Sunday, December 19, 2010

Craftin My Fingers to the Nubbins

There are crafty-esque people and not so crafty. Research shows I fall into the definately NOT so crafty category.

However, I stand in admiration of these crafty people (not crafty like Brer Rabbit – but crafty like “I just whipped up amazing winter decorations for every room in our house, while I was knitting matching mitten/scarf sets for orphans and making home-made Christmas cards for all 200 people on our mailing list”).

THOSE crafty people. They are amazing.

I always walk away a little resentful I could not think of any of their amazing craft ideas in a lifetime or find the energy to craft up a single Christmas card. Oh sure, in college I made a few Christmas presents for friends.

I seem to recall an angel ornament made from a variety of noodles – this was the height of my Craft Career and my skills have since been in serious decline.

All told, scrap booking has left me with a few feeble attempts and one half finished book.

Knitting sounds like something I would like to do – but the skill set is beyond my capacity.

Even baking is something I leave to the professionals.

However, I will say here in Africa I am surrounded by some amazing Craftation Women. I even attended a craft night and attempted to make some “Joy to the World” birds. Yes, it’s true.

This is my green "Joy" bird - as in "Joy to the World" - to be hung from a pinecone branch I found outside

For those that know me well, rest assured that I was surprised as anyone to find myself later stringing pop-corn for our tree and hanging an Advent Bunting Calendar. I had not even heard of bunting till last week. Who knew this was the latest fashion? Triangle banner flags hung by string? Do you see how out of touch I have been with the Crafting World?

I even found myself buying some old buttons from an antique store – thinking, "WHITE BUTTONS! These must be useful to someone! Maybe they could be useful to ME!"

So here is the new me – attempting a few Christmas crafts – next thing you know, I’ll be making my own clothes, kneading bread from scratch, and canning tomatoes.

Alright - this idea is swiped from the VERY CRAFTY KATE (Christmas Advent Bunting Calendar) and the paper was donated by my friend Sarah - but I did print the numbers, cut and glue them (my 4 year old should be proud)

Advent Bunting Calendar (mark the day with a paper clipped black arrow)

We put our mini-tree on a table - in hopes of making it feel a little more tall-ish

Little did I know it takes about 2 hours to string pop-corn for a mini sized tree

OK - so I confess I did NOT make these (but I DID hang them with "sticky tack" - THAT is a skill).

OK, OK, I didn't make these either - but I hung them up in an attempted crafty-looking stagger

The white buttons inspired me! I think I'll put this star at the top of our tree (Jensen has been VERY disturbed we have a starless tree).

A few weeks ago Jensen said, "Mom, Santa is NOT going to like this house -there are not very many Christmas decorations."

I hope he appreciates the fact that I have been craftin my fingers to the nubbins!

Besides crafting...see the other cool things we are doing in Africa! See December journal

If you have a favorite Christmas craft, recipe or idea - please comment below!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

African Style Thankfulness

Top 5 reasons to be thankful for living in South Africa...

Turkey with friends on Thanksgiving Day

#1: From 9,000 miles away Husker football penalties and poor refereeing doesn’t seem quite so vivid – especially since we can’t actually watch the games (although still very painful to recall – I’m trying to block it out as we speak).

#2: I now know what it means when they tell you to pull your “trolley” up to the “till” (my “cart” up to the “cash register”) – even though I have to go back EVERY TIME to weigh my fruit (they can’t weigh it at the till – and I look like a crazy person running with oranges swinging in all directions as I hold up a entire line of people who clearly took the time and effort to weigh their fruit first)

#3: The 30 miles per hour gusts of wind, although likely to blow away my children and the roof off my house, do a top notch job of drying my laundry (yes, you heard that right, I am now a line drying machine – although of course not really a machine at all)

#4: I'm so glad the dollar was up today - 7 to 1 (it has been at an all time low since we have returned). The fluctuation in the value of the dollar can mean up to a hundred dollar difference in the rent we pay every month. I never thought I would care so much about the international power of the dollar. Go up! Go up! Go UUUUUUUPPPPPPPPP!

#5: I can use “hectic” appropriately in a sentence. Unlike “hectic” in American – which simply means busy – hectic here means so much more…

- “So you had a hectic past” (you did drugs, became homeless, had 4 kids, and checked into rehab)
- “My hair is quite hectic today” (noticeably messy and perhaps missing a shampoo or two)

- “Her driving is a bit hectic” (she has no idea what she’s doing and drives like a mad woman)

So there you have it. Happy Thanksgiving…hope it’s not too hectic!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Toast Parties and Dadisms

Ahh…little girls love their daddy. And I love mine – dearly and now almost desperately.

Growing up we had what we called “Dad-isms.” Classic things my dad always said.

Here are his top 20 Dad-isms:

1. Let’s have a toast party (this was a special treat of family time – eating jelly toast, talking, laughing - and most importantly staying up past the bedtime we rarely missed)

2. Use Normal and Customary procedures (he repeated this over and over again while teaching me to drive – I’m so grateful he thought I knew what “normal and customary” driving procedures actually were).

