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Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Honest Truth? ... okay here it is!

After reading my last blog entry, Dave commented that I was making our life sound too glamorous!  
On our blog I like to try to share a percentage of the ‘highs’ as well as the ‘lows’ but maybe not all the lows make it to be published.
Why?  Well, as much as I want our blog to reflect the “real” us, I also want it to be relatively ‘uplifting’ as well.  I don’t imagine people will want to read it if they come away feeling depressed afterwards.  
Anyone with children understands the daily challenges that are faced with sibling rivalry, tiredness, homework, behavioral issues and the general busyness of life.  These challenges still exist for us, obviously, but we feel like they are somewhat magnified by the added implications of being away from our support network, missing our families tremendously, facing cultural and language differences daily, adapting to the constraints of what we can/can’t buy at the shops (food wise), coping with the extreme heat each day… I won’t go on- you get the idea!
Last night after all three children had literally all had “melt downs” both in mind and body; Dave asked whether I’d like to go and adjust my blog!!  The hot days are definitely taking a toll- even the daily routine of getting ready can leave us dripping with sweat and worn out.
Dave often goes through two to three shirts a day!
This morning I mentioned to Eliana that I’d had an email from my friend Marnie (from my mother’s group) who has a daughter Tessa, Tobi’s age, and who Tobi went to kinder with last year.  Eli and Tessa did tap and ballet together last year and I was telling her some things that Marnie had written.
Tobi was listening in and began to express how he missed all his old kinder friends and wanted to go back and visit them.  I said that maybe one day we could go back and see our family and friends but that afterwards we would be coming back to Thailand, as this was our new home.  
Tobi and Eli both began crying and explaining how much they missed everyone.  Tobi even told me that I could just send him back to Australia to live with one of his friends!  They said everything from how they didn’t just want to visit Australia but they wanted to go back for a VERY long time, to suggesting living with their grandparents, to how they hadn’t gotten to say goodbye properly and many other things!  Talk about breaking my heart!!!
Fighting back tears, I calmly explained to them that I knew it was difficult for them.  It was Mummy and Daddy’s decision to move so far away and that we missed everyone too but that we moved here so that we could help the children at ZOE and that this was Daddy’s new work now.  I also talked about how, even though I missed everyone back home, I also felt glad to have met all the people that work at ZOE and how I have lots of new friends now as well.  We have our most treasured friends and family in Australia and our new friends here in Thailand.  
It feels like every single time we get a glimpse of settling in, we’re hit with the harsh reality that despite our children’s love for life and ability to embrace their surroundings, there’s still two little hearts that are desperately missing a life they used to have.  
So where to from here?
We’ll continue to pray for God’s wisdom and strength in our parenting.  
We knew we weren’t choosing an easy life when we moved here. We never set out to just cruise through.  We want to give and we want to make a difference and we want to change the course of history… however big or small that ends up being, we will at least try.
Our children are so precious to us and whilst we know there are aspects of living here that they love, it was not their choice- it was ours.  Please pray for them that they are able to trust the decision we’ve made for our family.  
Dave and I need so much understanding and patience when trying to be sensitive to their feelings and we have to realise that is normal for them to feel these emotions after moving to a new country.  With changes like these, where we have to leave people behind that we love, it is natural to feel a sense of loss and grievance. Hopefully if we can continue to recognise these feelings for what they are, cope with them and allow the children just “to be” then one day we may be able to truthfully report, that we’ve finally “arrived” … or not!!!
Andie
PS I hope you’re not going to leave this blog feeling depressed… it was not my intention… I’ll write something more uplifting next time, I promise!!
  

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Warmer, Warmer, Hotter, Hotter... BOILING!




ZOE camp. Below: some of the boys
and their leaders.  Above: Some of 
the wonderful team of leaders.



