Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Interpretation of Children's Writing

For anyone a mite confused, here are the kids' notes with normal spellings.

I love you Mama
I want to show a amazing trick
Watch this:
(Alphabet backwards)
I love your smile.
I love your kisses.
I love your hugs.
The end.

I love you Mama.
I decided to be a artist when I am grown up.
I love you more than any other mama.
In fact, you are the only mama I had.
Love, Naomi

Dad
I hope you are going to feel better soon.
I love you Dad.
Naomi.

(from Josiah):
Daddy, I hope that you get better.
Josiah

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Exploring How to Write

Naomi and Josiah are taking off not only in their reading but in their writing. Only, their confusion over how to spell things reminds me how inconsistent the English language is in its rules. See if you can make out what they are saying...

Notes from Naomi

i luv u momo
i wot to shoo u mazingn chric
wach theis.
Zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcba.
i luv yor smile.
i luv yor kisis.
i luv yor hugs.
The end.
XOXOXOXOXO

i luv u momo
i dusidid to by u ords win I am groonup.
i luv u moor len eny ulr momo
en fakt u or the onee momo I had.
luv Naomi
XOXOXOXO

Dad
i hop u or gooing to feel deetr soon
i luv u Dad
Luv Naomi
XOXOXOXOXO


Note from Josiah

Dadee
i hop lat u get bedr.
Josiah.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Oxford Pics






The first two pictures are of signs and buildings we pass when we walk into City Centre; the one of Naomi is on a bridge in University Parks, and you can see the full water behind her; the one of Josiah shows a stuffed crocodile he got for his birthday.




Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our new neighborhood



These pics are of our house and our closest playground.



Ethan: I'm Almost Two


I am a few weeks away from turning 2 years old, but my only words so far are “Mama” and “Dada.” I don’t know why I should try speaking when everyone understands me anyway. I get by just fine with sign language, pointing, grunting and crying. But maybe I’ll try some words in a few weeks. We’ll see.

I really love my family. It’s fun having an older brother and sister (most of the time). They read to me, play animals with me, build Lego towers with me, and let me color with them. Josiah runs away from me when I chase him, making me laugh and laugh, and Naomi looks after me, making sure I don’t get hurt.

Josiah has a bunch of animals that he loves, some plastic and some stuffed. Sometimes I get scared of the fierce-looking ones, like the dinosaurs, crocodile and open-mouthed hippo. In fact, Josiah thought this was quite amusing and waved his new crocodile in my face on purpose, just to hear me scream. But I’m gradually overcoming those fears, and now I even fight his crocodile with my cow (and cow always wins!) I realized that it’s fun to roar and grunt and pretend the animals are fighting each other. On my own, though, I prefer to have them kissing each other. My dog, cat and cow are especially fond of each other.

I also like pretending things are cars or airplanes. Did you know that just about anything can zoom in a toddler’s hands? Not to be proud, but I have to admit that I can fly pretty much anything, from a spoon to a Lego tower. And I haven’t even had lessons! Wait ‘til they see me in the Air Force!

Another one of my fortes is reading books upside-down. I no longer restrict myself to cardboard toddler books (though they are my favourites), but pick up anything I find on the bookcase. Today I was reading a book about frogs and tadpoles upside-down. Yesterday I read an Agatha Christie upside-down. I don’t know why the average person’s mind isn’t capable of transposing images as quickly as mine! I guess I’m just smarter than adults.

My favourite library book right now is called “The Selfish Crocodile,” which is about a croc who kicks every animal out of “his” river, but then has a toothache and needs help. A little mouse runs into his mouth and removes the bad tooth for him. After they become friends, the croc relents and invites all to join him in the water once more. I like pointing to the various animals and making my signs and/or sounds for each of them. Monkey and crocodile are my favourites.

My family really loves me too. Sometimes they get annoyed with me because I make a mess or don’t follow their instructions. But I know they love me because they give me lots of hugs and kisses, and they tell me they love me. And they also love to laugh at me. I can make really funny facial expressions which send everyone into hysterics at the dinner table. I also have some cute words that are guaranteed to make the family smile. Their favourites are “uh-oh” and “Lila!” (the name of a St. Bernard who lived next to us in Virginia)

Well that's all for now. I just wanted to let you know how I'm growing these days!

Josiah: Advent Wreath Snow


Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, and we needed an advent wreath. Mom says we have one back home, but didn’t bring it with us. She thought it would be fun to make one. Mom found some packing foam, being discarded by the local pub, and invited Naomi and me to come looking for greenery with her.

We’d seen lots of holly and ivy while on our walks, but we couldn’t remember precisely where. Unfortunately Sunday was rainy and cold so we bundled up in jumpers, waterproofs, wellies and brellies (sweaters, rain-jackets, rain-boots, and umbrellas). I love walking in the rain. Mom lets me splash in puddles when I’m wearing my boots and it’s such fun! I also like holding my own umbrella. I spin it around and feel so grown-up.

We had only walked a couple minutes when we spotted some holly. I asked Mom if it was prickly, and she said, “No, its leaves just look pointy.” Ha! She reached out to cut some off and yelped! I guess she’d never actually touched holly before. Hearing her say “Ouch!” convinced me I didn’t want to have any part in this greenery-gathering. I stood off by myself, playing with my umbrella (which can also be a good sword!), while Mom and Naomi cut off bits of holly and pine. We headed home, the girls now with very cold fingers because they’d been handling wet plants, and collected some ivy and berries on the way.

Mom made some yummy wassail to warm us up and put on Christmas music. I love music! She’s been teaching us the words to “Joy to the World,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and “Silent Night.” I think the first line of “Joy to the World” should be “Joy to the Lord, the Lord has come,” but she’s trying to convince me otherwise.

Then she put the foam on a pan and started cutting it in a circle. Do you know what happens to white packing foam when you cut it? Yes! It breaks off into little, itsy-bitsy crumbs of white. I was inspired, as you might imagine. There are few things more fun to me than turning big things into miniscule pieces (using scissors or my hands!). So once the wreath shape was cut out, I abandoned the whole project, letting Naomi and Mom stick the leaves and candles onto it. I had a much grander idea: filling our dining room with “snow.”

I took a leftover piece of foam and began rubbing it with my fingers. Bits broke off and when I blew them, “snow” flew into the air. Mom saw what I was doing, but said it was fine since she’d already begun making a similar mess while cutting the foam. She also thought that we could just easily vacuum it all up after I’d gotten my fill of tearing things up. Oh boy! License to make a mess!!! Just what I’ve always wanted.

I worked hard at my snow, and when Naomi had finished with the wreath, she decided to join me. Then Ethan woke up from his nap, and he joined in too! Three of us making white crumbs all over the dining room! When the floor was covered and we were getting crumbs in the hallway, living room and stairs, too, Mom had had enough. She knew Daddy wouldn’t be happy if he saw the mess. She told us to vacuum it all up before dinner.

That was more easily said than done. For one thing, our vacuum cleaner is very hard to push, so Naomi and I both tired out quickly. For another thing, there is a fan blowing air out, which created little eddies of swirling foam wherever Mom tried to hoover. And finally, our vacuum cleaner has a canister that needs to be emptied manually (instead of bags) and it’s pretty darn small. I kind of forgot how much space all the bits of foam would take up once they were put in once place again. Mom was not too happy about emptying the canister over and over again (though Naomi thought it was fun!)

I had been sad when Mom said we needed to clean up the snow and I’d insisted that we would do this again someday. “Maybe snow on every holiday,” I’d said. “Easter, 4th of July…” But after spending 45 minutes cleaning it all up, I started to have second thoughts. And Mom was adamant: “Never again!!”

At least I did it once. Not every kid can say that.

Naomi: Looking for a Park


November '08
It was a sunny day and we were on a hunt to find a new playground. Mom had looked at a map which indicated there would be a playground at Angel and Greyhound Meadow, in the St. Clement’s area of Oxford. That wasn’t too far from home, so we set out on a Friday morning for an exploring adventure.

