Monday, October 10, 2016

Month by Month: 8

So... on to catching up this blog.

It's weird going back and looking at pictures from two years ago. In this photo, Elizabeth was about 8 months old. I blinked and she became a lively and vivacious 2-year old with long, strawberry-blond hair!

I chose this picture because of the story behind it. I just got back from the 2016 Connections conference for missionary women in Brazil. It is such a blessing to be able to attend this conference every two years (see my post here about why it is so important), and it certainly would not be possible without the support of my husband. Two years ago, I decided at the last minute to go to the conference since Elizabeth had stopped breastfeeding about two months before. Rusty took this photo of her while I was away at the conference, and when I saw it pop up in my Photo Stream while in Brazil, I did a double take and then I burst out laughing. If you look closely, you'll see that she is wearing a backwards onesie (the keyhole closure should be in the back), and polkadot tights. And her expression in this photo is almost like, "C'mon, Dad."

When I questioned Rusty about her outfit after I got back from Brazil, he told me he had to wrestle with her for 10 minutes just to get her into the onesie, and then he realized it was on backwards, but he was so frustrated he didn't want to change it. And as far as the bottoms, he chose the tights because they looked warm and "they matched." All things considered, I suppose there are worse things that could happen to a baby than to be stuck in a weird outfit for a day. I just see it as evidence that my husband cares enough about me to make sure I get this time away every two years, even if it means solo-parenting for a week!

Back to Elizabeth. She started sitting unsupported at around 8 months. And once she was doing that, I let her start self-feeding. She loved pushing the Cheerios or chunks of banana around on her tray! Also, another big milestone was finally moving her out of her little baby cradle (which you see in the picture) and into a crib. It was kind of bittersweet to pack the cradle away one final time. She used it the longest of any of our babies, but once she was rolling over and sitting up, it was time for something bigger with taller sides. I don't plan to get rid of the cradle -- it's too sentimental for that, but I'll have to come up with another use for it now. Maybe I'll use it to store quilts or something -- until the grandbabies start arriving, ha ha!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Blogging Again

It's been a year and a half since I updated this blog. I have thought so many times about getting back into it, but the longer I go without updating, the more and more overwhelming it becomes to me. But I'm tired of continually putting it off. Tired of waiting for the time when I'm caught up on everything else in life, because that time will never come. I'll never be caught up. There will always be some project looming on the horizon that I feel like I HAVE to take care of before I can write and blog again.

I have a tendency to procrastinate on some things because I build them up in my mind to be these huge projects that are going to take me SO LONG to do. On Sunday, I sat down to write a family newsletter. I was sure I had written one back in May, but when I went looking for it, I didn't find it. Guess I didn't write one in May. The last one I wrote was in February. Seven months ago. Oops. Now, we've been busy. Just recapping the past seven months reminded me of how busy we've been, how many things have happened in our family and ministry. And so, forgetting to write a newsletter is understandable. Except that I didn't really forget. It's been one of those things in the back of my mind this entire time. I know it's undone. I know I'm behind, and it nags at me. But I make it out to be this big job that's going to take all this time, time I don't have right now, and so I put it off and put it off and make excuses.

I wrote the newsletter in a couple of hours on Sunday evening. I would have finished it completely, except that I couldn't get my computer connected to the Internet, so I was unable to download a couple of pictures I needed to plug in. So, I finished it last night and I emailed it out this afternoon. Now, I've been busy the last seven months. But not so busy that I couldn't have found a couple of hours to write a newsletter and send it out. I tell myself I don't have time. But the honest truth is that time is not the problem. Procrastinating on a task I perceive as unpleasant is the problem.

What am I trying to say? This blog has become something I am procrastinating on. Not because I perceive it as unpleasant. I used to enjoy blogging. I used to get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I still see it as something enjoyable, even though it is also a practical way to keep in touch with those who care about us and our ministry. But "catching up" feels like a bigger and bigger job the further and further behind I fall. That's why I'm procrastinating.

I am at a missionary women's retreat in Brazil this week. We are spending a lot of time in silence and solitude. We are reflecting on many things and trying to listen to God's voice. I personally am trying to figure out how I can recover some of my joy, and I know that part of that involves carving out time for those things that bring me satisfaction and fulfillment on a deep level. So I made it my goal to start writing and blogging again.

