Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Peek Into Ghana Life

After living in any one place for a long time, everything one sees seems normal.
Yet, if I think a bit, I remember when driving down the roads here filled me with wonder.
Here are a few images I've collected over the last few months.
I try to be very careful to respect the people of this great country I live in by not portraying anyone in a way they would find embarrassing.

The traditional dress of an Asante man...

Used clothes for sale...

Ghanaian clothing items for sale...

Making traditional funeral cloth....

Wood items for the home...

An overloaded trotro carrying both passengers and a load...

No matter the time of year, we always have butterflies...

And dwarf goats...

I thought you might enjoy just a peek into the things I see every day here in Ghana.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

For the Days When You're Really Busy...

I don't know any mother who would say her life isn't busy.
Mine certainly has been *that* since the turn of the year.
The day the calendar flipped from 2015 to 2016 I felt like the proverbial rug was yanked out from under me and I've been stumbling to catch up ever since.

I'm not gonna go into details, though, because my busy may not look like yours.
And sometimes when we read a list of what others are doing we start to compare.....and that's really not what this is all about.
Whenever I start to feel the strain of busyness I stop and ask myself if this is a problem I've created or if this is a time of stretching from the Lord.

"God-given responsibilities never conflict."
I believe that with all of my being.
So if there are two or more things seriously fighting for my attention all the time, I must first check and make sure that those things are really of God.
If something is not of God, it's got to go.

I've also learned that there are times that God puts a lot on my plate.
None of my duties are in conflict, but there are days when everything is packed pretty tightly together.
If I'm not listening to the Holy Spirit and one of them gets out of place, I'll definitely feel the pinch.

That's where I'm living right now.
Not between a rock and a hard place, but walking on the tightrope of doing exactly what the Lord wants done at each and every moment with no breathing space.
That's an okay place to be, too.
It's a growing place, a faith-stretching place, a humbling place, a diligence-learning place.

While it is possible to learn to rest in Him during times like these, practically I've not learned that yet.
I'm in the process.
In tight spaces, I can start to worry about how I'm gonna get out of them.
My instincts say to hyperventilate at the least, and run if that doesn't work.

This afternoon I was feeling that pressure: the desire to run, hide, get away from my responsibilities.
So God sent me a gift in the form of an overly-tired, screaming two-year old.
My littlest has hit that lovely stage of if-she-takes-a-nap-she'll-not-go-to-bed-until-midnight-but-sometimes-4 o'clock-is-awful.
All you mamas know what I'm talking about.

She wanted to sleep, and I couldn't let her.
She was filthy and needed a bath before church, but we are on strict water conservation right now.
Limited water = bucket bath.
She had worked herself into a frenzy, and mentally I was in a tizzy, too.
I was doing my best to pray about a situation we were awaiting an answer for, but my mind kept slipping into worry and doubt.

God opened my eyes enough to realize that my wee one needed her mama. Not her mama, distracted and worried, but her mama giving her her full attention.
I placed her in the bucket {which she was fighting with all her strength} and began to speak softly in hopes of quieting her turbulent heart.
I gently washed her grubby arms and legs, and as I talked, her heartbeat slowed.
By the time I wrapped her in the towel and cuddled her close, she was completely calm and so was I.
In turning my mind to my job at hand, I was able to let go of all my fears.
{And no, being gentle and calm is not my personality. It's something I constantly have to work at. Praise the Lord for grace today!}

A few minutes later, hubby let out a whoop from his office area and shouted my name.
I knew, before ever setting down baby and walking to the computer, that God had answered the very thing I'd been praying and fretting and worrying about most of the afternoon.
When I'd chosen to do the next thing I was supposed to do, God had calmed my heart and lifted that burden I'd been carrying.
I pray the next time I'm feeling the strain of all God's called me to do on the busy days, I'll remember that an obedient heart, a trusting mind, and a resting soul are all that I really need to see my through the rough spots.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Home Schooling: Ideas for Keeping Little Ones Happy, Awesome Picture Books, and Help with Multiplication

It's Sunday night here, and the house is quiet. Little ones are tucked away and hopefully asleep.
Hubby is taking some time to decompress after a very busy week, and I'm taking a few minutes to think about what what has transpired over the last few weeks and what needs to happen over the course of the coming ones.

