Sunday, February 23, 2014

Backing Off

My educational philosophy tends to lean a little toward the "better late than early" approach.  A little bit.  I don't think rushing kids to learn academic skills at a certain pace or before they're ready is a good thing.  I also think that learning to love learning is one of the most important objectives of the elementary years.  But sometimes, I forget that's what I really believe is best and I find myself doing things to make sure that they are "keeping up" and when that happens, school is usually burdensome... both for me and for my children.

That's the boat I found us in a few weeks ago.  My youngest daughter has been a bit short-changed during her elementary years.  We've called 4 countries home during her 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade school years.  Those years we've cut back on some of the fun parts of school and I've focused a bit more on basic skills, just trying to survive.  I've had her tag along with her older sibling in order to simplify things in my day so that I've had time to learn culture and language and figure out where to buy groceries and how to turn powdered milk into cottage cheese and such.  I haven't been as diligent to cultivate a love for learning in her little heart.  As the year has progressed and things have settled down I've been more able to focus on our schooling again.  I came to the realization that she really doesn't like school.  She could read, but she doesn't enjoy it.  She can finish her math lessons, but hasn't grasped some of the concepts as well as she should because she hasn't been challenged to play addition war and dice games the way some of the others did.  I realized that there were lots of tears of frustration and she was feeling overwhelmed way too much of the time.  So, I decided to make a change.

I decided for the rest of the year, I was going to pull her out of the Ancient History study that her older siblings were doing.  Instead of reading history based literature like they've been doing, she was going to go back to the fun classics like Beverly Cleary and Astrid Lindgren and I was going to work on helping her to learn to enjoy books and to delight in what she's reading by helping her understand how to make connections.

With that decision, I also decided to lighten her load a little bit, taking away her written Science and History work and instead, letting her join Abe and I for our 5 in a Row time.  There will be plenty of time for her to learn the Scientific Method, but I was running out of time to help her realize the wonder in it all.  And, it was a great decision.  I've had her do a few things and do them well, rather than worrying about racing through and getting that curriculum done.  The tears are less and the joy is more.

Since I made that call, we've had a great time "rowing" several books together.  The first two weeks, our books focused on snow, which was ironic because most of the people we love back in the US were getting pummeled with the white stuff.  We had a great time studying about snowflakes, painting our own snow scenes, making a special snowflake snack to share, and Lily was very proud as she recited Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" at dinner one night.

 Then, we read a great book that was new to me, called Night of the Moonjellies.  We learned a bit about marine life, personal narratives, and how to run a small business.  In the book, the author tells the tale of the summer he was 7 and how he helped at his grandmother's seaside hot dog stand.  We loved the story and the kids had a fabulous time opening a hot dog stand for the rest of the family.
 Here's Abe's sign
 Lily was ready to take orders from our customers and make change from their payment.
 Abe got in the action, flipping burgers and hot dogs.
 "It would be our pleasure to serve you."
 A few of our menu items.
 Lily, the french fry cook.
  Here's a completed order, ready for Abe, the waiter, to deliver it to the guest.

By the time it was over, I was exhausted and didn't want to make another milkshake anytime soon.  They just wanted to know if we could do it again next weekend.  I guess that's what you'd call a success!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Birthday at the Beach

We were supposed to go to the beach for my 40th birthday, WAY back in November.  But somebody got a stomach virus and we partied with a bucket all night long instead. Since then, life has been crazy busy and we simply haven't made a trip to the beach a priority.
So, when some friends of ours asked us if we wanted to take a day trip to the beach to celebrate their daughter's 2nd birthday, we were thrilled to do it.  It was fun to spend time with friends, celebrate one of our favorite 2 year olds, and decompress with the sand and the surf all day long.  As we were lugging our bags back to the car, we all asked each other why we don't do this more often.  Of course, we were reminded of the answer during our 3 hour trip home (the one that Google maps considers a 1 hour and 22 minute drive.)  Alas, Accra traffic or not, we've promised ourselves we won't wait so long until the next time.

Here are a few pictures of our day at the beach:
This is Abe.  Two hours into our "1 hour and 22 minute trip."  At this point he has resorted to wearing his sisters floppy beach hat and making googly eyes at whomever will notice him.

 This was early in the day, before Lizzy lost her sunglasses to the Atlantic.

