A Christmas Angel


Christmas break was anything but expected. On Christmas Day, with huge tears, I posted the picture of Daddy walking Great Ama ‘down the aisle’ on social media along with this tribute…

This beautiful soul is singing with the Angels today. Oh how she woo’d this world with her wild heart, laughter and spunk. As the oldest daughter of four girls, she committed her life to Jesus in High School. In college she met her blue eyed sweetheart, a handsome accordion player, Elcho Redding. At age 24, she and her sweetheart, took their toddler daughters on a boat for two months to share Jesus in India for 18 years, only to adventure many more years for the gospel in Japan and China. While she lived state-side, I spent many summers with this wild beauty in Seattle. Oh how we laughed and loved fiercely during those summers. When her sweet Elcho passed, her life only became fuller. At 81, she traveled for six weeks to Japan, Singapore, China and Tibet (a dream come true for Grandma, as she spent so much of her life working with Tibetans). At 86, she wrote an autobiography that included words like “our dear friend The Dalai Lama,” published it, did book tours, and sold it on Amazon. A year ago, at 89.5, she married her beloved Thom in our backyard! For their honeymoon, they celebrated for three weeks in Hawaii, swimming at North Shore and riding a surf board! She was remarkable. Incredible. Even with her very unexpected passing at 90, we all know she had so much more life in her. With heavy hearts, we celebrate the incredible life of Millie (Kooistra) Redding Thompson— my wild and beautiful Grandma. 

My Grandma had an affinity for winning, a love for clip-on earrings, bleaching her sink, and FB “likes.” As she got older, her life only got busier. At 90 years, she was active on Instagram and had more FaceBook friends than any of her kids or great grandkids, just shy of 1,700. She loved many and was loved by many. She was on a first name basis with the folks at her Apple Genius Bar. She hosted so gracefully and easily, from India to Boise— welcoming hundreds into her home with her instant coffee. I’ll always remember her soft hands. The way she’d clasp them together and explode with the greatest laugh. And those legs, hopefully she’ll get to keep those beauties in Heaven. Oh how you will be missed Grams. So very much. Thanks for all the love, and love for adventure you poured into us. You were really one of a kind. Sing with you soon Mildred “Millie” Margaret Kooistra Redding Thompson.

*As God was writing the final moments of Grandma’s life, my mom sent Grandma a text sharing pictures of our Maneevone family Christmas together— including a video of Naomi playing “Carol of the Bells” on the piano. Naomi, your song ushered “Great Ama” into the heavens. It was the last thing she saw/heard, just before she started hearing the songs of angels.

Naomi Mariam (SIX YEARS OLD!!): *You are reading! You are blowing us away with your brilliance. Reading this and reading that. You are putting it all together! *Here’s a fun story: Mommy and Daddy weren’t in agreement on what to get you for your birthday, so we both bought you gifts. I bought you white roller skates with pink wheels that light up when they move. Your dad bought you a snap-circuit board, the kind of thing that experiments with electricity and light— may I add, the box says “Ages 8-88.” With a little competition in mind, guess who won? Anytime you want to win over your 9 year old boy cousin, tell him about your circuit board. Another gift story, we weren’t quite sure what we should get you for your big Christmas gift (really, your only gift). Your sisters were getting a plasma bike, and Frozen roller skates. For you, we went risky. We got you a pink reading light. That’s it. Thankfully, value is not measured in cost. You love love love your new reading light. Each night, your sisters pile into your bed and you read them stories. It’s absolutely adorable. You are such a beautiful big sister, Naomi! *You awed us with your Carol of the Bells, two hands! In fact, you started teaching Manoah the song. As he played it, you hollered from the next room “Yea, that’s it, you almost have it!” and “Don’t get frustrated! That’s almost it!” We all laughed. *At Great Ama’s funeral, with nearly 200 in attendance, when an open mic invitation was given— to my and dad’s surprise, you were the first one to walk up to the platform and share… “I love how Great Ama was nice, and she was good too, and last her life a long time. And I’m glad that she’s in heaven with Jesus.” Not a hint of performance, you shared from the most tender and precious place of your heart. You have such a beautiful heart, Naomi. *And yes, that’s you holding a frozen, mummified squirrel by its tail. I just love love love you.

Aria Ellen (4.5 years): *On the evening of Great Ama’s memorial, you had so many questions about heaven. It didn’t take long for you to express your longing to be in heaven too, and that night we celebrated the beginning of your faith journey, Aria! You believed in your heart that Jesus loved you and died on the cross for you. Your sweet voice asking Jesus to be with you. You were so full and happy that night, Aria, you went around to everyone with your happy news! May that joy forever be sealed on your heart. *For Christmas all you wanted were Frozen roller skates. You were obsessed. *You are also obsessed with slippers, Aria. Obsessed. Do you see what you’re wearing under your Frozen Roller Skates? You wear them all the time, and at night, it becomes a major issue if we can’t find them. You must sleep with them on your feet. *You were absolutely darling in your ballet recital! One of your favorite friends, her name is Silver. You guys are best buds. On the night of the recital, her daddy came to the performance. He looked very familiar. Then it all came together, your best bud’s dad is a famous football player for the San Diego Chargers! *Do you see how cute you are in your tutu? You make my heart melt, Aria. You were a natural on that stage. Not shy one bit!

Juliet Mae (2 years): *Your hair is growing faster than Rapunzel’s! It’s so cute, and so blonde! You might have hair longer than your older sister, but let’s just keep that between us. *The day before Christmas Eve, Auntie Malina was over enjoying her nieces. At one point, she was getting your sister’s hair ready so they could go over to Ama’s and Papa’s house early. You were very sad that you were not being included, but you had a nap to take. Auntie Malina tried to give you responsibility, “But Juliet, we need you here to be in charge of all the presents.” For about 45 seconds, there was no one in the living room. And 45 seconds was all it took. Aria ran out to me on the back deck, “Mom! Come quick! Juliet just opened all the Christmas presents!!” I heard what your sister said, but I didn’t believe her. What kid opens all the Christmas presents? When everyone ran into the living room, everyone’s jaw was on the floor, and so was all the wrapping paper! Juliet, you did it. You opened all the presents!! Shock and laughter all at once! Pretty sure you misinterpreted Auntie Malina’s comment “we need you here to be in charge of all the presents.” *While in Idaho, there was nothing ideal about the sleeping arrangments. Cribs, queen beds, pack n plays, sleeping bags, floors. I can not brag enough, you took each new sleeping arrangement like a champ, like a champ. You even managed late nights without your nap. You are a dream. I am so thankful for your flexibility, Juliet!

Maertz Family Memories: *This month held so much, starting with Naomi’s birthday! We celebrated at the world renowned Chuck E Cheese! My favorite part, Naomi, when we told you where we were going you said “Oh yes, I know Chuck E Cheese, it’s a proud sponsor of Disney Jr.”  On the evening of your birthday, we attended your girls’ dance recital. Your performances made my heart explode a hundred times over with joy! So much so, that my own Christmas Collective (just two days later) at the San Diego Convention Center, with nearly 6,000 in attendance, singing some of my favorite songs ever written— paled in comparison to the joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment of what my heart felt when it watched the two of you on your stage. Perhaps it’s a stage of life, a season, who knows. But I know, as my eyes water up in tears… I’d trade my stage to watch you girls on yours, any day. *Gathered with growth group girls to celebrate Leedles and Tina, touring San Diego’s best Christmas lights, limo style. *I sang and played ‘Heard the Bells’ at Mission Hills Church just before Christmas. *Days and days and days of landscaping, finishing just in time for collect-on-the-no-grass rebate. *Carter’s birthday party at Jump It Up— Naomi’s favorite little friend. *Maertz family comes into town for Christmas— everyone stayed here! *We bought Daddy an electric scooter! We had loads of fun with it, until he returned it. *Daddy bought me a beautiful outdoor picnic table for our back patio! Problem: it was too pretty. We opened it, and I just could not put it outside, it was so pretty. So, now we have a new dining room table! And Daddy still needs to buy me an outdoor table. *Maneevone Christmas at 1204 Birch Way. Everyone gathered, and this year our very own Naomi won the pajama run, in fact she killed it!

