Saturday, December 29, 2007

Got Spoiled this Christmas...

Here are the ways....

...So soft and it's PINK!

...got one of these for each child and I have all three of them hanging in my kitchen. Everytime I walk by them, I get happy!

Thanks, honey!

In Memory

Hubby's precious grandma died on Wednesday. This is ironically also our middle dd's birthday. What a loss this dear woman will be in our family! As I sat thinking about things during today's funeral, I remembered that she was the first one who accepted me unconditionally into hubby's family. I felt a natural affinity with her as if I were her very own granddaughter and not an "in-law". She certainly treated me as such. How many people came up to tell us that her my children, her only great-grandchildren, were the joy of her life and how often she bragged on them? Too many to count. She was a pastor's wife and was married to grandpa for 60 years. They were truly best friends. One of my favorite funny things she said to me years ago was this, "You know, in the Bible, it says a wife is supposed to be a helpmate. But I'm pretty sure I've been more of a hinder-mate." She was always self-effacing!

At her funeral today, a poem was shared.

Success (usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but not neccesarily his writing)
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

The funny thing is as I listened to the pastor read this poem, every single phrase matched up with grandma. Every. Single. Phrase. But I would add one more line to that poem. To have been humble enough to accept the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to spend one's life sharing it --this is to have succeeded. And a success Oneta Louiza Crites Noel most certainly was.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Toddler's Prayer

Overheard at bedtime tonight:

"Jethus, thank you for mommy. And daddy. And mommy. And daddy. And mommy. And daddy. And mommy. And daddy. In Jethus name, amen."

Sweet!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Big Ole Writing Slump

I'm in a real writing slump lately, in case you can't tell by my serious lack of posting. I mean, I am in such a writing slump that I'm not even journaling, which, if you know me, is really weird. I am not sure what it is, but mainly, I just feel as if I have nothing of worth to say (or write). I'm not saying that in a "poor, pitiful me" sort of way, but it's truly how I'm feeling. I suppose it's okay not to write sometimes, to let real life seep in. Living --really living -- my life allows me to have something worthwhile to share. So, I'll keep living in my day-to-day moments and hopefully soon, I'll be out of the slump and have more to share here.

Oh, and on a fun note, my son, who lost his front tooth at age 3 in an accident, is FINALLY getting his big boy tooth. He's so excited!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Just Caught the Baby Singing This to our Nativity Figurine

"I miss you a mewwy Chwis-mas! I miss you a mewwy Chwis-mas!"

And then she very adamantly kissed baby Jesus...Smack! Smack! Smack!

When big sister wanted to try, she refused citing the reason that "The baby Jesus is vewy gwass (glass)."

Love these moments with these sweet kiddos.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Potty Training Success

My sweet baby girl is potty training. You know you're supposed to potty train a nearly-three-year-old when she stops what she's doing, tells you she needs to sit on the potty, turns around, and then does her business on the potty! So, when she did that, we knew she was ready and we'd better start.

Let's suffice it to say, I've learned a little about potty training over the years. When my son, my firstborn, was around 1 and a half, I tried to force the issue, listening to some well-meaning friends, and in my mama-immaturity, comparing myself to them. Well, that didn't go so well for mama or son! And then I tried to force the issue again when the boy was a little past 2. Again, a too-little boy with a very frustrated mama. Finally, I listened to my pediatrician, who had 5 of her own children. "Just wait," she wisely said, "when they are around three it will be so much easier because they can understand the concept better and their bodies are more physically able to 'hold it'." So, I waited and yes, at around 3 years of age, it was much easier. One week and the boy was trained!

I took these lessons to heart with my middle born daughter. I was going to wait until she was 3 as well. I had been changing diapers (often for more than one child) for 4 years straight at that point and had another baby by then, so I just waited. Until one day when we were at an amusement park with our extended family and my sis-in-love took her to the potty. And she went! Another week with some practice and she was trained as well! So, in reality, my sis-in-love potty-trained my sister, I always say.

Now our baby, and probably last child, is potty training. And she is doing so well. Really very few accidents. And I really attribute it to waiting until she was almost three. She is so proud of her new accomplishment and loves the skittle that awaits her with each new success.

So, my baby is pretty much potty trained in less than a week (not nights yet, of course) and so that means many fewer diapers, and one more way in which I'm gaining awareness that the "baby stage" in my life is coming to an end. Bittersweet.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Latest DIVINE Lines Article

You might remember that our church puts out a monthly women's newsletter. Here's my latest contribution. And you can go here for all the other great articles from my awesome DiVINE Lines sisters.

The Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such as These?

It was just before 9 pm, and bedtime for the three little people in our house is usually 8:30. It had been a busy day as usual, and I was very ready for them to head off for sweet slumber so that I could get my little bit of down time for the evening. I noticed though, that my children seemed to be having a blast --climbing all over their daddy, laughing with glee as he tickled them, tickling him back. I stiffled the urge to encourage all of us to start the bedtime routine and just decided to “go with the flow”, which is sometimes very difficult for my routine-loving personality.

It became increasingly difficult not to rush them off to bed when they stopped climbing all over daddy and began climbing all over me. By this time of the evening, I am spent, and every ounce of my flesh wanted to scream “Get off! Let’s go to bed!” But, I felt inside my spirit again that I needed to live in the moment, take it all in, and let my children see me enjoying time in their presence without any real agenda. I remembered the scripture (Matthew 19:14) that says, “Let the little children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.” And I knew that the Holy Spirit was trying to get my attention.

“How is THIS like the kingdom of heaven?” I wondered. If being poked and prodded, and occasionally kicked and tickled when all my energies for the day had been long spent was like the kingdom of heaven, I wasn’t sure I was up for it! But, then my middle daughter, Chloe (nearly 5), calmed down a bit and began gently stroking my cheek and then the eyelashes on my closed eyes. She just continued to gaze at my eyelashes, really studying them. And then, my own spiritual eyes were opened.

What an example of worship my sweet Chloe became to me that evening! My daughter simply wanted to be close to me. She loved caressing my face. She even wanted to take in the smallest parts of my face, including my eyelashes. She didn’t stop because it seemed “weird”, or because she got bored with it, or because she knew everything about me in a few seconds. She continued on for a several minutes. And while she continued, I began to wonder when was the last time I’d really gazed at Jesus like that –full of wonder, study, and delight? When was the last time I’d really seen His face, and been changed from the wonder of it all?

I was reminded of what scripture tells us about Moses after he’d spent time in the presence of the Lord. “But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what had been commanded. The sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.” (Exodus 34:34-35). Time spent gazing at the Lord changed Moses such that all could see it on his face. Isn’t it still the same today?

In those moments, I began to wonder if the time I spend in His presence each day could be seen by my children? Could they see my love and enjoyment and acceptance of them? That evening, while my daughter stroked my face, I gazed at the face of the Lord. I remembered His Word, and begged Him to change not only my face, but also my heart. I implored Him to remind me of what is most important. I pleaded with Him to love my children through me. And then I asked Him to keep reminding me through them that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

You Know I'm a Quote Junkie -- Praying for Our Children

"Earnest, secret, believing prayer should never cease to be daily presented for our offspring. Daily we should wrestle with God for their eternal salvation. That parent has neglected a very important branch of his duty, who has suffered one single day to pass by without bearing his children upon his heart before God in private prayer." --John Angell James

Tricks and Treats

We had a great time trick-or-treating last night. This is the second year we've gone house to house in our neighborhood and the second time we've handed out candy. We really enjoy getting to see our neighbors kiddos dressed up and we love seeing our kids getting so excited and running to the next house for more smiles and treats. We had a little Spiderman, a little Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), and a little Elmo. Tons of fun! I must say, I don't ever want my kids to get into the scary aspect of the day, but dressing up (which they do every day during playtime anyway) and visiting neighbors, and getting candy --I don't have a problem with that.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Little Things I'm Missing About London

Boden

Much better prices on organic (What is up with nearly $7 per gallon for organic milk?!)

BBC

My electric tea kettle

Digestive biscuits

Covent Garden

Museums like this one and this one and this one

The hustle and bustle of the city

Our happy little town

The accent

Lots more things, but I'm making myself sad, so I must stop.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back and Kids Stuff

I've been away from the blog-o-sphere for over one month according to the date on my last post. Unbelievable! I'm going to try to update more regulary, now that our lives at home are in back to semi-regularity. So, if I do have any readers left after my long absence, hopefully you'll have something new to read on a fairly regular basis. I do have to say, though, that the break provided me with a freedom that I have enjoyed. Not being so tied to regular posting, not wondering about comments, etc. were freeing for my mind and heart during a season where my mind has been consumed with lots of other real-life stuff, such as re-establishing rhythm and routine to our American life, jumping back into my ministry role at church, and unpacking. Oh! And homeschool!

