June 27, 2013

Road Trip, Part 5

Day 10:
I wish we had been able to plan ahead to really celebrate Ted on this day, but I confess my trip plans did not take into consideration the fact we would be away for Father's Day. :-/  But we did enjoy a wonderful day with the L family, attending Sunday school and church with them and then going out to eat for a long, leisurely dinner in the beautiful sunny weather that finally appeared! We gave Brian and Joy an Italian remembrance in appreciation for their gracious hospitality during our week in Germany.  We so enjoyed being able to fellowship with them and see how Ian and Ellie have grown in the several years it has been since our families were together.

Since we were hitting the road the next day, we didn't plan anything beyond enjoying schnitzel at a restaurant!  I finished up some laundry (so thankful Joy shared her little washer and dryer with us--we kind of took it over, LOL!) and we did our best to get as much packed as possible before bed.  We enjoyed one last evening of visiting together and probably got to bed much later than we should have.  Our kids are certainly going to miss each other, especially Ellie and Kenna, who were inseparable!

Day 11:
Road trip!  It was an estimated 9-hour drive from the L's house to Pisa, where we had booked a hotel for the next 3 nights.  It was a beautiful day for driving, which helped alleviate the stress of the loooong, two-lane roads between Germany and finally reaching the autostrade in France.  (How many hay trucks can there be, anyway?!)  We made a desperate stop for gas and potty runs, at which the only available toilet was in the back of a greasy mechanic shop--oh, joy!  Adventures in Europe!

Crossing into Switzerland was pretty exciting, even if we did have to pay 40 Swiss francs for the sticker (which is good for a year--guess we need to make a point of going back in the next 364 days or so!).  I've always wanted to drive through the Swiss Alps, and I was not disappointed.  Even though we didn't have time to stop in country, we all enjoyed the drive, and the infamous tunnels didn't slow us down at all--we had been warned that sometimes you have to wait for a green light to get through the tunnels, but we were able to keep trucking along.

By the time we reached Pisa, though, we were more than ready to stop traveling!  We were a bit alarmed at the time the GPS was telling us it was going to take to arrive at our hotel; however, we figured out that the GPS thought we had to walk a considerable distance, as the road leading back to the hotel building wasn't on the map!  It's in a nature preserve area, with horse stables (complete with loudly braying donkeys who sing not-so-sweetly even before the break of dawn) and was a beautiful, peaceful place for our family to "land" for a few days.  We unloaded the Suburban as quickly as possible into our two rooms (separated by a couple of other rooms and a stairwell; unfortunately, they were unable to get us adjoining rooms) and then headed back into town in search of food.  As we drove to the city center, it was easy to spot the famous leaning tower--so exciting!

We found a parking spot on the street right beside a diner that served cheeseburgers, to the boys' everlasting delight.  Ted and I enjoyed kebab panini while the girls chose pizza and the little boys ate remnants of everything.  We went back to the hotel and worked on settling everyone down...the rooms had no A/C, and with daylight hours stretching far past bedtime, it took awhile before Zaden at least was sound asleep enough for me to crawl into bed.  It was a fairly short night...between the stifling heat and humidity and sleeping in an unfamiliar place...and then the lovely "ass-inine" wake-up call from the donkeys, LOL!

Day 12:
Today we got to be tourists!  It was so fun...but oh, it was HOT!  The sun was merciless, but we decided the chances of us coming back to Pisa are fairly slim...the town is small (though we really did enjoy it), and when we come back to Tuscany, it will be to explore Florence more.  So, by golly, we were going to get all of the Pisa sight-seeing done in one day!  We found a nearby parking center and walked into the cathedral and tower area.

Ted got tickets for us and the older 3 kids to climb up the tower--children under 8 are not allowed, much to Kenna's chagrin.  But she was pacified when I told her she could get TWO treats!  Ted and the boys went up first; the wait really wasn't too bad, about a half-hour from the time he purchased tickets.  The girls, Lucan, and Zaden and I got ice cream and slushies and went back to the tower to wait for the hand-off.  Then Ted, Tobin, Arden, and the littles did the same thing while Charis and I went up.

