December 29, 2013

Christmas in Papua

Another Christmas overseas (our 11th!) and we celebrated in a variety of ways.  Here are a few photos:
My friend Christy hosted a Christmas party for all the helpers who work for the MAF families in Sentani.  I gave a short devotion, and then there were crafts and snacks. It was a blessing to see these men and women who work so hard for us relax and enjoy themselves. 
Christmas was also celebrated with Christmas plays...
an MAF Christmas party where the kids sang...
...and David spoke.  Most churches and organizations have a theme for their Christmas program, and MAF's was "The King has come."
Grace played the flute in the middle school band concert...
..and there were Christmas parties in the elementary school.  A toilet paper snowman is as close as we get to the real thing!
We enjoyed an MAF Christmas cookout on base.
And we took a shopping trip to the big city of Jayapura where we saw some interesting Christmas decorations like this white tree (the kids call them "ghost trees" because at night when they're lit up they seem to sway in a ghostly way).
A Christmas tradition in Papua is to make a pondok Natal, or Christmas hut.  This one, apparently sponsored by Honda, was very elaborate.  Usually there's Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, sometimes joined by Santa or the Wise Men, and often Christmas music is blaring.  
Every year there seems to be something different sold on the side of the street at Christmastime.  This year it was all kinds of lights.
On Christmas Eve we kept our tradition of decorating Christmas cookies.  Can you spot the one inspired by Lord of the Rings?
Other goodies included a cheeseball, and bacon on Christmas morning.
St. Nicholclaus (as Zoe calls him) was good to us all this year.
After opening presents on Christmas morning, we did some visiting per Indonesian tradition.  This is Pak Onong and his family.  Onong works as MAF's flight scheduler.
We enjoyed Christmas dinner with some friends who have a tradition of exchanging presents that are very elaborately wrapped.  You also must come up with a clever poem about the gift's recipient.  Luke's gift was sewed up in a rice bag.
I love this little roadside stand.  It has everything you need for  Papuan Christmas: noisemakers, fireworks, Santa hats, cookies for visitors, and decorations.
So our Christmas wasn't exactly what it would be if we were in the U.S., but we were thankful for our time as a family, and with friends who are like family.  

We wish you a Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru 2014!

December 16, 2013

End of the Semester Reflections

It's finals week at our kids' school, which means Christmas parties for the younger ones, and end-of-semester tests for the older ones.  I've been teaching the sophomore English class, and let me just say, although I enjoy teaching this class very much, I totally underestimated how much of my time it would consume.  I often feeled buried in papers to grade and lessons to prepare, on top of all the work that goes into keeping my family fed and clad in clean clothes (and thus the blog falls by the wayside).  I have a new appreciation for all teachers everywhere as well as any mom who works outside of the home.  God bless you.

My sophomores are from all over the globe: Canada, the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, and South Africa.  I look at them, and remember myself at that age.  The insecurities I felt.  Trying to figure out who I was and where I fit.  I struggled to keep up with friends and classes, and endured a boyfriend-less state, and many Friday nights I could be found riding the bench at basketball games, half-hoping and half-dreading that Coach would put me in. 

But my sophomore year was not all awkwardness and loathsome moments.  It was the year that my English teacher said to me, “You have a gift.”  My essay on To Kill a Mockingbird was photocopied and handed out to all her sophomore classes.  This was significant in more ways than one.  Obviously, she gave me a confidence boost when I was desperately needing one.  But more significantly to me at the time, the boy I had a massive crush on but had never peeped a word to turned to me in German class and commented on it.  

"Good job on your essay."

I died and went to heaven right there.  I was sure it meant we were destined to be together and spent hours thinking of just how he turned his head and said those blessed words to me. I was reminded of this little episode when we were in the U.S. this summer and I came across an old journal from that year.  I had devoted two pages of painstaking detail to the whole incident, and I cringed and laughed to read it.

My teacher lit a little flame in me, one that gave me hope that despite my lack of prowess on the basketball court, there was something I could do, something that could possibly even become a career one day.

She told me she fully expected to see my name on a book cover in the future, and though that has not happened, and may never happen, I still love to write. And now I get to teach writing to high schoolers.

The class I'm teaching is unique in that my oldest child is one of my students.  Perhaps he was having flashbacks to our homeschool days, but he was a bit wary heading into this semester knowing his mother would be teaching him.  Also, there is just so much potential embarrassment to having your parent standing in front of your peers, saying all kinds of mortifying things.   I’ve gotten a few goofy comments from him, like “Mom, don’t touch me in class” or “Mom, the kids don’t like it when you give homework.” (What was I thinking, assigning homework to high schoolers?!).  Then, when it is convenient to him, having Mom as Teacher is the greatest thing evah.  “Mom, can you hold my papers for me and bring them home?”  “Mom, can I borrow 5,000 rupiah for a doughnut?”  Mmmm-hmmm.  When it’s advantageous to him, I am Beloved Teacher Mom.  But I’m not going to be too hard on him – there should be some perks to having your parent teach you.

