Saturday, December 29

20/20 Vision

When I was little, various different friends had to have braces on their teeth, crutches when they broke their legs or glasses because they were either long/short sighted. In a funny sort of way I found myself a little envious and really longed to have all three, braces, crutches and glasses!!! Strange what you wish for when you're young!

Today I went for an eye-test at a local opticians. Not because I thought I needed new glasses but because it's been three years since my last check-up and I just wanted to see how my eyes were doing.

About 10 years ago I was getting headaches with too much computer work and when I was doing any sewing type stuff where I had to concentrate. Getting glasses made such a difference ... my whole face relaxed, I just hadn't realised that I had been straining all the time.

Over the last couple of years I've found that I haven't needed my glasses so much. To the point where, I honestly can't remember the last time I wore them! I didn't know if I just haven't been concentrating as much or if by some miracle I didn't need them anymore. Glasses and little people don't mix well so not having to wear them would definitely be a bonus!

It was a really pleasant surprise today, to find that my eyes had actually improved and that I officially don't need to wear glasses anymore (which would explain why I was doing so well without them!). One less thing to worry about for me and one less expense for us to have to pay out on. One way to save money on a missionary budget ... have your eyes fix themselves!!

It's a relief to know that I won't need glasses for a while and that to-date I haven't needed braces or crutches either! I can't imagine the logic in wanting any of those things when I was little ... but maybe that just comes from having a 'grown-up' perspective now!

I would have included a photo of me wearing my glasses (that I don't need anymore!) but I couldn't find one ... it's been that long since I've worn them!!

Thursday, December 27

In Between

Right now I find myself living 'in between' worlds!

England is 'home' to us but having lived in the States for three years, so much about there has become almost more familiar and normal to us ... but it is no longer home for our family. Tanzania will be the next place that will be home ... but yet not for a couple more months! So it leaves us floating somewhere in the middle!

Over this last week I've been acclimatising to what was once very familiar but as the years go by, living out of the UK, has become less so. In fact, I'm almost embarrassed to admit at the moment there are probably more things that I prefer about life in the States than in the UK!!!

I miss the sheer space and size of things where we were in the States ... right now everything is feeling really small, closed in and claustrophobic. Houses are much closer together, roads narrower and much busier, shops smaller and more expensive, parking spaces minuscule and difficult to manoeuvre into ... and much more! 

On the flip side there is a charm and quaintness about things here that I never found in the States. Little things are more familiar for example knowing which shops will sell the things you need (if they are still where they were last time you were back!). Or being able to eat different types of food that I haven't been able to get hold of since our last trip to the UK.

I have found myself using American English rather than British English expressions many times over the last week and today when we were out shopping we even went to an American chain restaurant for dinner so that we  could enjoy the little familiar things, like booth's and free-refills!!! So, I guess there is some element of living in both places at once!

Being here in the UK is only temporary though and soon we will find ourselves in a culture which is neither American or British and I'm sure we'll find things that we miss from both cultures ... and find others things that we will enjoy even more about life in Tanzania once we become more accustomed with it. 

I often wonder what the girls are making of all of the differences especially as they have never really had a chance to be 'at home' in the UK to begin with. They aren't fully familiar with their parents culture or the ones we have been living in but have their own 'in between' one. 

That is where the term Third-Culture-Kid (TCK) comes from. Dr Useem coined the term and describes the third culture as ... 
... a shared, or interstitial way of life lived by those who had gone from one culture (the home or first culture) to a host culture (the second) and had developed their own shared way of life with others also living outside their passport cultures.
Making the girls feel as 'at home' as possible, is one of the roles as both a missionary and parent that me and my husband take very seriously and are trying as hard as we can to make the girls as comfortable and as familiar with the different cultures as possible. No doubt there will be many an occasion where we will get it wrong and other times when we make our own family traditions that will cross the cultures instead of embracing any particular one. 

Right now though, it all seems a bit strange as I'm feeling a little like an outsider in my own 'home culture'. I know from previous years that that will pass as we familiarize ourselves with everything again ... but each year it takes just that little bit longer!

Tuesday, December 25

Christmas Carols

Love them or hate them?! Christmas carols are part of the Christmas culture. Some people complain about the number of verses in some carols or the speed that others are played, some people love the tradition, the tunes and for many it's the closest that they ever come to church or anything religious whatsoever!

