The Six Joys of Christmas

I introduced the 12 Days of Christmas to my English students last week and thought I would continue the theme here!

"The first joy of Christmas was Olivia’s text to me… that she passed her the-or-y."  Her driving "code," as it is called here, was originally scheduled (by the local government) at a bad time for her and she was nervous about passing. Then the test was cancelled due to teacher strikes (proving that God can use anything!) And when it was rescheduled a week later, Olivia was ready! Can you spot the verse hidden in her last practice test sheet where she only missed 4 out of 30? (You can click on all photos to enlarge.) Now she gets behind the wheel!

Learning the driving rules

"The 2nd joy of Christmas was when Nadine said to me, ‘2 Sozo trips!’" This is a photo of Honfleur, Normandy, where we ate dinner along the port on Thanksgiving evening before 2 full days of sozoing. 2 weeks later we drove to Chavornay, Switzerland, coming back laden with chocolate. Great timing for earning some Christmas money and my "clients" were equally blessed with some beautiful breakthroughs. Unfortunately, our team attracts some physical attack after these trips, but this only confirms that we are considered dangerous by the enemy!

Honfleur port at night

"The 3rd joy of Christmas was when Unaferm installed… 3 new windows!’" The remaining single-pane windows were in the den (L), the living/dining room (R), and in our bedroom. Since we live in those rooms during the holidays, the ambiance was always affected by draftiness, neighbor/street noise and condensation. The difference is already palpable with new roll down shutters as well ~ snug as a bug in a rug!

The new windows

"The 4th joy of Christmas was when Anna said to me, ‘I’ll decorate!’" She comes from the Saxony region in Germany where all the traditions of the holiday  must have surely originated. She received several sentimental packages from home to insure her daily dose of Christmas: no less than three Advent calendars, mini Advent candles, wooden and paper décor, Stollen Christmas cake (below) and myriads of other German treats. She is shocked and dismayed at the number of French houses lacking Christmas decor and the cold blue and white lighting that predominates in France. The school is lucky to have her this year as she was the only one with the desire/energy to decorate, and her hands have been very busy adding warm Germanic Christmas touches to the Chateau!

Beautiful German packaging

"The 5th joy of Christmas was when Rachel said to us, ‘I’m com-ing hoooome!’" She paid her own way to come and will even take Olivia on a little Norwegian adventure while she is here. Last weekend we sang in 4 parts "Lo How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming" for the church Christmas party talent show. It was divine to relive happy high school choir moments with my own girls! (Noah is staying in Indy where he has just gotten another round of excellent grades, has applied to attend Bethel’s ministry school, and has just nabbed a job for the spring as a graduation photographer!)

"The 6th joy of Christmas was when Olivia sang to me, ‘Ave Maria!’" As music lovers, a free concert at a local cathedral is always a highlight of the season. In addition to Olivia’s performance at the music school recital yesterday, our American missionary buddy Alana also directed her adorable children’s orchestra, and I got my dose of live Messiah with 3 solos performed by the mature female voice students.  Here’s a post-concert snap taken by Alana:

Angela, Anna, Olivia, David, Rachel

(For dinner afterwards, I whipped up a festive meal of frog legs and snails so that Anna could say she had tasted them before she heads home today bearing gifts of cheese and local wine!)

Hoping your joys are just as numerous, beloved readers!

Angela, David, Rachel and Olivia

Parking Panacea

Picture1This month I want to give you an update on the "Markedly reduced parking" concerns that I wrote about last June. I am thrilled to report that those worries were completely unfounded and wanted to share God’s amazing intervention…

If you will remember, parents picking up kids at school had to wedge their cars (on packed dirt) between huge beech trees, whose massive trunks also created blind spots when trying to back out onto a busy street. And because it rains a lot, the area was often one big mud puddle by the time 4:30 pick-up rolled around. We had also begged the mayor to install something to slow traffic at the entrance of the school to make it safer for the kids to cross (and cars to back out during rush hour) but to no avail. I dreaded pick-up everyday for the last 10 years because of this miserable combination.

