Tuesday, November 30, 2021

November 2021

 November is drawing to a close, and I just thought it would be fun to recap some highlights from our month. You know, for posterity's sake.

We've had between 0 and 5 new cases of Covid a day this month in Malawi, which means that it's been basically non-existent here and life has been pretty much normal except for a few places that still make you wear masks inside. We haven't had the mask debate/issue that the US has had; everyone just wears them without a fuss. We just at the very end of the month got news (as did the rest of the world) of the new Omicron variant. It hasn't been detected here yet, but the US has already put a travel ban on foreigners coming from Malawi and many other southern African countries. Don't worry though, it doesn't apply to US Citizens. Macie will be able to get back without a problem in December, though she'll probably be leaving a little earlier than planned just for good measure.

We said goodbye to Eric and Stephanie Chapman, who had been here for a month running clinics and Eric led the Founder's Conference for all of our partner church pastors and their assistant pastors. The picture above is of Stephanie leading our women's Bible study at Gospel Life Baptist Church on her last Wednesday here. It was great to have them here.

This is just a watercolor picture that Jude did during school this month, and I was so proud of it. He really loves art and is doing so great in school with his tutor, Grace.

After the girls both suffering from some illnesses and injuries for a few weeks, we got back into running. We started with a couch to 5K plan that sort of went off the rails when they got sick, so for the last couple of weeks we've been going back in the plan and trying to build endurance again.

My friend Becca put on a ladies' brunch for the expat women of our town, Zomba, and it was also a virtual farewell for our Dutch friend, Marieke, who left last year and was supposed to return for farewells earlier this year, but hasn't been able to because of Covid and life. It was a nice time for us all to get a little dressed up and pretend to be fancy for a few hours! There are 10 nationalities represented in this picture! I love our multicultural community!

Josh has gotten really into chess recently. Our colleague, Isaac, is really good at chess and brought a board to the office for them to play a few moves at a time during the breaks of Shepherd's Academy (which Josh has also been busy with this month, with students here all month and teaching every day). Josh didn't like getting his butt kicked at chess, so he's been brushing up on his skills, and by the end of the month it took Isaac significantly more moves to beat Josh than it did the first time! Ha! I still don't think Josh has beaten Isaac yet, though. (Correction: Josh says he has beaten Isaac once!) But as a result, he's also been teaching JJ and Abe how to play, and they are both surprisingly good at it! Abe can think 2 moves ahead, which is super impressive, especially for a 5 year old.

I got the joy of being at the hospital with Isaac's wife, Susan, while she gave birth to their first child, Jedidah. It was a fascinatingly different experience from giving birth in an American hospital! I'm so proud of Susan and how strong and amazing she was, and she's already a wonderful mother. I told all the hospital staff that it was my grandbaby, since Susan calls me mama. I don't think they knew what to make of that! Ha!

We took our family Christmas card pictures last week, and while I'll save the good pictures for Christmas, you can enjoy this outtake while I was testing this location. Family pictures are always like herding cats, but even Josh said this was our least stressful picture day yet. It helped a lot that Macie was with us and could take the pictures for us, instead of me setting a 10 second timer and running back and forth a million times. We've made a bit of a tradition of going out for lunch at our favorite Zomba restaurant, Casa Rossa, after pictures, and that is always fun. I insisted we include our dog, Rey, in the pictures this year, and she was so good that she may have earned a permanent spot in our family pictures!

This was the second year that we took our mission staff and their families on a safari at Liwonde National Park as a way to say thank you for all of their hard work and sacrifice through the year. Now I know a safari sounds extravagant, but when you live near a safari park, it's actually incredibly inexpensive. Much cheaper than going to a zoo in America. Even so, most Malawians don't go to the park, and none of our staff had been before our trip last year. It's a really fun day outing, and we had lunch at a lodge nearby and got to swim in their pool for a while after lunch, which was great on such a HOT day!

These were the stars of our safari! We pulled up and parked our jeeps about 10 feet away from a whole pride of lions sleeping under these small trees. The best I could count, there were about 3 females, 5 half-grown cubs, and one male. And a half-eaten warthog. Gross. But at least we could know they weren't hungry! They really didn't care a bit that we were there, they were just chilling with their full bellies and trying to stay cool. It was so cool to see.

