Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Watching People Help Themselves

I heard from our worker this morning that his daughter (who was bitten by a rabid dog last Sunday night) is doing better and better.  She slept well last night, and is in school today, in part because exams start tomorrow. Praise God!
But there were two people at his church bitten by the dog (the other 26 people go elsewhere, or not at all), and I was anxious to know what happened to the other as well.  She was a widow who was bitten on her way to a prayer meeting (I think Sunday morning), and she had to money for the vaccine. As I first heard her story, it broke my heart to think of a widow in this war-torn country, who would die of a dog bite because she couldn't afford the (highly subsidized) $75 for the vaccine.  I wanted to help, and I asked what she would do.  Our worker said that the church was taking up a collection, and they would see what they would do.
I wasn't inspired by that answer, imagining that the church might come up with $10, but nothing like what was needed.  I've been thinking a lot about trying to help the poor, but causing damage, and I didn't want my issues (including my desire to help) to make things worse than they already were --but I wanted to do something.  By the end of the day, I resolved to challenge them to come up with $50, and I would cover the rest.   That seemed like a nice balance of doing something, yet not taking over what they might be able to do for themselves.  But I would need to wait and see what they could (and would) do first...
But today, when I asked, I found that the church collection received $40, and the family pitched in to cover the rest! I was so glad to see God caring for the widow through his church, and doing it without a hand out for help. I'm a bit sad to not have helped, but it is better this way, I think.  The church now knows more of what it can do to help itself, the woman now has another reason to thank God for His provision, and her family has seen that the church really does care for them (I don't know how many are Christian).  And I get to know that this woman, attacked on her way to pray, will not die because of it.



Monday, November 28, 2011

Rabies & Balloons... Except Not

Over dinner just now our family discussed just how wild a day we have had, and Kent asked, "Are you going to blog about this? Because if you don't, I will!" You see, I had a peaceful, quiet extra Sabbath day of rest in mind. Today is national election day. Voters are out in large numbers and exit polls seem to sound positive about the experience. None of our regular folks were coming here to work all day and the house would be quiet. I thought I might even wear pajamas all day!

Except not.

Very late last night one of our friends came by on a motorcycle taxi in a frenzied panic because his 7-yr-old daughter, Deborah had been bitten twice by a rabid dog. By the time he told us the whole story the dog had been on the loose in his neighborhood 'across the tracks' 12 hours, and had bitten 16 people! We sent him to the hospital and told him to return right away if they didn't have treatment in stock. He was so scattered, he forgot his daughter's middle name. I would have too. It sounds like one of the little friends she was playing with on a placid Sunday afternoon was bitten in the head and was already showing dangerous signs of rabies. Who knows for sure if it was panic or rabies, but neither are good. And the dog is still out there.

In case you hadn't thought of rabies as anything other than a shot at the vet for your pet, it is alive and real, killing 100% of its victims slowly in a matter of days, weeks or months. I am not a huge fan of vaccines, especially for non-essentials like chicken pox, but rabies?!! I praise God for the science that created that vaccine! It saves countless lives. Unfortunately, it costs about 10 times the normal family's monthly rent. Take your monthly rent/house payment and times it by 10. Pay that 'out of pocket'. Would you do it? Of course you want to save your child's life! But how do you pay that off when cash is required, there are no banks or credit cards? Congo has a friends-and-family network for such a time as this. Works beautifully! Well, we hoped as they didn't return last night that he found treatment at the hospital.

Except not.

He was back with little Deborah this morning. The hospitals don't stock it. It is not a very stable vaccine, needing to be kept cold (nearly impossible here!) and is therefore expensive. We were able to make some calls and verify that there was indeed a supply in town that would be available tomorrow morning. Deborah will get her shots. We are all thankful. My Mama heart was very proud of my kiddos all praying for her and for the medicines to be found, and then making her snacks and drinks while she listened to the men calling all over town, working for her life. The teeth marks in her upper arm are very real! Sadly, by the time they left the dog had been on the loose for about 20 hours and had bitten 23 people (that they know about) - many of them children.

Without any workers today, we had hours of handwashing dishes, cleaning floors, etc.

Except not.

All these tasks require WATER! Our water tanks are empty today and we are using large bins of water hauled over from a friend's house. The boys pitched right in and we finished most of it before 9am - in time for school! Meanwhile, James discovered a large rat we trapped in the pantry. While we are thrilled to kill another one (8-9" long without the tail), we overlooked his passing for probably 24 hrs and had a stinky trap to deal with (to be fair, the boys in the family had a stinky trap to deal with...) =).

SO not a lazy day off! It was time to teach school.

Except not.

We still had to eat! In between instructional moments, I cracked 41 eggs, chopped 6.5 onions, baked a double-batch of raisin cookie bars, baked 2 quiches for tomorrow, made 2 salads, brewed two cups of coffee, heated up leftovers, gutted and sliced up a huge papaya from our backyard, made a thermos of tea for our night guard, and a pot of rice and meat for him as well. How ever will I do it when they are teenagers?! It's probably not more than most busy Moms, but I felt a bit like I was on a roller coaster. Or maybe one of those funky carnival rides where you don't know which way you will turn next...

We tried to decorate our tree too. We got the lights up yesterday and were looking forward to pulling out a few favorite ornaments...

Except not.

We took them to the US last Christmas, and the best ones didn't make it back into the right storage box, so they are MIA. Mommy fail.

This evening Joel was on duty as 'dinner helper'. In searching for a replacement bottle of gummy vitamins he found a huge bag of skinny balloons stashed away from Kent's balloon-making days. You didn't know I married a balloon artist?? It was Kent's introduction to missions - making balloon animals for kids. He's pretty good too! So Joel convinced Kent to make him a 'light saber' balloon. Anna quickly ordered up pink poodle.

Except not.

After the 4th attempt popped, we resigned ourselves to the fact that these balloons sat in a box for one year too long and were basically worthless.

Except not!

Anna discovered that by tying 8 long pink balloons together at one end, she could make an 'octopus'! And the rest of the evening was spent making various octopi, sting rays, and jelly fish in various balloon colors. Maybe we'll hang THEM on our tree! =) Anna's two favorites were white and pink, and at least one was named Princess. Why not Princess the Pink Octopus?

When life gives you popped balloons... make an octopus!

So our not-at-all-lazy day at home today turned into some kind of carnival ride full of twists and turns. And I'm so proud of my kids taking all those left-turns in stride! Two months ago, a day like today would have included hours of emotional meltdowns. Today we rolled with the punches. We took the left turns. We hauled our water. We helped our friends. We were content in every kind of circumstance. I'm just so thankful.

Got any old balloons? You know you should make an octopus! And smile.

My First Exit Poll, and Other Stuff that Happened Today

OK, it wasn't a real exit poll, but I was very interested to know how the voting went today, so I asked the night guards when they came on shift.  I was able to ascertain that:
  1. There were MANY people voting.
  2. They ALL got a chance to vote.
  3. There were no problems at the vote whatsoever.
I imaagine some places in the rain forest might have had more logistical issues than we had here, but so far, this is a major non-event.  We'll see what happens when they announce the results. :-)
In other news, one of our workers knocked on our door last night, as his daughter had just been bitten by a dog presumed rabid.  I say 'presumed' because it hasn't been tested, and because the community has no intention of trapping it and boxing it up for 10 days to see if it dies. I mentioned that this course was advised, but there seemed no interest.  After biting some 23 people (probably mostly children, like this one), the community wants it dead as quickly as possible --which I understand. The last rabid dog (some time ago, and not here, but close enough to be known of) bit some 60 people. I was told that at that time an aid group donated the vaccine (some $600 for a full treatment, per person), without which people probably would not have either access or means to buy it (the father of this one girl just moved out of a house he was renting for $13/mo. into his own, making a major difference in his ability to make ends meet).
Last night he took her to a clinic, then passed our house on the way to another. He had been told (rightly) at the clinic, that his daughter needed the rabies vaccine, but that he didn't have any.  So he was on his way to try a couple hospitals.  I sent him on his way with fare and prayers, and asked him to return if he didn't find the vaccine.  He didn't, but returned in the morning.  So this morning, on a national holiday (for the elections), we got to chase down possibilities to treat his daughter.  Fortunately there were a number of helpful and sympathetic people, who helped find out where a stock of the vaccine was.  But it wasn't open today (did I mention it was a national holiday?), so we'll go there tomorrow.  But she did get to leave with clean wounds and a pink Hello Kitty bandage, which she seemed to appreciate. And her dad got to vote (I hope!).
Anyway, I thought that the political and medical events of the day were a very interesting juxtaposition of reality, that shows that the things a day brings are not necessarily anything like what you might fear or expect.  But God is gracious, and He provides in our time of need.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Busy Boy Goes to School

Several of you have busy little boys like our Joel. He preferred motion to stillness from the womb! Once he learned to walk, he never stopped.

