Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Autumn Fever

I'm just back from a nature walk with Jack's class -- three mums, two teachers and 28 kids walking the wooded trails behind the school.

The kids were collecting things to make autumn collages, so their eyes were mostly on the ground, but about halfway through, Jack looked around and said, "I've been here before! But... now everything's changed!"

Sure enough, it was the same place we'd picked blackberries with Sarah and Stirling this summer. Now, though, the brambles are empty, and the trees are afire with amber and gold. The wind was blowing, and hundreds of leaves said good-bye to their branches, flying free and then floating gently down to join the thousands already on the ground.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Princess Doth Persist

With a little prompting, Sophie can now recite the days of the week in order. But she's still coming to grips with the broader concept of time and often uses terminology like yesterday-before-yesterday and tomorrow-after-tomorrow.

Which helps explain her recent flash of insight while playing with her brother:

Prince! Prince! Yesterday you said that you would marry me tomorrow. Well, today IS tomorrow!

* * * * * * *

This next exchange is all the sweeter if you imagine her speaking in her (normal) English accent.

Sophie: Storm Trooper, would you like a biscuit?

Jack: (silence)

Sophie: Storm Trooper... Storm Trooper! Would you like a biscuit?

Jack: (sigh) No.

Sophie: Popcorn then? It's vewy good for your tummy...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Summertime In Review (Complete with Photos)

Since we moved house at the end of May, we spent most of the summer months just getting settled. For a homebody like me, the process involves so much more than just placing furniture and hanging pictures. It means getting familiar with our surroundings and doing ordinary things over and over again until they become routine. It means waking up each day in this different place with a different arrangement of rooms including a different kitchen with a stove/oven that works differently and doing something normal like making French toast or popcorn or chocolate chip cookies.

It also means getting to know the neighborhood and meeting the neighbors. In this post I wrote about meeting two elderly ladies, and I mentioned going blackberry picking with them. That is something else I did a lot of this summer: picking blackberries.

A couple years ago, back when we lived in Greater London, I wrote about blackberries here, but now that we live outside the City, it seemed like we came across a new patch of blackberry brambles every time we went out. It was practically ridiculous. They were everywhere! And I couldn't just walk right on past them, could I? They were way too luscious, way too tempting. Halfway through August, I even started carrying plastic containers in my purse "just in case," and I ended up bringing so many buckets of berries home that Matt started to call me a blackberry thief!

(I felt much better when an English friend kindly offered this correction: "Actually, we call it foraging," she said. Sounds so much more civilized than thieving, doesn't it?)

Anyway, here's a picture of sweet Sophie on one of our berry-picking outings. Notice she is trying to steal the berries from my bucket and put them into hers so she can eat them on the spot! Notice the telltale berry stains on her fingertips and around her mouth. Like mother, like daughter!

And here are a batch of berries ready to be washed and turned into jam. Yes, I spent much of my summer vacation making jam! (And not a little bit of my summer vacation eating jam. Ahem.)

Here I am, scraping the last bit of jam into a jar. (Missing: The picture Jack took of me frantically stirring jam on the stove while talking to my Mom on the phone and saying, "I've got to go, the jam needs to be poured out." Notice how calm I am at this point in the process. A couple minutes earlier -- not so much.)

And here's Jack, proudly holding up our first attempt at jam tarts. Mmm, they were yummy. (Happy 17th Birthday, Sarah! So glad you could be here so we could help you celebrate!)

In the background of this picture, you'll see some jars of jam. Of course, you might not notice them right off, being distracted by the monstrous, 19-inch zucchini on the counter! Not to mention those beautiful raspberries.

The couple who live across the street (also older, but only in their 60s I'd say) have an allotment, a patch of land outside town where they plant fruit and veg for their own use. The woman was so excited to share some of their produce with us -- they harvested much more than they could eat themselves -- and we were equally excited to receive it. In fact, I think my kids ate fresh broad beans every day for three weeks! But that's a topic for another post.

