Sunday, November 11, 2018

Three Years Ago Today..

Three years ago today my daughter was born and I had no idea. 

 I was settling into life with our new son Bentley whom we had adopted four months earlier.  I had no idea that a young lady was passing through our area, went into labor and gave birth to a gorgeous little baby.  Nick and I had both agreed after Bentley's adoption that we wanted to take time off of foster care and move into a role of supporting and advocating for foster parents. 

Luckily for us, our best laid plans are not the best plans after all.  I wonder if God rolled his eyes at our lofty and well-thought out plan. 

 God knew that there was a new mother that was panicked because she could not care for her child.  God also knew that He could melt our hearts in short-order at the ringing of the telephone and a simple but loaded question. A ten day old baby girl named Avah arrived in our home on the 3rd birthday of our newly adopted son. 
The day we brought Avah home from the hospital and straight to Bentley's John Deere party at my parents. She was ten days old.  

But like most stories,  ours was not without many ups, downs, twists and turns.  On Avah's first birthday, it was a celebration filled with fear.  We knew it may be the last birthday we would ever celebrate with her. 

 An aunt (after all of this time) came forward and wanted to adopt Avah.  We were devastated.  Our whole family was smitten with Avah and we adored her!  Avah's mom told us that she wanted our family to adopt Avah and no one from her own family as she had a very unhealthy relationship with them.  But because the mother's rights had been terminated, the mother could not have a say in the future of Avah's family. 

We were in anguish at the thought of Avah leaving us.  And we were in anguish at the thought of Avah losing us as we were the only family she had ever known. 

 Our church prayed with and for us, our friends and family cried with us and prayed for us.  We were loved through the whole process. 

 And then came the interview.  Nick and I had to answer questions, the same questions that the aunt was to be asked.  Whoever scored higher in the interview would be the future family for Avah. 

So much pressure.  It was a terrifying time in our life.  We trust in the Sovereignty of God, but it sure felt like so much pressure was on our every answer. 

The phone call came that told us that we had been chosen by the adoption committee to adopt Avah.  It was the most joyous news that our hearts could hold!  There was a fear of course that something could still go wrong.  There could be an appeal.  The judge could overrule the decision.  But hope was starting to overcome the tremendous fears we had been facing.  

When Avah was sixteen months old, we had our official adoption court hearing and our beloved daughter finally got to be legally ours.  Our friends and family packed the courtroom and shared in our joy!  They too had all fallen in love with Avah and it was a celebration! 

So now fast forward.  Today Avah turned three.  She has no idea the trajectory her life could have taken if nurses would not have intervened after she was born. I shudder to think of it.  I see her willful, snappy brown eyes and her 1000 watt smile and I am so thankful that she has been able to blossom into the delightfully crazy girl that she is! 

I pray for Avah's birth mother as I know that today is tortuous for her.  We still keep in contact from time to time and she thanks me for loving her daughter so much and for adopting her.  I am so glad that she is at peace at where Avah is at.   Avah is the name her biological mother gave to her.  Her mother asked me one time, "Do you like the way I put an "h" at the end?  I thought of that myself"  I loved how proud she was of that.  

Avah had a "My Little Pony" cake that we found at the local grocery store and family friends that we have met here in France came over to celebrate her. The Keely's gave her a darling stuffed puppy who is now named Keely.   My parents got her the little kitchen, and we bought her all the fun accessories (espresso machine, wooden food, cutting boards, etc)  She is in love as she puts on her apron and oven mitt and whips us all up all sorts of interesting food combinations.  It was a glorious day to celebrate this little joy in our family.

Her new puppy Keely

 Sometimes I get overwhelmed with emotion to think that we almost lost her and my heart swells with gratefulness that God let Avah be part of our family.  Tonight as snuggled her goodnight, I wrapped my arms around her, my whole face engulfed in her curls and I squeezed that precious little girl!  That did not last long as she pried my arms off around her and nose to nose she happily started chatting away.  

p.s.  here is a link to the story of the day I received a call from a DHS regarding Avah.  I wrote this earlier in the year for an adoption event.  Click HERE

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Let's Play Catch Up!

Oh I have not forgotten about you, blog! I still intend for you to be a beautifully printed off book someday of our memories of our time in France. So I guess I should have more than two entries then.