FOUR the love.

IMG_4439 FullSizeRender 2IMG_4421IMG_3797 IMG_4042IMG_3890 IMG_4043And just like that, we’re adding another little G I R L to our family!  F O U R   G I R L S !!! When I saw those girly girl parts dancing all over the black and white screen, the tech had to stop measuring, I was laughing so hard— it’s my childhood all over again! I am one of four girls! And to top that, my Grandma was one of four girls too! You could say it’s a legacy I’m tickled pink to carry on. But, oh wow, the comments. People just don’t know how to respond. So let me start with what not to say. Here are actual reactions I’ve gotten to our pregnancy announcement…

  1. “I’m sorry.”
  2. “You’re seriously having another one? My mom had five kids, she didn’t have a life.”
  3. “Whoa, you guys don’t know when to stop. Let’s hope it’s a boy. Don’t get me wrong, I mean, your girls are darling. But you have more than enough girls.”
  4. “Another girl? Are you going to have another one, try again for a boy?”
  5. “Your poor husband.”
  6. “Oh man, all those weddings.”
  7. “Whooooooaaaa.”
  8. “Another one?”
  9. They tilt their head, not sure what to say. They wait for my cue to know if they should offer condolences or congratulations.
  10. (Before we knew the sex) In response to my enthusiasm for a girl, the mother turned to her teenage children, and said directly in front of me, “What she’s doing right now is a defense mechanism. She’s trying to prepare herself for a girl, so she’s not heartbroken if it is.”

Listen up(!!) … when there’s life, there is celebration. And we are celebrating!! When someone tells you they’re pregnant, here’s your word—  “C o n g r a t u l a t i o n s!”  For the love, it’s as simple as “Congratulations!”

IMG_3824 IMG_4219 IMG_4218IMG_4015 FullSizeRender 3Naomi Mariam (almost 6 years old!!): *See that fancy hair style, top left, that was all your idea! You are so creative! And each morning before school you are choosing your outfits, and I’m constantly impressed with your style and coordination! *You are gobbling up everything we teach you on the piano. This month, you learned your first two handed song, “Joy to the World!” You conquered it so quickly, and most of the songs you’re playing is just you sitting down and figuring it out by ear. Sometimes, your melody will land you on a black note, and it doesn’t even phase you. So impressive! *At Legoland, you and Daddy had some time to roam the bigger coasters together, and you showed no fear, you loved the rush of the big kid roller coasters!  You’ve also found a love for Legos! Daddy and Mommy are so impressed with your ability to follow the directions on your own, and you’re creating some pretty complicated structures with ease! *At the beach, you continue to charge the waves. They will be high over your head and topple you over, but you stand right up again, and charge another wave with a giant smile on your face! Again— fearless!IMG_3853 IMG_1291 IMG_4252IMG_4343 IMG_4254Aria Ellen (4.5 years): *You are our sand girl. You are just fine and happy to hang with mommy on the sand, building castles, fortresses and tunnels. You’re just not interested in the waves much at all. Which makes it easier on mommy— so thank you! *You discovered mommy’s lipstick this month. *Whenever there’s an outing, you are always first to pop up “I want to come!” Whether it’s a trip to a park to play tennis, an errand at Home Depot, or a walk to Starbucks, you’ll run to your shoes and be ready before anyone! I love your eagerness to join us on outings! *You’re still a lover of long skirts. It’s your go-to choice of apparel. *At night, you are almost always the most compliant with bedtime (going to sleep, not necessarily staying asleep). And more often than not, you’ll be snoring yourself off into dreamland faster than anyone. You wake up early, play hard, and pass out quickly! *At Legoland, you were very focused on a specific ride, and you “have the gift” of persistence. You would not stop talking about that ride until it happened. Well, as we walked towards your ride, we were passing tons of really decent ones. So as a family we decided to stop and enjoy other rides too. This did not sit well with you. On one particular airplane ride, you refused to ride it. You watched as your sisters rode it— you only had eyes for the car ride.IMG_4007 IMG_4306 IMG_4214IMG_4303 IMG_3902Juliet Mae (2 years): *You are a riot. You’re hilarious, fun, and so eager to hang with your big sisters! At one point you ran into the room and announced, “Hey guys, I’m back!” *You see yourself playing guitar? You have a knack for music! I hear you sing, and I’m not just impressed by your pitch, I’m impressed by your tone. You have a pretty voice! *I must share a bit more of the story about Aria at Legoland, because her story greatly affected you, and you took the moment and shined. When Aria refused to ride the airplane ride, she was actually standing at the turnstile in a puddle of tears. She did not want to ride, but she also did not want to be all by herself. With three kids and only two adults, we had a problem. In quick efforts to make things work, I ran to Aria’s side at the front of the line and, unbelievably, these words came out of my mouth “Is there another adult who’d be willing to ride with our 2 year old?” Just as they fell out of my mouth, I wanted to stuff them back in. What was I doing? In an instant, a very kind looking mom stepped out of the line and took me up on my crazy. And sure enough, she walked to your airplane, sat down next to you, helped you get buckled, and accompanied you on your ride. I was in awe. You didn’t flinch, you didn’t get upset, you just smiled your way through the ride. (Jaw on the ground) You amaze me, Juliet. Thank you for having an easiness to you, a confidence about you, and an ability to go along with your mom’s crazy.IMG_3976 IMG_4084IMG_4130 IMG_4179IMG_4193 IMG_4230IMG_4288 IMG_4264IMG_4282 IMG_4291Maertz Family Memories: *Joe’s birthday celebration got slightly postponed this year as Juliet got hit with strep throat over Halloween. Belated anniversary too. After a productive Sunday of painting the back deck and sawing down a dozen plus palm branches, we both got dolled up and headed downtown for a movie (007, SkyFall) and some fancy Indian food. And just like that, with zero exchange of presents, we called it a celebration! *Investigated options for expanding our house. Called contractors and architects only to discover we seem to have zero options because of a decision we made in 2011. We should have connected to sewer. *Playdate with Amie/Tins at their new home! *Tuesday gymnastics with Paschalls. *Ballet on Wednesdays with Mrs Dean. *Celebrate Auntie Malina’s 40th! All 20 of us packed into a huge home in Hidden Meadows! You girls braved the polar bear conditions and plowed down the huge hillside waterslide! We celebrated Thanksgiving, cheered on Baylor, and spent hours together conquering a puzzle. *Mommy led worship for ICF’s Thanksgiving Dinner at EFCC. *We celebrated a Maertz Family Thanksgiving at Ocean Palms in Carlsbad. In the dreamiest sun-soaked days we frolicked in the waves and pool. Walked the neighboring streets for everything you’d hope for on vacation. Cheered on more green and gold football, and enjoyed a perfect Thanksgiving at fancy Italian! *This was the month of Go Fish, you girls love that game! *On November 24th, 2015 at 6:30pm, we discovered the perfect make up of our family. FOUR GIRLS!! It was clear as day on the ultrasound, the tech needn’t say a word, we knew. Afterwards, we celebrated at The Bellows. I could barely stop laughing and giggling over the news of a fourth baby girl! Daddy celebrated with two glasses of whiskey!IMG_6196IMG_4474 IMG_4550 IMG_4577IMG_4083 IMG_4329IMG_4613 IMG_4061

Thanksgiving came early this year.

