The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

Posts tagged “kids

The Sun’ll Come out Tomorrow

Below is an article I wrote for Hand of Help, a ministry that reaches out to the poor and hurting in northern Romania, after visiting the orphanage in Botosani last week. If you want to support a ministry that is literally changing lives, head over here to make a donation:

Visiting the Hand of Help orphanage in Botosani is a very dangerous thing. You can’t visit and leave unchanged.

My wife and I packed up our four kids and moved to Bucharest, Romania, as missionaries almost four years ago. We didn’t have any real plan other than we felt God was calling us to plant a church in the city, so we went about meeting people, learning the language, getting to know the city, doing evangelism, anything we could think of.

One of the first people we met was Daniel Boldea, who overheard me speaking English at an electronics store and wandered over to introduce himself. He told us about the Hand of Help orphanage and suggested we pay a visit sometime.

“Wow,” I told him, “the orphanage sounds really great. Maybe we’ll visit next month.”

Well that was almost four years ago, and we finally made it up for a visit last week.

The focus of our ministry in Romania is planting a church in Bucharest, which means we spend most of our time serving in this crowded, dusty, fast-moving city, but once in a while, we just need to escape and breathe some fresh country air.

A couple weeks ago, we did just that. We booked a cabin in the mountains, hopped in the van, and drove all day to spend a week in the countryside. Afterward, we finally took Daniel up on his offer to visit the orphanage, since it was only a few hours from our destination in the mountains.

As we were driving toward Botosani, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Years ago, I had visited an orphanage in Haiti that made my heart sick. The children were thin, covered in dirt, and barely clothed. Many were obviously malnourished, others clearly suffering from sickness. There were not enough beds for all the children, so many bodies shared one mattress, and what beds they did have were filthy and covered in mold. A missionary friend explained that those running the orphanage kept most of the donations to care for themselves. She surmised the ministry was merely a convenient way for the administrators to make some money from donors whose heartstrings were pulled by the poverty they saw.

Seeing the children at the orphanage in Haiti broke my heart. The poverty, the starvation, the sickness… and the uncaring cruelty of administrators who would allow these children to live like animals. One young boy told me he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. I tried to encourage him that anything is possible with God, but in my heart I knew he would never be a doctor. With caretakers like he had, I didn’t even know if he would live to adulthood.

Would the Hand of Help orphanage be the same? Would we be brought to tears by the poverty and hopelessness?

Or maybe it would be like Annie, bedraggled children scrubbing floors and singing “The sun’ll come out… tomorrow…” under Miss Hannigan’s dreadful gaze. Would the children of Hand of Help have a similar hard-knock life?

The answer to both questions is the same. No. You will not find sad children suffering from disease, sleeping four to a mattress, not sure where their next meal will come from. You will not find broken, hardened children hoping to escape the harsh cruelties of orphanage life.

Hand of Help is a place of hope, a place where children in dire circumstances, rejected and abandoned by their families, can find a family that really cares for them. It’s a place where children who would grow up to be prostitutes, beggars, and thieves really can instead become doctors, teachers, pastors, or anything else they dream of.

If you visit the Hand of Help orphanage, the first thing you’ll notice are the smiles. The kids are smiling, the staff is smiling, the leaders are smiling… everyone is smiling. This is a place of joy.

As we pulled into the grounds, instantly we were surrounded by kids. They weren’t asking for candy or hoping for sweets. They just wanted to greet us, to talk to us, to meet the visitors. One young girl pulled out some snacks and shared them with our family, then another one gave us a whole bag for ourselves. When we tried to refuse it, she wouldn’t let us give it back to her.

We spent three nights at the orphanage, we got to know some of the kids, we heard stories from Mircea about God’s miraculous provision and lives that have been rescued, we met a pastor who grew up at Hand of Help, and we saw a place we can support with all our hearts.

I can’t recommend this ministry enough. Everything they’re doing is done really well. The building is clean and in good repair, the children are all clean, healthy, and clothed normally, everyone has a bed to sleep in, the rooms are not overcrowded, the food is healthy, fresh, and abundant, the older children all cheerfully help in the daily running of the orphanage, the workers are obviously caring and loving…

“When the children are in school, we want our children to look the same as every other child,” Mircea told us, before quickly correcting himself. “No, we want them to look the best.” And why not? These are children of the King. Why should they be neglected, these who’ve already been thrown into circumstances harder than any of us will ever face? Why should they suffer not just the loss of their families but also their dignity and respect?