The lack of writing is not for lack of material. In fact quite the opposite! There are so many cultural stories and adventures that happen that by the time I sit down to write about it, many more have transpired!

From here on out, paragraphs are optional as I vaguely reconstruct our first five months in France. (note: a  few pics at the end)

February: We arrived in France on Feb 3. Exhausted, disoriented and the mountainous task of cleaning and putting together this house was looking more than overwhelming. IKEA and Amazon France boxes filled most of the house. Caite--our superhuman American helper stayed for two weeks and saved us. She insisted on going back to the USA much to our despair. Luisa started as our nanny and stayed with us for the first five months to acclimate us and help us with language barriers.. also a lifesaver! She is back at University now in Nice. 

March: Nick had to travel to Turin, Italy for work. I told him that he could not leave me in France. So we packed up all four kids plus Luisa and drove to Italy. We stayed overnight in the heart of the French Alps, which was beautiful but utterly terrifying for me to be looking over the edge of the cliffs during the drive. During Nick's business meeting, the kids (plus Luisa) and I went through an Egyptian artifacts museum. I had not prepared Bentley at all and he was horrified when he saw a real petrified body. (Hey, every mom has bad mom moments)

Nephew Grant visited mid March and my parents visited us at the end of March for Easter. More about these visitors in previous blogpost, plus a very amusing story about my dad and Solomon being forced to wear speedos.

April: Soon after mom and dad left, we took off for our first major European sightseeing! We drove to Venice, Italy, then took a train to Rome. While we were in Rome, we did a day trip to Pompeii. Truly that trip needs a blogpost all of it's own.  Will i ever get to that "all on it's own" Italian vacation blogpost?   I would say a 28% chance of this coming to fruition.

Okay. So insert a sad story here. I stayed up till 2am recording history on this blog for our family posterity about our first months here in France and the website glitched apparently when I saved and published, because the previous paragraphs were all I had left.

I grieved the loss of my tedious writing and I can't bear to do it all again so now I am proceeding with a much less eloquent, much less entertaining summary.

After mom and dad left, we had a wonderful string of visitors. Our little church here was always so amused at the number of Americans we inundated them with:  Kali from our church in Iowa, Marie Schmidgall (cousin, friend and honorary aunt to the kiddos) and Kim Kaiser (a friend I had not seen in 20 years now a missionary in Mexico, and Ed and Deb Graf, (beloved friends from our church when we lived in Indiana)

Maylen and I took a girls trip to Paris. Nick was terrified to let me have control of the passports, and with good reason as I lose my phone approximately twelve times a day. We rode the train and met up with the Passport to Purpose girls from my home area which included the Founder Jodi Zaugg who is my delightfully loving sister in law.

 By the way. I learned today that the French would call their sister in law "Belle-soeur" which translates literally as beautiful sister. Quite fitting! Maylen's highlights were endless hours of reading on the train, speaking English, picking out clothes for Jodi and Kristen to try on at a store, and pouring over the tourist-trap trinket shops.

In May when Kim and Marie came to visit, I joined them for quick get-away to the French Riviera in a gorgeous town called Cassis. We hiked to a precipice for the photo op of a lifetime! We ate our lunch overlooking the Calanques. I had no idea what a calanque was before I arrived in Cassis, but I am so much more worldly-wise and well traveled now ;)

I will save you the time of googling it:  I present the definition from the internet:   A calanque is a narrow, steep-walled inlet that is developed in limestone, dolomite, or other carbonate strata and found along the Mediterranean coast. A calanque is a steep-sided valley formed within karstic regions either by fluvial erosion or the collapse of the roof of a cave that has been subsequently partially submerged by a rise in sea level.

Or a fjord... remember that word from social studies in 3rd grade? Basically the same.

We also stopped at a small museum/store of the famous Marseilles soap. I also did not know that Marseilles was famous for being the first soap producers until a mere 18 hours before our trip. I truly love the all-natural soap and use it to make laundry soap now. That sounds more time-intensive than it really is. I have even converted our French language teacher. Isabelle, into using this laundry soap. I will miss this when I move back to the USA. 

Random musings: The schools here are in trimesters. 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off and repeat from Sept
through June. Then two months of summer vacay. They sell pink toilet paper here. I love it. Pink 
things bring me joy. I feel like somewhere back in my childhood at my grandma's house I used to see
pink toilet paper, but maybe that was a dream. 

