Iraq Update: Chwar (4) + a VERY special announcement!

Greetings friends. I’m so sorry it has been so long since I’ve updated you on the happenings in Iraq. This post is way overdue!

The past few weeks have been a whirl of planning, projects and the beginning of the end of the summer. My main projects have been graphic design work for some local fundraising here in Suly and helping plan a banquet for all of the children who have had heart surgery this year. I have so much respect for event planners now! I also forget how not knowing the local language makes things at least twice as complicated. One of the other interns and I had planned to get the invitation for the banquet designed and printed one morning last week. My initial thought was that it would only take us one hour, maybe two at tops, because of how long it takes in America. Two hours soon turned into an all day affair! We didn’t factor in that our invitations, written in English, would not be understood by the Kurdish families (cue: slapping my palm against my forehead). We met with PLC’s translator and had him translate our invitation. Then I realized… I don’t have an Arabic font on my computer! So, we had to find a place to type it up for us. Hold on though, we have to find a place to type it up for us with someone that speaks ENGLISH. After about an hour of searching, we finally found an internet café that could type and print up a copy of the invitation text in Kurdish. Whew, this part took the majority of the morning. The afternoon was spent with our translator scouring the Bazaar for a print shop that would print on cardstock. Two hours and a few cantaloupe smoothies later… we have our invitations. Success! (update: after all was said and done and printed and delivered to families

we realized somewhere in the process the time and date of the party were left off the invite. Haha oh Iraq!)

It seems that lately PLC has run into some major walls. As the saying goes, when it rains it pours.

Issue number one… Buy Shoes Save Lives is one of PLC’s main sources of fund raising. In Kurdistan there is a traditional hand-made shoe that most Kurds wear called Klash. Every part of the shoe is hand made, from the sole to the hand stitched top, taking approximately 30 hours for each shoe. (http://preemptivelove.org/bssl/klash/) Part of PLC’s vision for Iraq is to find local solutions for local problems. So, PLC buys the shoes from the local Klash makers and sells them all over the world. Proceeds go back into the community to fund the heart surgeries. Until about two weeks ago, the general consensus was that the entire shoe was made here in Iraq and for about 5% of Klash shops, we’ve recently discovered, this is true. However, 95% of Klash makers in Iraq only make the hand stitched top and import the sole of the shoe from Iran. Even this would be okay besides the fact that it is illegal to import anything made in Iran to the United States. So, we are back to the drawing board. BSSL is what PLC was founded on in the beginning and it is not a part of the organization PLC wants to loose. Pray that PLC is able to figure out a solution to this problem.

Issue number two… The Patrol. All 7 long term staff of PLC share one vehicle… a Nissan Patrol. When they were first looking for a car to buy, they needed something inexpensive, reliable and a vehicle that could easily travel the uncertain Iraqi terrain. They were blessed with the Patrol. However, recent news has revealed the origin of this beastly car. During Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, the vehicle his soldiers used was one that was durable and reliable… yes, the Nissan Patrol. Almost every Patrol currently in northern Iraq belonged to the government prior to Hussein’s downfall.  After Saddam was captured, people literally raided all of the government property and took what they wanted, then sold it. So, BASICALLY that means PLC, without knowing, probably bought a stolen car. Legally, this car still belongs to the government even though it was bought and paid for by the Preemptive Love Organization. PLC is currently seeking out how in which to gain legal ownership of the car, but until then the Patrol could be taken away from us at any time. If that weren’t enough, a new law was passed that makes it close to impossible for foreigners to obtain driving permits. Again, PLC is trying to legally find a way in order to get licenses but until then, our Kurdish translator will do most, if not all, of the driving. This puts a major damper on many operations.

Issue number 3… We have been working most of the summer on a local advertising campaign called Tip Jars. The idea was to put money boxes at local grocery stores with a huge poster about our organization in a way to increase awareness and community involvement. We got the money jars built. I designed the posters. We sent the posters off to the print shops. We got the grocery stores okay. Then, found out that we need a license?!? A license to put up a poster and glass box in a store. Doesn’t make sense to me but I guess it’s a good idea to follow the law of the land. The license will take several months to obtain, as it seems all things take time here. It’s good that the campaign will be put into action at some point. Just much much later than we expected.