Did you ever play that game as a kid where you hid something and then gave clues to the person looking for it by describing their attempts as “cold” if they were no where near the object and then “hot” for when they were getting closer?
Here in Chiang Mai, the weather has gone from warm to hot to boiling rather quickly and just to add another level to this, yesterday I think I experienced a “rapid boil” when our the electricity went out and there was no cooling or fans in the house for a couple of hours!
We knew it would get really hot when the winter temperatures in January were a consistent 30 degrees everyday!!  But nothing could prepare us for the relentless weeks of high thirties to forty-degree days that we’ve had.  Even the lowest temperatures over night are still in the mid twenties!  
I wouldn’t say that I’m normally a sweaty person, but earlier in the week, after finishing some ironing and mopping the floors, I glanced at my reflection in the mirror only to confirm what I already knew…  I was absolutely dripping with SWEAT!!  Ahhhh it’s just crazy at the moment.
Good news though, we did have a little shower of rain on Monday and yesterday.  And you have to understand; there was no running or hiding when it rains here.  It felt so good that we all frolicked and laughed and thanked God for the wonderful relief.  It was short-lived but a little sign of what’s to come as we enter in to the wetter season (mid year).
I am consistently amazed at how much the children keep growing-up and changing.  They are absorbing so much from, not just, our ‘home’ culture but also their school, the Thai culture and the small community of American missionaries that we frequently hang around with.  It’s so funny when you see all these different influences in their lives shaping them in to who they are.
Even their interest in speaking Thai and using it in daily contexts blows me away.  Their lives here are certainly different now to what they were even just 6 months ago!
I was just commenting to Dave about how quickly Tobi is growing up.  He is infatuated by paper planes at the moment and spends considerable time making them, adjusting them, testing them and then readjusting them.  Him and Dave are always trying to improve the flight of the planes by adding a bit of sticky tape here or there as well as maybe a couple of staples etc.  He’s made some absolute beauties and it’s all good- until one comes and swoops you when you least expect it!!  He is also becoming increasingly interested in writing and spelling.  He is continuously asking us to spell out words for him as well as read what a word says.  He loves talking about what ‘this’ or ‘that’ starts with and is very serious about his drawing and coloring in too. 
He loves being outdoors as well, especially helping with the gardening and watering.  He will quite often go and move the sprinkler to a different spot by himself and is always up for a sporting challenge.  Dave enjoys playing baseball or soccer with the kids in the backyard.  Yesterday I bought us a set of 5 badminton rackets and 6 shuttlecocks (all for $3.30 mind you) and Tobi instantly wanted us to explain what to do.  We had to show him over and over until he managed to be able to master the skill himself.  This morning all he could think about was, “playing that tennis game again” after kinder!
Well one thing about Eliana is that she still has a LOT of words to speak.  We are training her to let the boys have a turn talking occasionally but now with both English and Thai- there’s double the amount of words for her to get out!!  Eli loves being outdoors too and enjoys running through the sprinklers and playing hide and seek.  Inside she fusses over her dolls, dressing and redressing them and is often heard explaining something to them in either language!  Her and Tobi play so well together and they are getting really good at including Spencer in some way into their games.  It’s lovely when it all just “works” and the three of them are seen nattering away to each other and getting along.
Spencer has definitely reached that stage of either being completely delightful or having the biggest tantrums that Thailand has ever seen.  But when he’s not throwing a fit, Spencer is hysterically funny.  He has the craziest dance moves I’ve ever seen.  He’s pretty good at saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ -both of these he needs to use regularly so that’s handy!  He is in to everything and climbs on everything and jumps on everyone… yes he is an active one and just when I feel like a tornado has ripped through the house he comes and gives me the longest, yummiest cuddle and it is all totally worth it!  Gotta love toddlers!
Dave and I are good.  While the children and ZOE keep us relatively occupied, we enjoy catching a few minutes where possible to sit and have a coffee and just download.  We will go back to more ‘normal’ hours once the ZOE camp is over, at the end of next week.  At the moment the hours are different and this morning it was apparent that the kid’s have missed seeing Dave at their bedtime, the last few nights.  Today though is an excursion day so Dave will be home tonight and we may be able to spend some family time together before and after dinner.
I am going in to ZOE tomorrow to help finalize colors for the dormitory bedrooms.  I still think it’s hysterical that I found myself with this role but it is certainly stretching me to experience something different to what I normally would and I enjoy the process and collaborating with Rob, who is in charge of the new building project.
I went house hunting on Saturday. Jess agreed to come with me and her Thai was invaluable.  Only once did she lapse and tell someone that “we love rental properties!!” Too funny!   After a whole day though, I don’t feel much closer to having decided whereabouts to live when our lease is up but at least the process has started.  To be honest, it was fun just to have a day out and get to hang around Jess as well as enjoy a longer lunch than the usual rushed, peanut butter sandwich.
On Sunday we scouted out a waterfall to see if it would be suitable to take the ZOE kids to for their excursion.  It was a beautiful spot and one that we’ll definitely go back to again as a family.  It was perfect for swimming or just paddling in the rock pools.  (See photos to the side)
Well, from me to you I say thank you again for reading our blog, staying up to date with our lives and for your support.  We love you lots and miss you heaps but we know that this is where we are meant to be.
“There is no greater joy than bringing hope to children and no greater responsibility than protecting the innocent” Sandra Denenga.





