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!

1920’s Day at co-op

In February we had a 1920’s festival at our homeschool co-op where we learned about some things that happened in the 1920’s in general, and in our area (Thomas Edison, who lived nearby, was actively inventing cool things; the Holland Tunnel between NJ and Manhattan was being built); we got to dress up in fun costumes, someone came in to teach us how to dance the Charleston, and we had a 1920’s themed feast. So much effort went into the whole event to make it a memorable and fun time for everyone. This is one of those posts where the photos will tell a better story than me. What a fantastic time!

(Photo credit: thanks to Russ Dubé for the last 8 photos.)

Making Marica Grate Again!

As the cruel parents we are, tonight we decided to make Marica grate – again:

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Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But after I thought of the pun, I think there’s a serious point here, along the lines of that P. J. O’Rourke quip: “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

Talking politics is all the rage today: pro-Trump, anti-Trump, this that and the other Facebook post. But life goes on, kids need putting to bed, and dishes need doing. Doing the small things right … that’s how to save the world.

Book review: Door to Freedom

Back in 2015, I was given the opportunity to review the book Side by Side by Jana Kelley. It was a realistic and an enjoyable read, which I was excited to hear is turning into a trilogy. The second book in the series was published this year, and is called Door to Freedom. I was very happy to be offered the chance to review it as well!

These days there seems to be some sort of hype-driven fear that all Muslims are evil and just waiting for their chance to kill someone. This book helps to drive that unrealistic fear away and shows that Muslims are people just like us, with friends,  with family tensions, with hopes and dreams, but mostly with a deep need for the peace that comes only from the Gospel.

As with Side by Side, it was wonderful to feel as if I was back in Sudan through all the descriptions in the book. I could feel the grit of the dust, hear the honking of rickshaws and taxis, taste the food, and feel the heat. In Side by Side,  we meet Halimah who is a convert to Christianity and has to flee and leave her family and all she knows behind to save her life. We also meet an American couple, Mia and Michael, who are working in Sudan with an aid organization.

Door to Freedom is set about a year later. Rania, Halimah’s sister, misses her sister dreadfully and expresses her feelings through art. She keeps thinking about her sister’s courage and eventually she builds up enough courage to read the book of John that Halimah had left behind and she becomes a Christian. Soon she faces the prospect of marriage to a much older cousin, but her mother steps in and convinces her father it would be a good idea to send her to live with family in Dubai where she can also study art. We are left at the end of the book with the hope that Rania’s mother might also be on the road towards putting her trust in Jesus.

Mia and Michael have matured more in their faith and have become more bold in their witness, and experience various trials as a result of that. In fact, Door to Freedom deals with some more of the difficulties of living in a country like Sudan in more detail, including a fairly tense few chapters where Michael is under investigation by the police.

I loved seeing how the characters have developed and matured, and how Michael and Mia have increased in their boldness in sharing the Gospel. There was, however, one thing that didn’t sit right with me: the ‘lone ranger’ type of work Michael and Mia were doing. From my experience (which was, I admit, pretty limited) in Sudan, Christians stuck together and supported each other, even when they were not working with the same organization. In the book, Michael and Mia lead a couple to Christ and even baptize them, but without other Christian witnesses and with seemingly little long-term Christian support and discipleship. There might well be an explanation for this, but it struck me as odd. It’s also odd to me how little other Christians feature as a support network for Michael and Mia — we do hear about them going to church, but it doesn’t seem to be a large part of their lives. Maybe we’ll see more  Christian support for them in the next book?

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Door to Freedom, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next book. I should mention that while this is a series, each book stands on its own pretty well. Get yourself a copy, or enter the giveaway to win!

Giveaway: I’m giving away one free copy of Door to Freedom! Reply in the comments section with a sentence about why you’d like this book and I’ll enter you in the draw. I’ll announce the winner next Friday, the 10th of March. (This giveaway is sponsored by me.)

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I received a complimentary copy of Door to Freedom but have not been compensated in any other way for this review. 

Rambling thoughts

The year starts off differently here in the northern hemisphere compared to the southern hemisphere. In some ways it doesn’t really feel like a new year — school and work just keeps going after a short break for Christmas; whereas in NZ just about nothing happens the first few weeks of January because 90% of the country is off somewhere on holiday. Neither is better or worse, just different.

We took the week between Christmas and New Year’s off school, but were right back into it at the start of January. The girls are doing really well, and learning and growing. We still have attitude struggles, but those seem to be getting better too (I’m still working on mine most of the time!).

