Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Ten: Arvore de Natal (Christmas Tree)

Here are a few pictures of our Portuguese Christmas tree:

We put up our tree on Thanksgiving weekend. It cost us 13 euros at Aki, our local "Home Depot" type store. Even if we only use it one year, I figure it was worth it!

The boys enjoyed helping me decorate the tree. Stephen wanted to put all his cars on the branches!

Straw ornaments from IKEA

One of our souvenir ornaments from Lisbon. We made it from a small porcelain trolley car that we bought at a souvenir store downtown and a piece of twine.

Our homemade ornament project this year was ornaments made from metal bottle caps. Rusty and Alex collected metal bottle caps all over Morocco when we went there in October. After we got home, I washed them; then we picked out some of the best ones, Rusty punched holes in the caps, Alex glued the foil stars inside, I attached the twine for hanging, and voila -- bottle cap ornaments for the tree!

We made 16...

... and each one is different!

With some of the leftover bottle caps, I made this garland to go around the bottom branches of the tree.

Rusty's Christmas train is in storage in Nashville, awaiting shipment to Angola in the near future, but Spencer, one of Alex's toy trains was happy to serve as a replacement this year!

The finished tree... and hanging on the wall behind, our stockings, also from IKEA (love that store!).

More to come soon about how we celebrated the holidays in Portugal. Hope your Christmas was merry and bright!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thanksgiving, 2010

This year, our team celebrated Thanksgiving all together for the first time. We had a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixin's, hosted by the Meyers. It was a lovely day... feasting... friends... and a time of singing praises to our Father to bring the day to its close.

Enjoy the pictures!

Teague's first turkey! It was dee-licious!

Irene the Turkey was bigger than 4-month old Sophia Reese. She fed our team for 3 meals!

The guests who shared our day with us.

Our team

Of course there was lots of pie! I think there were 12 pies in total, all homemade of course.

Me and the littles, reading the Berenstein Bears Thanksgiving book.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Team Retreat

In November, our team had its first retreat. We left Lisbon for the weekend and traveled out to the farm where our family stayed one weekend last April. We spent three days together reflecting on how far we've come, looking at where we are now, and dreaming about the future. There was a very cool slide show, created by Teague, which recapped our team's history over the past 8 years, from when the seed for Angolan missions was first planted until now. It was good to look back and see how faithful God has been through the years to bring all of us to this point.

Of course, there was time for fun as well. We spent a gorgeous day playing with our kids and picnicking in a park in √Čvora, played Settlers of Catan and a special "Angola Team" version of Scattergories, and took a walk around the farm, which ended with a tractor-ride for the kiddos, a special gift from our hosts:


When I think back on the retreat, the chorus to the song, "The Family of God," always pops into my head. Incidentally, we sang this song during our Sunday morning worship time, and I think it recaps beautifully what we did during what I hope will become an annual event for our team:
Sometimes we laugh together, sometimes we cry,
Sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs.
Sometimes we dream together of how it will be
When we all get to heaven, God's family.
The Angola Team, November 2010
How far we've come...
How far we have yet to go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Top Ten: First Annual Angola Team Halloween Party

When you celebrate the holidays overseas, you often have to get creative in the way you celebrate them. Certain holidays are uniquely American (like Thanksgiving)... others might be known, but are not as hyped-up or celebrated in the same ways as they are in the United States. Halloween would fit in this category. We decided to have a Halloween party for our kids to give them some of the experiences of dressing in costumes and trick-or-treating. Our family hosted the party this year. We spent most of the week leading up to it getting ready... hunting for pumpkins, decorating our apartment, deciding on activities for the kids, and planning the menu.

Rusty drew the faces on these oranges.

Pumpkin lumiaries... they were so pretty! 

We planned several activities for the kids to do during the party. First, we painted pumpkins. Interestingly, large, round, bright orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins are hard to come by in Portugal. We ended up using smaller pumpkins that were either pale orange or speckled green and white. We did manage to find one big round pumpkin which Teague carved during the party so the kids could see what a real jack-o-lantern looked like. Efesson and Biruk had never seen one before!

Alex painted a very colorful pumpkin!

Teague's jack-o-lantern

Stephen was so fascinated with the pumpkin-face and the candle inside.

We played a game where we gave the kids balloons with candy inside, and they had to figure out how to get it out. It provided several minutes of very loud entertainment.

Trying to pop balloons (Stephen just wanted to play with his.)

Then, we decorated Halloween treat buckets (we used old yogurt tubs) and had the kids go trick-or-treating in our apartment. An adult went in each room and closed the door. Once they were ready, the kids went around knocking on the doors and saying "Trick-or-treat." It worked pretty well, and they all went home with full treat-buckets!

Decorating treat buckets

Trick-or-treat!

Surprise! The Tosta Mista Man (Grilled Ham-and-Cheese Sandwich Man) was behind the bathroom door. Rusty came up with this costume all on his own the hour before the party, and the inspiration behind it was the Powdered Toast Man from "Ren and Stimpy."

All the kids in their costumes. From left to right, we have, a gorilla, a fire chief, a train conductor, Winnie the Pooh, and a fire lieutenant. Our littlest participant, Sophia, was an adorable zebra, but she was asleep at the time of the picture.

And that's how we celebrated Halloween in Portugal this year!

There are lots more pictures on Facebook... just look for photos of Rusty or me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ten Days in Morocco: The Atlantic Coast

With this post, I'll wrap up recounting our trip to Morocco. I hope you've enjoyed getting a glimpse of our adventures because I certainly enjoyed writing about them! Truth be told, I probably keep this blog more for myself than anyone... it functions as an online scrapbook of sorts. Really, it's the only scrapbook I have for the last few years, since I'm so behind in my scrapbooking that I fear I'll never catch up. I love to browse back through old posts sometimes, remembering the fun things we did, and seeing how God brought us through the struggles.

