He’s Back!

Naomi woke up this morning yelling “Dada! Airport! Dada! Airport!” She was a little disappointed that we went to church first, but all was forgiven when we got to the airport.

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The (“secret”) sign was out and ready! Naomi was a little distracted from Dad Watch by all the people at the airport who were taking pictures of the girls and their sign. =)

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And then all of a sudden he was here! Abi chattered away trying to tell him about the last nine days within 9 minutes. And Naomi tried to keep up: “Dada! Hi Dada airport. Fweooooo! (airplane noise) Hug Dada, hi!” The long wait was over – Dad was home!

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As happy as they were, I might have been even happier! (See the little photo bomber in our picture?) It is so nice to have Matt home! On Wednesday we will have been married 8 years, and while things are ok when we’re apart, they are great when we’re together. I’ve known for almost 10 years that I would rather go through the worst things in life with this man than the best things in life with anyone else. In God’s grace, we have gone through some difficult times, but the life that God has given us has been filled with far more of the best things. I am truly blessed to be married to this man!

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I heard from several people over the course of this week in comments or emails about how “brave” or “strong” I was. I didn’t feel especially brave or strong this week. I felt that I missed Matt, but I also felt that life just continued fairly normally. We are missionaries, but I’m a mom, and a wife, and a church member, and a counselor, and a home-maker, and a friend, and a daughter. The wife part was different over the last week and a half, and some of the mom part, but the rest of life and all my other roles continued normally.

I think that sometimes, just because we’re missionaries, I want to spiritualize everything we do – or at least how I portray it. In chronicling these last 9 days, I’ve had to set aside the temptation to spiritualize things. I just didn’t have time every night to make things look all godly and perfect! =) But I did want to share about what my life looks like from day to day. It is filled with all those normal things: homeschooling, grocery shopping, telling my girls to stop fighting over who gets to play with the blue ball. My roles right now revolve primarily around raising our girls, freeing Matt up to do more things at the church and CAPA, showing hospitality, and helping the women at our church through counseling. Only one and a half of those things sound “spiritual” enough to write about in an official missionary newsletter. But really, they’re all spiritual and whether or not I’m fulfilling the roles God has given me is found in the hows and whys of what I do. I’m not Amy Carmichael, or Gladys Aylward, or Elizabeth Elliot. I’m Rachel Floreen, and I want to follow what the Bible tells me to do as a wife, as a mother, as a church member. Do I aspire to great things? Yes, and right now the greatest things I can do are raising two little girls to love the Lord. And being delighted to do whatever I can to help my husband. And visiting people in our church who are sick. And helping women to biblically navigate the troubles of life. My life, like the lives of so many moms, is lived in the “small” things. But those small things are good – so very good! – when you get to do them to please the Lord.

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Unlike many of the moms who will read this blog, I get to do those small things in Malawi. It’s home for us, and we are so happy to be here – especially now that Matt’s back! I hope that these 9 days have given you a glimpse at what normal life is like for me and the girls. Thanks for following along!

Grocery Day

Grocery shopping day, and Naomi is ready! One can always use an extra pair of shoes with a day as busy as we had!

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I woke up having forgotten that I had 13 meters of fabric spread around our living room. Priscilla had washed and hung it to dry yesterday, but even with using the full clothesline it was still a little damp by the end of the day from being folded on itself at several points. So it spent the night getting out the last dampness in our living room. It was a strange site to wake up to though! I folded it up and set it by the door – it was going with us today…

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Breakfast was a family favorite – oatmeal. With a new not-favorite – chewable dewormer. Think bitter pepto bismol. Thankfully we only had to take these at breakfast and dinner today and we’re done. The girls didn’t balk at all, after a brief discussion of what worms are and why we don’t want them.

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School first before grocery shopping! Abi loves school and is especially good at memorizing, so we recently added catechism with corresponding verses. It’s been great, and especially fun because we have songs to go with every catechism and verse! Dana Dirksen put together the songs into 6 albums, and is in the process of producing the same albums in several different languages – including Chichewa!!! The first album in Chichewa is already finished, so once we’ve mastered English, we’ll work on the same catechism and verses in Chichewa!

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Once school was finished, it was time to get ready to go out. This is how I usually dress when we go out. Malawians dress up to go to town, so I put on makeup, and try to dress nicely. It’s hard work to do the shopping here, and I have 2 little kids in tow, and it’s hot; so my go-to item of clothing is a maxi skirt. It’s modest, stretchy, and not suffocating. Add a top that dresses it up a little and we’re good to go.

