Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Princess for a Day (or two!)

Claire's first birthday in Kijabe was a huge success! She has been planning her party for the last 6 months so I was so glad that I could come through for her. She requested pink cupcakes with pink frosting, pizza and princesses. It was a princess-fest! She was so excited and had a great party!

This was my best cupcake effort. Someone very nicely brought me a white cake mix from the States that I colored pink but only read after they were in the oven that anyone over 3,000 feet (we are at 7,500ft) should had flour to the mix. Ooops. They were a little crumbly but didn't fall flat so that was good. The frosting was another thing all together. Did you know you can make frosting from butter, cream and sugar and a pinch of a few other things? Sure can! Who knew? Another culinary hurdle crossed!

Thanks to my sweet sister-in-law for providing this precious festive banner (one for each kid too!). Claire was so excited when she woke up and saw this declaring today was the day for her party!

We had a gaggle of little princesses here. Lots of new friends from lower station. I was so thankful that we had made friends to invite to her party. They enjoyed making princess bracelets with colored pasta, playing pin the princess on the castle, eating princess pizza and princess cupcakes in honor of Princess Claire.

I still can't believe it's been four years since we welcomed this precious little one into our lives. Each day is brighter because of her. She is such a blessing and encouragement to me. I can't imagine a more thoughtful, kind, loving and fun little girl. I've been telling her for a month that she wasn't allowed to turn 4 that she had to stay 3. I just loved 3 so much. She crossed the line between toddler and little girl and now there is now looking back.

Here are the princesses (and a tired Prince) after the party. She's already planning her party next year! Five?? Oh, my.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Kijabe

What a wonderful Christmas celebration we had here in Kijabe. We missed the company of our family but we had a really simple and beautiful celebration of our Savior's birth. We started with our traditional Christmas Eve dinner then went to an open house at another missionary's home. Here are some pictures of the kids in their matching smocked Christmas outfits. For the record, Rhett did not approve. He said the kids were going to look at these pictures one day and say "Mom, seriously? Matching outfits?" but I think they are only little once and besides what else are we going to have to put in their wedding rehersal video??

All Gus wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth and he got them!

After the party we headed down to the hospital for candlelight caroling through the wards.

It was really, really beautful and had that magical Christmas Eve feeling.

Our kids walked up to every one and said "Merry Christmas" even to this M*slim woman from a neighboring country known for it's pirates. That particular people group, who is quite common at Kijabe Hospital, is known to be harsh and unfriendly at times. Others in the group mentioned how they wouldn't greet them or shake their hands. That's where the beauty of children come in . . . kids just break down those barriers sometimes. When a little blonde two year old is yelling "Merry Christmas" at you it gets your attention and draws you in. She couldn't help smiling! Claire and Ford (and even Gus) were great little missionaries that night and I was proud of them! When other mothers see you with your children they see you as a mother just like them and, if even for a minute, you have common ground.

I did feel a bit strange walking hand in hand with my three well noursished healthy kids as these mothers sat vigil at the bedside of their sick child. I am no different from them - I love my children no less than they do. What if this were my child?

We returned to our house and (tried) to tuck our kids in for the night before a few invited friends came for a time of Christmas worship guided by the wonderful CD Brook Hills gave us last Christmas designed for just this purpose. It has become a tradition for our family. It was the perfect end to a beautiful (but very rainy) Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day was filled with opening gifts and playing with new toys.

The kids are owners of two new bikes and are thrilled although it has been to rainy to ride them anywhere besides our kitchen. Yes, those are handbrakes you see there. No other option available that I could find so we are going with it. Not too sure how that is going to go! We have a basketball court in across the parking lot that will be a nice level area for them to learn to ride. The bikes also weigh about 30lbs each. They are made of lead and remind me of the weight my first Strawberry Shortcake bike many years ago.

We finished Christmas Day going to our friends the Friess family who are also Post-Residents here. The kids played and we ate another yummy meal together. It was a great end to a wonderful celebration and we are thankful to have new friends here with whom we can share life.