3. Put away your guitar and clean up your room (this one was for my brother – who taught himself to play guitar and is now an amazing worship leader – but I guess his room must have been pretty messy)

4. Now see if you can get back home from here (he loved to play a game where he would ask us to close our eyes while he drove my brother and me to some random location and then we had to figure out how to get home from there – from the back seat of the car we would give him directions till we found our way home “turn right…go straight…etc.” – he felt it was very important to be able to get “unlost”)

5. Since responsibility is your middle name… (this statement would proceed some responsible thing he was sure I was about to do)

6. Only under these 3 conditions (often he would let us talk him into doing something we really wanted to do – but there were ALWAYS 3 – not 2, not 4 – but 3 conditions)

7. Start saving (he believed you should actually save up your money if you want something - how unAmerican!)

8. Where’s the Buick? (in college he would let me borrow his car and instead of asking where I was he would say, “Where’s the Buick?”)

9. Only 90% true (he believes that several things can be true at once – meaning everything is not always as clear-cut as it may seem)

10. I’ll give you ten guesses (this is a game we still play – where we have to figure out something within 10 guesses – aka, what restaurant did he eat at last night, who did I run into at the mall, etc. - this is a game I hate to loose)

11. Pick up as you go (he believed in cleaning up messes as you made them)

12. I-C-E (my parents would spell out I-C-E for ice cream when I was young, thinking we wouldn’t catch on to that one…ha!)

13. Train! (this is a game of who can hear or see a train first –then yell “Train!” to stake your claim of firstness)

14. Keep short accounts (he firmly believes in shoring things up quickly – debts, conflicts, etc.)

15. Long pause (like most men, my father likes to pause in conversation – apparently it’s only us women that see this pause as long – as our pause is about 1/100th in length – he attributes this to a man’s smaller lung capacity)

16. I’ll give you $10 if you can solve this math problem (he loves both a good incentive and good math problem)

17. Is it in the book? (meaning have you recorded your day’s expenses in your budget book?)

18. Have a banana (his way of saying “eat healthy”)

19. Hey Champ! (that was my brother) and Hey Bug! (that was me - not sure how I ended up as the insect and my brother as the champion)

20. Today is a packet day (a freeze-tag style game my dad made up 50 years ago - involving wadded up packets of newspaper and two teams – it’s great fun and has been carried over to international notoriety in Kabul and Cape Town)

So that’s my dad.

I’m sure it’s obvious from this list, but he really is an exceptional father - toast parties, games and life lessons. If everyone had a dad like mine, this world would be an entirely different place.

That said, for his birthday this past Tuesday I had a special request. As many of you know, he finished Chemo for his cancer (chronic lymphocytic lyphoma) last summer. We thought it was great…the cancer treatment was successful!

However, he is now sicker than he has ever been. His immunity is so low from the after effects of the chemo treatment– his body can’t seem to fight off ANYTHING. He’s had painful canker sores for over a month now (that refuse to go away) and a lingering fever that has lasted over a week. It’s possible his immunity may be severely compromised for the rest of his life…with little hope of medication that can help.

So for his birthday, we asked friends to join us in a fast for the complete recovery of my dad’s immune system.

Many people sacrificed for us in prayer – sending encouraging words and scriptures. We can’t thank you enough!

After reading the kind words from friends, here is the email I got from dad today.

Julie and Karl,

This is dad.

I have read many emails that came from your request.

All are encouraging.

Thank you so much for caring for me.

I am overwhelmed that so many are praying and caring.

I have significant pain but I work daily to speak into kids.

I talk funny but the kids seem to get it.

I am weak but they are so helpful.

I run scared but Jesus runs within me.

I am discouraged but not without hope.

The race is now difficult but Christ has won this marathon.

Because the church surrounds me, I am not alone.

Many have endured, I am in good company.

This is hard, but Jesus is my life.

I have one verse, I have a thousand. They all say one thing, "Jesus in you, the hope of glory."

We are called to run the race, but sometimes it's a vertical thing, hard but upward.

Sometimes, the answers are slippery, but JESUS is not. HE is the ANSWER.

We must all run while resting in His PRESENCE.

I am tired now, talk later.

love, dad.

*The "kids" are dad's students (he teaches math at a junior high school)

I stand in awe of my daddy. What I wouldn't give for a toast party right now.

NOTE: Here is the page on our site with the scriptures friends sent for my dad and a status update on his health: Prayer for Julie's Dad

Sunday, November 14, 2010

His Instruments

Sitting in the bookstore café with Karl, I was surprised when an old man clamored over me. He quickly hopped onto a chair next to us and reached for a book sitting on top of the book shelf.

Now I was curious. You never quite know what you’re going to get in South Africa.

“Is that a good book?” I said (referring to the paperback he had just swiped from his high altitude perch)

“It better be…I wrote it!” he replied, as he slipped colored photos of an old cello into the books.

“Oh…what’s it about?” I inquired. He seemed so intent on his mission – I HAD to know.

Mr. Robson introduced himself and explained how a homeless man, rummaging through the trash on “bin day” (as in “garbage bin day” – naturally the day you set your trash out), discovered a few splintered pieces of an old baroque cello.

