Thursday, November 17, 2011

In our new home...

We're here in Maryland! We still have no internet at home so I haven't had time to post pictures of our new house yet. And it's been a crazy week, trying to unpack and adjust to Steve's new commute and schedule. But we're blessed in many ways, and will write more soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Picky Ethan Prays

Ethan has given us trouble over food for a long time now. When everyone else is happily eating, he complains about the "yuck" food. I've tried all kinds of reactions and strategies, but here he is, almost 5 years old and still as finicky as ever.

Tonight Mimi had made a new recipe, and it was completely child-friendly, healthful and tasty. Ethan rejected it, as usual, without even tasting it. I decided to be extra-strong. I told him that not only would he not get any crackers or the candy he'd been told he could eat after dinner, but I said he'd also not get anything else to eat later in the evening, not even fruit. And while he didn't seem to care about all that, I added that he couldn't get down from the table either, though his siblings were watching the last few minutes of a Magic School Bus video begun earlier.

He was not a happy camper. He cried and pleaded, but I stood strong. I made small goals he could easily accomplish in order to get one cracker at a time as rewards. But he still complained and refused. I left the room to get other stuff done, and after being called back numerous times for him to plead further with me, I told him to only call me again if he was ready for me to watch him eat his bites (to verify he deserved the cracker).

I was gone again for a few minutes and wasn't happy to hear my name called out again. This time he said that he wanted to tell me two things, whispered in my ear. His first whispered phrase was, "I love you." And his second was, "I prayed to God to help me eat my food."

And wouldn't you know it, he ate that dinner! Not every bite, and not enough to get his piece of candy. But almost all of it, which was enough for him to get some nutrition, not have an empty tummy, and to be rewarded with a few crackers. And best of all, it was because of sweet prayer!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Things are Changing...

Steve got the job at Georgetown University, and we're moving to Capitol Heights, Maryland (D.C. area) in just 11 days! The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown has offered Steve the job of "multi-media editor," which will be a full-time, 9-5 job, and which will support him in his endeavor to begin PhD research this January (long-distance through Exeter University). We're all very pleased, as you can imagine! It seems to be a great fit for Steve's skills and interests, and will also finally give us a chance to grow some roots. Who'd have thought we'd be planting ourselves in Washington, D.C.?

Also, Ethan's speech evaluation testing is finally done and we had the official meeting today, determining where he'd go from here. He's been "diagnosed" with Speech-Language Impairment, which means we'll be able to go to any school district in the U.S. and get speech therapy provided for him. The therapists admit that Ethan is a unique case -- he tested at above-average in his understanding and expression, and average in his articulation, and yet while speaking longer sentences, he can only be understood about 50% of the time, at best.

Steve starts work on November 7, but we don't move into our new home until November 13. So he'll be staying with friends for his first work week, and then coming back to Lexington (3 1/2 - 4 hour drive) to help us move. We're grateful to have found a house already which we'll rent for 12 months, and then re-evaluate our situation. Next we need to find a church!

Though we're excited about all the upcoming opportunities, we're also sad to leave this beautiful location and dear friends and family. I still enjoy every time I drive through the abundant trees, with wooded hills in the not-too-far distance, and past green pastures and grazing livestock. City will be a bit of a shock to my system, but at least it's an American city, complete with public libraries, free museums and a zoo!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October update

It's been one month since last post, and Ethan is still not fully evaluated for speech therapy!! He's supposed to have his final test this week ... we'll see. Then there will likely be another time lag before we have a meeting with the therapist to "decide the plan of action." Red tape!

Steve's had 2 job interviews for an editorial position in D.C. and we're waiting to hear back as to the results. He's also having another interview this week for a job in NC. It's hard not to be impatient, as we'd really like to get settled in our own place and have income again!

One week ago, Steve's sister got married in a lovely outdoor ceremony. Naomi was a junior bridesmaid in the wedding and delighted in dressing up!

