Monday, December 30, 2013

Sweet Greetings from India and Tanzania

Mail call posts two weeks in a row! Yay! : )

This week we got two letters!
The first letter was from our Jayid in India. 

Jayid's letter was a form letter about him and his family. It's a bit awkward to post in its entirety, but in the letter, Jayid says that the family member he loves most is his dad, he sleeps with his parents, his favorite flower is marigold, his favorite food is mango, he is the oldest of his siblings, and he likes to play with toy cars. I was glad to read that, because I was able to send him some when my mother in law visited India back in October! Jayid also shared that he loves cricket and his favorite player is Sachin Tendulkar. 

Jayid's drawing

The second letter was from Bonifas!

Bonifas is our newest sponsor child. My mom is helping me sponsor him. I just couldn't leave him without a sponsor any longer! This was an intro letter from Bonifas. Unfortunately not all of it was translated, but here are the basics: 

My parents: Baba Anaitwa Eliudi and Mama Yangu Anaitwa Eliakwada

{The translator just wrote "sisters" on the siblings part, but he should have three sisters. I just can't discern their names!}

My best friend: John

I live in the village. 

Best school subject: maths

Best Bible story: David and Goliath

Best holiday: New Year

Best food: maize and beans

Best game: football (soccer)

Best colour: white

When I grow up, I want to be: a teacher

My question to my sponsor: what is your name? 

My prayer request: Pray for me to pass in my studies

Bonifas also drew a big crazy picture with lots of stuff going on! I stared at it a long time, hoping to figure out what everything was, but no such luck. : ) I also took a picture of his signature because it is super cute!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Compassion Joys: December

Hooray! Time for a Compassion Joys post! Here's some of the fun stuff that we've experienced with our sponsorships this month.

 Compassion Family


This month we received letters from Jayid, Mishel, Carlos, and our first letter from Bonifas! It wasn't a big letter month for us, but I'm so thankful for every letter we receive! Hopefully as the holidays pass us by, we'll see an uptick in letters!  : )

Tanzania Trip Progress! 

The Haiti ornament fundraiser has ended, and I was able to sell 70 out of 150 ornaments! This means we raised $350 for the moms and dads in Haiti who are making crafts to earn a living, plus some for my trip. I also received a super amazing box of stuff from Compassion, including a trip guide and journal, some Compassion gear (like luggage tags, pens, a pouch, etc) and fun stuff like bubbles and stickers for when we get to play with the kids!

Surprise Present Update!

The package I sent to Mexico for Brenda arrived safe and sound! It didn't take too long to get there- I think about two weeks. I'm so thankful to my friend Mrs. K for accepting the package and getting it in the mail to Brenda. The field office in Mexico should have received it by now. Hopefully Brenda will get her dolly and Bible really soon! And Mrs K loved the purple Spanish Bible I sent for her, too, which made me happy.

New Kids!

Well, kid. : ) We now have a new correspondence child in Brazil! It's a lot of fun to get a child in a new country! I had fun reading all the picture books and cookbooks about Brazil from my library. Also, I think Patricia is super cute, and I like the fact that she has the same name as my friend Pat!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

News of the World

Sorry it's been so long since I did a post like this! Some weeks I can't find enough stories to make a post, and then the weeks when I could find enough stories, I have been too busy to write one! Anyway, here are some news stories from the countries where Compassion works.

Thailand. There has been a lot of political unrest in Thailand over the past few months. If I understand it correctly, the prime minister (who is a lady, by the way) dissolved the parliament a few weeks ago. There have been a lot of protests, too. Things are getting even more intense, and the military is considering intervening. I always find stories like this interesting....I definitely don't advocate violence as a way of protesting or anything like that, but it's interesting to me to read stories of people actually doing something to change their government, whereas in America it seems we just complain about government on facebook. Or if our party is in charge, we complain about the complainers. But I digress. Be praying for the people of Thailand, that during this time of unrest, the citizens stay safe. Pray that the government officials make decisions that are best for their citizens, in order to improve their lives.

India. A few weeks ago, an Indian diplomat visiting the United States was strip-searched. People in India are now absolutely furious with the United States. They are really offended by what happened (and you know that if the tables were turned, we would be too.) Protesters have pointed out that in Indian tradition, "the guest is god" (which is a traditional saying that emphasizes India's well-known hospitality) and that the way their diplomat was treated was incredibly disrespectful and uncalled for. Whether or not the allegations (possible visa fraud and an accusation of paying a housekeeper less than legal wages) are true or not, the people of India seem to all agree that the way the envoy was treated was uncalled for- and it seems our own Secretary of State "regrets" the way the situation was handled, too.  Right now, in many areas of India, there is a lot of anti-American sentiment. Flags are burned and effigies of the president are paraded in the streets. A recent report indicates that American-run schools, managed by well-intentioned people who really have nothing to do with why everyone is upset, are being targeted. Pray that this dispute will be resolved quickly. The Indian people are our allies and it makes me sad to see so many of them angry with our country. Pray for the safety of Americans  living in India, and any people who may be near the protests. Pray that they stop escalating. Pray that our relationship with this beautiful country will be healed, quickly.

Haiti. Through my writing about Compassion, my buddy A., and poverty in general, I have mentioned several times on my blog that life in Haiti is really difficult. Greedy people are taking advantage of desperate Haitians, promising them safe passage to a new life in the United States, and then Haitians are dying on the dangerous voyage. It has gotten to be a big enough problem that the United States has produced a public service announcement urging Haitians not to risk their lives in this way. The smugglers are putting people on dangerous, overcrowded boats, and sending them to Puerto Rico, which is a US commonwealth. I think it's a good idea to just continually keep Haiti in your prayers- for their government, their economy, the health problems and family problems they face. Pray for the people who are so desperate to get out, that they will be safe. It's all so very sad.

Philippines. As if the people of the Philippines needed any more tragedy. We are all still praying for the recovery of the nation in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (public polls indicate that America as a whole doesn't "care" much about the typhoon anymore, but I know Compassion sponsors do!) Recently there was a tragedy at an airport in the Philippines. Gunmen disguised as police officers shot and killed a mayor and three others at an airport in Manila. Pray for the families of those who died, and pray for safety of the Filipino people during these difficult times.