Anyhoo, we are starting a new little fun family thing at our house tonight. We are establishing "kid days". Each child in our family will have a day once a month when it is "their" day to have some special time with mom and dad all by themselves. They will also get to choose a special breakfast and get their meals served on the special red plate. We'll be using the children's birthdays to figure out when these days will be. For example, my son's birthday is on September 19, so on the 19th of every month, it will be his special day. Tonight, we're taking him out to dinner, while grandma watches his sisters and then we're going to make a list of things to do during the next year on his special day. I'm hoping to come up with lots of inexpensive ideas. We want this time to be a blessing for each child, to let them know they are special and unique, a time to listen to them and give them individual attention. But what we don't want is lots of expense. So, that's why for this first time, we're making the list for the year.

So, what's been up with you, long lost readers? How are things in your world?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Guess She Forgot A Lot About Me

We were getting ready to go and get the girls hair cut today. "C,mon," I said to all of the children. "Let's get in the car so we can go and get our hair cut." Shocked beyond belief, my sweet middle daughter (4) incredulously replied, "What, mamma? You mean, you can drive?!?"

I guess having one car, walking everywhere, and taking loads of public transportation while we were living in London had convinced the dear child that mamma simply couldn't drive.

So, as that little story attests, we arrived safe and sound in America last week. Many thanks for all of your prayers. I should be around the blog more often now.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Leavin' On a Jet Plane; Don't Know When We'll Be Back Again

You've probably noticed my sparse posting lately. We're in the midst of moving home again, and all that is entailed in an overseas move. So, please pray for us as we make the transition home. And please pop in again in about a week's time for a new post.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Future Dr. Doolittle

DD4 to DS5: "I can talk English and Spanish."

DS5 in response: "Yeah, but can you talk squirrel-ish?"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

She's Art Literate At Two

Upon seeing that I was wearing the shirt I got on our recent trip to the Louvre, emblazoned with their most famous painting, the two year old excitedly pointed, while screaming, "Mamma Wisa! Mamma Wisa!" It was a proud moment. Who knew that she was paying so much attention while we got lost...er... toured... the Louvre?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fun

J O N I

Get yours here.

The Great Crust Debate Continues

Aaahhh...the important discussions that grace our table. ;)

Upon examining their sandwiches prepared with crustless bread:

DD4: "Do you like crust, brother?"

DS5: "Yes, especially this kind. 'Cause look! No crust!"

Monday, August 20, 2007

Good Definition of Legalism

"Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and achieve acceptance by God through obedience to God." C.J. Mahaney

Hmmm. Guilty as charged.

Good Friends. Good Trip Reports.

If you enjoy trip reports, hop on over to my friend, Annette's blog. She and her husband, Tony, just got back from a fabulous trip to Portugal. The photos are to-die-for and made me want to GO! With 16 days left in this part of the world, however, I don't believe we'll have time to fit that one in.

Also, my friend, Paula, has been posting about her summer in Central Asia. Some amazing photos as well. Be sure to check out their new Tajik-wear. She has some great photos of a trip to London with a certain friend as well. ;)

Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Travel Photos - Lincolnshire, York, and Scotland Part One

The York Minster --Europe's largest Gothic cathedral. Enormous!

Shopping the "The Shambles" in York, the medieval shopping district in town. Cute!

The cannons at Stirling Castle in Scotland.


Stirling Castle as seen from below in the town of Stirling, Scotland.


Some boy bagpiping buskers in the town of Stirling, outside the shopping area. They were great!


Belton House in Lincolnshire where some of the BBC's Pride and Predjudice was filmed.


The gorgeous area where we stayed in Scotland. I've seen more sheep in the past week, than I have in my entire life. And I'm a farm girl, so that's a lot of sheep!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Home from a Wee Scottish Adventure

We just got back from our last little adventure before we prepare to depart for home. We have only 18 days left in London. It seems quite hard to believe, as it often feels as if we arrived only yesterday. I will be posting some pictures soon of our last adventures, but here is where we stayed for most of the time. Drummonie was delightful, as was the Perthshire area of Scotland. Hubby did (barely) achieve of his lifelong dream of playing golf here. The children and I tagged along one day to see the town of St. Andrews and were delighted. We also spent some time reminiscing about one of our favorite movies here. And we relaxed with a drive and some stops through this area of Scotland, finding the gravesite of the hero of another favorite story. Our last little jaunt involved a delightful stop in the
Lake District of England to visit Peter Rabbit and friends. I hope to post some photos for you in the next few days.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Last Hurrah

I've been kind of quiet this week because we had some visitors here. Plus, things are getting a bit hectic here because of the impending move. We're really in full "going home" mode these days. We're heading off for our last holiday here in England, with hubby hopefully achieving his lifelong dream of playing at St. Andrews, plus many more adventures along the way. I'm not sure if I'll be able to post for the next 10 days or so. I will if I can. I will continue my London Lessons when I return. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Very Special Guest

Today, during our daily tea party (today we used the Barbie china tea set), dd4 ran upstairs quickly to get something. She came down breathlessly carrying her Bible. "Mommy," she shared, "today I'm inviting Jesus!"

Oh, may she always invite Jesus into every little aspect of her life! BTW, do you think Jesus takes one lump or two?!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Gifts in My Landscape

"The landscape of a day

is never barren. . .

Upon each hour is painted

at least one gift"

B.J. Hoff



A few gifts from the hours of my day so far...

*playing Candyland with my oldest.

*receiving a lovely card filled with rainbows and sunshines from Miss Middle.

*cuddling with my baby on the couch because she's so sleepy.

How about you? What are the gifts God is painting upon your landscape today?

Typical Expat Kid

One of the things that can identify a typical expat kid is confused citizenship. Here's a recent case in point from our experience:

My two oldest children excitedly exclaim as we're walking in central London: "Look, Mommy! Look, Mommy! There's our flag!"

They were excitedly waving and pointing out the Union Jack!

Sometimes we have to wonder in awe at the things our children are experiencing and seeing at such young ages --things we never would have dreamed of doing at their ages. We pray often that their experiences here would shape the future dreams and plans that God has for each of them.

May it be so. Confused citizenship and all. ;)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

We Temporarily Interrupt This Blog...

...For our last round of visitors.

Be back soon!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Convincing Argument

Trying to prove that she is "big-girl-scissor-worthy", my two year old said:

"But I can. And I a pwin-CESS!"

Perhaps she is a princess, but does that really justify flagrant use of sharp objects that can leave one with a very lopsided hairdo? Don't think so.

But it was a really valiant effort.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Yummy Chicken Dish

I found this yummy recipe at Menus4Moms in May. Our family has really been enoying it here, since it is chicken and not beef based. Enjoy!

Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce
1/4 c. milk
1/4 c. bread crumbs
4-6 chicken breasts
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
1/2 c. chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream
1 4 oz jar pimentos (I can't find these here, so I don't use them)
1/2 c. grated parmesean
1/4 c fresh minced basil (or more!)
1 t. cornstarch (if necessary)
pasta

Preheat oven to 350. Put bread crumbs & milk in separate shallow bowls. Dip chicken in milk and then coat with crumbs. In skillet over meadium heat, brown chicken on both sides in butter and olive oil. Remove and place in oven to keep warm. Add broth to skillet. Bring to boil over medium heat and stir to loosen bits on bottom of pan. Stir in cream and pimentoes. Boil and stir one minute. Reduce heat. Stir in parmesean, basil, and pepper until heated through. If needed, add cornstarch to thicken. Pour over chicken and serve over cooked pasta.

Let me know if you decide to try this recipe out. I'd love to hear what you think of it. And stay tuned for London Lesson Number Three coming up tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

London Lesson Number Two: It's Not All About Me!

This week I'm working on a series of posts that reflect on what I've learned during our time here. Go here for London Lesson Number One. But now, it's time for London Lesson Number Two:

It's Not All About Me!

Now, you might be surprised that as a mom to three young children that this was a new lesson to me. Well, to be honest, it's not a new lesson. It's one that God has been teaching me for around six years now, ever since I brought home my first little person, but I've not seemed to learn it well. So, for this particular lesson, apparently I needed the hands-on field trip experience! And hopefully after this experience I will not only have learned it, but I will live it.

One of the things I realized quickly after arriving here was that I was going to have no help with the children, at least for a while. I was used to having help with them once a week with a babysitter and then at least once a week for a date night when one of the grandparents took over. In fact, one of the things that I prayed the most about before coming here, and even had friends praying for, was a great person to watch the children for me on occasion so that I could get away. I thought perhaps that after we moved away from Central London, and into a less transient and more family friendly area of London, it would be easier to find someone. My line of thinking at the time went something like this: "As soon as we find a neighborhood and know our neighbors, I'll find someone." Or, "As soon as we get into a church, God will make clear the person He's chosen to help me out during this time." Then there was, "Perhaps there is a way to find a college girl by posting an ad at the University of East London (which is not far from us)." My most desperate attempt came when I asked a girl from the pharmacy where I might meet a girl similar in age to hers who might want to babysit. She was no help whatsoever. Desperate, I called a phone number that I had found in the library for a service that was supposed to match caregivers with families in the area. She was quite helpful and told me that what I was looking for was a (very part-time) nanny.