So when it came to schooling, I knew we would struggle with a conventional 6-hour-desk day of learning ( you may recall...).
Here's an update on how my kinesthetic second grader is doing at his desk:

- The older we get, the better time we have had being able to focus for short periods sitting at his desk. Good thing too! The older we get, the more material there is to cover!

- To ease his issues with focusing for longer periods, last spring (end of First Grade) we slowed down his math. He is no longer a full year ahead of grade level, but he is less frustrated and more confident. With a summer birthday, just turning 7, he is extremely young for Second Grade this year, so we'll see where that goes.

- One way we continued to get him enough physical activity, was to have him run laps around the house between subjects. We never skipped his recess time, and it was mandatory to spend recess outside unless it was raining. Then he could play Wii inside. I also used to divide up his math page into 4-5 sections. We called it 'Travel Math': #1-5 sit in the bathtub; #6-10 on the couch; #7-15 in the hallway and #16-20 on the top bunk. He loved this funny way of doing his math practice in so many 'weird' places!

- Joel's reading really took off over the summer and while he doesn't LOVE it obsessively like his brother, he is a good reader and enjoys reading for his little sister. This fall I began to notice he would read something well on one page and get distracted halfway through a second page, his voice trailing off while his mind was on the pictures or something else. We are not sure if he inherited the ADHD tendencies, but we have taken him off all dairy to see if his focus improves. So far, it seems to be working (3 weeks now).

So my not-so-little Busy Boy Joel is able to sit for an hour at a time through a normal school morning and complete his work without stress and frustration!! This is so exciting to me. Part of this success is due to 'just growing out of the wiggles' and part of it could be cutting dairy foods. I don't really care which, as long as it works and we can get some work done!

Not surprisingly, his least favorite subject is still handwriting, and his most favorite subject is science (hands-on experiments!).

Busy Boy SITS in School!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One More Thing...

I almost forgot! To go along with the fascinating sermon on the Fall and it's effects... I did happen to notice that right in the midst of the part about the serpent, a wayward bat lost his footing in the rafters and flew two circles over our heads trying to get himself back to 'bed'.

Snake.
Bat.

Practically the same to me!

Caught three R.O.U.S.s on our back porch last night in Kent's homemade bucket trap. Rodents of unusual size? Oh, they exist! No, they weren't the very-real bush rats that are 3 feet long, but they were big rats. BIG. When it grosses out a Congolese person, it's big. Just sayin.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fallen

Yesterday at church we heard a fascinating take on the Fall. There were several points that stuck in my head - maybe you will also find them thought-provoking:

- All in the Family:

From an African perspective, family relationships define most everything and the terms, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc. are used often in the broadest possible sense. There are, of course, rules, but I don't have time to explore the glories of anthropology right now. This sermon discussed the entire story of the Fall calling Eve 'our grandmother' and Adam 'our grandfather'. Putting them quite literally in our direct lineage brought the whole thing much closer to home.


- Not Even:

The pastor described 'our grandmother' telling the serpent what God's Word said about the forbidden fruit. She not only told the serpent the rule: 'not to eat' but exaggerated it: 'not even to touch'. Oh, how easy I find it to exaggerate! Guess it runs in the family... =) I know the absolute Truth, but I like to enhance it a little to make myself look better.


- Conflicted Desires:

The last thing that stuck with me, was his perspective on the curse our grandmother incurred. She was cursed with painful childbearing and the desire for her husband. I've always thought of that as a desire to be more powerful or controlling, but never that desire to be loved and needed beyond normal reasoning. He explained this curse as the reason we see a battered woman return to her husband again and again. Even if she is beaten and abused, she will come home. Even if her husband has been horrible and absent for a year or more, she will take him back. Yes, marriage should be preserved with forgiveness and perseverance, but this powerful desire to belong and be loved can make one do crazy things. I know there are times that I look to Kent to supply what only God can.


Well, I promised you 'several' things and gave you 'three'...

There I go with exaggeration again!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Birthday Week



This week James had a great 9th birthday and I had a wonderful time turning 25 again. =) (For some reason, Anna kept calling me 25. She just knows that when my 'number' changes, hers is soon to follow and she can't wait to be 5!)


So here's the birthday boy wearing a crown in school (I know, I'm so mean making him do school on his birthday. But in 'the real world' people still have to go to school too!):



eating his favorite lunch (roasted steak and fried cabbage):




He loves reading mysteries right now (Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Box Car Children, etc etc) so we had a Mystery Party where the kids had to gather clues around our yard to find missing letters to this code and solve the Case of the Missing Birthday Candles. It was fun. And Anna and Joel got to help cut out question marks...





Lots of fun opening presents. This is a book of hard mazes and he's focused not bored. =) Eventually he put it down and opened up all the legos, new Wii game, etc.






What can I say, my son is from Eugene, OR. He loves tie-dye and has asked for it for years. Grandma finally found one and sent it over and he put it on immediately! The requisite blowing of the mystery candles (recovered near the crime scene):



It was a 9x13 two-layer almond-banana cake with Cran-raspberry jam for filling. The honey-marshmallow frosting didn't do the right thing, but we poured it over the top and moved on. For a 'sugar-free' cake, some people thought it was too sweet! Honey and fruit are pretty sweet. James loved it, which is what counts.

- - -

Then it was my turn. I was treated all day like a queen. Kent made me coffee with real cream (brought by my friend Suzanne over from Kenya!), scrambled eggs and bacon! I had LOTS of help opening gifts:




Yes, most Congolese living rooms come fully-equipped with a sink. =) The kids made the fancy bows out of magazine pages, so I wanted to keep them all!




Kent made me a fabulous pumpkin pie, but it was still in the oven. So we toasted our sparkling juice ('spicy juice' according to Anna):




Notice that lovely water filter behind me. Love that thing! It magically turns sludge-water into clean water! Then the kids got ready for bed and came back for pie. The leftovers the next day were the best!! My helper blowing out my candle with me. (The extra pie filling made some cute little heart-shaped pies too!)




See that gorgeous wood grain on the table Kent made? Love it. Now off to plan one more birthday for our house! =)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fully Un-isolated

Congo is in the news this week!

Help is being sent for problems ongoing and seemingly unnoticed by the world at large for a decade. I'm infused with hope. This land I call my home frequently goes unnoticed.
I've heard it called lots of different names this week:


rugged
isolated
'Wild West'
troubled
poverty-stricken
backwoods

forgotten

Really people? Forgotten?
Maybe Congo is forgotten by some, but it is cherished by others.
She is the size of Western Europe! Forgotten?


She is certainly not forgotten, unnoticed or isolated from Him who spoke this breathtaking, wild country into existence.


He knows it all.


Every nook and cranny.


Every waterfall.


Every beautiful smile.


Congo is not isolated from God.


It is fully KNOWN.


And LOVED.


Isn't that just where we are?
Rugged, wild ; feeling isolated and forgotten.
But we don't have to be defined by any of those words.
Nope.
He sees us in our sin.
He pays for it "while we were still sinners",
knows us,
draws us in our ugliness near,
and loves us.

As Matthew Henry says, "No other such an instance of love is known."


That is as fully un-isolated as you can get.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recipe #6: Banana Pancakes

Cooking comes naturally to some people. I'm not one of them. When we lived out in the jungle (where it is definitely a WOMAN's job to cook), people were often puzzled that Kent would help in the cookhouse. We skirted the impropriety by explaining that Kent studied Biochemistry. He was just doing chemistry!

As newlyweds, I was in the informal-learned-from-my-husband school of culinary arts. Lately, I do 90% of the cooking with trusted faithful recipes and we all can smile. But every now and again, Kent likes to get in the kitchen, make a big mess and experiment. Did I say 'likes'? No, he LOVES to experiment. It must nourish his inner chemist.

