Thursday, December 18, 2014

Which traditions do you choose?


Just realized that this is going to be another ex-pat post! I guess there's nothing like the holidays to prompt some cultural analysis.


Bulletin Board Christmas re-do


It's harder to pass on traditions when it isn't reinforced by the world around you when you walk out the door of your house! I am genuinely happy for my new parent (or aunt/uncle) friends who are able to take the kiddies to pumpkin patches, dress them in turkey onesies, and sit them on Santa's knee...followed by a spring photo shoot in pastels for Easter! These are very positive, fun traditions. But since they are mostly driven by culture and a nostalgia for one's childhood, they can quickly go from inspiring to irrelevant once you live abroad or don't celebrate with your siblings anymore.

I know I have often written on my blog about making new traditions. Maybe I even write the same thing each year and then forget about it. But I'm new to making traditions while parenting, so I still have a lot of unanswered questions for this stage of life.

Today I was thinking to myself...how do you explain this whole "Christmas season" thing to someone outside the American/Western culture? I'm really wondering this. What are elves? Who is Santa? Why red and green? Why snow? Why is it important to get in the "Christmas spirit"?

Is it okay if the answer is simply that they were your own traditions growing up and you are now passing them on? Of course! Maybe it is even better than reading too much into them. But when the time comes to pass them on, it gets more complicated if you are the main channel through which the customs are taught. In your native culture, the "teaching" might begin with a question about something observed (Who was that bearded guy in a red suit at the mall?). But when you don't have that context, it takes more effort to both introduce and reinforce these concepts. If my family is going to make a tradition of watching "Elf" each year, for example, there is a lot of context there. Will it be worth it if I have to explain the jokes (Andrei, thankfully, is very astute when it comes to cross-cultural humor)?

When I think about my main priorities, one thing I am highly invested in is language development. The information that I fail to pass on (partly because I'm just one person) can be found in books, letters, stories, and conversations. As long as David is able (and willing) to read his Bible, he will know the story of Jesus' birth and its significance. He will be able to look up Christmas recipes online. He will watch Christmas movies if he wants to and he will be able to talk to relatives about holidays past and present.

Even the Sunday school materials from when I was a kid are a little archaic. I can recognize that, so some creativity is needed. But there are still plenty of time-tested traditions that will be good to pass on.

A question remains as to cultural education. Should I be concerned about David's awareness of American culture, in order to eventually have something in common with his peer group? Okay, I know he's a toddler, but is it going to be bad if he gets to high school without partaking in a Thanksgiving dinner? I don't know...I just think about these things.



Cleared a shelf off for Advent paraphernalia, but it pretty much got trashed...




Inside an Immigrant's Thought Process


It is really hard to get inside the head of someone functioning in a second language. I know this because it is my everyday reality, in contrast to the people around me!

I like to think of America as this place where anyone can settle down and lead a normal life, even someone arriving as an adult. But I realize that's a bit of an illusion. You never know what's happening behind someone's accent. And because receptive and expressive language acquisition can be different, you never know how intelligent someone is behind the accent...or how much of the conversation he/she is missing, while appearing to function as a native speaker.

Earlier today I was reading a novel about a Chinese student who came to the U.S. on exchange for grad school. She ends up being befriended by Christians and coming to faith...that's sort of the main plot, but I found myself thinking more about the logistics. The author did a good job of portraying some of the cultural nuances: tipping in restaurants, showing hospitality, etc. But I analyzed a lot of other aspects of what was going on. For example, how did the main character adjust to working in the university's dining hall? Did she know all the correct terminology related to washing dishes, etc.? Though the book is told from the heroine's point of view and we know her thoughts, I kept wondering what she sounded like when she spoke. Did she have a strong accent? Did she speak softly, or confidently? Did people respond to her differently than to a native speaker?

This fall marked 10 years since I moved to Russia! I am definitely "used to" living in a foreign country, but it is still a huge adjustment moving somewhere in adulthood. I'm sure my thought process is still so different from the average Russian's...at least in how I react to my environment. The other day I was checking out a few American news headlines and was struck by how I don't even read/watch the local news! Andrei does, and I wondered what different experiences we're having with processing what's going on in the world.

Meanwhile, there are certain areas where I still feel inept. Last week I was sick, and one night I lay awake knowing I needed to go to the doctor but being terrified of what was going to happen. I feel better now, but the site where I had blood drawn still has a huge, unsightly bruise. I don't know if it was a case of miscommunication or incompetence, but...ouch!

Anyway, part of the reason I'm bringing this up is that assessing my own perspective in turn makes me really curious about others. It is so commonplace to see migrant workers cleaning our stairwell, for instance. What's their story? We have some things in common and then some pretty big differences.

I'd better post this before it gets stuck in drafts purgatory...just wanted to share.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Fiascos in Felt


I love the way finished felt projects look, so colorful and pretty and homey! I haven't quite mastered the medium, though. I seem to do better with paper, but maybe I will conquer felt in this lifetime!

I started making a felt Christmas storyboard for David last year, and lost momentum. So I took it up again this year.

My requirements were:

-representational, but simple
-big and sturdy enough for David to handle
-removable pieces that could be moved around


Problems and Troubleshooting:

Last year I cut out some figures but found them too floppy. Maybe if they were smaller it wouldn't have been as much of an issue. This year I finally fortified them a bit.

