Please note: All images on this blog (except where noted) are original works of Miki Baxter and cannot be duplicated without permission. Also, if you're inspired by a project featured on here, then please link back to me and give proper credit. Thank you!!!


Our Family Christmas Letter

For your reading amusement, I present to you our annual Christmas letter. We try to find creative ways to present the information of our lives; this year's letter was inspired by another family's letter found through Google. Enjoy!
The Baxter Family’s
Christmas Guide to the Best Movies of 2008
BABY MAMA - Miki Baxter has lovingly put her husband and children ahead of her artistic endeavors. Now 37, she's determined to have a regular scrapbooking time and creative outlet. Her plan is thrown a curve ball after she discovers there is only a million-to-one chance of getting an extended period of time to herself. Undaunted, the driven Miki recruits hard working guy, Sean, to become her unlikely surrogate. Realizing that Baby Keizo should be getting over separation anxiety, Miki goes into hyper creative mode: reading craft books, collecting supplies, and pulling out photographs. But the desperate mom’s well-organized strategy is turned upside down when Keizo keeps escaping the baby yard and getting into her things. An unstoppable force of love meets an immovable bundle of cuteness as structured Miki tries to turn determined Baby into a self-entertaining toddler. In a battle of wills, they wrestle and giggle their way through games, tickle times and numerous distraction techniques. And in the middle of this tug-of-war, they'll celebrate their kind of family: one that genuinely enjoys being together and realizes these moments and stages pass way too quickly.
GET SMART - Bungling producer Seanwell Baxter, also known as Agent Creative, works for CONTROL aka Erickson. His latest assignment sends him to Maine to battle the forces of their nemesis known as KAOS aka "Don’t mess up on this big budget project." With his more than competent partners Miki, Mireille, Barnabas, & Keizo at his side, he rushes headfirst into the crisp, clean Maine air. When the headquarters of CONTROL is attacked by doubts of competency, Sean has no choice but to rise to the occasion and bring his 16 years of film experience to the forefront. Sean does whatever it takes to thwart the latest plot of KAOS to disturb production plans, wreak havoc with communication, and send problematic talent his way. New friends, kayaking, and successful production is all that’s left when the dust settles.
27 DRESSES - 27 Dresses centers on Mireille Baxter, an optimistic. fun-loving second grader who has numerous interests and talents. From diving into books to taking up knitting, her creative energies know no limits. A ballet student on Saturdays, a fearless Level 2 swimmer, Mireille also enjoys science and writing original stories. Which path will she follow? Perhaps the answer lies in her growing interest in fashion, as evidenced by numerous notebooks filled with designs. With her boundless energy and stylish flair, the sky is the limit.
LEATHERHEADS - A kindergarten comedy set against the backdrop of Catonsville’s youth football league. Sean Baxter is determined to guide his son’s team from distracted practices to focused games. But after the players lose their first game and the entire team faces emotional collapse, Sean convinces Barnabas, the team’s rookie quarterback, to run the play they’ve been practicing over and over again. This optimistic coach and devoted dad hopes this latest move will help the struggling team. Displaying an uncanny command of the field, Barnabas has proven himself a leader on the field. Can he overcome his fear of the "big boys" and lead his team to victory? With praise songs constantly flowing from his lips, anything is possible.
JAMES BOND: QUANTUM OF SOLACE - Quantum of Solace continues the high octane adventures of Keizo Jun Baxter. Growing and changing at an amazing rate, 0011.5 months fights the urge to destroy, but the Christmas tree looks so inviting.... Pursuing his determination to uncover presents and overcome the numerous obstacles and baby gates blocking his way, Keizo and M (Mommi) engage in a friendly game of peek-a-boo. Will the distraction techniques work? Will Baby Keizo succeed in his takeover of the home or will M be able to corral his determination and energy to a more productive end? This stage of growth and discovery, which includes walking, is far more complex and adventurous than anyone had remembered.
We hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year!


All Points Weather Bulletin

My blogger voice has been quiet this last week. It lost in the competition for time and attention, as I have been overwhelmed by activities and rampant emotions. Has it only been a week? Last Friday night, giddy with anticipation and inhaled hairspray fumes, I was ready to head out for a night of dancing and fun with my husband. Feeling oh-so-very feminine and chic in a long flowing dress and strappy heels, bright red lips and big hair. Then the phone call came. My father had been rushed by ambulance to the hospital. After some time waiting, prayer and an update, with more promised throughout the evening, a shakier me headed out anyway. Thank God, my father was treated and released after several hours, though he wasn't fully recovered. Neither was I. My dad, in an ambulance...... Saturday morning, with the remnants of big hair, I dressed up again with the added bonus of a tiara and headed out. First stop, my daughter's ballet class for a demonstration. Lovely. Then an inspirational tea party at church. The following morning was church, with an adult Christmas Dinner early in the evening with a hilarious white elephant gift exchange. Whew. And the weather pattern from last Friday to yesterday, a week's worth, was tumultuous. It started off cool and clear, snowed, cleared up, got very warm, foggy, rained very hard, and then clear and very cool again. Parallel to my inner emotional state. Wacky. Though there is a part of me that is outgoing, I definitely crave time to myself. I need stillness and quietness within me as well as around me. That peace inside is critical to my functioning well on the outside, though it is not so apparent to others. But the filter through which I see and interact with the outside world is affected and clouded. So this last week has consisted of regaining some peace within as I processed my thoughts and emotions, dialogued with God, my parents and close friends. Working on a massive Christmas card project has helped too by giving me a creative outlet and time to think things through. My father continues to struggle with health issues. There are some family members struggling too with various things, related and unrelated to my dad's condition. A close friend has been struggling. My heart is heavy and burdened for those I love. I sense the closeness of my Lord, which is comforting, but the busyness has interrupted my drawing deeply from His well of peace. And the ostrich tendencies of wanting to hide and bury my head at times like this war against healthier patterns of properly processing. So I've been struggling. And with puffy eyes, blotchy skin, and two severely wayward pigtails, I have emerged after a week of little sleep and inner rest with my voice again. I see what's been going on, have been processing them all, and now am heading on the road to regained peace. Ah, it's quiet in the house this morning. I don't have to do anything, go anywhere, be anything... My beloved has gone on a grocery store run and has generously given me time to myself this morning without baby. I passionately love my husband, children, family, friends and most of all Jesus. But in the storm and in the struggles, I need Jesus. He alone can penetrate and help from deep within. And He is an ever present help in time of trouble. Yup, that's what the Bible says! The quietness after a storm is breathtakingly wonderful. Fellow storm riders, how do you process the torrents of emotions and life situations? What does your all weather gear consist of?


