Thursday, February 22, 2007

Life in a Snapshot

Yep, this basically sums up life at our house these days!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sophie's First Word

Since our son was a very quiet kid for the first two-and-a-half years of his life, except for the occasional "Buh" (which meant ball, boat, bird, balloon and, okay, pretty much everything else), I've been especially interested in the sounds Sophie has been making lately. I've been wondering if she'll be an early talker, as the experts say girls usually are. For several weeks there it was just "Da-da-da" and "Quack-quack-quack". But then she started trying new sounds every few days, and on her birthday she actuallly said her first word! We've all continued to hear it frequently this past week, so there's no denying it. Yes, it's a real word, one she hears often, and it also just happens to be the name of her favorite person in the world: "Jack".

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Morning Discovery

"Mommy, Mommy, come quick! I see the world outside my window!"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Same Life, Different Season

A package arrived by yesterday's post -- that's British-speak for "it came in the mail" -- containing a happy surprise from my very first best friend, Jenny. She sent me a handmade, designed-just-for-me bracelet with exquisite pearls and silver beads that spell the names of my children. At the base of the clasp is a heart. At the other end is a tiny cross. It's such a beautiful thing! I put it on immediately, of course. I'll probably still be wearing it when Jack and Sophie graduate from high school/college, go off to Africa/India/wherever, get married, have children of their own... A mother's heart is never far from her little ones, no matter how big they become (so I've heard from v-e-r-y reliable sources). This bracelet is a sweet reminder to pray for my kids whenever I wear it.

I think it's especially sweet that the girlfriend who was such an important person in my teenage years is still such a thoughtful encourager to me now. I love that we are still connected at the heart although in our daily lives we went our separate ways a long time ago. We attended different universities and have never lived near one another since leaving our parents' homes. Her first child is 10 years older than mine. We probably only write to one another a few times a year. In some ways we've grown out of our teenage silliness (thank God), but in other ways we're still right on track with one another. Both of us have continued to grow in our faith. Both of us are mothers now. Both of our husbands travel, a lot. When we do get together or talk on the phone, we pick right up where we left off, no matter how long ago we were last in touch.

The thing is, I've been thinking of Jenny lately, even before the bracelet arrived. Whenever I move to a new place, part of my inner processing involves thinking about all my old friends, women I deeply miss now that things have changed and we’re no longer together like we used to be. God has generously given me kindred-spirit girlfriends in every place I’ve lived, each season along life’s way. Even when the seasons have changed and one of us has had to move on, these friendships remain to bless and encourage me.

So to each of my girlfriends -- whatever your age –- whatever season of life you may be in at the moment -– whether we met at school, at church, in your shop, in an office or in the neighborhood -- whether you now live in Afghanistan, Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, Cyprus, England, Iran, Kazakstan, Kenya, Kuwait, South Africa, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, the UAE or somewhere in the United States –- whether you were my roommate or my neighbor, my student or my mentor, my counselor or my colleague -– no matter how long it has been since we were last in touch, I still carry you close to my heart. Because of your influence I’m a better, stronger, sweeter person than I was before you came into my life. I love you and miss you, and I think of you more often than you know.

As for my current season of life, this was a fun week. Maheesa and Mrs. N showed up at nursery school on Monday with birthday gifts for Sophie, and on Wednesday Jack and I made pink shortbread heart cookies to give them with a note from 1 John 4:7a, 8b: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God... God is love." We are trying to plan a time for all three of our families (men and children included!) to get together one weekend soon. This coming week is half-term break, so two friends from church, Nicola and Kat, are coming here on Tuesday morning with their children. We'll be five kids (ages 1-4), two pregnant women and me!

Right here, right now I feel amazingly, abundantly blessed.

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When I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. (Micah 7:8 NKJV)

God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you"... Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:5b, 8 NIV)

He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:2 NIV)

This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (1 John 5:14 NKJV)

Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NASB)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Let Them Eat Cake

We had a lovely little gathering for Sophie's first birthday over the weekend. Derek and Andree (two of our dearest friends from Cyprus who were at Jack's first birthday party, too!) happened to be in town and were able to join us for the day, and a few special folks from church came over for cake and balloons. It was splendid!

For Sophie's cake, I used a recipe that originally appeared in the December 1998 issue of Southern Living magazine (it was made in square pans and decorated like a Christmas gift, thus the name). Since some of you will be making cakes to celebrate Valentine's Day this week, I wanted to pass it along, especially for those of you who live outside the US. The frosting is really yummy and tastes exactly like those tubs of frosting you can buy in the States.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup margarine
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. double-acting baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
6 egg whites

Beat butter and margarine at medium speed with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well.
Combine water and milk. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla and almond extracts.
Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Pour into three greased and floured cake pans.
Bake at 350F/180C for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

1 cup margarine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
24 oz. or 750 g. powdered/icing sugar, sifted
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Combine first 4 ingredients; beat at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric mixer until blended.
Add powdered sugar alternately with milk, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Beat at medium speed for 8 minutes or until light and fluffy.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Snow Day, the Sequel

We woke up to snow again this morning, as predicted -- three inches after all. Matt was home to join in the festivities this time. We were all outside before breakfast, exploring the moonscape in the pre-dawn light. Later on in the morning, neighborhood kids who were off school walked slowly past our house, intrigued by the giant snowman Matt and Jack built.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Snow Day

Having grown up in Michigan, I remember the thrill of waking up in the darkness of a winter's morning to discover that fresh, new snow had fallen during the night -- especially if there was enough snow to cancel school. So one morning while Matt was away on this last trip, when Jack came to wake me up and tell me the news ("Mommy, Mommy, some snow came down!"), that familiar rush of excitement came over me. We sat in his bedroom window looking out at our back garden all covered in its frosty blanket. It was a thin blanket, about an inch deep -- nothing much by Michigan standards, but pretty cool for this part of England.

