Monday, October 31

Bittersweet moments

Four generations at Abigail's dedication

My Nan has experienced a lot in her life ... surviving wars ... working different jobs, from nursing to airport security ... raising two kids who have gone on to have their own families (to date she has 4 grandchildren, 7 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren) ... and so much more. 

Growing up I always called her 'Nanny Gatwick' as she worked at Gatwick Airport and my other Nan was 'Nanny Seaside' because she lived ... yes, by the sea!!

When a lot more mobile she could be very goofy and active but over the last decade or so has struggled with different ailments ... some a lot more serious than others. 

Over the last few weeks she has been increasingly ill and in hospital. When we arrived back in the UK on Thursday morning one of our first priorities was to visit her and introduce her to Naomi, who til then she had only seen on Skype. Sadly early the following morning she died.

Being overseas you are never guaranteed to be in the right place at the right time when it comes to family illness and death. It's one of the more difficult sacrifices that we make choosing to do what we do.

We were really blessed this week that in God's perfect timing we could be here and see her one last time and also be available to help my mum now. So, you'll forgive me if this post is a little late ... but Friday was all about Nanny Gatwick.

Wednesday, October 26

Goody Bag

Travelling with little people always has it's challenges. 

One of those being the other passengers. Before having my girls, I had travelled quite a bit internationally and enjoyed the flying ... a little time to shut off, read, watch movies, snooze, get excited about the adventure the plane was taking me too or reflecting on the happy memories I had just made on my trip. I'd always watch my fellow passengers boarding the flights ... not on the look out for a 'storybook' drop dead gorgeous hunk who would sit next to me and make the flight a lot more interesting ... but to check that I had successfully avoided sitting near anyone travelling with little people who had the potential to disturb my little piece of me-time during the flight!

Now the shoe is on the other foot as I have two gorgeous girls of my own. Boarding planes more recently I can recognise that look in our fellow passengers ... the one that says 'please don't sit near me, please don't sit near me'!! I recognise it because it's the one that countless times in the past has probably been so obvious on my own face!

As missionaries working overseas (or for anyone who travels a lot) getting your whole family from one side of the world to the other can be quite the adventure in itself. One of our classes at All Nations was called 'Families in Mission' and was full of helpful practical tips for moving and adjusting your family, taught by someone who had been brought up in a missionary family herself. For long journey's she recommended having goody bag with a few little presents that could be strategically handed out and unwrapped throughout the journey ... so that your kids can remain happy and excited but also occupied with whatever it is they unwrap! (Think colouring book, stickers, new book to read, card games, finger puppets etc)

Last year when we travelled back to the UK we did a search for top tips for travel gifts and activities on Google. For this years travel (which begins today!), we have been keeping our eyes open for little fun things and activities that only cost a few dollars each but that we know Abigail will enjoy. She loves the whole adventure of travelling, so hopefully these goodies will keep us and all our fellow passengers a little bit saner in the process. 

Naomi has never experienced this type of travel yet ... so we wait to see what happens there!

Monday, October 24

One Pumpkin at a Time

Wow ... this is the third year I've been in Ohio with my family for 'harvest-time' ... the years have flown by. The first year, we had just arrived so everything was new to us. The second year, we were back home in the UK renewing our visas. So, this year has really been the first time we've immersed ourselves in the whole pumpkin patch, hay ride experience ... it really is part of learning the local culture. (Check out Our Pumpkin Patch Adventure to see what other precious things we went hunting for!)

Driving through town right now, it seems that many people decorate their houses with scarecrows and pumpkins. When we went to the pumpkin patch and picked out ours, we joked with some friends who asked if we knew what we were meant to do with them, as we 'weren't from around here'! They went on to explain you put them out the front of your house for decoration or take out all the centre and make jack-o-lanterns (something we do in the UK but not to the extent we've seen here). 

The desserts at our first Thanksgiving in 2009, were pumpkin-tastic ... pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin roll and a few other things (yes, really). Given that experience, we expected to be told that all the hollowed out pumpkin stuff can be used in many different recipes. But no, our friends said they just throw it away and buy pumpkin pie mix at the supermarket which made us laugh a lot!

Over the days following our pumpkin patch fun, I found myself coming back to that conversation. I really loved the fun we had going on a hayride and picking out pumpkins with the girls, especially as the weather has started to change and you have to wrap up all warm and snug. But I was also thinking about the hundreds of thousands of pumpkins in the supermarkets, on peoples front porches, decorated as jack-o-lanterns and being totally splatted at pumpkin launches (see Punkin Chunkin)... that are grown and never actually get eaten.

