Though all love originates in God and is for that reason God's own love, yet we are permitted to catch and reflect back that love in such manner that it becomes our love indeed, in much the same way that sunlight reflected from the moon becomes moonlight. - A.W. Tozer

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Time to Play the Music, It's Time to Light the Lights

We're home for Christmas and have officially said our goodbyes to the other long-term volunteers in Crisfield. We will be returning for January and February, but there will be a completely different group of volunteers, so this felt very much like an ending for us. We were thrilled to come home for Christmas, but it was hard to leave our new MDS family as well.

This crew was such a lot of fun. I can't think of anyone that wasn't a good influence on our lives in one way or another. The kids felt like they had lots of Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles to help them not miss our Oklahoma family quite so much.

As we all visited and played games one night, we decided that two of the men, Jon and Dan, looked (and acted) like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. It was an obvious step to give the rest of us our Muppet designations. I'd like to introduce you, then, to our buddies from the last few weeks.

First we have Statler and Waldorf. Can you see the resemblance? Trust me, they played the part well! Jon built a Jenga set for the kids that was almost taller than they are, then sat back and laughed at their efforts to play it. (He definitely joined in the fun himself, though.) Dan, our token Canadian, kept everyone laughing and always had something to say. Right?

Next is Jenny. She was hard to place, but we settled on Janice. She's cool, friends with everyone, and has a great singing voice. (Jenny's a much better dresser, though) She could also have been Prairie Dawn, but with a lot more personality.

Robert was our project director, and his wife, Sally, the office manager. Robert is Kermit the Frog, He kept us focused on what was next, and led us where we needed to go, but with gentleness and a sense of humor. He was Sam the Eagle for a while, but I just decided he was too nice and smiled too much to stay a patriotic bird.

Sally, though, is definitely not Miss Piggy. She is The Count, because she's a whiz with the finances and books. She is the only person who chose her own Muppet, but I agreed completely with her choice.

Evelyn was our head cook, and she is the one who is working at the stove in this picture. She's the Swedish Chef. She's easy to understand, and certainly not goofy, but she looks Scandinavian and she was always busy cooking, so the choice was clear.

The cook who is facing the camera and threatening to flick something at Mim (my photographer) is Ann. She had to be Big Bird. She's much more clever than the Muppet, but she has long legs, a ready grin, and made every room brighter just by entering.

Ray and Martha, our project coordinators, were only around occasionally. They are the two who have been with the Crisfield project from the beginning, and they oversee transitions, openings, and closings to give a familiar face to the clients and the community.

 Martha, who is always joking and telling funny stories, is Fozzie Bear. She's great fun to have around and always finds something fun for the kids to do, bringing them games and inventing treasure hunts for them.

Ray was almost impossible to place. We debated several options, but I decided to go with The Newsman. He was just trying to get things done and be serious for a minute, but the rest of us were...well...ourselves. He gave up and laughed with us most of the time. (And I'd like to add that we are a fairly competent crew. No exploding chickens in Crisfield, MD this year.)

Aaron and I had a little trouble deciding who we should be until I suddenly had an epiphany. We are Bert and Ernie. It was obvious once I thought about it. He is organized and responsible. I am spontaneous and occasionally ridiculous. (Also, I play the drums.)

Aaron is trying to look like Bert.
Zaya and Mim are Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew respectively. They brew chaos wherever they go, but make everyone laugh while they're doing it. Zaya is occasionally incomprehensible, and Mim translates for him to the world at large.

There you are. Now you know more about our crew than they probably wanted you to know. I look forward to meeting new faces and friends in 2015, but I know these people will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jenga, MDS Style

Here's an example of something the MDS long-term crew might find themselves doing on a weekend evening. The short-term crews have gone home, everyone has spent their Saturday catching up on chores or taking a drive to visit some Delmarva tourist sights - and Mr. Jon has put together a gigantic Jenga set.

Everyone gathers around to either play or watch. Mr. Robert gets his camera ready for the moment when the tower will fall, little knowing that it will be almost an hour before that happens.