And even if I never "catch up," at least if I'm doing it regularly, I'm no longer procrastinating, right?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Month by Month: 7

Miss Cutie Patootie was 7 months old on September 8, 2014! As you can see from the photo, she was getting closer to being able to sit up on her own, but still needed some support. She was starting to fill out a little more, thanks to the solid food in her diet, but was still very petite. She wore 3-6 month size clothes until right before we left for our furlough at the end of October (and the only reason I moved her up was because I didn't want to be dealing with two different sizes of clothes while we were in the U.S.) All in all, just a content, laid-back, sweet, precious baby. She is a joy and a delight, and I honestly cannot imagine our family without her!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Top Ten: Summer 2014 at Camp Bellevue

The months of May, June, July, and August are very busy for us here at Camp Bellevue. We are preparing to enter this busy season once again -- in fact after we get back from our family vacation, it'll pretty much be non-stop until the last week in August! As I recap last summer, I am reminded of all the ways we got to watch God work in and through Camp Bellevue last year. And I look forward to watching Him work in and through us and many others who will be coming to the camp this summer!

Here are the Top Ten from Summer 2014 at Camp Bellevue:

1) Let's Start Talking Teams -- We had two last year. One worked with the Atuntaqui Church of Christ, and the other with the Otavalo Church of Christ. We enjoyed having them and getting to know them, and we praise God for the fruit of some of their studies, including several baptisms at the Atuntaqui Church.

2) Wrapping up the After-School Program -- We ended the year by taking the kids on a field trip at the end of June. We took them to see "How to Train Your Dragon 2," then followed that with a picnic lunch a playtime at a local park.

3) Lots of visitors! -- I don't have pictures of everyone, sadly, but will try to mention all of our individual visitors by name. Dwight Albright and Randy Curtis (from the Park Avenue Church of Christ in Memphis) came for about a week to visit and see our ministry. Also Rusty and Martha Bolton, grandparents of a good friend who worked in Quito for awhile with a church-planting ministry called Extreme Nazarene. John Todd Cornett and his family came from Amarillo, Texas and spent a week helping to build a playground in the community. Jon and Brenna Camp, along with their two sons, spent a few days at the camp, and we so enjoyed getting to know them.

Dwight and Randy
Rusty and Martha
The Cornett family
4) A few fun "touristy" activities sprinkled in as we showed our visitors around, including seeing the changing of the guard at the presidential palace in Quito, zip-lining in Mindo, the Quito Zoo, climbing Mojanda, and seeing traditional dancers:

Alex on Mt. Mojanda
Traditional Ecuadorian dancers
5) Our summer intern -- Yajira spent a month as an intern at Camp Bellevue. She was a joy and a delight to have around, and she helped in so many capacities -- including in the kitchen, as a translator, and she even babysat our kids on occasion. I love the below picture of her with some of the kids who came to our VBS program:

 6) Playground -- this was a service project we did for a community in Tabacundo. Various people helped fund it, and as visitors came and went over the summer, they helped out with the actual building as they were able. The picture below shows the playground nearly completed.

7) First ever Family Mission Trip -- In July, we hosted the first (hopefully annual) Family Mission Trip at Camp Bellevue. We had about 40 participants, primarily from 3 of our supporting churches. About half of the participants were children. The idea was to create an opportunity for families to serve together and for parents to expose their children to missions in meaningful ways. We combined a VBS program for kids in the community in the mornings with a medical clinic in the afternoons.

Grocery shopping for the Family Mission Trip -- 8 carts full, and then we went to the market to buy fresh fruits and veggies!
Group picture in front of the Pisulí Church of Christ, where we did a one-day project
VBS in a local park near the Pisulí Church
 8) Vacation Bible School -- We hosted a 5-day VBS at the camp for kids in the community. By the end of the week, we were up to nearly 200 children in attendance!

Singing and worship time
Games -- human pyramids
A local potter did a demonstration for our "Jeremiah and the Potter" lesson. Then each of the kids got a lump of clay to mold.
9) Medical clinic -- Afternoons at the camp during the Family Mission Trip. We also took the show on the road for a couple of days and did a medical clinic at a church in Ibarra, about an hour away.