We spent our final days in Morocco enjoying some playtime on the beach. The weather was a little on the cool side, but sunny, and the beaches were practically deserted. We stayed in three different towns along the Atlantic Coast. The first, where we stayed for two nights, was the village of Mirleft. We totally lucked out in finding a furnished apartment to rent for less than we would have paid for a hotel room. Even better, the apartment was situated right next to a steep staircase down to the beach and had an amazing view of the ocean from the living room windows. With the windows open at night, we fell asleep to the roar of the surf -- mmm, heavenly!

View from our apartment

The boys enjoyed swimming in the surf...

...and playing in the sand.

We built our first family sandcastle. Or, Rusty and Alex built it while I tried to keep Stephen from destroying their creation!

One afternoon, we drove south a few kilometers to Lgzira Beach, which showcases two dramatic natural stone arches, hollowed out over time by the relentless pounding of the waves. The next three pictures are of Lgzira Beach:


From Mirleft, we drove north along the coastal road to the fishing village of Essaouira. It was a very pretty drive, and there were lots of great views, but probably the most interesting things we saw were goats in trees! Argan trees to be precise. These trees produce a fruit kind of like an olive, which can be pressed and made into oil. Argan oil is becoming a hip alternative to olive oil in restaurants around the world, and the oil can also be used to make soaps and other beauty products. In addition, goats like to eat the leaves of the argan trees and will climb up into their branches in order to do so. I'm not talking about the lowest branches of the trees, either -- we saw goats all the way up at the tip-top of these trees, swaying in the wind while they ate!

Have you ever seen a goat in a tree?

We stayed one night in Essaouira. Although our time there was limited, I felt like we had the quintessential Essaouira experience... we stayed in a riad (traditonal hotel with rooms surrounding a central courtyard) in the medina, watched the sun set from the medina walls, wandered the streets (no cars allowed in the medina) in the evening, sipped fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast on our hotel's rooftop terrace overlooking the town and the ocean, shopped in the souqs, climbed the sea bastion tower to look back at the town, and had freshlly grilled fish for lunch at the fish stalls by the harbor. Essaouira was another of the highlights of our trip for me.

Canons along the city wall

Watching the sunset

View from our hotel's roof

Spices for sale

No cars in the medina meant we employed this man to help us get our bags from the car park to our hotel. He let Alex ride in his cart, which Alex thought was super cool!

View of Essaouira from the sea bastion

From Essaouira, we continued the drive north to the little resort community of Oualidia, where we stayed two nights. Oualidia is situated on the shores of a calm lagoon which is separated from the rough waves of the Atlantic by a rocky breakwater. We were able to find another furnished apartment, just like in Mirleft, which was near the beach. The water in the lagoon was relatively warm, and there were no huge waves, so the boys could roam a bit freer, which was nice. We paid an old fisherman to take us around the lagoon on his boat one morning, and in the evening, we walked on the boardwalk before going to dinner and saw the last of the fading sunset sky and the waves crashing agaist the rocks. Rusty and Alex also rode a four-wheeler on the beach one morning! Hey, I guess if you can't ride a camel, a four-wheeler is the next best thing!

Feeling the sand between his toes

Boat ride!

View of the lagoon...

...and just on the other side, the rocky shore of the open sea.

Our four-wheeling four-year-old!

And from Oualidia, it was back to Casablanca to catch our flight home. We spent very little time in Casablanca, but we did drive past the Hassan II mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and took a few pictures. We decided against the guided tour, which was a little pricey and would have lasted an hour.

The Hassan II mosque

And that wraps up Ten Days in Morocco. Never fear, though... I already have more posts in the works -- including the first annual Angola Team Halloween Party and the first annual Angola Team Retreat. (Lots of firsts for our team right now.) See you soon!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ten Days in Morocco: The Desert

I was amazed at how much we were able to pack into our ten days in Morocco and felt like we were able to give ourselves a wide range of experiences while we were there. The only "big" thing we didn't get to do was ride camels on the dunes of the Sahara, and only because we decided we would rather spend more time on the beach. So, our psuedo-desert experiences were the towns of Ait Benhaddou and Ouarzazete.

You've seen Ait Benhaddou before and just didn't realize it -- several films have been shot in this old ksar (fortified city), including "Lawrence of Arabia," "Jesus of Nazareth," "The Mummy," and "Gladiator." It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been carefully preserved by Hollywood through the years. In fact, it's been almost too carefully preserved. Most of the town's inhabitants now live in the modern section of town on the other side of the river, so as you walk through the ksar, you feel like you're either in a ghost town or on a movie set. I half expected to turn a corner and meet a camera crew. As you would imagine, Ait Benhaddou is also pretty heavily touristed, and the day we visited was very windy with sand blowing everywhere, so we didn't stay very long, but headed on to Ouarzazete.

Ait Benhaddou

Walking through the ksar...

... all the way to the top for a fantastic view!

Jewelry for sale

Alex in his Berber turban

We stayed the night in Ouarzazete and took the time after we got there to tour the Taourirt Kasbah, which served as a backdrop for several scenes in the original "Star Wars" movie.

Posing on a cannon just inside the entrance to the kasbah

View from one of the windows

The next morning, after breakfast, we began the long drive west to the Atlantic coast. We stopped for lunch at Teliouine, the center for saffron, which is the world's most expensive spice, probably because it is only grown in a very narrow band of land. Most of the dishes at the restaurant we ate at featured saffron. I had a saffron and citrus chicken tajine, which was very tasty.

Camel on the side of the road

Teliouine

Coming soon... the Atlantic coast!