I don't often write about schooling my children, but it is a big part of my life.
My oldest turned twelve yesterday, then I have a nine year old, a four year old, and a two year old.
My younger two do not nap, so I've been slowly finding special things for them to do only during school time. This allows them to play, but keeps the schoolroom and house from descending into chaos.

My littlest has a VERY short attention span, so it took time to find things that would engage her for more than a few seconds. On the off chance that someone else might be in the same boat as me, I thought I'd share a few things we love for "school" time with the littles, plus a few book suggestions, and an awesome idea for older kiddos struggling with memorizing their multiplication facts.

First up, the books in the top picture:
The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney ~ No words, amazing pictures, incredible story.
The King of Little Things by Bil Lepp ~ This was a Christmas gift and my girls have almost the entire book memorized. I've read it quite a few times, but it gets better every time!
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce ~ Exquisitely beautiful, and will make you cry every time.
Journey & Quest by Aaron Becker ~ Book 1 and Book 2 of a planned trilogy, these books have no words, but brilliant, mysterious pictures. They are like Harold and the Purple Crayon{another little kid fave in our house} all grown up.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith ~ Sweet and fun!
Have You Seen my Dragon? by Steve Light ~ A counting book about a lost dragon in New York City...can it get any better?
Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel ~ Frog and Toad have been favorites since my childhood. 
Our favorite story is the chocolate ice cream swamp monster!

Yes, it is work and expense to get picture books for our children. Do we think it is worth it?
Are these only for little kids?
Absolutely not.
Our big girls love all these books, too {especially Journey and Quest}.
If you don't have the money for these, tuck the list away, and use it for ideas for Christmases and birthdays. Money spent on living books is always money well spent.

Bingo Daubers ~ Though my little ones love to play with markers, I hate to let them, because they always scribble on the table and then when they get bored with that, smash the tips. These are the perfect solution. These are made for smashing and rough use, and they let just enough ink out to keep the kids happy. My little two love these!

Chalkboard and chalk ~ My four year old especially loves having her own slate and chalk. She draws on it, colors it, and we even use it to practice her pre-writing skills. Plus, she thinks she's just like Laura {in our Laura Ingalls Wilder books we are reading as a family}.

Beeswax ~ I had never used beeswax before, but had heard lots of good things about it.
We got some for Christmas, and I'm sold. It takes a little work getting used to using it, because the little ones have to warm it first before it can be molded, but once they learn that, it's wonderful. The best part is that it NEVER DRIES OUT! That's a really big one, because how much modeling clay gets wasted because it wasn't closed up?!? As long as it isn't dropped in the dirt, it can last indefinitely. Any figures the kiddos want to keep can be kept for as long as they like and then remolded when they are ready to do something new with it. It's also great for teaching beginning readers the shapes of their letters. Instead of always making them write, they can roll out the beeswax and form it into letters {especially helpful for those showing signs of dyslexia}.

Play dough ~ I usually make my own play dough, because we can't buy it here, play dough dries out when left open{see beeswax above}, and in the tropics, play dough molds. Yep, it's nasty.
I've tried lots of recipes, but this one is my favorite. I use lavender essential oil in mine, and it smells lovely, plus lavender is supposed to keep one calm.....and when there is play dough everywhere, anything that might help me stay calm is a good thing. I do store mine in the fridge, because again, this is the tropics!

And last, for those of you with bigger kids struggling with multiplication....
Waldorf Multiplication Stars.
We found these are extremely helpful for my picture thinker/dyslexic. They help her to see the patterns in her mind better than just lists of facts.
If you've got a child who struggles with memorizing through flash cards and drills, these may be a help. They don't give the answers, but do allow the child to self-correct as they practice.
Here is a youtube video explaining how to use them.

What about you? Do you have anything new you've found to keep your little ones busy and your big ones learning? If so, please share!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

For the Days When You Need to Overlook the Thorns to See the Beauty...