IMG_3668 IMG_3724IMG_3731 IMG_3653 IMG_3586IMG_3374 IMG_3511As of this month, he is the only man of the house. Fluffy, the fish, died. But Daddy is more than enough for this sorority house. As we celebrate another October, full of milestones, how could I not celebrate your Dad. Not just his 37th year of life(!!), his 11th year of making marriage to me look easy(!!), but your Daddy deserves major accolades this month— he got himself promoted. Shimming my shoulders in celebration. He did it! And here’s my favorite part, he wasn’t even looking, or asking for it. The promotion found him. That’s favor. And that’s a God providing. Just a few months ago, your Daddy was pointed out by name by his boss’ boss’ boss. That’s a lot of bosses. “I want Joe Maertz to apply” might have slipped out of her mouth. Sure enough, Joe Maertz applied, and just after returning from Abu Dhabi your Daddy got dressed up and did what he does oh so well— with charm, intelligence, and genuine humility, he rose above the rest and was offered the title Manager. Just as we learned of another little blessing joining our family, God provided again. God is good like that, he takes care of his children. He is faithful and working behind the scenes, and planting ideas in boss’ boss’ boss’ brains, and then here we are giving thanks for what we do not deserve. Blessings in babies, and blessings in recognition and raises. On Daddy’s first day as manager, he drove up to LA for a big meeting and, like all managers do, he drank himself a proper cup of coffee— and hated it. I love your Daddy.

Happy birthday Joe, happy anniversary, and happy to celebrate you and all your brilliant achievements— from all that you tackle at home, to all that you manage at work. We are so thankful for you! Like I professed on our wedding day, “I am the luckiest.”IMG_3148IMG_3243 IMG_3156IMG_3012 IMG_3328Aria Ellen (4 years): *You are more than slightly obsessed with days and nights. You love days and hate nights. The sun will be blazing hot outside and you ask “Is it still the day?” I respond “Yes” and you smile real big. As darkness settles in, your body melts into serious devestation “I don’t want it to be night!” *No more overnight pull-ups for you! You are a big big girl Aria!! And doing great on a top bunk too! You’re quite possessive over the top bunk, you will not trade with Naomi. *There are other things you aren’t very flexible about either, like the color of your bowl, plate or cup. You will fall apart if the colors don’t match or if it’s not blue or pink. Not matching is abhorrent to you. There is nothing that makes you more upset. *While we are on this lovely topic, it’s also close to impossible to get you into warmer pajamas on the colder nights. We say, “it’s too cold to wear that” and you reply “but I like being cold.” And it’s strangely true. You do. You like being cold. So you wear what you wear, and you’ve never once complained of being cold. *Do you see that last picture of you? You are our honorary goofball in pictures these days! You love silly!!IMG_3405IMG_3080 IMG_3463IMG_3183 IMG_3230Juliet Mae (2 years): *Sometimes I wonder if we should have named you Juliet Joy. Do you see your joyful explosions up above? That’s who you are. Explosively JOYFUL! You’re just so much fun these days! And you’re so dang cute too— it’s just in you to be sweet. Multiple times a day you surprise me with the sweetest responses, in the sweetest two year old voice “Danks mama” or “You wehcome.” I melt. *At bedtime, you do this thing that makes everyone fall apart in laughter— it’s the way you become the bedtime boss, stand at your sisters’ doorway, and bark “Coose your eyes! Way down! Go to beh!” Then you practically stand on your tippy toes to actually reach their door knob and shuffle with all you’ve got to close the door. Then everyone erupts into laughter and you bust open their door and bark bedtime boss lines again! It’s too darling! It appears you have some leadership skills in you, Juliet.IMG_3267IMG_3195 IMG_3776IMG_3679 IMG_3202Naomi Mariam (5.5 years): *You are so interested in the piano! You learned the left hand of “Heart and Soul” and we did a duet together, it was so wonderful! *As you were memorizing the books of the Old Testament, Papa was here saying the books with you. He said “Leviticus” and you stopped and looked at me with a funny/confused face and said “Did he say that in English?” We all heard you and laughed laughed laughed! *Do you see that boy? His name is Carter. You’ve told me many times “I’m going to marry him.” Oh boy! *We had a tricky conversation with your teacher at school this month. Apparently, you are a gifted leader! But she used the B word, the one that rhymes with glossy. After hearing your Kindergarten teacher share her perspective of your glossy leadership skills, I actually was more disappointed with your teacher’s choices on how to approach the situation. At home, I talked with you about some simple things to help smooth out your glossy leadership skills. All on your own, you grabbed some sidewalk chalk and started drawing a picture of you and your friends while at school. “See mommy, he has a sad face because I raised my hand and said “Look at my picture.” You have such a sweet heart, Naomi, so compassionate and caring of others. I really just think your teacher didn’t quite hit the mark on properly explaining her expectations, because the minute I explained things, you were so genuinely sad that your words were possibly causing others to feel sad. But I will end with a gem of a story. You see that Halloween picture above, where you’re holding up three fingers? I posted it on Instagram with this caption: “Only three pictures mom,” says Jasmine. Barking commands like a princess. You have a gift.IMG_3322 IMG_2989 IMG_3422IMG_3486 IMG_3513IMG_3521 IMG_3567 IMG_3275Maertz Family Memories: *Picking up GrampBill and heading off to a yummy breakfast at The Great Maple! Everyone’s sick, but it doesn’t stop us from cleaning out the garage (it’s what one does when GrampBill is in town!). *Finally out of the first trimester— feeling so much better! This one had me in the pits, throwing up and so exhausted. *Joe starts up his “hobby” again, taking on the Foreign Service Test! *Playdate with Kaira and Lucy at the Children’s Museum. *Birthday lunch with Emily at Vinz and EscoGelato. *Aria is back into gymnastics again! She loves it! *Coronado playdate with Kristin and Gretel, beach and fun sand play! *Rachel Ross joins us for a morning, during our “Baking Class.” *Bates Nut Farm trip with MOPS! *Playdate with Melody and girls at “Rainbow Park.” *Shared music and many tears at “Celebrate Life” with Anjuli at Mission Hills. *Lead worship at Flood with just Joe and me! So much fun making music and leading with my love. *Keri’s birthday celebration with Anjuli and Ashley at Snooze in Carlsbad! *Dinner at the Hamiltons’ with Elaine, Lee and Lins, warm glowy girl company kind of night. *Lead worship and shared at Flood’s women’s event. *Maneevone/Paschall Pumpkin Carving Party— we took 2nd place with “Sam and Manoah holding on for their lives during Hurricane Patricia!” Great job Joey! Naomi and Aria contributed and created their first pumpkins this year! *I bought way too much chicken one night, but turned it into a spontaneous dinner with Ama and Papa. *EFCC Harvest Festival. Let the record show we did not lose any children this year. *We started removing our lawn to gain from the state turf removal program— saving money! Our water bill hit well over $300 during the hot months! I love grass, but come on.IMG_3600 IMG_3086FullSizeRender 3 IMG_3625 IMG_3542