The whole tower tour was only about 30 minutes long, but it seemed just the right amount of time.  I forget how many stairs there were--Ted and the kids counted, but everyone came up with different numbers!  I seem to remember 252 being one of the numbers, so I'll go with that!  It was so interesting to actually FEEL the lean as you wind your way up the the staircase.  There were two areas where you can walk around at the top, with the top being right up with the bells.

We joined the rest of the family on the ground and grabbed a simple lunch from a street vendor, then toured inside the cathedral, which was gorgeous.  From there we went to the baptistery--I've been in my share of cathedrals in Europe over the years, but I haven't ever seen a separate building for a baptistery before.  Unique!  Ted and the kids all went upstairs so they could look down...I decided I had had enough stairs for one day and stayed on the main level with the stroller and backpacks.

Ted and the kids with the baptistery in the background

See the itty bitty person in the bright blue shirt by the third column?!  That's me with the stroller!
(For more Pisa pictures, see our album here.)
By the time we had our fill of religious buildings, we were more than ready to get out of the heat.  We plodded back to the Suburban (completely omitting the standard forced perspective shots of people holding up the tower) and went back to the hotel for naps/rest time.  Zaden and I napped...Lucan may have napped, too.  Tobin and Ted relaxed in the boys' room, and the others played outside in the woods building forts.  The original plan was to rest and then head to the private beach owned by the hotel, but we learned--the the kids' dismay--that for whatever reason the clerk was unable to communicate to us in English, the beach was not accessible at that time, even though the web site had said it was open June through August.  Sigh.

So we simply...relaxed.  It was a beautiful thing to have time on our hands!  Unfortunately, the wireless access we were supposed to have worked in Ted's room but not mine, so I was unable to keep up with our blogging when I had the time and inclination to journal about our trip, ha!  But a forced internet break wasn't really a bad thing!  We ended up having dinner at the same place we had eaten the night before, but the boys were sad that they were out of cheeseburgers.  (Yeah, that never happens at fast food places in the States!  "Fast food" is VERY different over here!)

June 16, 2013

Road Trip, Part 4

Day 8:
Today we drove into France!  Just over the border, it was a much shorter distance than we drove the previous day to get to Burg Eltz.  We toured the citadel at Bitche, a magnificently built fortification that has probably been around for centuries, though the history we learned focused on the Franco-Prussian war in the late 1800s.  (Full album of pictures is here.)  We had headphones with English instruction, so as we passed certain points along the tour we could learn about the fortress, its design and construction, and events that happened there.

Shortly after we entered we came to the first of a series of video screens--we would watch a portion of a movie reenactment (with some explanation/narration interwoven within), then move on to the next part of the citadel, where the movie would continue.  It was dark, damp, and chilly, and unfortunately I would have to say that our younger members were not as impressed with the tour--they didn't have headphones, but even so, they probably would not have been able to follow what was happening with the movie!  This was just as well, as portions of the drama were quite disconcerting.  We shielded young eyes more than once!  Aside from the fact that some of the screen shots were definitely not for innocent eyes, the movie was well done and gave a thorough picture of what people were experiencing during a time of war and the role the fortress played in the surrounding area.

This portion of the tour was much longer than any of us had anticipated--at least an hour, which is quite a long time to be in what felt like a cave!  We went through all the snacks I had brought in our effort to appease the younger ones' discomfort; Zaden rode in the Ergo on Ted's chest (where he has HAPPILY spent much of our touring time, I might add), and I pushed Lucan in the stroller.  When we finally emerged into daylight, we were more than ready for lunch--and there was only one option at that point!  The gift shop/cafe offered two choices:  pizza or flamkuchen.  Ted, Charis, and I decided to try to flamkuchen, which is like a pizza but has a white sauce with ham and onions on it, and the rest of the kids got pizza.  It was all fantastic!  The weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed eating outside while the kids ran up and down the hill leading to the French flag with a nice view of the town/valley below.

After enjoying the panoramic views and puttering around some of the places on top of the fortress, we hiked back down to the parking lot and headed out for our next stop:  the Simserhof fortress, part of the Maginot line, a defensive, underground structure France put in place in anticipation of German advances.  (Pictures of this can be found here.)  This was so fascinating!  We watched an introductory movie and then got on a cable car type thing to ride through the tunnel system where men lived for months--it was the last English tour of the day, whew!  It was an ingenious idea, well designed...but unfortunately, it wasn't as successful as it could have been since the Germans simply went north and overran France through territory everyone thought was either off limits or a natural line of defense (neutral Belgium and the Ardennes forest).