Eventually we have structural failure at the top of the tower, but since the pieces haven't actually fallen, the game goes on. Luckily, Mim can get a little help from Mr. Dan.

And a chair.

Everyone waits for Jon to find the obvious piece. He found it. Can you?

Zaya doesn't need any help. He's the Jenga ninja, striking quickly then throwing himself backwards on the big green couch.

When the tower finally fell, it was by Mim deciding to grab a piece from the very bottom, choosing spectacle over duration. It was an awesome crash indeed, and she did not break her feet, although that was my fear.

We certainly don't play games all the time, but it's a welcome break from work and the regular cares of the regular days. We will miss this group very much, and although I know we'll be meeting new people when we return in January, this will always be a special memory.

Friday, November 28, 2014

With Thankful Hearts and Bleached Sleeves

This Thanksgiving was very different for our family, but wonderful in its own way. There was no large family dinner and time spent with grandparents, aunts and uncles, but we did get to eat a special meal with the other volunteers and are probably even more thankful for our loved ones back home since we didn't get to see them today.

Aaron went out with his crew just like every day (although they should return a little early). Half of our group this week are Canadian, so this is just Thursday for them.  The groups that came this week knew they were coming over a holiday, but still wanted to do the work they planned for when they came.

The kids and I were able to spend some time with the visiting family of another long term couple. That means there were actually other children here! My two were very excited, even though there was a bit of an age gap. It certainly wasn't as big a difference as they've had with all their other companions over the last six weeks. There were Lego bricks on the floor, hide and seek in the bunk rooms, and video games in the RV.

So Many Legos to Lose, So Little Time
All the ladies decided to deep clean the kitchen, since our evening meal was provided by the Baptist church here in Crisfield (thank you, thank you!), so we spent a good part of the morning scrubbing and sweeping. The kitchen looks great, which makes for happy cooks, which makes, as we all know, for happy campers. Literally.
Yes, We Sanitized That Counter

But what I really want to say about today, and about life in general, is that I'm grateful - for so many things that I cannot list them all, but my Savior, my spouse, my children and my family, as always, have to top the list. We have food to eat, a warm RV, and work set before us, which is a blessing in itself.

Hope everyone else had a great day, and I think the take-away from this post is - I still haven't had to cook a Thanksgiving dinner, and I've been married for 14 years!! Is that success or what?!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Good Times on the Bay

Here are a few of the things we've done over the past couple weeks, as seen in pictures. It was a cold week, with a large group of volunteers. They were a Mennonite crew from Indiana, and a lot of fun to work (and sing) with.

We said goodbye to a few new friends, like Alvin, the previous project director. He was a good man to work with, and we enjoyed getting to make his acquaintance over the last few weeks. Alvin is a friendly fellow, who loves his oyster soup. He never succeeded in getting us to eat it, but he enjoyed it every weekend.

Good-bye, Alvin!
We also went out to visit a very old church in the countryside between Crisfield and Pocomoke. (The nearest Wal-mart). The church was built in the early 1700's, and founded even earlier. This man who was buried here in the grave pictured died in 1748. That's 1748, folks! We're talking 28 years before the American Revolution! The people around here just take that kind of stuff in their stride, but I can't get over how old that is. I know. If we were in Europe it wouldn't be anything special. I don't care. I'm still impressed.

Oldest Grave We've Found
We've continued our endeavors to learn/play more card games, and this week Mim invented her own game called "Queens". I have the instructions and a score sheet all printed up if anyone wants to play a few rounds in their own home. It was actually a pretty fun game, and she succeeded in drafting a few brave, short-term volunteers to play it with us.