My Congolese friends keep reminding me how good I have it. I do love that Kent enjoys cooking. While he tells funny stories about disastrous culinary inventions in college, nearly poisoning his innocent roommates; he rarely makes anything we don't all eat with joy. I should have given him the credit entirely for adapting Recipe #1: Chocolate Nut Butter Brownies. It was his experimentation that drove us to find something better than we started with. And it is his experimentation I bring you today. The real trouble is that this is all in his head, and not written down. I will attempt to codify this genius:

Recipe #6: Banana Pancakes
This was adapted from Elaine Gottschall's Peanut Butter Pancakes in her book Breaking the Vicious Cycle. We like the sweetness of adding banana to them.

Ingredients:

1 cup natural peanut butter, creamy (or other nut butter - we just live in peanut-land)
2-3 Tbs. raw honey
8 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla essence, optional
3 ripe bananas, mashed or blended

This serves 4 people, we usually double this recipe and snack on leftovers.
We stick everything in the blender and fry small (4") pancakes on low-medium heat in oil or ghee. Because of the honey and banana, they will brown prematurely or burn if cooked on high heat. It means that you have to cook them a bit slower than 'normal' pancakes. If it is too thick you can thin it with water or your milk of choice.

These are not your white fluffy styrofoam McBreakfast pancakes, but they are so packed with protein that I can go hours without feeling hungry after eating just 3 small ones. We top them with aforementioned guava sauce, ghee, raw honey with mixed with water and maple flavoring, or fruit-only jam.

It's still not the same as our favorite granola, but they are grain-free.
Yummy healthiness!

This is the last of the week of SCD recipes to give you a feel for what we are eating, and what is helping all of us feel stronger and healthier. These and a few others have become family favorites that we will likely continue making even after we go 'off-diet' someday. James' birthday is coming up and almond banana cake with marshmallow frosting have been requested, flourless, sugar-free and grain-free. I'll post pictures!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recipe #5: Mapera (Guava Sauce)

I spent most of this weekend in bed with a colossal headache, trying to figure out if I should be taking malaria drugs or antibiotics for a sinus infection. Thankfully, I chose the latter and am finally surviving without high doses of Tylenol. So today I am kind of copping out on the recipe run... I don't know that fruit cooked with honey can officially be called a recipe...

But it's tasty stuff! We use guavas because we have a whole tree full of them in the backyard, but any fruit would work really. We've also tried pineapple. Pretty much ends up tasting like canned Dole Tidbits. We love this with mangoes!! Mango sauce is the only way I like them. Yum! Too bad mango season isn't here until December. Boo!

Recipe #5: Mapera (Guava Sauce)
Btw, this one does not come from a fabulous cooking blog. We just made it up.

1-2 gallons fruit (20-30 guavas in our case), washed and halved
2 cups filtered water
1 cup raw honey
1 Tbs. cinnamon

Wash and half all fruit into stock pot. Add water and simmer until soft. Run through an applesauce mill or food grinder if needed. Add honey and cinnamon. Put it piping hot into glass jars and hope they seal. Stick them in the fridge anyway just in case. (For me anyway. You have access to 'real' canning supplies, so you're probably good to leave them on the pantry shelf a while.) Serve cold over cakes, in yogurt, on toast, on fried fish, on pancakes, etc. Ooh pancakes! Tomorrow!

I'm so distractable at this late hour of 8:15pm... If you want to be distracted with me today: This makes me think, which kind of hurts. But then I read this and pray. Finally, this makes me rejoice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Recipe #4: Coconut Ice Cream

For those of you living in the land of grocery stores... this is a bit unnecessary. There are some beautiful coconut ice cream options made in Oregon by Coconut Bliss or So Delicious/Purely Decadent. If you can't afford them, can't find them, need to go sugar-free like us or are just one of those DIY foodies...

Our family tradition (at least overseas) is to make some form of 'ice cream' (stainless steel bowl full of something) in the freezer on Sat. and have it with snack foods for dinner and a movie Sunday nights. When starting this dairy-free, everything-free diet, my first two concerns were how will we do pizza night and what about 'ice cream'?!

I tried mashed white bean - honey ice cream. Blech. Then mashed fruit sorbet. Ok. But I LOVE coconut milk, so I was thrilled to find:

Recipe #4: Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Inspired by this tasty goodness over at Elana's Pantry, but for some reason James couldn't get into Coconut milk on its own without some fruit, and we usually forgo the raw eggs.

Ingredients: (I double this for our family)

1 can coconut milk
1 large (or 2 small) ripe bananas
1/4 cup raw honey
1 Tbs. vanilla essence
dash sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon, optional
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (we use Enjoy Life dairy-free mini chips)

Blend bananas, honey, vanilla, and salt in the blender and then add the coconut milk later until no banana chunks remain. I add half the chocolate chips in the blender for a pulse or two just to chop some of them. Then I dump the whole thing in my metal freezer bowl. Two - four hours later I try to remember to come back and add the second half of the chips when things are mostly frozen. We don't have an ice cream maker, so it can freeze very solid. Good to leave on the counter for 10 minutes or more before breaking your ice cream scoop... So yummy!!

I have added mango sauce before and it was very good. Haven't yet tried warm jams or dried fruits... I hope soon to try adding cocoa powder and or peppermint extract... YUM!

It's never too late in the year for ice cream. I know I can't talk because I live in the tropics. But you can pair this with a warm ginger molasses cookie... a pumpkin spice latte... a piece of mocha coffee cake... I better stop before drooling on my keyboard.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recipe # 3: Flax Bread

Okay, so after 3 months without bread or grains, this bread tastes like dessert to us! We slather it with imported blackberry fruit-only jam. Joel likes it with honey or guava sauce poured over or sandwiched between. But they Joel likes most things, including baked perch topped with guava sauce. He says he's preparing to become a chef. I digress...

I found this recipe over at Adrienne's blog: Whole.New.Mom. She has her family on a similar diet for similar reasons, and has some great recipes! She says her family likes this bread with bean dip or hummus. Yum! We changed it up a bit and have not perfected it quite yet for our own use. The recipe makes a spongey thick 9 x 13 focaccia that would probably be better in two 9" squares or 3-4 loaf pans.

The flax seed meal will lose most of its beneficial properties within 3 days of grinding, so keep refrigerated if you have extra, or bought it as 'meal'. The less expensive option is to buy the seeds in bulk (either color) and grind them yourself! My blender can do this on high speed for about 1 min. per cup. To get the 2 cups of flax seed meal needed here, you'll want to grind just more than 1 3/4 cups of seeds.

I suppose we could call it fabulous flourless flax focaccia, but that's over the top. Hope you like this tasty way to get your Omega-3 oils!

Recipe #3: Flax Focaccia Bread
2 cups flax seed meal
1/2 cup almond flour*
2 Tbs. coconut flour*
1 Tbs. aluminum-free baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbs. raw honey
5 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup water*
1/3 cup oil

Preheat oven to 375. Grease your pans (see note above). Whisk together dry ingredients (*we added almond and coconut flour last week in an attempt to decrease the cake-like texture and really liked it! We added a bit more water than the original 1/2 cup to compensate, fyi. They are optional.) Mix in wet ingredients until fully incorporated (no egg strings!). Now the strangest part: Turn off the mixer and leave the batter alone. It needs to sit and congeal for 2-3 minutes. It will start out looking watery and will soon spread like soft butter. Odd, huh? Spread it in your greased pan. Bake for 18 min. or until it springs back. Let cool. Cut in whatever shape you like!

It is a beautiful rich dark brown color. The opposite of white bread! Seriously! We've used a thin version for pizza crusts, we've made mini-sandwiches, we've smeared it with honey like a cornbread. It's still a bit egg-ey to my taste, but we'll keep changing it... There's 'our bread' for now!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Recipe #2: 5-minute Chocolate Pudding

Originally inspired and adjusted from Alex's Raw Chocolate Pudding recipe on allrecipes.com.


5-minute Chocolate Pudding
(see Banana Pudding option below**)

Ingredients:

1 large avocado (or 2 small ones), yes you read that right
1 ripe banana
1 cup coconut milk (or other milk)
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. honey (or other sugar if you must)
2 tsp. vanilla essence
dash sea salt
tiny dash stevia powder, optional*


*I started adding the stevia because I don't enjoy the sweetness of chocolate when made only with honey. The stevia, imho, gives it a little extra something that is better for cocoa than honey alone. I have a fruit-chocolate taboo, but I'm getting over it.

**If you want to avoid chocolate or cocoa for some reason, it is possible to make it Banana Pudding, in which case I recommend omitting cocoa and stevia and adding some cinnamon and/or nutmeg.