In The Hands Of A Skilled Surgeon

I received an answer to an unspoken prayer request today. Though I've experienced God's healing touch throughout the years, there are still areas I feel might be out of His reach, things I have been reluctant to turn to Him about. Why??? Sitting at a beautifully set table today, in a room with sparkling lights and warm Christmas decor, I smiled, greeted and chatted with ladies from my church at our annual Christmas Tea. I wasn't consciously aware of the question lingering in my heart, but when the answer came through the message shared by my pastor's wife, I was deeply touched. Rocked to my core, truthfully. And so very, very relieved. Fittingly, the theme this year was "The Island of Misfit Toys," from the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer holiday movie. We all are like dysfunctional, broken toys in various ways, but Jesus claims us as His very own. The pastor's wife shared how her sons had all broken numerous bones in their bodies, and one son experienced a break that was of special concern. They were worried that the area of the break would always be weaker and affect his ability to play sports. The orthopedic surgeon they consulted replied that in the hands of a skilled surgeon, that broken area will actually become stronger, the strongest part of the bone. The pastor's wife also told us a phrase her husband likes to share: Jesus is the Prince of Peace and also the Prince of Pieces. In the hands of our Great Physician, the most skilled Surgeon of every area of our being, our broken parts actually can become the strongest parts of us. Selah (meditate on this.) I have walked with the Lord most of my adult life, yet there are broken pieces, broken places in me that I feared were beyond His reach. I realize, writing this, that these are also the places I feel the most vulnerable in. I have a great testimony of God's faithfulness and deliverance - He has brought me through and out of so many things, yet I have held onto these areas despite the Truth of His Word and the gentleness of His manner. Recently, I started wondering to myself as certain issues arose if those areas could be changed. Could they? Could I be healed? Could I be delivered? Will I always be held back by the bruised, scarred, broken pieces deep within my heart that most people don't even know about? Though I haven't let many things hold me back in my life, internally I felt crippled. Today, when I heard about the broken bones being stronger in the hands of a skilled surgeon, hope rose in my heart. I COULD be touched there, I COULD be healed, and those areas would be stronger because of the skilled hands of our Creator. My first step is to have a consultation with my Doctor. I am going to make an appointment and show Him the problem areas (though He is well aware of my condition.) This will require transparency on my part - I must truthfully share how I have been affected by these problem areas and the level of discomfort/pain they are causing me now. I have to open up, confess. Then we will discuss a treatment plan which include a daily dose of His Truth Medicine, the Bible, and regular follow-up visits (prayer time). I will let go of my management of these areas which involved self-medicating, denial, and suffering in silence. His ways are so much better. And since He is available, I need to let Him in. I have been afraid for too long. I have held onto a tattered blanket of sorrow and pain close to my heart, in a vain attempt to protect myself from further damage. The wounds haven't healed this way; I've developed some scar tissue and hard areas in my heart while other areas are still raw. But I do believe that it is time. God brought this message as well as other things recently to show me it is time to get treatment and operate. It is time to experience relief and release from areas of hidden torment. It is time to be free, to grow stronger in those broken areas, to know Him in a more intimate manner, to trust Him deeper, and to proclaim His goodness with an even bigger voice. Amen. I know this is true for me - it is time. Is it true for you too? Will you make an appointment?


