We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Remembering 2008

I love New Year's. I love looking back on a whole year's worth of adventures and remembering what an amazing ride it's been. And I love looking ahead at a blank slate of a new year and wondering what surprises are in store. I love the feel of a fresh start, and the chance to reflect and make deliberate choices that will affect my life and the lives around me this year.

One of my favorite things to do around this time is to talk through the last year and list the major events that we can remember from each month. We've been doing that as a family over the last few days. This year, we thought we'd share our list with you. If you've been reading our blog all year, then you'll be able to remember right along with us. If not, then this will give you a little glimpse into what 2008 has been like for us. It's been a great one!

(Hint: You can click on the words in yellow to see the original blog post about each event, or click on the name of the month to see all the posts from that month.)

Here goes:
January started off with a bang, as we finished up a wonderful visit to the states for Christmas and New Year's. We had a blast catching up with lots of friends and family members, eating way too much of the foods we can't get here, and making countless trips to Wal-Mart.

February's highlight was our Nile Cruise! It was such a treat to get to see so many famous, historical sites--not to mention just relaxing as we cruised up and down the river. And, of course, it didn't hurt that it was all FREE!

March was a month full of activity. The first milestone was
getting a car. After two-plus years of riding in taxis, a brand new car was an incredible blessing. It still is!

The second highlight was Easter. We had a great day
with lots of wonderful friends.

And finally, at the end of the month, we had a fun visit from lots of old friends, including Ross Sawyers, after whom Sawyer is named. Introducing them to one another was a treat.

After March's whirlwind of activity, things slowed down some in April. The temps warmed up and we enjoyed some beautiful sunny days on our back porch. At the end of the month, I headed off on a ladies' trip for a few days and Daddy assumed both Mommy and Daddy duties. For an entertaining read, check out his posts from while I was gone here, here, and here.

In May we celebrated Sawyer's second birthday and took a little family vacation to the beach.

In June we celebrated another birthday, as our little Lee Anna Belle turned four!

To fight the summer heat, we headed back out to our favorite beach spot, this time with some friends. That cool water was just the thing to take the edge off of the intense desert sun.

August was another quiet month. We stayed inside in the air conditioning as much as possible, and I celebrated my 29th birthday. We also looked forward to Mimi & Papaw's visit coming up at the beginning of September.

In September, we welcomed Mimi & Papaw back to Africa and took yet another beach vacation, this time to a different destination. The kids enjoyed their week of being spoiled, and Jason and I enjoyed the beautiful snorkeling!

October was Big News Month, as we learned that we would be welcoming a new ArabMusician into our family next summer. We had fun surprising our parents with the big news, not to mention watching Lee Anna's reaction.


November's highlights all came sandwiched together at the end of the month, including a delightful Thanksgiving Day, our first day of Christmas decorating, and an amazing first peek at Baby #3.


And that brings us to December. It's been a fun-filled, joy-filled, memory-filled month of celebrating the most wonderful gift we've ever been given. Click on the word December above or just scroll down to see the many posts from this month.

Thanks for joining us on this walk down memory lane. We're so grateful to be able to share our journey with all of you, and we're looking forward to the adventures we'll be able to share in 2009.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Play Day

As if the Eid and Christmas weren't enough for us in the month of December, today was yet another national holiday here. This is the first day of the new year on the Muslim calendar, so everyone is off of work today for New Year's. Of course, they'll be off again on Thursday to ring in the other New Year, and then we'll have six whole days before the Coptic Christmas holiday on January 7. We just don't ever stop celebrating around here!

The weather was gorgeous today, so we invited a friend and her two daughters to go with us to the park. When I talked to her last night, she told me that she thought we should go soon after we wake up, so that it wouldn't get too cold while we were there (note: the low today was 52!). I told her to just call me when they were up, and we could make more definite plans. Well...at 1:00 p.m., our phone finally rang! In true local style, this family usually stays up until 4 or 5 in the morning and then sleeps until around noon. We agreed to meet at 2, and had a lovely afternoon at the park. Here are a few shots of the kids having fun.

Isn't she a cutie?
The sun was setting as we walked to our car, and it made for a breathtaking view as we walked over this hill that's higher than most of the city. It was a rare clear day today, and it felt like we could see forever. We all stopped to have a look.