Put everything in the blender. And blend. Really, that's it. Pour into 3-4 cups and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Or just eat it out of the blender... your call.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Recipe #1: Nut Butter Brownies

Disclaimer: If you and yours eat a high-sugar diet (high-fructose corn syrup, cane juice, sugar, sucrose, maltose, etc. all count!) then these brownies may not seem 'sweet enough' for you. To us, they are delectable! Enjoy a whole foods treat!

RECIPE #1: Peanut Butter Brownies

This was adapted from Elaine Gottschall's original recipe published in her book 'Breaking the Vicious Cycle'. The original recipe is also found on the SCD website with a photo here.

Ingredients:

1 c. cocoa powder
2 tsp. sea salt
3 c. natural peanut butter (other nut butters would work too)
8 eggs, beaten
2-3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/4 c. honey (we use raw)
2 Tbs. ghee (melted butter or oil would work too)
1 1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips, optional (we use Enjoy Life dairy-free mini chips)


Preheat the oven to 300 (it's best baked slowly, you could try 250 even). Grease a large 9 x 13" or 2 square pans (we use ghee).

Combine cocoa powder and salt and set aside. Blend wet ingredients well in a mixer (or high-capacity blender like a Vita-Mix, just be gradual with the peanut butter). Add dry ingredients gradually. Add baking soda last (then chocolate chips if you like). Batter will be thick like most banana bread recipes.

Spoon batter into greased pan(s) and spread evenly. Bake 'low and slow'. The batter will 'puff' quite high and then fall in the center. Bake about 1 hour for chewy cakey brownies. Bake less if you like them gooey (until the 'jiggle' is gone in the center). Maybe 40 minutes, depending on your oven.

The added mashed bananas add sweetness and gooey-ness, which we like. You can skip them, but it won't seem very sweet and you might need a bit of extra sweetener. Sometimes we have used 2 drops of stevia powder for this.

If you are into a really cakey brownie, you could replace 1 c. peanut butter with some almond flour and coconut flour. But if you go to all that trouble, you should just try THIS over at my favorite sweet-tooth blog 'Gluten Free Fix'. Michelle is a professionally-trained pastry chef, now Mommy blogger, and fabulous SCD foodie.


What NOT to Eat

It is weird.
Yes, I'll admit it, 'the diet' our family is on is weird.
I sometimes feel like I am constantly explaining.

What can you eat? You really don't eat rice?
Are you sure you don't want a cookie?
Wow, that diet seems hard!

Aren't most truly good things also hard? Trying an 'autism' diet wasn't a big deal to me as someone who has altered her food for years to avoid allergic reactions. We also travel around the world for a living, which would be miserable if we only liked Cocoa Puffs or Wheat Thins. We're accustomed to eating foreign foods and other 'weird things'.

So we tried new things! We learned new recipes. Don't worry, we still eat brownies with the rest of them. They are just made without flour or sugar. We finally know what NOT to eat: No flour. No sugar. No grains. No potatoes. No noodles. No rice. If you or someone you love wants to invest time (realistically 1-2 years or more) to eat toward a stronger immune system, check out GAPS and SCD!

Here is more background about our choices, and some links if you actually want more information or need help getting to sleep in the middle of the night...

So what do we eat?? Over the next few posts I invite you to try a new recipe, if you're into that kind of thing, and 'eat along with us'! For the next 6 days I will post one recipe from this diet that we have come to love and have made recently. And who knows? Without all that flour and sugar, you might enjoy guilt-free seconds on brownies!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The OT Journey: Parting of the Waters

As some of you may remember, we learned of James' need for an OT (Occupational Therapist) about 2 weeks before leaving the US. That was simply not enough time to get in to see one. We returned to Africa in faith that we would find the Sensory Assessment we needed somehow somewhere. We tried working with two different OT's by Email long-distance in July. Neither one could help us.

We planned extra time in Kampala, Uganda last month to search one out. We went to town armed with 4 possible contacts. One by one they fell through: out of town, not an OT but a PT, on vacation, etc. I had one last lead in Nairobi an hour's flight away, but really hesitated to spend a lot of money chasing a lead that might fall through like the others. If Nairobi fell through, South Africa or Europe were our next options.

Now begins the long list of the ways God provided for James and I on this trip, miracle upon miracle to the point that I felt like Moses must have felt standing in the Red Sea watching walls of water stand up straight in the sky:

--This popular Belgian OT had exactly the experience, training and recommendations we needed, but was 'hard to get in to see'... She answered the phone the first time, took time to talk with me, Emailed me right away some forms to fill out (even though she was traveling to another country the next day), introduced me to her 'Autism Team' who arranged all our appointments for us, set up an appointment with her one week away, and her associates even did some shopping for snacks that were on James' diet! (Thank you Karolien and Trixie!!) Like I said, walls of water.

--With the encouragement I had from the Emails, my conscience said to go ahead and plan this trip to Kenya. We would need a place to stay, and had heard of a new guesthouse on our office compound. I wrote and it was booked already for the two nights we needed. The same day I got a second Email saying that the previous guests were actually leaving the day we would arrive and someone else was coming in the day we would leave. It was available to us for the two nights we needed. Exactly. I couldn't have even planned that. Walls of water.

--I knew we should book it, Kent gave me the green light, but the cost was prohibitive to buy two plane tickets at the last minute. We usually fly this back and forth to Congo. And now we were flying in this! (You would have to chuckle with me at James in the window seat eating his mixed nuts like a king!) We asked our team to pray for provision of costs. Immediately someone wrote who felt led to cover the entire cost. Walls. of. water.

--So off James and I went up to 35,000 feet. Kent always handles the money side of life. My plan was to arrive and get Kenyan shillings from an ATM. I forgot contingency cash and it wasn't until we started the descent that I realized I had no way to pay for our visas to get into the country. They have to be paid in Euros or Dollars. I had neither. Yes, God can provide for my stupidity. James and I prayed right then and there that God would make a way. Upon arrival I noted the airport has changed a lot in the past 3 years. There were ATM machines everywhere! I got one to work for me right in the concourse and walked up to the nicest immigration official I have ever met. She let me pay in shillings! AND charged me $20 instead of $50 because we would only be there 48 hours. Dry path through the reef.

--The night before our flight, we got out passports and realized that mine only had one page left. Doh! The tourist and transit visas take up one page each! It was the weekend, and no embassy was open anywhere. We looked up the consular officer online and called the emergency number. She was very kind and said if I could get into Kenya Monday morning, they could install new pages in 15 minutes while we waited Monday afternoon! It is a little nerve-wracking to know you can almost get into a country, but won't be able to get out until something is fixed. The one page I had left, did have a small corner date stamp, so I would have to beg that they work around it and not cover it up... The exit guy from Uganda snuck in his stamp on a busy page just because he was nice. He didn't have to! And the entry into Kenya lady was a saint who stuck her sticker right on the edge and had to wrap on edge over the other side. Why do I worry?? Our office team in Nairobi were waiting for us to arrive, praying all would work out for the extra passport pages. They are awesome! We love you RBS! As we drove off in one direction to our first of three appointments, they drove off in the other direction with my passport to get the extra pages added. Marvel with me.

--So now that we were in the right country, with a taxi to our guesthouse, we needed to figure out food. It is pretty easy to stay on James' diet here in Congo where everything has to be made from scratch everyday anyway. But driving by Java House and Pizza Inn at lunchtime was pretty tough! I had written ahead asking my colleagues to buy a few staples for us so we could prepare our own foods. Not only did Karen buy my whole list, she scrubbed and soaked all the fruits and veggies for me ahead of time and had them in ziploc bags! James and I thoroughly enjoyed lots of apples, grapes, chicken and broccoli (things we can't get here)! Water standing up.

--Nairobi has a shortage of roads. Or an excess of cars. Either way, there is smog and bad traffic. Everywhere. All day long. The taximan we used is a good friend of a friend. He somehow skirted most all traffic jams. Where I planned 60 minutes to get across downtown, he would make it in 30. Where I planned 30 to get a few miles away, he would make it 15. We ended up slightly early to every appointment. And every appointment was a bit like drinking from a firehose, but exactly where we needed to be and learning things that we can do here at home. I brought James his DVD player with Lassie season 1 and he never used it. (Though we did borrow 2 Hardy Boys books and the Secrets of Nimh and he read all of those in his 48 hrs...)