It was definitely a different Christmas for us. No traveling. No working either - which was really nice. No never ending list of parties to attend. It was really pure and simple. Some might think it is sad we were sad stuck out here in the bush with no other family around but it was a good reminder that Christmas is wonderful to celebrate with family but not actually celebrate family instead. Sometimes I think that line gets blurred a bit. Although we missed our family terribly and wished we were celebrating with them we were still able to celebrate Christmas out here by ourselves. It was a wonderful, peaceful time for us to celebrate Jesus. To see our kids truly excited about the true meaning of the day. To see Claire's understanding of Jesus grow more and more. To see them love God and love others on the day set aside to celebrate His birth. I'm thankful that their first memories of Christmas will be filled with days like we had this year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

O Tannenbaum

Christmas in Kenya! Here is our tree. I got it at Nakumatt for about $15. It came in a box not bigger than a shoebox. Once I got her home I decided I probably should have splurged on the $30 version but oh well. All I could find were colored lights (I'm more of a clear light type of a girl) so we went with those and when we put them on our little tree they started blinking at all sort of random intervals. We carefully followed the directions and changed out the "blinking" bulb but alas our little tree has a mind of it's own and sometimes the lights blink and sometimes they don't. Claire and Ford both love the colored lights and think the tree is great. They knock it over several times a day so it helps that I don't have lots of expensive ornaments on it. Oh yes ornaments . . .

We gathered tiny pine cones, added some green construction paper and dried pasta a voila! Ornaments! I also brought a couple of ornament craft kits from Hobby Lobby with us so we had an all day ornament extravaganza at our place and feel festive and jolly!

This will be a different Christmas this year for a lot of reasons. It is 80 degrees outside. We are in a new home in a new country and only have a few friends. We won't be with family this year. But so far this "holiday season" has been really nice. There are no massive ad campaigns where we live to get you to go out and buy stuff you can't afford for people who don't really need it. As we look forward to Christmas we think about Jesus and the miracle of his birth. We are overwhelmed by God's love and the amazing way He chose to come to save us. Our kids are excited about Christmas because it is a celebration of Jesus' birthday. Don't get me wrong they are also looking forward to their 3 gifts (just like He got on His birthday). But it is nice to have so much of the distraction gone this year and focus on what is important and beautiful.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009


Hi! I'm still here. I just wanted to reassure everyone that I wasn't somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic trying to row myself home after that last post about my struggles here. Culture shock and homesickness are boogers but I'm doing well. Thanks for all of your support and encouragement. I'm just trying to keep it real. I haven't spent much time working on pictures or blogging in the last few weeks but I wanted to share a few of the kids and promise I'll be back with an update soon.

Working on Christmas crafts - what is an ornament without dry pasta when you are a preschooler?

Oh how could I forget this little man? Apparently someone told him that 7 month olds are capable of crawling. I better not find out who it was! Claire and Ford crawled at 10 and 9 months NOT 7! I was looking forward to that "golden" time when they can sit well but not crawl. Just another reminder that he is his own person with his own timetable! Does this mean he will start pulling up and walking soon???
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Monday, November 30, 2009

new things . . .

There are LOTS of new things in our life since we arrived in Kenya. Some are wonderful, some I'm not too sure about. One of the things that has lots of newness involved is food! Everyone is always curious about what we eat so I thought I'd fill you in on that. Above are some samoosas (the triangle that is filled with meat, cabbage and carrots) and spring rolls which are kind of a cross between what we call a spring roll and an egg roll. They are filled with lots of carrots and cabbage. They are delicious! I have a lady that makes them for us and we can throw them into the freezer and pull them out quickly and heat them up for lunch. It is almost our only option for a "fast food" meal.

Cooking is all from scratch which takes a bit more planning and time but overall it hasn't been too bad. I took some serious heat for never have made biscuits before since I'm from the South but I have to admit most of the biscuits I consumed came from Chickfila or Cracker Barrel! I haven't actually made biscuits yet since baking is a bit tricky at this altitude (7500ft) but I have made homemade banana and zucchini bread in addition to a special high altitude chocolate chip cookie recipie that turned out well. Otherwise I have made things like vegetable beef soup, chicken soup, potato soup (do you see a trend?), chicken and rice, zucchini/chicken/rice and (hold on to your seats) chicken enchiladas. What are enchiladas without chips and salsa? Well I decided to make those too. I cut up some tortillas (that are made freshly around here and are plentiful), fried them, added a little salt and voila . . . chips! I chopped up some tomatoes, red onion added a salsa seasoning packet that I brought from the U.S. and we were in business. The kids loved them. I thought they were OK. They will quench my Mexican cravings which are sure to come! Luckily I can find enchilada sauce in Nairobi so the enchiladas were easy!

