Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's 5:08 a.m., Christmas Eve, and I Cannot Sleep

The kids and Jayson built a Lego Santa with two reindeer (Blitzen and Rudolph...of course), a house complete with chimney and sleeping children, and Santa's house (in the background) with Mrs. Claus and elves ready to go in two cars!

Its 5:08 a.m., Christmas Eve, and I cannot sleep. James and Jovie both woke up about two hours ago for a spell and after musical beds, James is now my bed partner. He is dozing peacefully... better him than I. I can handle my tiredness a bit better when the sun rises than he.

James and Jovie (and the other kiddos)...
the reason I'm awake writing the blog at 5:08 a.m.!

Last night we had our Freedom Firm Christmas party. Mala, the Aftercare Director, was reflecting that there were only four other people (besides her family) in the room that were at last year’s party. Everybody else is new. There were 20ish adults and 14 kids. Ten of which were six and under. It was a great celebration of Jesus’ birth. There were charades, yummy food, a dance by the aftercare girls (and Sydney snuck in her own dance after they were done) and presents for all... I got a bit teary looking around the room, seeing a great number of stories, families, and countries that came together, celebrating Christmas.

We Palms had a wing-dinger of a Christmas party on Sunday. Again, I have never been at or thrown a more international party. There were 10 countries represented, 50-60 people. So fun. There were also lots of children. Lots. Lots. Lots of boys. Running. Asking if I had any more weapons... (We do have three Star Wars light sabers in our house that were already in use) Eating. Boys, they can eat. All ages. Sizes. Nationalities. One of the great things that I was reflecting on as I was preparing for the party is that I had no social anxiety about the event. Usually, when I have a mixed group of people over, I fret, sweat, toil about all the possible awkward moments, if I will have made enough food (good food) and if I will have any judgments placed on me in reflection of if the guest had a good time or not. Painful, I know. But here, that was not a part of the preparation. Made the party a lot more freeing. I felt like I was able to receive guests a bit more graciously and I was not as tired afterwards.

Pictures from the Palm Christmas Party

It's 5:27 a.m. now. Yawning. Fingers freezing, nose cold, hood on. It’s Christmas. Yeah. I love Christmas, for all the meaning and traditions involved. This year, we would be in Rockford, IL, for Christmas, with Jayson’s family. The first year that I celebrated Christmas with Jayson’s family I was a bit shocked to discover that on Christmas Eve they have anchovy pizza. (Jayson’s mom’s side is 100% Italian.) But if I reflect on what my dad’s side of the family has, Oyster stew, it’s not much different. Both a bit fishy tasting. I am trying to be positive about the fact that I am about a ka-jillion miles away from our family - I don’t have another choice, about being positive, do I? We are going to seize the moment at use this as a fresh canvas, awaiting the Palm Six to create something all their own.

So, here’s what is on tap for us. Some of this I am planning as I go, so I am interested to see what I write, it will dictate our next 48 hours. Tonight, I think we will make some homemade pasta. We have made linguini many times, when I say many, I mean probably eight times. But it’s more than a few, but not quite many, put the two together and it would be fenny or fanny. Let’s say fanny, it makes me smile. I digress. Let’s make ravioli. With some sort of stuffing in it. My mom sent over some crab meat. Is there crab stuffed ravioli? I will see. We do need some sort of fish on Christmas Eve... I do need to do some baking today. Pies. I have got a couple cans of fillers that friends sent over. So it will be pumpkin, blackberry and then I will make an apple. I would like my cousin Beth to come over with her french silk pie... I doubt that that can be arranged. If it is nice, we will go for a hike of sort. Maybe finish our puzzle tonight after we wrap presents while watching some sort of Christmas movie. I think I will need to go a knockin’ on people doors today to see if I can borrow a Christmas film. Some sort of Christmas craft will happen as well, it wouldn’t be a day at the Palm’s unless there were a craft of sort. Also, I promised Ani that we would do more charades. We would love to have loads of people over, but for the people that are in town, it seems that they do a quiet Christmas. Well, that’s what they told us... hmm, maybe there is a conspiracy. I am going to invite some friends over for pie tomorrow. Surely the Palm Six cannot consume three pies. There is the good possibility that it will be a Merry Little Christmas this year. Little in people, numbers and ages. But if that is what is before us, I will try to take the bull by the horns and celebrate well. Make it magical, for the great celebration that it is, in other ways that I am used to. It’s a good challenge.

