B is for ant and other uses of time

This post is brought to you by the letter A and the number 1440, which is the number of minutes in a day.

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I’m trying something new right now. I’m really bad at it (shocker) and even when I have tasted small victories in the endeavor no one’s even noticed. But it doesn’t matter because I’m doing it anyways.

I’m letting go of my time. Sometimes, I’m managing to give it away.

I’m trying to stop counting it, saving it, maximizing it, mourning its loss and most of all, fretting over its expenditure.

Was it Horace Mann that wrote the poem about losing two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes? Whoever it was, at the end he wrote something rather profound. “No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” In other words it’s no use crying over spilled minutes, they aren’t coming back again. For some that’s an easy concept–not for us Type-A wanna-be-efficiency-experts. We’re the ones always multi-tasking, always figuring out faster ways to do things, always thrown for a loop by unexpected complications. When people speak we think about how much more quickly or clearly they could have expressed it. When we make a mistake what bothers us most is the loss of time while we do the task over again. We like to check two boxes at once.

In domestic life this is picking up the puzzle that goes in the family room while we’re on our way to answer the phone because we can drop it off on the way. It’s steaming double broccoli because we can use the extra in breakfast. It’s using the same baby wipe to clean baby’s face, then swoop up that little bit of dirt on the floor, then polish the edge of the rubbish bin as we’re throwing it away. It’s brilliant and practical and sometimes completely ridiculous.

It’s also a lot of “Not right now” and “I can’t” and “Later, Darling, I have too much to do.”

Because a minute spent listening to you or two spent texting a picture of the tower you built to Grandma or fifteen spent teaching you to tie your shoe again are My diamond minutes and I have, as always, pre-planned a use for them.

I know I can’t just stop striving, stop making lists and being practical and working hard. That must go on. Regardless of what some may think or assume about the life of an unemployed mommy I can only say there seems to be a fair-to-middling amount of employment. It isn’t all sweatpants and popcorn and trips to the park. Especially the way I’m doing it these days.

Lately I’ve done a bit of an internal rummage and found I’m too obsessed with time. It’s true the last several years of our lives have been full and frequently hectic ones. And, for us, living overseas means that many things consume much more time than they used to. I calculate it used to take me an average of three seconds to choose a jar of pickles and set it in my shopping cart. In the last 48 hours I’ve made two batches of dill pickles, sauerkraut, applesauce, pumpkin puree for pies, two types of cookies, and two attempts at baked zucchini chips–from scratch. That’s not counting two days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Both attempts at zucchini chips were total failures but that is Beside the Point. Still, if you can help me with this problem be sure and comment below.)

It’s like we’ve been sprinting so long I forgot what it is to be still and live a little.

I can’t disciple my children if I don’t have time to sit down and talk with them about what they’re learning. I can’t build relationships with my neighbors if the time I allot them just covers “Hello-I-gotta-get-these-children-to-school” and “Goodbye-Must-start-dinner-now”.

Yesterday morning I chose to spend significant time with Hugh enjoying the letter A. We said it and sung it. We built it with wooden pieces. We traced it and picked it out of a lineup of letters. We made “A is for Ant” paintings by dipping marshmallows in paint. We said “A is for Apple” and made homemade applesauce together. And at dinner, when Daddy asked us what we did today, Hugh announced proudly, “I learned the yetter B!”

He thought we painted ants because B is for ant.

The efficiency expert in me says just wait until he’s five. (Or ten.)

If he watched more T.V. I could do more real ministry. Be better at correspondence. Keep things in order better. Do more. Do. Do.

But the truth is I gave him ninety of my diamond minutes because I love him and he’s my ministry, too. (I can say proudly that that is an estimate. I wasn’t even counting.)

Posted in Being Mommy, Keep Calm and Carry On | 2 Comments

where have all the wise ones gone?

For all of the wise women in my life. And especially for Mom. With love and gratitude.

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When Norah was about a year old we were living in “Merica, that vast land of enormous supermarkets and jumbo shopping carts. I was grocery shopping. Norah was sitting in the top of the cart babbling and I was deeply engaged in ice cream selection when I felt a hand on my arm.

“You need to put some shoes on that baby.”

She was a small, wrinkled woman with a black handbag. I looked at Norah. She was barefoot.

“Yes,” I said.