We've actually had very little "Kenyan" food since we've been here. But we are managing in the kitchen pretty well. Rhett comes home for lunch each day so I have to plan to have lunch and dinner each day which is a change. I'm used to just grabbing something simple but I have to come up with something that has a bit more substance for him. We do a lot of soup for lunch and I throw in a samoosa for him. The same lady that makes the samoosas makes pizza crusts so I can make a pizza pretty quickly for lunch too.

Another new thing around our home is chai. Chai (tea) is a staple of the Kenyan culture and I've grown to really appreciate it. At 10am sharp everyone is Kenya stops what they are doing, takes a break and enjoys a cup of chai. It is not the Indian spicy tea we call "chai" in the U.S. It is a black tea that they mix with a lot of milk and sugar. This mid morning break is really nice unless you are a doctor trying to do something emergently in the hospital and everyone is at chai. I've heard this can be a big frustration for expat physicians trying to practice here. Emergency C-section? But it is chai. Stat Lab? But it is chai. You can see how this cultural difference would be difficult to understand. For me at home it is so nice - Claire even drinks it and looks forward to it each day.

This may put yard work in perspective for you! This is how our grass gets cut! This guy just took this big machete and started hacking. He was coming really clost all of his limbs which made me nervous but he didn't seem to notice too much. He picked up all of the clipping and bagged them and carried them off.

Here is a shot of those chips and salsa! Claire has asked that we have them at her princess birthday party in addition to pizza and pink cup cakes!

Not to be forgotten . . . sweet little Gus. Don't be fooled. He won't eat anything. What every I can manage to squeeze into his mouth gets "raspberried" right back at me. Sometimes I can get him to take some banana or avacado off my finger but he is not having a spoon anywhere near him unless it is in his hand. Sigh. I think this may be a sign of his independent spirit that we will see more of in the future. The rule-breaker himself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So much to say

I've been holding off on a post for a while now. Where do I even start? The past two weeks have been pretty intense on several different levels. I struggle with how transparent I should be on this blog. I've heard so many words from many of you like "inspire", "encourage", "amazed" and I find it hard to stand up now and say that it has been a struggle for me these past couple weeks. But I want to keep it real and remind myself and you that I am just an ordinary girl empowered by an extraordinary God who loves me.

It isn't that I don't like it here - I really do. I have just been missing my old home. I know that sounds incredibly immature and whiny. Homesickness is for sissies! But, unfortunately, it is true for me. I was thinking about what it would have been like if we had just moved to a new city - even a far off one with a different culture within the U.S. I could think of so many different ways it would be possible to meet new people (join a church, the Y, bible study), get the kids involved in preschool etc. It would be really tough at first to find a niche but eventually I could find like-minded people to share my life with. Here is not really too different from that scenario - I'll eventually find people I click with and have things in common with here - it is a big place with lots of opportunities to know people and get involved. It was really everything ELSE that is different that really threw me for a loop that would have been the same if we had just simply moved in the U.S.

There are very few things in my life that are the same as they were 3 weeks ago. I can think only of my husband/kids, some clothes and my sheets. My shampoo is different, I don't have my car anymore, my internet is totally different, everything I put in my mouth or cook is different. I guess this is just a part of culture shock but man it was tough. I was on the verge of tears until about three days ago with frequent spill overs.

I don't doubt the decision to leave everything behind and come here. I know it is where God has us for this season of life and ministry and I know that it is a good thing to leave "home" and stretch my boundaries. It kind of took me by surprise, really, and I felt like one of those weak sissies I mentioned before. I guess I just think about my "old" life and, man, I loved it. We lived in a wonderful city with an amazing church family, pastor and small group. I was in a wonderful bible study group with women who loved and encouraged me. My children were in the most wonderful first school experience I could imagine. We were close to our family. I loved my house, my car and all the opportunities we had there.

When I think about what I miss most my mind zips back to something that I did every single day . . . driving in the car with my kids. Nothing special there but I miss it so much. We had our favorite CDs we sang in the car together (the Annie soundtrack was one of the best!) and we looked for yellow cars and garbage trucks and got excited when we found them. We zipped through the drive thru at Chickfila (or Cluck-Cluck as Ford called it) and I got a large sweet tea and the kids got apple juice and we just went about our day running a few errands . . . Publix, ballet, car pool for preschool. It was just the normal part of my life that I really loved and really miss here.