It’s obvious everyone at the orphanage feels the same way. They want to give their kids the best they can so they can have a chance at a normal life.

Don’t misunderstand me. When I say the kids have “the best,” I don’t mean anyone is living in luxury. You won’t see designer jeans, smartphones, big screen TVs, or palaces built for kings here. But you will see lots of happy, healthy, smiling kids who have everything they need for a normal life.

When we left the orphanage, I promised Mircea we would recommend the ministry to everyone we knew, and that as God blessed us, we would gladly pass on the blessing and support the work financially.

“Prayer,” he told us, “that is what we need the most. Just pray for us, and God will provide everything.”

Well that’s a sneaky thing to say, because when you start praying for something, before too long God tells you to act.

This morning, we got on the Hand of Help website to begin sponsoring one of the orphans we met. His name is Nicolae. I didn’t know his background when we met him at the orphanage. All I knew was that he was the smiling teenager who busily served in the kitchen, set up our meals, visited our table to make sure all the food tasted good, and advised us to eat more slowly so we can better enjoy the food.

I wish we had enough money to support him for all his needs, and other  children too, but we don’t, so we figured out how we could at least do something, because we can’t just sit here and do nothing anymore.

Like I said, visiting the Hand of Help orphanage is a very dangerous thing.

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Snow Comes to Bucharest – Some Photos

Well, last night was an incredibly strange night ministering with the Gypsies at Mihai Bravu, and while I’m processing everything that happened, I thought I’d put up a simpler, easier post that I wrote earlier this week, and once my brain can process everything that happened, I’ll have a full report for you all.  If that seems mysterious and evasive, well it is, but I just don’t want to go into details yet until I know what to say.

So… last week, we finally got snow here in Bucharest and it’s “beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”  We didn’t know they were calling for so much snow, so we planned on bringing the kids out to see the Christmas lights near Universitate.  Well, we made it about 5 minutes before the wind and snow became too much for us, and we retreated to the insides of Mall Vitan to warm up.

After a half-hour of wandering around the mall, we were brave enough to head out again, so we took the kids out to walk around in the midst of the storm.  They had a lot of fun and got a lot of stares, being the only kids braving the snow and wind.

I wanted to head out for a day of photographing the newly-whitened city streets, but we’ve been busy with everything going on, so instead here’s a few quick snapshots:

Missionary Kid Tales

The delight of a missionary is to see the kingdom of heaven growing and abounding on earth, to see those in darkness come into the light, and to see Jesus glorified in the land and people where he or she is serving. I’m excited about these things, and I pray for the kingdom of heaven to invade Romania all the time. But, what would it profit us to gain all of Romania and lose the souls of our children? The Bible says that children are a reward from the Lord, that if we train them up in the way they should go while they are young and in our care that they will not depart from that way when they are grown, that we are to declare the praises and goodness of the Lord to our children so and make known His ways to them.

We include our kids in a lot of our ministry: they come every Monday with us to the Mihai Bravu gypsy community as we bring church there; they are part of our home church; they go with us to get food and clothes for those in need; they play with the kids of those that we are witnessing and ministering to. And, they are a light just being here with us.

Here are a couple of stories from our kids’ lives that make me smile and know that we’re doing okay raising them on the mission field. The first one is about Illiana Sunshine, our three year old. She is a burst of joy and sunshine, and busy big-city life hasn’t squelched that. A couple of Sundays ago, on our way to church across town, Illiana sat next to me on the subway and started making funny faces at Jake and her uncle Ben sitting on the other side. She has this crazy way of crossing her eyes and then moving each eyeball individually in different directions. It’s weird. But also really funny seeing this three year old with Shirley Temple-like blonde curls bouncing in every direction doing it with a straight face. People in Bucharest are generally very serious, like in any big city, and don’t tend to smile a whole ton, but Illiana got a young guy across from her trying to hide a laugh, a couple of middle aged men giggling, and even the super-serious security guard on the subway to start smiling. Our kids with their blonde hair, big smiles, and loads of energy are conversation openers for us all the time. If only our Romanian skills were better…

The next story comes from an interaction between two of our kids in the home. Each of the girls got a piece of candy from Ben and were eating it for a snack one day. When I asked if Isaac had one, they said he didn’t. Now Isaac loves food, and he could probably hear us open a candy wrapper from the moon, so he started going crazy when the girls got their candy out. Mae comes over and hands him hers and tells him that he can have it instead of her. I almost started crying over the sweetness of that gift. We hardly ever buy candy, so for Mae to give it up for her little brother was very generous. A couple of days later I found a notebook of hers filled with words about how much she loves God and how good He is and how she is good because of Him. Proverbs 23:24 says, “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him.” I was surely rejoicing and delighting!

