Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Visit from the Fords

At the end of September, we were blessed by a visit from Craig and Jeri Ford and their family. The Fords are good friends from our Harding Grad days and have been serving as missionaries in Papua New Guinea for the past six years. They recently transitioned out of that, moved back to the States, and are now living in Wyoming. For the past several months, while they have been "in between homes," they have been literally traveling around the world. We were so thankful that they made Ecuador one of their stops! It really was great to see them again after so many years. The Fords had the honor of being our very first overnight guests in our new home (although, I'm not sure how much of an honor that really was, since we were still getting things in order)! They were very gracious, though, and we enjoyed having them around. Alex and Stephen enjoyed making some new friends and keep asking when Hannah, Caleb, and Elizabeth are going to come back and play. I just tell them I think it's our turn now to visit the Fords!

Highlights of the Fords' visit included:

A day trip to soak and play in the termas (hot springs) at Papallacta...
Going to the Mitad del Mundo...

Dinner at our house with the Marcums...
And a trip out to Kumanii (actually, just Rusty, Alex, Craig, and Hannah went -- Jeri and I stayed home with the younger kids)

Thanks for coming to see us, Ford family!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ben's First Birthday Party

We celebrated Benjamin's first birthday in mid-September. Our container had arrived a little less than a month prior, so we had been unpacking and organizing for about a month at that point. We were able to host his party in our own home, around our own table (actually, a table that belonged to Rusty's grandmother), eating food off our own dishes, and that was a good feeling! Ben also got to wear the "First Birthday" hat that both Alex and Stephen wore at their first birthday parties. I don't know why, but this was really important to me!

We kept things pretty simple as parties go: the Marcums were our only guests; we ate dinner, had cupcakes for dessert, took all the obligatory photos, and collected a few items for Ben's first birthday time capsule -- in keeping with tradition! Here are a few pictures:

Ben in his birthday hat. He wasn't too keen to wear it and kept taking it off, so this was the best picture we could manage!
Yum! Cupcake!
All the cousins... and you can see how our living room is starting to take shape

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Musings on Life... and Death

I have been silent for awhile, I know. I'd like to use the excuse that I've just been too busy, and while life has been pretty hectic and crazy these last couple of months, being busy isn't entirely to blame for my neglect of this space. When weeks and months go by between postings, it's usually because I'm at a loss for words. Yes, really. I've always found it easier to express myself in writing, but lately, I've struggled to give voice to what's on my heart -- or maybe, more accurately, I don't know if it's okay to share what's on my heart. Because this blog is public, and we encourage not only our friends and family to follow along, but also our supporters, and anyone with an interest in our work, I find myself engaged in an internal censoring process when I blog. Politics? Probably not the best topic for a missionary blog, even though I have my opinions, just like everyone else! But beyond the obvious no-no's, I often wonder... is it okay for a missionary to admit in a public space such as this that she has fears? Doubts? That at times she feels sad or lonely or that she can never quite measure up?

Even as I write these words, I know the answer. Yes, of course it is alright for a missionary to admit these things. We are only human after all. We aren't some super-spiritual breed of human beings. We struggle in the same ways that every Christian struggles -- with our pride and with our selfish human nature. But old habits die hard... I think I will always feel the pressure (largely self-inflicted) to present myself as stronger, more capable, more sure of myself than I really am. And so I typically stick to blogging about "safe" topics like what the kids have been up to, or a recent trip we've taken, or how we celebrate the holidays. But every once in awhile, something will happen that will nudge me to write in a way that's more internally focused. This is one of those times. And maybe that's why it's taken me so long to get it out. It's easy to slap up a few pictures, write a few newsy anecdotes, and call it good. It's much more difficult to write reflectively and vulnerably.

In the last couple of months, and actually within about two weeks of each other, two faithful servants of God went to their eternal reward. The first was Laura Reppart, long-time missionary to Kenya, and mother to one of my very dearest childhood friends. I knew her as "Aunt Laura," even though we were not related by blood (actually, I am now vaguely remembering that our family is somehow very distantly related to the Repparts!). This is how it is on the mission field: your teammates become your "family." In many ways, the Repparts were more "family" to me than my actual relatives in the U.S., who I rarely saw and always struggled to connect with. Laura died of a brain tumor, similar to the one that claimed my mother-in-law's life over 6 years ago now. As I followed her story via her Caring Bridge site, I often felt like I was reliving that awful time, due not only to all the technical similarities in how the disease progressed and manifested itself, but also to the emotions described by her children in the updates they posted. It was heart-breaking... and yet it was also a beautiful thing to see how her family gathered around her and lovingly and tenderly cared for her during her final weeks and days.

