Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lightbulb Moment

"And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19

I realised today that I've always taken this verse to mean that God will provide for me based on an American standard of living, where wants are often mistaken for needs and comfort is an inalienable right.

How absolutely foolish I've been. I've been angry at God more than once because He didn't provide in the way that I thought He should, in the way that He was "supposed" to (notice the focus on the word "I"). Just when I think I'm getting somewhere I realise what an idiot I am at times.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Kitchen Soundtrack

I've been working in the kitchen a lot the past few days. From good-bye parties that I have to cook for to family dinners to baking biscuits for teachers... it seems like I can't escape the kitchen. To make the time go by, I invented a special "playlist" to accompany whatever might be going on:

Track 1: (while cracking or pounding peanuts) Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition XIV: The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba Yaga)
Track 2: (while chopping onions) Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
Track 3: (while frosting cupcakes) Henry Mancini's Walk of the Baby Elephant
Track 4: (while tossing salad) Chopin's Mazurka #5 in B-flat
Track 5: (for that perfect, glorious soufflé that's coming out of the oven) Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition XV: The Great Gate of Kiev
Track 6: (for that first cup of coffee on a Saturday morning) Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major, II. Adagio
Track 7: (when you're trying to translate a recipe from Afrikaans to English or from Imperial measurements to Metric AND guests are coming) Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries
Track 8: (when you cut your finger dicing vegetables) Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade: 1. Largo e maestoso
Track 9: (realising you have a huge stack of dishes to wash) Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet: Act IV, Epilogue, LI, Juliet's Funeral
Track 10: (I am done in the kitchen and am going upstairs to read!) Holst's The Planets, IV. Jupiter

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tuesdays With Auntie Hope

You know what I love about Auntie Hope? She doesn't seem to worry about the little things in life. She could, too, given her situation.

I, on the other hand, have been stressing enough for the both of us. From worrying about gathering documents to apply for our temporary residence visas, to treating head lice, to finances, to the ants I found on my desk... it's enough to keep me awake at night and grumpy during the day. I actually found it hard to be sociable today because the head lice thing is absolutely consuming me with worry (What if it never goes away? What if I have to wash all the bedding in the house every day forever? What if I have to spend hours each day going hair by hair, looking for eggs, and how will I get my other work done?)

As I tried to force myself to have a decent conversation, I suddenly wondered, "If I make to the age of 84, will I look back on the head lice incident and wonder why I worried so much? Will I have amassed enough wisdom by then to "not sweat the small stuff," and will I be more accepting of life's challenges? Auntie Hope is teaching me these things through the simple act of growing old gracefully. I hope I can live up to her example one day.

"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" - Matthew 6:27, NIV

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." - Matthew 6:34, The Message

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I'm Sure You've All Been Wondering...

I told you last week that I would try and sit for five minutes each day, just being silent and observing life. Here's my report back:

Day 1: Fell asleep.
Day 2: Forgot.
Day 3: Noticed the many different birds outside my window and remembered that South Africa has more bird species than all the countries of North America combined.
Day 4: Taking deep breaths is actually nice.
Day 5: Forgot again.
Day 6: Ran around like a maniac all day.
Day 7: Horrid day. Cried. Remembered to sit and be still for five minutes. Noticed that a red bishop who had claimed our yard (and then left when our tree fell down) was back. Felt better.

As you can see, I'm not so good at sitting still and just being. 3 days out of 7 is not a great track record. I did notice, however, that on the days I actually managed to "do nothing" for five minutes I felt so much better. I relaxed. I noticed nature. I got a tiny dose of perspective. Funny how all that could happen in a mere five minutes, but it did.

I'm going to keep trying. It seems so silly (and embarrassing) that I find this so difficult, but I do.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Days are Like That...

Do you ever have one of those days where you smash your finger, then go surfing down aisle 13 at the grocery store because someone spilled clear dishwashing liquid on the linoleum floor, and while you're surfing you somehow manage to run over your foot with the shopping trolley (which gracefully causes you to forget that your finger hurts but terribly wounds your pride because your host culture is, unfortunately, one that laughs when others are injured) and when you finally make it home you discover that your "Proudly South African" toilet has a mind of its own and flushes itself every few minutes? South Africa does not seem to like me today, and quite frankly, the feeling is mutual. :-)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Starbucks, You Have Lost Your Glory

I used to miss Starbucks. Truth be told, I still do sometimes. As of today, however, I think they've gone too far. I'm actually glad I'm living in Africa; I think the perspective on what we really need in life is a little more healthy.

There are times when my opinion comes across too strongly. That is not my intent. I just think this new "Trenta" sized cup (916 ml) is a mirror image of how low America has sunk in terms of self-gratification and greed. According to the wikiHow blog, the Trenta has enough caffeine to substitute for a defibrillator... and that pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesdays With Auntie Hope

Today, not only did Auntie hope *not* tell the same two stories, she said something she's never said before: "Do you see that vase over there? I bought it because it reminded me of my mother - tall, clean, straight, no-nonsense and pure."

I must admit that I've never looked at a vase and thought, "That reminds me of so-and-so." All the same, I was touched by Auntie Hope's observation. It made me realise how little I observe anything, partly because I'm always busy. It's not that I have too much on my calendar; but I find that if I have free time, I usually fill it with tasks - baking a special treat for breakfast, trimming plants, cleaning something I never manage to clean on a regular basis, doing something with one of the kids. I never just sit. Or observe.

Older people seem to have a lot more free time. Maybe it's because they're too wise to fill every spare second with work. Maybe it's because it's their time to slow down. Whatever the reason, they seem better equipped to just sit and be at ease. And I think they notice a lot of things that we miss.

