Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: The Things We Do

A new FB friend recently posted a picture from a book she is reading about a young African American student going through the process of integration into a white school. Integration has been on my mind lately as I listened to a podcast about integration and its positive impact on education for the African American community. I also read a lengthy piece in the New York Times about integration at an elementary school in Brooklyn. Something about my friend's photo and the ensuing conversation pricked my heart a bit.

My husband and I went house hunting for our first home in April 2013. We had saved money for eighteen months while living as expats in Riyadh. When looking for homes, we found many homes within our budget and size needs in a community that has a diverse population, a reputation for bad schools, and more crime than other areas. This community also has a reviving downtown with interesting restaurants, art galleries, and small local businesses. I will admit that the thought of living in that community made me uneasy. The first time I ever ventured there almost 10 years earlier, I didn't feel safe in the town and the thought of living there made me uneasy.

Just a few miles away, there was another town/village that was much more rural (more like my hometown in Wyoming) that was much less diverse, with much better schools. We found a home that we lived in this community and settled in.

In contrast, some friends of ours with a similar expat background and lifestyle, purchased a home in Cleveland in a struggling diverse area, with an up and coming art and music scene. They chose to send their daughters to struggling schools with the intention of being a positive influence to their community.

It feels easy to justify our decision to purchase a home in the less diverse neighborhood--using the excuse of schools. While that is initially true, perhaps I am being dishonest to myself about my own prejudices/fears. Whether I like it or not, I have unwittingly/wittingly contributed to segregation and poor education outcomes for African Americans. I exercised my white middle class privilege in choosing a better school for my children.

Coming to this realization is uncomfortable to me. I am not quite sure what to do about it. I think I need to do a better job of being more welcoming to the minorities in my school community. Certainly, in the future I can be more thoughtful about where we live and what responsibilities our family has to the greater community. I also need to educate myself about segregation and why segregated schools for African Americans do so badly.

What are your thoughts about this? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Travel Tuesday: On Immigrants

Yesterday, my friend, Colin Ray posted the following on his FB page:

shares a Batha, Riyadh moment.
I find myself waiting for the tire alignment on the Subaru. I got a whole set of bushings, and now need to have wheels aligned. (Did you see how I did that, just casually mentioning "bushings" as if I have always known what they are? See also "aligned".)
My favorite felafel place has been shuttered, apparently for failing a health-sanitation inspection. This seems to happen a lot to my favorite places.
So I had to walk a bit further, to the foul (no, not "fool"!) place. Another customer in line struck up a conversation with me, albeit with difficulty since my Arabic is even more non-existent than his English. He asked where I was from - "Ameriki."
I could not at first even understand the food choices. He helped me order. Then I went to pay, but the place did not have change for a SAR 50. (About $15.). My fellow customer - his name was Sultan; he is Saudi, from the south, near to Yemen - insisted on paying for my dinner.
People sometimes ask why I feel so strongly about immigration issues. Part of it is probably because I (and most of my friends and colleagues) buy into the free-market idea of the benefit of mobile labor.
But the primary reason, I am sure, is that I have been an immigrant almost all my life. And this positive interaction typifies what I experience. At birth in the UK, I was granted UK citizenship, although my parents were just American students/visitors at the time. From 6 to 18 in Nigeria, I was generally shown overwhelming hospitality. Cameroon. Netherlands. Japan. Saudi Arabia. The same. (Yes. There are sometimes bad experiences. Life is like that.)
So . . . that is basically why I bristle at suggestions of targeting or blaming immigrants. I want them to have what I have experienced.

I loved Colin's comment and thoughts about being an immigrant. It was so powerful that I wanted to share my own thoughts and experiences.

I am not nor have I ever been an immigrant. But I have been an outsider and an expat in three different countries.