We hope you're all having as much fun as we are in these last few days of 2008.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Cheer

We hope you all had as wonderful a Christmas Day as we did. We had a great day of celebrating, first as a family and then with some dear friends.The living room was a certified disaster area by the time we were done opening presents. The kids were thrilled with all of their new treasures. I love how they're sitting right in the middle of the chaos, so engrossed in their new gifts that they're totally oblivious to the mess.
Here's Lee Anna with one of her many "favorite" gifts. Her new baby has already been on two across-town trips with us, taken too many naps and had too many bottle-feedings to count, and worn each of her three outfits many times. She was so excited about their matching pajamas.

And Sawyer is having a blast with his new train, as well as all his other new toys. It's fun seeing all the "little boy things" he's into now.

And, as I mentioned, we also spent Christmas afternoon with some friends. I don't have any pictures, but we got to take a local family who are our good friends to dinner for Christmas. Of course it's not a holiday here, so we had to wait until their son got out of school first. Then we met them at the mall and took them to On the Border for their very first Mexican food! They made us order for everyone, since they had no idea what to get. We think they enjoyed it. At least they acted like it!

So we had enchiladas for Christmas dinner. It wasn't exactly your traditional Christmas fare, but hey, we don't exactly lead the most traditional life! It was a perfect day for our family. We hope you also had a wonderful day celebrating the greatest gift we've ever received—no matter where you are, or what you ate!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours!
May all your celebrations be Son-centered and joy-filled!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Date With Dad

About a week ago, Lee Anna got to take her Daddy out on a little Christmas date. A church near us was performing a Christmas program (in English!), and we knew she would enjoy seeing all the characters we've been talking about so much all month. We were hoping to all go, but Mom & Sawyer just weren't up to it. It turned out to be a fun night for the two of them, though.

The program was great, and Lee Anna recognized all the shepherds and angels and wise men. The wise men were easy to spot because they were riding on REAL LIVE CAMELS! Three real camels came parading right up to the front of the stage! That's something we never did when we were in charge of these kinds of programs. However, where we come from, live camels weren't quite as available as they are here.
It was a fun night for dad & daughter, and brought back more than a few memories for a certain former Christmas-program-putter-together.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Under the Weather

Where have we been, you ask? Well, here's a little sampling of what's been keeping us busy for the last week. I have wiped more noses, taken more temperatures, and given (and taken) more meds than I can count. We have all been hit by some illness or another, but we're so grateful to be in a place where we can get the medications we need. I am very hopeful that after another day or two of fighting these infections, we'll be feeling much better. I'm actually feeling a little better already, which is why I'm here at all. Hopefully I'll be back before too long with some more exciting blog entries.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Little More Christmas Cheer

I thought I'd share a little more from our house this Christmas, including some old and new traditions.In the photo above, if you look closely behind the wooden nativity scene, you can see a new addition to our Christmas traditions this year (click on the picture for a larger view). This beautiful advent wreath is made of iron and alabaster and is crafted by local artisans. Each night, when we sit down by the tree to talk about the Christmas story, we light the candle or candles, depending on which week it is. I know that traditionally you just light advent candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, but we've decided to make it an every night thing. The kids gets so excited on Sundays when we get to add a new candle.
This isn't really a tradition, but I did want you to see the cute little tree we set up in the kids' room. They loved decorating it themselves, and they love seeing it lit up.
And this isn't a tradition, either, but since most of you can't drop by to visit us this season, I wanted you to see our decorations. These pretty glass ornaments, also locally made, are hanging by our front door, where the name letters had been previously hanging.

And, last but not least, our oldest family Christmas tradition, dating back three whole years—the Christmas Countdown Chain! We make the paper chain together, and then every night someone gets to tear off one link. When the chain runs out, it will be Christmas!

So that's a little taste of Christmas at our house. It is such a joy to get to share this amazing story with our kids. This year Lee Anna is working on memorizing part of the Christmas story, and she has been able to retell big chunks of the story to us in our family times each night. Sawyer is beginning to understand who the characters are, and will quickly point out the shepherds or the angels or the kings to us. Their little minds are soaking it all in, and I love it!