Anyway, the only thing I could think of doing with that humongous zucchini (UK translation: courgette) was to make zucchini bread. So I got out the food processor, shredded the entire zucchini (minus the stem and bottom ends) and turned to a favorite recipe in a favorite cookbook.

Here are the first three of nine loaves of zucchini bread that I made from that crazy thing. Nine loaves! And that only used half of the shredded zucchini. The rest went into spaghetti sauce and soups.

Some of the jam and most of the zucchini bread was shared with various neighbors and friends. (The older folks were especially surprised that a vegetable like courgette could be made into cake!)

Summer is over now. The days are distinctly shorter, wetter and colder. I'm happy to say that we're feeling nicely settled in our house as well as our neighborhood. And it feels like home.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Crying In My Kitchen

A friend came by today, a colleague of Matt's who recently moved here from a country in Central Asia. We've known of each other for several years, interacting briefly here and there, but haven't had the chance to spend much time together until now. And she is now what I was at one time -- nearly 30, a single American woman living overseas.

As we talked, I found myself sharing about my former life, about Kenya, about Rift Valley Academy, about the work I did and the kids I loved.

And she said that she had gone to college with a guy who went to RVA. Did I know him? Are you kidding? I helped sponsor his class!

(Right then, I realized: Oh my goodness, my kids are getting ready to turn 30!)

Then she said one of his friends from RVA used to come and visit campus, and whenever this girl came, she stayed with her. Did I know her? Are you kidding? She was one of my 35 original 6th graders! I have a picture of her (and eight beautiful friends from that class) sitting on my desk right now.

And then I began to cry.

I could hardly get the words out: Thank you for befriending him, for hosting her, for being there. These past 11 years I've missed those kids so much and wished I could have been there for them more than the occasional email, phone call or prayer. Thank you for being there for them when I couldn't be.

I'm absolute rubbish at multi-tasking. I can pretty much only focus on one thing at a time. Right now it's Jack and Sophie -- and Matt, of course -- and I wouldn't trade them for the world. For a long time, though, that other life was my focus. I wouldn't trade that, either. I'm so thankful that I had those years. My heart is so much richer and fuller because of the time I shared with those kids.

And today in the middle of my life -- this all-consuming life -- in the middle of my kitchen, my heart overflowed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

All War is Fratricide

There's a blog post I've been wanting to write for a while now, something along the lines of How I Spent My Summer Vacation. I pictured myself sitting down to write it at the beginning of September, before the kids went back to school. Then I pictured myself sitting down to write it after I dropped them off on the first day. Alas, here we are getting ready to start Week 4 of the school year, the weather has turned wet and cold, the leaves are beginning to fall and I'm afraid that by the time I finally get around to it, summer will be a distant memory. Forgive me. My organizational skills, especially where time is concerned, aren't what they used to be.

I keep thinking something's going to change, but in the daily-ness of Life With Small Children, my brain feels scattered, scrambled. My mind races, and my heart feels overwhelmed much of the time. Someone told me the other day that I always appear to be calm and peaceful, which is really ironic because first thing every morning I wake up in utter panic, wondering, "What day is it? What needs to be done today?" and from that point on, I find myself doing whatever it is that needs doing, for however long it takes to do it, in hopes of finding a few minutes to spare so I can sit quietly with a cup of tea before rushing off to do the next thing.

Ahhh, and that's what I'm doing now, sitting with not just a cup but an entire pot of tea -- pineapple oolong, to be precise. (From Singapore! a thoughtful gift from a thoughtful friend.) And although the Summer Vacation post will have to wait, I'm going to share something else I've been wanting to post ever since I read it this summer.

(Because in those snatches of quiet, with a cup of tea, reading a book is the perfect escape.)