Although it looked more like firewood than a 300 year old treasure, he passed it on to someone who “knew something about music.”

For 30 years it sat in storage…neglected, worn to shreds, unusable.

Mr. Robson, who had a habit of restoring old instruments, took it out from time to time. He admired the old bits of worn wood, but was daunted by the task of restoration. He wasn’t inspired to repair it until his music group took up an interest in performing Bach’s church cantatas on original instruments.

And why wouldn’t you? Why perform Bach on a hideously modern violin if you can find the original instrument from Bach’s era? Little did I know, there are people who live to do this.

After months of tedious labor, he made an amazing discovery! Much to his shock and excitement, this was not just a cello from around Bach’s time - it was a 5 string cello-piccolo, created in 1707 – most likely to have been used by Bach himself. These instruments were only popular for a short time, as a precursor to the modern day cello. They are now obsolete and extremely rare - with a mere 4 or 5 in all the world – designed solely for Bach’s church cantatas (there are only 10 songs Bach composed for this instrument, “Deck yourself, my soul, with gladness” being the first).

Standing in the café with a wistful look in his eye he said, “I just knew this instrument was really special.”

In his book Midnight Mess (by William Selway Robson), he goes on to say, “I could sense its musical soul was intact, it only needed painstaking repair to bring it back to life again!”

For some reason I had to hold back tears.

Hearing him speak so tenderly about the discarded instrument, thrown in the trash, found by a beggar and restored to beauty - I couldn’t help but think of my friends in Ocean View.

They are discarded, neglected, abused, forgotten, thrown away. They are in the bin….treasures…waiting for restoration. When someone…just one person…takes the time to sit for hours, peeling back layers of hurt and abuse, carefully gluing pieces in place, repairing broken strings – a treasure takes form.

Not just an expensive, well crafted instrument – but a priceless instrument, designed by a great composer for specific type of song.

I thought the lyrics to Bach’s first song, composed for this piccolo-cello, are quite fitting…

DECK THYSELF, MY SOUL, WITH GLADNESS (lyrics to 3rd verse)

He who craves a precious treasure
Neither cost nor pain will measure;
But the priceless gifts of heaven
God to us hath freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were offered,
Naught would buy the gifts here offered:
Christ's true body, for thee riven,
And His blood, for thee once given.

He is our treasure and we are His…instruments - born to be restored – with a destiny to be played in a song composed uniquely and specifically and only for us!

If we are not played, our part of the song will never be heard.

I love 2 Timothy 2:21

(We) will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

May I stop performing my own song, but participate in the cantata He wrote just for me!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ava's Dream

Lately I have not felt very connected to Jesus. I’m not sure why. I love him– but haven’t felt close to him. To be completely honest…he has seemed 2,000 years away, embedded in a distant culture and not near enough to really know the me on the inside.

Just when I felt He was furthest away, my sister-in-law shared her daughter’s dream with me.

Ava, my 4 year old niece, lives in the middle east – a place that puts a high currency on the meaning of dreams.

For a full day she was very distraught – crying frequently, in anguish that she “didn’t get to hug the nice man goodbye!” She kept saying, “I want to go back to sleep and see the nice man!”

Hours later she would start sobbing saying, “I really miss the nice man! He was a doctor and he was so nice.”

My sister-in-law realized Ava had experienced a dream so vivid, it seemed more real than being awake.

The dream in Ava’s words:

“There was lots and lots of hot lava. There were lots of people getting hurt from the lava. The nice man was a doctor and he helped get the people out of the lava. Then he gave me special powers, and I jumped in the lava but I didn’t get any owies. I helped him get the people out of the lava. I could jump all the way down the stairs from the top and not even get hurt! I had really special powers. The nice man was fixing all the owies and making all the people better. He was a doctor. He knew everything about me and kept asking me questions. He was SO nice!

He came to our house and helped make Jett better. Then he got into his car and he had to leave. He told me he had to go to Morning Star to help some people then he wanted to go spend time with Emme.”

I was blown away! THIS is the Jesus I know – the One who knows everything about us, yet still asks questions. The One who partners WITH us to touch and heal a broken world. The One who wants to spend his time with a little girl with Down syndrome in a far corner of Africa.

Suddenly Jesus was near – more real and full of love for ME – than I had realized in a long time. Now I am the one that can’t stop crying.

Thank you, little ones!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Old is the New Young (Kinda)

I have always believed “40” is what happens to OTHER people – not something I would actually experience for myself.
And much to my shock and disbelieve… I eventually turned 20, then 30, followed by an unavoidable 35 and now at nearly 37 – I feel as if 40 is a smug Katie Couric waiting to air our interview on foreign policy.

Growing up I constantly felt I looked TOO young. Julie means “youthful one” and for years I distained not looking quite my age. I remember being carded for a MOVIE around 30 years old, and thinking, “Does this high schooler behind the ticket counter really think I’m 16 and could be in his P.E. class? Disturbing!”