Indonesia. Ok, this is probably going to sound weird, but one of the things I pray for in regards to my kids is their safety from the wildlife in their areas. Most people in the US don't have much to worry about in the way of wildlife. Some areas have bears or mountain lions, but 99% of us probably won't ever see one. Yet where our kids live, there are lions, tigers, giant snakes, crocodiles, jaguars, leopards, hippos (which are super dangerous) and a host of other crazy things. One of the most recent stories of dangerous wildlife involved a giant python that apparently just wandered up to a hotel, killed a security guard, and then LEFT. The python is still on the loose! In a very popular tourist area! So while this news story is about Indonesia, I think it's a good idea to pray for the safety of our kids, since many of them live in areas where they have a much greater chance of encountering a dangerous animal than we do.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sunshine Award

Over a week ago I won a "Sunshine Award" (thanks, Shelley!) I'm sorry I'm just now getting around to posting about it! I'm supposed to share 10 things about myself, and then nominate 10 others for the award so they can do the same.

So, here are 10 things about me:

  1. I collect walruses. It started in high school with a talking plush walrus I took to school....he now resides with my best friend. If I find a walrus while I'm out shopping, I always buy two- one for me, and one for Kelli. Walruses aren't really a popular animal, so it's always exciting to get a new one. For Christmas I got three new walruses, plus walrus pajama pants. This is basically like hitting the jackpot, to get that many new walruses in one week. 
  2. I love to cook and bake. I used to make something new and bring it to every Bible study meeting, but I had to stop earlier this year when I had my surgery. It's hard to bake if you can't use the oven, get in your cabinets, or access most of the contents of your fridge because of restrictions. Now that my restrictions are lifted, I haven't really gotten back into it, for a couple of reasons. I miss it, though. 
  3. Generally, I don't care for new things. I tend to watch the same television shows and movies over and over again. 
  4. Speaking of television, I have watched all the episodes of "House" so many times that I'm pretty confident I could pretend to be a doctor in a hospital for at least a few hours before being found out. 
  5. I love to read. My mom loves to read. I got it from her. I read lots of non-fiction, children's and teen books. I only read adult fiction if I have a special interest in the topic. Some of my favorite authors are Louise Rennison, Rick Riordan, Sarah Dessen, and Jodi Picoult (adult fiction that's actually good!) I would throw JK Rowling in there because of my fierce love for Harry Potter, but I didn't like "Casual  Vacancy" and thought her secret mystery book was just ok. 
  6. When I was a child, I was dumb enough to repeatedly get beets from salad bars at restaurants, thinking they were jellied cranberry sauce. And every single time, I was disgusted because beets are gross. Yet I kept getting them, hoping that "this time, they'll be cranberry sauce." Why would cranberry sauce be at a salad bar, anyway?
  7. I think sharing lists of what you got for Christmas is a bit silly, and can seem like bragging, but I would just like to add that I was quite thrilled to get a black and pink Hello Kitty passport cover for Christmas. Hello Kitty is the only cat I like. 
  8. I would rather have tuberculosis or some other equally horrible disease than throw up. Sorry if that's gross, but I just flipped over to facebook for a moment and saw yet another post about this stomach virus that is going around. My brother in law was sick at Christmas and as soon as I heard what kind of sick he was, I started saying "NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!" and pulled my shirt over my face to shield me from germs. 
  9. I have been a patron of the library where I work since I was about 5 or 6 years old. I started working there when I was 17, and have been there ever since. 
  10. One time I got to pet a dolphin. It felt like a very thick-skinned, wet balloon. 
Now, let's see if I can come up with 10 blogs. Most of the blogs I read were already featured in other posts about this award, so I will have to some serious thinking here!

  1. Craftivity Designs. This blog is run by my friends Lora and Erica. I used to go to church with them (and I went to school with Lora's brother!) They started their own blog and shop. They are both very crafty and I love seeing their posts! Lora's particularly great about home decor and refurbishing things (she has even given me a few pointers) and Erica has a real talent for party planning and making cute printables!
  2. Once Upon a (Story) Time. My friend Jackie started a blog after we had to make one (or a fake one) for work. She is a children's librarian and posts storytime ideas and resources here. She just had a baby a few months ago, so posts haven't been as frequent, but if you teach little kids, you might want to check out her blog. She has some great ideas!
  3. Joy in Japan. My sweet friend Amanda is currently living in Japan, teaching English. Amanda had been trying to get to Japan for about as long as I have known her, and last year she finally made it! 
  4. For This Day. I saw Heidi write a post about blogging on one of the advocate facebook pages. She was blogging about her impending trip to Tanzania. I had no idea when I started following her blog that I'd be going on that trip, too!
  5. The Journey. Katie Davis has no idea who I am, or that I follow her blog, but she is probably the biggest inspiration to my life, and everyone should read her story. If you haven't read her blog before, do yourself a favor and check it out. 
  6. Chairein: Joy to You. My friend Briana and her husband are currently adopting from Ethiopia. 

Aaaaand now I'm folding. I can't think of/find any more blogs I regularly read that haven't already been nominated for this little award. I pretty much just read the same few blogs from Compassion sponsors! : ) I guess I need to branch out a little. The fun thing about blog awards is that it does give you a chance to read other people's blogs!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sweet Greetings from Peru

It's Monday Mail Call time again!

I went one month and one day without receiving any letters. On Saturday, I posted on facebook that I hoped I would get some that day- and I got two! It's so funny- I had read before I got all these correspondence kids that sponsor children in South America aren't known for being big letter writers, because of some cultural differences. This week, I got letters from Carlos and Mishel in Peru, and the last letters I received were from them, too!

Here is our letter from Carlos:

29 October 2013

Dear godmother Jessi, 
Greetings in the beautiful name of our Lord Jesus Christ! I want to thank you for the letter and the postcards, they are very nice. I want to tell you that my family and I are doing well. During my free time I like to play sports, I really like soccer and when I grow up I would like to become a professional soccer player. I will pray for Brandon's mom so God will protect her during her trip and she has a good time. The weather here is hot and summer is coming here. I want to know if you visited South America. What is your favorite food? Have you tried Peruvian food? Please pray for me so I can finish school well and I can do well in everything I plan. I say goodbye wishing you many blessings and I hope to receive more letters from you. I will be praying for you. 

