Friday, February 27, 2009

Run Away! Run Away!

Last weekend, Jason, the kids and I were invited to a neighbor's house for afternoon tea. (That's one thing I love about living here, by the way. It's not like high tea with porcelain cups, or anything. This is real life, after all! But I just like the whole idea of sitting down, having tea or coffee and snacks. Making time for conversation. Seems a little more civilized than popping a top on a Diet Coke, I guess.) Diet Coke--don't be offended. You know what we have together could never be taken away!

I've been getting to know this neighbor over the last several weeks because her daughters go to Ava's new school, and her younger daughter has just started kindergarten as well. They are a really nice family, easy to talk to, down to earth--and this was the first time we had all hung out together. We spent a couple of hours there, chatting about kids, travel, school, living in Australia vs. the US. It was nice.

When we got home, Jason expressed a sentiment that we often feel here, given the line of work that we're in. He said, laughing a little, "I didn't want to ask what [neighbor's husband] does for a living, cause then he'd ask what we do and we'd have to do that whole thing."

What is "that whole thing"? Well, we've found that many times, people are put off by the fact that we are pastors. If not put off, then they just simply don't know what to say in response. Which makes those getting-to-know-you chats a bit awkward. Almost no one has ever been negative to us about it, but we've had plenty of people say something like, "Oh, how[pointing]look over there!!" (Sound of retreating footsteps) You know that scene in Monty Python's The Holy Grail where they're like, "Run away! Run away!" It's a bit like that.

(I guess in this analogy, we would be the flying cow? Am I taking this too far?)

Okay, not that bad. I'm kidding about the running away part. But I'm telling you, with some people that I've been making a connection with, the information that we work with a church seems to be a real buzzkill for them.

And I can understand why. People have a whole range of mental associations and experiences about church, God, and people who are employed by either of the two. Some good associations, some neutral, some really bad. And to be honest, I get that. I have some of those associations, too! It's not my life goal to "fix" all of that. All I can do is live out an authentic relationship with God and try to be a blessing to the people whose lives intersect my own. (Incidentally, one of my favorite scriptures says that this is what God asks of us: to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him.)

But here's where Jason's hesitation that day with our neighbor comes from. We don't want to make people feel uncomfortable, nor do we want to be moved in their mind from the "Normal, Nice People" file to the "Religious People to Hold at Arms' Length" file. Because, lemme tell you, we are normal. I mean, NORMAL. Excessively normal. Well, if you've read any of this blog, you've figured that out! Recently, after telling someone I was a pastor, we were chatting and she said something sucked. Then she kind of whispered to herself, "Ooo--I shouldn't say that." And I'm thinking, Honey, if you only knew me better!

And here's the thing. Once we get over that initial getting-to-know-you-hump, people know that about us. We have lots of great friends here who don't, I hope, see us in a different or negative light because we're pastors. At some point, no matter what label you apply to yourself or others, you get to know each other well enough to just become people. Friends. Y'know?

Now, I can just sense it. I can feel it through the inter-tubes. Some of my Christian friends may be reading this and gasping, "What?? Are you ashamed of what you do? Are you ashamed to believe in God??" Now y'all, don't get your panties in a wad. We are not embarrassed to be pastors, nor are we ashamed to believe in and love God. It's a core part of who we are and our lives have been expanded beyond our own imaginings as a result. Woohoo, go ministry! Three cheers for God!

That said, those kind of awkward conversations are a regular part of our lives here. When I started this blog, my sister Becky said she wanted some of it to be about how ministry intersects with my life as a mother and a girl living in these here parts. So, there's a slice for ya, Beck.

So here's what I wanna know from y'all. Jason and I joke sometimes about creative answers we can give to that "So what do you do?" question. "I'm a life coach." "We run weekly discussion groups about, uh, issues and stuff." "We drive an ice cream truck." (Okay, I made that one up. But it would be awesome.) Gimme some creative and funny things we can say as alternatives to "We're pastors" or "We work with a church."

But it's okay if you don't want to. I don't wanna make anyone feel awkward.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sensible is the New Black

Hey all! Well, Jason and I have stayed up too late watching online episodes of The Daily Show and Colbert Report. I tell ya, nothing will bring a married couple together like those two shows. So I gotta go to bed before I turn into a pumpkin. Actually, I am looking more and more like a pumpkin everyday, but that's another story.

What I wanted to tell you was that Ava came home from kindergarten yesterday as the proud bearer of a Merit Certificate from her teacher. That's all it said--Merit Certificate. She was just pleased as could be with herself. I, of course, made much of her achievement and then asked, "What did you get the certificate for?" "For being sensible," she answered.

I don't even think she knows what sensible means, but it is apparently worthy of the Merit Certificate that now adorns our fridge. I think "sensible" is the new kindergarten buzzword, as I heard her teacher use it the other day with the class.