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. We celebrated with just us and Macie. A cool front came through the night before, and it rained all day Thanksgiving day, which was WONDERFUL. Usually Thanksgiving is brutally hot, so the cool rain was a delight this year. I'm going to miss a lot about Malawi when we are in the US next year, but I'm not sad at all about skipping hot season here. Josh smoked a ham and two chickens (we like to make enough that we can live on leftovers for the rest of the weekend), which meant I used the oven very little, which also helped to not heat up the house too much! The ham was amazing, and will definitely become a staple of our Thanksgivings here.

I made... a bunch of other stuff. Sweet potato casserole (but with butternut squash, because sweet potatoes here aren't great), rolls, deviled eggs, brussels sprouts with bacon, pecans, and cranberries, fried apples, and two chocolate chess pies. Oh and Josh made the green beans. He has somehow perfected green beans, and no matter what I do, I can't ever do them as good as he does, so he's our green bean man.

We had a huge lunch, and then sat around in food comas all afternoon enjoying the rain. It was awesome. At 4pm, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade started, and we watched that live on the computer as we ate leftovers and pushed back bedtime until it was over.

The day after Thanksgiving is always our day to put up our Christmas decorations and decorate our tree together. All of our ornaments have special stories and meanings, and I love opening the ornaments and remembering with the kids the memories behind each one. You can tell how cool it was by the fact that I wore JEANS on this day! That's just crazy this time of year. It was so wonderful.

I just loved this picture of these two putting the star on top of the tree. Santa hat, Batman shirt, and swim trunks. Welcome to Christmas in Malawi.

The girls and Jude have been going to youth group with some other missionary kid friends at a friend's house for over a year now. Some of the older MK guys lead it, and Macie's been teaching it the last few weeks. We love youth group and that the kids get to grow in their faith together. Grace goes with Jude, and he sits good and listens to the devotional part, but he isn't usually interested in playing the games with the others. Thankfully our friend's house has a lot of fun outdoor things to do, and he and Grace have their own fun too.

There is a farmer's market in Blantyre on the last Saturday of every month, where different crafters and such set up booths for shopping. There is a small selection of food, and also live music. I've been once before, and I thought it would be a really fun girls' day out for Macie, my girls, and me. We had a good time, and bought several fun things! Notice their clothes... it was still cool. Glory hallelujah.

Rey also got to go along on our girls' trip! She hasn't been out in public much since we moved here 3.5 years ago, and I've been trying to find some ways to start getting her out again in preparation for our trip back to the US next year. She was pretty skittish with all the people at the farmer's market, so it was very good for her to go, and I'll need to take her back again. I've been contacting businesses and trying to get permission to take her to some places, but there are no service dog access laws in Malawi, so we're at the mercy of the business owners. Unfortunately most Malawians are very afraid of dogs, especially large black dogs, so there isn't much openness about it. But she really shined while we were eating! She just lay under the table and was so good, just like she'd been trained to do.

Well, that's a little recap of our month. I'd love to make this a regular thing on the blog, but I'm not going to commit to that, because remembering to do "regular things" is hard for me! But please let me know if you read all the way to the end and you would enjoy it if I made this a regular thing! :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

My Favorite Books of 2020!

 I let life get in the way of writing about my favorite books of 2020 around the new year like I've done for the past few years. But I've been thinking about it, and not only do I love seeing what books other people are reading and enjoying, but I also love having the record of what I've read to look back on. So here we are in September 2021, talking about my favorite books of 2020. Better late than never, right?

You can see from my list that I read through a few series of books in 2020. I finished the Harry Potter books for only the second time in my life, listening to them on Audible this time. The reader is fantastic, and I highly recommend the audio books! I read The Growly Books series to the boys at bedtime, which is a sweet adventure story that was perfect for their ages. And the girls and I read the Wingfeather Saga books together, which we LOVED.

For a few years now, I've tried to be intentional about reading African and African-American authors. In 2020 that included Alan Paton, Lecrae, Layla F. Saad, Jemar Tisby, and Solomon Northup.

This was a REALLY difficult year to pick a top five, and I only have two least favorites this time. I read a lot of really good books this year!

Now on to my top five:

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

 Educated by Tara Westover

 My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

 The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

And my least favorite:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

Here's the whole list by genre:

*A star means it is an honorable mention and really, really good.