Its 5:49, everything is still cold, less yawning, I think I am up for good. Oh hey, our cat came back. The good pirate that he is. He has been gone for two weeks, we thought that our pack of dogs got the best of him. But two nights ago, we heard a very loud meow, opened the door and there he came. Looking like he had been at sea for six months - like the pirate he is. He was dirty, hair gone in a few spots, hungry, man was he snarfing down his food, peg leg, hair standing on end and I think, in cat language, he had a few choice words for us.

Our new house, decorated for Christmas

Ooty and Christmas. I took a picture of the one place in town that has Christmas decorations up. Being it a mostly Hindu country, Christmas is definitely not what it is in the States. People in town are aware of it, and there are some Christmas fruit cakes to be bought, and some random strings of Christmas lights strung around, but that’s about it. Our friends’ houses are decorated and feel Christmas cozy, and that’s great.

Okay, it's 5:59, time to be done. This post was a bit longy, longy - But what else is there do to at the 5ish a.m.’s in the morning, except chat away... Much love to you all and a have a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Kiddos Hebron Christmas Program...Too Cute!

That's James on the far left - yes, in a snowflake outfit. He does a nice little "spirit fingers" bit at the end of his song. Look for Sydney sitting down and waving her arms to the right - and covering her ears when the crowd cheers too loud! "Oops, am I supposed to get off the stage now?" Ani's cowgirl song is next, with her consistently pushing her cowboy hat back into place :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

It Knocks My Socks Off

Ani in the Hebron Christmas program. (A 30 second clip of this coming next week...)

There's Sydney, waving her flags in the Christmas program like a pro.

Ani with her best friends in India, Bethany and Amy

Our little snowflake.

Good evening, it’s a lovely evening here in Ooty, India. Weather update: rain today, but mostly it’s been about 70 degrees and brilliantly sunny. Yippity skippity! Actually, a part of the greatness of Christmas is the coziness inside and the frigid temperatures outside. And the snow of course. But this Christmas, I am guessing that the kids will be in a little lighter wear than the full bundle of a snowsuit. Just a hunch.

So, let’s do a quick recap of the last few weeks. I will try to make the details as spicy as possible. Three weeks ago, Jayson’s folks landed in merry India. We started it off having two Thanksgivings... I love that the first time in my life that I have had two Thanksgivings was in India. Each was a great feast and we were all very thankful. It was also a great way for Jayson’s folks meeting all our friends. After that, we gave his parents one day of rest and then packed up our house and moved the next day. One of our friends and fellow FF staff, Greg, was helping us move and he gave me the biggest compliment...He said it was a very efficient move. Gasp, jaw drop and sheer delight quivered through my body. I am not one for lots of small details and I dislike packing to the core. But a few weeks before we moved, I vowed to anybody listening that I was going to be the model packer. The last few times we moved - from our home on 65th Ave to the house that we rented from our church to India - I was nothing short of ridiculous. And everybody that followed on our heels had to pick up the pieces for me. It’s just too much micro-organizing for this girl and I would rather read a book than pack, let’s be honest. But this itty bitty move, taking our 14 suitcases across town, was a breeze, a cinch, a drop in the bucket compared to the moving I had done the previous year.

Nana and Papa brought the Christmas season with them.

I feel like I could write a whole blog about our move, but I have got to keep on truckin’... With our in-laws mighty help and decorating mad skills, we whipped this house into shape within a matter of days. Christmas decorating and all. We celebrated Christmas with them the weekend before they left and were quite overjoyed at the fact that despite the warm weather and the fact that we live in crazy India... we had a grand time celebrating. We were all so sad to see them leave a week ago, but so, so grateful that they were able to come and visit. I think the best part of them being here for me, was simply to have them around. It is a beautiful feeling to have the presence of others around that know you well and love you so completely...