Other autumn highlights for the kids include learning how to shoot a bow and arrow (while in Baltimore with Wheatie friends), and building & painting & playing in their new "clubhouse" in the woods below our yard. They love that it has windows and a ladder, and Steve's dad most recently added a second ladder so they have access to the roof. They'd climbed to the roof one night to watch stars, so Papa decided a 2nd ladder would make the climb safer.

I'm still hanging in there ... kind of. I'm trying to lose weight, trying to do my best at homeschooling, and trying to survive the loneliness that comes from yet another international move.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ethan's Speech Update

Every time we move, Ethan goes through a new evaluation process to receive speech therapy at our new location. It was fairly quick in Amman, but here in VA, it's taking a while. We began our inquiries a month ago, and had two meetings near the end of August. Today, almost a month later, Ethan got through 2 of 3 testing sessions, and hopefully will do the final one next week. Then we still need to meet with the school district's therapist to hear their final evaluation and recommendation. Who knows when Ethan will finally be getting therapy again??

Today's first test was with the speech therapist, evaluating Ethan's speech production. For the first time, we heard that Ethan may possibly have oral apraxia. An early warning sign that he exhibited was his inability to reproduce "p-t-k" in quick repetition, even though he could say each of those sounds individually in repetition. He would need more testing done to discern whether apraxia is actually one of his problems.

It's interesting to me that the therapist here has a very different reaction to Ethan's speech than did his therapist in Amman (whom we love!) Many of the missing blend sounds (for example saying "boo" for "blue") or incorrect consonant sounds are considered normal preschool speech patterns here, and don't worry the therapist. In contrast, those were the very issues we were last working on in Amman. And as he was making great progress in Amman, it's hard for me to hear them say here that the issues are no big deal! But who am I? Not an expert, that's for sure.

Ethan's second test today was at the Virginia School for Deaf and Blind in Staunton, VA. It was free, with our referral from the local school district, so we decided to go ahead and have the thorough testing done, just to make sure we hadn't missed some small hearing problem in the past. The teacher at VSDB who tested Ethan was awesome -- very engaging, kind, and thorough -- as was her graduate student helping out. Despite Ethan's fears, he had a positive experience, and it turns out that he has nothing at all wrong with his ears. So -- that's one good thing!

We will keep you posted as we wrap up the evaluation process and find out about Ethan's eligibility for therapy. We thank God for how far he's come, and for his intelligence, outgoing personality, and natural curiousity. Now we just need to keep working on his intelligibility!

(Picture is Ethan in July with our dear friend Rachel Waterman)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Family Reunion

The Kids in Chicago

End of Summer

It's hard to believe that it's already September. The summer seemed to whiz by. We've been back from Jordan for 2 1/2 months now, most of that time spent here in Lexington, VA. We're living in the basement of Steve's parents until further notice -- Steve is looking for work as he prepares to start half-time, long-distance doctoral studies through the University of Exeter (England) in January. Both of us are doing computer work from home, which helps but doesn't pay all the bills. We're very grateful for Mom and Dad Gertz's hospitality and generosity!! They are long-suffering and patient.

The highlight of our summer was a trip to the Midwest to visit friends and family. We spent a week in the Wheaton (Chicago) area, catching up with college and church friends, and sharing memorable places with the kids, like the John Hancock Center and Cosley Zoo. It was wonderful to spend time with people who know us well, and the kids had a great time playing with our friends' children, canoeing and pedal-boating, fishing for the first time, and splashing in a few different water/splash parks!

My immediate family also got together in Wisconsin for our first family reunion in years. Grandpa and Julie, and my uncle David and aunt Pamela, all flew out from CA; my parents flew in from Nigeria (!!), and my two siblings, their spouses and kids made the trek as well. What a sweet time it was to meet my 3 nieces (for the first time!), play with my nephews, and catch up with all the adults! I loved seeing my kids get to know their cousins, while playing "football" (soccer) in the garage, hide-and-seek and sardines in the house, and throwing stones into the nearby lake. I loved singing with my whole family while my dad played guitar -- great family favorites by Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

It was all too short, though! Thankfully my parents were able to spend an extra week with us in VA, but when you only see each other every 2 years, 14 days doesn't seem like enough!! And it had been even longer than 2 years since we'd seen my other relatives. Sigh...