I was thinking, You don’t know my baby. They haven’t invented the boots this kid can’t remove. I felt like explaining that we’d bought her three pairs of boots in three months. That I’d had to drive thirty minutes out of my way only the day before to return to a store and hunt for one of the latest pair, kicked off and left behind. I wanted to tell her, irrelevantly, that I was a good mother.

At the moment truly I didn’t mind her comment. But later I felt a little defensive, maybe a little judged. Why was she telling me that? We didn’t even know each other!

But the thing was, she was right. It was January in New England (I was wearing a down jacket) and we were shopping in the frozen aisle. The baby was barefoot. I was her mother.

I wasn’t a failure as a mother. I just needed to make a change.

I’d like to run into that lady again. Just to thank her for looking out for my child—and to say I admire her courage. Have you contemplated the courage it takes for an older woman to give advice to a younger one in today’s world? Women who attempt to fulfill the Titus 2 commission* (yes, that says commission) with the younger women in their spheres are not winning any popularity contests these days.

We don’t want their input. Someone has probably written an excellent book on whatever aspect of marriage or parenting or career we’re dealing with, we’d rather look it up for ourselves. Besides, we assume they don’t really understand our situation. Okay, so they have been married for forty years or raised five kids or worked in a high-pressure environment for decades, they weren’t married to my husband and they seriously don’t understand the special, particular mix of giftings and challenges that are presented by my little darlings. What makes them think they do? So we are quick to find them presumptious or judgemental if they offer advice.

Meanwhile we’re ripping our hair out and laboriously reinventing the wheel. We’re making our choices and thinking our thoughts in a vacuum and it gives us nothing back to grow on. We’d rather just read a book about it because a book doesn’t have to know all the mess. Also, then we remain the authority in the situation—if we don’t like what the book says, we can set it aside as an unhelpful book. Sometimes we look around and wonder where our village is. Where is the voice of experience? Raising children is not for the faint of heart, we think. Isn’t it anyone’s job to help me with this momentous task?

How can they teach if we aren’t teachable?

Are we seeking—and listening to—advice?

These women are so precious! They have perspective to help us see clearly, wisdom to help us order rightly, and encouragement for the cloudy days. They should be sharing it–we should be listening to it. And recycling it for the next girl.

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*Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands that the word of God may not be reviled.”

Posted in Being Mommy, Keep Calm and Carry On | 5 Comments

of school lunch and the way we PBJ

 

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I like to cook, people. Really like it–see my alternate life. Which is fortunate because I do a lot of it. But school lunches are my nemesis. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to find healthy lunch options for kids in a hot country (with no refrigeration). There aren’t cold cuts or already-prepared food options in the grocery stores or street markets. Feeding the kids a simple healthy lunch requires loads of preplanning: I have to make homemade soup and heat it up in the morning to be packed in a thermos, or hard-boil eggs and cut up fresh veggies, etc. I have even invented Pizza Lunchables: Indonesia-style. I made homemade pizza sauce and pre-baked a big batch of small pizza crusts.

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Then I froze the crusts and sauce in little bags. All I have to do is throw them in the lunch bag with a little bag of shredded cheese.

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Norah loves that one. Poor kid, she’s still recovering from all the PB & J that fueled her first grade year. (I was in language school and survival mode simultaneously, don’t judge.)

Jam is available here, though not the healthy or natural kind, but the price of a small jar is equivalent to about six dollars. There is also peanut butter–the main one I see is Skippy brand, imported from the States. This also runs between six and eight dollars, and a jar of PB in this house lasts about as long as it would if it was made of ice. Also, we like natural unsweetened peanut butter (it’s a better contrast to all the ice cream and chocolate we like to eat with it).

When we finished language school I started making my own strawberry jam with bags of frozen strawberries. This cuts the price in half, cuts the sugar completely, and tastes a lot better than the stale stuff on the shelf.

I’ve now begun making peanut butter also. I held back for a long time because I was fairly confident I’d wreck the blender. The peanuts that taste the best are the roasted/lightly salted ones in the shell. The kids help me shell about a kilo of these at a time. (Please dispel any sudden images of peaceful family industry that may arise–by “help” I mean, Norah shells twenty or so, Harriet shells two for me and ten for herself, Hugh eats a bunch of the ones we’ve already done or picks out the rotten ones and feeds them to Wally.)

