Monday, December 7, 2009

December Day with the Gertzes

December 7, 2009

Believe it or not, Ethan is still not completely weaned. He'll be three in 2 weeks, but this morning wanted to nurse in my bed. For the past year, I've been torn, not knowing whether I should be glad or annoyed that he loves nursing so much. Nursing a pre-schooler is so unusual that my biggest fear was what others thought of me if they found out. Most people probably don't even know though.

In the last month, he's begun to taper off, and at times I even thought we were through. So I think the end is in sight. But this morning, I enjoyed cuddling with him in my warm bed.

I heard that the other kids were up so hauled myself out of bed at about 8. In an effort for more breakfast diversity (we'd eaten cold cereal for the past few days), I made oatmeal and flavored it with maple. Yum! We had no trouble finishing the entire pot! Following breakfast, we spent some time cleaning up the living room and entryway, particularly vacuuming. It was long overdue.

As my Christmas concert is just 6 days away, and my last regular rehearsal was to be tonight, I decided to spend some concentrated time on trouble spots in my music. Josiah was working on his Arabic, using the Rosetta Stone computer program. He's on a lesson about the numbers 1-10. Naomi colored in a new coloring book. After 20 minutes, I had them switch. Steve also contributed today with a 15 minute lesson on the first few letters of the Arabic alphabet.

It really helped me to go over my music. I'd gotten a piano keyboard a few weeks ago from someone on Freecycle, but didn't yet have the correct power supply for it. I finally found one at a charity shop last Saturday, so was able to bang out the notes that have been giving me a hard time.

After Arabic, the kids and I read from our "One Year Bible for Kids." We're just at the transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Today we read Moses' song of praise to God, as well as God's words to Joshua in Joshua 1. What a great way to start the day!

Then we did spelling. We use a spelling curriculum called "Spelling by Sound and Structure," and today we began a review unit. The kids and I looked at the past 5 weeks' worth of words, reminded ourselves of the various structure patterns, and focused on the tricky words (head, said, front, son, catch and wash). Josiah loves spelling. Later in the day, he opened his workbook to a future lesson and began doing it just for fun!

After spelling came math. The key principle of "Math-U-See" is that kids should "build, write, and say" as they learn their facts. It's a hands-on approach, using colored blocks, and today the kids used the blocks to show me their "+2" facts. Ethan was at the table, too, drawing while we did spelling and playing with the blocks while we did math.

I made pasta and chicken for lunch, and then we read some books. Though our new furnished flat included 2 black faux-leather love seats, we also decided to keep a couch that friends had given us. It is long, soft and perfect for winter reading. All of us cuddle together on it and try to ward off the cold. Reading is our favorite thing to do together!

Ethan went down for his nap, I washed dishes and did some more music practice. My intention was to do more school with the kids, particularly beginning a book called "Sarah Whitcher's Story," but I got too sleepy. I sent the kids to various rooms to do quiet activities and fell asleep on the couch.

Naomi and Josiah have apparently just realized how close Christmas is. They got super-excited today and spent half of the afternoon making and wrapping gifts for family members. I have no idea what they made. Guess I'll have to wait until December 25! But the presents look gorgeous, nicely wrapped, complete with bows and labels. Very cute...

I lazily made frozen fish, chips, and peas for dinner, but did make homemade applesauce for dessert. I got ready for choir while the kids were clearing the dirty dishes and emptying the dish drain. This meant collecting my music, bike helmet, bike lights, gloves, reflective shoulder strap, check for my choir fees, and debit card to use later at the grocery store.

It takes me just over 10 minutes to get to choir rehearsal, but I also add in time on both ends for getting through locked gates and dealing with my bike. I cycle through our tiny village of Iffley, then onto busy Iffley Road which leads straight into city centre. Though many bicycles travel that road and technically there is a cycle lane, the road is narrow and it can be a little scary to share it with buses and rush-hour traffic. Still it's better than bussing or walking!

Choir rehearsal was fun. It's great to be this close to the concert and hear how far we've come in just the past few weeks. I'm getting to know another new choir member (a fellow Californian!) and tonight we had a good bit of time to chat. After rehearsal (over at 9:30), I cycled to Tesco Metro on Cowley Road. I wanted to get a few things necessary for making Christmas cookies and eggnog. I used the self-checkout line and packed my groceries in my backpack.

I got back home by 10:20 and have been cleaning the kitchen or on the computer ever since! Another day in the life...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Josiah's Beginnings

November 25

Six years ago, I was one week overdue and drove to the hospital, thinking I was just getting a routine check-up. Instead, I was told by my midwife that contractions were happening (unbeknownst to me!) and that we should go ahead and try to have this baby!

My parents had already cared for Naomi the previous 2 nights, so I called them, asking if she could stay at their house a bit longer. They brought her to say hi and goodbye to us one last time before our family enlarged. What a feeling of uncertainty and excitement we had, being on the cusp of such a change.

I remember feeling the self-assurance of being a second-time birthing mom. I thought I knew what was coming. I thought everything would go more smoothly and easily than the first time. Since Naomi's delivery had been fairly quick and un-traumatic, I had high hopes for my second labor and delivery.