We spend a fair amount of time exploring local castles (called chateaus here).  There are roughly ten within 15 miles of our home.  Our French friends are not at all impressed with castles and they are amused with our obsession.  

We attend a little church in Saint Etienne that has become a sweet church family for us.  We love the international variety of people who attend.  

We love going to the bakery every day for our fresh loves of bread and other delicious pastries.
Nick is already concerned about how he will one day have to survive without the fresh bread, oodles
of soft cheese and foie gras.

We live in a small town of 5000. They are very friendly and I have systematically tracked down
every English speaker in a 7 mile radius. The French families have been very hospitable and
are quick to invite us into their home. It really has been a joy to meet and get to know French people.

French language. Either we are complete idiots or the French language is nearly impossible to
learn. We are struggling. The kids are struggling. None of us can really understand what anyone
is saying. We have come a LONG way but we are no where near being able to communicate
at all. This has been discouraging for sure, but we plod on.

In July, we boarded a plane and stayed in the USA(the land of the free and the brave and air-conditioning) for the remainder of the summer. We had a wonderful time staying in my parents basement and soaked up the friends and family time.

Maylen was able to celebrate her 10th birthday with friends and Solomon enjoyed a camp-out
with his friends to celebrate an early birthday.

Here are some pics to brighten up the post! And I apologize for the weird formatting in this blog post. Something went awry.

Not a postcard! From my phone!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Grand Arrival and the Adventure at the Mineral Springs!

We are nearly two months in of living in France.  We have gone through so many changes and there is so much that we are experiencing both positive and negative that I write several blog posts in my head every day.

But these blog posts obviously have not actually materialized.  Mostly because I am mentally exhausted most of the time.  Every time out of the house is a complicated adventure.  I realize that adventure sounds fun..  and that is sometimes the case.. but having a language barrier really complicates generally normal activities.  Like going to the post office.  So hard.  It turns out that it is very hard to mime that you want to next day air a document.  (Google translate was frozen).  The first time I went to an ATM machine, it ate my card.  Literally!  Poof, Gone!  I finally got up enough nerve to try it again one month later and I can successfully withdraw cash now.  I was very pleased with myself that day.

Nick and I often feel distraught at the lack of progress we are making in our French learning but our teacher insists that we are making headway.  And we are starting to understand a bit more, but speaking is excessively limited.  I can think of the nouns, but the verbs are so complex here that it rattles us and our one word French phrases sound so caveman-like.

This has been so challenging for me as I love to get to know people and as it turns out, not being able to converse greatly effects the efficacy.

Maylen has been having a really hard adjustment.  She does not have any English-speakers anywhere around her except for at home.  She is having to come to grips that I am her best friend... but that works out well for me because I don't exactly have dozens of English speakers at my beck and call.

But I am not as fun as her nine-year old friends from home and I lack the energy and creativity that she craves.  But,  she has decided I am better than nothing.  The other day as I we were laying in bed having chat time, I said to her, "Maylen, you are so beautiful"  She looks at me with glowing love and says, "Oh Mom, you are beautiful too.  On the inside though".  She meant it as a genuine compliment, though for some reason it felt a bit lacking.  (haruumph)  (note to self:  look cuter around the house)

We had our first visitor two weeks ago. My oldest nephew Grant (Jason and Gayla's) came for a few days as he was enroute to a watch convention in Switzerland.  It was so wonderful to have someone from "home" here.  The kids lavished him with constant attention and Grant enjoyed getting to know our picturesque village!  He loved going to the butcher shop, the cheese shop, and the chocolatier.  It was really fun to show off our favorite spots!

We did a Raclette meal with him... sort of like fondue, except you melt the cheese on this little dishes and then pour the bubbly cheese over the meat and veggies on your plate.  Amazon France provided us with this handy device.

  Oh yes.  Amazon France.  I am pretty sure I am their number one customer.  When I am on their site on Chrome, the website is automatically translated, which is AHMAZING!