You might be wondering why a woman like me would need a babysitter. I don't have a "job" after all. I am a stay-at-home mom. To be honest, it's just a time when I know that I can have time away from the screaming masses. A time to recharge my mom-batteries. A time to focus on something other than changing the next diaper, refereeing the inevitible argument, and making yet one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I also do ministry work during this time, very often meeting with other ladies who lead in our Bible study to encourage and sharpen each other, etc. So, this time is valuable to me. One of my favorite hangouts on "my day" is Panera. Just me, my Bible, my journal and some warm broccoli cheese soup. Or many times, I end up at Barnes and Noble, pouring over the latest Leadership or Creating Keepsakes magazine, while sipping a mocha from Starbucks. And I don't have to share my mocha with anyone else! When our time here began to become a reality and not just a "what if", what I began to be most concerned about was not having any time away. Ever. No grandmas to watch children. No babysitter. Nada. What about all those places that I might want to visit without children? I dreamed of seeing great art, lunching in cafes, and people watching at Trafalger Square, while writing lots and lots of earth-shattering, life-transforming stuff that the Christian masses, or at least the Bible study girls, would praise me for.

Well, long story short, the babysitter never happened. I tried. I even considered calling the lady back about the part time nanny. But, there were some problems with that. One of which being, "Who in the world am I leaving my children with?" was a question that kept echoing in my mind. Back home, I am lucky to live around lots of family and friends, many of whom I trust implicitly with my children. All of the babysitters I've had on "my day" are friends from church. I know them. I trust them. My children love them. When faced with the prospect of leaving my children in the care of someone that I knew very little about, with the exception of references, I was more than a bit concerned. Besides, I was learning to do without, and to take them places I would rarely or never take all three of them if we were at home. Places like the grocery store. Every. Single. Day.

Yep. London Lesson Number Two for me became, "It's Not All About You." Sometimes, (okay often), I whined to God about it, especially early on. And, my husband heard more whining than any man should Have to about how very difficult it was to be around the children all. the. time. without a break. I sang him quite the martyr-song. And sometimes, I still do. I have gotten out of the house a few times. And those times have been so wonderful. I have been truly thankful for them. I certainly can't take them for granted here!

Way back before I was a mother, my own mother gave me a little book that would forever become one of my favorites. It was one of those little gifty-type books that you see in all the Christian bookstores. To be honest, on the outside, it looked like pure feel-good fluff, the kind of book that I would usually turn my nose up to! But, oh, the treasures within its pages! It was actually the text of a very old sermon by an English preacher named Henry Drummond. And it is an exposition on the love chapter in 1 Corinthians. What challenges lay in each and every sentence of this little gem. I encourage you to go here and read it through in its entirety, because recently I was reading it again and I think it applies to parenting above any other human relationship. Consider this quote mined from its riches: "What was Christ doing in the carpenter's shop? Practicing. Though perfect we read that he learned obedience. He increased in favor with God and man. Do not quarrel therefore with your lot in life. Do not complain of it's never ceasing cares, it's petty environment, the vexations you have to stand, the small and sorid souls you have to live and work with. Above all do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more and ceases not for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is the practice which God appoints you; and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind and courteous. Do not grudge the hand that is moulding the still too shapeless image within you. It is growing more beautiful though you see it not. And every touch of temptation may add to its perfection. Therefore keep in the midst of life."

I've learned what it means to "wash feet" here, to be in the "carpenter's shop", so to speak. I've often been reminded here that Jesus was a servant. What most amazes me about his servanthood is that Jesus never complained. Even when he was being crushed by the masses. Even when a woman touched him on his way to heal someone else. Even when the masses needed food. Again. He never complained but instead, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Phillipians 2:6-8)

No, this experience has not been all about me. It's been about my husband and his job. It's been about my children. It's been about molding me. It's been all about Him.

I Fixed It!

That London Lesson Number One post was driving me crazy. I couldn't stand to look at it because there were no paragraph breaks! So, I tried what Emily said to do, and that didn't work. Then, I tried what Cyndi said and...it worked! So, if you can go back and read it now with some paragraph breaks if you like. I always feel quite overjoyed when I fix something on my blog, being the internet illiterate and all. Thanks Emily and Cyndi for the help!

Stay tuned for London Lesson Number Two later today...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

F.B. Meyer on Bible Study

"The Divine Teacher must have fixed and uninterrupted hours for meeting with His scholars. His Word must have our freshest and brightest thoughts. We must give Him our best, the first fruits of our days. Hence, there is no time for Bible study like the early morning, for we cannot give such undivided attention to the holy thoughts that glisten like diamonds on its pages after we have opened our letters, glanced through the paper, and joined in the prattle of the breakfast table. The manna had to be gathered before the dew was off and the sun was up; otherwise it melted."

Or the bolded words re-worded for this Bible-lovin' 2007-livin' girl:

"...after we have read all our email, read all our favorite blogs in our bloglines list, and made an attempt to put together a healthy breakfast for ourselves and our children..."

Missin' My Girl


Okay, so if you're not a dog person (Cindy and Jen!), then you definitely won't get this post. But I was overwhelmed with joy to see this photo of my sweet Mitzie-Dog this afternoon. We have some wonderful friends living in our house while we're away. They are amazingly also taking care of our 13 year old epileptic, loose-bladdered, stinky and yet adorable weiner dog. Oh, we miss her so! Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. We seem to have a way of forgetting all the annoyances and looking back with fondness of her warm body sleeping under the covers and the way she runs to the door when we get home. She is definitely someone we're looking forward to getting home to!

A Jumbled Mess

No, I am not talking about my mind! Have you been talking to my husband? I am referring to my first London Lessons post. What's up? Why won't blogger separate into paragraphs now? I'm sure it's all operator error. Sorry for the jumbled mess. I've attemped to fix it several times, but to no avail. Can anyone help a girl out?

London Lesson Number One: God Cares More About Who I Am Than What I Do

Since we're on the downslope of things here in London, I'm working on processing through some of the things I've learned here.

Here is London Lesson Number One:

God cares more about who I am that what I do.

Now, this is a hard lesson for little ol' go-getter me. I am naturally a person who wants to do and see it all, as is evidenced by the list of the places we've seen since arriving here on March 1. However, being here, with no other responsibilities except that of being a wife and a mama, I am beginning to see this.

Sometimes, I can get wrapped up in all the things that I think I should be doing. And while these indeed may be worthwhile pursuits, I am realizing that I can't do it all. I also get caught up in all the roles that I fill rather than pursuing Jesus Himself in living out those roles. To be quite honest, until I had children of my own, I really thought I could be super-woman. I relished my identity as a teacher. I wanted to be the best teacher that the world had ever known. I was quite certain that my training and identity as a teacher would help me breeze through motherhood, filling my children's heads and hearts with wonderful knowledge and a love for Jesus. In retrospect, may I just say, "HOW STUPID"?! But, even though these certainly were not conscious thoughts, they were there nonetheless. Fast forward a few years to now, and it has become quite apparent that I am not supermom. I am an imperfect cracked piece of clay pottery, who happens to have given birth to three imperfect cracked pieces of clay pottery. How to remedy this situation? It could get really depressing, couldn't it?

But wait! Let's go back to London Lesson Number One: God cares more about who am am than about what I do. God doesn't give two hoots about my secular identity as a teacher or a mom or a wife or a ministry leader. He cares about me -- Joni. He calls me His daughter. He calls me His friend. He calls me His love. He wants to me know that -- really know that -- deep down in my heart, soul, mind, and spirit. Or as Beth Moore says, deep down into my spiritual marrow. Seeing how my God loves me this way is something that moves me to BE more like him. Not to take on another role, or title, but to sit at his feet. To be changed by Him. Even His Name, "I AM", has imbedded into it the meaning of being. After all, He didn't call Himself the "I Do"!

I seriously had this conversation with Him one day at church. (Now, you're gonna see how "messed up" my mind can be, people!) I was fretting about what others might think I should be when I returned home. Should I be a woman of the world now, completely cosmopolitan, and cognizant in European trends? Would they be disappointed to know how very much I'd "failed" in my belief system here, floundering and depressed and self-pitying, and self-loathing? I determined in my mind to do a little more shopping before going home so that I could be what people must think a former expatriate spouse could look like from the outside. (Do you see a pattern here? Again, taking on the role of expatriate instead of just being His daughter?) Anyway, I distinctly heard the voice of the Holy Spirit speak into my heart and mind, "Joni, I didn't bring you over here to become more cosmopolitan! I brought you over here to make you more like my Son." Oh. Yeah.