Issue number 4… At the end of the summer (aka about a week) PLC will be changing completely as far as staff go. Not only will the interns be heading back to the US, most of the PLC team will be leaving as well. As PLC has grown and funding increases, the ability to send more kids to surgery is upon us. However, each time a group of kids is sent to surgery, someone from the full time staff has to go along with them to Turkey. Costs increase with sending PLC staff and throws the organization off balance when someone is out of the office for two weeks up to a month. PLC has decided to relocate one couple to Turkey to set up a base there. It is going to be really good to have a base in Turkey since the actual surgery is in Istanbul. So, one couple will be leaving Iraq along with the interns in a very short period of time. Another PLC couple will be heading back to the US in the fall to have their first baby! And PLC’s physical therapist will most likely be moving to another city in Iraq for various reasons. So, this leaves one family to run all of the organization by themselves in the fall. I know that they are overwhelmed with this task. And not only that, but living in a culture that is not your own is difficult and draining and one needs community and support to be able to maintain sanity. Please be praying for all of the full time staff as their lives will be dramatically changing very soon. And on that note…

CUE SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT… drum roll please… I would like to announce that I, along with two other interns, have been asked to stay until December. The PLC team presented this to me several weeks ago and I have thought and prayed a lot about it. I don’t think my time is over here. I have began to develop amazing relationships with several Kurds here and I don’t think it is time for those friendships to come to an end. I think God has so much more planned for me here as I am starting to see hearts softened and trust built with people here. Also, the three of us interns could offer much help in running the organization and meeting with all of the families this fall when the one family will be here alone. This summer I haven’t been able to do as much design work for PLC as I’ve wanted and as PLC has wanted me to do. We have had many commitments this summer and most have them have seemed higher in priority than design work. This fall my commitment level would be so much different. One of the guys that is staying is a photographer and he and I will be working together on many projects. I know this is where I am suppose to be and have such a peace about being here. And so… I’M STAYING UNTIL DECEMBER!

With that comes many challenges that I wasn’t expecting when I left the states almost two months ago. First of all, I wasn’t planning on saying good bye to my friends and family for six months. I already miss them and miss being in Texas. I don’t think I have fully come into the realization that I will not see them until Christmas. I will not be with my family for the first time in my life during Thanksgiving. The reality of this all has not hit me yet and I don’t think it will until all the other interns have left. Please just pray for my heart that I will keep in perspective why I am here. Also, my Kurdish is HORRIBLE and I’m not just being modest. I have not learned as much of the language as I would have liked. I can barely communicate with people here who do not know English. Since I am staying, this has to change. I have to be able to talk to families that I will be going on visits to. I won’t always have the luxury of having PLC staff member to translate for me. I will be going on many visits with only the other girl intern, who doesn’t know Kurdish either. As soon as the other interns leave, the other two interns and I will have an intense few weeks on language learning with one of PLC’s local translators. Other languages do not come easy to me. I think I studied Spanish for about four years in school and now can only say a little more in Spanish than I can in Kurdish. Pray for grace for me to learn this language and an ability to understand and retain it. Also, funds are an issue. I will be working teaching English at a local institute during the fall. This job will pay for a lot of my living expenses but not all. I will also be teaching gymnastics to some of the American kids who live here. I am probably most excited about that job. It will help a little with expenses as well. But I will still be about $2500 dollars short. I know God will provide. He brought me here and He will not withdraw and leave me out in the cold. I know this and I am completely at peace that He will provide, but please pray that God will just guide wherever the money is suppose to come from.

I am so sorry that I haven’t updated everyone in so long. Things are going so well here. Some days are so easy and wonderful and I love it. Others are more difficult as it is so exhausting living in a culture I still don’t understand and frustrating to have such a language barrier. But God is so good. I have learned this in such a new and real way since being in Iraq. I have realized how much bigger his picture is and His will is than I could have ever imagined while living in my comfortable American bubble. More than anything I have done since being in Iraq, God has began changing me and my heart all the more. I am so so grateful to be here and to be able to experience amazing things half way around the world. I feel so very blessed that the Lord would bring me here and reveal Himself to me in such a new way and reveal the love He has for His people… not just for our country but the WHOLE world. Thank you for supporting me. There is no way I could be here without your financial support and especially your prayers. I don’t think I can say that enough. I wish I could bring you all here to experiencing what I am getting to experience.

