Thursday, March 31, 2011

Freezer Cooking Swap

Again, per my friend, R's request, a post regarding time savers and practical tips for busy moms and wives-

Actually, my friend, R, is behind this post literally.  R and I used to work together at the same school.  And we used to share a lunchtime.  So often we'd be in the teacher's lounge, eating whatever we managed to rescue from the refrigerator.  At that time, R would often pack items that came from a freezer cooking swap that she participated in, one that was located in another town.  The low down was as follows: 
1.  You are assigned one recipe to purchase groceries for and then prepare.
2.  You assemble one recipe for every person who is doing the swap.
3.  You show up the day of your swap with your food, give the other participants the dish you have prepared, and then have those participants each give you a dish they have prepared.
4.  All of it is frozen and ready to thaw out and use as needed.

After a couple years, I told R that I would be really interested in doing a group like that if there was enough interest in the local area.  So this fall, R took organized a group.  It's a bit more detailed than the description I posted above.
1.  Each month, those who have indicated an interest in the group receive an email from R asking if they are going to participate.  In our group, the numbers fluctuate each month.  For me, doing it every other months is about right.  Others do it every month or only occassionally.  New members are always welcome.
2.  After everyone responds, R assigns each person a recipe.  The recipes come from her previous experience so hopefully they are yummy.  She also tells you the names of the other participants and their dish.
3.  You have about 3 weeks to purchase your ingredients and assemble your dish.  You need to know amount you spent on all of your groceries.  You also need to label the meals with the title of the recipe.  Since you know the names of the other participants for the month, you should also label the meals with their names.  (ie a name on each meal)
4.  About a week prior to the exchange, R sends out another email asking for the total amount you spent and reminding you of the date and time.
5.  Everyone responds to R with the total they spent and she then averages the totals so that she knows what the cost per participant was.  R then figures out if your total was more or less than the average cost per participant and emails you telling you if you spent more or less than the average cost.  If you spent less, you are asked to bring the difference, in cash, to the exchange.  If you spent more, when you get to the exchange, you will receive the difference back.
6.  On the day of the exchange, you show up and divy out your items.  Since you've put names on each meal, passing out is very easy.  It usually takes 15 minutes or less to pass out food, pack yours up and then pay in or get back money based on what the average cost was.

That is it.  So simple.  Since you are given a choice of meal size when you sign up, smaller families are given the option of having the recipe (which might do a 9 x 13) put into two smaller portions.  I usually walk away with 12-14 freezer meals since mine are divided like this.   I only personally know two other people in the group; the others are friend of a friend type acquaintances.  Such a blessing to have it in your freezer so you can pull something out in the morning or pass a meal onto a sick friend.  I can also see the ministry possibilities if a small group were created in a church setting.  Wouldn't it be awesome if instead of making the exact number of meals for each participant, each person made an extra and then the entire group donated those extras to a single mom that you thought might enjoy a break from cooking?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monthly and Quarterly Menu Planning

My friend, R, recently asked her readers to take some time and share their secrets of homemaking.  So many people have good tips for helping to soothe the chaos and often, people don't have the time to share.  I thought I'd share something I've been doing for the last 4 months or so that has simplified my life. 

I have planned my menus for a long time now.  (Not when we were first married and both going to school full time and working part time but soon after, so I'm guessing maybe 9 years.)  In the past, I've always done the fairly standard version of planning a week's meals at a time, being intentional in what I bought so that I could reuse leftovers, take advantage of a sale, etc.  But for some reason, I decided to try planning meals a month at time and then repeating this set of meals for 3-4 months at a time.  (I think because I often found myself hurrying to try to get meals planned before I went to the grocery store.)  I am loving my new system.  Here's the scoop:

1.  I started by getting all the recipes I used often in one location.
2.  I started thinking about ways to simpify the meal planning process.  I know some people use a prescriptive meal planning strategy where Mondays are taco night, Tuesdays are chicken, etc..  For me, I didn't think I would like something so structured.  But I did decide to do a pizza night once a week during the winter months.  Now that it's spring, I've gone to quesedillas once a week.  To add variety, all you have to do is change the toppings.  I also knew that there were different categories of food that could be included in each week like slow cooker meals, meatless meals, soups, etc..  For winter, I decided to include one meatless meal, one breakfast for supper, one soup, and one slow cooker meal each week.  For spring, I'm using the categories of meatless, chicken, sandwiches, pasta and slow cooker.
3.  I went through my recipes and started plugging them into days of the week.  Since I had already decided on 5 categories to include each week (pizza, meatless, soup, slow cooker, and breakfast), it was really easy to plug in my recipes and then add 2 more to equal a week's worth of meals.  (I only plan suppertime meals; lunch is usually leftovers or something quick like sandwiches or canned soup.)  I did also consider how to use recipes that common ingredients within a week.  For example, if I make homemade black beans in a week, I will plan to have the black beans with tortilla chips and then reuse them in a casserole.
4.  I repeated this until I had 4 full weeks of recipes.
5.  My next step was to create a grocery list for each week, based on what meals we were having.  So below each week's menu, I created columns based on the different departments at the grocery store.  (Produce, canned goods, meat, dairy, etc..)  This makes it so easy to shop regardless of what store you shop at.  Using the recipes and meal plans for each week, I created a customized grocery list for each week.  I did not include pantry staples like flour, sugar, milk, etc..
6.  I made sure each week's plan and grocery list fit on one 8 x 11 piece of paper.  This paper then went on my fridge so that I could use it as a grocery list to add items to if we ran out of pantry staples, even if they weren't originally on my list.

Here's the pic of my grocery list/meal list.  This is the one I'm using this week.  I already used it buy groceries so it's got items added and crossed off.  Next week's list is tucked behind this one so if I run out of something that's a pantry staple, I can write it in to buy next week.