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Most Malawians don’t use car seats, but we always have. I pray we never get in a bad car accident here, but if we do, I want every chance possible that these sweet girls will be safe!

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First stop was at the new mall close to our home. Business in Malawi is almost entirely transacted in cash; however, our cell phone company is starting to change that for us! We can put money in our “mpamba” account and then through our phones pay our electric bill, water bill, cell phone bill, and even wire money to someone else’s phone/account. After years of carrying wads and wads of cash, and adding more stops to our grocery shopping day so that we could pay all our utilities in person, this new services is SO NICE. They have nice chairs in the waiting area too. =)

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On to see the Swan Man. For those of you who have followed our blog for a while, no, I still don’t know his name. But he’s still a good tailor, and I took a picture just to show you why he’s called the swan man.

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We’ve been to see the tailor frequently of late, so much so that he keeps pretty and sparkly scraps to give to my girls now! =) Last week we dropped off a suit of Matt’s to be altered, then a few days later half of the cushions that go on our wicker furniture so they could be recovered. We couldn’t drop them all off, because we still had a couple people who would need to sit on those chairs, like the ladies who come for counseling. But we dropped all the rest of the cushions off today (and there’s the 13 meters of fabric sitting on top of the cushions), and should be able to pick up the first batch on Saturday. We’re cushionless for 3 days, but it’s ok.

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From the tailors we made two quick stops: an electronics store to buy a new watch battery for Matt, and a sewing supply store to get some more elastic. We didn’t quite have enough to finish the second set of bedsheets the other day, but we do now. And some pretty shiny red trim for some skirts, and …

And then we drove to the far north end of town to a shop called Carniwors that specializes in meat. By this time we were getting a little tired and very hot, so the Abi and Naomi got granadilla and pineapple “spicy juice” (carbonated). And I let them ride in the cart while I planned out the menus for the team of 8 that is coming to stay with us in just over a week.

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Oh yes, my FBC friends who are coming next week. Yes I did. Think pork – you’ll love it. When else will you get to eat it? And for $1.25/pound, it’s a great deal!

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Finally, with a large ice chest full of meat, we made our way home. We had gotten all the miscellaneous errands accomplished, with only the actual grocery store yet to do. But that would have to wait. Peanut butter sandwiches and a nap were necessary first!

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The girls lay down and both slept for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. I headed into my room and turned on the window box fan and the mister outside the bedroom window to enjoy a little evaporative cooling. I have the greatest husband and he makes some pretty fantastic things! Ahhhh! 

And I found a little friend on the window sill. Little, as in, only about 1 inch long. We’ve seen several of these little praying mantises in the yard lately, and thanks to my inquisitive 5 year old, we’ve looked them up and know that they are actually babies. Various kinds of adult praying mantises can be 1-4 inches long, but you know it’s a baby if it doesn’t have wings yet – like this one.

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After nap time, we were back to grocery shopping, at an actual grocery store this time! Abi is my list checker, and does a great job of keeping me on track. Today she commented “Mom, why are you buying things that are not on the list? You should just buy what is on the list.” Hmm, good point. Thanks. But I’m pretty sure you want toilet paper, even if I forgot to put it on the list. =)

The reason she knows it’s not on the list is because I keep my shopping lists in order of how we walk up and down the aisles in this store and she tracks with the list to know where we’re at in our shopping. I know, it’s nerdy, but it saves so much time running back and forth, especially when shopping with little ones. Even nerdier: I have a series of 4 shopping lists that I cycle through each month. Today was the Week 1 list, when I buy all our meat, milk, cheese, and frozen vegetables for the month. Next week will include a month’s worth of dog food, the following week all the tea supplies for our staff for the month… It just works out better to divide that stuff up and plan to buy in bulk when I can. And because I have a large chest freezer at home, I can.

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Check out is always a little harried. I had 2 “trollies” of groceries today, so I had to put all the groceries on the checkout counter – but not any faster than the cashier could scan them because it’s not a very big counter! I also kind of keep an eye on whoever is packing my groceries into bags or boxes on the end, as it’s not uncommon for the tomatoes to end up on the bottom, and the dish soap to be bagged with the yogurt and they both leak. Paying for it all takes a bit of time too, as I have to count out the money, then the cashier has to count it all out too. Because it’s all cash. And the largest kwacha bill we have is currently worth only $1.38. So, just imagine paying for all your groceries (and those of a visiting team of 8) with $1 bills. It takes a little time and attention. Not to mention I have 2 little girls who need a little attention too. Thankfully, there’s a TV hanging at that end of the store that always plays the National Geographic channel. It’s always interesting, and evidently a bonding experience too!