How not to potty train your kid

IMG_1263 IMG_1250IMG_2361 IMG_1969FullSizeRender 3 IMG_2461IMG_2050 IMG_2024IMG_2199 IMG_2203 IMG_2193IMG_2219Rubio’s got a very special visit from us one evening. Once we all settled into our table, Aria announced she had to go potty. Mommy got up and did mommy duties. Upon our return, Naomi made the same declaration. Having just completed an identical request, we sent Naomi by herself, watching her every step of the way. When Naomi returned, Juliet unbelievably followed suit, “I hab ooo go poopy” (I have to go poopy). I didn’t buy it. A third consequetive potty run? Nope. Sorry kid. Joe looked at me, “Did she already go poop today?” I answered “Yep.” And we both confidently dismissed her poopy request. I’m guessing it wasn’t even ten minutes, when I looked at Joe, “Do you smell that?” I turned right to little miss Juliet, she was sitting sweetly, eating away at her quesadilla. Neither of us were ready for what we were about to discover. The discovery was UNBELIEVABLE. Sitting in her high chair, she let her mommy and daddy know very clearly that we were idiots. She let us have it, big time. And of course we had nothing with us— no wipes, no extra clothes, no diaper, no spare panties, nothing. We had zero resources, and there was zero containment. Joe immediately picked her and her high-chair up and carried it outside. Another mommy kindly shared some wipes with us. But this job went far beyond any amount of wipes. Joe refused to take her back into Rubio’s, so cleaning up in the bathroom was off the table. I ran back inside and asked an employee for some big to-go plastic bags. On the fly, I tore two big holes on the bottom of the bag. “Put Juliet into the bag, let her legs dangle out, and we can use the other bag for her car seat.” And that’s exactly what we did. We put Juliet, and all of her glory, into a Rubio’s to-go bag. What she left on that high chair was so incredibly disgusting, that even after a dozen wipes, Joe had no choice but to admit our blunder to the restaurant, this chair needed serious decontamination. At home, Joe didn’t even want to risk bringing Juliet inside the house as-is, so he stood her on the grass, stripped her down, and hosed her off. Juliet, you were such a trooper. You remained delightful throughout all of Mommy’s and Daddy’s ridiculousness. From now on, when you say you have to go, we’re no idiots, we take you.IMG_2855 IMG_2538IMG_2741 IMG_2153 IMG_1993IMG_2573 IMG_1256Juliet Mae (2 years old): *Aria was rocking you in the rocking chair, you told me “Tah eh pickya.” (Take a picture!), a nice request from a little girl who often tells me and my picture taking, “Okay mama, dah enuh.” (That’s enough).  *You and Daddy were shaking hands, Daddy said “Nice to meet you” and you replied “You’re wehcome.” (You’re welcome). *Daddy went into your room one morning to get you out of your crib, but you didn’t get up, you just laid there. “Do you want to get out?” Daddy asked. “You just laid there, “No, I singing.” And sure enough, you were. Singing away. When we say good night to you, you mostly go right to sleep, but sometimes you sing a bit before you go to bed. In the morning, it’s the same, you wake up singing. You’re such a delight. *See that top left picture, it’s so genuine. It was you exploding with joy at the sight of Daddy coming home!FullSizeRender 4 IMG_2905 FullSizeRender 2IMG_2833 IMG_2150 IMG_2834IMG_2316 IMG_2659Aria Ellen (4 years old): *Out of nowhere, you came outside juggling two glasses of water, not because we asked for water, but just because you thought we might be thirsty, because you wanted to be kind. I love your heart, Aria. *Aria, you are the best helper. If we are outside doing yard work, or inside loading the dishwasher, you are right there begging us to let you help! That’s another thing, you have a gift of persistence. You ask and ask and ask and ask again until we finally give up, because we just don’t care as much as you do, and we will do anything to make you stop asking! *In addition to being little miss persistent, you are also little miss responsible. You are so good at getting dressed in the mornings, I rarely ever have to ask you to get dressed. All the way down to shoes, you have it done! And, mommy and daddy have noticed, you have quickly become a collector. You have dedicated a shelf that holds all your little trinkets! And each one is so special to you — you call them “My special memories.” Heaven help us if one of the special memories gets moved or is out of place, we have been bent over backwards in the car at night, looking under seats for your pink Palace Pet, your Palace Pet book, your slippers.IMG_2504 IMG_2350IMG_2910 IMG_2053 IMG_2893IMG_2762 IMG_1986 IMG_2282 Naomi Mariam (5.5 years): *While speaking to Ama: “Ama, when we did a sleepover at Auntie Leonie’s house, did you know her house is the same time as ours?” (spoken from a girl who just got back from Abu Dhabi!). *As Daddy was flushing a spider down the toilet you hollered “I hope you had a good life!” *You woke up with the biggest smile and so sweetly shared “I just had the best dreams! There was ice skating!” *You told Aria, “Seriously Aria, you should have gotten the hamburger (from Jack in the Box), it tastes like ice cream!” Mommy laughed out loud. *After a beach trip, I asked you “Were you scared of the big waves?” You said, “No, I’m not scared, God is with me. I prayed and asked him to keep me safe.” *For the second time, you volunteered to read a book to your Kindergarten class. Do you read? Not fully yet. Do you have a great imagination matched with great confidence? You sure do. I bet you told your class the best story! *Mommy struggled without Daddy this month, and your schooling was no exception.  There were so many nights, I’d be tucking you into bed and you’d remind me “Mommy we forgot to do school today!” And I’d sigh and say, “You’re right, we did.” In my head, you were at least still alive, and Daddy would be home soon to rescue us.

IMG_2016 FullSizeRenderIMG_2634 IMG_2687IMG_2626 IMG_2643Maertz Family Memories: *Daddy left for his overseas position on July 14th— and finally returned home from Abu Dhabi on September 14th! NINE WEEKS of wild, whoa, wow, and a whole lot of wonderful! That final stretch was rough for us girls, it was so very very hot (back in Escondido), and Mommy was just entering her first few weeks of pregnancy exhaustion. When Daddy got home, Mommy was 9 weeks along. We made it through with the help of wonderful friends and family. *You had your very first sleep over at Auntie Leonie’s and Uncle Dan’s! They spoiled you girls, taking to you Rita’s after the sun went down! *A lovely casual brunch at Keri’s with her lovely crew. *Maneevone family lunch at Hollandia Park after church. *A Friday morning at Snooze Cafe for breakfast! *Vinz dinner and EscoGelato with Papa. *GrampBill and Kelyne joined us for almost a week! It was so hot that week. Swimming at a neighbors’ and the Paschalls’, tennis at a park of course, a special trip to TCA’s school fair, EscoGelato, trips to the mall, doing anything we could to stay cool (with a semi-broken air conditioning unit!). *Birthday club, celebrating Kelly and Angela at Buona Forchetta! *Birthday celebration for Ashley at Nok Thai! *Daddy has a little time off before returning to stateside work, so we hit up Disneyland! Can we talk about Disneyland for a sec? Aria and Naomi, you girls were finally tall enough for Space Mountain, and Daddy was itching to take you! You both insisted on riding together in the very front. Daddy was one row behind. As the ride started up that big dizzy tunnel, it became very apparent that Space Mountain was more than a little different— they converted the entire ride into Spook Mountain! Oh boy. There were goblins and scary creatures around every corner, and there was nothing Daddy could do to help you two, he couldn’t see or hear you, it was so dark and loud! He was in a panic, it was obviously waaaay too scary! After the ride, Daddy was extremely generous, he bought you girls big lollipops as we peaked at the pictures that are taken mid-ride. All you can see is Daddy trying with all his might to lean forward and offer comfort with an arm, and the two of you are curled up, hiding so low, you’re both completely out of the camera shot! We stayed way past sunset, enjoying California Adventure’s Bug’s Life and Cars! So much fun! *It’s been so hot, Daddy was game for two trips to Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside! *Dinner at Vintana’s with the Paschalls. *Do you see that picture at Kaiser’s lab, just below? You girls were just darling, the three of you stood together and sang “Doe a Deer” to comfort Daddy! *Chick-Fil-A picnic, and feeding ducks at Woodland Park.