I love carols by candlelight when everything is cosy and glowing ... the familiar melodies, most of which tell the story of Jesus' birth in one way or another. 'While shepherd's watched', 'Away in a manger', 'Once in Royal David's City' ... if you think about it, this could be the only gospel some people hear in their lifetime. 

But how often do we actually think about it? Do we just sing the familiar words without considering the meaning? From various Facebook updates in the last week or so, I've seen that many people who would never set foot in a church the rest of the year, have been thoroughly enjoying both carol services and nativity plays.

We had the opportunity to take part in the Live Drive-Thru Nativity at our church in Coshocton before we left the States. Mark and I played Mary and Joseph and spent an hour and a half sitting in a stable cuddling the 'Baby Jesus'. 

In a strange way it helped me see the nativity in a new light this year, putting myself in Mary's shoes, with a new baby and all it's immediate needs in an empty stable, with nothing but what they got to take with them on a donkey, staring adoringly at her son. In Luke 2:19, it says 'Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself' ... special memories of a mother regardless of the situation, something that all other mother's can relate to.

The story of that first Christmas is below ... I hope you have a great one with your own families!

Luke 2 - from The Message

The Birth of Jesus

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Friday, December 21


Last Friday, five very friendly but total strangers came into our house and packed up all our belongings onto this container, which is now making it's way slowly to Tanzania ahead of us!

On Tuesday this week, we handed over the keys to the place we have called 'home' for the last three years. Now in it's empty, shell-type form, it can be described as a house again until someone else fills it with their belongings and makes their own memories there.

Later the same day we flew from Ohio to London via Toronto ... and now we are living between our parents houses and various other locations until we move to Tanzania in February.

Transition is never straight forward, whether it's in the details of the packing, travel arrangements, living with just of a small selection of your belongings, adjusting to time zones, helping little people understand what's going on, taking in yourself that one chunk of your life is over and waiting for the next one to begin.

In some ways I'd expected all those things and I had also anticipated that however well prepared we were, it was not all going to be plain sailing ... like when the shipping people told us that not everything was going to fit in the container and we had to pick out what we 'didn't want to take with us' or when the girls are extra cranky as they try in their own little ways to assimilate what's going on  ... and many other little gems!

But it wasn't until we were just about to board the plane on Tuesday and were spending a last few moments with a really good friend before saying our goodbye's, that it actually dawned on me ... technically, as a family, we are currently homeless. How strange! The securities that we all work towards  for our loved ones, have been stripped away for these few months at least. 

When in her tiredness Abigail says to me 'I want to go home', I have to reply that for now we don't have one. She knows that all our things are on a boat to Africa and we will settle once again but for now we are living in other people's homes and are grateful that our family looks after us so well until we have a 'home' of our own again!

If you are friends from England ... check out our family blog post, Back in the UK for more information of where we're going to be and when over the next couple of months.

Thursday, December 13

Christmas Came Early

Trying to maintain some level of normality in our house right now is proving more and more difficult. There is stuff everywhere and it's taking twice as long as normal to find anything that we need. Roll on Friday when everything will be taken away and we won't have to sort through our belongings anymore!

The next two months will be equally as crazy travelling all over and meeting up with people left right and centre ... as well as celebrating Christmas and New Year with family. We won't be able to give presents to the girls in the same way as normal this year. Travelling with presents either to or from the UK isn't really practical, so we've had to improvise and give one of our pressies a little early.

The girls love, love, love to dress up and we found the best trunk/foot locker to give them, so all their things can be stored in one place! A few days ago we told them to close their eyes and had lots of fun watching the smiles on their faces, when they realised what their early Christmas present was!! They were super excited and jumped straight in themselves, shouting 'Hooray'!

Dress up is such a great source of imaginative play for little ones. According to ...

... while dress up play is an incredibly fun activity for little kids, it's also a very important one, helping them build up their vocabulary as well as their confidence ... Role playing, especially when it happens with other children, encourages taking turns, cooperation and socialization. Children that allow their imaginations to run wild become great problem solvers as adults. Why? Because creative thinking grows with use and practice and while trying to figure out how to rescue dolls from the bad guys doesn't seem like a pressing issue to you, to the superhero child, it's a quandary that has to be figured out immediately.
As I said, my two love it and I often have fairy cowboys, kung-fu fighting santas and a lot of princesses parading around and playing in my living room really nicely together! It can take up hours of their time and while they're clearly having a whale of a time, it is also a lot of fun to watch too!