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We got home just before 5pm. Whew. Mission accomplished. The girls colored while I put all the groceries away and made smoothies for dinner. Like that cup Naomi has? I think most people just throw those cups and lids away after they use them, but I held on to it after a trip to Jamba Juice when we were in California in 2014. Still going strong!

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The girls did great today. They were both super helpful, very cooperative, and didn’t complain! I’m not used to taking both of them with me, as Matt has set aside a couple hours on Thursday afternoons to spend some undivided time with one or the other of the girls each week. We trade off every second week, and it’s know as Abi and Dad Day, or Naomi and Dad Day. But this week, Abi declared that it was Abi and Naomi and Mom Day. I love it. It was still special as compared to all the other days we have been together this week, and still worthy of a special title!

Sharing, Caring, and Bed Sheets

Tuesday morning brings Priscilla back to our house at 7:30am, so the girls spent their morning coloring, building train tracks, and reading books with her. I was starting to feel the pressure of a backlog of items that needed to be sewn – and the very strong desire to run away from the taxes I probably should have been finishing up today – so I tackled a couple more urgent mending jobs and then immersed myself in a fun sewing spree.

I spent about half the morning with this friend. I have a very old singer sewing machine also, and today they sat side by side as I moved back and forth between the two, but this overlocker machine is fantastic. Matt was pretty skeptical when I registered for it on our wedding registry, and rather shocked when we got it! I’d never had a “fancy” sewing machine before, but after almost 8 years of good use, I can’t imagine sewing without it!

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Today’s fun sewing project also had practical value: bed sheets! Abi had come with me to the old part of town a couple weeks ago to buy fabric to recover the cushions on our wicker furniture, and I think it was she who discovered the sheeting material. She fell in love with the purple stripe, and when I showed her the matching solid purple (her favorite color), she did a little dance and laughed out loud! So she now has a purple fitted sheet and a striped top sheet.  And she LOVES them!

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The other set of sheets is queen-size to replace an old set that was becoming brittle and too thin. But the fabric that I found for that set is amazing. It’s the (blazing brilliant!) white in the first picture, but it’s some of the best sheeting material I’ve ever seen. It’s solid, medium weight, with a smooth almost velvety feel. Think high-end hotel sheets. And the fabric cost me half of what I would pay to buy a mediocre set of sheets in America. My time counts for something, of course, but I did make 2 sets in about 2 hours, so I think I’m ok with the time!

I also ran over to see my friend Susan again. The medicine to treat the bacterial meningitis continues to work, and she was up on her feet to meet me at the door today! She had finished all the books I took her on Saturday, so I brought her 3 more books, and a little loaf of banana bread that we had made yesterday.

The afternoon was back to more routine things – Abi and I did school while Naomi slept and Priscilla cleaned out all my kitchen cupboards. About the time Naomi woke up, I started working on dinner, because I knew I needed a little extra time today. I made a triple batch of rice and Spicy Beef with Peppers stir fry, to keep one batch for us and send the rest home with Carol for her family this evening. Carol works full time and has spent the last 14 months caring for one family member or another, herself included, as their family has experienced injury and illness almost continually during that time. The Lord has chosen a serious path for this family for this time, and I have known the blessing of not only being able to help in small ways, but also to be able to see the Lord strengthen their faith. We love this family so much and it hurts to see them suffer, but we too must trust the Lord, entrusting our friends to Him.

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Then after dinner, this happened:

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Naomi threw a dish towel over a little side table, and Abi and I were joking with her about setting the table for tea, when Abi ran off to the play room and returned with play tea set. They played for a couple minutes, then Abi had to go to the bathroom. I sent Naomi to the playroom to find a couple missing tea set pieces, while I made some tea and filled the milk pitcher and sugar bowl. When Abi came back, her eyes got big and she jumped around and yelled “We’re not playing anymore, Naomi! This is REAL tea! I’ve always wanted to do this!!!”

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So they had their little tea party. Two cups of rooibos tea apiece.

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They were very careful and didn’t spill a drop.