 We picked up two clearance boogie boards last fall when we were in the States and brought them back with us. They wear a big, big hit!

Here's Lily was ready to eat her yummy birthday cupcake.
I'm pretty sure the birthday girl enjoyed hers as much as any of us!

Sometimes I really, really miss the preschool years with my kids (other times I thank the Lord he gave me those in my 20s and 30s!)  Today was one of those days when I was reminded of how sweet they are.  Our birthday girl was quite frightened by the water initially.  I was holding her as I stood with my feet near the water and every time I tried to put her down, she'd curl her legs up instead of putting her feet in the water.  After a while, Abby sat on the sand with her and let her have closer and closer encounters with the water, which she decided she liked.

   After a while, she decided she loved the water.  I love this picture of her with her daddy, waiting anxiously for the next wave.

Then, she got brave enough to do it on her own.  How precious!

Tonight I'm thankful for sweet friends, God's beautiful creation, SPF 50 sunscreen which was applied 3 times, and the Solarcaine that I'm still having to use tonight!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Embassy Errand

Earlier this week, my two youngest children and I went to the US Embassy to get passport pages added.  First of all, can I say that $82 for someone to add a half dozen pages to my passport with packaging tape seems a bit steep to me?  Multiply that by 7, and well, it's ridiculous.  But, that's enough about that, I'm just thankful to have it.

Since I've moved overseas, I have this mental list of "things every American ought to experience."  One of them is definitely visiting the American embassy while living in another land.  I'm not sure why I find it so cool.  Maybe it's because I am a patriot at heart?  I don't know.  I just think there is something so special about seeing the Stars and Stripes flying in the wind, right smack dab in this foreign place.  It's also incredibly humbling to walk past rows and rows of African nationals who are dressed in their best clothes, waiting for a turn at the window, and praying that their visa will be granted.  Literally, every time I have been, they all stare at me and my blue and gold passport with almost an awe as I waltz right up to the American Citizens Service window.  They wait in these long rows while I am in and out in 10 minutes.  It always reminds me that I am blessed in ways that I don't even realize.

Anyway, after our visit this week, Ryan, Lily, and I had this conversation:

Ryan:  How was the embassy?
Me:  It was fine.  Oh Lily, tell daddy what we saw!
Lily:  Um, an American flag?
Me:  Yeah, that was pretty cool, but that wasn't what I was thinking of.
Lily:  Um, oh, I know, a big lawnmower that a man was riding on!
Me:  Well, that was neat too, but I was thinking of something that you don't usually see.
Lily:  Ohhh.  I know, American TV was playing on the wall!
Me:  Really, Lily?
Lily:  A lot of white people working there?
Me:  (with a slight tone of frustration)  Okay, but what did we see that was really, really cool and our friends in America will probably never see it?
Lily:  (Thinks for a minute)  Hmmm.  Oh, well, we saw a chief in kente cloth with a crown on his head and another man walking behind him with a big gold rod and there were about 5 other people who stood up every time that he stood up and they were all dressed in fancy clothes.  Is that what you're talking about?
Me:  Yes Lily, that's what I was thinking of, didn't you think that was cool?
Lily:  (shrugs shoulders)  Yeah, I guess so.

So, all of you John Deere lawn tractor owners out there, apparently your mowers are more exciting than an African tribal chief in full regalia, complete with his entourage!  Crazy kids!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Holding the Ropes

"I will venture to go down, but remember that you must hold the ropes." William Carey, missionary to India

Recently, I read this quote on a friend's blog and though I had heard it before, it has really been resonating in my heart.  Our family is so very blessed to have some really faithful "rope holders" in our lives.  I can't imagine doing what we are doing without the amazing support we have had.  I know that the Lord uses lots of resources to sustain people through difficulties.   For us, one of those things has been the body of Christ and some really faithful churches.  

