Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Summer in Europe - Part 2 - Adventures in Food


Anyone who knows me knows that I get as excited about new food when I travel as I do about anything else.  Needless to say, I was super excited to eat our way across Europe.  We of course tried to have some of the iconic fare from each of the three countries we visited, along with some unexpected surprises.  There was so much good stuff, I had to write it all down!

London

 In London, we had classics like fish 'n' chips, steak and ale pie, and British ales in some local pubs.  We also tried Ian and Junita's favorite local spot for Indian food, where we ate four plates of amazing curried rack of lamb.  Alissa was also on a mission to find scones and clotted cream, which I managed to procure on our very last day.



Geneva

Some highlights here included some moules marinières (mussles) at a cafe right on Lake Geneva and lots and lots of cheese.  Real Gruyère was no joke.


The highlight, though, was Junita's uncle Edwin's offer to share a raclette of cheese with us - which he insisted is far more pure and superior in comparison to fondue.   This ridiculous cheese and method of eating cheese involved heating a huge half-wheel with a specially designed heating element and scraping off globs of melted cheese to eat with potatoes and other things.  And yes, it was as amazing as it looks.


Paris

I actually had a list of specific foods I wanted to have in Paris - most of which I'd never had before -  and I think I got to all of them.  This list included foie gras, steak tartare, escargot, duck breast.  All were amazing, and the French more than lived up to their food-glorifying reputation.   I read in a book during our time here that UNESCO has even declared French cuisine a "world intangible heritage."


And of course, we couldn't leave Paris without having lots of pastries - every morning, mind you - and baguette sandwiches.




Summer in Europe - Part 1 - History and Culture


Our two week trip to Europe this summer afforded us the opportunity to see some truly bucket list-worthy sights.  For the sake of better preserving the memories, here are some highlights.

London

Having taught British literature for a few years, some of London's literary and artistic landmarks were at the top of my list here.


The "Treasures" collection at the British Library - complete with originally penned works by the likes of Keats, Tolstoy, Byron, Shelley, and Shakespeare.


The gallery of artwork by William Blake, one of my favorites, at the Tate Britain museum.  Some highlights were engravings from Songs of Innocence and The Ghost of a Flea.


Van Gogh's Sunflowers and the unexpected surprises of Sir John Everett Millais's Ophelia and John William Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot at the National Gallery.


The immensely famous Westminister Abbey.  I was particularly excited to see the resting places of some famous writers at "Poet's Corner."  In a single picture, you can see markers for Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Hopkins, Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas, Lewis Carroll, and Byron.


Shakespeare's Globe - the modern reconstructed replica of the fabled playwright's performance center.


The George Pub - the oldest pub in London, frequented by the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare.


Geneva

We stayed in a small town outside of Geneva, right on the lake, with relatives of our good friend Junita.  

The market in the town Morges, about 15 minutes from our house.


The Chateaux de Chillon, a beautiful ancient castle on the shores of Lake Geneva, which I found out later is actually the most visited historic monument in all of Switzerland.  It also boasted literary intrigue for its self-carved name of Lord Byron in the dungoen, who was inspired by a prisoner of the castle to write "The Prisoner of Chillon."


The United Nations and the UNHCR in Geneva.


The Red Cross Museum, which featured both an inspiring tour of the history of the organization and some highlights global human rights efforts in general, including the original Geneva Convention and names of the millions of holocaust victims whom the IRC attempted to locate and re-connect with family members.


Paris

We spent a few packed-full days in Paris living out of a tiny AirBNB apartment in the central 1st Arrondissement.  It did not disappoint on any front.

We spent a Sunday morning popping into famous historical churches that included...

Sainte Chapelle, which contains one of the most impressive stained-glass displays I've ever seen


Notre Dame, which houses some famous Catholic relics that included Christ's purported Crown of Thorns


Some smaller, but equally impressive churches in the Latin Quarter - St. Julien le Pauvre, St. Severin Church, and Saint Germain des Pres. 


