Thursday, November 17, 2016

Up-Down Days

Life in the Foreign Service requires a lot of patience. Yes, it's true that we get to travel around and see some pretty amazing things (I witnessed four middle-aged men on one motorcycle the other day!) but all of that excitement comes at the cost of giving up control over many aspects of life, for example: where we live, what house (or apartment) we live in, job availabilities, school options, pet options, extra-curricular activities, friends, food, cleaning supplies, transportation, air conditioning, ect. All are significant parts of life we learn to make the best of with what we are given. We are at the liberty of where we are posted. Sometimes this works in our favor, other times it does not.

All of this being the case, I recently found myself in a cycle of not expecting things to go my way. To do so seemed to lead to inevitable disappointment, and so I trained myself to be patient and wait and see what happened before I got my hopes up.

This may sound like a good thing, and in some ways I guess it is (Patience is important, right?) but it actually turned into a bad thing for me because I found myself having a hard time making decisions about anything and even expecting things NOT to work out.
I had become a negative person by default, not meaning to expect the worst, but doing so anyway.

We received some exciting news a few weeks ago. We found out we are heading to Brussels, Belgium for our next post. It's the kind of news that should have thrilled me, and it did ... really. Unfortunately, because I had become used to raising the "don't get your hopes up barrier", I found myself having a hard time accepting it and allowing myself to be really happy with the incredible news. I knew how I was supposed to feel, but I was waiting for the ball to drop, so to speak. It was frustrating and left me feeling sad and edgy instead. (Emotions that were making more frequent appearances in my day-to-day life.)

So, I did some research about depression and anxiety and learned that both are greatly influenced by the habit of negative thinking. The sources I read said that negative thoughts are a choice (whether we realize it or not) and can become habitual. To retrain your brain takes practice. Instead of thinking everything is terrible when one thing goes wrong, you need to take a step back and see the trial for the individual incident it is. It's important not to let all the little bad things add up to make everything seem bad.

Last year I wrote a story for my daughter about this very same topic. "Up-Down Days". It's funny because at the time, I didn't think the topic applied to me. Ellie would come home from school completely undone over simple, little things. If anything went wrong, in her seven-year-old mind everything was wrong. The story talks about how everyone has high and low points in their days and we need to remember that just because something is going bad now, doesn't mean it will forever. Here's just a little piece of the story:

"Most days in your life will sink low and fly high,
They’ll be UP-DOWN days, like a carnival ride!

You might start on top in your favorite blue shirt,
Then someone makes fun, and your feelings get hurt.
You’ll stay at the bottom for just a short while, 
‘Til a friend shares a cookie, and brings back your smile.

Your UP-DOWN day will feel happy and sad,
Exciting and scary, and silly and mad.
Then happy again, cause that feeling’s the best.

Being happy feels lighter than all of the rest.

Each morning is special, so jump up and see,
What kind of a day your new morning will be!
Will you play with a puppy or visit the zoo?
Will you have a sore belly or maybe the flu?

You don’t know just yet, what kind it will be,
So get out and play, run around, climb a tree!
Just try to remember, when something goes wrong,
You might be sad now, but you won’t be for long."

I am happy to report that for the past month I have been making a concerted effort to stop my negative thinking and allow space for little things to go wrong without letting it take over my entire day. It has made a huge difference in my life and in my attitude. It is also helping me have more patience with others, including family. I still don't have a lot of control over some aspects of my life, but I am learning to make the best out of what is right in front of me, and allow myself to be really happy about it.

Oh, and btw, I am so, so, so excited for our next adventure! Belgium is going to be amazing.
I feel pretty blessed. Hope everyone out there can have a happy day too!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Trash Mountain

I once watched a movie called, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. It is about an English mapmaker in Whales in the 1940's who had the job of deciding whether or not a certain hill near a village was tall enough to be deemed a mountain. After taking all the proper measurments it was determined that, in fact, the hill was twenty feet shy of being a mountain. The townspeople were furious about it and in a comical turn of events they prevented the surveyor from leaving until they had piled up enough earth to make the hill a mountain. It's a really funny show, I highly recommend it if you are the type of person who can handle watching Hugh Grant for two hours! Anyway, the point of the movie was how the Englishman's perspective of the mountain and the town changed after seeing their passion and determination. He went up the hill as one man, and came down a mountain as someone else.