I'd found 2 midwives working together in a hospital in Aurora, Illinois, who were willing to let me try a water-birth. I really liked the midwives, trusted them and respected them. The prospect of birthing in water was exciting to me! Little did I know what lay ahead.

My midwives told me later that they'd wondered if I had a large baby inside me. When they saw my body working so hard for this second baby (who was supposed to just pop out!), they were worried that a water-birth might not actually happen, and they moved the hospital bed to be adjacent to the pool.

Sure enough, my rascal second child got stuck on his way out. He had to be pushed and pulled, amidst high tension and slight panic. I had no idea what danger we were both in. I just knew it hurt and that this wasn't supposed to be happening! At 12:08 AM Josiah Steven was finally born and I'm forever grateful to my midwife, the nurses, and God for helping my sweet son come safely into the world that morning.

As the nurses busily rubbed and cleaned my baby, I heard someone call out "12-08" and I said, "That isn't his weight is it?"

"No, no," I heard. "That's the time he was born." Phew. I didn't think that could be right!

Then they weighed him and we all gasped. My little guy weighed 12 pounds, 10 ounces. We could hardly believe it. My midwife thought it likely that this broke my hospital's record for an unmedicated, non-surgical birth. No wonder he'd gotten stuck!

Josiah proved to be not only a sturdy tank of a kid, but also a great sleeper, a super eater, an entertaining friend to Naomi and a blessing to many. Six years later, I can still say the same! He is my 6-year-old ray of sunshine, continually thanking me for my cooking, making his siblings laugh with his antics, falling asleep quickly and waking up bright and cheerful. He has his rough edges, but I take comfort in knowing that God is very real to him. I pray that day by day, he becomes a more faithful disciple of Jesus, knowing God's love him more and more deeply.

Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of my son.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


That word pretty much sums up my existence these days. My two biggest frustrations centre on Ethan and my lack of discipline.

Ethan still does not talk, yet is growing increasingly frustrated by his desire to communicate. I get so tired of hearing "Mama" repeated over and over again, often amidst tears, as he's unable to tell me what the actual problem is. I'm also stymied by his picky eating. He won't even try foods anymore. Tonight he just sniffed my stir-fry and said "Bleh" (his new-found word for all things yucky) He didn't touch it.

And then there's myself that I'm frustrated with! My lack of discipline with time, with food, and with money management. I struggle to get enough sleep, tending to stay up past the time I'm tired, and then when I've slept in, the whole day starts late and feels off-kilter. I struggle with over-eating ... eating for the wrong reasons, not stopping when I should, etc. And I haven't been good about keeping track of expenditures and really trying to stick to a budget.

There's a place near our new home that has at least one speech therapist available to the community and I'm planning to call her first thing, tomorrow. I'm really desperate to get help for Ethan because we're all starting to go crazy from his lack of speech!

Regarding myself, I don't know what to do. I have the feeling I need accountability, but beyond that, I'm not sure where to start. And I don't know who to be accountable to. How do I keep from hiding my true self? How do I get out of my state of denial? If you know me well and are a pray-er, I certainly would appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Secret Love

Up until about three years ago, I hadn't ever listened to country western music. I'd heard it, of course, while line dancing, and so I thought I knew what it was like. I had a typically Southern California bias against country music, "just because." But then my sister somehow started liking country music and on long car drives together, I finally spent some time listening to it.

She moved to Nigeria, where she could no longer hear country radio, and mourned the loss. I decided to make her a custom-made c.d. of country songs I thought she'd like. This meant I had to listen to country radio, to find good songs. I was surprised at how many I liked!!

I tended to only listen to radio while driving (this was when I lived in Virginia still) and there were many times I'd scramble for paper and pen at a red light to jot down what I thought was probably the title of a song I'd just heard. I'd later go online, search for the lyrics, and eventually pay to download the song. Certainly there were many I didn't care for, but I found over 20 that I loved!

Now I've had a bit of a gap in my own country listening, as England doesn't have a great selection of that style. I was introduced to last week, though, and I've set up my own custom-made online radio stations, one of which is country western. The other night I discovered some new songs that I really like. The lyrics are awesome!

Tell Her, by Lonestar

So you say your love`s about to end
Say you can`t take no more
She`s out the door
And you`re lookin` for a friend
Who am I to tell you why
I`m just curious: were you furious
Or did you swallow your pride
And look her in the eye

And tell her that you love her
Tell her that you need her
Tell her that you want her to stay
Reassure her with a kiss
She may never know
Unless you show her what you`re feelin`
Tell her you`re believin`
Even though it`s hard to say
`Cause she needs to know you`re thinkin` of her
So open up and tell her that you love her

Brother I`ve been right where you are now
My heart was broke
`Cause I never spoke
Those healin' words out loud
But I`ve learned my lesson well
And now every night before I close my eyes
I look at my woman and I ask myself
Did you...

tell her that you love her
Tell her that you need her
Tell her that you want her to stay
Reassure her with a kiss
She may never know
Unless you show her what you`re feelin`
Tell her you`re believin`
Even though it`s hard to say
`Cause she needs to know you`re thinkin` of her
So open up and tell her that you love her