Strengthen your strengths

Why is it that we are able to quickly point out the negatives but finding the positives can be so challenging? My mother and I were having a discussion about this yesterday, and I find it true in so many areas of my life. My pastor's wife in Georgia once said something so completely revolutionary that I couldn't believe it at first: Strengthen your strengths. I was stunned when she said this and asked her to repeat it. Strengthen your strengths. It's true, isn't it? God has given us specific gifts, abilities, etc. and expects us to exercise them, to strengthen them, to use them in order to be a blessing. Yet I have spent so much time working on my weak areas, trying to strengthen those instead. And I tend to focus on areas in my children's lives that need to improve versus focusing on their strengths and encouraging them first and foremost in those areas. We do need to be aware of weaknesses but focus much more on the positive. Strengthen our strengths, strengthen our children's strengths. I could probably make a list of my faults, weak areas, flaws, etc. quickly, but what are my strengths? What are yours? I challenge us to a list :-) What are your strengths? What are you good at? What's your favorite part of you? My strengths: I am sensitive, organized, intelligent, creative, thoughtful, lively, passionate, fun, expressive, quick to respond, honest. I am good at: detail oriented things, taking great photographs, baking, designing rooms and clothes. My favorite parts of myself include my brain, my creative abilities, my voice as far as expressing myself, my face and hair. That wasn't as hard as I thought it would be! And I feel good after writing it down - hurray! May this be a daily habit of rejoicing in how God created us and focusing more on the good - in ourselves, our beloved mates, our precious children and others around us. How do you strengthen your strengths? I plan on recognizing what I am good at and going to that first - for example, I can bake well and will plan more meals that require baking versus other kinds of cooking that intimidate me. I will use my camera as a creative outlet more often than other projects that I get overwhelmed in doing. I will approach housework as an organizational and design project and do the things I do well first in order to encourage myself. I will try to find a creative way to approach the things I dislike and don't do well that need to get done anyway. I will use my strengths (like communication, artisitic creativity, organization) in homeschooling, rather than trying to force myself to live up to some standard of what I think a homeschooling mom should be. And I will write reminders in my planner and around the house to focus on the positive and on the strengths of my dear family and others. I feel like a burden has been lifted off of me! Without realizing it, I think the pressure of not measuring up, not exceeding expectations, seeing failures all around and in me, etc. have been oppressing me. I can actually breathe better right now; I actually found it hard to breathe earlier today. Wow... I sense the presence of our wonderful Lord drawing close and whispering that we are His precious ones. He loves us with an everlasting love. He created the good and placed special gifts in all of us. He formed each one of us specifically and knows us so completely. He knows the weaknesses but delights in our uniqueness. I sense the urge to turn to Him more openly and to share more transparently in the struggles but also in the celebration of all that is so strong. Our God is so sensitive and loving, and He wants us to love ourselves, His wondrous creation. Then we can truly love others well. Selah.


Shoes, Handbags, and discovering God's purpose

There's a commercial on TV that bothers me: a woman driving down a city street notices that it's raining shoes and jumps out of her car to snatch up as many shoes as she can. I seriously don't get that commercial. First of all, what's the point in not having matching pairs? Secondly, I don't get the fascination with shoes. I have never been a shoe girl. They go on my feet and touch all kinds of yucky surfaces. I value shoes because they are a practical necessity, not for their ornamental qualities. Perhaps my apathy towards shoes stems from the fact that once I turned ten, I could not fit into any cute shoes in Japan. My feet were too big. The only pair my mother finally came across were a dark color and really ugly. And the same thing happened to me in Ethiopia when I really needed a new pair of shoes. Once again, the cute shoes were denied me because my feet were too big! At the time, I wore a size 8.5. So imagine my chagrin when after three children, my feet expanded to a size 10. Sigh. It occurs to me that I have had numerous shoe trauma incidents. I remember being around kindergarten age, wearing white sandles and stepping into a dog mess on the sidewalk. I didn't know what to do - my sandals and foot were covered in that stinky mess. Trauma. More recently, I only had one pair of shoes available to me after our move to Maryland. Crocs were my shoe staple throughout my pregnancy, and one night I threw up all over them. I had to go to a meeting early the following morning before they had gotten washed and ended up having to wear a pair of my husband's shoes...more trauma. I'm sure there are many more, but I will spare my grossed out readers any further details. Handbags, on the other hand, I understand. I have always liked purses, handbags, totes, satchels, even paper gift bags. Bags hold all the important things we need. Mirror, there it is! Gum, found it! Waiting in line, open up and grab a book! Bags make sense to me. The only trauma I can recall is not being able to find a diaper bag that I liked, and I looked everywhere! So I carry either a pink and orange mesh tote that I got from a thrift store (cute bag!) or a large denim tote from Bath and Body Works that I received as a gift. For Christmas, I want a new bag. In fact, I am ready to retire a number of bags and carry only this one. Because it's pricey but oh so lovely and practical! There are numerous styles, but I'll know it when I find just the right one... What does it say about us, the shoes or handbag types? Some are both, I know. This post isn't a deep one, but I have been pondering what my passions are. And though bags don't even qualify as a passion for me, they are something I particularly like. So I am starting there and hoping to discover more and more what my true passions are. Maybe I'll start a list. (On a previous post I mentioned how much I like lists.) Anyway, it will be an interesting journey as I dig deeper and discover more of the things that God placed in me for His purposes. There are natural gifts, spiritual gifts, personality traits, temperaments, preferences and tendencies...all the things God uniquely designed in us. May His purposes and passions ultimately prevail in my life, amen.


