Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clare in the Afternoon

As it worked out, today ended up being the best day to take Clare out, so I had my girls right in a row--a study in compare and contrast.

When Clare was born, Kraig and I had two first names we were playing with. Within a minute of seeing her, we went with the one that means "brilliant light" (Clare is her nickname). There is something in a name, and Clare has shown hers to be more than accurate. "Lightning bolt" might have been even more appropriate.

She can seem so innocent and winsome if you are observing her in repose. This happens more often nowadays because she's perfectly happy to get lost in a book for hours on end. However, if the book is shut, beware. The winsomeness is only appearance deep. Interacting with Clare can be like wrestling the edge of a hurricane.

Today the book was set aside (except for when we were driving) and the tongue ran free. With Clare, there are no quiet times unless she has her nose in a book. She is constant chatter and motion. Most homework sessions take three times as long as they should because they're spent constantly herding her back to work. I like it when I don't have to herd her and can let her loose, because I love to hear her talk, and to hear her questions and ideas.

We didn't have far to go today. Clare's great goal was to get to the Wal-Mart that just opened up down the street last week. She's had her eye on and has been saving toward a Barbie kid that she saw at another Wal-Mart and she wanted to see if it was at this one. We were also looking for a notebook for an online writing class that she's starting next week. So we started off at home with some lunch: leftovers of her favorite white chicken chili.

Then we headed down the road, entertained on the way by the pig in the back of the pick-up truck in front of us.

Once we got to Wal-Mart we headed straight for the stationery aisle. We spent quite a few minutes there, because it's one of our favorite places. Clare found a binder and paper to create her notebook, and I tracked down some of the materials I needed for a family project.

We headed over to the toys and scoped out the Barbies. There were no kid ones, but no matter, LEGO was in the next aisle over, and one can never get tired of that. Clare eschewed the LEGO Friends--too pink and purple--but she set her sights on some of the Creator sets.

We weren't rushed, so we were able to explore more of the store and then ran to another stationery store to find some poster board. Clare expressed her definite opinions on all sorts of things she saw. She knows what she likes and doesn't like. The trick is helping her understand the difference between opinion and fact, and the importance of phrasing opinions (or facts, for that matter) gently. 

The outing was rounded off with checking out a new ice cream shop near the kids'  school. We both got double-cones, which were delicious but huge. I think we'll all have to go there again sometime, but Clare and I agreed a single scoop would be plenty. 

Clare stated that her cone looked like it had a deep moat surrounding a fortress. She also said that she wished she had two tongues, so that when one got too cold she could use the other to lick. "But then," she said, "I'd speak double." I am thankful she only has one tongue....

Ice cream cones are perfect for leisurely conversation and so I probed a bit, asking how school was going. Apparently it's fine. I asked her why she thought we were here in Mexico, and what she thought about all of it. Clare's probably had the roughest time with the transition. She's inclined to see the worst in things--it's a constant battle to get her to not complain. This is a huge topic, though, and not easy for her to express in words for all the vocabulary she's internalized with all of the books she's read. I asked her toward the end of our time if she talked to God about some of this stuff, and asked how she interacted with Him. She's always had amazing insights about God and the Bible, but so often it seems more cerebral than heart. When I asked her this today she didn't answer, and I decided not to press it. After all, I don't know if I could have put that into words when I was her age. Once her cone was finished we went into the store restroom to wash our hands. And then she said, as if there hadn't been a hiatus, "I think when I have a problem I speak to a grown-up. But when I'm afraid, I talk to Him." 

And that is my Clare all over.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Luminous Ev

I seem to have stumbled on something with this idea of pulling my kids out of school for half a day so we can have some one-on-one time. I suppose this isn't a new concept to some people, but I'm discovering a world I hadn't expected and I really like it. I was always so concerned that they'd miss something important at school, or that the teacher would have to spend extra time helping them get what they missed. But to tell the truth, I don't care this year. My kids need some special treats, and this is what we're doing. It won't be often, but I'll make the most of the times we do it.

So today it was my Ev's turn to go out.