Even though it was a bit of a walk (25-30 min.) we each found a stick on the way and had fun pretending they were swords or walking sticks. When we got to the busier part of town, Mom had to keep reminding us not to play swords because so many people were walking by us. She also was a little worried we’d fall in front of a car or bus if we weren’t paying attention.

Mom guided us through an alley and a parking lot, over a little bridge, and we saw the meadow, just beyond a copse of trees. Yay! We love running and jumping in woods and grass. I was so excited!

I had not taken too many steps into the grass, however, when I realized this was very WET grass. And a few steps further indicated I was walking in MUD. Mom saw the mucky state of the ground and apologized to me, saying that this meadow must be a floodplain. (I know all about floodplains because we walk through one every time we take the footpath through University Parks into town. And I’ve seen light flooding there!)

My brothers, mom, and I own “wellies” (rain boots) but we hadn’t worn them on this adventure. We thought we’d just be playing in a playground. The rest of my family was wearing sneakers, but unfortunately for me, I was wearing socks and crocs. Yes, well, I can tell you now that mud squishes into crocs VERY quickly. My feet were immediately wet, cold, and dirty. Yuck!

Mom took pity on me during the worst bits and pushed me in the stroller (which Ethan had vacated for the obvious pleasure of squishing through mud!) We eventually made it to the other side and walked along the edge of the meadow, which was slightly less muddy than the middle. I thought our “adventure” was a failure until I saw the river.

Ah, flowing water. There are so many things one can do next to a river. Josiah and I used our sticks to stir muddy water by the banks, pretending we were making chocolate milk. Ethan tried to throw leaves into the water, but mostly the wind would blow them right back onto him! We threw pebbles in, comparing splashes and sounds. We even cheered Mommy on as she lugged a great big huge branch, and flopped it into the water. It didn’t move at first, but we nudged it with our sticks and then watched it slowly go downstream.

Mom told us about currents, wind and gravity. We learned that the water going down the middle of the river moves more quickly than the water on the banks of the river. We could see that clearly, since there were so many fallen leaves on the river’s surface. And remembering the bad effects of pollution, I was determined to get an empty beer can out of the water near the bank. Using two sticks, Mom and I managed to do it!

Now, remember how I said we were looking for a playground? Behind some trees, Mom spied a fence. And since playgrounds here are always fenced in, we happily ran through the trees, sure we’d found what we were looking for. Imagine our disappointment when we got close enough to realize that the playground had long ago been dismantled. All that remained was a fenced-in patch of grass and a lonely bench. Not a play-thing in sight.

Oh well. We had lots of fun by the water, and despite my wet feet, I knew the adventure had been worth it. In addition to the fun, I learned two important things: 1) it’s always wise to walk along the edge of a meadow, instead of through the center, and 2) I should always have my wellies with me!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Steve Starting New Blog

Given that a number of you have suggested it, and as I am eager to reclaim my blog, Steve is now starting his own! Go to http://www.stevengertz.blogspot.com/ Unfortunately, the name he gave his blog 'All Things Halal' has already been taken by another website, so you'll have some difficulty finding it via Google. Maybe he'll change it, but for now, add him to your list.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Define the Mandate! -- Reflections by Steve on the U.S. Election

I suspect that the day after the U.S. elected Barack Obama as president, the mood on Oxford University’s campus reflected that across many campuses across the U.S. Several of my classmates stayed up the night before to watch the results and celebrate Obama's win. The Middle Common Room of Pembroke College the morning after had lots of beer bottles strewn about. And I was asked many times if I wasn’t pleased with the results, given my American citizenship.

I didn’t vote for Obama, so no, I wasn’t particularly pleased. But that’s not why I’m writing—what I want to consider here is the ‘mandate’ that Obama now has from the people. When Lisa and I were leaving Virginia in mid-September, I recall that Obama and McCain were running neck-to-neck. The ‘Palin effect’ was the talk of the news, and for a time it seemed that Obama might actually have real competition.

So, what happened? In a word, the ‘economy’. Yes, it didn’t help that Sarah Palin came across as scripted and unable to respond creatively in interviews. But what seemed to tip the balance was the financial crisis, and a feeling that McCain would continue the policies of de-regulation that Bush had followed during his presidency.

It’s good that Obama is focusing on the economy—frankly, he must if he wants to stay in power. His comfortable margin in the polls depends upon it. But Obama is wrong if he thinks that his ‘mandate’ is much wider than that. Yes, Iraq and energy prices are on people’s minds. But actually there are fewer differences here between Democrats and Republicans than one might think. Bush has already begun withdrawing troops from Iraq, and no-one (except the unions perhaps) disagrees that America needs to re-tool its car industry to become more energy efficient. Even American oil companies have a vested interest in change, especially when the governments of nations like Russia and Venezuela nationalize American companies and steal American technology and infrastructure.

What Obama does not have is a mandate for change on social issues. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported that 70 percent of the black and Hispanic population in California (one of Obama's key constituent voter-blocks) backed a proposal to ban gay marriage. Now someone like Frank Rich at the New York Times might shrug that off as 'retro', but to me this suggests Obama shouldn't assume too much. Yes, it's true Democrats gained some seats in Congress, but it was hardly a wave, and some of the new faces are conservatives like Walt Minnick, a Republican-turned-Democrat in Idaho, and Glenn Nye in Virgina.

I wonder, though, whether Obama (or the New York Times) is paying attention. Obama's track record in the Senate shows that he’s kow-towed many times to the Left, and there’s no reason to think he won’t as president. He's already promised to repeal the ban on the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion (which the Supreme Court ruled illegal). He’ll encourage embryonic stem cell research (which is little more than killing children to use their cells) when adult stem cells are shown to be productive. And he’ll require that any Christian charities who wish to take advantage of federal money must not ‘discriminate’ in their hiring practices against people who aren’t Christians. As Christianity Today put it, they won’t be getting many takers with that kind of policy.

Many Christians now are saying we need to pray for the president, even if we don't agree with his policies and didn't vote for him. Let us pray for Obama, yes. But let us also seek to hold him accountable to do the things he was elected to do ... and no more.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Friend Facing Brain Tumor

I just found out that a friend of mine about my age has a brain tumor. It is already destroying her eyesight, and I have no idea what her life expectancy is. I didn’t want to ask that question when I’d only just found out.

Why does she have a tumor and not I? It’s the kind of thing you never think will happen, right? I’m healthy, my body works fine, life is going to be hunky dory. She’s married with a son; I’m married with three kids. It could just have easily been me.

And the irony is that I’ve felt suicidal many times. God, why do you spare my life?

Day Trip to the Museum

I do miss the mountains of rural Virginia, the scenic farms and gorgeous landscapes. But the kids and I are grateful for some aspects of living in a city. We knew there were free museums in town, but only just yesterday realized that the museum of natural history is relatively close to us! After the kids had walked an hour to the library with me, waited for me to do my internet stuff and find my “grown-up” book, then walked to the farmer’s market, then lugged the heavy groceries another 20 minutes, how nice it was to enjoy a museum of their favorite things: animals!

We saw huge dinosaur skeletons (including T. Rex) as well as skeletons of many other animals. We admired beautiful butterflies and a huge variety of birds (including one called an umbrella bird because it has a tuft of feathers that act as an umbrella for its head!) We got to touch a Shetland pony (so soft!), a cheetah, snakeskin, fox and hare. I told the kids at dinner that they’d surely never get to touch a cheetah again!

We only just scratched the surface today, and the kids are thrilled with the prospect of returning on a regular basis. It definitely helped them appreciate size, as they stood staring straight up at the huge skeleton of an African elephant (which they were sure was a dinosaur at first!) I have vivid memories of going to a similar museum with them in Scotland, but Naomi and Josiah don’t. To them, this was all new stuff. They were in awe and their joy made me smile. =)

Our New Home

For those of you who have been wondering, we're in our new house at last! We moved into our new place on Wednesday October 22, though we weren’t able to get all our stored stuff that same day. Our pillows and comforters were in storage so we slept in our bed that first night fully clothed in sweaters and coats, with no bedding! (The blanket we did have was shared by Naomi and my mom in the other double bed.)