Works for me! I mean, I'm not sure that my behavior over the last couple days would qualify for a certification in sensibility. I do silly things like glower at bad drivers and leave anonymous notes. I had two big bowls of cookies n cream ice cream on Saturday. (Can't use pregnancy as an excuse for that, cause I totally woulda done it anyway!) I accidentally: (1) scraped our car pulling out of our own garage, (2)forgot to tell Jason about it, and (3)when he assumed someone had hit us and asked me about it in front of some friends I totally acted like I hadn't seen it before! I did 'fess up later, but that was definitely not sensible.

Well, at least someone in the family is. Even if it only means that she "doesn't run on hard surfaces" and "pushes her chair in". Those are things for a 5 year old to be proud of. Now, I must try to be sensible and go to sleep before I go downstairs and finish off that ice cream.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Nearly Opened Up a Can

So tell me what you woulda done. The other day, Nate and I were coming out of the grocery store--me pushing the shopping trolley, Nate walking next to me, holding onto the side. As we started to step into the crosswalk into the parking lot, a jeep whizzed by me. I stopped short. I rolled my eyes in annoyance, but whatever. I've not seen people before entering a crosswalk, so it could be an accident, right? Well.

So we cross the crosswalk and we're walking down one of the lanes towards our car, and this same jeep has stopped while someone was backing out of their space. The jeep driver throws his car into reverse and starts to back up. Towards me. I put my hand up. He doesn't go too far and I move us out of the way anyway, but still. STILL. I know he saw me.

SO THEN, THEN. I am crossing one final little lane (like a "T"intersection) where our car is. I stop, look both ways and start to cross. And guess what. Jeep Dude turns right in front of me, fast, totally cutting me off.

I have never wanted to call anyone an a-hole more in my life. IN MY LIFE. I know--that's not exactly scandalous, but I am not a traffic or parking lot screamer. Maybe it's the preggo hormones, I dunno, but I was just livid at that point. Anyway, we get to the car and I put Nate in and start loading our stuff in the car. Jeep Dude and his buddy ended up parking just across from me. As they walked past, I stopped what I was doing and totally gave them the stinkeye.
I mean, I had an awesome Death Stare going on. But they were all, We are not looking at you, we are walking right by like we don't know that we almost killed you 3 times just now. So that made me even more mad!

As I told our church tonight (I was relating this story as a lead-in to my message--I have no idea why)when you give a good Death Stare, like when you are really selling that Death Stare--it's gotta be noticed or you just feel even worse. I couldn't bring myself to shout anything at this guy. Sniff. I felt it would be beneath me. Or I am a wimp. What do you think?

BUT, I got in the car, found a scrap of paper, and much to Nate's bewilderment, scribbled Reprobate Jeep Dude a note. (I come from a family of note-writers, you see. My dad's notes to various bad teachers over the years could reduce a grown man to tears and even loss of bladder control.)

"Hello. Due to the fact that you nearly hit me 3 times on my short walk to my car, I thought you needed to be made aware of two things:
1. Those transparent panels on your car? They're called WINDOWS. You might want to look out them from time to time.
2. Those reflective panes of glass attached to your doors? They're MIRRORS. You ought to use those, too.
Have a nice day."

But I didn't really want him to have a nice day, you see. I was using SARCASM. Get it? Like I was saying one thing, but TOTALLY meaning something else. I am clever like that. So anyhoo, I wrote the note, then darted across and stuck it on his windshield.

HA! That'll teach him. Way to stick it to all those terrible drivers out there! I'm sure he changed his ways after reading my note.

I wanna know...what would you do? Do you just let people have it, right there in the moment? Do you only yell when you know they can't hear you anyway? Do you laugh it off? Do you write a note? Or do you drive off and do lots of deep breathing to calm down?

On a serious note, those kind of experiences remind me how much energy we can waste on being totally ticked off. I mean, in the days since, I'm SURE I've thought more about that experience than Jeep Dude has. Laughing about it, but also hashing and re-hashing. Why do we do that? I personally think that's one of the reasons why forgiveness is such a big deal to God. He knows how much energy and space a grudge occupies in our brains. Space that could be used for much more productive, good stuff.

Sigh. Now that's nice. We've all learned a Very Important Lesson, haven't we? time, I'll just key the guy's car. That's better than a note, probably. Lesson learned.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gettin' My Preach On

(I find that a photo really warms up a blog posting. Don't you? Here I am, probably saying something that I'll slap myself in the forehead for later.)

(Don't tell Jason that I'm blogging right now.) I'm meant to be preparing my sermon for church tomorrow. Well, I am doing that, but I'm also blogging about preparing my sermon for church tomorrow. Anybody got a problem with that? Okay then.

It's pouring rain outside, I'm listening to Jack Johnson (I find he is really good for sermon prep), got all my notes with me, and the laptop humming warmly on my lap. Conditions are perfect. Time to get all spiritual and stuff.

