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

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?)

Friday, September 13, 2013

13 going on...

FOURTEEN, people.  14.  Not 30, not 25, heck, not even 18.  When your baby girl is 13 (as mine is for only one more day), at that particular point in time she is 13 going on 14.  So why can't we just let that be?!

Why is society and/or culture today (particularly in America in my opinion) insisting that our girls grow up so quickly?  What is it that makes us push them towards the grown up world at breakneck speed?   I really don't know.  I don't have answers here but I think more of us should be asking the question.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that our family lives and works in the Middle East.  Now there are a lot of things about Arab culture in general that can be challenging.  Mainly things that are just DIFFERENT and therefore hard.  For example: lines and the idea of waiting in them in an orderly fashion.... Not gonna happen!  And just give up on getting frustrated about it and pitching your own little mini-fit in the grocery store when the 84th person breaks in front of you.  They are not going to notice your mini-fit and if they do notice, they will probably have no idea what you're upset about (unless they've spent time in the West).  Another example would be the concept of saving face and truth telling.  In many situations in this culture it is vastly more important for someone to "save face" so to speak and tell you what they know you want to hear as opposed to actually telling you the truth.  Not necessarily about large issues, but in day to day functioning this particular nuance of the culture can be highly irritating!  

So yeah, anyone who has spent time in a culture other than their own, can attest to the fact that there are things that take getting used to.   And, although it may take more time, as I think we just naturally are more prone to notice the things that bug us, the more time you spend in another culture, the more certain things about that culture become endearing to you, even part of who you are.

So while there may be many things that our Arab neighbors don't get quite right, especially in the opinion of Westerners, I feel like they are doing a pretty good job with daughters.   Now to clarify, I am NOT talking here about M'slim views on women, various practices related to young girls that are horrifying, or any aspect of society that says women are lesser creatures.  I am simply talking about the face that from our interaction with other Arab families, from my daughters interactions with friends at school and my relationships with mothers of those friends, I feel like, in general, the girls in this part of the world are free to be, well just girls (as opposed to women) for longer than girls in the states.  And maybe I'm completely off base in that synopsis, I don't know.  But that's really not the point so please don't get stuck on it.   The point is, WHY do we want them to grow up so quickly?!

WHY do I see pictures of girls Abbey's age on facebook or various blogs dressed to go to school functions with, well, TEENAGE BOYS, and the girls are wearing shorter skirts and lower cut blouses than I ever remember even thinking about wearing.  I'm talking about 12 and 13 year old GIRLS here.   And it's usually the moms that post the albums with cute little comments like "she's growing up so fast" or "13 going on 30".  Help me understand why.   I don't live in America anymore.  Maybe I'm missing something?  What are moms thinking when their little girls are dressed up well beyond their years?  Or maybe the better question is, "what are the dad's thinking?" !?!?!   Dad's who were once teenage boys themselves and know good and well that that the boys out there interacting with their daughters cannot help but thinking more than how cute she looks...

What's the rush?!  I guess that's what I'm saying.  SAVOR the innocence!  Cling to it.

I'm kind of talking in circles here.  I know that.  My baby will be 14 tomorrow and I'm in denial.  Life happens just way to fast.  Of course, I'm not saying that we should fight against the natural progression into maturity.  Whether I think it's too fast or not, it IS the way God created it to be for a reason.  So certain things that are inevitable I must embrace.  We take hold of the teaching moments that are naturally brought into our paths as parents of daughters.  But isn't it possible to do that while at the same time allowing them to maintain their innocence for just a bit longer?   Do we have to allow them to bear so much of their outer beauty that their inner beauty becomes scarred beyond repair?  Can't we do something to turn around the trends of what "everyone else" is doing?  Can we somehow redefine that?  Don't we have a responsibility as reasonable parents and adults who can think a bit more clearly to redefine what is normal?