Our home is a row-house, adjacent to three others. Our front door opens onto a hallway, with our enclosed dining room on the right. A small living room follows, and then an enclosed kitchen, a back door, and finally a bathroom at the end of the ground floor. Between the dining room and living room are stairs leading up to the “first floor” where we have two bedrooms.

The kids are in the front room, which has two windows looking onto our road. Just across the narrow street from us is a car repair shop (ironically housed in what used to be the local parish church, with a steeple and all), so the kids have lots to watch: workers, roosting doves, neighbors’ cats, cars, passersby, etc.

Our room is in the back, and looks out onto a horse pasture. We’re grateful for a darker and quieter room, as well as one with a beautiful view. We have a tiny yard (called a “garden” here, whether anything is planted or not) full of gravel, which was the most disappointing aspect of this house. But because of the pasture just beyond, as well as a huge expanse of parks at the end of our road, the yard is bearable.

We are grateful to have found a very adequately furnished place. We have a double bed, a queen bed (called “king” here!), and three sets of desk, wardrobe, dresser and bookcase (because this used to be home to three students). My kitchen has a microwave, electric tea kettle, small oven and stove, and a medium-sized frig and freezer (an improvement over the one I had in Edinburgh). I’m grateful for every kitchen item I brought with me, but even so, I have had to buy multiple things.

Our dead-end street, Ferry Road, connects a semi-major road called Marston Road with a cycle path that cuts through University Parks to get into city center. This means we have a fair amount of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, but little car traffic.

Marston Road has frequent bus service (which we try not to use to cut down costs) and wonderfully wide sidewalks separated from a cycle lane by a grass median. This makes it a nice road to walk with the kids, as I worry less about their falling into traffic. The cycle path through the Parks is a lovely walk, through meadows and over streams. The kids love seeing ducks, swans, and geese, and I appreciate the peace and beauty of nature. Oxford is a real mix that way.

That’s all for now. I’ll include pictures when I get my camera working again (can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, but hopefully not much.) Sorry for the delay!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Parenting Cry for Help!

It has been a while since I’ve written about parenting struggles, but here I am again. I feel like every day is a war, filled with small skirmishes over anything and everything. Not every single request is met with “No!” but a significant portion are. I don’t know if it’s because the kids have been so long without routine and chores, or what. I’ve bought a book called “Parenting with Love and Logic” which I hope will help me understand how to improve, but I haven’t had time to read it yet!

People in my Oxford church who hear that I’m homeschooling look at me like I’m crazy, and they say that they’d never be able to get their kids to do anything they said. I’m no different from them. Unfortunately I often resort to threats. But I don’t think that the answer is to send my kids to school and avoid the root issues. I’ve seen families function with peace, respect, obedience, and helpfulness. I’ve seen it with my own eyes! So I know my family can be different from the way we currently are.

And then during the good times, it’s so sweet and wonderful that I want to treasure the moments forever. I truly do love my kids and love being home with them. I just need the proportion to increase more in favor of good times!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

So thankful...

The past six months have been challenging in many ways. For the first time, I experienced being the sole breadwinner, as well as living with family for an extended amount of time. Also for the first time, I moved across the world still not knowing where I'd actually live when I got there. Normal life has been challenging as the kids seem to fight a lot and complain a lot, and I struggle with my usual tendencies toward anger.

BUT -- I am so thankful!

I'm thankful that when Steve was unemployed, I had work that I enjoyed. I even liked getting away from the kids for a while.

I'm thankful that living with Steve's parents was a positive experience. I loved sharing housework and getting to know them better. Those days will be treasured for years.

I'm thankful that ever since the minute we arrived in England, God has been caring for us through dear Christians, Peter and Gwyneth Leaver, as well as others in our church. We didn't know each other previously, but now they feel like family! The Leavers drove us from Heathrow to their home in Oxford, housed us for two+ weeks, housed my mom for 1+ week, drove me to Asda (a big store) so I could buy a bunch of start-up things for our new house, put up with my loud kids, shared the cooking with us, and now are going to help us move in to our own place.

I'm thankful that my kids have been as flexible as they have been, though I often forget what turmoil they must feel from having moved so much in the past month. I'm thankful for their smiles, their laughter as they chat privately together, their creative drawings, their zest for life as they dance in the autumn leaves or shout excitedly because we're riding a bus.

I'm thankful that tomorrow we're moving in, and that my mom has been here to help watch the kids while I've been doing business. I've loved her company and will miss her when she leaves in a few days.

And last but not least, I am overwhelmingly thankful for the sweet way God is encouraging us through friends and family who are praying for us and giving us gifts to help with our high costs. I have felt so blanketed in love, when I've heard that friends in VA miss us and pray for us, or that friends elsewhere are sending us sacrificial checks.

Thank you, God, for your very many blessings...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Glimpsing Narnia, Sort Of--A Post By Steve

Passing by Magdalen College on my way home today, I spied a face that seemed vaguely familiar. As I trudged along in the drizzling rain, my brain labored over who it could be--it's not like we've lived here so long that I would know that many faces.

And then it dawned on me. She looked strikingly like Anna Popplewell, the English actress that plays Susan Pevensie in the latest Chronicles of Narnia movies. Surely it wasn't she. Yet she could have been the spitting image...

At dinner tonight, I mentioned my experience to our friend Peter Leaver, whom we've been staying with the past couple weeks. Oh yes, he said, she's living locally. Which sent me to Wikipedia, and the discovery that Anna is studying English at ... yes, Magdalen College.

Normally, I could care less about celebrity spottings. But when an actress in one of your favorite children's books-turned-movies turns up outside the college that Narnia's creator taught in, well, that's worth a post, don't you think?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Home!

We're 99% sure we have a home now! We're due to move in next Tuesday so I'll write again then to verify that it really happens!

We found a place that is in a nice walking distance from Steve's college and a cheap grocery store, but is also a few blocks from a new Islamic college and has horse pastures just over the fence from our back yard. I know this will help the kids not feel so homesick, as they'd grown very accustomed to wide open spaces and even cows nearby. It's only 2 bedrooms, and feels pretty small, but it's in fairly good condition, is a decent price (compared to everything else!), and is adequately furnished.

Four days more 'til we're on our own. Yay!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Still No Housing...

We really need prayers that we'll find the right home soon! We viewed a place last week, and view two places tomorrow, but it just feels like nothing is going to work out. We've stayed with our retired friends for a week now and I can only imagine how frustrated they might be from the ruckus that my kids make! I want to relieve them by moving out as soon as possible, but I also don't want to panic and make a silly decision we have to live with for a year. It's difficult to say the least.

Ethan's finally adjusted to the time change, as have the rest of us. My mom also arrived two days ago, visiting us from Nigeria. It's wonderful to talk with her in person, hear her laugh, read stories aloud from Reader's Digest, and watch my kids get to know her again.

We sat on a bench in Christ Church meadows this afternoon, and I watched the golden light of the setting sun cast a glow on buildings and trees alike. I pointed it out to Naomi, remarking that what would normally be a boring brown tree looked made of gold instead. In the middle of a busy small city, the peaceful river walk and the rich green meadow brought me calm and peace. I remembered that God is a God of beauty, a creator God who loves us and wants what's best for us. Oh that I would trust him quietly instead of feeling such anxiety and doubt...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Travel Trials and Thanks

We had an interesting time trying to travel with nine large boxes/duffels, five carry-ons, five backpacks and one computer bag (and everyone wearing mulitple jackets!). Air India tried making us pay more money because some pieces were overweight, but when they saw us take items out (to lower the weight) instead of paying the money, I think they decided it wouldn't be worth their time to watch us do that to every single overweight bag.

Besides the stress of checking in, and knowing that they weren't happy about our amount of luggage, the hardest part was going through security!! We all had to take off our shoes and extra jackets. We had to break down our stroller, take out laptops, empty pockets, and get three children to go through the detector. Then we had to get ourselves together again afterwards. We were some of the last people at our gate!

Thankfully, though, we had an incredibly nice airline attendant help us when we got to the gate. She offered to check in as many items as we wanted, for no extra charge, so we got rid of our suitcases and some backpacks. Also thankfully, the flight was quite empty (which is surely why they were lenient at the gate) and we all got to lie down to sleep. Josiah and Ethan opted for the ground instead of the seats!!

