Monday, December 31, 2012

Project 365 December

When I started this project at the beginning of the year, I was hoping it would improve my photography and give me a great record of what I knew would be an epic year in the life of the Butz family. It was a lot of fun at first and I got some good shots from it, but there were a lot of days when I would sit in a chair and think, "Is there anything I am currently viewing which is picture worthy? No? Then forget it." As you can see from below, I have resorted to standing on my deck many nights to capture the back woods. They're an easy target. 

I confess I'm feeling lazy and don't plan to put these in any kind of order. Suffice to say they were taken some time this month. Ta da! Done. :) 

The view from our driveway looking south. Ish. 

Love the light through the pines

Yeah, you've seen several of these. This is the lake two blocks from  the house which I posted a few days ago. 

Scout found mud on her flight of freedom.

Oh, so THAT'S the color of the driveway!

Fling me daddy! 

Sunrise on a morning run (obviously I had stopped running at the moment) 

The house! You can see it better now that we cut down the tree in the middle. 

Fun with the power washer

Her new playground

Christmas dinner with the Brennas

The aftermath of family Christmas 

So this is what it looks like if you walk into the woods and look up 

playing around with a long exposure shot so our kids look like ghosts

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Nope, it really wasn't warm enough 

Haircuts! Three of them 

Golf cart parade. Yep. Seriously. 

The moon likes to rise right behind our woods 

See what I mean? This was a long exposure shot 

And another one. Moonlight through the trees. 

Why do homework inside in your clothes when you can be outside in your pajamas? In the hammock no less. 

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Saturday, December 29, 2012


Home is a nebulous concept for me these days, one that I have been pondering since we hit American soil in September. Long ago I stopped referring to the US as "home" if for no other reason than that it confused the Chinese born kiddos. Plus, I had a home. There.

Now that home is someone else's and this one I am squatting in is, apparently, mine. Of course after just one month it doesn't "feel" like home yet.

But what is home?

When I go to my parents' house in Minnesota, I feel like I am at home, but it's their home, not mine. Walking into the church where my family attended from the time I was 11 until recently, I was overwhelmed with a sense of being at home.

But home is more than a place. On Christmas Eve, we had dinner with the same family with whom we ate last year in China. Christmas Day, we got together with friends who lived and worked with us for most of the time we lived in Asia. A couple nights ago, we hosted a family we have known since our days in Singapore. Each time, I felt a sense of being at home.

So what is home?

I think home is anywhere or anyone who holds your history. It's the people and places where you have known and been known, loved and been loved.

As I think back on my life, I am so grateful that the path God has taken us has given me homes all over the world. I used to mourn the fact that America has lost some sense of home for me, but in exchange my experience of home has broadened so I rejoice.

Best of all, I have experienced God as my home in all those places. It's a wild feeling to be on the other side of the world and grasp the knowledge that God is God there as well, just as present, just as much everything that He is anywhere. He holds my history. In Him I am known, I am loved, I live.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The View From Our Neighborhood

You might suppose, based on my previous post about feeling a little down, that I am moping around the house in my pajamas with that sad Charlie Brown song playing in the background. It's true I do spend many days in my pajamas, but that's just because I can. There's a great freedom in knowing you likely won't see anyone you know on a given day, and the people you do know who might stop by have seen you in all states of life so it's ok.

No, I'm actually doing fairly well despite the inevitable transition feelings that are a natural part of our life. One of the things that has been bringing me great joy in the midst of them is our neighborhood. We are in what some have called the "redneck" part of Orlando. Exhibit A: our neighbor, who flies the Confederate flag and has no less than 4 warning signs on his fence, including one that says, "No Trespassing: WILL BE SHOT." I thought about taking Christmas cookies over there but . . .

The upside of redneck is that it's full of nature - a huge lake nearby, trees, deer and other wildlife. Not only that, every house is different, unlike a large percentage of housing in Orlando which is what I like to call the Disney subdivision. They're the kind of neighborhoods you see in The Truman Show. Kind of creepy.