Laura passed away on October 23. Just a little over 2 weeks later, Ryan Woods died, also of cancer, though a different type. I did not know Ryan well, but we have many mutual friends and acquaintances and I have been following his blog and praying for him ever since I learned of his diagnosis last spring. He and his wife and 2 small children were part of a thriving, incarnational ministry among the people of Vancouver, WA, and they made a conscious decision to invite people into their story as they walked the cancer road -- a road filled with pain, difficult questions, and heart-wrenching decisions. And they did this with truly admirable grace and authenticity.

Death has a funny way of forcing you to step back from the minutiae that typically consume your days and evaluate your life from a big-picture perspective. Thanks to the wonders of technology and the generosity of The Hills Church in Dallas, I was able to view a livestream of Laura Reppart's memorial service all the way from Ecuador. It was a beautiful tribute to a life well-lived, a life that brought honor to the King, and as I sat watching the slide show of pictures that closed out the service with tears streaming down my face, I remember thinking, I wonder what they'll say about me? Will my children, my husband "rise up and call me blessed" as Laura's did? What is the legacy I'll leave behind? How will I be remembered? How do I want to be remembered?

When Ryan passed away, the self-examination took a bit of a different form because Ryan was my age (actually, several years younger), with kids close to the same ages as my own. So I found myself wondering, How would I handle the knowledge that I was dying? Would my faith stand strong? Would I be able to continue to minister to people as he did, even in the midst of battling a terminal illness? I also thought a lot about things from the perspective of his wife, Jessica: What must it have been like to watch her husband, her soul-mate, her life partner waste away before her eyes? Could I have found the strength to tenderly care for him for those weeks and months? To help my children understand what was happening? To take care of all of the details of life and of running a household when my husband was too sick to help out?

I think more than anything, the death of someone who has really made a difference with their life, as both Laura and Ryan did, makes you stop and consider whether or not you are doing anything eternally significant with your own life. And that's what it all boils down to, all my ponderings and musings over the last several weeks: I want my life to matter. When I come to the end of it, I want it to have meant something.

For more of Laura's story:
For more of Ryan's story:
Click here if you would like to help the Woods family. There are still a few days left!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The First Year

Just one year, but so, so many changes:

September 1, 2011 - 5 days old (Lisbon, Portugal)
And one year, two international moves, and three continents later...

September 3, 2012 - 1 year, 1 week old (Quito, Ecuador)
Happy first birthday, sweet little Benjamin!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Top Ten: Container Day

Almost four weeks ago, our container finally made it to Quito, exactly 4 months and 5 days after we ourselves arrived in the country! Four months isn't that long to wait, really (in comparison, the Angola Team waited nearly 7 months for their container), but honestly, there were times when that wait seemed interminable! I think because we just never really knew right up until the very end, how much longer we were going to have to wait for it! It seemed there were little hang-ups and delays at almost every point along the way. But our things are here now, and we are so thankful, and of course so busy with the work of unpacking and settling into our home.

I'll write more about our whole experience with shipping our things across the world later, but for now, I just wanted to share a few pictures of our "Container Day," August 18th, 2012:

This first picture was actually taken a couple of days before, when the container was still in port in Guayaquil. Rusty traveled down to Guayaquil, along with our customs broker, to clear the container through customs.
Rusty is waiting to cut the seal on the container so they can open it up for the inspection.
After the container had cleared customs and all fees had been paid, our customs broker arranged for a truck to bring it to Quito. This picture was taken the night before the container arrived. We were giddy with excitement -- I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve!

How our house looked the night before the container arrived -- bare and empty!
Finally, August 18th arrived. And so did the truck with the container!