Carlos writes really lovely letters! I will have to send him some soccer stickers with my next letter. It was fun to read that he wants to be a professional player! I will be telling Carlos in my next letter that I haven't tried Peruvian food, but I'll ask him what his favorite local dish is so I can make an effort to try it!

And here is Mishel's letter!

26 November 2013

Dearest godmother Jessi, 
I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I'm in very good health. I'm studying and getting good grades. I play with my classmates on the weekends at home. I have three siblings: Brayan, Nataly, and Yoelma. The weather is warm and nice. I ask you to pray for my studies and for my mom. I'd like to know: how many kids do you have? I say bye with a big hug and many kisses. Merry Christmas!


I'm glad that Mishel told me her siblings' names! She had written to me about the meal she and her sisters had prepared for Mother's Day, and has also mentioned a brother in the past. Therefore, I have deduced that Brayan is her brother, and Nataly and Yoelma are her sisters. : ) Mishel's question about my kids gives me the opportunity to tell her about the other kids I write letters to- the other members of my "far away family!" She also sent this lovely picture: 

I'm so thankful I received some letters this week! 

Greatest Hits

I've been inspired by Jill over at Compassion are my favorite or most popular posts from the past year!

  1. Overcomer. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. 
  2. F Minus. What the church- and you- need to be doing to help orphans. 
  3. They Are All Our Daughters. The plight of girls around the world. 
  4. Fear Not. How I kick anxiety's butt. You know, if it had one. 
  5. Definitions. Defeating global poverty CAN be accomplished. 
  6. Oh Happy Day. The best day I've ever spent at an airport. 
  7. GO. Living the great commission.
  8. Let's Hear It For The Boys. My first advocacy post. 
  9. Africa. A timeline for my upcoming trip. 
  10. Hello World. Chronicles of my spine surgery this January. 
This year I wrote a LOT! More than I ever have. This was the year that I joined the advocate network and the blog network for Compassion, though, and my rapidly increasing desire to reach out to God's people has fueled a lot of my posts. I started regularly participating in Monday Mail Call, picked up Compassion Joys later in the year, posted lots of kids who were waiting for sponsors, did a few "outgoing mail" posts, started a series on letter writing blog kind of exploded! But it's been a lot of fun and you will see a lot more from me in 2014!

Saturday, December 21, 2013


I have been having a hard time lately. And throughout my life, I have had hard times. I know that compared to some people, I have lived a very lucky life. But there are some facts that need to be faced. I have always struggled to fit in. I have faced bullying and violence and hurt. I have depression and anxiety, diagnosed by doctors, that are not going away (though some days are better than others.) My hard times are easy compared to some, but they are still pretty hard. My anxiety is intense enough that I have had some periods of agoraphobia in my lifetime (where I was afraid to leave the house, or being away from home triggered panic attacks.) Anxiety controls people's lives. There are folks who can't function without high doses of medication and therapy. There are some people who do all their shopping from home, even having their groceries delivered, because they can't handle what's outside their front doors. There are some people that will never go on an airplane because the fear is too paralyzing. These are not exaggerations for dramatic effect, they are the realities that people are living. And those people will find no judgment here, because I have been there myself (and there's always the chance I may end up there again.) I'm happy to report that I don't need everyday medication at this point in my life (but I have in the past.)  And I have learned a lot of ways to deal with the challenges I face, and ways to cope. But just because I am not, at this moment, taking daily medication for my issues, does not mean that they aren't still there. Every day is a struggle for me. Each day, from the moment I get out of bed (or sometimes when it is still dark and I'm trying to sleep) to the time I step outside my house to run errands or go to work or whatever needs to be done, I face a battle. That's truly what it is- a battle. And it's a battle I am determined to win. Sometimes I'll be out shopping and be hit with a panic attack that requires me to pull out every trick I have in facing this menace called panic. I take my "as needed" meds. I listen to my panic playlist on my iPod shuffle. I read my Bible verses. I text my mom asking her to pray, and telling her what's going on. She assures me that she's praying, and then will tell me to go home. I don't have to make this shopping trip right now. I have sick time; I can go home from work. Whatever the scenario, I have a way out. But I refuse to take it. I refuse to let my fear win. I refuse to feel helpless and lost, and I keep going, and I fight my way through it.

Poverty- the pervasive, overwhelming poverty that my sponsor children are living in- can bring on a lot of the same feelings that anxiety and depression do. Poverty can make you feel worthless and unloved, like depression. Poverty can make you feel lost and helpless, like anxiety. It can make you feel like you have no way out. You will be trapped forever. Those are all lies. I sometimes struggle with the decision to share these tough things about my life with my kids. I have only told a few about my anxiety disorder, explaining that sometimes I feel very afraid for no reason at all, and that this is because of a difference in my brain. But I rely on Jesus to keep me safe and make me feel better, and I share some of my favorite verses with them. I tell them that because Jesus is on our side, we shouldn't be afraid or worry. And if we do worry, He will be there to comfort us. He keeps track of every tear we cry. He knows what we need to pray about even when we are too sad to say the words out loud. He will always be there for us, even when it feels like we are completely alone.

I want my kids to know that even when life feels very dark, there is hope, and we can fight the darkness because of the hope we have in Jesus. I may not know what it's like to live in poverty the way they do, and they may not know what it's like to be afraid every day, the way I do. But I hope that they can hear my stories and my struggles and realize that they can fight back, too. They don't have to let the darkness win. I am an overcomer, and they are too. Each and every one of them.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A cold day in December.

Brandon's grandfather- Papaw Jones- passed away yesterday morning while we were at church. I'd like to take some time and space here to honor this wonderful man whom I was blessed to know.

I have known Papaw since not long after Brandon and I started dating in 2006. From day one he has always been charming, funny, warm, and welcoming. The entire Jones clan is like that- they just immediately accept you as part of the family. Papaw amused me from the moment I met him. He would always come up and start shaking your hand and keep it going for like three minutes as he asked you how you were doing. He was happy to share the state quarters and presidential dollar coins with all of us- we'd come over for a family holiday get-together and he'd just start handing them out, and double check to make sure we weren't missing any. He also liked sharing candy. I have had a lot of candy thrown at me and pushed on me hanging out at his house. Papaw was generous with everything. I know that he gave a lot to various charities and cared especially about the native peoples of America, which I thought was really awesome of him.

