He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Twas the Night Before the Open House...

...and all was NOT well!

I love entertaining and having people in our home.  I've grown to especially love doing so over the holidays that can be particularly difficult for expats living overseas.  It's nice to be able to provide a little holiday cheer both for our family and those friends who have come to be like family that we are surrounded with on this side of the ocean.  

I've always loved the idea of hosting a big open house at Christmastime but have never really lived in a place that was conducive to a very large crowd.  Thankfully, the apartment we moved into last spring has at least enough room for a large dining room table so we decided to go for it this year.  

So we baked and baked in advance- all our favorite Christmas goodies.  Like in the states, there is just so much going on at this time of year, I knew we'd have to get most everything done in advance.  Saturday, December 14 was quickly approaching and our calendars were full to say the least!  
I had plenty of helpers!

However, with snow-mageddon 2013, we found ourselves with a lot more baking time on our hands when we became snowed in for all of the days leading up to the Open House.  

Unfortunately, by Friday evening, when this was the view out my kitchen window...
.... I realized that all the stubborness in the world (on my part) to will this event not to have to be cancelled would not allow friends from across Amman to be able to get out of the 18-24 inches of snow most of us were buried in!  

So we put it off one day and re-scheduled for Sunday afternoon, hoping that  maybe the roads would be somewhat cleared after a day of forecasted sunshine.  

Unfortunately snowy roads were the least of our concern.  We woke up Sunday morning to no electricity!  Thankfully, our stove/oven works on gas along with our hot water so we could still take hot showers and wash the dishes.  Also, thankfully, we had done most of the cooking in advance so things just had to be taken out of the freezer and thawed.

We even made the fillings for the whoopy pies in advance (which would have required the electric blender or a lot of elbow grease to whisk by hand) so all I needed were my helpers to fill them.  Maddie and Naomi were a big help in filling the red velvet and choco-mint whoopie pies. 

I had planned on heating the wassail, pumpkin spiced lattes and cocktail meatballs in crockpots but we had to go to plan B for that as well.  We were glad to have an excuse to turn on the stove to help heat up the kitchen which has turned out to be one of the coldest rooms in this apartment...

Since we had done most of the prep work the day before, my helpers were able to take a break for a manicure mid-day.  Still no electricity but thankful for gas heaters!

Naomi was eager to help Jason clear off the front walk-way so that people could get to our front door safely.   We realized that parking would be an issue on our icy but prayed it wouldn't be an issue....

Some good friends bailed us out when our gas to the stove almost ran out by braving the elements to bring us one of their bottles.  They also provided extra crockpots just in case the electricity came back...

Anabelle helped me get the living room ready and in the process discovered that she could see her breath- doesn't take much to entertain her!!

The table was set and the house decked out in full Christmas mode.  Now we just have to hope our guests can make it!  
Our list of goodies included:
German chocolate cake
Blue cheese bites
Snowball cookies
Mini cheesecakes
Pecan coconut tarts
Red velvet whoopie pies
Chocolate mint whoopie pies
Gingersnaps with pumpkin dip
Angeletti cookies
Cocktail meatballs
3-cheese cheese balls
Christmas raspberry/cream cheese dip
pumpkin spiced lattes
fruit punch

and lots of other amazing treats that our sweet friends brought to share.  

The electricity came back on about an hour before the party was set to start so we were able to crank up the crockpots and not worry about running out of water (which needs electricity to be pumped up to the roof...)

All in all it was a big success.  I think people were stir crazy like us and those who could get out of their houses were eager to.  We originally expected around 75 and we had around 60 come.  Not bad for an open house in the middle of a snow storm!

Middle Eastern Snow Days

So last week there was snow in the forecast.  It was scheduled to start Wednesday evening and snow/rain pretty steadily for the next 24 hours or so.  The temperature was to be hovering around 35 or so- never truly freezing over.  

As you can imagine, this being the Middle Eastern desert, they are not exactly structured to deal with a big snow.  I was extremely skeptical that anything was actually going to stick and said so multiple times to the girls.  Wednesday morning (when there was a light rain, not even snow yet), we got a text from the school saying that IF there was school the next 3 days, it would start an hour late due to the potential for ice on the roads.  That's right, the potential.  Sure enough, by Wednesday evening, we received another text that school would indeed be cancelled the next day due to weather.  Good grief.  Don't get me wrong, this southern girl loves a good snow day, but it wasn't even SNOWING yet.  Of course the girls went to bed excited about the winter wonderland they were sure to wake up to...

Well...  Ok, so there was snow falling out of the sky and it was definitely pretty.  If you squinted really hard you might could say that it was sticking.  And Naomi was able to scrape together a "snow ball" (and I use that term loosely- it was more mooshed slush).   

I confess that I was kind of a scrooge when it came to going out and playing in it.  You've probably heard me talk about the heating (or lack thereof) in apartments here and honestly, I just didn't want to deal with not being able to warm back up after running around in the sleet- as that's all it was at that point...  Anyway, the girls had fun.  

Smart puppy, knew to stay inside where it was warm!

Checked the forecast and it was showing rain/snow for the rest of the afternoon/evening but it was hovering around 38 degrees and didn't really seem to be sticking.   A friend called offering to take the older girls to the Hobbit which had just come out here, so we sent them on their way to the movie.

Naomi thoroughly loved playing with all the neighborhood kids.  (remember, me=snow scrooge, I didn't even go outside to take pictures, but I did give her my camera to snap a few)

They were able to scrape together a snow/ice man with what was on the ground by late afternoon.

About 6 or so that evening we looked outside and realized it was REALLY coming down.  When the girls got out of the movie at 7, it was pretty bad.  It ended up taking them 3 hours to get from the movie theatre back to our friends house (normally would take 15-20 minutes) and they had an impromptu sleep over.   

Naomi had fun playing with the neighborhood kids.  We somehow managed to keep Anabelle from discovering how fun playing in the snow could be.  Thank goodness, since I have realized that I am severely underprepared for cold weather, at least as far as the girls clothes go.  Anabelle's only shoes are crocs which just really wouldn't do in this weather.  No one has a heavy coat, and well, just not prepared.  Anyway, AB had fun discovering new things inside.  We got out the dominoes for a family game of Mexican train and she sat right here at the kitchen table arranging and rearranging the dominoes in a line for close to an hour.  

