Monday, December 21, 2015

Thanks Giving Letter (aka Christmas Letter)

Dear Family and Friends,

Here is my attempt at yet another Thanksgiving Letter. It's that time of the year where you get family updates (feel free to send me yours!). As I've said before I'm not a huge fan of listing all the achievements etc, i.e. painting a 'perfect' family picture. I can assure you that we are NOT the perfect family! 

While I don't believe in picking a 'theme' for the beginning of the year as such the following seemed to reoccur as a theme in our 2015 year. So without much further ado here is my overview/thankful letter for 2015!

The Theme that seems to reoccur throughout this year is God's faithfulness. Let me share with you some glimpses on how we have experiences God's faithfulness this year. 

  • Spring Semester for Albert - Despite the heavy work load and HUGE pressure to full fill the required amount of preaching, endless papers, exams and the dreaded oral exam, God was faithful. Not only did Albert manage to 'manage' his deadlines, he aced his oral exam (after many, many, many etc hours of study), and he took out two awards (out of four) for the senior year. I kept telling him time after time that God is faithful and that HE is not going to let you down. So while I'm not wanting to boast about Albert's excellent results (I know of other students who put in HUGE efforts and yet did not 'win' any awards), the results are 'proof' that God does not let us down despite our human doubts! 
  • Friends - I've spoken of this before but not having family overseas is not always easy. God showed His faithfulness through God's people around us. Our graduation pew burst to the seams with friends (some of who traveled a HUGE distance, in fact one of our friends came as a surprise!). Friends, Seminary Families, Church members, Home school Friends all played a huge part in our lives this year, from the little things to big things. I'm so grateful for these people in our lives, who invested in us despite knowing that we might never see them again. Only our great God is capable of 'stirring' the hearts of His people! We are so undeserving!
  • Our Vicariate (Internship) - While our human nature doesn't always like God's timing, His timing is perfect! Again grateful for the Vicariate (I know other graduates didn't know what they were doing, whereas we as members of the RCNZ were guaranteed a Vicariate!). I have very much appreciated seeing God work through the people of Hamilton Reformed church, from getting us a house, car, organizing our container in NZ to making meals. It is such a comfort to know that we didn't have to worry about any of those things! 
  • Our ladies bible study in our USA church. - We were studying a Nancy Guthrie series, "Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament". I have been so blessed by this study and have been awed by how God is faithful throughout the Old Testament. I was very sad to leave this group and the study. BUT God knows my needs and has provided two ladies (so far) to continue to study the Old Testament here in Hamilton. I highly recommend this series!
  • School Jan until May 2015 - WOW where do I start? At the beginning of this year it became clear that Albert would no longer be able to help with English (Language Arts) with the older girls. No worries, God provided a teacher (a Seminary student wife, Hi Karena!) whom we bartered with and she came weekly to help the older girls with their school work. I know the time spent was mutually encouraging to all of us! I'm also indebted to Jenni Terpstra, who encouraged me, helped me and listened to my home school woes over the years! I appreciate her dedication to homeschooling! 
  • School June - Dec 2015. Once we knew where we going to be for our Vicariate, schooling for the girls became our next priority. I shouldn't have been surprised that God provided a private Christian School for our girls. It happened all so fast that the decision was really taken out of our hands (in a good way!). So before we knew it the girls started school and 'small' things like the school fees (remember these are private fees), uniform (someone gave us some), testing etc were 'ironed out'. While we had some concern on how the girls academic levels were compared to their peers, no red flags turned up! In fact I posted on FB photos of the girls each receiving prizes in their year group despite the girls only being at school for half the year. This was not to boast but to show God's faithfulness to us with regard to the girls schooling. It bought me to tears to see the girls up on the platform, not because I'm proud of them (I am!!) but how God works. 
  • Financially - God again has provided so much more than our needs (daily bread and water!) but also plenty of wants (Christian School for the girls). We shouldn't be surprised. It has been so nice to finally save again and not to worry about every single dollar we spend. (I treated the girls to a Mcdonalds ice cream cone with a Flake this week with our own hard earned money, it was $5 well spent!)
  • Family Holiday - We had planned a family vacation after gradation to recover from all the stress and to spend some time together as a family. While we paid for our train trip from Chicago to San Francisco with our NZ funds the rest of the holiday was paid for by the gifts of generous people. We booked our accommodation in faith earlier in the year. We were so blessed to spend four nights in San Francisco and relax (we did lots of walking). What a great way to end our time in the USA. 
So there you have it - some glimpses of God's faithfulness in our life this year. I challenge you to think back to 2015 and see how God has been faithful to you. Even if you haven't had as 'good' a year as we have had I know God is faithful even during life's trials. Keep looking up and depending on HIM in all you do, God is faithful despite our unfaithfulness! (just read Genesis if you need proof!)