I wanted to listen to what she had to say today--really listen--because when she gets talking she always says things that open the eyes of my mind. She's always been highly verbal, and she has an imagination that has triggered ideas for me more often than I can count. When she was four, she created a giant in our neighborhood, the evil giant Chompchucks. Since then, other creations have risen to life from her brain, and interesting observations take flight. The other Sunday as we drove to church she noticed a bike hanging on the back of someone's car and commented on how it looked like the car had glasses. A little later on the same ride, she and her siblings were checking out the sun that was pushing out from the clouds. "It looks like the dark clouds are trying to eat the sun!" Ev said.

Surprisingly today Ev was not talkative. She was content, there was no question, but she wasn't bubbling with words. Today I saw the other side of Ev that I love: the luminous side. She can just be, and she glows with being-ness. We got stuck in some traffic and I took a wrong turn that made our trip take longer, and while she groaned about it a bit, she mostly just watched quietly out the window and listened to the music we had playing. "Everything okay?" I asked at one point. "What'cha thinking?" "I'm just looking at things," she said.

We headed to her favorite mall, the one that Jon and I had not gone to last week, with the open central court and fish. Ev loves to see the koi, so we spent all the time she wanted there.

And when she'd had enough of the fish we searched for a jewelry store we had seen a couple months ago when we were there. Unfortunately we didn't find it; things have shifted. But we did get back to a pet store she likes, and she took her time checking out the animals. Her favorite are the very affordable mice...affordable before you get the cage and the food and all the other things that one needs to keep a pet. Someday, maybe.... Of course, she also likes looking at the tarantulas, and today there was a fabulous macaw by the register, fluffing his crimson plumage and peering at Ev with one golden eye while she tried to get him to say "hola".

We finished up our outing with some frozen yogurt that definitely satisfied Ev's sweet tooth...and I liked mine, too.

Ev can be as silly as any kid, and she has a flair for drama that isn't pretty when she's upset. But there is a sweet, accepting spirit in her that I love to see. She wants to do what is right, to do what God would love, and it shines through her. She's more willing to take things as they are and enjoy them than my other kiddos. I asked her how school was going, and she said happily, "Great!" This in the midst of trying to navigate a new language. She's just happy because she has a friend at school who helps her with Spanish words and who likes to have Ev help her with English ones. When one has that, what else is needed?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cheese Please

Cheese platter at Hutchmoot
Photo by Mark Geil
We like cheese. I wouldn't call us connoisseurs, but we do like good cheese. Real cheese. My children have been known to get excited about grilled cheese sandwiches at friends' homes only to push them away when received because of they were made with American cheese or processed. I've apologized for this, and we're working on their response to undesired foods. I won't apologize for their taste.

When we got to Guadalajara, we realized very quickly that we were going to have to learn new cheeses. This was exciting, but was also daunting, particularly when one is used to using particular cheeses in certain recipes and suddenly one has to scramble to find it or an equivalent. We did break down and get a Costco membership, partly because at Costco we can get the cheddar and Monterey Jack we're used to, not to mention we have access to good Parmesan and gouda if we really need them.

As for the cheeses we've found here my primary impression is that most of them are--well--bland. Not bad. Just, well, they're all kind of the same. Please note that I have only been here for three months, so my learning is still in its infancy. My impressions are still first impressions. And Kraig and I lean toward strong cheese. The sharper the cheddar the better. Asiago and Romano? Sure--we'll take them over Parmesan. We've even ventured into the realm of limburger, much to our children's dismay.

Of course, we've tried various cheeses here. When Kraig and I visited in June we tried a local cheddar, and while I had to break down and get some last week because Costco was completely out, we've given up really calling it "cheddar." It just isn't. After that we tried out Manchego which turned out to be a good substitute for Monterey Jack. But Monterey Jack isn't known for its pizazz in the first place. On one of our first outings we stumbled upon a sampler cheese plate and so discovered Panela and Adoberra. Adoberra, from what I can gather, is good for quesadillas and has a little bite. Unfortunately, more often then not I've managed to get it when it's on the edge. While we like sharp cheese, we don't like edgy cheese.... I need to find better places to buy it, I suppose.