--James scored below 2% for processing and reacting to the sense of touch. We suspected as much. This was confirmation. What was wonderful news is that he doesn't have other sensory troubles. YAY! He had so much fun at the OT studio, he didn't want to leave - even to go on an airplane. We came back with pages of advice and ideas for therapy at home, and better than that, the therapists are happy to help over Email until we see them again next year! Can you see that water standing up?

Oh me of little faith.

It was truly marvelous to watch God move every obstacle right out of our way. And much of that was possible through a multi-cultural, multi-national, amazing team of colleagues! I am grateful to work alongside them.

Hugest thanks to all those who gave and prayed us through the water. Also to Karen, Olivia, Judith, Emily, Serge, Joseph, Trixie, Liz, Karolien, Josh, Audra, Gabe, Raeleigh, Rod, Emergency Consular Officer lady, Embassy people, and RBS!

Back...

After a miraculous whirlwind month, we are back home in Congo now.

We did fit in a few days of vacation. Much of our time was spent chasing down leads to find James an Occupational Therapist (OT). They are not plentiful in Africa, let me tell you. I will write out the details of provision later, but the short version is that we found a wonderful Belgian OT to work with in Kenya. She was able to detail James' sensory issues and suggest a program to start him toward recovery.

This is all very new territory to me, and at times overwhelming, but we will make it through one day at a time! He is doing really well. We continue to see progress everyday on this diet!! Coming soon, more OT details and I will post a few recipes in case you like trying new things. You can 'eat along with us' for a few days from around the world!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Passport photo day

Here is Samwise's passport photo. I'm not sure if it is OK to have another dog in the shot or not...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Smell of Candle Smoke

Candles provide such a serene, contemplative light. And I love to watch the delicate loops of smoke rise to the ceiling! Well, James has me thinking about candles this week...

You know that adorable toddler phase of picking up everything? The one where dirt must be tasted, smelled or rolled between the fingers to really sense it? (You know you did it!) It's actually a very valuable thing to discover the world piece by piece. How do I know what it tastes like? I'm sure I must have tried it!

All of our kids went through this phase in some form or other. Of course the boys were more into dirt and Anna was more into washing her hands for hours on end. But the senses are such a valuable thing well-worth the investment of time.

One of James' struggles has been what is technically called 'tactile hyposensitivity'. It basically means some of the wires in the 'sense of touch' part of the brain are confused or not working properly. And we thought he was such a cute little tough guy being able to watch the needle go in his arm for a blood draw without a flinch or cry... know we now what was really at work there!

This past week, James seems to be discovering his body and the world around him all over again! It's the absolute funnest thing to watch!

"Mom! Smell this candle smoke! Doesn't it smell funny? I wonder if I can catch it in my hands??!"

Believe me, he has had plenty of exposure to candle smoke before. We light candles at dinner for the entire months of December and February. Surely, this wouldn't be a huge discovery for him? But it is.

"What? This guava is too ripe and squishy!"
Mom: "But you ate the same kind last week and the week before that and didn't care."
"Well it's gross. I don't really like the taste of guavas."
(two siblings eating them up don't seem to mind...)
Mom: "But you used to love them!"
"Well, I guess I like them if they are mostly green."

Mr. Picky Discerning Tastes, where did you come from?

Foods he has eaten without comment for years have suddenly changed. Everything tastes different to him. Each meal is a discovery!

"I love this spice!"

He seems to be awakening all over again to the amazing world we live in.
The smell of rain.
The smell of candle smoke.
The delicious taste of ripe fruits.
The taste of spices.

It is a whole new world for James. One where he gives out the hugs and asks to be tickled (two things he hasn't done for at least 5 years).

It is a whole new world for his Mom.

But a wonderful one
we are so grateful for the glorious senses
to hear,
to taste,
to feel,
to smell and
to see this shadow of a world.



Watching him discover things makes me realize how rich I am.
Rich with a Sage nose that can smell out any treat or disaster.
Rich with an ear for music.
James, through his struggles, teaches me gratitude.
So next time you blow out a candle, I hope you take a second to watch the gorgeous smoke rise, smell it with me and thank God for senses!



We are coming up on 3 months of James eating allergen-free foods on DAN protocol, and 2 months of being on the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet, linked over in the sidebar). I had heard amazing stories about autistic kids finding healing on SCD, but had not read anything specific about sensory issues. Apparently, this diet has helped sensory issues in other families too.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to School!



(our school room, ready for another year)


One of many reasons we homeschool is that it allows us flexibility to stay together as a family despite Kent's somewhat mobile life/work. We have various reasons to travel most of the month of September, so we started school a couple weeks early this year. Anna has moved up to 'real preschool' and kindergarten math, but likes to sit through Latin and Zoology with the boys. She has a real desk of her own and loves it!

James moved up to a larger desk,
for as you will see, he is growing like a weed!



The gapped grin, dimpled cheek and huge front teeth are eerily familiar...
He almost looks like a teenager to me in these pics, and not a third grader...
We even have the right slump!
Really, aren't we done yet Mom?




I didn't edit out my studio for you...
yes, it is a dining room chair in front of a fleece blanket on our front porch.


My sweet Joel is in Second Grade!




...and that second front tooth will soon be gone! He's pretty proud of being almost 2 inches taller than his brother was going into Second Grade. He'll catch up with him one of these days...


And our resident princess,
in the midst of trying to grow her hair out like Rapunzel,
is starting preschool!




And of course, we had to take a new silly-face picture, at right.

The kids then all insisted that our puppies get their portraits taken too... If you thought getting young children to sit still and pose was a challenge, how about 2 9-month-old puppies who think they're missing breakfast??! I had fleeting delusions of getting the dogs to take their turns sitting on the chair.
yeah, notsomuch

Then moved the chair hoping they would agree to sit with our kids petting them nicely.
dream on

Then just wanted to get them all the way in the frame...
you can see how things degraded:


So Nella, our sweet black lab mutt, who flops over for a belly rub at the sight of you, gives me her rump. That's what she thinks about portraits!

But her brother Samwise, who is usually hyper, was eating up all the attention he could get. We took lots of pictures and the kids got up, and he was still laying there like, "What? It's over already?"

(I just love the expressions! We love dogs!)




Maybe we should be called the ten-foot and eight-paws family...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Université Shalom de Bunia Jubilee

This didn't work for some reason, so I've posted it here.
For a more in-depth, if somewhat jaded, report on one aspect of the Jubilee, go here

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meltdown

Two steps forward, one step back.

I can feel the progress, but it's harder to appreciate it on the 'one-step-back' days.

Like today.

The bedtime chapter book we've been reading is lost. Somehow this is a magnanimous disaster for my routine-loving boy. Routines are safety. And dealing with changes at the end of a long day, well sometimes, it's just too much to ask.

Some AS kids have meltdowns that look like a toddler tantrum on steroids. Screaming, kicking, throw-yourself-on-the-ground to deal with the inner pain of sensory overload or fearsome changes. Not my son. His are pretty stealthy meltdowns and I can't often see them building under the surface. He retreats, disappears, stops talking, starts bawling, tears streaming down his face that the day simply can't go on because the book is missing and he needs storytime.

Skipping stories is a big deal to a kid who lives to read stories.

So tonight we meltdown.

The routine is not right.

And sometimes that will just have to be what it is.

As much as I have tried, as he grows, I know I cannot eliminate all disappointment and change from his life. After several minutes of melting-down we were able to move on tonight. He's now sleeping peacefully.

But that is not how every night ends.

I don't have to worry about those nights.

They are the yesterdays, maybe even the tomorrows, but not today.

Today I will be thankful for a long day with a short meltdown and a happily sleeping boy.


Friday, July 29, 2011

The Light(ning) Side

In Kenya we were told that the 'long rains' come in Sept/Oct, which was easy for me to remember as it should be 'fall'. Only not really.

In Congo, things are similar in the sense of dry - then wet - then dry - then wet. [Cultural tangent: We have met people who do not know how old they are in years, but how many wet seasons, which unfortunately doesn't count the years of drought...] But the timing is a bit different here. I was told when we spent time in the rainforest that the long rains come Aug. 25th. Sure enough, they did! But here on the savannah, I'm told they come end of July. Given that the past week has had at least 2 hours of rain each day, I guess they are right. So end of July it is! (not the time to go on vacation apparently...) It's been SO cold (down to 60 degrees!!)

