What I’m Learning, Summer Edition 2018

I love to think about all I’m learning, maybe to a fault. At the end of each season, I try to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past three or four months. Here’s the I-just-moved-in-June Summer Edition 2018.

1. Not all spinach is equal. The spinach here looks so beautiful. I was in awe with the first packet I bought. For those of you who’ve eaten with us, you know I add vegetables everywhere and my children (mostly) comply. This spinach was grass. I felt like a horse. I couldn’t even eat it with a good attitude. I ate it but I need to rethink how it fits into our diet.

2. Mornings are so much better when breakfast is already made. Last week, my oldest begged me for crumb cake before he went to bed. I had more energy than normal for 9 pm so I thought, “Why not?” I finished baking it before 10:30 and left it cooling. The next morning, when a dear girl woke me up (why is she always hungry at 6 am?), I had breakfast at the table in ten seconds without having to talk. Since then I’ve tried an egg casserole and also a fresh whole grain bread delivery service (I hate to even tell you that. Please don’t be jealous. Yes, it’s amazing.). I’m trying to think ahead most nights so breakfast can be prepared ahead of time. My kids love to cook and I’m just not always up for the coaching and cleaning required by crepes lovingly created by small people.

3. Textiles make a home. Well, I really believe that people in community make a true home and that true home derives its meaning from the Maker of both people and community. But when trying to settle in, linens, rugs, curtains, placemats, door mats, duvet covers make it feel like home for me. When the floors and windows and beds are bare, I haven’t yet made it “home.” I’m grateful for progress in this home-making season. We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer.

4. Living overseas opens up the world for my children. I know this in theory. Yesterday I asked my daughter what she’d like to do for her fourth birthday and she said she’d like to have a juice drink, go to the Pyramids and get a teddy bear. I laughed because for her at four, all these things are possible!

5. Language is absorbed so quickly when you are three. I admit it, I’m slightly jealous of my daughter’s language learning opportunities. She goes to a local preschool where the teachers love her so deeply and only speak to her in Arabic. I was expecting her to grow in her language abilities quickly but nothing prepared me for that first time she turned to me after three weeks of preschool and asked me for a napkin in Arabic. I was utterly charmed although I didn’t understand what she was saying at first.

6. Buying more than one fly swatter is the wise thing to do. I am not always wise. Where did I buy that again? Time for a trip to the store.

7. Having outside space to play in a dusty, polluted city means that my floors will always be dusty. Having dusty floors is 110% worth giving my kids a place to play that isn’t inside a building. Even if it means mopping my entire house on a daily basis.

8. My husband really values my happiness. I have been looking for a rocking chair since I arrived and yesterday, I went to a craftsman who makes them by hand. He makes some beautiful rockers. I told my husband that I thought the price was 300 (from a previous visit) but later called him from the store and said, “Honey, I wanted to check with you about the price. It’s actually 800.” There was a long, unexpected pause. “I know you really want a rocking chair for the baby but that’s expensive!” I was confused until I realized we were dealing in different currencies. He thought I was going to spend $800 US dollars on a rocking chair!!! When I said it was in pounds, meaning $44, he starting laughing and told me to buy two. (I just bought the one.) A friend pointed out that he had earlier agreed to me buying a $300 rocking chair without question. He really values my happiness. (Furniture here that is imported can be very expensive. IKEA is not for college dorms here but for the fanciest and most Western apartments, and the one rocking chair I could find there did cost over $300 so I understand why he was confused. But the last time I spent $800 on a piece of a furniture was never.)

9. I want to help and serve more people than I can. I see needs and pain and grief, and I want to be part of the answer. Yet the needs around me are unfathomable when you mix such a large, multi-cultural city quite close geographically to many recent world events. So I’m learning to bless as best I can, and trust that the Maker of all people sees the needs of His creation. I’m listening for His voice to know when and how to help individuals who have begun to populate my new life here and I’m offering up to Him the burdens of those around me, while trying not to put those burdens on my shoulder without His direction to.

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These Are the Days, Summer 2018

These are the days of…

…new beginnings.

…first days of school for all of us.

…walkability. I can walk to grocery stores and schools and if I’m feeling brave and not too hot, restaurants and hardware stores and book shops. It makes not having a vehicle not mean feeling stuck.