Prayers:

Pray for Buy Shoes. Save Lives.

Pray for PLC’s vehicle situation.

Pray for the Tip Jar campaign.

Pray for each person that is leaving in about a week, the interns along with full-time staff. Pray for the staff and the interns that are staying in the fall that this transition will be good for everyone. That no one would get discouraged but that we would remember that God’s strength and power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Pray for my heart as I try to refocus for the next few months. I don’t know what to think about it at all; I don’t know how to process it. I just know I’m suppose to be here. Pray for my family as well. I know that was hard for some of them for me to go to Iraq for the summer. I can imagine that me staying for four more months might be difficult.

Pray that I am able to learn this language!

Pray that my money situation will work out. That God will provide.

Thanks again for your prayers. You are such a big part of what God is doing in Iraq! I you are enjoying your summer as it is beginning to wrap up.

Be blessed!

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Iraq Update: Se (3)

This past week has been so busy including: an all-day picnic, my birthday, several English Clubs, and some emotional times for the PLC staff. For me, personally, I have also been working on several design projects. So, much to say, bare with me…
First off, I would like to say that I have a new found love… çay (chai) tea. It is as essential as water to the Kurds here. Comparing tea here to tea in America is like comparing Starbucks to instant coffee. There is NO comparison. The average Kurd probably drinks 8 to 15 cups of çay in any given day. It is served morning and night, at every meal, during guest visits and just about any other time a person sits for more than 15 minutes. Tea here is an art form. The women spend their entire lives perfecting the tea recipe usually blending at least 7 different types of çay and adding spices. The outcome is indescribable! Tea is served in a specific çay glass and saucer. When served, ¼ of an inch of sugar is in the bottom of the glass and stirred to the coinsurer’s desire of sweetness, leaving the remaining sugar in the bottom of the glass. The gentle tinkling of çay being stirred is a beautiful melody and beyond description. Other than the decision of sweetness one must decide the process in which to drink the tea. The patient Kurd waits until the tea has cooled to drink from the glass but there is another art form of pouring the tea into the saucer to quickly cool and drinking straight from the saucer. Be careful, though, pouring takes practice. Pour too quickly and it splashes over the edge of the saucer; pour too slowly and the tea runs down the side of the glass making a embarrassing mess. (I have learned this first hand after pouring half of the tea into a puddle on the table. Needless to stay, I’ve resorted to the patient method.) All this to say, tea in Iraq = perfection.
As I am sitting here writing this, I can hear the Muslim call to pray echoing through the streets just as it does five times each day. Although it is a Muslim call, it reminds me all throughout the day to have an attitude of prayer. Funny that God has used something created for another religion to draw me closer to Himself. What an awesome God we serve.
Question: How would you explain grace to a culture where forgiveness is not practiced? How would you describe the need for said grace to a culture who doesn’t understand the concept of sin? These are the questions I am presently pondering.  The Muslim faith is very intriguing to me. Primarily, Islam preaches salvation by works. The Muslims believe that if their good outweighs the bad, they are rewarded with heaven. Therefore, people are extremely giving and honest and they believe that makes them good. Here, it is more about the outside appearance than the inside condition of the heart. Sin does not make sense… a Muslim would say ‘I haven’t lied, cheated, stolen, or killed. Therefore, I haven’t sinned’. On the other hand, if someone wrongs you in this culture, you have every right to do the equal to them. Forgiveness is not readily practiced. It is not understood. Part of me is at a loss for how to meet the people here on common ground and be able to explain concepts that are so vital to Christianity. It would be like trying to explain color to person that is blind. Where do you even begin? At the same time, the Bible says not to be afraid because God will give us the words to say in the moment of need. Maybe I am over thinking this and need to place more trust in the Lord…. I don’t know. Perhaps I am placing too much focus on myself and my tiny knowledge when really it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God.
This past Thursday was my birthday and oh what a birthday it was! I was hesitant about being in Iraq on my birthday. The past few summers I have spent my birthday working at camp with friends and usually not with my family. However, this summer I felt even further from my home and strange being without friends and family at the celebration of my 23rd year. (Geez, I am getting old!) I did miss my friends and family but I have to say that this was one of the most unique and extraordinary birthdays I have had thus far.