Well, the new bike path has literally changed our life! Everything they have done to coddle cyclists benefits our school with no cost to us:

  • It does not use up all the parking space, but just narrows and defines it, so that Picture2parking is more orderly than before.
  • Visibility has been improved with the decision to remove of two of the trees!
  • They also spread a new bike-friendly surface over the dirt that resembles a mixture of sand and concrete – No more mud!
  • Our family has also benefitted personally because this bike path continues halfway to our village, making biking to school a safe and pleasurable option for the first time.
  • And for the grand finale, they installed speed bumps at the entrance of the school!!

The other parking problem at church isn’t resolved yet, but I had a ball making a dent in it a couple of weeks ago. Let me describe the nightmare in greater detail: 

  • The lot is being overrun by Japanese knotweed. The Brits call it the most invasive species of plant trying to overrun the whole country. It can grow 10 feet in 10 weeks. Cutting it down without immediate herbicide treatment will encourage it to spread underground. It is billed as the biggest problem facing the UK construction industry today because it will grow through concrete and brick. I recently asked the pastor if he was aware of this menace to our building and he had no idea.
  • The 4 mechanics that share our parking lot fill the spaces that are legally ours with cars to repair, along with empty jugs of motor oil, beer cans, air filters, broken glass, windshield wipers, bench seats… You get the picture.
  • To make matters worse, a clothing donation bin was also put there and it seems to be a magnet for people who want to dump unwanted stuff around it. The creepiest thing was a bird cage, dead bird included!

Well, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve taken on Sunday school at church and the love is mutual. To teach the kids the joys of servanthood, I wanted to take them out to the lot to collect the trash, but I needed a good weather day. A big motivator was that one of the mechanics had recently cut down a ton of knotweed and left them in huge piles, making it easier to see and access the trash. (And it already looked better with the jungle eliminated temporarily, as I doubt he invested in the gallons of Roundup it would take to kill it for good!)

Picture3So last Sunday morning it was warm and sunny. I didn’t expect many kids during fall break, and no other lesson was gelling in my spirit. So I grabbed some extra gloves and trash bags and looked forward to enjoying one of the last days of a beautiful fall. I asked the kids what they thought about the parking lot and told them that God memorializes every kind deed done on earth in heaven, so we’d be creating something beautiful in heaven at the same time that we picked up trash. I prayed for protection from injury and then we joyfully went at it, even happier when we came upon little creatures whose habitat we were improving with every sack filled. They even got to practice their recycling skills, putting bottles and cans in one bag and car parts in the other!

When we were done, we stood in a circle and said prayers and sang songs to blessPicture4 the mechanics and the land, and blew bubbles to prophecy future beauty and symbolize our prayers going to heaven. Then back in the classroom, we had a snack where between the 9 children, they could count our crackers in 5 languages! I love Europe. Then I had them all lie down with pillows and quietly ask Jesus to take them up with Him on a cloud to show us His view of the parking lot. They saw beautiful things. During that time, the sun vanished in a rainstorm and as we left the church, a magnificent rainbow filled the sky. I know at least one little girl received it as a confirmation of God’s joy over their servant hearts that day. 

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for decent parking, for they will be filled."

Love, Angela

The Hills Are Alive…

images I think I’m living The Sound of Music. It was a family favorite while the kids were growing up and the true story is equally fascinating. We need to hop over to Austria and do the  tour someday. But in the meantime, I am currently relating to Maria on many levels.

As you may recall, I was delivered from menopause symptoms this summer and saw a lot of healing in Oceane last year. I had been a tiny bit critical of teaching/discipline methods at the school last year as they affected Oceane, and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, as over the summer, I discovered some innovative teaching methods on the internet that convinced me that learning can actually happen in a middle school classroom!

Then I got a Holy Spirit download for a new way to do Sunday School for our handful of 5-10s that attend sporadically. This has been a very weak area of our church because all our energies go into the school week and "teachers" needed a Sabbath too. But I knew parents were getting frustrated and it kept our church from attracting new families. So I proposed my ideas to the elders and they were thrilled. Another mother said she would alternate Sundays with me, so I have dropped worship-leading and cleaning in exchange for this new role.