We faced another struggle when we got to London, as we now had to transport all of our original stuff through the airport till we could meet up with our friends. We almost hired a porter service, but did it on our own in the end. Steve pushed/pulled two luggage carts overflowing with our stuff, I pushed a cart and pulled the stroller (also loaded down), and the kids pulled carry-on size suitcases on wheels. I wish I had a photo -- it was amazing!

Once our friends, the Leavers, met us, it was smooth sailing. They helped us to the carpark, and all our stuff fit fine in the mini-bus we'd rented. We're storing the majority of our things at the church, and appreciate the two rooms the Leavers are letting us have in their home. Now we just need to find our own place so we can settle in!

Same but Different

The minute we walked into the Leavers' home, here in Oxford, my kids found two bins of plastic animals set out in the kitchen for them. They immediately began setting up their zoo, and organising all the creatures. No difference from home!

Ethan, too, has enjoyed the cars and trucks that the Leavers have out for him, as well as the stuffed animals. All three kids were glad today was sunny (unlike yesterday which was rainy, windy and cold all day long) so we could go to a local playground as well as play in the back garden (yard) here at home.

But many things are different, too. Like...
Doing my laundry in the kitchen, in a front-loading machine that fascinates Ethan especially
Hanging up my clothes to dry in the kitchen
The sound of the telephone ringing
Using an electric food scale when I made chili tonight
Narrow, long houses
Narrow, long gardens
The shape of swings in the park (they have stiff, rectangular seats)
Cars parked half on the pavement, half on the street
The direction to look before you cross the road
The "walk" symbol on the traffic lights (a little green man walking)
Using a duvet instead of a top sheet and blanket
The location of the @ key on the computer!
Tea all the time
Chocolate spread on toast

All of these are familiar to me, as I've lived here before, so it's a nice feeling -- like I'm coming home. I'm thankful to not feel bewildered like I did when I moved to Scotland, but I'm not saying it's easy either! More on that another day...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We've Arrived!

We've finally arrived in Oxford and all pretty dead tired. Some friends of ours from Magdalen Road Church (the church Steve attended 10 years ago) met us at Heathrowe airport in London and are putting us up until we can move into more permanent accomodation. We're thankful for God's provision for us in this way, as we might otherwise have ended up on Oxford's streets! Please pray we can secure our own flat/home soon.

More to come later...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Visa news

Less than 24 hours after we submitted our final papers for our visa applications, we were notified that they've been granted! Yay!

We've also found another house that we feel better about than the first, and are ready to make final deposit on it. We still need a place to stay when we first arrive, as the flat won't be ready for the first 10 days. But things are looking up....

Monday, September 29, 2008

Travel Fun

We've made our last long car journey and are now settled in Naperville, IL, with good friends Kevin and Jen Sandahl. The past 12 days have seen us on the road for a total of 36 hours, driving through West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota! It's been fun in so many ways, despite the hours cooped up in the car and despite adjusting to six different sets of beds!

Highlights of the kids have been:
*enjoying the sand of Lake Erie at Luna Pier
*playing with many friends' dogs (Ginger, Lily)
*petting many cats
*meeting new & old friends and playing together (Jhoey, Rowan, Ian, Anna, Alex, Sophia, Charlotte, Keiryn, Bethany, Anna)
*roasting marshmallows over a campfire in Kirschners' backyard
*playing hide and seek with cousin Rowan
*frosting pumpkin-shaped cookies and eating them!
*listening to books on tape like "Soup" and "Ramona"

Highlights of us adults have been:
*Catching up with old friends
*Playing games like Caylus and Rage with Blyths and Murrays
*Eating Ethiopian food in Chicago
*Having an early Thanksgiving dinner with Blyths
*Laughing with our kids during silly family moments
*Finally submitting our visa applications and being told they'll be done in a few days!
*Being prayed for by so many friends

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our Next Hurdle

A lot can happen in one week. We've been on a major road trip, seeing friends and family across several Midwestern states. After overnighting in Ohio, we spent a few nights in Michigan and Illinois with friends I knew in Jos (Murrays and Kirschners). And we're about to finish a visit with my brother and his family in Wisconsin. It has been a special time for our kids to get to know each other and have fun being cousins together.

A lot has been happening with our plans as well. On Monday, Steve got his loans approved by Oxford, as well as the final acceptance letter that we needed to apply for visas. Steve also met that day with a key professor from Wheaton who encouraged him to go to Oxford, in spite of the financial risks. So we've decided to go, and are praying that God will provide the money that we don't yet have to pay for this program.

But now we're facing the hurdle of getting visas in time. It turns out that we have to get fingerprinted as part of the visa process, so we're doing that in St. Paul, Minn. this Saturday (while we're visiting our friends, the Evans' and Snodgrasses). Then we're back to Chicagoland on Sunday, and into the city on Monday to submit our application. Please pray that the British consulate will turn those visas around quickly. We leave the following Sunday for England!

We still don't have our flat/home finalized. We discovered that the house we wanted doesn't have any beds or chairs, as well as lacking heat in two of the bedrooms. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that the costs of buying furniture made it less attractive. So we got back online and started looking again, and came across a house that's cheaper and fully furnished. A friend is scheduled to view the house on Tuesday; please pray that if God wants us there that the viewing will go well and we can move quickly on the house.

Some of you have asked if we're scared about this move, and all the last-minute preparations. The short answer is yes! But we believe that God has opened this door and we are walking through it. We covet your prayers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Questions, Fewer Answers

Our Oxford plans are not moving ahead smoothly. Almost every decision is still up in the air, and financial prospects look worse. If anything, I feel much less comfortable now about making this move, so Steve and I are praying earnestly, seeking counsel and trying to get as much information about this route and other possible ones before we make a final decision (i.e. sign a lease and start paying tuition!) As of now, our only financial commitment has been the plane tickets.

We still do not have final approval for a loan, therefore we do not have an unconditional final offer from Pembroke College. Therefore we can not get our visas and also feel it would be foolish to sign a lease. Our friend has not seen the house yet, but even when he does (if he does), we'll have to ask for more time to make a decision.

If everyone would join us in prayer for wisdom and guidance, we would so appreciate it! We leave Virginia tomorrow for our road trip regardless. But we still have until our flight on October 5 to change our minds about Oxford.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Animal Pics

1) "Our" new puppy Frank (showed up on our doorstep); 2) Our other homeless puppy Susan.
3 & 4) Germy, our toad who eventually died.
5, 6, 7) "Our" pet tortoise who we released after just a few days.







Missing Pictures from June '08


1) Josiah and Steve at Natural Bridge; 2) Ethan riding his trike; 3) Naomi having fun posing; 4) Naomi displaying butterflies that we drew and painted; 5) Josiah on the Blue Ridge Parkway, just above our town of Buena Vista, VA.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Housing Hopes

We think we may have found a place to live. It took hours of searching online and calling Oxford realtors. We did not originally realize that landlords would be so picky about allowing children in their properties! As we were told "no" by realtor after realtor, we decided we probably needed to just take the first one that said "yes."

Our friend is viewing it for us tomorrow, and unless something is hugely wrong, we'll put a deposit down right away. It's a 3-bedroom (no one allowed us to rent a 2-bedroom) furnished place, in walking distance of Steve's school and the church we plan to attend (Magdalen Road Church). We really really hope it all goes through okay, as it will be a load off our minds to know we have a new home (though it won't actually be available until 10 days after we arrive!)

Naomi received her new glasses today. They are pink and stylish -- much cuter than my first ones! She looks very grown up with them on.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why We're Going to Oxford

We have only 9 days left in Lexington, Virginia, and 26 left in America. Time is flying by. God has answered many prayers: we have Ethan's passport, we've been given patience and peace, and we've been blessed with many friends who are serving us meals or watching our children. We still need housing and funding -- keep praying!