No idea what she was doing, but it was apparently quite entertaining...

This was what we woke up to on day 3 of snow-mageddon 2013:

This was day 4- it just kept coming!!

We actually got less than most of the rest of the city- some places it was close to 2 feet.  Craziness!  
It's now 8 days later and the girls JUST went back to school today for exams.  Naomi's school actually got called off until after the holidays but AJ and Maddie had to go back for one last day to finish exams.  

Let's just say we are beyond stir crazy!!  I posted on facebook at one point that the little 2 were literally bouncing off the walls-as in throwing themselves into the wall and falling down and laughing.  And not that we needed to add to the stir-craziness, but in true Cox fashion, someone HAD to come down with a stomach virus the week we are scheduled to travel internationally.  Naomi kicked us off Monday night with what we hoped was a quick passing virus, and by the next night, it took another 4 of us out.  Thankfully, Anabelle is holding on as the only non-sick Cox family member- pray with us it stays that way before Sunday morning when we are due to fly out to the US!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

3 Tips for Moms in the Trenches of Toddlerhood

That's right, 3 things.  Not 10, not even 5, but 3.  Besides, I already wrote about 10 things I would tell new moms that you can find here, and there is some overlap, but these are 3 things that I really think are most applicable in the toddler stage, or at least are so important to start thinking about by the toddler stage.    

 I'm right there with you - deep in the trenches of toddlerhood, and I know that if you're like me, as much as you want to have loads of time to read, process reflect, you simply don't.  And if you do actually have the time, you probably don't have the brain power-at least I don't.   

I started my last post about not being such a great toddler mom anymore with the intent of sharing some things I've learned from having little people in my home, but I decided to separate them into a different post for the sake of simplicity.  

So here they are: 3 things that I really think have helped me keep my sanity (well, mostly) that I've learned largely by trial and error and making plenty of mistakes.   3 Things that if I were to do it over again, I would focus on more deliberately.  And finally, 3 things that I hope will encourage other moms who are also deep in the trenches fighting for the developing character of their little people.  

1. Comparison: just don't do it!  
 It's amazing how much more difficult this has become in the 10 years since I was first in this stage of parenting.  With facebook, pinterest, blogs, instagram, twitter- wow, the list goes on and on, anyway, with all these different forms of social media constantly at our fingertips, it is so easy to begin to doubt yourself and the choices you are making for your family when you see what the Jones' next door are doing.  There is a constant temptation to compare birthday parties, room decor and even daily activities that you engage in with your little one, because at any given point, the activities of so many others are just a click away.  The reality is that most of us don't share our failures or mundane activities in these places, and since we know that to be true, why do we see the highlights that others post, and assume that the grass is so much greener on their side of the fence?  It's amazing really how quickly I can begin drowning in my sorrows because of all the many things I am NOT doing that it appears everyone else around me IS doing- at least according to their facebook wall or pinterest boards 
Remember that just as God gifts us all uniquely as individuals, he also places us in families with different strengths and areas of service.  Families are not cookie cutter molds of one another, so don't make decisions on what is right or wrong for your family based on what is right or wrong for someone else's family.  God leads us all and guides us according to His unique plan for our lives, and Scripture says that He "gently leads those that have young."  (Isaiah 40:11)  The pleaser in me wants everyone around me to be pleased with the decisions I make for myself and my family, but reality says that is just not possible.  We will make decisions for our girls that others around us may not agree with.  We may choose to fight certain battles with our toddlers that others may not choose and vice versa, but if we are making our decisions based on the conviction of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, then we should not second guess ourselves if we value certain things as families that others don't.

Also be careful that you don't take comparison in the other direction.  As in: "well at least my kid doesn't do THAT"...  Give grace to others just as you hope they would give you.  That mom in the grocery store aisle with the screaming toddler who just tuck a piece of candy in his mouth, may very much value healthy eating habits for example, but she just wants A FEW MOMENTS OF SHOPPING IN PEACE or she will lose it.  It's very easy to talk about how our kids will never eat sugar BEFORE we have kids...  Anyway, GRACE!  We all need it, often much more than we are sometimes willing to give it, especially in the trenches of toddlerhood.

2.  Cyberspace can be a dangerous "go-to" source
I know that I am showing my age here, but having gone through a season of toddlerhood with my first 2 when the internet was just really not a factor, I think I can see the comparison between then and now and speak to this a little.  With so much information literally at our fingertips, whether it be something as simple as what brand of stroller or carseat to buy or something a little more serious like childhood vaccinations, we need to be very, very careful in the way we view the internet as a credible source.

I'm not talking about stroller purchases here.  Obviously, I see the benefit of being able to comparison shop, read other people's reviews, and even jump between stores to check availability all at the stroke of a key.  No, I'm talking about bigger, often medical things.  As a nurse, it scares me a little when I hear people referencing blogs and/or internet articles they've read as reasons for making major decisions for their little ones.  When did the internet become a substitute for the years of medical practice and expertise that our doctors and scientists have?  Whether it be childhood vaccinations, dietary patterns and the restrictions of certain foods, sleep patterns for babies, home birth vs. hospital birth, I guess what I'm saying is check the sources of the blogs and articles you count on as information sources.  Is it credible or is someone's opinion based on their specific situation?  The internet IS convenient and does offer a wide range of information, but it cannot see the bigger picture of your situation the way an actual person can.  Most of you may be thinking, "do you REALLY think I'm going to make a major decision based on someone's opinion on a Facebook post?!"  Maybe (hopefully) not.  But some people do seem to truly seek advice in that way.  You're probably going to get a lot of "you should never" or "you should always" on certain topics, and you just have to be so careful.  Especially if your emotions are already raw from being in the trenches with your toddler.  And, yes, I do have a reason for my soapbox when it comes to all things medical and the internet, but since that's not the thrust of this post, I'll save it for another day..

