Monday, December 28, 2009

Chutes and Ladders

Am I the only one who loved Chutes and Ladders growing up? It's a board game in which you you land on squares with ladders that advance you upward , or red slides that cause you to regress. I loved it because it had such a simple message: If you make good choices, you'll succeed. If you don't, you will have bad consequences. As it turns out, real life is not that simple. Two months ago I felt like I had landed on that square with the long red chute and the broken cookie jar at the end of it. So many events collided in my life to make me feel like I had been sent back to the beginning of the game. And I was sure I would never be able to catch up. This Christmas holiday I feel like I've landed on many positive "ladder" squares, and regained my joy and perspective. Great times of worship at church and meaningful insights from Scripture have brought me a greater understanding of the important things in life. Times with friends over breakfast and making gingerbread houses have been fun and brought me joy. Having the kids home has filled my heart with love and laughter. Sharing these great times and more with my great husband has made me fall in love again. Slowly, I'm climbing those little ladders and feeling like I'm in the game again.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho, Ho, Ho, and He, He, He

I'm over the moon having the kids home. I have such great kids. We've had friends over for huge breakfasts, played Taboo, played Hand and Foot, made two million trips to Trader Joe's and just lazed around like slugs. Remember that obsessed with technology thing? Here they are playing 3 games of Scrabble--two each--with each other. There's a lot of laughter and moans, like when Matt got 102 for his triple-word points, double-letter points word. Who needs an inexpensive board game when you can spend hundreds of dollars on portable devices to access the Internet?

And a bit of trivia...Did you know that younger high school students use two thumbs when working a graphing calculator instead of an index finger?

I hope your holiday is going well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From Our House to Yours, Happy Holidays

My teaching partner, KW, and I invited all our students to my house to decorate gingerbread houses. The house was full of laughing, talking, eating, and having fun. I enjoyed being with my students in a casual atmosphere, hearing their stories and seeing them relate with each other. Their personalities shown through as they busied themselves on their task. One of my students who sort of marches to a different drummer, poured the whole bag of frosting on the house to make it look like the aftermath of a blizzard. I must remember to keep him away from explosives.

I have a student who excels at everything he does, and his house was no exception.

His sister didn't even start a house. It's impossible to fail at making a gingerbread house, but I'm wondering if her perfectionism kept her from the attempt. It's hard to follow greatness.

Although they had fun together in traditional ways, much of their relating was over technology. They texted each other, compared phone apps, shared pictures and played games together on their phones.

KW had everything cleaned up before the last kid was out the door. Of course. Doing anything with her makes it so much more fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Thoughts

Our family is sort of obsessed with the Internet. We can be happy anywhere, as long as there's Internet. We all want to marry Google, and Kelly and I are somewhat bitter that our work doesn't let us use Google Chrome. So, when we started the very useful Christmas where we are only buying presents for each other that the other people could have justified buying for themselves, naturally we couldn't just keep it simple. We had to start our list on Google Wave. We have had no less than 15 emails in the last week setting it up. According to its website "Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more." We have all kinds of rules and directions. We've set up a "wave" for each person, and forbidden that person to look at their wave because it tells what items were purchased. We have a group wave where we add items. Matt said it well: "We are absolutely ridiculous." No other family could make this simple thing as complicated as we have, but it's been great fun for me. I love seeing the kids' emails pop into my inbox, and I love learning new technology.

All this lack of shopping gives me more time to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of the season. I have been particularly touched by a passage in Luke where Mary rejoices when she finds out she's pregnant. She could have said "Bummer", but she had faith the God knew what he was doing. During what is a difficult time for me, I am finding comfort praying the same truths she prayed: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...for the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name." Throughout my whole life, the only thing I could really count on was God's love and care for me. He's always been there in a very real way, comforting me through the hard times, and bringing me through. When I look back I can see His hand on my life. It's just hard to see when I am in it. That's where faith comes in. I know the adversity is rubbing off my rough edges, and making me a more unselfish person. I know I'll get to the other side and rejoice again. I trust Him because He's always been faithful.