I also loved watching Papaw and Mamaw Jones interact. They have been together forever. If my memory serves me correctly, they celebrated their 60th anniversary not too long before Brandon and I got married- and we've been married almost 4 years. When Papaw wanted Mamaw's attention, he would whistle like a bird, which I thought was funny and cute. They playfully picked at each other every time I was around them, and I loved it. It made me so happy to see two people still in love and still having fun.

Papaw and Mamaw had six children- three girls and three boys. And they did an amazing job raising them. Brandon's dad, and all of Brandon's aunts and uncles, are some of the nicest, friendliest people I have ever met. I can't emphasize this enough: from day one, I have been made to feel welcome in this family. And I'm sure that this openness and warmth can be traced back to Papaw and Mamaw and the love that must have filled that house when their kids were growing up. There's this stereotype that when you get married, your in-laws are supposed to be a pain to be around. I don't get that at all! I mean, you see it in the movies and on tv, but that has not been my experience at all. They have always been nice, friendly, warm, welcoming, and wonderful.

One thing that makes me a little sad is that Papaw will never know mine and Brandon's children. He asked about it a lot. One of the last funny memories I have of Papaw when he was really healthy was when we were babysitting Brandon's second cousin Alexander. Alexander's mom and dad lived with Mamaw and Papaw for a while after they got married, and they had some stuff to do one night, so we spent some time with Alexander and put him to bed, then just read in the back family room after he went to sleep. Papaw came back to say hi, and check on Alexander. He then started his sales pitch: "don't you want one of those? Can't you just see yourself taking a walk in the park with a little baby?" He wandered off for a minute and came back with Alexander's stroller. He then proceeded to push it around the room, making baby noises and saying "doesn't this look great?" It was sooo funny. He really was such a funny guy.

I'm not sad for Papaw. He has been sick for a long time. And I know where he is now- he's in heaven with Jesus (probably still shaking His hand!) When I have felt sad over the past week as he has started slipping away, it has been for the family he is leaving behind. I'm sad for Mamaw. She was doing well yesterday, but I know that it has to be hard being without her husband. I'm sad for Brandon's dad and all his siblings. I'm not sad for Papaw- I'm sad for us. A few people have said to me that this is the worst time to lose a loved one- so close to the holidays. But really, there's no better place to celebrate the birth of our savior than with Jesus, in person.

Would you please pray for our family? As we gathered together to pray in Papaw's hospital room yesterday, we did feel sad, but also thankful that he was in our lives. This is new territory for all of us. It is sad that we have lost his presence here on earth, but we have peace knowing he is healthy and whole in heaven, and we will see him again someday.

Brandon, with Mamaw and Papaw, on our wedding day

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mail Surprise!

We haven't received any letters in about two weeks, but I did get an exciting package in the mail today- a box of stuff from Compassion for my Tanzania trip! When I got it off the porch, I missed the label that said "your Compassion experience trip starts inside" and figured it was something along the lines of event planning, like a Compassion Sunday kit. I opened it and saw that the letter on top referenced my trip, so I dug in right away! Here's a list of what I received:

  • The "My Compassion Experience" Trip Guide and Journal. This little spiral bound notebook is full of interesting stuff- I can't wait to sit down and read it. It has my name and the tour dates printed on the cover, too, which makes me happy. The inside of the notebook has four parts. The first part is called "Preparing to Travel" and has packing info, information on documents, immunizations and insurance, a to-do list, and things like that. Part two is called "Destination: Tanzania", which has details on the culture and language, a section on "Handling Culture Shock", and then exciting sections about visiting Compassion offices and touring centers and homes, and a bit about meeting my sponsor kids! Part three is called "Trip Journal" and provides writing prompts and space to write abut things like "preparing your heart and mind", "daily reflections", and "I want to do more!" Part four is where I will keep track of "Itineraries and Final Details", such as flight itineraries, trip itineraries, a list of my fellow travelers, and the CDCs we will be visiting. Much of this information will come later. There's also a pocket in the back where I can keep track of paperwork. 
  • A packet of notecards. The introduction letter says these are for leaving notes of thanks, prayer and encouragement. Each sheet has "May God bless you" on the front, and writing space on the back. 
  • Luggage tags! I almost bought some the other day- I'm glad I didn't! These are blue and rubbery and have the world map printed on one side, along with a little airplane and Compassion's logo. I love them!
  • A handy little pouch and a Compassion ink pen
  • Stickers and bubbles  (in a tiny bottle with Compassion's logo) for playing with the kids
  • Compassion lip balm and sanitizing wipes. The wipes are all wound up in a teeny container with Compassion's logo on them, and hang from a keychain. Very handy!

This package is very exciting for a number of reasons. For one, it's a tremendous encouragement to me to receive something like this, as I've been having a pretty hard time lately. Last week was absolutely horrendous, filled with a lot of bad, hurtful things, and I have been praying that this week would have better things in store! On top of that, it's a good reminder that in just three short months, I will be in Tanzania! I have been so wrapped up in other things lately, like the holidays or even fundraising for the trip, that my mind has wandered away from the trip itself. Having this tangible package of exciting things is helping me refocus and get excited once again. 

I'm really thrilled to share my trip with you all, and I thank you for your prayers and your financial support, too. Just as a friendly reminder, I still have 86 ornaments to sell in three short weeks for my Haitian ornament fundraiser. I really hope that I'm able to sell them all, not just for my trip fundraiser but because a majority of the funds I receive go right back to the moms and dads who made the ornaments, so they can keep their families in tact. Every little bit helps, but I want this fundraiser to be a true success for them and sell out. If you have any friends who like to give holiday gifts that give back, please consider sharing this post with them!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Compassion Christmas: Burkina Faso

Here's part two in an open-ended series I'm doing on Christmas in countries where Compassion works. I say open-ended because I was hoping to have a post a day read to go for the month of December, but that didn't quite work out! If you liked this, check out my previous post on the Philippines (and keep your fingers crossed I can get a few more posts finished up!)

Burkina Faso, in West Africa, has a population that is very religious. The country is divided almost evenly into Christians and Muslims- about half the country practices one of these faiths. There are some people who still practice traditional, animist belief systems. Atheism is virtually nonexistent in the country, which I thought was an interesting little factoid.

