September 29, 2008

Bubbling on the Back Burner of my Brain

Just some thoughts on my heart and mind today as I go about my Monday business. . .

The cry of all distorted things:
"Why hast thou made us thus?
To bear the anguish which life brings;
Why didst thou not love us?"
So marred that God himself must weep -
Fit only for the rubbish heap.

The cry of every breaking heart:
"Why were we born for this?
Evil alone is made our part
And nothing of earth's bliss.
Why didst thou give us human birth
If we may know no love on earth?"

The cry of each despairing mind
Ascends before love's throne:
"Behold us, God! or art thou blind?
Can we be blamed alone?
If thou be there, then answer us,
Why make us? or why make us thus?"

And love's voice answers from a cross:
"I bear it all with you;
I share with you in all your loss,
I will make all things new.
None suffer in their sin alone,
I made - I bear - and I atone."

--from Hannah Hurnard's "Mountains of Spices"

September 24, 2008

He Can't Moo Like a Cow . . .

. . . but you should hear him roar like a tiger!

Several of you have asked me recently how Caleb's speech is progressing. Well, the good news is that it is progressing. Slowly.

They say that imitation of parents and mimicking animal sounds are a good indication that your child is close to talking. And when they say "animal sounds", they generally mean tame, domesticated animals like cows, pigs, sheep, cats, and dogs.

But not Caleb. Oh no. Domesticated animals just don't do it for him. His very first animal sound? "Rrraahhh!"

I'm not joking. I caught him roaring one afternoon a few months back, right out of the blue. I don't know where he picked it up; he just started doing it. He'd see a picture of a lion or a tiger, and start growling. "Rrraahhh!"

That was a few months ago. Now? Still no farm animals for him. He hisses like a snake. Hoots like an owl. Baas like a bighorn sheep. The culprit behind these obviously-wild-and-out-there-animal-noises? Well, you see, I found this book . . . and let me tell you friends, this book is amazing. It's an alphabet book that pictures animals native to North America for every letter. Not only that, it also depicts these animals in real life drawings, in different national parks around our country. One national park for every animal. The illustrations are incredible. Caleb loves it. =)

And what animals do we find under O, R, and S? Yep, you guessed it! The Elf Owl, the Rattlesnake, and the Bighorn Sheep. Caleb's favorites.

Of course, he probably wouldn't be making those sounds today without some help from Daddy. Jason has faithfully read this book to Caleb every night when I'm at work, making the sounds, and more importantly, making it fun. (For example, under T, we find a tarantula. Wellllll, ok, so spiders don't make noises. But they sure can tickle!!).

That's not to say that both Jason and I haven't tried to get Caleb into the whole farm scene. You know, Old MacDonald and all that. He's just not into it. He's more of a Noah's Ark kind of boy. =) Which is fine. The fact that he is actually making animal noises of any kind is, as I said originally, progress.

As for imitating parents? Not much of that yet. I *think* he says "Ah dun" (all done) when he's finished eating. Sometimes. And he will sign for "more" juice or food.

But eh, slow progress is better than no progress at all. And since I can't seem to get our doctor and insurance company to agree on assessment and/or therapy for Caleb, I guess I'll be thankful for what I've got right now: one little tiger who's adorablely cute, no matter what sounds he makes. =)

September 23, 2008

When in Korea . . .

It's 7:00pm on a Monday night. My students are late as usual. I slip off my Sketchers and pad up the stairs of this nunnery-turned-dormitory. Korean custom dictates removing your shoes before entering someone's living space. Since the upper room I teach in on Mondays is flanked by the rooms my female students live in, I dutifully attend class barefoot.

Around 7:25, Emily and Yuri come trudging in. They profusely apologize for being late and blame our ever-changing schedule for their tardiness (this excuse, though often-used, is still sadly plausible).

Yuri is missing her books. Emily looks ready for bed. To rouse them, we play an old verbal game from my childhood:

My name is Ashley
My husband's name is Al
We live in Albany
And we sell apples.

The names change for every letter of the alphabet and before long, both girls are giggling and wide awake.

At break time, Emily offers me a sample of a Korean soda named "Milkies." She's surprised when I like it (tastes a bit like our cream soda); then she promptly pulls a Japanese soda (called Ramune) from the fridge and pours me a glass.

When in Korea, right?

Mondays are oddball nights for me because I only have two students. Wednesdays and Fridays are much more lively because my class increases to six, with a proper mix of boys and girls, and we all have a good time.

But even though our class schedule continues to fluctuate like stock on Wall Street, Monday nights show no sign of changing. So I'm back at the drawing board, trying to come up with new ways to keep my students interested.

After all, we can't drink foreign sodas and play American Girl-inspired games every Monday, right? Even if we are barefoot . . .

September 22, 2008

A Lesson from the Pomegranates

--from Hannah Hurnard's book "Mountains of Spices."

"Love is the one basic law on which the whole universe is founded, and by obeying that law, everything abides in harmony, perfect joy, and perfect fruitfulness. But when it is broken, disharmony immediately results and then come miseries and evils of every kind."