About to enter the tunnel via an automated train car that used the old supply tracks.

We came home after a long but fun and educational day of tours and had an easy dinner of leftovers.  Evenings have been fairly routine as we bathe little ones, begin the "shower brigade," and have some down time to visit before turning in for the night.

Day 9:
Today's country--Luxembourg!  (Full picture album here.)  We drove about an hour and a half to get to this little country.  Only one little hitch...we found ourselves in a complete traffic jam...at a rest stop!!  What in the world?!  We just wanted to find a bathroom, and instead we found ourselves in an utter mess of vehicles!  The guys ended up turning our cars around while Joy and I walked the kids through the maze of traffic and into a huge truck stop kind of building so we could take care of business.  We hiked back to the van and Suburban, where we loaded up again, went the wrong way on a one-way entrance, and snaked back around to the freeway.  (We weren't the only ones to end up doing this, ha!)  The traffic on the freeway didn't last too long, so finally we were able to arrive at one of our stops, the American military cemetery where Gen. Patton is buried along with approximately 4,000 soldiers.  It is a beautiful place and a sobering reminder of the cost of war.

After that we went 1.5 kilometers to the German military cemetery--which stands in complete contrast to what we had seen at the American site.  Just a few observations:
  • American cemetery = bright, open area; German cemetery = back in more of a forested area, making it seem darker
  • American cemetery = well maintained, beautifully manicured grounds; German cemetery = overgrown grass and randomly growing weeds
  • American cemetery = every soldier has an individual place/cross marker, including unknown soldiers; German cemetery = each cross marked a spot for 4 bodies
  • American cemetery = respectful recognition of the unknown soldiers ("Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God"); German cemetery = stark statement ("One German soldier" or "Two German soldiers")
  • American cemetery = memorial areas with inspiring quotations, maps, descriptions of history, a separate chapel building; German cemetery = one larger central cross, no inscriptions, no chapel

Then it was on to Luxembourg City, where we enjoyed walking around the beautiful downtown area.  We had lunch at Chi-Chi's (only because we knew everyone could find something they liked to eat), saw the Duke's Palace, visited the extremely busy chocolate factory store, wandered around the path overlooking the steep ravine below, took more pictures, and finally made our way home to the L's house.

Whew!  Three countries in two days!  It has been SO fun, but we are also thankful today is Sunday, a day of rest and church!  And happy Father's Day to the wonderful dads in my life!

June 15, 2013

Road Trip, Part 3

Day 6:
Today was Eliana's birthday, so Joy had planned for us to celebrate by going to a fun place called Yabadoo starting around 10:00.  There were a number of homeschool families from their Classical Conversations group, so lots of kids running around at a place similar to Pump It Up or something like that--an indoor mega play place that would never pass U.S. OSHA standards, LOL!  It was so nice to have the place to ourselves; it opened to the public at 2:00, and we stayed the entire time.  The lunch food was quite good, and we were amazed at how the kids just kept going...and going...and going!  We had naps in the afternoon and a special birthday dinner for Eliana (with more cake!).

The pictures from Yabadoo didn't turn out great because of all the action and the not-so-perfect lighting, but if you want an idea of what the place was like, you can check out this album.

Day 7:
Today we hit the road--for a little while--for some more sight-seeing adventures!  Brian picked out a great place for us to visit, Rick Steves' favorite castle in all of Europe:  Burg Eltz.  It was about a two-hour drive, which wasn't bad since we did a kid shuffle and let the little girls ride together while watching Ellie's princess movie that she got for her birthday and the big kids watch Cars 2 in our Suburban.

