Sunday, December 31, 2017

{Day 1} of our Niger adventures

Joel and I are so excited to have some time to visit Mom and Dad in their city for the next 10 days! I hope you are ready for some blog posts! :)

We left our apartment in Lyon yesterday at 3:50 am in order to walk to the train station, catch the little tram that took us to the Lyon airport, fly to Paris and then fly to Niamey. It was a very smooth and uneventful trip, just the getting up at 3:20 in the morning that tired us!

It was a really clear day flying, and we saw some beautiful landscapes from our plane window. Look at the irrigation circles in the middle of the Sahara dessert !

When we arrived in Niamey, the pilot announced that due to heavy air traffic, we would have to circle around for 10 minutes or so before landing.

The "heavy traffic" as we saw later, was one other, smaller airplane that had just landed. Hehe.

As we were waiting in line at the border police, I saw a friendly face wave to us and hold up a sign said that said "Joel et Melissa" -- it was our trustworthy and efficient #16, always there to help with our bags and welcome us. He has helped my parents each time they have flown in and out, as well as my siblings when they all came that one Christmas. He just kept smiling and smiling and said, "I am so happy that you are so happy to be together!" It was so sweet! #16 and Moussa, the faithful, taxi-man, and Mom and Dad -- quite the welcoming committee! It's worth coming here just to meet them!

In the evening, we had a lovely time catching up, and had a wonderful Christmas together, ending with a phenomenal new story that Lindsay had written as her Christmas gift to Mom and Dad. She really needs to publish these stories and have Melanie illustrate them! :) Deep, meaningful, powerful, and so so good.

This morning we walked to church.

It was super windy, lots of dust everywhere, and Mom and I had to hold down our pagne (wrap around skirt) so that it didn't blow open and show our legs! It was a very cold morning here. 78 degrees during church! This is one of Mom's babies -- he was ready for the cold weather!

Always so much fun stuff to see! He has a LOT of stuff that he is carrying on his head. I think it is kitchen stuff to sell.

On our way home, Mom saw her carrot guy. Never pass up an opportunity to buy fresh veggies on the side of the road! 

After church, the guys went to a wedding party for one of the students Dad knows. The bride wasn't there, but that was to be expected. She was partying with her side of the family, and he was partying with his side. The guys enjoyed some rice, meat (goat, they thought), and other specialties that Joel seemed to really enjoy.

While the guys were partying, Mom and I were busy cutting fabric, sewing, and making new little table centerpieces. I love love love love doing projects like this with my Mom, and am treasuring all of these moments. She even treated me to an African coke!

It has been a wonderful way to end 2017, and I am looking forward to our big party tonight and the start of a great new year!

Happy New Year 2018!!!!

Monday, May 29, 2017

a real bat cave

Joel and I have a lengthy list of cool places we want to visit in the area. There are so many things to see, and Thursday, being as it was a holiday, and that Joel didn't have to work, we decided to explore a bat cave! It was only about 40 minutes from Lyon, and really really cool. It was huge! Also, not for the claustrophobic type!

Tools, vases, urns, arrows, and axes from the neolithic era have been found, dating back to 4000 BC, and more recently, well, in the 1700s, the cave was also a hideout for a famous French smuggler.

The pictures don't do it justice for how big it is. The entrance was 35 meters high (about 115 feet) and we were able to explore around half a mile of cave.

The ceiling got pretty low at times, and the labyrinth passageways were so narrow! I am not usually a claustrophobic person, but winding on the little "path" for a long time, without any end in sight, cave walls pressing in all around me... yeah, I was ready to see the light again!

That was our "path"

Amazing limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites.

The bottom right picture is a river that has formed in the cave, and it stretches several kilometers... they haven't found the end yet! They have discovered 6 sumps, or siphons (a passage in a cave that is submerged in water for an unknown length!) but haven't found the end! Can you imagine doing cave diving and discovering underwater passageways?? Ahhh, so scary!

Really neat place to visit, and we even spotted a bat! :)

Monday, May 22, 2017

hooded and pinned

I have crazy cool siblings. I know I am biased, but I really like my brother and my two sisters, and think they are the best! We have this family whatsap group where we can post interesting (or not) things about our lives, pictures, news, jokes, questions, embarrassing moments, etc. It makes the three continents our family lives on feel like we are actually almost neighbors. Almost. I miss them! And being away for big milestones and celebrations is hard. And recently, BOTH my sisters passed a huge milestone!

 In the last couple of years, my middle sister has read 9300 pages of literature. Books that she sometimes liked and sometimes did not. She worked diligently, put in long hard hours, and all of this, while teaching 4 levels of high school French full time and being involved in numerous other activities! After writing about 409 pages, or approximately, 106,636 words, the day finally came to don her cap, gown, tassel, and hood, and graduate with her Master's in English Literature! I am SO proud of her! I was unexpectedly and generously given a ticket to Kansas to surprise her (along with my littlest sister) and be there to help her celebrate her big day! It was a whirlwind of a trip, but an unforgettable experience!

Erika and I had a great time helping her get ready and her apartment all cute for a little party! Her refreshment choices were a variety of m&ms (she is a huge fan), delicate French pastries made by Mom, Aunt Donna's monster cookies, also made by Mom, and fruit brochettes by our littlest sister!

So proud of you Lindsay!!! OH, and do you see that white colar on her gown? That is her hood. She had the hood in her hand, gave it to the professors on stage, who "hooded" her, and officially made her a Master's Graduate!

