Make Your Ambition To Lead a Quiet Life

I know it has been a long time since I have written.  I have been pondering where I should take this blog . I have not come to a decision yet, so please bare with me.

In the meantime, I thought I would share my thoughts with you today. I have been making it a point to try and give myself some extra quiet and reflective time over the weekend. Quietness feeds the soul and can bring you to a deeper awareness of God in you like nothing else can.

1St Thessalonians 4 9-11a says:  Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.

I was telling someone recently that since the lockdown, I have rediscovered the benefits of quietness. Not having to work within the office means not having to waste adrenaline blocking out sound. I read some time ago that we unconsciously cause ourselves stress by trying to block out sound so we can concentrate and work. Having more quiet in my life has made it easier to enter into a quietness of spirit when I choose to do so.  To have a quietness of spirit helps attune us to God’s spirit and the full potentiality of God living within us. That connectedness helps us to rise up and to be more loving. It opens the door so that we can grow more fully into the realisation of all God wants us to be.

I understand how difficult it is to find quiet when you have young children and so many people and things which require your attention. I want to encourage you to make it a priority. For each of us, that may require a different way of doing it. When my six children were young, they went to bed at 6:30, I would dim the lights, light some candles and be with God then. I know this may not work for everyone, just find what works for you. You may even want to take 5 minutes during work to close your eyes and listen to the birds and the rustle of the wind through the trees outside. Experiment, try different things until you find something that works best. Incidentally, I am currently working from home and I never let my family know when I am actually done with work for the day. I am behind a close door and they all think that when I emerge, I have only just finished work. Truth be told, it may have actualy been an hour ago!

Author Joan Chittister says, “There is a pathology of noise that drips into the soul in contemporary society until the soul simply disappears under the weight of it. Then there is only the shadow of a person left looking for itself.  Sound drowns out thoughts until all we find within ourselves are questions where the cuttings of answers ought to have begun taking root.”

Taking the time to be still and quiet and to just be is so important. Especially because when you take this time to be alone, you find you really aren’t. None of us are truly ever alone but it is in the quietness that we are reminded of this. God is there patiently waiting for us to see and acknowledge Him with fullness of love and His arms open wide saying, ‘Where have you been?’

Photo Source

Albania–Meeting Our Sponsor Children

Working within my role at World Vision means that every day I get to hear uplifting stories about the relationships forged between sponsors and the children they sponsor. As a child sponsor myself, I feel a strong sense of camaraderie with other sponsors. We all have the same heart for vulnerable children. So, when I heard that there was a group sponsor visit to Albania planned, I signed up to go as one of the sponsors.

My husband I each sponsor a child in Albania.  As my husband couldn’t be there, I agreed to meet his child Mikeljan on his behalf. A lot of prayer and preparation went into our meeting. Before my trip, my husband told me everything he knew about Mikeljan and especially how much he loves football! Between the two of us, we did some shopping for gifts for Mikeljan and his family.  While in Albania, the wonderful World Vision team worked hard planning the sponsor visits and all the itinerary.

The night before I was due to meet him, I stayed in too reflect and pray about our time together.  I was nervous  about the meeting because Mikeljan is a teenager and I wasn’t sure of the welcome I would receive.  Would he think it was ‘uncool’ or ‘lame’ for instance.

We first met at the World Vision office where Mikeljan arrived accompanied by his mother. To my surprise, he spoke very good english! I had brought a letter for Mikeljan from my husband which a staff member translated on paper.  Another staff member translated the conversation between Mikeljan’s mother and I. I showed him photos of my husband Jim and talked about him.

We walked by a lake and later had lunch together. His mother spoke to me about her family and her concerns for Mikeljan. I noticed there was free wifi, so I video-phoned Jim so he could speak to Mikejan in person.  They each had the biggest grin on their faces as they chatted away about  Mikeljan’s biggest passion-football!

I was so impressed with both Mikeljan and his mother. They were such lovely people. Mikeljan is a bright, courageous, sociable and articulate boy.  His mother was lovely, warm and gracious. I felt like I had just met family.