As evidence of the coolness of this area, here are a few pictures I've captured from around the block:

Isle of Pines, established 1959

pine trees, hence, isle of pines

This tree is right across the street. The Christmas lights in the bottom right are from our Confederate neighbors. They like to decorate for holidays. And also to protect themselves with firearms

The lake! Not a great picture but that's the best an iphone can do at night

our backyard

more backyard

early morning fog

a backyard friend

Our street. We're the whitish house on the left. The truck on the right belongs to our protective neighbors

Erik exploring our "back 40"

The only street further east of us (beyond that is just open country) where I like to run

a long exposure shot of the moon in our backyard

Feel Your Worth

"Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."

This is, hands down, my favorite line from a Christmas song. In pondering it this morning, I was reminded of a post I wrote in Singapore on my previous blog, about God's love for us proven through the cross. 

This morning, I re-read that post, and I thought, "It didn't start with the cross though." God's love to us was shown the second Jesus appeared on earth as a helpless, vulnerable baby in the arms of an ordinary girl. In that moment, He told us how much we're worth to Him. We're worth being cold and hungry and tired and tempted and tried and misunderstood and hated. He was willing to come through a humble birth to live a humble life in order to rescue us.

So I hope this morning that you look at Jesus, feel how much you're worth to Him, and rejoice!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Feed on Faithfulness

Do not let the current state of our house fool you. Though people who have visited express astonishment at how "settled" everything looks, mine is not a settled heart. I think perhaps our zeal to get the house in order quickly is partly a way to occupy our hearts, to distract them, to make them think they should be settled too. It's also evidence of the fact that this isn't our first rodeo, and we know that we'd rather go great guns at the beginning rather than to drag out the process of unpacking and decorating.

Truth be told, my heart feels untethered. Lost. I miss knowing and being known. I remember now Ethan's "my heart is tired of all the new things." The new things make my heart feel like it's climbing a mountain. The last few days I've let myself linger in these feelings a little more, shed some tears.

I search the scripture for some balm. What I really want is for something to make it all go away - something to satisfy my need to feel found, rooted, known. A part of me knows that I am all these things in God, but feelings don't so quickly follow reality. I hope that He will give me something more.

What I find is not satisfaction but hope. Psalm 37:3 says, "dwell in the land and feed on faithfulness." I know that for my heart to move toward satisfaction it will take courage, faith, endurance, and lots of time.

In the meanwhile I can feed on His faithfulness to me. I recall the transitions of my life and I have hope. He has proved Himself good to us again and again. He is El Roi, the God Who Sees. He is Jehovah Jireh, the One Who Provides. He is Immanuel, God With Us. I will feed on this.

"At an acceptable time, O God . . . answer me in your saving faithfulness." Psalm 69:13

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Looking for friends

Boxes unpacked, check. (if I just don't open the office door).

Walls painted, mostly check.

Nearest grocery store, Walmart, Target located, check.

Invisible fence installed, check.

Find new friends . . . oy.

Truth be told, I am an introvert. A talkative introvert, which causes no small amount of dissonance for me, but an introvert nonetheless. I am tempted to say, "Hey, I've got a couple good friends here in Orlando. I'm calling it good!" But that seems horribly shortsighted and unsociable, so I did what I guess the average American woman does this time of year and I went to a neighborhood cookie exchange.

After a few desperate, somewhat humbling texts to a new neighbor clarifying that I did not, in fact, have to bring actual cookies (I hate sugar cookies. I'm a bar kind of girl), I headed out to the party. It was only a block and a half away, and as I walked, I pondered my emotions. I was dreading small talk and the inevitable shock and awe when I explain my life. I was nervous that I wouldn't fit in, that people wouldn't want to talk to me, that I wouldn't meet anyone I liked. I was excited that I might meet someone who could become a good friend. In short, I felt like a kindergartener on the first day of school (although I imagine the average five year old brings little to the table that evokes shock or awe).