The reason we're moving to Oxford is for Steve to continue his schooling in Islamic studies. He hopes to eventually teach about Islam at a Christian college/seminary, enabling Christians to interact in a more effective way with Muslims whether here or abroad. He does already have a Master's in this area, but will begin a second Master's program that now focuses on learning Arabic and classical Islam. This will be critical for future studies, and extra-helpful if we stay on at Oxford for a PhD.

Many American friends assume this is paid for, as it is not unusual to have one's graduate studies in the U.S. paid for or greatly subsidized by the school, particularly when one teaches while studying. This is not an option in England, however. Not only are we not being helped in any way, but we have to pay much higher fees because of being foreign students. This first year is completely self-funded, as subsequent years will be unless we receive help. We have applications out for scholarships and are hoping for contacts with private donors.

Nonetheless, we feel strongly that this direction is where God has gifted Steve and where he is leading both of us. We feel good about stepping out in faith, and acknowledge that we will succeed only by God's grace and provision.

Some have asked about me and the kids. I very much hope to continue homeschooling even in England, but am open to other options. In just one more day, I am being interviewed by phone for a half-time job with Viva Network, an organization that connects and educates world-wide ministries to children-at-risk. If I get the job, it would be a huge help toward our living expenses, but Steve and I would need to share the kids, and they might even go to "big school." We will see...

Please keep praying!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ethan's latest

Ethan (20 months) loves music so much! Mom Gertz plays piano a LOT because she's now the main pianist for her church. Whenever Ethan is nearby, he runs to an open spot in the living room and begins dancing in circles to her piano music. It is so cute! Unfortunately she can never see him because her back is to him while she plays.

Ethan also adores going on walks. We established a bit of a routine as we took family walks for 45 minutes or so after numerous dinners. Then one night, we took a shortened version of it and Ethan disapproved! Even after we'd turned around to go home, he continued on. When we mention anything to do with walks, he runs to get his shoes and then stands by the door just waiting. If we don't open it quickly enough, he begins whining and pointing.

It used to be that I could let him play outside and trust he'd stay nearby. But now he takes off down the dirt road just as often as he plays in the yard. Tonight we'd gotten back from a long walk, but he turned around and started off again. He was a ways down the road and I kept calling to him, reminding him that we were going to begin dessert. But he turned his head around and laughed as he kept walking straight ahead. I think he would be happy if we just permanently lived outside.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Naomi's writing

Naomi has just finished writing about 12 thank you notes, completely on her own. Her words are:

thanufor
kumento
mibrthda
irilelit
urprezns.

Anyone want to guess how to interpret that? I'll post the answer in a few days =)
I'm so excited that she's writing on her own initiative finally. She read a story about kids having a "tag sale" and really took to the idea. She's been making signs and labels for her own ong0ing tag sale ever since. She's just learned how to write the symbol for "cents" and now we tell her that the Brits don't use cents! She gets to learn about pounds and pence! All part of being a "third culture kid."

We're moving --- again!!

We're moving to England!

I feel like God has breathed fresh air into us, finally ending a long waiting time and letting us move forward. We have been praying for so long (and despairing at times) for guidance as to our next steps. Steve has been unhappy and frustrated doing work that doesn't suit him, and has longed to get the training he needs in order to fulfill his passion of reaching Muslims for Christ.

Now Steve has been accepted by Oxford University to study for his master's first and hopefully his PhD afterwards, over a period of 5 years. He will be studying Arabic and Islamic history, and with his degrees, wants to teach the history of Muslim-Christian interaction in a Christian college or overseas seminary. We will fund this first year ourselves with savings and loans, and then pray that scholarships and grants come through for the following years.

School starts on October 13, so this means that we're leaving the U.S. in just 7 weeks. Our heads are spinning. But at the same time, we're so excited. I'm grateful to have lived in Scotland already so that I have a better idea of what I should take with me (there were many things I wished I'd brought when we arrived in Scotland). The kids like the idea of riding bikes and buses instead of driving a car. I'm hoping to get in better shape by walking a lot. I'm also hoping the kids remember these coming British years better than they remember our one year in Edinburgh (which is fuzzy for them to say the least). We're looking forward to attending our Oxford church, Magdalen Road Evangelical Free, and renewing friendships we made there 10 years ago. We'll also be a lot closer to our dear London and Edinburgh friends.

Our concerns are:
*finding housing
*getting financial help
*receiving Ethan's passport in time
*figuring out how to pack our lives into a few boxes!

And it will be hard to leave our dear family here, as well as new friends we're just starting to make at our current church. I've grown accustomed to the ease of American life and I've enjoyed occassionally having access to my favorite foods and restaurants. I know I will be frustrated by not having a car. But at the same time, our 2 years in Lexington have prepared me for this transition. I have not always had my own car here, and we have not been in an urban area with our favorite stores and restaurants.

So here's to fish and chips, tea and biscuits, and the locale of our engagement! Oxford, England, here we come!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Toddler Trouble

Yesterday morning, I awoke to Josiah shaking me and saying, "Mommy, Ethan wrote on me with a marker! And he also wrote on the couches!" I glanced up and there was my 18 month-old with an open black permanent marker in his hand. YIKES!!! I grabbed it from him, turned to the white leather couches that are in our apartment but belong to Steve's parents, and was horrified to see long black streaks across both of them. Not just one long streak, but groups of 10-15 foot-long streaks.

My first thought was, "Dad's going to kill me" and my second thought was, "This is why I've never owned nice furniture!!!" My thought at the end of the day was, "I've spent the last three years making sure every pair of scissors, pen and marker are up high when I go to bed at night, but this one time, I missed one and look what happened."

Steve went online and found that others have also had this mishap and that alcohol is the recommended remedy. Sure enough, Dad spent 1 1/2 hours scrubbing with rags and almost an entire bottle of rubbing alcohol, but he did indeed get the marks off.
The biggest miracle was that he was so calm about it. I never heard him once raise his voice, though I know he must have been steaming inside.

Our Pet Toad "Germy"

My kids have always wanted a pet, and for the past 6 weeks they have finally "owned" one ... well off and on, you might say. At the end of May Steve and I captured a toad and brought it home for the kids who thoroughly enjoyed playing with it. However, Toad escaped within a few days. Since then we have caught, lost, and caught Toad again numerous times. In fact, our current toad "Germy" is not the same as our first one, but it doesn't matter to the kids.

Naomi loves Toad so much, she wantes to greet him first thing every morning, and give hugs and kisses goodnight. She and Josiah both carry him around, play with him in our wading pool, watch him jump around on the lawn, and love him to pieces.

Yesterday I took the kids to a place called Boxerwood Garden, which has a nice exploratory area for young kids. Naomi insisted we bring Germy with us so that he could see someplace new. So we did! The other kids who were also at the garden loved seeing and holding our toad. They all thought we'd caught him there, but Naomi informed them that he is our PET and that we brought him from home.

To keep food costs down but keep Germy from starving, we'll probably have to let him go today. Naomi says she's okay with this, as long as Dad and I promise to keep an eye out for Toad when she's in bed at night (this is the pattern for when we've caught our previous ones) and catch him again soon.

Refreshing Art

I am realizing more and more how important it is for me to spend some time being artistic on a regular basis. It can be anything from designing and painting shirts, to face-painting, to sketching, coloring or calligraphy. When I leave this part of me high and dry, I get serious and depressed. But when I've just done an hour of face-painting or made a wall-hanging for my nephew, I feel renewed. I've not only used a different part of my brain, I've created something that brings joy and something that reflects who I am.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kid Update



Naomi turns 6 in two weeks and has become a little author. She stapled together post-it notes and made wordless books called "In the Light" (in the let) and "In the Dark." She was making these same books over and over again, and talking about how she was going to have a "book fair" and sell them (can you tell what my latest business is? yes, I'm selling books in book fairs and to friends!)

I broadened her scope two days ago, though, by suggesting that she write a book about her toad. She grudgingly changed gears to write more words and actually have a topic, but now is thrilled with her "toad book." She takes it with her everywhere. She's not done yet, but she has three pages written. "mom and dad fownd a toad. i put it in a box. it was cuqte. it jumped a way. i put a toad in a boat. it wus a box."