 The morning was filled with work and practical things to get done. Then, one of our Kurdish friends, Nadia, took me and two other interns out to lunch at the nicest restaurant that I have been to in Suly so far… an Italian café, Roma. (Who would have guessed that there would be Italian food in Northern Iraq?) She paid for our entire meal because it was my birthday! How crazy is that, a girl I barely know paying for my expensive birthday lunch… and not only mine but two others as well. I am constantly dumbfounded at the hospitality of the people here.
The afternoon was perhaps my favorite part. I think I have mentioned that two times a week the interns work with students who are trying to learn English. We have gotten very close to the people at the English Club and they have become some of my closest Kurdish friends. Monday, all the girls decided they were going to throw me a huge party for my birthday. Let me just say, I have known these girls for barely 3 weeks. Honestly, I would have never done that for someone I had known for such a short time. Not to mention, here in Iraq most Kurds don’t even really celebrate birthdays. In fact, once a person gets over the age of about 30 they stop counting their age all together! So, for these girls to throw me a birthday party is kind of a big deal. They then decided it was going to be a surprise party. (Yet, they told me they were planning on surprising me haha). Anyway, so Thursday afternoon we met at the youth center where we have English Club. They ‘surprised’ me in the garden with about 25 people singing happy birthday including the two teachers of their class whom I have never met. There were balloons, birthday signs, presents and a cake with sparklers on top (that set a few plastic plates on fire!) I was sang to in both Kurdish and English and the party was complete with Kurdish and Arabic dancing = awesome! One of the best birthdays ever. I was so surprisingly blessed and humbled by the love of these girls whom I’ve known for so little time. Coming to Iraq, I had hoped to build relationships with the people here and I prayed for a burden and desire for them to know the Lord. I didn’t realize how real the answer to those prayers would be. I didn’t think I would have anything in common with 20-year-olds who live half way around the world. Yet, I already dread the time when I will leave these sweet friendships that I’ve had for merely 3 weeks. In no way did I think I would care this much about them and to think… they are so lost. They are so deceived. They need Jesus. I wish I could just place in their mind the truth of the Gospel. I wish I could make them believe. But this is not the case. As of this second, I won’t be spending eternity with these precious girls. I’ve never felt so helpless and yet so reliant on the Lord. I am thankful that there is hope and I’m pleading to the Lord on their behalf, that their eyes would be opened. I hope that you will pray with me for these ladies (again by name: Samana, Suzan, Govar, Mays, Bajan, Shahen, Fenik, and Sarwa.)
Thusday night the PLC team threw me another celebration with Mexican food (the food I miss the most) , chocolate cake and serendipity frozen hot chocolate. I was really so blessed and encouraged by them. By the PLC staff whom I admire so much, that they would spend time to celebrate me. Such a sweet time. So awesome. Hooray for 23 years!
On the note of birthdays, I would like to give a shout out to my sister, Haley,  who turned 18 yesterday (You are getting old too!) Happy Birthday sweet sister, you bless me and encourage me more than you could ever know. I am encouraged by your confidence in who you are in Christ and challenged by your love for Him. I so wish I could be with you on your birthday. Love you little sister!
Friday, we were all invited on a picnic with the staff of Kurdistan Save the Children, a local NGO. Let me just explain how picnics work here: it is not a 2 or 3 hour event where you bring a picnic basket with potato salad and sandwiches, eat lunch and go home. Oh no… people here are serious about their picnics. We left Friday morning at 8:30 AM and drove about 45 minutes outside of Suly. We sat up camp and spent the next 11 hours eating lunch, drinking çay, taking naps, drinking çay, going hiking and swimming, having more food with çay, talking, playing Frisbee and other games, drinking çay, eating dinner and ending the day with  çay… but of course. We arrived back in Suly just in time to go to bed at about 10 that night. It was such an exhausting experience but one of my favorite things I have done so far.
Prayer Needs:
Continued diligence in staying in the Word and focus for being here.
 Continued prayer for Shad’s family. PLC is trying to set up a memorial fund in Shad’s name, but things that work in America don’t necessarily work in Iraq. There are so many people connected to Shad’s story that it could be a really good thing. Pray that the PLC staff would have the words to explain the memorial fund to Shad’s family and doors to be opened if this is what is suppose to happen.
 Relationships to deepen among our Kurdish friends. For communication boundaries to be broken. For boldness and the eyes to be able to see opportunities when presented.
 I am trying so hard to learn the Kurdish language but I’m convinced that it’s ten times harder than Spanish. I need major grace in learning.
Many people on the team have been sick this week. Pray for healing and rejuvenation and that our immunity systems would be built up.
 Pray for major decisions that need to be made in the next few weeks.
Thank you for caring so much about what we are doing in Iraq to pray and read these ridiculously long posts. You are such a big part of what is happening here and the encouragement your emails and prayers bring help me to push through every day.

