A little time travel into the past: May

May brought an end to our homeschool co-op (but not to our schooling at home — that we continued until the end of June, much to the kids’ chagrin). We have a little tradition where our family takes a few friends out to a local chocolate shop where each of the kids (and moms) can choose a treat on the last day of co-op for the school year. Taking 10 kids to a candy store might sound like a bad idea, but these are such pleasant and well-mannered kids that it’s never been an issue in the 3 years we’ve done it.

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On the first weekend in May, I went down to Dallas for our friend Lauren‘s wedding. I stayed with Ben’s cousins Nathan and Elizabeth and their 5 kids, and they kindly organized a dinner with all the Dallas folks, which was a great way to see everyone in one go. I even got to see some Tyler family on the Saturday because there happened to be a graduation celebration for another cousin. Sunday I got to have lunch with Nathan and Elizabeth’s family and Matthew and Noelle’s family. I love getting together with extended family any chance I can get, so it was a real bonus to get to spend time with several different cousins over the weekend, even though I was actually there for the wedding!

Eliot and Lauren got married in a lovely backyard ceremony at his parents’ house. I loved how casual and rustic it was while still being classy. Lauren broke tradition and wore a red dress, simply because that’s what she’s always wanted to do! She looked great, the service was God-glorifying and beautiful and the good ol’ southern food was delicious. I was so glad to be able to celebrate with them.

Laurelin turned 4 in May. She wanted just a small celebration with friends, which was just fine by me! It was a nice warm day and they played in the sprinkler and ate cake, and they were just kids. We need more of that kind of simplicity in the world, don’t you think?

A little time travel into the past: April

In April, we had a wonderful visit from my parents. It was great to spend time together again — especially for the grandkids to have their grandparents around! Spring really was a great time for a visit — not too hot and not too cold, and it’s so beautiful with all the blossoms and flowers out.

I was really excited that my mum could be here for the tea party I like to host in the spring, especially seeing that most of my pretty tea cups come from her! It was great to be able to introduce her to some of the wonderful ladies in my life and to all share together yummy teas and scrumptious food.

Our time together included a little trip down to Washington DC and Lancaster, PA.

Washington DC has so many impressive buildings, and it’s so clean compared to NYC! We did the touristy thing and took one of those city bus tours — it was a great way to see the city, and we could hop on and off to stop at the places we wanted to explore a bit more, like the Capitol and the White House. We had missed most of DC’s famous cherry blossoms, but still got to see plenty of other beautiful blossoms all over the city.

We were on our trip over Easter weekend, and got to attend a beautiful Good Friday service in DC. On the Saturday, we drove to Lancaster, PA, for a few nights to look around and to visit with cousins Hannah and Peter, and attended church with them on Easter Sunday. We rented an Air B’nB place in Lancaster — the most narrow little row house I’d ever seen! It was great to have a kitchen and living room area, though and so much cozier than a hotel room (though I have to say the hotel we got just outside of DC had nice big rooms and was plenty comfortable for the price we paid).

We spent our time in Lancaster by resting and taking it easy at our rental apartment, checking out a market in the city, playing with the kids at the local playground, and meeting up with Hannah and Peter for dinner. We also drove out to Intercourse and Strasbourg where the men took the kids on a steam train ride while mum and I went exploring the little shops with trinkets, fabric and crafts. I do love me some fabric!

Easter morning the children had an Easter egg hunt inside and outside in the little backyard. After going to church with Peter and Hannah, we went to lunch with my parents at The Greenfield Restaurant where I had the most exquisite scallops of my life. I think everyone else enjoyed their meals too, but I’m still raving about those scallops!

While my parents were here, they offered to watch our kids again so we could get away just with the two of us again.  This time we took a whirlwind trip to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico after we got back from our trip to DC and Lancaster with my parents. It was so good to have some relaxing time without the kids (as much as we love them!), getting to see some Mayan ruins, going snorkeling, and just working really hard at relaxing. I’m not even joking about that — when you’re always busy busy busy, it can be hard to relax! We were just so thankful that this was even a possibility, and that we could experience another piece of God’s beautiful creation, as well as get some great quality time as a couple.