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Then I make a lot of noise with the blender and a spatula and some vegetable oil, and we have a jug of peanut butter–a little grainy, but salty nutty goodness just the same. There’s nothing added and no sugar, it is far less than half the price, and it’s still the go-to for lunches.

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Don’t let all the health talk distract you from the real reason to make peanut butter. Now at last we can have chocolate peanut butter cups.

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Talk about a big hit in school lunches.

 

 

Posted in Being Mommy, Food & Cooking it, Keep House and Carry On | 4 Comments

of nasty eggs, emoji, and laughing at yourself

unknown I was going to be creative for breakfast this morning. Eggs have been so boring lately. I had a little time while making supper last night so I prepared an egg bake. For sure, the ingredients I had weren’t what they should be—I sorely missed sausage and cheddar cheese—but I had fresh spinach and some bread and I was pretty sure I could make something eggy and yummy. It wasn’t. I’m not being modest. It wasn’t, as in, after one bite I was serving yogurt to the kids and making eggs. Fail.

Then I tried to visit a newcomer and her children with my boys. This family is living one mile from our house and it took me more than forty minutes and three phone calls to find it. I think Hugh thought we’d left the country. After a nice visit I loaded the boys back into the car and started for home. And fender-bendered pulling out of an empty lot. Fail.

I returned home a wreck of my former self. I called Alex out to see the damage. I told him simply what happened—there may or may not have been tears involved–without making excuses and he was, as he always is, the Best. I cannot even describe to you how much I adore that man. What with the Epic Disaster of breakfast plus the driving thing I felt like such a failure. (What is it that I do, exactly?!? Nothing well, that is certain.) But Alex was so sweet and understanding, even encouraging—after five minutes I truly began to feel as though, in fact, I am an amazing human being and the whole thing was obviously completely the fault of the other party. (The other party being, in this case, a two-foot ceramic wall not impairing the solidity of his case, because clearly that wall had no business being there). (You’re all going to think I can’t drive. And you are correct. But I feel impelled by pride to point out that, before driving in Indonesia, I have not hit anything with a car since I was eighteen. Since moving to Indonesia, I have had serious disagreements with stationary objects four times. What is proved by this evidence? That you should take all care not to be a stationary object in my vicinity if I am behind the wheel.)

The power was dead when I walked into the house—it wasn’t a surprise because I had seen the blank stoplight at the corner. Power dead means not only no lights and no cooking but no internet and no water because the water pump is electric. When my helper said it had been dead for hours I was thankful I’d planned a cold lunch—cold grilled chicken and fresh corn. I had also made blueberry soup, a crowd favorite around here—made with my last hoarded frozen blueberries, cinnamon, and plain yogurt. It is a lovely deep purple color and about the most refreshing thing you can imagine. Have you spotted the difficulty yet? Neither did I. But soon the lower 75% of my children were a lovely deep purple color, as well as a large section of the kitchen floor. With no water. Fail.

(Here’s Wally, because I do sometimes remember to take pictures.)

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Again Alex cheered me up, by wishing aloud it would rain. Which brought us both back to a very memorable time in our own recent history, when the Professor, as the main character in this episode shall be dubbed, was showering when the power—and the water—died. He was, if I remember rightly, post-soap and pre-rinse. When the power had not returned after some appreciable period, he began to desire to leave the shower. I remember offering him two small bottled waters, thinking he could dump them over himself to try and remove some of the soap. He had, he thought, a Better Idea. His plan was so simple it’s easy to miss its innate brilliance. He would Go Out In the Rain. It was afternoon in rainy season and it had been raining quite steadily. Unfortunately, by the time the Professor donned bathing trousers and made his soapy way out to the courtyard, the drops had slowed to plop-plop stage. He stood out there, eagerly scanning the sky, still lathered and looking . . . ridiculous. Suddenly, without warning, he had another Great Idea. Seeing a plastic flower pot full of collected rainwater standing nearby, he grabbed it and inverted it over his head. But it had been there for a while, and was full of rotting vegetation. Thus the Professor instantly transformed into the Swamp Thing, complete with smell and slimy rotting leaves now clinging to the soapy lather on his arms. I wanted so badly to help him, but this desire was far outweighed by my much bigger ones to A) photograph him and B) laugh at him. (I chose option B, and I’m still laughing.)