I wanted to take a minute to share some of the ways that we have been encouraged by folks around the world and challenge you to consider if there is someone serving overseas that the Lord might have you to minister to in some way.  There's nothing fancy here, just ways that we have been blessed

  1. Pray.  Seriously, pray.  I know it doesn't seem like much but it is EvErYtHiNg.  The really, really tough days aren't fixed by chocolate chips or Dr. Pepper.  It is the prayers of God's people that sustain us.  I can't tell you how many times we've been at wit's end, so we've decided to ask people to pray and almost immediately we have seen issues resolved and obstacles removed.  It's not magic, but it is powerful.
  2. Remember them.  And let them know that you remember them.  Just a 15 second facebook post or a quick e-mail to let them know that, while they may not be in your zip code, they're still in your heart.  Sometimes we feel as if we don't really "belong" anywhere.  Knowing that we're not forgotten can mean so much.
  3. Remember their children.  We have been very blessed that we've had some moms who have really "gotten" what it must be like for our kids to have made this move.  They've made an effort to keep our children alive in their children's mind.  Doing things like having their kids make cards or short videos to send to our kids have made our children feel like they have two homes.  They are so blessed to have friends on both sides of the world.  Just yesterday, Lily got a package from a discipleship class at the church we attended in the States.  These girls sent her a birthday gift, but the thing that was so meaningful was that they sent a picture of each of the girls, taken with birthday props.  They each wrote Lily a note and we all enjoyed looking at the pictures and seeing how her peers had grown.  She is excited about going for our stateside because she knows that she has friends who still care.
  4. Consider sending mail.  I have one friend who writes occasionally.  Like a real, genuine letter.  We actually both have FB and sometimes exchange e-mails, but I really love it when she sends a letter.  And what I love the most is that in it, she shares all kinds of daily details.  Not just the big bullet points that make social media or an annual Christmas letter, but the little things.  The kind of things we might have chatted about during a homeschool co-op lunch.  Her letters make me smile because I know it took her time to write them and it's such a gesture of love, but also because she assumes that I still want to be a part of her world.  And I do.   
  5. Extend grace.  Understand that this is a really stressful life that we're learning to live here.  There are all of the stresses that you would juggle in the States (parenting, marriage, finances, work, tight schedules, etc.) but then there are also many, many challenges that come from trying to do all of that cross-culturally.  It is exhausting.  And sometimes we want to quit and we may be grumpy and we may take a lot more from relationships than we are able to give.  There are times when our internet won't work or we're just so fried that we can't stand the thought of connecting to the first world.  Don't take it personally.  We're sorry, please love us anyway.  
  6. Ask questions about their lives.  Then listen to their answers.  We know you don't want to hear all about our life in West Africa. We promise not to pull out more than one carousel of slides at any given social event.  But do remember, that this is our life.  We're not on a trip.  We're investing our lives here.  Take the time to ask even a few questions about what we're doing.  What we enjoy, what we're looking forward to, that sort of thing.  This can be a very isolated life, having a few people who care about the details of it can go a long way.
  7. Welcome them when they are back in the States.  We were overwhelmed with love during our two month visit last fall.  People were kind in so many ways.  I would encourage you to follow the Holy Spirit in how to serve, but we were blessed with everything from hand-me-down clothes to dinner invitations to playdates for our kids.  We were thankful for so many things like gift of manufacturers coupons, giftcards to restaurants, Groupon tutorials, free vehicle maintenance, used suitcases, groceries waiting for us, and so much more.  If you can think of it and you can execute it, chances are they will find it an encouragement.

To all of our rope holders, I say a big thank you!  We are so blessed by all of you.  

Here's Lily with her birthday cards!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

January Happenings

I thought I would do better about posting in January than I did in December, but I was wrong.  Here are a few of the happening in our world over the last month:

The first week in January brought a new volunteer to help us with the guest house.  We were so glad to welcome him and much of the first week of this month was spent orienting him to the job as well as the city.  He's been a big help and is now handling most all of the day to day tasks that come with that responsibility.  While I still have some work involved, I'm back to focusing primarily on homeschooling our children.  He is only here for 90 days, but it's a blessing.  We are very, very hopeful that we have a couple coming for an ENTIRE YEAR after he leaves, which would be fabulous!

About the time we got our volunteer launched, my supervisor came from another country to visit those of us who work in my city.  It was good to see him and get his thoughts and vision regarding our work here.  His visit has triggered a good amount of wrestling and prayer concerning my language study.  Language is so tricky here in our current city, where English is so widely spoken and there are so many local languages.  As it comes to mind, I welcome your prayers for wisdom concerning my language work.