Those who practice Christianity celebrate Christmas. Some Muslim families may also participate in the festivities. Pere Noel, or Father Christmas, visits on December 23 in Burkina Faso- Father Christmas delivers gifts a few days early in this country! Christmas dolls are widely available in the cities. Catholics also prominently display Mary, Jesus' mother, in their holiday celebrations. Artificial trees, complete with decorations, are sold on street corners for about $50 American.

Families in Burkina Faso may celebrate the holiday with a special meal of chicken or mutton. According to one mother who was interviewed by the BBC about how her family celebrates Christmas, families in Burkina Faso often skip having rice with their meals, as they have rice every day. For the holidays, they will have macaroni instead!

After church on Christmas, many people in Burkina Faso stay up late dancing and partying for the holidays! Sometimes these festivities also include fireworks.

If you'd like to try some food from Burkina Faso, here is a recipe for bean cakes (made with rice- sorry, no macaroni here!)

1 can black-eyed peas, drained
1 small onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 egg, whisked
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup flour
1/4 cup oil
2 cups cooked rice

Combine the black-eyed peas, onion, carrot, and egg in a blender, and blend until they form a smooth paste-like mixture. Add the salt and pepper. The bean mixture needs to be thick enough so you can form it into little bean balls. If it has too much liquid, add 1/4 cup flour. Shape into 2-inch little meatballs (sans meat) and flatten into patties. Fry each patty in the oil until browned, about 5-7 minutes. Serve the cakes with rice.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Compassion Christmas: Philippines

I had this wild idea back in late October to try to do a blog post every day in December, describing Christmas traditions in the countries where Compassion works. I got a ton of books from the library and printed several articles, and started several draft posts. However, as you will notice, today is the third day of December, and this is the only post I got around to finishing. Hopefully there will be at least a few more (I have most of a Burkina Faso post finished), but we'll just have to wait and see!

The majority of the people in the Philippines are Christians, specifically Roman Catholic. They're the only Asian country where most of the population considers itself Christian. And, as Christmas is a very important holiday for Christians, Christmas is a big deal in the Philippines. The Christmas celebration in the Philippines is big, like, possibly the biggest Christmas celebration in the world. The national party actually starts on December 16. There are nine pre-dawn masses celebrated in the country, every day leading up to Christmas. The holiday celebration continues past Christmas day and ends after January 6, which is Three Kings Day.

Since the Philippines is made up of thousands of islands, some areas have certain familiar aspects of Christmas culture, while others may not. For example, some areas may have a Christmas pageant, but others may not. Many Western Christmas celebrations have thrived here, though, such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, sending Christmas cards, and singing Christmas songs.

A Filipino church decorated for Christmas

Much like in the United States, Christmas starts popping up in the Philippines before November is even over- stores start decorating for the holidays and you can hear Christmas songs on the radio. But the official holiday season starts December 16. Starting on this day, families will attend Mass while it's still dark outside. These Masses are known as "Simbang Gabi", or "Night Mass." After church, there's a fun time of socialization. Food stalls and carts show up around the churchyards and surrounding streets, so people can eat after church and spend time with each other. It must be fun to eat breakfast with your friends and family every day leading up to Christmas! Some of the foods sold are puto bumbong, a purple-ish rice cake steamed in a bamboo mold. The cake is tapped out of the mold and sprinkled with brown sugar and coconut. To drink, you could have salabat, which is like a gingery tea. There's also thick hot chocolate called tsokolate! Some families might take their breakfast home, but many take their time walking home, eating and chatting with friends.

Puto Bumbong

Filipinos also love decorating their homes for Christmas. Star lanterns are hung in homes, representing the Star of Bethlehem. These lanterns are called parols. Streamers and lights may also be hung on the homes, and wreaths and candles appear often, too. Sometimes these decorations look like the kinds we have in the United States (such as a pine wreath), but other families choose to decorate their homes with Christmas decorations that are patterned after traditional designs. I think that's awesome. An artificial Christmas tree might be used, but sometimes you might see a palm branch placed in a stand and decorated. Trees can have a variety of decorations, such as candies and fruits tied with ribbon; small wood carvings; tiny star lanterns; painted shells; rice paper ornament; and empty matchboxes wrapped as tiny presents.

Christmas Eve is the culmination of all the waiting and early morning Masses in the Philippines. Some families might not even get any sleep because they're up all night partying! Houses are cleaned and sometimes new household items might be bought to replace worn out things. The families are not only getting the homes ready for friends and family visiting, but they're also preparing for the arrival of Jesus!

On Christmas day, gifts are exchanged among family members. Filipino children also traditionally visit their godparents on Christmas Day. When the children are visiting the homes of their family, they're given a small gift at every house- usually something small like candy, a little toy, or some money. Christmas festivities continue through the end of the holiday season on January 6. Between Christmas and Three Kings Day, Filipinos try to visit all their family members they haven't yet been able to see during the holidays!

Here's a recipe for salabat, or Filipino ginger tea:

1/2 lb fresh, sliced ginger
5 cups water
1 cup brown sugar

Boil all ingredients together in a saucepan for 30 minutes or longer, depending on the strength of the tea desired. Add more water if the tea is too strong. Strain and serve hot.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Meet Patricia!

It's been almost three weeks since we lost Joane as a correspondence child, and the day I spoke to Compassion about her being removed from the program by her parents, I went ahead and asked to be placed on the list for another correspondence sponsorship. I was so happy when I checked my account at work tonight on my break, and saw our newest sponsor kid!

Patricia is 11 years old and her birthday is February 7. She lives in Brazil, which is awesome! I don't have any kids in Brazil, so it's very exciting to have a new country represented in our family. I actually know a bit about Brazil as my aunt and cousin hosted an exchange student from there when I was in middle school! 

Patricia likes to do everything, according to her profile! Singing, drawing, art, playing house, playing dolls, ball games, group games....she likes it all! And she has the friendliest face. I can't wait to get to know this adorable little girl!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Letter-Writing Topics

And just like that, the year is done! If you have sponsor kids, I hope that you've been able to write to them at least a few times this year. Our letters mean so much to our kids, even if they aren't able to write back as frequently as we hope. Letter-writing is the most valuable part of sponsorship, and has the most lasting impact!

Here are some final letter-writing ideas for the year!