I love being a missionary family, and I love getting to go minister with Jake, and I love teaching the Bible and preaching and discipleship and seeing people decide to start following Jesus. I also really love discipling the kids and seeing them walk out their faith in Jesus and having our whole family be a light to the world. And I’m incredibly thankful to those families from our churches back in the States who were such a great example to us of godly parenting!

Day 27 — An American Mother’s View of Bucharest

I (Jessie) haven’t posted much on here lately, but Jake asked if I wanted to write the blog post tonight, so I decided to reflect on my observations as a mother from the United States here in a big city, in a different country, on a whole new continent. The truth is, after a little while of thinking back on our (almost) four weeks here, I realized a lot of things are not so drastically different from those back in the States.

Well, the first thing that would cause many overprotective mamas to cringe are the wild dogs. The situation is not as bad as it used to be, but for sure, if you visit here, the random, mangy looking dogs walking around all over the place will grab your attention. Our middle daughter Mae is pretty scared of dogs, so being here is forcing her to deal with that fear on a daily basis as we go out and walk to the grocery store, metro stop, bread shop across the street, and parks. She’s handling it better than I expected, but when a big ol’ scroungy looking animal comes up to you in the park while you’re eating, it’s a little frightening to a little kid. Kids should be able to have fun at a park, especially in a  giant city like this, and not have to worry about stray dogs biting or chasing them. And there’s really nothing you can do. I guess a few years ago, the Romanian government proposed a euthanasia solution to the problem, but animal activists from elsewhere in Europe put up a big stink and the “solution” was only in effect for about a day. Ya know, I don’t like animal cruelty, but the 60,000 wild dogs that sometimes form packs and kill people here and bite dozens of people a day seem like good enough reasons to put a permanent “solution” in effect. The kind of lives these dogs lead are pretty pitiful anyway.

Ok, just one more thing on the dog rant. Jake shared this link that has a map of Bucharest with indicators of where all the wild dog packs hang out in the city. Apparently, one of the guys running for mayor created this and put it up online, so it’s probably not totally accurate, but funny, because every time there is an election, there are tons of promises from candidate about cleaning up the dog problem. But no one ever does.

Besides the dogs, our kids have gotten used to cramming onto buses and subway trains, crossing crazy busy streets where cars stop only inches from your legs (at least it feels like), playing on random little playgrounds scattered throughout the city streets (these are usually covered in graffiti but we’re used to that from Milwaukee), and playing outside late into the evening on hot nights. Sometimes we even cram our whole family into the backseat of someone’s car when we need a ride to IKEA or church. I guess, technically, we are supposed to have car seats for at least Isaac, but the rules aren’t too enforced here. They are adapting so well, with just a little timidity. We try to do special things with each kid occasionally, like take one with us to the grocery store, take another one to the bakery, go on a prayer walk with a couple of them one night, or take all of them for ice cream bars down the street. I can only imagine what’s going through their minds being so far from everything familiar.

Some differences I’ve noticed. In the States, we homeschooled. And we are continuing that here, even though it’s practically unheard of. There are a few families here in Bucharest, mostly from a Baptist background, who homeschool, and we hope to connect with them some time. In America, a city this size would have tons of homeschooling families, as it is becoming increasingly popular there. But here, with help from HSLDA, some families are finding ways to do it legally. You can read more about the situation through the HSLDA website. (I would link to it, but I cannot access the site right now for some reason.)

Along with that, not many mothers in general stay home with their children. The government offers new mothers the option to stay home with their child for up to two years and receive a percentage of their salary while they are at home. But after two years, most return to work, because it is very difficult to afford to live here on a single income. This is a hard thing for me to see, because I love being a mother and staying home with my children. It is an honor and a delight for me, and I’m thankful to God every day for this opportunity to pour into my children’s lives, to get to know them, to share the love of Jesus with them all day long as we go about our days, to instruct them in their schoolwork and tailor it to their specific learning styles and interests, and to just be with them. Though children are loved here in this culture, most families have only one child. That’s not even enough to replace the mother and father someday, and statistics are showing that the population of Romania–and Europe in general–is declining and aging. But that’s all for another post someday.