I cannot tell you how much easier my grocery shopping/menu planning is!  Yes, it took me 45 minute to an hour to put together the meals and grocery lists.  But there are 4 weeks worth of meals that I now rotate through.  I use this set of meals for 3-4 months at a time and then switch it up with another set of meals so I can do meals that appeal for each season. The 45 minutes to an hour of planning replaces almost all the planning I would normally do in that 3-4 month stretch.  When it's time to grocery shop, I do a subtractive type list.  I take the list for the week and go through my food stash at home.  Whatever I already have, I cross off my list.  Other items that I ran out of throughout the week are already on my list as I wrote them in during the week, when I used up the last of that item.  After crossing off items, all I have left to do is add any sale items that I am buying as pantry staples to build up my stash.  It seriously takes me less than ten minutes to finalize my list.  (Sometimes closer to 5.)

I do put the days of the week on my schedule.  However, rarely do I serve the food on that actual day.  Our weeks are hectic and often things change.  My job as a substitute teacher means I need to be flexible.  I may not know until 7 a.m. that I am going to work at 8:10 so it is hard to plan accordingly.  Often, on the days I work, I pull something out of the freezer to cook when I get home.  (All from a freezer cooking swap I belong to which is another post alltogether.)  So there are sometimes where I may only use 3 or 4 meals from the week.  If that's the case, depending on what it is and if there is fresh produce involved or not, I either make a new meal plan for the next week using the extra meals plus freezer cooking or other quick meals thrown in or I just save the supplies and plan to use them the next time that meal rolls around.

The other benefit is that I honestly think my grocery bill has been a lot less.  I have always shopped with a budget.  But I never seemed to be under my budget, always right at.  Lately, it's seemed like I've been about $40 under each month.  I'm not sure what the difference is.  Maybe I'm more focused.  Maybe my recipes are reflect my desire to be frugal and I have picked cheaper recipes.  I honestly don't know.  But it seems to have made an impact.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Bit of Coaching

The kids and I played some soccer outside week before last.  So sunny and nice unlike the snowy weather of this week.  Somewhere along the way, they decided to pretend one of them was the coach and the rest of us were the players.  There were push ups and pretend whistling.  And a few comments that were just too funny not to write down.

From Conleigh
"Marlin, Christian, Jhonny!  On the line!"

From Kenson
Said while walking from the sidelines, hands on hip, angry glare which I have never seen him have as he is one of the most smiley kids around.  "Marlin!  Don't hit her.  Go sit in time out!"

And yes, Marlin, Christian, and Jhonny are all high school boys who D coaches.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Still Small Moments and God's Unchanging Love

Those still small moments of parenting...I find myself smiling at those still small moments so often.  Yesterday, we were putting away laundry.  Kenson did not obey and had to do extra chores instead of just putting away the laundry.  After the consequence, he laid on his bed for a moment and I crawled up next to him. I gently reminded him of why he had a consequence.  Kenson then wanted to know if God loved him best when he obeyed.  Oh how thankful I am I stopped and took in that still small moment because in that moment I shared one of the biggest truths of all:  God does not love us better because we do certain things.  God loves us because He made us.  His love for us does not change based on what we do or don't do.    May the words spoken in that still small moment be ever present on my son's heart.  And may you be reminded of that truth today:  that you belong to God and nothing can separate you from His love.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Fix Is Not On

The past few days my heart has just felt discouraged.  Too many situations that my heart wants to fix and a fix is not necessarily available.  My middle class, American self is used to there always being a fix.  The reality is that there are somethings in life that don't have a fix.  Here's what is weighing on my heart:

As many of you know, D is head soccer coach for a group of high school boys.  He has had this job for for about 5 years.  It is an interesting job, one he loves.  It involves a lot more than just coaching.  He deals with the usual teenage boy stuff like egos and no motivation to do school work.  He also has more unique struggles.  Like kids who speak no English.  And kids who are getting in trouble with the law.  And kids who are chronic underachievers because they do not believe they have any potential other than to work at a packing plant.  What we've seen is that it is important for us to view this as a ministry.  The boys need investment at a personal level.  They need a husband and wife interact in positive, God honoring ways.  They need to see us parent our children according to Godly principles.  And for many of them, they need to see D as a positive male role model as many of them are dealing with absentee fathers.  So we have boys over often, for supper, to watch soccer games on tv, to play soccer in our neighbor's huge back yard. We send happy notes home to encourage boys regarding their strengths and to consider that they were created for a purpose.  We ask about grades, we ask about girlfriends, we ask and ask and ask about their lives.  But what is killing me is that we are unable to do much of anything to get them to college, to get them into decent jobs, to help them find their way once they graduate high school.  In most normal situations, when you see a kid who is struggling to find their place in the world, you have some ways to encourage them.  But in our situation, we are dealing with a handful of kids who came to this country illegally, through choices made by their parents, and once they graduate from high school, will be faced with limited choices as they do not have the required paperwork to go to college (because they are inelligible for any type of financial aide and are not able to work legally to put themselves through college).  They are also unable to legally work at a job.  In case you are wondering, it is not quite as simple as just saying, "well go fill out the paperwork and get a greencard."  It is beyond frustrating.  And we are currently facing a situation with a kiddo who is living in a less than stellar place with relatives rather than his parents, who will soon be graduating, who we wish we could help.  I feel completely perplexed as to what the best way to love this kiddo is.  I know what I would do if immigration issues were not in the way.  It is certainly feeling like every option I think of (for him and for other boys) is not all that feasible. 

Enter situation number two.  D and I have been trying to sort out what direction God might have us head in terms of adding to our family.  A month or so ago, there were two Haitian kids listed on a special needs waiting child website.  I decided to inquire even though we don't meet the age requirements for Haiti, thinking maybe if we were doing a special needs adoption, they might feel like we could be approved.  When D got home, I told him what I had done and he was excited.  (He has never been excited about any other opportunity that I have presented to him so far so this was a big deal.  And it also confirmed in our hearts that we were still very much connected to Haiti.)  I contacted the agency and basically got a big old no.  As things would be, both children were actually at Kenson's orphanage so I decided I'd contact the president of the group that supports the orphanage and get her thoughts.  She was in Haiti when I contacted her so she said she'd get back to me.  Secretly, I was hoping perhaps this little guy would qualify for a medical visa and we could be his host family and sort out the adoption details later.  Today she emailed me back saying they had already been denied a medical visa and that she also was praying for the laws to change so more people could adopt.  Essentially, a big old no. 