Our 2009 Christmas tree in the prime of it's Christmas tree life. (Not looking so good by now...)

Let’s talk about this house for a bit. We are ever so grateful for this house. The mere coziness of it knocks my socks off. I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I did not have it. And then now that I do, I feel like I am eating dark chocolate all day... Also, the yard is quite big for India and has some beautiful flowers. The house is set up in a way that allows for big gatherings. The lack of space did not hinder us in the other house, but in this house it’s just a bit more manageable. Room to breathe. The house did come with a few quirks. It is not unusual for there to be caretakers that live on the property with the houses. So right behind us, like right behind us, like I could spit and hit their front door (let me clear that one up right away, I have never spit on their house and never intend to...), there is a family of five that takes care of the property. It was a bit odd at first, but now it’s no biggie. The house also came with three large dogs. I am not a big fan of them and we are trying to find homes for them ASAP. The house also came with a cook. Ridiculous, I know. We are not going to keep him on, but wanted to give his some time to find another job. So, currently he is cooking for us 3-4 nights a week. Sometimes I look at my life, and I can’t really figure out how I got here. And having a cook is one of those many peculiarities that I am facing currently. To not be the boss in my own kitchen has been a bit of an adjustment. We’re working on it. But with all my holiday cooking and baking as of late, I think I am ruffling his feathers a bit much.

Our friends Ryan and Angie on pizza and movie night

FF staff Anne and volunteers Justin and Becs over for dinner.

Next week, I’ll write about celebrating Christmas in India and what that entails - For Indian nationals and for the Palm Six. But for now, I’ve got a 1,000 piece puzzle that I am obsessing about and it’s calling my name...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Worked Like a Charm

This is Alum, a FF social worker. We had a going away party for her last weekend and Ani will be the flower girl in her wedding in Delhi in February, before Alum joins the Pune office staff.

Anandhi, Office Administrator, and Rose Mary, Social Worker, giving Jovie just what she wanted.

Hi there. Sorry it’s been a bit silent here on the eastern front. Jayson was gone up to Pune last week and he is the brains behind the blog operation... I could learn, but sometimes I live by the motto: “If someone else can and wants do it, why should I?” Pathetic I know. But it works well. Example: My mom’s spring cleaning. My friends taking pictures of my kids at group events, because, well I forget the camera at home, there are no batteries or I simply do not have the patience for getting a good shot. My grandmother sewing super-duper-hold-for-a-lifetime patches on jeans. Alright, enough insight into my lazy bones.

We had a good week without the husband and daddy around. So much better than the first time he left. I was a mess last spring. New to India and Husband/Daddy gone is not a good mix for this scaredy cat. This time, I was fearless mommy. At least during the days. The night I work myself up in a bit of tizzy. So the way I medicated the problem was dragging our bed into the living room and falling asleep to the BBC version of Jane Austen’s Emma. Great movie, when you are wide awake. Calming, lullaby when you are at all sleepy. It worked like a charm.

Here’s Jayson on his week in review... Since my wife is Miss Chatty Kathy tonight, I’ll keep this short. I had a great week in Pune - a mix of vision casting, brainstorming, team building, and having fun as a staff. We had interruptions with trouble at a government home and a bummer trial, which are always a potential in Pune, so I also got to see the team in action. The Pune team is sold out in their desire to get girls out of prostitution and to a safe place with a future. I’m proud to be working alongside them.

The Pune office

Shyam, Senior Investigator, a.k.a. Head Chef, making us chicken biryani... on HIS birthday.

Garlic anyone?

Amazing meal. Well done Shyam.