Book review: Mercy Triumphs

When Jana Kelly published Side by Side in 2015, I got the opportunity to review the book before it hit stores. It was great getting into the stories of Mia, Halimah, and Rania, and then to get deeper into their lives with the next book in the series, Door to Freedom. I’m excited to announce the third book in the series has just been released: Mercy Triumphs, and it’s just as great as the previous two. All three books can be read on their own, but it’s a much more satisfying story to read them all in order.

Mercy Triumphs continues the stories of Mia, Halimah, and Rania. Mia is settled in her life in Khartoum, continuing building and strengthening friendships, and maturing in her faith. Halimah works in a refugee camp and then gets to transfer to Nairobi, but she is unsure whether that is the God’s will for her to do. Rania is almost at the end of her year’s studies at the art school in Dubai where she lives with her uncle and aunt, and is dreading return to Sudan to marry her older cousin. She is also growing in her faith, especially with Halimah’s encouragement via text, email and phone calls. Through some turns of events, Halimah winds up living with Rania in Dubai with their uncle and aunt, but fearing for their lives and the imminent arrival of their parents from Sudan, Halimah and Rania manages to escape to the States thanks to the help of the organization where Mia’s husband, Michael, works. The ending is bittersweet, but hopeful in the knowledge that God is merciful in all circumstances. The ending is rather open-ended — how do Halimah and Rania adjust to life in America? Do they reconcile with their parents? Do Uncle Faisal and Aunty Badria come to faith? I wonder if this means there will be another book? ;-)

Reading through this series has been a really special experience for me personally, having spent about half a year in Sudan back in 2004. One of the things that resonated with me strongly was the reverse culture shock Mia experiences on her return to America. I remember feeling overwhelmed with how clean and un-dusty everything was upon my return to New Zealand, how beautiful the tar-sealed roads without potholes were, what insane amount of choice there were at fully stocked supermarkets, and what a profound sense of guilt I felt for getting to live in a place like that where I could freely worship Christ. I cried a lot during that time — and it was a happy time, I was about to get married! — but I just had a lot of trouble readjusting. The thing is, I was only in Sudan for 5 months — how much more is this not an issue for people who have lived on the mission field for years! Thankfully, God put a wise woman in my life who pointed out to me that God calls us to be content with whatever God has given you in His mercy. We usually (to our shame) read a passage like that and think about how we have to put up with the little we have, but she pointed out to me that it was not my place to feel guilty about what was mine, but that I should be content with the much that God had given me. Not to live selfishly, of course, but with thankfulness.

Contentment is definitely something that needs to be learned, and I think this book does a great job of showing how that is possible when we trust that God is merciful, no matter what. God is merciful wherever he’s planted you, whatever lot he’s given you, with whomever you’re writing your life’s story. Mercy triumphs.


 

I received a complimentary copy of Mercy Triumphs but have not been compensated in any other way for this review. Buy your copy today!

A little time travel into the past: March

There used to be a time I blogged several times a week. Then it turned into twice a week, then once a week, then once every two weeks, then… whenever I happen to write a blog post. I suspect the latter frequency is the way it will continue, and so far nobody seems to mind.

In this time travel journey little blog series, we travel back as far as March of this year, when I grew another year older and crept a little further into my thirties. I like it here much better than my twenties. Most of the time, anyway. Marica made me a delicious pecan pie. We must have done something more than eat pie to celebrate the occasion, it’s just that what we did escapes my memory now. That’s one of the downsides of getting older, I’m told.

 

Lauren, who had boarded with us in the past, were engaged to be married, and I hosted a bridal shower for her. That was a first for me, and fun!

There was also a lovely day where the girls and I met Shannon in the city, where she took them to a marionette theater for a show, giving me and Ben some time to grab a quick bite to eat at Dominique Ansel, the bakery that invented the cronut. Yes, we had a cronut, and yes, it’s delicious! Then I joined Shannon and the girls at Alice’s Tea Cup for a delightful lunch. What a treat!

General update

An update written by Ben for a change. After all, Franci has written almost all of the posts on this blog. As it happens, the last one Ben wrote was almost a year ago.

Ben is busy with various things. Both being a dad by night (and evening) and a computer programmer by day. Ben is also an elder at church, helping lead services, organize various things, and helping out with various pastoral issues.

Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. Coordinating people and tasks has crept back into his job description — he recently moved to a new team within TripAdvisor and is managing three software developers. Content Management Systems (CMS) is what we’re tasked to build. Companies within TripAdvisor will be able to use this unified system to to easily produce hotel- and travel-related pages and websites. Commuting to work (an hour each way) can be tiring, but I use the time to read, or to write blog posts like this one.

Dad visited us recently, on the way to the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) in Toronto. Dad is very handy with wood, as you probably know, so he helped me build this picnic table (the pajama-clad girls appeared afterwards):

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Esther is growing in stature (and good will with God and man). Every day she gets up at about 6:45am, sneaks down the stairs, and plays with Lego or reads quietly in the lounge. Enthusiastic about any craft, she’s often making cards, pictures, or whatever else. “Emotional” is a good word to sum up her reaction to various things — much more so than either of the other kids, which can be both good and bad. Esther was also very stoked to have a few days recently when she had Mum all to herself for the morning — one of these mornings she got a special trip with Mum to the nail salon:

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Franci has a bit of a lighter (or different) load right now as our homeschoolers are taking a break. For a few weeks more she’ll be catching up on various tasks, sorting and tidying rooms, reading, etc. Franci has been keeping busy (outside of the usual family busyness) with serving at church in various capacities: Fellowship Meal (organizing our once-a-month church shared lunch), Sunday School, and catching up with and mentoring some women. Fruit and veggies have also featured of late: she bought 10kg of very ripe blueberries and made lots of jam, pies, etc; and she signed up to a veggie co-op through which we get a good quantity of veggies every week. For a photo, here’s one of her carrying Laurelin’s 4th birthday cake:

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Going to go camping in early September! Goal is for me to take a couple of days off work on either side of Labour weekend, go into the mountains (a couple of hours away), and set up tent. Good for the whole family to get away, and the kids are definitely looking forward to it.

Hannah and Peter were here recently and stayed a couple of nights when they drove Lydia and Andrew here from Lancaster, PA. How nice it was to catch up with both couples again. Hopefully Lydia and Andrew had a good time! His first time in the States, and I don’t think Lydia’s been back for many years either. Heading into the city on a bus, they caught the subway from the bus terminal down to JFK airport, where they flew back to Australia.

I can safely say that we’ve had a hot early summer, though the last couple of weeks have been a lot more mild. In the early part of July, Franci and the girls went regularly to a nearby friend’s pool and made good use of that. Inside it’s generally cool enough thanks to air conditioning, especially at my work where they seem to like making it feel like a fridge.

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Jetsetter was the TripAdvisor team that I was on, and jetsetting is what we’ll be doing (God willing) in late December and January when we fly to New Zealand for a trip in their summer. Just like last time, I’ll be going for about two weeks, and Franci and the girls will be staying on for several extra weeks. Joyful we are as we look forward to seeing family and friends again in person.

Kicking around a rough plan, Franci and I, for our family to head back to New Zealand to live (for good?) in the year 2020 Anno Domino. Kids will be a bit older then, and our hope is to visit South Africa and Namibia (where Franci was born and grew up, respectively) on our way back.

Laurelin is our most stubborn descendant. Laughs a lot, and causes plenty of laughter, too. Life will be good to her, we think, if she overcomes the sinful childish aspects of this stubbornness and turns it into determination (that’s what we’re working towards, in any case). Lately she’s had a break from preschool — during the school year she attends a local preschool three mornings a week, giving Franci a break and an opportunity to focus on homeschooling the other two. Laurelin recently turned four:

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Marica went to a five-day summer camp recently with a friend from homeschooling circles. Mostly outdoor activities, it was a Christian-run camp, and she had a blast. My update on her wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that apart from being our most outdoor-loving girl, she’s also our biggest bookworm, reading half a dozen thick books per week is not uncommon. More good books needed — please send title suggestions our way!

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Never one to shy away from geekdom, I’ve written a couple of technical articles about nerdy projects I’ve done recently. Naturally you can view those on my website, if you’re interested: a pentomino puzzle solver, toy Python-to-assembly compiler, and tiny Git client.

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The 12 pentominoes (18 with their mirror images)

Outdoors stuff tends to happen more in summer, so there have been lots of trips to the park, lots of playing outside in the sprinkler, and we hope to make it to the beach at least once.