This amazing castle is extremely well-preserved and nestled in a beautiful yet secluded location, which helped it survive intact over 800 years despite being in an often war-torn region.  It has been in the same family for 33 generations, and they still own and use parts of it today while obviously allowing tourists to enjoy it as well.  It looks like a fairy tale castle!  We began the tour in the entryway decorated with arms and armor.  I WISH we had been allowed to take pictures inside!  Just incredible what all has been preserved!  Paintings dating back hundreds of years; original woodwork; toilets that flushed using rainwater drainage systems; original stained glass; these things and more allowed us a realistic glimpse of what life was like for the occupants who lived there over the centuries.  You can putter around on the link above (assuming your browser will translate for you if you don't speak German!) for more information, and for our complete picture album, you can go here.

We had a good lunch of brats, fries, potato salad, and pea soup at one of the castle cafes before our tour, then did the guided part of the tour minus Brian when the tour guide noticed he was wearing a backpack with their dog Bella inside...the guide was not impressed with that!  So Brian waited outside with Bella while we toured, and then the kids enjoyed climbing around the castle with Bella while Brian did the tour.  There was a self-guided walk through the treasury--again, centuries of history and art beautifully preserved!  We finished off with a round of ice cream before heading home, opting to order pizza and have a movie night since the weather wasn't cooperating when we got to the town where Brian and Joy had wanted us to have dinner.  We had some tuckered out kiddos, though, so it was best we went home anyway...had to rest up for more adventures the next day!

View of the castle from the pathway leading down from the parking lot.

Tobin, Ian (holding Bella), Kenna, and Joy

Arden, Tobin, and Lucan, demonstrating how short some of the doorways were!

Tobin, Lucan, Kenna, and Eliana

And the gratuitous forced perspective shot!

Eager to go exploring!

June 14, 2013

Road Trip, Part 2

Day 3:
I had been looking forward to this day for a long time!  Ever since Ted and I got a 3D puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle to put together our first year of married life, I've wanted to see this intriguing place.  When we learned we were moving to Italy, one of the places we immediately decided to plan to visit was this castle.  And then, bonus, it was featured in a recent season of The Amazing Race, which we have been watching with the older kids for a couple of years now, so they were familiar with it as well.

Our tour didn't begin until 11am, which was helpful, since we didn't have a wonderful night of sleep and weren't able to get a terribly early start.  It was only about a 45-minute drive from our apartment (a very scenic drive, I might add!), but we did have to pick up our tickets by 9:55 and then hike almost 2 km up the mountain to the castle.  We had Zaden in the stroller (which gave me something to lean on as we went up the steep hill), and everyone else walked.  Of course there were many comments from the kids expressing longing to ride the horse carriages that passed us every so often, but overall, they marched without a whole lot of complaining.  It helped that we weren't in a huge hurry, and their pregnant mama couldn't go that fast, either!  Along the way we met up with some Chinese tourists who were first captivated by Zaden's big, bright eyes...and then amazed when they realized that he was one of SIX children in our family.  And then to see my pregnant belly, well, that about sent them over the edge, LOL.  We posed for pictures several times, the bonus being that we were able to hand our camera over and get a family picture of all of us!

We arrived at the tour waiting area in plenty of time, so we treated ourselves to some Bavarian cookies with red currants (yum!) while we waited.  Lucan was very distressed that we couldn't go IMMEDIATELY into the castle!  But the cookie distracted him for awhile, LOL.  Finally it was our turn.  We checked the stroller in and herded in with the other English-speaking tourists for our tour, which lasted approximately 35 minutes.

If you aren't familiar with Neuschwanstein Castle, I'll give you a few interesting highlights, and you can check out the link for more info.

  • It opened to the public only 7 weeks after the death of King Ludwig II in 1886.  
  • Work on the castle began in 1868; it wasn't even completed when the king died.
  • Though the style was a romanticized version of the medieval period, the castle was equipped with very modern technology, to include automatically flushing toilets, running water, and central air heating.
  • The king only lived in the castle 172 days before his death, which happened under "mysterious circumstances" since he died at the same time as the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane...

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but it was definitely well worth the time and effort to tour it!  So amazing!  (For more pictures, see this album.)  It even includes an artificial cave--why, I don't know, but there it was, one of the passageways on the tour!  The kids really enjoyed the experience, but when all was said and done, we were more than ready for lunch, so we made our way back down to the village and enjoyed some brats, pretzels and fries before heading out to our next adventure--riding the Alpine Slide not too far away from the castle!