The day before Grant came, Nick had to travel to Turin, Italy for work for two days.  We decided to travel with him since we discovered that Turin has an incredible Ancient Egyptian museum... and gelato.  So we traveled through the Alps, which was absolutely terrifying for me.  I, in general, feel very anxious when I realize that if Nick would sneeze while careening around the mountains and through the tunnels, we would plummet to our death.  Closing my eyes was often the best option.  It was at this time that I became aware that I had turned into my Grandma Lois as I gripped the car door handles and begged for a reduction in speed.

This is how most of our trip went:

Nick: wow, guys!  Look clear over there in those mountains!  Look at that incredible CASTLE!

Me:  NO!  Nick!!!   Don't look at the castle!!Don't take your eyes off of this crazy winding road! Kids.. Look a the castle all you want.

But Nick was mesmerized by the dramatic landscape, and I was clearly too unstable to drive in the mountains.... so much to my amazement.. we survived.  And we do this drive again next month during the kiddos spring break.  I tried to find train tickets so we did not have undergo this harrowing experience again, but the French train system is striking during Spring Break and we already booked a condo in Rome....  so..... I think I will take a benadryl, or whatever the French pharmacy has on hand for basketcase passengers.

And now I must revert back to the present.  My parents arrived two nights ago.  What a glorious reunion it has been!  Watching our kiddos soak in the familiar joy of grandparents is so precious.  Facebook, I am sorry for the repetition of this video, but wanted to share with those not on FB.

Mom and Dad woke up and walked down the mountain via a forever long stairs to the bakery to get our fresh bread and pain au chocolate (croissant with ribbon of chocolate).  Nick was at work, so I drove Mom, Dad and the two bigs to a Thermal Mineral Spa pool, where the water comes from a spring with loads of natural minerals to cure ailments and relax.

This was a hilarious experience as mom and dad got to first hand see how not knowing the language created much stress.

We paid and were guided to a locker room.  There were only women in the locker room so dad panicked that he was in the women's locker room.  He tried to ask them.. but alas they did not speak English, but since they did not recoil in horror, we decided that he was okay.  Luckily the changing rooms had doors on them.....

Then we descended into the thermal pool.  Suddenly a lifeguard-looking guy motioned for dad and Solomon to get out of the pool.  The lifeguard was rapidly speaking gibberish, I mean French,  and gesturing to Dad's swim trunks, trying to explain something apparently very important and mandatory.  Then he gestured to Solomon's swim trunks and shook his head vigorously saying "NO, NO!"  This was clearly alarming to all of us.

Finally through a fun game of charades and a few well place English words by the lifeguard, we realized that swim trunks were NOT allowed and only ummm, Speedo-like bottoms were allowed for men.  So the lifeguard took Solomon and Dad and returned them to the pool in swim bottoms that met the requirement.  This kept Mom and I giggling for quite some time!  In fact, in the last 24 hours, mom randomly bursts into laughter with her shoulders shaking as she recalls the event.  Solomon has vowed to never return to this thermal mineral pool.

Despite the drama, the mineral pool really felt wonderful and made our aches and pains feel better!

It was an adventure we will not soon forget..

You will note the lack of photographs with this story.  haha!  You are welcome.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Settling In

It has been seven days since we arrived in France.

 I feel like we were tossed inside a front load washing machine for the last seven days and now trying to get our footing.  By the way.  I am writing this at 12:30 at night and can barely keep my eyes open but don't want to much time to go by without a bit of a mention of the first week.

 There have been quite a bit of highs and lows. The lows include the toilet suddenly springing a leak and quickly flooding.  (Yes, our flooding problems have followed us to France).  The landlord had suffered two deaths in his family so he was unreachable.  And, well to be honest... even if we could reach him, we cannot communicate with him.

 Also IKEA was supposed to deliver and set up all of our furniture before our arrival.  They did not.   Actually, the lack of furniture was not the huge problem... it was the lack of other household items that we had ordered and needed pronto... laundry baskets, waste baskets, silverware, glasses, plates...etc.  Since we did not have a definite confirmation of when it could be delivered, we cancelled our order and started all over! 

Then our nanny arrived and we were delighted to finally have an interpreter in our home  to help us muddle through, but alas it all started out very badly! There was a misunderstanding about the cats she was bringing and for a few hours we were not sure if we were going to have a nanny or not.  I literally thought she was going to walk out the door.  It was terrifying.  The realization that I might not have an interpreter on hand was paralyzing. This had been my main plan for survival.