Back in Lexington, the kids enjoyed going to two Vacation Bible Schools, having an overnight with their cousin Owen, swimming a bit in the city pool, and generally enjoying American life again. We can't get enough of the color green! Can't get enough water, either!

Now it's September and we've done two weeks of school. We're using "My Father's World," Math-U-See, and Spelling Power for Naomi and Josiah's 4th grade, as well as Count on Math and Picture Book Activities for Ethan's preschool. More to come...

What we're missing about Amman...

Arab music
large dining room table, great for school!
neighbor kids
pita bread
Books & More librarians
going to church on Friday nights
Oasis (our church)
cheap iced drinks available everywhere
dry heat
goats, donkeys and camels

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weight Watchers

1 1/2 years ago, I gave a brief attempt at Weight Watchers in Oxford. I was impressed with the system and philosophy, but for some reason didn't continue (and in Amman, it seemed near impossible). Now I've signed up for three months of WW Online, and really really want it to make a difference! My eating and weight are out of control, and I don't like that feeling!

Today was my first day. By the time I sat down to input my morning and lunch food, I'd already surpassed my daily allowance of points!! Oops... So "dinner" was just fruit and veg. Not bad, when it's ripe peaches, watermelon and home-grown basil with home-grown tomatoes! Please pray for me, as you feel led, to stay strong and resist temptation as I seek to treat my body more as a temple of the Holy Spirit, fearfully and wonderfully made. Thanks...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Final Countdown...

The kids are crossing off the days on our calendar, and our countdown is now 24. Twenty-four days left to enjoy scrumptious yogurt, cucumbers, pita bread, olive oil, date syrup, falafel. Twenty-four days left to be surrounded by Arabic script, language and music. 24 days before we trade our spacious 3-bedroom flat for our cozy 1 bedroom basement apartment. 24 days to get medical and dental appointments taken care of so that we can avoid the crazy American healthcare system for just a bit longer. 24 days to see the last special sights in Jordan and Israel – hoping to make it to Petra, Karak, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee.

Our friends have already been leaving for a few weeks now. Because Ramadan falls in the height of summer this year (and will for the upcoming years), even more Westerners are going on overseas vacations than would normally. Though I haven’t experienced it for myself, they almost unanimously agree that Amman is not a nice place to be during a baking-hot month of fasting. So between people leaving for home assignments and others leaving for vacations, we’ve said goodbye to multiple dear friends this month.

In a way, I’m grateful for early departures of friends, as Amman will feel less and less like home, the fewer friends we have here. And the less it feels like home, maybe the easier it will be to leave.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kid Update April 2011

Ethan (4 1/3)can write his name, and form all letters by copying them. He loves to write notes to people! With his improved verbal language, we can now understand him much better as he asks all sorts of questions and shows great thought. He has a good throwing arm and a great sense of humor (his speech therapist says he's the silliest child she's ever worked with). He still uses some British terms, like “sweetie” (for candy) and “biscuit” (for cookie), and can not answer the common question "Where are you from?"

Josiah (7 1/2)is our natural teacher in the family and loves explaining things to Ethan. He loves to run and is so happy to now be playing T-ball. His spelling is on a 5th grade level and he easily keeps up with Naomi in all our 3rd grade home school work. He still enjoys playing with his stuffed animals, but also likes to read Hardy Boy books and help me cook. He is quite the comedian and loves entertaining our family with his antics. He is anxious to go back to America to see relatives and toys he'd left behind 3 years ago.