I know first hand people in many different countries of the world who struggle to make ends meet or to find adequate food for their family, whether through lack of money or bad harvests. I'm not out to make anyone feel guilty about their 'pumpkin use' ... as the finger will also be pointing back at me ... but as well as enjoying the whole experience, it also made me feel a little bit sad at the utter waste.

I guess I still haven't quite figured out what to make of it all yet. Maybe I should just hunt down some great recipes and try and change the world, one pumpkin at a time!!

Friday, October 21

Fall in a Cup

It's an absolutely beautiful time of the year here in Ohio at the moment ... blue skies and multicoloured skylines, as the trees are aglow in their golden hues. Whether you call it Fall or Autumn doesn't change the true beauty of it all ... and it's far more spectacular and longer lasting than anything we get in the UK.

We were invited to a bread bowl soup evening recently. One friend made these great bread rolls that we could the cut the centre out of ... and the rest of us brought different soups to fill them ... yum! (For the record, us Brits find it very amusing that out here you class chilli as a soup ... it's a main meal for us, usually served on a bed of rice!)

I have to be honest and admit that I've never been a huge fan of soup ... although I'm beginning to 'grow-up' and appreciate it. As the cooler weather settles in, I realise the 'cozy' feeling a nice bowl of soup can generate.

A few years ago, a South African friend in London introduced me to a yummy butternut squash soup recipe. I made it to take with us to the bread bowl soup evening (keeping it warm in my new Crockpot, of course!!) and to share with our American friends ... a truly international experience!! One of my friends took a few mouthfuls and then looked at me with a huge grin on her face and said "This is just like fall in a cup" ... which made everyone else smile too!

The recipe is below and serves 6 ... apologies for the measurements being metric to those of you who aren't used to using them. I guess as I've picked up different recipes all over the world ... the information I share will be a bit all over the place when it comes to weights and measurements!

  • 500-750g butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 30g butter/margarine
  • 60ml flour (1/4 cup)
  • 400ml milk
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 3ml ground allspice
  • salt/pepper for seasoning
  • (optional fresh cream to decorate)
  1. Boil butternut, stock, allspice, salt & pepper (approx 20 mins, til butternut is tender)
  2. Mash butternut in the stock
  3. Separate pot - melt butter, add flour, then milk slowly, to make a white sauce
  4. Add white sauce to mashed butternut
  5. Puree mixture with a blender
  6. Serve and decorate with a swirl of cream!
It's really simple and yummy (even for a soup skeptic!) ... my least favourite part is peeling and cubing the butternut ... for that I smile sweetly at my husband which usually does the trick!

Wednesday, October 19

Being a Mum

Some days being a mummy is the hardest thing in the world ... totally overwhelming. Other days they bring the greatest joys and proudest moments. Often it just depends on the day, hour, minute as to which emotion the little munchkins bring out in us ... you know exactly what I mean!

I consider it a real privilege to be a stay-at-home mum right now ... really I do. While we're in the States my visa doesn't allow for me to do anything else! It is such a treat to enjoy every moment, every day with my girlies, even if there are times I'd like to run away and take a total break from it all. I know it's a cliche but we'll never get these precious times back again and I want to make the most of them while I can.

Last year I did have the opportunity to escape for 24 hours with some other ladies to the Women of Faith conference in Columbus. It was such a great time away from the responsibilities of home, enjoying fun times and making new friends (as well as indulging on Cheesecake Factory cheesecake!!)

At the conference itself, Stephen Curtis Chapman and his wife were guest speakers and sharing the story of their family. He acknowledged what a wonderful wife and mother Mary Beth Chapman is and he sang a song he had written for her, One Heartbeat at a Time. 

I'm sure all of our husbands and children would echo the words and sentiments in this song. It really puts into perspective the reality of mummy-dom both the everyday stuff, that we think goes unnoticed, but also the fundamental truth that wherever we are, as mum's we really are changing the world one heartbeat at a time.

Be encouraged mum's ... even on a rough day we're doing a great job, carved out just for us to do. Below are just some of the lyrics to 'One Heartbeat at a Time'. Click here to find the full lyrics and a link to listen the song. (I have to admit the first time I heard it, I the tears were rolling down my cheeks ... it really hit home, in a good way ... it's beautiful!!)