Thanksgiving and being the Middle Child

I hope Thanksgiving was a warm and wonderful celebration for everyone! My husband, Sean, was gracious to agree to another trip down to Virginia to have Thanksgiving with my family first, then returning to Maryland to visit with his family. Last year we left on Wednesday night, and the trip took seven hours due to traffic (it should only take four!) This time we left Tuesday night, and the trip took five hours. It's progress! Actually, this time it wasn't the traffic that made the trip a challenge - there were so many crazy drivers, and we witnessed several accidents. When I took over the wheel midway through the trip, I was startled to see headlights right up against our car. A little while later this vehicle finally passed me, and it was a big truck! I couldn't even tell because it was so close to me. At that point, I prayed that God would create a buffer around our car. For the rest of the trip, there was a safe cushion of space around our car, and I felt tremendous peace in knowing God was protecting us all along the way. For the first time ever, my sister and I prepared the holiday meal. We had to chase our mother out of the kitchen a few times with a stern warning that she wasn't allowed to fret over anything, and she finally seemed to get the message and relaxed. A bit. For her, that's a major accomplishment. And for us, it was a blessing to show that we were able and competent women. Though we are in our thirties, our parents have a tendency to revert back to treating us like we're still teenagers. And they like to lump us together as one female entity, though we have two very different personalities and lifestyles. That has been perhaps the most frustrating aspect of our entire family life, my sister and I being treated as though we were the same person versus being recognized for our individuality. And though our lives are so very, very different, that hasn't changed in nearly forty years. I am the older daughter and middle child. And yes, most of the things they say about middle children were true with me: The following information comes from an article: Middle Children: Finding Their Own Pride of Place by Robert Needlman, M.D., F.A.A.P. ...Middle children... They often aren't the biggest and strongest, they aren't the babies who get away with murder, they aren't really anything special, at least in their own minds. Sometimes they feel invisible. But this uncomfortable feeling of not having a defined place in the family may actually turn out to be an advantage. Unlike first children, who often define success by their ability to meet their parents' expectations, middle children are more prone to rebel against the status quo. Another result of having a less well-defined place in the family is that middle children often reach outside the family for significant relationships. They make close circles of friends. As the underdogs themselves in many sibling conflicts, middle children often develop a fine sense of empathy with the downtrodden... Where first and last children may tend to be self-centered, middle children often take a genuine interest in getting to know other people. Being in the middle, they may find it easier to look at interpersonal situations from various points of view. The most revealing part of the article above was the statement that not having a defined place in the family can be an advantage. Though I often felt lonely when my brother and sister conspired together, it taught me to stand alone and for myself. It enabled me to find my voice early in life and to depend on my inner resources of creativity, imagination, and sometimes sheer will to navigate through life, both in my younger years and even now as an adult. As I mentioned earlier, my sister and I have followed two very different paths in our lives and have very different personalities. Almost opposites in every way. I would call us fiercely individualistic. Yet we have cultivated our relationship and enjoy an open, respectful relationship, which is fantastic. But our parents have a tendency to treat us like we are the same person, which is not fantastic at all. This didn't occur too often at this Thanksgiving gathering. And for that, I am very thankful..........


Re-Styling My Life

Today I had a shopping date with my daughter, and we had a lovely time deciding on design elements for our homemade Christmas card and discussing possible presents for family members. We also tried on a few items - for her: a pink Isaac Mizrahi dress and for me: a sleeveless gray dress with a black satin hem, very 40s, very Audrey Hepburn. Which brings me to the subject of this blog. At one time in my life, I was obsessed with all things Audrey Hepburn. And I loved dressing inspired by the elegant old Hollywood 20s through the 60s. Vintage cool filled my closets. I collected gowns, gloves and beaded purses. Every now and then I jumped eras and a few stray pieces from the 70s found their way in. A velvet bellbottom jumpsuit with a big collar, platform shoes, psychedelic orange, white and black polyester pants... I LOVED those pants. Some terrible life experiences invaded the fun idealism of that time in my life, and I decided that I had to "get serious" with my life. In the process, I put away many of the things that expressed that whimsical, dramatic me. I'm not one to spend a lot of time lamenting the past. Today, when I tried on this dress that evoked Audrey Hepburn's style, I reconnected with that part of me. I bought the dress with a giddy anticipation of again expressing that aspect of me that loves dressing up. I am going to pull out my fur-collar cardigan, gloves, strappy shoes and channel an elegant era gone by. And I am also going to revive the things I enjoy and make room for them in my life, allowing myself to be whimsical, dreamy and somewhat idealistic. Life is for living. Why not stroll through it with a sparkle that comes from peace with God?