Yes, I want to prepare my girls for the things that they will likely be bombarded with out there in the "real world".   I strive for them to be well spoken and educated, able to carry on intelligent conversations with both a 7 year old, a 77 year old and all ages in between.  We don't hide them from the realities both tragic and lovely that make up todays world.  You know what I want to hide them from quite honestly?  The American teenage culture!   From what I read and hear lately, it is a very scary place!!   The average age of exposure to porn is 10.  TEN!!  That's not even teenage.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the issues being dealt with.  So HOW do we cling to those last bits of innocence as our little princesses grow into women?  How when "because everyone else dresses this way" is the least of our worries with the internet at their fingertips...   May seem overly simplified,  but last time I checked, we ARE still the parents.  We do have a bit of control even if it may be easier in certain circumstances to say that we don't.  There are filters and parental protection programs.  If they want to get to it, they will, you may say.  Maybe.   But don't you also think that they want to know that you care enough to try and prevent it?

When people over here say that a certain country or city is becoming more "western" do you know what they mean?  Essentially they mean that the women are beginning to dress more provocatively.  Yep, that's what they equate with "western".  Women who show skin.  Are we ok with that?  I'm not!  Now, I'm not saying that they stereotype is correct, but it should at least cause us to pause and consider....

So help me here, fellow parents of teens.  How are you fighting this fight?  How can we convince our kids that it's ok to be 13 going on 14, 14 going on 15, 15 going on 16 etc.  Are we asking the right questions?  Are we inserting ourselves appropriately into the lives of our teens in a way that says, "I love you enough to guide you in knowing that this or this is not ok and this or this is?"  Are we accepting cultural norms just because they have become cultural norms and not because they are God's best for our kids?  I'm asking myself too!

Maybe I'm way off on this,  I don't know.  I am after all processing against the backdrop of being emotional about the passing of time.   And by definition, processing means that I have not come to any logical conclusions (as if that weren't already completely obvious by the rambling nature of this post...).

For now, I'm mourning the fact that I'm old enough to have a daughter who'll be 14 tomorrow, and I'm celebrating the beautiful young women she is becoming.

 I'm mourning the fact that she is beginning to notice that their are other members of the opposite sex in her life besides her father, grandfathers, uncles and cousins who might be worthy of her attention, and I'm celebrating that I still have to occasionally remind her to brush her hair before she leaves the house.

 I'm mourning the fact that in 4 short years I won't be putting her on the bus and across the city to high school but on a plane and across the ocean to college, and I'm celebrating that for now, for today, she still loves to play capture the flag with the neighborhood kids and hide-n-seek with her baby sister.

I'm mourning the fact that the sin in our world has brought issues to her attention that I would much rather she didn't know existed, and I"m celebrating her love for reading and new information.

Mostly I think I'm mourning the fact that all of my girls are going to be dealing with this culture that pushes them to be 13 going on 30.  I can't help but think that things aren't going to slow down much.  So as I mourn that reality and think about how if affects each of my girls, I celebrate the fact that as parents we have the choice to say that we do not accept this as the norm for our girls. I will stand against this trend and fight hard for the innocence of my daughters, and I will do everything within my power to help them take life one year, one day, one moment at a time.

Yes, tomorrow my Abbey will no longer be "13, going on 14".  She will actually BE 14.   And the year after that, 15, and then 16.  That is, after all, how it works.  And I accept that.  I do.  Let's just agree to help our daughters, our sons, be the age that they are, and be all there.  God, in His infinite knowledge, did not design 30 to come after 13 for a reason.  Let's help keep it that way.

" He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  "
Ecclesiastes 3:11-12

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Heavenly Hugs

I should warn you that it's late, I have gotten a total of 6 hours of combined sleep over the last 2 nights, AND I just took 2 Benadryl which I never do when Jason travels, but, well, I did.  So WHY in the world am I up and blogging?  Well, no good answer except that I've already had to go into AB's room to soothe her 3 times and somehow it's easier to do that from a position of having not yet fallen asleep  than having to wake myself up from the stupor that is sure to follow because of the Benadryl.  Make sense?  I thought not...  The other answer would be that I composed this blog post in my head while I was washing my face and wanted to record it before it got lost in the jumble that is my brain lately.

(So I wrote the above paragraph last night along with a bunch of notes that I'll now try and make sense of to compose the rest of this...)

Do you ever find yourself just completely knocked over with a sense of God's pleasure?  Like God is just reaching down from Heaven, wrapping His arms around you an squeezing the life out of you in the best possible way.  Not because of anything you've done or said or successfully completed, but just because.  Because you are His and He loves you far beyond any earthly parental love.  Because, most of all, He, more than anyone else, knows exactly what you need and when you need it.