I came across Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres in our local secondhand bookshop. Set in the southern part of what is now Turkey, in a time when Christians and Muslims coexisted peacefully, the storyline sounded like something that I could really immerse myself in (one snatch at a time).

But then I found and decided to read first the author's more famous novel, Captain Correlli's Mandolin. Wait, don't dismiss the book if you've only ever seen the movie! The book is entirely different – with rich, full characters and an amazing, amazing, amazing story, expertly and eloquently told. Through much of it I laughed out loud! And by the end I was sobbing. If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, consider this: The book is like a perfect chocolate cheesecake, appealing to all your senses, a true work of art. The movie is like a chocolate covered digestive biscuit, nice to dunk in a cup of tea but nothing special. In other words, read the book! It's poetry, drama and a bit of history in novel form. And as I said, it's amazing. (For actual book reviews by people who know how to write them, click the links above.)

This post is not about that book, though. Because then I read Birds Without Wings.

It's an exquisitely beautiful, excruciatingly tragic historical narrative of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in which de Bernieres fairly portrays the various people groups involved -- Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Kurds and soldiers from the various Allied nations -- while acknowledging the atrocities committed by them and to them. (Truly, war is hell.) Nothing I can write can do justice to the beauty and pain of this book.

I won't lie to you, it's a hard story to read. At least it was for me. Aside from the fact that these horrors happened in the past, the modern parallels are too obvious -- the prejudice, the fear and resulting terror that comes from pitting one group of people against another. It's a difficult, devastating reality. Especially in this current slice of history.

I write this as an American who is deeply ashamed of the rising hostility toward Muslims in our country.

I write this as a mom who wants her children to know the joy of embracing people of other cultures and faiths, the way people of other cultures and faiths have embraced me.

I write this as a Christian who believes that if Christians actually lived what Jesus taught -- about loving our neighbors and forgiving those who sin against us -- then we might actually have a chance of breaking the vicious cycle of hatred and revenge.

Here's the paragraph I've been wanting to share:
Where does it all begin? History has no beginnings, for everything that happens becomes the cause or pretext for what occurs afterwards, and this chain of cause and pretext stretches back to the palaeolithic age, when the first Cain of one tribe murdered the first Abel of another. All war is fratricide, and there is therefore an infinite chain of blame that winds its circuitous route back and forth across the path and under the feet of every people and every nation, so that a people who are the victims of one time become the victimisers a generation later, and newly liberated nations resort immediately to the means of their former oppressors. The triple contagions of nationalism, utopianism and religious absolutism effervesce together into an acid that corrodes the moral metal of a race, and it shamelessly and even proudly performs deeds that it would deem vile if they were done by any other.
Where will it all end?

Christmas will be here in a few months, and at some point in the holiday we'll all hear that song, and maybe some of us will even sing it: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Please, please, please: Let's not wait for Christmas.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We're All Foreigners Here

It's that most delicious time of year in England: blackberry season! The kids and I have been foraging up and down the myriad pathways of our town, enjoying the break from school and the simple joy of picking and eating blackberries as we walk along.

Ripe berries seem to be waiting for us everywhere we go, and since the weather has cooled off I’m back to wearing jeans so as not to be intimidated by the stinging nettles and thorns. This past week we’ve picked and picked and picked. On Thursday we made three dishes of bramley apple/blackberry crumble. One for us, one for the elderly couple who live two doors down and one for another elderly neighbor whose dog Rosie loves to play with Jack and Sophie. On Friday, in between spells of rain, we went delivering pudding!

Rosie's owner invited us in to meet a friend who had come for lunch. Both of these ladies are 80 years old if they're a day, and both of them just bubble over with laughter and energy. Before I knew it we were making plans to go blackberry picking together on Sunday afternoon!

There’s a path just outside town, the old coach road, where the blackberries are plentiful and the pathway peaceful -- definitely worth the mile walk, they said. Should we drive? I asked, thinking they might appreciate a lift.