When I learned that our school is teaching languages by levels this yr and they needed an extra teacher, I let them know I was up for the challenge! So 2 days before school started, they decided to give me the lower level 7th-8th grade class to teach 3 hrs/week, along with my hour of conversation with the sophomores. (I also volunteered to be study hall monitor for 24 sixth graders.) Even though they are not familiar with the film, my students can now sing, "So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye," because I sing it whenever I need to send a kid out of the classroom! (Oceane is my best student and should move up a level, but she doesn’t want to leave me!) So like Maria, I am feeling suddenly surrounded by children under my influence several hours per week! And even though I am creating all my lessons from scratch, I am operating in a new grace and wake up in anticipation most days!

AnnaOur new boarder, Anna-Elisabeth, arrived by train from Dresden at the end of August and she also reminds me of Maria: conservative, servant-hearted, positive, and full of songs! As a walking German dictionary with a desire to master English and French, she is a perfect companion for Olivia! Her presence has lightened my housework load and made it easy to run off to Lucerne without Olivia feeling abandoned…

Lucerne giftshopI had organized housing and tourism this summer for a couple from Indianapolis who wanted to visit during the 2nd week of school. At the end of their time, they wanted to treat us to a weekend in Lucerne before going on to Italy. This is German-speaking Switzerland in the Alps, where young guys are riding the city bus dressed in "Lederhosen" to go to work for the tourists. It might as well have been Salzburg. On the way back, we stayed at a retreat center where the hills came alive with the sound of cowbells echoing off the mountains – the most magical and calming sound in the world for me. David had lost his Swiss army knife the week before, so he had the thrill of buying a new one there with free engraving. It was a total 3-day escape from the back-to-school stress that we both needed and our belated anniversary celebration.

The Sound of Music shows the struggle against evil and finishes with a wedding. Last week we felt equally harassed before our first Love After Marriage cell group. Just a few days before, not only was our pastor hospitalized with kidney stone pain, but our LAM co-leader also had her 2nd big MS flare-up and was suffering from the side effects of the cortisone treatment. Yikes! We started the meeting letting the enemy know that we would not be intimidated, and I think everyone left feeling encouraged!



The Greatest Show on Earth

tentLadies and gentlemen, children of all ages! Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!

Miracles are happening daily here in Alsace, so ignore all the bad news and have a seat under the Big Top!

Our first amazing act is Olivia the lion tamer!!

Yes, after getting excellent grades on her first year of Bac tests, her next amazing feat will be the only one in the family to take French driver’s ed.! This daunting task includes: Submitting 6 pieces of identification to the local government along with $65, several weeks of learning theory by DVD for $250, taking the $100 theory test, taking at least 21 hours of driving lessons at $50/hr, and finally taking the $100 driving test. Because passing the tests are difficult A_Tiger_and costly, they also offer a 3 hr cramming session just before the theory test for $40 and practice tests for $16. If the adage is true that "you get what you pay for," she should be the best driver in the family (at least on French roads.) You can be sure that Angela will be gleaning from her expertise before Olivia moves to Strasbourg for college. Unfortunately, by the time she has gotten her permit next March, she will have turned 18, which will set off a new round of administrative paperwork to make her a legal adult and possibly a dual citizen!

sword swallowerAnd now please welcome Christie the miraculous Gluten Swallower! Increasing wheat allergies in France may put our beloved bakeries out of business one day, but the Holy Spirit chose to heal one of our American visitors of her lifelong allergy a couple of weeks ago so that she can really enjoy her visit! Angela has also embraced gluten/dairy-free recipes in order to bless her increasing number of friends who haven’t yet been healed.

Sozo the clown also brought amazing healing to Angela last month. Her joy from the marriage seminar was quickly stolen with another round of pre-menopause symptoms. By June she was experiencing almost daily migraines, almost hourly hot flashes, and depression. After watching Hot Flash Havoc, she booked a gynecologist appt. immediately, but it would be a three month wait. In the meantime, she booked a Sozo to treat it as generational curse, since her own grandmother and mother had suffered so badly. clown

It worked.

In July, she and David ran a Nerf gun shooting game stand at the school fete for 2.5 hrs and had a ball. She sat through boring teacher meetings to restructure foreign language classes by ability rather than age group. She got up at 6am for seven days to serve healthy breakfasts to an international short-term mission team. Then she sat through a six hour parent meeting with a mediator/coach in order to create something resembling PTA.

In little wooden student chairs.  Without a break.

If you know Angela, you know this is nothing short of miraculous.