I am learning to be in His presence, moment-by-moment here. I am learning that even if I look like I have it all together on the outside, the inside of my cup is so filthy. I am learning that no matter how many verses I've memorized, and how many ladies come to our Bible study on Friday mornings, and how many friends I have or don't have...none of that matters --to Him. He wants to change my heart --mine. He is so not interested in changing what things look like on the outside. Think about what He said to the Pharisees in Matt 23:25-26:

"Woe to you, scribes and teachers of the law, you hypocrites. You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind pharisee! First, clean the inside of the cup and dish and then the outside also will be clean!"

Ouch! Yeah, that about hits that whole cosmopolitan girl thing right on the head! But it emphasizes the point quite clearly. Here's another verse to illustrate the same concept, from 1 Samuel 16:7a:

"But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart."

So, to put those verses into the context of London Lesson Number One, the Pharisees (whom Jesus was referring to in the Matthew verses) and the brother of David (whom God was referring to in the 1 Samuel verses) had the appearance of the appropriate response. They filled their roles quite properly. But, their heart conditions were not what God was looking for. Instead, he chose people that spent more time being with Him, than doing for Him. He chose a shepherd, who spent hours writing psalms of love to Him and he chose a rag-tag bunch of sinners, whom he called disciples, some of whom no one in established religious society would even be around. David and the disciples wanted Him!

My Father doesn't need me to be a perfect mama. He wants me to be a listening, and repentant, and transformed mama. He doesn't need me to be super-ministry-leader-extraordinaire. He needs me to be a Spirit-filled servant leader. He doesn't need me to be the have-it-all-together girl. I'm his daughter. And all He asks is that I spend a lot of time with my Papa, sitting on His lap, being in His presence. And in that lap, and through His transforming power and presence, I can be who the I Am has made me to be.

Nearing the End

We're nearing the end of our time here in London. Our time here has been shorter than we originally thought, but not by much --a few months really. As we near the end, I'm reflecting on what I've learned throughout our time here. Although I know it will take time to know and understand all that God has shown and taught me here, there are certain things that God has begun to show me that I already somewhat understand. I'm working on a series of posts about these learnings. Stay tuned. I'm hoping to post the first one today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hulling Strawberries

Tried this today. It worked like a charm. I love things that make my life easier!

She Drives a Hard Bargain

While trying to convince me why she might need to leave her room during her in-room playtime, DD4 said this:

"Mom, can I please go get the Minnie Mouse dress for Bambee? He can't be naked all day!"

'Nough said.

Bambee is her nighttime cuddle and best friend since birth. Granted he is a very dingy, thread-bare, and mangy stuffed toy, but he is her love. I myself am concerned that he may be a bit confused about his sexuality, being forced to dress up as Minnie Mouse all day.

Yes, I live with someone who is this funny all the time, and doesn't even know it. That girl's got enough blog fodder in her for years to come.

What I Do I Don't Want To Do

How is it that a mother can spend an hour in her quiet time, reading the Scriptures and praying; she can see wonderful and delightful things in the Word; she can commune with God; and then, when she steps foot out of her bed, she can be the meanest, grumpiest mom in the world? Tell me. How can this be? Lord, change me.....

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Woman of Contrasts

DD4: "Mom, can we please go somewhere today?"

Me: "Well, where were you thinking you'd like to go?"

DD4: "Well, I want to go to Disneyland Paris and then Paris."

Me: "No, we won't be going to Paris today."

DD4: "Okay. Well, then can we go to Woolworth's please and get some pick-n-mix?"

Monday, July 23, 2007

Temptation - Something to Think About

"We gain nothing by our decision to renounce earthly things if we do not abide by it, but continue to be attracted by such things and allow ourselves to keep thinking about them. By constantly looking back like Lot's wife towards what we have renounced, we make clear our attachment to it. For she looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt, remaining to this day an example to the disobedient. She symbolizes the force of habit, which draws us back again after we have tried to make a definitive act of renunciation. By habitually thinking about what we have left behind, we undermine our determination to advance and we are pulled in the opposite direction, returning to our old sins. Habit may be shaken and forced to give way, but it is not permanently changed, unless through prolonged effort we retrace our steps." - Neilos the Ascetic

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday

The children and I made the long journey to church together today sans Daddy. Daddy has been working all weekend and so we went alone. Before I go on, I must tell you that getting to the church that we've chosen to attend while here takes some time and various modes of public transportation. We walk 12 minutes to the Underground station, we get on the tube. We are on the tube for 15 stops (anywhere between 30 and 40 minutes, depending on how the service is going that day), then off the tube, up and escalator and a flight of stairs. We walk out of the tube station and down a block, to catch the bus. We are on the bus for about ten minutes. Then we walk about 3 blocks to church. So, in all honestly, I was thinking about bowing out on church today. It all seemed too daunting with the three littles. But, in that way only He can, He wooed me there. I wanted to worship Him today, in a church, with other believers.

The trip this morning went off without a hitch -- the service on the Central Line was good. The bus was there fairly quickly after we got to the stop. We arrived at the appropriate bus stop with 45 minutes to spare, which is exactly as I'd planned it. I wanted to spend the morning breakfasting with the children at our favorite patesserie, Valerie's. We love Valerie's. When you arrive at the place, there are always tons of tourists gawking at the outside windows at the absolutely breathtaking visions of cakes, petit fours, cookies, croissants, etc. I'm always amazed that more tourists don't actually go IN to the place, because it's so wonderful and so inviting. I love the atmosphere. Since it's a French chain, there are many Frenchman working there. They are eager to serve you. One of my favorites is a middle-aged gentleman who always greets you with a smile and such courtesy. (So there to all those people who think the French are rude!). Today, he saw me struggling to fold my buggy, came up behind me, and said, "No, no, no madam. Just leave it up. I push it over here. See?" I loved the man in that moment. Another thing about Valeries is they love children and always go ga-ga over them, to my own children's great delight. They even offer to bring them warm milk (which they always decline, thank you very much). Our waiter today was fabulous. He was absolutely taken with the youngest, and she loved it. I couldn't even tell you how many high-fives, and nose pinches each of the children got. But they lavished the attention. When we were getting ready to leave, the youngest said, "That man funny, mommy!" The chocolate croissants there are to-die-for; huge and flakey and covered in confectioner's sugar, not to mentioned drizzled in chocolate. The orange juice is freshly squeezed. A funny thing that my sweet dd4 said as we were leaving today was, "Thank you means 'my pleasure' here doesn't it mama?" Which, translated means, instead of saying "You're welcome", they say, "My pleasure here." Funny little things she notices.

I was feeling pretty good about things so far. The trip had gone well. We'd had a nice breakfast in our favorite Sunday place. We were on time. We headed into the church and soon realized that it was a family Sunday, which meant that the children would be worshipping with the adults today and that there would be no Sunday classes for the children. I decided that I was up for the challenge, even though I doubted how much actual "worship" I'd get to participate in. HTB always has the children in the service for some time, usually until the "Peace" is given. So my children regularly participate in the song worship part of the service. Today, though, they'd be expected to sit through the sermon as well. The song time went well. My littlest one has taken to twirling in the aisles during the song service and it is adorable. Many people love to watch her and often comment that they can't believe she doesn't get dizzy.

I want to stop right here and say that I enjoy having my children in service with us. No, worship is not the same with them there. I can't focus completely on the service as I can without them there. But that's okay. My friend, Stacy, has had some excellent posts and comments about having our children in worship with us. She's definitely given me a lot to think about in this area. And I agree that having my children in the service with me serves many purposes. But...it's still hard for me not to be selfish about the whole matter. Here it can be even worse, as I think sometimes, "This is the only hour and a half I have to myself." Oh well. I have growth to make in this area. Obviously. Because today I ended up in tears by the end of the service.

The message was on distraction of all things. Distraction. Now, that's a funny little joke God. So, the text was the classic "Mary/Martha" passage. The speaker, Andy Emerton, did a great job of not belittling Martha, which I find is often the case in these sermons. Instead, he shared that we need to learn to balance distraction (of the human variety) and devotion. Obviously distraction like computers, email, work, etc. is not what he was talking about here. He was talking about distractions of those we're in relationship with. Boy, could I relate there. Because just as he was sharing his words, and throughout most of the service, my children distracted me. Mainly, my midddle daughter who seemed to want all the attention that I was trying to devote to Jesus, devoted to her. And by the end of the service, I became weary of it. Weary to the point of tears and talking to God something like this, "Is this a joke, God? Come on! A sermon on distraction when the whole service, I've been distracted by my own children. I wanted so badly to come here to focus on you, but instead, I've cleared my child out of the way of countless people trying to get through the aisle, listened to at least 10 requests to use the bathroom, picked up countless pieces of literature that has been dropped onto the floor from the pew in front of us, and turned down a constant stream of requests to sit on my lap from my middle child. Is this some kind of a cruel joke, this whole sermon on distraction?!"