"Oh it's close by," they said, "and the walk is good for the children." So it was settled. (And when Sunday afternoon came, we had so much fun! At this rate, my fingernails may be stained black permanently).

As we chatted, my accent gave me away, and I admitted that I grew up in the States. These ladies practically clapped their hands with glee. "I'm from Germany!" said one. "I'm Italian!" said the other.

"How lovely," the German lady laughed. "We're all foreigners here!"

Lovely indeed. Lately I've been reminded how much I enjoy living among people from other places, how fascinated I am by cultures that are different from my own, how delighted I am by women whose background is not what mine has been. I’ve been reminded how similar we are in spite of all those differences. I’ve been reminded all over again how very much these friendships make me feel right at home. This is definitely my very most favorite thing about the path my life has taken.

We’re all foreigners here.

I’ve been thinking about that from another angle, too -- while reading about the ten aid workers killed last week in Afghanistan, while watching the news about the horrific floods in Pakistan, while praying for the ongoing situation in Haiti. Life is short, fragile, precious. It can be frustrating and even painful at times, but it can also be over in a moment. This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. Remember that old gospel hymn?

We’re all foreigners here. Sojourners traveling together. And all those differences between us aren't meant to divide us but to make the journey more interesting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Signs of Hope

Well friends, it has been a long winter. I haven't been on the computer much. Taking a step back from the virtual world has felt good. I even fasted from facebook for Lent, which wasn't so much a sacrifice but was good to do without anyway. Unfortunately, less time on the computer has meant that I haven't posted here in three months. Three months!

Three months ago Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. Somewhere in my deepest self, this event caught hold of me and has yet to let me go. So when I have gone online, I've consistently checked in with my friend Ruth and with her friends Troy and Tara, among others. I'm so far removed from all they're describing, but through the power of prayer I feel like I'm right there with them in the Spirit. So when I read the following story, I cried tears -- but instead of tears of heartache and despair they were tears of joy and of hope.

This was initially posted by Barbie B on her blog, Haiti Is Such a Strong Word, and reposted by Troy:
Go online and search out Destiny's Child "I'm a Survivor". Hook up your speakers, turn the volume on high, with a whole lot of bass, and with apologies to your next door neighbors, rock the house. Then close your eyes and listen to the chorus. And imagine what we saw today...

We were discouraged. We'd lost our physical therapist to a family emergency, and our patients appeared unmotivated without his constant encouraging presence. Moods were low. Apathy was setting in. Oppressive heat overwhelmed our tarp covered courtyard hospital. Little six year old Dina, now in a walking cast from her open tib-fib fracture, refused to put down her crutches and bear weight on it. Afraid. Lillian, 10 year old with an externally fixated femur fracture...crying with each episode of physical therapy, more and more fearful of the pain. 59 year old Leeann, lying stoically in bed 23 hours a day, not exercising her healing leg -- going backwards in progress. Our 76 year old below-the-knee amputee Genine, needing to learn how to walk again, having a difficult time even standing up. 20 year old Amanda, with her paralyzed left arm and shattered left leg, lying sadly and disinterested in her cot, staring blankly off into the distance.

We'd hit a wall.

"We just need to get them MOVING..." one nurse said.

"Maybe we could get them to do physical therapy together..." someone else said.

"It needs to be fun," someone else said.

And so the idea spiraled. It was born from the knowledge of a perhaps little-known fact, outside of our hospital, that our Haitian patients have innate and amazing rhythm. And soul. Every night, they sing and clap and stomp together in song in impromptu mass that goes on sometimes for hours. Rocking the house. Rocking the neighborhood, over the cinderblock walls, beyond the plastic tarp that is our roof.