I know what it is like to:

  • not understand a word of the language being spoken around you.
  • not understand the rules and bureaucracy of  the country in which I reside.
  • not understand the cultural norms and unwritten rules for conduct.
  • have someone speak super slowly to me like I am stupid.
  • be criticized for being a foreigner.
  • struggle and grapple with a language that is not my native tongue.
  • worry if I will be a target of harassment or violence because of my nationality.
  • feel isolated and alone because I am an outsider.
  • experience and learn about a new country and culture.
  • visit a country in the middle of turmoil and revolution.
  • eat new and different food.
  • make friends from my new country.
  • be the recipient of kindness when my ignorance of the custom and cultures was obvious.
  • be generously taught and instructed in new customs.
  • be the recipient of gracious hospitality as a foreigner.
  • talk religion with people from a very different religious tradition than mine.
  • make friends with people from different countries and religions.
  • discuss politics across borders.
  • have a baby in a foreign country.
  • go without a car in a foreign country.
  • learn how to use public transportation like a boss in a different country.
  • invited friends from different countries and cultures to my home and share a meal together.

Life as an immigrant isn't easy. It doesn't come with a free ride or doors opening automatically for you. It can be incredibly isolating and lonely. It means overwhelmingly difficult work. It means swallowing pride and doing humble jobs.

I have friends who were highly trained and skilled workers in their home countries who immigrated to the United States for better opportunities for their children. Now they work at daycare centers, cleaning house, moving, mowing lawns, scrubbing dishes at restaurants, etc.

I am really concerned with the rhetoric about immigrants that I hear from my fellow American citizens. The words from our president elect about immigrants are deeply distressing and alarming. With the exception of Native Americans, every single American citizen is a product of immigration. They came to the U.S. for the same reasons immigrants coming to the States today, for opportunities, safety, religious freedom, and for a dream of a better life.

Our immigration system does not function well. The laws are complicated and confusing. Immigrating legally requires money, access to lawyers, and extreme patience. I want to see immigration reform to make it easier for people to get work visas so they can work legally and pay taxes. Improved immigration laws would also likely reduce the human traffickers that prey on the vulnerable and feed into sex slavery, slavery on big farms, and abuse in other industries.

I think that immigrants in the United States need to follow our laws (even when they conflict with their religious or personal beliefs), learn English, and pay taxes.

I think we in the U.S. need to deport immigrants who have committed crimes in their home countries or on American soil, provide English courses for free, crack down on employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, crack down on organizations that traffic immigrants.

Most of all, I want Americans to stop being so darn nationalistic. Immigrants bring vibrancy, energy, and new ideas to our country. Extend hospitality and friendship to immigrants. I think doing so makes us a better, stronger nation.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mothering Monday: Self-Care

I am just starting to climb out of the hole of depression. In October, I started seeing a therapist. Through our sessions, I started to see that over the past year, I haven't been taking care of myself in the way that a woman needs so that she is fully functional in her life.

Apparently, when I don't take care of myself, I stop feeling pleasure in life. I stop enjoying food, cooking, creating, parenting, and living. It is an odd feeling really, when you can't experience simple pleasures like the delightful sweet tart bite of a blueberry in your mouth, or the soothing spray of a hot shower on your tense shoulders, or the shiver of delight from a loving touch, or your heart singing from listening to your favorite song. A world without being able to experience simple pleasures is such a bummer.

I have been slowing down lately, taking time to read silly novels without guilt. We have relied on processed food to make meal time easier. I took a week off from mom duty and visited two sisters and my parents. I bought some clothes, scrapbook supplies, and even some music. I have been going to bed early and resting as long as I can. I have delegated more and done less. Brent and I have gone out on more dates--just taking off and enjoying time together. I did a lot of soul-searching about my discontent and made some future goals that inspire and encourage me. I am also trying to consciously think and articulate gratitude.

I am starting to feel joy in things again. The fall leaves and the light this autumn have made me smile over and over again. My kids are cute and wonderful again. I am not all the way back to where I want to be, but I am not feeling dark and awful. I still don't enjoy cooking or food--which is super weird, I really don't understand why. Writing remains difficult as I am not flooded with ideas or thoughts. But I am not worried as I know this is just a dry season. It will work out.