The still small voice reminded me that He, of all people, understands distractions. He met me in the ending song worship time, reminding me of the constant clamor of the people who followed Him everywhere during his three years of public ministry. He even reminded me that He understood the bickering that seems to go in our home quite frequently these days between siblings. He reminded me that He sees.

No, the service didn't turn out quite the way I'd planned. But Jesus met me there. And He taught me what I really needed to know. He understands. He sees. That makes all the difference to this worn out and distracted mommy right now. This knowing exactly what I need even when I don't, this meeting me in my current circumstances --that's what I love about my Savior.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I Am Jane Jetson

**Although this may sound like an advert for Skype, it's not. I simply want to inform others of the wonderful blessing it's been to us being so far from home.

If you haven't heard of Skype yet, I'm here to tell you...it's awesome. Skype has saved us hundreds of pounds on phone bills, I'm quite sure. Skype is a free downloadable program that allows you to communicate with others who have also downloaded the program through audio and/or video. Through Skype, I get to see my Mom every single day all on my computer --very Jetson, I know!

Nearly every day, my mom Skypes me before going to work. This has been a God-send, as my children had never been far from home, unless you count 10 day trips to Disney world. And, for that matter, I had never been too far from home either. So, not seeing Grammy for months would have been a really, really bad deal for us. Just seeing my mom nearly every day has gotten me through some very rough patches here. And it's allowed my mom, Queen of the Grammies, to stay in close communication with her beloved grandchildren. Each day, the children can see and talk to Grammy. They can also show her their latest art masterpieces or their favorite postcard from a recent destination. Or like this morning, they can show her all their new boo-boos and new pink nail polish.

To get Skype, you just need to download the free program. If you just want to talk to people without seeing them, you are all set to do so after you download the program. You just sit at your computer and talk just as if you were talking on the phone, but you don't have to hold a handset which is really nice for busy mommies who often have to rescue people, or break up arguments, or get two-year-olds out of things they are not supposed to be into, all while they are chatting. Ah yes, the beauty of a multi-tasking mommy! But, I digress. Now, if you want to see those you are conversing with, you (and they) need to buy a little web-cam to pop onto the top of the computer. Install it and voila! You are officially George or Jane Jetson!

Some of the people who would definitely benefit from Skype are military families, expatriate families, missionary families or others that are away from family and friends, either internationally or not. So, what are you waiting for? If there is anyone in your life that you'd love to talk to more frequently, but cost is a hinderance to that, head on over to Skype to remedy that situation. And that is why I am Jane Jetson!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Do They Offer Blogging 101?

I'm updating my blog with labels, which means that the posts will now be categorized. This will make it nice if you're trying to look back to a specific post on a specific topic. It will also help newcomers to the blog find something specific that they might be searching for. However, being the self-taught blogger that I am (read: blog illiterate), I am doing this by going into each post and republishing them with the new labels. I hope this is not really annoying if you read the blog through bloglines. If "new" posts keep popping up in your bloglines, and they are really old ones, my new little labeling project is probably the reason. So sorry in advance!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Delighting In Imitation

I'm reading with my youngest tonight. She does what is her latest cute thing. "Me read to you now, mommy. Me read it, 'kay?"

I happily oblige. I love to watch her toddler attempts at story. She holds the book upside down as we begin. She, who has just heard the story, "reads" to me the same line over and over again. "Once upon a time, first baby bear has some messes." She turns the page. "Once upon a time, first baby bear has some messes." She goes on like this with each progressive page --still reading upside down. She looks at me after every single page, anticipating my wonder at her newfound skill. She speaks with lisps. I think it's quite adorable. I enjoy just watching her revel in this "reading". I gaze at her expressions as she reads, so full of life. I take in the look of joy and wonder and excitement on her face as she practices what she's seen me do over and over and over again in her short little life. Who knows how many books I've read since I gave birth to the first child nearly 6 years ago now?

While she continues, I notice that the book, of quite an average size, takes up her entire lap. Her little half-painted toenails are all that peek out at the bottom half of her body. Her chubby little torso all that is revealed from the top of the book on up. Of course, being only two years old, she uses the pictures for her main meaning-making. She finds no use whatsoever for the words. Her understandings of the pictures are quite simplistic. The man in black is bad. The little bears are good. The things she utters are not profound, but I delight in them. Because I'm her mama, and she's growing up. I think she's brilliant and adorable. I love her attempts to imitate. I wonder at her efforts to understand, to make meaning, to share what she's doing with me.

And then it hits me. Does my Father look at me this way? So often, I think that I must be better, do better, do more. But, does the Father really think that? Or does He, like me, just revel in all that his little daughter is attempting? Does He wonder over me the same way that I wonder over my little child? After all, I'm his little child.

I think back to the reading scenario. Why did I not scold my daughter that the book was upside down, that the words were not related to the story at all, that her attempts at pronunciation were lacking? Because she's learning. She's growing. And growth takes time. And growth is borne out of mistakes and trial and error. And because I think she's so darn cute! Could it be that my Father might possibly think the same of me?

Like my own daughter, do I look like a little toddler to the Father, barely big enough to hold the Book? Does He too think my attempts at explaining, at meaning-making, at understanding are wonderful, even if they are a little off-base sometimes? So often, I think He must think I am childish, foolish, weak, and lazy. But yet, I would never think this about my daughter's first attempts at reading. Does the Father just patiently reveal His same truths over and over to me, just waiting me to understand the full meaning of His truth in the same way I will read the book over and over again to my daughter, until she can narrate the story on her own?

Thank you, Father, that You gave us a Story --the living Word, Jesus Christ. And the Word gave us pictures, and parables, and explanations of what love is, through His example. Oh to hold on to this image of my daughter! Does the Father hold onto each image of me? Does He store up his own "videos" as I grow? Does He look back and see? Now that makes this daughter smile.

Note to Self: Put Some Logic Into Next Year's Curriculum

On the way to the store, I asked my middle daughter, who is 4, to stop running so far ahead of me. I once again informed her that it was dangerous to get too far ahead of mommy by running so fast. "You need to come back here and hold the buggy please and stay right by mommy, now." Now, understand, please that I was behind the child --walking. Still, she replied, "But mom, I can't go that fast!"

What?! So, said child can run quickly in front of mommy, but can't walk beside her because mommy is too fast?! On second thought, after figuring out how to communicate this story, dear readers, I think I might need the logic curriculum myself!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Being Paid in British Pounds Sterling

"Our primary cultural activity in London was changing money. We had to do this a lot because the dollar is very weak. Europeans use the dollar primarily to apply shoe polish. So everyday we'd go to one of the money-changing places...and they we'd look for something to eat that had been invented in this century, such as pizza, and we'd buy three slices for what we later realized was $247.50, and then we'd change some money again. Meanwhile, the Japanese tourists were exchanging their money for items such as Westminster Abbey." --Dave Barry

Did You Know...

...that "Sir Topham Hat" from Thomas the Tank Engine is actually called "The Fat Director" in the Thomas stories and in the English versions of the programme? Isn't America just so P.C., editing for us?!

Simple Theology

After our morning devotional time (where we'd read about the resurrection), my son shared these thoughts.

DS5: "Mom, I noticed that the Bible is like a long, long, long fairy tale. Because it has lots of happy endings and then we go to heaven.

Ahhh, the faith of a little child.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I Did Some Damage at Borders This Weekend

I got away to Borders this weekend. I love this Borders. It's on Charing Cross Road, which is the "book street" in London. Foyles, one of the largest and oldest bookshops in Europe, is across the street from Borders, so I always make a stop over there as well. Foyles has a unique and fun history and is a really quirky place. Go to this site to see more.

Anyway, I got several books at Borders as they were having one of their famous "buy one, get one half off" sales. I found several that had been on my list, so I was excited to get some good bargains.

Here's what I ended up with:

*The London Orbital by Iain Sinclair
*Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir (Now I can take it off my "I Want" list!)
*Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
*Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox
*Creating Keepsakes July issue, which incidentally, I can usually only find at Borders, and each time I get it, it has a little yellow sticker on it that says, "U.S. Import". Funny how you take little things like your favorite magazines for granted.

All of these books will go into my Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge pile. I'm currently reading Sarum by Edward Rutherford for the challenge and have gotten stuck in the chapter on the Roman occupation. I need to trudge through, however, as the first few chapters were very engaging, and I hope that will continue. It's interesting to see how Rutherford takes the Salisbury Plain and weaves it into the stories of generations of families, or at least people groups, for thousands of years.

I'll continue to keep you posted as to my Sarum progress and also as to my progress on the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge as well.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Gastronomical Revelation

We have very, very deep conversations at lunch. Want proof?

DD4: "Mom, why aren't you having yogurt?"