Fiction- Children:

North or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson*
The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson*
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson*
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling*
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling*
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling*
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling*
The Growly Books: Widewater by Philip & Erin Ulrich
The Growly Books: Morning by Philip & Erin Ulrich
The Growly Books: Haven by Philip & Erin Ulrich
The Battle for Castle Cockatrice by Gerald Durrell

Fiction- Adult:

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens*
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens*
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Nonfiction- Biography:

Unashamed by Lecrae*
Call the Midwife by Jenifer Worth*
The Real Sherlock by Lucinda Hawksley
Educated by Tara Westover*
12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Nonfiction- History

Caffeine by Michael Pollan
The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson*
The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker*
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby*
Stories From Wales by Gwyn Jones

Nonfiction- Christian

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
Old Story New by Marty Machowski
The Bible, Biblical Storyline Reading Plan by BibleProject on Youversion app

Nonfiction- Other

Love Me, Feed Me by Dr. Katja Rowell
A Disease Called Fatigue by Dr. Cecile Jadin
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Please let me know what your recent favorites have been, I'm always looking for new good books to read! 

If you want more lists, you can also check out:

My 2019 Book List

My Kids' 2018 Book Lists

My 2018 Book List

My Kids' 2017 Book Lists

My Girls' 2016 Book Lists

My Girls' 2015 Book Lists

I didn't have the kids do their list the last two years, but I love hearing about their favorite books each year, so I hope to remember to make that happen for 2021.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Back to School 2021

How have my babies gotten so big? How is it possible that I have 3 middle schoolers and no preschoolers??

In the 8 years that we've had school-aged kids, our family has done almost every version of school possible. 
Public school? Yep. 
Homeschool program that meets once a week? Done. 
Private Christian school? Check.
Traditional mom-taught homeschool? Yes.
Private International school? Also yes.

And what's working for us now is actually none of the above! When we first moved here, I homeschooled everyone. But that just wasn't going really well. I was stressed, exhausted, and worst of all, my relationships with my kids were tanking from the stress. So eventually we decided it was best to get a one-on-one tutor for Jude, me to only homeschool Haylee (she was the only one in secondary school), and to send the younger three to a local private international school. The school wasn't perfect, but the whole situation was so much better than me trying to teach everyone.

Then when Covid hit and their school went online, we decided really quickly that we'd rather just go back to traditional homeschooling than try to manage all of that mess (I know so many of you understand). So we went back to mom-taught homeschooling. And for more reasons than just Covid, we've stuck with it even once their school went back to in-person lessons. And while we feel certain that that is what is best for the kids at this point, we realized that it is still not at all what is best for this mama.

Guys, I don't know what it is. We homeschooled for several years in America and I never struggled like this. I think a lot of it is the added stresses of missionary life, and I think some of it may be spiritual warfare (we notice spiritual warfare often in our physical and mental health, or lack thereof). But the longer I homeschooled all of these little sweet potatoes, the worse my mental health became. 

That may make you uncomfortable, but I'm learning that we would all benefit from more open and honest conversations about mental health, especially among moms and/or missionaries. Life is hard! Caring for our mental and physical health (which are interrelated, as my favorite Legally Blonde quote makes clear: "Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, happy people don't kill their husbands... they just don't!")

So anyway, last year we found a middle-ground that is working for us for now- homeschooling with tutors. It has honestly been a lifesaver for all of us. 

Grace has been teaching Jude for over a year and a half now, and she has been an incredible blessing to all of us. He has come so far and learned so much with her gentle, loving care. He loves her so much, and is so eager to do school with her every day. Ok... most days. But seriously, they are great together.

Also for a while now, Abe has been going to Tamala's house during the day to learn Chichewa, and since he started Kindergarten last month, she does about an hour of school work here at home with him before they leave for her house. He has been so excited to start Kindergarten, and he enjoys doing his work in the mornings. He also loves going to Tamala's and getting to play with some neighbor kids his age. She says his Chichewa is coming along really well, even though he's shy and won't use it much around us.

Our newest addition is Michelle, who tutors Haylee, Taylah, and JJ in all of their subjects. She has been the perfect combination of firm and friendly, and the kids have quickly taken a liking to her. They work hard for her and her no-nonsense teaching style, and they have fun with her during the breaks as well.

And last but not at all least, we can't forget Janet, who is Josh's executive assistant and patiently teaches the rest of us Chichewa 3 times a week. We are slow learners, but she doesn't give up on us, and cheers for every little victory we have as we stumble through learning it and do our best to speak like toddlers.

I can share more later about our curriculum choices if you're interested, but for now I just want to say that we are so incredibly thankful for this wonderful team of women who keep us sane and well-educated. 