"We are one in needing love,
(Let us true love show)
Only love's sun from above
Makes our spirits grow.
'Love us!' this is our heart's need,
'Let us love' - and live indeed!

We are also one in this,
We must love or die,
Loving others is true bliss,
Self-love is a lie!
Love of self is inward strife,
Love turned outward is true life."

Hannah Hurnard's two books Hinds Feet on High Places and its sequel Mountains of Spices are my two favoritest books in the world, next to the Bible. I re-read them every so often, maybe once a year, and always always always, without fail, I learn something new from them.

Today, I was pricked by this lesson from the Mountain of Pomegranates: true love turns outward. See, I practiced self-love this last weekend, and it did indeed produce "miseries and evils of every kind."

I find that whenever I allow my pride to dictate my emotions or my responses to a given situation, I always get myself in trouble. It's true. Satan would like me to believe that self-love is the road to happiness. But it's not. I am most unhappy when I am trying the hardest to live for myself.

You'd think I'd have learned this lesson by now. But no . . . Jesus must keep reminding me again and again that "self-love is a lie!" (sometimes I wonder if the apostle Peter was an ancestor of mine; we certainly share the same stubborn short-sightedness). But praise God! His grace is sufficient and my Lord is a very, very patient Man. =)

If you're wondering where I've been this last week, well, I've been right here. =) Right at home, right at my desk, just not on Blogger. Here's what's new:

On the teaching front, my boss informed me (after my last post) that Starbucks would have to be an extremely "once in a while" thing, because too many other kids were being left out and whining to her about not getting to go. Soooo, I am doing my best to adapt and still keep the classroom alive and effective. So far, so good. We played Life last Friday after lessons; the students loved that! And Wednesday, I'm going to have them watch a fragment of "Ratatouille" and then answer a question sheet on what they saw.

Here at home, I continue my abstinence from WoW (mostly). Jason and I were on quite a bit this weekend for the annual Brewfest event, a holiday that happens Sept/Oct in game. Blizzard put in a special holiday boss this year that drops a rare kodo and ram mount. =) Other than that, I haven't been on the game because . . .

I am scrapbooking again!!! I have officially taken my hobby digital; Jason helped me find a good software and then, of course, I spent some time shopping for digital supplies online. =) I am lovin' this! Whenever I have time, I just sit down at the computer, press a few buttons, and wallah! I have scrapped a page or two! No mess in the livingroom, no fighting with Caleb to stay out of my paper, stickers, etc. No nuthin'! I've started working on my senior year of college photos and already I have that album half done. As I said, I'm lovin' this. Don't know why I didn't go digital years ago . . .

That's pretty much been life around here lately. Now that the fall weather is finally settling in, I will probably get out my baking pans and plan some cookies and muffins soon. Boy, do I love this time of year!!!

Happy Monday to ya'll!

September 14, 2008

In Which She Learns How to Effectively Herd Cats

I've learned the secret, friends. Herding cats isn't all that hard. You just gotta know how (and by cats, I mean junior highers, of course).

The secret? One little word: Starbucks.

Friday night was business as usual with my students. Two of them were out on a school trip until late. Of the other four, not one came to class on time. When we eventually did get started around 7:20 pm (and that's early for us, friends. Never mind that class is supposed to start at 7pm prompt), I began preaching TOEFL reading strategies to four kids who proved it is possible to sleep with your eyes open. That is, when they weren't whispering to each other in Korean.

As I said, business as usual.

Now to be fair, these kids have already had a full day of school and a two hour homework session with another tutor. By the time I get them, I can almost smell the smoke coming from their tired, overworked brains. And of the four TOEFL sections I teach, reading is the most boring.

But you should have seen their eyes light up when someone mentioned "Starbucks." Instantly, I was flooded with various variations of the question: "Teacher, can we go to Starbucks?"

For about five seconds I had their complete attention. Silence, a rarity in my classroom, reigned uninterrupted. That's when my own personal light bulb went on.

"I'll make you a deal," I said. "We can go to Starbucks tonight if you guys work hard and finish your questions. And we can make Starbucks a regular thing, if you guys come to class on time, and work hard at your lessons. But going will entirely depend on your behavior."

After the cheering and the parade in which I was enshrined as the local goddess of hope and compassion, my students' heads bent busily over their books. That rare Silence continued. And if one of the students dared to speak, in either English or Korean, the other four hurriedly hushed him.

"Shhhhh," they'd say. "Starbucks." Then the Silence would ensue once again.

Visions of frappuchinos dancing in their heads must be a powerful motivator, because their work was exemplary. Most of them answered the questions correctly, and I had no more behavior issues for the rest of the class.

Hmmmm, Starbucks. Who would have thought? And all this time I thought I needed a good sheepdog.

September 6, 2008

I've been on a sabbatical . . .

To the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad:

I've been taking a sabbatical
from the game of WoW
Haven't played in o'er a month
you guys should be so proud!