Tough, words by Monty Criswell/Joe Leathers
sung by Craig Morgan

She’s in the kitchen at the crack of dawn
Bacon’s on, coffee’s strong
Kids running wild, taking off their clothes
If she’s a nervous wreck, well it never shows
Takes one to football and one to dance
Hits the Y for aerobics class
Drops by the bank, stops at the store
Has on a smile when I walk through the door
The last to go to bed, she’ll be the first one up
And I thought I was tough

She’s strong, pushes on, can’t slow her down
She can take anything life dishes out
There was a time
Back before she was mine
When I thought I was tough

We sat there five years ago
The doctors let us know, the test showed
She’d have to fight to live, I broke down and cried
She held me and said it’s gonna be alright
She wore that wig to church
Pink ribbon pinned there on her shirt
No room for fear, full of faith
Hands held high singing Amazing Grace
Never once complained, refusing to give up
And I thought I was tough

She’s strong, pushes on, can’t slow her down
She can take anything life dishes out
There was a time
Back before she was mine
When I thought I was tough

She’s a gentle word, the sweetest kiss
A velvet touch against my skin
I’ve seen her cry, I’ve seen her break
But in my eyes, she’ll always be strong

There was a time
Back before she was mine
When I thought I was tough

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Parents Are Here!

We only have 5 days left with my parents. They've been visiting us here in Oxford for the past (almost) 2 weeks, as they're en route from Nigeria to home assignment in the U.S. It has been so unbelievably great to watch the kids and them get to know each other in person. I wish it could last longer.

This morning we decided to play a board game, since we've been talking about playing games but hadn't yet accomplished it. We played the kids' version of Cranium, called Cadoo. It's a multi-sensory game, involving play-dough, acting, drawing, and thinking skills. We all had a great time! Josiah and Naomi understood the questions, and each team had a turn at winning (we played 3 rounds).

Steve took the kids to the playground while the rest of us did chores at home before lunch. After lunch, our pastor Peter Comont and his wife Judy came over for a visit. I'd really wanted them to meet my parents, but it was also good to catch up with them ourselves. Steve and I love our church and love the Comonts!

As soon as the Comonts left, I took off on our bike to get fresh fruit and veg at my regular Wednesday market in city centre. It was raining by this time, so I had on my rain jacket, but my trousers and hair got wet anyway. I was already late for market, and knew they'd have a more limited selection by then. But I was horrified to discover, upon my arrival, that I had left my cash and my debit card at home. I found 2 pound coins in my backpack, bought some bananas and broccoli with it, and then raced home to retrieve my money.

When I returned 30 minutes later, the market was being put away, but I was still able to get what I needed. I was grateful for our bike, which makes getting to town so much quicker than walking! I also stopped in a hardware store to get a few bolts and nuts to fix the kids' scooters. I got home wet and tired. Over a cup of tea, I read a Today's Christian Woman article to my mom. (She can't read the small print of magazines anymore.)

Mom helped me prepare hamburger curry for dinner, and for once, everyone cheerfully ate the entire meal! Even Ethan ate his meat. Dad played guitar for us afterwards and Ethan joyfully bounced to the music. He loves to hum and is quite good at keeping a tune. Once the kids were in bed, I read a few mystery short stories aloud to Steve, Mom and Dad. Now I'm late for bed. Another day in the life of the Gertzes...

Brief Updates from my Facebook

Oct. 5: My parents told my kids that I used to race snails when I was little. Josiah looked very quizzically at me and then said, "I guess you won a lot, Mom!" I didn't understand at first, but then realized he thought I was racing against the snails and was always faster. We laughed so hard...

Oct. 4: Kids flew their first kite today, and my parents went punting with us for the first time. I'm so thankful for sunshine, even though it's getting chilly.

Oct. 2: Steve comes home tomorrow!!!! We survived 4 weeks apart.

Oct. 1: I'm dreading moving house in two weeks...

Sept. 30: I love having a mom who can sew (mended and hemmed a pile of kids' clothes today) and a dad who does computers (we've saved all our queries for him!)

Sept. 28: I sang with the City of Oxford Choir tonight -- gorgeous music, lovely voices. If I can work out a reduced fee, I'll be so happy to join them for the year!

Sept. 26:
I am SO happy with Naomi's choir (Oxford Youth Choir). She's only 7, but learning about enunciation, reading music, posture, listening, tonal accuracy ... and having a great time, as well! Her two teachers are amazing, and I'm so grateful she has this opportunity.

Sept. 25:
I'm having fun, catching up with my parents in person! (lovely, too, to have some extra help with the kids and dishes)

Sept. 22:
I love watching and listening to my kids demonstrate what they're learning by incorporating it into their play. Today we discussed "Great Plains Native Americans," made some paper tee-pees, and the kids immediately went off and used their Lego people to re-enact what they learned!

Sept. 21:
I think the book "Watching the English" by Kate Fox should be required reading for all foreigners living in England, and strongly encouraged reading for all English!

Sept. 21:
I am SO excited to see my mom and dad on Thursday for the first time in 1 and 2 years respectively. They're visiting from Nigeria for 2 1/2 weeks. They'll be amazed at how the kids have grown!!

