Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Spirit Day

Other children content themselves with dressing in a green shirt for Christmas Spirit day, but not mine... never can you call them underachievers in the costume department. A snowflake, an elf, and a Sahelian Santa left the house last Friday for their last day of school before break! For more not to be missed footage of the Sahelian Santa, visit Tom's teacher's blog at

Christmas Eve Theatricals

I did not live close to my extended family while I was growing up. (At holiday time, I often reflect how celebrating with our just our own nuclear family and a few close friends prepared me for celebrating holidays without huge family gatherings here in Niger. It seems normal to me!) We had a lot of traditions: like listening to Handel's Messiah while we decorated the tree, finding oranges and apples in our stocking toes and heels, and Sara Lee coffee cake for Christmas breakfast. Some of my favorite Christmas memories, however, involved our annual Nativity play. Because we lived far from extended family, we always spent Christmas with dear friends who were in the same boat. Their two boys joined my sister and I in writing and performing theatrical masterpieces... or at least variations on the Nativity story. I remember Jason knocking on the closet door one year only to have the "innkeeper" tell him there was no room in the inn, I remember being an angel in my white bathrobe, I remember Jonathan refusing to stay laying down in the manger when everyone knows baby Jesus couldn't sit up at birth! There was the year a modern Jesus was born in the garage and laid in a tire, and several different people as donkeys who my sister, Amy, usually got to ride as Mary. My favorite memory remains the fabulous rap we wrote one year, a concise and spit filled version of Luke 2... but I digress...

This year we had the second annual Christmas play performed by the seven Niger Rideout cousins. They have a lot larger cast then we did growing up, but can't say that they have any less fun! This year's masterpiece was entitled "Jesus, the Lone Star." You might be able to guess from the title that it was a cowboy themed nativity play complete with stick horses. Kay, in her stunning turquoise shirt and matching sparkly cowgirl hat was the narrator. Mary (Brynn) and Joe (Tom) are told by the barkeep (Elayna) there is no room in the bar, so they are offered a stable in which to sleep. An angel (Elayna), a vision of veiled splendor, visits cowboys (Kira) in nearby pastures watching their doggies (literally the dog next door) by night to tell of Jesus' birth. Visiting mayors (Heidi and Silas-in pink cowboy boots) from far eastern towns came bearing gifts of money and perfume. The stellar performance concluded for the second year in a row with a rousing rendition of "We wish you a Merry Christmas." So great was the clamor of the audience, that a repeat performance of the entire play was given (though without the cow, who was hiding under the couch). It was definitely a Christmas to remember. I wonder what they will dream up next year... I already offered to teach them my rap...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The last first tooth...

I celebrated the last baby spit up, the last night feeding, and the last diaper. I gleefully got rid of the last baby bath, the last stroller, the last portacrib, and the last highchair (how is it that little people have so MUCH equipment?). This week, another last came upon us... the last first tooth.
For years, Tom, wanting to be like his big sisters, has imagined he has loose teeth, so it was with surprise that a few weeks earlier when he told me his tooth was loose, I found it actually wiggled! He has been delighted to wiggle it and Tom-like, very resistant to any unknown, sudden, might cause discomfort schemes the girls had to help it come out sooner. Ian had just tucked him into bed when we heard a holler come from his room. His tooth had come out! Of course we had to take a picture for Grandma...
The fun part was, the next day, the tooth right next to it came out too! Tom was feeling very rich this week! Heidi also lost one of her molars that day! The tooth fairy has very busy around our house! Here is the two space view...
You would think that after two kids, I would be used to the toothless look, but it still makes me smile. While this last is a bit more bitter sweet, I'm not too sad. Lasts always mean new firsts are around the corner: next we get to see new teeth growing in looking enormous in his still small mouth! It is so fun seeing them grow!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Day the Golden Eagles Ate Ketchup

Every year our family looks forward to the annual whole school Track and Field Day at Sahel. I am usually somewhat involved in planning or coaching before hand. For several years, Ian has been the starter through out the day. The kids run and jump and throw, and generally have a fabulous time cheering for their team mates and classmates. This year was no different; Mom presided at high jump, Dad made the rounds of the starting lines with his whistle, and Heidi, Kay, and Tom jumped, ran, and threw with enthusiasm. At the end of the day we were sweaty, sunburned, muscle sore and full of fun memories!