And finally, we present the stupendous House of Prayer Strong Man! The vision that we have carried for altars of worship in France is coming into full fruition! At least a dozen have popped up all over the country this year (lining up with a prophecy by Chuck Pierce) and our eight hours of worship per week has jumped to 20 with the implication of the Swiss family that started worshipping together every evening from the moment they landed. David is part of the leadership to get our Tent of Meeting, (as we are calling it) organized and he does a 6-8am set twice a week. Angela is attending a couple of evenings a week just to soak. This is creating momentum in lots of other areas that were stagnating! God is building His worshipping army to be victorious over the tide of evil as we declare His will over the earth!!

Are you ready to runaway to the circus?  Love, Angela

Olivia’s Bac-O-Rama!

My "baby" is forging her own scholarly path by being the only one to tackle the Baccalaureate – those ominous European tests that are your only proof that you didn’t sleep through high school. This year she had to take the science and French "épreuves" (the term for the different subjects tested for the Bac, translated as a hardship or ordeal.) And at the end of her senior year she’ll do philosophy, English language, sports, history/geography, German language/literature, and French Lit part 2. I found the details so enlightening that I wanted to share her experience with you from Olivia’s perspective.

In French, you "subir" an exam, which can be translated as to endure or suffer, as well as undergo, and you will see that this is most appropriate. The pressure-cooker started in January this year with the creation of the "TPE" – a personal research project on a topic of your choice combining 2 subjects and presented creatively. It was presented in written and oral form in March. I chose English and literature to write and illustrate a tale called Murophobia in the defense of the rat. The most nerve-wracking part was finding my way around a new public high school (our school isn’t certified to do testing) with minimal directions and feeling like an outsider. I think I did well, but my grade will appear as part of my total Bac score that I won’t see until July, on-line.

This year in biology/physics, literature-track students like me studied eyesight, sustainable agriculture/energy issues, and human reproduction. For the Bac in June, three of the four topics were tested in 90 minutes with short texts and diagrams provided for reference. I wrote an essay about water quality, answered questions about fertility tests, and checked multiple choice questions on fuel and thermo-nuclear energy. No sweat.

The French épreuve consists of a written and oral part. In preparation, I studied eight different topics during the year, analyzing:

  • political theater index
  • characters who fell in love in novels from the 17th century on
  • the history of humanist education
  • the history of theater from the 12th century on
  • the French novel "Le Grand Meaulnes" 
  • the quest for meaning in poetry from the Middle Ages on
  • feminist issues from the French revolution to Simone de Beauvoir
  • how the Greek Andromache myth has evolved throughout history

Here’s how we attacked them: my French teacher extracted 30 excerpts from France’s mountain of literature on these topics and asked a pertinent question for each one to debate or analyze. We also learned the author’s biography and historical context, and then created an outline on which to base a 4-page response. I had to memorize all of this information as a literature-track student, while my friend in the science-track only had to learn 20!

So at the same hour on the same day, I and all the other 11th graders in France faced 3-5 new excerpts from one of these above topics and were given 4 hours to write a clear and organized two-page essay comparing and contrasting the texts and then writing the well-practiced 4-pager on the question, “Do you think that every literary creation is in some way a copy of former works?” I chose to debate the answer, which means I answered for both sides and then closed with a synthesis.

Clément MarotLast week I took the oral portion of the exams. A copy of the thirty excerpts I had studied was sent to the examiners ahead of time for them to choose one, which was a poem by French Renaissance writer Clément Marot. He then gave me 30 min. to collect my thoughts and I had 10 min. to give an oral analysis in a polished manner. Then he spent 10 more min. interviewing me about the Romantic period, asking me for specific dates and kings I didn’t know, until another poet I had studied was brought up, and that’s when I impressed him.

O closeupNegative Bac pressure from public school teachers can make a lot of students physically ill from the stress, and this year a 50 yr old mother even made the news by trying to sit the English épreuve for her daughter! But as the only 11th grade literature-track student this year, it was easy for my Christian teachers to be supportive and encouraging of me. The grading can also be unfairly subjective for the essays, however my examiners were kind and attentive and the Holy Spirit gave me the words I needed to write. So, I’m facing next year’s "ordeal" with confidence, or in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I’ll be Bac…"

Happy Summer from a proud mother!