September 20, 2016


Gene jokingly calls it a "coop," as in a chicken coop.

Tanya, because of her Russian accent, calls it a "co-up."

But most people know it as a co-op. A co-op can be defined as a cooperative society, business, or enterprise. The people who run it are involved in order to benefit from its services. A home school co-op is no exception. The old saying, "Two heads are better than one" would apply to a co-op. Two home school moms are better than one. Five or six are even better yet! There has been a lively co-op for home schoolers in our city for years but we haven't participated. Haven't had the time to participate. Until now.

Now the kids have backpacks. With pencils in them! And three-ring binders! They feel like real school children. They have writing class with Ms. Megan (IEW is the best) and anatomy (Apologia) on Thursday afternoons. On Fridays they are in a small art co-op in our home (Home Art Studio with Miss Volin).

This year we are painting and dissecting and making key-word outlines. This year Rupp Academy has all the help it needs:) This year we are a part of something bigger. And it feels great.

Biking to co-op.

Jello mold cell models

Our first art lesson: color wheels. 

September 12, 2016

Our favorite peanuts

We miss our friends in America when we're here, and when we're in America, we miss our friends back here. Our hearts have been spread over the earth like peanut butter on bread. All the way to the edges, crust to crust, and evenly. To pick a favorite peanut in the butter would be impossible.

But I will say this: when we're in America, we REALLY miss John and Alisa and their kids.

We had a best friend family when I was growing up. The Wilkes family. We went on vacations with them to places like the locks at Sioux St. Marie. In their hotel room we were allowed to jump from bed to bed (in our room we couldn't). We went camping with them, where Benny cooked us goulash and told us corny jokes around the campfire. Every New Year's Eve found us celebrating at the Wilkes house, a homey place hunkered down on a hilly street in Grand Rapids, where we practiced cartwheels in the basement until midnight and then threw homemade confetti as the ball dropped on TV.

I am so happy that G0D has given us our own "Wilkes family." Our husbands love each other, Alisa and I love each other, and all the kids love each other. John and I are good friends, Daniel and Alisa are good friends, and we actually like - not just love - each others' kids.

We love this bunch of redheads!

We went hiking together when we got back from America this summer. Such fun!

I am this boy's hairdresser. I get to cut those sweet potato curls every couple of months, and then watch them grow back.

Sometimes I get to cut her russet curls, too. She has been my lil' friend since before she was potty trained. Love this girl.

And then there's the token blond, with her twirling girliness and her free spirit. Her name is spelled like mine, only with an "L." Jubilee has a soft spot for little Layla, too.

On another note, check out the trailhead map from our hiking trip with them. Is this cool or what?

So glad to have people to walk this trail with us. 

September 09, 2016

Taking family life to a whole new level

The time has come.

I've waited for this for 12 years. So have my hiking boots, which have been sitting in storage all this time, their tongues slack, their laces itching to be bound.

There was a time when I was nicknamed Wiley, for my love of the wilderness. There was a time when I could carry a 60 lb pack with nary a wince. You know that game, Two Truths and a Lie? I often win it (thought I won't now, after this post). "I once went 6 weeks without a shower," I say, and everyone assumes I'm lying. But I'm not. Six weeks in the Australian outback with not even so much as a bar of soap, let alone deodorant or a razor. Our N.O.L.S. instructors even forbade us to bring underwear (so we wouldn't have to wash them out!).

Yes that was me.

And then I became a mother, and I quickly learned that small children like to be in their own beds at regular times each night. So I hung up my pack and got down on the rug with a stack of board books, and didn't get back up again until this year.

Because this year my youngest two are 7, and my firstborn is 11, and every one of us can hike on our own two feet. We can all sleep through the night anywhere, in any time zone, and no one is so young that reasoning goes out the window after 9 p.m.

And for our first real family wilderness adventure, we didn't go just anywhere. Oh no. We went straight to the Himalayas. The actual Himalayas. As in, I had to walk through the yaks in the morning to take a pee Himalayas. As in, wild white horses running through our camp in the moonlight Himalayas. As in, we slept through a drizzly mountain night at 13,000 ft. Himalayas.

As in, we brought along oxygen Himalayas.

It was a 6-hour drive to the town where we spent our first night, nestled into a room of bunk beds at a hostel on a hillside above the town.

