December 30, 2015

2015: Year In Review

It's the last day of 2015 here in Papua, and I'm taking a moment during a brief pause in the fireworks and music from the pondok Natal to reflect on this past year. There were challenges for sure, but also moments of fun and much to be thankful for.  Here are a few highlights:

Safety in flying and travel
While David doesn't fly as much as he used to, he flew about 100 hours in the challenging terrain of Papua, all safe and accident-free.  We don't take this lightly, and if you are one of the people who pray for us and our safety, thank you! We also did lots of traveling - motorbikes on sketchy roads, car trips around town in heavy traffic, boat rides to the beach, airplane trips around the archipelago, and trips across the Pacific.  We are thankful for safe travels.
David with some passengers

 I turned 40 this year, and it's taken me almost a full year to come to grips with it.  But I think I'm finally okay with it, which is a good thing considering I'm almost 41.  Time to move on. 
Don't worry, young friends, 40 may not be this scary for you.

The end of teaching and the start of writing
The first half of 2015 I was teaching two high school English classes.  There were parts of it I loved - getting to know the students, rereading the classics - but for various reasons I decided to stop teaching, at least for now.  In its place I've been writing more, and with a friend started a writing group this fall.  There are about six of us that meet once a month to exchange critique on our writing and encourage each other in our writing projects.  It's been an exercise in vulnerability to put my writing before other people and ask for criticism, but it's been great.  One of my current projects is a children's novel set in Mississippi. One goal for 2016 is to finish this and read it to my two younger kids.  I've read aloud countless children's books over the years, and I know what makes an enjoyable read-aloud, and I know what my kids like, so I've been writing with them in mind.

In our family reading is the number one hobby, and there were some great books passed around this year.  All the Light We Cannot See and I Capture the Castle were two young adult books some of us read and enjoyed.  Quiet - a book about introverts and how our society tends to favor extroverts - gave me insight into the introverts in my life, and Boys Adrift challenged us about how to best help our boys grow into men, and not just stay boys. Cutting for Stone, State of Wonder, and The Invention of Wings were the best fiction I read this year. Neal Gabler's biography Walt Disney is a must for any Disney fan.  Grandma Gatewood's Walk was inspiring, and Same Kind of Different As Me made me cry.  I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and didn't really care for Heathcliff.  Of the books that I read with Luke and Zoe this year, Zoe liked The Wolves of Willoughby Chase best, and Luke liked The Master Puppeteer. 
A rare precious moment, no one tugging the blanket or hogging the pillows

We spent the summer in the USA, and loved our time with family and friends.  Aside from the usual speaking in churches, consuming vast amounts of blueberries and Chik-Fil-A, and dropping some serious cash at Target, some other positive things happened - Carter had his first jobs, he visited the college he'll probably be attending, and I started to get a handle on the anxiety I've been experiencing.  I haven't written much about that, but hope to do so soon.


Return to Tarakan
In November, I was able to return to Tarakan in East Kalimantan, where we served for 10 years.  I reconnected with old friends and made some new ones, and took many trips down memory lane as I drove around that little island.  
My beloved Orpa

MAF Ladies

New babies
This year we were able to meet the new little people in our lives - baby Natalie my cousin, baby Natalie my "grandbaby", and my niece Annalee.  And yesterday our newest niece, Georgia Mae, was born and we are excited to meet her.  
Aunt Mary and Baby Natalie

"Grandma" and Natalie, Orpa's baby girl
Grace and her cousin Annalee

Another "baby" of 2015 is Braveheart, a gecko that Carter found as an egg and kept in his room until it hatched and found its way to a crack in the wall.  Every night when we sit in the living room to read or watch tv, he comes out, never venturing more than a few inches from his home.  It probably sounds ridiculous to think we love this little guy, but we do.
Braveheart being brave

Our last baby of the year is Little Guy, our sugar glider.  He has the cutest little face, but watch out when you wave a grasshopper in front of his nose.  Then he's all teeth and claws.
That pretty much wraps up 2015.  As we look ahead to 2016, we know major changes await our family when Carter graduates and moves on.  We hope it is a year of greater dependence on God, as we trust Him to grow us in our faith and in our capacity to love others.

Happy New Year! Selamat Tahun Baru!  


When Being O Negative is a Positive

Filling out paperwork before donating blood (photo by Ruth Boyd)

The phone rang mid-nap recently and my son answered.  By the time I came to and stumbled out of my bedroom, the call was over and he told me, "Someone needs blood."

My heart sank.  If I get a call about someone needing blood, it usually means something tragic has happened.  I called the local expat doctor and she said I could give blood the next day to help a young European woman who had lost several liters of blood during an operation.

'Why would they call you?' you may ask.  I have what is considered a rare blood type in these parts: O negative.  Hardly anyone living in our part of Asia has O negative blood.  And here's the thing about O negative - you can only receive your blood type.  However, my blood type is known as the "universal donor" because anyone can receive O negative.  Aren't we special?

A few times during our years in Indonesia I have been called on to give blood, and I have been happy to do it.  I imagine what it would be like if I needed blood, and how awful not to find a donor, so I am more than willing to give if there's a need.

