Sunday, October 28, 2007

Naomi lost her first tooth!!

My little girl is growing up. On Friday, October 26, she lost her first tooth. She’d been wiggling it for two days and as she showed Steve that morning, he watched it pop out! She was tickled pink, and as you can imagine, it was the topic of conversation for the rest of the day.

We talked about who she would tell and who she would show. She said she thought she was extra-special because she lost her first tooth at age 5 instead of age 6 (I informed her that I, too, had that “honor” as I’m sure many other kids do too). She was worried about how she would eat with a hole in her mouth. And how would she talk when all her teeth were out?

Her Papa gave her 53 cents and told her to put the tooth under her pillow and the Tooth Fairy might bring her a dollar. I now had an expectation to live up too. Unfortunately Naomi was still awake when I went to bed at 10:30 PM, but as Ethan’s been waking me up at 5:30 AM everyday, I still had an opportunity to secretly leave a few quarters for her (not an entire dollar!). I overheard her excitedly telling Josiah about her money when they woke up and she rushed in to tell me the fairy had come.

I told her that I’d run into the fairy and let her know that Naomi wanted to keep her tooth. Now she was incredulous and asked if I wasn’t just tricking her. She remembered that I’d told her earlier that fairies weren’t real. I told her the fairy was real, but was someone she already knew – ME! She laughed and said that someday she would be a tooth fairy for her little girl.

Pumpkin Patch – October 27

I picked pumpkins from a pumpkin farm for the first time today! We’d heard of “Hay’s Maze” from friends of ours and went together as a family this afternoon. It had rained for the past two days, but today was bright, sunny and even warm. We went through the corn maze first and then picked out a bunch of pumpkins in various colors, shapes and sizes.

The kids enjoyed finding the scary figurines in the maze (we made it like a treasure hunt instead of something frightening). They liked seeing corn still on the stalk and learning how it grows. I enjoyed seeing the different kinds of pumpkins and learning their names (“fairy tale pumpkin,” “Cinderella pumpkin,” “Turkish hat pumpkin”). Josiah liked getting dirty in the mud, while Naomi complained since she was wearing white sandals. Ethan liked being part of the group.

It was a really fun thing to do together. Now we just need to find time to carve the big ones and cook the small ones!

Country Living – Oct. 27

I love my home. I love seeing Ethan look out every window in the hope of seeing a cow and I love hearing him say his first word “bbb” (which means “animal” and sounds like a mooing cow). I love driving to a school playground and stopping on the way to see and pet horses. I love waking up on Saturday morning and seeing thirty cows out my kitchen window. I love watching my husband and kids pet them.

I love the rolling hills and being in the Shenandoah Valley. I love the woods, with the leaves changing colors, and I love the farm fields – wide, empty spaces that breathe life back into me after years of crowded urban living. I love the quiet, the stars, the singing birds. I love watching my kids catch crickets, chase butterflies, and hold frogs.

I’m enjoying it while it lasts, for I don’t know when we’ll leave. Thank you, Lord, for your amazing creation.

Monday, October 22, 2007

When Will I Fit In?

I’m tired of being new. Steve and I went to a newly-formed small group with three other couples at our church yesterday, and it felt so strange. I like all six of them a lot. I would love to get to know them better. I think I would learn a lot from them. But it just hit me that they’ve all known each other for six years, and we’re the newcomers.

The same thing happened when we were first married. We joined a group that had already been meeting for a year, and never quite felt like we fit. In Scotland, we made friends, but didn’t find a small group to be part of. I went to a group meeting once and people had a hard time giving prayer requests because I was there (and I was “new”).

I don’t know if I’ll ever have what I’m looking for, in terms of a small community in which I’m known deeply, cared for, prayed for and held accountable (and where I can do the same for the others). Maybe I need to find others who are new to my church. I don’t know.