The foothills, still several hours out from our destination.
Potty stop. This woman had a toilet at her house that we used. Zion and Brave are watching the Olympics through her door, while Gene is making himself at home. The woman looks distraught, but in actual fact she is snoozing.
We made it to the little town where we spent our first night.
Zhilam Hostel, a backpackers paradise.
Family of 6 gets a whole bunk room to ourselves! Look how the room is robed in Tibetan decor.
We all pounded the water, in an attempt to stave off altitude sickness.
Daniel loaded up on firewood for us to burn on the mountain.
We spent the day acclimating to the altitude, and just generally enjoying ourselves.
Four foreign kids, a carven yak, two Tibetan grandmothers, and a soldier on the phone.
Those folks on the left are turning, turning, turning that prayer wheel. A thing to see.
I wasn't the only one ready to hit the trail. This guy is in his happy place.
We have very few pictures of the night we slept on the mountain. We were too busy, I guess. It was real outdoorsmen stuff, I tell you. I mean, 13,000 feet is no joke. Vomiting in the night from altitude sickness. Headaches like you wouldn't believe. Mist cloaking us in a cold dampness that could not be escaped. But we made it. Together. As a family. And we can do it again. And we will do it again.

Except, perhaps, not during the wet season.

Our fire shelter. The five of them are huddled under that tarp, roasting hot dogs.
This was our view in the morning. That pool of water is the high-altitude lake beside which we camped. The place is other-worldly, really. Unlike anywhere I've been.

September 07, 2016

The Windy City

Our very last stop in the States this summer, before heading back to Asia, was a weekend in Chicago with my parents!

The kids had never seen Chicago (other than the airport, of course, with which they are all too well acquainted).  I couldn't let them grow up without seeing the timeless collection of 24 real human fetuses at the Museum of Science and Industry, which have been preserved for over 83 years now. Nobody walks through that exhibit and forgets about it.

Mindball. The headband senses stress. Whoever is more relaxed pushes the ball toward the opponent. Gene won! The only time he ever cleared his mind was when it meant a victory. Ha.

But Zion was the one who built the foam structure that withstood the wind tunnel (even when the teenager before him built a structure that toppled).

He was so proud!

Gene and Zion in a Lego building contest. The objective was to build something to help scientists explore other planets. Can you guess what the little girl on the far right built? "Two people getting married," she squeaked. Too cute.

Going to the MSI brought back so many memories for me. Living in southwest Michigan as a kid, Chicago was our city. Even though it belongs to Illinois, it sits on the same lake as my home town, and so I feel that I can lay some small amount of claim to its stately charm. I love the Windy City.

Definitely the most memorable part of our stay in Chicago was getting caught in a torrential downpour while walking to dinner. There was nothing to do once the sky opened up but keep on running! Boy were we a pack of wet dogs dragging ourselves into that fancy establishment. Shivering, we devoured our warm food and laughed at our soggy clothes and dripping hair. It was perhaps the best dining experience I've ever had.

September 03, 2016

September 4th

Tomorrow is the fourth of September, Liz's birthday. She knows I would be there if I could, if we weren't separated by mountain ranges, continents, and oceans.

I remember when we were separated only by a thin wall and a bedroom door. When we strolled through campus arm-in-arm. When, like small girls, we cuddled on the futon in our living room watching movies late into the night. She taught me how to frost a layer cake, and how to make jam. I introduced her to Ben Harper. We had all our lives before us then. No children, no laugh lines, no real worries to speak of.

Those were the days.

Or maybe these are the days. When we get together every couple of years, her in her bib necklace (because she stays up with the times) and me in my single strand of collarbone beads (because I'm stuck in 1999). Maybe these are the days, when every moment counts, when laughter comes easily, as if our lives depended on it, and crows feet proudly pop at the corners of our eyes. When our hearts have been tenderized by the mallet of motherhood. When we have both loved the husbands of our youth for over a decade. When we have gone back to school (twice), moved across the world, written novels, raised children we didn't birth, and watched friends fall by the wayside over the years to reveal those precious few who are here to stay.

Yes I believe these are the days.

And tomorrow is your day, Lou. Enjoy it.
Downtown Grand Rapids, summer 2016

I couldn't resist posting a pic of our daughters. Who could?