Playing a Round of Queens
The work is proceeding at pace. Aaron keeps very busy, being out with the crews all day and doing some things around the camp on the weekends as well. The volunteers worked on several different houses, putting on siding, porches, insulation, caulking, etc. There were several cold days, but they were all real troopers, layering up and going on out to work every day without a peep of complaining.
Aaron in Warmer Times

Now don't misunderstand, I did more than my fair share of complaining about the cold, but the people who worked out in it were made of much tougher stock, apparently. The only fun part of being cold all the time is when I get to put my freezing hands on my kids' warm little necks. They love it, and don't let them tell you otherwise. High pitched squealing and begging are how kids show you they're having fun, right?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Crisfield Family Speaks

I want to introduce you all to Ms. Michelle. She is one of the clients for MDS here in Crisfield. Her house is really beginning to look like a home, and we've been honored to make her acquaintance over the last few weeks.

Michelle and her husband have been a wonderful blessing and encouragement to the volunteers here at the MDS Camp. Michelle brings us food regularly, and is particularly popular for the Smith Island Cake she brings once every week. Her husband is a waterman, and brought deep fried oysters for the crowd last week as well.

 She is also famous for having the best port-a-potty of any of the job sites. Each site is provided with one of those lovely plastic outhouses for the "convenience" of the workers, but Michelle's is something special. She has really gone the extra mile, putting in sanitizers, nice toilet paper, decorations, a magazine rack...and more. The volunteers warned her that she was now in danger of the workers spending more time in the loo than on the job site.

She has given me permission to re-print her story as it's shared and handed out to volunteers here, so I'll let her talk to you now. From this point on, the voice and pictures belongs to Michelle. (The typos belong to me.)


     It has been two years since Super Storm Sandy made her appearance. We have lived in Crisfield all our lives and have ridden out all the Hurricanes and Storms that have come our way. We planned to do the same with Sandy. My mother was staying with me and my husband Royce and we were prepared for the storm. Water, candles, flashlights, batterires, food, blankets, magazines, etc...
Ms. Michelle's Mom
      One hour into the storm my husband looks out the door and then at me. "You need to get your Mom out of here." He's a waterman and knows currents and tides and wind. He didn't want to leave our home and I didn't want to leave him and my Mom wouldn't leave without me. And we all know that if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy: So my Mom and I made the decision to leave and Royce would stay behind as long as he could to protect our home. 
     The water rose so fast, it was too late to drive out. We called 911 for a rescue and were told they would do their best to get us out. We packed a bag of clothes and medicine for my Mom, who was undergoing treatment for cancer. For the first time (and probably the last time!) I was thankful for the many boats in our yard. Afraid to wait any longer for the rescue, Royce pulled a skiff to the front door and loaded us up to take us somewhere safer. 
The Fallen Tree
     The water was rising fast and furious. He pulled us down Cove St. where we saw a National Guard truck headed our way. They quickly loaded us up in the truck. Ten minutes later Royce called on the cell phone and said a large tree had just crashed through the roof on our back deck and had missed him by inches. Sadly, our 19 year old cat was not so fortunate and perished under the tree and roof.
     Suddenly the truck we were in stalled. It was stuck on what might have been a U.S. mailbox. Another truck was called in to help us out. There were several of us on the truck. We were cold, wet from the rain, and impatient to get to higher ground. While we waited, calls for help came in and the Guardsmen left the truck and came back with a little baby, maybe two months old and his mother. Another call for help and they came back with a man with only one leg. Our complaining stopped. We realized how serious this whole situation was.
     Finally another truck arrived. We needed to transfer to that truck and the only way to do that was to swim. My mother was too weak to do this so these wonderful guardsmen carried her to the other truck while I waded chest deep with our bags held above my head. Within an hour our rescue was complete and we were safe at my brother Preston's house in Kingston.
     This memory is bittersweet for me. Four months later my mother passed away from the cancer that caused her to be staying with me - that caused me to seek rescue on a truck that came to Cove St. for that rescue, that got stalled and while stalled heard the cries for help, that rescued a little baby and a man with only one leg. Life puts us on a strange path sometimes. And as my Mom always said, "There is a silver lining in every cloud."
The New House!
     And now the silver lining has touched our lives again. With the assistance of wonderful volunteers from all over, our home is being replaced. We are still overwhelmed with this turn of events. We can never thank you enough.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Staying Busy, Having Fun

Working Together to Raise the Walls
Watch Out, He's Armed
So here's a little proof that we actually do work. Well, Aaron does anyway. I don't have pictures of me on the office computer, which is just as well. Aaron has worked on a deck, framing, drywall and many other things over the last few weeks. His back is still holding up, and I nag him frequently to be extra careful of it, reserving the right to say, "I told you so" if things get rough later. He's enjoying the chance to be active, and has been leading various crews of short-term volunteers.