Panela is very white and bland. I picked up a block of it because I'd mixed it up with one of the other cheeses that melts well, only to discover that panela does not melt. At. All. It grates well, and one often sees it on top of dishes like chilaquiles. It has its advantages, I guess. But I haven't quite seen the purpose of a cheese that doesn't melt, and I can't help but wonder why it doesn't....

Oaxaca (pronounced wah-há-kah) does melt. It is very like mozzarella in flavor, but could also work beautifully as a base for a cheese fondue, and is often served completely melted and hot as a dip for grilled meats. I do like this one. Stretchy, melted, bubbly cheese has a sweet spot in my soul. One of the ways they serve it here is in a molcajete which is a basalt mortar that the food is cooked in and then served in. I've had it with some rich meaty stew, but we also had it once full of melted oaxaca with sausage and mushrooms.... Okay, that one is drool-worthy.

I still need to sample more. I probably should have waited on this post till I was more informed. I still need to check out queso fresco and Chihuahua (like the dog...and the place). I am sure there are other ones I haven't discovered yet as well. I will try them, and find out where they taste best, and you can believe that we'll eat them.

But Costco had better have cheddar back in stock this week. And this time, I'm going to pay for the sharp.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lazy Saturday

There's something delightful about Saturdays where you don't have anywhere you have to go, or anything in particular you have to do. I love Saturdays like this. I admit, our family probably has more of these than a lot of people. We're homebodies, and after a busy week there is nothing we like better than hanging out at home.

We let the girls put their beds together on Friday nights, so their morning starts there. All three kids wake up early--makes sense since they're up by 6:30 for school all week. Thankfully they're old enough now that they keep themselves fairly well entertained for an extra hour so Kraig and I can "sleep in." We try, anyway.

Breakfast is leisurely. This morning it was pancakes. The girls have gotten old enough that sometimes they'll take these on, but this morning I was in charge. I love making pancakes because it takes a while for the golden disks to pile up, and I can read a book while I monitor them. The kids got to wash dishes after breakfast and with a little persuasion even did them willingly.

The kids have an assortment of things they like to do throughout the day. There are Barbies and LEGO, play dough and coloring. Early mornings we let them take over the iPad and they've discovered old Mickey Mouse cartoons...and the newer Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Today I introduced them to a contest for my author friend S. D. Smith's new book, The Green Ember. They spent a couple hours drawing various renditions of rabbits with swords (or just swords in Jon's case).

Some Saturdays we get to Skype with friends back in Michigan, and today the kids spent a long time catching up with best buds Kent, Sally and Alice. Once they were done, their mom Laura and I got to chat for a bit. I promised I wouldn't post the picture I took of us :) .

Kraig's been going full-throttle this week and needed a break, so he vegged with a computer game and later we all watched some TV--in Spanish! So learning was involved. A-hem! Yes. Right. I hung out on my computer, too. I wasted a good bit of time, but I did start on the intro material for an online writing course I'm taking that starts Monday, Writing Close to the Earth. Clare dug into her book for a while, and later all three kids were playing that they were at "work" which involved a good bit of drawing. They don't always play idyllically, but I will say the squabbles don't last long. Today was a great day.

We just got the kids down and I had figured I'd type this up, then relax for the rest of the evening. After all, why spoil a good thing?

Too bad I remembered at 7:30 that I'm supposed to lead our Sunday school class tomorrow....

Friday, October 17, 2014

Waiting In Hope

We are still waiting on our shipment. This week, Kraig's department head and Kraig tried to contact those overseeing the processing and got nowhere. No response to emails, no answers to phone calls. Last night Kraig told me they had strategized a plan of attack, which would start with him tracking down the office of the woman we needed to speak with and trying to talk with her in person the following day (today). Unfortunately, he'd have no time to do it until mid afternoon. This is the thing: these professors are swamped. They don't have time to wander around trying to track down errant staff. But here's the other thing: I do have time. And at last Kraig agreed to let me explore after our Spanish class this morning and see what I could find out. I think he has finally moved past the concern that I will completely lose my temper and explode. He has good reason to worry, as I haven't withheld my ire when the two of us are talking about it, but the truth is, I panic when I have to confront someone and am more often then not overly apologetic.