Most of the time I feel tired of feeling this way, tired of making an effort, and either want to abandon church or rely on my distant friends instead of trying to make new ones. I know I shouldn’t give up, but it sure would be nice to stop caring!

Progress Report

Mom and Dad Gertz’s house is really coming along. The siding is up on the outside. The drywall is up on the inside and half is painted already. Steve and Dad installed kitchen cabinets last week, and appliances are coming this week. Steve might be working on it only one more month (at which point we really need to have another job lined up!!!). Please pray that he’ll find a job soon. He’s continuing to send out applications.

Steve’s Arabic is also progressing! He now knows all the letters of the alphabet (and their various forms depending on their position in a word) and has written me my first Arabic “love note” =) (It read لس حبيبتي “Lisa, my darling”) My understanding of Arabic is increasing too, though I’m not putting in nearly as much time as Steve is.

Naomi is improving her reading everyday, and Josiah can name all the uppercase letters. It is fun to see how Naomi’s reading inspires Josiah. He looks at print now and tries to “read” it, he thinks about initial sounds in words and often names the correct letter, and he loves to make rhyming words.

They have also now completed two Godly Composer units, one about Vivaldi and the other about Bach. We’ll begin a study of Handel this week. For math/science, I’m using a book called Count on Math, which begins with a lot of exploration. We played with texture, floating, sinking, color-mixing, food changes during cooking, using our senses, etc. Now we’re beginning the next section which focuses on spatial relationships. For literature, we’ve made doughnuts after reading Imogene’s Antlers, had a pillow fight after reading Ira Sleeps Over, made cookies for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, made shaped bread for Bread and Jam for Frances, and bounced on pillow “islands” to get away from alligators after reading There’s An Alligator Under My Bed.

Ethan hasn’t taken his first steps yet, but just loves to stand. He wants to stand in the bath tub, in his booster seat, outside and inside. He has good enough balance to stand on his own, crouch down to pick something up, and then stand back up. As he’s only 10 months old, there’s no rush for him to walk. We enjoy him just the way he is!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kudos and Boo

Steve and I just read our first Sherlock Holmes short story yesterday. It was great! I enjoy short story mysteries because they don’t keep me up for hours and hours, dying to know the ending. Doyle writes well, of course, so it was refreshing to read well thought out sentences and more challenging vocabulary. The plot was plausible and the solving of it made sense.

On the other hand, I also just watched my first episode of a TV show called “Touching Evil,” and was sorely disappointed. I usually enjoy mystery/cop/thriller/lawyer movies and TV shows. I’ve liked CSI, MI5, Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Foyle’s War, Second Sight, among others. This series was compared to Prime Suspect, a show I enjoyed on video a few years ago. But this was definitely the worst I’ve seen of its genre.

One complaint is that there was too little comic relief. In fact, I can remember only one moment in 2 hours when I (barely) laughed. The characters rarely smiled, the tone was dark and serious, and it desperately needed something happy!

Another was that it seemed inaccurate forensically and professionally speaking. There were numerous murder victims, yet the detectives didn’t wear gloves, look for small details, or seem to care about contaminating the crime scene with their own footprints, fingerprints, etc. I realize now that this show is more of a thriller (showing multiple murders) than a forensic investigation. Nonetheless, the characters still should have followed protocol.

Regarding the profession of police, “Touching Evil” was lacking. One policeman was very hot-headed and brash. He beat up the accused, and had no more than circumstantial evidence to bring against the guy. Three cops actually sat around an office, waiting for the killer’s next move. They weren’t doing paperwork or being proactive or even seeming to rack their brains over a clue they missed. They were just sitting, worrying and talking.

Maybe other episodes in the show are better. Maybe I shouldn’t judge harshly after only seeing one. On the other hand, I probably won’t waste my time watching another to see if I’m right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Love Choirs!

In some ways, choirs have become a thing of the past, with most churches emphasizing praise teams and special music. But I still love singing in a choir. It’s especially fun for me when the singers have a certain understanding of music and we can spend our time fine-tuning, instead of learning notes.