My heart does not like the no part.  I want to fix it.  In my mind, it seems like if there is a need, than the best way to love others is to fix the need.  (I do also realize that sometimes that isn't true, especially when you are talking about a different culture or if different socio economic issues exist.  Sometimes it can be very unhelpful to meet the need.)  That said, I can't fix the needs I mentioned before.  When the walls preventing you from meeting the need are restrictions put out by the federal government, your options in fixing it are pretty limited.  Sometimes, there just isn't a fix.  Or at least not the fix that I want.   More of Him, less of me, I suppose.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tips for Short Term Missions Trips

If you haven't already read this post and this one, I'd encourage you to go back and do so.  That said, what is it that I really think about short term missions trips?  In my limited experience, and with only the ability to experience it from this side not that of a host missionary or a member of a specific people group, I think short term mission trips are good things....if people go in with the right attitude.  In my opinion, missions trips should always be about the love of God poured out through service.  That's it.  Do other things pop up in the middle of such trips?  Of course.  I learned so much on my trips about mysef, about the world, about God.  And I love what those trips did for me.  But the reality is, short term missions trips should not be about what they do for the trip takers.  The focus has to be a loving God who loves people through people.  If I were to offer advice to people heading out on trips I think I'd say the following:

Know what you are getting into. 
Know where you are going and what life there is like.  In this day and age, with blogs popping up all over, this should be so easy.  And it might not hurt to read some books on missions or on the place where you are headed.  I can honestly say I have seen some pretty crazy things from people who just had no clue about what they were getting into.  Like Americans who could not figure out how to discretely handle money in a very poor foreign country and  instead would flash it around like crazy.  (And I don't mean because they were trying to hand out money to people;  I mean they literally couldn't figure out how to pay for things without pulling out a big ole wad of cash.)  Or Americans who wanted to know what types of things they might bring as a gift for a child in an orphanage.  Specifically, would an MP3 player or an Ipod be a good idea?  Um....NO!  And I've heard many similar stories from long term missionaries that just indicate a general insensitivity and unawareness on the part of short term missionaries.

Go into it with the attitude that you are going to scrub toilets because that is what is needed by God. 
That probably sounds completely ridiculous but I am very serious.  Even if you have a plan as to what you think you will be doing, there is a good chance that plan may change, especially in developing countries where things change often.  Plan to serve in very menial ways. And plan for the plans to change.  If you arrive and you are asked to scrub toilets, you will not be disappointed because that is what you planned.  And if you arrive and you are asked to do the job you originally thought you would do, you will be pleasantly suprised that you are not scrubbing toilets.

Remember that you are not the expert anymore and that you will probably be serving in a supporting role. 
Even if you are serving in your area of expertise, you are not an expert in living in the place you are visiting.  You may need to become a 'helpmate' who happens to have some expert credentials.  Frame your thoughts along the lines of looking for opportunities to make someone's work easier by seeing a need, asking if you can meet it, and then meeting it.  Don't fall for the idea that you are ringmaster.  Instead view yourself as the clowns who assist the ringmaster.  In some cases, you may be the clowns who come before the show; your American presence is a curiosity which in turn draws people in and allows local ministry leaders to do the main jobs of teaching.  In some cases, you may be the clown who is cleaning up elephant poop, literally.  And in some cases, you might be the clown who is resetting the stage for the ringmaster; you are doing physcial work so that the long term missionaries are freed up to spend more time on their ministries. 

Temper your words. 
It is so easy to be flip with your words when you are in a new place, with many new things, when you have very little sleep and may be feeling stressed.  This is one of the mistakes I made on our Peru trip.  Because I was with friends from church and because I was literally running on no sleep in a 24 hour period, I was a bit punchy.  And for our first meal, we were treated to a blue corn pudding.  It was actually purple and had the consistency of phlegm.  It was pretty unique by American standards, and it quickly became something to joke about.  However, watching us joke were a group of Peruvian women who had prepared that for us, who probably were looking at us as thoughtless and selfish since there are people in Peru who struggle to find food.  At some point in time, we did realize we were going too far.   But I think it took our team leader basically saying "cut it out" in a nice way.  And I did apologize to the women in the kitchen.  But I still felt like a clod.  It is also very easy to have a misunderstanding due to a language barrier.  Think twice before making comments about the current method of doing things, the food, your sleeping arrangments, and the weather.  And if you have done or said something that created a problem or that has left you wondering how others might have interpreted it, by all means, apologize. 
Please put away the toys, trinkets, and candy. 
I know this sounds like I am a crabby old lady yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off the lawn.  As a teacher, I don't like using junk to motivate kids or to communciate that I care.  And the more I have read on short term missions work, the more I see any type of gift, no matter how small, as very hard to balance.  Yes, the kids like it.  But is it really necessary?  Is there a chance that those gifts which seem so small in our minds could possibly create problems later on for those who whom we gift or for those whom live and work among the people full time?  To be honest, I have never taken lots of little goodies to disperse individually.  And I don't think it's ever made me feel like I was not accomplishing my goals.  If you have something to give, ask the long term missionaries what might be the best way to share that gift.  And if you have something large like a gift of money, you must must must ask before you give. 

Pray about if you really should go.  Pray before you go, for your team, the people whom you will serve, for the leaders who are leading, for bonds to be made, for people to see Jesus in you, for people to know Jesus better, for people's lives to be enriched because of your presence.  Pray while you're there, for your heart to continue to reflect God's love through your service, for your words to be wise, for the meditions of your head and the words from your mouth to pleasing to God, for your team members, for the long term folks you are working beside, for the people you came to serve.   And then pray some more while you are there.  Stop the busyness and choose to sit and pray.  When I was in Peru, the first few days were hard because there was a lot of time to interact with those who had come to attend the revivial at the church.  Problem was, my Spanish was minimal and I was finding it hard to be outgoing to meet and greet and mingle.  I decided I may not be ablt to "do" something but I could pray so I committed myself to using that time where it felt like I was just sitting to be times of prayer and encouragement.  I prayed for all the things I mentioned previously often throughout the days.  I sat down and wrote notes of encouragement to my team members.  Neither of those would have been my preference, but it was something that seemed to fit with what the need was at the moment-for someone to be still and quiet in the presence of God about the trip.  Once you get back, continue to pray.  For hearts to be changed both those of the team and the those of the people you served, for the long term missionaries to be able to have the strength and wisdom to succussfully minister, for the needs of the country/city you just visited, and most of all for God to be made famous in all places.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Experience with Short Term Missions

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts from a missionary family currently serving in Haiti.  The post I linked is a great discussion starter, one that should make people who are wanting to participate in a short term trip think before they go.  It is important for people to think about if a trip uses their resources and time wisely.  It's important for people to recognize why they want to go.  It's important for people to consider how their trip will effect themselves, the area they will be visiting, and the missionaries who they will be working with.  I have done 5 short term missions trips abroad and an assortment of small, short term trips within the U.S..  I have visted Romania once, Peru once, and Haiti three times.  Each time I have grown in my understanding of mission work and each time I have come back with my mind full of questions about serving.  And that's a good thing. 

