São João 2012

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20th, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

It’s holiday time again, which means parties and non-stop accordion music, but also Jackson is going to be out of school for almost three weeks! Today was his party at school and I recorded this video of his class’ contribution.

After all the classes danced, they turned the tables and made the parents dance. We actually had a lot of fun since it was pretty early in the morning and everyone was doing it (at least 100 people). It was like square dancing with some moves we’d never experienced before like “SNAKE! JUMP!” Lots of laughs!

The Latest

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29th, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

In the interest of catching up, here’s a list of several unrelated stories:

1. We were so sad to lose our former member Viviane a couple of months ago. She was in her 30s but had been fighting cancer for several years. She was mom to two of our church kids, Jackson (a.k.a. Big Jackson) and Estefane and sister to another one, Joice (ages 10, 12 and 11 respectively). She had been living in Sao Paulo and her condition deteriorated very suddenly so the kids didn’t get a chance to see her before she died. Now we’re working hard to minister to these kids who have experienced such a terrible loss. Please be praying for them!

2. Thinking of the kids, they’ve been out of school for several weeks now. The public school teachers have been on strike and no one knows when it’s going to end. The kids are all going out of their minds because they’re so tired of being out of school! (I know the feeling–my high school burned down. It sounds like a dream come true until it happens to you!) This year has been such a year of strikes (we just had a four-day bus strike that paralyzed the city!).

3. The kids are also part of the big family we have at church that includes Fernando and Katia, the ones who lost Irla a few months ago. In March Fernando had a bad motorcycle accident that has left him stuck at home, temporarily unable to walk. They need prayers for his healing and for emotional strength for both of them.

4. How about something happy? Last Sunday we had a church meeting and we told everyone in advance that they really needed to come. One of our sweet members didn’t have bus fare to get to church so she and her two daughters left at 7 a.m. to walk the 2+ miles to church because she didn’t want to miss the meeting! This was a totally new level of commitment for her and we’re thankful that she is getting so connected with her church family (this is also someone going through a very difficult time in her life).

5. Jackson is as awesome as ever. He keeps me in stitches and helps me learn all kinds of new things about God, although I still don’t think I agree with him that Jesus said I needed to put sprinkles on the cake last week.

Parties and Parties, or Where on Earth Did February Go?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1st, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

The strike ended, life resumed. For a couple of days, at least. Then it was time for Carnaval.

Time for another week off school! At least this time we could get out of the house!

We spent a good chunk of the Carnaval break up at a retreat with some of the other Churches of Christ in the area. It was held at a school on the edge of town which made it convenient for us to just go home for the night instead of sleeping several nights on the floor of a classroom. Russ and Randy both spoke at the retreat, although I missed Russ’ talk because Jackson fell and hit his head about twenty minutes before. I took him home and left Randy and Jenn to do my job of being supportive and give him a ride home after.

Jackson went back to school again AGAIN on Thursday and we’re finally able to get back in the swing of life. We had his birthday party at school Monday morning. This is the point at which some mothers would wax nostalgic about their baby boy turning four and how they just can’t believe how grown up they are and where has the time gone, but I’m not going to do that because I don’t feel like crying today. It’s enough to say that Jackson is growing up nicely and four seems to be a much nicer age than three.

And now, if you’re a man or just don’t care about this stuff you may as well stop reading because I’m going to share some details about the party. I enjoy throwing his little parties at school and it’s always a fun challenge to try to pull it off with the random supplies I can find here.

Last fall I bought a voucher for Paper and Cake off of Zulily. I had used them last year and I love the fact that the printables were customizable so I could make the birthday banner say “Parabéns” instead of “Happy Birthday”. They have tons of cute themes and as long as you give yourself a few days to do the cutting out, it’s a great way to have a cute party for pretty cheap. Jackson and I sat down and picked out a theme–he chose space.

We did this all while we were on furlough so I was able to pick up some fabric for making goody bags. And with the strike I had a little time on my hands to get the sewing done! (I can’t believe I’m “that” mom now, who sews goody bags. I went to school with a kid whose mom sews goody bags and presents and even at 8 years old I found it ridiculous. But that was before I had bills to pay and discovered that I really do enjoy sewing.) I figured that four year olds love nothing more than putting stuff in bags and carrying it around so if I gave them all a bag, they wouldn’t really care about how much candy was or wasn’t in it.

But of course I’m not so stingy as to give empty bags, so I put a space pencil, a little bag of gumdrops and some playdough in them. Playdough that I made myself. Because yeah, somehow I really AM that mother. But again, four year olds. Glitter “Starry” playdough is just the ticket.