You're up all night with a screaming baby 
You run all day at the speed of life 
And every day you feel a little bit less 
Like the beautiful woman you are 

So you fall into bed when you run out of hours 
And you wonder if anything worth doing got done 
Oh, maybe you just don't know 
Or maybe you've forgotten 

With every, "I know you can do it" 
And every tear that you kiss away 
So many little things that seem to go unnoticed 
They're just like the drops of rain, over time they become a river 

And you, you are changing the world 
One little heartbeat at a time 
Making history with every touch 
And every smile 

Oh, you, you may not see it now 
But I believe that time will tell 
How you, you are changing the world 
One little heartbeat at a time 

You're beautiful, so beautiful 
How you're changing the world 
How you're changing the world 

Monday, October 17

A Family of Bookworms

I love books, reading them, browsing through them, spending time in bookstores and libraries, having them lined up nicely on our bookshelves at home ... just everything about them. While we own a Kindle and love it ... nothing beats curling up with a real book and getting lost in its contents! (Can I also take this opportunity to say how utterly gutted I am that my favourite store ever, is no longer ... RIP Borders you were my perfect combination, books, Starbucks and Paperchase Stationary, you will be missed!)

A couple of years ago while packing up our possessions for the first of many international moves we realised that we own a lot of books (my husband is as bad as I am!). One big sacrifice for us being missionaries was going through and culling a large proportion of them and either giving them away or selling them on Amazon. Even so we still travelled with a large number of books ... and have added to our collection, especially in the children's  selection.

As you can see we already have one little bookworm in the making ... Abigail LOVES her books and will often fall asleep in bed while reading them. She seems very eager to include her little sister and share her love of reading with Naomi too, which is lovely to watch!

As our budget is much more limited now (and books here in the States seems to be a lot more expensive than back home!), I have been making the most of the local library to feed my book obsession. Even though the library is not huge by any means ... it is really easy to order in books from other libraries. Being allowed up to 100 books at a time, for 4 weeks each is a real treat ... however in the two years we've lived here I don't think I've exceeded 20 at any one time!

Back in the UK, going to the library was becoming less and less of a possibility. Local libraries have been closing down and mobile libraries reducing their visits. (At one point there was a two hour window once a fortnight when the mobile one would park up ... and even that's been cut now!). You then needed to visit the more central libraries and the parking was a nightmare and too expensive ... so sadly, not an option, at least where we were anyway.

A couple of weeks ago I read about another mum's visit to the library in the Blonde Mom Blog ... it really made me chuckle and is definitely worth a quick read. The irony for me was, climbing in to bed the very night that I read it, I realised I too was reading a large print book from the library ... and I could already hear the internal monologue in my head! Check out the link and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!

Friday, October 14

Potty Talk

We all do it ... several times a day ... it's completely natural ... and yet it's a one of those taboo subjects when it comes to conversation. With all rules however, there is always an exception and in my experience for this topic it is usually when talking about or with little people, old people or missionaries!

While it's not unusual to be monitoring the little people's business, over the last 10 years or so that I have done both long and short term mission trips I was surprised at how much 'that kind of thing' has come up in conversation. Even now I'm avoiding referring directly to the subject matter!

From the simple ...
'I have a dodgy stomach, it's probably from something I ate
'I'm in a new and unusual environment and I haven't been for a week
'I'm getting more successful at aiming for that hole in the ground', 
'I nearly dropped my torch down the hole last night
'what are you supposed to do with that shower hose next to the toilet?

... and all number of phrases in between, usually a lot more graphic ... it seems a totally acceptable topic of conversation! (I have a feeling that those of you have been there are now recalling similar conversations you have had and are giggling to yourself!)

Latest potty-time fashion!

I knew that my radar was more alert than average when my daughter came running in from her bedroom saying very enthusiastically 'I've got poo in my book' and I instantly got a sinking feeling in my stomach! I was surprised (and extremely relieved) to look up and find that she was right ... there was indeed a Pooh in her book ... Winnie the Pooh!

At the moment my littlest munchkin seems to think that my time is best spent clearing up poo explosions and I ended up laughing at myself during potty training when text messages to my husband read 'Double whammy potty success ... poo & wee in one hit! She was super excited!'.

One thing I do know though, is that being both a mum and a missionary, my life will continue to be filled with these experiences and conversations for many years to come. So learning to laugh about them seems the only appropriate course of action ... otherwise I may go slightly nutty in the process!

Thursday, October 13

Empty Old Boxes

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder ... Everything and everyone has potential!