It's been about a week and a half since I last wrote, and I wonder where the time went. I've composed a number of blogs in my head, but they never made it out here. So much living has taken place in the last week and a half - nothing major, just a steady stream of events.
I haven't slept much in the last week either. Baby has more teeth coming in and gets up shrieking in the middle of the night. Some nights, he wakes up multiple times. Sleep deprivation makes me silly and forgetful. I seem pleasant and friendly on the outside, but my mind is actually in la la land. I get more and more wound up, kind of hyper, but then I crash. I run out of steam and have to stop everything to refuel and regroup. Sometimes that crashing can be ugly, with an explosion of emotions and mess. But usually I just slow down until I am barely functioning. When I communicate that my battery is running down, Sean is great at helping me recuperate - the key is in the communicating. Many times I mistake running on fumes for more gas in the tank and keep on going, full steam ahead. I've been known to take on more in the mistaken notion that I really have an amazing and unlimited level of energy and stamina. Not true. But apparently I can be good at fooling others and even myself.
My ability to seem calm and in control on the outside despite struggling desperately inwardly came to light when I was in labor with my first baby. After several hours of laboring at home, I had Sean call the doctor because the level of discomfort was increasing significantly. The doctor wanted to speak to me directly to gauge what was going on. As soon as I got on the phone and he asked how I was doing, my control thing ("say everything is fine no matter what") kicked in. I spoke in a normal, cheerful voice. And the doctor didn't believe me that the contractions were strong because I sounded so wonderfully pleasant. In desperation, I gasped out that I wasn't fine but was culturally trained to respond in that way to most everything. Thank God he believed me then! But it happened again when I was stuck at 9 1/2 centimeters. My body needed to rest and regain some strength for the next stage of labor. So I dutifully sat back and closed my eyes, the picture of composure. At one point Sean commented to my doula that I must not be feeling much pain since I was resting - I calmly opened one eye and informed him that the contractions were as strong as ever. I was just trying to follow the doctor's instructions!
The most difficult realization about this facade came the year I suffered from severe postpartum depression following the birth of my second child. I did communicate with those around me that I was going through this and was even on medication. I shared about my struggles and fears as my life seemed to be spinning out of control, yet family and friends mistook my outward demeanor to assume everything was okay. I don't fault them entirely because I don't easily show my struggles. But I wasn't trying to conceal them, not this time. The stakes were too high - my two little babies needed to have a mother that was healthy. I reached out for help, talked about it, went to counselling... In the end, God brought us through it. My husband, children and I slowly healed from a very difficult and pain-filled year. We learned a lot, loved deeper, forgave a lot, and grew stronger. Sean and I have a lot more compassion, gained from understanding the realities of postpartum depression. And I work at communicating more clearly what is going on inside, even to myself.
Some of the special healing moments are taking place even now. My third child has the same birth date as my second one. Because of the depression and medication affecting me through so much of the first year of his life, I don't have many memories. But as I go through the stages of this baby's first year, the lost memories are being returned to me. It's like a road being repaved and reinforced with new concrete - the old one is there underneath but the material being added strengthens it. I did go through that difficult year following the birth on December 29, 2002. This year, following the birth on December 29, 2007, is a new experience with this delightful baby but also a reinforcement of the gift of our second child. Interestingly enough, his name means "Son of Encouragement." God is good. All the time, God is good.


Happy Anniversary to Us!

Yesterday was our Ninth Wedding Anniversary. Sometimes I look around and think, "When did this all happen?" But it does seem like we crammed in a lot of living in these nine years - three children, six moves, businesses, career paths, homes, mistakes, lessons learned, friendships, etc. One of the biggest blessings to come out of our marriage are the children - I can't imagine not knowing these marvelous individuals. Thinking of them always brings a sparkle to my eyes and joy to my heart. And the companionship of a life partner who can be so similar yet so very, very different. Yes, we are total opposites. One of the most interesting things is that we approach photography the opposite way to how we are in daily life. In photography, I am more like Sean and vice versa. He is easygoing, good natured, spontaneous but likes to totally plan out his shoots. He sets everything up and is methodical in photographing his subjects. His theater background is apparent in the drama of his sets. I am reserved, serious, like to plan and think through everything but like to use available light and photograph without a lot of posing and set ups. I'm all about emotions and capturing the moment. I like the unexpected surprises that show up when I review my images. The coolest thing about our partnership is that we cover a gamut of photographic styles together; his strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. And so it is also in life. This is what I have discovered in the last nine years.

Some of my favorite memories.............. We got married in a Victorian mansion that had its own ballroom. Almost everyone left before we did, including all the people who were going to help with clean up. Oops. I had changed into my going away outfit and came down to see my groom, and his family members, with his sleeves rolled up sweeping and cleaning the whole place. They insisted that I sit in the parlor as they finished up - what a gift it was on my wedding day to see such humility and love! Buying our first home and the giddiness of finding out we were expecting, the intimacy of delivering a child together, Sean shaving off my long, long hair when I got head lice from the pediatrician's office when our baby was two weeks old (I was completely BALD), the joy of expecting again, preparing for the mission field and putting it on pause, fixing up an old house and making it home, creating a business, career changes and many new friends along the way, the surprise and delight of a third baby, moving closer to family... These cycles of life, up and down and around again, an exhilarating yet challenging merri-go-round if you hang on tight and don't let go. There'll be a slideshow at our wedding next year when we renew our vows (including pictures of my bald head!) God has blessed our marriage in so many ways, and we are very thankful. It is His grace that enables us to weather the storms and dance until the sun comes out again.

The Maine Event

This summer we vacationed in Maine, a place I had longed to visit. Sean actually had a commercial shoot there, and the family tagged along and played while he worked. The coast was everything I had imagined it to be and so much more - rugged in its beauty, untouched, serene and commanding. At one point, sitting on the sand with baby while the kids splashed in the surf, I was moved to tears as I breathed in the crisp, salty air and took in the majesty of everything around me. The awe of mountain meeting sea, my artist's soul had yearned for this. The mid coast of Maine holds so many treasures, quaint towns full of shops to poke about in, artist studios, historic sights, lighthouses, bakeries..............
On our first outing, the children and I popped into Camden Deli for lunch and were mesmerized by the offerings in the bakery display. We splurged on some Key Lime Cupcakes, yum!!! They were oversized with a generous dollop of frosting. Miraculously, one survived being devoured and made it back to the cabin for Sean to enjoy.
A family tradition we have is to collect a Christmas ornament from each place we visit. I went from store to store, determined to find the right Lobster Ornament to memorialize this vacation. Apparently this has become a democratic process, with each family member strongly voicing their opinion on the one we should purchase. My choice was a simple red lobster, no more, no less. One person chose a lobster posing with Santa Claus...AS IF. Seriously! Another chose a Moose - totally straying from the agenda. And the final choice was a lobster, snow, a canoe, AND a moose - too busy!!! I was looking for an uncomplicated symbol of our time in Maine, and obviously, a lobster was straight and to the point. We actually left Maine without getting an ornament, more because we ran out of time to shop (but I do plan to get my lobster through the Internet). Another obsession, er, interest of mine are cookie cutters. I really like 'em and would like to have gobs and gobs of them of every variety if hubby didn't object. But he does, so I don't. I did locate a cute little store that had lobster cookie cutters, except they were sold out at the time I was in. So I purchased a moose instead, with the intention of ordering the lobster one right along with the ornament. I may end up hanging the cookie cutter on my tree, though... Here are some more photos from our time in the Northeast paradise. Keep an eye out for Sean's commercial too. The kids are in a number of scenes.


