Feels Like Home (to me)

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Tired family after a long flight (Feb 2014)

Two and a half years ago, we came for a visit to the States, Judson’s first time in America. We started out in Virginia because we wanted to have him dedicated at our church in DC and spend a few days in the mountains before going to see the rest of our family in Oklahoma and Texas.

We rented an Airbnb place in Alexandria to crash in upon landing, but the location didn’t really register with my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, new-born mommy brain. I remember this, though.

One afternoon while Judson slept, I walked with Ayla to a playground next to the building where we were staying. It was late February, but the weather must have been pleasant enough to be outside. I don’t know if it was the freedom to walk down the public sidewalk of a well-manicured street, gulping in the fresh American air or enjoying one-on-one time with my oldest, but whatever it was, my heart swallowed a piece of that space. I told John later that I could see living in a little neighborhood like that when we moved back (as opposed to the neighborhood we had lived in before).

Flash forward to yesterday. We’ve been in our little townhouse in Arlington for almost a month, spending our time at the pool, playground and riding bikes in the basketball court behind our house (all those things are behind our house, we’re in an amazing location) or on the neighborhood’s generous sidewalks.

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Riding bikes with the neighbors/new BFFs

Yesterday, we explored a little further out, riding bikes about half a mile down the road to where Judson will be in preschool a few days a week. After meeting with the school administrator, seeing his classroom and meeting his sweet teachers, they invited us to go play on the playground. We walked out and – you probably guessed this already- it was the same playground from the previous paragraph!

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He was having sand oatmeal and coffee. Yum!

Without even knowing it, we are living in that neighborhood! To be honest, I didn’t even remember the playground or having the desire to live near it until I walked out there yesterday. When I recognized it and remembered wanting to live there, I felt like a sparkler was lit in my heart, like happiness almost physically popping out of me.

In my last blog post, oh those many months ago in June, I talked about the exercise of naming the gifts or graces you find in life. Counting your blessings isn’t for bragging or comparing. It’s for reminding yourself that you’re cared for and provided for and just flat out loved. It’s not a glossing over a life that’s filled with ups and downs. It’s a highlighting of the good things that heal the wounds left by the not-so-good.

I’ve had so many little gifts like this park discovery since moving in. A reunion with a friend that doesn’t feel like a reunion, but just a continuation of a conversation that paused a few years ago. A local restaurant where my kids get the special treatment they got used to in the Middle East. A neighbor I haven’t met yet running to help me get something heavy from the car. An afternoon of tree-climbing and bike-riding (I keep mentioning bike-riding because it’s my kids’ new favorite past-time and I just love watching them do it!) while I sit in the shade (literally what I am doing as I type this!). I could go on and on, but you get the point.

I consider these house-warming gifts from God. In this time of transition, from one country and culture to another, from the stay-at-home years to the go-to-school years (Ayla starts Kindergarten next week! Hold me!), from being extremely dependent in a patriarchal society to finding my independence (and interdependence) again, God is decorating my days with these soul-healing and life-giving moments.

IMG_6754I’m coming from a place, both physically and mentally, where happiness was hard-fought and joy was easy to lose sight of. That season seems to be over and when happiness comes this spontaneously, I’ll take it! Welcome home, indeed!

 

 

P.S. At our wedding, our first dance was to Chantal Kreviazuk’s version of Randy Newman’s song, “Feels Like Home.” The chorus has a line that goes, “It feels like home to me, it feels like home to me, It feels like I’m all the way back where I belong.” And I’ve had this song in my head the entire time I’ve been writing this, so now you can have it too!

 

Time wasn’t all that flew in June

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First, a big thank you and virtual hugs to all of you who supported me and shared my last post. I tend to overthink things and anticipate that major events are going to be more stressful than they actually turn out to be, but our move back to the States has needed every bit of the grace and understanding I requested.

In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes about recording the gifts, blessings or graces, found in everyday life as an act of spiritual discipline. My copy of the book is packed deep in a crate for the next four months, or I’d quote it for you, but she talks about what science has proven, that as we put words to what we can be grateful for, our physical and mental health improves.