The following day, it was time for me to meet my sponsor child Andrea. It was another wonderful meeting but with some differences.  Andrea is only 7.  He came with his mother, older brother and younger sister. He was very shy at first but soon warmed up.  Nobody in the family spoke english but luckily we had someone on hand to translate for us. Andrea thanked me for the hot wheels I sent to him in the post.  Unfortunately, he lost the green one which was his favourite.  Since I have been home, I have been looking at green hot wheels but they are all so different and I have no idea which one he lost!

I knew ahead of time that we would spend time at a beach. I brought lots of toys to play with. The most popular was a game of velcro mitts and a ball. When we had lunch, I brought out the Jenga which was a big hit as the whole family could play.

After only ever seeing some photos and a couple of videos of Andrea, it was nice to get to know more of his unique personality. He is such a fun, endearing child with a gorgeous, contagious smile. The family were sociable and sweet and we had a wonderful time together.

The trip gave me real insight into the culture and people of Albania. I feel an equal sense of compassion and hope for this country. I am so thankful for the opportunity that sponsorship has given my husband and I to help the communities where Mikeljan and Andrea live.

To sponsor a child through World Vision UK, please go to their website by clicking here.

Sponsor Visit to Albania

As a sponsor through World Vision, I was excited to be given an opportunity to visit Albania as part of a group sponsor visit. I saw this as a great way to connect with like-minded people, meet the two boys my husband and I sponsor and to also see first-hand the work that I was helping to support.

I met some of the other sponsors from our group before hand on our training day and some at the airport when we were catching our flight. We were an interesting small group of diverse backgrounds yet all of us were joined by our mutual compassion for vulnerable children.

First sight of Albania


When we arrived at the airport in Tirana (also known as Mother Teresa Airport), we were met by the lovely World Vision Albania staff who drove us to our hotel. They were even kind enough to phone the hotel in advance and ask them to prepare a meal for us as it was late.

On our trip, we did quite a bit of driving around visiting many of the projects that World Vision was supporting.  Because of this, we had the opportunity to see a lot of the countryside in Lezhe and other areas.

Albania is the poorest country in Europe and still a country in transition. Everywhere we looked, we could see a mixture of old abandoned communist buildings, building projects not yet completed, small houses with red roofs and front gardens used to grow fruit and vegetables. Sometimes you would see a goat tied in the small garden.


Communist building


Yet Albania is also a beautiful country of hills, mountains, lakes and beaches.



On our first full day, we met with the Student Government in a school in Balldre who were eager to tell us about the work they were doing raising awareness on child domestic violence.  I noticed that around the classroom where posters about stress. When I asked about it, they explained that this was the psychology classroom. I was also told that children suffer a lot from stress and that violence against children was a major issue. They told us that May was ‘Family month’ and they had planned activities for parents to have fun with their children. It was great to see how the students were being encouraged to stand up for themselves and make positive changes.

The students had us engage in an icebreaker with string

The students were very confident and articulate. We asked them to tell us what their dreams were for their future.  They all had high aspirations, but I soon saw a pattern. One wanted to be an Architect in Australia; another wanted to be a Judge in Germany.  Sadly, no one saw themselves having a future in Albania.

Later we visited the Multidisciplinary Centre in Lezhe. This was once an abandoned building which was repaired thanks in part to the fundraising efforts of the last group visit. The centre helps give children a safe place to go to where they are assessed and helped depending on their needs. Many of the children who go there come from families who are “re-immigrates”. They sold everything to immigrate to another country only to be forced back to Albania years later with nothing left for them. It is also a haven for mothers and children fleeing from domestic violence. The centre also offers after school programs.

Day 2

We visited the sisters of a Catholic church who run a kindergarten and do all that they can to support the vulnerable in the community. This lovely sister who we met us is from Italy. She told us amazing stories of how the sisters have helped families over the years.


The kindergarten is colourfully decorated and there is a humble playground outside. Unfortunately, the playground area gets badly flooded when it rains. The rain drains into the sewers which then causes sewage to rise out of the gutters over the playground area.



We visited another school of very proud students. It was a new high school where previously there had been none. Before the school was built, many girls did not continue their education as it was too far to travel to the nearest high school. Now they have a local high school which enables them to continue their education and to have higher aspirations for their future.

I found it interesting that every classroom in this new building was heated by one of these stoves.