Urgent Prayer Request

I’m so pleased to announce that 5 of the kids who were in istanbul for heart surgery have returned to Suly and are doing very well. However, one of the little boys who had surgery, Shad is still in turkey and has taken a turn for the worse. He crashed last night and is in surgery for the third time right now. Here is an email from the PLC staff member, Jeremy, who is in Turkey with the family:

Hey all,

Just wanted you to know that at 4:30 a.m. this morning Shad started with a fever and moved quickly to unresponsiveness (when being called) and then into some sort of oxygen deficiency that led to his being admitted to ICU immediately.
Doctor Cicek was on the scene as quickly as possible and Shad was in surgery around 7:30 or 8 a.m. this morning. He is still in surgery now and we don’t have any information.
Shad was doing phenomenally well yesterday: out of ICU, very attentive and active, walking around the whole hospital, talking extensively about going home to Suly. Doctors and nurses were all surprised at how well he was doing. That has made his “crash” last night that much more alarming…
I’ll let you know more when I know it.
Please be in prayer for him today that the Lord would heal him and give wisdom to the doctors and nurses. His father, Faraydoon, is there with him and I’m sure this is very difficult for him. Please pray for him as well.
-Jeremy

Iraq Update: Yek (1)

Coni! (cho-nee)… Hello!

We have now been in Iraq for almost a week.  I think I’m finally over the jetlag! So far, this has been such an incredible experience. The culture here is so different than America.  I guess that’s a given, but the difference is night and day. There is so much to tell!

We arrived in Iraq late Tuesday night. I am amazed at how smoothly the trip went; we easily made all of our connecting flights. Once we arrived in Suly, Iraq there was a good chance that we would have a difficult time getting through security and passport control.  The security in northern Iraq, Kudistan, has become very strict due to the war in southern Iraq. Kurdistan is almost an entirely different nation with a separate military and government. The Kurdish are anti-terrorism. The increase in security is great for us living here in Suly as it offers much protection, but it makes it difficult to enter the country. However, we had no problem entering Kurdistan, and security and passport control asked us very few questions. Thank you, Lord!

Things I have learned my first week in Iraq:

  •        Don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet and always carry some extra with you on outings. I have become extremely grateful for the plumbing in the states. Here, I’m not sure you can even call it plumbing. They do not have constantly running water. Usually at night, water runs into a holding tank on the side of the house. Then a pump has to be turned on to pump the water to a tank on the roof and gravity allows it to flow down the pipes into the faucet. The water comes once a day at best and a house has only enough as the tank can hold. Showers equal a faucet, drain and bucket. The plumbing in the toilets works about the same way. Gravity drains the toilet so toilet paper and such become a problem… I will leave it at that. Also, most Kurds do not use toilet paper. So when traveling outside the comfort of our own home, tp doesn’t usually exist. Hopefully you can use your imagination to fill in the blanks on what the Kurds use for an alternative.
  •        Not to drink the water and/or anything that is not cooked. Summer heat makes food poisoning that much worse as bacteria grows more rapidly. Fridges are highly uncommon. Milk, cheese and meat are not usually kept cold. So, I’m told that we will all become sick at least once.
  •      Don’t make eye contact with the opposite sex. It means you are interested in that person and they can start pursuing you. This one is very difficult because there are few Americans here and all eyes are magnets on us as we walk down the street. In some ways I think it might be what it feels like to be famous.
  •           Not to walk out of the house with wet hair. Ask me if you would like to know more about that one.
  •      Temperatures can reach at least 120 degrees in the summer!
  •     There are currently over 4,000 Iraqi children who are in desperate need of heart surgery… I can’t even comprehend that astronomical number.

