water. Our only choice is to sit on Kemang Raya in the long line behind cars and trucks. Only the motocycles seem to be making progress down the road by squeezing through seemingly impossible tight spaces. Their tires send a spray of muddy water. I am grateful for a dry car. Even if we're moving by inches.

After thirty minutes to travel 20 yards (yes, I know it would be faster to walk - probably faster to crawl), we turn off Kemang Raya and see reason for the backup. The street ahead is flooded, but still passable. The water comes to midwheel. As I watch motorcycles stall out with water in their exhaust pipes, I am again grateful for my car.

We cross the bridge, I have a clear view of the river. The caramel brown water surges past the manmade barriers, invading local houses, turning empty lots into swamps, and threatening to submerge the bridge on which we're driving. Due to our snail-slow pace, I get a lengthy view of a house near the river. It is a cement house. Clothes still hang on a line - pink shorts, a tattered once-white shirt, and jeans turned inside out - getting drenched in the rain. I'm sure the owners have much more to worry about than wet laundry. Soon I can see the front of the house. A man crouches in the doorway. Behind him, water spills over the back entrance (on the river side), like a waterfall. He holds a plastic orange pail. He scoops the muddy river water out of his house and dumps it on the other side of his front stoop. Again and again.

The rate of his scooping is no match for the waterfall pouring in his back door. And I wonder at the sight. Why doesn't he give up? Does he see how futile his efforts are? However, instead of desperation (a look which I'm sure I would have if faced with the same circumstances) his expression is one of determination.

I watch him until we turn off the street. I feel a strange mix of pity and admiration for him. I think of him often through out the rest of my week.


Five years ago, I faced a waterfall coming through my basement window (when my dear friends Thomas Johns and the Peterson boys came to our rescue). Oh that was horrific. But since then, my "waterfalls" have been different. They aren't literal. Instead, they come in the form of decision making, mothering, guilt, feeling inadequate, laziness, feeling overwhelmed -- any seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Life is full of them.

I hope I can face my obstacles more like this Indonesian man in the Jakarta flood. I hope I can look ahead, not behind me at the water pouring in. I hope I can stay determined, and keep trying even if its with small, continual efforts. Pail by pail. Scoop by scoop.