Zaden fell asleep during the short ride to the slide, so Ted and I took turns with the kids.  Kenna and Lucan had to go down with someone bigger, so Mom, Dad, Charis, and Arden took turns with the younger ones.  Ted and I only went down once each, I think, but I'm so glad I at least did that--I almost declined because of my big belly in favor of letting Ted go again, but it looked so fun!  And it was!

There was a pretty nice playground, too, so the kids ran around and enjoyed that for awhile before we decided to head out.  After a brief scare during which we frantically ran around yelling for Kenna, we found that she was waiting by the Suburban, since she had looked up while on the swings, didn't see either of us, and immediately headed to the car.  (Ted had gone to the bathroom, and I had walked to tell the older kids we were leaving--I had told her the same thing, and I thought she had looked at me as I was calling to her, but somehow she missed that!)  As soon as we got in and buckled up, it began raining.  We had prayed for God to favor us with good weather, and He certainly did!  It rained all the way back to our apartment, where we enjoyed relaxing and napping and playing until polishing off leftovers for dinner and calling it a day.  

All in all, a very, very memorable day for all of us!

Day 4:
Not nearly as exciting as Day 3, LOL.  We cleaned up and left our apartment at a fairly reasonable hour, feeling thankful for a much better night of sleep.  Our drive was much less stressful for Ted than going TO the apartment for the first time, since we gradually left the Alps behind.  It did rain during the first part of our drive, but it started to clear up as we approached our friends Brian and Joy's house near Ramstein AB in Germany.  

Our timing wasn't the best, since Joy had to take their son Ian to an appointment right about the time we were getting close, but we just headed onto the air base so I could get a few things from the BX--holy cow, it's like the Mecca of shopping!  After being in Naples, well, let's just say this is the high end of the overseas military facilities, LOL!  Charis and I wandered around quite awhile looking for the things we needed, and then we went to the McDonald's in town where Joy had said to meet her.  We never really got lunch--we thought we'd stop along the way, but there really weren't any places to stop around the lunch hour, so we just kept munching snacks.  So we had a late lunch while we waited for Joy and the kids to finish up, and then we headed to the L's house to unload and relax!

It was so wonderful to catch up!  Brian returned from work and we had a yummy enchilada dinner.  Ian is almost 13 now, just a couple of months older than Charis, and our older kids immediately found things to occupy themselves while Kenna and Eliana (who turned 6 just a couple of days after we arrived) immersed themselves in a pink fluffy cloud of Barbies, stuffed animals, and other little girl bits of happiness.

Day 5:
Kind of a down day for us, but a very welcome one!  Joy and I chatted the whole day away--such a blessing to have friends that you can just pick up from where you left off!  Ted went with Brian to work...the two of them donated blood before coming home for lunch, and then they went off again, Ted in hopes of meeting with his NATO counterpart here in Germany and Brian to attend a retirement ceremony.  The kids played the day away, and we just enjoyed hanging out.

We attended Ian's baseball game in the evening, taking along a picnic dinner and watching Ian's last game of the season (unfortunately, they lost in this single-elimination tournament). 

June 13, 2013

Road Trip, Part 1

So we left on Friday, June 7, for our first European travel adventure!  For all the pictures from our first couple of days, see this album.

Day 1:
Travel.  About 6.5 hours of driving to Verona, where we stayed in a pretty nice hotel (two rooms--Ted, Tobin, and Arden in a triple, all with twin beds, and the rest of us in a quad with Zaden in a "crib").  All we really had time or energy for that evening was walking to a pizzeria for dinner.  We should have just gone out on the town, since Zaden had NO intention of settling down for quite some time...sigh...

Day 2:
We drove about 100 miles to the beautiful city of Bolzano, Italy, home to the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum, where Otzi the Iceman's mummified remains are kept.  Otzi is quite a fascinating story!  We got to see the mummy himself as well as the carefully preserved pieces of clothing, backpack, and tools found with him.  The dude is over 5,000 years old!  It's amazing what scientists have been able to piece together about him, and some of the theories have even changed a bit as technology improves.  (He was found in 1991, and teams of researchers from around the world have done a lot of study on him, as you can imagine.)  The town of Bolzano is gorgeous, and it was a nice, sunny day, so we enjoyed walking around and eating gelato before getting back into the Suburban to hit the road.