We are looking forward to 2016. While 2016 is going to contain lots of changes and some uncertainties I cling to the fact that our God is faithful and knows our needs even though we don't always know what we need. 

On a personal note (for those who would like a family update!)
We are all doing well. In fact the girls are thriving in their new environment, they are excelling at school, making friends and continue to be a challenge to parent (ha told you we are not perfect!). Albert is doing well, getting better at this work/life/play balance. The 'calling' is continuing to be affirmed, what a blessing! He ran a marathon early December, crazy just crazy! I'm doing well also. I'm enjoying getting 'stuck in' in the school community, the church, swimming and some running. I haven't had to apologize as much to the girls since they are now at school now. phew! We have enjoyed catching up with our families and are looking forward to a reunion with Albert's family in January 2016. 

PS I still haven't got my head around the new photo system on our computer system despite Albert showing me several time, hence lack of blog posts. I do post photo's/updates regularly to FB, so friend me if you would like to be updated in that way :). 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Home front September Update!

Well It's been a while. I've been having problems with uploading photo's from a variety of sources onto my blog. Albert upgraded my laptop to Windows 10 and since then I've been unable to find my photos easily. It's a work in progress!

Well what have we been up to since I write my last update (which I know, I know I posted only a couple of days ago but I wrote it ages ago!)

This continues to go well for us. The junior school is putting on a production on the last week of term 3 called the Peace Child by Don Gilbertson. An excellent book if you haven't read it already! Kate and Zara are involved in this production. There have been lots and lots and lots of practices. Since the production is in its final stages, there are full dress rehearsals complete with make-up (which yours truly managed, can I have a big cheer!).

I also managed to find the girls the required clothing (all black for Zara and cargo pants for Kate) at a second hand shop, I felt very brave going into the Savemart warehouse. (I'm sure there is such a  'condition' as 'clothing buying phobia', the phobia especially gets worse when LARGE amounts of secondhand clothing is presented, I seriously struggle to see the 'tree' in that forest of clothing!) Note of course I'm not against buying second hand at all, in fact it was the only place where I could find a black skivy for Zara at a very cheap price!

Grace is also doing a production with the intermediate school about Gideon and the vanishing army! I'm looking forward to watching the full productions next week!

I'm so thrilled that the girls (ok, not Michaela) are able to be part of a production. There are such great life skills to be learned, from patience, to being kind, loving, accepting, respect, teamwork etc.

A couple of other things happened, I'll bullet point them for you:
  • Aaron and Audra and kids arrived safely in NZ! One VERY early Wednesday morning we packed the girls in the car and drove to Auckland Airport to finally meet our friends! It was so nice to finally see them. It has been amazing to follow their journey to be able to come to NZ, God opened many doors and baby # 4. How exciting! I admire their courage especially since they had never been over here! Aaron has started a blog where he is documenting some of their NZ adventures, here it is: thiskiwilifeblog
  • Anniversary - We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary at the beginning of September and the lovely Hannah F offered to look after the girls for the day while we went and tramped on Rangitoto Island where we first 'met' about 19 years ago! Unbeknownst to us, Albert's sister Raewyn and family also were returning from their USA trip that day. On a whim we decided to surprise them at the Auckland Airport. Again a very early start to the day but oh so worth it, we hadn't seen each other in person for about 3+ years! We had a lovely day and the girls had a fantastic time with Hannah also! 
  • We booked our ferry trip to the South Island for the Couperus family gathering in January 2016. We are looking forward to catching with every one!
  • We have done some tramping in the Hakrimata's close to Hamilton with the girls. One of the uphill parts (which is very popular) has about 1300 steps going about 370 metres up. That's a lot of stairs, nevertherless  we (well the adults) were sore for quite a number of days afterwards!)
One more subject I would like to say a bit on is money. I've talked about money before and being a student family and being fully supported. The last three years have been so humbling to see God at work in all sorts of ways. He not only provided for ALL our needs but plenty of wants also. Now that Albert is working again it has been lovely to finally (in a positive way) to have some of our own 'earned' money. We are able to save (for Christian school fees, a big YAY!), able to buy some things we needed and have a little more wriggle room in our grocery budget! My love of bargains hasn't diminished however and I still look for all the 'reduced to clear' items at the local supermarket! I mean why pay full price when you don't have to! This means that we have been able to eat a variety of different meats and food yet still keeping to a budget! 