Sept. 21:
My early-bird son makes me smile. Josiah came running to me as I lay in bed this morning saying, "Mom! Mom! I saw the sunrise!!" and later "Mom! There's a hot air balloon right outside our house!" Now if only the rest of us could wake up as alive and cheerful as he.

Sept. 20:
Anybody want three kids for real cheap? Free? Mine are on offer for a *limited time only*!! Don't miss out on this amazing bargain!

Sept. 19:
I just got some great tips and encouragement for helping my boys from Steve's cousin, Judy, who is a speech & language therapist. Now to put it all into practice!

Sept. 19:
Naomi said this was the "best day of her life -- except for her birthday" because we went to an old park that had been updated with some new equipment as well as painted. N liked the zip line and the bird's nest swing the best. The park's transformation was truly amazing!

Sept. 19:
We're halfway through our month without Steve. All four of us (at home) are still alive and speaking to each other. This is a good thing.

Sept. 18:
I *loved* attending our church's first film club of the year. Knowing "Slumdog Millionaire" would be inappropriate for my kids, I brought along my laptop and some kid dvds, set them up with blankets and pillows in the back room, and we all had a good time. What a movie -- thought-provoking, heart-breaking, sweet ... good conversations afterward.

Sept. 17:
We had quite the interesting day yesterday, between losing my toddler in downtown for a scary ten minutes and having a toilet disaster with one of my older kids (who shall remain anonymous). Could have been worse, though. Everything turned out okay in the end.

Sept. 16:
Home-educating is quite unusual and unknown here in the UK, so I'm looking forward to a fun publicity and solidarity HE event today: bubble-blowing on Cornmarket Street. After an hour there, complete with media coverage and interviews, we'll walk to the Natural History Museum together and picnic (and I'll face-paint!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just an Average Day

Today we got off to a pretty good start. I'm still trying to figure out what the best routine is for our family. It's sometimes hard to know how to balance teaching both Naomi and Josiah, with keeping Ethan occupied, happy, and learning himself.

In contrast to last week, when I taught N & J together for hours each day, today I tried teaching N & J together just for a little over an hour, and then split them up, giving each of them time with Ethan while I taught the other. I did Bible, spelling, history and science with both of them. Then Josiah and Ethan played together, jumping onto sofa cushions and laughing hard, while I did reading, language, math and handwriting with Naomi. Later we switched and I did the same with Josiah.

While it felt a little less efficient (in my head), it's fair to say that things worked out more smoothly this way. I also could focus more on each child. I'll keep trying it this week and see how things go.

A nice surprise was my neighbor Sarah knocking on my door mid-morning, asking if we wanted to join her and her girls at the new playground nearby. This didn't fit in with my "schedule," but I'm still glad we did it!

Sarah's 2 1/2 year old Amy and my 2 1/2 year old Ethan get along famously. It's so fun to watch them play together! And Sarah is my closest friend here, so I always enjoy chances to talk with her. Josiah and Naomi particularly like the pond area that is part of the new park. We all had a good time. It was great to get out in fresh air, brisk though it was. Autumn is on its way!

Following a crackers-and-cheese lunch back at home, I walked with the kids to "The Cowley." Cowley Road is a major thoroughfare in Oxford, beginning close to City Centre (at a roundabout called "The Plains") and extending through East Oxford and Cowley, as far as the ring road. Nicknamed "The Cowley," it has a high number of shops and restaurants in the part closest to town.

Since East Oxford is quite an ethnically diverse area and home to the only mosque in town, many of the shops feel like they belong in a different country. I've been able to find all kinds of African foods, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, etc. It's amazing! There are also many charity shops (thrift stores), bicycle shops, discount shops, and my favorite, Tesco Metro (small grocery store, huge grocery chain).

When Steve is at home, I often try to do my shopping sans children. But seeing as he's gone for a whole month, I bit the bullet today and took 3 kids with me for my errands. First we did a little bit of grocery shopping at Tesco. Then we bought bubbles at a stationer's (for a home-education event tomorrow involving bubble-blowing). We went to a cycle shop to buy a bike tire pump. I visited Boots Pharmacy for a medical item.

I also discovered a new (to me) charity shop and had to pop in. Josiah found a huge plastic T-Rex he loved, Naomi found a tiny plastic pony, and I found 3 fun kid videos (Tom & Jerry being the highlight). Since the dinosaur cost 2 pounds, Josiah's not playing with it yet, but looking forward to buying it from me in 6 weeks. Naomi's pony is also in storage, but she'll get hers in just one week!

[I began giving the kids "pocket money" (allowance) some months ago in order to help them begin to understand money better. I don't give them very much, so they have seen what it means to save for something special. Because they're usually interested in buying something from a charity shop, and we're never sure when we'll next return and if their coveted item will still be there, I've occassionally bought the said item and kept it in storage (at home) until the full price has accumulated in the child's savings. I find this works really well. ]

We also popped in to another charity shop and found a pair of sneakers for Ethan. Both boys really need something warm for their feet now that summer is ending. I was tickled to find shoes that seem to fit Ethan (and that light up -- what a bonus!) for only 1 pound. Another 2 videos and a Hello Kitty hand-held fan for Naomi, and we were homeward bound.