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It is nice to end the day with a cuppa. =)

On Being 2

Today I thought we’d spend a little time with Naomi. She’s the spunky little sunshine that around here is better known as The Bug, Omi, and Hot Sticky Honey.  Believe it or not, she gave herself that last nickname! Her sweetness touches all of our lives all day long, so here’s a day with Naomi…

This girl wakes up a little slowly. Not late, just slowly. She’s sweet and cuddly in the morning, and “Happy!”  She loves her big girl bed, and I’m about to remove the folded quilt because she hasn’t fallen out in weeks.

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The day is on! Lots of things to do – good thing she has a little car to get where she needs to go quickly!

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Omi loves to be helpful, especially putting things in the trash and turning the water on and off when Mom is getting ready in the morning.

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Abi and I do kindergarten in the morning, and Naomi is convinced she’s also in school. She faithfully colors a Curious George coloring page every day, plays puzzles, and takes care of all the babies in the playroom.

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Every once in a while it’s just too much to have to play by herself, and she begins to pester her sister and cry and complain to her Mom. I send her to the couch until she can stop crying, and face-down seems to be the best method she has found to stop crying.

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After school we all need a little break so we head outside to play. Omi’s not quite big enough for the swings, but she can improvise!

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Sometimes being 2 is hard, like when her legs aren’t as long as Abi’s and she can’t climb and do everything Abi can!

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But the storm passes quickly, and Abi lets her captain the boat for a safari adventure.

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Our morning ends with a trip to the library at African Bible College Christian Academy, where Abi has a membership. Naomi loves the library almost as much as Abi does. Almost. But we’ll save Abi’s love for books for another day.

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We came home to discover a beautiful moth resting in our garage. Omi took a few minutes to investigate.

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And then on to lunch. Apparently forks are optional today. We’re trying, but it’s hard to grow up all at once!

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After a nice long nap for Naomi, we got to talk to Dad again, and then we did a little batch cooking of banana bread and chocolate chip cookies. The look in this picture? She just stole a piece of chocolate. Guilty!

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All of us had funny tummies today, so we had ramen for dinner and called it good. Naomi called it very good!

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After dinner, straight to baths. Poor Omi has had a bug bite on the top of her foot for several days. I’ve decided this is probably one of the worst places for a toddler to get bitten – it’s extra-sensitive so extra-itchy, it gets dirty from all the crawling around, playing, and sitting on their knees, and shoes rub it! So we’ve gone shoeless as much as possible, have used benadryl cream, and covered it with a bandaid. It’s barely swollen now, so I think we’ve almost beat it.

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And then it’s off to bed! She and Abi and I sit on the floor, hold hands, and pray before the girls go to their own rooms. Then I tuck Naomi in and sing her a couple songs. Tonight it was the chorus Teach Me to Live, and a favorite old hymn of mine, Under His Wings. When I finish she always whispers to me “Night Mama, love you.” Melts my heart!

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We love life with this little one, and hope you enjoyed the day with us! We’ll do a day in the life of Abi on Friday so she can share on the day she has ballet class!

To America and Back Again

We’ve been back in Africa for more than a month now, and I’m finally finding time (and electricity, but that’s a story for another blog post) to write about our 105 days in the USA.

It occurs to me that going on furlough is unusual for some of our readers.

We’re certainly not the only couple to take their young kids around the world for months of travel. But it’s definitely not exactly commonplace either. So here’s my attempt to capture how it feels to visit the-country-we’re-from-but-don’t-live-in-now.
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(CUTE KIDS ALERT: We have a “don’t just blog about your kids” policy, and I’m shamelessly taking a hiatus from it for this one. Half of the fun of furlough was seeing things through our girls’ eyes. If you don’t like cute kids, you can keep scrolling to find other posts about big bugs and stuff…)

Let me start by sketching the framework with some furlough stats:

  • We spent 15 weeks in the USA
  • We stayed in 16 different houses (+1 hotel)
  • We spoke at 22 different churches or Bible studies

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There were some flying parts:

  • We flew on 11 different airplanes
  • We flew 23,000 miles internationally and 5,000 in the US
  • We had 3 planes leave without us
  • We got 3 free seat upgrades (except we needed 4 seats – poor Naomi was left out!)
Naomi on Matt's lap

Naomi flew on our laps for about 18,000 miles

And there were some driving parts:

  • We drove 4 different cars
  • We drove in 9 different states
  • We drove 9,000 miles (which meant 2 oil changes)

 

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Sometimes the car is fun!

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Sometimes the car is not fun!