But anyway. I had my chance at last, and last night and this morning my brain whirled with possible conversations. How would I ask about things? How would I express my concern? I wasn't sure if I'd be able to speak in English or Spanish, so I practiced different Spanish phrases in my head. I knew I wanted to say something along the lines of, "We're waiting for our shipment," but I couldn't remember the word for "wait". This morning I looked it up and found esperar. I looked at it in confusion. Wasn't that the word for "hope"? So I typed "hope" into my handy-dandy translator and up popped esperar again. I tried out different phrases using both "wait" and "hope" and each time the translation used esperar. 

"Maybe there's another word we don't know about," Kraig suggested when I showed it to him. So we posed it to our Spanish teacher. It turns out that no, there is no other word--"wait" and "hope" are both esperar. "But how do you differentiate?" we asked. Apparently the only way is through context. Usually "wait" includes a time reference, but "hope" implies a wish or desire to be fulfilled. 

I can't stop thinking about this. Though the two words are related in my mind, they stand quite separately. It's a completely different thing for me to say, "I am hoping for our shipment," and "I am waiting for our shipment." When I hope for something, I'm looking forward to it and longing for it. I can do this for a long time. Hope takes on spiritual significance, whether in something as simple as hoping we'll have lovely weather tomorrow, or as complex as hoping my children will grow up to be gracious, godly people. On the other hand, when I wait for something it usually involves biting my fingernails and tapping my toes. I want it now, but I'll grit my teeth and wait since I have to. Of course, looking at the title of my blog begs the question that maybe there is more hope in my wait than I think there is.

It makes me wonder how this affects the culture here in Guadalajara. If "wait" and "hope" are synonymous barring context, how does that influence thinking and behavior? Maybe I'm trying to make too much of this, but I'm going to start paying attention to see if there is something to this. In the meantime, this morning I was able to find a couple people to speak to in English and we clarified some things about the shipment. This afternoon I trekked back over, kids in tow, to double-check that a promised phone call had been made to the customs agent. It had, more papers had been sent, and I was told they would call me again on Monday with an update. 

So this weekend I wait in hope that we will actually see our boxes sooner than later.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breakfast Out With the Moms

A couple days ago I got a text message from one of the moms of Clare's classmates asking if I'd be able to come to a breakfast get-together with some of the other moms from the class. Thankfully it was for this morning and so open, and the meeting place was between the school and the apartment which was even better. The last time I went to one of these get-togethers we met at a restaurant half-an-hour away in morning rush-hour traffic.

All that to say, I took a deep breath and plunged in. I've met some of the moms in brief interchanges, but I haven't gotten to know any of them yet, language being a major barrier. The last breakfast I went to was pleasant, and a number of the women knew English and helped me understand the things I needed to know for school (Evelyn's class), but there were about ten moms there and a lot of Spanish conversation that I had absolutely no way of following. I did a lot of smiling and nodding.

When I arrived today, there were only three other moms (a fourth arrived later), and all three knew English well. One of them is married to a Canadian who teaches at the same university as Kraig, and her English is flawless. The other two apologized for their poor English, and I gave my standard response, which is true: "Your English is a thousand times better than my Spanish." Really. Their "poor" English makes my Spanish sound like chicken squawks. It also helped that one of the moms had her four-year-old son with her. I love how little kids know no barriers; we played a wonderful game of my acting surprised every time he said, "Boo!".

Nothing like a French restaurant for a
Spanish/English get-together
For the first half-hour or so, most of the conversation was in English, which was lovely of the ladies. I knew they were doing it for my sake, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them better. As the time progressed, though, they inevitably fell into more and more Spanish, some of which they translated, but not most of it. I expected this, and didn't feel put out by it. They were including me in the conversation with body language, so it didn't matter too much that I could only catch words here and there. It is a good way to learn. I loved watching their expressions, both physical and verbal enunciations, and trying to tie words I could catch to make some sense of it. It reminded me of a montage from the film The 13th Warrior where the main character, a poet from Baghdad, is sent as an ambassador to the   Vikings and sits at their campfire night after night. The montage shows the Vikings speaking their language, and over the space of time the poet starts hearing the words in his own language, and the audience begins to understand as well. I feel that way a lot when I sit in on these get-togethers.