As for paintings, we skipped the Louvre and went to the Musée d'Orsay, which displayed such gems as Van Gogh's Sower with Setting Sun, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and some of Monet's Water Lilies


Monday, April 17, 2017

Jubilee's Birth Story (mama's perspective)

I can’t think about the day you came without thinking about all the days that led to your arrival. Like I owe them their due respect, must take them into account, pronounce how it’s all linked together. And, of course, it is, physically, biologically. And then of course, it is, mentally and emotionally.
We had dreamt of you for awhile. We had just really reached the point of fear, of thinking maybe we wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally, when I took the test and the two lines appeared.
The next day I managed to sneak away and buy something to surprise your dad with. When I came home with a bib that says “I love daddy” it took him a few to get it. But when he did… I’ll always cherish that moment.
In our lives at that time we were starting year 2 in Thailand. Dad was just beginning his master’s classes and I was JUST promoted to project director at BCP. We had never both been so committed and so busy in our respective careers. We had never both been so passionate about and felt so called to loving well the teens God had placed in our lives.
Oh the fear I felt when I knew I was carrying you. I knew I needed to get my stress under control. And I often think God blessed me with the deepest, purest form of exhaustion those first 9 weeks, so that I would physically not be able to care so much. That exhaustion allowed me to turn off my mind and sleep through the night (for the first time in over a year!) and it gave me some distance emotionally, which I’m so glad for. But man, that exhaustion was also killer. I remember my head bent and eyes closed on the back of the motorcycle. Sleeping on the bus ride to work. Wondering why an email was taking me 45 minutes to write when it should only be taking 5. Resting my head on my desk and trying to keep from being sick/falling asleep. We wanted to wait to let others know about you (we told @ 19weeks), so I did my best to hide my exhaustion, but those were some long and tough days. (also, please note dear child, your mama did without her regular cup(s) of joe for the whole first trimester). (And then I caved and started drinking ½-1 cup a day. Don’t judge me you judgymcjudgertons, I knew no other way!).

When the second trimester hit it was like suddenly a fog had lifted. It was as if I had been running on 10% capacity and then suddenly I was back. It was like magic-out of thin air. Life went on as normal, except weekends were devoted to preparing for you- lists of what we needed, plans and plans and plans about possible timelines/ passport applications and flights. You know me. =) When I started to feel you in my tummy it was like magic. Brief little kicks or somersaults, but stronger all the time. You loved to play at night once mommy was laying in bed. Clients often asked me if you were moving or sleeping and loved to hear my answer as they surveyed my growing belly.  I consumed watermelon at an alarming rate, but otherwise ate pretty much the exact way I had done before- just more. =)  Before I knew it I was in the final weeks of pregnancy. Your dad and I wisely chose to have a short “staycation” at a nice hotel in downtown BKK, so we could escape our to-do lists and focus on you. It was wonderful and I’m so glad we did. But otherwise, Dad was working really hard to finish his masters classes ahead of schedule, and I was working hard to … oh so very many things. My last few weeks at work were insane. My last day I packed up my things. I threw myself a party and took about a hundred pictures with my clients- all big bellied and tired eyes, but huge smile. Our staff went out to dinner and… that was it. Except, actually it wasn’t- because I still had a few client files to update and my JRS exit interview document to write up. And so Saturday and Sunday I finished those things. At 9 months pregnant I was still slowly heaving myself atop the motorcycles to get around.. I’m pretty sure I took one last pregnant ride that weekend- much to the amusement of the Thai’s in my neighborhood, I’m sure.   Monday I slept all day and pittered around the house. And Tuesday- you began to make your entrance.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning with some small bursts of pain, and I wondered if maybe they weren’t contractions or Braxton hicks, but only momentarily- I was only 37 weeks along. All morning the small twinges of pain continued. After dad left for work I thought I better download some sort of Contractions app- to help me time and to try to keep track of what was going on with my body. I sent this email to dad at 8:30 am:
According to my contraction app I'm averaging one every ten minutes since you left for work.... Don't tell anyone or freak out cause I don't know if it will continue to increase, but fyi..  =)”

He of course called me right away! =) The contractions continued slow and steady all day. I did some laundry and cleaned the house. I made dinner and baked some cookies. I watched tv shows on Netflix and tried to rest. After dad came home the contractions were closer together, so around 6:00pm we called the hospital to ask whether or not we should come in. When they heard it was our first baby, and that I had been having contractions for 12 hours, they advised that I come in to be checked. We didn’t rush to the hospital- I took a shower and we had dinner. I hadn’t packed a hospital bag yet so I did that.  Around 8:00pm we taxied to the hospital. Dad was hysterical getting the cab- oh that man gets excited! Our taxi driver drove as fast as he could while I laughed in the back seat- we were definitely not in emergency mode but he didn’t want any surprises! When we neared the hospital he flagged down a police officer to help stop traffic so we could cross an intersection faster. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed for all the hoopla and laughed and waved from the back seat. I was in some discomfort, but didn’t feel too close. We went in to the OBGYN area and they wheel chaired me to labor and delivery. I thought it was silly that they insist I sit in the wheel chair and dad thought I was silly for being so stubborn about being taken care of.  When the nurses checked me they said I was less than a CM dilated, but the baby would probably come in the next day or so.