Now most of you think... oh you can totally get by being an English speaker in France.  No.  Not true.  Not in small town Southern France.  In Paris, yes.  No problem.  The other night, I sank in my bed and asked Siri to set an alarm for me.  When she responded so kindly, I felt relief that someone understood me.  I am such a communicator and relationship builder that this is so frustrating for me.

 Grocery stores and such have become terrifying places.  Apparently my fresh fruit was a huge problem and the cashier was trying to tell me that I needed to do something differently.  No matter  how many times she repeated it emphatically, I could not understand.  The line behind me was restless and I felt humiliated.  (I have since found out that the fresh fruit and veggies has a counter that you go to for weighing and tagging before checking out)  Oh this is a humbling experience.

And so on Tuesday, Nick and I begin French lessons.  Have you ever doubted that you could actually learn something?  That is me, and I could spout of a list of things that I have been unable to learn.  I think that I get anxiety and the adrenaline muddles my brain's ability to process.  So those of you who pray,  I would love some prayers in this area.

Okay.  Now that you are feeling dreadfully miserable about our experience so far... all is not so gloomy!  For one, despite the intial interaction with Luisa,  we have loved having her here. She fits into our family so well.  She has helped us so much by translating for us with the schools, our landlord, restaurants, etc.  and we are incredibly grateful!  We all enjoy her presence and she seems to enjoy being around us as well!

And let me tell you about Caite.  Caite is 18 and has babysat for us for a few years and our families are close friends.  We had asked her if she wanted to come with us to France to help us as we simply could not process how to move through airports and customs with gargantuan amounts of luggage and the Littles!  She agreed to come with us and be our Sherpa.  Nick and I looked at each other several times throughout our lengthy air affair and agreed that Caite was the best thing that ever happened to us and that we could not have done it without her. 

We of course had several airport fiascos.  Not only was I flagged, searched and fully patted down, (and I do mean fully)... I also had all of our snacks confiscated due to them having two alarms at the gallon ziploc.  Apparently this was a really big deal as the airport people had to call a BigWig to ask for protocol of such magnitude.  As they whisked away my means of keeping my four kiddos complacent, I nearly broke down.  I had made a SPECIAL trip to Target and Marshalls to pick out the ideal snacks to eat; healthy and sustaining, not messy and liked by my four.  Taking away the snacks was like taking away the LIFE LINE!

Oh, and then there was the small ordeal of me not having  a ticket from Belgium to France.  The whole plane was loaded and my family was frantically watching me at the ticket counter.  They had no record of me having a ticket on that flight.  Once again,  more BigWigs had to be called for such things.

 Why did I not have a ticket?  Well, when I check in at Moline, they said they could not print me a ticket because my seat had not been assigned and to get ticketed at Chicago.  Chicago said the seat was not yet assigned so just merely get my ticket printed in Belgium.  The kids were beginning to panic that I would not be accompanying them to France.   At this point... I was totally okay with it.   Just deport me back to the USA and send the kids and hubby back in a week.

Wait, I was moving away from the gloomy stuff and I got sucked back in.  Bottom line, Caite and Luisa have been golden and am so thankful!

We have had many other first this week.  One being Solomon and Maylen attending school.  I honestly have never been so impressed with them in my whole life.  Their courage was astounding as I saw their faith sustain them.  They left terrified, and came home with excitement and joy!   Both had been welcomed beyond their expectations.  They saw and knew God's provisions for them and it was a huge WIN!  Up until this...  everything had been pretty bleak.  Solomon has an English teacher that is totally looking out for him and one classmate that is from England.  This Maximillian sought Solomon out immediately and took him under his wing. Solomon said it was just like Harry Potter arriving at Hogwarts... complete with the English accent.

And Maylen,  sweet Maylen.... We took her into the school just to find out what we were supposed to do.  The Director and Luisa spoke rapidly to each other and I was told that we were taking Maylen to her classroom and that I was supposed to come back at 11:45 to pick her up!  Um, Maylen was not  planning on going to school that day, but she took a deep breath, shot me a panicked look and went off with her teacher...that only speaks French.  But at 11:45 when I nervously stood by the gates with the other parents to pick up my daughter, I saw a shiny eyed, bouncy red-head coming my way!  She had a wonderful time!  She was surrounded at recess she told me, with no place to move as everyone wanted to play with the American.  The students are over the moon excited to have her and so excited to teach her French as they try out the few English words they know on her.