Egg-stra Fun

When I opened the refrigerator after work today, I found someone had made pictures on the hard-boiled eggs that I had made this morning. They were so cute. My husband is so funny. Both had little faces. The one with the nerdy face said "Death to omelettes. Save me Mr. Wiz..." The face with the cute glasses said "Celebrate Veganism. Let freedom hatch."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Trip to San Diego

I'm behind on posting, which did not go unnoticed by Molly. "You wrote about your trip to Brenna's but not to my house!" The lack of writing does not mean I didn't like my time in San Diego. In fact, it was REALLY fun. I hadn't ever seen Molly's house, although other people had told me it was amazing. It didn't disappoint: granite counter tops in the remodeled kitchen, a beautiful master shower with Italian tile and a waterfall, and lots of rooms and places to be. It definitely doesn't look like a house for college students. It has this great feel to it because of her sweet room mates. She's in a good place, in a nice neighborhood and she's thriving in so many areas of her life. I normally take the girls out to dinner at the Persian restaurant, and I was sad I didn't have the money to do that this time. I had a lot of fun preparing a shish kebab dinner with Molly after a trip to Henry's Farmers Market. Love Henry's. In the morning we went to my favorite coffee shop and drank lattes and had banana nut raspberry muffins before worshiping at her church. Now I can picture her life more when she talks about it.

On the way down I got to be with my adopted mom, Marney, who took me out to lunch in Dana Point where we talked and watched the activities in the harbor. She let me cry on her shoulder a little and we prayed in her car together. I feel so lucky to be her #10 child.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Two Loves: Math and Teenagers

One of my favorite parts of my teaching job is helping high school students do math. I have a student who looks like a long-haired skateboarder who is imminently ready to drop out of school. When he first came he HATED school and often chose to ditch class at his old school. When we first met, he wouldn't make eye contact and grunted instead of speaking in sentences. Slowly he's grown to tolerate and then be successful at school. He's completing classes and earning As. Last week he struggled with Algebra 2, and said "I hate this problem. I know I can still pass the test even if I miss all the ones like this." I talked to him about how math is teaching him more than Algebra; it's meant to teach him perseverance. In other cultures students will persist through the hard problems until they get the answer, but generally American kids give up after five minutes. They don't have the perseverance. I showed him how to make the problem easier by getting rid of the fractions, and he went back to his desk. Ten minutes later he was at my desk again. "When am I ever going to need to solve a linear system of three variables in real life?" "In any job you get you will need problem-solving skills and persistence. Don't you think there are times when I want to give up teaching you stuff? We all need to learn perseverance. Besides you are at the bad part now. Stuck in the not-being-able-to-solve-it-yet part. If you stick it out you'll get to the good part where it feels great to get the right answer." He rolled his eyes and continued working on the problem and eventually got the right answer. "Doesn't it feel great to know you were smart enough to solve it?" "If you say so." The next day he earned an A on the test. He said happily "I am so stoked right now. Is this what you were talking about yesterday? I think I get it now." I have such a great job.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This and That

We had fun at Brenna and Matt's cute little house last weekend.

The view from Matt and Brenna's house

They made us pumpkin pancakes and we went to church together. They are a darling couple, in my unbiased view.

Jim and Matt look cute together, too, with their technology always close at hand while they relate. (A Peters family trait.)

Jim and I planted a garden together, and didn't fight. If I save $70 on vegetables this winter, it will pay for the supplies and the plants. (But not the water and the time.) I decided that winter vegetable gardens are not nearly as much fun as summer vegetable gardens. I planted broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, peas and onions.

The garden

Kelly said last night that she really likes her job and her students are sweet. She also tells us stories that make me want to ask her principal for a body guard and a pay raise for her. After she had taken her class to the library, the librarian sent her a bag of candy with a note that said "It's a wonder you're still sane." The librarian only has to have those kids once in awhile, while Kelly has to deal with them daily.