I’m in a super choir right now called the Rockbridge Choral Society. We have about 70 singers and meet weekly for 1 ½ hours. Last season we sang Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and now we’re preparing for a holiday concert. The music we’re singing is so beautiful: some of my favorites are Morten Lauridsen’s “Ave Maria” (not the traditional one), Holst’s “Lullay my liking,” Rutter’s “Mary’s Lullaby,” Gabrieli’s “O Magnum Mysterium” (from 1587), and Sargent’s arrangement of “Silent Night.” Ave Maria almost always makes me want to cry, it is so pretty.

The beauty of intertwining parts and voice ranges is what draws me to choral music. I’m not the star; rather, I’m part of a group and only when we’re all together do we have the strength and beauty of a choir. I love standing next to the tenors and hearing their part. I love singing alto 1 while the woman next to me sings alto 2 (a bit lower, usually).

I also appreciate a good director. It’s an encouraging feeling of growth when the director demonstrates how to make something better, and we’re able to improve as he asks. I’m constantly learning more about music by listening to his insights and ideas.

Thank you, God, for gorgeous music and for the opportunity to sing in choirs!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

I just finished this book by Barbara Ehrenreich, and I have to say that only one or two other books in my life (Blood of the Martyrs and Black Like Me) have disturbed and shamed me as much as this one.

The author (a journalist in her normal life) decides to investigate American poverty (in 1998) by taking on low-paying jobs in various cities and trying to find affordable housing and food (and otherwise surviving) using only that income. She works as a waitress in Florida, a house-cleaner and “dietary aide” in Maine, and finally at Wal-Mart in Minnesota. Her accounts are sobering in many respects.

First of all, I was surprised by the ways she is treated disrespectfully by employers and companies, and by some of the corporate laws that I didn’t know about. I hadn’t realized that waitresses are only paid minimum wage after their tips are added to a $2.??/hr. salary. I’d always thought that tips were on top of a normal income. Many of her jobs had the rule that you couldn’t speak with the other employees – even if you’re both hanging up clothes together! When she was housecleaning, she was not allowed to eat or drink while in the client’s house, which meant that even though she was sweating buckets, she couldn’t have a drink of water.

Managers ranged from demeaning to patronizing to downright rude. Only in her dietary aide job did she feel like she had any input and appreciation as a worker. Everywhere else she had to obey the management’s stringent rules, even when it included mopping an entire floor with only half a bucket of lukewarm water, or wiping counters down with a damp cloth and no cleaning sprays.

But these are all trivial compared to the main point of her book: in many cases, a poor person working full-time at one or two “unskilled” jobs, can NOT survive in any long-term healthy definition of the word, right here in America. This was just incredible to me.

I had not thought of the fact that someone might not be able to acquire the money for an apartment’s deposit, requiring them to sleep in a car or a motel (using up more money each week, which puts an apartment even further out of reach). And that cooking healthfully and cost-efficiently requires a minimal amount of appliances and resources that many can’t afford. Some of the people Ehrenreich met in her experiment hardly ate at all, and even she herself could afford or cook little more than junk food.

The most depressing thing about the book was not the widespread poverty in America, but the widening gap between the poor and the rich, and the seeming hopelessness of it all. The people Ehrenreich got to know didn’t seem to feel like they could bring about change or even deserved better in some cases. Companies seem more than happy to exploit the people since it furthers their capitalistic mission. Ehrenreich’s conclusion is that nothing will improve until the poor themselves rise up in protest and demand the income and living standards that would meet their needs.

I’m not even sure how I can help or make a difference in any way … I need to think more about it. I already try to greet “unskilled” workers and often thank them for what they’re doing – cleaning or putting grocery carts away or whatever. I’ve given cold drinks and food to people who have worked on my house in the past. The key for me is not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue, but instead commit to trying to make a difference right here in Lexington, VA.