Tuesday, April 20, 2010

APRIL RAMBLINGS


I must say it does seem rather quiet with all the Songkran festivities now finished.
Tobi and Eliana were back at kinder yesterday to begin what is Term 4 here.  Their “summer” break is from mid June.  The new school year begins in mid August. I’m still trying to get my head around that!
Both children are VERY excited about doing swimming this term and have been asking continuously whether it’s their swimming day yet!  Tomorrow (Wednesday) I look forward to being able to answer, “YES!”
So I have been reflecting lately on some of the vast differences between living here and back in Australia and I just thought I’d share a few.
  1. 1.Firstly something like ‘fake tanning lotion’ is an item that CANNOT be found here!  In fact it’s the complete opposite.  Browse the aisles of any pharmacy or supermarket and all you will find is ‘whitening’ cream and skin bleaching lotions in a multitude of brands.  They’re all designed to make the skin paler!  Talcom powder can also be used to whiten the skin.
2.Back home, I did my best to cut out all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and additives from our diet and it was hard but not impossible, right? Well here I can’t even read the ingredients labels so I have no idea what we’re eating when we buy anything packaged.  And I have to giggle every time I walk past the big 20kg bags of MSG for sale at Makro!! That’s just too funny. 


3.Well, we shipped our kid’s car seats over but almost went crazy in those three weeks before they arrived.  Driving ‘Thai’ style is definitely a lot quicker when getting in and out of the car but it is crazy dangerous too.  I still remember Spencer crawling under the seats, flopping on top of every other person in the car, trying to climb to the front seat… the list goes on.  I am still amazed here when I see from new born babies, and every other age of child, riding on motorbikes with their parents- no helmets on either or standing up on the front seat of the car without even a belt on.

4.What also surprises me is the price differences I see.  Last night at Big C, (our local supermarket- Coles/K mart) there were racks of new kid’s clothes for $1.30 a piece and yet to buy cream, margarine or cheese it was (and always is) ridiculously expensive.

5.Every Thursday we put our big, empty bottles out the front to be filled with drinking water. Last week though, no one came and filled them and we are presuming it was due to the Songkran public holidays so we went to a filling station and did it ourselves.  Another new experience for us!



  1. 6.When a car park is full, it’s no deterrent in Thailand!  People simply park their car perpendicularly behind another car.  All you need to do is leave your car in neutral, lock the doors and walk away! When the owner of the correctly parked car wants to get out he/she simply pushes your car (left in neutral) out of the way and backs out! I have seen this first hand.  The only problem was, the car parked behind us (I was with Joyce at the time) didn’t leave their car in neutral!! We had to get some security officers to jack the car up and move it, which was quite a process!
Okay, so I didn’t take this photo!
Well, that’s all I can think of for now, but be assured there are many more!
I’ll leave you with a photo from “camp” (ZOE holiday program).
Take care,
Andie 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Songkran! Soaking up the Celebrations!


