Monday, March 9, 2015

The Truth About Karl

Want to know the truth about Karl Ostrand? He is a kind husband and tender-hearted father - but there is another side to Karl. 

The side of Karl most of you know...even if you’ve only met him once, is that he's cool.

“Cool” is such an over-used, over-rated word these days– but it really applies here. Karl is the kind of cool that you just want to be around.  He is comfortable in his own skin…which translates to someone who does not have control-issues or gotta-prove-it-to-you issue or over-compensating issues.

He is kind and will do anything for you.  Need to be picked up at the airport at mid-night? No problem!  Need to confess your deepest, darkest secret? No judgment!  Need to feel valued? He’s on it!

He often says…”I’m just a big teddy bear.” And this is true.

But the other thing that is very, very true about Karl – is that you should not mess with him…especially if you are a “bad guy” – as Jensen says (if you are a shady criminal reading this right now…please take note…you should probably run and hide now – Karl is most certainly watching you).

Two stories have made Karl a bit of a super-hero in this house (names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty).

The Tale of the Stolen Bike and African Mafia

Last year I was standing outside our home….saying goodbye to a friend one morning when I noticed someone blazing past me on a bicycle.  The bike was teetering side to side at record speeds, seemingly controlled by an inexperienced rider.

About a minute later our neighbor’s housekeeper Fannie runs out of the house yelling hysterically, “Julie…they stole Mike’s bikes!  They stole Mike’s bikes!”

So now I am yelling from our street at the top of my lungs, “Karl!! Karl!!! Someone took Mike’s bikes. Karl come QUICK! Come NOW!” (picture me hysterical with arms flailing).

Apparently she was cleaning the living room while the thieves slipped inside the house and stole two bikes being stored in their guest bedroom.

Spurred into action…Karl rushes out, jumps in our car and heads in the direction of the thief.

He doesn’t see the bikes but on a hunch heads into Masi (a near-by township).  In South Africa, most white people have never set foot in a township and would not dream of going there alone in search of a criminal.

Keep in mind…  “South Africa is now the most violent country outside a war zone. The country,” writes Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor, has “the highest recorded per capita murder rate in the world”

But this is Karl.

Driving around Masi he notices two bike riders that keep turning around looking at him suspiciously.  I’m sure they are wondering, “Who is this crazy white guy?”  As he continues to follow them, they speed up and turn into a small alley way – losing him in the swampy wet-lands of tightly packed housing.

With no way to follow them further…Karl returns home.  Mike arrives home about an hour later and a plan is hatched to return to Masi in search of the bikes again, accompanied by Sifiso, who lives in Masi and is well-connected there.

Fannie offers to go with them, as she knows what the thieves look like.

With little hope of finding them amongst the 30,000 – 40,000 people who live in Masi, Karl decides to show the other passengers where he originally spotted the thieves. As they near the area, Mike glances over and notices HIS TWO STOLEN BIKES (with the aforementioned riders) next to their car.  What are the chances??

Mike jumps out of the car and starts chasing one on foot. The other bike driver heads in the opposite direction and Karl and Fannie follow them in the car. 

Fannie is screaming at the hordes of people in the streets to move out of the way as she is yelling “Right!! Right!” but pointing left and “Left! Left!” but frantically pointing to the right (Karl decides to go with the hand gestures…which proves to be the more reliable method).

A high-speed “Fast and the Furious” chase ensues, with Karl staying right on his tail.  Much to Karl’s shock, at some random point the driver gives up…hopping off the bike and running away.

As Karl gets out to load up the bike into the car, a crowd of 40-50 locals gather around.  It can be a bit scary to feel a crowd closing in on you!  Quickly Fannie explains in Xhosa that the bikes were stolen and the group becomes angry at the fleeing thief.

Afterwards Karl reflected, “I am not sure what I was thinking – what was I going to do if I caught up to him?? Fight him for the bike? Invite him to one of our Bible studies? Calmly explain in English that we would please like it back?”

Meanwhile, Mike is chasing the other biker on foot when someone stops him and says, “Wait…wait. I’ll help you. What’s going on?”  Soon Mike realizes this guy is in cahoots with the thief, and this small delay causes him to lose the shady character completely.

At this point Karl catches up to a dejected Mike and both swap stories. Sifiso suggests that they return home and that he will follow-up with the thief, who he recognized as a local trouble-maker.

In the end Sifiso tracks down the thief and explains that he expects him to return the bikes without a hassle or he will get the police involved.