But it's exhausting and the brain can handle only so much before it shuts down. Thankfully I had to get going by a certain point, and so I made my apologies and thank-yous and bade them farewell. I hope they do this again soon, though. I think I like these ladies!

Sculptures on the glorieta in front of the restaurant

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Skipping School with Jon

This morning when I was done with Bible study I headed up to the kids' school and snuck Jon out for the rest of the day. Well, okay, I admit I got him out all fair and above board. I'd told his teachers I'd be coming, and I signed him out in the office, but Jon didn't know I was coming, which was fun.

He's in kindergarten this year, and so it's his first year with school every day. On top of that, it's full days, and on top of that half of his day is in Spanish. The adjustment has been huge. He has two sweet teachers, but both are extremely young and have never had a second-language-learner in class. This has led to a few notes home asking if we could help motivate him to speak Spanish in class by speaking Spanish at home for maybe an hour a day. (!!!!) Thankfully the English coordinator understands the language-learning process better and so has been able to help me talk with the teachers. 

At the same time, though, we do want to encourage Jon with Spanish. He experiments with words at home, but additional helps were needed. I posted a plea for advice from teacher friends and those experienced with language-learning and kids. Among the great outflow of help one theme repeated--songs. Find Spanish songs to listen to. A local friend pointed me to a music store that has a good selection of kids' music, and today Jon and I pointed our noses in that direction. Miss Mariana, the English coordinator asked for pictures of our adventure, and I realized it would be fun to chronicle it.

First, we swung by home so Jon could change out of his uniform and we could get some lunch. It's never smart to start adventures on an empty stomach.

Once substantially filled, we headed down to the car, and hit the road.

We've driven this particular route before, but I realized how much I like having extra eyes in the car. Jon noticed things I never would have. At one point he spotted sprinklers taking care of the lawn of an office complex, and later squealed with excitement at the sight of a circus tent set up in a lot. Within a couple minutes his eagle eyes spotted a little yellow bi-plane soaring overhead. 

When we reached the mall where the music store was, things got even more exciting. For one thing, there was a massive fountain out front. Jon posed in front of it, of course, but since I've given you a couple pictures of him already, I thought I'd give a glimpse of a local mall in Guadalajara.

The two of us scoped out some of the local restaurants. We haven't been to this mall, but we've been to another one nearby and it struck me that they tend to be magnets for restaurant chains we see in the States. Before we got inside we had passed Carl's Jr., P.F. Chang's, The Cheesecake Factory and Outback. Just inside the door was Applebees, McDonald's, Chili's, and Starbucks.

It was like stepping into any mall in the U.S. Kind of freaky, to tell the truth. The other mall we've visited here had more of a Mexican feel despite the plethora of U.S. chains. It's central swath is open to the sky, and there are koi ponds and gardens. This mall on the other hand, had the closed-in center like I'm used to in Michigan, and the shops opened their gleaming faces onto it. Jon slipped his hand into mine and then pointed excitedly at a work in progress. It turned out Christmas prep is in full gear and we were witnessing the beginnings of Santa's Workshop. We rode the escalators to the top of the mall and looked down on the Christmasy view. 

Eventually we found our store, Mix-Up, and were directed to a batch of kids' music cds. Of course, I had no idea who any of the artists were, and could only guess at a lot of the songs. I was hoping to find an album with a Spanish alphabet song, but no such luck. However, I pulled one that looked like some traditional Spanish play songs and another that seemed to be all about different kinds of transportation. Jon agreed that those two were good choices. He was leaning toward some Thomas the Train songs, but I steered him toward some that seemed more grass-roots. 