Have you ever been in a water fight?  Yes?  A REALLY big one… involving all your family and friends?  What about your family, friends, neighbors and all their friends?  What about one with the WHOLE suburb?  What about, a water fight that the entire state participated in?  Or what about the WHOLE country?
Well while you stop and think about that for a moment, I’ll try to describe to you what we are experiencing here in Thailand at the moment, known as SONGKRAN!

It’s hard to articulate just what Songkran (traditional Thai New Year’s celebration) is but if you can picture the biggest water fight you’ve ever seen and times that by millions of  people (that’s just in Chiang Mai) you may start to get the idea.  
So the official dates of Songkran are April 13-15th but the water throwing started as early as mid last week (Apparently the ‘unofficial’ celebrations start earlier each year LOL).  It’s all in good spirits though and you never know where the next bucket, hose, scoop or water pistol soaking will be coming from next.  You could be driving down the street, walking out of a shop or just winding the window of your car down to try to get a mosquito out and then “splash” you get hit!  

You may have seen some of the photos I posted on my Facebook page depicting a little of what it is like here at the moment… it’s a little crazy and a lot of fun!




I took our three children in to ZOE today to watch the water sports that Dave had organized.  He’d come home on Monday and explained how they had ‘gone off’, so we wanted to go and see for ourselves.  
Tobi, Eli, Spencer and I all watched on in glee as the ZOE children, staff and camp leaders all completed their games and got absolutely drenched in the process.  I’m not quite sure how we managed to stay as dry as we did, but it was certainly a site to see.




After the games finished and everyone had dried off, we enjoyed some morning tea before staying for one of the elective classes.  The elective we stayed for was rocket launchers!  Sound familiar?  Tobi’s teacher, Mr Todd, ran it.  Mr Todd had volunteered to come and help teach a class at ZOE during the Songkran school break so we suggested to him doing the rocker launcher activity that he’d done with Tobi’s class last term.  
Well it was a hit.  Yesterday the older children and teenagers made and decorated their rockets, and today they launched them.  We literally had a “blast” watching them take off and seeing where they landed in the playing field out the front of the children’s home.  Each rocket launched was accompanied by many, “Oooos and ahhhhhhs” from the spectators.
From their electives, the children and teenagers then went on to “huddle” in the meeting room before lunch.  Tobi and Eli saw that the kids were all getting their passports reissued with their next boarding pass for the night session and just had to be the same.  Thankfully Dave had some spare Thai passports in his office to appease them and Garrett (son of Lynne and Les) helped to fill them out with their favorite colors, birth date etc.  I even over heard Garrett asking what Tobi wanted written on one of the blank pages to which he replied, “I love Eli”… how cute!
Not being able to resist all the buckets and tubs for sale during Songkran, I purchased a good-sized plastic tub for Spencer.  Sitting it just outside the kitchen door, I was able to cook dinner tonight while Spencer had a wonderful time splashing in the cold water alongside Eli dipping in her washcloth and detergent and busily playing at, and cleaning, her little kitchen.

I have loved the happy noises of the children settling in to their imaginary play these holidays.  I laugh to myself as I overhear Tobi and Eliana playing shops and asking each other the price of things and answering in baht… or yesterday Tobi loudly announced to Eli to “Hurry up” as her tuk tuk had arrived to pick her up.
As busy as it is ... and as messy as it is, with the three of them all home for longer periods, the children and I have certainly had some good times during this break.  
Dave is doing a lot of hours, however it’s been a privilege to have him come home for a couple of hours in the middle of the day this week while camp’s on as he then goes back to ZOE in the afternoon and stays until about 9pm.  Due to his different ‘work’ hours this week, we have been able to drive around the city moat and experience some of what this Songkran holiday is all about… which is?  Getting VERY wet!!!!
Andie :)




Friday, April 9, 2010

IS IT ALL WORTH IT?

That is the question!