I'm kidding about getting all spiritual. Everything is spiritual--you know that, right? Actually that's sorta what I'm talking about tomorrow. Everything matters to God and He wants to infuse every area of our lives. Tomorrow, I'll be talking about the power of covenant. That basically, the relationship that God offers us ought to radically re-landscape our lives. It ought to cause a seismic shift in the way we see ourselves, the way we speak to our spouse, the way we deal with a long line at the grocery store, the way we choose to react when someone cuts us off in traffic.

The knowledge of my relationship with God is what kept me yesterday from yelling an ugly name across the grocery store parking lot at some dude who nearly ran Nate and I over. (I did leave a note on his windshield, though, which I'll tell you all about tomorrow!)

Just like it should in a marriage, covenant with God brings security--knowledge that nothing, nothing, nothing we can say or do will remove God's love from our lives. But what did Spiderman say? With great power comes great responsibility. So this knowledge helps me to live differently, treat people better, and see myself in a new light.

But this is also what I'll say tomorrow: we need reminding of the power of God's agreement with us. Otherwise, we forget and live and think the same old way. That's why God tells us to remember: to tell our children, to talk about it and remind ourselves and each other all the time. The everyday-ness of life can make it all too easy to ignore or forget.

Shhh! Jason is coming--back to work for me! Well, there's your blog sermon for today. Blog-mon? Ser-blog? Whatever. Have a great day!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Immediate Cuteness Transfusion...STAT

I weren't even gonna post today, y'all. But I felt it would be wrong to keep these photos from the world. I mean, this level of cuteness could go a long way in solving our current credit crisis, or perhaps be the final link in discovering efficient, cost-effective alternative fuels. So really, it's selfish to hold them back.

Nate was very serious about being Buzz. It was all kinds of awesome to see him come down the stairs in this getup.

Here he is with Jake, who owns the costume and got him all dressed up.

Okay, well, that's my good deed for the day. It's after 10pm here in Sydney, so I'm off to bed. But after posting these, I fully expect to wake up in the morning and see that the Dow has shot up, all those melting glaciers have re-frozen, and that spontaneous song-and-dance routines have broken out all across Europe.

Good night!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Dunno...It Could be a Small Melon

Today I went to work out at Curves (the workout for girls who don't like to workout) and I got surreptitiously stared at. It's been happening more and more over the last month. I pretend not to notice, but I can tell that people are trying to work out whether I'm pregnant or not, and whether it's SAFE to ask, "When are you due?" Sometimes I just wanna ease their pain, look right and them, and say, "Yes! I am."

Now, I'm not so full of myself to think that most people really even care! I ain't Angelina Jolie over here. But you can just tell when people are trying to work it out--the kind of people that like to chat to strangers, or people that I don't really know, but see regularly.

I mean, I am pretty obviously preggo right now. About 6 months-ish, so most people are coming out of their shells and asking, but it's kinda fun to watch them deliberate. They stare at my abdomen, I pretend to think about something else, they ask, we engage in polite banter. I don't mind--I like meeting and talking to people.

BUT there are times that I wish I had it in me to be like, "Excuse me? What are you talking about? I'm not pregnant!" And then storm off in a tearful huff. I mean, isn't that your worst nightmare when you approach a woman-who-might-be-pregnant? It would be kind of fun to mess with people. But I'm like my mom--I can't stand for people to be embarrassed. I even turn off radio call-in shows when people call and sound stupid and I CANNOT watch those candid camera type shows. So I just can't make myself pretend to be outraged--as devilishly fun as it might be.

I'm wondering if you've ever accidentally congratulated a non-pregnant woman. Or been on the other side of that big slice of awkward. My friend Miriam was once asked when her baby was due, while her husband was standing right next to her, holding their tiny newborn. HELLO? Let's look for external clues, people!

As for me, I have a personal policy of NEVER ASSUME. Unless I see someone in the act of getting an epidural, I will not ask--I will wait until it is brought up. You just never, never know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Lizard Whisperer, or Now I Know Jesus Loves Me

Your sympathies, suggestions, snide remarks, and scary lizard stories during my recent episode with the bluetongued lizard have been much appreciated. I spent the day today with the knowledge that a growing, hiding lizard might or might not be in the pantry, under the pile of laundry I was picking up, or as my friend Jody suggested, in the dishwasher. A great day, indeed.

This evening, I was in the kitchen chopping veggies (like the virtuous wife I am) when Jason walked through and gave me a Meaningful Glance. No, not that kind of Meaningful Glance. He knows better than to give those kind of glances at 5pm when dinner needs to be made, baths given, and the kids are like wild savages. Jason has a whole range of meaningful glances. Well, actually, just one kind. But this one was different. He reached down, opened a cabinet and got a colander and a plastic pitcher out. Walking back to the living room, he said, "Ava, I've got a surprise for you that I think Mom will like, too."