 When the bike is not returned the next day, Sifiso goes to the Masi Elders (the Bamanadi – kind of like the mafia), and, for a small fee, they will have the bike returned.  The fee is paid and the bike is returned shortly thereafter in perfect condition. African justice….ahhh.

The best part about the story is that months later Karl was patrolling our neighborhood with the head of our neighborhood watch.  The man starts to tell him a story about how some crazy white guy was insane enough to follow some criminals into Masi and actually got the merchandise returned.

So Karl’s a legend ‘round these parts.

Dreadlocks, Tattoos and Indian Tracking Methods

The second story happened a few weeks ago.  Three of “my girls from Ocean View” came to see baby Colton.  When they arrived at our house Rebecca was very upset.

They had taken a taxi to my house, and she had left her smart phone on the seat of the taxi.  Now the taxies here are more like a cargo van that seat 15-20 people.  

If you leave something of any value in a taxi…there is pretty much a 0% chance of retrieval. In fact, you NEVER leave anything lying around anywhere here.

Of course they tried to call the missing phone, but no one answered.

They asked Karl to take them to the next scheduled stop on the taxi route – which is the main taxi hub in Fish Hoek, a nearby small town.  They say they know the taxi driver and wanted to ask him if, by some miracle, the phone was returned.

The three girls, along with Karl, go the taxi stand and incredibly find the taxi driver.  He says he thinks he knows who took it – a large man with tattoos and dreadlocks – who was sitting by Rebecca in the taxi.  The driver tells Karl, “I don’t know where he is now…but he works at a tattoo parlor in Simons Town” (another near-by sea side small town).

The four of them pile back in the car and head to the tattoo parlor.  Once there, the owner explains that the suspected man used to work there, but was fired for stealing. He offers to give Karl the man’s phone number.

Karl takes it and gives him a call.

At this point in the story – I have to stop and ask myself – if I were to call up someone who I only strongly suspected of stealing something, with no proof and no relationship with them – what could I possibly say to get the stolen items returned?

The man answers and Karl, in a stroke of pure genius says, “Hey man (calling him by his name) I just want to thank you for picking up my friend’s phone.  That was so nice of you!  We have tracked the phone and know you’re near-by.  Could you just tell me exactly where you are, and we will come pick it up?”

Now there is no GPS tracking on this phone…but let’s just say Karl is using the term loosely here – in the “Native American Sacagawea tracking sense.

After a long pause, the man says hesitantly “I’m at the Glen Karin train station.”

Karl says, “Great…we will be there in a minute.”

What??  This is crazy!?  I am sure the man is wondering how in the world this stranger with an American accent was able to call him on his own phone, using his name and referencing the stolen phone.

Karl pulls up to the train station to find a very large African with many tattoos and dreadlocks waiting for him.

Karl approaches him and says in a friendly tone…”Hey man…Thanks for keeping my friend’s phone for me.”

The man is hesitant and replies, “Where is she? I want to make sure it’s her.”

The girls are hanging back…a little afraid.  Karl points to her and he walks over and says, “Where were you sitting in the taxi?”

She confirms her place and he says, “And who were you with?”

At this point Karl realizes he’s stalling and says, “Hey man…do the right thing.”

He pauses and reluctantly gives the phone back.

What?!? This is unheard of here in South Africa.  I’m sure this man is still wondering how in the world Karl tracked him down, called him up, and talked him out of his life of crime for a day.
So there you go…that’s my man.            

So if your bike gets stolen, phone is misplaced or you need someone to have your back,  Karl is your guy.  Everyone needs a little super-hero to show up once in a while.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Truth About Our Facebook Life

Is our Facebook life anything like our real life?

If I were to take an honest look at my life as seen from afar on Instagram and Facebook – it would appear that I am happily married with a sunny disposition – laughing my way through each day with my 4 precious children.

Despite the fact that only 1 out of 4 of my kids are able to perform the most simplest of tasks like “go put on your shoes and get in the car”…I am cheerful and take pleasure in the simple things, taking the time to smell the flowers and breathe deeply along the way.

It may seem like I usually look like this (meaning dressed and somewhat presentable)

But I spend most of my days looking like this (wild-mad-scientist hair, no make-up, mis-match of clothes thrown together...sincerely hoping no one unexpected comes to the door and gets a case of PTSD from my unruly appearance)

Judging from my own posts…one would have to concede that I am amazing!  I am unstoppable! Even though I have a child with special needs, a two year old and an 8 week old baby – I am at peace with my role as a mother… with my hair blowing freely in the Cape Town breeze… counting my blessings and nary a cross word passing my lips.