They are now on Spring break for two weeks, and I am so glad they got to experience school before break so that the nervousness did not continue to mount.  They both feel great about school and are excited to go back.

We have felt so warmly welcomed in this picturesque little village!  It truly looks like something from a storybook.  People are happy to have us here and cannot believe that someone from so far away has moved into Saint Galmier.  When then they hear our English, they ask "England?"  When we reply, "United States", their eyes get big with disbelief.  I found it curious that they could not differentiate between a British accent and the American accent, but would I be able to differentiate between different French dialects?  Of course not! 

And not to be left out, I too have a friend.  The English teacher at Solomon's school emailed me to invite me to tea.  She is delighted to speak English with someone and we get along great!  Maylen was so proud of me as we all had our first "playdate" invites this first week!  I realized that Solomon and Maylen were also worried about me, like I am concerned about them.  They are so happy I have a friend.  When I told some of my US friends about this, they were convinced that this would be the first of many friends.  HA!  It is very hard to make friends without the ability to speak to each other and she is the only English teacher in town! But even if I only have one friend in my two years here, I am incredibly thankful for the one God provided!

Today we visited the church that we had visited last summer on our Look and See Trip.  The worship through singing is great.  Most of the songs are familiar, that even though it is being sung in a different language, the words we know in our heart.  But the sermon.  Excruciating.  It was incredibly hard to listen to a completely different language.  I read some passages in the Bible, read a devotional on my phone from John MacArthur,  and tried to pick out any familiar French words.  I found a few.  Like three.  Not enough to string together anything meaningful!  The church is in a bigger town called Saint Etienne and there is a few English speakers there.

Today after church we found out that there was a castle 10 minutes away from our home.  We had a wonderful family day (plus Caite and Luisa) walking around and discovering a quaint little village nearby.

Well, this girl needs to get to bed.  Lots of organization tomorrow, and lots more furniture assembly.  Nick starts work tomorrow, leaving us car-less and Nick-less.

We are so grateful for the easy connections that technology provides!  We love being able to FB messenger video chat and keep up with our friends and family via fb.

Having trouble with the pics, so those will have to come later!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

2017 Christmas Letter

Welcome back to this dusty old blog!  I am resurrecting this ol' writing space for the sake of a travel journal--and of course this year's Christmas letter (2017). 

It has been three years since we have sent out any updates on our life by way of pictures or Christmas cards.  This has not been for any lack of happenings, but on the contrary and Christmas card mailings  have sunk to the bottom of our priority list.  It is actually still there, but we did not feel it was fair to flee the country and not give any info on the happenings in our family over the past few years.

So I will start with France.  Yes.  We are moving to France for two years come January 24th.  The most oft question asked is:  Are you excited about it?  And the answer to that question is:  We have been running around like chickens with our heads cut off for so many months trying to prep for this move that we have not had a lot of time to process our "feelings".  No time for that.  I guess we will process when we get there and we sit around in our French home and have no one but ourselves to talk to.

The next question:  Do you know French?  No.  Refer to previous answer.  We do know that cheese is fromage and we plan to eat a lot of that.

We are moving to a small town of 5000 in SE France.  We will be dual-enrolling our children in the French school in the village.  They do not speak any English there-- except for the English teacher, which we have met and I have plans to become best friends with her.  We visited a wonderful little church that we loved and plan to attend.  A gentleman named John from England offered to sit behind us and translate the sermon.  He may have a full-time job doing so for the next few years! Hubby has been working for Federal Mogul in Burlington for the past six years and the French plant is instituting a new line of spark plugs for BMW and apparently Federal Mogul thought that moving our wild clan overseas was going to be the best way to do this.  Our nearest biggish city is Saint Etienne which is 30 minutes away, and the big cool city nearest us is Lyon which is about an hour away and approx the same size as Saint Louis.  We also will be living a little more than an hour away from a famed French Alps ski town called Grenoble.

We are keeping our home here in the Midwest and we have friends that are moving in to care-take for our home.