It was evidenced when we watched the film "Madagascar," projected one night on a white cotton sheet tied up to the cinderblock wall. In this Disney film, dubbed in French, shipwrecked zoo animals land in the wilds of Madagascar with a bunch of lemmings who break out into fabulous song, singing a hip deep bass beat, "You got to move it, move it. You got to move it, move it. You got to move it, move it...MOVE IT!!" There was nothing cooler than to watch heads start to bob and hands start to sway to the rhythm as all of the patients started to sing along to the beat.

It became obvious that our patients have rhythm.

"Let's make them exercise to Move it!" recommended someone else. We all laughed.

Then someone said, "No, really!"



So, somehow it happened that we pulled out the electric sound system used to project movies on the wall at night. And plugged it into Dr. Jen's computer. A quick search of her iTunes files revealed a great assortment of deep beat, hip, rhythmic dance tunes. Including the song, "You all ready for this???!!" -- normally danced to at NFL halftime shows by cheerleaders in skimpy tops and pompoms.

We walked around to each patient and said, "In a minute, we're going to turn on the music, and you will do your PT."

Some patients were assigned a helper. Amputees were given the task -- stand and balance on your strong leg, and try to squat up and down. Bilateral casted patients -- stand up with your walker and balance, then sit back down. Young Dina, who refuses to walk without her crutches...when the music starts, you will walk on your cast...with one crutch, not two. Young Lilian, who starts to cry at the idea of physical therapy -- you will stand with your crutches and just walk around. Each patient assigned a task. They all looked at us curiously, a little dubiously. A little apathetically. A generalized look that shouted...ok, perhaps whispered, disinterestedly, "Ok, whatever..."

But then, the magic happened.

This was no circus music. No accordion music. No elevator music. No polka or grandma's parlor music. This was raging urban hip hop rhythm with wicked bass and deep musical soul. Yes, this music required apologies to the neighbors over the cinderblock walls for its volume. Yes, it perhaps shook a bit of dust off the walls. Yes, it was played like your car stereo when you drive solo, speeding down the highway with the volume and bass cranked, wind screaming through your hair. Because on the count of three, when Renauld our interpretor-turned-DJ hit "PLAY", at two in the boring afternoon at our Haitian Field Hospital, he literally rocked the house.

"YOU ALL READY FOR THIS????" the song called, followed by the deep rhythmic beat of sound. Sound which suddenly dragged patients' eyes open, pulled giant smiles from their lips. Heads began to bob. Feet began to tap. Eyes came afire with life as the sound system blared its rhythm across the courtyard. I helped our 76 year old amputee onto her one leg. Her shoulders started to sway in rhythm. A smile crinkled her aged, wrinkled cheeks. Ten-year-old Lillian, afraid to stand, threw down her crutches and danced with her hips swaying and arms undulating rhythmically, balancing crutchless for the first time. Dina marched to the beat on her casted foot, then began to spin and dance. Amanda lay in her cot, brilliant smile, rhythmically rolling her shoulder to the beat. Song after song, shining smile after smile. Little Emmanuel, three year old boy with the crushed face, stood in the center of the courtyard and danced the free-spirited dance of a child. Smiles and rhythm of joy. Old and young. Nurses and patients and translators and visitors. Rocked the house.

Then the last song, "I'm a Survivor," by Destiny's Child, began to play. I paused as I stood in the middle of the courtyard, slowly turning around to see the patients dancing and swaying and squatting and bending and smiling and laughing -- incidental physical therapy amidst the endorphin releasing joy of blaring song. Dancing like they were 16 again... perfect... whole... young.. .strong... in their bedroom secretly in front of their mirror. In a club. At a rock concert. A better day. A freer, more innocent day. Rebelliously blaring the music.... When life was simple and beautiful.

The deep, strong African American female voice pounded forcefully from the speaker in front of me. With each lyric, my eyes glanced off of each patient...their stories of survival...of pain...of endurance...of recovery...of spiritual resilience... flashed repeatedly in my mind. Fabulous. Amazing. Unbelievable.