"SHUT UP.", I gasped. "Shut up. You did not just find that lizard." He smiled at me, and headed for the living room. I dropped my veggies and followed. And there, I kid you not, he pointed to this:

(Sorry--for some reason, can't get this photo to turn clockwise. Go on, turn your head.)

There he was, hiding under the little table that holds our DVD player and other TV stuff. A great light from heaven seemed to shine down upon my husband's head. "How did you KNOW?" I said. "It just occurred to me that he might be here," Jase said. "It's one of the warmest places in the house. So I looked, and there he was."

I was in awe. It was like the time he jimmied the stuck back window of our old truck open with a coat hanger and some duct tape. BUT BETTER. "Jesus told you where that lizard was," I whispered. (I really did. And if you know me at all, you know that I really believe it, too.)

So, he coaxed/forced the lizard out and into the pitcher.

(There's Ava giving me almost as much attitude as the lizard.)

Boy, was that little guy ticked off. It actually hissed at us!

(Here he is hissing at me--just take my word for it.)

But I was all goodwill toward the lizard now that he was caught. We fed him some grapes and set him free in the bushland across the street. (I've learned that you actually have to have a permit to keep a bluetongued lizard as a pet, so really, it's better this way.)

How does the old saying go? If you're totally freaked by something, set it free. If it comes back to you, go all medieval on it. If it doesn't, relax, and enter your pantry without fear. Something like that. Anyway, I told Jason that, Meaningful Glance or not, great will be his reward. Oh dear diary! Did I just say that outloud?

Check out this Lizard--and read the Epilogue

Did you awaken this morning with a desire to see an Australian lizard? I mean, doesn't everyone? Well, that's why I started this blog. To serve the needs of the people. That's what I'm all about, you see. Giving help and hope. Got my finger on the pulse of what you need. And all that. Anyway.

The other day, my friend Amy and her little boy Niall came for a visit. Niall brought with him a baby bluetongued lizard he'd caught in his grandparents' garden. Bluetongues are relatively common here in Sydney, and they are harmless to humans--in fact, many people like to have them in their yards, as they eat lots of bugs. YUM!

The boys loved it! I was amazed at how comfortable Nate and his other little buddy Gabe were with holding the lizard.

And here's Niall, with the longsuffering creature:

Here's a closeup. And yes, that's my hand holding him. I did that for you. Because I care. (See paragraph 1, re: giving help, hope, etc.)They can grow to be a couple feet long.

Did you hang on for the Epilogue?
Well. Amy and Niall have come to stay with us for a couple weeks while she looks for a new apartment. Last night at dinner, Amy informed us that, unbeknownst to her at the time, Niall brought the lizard into the house and lo and behold, the lizard seems to have gotten loose. Isn't that wonderful? I was so very excited to hear that. Yup.

Jason was very cavalier about it all, saying that it's no big deal and he's probably gotten back outside anyway. He's harmless and just a baby, we need to get used to these things cause we have a little boy, too. Amy was agreeing with him. I was looking and them both and was all--Yeah. We're gonna need to look for this lizard now. I said it lovingly, of course, as usual.

So I made Jason take a flashlight and look around the house last night, but no luck!! That's the best part. We might have a baby bluetongued lizard in the house but we're not sure!! So it's like a fun surprise that's waiting for me!!!!! I'm going to add some more exclamation points now so I'll be excited!!!!!!!

I don't do well with wildlife in the house. Perhaps I'm not as assimilated to the culture as I thought. Have a great day, everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Valentine's, Y'all

We had our VDay yesterday, but I wanted to post some online Valentine cards I made for our family. Sadly, they are the only Valentines anyone got from me! And worse, this post is a total copycat of my sister, Becky. But since I've spent my life wanting to be her...I mean, really--BE HER, it's only appropriate my blog should reflect that. Sigh...

Sorry. I was talking about Valentines. There's this great website on which you can upload photos and they make posters from them. Here's the ones I made...

Nate loves this photo. He spent about 15 minutes on my lap yesterday, talking to "Red Nate" on the computer. He was "Gold Nate". It was a fairly one-sided conversation, but he didn't seem to mind.

Remember the Shepherd Fairey poster of Obama? Now you can has one!
And here's two more, cause we're cute.

Yes, I made my own Valentine and called myself presh. It's good to love yourself, you know. And my sweet hubby gave me a real one, telling me all the ways in which I am gorgeous and wonderful. (Sha! Like I didn't already know!) So it was a good day.

Hope yours is, too! You are loved!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chocolate Coated Cool Stuff, Part Two

Welcome back. For those of you who are just joining us, I've been sharing a few of my favorite things about living in Sydney. Here's a few more.

4. Parents Rooms
This will only matter to those of you with small kids, but it's one of the first things I noticed when we moved here. Every shopping centre is equipped with at least one Parents Room.
It's a place you can go to change and feed your baby, take your toddler to the bathroom without having to balance them on a ginormous toilet in the big people bathroom, warm up baby food, or just sit in a comfy chair for a minute. Most parents' rooms have DVDs playing with little play areas for toddlers. Like I said, if you didn't have kids, you probably would never notice or care. But it's one of those little things that is incredibly helpful to have. It just shows an awareness of the needs of young families that alot of public places in the US don't have. Children are made a priority here in a very visible way, and that matters.