Turn Your Eyes...

A reassuring refrain from a favorite song:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace
I especially love the part about the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace. In about 30 minutes, it will be Election Day and the whole world will be loudly buzzing about the numbers and voters and finally the results. But God is peaceably and ever so strongly still sitting on His marvelous throne, unshaken, unchanged and the source of all strength and truth.

Towards the end of high school, I was quite passionate about politics and strongly considered studying it in college. But my life took a different course. It's not difficult for me to get totally wrapped up in a cause, to throw myself into it wholeheartedly, to live, breath and dream something. As I've grown older, I have found myself engaging in that kind of behavior less and less, not because I am no longer passionate about things, but because there are few things really worth throwing the whole of myself into. This is my conviction.

I have observed both campaigns throughout this process, read numerous articles, and watched the debates. And I will vote from my heart on Tuesday. I will put my trust in the Lord no matter what happens tomorrow and endeavor to keep my heart peaceful. I will pray for our leaders and entrust them into God's hands. God bless America.


Lists and Questions

Something you should know about me is: I like lists and questions. I like making lists, not only of the grocery shopping or to do varieties, but lists of favorites, or lists of hope to dos, or lists of clothing items to pack for each day of our vacation. I write down each day, every family member's name, then list the items of clothing they'll need for that day of our vacation. Then I try to pack the items for that day all together as a unit. It's fun to me! Late summer, I start a list of people and possible Christmas gift ideas as well as our Christmas card list, which thankfully has expanded every year with new friends. I also like questions........not necessarily the "why is the sky blue, why are we going to the store, why can't I have the toy, why can't we eat at Chik-Fil-A???..." kind, but thought, provoking questions. One great question I was asked at a church training seminar once was, "If money was no object and you knew you couldn't fail, what would you do?" I'm still working on that one. As a matter of fact, I recently figured out that I will be 52 when my youngest is through with high school. What do I want to have accomplished by 52? What do I want to do with my time then? Career? Travel? What will my 40s look like, or better yet, what do I want my 40s to look like? I had a list in my 20s of things I would like to accomplish before turning 30, and I was surprised at the things I DID actually accomplish on that list. I didn't treat it like a HAVE TO DO List, and these things happened in the course of my life. Very cool! The things I didn't accomplish I planned to move to the next list, things I would like to accomplish before turning 40. Only, I never actually started that list. Hmmm, what are some of those items? Things I would like to do before age 40: Spend quality time in Paris Roam the countryside in England, Ireland, and Tuscany Write a book Be fit Participate in a sporting event Have a photography show at an art gallery Go back to school to finish my degree Have things at home organized to run like clockwork ;-) Those are some of the things on my list, more to be added later. Any suggestions?

Just Listen

At the end of last week, out of the blue, I received an e-mail letting me know that the pastor I worked with in Ethiopia was in town with his wife, about thirty minutes from where I live! I was totally stunned at that bit of news, as I've so recently been writing about my experiences in Ethiopia. The chances of this was a total God thing. So many times in my life, God has remembered occasions, anniversaries, meaningful times by doing something unexpected. He truly cares about the details in our lives and shows us that in big and small ways. Ten years ago, I thought the greatest thing I could do for God was to serve Him on the mission field. And it was an amazing time, with all kinds of wonderful and exciting experiences. But I have to say, that the last nine years as a wife and mother have challenged me spiritually and have also been full of wonderful and exciting experiences. The difference is mainly IN me. I can empathize with others much more now, having experienced: marital harmony and conflict, extended family relations and negotiations, childbirth and parenting, postpartum depression, job successes and losses, six moves in nine years... And I have begun to realize more and more that the greatest thing I can do is walk with God, every day. Welcome Him into my life, talk with Him, share with Him the goings on in my heart, talk about Him, share Him with those around me, every day in the big and small things. He doesn't need these dramatic moments to make Himself known, though those are great too. But God is in the every day. One of my absolute favorite verses in the Bible comes from I Kings 19. Elijah had just experienced a dramatic showdown with the prophets of Baal and got word that Jezebel was going to get him. He got scared and ran. And God sent an angel to take care of him. He ended up in a cave where God spoke to him. "11 And He said, Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord. And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire [a sound of gentle stillness and] a still, small voice." Gentle stillness and a still, small voice. I remember a night when my heart was totally broken and I cried out to God. I was in a room full of people, so I hid my tears and screamed inside. I thought I was going to break. Suddenly, in the midst of this crowd of people who had no idea what was going on in me, the gentle stillness flooded over me. God answered my cry. I had peace. It was so amazing. Our firstborn's name means "God spoke." And He does gently speak to us, willing to share His heart and help us along the way. I need to sit still more often and just listen.