Some wonderful things I’ve seen as a mother here: the food is much healthier overall. The produce and bread we get is fresh and inexpensive and not covered in chemicals while being genetically modified in a factory somewhere. We can take the kids along to the market–where the older women gush over them saying “frumoase, frumoase” over and over while smiling and blowing them oodles of kisses–and they can help pick out the food grown here in Romania that we will eat later that day! Our girls, even though we live in a big city, get to walk a lot. We don’t have a car, so we walk to the bus stop or the metro stop, to the grocery store, around the mall across the street when in rains and we need to get out. There are puddles EVERYWHERE when it rains, so they can be kids and splash in them when we go out with umbrellas. There are several huge parks located near metro stops, so we can feel like we’re escaping the city and the kids can run around freely.  And there are great museums where we can learn about the culture and life of Romania!

Overall, I’m enjoying my time here as a mother and wife and missionary and homeschool teacher. I’m excited for my children, my MK’s to grow up in a new place, learning a new language and culture, and have this experience with us. I can’t wait to find out even more!

Day 24 – Dinosaur Revival and Multicultural Madness

This day really sucked.  It didn’t start out that way.  Not until Jessie bought a Samsung SC 4330 from Media Galaxy (pronounced May-dia Gah-lock-see).  Then it sucked big time.  Because the Samsung SC 4330 is a vacuum, and it’s like no other vacuum I’ve ever used.

We finally caved and bought a vacuum today.  The rugs were just too dirty and too hard to keep clean by shaking them out over the balcony every day.  So Jessie went to Media Galaxy to scope out their selection and find something reasonable.  She came back with a high-tech device NASA’s been using to pull satellites back from their orbits around the earth.

This vacuum is intense.  We have a rug in our living room that’s supposedly been cleaned, and we’ve been sweeping it and shaking it out over the balcony a lot, but one time over it with the vacuum left half the bag filled dust and hair and other gunk.  When I turn the vacuum on, the suction is so intense it’s hard to move across the floor.  If Tim the Toolman Taylor were to design a vacuum, it would work a little something like this thing.  If you wanna buy one, check it out here.

Tonight, Jessie and I were invited to a small church service / home group / Bible study on the western side of the city.  This was a service specifically for some of the refugees from Myanmar that have come to Bucharest.  I talked about their situation a little yesterday, but they’ve basically had a tough time in this city, what with the intrinsic anti-foreigner mentality here, the difficulties of the Romanian language, and the fact that the government has been stealing their aid money from the EU to line the pockets of rich politicians.  Or so the story goes anyway.

They asked me to share a little at the service, so I gave a short message of encouragement that God had chosen them to be here in this city, for this time, to shine as lights, despite the difficulties they were facing.  Jesus said, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, that you might go and bear much fruit.”  They didn’t wind up in Bucharest by mistake but by design of their Maker and Sustainer.

The service was a lot of fun, filled with people from Myanmar, Canada, Australia, America, Sudan, and even a token Romanian, believe it or not.  When the Myanmar Believers worshiped God, it felt like He just walked in the room.  They sang with such force, such intensity, that you knew they knew He was there.  I tried recording some of the worship on my phone, but it didn’t quite work out.

To be completely honest (because so much of this post has been a lie?), Jessie and I almost bailed on the service tonight.  Jessie was really tired, and I started thinking about the fact that we didn’t really know this church, they might be a cult, they might be really wacky, the whole church might be a cover for a human trafficking ring, it might be run by the mafia, etc.  We didn’t know where the service was being held (Jason wouldn’t give us an address).  Jason’s friend George, who we’ve never met, was going to pick us up at a subway station we’ve never been to, in a black SUV (suspicious, isn’t it?).  Jason was the only person we knew going to it and, honestly, he half-way kinda’ freaked me out with some odd beliefs he has.  And, no, I’m not gossiping; I told him that he freaked me out already and he’s OK with that.

So, we almost just bailed on the whole thing, but I’m glad we didn’t because we got to minister and encourage this group of really beat-down and worn-out people.  And we met some awesome Believers, including Pastor Peter from Sudan, one of the most humble and joy-filled men I’ve ever met.

My philosophy has been that if God has opened a door, we gotta go through it.  We’ve gotta believe that He’s guiding us and that He’ll bring people into our lives He wants us to minister to.  If you wait around to hear a magical voice from God before you ever do anything, you’ll sit at home all day and never get anything done for Jesus.  You’ve gotta take the opportunities He brings your way and believe that He’s going to do something miraculous in it.

I suppose we could have been duped into coming to a creepy cult meeting tonight, or we could have been trafficked or robbed or beat up and left for dead… but so what?  Yeah, it would really suck, but what does it matter compared to obeying what you think God is telling you to do?