The next part of the drive took us into Austria and the Alps--oh!  A dream come true!  I've always wanted to drive through the Alps, but not necessarily in winter, LOL!  The scenery was incredible, as expected, though the drive was a bit harrowing for Ted in our Suburban.  Of course he did great, and we arrived at our apartment location a little after 5pm.  The apartment was part of a ranch/stable area that offers riding lessons and various options for horseback riding, which we weren't able to take advantage of, much to the girls' chagrin.  But it was a beautiful location, and we got a good deal on it, plus had the opportunity to make our own meals, which helped us save some money.

We spent two nights there--the first night was kind of a nightmare start, with Zaden absolutely WIRED.  We had requested a crib, but there wasn't any...we attempted to put Zaden in a lower bunk bed (there were 3 bunk beds in the room adjoining Ted's and my room), but Zaden was obviously not ready for that.  We ended up putting the little cushion from the love seat on the floor beside my side of the bed, and he fell asleep with me rubbing his back and holding his head down so he couldn't pop up!  Whew!  FINALLY everyone got to sleep!

June 12, 2013

R&B Month Wrap-Up

Confession time: We finished Rice & Beans month meals two days early so that we could leave on our much-anticipated family vacation, our first road trip since moving to Europe!  Nevertheless, I feel we accomplished a good thing as a family, and before I begin recording our family adventures on the road, I wanted to take time to process a few of the lessons we've learned...or at least, a few things that have been on my mind personally throughout this experience.

Two years ago our family began a 9-10 month period following the GAPS diet.  It was something Ted and I both felt that God wanted us to do--even though physically speaking, we didn't have any particular need (though we were initially trying it to see if it would help with the boys' allergy/asthma symptoms).  We read and read and read some more, trying to make sense of various conflicting theories about what foods are and aren't healthy for us.  (Wheat?  No wheat?  Soaked and sprouted wheat?)  Our GAPS journey is a "whole 'nother story," as some might say, but I feel our experience with GAPS eating is an important backdrop to the whole food issue of Rice & Beans month.

Rice, especially white rice, has not received great press in the health food world lately.  But it's cheap--at least where we are.  (Did you know some folks in parts of the world can't afford rice and it is actually a luxury?)  I confess I struggled quite a bit with how much rice we would be consuming during our 4-week R&B diet.  We've resumed eating rice, pasta, and other grains following our GAPS stint, but it has been pretty sparing.  So I wasn't sure what to think about all this.

But you know what?  I did what I could with what I had.  I soaked and rinsed our rice, then cooked it (usually in bulk a couple of times a week), ate it, and thanked God for it.  I set aside the prejudices I had against this particular food in favor of pursuing something more far-reaching.

So my thought on the FOOD part of Rice & Beans month is this: we over think this issue waaaaaaay too much.  We have SO much variety and access to SO many good, healthy options (yes, and many unhealthy options too!) that we often become paralyzed by and obsessed with our choices.  Do I believe we need to practice good nutrition habits?  Of course.  And sure, it helps to read and stay informed.  But the food people of the world change their recommendations every decade, if not more frequently.  So I'm not going to get too spun up about what the latest health craze is.  I will feed my family, making the best decisions I can depending on our location at the time, and we will thank God for whatever it is we eat, trusting that we can glorify Him whether we are consuming a mound of white rice or a hill of vegetables.

One thing about our meal plan over the past month...it didn't involve any pre-packaged food options!  I confess I've fallen into the habit of having some frozen meals on hand and prepared sauces for "those" days when we are running around and/or I'm just too spent to cook from scratch.  Those weren't an option for us, because I know they are budget-busters.  I bought dried beans (mostly--I did have to use some canned black beans, but only because the commissary doesn't carry plain dried black beans), soaked and cooked them in bulk, and then put them in containers in the fridge or freezer.  I made sure we had homemade bread for lunch sandwiches.  I made soup.  I made flatbread.  I made hummus.  I made pita pockets.  I washed, peeled, and chopped veggies.

I spent a LOT of time in the kitchen.