…exercise at home. A floor mat and indoor bike have become my gym at home. I don’t think I’d ever exercise if I had to find childcare and get to a gym.

…slowing down. Boiling water on the stove instead of using an electric kettle. Hanging out laundry instead of loading up a dryer. Walking to the store instead of hopping in my car. The pace here is different as it tends to be determined by my own hands and feet and not machines. Overall, I’m finding the rhythm of waiting for water to boil and clothes to dry a kind reminder to walk without hurry through this life.

…missing home. That pure adrenaline that got me through the first few months, making dozens and sometimes hundreds of decisions every day, all that newness is wearing off a bit. I miss the people I know. I miss knowing that Andy’s slightly snarky comment was a joke as I wonder about the new senses of humor around me. I miss the people who know me. I miss the home that is the nest of relationships I left behind.

…scary, one-eyed cats in my tiled backyard. I’m seriously stuck back here, a cat staring me down. Send reinforcements!

Gifts

Choosing gratitude has been a theme in life lately. Cynicism and a disposition of complaint can be easy to slip into without realizing how poisonous they’ve become to my soul. I’m pressing into gratitude, seeing life as the gift that it is, even on hard days. Today I’m grateful for…

…eggs. I’m not sure there’s a more perfect food. I love eggs. Our family goes through two flats of eggs a week (30 eggs per flat). I seriously love eggs.

…chirping birds. I hear you, small heralds of creation in the midst of all the honking, hollering and blaring music. Thank you.

…grace for sleepless nights with sick babies. I know people were praying for me because I was more patient and capable than my own resources allow for.

…riding a metro. I love public transportation. I especially love it with kids who think a metro is better than a roller coaster. I love the small human kindnesses, like when people shift and create space for older riders or moms with babies (me!) or the disabled.

…”number one” (nothing about potty training). I love the little English phrases that become part of the vernacular of other cultures. Here one such phrase is “number one.” We’ve had so many taxi drivers tell us they are “number one.” Our favorite also told us his name is Crazy Mustafa, and we call him Crazy Mustafa Number One, which he seems to love. I hope one day I’ll have time to write about our most memorable ride with him, which included doors flying open in the middle of a roundabout and tools falling off the roof at full speed.

…watercolor painting with my kids. We took time to paint together last night. Even having a few moments to create beauty together is such a gift.

…hot tea. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had to pick between hot tea and eggs.

…frozen lemonade. Yesterday Joel and I squeezed a lot of lemons and made our kids lemonade slushies. Tart and sweet enough, they cut through 100 degrees and make me feel refreshed.

…running water. The water here cuts out enough to make running water seem wonderful and not enough to need big water barrels as Plan B. It’s great. Ditto for the electricity. Nothing like a few hours of no power to make a cold fridge feel like a miracle.

…the Nose Frida. This little invention replaces the bulb syringe for infants and babies too young to blow their noses (as a side note, it’s pretty amazing all the things we’ve learned in life, including how to blow our noses! I had no idea that was a learned skill until I was a parent.). It’s life changing. Thank you, Laura and Teague. If you need a go-to baby gift for new babies, get this. Parents will think fondly of you on their hardest nights.

…purpose. I’m reading a very interesting book called All Joy and No Fun. The author writes about how children impact parents (rather than the more typical reverse). One of her points is that modern day parenting is challenging because we don’t know exactly what we are preparing our children for. While I understand and even agree with her point, I’m grateful for a larger sense of purpose that my faith gives me because my long-range plan for my life and for my parenting decisions are grounded in something larger than my kids’ happiness or human success. I can not control the outcome of their lives and I don’t actually want to (anymore. Most days.) But I can make my choices rooted in love for God and love for others, which takes away a lot of the challenge the author writes about.

…my preschooler’s outrageous quotes. Just yesterday, she asked me why I was treating her like a rat. I have no idea what she was talking about, as I was making her dinner at the time. Pretty unratty, in my opinion. How she makes me laugh.

These are just a few of the gifts I’m grateful for today.

