Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Last weekend we had 32 big reasons to celebrate Rhett so we loaded up our car (wait! I haven't told you about our car yet! I will soon I promise!) and prayed for divine protection as we set out on the CRAZY Kenyan roadways for a weekend away at Kembu Farm. Rhett was extremely excited about Kembu because I originally told him we were going to be spending his birthday weekend doing an "African homestay" with our house helper's aunt eating ugali and sukuma wiki and enjoying some language immersion. Needless to say "Farm stay on an English farm in the Kenyan countryside" were sweet words to his ears!

We arrived at Kembu just in time for lunch on our front porch. The food was delicious and the BEST part is that all of our meals were brought to our cottage so our kids could eat and run and we could have a long leisurely meal. Sweet.

This is where we took all of our meals . . . ahh . . . serenity.

We celebrated with a cake (made from a box mix because I just don't do from scratch if I can help it and it was delicious!!) and Claire could not have been more excited about her Daddy's birthday! So sweet.

After lunch we explored our cottage, Mutati. It exudes English charm but is decidedly African too.

Do you know how much I love bouganvilla? Well I guess if I love it so much I should probably learn how to spell it but anyway. I love it. It makes me extremely happy to see a big ole swag of it draping off a porch or building or better yet . . . an arbor.

We took a break from exploring to take a few pictures but the kids felt like doing "silly" pictures so that is what we got.

Then I tried for a family shot but I forgot my tripod so I had to prop my camera up on a cooler and an ashtray and hope for the best. This would be a great time to point out that all of us have had Kenyan haircuts by now and it shows. I finally had to get mine cut last week because it had been 5 months since my last visit to a beauty shop and I was starting to scream "MISSIONARY!" so it had to go. I'm now wondering what the lesser of the two evils is because now I have a very short, blunt, one length haircut that flips out and makes me look like Gidget. I had to cut approximately 2 additional inches off the front sections the morning after because they were so much longer than the rest. Ford hair is wet in this picture because otherwise it sticks straight up. Claire is several different lengths (and I don't mean layers). Rhett is the only one whose looks good we've all decided. I digress but I thought an explanation was in order since we are looking pretty rough.

Somehow, I got the nerve to try to get a picture of all three. Then I remembered why I have no pictures of the three of them together because this is the best I could do.

The rest all looked something like this . . .

I was feeling kind of frustrated until my precious 2 year old son brought me a hand full of some of my favorite blooms and I started smiling again.

The inside of the cottage mixed a funky African vibe with a very colonial British tone and I liked it!

How fun is this shower?

The doors of the bedroom opened on a private veranda that just begged for you to grab a book and a cup of tea and sit a while.

Can I tell you how much the kids loved this room with the canopy? They pretended that it was a tent and had a grand adventure that night!

This is becoming the longest post ever so I will pause and come back with our tour of the AMAZING farm soon!

Gus 10 months

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Monday, March 29, 2010


Rhett has been traveling once a week to various sites of the community HIV clinics in the surrounding area to provide support for the providers and build relationships within the AIDS relief program. During his visit last week a community health worker told him the story of a little girl who was born to an HIV infected mother in the program. Thankfully, because this mother was in the program, she was provided with necessary medicine and care and delivered an HIV negative baby. What a reason to rejoice for this mother and child . . . until the father of the child raped her when she was 4 years old and infected her with the very same virus that she had escaped at birth and had previously infected the mother with. What? I mean, how is something that horrific even possible? I look at my vibrant, loving, innocent, precious 4 year old daughter and I can't even breathe when I think of this little girl and what has happened to her. It is such a reminder of the brokeness and darkness that dwells here on Earth . . . eager to reap death and destruction. My heart and soul are broken for this little girl and thousands of others like her who face unimaginable circumstances in their lives. It is our prayer that God will use us to to bring the Light into places of such utter darkness.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Perfectly Pictureless Day

I'm not one for a picture-less blog post but I thought it was fitting in this case. Sometimes I've found living here in Kenya amongst a different culture and people one of the best things I can do is leave my camera behind and just have a really genuine experience without coming across as a touristy, gawking mzungu who is more interested in getting good shots than actually meeting the people I encounter. This was one of those days hence no pictures on the ole blog . . . bear with me.

A couple of weeks ago I went with a group of women from Kijabe to a place called Amani Ya Juu. You can read more about it on their website. The short definition of it is a "sewing and reconciliation project for marginalized women in Africa". The name means "peace from above". It really is a remarkable place. First of all there is a beautiful garden area home to a cafe and a huge playground area for the kiddos. Give me a place where I can eat a lovely lunch outside in a garden while my children happily play on a playground any day! It may sound really hokey but this place IS incredibly peaceful and beautiful just as the name implies.

Women come here from all over Africa and learn to be a part of their sewing project. The items they make are not tourist quality stuff that is going to end up in a yard sale. They make beautiful, classy things that you would welcome as a gift or adornment in your home. As the women work together they build faith in God who can overcome their circumstances and reconcile their differences. As I looked around I saw women from Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan among others. On a continent that is rocked by division among ethnic differences this is quite amazing that all these women are working together and loving each other.