However, in Africa these past 6 months – we were THE OLD PEOPLE. I think the average age of the rest of our training class was about 24 years old. This should not have surprised me (being “the old couple,” that is) – but somehow I still feel 24, despite my near 40 year old state (doesn’t everyone?).

I will say…the highlight of my summer was returning to our home church and being introduced as a “nice young couple.” It was great. I thought that’s right – I’m young! I have my whole life ahead of me! Jensen’s not going to put me in a home YET!

To stave off the inevitable, I’m reading the book How Not to Act Old” (by Pamela Redmond Satran), and I have to cringe at the tell-tale signs of my inescapable old age:

• Wearing a watch - the “evil young” (as Satran calls them), don’t wear a watch because they use their cell phones to tell time – I say, show me a cell phone you can strap to your wrist and I’ll show you a girl that no longer wears a watch!
• Leaving a voice mail - apparently “the young” prefer to let you see their “missed call number” so you can wonder with excited anticipation what is the urgent reason for their call (as opposed to “leaving a detailed message at the beep” – however efficient and polite that antiquated system is – apparently it’s out). As for me, when I see a missed call I assume you accidentally called my number and are hoping I didn’t notice.

Sending email – Ahh – why use email if you can reduce all your communication to 140 characters in a text message or Twitter post? If you have more than 30 words to say, should you really be saying them at all?

• Surfing the Net – No one calls it that (it’s “getting online”). Here are a few techy words Satran says we all must know before our old age pushes our current vocabulary into Shakespearean oblivion:
  1. Dead Tree Version: paper edition of a newspaper or book
  2. Ego surfing : Googling yourself (you should try it)
  3. Fat Finger: typo excuse (because your fat fingers can’t find the right keys??)
  4. Mommy Save: saving a computer file without first choosing a folder or directory
  5. Voice Novel: endless voice mail
So there you go!

If I could just get myself to throw out my watch, reduce all communication to texting, never leave a “Voice Novel” and stop sending email – I could give Joan Rivers a run for her money!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Snapshots of Life with the Ostrands

It’s been great being back in the US this summer, and we will return to Africa in a few weeks – to embark on our 3 year commitment. Here’s a few snapshots of life with the four members of the Ostrand family…

Miss Daisy Can Drive

While I was in Africa I went on strike as a driver. Unequivocally I REFUSED to get behind the wheel.

Although I’ve been driving in the US for 20 years, can handle a stick, have successfully maneuvered through New York City traffic, and posses my international driver’s license - I just COULD NOT get my mind around the concept of driving on the left side of the road. If it’s not right…it MUST be wrong!

From day one in South Africa I was chauffeured around. When Karl couldn’t take me somewhere– others would drop me off and pick me up. True, it was a little “Miss Daisy” – without the colorful southern banter – but I fully embraced life as an old lady passenger.

On our first day back in the US this summer, I asked Karl to take me to my beloved Target. I wanted to give it some big, sloppy kisses ASAP.

He said, “Well, I’d love to take you, but I really need to figure out our cell phones here.”

I said, “Oh, that’s OK. Can your mom take me?”

Awkward pause.

He hesitated, searching for just the right words… then settled on, “My mom? You can DRIVE!”

Slowly it sunk in…“Huh…that’s right. I CAN drive!”

And off I went, happily on the right side of the road – gleefully singing all the way to Target, “I’m driving on the right side, I’m driving on the right side – I get to go to Target and I’m driving on the right side!”

What in life, I beg of you, is better than those two things? I guess I’ll take up driving when we get back to Africa, but it won’t be the same without Target.

More is Less

Karl has been thinking about living a lot more simply. While in Africa he kept a careful list of things to buy in the US to bring back to Africa.

However, here are a few things he’s recently crossed off– deciding that sometimes more is less (if you saw all the suitcases we brought to Africa in January, you would agree that hauling around more stuff can be much less pleasant)

  • Even Bigger Jack Bouer Knife – To stab the dogs in Ocean View before they wrap their gnarled teeth around an unsuspecting ankle (I guess his somewhat smaller “Jack-Bouer-As-Pre-Teen-Knife” will have to do)

  • Rubber Bands – Does he really need something that can twist, tie and stretch in such perfect symmetry like a rubber band? I think he’s holding out that these brilliant little bands actually exist somewhere in South Africa (NO country should be anti-rubber band)

  • Another watch – Karl’s current $30 watch has lasted about 2 years, but he planned to get another one here in the US because the “loopy thing that holds the band in” fell off – however, he’s discovered that Emme’s pony tail tie works just as well (I think he’s pushing the envelope a bit too far on this one)

  • Medicine– Apparently we don’t need to bring back enough medicine to set up our own home clinic

Money Grows on Trees

Jensen has had two recent realizations…

#1 “Understanding Jesus is kinda tricky,”
#2. And in the next breathe…“Having lots of money is kinda tricky too.”

I’m not quite sure how these two epiphanies are related – but she has been talking about all the money she’s going to pick off the “money tree” she planted back in Africa. She even jumps up and waves her arms wildly in the air – showing me how she’ll just grab bunches of money out of those trees – wading through her piles of cash. I wish I was kidding – but when Uncle Mike visited us, he told her if she planted her coins a money tree would grow. Sure enough, the next day I found her out in the back yard, diligently digging a hole– planting all her coins in hope of some kind of Donald Trump forest of money trees. She watered it faithfully and could not be convinced that a money tree wasn’t just around the corner. Thanks, Uncle Mike!