So that was a week ago Saturday. This last Sunday, it was Erika's turn to pass a big milestone! She has been working as a nurse (the best one in Kansas, I might add) for the last couple of years, just moved to PA with her husband about 6 months ago, started a second job, and all the while, has been taking classes toward her BSN. And Sunday, she got it! Bachelor of Science in Nursing! What a great accomplishment! Sadly, I couldn't be there for her ceremony, but just look how beautiful she and my Mama looked at her pinning! Oh yes, pinning. She didn't get a hood like Lindsay, but had a traditional "pinning" ceremony, where the emblematic pin of her school was pinned on her shirt. 

A BIG congratulations to my two sisters! Very different fields of study, but so much hard work, perseverance, and studying from them both! 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

impromptu lessons on skipping rocks

Joel's little sister has been staying with us for a few days on her spring break, and we have loved having extra quality time with her.

This afternoon, the three of us decided to explore a new-to-us area, just outside of the city. It was beautiful! We walked for several hours, enjoying the sunshine, the beautifully blue water, and just being together. She sure makes her brother laugh.

We were walking along the river, and at one point, went down to the water's edge. Joel picked up a few rocks and started skipping them. 

Rapha was pretty impressed, and decided to follow suit, only hers didn't so much skip lightly across the water, but landed with a big plop not far from where she threw it. #fail

The teaching moment began. 

We are still in the middle of our transition to a new city, and the days aren't always easy. I am learning so much, and am thankful for our changing circumstances that God uses to teach me important life lessons. Slowing down and cultivating a heart of gratitude, for example. There are so many little moments throughout the day that can seem quite insignificant, and that too often go unnoticed when there is so much busyness all around. I want to learn to cultivate more of a thankful heart. To be looking, actively looking, at the countless blessings that God gives throughout the day, whether they seem small or big. 

Today was a great reminder of that. I was snapping a few pictures of Joel and his little sister, and just loved watching them interact. 

Thankful for his patience as he showed her the skipping rock gesture over and over again. 
Thankful for her giggles, laughs, and humor as she tried her best to follow his instructions. 

Before we left, she managed to skip 1 rock! We were quite proud! I had a great afternoon, and was so thankful for our time all together! 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

a special surprise week-end

Today is Joel's little sister's birthday! Happy Happy Birthday Rapha!

During Christmas break, Anne (his older sister) and I started talking about what we could do to celebrate Rapha's birthday. She lives about an hour and a half from Joel and I, and about three hours from Anne and Pierre. Since it was a bit far for us to go just for the evening, we decided to surprise her with a whole birthday week-end! I mean, a surprise week-end, with her favorite brother, sister and siblings-in-law!? What's not to love?!

The planning started. Joel changed around his work schedule. Pierre got the sled ready (in case of snow). I made cinnamon rolls and soup. And Anne took up communication with our newly formed allies: Rapha's roommate and close friend that live in her city. Their mission: making sure Rapha's week-end schedule stayed clear, communicating to her the week of that she was leaving on a surprise week-end getaway, and, helping her pack her bag. They went above and beyond. This was the "message in code" that they delivered to her, right on schedule! Sorry about the picture quality. Basically, it says that she is going away on a surprise week-end, and to not be afraid. :)

Anne found an amazing place for us to stay -- a restored barn, hidden up in the mountains in a tiny little village of about 40 people. It was just right for the 5 of us, and the owners were so sweet, even bringing us breakfast both mornings!

So anyway, back to how Rapha actually got to the village! On Friday of our week-end getaway, her roommates gave her a bus ticket, told her to get off at the final destination (which she saw was Lyon) and that someone would be there to take care of her. She had her doubts that it was her sneaky siblings, but wasn't convinced. Our allies had done a very good job of keeping things mysterious. She bravely got on the bus, and started her 1.5 hour trek to us.

Over in Lyon, Anne and I were beside ourselves with excitement about the weekend and meeting Rapha at the bus stop.

Wanting to keep the surprise for Rapha as long as we could, we asked a girl waiting at the bus station if she could help us out. "You see, it's our little sister's birthday, and we are trying to surprise her..." we explained excitedly to the girl. We asked her to simply walk up to Rapha, hand her the sign and leave. She agreed, though was a tad less enthusiastic than we would have liked. But we were not deterred. We started describing Rapha to her, when all of a sudden her bus pulled up. Anne and I dashed behind another bus stop to hide, all the while giggling and going "shhhhhh!" to each other. The poor girl just stood there, holding our sign. "There she is!!!!" we half whispered half screamed, as we saw Rapha get down from the bus. The girl walked up to Rapha, said, "are you Raphaelle?" and with an affirmative nod from Rapha, she was handed the sign, and the girl left. Haha. Anne and I couldn't keep it a surprise any longer and we jumped out yelling "SURPRISE!" It was a great moment.

We left to go pick Joel, who had been saving lives all day, and then started the scary drive up snowy, mountain roads to our place.

We had no idea that it was going to snow while we were there, but we were so thankful for such a beautiful added blessing (and for safety on the roads)!

It was so great to have family time... talking, games, walks, sledding.

And for Joel and Pierre, lots of pushing each other around in the snow. They were covered in snow, freezing cold and wet within minutes of stepping outside.

We found some great hills for sledding. That little spot in the middle is Pierre! The picture doesn't show the slant very well, but trust me when I say it was a great hill! It was a glorious 2-5 seconds down the hill in the sled, but then the trek up, which took a few seconds longer then the trek down, was a little less fun.

Some of us were more confident than others (not me), some screamed the whole way down (me), and most everyone crashed and burned when they got to the bottom.

Or, even before they got to the bottom!

But who doesn't like crashing and burning when you fall into soft snow? It was great. Happy Birthday Rapha!!!

Joel and Pierre tried a few "creative ways" of going down together.... which didn't always work out.

Anne was a much better partner for Pierre. :)

It was such a joy to be away for the week-end, especially with such wonderful people that I am blessed to call family! 

 Rapha, we love you so much and had a great time planning, surprising, and celebrating you!