School Collision


This year, more than ever, I’ve realized how thoroughly American our homeschool books are. No, I’m not saying that is a bad thing. But, it takes some creative teaching.

In Math (Math U See): “How many feet in a mile? How many pints in a quart? How many inches in a yard?”

“No, it isn’t easy like the grams and kilograms that we use every day. You’ll just have to memorize it.”

In Science (AiG’s God’s Plan for the Physical World): “What are some of the major appliances in your home? Your house is probably filled with electrical appliances, figure out how many hours a week they save you… Look at your refrigerator….”

“Well, we have a gas stove, that saves us a lot of time in not having to look for firewood. We also have a wash machine…but since we do a lot of the laundry by hand, and just use the spinner function…it doesn’t save much time, but it does save on effort. Remember the refrigerator we had when we were in the US…”

In Daily Five (First Language Lessons, Writing with Ease, Daily Trait Writing, Spelling U See, and Editor in Chief): “Do you remember the proper name of the state in which you live? Memorize your address. What are the Abbreviations in your address…st., ct., ave.?

“Well let’s write out our mailing address. And we’ll write out Grandma and Grandpa’s address.”


Overall, though, school has been going well. We are nearing the end of most of our books…at the beginning of April. So, we will have to take a long Easter break. After that, we’ll have to fill the rest of our time with “cementing the concept” type projects (it could also be called busy work). The boys have been doing lots of writing. They also have a big history project (I’ll post it when they are finished). And, they have been doing flash cards to cement their basic math facts.

deep waters

Two weeks and one day ago, I was sitting prepping posts for this website. I was taking pictures of the kids’ school books (a school post is coming), typing, and editing while breaking up fights between the boys, changing diapers, and cleaning messes. I burst out the front door to grab the escaping toddler, and looked over to see my “daughter’s” husband squatting under the chocolate tree (we have a chocolate tree in our yard…exotically cool, right?).

I immediately knew something was wrong.

My “daughter” had been showing signs that she would go into labor soon. They said they would call me when it was time. But her husband’s face didn’t look right. He said, “The baby is born. But he isn’t good, he wasn’t breathing. Your “daughter” isn’t doing well either.”

And just like that I was wading into the deep.

I half ran to my “daughter’s” house, and then carefully walked into the deep pool of sadness surrounding them. It is a hard thing to see a beautiful baby boy lying too still. It is a hard thing to hold onto my “daughter”, and cry with her. It is a hard thing to visit every day afterwards, and to sit, offering the only few words of comfort that I have. It is a hard thing to pray that she will not grow bitter, and that the deep will not drown her.

But I choose to believe.

I believe that if she clings to Him, who can give the only true comfort, she will find herself to have grown and changed in special and deep ways. As I face the hard and the deep, I am learning for myself that:

“suffering is part ofthe narrative, and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom.”

Shauna Niequist Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

*From what I’ve gathered, I think the baby died because of severe shoulder dystocia.

Mother Thoughts

I’ve found a quote that describes me very, very accurately. It’s a painful one.
“…Flaming Fire who burns through the thick masks and leaves the soul disrobed. I am naked and I am right ashamed. I know how monstrously inhumane I can be. Raging at children for minor wrongdoings while I’m the one defiling the moment with sinful anger. Hoarding possessions while others die of starvation. Entertaining the mind with trivial pretties when I haven’t bowed the head and heart in a prayer longer than five minutes in a week. My tongue has had a razor edge and my eyes have rolled haughty and my neck has been stiff and graceless and I have lived the filth ugly, an idolater, a glutton, and a grace thief who hasn’t had time for the thanks.” —Ann Voskamp

My natural default setting is to feel competent and able. I prefer to soldier on, just do it, and don’t complain too much. I figure that I can persevere through most difficult situations that come my way. That’s my default. That’s me thinking that I (with a big glaring I) can do it.

The reality that I so often find is that when I try to do it all on my own, I turn into a mean mommy. I often “rage at my children for minor wrongdoings.” I turn not only into a mean mommy, but a grumpy server of the disadvantaged (like I talked about in the last post). But, the scariest thing is that when I think I can do it all, I don’t submit and spend time with God.