I'm a survivor...
I'm not gonna give up...
I'm not gonna stop...
I'm gonna work harder...
I'm a survivor...
I'm gonna make it..
I will survive...
Keep on survivin'....
I'm a survivor...
I'm not gonna give up...
I'm not gonna stop...
I'm gonna work harder...
I'm a survivor...
I'm gonna make it...
I will survive....
Keep on survivin'...
Keep on survivin'.

If you liked reading about the Heartline patients, check out the video! Those smiles, along with the dancing, are precious signs of hope.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Help for Haiti

Maybe it's because of my experience teaching at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya (although no major incidents occurred during the years I lived there), but I can imagine only too well what it would be like for a major disaster to happen and for our school campus to be used as relief headquarters for people living in that area of the country.

This is exactly what is happening now at Quisqueya Christian School in Haiti. Friends from college work there, and that's why I linked to QCS in my previous post. According to my friend's brother's blog, a German medical team is set up at QCS now, as is a group from Crisis Response International. An emergency US Army team is on their way as well. You can donate directly to the ongoing relief efforts at QCS by going to their website. Just click the "donate" button at the bottom of the page.

A Matter of Perspective

It's that time of year again, when the air is cold and the days are dark, when my mind wanders like a toddler (uncontrollably, willy-nilly) through previous seasons of my life -- places I've lived, friends I've known, jobs I've held, conversations I've had -- but I can't seem to focus on what I'm supposed to be doing right now, right here.

I had been thinking I'd get back to my old self once Jack and Sophie got back into their school routine, but then the UK was hit with this record snowfall, and the schools were closed for four days over these two weeks since that school routine was supposed to be back in effect.

The good news is, we've had lots of family time! We've made play-doh, sugar cookies and Rice Krispie treats together. We've played in the snow, walked into town for hot chocolate at Starbuck's, made snow angels, discovered a footpath through the woods and alongside a stream that reminds me of the creek behind my childhood home. Covered in snow, everything has been as picturesque in black-and-white as it has been the other, more colorful seasons since we moved down to the countryside.

At first it was so exciting: A snow day! Woo-hoo! But after weeks of not knowing what to expect day-to-day, we're all thankful that it's thawing now, that the rain is melting the remaining snow/slush and washing it all away. Life may not be exactly rosy (spring is still more than two months away), but at least we've got predictability.

Which is more than I can say for the folks in Haiti. The reality of their living nightmare puts all my self-pitying, seasonal boo-hooings in the bin where they belong!

You may already know people who live in Haiti, and you may be following what's happening there via blogs and/or facebook in addition to what's being reported by the media in general. If not, here's the family who did that cool nativity video mentioned at the end of my previous post. In order to focus on the overwhelming needs all around them, they've had to send their children to the States to stay with relatives for the time being.

You may already have found practical ways to help the relief efforts, especially through some of the larger, on-the-ground organizations like Doctors Without Borders, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross or World Vision. If you're still looking for a group to donate to, please consider giving to Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince. Or look down the left side of the Livesay's blog. They list the two organizations they serve with as well as other people they know who are working in Haiti. At this point, every little helps someone, somewhere.

At times like this, questions outweigh answers. I've really appreciated having the internet, this amazing gift of technology, and the chance to read what others are doing as well as writing/thinking/praying in response to this devastating earthquake. If, like me, you're wondering how to make sense out of the senselessness, how to pray or just what in the world is wrong with Pat Robertson, check out the Sojourner's blog. Thank God for their sensibility, for their compassion, for their loyalty to Jesus and their understanding of the relevance of God's Word in our hurting world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Prayer This Christmas

I'm so glad Christmas comes around every year. For one thing, from January onward, I grow so increasingly weary of the violent conflict and unkindness in the world that by December I usually need a good dose of comfort and joy.