In the Livesay post/comments section, Tara posted about some research that was done by a friend pertaining to mission trips.  Specifically she posted about a study done on short term missions work in three developing countries.  "This research looked at three types of groups: groups that came to build something (school, church, houses, etc); groups that came to DO something (medical clinic, VBS, etc) and groups that came to BE with people (discovery tour, cultural exchange kind of thing). The prof did research in three countries: Thailand, Honduras and Haiti. We headed up the Haiti research. So, we interviewed different organizations in Haiti that worked with groups - a really, really small sample. We interviewed community organizations and leaders that received the groups and we interviewed families that hosted visitors in their homes. They also did surveys of former group participants. In a very small nutshell, what they found in their research was that the third type of group above (the learning type) typically remained more committed and engaged in working with, supporting, volunteering, donating, etc then any of the other kinds of groups. You know how people get all fired up right . . . and then you hear nothing, they do nothing, etc. That's pretty typical. But the third kind of group, with effective orientation and debriefing which is another critical component, remained more engaged in the long run."

I found this really interesting as the basic idea was that people who came to look, listen, and learn seem to have been more effective and once home, were more effectively in continuing to minister.  It was also very interesting to me because this actually mirrors my own experiences very closely.  I went to Romania when I was 18.  I am not even sure how I got to that point to be honest.  My senior year of high school, the last church camp attended, featured a presentation from a group that worked in Romanian orphanages.  I'm not sure how it got in my heart but somehow between August and Christmastime, I decided I would apply to go.  Again, I'm not even sure how or why.  It just kind of happened.  I did not know a single person who I was traveling with.  Every person on my team was signficantly older than me except for a young, married couple.  I had never flown before.  But here I was, at 18, heading to Romania.  There was no real purpose set in stone other than to serve at the government run orphanage.  (Which was very much like the orphanages you might have seen in exposes on the Romanian orphanages.)  We brought clothing and toys for the entire orphanage.  When we arrived, our team leader basically asked the orphanage director what needed to be done.  The women painted bathrooms.  The men did some type of construction work.  We all worked to clean up a play yard used by the children which was full of garbage.  And we occasionally stopped to play and love on children. 

I came away broken and more sure of my relationship with God.  I was broken over the things I saw.  Kids in metal cribs, with chipping paint, and wire sides.  Disabled kids who laid in their cribs all day long with minimal human contact.  And Gypsy kids who are the lowest of the low, so low that the orphanage workers told us not to kiss them because Gypsy babies are dirty.  But I was also more sure of who my God was.  I was so out of my comfort zone.  But God was still there.  And that mattered a lot.  I was a fairly typical American teenager who quickly realized that if I multiplied my bedroom at home by 2, it might be fairly close in size to an apartment that was shared by an entire family. 

I came back with all of those thoughts but soon fell back into the routine of life.  Yes, I still was moved by the thought of kids in orphanages.  But life was moving fast around me.  I was in college.  I got married.  I graduated from college.  I found my first job.  It was busy.

Then our church decided to do a short term missions trip with a group called SportReach.  SportReach is a well established group who uses sports clinics to share the gospel.  A team from our church, including D and myself, were headed to Lima, Peru.  Our goal there was to support a Peruvian church who regularly ran sports clinics, held outreach events at their church, and did street evangelism. 

During the first part of our trip, the church was hosting a revival type meeting for families.  One of the specific jobs I was tasked with was to organize child care and activities for the meeting times.  This quickly became one of those times where I felt like I was more of a hinderance than a help.  As the team leaders and myself sat down with the Peruvian leaders, it became clear that the Peruvians and I had very different ideas and expectations on what would happen.  As a teacher, I was worried about having things descend into chaos without structure and activities.  I wanted to know details like how many children we would have, how long of a time we would have to keep the children, etc..  If you've ever been in a country like Peru, you are probably laughing right now.  Details like time and numbers are not as important.  But I didn't know that.  And no one told me that what I was going to be doing was essentially an impromptu "let's learn about God" moment.  My vision was a mini VBS.  Eventually, after the Peruvian leader's eyes deglazed and I took it down a notch, we got it figured out. 

The next part of our trip was dedicated to holding sports clinics on the streets.  We would pile in a bus with our sports equipment, stop at the city basketball courts, and then go door to door, inviting kids to come to a sports clinic hosted by Americans.  At the clinic, we taught kids of all ages how to play basketball and volleyball, two sports most of them knew little about.  And we also taught them soccer, but most of them knew a lot about that already.  The kids would travel from one sport area to the next, playing with Americans.  Before the kids switched to a new sport, the group was gathered on the court to hear the gospel in many different forms.  (a wordless drama, a spoken message, and a painting)  The salvation prayer was shared at the end of the time and the church members collected information from interested parties for follow up. 

We also did some street evangelism with members of the church.  This was purely unintentional.  We headed to do some sightseeing near the Presidential Palace and as it would turn out, our large group of Americans, garnered lots of attention.  Many people stopped to ask who we were and what we were doing.  As we would share our story, the members of the Peruvian church would translate and then began sharing the gospel.  The Americans had been given little cubes that depicting different parts of the Gospel story just to have for the trip since there would be a language barrier and many of the Americans pulled out their cubes and showed the pictures as the Peruvian leaders shared the story of Jesus.  At some point, a large crowd assembled around us.  (Like maybe 50-75 people.)  We were near the Presidential Palace and the police nearby were not thilled with this impromptu gathering.  I will never forget them tapping Alexis, one of the Peruvian church leaders, on the shoulder to tell him he couldn't continue due to the crowd size.  Alexis put his finger up and quietly told them that he wasn't finished yet.  They of course were not going to let him continue and asked him again to stop so he did but it was one of those moments where you just are amazed at what has just happened in front of you. 