Once we were on vacation in Bali and I read in the paper that there was a dire need for O negative, so I called the Red Cross and they sent a mobile unit to our hotel to collect my blood. Because that's what you do on vacation, right? I read somewhere that the number one cause of injury and death for westerners in Indonesia is motorcycle accidents in Bali, so they always are looking for O negative.

Another time I donated was when we were living in Kalimantan, and a young Indonesian living in a nearby town needed blood.  I donated, but there was so much paperwork and logistics to work out in how to get the blood to her that, sadly, she passed away before she got it.

This most recent blood need a few weeks ago was an opportunity for me to discover who all in our small expat community has O negative, and, surprisingly, there are about six of us. 

Three of us gave one morning at a local hospital, with our local expat doctor organizing us. I look like I'm enjoying a day at the spa in the photo below, but I was actually trying hard not to think about the needle, and also ignoring the wasp that was buzzing around my head.
One pint of O negative coming up! (Photo by Ruth Boyd)
 The best part of this particular blood donation was that about a week later, I met the lady who received our blood.  She was at the Christmas Eve service we attended, and she looked great.  She hugged me and thanked me for donating, and it was just so cool to have been part of a happy outcome.


November 20, 2015

Thoughts on Having a Senior

I don’t even know if I have the emotional fortitude to write this, but here goes.

Our oldest son is a senior, and we are starting to have the first “lasts.” The last first day of school. Last Sadie Hawkins.  Last birthday at home. 18!

Eighteen years ago, our son – who weighed in at just under 10 pounds – was born and we felt totally clueless.  For the first three weeks of Carter’s life, it took David, Mom, and me  - all three of us - to change his diaper.  (I had read somewhere that cotton balls dipped in boiled water were better for your baby than wipes, so someone was on cotton ball duty.  I quickly learned to stop reading stuff.) With Carter we grew up. We learned to care for a child. We learned how to parent together. He was our first, so we tried everything out on him – poor kid.
"We don't know what we're doing, but we're smiling anyway."

You think it’s going to last forever.  It seemed like we'd always be in this stage of four kids at home, a crazy home life with music blaring and homework papers everywhere and never enough food for my ever-hungry kids.  But lately I have been faced with the reality that our family life as we know it is soon to change drastically, and I need to be okay with that.  After all, we raise our children to leave the nest eventually, to strike out on their own and make their mark on the world. 

It’s a terrifying prospect.

I did not think we’d be overseas still at this point.  When I would hear of people talking about their big kid issues – sending them off to college, worrying about them, etc. I would think, well, we’ll be long resettled in the U.S. by then.  I don’t have to worry about that.
But here we are, just as firmly planted as we ever were, with no plans to repatriate any time soon.  We are facing the reality that we will be on one side of the globe, and our son will be on the other, in what is, to him, a foreign country, the USA.
So forgive me if I freak out a little over the next few months.  You know how it is with parenting – you hear about different stages, and you either dismiss it because it seems so unfathomably distant in the future, or you disbelieve the hype until it happens to you. And then all of a sudden, it’s like no one has experienced it but you, and certainly not with the depth of feeling that you have right this moment.
I’m the mother of an adult.  I realized this when I was giving him a shoulder rub recently and my hands are practically over my head to reach him, and his shoulders were like, well, a man’s.
"See here, no faster than 30 km an hour, kiddo."
It’s hard not to take the little things he does – just silly little stupid average teenage kid things – and project it on to his future.  Like: He forgot to pay his library fine!!  What if he forgets to pay rent one day?  Will he be evicted? Will he be living under a bridge?

I’m sure there are so many things I’ve neglected to teach him.  My mind races, trying to conjure up all possible scenarios. 
Credit cards.
Car insurance.
I know we’ve missed some things, but I have to remind myself all that we have taught him. Cooking. Driving.  Yes, those are important.  But the bigger things?
Loving God and loving others.
Showing honor and respect to women.
Being compassionate.
Helping before you’re asked.
Being responsible for your messes, both figurative and literal.
Following through on commitments.
Being a friend.
Being a person of integrity.
Being true to himself, his passions, his gifts.
These are the things I most want him to know. To take with him.
And we are making the most of the moments we still have.  Hugging him close.  Fixing his favorite foods. Taking the time to talk, or not talk, just chill on the couch, watching tv.  Praying over him. Loving him to the best of our ability. Which will continue, no matter what side of the globe he's on.

October 28, 2015

Family Culture - or - I Think We Might Be Weird

We have a bonus child this semester.  Our niece Rachel is living with us, making us a family of seven.  

She is the daughter of David’s oldest brother Dan.  David and I are blessed with awesome siblings all around, and we’ve always enjoyed good times when we’re together with our extended family. 
Rachel is a delight to have.  It’s been so fun getting to know her.  However, having her here has made me realize something: our family is weird. Not Rachel, but us. 

Have you ever been clicking along, living your life, thinking you're perfectly normal, and then someone stays with you and you become keenly aware that maybe your little "habits" are actually "quirks"?

