Thursday, December 03, 2015

Anne Shirley and Marilla Cuthbert

A few weeks ago, Lilly and I began reading "Anne of Green Gables" together.

This was entirely my idea.  She was required to read a classic for school, and "Anne of Green Gables" was on her bookshelf; but she had approached the book once before, and the language and miserable character in the first chapter sent her away.

I am reading it to her at bedtime - a rare joy, with our avid and independent young reader.  On this, my first reading as an adult, I love the book just as much as when I was 10 years old.  Yet many things surprise me.  Lilly struggles to understand some of the language; but I remember loving the book as a 5th grader, and she is a much stronger reader than I ever was.  Perhaps the book became antiquated in the past 30 years; perhaps Lilly hasn't spent enough time talking with my grandmother, or anyone of her generation. Lucy Maud Montgomery's wit was understated and sharp, and Lilly frequently misunderstands her criticisms as plain descriptors.  How much did I miss when I read this 30 years ago?

Lilly's opinion of Anne surprises me the most.  She has not fully developed her thesis, but it is clear that Lilly finds Anne silly and frivolous.  Anne's lavish word choices often annoy her and her constant eye to scope for the imagination seems excessive.  Lilly agrees with Marilla - Anne is vain and overly picky, and she talks too much.

She is right on all counts, of course.  But here is the difference:  when Lilly reads the book, she identifies with Marilla most of the time.  When I read the book as a girl, I identified fully with Anne.  I was quite convinced that had I been an orphan girl on Prince Edward Island, I would have been exactly like her; in love with the natural beauty and the unique sense of place, inspired by everything around me, and seeing sparkles in every new thing.  Reading the book, both then and now, filled me with joy and a magical sense of wonder, and a piercing longing to live in the midst of such simple beauty.

It is jarring to read one of my favorite characters to my daughter, and find that she is annoyed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th

We threw a small party last night for Dave's coworkers.  They would be at a coworking space in our neighborhood all day, and come over afterward for chili and corn muffins.  This was a particularly good deal, because we otherwise live quite far from the embassy.  No one would come to a Friday night party at our house, if they were not already in the neighborhood.

The challenge: We would serve chili to about 20 people.

We have 20 pieces of every other dish - plates, silverware, etc.  But we only have 8 bowls.  That's because when we bought the bowls in Jakarta, the store only had 8 in stock.  No problem, we thought.  We'll just buy more when the time comes. The time came yesterday.  So, the plan was laid out.  We would prepare the house before work, I would quick run to Muji to grab the bowls, and then I would work somewhere near the school because Talent Show rehearsals were after school today.  That would have Lilly, Fia, and I arriving home just in time for the party to begin.  No problem, because Ibu Sri was prepped on all things party and could manage the set up.

The day began confidently, with fresh flowers from down the street.  I was in the car headed toward Pondok Indah Mall for Muji, the Japanese store that sells our bowls, right on time.  Traffic seemed a little crazy, but nothing that I hadn't budgeted for.  We arrived soon after the store opened.  Pak Adi parked next to the door and I raced inside, telling him, Only 10 minutes, and then we will go.  All set.

I skipped up the escalator and straight to my store.  On a chance meeting, I said hit to my friends who apparently share an appreciation for all things organized and Muji as well, and then headed back to the kitchen shelves for my bowls.

Problem.  No bowls.
Solution:  The friends in the store happen to be my neighbors, and have offered to lend their chili bowls for the evening.

I'm back in the car within the requisite 10 minutes and we were on our way to the American Club, a quiet spot close fairly close to the school where I should be able to work for the next four hours.


Macet translates to "jammed" in Bahasa Indonesia, and is the Jakarta word for "crazy traffic."  We hit crazy, unexpected traffic on the way to the American Club and what I expected to be a 15 minute drive was double that.  Originally on track to arrive at the club only minutes after I should have started work, we were now passing that time on Jalan Fatmawati.

Problem: Macet.
Solution: Mobile wi-fi. Traffic moved so slowly that checking email and downloading documents from the back seat was a breeze.

Back on track, we arrive at the American Club, I pick up a few things from the commissary and catering and send them back home with Pak Adi.  I settle myself into a table in the cafe, just as my main documents arrive via email.  Order lunch and a coffee, and I settle in to work for the next 4 hours.  Smooth.  I finish and arrive at the school just in time for Talent Show rehearsals, where both Lilly and Sophia do markedly better than last week.  More success.

But during the rehearsals, things begin to decay.

Annika has gone home with a friend, who promised to drop her off at our house around 6.  Now that friend has no driver.  Can we come pick her up?
Dave has discovered the lack of bowls.  Dave is not so keen on the borrowing from the neighbors plan. Why didn't you just buy disposable bowls?  He's panicking and making new plans to serve the chili.  The neighbor needs to leave but Dave hasn't showed up to pick her up bowls.  I'm feeling a bit silly, coordinating between two people who are only a few hundred meters apart.
Technical difficulties arise in the Talent Show rehearsals, and it becomes clear that we will not be leaving on time.  Then the PA system began a lightning announcement that will not stop for a few minutes.  More technical difficulties - but now I'm stewing about the lightning.  Dave and Annie's playdate are both texting me about rain.  Rain is a blessing in Jakarta.  The country is in the midst of a horrible drought and the water table in the city is so low that in many homes, water no longer comes out of the tap. If we were home, rain would be a blessing.  But traffic on Friday nights is never good, and adding rain to the mix will easily double our drive.

The final act completes their rehearsal and we jet out of the school.  I've sent Pak Adi home because of the late night, and so I'm driving.  We climb into the car.  It has not yet started raining, and traffic has not yet increased.  I'm expedient as we head toward Angie's house - Lilly's performance partner, who lives on the way home.  About halfway there, rain is coming down in such torrents that I can only see the lights of the cars in front of me.  Stay in the middle of the road and follow the traffic. Somehow the little girl chatter in the backseat had a calming effect, and traffic in Jakarta moves so slowly that its hard to be scared.