Me: "Because I don't care for yogurt."

DD4: "But kids care for yogurt, right? And grown ups don't care for yogurt. And I care for yogurt and cheese and crackers and I even care for crust now!"

I'm so excited. If this is true, there might just be one meal that we get through that at least one of my sweet darlings does not remind me about their distaste for the loathesome crust.

One can only hope.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is It Weird When...

...your daughter is still wearing her Christmas jammies in the middle of July?!? At home, we're used to 90-plus degree days in July. Here, we're lucky to get up in the high sixties. So, hubby and I were laughing tonight at the fact that the baby was still wearing her winter jammies, her red and green Christmas ones, to boot. Our family and friends that see photos of the children here think it's weird that they are still wearing jackets in most of them. And in our minds, it's still March weather at home, just like when we left. But I can't decide which I prefer...so stinking hot that you have to go to the pool just to cool off, or so doggone chilly that you still need long sleeves and long pants in July?

We Interrupt My Efforts at Simplicity, Social Justice, and Fair Trade For This Teeny Little Sparkly Contest




Here's a great little contest for some blingy ear buds. I don't need them. But they're free if I win. So there.

The Value of Repetition

"I know that to paint the sea really well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its way in that particular spot and that is why I am working on the same motifs over and over again, four or six times even." -Claude Monet

Beautiful

I was disciplining my daughter for an act of direct disobedience this morning. After the consequence, I got down close to her little face, looked in her eyes and quietly said, among other things, "When you disobey, you can hurt yourself. And when you disobey, you hurt your heart." My tenderhearted girl was immediately sorry for her sin, hugged me, and asked for forgiveness. She then asked if she could color. I went back to my dishes. A few minutes later, I asked her what she was drawing, and she replied, "The cross. And it's beautiful, Mommy."

Yes, sweet girl. Yes, it is.

"But now, giving Himself completely at the cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence." Colossians 1:22

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Social Justice and Preschoolers

"He has shown you, o man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

Something that you seem to hear alot about while living in the UK is the concept of fair trade and social justice. I think this is a great thing. Just recently on the BBC News, there was a group of school children that were investigating the chocolate trade in Africa and how chocolate companies use child slave labor. The children were then allowed to question a leader in the chocolate industry in Britain about the policies. She answered their questions with honesty and respect. Fair trade is a big thing here as well. And if the option is available for me here, I usually purchase the fair trade choice instead of the alternative.

Our church here is involved in social justice issues as well. And I guess because of these two things and the fact that I'm reading through the Old Testament (Proverbs right now...today I remember lots of verses about honest scales and justice and righteousness), I'm thinking a lot about how the choices that we make as a family affect those in other countries and situations. And I'm considering the fact that if I do indeed call myself a follower of Jesus, how exactly does that bear itself out when it comes to the way that I use financial resources?

Tonight we had a conversation at the dinner table about these matters. Now, you might think this funny, but my little ones understood social justice on some level when we were finished with this discussion. But what is even more important to me is that I saw in their little hearts a tenderness toward people in difficult circumstances. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hey guys, I've been thinking about something lately. You know, there are lots of little children all over the world that don't have food or clothes or homes or parents to take care of them."

Children: "Yeah."

Me: "Well, I've been reading in the Bible lately about how God is a 'just' God. Do you know what that means?"

Children: "No, mommy. What does that mean?"

Me: "Well, it sort of means 'fairness'. God wants people that have things to share with people that don't. In fact, that's why God blesses people with things --so that they can share with others. God wants governments to be just and fair. He wants rich people and poor people to be treated equally, which often isn't the case."

Children: "Oooohhh." (This really appealed to them as they LOVE things to be fair.)

Me: "And guys, do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking about all of the stuff that we have. We really have way too much stuff. So many toys that we don't play with them. And I've been thinking about the Build-A-Bears. I love the Build-A-Bears and they are fun. It's fun to buy them new clothes and things, but guys, do you think it's okay for our pretend teddy bears to have lots of clothes when real children all over the world don't have any clothes at all, much less toys like bears to dress up?"

Children (With great disdain): "No, mommy! That's sad that kids don't have clothes."

Me: "Yes, I agree. So, guys, we're not going to be buying anymore teddy bear clothes unless it's a really, really special occaision, okay? But what we're going to do is buy clothes for real children instead. Children that really need clothes, unlike our teddy bears, who really don't need clothes. Okay guys?"

Children: "Yes!"

They were so excited. Folks, they got it. These little people were so empathetic towards their fellow little people across the globe. What happens to us as we get older? Why do we forget this?

You see folks, I'm not here pretending that choosing not to buy more teddy bear clothes is an answer to the problem, and that is part of what I think we get wrapped up in. And I most certainly am not here to pat our family on the back. If anything, we should be ashamed that we haven't done more and sooner. I know that the problem is HUGE, so much bigger than any one individual or group could solve. But what I do think is that in the realization of our smallness, we get paralyzed. I know that I do. And I think that one little person doing one little thing can't make a difference. But that is a lie. One little person can make a difference for one other person, even if just one time. And, I dare say, for a lifetime if truly committed.

I've been asking myself lately, "Do I really need more stuff?!" See, my non-Jesus-y self likes my stuff. But, as I look at my latest purchases lately, I don't get joy out of them like I used to. It seems that lately, I can't enjoy a new ring or purse or candle when I know that things like this are going on. Every day. Knowing Jesus compels me to want to be a part of the solution. And I'm definitely going to be thinking and writing more about this. How about you?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Question for You

Exactly how many times exactly does a woman have to be reminded that it rains every day in London and using the clothesline is a silly, silly proposition? You'd think I'd learn, but every day I'm making a mad dash out the back door to yank the dry (but yet to be rescued) clothes off the line as the rain keeps pounding down, down, down. How many times, I ask you?

Paris, Part Trois

**For Parts 1 and 2 of our Paris adventure, click here and here, respectively.

This was the most anticipated part of the trip for me...our day into Paris. Initially, we had decided to do 2 days in Paris, but we settled for one after realizing that yet another day away from Disney would be a hard-sell for the children.

There's a terrific tourist information center just outside the RER station at La Marnee Vallee which is literally steps away from the Disney Parks complex. We started our day by heading in there for some specific transportation information and for some discount tickets and advice as well. The lady there was so helpful. She gave us great advice about what to see and do. She directed us to the bus tour that was most appropriate for what we wanted to see. And she ended up having discounted tickets for us for the Louvre and the bus tour. Plus, she told us that the Rodin Museum and Gardens, one of the things we planned to see, was closed on Mondays, saving us time, money, and a headache. I was definitely a bit bummed about the Rodin Museum, because I had heard it was quite a child-friendly place, and that his most famous sculpture, "The Thinker" was in the gardens, and therefore quite accessible for the children. I was hoping to get a great photo, but it was not to be.

We headed into the city on the RER and knew exactly where to get off. I must say that we were a bit nervous about taking the Metro (subway) and RER (train) because of the language barrier. We decided to get off right where the bus tour began and then to stick to the bus tour routes, hopping off and on as we wanted to see the sites. We got off quite easily and found our bus stop as well. But before we boarded the tour bus, I had planned to find the one and only "Build-A_Bear" workshop in all of Paris. I had read online that it was located in a mall known as Galleries Lafayette, and it was quite close to the tour bus stop. So, we headed off in search of bears. We had to ask about three times as to where the Galleries were, but we finally found it. It is quite a sight to behold. Floors and floors of (very expensive) merchandise, all in a beautifully decorated building. It was so lovely and gilded that it felt like we were walking around inside a lovely jewel. And even though it was a sight to behold, alas, we found no "Build-A-Bear".

After that, we headed to the bus stop for the beginning of our bus tour. We started off at the Opera House, which is a lovely building. We didn't get out here, but did enjoy looking. Our next stop was the Louvre. We did get out here. Visiting the Louvre was a true dream come true for this art lovin' girl. I was dying to get inside what is arguably the world's most famous museum. And I definitely wanted to see the world's most famous portrait, the Mona Lisa. We stood outside the museum in awe of its beauty. We snapped a few photos of the fam in front of the I.M. Pei "pyramid" (Incidentally, if you're reading this from my hometown, our university's art museum was designed by Pei as well.). The pyramid is an amazing piece of architecture, inside and out. My children were mesmerized as they stood under the pyramid from the inside because of the light flooding in, but also because of the many little rainbows they could see which were caused by the reflection of the glass.

