Friday, November 30, 2012

Thoughts on Unpacking

Thoughts going through my mind as we try to organize our belongings into a home:

I'd like to ___________ (hang the shower curtain, assemble the bed, dry my hair, etc) if only I could find ______________(curtain rings, the set of screws, my hair dryer, etc.)

Hey look - that fits perfectly there!

Where are my indoor shoes?

Hmm . . . where on earth are we going to put this piece of furniture?

Hey! That thing!

Wow. Our master bedroom is stinkin' huge.

Where are my indoor shoes?

It's amazing how fast our dog can run when given the chance.

I love Target.

Where did all this stuff come from?

I still need my indoor shoes.

Adventures in Our Odyssey

See what I did there? Not just Adventures IN Odyssey, but in OUR Odyssey. That's clever only to those of you whose young children are entertained by Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey series, and even then maybe only a small percentage of you. I thought of it though because it was one of the ways we passed the time in our Odyssey during the 4 day journey to our new home.

On paper, driving a total of 29 hours with two mini-vans, seven adults, two children, three dogs and a trailer sounds like a National Lampoon's vacation. In reality, it wasn't bad at all.

I'll confess, learning to navigate the interstate at reduced speeds with a larger, crazy heavy load because of the trailer was a little hairy. I wasn't even driving, but within 15 minutes I was having thoughts about turning back. I took the wheel halfway across Wisconsin. The last 45 minutes or so through Milwaukee in the dark with heavy traffic managed to squeeze some fairly inhuman squeals from me. I'd rather drive in China any day.

We went to Milwaukee to pick up two of the aforementioned adults and one of the dogs. As we looked ahead to what was a planned two more days of driving, we realized that it seemed a bit infeasible without driving 15 hours the first day and leaving our transmission somewhere in the hills of Tennessee. We decided to stretch it to three which only required finding new hotels to accomodate three dogs. It was an excellent decision.

Ethan was busy making decisions of his own. We'd told them that the whole way could not be spent staring at their 7" TV screens or iPads, so he developed a schedule which went something like, "First hour, we rest. Then we watch a movie for two hours. Then we read for an hour. Then we listen to Adventures in Odyssey . . . " We didn't realize how serious he was until he asked to put in a movie. Erik told him, "We're going to stop soon buddy," and Ethan replied, "But we have to stay on schedule!" That wasn't the only time that happened.

I have to say I'm surprised at how diverse the US geography isn't, at least the way we took. Illinois and Missouri were incredibly flat and Mississippi had some beautiful rolling hills through the woods, but for the most part if you'd told me I was in Minnesota at any given time, I wouldn't have doubted you. Our only stop of interest was Graceland, and that was because in our quest to find the cheapest gas around ($3.04!) we happened onto Elvis Presley Blvd and figured why not? So we took a picture from the fence and called it good.

I swear the minute we crossed the state line into Florida the skies cleared, like this state is hogging all the sunshine. We pulled into our house around 6:30 pm last night. Now the real adventure begins!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Almost There

We're almost there.

It was more than a year ago that the possibility of Orlando snuck into our lives through a series of phone calls that led us from, "No thank you" to "Wow, I guess we're really doing this." That's a long  limbo.

The waiting can be wearying, draining, frustrating, full of "let's just get to the next step!" It's hard to stay engaged. It can also be exciting as we ponder the new, the novel, the "what's ahead."

Thankfully, these last few months of the waiting between there and here has been spent quite pleasantly. Sort of like having to circle the airport but in the meantime they bump you up to first class. We've had the blessing of a slower schedule, a comfortable place, plenty of time with friends and family. It's been good.

In two days we will begin the three day journey to Orlando. We'll take my parents and my sister, our two dogs, two mini-vans and a trailer, drive to Milwaukee and pick up my brother and sister-in-law and their dog, and drive to the other end of America. By this time next week, we'll be Floridians (technically. Can I retain Minnesota status?)

We're excited. The waiting is almost done. At least once a day one or more of us says, "Can we just go now?"Soon. We're almost there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Slow Boat From China

Anyone else remember this book? I didn't read it, maybe because I never had trouble getting my locker open.