Christmas certainly will be a little different from normal this year but in some ways it will extend the celebrations (they have already started!) and may even make it more fun and memorable in years to come.

Due to the everything that is going on over the next week ... I may well miss out a few of my normal posts until we're in the UK ... or not! I'll just see how it all goes!

Tuesday, December 11

The "Goodbye's" Have Begun

With just over a week to go ... our goodbye's have begun in earnest. 

Last weekend we had the MMS Christmas celebration and next weekend our Sunday School class will be having their's. It has been a great opportunity for us as a family to see everyone in a couple of places and say goodbye's to those friends who have have been part of our lives for these last three years without having to arrange anything ourselves.

Four of the MAF/MMS munchkins at the Christmas Party

Goodbye's aren't just reserved for people though ... there will be places that we won't get to visit again, restaurants we won't get to eat in, shops we won't get to frequent and family traditions we've started, that we won't be able to continue once we've moved on from here.

While I'm really excited about the next step, I always love the next adventure and all the new things, friends and experiences that come with it. When a chapter in my life comes to an end, I hate the thought that I won't get to do all the things that are part of our life as a family right now ... and can get very sentimental.

The missionary lifestyle can be difficult as there are always a lot of comings and goings of people and good friends and while the goodbye's are tough, life keeps going in your own home. This time however, we're the ones who are going and so the wrench is going to be that much bigger, especially because it will be a couple of months before we have the chance to properly settle again.

I have really enjoyed our three years in the States, while it hasn't always been easy there have been some really special moments, including the arrival of Naomi. Every day of these last few weeks have been full of goodbye's and 'last time' experiences that I'm trying to treasure ... before we have the chance to create a whole load more where we make our next home.

Saturday, December 8

Fun and Games

We like to have fun as a family and some games are very cultural. Some we've been able to teach others. Kubb, for example, a Swedish game, we learnt in the UK, that we've taught to American friends. Or Carcassonne, a German style board game based on a medieval French town, taught to us by Dutch friends!

Over the time that we've been here in America we have had a growing appreciation as a family for the State License Plate Game (free printable, courtesy of The Dating Divas Blog)! When we first moved here and I heard people mention it, to be honest I have to admit rolling my eyes, thinking 'boring'. Fast forward three years and you will find us hunting down different plates while we're out and about.

For those who aren't familiar, each of the 50 states of America have a different license plate (or a few different ones) which are easily identifiable as the name of the state should be on there. Every car has a license plate based on where the owner lives. So if you move states, you change plates. That means that if you live in Florida (bottom right of the USA) and see a car with a Washington (top left of the USA) license plate ... you know it's travelled a LONG way to get there!

Our long road trip to Florida earlier on this year found us noticing different plates and after a while we started writing down all the different ones we'd seen. Later we found the free printable (see link above) and now we always have a copy in the car to mark down any new ones we see! Abigail's very quick to point out the Ohio ones because they are 'just like ours'. She's also desperate to see an Hawaii one as it has a rainbow on it ... given the geography of the states, we're unlikely to spot one of those round here!!

A couple of months ago we set ourselves the task of finding as many of the 50 states plates as possible before leaving the country. While we knew that it was highly unlikely that we would find all of them, given that Hawaii and Alaska and not even attached to the rest of the states, we thought we had a reasonable chance to get the other 48. 

With less than two weeks to go, we only have about 8 more plates to go to reach the big five-0. The biggest surprise so far was when we found an Alaska plate in the car park at Columbus Zoo ... they really had travelled a long way to see the animals!

Yesterday's trip to Columbus was a little disappointing as we didn't manage to add any to our quota ... and we even drove down one section of a car park, as we spotted a different plate at the other end that we wanted a better look at! We don't usually detour specifically for license plates but we're running out of time! 

When Mark's parents visited in October we introduced them to the game ... and it wasn't unusual to totally loose Gramps in a car park much to Grandma's annoyance!! He kept wandering off trying to locate some more to add their tally of plates spotted. Totally addicted in a very short time!