Do you find truth about yourself in that quote? Are you like me and struggle to bow, “the head and heart in a prayer longer than five minutes in a week?” Are you willing to open up, and ask for accountability from someone you trust? Because I know that it what I need, and I figure that there are others out there too.

Keep a smile on your face.

A few weeks ago we had some guests that didn’t show signs of ever leaving.

The first night we happily fed our guests. We watched nature shows, and talked with them about the big-ness of the world. We held our breath when he smoked. We pulled out our sleeping mat and said, “sleep here, if you please.” We fed them breakfast in the morning, and expected them to head back home. We turned a blind eye when they foraged around the yard, picking fruit, and other things. We started counting the hours. And then it rained.
And then it was night. We scraped together another dinner, but smaller. We didn’t turn the TV on, but looked at pictures instead. We grudgingly held our noses when he smoked (and then when she smoked, and then when their kids asked for a puff). We pulled out our sleeping mat with heavy hearts. We weren’t too sad when they decided to sleep next door at our neighbor’s (empty) house where they could build a fire if they got cold in the middle of the night.
The next morning, we made breakfast. We wondered, “will they ever leave?” We watched them start to make their rounds around the yard, picking up nuts that had fallen from the trees. With grumpy hearts, Michael and I sat down to read our Bibles (true confession: it’s super incredibly rare that we ever sit down together and read, but on this day we did). Michael turned to me and said, “you better not read Romans 12. It’s a little too personal.”

So of course I read it. Here’s some of what it says:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering…
…if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face…Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians, be inventive in hospitality.
…Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody…
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness…” (the Message)

The family that stayed-on-too-long exposed us. Sometimes we convince others (and ourselves) that we rock this working-with-the-disadvantaged thing. We feel like we can see the beauty in everyone, and are good at helping the needy (in a way that doesn’t end up hurting them in the end).

That family is the exact sort of people that we are here to help. They define the word disadvantaged. She was 8 months pregnant. The two kids had the telltale stick out bellies that show they need worm medicine. Their clothes were tattered and unwashed. The wife and kids do not know how to read. The husband looks like he has chronic lung disease—maybe from smoking, maybe from TB. They have the pale skin of low nutrition. And, because they do the stay-on-too-long routine everywhere they visit, not many people in this community like them.

But, we did not serve them with a smile. Sure we may have smiled (through gritted teeth) when they we around, but our hearts were oh so definitely not smiling. We most definitely got irritated with them. We were depressed when we thought they would never leave. We showed only the bare minimum of hospitality. And we had a hard time seeing their beauty through the grime and smell. They messed up our little comfortable world, and our little comfortable routine.

It’s good have my heart exposed. It’s good to remember that it’s only, “with God helping you,” that I can serve others. No, I don’t naturally want to serve people I don’t like, but God working in me makes it possible.


[categories family life]

“Mama can I please have a whole apple all to myself.” said Jude.
To which I replied: “Uh. No. Sorry.”
‘Cuz I’m just that kind of mean mommy. Here in our jungle-y mountain home we have, miracles of miracles, started getting a small bag full of apples almost weekly. Michael buys several apples (they are quite expensive) from a new vendor at the market on the coast. They are like gold to us, so we eat them slowly, slicing them, and sharing them between the 5 of us. We never have a whole apple to ourselves. With lack the boys are appreciative.

Last year, when we were living within walking distance of 4 grocery stores we had a fruit bowl full of apples that was replenished weekly. The boys could have an apple (to themselves) any time they wanted. They only occasionally wanted. With plenty the boys were bored.

My point isn’t that it is good for kids to experience lack…maybe it is…maybe it isn’t. My point is that the things that we think of as sacrifices, the costs that we count up for our kids…those are the things that can be used in their lives to make them more complete and well rounded individuals.

As parents we all want our kids to appreciate the food that they have, the clothes that they wear, the houses that they live in, and to be grateful for the toys that they play with. We don’t want them to be so bored by having everything, that they never appreciate it.

It is tempting for me to try to shelter my kids…I can scramble and scheme to get them each an apple a day (and keep the doctor away). But, I am learning that it is okay that they don’t always get everything that they want. I am learning that sacrifices aren’t always all bad in their lives (or in mine).


We had a nice Christmas. It was cozy, and we felt at home. Enjoying this Christmas showed the dual personalities that make up who we are as a family.