We just wrapped up a study of To Kill a Mockingbird (isn't that poetic? It seems I've come full-circle).  I had forgotten what a wonderful book it is.  Maycomb, Alabama reminds me of the little town in Mississippi where I spent many vacations visiting my grandparents.  I can so easily envision the dusty streets, the odd neighbors, the Jitney Jungle.  None of my students have spent any significant amount of time in the deep South, so I had to explain a great deal to them.  Why manners are so important.  Why you don't ever say the "N" word.  What ambrosia and azaleas are.  How hard it was for African-Americans then, and how hard it still can be.  

The best thing about the book is Atticus Finch, the central character and the hope of his small town.  Re-reading it, I realized that I love Atticus because he reminds me of several people in my life with impeccable integrity: my father, his father, a former boss, my husband, my father-in-law.  Each of these men went (or still goes) about their work in a steady and quiet manner, compassionate and courageous in big and small ways.  

The themes of the book - prejudice against certain people groups (that certainly happens here in Papua), stereotyping, courage under pressure - are timeless and universal and I enjoyed helping my students relate to them.  

As much as I've enjoyed the class, I'm looking forward to the next few weeks off with time to read books of my own choosing.  Right now I'm reading Why Do They Act that Way? about teenagers' brain development (really, it's riveting), How Now Shall We Live? by Francis Schaeffer (can only take a few bites of that one at a time), and Realityland, a behind-the-scenes story of how Disney World was made.  Yes, the Disney obsession continues.  What are you reading???  

September 27, 2013

This Week in Pictures

Saturday, David and Carter took a hike in the jungle.  Carter found a cool lizard and David got some lovely photos.

Monday through Friday, Carter's sophomore class led Spiritual Emphasis Week for the elementary classes.

On Tuesday the airport was hosting a blood drive in honor of Hari Perhubungan (Department of Communications Day).  It's such a different experience than giving blood in the U.S.  The only screening was a blood-pressure check.  And they don't take as much blood as in the states.  Aaaannnd, the snack choices for post-donation recovery are definitely different - boiled eggs, boxed milk, red bean pudding, and spring rolls.  

On Wednesday we had to go to the big city of Jayapura for fingerprinting for our visa.  The bonus was we got to stop by the mall there.  Zoe and Luke rode bumper cars for the first time, and we enjoyed treats at JCo Donuts (the closest we get to Krispy Kreme).  This is my favorite drink - avacado and coffee.  I know what you're thinking, but avacadoes are not just for guacamole, my friend.  

September 20, 2013

Blah Bread and Pet Rocks

Lately it seems that my approval rating as a mom is highly dependent on the quality of food coming out of my kitchen.  Maybe it has something to do with having two ravenous teenagers in the house.  Poll my kids and you’ll find that homemade pickles, after-school cookies, and weekend hamburgers send my numbers through the roof.  So when I made bread last week and forgot to put in the salt and my kids were still forced to eat it, the numbers took a nose dive.

Have you ever had bread without salt?  You might as well just open a bag of flour and eat it straight than mess with eating the blah-ness that is salt-free bread.  No amount of butter and jam could cover up the fact that it was a big fat food fail for Mama.  And I was too cheap to chuck it and start over.

But I think I redeemed myself, at least with the younger kids, when I green-lighted a project the next day.  I made the supreme mother sacrifice: I let the kids paint.

What is it with painting that makes it so hard to say “yes”?  I’ll tell you – it’s the newspapers, brushes, paints, mugs of water, smocks (which I just discovered that Ibu L – God love her – had cut up to make rags). All that prevention and I still end up with paint in my hair.

I feel like I’ve spent a good many of my parenting years either cleaning up messes (exploding diapers, toddler food fights, midnight pukes, playdate pandemonium) or trying to prevent them (“stay outside till it’s your turn to shower,” “eat that outside,” “I’ll pay you a dollar if you puke in the toilet” – thanks Jon and Ceri for that tip).  Kids are messy, and most of it is inevitable.  And when the outside world is so darn messy (you should have seen the puddle of sludge I put my foot into at the pasar this week), I need my home to have some semblance of order and cleanliness to stay sane.

So to invite the mess and chaos – to allow them to paint, or help you cook, or do experiments – well, that just kicks you up into the Supermom category and redeems any salt-free bread mishaps.

And you might just get a cute pet rock out of it.

September 08, 2013

Earthquakes Can Lead to Family Warmth

Sometimes, I try to force feel-good family moments upon my kids.  I want us to have discussions that are uplifting, encouraging, and sweet, and not wind up with insults, tears, and someone being sent to their room for sassing off.  But somehow, despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to pull it off. 

Last Sunday was one such instance.  David and I wanted to talk about a few things with our kids, one of which was our re-instituting an allowance for them (hello? Who wouldn’t want to sit still, be sweet, and listen to that?).  There was bickering, negativity, and the obligatory four-seems-to-be-too-many-kids-for-peaceful-discussion-so-one-gets-sent-to-their-room.  Argh. 

But then a strange thing happened.  About an hour later, we had gone our separate ways in the house – some were resting, some were reading, some were doing Lego, some were rearranging a snake cage (you can figure out who did what). And then the earth moved.  Literally.

