Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Volunteer Christmas Party

Last night I organised (with Ljilja's help!) a lovely little Christmas party for the volunteers who help with the Book Club at the Children's Home. I baked up a storm (from quiche and cinnamon bread to pumpkin pie, brownies and banana bread) and we laid out the table so it looked pretty festive:
My South African nativity scene (complete with baby Jesus) made an appearance to complete the table:
We started off with a LOT of eating and just hanging out... and I think they liked the cakes as they wanted the recipes :)
Then it was time to get to know each other a little better. We work together a lot, but because we are focusing on the kids we don't have time to get to know each other as well. We played a getting to know you Bingo game where you have to find people who fulfill certain characteristics...
We all had fun, including Nikola, the only male participant (out of 36 volunteers, only 3 are male!)... don't know what he is doing here :)
 We took a group shot so you can see what we all look like!
Before getting to the more serious part of the evening. A little bit of debriefing about how things are going, and seeing if we can improve on things... it was good to chat as we don't get a chance to when we are running a workshop with 30 plus kids!
Before they left they all received a Christmas present - in the form of a book (quite appropriate I think!) which is a translation of "Witness" by Josh McDowell. I hope they will all enjoy it!!
It was a fun evening, and I am so glad I got to say "thank-you" to all of them for all of their hard work over the year! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas in Banja Luka...

After the jam-packed Christmas fun that was the Canadian Christmas experience last year, this year I had a very different Christmas in Banja Luka. Here they celebrate the Orthodox Christmas (7th of January), so the 25th is just like any other day here.

We were trying to find a time to take the children who were actors in our Christmas play bowling as a "thank-you"... and the only day we could find was Christmas day! And so, when asked what I did for Christmas this year, my answer will be "I went 10-pin bowling"!! It was really fun and the kids (ok and me as well!)  had a wonderful time!!
Now, after spending the first 26 years of my live celebrating Christmas in summer, I have discovered over my 16 years in Bosnia, that there is real joy in putting up Christmas decorations and especially lights when celebrating Christmas in a cold climate, with long dark evenings. So, I put up the tree in early December:
And put up our nativity scenes (and only just noticed that Santa was also somehow present at the birth of Jesus!):
And so it was easy on Christmas day to make up the table so everything was ready when we had guests over after the bowling! Complete with Christmas crackers imported from South Africa :) (and a crackling log fire on the TV - something my dad used to do in South Africa as we didn't need an actual fire :) ) And the best part of it being a normal day - we could order Christmas dinner in!! (although I did make desert.)
So, I had an unusual, but really fun Christmas Day. It started off in the right spirit - with a church service - where we sang Christmas carols (translated) and reminded ourselves what Christ's humble birth means for us today!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas plays and shoebox packages...

After weeks of practicing, running around getting everything organised and two performances at other places, it was time to do "Cika Jovan i najbolji poklon" (Uncle John and the greatest gift) for our shoebox package distribution in our premises. We start off with Sinisa welcoming everyone to the distribution:
Followed by the play itself... It is a story about how Uncle John who invites all the children to come to his place and then tells them the story of Christmas (and that the greatest gift is actually Jesus!) through pictures... there is a bit of "magic" involved and it is pretty cute. (I will try to put the play with subtitles on my blog at some stage, but haven't had a chance to do that yet...)
Here you can also see the narrator who tells a lot of the story...
Then we sing a couple of Christmas carols (translated)...
Before Ljilja shares about the program "The greatest journey" which is provided by Samaritan's Purse as well. We will be running it in the new year...
And the most important part of the program is at the end... the shoebox packages!!!
Then it is rinse and repeat... we can fit about 60-70 children in our premises and so we need to do quite a few plays and distributions, but we are happy to be able to do them in our own place!!

On Sunday afternoon there was a bit of a change-up as we had some UK guests who volunteer in the Samaritan's Purse warehouses where they check each of the boxes... they are travelling around Bosnia visiting different places to see how we do our distributions. They joined us at one distribution and then asked if they could sing at the next - and so we started off with them getting all the kids up on their feet and singing (in English) with actions... it was really cute and the kids loved it!
As we have such a lot of distributions, we have two groups of kids... here are the second group, and both groups did a FANTASTIC job... I was so proud of them!!
And both groups loved singing carols with me :)
Some happy customers...