After our delightful lunch we shopped in the gift shop and then arranged to have a quick tour of the workshop. The incredibly friendly woman who welcomed us in the gift shop held Gus and had an absolute fit over him while I shopped. As I joined the (largish) group of women I was with for our tour of the workshop I realized that I couldn't hear much of the tour and Claire was fairly uninterested so I just headed back out in the courtyard. And this is my favorite part. All of the women were gathering in the courtyard to have their lunch as I walked up with Claire and Gus (Ford drew the short straw and stayed at home that day due to space in the car) and something amazing happened. These looked at me with my kids and we were in a somewhat instant bond of motherhood together. They asked me about the kids and loved hearing that I had 3 (and want more!) - since many of them have several children. When one woman heard Claire's name she ran off and brought back another woman who had a daughter named Claire (not an uncommon name in Kenya!). We were both "Mama Claire" (since often mother's are referred to as Mama - oldest child's name) and we had an instant connection. They asked me if my children liked ugali which is a staple of the Kenyan diet. It is a sweetish gritty cake of maize - kind of the texture of really thick grits. I told them they kids hadn't really had ugali before and they couldn't believe it! They told me to sit down on the grass and they went to get me a plate of ugali and cabbage. All of the women were eating with their fingers but when they brought my plate it had a big spoon on it. I teased them and asked if they thought I couldn't eat with my fingers too. We laughed and watched as Claire spit out her ugali and Gus downed several bites worth. We talked about where they were from and about their children. Several of them had their babies with them since they carry them around on their back all day as they work. It was just delightful. I was so thankful for that short time I spent sitting in the grass with a group of women who each had a story that I might find unimaginable that had led them to this place but somehow found common ground with too. It was one of my favorite moments in Kenya so far. It also made me so grateful to have my children with me. I would not have connected with those women if it were not for my kids. Time and again I see my kids opening doors with people on so many different levels. Ministry with kids can be difficult (because life with kids can be difficult!) but it is REAL and if you want to have a relationship with people you have to be real. So it is a great place to start.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


This blog is way overdue. I made comment on Facebook about our quick potty training success and received more than a few messages asking me about it. I'm no expert since I've only done this twice but this is our experience with a "modified one day" potty training plan! (Modified because there is one big day but several weeks of preparation leading up to the big day). This is what I've done:

The first thing you do is talk to everyone you know, scour the internet, read a bunch of books and read blogposts about potty training. Then you come up with a plan, your plan, and then you stop listening and smile when people tell you that you are doing it all wrong. My major influences in coming up with our plan were:
1. the time I spent with children in the developing world - all of whom were potty trained by age 2.
2. Several European pediatrician friends who could not understand why American kids were potty trained later than all the rest of the kids in the world.
3. I read that 50 years ago 95% of American children were potty trained before age 2 years (think the age of cloth diapers when you couldn't wait to get them out of diapers ASAP).
4. I read that physiologically the sphincter muscles involved were mature enough for potty training by age 18 months to 26 months in most children.

All of those things worked together to give me confidence that she really could do this! I liked the One Day Method because it seemed straightforward and logical to me. I have potty trained both of my kids (a boy and a girl) at age 2 years and 3 months. I found this to be an ideal age because
1. they can verbalize their needs ("pee pee" is all that is needed really)
2. they still really want to please you
3. They aren't old enough to turn it into a power play
4. they haven't become used to the feel of wearing a diaper or the feel of "going" in a diaper as a comfort yet. The older they are the more used to that security feeling they are.

Second thing you do is buy a potty. Put it in the bathroom and encourage him/her to sit on it when they are getting in the tub or getting dressed. Claire was hesitant at first so I rewarded her with M&Ms just for sitting on it. If you haven't lost all sense of privacy and dignity yet this would be the time to do it. Let them sit on the potty while you sit on the toilet. Be prepared for a narration and description of all things potty (see loss of privacy and dignity above). This is an important phase because you need to teach them what is going on down there. Teach them body parts and what comes out where ("pee pee front" and "poo poo back" is basic enough but effective). The One Day Method uses a pee pee doll to teach this concept but we skipped the doll because I felt that both of them understood what was going on and how all the plumbing worked.

During this time if I saw a "poo poo" face or other sign of imminent action I would make a quick run for it and try to get them a success on the potty. This is a good time to choreograph your potty dance or make up words to your potty song that you will be using a lot in the near future! The key during this time is just building excitement and a positive attitude about the potty.

Next go to the library and check out "Big Boys/Girls Use the Potty" (and tell Molly Matthews and Charlie Thomas I say "hello"). Read the book often and say things like "Pretty soon your are going to be a big boy/girl and use the potty too! How exciting! I'm so proud of you!". Excitement, excitement, excitement! I had Ford whipped into a tizzy he was so excited about using the potty.

Next step: Pick a date for the party. The potty party. Oh yes, there is a party. What a huge day - how could there not be a party! Start talking about the potty party and telling them that on their potty party day they will wear big boy/girl pants. Talk it up and get them excited!