Rain here is not in the same universe as Seattle rain (figuratively!). It is more like my limited experience with New York rain. Sun, then dark clouds, then crashing thunder and drenching downpour, and back to sun. If Seattle rains like a street band (all day long just singing my song to make a few bucks), then New York rained like the tune of a commercial (throw it at you fast). If Seattle rains like a flute solo, New York rained like a heavy metal band.

Well, over near one of the world's largest rainforests, we have heavy-metal rain. No shock there! The thunder booms in the East (always in the east) and approaches town. By watching the flashes and counting the seconds, I keep track of how close the center of the storm is from our house. You see, lightning strikes are a very real menace.

People have been killed or maimed in town by lightning. When the thunder rolls, the streets empty out like the end of a movie (forgive me. It's analogy day). A few minutes and a thriving neighborhood looks like a ghost town (see?)! If you drive by and look closely, people are crowded under porches or the overhang of a storefront waiting it out.

Once in the last two years our neighbor's house was struck. We didn't see it coming (who does?!). I was typing right here at my computer when the outlet on the wall in front of my desk (at eye level) suddenly arc'd! Thousands of watts flowing through all these wires and right over to my face. Very scary. The sound came immediately after the arc. We lost some of our equipment in our house due to the proximity and spent $300 replacing it. We were lucky! Much more could have been lost.

So now when the lightning comes within 5 miles, I disconnect us from the grid manually (just flipping a switch) whether the power is on or off. This is easy enough. But when you wake up at 4:23am to flashes and rolling thunder, it's not so fun. I sleep on the light side, so it makes sense for me to be the designated 'Lightning Control Monitor'. I'm up anyway.

Often I sit and marvel and the phenomenal light show and sheer power God displays in these storms. The fear of God makes sense and heavy metal rolling thunder becomes my awe-filled song of worship. There is nothing God cannot do!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pole Pole

Pronounced 'POE-lay POE-lay'. This is a very useful Swahili phrase meaning 'step by step' or 'slowly slowly', 'little by little', 'one foot in front of the other', 'baby steps', 'bit by bit', 'inch by inch' - I think you get the picture. I don't think it is coincidence that 'pole' alone means 'sorry' or 'my sympathies'. When someone dies or is very sick, you can say 'pole sana kabisa' which is 'sorry very completely'. The reduplication in 'pole pole' does not mean 'sorry sorry', it is often used as an encouragement to someone struggling to finish or achieve something.
'Step by step' you will get there! But there is a kind aftertaste of sympathy.

[As a disclaimer, while I am still learning how to care for James with new understanding of his issues, this blog will not become an 'autism' blog. I will try to create for you a picture of the mosaic of stuff that is our life in Congo, autism being one of those things.]

James is making significant steps 'pole pole'. I will illustrate one of these in conversations had trying to get ready for church on Sunday.


Dec 2010
(pre-diagnosis)

Mom: "James you are walking around barefoot. It's almost time to leave for church. It starts in 15 minutes. We need to leave in 10 minutes. Please get your socks on, your shoes on and find your Bible."
James: "Uh. Okay."

5 minutes later, James reading on his floor

M: "James, it's not time to read a book. You need your socks, shoes and Bible. Please get them now."
J: "Oh. I forgot! This book was distracting me."
M: "What 3 things do you need?"
J: "socks, shoes, Bible. socks, shoes, Bible"

5 minutes later his younger siblings ready and walking out the door
M: "Ja-ames! Time to go!"
J: "I can't find my socks!"

At which point we all arrived late after him finally finding everything, or we would step in and help him finish each task. During the diagnostic process, we learned James has significant trouble processing auditory information and organizing himself (executive function).

-------

May 2011 (2 weeks on the GFCF Diet - gluten-free, casein-free, allergen-free)

M: "Time to get on socks and shoes for church."
J: "Okay. Can I finish reading this paragraph first?"
M: "Sure."

2 minutes later
J: "Mom, I can't find my socks!"
[No Mom was ever so happy to hear those words!]
**HE PROCESSED AUDITORY INFORMATION!! HE HEARD AND REMEMBERED!!**

M: "They're over here."
J: "Hey! I might be ready before Anna!"
**NOTING HIS OWN PROGRESS!!**
(which almost helps him in giving up his favorite food of all time: cheese)

-----

June 2011
(after 2 weeks on SCD: Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and routine lists established for visual input)

M: "Time to get ready for church."
J: "Already got my socks on, now I'm looking for my Bible."
M: "Way to go buddy!"
**SOME SELF-MONITORING and EXECUTIVE FUNCTION RETURNING!!**

-----

July 2011
(5 weeks on SCD with routines)

M: "Time to ..."
J: "I know Mom. I need to get my socks, then my shoes, fill up my water bottle and get my Bible."
[said with a cheeky grin too!]

I was almost in tears. After years of needing constant reminders to get anything done, my son is telling ME what he needs to do. He's a planner at heart after all!


I think this is what people must be talking about when they say their child was 'recovering' or 'waking up' from autistic symptoms. I feel like I have a little boy in my house I haven't seen in 5 years. That adorable little funny 3-year-old is back. Only he's almost as tall as I am by now!
He can hear me!
He can process what I'm saying!
He can plan his time!

These may seem like insignificant molecular steps toward progress, but to me they are monumental.

Mon. u. men. tal.


Pole pole we will go far!


And I am ever-so-motivated to keep up the diet!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Entering Autismland*

Years of searching for help and answers, in regards to the difficulties of our son, culminated in April in a diagnosis: Asperger's Sydrome. Those of you on our newsletter list have read some about this just this week.

We have left the unchartered waters of encopresis or Reactive Attachment Disorder, and entered the unchartered waters of Autismland. This is one of the reasons for the 'Quiet' you may have noticed here, not feeling we could be open about this quite yet.

Our first few months in Autismland have been a crash course in orientation. We were also given the added pressure to make snap decisions about treatment and care to get started before we headed back overseas for 2 years. Thankfully, they were helpful decisions. I could spend months describing how God provided over and over opening just the right doors, closing others, giving us just the right resources to get in and out of a myriad of doctors and tests. I became totally comfortable with vials of frozen pee in my freezer. I even put them there.

I will likely never forget the moment the nice family doctor referred us to Children's Hospital to 'get to the bottom' of our issues... (if she only imagined the pun possibilities!) A Hospital? Is that really necessary?

Nor the moment the receptionist on the phone told me, the Hospital's "doctors had reviewed our records" and we were being transferred to the Autism clinic...

Every feeling revolted (to steal a Jane Austen phrase).


Then I remembered.


I remembered a picture of him 3 yrs earlier at his cousin's busy birthday party.

The quiet little boy in the corner 'in his own world' drowned in adult-sized headphones. Coping by tuning out the crowd. Seemed so cute at the time.

I remembered.

I remembered often wondering, "Where is James anyway?" Often lost somewhere in a book, even before he could read like the wind.

I remembered one horrible night in the middle of jet-lagged transition, his least favorite thing. We had missed our connecting flight. Again. (You see, for him changing schedules is right up there with plucking out fingernails one by one = painful.)

The vision of the little boy, his backpack on, belonging to me, screaming his lungs out, writhing with fatigue and pain on the shiny tile in front of some 300 people in the immigration line in London's airport. Because our plans had been changed for the bajillionth time in 24 hrs.

And us, his stunned and exhausted parents, each with a younger sibling in their arms, staring at him in disbelief until the nice British Airways attendant helped him up, promising candy she never delivered. Do not promise my son something you can't deliver! (I also remember looking back over my shoulder at the jealous death stares of the masses while we were ushered to the front of the impossibly-long-for-midnight-line...)

I remembered that endearing habit of lining up all his little cars. in. straight. lines.

I remembered how the video of our sweet boy turning 2 doesn't really include any words. Train noises, yes. Intelligible words? Notsomuch. I consoled myself that he was going to be bilingual. He did speak late...

I remembered how absolutely he loved Thomas the Tank Engine and all things train. And for the next 2 months straight I would repeatedly answer the question, "Does he focus on one particular subject to the point of obsession?" Did I really make train-shaped birthday cakes for 5 consecutive years and NOT NOTICE?

One by one snippets of memory came back to me. A photo. A vision. A story.

And one after one, like salty waves seeping down into soft sand, I slowly (oh-so-slowly) accepted that we needed to knock at this ominous door marked 'Autismland'. Guess those Hospital doctors do know some things...

Well, we found the courage (and money) to knock, trusting that God would sustain us through whatever came next. Remembering that He had before.

Turns out, it is exactly where we need to be.
Hindsight is 20/20.
All begins to make sense.
Pieces fall into place.