Sometimes you have one second to decide if you’re going to laugh or cry and both responses are valid. (Except in the above case. Laughing was the only valid response there.) Which explains the deep connection, the instant sense of recognition, that welled up inside when I first encountered the weeping-and-grinning emoji. I don’t like what emoji have given to the world–except that one.

Girls, I wish I could have sent it to you around 4 pm when the power and water still weren’t back and I had two children with diarrhea. Or maybe there isn’t an emoji for that situation yet. Talk about keep calm and carry on! Also laugh.

 

Posted in Keep Calm and Carry On | 7 Comments

of uh-oh and a battle to the death

 

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I was trepidatious when I opened my eyes early yesterday morning to see Alex, already in a collared shirt, grabbing his backpack. On the days he teaches at seminary, he’s gone by six. Though it’s only his second week teaching it is already a struggle between “Have a great day, darling” and “Uh-oh,” in terms of my morning greeting. In faith, I opted for “Have a great day, darling.” (And followed it up with “uh-oh” after the door shut.)

After preparing to do this for a decade, there is a tremendous joy in beginning and things in Alex’s classroom seem to be off to a great start. For which we thank God. But my own experiences on the teaching days have been . . . hair-raising. (Better terms eluding me, I looked that up in the thesaurus. It suggests ‘shuddersome’. Yes.)

His first morning teaching I was so nervous I decided to clean out the car. I thought our van was dirty in ‘Merica! You should have seen our car eight days ago. It was full of sand and sweat and dirty streaks on the upholstery from countless children clambering in and out all summer. All of our children are packrats, collecting bits of rubbish and random samples of tropical plant matter for later study that never actually happens. The car is the receptacle for most of these non-rare specimens, since the day I outlawed under-their-pillows as an alternate location. (No doubt further solidifying my credentials as a Mean Mom.) So the car needed the love and hard work is my best panacea for anxiety. I backed it into the courtyard, filled a bucket of sudsy water, and gave Hugh and Wally the job of washing the outside. I geared up and headed for the interior. At the same time, in a city two hours away, Alex was beginning to teach.

I scrubbed all the upholstery, cleaned the windows, washed the mats in the sun, and swept out the sand. All went well until I removed Wally’s chair and tipped his seat up to clean underneath.

When I spotted one.

There was a cockroach the size of a quarter hanging out under there. Believe it or not, in Indonesia this counts as a little one. Nay, an infant. I’ve lived here for a year now. (Also I’m an adult.) I wasn’t going to freak out. I kept an admirable calm while I backed slowly away and went for the chemical bug-killing spray can. You would have thought I was strolling through Target with a Starbucks coffee in one hand. I leveled that baby at the roach and let loose.

And cockroaches by the hundreds came pouring out of the interior of the seat. They spilled down the upholstery, ran in all directions in the interior of the car, spilled out the door, and rushed over the ground. Two ran over my feet and one ran up my leg. There were babies, adults, and granddaddies: ranging from pea-sized hoppers to bigger brown quarter-sized runners. God be praised, there weren’t any of those titanic four-inchers like the one that came running out of my face cloth early yesterday morning.

I have no idea what sound came out of my mouth but I can promise you it was both disturbing and impressive.

I would love to describe the next few minutes to those interested but I am afraid a more precise record of those events will be forever lost to the world. (Unless my helper was watching from the house, which I sincerely hope she was as her job is, at times, too boring.) All I know is that I went beserk with the spray can and the broom. The fumes got so thick my tongue went numb and at one stage I sacrificed my left foot in order to whack to death the cockroach that was on it.

After I finally finished sweeping everything out I sprayed, waited ten minutes, went back and swept out the dead, sprayed again, etc. for an hour. When I finished our car was gleamingly clean, there was no sign of life, and the courtyard was littered with enemy carcasses. I looked at the clock. Alex was wrapping up his first lecture. (How did it go, darling.)

I forgot to tell you, as I backed away for the spray can in the beginning, I startled a seven-inch brown snake lizard, who had apparently been sunning himself behind the car. In his haste to flee the scene he actually touched my foot. I was so focused on slaughter that this event, ordinarily momentous, did not impair my calm.