Dr. Jason with a patient
10) Youth Camps -- Two weeks in August are given over to youth camps. The camp operates at full capacity these two weeks -- nearly 200 people! The cabins are packed, the kitchen staff works 12-14 hour shifts, and sometimes we have to truck in water to keep up with demand! But seeing hearts drawn closer to Jesus makes it all worth it. And after all, it is why were here! The video below is of the singing class that is offered during the second week of camp. Sylvia Rivers, a voice teacher from the States, has been coming and doing these singing classes with the youth for several years now. She teaches them to sing in 4-part harmony. It is truly amazing what she can accomplish with these kids in just a week. Listen and be blessed!

Dishes for 200 people

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Month by Month: 6

Elizabeth celebrated her 6-month birthday on August 8, 2014, right at the end of our first youth camp. Maybe that's why I don't have a lot of pictures of her at this time! Rusty snapped these one morning when he was snuggling in bed with all the kids and I was down at the kitchen.

The sixth month brought the introduction of solid food to Elizabeth's diet. I held her off as long as possible -- because we were so busy with summer groups, I did not want the extra work of making baby food. (You can buy baby food in Ecuador, but there is not a lot of variety, and most of what you can buy is loaded with added sugar. Plus, it's very expensive.) Elizabeth took to her new diet well and liked everything I served her.

Developmentally, she was still on the small side, but I was hopeful the solid food would help her start to bulk up. She was rolling over, but not sitting up yet. It was hard for me to believe she was 6 months old since she was still so tiny and not yet able to do the things my boys were able to do at 6 months. Still, since she's my last baby, there's a part of me that wants her to stay little as long as possible!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Month by Month: 5

July 8, 2014 - Miss Elizabeth was 5 months old!

You may be getting tired of the Month Milestone posts. I may be getting tired of writing them! However, I determined that, since I did these posts for each of my boys, I was going to do them for Elizabeth as well. I'll use them to create my blog book for 2014 -- it's the only baby book she's likely to get!

Life seemed to get busier and busier as the summer progressed. By the time Elizabeth was 5 months old, she was almost entirely formula-fed. I still tried to nurse in the mornings and the evenings, but she was growing increasingly frustrated, so eventually I gave up. I still remember the last time I nursed her. It was a bright sunshiney morning, and I sat on my bed and nursed her one final time. I cried a little bit -- I had envisioned extended breastfeeding since she was my last one, and letting go of that was hard. I'm glad I was able to nurse her for the first few months at least.

At 5 months, Elizabeth was rolling over and laughing. Her brothers delighted in trying to make her smile and laugh. She seemed to get cuter every day. How is that even possible?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Month by Month: 4

Elizabeth was four months old on June 8th, 2014. Reading back over my 10-year journal, I am amazed at all that was going on in our lives at this time. We returned from our beach vacation just in time to welcome our first LST team of the summer. We had some other visitors, as well as a couple of big groups at the camp. Rusty had a birthday and we celebrated our 15th anniversary. All before Elizabeth turned four months old.

I guess, considering our high activity level, it is no surprise that I started having milk-supply issues around this time. The fact that Elizabeth has always been a great night-sleeper (at two weeks old, she was sleeping 5-6 hour stretches at night) certainly didn't help my supply either. After taking her in for a check-up and realizing that she was right at the 10th percentile on the growth charts, I decided to start supplementing with formula. I hated to do it, not because I have anything against formula, but just because it is SO expensive here. And I knew I was probably setting us up for an early end to breast-feeding. But it was more important to me that she grow and thrive and get the nutrition she needed, even if that meant formula. The doctor warned me that if she fell below the 5th percentile on the growth charts, she would automatically be diagnosed "failure-to-thrive" and that would mean a battery of tests and other things I knew I didn't want.

So, we started bottle-feeding. Elizabeth took to it like a champ, and her brothers were eager little helpers when it came time to give her a bottle. It was kind of nice not to be the ONLY one who could feed the baby!

