Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Meanderings

Being a grandmother is the best! I'm loving all the photos of precious little Simon, and can hardly wait to hold him.

91 days and counting.

Tina's taking weekly photos to document his growth.
I'm grateful for technology that allows me to see photos as soon as she posts them, and then turn around and share them with other friends and family. It makes it a little easier being so far away.

A little.

But to be honest, this is THE HARDEST PART of being a missionary. I knew it would be tough, but I didn't realize how tough.

Christmastime in Argentina is quite different from what we were used to in the U.S. But we enjoyed the sweet fellowship of friends who invited us to join them for the holiday. Here the big meal is on Christmas Eve. Instead of turkey or ham with all the trimmings, we feasted on suckling pig and massive amounts of beef grilled outdoors. We ate outside too, starting at 11:30 p.m. with a variety of salads before moving on to the meat and then finishing with fruit salad and a cousin to fruit cake called pan dulce. At midnight the fireworks began.

Christmas Day we had leftovers for lunch with our friends, and went swimming to cool off. It hit 104 degrees that afternoon, so we really appreciated the pool. Not sure I'll ever get used to Christmas being in summer.

After three straight nights of thunderstorms, we realized the newly plastered wall in the garage had wet spots. So instead of prepping and painting like we'd planned, we're going to wait until we can get the exterior part of that wall completely finished. Poco a poco.

The heat makes me crave salad. Cold, refreshing salad. So yesterday I spent an hour looking up new recipes to try. I hope they taste as good as they sound -- and look in the pretty pictures. Do you have any especially good salad recipes you'd like to share?

I've quit believing the weather forecast. We have consistently blown right past the projected highest temperature. Like today. It was supposed to reach 91. It's 99 right now. This has happened for weeks now. Is it that hard to get it right once in a while?

I would like to send some of our heat to you, in exchange for some of your cold. Okay?

How are you bringing in the new year? New Year's here is like the 4th of July in the states, with massive amounts of fireworks. Only they don't start until midnight.

This year we're going to celebrate with friends from church and their extended families. Guess what I plan to take for my contribution to the food table? Salads!

And yes, I'm sure it will be like Christmas Eve with dinner starting late. Just because it's not how we do things in the U.S. doesn't make it wrong. Just different.

Have you made any New Year resolutions? Nah, me neither.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Traditions: The Ornaments

Yesterday I shared how I'm vacillating over whether to have a tree next year or not. If I do decide to to have one, it will be the ornaments that tip the scale.

Unpacking the ornaments one-by-one gives me warm fuzzies, for each and every one is special because of who gave it, or where we bought it. No theme or color-coordinated trees for us; we like our mix of homemade and store-bought ornaments that in no way relate to one another; not in design, color, or size. And that suits us just fine. Because, just like the tree, it's not about the ornaments. It's about the people we remember as we hang each ornament on the tree.

Back in the mid-to-late 80s we lived in Florida and the church we attended hosted a homemade ornament exchange every year. By the time we moved to Michigan I must have had 75 or more ornaments from those exchanges alone. Sadly many of those have broken or fallen apart, or just flat out disintegrated. But a few dozen remain, including these pieces that were to be part of a full nativity set (but since I moved away I wasn't around to finish out the set):
One shepherd and two of the wise men. Made by Betty Tappan, a dear friend and fellow quilter who passed away earlier this year.

Back in the mid 90s my SIL Sharon and I shared a craft booth at a holiday sale, and she gave me the most adorable salt dough ornament of a reindeer all tangled up in Christmas lights. That did not survive being in a damp storage unit, which makes me really sad. But she has since given me this darling little hand-painted bell:
(Don't look too close or you'll see where I dropped and broke it this year. Ivan was able to glue most of it back together but we couldn't find a few of the slivers.)

This isn't exactly homemade, but it's not store bought either:
It was part of a set of portraits we bought the year after Jon was born. I'm hoping that next year maybe Tina can get something similar of Simon for us? [hint, hint ;) ]

We like to pick up special ornaments when we travel, as well, and this year two of those ornaments made it on the tree: a ceramic cross we picked up in Ireland and this little cactus we bought in Arizona two years ago:

We started a tradition when the kids were little, of buying them each an ornament every year for their own collection. We tried to find ones that represented something important in their life that year. Like the patriotic Santa that Tina received the year she turned 18 and could finally vote, or the puppy that we gave Jon after he and Nat got Leo. And sometimes I'd find one I just had to get for Ivan, too, that reflect his interests:
His handyman status is undisputed, so of course we have a couple that represent that skill set. It was his passion for missions that prompted me to pick up the little world globe. It was a little (cough, cough) more colorful than something I'd normally pick out, but he likes it anyway.

I could keep going (but don't worry, I won't) because we have dozens of ornaments and each one tells a story.

What about your ornaments? Do they tell a story? Have you inherited any? (I'd love to have some from my mom!) Do you make ornaments yourself?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Traditions: The Tree

I've been thinking a lot about how we celebrate Christmas. I grew up celebrating one way, had to adjust to a new way after getting married, and again when we moved overseas. Some things are the same, but others are different.

One of the constants throughout my life has been the Christmas tree. I've always loved decorating it, and the hours spent gazing at its loveliness at night with all the lights twinkling.

But this year I didn't enjoy the tree as much.