I had been calm all day- at peace with the process, trusting my body. I had been completely serene about the whole thing (which, by the way, is very not me). But when we got in the taxi to go back home and were stuck in stand still traffic on Sukhumvit- I was immediately uneasy. It seemed like labor immediately got more intense and my anxiety began to grow. We had meant to look into nearby hotels since we lived a ways away from the hospital and BKK traffic is so unpredictable…but we hadn’t done that, and by the time we were in the taxi I just desperately wanted to get out of the taxi and into bed as quickly as possible. Once we were home I immediately laid down. Contractions felt more intense but I tried to sleep between them. Around 10pm out of nowhere- my water broke! I immediately jumped out of bed and rushed to the bathroom- yelling at mark to grab something to clean up the mess. Now, I laugh, because your dad came back with two squares of toilet paper, at the time… I yelled “towels, TOWELS” (the “you fool” implied by the tone). As soon as my water broke the pain became incredibly intense. As I retell your birth story, we sound a bit under prepared- and perhaps we were. We remembered something in our birthing class about certain color of water to be good and others to be very bad but of course couldn’t remember what was what. Mark called our doctor and all was normal. We grabbed a taxi and off we rushed to the hospital.

I was very happy I thought to bring a towel in the taxi, because with every contraction there was more water. That was something that I … did not know would happen. We arrived to the hospital- this time to the “emergency” wing. I was very thankful for the wheel chair that awaited me. As they rolled me down the hall I laughingly asked Mark if there was a trail of water flowing behind me. I arrived at the hospital at 5 cm. Lucky for us, the AMAZING birth room was available so in we went. I bounced on the birthing ball and tried a few other things, but pretty quickly decided to try the tub to try to relieve some of my back pain (I had back contractions the whole labor… I don’t have anything to compare it to, but it was pretty rough). The tub relieved the back pain but it also completely zapped me. After a bit I got out and they checked me again. I was at an 8, but I also felt completely drained. I had wanted to labor standing up for the long haul, but no amount of convincing could get me to my feet. I had to lay. For the next few hours I laid on the bed- in a sort of half-conscious state. Mark was always by my side- offering me sips of water or Gatorade or food if I wanted (which I very much didn’t). Over the Rhine- the soundtrack to almost every meaningful moment since Mark and I met, played in the background and I focused on just getting through one lyrical line at a time. One angelic nurse applied counterpressure to my back pretty much the whole night. She was amazing. I adored her. If she left I immediately asked for her. A few times I told Mark that if it wasn’t soon I didn’t think I would have the energy to do it- but even as I said it, I felt some relief- everything I had read said that right when you want to give up is when the transition is happening and it’s almost over. I clung to that pretty tightly. A few times I confidently told the nurses that I was ready to push. They would call my doctor in and she would check, and always say no, not yet. Finally it got to the point where I felt like it took so much of my concentration and energy NOT to push. The nurses asked me to use the restroom and after that- it was go time- time to push! I went through my whole labor almost never opening my eyes- seriously. We wanted the lights off and a peaceful atmosphere and we definitely had what we wanted. But when it became push time, the lights went on and the room got busier. I didn’t mind- I was completely in the zone and so so ready to meet you! The first contraction I pushed. I had no idea what I was doing and how to work with my body. My dr. advised not to waste energy by making noise-which was spot on and I immediately listened. Mark counted to ten during each contraction-urging me to push for the full ten seconds. He was the BEST. During the labor part I mostly went inward. He was right beside me the whole time, and thanks to him, I stayed hydrated, but I didn’t want to talk or be talked to. But during the delivery part- he was VITAL! He urged me to push and counted aloud so I could have a goal to push for. He was encouraging and excited and I can’t imagine having done that last bit without him. I only “pushed” for about ten minutes and, you were here. You didn't cry right away and I remember that that alarmed your dad, which alarmed me- but you were just fine. This dark skinned, dark haired baby that they quickly laid on my chest. Daddy hadn’t planned to, but after waiting for a bit, he cut the cord. You were beautiful and a miracle and there was so very much happening all at the same time that I could scarcely comprehend it all. After you were weighed and measured and I was taken care of (I had a bit of the shakes and needed some warm blankets) they laid you back on my chest. I remembered reading/watching a TED talk or something about how newborn babies instinctually move to their mothers breast- I think it’s called the “breast crawl”. I somehow had the mindfulness to test it out and I was utterly amazed to see you- this tiny little thing- crawl and flop your way right to my breast. How incredibly miraculous, beautiful, amazing! The connection between mother and child is so …instinctual.