Alrighty, Thanksgiving is in two days... Is Thanksgiving celebrated in India you ask? Well, not so much for India nationals. But for Americans living in India - a resounding yes is heard from the rooftops. In the States, I barely knew where our family was going the weekend before Thanksgiving. Surprisingly though, we got two invitations back in August. I think that planning ahead is our way sometimes of fighting homesickness here... So we are going to one celebration on Friday night and one on Saturday. The kids do not have school off. Why don’t they cancel school for the 12 Americans at school? C’mon guys, have a little compassion. I am bringing chickens (turkeys here cost 5 US dollars a pound... woah nellie!), potatoes, stuffing, veggies, pies and my grandmother’s buns. That last part sounded funny, not her buns... her rolls. Well, that doesn’t sound good either. I am bringing buns. Better? Kind of.

Good grief, moving on. So, the best thing happened yesterday. Well, let me back up a bit. So, I love Christmas cards. I beg for people to send me theirs. (Hint, hint.) Anyway, we had one particular gentleman from Rockford, IL, where Jayson grew up, that would always be our first Christmas card sender. Usually a day or two before Thanksgiving... Well, guess what showed up yesterday - HIS CARD! Do you love that or what? I nearly cried... Oh wait, I did. Other fun things, fun people rather. Jayson’s folks are coming in tomorrow. We are so grateful that they are able to come and see our world here and spend time with us. And they are right in time to help us move... every parents’ dream. :) So, next blog you can see pictures of them and our move to the new house.

Our first Christmas card. Who's gonna be our second... come on folks.

That’s it for now folks. I would love to hear what you are all doing for Thanksgiving. Please leave a post on the blog. It would really be so great. Also, because I know you are dying to send us a Christmas Card, here is our new address.... Well, I don’t think it would be wise to post it... "Would it Jayson?” - Jayson, “Umm, it already is.” - Tarrah, “Really, do we want everyone in the world to know where we live?” - Jayson, “Umm, I guess not.” So, the next best thing would be for us to send our address to you if you either email us or post on our blog that you want it and we will send it lickety split.

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There are a few of you who have asked how to leave a post on the blog. Here’s how. Click the link just below that says “# comments”. Type your comments in “Leave your comment”, then pick one option under “Choose an identity” (If you don’t have one, just choose “Anonymous”, and click “Publish Your Comment.” Done.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hindsight is 20/20

People have told me before that I am a great question asker. Yesterday I asked a great question of Sydney, “Why did you cut your hair Sydney?” Answer: “Mommy, my bangs are always in my face and I can’t see the pretty flowers.” It’s hard to argue with that. We then talked about the next time she gets the urge to cut her hair, to please consult mommy first. All my children have practiced haircutting on themselves - following in their grandma’s shoes, I suspect - it no longer moves me to horror, just to laughter.

What do you mean she can't see? (Note the location of the scissors...)

She's had it! Taking matters into her own hands. (Literally, her own hands.)

She can see all the pretty flowers now. (And she will be able to see them for the next 4 years, since it will take quite a while to grow those bad boys out...)

There is a real possibility that the rest of the blog is going to about weather. Some might find this boring, but I beg you, give it a chance. On Saturday night, we were heading to a school event called “From Hollywood to Bollywood.” Sweet. It started raining hard, and it did not let up until Tuesday morning. And this rain was like none that I have ever seen. If I were to speculate... if it had been snow and if it had accumulated, it probably would have been 52 feet high. And it wasn’t just rain, it was wind.

Ani and Ashley went to "Hollywood to Bollywood" as the twins from Parent Trap
Sydney went as a potpourri of costume ideas

Jovie went as Vincent Van Gogh

Cowboy James

We got up Sunday morning, and of course it was still raining, but we really did not think anything of it at that point. We just went ahead with our day. We had a pretty quiet day ahead of us, so we thought we would jump in the car/van/can and head over to Coonoor, the next town over, about 45 minutes down the mountain. Let’s step back in time for a bit. When we lived in MN, during snowstorms we would see people driving around at mach speeds and think, they are either super-stupid or not from around here. Present day, I am sure that Ootians or Coonoorites thought both of those things about us when we were driving. Seriously (mom and dad, close your eyes for this part, it does not highlight our sound judgement) it kind of dawned on us when we were driving to Coonoor that this rain was not a normal rain. Every few minutes there was a tree laying down in the road or a landslide or a waterfall where there was not waterfall before. All these things causing us to drive around whatever was blocking our way.