With Rachel here, I am seeing us through her eyes, and realizing we might be a tad weird. Take dinner time.  We use cloth napkins and everyone has their napkin ring and each ring has a dumb name – like “the one ring” and “turtle” and “genuine diamel.” And even with all those fun napkin rings, I'm still barking at people to put their napkins in their laps. Because it may be 95 degrees in the living room, but we're going to eat like civilized people. This is normal to us, but must seem bonkers to Rachel.
Basket of napkins

Then there’s the whole how do you pass food, get seconds, season your food, what do you drink, what do you talk about, what rules of good manners are steadfast, what devices are allowed (NONE), who cooks, and who does dishes.

How we divide jobs between David and myself. What our Sunday afternoons look like.  Having friends over for supper. How we interact with our pets.
David and Charley "playing." (No animals were injured during this photoshoot)

Our movie quotes. I’m sure she’s wondering why the phrases “and beneath the man you find his…nucleus” and “this chicken is special, Alice” seem so funny to us. But once she sees “Nacho Libre” and “Hockey Night” she’ll know.  Movie quotes become part of a family's  vernacular.

What I pack for lunches.  The music we listen to, or rather, the music that our deejay Carter has us listen to.  Shoes on or off in the house. Our bedtime rituals.

She has a front-row seat to our life, with all the junk included.  The sibling squabbles, the disagreements, the attitudes.  Zoe and her pig calls. The awkward dancing to Twenty-One Pilots. 

So in addition to learning about Indonesian and Papuan culture, Rachel is learning to adapt to our version of Holsten family culture.

What about you?  What family quirks do you have?

September 13, 2015

A few things I love about Indonesia

So we've been back in Papua for three weeks, and I know this to be true: if my relationship status with America is complicated, then my relationship with Indonesia, our adopted home, is equally so.

It's so easy when we're back in the U.S. for the stressors of overseas living to fade in to the background.  I watch our MAF video, all these awesome photos and video clips set to music  and I think of what a cool life we get to live, the exotic places we see, and the people we are with(what is it about videos set to music? I could be watching a video of someone cleaning a toilet, and you throw in a little Fernando Ortega and I'm weeping and ready to write someone a check). Then I get back to Papua and I'm all "What about the video? Where's the soundtrack? Why do I feel like I'm just living in the outtakes? Why does this not feel adventurous and exotic, but instead scary and stressful and frustrating?"

We arrived and jumped right back into life - school and crazy driving and visits to the immigration office and cooking.  Oh, the cooking.  Did I really cook this much before? Was the neighborhood really this noisy before? Our parents' homes, situated on woodsy acres, seem like veritable sound vacuums compared to the crazy cacophony that is life on Pos 7. 

And David had to turn around a week after we arrived and make the trek back to the U.S. for meetings.  So we're doing the separation thing again.
It's easy for me to spiral into negativity, shaking my fist at all the frustrations and yearning for the "easy" life I just left in America. But I know I need to hold on to the good.
To that end, the remainder of this post is dedicated to just a few of the many things I love about living in Indonesia.   

1. This octopus thingy we use to hang up laundry.  And hanging up laundry.  It's my favorite chore here. 
2. Better brooms and scoops.  Can you even buy a scoop like this in the U.S.?  It's the best.
3. Pineapples - they're in season now and we're averaging two pineapples a day from our plants out back.  Here's a recipe for a delicious smoothie we made the other day: 2 cups frozen pineapple, 2 cups frozen bananas, 1 small carton of santan (cream of coconut).  Blend it up.  It's about as good as a Dole whip from Disney (sigh - which we were eating about a month ago).
4. Bungkus.  Chicken, rice, and some veggies, wrapped up in in a paper bundle, for about $1.50.  We love it.
Photo credit: Grace H.

Photo credit: Grace H.
5. Rain.  It didn't rain nearly enough for me this summer in the U.S.  The day we arrived in Sentani it poured that night, a wonderful welcome back.
6. A more laid-back schedule.  I know this is possible in America, but someone tell me how???  It seems easier for us to do this in Indonesia.  
7. Flip flops year-round.
8. Beautiful places.  We went with some friends on a walk last weekend and had gorgeous views of the more uninhabited side of Lake Sentani. It looked like a tropical version of Middle Earth.
Photo credit: Grace H.
9. The pasar. In America, I could go in Walmart and, thanks to self checkout, not have to interact with a single soul.  I guess that's okay some of the time, but what I enjoy about the pasar is interacting with the local people. There's this one lady in particular who calls me "sayang" (honey) whenever she sees me, like I'm her long-lost younger sister.   Sure, it's more work going to the pasar than buying pre-washed salad and hermetically-sealed packs of chicken from Kroger, but there's a challenge to the pasar that I enjoy - navigating the stalls, never being quite sure about what I might find, and supporting the local sellers.
10.Beautiful people, like this young lady, Y, a girl from an interior village going to school here in Sentani.  She and another of her classmates spent Saturday with us, which included a trip to swim in the lake.
Those are just a few of many good things about living here.  What about you? What do you enjoy about where you live?