The best Christmases we've ever had, in my view, are the ones without presents. We went to NYC after 911 and spent money being tourists (which New York really needed at the time because people were afraid to go there) and bringing quilts to hurting families instead of buying gifts for each other. Very fun. Last Christmas we went to El Salvador as a family-and the trip was the present. I had brought Trader Joe's snacks to open or inexpensive little things. Brenna's face lit up when she opened the Peanut Butter Pretzels, and it was such a neat time of just being together and rejoicing in the simple pleasures of life. I don't like the materialism associated with this spiritual day. It's the opposite of what Jesus would have wanted. So Brenna made this brilliant suggestion: "What if we just bought each other things we'd buy anyways (or could probably justify buying anyways)? So, we'd make lists of Very Useful Things. We'll just keep running lists for the next month or so. Then we'll exchange lists and work on buying those things for each other. We'll be spending money we would have had to spend anyways, just on someone else." She would like "some granola, moleskin journals, an orchid for my kitchen, gardening gloves, cereal, baking supplies, etc." I think it's an amazing idea. We still get to open presents, but we don't ruin our bank accounts, and we don't hurt the environment, and we get to enjoy some simple pleasures. I am taking full credit for teaching her great values. The creativity is from Jim.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Paris Day Three

When the kids were younger they listened to a song that included the line "Take fifty grand to Disneyland...It's better than that!" and that's so much the way I've felt on this trip. It's better than I can describe. I often can't believe I'm in Paris, and that I get to see all these amazing buildings, fill my soul with beautiful art, hear the musical language, eat French food, be surrounded by stylish women, and have amazing experiences with the one I love.

Today we climbed over 1000 stairs and walked miles from Notre Dame to the Arc de Triomphe and then to our hotel. We had seen the inside of Notre Dame yesterday, but the line stretched for hours to go up in the towers. That's the great thing about not having a schedule, and being here for several days--we could just go the next day earlier. The view was amazing, of course. I loved the comical gargoyles that lined the gallery.

Afterwards we just walked and walked--breathing it all in.

We had lunch at our little crepe place. They put about 2 cups of cheese on each crepe along with the amazing French ham...I could only eat half of it even though it was amazing. I will really miss the French cheese, and the crepes, and the croissants, and the pain au chocolat, and the...

Later we went to Montmatre, which used to be a village of quaint streets and painters working in the fresh air. Now it's a crowded mass of tourists, and the only artists one sees are making characatures to sell to foreigners. Even the courtyard at Sacre Coeur, the gigantic white church that is the second highest point in Paris, was packed with vendors. One could take a little tourist train around the area, watch the break dancing, or buy a fuzzy snake who did tricks. The blatant materialism on church grounds reminds me of that gospel story where Jesus wasn't too happy with people making profits in front of the temple. There's something wrong with people gouging each other for money over plastic replicas of monuments in the shadow of a holy place built out of sacrifice and faith. And I would say the same thing about a Buddhist temple or an Incan temple.
Every country has its scams, and France is no exception. In Thailand the scam was for the person in uniform to tell you that the _____ (palace, museum, temple) was closed. "So, sorry. But look, here's my friend he can take you to something better..." In Paris the scam comes straight from movie The Sting. Several times we observed a person leaning down to pick up a seemingly beautiful gold ring. "Did you lose this?" the person asked. When we replied we didn't, he would offer to give it to us. "It's a woman's ring." or "I'm divorced and can't use it. You take it." Then he would ask for money for a "baguette" or other food. If the mark gave him a little money, the con artist would say "Ah, so little? I gave you the ring!!" The ring looked expensive, but was actually a brass ring of little value. We couldn't help laughing when someone would stoop in front of us after the third time it happened. Most would indicate "Shh. Don't tell!" when we did this.

Tomorrow we fly home. Our legs are sore, but our hearts are happy.

Paris Day Two

We slept late (HATE those blackout curtains-I always end up sleeping too long ang get weird dreams), and then headed for the daily trip to Starbucks.

Toured the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. I can't explain how amazing it is in this small space, but it's beyond beautiful. No pictures do it justice.

Behind the cathedral is a small monument to the deportees from France during the Holocaust: the Jews, the Gypsies, the handicapped, the "sociopaths", and the mentally ill. I can imagine their terror as they passed through the narrow passageways having been torn from their homes and friends. As the words on the exit say "Forgive, but never forget."