Lately these moments have happened for me in the midst of complete chaos.  At times when I'm literally running myself ragged with not a second to process anything (and believe me, my sweet husband will attest to the fact that I need WAY more than a second...).  It's like God reaches down from Heaven, puts His hand under my chin, just the way you would with a 2 year old who's eyes you want to meet, and says,
"Look how I am caring specifically for you!  I'VE. GOT. THIS."  

 He is aware of every lost hour of sleep, every second, minute, hour spent fretting over circumstances far out of my control (but thankfully not out of His), and not only is He aware, but, as Peter so eloquently put it, He cares for me!  (1 Peter 5:7).  AND He goes out of His way to show me.  Time after time after time.  And every time I am totally overcome by a sense of gratitude and thankfulness and complete unworthiness that the God of the universe would take even half of a millisecond to love on me.  But He does.  And He will continue to.  And it is that knowledge that allows me on the hardest of days to simply put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing.

So tonight as I washed my face (well last night I guess since my Benadryl stupor took over and I didn't  finish this post), all of these I'VE GOT THIS moments that God has given me lately came rushing back to me as I reflected over the last few weeks/months and the chaos that has been our lives.  I've been overwhelmed by the number of emails from acquaintances and friends that said God put you on my heart TODAY and I prayed this for you.  Perfectly timed emails on days of high stress and worry.  God lifting up my chin, "I'm in control, child, I'VE GOT THIS".  But the worry doesn't stop.  At least if you're me. (or one of my daughters, I'm discovering).  That's just how I'm wired.  I worry.  I just do.  I'm kind of good at it, actually.  Pretty sure that's not something to brag about, but it's simple fact.  Anyone who knows me even a little can attest to it.

When I was little I worried that I was going to get bitten by a brown recluse spider and die.  

Then I worried that someone I loved might get bitten by a brown recluse spider and die.

Then I went to nursing school and in my first nursing clinical, I helped clean the wound of a 400 pound firefighter who had gotten bitten by a brown recluse spider.  He didn't die.

(but I fainted)

When I was in 6th grade, I worried that I was going to get leukemia and die.  Actually, what I really worried was that I already had leukemia and my parents weren't telling me because they didn't want me to be sad that I was dying... (no, I'm not kidding).  This worry may or may not have been caused by a book I read called "Too Young to Die" about a young girl with leukemia....

Then my sweet husband was diagnosed with cancer as a 27 year old.  God took that lifelong cancer worry and placed it right in my lap and lifted my chin and said,


Truly this only begans to scratch the surface of my life long history of worry, but I digress, that is not the point of this post- I'll save that one for another day...

Anyway, you get the picture, I worry....  A LOT.  So it shouldn't surprise you at all to hear that my girls are top of my list of things to worry about.  Maybe worry isn't the best word choice here.  The Bible does, after all, tell us not to do this.  But we do, or at least I do.  Because I'm human, and not only that, I'm female, and I therefore tend to forget that I am not, in fact,  in control of all things and then I start to worry.  I guess those are the moments when God looks down and sees that I need those holy reminders of Who is actually in charge.  Those arms reach down from heaven and hug, and that hand lifts my chin and reminds me to keep my eyes on Him as He says in one way or another,


So in the back of my mind all summer long has been an undercurrent of worry about my girls education.   More than I realized I think. My sweet girls have been in numerous schooling situations- French national school, private Christain school, homeschool, private Christian school again, private Jordanian school..."  It's a long list.  Some situations have obviously been more ideal than others, but each situation has been carefully prayed through and yes, worried over.   We knew back in May that the girls would be changing schools.   We prayed about it,  felt Spirit led in the decision, received confirmation from the Lord in our decision, yet somehow when Jason would ask me how I was feeling about the school thing, my oh so positive answer would vary from "bad" to "awful" to "very worried". Positivity at it's best, people.   I am generally not a negative person but when it comes to their schooling and possible mistakes I've made along the way, it's doomsday in my head I tell you.

So as the girls have started school this week, I've realized just how worried I had become over yet another new situation for them academically.  I don't think I realized how determined I was back in the recesses of my mind that there was no way this could possibly be a good thing.  I have, after all, ruined them for life with all of the school hopping and there is no way they will ever recover.