Clothe Yourselves

There I was, in a dusty village far removed from modern conveniences, with only the clothes on my back. I needed at least a clean dress, as I was one of the scheduled speakers at the church conference. A local tailor was recommended, and I walked there escorted by a group of male ministers, earnest in their desire to be of assistance to me. Surprise, surprise, the tailors were all male. They asked me to describe the dress I wanted - what!?! No patterns, no catalog to choose from? And I had to do this all through a translator. A male one. I asked for some paper and sketched a basic empire waisted dress that went down to my ankles. I chose my fabric and was promised that the item would be completed in a few hours. The dress was delivered to my room, and I tried it on. I couldn't even describe all of my feelings as I fought to get that dress on - the bust was tight, the waist was low and the dress ended mid calf. AHHHHHHH! For those of you not in the know, this is the absolute worst kind of dress for most women. Only one with no chest and no hips whatsoever could possibly wear this kind of dress. I last wore one like this in the 70s - when I was in elementary school! And only because my mom made me. And it was the 70s. Eager faces waited outside of my door to find out how the dress was, and I carefully replied that it didn't quite fit. This time I requested that only one person escort me, and we made our way back to the tailor. Without actually pointing to the areas that needed correction (one had to be oh so careful in this ultra conservative place), I tried to describe what needed to be altered. A little while later, the dress was once again delievered. The hem had been let out, so it was longer. The bust area was looser. The waist still fell at an undesirable spot, gathered to kind of poof out. Long sigh. I WAS NOT going through that again. Thankfully, a package was sent through another minister who arrived from the capital city that afternoon. It contained the few outfits I had left behind: 2 skirts, a jacket and top that matched. Not my favorites but better than the 70s polyester nightmare. My comfort and solace was in the Lord. I clung to His Word, wrote of my anguish and struggles in my journal, and the gentle voice of God started to speak to me. I was led to focus in on Colossians 3, particularly verse 12: 12 Clothe yourselves therefore, as God's own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper]. The Lord was asking me if I would trust Him and choose His "brand" of clothing. Replacing outfits was easy, but would I go deeper and find fulfillment, comfort and identity His way? Would I first and foremost choose to clothe myself God's way? My answer to God then was yes! And though the remainder of my time in that village still had challenges (intestinal parasites, unending marriage proposals, a huge rat in my bed, bugs, monkeys, deep sorrow at others' circumstances, etc.), I walked in a peace from deep inside and knew God was pleased with me through it all. A decade has passed, and I realize that God has never stopped asking me this question - would I choose His clothing, His ways, His perspective? So often in the last ten years as my role changed from missionary to wife to mother to homeschooling teacher, I have chosen my own garments to identify me, my ways of coping, my limited perspective on all of life's challenges. I have responded my way, not God's way. I found solace and comfort in other things, with other people rather than turning to the One who knows me the deepest. And I wasn't even aware of it. But I also realize that the Lord has still been in charge, allowing circumstances in my life to strip me of these temporal comfort zones over and over. He knows the deepest parts of me and that I could never be satisfied with those things. He calls us all to so much more. Let us encourage one another to put on His clothing and to take off the temporal things that never satisfy. Read Colossians 3:12-17. 12 Clothe yourselves therefore, as God's own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper]. 13 Be gentle and forbearing with one another and, if one has a difference (a grievance or complaint) against another, readily pardoning each other; even as the Lord has [freely] forgiven you, so must you also [forgive]. 14 And above all these [put on] love and enfold yourselves with the bond of perfectness [which binds everything together completely in ideal harmony]. 15 And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ's] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always]. 16 Let the word [spoken by] Christ (the Messiah) have its home [in your hearts and minds] and dwell in you in [all its] richness, as you teach and admonish and train one another in all insight and intelligence and wisdom [in spiritual things, and as you sing] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to God with [His] grace in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do [no matter what it is] in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in [dependence upon] His Person, giving praise to God the Father through Him. Amen.


