Love poem to New York

New York…

Your name invoked images, awe, presumptions
of ghetto, gangster, glamour, glitz.
Yet many will be surprised to know
I found in you much goodness and grace
just as ingrained
as the grit and grime.

I arrived in your muggy embrace on a stifling night in May,
and as I gradually acquainted myself with your form,
you grieved me.
Now, two years later,
I am grieved once more.
But the grief is different this time, my unexpected love.

“New York grows on you like a fungus”
says Anna.
I do believe she’s right.
Can a fungus grow in the heart?
Your roots burrow deep in mine.

You have taught me much about life —
I walk past faces hard as flint
inside them live eyes that have long forgotten how forgiveness feels
I walk over petrified gum ground into the pavement
I walk around the smelly legless homeless man
(do I ignore him this time, or do I smile?)
It’s physical and spiritual, this grit and grime,
But it makes grace more glorious.

Beauty lives in you too, City of Contrasts,
Your skyline’s famous fingerprint
Your proud bridges
Your art — you collect and inspire —
Your playground sprinklers tickling children
Your sprawling parks
Your wide harbor with the proud green Lady
Your beaches
Your Christmas lights
Your people.

African, American, Asian,
Hasid, Hipster, Hispanic (too many more to count)
Is there a place, religion or philosophy not represented here?
We all live side by side
on top of each other.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the peace
as I sit in the evening cool
on my Brooklyn stoop steps.

I am Lot’s wife,
One last look at this Sodom
that has been my home.
But you are not completely Sodom
because in you I have found many
who are righteous
who call on Him who washes us clean
like the summer rains your streets.

I know some of them
and I love them fiercely.
They are your roots burrowing in my heart.
They are what made you my home.

Gingerbread House fun

Our much loved pastor’s wife, Julie, invited a few moms over to her house last Friday to make gingerbread houses. What a total blast! We made the houses out of graham crackers instead of baked sheets of gingerbread, which was much easier and less time consuming.

The kids thought they were in candy heaven because for once their mothers didn’t tell them to stop on the candy. You could almost see their desperate thoughts in their eyes while their little cheeks buldged, “Quick, get another piece before mom notices!” What fun.

Excuse all the photos, I had as much fun taking photos as I did making the gingerbread house with Marica!

Shondell and Chelsea’s candy-laden house.

Little Nehe (short for Nehemiah) was still a bit too little to make a house, but he and his mama Yoli came anyway to hang out, and we’re glad they did! Doesn’t he have a beautiful mama?

Elijah was eating the candy on his house faster than his mom, Damaris, could put it on!

Elijah is very cute, and his little sister Sophia is adorable!

Esther watched for a bit, had her fill of candy and then happily went off and played. She’d come into the kitchen every now and then, scavenge some more candy and look at all the houses like this:

Marica adding some candy. Can’t have too much!

Marica with the house we made.

From behind.

Some cool detail.

All this candy eating business is tiring work! Esther went and got herself a couch cushion and plonked herself nicely down in the doorway. The best beds are usually made right next to the rubbish, right?

Julie having some nice cuddles with Sophia.

Thanks, Julie, for organising this super fun afternoon! You make the world a better, sweeter place.

A Christmas craft afternoon

On an unseasonably warm Saturday late in November, a few women from our church gathered at our friend Jen’s house to make some Christmas crafts. It was bliss… lots of good chatting and food while being enjoyably creative and productive. I thought I’d share some photos of the fun!

Here are Jen and Julie trying out different things.

One of Julie’s creations in the making:

And the lovely, sweet Shannon (Julie’s daughter).

A Christmas card that Shannon made:

Glitter was definitely involved in this whole affair. Oh yes.

Oh, and paint. It was a gloriously messy endeavour.

Jen had bought these really cool plain glass balls and had some neat things available for us to use to decorate them either on the inside or the outside.

Here are some of mine. I was going for the Glitzy Rustic look. Never heard of it? I invented it just that weekend, so it still hasn’t taken the world by storm.

(Sorry, Damaris, it seems I neglected to take photos of you and Elijah… the above shot is all I have! Shocking, I know. But… I have some pics of you I’ll post later in the week, just you wait!)

Getting excited about Christmas

I love the month of December here in New York — I think it’s even my favourite time of the year, even better than beautiful spring-time April. It’s cold, but everyone seems to be in good spirits (as opposed to grumpy January!), there are beautiful decorations everywhere (I’ll have to get you some photographic evidence!), buskers sing “Feliz Navidad” on the subway, you get things like peppermint hot chocolates and hot apple cider, and random people on the street say “Merry Christmas”.

But maybe I feel especially fond of New York City in December because I love Christmas! I love everything about it: the music, the wonderful smells, the baking, the decorations, the festivities, the gifts…, and all these ‘little’ things undergirded with a robust and joyful deep thankfulness that God gave the most extravagant Christmas gift ever to set us free from our bondage to sin. If that is not reason to get excited and celebrate, then nothing is.

So we embrace the little traditions; we celebrate Advent, we decorate, we bake, we give gifts, we sing and make music.