We headed off first to the Carrousel De Louvre because the children were starving. We found a large food court and got some French pastries. Then we had the obligatory bathroom break. (Just a side note for those of you planning to do a lot or even a little bit of travel with young children...you'll spend equal amounts of time in the potty and at doing the actual sightseeing. Just a fact of life, I suppose! I can't tell you how many bathrooms we visited in France!) Lastly, we did some quick shopping at a few of the stores in the Carrousel. My favorite store was called Les Enfants De Musee, where there were tons of art books, (really wish my kids spoke French), a nice selection of English books, and some wonderful games. We picked up "Katie and the Mona Lisa". We love the Katie books. Our first one was "Katie in London", which I had purchased for the kids while hubby and I were away on our initial look-see trip in January. So, the children were excited to find Katie. And I was excited that she was visiting Mona as well. Who knew? Then we also picked up a game called Art Memo, which I had seen in the states and a beautiful lotto game of famous French sites. I also found a terrific puzzle for my puzzle lovin' boy of the Eiffel Tower. It's more like a mind bender puzzle and not the piece by piece variety. Anyway, we plunked down some major euros at that little store.

Mona awaited us, so we headed back towards the museum to behold her, but we were caught in a huge security queue. Not being the patient or embarrassable gal, I went over to the man at the queue and pointed to our stroller. He quickly passed us through. I felt not one iota of guilt about this as the stroller is most usually a major headache when we travel and sightsee. So, we got back into the art portion of the museum and went in search of Mona Lisa. Really, with three young children, besides seeing Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, we knew that anything else we'd get to see would be a bonus. Since we live by so many fabulous museums, I've learned that we can't see everything, without boring the kids to death. So, we passed by lots and lots of fabulous art. But, on the way, we did stop and see this one, by Jacques-Louis David. The mere size of this painting is astounding. And the detail is fabulous. I love what Napoleon himself is said to have exclaimed when he saw the immense canvas, "What depth, what truth! This is not art, we can step into your painting!" The dignitaries and others pictured in the painting are actually reconizable. And the work took David two whole years to complete. So, that was our bonus piece.

When we arrived at the Mona Lisa, she was being mobbed by people. This painting is so famous and popular, that there are multiple security guards for just her. She is much smaller than I thought she'd be. And honestly, I wondered what all the fuss was about. But maybe that's because I couldn't get that close. One interesting thing that happened when we were there was that a woman got kicked out of the museum for attempting to photograph the Mona Lisa. Many were taking photos, which was a clearly marked no-no, but this lady was filming on a video camera behind a friend's head. I guess the fact that she would not stop filming when asked to and the fact that she kept arguing with the security guard may have been the reason for her getting the boot. Hmmm...I wonder what my children will remember most, Mona or the obnoxious photographer who made such a fuss?

Next stop...the Venus de Milo.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge




There is a great travel reading challenge going on over at "A Life in Books". I'm joining up. Here are the books I've chosen and the alternates in case I change my mind or can't find the ones listed. I am definitely an "it's my perogative to change my mind" kind of girl, so alternates will probably be utilized. ;)

My Top Six:
Sarum by Edward Rutherford (England)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hoesseini (Afghanistan)
Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson (England)
Three Weeks With My Brother by Micah and Nicholas Sparks (3 week world trip)
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austin (Bath, England)
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)

Alternates:
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (France)
Glastonbury Tor by Leanne Hardy (England)
I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson (U.S.)
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Somalia and Netherlands)

The rules for the challenge and the Mr. Linky list are above if you're interested. Let me know if you decide to join up as well.

Places We've Visited Thus Far

Cities, Towns, or Sites

Dover
Broadstairs beach
Salisbury
Stonehenge
Birmingham
Plymouth
Tintagel
Cornwall
Devon
Bovey Tracy
Stratford-Upon-Avon
Warwick
Ashdown Forest (aka 100 Aker Woods for Pooh fans)
Hartfield
East Grinstead
Windsor
Greenwich
Paris

Gardens, Homes, Castles, or Palaces

Sheffield Park Gardens
Buckland Abbey and Gardens
Dover Castle
Hampton Court Palace
Kensington Palace
Buckingham Palace (outside only)
Windsor Castle
Warwick Castle
Tintagel Castle
Tower of London
Shakespeare's Birthplace
Ann Hathaway's Cottage (Shakespeare's Wife)

Museums

Natural History Museum (London)
National Gallery (London)
National Portrait Museum (London)
The Louvre (Paris)
Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood (London)
National Maritime Museum (Greenwich)
Royal Observatory (Greenwich)

Parks and Zoos

Hyde Park
Kensington Park
Regent's Park
London Zoo
Battersea Park
Children's Zoo at Battersea Park
St James Park
Green Park
Greenwich Park
Princess Diana Memorial Playground
Disneyland Paris Resort

Monuments

Wellington Monument
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square
Arc De Triomphe
Eiffel Tower

Cathedrals or Chapels

St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
Westminster Abbey
Salisbury Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral (outside only)
St. Paul's Cathedral (outside only)

Markets and Shopping

Greenwich Market
Covent Garden Market
Portobello Road Market
Stratford-Upon-Avon Market
Warwick Market
Oxford Street
Harrods
Brent's Cross
Hamley's
St. Christopher's Place
Marleybone High Street
Galleries Lafayette (Paris)

Other

London Eye
Big Ben and Parlaiment Building
Horse Guards
Changing of the Guard
#10 Downing Street
South Bank


Oh my word! I can't believe how long this list is. I think I'll add it to my sidebar as well and keep updating it. I feel so, so blessed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Literary Girl, She Is

You know you've read lots and lots of books to the baby who starts each and every sentence with "once upon a time."

Examples:

"Once upon de time, I flied a kite, mom!"

"Once upon de time, I eat a donot, mom!"

"Once upon de time, I goed on a slide!"

Seems that she thinks life is one big fairy tale. But my dream is for her "happily ever after".

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Touch the Hem

We were having one of those moments. I had refereed numerous squabbles throughout the morning. The toy room was littered with toys and my nagging was not motivating the girls to pick them up. My son was in trouble yet again for teasing his sister. All morning, I had managed patience, with the Holy Spirit's help. (I have no patience of my own, mind you). I was making lunch and counting down the moments until rest time, when I could have a few uniterrupted moments to be with the Father, which I so desperately needed. The arguments continued and I felt myself getting more and more angry, bitter, and resentful. I let off steam by yelling at the children. And crying. Lots of tears. Hot tears of anger and self-pity dripped from my cheeks and onto the kitchen floor below.

I remembered back to my time with Jesus just this morning. I thought back to my heart-felt pleas for help with patience and kindness toward my children today. And then, in my anger over the moment's chaos, I started telling Him, yet again, that He hadn't helped me, that He never helped me, that my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling yet again. I begged for more of Him. I knew that I needed Him so overflowing into my poverty-ridden spirit. Even in my hopeless state, I knew that only He could take away the desperate feelings that I was experiencing. The barrenness of my soul has become so apparent in this spiritual desert that I've been inhabiting of late.

I remembered a verse that I'd quoted to my son just this morning, "Nothing is impossible with God". While I was telling God that I couldn't do one more thing, that I could not be patient one more time, He was reminding me that I could. Through Him. I stilled myself in a chair while the children ate. I pressed through the noise, and the hurt feelings and the anger. And the tears kept flowing. No longer tears of anger, bitterness, or resentment. Now, they had turned to tears of repentance. I confessed my sins (yet again) to my forgiving Heavenly Father. He didn't chastise me. He filled me with His sweet Spirit, yet again. Even though I didn't deserve it. I saw my middle daughter looking at me then, wondering what her mama was crying about. And she hugged me and told me how much she loved me. Sweet grace. Sweet grace sent from my Father to be received through my very own child.

As I sat down this afternoon for more time in His presence (seems I can never get enough. If left to my own devices, I implode!), I went to the story of the woman healed from 12 years of bleeding from Luke 8 (40-48). I read it and wept. I am that woman. Sometimes I feel as if I'm bleeding on the inside. Hemmoraging from my own sin. And it seems I'm in a never-ending battle with my flesh. But soon, the Father was reminding me of those moments in the chair at lunchtime. The moments when I had touched the hem of his garment. When I had made the time to be still, desperate for His touch and his healing, His power went out to me, and I was healed --maybe not forever, but certainly for that moment. Joy and peace and hope returned to my soul and I could be the mommy they needed me to be once again.

Are you like the woman who is bleeding? Draw near. Press through. His power is available and He does indeed still heal.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Blog Sidebar Update

I just added music to my blog. If you don't like it, or don't want to hear it while you're reading, just scroll down in the sidebar and click the pause button. I love classical music as it soothes my soul and seems to make difficult days easier to bear. Sometimes, all I need is a little classical to be a more cheerful and patient wife and mom. So, whatever your preference, no problem. Be blessed!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wanna Know Something Interesting?

When you buy Bisquick in the UK and you look for the recipe that you always use for biscuts on the back of the box, the only recipe you find is for scones. Hmmmm. Somehow scones don't sound quite as tasty with fried chicken and mashed potateos. Do they?

We Hide. He Seeks.