Mim Found 28 Peanuts!
Extreme Shredding
Meanwhile, Zaya and Mim are doing school work, learning to play board games, helping to shred documents in the office (because that's the fun part) and having little adventures, like when Ms. Martha hid peanuts all over the dining area and gave out prizes for finding the most.

Ms. Michelle Tells Her Story

We've met some great people here, and I thought I'd show you a random sampling of them. One of the homeowners, Ms. Michelle, came and spoke with our group a couple weeks ago. She's been a wonderful person to work for, and is always willing to share her story. She and her mother had to be rescued by the National Guard during Hurricane Sandy, and their story is touching and inspiring, as her mother has since lost her battle with cancer and gone on to be with the Lord. Michelle and her friends, as well as many other clients, regularly bring food out to us. Fruit, Veggies, and delicious Smith Island Cake are delivered at random times throughout the week, which is wonderful.

Art Proves Canadians are Tough
The other long term workers are a lot of fun to work with, and must know something we don't, because they tend to only stay between 3-6 weeks. We're enjoying them while we can, though. Art was one of the first people we got to know here at the MDS site, and he became a great friend, even though we only had two weeks together. Alvin is another who will be leaving soon, but will be sorely missed.

Aaron, Leslie and Alvin

Many other friends have come and gone, and I suppose this is something we'll have to adjust to in the future. For now we're just taking one day at a time, and enjoying the work set before us, and the company that God has put in our path.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

So Maybe "Beach" is a Stretch

There is a tiny little beach/park only a minute's walk from our site. The kids saw it on the very first day because we came a little too far and had to turn. Within an hour of our unhooking the trailer, they wanted to walk down and play in the water.

No, They Haven't Seen the Movie
Since I knew it would be one of the last warm days, we did, and we continued to visit the little beach almost every day for the next two weeks. They didn't swim again much, but they've built sand castles, explored, found every shell and broken crab piece, and generally been giddy children who aren't used to sand and water.

On nice days, I hide out at the top of the little pirate ship while the kids play. The sun shines right on the top deck and I can still see them trying relocate sand from the dune to the bay, and then back from the bay to the dune, which seems to be pretty much what they're doing, from my point of view, anyway.

Even though it's fairly close, I won't be letting them go down to the beach alone. There are often a few cars parked nearby, and although I'm sure the occupants are kind and friendly, I'm an overprotective mother, and that's not going to change.

As winter approaches, I'm sure we won't be heading down to our little beach as often, but so far they want to go down about once a day, even when it's cold. On those days we just ride out to "look at the water".

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mortality and the Blue Crab

The Thiessen family has discovered a new hobby. It goes by many names, but since several of the names are considered crude in other cultures, we'll just call it "catching Chesapeake blue crabs". It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, I admit, but it's accurate. We're living in the "crab capital of the world" after all. It was almost inevitable.

We discovered this particularly Crisfieldish pastime by talking with the lady at the Museum here in town. She said we had to try it, because there was no better way to entertain a couple of kids, and no cheaper way to eat blue crab. You take a piece of chicken neck (or other chicken meat with skin on) and tie it to the end of a long piece of twine. (Actually we used fishing string the first time we tried it, and it worked too.) You weigh it down with a rock or sinker of some kind, then drop it off the edge of the dock, tying the other end to a nail.

After a short while, the line will slowly begin to tighten up, and that means a stubborn little (or big) blue crab has found the meat and is trying to sneakily pull it away from the dock. You know they're stubborn, because as you slowly pull your line back in, the crab hangs on for dear life. He does not want to let go of that chicken neck! No hooks are needed, because they won't let go if they can help it. You just stick your net in the water and scoop up crab and line all together. If you can get the crab to let go of the net and the string, you drop him into the bucket, and throw your line back down in the water.