  1. Christmas. Of course, the biggie should be listed first! There are SO many things you could write about Christmas. I always like to tell my kids how I celebrate Christmas with my family. They usually give me a rundown of how they spend Christmas day in return! I'll tell them how we visit Brandon's grandparents (his mom's parents) on Christmas Eve, and visit with that side of the family. Then Christmas morning last year I made breakfast for my parents, my brother, and my grandparents. As a child, my grandparents always came to my house to eat breakfast (and open presents) with us, and it was so much fun playing hostess in my own home! For lunch we go to my grandparents' (my dad's parents) and see that side of the family, then go to Brandon's other grandparents' (his dad's parents) and see all the Joneses. And we tend to finish out the night having dinner or snacks at my aunt's house. I don't put this in my letters, but this is a tradition left over from my childhood- after lunch, the family would come by my house and show proper excitement over the present my brother and I received, then we'd have a nap (or a break to play with toys!) and go to my aunt's house to see my cousin's presents and have dinner there! Christmas as a married couple is VERY busy (I do include that part in my letters!) because of all the family that we see, but I love it all! And then there is the most important part of Christmas- Jesus! I like telling my kids about the Christmas church services we have, and ask them if they go to church on Christmas. I also ask them how they celebrate at the projects they attend- every child who has written to me about the holiday has mentioned a party at the center! I wish I could go to those parties! It would also be great if you can send some holiday photos of your family along with your letters- this year I plan on digging up some Christmas pictures from my childhood and putting them in some online letters! I know Tasya loves seeing pictures of me when I was little, and I hope the other kids do, too. : )
  2. New Year's. Will you celebrate New Year's in any special way? Do you stay up late to wait until midnight? New Year's celebrations can be a fun thing to write about- just use discretion when talking about the festivities (don't talk about alcohol, and you can probably avoid the subjects of Ryan Seacrest and the ball drop, because there's no way that's going to make sense to anyone who doesn't live here!) You can also talk about the topic of New Year's resolutions. Are you going to make any? You can even ask your child if there's anything he or she wants to accomplish in the new year. Just don't put too much pressure on them (or yourself.) You could say something like "the new year is a time of new beginnings. It is a good time to set goals for ourselves! Next year I am going to try to read my Bible more! What would you like to do in the new year?"
  3. Family. A lot of people spend more time with their families in December than any other time of year. This would be a fun time to write a little introduction to your family and send it to your sponsor child. You could make simple family trees with pictures, send family portraits (especially if you do photo Christmas cards) or even make a little photo album to send! If you want to make a photo album, you will need some card stock for a cover, a color printer for the pages inside, and a stapler! Simply make a little booklet full of printed pages- you could do a page for each member of your family, for instance. Be sure to leave a little room for the translation of your caption! Anything you make to send your sponsor child has to be less than a quarter of an inch thick, be a bendy paper product (for example, you couldn't send a children's board book) and fit in a 9x12 envelope. Don't forget to label whatever you send with your child's name and number, and your name and number as well!
  4. Snow. I am praying for a white Christmas! We haven't had very wintry weather yet this year, and we hardly had any snow last year. If you live in a region that experiences cold weather this time of year, you can talk about the weather in your letters. For most of us, talking about the weather means we don't have anything else to talk about. But telling your sponsor child about snow, ice and frost can be fun! You can talk about snowmen and snow angels, or even snowball fights. You can share how the frost on windows forms pretty patterns, and maybe send a picture or two of some impressive icicles if you have any this year! My city was hit with a big ice storm in 2009, which is the year before I started sponsoring children, but I have used some of the pictures I took during the ice storm in my letters to illustrate just what kind of crazy weather we can get here!
  5. Generosity and love. 'Tis the season for giving. While our sponsor kids don't have the same kind of resources we have, nor as many opportunities to give, we can still talk about generosity and giving with them. Share a Bible story about giving or kindness with them; some examples could be the story of the good Samaritan, or the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people after a boy gave up his lunch to share with others. If you have an older child who reads English, it's entirely possible to find a copy of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol that fits the requirements to send through the mail (a thin paperback copy would be perfect!) Tell your child that it's important to share what we have with others out of love. I was so happy and humbled when Victor recently wrote me a letter saying that he hopes to help other children as I do (through sponsorship and letter-writing) when he grows up and gets a job! 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Compassion Joys: November

It's time for another Compassion Joys post! I'm linking up with Compassion Family. Here's some fun stuff that's happened in November:

 Compassion Family


This month we got two letters from Brenda, one from Mary, one from Victor, one from Carlos, and one from Mishel. We were also able to send a final letter to Joane, as her family pulled her out of Compassion's program. Hopefully we'll get first letters from Bonifas and Elisha soon!

Tanzania Trip Progress!

Since the Haiti ornament fundraiser has started, fundraising has picked up a little bit! I'm now at 40% funded for my trip, which is nice. I still need lots of help, though! If you know anyone who likes handmade, eco-friendly gifts that also contribute to a good cause, feel free to send them my way! I've sold almost a third of the ornaments I have!


I recently gave a presentation about Compassion to my Bible study group. I had been wanting to for a while, but the timing was right. I needed to clear up some misconceptions about child sponsorship programs, plus I wanted to be sure everyone knew about the other aspects of Compassion's ministry, such as the Child Survival Program and Complimentary Interventions. I think that a few people really paid attention and picked up some info they didn't know before, plus one person would like more information on the Child Survival Program, the correspondence program, and maybe even a sponsor child! Awesome!

More Surprise Presents!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be able to send some gifts to Brenda soon! I was hoping to get them out in the mail today, but had a mix-up in my work schedule. They'll go out on Monday instead. That's technically a December Compassion Joy, but I did my shopping in November! : )


We had three birthdays this month!

Carlos turned 17 on the 11th...

Mary turned 18 on the 25th...

and Said turned 15 on the 30th!

Guest Post!

Recently I was able to write a guest post on my friend Lizzie's blog! You can find it here- and you should check out the rest of her blog while you're over there! : )

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sweet Greetings from Kenya

Mail Call Monday again already?? The time really flies this time of year!!

This week I got a nice letter from Victor!