Fun Camping!!

We had our first family camping trip on Friday night. Yay! The kids have been wanting to camp for months. We’ve “camped” inside, on the porch, in the yard, in Aunt Beth’s yard, but now we’ve actually spent a night in a nearby campground and hiked and eaten by a campfire!

On Friday, October 12, we drove 30 minutes away to Lake Robertson, just south of Lexington, VA. We got there just in time to get our two tents set up as the last daylight faded. Naomi and Josiah had their own child-sized tent, and Steve, Ethan (in his pak’n’play), and I were in a small dome tent. The kids were thrilled to be outside, looking for sticks, using flashlights, and eating rocks (Ethan!).

Our Indian summer had just ended a day or two before, so we were a little surprised by the cold. But we got a good fire going, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, and made yummy s’mores. Naomi and Josiah were excited about every aspect – the “real fire,” the sparks, putting hot dogs on a stick. I loved their child-like enthusiasm.

Unfortunately Steve burned his lip and chin on some boiling water, and that made his evening a disappointment. Ice and medicine helped it feel better by the time we went to bed. The kids took a long time to fall asleep because they heard so many noises, but except for Ethan’s coughing, they slept pretty well.

The next morning dawned dark, early and cold, with Ethan’s waking up at 6:00 and Josiah shouting “potty!” soon after. With another campfire we warmed up and were ready to enjoy a lovely autumn day outside!

We decided to hike around the lake, which we think was 1.6 miles, but took us a few hours! The kids watched a few people fishing, and got to see their worms up close. The children’s highlight, though, was holding their own cat-tails for the first time. We enjoyed the sunshine, the changing colors, the shaded path, seeing little holes and wondering what animal lived in them, finding good walking sticks, singing and talking while we walked.

After lunch back at our campsite, Naomi and Josiah played on a playground, Ethan rolled a ball around, I read, and Steve rested on the grass. Naomi was mad to find out that we weren’t spending another night there, but were going home. It had definitely been a nice break from our normal routine, and I especially appreciated being outside, smelling the pines and campfire smoke. At dinner on Saturday (back at home), Naomi turned to me and said, “Thank you, Mom, for taking us camping!” Music to a mother’s ears…

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Wheaton College Homecoming

Steve, Ethan, and I just got back from Chicago. My husband Steve graduated 10 years ago from Wheaton College in Illinois, so we went to his reunion and had a great time! It was a very short trip, but we managed to see most of our close friends (Morse Tan '97, pictured here)

One highlight was staying in the home of our good friends, Mike and Erin. It's probably been years since we've had so much relaxed time to talk with them (since we usually have our older two kids with us). We really appreciated their hospitality and generosity.

Steve also scheduled many visits with other good college friends, as well as previous professors and colleagues. I loved seeing him be encouraged and renewed by those talks. He even got to go "up the tower" with our friends Morse and Sarah Tan, celebrating their marriage as they rang the bell in Blanchard Tower . (It is an old Wheaton tradition to ring the bell announcing engagements and weddings.)

I visited with close friends who still live in the area, and was encouraged by their willingness to "drop everything" and come see me. Our friends Tom and Heather had us over for dinner and again, it was so nice to have quiet time to laugh and talk with them (once the kids were in bed!) I got to know some people better at the 1997 Class dinner on Saturday, including a missionary I'd known as a 9th grader at Hillcrest.

Finally, we both agreed that it was very special to have time alone with Ethan. He thrived on the attention and I enjoyed noticing more of his emerging personality. It helped that I wasn't cooking and cleaning like I usually do. He was a super traveler: flexible, good-natured, and fun.

Our older kids were happy to have us back home, but it was hard for Steve and me to leave what feels like our true "home" and return to a place where we're still trying to make friends. Hopefully someday we'll have the chance to grow roots somewhere else and make a new home.