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On the drive to Dubai.

IMG_1164 3 IMG_1074 5IMG_1065 5 IMG_1632 3IMG_1644 3 IMG_1926Something happened on the drive to Dubai. Just as we were in sight of the big city something started tugging on me. Nudges. Deep nudges. God whispers. “Let go of your dream. I am bigger than your dream.” — echoed on repeat in the deepest parts of me. I wanted nothing to do with these Let It Go shenanigans. I knew what the nudges were leading me to, and I did not like it, not one bit. Mile after mile, the echoes grew louder and louder and I just couldn’t silence it anymore. FINE. I’ll do it. “Joe, what I’m about to say is going to come out of nowhere, but I just feel like I am supposed to say this while we are still together face to face. I don’t expect you to, or need you to respond, I am just supposed to say it.”  Deep breath as the tears start pouring. “I just want to say thanks. Thanks for the past six months of you being patient with me.” (Long pauses, tears, and me thinking, what am I doing?) “And for your openness to trying for a fourth child. ” (More tears). “I guess what I am trying to say is, we don’t have to try anymore. We can be a family with three little blessings.” Joe grabbed my wet hand, dripping with tears, and held it tightly as he drove. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He knew my words were grieving words. Me grieving a dream; me grieving a rainbow baby.

Hours later, my toddler sorority and I boarded a big plane. And just like that, 9,000 miles separated our family. I knew it would be a long journey ahead— Daddy was staying behind in Abu Dhabi for another five weeks— but what I didn’t know was that less than 48 hours after landing back home I would have a new nudge. An unbelievable nudge that would put all my hopes and dreams into one plastic white stick.  Little did I know that during that long ride to Dubai, where God was nudging me to let go of a dream— that dream was already in the making. #blownaway #shockeddaddysfaceoff

IMG_1106 4 FullSizeRender 3 10.20.15 PMIMG_1097 4 FullSizeRender 4 10.20.15 PMIMG_1133 3Juliet Mae (2 years): Let me start with— if you’re a mommy with a non-compliant two year old— don’t read this. You will not like reading about our Juliet. Okay, you’ve been warned. Juliet— Can I just tell you how darling you are? Every single day you steal my awe and my wonder. Your sweetness, your newly formed sentences— “Aye wah fyyye!” (I want to fly, you even threw your arms wide as you saw a flock of birds fly over), your laughter, your cheerful and social disposition— you give mommy and daddy so much joy! You must be the world’s best 2 year old. You are the best eater. You sleep better than your sisters. You’re incredible at sharing with others. If I must give you a time out, you walk yourself to the corner and stay perfectly still for minutes. You love getting dressed, each morning you are pulling mommy to your closet to help you pull down this or that. When it’s time to do your hair, you are so incredibly cooperative. I just can’t say it enough— you must be the world’s best two year old. On top of it all, you potty trained yourself this last month! You have proudly moved into big girl panties with little to no accidents! A dream.IMG_1617 2 IMG_1597 3IMG_1119 3 IMG_1838 2IMG_6775 IMG_1805 2Aria Ellen (4 years): Okay sporty. GrampBill got you and Naomi private tennis lessons— and when your sister lost interest on day three, you took over the court! Not just a cute kid who can make solid contact, you made folks two courts down stop their game to see this four year old wonder smack the ball! Your coach is begging us to move up there so he can raise up the next tennis star! You turned many heads that week Aria! You’re blossoming into this fun, thoughtful, and spunky kid— who loves ketchup, giving “ugga muggas,” sleeping on the top bunk, helping mommy and daddy with anything, being outside on her bike, waking up early, and single pony tails (this last one is always a miracle to pull off!). With Naomi off at school, you are taking the lead at home and it’s so very fun to watch. You have such a good heart, Aria. I love how you have this natural protective spirit over your little sister. You are always looking out for her. You’re a wonderful big sister.

IMG_1400 2 IMG_1141 3IMG_1601 3 IMG_1793 2IMG_1831 2 IMG_1605 3Naomi Mariam (5.5 years): The time finally came. You entered kindergarten this month! The night before you started school, I made your lunch, and sent the picture to Daddy in Abu Dhabi. He teared up thinking about his little girl coming of (school) age. You have made us so proud, you’re so bright, smart, kind, assertive, confident, fun, a pure delight to have in our clan. And now, you get to share your gift with the world. You have been so excited about this day! No tears or worries from you, you were ready! On your first day of school, I wrote three little letters on the inside of your wrist in pink sharpie. UBU. As I watched you march into your class, you covered your letters with your other hand, and after every few steps you’d peak at your letters like they were a road map. They are, Naomi. Whenever you don’t know what to do, you be you. Go get ’em big girl!

IMG_1667 3 FullSizeRender 5 10.20.15 PM IMG_1745 2 IMG_1759 2IMG_6735 IMG_1816 2Maertz Family Memories: After almost four weeks in the Middle East (July 15th – August 9th), adjusting home was a beast. Thankful for Ama who stepped in on a morning when everyone was ready for the day at 2:50am. In the very difficult first few days, we readjusted with trips to Dr Martinez (to reassure us that Naomi’s head injury was healing nicely), Kindergarten orientation with Mrs McNiff, and ballet class with Mrs Dean. This first week, Mommy was so off her game that she accidentally killed the van’s car battery three times in four days. Three times she told daddy “I just forgot to turn the keys off.” Thankful for AAA and Mr Wright for saving the day! After one week home, we boarded another plane and headed north. After 21 hours of travel with you three, all I had to do was 80 measly minutes to Sacramento! Parading around in matching “Big Sister” t-shirts, you girls got so much attention! But even three matching “Big Sister” t-shirts didn’t communicate the big news to GrampBill! Aria finally grabbed GrampBill’s attention and said “Look at Juliet’s t-shirt!” Sure enough, he read “Big Sister” out loud and it still didn’t hit him. It wasn’t until I pointed it out a second time with huge eyes— boom. He got it. Everyone got it! Happy tears flooded the Sac airport! I bid my farewells and headed off to Vegas for three nights with Shelly! Meanwhile, Daddy struggled through the hot, muggy summer of Abu Dhabi— solo. He had his 60 hour work routine down. Waking at 11am, swimming in the Shangri-La pool, showering, eating all too often at Shake Shack at Dalma Mall, and into work by 2pm. Working a grueling 12 hour shift, he’d head home at 2am and call mommy and his girls on his way (3pm here), crashing soon after. He did this on repeat for 5 weeks. After Camp GrampBill (with GG and Auntie Peggy!), girls and I headed back home to join Tatum, Eric and Silas Lehman who were staying at our home. The very next morning was Naomi’s first day of school. The next few weeks were very blurry for mommy. She was exhausted. There were many bedtimes where Naomi would remind me “We forgot to do school today.” Yes, we sure did. But at that point, with Mommy into the difficult stages of a first trimester and Daddy on the other side of the world, Mommy was simply happy that everyone was alive. Thankful to family, friends, Ice Cream Happiness, Chick Fil A, and many other fine establishments who helped this mama survive five weeks (and two days) without Daddy.