Claire asked me the other day "Mommy, where is the McWane [children's science museum] in Kenya?". I thought she would melt into a puddle on the floor when I told her there wasn't a McWane Center here. She was trying to hide her disappointment but couldn't quite manange. I wanted to cry with her. I promised her we would go back to the McWane Center one day and she seemed pretty OK with that. She asked me if we could get on an airplane and go back to Ama and Pa Pa's house. I told here we would definitely do that one day but for now we were going to be living in Kenya. She seems to be having lightbulb moments where she realizes that people and things she loves are far away. I've tried to be strong for her but I also wanted her to know that it is OK to be sad and miss things "back in Alabama". I ask her how her heart is feeling and she is being honest when she has some sadness in her heart and we talk about it and pray about it. I'm thankful she is willing to share her emotions and fears with us.

OK, so that was my pity party. I'm feeling much better the past few days. On Saturday we left Kijabe for a fun family day trip and it helped me clear my head. I prayed and just told God how I was feeling and laid all of my sadness at his feet. I am depending on Him for my happiness not the comforts, convenience and happiness of my day to day life. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be here. I know our lives and hearts are going to be transformed by the experiences we have. We are starting to feel more settled and I am s-l-o-w-l-y figuring out how to live here. Make no mistake - I'm hardly roughing it. Yes, it is Africa, but I live in a lovely new apartment with hot water, oven and refrigerator. I visited the library at RVA this morning and checked out library books for the kids. This afternoon Claire went to ballet class with some other little girls on the station. Even though it requires us hiring a driver for the day ($$) I can get to a big city and find almost anything I need (except chocolate chips:) if I am willing to pay a premium price for it. I am surrounded by an amazing landscape and very friendly Kenyan people. Rhett is starting to dive into his "new life" at the hospital where he has so many opportunities to help relieve people's suffering and share Christ with them. I am reminded several times a day of the reality of many of the people here and it keeps Christ at the forefront of my heart and mind.

I have been so encouraged by a handful of people who have come up to me and said "I remember what it was like when we first got her . . . it was so overwhelming". Just that validation of I'm not the only one who feels overwhelmed is so encouraging. When someone takes the time to say "I've been there and I understand . . . it was tough" it is humbling and I appreciate it so much. I want to always remember this feeling and use it to encourage and connect with people in the future. Because after a while I think a lot of people forget what this adjustment time is like . . .

I have had some really nice moments since I've been here. I think I'll finish with one of them so this whole post isn't such a downer. Our first Sunday here at Kijabe we went to church at RVA (Rift Valley Academy). It was Baptism Sunday and 3 students were being baptized that day. We gathered on a hillside under huge old trees surrouding the baptismal pool. We sang songs and one by one each young person had the opportunity to share their story of how they came to know and follow Jesus. They had people who were special to them read scripture and pray for them. Then someone special to their spiritual journey baptized them and we sang a song of celebration for each of them that they picked for just that occassion. It was wonderful. I will look forward to Baptism Sunday each term!

So for now I have to dig in and carefully hold all of those sweet memories of my former life close to my heart - but not too close. I have to look around a find wonderful new ways to live and share my life with others around me. Please continue to pray for us as we adjust to our life here and Rhett starts to work . . . it is going to be challenging but wonderful for all of us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

From Nairobi to Kijabe

We were anxious for our driver to meet us and pack up to head out to Kijabe. Honestly we were a little nervous too. We took in all of the sights on the 45 minute drive and wondered what we would find when we got there!

Here we are - finally at our new home! This is our first look when we arrived . . .

This is the view from our front steps. The Kijabe Guest House is the building you see and in the back ground is the valley on a cloudy day.

This is half of the "sitaplex" (sita means six in kiswahili). Ours is the bottom apartment.

Here is where all the culinary magic happens. The kitchen is actually huge and very nice. Cooking a big challenge for me here. Everything is from scratch which is new to me. There is no last minute meal planning or running out to grab a bit to eat in a pinch. The stove is gas and I light it with a match every time I use it. We ran out of matches this morning and Rhett had to walk to the store to get some more so we could finish making pancakes!