I walked away acutely aware that the gospel is a powerful force that can penetrate hearts in ways I had never seen.  I also walked away skeptical of how much good it really did to evangelize in the ways we had done; were the people who said they wanted a relationship with Jesus really serious?  It made me realize that it wasn't my job to question that or to do the discipleship part of it.  God gives us each a role to play and my role was done.  It was up to the Peruvian church to disciple those people  who committed to Jesus.

After Peru, we literally walked into Haiti.  We arrived back in the States on a Saturday, went to church the next day and were greeted by a missionary speaking on Haiti.  At that point in our lives, we had explored a bunch of different options to start a family but were facing nothing by frustration.  So that day I told D that maybe at this point in our lives, when we had no children, that maybe this was the time to go and do things like mission trips.  So we started praying about a mission trip to Haiti.  Long story short, that quickly turned into adopting from Haiti and 3 trips to Haiti. 

The 3 trips we took to Haiti were twofold in purpose:  spend time with our children and serve at the orphanages where our children were living.  We went into all 3 trips with no real plans as to what we would accomplish other than D knew he would paint some murals.  Our first trip to Haiti was when Kenson was 9 months old.  We stayed for ten days.  Kenson's orphanage allows adoptive parents to bring their children back to the hotel with them while they are visiting in Haiti.  D and I felt it would be unfair to Kenson to completely upset his world for ten days.  So we actually only brought him to the hotel with us for one or two nights at a time.  We also spent a lot of time at the orphanage versus staying at the hotel.  And when we were at the orphanage, we did not just hold Kenson all day long.  Again, we felt like it was too unfair to have him be carried around for ten straight days and then be returned to the baby room.   So we went to the orphanage and just did what needed to be done.  We sorted supplies, we washed laundry by hand, we painted a mural, and we played with kids.  Our next stop involved a trip to Kenson's orphanage and a trip to Conleigh's orphanage which is 40 miles from Kenson's.  Again, we had no real plan.  We visited Conleigh's orphanage first and came at a time when they were actually short a few people so we did a lot of caring for babies.  (The orphanage often receives special needs babies as the director is a nurse so when we were there, they had just taken in a preemie and a terribly neglected little guy named Berto.  Plus I think there might have been another baby that had some medical stuff going on.)  D  painted a mural in the baby room and I cleaned out a storage closet.   We also played with the kids and I tried to do a photo shoot of all the kids so we could send some decent pictures to other waiting families.  I also think we did a handprint art project to send to other waiting families.  But very laid back and low key.  Very much an "if it happens, it happens type" attitude mixed with "how can we help?"  The second part of our trip was spent in Port Au Prince but due to the way things played out, we really did not spend a large chunk of time at the orphanage so I wouldn't count that as mission trip time.  Our third trip was actually our trip to pick up Kenson.  Before that, we went to Conleigh's orphanage to see her.  Again, we had no real plan or project.  We were only going to be there like 2 1/2 days so all we really did was play with kids and help out with kids as needed.  I tried to help the teacher who was there with some ideas for her classroom but I quickly realized I was probably out of my element in offering advice.  Teaching school at a Haitian orphanage in a multi level classroom is a lot different than teaching first grade in the States.  I felt like any advice I would offer would be pointless and less than helpful.   After our short visit, we headed to Port to pick up Kenson and then flew home so it was a really short trip.

The bottom line is I am very aware of how I felt ineffective in supporting the church in Peru when I was there.  Between the whole childcare planning meeting and a few other things, I felt like I was, at times, a short term missionary who did not fully understand how her actions and words might have affected the Peruvians and our hosts.  And interestingly enough, it was the most organized of the trips, one where I had something to "do."  On my other trips, I felt like I was in a much better position to help and serve.  In Romania, all I had to do was to do what I was asked.  In Haiti, all I needed to do was ask "what can I do?"  My goals in both places were simple-to make someone's load lighter and to spend time with children who are living apart from a family.  So in short, my experience did match up with what Tara wrote, that those who came to be with people are often more effective.  For some reason, the Livesay post has me all gung ho on this topic so tomorrow I'm going to offer up some tips on being an efffective short term missionary, based on my own experiences and the words I have heard others speak.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some thoughts on short term missions trips

The Livesay family, one of my favorite Haiti bloggers, recently posted some thoughts on short term missions work.  Their post is an interesting mix of their experiences, the experience of other long term missionaries, and an article written for a Christian magazine.  I suppose, at first glance, their comments and the comments of other long term missionaries seem jaded or even critical.  But I think the things they are saying are important for people to hear, regardless of if they want to serve in short term ways in the U.S. or abroad.  The jist of what they are saying is that short term missionaries must be careful not to ride in on white horses and try to save the day.  When you arrive on a short term mission trip, you are the outsider.  You don't know the culture, the language, the community, the people, or even the program that is being put forth by the missionaries you are working with.  Yes, you might think you know but the reality is, because you are not there day in and day out, you don't know.  It can be very easy to unintentionally upset the apple cart so to speak because of an offhanded comment, your expectations as to what needs to be accomplished, or your generous gift given to someone whom you think needs it.  Read what the Livesays are saying.  Read the comments under the posts.  Hear what they are really saying.  They are not saying "don't come".  What they are saying is be wise if you come.  Be intentional if you come.  Be thoughtful if you come.  And most of all, be considerate of what the missionaries who are hosting you are telling you. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So you're sick...thoughts on illness from an adoptive mom

A while back my cousin posted a family photo of our tribe on Facebook. Since the word "tribe" was used, my ever witty brother asked if he could use his Native American name "runs with scissors". Of course, there was opportunity for other names to be suggested. (And yes, I'm sure this whole conversation is entirely politically incorrect. Just take it at face value and know I have no intention of insulting anyone. Names with meaning are great regardess of ethnicity; names that are fictious and silly are just that-fictious and silly.)