I've suggested other topics as well, so I'm looking forward to seeing what my budding author puts out in the next few weeks.

Josiah really likes learning French. I'll hear him (occasionally) counting things in French on his own. He gets excited, too, about the idea of teaching our friends French! He still loves his animals and tells everyone that he is going to be a zoo-keeper when he grows up. He can spend hours playing with plastic and/or stuffed animals, in the sand-pile out back, or on his bed and floor, or in the bath. It really doesn't matter!

He has heard me recount many stories of our family when I've said that one of our kids was still in my tummy. I'll tell about something happening and they'll say "Was Ethan there?" "No, he was in my tummy." Well yesterday I was telling the kids about a trip I took with the two older kids when we were in Scotland. Josiah asked if Daddy had been there. I said no, and Josiah replied, "Oh, he was in your tummy, right?" Then he smiled as we laughed.

Ethan loves to go outside. If we mention anything about going anywhere, he runs to get his shoes, brings them to us and then stands by one of our doors, waiting to be let out. It doesn't really matter what he's doing outside; he just likes to be there. He likes throwing pebbles, watching bugs, riding a three-wheeler, pushing the stroller, playing in the sand, playing in the wading pool, watching people mow their lawns, etc.

He is enthralled with trains and cars right now, especially of the matchbox-sized variety. When we see him walking around (or going to church, heading to bed, sitting down to eat...) he usually has a vehicle in each hand. He makes engine sounds as he pushes them around, but still doesn't say the word "car." In fact he hardly says any words at all, which at 18 months, is a concern to the pediatrician, but not to me. Josiah didn't talk until 23 months, and Steve didn't talk till he was almost three!

All three kids like creepy-crawlies. Naomi likes catching them and putting them in "The Bug Box" (a cheap plastic container from Wal-Mart). Josiah does that too, but then wants to let them go. Ethan doesn't like to touch them, but enjoys watching them walk around the box. It's been fun to see what they've found, and watch their excitement.

No Pencils in Math?

What if math education used no writing for the first few years? What if all sorting, arithmetic, geometry and algebra problems were done with movement and objects? Chocolate-bar fractions and M&M probability. Area and perimeter using square tiles and real rulers. Graphing using footsteps and string. "Solving equations" using a scale and bags of goodies.

I wonder how much of people's math difficulties and fears stem from premature writing, and too few hands-on activities. "Manipulatives" is a current buzz-word, but if they're only tossed in as an extra now and then, are they enough? When I tutor math students and they're struggling with a particular concept, I always try to show them in a hands-on manner what is going on. But why should I wait until they're struggling? Why can't math be kinesthetic all along?

My kids are (almost) 6 and 4 1/2 and they've both been doing kindergarten this year. I have done no worksheets about numbers and counting, but we talk about numbers all the time. We spent all Fall doing math activities concentrating on classifying, directions, and quantities. Numbers were something I brought up every now and then. Now my kids bring up numbers themselves and are continually telling me things like, "Mom, 2 and 3 make 5!" My older child has tried writing equations on her own because she's becoming enamored with writing in general. But I wonder if I wouldn't be better off saving the writing for later.

I think I would have more fun teaching and I know the kids would have more fun learning, if math were taught this way. And maybe, as a small side benefit, our next generation would not be so math illiterate.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Freedom to Imagine

I am constantly amazed at how creative children can be with little structure and few supplies. My one-year-old now loves playing with small toy animals and vehicles, but today, even a razor cap became a “car” for him to push around on the bathtub edge (don’t worry – Dad had possession of the razor!!).

And while the kids all enjoy the toy barn at the library, they really have quite a good time without one at home. Ethan has figured out how to balance plastic horses on a box’s edge, and Josiah creates “zoos” every chance he gets. He groups his animals by types and puts each kind in a special spot (under a chair, on top of a box).

When they run around outside, they also need very few toys. They’ve got a slide and some trikes, but mostly they catch bugs, play in puddles, watch the cows, run down our hill, and play with their few toys. They can make any type of string into a leash for a stuffed animal, and turn any stick into a sword, hobby-horse or a shovel to collect worms. Oh that I were so creative!

I’m thankful that God made humans in his image. The kids and I have been talking a lot about animals lately as we’ve seen quite a few in the past few weeks: fox, turtle, possum, woodchuck, caterpillar, grasshopper. We talk about the distinction between mammals and other types. Naomi asked the other day if we are animals, and I had the joy of telling her “yes” in the scientific definition, but that we are “different” because of God’s grace. He made us creative, emotional, communal, intelligent, and communicative, and we are set apart from all other beings!

Thank you, Lord, for children who remind me of you in so many ways.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Saralynn!

It's my sister's birthday and unfortunately, she's too far away to hug or celebrate with. But I'm thinking of her all the same! She's my little sister, but just in the last 18 months, has gotten married, re-located to Nigeria, and birthed (naturally!!!) a handsome baby boy. I treasure her notes of encouragment, faithful letters keeping me updated, and her perseverance in hard times. I love hearing her sing, and even better, singing with her! I respect her analytical mind, but enjoy her creativity as well. She's a great writer!

Since both of us "growing up," she's become my best friend, and I thank the Lord for her! Here's to you, Ish!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring news

This is my absolute favorite time of year. The days are getting longer. The air is getting warmer (but not too warm). The trees are all in bloom... purple, white, pink. The kids are playing outside (now all three of them can run around together) and I serve many a dinner on our front porch. This is the life. Too bad it only lasts a few weeks!

Naomi has fallen head over heels in love with Narnia. Steve has been reading her the series for months now, but she's only just decided that her new identity is "Lucy." She actually corrects me every single time I call her Naomi. She's also named Josiah "Edmund," Ethan "Peter," me "Susan" and Steve is sometimes "Caspian." Whenever she plays, she talks about Narnia, pretends to fight the White Witch, and includes imaginary friends Eustace and Caspian in any activity.

Josiah enjoyed this for one day and then grew tired of the pretense. He insists his name is Josiah, not Edmund, and he tells Naomi he doesn't want to play Narnia outside. He enjoys riding his tricycle and kicking the soccer ball around. He is also still engrossed in his "animals," often categorizing them or grouping them in families or zoo stalls.

Ethan has maintained his infatuation with cows after all these months of cold indoor living. He escapes out our front door every time it's left cracked open as he adores being outside. He climbs onto the picnic table for better cow-viewing, enjoys our little slide, and takes things like pebbles in and out of containers.

Steve is coming close to wrapping up the Muslim/Christian history class he's been teaching, as well as the Arabic class he's been taking. He's working with his dad to finish out their basement a bit more before we move in (in 6 weeks). He also continues to pursue any leads for financial aid, still hoping to begin a PhD in the fall.

I'm tired, but mostly happy. I've decided that I much prefer homeschooling my own kids to someone else's highschooler. My geometry student is not doing very well and I have a hard time deciding: is it my fault or hers? How do I determine how much is enough, in terms of my teaching, and then how do I let go?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Crazy Busy

I can't believe it's been this long since I've blogged. Life has gotten much crazier in the past month. Steve's job with a local law firm ended, and the same week that I had signed on as a book salesperson, my tutoring also hugely increased. Steve has been great about taking care of the house more and staying with the kids, even homeschooling them a bit. But he'd rather have a job and is getting depressed about his lack of work.

I'm enjoying my math tutoring (for the most part) and love selling Usborne books (for the most part), but am tired and missing my kids and don't like the crazy busyness of it all. I'm trying to find a balance.

We also move out of our apartment in 7 weeks, and will move in to Gertzes' basement. Maybe we should add something else in there to make life even crazier... like getting pregnant? April fools =)

Monday, March 3, 2008

"Cow-Whisperer"

Ethan and I stayed home from church on Sunday since we were both on the rebound of recent illnesses. It was a sunny morning and not too cold. Ethan is passionate about going outside so the two of us took a leisurely walk down our dirt road.

Without Naomi and Josiah there, it was so quiet. We could hear the birds speaking with various songs. We heard the wind blowing gently in the trees. And we approached 10 or so cows without frightening them. I sat down on the grass with Ethan by my side and made some mooing sounds (more like "mmmm"). Ethan loves cows so I was hoping they wouldn't run away from us.