Ten Things I’m Grateful I Brought

“You’ve got to make lists in life….Lists are magical—that’s because they develop a life of their own. Once you start one, it insists on being continued ad infinitum…. A list is never complete, remember. One thing leads to another, and—bingo—it contains items you’d never thought of before. And all because you started to write them down…. I tell you, lists are the mechanics of the subconscious.” Aunt Poldi, from Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Every summer I read a lot of fiction. I aim for a book or two a week. I stay up too late reading and read early in the morning if I can. I’m not sure if this started in the 8th grade with my first summer reading list for school or if it has been a more recent development but summers are for fiction in mass quantities.

When I read Auntie Poldi pontificate to her nephew, an aspiring writer, about lists, I highlighted it. My mind has been in list-mode for months. Lists of things to pack, lists of things to sell, lists of things to do, lists of people to email, lists of lists I need to make. Upon arriving, my brain has kept making lists. I’ve started blogging again and most of everything I think to write about is in a list. With a nod to Aunt Poldi and without further comment, here’s a list of ten things I’m glad I packed.

1. Language learning toys. As I’ve mentioned before, we use a play-based, comprehension-driven language learning approach. This means we use a lot of toys and manipulatives as we seek to first listen and understand before we talk. I’m so glad I brought all the language learning toys I did. There are still some gaps in my language kit but I’m grateful I haven’t had to start from scratch.

2. Water bottles. No dishwasher, four kids and two adults, and significant heat yields a lot of dirty cups to wash at the end of the day. I brought water bottles for each of my kids and on the days when we have those ready for them, the dishes are much more manageable by bedtime.

3. My Ergo baby carrier. Herding a biggish family around a truly big city using public transport and walking means having my hands free is essential. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere or accomplish anything without this baby carrier. It’s hot when I wear it and my son and I both sweat through a lot of layers of clothing but it’s worth every drop of sweat.

4. Art supples. I tend to focus on duty and responsibility to the exclusion of creativity. Being in a new environment reminds me of how much I like to write, draw, paint and letter as I process a new world and a new life experience. Sometimes I need to set my hand or paintbrush to paper and I’m glad I brought some supplies.

5. Kids’ books. We are currently staying at an apartment that belongs to some friends who are away on holiday and visiting family in their home country for about 6 weeks. Their generosity in opening their home to us has been such a gift. Since they have three kids and bookshelves full of books (and toy cabinets full of toys), our things have remained packed in our suitcases. We are essentially using everything we had in our carry on luggage over and over again. In the last few days, I had to search through some of our bags for some items needed in our language lessons. I started pulling out some of the children’s books I packed. Books are friends indeed. Ferdinand and Chrysanthemum, Frog and Toad and Toot and Puddle brought me great joy as I read them to our daughter. Humans are defined by story in many ways and the children’s literature that accompanies us first as kids and then as parents is a significant part of that.

6. A family journal. I have a simple notebook that I record things in for our family. New Year’s resolutions and intentions, reflections on experiences we’ve had as a family, gratitude lists. I brought it with us and have started asking a question a few times a week, like “What was the best thing about this week?” “What do you miss most about home?” and “What has been the hardest thing about moving?” I trust that one day these words will be a treasure for us all as we remember this transition.

7. Pacifiers. I get plenty of negative feedback about my three year old having a pacifier. My personal rule is that no one who has to make a major move or have a sibling has to give up a pacifier at that point, regardless of age. When you have to go through both in a three month period, your mom packs extra pacifiers. And she’s glad she did.

8. A learner’s attitude. I’m not doing it perfectly but I’m glad I packed the attitude of learning and exploration. I could have read a bunch of books about where I am and come in “knowing” how “they” do it. Instead I’m just watching and observing and delaying judgment. I feel like I’m learning a lot.

9. My Kindle. Having access through my library account to new books has been so important to our whole family. We’re able to read aloud books with our older two without having to buy them all ourselves. We can get new books and expand our repertoire without having to buy a book we end up not finishing. Being able to use our Kindles here has meant we can keep reading, feeding our minds, hearts and souls with stories and ideas.

10. Kitchen supplies. My husband and I had differing opinions about how important it was that my pots and pans came with us. He assured me I could buy high quality pots and pans here (and I’m sure he’s right). Still I’m glad I brought my nice pots and pans. I wish I had made room for cookie sheets and muffin tins. But those things I wish I had brought belong to another list on another day.