5. Lamingtons
These little delectable treats are too good to pass up! In fact, though I love them, I don't buy them very often cause I would devour them all! (Same with the aforementioned Tim Tams.) Lamingtons are little sponge type cakes, covered in thin chocolate icing, sprinkled in coconut, with cream in the middle.

You know how Homer Simpson always says, "Dooonuts"? Picture me saying, "Laaaamingtons". They are dee. lish. If you wanna try to make some, this girl tells you how.

6. Easier Access to Government Services
Now this is a subject on which I am a novice, as we only got access to these services in May when we became residents. Australia has socialized health care (Medicare) as well as a variety of other services. Every large shopping center here has a Medicare office in it--kind of like a retail outlet, where you can go with your medical bills, turn them in and pretty much get an instant rebate on what you've spent. To our limited knowledge thus far, it's really well organized. I mean, you hear horror stories just like you would about insurance in the States, but the government offers assistance and usually complete payment for an amazing variety of health procedures. What I like though, is that phone calls are not my sole point of help. I can walk into the mall, go into Medicare and talk to a real live human. I think it's a really good way to operate. And for where we come from , a novel approach. I mean, can you imagine a Social Security office next to Old Navy in the mall? But why not? It makes sense to have services more accessible to people that need them. I'm not smart enough to debate socialized medicine, but it's been nice for us so far!

7. Hello--it's SYDNEY, people.
When we used to live in Dallas (no offense, Dallas peeps, we heart y'all!) we used to say that there was really nothing to do but shop, eat out, and go to the movies. And visit the Texas School Book Depository and grassy knoll, but that's a bit of a downer, y'know? Sydney is so filled with beauty, diverse scenery, and stuff to do that we haven't done a third of it. I mean there's this of course:

But there's also this:

And don't forget this:

And if the kids are restless, you can drive about 5 minutes from our house and do this:

Was that overkill? Sorry. This is just a beautiful place, I gotta tell ya. And though we don't go to the beach, pet kangaroos, or eat lamingtons everyday, it's nice to know we can. There's heaps more I can tell you about--but I'll save those for the future. (Next time, I'll tell you about the "baby bonus"--a little incentive the government offers to combat Australia's declining birth rate.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chocolate Coated Cool Stuff, Part One

All my joking and kvetching* about Super Target aside, I really do love life here in Sydney. In a previous post, I told you about some things that I really miss from home, that aren't accessible here. Well, here's the other side of the coin. What follows are a few products, services and just cool things about life here that I never had in the States. Lest we Americans get a big head...

1. Tim Tams
Everyone loves these. I believe it's a requirement for residency or citizenship. When you visit Sydney, Tim Tams will be for sale in bulk at the duty free shop in the airport. What are they, you ask? Well I'll tell you. They are delectable, chocolate cookies, coated in creamy chocolate and with a soft chocolate center. Did I mention they're made entirely of chocolate? But it's MORE than that, ok? They are crunchy, yet soft. They are sweet but not sickening. They taste REALLY good dipped in coffee or tea. When you come visit, ask Jason to show you how to do a Tim Tam Slam--it involves a hot coffee and a Tim Tam, but is too complicated to share in this format. Here's the kids enjoying some Tim Tams last winter.

2. Local Shops
Just around the corner from our house are what we call "the shops". As in, "I'm going to the shops to get some fish for tonight. Or, "Let's go get some coffee and banana bread at the shops." Every community in Sydney has its own shopping village, and if you live in that area, it serves as one of the centers of life for that area. I love this for a few reasons. One, it's so darn convenient. I am at our shops probably once a day at least for a variety of things--groceries, last minute birthday presents, restaurants, DVD rentals--whatever. Second, it makes me feel part of a community. Every time I go up there, especially now that we've been here a few years, I see someone I know. Sometimes we stop and chat, sometimes not. Maybe this sounds silly, but it just feels nice to share life with these same people day in and out, whether I really know them or not. It feels so much more like a community to me than when I used to do my shopping at the Kroger in Dallas. And third, I find we can get better stuff and better service. You see every set of local shops has a grocery store, but also a separate butcher, fish market, newsagency, bakery, and fruit and vegetable market. Also, most have cafes, post offices, and specialty shops. It's just nice. My Aussie friends who read this will laugh at me, 'cause this is what they've always had and it doesn't seem special to them. But it is, I'm tellin' ya!