We've been blessed to live in the same flat for the last nine years.
For all nine of those years, I've had a beautiful bougainvillea bush in front of my house.
It is always lush and green, and it sprays magenta flowers everywhere several times a year.
But as much as I love vases of cut flowers in my house, I've never used them until this January.

As lovely as the blossoms and greenery are, these plants carry thorns.
The stems grow thick and woody and have sharp, hooked thorns hiding near almost every leaf.
Until now, having the beauty of these flowers in my home wasn't worth the prick of those thorns.

Sadly, there are days when I've missed out on a lot more than flowers because I didn't want to deal with the "thorns" many beautiful things seemed to bring with them.
There are days I've ignored what my children wanted to do, because of the mess it would create for me.
There are times I've not started up a conversation, because I was afraid I might stumble in my second language.
There are moments with my husband I've not savored, because I was too busy crossing things off my endless to-do list.

Yes, I've protected myself from pokes and pricks.
But every time I've avoided the jab, I've also missed out on enriching, fulfilling, lovely things; things that could have added to my life.

Most good things come with a few built-in prickles.
As wise King Solomon put it,
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. Proverbs 14:4 

As I brushed past that bush weighed down with flowers for the hundredth time a few weeks ago, I decided that no longer would I leave those vibrant blossoms outside.
I grabbed my kitchen shears and began to cut.
I started with just two.
I clipped very carefully, trying to avoid all scrapes.
I missed one small thorn, and as I slid the stem into the bud vase, I scratched my finger.
In a moment the sting was gone.

Two days later, I clipped a few more stems.
I got a few more pricks as I plucked off extra leaves, but nothing too painful.
Since that time, I've added more stalks every time I've gone to replenish the flower jar.

This morning my arms were full of the bounty of that bush.
The thorns didn't hurt anymore.
In my quest for adding beauty to my home, I was no longer bothered by the barbs.
The outcome far outweighed the minute pain it took to achieve it.
Oh, that I could remember how blessed my life can be when I'm willing to overlook a few thorns.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

For the Days When You're Dry....

School started Monday with all the excitement and drama that resuming school after a very long Christmas break can bring. Besides the normal concerns this teacher-mama had was the worry about the fact that my littlest is no longer taking a nap. At all. If the child sleeps for even 10 minutes during the day, she will be bouncing around until midnight. I'm sure she gets that from her father {just don't ask my mother if that is true or not, ahem}.
To say it plain-plain {as we put it here}, I was terrified.
Terrified of the stress, the discipline, the schedule, the work, the enormity of the task I was facing.
I didn't want to do it this way.
I wanted things my way.
I wanted a two year and a four year old who both still took naps.
I wanted my last born to be a calm, quiet, docile child, not the wild, loud, opinionated one that she is.

Monday morning's start was a bit rocky, but we'd gotten some special "school things" for the littler two to play with only during school. That kept them mostly out of trouble while I got started with my two big girls. We hit lunch, and Lili was getting kind of cranky. She was fussy, and whiny, and she can certainly be that way at times, but it seemed a bit more than usual. I managed to get us through a few more subjects before I sent everybody outside, but by then Lili was obviously unwell.
Daddy had to take Ella to the dentist, and I plopped a now burning hot child on my lap to see if I could figure out what was the matter.

And so we entered a much worse week than I'd originally imagined. Lili ran an incredibly high fever {that one really is her daddy's fault} with no other symptom than a headache for three full days. She was eating and drinking and all the other things she needed to be doing to let me know that her body was simply fighting something. She couldn't sleep, so I couldn't sleep. She needed comfort, so I was her comforter. Then on Wednesday, Mackay started acting crummy. She too shot a high fever, and couldn't sleep, and needed constant comfort.

We trudged through school with not a lot of that first-week-back-to-school excitement I'd hoped for.
Daddy was busy helping a missionary who is moving here find housing, and so his schedule was all out of whack. Several other odd things came up, including internet problems, washing machine clunkings, and a fellow missionary getting quite sick. As I thought the week through on Friday afternoon, I was pretty depressed.
Nothing had gone the way I wanted, and in fact, it had gone even worse than I'd imagined.