We drive through water that reaches the bottom of the car, but otherwise make it through unscathed.  Drop off Angie and head for a quick cut-through at the mall.  They've just opened a back way, so that we can drive directly through the mall between our house and Angie's.  This should cut our drive in half!  Yahoo!  We are on our way to the party!

Problem: We sat completely still for 30 minutes at the mall cut through.  Apparently its not such a well kept secret.

Problem: The mall cut through wasn't moving because Kemang Raya wasn't moving.  That's the street we needed next.

Once we began moving, we made it through both roads rather smoothly.

Problem: Having reached the road to our home and to Annika's playdate, its another parking lot.  Apparently, the entrance to our neighborhood is flooded out. We could now walk home in under 10 minutes.  But it takes us another 30 to drive it.

We finally reach the playdate, where the mom has an extra box of bowls wrapped up for us to borrow.  We grab the kid and the bowl and turn around.  Luckily, traffic between Kaia's house and ours was smooth so we make it home in 5.

It took us 2 hours to arrive home.  Lilly's teacher says the same drive takes her about 8 minutes at 6:00 a.m. most mornings.  I usually expect 20-30 minutes during typical traffic.  Two hours.

The guests all faced the same traffic in our neighborhood, so we arrived no later than anyone else to our party. And the chili was delicious.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Morning Escape from Jakarta

Dave's parents were in town this week.  We showed them around town, and we all took the day off on Monday to escape the city and walk through the rice terraces and villages that make up most of the island of Java.  We went hiking with idGuides, who were very well organized and kept us all safe and happy.

Dave and I fully prepared for a morning hike by packing our water bottles, granola bars, and rain jackets and charging the camera batteries.  Only when we got out of the car did I realize that I had brought my camera, but not my battery.  Luckily, my father-in-law is never without at least two cameras.  He handed me his smaller camera and here is what I saw.

The landscape is gorgeous, a green mix of wild jungle and agricultural terraces.  The sun did come out for part of our walk, but the ominous dark clouds made for dramatic photography. As I sit at my desk, I am amazed that this scenery is just an hour away from the heart of the urban jungle.

Although we could drive to the trail head in about 90 minutes, the village was not accessible by car.  We wandered a bit through the village and then out around the fields and hills, all guided by a team of local villagers.  There was garbage everywhere. It is difficult to explain the trash on the street in Jakarta, and the girls and I were even more disturbed by the trash on the side of the trail. I told them that garbage trucks certainly can not reach this village, which is true.  But that doesn't fully explain the problem.  The first and second pictures are taken from the same place, first looking out and then looking down.

Sophia was in awe of the pink pineapples.

Life had all of the romanticized benefits of rural living, but living in this village is clearly hard work.  These were the roughest and the nicest houses I noticed on our walk.

These men are digging a new water route through the rice field.  Farmers rotate their fields of rice   regularly, and divert irrigation to whichever field needs it.

This man is managing the scarecrow lines, a number of cables crossing the rice paddies with plastic bags or noisemakers attached.  He shakes the lines to scare the birds away.  This seems wildly labor intensive to me; also rather relaxing, possibly on par with going fishing - another activity that only keeps my interest for about 10 minutes.

The madness of an Asian megacity makes me forget what a beautiful country we live in.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mumbai 2017

Dave has been officially offered and has accepted a position in Mumbai, India following the conclusion of our time here in Jakarta.  We will transfer next summer.  The whole family is feeling excited about this, for loads of reasons.

Dave is feeling excited in large part because the bidding process is over.  In the State Department, a person finds their next job through a mishmash process of lobbying and official assignment called bidding.  Jobs are centrally posted, individuals make contact to apply for the job.  This is followed by interviews and searching your contacts to see who you know that may know someone who knows someone who could make a decision about you.  In a field where people make new hiring decisions every year and the entire office turns over completely every 3 years, personal references are invaluable.  Dave was in the enviable position of being able to choose between two jobs.  In the current State Department climate, this was good luck and (I believe) a testament to Dave's good work.

I wrote about our decision a few weeks ago, the point where we decided not to return to Washington for the next four years.  But I thought you might enjoy the thought process from the day.

We chatted with the girls about the two cities over dinner that night.  They felt excited about DC, even though they seemed serious about me returning to work and living on a very tight budget.  They also felt excited about Mumbai - the food, the clothes, the friends, the new adventure.  That list has since grown to include the school and the opportunity to live in a high rise.  Over dinner, they could not decide which city they would prefer.  And then Sophia said, I think Mumbai would be great because there will be no garbage on the street. I'm sure people pick up their trash and the skies are blue.

Um, sorry kiddo, I said.  I think Mumbai will be even worse than Jakarta on that front.

All three looked at me with disbelief.  And then each of them echoed, Well then, we should go to Washington!

Prepared for the garbage and the smells and the abundance of poverty, I am not excited about moving into another massive Asian city with hyper pollution and nasty traffic.  I miss parks and relaxing outside.  But I am otherwise way excited about Mumbai, which looks to be a vibrant city in an ancient country rich with culture.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How I Agree with Paul Ryan

It wouldn't take very long to compile a list of the ways that Paul Ryan and I agree politically.  I'd have more fun building a list of the many areas where we disagree.  But I've enjoyed hearing him prioritize his family as he prepares for the speakership.  I am constantly flummoxed by work-life balance in today's world - where a man wanting to limit his work responsibilities on the weekends when he lives in a different city from his children five days out of seven is making news.  Obviously, he's making news for other reasons as well.  All the same, our collective standard for family time and work-life balance remains low.  Googling him this morning, I learned that Ryan and his wife are raising their children in the same small town where they grew up, surrounded by family and steeped in community and tradition.  He told Cokie Roberts that not only do they not wish to move to Washington, they also can't afford to.

And this is where I stand with Paul Ryan.  We can't afford to move to Washington on a government salary, either.

Dave is nearing the end of bidding season, where Foreign Service Officers "bid" on their next position within the department.  Assignments will be officially announced at the beginning of November, but neither job seekers nor job offer-ers want to reach that date without a promise that their match will be reciprocated.  It is an exciting and stressful season.