As of right now, if I had to invent such a name for Kenson it would probably be something along the lines of "nose of the running snot" or "hacks up a lung." We are still dealing with sickness for him. He has honestly not been 100% healthy since October. In his case, it all starts with what appears to be allergy symptoms (clear runny nose), then develops into a cough that will not go away on it's own. I usually let the cough go for about a week before taking him into the doctor. From the end of October to the beginning of January, I had taken him in three times. Usually we followed the pattern of runny nose, cough, doctor, antibiotics, feel better for about a week after antibiotics, then back to a runny nose, etc.. At the end of January, I had kind of had it with this whole cycle so when he started coughing, I let it go a lot longer than I usually do, thinking maybe I was taking him to the doctor when he just needed a chance to get better on his own. By February 4, we were getting ready to head out of of town for Conleigh's birthday and I was worried about going out of town with him being sick so I made an appointment. When I picked him up from preschool that day, he had actually started running a fever and when we got to the doctor, she diagnosed him with near pneumonia.

And he has been coughing ever since then. We've since seen an ears, nose, and throat doctor who didn't feel like he could be of any assistance, and we will be headed to a pediatric allergy/asthma specialist in the next week or so. And while I know my child's medical history is completely riveting, my real point in writing was simply to share the experience of what it can be like to have a child who comes from a hard place who is sick.  I know it may like I'm coloring such a simple thing as a childhood illness with complex adoption issues.  That's not really it.  It's more about how your child's adoption sneaks into the everyday moments, about how that adoption impacts even little stuff like stuffy noses and chest congestion.  So here's my list of things that have popped into my head while doctoring with our kids.

"Is my child sick?"
Just like any family, when your kiddo starts acting differently or starts coughing you ask yourself what is going on.  But having a kiddo who is adopted, specifically from a third world country, means a couple of different things. In terms of the child, it means that you most generally do not know he is sick unless he is presenting with symptoms that you can physically see. There is a good chance your child will not tell you about stomachaches, sore throats, hurting ears, or a headache. (There's a chance of that with a younger child regardless of past history. But if you add in a possible language barrier, that chance increases. And then if you consider that your child has spent a good portion of his life in an institution where medication may not have been available, the nannies were too busy to notice that a child wasn't feeling well, etc., the chance goes up again as your child has not been taught to share when he is not feeling well.)

On one trip to the doctor, when he came in with a fever well over 100, had oxygen saturation levels that were at 90 (and lower than 90 usually means hosptialization) and a case of almost pneumonia, Kenson was literally jumping off of the step up to the exam table while we waited for test results. He never acts sick. He has starting telling us if he doesn't feel good but that has taken at least 12-18 months for him to do that, and even then I'm not sure how often he shares.

Conleigh's a different kiddo and she is more apt to communicate about not feeling well. But her English was better when she came home. And she is also more of a smarty pants; she notices if someone else is getting medicine for a particular symptom and will quickly develop that same symptom so she can have medicine. (Way too smart for her own good! Something we have been told by several previous caregivers.)

"If my child is sick, will he come to me for comfort?"
For those of us who grew up in pretty traditional settings, who is it we want when we're sick?  Our mom.  Who holds your hair while you puke?  Who tucks you in and brings you popsicles?  Who knows what toys to bring you or what song to sing to you?  If you have grown up without parents (or if your memories of your parents are from long ago, prior to orphanage care), who does those little things for you?  If you are lucky, you might have a caring nanny who notices you are ill.  If you are very sick, you might have a caring nanny but she is probably responsible for other things as well and you do not receive her undivided attention.  Of course, once a child comes home, his life changes.  But it take time for those old patterns of behavior to change.  For some kids, it can mean laying in bed, feeling terrible, but not saying a word to anyone because the child doesn't believe that the adult can or will fix the problem.

"Is there important medical history that I don't know?"
The other aspect of parenting a child who was adopted and is now sick (third world country or not) is that you have access to limited medical history. You do not know family history to share with a doctor. You have no way to know what the mother's pregnancy was like, if your child met developmental milestones like walking and talking at certain points, or if your child has had things like RSV, chicken pox, etc.. (You almost always feel a tad bit inadequete when you have to fill out health history questionaires for your child.) With both of our kids, we have known about them for the bulk of their lives. So we have a general idea of what sicknesses they have had. But it is just that: a general idea. With Kenson, we were told at 4 months old that he had asthma. Most pediatricians we consulted with said this was too early for such a diagnosis. And we didn't really ask more questions than that because we figured it was just an err and that there wasn't much information available on why asthma was mentioned. We also know that he had a chronic cough since infancy, which was pretty common at his orphanage.  And we know that the air quality in Port Au Prince is terrible.  Now, we have a child who is having some chronic respitory issues. Knowing the full medical history related to those issues would be helpful.

"Will our doctor consider past medical history even though it's incomplete or not up to American standards?"
It can be difficult regardless of a child's history to determine exactly what is going on.  Then take a child who is missing pieces of his early history, who does not act sick, and who does not complain about feeling sick, and treating him has some added dimensions.  Most doctors are apt to focus on the things that are known for certain ie what he is presenting with currently. I don't want them to just treat him based on today; I want them to treat him based on his entire medical history which is incomplete and I want them to treat him not based on if he appears to feel badly.  My personal feeling is that when he gets any type of bug that is related to coughing, his lungs, or breathing, that something is easily irritated and due to his past history of chronic cough/poor air quality, he is unable to get rid of the irritation. (But I am obviously not a doctor.)  But I haven't seen anyone get real excited over his past history.  (Other than our current nurse practicioner feels like it's out of her area so she has referred us to some specialists.)