Seems we've got some hidin' going on around the Noel household. The other night, during her bath time, my youngest who was told not to stand up in the tub, closed the shower doors, and told her daddy, "My close da doe. Dat's why I ken see you!" (Need a translation? "But I closed the door. That's why I can't see you!) Trying to convince her that we could see her through the clear shower doors was futile. She was quite certain that she was hiding.

And what did I find behind the couch this afternoon but some empty Reese wrappers stashed. I thought about it. Could it have been my son who comes down here every morning to read because he wakes up early? I remembered back to the little padding feet sound that I'd heard just this morning. Yep, it could be him. So, I called him downstairs and he 'fessed up to it. He said, "Remember how my tummy hurt this morning, mommy? That's why." Yeah, 10 Reese wrappers and a few mini Toblerones to boot would explain it!

What strikes me about both of these incidents is how my children thought they were hiding. The baby thought that because the doors were closed that we couldn't see her and didn't know what she was up to. In fact, she kept insisiting that we couldn't see her, when clearly, we could! And my son, did he really think that I wouldn't find the stashed candy trash behind the couch?! I mean, sometimes my housekeeping can leave a little to be desired, but clearly, trash doesn't usually go unnoticed!

And then I thought about myself. And I thought about all the times that I hide, thinking God doesn't see me slink off to one of my idols --those things that lie to me about their instant relief but are full of false advertising. It took me back to a story from this wonderful Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible) that we're using in our house for morning devotions right now. I can't speak highly enough of this Bible, but I'll post on that another time. But one of the first stories in that Bible (of course) is about Adam and Eve and about the hiding that they did after sinning with the fruit. Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, paraphrased it this way, "You see, sin had come into God's perfect world. And it would never leave. God's children would ways be running away from him and hiding in the dark. Their hearts would break now and would never work properly again." Well, the whole point of this particular Bible is showing children that Jesus and the gospel are critical to every story in the Bible, so of course, we know that because of Jesus, the Grand Hero of All Stories, our hearts can one day work properly again.

But, what about now? Why do I think I can hide from my Father? Clearly Psalm 139 tells us that from before conception we were seen by him. And that we can't go anywhere to hide from him. "Where can I go from you Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me." Why do I believe the lie that I can hide? Why would I want to?

There's another lie that's been around since that first sin. And it's this. "God doesn't love you. He can't. And if he knew, really knew, the depth of your sin he would never love you." So, we hide. We hide, believing that somehow God can't see us. And then we keep telling ourselves that if He could, that He wouldn't love us anyway, so what's the difference? It's a horrible catch 22, isn't it?

Well, recently we got the the Lord's Prayer in our little Jesus Storybook Bible and here's the difference...(again, quoting Sally Lloyd-Jones), "You see, Jesus was showing people that God would always love them -- with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. So they didn't need to hide anymore, or be afraid, or ashamed. They could stop running away from God. And they could run to him instead. As a little child runs into her daddy's arms."

Yes! We can stop believing the lie that we can hide. We are free to stop believing the lie that God won't love us. He does! Like a Father loves his little child. I think back to when my son was smaller, and he was just learning how to play hide and seek. He would hide, but he could never wait to be found. As soon as someone would start looking for him, he would run out, delightedly laughing, and run into the person and hug them. Not hard to find a guy like that! And I think that's a picture of how we should be. Running to and not from. Not trying to hide, but longing to be found.

So, what about you? Are you running from your Father or running toward Him?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Surely You've Heard About This By Now...

...but if you haven't, check out this video of Paul Potts, the winner of Britain's Got Talent. His is an amazing story of an undisovered gift, and as one of the judges described as a frog who is truly a prince! I love how he described his reality versus his dream, "By day I'm a mobile phone sales person, but my dream is to spend my life doing what I feel as if I was born to do."

Hubby and I were watching this show unfold before we left for Paris and were heartbroken that we missed the last episode. When we arrived home, one of the first things I did was check the BBC website to see who had won the competition. And I was delighted with the results! And now I'm oh-so-thankful for youtube, where I can relive his spine-tingling performances again and again. You know that scripture that says "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Cor 1:27)? Yeah, Paul Potts definitely fits that category. An underdog is always worth pulling for.

Disneyland Paris Part 2


We were very impressed at the ease with which the "Disney Express" service we had signed up for allowed us to transfer our luggage and head straight to the parks. On the Eurostar train, there are a few Disney cast members (employees) who hand you your park tickets and your hotel information. They then explain the process of checking your bags in (right there at the train station), and give you claim tickets for your bags for at the hotel later that evening. So, thankfully, after the almost-missing-the-train-disaster, that process went really smoothly.

We were shocked at how close the train station is to the Disney Parks complex. The station is literally right at the "door" of the Disney properties. We had checked our luggage and headed off the the Disneyland park (similar to Magic Kingdom in Florida). After a quick and not-so-careful bag security check at the entrance, we were headed right for Mickey-land! I was dying of anticipation. I LOVE seeing Main Street, and we were so close now. Plus, it was going to be fun to be back in a place that was "familiar" in a way, because we go to Disney fairly regularly. Main Street did not disappoint. It was clean, old-fashioned, and oh-so-Disney. Huge Mickey, Donald, and Minnie balloons were everywhere, which started the, "Mom, can we get a balloon?" saga that went on for the ENTIRE week. (My mom didn't buy ballons. I don't buy balloons. I'm a party pooper, what can I say? Do you know how many balloons we saw heading off into the sky that week??!?! Total waste of money! But I digress...)We headed straight for Casey's, which is our favorite fast-food place in Disney. They sell foot-long hotdogs and fries. And they are smothered in cheese! Mmmmm. Casey's was in just exactly the same place as it is in Florida. And the dogs were oh-so-good.

The children were itching to go to Fantasyland for rides, so after a quick lunch we thought we'd head there. But, who did we happen to run into as we were heading there? The Mouse himself. And he was signing autographs and posing for photos (with a very long queue, I might add!). So, we stopped off there for a photo. Hubby was resistant, because he wanted to get to the rides. "We can get a photo later with Mickey. We have all week!" But, even after three children and multiple professional photo shoots and numerous trips to Disney, he still doesn't seem to understand my mommy-ways! I had dressed them up in the identical red Mickey Mouse t-shirts, remember? And I hadn't gotten a good bargain on them after Christmas and dragged them all the way across the Atlantic for nothing! Soon, I reasoned with Hubby, they would be stained with the inevitable Disney ice cream stain. And I wanted a picture with the Mouse before that. So,we got the picture. And I was glad we got the photo, because as I'll explain in a later post, queueing for characters in Paris was, shall we say....interesting. But, more on that later.

After the photo, we headed straight for Fantasyland. We did the Snow White ride first, which is never my favorite because it's too scary for kids! Seriously, folks, why do they call it Snow White's Scary Ride? Are there not enough rides just for grown-ups at Disney, and isn't Fantastyland supposed to be for kids, little kids at that? Anyway, my kids, at least one of them, always get freaked out in this ride. But another one of them always insists on going in. So we went in to Blanche Neige and Les Sept Nains. And shockingly, it was scary. Even scarier than Florida. Which seemed to convince the little person that always insists on going on that ride not to go on it again. Phew!

We rode the carousel, which my son loved, because it was based on a Camelot theme and he is loving the Arthurian legends lately. Next was It's a Small World and other such fun fantasyland rides. We were kind of surprised at how cool it was. We definitely needed our jackets! I know! And it's mid-June. But, then again, we still need them regularly in London as well. It seems that summer has rather forgotten to show up over here!

We still needed to get our bearings in the park, so we headed to Discoveryland, which is similar to Tomorrowland in Florida, to check out what was there. Autopia, a race car type ride, Buzz Lightyear, and Orbitron were on the list, but the lines were really long, so we settled on Buzz. On the way out of Discoveryland, we caught a bit of the end of the parade. And dd4 was going crazy because they princess float was spectacular and Sleeping Beauty was wearing a blue dress! And ds5 was going nuts because he loves the villains (trust me, I've tried to persuade him otherwise) and there was a pretty incredible float of them as well. If you're a villains fan, I suppose.

After that, we headed off to dinner, which we had a reservation for at Plaza Gardens Restaurant, and we were hopeful that it would be a character buffet similar to the Crystal Palace in Florida. Indeed there was a buffet. And the food was good. But, alas, there were no characters. And we were shocked when we got our bill for 70 Euros. Ouch! The rest of the week, we decided, would be fast food or meal splitting for sure. No more buffets. Especially without characters!

We were beat after our long day, so we decided to head back to the hotel. We were pleasantly surprised again about the proximity of the hotel to the park. It was about a 15 to 20 minute walk. So, we walked to the Newport Bay Hotel, which has a similar feel to that of the Yacht and Beach Club in Florida. It was a nice hotel and very full. We got our room keys, located our luggage and headed off to room 2297 to get the kids bathed and in bed. We'd had a busy, busy day.

Stay tuned for Paris part 3, with details of our trip into the city.