As soon as we got back to the car, Jon wanted to hear the music, so we tried out our new cds. The traditional songs turned out to be an excellent children's choir and has some great tunes. The one with transportation songs had a good variety of music styles, good singing voices, and best of all, very clear words--we had fun listening for the words for different transports: "coche" (car), "tren" (train), "helicóptero" (um...helicopter), "avion" (plane), and "camión" (truck). Despite Jon and my pleasure in these, the girls nixed this one for car-music as soon as they were picked up from school. Ah well. The first cd, however, was a hit for all of us. Now we just have to figure out more of the words!

It was a lovely afternoon with my Jon-boy. I've been spoiled rotten with this kid, and I hope this outing fed his heart a bit--enough to hold him over until Saturday. It was so fun that I know I'm going to be doing it again. In the meantime I have some planning to do for some young ladies in my life. They are way overdue for some one-on-one outings, too. Besides, everyone needs a little brain-break from the craziness of a whole new school world.


My Grandma Givens celebrated her 96th birthday today. Yes, you saw that correctly. Ninety-six. Four years shy of a century.

She has slowed considerably in the past ten years. A number of years ago she moved into an assisted living apartment from the old farmhouse where she and Grandpa had raised six boys and housed their sons' bursting families from time to time. After some severe health issues a couple years ago she transferred from the apartment to a connected facility that provides much more care. She has taken each transfer with the graciousness and patience and peace that have marked her life.

I think I can honestly say that if it were not for who Grandma is, our family would not be in Guadalajara. My other grandparents also marked my life significantly through the years I was able to enjoy them, and my parents and Kraig's family and grandparents have certainly had their impact, too. There's no end to the people who have touched our life and molded us. But Grandma is an integral component.

I always loved Grandma, no question. Who couldn't love the grandmother who opened her home to roiling masses of grandchildren and provided great Pennsylvania Dutch feasts? How could one not love the grandmother who always had the right kinds of ice cream on hand for ice cream cones, and had the tree in the back yard perfect for climbing and dreaming? This is the grandmother who, years ago when we were in the Philippines, sent amazing care packages with huge swaths of nylon-type fabric in blue, green and pink that my sister and I draped around us as fabulous gowns or tied up through our room to make tents that rivaled those in Arabian Nights. And when she visited, she could take any clothes that needed help and mend them in a flash. This was a grandmother easy to love.

But the older I've gotten, the more I have realized her depth. I've always known her love for Christ is part of what makes her who she is. As I've gotten older, though, I've see her shine more. She's the classic Christian, reading her Daily Bread and her Bible, her home full of Bible pictures and verses and sermon notes, watching Day of Discovery and listening to classic radio programs. If you saw only this, she would seem to be a stereotype of Christianity. Get to know her, though, and the reality shines through. She doesn't just take all this stuff in. She internalizes it and lets it transform her. And the older she gets, the more she glows.

It's not like she hasn't had anything hard in her life. She was in her early sixties when my grandfather was diagnosed with ALS, and she nursed him till he passed away in a brief span of years. Barely any time had passed after Grandpa died that Grandma took her mother in and nursed her for a number of years as well. After her mother's death, there were a few years of looking after her brother. Her sons have been there for her through all of this--I've always loved to watch them shower love back on her. They've had their ups and downs, too, and Grandma has always been there, not imposing, but a steady presence.

She is full of prayer. Sometimes we laugh and say that the reason Grandma has lived so long is because God still wants her praying for all of us. The other summer when I last saw her she told us about a friend who had called her a prayer warrior. "I'm not a prayer warrior," she exclaimed in complete innocence. "Why would she call me that?" "Grandma!" one of the family said, "of course you are! When you wake up in the middle of the night what's the first thing you do until you get back to sleep? You start praying through your list of your family!" She didn't buy it, and we love her all the more because of that.

So yes, there is no question in my mind that our family is here in part because of the woman my grandmother is. Her character and faith have had an eternal impact on how we approach life, and her prayer has carried us through more than I can see. I am always encouraged when I think of that. And when I look at her, I hope that I will age with the grace she has, with her patience and with her peace. I am thankful that I know her Source, because I wouldn't have a hope if she got it all on her own strength. And she'll make sure anyone who asks knows that.