Naomi (8 1/2) – sings constantly, often making up her own songs or lyrics. She also remembers tunes incredibly well, some after hearing only once, others after years of not having heard them at all. She is fascinated with cursive writing, and so I've begun teaching her the cursive alphabet. She reads every minute she can. After having read every Enid Blyton mystery we own, and all the Little House books, she's now working on Nancy Drew. Naomi is great at batting and is loving baseball. She says she’s liked living in different countries.

Things I Miss...

about America:

  • my bread machine
  • my electric mixer
  • having a car
  • my pastry cutter
  • Root beer
  • Cool whip
  • Always understanding everybody
  • Being able to easily read all price tags and signs
  • Endless water supply
  • Hot water on demand
  • Mexican food
  • Big libraries
  • Wearing seatbelts
  • Not standing out as different
  • air conditioning and central heat
  • One-stop shopping at places like Wal-Mart

about Great Britian:

  • Gorgeous old architecture everywhere
  • Libraries within walking distance
  • The Thames
  • Green
  • British vocabulary and accents
  • Orderliness (queuing!!)
  • Zed
  • Ginger beer and lemonade (fizzy)
  • Ginger cake & mince pies
  • Buses and trains
  • Zebra crossings
  • River walks and other paths
  • Cycling
  • A keen awareness & interest in European & world affairs
  • Tea with milk and sugar
  • Choir-singing (me and Naomi)

And what I think I'll miss about Jordan:

  • Best fresh pita bread ever
  • Fresh hummus
  • Fresh falafel
  • Palm trees
  • Cheap taxis
  • Very international church
  • Spacious house
  • Sunshine
  • Modestly dressed women
  • Camels, sheep, donkeys & goats
  • Crazy driving
  • Bakeries
  • Roman ruins and Biblical sites
  • Arab music
  • tea with mint
  • being next door to a corner shop that carries (almost) everything!

But of course, for everywhere, what I miss (or will miss) the most is dear people. Family who have known me my whole life. Friends that I've made recently, and friends who I've known for years. And godly, Bible-teaching, hospitable churches in every home we've had.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trust in the Midst of Darkness

Our year in Amman is winding down, with a departure date now set for
June 22. Everyone assumes this means we have a “next step.” We don’t.
We’ll have a 24-hour layover in Rome (YAY!!) and then arrive in D.C. on
June 23. Thankfully Steve’s parents are gracious enough to let us crash
at their place in Lexington, VA, while we get our life sorted.

Steve had applied to many graduate programs, hoping to do a PhD in Islamic history next year, but most have said “no.” It’s a bad time to need a funded program, as everyone’s finances are so strapped. We still have two possibilities, but I don’t know how much to hope for. One would be in Tennessee, the other in Exeter, England.

It’s not a fun place to be, in this desert of uncertainty. With loans to pay back and 3 kids to care for, the stress can overwhelm us. We alone do not have the means or the strength to endure, but we have a God who knows no bounds and works all things for good. The hard part is trusting him through these dark valleys, and surrendering all plans to him. He might very well have something completely unexpected in our future. May we have the grace to accept whatever it is.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Memories of Grandpa's House, Part 2

Though my grandparents’ house is small, every one of its few rooms holds sweet memories. There are two bedrooms, and in one of those, I remember watching a few great movies. I’m not sure if the TV was always in that room, or whether it was wheeled in there so the grown-ups could have some adult time. But “Black Arrow” was one story that impressed me as a child.

I spent my first 14 years living within a couple hours of San Diego, so I had many chances to spend nights at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. One such night, I was sleeping in a sleeping bag, on an inflatable air mattress, and woke up in the middle of the night to the repeated sound of a bell ringing. In my groggy half-dream state, I assumed it was the grandfather clock striking midnight. The next morning, I found that I was completely on the floor, rather than on the air mattress, and heard the report that there had been an earthquake the previous night. My grandparents didn’t own a grandfather clock, so what I had heard was the doorbell dinging during the quake. And I’d slid right off the mattress during the shaking as well.