One of the things I noticed when I visited any of the schools in Albania is that the teachers all seem to love their job.  They take such pride in their work and in their students. I saw curtains in the windows and potted plants on the window sills in the classrooms. They may not always have enough money for all the essentials, but they do what they can to make it a welcoming place for students.

If you are interested in supporting Albania or sponsoring a child, please visit World Vision’s website.

For World Vision UK, please click here. Or phone at 0800 085 8188

For World Vision Albania, please click here. Or phone +355 4 2419601

If you are interested in helping the kindergarten by financing the repair of their playground, please contact either World Vision.


How To Make The Most Of A Snow Day

I think it is safe to say that time is very precious for most of us.  Very few people work 9 to 5 and even fewer have the luxury of doing nothing once they are home.  We work long hours and sometimes we work harder still when we are home.  We have cars which we make full use of.  There is always some place we have to be, something we need to do and someone who needs us.  We postpone our relaxation time till we are on vacation because we are just too busy.  We either do this by choice or because we feel we have no choice.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute.  Do we have the energy to keep this up?  Can we take advantage of any possible breathing space that pops up as an unexpected gift?  Or are we going to waste that time doing housework or going shopping?

I am not judging.  These are just the sort of questions I asked myself this morning, when I received the text from my boss telling me to ‘…stay home.  It’s going to be a blizzard and no one is coming in to work’.   Mentally, I thought about all the things I could be getting done- things I haven’t had time for, important things.  Then I thought, ‘To hell with that!’ and spent the day perusing interior design magazines and websites.

I know that isn’t everybody’s idea of fun but I enjoyed myself.  I really want to reach out to anybody out there who is either working too hard or is over-stretched or stress, who has suddenly been gifted with a day off because of the snow.  Here are just a few fun ideas of what you can do in case you forgot how to have fun or simply relax. Trust me, spending quality time in bliss is more important than all the work you want to catch up with.  When you get a chance to enjoy yourself,  you are investing in your well-being, giving you a chance at being a better more refressed you later.

How to make the most of a snow day:

  1. Feed the birds. Put out some bird seeds for the birds and then have your breakfast by the window.  There is something magical about seeing birds in the snow happily enjoying themselves.  It’s like a scene from a Christmas card. 
  2. Play in the snow- because if you have kids who are also having a snow day, you can’t just ignore them.  So put on your snow boots and your mittens and get out there with them! Have a good hour of fun and then come in for some hot chocolate. 
  3. Light the fire. There is nothing like watching the flames in the fireplace while you cosy up with a warm blanket.  If you don’t have a fireplace, light up some candles.  Just create an ambience of cosy warmth and have a hygge time!

    Photo by Dave Gunn

  4. Go diving.  What I mean is, dive into a good book, one that takes you away, makes you laugh or even cry.  Sure it’s escapism but it also gives you a chance to release some emotions.  I find it can also lengthen your day.  How else can you go on an adventure, fall in love and save the day all within an hour or two? 
  5. Watch a favourite movie.  Make sure it’s one you already know and love or know for sure you will love.
  6. Visit or meet your neighbour.  It’s a great opportunity for a natter or chat.  If you have an elderly neighbour, it might be a good idea to check in on them in case they need anything.
  7. Walk your dog in the snow..or walk with your neighbour and his dog.  Have you ever seen dogs in snow?  Guaranteed to make you smile! 
  8. Make a warm, delicious dessert or bake some bread.  It will make you happy and anyone who lives with you. You don’t have to be a gourmet.  Pancakes with chocolate chips is easy enough to make and delicious.  
  9. Get creative.  Whether you are an artist that likes to draw or paint or if you like to sew, knit or write–cease the day!
  10. Be mindful and move slowly.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  Simply pick one or two items to enjoy and really enjoy it. Don’t just speed through the action!

Lastly, if you find you are not enjoying what you are doing because you are worrying too much about making it count or about what you are not doing, then stop and do what you need to relieve your stress and worry.




Story Of A Bear

It was worth a shot but it hadn’t worked.  We were very mistaken to think that the one she loved could be so easily replaced.

There he lied…on the floor… stubbornly ignored by the toddler who refused to acknowledge him after she threw him there.  Was it the fourth or fifth time now?