 God has blessed my socks off this week time and again by showing me their resilience, their inner strength and their developing characters and I am over the moon proud and flat on my face humbled before the King of Kings as every bit of who they are becoming is ALL because of Him.   I feel like He's been spinning me in circles pointing saying,
 "I've got this,
and that over there,

and that little situation over there.  Got that one too"

 Abbey and Maddie have amazed me.   I've seen them jump boldly into new and unknown situations that would have scared me to death at their age.  They tell me of the questions they raised in their classes that show cultural understanding and emotional intelligence well beyond their years. They both show an inner confidence in who they are in Jesus as opposed to being fearful of doing or saying the wrong thing in a new and unknown situation.  Just this week they have prayed with and for non-believing friends.  They have contributed to our house group's Bible study in a way that challenged my thinking and made me think of my Creator in new and amazing ways.

And Naomi.  My sweet little wild card.  That's how I described her on Facebook this week as I awaited her return on the bus that first day since I never really have any idea of how she will respond in a given situation.  I've been most concerned about her in this new school setting.  She is fully immersed in arabic and sort of has been for the last 2 years but not in the best environment.  She's a little behind in her English reading as she is learning to read and write in Arabic at the same time, so, as you can imagine, my worries have been numerous.  Have I missed her up?  Is she missing out?  etc etc etc...

But I came home last night from her parent teacher meeting and that's really what started this whole train of thought.  I wept as I left that meeting having heard her teachers' words.  These ladies have been Naomi's  teachers for 1 week.  That's all.  As I visited with them, one after another they told me how they had been amazed at Naomi's adaptability in the classroom.  The told me of her sweet spirit.  How she jumps in and volunteers and helps other students with things they don't understand in English.  She raises her hand to contribute in class.  She reads along with the class, out loud in Arabic.  Yesterday, she read out loud BY HERSELF in Arabic.  She is doing it.   She is ok.  She is more than ok.  She is His and is filled with Him and He is guiding her and leading her when I am not there.  And He gently lifts my chin, wraps His arms around me and says,

"My child, I have been telling you all along that I'VE GOT THIS." 

My heart overflows...

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: 
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
He gently leads those that have young."
Isaiah 40:11

Saturday, September 7, 2013

10 Random Things

Here's a list of 10  things that will hopefully catch me up from a summer of really not blogging much at all.   These are pretty random and in no particular order.   

1.  FISH  We now have them.  2 actually.  They must be pretty hardy because we've had them for over a month and they're not dead yet.  I do NOT have a good track record with fish.  The last one we had lasted about 4 days before developing a massive purple bruise on it's head and dying the next day.  Goldie and Nemo (yes, very creative names I know, again, didn't think the fish would be around long...) were not an acquisition of choice.  Rather, they entered our family when our neighbors, who were moving to Dubai, carried them over in their bowl and said, "here, we're giving you our fish".  Yippee!  Said neighbors returned 2 days ago having decided not to live in Dubai apparently and I confess that I tried to give the fish back.  I think she was somewhat offended and insisted that they were a gift that could not be returned.  Oops.  Thankfully she was not offended when I refused her attempt to also give us 4 rather large box turtles.

2.  TRAVEL.  Wow we traveled a lot this summer!  I'm so thankful that we have this opportunity, really I am.  I'm thankful for the list of places that my kids can say they've gone.  I'm also, at this moment in time, very thankful to be home for the foreseeable future.  Traveling can take a lot out of the little people in our lives no matter how much they love it!  

Thankfully none of our trips this summer involved an airplane ride longer than 2 hours so the novelty didn't really wear off.  At least for Anabelle.  She was very excited about riding the airplane every time!

We went to Dubai and saw the fountain show in front of the tallest building in the world...

We went to Aqaba with my parents and spent 4 days at the Red Sea.  

Most recently we traveled to Greece

The girls stayed with some dear friends and toured Athens and Corinth and all the sites to be found there while Jason and I had our own little anniversary get away on the Greek island of Hydra. 


Our theme for our 2 days was hike along beautiful trails, sit at amazing cafes, sleep and repeat as many times as possible...



Amazingly refreshing.  So thankful for the opportunity!!