As I sat down to write tonight, I really wasn't sure what I was going to say.
But as I slipped my SD card into the computer and began to download my pictures from the week,
I caught glimpses of the little graces,
the small, seemingly insignificant things that when added together
helped me realize that God was always there.

In the midst of fevers and cranky babies, he let our lily {that hasn't bloomed for 18 months and we thought the snails had killed} bud four flowers.
He filled our bougainvillea bush to overflowing so that I simply have to fill the house with them.
He let our air conditioner get repaired quickly so that the rooms with hot babies were nice and cool, instead of hot and stuffy as they can be during our dry season.
He gave us lots of time to read picture books together, time I feel I rarely have when everyone is feeling well.
He let daddy help our missionary friend find a house, and our internet finally got fixed, and we were able to help our sick friend.
And He gave us blue skies, and calmed the dust a bit, and gave us the medicines we needed so that everyone could be healthy again.

Moment by moment, he poured those drops of blessing onto the parched earth of my soul.
He never left me hopeless.
He asked me to go through a dry time, a bit of a drought, but He never left me without enough strength to take the next step.

*If you are on Instagram, I'm now documenting life on this side of the globe, if you'd care to join!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

For the Days When You Need a Hero for Your Story....

School is starting up tomorrow, and this year is shaping up to be a busy one.
Some days the words just flow, and this writing/blogging thing is a way for me to work through all the thoughts I think, and other days I look at that blinking cursor and though my mind is full, the words can't seem to find their way from my head down into my finger tips.

I'm excited and I'm wondering and if I think too long, a bit terrified of all the Lord has in store for us, but I'm slowly learning the amazing truth that not only is He the Author of my story, but the Hero as well.

He opens the book, and pulls out the pen, and dips it in the ink, and begins to write line by line exactly how He wants this story to read. But then He doesn't leave me to solve the problems or save the day.

Yes, I may be the main character in the story of my life, but He is the Hero. He is always the One who guides, teaches, leads, and ultimately saves the day.

He writes me into the hard places, the dark places, the places that will ruin me, and then He lifts me out, gives me light, and shapes me into who He wants me to be at the end.

In some chapters He gives answers, and in some He simply leaves me with questions, but every word scrawled on the pages of my life are in some way for His honor and glory.

Though I always wish for a happily-ever-after-ending, I often forget that I'm not to the end of my story yet. So with courage that only the best Writer can put into His character, I choose to follow His script, no matter what the next chapters hold.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On Purpose, For His Glory

It's the time of year when everybody is talking about fresh starts, and their new year's resolutions, and weight loss goals, and schooling plans, and new ideas, and hoping that this year will be better than last year.
I used to be one of those amazing list writers. I was going to conquer the world!
And a few weeks in, I'd already failed on most of the list, and a few months in, I'd totally forgotten about the list, and when I found the list in October or so, I'd feel terribly guilty, and by the following January, I'd forgotten what last year had been like and had drawn up another grand list of resolutions, because THIS year was going to be THE YEAR.
One year I finally realized that this was dumb.
I then swung the opposite direction on the pendulum.
I decided that making these lists or having any goals whatsoever was pointless, so I made none.
I did manage to meet those goals by the end of December, of course.

Last year the Lord helped me swing back to a happy medium.
Not so dramatic, but a lot more doable.
I asked God to clearly show me some areas that needed change, and then give me wisdom in how to change them and the strength and fortitude to do so.
And He did.
None of them were earth-shattering things, and there weren't a lot of them, but at the end of this last year, I was able to see what a difference they had made.

As I considered this upcoming year, one phrase and one Scripture kept coming to mind ~ on purpose, for His glory.
I'm a dreamer, and I can get stuck in my head way too often....which often leads to fears and doubts, or lack of paying attention to anything going on around me, or worrying about the future.
To bring God the glory due Him in my life, I need to be engaged.
I need seeing eyes, and hearing ears, and a heart tuned to the Holy Spirit's whisperings so that no matter what I'm doing at any given time, I can be doing it on purpose for God's glory.

*I shared this picture because I felt it perfectly embodied the idea of an item with but one purpose. In this case, beauty.  If you'd like your own, they can be found here.