She stood there, refusing to look at it.  Her small body turned away with downcast eyes.  She didn’t want to look at us either.  She hadn’t thrown a tantrum.  She hadn’t cried.  Yet her communication was clear. ‘This is not my Teddy.’

For three nights, we had woken up to her heart-breaking sobs and her crying for Teddy.  She had lost it somewhere.  I had searched everywhere in the house but couldn’t find it.  Her real teddy was a tan colour, sort of like pine wood.  Most of its fur had been sucked off its nose. His foot had, ‘Baby’s first Teddy’ embroidered on it.

The one lying on the floor was not it.  I couldn’t find an exact replica.  I found another bear which I thought was at least equally cute.  I should have known it wasn’t about cuteness.  It was about attachment.

When we found her real Teddy bear about several days later in the church nursery, our daughter’s reaction was a bit strange.  She held it but didn’t react.  It was as if she had given up hope of ever having it again and now wasn’t sure if he was really there.  She didn’t throw it down on the floor but she didn’t smile either.  She seemed numb.  I realised that my poor sixteen-month old daughter had experienced her first form of emotional stress and shock.  She never lost him again.

Tara and Teddy

As for the replacement bear, we later gave him to my son. He was then passed down a few times till my fourth child had him.  We moved from the US to the UK with the bear. Then one day, it may have been a birthday or Father’s Day, my daughter gave him to my husband as a gift.  This bear is now nearly thirty years old.  He has never been truly loved – not in the sense of say, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ sort of way.  I suppose my husband and I have felt the closest to sympathy towards it.  Poor rejected bear.  I hadn’t realised Jim kept it all these years.

When World Vision said they needed 700 Teddy bears to be placed on the steps of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, Jim donated our sad bear towards it.  The 700 bears were used to raise awareness. They symbolise the 700 unaccompanied refugee children that are arriving each week in Uganda after fleeing their homes in South Sudan. The children had been separated from their family.  They have witnessed horrible atrocities.  Many have seen members of their own family killed.  This has left most of the children psychologically traumatised.  They arrive in Uganda terrified, hungry and exhausted.

Our Bear showing with the red circle around it. Photo Source: World Vision UK

Uganda have been exemplary when it comes to welcoming the refugees.  Hundreds of thousands have arrived and have been given sanctuary, compassion and a plot of land.  However, aid is still urgently needed to provide basic needs such as food, clean water and medical supplies.  Many of the children need psychological therapy for what they have suffered.  You can read more about World Vision’s campaign in the UK by clicking here.  To learn more about World Vision’s work in South Sudan, click here.

You may wonder what World Vision will be doing with those 700 teddy bears, once their Bears On Stairs campaign is over.  The answer is that every teddy bear is going to a child in one of the refugee camps in Uganda.  I am so happy to know that our poor rejected bear will finally go somewhere where he is loved.  In my heart, I am sending him off with a prayer that he will bring comfort to a child who needs it.


How Do We Become More Loving?

Oftentimes, when I have learned a powerful lesson, I embrace it but I don’t verbalize it.  Other times, I verbalize it but the words fall very short.  Today I read the following excerpts from Elizabeth Lesser’s, The Seeker’s Guide.  This is what I want to say and often want to explain.  I am so grateful to her for putting it so well. I add just this one imput: We cannot love well in our own humaness.  We need to tap into the source of love in order to do that.  God is that source, for God is love.

‘…Love is the fruit of spiritual labour; it is not a technique you try or a dogma you adopt.  Love is the secret you unmask yourself to find; it is the foundation of the spiritual life, the destination where all roads of the journey lead. But it does no one any good to rush the process, nor to enforce loving behaviour.  Loving behaviour is unenforceable and herein lies the mystery of the spiritual life and the mistaken role of religions.  You cannot legislate forgiveness; you cannot make hate illegal; you cannot require love.  Just as you can’t pull a shoot out of the ground and demand that it flower then and there, love cannot be forced.  Spiritual work prepares the ground.

Love will blossom when our egos and our wounds and our fears have been worked with, tilled into the soil of our understanding.

When we do the hard work of stilling the mind and opening the heart, we come into love….