God bless the Spice Girls

Ten years ago, my closest friends threw a going away party for me as I prepared to leave for the mission field. The theme of the party related to being stripped - spirit, soul, and body - to follow God's call and the challenge of fitting one's life into two suitcases. So I landed in Ethiopia with my two overstuffed suitcases and an equally overstuffed carry on bag. I lived with an Ethiopian family with six children ranging in ages from 22 - 13. After meeting with the elders of the Ethiopian church, it was determined that I should teach a Bible class, English class and the children's choir. God definitely has a sense of humor and enjoys stretching us - twice in my youth, I have actually been laughed off of the stage as I attempted to sing in front of the youth group. Several months later, I was asked to travel with a team to a remote village in western Ethiopia, close to the Sudanese border. A church had been planted there, and the pastor and a team went annually to hold a conference and fellowship with the believers. I stuffed my suitcase with all of my modest missionary clothing (the remote villages were extremely conservative and women had to be very careful), toilet paper, water bottles, and toiletries. We tied all of the luggage onto the roof of the vehicle and took off right after dawn. The traffic was heavy leaving the capital city, but the car was in constant motion. After driving all day through valleys and stretches of wilderness, we arrived at a town that marked our halfway point and discovered that my suitcase was missing from the top of the car. All the other pieces of luggage were intact, the cover was still over them as well as the rope securing them. My huge, green suitcase was gone! The only thing I had with me was a backpack with a walkman, music cassettes, Bible, one water bottle, and a can of Pringles potato chips. At the police station I was told that thieves targeted foreigners and were quite skilled at climbing aboard a slowly moving car and throwing down luggage to their accomplices. We never saw or heard them! And the other cars surrounding us in traffic didn't alert us to what was taking place. All of my clothes were gone - no toiletries and spare contact lenses, no toilet paper and extra water. After taking a cold shower and putting back on my sticky clothes, I curled up on top of the bed with my head resting on my backpack. The occupants in the next room kept me up all night with their laughter and smoky drugs. Tiny hotels in villages also serve as places to get together for drinking, drugs and as a brothel. The situation didn't get much better in the morning as I had to go shopping for undergarments and toiletries with a male Ethiopian pastor. And the shopkeeper was male - oh, the humiliation in discussing underwear and deodorant with two foreign males. Yikes! We embarked on another day of travelling through even more remote areas. I was thrilled to see a group of baboons in the forest that our road navigated through - this was the Africa you see on National Geographic! We arrived at the tiny village, checked into another "hotel" and found a restaurant to take our meals in. One of my consolations throughout that entire trip, besides the closeness of God (which I will talk about in my next blog), was the Spice Girls poster hanging on the wall in that restaurant. In the States I did not like the Spice Girls, I did not listen to the Spice Girls, yet I looked forward to every meal and looking at that poster. The Spice Girls poster became a reminder to me that there was more to life than the current challenges. The Spice Girls reminded me of home and connected me to home in the midst of this yuckiness. God used the Spice Girls to comfort me. For that, God bless the Spice Girls.


Have you met Curious Garg?

I've always enjoyed Curious Garg books, except the one in which he broke his arm. I remember being very concerned about him when I read that as a child. Have you met Curious Garg? This childhood classic was recreated this morning as my five year old read aloud to me while I worked in the kitchen. Curious Garg? In truth, I heard his voice as he read but my mind was elsewhere...and I almost set the kitchen on fire making tea. Ok, so I'm not a huge fan of gas stoves because of the open flame. And sure enough, my tea bag steeping in the teapot caught on fire as it innocently dangled on the side of the teapot. Never mind the fact that it could have happened on an electric stove as well. Really, it was only a very, very small fire. Anyway, I digress. As he worked his way through the reader, "Garg" was the one word that puzzled me until he finally asked me with exasperation, "Mom, what does G-E-O-R-G-E spell?" I guess the story wasn't making much sense to him either, since the main character was nowhere to be found! "It spells George," I replied. "OHHHHHHHHH!!! I read the whole book wrong but am too far to start over now," he responded. Of course I had to tease him about "Garg," and we enjoyed some giggles over that. Have I mentioned that I'm a homeschooling mom? Faith to go to Africa solo was nothing compared to the stretching faith I've clung to ever since I stared homeschooling. It's one thing to be responsible only for yourself but being responsible for the education of several children?! Yikes! I always thought successful homeschooling was for those PATIENT and CALM mommies, who didn't mind having a 6 foot volcano in the middle of the living room. I minded!!! I could go on and on about the qualities I lack, but I won't. Because those really don't matter. They don't. The bottom line is that I believe that God called me to homeschool my children. I believe that it's the best for them for this season of their lives, especially since Sean and I can impart our multi-cultural heritage to the children, including teaching them a foreign language or two while they are young. Homeschooling challenges me to be more disciplined, aware of the world, in the moment with the kids - all good things. And I am learning so much. Do you know off the top of your head the difference between a frog and a toad? I learned that because my daughter was curious. Off to the Internet we went. What an adventure!!! I like curiousity and consider myself quite a curious person..........a Curious Garg, I guess.


Carving Pumpkins in the heat

Today was a lovely, lovely day. The children and I visited a friend to celebrate Fall and to carve pumpkins. In previous years, my eldest and I carved the pumpkin together (because of her age, I did the actual carving while she dictated the designs), but this year she did it all by herself! And her pumpkin had twinkling, slanted eyes, a friendly grin and pigtails, as all girly pumpkins ought to have! Speaking of pumpkins, I am crazy about all things pumpkin..........such as pumpkin lattes, scones, muffins, pancakes, cookies. I normally don't get overly excited about food things, but pumpkin season sends me over the edge! My contribution to our Fall celebration/pumpkin carving day was homemade pumpkin scones, yummmmmmmmmmmm!!! The key to making scones is to not overly mix the batter, though the ingredients do need to be blended. And I usually decrease the amount of sugar in my scone recipes, especially because this recipe has a glaze. I got this recipe from ENJOY!


Why "Beautiful Century???"

Allow me to introduce myself........
I am Beautiful Century. Beautiful Century is the meaning of my name - the Japanese character for "Mi" comes from "Beautiful" and "Ki" comes from "Century," my mother's hope that my life would be meaningful. And long.


Hello, World!

Having thoroughly enjoyed reading several blogs this evening, I am challenged to thus create my own. I miss writing my thoughts, sharing experiences, etc. in this busy season with young children, and this could prove to be therapeutic. Deep sigh and flutter of excitement, as I begin this journey!