Because I'm not homeschooling the kids anymore, I've been freed up to do so many more things for our family, my mental health, and the mission. In a family of 7, the house is never clean and the laundry is never finished, but it's significantly less out of control now that I have more free time! I also have time to exercise and take better care of my own mental and physical health. And I now claim half of Josh's office up at the school as my own. There, I can work on many of the guest relations and social media projects that I enjoy, and take those things off of Josh's very, very full plate as the president of the mission. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Updated: Annual St. Patrick's Day Pictures

If you've been following my blog for a very long time, you may remember that I love St. Patrick's Day. I love the color green, I love it when large groups of people wear matching things, and I love the story behind the real St. Patrick. We've been taking a family picture on St. Patrick's Day since Jude was born, and this has become a space for me to chronicle our changing and growing family over the years. 

2009: This was taken at the seminary, one of our first outings after Jude was born. Jude was just over a month old, and I was still in a lot of pain.

2010: In our apartment at the camp in Moldova. Jude made up for not having much green last year by sporting green from head to toe.

2011: Again in our camp apartment in Moldova. We both taught that day, so I actually got fixed up this year. Standing Jude up in the windowsill had become one of the only ways to get him to be still enough for a picture.

2012: We were back in America, and Murray State played in the NCAA tournament on St. Patrick's Day, so we had to find a way to celebrate both at the same time. You can barely see my green t-shirt under my Murray State one.

2013: St. Patrick's Day fell on Sunday this year, so we got a picture after church. We'd been driving down to Mt. Tabor for several weeks for Josh to preach, and they were about to vote on him a couple of weeks after this. Jude was grumpy and clinging to his empty to-go food container because he was hungry.

2014: In Jude's room in the parsonage, our home. The picture quality isn't as good on this one, because we took it with the front camera on my phone, but that's the best way to get Jude to look at the camera. This one just melts my heart. Also, maybe it's time to get Josh a new green sweater.

2015: Finally some new faces in our picture! I have no idea what we were all saying, but it was almost certainly something to get them to all smile. Haylee was in a phase where she thought it was funny to make that face for pictures, she really was happy, I promise! Josh's shirt had little green stripes in it that you can't even see in the picture.

2016: I can't handle how much they have all grown in a year! Sweet little faces.

2017: Another new face! And these kids just keep getting bigger, even though we tell them to stop.

2018: Our fourth and last year on this gray couch, cause we are selling it when we move this summer! I just love these people so much. Also, Abe is wearing the same shirt Jude wore in 2011.

2019: Our first St. Patrick's Day in Malawi! It fell on a Sunday this year, so we were all dressed a bit nicer this year and took our picture right after church.

2020: Hey look, we got a bigger couch but we're still all crammed together!

2021: Back on our smaller couch, which now lives on the front porch! We just barely fit!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Top Books of 2019

Fifty-five books! Wow! Last year was my first year reading again after decades of not making time, and I read 40. This year I hit 55! I don’t set goals, that usually stresses me out and makes me want to run away from reading. I just read what and when I want.

What I Read
For 2019, I continued (and solidified my love of) reading a lot classics. I’m enjoying both adult classics and reading children’s classics to the kids at bedtime. There is a reason that most classics are classics, and it’s because they’re really, really good (with a few exceptions). As I’ve written in one of my “didn’t like” reviews, I can really feel that reading so much truly good literature has refined my tastes so that I don’t care for mediocre stuff. And really, life’s too short to read mediocre writing when there are so many amazing books out there.

I’ve also continued to look for books by African or African American authors. The Beautiful Struggle, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Last Resort, Becoming, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, and The Warmth of Other Suns were all by such authors.

I also LOVE biographies and autobiographies.

When I Read
I get asked often how I make time for reading. I do most of my reading with Audible while I’m doing laundry, gardening, driving alone, showering, or any other chance I get. I love listening to books when I'm occupied with an easy task where my mind would be otherwise fairly idle. I mostly read Kindle books on my phone when I’m somewhere with my phone and want to do something more productive than scrolling Instagram, like waiting in line at the grocery store, bank, etc. And I read physical books mostly during afternoon rest time or in the evenings.