I definitely need all the improving I can get, so here are a few gifts of this past month.

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  1. My kids don’t like Chick Fil A. Well, really just the chicken. This is a tragedy that I’m trying to remedy as soon as possible. On countless afternoons in the desert, I dreamed of loading them in the car and heading for “The Chick,” letting them eat waffle fries to their heart’s content and play on the germs-be-damned playground while I relaxed with my sweet tea. Ah. But no. Our first visit here included tantrums over the nuggets, bribes to eat the nuggets, massive potty accidents and fights in the playground. Judson hasn’t worn diapers since March when we potty-trained him, and I was unprepared for the river he let flow in the middle of the restaurant. The gift of the day was the compassionate mom in the booth behind me who handed over the right-sized diaper for him, telling me, “we’ve all been there.” Here’s the closest I could get to a smile {I mean, come on, ice cream!!!} with my beautiful sister, Martha.

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2) I am inspired by people who do their job, especially dealing with kids, with joy and passion. The mall in Tulsa doesn’t have quite the amusement-park-style rides that my kids are used to in the Middle East. But they do have this classic carousel beckoning children to convince their grown-ups to pay way too much for a ride. On a brother-free outing one afternoon, Ayla met and fell in love with this horse on the carousel. She told the ride operator how much she loved her, and instantly he engaged her with an equal passion for the horse (Calliope, as we learned her name is) that made me want to sit him down and interview him about his life.

Judson has had many haircuts in his short life, and every time the barber pulls out the clippers, he freaks out. They have to switch to scissors, and depending on their skill, he can still get a decent haircut after he calms down. I was excited to take Judson to Mr. Will at Kuts 4 Kids for a haircut, since he gave Ayla her very first haircut and it’s a Tulsa tradition for me now. The whole shop is a dreamland for kids, full of toys and games for them to play with while they wait, the latest Disney movie playing on a wide-screen TV, and a bowl of candy kids can help themselves to if Mom’s not looking. Mr. Will is the genius mastermind behind it all. Judson was sitting so still and happy I didn’t even notice the quiet buzz of the clippers as Will worked his magic. He worked so quickly I didn’t even get a picture in time! I asked him how he did it and he just winked and said “I have my ways.” You can tell he loves what he does and he loves who he does it for.

These men make a difference for hundreds of kids every week with their passion for their jobs and I’m grateful my two little ones were a part of that.

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3) Cousins! We took 55 pictures of this crew and there is not one where they are all looking at the camera and smiling. So, sorry Ari, your cute little grump face is going down in the record books. Ok, just on my blog. My sister has 5 kids (those on the left side of the pic) and my brother has 4 (on the right), and with summer activities and multi-parent-home schedules, it’s hard to get them all together. We did it, though, and my kids got their love-tanks filled with plenty of attention from the group we call “the Niblings.” (Niblings isn’t an official word or my original word, but many people are using it lately as a gender-nuetral way to refer to the offspring of their siblings.)

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4) Mercy found in cancelled flights. This could and should truly be its own post, but here’s the brief version. I had plans to fly to Atlanta to see my dear desert friend, Diane. (I lauded her here.) After being delayed 5 1/2 hours in the Tulsa airport, our flight was cancelled due to weather in Houston, so we had to reschedule the whole trip to accommodate everyone’s lives. We now had a whole week to fill and nothing planned. My friend from college, Lisa (the one with glasses in the pic), reached out to invite Ayla to join her church’s VBS. You see that little message on my other friend, Erica’s, shirt? “He loves me.” Yep, He sure does. This was the same VBS I had signed Ayla up for in Atlanta with her best friend, Bella. So, while the girls didn’t get to attend together, they still had the experience to share and the songs to sing loudly non-stop once we did get there (see #6).

I jumped in to volunteer during VBS since I was so grateful for Ayla getting to attend, which allowed Judson to stay and participate in a toddler version of what the big kids did. We had so much fun that week, but the highlight was soaking in the time with my college friends (wondering how it is that we’ve known each other for more than 20 years but we’re all so young) and being with people who haven’t seen me in years, but still know and love me (and my kids) just the same.