3. Council Collection
Ok. Now this is fun. A few times a year, everyone puts anything they have in their house that they don't want anymore on the curb, and at some point in the week, big trucks (sent by the town council, hence the name) come by and haul it all off. Here's the fun part. Before all those big trucks come, you get to cruise around and see if there's anything you might need to have in your home. Does that sound desperate? I DON'T CARE. It is so fun--you know there's something fascinating about what people throw away, and sometimes it's nice stuff. Or if not nice, then at least usable. Or if not usable, then at least worth considering. In past council collections, we've scavenged the following: a little desk for Nate's room, a comfy upholstered chair, a bike for Nate, a wooden cabinet with glass doors, numerous kids' toys and books, and lots of other fun stuff. My friend Claire even found a brand new mattress with the plastic still on. I KNOW! We have a collection coming up in a couple weeks (woohoo!), so I'll take some pics and post them for you. Cause I know you are so enthralled and can't wait to see them. Right? Hello? Is anyone still here?

Oh, but wait--I have more! However, I don't want you to grow despondent with too much envy all at once. So, tune in tomorrow for more Aussie stuff you wish you could have. Bye, now!

*Is that a word? What am I even talking about?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Water: One Billion Thirsty People

While watching an online episode of "The Daily Show" a couple weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for One Water--a new brand of bottled water. Big whoop, right? Except that this ad said that 100% of the profits go to support clean water projects in developing countries. That caught my attention--it's not often that you hear something like that.

After that, I saw their ads in our local shops, on TV, online. I checked out their website and was amazed to read that more than 1 billion people in the world are without access to clean water. Um, that would be 1 out of every 6 people in the world, right? Dang. That 2 million people die each year from water-related diseases. Easily preventable ones. And get this--that many of these people spend an average of 5 hours a day walking to a clean water source. Can you even imagine having to walk that far and that long for a drink of water? For your kids to have to?

It's not something we think about that often, is it? Anyway, I've been impressed reading about this new initiative. The profits go to fund the installation of Play Pumps--water pumps that are built like big merry-go-rounds for kids to play on. As they play--spinning around like kids love to do, clean water is pumped into storage containers. So far, One Water has funded a few hundred of these Pump sites in southern Africa.

I just love the simplicity of it--the power of a great idea. Something that really matters and brings help to people. One Water is only just now available in Oz, but sparsely, and is coming to the US in the next couple of months. (Click on the link at the top of the post for more info.) It's worth checking out, I think!

Now y'all know I'm all about doing my part, right? Changing the world and all that. I think we need to keep issues like these in front of us. It is all too easy to forget what we don't have to deal with, isn't it? So, just wanted to use my exalted platform and considerable influence to pass on a great idea. Ahem. You're welcome. Have a fantastic day!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Interesting Things I Heard This Weekend: A Veritable Smorgasbord for Your Enjoyment

This weekend I learned several new and varied things that have been knocking around in my brain. So before I get to my promised post of beloved Aussie products, I thought I'd share these things with you. To me, they're kind of a good sampling of things that go through my mind in an average few days' time--from the absurd to the silly to the quite important. A combination of motherhood, ministry and life in Oz.

1. We got a letter this week saying that the New South Wales Department of Education will reimburse us for expenditures we make on behalf of educating our kid. (NSW is the state we live in.) We can spend up to $750 and get reimbursed half that amount. Wow! We are still getting used to the way things operate here. Of course, Ava is in kindergarten and though I have receipts for some glue sticks I bought, we haven't made many "expenditures". Jason and I started wondering if the purchase of a surround sound system would enhance Ava's educational pursuit. Surely, Elmo's World coming from 5 speakers would increase her book learnin'. Right? Then we remembered that Jesus would probably not do something like that. So. Maybe I'll just buy more glue sticks.

2. Some good friends of ours are hosting a Swedish woman who has been doing missionary work in Greece. She's been working with women who are "employed" in brothels there. Apparently, most of these women are brought to Greece with promises of jobs or opportunities, then basically enslaved in these places. She told our friends that in Greece, brothels are legal as long as they only have one woman at a time working. Which is pretty much a recipe for enslavement, if you ask me. Which got me thinking about the whole subject of human trafficking. (Told you some of this stuff was pretty heavy.) Many people say that there are more human beings enslaved somewhere on the planet today than at any other time. Read that sentence again--can you even believe that? I guess there's no way to have completely accurate numbers on this, but it just makes me ill to think about it. The US estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 820,000 are trafficked each year, mostly women and minor children.

The Church is waking up to this crisis--human trafficking is the third biggest crime in the world, behind arms and drug sales, and the fastest growing. The poor are preyed upon, for exploitative labor of all kinds. I've been thinking about how small churches like ours can do our part, and how ordinary folks can speak out. I am far, far from an authority, but for one, we need to pay attention to the products we're buying and what kind of places they might be coming from. (If you read about my love for discount shopping, you know I'll be thinking about this!)I personally believe that the concerted efforts of the global Church can do much to bring solutions. Here's what World Vision Australia has to say about it, if you're interested. Incidentally, our new friend--the Swedish missionary, would go into the brothels, ask the madam for a few moments with the girl who was working and then talk and pray with her, presenting her with options for a way out. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but I thought that was a beautiful way to start.