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A summer of squares.

  IMG_6495IMG_6106  1) The Del Mar Fair, where it all began for your mom and dad. But this time we come with our off spring, all three of you. Life can feel so full some days, this was one of them. 3) Perfectly perched. Ready to take flight in 9 days. That’s when my Toddler Sorority and I are flying to Abu Dhabi to spend four weeks with Daddy, who’s doing a work assignment there for the summer. 9 days until take-off. Things are getting real, real fast. #hopeyourenotonourflight #actuallyido #icoulduseyourhelp 4) I mentioned Joe’s going out before us, but did I mention he’s going out one day before us? In business class?? With zero children by his side??? Not to worry. Like a good wife, I’m collecting. Starting with my new entry way wall paper. And the pedicure I am getting in this moment. And the massage I’ll be enjoying tomorrow. And… well, the collecting game is going to last for a while. We leave in four days. #milkingitlikeagoodwife 5) 4th of July at the Last’s. What will always scar this beautiful day, is the daughter that broke out with a horrible bout of diarrhea at the party. All I will document is me yelling… “I need serious help here!”    IMG_67251) A friend gathering, sending me off with the best “we believe in you” a girl could ask for. 2/3) I just adore this one. We hosted a farewell dinner for the Sawyers and this one volunteers to help with dishes. 4) A final slurpee run while Dad gets his final immunizations. 5) Followed by a final family dinner here, of course. 6) And he’s off. They have no idea when tomorrow holds. Neither do I.                                        IMG_6813 1) We’ve made it this far. Leaving our home with kids and everything at 5:45am was a lot, check-in was a mob scene, saying bye to my dad was emotional, security a mess, bathroom run (or two) with automatic flushes— a nightmare, a lost soppy cup disaster … this is w o w. I sit here with my toddler sorority, confidence escaping me, singing to myself “I am the Lord your God, I go before you now… steady now your heart and mind, come into my rest.” Breathing deeply as our flight is now two hours delayed, and we haven’t even gotten on a plane yet. #theysatquietlyforsevenminutes #imissmyresponsiblehusband #feedingmykidstictacs #only21hourstogo #abudhabibound #thisisinsane #icandothis #ihavetodothis #toddlersorority                                               IMG_6829 IMG_6864 IMG_68631) That one time we had an “airplane sleepover” on the way to Dubai. Naomi, while looking around our gate “Things look a lot different here than in Escondido.#13hoursleft #thanksforcheeringmeon #givingbenadrylnow #readyornot #offwego #toddlersorority 2/3) Read it: The Maertzs are in the United Arab Emirates. This is madness to me. Rewind six months ago Joe came home from work “Hey something kind of fell into my lap today,” and here we are, walking out of the airport hearing the mesmerizing call to prayer. Unreal. If it wasn’t for Aria barfing like Mt Saint Helens only five minutes after take off— all over us, our seats, our clothes, our hair— drench in puke, and smelling like puke for the next 13 hours, I’d say it went pretty well. #icried #youdcrytoo #criedwhenisawjoe #imacryingmess #hecriedtoo #soproudofthegirls #wemadeit #toddlersorority   IMG_70181) After 24 hours of travel, their personalities shine through. Getting settled into the rental car, and headed to Abu Dhabi. 2) Our first morning on the other side of the world. Our first night involved Juliet falling out of bed twice, and staying asleep on the floor both times. 3) When we were engaged, Joe and I sat under his makeshift bunkbed and made a pinkie promise to each other: that our lives would venture outside the good ole US of A. Since then, I’ve come up with three criteria for living in an overseas city. One: near a major airport. Two: near a coastline. Three: near an IKEA. So naturally, on day one, we visited everyone’s favorite blue and yellow store. #itfeltlikehome #themeatballshoweverdidnot #carriedourjetlaggirlseverywhere #joecarriedone #icarriedtwo #imbragging #iknow #neverforgetthedoublestrolleragain #toddlersorority                IMG_7020  IMG_71261) Jetlag #marinaisland #abudhabi #toddlersorority 2) Breakfast each morning with Daddy was always a treat. Off to his first day at work in UAE, 11am-11pm. #tradershotel 3) With Joe starting work today, I needed a local phone. This is where you go for that sort of thing. Some might call it Walmart-esque, I call it nightmare-esque. Men pressing around me at all sides, breathing on me as I am trying to attend to my bored toddler sorority and understand blah blah blah {a cell phone service plan}. After his third explanation, he said “You still don’t get me?” I heard me say “I’m really good at other things.” I hated this place. Everything was hard about this place. Downstairs there was an old indoor playground. Think old Burger King, now add 20 years, sanitation highly questionable, and worse I had to pay to use it. While walking over a giant dead cockroach I pulled out a crisp new foreign bill and paid for a quiet kid-less hour. My first day in a foreign land, and I am here, in this dingy musky old space with bad light and cockroaches. In walks a mommy with a young boy. She sits on a bench near me. Her young son accidentally runs into my daughter, and we exchange proper mommy fix-it lines. Her voice. I honestly didn’t want to talk, I knew I’d start talking like a leprechaun. And I did. But she didn’t care. Elena O’Toole offered grace and laughter. She and I shared a conversation that make that dark dingy corner space light up with fresh air and sunshine. She gave me her number and insisted we do this again, but we both vowed never again here. She can’t wait to show me around. And that’s my story: I came for a phone, I got a lifeline. #luckoftheirish #imsohappy #ihaveafriendIMG_7127  IMG_7179 IMG_7181 IMG_72181) Exploring the local souk in pjs. Everywhere we go Aria comments on the “shepherds.” “I wish we could have dinner with a shepherd.” “Why are there so many shepherds?” “Where are all the sheep mommy?” “Another shepherd??” (Strong emphasis on another). She’s killing it. 2) We discovered the incredible indoor kid spaces! 3) Dinner at Traders Hotel. Food on Click became a fabulous resource. 4) She stands along the rest of the world. Instead of seeing all that is different, all she sees is other kids. #sheopensmyeyes #localskatepark #everythingisinthemall 5) Everyone A D O R E S them {especially our blonde}. In so many ways, it’s just different here {see background}. #kindfamilymanfromdubai #ispyaburkalady #toddlersorority 6) The Middle East has it’s perks. #eveninggiggleseruptedhere #dreamyfun #ispyaritzcarltonIMG_7259 IMG_7307 IMG_7321IMG_7329 IMG_74321) It’s this hot. 2/3) It’s the expats that made our trip incredible. Their warmth and kindness to us will always be a highlight. We rode “buggies” almost daily. Sometimes they’d let you girls drive! 6) I wish you could see how brave these girls are. Everyday taking in new adventures— the language, the food, the costumes {their name for all the faceless women}, the insane heat, the everything so foreign and unfamiliar— they move towards it with big eyes, big steps and big brave. #bravebabies #wereinthistogether #toddlersorority IMG_7480 IMG_7752 IMG_7753 IMG_7606 IMG_7799 FullSizeRender 1131) Morning swims with Daddy. 2) This beautiful soul arrived into Abu Dhabi today— my mom. At age 4, she gave me and my three sisters (ages 2, 6 and 9) our very first taste of the world— adventures in Hong Kong and Thailand. That was just the beginning. And here she goes again, passing down the richness of the world to my toddler sorority. #barrelsandbarrelsofspice # girl factories #happybirthdaymom #toddlersorority 3) Playing in the Persian Gulf as the sun sets on her birthday. My mom and I kept looking at each other today “Can you believe where we are?” {I shake my head. We’re in the Middle East. Unreal.