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5) I bought a mini-van! I haven’t bought my own car since I was 20, (even though that was just a few years ago, it feels more like 18 years, wink wink) and my darling husband and I have had the classic mini-van love-hate debate for the last decade. To put it gently, I mean bluntly, I won. Of course, he let me win. I just hope he soon sees what a win this is for our family too! (Love you, babe!) It was so surreal and life-giving to be able to just walk into a dealership, by myself, and walk out with keys to a vehicle for me to drive. I’m driving my kids around town in a mini-van, we’re drinking our Sonic slushies and belting out the songs from the VBS CD and I am living the dream!

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6) Atlanta at last! In no less than FIVE cancelled, delayed and rescheduled flights, we finally made it to see our friends, the Manninas in Roswell, Georgia for a few days. We had a blast. We miss them again already. Sniff. Oh, have you seen the video of Ayla realizing who we’ve come to see? I can’t figure out how to upload it, but here’s the link to it on Instagram.

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7) When I rescheduled our Atlanta trip, I decided to travel out of Dallas, so I could see John’s family down there. The timing worked out for us to go to East Texas as well and get some time in with his extended family. We visited a Cowboy Church with his cousins and afterwards they had a “rodeo” for special needs kids. Now, I say “rodeo” because it was really just an opportunity for the kids to ride horses, play carnival-type games and be loved on by everyone. The volunteers and staff putting it on were so kind, and invited all the kids there to ride. This picture captures such a special moment for me, I had to share it. Judson has never wanted anything to do with horses and he’s only slightly more fond of strangers. That’s all Ayla’s bailiwick. But as he was standing in line with Ayla for her ride, he decided he was going to ride, too, and jumped in this lady’s arms without even looking at me. It’s so gratifying for me to see my kids overcome their fears and experience the beauty of life on the other side of them.

(And for a bonus gift, how about an “in-law” family that I love to visit, even without John?!)

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8) Speaking of family. These are the people I am blessed and honored to share my closest DNA with. I don’t know if there’s another set of parents and siblings who are all so different from each other, but it doesn’t really matter. These are mine and I’m keeping them!

I’m way over my self-imposed word count here but these eight gifts just barely skim the surface of the month. We’ve had our challenges and my goodness are we ready for John to be home, but we hold on to the goodness and grace of our loving God!

To All Who Are Waiting For Us

Or How to Give Your Returning Ex-Pats a Safe Place to Land

Or

How to Adjust Your Expectations and Extend Grace

 

In just a few hours, I will board an airplane with my two sleepy children. Unlike many of the other flights we have taken at hours people shouldn’t be expected to function, this will be a one-way flight.

That’s right, my friends, we are coming home!!

But first, a warning (or a cry for help). I was going to send this as an email to my parents and siblings, but thought maybe there’s something in here for others, too, so with trembling hands and an open heart, here are a few things I need you to know.

We are tired

We get picked up at 10pm for a 1am flight. We will spend 19 of the next 25 hours on airplanes. I’m flying with the kids alone while John stays behind to finish up work, so it’s a safe bet to say that while my kids will probably get some sleep, I may not be so lucky. (And, everyone knows airplane sleep doesn’t really count.) We may need several days to get our bodies caught up and adjusted to our new time zone.

Beyond physical exhaustion though, I am dry and weary in all other aspects of life. Three years in a desert will do that to you! I am leaning into Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30,  “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Please be a safe place for me to do this.

We are grieving

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Our first day in country, with 2-yr-old Ayla and baby bump Judson

Although we are beyond ready to leave this country, and are excited about what awaits us back in America, we are still very sad to leave our home and friends here. We are so happy to be with you, but goodbyes suck, they just do. Our move is hitting my sweet Ayla especially hard. We came when she was 2, she knows America as a place we visit, but her knowledge of home is this house in this country. Judson knows very little about America, except that Grandma is there and he will get new sunglasses when we get there. We are changing so much about their lives and they don’t get much of a say, which leads me to my next point.