Dave was offered a job in Washington, D.C.  He was offered a job that he has sought before, a competitive job that excites him and would advance his career.  He had 24 hours to respond.  We were excited at the prospect, and weighed the pros and cons.  Financially, it would be difficult, we thought. But we could go home, to a neighborhood where people still know our names, a church where people still pray for us.  We asked the girls.  They knew they would face extra chores and that I would go back to work full-time, so they weighed their options carefully.  In Washington, they knew, we would see snow and parks and old friends, and spend holidays with family.  The pros were in - Washington would be a great move.

Then we looked at the cons.  Financially, it would be difficult.  But when we ran the numbers, we were floored.  We could not find a way to budget our next few years in Washington without hitting negative numbers every month.  We probably could afford to be Paul Ryan's neighbors in small town Wisconsin, but we can no more afford a move to Washington than he can.

This hit me hard, for a few reasons.

Reason #1 - We are not poor.  We can afford to travel and save money for our kids college tuitions. We will likely receive no financial aid.  We can choose for me to stay home with the girls; it is a choice that I work.  If we scraped and saved this year, we could afford a house in many Midwestern towns.  But the Washington area is no Midwestern town.  It is one of the most expensive cities in the United States.  Not only would I have to work full-time, but I could not afford to work in my field - I am a social worker with an interest in community development and a government salary added to a social service salary does not a Northern Virginia lifestyle make.  Earning triple digits would still leave us in debt most months.  We would be lucky to pay $2,500 in rent - likely we would pay over $3,500.  Adding after-care for the girls and we have far exceeded my likely salary.  I am not complaining - I know many of you face tougher monthly budgets than I'm describing.  But I was shocked.  We could return to our old neighborhood in DC, work a lot, live in 2-bedrooms, and pull the girls out of piano lessons and soccer.  Or we could stay abroad.  We voted to stay abroad.

Reason #2 - I can do anything.  I was chatting with an old friend this morning about our 20th high school reunions.  We discussed feeling old, and she shared the realization that she will never be an astronaut.  I laughed - I realized I would never be an astronaut when I was eleven.  But she never completely closed the door... until she realized this year that it would never happen. I looked at our preliminary budget with the same sad shock.  This is something I want  - how can it be impossible?

Reason #3 - We can not go home. I identify fully and proudly as a Midwesterner.  I was so excited at the prospect of a Cubs - Royals World Series.  But after living in Virginia and then returning   again a year later in crisis, Arlington has become home.  It is the only American city my children remember as home.  We all have friends there, and we were all sad to leave.  If we returned this summer, we could return to our same neighborhood and feel welcome and at home.  The girls would return to friends.  Annika could have the same 1st grade teacher as both of her sisters. We could go home to fall leaves and winter snows and spring flowers and summer road trips to cousins and grandparents.  With the girls getting older, it will only get harder to move back to Virginia.  Housing prices will continue to rise and we will continue to need more space.  Friends will grow and forget about their old friends from early elementary school.  It will grow harder to change schools for only a year or two at a time.  Likely, not going home this year means we won't live in the United States again for a long time.  And that we may never return to Arlington.  It makes me feel sad, like I'm losing the home I left waiting for me.

Dave is waiting for confirmation of the job he wants.  He has received strong positive feedback and expects to be offered the job soon.  When we hear, I'll share... and you all can begin planning your next vacation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Jakarta Staycation - in retrospect

It started out so well.  We had what was essentially a 5 day weekend.  The embassy was closed on both Monday and Wednesday, freeing Dave and I up to explore the city, invite friends over for dinner, and generally hang out with our kids.  It was lovely, and me me truly enjoy our life in Jakarta.  As a bonus, Dave took the day off on Tuesday to take the kids to a water park while I went in to the office.  Work was quiet because of the holidays, and being the one to get dressed up and leave for the day made me feel great. 

Dave and I went back to work on Thursday, him from the office and me from home.  And my visions of working from home did not quite match my children's expectations of me.  Allow me to elaborate.

5:45am - The time my alarm goes off on a typical school day.  It did not.  Ah.

7:00am - Each of us girls have awoken, moved downstairs, and begun to grow hungry.  We are together and lazy; I am likely reading the paper, and two of the three girls may be playing an imagination game together while the third lounges on the couch with a book.  Lovely.

8:00am - A fight has broken out between two of the girls, leading me to urge everyone to eat breakfast.  As their bellies typically eat breakfast at 6:15, they have past feelings of hunger and reached that starving stage where they would prefer raging like a bear to pouring themselves a bowl of cereal.  The fight serves as a linchpin, beginning the break-day torture of being told to do their chores and eat breakfast.  This will include screaming, possible throwing, and at least one person sitting in time out for an absurdly long time.

9:00am - After an exceedingly long hour, everyone will be dressed, brushed, having eaten something, and hold no memory of the screaming and general nastiness that took place mere minutes ago. Upon which time I will suggest some sort of fun activity.  Maybe we could put up the Halloween decorations, or spend an hour at the pool?  No one is interested.  They'd prefer to amuse themselves, without my interference.  Are you sure, I prod?  I've got over an hour until I need to start work.  Absolutely.  They are quite happy. Making myself fully available to them for the rest of the morning, I accomplish nothing but am required to intervene in multiple small tiffs and tantrums.

10:30am - They've gotten bored and allowed me to set them off on a bicker-free project of some sort.  This will last about 2 hours.

12:30pm - I break for lunch.  Everyone is happy, understanding that they needed to work independently for the past 2 hours and that I stopped my work to enjoy lunch with them.

12:45pm - Back to work for me, back to independence enjoyment for them.

1:15pm - The ability to work independently has slowly seeped away, and as I approach my work deadline they begin their descent into madness.

2:00pm - My work deadline.  Which I have not reached, because young people have asked ten times in the last 12 minutes how soon I will be finished, each time becoming more convinced that I have stopped loving them completely and will soon allow them to fall into malady, starvation, and boredom. I close the door.