Each year the entire school is broken up into four teams. Each team then chooses a color and a name. They create a banner and a team cheer which is performed at the opening "ceremonies" of our Field day. Points are given for team banners, cheers, participation, and placing in the various events. This year Kay and Tom were both on the Ketchup (red) Team, Heidi was a Golden Eagle (brown and gold). Also competing were the Green Greek Fire and the Blue Angels. The morning is spent at the national stadium where we are able to use their track and field facilities. This year morning events included the hula hoop roll (K-2), softball throw (K-6), frisbee throw (K-6), shot put (7-12), discus (7-12), broad jump (K-4), long jump (3-12), high jump (5-12), 50m (K-4), 100m (3-12), 200m (K-12), 400m (5-12), 800m (5-12), 1500m (5-12), 4x100m relay (7-12), and 4x400m relay (7-12). We return to school for lunch, and after lunch have lots of fun team games which ranged this year from water relays to tug of war.
Silliness is never an event, but with such a great expanse of grass and a flexible schedule, you can always find a dog pile or two,
lines of cheering fans slurping slushies, or just friends quietly pestering one another.
This year was the first year we have had the privilege of an official PE teacher to help in the planning and organizing. Of course there is a PE teacher every year, but Coach Winsor is trained as a PE teacher and coach. Experienced or not, a traditional activity of this magnitude is a huge task for a new arrival to take on. We were thankful for his enthusiasm and expertise! He did a great job!

This is the house that Kay built...

Tonight, I will take you on a tour of a welcoming little town that gives a new meaning to recycling. Located on the edge of the shady Sahel playground, this town sprang up almost overnight. Though relatively new, it has a working bank, several stores, multiple residences(This is Kay's house. Note the generator to the far left as well as the tv antenna on the roof. She has several room mates!), an army base, and a highly organized infrastructure which includes a its own monetary system, an elected mayor, rigid driving laws, a police force, and town trash collection. Its residents are largely law abiding citizens whose goals include improving their property and working together to contribute to the ever widening community in which they live. Come for a visit! You just might move in...

For the last month or so the elementary students, and even a few middle schoolers from time to time, have used all available recess and after school play time creating and cleaning, collecting valuable junk to create "Town." In the last week, I have noticed a decrease in residents. Just as it sprang up overnight, just as suddenly it seems the children have moved on to something else, but I thought I should take the time to document the town of 2010.Two years ago there was a similar creation, both times it has spontaneously grown out of bark and broken tile, old bricks and dried leaves, and a significant number of bottle caps (the town's currency). It is funny to note that as a result of the frequent power cuts we lived through a month ago, most of the houses have "generators" on their property! Wishful building, I suppose?! The kindergarten's set of dump trucks were also strong participants in this year's town patrolling for trash and requiring a town driver's license program complete with speeding fines. I love to see our kids creating and playing in different ways! Move over Toys R Us, we have imagination! It seems the newest craze involves chairs on the lawn... we shall see!

Somewhere in outerspace....

Greetings Earthlings!
Last weekend the student council put on a community space fair. It was lots of fun with a space themed meal (alien rice and beans or moon cake anyone?), a space vehicle competition, booths of carnival games, and lots of space creatures trying to earn their astronaut status. One of the biggest hits was this space simulator. The SIMAIR guys were asked for lots of old dials and gadgets which used to transform this box into a fun ride. The astronaut could wear the headset, watch the multiple dials, and "steer" the control the yoke all the while hearing real take off sounds and feeling the vibrations as they were shaken through the outer reaches of the atmosphere. (The box was on a cart that was tipped back and shaken around on stacked tires.) The really fun part, though, was the video system set up to let the outside observers see the crew inside! Tom spent his entire ride making face at the camera... reminicent of his usual skype calls!
Tom and Heidi enthusiastically dressed up for the event. Tom, remembering his recent success as the pea during Spirit Week went as "a big, fat, green alien," his favorite part is stuffing pillows in his green shirt. Heidi decided on being a black hole. Kay decided she didn't want to dress up, but spent time masquerading as an alien at the sponge throw where she was an enthusiastic target.
With aliens there of all shapes and sizes, Tom was happy to find someone from his "home planet." Funny how she looked an awful lot like his teacher, Miss Botheras... Their class must be out of this world! :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Reviews

For those of you who know me even slightly, you probably know I am an avid reader. Actually, my husband claims it is more than that, he says I should join Books Anonymous! "Hello, my name is Beka, and I have a problem..." Usually my books of choice are fiction, especially when I had small children and reading was one of my only escapes. Perhaps it is because the kids are growing older and my brain feels slightly less fatigued and more able to cope with deeper thinking, but recently I have been attracted to several non fiction books; three in a row, in fact! I really enjoyed all of them. They were well written and thought provoking. To mark this momentous occasion, I thought I would share them with you...