On our way to the Cowley, Ethan had been riding his scooter (2 wheels at age 2 -- can you believe it??) and was always way ahead of us. But on the way home, he was smitten with his new shoes and walked slowly behind us. It was so cute to see how proud he was.

Back at home, my kids played for a while with the neighbor kids, particularly Anna. Most kids on our street attend the (very) local primary school called St. Michael's. But Anna goes to a Catholic school and so has bonded with Naomi, who also does not attend St. Michael's. Really all 4 of the kids that age, in our row of houses, get along great together. But it *is* nice to not be the only one who is different.

We splurged and ate our "tea" (supper) while watching Tom & Jerry. It was so fun to laugh with my kids. Even Ethan was hysterical at times! Bubble bath, reading books about vehicles, Squanto and Columbus, then songs and bed. I've spent my entire evening catching up on e-mails, facebook, and blogs. I'm so grateful for the internet!

So that's a day in the life of the Gertzes. Just in case you were wondering ;-)

Monday, August 31, 2009

School Starts Tomorrow

I'm starting our home-school year tomorrow. Today was a bank holiday in England, and though tomorrow is also a day off for students (while teachers resume work), I decided we needed to make a start!

The kids helped me today as I created some materials we'll need this week (and year). They watched in fascination as I made a "Decimal Street" poster for math, and eagerly helped me decorate the box that now contains our math manipulatives. They picked the colors of paper for our history timeline and colored in their outlined names to glue to the front of their all-subject binders. Naomi finally admitted that school might just be fun, after all.

My curriculum suggests getting off to a slow start, gradually introducing handwriting practice, foreign language, and English. So tomorrow we're doing Bible, spelling, history, math and art. I'm excited and feel almost like this is my first year of true home education. It's the first time I've bought a curriculum and the first time I've felt serious about what we're doing.

My prayer is that I'll be a patient and loving parent as well as an effective teacher. And that my children will grow in respect, love and obedience, drawing closer to God each day and deepening their awe of his created world.

Friday, August 28, 2009

British Words: Children, Food, Clothing

Here's another quiz! See if you can figure out the American equivalents for each of these British terms. American choices will come in a day, to make it a bit easier ;-) E-mail your attempts to And just to warn you: none of them are the exact same in "American."

Babies & Kids
1) Nursery
2) Crèche
3) Dummy
4) Nappy
5) Do a wee
6) Push-chair
7) Plaster
8) Cotton buds
9) CalPol
10) Suncream
11) Vest
12) Chute
13) Round-about
14) Roly-poly
15) Stabilizers
16) Rubber
17) Felt-tips
18) Soft toys
19) Knots & crosses
20) Draughts

More Food/Kitchen

21) Gateau
22) Pudding
23) Barbie
24) Starter
25) Pancake
26) Flapjack
27) Kitchen roll
28) Take-away


29) Dungarees
30) Swimming costume
31) Trainers
32) Poppers
33) A zip
34) Pants
35) Knickers
36) A waterproof
37) Wellies
38) Trousers
39) Waistcoat
40) Dressing gown

Saturday, August 22, 2009

American Choices for British Food Quiz (see below)

A) Jell-O
B) cilantro
C) oven
D) cake sprinkles
E) candy
F) Saran Wrap
G) Eggplant
H) cotton candy
I) stove-top
J) zucchini
K) cookie
L) can (of food)
M) cupcake
N) 7-Up
O) soda pop
P) chips
Q) Kool-Aid
R) pitcher
S) toothpicks
T) French fries
U) tomato sauce
V) dish-soap
W) baked potato
X) popsicle
Y) Canadian bacon
Z) chocolate-coated ice-cream bar
a) lollipop
b) tomato paste
c) cup of tea
d) tortillas
e) oatmeal
f) cornstarch
g) ground beef
h) powdered sugar

Friday, August 21, 2009

British English Food/Kitchen Quiz

All of the following British words are different in American English. Can you think of their American equivalents?
Send your attempts to (if this seems too hard, don't worry -- I'll post a list of possible choices in a few days) Have fun!!

1) Lemonade

2) Cling-film

3) Biscuit

4) Aubergine

5) Fizzy drink

6) Jelly

7) Squash

8) Corriander

9) Courgette

10) Aubergine

11) Fairy cake

12) Candy floss

13) Cocktail sticks

14) Bacon

15) Corn flour

16) Jacket potatoes

17) Crisps

18) Chips

19) Porridge

20) Cuppa

21) Wraps

22) Jug

23) Tomato puree

24) Passata

25) Mince

26) Hundreds & thousands

27) Ice-lolly

28) Sweets

29) Lolly

30) Icing sugar

31) Tin

32) Washing-up liquid

33) Hob

34) Cooker

35) Choc Ice

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Edinburgh Trip -- Day 7

Our plan for Wednesday was to visit a nearby castle ruin called Craigmillar Castle, and follow that with a trip to Gorgie City Farm. Steve, however, could not find his wallet as we were preparing to leave. He searched the flat to no avail. He knew he’d last used it the previous evening, just before arriving at Maristela’s house for dinner. I said that we may as well buy our bus day passes and head back to Maristela’s neighborhood to check the shop where he last remembered having the wallet out.