For Jackson, birthday parties=hats. Our craft/party/housewares/etc store carries plain-colored party hats and this year they actually hat black hats! But they looked a little morbid so Jackson and I attacked them with stickers. Stickers are pretty expensive here and hard to come by so we improvised. I stole some gold stars out of a couple of his workbooks (don’t tell him!) and we bought some round dots from the office supply store. Voila–space hats. (Sorry, forgot to get a picture of them.) We did last years hats too with dinosaur stickers. It’s becoming our tradition and it’s a fun way to have him help out with the preparations.

As far as food went, Jackson was very clear. Two Christmases ago, I got a Cake Pop recipe book and it is truly one of Jackson’s favorite books. He loves to sit and look at the designs and talk about the procedure for making the pops. I promised him that we would do cake pops for his birthday. With the space theme, I figured planets would work out nicely. They didn’t quite turn out how I would have liked but I decided I would rather sleep than fiddle all night. At the end of the day, they worked well with the theme and the kids liked them (except for the ones who were totally weirded out by them).

(I admit I may have called Bakerella a few names while I was making them. She makes it look so easy!)

The quintessential birthday treat here is brigadeiros, little chocolate truffle-y things rolled in sprinkles. Delicious. I admit that even though chocolate and my body no longer get along, I may have licked my hands a few times while rolling them. (And I reassure you that I also keep a large bottle of hand sanitizer beside me as I work!) I found some star sprinkle so I jazzed them up according to the theme.

Seriously I could look at pictures of brigadeiros all day long.

We also served mini-pizzas, which weren’t that exciting. Jackson’s been on a gluten-free diet for several months now so I needed something that he could eat. I’ve discovered how to make an amazing pizza crust out of pão de queijo mix so it wasn’t too tough to whip up a batch of pizzas before the party.

Here was the table all decorated. I decided to make the pizzas last minute so I really hadn’t figured out how to arrange everything nicely.

And really, the birthday boy didn’t care that there weren’t enough different heights on his table. He was excited that we were at his school and that there were cake pops. The rest could have been boring old everyday stuff. He was so proud to get to be the birthday boy and be sung to.

The candle is on a silly little cake I had to make when I realized late Sunday night that I didn’t have anywhere to put the candle! Fortunately I had a few cake pops that remained un-coated so I pulled them off their sticks and molded them into a cake-ish shape. The next morning I attacked it with the leftover frosting and some candies.


It was a fun little party. I got to spend some time dancing with Jackson and his friends. I know they probably think we’re the weirdest parents but I’m totally okay with that. The important thing was that Jackson felt honored and special.

So that was our February. It’s been the weirdest month and I have mixed feelings about it being over. I know that March is going to hold all kinds of things (including a visit from my in-laws!) and I look forward to seeing what God has up his sleeves. But I also feel like February slipped through our fingers and kind of wish I could get a little of it back!

Is it over? Is it over?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 11th, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

You’re probably wondering if the strike is over. I haven’t posted anything about it because it’s kind of vague at this point. Let’s just say that it’s over-ish. There are still cops on strike but many went back to work yesterday. The government is ready to move on and really doesn’t want to budge any more. The head of the police has said that the strike is over but the faction of guys that are actually striking are saying it’s not. So figure that one out.

So life is probably 80% back to normal. Jackson got to go back to school yesterday but there were only two other kids in his class (out of sixteen). The school year hadn’t even started yet for the majority of schools in the city and from what I hear, most of them aren’t going to start until after Carnaval. It’s every kids’ dream to have the start of school delayed but the reality is that they’re going to have to make up those days.

Last night I got to be out of the house after dark for the first time since this started. That felt kind of weird. But weirder still was the feeling of relief at seeing pedestrians again. The streets were so quiet during the worst of it.

But as I said, we’re at 80%. That means things still aren’t right. The murder count is at 165, an average of 15 a day, and there are more robberies than usual, too. I never thought I’d be looking forward to getting back to our “normal” crime rate!

Russ and I were reflecting on the emotional toll that this strike had on us. We did our best to stay informed and to make good choices so we believe that we were never really in much danger personally. But to live our lives with that fear always present and to have to prepared for it to get much worse was exhausting. It gave me new empathy for people around the world who live with these levels of violence every day. We whined about not being able to get out of our house but we never had to worry about anyone raiding our house. We had electricity, fresh water, gas in our stove, Netflix and an air-conditioned bedroom in which to sleep. Please continue to pray for the situation in Salvador but also pray for those around the world whose reality is so much worse. We are so blessed.

It Continues

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7th, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

Nothing much to report. Things were calmer today. We even got out to the mall for a couple of hours. It was a little surreal seeing the troops guarding the mall. They spent six hours in negotiations today and say they’re making progress but there is still no resolution.

One of the ways (other than the violence) that this is affecting Salvador is that this is our high season for tourism. Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue and right now, cruise ships aren’t disembarking and people are able to cancel their reservations to visit without penalty. A lot of people will suffer because of the lost income.