Let's cut to the chase! Here are my top 5 books of 2019, followed by 5 I didn't like:

Top Five
#1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Unlike a lot of people, I was never made to read this book in high school or college. I only knew that it was a classic, and in my drive to read more classics, pulled it off the shelf. Josh, who did read it in high school, warned me that I wouldn’t like it. As I read, I would comment how much I was enjoying it, and he would say, “Don’t worry, you won’t by the end.” But I got to the end and loved every moment of it! Steinbeck is a masterful writer. Even the end (which if you’ve read it, you understand) is a bit odd but I thought so redemptive for her.

#2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This was possibly the most emotionally engaging book I’ve ever read. The whole book kept me spellbound and emotionally on-edge, and it left me completely undone at the end. On top of that, as with The Grapes of Wrath, I learned a viewpoint from history that I hadn’t previously considered.

#3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I listened to this one on Audible, and really loved it. It took a chapter or two for my ears to adjust to Dickens’s style, which I can only describe as a delectable treat for the ears. I’ve really loved all the Dickens books Ive read.

#4. The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
I feel like this book should be required reading for parents of tweens/teens, educators from middle school through college, and late high school/college students.

#5. The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
I don’t even remember how I came across this book, but it is written by a white Zimbabwean who grew up there and his parents still live there. The destruction that Mugabe caused to his own country as president is devastating, and Rogers is an excellent writer who captured the ups and downs of life as a white Zimbabwean under Mugabe’s regime through the lens of his parents’ backpackers lodge. I couldn’t put it down.

Five I Didn’t Like
#5. Farming Grace by Paula Scott
I got this for free or cheap on kindle and thought it looked worth a try. It is one woman’s true testimony of coming to adulthood and then to faith, and how God saved her, her husband, and their marriage over the course of several years. It’s a great story of lives drastically changed by the Gospel, and there aren’t glaring grammatical issues or anything, but it just isn’t great writing. It reads more like a blog than a novel. I feel a bit bad putting this one on my “didn’t like” list, cause it honestly isn’t terrible, but every time I thought about books I didn’t care for this year, this one came to mind.

#4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
It feels a bit like heresy to put this one on my “didn’t like” list, but I have to be honest. I just really didn’t care for The Hobbit. I’m told the Lord of the Rings books are better than this one, but after reading it, I don’t have much of a taste in my mouth for more Tolkien.

#3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Have I ever read a more boring, didactic book in my life? I can’t remember one. This is another one I read to the girls, and we didn’t enjoy it at all. The girls and I had a few duds this year. It’s one long sermon about why people should treat horses better, which I guess I can see the need for back in its day when horses were used for transportation and farming, but have mercy. This was so boring.

#2. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
The idea of a doctor who can talk to animals seemed right up my girls’ alley, and the 90’s Eddie Murphy movie Doctor Dolittle was so cute, that the girls and I thought we’d enjoy this one. Wrong. It was terrible, and worst of all racist. The author even used two particularly terrible racist words that I had to stop and explain that they were very not ok words.

#1. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
The only book this year that was so bad that I deliberately stopped reading about 2/3 of the way through. This is a new tween/teen book that gets glowing Amazon reviews, so I decided to read it with the girls at bedtime. First of all, I hate kids books that are written in first person in an “authentic voice” that’s full of incorrect grammar. I believe that an important part of reading is for kids to learn good writing and grammar, and books like this just reinforce what is incorrect. Second, it's just booooooring. Third, the whole premise of the book is that Coyote, a teen, thinks she's smarter and knows better than her dad and so she’s justified in lying to him multiple times. (Granted, most teens probably think this, but they don't need books to reinforce the idea.) The first lie never got so much as a, "you shouldn't have lied to me," from her dad, so I strongly doubt the second big one did either. Her dad doesn't actually parent her at all. She makes a lot of really stupid choices because she’s supposedly so street smart, which her dad of course never corrects, and I would actually have to stop reading and explain to my girls why things she did were terrible ideas and dangerous things to do. The last straw for us was when they picked up a runaway girl who had gotten kicked out of her parents’ home for being gay, and Coyote muses about how it doesn't matter who you love.

The Full List by Genre
I kind of want to say a little something about each of these, since most of them feel like good friends that I spent a lot of time with over the past year. But for the sake of brevity, I'll just give a list.
Orange font = I listened to it on Audible
* = Strong contenders for Top 5, it was a tough call to narrow it down to just 5

Fiction- Adult Classics

Fiction- Children’s Classics

Fiction- Historical

Fiction- Other

Nonfiction- Self Help

Nonfiction- Biography/Autobiography

Nonfiction- History

Nonfiction- Poetry