About 6:30 a.m. -- it's here!
Rusty built this ramp to make it easier to carry things off the truck. Later, he used the wood to build himself a workbench for his workshop.
We had a great group of helpers from the EQEB who worked tirelessly from about 8:30 to 11:30 to unload everything. Josh was there, too. Julie helped out by taking the older boys to her house for the morning so they wouldn't be underfoot.
Benjamin and I helped, too! We made breakfast for the driver and his helper, who had been driving all night and were hungry. I also directed traffic in the house, and after Ben went to sleep, I helped carry things off the truck.
The last item to come off the truck was my piano. It was a team effort!
A FULL house -- quite a contrast from the night before!
Since the container arrived, we have been busy unpacking, organizing, and trying to find a place for everything. The boys are eager to help, of course!

Benjamin "helping" Daddy put together furniture!
It's fun to play in the packing paper!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I made the comment to Rusty this morning that "The light at the end of the tunnel of transition is growing ever brighter." This was in reference to our container, which is due to arrive on our doorstep bright and early tomorrow morning! It is hard to believe that by this time tomorrow evening, our empty house will be full of our things and we can begin making it feel like home. I don't mean to suggest that the arrival of the container will bring an end to the process of transition, but it will sure go a long way to helping me feel settled and in a more permanent place, which I desperately, desperately need right now.

In some ways, it feels like the last 6 years have been one long transition, from the time we left Japan in 2006 and returned to Oregon to take care of Rusty's mom until now. We were settled in our own home in Memphis for a little less than a year and a half while Rusty finished grad school, but at the end of 2008, we packed up most of our things and then made a series of temporary moves -- to Michigan, to Nashville, then to Portugal, then back to Michigan. When we were in Nashville, we lived in a house provided by the church, but even then, we only unpacked what we needed to live comfortably. We didn't spend a lot of time decorating... we didn't even hang curtains! So some of what we'll be unpacking starting tomorrow we haven't seen in almost 4 years, since before Stephen was born! Crazy...

I'm anxious to begin "making my nest," to sleep on my own bed again, to do my laundry in my own house, to cook with my own pots and pans on my American-size stove. I'm looking forward to doing some scrapbooking again, to hanging pictures on the walls, to surrounding myself with visual reminders of people and places near and dear to us. Rusty is excited about having all his tools at arm's reach again and making coffee in his Starbucks coffee pot. The kids of course are excited about seeing their toys. Alex kept asking me all day about specific toys, like his light saber and his collection of plastic dragons. They have been getting pretty bored with the few toys we brought with us in our luggage. Some of the toys we'll be unpacking Stephen has never even seen or played with. I'm sure it will seem like Christmas to them!

Okay, it's going to seem like Christmas to all of us!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Eleventh Month

Benjamin is now 11 months old. In just a couple of weeks, we'll be celebrating his first birthday. It's pretty surreal to me. His first year has passed in a blur of packing and moving internationally (not just once, but twice), changing direction, saying goodbye, road trips, fundraising, language study, and more. We've packed more into the last year than most people do in five. And Ben has been a part of it all, and mostly blessedly oblivious to the fact that his world is completely unsettled and his mother is a basket case.

Ben now has 6 teeth, 3 on the bottom and 3 on the top. The top 3 teeth all came in within a few days of each other, but he didn't seem that bothered by them this time, in comparison to when he cut his first two teeth. He is active and curious and quite the little explorer. He has finally figured out how to go down stairs backwards, which means he can go up and down from our living room (which is set down two steps from the rest of the house) safely. He has also discovered the bathroom and loves to play in the toilet (gross!) or unroll the toilet paper all over the floor. I am trying to train my family to keep the bathroom doors closed, but every now and then, one will get left open and Benjamin will find his way in there.

He is sleeping through the night (finally!), but I usually have to get up once or twice in the night to help him find his paci. No nighttime feedings anymore, though! He is still taking two naps a day, but I have been wondering lately if he is showing signs of being ready to transition to one. Both Alex and Stephen transitioned to one nap a day when they were around a year old, so maybe it's time for Benjamin.

Ben babbles a lot, says things like "ma-ma" and "da-da" and "ba-ba," but I'm not sure if he is associating the sounds with things yet, or just making noise. We are trying to teach him a few baby signs like "more" and "all done." He waves bye-bye, claps his hands, and has started giving kisses, which basically means that he butts his forehead up against your cheek. It's precious. He is cruising and sometimes standing briefly on his own, but he has yet to take his first steps. I think it will be soon, though!