Ryan made a trip to our former country.  He was gone for about 9 days, which was a tad too long for me!  He had much to do during his time there, because he hadn't been since my mom got sick.  The immigration office here had been processing our passports for several months, which meant he couldn't travel.  Fortunately, that's all done now and we're hoping that with more frequent visits again, he can keep his work a bit more manageable, and his visits a bit shorter.  I can say that I am so proud of the work he's putting in.  The job that he's doing can be pretty thankless and it's pretty much guaranteed that someone won't be happy with whatever decision he makes concerning whatever issue he's facing.  It's just the nature of what he does.  It's also not something that many people would be eager to do.  But, he has really rolled up his sleeves and tackled it to the best of his ability.  It's a bit like eating an elephant, but he's been faithfully taking bites, even on the days when he'd rather have a nice juicy steak instead!

In addition to his "job," Ryan has been working to build some relationships among the deaf people in our city.  When we were in college, Ryan had a big heart for deaf ministry and had many deaf friends.  However, as we invested more and more in the local church, that took a bit of a backseat to our work with children and their families.  Now it seems that God is opening up doors for him to share Christ with that people group again.  He has been going once a week to spend time in an area of town where he has found a high concentration of deaf people.  While he is there, he works to build friendships and shares stories from God's word with any who will listen.  Here in West Africa, people with any sort of disability tend to be overlooked, even more than they would in America.  So, the fact that an obroni (white man) would give of his time to learn their language and sit with them allows him some instant friendships.  He is really enjoying it and is excited to see what God will do in and through that adventure.

Lily celebrated her 10th birthday on January 19th.  She requested chicken alfredo, Olive Garden style breadsticks, and a big chocolate chip cookie for her birthday dinner.  We also spent the afternoon watching movies together complete with some Dr. Pepper we found around town (only $1.75 a can!)  and some theater candy that Pa sent us in a package with some incoming volunteers.  It was a treat for everyone.

 We all had a bit of a "moment" when Lily opened the card from my dad and found a sweet note explaining that it was a card my mom purchased.  My mom and Lily shared a birthday and they always have had a special bond.  We had to assure her multiple times that celebrating was still in order, though it was also okay to feel sad too.  It was a bit of a slippery slope to help her navigate.

Our kitten has settled in well and for the most part, she is a good fit for our family.  When we got her, the plan was to keep her inside until she got big enough to protect herself and be a good hunter, then she was going to be relocated to the yard.  The last couple of days, we've tried putting her out for small amounts of time to acclimate her to the idea of being a mouser.  So far, it's been an epic fail as she has done nothing but stand at the door and cry until someone lets her back in.  Of course, if someone was custom-building me a magna tile castle, I might not want to move either!

Here's Joy, enjoying her castle.

The children and I are making steady progress with school.  The bottom line is, homeschooling 5 children well, especially with an age range from 1st grade through high school, takes a lot of time and energy.  I sometimes get overwhelmed with all of the things that clamor for my attention, but God has been reminding me that my primary ministry and focus for this season has to be educating and discipling my children.  Sometimes that means that I have to say no to some really, really good opportunities or at least give them less energy than I might if I weren't homeschooling.  But, I know that the time I have to invest in my children is simply flying by.  Too soon I'll have many hours every day that can be dedicated to other ministries and interests.

Abe and I rowed the book, Very Last First Time, about an Inuit girl.  We did lots of activities, but Abe's favorite was trying to build an igloo out of ice cubes and salt.  As you can imagine, the ice didn't last long in our hot sun, but he had a great time anyway and actually had some success at stacking them together.  

Looking forward, we are beginning to think about the time that we will be spending in the States starting around Christmas time.  It looks like we're going to be there for about 5 months and we know that the time will absolutely fly.  We both feel as if our time there this past fall helped us to learn a very few ins and outs of how to do a visit to the States.  We're certainly not pros, but we better understand that there is a delicate balance required between some sort of normal and "let's experience all we can while we're here."  We're trying to begin choosing our priorities for how we spend our limited time and money, so that we don't get to the end of it with regrets.  

That's about it from our corner of the world.  I do have a variety of other things rolling around in my head and I do hope to update more regularly moving forward.  It tends to be good for my mental health.  But, don't hear me making any promises, as life on the ground can be pretty consuming.