The first book I read is a slim volume entitled Prayer Saturated Kids by Cheryl Sacks and Arlyn Lawrence. This book was an easy read and very practical. It had some great creative ideas for encouraging kids to pray as well as exposing them to different kinds of prayer. I was convicted that I often dismiss kids' prayers as trivial, but this book reminded me that God loves and wants to encourage their great faith! We should as well!
Parts of this book made me feel uncomfortable, but it wasn't because I strongly disagreed with the content as much as some of the authors' ideas were outside of my comfort zone, not necessarily a bad thing. While I was interested in trying some of their suggestions, there are other things that I just can't picture myself doing. I do wish they had spent more than two paragraphs in dealing with disappointment in prayer. The little that is said is sound, but the issue could have used further discussion. Throughout the entire book, the reader is encouraged to help kids grow in their life of faith through prayer, a good thing. But we know that sometimes God chooses not to answer a prayer how or when we would like. This can be a difficult thing for anyone, adult or child, to deal with and the topic deserved a more thorough response from the authors. I don't believe they offered a definition of faith either, which I think is crucial for a biblical understanding of prayer. Over all, I would recommend this book. It reminded me of my responsibility of teaching and modeling prayer for my children.

The second book loan I had was one entitled Sacred Marriage. The subtitle hooked me right away, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Again, this was an easy book to read and digest, but very thought provoking. It was very practical too. I really enjoyed the way Gary Thomas intermingled centuries of Christian thought and a thorough knowledge of Scripture as the basis for his points. Thomas delves into the nitty gritty of relationships with very clear examples. While I wouldn't have said my goal in life was happiness, when presented with a picture of what it might look like to pursue holiness in relationships and the logical actions that would follow that decision, I realized I was more focused on my personal happiness than I had imagined. Pursuing holiness may also make me happy, but not necessarily, and that is ok. This book definitely changed the way I look at my relationship with Ian and started me thinking in a similar vein about other relationships... how does parenting, working inside and outside my home, being a neighbor, interacting with people from other cultures etc... make me more holy? Or am I settling for happy? If you are married at any stage, I would HIGHLY recommend this book!!

Foreign to Familiar is the third book I just finished reading. This book by Sarah Lanier is not very long, it could easily be read in one or two sittings, but it is very clear and presents ideas in ways that are easy to grasp. Lanier uses her background of living and working all around the world to share different ways that cultures relate. She compares and contrasts two different, generalized ways of seeing the world. I appreciated that she didn't say or even imply that one way was better than the other, rather she clearly shows the strengths and weaknesses of both styles of interaction and how the two styles can better understand the other. From her concrete examples, you can tell that she has a lot of experience in interacting with both "hot and cold" cultures (her labels). As I read I saw the multitude of ways I could unintentionally convey the wrong message to someone just by living and communicating as I have always done. This book heightened my awareness of possible misunderstandings people might have in interacting with me. I feel better prepared to look for red flags in my interpersonal communication. Because of the easy transportation available in our world today, almost anyone could benefit from this book whether you have students or neighbors, coworkers or fellow church members who grew up in a culture different from your own. Anyone that travels or interacts cross-culturally should read this book.

Now that I feel like the Reading Rainbow music should be coming on at any moment, I will wrap this up! Normally recommending books like this would be way too much effort, but I really did find all three of these books exceptionally helpful. I would be interested in your opinion if you have read or choose to read any of them. They've given me much food for thought over the past month. Now that my brain has feasted, I will head back to the fiction section... Don't want to over eat! :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sahel Spirit Week

Each year over Columbus Day weekend, the community here in Niger put on a softball tournament. They have both competitive and social teams competing for a trophy in each category. Since softball is a game that allows for both sexes, many ages, and varied ability levels, it is always a fun time for the whole family. This year, the tournament was especially fun as almost every game was a close one and there were several come from behind wins. Ian played, as he does every year. Their team lost by one run in the second overtime inning to the Competitive team from Sahel. It was such a great game, it was difficult to be too disappointed.Sahel Academy, where the kids attend, sponsored a total of 4 teams this year! One competitive and three social teams. As usual, leading up the the weekend and the following week of "fall" break, the school had Spirit week. Each day, the student council picks a new theme. At recess time, there is a costume parade. Finally to top off the week, Friday at the end of school, there is an all school pep rally where the each class presents a cheer, the Sahel teams are loudly cheered for and prayed for, and the costume winners for elementary and secondary are announced for each day. Here is Kay's class with their cheer.This year, the themes of the day included:
Hippie Day:
Tom was especially proud of his mustache, but I think it was the wig that insured him the prize!
Class Choice Day:
Grades 1/2 were cowboys and grades 3/4 were Indigenous Peoples... Not pictured is our 50's girl, Heidi Sports/Team Jersey Day:
Heidi and Kay proudly supported the Red Sox, and Tom wore his Romanian soccer jersey. Kay's sign reads, " I cheer for 2 teams, the Red Sox and whoever beats the Yankees!"Fairy Tale/Fantasy Day:
Tom's ultimate goal for this day was to wear a costume for which he could stuff a pillow up his shirt! As a result, he was the Princess and the Pea...Here is a second picture of the Pea with his sister the Gingerbread Man...And last, but not least, Puss in Boots! (This was rehearsal without the nose and whiskers.)and, as always, Friday was Sahel Suns Spirit Day, our colors are Yellow and Black!