In my spare time I start businesses! I help people in Africa!

I have many friends and throw endless parties! I can do this all at the speed of light, while successfully creating copycat Chilli’s Chicken Crisper recipes, eating wheat-grass and doing holiday crafts with my children (even my newborn is able to crank out some Pinterest-worthy Christmas decorations all by himself).

I am not stressed….I am relaxed! I am positively blissful!

I’m not sure who this person is….but I definitely want to know her!  And if only she were a real person…and if only that person was me. Seriously!

Of course I don’t want to sound negative or cranky and assume most people realize this is just a small snippet of my reality. But, for the tiny percentage of people out there that may think the 1% of life posted on social media is actual life, let me just say emphatically, “Not so much!”

Oh everything I post is technically true…but as they say at Fresh Start, “More than one thing is true.”

The tension for me is how to be real…without sounding sad and pathetic. No one likes sad…and pathetic is just, well, pathetic.

Does anyone want to hear that most things with Emme is about 100 times the work as a typical child?  I think not. Everyone has their problems.  We love that girl to pieces….but the fact that she is still in diapers at 6 years old, is honestly a pretty discouraging part of life for me.  Not a Facebook worthy rant – but we have changed her diapers for over 2,000 days IN A ROW…that’s right....every day for 2,000 days…nasty, smelly big kid diapers.  It makes me think, “Have I utterly failed her as a mother?”  Probably.  I think that a lot.  I spend a certain percentage of my day worrying I am quite possibly the worst mother ever.

Her last two facilitators (that come to our house for afternoon developmental activities) have suddenly quit.  Up and quit with virtually no notice! We are having great difficulty finding new ones and feel discouraged about the level of services for her in Cape Town.

I’ve ordered books to “teach your child with Down syndrome to read and do math” but coming up with a plan for this is totally overwhelming. It’s something that nags at the back of my mind every single day!  I feel very inadequate and guilty all the time over this.

Take this moment for instance…I’m trying to write this blog while I simultaneously give Jensen spelling words (she just got done crying from utter discouragement).  Emme has already watched too much television today so I should probably stop her video and do some puzzles with her and Colton is overdue to be fed.  But I just want to finish this blog!!  Aaaaaaaa!  I need to go make dinner but I have nothing planned.

I tell myself, "Mother is Beautiful!  It's beautiful, I tell you!"

And I am tired!  Soooo tired!

Adi Rose is an adorable button-of-a-child...that must cry a dozen times every day. No exaggeration.  At least a dozen time. The drama is exhausting!

Jensen is turning into an amazing young lady – but my sharp tongue can pierce her heart and my impatience can run rampant.  I daily pray for it to be “less of me and more of him”…especially when it comes to Jensen.

Colton is the sweetest, chubbiest boy there is.  But he is by far more fussy and demanding than any of his predecessors combined.  How can this be?  I thought #4 was guaranteed to be the easy one?  Lord have mercy!

We do have "boy joy!"

But many times the "boy joy" is more in my head – and not so much in the air around me that is being filled with blood curling screams

We throw many parties and dearly love this incredible community.  But there are days when I think…do these people really like me?  Do they see my biggest weaknesses and want to run away?  Quite possibly!

It’s true that I love Africa with my whole heart. We have started cool businesses with amazing products…hopefully some people have been helped along the way.  But it’s also true that there has been heart-break and tears.  Some days I wonder if any of this is really helping any one.  Team relationships can be strained and misunderstandings are inevitable.

Sometimes my American culture shouts louder than my Jesus culture!

I have cried long and hard over saying the wrong thing  - acting too fast or too slow - disappointing and hurting people along the way.  Apologies abound from my lips and on most days forgiveness is extended from these amazing African people.

I hear the horrific stories of epidemic rape and abuse and feel my small drop in this huge bucket is indeed very, very small. Big tears fall and big plans are made, but I need to constantly remind myself to keep Jesus first before plunging into my own “solution.”

Even on the lighter side…let me be frank: I did make an amazing copy-cat Chilli’s Chicken Crisper dinner – but nearly burned the kitchen down in a grease fire.  I tried wheat-grass…but only once (mostly attempting to counteract the massive amount of Oreos I was eating at the time).  We planted a garden but realized we had no idea what we were doing! Some of the vegetables grew in a mangled mess and bugs ate most of it, leaving many vegetables unrecognizable as themselves.