The day finally comes and you change one last diaper and shed a few tears as you put on big pants for the first time! Then step back and see them BEAM at how proud they are! Then you start the first day! With Claire I set a timer every 20 minutes and took her and looking back that was a bit overkill. With Ford I just kind of kept my eye on the clock and watched how much how much he was drinking and took him after he ate etc. Claire had a few accidents the first day. Ford had one and has had NONE since (hence the Superstar classification) which is a bit unusual I would imagine. Expect a few accidents but don't worry - their bladders are small and the accidents are too. Just clean it up really quick and reassure them! "It's OK, you are a big boy/girl but you might have an accident! We just have to try again! I'm so proud of you!". This is not a time to back down or put on a diaper or pull up. You have spent all this time investing in them and encouraging them don't make them feel like you don't believe in them! Just keep going!

I do not push fluids or let them go bottomless. I think pushing fluids would make it more difficult because they would have to go more often and more urgently. The bottomless thing confuses me. I guess it is more convenient (?) but I would like them to learn that when they need to go they go into the bathroom and pull down their pants and go. Of course they need assistance (for a while) but this is the expectation. If you have done the body teaching or used the doll then they know already what is going on and they don't need to visualize it to know they need to go.

Help them succeed. Don't head out to playgroup or to the grocery store the first day. Take a few days off of normal activities so it will be better for everyone involved. Don't let the fear of an accident at school or nursery hold you back or make you feel like you should back track to make it easier for the teachers. I think that if you choose to work with 2 year olds then you should expect to be a part of potty training. Just bring some extra clothes and explain what is going on and you would be surprised how helpful everyone will be. If they aren't then you should probably suggest that they work with 4 year olds instead :) Claire had 4-5 accidents the first month or so and it seemed like most of them were in the church nursery. I think it was because there were 20 kids and they were pumped full of juice but we just kept at it and didn't back down.

Don't give up! NO diapers! NO pullups! No not even in the car! I had a piddle pad in the car seat just in case. I think it came in handy once. Get a one piece potty and keep it in your car. If they have to go pull over, let them go and pick up where you left off. My kids have peed on the sides of highways all around the world! It is actually better than using public toilets because it is quick and clean. We flew to Disney World less than a month after Claire went diaper-less and we just stuck with it. It would have been so easy to back down on the flight or in the parks but with a little planning it was fine.

So there is my philosophy (which I realize because I said all this probably means that Gus will be going to Kindergarten in a pull-up). I think the two keys for us have been excitement and consistency. I hoped I answered all the questions and gave some insight into a scary parenting hurdle! Good luck!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Last week we had an opportunity to travel to the city of Nakuru while Rhett had a series of meetings with the AIDS Relief Program staff. We tagged along and were happy for the chance to get out of Kijabe for a while. We stayed in a nice little hotel (nice by African standards anyway) and learned that shower enclosures are for sissies. The lure of getting out of town and enjoying a few days in a new place was tarnished a bit after spending just a few hours in a hotel room with three children and learning that lunch was served at 1:30 and dinner at 7pm. Anyone with small children can understand why I considered that a deal breaker . . . but it was too late so we provided lots of loud entertainment for other diners at the restaurant at each meal as we tried to feed our over-hungry, over-tired children and ourselves. Sorry.

Rhett had meeings all day and late into the night as the AIDS Relief Program from Kijabe worked on writing a second level provider curiculuum. The kids and I wore out the playground (and the staff at the hotel) and then decided we needed an outing so we got a taxi and headed up to the Menengai Crater. The kids were SO excited - chanting "Crater! Crater!" all the way up. When we got up there Claire looked around and said "Where's the crater?". She then realized she had been scammed and was ready to go back to the hotel. I on the other hand was thrilled to NOT be at the hotel and wanted to enjoy what was in fact a very beautiful crater . . .

Our last day we went with some friends to the Nakuru National Park for a short game drive. I now refer to it as the "gansta game drive" because we were picked up in a matatu with "Barcelona" blazed across the windshield and a CD hanging from the rear view mirror. We picked up a guide at the gate who sat in the front and said things like "There is a rhino" and "There is a buffalo". Really? Any insight there? My 4 year old can tell me that is a rhino! We weren't surprised when at the end the "guide" could not come up with an official receipt. It was fun none the less to see all of these awesome animals in the wild!

All of these monkeys lurked around the entrance of the park and we had to sit there for quite a while as they terrorized me by trying to jump in the van. I learned last year in the jungle that I do not like monkeys. They are creepy.

Here are some of the less creepy animals!

And some of us enjoying the sights . . .

Gus was asleep in the van during this family picture but he woke up a few minute later so we did a "re-do"

It was a lovely way to end our trip to Nakuru. We are excited to be able to explore and enjoy this country that is our home now. It is beautiful and we are reminded of God's beauty and creativity as we take in the sights before us. What a special way to teach our children about God's world in this setting in Africa! (Even though they were less than impressed with the crater!).