I'm hoping our container gets here soon so we can celebrate his first birthday in style at the end of the month!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Summer Learning

Back in May, I officially began homeschooling. I packed the first half (six weeks worth) of our phonics and reading program in our luggage, thinking that surely by the time we got through it, our container would be here with the remaining materials. HA! Here we are, nearly four months after arriving in Ecuador, and we are still waiting on the container -- although the good news is that it is now sitting in Guayaquil, so all we have to do is clear it through customs and get it here to Quito. Needless to say, we completed the first half of the phonics and reading program several weeks ago, but learning has continued while we wait for the rest of the curriculum to arrive. Here's a little of what we've been up to:

Rusty and I started Spanish lessons again. We ended up hiring a private tutor to come to our house because it was just easier than traveling back and forth to a school and trying to figure out the childcare. Our tutor has a daughter who is a Spanish teacher for children. She agreed to teach the boys for a few weeks while she was on her summer break. She always came prepared with fun games, crafts, and yummy snacks:

I used the Fourth of July to teach a little about American independence and the design of the U.S. flag. We made this handprint/footprint flag, as well as patriotic wands and patriotic Rice Crispy treats. Then we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows in our fireplace and watched fireworks on the Internet. Here are the boys showing off all their Independence Day creations:

Rusty took a trip to Kumanii in July to spend some time with the evangelists and see the progress being made on the new meeting hall. He took Alex with him, and they had a great time! Flexibility is one of the oft-touted advantages to home schooling, and for us, it will mean that the kids and I will get to join Rusty more often when he goes out to the jungle than we would if we were locked into a traditional school's schedule.

On the river
Alex and his friend Joscar watching the roof going up
Also in July, we enjoyed a three-day weekend in the town of Papallacta with several other homeschooling families we've recently connected with here in Quito. We played games, ate lots of yummy food, and spent time getting to know each other. And we of course we enjoyed the termas (hot springs)! I didn't take very many pictures this weekend, but here are a couple of the boys at the termas:

Alex and his friend Micah
The last few days, we have been following the Olympics pretty closely. Alex is old enough this year to understand what it's all about and to enjoy cheering on the athletes. I found lots of great ideas for crafts and games related to the Olympics on the Internet, so I have been trying to do some of those with the boys over the last few days. On the day of the Opening Ceremonies, we made flags of all the countries we have either lived in or traveled to since 2006 (the year Alex was born). There are 12 in all (if you count Gibraltar) -- how is that even possible? The boys enjoyed coloring the flags and then waving them during the opening ceremonies. Alex is now able to recognize most of the flags and their countries when he sees them on the TV.

And finally, we have done a little book work. While in the States, I bought this Brain Quest Kindergarten workbook from Costco, and we worked on a few pages at a time until he finished it. Now, we are working on sight words and using some beginning readers from A Beka just for a little reading practice each day. Alex loves that he is able to read these books all on his own, and is quite proud of his new talent! Here is is showing off his Brainiac award for completing his Brain Quest book:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Tenth Month

Benjamin was 10 months old at the end of June. I love this picture of him because I feel like it captures his emerging personality. He is turning into quite the little clown and loves to interact and make you laugh. He is also super affectionate and gives the best little hugs, using his whole body to hug your shoulder when you pick him up. He must get that from his daddy because I've never been a very huggy, touchy-feely person!

During his tenth month, Benjamin cut his 3rd tooth, so we now have 3 teeth on the bottom, and none on the top! I finally gave up on nursing since it was just becoming so frustrating for both of us. I think the stress and strain of this past year really affected my milk supply. I am glad I was able to nurse him as long as I was, but I am also thankful for formula... and I will also be thankful when I can switch him over to cow's milk because formula is stinkin' expensive here! Ben is already taking a lot of milk products like cheese and yogurt with no problems so far, but I am going to wait until he's a year old before giving him milk to drink.

Ben made his first trip to the beach in his tenth month. (Technically, I guess he went to the beach in Spain when he was one month old, but since he spent the entire time snoozing in his car seat, I don't really think that counts!) He loved the sand, but he wasn't too sure about the waves! That surprised me because he normally loves playing in the water. So maybe it was too cold, or maybe it was the sound of the waves -- I don't know.

Ben has also started sleeping much better at night. He started sleeping until about 5:00 a.m. and then having a bottle and going back to sleep for several hours. It's been a long road, but I think things are finally improving in the sleep department! He is still in our room for now. I plan to move him to his own room soon, but I have been hesitant to do it until he was sleeping all the way through the night because we don't have a baby monitor right now (it's coming in the container).