Today, my book is titled, "If God Loves Me, Why Can't We Get Our Stuff Off the Slow Boat From China?"

I'm guessing that sweet 70's era book might have a good answer for me, so now I'm kicking myself for not pulling it off the church library shelf, but I have a pretty good idea what it would say.

I think it might tell me to give thanks in the midst of circumstances so that's what I'm going to do. I'm thankful that:
1. Our stuff did not fall in the ocean.
2. We are not like those people we met who shipped their stuff to the US and didn't get it for a year (Oh  Lord, please don't let us become those people).
3. We have had a place to stay while our stuff has been sailing the seven seas
4. Erik has been able to do other things to get our house ready, so these two trips haven't been wasted
5. We have things to ship. Lots of things. A lot of people don't have anything.
6. This is a light and momentary trial, especially compared to what so many are going through.
7. It's kept us on our knees.
8. God is still God, and He is still good.

It's this last one that I wrestle with in times like this, and I think that's good. It's good because it makes me think about what goodness to us really is - not our comfort or our happiness, but something much bigger and better. It's good because it reminds me that God is not our vending machine, our Santa Claus, our butler, who does what we ask. when we ask. It's good because it puts me in my place, a place of being very small and insignificant, which is why the fact that He loves me still is even greater.

I think I know what to do if I can't get my locker open.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Different Childhood

How many Twinkies have you eaten in your lifetime? I haven't had one in about a millenium, but our kids have never had Twinkies. Or Ho Ho's. Or Little Debbie snack cakes, Ding Dongs, etc. etc. They also are unfamiliar with Cool Whip, Velveeta, and Cheese Whiz.

This came to our attention last night at dinner, and it occurred to me that I was both wildly happy and a little nostalgic for them. It's like they missed a little part of Americana because of their overseas childhood, where these things were never or rarely obtainable.

Truth be told, I try to avoid putting sugar and/or processed food into our kids as a general rule, but not having EVER eaten any of those things seem akin to never watching Sesame Street. Come to think of it . . .

Yeah, our kids had a different childhood. When I first lived overseas, I was determined that our kids were going to be American, gosh darn it! No third culture kids here. (The reality is, I was told, the second your kid stepped on a plane to live in another country, he became a third culture kid and there's nothing you can do about it).

Our kids do probably have a greater grasp of American culture than the average TCK simply because where we lived and how we lived allowed us to be more exposed to it. But the fact is, they are different. There are things they don't know, won't understand, won't love, things that don't have any association with childhood for them. And that's ok.

But I think I'll still put a Twinkie in their Christmas stockings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


The garbage disposal in my parents' kitchen clogged two nights ago. This was inconvenient on a number of levels, such as: my parents were gone, my husband was gone, I am not good with tools, and oh yeah, after 13 years overseas I lack certain skills most people have gained by this point. In other words, I haven't interacted with a garbage disposal since I was a teenager.

Spending most of my adult life outside of the States has left me strangely imbalanced in my abilities. Sure, I can help you bargain for something in Chinese and get the local price, but I did not know that potato peels shouldn't go in a garbage disposal (but for the record, that wasn't what caused the clogging). I may have mad chopstick skillz, but I don't have a clue how to unclog a disposal, or when or how to call a plumber.

To make it more fun and challenging, one of the pipes below the bathroom simultaneously began dripping in the basement, and both dogs decided the moment needed to be punctuated by excessive barking. "This is exciting! It's a big mess! You're clueless!" I think is how it translated.

So I called some family friends, and was immediately cheered by their voices, especially the one that said, "Why don't I come over and check on it?"

Half an hour, a messy kitchen floor and an unintentionally wet friend later (there was a lot of water trapped in there!) I had a working disposal again. Not only that, but I think if it happened again I might be able to fix it myself. We're all going to pray it doesn't come to that, but it encouraged me to think, "I might be sorely lacking in some basic adult skills for life in America, but they are not unlearnable."