The kitchen holds both really early memories and much later ones. My grandma was an artist and I treasured the times we spent in the kitchen working on projects together. Sometimes she would have ceramic figurines ready for us to paint, and I’m not sure which I liked more: painting them myself or watching my artistic mom painting hers. Sometimes she would have iron-on crayon activities for us. One year she let us decorate pairs of underwear with our own designs. This was a fun thing for 6- and 8-year olds! Another year, she had us make designs that reminded us of special summer memories, and we ironed them on to bed-sheets, one for each of us kids.

I also have fond memories of my grandpa in the kitchen. The funniest was when Grandpa would throw spaghetti noodles onto the ceiling to see if they stuck. I think the idea was that if they didn’t, they weren’t yet ready to eat. But many years later, as a college student, the kitchen is where Grandpa and his wife Julie kindly taught me about American football. On the small kitchen TV, I watched my first football game. Can you believe it took me 19 years to see football? At the time, I was developing a friendship with a classmate who was quite athletic. Football was one of his sports, so Grandpa and Julie felt I should learn at least the basics. A month later, as I watched the Superbowl at Jeff’s house, I was glad that Grandpa and Julie had helped me out like that!

And finally, my very sweetest memory of Grandpa’s kitchen was when I was 21. My friend (now husband) Steve had graduated from Wheaton College in ’97 and was living back in San Diego. He and I had spent some time together over Christmas break, while my family was staying at Grandpa’s house. As a grand finale to our time together, I planned to “kidnap” him and take him out to coffee. I borrowed our family’s car, made arrangements with Steve’s parents, blindfolded him, and took him to Starbucks, where we had a great time to talk and pray together.

Then, not wanting the evening to end, Steve borrowed his dad’s car and took me for a driving tour of the hills above his neighborhoods of Escondido and Poway. We were both falling in love, but hadn’t said it yet. And as I drove back to Grandpa’s house at midnight, though I was on cloud nine, I was a bit worried about waking my family up when I arrived.

Imagine my surprise and delight, when my dad greeted me at the front door, and invited me into the kitchen for cups of cocoa. He wanted to hear all about my evening and all about Steve. He’d waited up for me and shared in my excitement. Because my parents and I had been an ocean apart for all my other dating experiences, I hadn’t gotten to share like that with them any other time. I thanked the Lord for a dad like mine, and for my Grandpa’s kitchen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Memories of Grandpa's House, Part 1

I have lived in 27 homes over the course of my 34 years, some of which were only for a few months, and none of which include my 4 years of dorm-living in college. My homes have spanned 4 states and 4 continents, and yes I feel homeless in many ways.

The one geographical constant during my entire life, is my grandpa’s house in San Diego. Though I sadly haven’t visited there in the past 5 years, I still have many precious memories of every room in his house. When I do go back, I feel like it’s the one safe place in the world. My refuge. My place of identity. My place where I belong, even just as a grand-daughter.

In the front yard, my memories involve plants. Under the living room window were some strawberry plants which provided yummy fruit for little fingers. And along the driveway were sweet pea plants, fragrant and beautiful, as well as an “Elizabeth rose,” which I liked because it matched my name. A large tree on the street sometimes dropped seed pods that I remember coloring in an effort to create pretend food for our childhood make-believe games.

The living room is one of the most precious places. A large wardrobe stood in the corner, the bottom drawer of which held games and children’s books for us to enjoy whenever we visited. It also had a full-length mirror which was fun to dance in front of. When I was little, the living room couches were ones that rocked. We spent many hours cuddling with Grandma, Grandpa, aunts and uncles, on those couches, reading books, singing Christmas carols, playing “Dictionary.” My grandparents used to have a black cat, who would also join us in the living room. For my first 9 years, it was the only “pet” in my life.

