Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Birthday to the best dad hands down!

Birthdays are pretty big at our house. When it's getting close to our birthday, we usually put up a wish list, with suggestions (sometimes it's specific commands, at least from the younger kids) for presents to get them. As we get older, we aren't quite as worried about what we'll get, and we tend to tone down our celebrations. And for both my parents, who don't like to keep track of their age, we don't have a huge party.

But, as is tradition, we always have a German Chocolate Cake for my dad's birthday. It's a tradition that his father passed on to him; his dad still has one every year on his birthday. If you've never tried the cake, go to the store right now and buy a box of german chocolate. The recipe for the cake and the frosting is on the box. Papa's birthday is the only time in the whole year that we have a german chocolate cake, and it is looked forward to by all.

For the past few years, my mom has tried her best to keep papa's birthday celebration a bit of a surprise. When my mom realized that my dad's parents as well as his youngest brother, Uncle Bill, would be visiting this week, she decided to do it Thursday night. We were in the middle of making the cakes when he came home from work, so the surprise was found out a tad bit early, but he was sufficiently surprised to make the secret-keeping up till that point quite worth it. Papa is a delight to surprise, because of how much he enjoys the surprise. When he walked in the door and everybody yelled 'Happy Birthday', the smile on his face and the 'What??' were priceless.

Supper was delicious: ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, broccoli, corn, and peas, with pomegranate juice for everyone, and wine for the older ones. Sadly, Isaiah could not be with us to celebrate, but we were all happy to have Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle Bill with us for the party.

This year, my dad said he didn't want much -- some new work gloves would be nice, and socks and some jeans from Goodwill (that's my practical father for you). He joked about getting a projector, but of course that was out of the question.

Well, we decided to get him what he wanted, and threw in with the jeans, socks and gloves, some microwave popcorn (to eat while he works his second job at Snyder Packaging) two bags of mixed nuts, and from yours truly, the film 'The Blind Side'. Underneath all those presents (wrapped in baby bags and flower wrapping paper, because we're too thrifty to spend money on appropriate paper and bags) was a large box covered with a blanket. After the other presents had been opened, with much happiness and gratefulness by the dad, Josiah gave the box to papa. Josiah, laughing, wondered (thinking papa surely knew) "Do you have any idea what it is?" Papa laughed, because he didn't have a clue. As he opened the box, he started shaking his head and laughing, because now he did have a clue. "No way. You're kidding me, right?" The excitement and surprise on papa's face when he realized what it was, was worth a million dollars. I wish I had gotten pictures, but even though I did not, I will never forget that look. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a memory is worth a million pictures.

Can you guess what it was? Mhmm. Yup. That's right. A projector. Purchased under the advice of Uncle Bill, by Uncle Bill, Josiah, Zachariah and Isaiah.

My father is a hard person not to respect, admire and love. As is tradition (we Englishes have more than a few super awesome traditions, in case you hadn't gathered that by now) during supper we wrote in our place cards what we like about papa, or some wise (serious, in some cases, not so serious in other cases) advice for the new year ahead of him. After the presents had been opened and admired, the place cards were read aloud. Everyone had something nice to say; some of us cool people, like Grandpa and myself, wrote a poem. (You can read my poem at my personal blog here:

Of course, to end the evening, we ate the magnificent cake. It was pitch-perfect *emphasizes with fingers, like the french people do* as always. But it wasn't quite the end of the evening.

Did you actually think my dad could go to bed without trying out his presents?? Of course not. So we set the projector up, using a white sheet as a screen, and after the younger set had hit their pillows, we watched 'The Blind Side'. Most of us had seen it once when it came out in the cinema, but we wanted to see it again. Grandpa and Grandma were watching it for the first time, and they enjoyed it very much. If you haven't seen it, go rent it (or buy it) now and watch it tonight. It's an excellent movie. And it's even better on our awesome new projector.