The “live and learn” or “hindsight is 20/20” really does apply in our situation, because after the storm passed and damages were and are being assessed, this is what is being reported... The roads leading out of Ooty are still blocked by landslides. Petrol is being rationed. Homes slid right down the hills. Some homes, businesses and schools still have standing water. Most homes are still very damp. Power is still out in a few areas. They named this storm Cyclone Phyan. I am not a meteorologist, so I don’t know if what hit us was technically Cyclone Phyan. Maybe it was “Tropical Storm Phyan.” But regardless, the Arabian Sea is watching the tail end of this storm as I write this.

Cyclone Phyan

Almost every road in and around Ooty looks like these photos, if not much, much more

Weather devastates all parts of the world. But the difference that I am observing here is that devastation just looks different in a third world country. There is no home insurance on the 10 x 10 tin houses that many, many people live in here. Just because there is no insurance, doesn’t mean that it’s less of a home. Jayson went to go help put roof back together on Tuesday and it simply meant putting a tarp over it until another house is found for them.

Thank you for walking this journey with us. We feel completely humbled living here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Surely It Has Been Outlawed

A girl on the streets in Mumbai

I love the fall.  I would say it is my favorite season, but when spring and summer comes, they also make me want to wet myself with excitement.  Oops, did that I just write that?  I am pretty sure that I did, what do you do... just keep on writing I guess.  I still operate under my Minnesota seasons here.  I am not sure if that will always be the case, but I just can’t help myself.  We are still in the same hemisphere here as the States, so technically it would be fall, but it sure doesn’t look like what I am used to. 

Fall means to me… crisp apples, shuffling my feet through leaves, watching the leaves turn, pumpkins, candy corn, apple orchards and pumpkin patches, wearing long-sleeve shirts and a fleece vest, to name a few.  Here its umm, a bit misty, very green, the flowers are in full bloom for some reason and there are these funny fruits in the market right now that taste like a cross between an apple and a mango.  So this weekend we re-created fall (Minnesota style) at our house.  We had a few families over and carved pumpkins, bobbed for apples (more on that later), tossed bean bags, made wassail, ate pumpkin pie and apple cake, had candy corn on frosted cookies and did a scavenger hunt.  So fun.  Now let’s talk about apple bobbing.  There is a reason why I have not seen apple bobbing for at least a decade - because it’s absolutely GROSS!  Surely it has been outlawed in any sort of public event for years.  As I was watching each of the kids bob up and down in cold water, with snot dripping down their faces, chomping into apples, it nearly made my chuck.  And you know me, I am not a huge germ-a-phobe.  I think if I was a bit more conscious of germs, I would have thought a bit about the process and ruled it out as a game before I nearly chucked.  The kids loved it, which I think made it worth all the grossness, I think...

Bobbing for apples

Tarrah wiping the snot off Andrew while bobbing

All the kiddos smearing loads of frosting and candy on sugar cookies

Every family had one pumpkin to carve

The Palm family pumpkin

Today I was at the Parenting Class that I teach with the women with children in FF’s aftercare program.  They told me a sweet and simple story of the best part of their week and I want to share it with you.  Last week at the class we talked about bathing.  Before I launch into any subject with them, I try to get a feel on what their current situation is.  A bit of background first.  For a few different reasons, the women with children do not stay at FF’s aftercare house.  So we, as FF staff, have little control over what goes on at their hostel.  So, their current bathing, as of last week, was one - maybe two - cold baths per week with no soap...  Ugh.  So, I try - working with what they have - to make the most of their situation.  But, and here’s the fun part, after the class last week, they were assigned new responsibilities in the hostel and their new chore is to heat the water in the morning for the whole hostel, so now they have (as well as their kids) taken a warm bath every day with soap (one of the FF social workers got some soap for them after we found out they had none) and they were so grateful and excited.  I thank God for that bit of comfort for them.

