Changing things around

You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been playing around with new blog designs. And you’ll probably also be relieved to know that I’m done now, and that this is what the site will look like for the foreseeable future! Is anyone having any trouble viewing things? If so, let me know in the comments.

Speaking of comments… we love getting them! It makes us feel in touch with you, our readers. It’s probably the closest thing I’ll get to sitting down and chatting over a cup of tea with most of you for a very long time.

In other ‘changing things around’ news… we’ve bought a house! We’ll be moving soon, and because of that there might be a little lull in posts for a few weeks. Promise I’ll post photos when I get the chance!

Side by Side

I’m so glad to have been given the opportunity to review the book Side by Side by Jana Kelley. I met Jana back in 2004 when I spent half a year working in Sudan. Although Jana was not a part of the team I was working with, our paths crossed fairly regularly: we taught a conversational English class together at a tea house for women; and I taught and helped out at the school where her boys attended. I remember on the first day of school how her adorable then 3-year old toddled up to me and very articulately explained that his grandma had made some coasters for the teachers at school and he gave one to me. I still have that coaster.

Below are a few photos from my time in Sudan, to give you a little idea of what it was like.

I also remember what an encouragement Jana was. She was always smiling, and quick with an encouraging word or a listening ear. So when I heard that she was writing a novel based on her experiences during her family’s time in Sudan, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy! Her publisher sent me a copy, and I’m afraid to say that the destruction of Mount Washmore (my washing pile) was significantly delayed — the only reason I didn’t finish the book in one day is because I still needed to teach and feed the kids!

What a great read. It brought back so many memories, sights and sounds. I could taste and smell the delicious dishes she described, and feel the sandy, hot wind on my face again. I could smell the open sewers and feel the sweat trickle down my back. And I could feel the thick spiritual oppression of Islam and the hope of Christ shining through it.

Side by Side follows the story of two women: Mia, a Christian American wife and mother living in Sudan for her husband’s job, and Halimah, an Arab Muslim university student. The story tracks both their journeys of faith. Mia has to leave behind all that is familiar in America, learn Arabic and overcome the many cultural challenges that daily life in Sudan brings, not to mention loneliness and wondering what on earth God’s plan is for her. Halimah’s university professor gives her an Arabic/English Ingil (New Testament) to help her improve her English, but very soon she is reading it for its message — and she believes. She desperately wants to share the Good News with her friends and family, but knows that it could mean death. When her family discovers her hidden Christian books, they beat her and order her to recant, but she refuses and manages to get away. In the process of needing a safe place to hide, she ends up living with Mia and her family for a while– to the mutual encouragement of both women.

(I could say more, but I don’t want to give away all the good bits!)

I loved the realism with which Jana described both of their lives — her attention to detail makes it evident that she is closely familiar with the kinds of lives both these characters lead — living in Sudan for many years would do that for you! — so different from each other, and yet in the end what they have in common is the beautiful bond of a love for Jesus. Jana brings out the deep desire of every Christian to share the gospel, and head-on confronts the weak excuses we often offer with the incredible courage shown by Halimah.

A challenging, encouraging and beautiful book. Make it part of your next book order!


I received a complimentary copy of Side by Side but have not been compensated in any other way for this review. 

Well done, good and faithful servant

To you, commuter on the 6.15am bus
who study on spinning wheels for an hour before a long day of work:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, mother of small children
who have wiped more noses and bottoms and floors than you could count:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, wrinkled prayer warrior
who sits in the recliner in the musty retirement home and talks to God:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, faithful writer of letters
to people far and wide who seldom reply:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, pastor with the broad shoulders
who carries the cares of stubborn sheep:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, teacher of difficult children
who are learning only because you care:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, janitor of high school bathrooms
who provides for your family with this second job:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, cubicle worker on the 56th floor
who does the mundane with quiet joy:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, carer of the old or sick or frail
who wonders how much longer you could possibly go on:
Well done, good and faithful servant.

To you, with the sleeves rolled up
working hard
where God has placed you
at this point in time and space:
Take courage, you work for Him.

He places importance in how you work.
Be encouraged that your work makes a positive difference
and that even if no-one else notices, He does.

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Enjoying a spot of sewing

The week before Easter I decided that I’d love for the girls to have new dresses for Easter (which is a bit of an American church tradition, it seems to me), but I really didn’t want to fork out $30 a dress (times three!), so I had a scratch in my fabric stash and decided to sew something with some fabric I got ages ago in the hopes of making the girls dresses. They were smaller then, and there were only two of them, so the fabric wasn’t quite enough to make a whole dress out of them, so I poked around the internet at how to use a T-shirt and turn it into a dress.

I found this twirly T-shirt dress tutorial, which was incredibly useful. I made a dress like that for Laurelin, but didn’t have enough fabric to make such twirly skirts for Marica and Esther too, so their skirts aren’t so full. I still think they turned out cute!

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For the flower on the sash I used this tutorial, but didn’t use the ‘flower maker’. You really don’t need it!

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The whole thing was so easy — I managed to make 3 dresses in one day, even with the kids running around me. The flowers took a little longer, but they were also surprisingly quick to make. Such fun to do a bit of sewing again — now the bug has bitten me again… I should finish that quilt I’ve been working on for over a year now!

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April Fool’s Dinner

A few years back, on a whim, I decided to start a fun tradition for April Fool’s Day dinner: dessert for dinner (and no need to have dinner for dessert!). Turns out the kids think this is great, but the adults give a little groan at the thought. So this year, I decided to make waffles, and everyone could have any topping on it they liked — if they wanted all the toppings, that was fine too, so long as they ate it! For Ben and me I had some grated cheese and fried mushrooms too, and in the end the kids all had a cheese version too.

As for tricks… by the time we were done with school, it was already mid-afternoon, and I had to scramble to get a few things going. I colored the toilet water, put tape over the bathroom tap so they’d get sprayed, and I sewed their pajamas shut. Esther was very confused: “Mum, look at my pajamas! Who did that?!” So cute.

Lego Tower version 1

Marica and Esther and I (Ben) have been playing with Lego on Saturdays. Marica’s built up a decent collection of small Lego sets over the past several birthdays and Christmases, and building things with them is one of my favourite inside things to do with the kids.

Marica loves building sets from instructions, I enjoy building more free form stuff, and Esther likes playing with the stuff that’s been made. Each to his own. :-)

Last weekend we made a 15-story skyscraper, using a good portion of the straight Lego pieces we have. The footprint was an 8×8 square, and our “rules” were that each story had to be of the same colour, have at least one window, have a floor, and be at least five bricks high. Here are some photos Franci took:

The following week we added 7 more stories out of mixed colors (and didn’t necessarily have great floors), but unfortunately we didn’t take any photos of version 2 before it crashed to the ground from a child-induced earthquake.