I think I'm going to try to just sit for five minutes each day - not in front of a computer, not with a book in my hand, not with any other distraction. I'll let you know how it goes.. or if I last more than a day or two!

I Haven't Even Used This Airline... But I Would!

Kulula is a local airline here in South Africa. They have the funniest marketing. Here are some of my favourite billboards:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Whoever Said...

..."Necessity is the mother of invention" was wrong. Bugs are the mother of invention.

I have this jar of taco seasoning that came from the U.S. Before I continue you must understand that if you are an American living in South Africa (especially one from California), you will cherish your Mexican spices, import them, have visiting friends bring them, and hoard them. They might even be worth more than gold!

Tonight I wanted to make some Mexican food, and when I went to reach for my taco seasoning, it had these funny little "paths" in it - like you might see in an ant farm. That's when I noticed the contents of the jar were teeming with little bugs - from larvae to active and crawling bugs to dead bugs. There was no way I could make what I wanted to make without the correct seasoning, but what to do?

I Googled "homemade taco seasoning" and came across some wonderful recipes. Which brings me to my point:

Had bugs not infiltrated and ruined my taco seasoning, I might never have discovered something new (something, truth be told, I actually like better). I could have moaned and complained (and in most cases I do), but there was a determination within to make Mexican food no matter what tonight, which led to some research and creative alternatives.

I should do that more often.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stop and Smell the Roses

Our family went to Ludwig's Roses today, a rose farm just north of Pretoria. Apparently Ludwig has the largest selection of rose varieties available in the world, with over 1,000 varieties to choose from. We walked among the one million rose bushes (there are literally that many), marvelling at the different varieties - "Look at how big this one is!" "This one smells so good!" "Look at the colour on this one!" "This one has stripes!" "This one has only five petals and makes a perfect star shape." "This one is red on the inside and yellow on the outside!"

For someone who has always preferred daisies to roses, I have to admit that I was in awe of God's creativity in designing so many rose varieties, all with their own unique "signature."

Tonight at the dinner table we were going over our favourite roses and why we liked that particular variety. I suddenly realised - as creative as God is in making roses, He's even more creative in making people.

I wonder if He looks at us and often says, "Look at that one - isn't she beautiful?" "See how nice that one smells!" "See how he plays the trombone - I made him especially suited for that skill." "Look how resilient that one is - I am so proud of her."

I sat at the table and looked at my three children, and then at my husband, seeing them through "rose-coloured lenses," marvelling at how God has uniquely made and gifted each one for His glory.

It's Creative, to Say the Least!

I saw this truck at the petrol station today. You have to appreciate the slogan...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Thoughts on Saying Good-Bye

Last night we had a good-bye party for two of our colleagues who are moving overseas - one to Australia and one to the U.S. It seems like we've had to say good-bye to so many people in such a short amount of time - in the past three years I can think of at least eight people we've become friends with who have left South Africa.

The thing with good-byes is that they never becomes easier. In fact, the more you have to say them the harder it becomes. I find myself wanting to wall-off emotionally, pretend as though I'll see these friends next week, or just flat out engage in denial. But that's not healthy.

If you want to have deep relationships, you have to take risks. Pain of separation is just one of those risks. In the film Shadowlands, which portrays the life of C.S. Lewis, the main character says at the film's conclusion: "Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday Quote

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all." ~ Dale Carnegie

(and if you want to know, the photo above is South African Ernst van Dyk, nine-time winner of the Boston Marathon and Olympic gold medalist)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No Experience Necessary

The thing about all of this visa renewal stuff is that you feel like you have to be as perfect as possible - no diseases or disorders, no criminal record, highly educated, brilliant references, a great salary and all of your paperwork certified and lined up properly. Which got me thinking... I'm so glad Christianity doesn't have those kind of requirements.

Jesus doesn't demand anything of us except to come to Him. Shady history? No university degree? Got a physical ailment? Are you poor? Made some gigantic mistakes? You are still most welcome. Come, follow and learn. It's all about Love, which sounds incredibly corny, yet I don't know how else to say it. You don't have to earn His love, you don't have to buy it, you don't need to fulfill any prerequisites. You just have to show up and accept it.

"... for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls." - Matthew 11:29

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I'm Knot Stressed!

I have started the year with a knot in my stomach. We have to renew our temporary residence visas, and the paperwork makes me freeze like a deer in headlights.

First, before we do anything, we have to renew our passports. They're still good for another 18 months, but the visa we're applying for is a three-year visa, and our passports have to be good for one year beyond that. Hence, a trip to the shops for passport photos, applications printed and completed, and a scheduled appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg.

In the meantime we had a consultation with the immigration agent, which resulted in a whole list of necessary items - police clearance certificates from both South Africa AND the United States, medical clearance certificates, chest x-rays and radiologist clearance reports, certified copies of birth and marriage certificates, adoption court orders, letters from employers, etc. etc. etc.

Each one of these items takes at least one trip somewhere, a phone call and money. For instance, just to get the police clearance from the U.S. we have to drive to Johannesburg, fetch a fingerprint chart form, go to a local police station, get fingerprinted, follow whatever instructions to mail the fingerprints to the FBI, and then wait 6-8 weeks. I have a headache just thinking about it.

There are some people who can tackle this paperwork like it's nothing. I used to be one of those people. For some reason, though, lately it just sends me into a panic.

The only funny thing in all of this is the medical clearance form. My doctor has to sign saying that (I've left the typos in for your reading pleasure) I am not "mentally disordered or physically defective in any way," and that I am "not suffering from leprosy, veneral disease, trachoma or other contagious condition."

I'd like to find a person who's not "defective" in some way or other. :-)