On the contrary, quite a crowd developed around us (though separated from us by a fence). There were a number of calves and two mama cows that stared and stared at us. I think they were perhaps more intrigued by their view of us than we were of them! Every time I made a cow sound, they pricked their ears and a calf would take a step closer.

For at least 10 minutes, I felt like I was a "cow-whisperer." I had no idea what I was saying to them, but it must not have been offensive. It was a delightfully peaceful, quiet time of mutual gazing and admiring. We watched one calf nurse and I laughed to myself as another calf tried to poke his head through the fence to get closer to us. If I'd stood up to pet him, I'm sure he would have run away.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I’m Thankful For…

A wonderful unexpected 6 extra days with my parents before they returned to Nigeria.

A pastor in our church who is giving Steve and me marriage counseling. He is wise, understanding, and our meetings have been helpful.

Two girlfriends who have each recently invited me to “girl” things (for the 1st time in 2 yrs)

Steve’s Arabic professor giving him extra tutoring on the side.

Eclipse Memories

On February 20, there was a full lunar eclipse, and thankfully my brother called me to let me know! I would have missed it otherwise. It was a fairly clear night, cold but bearable. Naomi was awake in bed so I asked if she wanted to watch the moon with me. We put coats and hats on, made hot chocolate, and wrapped up in a blanket on our porch. I found our binoculars, too, so we could get a closer view of the moon’s surface.

Naomi was tickled to be up late with me and she called it “girl-time” since Steve and Josiah didn’t want to watch with us (at least, not for more than a couple minutes – it was cold and Josiah had been fast asleep in bed). I not only enjoyed the beauty of the night sky and the eclipse, but relished the special role of being Mom. I loved having time with my little girl, when we could cozy up together and share a memorable event. I loved showing her something new and explaining the science of it to her.

We watched until the eclipse was full and then came inside to check on it again from our couch. I suggested we take a nap and then look at it later to see how it had changed. I can’t remember the last time I had lain down with my daughter snuggled on my chest. She started laughing and told me that it was funny to have her head move up and down with each of my breaths. We got the giggles for a few minutes and then settled down and actually both fell asleep.

We never did see more of the eclipse. Steve put her to bed an hour later, at which point I also crawled into my own bed, tired but happy from a special sky-gazing night.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Eating Struggles

I had always sworn that I would not raise picky eaters. I grew up eating a large variety of food, I still enjoy diverse tastes, and find whiny eaters incredibly frustrating. I thought that I could determine this characteristic in my children by making both usual and unusual foods, and not giving in to their limited whims. Ha. Goes to show what you think you know ahead of time about parenting!

Naomi started out a great eater. When she was one, she ate anything put in front of her.

Not so anymore. Now it seems we battle over at least half of our meals. Do you know how tiring that is? Today she decided to just hide during our dinner so that we wouldn’t make her eat. I actually enjoyed the first few quiet minutes of our meal, minus her whining and arguing. Unfortunately, I concluded that I really should make her take a few bites before rejecting the entire meal, and thus ensued yet another noisy struggle.

It would even be preferable if she would just say “no” and then sit there refusing to eat. But instead she goes on and on, either asking us questions (Does this fish have blood in it? Does it have its eyeballs in it? What’s that black thing?) or giving us reasons why she can’t eat something. Today her brother jokingly said there were bugs in her oatmeal, and wouldn’t you know it, she refused to eat the rest of her bowl. Unbelievable.

Five years into parenting, I’m becoming a little more relaxed about my responsibility for my kids’ eating habits, but also a bit more determined to not give up yet! I allow that people will have all kinds of preferences and dislikes for various tastes, but I insist that dishes be tried before opinions are formed. It sure would be easier to not care and just give her chicken nuggets for every meal.

Zookeeper Josiah

My 4 year old son wants to be a zookeeper when he grows up. He’s been saying this for a couple months now. His favorite activity is taking all his stuffed and plastic animals, sorting them, and giving them all places to “live” in his own homemade “zoo.” The lions might be under a chair, the water animals behind a box. He’s very particular about his arrangements. And if someone else (like Ethan or Naomi) tries to take an animal away to play with it, Josiah gets upset, saying that his animals are REAL.

Josiah looked like he had a mustache tonight, after drinking a mug of cocoa. I commented on it and said that one day he’ll have real hair on his face and need to shave like Daddy. He didn’t reply at all to the issue of hair, but said adamantly that when he was older, he was going to be a zookeeper. I said, “Okay, you can be a zookeeper who shaves!” He answered by saying that he was going to scoop up poop when he was a zookeeper. The kid thinks of stuff like that and still wants the job. Wow!!! He must really like animals.

I’m Thankful For…

My patient husband, who has put up with my clutter for 8 years!

The way light changes color at sunrise and sunset

Jesus’ love and compassion for the unlovable – the demon-possessed man, the “sinner” who poured perfume on his feet, the woman who had bled for 12 years

Mom’s recipes which are yummy and remind me of her

New friends, Nancy and Tony Nix, and a fun double date with them, bowling and eating fantastic food together

My friend Kit’s successful knee-replacement operation (in Edinburgh)

Public libraries – I wish I could get locked in by accident some weekend!

Books on tape, especially good mysteries

Laughter

God’s stunning creation, and video footage to help me see it

Fragrant smells

My daughter’s pictures drawn for me

Mentors and good friends who encourage me and model holy living

A quiet neighborhood

My cheap piano and the lovely sheet music Mom Gertz gave me

Josiah’s enthusiasm for my cooking

Ethan’s easy and beautiful laugh. I love one-year-olds!!!!

2/3/08 Restful Weekend

As much as I love being with people and having company over to our house, I’ve really enjoyed the relaxation and solitude of this weekend without guests or plans. Spending Friday night and Saturday at Gertzes’ house was very restful. I wasn’t faced with my own never-ending chores, but could enjoy their treadmill, Jacuzzi bathtub and deck with a mountain view.

Even today, which for most people involved SuperBowl plans, was peaceful. We took the kids to a favorite playground after church, which they loved. We took naps. We taught the kids an “adult” game called Carcassonne and had a nice time playing it as a family. We ate popcorn, drank candy-cane cocoa, and the kids said that it was a “special night.” I don’t even know who won the SuperBowl. Who cares?!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Happy birthday, Jonathan!

My little brother was born 29 years ago today. Happy birthday! He was a fun growing up. I remember dumpster-jumping together, making "clubhouses" from the treasures we found. We would play school together and make up stories with our stuffed animals. We both liked to sing and read. I remember Jonathan sharing tidbits of information that he gleaned from reading the encyclopedia (for fun!)

We got a bit closer when I was a senior and he a freshman in high school. My parents and sister lived in the U.S. for 5 months without us, while Jonathan and I lived with a missionary family in Nigeria. He says now that he was encouraged by having me there with him, at a time that was scary and lonely for both of us.

I'll never forget the way he starred in "Journey to Oz" that year at Hillcrest. He was the Scarecrow who not only sang fantastically, but did delightfully flexible and funny movements as he came to life (not always standing very well since he was made of straw)! I was so proud of him! After I left for college, he continued his acting and musical efforts, and I always enjoyed hearing recordings of him.

Now we're both parents. He married my wonderful sister-in-law Lori in August 2002, and now they have two cute little boys. As an , I've enjoyed visits with him, playing board games, talking about all sorts of things, hiking, reminiscing, singnig in my sister's wedding together, hearing him read aloud (his specialty is "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"). He visited us right before we moved to Scotland and helped me sort and pack my bedroom clutter. I visited him after the births of both his boys. It's fun seeing him be a dad!

So here's to you, Jonathan! I love you and wish we lived closer. Happy birthday!

Discipline - 10 PM 1/30/08

I reached a point of being disgusted with myself yet again. I'd stopped exercising and doing Bible study for months. So for the past few weeks, I've been jogging and having quiet times regularly. I'm using an InterVarsity Press book to guide my Bible reading, which is helping me by having defined passages and specific questions to answer after each reading. I'm getting more interested in the Word again.