One part of our basement is full of empty boxes, either from moving here, from parcels that arrive (usually from Amazon!!) or just the endless pile of 'nappy' (American's read 'diaper') boxes that seem to accumulate exponentially. 

On a recent visit to stay with us, my mum's perception was 'What a fire hazard', a disaster just waiting to happen. Being crafty, I see a 101+ craft opportunities for a rainy day or a long snowy winter in Ohio without costing me very much at all!

While I like to get creative ... there isn't much to it really! With a cardboard box and a little persons imagination ... you don't even need to do anything to it and suddenly it becomes a cave to hide in or a car to drive all round the living room ... that's without decoration! Imagine the potential then when you add a few bells and whistles!

One of our moving boxes became a little house which Abigail and all her friends loved to death, for about a year and a half! Painted with some paint a friend didn't need anymore and a few finishing flower touches by Nana when she visited ... voila ...

After Naomi was born we had an abundance of pink tissue paper and a few battered shiny gift bags ... rip them all up and add them to a large Amazon packing box and you get a life sized Abigail!

Yesterday was a rainy day ... and a very enthusiastic artistic director 'helped' me transform this Huggies box into a puppet theatre ... still a work in progress!

While we are having lots of fun with our empty boxes ... I can't imagine that in the year or so we have left living here we will ever get through the current supply of cardboard lurking in our basement (yes, there really is that much!). Maybe we should get our acts together and recycle a whole bunch of it ... and reduce the 'up in flames' factor down there!

Monday, October 10

Mealtime Madness

Is it just my children or is it universal that little people have mealtime radars?! 

Since we had Abigail we have tried to keep a good evening routine for the sanity of us all ... so that mealtimes, bath times and bedtime can happen like clockwork however crazy or tired we are at the end of the day! Now that we've added Naomi into the mix, things have become a little less predictable!

It seems that at whatever point in the cycle of awake or asleep-ness she is ... Naomi always manages to be awake, alert and wanting attention just as the food is being served at the table! Whether she's been asleep for an hour or just 10 minutes, as we're settling down to eat, two little eyes pop open, a frown appears, followed by a smile (thankfully) ... and then Naomi gets progressively more noisy until either my husband or I pick her up so she can join us at the table!

I wouldn't want to miss out either ... in a world where increasingly TV dinners, or eating in shifts has become more and more prevalent, the fact that we are able to have a home-cooked family meal every evening is a real gift and we know it's not necessarily the 'norm' (whatever that is) nowadays.

So in order to enjoy them and make sure the littlest munchkin is also happy ... we have come up with the following options ...

As you can see she enjoys them all but her preference is still the table, so as soon as one of us is finished she always becomes part of the conversation. It won't be long at all until she'll be able to sit comfortably with us in a highchair ... but we do refer to her as 'squiggle butt' as she doesn't sit still for long so who knows how that will go!

Friday, October 7

House Fairy and Apple Pie Friendship

For a missionary or in fact anyone who moves around the world for work or family reasons, there are some settling in processes that take more hard work than others. Loneliness can make or break your ability to stick it out long term ... especially early on as you don't know many people in your new home-town and at the same time you can be thinking of all the people you've left behind.

Making the effort in a time of transition can be difficult but making the most of every opportunity really does pay off! A good friend of mine, who isn't a Christian, moved to a new town when she got married 7 years ago and having been there a couple of months was really struggling. In a phone conversation we had, she commented on how she could see the benefits of being able to plug straight into a church in a new location and have an instant network of people at your finger tips!

In the (almost) 6 years that I've been married, we've already moved to new locations twice and being able to find a church and friends through that has been so valuable. Also 'using' my girlies to get involved in mothers and toddlers groups and meeting other mum's has been great for me while my husband is at work. These new friendships have given me the opportunity to see where I can help out others too.

One thing I have learnt is that instead of going out to 'find' a friend ... going out to 'be' a friend is much more effective. If you become the friend to someone else that you would want yourself, it is more likely to be reciprocated and will develop a more balanced friendship in the end. (Not that I'm any expert on the subject ... but I do have a huge circle of friends, so I must be doing something right!). As a family we also try to invite 'new' friends round for dinner in order to get to know people better too. So for a large chunk of our first year here in America we invited different families, maybe once a fortnight to invest in these friendships.