The joy we felt together as a family last night is a joy that I realize is not common in every house. Not every family has an amazing father like ours. Not every father works two jobs uncomplainingly because he loves his family so much. Not every father works from before the sun rises till the afternoon, then stays up late with us because he truly wants to spend time with us. Not every dad is quite as amazing as ours is. I realize that, though I too often take him for granted.

Thank you, God, for giving us an amazing father, and being an amazing Father, who cares enough to give us incredible joy in things as seemingly unimportant as birthday parties. It was a beautiful night.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Food and Friends…the Best Memories

I believe the best memories are created by a combination of good food and good people. Isn't it annoying sometimes that we have to eat 3 times a day? However, I think one of the reasons God gave us bodies that use up our food so fast is so that we can enjoy it more. What if you only needed to eat once a month like a python? You could only get together for a meal once a month! It would certainly be quite a feast, but you couldn't very often.

Eating a meal together creates a unique bond between people. In the Bible they are always inviting people in to eat with them. Abraham when he sees the 3 angels invites them into eat with him. That was a sign of hospitality. Our family loves to have people over and share food together. We are a family full of people that love to cook delicious meals. All of the older kids are very proficient cooks (as well as Mom and Dad), and the younger kids are learning to love it also. Because our family is dominated by men the kitchen is also dominated by men.

This is why Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is when all the Englishes (my Dad's side of the family) get together. We have a huge delicious feast and everyone that wants to gets to be a part of the preparation. Uncle Bill might be in charge of the turkey and gravy, Grandma might make an apple pie or sweat potato casserole, Mama might make pumpkin pie, I might make some rolls, Zachariah might have his hand in everything and make something fancy on the side, or maybe try some new combination that no one thought of, Josiah might make some more pumpkin pies (because you can never have enough), Papa might be in charge of the stuffing, Aunt Jenn might make the mashed potatoes, etc. You get the idea. Eating together every year like this brings a great bond between us. Not only do we have the opportunity to work together to create something delicious and beautiful, but we then get to sit down together and enjoy eating and talking together. Something about that sharing time together brings us utter happiness and bliss.

Thanksgiving is what all the kids look forward to every year, but it wouldn't be this way if we didn't have both ingredients. We have to have both the people and the food. If we just had the food it wouldn't be nearly as fun. Things are always better when you have more people to share them with. If we had just the people we could have some fun, but we wouldn't have a reason to all sit down together doing something in common. We would find something to do, but without the food we don't really even have an excuse to get together.

Perhaps that's the main reason why eating is such a bonding experience. As humans we are drawn to people only through common interests or common needs. We all have the most basic need of food so when we can all sit down together and share a meal we grow much closer together.

This is part of what sets our family apart from so many typical American families. So many of them have kids running every which way and they rarely even have supper together. We have always had supper together and sometimes several more meals than that.

The older I get the more I realize how much food and friends really do make the experience memorable to me. I went on a 3 week trip out West and it was an absolute blast (the most fun I've ever had in my life), but it wasn't because of what I saw—although it was pretty cool—it was because of who I was enjoying it with and what I was eating with them.

Food used to seem like a waste to me, you eat it once and then it's gone. However, as I look back on my memories the best ones always involve good food and good people.

What other reason do you have to sit beside your friends around a table for a couple hours? Okay, right, games do that. But you don't always have a good excuse to play a game several times a day. Eating a meal is something you have to do 2 or 3 times a day to keep up normal strength and when you share it with others it is amazing.

Food has historically been a primary ingredient of celebration. It's kind of mystery what exactly makes it so fun, but I know that it makes good times all the better.

Okay, so I've given a lot of examples of good experiences revolving around food and friends, but I've left out the most important example. Can you guess it? It's in the Bible, in the last book. Yup. That's right. The Wedding Feast of the Lamb! What's the most memorable part of a wedding here? The reception right? The same is true for the ultimate wedding. The best part will be when we all get to go to the biggest wedding reception ever! Can you imagine what kind of a celebration that will be? If the wine at Cana was the best they had ever tasted can you imagine the kind of wine Jesus will have at his wedding feast?! All I can say is that I can't wait!