From personal experience, when you're raising toddlers and you're sleep deprived therefore physically exhausted and likely emotionally exhausted on top of that, sometimes you just want to know that you're not in it alone.  So you throw some post out to cyberworld seeking to know that others relate and often end up getting reactions to and advice for your current situation that is not necessarily the best.   I remember when my oldest 2 girls were toddlers, receiving the advice to make sure that God was still my main source of advice, comfort, wisdom etc. because it could be so easy to find yourself turning to other things before God.  In that day and age it would likely be parenting books (remember this was before facebook in the age of dial-up internet so books were on your bookshelf and not online) or simply calling up a friend (again, I raised them in the dark ages before texting was a thing-you actually had to call, and sometimes you had to be still because the phone had a cord attached to it....), as opposed to turning to God first whether it be through prayer or searching the Scripture.  I guess this is essentially what I am saying (to myself as much as anyone else), it's just 10 years later so it applies a little differently.  Make sure you have searched Scripture/talked to God about whatever "it" is before you surf the web, or at least before you turn to the web for the answer that you're seeking.  The other sources aren't bad in and of themselves, just as the internet is not bad, it's just not the best.  God is the best, and your kids deserve to have you seeking Him first.  Toddlers are such volatile little people - they can bring amazing joy and overwhelming stress sometimes at the same time and end up leaving us as parents thinking, "AM I DOING ANYTHING RIGHT?!"   Allow God to be the first one to speak to that heart cry and lead you in the direction He would have you go.  Remember that as a parent, He desires to gently lead you and your young.  (Isaiah 40:11)

3.  Center your family around Christ, not your child
 I loved the advice early on in our parenting journey that children are to become a welcome member of the family, not the center of the family.  It is obvious in reading the Word, that God very much values children and the family unit.   Scripture calls our children a blessing, a heritage, a reward (Psalm 127).  Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to him (Matthew 19:14), and we are commanded as parents to require obedience of our children (Proverbs 19:18) and impress upon their hearts the commands of God (Deuteronomy 6:7).  Recognizing the value of our children as huge PARTS of our family, however, is vastly different from setting them on a pedestal and creating a family life that revolves completely around them and their activities.

To clarify, I know that in the trenches of toddlerhood, you are probably thinking (especially if you are a stay home mom) "how in the world can life NOT revolve around my child?"!   As toddler moms there is very little that we do that does not relate to our children.  That is normal and is not what I'm referring to.  In my opinion, in the toddler stage, it's more about establishing the attitude from the start of teaching your children that the world does not revolve around them and their needs.  Things like keeping time with your spouse a priority, being willing to be flexible with your child's schedule if other needs or priorities of the family demands it,  or simply praying regularly for the wisdom to recognize if something, or someone is starting to take the place of God as the focus of the family, are things that can go along way in establishing a family centered around Christ, not children.

Yes, of course we love our children.  I don't know about you, but I actually adore mine.  They are amazingly precious gifts from God.  But we are not doing them or ourselves any favors if we begin to worship our children as opposed to the God who created them and gave them to us.
Toddlers are funny, amazing, aggravating and delightful little people.  You never know what to expect and no two days are ever the same.  They bring an energy and an excitement to life that can be contagious and exhausting all at the same time.   Just because you've successfully navigated the toddler trenches with one, even two, does not even begin to qualify you for the challenges and joys that the next will bring.  Days are never dull, that's for sure.

 If you're like me, with my current toddler, (my other 3 have long passed this stage...), I go through some days wanting to pull my hair out, but at night when I go in to kiss her sweet little cheek, I am just overcome by the preciousness of the gift that she is to our family.  I pray that for her sake, for the sake of all of our girls, Jason and I will keep our priorities straight as parents as we strive to raise God-fearing, Christ- loving young ladies who will be ready to face the challenges and joys life brings them.  We are far from perfect parents, but thank goodness we serve an infinitely perfect God.  And it is only in His strength, that we are able to navigate the trenches of toddlerhood in a way that won't leave us too battered and bruised on the other side.

"He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge."
Proverbs 14:26

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What a difference a decade makes- or does it?

With school starting back for the big girls a few months ago,

this little mess pot and I have found ourselves with lots of quality time.

You know what I've realized as we've gone about our days?   I'm not a very good toddler mom anymore!  I'm not looking for reassurances here, just stating a simple fact.  There are all sorts of reasons I could offer, but I think the main one would be that a decade makes a pretty big difference in what our daily lives look like.  Now, not only am I a toddler mom, but I'm a teenager, tweenager, school ager AND toddler mom.  I have to tell you that there are days I feel like I have multiple personalities as I try to effectively jump between the needs that each age has to offer.

About a decade ago (give or take), it was just these two little munchkins and me....

Our days were fairly simple.  We played.  We crafted.  We read books.  We made tents.  We cooked.  We waited outside for Daddy's truck to come pulling up from work.  And I'm pretty sure I had spare time on my hands. (the fact that I made the dresses in the above picture is proof of that spare time!)

So now that it's just Anabelle and me at home together during the week, I've had several moments of thinking, "wow!  I'm not so good at this anymore!"  Not that I was ever GOOD at it, so to speak, but I was at least more energetic at 29 than I am at 39!  And possibly a bit more aware of things like Polly Pockets for a 2 year old potentially resulting in immense frustration....

(I mean, obviously I should know that Cinderella not being able to sit in the car WITH her big dress on would be a big problem...)

Anyway, yeah, not such a great toddler mom these days.  I went over to a dear friends house the other day.  She has 3 girls under 4 and it was craft central over there.  They had played play dough, done a little coloring, and there was evidence of several other toddler friendly projects throughout the house.  And I thought, "huh- poor Anabelle!"  We just don't do much of that kind of thing in our house these days!   That was my life 10 years ago, when AJ and Maddie were little, but not so much these days.

Don't get me wrong, Anabelle and I stay busy.
We clean the desert off of our back balcony at least once a week...

We fold laundry.

 We put up groceries. (very meticulously, I might add- that would be her doing, not mine- the neat rolls of paper towels and kleenex)

We build a "hair cut boat" to make the trim that I am REALLY not good at, more enjoyable for us both...

doesn't always work....

and we DO occasionally play...

But mostly, she is simply my companion for making sure our home doesn't internally combust in the midst of the busy-ness that is our lives.