We might throw some fits

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And I don’t mean just the kids! When we first moved here, we had so many behavioral issues with Ayla that left us questioning everything we had done as parents. A wise friend and mother of 6 gave me words of life for which I will always be thankful. She said to give Ayla some extra room to breathe, to figure out what it was that her little heart needed and go the extra mile to give it to her. She said that when transition phase was over, we could work back in the structure we needed at a gentle pace and carry on. We did just this and got our sweet girl back.

I’m heading into this transition fully expecting it to be hard on my kids, without their being able to process it like I (supposedly) can. They might do wonderfully, but just in case they’re actually normal humans (they are), I’m prepared to give them abundant grace as we all adjust. So please, don’t be too hard on them or me if we just can’t get our act together or we have bad attitudes. We’re going to do our best, we just need some time and any extra grace you can spare (and lots of mac and cheese).

We are a tribe

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Unless you’ve lived with us here (and some of you have), it’s impossible for you to know what we’ve been through here, both good and bad. This goes both ways, of course. You have had your own lives and struggles too. So if we seem to cling a bit to our friends from here and the happenings of those we’ve just spent 3 years with, at what may seem your expense, please understand. It’s not you, it’s us. We’ll get better. Just keep in mind that we were doing this clinging to you not long ago as you loved us from far away on our way here.

For my kids, I am going to be the only constant in their lives for a while, so please don’t take it personally if they don’t bond or click with you right away. They are absolutely my priority and I’ll be dropping some “no” cards to make sure their needs are met. I know you’d do the same if you were in my shoes.

We are homeless

Once we touch down in the States, it will be approximately 2 ½ half months before we move into our next “permanent” house in Arlington, Virginia. That means exactly what you’d expect. Sleeping in unfamiliar rooms, living out of suitcases, being guests (experiencing great grace and hospitality from our hosts), adjusting our eating and sleeping schedules and preferences for the greater good and not having our “own” space as we’re used to. This is absolutely of our choosing and we couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity and time off we have to travel the country and see as many of you as possible. We are going to have an amazing summer, but the novelty of the vacation life might wear off sooner than we’d like it to.

We have lots of people to see

Speaking of travel, we are trying to pack in as many meet-ups and hugs as possible to make up for the past 3 years and I know we won’t even come close. I know you’re going to feel like we aren’t spending enough time with you. We’ll take that as a compliment! It’s also hard on us not to be able to spend quality time with all the people we love and miss, so please know that in this instance time does not equal love.

The bottom line of it all is this.

IMG_5638 We are about to end one adventure and start a new one. I’m as giddy as I get for you to get to know my kids, the post-toddler Ayla and the mostly new-to-you Judson. They really are the most amazing people. We just need a safe place to land with people who will take us as we are now, not as perhaps they expect or remember us to be.

All these things, the sad, hard, tired, joyous, reunited, grieving, culture-shocked, road-weary, good, loved and grace-filled bits, are a gift from God and we are grateful.

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This is actually some of our friends with their dogs, and a beautiful sunset in the desert.

I can truthfully declare Psalm 126:3 “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!” And I know I will still be able to say this at the end of this summer, thanks to you and your gracious understanding and love. See you soon!

Beginning of the Ending(s)

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As I type this, the clock is ticking down the last day of this month. When we hit May (like in a few minutes), the changes will be fast and furious for our little family.

IMG_5498We decided to put the kids in the Embassy day care for our last month here. I’ve held out for almost 3 years, relying on our wonderful part-time nanny, the preschool co-op I started with friends, copious playdates and just actually spending time with them myself. But now, the many closets and drawers in this house and their possibly unnecessary contents are beckoning me, so I’m taking this next month to downsize and organize. The kids will be happily entertained and I will have some time to get my act together.

So, we’re moving. And I’ve realized that as a communication major, I’ve done a terrible job of communicating about what our future holds. Part of the reason for that is not actually knowing, and part of it is that for now, this blog isn’t high on the list of things that gets my time and attention. (Sorry. Really. It’s not always going to be this way!)