3.  Family Pics  I've decided that I am the only one in my family that cares even a little about getting a good family picture.   Everyone else is highly irritated by and just a little bit grumpy about the whole process.  It's kind of/sort of become a joke except the thing is, I'm really not laughing.  What do you think?  Is it too much to ask?  A family picture?  Or even a decent picture of all 4 girls looking mostly normal.  Nope.  Pretty sure it's not going to happen.  Not ever.  

We tried in Aqaba...
We tried at Mt. Nebo...

The ones in Greece were the least awful but still not quite frame worthy...

Maybe we'll just stick to being goofy...

4.  FAMILY  We were blessed to have visits from both sides of the family this summer.  Jason's brother, Jeremy came for almost 3 weeks for a visit and somehow I managed to not get one single picture of his time here.  The girls loved having him- just wished his girls could have come to.  And I'm pretty sure that AB will forever call our guest room, "Untle Jermy's room".  Sorry AJ and Annie and DA- you were each here right before and right after but for whatever reason, the room is "Jermy's".

My parents came right after we returned from Dubai and stayed for 3 weeks.  I was really off my game this summer with the camera- didn't get a lot of pics with them either.  As I said before we went to Aqaba and had an amazing 4 days at the Red Sea.  

Mostly our time was spent trying to think of creative ways to survive Ramadan in the summer which leads me to the next thing...

5. RAMADAN  The Muslim holiday gradually moves up each year depending on the cycle of the moon and this year it hit smack in the middle of the summer.  Life slows down during Ramadan as Muslims are fasting from sunrise to sunset.  Many things are closed during the day and then re-open at night staying open for all hours.  No one (Muslim or otherwise) eats or drinks in public during the day.  I've heard it said it's illegal, but at the same time there are certain "christian" establishments that will serve food, just behind closed curtains and closed doors so I'm not sure that illegal is the right word.  Definitely looked down upon though.  My parents got to experience Ramadan with us to the fullest.  It's challenging to do any kind of site seeing during this month since it's very hot and you can't drink anything outdoors so our activities were somewhat limited.  

I bought a 2000 piece "Ramadan puzzle" (which incidentally I just finished last night, no thanks to ANY of the other puzzle workers in my house)

We came up with creative other indoor activities.  Naomi made this house out of the cardboard from a box of glasses that I bought.

6. TEA PARTIES  This is now one of Anabelle's favorite indoor activities as a result of our hours of indoor fun.  Lotso and Elmo are absolutely necessary guests at any good tea party, and most likely during the entire tea party, AB will talk with her own version of what seems to be an English accent.  It's pretty adorable....  She'll bring all of her stuff out and say, "would you like to have a tea party?"

7.  COMPUTER  I just have to throw this one out here too because it has definitely affected my online capabilities this summer.  My computer is driving me batty!  It crashed at one point and thankfully most everything was recovered but it hasn't really worked well since.  I cannot quickly and /or easily check email, write a blog post etc. (thus the decreased blogging this summer).   Anyway, I hope to get it fixed but in the meantime you can pray for my patience!  Truly, I am thankful to have a computer at all but I don't know why it seems that I am cursed in the functioning ability of every computer I've ever owned. I know, I know.  That probably says something about the user, but as I tell jason, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT I DO WRONG TO MY COMPUTERS.  They do not like me.  They know that I do not understand them and they rebel.  The end.  

8.  TIRED  I am trying to make it a policy to in general not complain about being tired, mostly because it's kind of a pet peeve when I hear others talk about how tired they are, so I'm kind of breaking my own rule here but it is just a reality of where I am right now and I could really use prayer for sleep and rest!!  I have so many things that I WANT to do with my days.  I WANT to have time in the Word before the entire house is rocking.  I WANT to exercise and have healthy eating habits.  I WANT to have meal plans and organized household chores etc etc, but I have been so bone weary lately that I have absolutely not been able to make any of those things happen.  My sweet little AB has had a horrible summer of sleep.  Chalk it up to travel, broken up schedules, teething, whatever.  It is what it is, but I am downright exhausted.  I think I am even more emotionally tired than ever right now simply because I do not know what is causing her extreme lack of sleep.   As a nurse, I like to have a diagnosis that I can fix.  I can't find one...  She's not sick.  I've broken her of the milk at night habit (that started again during all the craziness this summer).  She MAY be teething but it's not any better even with pain meds and teething tablets.  Last night is an example of what most of our nights have been like lately...  After going back and forth from her room to my room for over 2 hours with her waking up fussing, going back to sleep, waking up again etc etc, I finally broke one of my rules and brought her to bed with me (Jason is traveling) hoping to at least eliminate the constant up and down.  Totally backfired.  She was wide awake until 3 AM jabbering, tossing, turning.  I finally returned her to her bed and we both passed out from 3 until 6 when she was up again screaming.  So much for a quiet time!  She used to sleep from 8-8.  I really don't know what is going on!  She goes to bed fine around 8 ish and usually sleeps until around 11 or 12 at which point she begins the cycle of waking up ALL NIGHT LONG.  I am wide open for suggestions of what may be causing this craziness!!