The violence has hit closer to home, too. One of our members told us today that her former co-worker was killed. We pray for that family, as well as all those directly affected by the violence.

Keep praying for an end to the strike!

Strange Days

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6th, 2012 by Valerie – 1 Comment

At this time last week I was counting down the days until summer vacation was over. Because of furlough, Jackson had been out of school since mid-October and we were all ready for things to get back to normal. He started class on Wednesday and loves his new teacher.

But since then, Salvador has been having a bit of a rough time. You can read about it here. It sounds really scary and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit scary but here’s how we’ve explained what we’re going through to our families:

  • Our neighborhood is about as safe as you can get. It’s neither one of the poor neighborhoods nor one of the rich ones. People don’t come here looking for trouble.
  • If you’re at home, you’re safe. While there’s certainly a random element to the crime, much of it has been opportunistic. Bus stops are terrible places to be, which is why we canceled church yesterday. Most people are holed up at home and make small trips out. We’ve walked to our grocery store every day just to get out of the house.
  • Most of the stats you read about the crime are from the first couple of days, before the military showed up. There was definitely a “wild west” feel those day but things have settled down a great deal since Operation Law and Order started. (It does mean, however, that we have helicopters going overhead constantly. When things are normal we hear 6-10 a day. Now I feel like I’m hearing 6-10 an hour!)
  • No one we know has been directly affected by the crime.

There’s a standoff going on right now between the striking police and the military. They’ve been camped out with their families outside the legislative assembly and have been asked to leave. In their words they’re “passively resisting” but as you can imagine there’s a bit of potential for things to go wrong (any time there are tanks involved there is potential for things to go wrong!). They’ve conceded most of their demands but are still asking for amnesty for this illegal strike. The governor has said no way.  And so we wait.

Which brings me back to school. School is canceled until this is over. Having your child home when you can’t go wherever you want makes summer vacation seem like a breeze! We’re thankful for our Wii and Netflix, though we’re all getting a little stir crazy!

Please keep praying that this situation will be resolved as peacefully as possible and that the city can get back to normal soon!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 3rd, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were posts I was putting of writing. This is probably the biggest one of them.

Yesterday I was printing off a copy of our church directory and was looking at the names, trying to decide if I needed to take any off the list. But it’s officially a list of “members and frequenters” so I decided to keep everyone one, even if they’re more like “infrequenters”. Except for one name. It was time for me to take it off.

When we were on furlough we received a call that our friend Irla was missing. Irla’s mom, Katia, and her stepdad, Fernando, have been part of our church family from the very beginning. Irla was about 12 when we met her, so we watched her blossom into a young adult. In her early teen years she was on fire for God but as she got older, she was pulled away from church life. She lived in a pretty rough neighborhood and started hanging out with some pretty rough people. Her home life was rocky and we wouldn’t see her for long periods of time and then she would get re-involved.

So it was a Saturday morning, with about two weeks left in our furlough and just a few days before her eighteenth birthday, that we found out she was missing. A couple of hours later, we got the call that her body had been found. No one is quite sure what happened, though there are lots of theories and rumors. The sad truth is that we will likely never know exactly what happened. Instead, we have to focus on the even sadder reality–that members of our church family are devastated by the loss of their loved one.

Katia and Fernando are really struggling right now. They’ve got another kid, Ian, who just turned one, but for so many years Katia and Irla had been side-by-side. I feel so ill-equipped to minister to them. It’s one thing to know what to say when someone’s family member passes away from cancer, but it’s another thing when their teenage daughter has been murdered. So we pray. And we love. And we find ways to help them find their new normal.

Please pray for this family.

Weekend

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22nd, 2012 by Valerie – 1 Comment

Jackson and I have been dying to go to the zoo but it’s been scorching hot so we’ve been putting it off. With only a week and a half left of summer vacation, the time had finally come, no matter the weather. We invited three of our little friends with us. Jackson and Estefane are brother and sister and Joice (the shortest one) is their aunt, who is younger than Estefane but older than Jackson. We have a lot of fun when we hang out with them coming up with names to distinguish the two Jacksons, like Chocolate Jackson and Vanilla Jackson, Coffee Jackson and Milk Jackson or (most commonly) Big Jackson and Little Jackson. The kids have pretty tough lives and they’re at a pretty critical age so we try to shower them with unconditional love as much as we can.

After the zoo and a stop at our favorite Scottish restaurant we came home and introduced the kids to Jackson’s current favorite videogame–Just Dance Kids. All four kids played for hours and even convinced Russ and me to have a couple of showdowns. I love having these kids over because unlike me at that (or any) age, they actually go to bed. I don’t even have to TELL them to do it, they just get themselves ready and get in bed. So by about 9:30 everyone was either asleep or in bed and I was bored out of my mind! We had an early start this morning, I made a zillion pieces of toast (it’s challenging to keep kids this age fed!) and we headed off to church.