} #6dayswithmom #happybirthdaymom @mamanzano 4) Fun City at Dalma Mall! 5/6) Celebrating Ama’s birthday. The Shangri-La made her a personalized cake!IMG_7881 IMG_7900 IMG_7924   IMG_8033IMG_8045  IMG_8131 IMG_8137 IMG_81261/2/3/4) Playing in the Persian Gulf at the hotel’s beachfront property. 8) In the midst of our trans-atlantic summer, our Juliet decides she wants to be a big girl. I never ever would have chosen to tackle this while traveling across the world, but she insisted. And just like that, she graduated into panties while in the Middle East. 9) What grocery shopping looks like in Abu Dhabi. 10) God Bless sleepovers in Grandma’s hotel room. Tonight it was just us. And our date night started here. #hotelreception #toddlersorority 11) Date night led us here. Beyond the gates of our hotel fortress. Into far less familiar. This is local. #dinnerwasincredible #lebaneseflower #popularlocaljoint #lotsofstares #toddlersororityIMG_8262  IMG_8300 IMG_8374 IMG_8675IMG_8650 IMG_8432 IMG_88141/2/3) Maertzs in the Middle. #hottestdayofmylife #yaswaterworld #imissclouds #whycantwehavewaterparkslikethis #toddlersorority 4) That moment when Daddy heads out the door to work. Everyone is sad. 60 hour work weeks are miserable. I don’t know how other families do this. It’s really hard. The girls miss him so, and I do too. {Thankful it’s temporary.} #8moreweeks #julietheldthedoorshut #babybouncer #toddlersorority 6) She made things feel normal, the load lighter and the days brighter, I might say brighter than the sun, but here, that would actually be a bad thing. #weatherappsaid137today #theychillthepools #shealmosthadaheatstroke #ithinkshedid #godblessgrandmas #shesonaplanehome #toddlersorority 7) Things I never dreamed we’d do in the Middle East. #shedidntlearnitfromme #littlesisterlooks #julietgottwostrikes #toddlersorority #weabsolutelyhadbumpers 8) I found some space to scribble down my heart’s song. With the skies echoing calls to prayer, and Islamic threads on full display all around us, I want to be close and aware of my Shepherd’s nudges— how to move towards love in this part of his world. #jesussaidloveoneanother #bethelonrepeat #goodshepherd #toddlersororityIMG_8897 IMG_8868 IMG_8886IMG_8682 IMG_8978 IMG_8973IMG_8977  1) Guiding these little ladies through this world, seeing them engage with it, and be themselves in it— it’s the greatest adventure of this adventure. #icecreamrun #waitingforthegondola #fancysouk #someoneturnstwotomorrow #toddlersorority 5) From the backseat, the girls held my phone— in awe of the moving dot. “We’re at the top of the palm tree mama! We’re at the top of the palm tree!” #aquaventure #palmjumeirah #atlantis #dubai #julietsbirthday #toddlersorority 5) Years ago your Daddy and Mommy lived for a summer in Amman, Jordan. Day after day we’d feast on the delicious shwarmas of Al Dayaa. Now, with three little girls, we revisit our restaurant jewel of the Middle East. 7) Happy birthday TWO you Juliet!! #thefairesofthemall #persiangulf #toddlersorority 9) Friday night at Fun City in Yas Mall. It’s what you do in Abu Dhabi.    IMG_9426  IMG_9608FullSizeRender 89 FullSizeRender 90 IMG_96931) In the first week of this year, I miscarried our fourth child at 10 weeks along. The end of July holds a lot for me— the fullness of life and the the fullness of loss. Yesterday, on Juliet’s 2nd birthday, I would have been 40 weeks. In this foreign land with my husbandlove, and three beauties, I am trying my best to hold my hands open in gratitude for all I have been given. Thankful: God is with me in life and God is with me in loss. #emmanuel #handsopen #lifeandloss #babylantern #toddlersorority  3) Never dreamed we’d do this in the Middle East. Grateful this beauty’s head wound was fixable. A kind British doctor and her fancy glue made everything better. {Somersault off the couch. Head first into the corner of the coffee table}. #grateful #unexpectedadventures #toddlersorority 4) This one. With big eyes and even bigger awe, “Naomi! We are going to Jasmine’s castle!!” Once inside, she wouldn’t stop singing. #awholenewworld #grandmosque #wefoundagrabah 5) Another world’s sacred space, still felt sacred. All things beautiful can nudge this heart towards God. #grandmosqueisgrand #daddyanddarlings 6) Don’t bother asking me what the ceilings looked like. I never looked up. #bestillmyheart #marblegardensfordays #grandmosque #ihavethisthingwithfloors #toddlersororityIMG_9718 IMG_9719   IMG_9720 FullSizeRender 115 IMG_98221) My baby and blooms. #bathroom #yesisaidbathroom #grandmosqueisgrand #herhands 2) The man of the Middle East. #husbandlove #archesfordays 3) Trampolines! They have everything at the mall. Juliet cried for 25 mins until the kind expat broke the height rules and let her jump too. 4) Protective sisterhood. 5) They ride in taxis like champs. #thenorm 9) Tonight I watched as she explored this foreign world unguided and unafraid. She wandered through it like it were her backyard. She led the way— I followed behind in awe.  IMG_9874 IMG_0073IMG_0079 IMG_0259 FullSizeRender 91FullSizeRender 93 IMG_0476 IMG_04751) These three are eating up ice cream like they’re eating up Arabic. Their sweet voices filled the souk, and the ears of all who passed: “Shukran!” /Thank you! “Afwan” /You’re welcome! “Ana Bint!” /I’m a girl! “Ana samara bouydo” /I’m a white car! “Ma’a Salam /God bless you. You can imagine the friends they made. #smilemakers 2) Running laps around our apartment, because 4pm in the Middle East is just like 4pm everywhere else in the world. We ran out of things to do. 3) My friend Elena O’Toole. She was a bright light in so many ways. For a friendship only a few weeks old, our goodbye tugged at deep heart strings. 4) Our everyday quest, day after day, mall after mall… to find indoor wonderment. #wefoundgold 6) Behind us is one of the most beautiful ornate gold domes in all the world. Now it’s just a family selfie blocking one of the most beautiful ornate gold domes in all the world. #oops 7) Wall of gold, dress of sparkly gold, heart of gold. #myaria 8) While my girls danced under canopies of gold, Naomi caught eyes with another child. With the most beautiful spirit, she waved and called to her in Arabic— “Yalla!” /Come! #myjobisdone #kindnessineverylanguage 9) In 48 hours, my toddler sorority and I will be on a plane, headed home. #notready #fivemoreweeksforjoe #consideredextendingourtrip #thatgoodIMG_0477 2 FullSizeRender 116 IMG_0627  1) Maertzs found a goldmine today: Emirates Palace. A 7 star hotel that is obsessed with gold. Gold on the walls. God on the ceilings. God sold in ATMs. Gold in the cappuccinos. 2/3/4/5) Our final swim at our home away from home Shangri-La Residence. 6) The view from our apartment. Lush. Rich. Beautiful. That’s how I’ll always remember it. Many a humid nights were spent enjoying this, waiting for Daddy to come home from work.IMG_0813 IMG_0800 IMG_0881IMG_0973 IMG_0964  IMG_1284 IMG_10421/2/3/4) The Maertzs atop the highest building in the world— the Burj Khalifa. 5) Enjoying the largest piece of glass aquarium in the world. This place. It’s go big or go home. And that’s what we did. 7) This is the last family picture of us in Dubai. Moments later, with giant tears from all of us, I pushed our toddler sorority through security and 9,000 miles home to San Diego. 9) As the plane touched down in San Diego, I called for a family huddle. We locked shoulders and eyes, and gave thanks to God for carrying us through this amazing adventure. All huddled up, I looked deep into each pair of beautiful baby eyes and tried to hold back my exploding heart— “I am so proud of you.” #theydidit #wedidit #ididit #24hoursfromtakeofftotouchdown #wheresmybed #finishline #toddlersorority {thanks to all who followed again, for your encouragement, and your plain old likes.} @chinaberrylane