I'll share with you just a little example of us being able to be a little bit more flexible with our money. One of the stores in the local shopping center is closing down and so is having a huge clearance sale. I stumbled on this by accident as I was buying something for the production at school. One of the items I bought was some 'loom bands' for Zara's hair. (She needs to have it all plaited for the production). When I bought them home, the girls were asking whether they could have the leftovers for their loom. Of course I said. I hadn't realized that the girls were still very much into the loom bracelets etc. (We had actually never bought the looms for them when they were popular, they 'bought' some at Gems at one of their end of year functions) Since we haven't got a lot of craft out at all moment, I decided to buy the girls some bands and another loom as a surprise! I went back to the store and bought lots of bands in various colors and another loom. When the girls got home from school and saw what I had bought them 'just because' they were astonished. They could not believe that I would just buy something just for them without it being their birthday or Christmas! One of the girls asked "Are you sure that we can buy that with our money?". I had to reassure them that yes I paid cash and no I didn't spend lots of money and yes it is just because! It warmed my heart to be able to do something little for them. Since then they have been making loom creations all weekend! It really is the little/simple things in life!

PS Hopefully the container from the USA with our stuff arrives this week! We are excited to be reunited with so many of our USA/Canada memories!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Home Front Update August 2015

Settling in versus Routine
I've had a lot of questions lately about the fact how we are settling in. My answer to this question is that we are settling in very well. I have however been reflecting on this question with regard to our new life. We are settling in well BUT making new routines isn't quite as easy. Not in a bad way just different. Let me explain. For three years we have lived a very rigorous seminary bubble student life, where Albert would get up at 4.30am to study and come home at 5pm, have dinner and then go to bed around 8.30pm. Since Albert now has night meetings and the girls have a school routine, we have had to get used to a new routine. A change is not a bad thing, but it does take time. I think we now have the school routine down pat. Albert is getting into an excellent routine studying from home and attending various meetings. 

Some reflections on School
I have made no secret of the fact that self discipline with regard to a homeschooling routine wasn't one of my strong points. I almost feel like a burden has been taken of my shoulders because I'm no longer responsible for the day to day academics. Of course Albert and I take our biblical responsibility to parent and educate them very seriously. At this stage in life we have just chosen to outsource the schooling part! The parenting part continues to be hard work (so it should be!!) especially as we are entering into a new phase in our life, the teenage years! I actually look forward to the teenage years. I still have to pinch myself that I have a daughter who goes to high school, it's plain weird! Albert has been able to be home for dinner every day and so this gives an excellent opportunity to interact on a more adult level with the girls! The girls (all of them in fact) have some excellent questions about all sorts of topics which we enjoy discussing at the dinner table. Of course school brings some questions (no schooling option is a perfect solution) which have been great to discuss. 

A couple of weeks ago we had the privilege to be able to go to parent/teacher interviews. Although our girls didn't get reports we enjoyed meeting each girl's teacher (apart from some of Michaela's). It was my fear (and maybe other homeschoolers as well) whether or not we had done enough to enable the girls to slot back into the school system. I'm very pleased to report that our God is faithful in answering my prayer and that the girls, although they had some gaps, which was to be expected, all entered back into the school system with flying colors! No red flags!!! 

We are thrilled for the girls to be able to go to an excellent school. I'm enjoying getting to know some of the Mums and taking part in some of the school activities. Albert has been volunteering his time in some one-on-one tutoring. 

So what keeps me busy then in this new season of my life?
Well I know I tried to answer that last month but since now we are in a more regular routine, I'm able to give you an update. I try to attend the Junior school Assembly on Friday afternoons and attend the school's prayer meeting once a week. I also have joined a ladies bible study on Wednesday morning on Proverbs. It has been nice to get to know more ladies from both of the Reformed churches here in Hamilton. It feels such a privilege to be able to have free time to go. On my school taxi driving runs I've been trying to listen to a sermon or two. School is about a 20 min drive each direction so that's a fair amount of downtime. I haven't been able to do this for a long time as the girls were always home. I have joined the Masters Swimming club and I'm out two nights a week to swim with the club. The coach has been very helpful in refining my freestyle stroke! 