3. On a lighter note, Jason and I had dinner in the city last night with some friends of Jason's parents who are in town. We ate in Darling Harbour. Wait--I have to show you a picture of Darling Harbour cause then you'll wanna come see me:
I KNOW. We totally live here. Anyway, so I wasn't sure what to expect about this dinner. We didn't really know these two couples. But we really enjoyed ourselves. I got all caught up in the story that Sue told about going on "The Price is Right" in the early 80s. That was my fave game show growing up--I watched it everyday. Then, when she told me that she WON the Showcase Showdown, I about died. It was like meeting someone famous! Well, not really, but I did get all the dirt on Bob Barker. Among other things, Sue won a full length fox fur coat and a week in Paris. How 80s fab is that? (I am not a fur fan, but isn't that sooo 80s game show?)

4. At the same dinner, we got into a discussion about baby names and the bizarre names that people sometimes choose. One of the ladies knows a couple whose last name is Leer. They named their daughter...wait for it... Crystal Chanda. So, yes, her full name is Crystal Chanda Leer. Go back and read that sentence another time. Are people insane? They have basically condemned their daughter to be an exotic dancer, cause I don't know what else you're gonna do with a name like that. What's the most interesting or weird name you've ever heard picked? Do share!!

5. Before starting to write this, I was reading news reports that the worst ever wildfires in Australian history are raging to the south of us, near Melbourne. Victoria (the state that Melbourne is in) and Adelaide have had absolutely scorching temperatures over the last two weeks, reaching as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. In the midst of my silly blogginess, scores of people have died while trying to flee the fires. Please pray with me for cooler weather and for these fires to die down.

6. And finally, the other night, I was driving the kids to run some errands. It was rush hour traffic, so we were all sick of being in the car. I was waiting my turn at a big roundabout (America needs more of those, but that's another post), saw an opening and went for it. As I whipped around the circle, Ava calls out, "Yeah, mom! Get your nuts out!" Um, excuse me? Yeah, that's totally what she said. I said, "Wow! Ava, where did you hear that?" All the while thinking, Great she's only been in kindergarten for a week and already she's bringing new words home. I knew we should've home schooled. She says, "I don't know, I just made it up right now. It means, go for it! Have fun!" Awesome. I think it's the next big catchphrase, don't you?

So have a great week, everyone! In all the varied, funny, interesting, and crucial things that cross your path... In the spirit Ava meant it in, Go on, get your nuts out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All I Need is a Miracle. All I Need is You.

Sometimes people ask me what things I miss from home. We've been here nearly four years now (wow) and although we have truly gotten used to living in Sydney and are quite happy here, there are a few bits and pieces that I sometimes long for. But first, can I offer a disclaimer to my Aussie friends? Guys, you know I love it here, so this is not a complaining post, 'k? And I promise, snookums, my next post will be on products I love using in Australia that can't be found in the States. So, without further ado, some ideas for future care packages:

1. Crest Vivid White Toothpaste.Americans, get in your car, drive to Target and get this toothpaste. Aussies, rend your garments and gnash your not-as-white-as-they-could-be teeth, cause we can't get it here. It's like that '80s song says, "You never know what you've got till it's gone." Oh Crest Vivid White, if I ever catch up with you, I'm gonna love you for the rest of my life. This stuff is really good. Jason and I love it and we make our moms send it to us. Isn't that snobby? But it really does whiten--you know you've been wanting to ask me how my teeth are so lovely. What? You haven't? Well pay better attention to my teeth, then! Geez.

2. Really Good BBQ Sauce.
I know, I know--Australians are famous for their barbecues, and we love 'em! The barbecue culture suits us really well. But there is a difference in the sauce here, compared to what we were used to in Texas. Our good friends Holly and Jeremy recently brought us a bottle of KC Masterpiece from the States that we are doling out like liquid gold. You know if we offer you some when you come for dinner that we must really like you.

3. Super Target.
Where do I begin? From the inexpensive,stylish homewares to the adorable kids' clothes to the limited edition designer lines... I don't have the emotional capacity to even finish that sentence. Target. Is. Awesome. Yes, there is Target here in Oz, but I tell you now, it is not the same. Going to Target for the first time here was like walking into your parents' house only to find they'd moved out and some strangers had moved in, pretending to be your parents. Sham parents. Fake, let's use the same logo, but be totally different parents. Perhaps I hyperbolize. But still. Super Target is my happy place.Nothing can hurt me there. I remember going there with Becky right after Ava was born. She'd sleep and we'd spend hours wandering around, eating popcorn and cokes from the cafe. Good times.

4. Tex-Mex.
Just last year, we found a restaurant about 20 minutes away that serves above average Mexican food. We were so happy! However, Mexicans in Australia are few and far between, and some of the best Tex Mex we have had here is what we make ourselves. (And our friend Holly's homemade salsa.) For those of you that know us and our culinary abilities, that's sayin' something.