Emme Tries Out for American Idol

The “try-out” episodes on American Idol often leave me bewildered – wondering what kind of mother would not mention to her terribly off-key-Britney-Spears-wanna-be daughter that perhaps she should look into a career as a key-grip or band bus driver instead. Some things are better discovered live on national television?

That said (and admitting that we mothers, as a people group, are biased judges of our children’s abilities), I still say that Emme is on the fast track to stardom!

See Emme's Video

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dreams and Nightmares

By far the biggest “nightmare” phase of my life was planning our wedding. I had numerous nightmares but knew I must be taking the whole thing too far when my Maid of Honor started having nightmares too – about OUR wedding.

My Maid-Of-Honor’s Actual Pre-wedding Nightmare:

Erin dreamed we were all waiting for the wedding to start when suddenly she realized that she had forgotten her white, high-heeled bridesmaid shoes. Seizing her mother's fuzzy yellow slippers, another bridesmaid convinced her that if she just told me, “Oh, my feet are a bit swollen,” I wouldn’t care and no one would fault her for the untraditional footwear.

She was relieved until she noticed that we were one bouquet short on the bridesmaid's flowers. Hurriedly she convinced a bridesmaid (some girl she didn't recognize in the line-up - who WAS that girl?) that it was much more important that the MAID OF HONOR have a bouquet than her. Of course it was!

It looked like it would all be OK...when I rushed up to her in my white, sequin leotard and insisted that she stall the wedding while I finished applying my fake eyelashes.

Desperate to STALL THE WEDDING, she walked as slowly down the aisle as possible. Finally, when she got to the end, she was so tired from all that slow motion walking she couldn't physically keep her eyes open. She concocted a plan to just tell me that it only LOOKED like she was sleeping, but really she had been crying because I was so beautiful (somehow crying and sleeping look like the same thing??). But before she could explain her insomnia…the flower girls came running down the aisle with DREADLOCKS in their hair. Cute she said, but a bit disturbing.

Eventually I walked down...but instead of letting my father give me away...I started preaching. Pacing up and down, I directed my fiery lecture on "Love is a Choice" to the bridesmaids, groomsmen and audience. I’m sure I was convincing in my white sequin leotard (maybe "love" should have chosen a less gymnastic wedding dress).

By the end of the "ceremony" none of my bridesmaids could figure out if Karl and I had actually gotten married.

Can you make this stuff up? How do you recover from a wedding nightmare like that?!

Enough about nightmares - let's talk about dreams.

One of the best things about my parents is that we talked about everything growing up and this often included dreams. Regardless of my flavor-of-the-month-career-aspiration, my father would invariably reply, “Wouldn’t you rather become a missionary?” It’s amazing how much passing comments of our parents deeply affect our destiny!

This past year I was surprised to find out the girls of Ocean View dream too.

During our film club when asked what they wanted to be when “they grow up” – they responded like many American teenage girls - they dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, model, teacher, soccer player (see the video: Film Club Movie).

Despite the big dreams, many come from nightmare lives.

One of these “film club” girls was raped repeatedly at the age of 11 by her step-grandfather. Her brother, furious, murdered him in front of her. The step-grandfather’s family to this day insists she brought it on herself and calls her a whore. She dreams of becoming a famous soccer player and escaping this nightmare life where she questions every day if it's somehow her fault.

For all of these girls, their parents don’t own a car, they aren’t able to take dance lessons, get extra tutoring or attend professional soccer training – but still they dream. And they aren’t afraid to dream big.

Right now my dreams are simpler. I dream of having 10 minutes to myself, the time to finish a book, well-rounded-yet-unspoiled children, less clutter, more patience.

At this stage in life for many of us, most big dreams not only seem out of reach, but the truth is – we can barely remember what they once were.

Life is loud and messy and has a way of luring us into a dreamless sleep.

Why am I in Africa? True it’s a calling and a dream – but it’s more than that.

It’s the answer to this question I continually pose to myself:

When I’m 92 and full of wrinkles, cinching up my Depends, and on 22 medications – when I look in the mirror and ask, “Did I dream big enough?” what will I say?

I’m not talking about a bucket list of “dreams” like learning how to ski or seeing the Great Wall or reading War and Peace – I’m talking about the MAIN THING in life you know you MUST do.

Put another way…I’ll ask myself, “Was my life worth living? Did I do anything that really mattered?”

I’ve thought a lot about this – and landed on this: The only thing that really matters, that makes life worth living ––when health and strength and vitality are distant friends - is “Did I obey God?”

Obeying is not a word I like to use – it sounds so authoritative, definitive, unbending and bossy.

But never-the-less, it’s THE thing that matters. That’s it. That’s all there is, folks.

Sometimes for me obeying is to stop talking about a leader I thoroughly dislike, to change my tone with my children, to not buy another matchy-matchy-pink skirt for the girls, to move to Africa.