One final note. I find it interesting the way certain nicknames emerge as babies grow. With a name like Benjamin, there are so many to choose from -- Ben, Benny, Benji (which Rusty hates, but I think is kind of cute). The boys, especially Stephen, called him Benjermin at first, adding an "r" where there really shouldn't be one, and that has turned into the nickname "Benjers," which I find just adorable. I find myself calling him "Ben" or "Ben Bear," more often than not! Rusty sticks with the full "Benjamin." This poor kid is going to be so confused!

Happy 10 months, my little Ben Bear!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Beach Bums

At the end of June, we enjoyed a few days of r&r on the coast of Ecuador. It was exactly what we needed after Rusty had been gone for 2 weeks out of the previous 4 on short-term campaigns to Kumanii (see pictures of those campaigns here on Facebook). We recently connected with another homeschooling missionary family here in Quito who has a condo at a beach resort that they rent out. We stayed at the condo for 4 nights, enjoying the sand and the waves, the great swimming pools, delicious seafood, and some down-time together as a family. On Sunday, before heading home, we worshipped with the church in Esmereldas. It was a perfect little mini-vacation -- I just love the beach!

View from our balcony
The sunsets were fabulous!
Benjamin loved splashing in the hot tub
And he loved the sand
Alex learned to boogie board
This picture cracks me up (pun intended)!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chime In: "Occasional" Single Parenting

Read my "Reflections" post here.

The following is a list of a few of the strategies I implemented during my week of solo parenting that I felt like made the week easier on myself and the boys. If you find yourself in the boat of "occasional" single parent, maybe you'll find them useful. What has worked for you? Feel free to chime in with your own tips in the comments!
  1. Lower your expectations. I mean that you should lower your expectations of yourself, not your kids. Of course my kids are still expected to obey, to talk respectfully, to be kind and get along with each other. Those expectations don't change just because Rusty is gone for a few days. But I'm the kind of person who normally has unreasonable expectations of herself, especially as it relates to how much I'll be able to get done in a certain time period. It doesn't matter if it's an afternoon, a weekend, a week, or an entire summer -- I typically have much more on my to-do list than I'm able to accomplish. This time, I decided that my major objective was just to survive the week! I tried to arrange my days so that I wasn't doing more than one major chore or errand per day -- whether that was the laundry or the shopping or taking Ben to the clinic for his shots or making cookies with the boys. I also assigned myself one big project that I worked on in the evenings after the kids were in bed. This helped me focus my time, but wasn't too overwhelming.
  2. Take time for you. This goes along with the first point. Of course taking time for yourself is always important, but I think it's especially important when parenting solo. I had my big project to work on, but I also gave myself permission to do some things just for pure enjoyment -- I read, I took naps, I wrote in my journal, and I watched the first two "Twilight" movies, which I had never seen before (I tried to pick something I knew Rusty probably wouldn't want to watch with me!). 
  3. Relax your standards. Again, this kind of goes along with #1. And of course, this would look different depending on the person. For us, it meant that my kids got a lot more "screen time" than they normally do. Alex spent an exorbitant amount of time playing Mario Kart on the Wii -- but hey, he was happy, he wasn't whining or pestering his brothers, and he can't play the Wii at our house right now because we don't have one, so I didn't feel bad about it. Stephen played lots of games on my iPod. And they both watched a short (30-minute) video each night before they went to bed while I was downstairs giving Benjamin his bottle. We also had a movie night one night with a longer movie and popcorn.
  4. Keep a basic routine. We all know routines are important for children. Stephen especially seems to need the structure that a routine provides, but even Alex does better when he knows what to expect from the day. My kids are small, so our daily routine revolves around mealtimes and sleep schedules. We have breakfast and get ready for the day; I do school with Alex while Benjamin is napping; we have lunch; the little boys take naps; we have dinner; we get ready for bed. I tried to keep to this same basic routine during the week that Rusty was away with a few minor modifications. When something is out of whack in a kid's life (i.e. one parent is away from home for an extended time), keeping a basic routine provides stability and security.
  5. Don't fight the mealtime battle. For some people, this might mean taking the kids out for Happy Meals or ordering pizza every night. For me, taking 3 small children out to eat all by myself is more stressful than preparing something at home. But when planning my menu for the week, I chose simple meals that I knew the boys liked -- things like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, and homemade macaroni and cheese. We ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a lot of fresh fruit, and we had cereal for breakfast nearly every morning! Although I don't want to only cook their favorites all the time, I wanted mealtime this week to be as peaceful as possible, and for the most part, it was!
  6. Accept help from others. I would be remiss not to mention that one reason the week was so easy on me was because of Elsa. Elsa works for my sister in the mornings while Julie is at work. She watches Enoch and does some cleaning around the house. I told her that I would be happy to pay her for the week if she just wanted to keep her same schedule (remember, we were staying at my sister's house, but they had already left on furlough). So Elsa came about 7:30 each morning and left around 11:30. Just 4 hours, but they made such a difference! Not only did she do most of the cleaning (like bathrooms and floors and such), but she played with the boys, did some mending for me, and provided some needed adult conversation -- and the opportunity to practice my Spanish since she doesn't speak much English! When I had to go to the store or take Ben to the clinic for his shots, she stayed with the kids. I was so thankful to have her around every day. One of the "perks" to living in a 3rd world country is the affordability of household help. If you live in the States, then you probably can't afford a maid (I know I never could), but you might have friends or family members who want to help you out when you're on your own. Don't try to be Super Woman -- take them up on the offer!
  7. Have fun and enjoy your kids. I made a conscious effort to do this all week, and it made such a difference. I really tried to be more of a "yes" mom. "Yes, I will play Mouse Trap with you after dinner, even though that game makes me want to set my hair on fire." "Yes, I will play hopscotch with you." "Yes, I will blow bubbles with you." "Yes, I will play Mario Kart with you." "Yes, we can buy those animal crackers." "Yes, we can have ice-cream sundaes again after supper." "Yes, I will read that book to you again, and you can ask me the same 1,000 questions you asked me the last time we read it." "Yes, you can have a drink of water... and another kiss... and a song... even though I know you're really just stalling." I tried to savor the little moments -- of sitting outside on the swing together, of giving Ben his bottle in the comfy recliner, of their sweet hugs and silly conversations and imaginative play. And although I don't necessarily enjoy the experience of single parenting, I find as I look back, that the week itself actually was very enjoyable!
I'm no expert, and I would love to hear from others who occasionally have to go it alone, especially since I'll be doing this a lot more in the months and years to come. What works for you and what doesn't? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Me and my 3