Aaron and the kids caught about fifteen blue crabs last night, but only kept seven or eight of the biggest males. We're planning to steam them this evening, and I hear that breaking them open and figuring out which sections are edible is the biggest challenge. I'll let you know if we succeeded in eating any, and if it was worth all the trouble. For now, just the catching part was fun enough to make it worth the price of the net and the mockery of the locals when I accidentally brought a child's minnow net up to the counter the first time. (The folks at Dave's RV and Marine Supply are helpful and friendly, but they like a good laugh, too.)

When you're done catching all you want to catch, an added bonus is throwing the leftover chicken skins to the sea gulls. They get very excited when people throw them food. My children may have taken advantage of this fact in the past to try to spatter low-flying gulls with carefully crafted sand balls. Maybe. I'm not admitting anything. (Also, hypothetically, their sand balls wouldn't adhere well enough to handle much flight. If they were to make them, of course.)

 Mim has already started developing an attachment to the crabs, so we'd better get them into the cooking pot pretty soon. She was given permission to set one aside to "observe" earlier today. She specifically chose an ugly one so she wouldn't feel to bad later when we cooked him. How one determines the beauty of a crab I don't know, but apparently she does, so that's all that matters.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Soaring like Eagl...I mean, Sea Gulls

So here's a little run-down of our days with MDS. In the morning, we get up early enough that Aaron can come into the bunk house and pack his lunch with the rest of the crews at 6:30. We join him and the others for breakfast at 7:00. After a group devotion and job assignments for the day, everyone heads out to work at the job sites by 8:00. They won't return to the bunk house until 4:30-5:00.

The kids and I stay here. They begin on their school work and I work in the office, trying desperately to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing and keep up with the new information that comes in daily. So far I love it. It's been a long time (10+ years?) since I worked in an office, but it's a fun challenge, and I love knowing that I'm able to contribute just as Aaron is, only in a climate-controlled, padded desk chair kind of environment.

In the evenings, we all gather in the bunk house again for supper at 6:00, followed by a debrief of the activities for the day. The short-term volunteers have a recommended lights out at 10:00, and my kids keep pointing out that the schedule says "10:00" right there in black and white. Nevertheless, their bed-time remains at 8:30, and there it will stay for the foreseeable future, all protests aside. (Unless game-time goes too long, that's a Daddy over-ride.)

However, they do get the chance to play games in the evening first. We've played a lot of checkers, Uno, and chess. Aaron even got all the Dominion cards out last night, which lasted a little longer than we had anticipated. In the picture below, Mim takes great delight in ruling over and then skunking the men here at a game of Pass the Pigs.

We (MDS) are currently working on about 6-8 houses here in Crisfield, but some weeks we may concentrate on three or four specifically, depending on the status of the project and the amount of short-term volunteers. They do foundation work, drywall, painting, roofing, you name it. When a job requires a professional, then locals are hired for those tasks. Aaron is a crew leader, meaning he takes a small number of volunteers to a particular site and works with them through the day.

I'll share more about the town itself in the future. There are many people here with interesting stories, and I look forward to introducing you to them in posts to come if I'm able to do so.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Maryland or Bust

Off to a Stormy Start
The Mississippi River

I’ve finally found a place to connect my computer to the internet after a long week of sketchy connections and very little communication with the outside world. We love it here in Crisfield, and love our work with MDS thus far, but we have no phone service and no internet in our trailer.

See Fungus- Take Picture
We took eight days to get here, starting in western OK and winding our way across the country. Our first five days were supposed to be easy, if not to say leisurely. We planned to arrive at our destinations before dark, having plenty of time to settle in, figure out what we were doing with the RV connections, and perhaps take a walk.