So next time you want to have a really good time, make sure it involves lots of good food and people. Don't be afraid to spend money or time on food because memories last forever…toys or gadgets don't. Just sayin' ~

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Another Year Has Gone By

A new year is a time to think about new beginnings and a time to reflect on the past year. This has been a fantastic year for us as a family overall, but has involved some struggles.

Isaiah left for his second semester of college and we had to really learn how to function without him. He could no longer be a part of our everyday life and we really had to accept that this year with him being gone a lot. However, the younger children stepped up and Zachariah especially was soon filling Isaiah's place, perhaps a little better than Isaiah would like.

This was a year of further learning about toxins in the body and becoming more health conscientious than ever. Not only was high fructose corn syrup banned but as our knowledge grew on other toxic substances present in many everyday foods we turned to producing our meals more naturally than ever before. We had always been more or less conscious of eating healthily but this year saw an exponential increase in our health conscientiousness.

This was a year for traveling for our family as a collective group. Isaiah went to Uganda for a month right after school finished. Then Josiah and Isaiah took a 3 week road trip with their cousins in an RV touring the western part of the United States from California to the islands off the coast of Washington and many places between Georgia and there. Then in late November and early December Josiah took a ten day trip to Switzerland. So between the two oldest children, our family has been quite all over the world this year.

In Uganda Isaiah had some great encounters with God and brought some of that Christian African fire for God back to our family. Since his trip we have seen an increased interest and delight in the things of God, especially prayer.

This year has brought increased knowledge to what may be troubling Mama and although not everything was resolved this year we ended with great hope in God's using the removal of mercury fillings from her mouth to give her great respite from many of her health issues.

This year we have brought in a new member of the family. An old friend named Joshua who fell in among some bad friends for the past several years met up with us again and has now joined our church. He has begun working with Papa to take up the slack that Isaiah left. This way Zachariah can have a little time to do school and not be working all the time that Josiah is gone. When Joshua goes to work he stays at our house the night before since we leave between 3:30 and 5:30 to go to work each morning. He has also allowed us to leave as a family while he stays home and runs the route for us, which has been a great blessing to all of us.
As a result he has become very much a part of our family and we have greatly enjoyed seeing the younger children love and appreciate this new family member. We have been greatly blessed to see his steady progression in his walk with God as he devours every book he can find on the subject.

Besides Joshua we have seen the new addition of Londa to the bread-route-workforce. Though by no means a regular, she went on the route for the first time this year and caught on pretty fast. Though, not as strong as her 3 older brothers she is no shrimp herself and pull her own weight on the route.

This year has seen changes as we introduce a new driver into the family. Londa took driver's education this past fall and completed half of her driving experience this past December. She did well in the classroom aspect of driver's education finishing at the top of her class and her driving instructor almost gave her a compliment on her driving—despite his own aversion to giving out compliments.

This past year Jedidiah and Elijah joined the homeschool choir for the first time and have absolutely loved it. Zachariah, Londa, Jedidiah, and Elijah have all enjoyed their choir experience this past year despite misgivings they may have had going into it.

Drama has been another addition that our family has really enjoyed as Josiah gathered some friends together and found a director to help them put on Much Ado About Nothing. The show was an absolute success and although Isaiah was not able to be there the kids had a wonderful time reliving this Shakespeare classic.
This sparked interest in the director they found to start up drama classes in the area and the older children have really enjoyed being involved in his acting class. They are looking forward eagerly to a new play in the new year.

This has been a year with a lot of new experiences, but the best new experiences have been the sweet moments with the three persons that mean the most to us. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have been faithful to their promises despite our unfaithfulness and have loved us more than we could deserve or think. This year has taught us even more about the absolutely unconditional love of God for us. He has broken our hearts with his undying love for us despite the many times we forget him in our busyness.
Jesus Christ has become more real and human to us and Holy Spirit has become more personal to us this past year. We look forward to another year in learning how to love and appreciate better these three persons who have given so much to have a personal relationship with us!