So hey, we are going to throw some pictures up this week that a friend of FF’s took up in Mumbai in the red-light district and of some brothels.  We hope they give you a better picture of where FF does their work as well as where our aftercare girls come from.

A brothel in Mumbai

Girls outside a brothel in Mumbai

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Day, Another Rat

Another day, another rat...

We think a newspaper on the doorstep is overrated.

Let’s experiment. I am going to write a stream of consciousness right now for a whole paragraph, not screening anything. Let’s see what comes out... Ready, Steady, Go - Oh man, nothing’s coming, geez. This was a lame experiment, today I almost hit a goat, I hear if you hit an animal with your car around here you get shot. That would be a bummer. My cuticles need to be pushed up, I shouldn’t have had french fries at dinner. Nothing’s coming, what’s next... Why is that the only thing I can think of right now is Hot Tamales. I love Hot Tamales. They make my heart soar. BBC movies also make my heart soar right now. I am watching one called Cranford. It’s great. It’s about these little ole’ ladies in the mid 1800’s... Okay enough. That wasn’t as fun was I thought it would be. Oh well, you never know what it’ll to be like if you don’t try - that’s what I told James last night as he stared at his chicken for nearly 20 minutes at dinner.

So, Ani and I went Explooting last weekend. It’s been a while. I took her to the tea factory in town. Tea is a huge commodity here. I am sure many a tea that you drink comes from south India. Tea fields grace the hills around here and I never tire of looking at them. So, we have a tea factory in town and I have seen the smoke come out of its stack since we have been here, but I haven’t visited it. I was quite impressed by the operation of it all. I took a few shots and will lead you through the process, consider it your own personal virtual tour... Enjoy.

Fresh tea leaves.

The lady is stuffing the leaves down a big "laundry chute" of sorts.

Down it goes, onto a conveyor belt.

Up and down, up and down it goes, through a... whatever that is.

Onto a really big cookie sheet.

Lots of really big cookie sheets.

Down another conveyor belt, through the, whatever those are.

And there you have it. Tea.

Lots of tea.

Foreground, Ani. Background, rows of tea fields.

Let’s chat about Freedom Firm. It’s been a while. Bittersweet. That’s the word that comes to my mind. First, the sweet. Yesterday we rescued six majors (all over 18) from a brothel in Pune. Great news, right? I mean, they wanted to be rescued, and we were able to get them out - that is truly great news. Now the bitter. After the raid, the operative in charge saw a bunch of minor girls, all huddled together, just outside the red-light area. The police appear to be working with the brothel keepers, making raids involving minor girls difficult lately. So to find those minors outside the red-light area at the same time of a raid tells us that, likely, the police tipped-off the brothel keepers, who then emptied their brothels of minor girls.

Thanks Jayson-Bo-Bason. Ani came home yesterday telling of the great news that she has a boyfriend. He will remain anonymous per Ani’s request. I asked her why he was her boyfriend and she said, “Well so and so told the class that boyfriends give girlfriends flowers and then (the said boyfriend) told me to meet him at the playground after school so he could give me some flowers. So that’s when I knew he was my boyfriend, he wants to give me flowers Mom... I think I am in love with him...” That story comes from the girl who told me a few months ago that she didn’t want to be married because she didn’t want to have to compromise with someone for the rest of her life. We’ll see if that later theory holds out...

So, hey, we are moving. Across town near the lake. Long story short, we will not be able to stay in this house for much longer, and another already-furnished house opened up and we snatched it. There are not many rental houses in Ooty that would feel like home to me and this does, so I feel entirely grateful. We move in December 1. Funny fact about this house is that it is the same house that we went and had tea at a few months back (remember the short Indian man, Shankar?) and the present renters were away on holiday and I feared they would come home while we relaxing in their dining room... Yeah, that’s the one. Funny. More later on the new house and some of the idiosyncrasies that come with the house.