You ‘ve heard of the classic “fight-or-flight” response to threat? For many months in Indonesia my automatic impulses were all “flight”. Apparently that stage is over. I’m all fight at the minute and the score last Thursday was firmly Me: 1, Enemy 0. So praise God for that.

I need to, because yesterday was another teaching day and I backed into a guy’s motorcycle with the car.

Posted in Indonesia, Keep Calm and Carry On | 19 Comments

no where else

“Where else have we to go? You alone have words of eternal life.”  John 6:68

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Early last week my father sent a message: my second cousin, her husband, and their three little children were suddenly killed in a horrible car wreck. They were pre-field overseas workers, training to serve in the world’s largest least-reached people group: the Japanese. Now they’re all with Jesus. Last summer as we were traveling on countless car rides and flights from place to place, I remember thinking, What if . . . after all of this struggle and preparation and travail and prayer and effort and expense and emotion . . . the plane goes down? And we never get there? And thinking, That wouldn’t be God’s plan. Foolish, arrogant me. Thinking that I can comprehend the ways of a perfect, sovereign God. I am left now, telling myself over and over through the tears, Surely he knows what he’s doing?

It makes me run for Jesus. There’s no where else to go. With my head spinning with confusion, my heart hurting for the family, I launch my question at him like I’m throwing a heavy and unwieldy burden that drops almost on my own feet. This is a harsh one, Lord! And the Man of Sorrows is there. He meets me in that place. His eyes that once saw God turn his back as he hung to his death. Reminding me we “judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace” because “behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.”*

I stand with my mouth shut as I begin to see the impact of my second cousin’s life and death around the world. They were compelled by the state of 130 million Japanese—because Jesus is. And he will build his church—and is using them, as they wanted, to do it.

 

On Saturday Indonesian authorities foiled a plot on the part of ISIS-affiliated terrorists. They were trying to launch a rocket bomb at the Marina Bay Hotel in Singapore from the nearby island of Batam. We were touring the Botanic Gardens at the base of that hotel one month ago. Among our friends and acquaintances here, someone’s always in Singapore. We have friends on Batam now and Saturday night we had a new family to dinner—headed, after language school, to Batam. It was close this time. The fiery darts of fear are thicker in the air. And I want to scream aloud, “Has the whole world gone crazy?!”

It makes me run to Jesus. There’s no where else to go. I run fast and I run scared. And the King of kings is there. He who is coming to the world’s rescue, leading heaven’s armies on a white horse and wielding a righteous sword. We are not, never have been, and never will be defenseless. He is Faithful and he is True and this world has not spun out of his control.

I stand with my mouth shut and hold in my hands the very great and precious promises. They are all YES in Jesus.

 

Jesus is our only hope. He’s our high tower, our fearless leader, our nearest comforter, our sheltering wing.

Run.

Run. 

And cling.

 

 

*From William Cowper’s God Moves in a Mysterious Way 1773
Posted in Jesus | 11 Comments

a broom of her own

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Brooms have become tools of great importance in our lives. I remember having dinner with some friends from India last year, and they were describing the differences they noticed between daily life in India and that in the United States. One thing they said really surprised me. “There’s so much more house work, because of the dust. You leave something out, you come back, it’s full of dust.” I thought that was descriptive hyperbole. I realize now it wasn’t.

With windows that are never shut in a house floored with white tile, we have to sweep everything out every day. Just so you know, that’s a royal “we”. It’s the kind of “we” that really means “the house helper does it”. Also the children, who have become obsessed with brooms. Even Wally, who is always staggering around the kitchen under the weight of a broom twice as tall as he is. Indonesian brooms are really cool. They are usually bundles of stiff straws bound with a cord, often with a stick of bamboo in the center as a broom stick. Of course, there are more modern plastic brooms here, but these don’t tend to last in our family. Probably because they are frequently called into service as cockroach-smashers. (I’m serious, we’ve destroyed three plastic brooms in this way to date and there was no end to the madness in sight until Alex’s mother came to visit and gifted Alex with a heavy wooden meat-mallet, now designated for this purpose. We’re notching the handle for every kill.)

Even with a helper, I find plenty of cause for sweeping around here. I like sweeping. It’s such a classic, universal activity. Like all cleaning, I’m always struck by the redemptive metaphor.