A lot changes in a decade- too much, really.  I do wish I could freeze time and kiss the chubby toddler cheeks of each of my girls again, but we all know it doesn't work that way.  They grow older and have different needs, different concerns, different victories and setbacks.  And each is precious and should be savored.  Even if in the midst of any given moment you want to pull your hair out, and find yourself asking your 14 year old if she's "been potty" and telling your 2 year old to finish putting away the dinner dishes.  (anybody else experience the multiple personalities of parenting like I do?!)_

What hit me as I processed all of this, or to be more precise, what God whispered to my soul, is that, no, I may not be the best toddler mom anymore but IT'S OK!   There is a time and a season for everything, and my season for being "just" a toddler mom has passed.   He brought Anabelle into this stage of our family knowing exactly what our daily lives would look like.  He has given her 3 amazing big sisters who are much more fun than I probably ever was even in my 20s and I love the fact that they are playing such a big role in helping to shape her character and teach her about life.   So my job as mom is to keep my focus on Him and seek His best in my decisions for my girls,  and remember that although things may not always be perfect, because I'm surely not, they will at least be moving in the right direction.

I don't know about you, but one of my biggest struggles as a mom of toddlers, well, a mom of any age for that matter, is the temptation to fall into the comparison game- that much hasn't changed in a decade, but at least what I've learned along the way is that I simply cannot go there.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on raising toddlers and what I've learned mostly from messing up quite a few times.  I was going to list some things here, but nap time is almost over for the toddler in my house and the bus for the big girls is almost home from school, which means I need to be ready to listen to the verbal processing of the days of my 4 daughters in 4 very different stages of life-pray I don't get too confused!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sometimes you really need a victory...

If you've ever lived and/or worked cross culturally, you probably know how true the whole frog in a kettle of water scenario is.  You often really don't realize just how stressed you are by seemingly little things until you are near breaking point.  Of course, there are differing degrees of this and we've experienced a handful of both.

Some cross cultural living environments are quite obviously high stress and would be to just about anyone- foreigner or not.  Our time living in Lebanon is a good example of this, especially from around 2005-2008.  This was a season of frequent political assassinations, bombs and other threats to various targets around the city.  Although we were very secure in God's calling on our lives as a family to be in that place, at that time, there was still a certain degree of daily stress that we had to accept in order to live and function there.   We never felt that our family's safety was threatened in any way, but you often don't realize just how stressed you are on a daily basis until you are removed from the situation.  I remember vividly, being on vacation in the states sometime during this time frame.  I was in the shower and a car back-fired outside.  I jumped and immediately began the mental process of wondering where each family member and friend was at that moment.  It took a few seconds for me to realize and remember that considering I was in suburban America, there was likely not a bomb on my parent's street.  (a shooting, a robbery, maybe, this was after all in Memphis, but a bomb- not likely)

Another example from the same US trip came with a typical summer thunderstorm.  My girls really hadn't experienced the displays of thunder and lightening that can come along with a storm, southern style.  One of them came running to the back of the house after some particularly loud cracks of thunder, wondering if I was at all concerned about the "bombs" outside.  We had a little lesson about weather in the US and all was well.

We've traded the high stress environment of Beirut for the "slow simmer" type of stress found in Jordan.  Although the political environment here is mostly stable and the headliner scenarios that cause friends and family back in the states to occasionally question our sanity are much more few and far between, we still live in a very different cultural setting and I guess, the whole frog in the pot of gradually boiling water comparison, could be even more dangerous.   On the outside, this is a very modern city with shopping malls, well known restaurants, a decent infrastructure when it comes to city lay-out and traffic patterns etc etc.  But on the INSIDE, well it's just not as progressive as you might think.  So just when you begin to think, wow, I've really adjusted well here,  you better look out, because you never know when a massive case of culture shock is going to hit you right between the eyes at the most unexpected moment.

Here's my story...

The girls and I were heading to the airport to pick up Jason.  It was a happy day.  Daddy was on his way home, we were leaving for vacation in a few days, loose ends were tied up at the house, we were ready for a relaxing weekend.  Me?  Stressed?  No!!  We headed out to the airport, a very familiar route.  I typically time our airport runs so that we arrive at the airport a little after the plane was scheduled to land as it usually takes a good 30 minutes to get through customs.  Anyway, a very few minutes from home, at one of the traffic circles that is infamous for horrible traffic, there were a few cops on the circle directing traffic.  Sadly, they weren't letting cars merge onto the bridge that we needed to get on in order to go to the airport and were diverting traffic through a neighborhood that I was unfamiliar with and I knew to be full of one-way streets that I didn't want to mess with navigating.  You could apparently get on the bridge from numerous other directions, just not this little portion of road (25 yards maybe?).   The exact same scenario had happened a week before when I was taking my parents to the airport, and I had asked the traffic cop to let me go towards the airport and he very graciously moved the barrier and let me go.  (causing me to wonder if there was actually any purpose in blocking this portion of the role besides that they were bored... I think not).

So I pulled up to the barrier and asked Mr. Traffic Cop if I could go towards the airport.  (this was all in Arabic by the way).  He said no, and proceeded to explain how I could detour through the neighborhood and come out on the other side and get to the bridge.   I tried.  2 minutes later I was back in the same spot.  Either his directions didn't work or I didn't quite understand them.  Just for fun, let's blame him.  I asked him to clarify his directions and he repeated them (this time telling me something completely different- see?  his fault...) and I tried again.  Once again, I ended up going in a very convoluted circle and ended up right back where I started.  Just so you can most effectively picture this situation.  It's rush hour.  There is A LOT of traffic.  NO ONE is happy with the foreign woman in the massive van who keeps stopping to ask for directions.  So this time, I pulled over to the side, got out of the van and walked over to the cop.  His buddy had come over by this time and between the two of them, they gave me directions in Arabic and English of how I could navigate through the neighborhoods, ultimately go under the bridge and come out on the other side of the bridge where I then could merge going in the correct direction (as opposed to scooting over his little barrier that was blocking the VERY short section of road that he was determined not to let me drive down).  So, being the good sport that I am, I tried again.  This time I was able to make it through the neighborhood, under the bridge to the other side, but I missed the turn onto the bridge and ended up right back at my good friend the traffic cop.  Great.  By this point, about 20 minutes have gone by (and we are MAYBE 3 minutes from our house with about 40 left to go to get to the airport...).