Entering Autismland meant getting answers!
And treatments!
That work!
Even better is that changing his diet is changing his everything right now, and I am ever so thankful we knocked on this door to sail this sea.**

-----------
P.S. If you want to reread this, this or this, they will likely make more sense now.
P.P.S. We started up a Box Brigade (see tab up top) to help get James foods he can enjoy more often.

*I borrowed the phrase 'entering Autismland' from the fabulous autism mommy blogger Jess. This is the source text.

**If you have sailed these seas, know someone who has or wonder about what it's like, it's good to start here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quiet but not gone

I just realized I haven't blogged in over a month. Ack! Things have been super busy since we finished school. There are a few picture finally uploaded to a facebook album if you'd like a peek at the kids and how well Joel's birthday went.

We've also just finished a long-overdue newsletter that you should see in the next week at your mailbox, real or electronic. We're hosting a guest on his way inland to help wiring a new Bible Translation office for solar panels and internet. Lots more to write! We are quiet momentarily, but not gone!!

Sending you love from dusty Congo!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Tid Bits

Thanks for bearing with the non-photo phase of this blog. I now have photos and will share them soon - for sure! I want to tell you so many things, but do not have time to write them all down right now, so today you get 'tid bits'. Bits of many stories that all involve our adventurous life here.

Chai
It is a cloudy morning after a cool, rainy night. It's probably only down to 68 degrees, but I pulled out the fleece. We all woke up slowly (perfect for a Saturday anyway). You know something is up when your 4-year-old begs for chai. After 5 years in Kenya, we became rather accustomed to chai, and Anna learned how to ask for it before she was 2 years old. So Chai it is.

Monkey Business
We have some gorgeous fruit ripening on the trees right now. Our loquat tree is full. Our avocado trees drop beautiful fruit with each and every puff of wind. They hit the tin roof with a boom-shak-a-lack-a and then BUFF! onto the grass. Kent and kids LOVE mangoes and eat them with every meal during mango season. We have two trees. The one in the front yard gives a stringy, tough variety that is better used for juicing. (Local kids will pick them and rub them on a rock or tree trunk to release the inner juice from the fibers, then poke a hole and suck the juice out! Practically Tropicana.) But the backyard has the beloved mango tree! It gives wonderful, flavorful mangoes and there are many currently ripening on the tree.

So you can imagine where this is going. Someone in this neighborhood brought three wild monkeys in to sell or have as pets. Then they got loose (or were cut loose?) and now they maraud around eating people's fruits! There are now only two of them left and I caught them yesterday in Kent's beloved mango tree each with a mouth FULL of ripe mangoes. Grrr! Let's just say he's off to the market this morning to buy a better machete and cut down some of the surrounding trees. We're hoping that will make it more difficult to reach the beloved fruit. And just for the record, monkeys are not cute or cuddly or fun in real life. FYI.

Tornado
I have seen some of the horrible images from the mid-west of the damage a tornado can do, and I have to say, it sometimes reminds me of my kids' rooms. Or the school room depending on the day. Just saying. That's what Saturdays are for, right?

Life Without Closets
When we first arrived home last month, everything was so clean and empty. We unpacked our bags and still had room left over. Then we hit the storage room. We dug out all our old mess and now it is still laying around (what I did not immediately give away, that is). You see, some of this stuff is just going to take time to sort through. Kids artwork from last year? Extra curricular materials? Craft supplies? It's the kind of stuff I would put in a closet or the garage until I had time to go through it. But this house was built without closets. Yes, you read that right. Without closets. So for now we have to walk around the occasional stack of dusty boxes. That's just the way it is. I often joke that if I wrote a book about our life here, I would title it 'Life Without Closets'. No place to stash and hide things. Hm...

Chef-boy-are-Amazing
Due to James' diet changes, I feel like I am learning to cook all over again. Maybe I never really did learn how to cook in the first place... So far, my experiments with the industrial-sized pressure cooker we hauled over here have been tasty. It seems one of the only ways to cook meat that gets tender. Experiments with alternative salads, juicing and flours await me after school is out Friday.

Novel
Kent and I have been married 12 years next week, and we still learn things about each other all the time. Amazing. We've recently discovered that he thrives on novelty. He loves to try something new and figure out a new puzzle. This works really well here because there is always something new breaking! Today it is chopping trees and fixing our living room sink, which has been emptying into a pot for 3 weeks. On the flip side, I love the things I love (I ate PBJ sandwiches with a glass of milk every day of my 7th grade summer vacation. Every day. Still like them.) So trying new things is really not my favorite. Kent is understanding me on a whole new level with this knowledge. Thus the kitchen adventures I'm trying are a big step for me. When I start to panic, I can just call on my handy novelty man, and he'll find a way to make anything work!

Festivities
So looking at the calendar, as with so many of you I'm guessing, it's the end-of-the-year extravaganza this week. Over here we have our little piano recital Wed., school 'graduation' on Friday, a friend's birthday Sat., Father's Day Sunday, and Monday I start an important checking session for a few days. Come July we have Joel's birthday and hopefully some REST! May your summer be restful and refreshing too!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Shouldas

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

It's easy for me to feel bound by what other people think. It just hit me this morning that over my lifetime, many people in authority over me have had plans. They feel it necessary to tell me of these plans.

You should.

You could.

Hey, you should consider becoming an artist.

You should write a book!

Could you promise me you will get a PhD? (strangely enough I got that one twice)

You could write a book! I would totally buy it.

You would make such a wonderful natural childbirth educator or doula!

And while I would probably do okay at these things and enjoy them... what don't I enjoy? I know they mean well, but theirs are not the plans that matter.

You see, God has planned my days. Each and every one of them. He's planned yours too. There are good things laid out for us to do. And I have felt called to do good things (though no one has ever said, "Hey! You should be a Bible translator!"). Why don't people say:

You would be a great homeschooling Mom!

You could raise godly kids!

You could attend to your needy child with beautiful patience and endurance!

You would be good at coming up with yet another healthy dinner!

You could scrape all the grime right off toilet seats!


Yet these are the plans, the calling, that I live. We are called to something higher than what human eyes can see. We are not bound by what others think. Motherhood and household management deserve a better reputation.

Doesn't pay overtime.
Little short-term return.
Huge long-term gains.


"A wise woman builds her house,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands."
Proverbs 14:1

Build your house. Don't tear it down. You are doing one or the other.

I often have to stop what I'm doing and remind myself to 'build my house'. Not with wood and nails, but with wise words, contentment and endurance. So to all you ladies out there, I invite you to join me today in building your house. That will look different for each of us. Build your house.

This is God's plan for me right now. I'm throwing out the shoulda-woulda-couldas.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

flower

I feel like I have had precious little to put into our yard, but God has been gracious.  In the back there is a stand of banana trees that, in addition to producing far too many bananas (once they do), produce the most wonderful flowers.  Anyway, here is a taste.  you can sort of see the different stages as the flowers are more and less mature, with the ones at the top already being pollinated, and ripening into bananas.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are

Well, a HUGE thank you goes out to all who prayed us through a very long, but very smooth trip across the globe. Many people helped us pack up, Grandma and Grandpa put in lots of last minute babysitting, etc. Even the ticket agent checking our mountain of luggage was pleasant. The people waiting 'forever' in line behind us where totally supportive and even told fun stories of growing up in Zimbabwe. You just never know how God will provide. This was likely our smoothest trip yet!

I still do not recommend two consecutive overnight flights with a long Heathrow layover in between, but we seem to have mastered the art of getting a napping couch in a busy airport. =) Besides, we got to meet the police squad in between snoozes after Joel left his backpack unattended on the other side of the couches. =)

There was a classic moment of panic when the policeman, who strolled up with Joel's bag, asked me for ID. I don't know if it was the fact that I hadn't slept more than 3 hours in the past 27, or that we had walked several miles to get to the napping-couch-section with 3 kids in tow, but I couldn't come up with my ID for anything. Kent had our passports, and he had gone to the security desk to inquire about the very bag elusively floating between two tall policemen and myself. It was a bit surreal. "I know this looks bad, Officer, I just can't find my ID right now." Strangely enough, I could recount every item INSIDE the bag and could probably give an approximate replacement value... Mommy brain at its best. Fortunately, the police had pity on my groggy self and the repentant 6-yr-old at my side and gave us the bag anyway. Grace.