And I love it when the children learn things by watching the people around us. Yesterday I found Harriet in the courtyard making a broom. She had gathered a pile of straws and bound them to a stick, and she was busily engaged in trimming the ends.

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“Mom, I’m making a broom. Can I paint the handle when I’m done?” Norah was so interested in the process that she immediately enrolled in broom-making class, as offered by Harriet, a veteran with one broom successfully made.

“Hey, Mom. Take a picture of me, like, teaching Norah, okay?” She’s the younger sister, she needed to capture this rare moment.

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I love the innate ingenuity of childhood. It’s really fascinating, the way they are so curious and absorb the world around them and put their own creative twist on it. Though to be honest, I was less keen on the innate ingenuity of childhood when Walter sweetly stuck a stick in my eye yesterday, also when Hugh found the bucket of white powdery ashes from the grill and made it “snow” thickly over everything in the courtyard, including his own hair. I should have been more understanding–he was just providing me with another opportunity to indulge in the universal redemptive metaphor of sweeping.

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Harriet’s broom turned out excellent. She painted the handle bright blue and red and embellished the handle with a ball of pink fluff (that was her creative twist). She announced that she was going to gift the broom to her new kindergarten teacher, along with her reversible picture of a tree and a volcano. (One way it’s a tree, turn it upside-down, it’s a volcano.)

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I can only say I hope the teacher understands the magnitude of this gift, as the broom is, at the moment, her most treasured possession. She was riding it through the house all morning, the foreboding of this slightly witch-like activity alleviated by the fact that she was singing the words to Psalm 121 at the top of her lungs.

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Posted in Little Ones, Make Do and Mend | 10 Comments

pinterest is bad

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Girls, have you seen the Pinterest fails? You know, the professional Pinterest photo somebody saw of a perfect crafting experience and its lovely outcome . . . and then photographic evidence of their own botched operation? The first time somebody sent me a link to one of those sites I did the snort-laugh. (I believe it was to one of you, O readers, that I am indebted. Accept my public thanks!) Some of you will now go and view it and fail to get the joke because these attempts, my friends, are not actually at all funny. They are sad. They are only funny if you look at them with an immediate, guilty sense of self-recognition.

I am crafty. The quandary of being born a craftish-type person (and you know who you are) is that such heritage does not guarantee talent. If it comes with talent, you’re “Artistic”. If it comes without, you’re a Time-Wasting Idiot.

It is for my fellow time-wasting idiots that I describe today’s efforts. (That is me, above, conveniently wearing my “I’m blogging this” shirt. All unplanned, people.) This week I managed at last to get a can of chalkboard paint. Alex purchased it for me and the man mysteriously insisted he also buy a bottle of thinner. If I were running this errand in an English-speaking country or an air-conditioned store I may have pressed for instructions. Alas.

I’ve seen the clever things people do with chalkboard paint and today was my day to join them. I ignored the Indonesian words on the can and pried it open. My initial plan was to paint a big square of the wall in our courtyard at kid-height. If successful my children could rapidly become chalk-covered little people wearing dirty little clothes at any hour of the day in a very short space of time. I pried the can open, found to my surprise it was only half-full of a very thick wet-cement like substance, dipped in my best paintbrush, and advanced it toward the wall of the house. Half an inch from contact I remembered that we are renters. The brush shook spastically in my hand as I wrestled with temptation, causing the goop to drip perilously near my best jeans. My conscience won, and was confirmed immediately by Alex who felt that glopping it on the house was probably not an excellent plan.

But we had a cheap mirror from the street market that fell off of our dresser and shattered (right before our guests arrived on Christmas Day, actually) and I repaired the frame and saved the plywood backing . . . I decided that this should become a chalkboard. I began glooping and smearing the stuff onto it. When it wouldn’t spread and the brush began to make deep unsmooth-able tracks in it I began to think perhaps there was some purpose in the bottle of greasy thinner. It was too late to mix it into the paint (is that even what you do?) so I poured some on top. Then I kicked it over by accident and it spilled and soaked into my jeans and all over my ankles. At this point I think the fumes began to go to my head (or maybe sooner?). I tried to paint the stuff on some Mason jar lids, getting at least as much on my hands in the process. (I could hear Alex calling from the house, “The Benjamin Moore website says don’t get it on yourself but that’s for the American kind . . . “) When I had maximized the damage, I brought everything to the kitchen sink for cleanup. A rag soaked with the thinner was not removing the black from my hands, but optimistically I poured some into a plastic container to put the brush in. The chemical fumes were intense (lunch was in the oven, Alex said it smelled like meatloaf with paint thinner sauce). Two minutes later I tried to lift the plastic container out of the sink and learned that the thinner had eaten through the plastic and black-painty-oily-thinner splashed all over the kitchen sink. And wouldn’t come off.