Unfortunately, Steve’s wallet was not at the corner shop, and then we were stuck, wanting both to enjoy our day out but also get the wallet issue resolved. Steve phoned the police who had no record of it but took down his information. We decided that the kids and I would go ahead and see the castle while Steve would go back to the flat to look again and await a call from the police. (It turned out that the wallet was indeed at the flat, so though Steve missed our outings for the day, he was able to do his own fun things without further worries.)

Naomi, Josiah, Ethan and I arrived at Craigmillar Castle after having eaten lunch on the bus. Craigmillar Castle is over 600 years old and 3 miles outside of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. It was never the full-time residence of royalty, but did host Mary Queen of Scots and others when they needed to get away from Edinburgh Castle or Holyrood Palace.

Craigmillar Castle is not on the “must-see” tourist list, but in my mind, it’s the best place to take kids. It is small compared to Edinburgh Castle, but plenty big enough for a few hours of exploration. There are many rooms and staircases, nooks and crannies, all perfect for little people to enjoy. We saw medieval fireplaces, ovens, pantries, dovecot, bedrooms, and even a toilet! (Just a hole leading to the outside of the wall.)

More than one staircase led to the roof, where we could imagine we were medieval soldiers, keeping guard with our bows and arrows. We could see the Firth of Forth in the distance (where the River Forth begins to meet the North Sea – it’s body of water that Edinburgh is built next to), as well as Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle. I was grateful for such a beautiful day – clear skies and warm weather.

From Craigmillar Castle, we headed to Gorgie City Farm, back in our old neighborhood. We got there only ½ hour before closing time, so it was all a bit rushed, but we had fun nonetheless. A horse managed to grab a bag out of our stroller with its teeth, and we had to wrestle it back from him. The sheep sounded so funny; we thought they were cows at first!

We saw a bunch of piglets that looked very newborn, as well as older ones that were very entertaining. I think they were the favorite of all 4 of us. It was especially funny to see them trying to climb into the feeding trough, and we were tickled by their curly tails. We also saw goats, turkeys, chickens with hairy feet, rabbits, and cows.

In the evening we had our friends Adrian and Kit Herbert over for supper, along with their two teenage kids, Cara and Alexander. The whole family had been in Asia for their summer holiday, and we’d thought we wouldn’t get to see them at all. We were thrilled to find out they’d returned and could come visit us for an evening.

Kit and Adrian had hosted us for many meals when we lived in Edinburgh, sometimes having us for lunch *and* dinner on days when our strategy games took a long time! They loved our kids and we loved them!

It was nice to catch up in person and we reminisced about old times. It was a bit of a hodge-podge dinner as I’d ordered stuff from Tesco in quantities just for us, and had to combine them for guests. We had ravioli, pizza, and fish ‘n’ chips – strange but it worked!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Edinburgh Trip -- Days 5 & 6

Monday, July 27, found us on a train to North Berwick, a village just east of Edinburgh. Friends Kate and Hugo had recommended the beach there and offered us birthday money to pay for the train (and ice-creams and sand toys!) We were grateful to be on a very short train journey instead of a 5 hour one!

Though it poured rain for the first few minutes after we’d arrived, the rest of the day was clear and beautiful. We were all so excited to be by an ocean again! Josiah ran right into the water, cold as it was. Naomi and Ethan began digging in sand.

I was able to find a hardware store and buy some gardening shovels, some different-sized plant pots, and a utility bucket. I figured these would all last longer under the kids’ play and abuse, plus I’d be able to make use of them once we got back to Oxford. I also got a long-handled net and a beach ball (both of which we’d lost by the end of the day – sigh…)

We started at the western beach, and after 1 ½ hours, walked through town to get to the eastern beach. There we found lots of tide pools, as well as a “paddling pool” (a walled-in bit of sea water for kids to play in). Naomi, Josiah and I went off to see what we could discover in the tide pools. I told them about doing the same thing with my grandma when I was their age. It’s one of my favorite memories of her.

We saw lots of hermit crabs, caught a few small crabs and fish, and saw some red sea anemones. Naomi and Josiah were amazed to see sea creatures right there in the wild! We ate baguette sandwiches for supper, lingered ‘til past 6 and finally walked back to the train station. I really really didn’t want to leave. If we hadn’t made plans to have friends come over for coffee that same evening, I would have been tempted to stay on the beach until past 8!

As it was, we got home around 8:30 and our friends came by for a “cuppa.” Inke was the secretary in the Edinburgh Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies when Steve studied there. She and her husband James were missionaries in Egypt for years before settling in Scotland. It was nice to catch up with them in person, just before they were leaving for a holiday of their own.

Tuesday, July 28, was pretty boring! We needed a day to relax at home so we didn’t go anywhere special. I took the kids to the nearby park, just a 5-minute walk away. Naomi preferred to stay at home, looking at her new seashells, though. Josiah wanted to stay home and watch the crab (the token animal we brought home).

At supper time, we caught a bus into town and enjoyed a nice dinner and visit with our friend Maristela Lima-Napier and her three boys, Jonathan (5), Andrew (2), and Daniel (newborn). We’d known her from church, and though we missed her husband Gary due to his being on a work trip, had a nice time talking with her and watching the kids enjoy each other.