We are back to Where the Wild Things Are! Home in Congo. Our yard had gorgeous 6-ft sunflowers all over, our basil looked more like a bush, and the marigolds spelling 'welcome' had grown waist-high! I LOVE being warm! Our kids are thrilled to romp in the backyard in sandals and shorts and we are eating as many mangoes as possible. =)

In the past 4 days, we got mostly unpacked, got a swing up in the loquat tree, welcomed our two puppies to their new home, got a little sunburned and failed miserably at sleeping on a schedule. Our house is very dusty and many things are needing to be done to get us back in working order, but we are safely and happily home!

Even had 3 monkeys up on our roof this afternoon!
Wild.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Adios amigos!

Sorry this past month has been so crazy, and words so few.
We are packing up and weighing bags.
Our overnight international flights leave in 3 short days.
The 'stuff of our life' carefully divided into 50-lb. increments.

God has used this past few months for his glory. He has loved and showered us with blessings over and over. He has answered some medical questions for us. We (once again) leave behind some precious new friends knowing that we will see them all again one place or other.

It's always hardest to leave our family. They pay a higher price than we do. I'm getting a tougher skin, having done this a few times now already. What turns me back into a puddle is watching my kids' tearful goodbyes. I read somewhere that if you feel pain upon parting, it is the proof that you have loved well.

So my kids have loved well and been loved, and while it feels like an end, it is just the space between chapters. This chapter is about written, and the next one is coming soon.

Goodbye homeland, land of sunbreaks, land of berries, land of connectivity and electricity, land of English-speakers, land of snowy mountains in the distance. See you again in a couple years. Sunshine - here we come!

We appreciate your prayers for us 5 traveling through 10 time zones with our 17 pieces of luggage. Next post will be from the other side of the pond!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Happy Song

Just had to leave you this happy song. Smile with me. How fast they grow up!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Joel's Circle of Life

In searching blog archives, I was hoping to find for you the video of a 4-year-old Joel. He has always mulled things over in his head. You know he's really chewing on things, because out pops a totally creative new perspective. A tiny window on the world all his own. A completely different sense of this wacky world.

In the video he asks a good question:
"Since God can do anything, can He swim even where there is no water?"

I assume Joel would like to try swimming in the air when we get to Eternity... =)

My Creative Little Prince's wheels have been turning through First Grade.

Well, a couple days ago, he explained to me his version of the Circle of Life.
He's really put weeks of thought into it:

lions eat zebras
zebras eat grass
grass eats dirt
dirt eats water/rain
water/rain eats clouds
clouds eat airplanes
airplanes eat people
people eat lions
etc.

*insert cool circular graph here*

It makes me think, then laugh, then think again...

I think I love 'airplanes eat people' the best. It took me a long time to digest that one. Figuratively, people walk in and look like they are 'consumed'. Like a large animal swallowing up it's little passengers for dinner. Where does he come up with this stuff? But we've been in enough airplanes to consider them banale (French for 'commonplace', only better than just that).

Then the banale beast of prey disappears and is 'eaten' by a cloud. This is almost like one of those phone commercials where each new frame leads us to another world entirely. Don't you just love to see the way kids think? I hope Joel's Circle of Life gives you a chuckle today. We could all use a little more childlikeness.

I guess I do feel a bit like I've been in the belly of a whale after a 10-hr flight...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Vortex

Okay, I admit it. I really have very little idea what a 'vortex' actually is.
I think it's supposed to be something that sucks you in whether you like it or not.
Like you're going down the drain.
A wild and powerful force
on the edge of uncontrollable.

Five weeks remain until we hit the friendly skies once again. The to-do lists are growing everyday with things to stock up on, de-plastify, carefully weigh in 50-lb. increments, and insure for the long-haul. Random things on my shopping list to give you the gist:
Bag zapper tennis rackets
Craisins
Multi-vitamins that expire after 2013
Math curriculum for 2012-2013 school year
4 laptops for Kent's work

If only I could buy me some peaceful TIME to do all this shopping...

'The experts', not sure who they are exactly, say that to completely unpack your emotional bags to live in a different place takes about SIX MONTHS. So, this time around, at only 5, we knew we wouldn't get that far. Trouble is, over the last wonderful 12 years together, we've only passed 6 months in the same house a few times. So this THING. This process of folding up your life in packable bits, moving it across the world... or across town, and unfolding it once again... This process is TRANSITION. And it is where we live.

In one of our orientation classes, a wise instructor gave us a gift.
A piece of paper really.
It's our emotional road map.
It lays out the emotional process of transition.
First, the folding up and shutting down.
Then the chaos in between.
Finally, the unfolding...
making mistakes.
Learning to trust.
Again.

We hang that roadmap on our bathroom door and often look at it and find ourselves in our relative processes. Such a relief to know that anxiety at this stage is normal. We have gotten to the point of taking it down once or twice, but usually it just lives on the bathroom door. Pointing us to the path ahead. Making our exit. Making our entrance. This path we walk... in transition. Following in dusty, bloodied footprints. Putting off the old life. Putting on the new. Maybe it's just good practice...

I call TRANSITION a vortex, because it seems to suck you in without asking. It feels like everything is powerfully out of control.

But it isn't.

This whirlwind of moving chaos has limits.


God holds it in his hands and does not let us spin out of control. He keeps our hearts pumping, minds thinking, friends praying. He holds us close. All else in the material world is packed, shipped or tossed away.

But we will always have HIM. And He is far more powerful than our little vortex.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Blessing

This afternoon God surprised us with this blessing, too large to fit in one picture:

Monday, March 14, 2011

May contain traces...

I have a pile of letters.
They remain letters unwritten.
I have wanted to tell you so many things.
But I also desire to say only what is beneficial and blameless,
so there have been few words.

We are squeezing in our fair share of fun, parks, ice cream, libraries, etc. Things we don't get in Africa. But we also needed to squeeze in quite a few doctors appointments and chase down some answers to what exactly is going on with our health.

I finally got in to see a wonderful allergist - maybe the best of the four I've ever seen. I'm not just biased because his son is a linguist living overseas and his waiting room is stocked with overstuffed leather couches. Love. (You see dust mites can't move through leather - they are dust-free furniture!!!) I walked in with a pile of questions and walked out with answers.

For as long as I can remember I have reacted severely to tree nuts. Not just the nuts. Anything that has shared airspace with a nut. (That's right, no donut or cookie shops and certainly no coldstone.) We're not talking about a few scratchy bumps on the arm either. I'm an overachiever. I have the whole throat-swelling-shut, run-to-the-ER-and-stab-yourself-with-an-epi-pen reaction.

Way back when I was a wee bairn, food labels were much less informative and no one had ever heard of dying from a nut allergy. I actually didn't believe it could be dangerous. I had grown up eating Honey Nut Cheerios. I felt fine. Just avoided the Chex Mix and Russell Stover's at Christmas. Worked for me. There were two mysterious times I didn't understand where I ate a cookie at a potluck (potlucks are like Russian Roulette for people with severe food allergies let me assure you) that I found out later had almonds in it. My uneducated hypothesis was that the almonds in Honey Nut Cheerios and the potluck cookies must have been SO processed that there was really no protein left for me to react to. But... AHA! My allergist confirmed the truth that, in fact, I am NOT allergic to almonds. Just all the other nuts. =)

YAY! I've been happily eating my fill of Honey Nut Cheerios ever since!

Sorry, that was a really LONG way to say that I went in with my list of allergies and, for the first time in my life, got to cross one off! Sadly enough I had to add egg and soy to non-almond tree nuts, black bean, kidney bean and Nido milk powder. So you win some, you lose some.

I'm so thankful for a country that enforces good labeling (it is not so elsewhere in the world my friends). There really is a difference between 'manufactured in a facility...' and 'may contain traces'. I'm somewhere in between. For whatever reason, 'manufactured in a facility...' works for me while 'may contain traces' does NOT.

I'm also so thankful for doctors and the amazing tests that can be done today. It used to be that finding a food allergy was like finding a needle in a haystack and usually involved elimination and substitution diets that took months or years. The food often tasted like a haystack too. Now there are amazing food options and blood tests that tell us what your immune system is doing. Exactly. This week. Such an incredible gift.

As expensive as all this stuff is, I am very thankful also for all the different specialists out there who can really serve our needs. This next 10 days I will drive 90 minutes to one specialist and 2 hrs to another, but I know we will be getting an answer.

So pray we would get the answers we need to prepare well for our next 2 years in Congo. We leave in only 8 weeks...