5 October 2013
Dear Jessi, 
How are you? I hope you are all doing well together with your family. I want to tell you that we have opened our schools and learning is taking place as usual, but during the holidays I was still learning with my colleagues at the centre and I came out with something. 
I want to thank you for the letter you wrote to me, and that letter was so interesting because it teaches me more about your country. Besides that I want to tell you that our capital city called Nairobi was attacked by some robbers and many people were injured while some died and I hope you will pray for our country. 
I also want to thank you for the support you are giving me and I hope when I will be working, I will also do the same to others. 
May God bless you. 
Your lovely son, 

I love Victor's letters! He has expressed such an interest in learning about where I live, and what goes on in the US. I sent him  a letter telling him about our president back in September, and he also got a letter talking about Kentucky wildlife. I will have to keep my eyes peeled for some Kentucky magazines or thin books to send him, along with other information about the United States. It was good to read that Victor enjoys his time at the center and still learns there even when he doesn't have school!

This week I am also doing something fun- I get to send a package to Brenda!!! I'm so excited about it!

My friend Mrs. K. (I went to school with her son, and she was principal of the elementary school at my alma mater for several years) has said yes to God's calling in her life, sold her car and her possessions and took a position with the missions board a few months back. She will be living in Peru, and to the best of my understanding, she'll be helping missionary families best educate their kids- kind of like a homeschool advisor, I guess! Anyway, she is doing some language immersion in Mexico until February. I sent her a message recently asking if she wouldn't mind accepting a package for Brenda and mailing it in-country for me- and she said yes!

I am sending Brenda a really simple gift. She will be getting two presents from us in a nice holiday shopping bag. I was able to get a children's Bible in Spanish for Brenda, and had it imprinted with her name and a little butterfly....

...and, since she is always writing about dolls and drawing pictures of them in her letters, I am sending her a dolly! Can I just say that it is hard to find non-blonde dolls at reasonable prices? I would love to be able to send her a doll that looks Hispanic, but money is kind of tight. I *did* find a pretty brown-haired doll at Toys R Us, though! She's cute! I took her out of the box to make things easier, and before I put her in the bag, and then in the shipping box, I gave her a hug and kissed her on the forehead. : )

I am so thankful for the opportunity to send these things to Brenda! Please join me in praying that they get to their destination on time. Mrs. K is in Mexico until February, and she did some asking around about mail delivery- it can take quite a bit of time for packages and mail to arrive at the post office where she's living because they're up in the mountains. Just pray that the package will get there quickly and unscathed- at least that it arrives in time for her to pick it up and get it back in the mail. : ) I am also sending a surprise for Mrs. K as well! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Outgoing Mail

Last week was payday, so it's time (according to my own personal schedule) to send out letters to my kiddos once again! : )

This time around, the letters I'm sending are written on this really pretty printer paper I found at Hobby Lobby. It's regularly priced at $2.49, but was half off since it's "autumn." I really recommend their stationery department and holiday sections for pretty paper! I picked up some Christmas paper while I was there, too.

I'm sending out Thanksgiving letters this week, since it's almost Thanksgiving and I have the paper to match! All the kids are getting the same letter, because it's age-appropriate for all of them. Here's what I wrote, using Victor's letter as an example: 

Hello Victor!
I hope you and your family are doing well. How is your schooling? I am praying for your studies! My family and I are good. I was sick with a cough last week, but I went to the doctor and he was able to help me. Now I am doing better!
We are getting ready for a fun holiday here in the United State. On November 28, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a day for families to get together and remember we have a lot to be thankful for. Many families celebrate this holiday while sharing a meal together. Often, this meal includes eating turkey! Do you have turkeys where you live? This year, my church has made a goal to bring Thanksgiving dinner to 300 families in our community. I am glad that we are able to help in this way. Brandon and I will be having Thanksgiving celebrations with my family, and then with his family! I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. 
I think it's good to try to find something to be thankful for every day. This is a good time to practice doing that. I want to tell you some things I'm thankful for. I am thankful for Jesus, that I can have a relationship with Him and be with Him in heaven one day. I'm thankful for my church. I'm thankful for my family, and for Brandon's family. And I'm thankful for Brandon, too! I'm also thankful for you, Victor. I love you so much. You are a very big blessing to me, and I thank God every day for bringing you into my life. What are some things you're thankful for?
I hope to get another letter from you soon! Your letters are precious to me- I save all of them! I love hearing from you and learning about your life. I am praying for you every day!
Lots of love, 

I think that it's important to be sensitive about certain issues while talking about celebrations (and meals) with our kids, but that doesn't mean we have to avoid the subjects altogether. I was able to write to my kids about how this holiday is traditionally celebrated without saying "I will have such a big lunch that Brandon's grandparents will be disappointed when I don't eat any dinner when we go to their house." And I didn't even say what we'll be eating- just that many families traditionally eat a turkey. Hopefully I will hear back from some of the kids on this turkey issue- I really am curious as to how many of them have turkeys in their countries. : )

Along with the letters, I am sending a Thanksgiving poem on some cute little cards I found at the Dollar Tree. They had them in the teaching supply section- a packet of 10 cardstock cards on autumn-themed paper (I got a pack of each design), and they also came with envelopes. I printed out a Thanksgiving poem and glued it to the cardstock, then laminated it at work. 

The envelope also provides a handy delivery method for some other extras I'm sending to the kids this month. Here's a list of what everyone's getting:

  • Mary and Victor are getting little Christmas devotional books that Billy Graham wrote. They were just published this fall. Having English-speaking older kids means I can send them cool stuff like this! : )
  • Mishel is getting a pink notepad with a picture of a puppy and a Bible verse on it, which I found at Lifeway for an amazing price. The verse is in Spanish. I don't know what it says, but the puppy is cute!
  • Carlos is getting some Kentucky postcards and a cross-shaped bookmark. 
  • Said is getting a pocket-sized Bible-themed word search book (again, Lifeway!) Though he doesn't speak English, he can still search for the words. Each page has a theme (such as a chapter in Acts) and then the words are based on objects, places, and characters in that passage. It's fun and it encourages him to read his Bible!
  • Tasya, Prayer, Bonifas, and Jayid are all getting fall-themed sticker books
  • Elisha and Brenda, who are 7 and 6 years old, are also getting sticker books that are geared toward younger kids. All the sticker books came from Michael's and cost $1 each. They have great sticker books for all the holidays!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Haiti Ornaments!