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This was after more than 30 hours of travel

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This was after more than 30 rounds of “Old MacDonald”

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34° in Central Oregon

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11 days later: 104° in S. California

At the heart of all this globe-trotting  was our desire to better connect with our ministry partners. Our service to the church in Malawi couldn’t happen without all the people back in the US who faithfully pray for us, support us, encourage us, connect us with resources, visit us, and stand behind us in countless ways. (We thank God for you people!) We also are looking for others to join us in partnership for the gospel.

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The Hamlines (L) visited Malawi last year, and the Temples (R) will be joining our team in Malawi this year.

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We created a “Malawian Market” to introduce our friends in Los Angeles to some of our favorite parts of Malawi.

In that respect, this was our best furlough yet. It was wonderful to share true Christian fellowship with so many people we don’t often see. We enjoyed every opportunity to tell others about the Lord’s work in Africa. It was also a huge blessing to hear testimonies of Christ continuing to build people’s faith. We returned to Malawi feeling physically tired, but spiritually encouraged.

While that was certainly the most meaningful part of our time in the US, there were several additional benefits too. Here were some other highlights, according to each member of our family.

Matt enjoyed:

  1. Mexican food
  2. Introducing the family to some Pacific Northwest favorites

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    At Multnomah Falls in Oregon

  3. Being a part of several big family events
    Naomi is no longer the littlest cousin

    Naomi meets her new cousin

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    Abi and great grandma Donda

Rachel enjoyed:

  1. Trader Joe’s
  2. Getting our girls together with their cousins and grandparents 151025-105925
  3. Catching the fall colors in Connecticut 151026-135519

Abi enjoyed:

  1. Libraries Abigail loves libraries
  2. Escalators and moving sidewalks

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    She’s a pro now. The only moving staircases in Malawi are ladders.

  3. Seeing skyscrapers for the first time151022-104853.jpg

Naomi enjoyed:

  1. “Papa!” Naomi and Papa.jpg
  2. The aquarium 151024-225018
  3. Drinking fountains 151110-015557

Since I’ve already given my disclaimer above, is it okay if I act like a proud dad and wrap up with a few more pictures of my girls on furlough?

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A great fishing cabin, courtesy Airbnb

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Fun with grandma

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Naomi might want to be a cactus when she grows up

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Dad, can this be my bed?

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Right now our girls don’t know Disneyland is a real place. (Shhh.)

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Naomi was fascinated by the science center. Not sure it was quite such a fun experience for this other kid, though.

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“We’re from Africa too!” (We’re still working on finding flattering camera angles.)

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After our time in Washington, Naomi asked “Cow?” every time we drove past a field.

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Poor Abi’s tummy wasn’t used to American food

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We don’t get orange pumpkins in Malawi!

Abigail and Naomi dance in the redwoods

Abigail and Naomi dance in the redwoods

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Abi’s first snowman – on the side of an Arizona highway

Naomi is TWO

Naomi turned TWO.

Naomi is not sure about Abigails driving skills

Guess which girl wanted to buy this motorcycle?

Thanks for following along!

Friendship

We love raising our girls in Africa, for many reasons, one of which is the great diversity of people who are around the girls – and become their friends – as they grow up. Here are a few of Abigail’s friends. =)

Abi Friends 1Rejoice and her family live on the same property with us, and as the girls were born only a few weeks apart, they’ve grown up together. They learned how to roll over together as babies, planted their own gardens – on my front porch cushions!!! – together as toddlers, and now they run through the sprinkler together on hot days.

2015 Zomba Vacation 18Speaking of growing up together, these sisters are starting to become good friends too. One of the good things about sisters, especially growing up on the mission field, is that they go everywhere with you, so you always have a friend close by.

Abi's Friends 2I’m pretty sure that Yami and Abi think they are brother and sister. They are fiercely loyal to one another! They play together on Tuesday mornings while I (Rachel) teach Bible study, and are pretty much inseparable at church. Yami’s parents are good friends of Matt’s and mine, and his little brother is the same age as Naomi, so our families enjoy spending time together when we can – from dinners to family vacations.

Abi's Friends 1Maggie and Abi are always pretty goofy when they’re together, so this is about the best picture I could get of them! Maggie’s parents are also missionaries, and the girls are now taking ballet class together, so we see them fairly regularly.

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Abi also has dozens of church friends. (I think here Vanessa and Allison are teaching Abi to eat the ketchup right out of the packet?!?) She gets to see them each week on Sunday, at church events like the Relationship Conference, and then 5-6 of them also come on Tuesday nights to watch Bible movies with us while their parents have Bible Study in our living room.

I love the diversity of friendships in our girls’ lives – and ours. It’s a great perk of missionary life!