9.  SCHOOL  I have to brag a little on my girls.  They are rock stars when it comes to schools.  They have changed schools multiple times in multiple languages and do such an amazing job every time.  No, they are of course not perfect, but I am so proud of their flexibility and ability to adjust.  This year brought yet again schooling situation for us.  Hard to believe they are entering 9th, 7th and 2nd grades. Naomi is immersed in Arabic and Abbey and Maddie are in the English track.   I think the new year always brings more anxiety for me than for them.  I changed schools once in my K-12 career and only then because my elementary school ended at grade 6 so I changed to a public high school in grade 7 (along with many friends I already knew) where I stayed until I graduated.  Anyway, Jason can be a little more sympathetic having grown up in Africa.  When I start to fret about their school, he likes to remind me that most of his elementary experience was in a mud hut in Africa and he turned out just fine.  Well.  Let's just say if I am having a particularly emotional day, I am not exactly thrilled with that rationale.  Anyway, this week was the first week at their new school and they did great.  We are still trying to work out their schedules, including extracurriculars, tutors etc, and that is always interesting but overall it's going great.   

Here they are on Day 1.  The transition has possibly been the most difficult for Miss Anabelle..
She is having big sister withdrawal!

10.  MILESTONES  We've had a few this summer.  The most shocking to me was probably when I was lecturing Abbey about something one day and realized that I was looking up at her!

We were eye to eye for so long and all of a sudden she was 2 inches taller!  Teenage growth spurts are pretty amazing things!!  She's got a least 2 inches on me now...

In other news, AB has made the move to a bed girl bed.  WHY would I move her when she is already having so much trouble sleeping.  Well, mostly because I figured what did I have to lose.  That and the fact that I found her on several occasions in her crib with her leg slung up over the top trying to get out. That would not go well considering our marble floors...  Anyway, she is now sharing the bottom bunk with Naomi who, for the time being, is serving as her bed rail.  

The bed rail is messed up on the top so once we get that fixed Naomi will move up there and we'll cushion AB with extra pillows.  We went cold turkey with the transition and the crib is no longer in the house having been passed on to some dear friends who are having a baby.  Probably a good thing, because I'm pretty sure she would have landed her little self right back in that crib around 3 AM last night and is fairly likely to have catapulted herself right back out.  I'm saying it's a good thing the option was not there.  (I think)
Sweet big girl...

So there you have it!  A summary of our summer in 10 rather random categories.   Hopefully my computer will cooperate and I can get back in the routine of blogging.  I really miss writing when I don't do it, and I know that years from now, I'll regret having gaping holes in our family story!  

In keeping with the random theme, here are 2 verses that God has (separately) brought to my attention that don't so much define where I am but maybe where I would strive to be.  

" For in my inner being, I delight in God's law."
Romans 7:22 NIV


"O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago."
Isaiah 25:1

I want to strive to delight in God's laws in my inner being!  It's easy to put on a happy face and claim that everything's "fine" (I am, after all, from the deep south) even when I may be grumbling about things in my spirit, but the bottom line is God always knows my heart and I truly do desire to delight in Him in my inner being, even on days when things are most assuredly NOT fine....

AND I am so challenged to praise God's name daily, remembering that nothing happens by accident, He does not make mistakes and the things that He does have been marvelously planned since long ago. Now that's a perspective that can turn my whining into praise if I can only remember to remember it!