*      I’m sure this list will continue all summer….

One thing I wasn’t expecting is the bond that has formed between the interns. I have known these people for almost a week and we have all just clicked. I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord carefully orchestrated our being together. We have so easily become friends that I feel as if I’ve known them for months.

I had no idea what to expect when it came to food prior to arriving here. I am pleased to say that the food here is wonderful! Rice and beans are very popular and very good. It’s completely different tasting rice and beans than we have in America. Kabobs are very popular as well. We have eaten out a few times and most fast food places have breaded chicken called kintuqi… which is said Kentucky… as in Kentucky Fried Chicken! Ha!

The other day we went to the Bazaar, which is a gigantic outdoor market. There were several things we had to buy and it was difficult at best to communicate to the Kurds. We are all learning Kurdish and it’s the most confusing language I have ever heard. There are 44 letters in the Kurdish alphabet, most of them I can’t even begin to pronounce. Many Kurds know or understand a little bit of English but I only know how to say ‘yes’  ‘no’ and ‘thank you’ and about 10 other phrases including ‘do you know English?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ in Kurdish. We met this one man named Alan, which is probably not his Kurdish name. He spoke fairly fluent English. We met him in a Klash shop and just said ‘hi’ and he offered to show us around the Bazaar. He bought us Kurdish bread. Then took us to an ice cream shop and bought us pistachio ice cream (much better ice cream than I’ve ever had in the states!) He then decided we were thirsty and got us bottled water. We hung out with us for several hours; we just talked and talked. One of the interns asked Alan if he liked to cook and he thought she said Coke. So, he jumped up and bought us all cokes despite are profuse refusal.  Then, paid a taxi to take us home! The people here are entirely different than I imagined. They are the most hospitable and loving people that I have ever met. There is no such thing as a busy lifestyle here and the people go out of their way to help us. So far, I have been more blessed by them than anything I could have done to bless the Kurds.

I am so excited about this summer. I am going to be stretched to my limits, I’m sure. I am totally and completely out of my comfort zone but the Lord’s continually shown me that this is where I’m supposed to be. I can already see my views about Iraq and love for these people to change. I feel so blessed to be apart of how God is working here. Lives are being changed because of the heart surgeries taking place through PLC.

Tomorrow I am going with two PLC staff to visit a girl who just returned from a trip to Istanbul to have heart surgery and came to find her condition was inoperable. I can’t imagine the devastation she and her family are facing right now. One of the problems with these congenital heart defects is that after a certain time, the damage is irreversible. PLC is aiming to get children in as quickly as possible but every month without surgery they lose a year of life and every year, a decade. The funds are inadequate to get these children in quickly enough. I am sure tomorrow will be emotional as we try to answer the unanswerable questions. I do not think the Lord sent her all the way to Istanbul without reason. Pray that we have the words to give comfort. Pray that in this time the Lord reveals himself to this family. Pray that, Lord willing, she will be healed: physically and spiritually.

Other Prayer Needs:

  •       There are currently 6 children  (Shad, Heran, Roman, Lawen, Necat and Shwan) in Istanbul, Turkey receiving life-saving heart surgeries this week! Four of them have already successfully completed surgery and are doing incredible. Pray as they continue to recover.  The other two surgeries should be completed before Tuesday. Pray for wisdom for Dr. Cicek (chee-check), the heart surgeon with whom PLC has won much favor, with these complicated surgeries and for the children’s families through this stressful time.
  •     The interns are teaching 5 English classes a week starting tomorrow night. PRAY! None of us feel like we have the skills to teach grammar, reading, writing and conversation. We are hoping these classes give opportunities to build friendships with the Kurds.
  •       Pray for boldness, focus and intentionality for the entire staff of PLC. Even in the excitement of being here, I find myself getting easily distracted with meaningless things. I want to spend my time here totally devoted to serving and listening and obeying the Lord.
  •      Pray that we can soak up as much Kurdish as possible. I can’t explain how difficult it is! But, we want to be able to communicate as efficiently as possible

Thank you all for supporting me through prayer and finances! This summer would be IMPOSSIBLE without you. I apologize for the length of the email. Hopefully I will have more time to update as our schedule gets more consistant. Hope things are going well in the states!

Because HE loves them,

Ashley