I was on the couch trying to nap when I was shaken awake by the shimmy of the earth.  I looked at Luke – who was laying on the floor reading – his eyes wide.  David called out from the bedroom – “Earthquake!” 

It was over in a few seconds, and wasn’t a big one (it was 27 kilometers deep and about 25 kilometers away) but it was enough to shake us out of what we were doing.  Everyone gathered in the living room, and this same family who struggled to speak civilly to one another a mere hour ago was all warmth and concern and chatter as we piled on the couch and talked about how the earthquake felt to us. 

Nothing like an earthquake to stir up some spontaneous feel-good family moments.

It was a good reminder for me: our kids do love each other – and if it takes a little shake of the earth to make them show it, so be it.

And for the record, I don’t like earthquakes.  My default reaction is to stand up and “surf” the tremor while praying for it to stop. My friend told me she likes to lie on the floor to “get the full effect.”   I’m definitely not there yet.

Here are a few pictures from a recent flight David did.
These guys seem cracked up by the load they're carrying from the plane
No trouble picking my husband out of a crowd

August 31, 2013

We're baaaaack!

We're back!  Yep, Borneomama is back in Papua after a lovely, almost perfect short furlough in the U.S.  I must admit, the transition back to life over here has been a bit difficult.  Maybe because the aforementioned furlough was just wonderful.  This week I went to the pasar (open-air market) and meandered for a while, trying to focus on my search for onions and cauliflower, ignore the flies and stench, and mentally block the images of the gleaming new Whole Foods store in Savannah I visited less than two weeks ago.

Really, just two weeks?  It doesn't seem possible.  There's some kind of funky time-warp thing that happens on the interminable flight across the Pacific that turns days and weeks into lightyears and my beautiful memories of the summer are getting fuzzy around the edges.  So before I do some serious forgetting, here are some highlights:  
Lazy afternoons on Grandpa's farm

We feasted on fresh blueberries from Mom's bushes. 
The kids were highly entertained by Grandpa's automatic chair.
Grace, appropriately attired for our Mississippi visit, stands watch over a box of Georgia peaches.
Hot dogs on the Fourth of July

Family reunions
Papaw with all his great-grandkids
One last trip to one of my favorite spots, The Tea Room (it's now closed) - photo by Zoe
Our 20-year high school reunion weekend
All the grandkids, but one, with Grandma and Grandpa
Golf cart rides
Our kids' first backpacking trip.  My dad, who has now section-hiked over half of the Appalachian Trail (so proud of you, Dad!) led the way.

Disney - oh how we love our trips to Disney World!
This moment literally made me weep - Zoe was chosen to play the part of Beast and she got to dance with Belle.  It's cliche to say it, and I sound like a Disney brochure, but it was truly magical.
We loved getting to know this little sweetheart, our newest niece, Emi Faye.

We gained the obligatory Furlough Five by feasting on the likes of this...
...and this...
All of D's siblings gathered (first time in 13 years) for their parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration.
Our panda-obsessed daughter got to see her favorite creature in person, at ZooAtlanta.
There were so many good times with our family and friends (and that other "F" - food) and saying goodbye is the PITS!

We had a very smooth trip back to Papua, the only snag being the cans of beenie-weenie my dad put in Carter's and Grace's bags.  It was a little joke from our backpacking trip, and I guess Dad thought they might want a little snack along the way.  In Savannah, and later in Tokyo, the security scanners pulled the cans out, carefully inspected them, shook them, put them through the x-ray machine again, and finally approved them for travel.  Phew.  

There were no other problems except my, um, meltdown at Singapore security.  We spent a lovely 12 hours in our favorite airport, enjoying the new butterfly garden and coffee drinks and foot massages.  

Then as we were going through Singapore security to get on our flight to Indonesia, my little "I heart Singapore Airport" bubble burst when they confiscated my favorite little fingernail scissors.  I mean, these are the teeniest tiniest most miniscule scissors ever, and had breezed through all other security checks in my bag (perhaps because TSA was distracted by the beenie weenie?).
The blades on these little scissors were hardly an inch long, if that.  Trying to imagine me taking down a jet with my little scissors was just ludicrous and I raised my voice a little.

"But they made it through security checks in the U.S. and Tokyo."

Stern Security Lady shook her head no.

Kind Helpful Security Man stepped in to help.  "You can buy some more in Indonesia."

Unkind Jetlagged Natalie snapped, in Indonesian, "No, you can't!  I've lived there 12 years and never found any like this!"

Kind Helpful Security Man backed off.

I thought of whipping out my 10-inch knitting needles, which could possibly take down a jet but have cleared security, but David wisely urged me to step away before I set off an international incident, and I did.  In tears.  My kids rolled their eyes and pretended not to know me.  I, a bit ashamed, sat by myself and pretended not to know me.

But now we're back, recovered from jet lag and easing back into the swing of things.  David is off and flying, the kids are settled into their routine at school, and I am teaching one of the high school English classes at their school.  

Thank you to all our family, friends, and supporters who hung out with us, hosted us, fed us, and loved on us this summer.  We miss you!