I hope you're enjoying the Christmas season, whatever age you are and whatever continent you may be on!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Maybe He Should Be Singing To Us!

The kids wanted to wish their Uncle Gary a happy birthday, so they made this little video for him. I think they sing pretty well, but they're not the ones with a real live CD for sale on Itunes. That would be Uncle Gary himself! If you haven't heard any of the songs from Gary Fields' new album, Sounds About Right, you should check it out. Even if you have heard them, you should still check it out, because it's just pretty cool that my little brother has a CD for sale on Itunes!

And here he is back before he became such a big shot!

You've come a long way, little brother! Happy Birthday!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Happy Sheep

Look closely into the eyes of the sheep below. If you listen hard enough, you might even hear an audible sigh of relief. They are counting their sheep blessings tonight to still be bleating.
Today was the biggest holiday of the year for the people here. They get up early, go to morning prayers, and then each family that is able slaughters an animal. For weeks leading up to the big day, the sheep are herded into the city to await their fate.
But these guys seem to have dodged the bullet, at least for now. When we took a walk late this afternoon, they were still standing. The guys taking care of them invited Sawyer over to pet one for a little bit. Of course then they wanted a tip for the privilege of photographing our son with their beautiful animals.
On the same outing, we stopped for a snack and thought this would be a good time to show you our country's alternative to Seven Eleven. These little "kushks" are EVERYWHERE, with a man or two sitting inside selling all the goods. They have all kinds of soft drinks, juice boxes, potato chips, candy bars, and lots of other snacks.

We do also have some gas stations in town, but since the vast majority of people don't have cars, it's much more profitable to sell drinks and snacks to people where they are—on the streets.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

One of My Favorite Christmas Sights

As a little girl I spent hours upon hours arranging and rearranging the characters in our nativity set, so I get as excited as the kids do when it's time to pull these out each year.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

So What Do Parents Really Do, Anyway?

We got a little insight into how Lee Anna sees our world this week. She and I were listening to some Christmas music one day when a sweet song came on about a boy who doesn't have a mom or dad and, more than anything else, would really like a family for Christmas.

I seized the teachable moment, taking the opportunity to explain to Lee Anna a little bit about orphans. I told her that some children don't have a mom or dad, and they usually live in a special home just for kids without parents.

She thought about this for a minute, and then said, "So I guess those kids have to look at their own computers."

A little puzzled by her response, I asked her what she meant.

"You know, like to see if they have email...or stuff like that."

And then it dawned on me. Her little mind's first response to the question "What do moms and dads do?" was "They look at their computers."

I think the reasoning probably went something like this: Since my parents do it SO MUCH, I guess email and that other computer stuff they do must be really, really important. Apparently everybody has to do it. I mean, why else would my parents be doing it ALL THE TIME? So if a kid didn't have parents to do it for him like my parents do, he would have to do it for himself.

In our defense, I feel compelled to point out that we do feed, dress, bathe, teach, play with, cook with, read to, sing with, talk to, color with, laugh with, and snuggle with our kids regularly. But I will admit that it's possible, just possible, that maybe occasionally we spend too much time sitting behind these silly desks. A gentle reminder that there is life to be lived away from these machines is probably quite well-deserved.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go check my email.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Getting in the Spirit

The day after Thanksgiving, we pulled out our Christmas decorations and got started decking our halls! I'll mostly just let these pictures show you how much fun we (or the kids, really, since they're the ones in the photos!) had, with an occasional comment or two.After three years, I'm still getting used to the whole artificial tree thing. This year, we had a lovely pine-scented candle burning so we could at least pretend that there was a real evergreen in our house.
Here's something we never had to do growing up—fluff the tree before decorating.
Fluffed, skirted and ready for the fun part!

About 80% of the ornaments ended up at the kids' eye-level—can't imagine how that happened! Except the glass ones, that is. One hundred percent of those are at the top of the tree, out of the reach of any mischievous little elves.

This is the closest thing to a finished pic I have so far. We also added red and silver beads to the tree after this one was taken. I love having a Christmasy house! Now we're just waiting for it to get cold outside!