And while I was mixing, peeling, or chopping, I had a lot of time to think.  Using prepared foods CAN be a great time-saver.  But...what do I do with the time I save?  Do I invest that into God's kingdom purposes?  One of our goals for R&B month was to see a savings in our grocery budget, which we will then share with our friends at Lahash to use to help care for God's children who are in need.  Saving money to give away is a pretty tangible result of R&B month.  Saving time to give away...well, it's harder to measure, for one thing, but I had to realize that on the days I have "easy" meals...let's be honest.  That extra time is usually spent on ME!  It's been a long day; I'm too tired to cook; so obviously I'll pop in this frozen dinner so I can sit down and put my feet up and spend some "quality time" online!

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that.  I think busy wives and moms need some quick and easy meal options in our hectic world.  But I was convicted about being more purposeful in the way I spend my time...just as I was being purposeful about choosing the least expensive meal options so that we could cut back on our grocery spending.

I have to be honest...there weren't too many times I felt THAT deprived during R&B month!  We found some great recipes (a couple of duds, too, but we managed), and there was always plenty to eat.  We did cut way back on the times we allowed ourselves snacks, and post-dinner eating was pretty much non-existent.  So...ok, I did miss cookies and desserts!  And there were some afternoons that I really, REALLY wanted a snack...but since I had to start cooking earlier than usual, I often found that keeping busy (while drinking incredible amounts of water) helped keep my mind off my tummy rumblings.

Having some celebration meals probably helped with not feeling deprived, but I also thought a lot about how much we DO have.  I have an indoor stove!  I have an oven!  I have a refrigerator!  (Two, actually.)  I have lots of freezer space!  I have a microwave!  I have running water!  I have plenty of kitchen utensils!  I have lots of table space for my family to sit around!

Where's the sacrifice in THAT?!  If I REALLY want to identify with the way folks in other parts of the world live, well, I think a lot more would have to change than simply our food choices.

As I mentioned in a previous post, despite all our blessings, we, like the children of Israel, did some grumbling.

And so the final lesson I'll share here is an ongoing one.  We are learning to offer a true sacrifice of praise, learning to be living sacrifices.  Praising God when we feel like complaining...giving Him glory when we're grumpy...choosing to love the ones around us even when they are driving us up the wall...these things may seem little, but really, such actions are indeed sacrifices!  In order to fully pursue Christ, we sacrifice our earthly, fleshly desires and tendencies, nailing them to the cross, begging for God's mercy to make us more like Jesus.  The exposure of ugly attitudes beneath a veneer of self-righteousness is a painful one, but it, too, is a sacrifice...one that leads to repentance and transformation when we are willing to humble ourselves before a God who gave the Ultimate Sacrifice for us.

So.  R&B month for us is officially over for 2013.  Will we do it again in 2014?  Our current plan is YES!  When all was said and done, the kids agreed that it wasn't so bad after all, and there were parts they actually kind of liked!  Lord willing, we will join with the larger Rice & Beans community during the month of March and enjoy sharing the experience with folks across the world who are doing this together.

Now for the exciting part.  This to me was pretty unbelievable...although our numbers may be a bit skewed since we didn't actually purchase R&B groceries for a FULL month.  Plus, leaving for vacation at the end of our experience meant that I also made an effort to simply use up what we had in the fridge, meaning I spent much less on groceries our final week than I may have otherwise.

But still.

Our total savings on groceries and eating out (or not) for the month...

...Our total savings that we get to share with our friends at Lahash...

...Drum roll, please...


How exciting is that?!  One final lesson, I guess I should add here, is that obviously I can be more diligent about cutting back a bit more regularly on the grocery/restaurant part of our budget!

To God be the glory!

June 01, 2013

This Attitude Brought to You by...Rice & Beans Month

So we are at the 3/4 mark of our own family adventure with R&B Month.  While I doubt we've been as stringent as we probably could be, I'd like to think it's been a good learning experience overall.  Arden has discovered (to his great delight) that he really, really enjoys R&B recipes.  (Only one has been a bit of a dud for him, and truthfully, the rest of us weren't that impressed either.  Oh, Caribbean Black Beans, you sounded so good in the recipe book!)  Even Zaden has eaten many a dish with gusto, leaving starchy rice trails on his booster chair and smearing beans in his hair when his tummy is full.  Charis is proving that a growth spurt is surely on the way as she scarfs down three tortillas stuffed with whatever the day's concoction happens to be.  As for the others...well, while some dishes are well received, let's just say we are thankful that we nearly always have carrots and Ranch dip and/or apples and peanut butter on hand.