You can’t force yourself to love others.  If you could, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is now…’

–Elizabeth Lesser

Beautiful Easter Eggs – Naturally

Happy Easter everyone and a very Happy Orthodox Easter too!  This year both Easters fall on the same day uniting all Christians. So Hristos Se Rodi (Срећан Ускрс) to all my Serbian relatives.  Christ is Risen indeed.

Today I just had to share how my very talented cousin Aleksandra, coloured her Easter eggs.  I think this is so incredibly beautiful.  She uses onion skins for the colour rather than food colouring and sprigs of herbs for the impressions.  Her technique is below.




To Make these beautiful Easter eggs:

Wrap the egg and herbs in stocking very tightly knotting the edge of each stocking.
Put a dozen eggs in cold water, with the outer peels of 8-10 onions.  Add 3 tablespoons white vinegar. Bring to boil, lower flame then cook about 15 mins. Turn off flame and let sit in pot until cool or take out earlier when you like the color.

Although Aleksandra used brown onion skins, she says red onions, beets or red cabbage can also be used for a more vibrant colour.  She also used a variety of herbs but thyme was her favourite.

Tip: If you re-use the liquid dye, the next batch of eggs will be darker.

Tip 2: When placing herbs on the eggs, wet them first with a bit of water to help them stick.


The Scene In Beauty And The Beast Which Reminds Me Of Easter

Photo by Walt Disney Studios

After a lot of deliberation, discussion and uncertainty, I finally decided to give the new Beauty and the Beast film a try.  I had watched the trailers unimpressed and felt quite dubious as to whether Emma Watson could do the role of Belle justice. Yet after hearing lots of good reviews, my husband,  daughter Brianna and I went to see it yesterday afternoon.

Despite the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon during Easter weekend (what was I thinking?!), and despite the children sitting directly behind us banging our chairs occasionally, we absolutely loved it.  More than loved it–we were all very emotionally moved.

I hate to admit it but Emma Watson was great as Belle.  Emma’s Belle was young, sweet and fearless–a girl with hopes, dreams AND sense. The set, costumes and song numbers were dazzling….sometimes maybe a bit too dazzling. The acting of all the cast was superb.  Kevin Kline as Belle’s father was especially endearing. The CGI of the beast’s face and expressions were exceptionally well done.

I don’t want to give too much away, but for me one of the highlights is that it’s mainly a  live copy of the original but with added new songs and subtle twists.

This brings me to the one scene I want to share as it is Easter.

::::::::::::::::::Spoiler alert!  Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film!:::::::::::::::::::::::

In one scene of the film, Mrs Potts expresses to Belle that in her opinion they are all to blame for the Prince’s downfall.  She tells Belle that he had been a small boy when his mother died.  His father was not a noble character and he raised the boy to be just like him.  Mrs Potts regrets that she and the other servants allowed that to happen. This explains why the Enchantress chose to include them all in the curse.

Later, near the very end of the scene, the beast, having been shot by Gaston lies dying.  Unlike the animated version, the last petal falls and turns to ash before Belle declares her love. The inhabitants of the castle: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts all become inanimate objects. The beast dies.  It looks as if Belle has declared her love for the beast too late to save him.  However, Agatha (the hag/enchantress) is there looking on and she has overheard Belle. She restores the rose and shows mercy by lifting the curse and restoring everyone to their former (but now redemptive selves) and allowing the beast to live again.

Perhaps the scene was never meant to be an allegorical message of atonement, salvation and unconditional love. It was probably just a coincidence that the movie came out a month before Easter and that the well-known scene had been subtly yet powerfully changed. Although I’d be interested to know why the change was made, at this moment it doesn’t matter.  For now, I want to just feel the magic.

On this Easter day, I want to embrace the deeper magic–the message that even onto death, God’s love and mercy is never too late.

Quote For Today: Hara Hachi Bu!

Okinawa is an island quite famous for its longevity. It has a higher rate than most of the world of people living till 100+.

“Hara hachi bu!” is what the older folk of Okinawa say before they eat.  It is a Confucius-inspired saying which means, “Eat till you are 80% full.”

Why?  Because it takes about twenty minutes for your stomach to receive the message from your brain that you are full.  For most of us, if we ate till we believed we are only 80% full, we would actually feel more full within the next twenty minutes.

So there you have it, wisdom from the Okinawans!