Well actually, I played today. With Jason. First time in . . . ages. We played for two hours, and I remembered how much I love this game, how much fun it is, and . . . how addictive it can be.

See, in the last month I've really been in touch with what we call "rl". "RL" stands for "real life" and is usually boo-hooed in our chat as a hindrance to game play (always as a joke, of course . . . we're not THAT crazy).

I'm not the hard-core gamer I was before Washington, friends. Actually, my little sabbatical started before WA. About two weeks before we left, I just stopped playing. No raiding. No questing. No nuthin'.

Shocking, I know. I'm sure a few of you doubted I had that kind of resolve. =)

I blame Jesus, actually. I think He pulled me away from it, encouraged me to "take a step back" and look at life. Our trip to Washington helped. No WoW for a week. You know what? I didn't even miss it. So when we came home, I just stayed off. Oh, I logged in once or twice to empty my mailboxes and say hi to a few guildies. But the desire to play just wasn't there.

And you know what? RL isn't so bad. In fact, it's quite amazing. Instead of raiding 2-3 nights a week, I now teach 3 nights a week. I spend nap times reading, writing, or sleeping myself. I'm researching digital scrapbooking. I'm sending query letters out to literary agencies. I'm reconnecting with old friends via email and Facebook.

I know this will come as no shock to most of you, but I guess I just didn't realize how much time I spent playing that game. How much time it sucked from other worthy pursuits.

Now, to be fair, World of Warcraft didn't invade my home and hold me hostage. I could easily blame Blizzard (the company who produces WoW) for creating a game so addictive I was simply overpowered. Isn't that the human way? Blame our choices on outside influences?

It may be the human way, but I'm learning it's not God's. I chose to play, and I chose how often and for how long. The more I said yes to WoW, the more I said no to other hobbies, pasttimes, and opportunities.

Well, that's changing friends. Over the last month, I've discovered life outside the virtual fantasy wonderland and I like it!

So now the only thing left for me to decide is what I will do with Imara, Ilyssa, Ijandra, and Ireena. I've prayed about canceling my account entirely. I am still praying. I do not believe the game itself is evil; rather, "moderation in all things." But I'm taking great pains that I don't allow myself to be sucked in again. Can this happy, vibrant "RL" I've discovered peacefully coexist with a little bit of WoW thrown in here and there?

I guess we shall see.

September 4, 2008

A Yard-Sized Answer to Prayer

Today's Headline:
God Cares About the Details!
Young Stay-At-Home-Mom Learns the Truth Behind the Rhetoric.
Ok, so I know we've all heard the bible verses, the sermons, and the mantra: God loves you. God cares about you. Yep, yep, we all nod our heads in agreement. Yep, yep, we all know the Sunday School answer to that one.
But what does that look like at 9:32 pm when I come home from teaching for two hours (on a night I'm supposed to be off) to a sick child who won't go to bed, a tired husband who is also getting sick, and a livingroom landmined with legos?
What does "God loves you" mean at 7:10 am when that same sick child wakes up early and you realize you can't take him to playgroup because he'll infect all the other kids and then the moms will hate you and say nasty things behind your back? When the sickie child still has more energy than the sun and you must now improvise new outlets for said energy?
I'll tell you what God's love means: a fenced-in yard.
I've wanted a yard for Caleb to play in since he started walking. Some place safe where he could romp and explore to his heart's content without endangering carpet, electronic devices, or himself. My dad has just such a yard at his house in Yucca. So do Jason's parents up in Washington.
And now, dear friends, I have one too. Because God loves me that much. ;-)
This yard isn't exactly connected to our apartment building. In fact, it's not even on our street. But down the cul-de-sac, around to the right on Campina, is a large (about an acre) enclosed area with grass, sand, and cement with a basketball hoop. Did I mention it was enclosed? With a fence. And gates.
She grins happily to herself.
But the best part? Caleb loves playing there. The grass and sand provide endless, if dirty, entertainment and this mommy doesn't have to chase him all over creation. See, it's fenced in.
I never saw chain link looking so good.
But here's the crazy part. That fenced-in oasis has been there since before we moved in. Sure, I knew it was there; after all, I'm not THAT oblivious. We only drive past it everytime we go somewhere. But for some unexplainable reason, I never thought to take Caleb. Only after experiencing my dad's yard, and my in-laws yard, when I was really really wishing I had one, did the Lord reveal to me what He had already provided. (Ok, so maybe I am a little dense from time to time).
Actually, Jason was the first to suggest taking Caleb over there. We take walks as a family several times a week, so one evening we discovered this little park-yard-oasis place, and Jason said "You know, Nicole, you could bring Caleb here to play during the day. It's fenced in."
And with that little remark, the lights went on.
See friends, what we've read and heard is true. God DOES care. Even about silly little things like yards. And that fact is totally blessing my heart today.
**Ok, I hate Blogger right now. It WILL NOT let me put spaces between paragraphs. ERRGGHH! Anyone know why?