Tunneling Under the Mountain

In actuality we didn’t get to any of the first five
locations before dark. At Cumberland Mountain State Park in Tennessee we had to back into a site that took at least 10 tries before we were successful due to the darkness, the curve of the road, and the ditches on either side. I’m sure glad our friends and family were sending out extra prayers along the way. We certainly felt it.

Daddy and Zaya Roast Potatoes
The scenery made all the long drives worth it. We were especially impressed with Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountains were a big hit with the kids. (I can’t wait to take them to the Rockies someday.) The trees hadn't turned yet, but they were just beginning. The hillsides had a maidenly flush of color, as if they were embarrassed about their slight kudzu problem.

We had driven one mile short of 2000 when we pulled into the MDS Crisfield Project Headquarters on Tuesday afternoon. Aaron says he felt a lot more confident by the end than he did in the very beginning. We had a much better feel for all the little things like how long it takes to come to a complete stop, and the undeniable fact that GPS devices assume you are going the speed limit and have extraordinarily large bladders when they tell you how long your route will take.

 I’ll tell you more about Crisfield next time, which should come more quickly now that I’ve achieved some connection with the outside world on my own computer. For now, we are happy, we are healthy, and we are meeting great people, and doing work that feels worth it. What more could you want in life?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can I Have the Envelope Please...

This Monday we will officially head out to our first disaster-relief project. We will be working for the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) in Crisfield, MD. Aaron will be helping to rebuild homes from Hurricane Sandy damage, and I will be working as an office manager and teaching my kids.

We're very excited about the upcoming weeks/months in Maryland, and spending these last few days soaking up family time and trying to get our new home ready for full-time living. We've got brand new curtains in the windows, courtesy of my awesome mother-in-law, and an original Thiessen Metal Buildings bike rack being installed on the back as of this afternoon. Those bikes are not going anywhere! The whole back side of the RV may fall off, but those bikes will still be attached to that bike rack.

I'll get pictures up as soon as possible. It's starting to come together. Now we just have to learn how to drive with it. That's right, that means two things. One - we bought a new pickup. I'll introduce you later. Two - We have never actually moved an RV. We're about to be hauling a fifth wheel to Maryland, and have never driven with one before.

These last few days are being filled with frantic attempts at pipe and valve repair, (Leak Count: 3) valiant if fruitless efforts at smell removal, and what may be the greatest tax on my organizational skills in my life. Frankly, I'll be perfectly happy if we can just find and fix all the water leaks and figure out why the whole kitchen area smells like the foulest feline den of iniquity.

The Enemy

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Moving Day - Part the Second

Last Monday we recruited a handful of family and unloaded the shipping container that will be storing most of our earthly possessions while we gallivant around the country.This was no easy feat. When we first bought it, we thought Grandpa O could just take it off with his SkyTrak, but it was too heavy for that, so more creativity had to be used.

We loaded the container in Missouri, then unloaded almost all of it onto the driveway in OK. When only a few tubs were left in the end, Grandpa O and Uncle C employed a little farm-boy know-how and came up with a workable solution.

They used the same SkyTrak to pull the box into position, and we began to reload it. It is now accessible. I have to say, there's nothing really valuable in it. It's just books, photos, etc. But it's nice for the kids to know that Grandpa's watching their extra toys and stuffed animals for them. And it's nice to have a place that we can switch out our reading material when we get bored.

We're living with my parents for a couple weeks while we prepare the RV for travel. Not only does it need a good cleaning, but there are a few leaks we've discovered as well, and some cat hair removal from a previous owner. (Well, from their cat, anyway.) There's evidence of a mouse, too, but we haven't caught the little beggar yet, so we're hoping the farm cat took care of it. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see a little girl scrubbing a window.

Both sets of parents have been absolutely wonderful as we make this transition. They've helped, fed us, given us places to sleep, watched the kids...just too many things to list. I'm so grateful that we have a great relationship with my parents and with my in-laws. I know that can be a rare thing. Even though they probably think "the responsible first-borns" lost their mind and went off the deep end, they're still being the kindest and most supportive they could possibly be. What a blessing!