But Rice & Beans Month is about much more than the food.  And this is where it gets...interesting.

I would love to tell you that we gather as a family each night around the table or in the family room, reading our daily devotional from A Common Meal, praying for people around the world and making altruistic advances as we are overcome with gratitude for our blessings and the realization that so many needs are all around us.

But that would be a lie.

Our R&B devotional times are hit and miss...we can only pray that we "hit" the ones that God doesn't want us to miss.

Our tummies grumble throughout the day.  Oh, we're not even close to starving, even though it sounds like it from the whining echoing through the house (or car).  We've consciously tried to limit snacks, reminding the kids to "fill up" at meal time, and invariably the parental lecturing gene will kick in as we remind the kids that we enjoy 3 meals a day while others can't count on even 1 or 2 meals a day, let alone snacks.  And the words bounce off their pouty lips and glazed eyes, seemingly unheeded as a child reiterates, "But I'm HUNGRY!"

Our lack of thankfulness is appalling, given that we come face to face DAILY with blatant reminders of the abundance, even excess, that we enjoy/take for granted in so many ways.  And here my finger points at myself as much as or even more than at my offspring--instead of being grateful that my needs are constantly met, I focus on what petty little issue is bothering me at the moment.  (In case you were wondering, it currently happens to be the 16 or so mosquito bites on my face and neck.)

And the ATTITUDES!  Ouch.  A few nights ago our family dinner time involved one of the children sulking upstairs while the parents angrily stabbed their bites of food, barely concentrating on what the other children were discussing around the table as we tried to calm down and figure out how to deal with said sulker.  Thank the Lord for intervening--before we finished eating, a tearful apology was given and gratefully accepted, paving the way for some teaching moments.

Such moments come more frequently, I'm learning, when we are completely out of our comfort zone.  Let's face it, being hungry often leads to being crabby.  Even though we are conscious of the fact that food WILL be forthcoming, sibling arguments happen alarmingly close to the dinner hour.  It has not been uncommon for me to hear yelling and doors slamming right when I'm trying to put a new recipe together for the evening meal.  We've dealt with a level of disrespect and anger towards one another that is amazingly escalated--frankly, it's ugly.  It grieves my heart, because not only do I deal with it in the children, but also within myself.

I'm reminded that we wrestle NOT against flesh and blood.

We may be feeling hungry physically; we may be tired of a more simple diet.  We may be frustrated that friends around us are eating snacks and treats while we say, "No, thanks."

But that isn't the reason we struggle and strive against one another.  At least, I have become convinced that it's not.  While I can't prove this is the case, I am quite sure that our enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion, and we've inadvertently issued him a battle invitation:

Because we are deliberately choosing a period of denying self to follow Christ more closely.
Because we are doing something counter to what the world says is normal.
Because we have eternity in our hearts and desire to purge more of the temporal from our "must have" list.

Luke 4 says that Jesus was led into the wilderness, where for 40 days He was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing for those 40 days, and at the end of them, "He was hungry."  (I'm guessing that is one of the biggest understatements in the Bible.)

Note that Satan didn't wait for those 40 days to conclude before he tempted Jesus...no, the temptations were going on the whole time.  And I'm willing to bet that the hunger pangs didn't wait 40 days to kick in, either.  I'm pretty sure Jesus felt those the whole time, too.  But in a time of extreme vulnerability, Jesus never sinned.  Never sulked. Never complained.  Never lashed out.

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:15-16

My family and I are not starving in the wilderness, but we DO face temptation every day--as all people do, whether our bellies are full or not.  During this particular season as we experience R&B month, we find ourselves more acutely aware of the spiritual struggle that is ever present.  And while the teaching moments that "hit" may be less frequent than the ones that "miss," by God's mercy and grace, we ARE learning.  We ARE growing.  We ARE maturing.

Even while our stomachs are growling...no, especially while they're growling! :-)