This is what you see when you walk in our front door. The pictures don't do it justice really. It is really nice and very comfortable. We did take down some of the African decor that donned every wall and made it feel a bit more like home for us - a nice refuge for our family.

This is our living room which I love. I kept the elephant because I kind of like him!

This is the dining area where we spend a lot of time. The kids' toys are stored in those cabinets so they play in here a lot too. That will be our source of heat in the months to come when it cools off quite a bit at night. We are looking into having some sort of barricade made to keep little people away from the broiler in the middle of the room - "no touch" won't really cut it for this one.

After many years of our little pink bathroom this bathroom is spacious and so nice! The hot water heater is set at about 211 degrees F with no option to change it so we have started shutting it off at times and being really cautious when we use the water.

This is Claire and Ford's room. We imported the bedspreads but we will just ignore the curtains! We really need heavy curtains on the windows because the wind blows really hard at night. Really hard. About 6pm every night it starts to kick up and it howls all night long. Claire said she couldn't sleep the first few night because the wind was keeping her up! The cool wind comes in through the windows and makes it a bit drafty.

This is my pantry. Do you see anything interesting? How about the sacks of flour? I had the same sack of flour for 5 years in Birmingham. Apparently I will use quite a bit more here since I'll be baking so much more. Do you see the Kimbo? That is shortening. I've never bought shortening in my life much less used it. I'm not exactly sure what to do with it but I was told to buy some so now I have about 2 kilos worth just in case I figure out what to do with it. Do you see our milk . . . in boxes? We decided to start out this route. Many people here have fresh milk delivered from the cow each day. We haven't looked into that because it would mean pasteurizing it and we really don't drink that much milk even with the kids. Maybe once Gus is weaned we will switch. Freshly baked English muffins bought at the market, brown eggs . . . in a bag (not in the refrigerator). Not pictured is my three tiered fruit and veggie stand where all the good stuff is stored.

Out exploring the first day . . .

The fresh market where I go to buy all of our fresh fruit and veggies from the "Vegetable Ladies". The freshest days are on Tuesday and Saturday - if you get there early you might even find some strawberries or apples.

Who needs Publix when you have the Super Duka? Yes, that is the local store. They have a bit of everything there at a slightly higher price than Nairobi. The stores in Nairobi are modern and if you weren't paying attention you might think you were in Walmart. The prices are pretty high for some things (even by US standards) so you have to shop smart and avoid imported things. I frequently find myself buying "American Garden" brand items just because they are familiar. I'm sure as I live here longer I won't feel like I need those familiar items.

Here is the "Titchie" playgroud at Rift Valley Academy. The gate to RVA is just above our house. The "Titchie Swot" is the elementary school. It is quite a hike up through RVA campus to get there but the playgroud is fun and worth the trek for our kids! It is totally old school and takes me back to my childhood. None of this stuff would be considered "safe" by US standards today. But it was safe enough when I was 3 and way more fun!

This was the view when we were driving to Kijabe. The cluster of white buildings in the distance is Kijabe Station. We are on the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley so everyting is on a slope. The school (RVA) is at the top (considered Upper Station), the hospital and our house and a few others are down further and called Middle Station and below the hospital is called Lower Station where most of the housing is located.

The weather has been absolutely beautiful since we got here. It is rainy season and everything is green and blooming and is just wonderful. It feels like spring during the day before the winds kick up. I do have a few moments when I yearn for the height of autumn going on in the south right now but I can't complain about the beauty here at all.

We are still getting settled. Trying to get the lay of the land. Rhett is still home helping me get oriented and figuring out how to live here. We start Kiswahili lessons on Tuesday and plan to keep that up twice a week. Rhett has been hitting the Rosetta Stone pretty hard lately so I'm sure he will be the star student of our class.

The kids say "Jambo" to everyone they meet - it's so cute. The Kenyan people are very friendly and enjoy greetings and chatting. The kids are a little shy when it comes to shaking hands but we are working on that. They seem to really enjoy it here. There are lots of kids around and it is fun to see them playing with new friends. The family with 3 kids who previously lived across the hall from us moved out just before we got here so there aren't any kids in our building (mostly used for short term volunteers) but the family who runs the guest house has 3 kids (including a 2 year old little boy) and a play ground so we will be spending lots of time over there. I really am amazed at how adapable the kids have been. They haven't missed a beat. They just want to play and have us close by.