We've also been trying to show plenty of hospitality. I know it is part of the 'job' as such but we have received SO much hospitality over the three years we were in the USA and Canada which we were unable to repay that I'm trying to extend that same hospitality that we received to our dinner guests! Not to pay back but to pay forward, hopefully people will be as blessed as we have been by YOUR generosity and hospitality. In saying that USA and Canadian friends, there is ALWAYS a place at our table for you! (and a bed!!). 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Niagara falls visit two

Our trip to Canada coincided with Albert's Spring break from Seminary. I figured whether he studies at home or in Canada makes no difference. Thankfully he agreed to go! Unfortunately the Canadian schools had their spring break the week before, so while we were there, the girls friends went to school. Also we were staying over Easter which meant that some of our friends had other commitments. In God's perfect timing we managed to catch up with most of our friends! We stayed the second half of our stay with one of our other good friends Pam and Ken. Pam had arranged for Michaela and Grace to attend school for one day while we where there! How cool is that? The girls even borrowed some uniform from Pam's girls and they got to ride on the school bus! The older girls had a blast! Albert suggested that while the big girls were having fun that I take the little girls on the Skywheel. It wasn't something I had thought of but as a good wife I did as he suggested! :). So Kate, Zara and I had a blast taking photos of the Falls from the Skywheel! 

Girls waiting for the school bus!
There it is!
On they go
Selfie with Kate and Zara
I told you the girls had fun taking photos :)
American Falls
Horseshoe Falls
(It was a magnificent day unlike earlier in the week when it rained)
Kate and Zara with both Falls in the photo
American Falls to the left and the Horseshoe Falls to the right
On the Skywheel

Spectacular isn't it?
Having fun!

Can you see Kate taking the photo?
Kate and Zara in front of the Skywheel!
Again another fun day! Since it was a school day, the Skywheel was just about empty and we got to go around heaps of times! Girls had a blast! Oh and Mum too!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Niagara Falls in Spring visit one

A visit to Ontario, CA wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Falls! I have to say although I've seen them heaps over summer last year, it remains a spectacular sight! I was thrilled to go and visit the Falls in Winter.  Quite a lot of the snow and ice had already gone but the scenery never the less was pretty amazing! I went twice to the Falls in the one week, once with Shar and the girls and once with just Kate and Zara, more on that in another post! It's so fun (and sad) to look over these fun memories we made only this year!

Horseshoe Falls (Canada)

American Falls

Kate with her new horse hat, thanks Shar!

Zara with her Zebra hat (it makes me laugh!)
Shar's girls and our girls
Ladies in training!
(yes it was cold and rainy!)
Looking at the falls from the inside where it was nice and warm!

Enjoying a donut and hot chocolate at.... Tim Hortons!

What a fun day! It pays to go with a local as Shar knew where to park for free :). I also parked the car when I went with just Kate and Zara! Yah for free parking!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sugar Bush - Agape Valley.

We were also privileged to be able to see a Maple Syrup Farm operating! We stayed the second half of the week with another family who we had a lot to do with over the summer we were in Wellandport. More on that in another post :). Pam and Ken took us out to a Maple Syrup Farm, called Sugar Bush in Agape Valley, who use their resources (i.e. maple trees) and grounds as an outreach! Here is a link for you to find out more if you would like: Agape Valley. Such a cool idea! Over summer Michaela and Grace joined Pam and Ken's girls for a day at a summer outreach camp Agape Valley runs. The farm/camp is run by a lot of volunteers which is pretty awesome! 

The 'old' methods of collecting the sap.
(I actually bought a bucket in the shop as a souvenir)
Enjoying a lovely breakfast!
Getting a ride on the farm to the Maple Trees

A lovely volunteer explaining to us the process :)
WOW! Isn't that amazing?
Running sap
A more modern sophisticated system.
The sap is gravity fed to the factory
Can you see the sap running?
If you look carefully you will be able to see all the lines
The guide explained to us how Maple Syrup used to be made

Yes it was cold that day :)
A more modern system. The sap is transferred progressively up
the vats until it reaches the syrup stage
Maple Syrup Candy
(Reminded us of the Little House on the Prairie books!)
Tasted very good!
This is a reverse osmosis machine
that takes out a lot of the water from the sap.
This is where the final boiling down of the sap occurs.
Once it reaches a certain temperate it opens a valve to release the Maple Syrup!

I happened to be there at the right time with the camera
to take a photo of the Syrup being finished!
A guide showing the girls the different colours of Maple Syrup.
The Syrup has to match one of the five test bottles.
The colour also depends on how late in the season it is.
The Syrup starts out light and progressively gets darker
towards the end of the season.
Grace, Kate and Zara

Checking the colour of the Syrup
Look at this beautiful display. I didn't buy anything as we knew we
were very limited in what we could take back in our suitcases.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about how Maple Syrup is made. As I said before, we didn't go to Canada at that particular time to see Maple Syrup being made, but it was a HUGE bonus!