It doesn’t really matter what it is – it only matters that I do it.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, OBEYED and WENT, even though he did not know where he was going. (Heb. 11:8)

I want to obey God, even when I have no idea where I’m going.

When we go, when we obey – that is the place of our inheritance. I guess that’s what I really want when I’m 92 – an inheritance (one that I am sure is only found after obeying in a thousand tiny ways).

A wise man once said, “If you can’t hear God any more – go back to the last thing He told you to do, and do it.”

Obeying is about doing – not necessarily the hard thing – but the thing He’s telling you to do. It's that simple - not easy - but simple.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Three Great Things About America

Ahh…America. So many great things!

Allow me to focus on three stunning facets of the American Restaurant.

1. Kids cups –It’s plastic (your 4 old can actually drop it without breaking it) AND it has a lid (they can drop it without breaking it OR spilling it). How great IS this country? What more could you want IN YOUR LIFE TIME than kids cups at restaurants? Seriously. Even if you don’t have kids – do you really want some else’s screaming kid spilling their chocolate milk on your shoes while shards of glass fly into your eye? Think about it. Kids cups are a real game changer (not that Africa has chocolate milk - but that's a topic for another day).

2. Brewed Iced T – Wow. Brewed. You wouldn’t think this would be as exciting as it is – BUT IT IS EXCITING. Virtually every time I had Iced T in Africa it was in a can – just really, really not the same. I will say – it was a little slice of heaven when a fellow CPxer shared their imported-from-good-ole-southern-USA sweet T they brewed themselves. I would have traded several pairs of SHOES for a few more swigs of that!

3. Condiments:

---- Ranch - Obviously the best condiment in the entire world and should be served at all meals – does not exist in Africa for reasons that surpass my understanding

---- Malt Vinegar – The restaurants in South Africa have a small deficiency in variety and virtually all of them offer Fish and Chips. However, not one of them has Malt Vinegar to go with their anti-diversity Fish and Chips. When Karl really pressed the issue – they brought him Balsamic Vinaigrette and tried to pass it off as the same thing. Let me just say, not even remotely similar.

---- Ketchup They don’t call it ketchup – they call it “tomato sauce” – I’m not sure if that’s a copyright issue or if they just feel strongly that “tomato sauce” is a more honest approach. Regardless, it’s much sweeter in Africa – tastes more like candy Ketchup. To be fair, Karl likes African tomato sauce better (but does that really make it OK?).

I could go on and on – but let’s just say I want to kiss America on the lips! Don't you?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let Us Know When You Can See the Mountains

Flying back to the US last week made me appreciate virtually uneventful international travel. Let me tell you about truly, hands down, the worst day of my entire life.

Karl and I were flying back from a 10 day visit to Afghanistan to visit my brother and his family. It was COLD. In fact, they said it was the coldest winter in 50 years. Of course it was. You don’t want to pick a warm winter to visit a war zone where heat is optional.

In a normal trip to the airport - you walk inside, find the check-in, get your ticket and fly away. The “fly away” part being key in that scenario.

Not so much in Kabul on this day.

Driving to the airport (notice the low visibility)

We first went through security outside of the airport – “security” in the very loosest sense of the term.

The men have an actual “security building” of sorts, but for female passengers “security” is a dark little shack that looks like it’s out of Deliverance – with a serious looking Afghan woman who glances at the contents NEAR the top of your suitcase- not inside- because, of course, if you were going to hide a weapon of mass destruction in your suitcase you would lay it ON TOP OF your undies and nightgown (you certainly don’t want random Muslims looking at your undies – a self detonating bomb is a sure-fire way to distract them from any embarrassing under garments).

Once we were “through security” our driver took us to what appeared to be the American equivalent of “long term” parking and dropped us off– it was that far from the airport. We were instructed to stand with about 100 other passengers and wait for our flight to be called.

This sounded somewhat reasonable. Somewhat. However, they didn’t seem to be calling our flight (no loud speaker system, no flight information boards) – just a parking lot with too much snow and some unofficial man blocking the gate.

We started to ask around. It appeared our flight was canceled. I say appeared because no one quite seemed to know. We couldn’t call the airline (they weren’t open yet – it was 6 am – why would they be open?). We couldn’t call our travel agent (it was midnight in Omaha).

I was 6 months pregnant at the time and FREEZING (did I mention it was the coldest winter in half a century)? My undaunted husband sprang into action. They wouldn’t let us go into the airport to try to make arrangements (since our flight was canceled), but Karl found someone who seemed to know something. Oh, he knew something alright. He knew if you paid him 50 bucks he could get you closer to the airport (something more promising like short-term parking distance from the actual building). We gladly paid the bribe and got about half-way there. He passed us off to someone else who, for another bribe, got us to the airport door. At the door we paid a third bribe and were finally in.

Still of course, the airline hadn’t opened yet. It was 8 am. Why should they be open to answer pesky customer questions?

We were instructed to wait in a lounge that looked like it had not been in use since the Soviets left. Literally.