Family Vacation (May, 2014)

At the beginning of May, our family took a week off and went to the beach for some r&r. We have found, since moving out to the camp, that the only way we can really take a break from all our responsibilities is to leave town entirely. Stay-cations just aren't realistic in our context. During the week, there is the staff to oversee as well as the children's program in the afternoons, and on the weekends, even if there is nothing officially going on at the camp (which seems to happen pretty infrequently), you are always "on call" in the event of an emergency.

Last year, we took a few days of vacation at the beginning of May and then again at the beginning of September. These times served as "book-ends" to our busy summer season at Camp Bellevue -- one was the deep breath before the plunge and the other was the relieved sigh after it was all over!

Our time at the beach in May was marred somewhat by Benjamin getting sick. Rusty eventually had to take him to the doctor and get him some antibiotics, and by the end of the week, he was doing better. Ben had to stay indoors for a couple of days, which is no fun when you are at the beach and want nothing more than to be outside playing on the beach or swimming in the pool. Thankfully, the condo where we stay when we go to the beach has a TV and lots of DVD's!

Here are a few pictures of our family vacation:

A week's worth of groceries loaded into the elevator (The idea is we shop once when we first get there and don't have to go out again!)
Naptime (This baby travel bed has been so great!)
The future looks bright!
Enjoying the view from the condo balcony
We always play lots of games...
...and read lots of books! (In fact, I don't feel like I've been on vacation if I haven't read at least one good book!)
Building a sand-castle
Learning to dive
Look at me!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Month by Month: 3

Elizabeth celebrated her 3-month birthday while we were at the beach in May for a week of family vacation (more about this in my next post). We spent much of April going back and forth to Quito, not just for all of her documents, but to renew our missionary visas and Ecuadorian driver's licenses, but she just rolled with all of it. I guess when you're #4, you just have to be easy -- there isn't a choice! She enjoyed her first beach experience, and especially liked splashing and playing in the pool and hot tub.

3 months is such a fun age! Babies are interacting more and smiling more, but still little and sweet and cuddly. I definitely started to notice around this time that Elizabeth was not growing as fast and was not nearly as chubby as her brothers were at this age. She stayed in 0-3 months size clothes until well into her fourth month. She also seemed to take longer to reach the big developmental milestones, like rolling over and sitting up. I think it was because she was so passive. She really was content to just sit in her bouncy seat or lay on her playmat and watch the world go by. Having three brothers who were always eager to entertain her or run and get things for her certainly didn't help motivate her to want to do things for herself.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Birthdays and Birthday Parties

Our family celebrates two birthdays in April -- mine on the 1st and Stephen's on the 6th.

These are some pictures of my birthday lunch at the Café de Vaca, one of my favorite restaurants in Cayambe:

And here is Stephen at his family party. He requested chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

In 2013, I did a joint birthday party for Alex and Stephen, and it worked so well that I did one again in 2014. We planned it on a Saturday in mid-April. Since we live at a camp now, and because our house is small, I decided to plan an outdoor party. We rented a couple of bounce houses, and I set up a couple of other carnival-type games, plus put out things like sidewalk chalk and bubbles and just let the kids play and have fun. For lunch, we roasted hot dogs around the camp fire pit and then finished things off with a S'mores Ice Cream Cake -- a big hit! It was a fairly low-key and stress-free party for me, which I needed with a 2-month old baby in the house.

First Months

This blog post has been percolating in my brain for well over a year now, and as we recently celebrated the third anniversary of our arrival in Ecuador, I thought I should probably, you know, write it. In actuality, this post should be titled "First Years," as we have now been in Ecuador three years, but as I wanted to write this as a follow-up post to First Days and First Weeks, I decided to stay with "First Months." I look forward to writing a "First Years" post once we have been in Ecuador longer than in any other country!

As I reflect back on our first 36 months in Ecuador, I am reminded of how far we have come. And also how different our life here looks now than how we envisioned it! We arrived in Ecuador with a few pieces of luggage, a working knowledge of Portuguese (not Spanish!), a Land Rover Defender we had purchased sight-unseen a few weeks before, and a plan to serve with the Kumanii jungle ministry. But God has a way of taking our dreams and our plans and our neat 10-year projections and turning them upside down and inside out. I have seen this in my own life several times in the last few years. His sovereignty is real! Instead of Kumanii, we are now at Camp Bellevue. Instead of jungle ministry in a remote region, we are administrating a Christian camp and working with area churches. Instead of the capital city of Quito, we now live out in the country on the slopes of an extinct volcano.