5. Free Refills.
This was a biggie in the culture shock department for Jason. We have found two restaurants that allow free refills here: Subway and Hungry Jacks (Burger King in the States). Otherwise, forget about it! You will pay your $3.50 for one glass and you will like it. That is all. I will spare you Jason's diatribe against establishments that don't offer free refills. Just know that in his heavenly mansion, there will be flowing soda fountains in every room.

(This isn't Jason, but I love this free refill guy.)

6. Corn Meal.
Okay, that's random. But this is one of those things that you don't even know you can't get till you really need it. Living in another country, even Australia, this has happened to me many times. Like when you're hosting 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner the next day and you wanna make corn bread. "Hmmm, I don't know what corn meal is, but we have corn flour. Will that do?" No, Mr. Supermarket shelf stocker, it will not do. I need meal. Do you hear me? MEAL. Turns out though, that you can get polenta. Which will produce an approximation of cornbread, but it ain't like your mama makes.

7. Cool Whip.
I know, who really needs more Cool Whip in their life? You can get whipped cream in a can, but this tub of sweet,creamy goodness cannot be found on our shores. I remember when I was a kid, I used to sneak spoonfuls of it out of the fridge. Who am I kidding, I would still do that if I could!

So those are a few slices of life that we miss from the States! I don't have time to mention good bagels, cheap makeup,or Dr Pepper. But as you'll see in a day or so, there were some pleasant surprises awaiting us when we moved to Sydney. And really, most of the aforementioned would just make us chubby anyway! Except Super Target. I really think I would be a better, more virtuous and loving person if we had one here. Lord, are you reading this? Think it over, ok?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Do Not Be Alarmed. Stay Calm.

In what may be a recurring theme here at MDU, I give you the Saint Andrew's Cross spider. Photo taken in his natural habitat next to our swimming pool:

Now don't worry, y'all. Jase says he's harmless, so we let him live. Am I not merciful? I went out there the other morning to get these pics, but it wasn't too life threatening. Well, I did nearly fall in the pool in my jammies. This burgeoning baby belly throws off a girl's center of gravity!

I actually think he's kind of pretty, don't you? Oh, and before I could get to the spider above, I had to duck under this at the gate. Built overnight, as we'd been out there the afternoon before.

I promise, living in Australia isn't all spiders all the time, but they do become a part of the landscape! But if that's freaked you out too much, I'll end with a picture of my Nate, who is definitely not a spider, though he has been known to bite.

There now, that's better.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

But I Still Don't Do Ironing

One of the first things I remember noticing when we moved to Oz is that nearly everyone hangs their laundry out to dry on clotheslines. I'm embarrassed now to say that this was very strange to me. Where I grew up, and every other place I've lived, you used a dryer unless you just didn't have one. (But everyone I knew did.) Most Aussies own a dryer, but it is almost never used, unless weather prevents hanging clothes out.

I've had several discussions with friends here about this, and the general consensus is that hanging clothes out is just, well. better. The clothes feel better, they say, it's better for the environment, it's cheaper. "Say what?", I basically replied (but with much more cultural sensitivity). Something that requires more work is better? Why, this American girl is not accustomed to such reasonings of the brain! So we bought ourselves a dryer, yes we did, and commenced using it with pride.

Well, recently, we have begun using our clothesline more and more. It started out so innocently--hanging swimsuits and towels to dry after getting out of the pool. Doesn't it always start innocently? A little here, a little there, then they've got you. Wait--I'm talking about laundry. Okay. Then we progressed to towels and sheets; our dryer takes ages to do these. And now...well, now I find myself hanging stuff out on hot days. And...I like doing it.

Now, easy there, Trigger. I'm still using my dryer. It's my God-given right! However, the other day as I was hanging some things out on a particularly hot day, it was downright pleasant. The damp clothes were cool against my cheeks as I brushed past them, the breeze made them sway on the line. And right there I kid you not, I felt downright virtuous. A golden sense of my own goodness just shot right through my soul. Like, What a wife and mother I am! Taking care of my family and infusing their clothes with sunshine!

Then I realized I was being totally stupid. On our block, behind every other house and on the next street and the next, are clotheslines with clothes hung out on them. Who am I kidding? What--I'm VIRTUOUS for doing what freakin' everyone else does? Sha! I guess it's just that part of me want to be a bit of this:

I KNOW. But at least I admit it! Of course, being a little that may conflict with my desire to be a little this:

And a rockin', female, preaching hybrid of this and this:

Okay, now, that last bit is a little weird. But don't you ever grapple with wanting to be several aspects of different things? Ah, modern womanhood, I suppose.(But I know you dudes do it, too!)

Regardless, you can see why I need to keep my dryer, depending on the day. I doubt Aretha would hang out her lacy unmentionables!