Andie has shared some anecdotes about our time here in Thailand; the highs and the lows.
To say it has been a successful transition is a difficult statement to make.
We are definitely becoming more familiar with our environment and our children are really starting to settle which, for us, has been a true blessing.
However, they often remind us that this is not fully their home. Tobi has especially shown us through the beautiful eyes of a four year old how difficult it has been for him. He regularly has simple requests that could’ve been easily granted if we lived back in Australia. From his trusted toasted cheese sandwich, to going over to see his cousins for a play.
He simplifies the complicated emotions that we have all felt. We each miss pieces of our life back home in Australia and especially the friends and family we left behind.

The first couple of months was all about survival and trying to get on top of the things we would need to ‘live’ … car, phones, where to shop etc.
But now our lives have shifted a gear and we are becoming more focused on the work we came to Thailand to do.
We are here to help care for children. ZOE Children's Home rescues orphans and children who may become victims of human trafficking and fights to protect the rights of these children.
ZOE also protects children taken right out of trafficked situations where they have been misused and mistreated.
It’s life-changing stuff and we’re loving it!
Before we came to Thailand, it was just a series of statistics that compelled us to act. But now when I sit with these wonderful kids, each of the statistics suddenly has a face. It’s a face that is covered with a big smile, and their smiles are part of my every day.
I have sat across from these smiles at meal times and shared some laughs over hot and spicy soup. Well, they laugh at me as the spices make my eyes water! They have watched me (with some curiosity) as I have sat with their house parents on the floor tasting strange looking green things accompanied by fried animal fat! They interrupt me as I sit at my desk by standing outside my office window playing a game of peek‐a‐boo, trying to not let me see them and breaking into laughter when I do.
Seeing them now, you could easily assume it’s always been this way, but each of their faces didn’t always have a smile. Some of these children were rescued before being trafficked; others have come directly from slavery.
All have faced incredible hardship.
Our Child Rescue Team at ZOE do a phenomenal job in ensuring that we thoroughly investigate every child’s case. We document the details and act with precision. The investigative work that Child Rescue does will help to purge our society of this evil crime.
Since our arrival in Thailand, ZOE Children's Homes have been very active in the rescue of children. I feel so proud to know that even in this short period of time more than ten new children have come into contact with ZOE and we have had the opportunity to input into their lives.
It’s never about the number of children we rescue though. It would be worth it, even for the one!
The new life these children at ZOE have is very different from where they were just weeks or months ago.
These kids have talents, just like you and I, that are waiting to be discovered. Some have amazing voices and love to sing, others are gifted at art, designing things or dancing.
Only now do they get the opportunities they deserve- to go to school, to learn and to be loved.
They get a chance to make a difference in the world and make tomorrow a better day than yesterday.
I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity to help them shape their future.
I can assure you that the work here is not always easy but we have a tremendous group of staff and house parents that ensure all the children are well cared for. The ZOE staff members are strong and committed and do an absolutely amazing job.
To know their names ... see their faces ... have contact with them regularly and see their smiles.
Our life here in Thailand may have required considerable adjustment…
But is it worth it?
Absolutely!    YES!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Guest Blogger: Gary Lewis

"LIVING STONES"

Throughout history and in many cultures, stones and rocks have been used as markers. Markers of significance used to identify a location for direction along a journey, as a place of remembrance or even as a place of worship. The Bible is pocketed with many such markers.
Last week Maree and I had the great privilege of visiting our daughter Andrea, her husband David and their three children Tobiah, Eliana and Spencer in Thailand. This trip was significant not just because it was our first overseas experience, but also because we were their first visitors from Australia.
I have long found that the use of stones and pebbles to also be significant in my life as a symbol of remembrance, and so I was determined to make sure that as far as possible I would collect a pebble at many points along the way. 
For example: this stone was found at the place of the Mae Elephant Camp where we witnessed elephants being bathed by their trainers in the river … where we fed then bananas … where we saw them playing soccer … where we saw them painting … where Maree was cuddled by an elephant’s trunk and where we rode on the back of an elephant! What a wonderful experience to remember. It was also the place where Tobi and Eli held a snake around their necks.