Ok, so now things are about to get ugly.  I could feel the tears coming on.  And these weren't just, I'm going to make myself cry so the cop will give me my way crocodile tears.... These were extremely real, I'm about to be bawling like a baby and scrunching my face in all sorts of weird ways tears.  So once again, I pulled up to the cop and attempted to explain to him what was happening.  I'm late to the airport, I am not understanding your directions, just last week your fellow traffic cop friend moved the "blankety blank" barrier for me, would you please have a heart and LET ME THROUGH!?!?!?!?!?  AT this point, he gives me the Arab click and raise of the eyebrows which means "absolutely not" and he turned away and started to walk away.  His friend even grabbed his arm and basically said to him that he should move the barrier and he clicks again.  Cue the tears.   So then I start bawling the really ugly kind of tears.  Abbey is rubbing my back telling me it's going to be ok, Maddie and Naomi are staring at me with kind of the deer in the headlights what in the world is happening to my mom kind of look and Anabelle is about to start crying too.  Remember, I am not pulled over to the side of the road  at this point.  I am totally blocking traffic and causing a fairly decent scene.  But dude is not budging.

Y'all.  It scares me to think how tempted I was to get out of the car and move the barrier myself.  I really almost did that!!  I think I even said to the girls in the midst of crying that I was going to do that.  What would have happened?!  I don't really know but it wouldn't have been pretty.  Well thankfully, I didn't.  I composed myself most likely thanks to the prayers of my eldest who was still rubbing my arm and by this time praying out loud- I think something along the lines of "Jesus, please help my mom come back in place of crazy psycho lady...".  I'm kidding, she was actually praying very maturely for the whole situation, and as He does, God answered.  We tried the convoluted neighborhood route one last time and this time merged effectively on to the bridge amidst many cheers from the peanut gallery, otherwise known as my daughters.

End of story, right?  Wrong!  I couldn't stop crying!  I mean I was bawling, totally out of control sobbing.  It was pretty ridiculous.  And, in that moment, I could not begin to verbalize just what exactly was wrong.  We continued toward the airport and about 5 minutes later, I got flagged down by another cop.  I'm not even kidding.  Well, the tears had not even begun to stop.   The girls are staring at me like, oh my word, this is going to be really bad.  Thankfully this cop was super nice.  I'm sure he thought I was crying because I got pulled over.  (he said that I completely ran a red light, by the way.  I'm pretty sure I didn't but given my current state, who knows).  I attempted to explain to him how mean his co-worker had just been to me which made me look even more crazy, I'm quite certain, but at least he let me continue on without a ticket (that makes 3 that I've cried my way out of in my life, by the way- this one wasn't on purpose though....).

I did eventually get control of myself (although when we picked up Jason at the airport and I had to repeat the story for him, I lost it all over again), and once I was in a better place (emotionally), I had to ask myself WHY I had lost it so completely and totally over such a seemingly small thing.   I don't know that I could site one specific factor.  I think it was really a combination of things: the gradual build up of the stress of living and functioning in a foreign culture, the inability to truly communicate what I am trying to say especially in a stressful situation, my extreme frustration with being treated poorly because I was a foreign women (this may or may not be the case but in this situation, my intuition told me this is what was going on and that was very frustrating).  Anyway, there is a long list of possibilities.   I think for me, in that situation, language was the biggy.

 I have a decent amount of Arabic, but especially when I am stressed it just really won't come out.   It's so frustrating to not be able to express adequately what is in your heart, and, even worse, to just feel so very dumb because of your lack of ability to communicate.  Learning language proficiently is such a huge part of living effectively within a foreign culture.  No matter how many people around you communicate in English, there will be countless times when those people are no where to be found and even if there was someone who could supposedly "speak English", they still might not understand the heart of what you are saying.  Bottom line- I was way frustrated by my lack of Arabic and how tongue tied I became in an emotional situation.  In those moments of tears and stress, I found myself questioning how in the world I would ever become an effective communicator of important heart issues when I couldn't even get through a minor traffic issues.  Obviously, there was more to it than that, but that is the story I was telling myself in the moment, even though it took me a few days to step back and figure out the source of my tears.

Not that I should be surprised, but over the next few days, God used another unrelated situation to encourage me and remind me that He is in the details, He cares about the small stuff that concerns me and He is so faithful to encourage me in just the way that I need.

As part of the process of moving to a new school in this country, the girls' "file" (essentially their school records) from their old school must be picked up (from the old school), taken to the correct division of the Ministry of Education, stamped and signed and then delivered to the new school.  Well, I had accomplished the first part of this task and had been carrying the files around in the car for several weeks.  My problem (besides a basic lack of time to complete this task) was that all I knew about the correct division of the Ministry of Education was the name of the suburb in which it was located.  I knew nothing about this decently large suburb of Amman except that at one of the roundabouts there is a statue of a coffee urn as this is the landmark that I used when taking Maddie to a birthday party about a year ago.  Add to that, the fact that directions to specific locations in this part of the world are not exactly easy to come by.  They typically don't use street names or maps but rely on landmarks and word of mouth to get from one place to another.

So, a few weeks ago, after receiving multiple calls from the new school wondering when in the world I was going to take care of getting the files signed and stamped, I found myself with a free-ish morning and realized I really needed to get this thing done.  Jason and I agreed that it would be strategic to take Anabelle with me as these government offices can be extremely frustrated.  Think mobs of people trying to get official work done, no lines, no order, no English.  What could it hurt to have my cute little American blonde (by Arab standards) baby with me?  All of this is assuming that I could even find the government office to begin with?!

So here are the facts:

  1. I had to get these papers signed and stamped at an unknown location to me and I needed to do it yesterday.
  2. I had proven myself to be less than efficient quite recently in communicating in Arabic on the subject of directions.
  3. I knew that I needed a victory in the area of language and in the area of checking something off of my to-do list in an efficient manner.

Now, before you think I'm crazy for heading out on this mission with so little information and so great a potential for frustration, here's what I've learned from 10+ years of overseas living....

  1. There are inconvenient and annoying things that you have to do as part of cross-cultural living and if you embrace those things with a good attitude and trust God with the results, it CAN be very encouraging (the opposite is unfortunately also true and can result in increased whining and complaining)
  2. Each new task can be an adventure and there are endless opportunities for life lessons along the way if you look at it in that light
  3. Check your pride at the door.  Just forget it.  Fully embrace the fact that you know nothing as the foreigner and are completely reliant on the hospitality of those around you.  
  4. Know that there is nothing you can accomplish in your own strength, remember that God is in ALL of the details and remember to surrender those details to him on a daily basis.  
So off we go on our little mission to get the papers signed (and to hopefully renew my love for the culture in which I live and my ability to function within it).  You guys, I was so amazed (why are we always amazed?) by the way in which God showed up in this little thing.  