When we first arrived, we lived in the tiny, awkward apartment at the Colón church, while we studied Spanish and looked for a house. Even after we found a house (which happened in record time!), we had to camp out for a few months with borrowed beds and appliances while waiting for our container to arrive. What joy when it finally came, and we could unpack things we hadn't seen in 3 years or more and make our house a home! After several years of being in transition and living with my parents or making do with a furnished rental apartment, creating my nest was all the sweeter.

When we first arrived, we knew my sister and her family. Now, three years later, we have many friends and acquaintances in various circles. I am thankful for the relationships we have formed through church and ministry as well as for the homeschool group and the Quito Youth Baseball League that helped us expand our expat acquaintances outside our own little Church of Christ missions circle.

When we first arrived, we communicated in a stumbling, bumbling way. Thanks to the good foundation we had in another Latin language (Thank you, Eunice!), and several months with a private tutor (Thank you, Chela!), we now communicate more smoothly. We still make lots of mistakes and still have lots to learn, but yes, we speak Spanish now, not some weird Portuguese-Spanish blend. We have moved from just surviving in the language to beginning to thrive in it. And my children are growing up bilingual, which is going to give them a real edge in the future!

The first few months in a new place are so disorienting and require an enormous amount of mental energy. Not only for the big things like learning to communicate in a new language, making friends,  and learning your way around a new city, but for all the little things as well. All those things that you were able to do without really thinking about them -- like greeting people and paying your utility bills and ordering a hamburger at the McDonald's drive-thru -- now require thought and effort. It's exhausting. Thankfully, after a few months, you adjust. You reach a certain level of automaticity, where you don't have to think so hard about every little thing anymore.

I can now breeze through grocery shopping in half an hour or less. I know what brand of laundry detergent I like, where to find the canned tomatoes, and what works as a substitute for graham crackers or cream of mushroom soup. I am no longer intimidated by the municipal market because I know the names of the fruits and veggies and I can communicate with the vendors easily and well. I even have a few favorite people that I like to buy from if I can. I can cook the foods our family likes using mostly local ingredients. I kiss people's cheeks in greeting and don't find it especially awkward. I know that when we take communion at church, I am supposed to hold the cracker and the juice until we all take them together. And while I am still sometimes annoyed by this quirky tradition (obviously, thought up by a man who never had to wrangle four kids in the pew while balancing a teeny cup of grape juice in one hand!), I am not caught off guard by it anymore.

I feel like we have reached the point where we are comfortable in our new environment. We have done the hard part -- I have heard it said many times that the first three years in a new country are the hardest -- so it should be easier from here on out. Does this mean we won't experience culture stress anymore? NO, we will still have those moments (I had a moment just a couple of weeks ago, actually!). But they are fewer and farther between and not nearly as intense as they were at first. These are all signs of adapting to the "host culture." And having done the slow, difficult, exhausting work of learning to adapt, we can now reap the fruit of increased functioning and effectiveness. That's my hope for the next few years, anyway!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Month by Month: 2

Almost a year behind and still determined to catch up... and determined to do it by the end of April. Can I do it? Only time will tell! Still, if I'm successful, you'll be seeing lots of blog posts this month.

Here is Elizabeth at exactly 2 months old, showing off her recently obtained Ecuadorian cedula (ID card). A few days after this photo was taken, we obtained her Ecuadorian passport, and after picking up her U.S. passport from the embassy, she was officially a dual citizen!

I'm thrilled, can't you tell?
March was a busy month for us at the camp with several different spring break mission groups from the U.S. coming and going, so Elizabeth spent a lot of time sleeping in her stroller, or on the couch in the camp library, while I was working in the kitchen. She was also passed around a lot and held and snuggled by so many loving people. Thankfully, she was such a sweet and easy infant, and she continued to sleep well at night, so that I felt well-rested, even after putting in long days in the camp kitchen.

We did take Elizabeth in for the "eco" on her hips at the end of March (one year ago today, actually), and it revealed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her. We were very thankful to receive this news.