I tend to start listening to Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving, and every year I'm amazed at the sheer power of the words of the Christmas story to soothe my soul and refresh my faith: Don't be afraid. Good news for everyone, everywhere. A Savior is born! God-with-us. Glory to God and peace on earth. Blessed is she who believes that God will do what He has promised. For nothing is impossible with God.

Each year I seem to need that message of hope more and more. This year I've felt especially discouraged by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this year I've been especially struck by the third stanza of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on those who suffer. Have mercy on those who cause their suffering. Rescue us from ourselves. Enable us to hear the love-song that Your angels sing, and inspire us join them. Be born in us today.

*** Updated to add: Here's a beautiful article about this poem/carol's message of hope and rest, sent by a thoughtful friend. Thanks, Ruth!

*** Updated again! to add: Here's an amazing video of the Christmas story (as portrayed by a family serving in Haiti, authors of the blog linked above) complete with donkey and goats as well as original music. Gorgeous!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Pictures

Those six days between Matt's recent trips were exciting for us in several ways. First of all, it was the kids' half-term break from school, and then, of course, Daddy was home! But also the leaves were so vivid right then. Autumn in England seemed particularly spectacular this year. I've been meaning to post a couple photos taken that week. One was planned; one was not. Can you guess which is which?

If you guessed the first one was intentional, you're right! We were attempting to get a nice fall family picture to send out with our holiday letter next month. We certainly didn't pose these pheasants! They appeared one morning as we were having our breakfast and chased one another around our garden for a while before running off somewhere else. The kids and I were nearly hysterical, running from the front windows to the back, trying to keep them in our sight without actually going outside. (We didn't want to startle them.) We owe the dignified photo to the calmest, most sensible member of the family who snuck outside with his camera at the very moment they were sitting on the back fence all in a row.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Even Extremely Much More Fonderer

Matt has been away for 22 of the past 28 days. He's always traveled a lot, just not this much all at once. Needless to say the kids and I are all going a bit bonkers waiting for Wednesday morning!

We're all thinking it, but the three year-old says it best: "I love Daddy all the mostest."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rediscovering Star Wars

We've been watching the Star Wars movies with the kids. Yes, this is the first I've seen them since they were released in theaters (before video, before DVD) back when I was, like, ten. So in a way I'm seeing them fresh, putting the pieces of the story together as we go along. Matt somehow retained this information through the years and has been explaining to Jack and Sophie which characters are on which side of the conflict, which planets they're from, which spaceships they drive, etc.

Matt and I have gotten a kick out of the special effects that were so cutting edge back then. But the best part for me has been watching Jack and Sophie's reactions! Both of them love R2D2 the best, and Sophie's other favorite character is, of course, the princess.

About halfway through The Empire Strikes Back, during a scene with Darth Vader, Sophie folded her arms and said, "That guy is not pleased... He is vewy gwumpy."

Jack has been busily building Star Wars-type spacecraft out of Lego. Most horizontal spaces in our house are currently landing/launching pads for his creations. And he has decided to change his middle name to Jedi.

One morning last week the kids and I were on our way to school when the theme from Star Wars started playing on Classic fm. In the misty autumn morning around us all was calm, but in our car we were rocking out! I turned it up loud and sang along, surprised that I knew the whole thing. Wow, the power of music! I couldn't remember much about the plot line of the movies, but even after all these years I could anticipate each successive movement of the orchestral piece.

I felt full with the energy of youth -- old enough to have experienced this bit of pop culture history but still able to make it seem currently exciting to Jack and Sophie. And then the song ended. And the announcer said, "Ah, there's nothing quite like the theme from Superman to get your morning off to a flying start."

Oh dear. My cover is blown. Jack and Sophie are starting to figure out that their mother is not now, and never has been, cool.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At Home in the UK

Well, it's not a good sign that I've only managed one post a month for most of 2009. (Except for July -- an incredible six posts! Yet somehow I can't get it to show up in my sidebar.) I'm not sure what's up with that, but I feel the need to post something before October disappears altogether.