I said a prayer, got in the car and headed to this suburb pretty far off of my beaten path.  I went to the only landmark in the area that I knew (the traffic circle with the coffee urn) and asked the first traffic cop that I saw for directions to the Ministry of Education.   Would you believe it was about 50 yards away from me on the left hand side of the same street I was on (something I could fully understand in Arabic!).  We parked, went in and a nice man (who first did his duty of yanking Anabelle's thumb out of her mouth and lecturing me on the horrors of thumb-sucking), escorted us through the crowd, straight to someone who spoke English, stamped my papers and handed them back literally within 5 minutes.   Aside from the whole thumb yanking incident, I might have thought that I met an angel sent to help me in that government office.... ( Maybe an angel who fully embraced the culture he was assigned to, thus the thumb yanking....  ).  

Anyway, that was a long story for a fairly simple point.   Cross cultural living can be exhausting, humbling, heart-wrenching, but so amazingly rewarding when you fully submit each day to God and trust him with the details:  knowing that He knows even more than you do exactly when you really need a victory- no matter how small it is in the grand scheme of things.   He will give that victory, pick you up, dust you off, and enable you to go about the tasks that are of much greater importance.   Trust him with the dailyness of your life and rejoice in the simple answered prayers.  

Thank Him for the victory that only He knew how much you really needed.   

Do the Next Thing

"Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, trust that with Jesus, do the next thing."  

I love this poem that I first heard quoted by Elisabeth Elliot.  These words have truly defined my life lately during a season when I barely have time to get clothes folded, meals on the table, and little ones tucked into bed, much less actually sit down to write about it.  It's a precious reminder when I begin to feel overwhelmed to simply put one foot in front of the other and attempt to accomplish the next task before me, of which there are usually many.  

I do miss blogging and recording our memories and processing through the written word which is so therapeutic to me, but it has taken a back burner in this season of life and that is ok for now.  I have written many a mental blog post in the shower or while cooking dinner or folding clothes but none of them have actually made it on to the computer...  Oh well.  This is a season and one that I am actually very thankful for in the midst of the busy-ness.  Today, I am thankful for my husband who has gifted me with several hours to myself during which I do hope to peck out some thoughts on the keys of my computer and post some pictures to catch up on what has been going on in our lives.  

My days are filled with the companionship of this little mess-pot.  She and I both miss big sisters now that they are off at school each day.

She is in such a fun stage and I assure you that our days are anything but dull.  As the 4th (and yes, slightly spoiled baby of the family), she has a plethora of role models in her life to parrot.  Some of her favorite phrases lately include (but are definitely not limited to....)
"Are you kidding me?"
"I sure do!"
"Of course"
"Mom, what are you doing here?"

Her favorite songs include a wide selection from "Whom Shall I Fear" by Chris Tomlin to Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire".  Sadly she's also mastered Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Lady Antebellum to name a few others.  Thankfully she also can belt out "Jesus Loves Me" and "If You're Happy and You Know It" so maybe she's not completely ruined...  She has her daddy's perfect pitch so it's really fun to listen to her sing.  

Miss Naomi is still doing amazingly well in her new school and I am so very thankful.  I was nervous about her being completely immersed in Arabic but she is loving it which is such an answer to prayer.  She has also FINALLY lost a front tooth at almost 8- better late than never.  Our doctor hear tells me that they later they lose the teeth, the stronger they (the teeth) will be, but considering they also tell you to drink a glass of warm water before you go out in the cold so you won't get too cold, well, you never know...

Here's that toothless grin...

Abbey and Maddie are doing very well in school as well.  It's a little more challenging to be the "new kid" in 9th and 7th grades, but they have done great.  They stay very busy with good friends outside of school and between band, basketball, drama, youth group, sleep overs and, and, and, they are never at a loss for something to do.  

Youth group...

First school dance of the year...

It's been a season of firsts for Miss Anabelle as well.  

First night in her big girl bed...

She made the transition from crib to bed so amazingly well and we seem to be moving in the right direction as far as night time sleep habits.  She started out as such an amazing sleeper, sleeping all night at 2 months, napping like a champ etc.  Sadly, ear infections, erratic schedules, and finally 2 year molars brought good sleep habits to a screeching halt but I think we are finally on the up swing..

First movie at the movie theatre...

Popcorn was definitely her favorite part!

(and first pony-tail that actually stayed in along with the movie)

Somewhere along the way, Anabelle decided that fixing daddy's hair was a fun game.  For a time there, every time he walked in the door, she wanted to brush his hair and put a crown on him.  So thankful for my man who will do anything for his girls!

I ordered silhouettes from an Etsy shop and LOVE the way they turned out.  I  love that they capture each of our girls so beautifully

As I said, in spite of the busy-ness of life right now, I am so thankful for this season.  I am so thankful for each of my girls unique personalities that cause me to pause each day and consider how I can be better.  Better at loving them for who they are, better at showing them how precious they are in their individuality, better at modeling for them what it means to be a wife who loves and respects and adores her husband, just better.  

Obviously, this is not something I can even begin to do in my own strength.  I am thankful to serve a Saviour who leads me in completing one day at a time, one task at a time, and even enables me to learn a thing or to along the way.  I pray each day that I will find joy in whatever "next thing" life brings my way, and I pray that in doing so, I will teach these 4 a thing or two about the love of a Saviour who gave Himself for them- not in my strength, but in His.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

My version of freezer cooking

Grrr!!  Today is the perfect example of why I haven't been blogging much!  I got Anabelle down for  a nap at a time that gave me about an hour of free time before Naomi's bus gets home.  I was torn- catch up on blogging (which is what I wanted to do) or be a bit more productive and organize my calendar for the coming month including meal planning etc.  Well, I opted for the blogging, and here I sit almost 45 minutes later.  That's how long it's taken for iPhoto to upload (very few) pictures and Safari to actually agree to open the webpages I needed opened.  My computer is on it's last leg and I'm so thankful to even have one, but it's so frustrating to have simple things take so long.  So again, grrr!!!  