Is it because I had so little time, I wondered? (Just five days.) Or is there more to it. So that's what set me on this sentimental journey down memory lane. That and this blog post.

My birthday falls in the first week of December, and I always begged my mom to let us put up the tree that day. Decorating the tree was my favorite birthday activity while growing up. I don't think I had to beg very hard; pretty sure my mom was just as excited about putting up the tree as I was. In fact, I'm pretty sure my attitude toward Christmas came directly from her.

Even though she was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, working at a small diner as a waitress/short order cook/dishwasher, she always made sure to do Christmas BIG. She saved some of her tips throughout the year to make Christmas really special for me and my sister. We always received one big gift and numerous small ones, along with much needed new clothing. Mom wrapped each individual item so we had plenty of gifts under the tree. In addition to the tree we had other Christmas decorations we spread throughout the house, and when snow-in-a-can came out, mom was probably the first in line to buy some. It may not have been snowing outside, but the front window would have indicated otherwise.

Because mom was allergic to plants, we had an artificial tree. A glorious tall sparkly silver tree with a large floor light that had a rotating, multicolored plexiglass front causing the tree to turn different colors: red, blue, yellow, green. 

We had an artificial tree after we were married too, because Ivan couldn't see the sense in paying for a real tree that only lasted a short while. A really short while some years. He would have been happy if we put the tree up on Christmas Eve and took it down the morning after Christmas.

So we compromised and usually put the tree up in mid December and took it down right after Christmas.

One of the bargaining chips when he wanted to move from Florida to Michigan was my insistence that from henceforth we would have real, LIVE trees for Christmas. He agreed.

And for twenty years we had a real tree. Ahhh, nothing beats the scent of pine at Christmas! But as we prepared to move to Argentina, I began lobbying for an artificial tree we could take with us. I was pretty sure real trees wouldn't be quite as available as they are in the states this time of year. And I was right, so I was really glad we included a 6' fake Alaskan Spruce in the shipping container. I chose a skinny tree because I knew most houses here have smaller footprints and I wasn't sure how much space I'd have to work with. It was the perfect size for the rental house on Canning Street, but isn't quite skinny enough for the casita. Frankly, nothing short of a flat cardboard tree would be skinny enough for the casita.

So last year we had no tree at all. Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I determined to have a tree this year, one way or the other! I realized we could set it up in Sta. Rosa, and that's what we did. The only problem is that we're only there for a short time -- and that's a lot of work, setting it up and taking it back down, for only five days.
And like I said at the beginning of this post, I just didn't enjoy it as much.

In my musings about why this could be, I came up with what I think is the answer: It's not about the tree. It's about the people I'm with when I'm decorating the tree! As a child I had my mom and sister to help decorate. Then I had my kids. My first year in Argentina we had co-workers and the second year I invited some of my friends (and English students) to help me. The third year good friends had the tree decorated when we got back from Tina's wedding, and as I've already mentioned, we had no tree last year.

I'm still debating on what to do next year. I might just put away this tradition, at least until we have our house built and there's space -- and friends to help.

Or maybe I won't be able to help myself, and I'll dig all the decorations out next December anyway.

Vamos a ver.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Simon says...

I fully expect to become one of those obnoxious grandmothers, always pulling out the photos and bragging about what my grandson has done or said...

And I get a big kick out of the fact that since his name is Simon, I'll get to say "Simon says..." a lot!

We are over-the-moon excited about the birth of Simon Joseph Herschberger, who arrived Sunday, December 22, at 11:52 a.m., 18 inches long and weighing 8 lb. 11 oz. He's a butterball! And, of course, the most gorgeous baby ever born.

Don't believe me? Here's the first of what I'm sure will be many, MANY photos I'll be sharing:
That's Simon all tucked into the carseat on his way home from the hospital yesterday.

And here's a photo of the happy little family:

Congratulations Kyle and Tina! 

And thank you for the best Christmas present: our first grandchild!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Corruption Perceptions Index 2013

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, the U.S. comes in at #19 (out of 177) while Argentina is waaaaay down the list at #106. And Uganda, where we spent a year, is even further down the index at #140. It's fun to use the interactive world map and see where different countries fall in the ratings.

I think it's pretty accurate. Before we went to Uganda we paid for one-year VISAs, but upon our arrival they refused to accept them and we had to do the paperwork all over again. It took 9 months, untold trips into Kampala by "Uncle" Sam*, and a chunk of money. [*No, I'm not referring to the U.S. government; "Uncle" Sam was on staff at Kasana Children's Center and his full-time job was handling the mounds of paperwork required by the government. Everyone on staff was called "Uncle" or "Auntie". But I digress...]

One of Ivan's responsibilities while there was to serve as the titular head of the vocational school, where they taught auto mechanics and various building trades. An NGO in Europe (non-profit organization) had donated equipment for the school to use, and the container arrived some months before we did. It was not released from customs until well after we left; I think it was held up in customs for over two years altogether.

These things are common, as different officials use their positions to get bribes or other types of benefits. We've heard of instances where mail was intercepted, items removed and replaced with cheap junk. And the list goes on...

You know I've made no secret of the hassle we've had since moving to Argentina, with everything from getting our permanent residency status to trying to get money into the country to buy our property... No wonder my mantra has become "¡Es lo que hay!"

So whenever you're tempted to complain about something in the states, take a minute and reflect on how much worse it is in 90% of the rest of the world!