As always, the kids were very creative and had lots of fun. Tom even came home with a free soda coupon for winning first prize for elementary Hippie Day! It was so fun seeing their excitement and imagination! Hope you enjoy the pictures! Unfortunately, some days Heidi had to go to school dressed for PE and change into her costume after-wards. To see the pictures of her on those days, and more of the kids, check out my face book account and see photos that other people took during the costume parades.

Kay's Teacher: Our Answer to Prayer

Over many months we have been praying for the special someone that would teach Kay's third and fourth grade class! Here she is!
When I think of Miss M, I think of 1 Corinthians 13 because above all, I know she loves the kids she teaches! We are praying for strength and creativity for her. For good communication with each child and family, and understanding of each child's needs and strengths. Without love, however, all the math and grammar she could teach would be empty and meaningless, so we are thankful for her good humor, her servant's heart, her dog, Lieta, and especially, her love for kids!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Vacation Highlights Part 2

The biggest highlight during our time at home was seeing our family!

My Mom and Dad were in town for the first two weeks of our time home. It was very special to be able to catch up with them face to face! The kids went on MacDonald's dates with Papa and were tutored in the art of wiffle ball. Grammy did some serious sewing to meet the demands of all the doll outfits required. They joined us for ball games and time in New Hampshire. Our kids love to spend time with Grammy and Papa, and being with your Mommy and Daddy never gets old no matter how old you are! I am so thankful for parents that aren't perfect and are willing to let me see the growth, changes, and challenges in their lives. You spur me on to the same in my own life by being real. We love you Mom and Dad! (And may I add... I am so thankful for parents that like to laugh!)Our one disappointment this summer was being unable to connect with my sister and her family. So close and yet, so far. :( Next time we will save our pennies for plane tickets.

All the Stateside Rideouts were able to gather in New Hampshire for a week. Can you say COUSINS??? (Keep in mind that the four cousins we left in West Africa were missing from this picture!) The houses were full of them! We had a week full of fun together with bike rides, hikes, swimming, games, soccer, bad-mitten, hours of outdoor play, much World Cup action, lots of laughing, and our traditional Mt Washington and Clarks' Trading Post visits. Just take a look at these big grins! :) Again, there is nothing like catching up face to face! We left New Hampshire feeling like we had heard the news and made some special memories (not to mention taken pictures!).

Ian's Aunt Wendy also made the long trip to come to visit us while we were back. We were so glad she was able to join us for our trip to the aquarium. The kids loved having such undivided attention and hearing lots of stories about their Grandma Rideout when she was a little girl! Very special.We were also able to have a lunch visit with my Grandpa and my Aunt Barb. Again, special times with special people. The kids left determined to try out Great Grandpa's artistic advice.
Not long before we left, we joined Dad and Grandma Rideout in making the trip down to Maryland where Ian's sister and her family live. Our kids were overjoyed to have some more time with their cousins. There is never enough of that! We are so thankful for the special friendships our kids have with their cousins. We know it takes effort on our family's side, and we are so thankful! While we were in the more southerly realms, we were also able to take in a family wedding in Virginia. There we saw several of Ian's cousins, aunts, and uncles. Being on another continent means we miss a lot of special occasions, so we were glad to be Stateside for this one even though we forgot to bring our camera! Oops.

As usual, throughout our entire visit we were able to spend time Dad and Grandma Rideout. In the many years that we have stayed with Dad and Mom and Grandma, and now Dad and Grandma, I always leave so thankful for family. God knew what he was doing when he put us in families. We are so privileged to have a family that loves God and loves us. To be able to share daily life with those who know us best and love us anyway is a special blessing. It was fun to have one last celebration for Grandma's 90th birthday while we were all together. A special highlight this time was the never-before-seen video footage of Grandma! There were shots from when she was a girl through her children's (Dad) teenage years. The kids thought it was lots of fun to see Great grandma with her doll and Grandpa jumping around like a jumping bean. Thank you, Dad & Grandma, for always welcoming us with open arms despite the noise and mess we bring! Thanks, Dad, for putting kids to bed and buying groceries and making trips to the dump. Your example of servant hood to us is a powerful one. We love you!
No pictures could ever contain how much we love each one of our family. We are so thankful for the special times we had together this summer. We miss you more than we can say. The last few times we have come home to Africa, Kay has unexpectedly summed up all our feelings at being apart. She will be talking excitedly until the automatic door closes at the airport, whereupon she abruptly breaks into sobs. Though we love coming "home" to Africa, we hate having to be so far away. We love you even though we are apart and far away. Thank you for letting us go.