Karl eventually said to me, "When you said you wanted to plant a garden...I should have realized you wanted me to plant it and water it every day and pick all the vegetables"

Yes....that is exactly what I meant!  "We" is obviously code for "you."

You get the idea! I could go on and on…and pretty much have.

To close out…here are a few of my social media posts…and then what the “behind-the-scenes” description should be.


Posted Description: Milestone day for us...first time ever that Emme saw us all in aprons and went to the cupboard to get an apron for herself. I love that she wants to make pancakes too.

Behind-the-Scenes Description: I do love that Emme wants to make pancakes too…but let’s face it – our three girls in the kitchen trying to cook pancakes is a recipe for whining, crying, gnashing of teeth, and lots of pancake batter on body parts and many unsanitary surfaces.  It was a "Christmas Miracle" they posed for the 3 seconds it took to take this photo – but moments after that shot was snapped, massive meltdowns ensued.  It looks like a happy memory, but in reality it was pure chaos that I don’t want to repeat EVER in my lifetime.  We may just have to pick up all our pancakes from the McDonalds drive-through and hang on to what’s left of our sanity for dear life.


Posted Description: Living in the same neighborhood as good friends = home-made muffins I don't have to bake

Behind-the-Scenes Description: Seriously People?!?  We wanted to meet our neighbors so a few of us friends handed out invitations to 40 near-by homes, inviting them to a “Christmas Open House.”  We baked muffins and bought desserts….but NO ONE CAME!  Ok that’s not true, I exaggerate - one very sweet old lady came.  But I was so disappointed!  I don’t think South Africans do the “holiday open house thing” and probably thought that the idea sounded a little nuts. I wanted to shout “We really are very nice people…despite our Americanness and strong tendency to want to shake your hand when you are trying to kiss our cheek.  It may take us a few years of living in your country to know we should always walk you to your car after a dinner-party (instead of just waving to you from our seated position on the couch thinking you will just show yourself out the door). But we can learn, people! WE CAN LEARN!”

My friends are such good sports and even contributed some honesty about the chaos of their life...


Posted Description: Isn't this how your feet look when you are walking the streets of town, in and out of shops, cars, toilets?!

Behind-the-Scenes Description: Looks so chill, huh? Truth is...I have given up! I have no idea where you left your shoes! I am in charge of 7 people and I cannot keep up with 14 shoes. I got so tired of searching and, since sanity is important, I gave up on shoes…because how many times can one ask a kid, “Where are your shoes?!?” And hey…when in Rome…


Posted Description: Couldn't ask for better friends...

Behind-the-Scenes Description: Out with our best friends for the first time in months together because I'm normally in bed with pain and rarely have time out at all...


Posted Description: Beach Babies

Behind-the-Scenes Description: Looks super fun and it was. But the reality was that this was basically the only 5 min span of time that Jack wanted to be on the beach. The rest of the time he was crying and wanting to go to the play ground. Or trying to grab the sand bucket from Lucy. And he didn't like the water, ran in the other direction, but who can blame feels like ice!!


Posted Description: In New York without our daughters. They would be jealous that they missed Olaf!

Behind-the-Scenes Description: Who doesn't think it would be amazing to be in Times Square over New Years' Eve?  Me, that's who!  I had to attend a conference that weekend in NYC, but I chose to fly out on New Years' Day to avoid the chaos of the night before.  In this picture Marc and I had just arrived at our hotel and decided to walk down Broadway.  It was still crazy with people and very irritating.  I wanted a picture of Olaf for my girls, but Mario jumped in uninvited.  What you don't see is Olaf asking me for money.


Posted Description: "My morning view!  We take our little buddy Seth to school in the am and spend a LONG commute reading, drawing, chatting, worshiping, and having fun.

Behind-the-Scenes Description: These are serious cuties but serious drama queen and kings as well.  Our rides mostly are filled with complaining, hitting, whining, sneezing, snot flying, and asking "ARE WE THERE YET" more times than my soul can bear. "JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL"

Just remember the next time you see someone’s amazing vacation photos, happy-perfectly-dressed children or pictures of parties you did not attend – all is not as it seems.

We might wish our actual lives resembled our Facebook lives a little more - but one wants to think you or your amazing life is perfect. We all need to know we are not alone in our pancake chaos, never-ending search for children's shoes, insecurities, or encounters with a Needy Money Scrounging Olaf on New Year's Day.

So let's have some fun! Join me this week in posting a photo with it's real "Behind-the-Scenes Description" of your actual, very messy but incredible life.