The ornaments have arrived! In case you missed my previous post about these awesome ornaments, I am partnering with an amazing organization called the Apparent Project to raise money for my Tanzania trip. These ornaments are handmade in Haiti, and they're made from recycled materials. Each one is hand-crafted by a mom or a dad who is earning money to do things like raise their kids or move out of the tent city, thanks to the Apparent Project!

Each ornament comes with ribbon and two paper beads, plus a tag telling you about the artisan who made it. They make excellent gifts!

If you'd like to buy an ornament, you can do so by clicking the Paypal button at the bottom of this post, or up in the right hand corner of the screen. If you're paying with PayPal, each ornament is $10. This covers the fees associated with PayPal, plus shipping is included! If you're interested in paying with a check or cash, let me know and we can get in touch (ornaments will be $8 if you're paying by check or cash.) Out of this money, $5 goes back to the moms and dads who made the ornaments!

I have 150 of these super cute ornaments to sell in the next six weeks. They're the perfect Christmas present! You're helping lots of people, you're buying "green", and as a plus, they're pretty! : )

Here are the designs to choose from. Please let me know which one you want when you pay! Otherwise I'll just pick one for you!

 "Peace" star ornament

"Love" heart ornament

"Joy" tree ornament


Sweet Greetings from Kenya, Mexico, and Peru

Yay for Mail Call Monday!

This week I got four letters! That's more than I've been getting in a month lately. One day I got one letter, and then another day I just had a stack of three letters in my mailbox!

The first letter I got was from Mary. 

12 October 2013
Dear Jessi, 
How are you? I hope you are fine and your family. My family is fine and also I. I am also doing great because of God's grace. My favorite songs are Gospel and especially worship songs. Examples include "God will make a way", "Everyone needs compassion", "You are alpha", "Come and Rain", "How wonderful is your name", "May the spirit of the Lord come down" and others. 
At school I am doing great because it is a golden opportunity. At church we are all fine. We are lifting His name high because we have seen His mighty hand upon our lives. I will pray for her and also her family because God makes a way where there is no way. I always pray for you because you are such a great friend in my life and also I treasure you. 
The photos were great and I am proud for the photos because there are other animals I have never seen. Thank you very much for the book because it gives me hope. The book also strengthens my faith whenever I feel desperate. I also received the photo- it was such a great person and also your friend. The child is wonderful as I saw him on the photo. 
You also have a great name- when you take the first letters it becomes J² and also when you take the first letters of my name it becomes M². I also received the diary. It is such a beautiful one. Thank you for the support you have been giving me and may the Almighty bless the work of your hand. Remember that you are a friend among a thousand and I treasure you because I can't measure the support you give me because of the pleasure you give and the compassion. 
Yours faithful, 

I love love LOVE receiving letters from Mary! She's always so detailed and friendly. She's also very responsive- I sent her pictures from our zoo visit, and also pictures from my little buddy Anell's homecoming at the airport, and she wrote about both of these things. It was also good to know that she receives the extras I send to her. The book she's talking about is a little "Jesus Calling" devotional I got on clearance at Lifeway. I love that book- I hope someday I'm able to bring her or send her a copy of the full book! I'm glad she liked it, too. And it was good to know she received the journal I sent her for her birthday. It was pink and had a little songbird on it, along with a verse from Psalms about singing praises. Mary loves to sing, so I knew that journal was for her! And it was really cute how she discovered that little fact about our initials. : )

On Friday, I got letters from all of my Spanish speaking kids, which I thought was a neat coincidence! We got letters from Brenda in Mexico, and Carlos and Mishel in Peru. 

Here's Brenda's letter, which was called "My Community":

5 October 2013

My community is called Chimalhuacan
The population of my community is 800,000
A common job in my community is builders
A common type of transportation in my community is  buses
In my community the weather is typically it changes
People in my community speak the language Spanish
One fun thing to do in my community is to play outside in the parks
I want to thank you for the letters you sent me, and for praying for me and my family
In response to your last letter My family is well and yes, I'm going to pray for your family
Please pray for my family and my dad, my mom, my siblings, and my grandparents

Dear Jessi, 
I want to tell you that my birthday is on October 22. I will turn 6 years old. I'm going to spend that day with my family. I'm doing well at school. I will go to Kidzania on October 21, because the pastors are giving me that trip as my birthday gift. 

It was great to learn more about Brenda's community! I have read a little about her city before because her project was profiled in a blog post on Compassion's website. When I wrote to her this weekend, I told her I was glad that she is able to go to parks in her neighborhood. And it made me happy to learn that she got to go on a fun trip for her birthday!!

Here's Carlos' letter: 

2 September 2013

Dear sponsor Jessi, 
I greet you in the precious name of Jesus Christ. I want to tell you that my family and I are fine thank God. I have three siblings named Marcos, Zarahi and Samir. I also want to tell you that the weather in Lima is cold and rainy. In the zoo I saw a tapir. It is really nice. I will pray for your brother to be in good health. I would like you to pray for me to do well in my studies and in my communion with God and for my family. Well, I say goodbye with a big hug hoping to get to known you more. I wish you blessings. 

When I wrote to the kids about my trip to the zoo a few months ago (my first since my surgery), I mentioned that we saw the tapir, which is one of my favorite animals. Most of the time it's not out when I'm visiting! Tapirs live in southeast Asia and in South America- some even live in Peru, where Carlos lives! I asked him if he had tapirs where he lives, and it was nice of him to write back that he saw a tapir at the zoo. He's really sweet! This is our second letter from Carlos. He graduates from Compassion's program next November, and I hope to get many more letters from him before that time. 

And last but not least, here is our letter from Mishel: 

16 September 2013

Dear sponsor Jessi, 
I greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Things are going well for me and my family. We do celebrate Father's Day at home and we make "Pachamanca" in the oven. We buy a present for my dad. Thanks for the letters you send. Do you celebrate Father's Day in your country? I wish you and your spouse a Merry Christmas. I say bye with a big hug and many kisses. 

Mishel's last letter told me about her Mother's Day celebration, and it was nice of her to tell me a little about Father's Day in this letter! She also mentioned another Peruvian dish. Pachamanca is meat (poultry, pork, or guinea pig) cooked in a pot in the earth! I've learned quite a bit about the food in Peru thanks to Mishel's letters! 

I'm so thankful I heard from my kids this week!