I climbed a mountain of my own this week (by Hughe's terms I suppose it would also have been considered only a hill) that has certainly changed how I see myself and community around me. The locals here call it Trash Mountain, a deserted dump site in the ironically named slum area Happy Land in Metro Manila. I went up with two other women and a driver, hauling jugs of water, bags of peanuts and boxes of apples and bananas up a wet, muddy mountain of trash. One of the women I was with remarked on how incredible Mother Earth is. The mountain was essentially an enormous compost pile. As I worked my way to the top I used old tires, smashed shoes and all sorts of plastic containers mixed in with the mulch to find my footing. It was as if the earth were fighting hard to take all that garbage and make the best out of it. The smell was as you might imagine it would be, and all around us were stray dogs, chickens and roosters in upside-down cages. Little children who had caught wind of our arrival approached us, some naked, to see what we were bringing and shouted, "Good Morning!" to us in English. An older woman with only a few teeth left in her mouth saw my struggle with the water jug I was carrying and took it from me, hoisting it onto her shoulder with ease as we made our way to community center (a small, crudely built hut no larger than my master bathroom).
The entire experience lasted no more than an hour. It wasn't some big thing. It was simply a few caring women bringing fruits, vitamins and water to children and mothers who wouldn't be able to afford them on there own, but it was humbling beyond belief. I was able to walk around a bit after the food had been devoured. Every house was practically a lean-to built from materials about as thick as a notebook and housing five to ten children a piece. On the top of the hill a garden was planted. The mulch made for very fertile soil, though I'm not sure how sanitary it would be.

I share this story for two reasons. First, because it changed me. I see these people and I feel an immense amount of humility for my blessing and my obligation to help, even if it is just a little. I feel an over-whelming sense that even though life does not seem fair when you compare my situation with theirs, they are still just as important in the eyes of God as I am.

I love the movie Ever After -- ask my husband, I watch it a lot -- and there is one line in that show that has come back to me this week. "With great privilege comes great responsibility." I forget sometimes when life seems hard that I am privileged. Counting blessings isn't just a nice thing to do, it is so important because it reminds us of all the things that are going right in our lives. I AM so privileged. Humbly, gratefully, sincerely, I have been very blessed in my life and because of those blessings, I want to give back.

That brings me to the second reason I am sharing this post, to share with you a link to the organization called Thrive that is working hard to establish this program here in Manila as it already has in other poverty-stricken countries in Asia. You can find easy information to donate money that will go directly into the mouths of young people who can not help themselves. I am also sharing the information for another organization near me in Alabong that has a similar program. In addition, they have an education program for older children. You can donate and sponsor a deserving child for an entire year of school for around one-hundred-and-twenty U.S. dollars.  It's amazing how far our money can go in this country to help people in need. Here are the links:

I don't have any pictures to share today. I didn't feel right whipping my camera out in the situation, although maybe after I've been a few times I'll grab some pictures with my phone to share.

One thing I know for sure is that I will be climbing the mountain again.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Quandary: What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?

Has anyone else ever grown up and still not known what they want to be? I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who feel the same way.  I have been a mom and wife for the last fifteen years. No, I wasn't pressured into it, and no, I don't regret one bit setting aside other ambitions to raise a family. Being a mom is the best decision I have ever made. I feel blessed to have been able to raise my children and be a close, nurturing part of their lives. I would do it again in a heartbeat. But, being a mom is not the type of job that remains the same forever. I have discovered that (like so many other things in life) the roles of motherhood are constantly changing.

When my kids were very young the demands on my time were constant. Little mouths needed to be fed and little bottoms changed. There was a continuous demand for snuggles, cuddles, kisses and hugs. Books were read, baths were given, naps were desperately enforced so that I could steal and hour or two away from the chaos to tidy a room or (heaven forbid) take a shower. It was physically taxing in a way I had never experienced.

But then, guess what? All of that nurturing I faithfully provided over the years worked its magic and before I knew what was happening my children grew. To paraphrase Robert Munsch's Love You Forever, they grew and they grew and they grew. They grew until I now find myself with a teenager, a pre-teen and two others who are following close behind. Everyone is in school all day and my role as a mother, while still very important, has changed. I'm not needed constantly in the same way as before.

The change has been both exciting and confusing because while I've been able to branch out and try new things, I've found it very hard to settle on what it is I actually want to do. I have always looked forward to the day when I could help provide financially to our family. Now that it's here, I have no idea what to do with it. That's not exactly true, I do have about half-a-dozen interests I would love to try. Narrowing it down to only one or two is the tricky part. Add to the quandary my family's unique international life-style and that decision becomes even more complicated.

I am breaking the rules of writing with this little "schpeel" because I have no pre-determined point to make. I have only a list of options rolling around in my brain, and a need to sort them all and make some decisions. I know the right situation is out there for me and I feel like this whole puzzle will be solved through trying, failing, and then re-working and trying again. I'm sure I'll figure things out.

All of this being said, my position as a Mom, though changed, is still my priority. I want to find something that will allow me to do continue to be the mom my kids need in the hours when they are here. I know now how fast time goes by and I want to take advantage of the few remaining years I have left with them at home. As always, they are my number one.