As you can see, we had a lot of fun with our Christmas play and handing out of shoebox packages... Seeing the smiles on the children's faces makes it all worthwhile!! 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Book Review | Twilight at Blueberry Barrens

I have already reviewed 6 of Colleen Coble's books, including The Inn at the Ocean's Edge, and Mermaid Moon which are the first two books in the Sunset Cove series. So when I saw the third one for review, I grabbed it and once again I really enjoyed the book. The nice thing is that you don't have to have read the first two books to get into "Twilight at Blueberry Barrens"  as they are completely separate stories. It is lovely that there are familiar characters from "The Inn at Ocean's Edge" and "Mermaid Moon", but the stories can be read independently.

Kate Mason lives and works on her family's blueberry barrens. When they stop producing fruit she has to try and make money in another way. Renting out a house on the property to Drake Newham leads to a job babysitting his two lovely girls and so much more... 

The book has strong main characters, a beautiful setting - Maine's secluded coastline - and described to perfection by the author. It also has a story-line that keeps you thinking and guessing, and wanting to read to the end... I love reading books from this author.

Lots of suspense, some romance, real life faith mixed with a lovely touch of family and realism as well. It is a book that drags you in, keeps you interested and brings everything to a wonderful conclusion. Highly recommended!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

First two Christmas performances...

We have two groups of kids who have been rehearsing since November our Christmas play "Uncle John and the Best Present in the World". I wrote it on the train on the way to Budapest in November and then had a couple of people help tweak it and the language. And it is so wonderful seeing it come to life!! We had two pre-performances at other places so that both groups of kids could get over their nerves and they did a great job of performing in the two different places:

On Monday we went to the Children's Home. Here are our lovely actors: Bojan, his sister, Snjeza, Milica, Bojana and Adelisa (this group are all children from our sponsorship project).
Here they are in action: They did a great job!

The only complaint from the Children's Home's kids was that it was too short!!

On Friday, it was the turn of the other group to perform for a group of children with special needs.  We were in the beautiful Jewish Centre in Banja Luka as one of the people who runs the organisation for children with special needs is also part of the Jewish Centre's board... It is a lovely place and we enjoyed performing there...
The actors are from left to right - Marko, his cousin, Lena, his sister, Marija, Anastasija and David. You can't see Lena's mother and Marko and Marija's aunt, Snjezana, who did a fantastic job as our narrator! This group is mostly kids of our friends who were really wanting to be involved in the plays :)
The actors did a wonderful job and the kids and their parents loved the performance! Afterwards the organisation had organised a "Deda Mraz" (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) to hand out the Christmas packages... and the kids and the parents loved it!

This little guy's mustache on his dummy/pacifier is sooo cute:
These two had us all in stitches... singing "Zvoncici" (Jingle Bells) all the way through...
And this boy even managed to make Santa Clause laugh!!:
We had a great time at our first two pre-performances and now look forward to the rest of the performances at our place :) 

Friday, December 09, 2016

The last Book Club for 2016

Since I got back from my travels, I took two groups of kids to the library (below are the littlies...) and we had a Book Club with the kids...
This week we had the final week of Book Club for the year. At the end of the year and the end of the school year, the children in the Book Club at the Children's Home are given out prizes for attendance. This last quarter, 37 children managed to come enough times to qualify to get a prize...

We have a lot of donations of the things and try and make the prizes more or less equal...
It took the 5 of us an hour and half to make the prizes on Tuesday night... but we had fun!
At the last club, before we gave out the prizes, we made a whole lot of snowflakes... and coloured in some books... and made a poster (well, two actually - one for the Home and one for the Library). I love it when it all comes together! It says "Spend your winter with good books!"
We gave the prizes to the boys first (I have learnt that this is the best strategy!!)
We let them go before handing out the prizes to the girls - I then took a photo with most of the volunteers who were there as well... what a great bunch!
I am now keeping track of all the hours that the volunteers are doing so that it can go into their "volunteer booklets", which we gave out in September. Between the 37 volunteers, they did over 400 hours of service during this semester! Some of them had only 2-4 hours, others have over 30!

The last book club for this year, but we will be back up and running in 2017! 
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