There were probably 50 women at this event! Most of them were older than me. A few homeschool as well. Most seemed to attend this annual party regularly. Almost everyone talked about how much they love living in our neighborhood (certainly a good sign).

I walked away knowing a couple women a little more, bearing invites to a clothing swap and a regular wine and cheese chat with a couple girls down the street, and wielding a large plate of cookies. I can't say I can check the box on "new friends" (I realize now a part of me was really hoping it would be that easy) but it was a step in the right direction.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

All natural, baby

"Hey, this tennis ball smells like lemons!"

Yes, yes it does, son. It's just one part of my continuing quest to go more natural throughout my house. First stop: laundry room. I've read too many things about the dangerous chemicals in our laundry rooms to not try making my own detergent and fabric softener. After a little bit of research, here's what I've been doing:

I posted this last month - my giant batch of laundry detergent, made from washing soda, baking soda, Borax, and three bars of castille soap that I shredded in my food processor (no, thankfully, my food does not taste like soap). My sister-in-law tried the same recipe and we both came to the same conclusion: it seems to get things clean, but they don't necessarily smell clean. They don't smell bad - they just, well, don't smell. Maybe we're just used to things smelling a lot, which doesn't actually mean they're clean; they're just full of chemicals that smell. Today was the greatest test - I threw in a pair of socks that were quite black on the bottom. After being washed they weren't sparkling white, but they were significantly cleaner - as clean as I'd have expected them to be otherwise, given that I did nothing to help them out prior to washing, poor socks. (side note: they aren't actually my socks. I don't know whose they are. Rachel? Missing some socks?)

Next, fabric softener. I decided to go with tennis balls. Hence, a tennis ball that smells like lemons because I put lemon essential oil on it first (actually I could have sworn I used lavender, but it might be that Ethan couldn't tell the difference) to make it smell nice.

The first time I used one, I realized that my towels felt different. I was afraid they would be stiff and scratchy, but they are actually very soft. The difference is that they don't feel coated with some kind of film. This I count as a good thing. Our clothes are not as static free as they might be, but it does enough.

So far, I like that it's less expensive, easy and better for us. Next stop: cleaning supplies!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Now What?

My extended family is currently heading north through Florida on their way back to the chilly midwest, and we're left asking, "Now what?'

Up until now, we've been in a process of going somewhere. Our last months in China were preparation for getting everything from that side of the world to this one. This whole fall has been a time of waiting for all of that to get here. We were living in limbo.

But now we're here. The waiting is done. Now we're supposed to start doing life like we normally do, except I have no idea how. There's no rhythm, no routine. 

Oh sure, we're figured out a few things, like the fact that we need to learn how to stock up when we're "in town" because the nearest store is 15 minutes away. We've got running routes determined around the neighborhood which does wonders for getting us going in the morning (and for the dog!). We have food in the refrigerator and laundry running. We're functioning.

But I look at Megan's new guitar and think, "She needs guitar lessons. I don't know where to find a guitar teacher." Ethan wants to join soccer. Where? And where is the library? Our kids ask me daily, "What are we doing today?" and I don't how to answer them. Who do they play with and when? And who do I get to play with? I don't have a "this day we do this" mentality yet (and if you know me, you know that structure is my very good friend). 

Yes, it's all a little overwhelming, but nothing we haven't done before. It's just a new wave of transition, a bigger one, that will be a bit harder to ride. 

So I take a deep breath and say, "One day at a time. We're going to figure this out." 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Insult to Injury

This process of settling in to a new home has gone about 100 times faster due to the tireless efforts of my parents. My dad has had a hand (sometimes the only hands) in painting all the rooms which have been painted aside from the office (which I did while he was tackling the living room and hallway). My mom has kept up with laundry and cooking and shopping while also helping with whatever is needed. You might be asking yourself at this point, "Then what have you been doing Gina?" But that isn't the point of this post.

The point is that today my dad was hard at work clearing the fallen trees (we felled them) and brush covering our yard when he stumbled across a bees nest. By the time he'd extricated himself, he had about five stings and had knocked his glasses off. He came in to recover and realized he hadn't just lost his glasses but both his hearing aids as well. In layers and layers of brush and pine needles.