We have had a couple of snowfalls of maybe half a foot or so, which the kids always enjoy. On the whole, though, this has been a really mild winter. There have been a few days that our temperatures have been the same as those in Christchurch! I don’t know if that says something about our winters or about NZ summers…

At the start of January, we had cousin Eva stay with us as her last stop before heading back to Vienna. It was a delightful visit! Lots of quiet and relaxed conversation. She even cooked us a gourmet meal one night, which was really delicious.

In January, Trump was sworn in, as most of the world knows. I don’t know what to think about the man. I don’t know if he’s really clever and shrewd or if he’s just a complete narcissistic idiot. He backs certain things that I’m very happy about (he has pro-life policies, for one), and then he does and says other things that are just beyond comprehension. I don’t know what the next 4 years will hold, but I do know that whatever happens it won’t be a boring ride. Seeing that I don’t like exciting roller coaster rides, my response has been to laugh, or for the most part the ostrich in the sand-type of response. The less I know, the less my blood pressure rises. This is probably not the best response, but I know whom I have believed, and He’s ultimately in control. I’m not trying to be fatalistic, I just really don’t want to know every crappy detail of what stupid thing Trump tweeted now. Too much freak show makes one freaky. End diatribe.

Yesterday I finished the Whole30. It’s basically a program where you eat only whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds) for 30 days to give your body a break and to find out when you re-introduce foods how they make you feel. I’ve been wondering for a long time if dairy makes me feel groggy. We’ll see. :-) The first two weeks were hard, but then I got into a groove and it stopped bothering me. I didn’t even feel like I wanted the stuff I used to, and I can now even stomach a cup of coffee black. I think it would be too restrictive to eat like this 100% of the time, but I’d like to eat like this most of the time for the main reason that I got rid of my stupid mind fog. I could get a full night’s sleep and wake up tired — no more of that (except when I don’t actually get enough sleep!). That feeling of walking into a room with a purpose only to get there and wonder what on earth I’m doing there is gone. Some people report big weight loss and lots of energy… I can’t really say that was the case for me, but for the sake of some clarity of mind, I’d be willing to forego a few things.

Laurelin has been growing up. She’s so cute, so clever, and so… challenging. She’s a champion tantrum thrower and a very feisty fighter. I’m sure fighter in her will stand her in good stead one day, but for now they just make her mother bone weary. She’s a lot of fun when she’s not decided that she wants something to go her way. Which is a lot. Unfortunately for her, she has pretty stubborn parents too, so she seldom wins a fight. Maybe she’ll learn it’s not worth the energy soon and give it up, ha. It’s so funny — usually after a major tantrum, when she finally calms down, she’s so tired she needs a nap!

I’ve been thinking. Startling thought, I know. :-)  I’ve been thinking that our modern lives are just too busy, too full of distraction. I took an 18 month break from Facebook a while back, but have been back on it again for a few months, and I’m struck by how easy it is to procrastinate. How short my attention span can be, how I’ve trained myself to skim articles instead of actually reading them and then when it comes to reading real books I catch myself skimming. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to break. It’s not like Facebook is this big stumbling block for me, it just seems like such an apt metaphor for the rest of life. Everyone’s busy with trivial stuff, we’re all busy chasing… what, exactly? I do believe that God created us to work, and to work hard for His glory. I just wish things were simpler and more clean cut, and less busy. Busyness seems to kill joy. I guess it takes a lifetime to figure out how to find a healthy balance in it all.

I’ve been reading Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley, the same author who wrote Side by Side that I reviewed a while back. It was a very enjoyable read, and I’m hoping to post a review of it soon.

I signed Marica and Esther up for homeschooling ice skating classes for the winter, and they’re loving it! There’s also the perk that I get to join in on the other side of the rink. I’m way worse at it than the kids, and have had a couple of pretty hard falls, which makes me afraid of falling again, which in turn doesn’t make one skate very well. I’m gaining confidence, though! It’s a pretty fun way of working a bit of physical activity into the schedule.

You might have noticed I haven’t been posting on a weekly basis recently. Or maybe nobody’s noticed (or they’re relieved!). I don’t have time to blog because I’m sitting on the couch drinking tea and reading People magazine. :-) No, it’s not for lack of wanting to — it’s a matter of getting around it with the few spare hours in the day when the kids are in bed.

One of the things taking up evening time recently is my new role as Gifty Weddings‘ new marketing director. <cough/> We’re trying to push Ben’s little side business a bit more, but I know next to nothing about marketing, so I’m learning on the job. Hopefully I don’t lose us too much money in the process! Hey, if any of you know someone getting married soon who would like the idea of using a gift registry that is not tied to a specific store, please point them to Gifty!

Thus ends my (very) rambling thoughts.