Denver Groupon Deal

Still not using Groupon?  Today's daily deal in Denver, Colorado is 1/2 off a Shuttefly photo book.  For a 20 page book, you'll spend $10.  It's available to anyone who buys it, regardless of if you live in Denver.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Braidlocs Update

If Kenson's hair represents the problem of being too long, then Conleigh's hair tends toward the opposite end of the spectrum.  To start with, 2 days after Kenson experimented with the scissors on his hair, Conleigh did the same with hers.  She was more successful than he was and managed to cut off probably 4 or 5 braids before someone noticed.   Of course, she managed to do so in a spot that was already a trouble spot:  right above her ears.  On her, the area above both ears is problematic, full of thin, uneven hair.  (And now some braided stubble.)  Some of that is due to the fact that her hair just hasn't matured yet and she is still dealing with baby hair issues.  Some of that is due to that hair being pulled back often while in orphanage care.  And some of that is due to a mama who was too aggressive when taking out braids and one time managed to break off a large section of the fragile hair that was there.  My vision of ponytails, pigtails, and braided braids just keeps stalling out.  I was really hoping to see amazing growth while her hair was in braidlocs.  And it is growing.  It's just slow going.  The other interesting thing is that since so many of her braids are very thin and don't have much bulk, the curls within the braids have a tendancy to do their magic on the braids themselves resulting in shorter braids that corkscrew in places. 

Some things I think I've learned so far about braidlocs:

-I mentioned the thin, damaged areas.  When I first put the braids in, I was very concerned about these areas.  I tried my best to just braid around them, leaving the damaged hair out of the braids.  I did start braiding these sections about a month ago as I thought they were maybe long enough and strong enough to handle the braids.
-I braided microbraids and some of the braids are very thin due to Conleigh's hair not having a uniform texture or thickness.  I was very worried that some braids would be too thin and break. So far, we have not had any break.  But some of the thin braids have been a bit of a problem when I've tightened them with a latchhook.  It's almost as if the braids are creating knots as you latchook and then the knots make it impossible for you to continue latchooking.
-When I started Conleigh's locs, her hair was very uneven.  I had evened it out to some degree a few months prior but there was still a lot of difference in lengths.  I think if I had to do it again I would wait a bit longer and then try to even it out yet again.  Or maybe just do a complete chop session and get her hair all evened out at like 2 inches long, rather than trying to hang onto the precious length I was trying to save.  It isn't that big of a deal but now the shorter hairs have a tendancy to pop out from the braids and create frizzines.  Also, when I ended each braid, some of the braids could be braided all the way to the end.  On other braids, I ended up with differing lengths of hair so I had to twist the ends instead of braiding.  Now, those ends are frizzing.  (Frizziness is a part of the process but in this case, I think the uneven hair isn't helping.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Guessing Game...

Any guesses?  I know it looks a bit gross.  I tried to pretty it up by putting it next to something lovely aka an old silver bowl with flowers in it.

It's actually one of Kenson's locs.  He decided to cut one of them this week.  It actually fits well with this post so hopefully that explains the need for me to share such a random, odd picture.

Kenson's locs have been in for over 18 months.  They were started with single strand twists.  In the last few months, I have switched to latchooking as a tightening method rather than palmrolling and twisting.  I tighten the new growth maybe every 6 weeks.  He has a lot of hair and it takes a long time to get them tightened.  Especially if I only can work on it for 45 minutes at a time due to our schedule or my child's tolerance for the sitting.  Sometimes it feels like it takes us two weeks to get everything tightened up.

It has really grown and that now leaves D and I with the question of what we should do with the length. 

It is starting to hang in Kenson's eyes.  Many people with longer locs wear headbands or ponytails to keep the hair out of their eyes.  However, most of those people are not a 4 1/2 year old little boy.  I have two concerns about the length:  that wearing headbands/ponytails will elicit many comments about him being a girl (which we already get) and that it may not be age appropriate for him to have such long hair.  I know a lot of that centers around cultural norms and expectations of others.  (And trust me, if you knew me in person, you would probably realize that I am not the type who spends much time on what others think.)  But for us, it raises the question of what will make Kenson feel best as a preschool boy. 

We're not thinking cutting the locs off, just trimming them.  Generally speaking, you are supposed to be able to trim locs just like regular hair.  That said, the thought of actually cutting them makes me nervous.  It's probably just one of those things that I just need to take the plunge and do.  

Hopefully now the beginning of this post will make perfect sense.  Although I'm less than thrilled that he cut his hair, at least now I know that the locs aren't going to do anything too weird if I cut them. 

So perhaps I should thank him for taking the plunge for me.  Or maybe I'll just keep that part a secret.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dr. Bonner, Pampered Chef, and the hair that loves them

It's been awhile since I've said anything about hair.  That's probably because with both kids have locs in their hair, I honestly don't think too much about it.  Locs fit my own style well simply because they don't require lots of daily upkeep once they are established.

With both kids, I have definitely starting using a lot less product.  I think that is a result of concerns about product build up making their locs look dirty.  I'm less concerned about the hair and scalp drying out than I used to be too so I'm less likely to obsessively dump some conditioning product on their heads.  With Conleigh, I probably use coconut oil on it 2 or 3 times a week, unless it starts looking dry.  With Kenson, I maybe use coconut oil on it once a week.  If the coconut oil is not within reach, I sometimes will grab Taliah Waajid's Protective Bodifying Mist.  I also received a trial size of Darcy Botanicals Cherry Kernel Oil which I have been using lately.

I have switched over to a clear conditioning shampoo.  (What I have heard is that, for locs, clear products are better in terms of build up, when compared to opaque products.)  I was using Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose conditioner as a cowash.  I absolutely love the product.  But it's bit too "rich" to use often on locs.  On rare occasions, I pull that out.  Generally speaking, we shampoo about once every 2 or 3 weeks.  The shampoo I use is actually a homemade one.  It's a mixture of about 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup Castille Soap (I'm using Dr. Bonner's peppermint), and 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  I really, really like it especially when paired with this fantastic tip: use a suds pump to turn it into foam.

The tip is actually from a high school friend.  She uses the Pampered Chef Suds Pump for store bought shampoo so her kids don't waste so much in the shower.  I thought this would also work well for my homemade shampoo as it's a bit thin and can be hard to keep in your hand as you're trying to lather up a kid's head.  It completely fixes the problems as it squirts the liquid soap out in the form of suds.  It makes it so easy to get the shampoo evenly dispersed and keeps it nice and full so it doesn't roll out of your hand or down a kiddo's face quite so easily.