If ever the phrase "insult to injury" applied, I think this would be it. We all went out to help, but I came back in when I got stung myself. We supposed that they were near the actual nest, so I decided to wait until Erik came back from Home Depot (our daily store) with bee killer. My parents continued looking for about 2 hours.

In the meantime, I started praying. I felt compelled to remind God of all that my dad has done this week to help us, how generous he is, and how I thought He should consider that (as though He is unaware). In times like this I go back and forth between knowing that God could work a miracle and the knowledge that He owes me nothing, the fact that He delights to give good gifts to His children and that He is more concerned with our character than our comfort. So how do I pray with confidence in that? After awhile, I stopped my theological wrestling and simply prayed, "Please God. Please please please please."

Later, I went back out to help again, getting down inches from the ground and creeping back and forth across the path my dad took. And then, I found one! It gave us all renewed hope. About 10 minutes later, my mom found the other one. There are not words for how thankful and relieved we are.

But if we hadn't found them, what then? Could we cling to joy and trust in God? I confess, it would be harder. I wish that weren't true, but it is.

For now, I'll just say thank God!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

IKEA . . . or . . . Excuse Me, Can I Follow You?

Trust IKEA to be my cultural undoing again. I successfully navigated my way there today to find a few things for our house that I simply cannot find anywhere else, like all the shelf hooks that are missing from our IKEA bookshelf. They must have decided to head back to Sweden instead of migrating here with us.

It wasn't as unnerving as the other time I've been there in the US, possibly because there were more people. There still weren't enough Asians though. Every time I saw one, I literally felt more at ease. Something about seeing Asian faces made me feel like everything was right with the world. I was tempted even to follow them around the store like a creepy stalker. If I were emotionally less stable right now I probably would have, but thankfully I'm doing ok. I settled for just being happy whenever I saw them.

On the other hand, I was also cheered by the fact that I could read all the signs and that the meatballs are cheaper here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

One Week

One week ago we had just pulled up to our new home in Orlando. Over the course of seven days, we've unpacked 95% of the boxes, painted the dining room, living room, hallways, kitchen, and office, and stripped and refinished a coffee table (it was previously traffic sign yellow - not the antique yellow I had requested). We have organized closets and furniture. The chainsaw has chewed down enough trees that I'm pretty sure our neighbors to the north are a little upset with us for taking away part of their view. Three toilets (yep - all three) have been fixed, and a new pool pump and garbage disposal have been ordered. In the midst of all of that, we have fielded about 30 phone calls from companies who are super happy to welcome us to the neighborhood and would like to sell us a newspaper subscription or security system or water testing. Most importantly, the trampoline is assembled.

There's still a lot to do - more rooms to paint, pictures to hang, rooms to organize, a yard to tame. I can't help feeling like I am squatting in someone else's house and at any moment they will return and demand to know what we are doing here. If they do, I hope they like the paint job. I know I do.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Project 365 November

Ok, so this month I wanted to try harder to take a picture every day again, but at the same time I had to pack up all our belongings, including everything of ours that's been at my parents' house for over a decade while we were overseas, and drive cross country to our new home. So I focused on getting "everyday" shots and managed to get one most days. 

My experiment with homemade laundry soap

A country road on the way up to the Cities

Ethan taking cover with his new Nerf gun 

cozy and peaceful

An almost daily sight with Megan hamming it up 

Which stain do I want? 

My bedside - notice the library stack!

The last blooms 

Read aloud

Baking with my sister

The heat was broken so school was often here 

Or just bundled up 

But then we had a glorious 70 degree day

One of my many books this fall

A special treat 

A familiar sight - dropping Erik off to go to Orlando


Our cake pop adventure 

My sweet grandma

Too many road trips! 

Preparing the van

Leaving bright and early from Milwaukee

Another early morning 

Trees on the grounds of Graceland

Early morning fog