Pulled pork is a favourite around here. Partly because there’s a nearby Southern BBQ place where we sometimes eat or get takeaway. Passionate about their food, we often get juicy barbequed brisket, pulled pork, and spicy baked beans — yum! Perhaps if you visit we’ll take you there?

Quite a bit of the time we’re too busy: mostly self-inflicated, partly a reflection of our involvement at church or with visitors, and with homeschooling things. Quiet is nice sometimes, and we’re trying to carve out enough of that here and there.

Reading aloud is something I really enjoy doing with and for the older two girls. Rarely do we go a week without at least several nights of reading another chapter in our book. Right now we’re about half way through N. D. Wilson’s A Door Before, a prequel to both his 100 Cupboards and his Ashtown Burials books. Really it’s a bit too intense for my taste, but we love his strong and realistic characters, his moral outlook, and his desire to bring solid fantasy from British to American soil.

Seafood festivals are a lot of fun: a Reformed church over on Long Island recently hosted one. Sun, seafood (lobsters, clams), salad, and sports were the order of the day — including a no-hands watermelon eating competition which I tried my hand at:

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Trees are a wonderful thing. Three or four weeks ago we planted a small (1.5 metre high) dogwood tree in our back yard. The soil that we dug out for the roots was probably the hardest, stoniest soil I’ve ever dealt with.

Unbroken is a great movie that Franci and I watched recently. Unusually good for a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s a war story that you should definitely watch (not to mention read about its fascinating hero Louis Zamperini).

Violin and guitar are the two new instruments that Esther and Marica will be learning this coming school year (aside from piano, which they have to take). Very rewarding to be part of a homeschooling group where the kids can learn quality music at reasonable prices.

We had a good time recently with Franci’s sister Angelique, who was here with her son Tyson for a visit in June. Went in to the city a couple of times, but mostly stayed local and did quieter things with the kids.

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Xylophones (well, glockenspiels really, but that doesn’t start with X) are another instrument that Franci will be using in the homeschool co-op music class that she’ll be teaching this coming year.

Yesterday evening we had our pastor and his wife around for dinner. You always know it’ll be a fabulous time with those two (and it was).

Zero more paragraphs to go after this one. Zank you for listening. Zon’t forget to comment if you have comments or questions!

Three little flower girls

Back in February our 3 girls got to be flower girls for a lovely couple in our church, Kelvin and Joanna. It was a beautiful day — unseasonably warm for February basically the whole week leading up to the wedding. The girls did so well! There was no fussing or crying, even though there were some nerves; they walked down the aisle really well and did a good job of sprinkling the petals. They also did a rather great job of looking adorable. I couldn’t help get teary-eyed as they walked down the aisle. I’m proud to be their mother!

The two younger girls were able to wear the dresses Marica and Esther wore for Rob and Julia’s wedding, and we borrowed a dress from a friend at church for Marica. I had fun braiding their hair all special. They don’t often let me do that, unfortunately. I wish I could braid my own hair like that, but somehow the skill doesn’t translate from being able to do it on others to being able to do it on myself.

All the photos below were taken by Jane Y. Kim, used with permission from the bride.

A decade old!

In February, Marica turned 10. TEN?? How does a decade go by so fast? Marica is growing up — both taller and also growing in maturity little by little. Or maybe not so little! Her independence in the kitchen is growing, and she’s becoming quite the cook and baker. It’s beautiful to see her help out her younger sisters and play with them in a kind way (most of the time), especially with Laurelin; and to start taking on more responsibilities and duties without so many complaints. She’s still a voracious reader, is getting really good at playing the piano and doing her schoolwork diligently, she can do some pretty impressive gymnastics moves, and loves our homeschool co-op. She’s also been trying her hand at sewing, much to my delight, though I see a problem brewing on the horizon — having to share my sewing machine when I want to use it!

This year Marica wanted a purple themed party. It was probably the biggest party she’s had yet (in number of kids). The kids made their own pizzas, baked brownies, played good old fashioned games, and ate ice cream cake. There seems to be a strong food-related theme going here! She got some really neat gifts — people clearly were thoughtful in getting their gifts for her, which was special. She had requested an ice cream crunch cake, which turned out very yummy.  All in all a lovely day for a lovely girl!