Didn't trim the edges.



Not all felt is created equal...it doesn't necessarily stick to other felt (without adhesive), and depending on the thickness might also need a pretty strong glue to hold together permanently.

Removable angel toupee.




Meanwhile, David wanted there to be eyes, hands, feet, etc. So I added those later.


You want feet? You got feet.



It turned out that he was dead against Jesus having clothes or a blanket of any kind, so I had to make a new naked one, which he was pleased with.






My figures definitely aren't anything to sell on Etsy, but I think they'll do for the toddler years and then maybe David will help me make a new, more sophisticated set! 

He likes to play with them as a family unit. Mommy Mary nurses Baby Jesus, Daddy Joseph takes him around in the "stroller," etc. The Angel Gabriel has been referred to as "Doctor."

The facial hair is shared by Joseph and the Angel.



No shepherds or wise men this year...maybe another time!






Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Anti-Flying


After going back to FlyLady time and again to see if I could make it work, I finally realized that it's probably not the best strategy for my personality type.

First I thought it was just the season of life or the fact that I have a toddler who will mess up whatever "zone" I've finished, turning 15 minutes of completed work into a new 30-minute job.

I also noticed that because I can't do all the rooms, and have to focus on the common areas, that preparing for guests will always involve cleaning the kitchen and neglecting the bedroom. I was so excited when FlyLady assigned the "master bedroom"....only to realize I had no time to do it that week as I needed to clean for guests.

"No-nonsense" can be good, but I put my foot down when she started talking about purging. "You don't need your school essays," she said. But I do. Okay, I don't. And my parents don't need them in their attic. But I'm not ready to throw everything away yet. That's a choice. And when she tells me to throw certain things away, she's making a choice for her own personality type, not for mine.

Maybe FlyLady would suggest scanning photos of the projects and artwork and throwing the originals away and then making each family member a memory book for that year or quarter, like I saw on one blog. But I haven't seen time for that allotted on the FlyLady calendar, plus she probably wants me to throw all my album-making supplies away.

I like the idea of menu planning, and I like looking for new dishes to try. But I can't make a very detailed plan, because I never know when my inlaws or someone else is going to bless us with some groceries or yummy dish. Sometimes I even count on that, because I don't have the energy to go to the store.

Sometimes I can stay on top of dishes and can even see the bottom of the sink for most of the day. But after dinner starts the bedtime routine. And usually I am way too tired to do dinner clean-up. So there's that pile in the sink in the morning...oh well.

I'm starting a new housecleaning strategy. It's called "Sneak Clean While Your Toddler Is Looking The Other Way." SCWYTILTOW for short. You don't have to set a timer because you just go by your child's attention span. Quick, he's in the kitchen...Ready, Set, Go! While he's in the bathtub, I can scrub the sink and mirrors. I know we are supposed to stay on task and finish one area before moving on, but I do "drive-by" cleaning...grabbing things that don't belong and dropping them off in the right room as I go to do something else. They'll make it to their places eventually.

Anyway, I feel sort of silly writing about this because obviously being organized is a good thing. But I read on a forum today about a mother who was just feeling so frazzled with family coming from out of town and different dietary needs and messes all around and one family member suggesting she needed to purge. I didn't like that she felt like she was some sort of grotesque exception to the "everyone is organized" rule, rather than the other way around. I also feel that along with our daily life situation, we have to figure out our own gifts and personality type and how we do best at extending hospitality-whether it's a clean house, good food, lively conversation, or an opportunity for the guests to earn their keep. :)





Monday, November 24, 2014

Going Home


Advent is almost here, but somehow the Second Coming is on my mind more. I'm in this phase where I can't sing or listen to a song about eternity without tears welling up.

This includes Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons."

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
10,000 years and then forever more


And Brooke Fraser's "Soon and Very Soon."
I will be with the One I love
With unveiled face I'll see Him
There my soul will be satisfied
Soon and very soon

It's not that these particular songs are the best lyrically or grammatically or whatever, but the overarching message is there.

And that's true for a lot of hymns that have a sort of natural progression through the walk of faith up to the day we meet Jesus.

From "How Great Thou Art" (Boberg/Hine):

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"



And "It is Well with My Soul" (Spafford):
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Once we get to those final verses, I can't make the words come out anymore, even though I try my best and want to proclaim them in faith. Even that song "I Can Only Imagine" might be a little overly sentimental, but it is the call of my heart at times. Will I be able to say something to Jesus, or will I be struck dumb, just as when I get to those words in the song?

Anyway, not sure why these particular words are speaking to me right now, but there it is.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One year later: another attempt


Funny story: I had all these unfinished Advent projects last year that I photographed and was going to write about, just to say...here's what I tried to do and didn't finish. I had even titled the post "The Advent That Wasn't." But it never even made it into my drafts folder, apparently. Or else it's there and I'm blind...anyway, here's a little Advent inspiration (or examples of what not to do)!


The postcard garlands that wouldn't stay up...






The Jesse Tree that didn't turn out to be very fertile...





A tipsy angel.../closest thing to a "Christmas Tree"




Felt figures I never finished cutting out...





The unfinished Jesse Tree symbols...





The scene of the "crime"





The lack of candle holders...





The toddler who didn't go to the Christmas Eve service. :)






Saturday, November 15, 2014