His situation was way more radical than ours, but this whole thing reminds me of James Calvert.  When he arrived on the shores of Fiji to minister to a tribe of cannibals, the ship’s captain warned him, “Turn back!  You’ll  lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages!”  Calvert replied, “Sir, we died long before we came here.”  The beginning of the Christian life involves your death.  If you’re still serving yourself, pursuing your own desires and wants, scheduling your day to suite your interests, you haven’t died yet and God can’t fully use you.  As soon as you die to yourself, God can begin to really use you.

Speaking of which, last night, revival broke out in the dinosaur community of Bucharest.  Five dinosaurs got born-again and two whole gangs are now at peace with each other.  Here’s the video footage:

First, Triceratops shares the Gospel with Brontosaurus, then the two of them street preach to a gang of dinosaurs fighting in a bad neighborhood. Revival breaks out…

The gang of dinosaurs still has some questions about the Gospel, so Triceratops and Brontosaurus invite them out to eat a giant chunk of chicken and talk about God together. They talk about heaven, hell, and where dinosaurs go when they die…

Triceratops and Brontosaurus answer the most important question of all: how to be right with God and know you’ll go to heaven when you die. At the end of the discussion, a spirit of conviction falls and dinosaurs get right with God…

Like any dinosaur should do when they receive Jesus’ forgiveness for their sins, the gang of unruly dinosaurs wants to get baptized, so they attend Triceratops’s church. Dynamic praise and worship, preaching, testimonies, and baptisms galore…

Naomi made this whole thing up on her own, with Mae and Illiana helping a little, and though it’s not entirely theologically correct, I like the simplicity of it.  Every time you obey God and step outside your comfort zone, you should see results like Triceratops saw – people just receive the Gospel and get radically changed.

Day 22 – Lady and the Tram

The power just went out for a second.  Car alarms started going off like crazy, dogs started barking, and some guy belted out an Arabic-sounding tune at the top of his lungs.  Why?  Who knows, it’s Bucharest.

I love this city.  It’s frustrating at times, but I love it.  People don’t smile enough here, but when they do, you know it’s real.  The driving is crazed, but it actually feels like people are more attentive and better drivers than in America, where it’s easy to zone out and not pay attention.  Things that should take 5 minutes take 5 hours here, which is frustrating, but it teaches you patience.  At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself, that something good should result from all this waiting and running around we end up doing most days.

Part of all waiting comes from the fact that we don’t understand Romanian perfectly yet, partly it’s a result of traffic congestion, partly it’s just figuring out a new city and culture, and partly it’s just that things in Bucharest operate at a different speed than in the US.  Anyway, you do learn to wait on God, not get stressed about it, and trust that things will get done in His time.  And that’s a good thing.

Today was filled with errands, lots of errands.  The guys from IKEA (pronounced ee-KAY-uh in Romanian) were supposed to come by at 8 to build the kids’ bunk-beds, so we got everybody out of bed early and cleared out their room so the guys could come and do their work without Barbie dolls, dressers, and mattresses being in the way.  By the time 8 rolled around, we were ready to go.

But we were the only ones who were ready.  We got to do that whole waiting thing for another hour before the guys came to build the beds.  I was just about to surrender and just build the beds myself when we heard a buzz on the interfon.  One hour late isn’t too bad, especially when you consider Time Warner Cable tells you they’ll be by “sometime between noon and 5 pm” to install your internet.  At least IKEA had a target in mind.

Last night, when IKEA called to let me know they’d be coming today, I tried to tell the guy on the phone “Good evening,” but my tongue slipped and I accidentally told him, “Good stairs” instead.  For some reason, he didn’t say it back to me.  People here are so unfriendly. 😉

So today the bunk-beds got built, which is awesome, because now the girls can sleep in beds and not just on mattresses on the floor.  That’ll help with all the “Daddy, Illiana’s sticking her butt on my mattress” scenarios we’ve been having.

I’ve mentioned that one of the frustrating things with learning Romanian here is that so many people speak English way better than we speak Romanian.  As a result, when people notice we’re pretty rough with Romanian, they tend to just talk to us in English so we can actually communicate.  This makes it hard to practice our Romanian because few people will let us actually speak it.  For instance, today, Susie wanted to buy us a pitcher with a water filter so we don’t have to keep going to the store for water every couple days.  We’ll miss our Bucovina water, but we’ll probably end up saving close to $50 every month if we use the filter instead of bottled water.  Anyway, I went to the mall to buy one, and I started off pretty well talking to the saleswoman in Romanian, but I got hung up on a few words that I didn’t know, so she just switched to perfect English.  I still tried to use as much Romanian as I could, but she only spoke in  English from that point on.  Frustrating.