If you're living or travelling in the States I can thoroughly recommend it as an ongoing family pastime ... a sentence I never predicted saying a couple of years ago! I know if we ever come back here, we'll definitely have a fresh copy out and be ready to cross off the states as we see them!

Thursday, December 6


Apart from a little nursery/playschool I went to when I was very little, I attended the same school from age 5 all the way through until I was 18 years old. While the classes grew in number there was always the same core of us that went all the way through ... and a lot of us are still in touch, albeit in many cases only on Facebook.

So it seems a little strange to me when taking a picture of Abigail and her class earlier on this week that she will unlikely ever see or be in touch with most of them again given that we will soon be halfway across the world.

Abigail has had the best start to her school career. She has absolutely loved every minute of it at the Early Advantage Pre-School here in Coshocton, Ohio. She is now 'chomping at the bit' to start at her new school in Tanzania too, where her name is already on the sticker chart awaiting her arrival! In fact during our recent visit Abigail was even a bit annoyed with us that she couldn't start straight away!! Who knows how long she will be at this next school though ... at least four years, maybe more? It all depends.

Although Abigail's school experience is going to be totally poles apart from mine (it is already), I'm so glad the early stages have been such an excitement to her. She confidently bounds in every day and is full of stories about what she has been up to and the new friends she has made. I hope that her little sister will follow in her footsteps in that respect when she starts school in 2014 ... yes she is already enrolled this far in advance! With all the moving around we'll be doing as a missionary family, for them both to feel settled at school will be really important for us.

In the meantime, Abigail is enjoying her last few weeks with her classmates at her 'first school' before she will say goodbye to these, her first school friends.

Tuesday, December 4

Things I have learnt ...

This evening was my last Apprentice Wives meeting. For most of the time we've been living in the States, a group of us have met two evenings a month to share, encourage and learn from one another, while our husbands have been training in the MMS hangar.

As this was my last meeting I was asked to share what I have learnt over our time here.  When I started thinking about it, there were lots of useful (and not so useful things) that I have had to learn over recent years, so I started to make a list!

Some of these things I've been learning since my first missions trip to Iringa, Tanzania, back in 1997 (15 years ago!) and that continue to be relevant. Some I learnt to expect from my studies at All Nations and have now had a chance to put them into practice. Some are from personal experience and some are from observing others. Some are sensible and others are not ... but they are all things I've learnt since I started my journey into missions!! 

In no particular order ...
  • How to drive on the other side of the road
  • How to raise and maintain support 
  • To appreciate Fair food Stateside ... deep fried oreos, funnel cake, corn dogs
  • The differences between having a baby in the UK and the USA
  • To be content whatever the resources and circumstances 
  • How to plan and enjoy long road trips with little munchkins
  • To speak a different language (American English can be very different)
  • That the more you give (time/money/resources), the more you receive
  • To always clarify the details when asked to do something (over and over) ... what you understand someone to be saying might not be what you’re being asked
  • That God is interested and faithful in all the details
  • Not to come with expectations
  • That Americans will never fully understand the expression ‘A nice cup of tea’ in the same way Brits do!
  • To look for where you can be useful, you can always make an important contribution
  • That new culture’s aren’t wrong, they’re just different 
  • That your family comes first, if you want to remain on the mission field 
  • To find ways to extend hospitality to others because they often won’t extend it to you
  • How to shoot a gun
  • To take time to get settled as a family before getting involved in too many things
  • That God really does supply all your needs, often in unexpected ways
  • How to survive on very little sleep for prolonged periods of time
  • To be intentional in making friendships
  • How to be a mum to more than one daughter
  • To enjoy iced-tea and endless refills of drinks at restaurants
  • That when you invest time praying for difficult relationships, God can really turn them around in ways you couldn’t even imagine
  • To appreciate some of the ‘cheesy’ American Christian movies and literature 
  • That we are blessed with the full support of our family (even though they’re a long way away)
  • Small town America is not the America of the movies
  • To live for the last week before payday every month with no money
  • That it’s important to find yourself replacement ‘family’ where you live
  • That everyone deals with transition in different ways, don’t take it personally
  • How to make a quilt
  • That God continues to see the bigger picture and has got it all worked out perfectly, making time for him, helps you ‘sweat the big stuff’ less!
I look forward to learning even more stuff as the journey continues!