2:45pm - I submit work, forty-five minutes past my deadline, having reminded young people five times that the door is closed for a reason and that their latest drawing, although lovely, is not a good reason to open it.  My work day has finished.  I take a cleansing breathe and open the door to spend  time with my children again, suggestions of swimming pools and baking cupcakes swirling through my mind.  Each of them runs to me (Lovely to be so loved!) and asks if they can go outside to play with their friends.  I refrain from asking why they didn't do this 2 hours ago, kiss them on the top of the head, and send them on their way.

Such a pattern led to me question humanity by only late morning of the second day - whereupon I walked out to the street near our complex to seek out more positive influences.  Found, and nourished, I returned to work.  And may have finished a bottle of wine by the end of the night.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Jakarta Staycation - Day #3

Our second day of exploring our city had less the feel of adventure that yesterday did.  Today reminded us more why we don't set out to explore this city very often.  Everyone slept late, after a tiring and late night last night.  We ate a good breakfast to prepare for the junk we would eat in the city, and did not leave the house until 9:30.  We headed toward Monas, Indonesia's National Monument.  Its located directly across the street from the embassy, yet we have never been.

An hour of typical traffic later, we were circling the large park that surrounds the monument.  Each gate we reached seemed locked.  But no matter - these types of things mean very little here.  Clearly they don't want us using this gate today.  We reached the final gate, and it was open far enough to walk inside.  It was staffed with enough guards to explain that the monument is closed on Mondays. 

We felt a bit bruised being turned away, but headed instead to Masjid Istiqlal, Indonesia's National Mosque. It is fittingly located across the street from Monas, and so only took us 20 minutes to drive there.  The mosque was built in the communist influenced 1950s and is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia - the third largest in the world.  It felt large and grand, boxy and not beautiful.  But certainly it felt like a house of worship.  We were guided through the mosque in bare feet and wearing loaned robes.

 In perfect Indonesian fashion, the mosque neighbors the grand cathedral - dating back to the early 1900s in its current form.  A couple were being married in the cathedral, so we only peeked creepily through the windows and snapped quick photos from outside.  We didn't want to interrupt, and we were hungry.

We headed to a Chinese restaurant close by, one recommended for its Xinjiang food.  The food tasted less Xinjiang than Indonesian-influenced Chinese, adding to the general feel of the day.  We then explored Jalan Surabaya, an antique market.  Sophia studied everything, intent on spending money, and thus set a tone of fascination among everyone.  We explored the walls lined with typewriters and ancient cameras, wayang puppets and batik chops until we were too hot to explore anymore.  At which point we headed to what is said to be Jakarta's best coffee shop across the street.  Also closed today, because it seems the owner did not feel like coming to work.

No matter - a coffee and a few donuts later at a swell shop around the corner and everyone was ready to head home.  And this is Jakarta to me this year.  Not particularly impressive but still entirely enjoyable.

On Staycation Day #4, I'll go to the office while Dave takes the girls to a water park.  I think I'm getting the better part of this deal.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jakarta Staycation - Day #2

After a Staycation day at home yesterday, we headed out into the wide city to explore this morning.  We brought a few cameras along with us.

We began our day at Jakarta's Textile Museum - a fabulous collection of hand painted batiks from across the island and across the nation.  Every one was beautiful, and poorly lit.  They were housed in a magnificent old colonial building, with huge windows and gorgeous light.  The buildings were surrounded by gardens.  The plants were sparse, but they included cotton and indigo, completing the story of how batiks are made.

From the textile museum, we walked.  We walked into a fabric market, where we bought cloth for our Christmas dresses.  We walked into a food court, where we ate a variety of Indonesian dishes, finishing with root beer floats from A&W.  We walked across and through loads of traffic.

We sought out a coffee shop, getting frustratingly lost along the way.  Coffee is one of the many pleasures in Jakarta.  The island grows some of the best coffee beans in the world.  The city sells primarily instant coffee, but has some coffee shops tucked away in little corners of the city which are well worth seeking out.

And after walking to these sights, we walked back to the car.  This time, we took the quieter roads, where we found laundry and puppies and children and life.

As we neared the car, we crossed a bridge.  Lilly noted the obvious drought conditions.  Sophia noted the goats, the chickens, and the puppies.  Annika noted the little waterfall coming from the homes.  And Dave noticed the skyline.  I couldn't capture the homes or the puppies, because they were on the other side of the water.  But the skyline is pretty fun.

We went home dirty and exhausted, stopping at a movie theater on the way - because it was a Sunday, and Sunday night is movie night in our house.  Pizza for supper and late to bed.  This is what school breaks are made of.

Jakarta Staycation - Day #1

School entered October Break on Friday afternoon.  Nine days without an alarm waking us up at 5:40am.  Nine days without homework or packing lunches.  Nine days without strict bedtimes or to do lists.  Ah, I feel relaxed just writing that out.

We chose not to travel this week, mainly because we don't know our budget for the next year.  Dave is bidding on his next job, lobbying for where we will move come summer.  Some jobs will pay more than others, and some jobs will come with significantly more expenses than others.  So we stayed in Jakarta this week, along with only very few of the girls' friends.  I've got no music classes and I'm not teaching Sunday School this week.  We don't have a full schedule of playdates or lessons.  And we do have a few national holidays.  What better week for a staycation.  And so - Saturday was Day #1 of our Jakarta Staycation.

As befits day #1 of a staycation, I was still wearing my pajamas at 10:00 in the morning.  Dave woke just before 6am to watch the Cubs play baseball.  The girls biked to the French bakery to buy fresh croissants when I woke up.  I read a borrowed  book from my neighbor, and enjoyed a slow morning with fresh coffee and hours to read.

The afternoon was just as luxurious.  A neighbor invited a few friends over, and so I didn't fix lunch, but I did enjoy good company all afternoon.  Friends of Sophia came over for supper, but the adults had all enjoyed the late lunch with the neighbors.  We were talking about cut apples, popcorn, and wine for dinner when a friend of Lilly's tracked me down.  Lilly had been swinging and she fell.  She hurt her head.  Her friend was concerned.