I thought I’d share some little ways in which I’ve made our home more Christmassy — have I mentioned that we love Christmas around here?

We listen to Christmas music. And sometimes we even dance to them. Everything from traditional carols to Frank Sinatra crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” (Marica is certainly dreaming of one. She can’t wait for the snow!). I’ve also been asked to be part of a Christmas Choir, and we’ll be giving a concert next weekend. I signed up because I thought, oh that will be easy — I’ve done Christmas music all my life! Uh… it turns out my Christmas music exposure has been pretty small. We’re singing all sorts of German and Latin and even American songs I’d never heard before. It turns out they’re actually quite difficult and I have to <gasp> practice at home! I think it’s going to be totally worth it though, the music is really beautiful.

I make the house smell nice. Sometimes that’s from baking, but I’ve also developed a love with scented candles (NEVER thought I’d say that!). At the moment I’ve got a Creme Brulee one that I wish I could eat. When that one’s gone I’m going to get a peppermint one!

I’ve also decorated an orange with cloves (such a fun and easy and cheap craft! Though I recommend using a thimble if you are going to make one) and it smells really good. I might throw it into some gluhwein at the end of the season.

We bake! This year is pretty busy, but I’m definitely still baking! Grandma Tschetter’s peppernut dough is already ripening in the fridge. Also on the menu are gingerbread men, Christmas biscotti (with pistachios and dried strawberries), Jo Seagar’s Port and Prune truffles, apricot truffles and ‘Christmas snow’ which is like rice crispy candy with extra bits and pieces thrown in to make it look Christmassy.

We read Christmas-themed books. I got a whole bunch of nice ones from the library, and we also own Duck & Goose — It’s Time for Christmas, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Room for a Little One, Hettie’s Christmas Gift, an Advent Storybook, The Nutcracker (in Afrikaans), A Christmas Carol (not really for the kids) and the kids are getting The Carpenter’s Gift and How the Grinch Stole Christmas for Advent gifts. I buy a couple every year and slowly the collection grows.

The kids have a special plate and cup. They got these for Advent gifts last year, and they want to eat out of them all the time. We make meal-times an extra bit fun with Christmas cookie cutter sandwiches, and we’ve even had Christmas shaped poached eggs!

(Mum gets the crusts.)

We decorate. We’ve made some decorations, and bought some. I’ve been amazed at how dirt cheap some decorations are here, and they’re nice, not tacky! A little bit of inspiration goes a long way.

Add a little something to your usual shelf, and suddenly it looks like Christmas!

Some pine cones I picked up some months back in a red bowl.

We don’t have a Christmas tree, so I decorate in other ways. Hey, guess what my friend Jennifer turned up with last night?! The kids can’t stop staring at it, turning out the lights of the room so just the Christmas tree lights are giving light. They’re over the moon, thanks, Jen!

We made these cool Christmas decorations recently at Jen’s house. I’ll show you some pictures of that soon!

A pretty metal star I picked up from Target for $2.50.

Marica painted this angel (with a little bit of help) at the same craft afternoon I made the ball decoration I showed you earlier. The kiwi on the left was a gift from my friend Miriam, and the apple decoration I bought as a souvenir to take home.

Even the chairs get a bit of sprucing up.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make Christmas a bit more special, and all these little things add up to make the whole month more festive. I’d also like to think we’re making some happy memories.

Advent is here!

I started the blog post draft a few weeks back, and now the season of Advent is about halfway through. Last year we decided to start celebrating Advent in a more deliberate way, building the excitement until Christmas, and enjoying the anticipation.

The kids have a book that has a story for each day of Advent, and they enjoy a chocolate from their advent calendars every evening after dinner (thanks for those, Tannie Estelle!). It’s amazing how such a small chocolate can enthuse kids to eat all their dinner!

On each Sunday of Advent, we light another advent candle for our dinner on Sunday, and each child gets one small gift.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the girls got matching snowman shirts that I bought on clearance last year after Christmas. Yeah, I’m weird like that.

We enjoy celebrating advent with guests. This lovely couple are friends from church, Sam and Emily Perez, who got married earlier this year.

These things might seem over the top to some, but we enjoy celebrating the birth of our Saviour for a whole month, and in some small way mirroring the Greatest Gift ever given to mankind to our children. We’re not extravagant about it, even though God is, was, and continues to be in the way he blesses us.

Some nature shots from the Adirondacks

During our time in the Adirondacks it rained most of the time, except for our first afternoon there. There were some breaks in the rain, though, and I took my chances to go outside and take some ‘nature shots’. I can’t even begin to say how much I love taking photos, especially of this kind of thing. I have much to learn yet, but the journey is fun!

Enjoy. :-)

Accidental coolness

When I was driving through Philly with Margaret, I was just happily snapping pictures of stuff out of the car while we were driving. I happened to take this picture of a city centre sculpture and when I went through the photos afterwards I saw how perfectly (total fluke) the moon was aligned with this thing. It almost looks like some ethereal trumpet birthing a little half moon bubble.