The next pebble was found at the spot where we stopped to fix a rear-wheel blowout. Dave could not locate the key to the spare wheel and so he called one of the other missionaries who came to pick us all up. It was hot – and neither Dave or Andie knew the name of the road we were on or the locality. (They actually identify locations by ‘landmarks’ interestingly!) We were approached by some soldiers who seemed amused at these westerners’ plight. We used various objects as safety markers on the (fortunately not so busy) road as many Tuk-Tuks,  Songthaews and motor scooters passed by — their drivers and passengers seemed also intrigued as we stood on the side of the road.

The third pebble was picked up at the site of new ZOE Children's Home construction site. After we had visited the current ZOE premises the day before and saw first hand some of the work being done for the sake of these precious children; this pebble holds great significance —symbolising not just the construction of a new building, but the expansion of a wonderful ministry ‘…to the least of these …’

These rocks / pebbles / stones — whatever term you prefer (as well as the others I collected) are also symbolic of Dave, Andie and their children. As the Apostle Peter says‘…living stones …’ (1 Peter 2:5-11) ‘being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood … as aliens and strangers … that they may see your good deeds and glorify God …


Maree and I were blessed over and again by the beauty and colour of the land – its fruit and its flowers and the friendliness and politeness of the people. But most significant of all by the privilege of sharing this marker in time with the Cross family.
Gary Lewis

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

For the past four years, we’ve spent the Easter holidays with my mum and dad.  The first two years, we went and rented a holiday house near the beach, last year we had them come and stay at our house in Melbourne and we did excursions each day and this year they travelled all the way to our new home in Thailand and shared Easter with us here.
It’s been a jammed packed week of fun and adventure as we’ve seen different sights, visited new places and tasted unfamiliar foods.
There were many differences celebrating  Easter in Thailand.  For example, can you imagine not seeing a single hot cross bun in the shops?  I didn’t see any Easter eggs either or notice any other indication that it was even Easter this weekend!  
We didn’t forget though!  Easter is probably the most significant date on the Christian calendar.  So whilst on Good Friday we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us by dying on the cross to pay the penalty of death that we deserve for our sin; today we celebrate that he rose again and is alive.  
It’s a message of life and hope. We’re offered a future not determined by our past mistakes or as a reward for our good deeds, but as a gift of God's love.
We enjoyed sharing a bit more of the Easter story with our children this year as well as a long awaited easter-egg hunt in the back yard.  Thanks to Mum and Dad for bringing us over some Cadbury easter eggs. Yum!  (Mind you, the hunt had to be done quickly so as the chocolate did not melt in the over 40 degree heat!!)
The children also enjoyed decorating boiled, salted, duck eggs as well as making easter baskets and coloring in.  They were also sent presents from David’s parents and sister which was a real treat.

Mum, Dad and I joined the ZOE family for a special all-you-can-eat lunch today.  The restaurant served a mixture of international and Thai food.   
The ZOE kid’s LOVED it because of the “treats” of grasshoppers, bugs and grubs that can be eaten without limit!!   Ewwwww!  I must admit though, because of Mum and Dad’s determination to eat some grasshoppers, I did sample a grub of some description which tasted kind of crunchy and actually not half as bad as it looked!!!



It was a really enjoyable lunch overall with great company and delicious food too.
This evening we drove Mum and Dad to the airport so that they can travel back to Australia tonight.  Tobi and Eli wondered why Mummy was crying so much and were particularly  kind and cuddly to me for the rest of the night.  We will all miss ‘Grandma’ and ‘Gramps’ tremendously but we can reflect on the wonderful week we had by looking back over the hundreds of beautiful photos we took as well as all the thoughtful gifts and presents they brought over for us and bought for us here.  
Their generosity and love blows us away and we’ll reminisce fondly on this week for a long time to come.
Here’s just a few highlights from the week gone by:




Happy Easter 2010!