Monday, July 09, 2012

Reflections on "Occasional" Single Parenting

I confess: I am not the most graceful single parent. When we first started discussing the possibility of moving to Ecuador and taking on Operation Ecuador's Kumanii ministry, I first worried about living in such a remote area -- 3 hours upriver by boat from the nearest sizable town -- and the isolation that would result. Then, after Rusty's survey trip last November, when it became evident that Quito would be the best place for us to locate, for the first few years anyway, a whole new set of worries cropped up. Because, even though we live in the capital city of Ecuador, Rusty's work and the place where he will eventually focus the majority of his energy is in the jungle along the Cayapas River, an 8-hour journey away. And this will require him to do a lot of traveling and be away from home a lot, usually for several days at a time. And it means that I'll be left behind to hold down the fort and parent three boys single-handedly while he's away.

I don't like parenting alone. It's not nearly as much fun and a whole lot more work. I honestly don't know how real single parents do it, and I have so much respect for those that do it and do it well. My boys act up more when their dad is gone. Okay, so I act up more when their dad is gone, too! I find it harder to be patient, and I lose my cool a lot more. When you're a single parent, it's all on you. There's no one to spot you when you start to get frustrated, to back you up when you need to discipline, to play with the kids while you're cooking dinner, to supervise bathtime while you clean up the kitchen, to give the baby his bottle while you read bedtime stories to the older ones. You have to figure out a way to do it all yourself -- the kids and the meals and the house and the shopping and the running around to doctor's appointments and playdates and such. And as if all that weren't enough, I have to make my own coffee in the mornings! This may not seem like such a big deal to some, but Rusty has always been the coffee maker in our home. When he's not around, I either have to go without or make it myself -- and if I ever needed coffee, it's when I'm parenting solo!