Stories from June

FullSizeRender 108 IMG_5553 IMG_6094 IMG_6106IMG_5838 IMG_5449IMG_6041 FullSizeRender 73Daddy was trying to cut his toenails on the back deck one night and decided to use his iPhone flashlight to check his work. I heard a loud cry for help and came running. I see him on all fours, staring at the bright light coming from his iPhone under the deck. He tried for an hour or two, but finally he had to give up, it was useless. After a sleepless night of rain, Daddy made a huge plea for help to his 5 year old, “Naomi would you help me?” And sure enough, covered head to toe in crawling-under-the-house garb, Naomi braved the deep, dark, insect-filled crevices to rescue Daddy’s $600 device. Naomi! You saved the day!

Kindergarten got interesting this month. The Classical Academy (TCA) was our only option outside of the public school down the street, so almost by default TCA became our number one choice, mainly because it felt like our only choice. We went with it. Here’s where things got interesting. While at TCA’s parent orientation, Joe got a call from an unknown caller. It was Poway Unified School District following up on our transfer application. They had a seat in their highly coveted–test scores higher than the heavens–school district… and they were offering it to Naomi. Joe and I looked at each other in shock. Here we were at TCA’s orientation and we were given an opening to be enrolled at Westwood Elementary. TCA wasn’t our only choice anymore. Just like that, we had options. This was huge. Joe glanced big eyes at me, “She wants an answer now. What do you want to do?” This was the moment where things changed big-time for me. What do I want? Now that I have a choice, what do I want? I looked at Joe, and said “TCA. I want TCA.” And just like that, Joe turned down our seat in one of California’s top-performing school districts. To me, that call was a divine gift. It gave me eyes to see that our backup plan wasn’t actually a backup plan at all— it was what I wanted all along. The Classical Academy, our school of choice, here we come.

Your daddy’s boss’ boss’ boss. That’s what we call her around here. Manager to roughly 800 folks, she sought out your daddy. That’s right. After only one quick encounter, your daddy made an impression on her, and when it came time to fill a manager position at NGC, she told her subordinates to find Joe Maertz. Your daddy is a stand out, the guy that makes a great first impression, likable, brilliant, a solution finder, the guy that makes the boss’ boss’ boss turn her head. That’s the kind of daddy you have.

It only took me two years, but let the record show, I finally finished our kitchen table.

Mommy heard a toy thud to the ground. Like any good mom, I hollered “Who threw that toy?” When I turned around I saw this. (See Naomi and Aria above.) Who threw it?IMG_5388  IMG_5662  IMG_5613IMG_5488 IMG_5949  Aria Ellen (4 years old): My heart just about exploded in the soccer stands this month! At our very last game of the season, you came out and scored THREE goals (granted there wasn’t a goalie, but still!) THREE goals!! I love how you pursue the ball! I love seeing these sides of you, the fierce Aria that charges after a ball. Then there’s this softer side of you. I saw it with your little sister. You have incredible patience with her. Even when she smacks you in the face, your eyes will well up with tears, but you won’t hit back. You respond with patience beyond your years. But then there’s this other no-nonsense side of you… Naomi was sobbing in bed because she was scared, and with zero compassion, and on the verge of scolding, you said “Naomi, you’re not scared, you’re five years old.” I just love you, my complex beauty.                                                        IMG_5508 IMG_5513 IMG_5574 IMG_5459 IMG_6085Juliet Mae (23 months!!): If I haven’t said it already, you are our big girl. Yea, your size is one thing. You are already sitting on your sisters and squashing them. But I am talking about your personality. You have a big personality. Big happy which is always a lot of fun, and big wow, which is alarming. Do you see you on the pony? That’s what I went through to get you to try it. And then moments later, that’s you loving it. Hot and cold, that’s you my love. Here’s another fabulous story. Daddy went to battle with you over one bite of hot dog. After an hour of you refusing to take a bite, Daddy put you in your crib, and you still stood your ground. You would not eat it. Then Aria suggested “Let me try Daddy.” And Aria went up to you in your crib, offered you the hot dog, and you ate it. Ohhhhh boy.IMG_5438 IMG_5654 FullSizeRender 106IMG_6203 Naomi Mariam (5.5 years old!): *We had a trip to the doctor. My heart melted as you interacted with Dr Martinez all on your own. She greeted you, and you shot right back without skipping a beat—  “Good. How’s your day?” So confident and so darling. *We had game night at our house, you snuck out of bed and joined the big kids for a night of Settlers! Shining that fun, smart, charming personality until 11:30pm! Even when you’re tired, you shine so sweetly! *Your palate is expanding. You smelled mommy’s spicy chicken tortilla soup, “Mommy that smells yummy.” I offered you a sip and you finished the whole thing! Same thing at Pho, you were trying samples left and right. After each bite, “Delicious!” *At soccer, you gave us a good show! Charged the ball, kicked it hard, it landed in front of Samuel, who kicked it into the goal— YOU MADE AN ASSIST!! Love cheering you on, Naomi!IMG_5596IMG_6018 IMG_5689IMG_5716 IMG_5972IMG_5720 Maertz family memories: *Dinner with Sam and Anj at delicious Thai food and off to a Sufjan Stevens concert at Copley with many friends! *Dinner with Keri in Del Mar. *Loads of ballet, gymnastics and soccer! *Buck birthday with ponies! *Hillary day! Pool, Nordies, shopping, dinner in Del Mar! *Playdate at Katie Paschall’s. *Dad’s 71st birthday— dinner at Paschalls’ and a Barcelona jersey! *Joe watches the NBA finals at Sam’s, Growth Group comes here! *Amie and Tins at their home. *Dinner at Veranda with Anj, Ash, Hillary, Keri, Erin, and Krissa! *Malina visits(!!)— dinner at Vietnamese food. *Game night at our home— Settlers with the sisters, mom, Naomi and Joe! *Sawyer dinner here— cumin/lemon tzadziki pita yum-ness. *Lots of swimming at the Sawyers’ (Lasts’). *Playdate at Lizzy’s home. *4SRanch water park and picnic. * Whites join us for a final dinner here! *Whites farewell at Stone Brewery. *GrampBill and Kelyne visit! *Vacation Bible School at Westminster Pres. *We finally finally finally bought tickets for me and the girls to travel to Abu Dhabi!!! *Said goodbye to a decade long San Diego friendship with the Whites. *Sam gets voted in as Senior Pastor at Mission Hills!! *Paschalls reveal their big surprise to us. *Spend a morning at Views West Park with Leonie— she’s off to Cuba and Mexico!IMG_6031 IMG_5975FullSizeRender 100 IMG_6056FullSizeRender 101 IMG_5627