After breakfast, I bundled up both kids and took them outside. Sophie sat on a blanket I had just bought on sale at Woolworth's, a plaid picnic blanket with plastic backing. It's what all the mums here have. Anyway, she just sat there! Didn't even try to crawl over to the snow. It was so funny. Jack and I built a snowman and then a snow mommy once Sophie went down for her nap. After a snowball fight with the very last remnants of snow, we went inside for hot chocolate and some Happy Snow Day music -- U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. It was such a fun morning! I was really glad that we had the time to play, that Jack doesn't go to school until the afternoon, because by then the snow had entirely melted away.

Guess what? Snow is expected again tomorrow! The guys on the radio were going on and on today about how it's supposed to be the biggest snowfall London has had in years, and the weather report is calling for two whole inches...

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Asian Week

During Matt's assignment a few weeks ago, I asked for prayer about balancing my time and building relationships here. Looking back on how that week unfolded, I'm blown away by God's answer to those prayers.

Monday: Just as Matt left for the airport, the phone rang. It was Nila Patel, a delightful Gujarati woman I met in September 1994 at the beginning of my two years in Nairobi with TIMO's Asian team. Back then, Nila took me under her wing and gave me a fantastic cultural orientation. Talk about a small world, she was visiting her son and his family who happen to live about 10 minutes from us! Nila and her daughter-in-law came over while Jack was at school, and we had such a fun time reminiscing and catching up. She has struggled with a lot of health issues in the nine years since I had seen her last, but she was the same Nila -- walked into the house and straight into the kitchen and started making masala tea!

Tuesday: Inspired by my visit with Nila and Malini, I made dhal and rice for supper. It's the one thing (besides a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) that Jack will always eat, and -- I'm very happy to say -- Sophie seems to be carrying on the family's affinity for Indian food. Clever girl!

Wednesday: A box arrived in the mail from Vandita in Cyprus. Our sweet friendship began about four years ago when she offered to give Indian cooking lessons in her home. (Don't get me wrong -- Nila, Nita and Shaheen had all faithfully shared their kitchen secrets with me. But I met Vandita in my 7th month of pregnancy with Jack, at the height of my spicy-food-cravings. Purely selfish on my part, I know, but I was also feeling homesick for Nairobi and just couldn't resist.) Ooooh, this friend-more-like-a-sister sent me a most stunningly beautiful shalwar kameez, hand-embroidered in her home town of Lucknow, India. Truly lovely!

Thursday: I was outside bringing tea to the man and his son who were replacing our back gate (it had been ripped off its hinges and blown to bits in the previous week's windstorm -- no, I am not kidding). Much to my surprise, a woman drove up to her house across the street, smiled as she got out of her car and then came over to me. This is absolutely not done in our part of England, in my experience anyway. Everyone keeps very much to themselves, so much so that I had not seen this woman in the seven months since we moved in. But hooray, I have an Asian neighbor! Aram is British Punjabi, and she has a 10 week-old daughter. I gave her my phone number, and after picking up Jack from school we went to her house for a quick visit and tea (of course).

Friday: Two Sri Lankan ladies came over for tea during Jack's two-and-a-half hours of nursery school. Maheesa's daughter and Mrs. N's grandson are in Jack's class, and I've often chatted with these women while waiting for our children. This was the first time we had gotten together away from school, but judging from the smiles, laughter and freely flowing conversation, it won't be the last. (Interestingly, they had never had masala tea before -- in Sri Lanka they drink masala coffee!) Now Maheesa's daughter is asking all of us to come to her house so the kids can play together. I can't wait!

So there you have it, showers of blessing in direct answer to prayer. To borrow an appropriate phrase, "When it rains, it pours." God is so amazingly, specifically, overwhelmingly good!

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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 NIV)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father encourage you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. (2Thessalonians 2:16 NCV)

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)

Friday, February 2, 2007

Putting the Kettle On

It's a beautiful day here in greater London -- blue skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. (Thank You, Jesus!) I've just come back from walking Jack to nursery school, and now that Sophie is down for her afternoon nap, all is quiet and still. I have the house to myself for two hours. Time to make tea! And start this blog. Hopefully it will help us stay better connected. I have full conversations with people in my head -- things I want to say and stories I want to tell -- but there never seems to be enough time or energy to translate them into individual letters, phone calls or emails. I'm not talking about big, exciting events -- just the everyday, ordinary stuff that we'd talk about if you were here. So bookmark this page, check in from time to time and feel free to comment. Let's keep the conversation going!

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Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits -- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. (Psalm 103:1-6 NIV)