And that, little Love bug, is how you came into this world. We snuggled you and wondered at you and whispered a secret prayer into your ear so that we could confidently know the first things you heard and then pretty quickly skype called our families who were so very eager to meet you and hear your name. 

Then we laid together and you nursed like a champ (though, from birth you most definitely preferred one side to the other- I found that hilarious). 

One of my favorite memories to reflect on and laugh about is that shortly after you were born we needed to move rooms. You went first and daddy followed you. I was somewhat dressed and began gathering our bags. When the nurses came for me, I started walking out holding our several bags. They looked at me like I was a crazy lady. They had most definitely brought a bed for me to be rolled in and there I was carrying all our bags and ready to tackle the stairs to the other part of the hospital. This makes me roll with laughter. 1. Our bodies are amazing. 2. The bed was the best choice for traversing one hour post partum. 3. No one there knew what to do with me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aleppo

Oh, my heart is breaking into a million pieces over Aleppo today.

There's a lot that I should do, but I can't help but read article after article-just glued to this horrible massacre unfolding now, in 2016, while we all watch and let it pass. I am angered today by my tears- tears accomplish nothing.

The executions, the 100+ unaccompanied children trapped in a building taking fire, the starvation, the goodbye tweets. Oh, my heart is heavy to imagine for one second what it might be to live through this.

I'm holding close my baby. Crying to imagine what it must be to not be able to feed her when she's hungry. To not have water when she cries of thirst. To be unable to calm her fears, to promise her that the sun will rise tomorrow-or that she'd be there to see it anyways.

What feels like all too often this past year, when my heart is heavy and hurting, when my tears are too many and I can't imagine what it is I'm to do, I repeat these words:

"You hear us calling, you hear us calling, Abba Father
 You hear us calling, you hear us calling, Abba Father
 Lord have mercy
 Christ have mercy
 Lord have mercy
 Christ have mercy."

  The Brilliance- Prayers of the People

For anyone else grieving over this on-going tragedy, here's something you CAN do- donate to preemptive love. I've been following these guys work the last month or so and have been so impressed. They're feeding thousands of people who have made it out of Aleppo. You can read about some of their work here: https://preemptivelove.nationbuilder.com/aleppo



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Jubilee's Christmas Poem

In the midst of this darkness and chaos and strife
You entered the world and you breathed in its life

So helpless and cold, the room filled up with cries,
You looked up at our tender and jubilant eyes

In the gaze of this fragile, immaculate face
We also felt helpless and desperate for grace

Such innocence we’d never dreamed could exist
A picture of promise and infinite bliss

When I think of my little girl’s tale still untold
When I pray for her path that has yet to unfold

I’m filled up with hope because all that’s in sight
Is a future that’s full of potential and bright
--
But also at times I am swallowed by fear,
For stories of heartache are painfully near

Why should I hope, and why should I pray?
Our joy could be crushed into sorrow today

For innocence seems like a short, fleeting breath
Choked out in the grip of our suff’ring and death
--
Yet when doubt sings its whispers in my straining ear
When no spark in this world full of darkness appears

I remember that poor insignificant inn
Above which a star shone a shimmering glint

When light from a vast, insurmountable height
Came down in the form of an infant that night

God’s answer and comfort to innocent cries
Was found not in an audible word, but a life

A father’s unearned, inconceivable love
Was instilled in the life and the heart of a son

Who entered the world in the form of a child
Like my little one, so meek and so mild

He too endured hardship and tasted our pain
He too had his innocence stolen away

In a plan to redeem what is lost and corrupted
And all that our evil and sin has disrupted

All darkness was pierced and enveloped by light
That appeared in the inn on that humblest of nights

Written by Mark