Now it’s post-church, post-nap and Jackson is begging for them to come back. I, on the other hand, am enjoying the break and trying not to count the dirty towels awaiting me.

(In unrelated news, Jackson is looking over my shoulder, reading some of my words back to me. Yeah, Vanilla Jackson. He’s crazy smart and scares me sometimes!)

Favorite Reads of 2011

Posted in Uncategorized on January 7th, 2012 by Valerie – 5 Comments

I’m a little late for end-of-year introspection but I’m trying to get blogging more. And there is a post or two that I really need to write that I’m putting off so I thought I’d try to at least keep writing…

So here are some of my favorite reads of 2011 (in no particular order):

1. God Smuggler by Brother Andrew — This book has literally been on my shelf for years. I have a bit of a book addiction and the time I spent working at a used bookstore didn’t help. I don’t know what made me pick it up one day a few months ago, but I read it and then passed it on to my teammates, who read it and bought their own copy. It’s a relatively short book but I found that sometimes I could only read a few pages before I had to put it down and mourn for the people living under communist rule (yeah, it’s a little dated. You should see my copy–it’s not a first edition, but it’s close!) Brother Andrew’s testimony is one of total reliance on God’s provision, even in the face of persecution. A beautiful book.

2. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas — As my study has deepened in the past couple of years Bonhoeffer’s name kept coming up. When I saw this biography on for half-price I grabbed it. Technically I started reading it in 2010 but it took me forever to get through. For starters, it’s 624 pages. But beyond that, as I got to descriptions of Nazi atrocities, I could only read a little bit before I would get overwhelmed. Bonhoeffer was such an interesting guy–it’s about about discipleship AND double espionage!

**A word before I go on–I know I’ve said that while reading the first two books I became overwhelmed with emotion and had to put it down. I promise that it’s the subject matter itself and not me. I’m not usually so emotionally affected by books and I tend to speed read. These books were different.**

3. The Coffee Cup Bible Study Series by Sandra Glahn — Our team meets once a week for study and prayer. We’ve worked through two of these books and are now on our third. It would have been really easy to dismiss them–they have kind of cheesy names like “Java with the Judges” or “Mocha on the Mount” and they have pictures of women with coffee on the front. But we’ve been working through the studies <i>as a team</i>, men included, because the material is so good. They’re 6-8 weeks of daily study. We’re currently working through Sumatra with the Seven Churches and are loving it.

4. Savoring God’s Word: Cultivating the Soul-Transforming Practice of Scripture Meditation by Jan Johnson — Meditation doesn’t come easily to me. I tend to lack focus. This was another one we worked through as a team and really enjoyed. There were so many practical techniques, as well as a good discussion at the beginning about the validity of and need for scripture meditation.

5. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins — I really enjoy a good fiction fix from time to time and everyone was talking about it so I had to check it out. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know if I can count it as escapist because the world it describes is so bleak and violent but it certainly transported me to another place and time for several days.

Those are the ones off the top of my head. Here are a few more I read and enjoyed:

I hope I don’t need to say it, but just in case I do–I read a lot. I like to read things that inspire me and challenge me. If I only ever read things I knew about and agreed with, I’d never grow and I’d never learn. I’m telling you I liked these books but it doesn’t mean that I believe they’re infallible or my new personal philosophy or even what you may need to read.

So now it’s 2012 and I’m digging into my new to-read pile. Any recommendations?

December

Posted in Uncategorized on January 3rd, 2012 by Valerie – Be the first to comment

 

In the last few days of December, I wondered why I was so tired. December is traditionally one of our quietest months and we usually take a little time getting back into the swing of things after furlough.

But then I thought back to all we had done in December and considered that we hadn’t even been back from furlough for four weeks and I understood.

So here’s a quick peek at our December:

  • We had our annual church Christmas barbecue.

(I have missed it the past three years for various reasons so I was really glad to get to go!)

  • The “girls” and I went down to the lighthouse to watch the sunset and worship.

  • We celebrated Russell’s birthday.

  • We had an afternoon of games and desserts with the ladies.

  • We had our team Christmas party at the beach. (When you’re down to two families you can pretty much celebrate however you want!)

  • We celebrated Christmas Eve “Brazilian-style” at a midnight supper.

  • We celebrated Christmas Day “North American-style” with an early morning and a big lunch.

(I don’t recommend the whole midnight supper/early morning presents thing! We were so tired!)

  • We hosted a New Year’s Eve sleepover and worship the next morning.

And those are just the “formal” events! We’ve had lunches and sleepovers, our twelfth anniversary, Jackson has been out of school all month, and we’ve had all kinds of opportunities for informal fellowship with our members and friends. The end of 2011 was a lot of fun and we can’t wait to see what God does in 2012!