This isn't really the post I planned to write, but now that my time is a bit more limited than I thought, I'll just go with it.  

Over the past year since we bought our freezer, I've tried out several variations of freezer cooking and am gradually coming up with something that best suits our family.  I thought I'd summarize here what is best working for me since reading a variety of other people's approaches is what has been most helpful to me.  If you want, you can check out this post that I did last year as I had just began trying to figure out what was going to work for us.   

I've discovered that I'm not that big of a fan of a lot of the freezer crock pot meals.  The veggies get a bit too mushy for our taste OR they call for large amounts of meat that we really can't afford here.  If you are interested in the freezer to crockpot meals, click here for my favorite website.  The savory beef and vegetable soup is really good and I actually do it without the ground beef.  The balsamic onion pot roast is AMAZING and is South Beach diet friendly.  When we are able to find good cuts of beef, this is definitely our top choice.  This month I tried a thai coconut chicken that's a freezer to crockpot recipe.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  

Otherwise, I've been trying to take one or two days a month (usually just a morning while the big girls are in school) to stock the freezer in a way that makes overall meal prep easier and also cuts down our grocery budget.  Here's what's been working for me...

MEAT:  I have pretty much stopped buying boneless/skinless chicken breasts.  Instead I opt for whole chickens that I usually cook all at once either overnight in the crockpot or on the stove.  I throw in celery stalks, carrots, onions and spices and freeze the resulting broth as well.  

I either use the chicken right away in favorite casseroles that I freeze, or I'll freeze it by itself in 2 cup portions.  Casseroles like chicken pot pie, chicken spaghetti, curry chicken and broccoli are some of our favorites.  I also do A LOT of soups.  Especially in the winter.  Here is my cooking blog with some of our favorites like Hearty Italian Chicken Soup, Lemon Chicken Soup and Chicken Tortilla Soup.  

I also buy frozen packages of chicken thighs.  I have several crockpot recipes that call for putting chicken thighs on top of veggies and/or sauce and then you shred the meat just prior to serving.  

On the rare occasion that I buy boneless/skinless breasts, I love using this marinade for chicken or beef (also South Beach friendly).  I cut the chicken in strips and freeze it in the marinade and then it's easy to cook up as a topping for dinner portion salads (one of our favorites also that the girls have dubbed "make your own salads") or to saute along with fresh veggies as a meal.  

I don't buy much beef anymore but if I do come across ground beef that I like the looks of, I'll usually cook it in advance on my cooking day to use in tacos or spaghetti or I'll go ahead and make up sloppy joes to have for a quick school night meal.  And some of our favorite casseroles are pasta dishes like lasagna, and this freezes well.  Our first few years overseas, I never made lasagna because my favorite recipe called for cottage cheese which is outlandishly expensive IF you can find it, which is a big if.  I discovered a few years ago that I can substitute labneh (the local version of sour cream but better) for cottage cheese in my lasagna recipe and we all love it.  

It's a lot cheaper here to buy dry beans and cook them in bulk and freeze them in 2 cup portions for use in soups and salads as opposed to buying cans of beans (which are readily available just expensive).  I soak them overnight (if I remember) then cook them for several hours.  I do this with black, red and white beans, chick peas and occasionally pinto beans.  

Fresh produce is fairly readily available here and actually mostly inexpensive.  I try to keep chopped red and green peppers in the freezer to throw in recipes.  I also peel and slice carrots and cucumbers to keep in the fridge for school lunches and snacks.  Fresh fruit is seasonal here so I try to stock up on whatever is in season and freeze it in portions for smoothies.  This most recent round of cooking, I did mangoes and peaches in smoothie sized portions for the freezer.  

BAKING/GRAINS  I'm still figuring this one out.  I've tried several recipes that are muffin cup portions of oatmeal but haven't settled on one that I love.  I always try and keep several loaves of some type of breakfast bread in the freezer along with muffins.  Some favorites include banana bread, pumpkin bread, bran muffins, apricot/orange muffins and applesauce muffins.  I don't have many of these recipes readily available online (I'm still pretty old school when it comes to cooking and mostly use cookbooks or recipes written on index cards in my recipe box), but if you message me, I'd love to send you any of the recipes.  I also try and keep several pie crusts on hand in the freezer.  I have a great recipe that makes 3 at once.  I use these for quiches, quick desserts and pot pies.  (a lot of these recipes can be found here at my already mentioned cooking blog).   Here is my favorite pancake recipe to keep in the freezer.  These cinnamon oat pancakes freeze well and make a great quick breakfast.  I don't have a bread machine but I have tried out several homemade bread recipes.  I haven't done this much and don't have any favorites yet but am open to suggestions.  If I have time I try and keep homemade tortillas in the freezer as well.  Many of these things that I don't get to on one of the days that I set aside for cooking, I'll try and do along with fixing a meal on any given day and sometimes that's easier anyway.  

MISCELLANEOUS  Most of these things may only apply if you live overseas, but they have helped me cut down on time and money in our kitchen.  The dinner hour (or 2 or 3) can be such a crazy time that anything I can do in advance to cut corners helps.  

For example: chocolate chips... Ridiculously expensive here.  I buy large bars of chocolate and cut them up into cup sized portions to keep in the freezer to quickly grab for an after school snack or dessert.

Spices here come in boxes in ziploc bags that are really annoying once opened.  I keep them in baby food jars in my spice cabinet and it's so much more convenient.  

I've found online recipes for things like taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix and instant chocolate pudding that are helpful to have made up and on hand.  

I'm definitely still learning and would love to hear what works for you in your kitchen.    

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Barbie meets June Cleaver

There have been various times in my illustrious parenting career that I have found myself taken off guard by one thing or another in regards to convictions that other people think I should have about what is right and/or wrong for my girls to do/watch/read play with at any given time.  The trends constantly seem to be changing and quite honestly, it's kind of hard to keep up!

Now, I honestly don't know if this is because we live overseas and are somewhat out of the loop, or if it's because I am, well, me.  I do on occasion miss things that may be glaringly obvious to the rest of the world.

Let's pretend that it's because we live overseas.  At least that makes me feel better.

Anyway, there have been times when we've returned to the states for a season that it's taken me (and the girls) a while to catch up with what's what.  There is a certain beauty to naivety as I talked about in this post about helping our girls hang on to their innocence, but it can also be overwhelming to return "home" and not be at all in the know about current trends.