We've been here for two years now and I am pleased to say that I have made many new friends, some of whom will be lifetime buddies that I will keep in touch with wherever our mission adventures take us. Now when we return home exhausted from vacation or from being on furlough back in the UK we often find the 'house fairies' have been visiting in our absence! Maybe the house has been hoovered or there are freshly laundered sheets on the bed, chocolates on the pillow, fresh flowers in a vase, a welcome home card or a fridge that has been topped up with just enough food to tie us over til we can get to the store. It is fun to find and just as fun to do for others ... leaving you with a fuzzy warm glow knowing that you are loved or have been able to show someone that you love them! 

Just this week I had a phone call from another friend here, who asked if I was home and said she'd be round 10 minutes later as she had something for me. Mystified I hung up the phone and waited. Sure enough 10 minutes later she arrived with a freshly baked homemade apple pie, saying 'I made two and thought I know just who I'm going to give this to'!! 

As you can see ... it was delicious!

'House fairy and apple pie' friendship is the best! Being intentional when we first arrived here makes for fun times now and people that I will miss loads next time we move and are once again the newbies in a new town!

Wednesday, October 5

Fair time in Town

Living in small town America has it's own little set of endearing traditions. This week the Coschocton County Fair is pretty much all that is being talked about where we live here. It's just over a week jam-packed with events from bull-riding, cake-tasting, pumpkin measuring to animal showing and rough trucking (2011 Fair Schedule). 

We arrived in America just a few weeks before the fair in 2009 and got a big culture shock when we went to see what it's all about! To my Brit friends a fair would just be the fairground rides and an agricultural show would be the animal showing bit possibly with the crafty & cookery bits thrown in. Add then a whole load of music and live events and that gives you an idea of what it's like! One thing that really surprised us was that all the kids get time off school for this week long extravaganza, as they are more than likely taking part in one event or another anyway!

Last year, our second visit to the fair, we knew what to expect and Abigail had her first ride on a carousel and LOVED it!! (Did I mention all the rides are free ... probably another surprise to the Brits ... as it really surprised us!) This year, the 160th Coshocton County Fair, we were looking forward to it and Abigail, now 3, was really excited and as well as walking up and down all the animals barns, you can see she thought the rides were great! 

Another element of the fair is the food ... although we're familiar with burgers and hot dogs there are endless opportunities to buy corndogs, elephant ears, funnel cakes ... and anything deep fried including oreos! While they may sound like the norm to Americans ... we had no idea what they were or what to expect when we bought them. We are now slowly sampling the native 'delicacies' ... but the deep fried theme makes them difficult to stomach more than once every couple of months! One thing that really amused us this year was spotting the chance to buy deep-fried veggies ...  I guess this is the 'healthy' option!

If all goes to plan we will have moved on to another continent and set of traditions by the time the fair comes around next year but if that's delayed I'm sure we'll all enjoy the experience once again in 2012!

Monday, October 3

It's not what you say ...

It's not what you say ... but how you say it! 

Advice so true throughout life ... but more amusing when you listen to the little people trying to express themselves!! Abigail is such a chatterbox at the moment and is mad about talking, reading and writing. I can't tell you how many times I've had to write out the alphabet in dots for her to 'write her letters' as she she puts it!

Singing the alphabet is also a favourite pastime right now ... but as with many children I've heard, while most letters have their own sound L, M, N, O and P become one long sound and almost one letter in it's own right!!

I read recently in a parenting magazine that if by the age of three your child doesn't have 20-30 words that they use regularly they may have some developmental problems ... we definitely don't have that issue here. What I find most endearing is the way Abigail has changed some words and phrases to develop her own little way of saying things ... and I know I'll be sad when the day comes and she corrects herself and they all slowly disappear!

Here are just some of her little words and phrases that make me smile ... Complete with translation if it's not immediately obvious!! Sadly some have already disappeared.

  • Abi dude it - Abi do it
  • socks-sidge - sausage
  • lie-lin - lion
  • colour-ling - colouring
  • efferlent - elephant
  • What it is? - What is it?
  • It's looking a bit 'froggy' outside - foggy
  • Wha' you say? - What did you say?
  • Bye bye bodies - bye everybody
  • I've got a 'nogey' - bogey
  • I can't how to do it  - I don't know how to do it
  • No please mummy - no thank you mummy
  • The last day - the other day or last time

After just a week of coming home from the hospital, Naomi was renamed 'Nomi' by Abigail ... that one has stuck for her and the rest of us ... I can see Naomi going through her whole life being called Nomi by her nearest and dearest now thanks to her big sister!!