The jogging is going so-so. I'd been doing it daily, but then didn't get to it yesterday and today . I could be doing it right now, but feel I really need to go to bed instead.

Which brings me to my next area of discipline that I'd like to improve: my sleep! I've been terrible about going to bed late and then being sleepy during the day. When given the chance, I can easily take a 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon. I feel like my lack of discipline in sleeping, keeping a schedule, and cleaning, all work together to make my life much less pleasant than it could be! It's a downward spiral, so I'm trying to make some upward changes.

Thus, enough talk. I'm going to bed. But first I'm reading my passage in Luke 8. Goodnight...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Friendship

I spoke with a friend "Molly" recently about the nature of "temporary" friendships. She was describing to me how she had become really close to a neighbor, to the point of sharing meals and calling daily. She felt like they were almost sisters. Then Molly's friend told her that because Molly was planning to live in her present home only temporarily (a few years, due to husband's grad school) she did not want to be close friends with her anymore. She and her husband had decided they wanted to pursue friendships only with people who were going to settle down permanently in their town. Molly didn't qualify. This has been heartbreaking for her, and it baffled me.

I've been "temporary" all my life, and the truth is that each of us is "temporary" since we actually don't know what the future holds. We can't tell ahead of time when life circumstances will be such that we need to move. We might think we've settled, but it's never for sure.

And then there are people like me. Eleven years (with some 6-12 month gaps) is the longest I've lived in one area. I've lived on three continents, and even now, do not know what my address will be in 5 months. To think that I would be rejected from friendship because of this makes me very sad. I understand the fears and sorrows involved, but think that the love is worth it.

Right now I'm in a place where I sense that possible friends are purposely avoiding getting to know me. But this is the first time I've ever really felt this kind of resistance. For the most part, I've made friends quickly and they've stayed good friends for life.

A special case in point was the year I lived in Scotland. We knew we were only going to be there for twelve months. We found a church right away and told them we'd be there for a year. Yet people still reached out to us in an amazing way and blessed us with their genuine friendship. Dear women opened up to me without waiting the prerequisite months of "getting acquainted." I now have forever friends in Scotland -- all because they loved me despite my being temporary.

It's actually a benefit in my eyes. I have friends all over the world. I have people to visit when I travel. I have many who I can talk with at length, praying for each other and laughing as we catch up. Thank you, God, for the gift of good friends.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

December family pics


Naomi loves wearing her Little Mermaid crown so much that sometimes we wonder if it's actually attached to her head!






Ethan playing with some flour (while I cook). I thought he'd enjoy feeling it, but didn't anticipate it being dumped so quickly!













Grandpa and Ethan at Wendy's in Charlotte. The Sunday after-church wait at Cracker Barrel was WAY too long. We gave up and did fast food instead.








Naomi, Lisa, Grandma, Grandpa with Ethan, Steve, Josiah
on our last morning together Dec 28












Josiah with his face painted. The kids got face paints for Christmas and I loved doing them up!

Friday, January 18, 2008

A World Without Islam? --An Article Review by Steve

In a fascinating exercise of journalistic creativity, Graham Fuller’s “A World Without Islam” (Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb 2008) argues that the Middle East would be just as violent a place without Islam as it is with it. Yet Fuller does what every historian knows he or she shouldn’t do—make unwarranted assumptions. Writing alternative histories is always risky, since it’s extremely difficult to know whether an event or conflict would definitely have happened if the situation had been different. Fuller’s repeated assertion that the Middle East would still be riven by ethnic and political strife is an interesting argument, but impossible to really defend. His thesis is too rigid and dogmatic, and makes claims about history that are unsupportable.

Take, for example, his argument that Western powers would have colonized the Middle East regardless of religion. He bases this argument on the assumption that medieval Europe was politically expansionist and that the Crusaders were adventurers “driven by political, social, and economic needs.” It’s true that some Crusaders settled in Palestine as nobles, though many did not. Contrary to today’s popular image of the greedy Crusader, however, crusading for most people was not a lucrative proposition—most Crusaders were self-supporting and expended enormous amounts of personal capital to go to Jerusalem. Many, if not all Crusaders went as pilgrims desiring to see the sacred places of the Bible at the same time they were fighting for ‘Christendom.’ Fuller simply does not do justice to the religious motivation of many Crusaders. Would medieval Europe really have colonized the Middle East without the threat of Islam? Remember that Pope Urban II only called for the Crusades after the Byzantine empire appealed for Western help in the face of a Turkish assault in Anatolia.

It’s assuming a lot even to say that modern Western imperialism was inevitable in the Middle East. Fuller argues that Eastern Christians would have resented Western dominance as much as Muslims did. It’s true that even before the advent of Islam, tensions existed between the eastern and western branches of Christendom. But who is to say whether Westerners would have attained political and military dominance over Eastern Christians had it not been for the steady pounding Muslims gave the Byzantine empire over centuries? Moreover, Western power derives from the technological advancement made during the Enlightenment, which itself was only made possible by the Reformation’s challenge to certain dogmas and practices of the Catholic Church. But would the Reformation have survived had the Catholic Church not been squeezed by the advance of Muslims Turks on their eastern frontier during the sixteenth century? Were it not for the siege of Vienna in 1529, there might have been no Reformation, and therefore no Enlightenment, and therefore no Western military dominance. You see how the kind of exercise Fuller engages in must ultimately be inconclusive. Which makes his certainty about his argument, however journalistically attractive, dishonest.

Fuller also does not take belligerence within Islam seriously enough; he too easily dismisses passages in the Qur’an that provide some key to understanding why so many Muslims hate the West. However one wants to interpret chapter nine of the Qur’an, this “sword” chapter, as Muslims themselves call it, was one of the last to be revealed to Muhammad and is extremely important for how Muslims should think about non-Muslims. Of course one should not look only at the Qur’an to explain Muslim antipathy for the West. Certainly Western imperialism in the past and the modern nation of Israel are flashpoints with Muslims. But these are recent phenomena, and Muslim opposition to the West goes back much further than this. The 14th century Arab Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, for example, wrote condescendingly of northern Europeans as barbarians and of Africans as having a “disposition and character similar to that of dumb animals.” Obviously 19th and early 20th century European imperialists were not alone in their cultural arrogance.

All this considered, Fuller might be right that the Middle East would still be a fractured, dangerously unstable place today without Islam. But his lack of scholarly modesty is most unbecoming.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hitch -- a review

If you need a good laugh at the end of a hard week, this is the film for you! Hitch is a remarkable combination of humor and sensitivity, enjoyable for both men and women. I have never seen Steve laugh harder than in this movie!

Alex Hitchins is a private, secretive consultant who helps timid or awkward men find the courage and grace to meet and court the women they’ve been longing to know. Hitch is challenged when an accountant hires him in order to get to know a millionaire celebrity. But it turns out that Hitch’s biggest challenge is letting down his own barriers when he himself falls in love.

There are many moments of male/female humor in Hitch, poking fun at the different ways we communicate and understand. There is also good old slapstick and laughing at our own human foibles and weaknesses. Thankfully the humor is clean, even though the movie has its share of sexual innuendo and God’s name misused. If you’re sensitive about innuendo and language, this movie might bother you a bit. But I was really impressed by the emphasis on honorable, respectful behavior in Hitch.

For example, the mission of Alex Hitchins is expressly not sexual. When one potential client admits that he just wants to “bang” the girl he likes, Hitch goes through the roof. His job is to help people have the time to talk and listen to each other, growing in passion because of common interests. He has no sympathy for sleazy men who only want their own “needs” met. He refuses to work with this customer.

Also there are moments when Alex himself could have compromised his ideals for his own gratification, but instead pursued friendship. Throughout the story, he is shown to be mature and concerned about who women really are.

Hitch is not just a fairy tale movie. Hitch discovers the difficulty that past betrayal causes in present relationships. He is confronted with the choice between loving and risking, and staying “safe” but never loving. Friends of his are willing to speak candidly with him, challenging his assumptions about love and life.

I highly recommend this movie as one of my top romantic comedies, finding the innuendoes and language the only major drawbacks.