We are moving to (drum roll) Arlington, Virginia! I can spill more when the ink is dry, but it looks like we’re going to rent a townhouse in a neighborhood there we know and love, not far from some of our favorite people. There are not enough exclamation points in the world to express how I feel about this provision.

So, with that as a known (finally), I can start to get Ayla prepared for the Kindergarten (Kindergarten!!!) she’ll be going to and think of the fun I can have with Judson while she’s at school.

IMG_5424But before I get too far down that road, I still have loads to focus on here. The biggest challenge is to be present for my people here. I need to be here for my kids, who need their mom to still be in the moment with them, who don’t quite understand future tense but absolutely feel the tension and stress of upcoming changes without being able to articulate it. I need to be here for my friends, some of who are leaving with me and others whom I will sadly leave here. I know I won’t get these days with them back and I don’t want to wish them away.

I have the Semisonic lyric in my head as I type, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

I’m interested in how you’ve ended a chapter in your life well (or not well). Advise me, friends. How do you balance planning for the near future and staying present in the now?

 

2016 Year In Review

I know, I know. It’s only March and I’m supposed to wait until the end of the year to do a Year In Review post, but so much has happened already this year, I just can’t wait until December to share them!

 

My goal in starting over with blogging here at annasjoy.com (after a wildly successful attempt at being an infrequent blogger over at annasjoyblog.blogspot.com) was to post something at least every month. I’m obviously not the one you come to to learn how to accomplish your goals, but I’m still so glad you’re here!

We rang in 2016 at a vineyard overlooking the mountains in South Africa. It was exactly as amazing as it sounds. We had an amazing three-week vacation in Cape Town over Christmas and New Years. As you know, December is during their summer, but it’s not too hot because of the constant wind from the ocean currents on all sides of the Cape. It was perfect and dreamy there and I want to marry Cape Town when I grow up.

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Christmas Day on Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town, South Africa
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New Year’s Eve at the Grande Roche in Paarl, South Africa

While there, my friend Shannon tagged me in a call for submissions to a magazine I had never heard of, Thryve. I was intrigued, but wasn’t really planning to write while on vacation, so I tucked it away. Dern idea kept resurfacing until I took a closer look, spent some time in prayer, then in true Anna fashion, wrote my piece the night of the submission deadline. Aaaaaand, (drumroll) I just found out it was accepted!

I wrote about fear and anger and how we try to control our own lives, but can’t. You know, the fun, light stuff I’m known for here. The magazine doesn’t come out until June, so you’ll have to wait until then to read it. I’m praying it will be timely and meaningful to at least one person!

Immediately upon returning to the big desert in the Middle East we call home (at least for the next few months), we fought the post-vacation blues by going on another vacation! This time, we drove to Dubai with two other families who are some of our dearest friends in the world. Between us we have 7 kids, and 4 of them have stair-stepped birthdays in the span of 2 weeks. So, instead of having 4 separate parties, we combined forces last year for a “1, 2, 3, 4” party (If not for creativity, we at least earn points for clarity in our theme.). It was such a hit, we decided to do it again, just in an entirely different country this time.

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Hanging out At The Top (of The World), Burj Khalifa, Dubai

We went to the tallest building in the world, Ayla learned how to ice skate, Judson never let me put him down and we had amazing Emirati food. This is a real thing and if you ever get the chance, you should try it. It’s similar to Turkish and Lebanese cuisine, but with a deliciously unique take on the locally available ingredients. If you’re ever in Dubai, you must go to the Seven Sands Restaurant. You’re welcome.

Back at home finally after almost a month on the road, I started a home cooking business. It’s called Anna’s Home Cooking. (Remember, clarity not creativity here!) I offer three to four fresh (meaning not frozen) meals a week, portioned to each diner’s needs. I do three dinners and an optional breakfast dish. They pick it up once a week, and the idea is that they can just pull it out of the fridge and heat it up when they’re ready to eat it.