On Christmas Eve we ate pizza and roast duck with our coworkers (they made the duck, I made the pizza).
Christmas morning we opened presents in front of the lit Christmas tree. We enjoyed a Western breakfast.
Mid-morning we walked to church and enjoyed the Christmas service that they hold every year.
Like always, we ate Christmas lunch with hundreds of our mountain village friends. We enjoyed rice with various sauces. The boys happily heaped fish and instant noodles on their rice. Michael headed for the bitter greens. I reached for grated green papaya mixed with a dark coconut sauce. The boys told me that they were a little sad that there wasn’t breadfruit curry (Grey) or cassava greens (Jude) this year.
Evening was for playing with presents, and making a Christmas lasagna. I’ve included the recipe for my lasagna below.

Do you think Western style comfort food is worth the effort?
Cassava and greens takes less juggling, and planning ahead.

At another Christmas celebration I realized the importance of also eating my friends’ comfort foods. A lady asked our house helper, “do they eat cassava?” To which she replied, “Oh yes of course. They love cassava. They eat it all of the time.” I realized that we had, in a small way, made further steps towards belonging here. “Yes, yes we do eat YOUR comfort foods.”

What would YOU do? Would you eat locally all of the time? Would you put the work into eating comfort foods from your home culture? Or would you do like we do, and do a mix of both? Spaghetti sauce and noodles with a side of rice and greens.

RECIPE for Christmas Lasagna (with “lots of red sauce because that’s a Christmas color” —Jude)

Purchase pork in the city and grind it
Mix ground pork with approximate amounts of:
garlic powder
onion powder
fennel seed
small pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar.
Divide into 250 gram portions, place in freezer bags, and take to your friends’ house. They’ll store it in their freezer until you are ready to use it.

Tomato Sauce
1/2 kilo tomatoes (approximately), roughly chopped
2 smallish carrots, shredded
2 Garlic cloves
6 small Shallots
2 Tablespoons Tomato paste (purchased in the city, and brought to the mountains on the back of a motorbike)
Pinch of Sugar (or palm sugar)
Italian seasoning (or a mix of basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, and rosemary)
Olive Oil (2 liter bottle purchased in the city)
“Sausage” (brought up from our friends house 3 days before Christmas, sautéed the day it was brought up, and then made up into sauce the next morning)
Pound the garlic and shallots in a mortar and pestle (or use a garlic press). Sauté in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a dab of butter (optional). Add tomatoes and carrots, and cook until soft, mushy, and the tomato skins are easy to remove (optional). Add tomato paste, sugar, and spices. Taste. Add cooked sausage. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover. Let sit until night. Heat to a very bubbly boil. Turn off. Because we don’t have refrigeration we’ll repeat in the morning and evening until we need to use the sauce. Our Christmas lasagna sauce lasted for about 56 hours before using (the sausage wouldn’t have lasted from market day until we needed I made it into the sauce to “preserve” it).

4 cups of water
2 cups of powdered milk
2 tablespoon of vinegar
Bring milk to the just about to “pop into bubble” stage. Add vinegar. Let sit for 2-12 hours. Strain through a cloth dish towel. It makes about 1/2 cup of ricotta.

Layer lasagna noodles(purchased in the city, brought to our mountain home, and stored until we needed them), Tomato Sauce, olives (optional), crumbled Ricotta, and Parmesan(purchased on another island, brought to the city, stored in our friends freezer until Michael got it on market day). Top with parmesan.

Bake in an aluminum box on top of your stove. You might want to bake it along with homemade garlic bread. But that’s a recipe for another day.

Merry Christmas

…to you from our family.

May you remember the Reason why we celebrate.
May you remember the people who don’t know the Reason. And who don’t know Hope.
[Do you have a way of showing them hope?]
May you remember the people living in a land that is not their own, and in a language and culture that isn’t always comfortable.
[Do you have neighbors or friends from other countries that you could include in your celebrations?]
May you remember the poor, the widowed, the orphans.
[Do you feel a nudging to reach out to someone specific?]

This is a challenge to me. May I remember these things, and not let Christmas be all about the presents. May I encourage my kids to think of others, and not just themselves.