(“What are you doing, Mommy?”)(“Oh, just . . . nothing. “)

Forty-five minutes with steel wool, folks. And to remind me of (one of) today’s crafting adventures my best jeans, the stones in the courtyard, my left heel, and, of course, the new chalkboard–remain deeply black.

Nailed it.

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Posted in Make Do and Mend | 10 Comments

of praying for light

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
—1 John 1:5

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Checking the news early this morning I learned of the strangling of a young Pakistani woman in an “honor killing” almost certainly conducted by her own family. I keep thinking about it, about the things happening around the world in God’s name. I keep thinking about Jesus, who was also killed in the name of religious law, in the moments of his death pleading with the Father for the forgiveness of his killers. I keep thinking about how he said, “They do not know what they are doing.” He knew they were striking blind, like a fistfight happening in the dark.

This morning before church I was standing at the stove, thinking about these things and searing vegetables for a casserole for dinner when I heard Hugh, who had been building a tower with magnet-tiles in the corner of the kitchen. “I’m praying at the mosque. I builded a mosque so we can pray.”

Norah has always made up little songs to sing to Jesus and sung them in her high-pitched, repetitive little voice as she’s crafting or playing. Lately the melody of every song I hear her singing is the yodel-like drone of the call to prayer, which sounds through our house five times a day.

We are surrounded by the blind.

When we pray for them, what do we pray? Are we praying for our safety and protection, or for justice, for their capture and punishment? Or are we praying for light?

We know that our God is a God of justice and it is a comfort that all things will be made right. I can understand why the writers of the psalms plead with God to give their enemies their just deserts. But the fact remains that God didn’t give me mine.

Fear is powerful–and fear tactics are their best weapon. Unless we have love.

 

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
–I John 4:18a

Posted in Jesus | 8 Comments

of the putu man and spontaneous delight of children

Hi Strangers. Anybody remember the series Starting Again: Five Dos and One Don’t in which I gave all of my free and unsolicited advice to pilgrims? Quite astoundingly, considering I was living in Europe at the time and had not yet encountered Indonesian cheese, I wrote the following (here): You are allowed to hate the cheese. You can tell your husband once in a while that you hate the cheese. (Don’t tell the children.) Then invent the cheeseless taco and have something local that’s delicious for dessert. It was like a premonition. I’m not going to discuss the cheese. But these days, that local something we find for dessert is heralded by a steam whistle.

(Really? I haven’t written in two months and I’m writing about dessert? Yes.)

It’s the putu man.

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He comes at night, with a steam cart. In Indonesia it’s always well and truly dark by six, and we’re usually around the big table in our kitchen having supper. He signifies his advent with a high-pitched steam whistle, like a roving tea kettle. When we hear it, which somehow we do under all the hubbub of the supper chatter and clatter, silence falls.

Then, “It’s the PUTU MAN!” And they’re off. Everybody furiously shoves on flip-flops while Alex steps into the road to head off The Putu Man. When he stops, everybody gathers around to watch the putu-making process.

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Putu (poo-too) is a Javanese treat that consists of little rolls of steamed rice with coconut and palm sugar inside. While the children watch, fascinated, the putu man packs the rice into little segments of bamboo and sets them over his steamer to cook. (Hot tip from me to you: If you are going to feed the children street food, feed it to them really hot!)

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When the putu is done, he rolls it in a bit of newspaper and it is carried into the house by excited little people.

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(Where Wally remains, abandoned in his chair, wondering where everybody went.)

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Putu for all of us runs just under fifty cents total. It’s worth far more than that for all the fun. I love the spontaneity of not knowing when we’ll hear the whistle, the sudden delight and the mad dash when we do. Baskin Robbins was never this much fun.

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Posted in Indonesia | 10 Comments