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A pretty salad. No excuses when it’s all chopped and ready for you!

I’ve had fun with it; planning each week’s menus, learning how to cook en masse, and knowing at least someone will enjoy the food I’ve made–and is even paying for it with money! I’m also using the business as a development/sharpening tool of my communication and marketing skills. My resume has a pretty big gap from the past five or so years, so it will be nice to have something tangible I can say I’ve done (other than keep a couple of really cute people alive). If you’re interested in what I’ve been cooking, I link to the recipes I use and give honest reviews about their ease of use and the end results here on a Facebook page I set up for the business.

I’ve also taken over the reins of the weekly Women’s Bible Study I’ve been blessed to be a part of for the past few years. Our group has been through a lot together, and now most of us are getting ready to launch out to new assignments in different parts of the world this summer. I couldn’t think of a better book to get us ready for that than the book I helped launch last year, Jen Hatmaker’s For The Love: Fighting For Grace in a World of Impossible Standards. 

Since my last at bat here, my kids turned two and five years old. #muststopblinking

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“P is for Pajama” day at Little Llama Preschool (our homeschool co-op) (my kids are on the right)

I’m still doing the homeschool pre-school co-op I’ve probably forgotten to write about at all so far. Some friends and I started it last year out of frustration at the lack of any part-time preschools available to us here. We grew from three to five moms, and enjoyed the time we had “off” while our children rotated around three days a week to different houses for three hours of semi-structured play with a little bit of teaching thrown in. This year, we’re back down to three kids, but they are so much fun. They were all together last year, so this time around the going is pretty smooth.

When we were preparing for this assignment, I only knew one thing about it. Ok, two things. I knew I’d have a baby while we were here and I knew that it would be hot here. I would’ve never imagined I’d be home schooling and running a little business, too!

You just never know what life is going to bring. Like I said, it’s only March!

(For those who subscribe by email, I’m publishing this now to get it done, but will add photos tomorrow. Come back soon to see them!)

Heart Words – a guest post

At least a few of you know that besides blogging, I also write songs and poetry. I was 4 when my first poem was published- granted it was in our church’s newsletter, but still!- and the bug is still alive. I’m excited to share some of what I’ve written with you in the coming days. But not today! (bwhaha)

I had the opportunity to do a guest blog for a friend of mine from the For The Love launch team on her series about Advent. The passage I selected is known as Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-56), and it called out to me. Here’s why:

Do you have a song stuck in your head right now? For me, it’s one about trucks from a Sandra Boynton CD that my daughter has on repeat. (#thanksalotsandra) Most of my days I find myself singing songs from Daniel Tiger or inserting new lyrics about poopy diapers into any tune I can think of so my son will allow me to change said poopy diaper without turning it into a wrestling match. Ew. Anna, what does this have to do with Advent?

I jumped at the chance to write about this passage because it’s a song.

I got married at what was considered (by me) late in life (27), then it took us another five years to have our first child, so by then I felt really old. Our daughter came after three and a half long years of the trial of infertility. Our son came three years after her. Other than the fact that both of my children were due right around this time of year, which left me in a weepy mess at Christmas, I have found it hard to relate to Mary. She was matched with an eligible husband in her youth, and now has a baby plopped into her lap (albeit in a very untraditional manner), and we generally regard her as perfect. Not at all like me.

For the rest, you’ll have to click on over to Claire’s blog, Radically Broken. While you’re there, you might as well check out Days 1-11 and subscribe for the rest of the series. But don’t worry, I’ll post more here soon!

Month in Review-November

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So far, November has been my favorite month of this year. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

For the first weekend of the month, a good friend here invited me to go to Kuwait with her for a work conference she had. Let me back that up. I heard she was going with her husband and baby, and right at the part where she was about to ask for help with her 2-year-old, I suggested that I go with her to help with the baby instead of her husband and then he could stay here with the toddler. I’m that good of a friend. I needed to check Kuwait off my gulf states to visit list and John has been there and didn’t really want to go again. So, both husbands agreed to this deal and we booked our flights.