And the relaxing day immediately took a chaotic turn.  Dave and I discovered a tremendous bump rising on the back of Lilly's head.  We brought her a bag of ice, asked her to lay down, and called the embassy's Medical Unit to learn when we should panic about a head injury.  Nurse Stephanie asked whether she could focus her eyes (yes), whether she felt lethargic (no), and whether she had vomitted (no).  She confirmed the ice and said to call her back if anything changed.  Breathing a sigh of relief, we hung up the phone.  And Lilly threw up.

The neighbors gathered up the children, adults and dogs playing throughout our house and drove them home.  Their daughter came over to feed our kids cereal for dinner while Dave and I raced Lilly to SOS, an international medical clinic.  We arrived before 7:00pm to a nearly empty clinic.  We sat in the emergency waiting room for 10 minutes before being ushered to a bed and a doctor.  The local doctor checked her eyes and her bump and asked a few questions to validate what we suspected - that she was fine.  He sent us to the cashier with a card alerting us to symptoms of head trauma.  We paid 300,000 rupiah - a bit more than $20 US - all to reassure us that our daughter was well.  We went home relaxed and relieved, and considering how this would have gone in the U.S.  A vomiting child with a throbbing goose egg on the back of her head is reason to race to the emergency room, but the emergency room near our house in St. Louis would have cost us both multiple hours and well more than $20, especially with a hunch that we did not face an actual emergency.

Indonesia may not be the country for a true medical emergency.  But it is a fabulous place for a false alarm on a Saturday night.  Bonus points to Jakarta - I have learned to truly enjoy my Cubs games with a cup of coffee and a fresh croissant.  Staycation Day #1 was truly local and fully exciting.

Monday, August 03, 2015


Things I loved in America this summer:
  • The big, big blue sky.
  • The vast, vibrant green rising to meet the sky at the horizon.
  • The horizon!
  • Driving fast with the windows down and the radio on.
  • Target
  • Guacamole and barbeque and salads and so much delicious food.
  • Family and old friends.
  • Talking about Ferguson and Charleston and diversity and privilege.
Things I am loving about Jakarta now that we are home again:
  • My bed and my schedule and my food.
  • Ibu Sri, our housekeeper and Pak Adi, our driver
  • Fabulous coffee and bright flowers for sale at good prices, just down the street.
  • How the many individual friends that I remembered over the summer actually coalesce into one pretty fabulous community for our family here.
  • The lazy end of summer, giving us hours at the pool and afternoons watching movies with friends and evenings to crash on the couch or mornings to sleep in and naturally recover from jet lag.
It was so good to spend our summer in the United States with our family again this year.  But truly, it is good to be home again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Chilly June Morning

I'm sitting in the kitchen of my family's house in the midwestern suburbs.  It is 7:30 am and the light is still thin, the air is still cool, the house is still quiet. 

This, I love. 

This, I have missed.

We spend every summer with our family in the American Midwest.  And every time we return, I am always struck by something new.  Sometimes I am able to anticipate what will strike me.  I have been looking forward to a morning like this for months now.  Days in Indonesia are the same - temperatures always in the mid 80s, with humidity always in the mid 80s. The sun fills the house by 6 in the morning every day, and noisy children invariably follow its trajectory.  The only question is whether or not it will rain, and then for how long.  I didn't mind the Indonesian heat when the U.S. was buried in snow, but I began to miss seasons when spring hit the midwest and Facebook posts showed friends in jackets on back porches enjoying the warm evenings with a chill in the air.

I have missed that chill.

Life in Jakarta is good.  It took the better part of our first year, but I feel like I've found my footing and am living a life beyond just keeping myself and my family afloat.  I am looking forward to a more outward focused second year.  So, returning to the U.S. does not have the pang of homelessness that it sometimes does.  It just fills our family with joy, in so many expected and unexpected ways.

Things said by my children over the past few days:

I don't think I've ever seen such green grass in my life - and so much of it!

The sky is so big, so blue, and so bright!

Target!  Oh my goodness, this place is amazing!

Do you know where my jacket is?

You've got to try these strawberries!

This burger tastes way better than Carl's Jr!

I wish we lived here, so we could see our family every single day.

We are filling our summer with family and friends, loads of fresh fruit and plenty of burgers.  We are driving fast, with the windows down and our sunglasses blocking the glare of that bright sun.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Two Income Family

I've been working for a week now, and I'll admit it.  Its kind of awesome.  I'm loving being in an office, on a good team and with a real responsibility.  I came in with experience, and people treat me as if I have something important to contribute.  I'm not kidding myself - my job only has limited importance.  Still, it is so nice to feel qualified and valued as a contributor.  After 10 years, I feel experienced as a stay at home mom, learning how to keep my family healthy and balanced, safe and happy amid eight moves.  That is not nothing, and it builds my confidence.  What also builds my confidence?  Walking into an office with a job to do, and getting it done well.

Okay, that well part hasn't happened yet.  I have yet to finish a day of work feeling that I finished my work, and did it well.  I know that will come, but at this point I'm still working on balancing my family's time verses my office's time.  Even though I'm only working 20 hours per week, this balance is proving to be a greater challenge then I had expected.  When the school called me this afternoon telling me to come pick up Annika immediately, I had 20 minutes left on the clock but not even 50% of my work completed.  After a quick chat with my counterpart, she took over my project while I flew out the door.

And then spent the next 85 minutes crawling through traffic to reach my neighborhood.  A drive that can take as long as 3 hours in extreme traffic, the commute has so far only taken me 40 minutes.  Living inside America, those numbers likely make no sense.  In Jakarta, they are routine.  The 3 hour commute only happens under extreme weather, but the drive can easily vary from 30 - 90 minutes with no explanation. 

I needed to hurry, because the school had lost power and canceled school, effective immediately.  Without a housekeeper to call and pick up Annika, she was left sitting at the school until a friend could turn around and retrieve her.  They arrived nearly an hour after they picked up their own child.