The open-air markets are different, though.  Very few people there speak any English to us, and they’re all really willing to help us speak Romanian better.  If we goof up a verb form or the gender of a noun, they’ll smile and then lovingly (and slowly) speak the correct form for us and then keep saying it until we’ve got it down.  I love it.  And if we don’t know what they’re saying, they don’t switch to English!

We had to get some fruits and vegetables, so we went back to the market again today.  A lot of venders recognized us, and some even asked where the kids were (Susie was watching them).  I can’t wait to get our Gospel tract translated into Romanian so we can hand it out to everyone we’re meeting, especially those we’ll see on a continual basis like these venders at the market.

After the market, we needed some bread so we swung by the bakery on the way home again.  The same woman was working there as every other time we’ve gone, and she gave us a big smile when we told her what we wanted.  I think her smile was because she recognized us and not because I told her “Good stairs.”

Sometimes, it feels like we’re not really making any impact being here in Romania, foreigners unfamiliar with the language and culture, but people have been telling us that our presence itself is a huge witness, even though we can’t say much yet.  No one here thinks an American would ever choose to leave behind the American Dream and come live in Bucharest.  Everyone who hears we’ve moved here from America is completely amazed and dumbfounded.  Us being here makes a clear statement of taking up your cross and following Jesus, especially because so many Romanians think so highly of America and so poorly of their own nation.  We think it’s awesome here, but let ’em think we’re making a huge sacrifice.

Today, we finally officially entered the realm of RATB (Regia Autonomă de Transport Bucureşti, Bucharest’s system of autobuz, tramvai, and troleibuz).  Metrorex runs the underground subway network, and RATB runs the busses, trams, and trolleys.  After talking with a few different Romanians and browsing RATB’s website for a few hours one day, we finally worked up the nerve to plunge into its depths and take a couple of tramvai to the open-air market because it was pretty far to walk.  Getting the passes was relatively easy, if a bit comedic from our end.  I tried to purchase three cards and put 10 lei’s worth of rides on each one, but for some reason the RATB employee would only let me put 13 lei on each.  Why?  I don’t know, but she took a long time to explain the reason in rapid Romanian.  All I understood was when she asked if I understood.  I didn’t, but I didn’t want to hear it again, so I did what every foreigner does when in the same situation – I lied and simply said “yes.”

The cost was 51 lei, but she only asked for 50.  One of the cool things about Romania is that people aren’t as exact with money.  A lot of places we’ve been round up or down a little if it brings everything to an easier amount to deal with.  Almost every time we go to the grocery store, we save a few bani because they round the price down.  It’s amounted to maybe saving $2 total since we’ve been here, but it’s kinda’ cool that people aren’t as stressed about it.  Clerks in America would get fired for not having their drawers exactly right.  People don’t seem to do it every time, and not every place is so loose about it, but it’s happened enough to seem normal now.

So we conquered the tram today.  We forgot to look at a map before we left, got off at the wrong stop once, wandered around confused a little bit, accidentally rode without paying twice… but now we can say that we have ridden the tram, and it was good.  This will help a ton with accessing parts of the city that the Subway doesn’t reach, since there’s a tram stop right outside our building.

Well, I don’t have anything majorly “spiritual” for you today, but here’s a handful of funny things with the kids I thought you all might appreciate:

– There’s a home improvement store near our house called “Mr. Bricolage.”  It looks really awesome and I want to check it out sometime (especially since my tools from IKEA are proving incredibly ineffective), but we haven’t popped in there yet.  Anyway, today, because it seemed appropriate, we nicknamed Isaac “Mr. Bricolage.”

– We bought some strawberries from the market today, and they tasted incredible – better than any I can remember from America.  Naomi ate so many of them it made her stomach hurt.  The whole time she was eating them, she made oohing and aahing noises and groans and giggles.  At one point, she burst out, “These strawberries taste so good I feel like I’m having a baby!”  So for all you women who’ve complained about childbirth, the truth is out.  Now I know what it really feels like, eating a bowl of delicious strawberries.  From this time forth, you will receive no more sympathy from me.  Go have those babies, and enjoy every minute of it.

– A couple days ago, Illiana told me, “Mama’s smart.”  Then she paused and looked like she was thinking hard.  “Wait, no, I mean she’s smart like a girl.  She’s like girl smart.”  I don’t claim to understand that one either.