So there you have it, my ode to Dr. Bonner and Pampered Chef...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Adoption Final

Today, we headed to the courthouse to finalize Conleigh's adoption.  (And to do a readoption for Kenson.  His adoption was actually final and he is a U.S. citizen but the only way to get a birth certificate for him would be to try to acquire one from Haiti.  Readopting in the U.S. allows us access to a U.S. birth certificate.)  So off we went.  And 15 minutes later, we were headed back home.  In D's words, it was the least stressful, least emotional part of the whole process.  We still have to sort out the citizenship part for Conleigh which involves more money and time but we're getting closer to being done.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why my windows are still dirty

Today, I had some time alone.  The kids were at preschool and I wasn't sure about what to do with my morning.  As I was trying to decide what to do with my time, cleaning the living room windows popped into my head.  They are the extra tall windows that come with living in an old house.  The kind that cause the bottom pane of glass to be right at face height for little people.  And in our house, one of these windows is right behind the chaise on our sectional.  It is the perfect "waiting for Papa" spot.  The window faces our backyard and has a clear view of the driveway.  Since D has started soccer and has had many later than normal nights, I often find my kids standing hunched over the chaise.  Bent at an angle, their torsos extend across the furniture and their little fingers and noses press into the glass.  A few moments of stillness, looking for Papa, then a mad dash onto the next activity.

So today I was going to wash my windows. 

Until I decided that those fingerprints and nose smudges seemed like pretty important stuff.

Monday, March 7, 2011

You might be parenting a 4 year old who is obsessed with rhyming if....

his favorite conversation involves saying two words and then asking if they rhyme. 

From tonight, while looking through an animal book:

"Bull, lull?  That rhyme?"

"Goat, loat?  That rhyme?"

"Tiger, liger?  That rhyme?"

"Sheep, leep?  That rhyme?"

"Pig, lig?  That rhyme?"

And then it got creative.

"Giraffe, laugh?  That rhyme?"

"Stingray, lingray?  That rhyme?'

"Hippopatamus, llllllll amus?  That rhyme?"

Followed by Conleigh's pithy reply, "Kenson, stop asking!"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You might be parenting a 4 year old if...

she greets you at the bathroom door with a large smile on her face, two wet toothbrushes removed from the toothbrush holder, and the words, "I cleaned the potty!"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Choosing to See

Last week, when I took the kids to library storytime, I was not planning to get a book for myself.  I was still reading A Lantern in Her Hand and am constantly having to fight the temptation to have 2 or 3 books going at one time.  But then I spied Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope by MaryBeth Chapman and there was no turning back.  (I read a good chunk of it during my break whil at a sub job the other day and ended up praying no one stuck their head in the room I was in as I was crying the entire time I was reading.)

MaryBeth is married to Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman but perhaps what will be their legacy is not just his music but the loss of their daughter, Maria.  She was 5 and was accidentally hit by their son, Will, as he was pulling the car into the drive of their home.  To be honest, I have not been a Steven Curtis Chapman fan.  It wasn't that I didn't like his music, just that I never was all excited about it.  So at the time of Maria's accident a few years ago, I was sad that it had happened especially because Maria was adopted from China and it seemed so tragic to bring a child home from a foreign country and then lose that child in an accident.  But that was about the extent of it.

Then I saw the Chapman family being interviewed on Larry King.  I don't know if any of you saw that interview but it was riveting.  It left Larry King who by a lot of accounts is a Jewish agnostic amazed at the God who lives inside of this family.  I walked away from this interview with a heart full of praise.  They were real.  They were authentic.  They were hurting.  But they were wise.  But most of all they were letting God talk through them.  If you haven't seen the interview, I've posted it below.  It's about 40 minutes but the story is simply inspiring.  And if that's not enough, I would challenge you to read MaryBeth's book.  It covers many of the things from the interview but has so much more and is full of encouragement for people who are going through real life events that make life look less than rosy.  Indeed, it is beauty from ashes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Clarity (Or at least a a mild clearing of the mind)

Sigh.  I think D and I have experienced a bit of clarity on how our family might grow next.  (Although it seems to be short lived clarity as it leads us right back to a door that seems tightly shut.) 
A few weeks back, I was browsing through Rainbow Kids, which is an online photolisting that works to connect waiting kids to waiting families.   A baby from Haiti was listed.  (That is a rarity.  Rarely are kids from Haiti listed.)  He has a genetic sydrome that affects at least one hand and maybe his feet.  But after doing a little online research, depending on the severity of the syndrome, I thought that it was possibly something we could handle.  So I sent an inquiry to the agency that is placing him asking for some more information.  (If his condition is too severe, I don't know that we would be the best placement for him.  It would depend on many things.)  I of course told the agency that we didn't meet the age requirements but were hoping that if we decided to pursue a special needs adoption that there might be more leeway given.  When D got home from work, I shared what I had done/found and he was excited. 

And that is where the clarity part come in. 

We have not had that feeling about anything else. 

I've inquired about several different programs from other countries.  Infant adoption from Ethiopia.  Independent adoption from Ghana.  Domestic infant adoption through a couple of agencies.  Nothing has really clicked. 

But with this situation, D and I were both feeling it. 

And now to the sigh. 

We heard back from the agency yesterday.  They will not consider us due to our ages as their workers in Haiti do not believe IBESR will approve us.  I'm not devastated as we still had a lot of research to do before we knew if we would have been the best family for that little boy.  But it is one of those things that makes you a bit disgusted in a forlorn sort of way.  As in, this child has no hope.  I am not kidding when I say that children with his condition would be viewed as unintelligent, less than human, or cursed through Voodoo.  And we are a family who is willing to offer hope but are unable to.  At least at this time. 

So joy in that it has affirmed how much our hearts are still in Haiti.  But sadness for a little baby who needs hope. 

Would you continue to pray for us, that we would have clarity about what we should do next?  Once soccer is over, there is a good chance we will start preparing a homestudy.  (With no real plan in mind other than to be ready with a homestudy.) 

Would you pray for this little boy, that a family would be found for him? 

Would you pray for Haiti, as the elections near, that Haiti as a whole would benefit from whomever is its next President?  That the next President will be a true servant of the people who will not seek to line his/her own pockets?  And that this change in power would mean positive changes for adoptions in Haiti where more families are eligible for adoption?