Another prize of the living room was a player piano. We would choose a song scroll, load it on the gears above the keyboard, and then pump the foot pedals to make the piano “play” the music. I remember watching in fascination as the piano keys magically moved up and down, producing beautiful music. It was so fun!

The piano was also my first place to test out some piano playing of my own. I’d fallen in love with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (movement 1) and when my uncle David heard me trying to copy it on the piano, he offered to get me the sheet music for it. For years, it was the only music I owned, and I quickly memorized the first two movements.

My mom, my aunt Marybeth, and my Grandma all played piano, and Marybeth and Dad also played guitar, so we spent many hours enjoying music in the living room. I have a cousin Marcy who’s 2 years younger than me, and since I didn’t have a sister until I was 5 ½, we liked pretending we were twin sisters. One year at Christmas time, we planned a “ball” and dressed up and danced as the adults patiently and kindly played Christmas carols for us. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life.

Other precious moments were sitting in Grandpa’s lap, enthralled while hearing him read the “Bear story;” lying in my sleeping bag on the floor as Grandma stroked my hair – she was the only one I remember doing that; and then more than a decade later, Grandpa comforting me (the big college student) as I writhed in pain on the living room floor because of a terrible boil in my ear. “If these old walls could speak, they would have a tale to tell…”

Reflections on Sports

My first memories of sports are fond ones. I remember kindergarten field days and winning a second place red ribbon in the standing long jump. I remember happily running through my family student housing neighborhood, and learning how to ride a bike.

But as elementary years progressed, I felt less and less happy about sports. I didn’t have a physically active family, so didn’t have any weekend practice at throwing, batting, or catching balls. I seemed to be uncoordinated when a moving object was approaching me and I had to make it go somewhere else. And because I felt I was bad at sports, I chose to not even try. I remember even lying sometimes to my teacher when it was P.E. time, saying that I didn’t feel good so that I could sit on the side, watching everyone else do baseball or some other game.

Upper elementary was the worst. By then, kids were choosing their own teams in P.E. games, and I was inevitably one of the very last picked. I remember being proud of my time after running the mile, but everything else was negative.

Finally, in sixth grade, I had a long-term substitute teacher who was really kind, and spotted an ability I didn’t know I had. While I thought I was bad at everything athletic, she helped me see that I was pretty good at sports like basketball, where I could have the ball already in my hand and then make it go somewhere. Soon I was playing basketball everyday during recess, and even the boys were calling me “Magic.” Basketball continued to be my favorite game through middle school years, and to this day, basketball and Frisbee are my most loved “sports.”

Junior high youth group leaders also had a huge influence on me. As I entered the group at age 10, I was self-conscious about my lack of physical ability, and in the midst of a boy-majority group, often chose not to play the games. But college-aged friends like Tracy and Katy encouraged me to just go out and try, and have a good time. And as the years passed, I became one of the most enthusiastic youth group game players. It’s what I missed most about youth group when I moved to Nigeria.

Now my own kids are 7 and 8. Since they have always been homeschooled, they have not had much experience with sports and group games. When I was invited to join a group of ex-pat families, meeting weekly at a park for sports and games, I excitedly went. My kids were shy and unsure of themselves, and it took a while for them to warm up to the group. But in the last few months, they’ve gotten to play volleyball, dodge ball, tag, and baseball with this group of kids ranging in age from 3 to 12. I’ve watched them grow from being timid and whiny, to being enthusiastic and risk-taking. And now they’re thrilled about being part of Amman Little League softball.

What made me so happy about the Tuesday park group was the sweet encouragement my children received from both kids and adults. They were cheered on, even when struggling to connect bat to ball. They were gently invited over and over again to join games that they weren’t sure about. They were made to feel a special part of the group.

When I think of the horrible feeling in my stomach, time and time again, at being ridiculed for my inability or at being picked last, I thank God that my kids have such a positive beginning. I want them to enjoy using their bodies and playing with others. I want them to grow in their skills, even if they’re never MVPs. I want them to feel good about being team players and to always have hope.