There are so many successes in this story.  My co-worker easily picked up where I left off, and didn't question my racing out the door.  My driver focused on the traffic, so I could focus on calling and texting and getting Annika out of the closed and powerless school as quickly as possible.  My friend canceled her lunch plans to return to the school and bring Annika home with her.  Even though I arrived late, I still arrived home before the older girls got off the bus.  All success.

If this had happened on my first day of work, I would probably be writing this in tears.  After a week, I'm willing to chalk it up to life in Jakarta, where school can be cancelled immediately, where I can easily be over an hour away from my child, where everyone else has a nanny to pick up the slack.  And where I can lean on a friend I've only known for a few months.

And bonus - now I've got a paycheck coming to compensate for my lost time!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Back to Work

Today begins the next phase.  I am out the door in an hour to begin my new job at the embassy.

The job will go well.  Its a good team, interesting work, a good fit for me personally and for my experience and talents.  I'm not nervous at all.

The house and the family make me cringe.  Is this the right time and the right choice?  Should I be so worried about not being home when my kids climb off the bus?

It is certainly no coincidence that last night I felt painfully homesick.  Homesick for Virginia, where we lived in a house and a neighborhood and walked to school every day and felt like comfortable and cozy members of our community.  We have never felt like that in Jakarta - not like comfortable and cozy members of any community.  At least not yet, and we know that Jakarta is a hard nut to crack.  People go at least a year, if not more before they stop feeling overwhelmed by this city.

Add in the new job with the new commute and the new need to have my hair look nice in 55 minutes...

Fifty-two minutes?  Holy cow!  I'd better get started!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bahasa Indonesia, part dua

I wrote yesterday's post about my lagging language skills with the intention of a follow up today.  But within the past 12 hours, circumstances have changed.

I planned to write about a dilemma and a fear.  You see, I've gotten a part-time job with the embassy.  I'm excited about this job, not only as an interesting position in an interesting office.  But also as a perfect entree back into the working world.  It smooths out my resume beautifully. But I also have an exciting volunteer opportunity.   Kampung Kids is a yayasan in my neighborhood.  It is a non-profit that teaches kids from the kampung, literally the village but colloquially the little village style neighborhoods within the city, with very small and simple homes, often prone to flooding.

The teachers are volunteers and build their own curriculum, but they focus on school readiness.  In Indonesia, kids begin school at 7 years old.  Kampung Kids essentially teaches preschool - colors and letters and numbers.  Many of the teachers are expats and the students and families are excited to participate. 

I volunteered to bring my music classes to Kampung Kids on a weekly basis, and felt so excited at the prospect.  This is my dream life - maintain a schedule flexible enough to be at home whenever my children need me, to study the local language and to volunteer in a significant way.  Teaching at Kampung Kids would serve bullet points two AND three.  Boom!

But as it so often happens, these two points in time collided.  The point in time where I could volunteer significantly in my local community, and the point in time where I need to go back to work. 

This was a dilemma yesterday, as I waited for my security clearance.  It could be December before I receive my security clearance.  Do I commit to teaching at Kampung Kids until it comes through?  Or do I assume that my clearance will come quickly, and not make a commitment I am unwilling to keep?

I decided - clearance will take months.  I will volunteer.

Coupled inherently with this opportunity yesterday was fear. Teaching my music classes to families from the embassy community has been challenging.  I've been pushed to explore marketing in new ways, to commit much more time than planned, and to up my game as a teacher.  And so far, I only teach people who speak and understand English.  Teaching in the kampung, I would be the only person in the room who speaks English.  I would also be the only person in the room who does not speak bahasa Indonesia.  Also, I would be the only person in the room old enough not to cry when I'm frustrated.  What if I can't control the class?  What if a child cries and I can't comfort her?  What if I thoroughly fail? 

Dave convinced me that fear of failure is hardly a reason to avoid living the life I want to live, so I resolved to begin teaching next week.  And then I checked my email, and found a message from human resources at the embassy.  My security clearance is complete.  I go back to work in May.

I know - you need a good resolution to the story here.  So do I.  I'm left conflicted.  Phew - I do not have to face this crazy high chance of failure, as a teacher and as a language learner.  Hooray!  I get to begin this cool job soon, and start earning a paycheck.  Damn - At the first true opportunity, I am selling out.  Thus is life, I suppose.  But I must admit, I'm excited about where I'm going.

Bahasa Indonesia

I've been studying bahasa Indonesia for 12 weeks now.  I take a weekly class, so I've logged a whopping 18 hours of local language study since 2015 began.  I've been feeling a bit stalled in my past few classes - like I should know the word, but it just doesn't come to my head.  My teachers tell me I need to practice.  I answer that with so little vocabulary, it is difficult to practice.  They look at me like they can't comprehend what I've just said.  I realize I'm offering excuses and we all move on with our day.

Knowing that they are correct, I resolved to speak in bahasa Indonesia (the Indonesian language) whenever able this week.  I went to the grocery store and placed my order at the meat counter in the local language.

Me: Mao ini.  (I want this)

Guy at the meat counter:  How much would you like?

His meat counter English is pretty good.

Me:  Um, darn it, how do you say 700?

Guy at the meat counter:  tujuh ratus

Me:  Oh yeah!  Tujuh ratus grams Australian minced beef.

It was labelled in English.  No need to further complicate things.

So then I walked to the other side of the meat counter, feeling confident.  This time I tried for the deli ham, kept in its own case because pork belongs in hidden corners of Indonesian groceries.

Me:  Mao ini.  (Remember?  I want this)

Guy at the other meat counter:  How much would you like?

Me:  (with confidence)  Etam grams.

Guy at the other meat counter:  Sorry?

Me:  Um, darn it, how do you say 4?

Guy at the meat counter:  Enam.

Me:  Oh yeah!  Saya mao enam (I want four).

Guy at the meat counter:  Enam ratus? (four hundred?)

Me:  Yeah.  Enam ratus.