Only two more days before it was time to head home…

Chicken Recipes

Due to high prices here in the UK, I’ve taken to buying whole chickens from the grocery store. I’m not the best at cutting them into individual pieces, and I don’t have too many recipes that call for a whole chicken. But what works for me is cooking the entire chicken in the microwave. I use a big glass casserole dish, turn my microwave to half-power, and cook the bird for 30-35 minutes.

After letting it cool for a while, I can start pulling off the meat with my fingers. Call me barbarian, but I find this much more effective than using a knife! It means I can get all the little bits that are hard to reach with a utensil. Once I have a ziplock bag of meat, I can freeze some or just refrigerate it and use it in many recipes that call for meat!

Here are a few that I tried and liked this week (and my kids liked too!). They come from the cookbook called “Extending the Table,” which is similar in some ways to “More-with-Less.”

Groundnut Stew (from Ghana)


2 c. onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced


1 lb. chicken, cooked and shredded

½ t. ground ginger or 1 T ginger root, minced

2 c. stewed tomatoes or 2 large fresh tomatoes, mashed

1 beef bouillon cube

1 t. salt

2 c. water

Ground red pepper to taste

In small bowl, mix:

½ c. peanut butter

¼ c. water

Slowly stir peanut mixture into stew. Cover and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes. Add salt and red pepper to taste. Serve with rice.

Bang Bang Chicken (from China)

In wok or frying pan, stir-fry briefly in 1-2 T oil (preferably peanut), until chicken is cooked through:

1 whole chicken breast, cut in strips (I used already cooked and shredded chicken)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 t ginger root, grated or 1/8 t ground ginger

1 scallion, chopped in 1-in. pieces


¼ c. water

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. peanut butter

1 T. red wine vinegar

Simmer 5 minutes. Add:

2 c. broccoli florets

1 cucumber, sliced

Cook until vegetables are crisp tender, about 7 minutes. Serve over rice

Monday, August 3, 2009

Edinburgh Trip -- Days 3 & 4

Saturday, July 25, we headed to the Edinburgh Zoo. My parents had given us money to pay for it and we all had a great time! The sky was blue and the air was fairly warm – a perfect day to be outside.

Our first stop – and one of our highlights – was feeding the lorikeets in the aviary. We bought two servings of nectar, which Naomi and I held out in our hands. The birds were a bit cheeky: they wanted to stay on their rails and not make the effort to fly to us. But we stood firm and eventually they came.

I was proud of Naomi. Though sometimes shy among people, she showed no fear with birds! She bravely let the lorikeet come sit on her hand, tickling her a little with its talons.

The birds were brilliantly colored. My biggest reason for liking any zoo is the reminder of how awesome God is. What a creative mind He has, to come up with such diverse, beautiful creatures, each species uniquely designed to thrive in their own habitat.

Naomi and Josiah excitedly ran from exhibit to exhibit, thrilled to be seeing monkeys and lions, hippos and zebras. They could hardly wait for the 2:15 “penguin walk,” when zookeepers open the penguin gate and let penguins walk down the pavement in front of onlookers. We’d gotten there early and staked out a good spot. We were not disappointed as we saw cute little guys waddling right in front of us.

Naomi also bravely tried a turn on a trampoline/bungee jumping gizmo. It wasn't quite as fun as she expected, but we were impressed that she gave it a go!

At the end of the day, our friend Kate picked us up and drove us to the home we’d be staying in for the rest of our holiday. Kate’s friends from our old church were away for the week, leading a Scripture Union camp, and had offered to let us stay in their flat. It was so nice to have a 2-bedroom place to crash each night after long days out. I especially appreciated having a dishwasher, and the kids enjoyed the Legos.

On Sunday we worshipped at Gorgie Parish Church, close to where we used to live. I was amazed at how many people greeted us, as though 3 years hadn’t gone by. It was a blessed morning.

From church we went to the home of our friends Quintin and Fiona Bradshaw. They are both medical doctors, prior missionaries to Thailand, and parents of 4 teens. We had been blessed 4 years ago by their youngest two kids (twins Rory and Kirsten) befriending Naomi and Josiah, and also by their sweet hospitality as they had us for meals and let us use their home.

Fiona made an amazing spread of Thai dishes for our Sunday dinner. It was all very yummy! Our kids enjoyed the spacious yard, bouncing on a big trampoline, climbing and sliding, and playing with the Bradshaws’ springer spaniel Tia. They also got to go on a countryside romp, through woods and farmland, while Steve and I played a game of Settlers of Catan with Rory (14) and Chris (17).

We had so much fun playing Catan that we decided to do another round of it, pausing for tea-time. Fiona had baked homemade scones and served them with jam and clotted cream, along with tea and biscuits. Our Sunday gave us the best of two cultures’ cuisines!

Grateful for friendship and fellowship, we reluctantly returned to our flat. Our tummies and hearts were full. Thank you Lord for friends!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Trip to Edinburgh: Days 1 & 2

On Thursday, July 23, we left Oxford by train, heading first to Birmingham (an hour away) and then to Edinburgh (another 5 hours). We were going “home” to where we’d lived during the school year ’05-’06. Steve and I were excited to spend time in a city we love, as well as catch up with old friends. We also looked forward to re-acquainting our kids with places and people that used to be important to them.