I also don't like doing life alone, especially in a foreign country, in a new city, where I am still learning the language, still learning my way around. I'm not naturally independent or adventurous (really, I only live the life I do because I married an adventurer). It takes me a long time to feel comfortable enough in a new environment to want to go places and do things by myself. We've been in Ecuador less than 3 months now, and I don't even drive here yet, partially because I don't have an international driver's license -- it was one of those things that I just forgot to take care of before we left the States. But mostly because the very idea of driving our enormous truck with the manual transmission, in this busy city with these crazy drivers, is enough to scare the living daylights out of me and make me want to swear of driving and just take a cab everywhere. It is South America after all -- cabs are plentiful and cheap!

At the end of May and then again in mid-June, Rusty went out to Kumanii with two different groups. He was gone for a week each time. The first time, at the end of May, the boys and I went and stayed with my sister and her kids (Josh went to Kumanii also). Even though having 7 kids under the age of 7 in the same house for a week got a little, shall we say, chaotic at times, we had a great time! Julie and I both appreciated having someone around to help out -- when she needed to pick Michaela up from school, I could stay home with napping children; when I needed something from the store, I could leave the boys with her and walk over and pick it up alone. And we built in some fun girl-time by watching Season 2 of Downton Abbey together in the evenings after the kids were in bed. It was a great way to unwind at the end of each day.

The second time, in mid-June, the Marcums were already in the States on their furlough, so we had to figure out what the boys and I were going to do for an entire week on our own. We decided to stay at the Marcum's house again, due to their house not only being more comfortable (until the container gets here, it's like we're camping out in our own home), but also closer to good medical care in case of an emergency. I worried that it would be a rough week, but it actually went very well and we had no major problems. Of course, we were all glad to see Rusty come home at the end of the week. The boys were glad to have their daddy and wrestling buddy back. And I was glad to have my hubby, parenting partner, and barista back. Life's just better and a lot more fun when he's around!

Coming tomorrow -- I'll share some of the strategies I attempted to implement during my week of solo parenting.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ninth Month

Benjamin was nine months old at the end of May. I kept meaning to take pictures of him on his special polk-a-dot blanket, but the last few weeks have been pretty crazy, and I was without a camera half the time because Rusty ran off to the jungle with it. And now it's too late, since he's almost 10 months old! So here are a couple of fairly decent recent snapshots:

Both of these pictures were taken at the Marcum's house. That's where the boys and I have spent about half our time this last month while Rusty went gallivanting off to the jungle on two different short-term trips. The picture on the right was taken with my iPhone! Pretty decent picture for a camera phone.

I spent a good part of Ben's ninth month trying to help him get over a stomach bug. He threw up and got bad diarrhea from some bad food we ate at the graduation ceremony we attended at the EQEB. Most of the rest of our family got sick, too. And then it took me awhile to get his digestive system back on track. We had to pump him full of probiotics and really watch what he was eating for awhile. Thankfully, he seems to be doing a lot better now. I am definitely going to be more careful about what I let him eat when we are out and about from now on.

Last week, I took Ben back to the doctor for a check-up, and he now weighs 8 kilos (about 17.5 pounds). We also got him caught up on his shots, finally, at least until his first birthday. I'm pretty impressed with the clinic I've been taking him too. The doctor we saw actually speaks English! What a blessing it is to be able to communicate about medical matters in your own language. I don't think I'll ever take that simple fact for granted again!

Ben finally mastered crawling during his ninth month, so now he is on the move! He "bear-crawls" more often than not, up on his feet instead of on his knees. He's also now pulling up on things and climbing stairs. And there are lots of stairs in our house, so we stay busy trying to keep him out of danger! He's definitely eager to explore his world and seems to have the uncanny ability to find the most disgusting thing in the room to play with, whether that's someone's shoe, the trash-can, or a dirty sock! Of course, at this age, everything goes in the mouth. Ewwwww! No wonder it took us so long to get him healthy again!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ecuador: Interesting Facts