Which is good, because last night I got to practice, "What to do when your mini-fridge was set too cold and caused a can of soda to explode, bursting the door open." Opportunities to be an adult abound!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Weird Dog

I had hoped that having left China, we would have also left behind goofy conversations about our dog. What was I thinking? Of course we'll have goofy conversations about our little foreign pup. We'll just have them in English now!

Case in point - here's the conversation I had this morning with a sweet little old lady while her dog jumped around like a maniac at her feet:

Woman: Oh look, you have two! What kind are they?

Me: Well, this one is a cocker spaniel, and this one is from China. We don't know what she is. They didn't even know over there.

Woman: China China?

Me: Yep. China. The country.

Woman (looking directly at Scout): I bet you have a story to tell about how you got here!

Me: Yes, a long, complicated and expensive tale. But she was only $9 to begin with so . . .

Woman (still speaking to Scout): DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?

Me, laughing: Yes, she does.

Woman: Did she come on an airplane?

Me: Uh . . . yep. She did.

Woman: Well, she's beautiful! Have a blessed day!

Me: You too!

Ah yes. We have a weird dog. She goes well with our weird lives.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Project 365 October

 So it appears I forgot where my camera was for most of the month of October. What I have is a sad little offering of the few pictures I did take, mostly in Florida because my camera really wanted some sun and surf. Who wouldn't? Anyway, I blame transition.

the cloister at the local convent 

tomatoes ripening on the windowsill

Homecoming at my high school 

playing in the leaves for the first time ever

we found a turtle!

a joyful reunion


waiting for waves

intercoastal waterway

our lemon tree


I heart Trader Joe's (and Milwaukee because two of my favorite people live there)

a walk in the woods

that time of year 


Transition is a bit like someone coming into your life with a giant paint stir stick and swirling it around in your heart. It brings to the surface a whole lot of emotions that might normally stay hidden. If you've ever stirred a paint can, you know that vigorous stirring can result in overflow.

That's how we feel these days - like it's all right at the surface, and it takes little for it to overflow. A few days ago I made a picture montage from China set to a funny song, and I found myself tearing up as I made it. It doesn't take much. A song. A commercial. Prayer. Hearing someone's story. Sharing my passions. The mention of the word "China." I am brought to tears. It reminds me that there is more grieving to be done. I'm not super excited about that, honestly. There's a point at which you want to not cry and just move on, but the problem with tears is that they aren't meant to stay inside you. Letting them out always feels better in the end.

But there's an upside to all this stirring. It's evidence to me that I've made it through with a soft heart. It's difficult to stir a heart that is hard, that refuses to be touched by pain or sadness. It doesn't always look hard on the outside - sometimes we coat it with a thick candy shell and pretend all is good. Whatever we do, I'm learning that the best route is to stay open, to be vulnerable, to let the stirring happen because good things come to the surface too. Things like being able to recognize when others are being stirred, and to enter in with them and catch their overflow; being able to give others a more authentic you; being as in touch with joy and laughter as you are with sadness and pain. That's the fun part - the fact that it opens me to being quicker to laugh as well!

I'm sure it will be awhile before the swirling settles down. In the meantime, I hope to make the most of what it does in my heart. And don't be surprised if you see me cry. Or laugh! It's all there, and it's all good.

Starting From Scratch

My cupboards are bare. By the end of the week, hopefully, our belongings will arrive on that slow boat from China and be deposited somewhere in our new house, but our pantry will be bare. There will be no milk in the fridge, no cereal in the cabinet, no sugar, flour, soup, bread, spices, oil, or random jar of God knows what that's been in the back corner for longer than you can remember.

I'm starting from scratch.

While that prospect feels a little daunting, there's a great freedom to it as well. I went to the people's co-op the other day and bought seven spices-only ones I know I consistently use (and all in identical containers on top of which I can put cute labels. This delights my structured and creative sides to no end). I can buy as I go. It forces me to consider what I get and why. It simplifies. I like it.

We'll be starting from scratch in a lot of ways down there, and while it's not quite as pleasing a thought as a new pantry, it does have its advantages. We're starting with a clean schedule. We can choose what fills it. We will have to consider what we do and why. It simplifies. I like it.