When we spend the Advent season in the village, we like to make an Advent calendar. We try to do activities and traditions that create special memories for the boys. We don’t have the same kind of Christmas programs at church and school, we don’t have the same kind of Christmas parties, we don’t have snow, we don’t have Christmas carols playing in the stores, and we don’t have stores.

But what we do have is time…time to spin small things into magic.
And in absence of all the other the small things really are magical.

Advent Activity: Reading Christmas and Winter themed books by candlelight.

Advent Activity: Watching Christmas movies, drinking spiced tea, and eating popcorn. Ezra got in on the fun, but standing and feeding himself popcorn (we were all quite amazed).

Advent Activity: Telling the nativity story with Shadow puppets.

Advent Activity: making Star Wars themed snowflakes.

Advent Activity: making “snowballs”, and listening to Christmas music.

Other Advent activities:
Setting up the Christmas tree.
A simple scavenger hunt to find small presents.
A family game night.
Making Christmas cards.
Drinking hot chocolate.
Making Christmas crafts that were sent to us in a package.
A night to work on presents for one another.

These last few Advent cards have been empty as I’ve run low on creativity.
Some of the nights we have had to give up to uninvited guest that have shown up and wanted to spend the night with us.
But, each of these have been opportunities for the boys to be gracious, to be kind, to be welcoming, to not be frustrated.

I’m starting my list of activities for next year, any suggestions for bigger boys? Most of my ideas were just a little bit young for the nine year old.

Drought. And continuing the gratefulness.

Maybe it’s because of Thanksgiving, maybe it’s because of the Advent season, maybe it’s just time for me to be GRATEFUL. For whatever reason I’m still thinking about food + being grateful in everything.
This post has been simmering on the back burner of my mind for quite awhile now. I think it is time to finally “serve it up.”

Last year our friends went through a long drought. We were back in our home country, so when we returned the stories flowed.

For seven months it did not rain. The ground dried up and cracked. Dust clouds filled the air. The green vegetables all died. The cassava and taro food staples all but died. The clove trees died. The coconut trees shriveled up and refused to produce. Malaria mosquitos took over. The river got low. Hundreds of people got sick with malaria and typhoid. The sickest ones hiked down to the hospital to be treated. An overflow camp was set up on the banks of the river. People lay in shacks made of coconut leaves. A baby was born in the shacks, and lay attached to its placenta for several days until it’s parents could find someone to cut the cord (they couldn’t afford the $10 that the local medical worker charged).

Our friends ate ondote: a large poisonous root that has to be soaked in the river for three days before it becomes edible. Ondote makes the skin on your hands thin and painful when you work with it. But ondote is always around, even during the drought.

When we were teaching about the children of Israel in the desert, my co-teacher compared ondote with mana. She said that they are both Gods provision. Mana allowed the Israelites to survive the long and dusty wandering. Ondote is the food that allows them to survive through long and dry and dusty days.

Well that’s a big fat dose of perspective for me. I wouldn’t consider poisonous-root-ondote a blessing. It made me think: are there things in my life that are blessings or provisions, but because of my materialistic mindset I see them as hardships? Do I hold to tightly to my definition of comfort, and then get caught up in complaining when life becomes uncomfortable? Should I be grateful for the ondotes in my life?

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Our Thanksgiving was less than traditional this year. I guess that is usually the case here in the village…one year we had a Thanksgiving duck…another year two Thanksgiving chickens. But, this year was the most lacking in tradition. This year we had my pumpkin mole soup and pumpkin cake. We love my pumpkin soup, but it was strange to be fowl-less. No turkey, duck, chicken, or even turduckens in sight.

As I was mentally preparing for a small, low-key Thanksgiving, I wasn’t really wishing for turkey, cranberry sauce, or stuffing. I was wishing for someone that we could share it with. Other village Thanksgivings we have happily shared our bounty with friends. This year, though, they all couldn’t make it.

For weeks beforehand I kept thinking of the loneliness of the holiday. No friends (who know what Thanksgiving is). No extended family. No other Americans for kilometers and kilometers.

When the actual day arrived it wasn’t a bit sad. By God’s grace, the loneliness had dulled. As we created our Thanksgiving art projects, I was able to remember the many things we have to be grateful for. It helped my heart to see the boys enjoy themselves, and to throw their heart into being thankful.

Now we are in full-on Christmas mode. Bring on the Christmas music.