Around 10 am the airline finally opened their desk and when Karl asked about our flight – the airline employee said he could get us on a later flight for a little sompin sompin - $200 specifically. At this point Karl was finished donning out bribes for a legitimate flight we had already paid in full.

The airline also explained that they couldn’t take off until they could physically “see” the mountains (it had been snowing and the mountains were blocked from view). Kabul is surrounded by mountains and apparently they don’t have typical airport commercial radar for planes to be able to take off without being able to PHYSICALLY SEE the mountains. This was a point of concern.

He said to Karl, “Since you’re up in the lounge with all those windows – could you let us know when YOU can see the mountains?”

How we presume the mountains should look


When WE can see the mountains?

This was a point of further concern – much further concern.

After hours and hours of waiting – it eventually cleared off and we could, in fact, “see” the mountains. We had met a very nice American from the state department who took pity on us and somehow sweet talked her way to getting us on the later flight to Dubai.

It was about 4 pm. We had been waiting a long time in the terminal filled with Taliban looking men. They didn’t look pleased either – but I couldn’t tell if it was the delayed flight or the inevitable unpleasantness of being Taliban that vexed them.

The snow had subsided enough that the mountains were now visible. FINALLY we were traipsing over the tarmac to our beloved plane. And then it began to snow...again.

Boarding our plane moments before it begins to snow
(with mountains somewhat visible)

It snowed so much in that 20 minute period that once we were snug in our seats, the pilot walked to the middle of the plane, took a careful look out the window and determined that there was too much ice on the wing to leave. No instruments needed for THAT crucial decision apparently.

Out again onto the tarmac and back to the Taliban Terminal.

Another hour passed.

And another.

No information boards – no loud speaker announcements.

Finally a character that perfectly embodied Jack from Lost emerged. A fellow passenger with an Austrailian accent, he stood on his chair and began to make announcements.

Jack’s first announcement: They don’t know if we will be able to take off tonight!

Some murmuring. This was perplexing – as it was now dark and you certainly COULD NOT see the mountains – to say nothing of the fact that all information seemed to be relayed through Jack from Lost.

We considered packing it up and trying to catch a flight another day – but our luggage was AWOL in the annals of Kabul airline delirium.

Jack’s second announcement (20 minutes later): We may be able to take off tonight if ISAF can give us clearance to leave in the dark!

Applause broke out. No one else seemed to care that Jack was the only one that knew what was going on (ISAF was the “International Security Assistance Force” that acted as the governing body at the airport. Weird. But at this point – what isn’t?).

Jack’s third announcement (1 hour later): ISAF has given us clearance and we’ll be taking off soon!

More applause. Where’s Kate?

And so we were back on the tarmac, shuffling through the snow in the pitch black, headed to our certain doom.

Once on the plane and settled in, the ice began to accumulate again on the wings. This time ISAF said it was OK (how this is OK I’m not sure). They announced that they would de-ice our plane, but since we were the third plane in line to take off, it would take about an hour.

I tried not to notice that the plane looked like it had been pieced together from several different airlines. The seats said American Airlines, the beverage cart was Delta and the bathrooms featured British Airways appliances.

At this point in the melodrama off my life – I began to feel a bit ill. OK, maybe not just a bit ill. I was crammed into a hot, dark plane, 6 months pregnant with the worst cramps of my life. Worse than child-birth pain. And nausea.

I threw up. Into the bag.

Karl got me a new bag.

I threw up again – into the new bag. That one had a hole in it. I essentially threw up onto myself.

Karl got me another bag – presumably without a hole.

I threw up again – and again. On myself –in the bag – it was hard to tell.

I was in the fetal position in my seat. It was excruciating (I later found out it was an appendix attack).

For three hours we sat on the tarmac – me throwing up – in my own personal hell. It took this long to de-ice three planes – as they were using a garden-hose equivalent to spray the de-ice stuff.

Jack got concerned.

Jack’s fourth announcement (shouting from his seat on the plane): I’ve spoken with the pilot and told him we DO NOT want to take off if it’s not safe.

I’ll say we don’t!

Enough was enough so Karl went to talk to the pilot himself. He decided that he needed to get his wife to the hospital.

Once to the pilot’s door he looked down to see a few guys on the tarmac – dressed very unofficially – arguing about the details involved with de-icing a large plane. Becoming convinced that they had never de-iced anything before, he told the pilot we needed to get off the plane immediately.

The pilot said in a thick middle-eastern accent, “No! We take off now!”

Where is Jack when we need him?

Karl returned to our seat, the plane finally de-iced, and we heard the pilot start the engine. Well – start is an exaggeration. It sounded like trying to start a car when the engine is dead. He turned it over again. Nothing.

Apparently the pilot didn’t take into account the energy that would be used running the heat on an airplane sitting on the tarmac for three hours.

The plane’s battery was dead.

What else is he failing to take into consideration, we wondered? Altitude? Wind velocity? Fuel? Very, very disconcerting!

ISAF comes through again and gives us a jump start.

The plane was now ready to take off. “Ready” may be pushing it.