Okay.  Now that the France topic is settled, let's move on to our little Gremlins.  We have added two since our last official family news release.  Three years ago, we added B-man to our family.  He came to us through foster care and after parental rights were terminated, we welcomed him into our family.  Meet B-man

B-man was 20 months when he came to live with us but now is a whopping five years of age!  B-man's main interests are train videos, playing outside, driving his tractors around the house and chatting.  Oh, and I cannot forget bike-riding.  He loves that.  And whistling. He in fact is the only child in our home who knows how to whistle and he carries that banner high!  B-man has been in preschool the last two years.  B-man is unconcerned about our move to France and is very excited about riding the trains in Europe.  He is very verbal so we expect he will be fluent in French within three weeks of our arrival (give or take).

This past March we added another little one.  Meet Curly Girly!  Curly Girly was ten days old when she came to live in our home via foster care.  We got to adopt her in March at 14 months old.  She was a sweet, cheerful baby who has morphed into a joyful and ornery toddler who turned two this fall.   She is social as all get out and is in party mode at all times.  Curly Girly's siblings are the delight of her life.  She loves to sing and pretty much seeks to entertain us at all times!  Meet Curly Girly...

Next up is Strawberry.  Strawberry is nine years old and is known for her red hair with strawberry blonde highlights.  Strawberry just keeps getting longer and stretching out like a weed.  She is our soulful, deeply insightful child.  She would read books for 10 hours a day if we let her.  Her other minor hobbies are basketball, soccer, playing outside and creating imaginative play for the littles.  Strawberry is a gentle-hearted soul with plenty of spice on the side.  What a delightful combination she is. Strawberry is pretty gung-ho about moving.  Turns out she has a sense of adventure that was lurking beneath the surface.  

And now Sojo.  Sojo is in middle school (gulp).  Sojo loves being with his friends (the fun five) and reading and legos are his main interests.  Soccer, percussion and minecraft are among his favorites but he loves just "hanging out" and not being too busy.  He is definitely a quality time kind of guy!  He is an attentive older brother and tends to the "Littles" very unselfishly.  They bask in his attention.  Sojo is 12 and quite apprehensive about our move to France.  Leaving his friends and extended family behind is hard for him, but the pull of adventuring around Europe does offer him some consolation.  Both he and Strawberry are passionate about art and would have stayed for days touring the Louvre in Paris when we visited this summer.  

Me.  Um.. I am 41, and can't think of any interests or hobbies.  Well, I sure like it when I can catch an afternoon nap and all, but beyond that, I am pretty much in throws of full time mom-hood and I am thankful for this crazy little slice of life.   Oh wait.  I just thought of one.  My lattes are my hobby.  My beautiful creations of espresso and milk swirled together in a glass mug are  a passion of mine!  

Hubby works diligently at his job at Federal Mogul and pours himself into our family.   A few new grays hair sprout out every month and they are a badge of honor for him!  

Well that is a pretty good summary of our family for this Christmas letter!  We are grateful for the gift of salvation that came through Christ on the cross.  We are dependent on the grace He offers us, and we hope to grow in our love and understanding of His greatness in the coming year through all the changes ahead of us.  

We do plan on keeping up on this blog about our time in France.  No promises.  But at least at this point it sounds like a good idea!  Merry Christmas, friends.  Love to you all!

The Z-pack

*photography by Rose Schmidgall Photography

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Post ~ Cancel Complaining!


And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
 And be thankful.

My six year old daughter Maylen enjoys clothes.  She loves laying out her outfit  for school the next day.  She loves mixing and matching and coming up with fun combinations.  However, she really despises folding her clothes.  Last week she looked at her basket of impending work and declared, “I have too many clothes! I wish I did not have so many clothes!”  

I immediately used this as a teaching opportunity to talk to her about children who are so impoverished that they only have one outfit to wear.  Undaunted by this scenario, Maylen sighed heavily and insisted that those girls are truly lucky because they don’t have to waste SO much of their life folding clothes.  I was aghast at her outrageous claim and was momentarily speechless as I formulated my rebuttal.

She cursed her blessings! *
 Let that sink in for a moment. 
 Maylen cursed her blessings.  The very things that she adores, she grumbles about when the tide changes!  I have a feeling that she is not the only one :)

Truly most of the things we complain about are the very blessings that our Heavenly Father has given us out of His love and mercy.  He showers blessings on us and we curse them when they are not convenient for the moment.  Heartbreaking!  