She decided last minute not to bring the baby, so I was off-duty for two whole days. Like, totally off-duty. I didn’t have to think about anyone’s needs and wants but my own. My friends, that is a luxury I have not had in years! I slept, I binge-watched Netflix (Master of None, brilliant show), I worked out, ran along the water, read, prayed, caught up with a great friend from DC, went to see a movie (the new Bond) even wrote some. I ate what and whenever I wanted. I did not, even once, worry about what someone else was eating. It was amazing. I had a great plan to write a month’s worth of blogs in all my free time, but besides a pretty decent list of what to write about, I didn’t get very far. I suppose my tank was pretty empty and I needed all that time to get it full again.

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Our hotel in Kuwait had this thing with orange pillows in all their signage. This one was on the info for breakfast. It sortof reminds me of the old church saying when two young people are dancing, “Leave room for the Holy Spirit!” Or, in this case, for lots of orange pillows.

Meanwhile, my children were being lovingly cared for by some great friends here, our part-time nanny and their dad, of course.

Back at home, life continued to be sweet. The weather here has dropped to the 60s-80s range, chilly enough some nights to require a long-sleeved shirt. This makes my heart sing. My kids can play outside almost all day long. We are all much happier with this arrangement!

I’ve been doing a homeschool preschool co-op with Ayla and our friends, where we rotate teaching and hosting 4 kids, 3 days a week. It gives us the perfect amount of structure and social activities with plenty of fun and play in the mix. This month I covered Exercise, Farm, Geometry and Thanksgiving.

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Here they are washing the vegetables they dug out of the sandbox while learning about Farms.
Making a square with their bodies for Geometry. Or nap time.
Making a square with their bodies for Geometry. Or nap time.

We have lived here for almost 2 and a half years, and I’ve never met John’s local counterparts who he works with daily. Well, not until this month. We attended a desert cookout with all the families from his office and the local men they work with. It was about an hour outside of the city on beautiful sand-dunes. The guys passed out kites to all the kids, so when they weren’t busy climbing up and rolling down mountains of sand, we had fun with the kites.

Flying kites in the desert
Flying kites in the desert

Every November, the Marine Corps celebrates its birthday around the world with the Marine Corps Ball. Attendees go all out with dresses, tuxedos, hair and makeup (and beards, if you’re my husband). The previous two  years we went, they played the National Anthem as part of the ceremony, but only an instrumental recording of it. Some of you know that when I was in the Air Force, I had the honor to sing the Anthem at several events. This year, I offered to sing it at the Ball and they accepted. There were so many countries ambassadors and diplomats in attendance, so I really think I’ve now become an international rock-star. Maybe not, but it was fun!

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Just as I finished scraping the makeup off from the Ball, it was time to start getting ready for Thanksgiving. We met with a few other families from our house church and had a pretty traditional meal. I may have gone a little overboard with all the sides I signed up to bring. For me, Thanksgiving has to have certain tastes or it’s not complete, so I made sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole (I have no idea why I made this, it’s not part of my tradition, just looked good!), stuffing and for the first time ever, home made rolls.

Table full of love!
Table full of love!

What about the pie? Oh the pie! I usually make John a pecan pie since his birthday is right around Thanksgiving, and this year I was going to do something a little healthier with a sweet potato/pecan pie mix. He caught wind of this and decided he wanted to learn how to make pecan pie. I had a bit of a dilemma, not wanting to have him make his own birthday cake and all, but wanting to encourage his budding culinary interests. The powers that be of Facebook suggested we do a pie bake-off, so that’s what we did.

The couple that bakes together...
The couple that bakes together…

We got the same number of votes, but I gave him my winning vote because he did a really good job with the crust and the pie was delicious. Mine was good, too, but it was, well, healthy and who really wants a healthy pie at Thanksgiving?

We capped off the month this very night by getting our Christmas tree up. It’s fake and only has lights and beads on it for now, but it’s up! We’ll do ornaments later with the kids and take bets on how long everything stays intact.

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What was the highlight of your November?