We didn't have a big list of things we had to see, and sort of rambled through neighborhoods. In our wanderings we passed a great used book store (Shakespeare and Company), but Jim loves me so much he didn't make me sit there two hours while he drooled over books. Instead, we finished touring, then separated. He went back to the bookstore and I searched for Internet.

We waited in a long line to see Sainte Chappelle. This church is always described as a "medieval jewel box", and was uncrowded when we were here last, but I guess the Da Vinci Code was filmed there, and now we all have to wait an hour in line so some people can look for code on the floor. Whatever. Inside, 15 fifty-foot high stained glass windows portray over 1000 scenes from the Bible. The devout of the Middle Ages called it "a gateway to heaven", and for good reason.

Had a leisurely, late lunch at a cute sidewalk cafe.

I returned back to our hotel neighborhood in search of free internet. The hotel wanted to charge us $30 a day for Internet, which is just criminal. Hate these American business-people/rich tourist hotels. I had asked someone in our travels if the libraries had free internet, which they do. The concierge in the hotel had no idea where a library would be, and spent 20 minutes calling and trying to find out. Finally he found one closeby, called and found they had free Internet, so I set off happily with my computer. What a disappointment! The library was the size of our family room, and I think we own more books personally than this library had, and the wi-fi was only for the people who lived in the area. Rats. Back to the Internet cafe. (I so hate being on a timer and it's so slow that you have to type and then 30 seconds later the words appear on the screen. Gah!)

Paris Day One

It was exciting to take the Eurostar train from London to Paris because the train was beautiful and new and fast. My ears popped as we descended into the Chunnel. It was dark for less than a half an hour and then we emerged in France! The total trip is only 2 hours. After we got off the train, I felt like I'd really accomplished something when I figured out the route, bought tickets, and navigated the Metro with our suitcases in tow. We walked the few blocks to the hotel, and saved a ton of money on a taxi. I love taking public transportation because I like the challenge, and I like how it connects me closer to what's going on with the people who live there. The hotel is beautiful, and the room is huge by European standards. It's fun to have the luxury, but the trade-off is that no one in the hotel (employees and guests) uses French. I have to leave the hotel to know I'm in a foreign country. They did allow us to carry our own bags to the room. I always feel weird paying someone to do something I can easily do myself.

This is the view from our room:

The boat tours down the Seine that we went on today are extremely touristy, but also something that local Parisians do. It really is beautiful and romantic to see all the Paris monuments from
the river. I felt like I was visiting old friends as the Louvre, the Orsay, and the Samartaine Department store (among other familiar places), came into view.

The Louvre:
Notre Dame:
The bridges are so beautiful:
Le Concergerie
Afterwards we tried to find my favorite restaurant in Paris-a little crepe stand that makes the most delicious crepes I've had anywhere. We were amazed first of all, that we could find it, and secondly that it was actually still there! The same green bench was still in front of it where we have pictures of the girls eating crepes in 2004. And the crepes were just as yummy as I remembered.

Jim at crepe place in 2009:
Jim and girls at crepe place 2004:
Marsh eating a crepe 2009:
Marsh eating a crepe from the same place 2004:

Girls at crepe place 2004 (same bench, same tree.)

We walked for miles taking in the sights, hardly believing that we are actually here. I feel so lucky to be able to be on this trip and see this amazing city, and be with Jim having fabulous adventures together.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Day in Oxford

Jim, Kitty, Steve
Oxford is an architecture student's paradise.

We spent the day in Oxford with our friends Steve and Kitty. We've known them for over thirty years and Steve was in our wedding, so you know how special the friendship is. They've lived all over the world, are full of puns, and have made a huge difference in the world, having lived all over it.
We visited the Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Charles Williams) used to hang out and share their stories with each other. We had lunch at a local favorite that one finds only by going through a narrow, nondescript alley, down a passageway and left at the first door. (You have to know how to get there to go there...Keeps out the riffraff.) Both the food and the company were amazing.