That's all for today. Just felt like getting that out of my mind and into words. I hope all of you out there are finding the things in life that make you happy!

Saturday, August 06, 2016

One Year Left in Manila

      Well, our vacation is over and school has commenced, so we are back in Manila for one more year. It's weird when you get to a half-way point of your tour and you are torn between being really excited for the adventure coming up next, and feeling sad over everything you know you will miss about your current country. I'll be honest, last year was a difficult one for me, and it wasn't hard because of where I live. The adjustment to living in the Philippines was actually incredibly easy. We are located in a very convenient place, with almost any "American" products we could wish for at our finger-tips. The school here is amazing, and our apartment is fantastic. I think what made everything so hard for me personally, is the fact that I am now in a different place as a mom.  My kids are gone for most of the day, and I am not needed every moment like I used to be. My role in their lives --while still very important -- has taken a step back. I feel more like a cheerleader or a guidance counselor than a mom. They are all big enough now that it wouldn't be good for them anymore to have me hover and do everything for them. They need to learn to do things on their own.
         So, as I figure out my new role, I have had some ups and downs this past year. I know for certain, that I want to work in some way that will give us an extra, steady paycheck. I have many options (photography, writing, speech, ESL), and am trying hard to find the best fit for me and my family. It has been a struggle. I don't know why its been so difficult, but I just haven't been able to settle. I feel confident that I will find my path, and I am determined that I will not let this new year (our final time in Manila) go to waste. I want to leave feeling connected to the country and people here. I am determined to have a great year!
      Anyway, enough of that. We had an amazing vacation back home in Utah. I laugh, because when we were deciding as a family where we wanted to go for the summer, we talked about places like Europe, or Hawaii, or Australia, and in the end all of the kids really wanted to go home to Utah. They wanted to be with family and play with their cousins. It made me smile to know that they value their family so much. We weren't at all disappointed either. We had so much "cousin time"! Here's a little break-down of what we did:
           - Side-trip for Logan and me to Kansas (Thanks again for the car Brooklyn!!)
           - Road-trip back to our family in Utah
           - Spent a week getting over our jet-lag
           - Drove around Cache Valley
           - Fishing ... a lot
           - Time with Grandparents
           - Learned to make Native American knives out of obsidian using the traditional method
           - Hikes and drives to the bird refuge
           - Moab
           - A baptism for our two favorite little twin boys
           - Tomahawk throwing
           - Lots of cousin time
           - Swimming, bowling, roasting marshmallows
           - A Fourth of July race and small-town parade
           - Lots and lots of fireworks with family and great friends
           - Lots of family photoshoots
           - Pokemon Go
           - Temple Square
           - Outdoor running
           - A little bit of yard work
           - Family reunions
           - Lots of popsicles!
           - Aggie Ice-cream

Needless to say, it was an amazing trip. Dan came back a few weeks before the rest of us, and I think by the end of it all, we were happy, but ready to come home. Our flight back through Seattle and Japan was very easy. Everything went as planned. Its nice to have older kids who can work their own little screens and not panic on the flight when it stretches into ten or twelve hours! The kids were a wreck when we got home, and I think all of us slept for twenty hours straight. We had a few weeks to recover before school started again. Everyone seems to love their new teachers. Logan is a student ambassador this year, so he is helping with events around school, and assisting new students so that they feel welcome and comfortable. It's the perfect job for him!
Dan and I are busy doing a lot of leg-work to prepare for bidding season that is coming up this fall. It's a pretty big deal because it will determine where we live next. No pressure! This is a crazy life, but I am learning to appreciate it more and more. I'm so grateful to have the world perspective I now have, and I hope I am making the most of this opportunity! I'll say good-bye for now and leave you with my favorite pics from our vacation. I'll post again soon!

 Logan with me on the plane


Gotta love America and the HUGE drinks you can find there! :)

 Fun night with tomahawks and obsidian knives!

Visiting Grandmere

A Day in Moab ... 105 degrees, but so beautiful!

 (whistle insert here!)

Visiting Grandpa Great!

A Baptism

Family Reunion!

My cute parents!


Fourth of July BBQ at WaJu's

 Fourth of July run!

Speedy Gonzales here ran the mile in 7min, 11 seconds!

Yay Owen!

Worn out after the race.

The boys favorite little guy, baby S.

Fun games with the Toones


 Owen loved his cousin Tyson's pet hedgehog!

Truck ride with Grandpa!

Aggie ice-cream with Abuela and Abuelo!

 Football with cousins

 Sleep Over

Temple Square

Pretty shots of my lovely Perry, Utah

And finally, back to school! (Except Owen. He was sick for his first day!)