Photo by iriann on Stock Xchng
  • Ecuador is roughly the size of Colorado, and slightly bigger than Britain.
  • Its capital city is Quito. Click here for interesting facts about Quito.
  • The highest point in Ecuador is the Chimborazo Volcano at 6,267 meters (over 20,000 feet)
  • The national language is Spanish, spoken by about 90% of people. Ecuador is the second-smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America. There are about 13 indigenous languages still in use today by the various Indian tribes, less than half of what is believed to have been spoken at the time of the Spanish conquest.
  • The time zone in Ecuador is Greenwich Mean Time minus 5 hours. We don't do Daylight Savings Time here, so what this means is that right now, we are the same as U.S. Central Time. In the fall, after the U.S. "falls back" one hour, we will be the same as U.S. Eastern Time. For your convenience, there is a clock in the sidebar which lists the current time here.
  • The currency in Ecuador is the U.S. dollar! That's right, you don't have to worry about changing money when you come to visit us!
  • About 95% of Ecuadorians claim Catholicism as their religion -- another by-product of the Spanish colonization.
  • Ecuador has one of the highest youth literacy rates in South America, estimated at 95%.
  • Ecuador's major exports are petroleum, bananas, flowers, and shrimp.
  • Ecuador is one of the world's most bio-diverse countries, which is pretty incredible, considering its size. It covers less than .005% of the earth's surface, yet contains 10% of all plant species and 17% of all birds. And this is just on the mainland -- these figures leave the Galápagos Islands out of the equation entirely!
  • Speaking of birds, Ecuador has more than 1,600 species of birds! By comparison, the U.S. and Canada have 700 between them, and Kenya in East Africa has between 800 and 1,000, depending on the source. If you're into bird-watching, come visit us!
  • Ecuadorians call their country "four countries in one" -- the Galápagos Islands, the Pacific coast, the Andean mountains, and the cloud forests and rainforests on the western edge of the Amazon basin.
  • Major environmental issues in Ecuador include deforestation, oil exploration, and mining. For the Galápagos Islands, organized tourism has created a major problem. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, the islands are "in danger of being loved to death," according to the Moon Handbook on Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.
Most of these interesting facts come from our two guidebooks, Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands by Ben Westwood (Moon Handbooks), and Culture Shock! Ecuador: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Nicholas Crowder, both available at Amazon.

Friday, May 25, 2012

First Weeks

Today marks six weeks since our arrival in Ecuador. We are now living in the house that we found less than two weeks after getting here. I never expected that we would find a permanent home in six weeks, much less be settling into it! As our container has yet to leave the U.S., we are borrowing a few "basics" from the Bible college for the next few weeks (beds, a table, a stove, and a fridge) until our own things arrive. We did purchase a TV the other day -- it was the only major purchase we didn't make before leaving the States. And we signed up for Internet. So, you know, we have the essentials!

We lived at the Bible college for a little over a month. We started Spanish lessons at the Galapagos Spanish School, a few minutes' walk from our apartment. Rusty went in the morning, and I went in the afternoon. We like the school, but it is a pretty good jaunt from our new place, so we may start going to another school that's closer, or even look for a private tutor to come out to the house.

Here are a few pictures of our daily life the last few weeks:

How we watch DVD's without a TV or a DVD player
How we take a bath without a bathtub
How Benjamin eats without a high chair
Our Sawyer bag filter gives us clean water for drinking and cooking.
Clean water -- about a four-day supply
Since I was at home with the boys in the mornings while Rusty was in class, I started home-schooling. Most of our curriculum is still in the U.S., but I did bring the phonics and reading program in our luggage. We are about 3 weeks in, and Alex is reading simple words, and both of the boys are singing the little jingles that we learn for each letter and sound. It's pretty exciting.

Our first day of homeschool
We had our first visitor! Okay, technically, she didn't come to visit us -- Catera was in Ecuador for 3 weeks as part of her graduate program at George Fox University in Oregon. But she spent an evening with us and we enjoyed catching up with each other and telling stories about Japan (Catera was an English teacher with the same school district in Mito, although not at the same time).

Sharing an itty-bitty couch and a bowl of popcorn with Catera

We haven't done much in the way of "touristy" things yet, but we did visit the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) one Saturday afternoon, and took the obligatory photo on the Equator! It was a neat place, and it's not too far from our house, so I'm sure we'll visit it many times, especially when we have visitors (hint, hint).

Family photo straddling the Equator
For our anniversary this year, a wonderful couple who are supporters of the work in Ecuador offered to put us up in the Hilton for the night. We left the boys with Josh and Julie and enjoyed a night away in a 5-star hotel. Our room was on the 17th floor, with a gorgeous view of the city. The picture below isn't that clear (it was a rainy morning), but the hill in the center is called the Panacillo, and to the right of that, you can see the spires of the Basillica. Quito is really a very beautiful city. Parts of it remind me so much of Portugal (probably the European influence). And then other parts of it remind me of Africa!