Jason can definitely relate more to this than I can, having grown up overseas in a time where internet did not exist, and their communication with family in the states involved recorded cassette tapes mailed back to the states from Africa every few months.  Here's a perfect example from his childhood ...  His family returned to America in 1986 for his 6th grade year.  He had no idea who Michael Jackson was. In 1986.  Not good for a preteen boy trying hard to blend in and not stand out!

As dangerous as the internet can be for our little ones, it does help keep us connected that's for sure and for that I am thankful!  My girls biggest "well don't I feel out of it moment" involved coming home from the first week of school and wondering who in the world was Ole Miss and WHAT was the SEC?  I can live with that!

I'm talking more about parenting trends.  There have been a few things over the years that I have found myself caught in an awkward situation for recommending or talking positively about a toy or TV show that I had no clue that a large majority of Christians in America were avoiding or sometimes even boycotting for one reason or another.  Usually due to some news story or pop-culture event that I was completely unaware of.

Disney Princess movies, Harry Potter books, Hannah Montana to name a few...

Barbie is another good example.   I remember being somewhere in the states with Abbey and Maddie when they were younger (maybe a birthday party, a church event- I'm really not sure).  In the course of the conversation I referred in some way to Barbie's and looking for a particular item related to Barbie and being thankful that it was so much cheaper in the states.  Several of the ladies in the group commented to me that their girls were not allowed to play with Barbie and that was that.  I remember thinking, "huh..."  "okkkaaaaay" and wondering what I was missing.

I have since seen plenty of scantily clad Barbie's to know that yes, there could be an issue there, possibly especially in a home where there are young boys along with the young girls.

That's not the point for this post though.  

I was helping the girls clean up their Barbies recently (yes, we still shamelessly play them- ok more Naomi and Anabelle now but still) and as I was putting the clothes away, I realized that I really want to showcase WHY it never crossed my mind that Barbie is inappropriate or even anywhere close to scandalous.

It's because, thanks to my amazing Memommy, my Barbie's (yes, MINE, they have been passed on to my girls), tend to look more like June Cleaver as opposed to Britney Spears.

When I was little, Memommy made me a whole wardrobe of Barbie clothes fashioned after the current styles and she made another batch a few years ago for my girls.  Those are the clothes I grew up dressing Barbie in.  I didn't know anything else, and really, neither have my girls.

The clothes are starting to show a little wear (not surprising as some are close to 30 years old!) and I wanted to be sure to record these beautiful dresses and Memommy's amazing talent.

(I am obviously a horrible photographer and yes, Barbie's hair is way out of control...  Focus on the outfits please)

These are some of my favorites.  Possibly because growing up, Memommy also made a lot of my clothes and clothes for my aunts and my mom, and so these outfits remind me of those.

Several of us had something in the navy blue with the white bows.

The dress I wore to my 6 year birthday party was made out of this rainbow fabric.  I think my mom and aunt also had skirts (or dresses?)

The detail she put into all these clothes is amazing!  Almost all of them have snap closures and some sort of detail work like extra lace or extra pearl buttons like on this one...

One of my all time favorites was the Barbie wedding gown that Memommy made.  Complete with a separate slip underneath and a matching veil (this veil is actually the one she made for my girls but mine was similar)

She's dressed in the wedding gown made for me, and the one I'm holding is the one made for the girls...

Showing the separate slip underneath...

Don't worry, Barbie was also well prepared in the PJ department...

Did you have these full length nightgowns growing up?
I had matching ones for each of these, but this was my favorite...

Again, I love the detail!

Also, a cozy robe (including pockets) for winter nights...

This next group of dresses is probably what led me to the June Cleaver analogy...
I love them down to the pearl buttons and lace necklines...

And Barbie should always be prepared with good outerwear, don't you think?
She has a versatile full length cape as well as a shorter version.  

If it's really cold, she has a stylish winter coat with an attached matching scarf.

(by the way, Jason just came and looked over my shoulder and commented that it's "freaky" to have all these pics of Barbies- again, the point is the hand made clothes!  If I had itsy bitsy Barbie sized hangers or some other way to display, I would.  Work with me here...)

Barbies in our house can still dress up for a night on the town too.
Here are some of my favorites...

Pretty sure I had a Christmas dress made from the plaid on the left.
I've always loved this one, right down to the satin pink accent ribbon that ties over her shoulders.  Can you see the triangular shape of the hem around the bottom?

This is a 2 piece outfit with individually sewn on beads for decoration.  Hard to believe it's lasted 30 years!!

And not to worry, Barbie could also dress down, 70s/80s style. 
Warm ups and flare let pants...

Meticulously sewed down to the last detail...
(even pleats down the front!)

We have quite a selection of mix and match skirts and blouses.  Again, with incredible detail.  

These are some of my favorites also, because of the fabrics that remind me of my childhood, and because some of these outfits are exactly what I would picture Memommy wearing...
(pretty sure that pearl buttoned shirt with the built in tie around the neck is back in style...but, like I said, I miss a lot of trends so I may be wrong...)

I could be wrong, but I'm fairly certain that this outfit was made to look just like a dress that my Aunt Ginny had when I was little.  It's one of my favorites too..

And no 80s Barbie wardrobe would be complete without a pair of coullotes (does anyone know how to spell that?) and a skirt and blouse of matching floral fabric...

And the grand finale?  What wardrobe is complete without a pretty, versatile apron that can be slipped on over any outfit?

As you can see, I wasn't "missing" anything in my friends innocent remark that her kids weren't allowed to play Barbies.  I have since observed enough in retail Barbie aisles to know that there is definitely a good amount of inappropriate Barbie clothing.  I wasn't missing anything, I was just exposed to a different Barbie world.  One where Barbie's clothing was tasteful, versatile and just plain fun for any little girl to play with.  

So don't worry moms, if you send your little girls to our house to play with our little girls, they may be exposed to Barbies  (let me know if you don't want them to!), but it's a different breed of Barbie over here.  She's tastefully covered and fashionably dressed in outfits created by my incredibly talented Memommy.  I guarantee you won't find doll clothes like these anywhere else!

Stay tuned for pics of our homemade American Girl doll clothes.
(maybe those pictures won't be quite as freaky?)