However, we did a “cork screw take-off” and circled hard to presumably miss the mountains. Karl was convinced we were about to meet our certain death (in my condition this didn't sound so bad). He wondered, "If you crash into the mountains, do you see the plane folding like an accordion in front of you? Or do you just die instantly – glad to finally be off of KamAir?"

Trustable Wings?

I proceeded to throw up on the three hour flight to Dubai. The stewards were smoking in the back, sleeping on the floor and not caring much about finding more holeless throw-up bags. Karl, in a state of total desperation, convinced the crew to let us off first, due to my dire medical emergency.

We landed, pressed our way through customs and I laid on the pristine Dubai airport floor while Karl tracked down the first aid crew. About this time I started to feel better.

In the end – I was fine – and we somehow managed to catch another flight back to Omaha unscathed.

I walk away with 5 insights I will hold dear the rest of my life:

1. It’s never good if the airline puts you in charge of visibility (run fast if they ask YOU to let them know when you can see the mountains)

#2. Jack Shephard can come in handy in any airline emergency.

#3. Save your appendix attack for a first-world country.

#4. A garden hose can accomplish many things, but de-icing a 737 is not among them.

#5. Always, always check the throw-up bag for holes BEFORE use.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sleep is for Sissys

Ahh….20 hour flights with children. God bless the other passengers.

Great to be back on American soil! Let me recap the highlights of flying home this week.

#1. LUGGAGE IS OVERRATED: We got on board in Cape Town around midnight on Saturday night. Good thing Karl realized half-way through the luggage check-in process that they were only sending our bags HALF-WAY to America. You know, just everything we need for the next few months in the US. What-eva.

#2. SLEEP IS FOR SISSYS: On the first stretch from Cape Town to Amerstam (from midnight to 8 am), I thought – this is GREAT! The girls will sleep…they are EXHAUSTED BEYOND WORDS. Emme participated in the plan, but Jensen was so excited about the er-plane that she slept an hour. Yes, ONE HOUR, folks. I was delighted.

#3. SECURITY IS A LITTLE JACK BAUER: Amerstam has the most impressive security in the world. You can’t buy a bottled water IN THE AIRPORT and bring it onto the plane – because they do an additional security check at the gate. They gave us a mini interrogation about why we had been to Afghanistan two years ago and the security risk of our possibly-sketchy -housemates back in Cape Town (we had been living with another couple that had access to our luggage).

He was so serious - I wanted to confess to every crime I had committed since 2nd grade - including writing a letter to our neighbor about the mistreatment of their mangy half-starved dog and making Mrs. Wilson cry (I mean really – how much stock can you put into an animal rights letter written by a 9 year old?) and dressing my brother up like a girl and parading him around the neighborhood calling him Christina (it’s possible he hasn’t yet recovered from that one). In my defense – he was overdo a haircut and his cute little hairs were a BIT curly on the ends – plus the neighbor kids bought it and I must have had a good half dozen people in awe of my newly produced sister .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This is Africa - A Photo Blog in South Africa! Pictures say it best...
This is our house key and gate-to-blockade-the-front door key - along with the button for our front gate.

All the keys here are "skeleton keys." (I feel like I'm living in the 1950's - without the Mrs. Cleaver niceties). Since they don't actually "cut keys," if you need a copy, you go to the store and say, "I need the #M24B." (which will be a key already made with grooves to match your key). Somehow I don't see how this is a very safe method. Surely there's got to be a lot of #M24B's out there that will unlock my front door?!

Security gate in front of our neighborhood with electric barbed wire (most neighborhoods have a gate)

You are not allowed to pump your own gas. Since unemployement is so high - they create jobs wherever possible. We'd like to know what happens if you commit the crime of self service - but no one here has been brave enough to try it. These guys are serious!

20% of South Africans live in an informal settlement township - with homes much like this...

I realize I'm beating a dead horse here - but I just really, really don't get it. Most faucets have the seperate hot/cold spouts. Isn't it more work to put in two faucets? And there is NO counter space in the bathrooms. This may be the #1 best thing about America - COUNTER SPACE! Please kiss every inch of your bathroom counter and think of me.

Plastic mail "boxes" outside our gate - you may be nice and safe inside the gate, but your mail is definitely at risk

Electricity box in our garage (you buy the electricity at the store and then put the code in the box at your home). For example, 293 credits will last us about a week. We did the math and electricy is about 3 times more expensive than the US. Painful! We are seriously considering not using the lights and walking around with head-lamps - maybe a little too Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

Steering wheel on the right side of your car (even after 6 months, I still get in on the wrong side)

Typical grocery cart (mini double-decker) - I can fit about 2 things in there

Jensen and me in rain boots (it's the rainy season now).

Not unusual to see baboons on the side of the road - they are smart little suckers and if you leave your windows down will jump in your car and try to steal your keys. HOW do they know the keys are important?

Cockroaches cover the digital clock numbers on the microwave at Africa House. So horrific I can't even discuss this one!

One interesting point on telling time - for 1:15 they don't ever say "one fifteen" - they say "quarter past one" and "half past one," etc. I asked what they would say for 1:50 appointment - and they said, "Oh we would never have a 1:5o Americans are too exact!"