It is a life passion of mine to make sure my children have a global vision.  I believe that in order for our children to be globally focused, they must first recognize the immense blessings overflowing in their  lives that most of the world cannot fathom!  

A few years ago I heard Susie Larson, author of Growing Grateful Kids speak at the Hearts at Home conference.   What I remember most is this nugget of wisdom “You cannot impart what you do not live.”  That quote jarred my soul.  

My OWN heart had to be pouring out thankfulness.

My OWN lips had to cease complaining.
I had to stop cursing my blessings. 

I desperately want my children to be grateful, not consumed with worldliness and constantly wanting more, but it has to start with me.  I then started a crusade of thankfulness to retrain my heart.

~ When I would turn on the water, “Wow, how BLESSED we are that we have CLEAN, running water inside of our house!  

~  After getting medicine for strep throat for the kiddos I would make sure to verbalize, “We are so blessed that we have access to medicine that can make us healthy again, and doctors who can treat us.”

~Instead of my usual grumbling about having to put away all the groceries after a haul from the grocery store, “Thank you God for providing so much healthy food to nourish our bodies that we did not have to grow all by ourselves!”  

It drove my husband a bit batty and it sounded quite campy at times. In fact, it felt quite foreign to me.  But like I said, I was retraining. Quite quickly our children started to tune in to the blessing of having blessings; which were previously considered “givens.”  

Several winters ago, my husband challenged me on how much I was complaining about the bitter cold.   

Said the Hubby, “When we lived in South Carolina you loved the weather, but we were missing out on so much being far away from family.  God blessed us with a job allowing us to move five minutes from your parents!  You were SO excited to move back to Iowa!  You cannot have it both ways!”  

Harrumph.  How right he was.  Again.

I was cursing my blessings.  God had answered a prayer for us and here I was complaining!  

It takes utter self-restraint  for me not to complain about the winters because I truly do disdain them. Every time a thought comes to my head about the unfortunate weather and my state of miserableness, I combat it with focusing on blessings and praising God.   Ephesians 5:20 thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

The Thanksgiving Holiday is here in all of its glory of feasting and family.  Consider taking a moment with your family to imprint on your hearts to make thankfulness your family banner.  Cancel complaining and let our praises and grateful hearts bring Glory to the Father, our King, our Savior.

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
* I thank Kirk and Keri Plattner for introducing me to the concept of cursing our blessings several years ago in their blog.  It has stuck with me and has truly helped me see the sin in my complaining. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to School and Home School Curriculum Choices

Back to School! 

Minnie started Kindergarten this week and is really enjoying it!  Mickey will be educated at home for third grade and is also dual-enrolled at our local elementary for Music and Art. 
Kindergarten Teacher

 Polka dot painted toenails for her first day! 

I often get asked about my curriculum choices so I decided to post it this year.  I use an eclectic variety of curriculum.  This year I am using heavy parent involvement curriculum since it is just Mickey and I  at home this year.  Twas impossible last year with our little baby, so he used online learning ( 

Science:  Exploring Creation with Astronomy by Jeannie Fulbright (Young Explorers Series)  One hour, twice a week.  30 lessons.

Social Studies: Easy Peasy Third Grade Geography  20 min per day (online curriculum)
        Heritage Studies 3 BJU press. (one chapter a week)
        Adventures in Other Lands-Abeka (once a week)

Math: Math Lessons for a Living Education Book 3.  Queen Homeschooling Supplies (see affiliate link on sidebar)  Charlotte Mason style education materials.  Daily.  30 min per day
    Guinness World Records Math. Daily 10 min.  
    Ipad Math 10 min

Language Arts: Main Curriculum--Building Christian English Series by Rod and Staff (English 3) (30 min per day)
        Guinness World Records Reading Daily 10 min (supplement)
        How to Write a Story Evan Moor (supplement)
        Daily 6 Trait Writing grade 3 (supplement)
Vocabulary--Words of the Week Volume 1 Daily by Sandi Queen (supplement)
Reading: Abeka Book level 4 and Little House on the Prairie Series
Kindle Math games 10 min

Foreign Language: Rosetta Stone- daily 15 min

Bible: Draw to Learn Proverbs  Ray and Charlene Notgrass  25 min per day.  
Typing:  Ipad (icolor type) and Typing Instructor (cd rom)


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