The trip there was fairly uneventful. Ethan was thrilled to be on a train! This was his first long-distance train ride. We had a 3 hour layover in Birmingham, during which we explored the city a little bit on foot, and got caught in a rainstorm. The kids liked chasing pigeons in a grassy square we found.

The 5-hour ride to Edinburgh was trying on our nerves. By the end, the kids were stir-crazy and tired (we didn’t arrive ‘til after 9 PM) But we survived! At least the train was almost empty by the time we were in Scotland, so the kids’ noise wasn’t bothering loads of people. Naomi and Josiah spent the last 20 minutes of the journey picking up rubbish from throughout our car, and filling a bag with it. At last, a useful way to expend their energy!

For our first two nights, we stayed with good friends, Kate and Hugo Allan. Their daughter Rebecca is Josiah’s age and was one of Naomi and Josiah’s best friends. They also have a 2 year old foster son. It was a delight to see the kids play together, as if three years hadn’t gone by since they last saw each other. Rebecca and Naomi even had a “sleepover” together on Friday night in Rebecca’s room.

On Friday, we took the kids to see our old cottage. We didn’t see the inside, but took pictures of the outside. Two big changes had occurred in the last three years: 1) the car park that used to be completely empty (and available for tricycle riding) behind our house was now full of cars; 2) the huge derelict building that used to be such an eyesore from our kitchen window is gone, and in its place is a huge Sainsbury’s (grocery store).

We made the walk down our road to nearby Saughton Park, where I used to take the kids to a Winter Garden on cold days and the playground on

warm days. We enjoyed the goldfish in the greenhouse, the beautiful rose garden, and the huge sandpit in the playground.

From there we crossed the street to our old library. Balgreen Library had seemed so small to me when I first arrived from the Chicago suburbs. It’s only one room and has no bathroom. It is much bigger than our current local library in Marston, Oxford, though! We checked e-mail, read to the kids, colored

unicorn and dragon coloring sheets, and waited out a brief rainstorm.

We began the 40 minute walk back to Kate and Hugo’s, passing the McDonald’s we ate at every now and then, and discovering that a brand new Aldi grocery store was in our neighbourhood. It would have been only a 5 minute walk from our old house – a bit farther than the Sainsbury’s across the street, but not much!

At home we enjoyed the Allan family. Kate served the kids their own supper, we bathed them all, and then Hugo made a special meal for us adults. It was very nice to catch up in person with good friends!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I love to touch...

a rose petal
sand between my toes
the hair of someone I love
the new, soft skin of a baby
summer rain
my husband's hand

What do you like to touch?

Sickness Abounds

I'm not sure what is happening to our once-healthy family. It seems like we're the house of contagion these days.

Six weeks ago Naomi and Josiah each came down with some kind of sore throat virus thing (a week apart), and I followed them with my own cold. All five of us got head lice and it's taken 2 weeks to get rid of it by wet-combing.

Naomi's been battling impetigo on her mouth and nose for a few weeks. I was diagnosed with erysipelas (a superficial skin infection) on my cheek last Sunday, and now my visiting sister-in-law has come down with tonsillitis.

What is going on?? These are not major issues, but it's getting a bit tiring always having someone not feeling good! Naomi's impetigo and Genelle's tonsillitis are the current prayer needs .... let's get this family healthy again!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Enjoying Owen

My nephew Owen has been with us since Friday, and solely in my care yesterday and today. The kids and I are having so much fun with him! At times it’s a bit tough having four, mostly because it changes our normal dynamics. (Both Ethan and Owen idolize Josiah and fight for his affection.) But mostly it’s been great!

The best parts have been going to playgrounds and parks, watching the boys wrestle together, and hearing the three older kids having conversations more intelligibly than ever before!

We’ve spent time at every park we know of: Christ Church Meadows, South Park, Headington Hill, Parson’s Pleasure, Meadow Lane playground, and our local playground. Lots of space to run around is just what the kids need. They also love throwing rocks and sticks into water, feeding ducks, finding bugs, and using their imaginations on play equipment. (Owen said his favourite part of yesterday was “riding the boat” at the park, referring to a large steering wheel on a jungle gym.)

Though an only child, Owen seems to be adjusting well to my physical boys. He’s jumping right in when Ethan tackles him, or whacks him with a pillow. And there are remarkably few tears resulting!

And it’s just great over-hearing the kids’ conversation. I love listening to them compare Virginia and England, share favourite parts of funny movies, and explain things to each other. I wish I could capture all their cute voices!

My last experiences with Owen had been less pleasant. A little over 9 months ago, he seemed grumpier, a bit rebellious and whiny, and a pickier eater. It’s amazing how much can change in that time period! He seems like a different kid! I am so thankful for this chance to spend time with him now that he’s a little older. He’s been fairly easy-going, cheerful and respectful.

And he makes me laugh everyday when we talk about our upcoming rest time. He reminds me repeatedly, “I don’t have to shut my eyes, right Lisa?” I assure him that he most definitely does not have to shut his eyes; he just needs to lie down for a quiet time. And every day, he falls fast asleep. Smile…