See?  I've totally got this.

So, having clearly displayed my language skills, I was emboldened to try again.  The next day, I walked to my music class.  Class is very close to my house - I just need to walk through a manned gate.  Usually I drive because I bring so many instruments and materials with me, but our car was busy that day.  So I just planned to walk half of my instruments to the gate, leave them with the guards, and then return with the other half of my instruments.  Then I'd do the same thing at the other side of the gate.  The gate would serve as my midway.

As I approached the gate with my three bags of books, CDs and dancing scarves, the guard began to open it for me.  Beloum, I called out.  Not yet.  He closed the gate and I set down my things.  One minute I said, and I walked away.

When I returned with my boxes full of instruments, my bags had moved into the guard shack and the contents had been spread across their desk in a clearly puzzled fashion.  It seems I somehow implied that I was delivering gifts, rather than simply setting down my bags.  Surprised, I packed everything back up and carried it back out.  Maaf, I said.  Sorry!  I had no more vocabulary, and I felt bad for embarrassing them. 

The guard replied, in perfect English, No problem.  I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.  Would you like me to help you carry your things?

Yes please, I replied meekly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I recently saw this headline in the Washington Post: Exhaustion is not a Status Symbol.  I saw the headline, but before I could open the link I dropped my iPad because I realized I had not finished packing the lunchboxes and I did not have the time to sit and read the newspaper that morning. 

Of course, the author is wrong.  Exhaustion is a status symbol in America - especially in northern Virginia.  Stress is highly correlated with success - you can't relax and succeed!  And multiplying the necessary stress for the success of five people places a lot on the calendar of a family of 5.

True - plenty of people are bragging when they share how busy they are.  (Also true - the author talks about Blackberries and getting ahead in business, and not about families and after-school activities. I did skim the article, later.)  Counterpoint - many people are just busy, and normalizing their condition by talking about it.  I am only sharing my experience when I tell you that I am tired this morning.

We had to let our housekeeper go on Monday morning.  This made both Dave and I very sad, and kept us up late on Sunday night discussing our plan.  We woke up at 4:30 on Monday morning to speak with her as soon as she arrived at our house, with our teeth brushed.  And I have not sat down since.  After nearly ten years of mothering, it still surprises me how much work it takes to manage a household of five people.  I speak with authority that our family creates over 2 hours of dirty dishes every day that we eat at home.  Within two days I began wondering, how do I manage the household without help when we live in the US?  One answer is not very well;  another answer is with the help of an automatic dishwasher and the occasional boxed dinner kit.

But the true answer is simply that my life, after 8 months in this country, is planned around leaving the housework for someone else.  And what a joy to have the flexibility to deign my time more worth walking Annika to and from school every day, the long way;  sitting at the table at snacktime and helping Sophia with her homework;  joining Lilly for soccer practice, and for the hour before soccer practice where she reads or snacks or tells me about her day; more worth these activities than folding the laundry and vacuuming under the table again.

We will replace her, but likely not on a full-time basis until this summer.  My parents will arrive as our houseguests in a few days, and they may have to make their own bed every morning.  The household will undergo a sea change as we grow to 7 people, see the culmination of yearlong projects such as the school musical and final soccer tournaments, and sometimes scrub our own toilets.

In a fun addition, I've been spending a lot of time marketing my music classes to grow to two weekly sessions next month.  And I received an email last night informing me that the embassy was beginning my security clearance.  I edited this in my head to read: Congratulations!  We are excited to welcome you to the world of working moms!  Assuming, of course, that we don't discover any nasty and traitorous secrets about you.

I think I need a nap.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Working Mom

We arrived in Jakarta in August.  I ran some free classes in September, but as it turns out, opening a business within a few weeks of arrival in a large city is not so simple.  I made a big marketing push in November, and opened one class in January.  My first session has almost finished, and it has been loads of fun.  I'm in the midst of my next big marketing push, with the goal of running two classes next session.

Jakarta has proven a tough nut to crack.  Spreading the word has not been as simple as telling a few moms about class and watching my rosters fill up.  So this marketing push has me focused on building my networks, and bringing my classes to as many moms as possible.  It has been a fun month, and I've enjoyed stretching myself as a small business owner, too.

Life has been busier with teaching and directing my music classes every week, but also more manageable with Annika in school part-time.   As an exciting addition, I interviewed for a part-time job earlier this week.  I expect to learn whether or not I got the job by the middle of next week.  And if I get the job, the time continuum would fall into a very different balance in our household.

I've spent the past 10 years working independently and maintaining full flexibility for our family.  Carving out thirty hours every week for my own projects would make a big change in how our household runs.  But it has been exciting to grow my business, and it was encouraging to put together an impressive resume.  I've known that this transition was coming - I've always planned to go back to work when the girls are all in school.  The coming year could prove a very smooth transition back into the full-time work force. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Testing the Flour

I am no food blogger.  I like a good recipe.  I am happy to trust experts in all fields, and cooking is no exception.  Fabulous folks create and test fabulous recipes, and I take those recipes and make delicious food.  Good enough for me.

The problem:  those recipes keep failing in Jakarta.

Tried and true recipes, ones I've made for years, these recipes keep falling flat in Jakarta.  Simple things like lemon bars turn out caramelized - kind of delicious, really, but absolutely not presentable.  And more complex things like yeast coffee cake don't rise, and sit on the plate small, dense and full of butter.  Don't get me wrong - butter is delicious.  But Grammy's cardamom coffeecake is basically flour, yeast, butter and cinnamon sugar.  When the flour and yeast don't work, you're just eating densely packed butter and cinnamon sugar.

Chatting with baker friends have raised a few issues.  The butter here may be denser, with more butter fat than in the US.  The sugar here is thicker, less granulated.  And the flour here is somehow wrong.

So, we can add a bit less butter.  We can run the sugar through the food processor.  But what is the problem with the flour?  How do we adjust for flour being somehow wrong?  I'm not inclined to believe that it is low quality.  I've happily baked with store brand flour in the states and with King Arthur Flour - quite honestly, I never noticed a difference.