I really want to thank all of my family, friends, and readers who took the time to reach out to me. You made me feel valuable and loved. You helped me get the courage to take the steps I needed to get better. You showed me that I am not alone--even when many of you live far away from me. I feel remarkably blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day America Lost

On November 9, 2016, I awoke to the news that Trump had won the presidency. Stunned and sickened, I have been in the throes of deep grieving, unable to comprehend how our country fell so far.

This has been the worst election cycle I have ever witnessed or experienced. The majority of the Republican candidates running in the primary were terrible. When Trump won against his opponents, I couldn't believe that people were really voting for such a gimp.

I disagreed profoundly with many of the campaign promises of Hillary Clinton. I think she is deeply entrenched in the trenches of very corrupt political practices. I couldn't vote for her either, so I opted to vote third party. I knew New York would go to Hillary Clinton, so I felt safe in voting third party.
If worse came to worse, I determined that I could live with a Clinton presidency because, while I think she is corrupt, I didn't anticipate things changing much for the worse.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think Trump could actually succeed. Surely the people of America would see what a dangerously unhinged man he is. Surely the people of America could see his unbridled temper and outrageous outbursts as liabilities in working with other nations or handling nuclear codes. Surely people could see that the way he shut down opponents and fought with the media did not bode well for the cherished right of free speech. Surely people would hear alarm bells regarding his rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. Surely men and women would be horrified as he admitted to sexual assault.

I expected and hoped too much. I believed in the decency of Americans. I understand deeply all the problems with a Clinton presidency. But there were alternatives; there were other candidates to select. I hoped and prayed that people would make a principled choice and choose from the third party options.

But the people of America chose a man who has all the hallmarks of enacting a regime like unto Hitler's. All these people I believed and hoped were good and decent people chose a man who openly advocated for racism, sexism, sexual abuse and assault, religious persecution, and everything that is the antithesis of what is good and right about America.\

Meanwhile the pleas from all these "good people" to unite and be kind make me want to throw up. I don't want to unite with them. I don't want to be aligned with anything they voted for. I don't stand with them. I can't respect them. They have shattered all my beliefs and cherished hopes for this nation. Everything that liberals and democrats said about Republicans is true. I learned yesterday that I am not safe with any of those people. I cannot pray for them. I cannot pray for that man who will take the highest office of the United States. I don't know if I can forgive or accept what has happened to our country.

May God preserve us. I don't think He will protect us from what we justly deserve. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Autumn in New York

When I was a girl, I used to read Anne of Green Gables and dream of living in a forest. Living in the high desert mountains of Wyoming, trees were scarce and twisted. The constant fierce wind made every tree remarkably strong, if somewhat deformed. Autumn is a funny time in Wyoming with the weather wildly vacillating between blizzards, warm weather, and proper fall temperatures. 

Experiencing Autumn in New York is, well, an EXPERIENCE. Unless you have witnessed the changing of the leaves, the astounding colors, and the way the light interacts with the colors, you truly cannot imagine what it is like to live in New York during the fall.

Don't believe me? Here are a few pictures I have taken over the past week.

So, when are you coming to visit me?


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Called

Today in my scripture study, I came across a very interesting exchange in Luke 1:26-38. 

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed artthou among women.
 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throneof his father David:
 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Gabriel's first statement:
  • Thou art highly favored of the Lord.
  • The Lord is with thee.
  • Thou art blessed among women.
Mary's first response to the angel:
  • I think it is best described as gawking and totally unsure how to respond. To be fair, it seems seeing an angel is actually pretty shocking, given other experiences recorded in scripture. So she waits instead of reacting.
Gabriel's second statement:
  • Do not be afraid.
  • You have found favor with the Lord.
  • You will conceive and bare a son named Jesus.
  • He shall be great.
  • He will be the son of the Highest.
  • He shall be King and have the throne of King David.
  • He shall rule over the House of Jacob forever.
  • His kingdom shall never end.
Mary's second response to the angel is very telling:
  • I don't understand how this will happen. I am a virgin. 
I don't think her response is doubtful or skeptical. It sounds like she is trying to understand.