And as a way of marking six months since we left greater London for life in the English countryside (I've come to love it here already! This is such a pretty place and it's not just me -- signs along the A-road next to our house declare it An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), I thought I'd share a few things about life at the moment that reflect the culture in which we live:

*** My car radio is usually tuned to either Classic fm, Absolute (formerly Virgin) Radio or BBC Radio 4. (Does anyone know if there's an American equivalent of Woman's Hour?)

*** I bought myself a flask (American = Thermos) so that I can enjoy a cup of tea anywhere, but especially atop our local lookout point, basking in the clean country air and spectacular view.

*** The day we joined The National Trust I felt a little more complete, somehow.

*** I've learned to use my mirrors and can now back into a parking space with the best of 'em.

*** As a special treat at weekends, Matt sometimes surprises me with a (real! paper!) copy of The Sunday Times.

*** I've added Roast Dinner to the rotation of our family's menu. Usually it's chicken, but I aspire to make my dearest favorite, lamb. Yes, with mint sauce. And seriously, how delicious are roast potatoes???

*** My favorite Saturday breakfast is scrambled eggs, baked beans and toast.

*** Of all the kitchen gadgets I rely on, the one I use most often (and shudder at the thought of ever doing without) is my electric kettle.

*** This time last year I started composting! The London borough we were living in was giving away composting bins, and I loved it so much (composting is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, as my kids would say) that I brought the bin with me when we moved. Really. This is incredible but true. Vegetable peelings, egg shells, tea bags/coffee grounds and the cardboard bit from the inside of paper towel/toilet paper rolls -- just put this stuff into the composting bin with an armful of fallen leaves now and then, and voilà! Over a period of months, it becomes rich, organic fertilizer. (And looks remarkably like, well, dirt. Still, the sense of accomplishment and pride is amazing.)

Composting has become such a distinct part of Living in England for me (along with fairtrade and justice issues in general) that I was excited to read in yesterday's New York Times an article called Nudging Recycling From Less Waste to None. Here are a few snippets:

Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.

The movement is simple in concept if not always in execution: Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can...

Americans are still the undisputed champions of trash, dumping 4.6 pounds per person per day...

When apple cores, stale bread and last week’s leftovers go to landfills, they do not return the nutrients they pulled from the soil while growing. What is more, when sealed in landfills without oxygen, organic materials release methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, as they decompose. If composted, however, the food can be broken down and returned to the earth as a nonchemical fertilizer with no methane by-product.
Clearly, this topic could/should be a post of its own! But I'll close for now, hoping that I've inspired someone, anyone out there to give it a go themselves. Autumn is the perfect time to begin... What you start making now will be ready in time for gardening in the spring. How's that for incentive?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Distraction By Photos

When in doubt, post a picture. That's going to be my new blogging motto. There comes a point when there's so much I haven't posted about, that I really have intended to post about, that I have no idea where to begin. And by that time it's easier to let another day, week or several weeks slip by before I get around to an actual post. So as a method of distracting both myself and anyone who may still be checking this blog, I think I'll start with this fun reminder of summertime and all its joys -- even though fall is here now, my favorite season of all!

As of this week, the kids are back in their school routines. And I'm heading back to the classroom for the first time in ten years -- only for a couple hours on Tuesday mornings, to help in Jack's class, but I'm excited about that. Makes me nostalgic, though for my first year at Titchie Swot. Until then, I'd mainly interacted with junior high and high school students, and I didn't realize what big personalities little kids have! Now, of course, my life is consumed with two such big-little persons who are getting bigger all the time.

Here they are after watching Ice Age 3 in 3D. Both kids loved everything about it, especially the huge, Wayfarer-esque glasses. It was also Sophie's first cinematic experience. What kind of precedent does that set in a child's mind, I ask you?

And now, with a promise to write something more soon, I'll leave you with this photo, taken atop our favorite local lookout. Happy fall, y'all!