Next was a visit to Blackwell's bookstore, which boasts acres of shelving in its many stories. If you can't find your book at Blackwell's, you should give up. Jim bemoaned the fact that we only spent two hours there. I had wanted a Starbucks mug from Oxford to go with my one from Antalya, but they didn't have any. So Steve gave me his Penang one...a new treasured possession. (A Malaysian mug acquired in the U.K. from an American.)

Later had tea and scones with clotted cream back at our friends' home, and I developed a whole new list of great books to read from their recommendations. Quite fun.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Wanderings through London

We take the Tube a lot and this is one of the most beautiful stations: St. Pancras.

View from St. Paul's Cathedral

We had a long, busy, tiring, fun day. We started off at the British Library where we saw beautiful illuminated manuscripts, including the Gutenberg Bible. Also, we saw the Magna Carta. Then we climbed the almost 500 stairs of St. Paul's Cathedral to take in the beautiful view from there. When we got to the top of the dome, a sign said "whisper gallery". and I thought "In other languages they would say something like "Be quiet in the church", and I appreciated the positive command. But I was wrong. When we got inside, there were all these seemingly insane people talking to the wall. Turns out the acoustics are so good that one person can hear another person who is whispering from across the room.

We needed refreshment after that!

Then to Oxford Street, which is a main shopping area, and Jim and Rob bought shoes at the Clark's sale.
The British Museum

Next we visited the British Museum where Mike gave us a "highlights" tour. We saw the stolen Elgin Marbles, and the Rosetta Stone among other items. Afterwards we went to The Plough (isn't that such a stereotypical British Pub name?) Unfortunately, they made tea like Americans--a cup of hot water served with a teabag on the side. They didn't even have milk to put in it--rather it was a product that the label said "Tastes just like milk" and one of the ingredients was "non-dairy fat." Bleah.

Rob likes to play a game called "Guess what happened here in 1945?" There will be a block of Edwardian or Victorian homes and right in the middle will be a more modern building, because that building was bombed in the war and rebuilt.

Mike and played "What's the one place you wouldn't want to travel to?" because that list is really small. He's been to ten more countries than I have and it's so fun to hear about places I haven't been (Syria, Jordan, Monaco, among others.) Both Mike and Rob are interesting, well-read, articulate people. Mike finally said the country he wouldn't want to visit was Uganda. Then I said "Sudan." But probably now I'll meet someone who will tell me something amazing to see in Sudan and I'll want to go there. Mike said that some of his friends have arranged their travel plans just to go to a place he hasn't been.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cheerio from London!

Mike and Rob's neighborhood

We've never been to London in the Fall and it's so PRETTY!

The London Eye as background to the Thames River

I love the different types of architecture.

St. Paul's Cathedral is in the center of this view.

We're here in London! We had frequent flier miles and hotel points burning a hole in our pockets and a so when our nephew said “Stay with us, and you could be sipping coffee in Paris in four hours from our doorstep,” how could we resist? This is the nephew whom the girls fondly refer to as "Cousin-uncle Mike" because he is almost 20 years older than they are, and we've always had great fun when we are with him.

Jim says he’s feeling like Alexander (of the No Good, Terrible, Very Bad Day fame) because he lost his glasses before we left this morning. Then, he forgot the fabulous lunch I made for him. (This made ME sad because not only did I go to all the trouble for nothing, we also had to stop and pay for a new lunch on the way to the airport.) On the plane, he lost his ear buds. I offered to let him share mine for the movie, but he said he’d rather wallow in his misery. On the way off the plane, he grabbed some out of first class, but then lost THOSE. For the record, the ear buds that we bought for 99 cents in our town cost $20 at the O’Hare airport.

We made it to our nephew and his partner's house in London almost uneventfully, and are tired but enjoying the sights already. We love Mike and Rob. We saw the Imperial War Museum where Churchill had his underground headquarters during WWII, and then toured the Tate Modern Art Museum. What I liked best was just walking around London, coming across Big Ben when we turned the corner, seeing the great Old World architecture, and even the great names (Piccadilly Circus, Kensington Gardens, and Elephant and Castle—aren’t those just the COOLEST tube stop names?) Since Mike and Rob live here, we're able to walk around without a map, and Jim and I have nothing to fight over because we aren't lost!