Today, we ran a test.

Dave received a food scale for Christmas - a toy for making different pizza crusts, a skill where Dave has begun to excel.  Today's brownies called for 1 1/2 cups of flour, and specified that would be 6.25 ounces.  I measured out the flour in Gold Medal from the US and in Segitiga Biru from Indonesia.  Here are the results:

Indonesian flour unsifted and sifted - 6.4 ounces
US flour unsifted - 7 ounces
US flour sifted - 6 ounces

So, this little project got us absolutely nowhere.  As it turns out, the Indonesian flour came the closest to the appropriate measures. We had theorized that Indonesian flour was somehow lighter than US flour, likely from the sifting process.  This does seem true - the US flour was notably different after we sifted it.  But the Indonesian flour also seems to measure true to recipes, and the US flour does not.  That being true, Indonesian flour ought to work more reliably than Gold Medal.

This is why I am not a food blogger.  I am no scientist, and my rambling results above leave me wanting to dust off my hands and then throw them up in the air.

But no!  Because I don't want to spend twice as much on imported flour, I will press on!  The next experiment - baking the same recipe side by side.  The brownies currently in the oven promise to be amazing.  And also include butter, sugar and flour in very prominent roles.  On my next free day, I'm making two batches of these amazing brownies, and comparing the results.

Anyone who drops by that afternoon will be forced to try two different brownies and analyze the results.  Should be a good day :)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Back to Work

A month after returning from holidays, and life has fallen comfortably back into our routines.  We are busier than ever.  Lilly's soccer practice keeps she and I at the school until suppertime once a week, swim lessons for all three take us right up to dinner on another weekday evening.  Lilly has piano lessons and Sophia has a violin tutor, both of whom come to our home after school.  They've each got an after school activity besides.  And then our weekends are full of musical rehearsals, soccer games and my music classes.  We've settled into a new church and so we're enjoying going to church every Sunday morning, and Dave and I try to attend small group every Wednesday night.  The routine doesn't leave much breathing room, but we're enjoying everything and so we just seem to keep rolling along.

The music classes every Saturday are my own.  I brought my music center from Caracas, renamed it, and recruited enough families to run my first session this term.  I'll admit - this has been much more difficult than I expected.  I arrived in Caracas with these music classes in my back pocket, and my neighbors asked me to teach.  With very little effort, I had two classes a week.  I assumed the same thing would happen in Jakarta.  And so, within a few weeks of our arrival, within a few days of moving into our house, I ran my first demonstration class and opened up registration for a September session.

Three families registered.

In a class where you sing and dance and generally make a fun fool of yourself, three families are not enough.  Classes need at least six kids to offer a good experience.  So, I gave those three families their money back and asked them to wait until January.  We enjoyed our empty weekends through October, and ran a bunch of new demonstration classes amid a big marketing push in November and December.  With interest all over town, but only one location and one Saturday morning available to me each week, I opened one class.  That class is nearly at capacity, which excites me to no end.  Even better, everyone seems to enjoy class.  I'm not making a profit yet, but I am enjoying every aspect of the work.  Even more exciting, I'm talking to a local non-profit about volunteering to teach my class at their local preschool.  The kids are very sweet and teaching them would be a joy - but they know precious little English, and I know precious little bahasa Indonesia.  An exciting challenge, no doubt.  But the closer I get to teaching there, the scarier it becomes.

And with this joyfully full schedule, an ideal job listing came across my lap.  I submitted my resume this morning for a part-time job with the embassy.  Perfect in so many ways, here are two.  First, the job would allow me to work from home - a priority we were not considering compromising at this post.  Second, I am honestly qualified for the job - a fact which both surprised and pleased me.  The more years between today and my last full-time employment, the less I've felt able to fulfill the qualifications on any posted job listings.  But I honestly meet each qualification for this one.  I pulled together a resume - initially daunting, but eventually satisfying - and feel I have a good chance of scoring an interview.

Once that happens, we can discuss where I'll fit an extra 20 hours of work into my week.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Our Daily Commute

I walk Annika to school every morning and home again every afternoon.  This walk frequently sets the tone for the rest of my morning, but it does so in an odd way.  The walk to school is a short, straight line on a crowded, busy street.

The street is so crowded that when it carries traffic in both directions, we have barely enough room to walk .

The funny thing is that the road does not actually carry too much traffic.  It is just too narrow of a road, and so things like a little girl walking on the side can snarl the cars all the way down the street.  But just as easily, the road can be empty.  Generally, the road is crowded when we have no sidewalk and magically opens up once we have places to walk safely.

But I've got to admit, this walks puts me in a bad frame of mind.  Far too often, drivers will not budge for a little girl walking on the side of the street.  Far too often, bajajs  cough smoke in my face or motorbikes go out of their way to turn in front of me.  Far too often this walk will leave me angry.

And when that happens, I always take the long way home.  These days, I've been taking the long way home as much as possible.  Because on one particularly angry morning, the long way struck me as gentle and quiet and lovely.

When I walk the long way home, I go through meandering roads no longer wide enough for two cars to pass.  These roads are no more than a lane and a half.  And these roads connect not so much by other roads; rather they most often connect by lanes and alleys for motorbikes

On the long way home, people have set up stalls on the side of the road, and they smile when I walk past.

The long way home is full of greenery.  It always strikes me how quickly this city returns to jungle.

On the long way home, I pass a small school that seems to be run as a charity; the parents all walk their kids to class.  I pass a larger school with an old playground in a nice yard; the parents here generally ride motorbikes for morning drop off.  School was closed this morning, though.

By halfway home, I've begun to notice the little beauties hiding everywhere in this city.  The colors of the tropical plants;

...the cats nesting in hidden nooks and crannies;

... and all of the people. 

This morning, I walked home particularly slowly because I carried my camera.  People stopped me to chat, or asked me to take their picture.  By the time I've gotten home, I always feel that Jakarta is full of hidden beauty and populated by so many lovely people.