Gabriel's third and final statement:
  • You will conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost and the power of God.
  • Your child will be the Son of God.
  • Your cousin Elisabeth is six months pregnant. You know she is old and has been barren her whole life.
  • With God, nothing is impossible.
Mary's final statement:
  • Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
  • Be it unto me as thou has said.
She accepts with faith the will of the Lord and proclaims her willingness to be a vessel for the Lord's work.

The angel used the example of her cousin's unexpected and unannounced pregnancy to show Mary that all things are possible. Elisabeth is also there to give comfort and strength to Mary as she embarks on this very difficult responsibility that few will understand or even accept. 

To me, Mary emulates a Christ-like pattern in her responses to this interaction with Gabriel.

1) She listens to the messenger of the Lord.
2) She asks clarifying questions to understand.
3) She proclaims her willingness to accept and then acts.

What are your thoughts about this interaction in Luke? What lessons do you take from it? 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Ordinary

The other day a friend of mine made the following comment on a photo I posted on Instagram. She said,
The tagline on your blog is a bit humble. "Ordinary" women do not raise large families with exceptional children. Ordinary women do not move around the world and pick up foreign languages and teach them to their children. Ordinary women are not as virtuous and humble as you seem to be. But of course you would shy away from a more accurate world, which is "extraordinary". You are an extraordinary woman leading an extraordinary life. So glad to have crossed your path.

My friend's kind and admiring words gave me pause. In so many ways, I do not feel anything but ordinary. I am doing very much of the same things that my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers did before me. They married, birthed many babies, and raised those babies- in whatever easy or hard circumstances they encountered. They kneaded bread, practiced the age-old alchemy of making a delicious meal out of nothing, and pinched pennies to buy shoes or clothes for their children. They expressed their creativity and intelligence in different ways-through sewing, working as a secretary and clerk for a lawyer and then for the county court, writing, or singing. Many of these women moved across the country leaving behind family and friends. Some crossed oceans taking an enormous risk in the hopes of a better future. All of them faced loss-some lost babies, others lost siblings and friends, parents, grandparents, and spouses.

My great-grandmother Gertrude Anderson Fenex, her son Floyd Fenex, and my great-grandfather John Franklin Fenex. Gertrude was a devout Catholic, educated at a Catholic school,  and was a school teacher. She was a great letter writer. She was the calm presence to my great-grandfathers fiery temper. Gertrude and John would lose a baby (Glen) during his first year of life and their eldest son would be killed as  a civilian POW in his early 20s on Wake Island in the Pacific Islands during World War II.

So when I look at my life, compared to the long line of women who preceded me in life, it is hard to consider myself as anything but ordinary. I cook, clean, wash laundry, make beds, run errands, pick up children from school, force children to do homework, and do what needs to be done to raise a family. I have friends all over the world doing the same thing with their families.

I will not demean myself though by proclaiming any of it is easy work. It isn't. It is the hardest work I have ever done. I often feel exhausted and grumpy trying to manage it all. I work very hard to parent deliberately, to instill order out of chaos,and to provide a warm and loving environment for my children to thrive.

Being a mother isn't the sum total of my existence though. I am a writer with some skill, but still have a long path to tread before I achieve anything approaching mastery. I am curious about the world with its mysteries and conundrums. I possess the capacity to adapt and thrive in unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. I am adventurous. I am a good friend. I strive to better myself.

Whether or not I feel comfortable calling myself extraordinary, I do feel like I live in an extraordinary time with extraordinary opportunities available to me. I only hope I can live up to the promise and adventure of those opportunities.